Treading the treacherous undercity
Group quickly rushed through the damp and dirty tunnel. Their steps were echoed by the sound of water jet slamming in the cobblestones and leathery wings swinging above the entrance to the tunnel. They delved deeper into what seemed to be abandoned passageways. Broken pieces of ancient architecture, remnants of cobblestone roads, towered by newly built structures. Fragments of blue sky shined through here and there.
Nai was leading the group through this maze of underworld roads and alleys. Suddenly she stopped blinded by the sun gleaning through a gap in the roof of an ancient shrine. She felt a touch on her shoulder. “There, behind the statue, there is a huge groove a snake made in the muck.”
Her gaze followed Rozhe’s finger to see a dark stone angels bust, with broken off wings and wines crawling up the base of it. After squinting in the light she saw the trail pressed in the dirt, with leaves shuffled to the sides. Nai slowly moved into the church and crept by the eastern wall. Her sight adjusted as she left the dazing sunlight. A huge serpent-like creature was coiled up behind the statue, apparently waiting to ambush unsuspecting passerby.
Just as she turned to silently return, a piece of stone tile snapped of loudly echoing through the shrine. Serpent creature hissed and slithered around the base of the statue uncoiling to its full length. The thick serpentine body was at least as long as Nai was high. She carefully backed away from the incoming monstrosity, preparing for defence. The creature sprung forward with four tentacles unwrapping from a bony beak. Tentacles reached forward trying to latch on Nai’s extended arm, but due to her quick reaction only hit the blade of her shortsword. The creature backed away and hissed loudly.
Another hiss echoed back from the darkness.
“I think there is more,” Nai whispered to others behind her.
“Wait, let me talk to them, maybe these creatures will let us pass,” Rozhe stepped forward and started humming a tune, “slithery creatures of the night, let us stay alive tonight, pass us through to the other side…”
She expected something of an answer, but instead, she heard loud hisses coming from the darkest corners in this chapel. “Feed…”. “Feed!”. “FEED!”.
She shook her head, “I doubt they will listen.”
Katrille’s owl spread her wings and flew from her shoulder, did a little circle near the ceiling on the right side of the room. It scanned the floor for other serpent-like creatures but none were visible. The one that was slithering back from Nai had grey patchy skin and no distinct pattern so it was difficult to see where the rocky ground ended and the serpent began. Owl returned on it’s master’s shoulder and started gnawing between her wing feathers.
“I could see nothing.” Katrille turned to Nai, “What should we do? We walked here before, maybe let’s just go?”
“But before there were no creatures here!” Nai shook her head keeping her blade pointed at the serpent, “And I don’t think they are friendly or very talkative either.”
“Let me show you how to talk to these creatures!” Shinigami nearly shouted over the loudening hiss coming from all sides. She stepped into the room, turned to one side, stepped out from the blinding light that was flowing through the collapsed roof and summoned her scythe. She hissed at the serpent and swung her scythe between its tentacles. Serpent swerved to one side, almost dodging the blow, but the blade bit the flesh making a nasty cut on the side. It hissed loudly and started slithering backwards to the eastern wall. Rakdos performer grimaced and hissed again at the creature, aggressively. This, or the pain in its side, forced the creature to reconsider its hunger and it turned and tried to slither away. Shinigami seeing this swung her scythe and made another deep cut in the creature. The serpent hissed and disappeared in a crumbled hole in the eastern wall, next to a door leading to a dark tunnel.
While this was taking place, the remainder of the party tried to cross the room through the right side, led by Elfur and Rozhe they carefully treaded between old and crumbled marble columns. Another creature appeared from under a pile of stones in the far left corner of the room and slid to Shinigami, it opened it’s tentacled mouth and latched on the girl’s torso. Sharp edges on the tentacles dug into the paperwhite flesh, with blood appearing on her not-yet-ruined cloak which she took from a bystander earlier. Her lips pressed into a hellish smile, deep growling came out of her mouth followed by red flames erupting throughout the skin of the creature. In great pain, the creature lunged forward aiming at the girl’s heart. Only in the last moment, Rakdos managed to re-summon her scythe between her and the sharp beak. The creature kept trying to snap at her chest, but Shinigami held the beak as far away from herself as the tentacles allowed.
Meanwhile, on the other side Nai, Elfur and Rozhe were engaged by another of these large creatures, which came from behind a broken altar. Their weapons slashed and cut and pierced the creature’s skin, but the flesh inside did not give to plain metal and was as thick as stone.
Wataru stayed behind the group and tied up the poor fella they had been carrying from the surface. His paralysis was starting to fade and loxodon was not taking any chances. After he was done, he placed the human on the ground and observed the situation.
Shinigami was being surrounded by those creatures, as one more dropped from the ceiling and just by pure performers reaction she managed to jump out from the grasp of its tentacles. From behind a third serpent slithered out from the darkness and grappled Shinigami’s leg in a cold and hard clutch. Katrille fired few cold blasts toward the creatures surrounding Rakdos girl, missing them entirely, most probably because of a dusty strip of bright light between her and her targets. Nai had better luck and shot one of the creatures dead. With tentacles no longer latching to her torso Shinigami could move freely and attacked the serpent that painfully attached itself to her leg. Her sweep sunk into the side leaving a gushing wound.
Elfur and Rozhe were dealing with their serpent slowly but surely. The serpent latched to Elfur’s shield and the paladin dropped it entirely. Took his axe in both hands and cleaved relentlessly at the stone-hard creature’s flesh. Rozhe cited a piece of dark poetry, her arrow swelled with dark energy and pierced the creature’s belly, making it almost shriek in agony. Feeling that this hunt is going to end poorly for it, creature slithered back avoiding blows from both elves and crossed the bright strip of crumbled marble in the middle of the shrine.
Wataru decided to act before any of his compatriots fell. He charged towards Shinigami and slammed his hammer into one of the serpents, sending it flying with a hammer-shaped cavity in the side of its skull. “I can handle this myself, stay out of my performance!” Shinigami grunted through the pain. “Shut it.” Loxodon adjusted his grip and prepared to strike another monstrosity.
Only two creatures remained moving in the room and had already realised that this prey is not theirs to take. Both of them slithered into the darkness behind a doorway. At the very last moment, Elfur charged past the hurt Shinigami and Wataru and embedded shining axe into the tail of one of them, making the part outside of the cavity fall limp. Rakdos seeing this as an insult to her performance jumped over the corpse, cartwheeled into the darkness and carved the last snake in half with a swift pull of her scythe. “Blood was spilt in the name of entertainment! Rejoice and applaud!” she spun on her heels and threw her scythe spinning towards unsuspecting Nai. Moments before Nai could react she snapped the scythe out of existence leaving a puff of smoke which hit Nai in the chest and dissipated. Wataru silently scratched behind his ear uncomfortably. Nai said nothing just shook her head. “Come on, show at least some support for the fine arts.” Shinigami scoffed and disappeared into the depth of the corridor through which the serpents tried to escape. Others heard rummaging and sounds of excitement in the darkness. And a muffled moan behind them. Wataru turned around and picked up still dazed human from the ground and followed others into the darkness.
There was a small room at the end of the corridor. Filled with piles of bone, pieces of old ragged cloth, rusty weapons and old leaves. Shinigami was darting from one serpent nest to another, rummaging through muck and leaves, occasionally gasping as if she found something of great value. Others followed suit trying to beat one another to whatever spoils were in this room. Wataru placed the human on the floor and walked around the room slowly shuffling the dirt with his thick feet. After a full circle, he sat at the entrance blocking the door. His demeanour was unreadable and he kept scratching his trunk.
After a thorough search of the room was finished, Nai turned her attention to the bonded whimpering human with a broken nose. Most probably he slammed his face on the cobblestones just as he was paralyzed.
“We need to talk to you” Nai approached the dark-haired man, lying on his side.
“Who are you people, please let me go…” he begged, “I have done nothing to deserve this.”
Shinigami peeked behind Nai’s shoulders and blew a raspberry at the guy.
“We just need to ask you a couple of questions and that’s it” Nai tried to calm the guy down.
“Or we will cut you open like this guy!” Shinigami jumped out with a human skull in her hand, she snapped it’s jaw a few times and acted as if the skull was talking “Ye better listen, these folk are mean”, to which Shinigami responded with a gasp “Ah! You traitor!” and hid the skull in her bag. “Don’t listen to it, we would never hurt a fly” she finished with an exaggerated shy posture.
“Listen, it’s okay, I will not let them near you” Rozhe came to rescue.
“Can you please untie me?” the man asked in a shaking voice. Nai nodded at Wataru who was blocking the only exit from the chamber then nodded to Rozhe.
The rope fell loose on the floor, the man sat up straight and rubbed his bleeding nose. “Who are you and why am I here?”
“We took you to answer a couple of questions about The Gift of Life.” Rozhe began in a soft voice “We wanted to ask them after you finished your speech in the street, but the wyvern and the Boros mixed things up a bit. So, what is your name, mysterious number three?”
“Zikmund” he answered dryly.
“Don’t worry, we are not going to hurt you.” Rozhe kept trying to calm him down.
“Could I get something to drink?” he looked around in the faint light that was coming through the doorway.
“Sure” Rozhe extended her canteen.
He took a few gulps. “What do you want to know?”
“Why have you protested in the street?”
“Because Simic are destroying nature’s natural order, and not only that, they are destroying people’s lives!”
“What do you mean?”
He uncovered his shoulders and chest. He was covered in blue scales with golden stripes extending from the gold scaled belly.“They made me like this and then threw away because I was a failure.”
“Who threw you out?”
“The Simic. Scientist Serilius. He was the one who did this to me. We were part of the Doorway Project. We were all naive and young and in need of coin. I just wanted to be like my sister. She was smart. But I? All I could do was a volunteer. They used us as lab rats and when the experiments failed they just threw us all away. We were castaways. We were outsiders. Nobody wanted to do anything with us.” his breath was uneven, he fell silent and rubbed his eyes. “Then we met Father Vuduin. He gave us hope. A community. A sense of home. We all became his children. And we pledged to fight for others. And for nature.”
“Does destroying Simic laboratories counts as your way of fighting?” Nai intercepted.
“What? No! Well, at least not for the majority of us.” he lowered his eyes. “We had a new member recently. I think his name was Eduard. When we heard what he did we had a meeting. He was scolded by Father Vuduin for acting recklessly and not within Selesnya’s teachings. He did not return after that night.”
“Who else is in this group of yours?” Nai pressed on.
“What? There are hundreds of followers, I don’t know everyone…”
“No, are there others with numbers on their hands?” she clarified.
“Um, yes, I am not the only one. I don’t know all of them either. I know Boris and Laura. Boris is a dwarf and has a claw instead of his left arm, Laura is really pretty, but she has tentacles instead of her mouth.”
Rozhe looked at his arm and saw a calligraphic number three tattooed on his handbreadth. “What are their numbers?” she asked slowly taking his arm into hers.
“Um, Boris is number seven and Laura is eleven, why do you ask?”
Nai stood up “Ok, I think we heard everything, anyone has any more questions? Katrille, maybe you have anything to say? You are Simic after all.”
“No, no, I… No.” her voice staggered a bit.
“We should go, much to do today.” Wataru stood up shifting his weight with his hammer.
As the party left the crumbled church and walked down slightly descending path darkness grew thicker and foul. They reached a chasm, extending far deeper than any of them could see. Dark scar in the earth was pressing against a crumbling narrow pathway and threatened to devour anyone reckless enough to step on slippery stones at the edge. Naturally, Shinigami made a cartwheel on the very edge. Unfortunately, her foot slipped, she did spin her hands with panic on her face, trying to keep her balance. At the very last moment, she summoned her scythe to grapple nearby edge and pulled herself back up. She stood firmly on the path and bowed to the remainder of the party. Nobody clapped.
“Tough crowd.”, she scoffed.
Wataru pressed his large body to the wall and passed the narrow walkway trying to keep his large body as far from the edge as possible.Others crossed the most dangerous parts with care too. After the chasm branched away from the path and hid behind firm stone walls party relaxed their careful pace. Crumbled stone walls were changed to spacious caverns, with Golgari rot farms sprawling here and there. The usual zombie labourers were planting something large in one of the farms, currently heavily infested with waspcrabs, which flew in swarms and consumed the bloodcaps and weyheads, which were growing in batches on piles of refuse.
After the sweet stench of decay, the party was greeted by noisy street in the afternoon sun. Walls on either side of the street were covered in banners and posters.
The largest black banners announced a festival that is happening throughout Mokosh, which will be honoured by weekly fighting competitions. The very next fight will happen tonight, in The Oathkeeper Emporium.
“Tickets are as low as 5 zibs”, Nai announced looking at the remainder of the party.
Shinigami furrowed her brows while Wataru touched his pouch absentmindedly.
“I would rather spill some blood in the heart of Orzhov by the name of Rakdos!”, pale girl cackled, “Just imagine the spectacle, I would light the fire where the dark sun barely shines!”.
A moment of silence befell the group, everybody was considering watching the pale girl in the ring, fighting to the death. Apart from Rozhe and Elfur, everyone silently smiled. Including Shinigami.