Shinigami opens her eyes in the dark room above Neirius laboratory. There are no unusual sounds today. Only peaceful breathing of other group members. She looks around. Wataru is sleeping in the corner, his long inhales are followed by whistling exhales. His armor is neatly folded next to him. Nai is curled up in a blanket next to the table. Her backpack has a faint glow from inside. Katrille has slept next to the shelf full of books. Her emotionless vedalken face is motionless in the dark. Neirius has a hand hanging out from under his sheets. He is sleeping in the only bed in the room. His lips are moving, he seems to be dreaming something. There is no sign on Rozhe. The place where she slept is empty. Shinigami sits up. Her scythe is next to her. Surprised she quickly reaches for the shaft. It is warm to the touch. As she lifts the weapon a faint flicker of hellish flame ignites around her hand. She does not feel pain. Only warm tingles. Surprised she stares at the dying flames for a moment.
Door hinges creak in the laboratory below. Careful steps follow. Rozhe climbs the stairway. She is carrying a kettle and a basket. Bitter aroma fills the air around her.
“Morning everyone!”, her enthusiastic voice fills the morning silence. “I brought some goods from the morning vendor. Anyone care to join in?”
Neirius sits up on his bed. Bandage from yesterday is showing blood from underneath.
“Thank you.”, his voice is stumbling in his mouth. He clears his throat and repeats.
“You are welcome. It is your gold that paid for this either way.”, Rozhe looks around for something, “Got any cups?”
“Year, yeah, sure.”, Neirius lifts himself from the bed carefully and shuffles to the table. Few moments later he produces a cup, a pair of glasses and a bowl. “Sorry, I am not used to guests.”
“No problem. I guess we can share.”, she pauses for a moment looking at Nai, who is stuffing her blanket into her backpack. “Everybody slept well?”
Silence falls in the room.
Moments pass as Neirius starts clumsily juggling the few wares he had. Liquid pours into the cup, bowl and two glasses. Liquid is black, with a light brown foam on top.
Rozhe darts her gaze among the group.
Shinigami is captivated by her scythe. She strokes the weapon with contempt.
Wataru has sweat on his forehead. His trunk is curled up. He nervously rubs his fingers.
Katrille is looking at Wataru and searching for something in her bag.
Nai catches Rozhe’s gaze. “Yeah, yeah, we will share.” Her voice breaks the strange silence in the room.
“So, what adventures await for us today?”, Rozhe opens with a strange tinge in her voice.
“We have the bounty for Wet Slayer to claim.”, Nai points.
“And you have that book…”, Shinigami points at her bag with her lute, “… wonder the death it will bring…”, she finishes with a tune.
Soft melancholic lute sound fills the room.
Wataru shifts over to Katrille and whispers: “I had a dream. About myself. And woke up to this.” He opens his palm. His fingers are connected at the base with a leather membrane. Then he touches his trunk. He brushes a fresh opening in shape of vedalken nostril on the side of the muscle. It opens and closes with his breathing. “Do you know what is happening to me?”
Katrille pushes her bag away and carefully touches Wataru’s trunk. Then lifts his ear. Behind it, an fish like yawn has appeared.
“I don’t think any of this is amazing!”, Loxodon clenches his fists. “What is happening to me?”
“I think the revival potion had some side effects.”, her eyes flash with excitement, then contempt claims her face. “Don’t worry, you will be fine.”
“By the name of all angels I don’t feel fine!”, Wataru protests in whisper.
“It is a mere physical change. Imagine all the good it will…”, Katrilles silent explanation was cut short.
Neirius clears his throat after taking a big sip of the brown liquid from the bowl. “I think I owe you some explanation.” He shifts his grip on the bowl and look at Katrille. “I will try to make this as clear as possible, don’t hesitate to interrupt if something is too vague.”, he pauses waiting for any approval, but has to continue without getting any. “Well, to start with, thank you for yesterday. Without you I would have never pulled that experiment off and still left the arena alive.”
All eyes apart from Wataru’s are focused on Neirius. Rozhe and Nai are slowly eating pastry from the bag in the middle of the room.
“I am making a device of great importance. And value. It all started during my research on Guildpact I have stumbled on a mention of ancient and foreign relic. It was, well, I guess is, if one would ever find one, called ‘The Black Lotus’. I could not trace the source of this relic, but it appears that during the times before Guildpact, when Ravnica was still uncivilized battlefield, soared by dragons and ferocious beasts and humans, goblins, elves and vedalken were fighting unending wars, powerful mages wielded the power of all mana. Contrary to what is common in magic now, mages would tap into all aspects of mana.”
Neirius stops for a brief moment and sips his bowl.
“Sorry.”, he mumbles looking at uncertain faces. “Mana as of today is classified by the aspect it governs. And we use color names to specify the five groups of available aspects. Red - governs the emotion, fierceness and fire. White - encloses loyalty, community and light. Green - is the aspect of life, growth and nature. Blue - mind, ingenuity and water. Black - death, decay and corruption.”
He takes a deep breath.
“Currently most mages are versed in one aspect of mana. Some, more talented are versed in two. In exceptionally rare cases - three. Books that I have read mentioned even more unique individuals, they wielded four or even all five aspects. So back in times before time was accounted properly, mages of highest power were using the Black Lotus as their mana source. In one book, called The Saga of Zak Dolan, extremely powerful mage used the artifact and conquered most of Ravnica. The book ended with a mystery. According to it the mage had disappeared from Ravnica after he found no more challenge among the mages of this plane.”
He takes another sip.
“Actually, that book is the last one I found that mentioned Black Lotus. It would take a great historian to figure out the mystery of the real artifact and where it has disappeared. But I am not a historian.”
He stands up and goes through a pile of papers on his table.
“Here, I have created a theory about circular mana conducts. Based on my calculations it is possible to build a self charging mana flow circle. What you see in the middle of laboratory is implementation of my theory. I call it The Articifimana Siphon. The task we are now doing is ensuring that the circle receives proper initial circular charge.”
He takes one paper containing two circles drawn out.
“There are many ways to complete the charge sequence, but I have chosen two that are easiest to balance.”
The circles have five colors and five factions written in between.
green Golgari black Rakdos red Boros white Azorius blue Simic
red Gruul green Selesnya white Orzhov black Dimir blue Izzet
“Here, these are the two that have the most potential, at least by my calculations. I would have loved to use the bottom circle, but Dimir guild is too hard to track, so I started with the top one.”
He traces his finger over two guilds. Golgari and Rakdos.
“Our next task should be straightforward. We need to get an audience from angel Aurelia. Then we need to persuade her, um, Wataru, are angels women?”
“Yes. Exclusively all have taken female form.”, Wataru replied with his gaze wandering the opposite wall.
“Mhm. So we need to persuade her to take us and the device into next field exercise. And it would be perfect if a large number of troops would participate. Can I entrust you with organising this?”
“Sure, lets talk business.”, Nai took after a moment over, seeing as Loxodon is preoccupied with something.
“Does 50 gold total sound well?”
“Each?”, Nai asked with a hint of surprise.
“No, no, definitely no. In total. I will prepare the device for next trial, while you go on and organise a way to place it too epicenter of next large Boros training. Or operation. Does that sound doable for you?”
Nai looked at Wataru for support. He snapped from wherever he was and nodded.
“I can ask.”
“Wataru Manchiki. Reporting to field sergeant.”, Wataru stood in alert.
“Missing from duty for last four days. I hope you have a darn good reason for that.”, a medium sized human with dark skin burrowed his eyebrows in the days sun. “What are these civilians doing with you, cleric?”
“We are here to request audience with supervising angel.”
“I guess this is related to your disappearance?”
Gimbel Otto looks over the group. His eyes stay on each girl in the group, judging the capabilities of them.
“Fine. I will introduce you all to Angel Sarakiel. But first let’s have some fun.”, man turns to a squad of men and woman alert in a sand pit below. “Rejoice, we have some guildless today to help us with our training. They will be trying to claim a flag from under your protection. Take rank!”
Group of soldiers move in and surround a small flag at the end of the field. They raise their shields and weapons and eye the group suspiciously.
“Wataru. Your task is to bring the flag to me. Show me what you can.”, Gimbel turns to the flag and crosses his arms. “Clerics, stay alert for fatal injuries!”
“Yes sir!”, he turns to the girls and shrugs.
Without any delay Shinigami shrieks and dashes forward. Others try to follow unsheathing their weapons. A bubble of complete darkness surrounds the Rakdos girl as her shriek becomes a blood chilling taunt in Abyssal.
Wataru slams into left side of the file, taking the attention of three soldiers. Nai and Rozhe aim their weapons at right side of the file. Arrows fly. Without any command archers shoot back at the girls.
Shinigami and her bubble of darkness sprints forward. Men push their shields together and prepare for impact.
Metal hits metal. One of the soldiers slice through something wet in the bubble. His sword drips with blood as he swings for second hit. Bubble raises above the heads of the men and drops behind them. File collapses as men and women rush to stop the charging darkness. One thrust. Another slice. All weapons return with blood on them. Soldiers have surrounded Shinigami. Swing. Cut. Thrust. Abyssal taunt became a scream of pain. Bouncing from hit to hit, the darkness engulfs the flag.
Wataru slams a soldier with his hammer as a small flag flies out of the darkness. Nai starts running to catch it.
An archer seeing this dodges a swing from clerical hammer and runs after the flag. Wataru cries and dodges after. Flag sank shaft first into the sand. Archer grabbed the tip of it, turned around and got knocked down by a charging Loxodon. Nai grabbed the flag from still airborne archer and nearly collided with the sergeant.
“Done!”, Nai exhaled pushing the flag into surprised hands of Gimbel.
Men and women dropped their rush and looked at each other with despair.
“I’m fine!”, Shinigami shouted from the back and dropped her darkness, revealing major wounds on her body.
“Boros! This was a fine example of savagery and unpredictiveness Rakdos can show on the battlefield!”, sergeant regained his wits and lectured his subordinates. “We must be prepared for such actions!”
Clerics rushed to the pit, picking up unconscious soldiers. Rakdos girl walked out of the fight with dignity without getting any attention.
As Gimbel gave out orders to his subordinates, Wataru came next to him.
“Does that prove our worth?”
“Yes, it weirdly does. Follow me.”
“State your business.”, an angel stepped down from guard post letting sergeant take her place.
“We wish to participate in next operation and ask for permission to bring a device with us.”, Wataru bowed and explained.
“A device? What is it for?”, Sarakiel folded her wings behind her.
“A good friend of mine wishes to conduct an experiment.”
“I know of your background, Cleric. You aspire to reach higher rank. How will this help?”
“The device may be of use to Boros. It can help mages in battles.”
Angel touched her weapon and froze in contempt.
“I wish to know more about this device.”, she stepped forward and listened to Wataru explain what he heard from Neirius.
Meanwhile the remaining of the party stood on the edge of bastion overlooking better part of Ravnica.
Wataru returned to the party smiling.
“She said we will be able to participate in upcoming training. It will happen next week, but Boros will be inquiring on such devices for their use.”
“Seems fair. Should we take a day off? I guess you should help Shinigami with her wounds.”, Nai looked at her comrade with concern. Rakdos was trying to press a bleeding wound together with her hands.
After taking care of their task with Boros, they found themselves in Tin street, walking towards Blistercoils. Rozhe grabbed Katrille’s hand and dragged her into a tent on the side of the road.
Tent was filled with carpets and textile. In the back of the tent a small figure sat behind a loom and weaved.
“Welcome to my little shop. Search for your carpet, I have one for all of you!”, whispering womans voice was somehow audible clearly among all these carpets.
Nai came closer and lifted a bunch of small carpets. One of them shifted and slid out. It had a depiction of tribal symbol, reminding of a burning tree.
“Oh, how strange, you are surrounded by power. Someone will claim that power, but not for long. And you are connected to it.”, woman shifted on her seat, “That would be five gold.”
Nai took the little carpet, lifted it up and passed the gold to the old woman.
Rozhe took a closest piece of textile and opened it. It was a well woven silk scarf, depicting azure blue lakes separated by small green landmasses, small silver thopters made up lines among those islands and peninsulas.
“What is this?”, Rozhe asked a bit baffled.
“I hear you search for something. No, someone. You will find no peace among the islands. You must search here.”, woman answered standing up from her loom.
“What do you mean, you hear?”, Nai asked fumbling the carpet.
“Carpets speak to me. They tell me stories. That would be five gold.”
Rozhe touched her pouch and frowned.
“I don’t have five gold.”
“Oh I know that, you poor thing. Five copper will be enough from you. She is waiting for you.”
Elder woman came forward and touched Rozhe’s hand.
“Can you tell me more what are these carpets saying to you?”, Nai stroked the symbol on now hers carpet.
“You will come in the middle of this fight. You will bring cunning to a brawl.”, woman looked Nai in the eye, “You are a strange one, even the carpets agree on that.”
Wataru came across a well woven depiction of an angel. “What about me?”
“You are going to find her. But she will not be the one you wish. You don’t need that one yet. Let it be.”, woman took the carpet from Wataru’s hands and placed it back among others.
“I have something for you though.”, elder lady moved up to Katrille with a carpet which had a silver bridge with three bats hanging under it. A dark figure stood on the bridge, it’s blazing blue eyes seemed alive.
“I don’t need anything like that.” Katrille moved back a step from the disturbing image.
“Oh, sure you don’t. But one day you will see.”, she glanced at Shinigami. Her innocent look changed. “That is all I can give you. Out you go now!”
“You know, that woman looked fishy even for me.”, Shinigami said after a long walk in silence.
Party came back to Neirius lab and delivered their results. Neirius was pleased and gave them a weekend off.
“I have to do an errand before the evening.”, Nai stood up from the table.
“Book related?”, Wataru asked.
“Yes. If you don’t mind I will go alone. It is mandatory.”, she picked her bag and left.
“I need some air. The music is horrible in this inn.”, Shinigami stood up too and followed Nai through the door. She trailed the blue cloaked girl for a while, but after few turns rogue disappeared from her vision. She continued to walk forward in hope of noticing her comrades silhouette but she had to return to the inn disappointed.
Meanwhile Wataru counted his money and stood up to pay a quick visit to Orzhov bank.
Katrille and Rozhe stayed in the inn. Exchanging only a few phrases here and there. Nai returned moments after Shinigami.
“So, the book has a forged entry. I asked my contact to investigate it and to alert us if anything bad is going to happen to Neirius. He could not promise much, but at least we will have a head start if trouble comes our way.”
“Who is this contact of yours?”, Rozhe asked curiously.
“Someone I would not want to mess with.”, Nai cut the conversation.
“You don’t have to be so harsh… Keep your secrets, fine.”, Rozhe lifted her mug.
“Any ideas what we want to do now?”, Katrille tumbled her Simic communicator on the table.
“I am still very much in debt, so any work will do for me.”, Wataru chugged a big gulp of beer.