Evening crowd bustled in the Fire and Water inn. The table had a plate of meats, bread and cheese. A large jug with local ale had a bit of condensate on it. The atmosphere around the table was lighter than usual. Perhaps due to recent success negotiating with Boros, perhaps due to payment they received.
“So, any ideas what we should do over the weekend?”, Katrille repeated her question.
“Let’s drink and relax?”, Rozhe suggested eyeing Nai’s cloaked figure.
“Drink is due.”, even Wataru seemed more relaxed than usual.
“Feeling less of a burden coming from your debts? Or something else is on your mind?”, Nai lifted her cup.
“If not for the loss in the arena, I would be free of them entirely.”, he remarked.
Suddenly Shinigami stopped playing her flute. A wide smile stretched over on her face. “I remembered I have a music lesson tonight. I will see you tomorrow.” She stood up and left with a spring to her step.
“Good riddance.”, Wataru mumbled under his breath.
An Azorius scout entered the inn. He turned to the notice board and started re-arranging the notices.
“I’ll check what’s new in the neighbourhood. Maybe we can find some easy work?”, Nai placed her cup and walked over to the scout.
“Mhhh.”, Wataru agreed with a nod.
“You often end up in messes like yesterday?”, Rozhe inquired.
“Not before this whole thing with Neirius started.”, Katrille replied, “I am a dedicated researcher, but things had been hectic for over a week now.”
“You knew each other before?”, Rozhe rested her elbows on the table and leaned into her cup.
“No. Well, I know Neirius personally. We studied together. But I met Wataru and Nai in an alley. They were carrying paralyzed Neirius to a healer.”
“And we all met that devils incarnate that night as well.”, Wataru stroked his new nostrils along the side of his trunk.
“You don’t get along very well, don’t you?”, Rozhe lifted her thin eyebrow.
“I don’t see why I should get along with Rakdos in the first place. I would rather have her caged or otherwise restrained.”, loxodon scoffed at his thought, “Shame she might enjoy the experience. Madness runs in that cult.”
Nai walked back to the table.
“I found four things.”, she lifted her cup only to find it empty, “Owner of this place is looking for large amounts of Trickle Fruit. Pre-fermented ones.”, she poured some ale from the jug, “Azorius placed a bounty on a ghost below Tin Street. 20 zinos if proven disposed.”
“How do you prove that a ghost is disposed of?”, Rozhe asked.
“I don’t know?”, Nai shrugged, “Then there is something regarding Gruul on the Foundry Street. Gang fights and incursions. But the bounty seemed small. And there is a public trial going on. Officer Tamid Luade is requesting evidence against Linda Moisuz, something about Guildpact violations.”, she gulped down the cold brew, “I would check the fruit business first. That seems like something we can do without getting into a bloody mess?”
“Agreed.”, Wataru stood up. “Jura, what fruits do you need?”, he called out to the barkeep.
Large female ogre turned towards the relatively tiny looking loxodon and replied in a deep sweet voice, “Oh sweetie, that will be Trizz, not me. You can talk to him in the kitchen.”
“Thank you”, Wataru nodded quickly and marched towards the kitchen door. The rest followed.
The inn had a large kitchen compared to the main room. Two large stoves had bubbling pots on them, piles of freshly chopped vegetables rested on the table. Small goblin with a white apron was slicing meat from a carcass of what once was a goat.
“Quien are you and why are you in my kitchen?”, Trizz asked mildly annoyed.
“Trizz, I presume. We are here to talk about the fruit.”, Nai raised her hands defensively as the goblin pointed large meat knife towards her.
“Ah, the Trickle Fruit! How much do you have?”, Goblin’s attitude changed instantly, he placed the knife down and cleaned his hands with a towel.
“We don’t have any.”, Nai looked at the party a bit confused, “We wanted to help you with acquiring it, perhaps?”
“Ah, si si si, maybe you can. So, now is the season for the chorrito in the South. I usually stock up with it and make my special spirit from it.”, Goblin pointed to a large still in the corner of the kitchen. “My place is famous for it.”
“Mhhh, good stuff, I remember…”, Wataru mumbled.
“This year no merchants came from the South. No merchants - no fruit. No fruit - no brew. No brew - … Well, you get the point.”, goblin shrugged.
“Have you checked all merchants?”, Rozhe asked.
“Si! Why would you think I would not do that? Because of my short legs!?”, now that Trizz mentioned that, everybody noticed that his legs were shorter than a regular goblin would have.
“No no no, just I thought we could ask around for you…”, Rozhe tried to calm down the igniting goblin.
“I asked around myself. No merchants came from the South. End of story.”, Trizz crossed his arms.
“How far is the South you talk about?”, Nai carefully inquired.
“Not that far. Three weeks travel. Maybe four if weather is harsh.”, Trizz scratched his bald head, “You plan on travelling there?”
“Ummm, maybe not right now… What about the price? What are you buying for?”, Nai looked at others a bit disappointed.
“Two zinos per crate. If pre-fermented. You would not find a better deal anywhere in this part of Ravnica.”
“And how much would you buy?”
“At least two hundred worth. Maybe more. So will you get the chorrito?”
“We will keep an eye for them.”, Nai nodded and pushed the group out of the kitchen.
“That was rather disappointing.”, Nai concluded once they sat down back at the table.
“We should still ask around.”, Rozhe proposed, “Maybe he did miss something?”
“I might know just the right people!”, Nai stood up quickly, “I will be back in an hour.”
Dark cobblestone streets were illuminated by ghostly blue light. Writing above the door read “Matilda’s Shade”. Nai knocked.
“Why what brings you so late at night?”, Matilda opened the door herself.
“I need to talk with Marry and John. I will not disturb them for long.”
“We are always glad to have guests like yourself. You inspire these children.”, old lady smiled warmly and let the girl in.
Matilda led Nai to the main room, where children were chatting and doing crafts.
“Nai!”, Marry jumped at the sight of the blue cloaked figure and skipped across the room to give her a big hug, Nai took the girl by her hand and led her back to where Jack was sitting.
“Are you treated well?”, Nai asked once both kids were out of Matilda’s earshot.
“Yes, we have it good here.”, Jack replied, “We have food and roof.”
“Is everything well with the things I gave you?”
“Yes, we hid them all. We need a lot more to save, but we will reach our dreams very soon.”, Marry whispered.
“I need some help from you. I am looking for some fruit, can you help me find it?”
“What fruit?”, kids asked in unison intrigued by this uncommon request.
“Trickle Fruit. It should be some sort of delicacy imported from the South.”
Kids exchanged some whispers.
“We don’t know much about that. But you can ask Erik.”, they pointed to a fat looking kid in the far end of the room. “He sticks around the food merchants in Tin Street, he should know what you need to find.”
“Thanks.”, Nai nodded approached Erik.
“Hey, I am a friend of John and Marry. I need some information.”
“I am listening?”, Erik rubbed his sweaty palms on his sides.
“I am looking for Trickle Fruit. Are there any merchants that came from the South?”
“Oh, no. This year only one merchant came from the South. He barely escaped death in the wastes. Gruul attacked his caravan. Left no survivors. Well, one survivor to be fair.”
“And there is no other place to get the fruit?”
“I don’t know about that. I have seen Trickle Fruits only a couple of times in my life. They usually are brought by merchants from the South. So I would say they grow in the South.”
“Can you tell me more about Gruul? Why are they attacking the caravans?”
“I heard there is a power struggle in the Clans. Borborygmos has been challenged. Burning Tree clan has a new leader rising among the ranks. His name is Domri Rade. Also, there is a new clan - Rukta Clan, led by Bren the Bear. The leader of the Gruul can change at any moment.”
“I heard rumours that both Domri and Bren are supported by someone outside the Clans.”
“Thank you.”, Nai stood up. Erik lifted his palm towards Nai, clearly expecting something.
Nai looked at him with surprise, then took out few coins from her pouch and placed them in his chubby palm.
“Pleasure doing business with friends of friends.”, Erik nodded in a way that Nai felt dismissed. She spun around and walked out of the orphanage.
“Do you know why the dolphin swam across the zonot?”, Rozhe was trying to reignite the long-dead conversation.
Wataru lifted an eyebrow in response.
“To get to the other tide!”, her pun was met with hard silence, it even seemed that the inn got suddenly quieter. “You just don’t relax, do you?”, she nudged Wataru on the side.
“I am relaxed. I just don’t find your joke very amusing.”, Wataru replied dryly.
Nai came through the door and walked directly to the table. “I don’t have good news.”, she sat down and pulled her cup closer. “It seems that even going after the fruits will get us in trouble with the Gruul. The trade has halted due to power struggle among the Clans.”
“That leaves us with the trial. We talked a bit, Rozhe has a connection with Azorius, it would help.”, Katrille suggested.
“Ok, it is decided, we go to New Prahv in the morning.”, Nai decided for the whole group. Others did not seem to protest.
Three triangular tower-like structures forming the New Prahv stood proudly in the morning sun. Soothing mist from a decorative waterfall pouring out of one of the towers engulfed the party as they entered the building complex. It took almost half an hour of asking around and walking numerous corridors to finally find the office of Tamid Luade.
Simple grey door with a glass panel opened into an average looking room. It had cold artificial illumination coming from the ceiling, drawers aligned next to a wall, probably filled with numerous sheets of paper, plain-looking desk, cluttered with documents, and a chubby human.
The human had a sweaty double chin and black hair combed to one side. He stopped writing and lifted his gaze at the group which entered his office.
“We came to help with the case against Linda Moisuz.”, Rozhe spoke first, fiddling the Azorius signet on her cloak.
“Oh, very well, I am glad you have come. I have a bit of an issue in my hands, I almost have a claim ready for the Chamber of the Guildpact, but I lack proper evidence. I have done the interrogation myself, but this Linda is foul being and refuses her guilt. Can you find evidence of cross-guild feud and bring that to me? I will pay in platinum.”
“Can you describe the case?”, Nai walked forward.
“A Simic researcher sabotaged Golgari rot farms. The charges include violating guild territory arrangements, destruction of undead workers and extended biological contamination of the farmland. I am certain this case will land me a promotion. I just can’t get Linda to plead guilty or find undeniable evidence of Simic involvement.”
“Can we go talk to Linda?”, Rozhe looked at Tamid with rising suspicion.
“Of course, she is downstairs in the detainment block D, cell 11. Please do not injure or kill her. She is currently under the protection of Azorius law. Until proven guilty. A moment please, I will give you a permit for interrogation.”, Tamid took a blank piece of paper and started filling it with long phrases.
“What is the biological contamination you talked about?”, Katrille asked, feeling personally involved due to her affiliation to the Simic.
“Linda created a creature of destructive capability and specifically introduced it into Golgari ecosystem. She claims that it was arranged, but I have an official complaint from Golgari supervisor about unauthorised destruction of zombie workforce.”, Tamid stamped the document he just wrote and gave it to Rozhe.
“We will see what we can find.”, Rozhe took the document and nodded for others to leave.
Four of them walked down the maze inside of New Prahv.
“I have a feeling that Luade is up to no good. The case seems overstretched.”, Rozhe voiced her doubts.
“Agreed.”, Wataru nodded. “It seems that he tries to get escalation to the Chamber of the Guildpact for his gain.”
“Let’s not be too hasty with the blame, he did say he will pay in platinum.”, Nai tried to remind the group of their goals.
“Let’s first see what Linda can say for herself.”, Katrille seemed to side with the defendant too.
After traversing numerous halls and stairwells, they reached the cell. Like everything in this building, the cell was artificially illuminated. Clean grey stone floor and three plain walls behind a row of bars. In the back, a redheaded woman was kneeling with her arms raised above her. Two chains held the arms by the wrists. Her simple brown outfit was clean and tidy.
“Linda?”, Rozhe called out through the bars.
Linda’s head wobbled.
“Linda?!”, Rozhe repeated louder.
“Ugh.”, the woman groaned. “I already said – I am innocent, please just let me go.”
“We came to help.”
Linda lifted her head and looked at her visitors.
“I don’t know you. Did Mortimer sent you?”, she slowly stood up and leaned against the wall.
“No, we came after we saw a poster for your case.”
“My case? This is a misunderstanding. There should be no case!”, Linda shook her head. “Please, if you can, reach out to Mortimer Lan, he should sort this thing out.”
“Can you first tell us what happened?”, Rozhe inquired.
“Mortimer found me and gave me a contract from Golgari. They needed the waspcrab problem fixed.”
“Fixed?”, Wataru smirked, “Don’t tell me you bred molerabbits to eat the waspcrabs?”
“Molerabbits?”, Katrille looked at Wataru perplexed, “Never heard about such breed before.”
“I just made them up.”, Wataru explained.
“No, I don’t do animals. At least not any more. I am a freelance necromantic bioengineer.”, Linda explained slightly annoyed, “I created Spitting Greyflower, it should have disposed of any waspcrabs with ease.”
“So you did create another problem! So you truly are Simic!”, Wataru clapped.
“I am not Simic. Not any more!”, Linda protested, “I left soon after I finished the studies. I said I am a freelancer. And I did not create another problem. I made an elegant solution to solve an existing problem. Please just find Mortimer, he will know what to do.”
“Where can we find this Mortimer Lan?”, Nai asked.
“He has a small office next to Transguild Promenade in Plaza South. Look for the banner with his surname. And please, hurry. It is horrible here.”, Linda shook her shackles revealing bruised skin on her wrists.
A pretty faced receptionist led the party into the office.
A slender man stood by the window. He was dressed in a fine tailored black suit. Back of his neck had a rash coming out from under the collar.
“Mortimer Lan, at your service.”, his thin lips complemented his sharp features.
“We were sent by Linda. She is detained in New Prahv.”, Rozhe reported.
“I am aware. I am trying my best to solve this issue. But it all escalated when a corrupt officer took over the case. He sniffed out that Linda has connections to Simic and is trying to build up a case for the Chamber of the Guildpact. Which is something I truly wish to avoid at all costs.”
“Linda mentioned you gave her a contract. What exactly happened?”, Nai asked.
“I negotiated a deal to solve the waspcrab infestation issue. Linda introduced a countermeasure to combat those parasites. If everything went as we planned, farms would have been clean from those insects yesterday. But the countermeasure malfunctioned and started killing the workforce.”, Mortimer leaned against his solid wood desk. “I did not catch your names?”
In quick order, the party introduced themselves.
“You look like capable fighters, could you solve one problem for me, so I could negotiate with Golgari to retract their claim?”, Mortimer said after glossing over their equipment.
“Depends on problem and reward”, Nai started negotiating.
“Deal with Greyflower infestation in the two farms where they were introduced. You will receive 1000 zinos and my deepest gratitude.”, Mortimer tone dictated that no negotiation is possible. “I hope this can be solved by evening.”
“How many Greyflowers there are?”, Nai asked for more information.
“Linda planted six seeds based on the first phase of the contract.”, Mortimer lifted a sheet of paper and skimmed over it quickly. “Two in the first farm and four in second.”
“We will report once the job is done.”, Nai was already counting the reward.
“Hey, what a surprise!”, Shinigami caught up to the group walking past the Foundry Street, “What are you doing here? What is our plan for today?”
“We are on a field trip to the rot-farms”, Wataru replied with complete lack of enthusiasm.
“Ughhh, sounds boring. Don’t we have anything more interesting to do?”
Party collectively sighted.
“You can stay at your own devices if you wish.”, loxodon did not even try to hide his hope that Shinigami would turn around and go somewhere else. But to his great disappointment, Rakdos girl kept on striding beside them.
“So, why the rot-farms? Will we kill something?”
Party members tried not to fuel this conversation, but Shinigami kept on bugging them with various questions all the way to the farms.
The road curled on the side of the Death Chasm. Farms extended into the darkness away from the Chasm. Few hundred meters ahead of the party a weird plant-like creature crept from the farm and chomped on a waspcrab buzzing past it.
“Hey, make yourself useful and check out what that is.”, Wataru pointed Shinigami towards the shambling creature.
Rakdos girl mumbled something inaudible and fired a blast of eldritch energy. Projectile forcefully impacted the plant-creature, ripping off a part of its tendrils and leaves. Shinigami nodded with a thoughtful expression, rubbed her chin as if she was calculating something and let another ball of energy towards the creature. This time the blast hit directly into what appeared to be an open mouth. The upper half of the creature burst into blobs of green goo which landed on surrounding cobblestone.
“Well, now we know we can kill it.”, Katrille remarked with a hint of sarcasm, “Good thing we did not want to investigate any more details about this new species.”
“What was this thing anyway?”, Rozhe asked.
“I really hope it was the Greyflower we were meant to eradicate.”, Nai walked over the pile of tangled roots and scattered plant matter that shambled just a moment ago. “It seems it was grey. And a flower of sorts.”, she looked at Katrille and Wataru for support, “So we need to kill five more of these and we can go back to Mortimer?”
“Hey, I get the feeling that you are getting paid to kill these things”, Shinigami put her arms akimbo. “I want my share!”
“We are not getting paid to kill them.”, Wataru nodded to Nai knowingly.
“I will not help you unless we split whatever you are getting out of this.”, she childishly stamped her foot.
“Whatever.”, Boros cleric peeked over the entrance to the farm. “I can hear more shambling inside, but I don’t see anything.”
“I’ll take a quick look.”, Nai ran past Wataru silently, pressed against a crumbled wall and looked over the corner. She signalled with her hand that two creatures are coming their way.
Katrille prepared a spell and fired off icy shards to the first creature that peaked from the darkness. All shards hit, and the creature froze in place, trying to fight the magically appearing ice with sluggish movements of root-like tendrils. Nai shot a well-targeted bolt to another creature behind the corner and retreated to reload. Shinigami stood patting her foot, inaudibly having a conversation with herself. Rozhe put an arrow in the creature’s mouth ending its frustrating battle with the magical ice. Wataru slowly stepped forward on the mushy farmland.
Eventually, they killed all three moving creatures on the farm, mostly by arrows and ranged magic. Only once did the creatures managed to get close enough to spit at Wataru, and after barely dogging the acid, the loxodon made a wise decision to stay a safe distance away.
“That’s four creatures down. I have a gut feeling that there are more than six creatures here.”, Nai said to the group gathered in the middle of the first farm.
“Well, there is only one way to find out. The next farm is behind this rubble.”, Wataru looked into the darkness. “Something is definitely waiting for us in that direction.”
“Well, if we stay within a safe distance, we should be fine.”, Nai booted one of the plant piles with two arrows sticking out of it. “We can easily outrun them if needed, those roots don’t seem to let them move very fast.”
“And I will stand here. Unless you will give me my share.”, Shinigami stated from the entrance to the farm. She did not move a single finger while the fight was going on.
“Fine, suit yourself.”, Wataru replied and stepped on a large mushroom releasing a puff of spores.
Slowly but surely the plants kept creeping towards the party.
“How many do you see now?”, Nai asked while aiming another arrow at the closest Greyflower.
“Five on this side.”, Katrille replied while forming three icy darts between her hands.
“I am looking at two.”, Rozhe reported.
“I can’t even count! But they are coming! In numbers!”, Shinigami’s high-pitched voice startled the group.
Nai turned around to and was surprised to see Shinigami standing in a crumbled gap between two walls a few steps behind them. Her finger was rapidly pointing to something behind the gap. “One, two, three, four, five, seven, six, nine, eight, dozen, …”, she suddenly stopped her futile attempt and fired an eldritch blast into the darkness. Then she turned to Nai with raised eyebrows.
“Back!”, Nai commanded, “Leave them and fall back.”
“We should seal the farm.”, Wataru suggested while jogging towards the Chasm.
“Agreed. Rozhe and I will keep them occupied, you three do something about the entrance.”, Nai stopped and fired towards the slowly incoming plants.
A few moments later the entrance to the farm was barricaded with trash from nearby piles. Four girls and loxodon stood heavily breathing next to the Chasm.
“This was more than six plants.”, Nai exhaled.
“Did you notice that some of them seem, um, fresh? As if newly sprouted.”, Katrille pointed out. “I would assume there is a source deeper in the farm.”
“How about we ask Linda about her creations? She should know how to deal with them…”, Rozhe suggested.
Wataru patted the makeshift barricade. “This will hold them in. Let’s not waste any time.” He spun on his heel and marched towards the surface.
Linda was standing at the end of the cell. She looked tired. Her long red hair was messed up, she had visible bags under her eyes.
“Linda, you should tell us more about the plants you made.”, Nai approached the bars, “We found way more than six plants that Mortimer told us about. How many did you plant?”
“A handful? I did not count, just dropped a few seeds here and there.”, Linda leaned against the wall, “They should all be withered away by now, plants are designed to die off in about six hours after they sprout.”
“Well, we got bad news. There is a source of fresh sprouts somewhere on the farm.”, Katrille spoke from the back, “How do the plants reproduce?”
“They don’t reproduce, they are spawned from the mothering pod.”
“And how do you create a mothering pod?”
“Well, you implant a sprout in a decomposing necrotic matter and incubate it with growth magic… Shit.”, Linda covered her face with her palm.
“So it is entirely possible that initial sprouts matured into mothering pods on the necrotic residue in the Golgari rot farms?”, Katrille quickly caught up with the concept.
“I completely overlooked this possibility.”, Linda said with guilt in her voice, “Look, you can easily get rid of the mothering pod, it has no defences on its own. It just spits out seeds which sprout on any mineral-rich soil.”
“What does the mothering pod look like?”, Rozhe asked out of curiosity.
“Dome-shaped plant, about 2 meters tall and about 5 meters in diameter. You will understand when you see one.”, Linda tried to move the restrains into a less painful position, “There is one alive in my laboratory, one that I originally designed. You can go and look at it if you wish.”
“I think that we will. Any ideas on how to efficiently kill it?”, Nai asked everyone.
“Linda, would a potent herbicide work on the pod? It is still plant-based, right?”, Katrille already had a plan in her mind.
“Yes, given large enough dose.”, Linda nodded.
“Then we know what we must do. I will get the herbicide, you go inspect the pod and let’s meet up at the entrance to the farm.”, Katrille walked away from the cell.
“We found the laboratory. We also borrowed this from it”, Nai unpacked a human-sized thick leather overall with face protection. It seemed to have a residue of dried acid on it. “The pod in the lab had its seed-producing holes tied up with chains.”
“I got us enough herbicide to kill at least five pods.” Katrille extended a huge syringe with blueish liquid in it.
“So, now we only need a volunteer.” Nai looked askingly at Shinigami.
“One-fifth of whatever you are getting and I will do it.”, Rakdos girl had her arms crossed.
“We will give you 100 gold.”, Nai nodded to Wataru for support.
Shinigami looked around the group. Her face showed sadness for a brief moment, then she shook her head, put on a smile, “Give me that suit.”
Wataru started removing debris from the entrance, making an opening large enough for suited Shinigami to get through.
“And plant-killing I go!”, she sang disappearing into the darkness.
“Are you sure that syringe will kill the pod? The one in the lab was huge!”, Rozhe asked.
“I am pretty sure. The herbicide is strong enough to kill off even the largest trees in Selesnya in mere seconds. It eats away at plant matter with ease.”, Katrille reassured the party, which stood by the Chasm and waited for Shinigami to reappear.
A few minutes later, an acid covered girl emerged from the gap.
“I found this in the remains of the pod”, she extended a metallic cube.
The cube was roughly ten centimetres in size. Sides were ornamented in numerals from various languages, some known and some unknown to the group. The recognisable numbers ranged from one to six. One side of the cube had a combination lock and a slider.
“Interesting…”, Katrille extended her arm towards the cube.