Chapter 1: Thieves
“Are you sure it’s safe to be here?” Moxie’s voice shook slightly as she spoke. Richard simply nodded, leading them further into the city’s alleyways. Nebulosa was nowhere to be seen, but the duo knew the third member of their party was somewhere nearby, lurking in the shadows.
Richard had been invited to a high-end party by one of his clients earlier that day, one that went under the city’s radar, metaphorically and literally. It was in the underground tunnels, ones that had long since been abandoned by the city officials and had been overtaken by crime lords and sketchy characters.
While Moxie normally wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like that, Richard had been given a plus-one to his attendance. He had offered it to Moxie, who declined at first. She was finally convinced after Richard promised her he’d stay close by the entire night, and not initiate anything that could get him–and by extension, her–arrested.
As for the unseen third set of eyes they’d come here with, Nebulosa had been invited alongside Richard, but because she wasn’t as well-known within the intricate criminal system, she hadn’t been given a plus-one. Not that she’d had anyone she was going to want to bring anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal to her.
Richard led Moxie down an alleyway much too dark for her liking, making a mental note of the six yellow eyes slinking around in the concealed shadows. The pair of harpias tread further into the shadows between the two buildings on either side of them, Moxie feeling a growing sense of dread in her gut. Something could happen to them tonight and the public would never know. Not even the police would know if they suddenly went missing, not for a few weeks at least.
“Mercury, I–” Moxie halted her words as she saw the white harpia snap his head towards her, his visible eye narrowed.
“I’m sorry, Richard. Anyway, I’m…not feeling too well, maybe I should head back home and rest for a while.” Moxie quickly said.
The white harpia grunted, rolling his eyes and turning back towards the end of the alleyway, the end that was barely visible from where they stood.
“You’re fine. I know this isn’t really your style, but making a good impression with these guys is a vital factor in sticking with me. Unless you’re looking to drop the deal?” he said coyly. Moxie cursed herself internally. She knew he’d be smart enough to see right through her lie, but had secretly hoped he wouldn’t.
The pair walked in silence a moment longer, right up until Richard lifted his wing towards her, motioning to stop. Moxie couldn’t see anything particularly special about the end of this alleyway, or much of anything at all for that matter.
She leapt up suddenly as a sudden voice made itself present.
“Just knock, they’ll probably let you in if you tell them who invited you.” A raspy, feminine voice said to Richard from behind Moxie. It was Nebulosa, someone who had an affinity for sneaking around and appearing next to someone without a sound.
Richard hummed, but turned his attention to the floor below. He curled his right foot into a fist, firmly using his knuckles to knock on the ground. The sound that came from the action was metallic and strangely hollow-sounding. A second passed, and Moxie could hear grumbling from below them. She was unsure why Richard suddenly took a step back, but only until part of the floor beneath suddenly raised just a crack. Light beamed from the square-shaped outline on the floor, only blocked by a strange, unfamiliar face.
“State your business.” the voice said harshly. Richard tapped his toes, clearly annoyed at even having to deal with this.
“My name is Richard, and this is my plus-one, Moxie. I was invited by Slattern to attend his gathering.” Richard said. Moxie could tell he was restraining his urge to yell at the guy to hurry it up.
Before the stryx below opened the floor hatch fully, he eyed Nebulosa warily.
“And who’s this? Slattern only issued plus-ones.” Moxie cringed as Richard rolled his eyes, motioning for Nebulosa to quickly introduce herself so they could get this over with.
“I’m Nebulosa, I was also invited by Slattern to attend.”
The stryx below seemed to look down, nodding to himself as he scanned something out of sight from the others with his eyes. Probably a guest list of sorts.
“Alright, you’re clear.”
Suddenly the hatch raised, revealing a drop down to a staircase below. The one who’d been checking them in was a rather large gryph, one with rust-colored feathers, slightly desaturated in areas. Golden, almost scale-like marks highlighted his plumage, with veins of black running over his feathers on top of it all. He looked…intimidating to say the least.
Richard motioned Moxie in front of him, where the gryph helped her descend onto the platform that led to the staircase. Richard swatted away the gryph’s help, and Nebulosa simply ignored the wing offered to her. Once they were all in, Moxie had to almost squint in the light of the staircase, having been in the dark for so long previously.
“Go on, we’re right behind you.” Nebulosa said. Moxie hadn’t realized she’d stopped just on the first stair. The group descended, leaving the gryph to keep watch over the entrance for any other stragglers who might be late to the party. Once they reached the bottom of the stairs, Moxie placed her foot down onto damp concrete, face scrunching up at the sensation. Oh how she really wanted to be back at Sanctuary right now, at least there she wasn’t at risk of being assassinated or arrested.
As soon as the trio stepped into the main area, Moxie’s senses were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of activity going on. Her sense of smell went into overdrive, trying to determine what she was smelling in the first place. It reeked of dirty city water for sure, but mixed in there was scents of cooked food, intoxicating herbs and inhalants, as well as raw meats and fish a nearby vendor was trying to sell. It was clearly spoiled, which was probably why no one was buying it.
Richard and Nebulosa didn’t seem too bothered, unlike Moxie. She was beginning to get a headache. Richard suddenly leaned over and whispered something in Nebulosa’s ear. The lycan nodded curtly, soon slinking away to presumably do her own thing. Richard then inclined towards Moxie to do the same.
“Ok, you know the drill. You look around for any signs of those red crystals, report back to me if anything comes up. But so help me, if you’re compromised at any point, I will deny all association with you. Furthermore, if you compromise us as a whole, your little snipmoth gets it.” Richard hissed before padding off in a different direction to Nebulosa. Moxie felt her heart sink at the mention of her hostage snipmoth, but she had to continue with their deal. For his sake. She did as Richard had said, veering off in the only direction left untraveled.
Looking around revealed an abundance of illegal items, monster parts, ivory, companion trade assets, and even substances. Moxie felt so unsafe here, but she had to do this. She began poking around, looking under canvas covers, peering into boxes, lifting up various things to see what was underneath, but nothing, only a few moths fluttering out at her on occasion. She continued like this for a good 15 minutes, keeping an eye out for anyone who might deem her suspicious enough to inquire about what she was doing.
Once she finally felt like giving up, something interesting caught her eye. It was a large bottle of some sort of alcoholic beverage, and it looked pretty old and valuable. Maybe she’d be able to use it to bribe one of the cargo transporters into letting her check out the more special items they carried. Only the gods knew how much these bougie bastards must like their alcohol.
Tucking the bottle under her wing, she quickly did a scout of the surrounding area, once again making sure no one had seen her swipe the bottle. After the coast seemed clear, she stood up from where she had been crouched and continued her search. She didn’t get much farther.
Moxie jumped at the sudden voice. Turning around revealed the same gryph that had attended the door earlier. She put on a neutral expression and calmly replied, hoping he hadn’t seen her take that bottle of alcohol.
“Hello there, do you need something?” Moxie’s voice was as smooth as she could manage, given her potential situation.
“I saw you take that bottle.” The gryph’s expression was firm and unchanging, but something behind his eyes was unreadable.
Moxie sighed, preparing her explanation.
“Look, I know you’re probably meant to enforce rules around here and bully others into behaving, but I’ve got a deal to uphold, and–”
“I’m not going to do anything. I just want in on whatever you’re planning.” The gryph’s words caught Moxie by surprise. Her mouth hung open mid-sentence, trying to comprehend what he’d said.
“You…want in? On what I’m doing?” She repeated. The gryph hummed in affirmation. He leaned down so his beak was next to her ear and began explaining himself.
“I’ve been down here for far too long, seen too much shit to just sit idly. If I can at least make it out of here with some kind of proof, I can use it to topple the whole gig down here. You feel me?” The gryph leaned back when he was finished explaining.
“So, you in or not?” The gryph cocked his head with a smug grin. Moxie nodded before she could really think about what she was agreeing to.
“Good. Come with me, I’ve had parts of a plan formed for months now.” The gryph ushered her along with his wing, making sure to guard the side she’d tucked the bottle under.
“Moxie, are you insane?! Taking down an underground crime ring with some lunatic you just met tonight, that you don’t even really know?! Get a hold of yourself! Run now! RunrunrunRUNRUNRUN!”
Moxie’s internal thoughts began to overwhelm her. She shook her head to clear them from her mind. The gryph seemed to notice her discomfort.
“My name’s Midas, by the way. Do you want me to carry that bottle for you? If you get caught with it there’s no telling what they’ll do, but if I’m caught with it they may let me off easier than you.” The gryph whispered the last part.
“I’m Moxie. Do you really think they’d hurt me for carrying around a bottle of their alcohol? I mean, it’s not even old alcohol, probably just stuff you could buy at the liquor store down the street up there.” Moxie kept her voice low as well.
Midas tensed up a bit at her remark.
“Moxie, I don’t know what background you come from, but down here, anything goes. If someone wants to kill you, they will. Even just for stealing a shitty bottle of wine from them.” Midas warned.
Moxie’s stomach dropped as she wordlessly exchanged the bottle with Midas.
Suddenly, there was a series of crashes to their right across the waterway, shouts and cries bouncing off the thick concrete surroundings and echoing through Moxie’s head.
The pair whipped their heads in the direction of the ruckus. Moxie felt her heart leap into her throat as she spotted a rush of white feathers accompanied by a shadow on the walls, both quickly making their way backwards towards the entrance they came from.
Behind them was a crowd of large, angry looking thugs chasing them down, yelling profanities and threats at the duo. Red smoke trailed from behind the thieves.
“Oh no.” Moxie said breathlessly.
“Come on, your friends are in trouble, big time.” Midas commanded, carefully placing the bottle of wine down inside a crate of exotic fruit and hurrying back towards the chase. Moxie followed promptly, catching up to the gryph in time to see the chase take a new direction, straight towards the main entrance to the underground. The thieves suddenly halted their movement as two nasty mean stryx blocked their way out. Moxie could see Richard’s face now, and for the first time she’d seen, he looked absolutely terrified.
Nebulosa quickly leapt down from the wall and onto one of the guards’ backs in an attempt to throw them off, earning a shriek from the larger stryx. The two thrashed around for a moment, before Nebulosa was tossed off and into a pile of wooden crates, toppling them over.
“Over here! I know a way out!” Midas shouted at the two suddenly, catching their attention. Mercury scrambled in his direction, but was blocked by one of the guards, leaving the second one to approach Nebulosa, dazed and trying to push herself up out of the rubble of crates.
Moxie, with her quick thinking, grabbed something hard and heavy out of the nearest crate, launching it at the guard heading for Nebulosa. It hit him square in the face, glass shattering loudly. The stryx cried out as the shards sliced his flesh, blood splattering across the ground as he turned away. The sizzling of burning feathers and skin could be heard, the guard reaching up to claw a sticky substance from his face. Looking into the crate nearby, Moxie could see she’d grabbed a bottle of distilled shade, a poisonous, corrosive substance gathered from corrupted wisps when caught and processed. Without thinking she grabbed another bottle and chucked it at the second guard’s back, hitting him right between the shoulderblades. He flinched hard, hissing and thrashing around as the substance trickled down his back slowly.
Richard took this as an opportunity to bolt for it, Nebulosa doing the same now that she’d recovered enough to comprehend what was happening. There was no time to catch up though, the thugs had caught up quickly and were headed straight for them.
Midas quickly led them through the various tunnels and waterways, eventually finding a hidden alternative exit to the underground, one that only Midas could’ve known about to have led them here. It was a hole in the roof in a closed off tunnel, one that had presumably been housing a sewer grate until recently.
“Alright, everyone out!” Midas squeezed through the hole, which was barely big enough to let him through, and held his wing out to offer his help to the others. Richard took his wing talon in his own, hauling himself up and out of the underground. Next was Nebulosa, and finally Moxie.
Once the four were outside, Moxie felt like throwing up. What the hell had just happened?
The others were panting heavily from all the running and physical work, and Richard was holding something in his right talon now. Something red and glowing.
“What the hell did you guys do to make them so angry?” Moxie asked, breathless as well.
Richard suddenly put on a wicked grin, turning the item over in his talons before holding it up for everyone to see.
It was a small glass jar, and on the inside was a red crystal. Not just any crystal, a corrupted crystal. One that emitted a faint, otherworldly glow through the glass jar, one that reeked a red evil mist, clouding the inside of the jar slightly. One that could infect a stryx from the inside out, turning them into a hollow shell of who they once were. Why the hell had Richard been trying to get one of those?
“Richard…” Moxie had no true words after what she’d been through. All that anxiety, that trouble, that danger… for a corrupted crystal shard Richard was going to do who-knows-what with.
The reactions of others were similar to her own. Even Nebulosa was staring in silent shock. Midas was looking at Richard worriedly. Moxie was…angry. Angry that Richard would value such a vile thing over their own lives. Angry that they’d almost been caught for something so sickening. Angry at him.
“Mercury. You need to turn it in to the police.” Moxie said tersely, addressing the other by his true name. Richard’s grin dropped immediately.
“Why they hell would I do that?” He asked, beginning to grow irritated at everyone’s lack of enthusiasm for what he’d done.
“Are you insane?! Keeping that thing after what we’ve seen it do to stryx?” Nebulosa chimed in, eyes wide. She was right.
Back in history, there had been a huge corruption outbreak after it had been thought long-eradicated. The ancient city of Sol had been the most affected, having been directly attacked by a monstrous stryx consumed by corruption entirely. The city had been devastated by the attack, with attempts to rebuild it falling through due to the corruption infecting the very ground the city had stood on, killing any crops they tried to grow, infecting food and water, and even making its residents sick. The site had been abandoned and the surrounding area was deemed a contaminant zone. Now who knows what kind of mutated monsters made their homes there.
The corruption crystals were eventually harvested from the area after a group of archaeologists went in on an investigation and extracted the crystals that had begun to grow in various places in the contaminant zone. Ever since the information about these crystals, and the true nature of their effects had been released to the public, the world’s inhabitants had been divided into three; those who feared the corruption, those who fought the corruption, and those who were the corrupted. But then there are those very few who are brave enough to seek out the corruption, hoping to strike it rich or use them for their own twisted purposes, or even seek to control it.
Moxie wasn’t sure how a shard had ended up in this city, or what Richard wanted with it, but she knew it couldn’t be for good.
“Mercury, if you won’t listen to us, then at least uphold our deal. You got what you wanted. Give me what’s mine. After that we won’t have anything to do with each other.” Moxie urged.
Richard eyed the others warily, as if they could pounce on him at any moment.
“Alright. But just promise me you won’t try and interfere any further.” Richard huffed.
Moxie nodded, her whole body shaking now.
“Good. You may collect your pest from one of my designated deliverers tomorrow at noon. You’ll meet him in the plaza’s center and our deal will be done.” Richard turned away from the group at that. The night had fallen some time ago, and they were now hidden in a much wider alleyway than the one they’d came from in the first place. No one would be able to track them here.
“Uh, I hate to interrupt, but… they’ll be looking for you guys now. They’ll be after me too. If I may, I have some advice on what the next steps you can take to ensure your safety are.” Midas chimed in. Moxie looked up at the gryph, whose golden eyes seemed to slightly glow in the darkness.
“I’d recommend leaving this area of the city as soon as possible, or even leaving the city entirely. I can’t guarantee they won’t be able to track you outside the city, but there’s a high chance they won’t. Especially since they’ll be after him now, what with the fact that he stole their most dangerous and valuable asset just now, I highly doubt they’ll concern themselves with anything else right now.” Midas nodded to Richard, who had his back turned to the other three now.
“I think I’ll be going now. I’d rather not waste my time with sheep any longer.” Richard spat, gripping his prize tightly in his talons and taking off suddenly. Moxie watched as his white shape soon disappeared against the night sky. Wherever he was going, Moxie would make sure to stay far away from there for as long as possible. But there still remained one thing to be taken care of; retrieving her snipmoth. The deal had been fulfilled, and she hoped to the gods that Richard would stick to his word and return her snipmoth unharmed.
“Would you two like to stay the night at my place? It’s out on the edge of town, but they’ve never known where I live down there. I’m not exactly a highly valued crony of theirs. I promise it’s safe, and you all seem a bit shaken up.” Midas offered. Moxie was suddenly realizing how tired she was, and it seemed Nebulosa was thinking the same as she stretched her jaws in a yawn.
“Yes I…I think I’d like that.” Moxie managed to squeak out. Nebulosa nodded in agreement.
“Great. Let’s be on our way then, it’s about 20 minutes as the crow flies.” Midas said, taking off and hovering above the buildings surrounding them. Nebulosa followed, as did Moxie. Hopefully she’d be able to get a good night’s sleep to think this all over in the morning.
Extra stryx (Midas)-3
Total= 79 AP
Extra stryx (Midas)-3
Total= 64 AP
Extra stryx (Midas)-3
Total= 64 AP
Extra stryx (Moxie)-3
Total= 48 AP