Tale's End Slums, Native Varya, City of Magnagrad
[written by Lovejoy, The Angry Goat & Sisyphus]
The three inquisitors walked down the crimson-lit streets, the city around them pulsing with life, death, and something altogether in-between. The slums were a grey eternity of choking steam, tired desperate people and the gaunt remains of the forgotten sectors, wards, and towns that lay entombed within Magnagrad and its monolith walls and divisions. No matter the direction you looked, there was no end to it-- be it to the horizon, where the city stretched on endlessly in a grey spectrum of tireless infrastructure and steam-- or beneath your feet, where through the grates you could glimpse the oily darkness, pin-pricked with its million myriad embers of blue and gold light, that mechanical underworld where no one could survive-- or above, where stood the ceiling-sky of the above ground sectors, the ether runoff from their military factories and estates coalescing into sickly yellow clouds that hung over the packed-in streets and buildings below. Everything was foundation and framework for something else. It was both fever dream and nightmare-- a place of clockwork, spinning listlessly forever, with its people living their lives trying not to be caught within the churning.
Even now, the slums held an arresting view for the three inquisitors. A decade and change spent within the walls of the Red Seminary had dulled their memories of the city, but its strange decaying majesty, now unfolding before their eyes, brought them back. Yes, this is how it was. How could we forget? Here they stood, deep within the westernmost province known as Native Varya, and the enormity of it all was almost too much. They had all recently been ordained as Inquisitors and had thus been riding the high of surviving the Red Seminary, but here, within the labyrinths of Magnagrad, they felt like ants.
The three companions tried to ignore the strange disquiet within themselves as they made their way through the slum known as Tale's End, a place of ill-repute where people came to live and to die. They had heard many legends of this place from SA soldiers within the Seminary, and Stina and Hassan often talked about visiting it. Ragnar believed the two of them wanted to experience, well.. he didn't know. But he had an idea. Disruption, danger, some spontaneous excitement before being stuck in a steam ark for the next couple of months-- this is what they wanted, he thought. Ragnar had convinced them to bring him along. After all, who would look out for his brothers? Secretly, he also wanted to be included in whatever they did. Ragnar hated being left out.
As they ventured through the crowded streets, lit by neon and ether, they saw groups of men huddled together in half-lit alleyways around primitive ether lamps, trying desperately to keep warm. On pathways choked with muddy grey ice, teenagers with runny noses, shivering under patchwork coats, tried to sell them "real Omestrian ether" from filthy metal trays, their breaths misting in the cold. They glimpsed the still-shining golden eyes of Omestrian children caged in the back of a truck as it sped toward one of the richer districts. They passed by a crumbling old church and within it saw a group of older Varyans praying to the Ravenous Lord, pleading with Him to allow their sons and daughters to return home from El.
Finally, upon reaching their destination, a pub known as the Shadow & Storm, they were stopped by a young Muraadan girl dragging along three malnourished-looking pups on leashes. Her eyes, beaming with opportunity, quickly appraised the three inquisitors.
"You three are soldiers, right?! Well, soldiers need friends, don't they? If you buy one of my wolf pups, (they're straight from the Fatherland you know!) you'll never want for a hunting partner again! I raised them myself! Only fifty gia for each!"
The girl waited with baited breath, the three inquisitors eyeing each other.
"I guess if you don't have a need for a fightin' friend, you can teach it tricks to impress your girlfriends! Or uh... you can drain them if you're ever in a pinch and need the ether! I'm telling you, at 50 gia each, they're a steal!"
Ragnar rubbed his lip uncertainly.
Hassan furrowed his brow at the disruption. He could tell Ragnar was taken off-guard by the girl - some days, it seemed like the poor kid could be spooked by his own shadow. It wouldn't do to have the trip derailed so early. Though this whole thing had initially been Hassan's idea, the truth was he felt just as uncertain and out of place in these frigid streets as any of them; it wouldn't do to show that, though.
Did he want a dog? Not really. Hassan had never had much affection for the little animals, and the sight of the mangy, skin-and-bones little creatures the girl was offering didn't exactly stir any newfound feelings of warmth inside him. Still, this was a night they were supposed to have it all, and who knew? Maybe Tatiana or Ragnar would like a dog.
"Give them to me," he said, a smile spreading across his face as the familiar warmth of the Word spilled from his lips. Blank-eyed, the girl handed him the leashes and stepped back. She glanced down at her empty hand, a dazed look on her face. Hassan reached into his pocket and handed the girl sixty gia - somewhat short of her asking price, but that was her problem, and at least this way might save him a lecture from Stina.
The girl took the money and stood, shivering slightly in the cold, and deep down Hassan knew that he should feel bad for stealing from her. Outwardly, he shrugged. "Come along then," he said to his companions, "We have much to do! Food, drink, merrymaking, maybe we find a woman for Ragnar here?" He chuckled and tugged on the leashes. "This is a great night, and Hassan will make sure we get the best. Anyone want a dog?"
As much as Yerohkin wanted to love animals, he never saw the utility in it. Especially in a world where the cold was all-coming and only temporarily staved off by the grace of Varya, animals taken into their folds needed to have some sort of use, some way to satisfy Varya's hunger - and he had not the time or desire to make that the case. So of course Hassan didn't think of any of that. And scammed the poor woman. He sighed, and pulled out 100 of his own Gia, handing it to the woman. "I am sorry about my friend. Inquisitors are not without honor, a-a-and some of us need to work harder to get there."
Turning back to his cohorts as they wandered onwards, he smacked Hassan on the side of the head - not harshly, but by no means attempting to be gentle. "We represent the government of Holy Varya. Rememmmmmber this when you try to scam the poor." Stina still wasn't quite sure how he had ended up getting roped into this, though in the end, whatever happened tonight was going to be more interesting than spending another stuffy night at home, his father mildly disinterested, his mother somewhere else, drifting into her book to avoid interaction. He shook his head to stifle these thoughts. This night would give him enough stress without going there mentally.
Speaking of stress... he looked to one of the puppies, and sighed again. Now that they had them, may as well try and give them a good life of proper service to the Ravenous Lord.