Chapter 5:



Sulla led the remnants of his squad out of the casino, they were to meet up with the snipers and return to the Council. Not counting the snipers outside, there were six members of his squad left. He pondered the implications of Rolf and the rest of the Council knowing more about Ennoia and the Shining Path. Sulla had suspected from the beginning they were not being completely honest with him and that they had contacts with both the Shining Path cult and the Church. Because the Bastard’s Brethren organization was an extremely important nexus of information both above and below the Undercity, Sulla wasn’t surprised that both the Shining Path and the Church would want access to their services. Ever since the failure of Operation Anvil, the Church had developed a symbiotic relationship with the major mafias. The Church used their influence with the Dynatoi to prevent Blood Raids against the mafias who would provide them with information in return. It was no coincidence that most Blood Raids were undertaken against cults and revolutionaries and not criminal organizations like the Bastard’s Brethren. This was also the reason the Council had sent Sulla to do their dirty work; a massive gang war on these levels would force the Dynatoi’s hand, regardless of the Church’s desires. The Bastard’s Brethren would have been targeted for a Blood Raid. The Council wished to maintain their relationship with the Church.

As Sulla stepped outside he could immediately tell that something was wrong. Years of experience in battle had given him a preternatural sense of danger. He heard a crash and saw one of his snipers fall out a window in the building across the street and land on the pavement with a loud crunch. Sulla caught a glimpse of crimson and gold before the gunfire started; shots rang out from all sides and three of his squad were cut down instantly. The rest scattered for cover but it wouldn't save them as the Raptors of the House of Ilus had descended on them. Sulla saw another of his squad decapitated by a Raptor with a longsword. Syphax had come for him, Sulla thought as terror settled in in his heart.

The gunfire stopped, Sulla heard a familiar gravely voice call out mockingly.

“Come out Sulla. You have nowhere to go.” Colonel Syphax bellowed.

Sulla remained silent. He signaled the remaining members of his squad, they would make a break for it on his signal.

Sulla gave the signal and the three of them dashed out from behind cover firing. Sulla saw two Raptors go down but it wasn’t enough, Syphax was on them in an instant. Syphax shot one of the assassins with his E-15 pistol and whirled around to point the gun at Sulla. He hoisted the other assassin with one arm, keeping the pistol trained on Sulla with the other arm and began strangling the unfortunate man. As the assassin gasped for breath, his face turned red, then purple. He flailed uselessly as Syphax’s steel grip constricted his airways until finally he stopped struggling and asphyxiated with an inhuman wheeze. Syphax threw the man away like a ragdoll before turning his full attention to Sulla.

“So this is where I find you, working for mafia scum like the Undercity trash that you are.” Syphax sneered. “And to think that they even considered you a candidate to become an officer. In the end, you people are like rats, always scurrying back to the squalor of your homes. Now come fight me, and at least end your life honorably.”

Sulla had entered a rare state of panic. Just as he was poised to escape to relative safety in the Undercity, he faced the first battle he knew with certainty that he could not win. He looked at the devastated area around him; all of his squad had been cut down by the Raptors. His subordinates who had entrusted their lives to him lie dead on the ground, their faces contorted in terror and agony. Even as a temporary commander, they were his responsibility, and he had failed them.

The Raptors encircled him. Excluding Syphax, there were ten of them in formation, leaving no room for escape. Because of their privilege as high class citizens, the Raptors of House Ilus were granted much stronger augments. They were not professional soldiers and they had a reputation for lacking valor, but this was compensated for by their superhuman strength and speed provided by the best augments that Dynatoi wealth could buy. He had little hope of taking on more than one, let alone a whole squad. Having observed Syphax in battle before, Sulla knew what he was capable of. His high-power, experimental augments allowed him to wield weapons of immense destructive capability, rumored to be able devastate a city block, befitting of his sadistic, unstable personality. He possessed a highly reinforced metal skeleton, wrapped in multiple layers of steroid-enhanced, augmented muscles easily capable of punching through solid concrete walls. His durable, enlarged organs easily handled the demands of his brain implants, granting him reaction times beyond 10 milliseconds. A grenade belt was harnessed to his chest, and he strapped a custom-made, 90 kg warhammer across his back, his weapon of choice in close combat. He favored the accuracy of the E-15 pistol in small, medium-ranged skirmishes, but in larger engagements was able to dual-wield the EMG-4 railgun, a devastating rotary weapon originally designed to be mounted and operated by two soldiers. In terms of fighting power, Syphax was simply in a different class, worth an entire company of soldiers. For protection Syphax had augments to his skin that made him resistant against bullets.  Even bullets that managed to penetrate his skin would bounce off his reinforced muscles.

Syphax let out a maniacal laugh, taunting Sulla as he crushed the skull of one of the fallen Brethren assassins underneath his boots.

In desperation, Sulla frantically analyzed his surroundings for anything he could use to disorient or distract Syphax. He still had his pistol, with it he could take out one or two Raptors before being shot dead, it alone would not be enough to seriously injure Syphax. Surrounded, Sulla found no escape routes save for one: underground. From the sound of his footsteps he could tell there was an access tunnel to the Enclosure below him. Now he needed a way to collapse the ground beneath him. He turned his attention to the grenade belt on Syphax’s chest. With two extraordinarily precise shots, he could give himself a slim chance to escape. Sulla closed his eyes, coming to the realization this may be his last fight. Just in case, he apologized to Ennoia as well as his mother for never finding her. Sulla pulled out his pistol and aimed it at Syphax.

Staring down the barrel of Sulla’s gun, a malevolent grin appeared on Syphax’s face.

“You must be truly desperate to use that pellet gun on me. I can tell you’ve reached the end of the line. But go ahead, shoot! I’m holding the same one in my hands, and I’ll let you spend your entire clip bouncing bullets off me before I kill you. But first, take a moment to observe the difference between us. Gaze upon my tanned skin, touched by the sun while your sickly pallid complexion has only seen the streetlights. Look around as the filthy criminals under you now lie as garbage on the street while the men I command with the blessing of the Holy Church stand over you. And watch helplessly as your bullets bounce off my invulnerable body, rightfully bestowed upon me by the Dynatoi and blessed by the Patriarch himself. Please, fire on me and see for yourself the vast chasm between an Undercity cockroach and a man destined for greatness.”

But Sulla did not give Syphax one last look of desperation for his own satisfaction. Deep down, in the face of death, he was calmer than he had ever been. All this time, Sulla knew what Syphax was saying was right. Being born in the Undercity would set anyone up for failure. The warmth of the sun, normally refracted down through the Levels of Veii, never reached the Floor. People went to war over scraps of bread, and sold their very minds just to stay alive another day. The Sacerdotes of the Church did not bother to go down there to bless the filth-riddled children. The existence of an immeasurable gap of standing between someone from the Undercity and a Dynatoi was just another fact of life. Sulla went as far as he could with the hand he was given, and never had more to prove; but right now no commander, priest, or deity was going to stop him from trying to reach Ennoia. Sulla took another deep breath, oxygen flooded his brain, and time appeared to slow down. Syphax was locked in a complacent grin, the Raptors by his side expressionless, Sulla would need three shots. The first two would rip Syphax’s grenade belt at his shoulder. A grenade or two would fall out of the belt, and from here Sulla would have to make a near-impossible shot. He would have to time and line up the third shot perfectly so it would shoot out the pin of one of the falling grenades. With his E-15 pistol at a range of about 12 meters, he calculated a 10% chance of hitting the pin at his highest accuracy. Assuming his shot was accurate, there would be approximately three seconds before the explosion would collapse the floor beneath him, and there was no telling how Syphax would react. Poised, Sulla steadied his breathing. His brain was now making maximum use of the extra oxygen delivered to it. Now, time had decelerated to the point where almost nothing was moving; Sulla instantly fired off two shots, and then a third.

Syphax remained unfazed as he heard the shots go off. He could tell Sulla was aiming at his torso, and any shot not aimed at his eyes would not bring him harm. The first two bullets tore his grenade belt off of his shoulder, harmlessly breaking his skin and bouncing off his enforced skeleton. Syphax saw three grenades slip out and fall to the ground, but to him this was of no importance. There would be no way for Sulla to close the 12 meter distance in time to use them. That was Syphax’s thought process up until the point when he saw the third shot land. In some kind of miracle, it had knocked the pin off one of the grenades which now lay at his feet. But this was the end of Syphax’s train of thought, as even the most expensive augmentations were useless if they were piloted by a blank mind. For the next three seconds, Syphax stood in place speechless until the grenade exploded.

The detonation had blown the skin and muscles off Syphax’s legs and he screamed in pain, still shocked at what just happened. The shockwave and shrapnel knocked the rest of the stunned Raptors off their feet, killing and maiming several of them. Sulla had entered the prone position, covering his head with his hands and taking much of the shockwave but reducing critical organ damage from the shrapnel. The ground caved in beneath his feet, sending everyone at the scene tumbling over thirty meters down into the Enclosure. Somehow, Sulla was alive; in a daze he stumbled to get to his feet, too overwhelmed to process the pain. His ears were ringing, and he was blurrily seeing double. All around him was collapsed concrete and a few pieces of Syphax’s Raptors. There was no sight of Syphax, but his howls of pain echoed through the tunnels, he had likely been trapped in the rubble above. Sulla hobbled away, in an effort to get as far away from the scene as possible before the others arrived. Taking out a squad of Raptors and crippling their Commander would definitely cause city-wide alerts and place him at the top of the wanted list.

Having escaped from Syphax by the skin of his teeth, Sulla made his way back slowly to the Bastard’s Brethren headquarters. He fumbled his way through the cramped passages of the Enclosure following the mental map that Johannes had made him memorize. The fight with Syphax had left Sulla broken and bloody, the grenade that saved his life had also badly wounded him. His breathing was unsteady, most likely the result of a punctured lung. Every step he took was agonizing, and he could tell his legs were fractured or broken. Sulla had always known that Syphax was stronger than him, and that the Colonel had better augments. But he had not quite realized the sheer raw difference in their abilities until now. This encounter had reinforced Sulla’s determination to reach the Undercity. He knew the Undercity in a way that the Dynatoi scion Syphax never could. The Undercity would give him precious breathing room for him to plan his next move. Down in home territory for Sulla, he would be at his strongest and Syphax would be at his weakest. Syphax was dangerous not only for his formidable strength and skill at combat, but also because he had the resources of the military and the House of Ilus at his back. Down in the Undercity those resources would be extremely limited; the government and Dynatoi had not exercised effective authority in the Undercity in decades. The failure of Operation Anvil three years before Sulla was born had ended any lingering pretensions of control. Sulla was not sure if Syphax would follow him into the Undercity, but he knew for certain he would stand a much better chance down there than up here.

After several hours spent tramping around in the Enclosure, an exhausted Sulla finally returned to the abandoned theater. He nodded at the guard as he entered the building, and inside he met Johannes.

“You look like Hell. And I don’t see anyone behind you. What in the world happened?” Johannes asked.

“We got Hiero. Most of the Battlecrows protecting him in the casino are also dead, and so are his subordinates. With no leaders, I don’t expect them to be a threat to you anymore.” stated Sulla without a hint of triumph in his voice. “The subordinates you entrusted to me are dead, every single one. I’m sorry.”

“Damn. The Battlecrows were that tough?”

“They put up a good fight. They killed about half my squad. Once we terminated Hiero, the rest of us left the casino, ready to bring home the good news. But we were ambushed by Colonel Syphax and his House of Ilus Raptors. I don’t know how he tracked me down so quickly. We didn’t stand a chance against the Raptors, all the assassins were killed right before my eyes. As you can see, I barely made it out myself. Some real quick thinking and a huge stroke of luck saved me.”

“My God. Well I’m just glad you’re alive, especially after going against Syphax. You better tell the Council what you just told me. They’re assembled in the chamber waiting for you.”

“That’s the plan. Oh, and one more thing-.” Sulla started to tell Johannes about what Hiero had said to him, but he was forced to hesitate. After all they had been through together, Sulla wanted to believe he could trust his old friend, but the risk right now was too high.

“Hm? What’s on your mind?” Johannes asked.

“Never mind, I misspoke. Forget about it.”

“Huh, if you say so. Say, you’ve seemed pretty shaken up since you got back. With those injuries it must be hard for you to even move right now. We’ll need to get you healed up after you meet the Council. ” urged Johannes.

Over the course of the next hour Sulla recounted what had taken place in excruciating detail for the Council, carefully leaving out Hiero’s words. He described to the Council about how they infiltrated the building, the firefights in the hallways and gambling halls. His duel against the twins and his execution of Hiero. As far as the Council knew, the assassins were all present for Hiero’s killing, and no private conversation took place. Sulla then told the Council about Syphax’s ambush, the death of the rest of the assassins, and how he had managed to escape.

“My, my. Sulla, that’s quite the tale you’ve described. I must commend you on a job well done.” Rolf said, putting on an insincere smile and clasping his hands. He was an older gentleman, about seventy, in good shape for his age. His eyes burned bright with a fearsome intelligence, which reminded Sulla of Hiero. Despite his approachable, friendly appearance, Hiero’s cautionary words remained on Sulla’s mind.

“Johannes certainly did not exaggerate your abilities. The loss of so many of our skilled assassins is indeed unfortunate, but they paid an acceptable price for our victory. Thanks to you erasing one of our biggest threats, we could easily replace them at very little cost.” said Rolf, casually.

Sulla struggled to control his breathing. This was the man Hiero warned him against, the man Johannes had sworn an ironclad oath of absolute loyalty to. To him, subordinates were merely replaceable cogs of a machine. This most likely included himself and Johannes; he shuddered at the thought.

“And my route to the Undercity?” Sulla asked in a slightly impatient tone.

Wearing no discernible expression, Draga pushed up her glasses, flicking aside a strand of her shoulder-length blonde hair and got ready to answer. She was the youngest of the council, about five years his elder. He observed that her focused blue eyes never seemed to leave the notebook she had in front of her. Speaking in a monotonous tone, her careful, concise choice of words left no room for Sulla to determine her true intentions.

“The Council has voted to authorize you access to one of our routes. You were a great help to us today, and we certainly can’t leave you without the reward you were promised. Once this meeting adjourns, Johannes will show you the route. Oh, and do get yourself treated. You look like you could use it. Medbay A7 is open to you.” Draga stated, her eyes remaining fixated on her notebook.

“What about Syphax?” Sulla asked, skeptical.

“What about him?” Draga replied matter of factly.

“Aren’t you worried that he might come after you to get to me?”

“Oh we have certain…arrangements with the Dynatoi and the Church that keep the military from bothering us too much. The services we provide are simply too lucrative to ignore, and a seasoned Dynatoi officer like Syphax would be well aware of this.” Draga said contemptuously. “If he attacked the Council, powers higher than even him would intervene and he would be accordingly punished. Notice how he ambushed you in Battlecrow territory instead of ours. Now Sulla, for your own sake, I would advise you from prying further.” For the first time, Draga looked up from her notebook and shot Sulla a worrying glance.

“With that being said, this Council is adjourned.”


Sulla bowed his head, thanking the Council. Looking back over at Rolf, Sulla could tell he grew more uncomfortable the longer Draga spoke. After all, she was surprisingly upfront with him regarding the connections between the Brethren and the high powers of Minos in their pocket. He wondered what she would have to gain by doing such a thing. As he left the theater accompanied by Johannes and several of his subordinates, he turned back to his friend.

“Is the Council really not worried about Syphax?”

“As a Vavasour I don’t really know the full extent of it, but our dealings with the Church and several of the Dynatoi houses protect us. We provide information services to them, it’s through us that they’re able to keep an eye on developments in the Undercity.”

Sulla could tell Johannes wasn’t telling him everything. He knew the Brethren provided the elite with far more unsavory things than illegal information.

“And you’re just okay with that?”

“Hey, it’s not really my place to criticize organization policy. All I know is that this arrangement has kept our business safe and profitable for decades. We haven’t been targeted for a Blood Raid in over a generation, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Sulla was taken aback by the edge in Johannes’ tone.

“Alright sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it. I understand what you’re saying. After all, we both served the Dynatoi as soldiers once, so who am I to criticize?”

Johannes chuckled.

“Right! Anyways, I apologize if I seemed to lose my temper for a moment there. Rolf has been especially demanding lately, and I report straight to him. Did you get to meet him?”

“Yeah, I did. He was the only one smiling, strangely enough.”

“That’s him alright. I find he’s the warmest, most welcoming of the Council. Well, go rest in the medbay for a while. They’ll fix you right up. I’ll meet you at the exit tomorrow.” With that, Johannes bid him farewell for the day.

Sulla hobbled down the halls to find the medbay Draga spoke about. He came across a room A7, with a bright red neon plus sign marked in front. Waiting for him inside was an old grump of a man, visibly drunk and half-dressed in medical garb. Sulla lamented to himself that once again, his life was out of his hands.

“Well if it isn’t the hero of the day.” The doctor remarked sarcastically.

“Please, try not to kill me.” Sulla responded lethargically.

“Regretfully, I’m under orders to not let you die. Now get up on the scanner.”

Sulla acquiesced, and for a few seconds a machine whirred around him. The doctor squinted at the screen, scrutinizing the results.

“Let’s see here…a few compound fractures, countless stable fractures, a punctured lung, and your liver is almost split in half. You’re not making it easy for me, but thanks to your augments and my equipment, you’ll be out of here tomorrow.” grumbled the doctor.


Ignoring him, the doctor led Sulla to the table and injected him with a syringe. Already too tired to protest, his vision faded to black.

He awoke the next day in the same room, this time on a proper bed. Still in a haze, he could at least tell that the doctor was nowhere to be seen. Looking down at his injuries, he found that remarkably, his wounds were closed and were already healing. A woman’s voice at the door broke the silence.

“Thanks to our dealings with the Dynatoi, you’ll find our best medical equipment is on par with the Church Hospitals you’d only find in the clouds.”

Sulla’s vision was able to make out Draga’s silhouette in the corner of the room. She locked the door and moved closer, her usual deadpan expression evaporating, giving way to an intimidating, angry stare. She pulled out his E-15 pistol by the nightstand and pointed it at his head. Despite her angry expression, her voice eerily remained as calm as ever.

“What did Hiero tell you? Tell me. Now.”

Sulla was taken aback. He was once again staring at the barrel of a gun, this time with someone Hiero trusted on the other side. At a loss of what to think or say, Sulla froze up. Between Rolf, Hiero, Draga, and the countless others around the Council, he had doubts over who to trust. Upon seeing his confusion, Draga grew impatient and pressed the barrel to his temple.

“There’s no way he would let you leave and kill him without saying anything. What. Did. He. Tell. You?” snapped Draga.

Sulla realized his situation. He critically remembered that Hiero trusted Draga, and facing no other choice, explained to her the actual events of the raid.

Having heard the whole story, tears welled up in her eyes. He was not expecting such a wide range of emotions from the normally cold, expressionless woman. She took off her glasses and dabbed the tears from her face.

“You don’t understand, Scorilo was like a father to me. He was ousted from the Council, but not before telling me to support them. To protect me, he made it look like I had a hand in betraying him by having me side with those greedy bastards. For years I was only able to sleep with the knowledge that he was still safe, until now. I can’t forgive you for killing him, and quite frankly I have no idea why he’d entrust you with this information. But whatever it was, he saw something in you, and I’ll trust his judgment.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Then shut up and listen quickly. Scorilo was right, there’s no way we’ll be letting you go off with this information. Expect to be watched nonstop when you’re in the Undercity, so be wary of everything you do and say down there. I wish I could tell you exactly how your sister’s involved with the Shining Path, but letting you know that much information would compromise both of us. But I will tell you that she’s alive and safe for now, although that might change soon.”

Sulla’s eyes grew wide, and he was about to start sobbing until a couple quick slaps from Draga brought him back to his senses.

“I’m not done yet, pull yourself together! And you call yourself a soldier?!” Draga chastised. Fixing her glasses, she continued talking.

“Now listen up. We’ve had dealings with the Shining Path long before they expanded above The Undercity. And to even shadier groups we’ve spared no expense making deals. It’s starting to attract the attention of the government.” fretted Draga.

“But you told me yourself you had the government in your pockets.” Sulla pointed out.

“For now, we do. But those fools on the Council think they can keep trafficking prostitutes, kids, and drugs across the Levels, and they're starting to supply critical information and arms to the revolutionary groups and cults. Lately, even children that live above the Undercity have been disappearing, Church locations have been getting bombed. The revolutionaries and cults are resorting to increasingly brutal terrorism as conflict escalates. People important to the Dynatoi have started dying, and the trails lead back to us. Surely, even you can see how this is getting out of hand.”

Sulla nodded his head.

“Now it’s only a matter of time before the Dynatoi stop turning a blind eye to us. It’ll spark another war that could spread across all of Veii. And if that happens, we’re all dead, including your sister, that much I can guarantee. This is why Hiero wanted you to find her.  I really can't say more than this, but I can promise that reuniting you with her will give us a chance to avoid total disaster.”

Sulla was taken aback. The idea that finding Ennoia could have such strong implications on the future of Veii made him even more curious about what happened to her. Draga let out a long sigh.

“I’ve already told you too much. The Council is meeting again shortly, I’m going to take my leave. Don’t come out for a few more minutes. If anyone finds out I was here, we’re both dead.”

Draga turned around and began heading out the door.

“Draga,” called out Sulla.

She paused, her hand on the doorknob.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet, fool. I just gave you the hardest mission of your life.”

Without looking back, Draga swiftly departed the room. At the same time, the doctor came back.  He was still drunk, and appeared satisfied with himself over Sulla's treatment.  The two begrudgingly kept each other company until Sulla regained the energy to leave the medical bay. Waiting for him outside was Johannes.

With him was the white-haired woman whom Sulla vaguely recalled was named Cordelia.  Just like before, she wore a harsh expression on her face, her gray eyes studied Sulla in disapproval. Sulla had not gotten a good look at their brief meeting before,, but as he looked at her now he realized that she was younger than him. Roughly the same age as Ennoia would be now.

“They sure fixed you up good. Feeling better?” Johannes asked.

“Yep. Let’s get to the Undercity route.” Sulla replied confidently.

The secret route was located at an old uranium processing plant on Level 31, just above the Undercity. Veii had been built on the site of a rich deposit of uranium which had fueled the city’s growth. The uranium was extracted from mines on the ground level and transported upwards to be refined. The uranium factory thus had a direct link to the lower levels.

“I thought the government blocked all these old uranium shafts when they sealed off the Undercity.” Sulla said.

“They did, but we reopened this one in secret. A few well-placed diversions of information in the Interface and we’ve managed to keep them from discovering it.” replied Johannes with a note of pride. “Every once in a while we let the government discover and shut down one of our less important routes. This keeps them satisfied that they’re doing enough to keep us in check but of course we never let them find out about main routes like this one.”

“And how exactly is this going to work?”

“Pretty simple, you’ll be lowered into the Undercity at level 20 by the same mechanism that used to carry uranium up from the mines.”

They stepped inside the plant, it had been mostly stripped of all machinery but there was a massive shaft in the middle, about twenty meters across.

“The uranium receptacle will lower you down to Level 20. You’re on your own after that my old friend.” Johannes said. “It goes without saying that you tell no one about this route. If you break that iron rule, I won’t be able to protect you.”

“Don’t worry. I don’t intend to make the Bastard’s Brethren my enemy.” Sulla replied. With an unspoken “yet” hanging off his lips.

With that, Sulla climbed into the receptacle and one of Johannes’ subordinates flipped a lever which began lowering him down into the murk.