Chapter 1 - A Favour Fulfilled
At exactly noon on a warm summer day in the year 1395, I arrived by the facility building of geomancy of Northbridge university. It was here that I would endeavour to meet Professor Ottegar-Scutolith. I did not know much about him at that point, but I knew through the man I had served under as a deckhand that the Professor was seeking to recruit an arcanely gifted young man of healthy and reliable constitution to accompany him on an expedition, rewarded with not just pay but also an academic opportunity that could lead to my graduation.
I arrived at the faculty of geomancy, of which Professor Scutolith was the dean, and after entering saw myself standing in front of a young woman receptionist not giving me a care in the world, unwilling to even look up from this morning’s news pamphlet until I cleared my throat loudly.
The receptionist raised her head and from her blue eyes, threw a disinterested and bothered glimpse at me. “Yes?”
“My name is Havellan, second son of Nikandtos, I am here to meet Professor Scutolith.”
With a steady hand and without looking, she reached for a list on a clipboard and handed it to me. “Put your name on the list, you will get your appointment according to it.”
I thought about putting my name on the list when I remembered that the issue at hand was an urgent one. “Actually, I have been told by Major Colonel Corbula of the University’s navy that it was a matter of urgency to the Professor.”
The woman honoured me with a glance and a curious eyebrow lifted off the receptionist’s eyes, bringing more wrinkles to her forehead. “Is that so?”
“Yes, it is.” I said, in want for a better answer to such a question.
Something in the woman’s eyes told me I had said the exactly right thing. She got up and with a quick step, began to walk down a corridor. “Then follow me please.” She led me up to the first floor. There, she knocked on an office door and soon after, was asked in. She notified the Professor of my intentions, whereupon he delighted loudly “Well send him in then, please, lose no time!”
I entered the office with shelves reaching all the way up to the high ceiling. On them I saw, all with their own paper label, samples of rocks, minerals, raw gemstones, crystals, and other things pried from the ground. A mighty statue stood there as well, made from polished plates of grey granite, crystal shards sitting flush with the surface and metal strands laid into grooves. This ornate piece of art seemed to depict some sort of armour, but not armour made for men, but for even greater beings still, taller than one, broad as two.
I could only loosen my eyes from it when I noticed the Professor gesticulating excitedly with his arms. “Please boy, take a seat.” He sat opposite of the door behind a large desk. He was a tall and lean man, probably around fifty to sixty years old, his hair was blonde, starting to grey and cut short, rolling into rough and thick curls defying any attempt at order. His thin nose and chin drew attention right to his sharp blue eyes, which were framed by bushy eyebrows in unison with just as bushy sideburns.
He pointed me to a chair in front of his desk. I closed the door behind me before taking seat. “What brings you to me? I don’t recall you from my lectures and seminars on mineralogy, geomancy or natural alchemy.”
“No Professor, I am a student of architecture. I come with you on recommendation of Major Colonel Corbula.”
“AaahCorbula. How is he these days?”
“Well I haven’t really talked to him since-” I could not finish my sentence before the Professor began to speak again.
“You know we served together in the University’s forces, he and I. He returned to military duty once he had finished his studies, but it was not for me. I decided to turn my passion to the primordial fires of rock and stone. But back when we were young, oh we shared more than one cup of wine and at cards we always lost or won together. Thinking back, he might actually have taken a fancy to my sister Cornelia.”
I waited until Professor Scutolith had finished the story of his past before speaking up, it would have been rude to interrupt, no matter how inconsequential his story might have been to the endeavour at hand. “Well Major Colonel Corbula sent me a notice that you would be recruiting a young reliable man for some sort of expedition.”
The Professor’s eyes lit up. “Yes, the expedition, the monumental expedition that requires a young mage of reliable and stalwart nature! You are a mage, are you not?”
Hastily I nodded. “Yes, I do, although I did not inherit it through any noble blood line, I am of common birth. I was merely very lucky to be born with the gift nonetheless. That is the reason why I indentured myself to the University’s military service to pay for my tuition, after all.”
“Your heritage is of no concern to me, as long as you have completed your mandatory courses introduction to spell weaving and advanced spell weaving as your studies require.” The Professor looked at me with a glare boring into my eyes. I could feel he was eager to move on in this conversation.
Again, I nodded. “Yes, in third and fifth semester, the assistant professors will attest to that.”
“Good then. I trust our mutual friend Corbula to have picked a capable young man and if you show to be adept at the analysis of igneous rock formation and force distribution as well, I would be willing to let you be a co-author on the thesis, it should give you great academic credit. Would that be something of interest to you?”
I nodded. “What is of greater concern to me, is what I need to know about this expedition and what I have expect of it.”
The Professor leaned back, gaze fixed at me and inhaled. “Very well, right to the duty at hand.” He stood up from his chair and with a comfortable amble, retrieved a roll of paper from one of the many shelves, returned to his desk and unfurled the roll. It was a map that I immediately recognized. It was the northern shore of central Ackarom, including Northbridge, at the bottom and the southern shore of Botrelandt at the top.
“I trust you are familiar with the furrow of flames?”
I nodded. “The volcanic islands that lay here.” I pointed to a broad strip of islands that bridged the three-hundred-mile-wide strait between the two continents on the map. “It is hard to ship due to its constantly shifting nature.” I still remembered during my days as a deckhand, any navigator tried to avoid passing the furrow, even at the relatively safe passage points, which could change at any time.
“Exactly right, Havellan. There runs a series of fissures through the seafloor that causes turbulent currents, releases magma and toxic gas, raises land from the bottom of the ocean that might then collapse again and suck ships under with powerful maelstroms. It claims many ships every year, most avoid it or stick close to the shore, losing valuable time. A friend and fellow scholar living on Phainos” He pointed to the large island sitting around halfway to the other continent “has recently told me that a usually very active volcano and several smaller flames surrounding it had gone completely inactive within a single day. None of our understanding of the primordial fire suggests that such a thing is possible. I have the theory that the magma inside the chamber supplying that part of the furrow of flames has been completely drained, it is the only explanation I have at hand. Either way, I wish to undertake an expedition to this volcano to see for myself, all the necessary arrangements are done, we can leave in mere days if the weather is willing. We will land there, with an alchemist and a local guide, and spent five to seven days on the island, taking measurements and investigating the cause of this odd behaviour. If we truly find the chute and chamber to be drained, we shall descend into the bowels of the earth itself and find the cause of such an odd phenomenon.”
I wanted to speak up about that remark, descending into a volcano? Even if it was truly extinct, it would be a daring endeavour, but it seemed that Professor Scutolith, dean of geomancy would not be stopped by so mundane things like scorching magma and toxic fumes. Yet among all the opportunities to question the Professor’s integrity of wit, I only had one question, the one that would lead me forward: “What role would I fulfil?”
“Well of my second hand of course. I can ill undertake such an expedition without a second mage at hand.”
I understood and nodded; it was only normal to have two mages on dangerous endeavours, to have someone to fall back on or to take the exhaustion of vital but uncomplicated spells while the more experienced mage can spring to action if need be. Still, there were questions I longed to have answered. “Anything specific I need to bring? Any spells I need to know by heart?”
The Professor reached for a drawer, pulled out two envelopes and handed me one. “They are in here; you will surely find them easy to work. But study them thoroughly nonetheless, climbing a mountain is no easy task and one that is normally filled with fire is even more dangerous, you might have to act on instinct.”
I nodded. Major Colonel Corbula had commented on my quick wits and intuition several times, even if I had never wielded magic in such an endeavour; as an undergrad, I was not versed in war magic yet. The Major would not be ashamed to have recommended me.
“Very well then.” The Professor opened the other envelope. “Shall we get to signing the contract then?” The Professor took the paper from the second envelope then wiped away the various objects on his desk, unlabelled samples of stone, a compass and protractor and even the map fell to the floor without even registering in the Professor’s attention. On the now free space he unfolded the huge sheet of paper. On it, in cleanly printed blocks were endless paragraphs, clauses and numbers.
“Everything is formulated to the University’s standards. It is nothing too complicated really.” His hand shot over the paper pointing to various stipulations and articles. “For the entire twelve days set aside for the journey and the expedition itself, you are insured for as a student and an employee of the University, your reimbursement paid out to your next of kin, you are to relinquish all rights to samples, materials, objects of value and intellectual discoveries made during our trip to me, unless I grant it to you otherwise, and any and all payment, reward, reimbursement or otherwise shall be forfeit in the case that you take actions against or away from the expedition.” My eyes could not follow his index finger as my ears could not follow his words. “Sign here please!”
His index finger finally came to rest on an empty line at the bottom of the paper. He handed me a quill dripping with ink. I had asked all questions I had, still I felt unprepared, but trust and pride had been invested in me and only those win who dare. The words ‘next of kin’ reminded me of my parents. Soon they would like to retire their craft and without worry for their future. As a valued graduate of this prestigious institution I could support them more than well and they would like to see me married too. There was no way around it, my name had to be signed there on the line: Havellan, second child of Nikandtos.
“And here!” the Professor pointed to another free line. My hand followed. “And here. And there. And now on your copy as well.”
When he had finally put his signature and seal on the document as well, he stood up and handed me my copy. “Keep it well. Best not to take it with you. After all, this will entitle your next of kin to reimbursements!” the Professor laughed heartily. “Well then it is decided. Three days from now, before the first lecture begins, we shall meet at the eastern entrance of the west campus.”
The Professor stood up straight and reached me his hand. We shook on it and he accompanied me to the door of the faculty building. After he had closed the door behind me with a “Best of wishes until we meet again.”, I stood there, on the streets of campus.
I looked at the two envelopes and decided to go to my favourite establishment, the Blue Oyster, a tavern with an almost cult-like following among students. There I would find my favourite tonic, Perfect Water, as well as a good friend of mine, Leandros, whom I planned to entrust with my copy of the contract. A few friendly words and a good drink before I ventured possibly into the bowels of primordial fire itself would do me good. I now know it was time well spent ahead of what was to come.