Chapter 3: Mages on the Loose
"Ready to go Tom?" Suzanne asked.
Thomas, who appeared to be lost in thought, stood up and nodded his head. He walked out the door of Lucia's Eatery and waited outside for his companions.
Alice walked up to Suzanne and greeted her, "Hey Susie."
"Hey Alice. Is something bothering Tom? He at least usually says something when someone greets him."
"He's been in a sour mood since we got back from the tower. I saw him in the library yesterday and he didn't even acknowledge me at all. I'd think that he'd be a little happier after 'passing the test' and all."
"He's probably still angry at Ron being poisoned," Suzanne said. "You know he takes wounds seriously. Plus, he really hates it when people disregard his advice."
After the team had made it back to the castle town, the team had wasted no time in taking Ron to a healer and getting him cured of his poison. The healer had recommended a day of rest for Ron. So the team had taken the day off to see their families and have some free time. They planned to meet each other at Lucia's Eatery the next morning to set off for Reeve again. Once there, they would try Baker's key on the door to the Drasoran house.
The trip to Reeve went routinely this time around. Ron was definitely in top fighting condition after having been healed. The group did not complain about the lack of froggores, masked moths, and babbles in their journey.
The group arrived at Reeve in the late afternoon again. They decided to wait until the morning to see the elder Drasoran. Suzanne and Alice went to the inn to book their rooms, Ron went out to get some exercise, while Thomas disappeared to some quiet spot as he often did to study.
As Ron had just about had enough for the day, Thomas came up to him. After a deep breath, he addressed Ron, "Hey Ron."
Ron, who hadn't noticed Thomas yet, turned around and replied, "Hey Tom. How's the reading?"
"It's fine," Thomas said. "I wanted to apologize for failing you the other day."
Ron looked surprised. "What are you talking about?" Ron asked.
As Thomas replied this time, his head faced the ground, "I'm talking about the other day, when you got poisoned. I'm the healer of this group, I should have been able to cast the spell that rids you of poison. Instead, we had to go all the way back to the castle and consult a healer there."
Ron shook his head and said, "Hey, it was my fault in the first place. You told Susie and I to back off and I didn't listen. If anything, I should be the one apologizing. I not only endangered myself but I endangered you and Susie by forcing you guys to come to my aid. I should have listened to you."
However, Thomas was not completely convinced, "It is true, it would've been helpful if you had backed off. But those things probably would've closed in on us anyway. There were too many of them. Such situations will no doubt occur often in this journey of ours. And because of that, I should know the antidote spell."
"Isn't that a complicated spell?" Ron asked.
"Somewhat, but that's not the point. We won't get far in our journey if we have to rush back to the castle whenever there's a fear of poison. If the stories are true, there are some areas of the world full of poisonous creatures." Thomas answered.
"Don't worry about it man," Ron said. "I'm sure you'll have that spell down by that point. Until that time, I just have to be more careful. After all, we've got both Susie and Alice around to lob fireballs at enemies. It wouldn't kill me to stand back and watch them fry every so often."
Thomas chuckled at Ron's comment. Ron made a suggestion, "But what say you put the books down for a moment and spar with me? You're going to need to get a little tougher in addition to learning those spells."
Thomas chuckled again. "Oh why not? Allow me to fetch my club."
The group was excited for the next day. Now they would try the key on the Drasoran door and hopefully get Borthan to help them break the seal on the Cave of Enticement. Suzanne was the first to wake of the group. She got dressed and left the room without waking Alice and went down the stairs to take a walk. As she went through the main lobby of the inn, a notice on the bulletin board caught her eye.
"BEWARE: Do not wander off to the eastern wilds! Do not travel unless necessary and make sure always to travel in groups! A cult of mages is on the loose!" the notice read.
Suzanne walked up to the innkeeper and asked, "According to that notice, there are mages on the loose. Is that true?"
The innkeeper replied grimly, "I'm afraid so, miss. Apparently, they hail from the castle itself. The lot of them wanted to run experiments on human beings, but the king said no of course. So they left the castle and now they've established a hideout of some sort out in the eastern wilds and they attack anyone they see."
"I see. Thanks for the warning," Suzanne said.
The area called the "eastern wilds" was a region on the east side of Aliahan with many forests and hills. There was an increased concentration of monsters in the region and so there were no settlements or villages in the area. There were some guides and outposts but for the most part, monsters had control of the region. Unfortunately, the group would have to travel through this region to reach the Cave of Enticement.
After the rest of the group had awoken and prepared for the day they headed to the Drasoran house. Ron took out Baker's key and tried it on the lock. After pushing some buttons and working on it for a few seconds, the door gave way. The group rejoiced silently and then proceeded into the house.
The ground floor of the house looked normal enough. You would not have known that a couple of powerful wizards usually inhabited the house. There was a kitchen and living room all furnished with regular looking furniture. The group searched the ground floor, cautiously calling for Borthan as they went. Then the group found some stairs to the second floor and proceeded up them.
The second floor appeared to have the bedrooms for the two and a guest room. The group knocked and checked each room for Borthan.
When they knocked on the last door Thomas noted, "It's funny how polite we're being after we broke into this guy's house."
The group then entered the door and there he was, Borthan Drasoran the wizard. He turned around and said, "I've already heard from my brother. You have passed our little test. We need not spend much time on pleasantries, so let us get to business. You have a total of three spellcasters in your group, but only the two in the back," he indicated Thomas and Alice, "will be needed. You two will stay here for a couple hours learning the spell to break the seal."
So Thomas and Alice stayed with the wizard for a few hours while Ron and Suzanne left. Since they needed to restock on medicinal herbs and food for the journey anyway, the two decided to do just that. The two proceeded to the medicine store first.
Ron noticed that there were antidote herbs for sale. He laughed and pointed them out to Suzanne, "We better buy some of these, eh Susie?" Suzanne laughed and they purchased a handful of the herbs. They were expensive to buy in such an amount, but the group had made a good sum of money from the monster parts they collected from their trip up the tower. They met up with Thomas and Alice at midday.
"So, what do you have to do?" Suzanne asked.
Alice took a somewhat large, glowing ball from her backpack. "This is the key to breaking the seal. We say some incantations and throw this thing at one of the walls. This will break the seal."
Ron's eyebrow raised, "You throw that at a wall? Doesn't sound very magicky to me."
Thomas spoke up at this point, "It's not as simple as throwing it at a wall. When we enter the cave, we'll soon come to a dead end. In reality, one of the walls in this dead end is the seal. The first part of the incantation identifies which wall is the seal. The next part puts a spell on the ball made to counteract the seal. Then we throw the ball at the wall, the sealed wall will be destroyed, and we will be able to proceed. 'Magicky' enough for you?"
Ron laughed and said, "Now that's what I'm talking about! I was starting to worry that magic really isn't as complicated as it's made out to be!"
Suzanne spoke up, "We got the supplies while you were gone. I think we should be ready to head out now then. You guys ready?"
The rest of the group agreed. They headed out of Reeve and went east.
Having heard the rumors of the cult, the group was extra cautious while traveling. After a day of traveling the group reached the foot of the hills on the edge of the western wilds. The group set up camp and arranged the watch for the night. For this night's rotation, Ron was first, followed by Alice, then Suzanne, with Thomas last. Ron's shift went without a hitch.
When Alice took watch, the rest of the group sometimes complained that she was too jumpy. Of course, noises in the night were unsettling, but the animals were going to move around in the night. Once again, Alice was plagued by the noises of the night, this one especially noisy. Alice mused that it was because they were at the entrance to the wild territory. Many animals were afraid of even the slightest hint of humans. But these animals were a bit more courageous; they knew this was their territory.
With the amount of noise Alice heard, she doubted she'd be able to get to sleep once her shift ended. She utterly hated this part of journeying. Leaves and grass rustled and made her jump. After this night, she was going to ask for a smaller night shift. "I'm a spell caster, a mage!" she thought to herself. "I need my sleep so I can study my spells and save us from humongous hoards of monsters!"
She heard something on the wind. It sounded like words! Were those crazy cultists out there now? She listened carefully before waking the others. She did not want to sound another false alarm. The last time she had the group as a whole had found it difficult to get back to sleep. Although none of her comrades yelled at or chastised her, she knew they did not want to be woken for nothing.
More words carried on the wind. That sounded like a spell for sure! But wait, maybe it was just her imagination playing tricks on her. She listened some more, all the while bracing herself for a fireball or burst of poisonous gas or whatever those mages could throw at her.
Alice jumped, those cultists knew her name! They would have to be either very powerful or very dedicated to have learned her name, the name of a person who for all they knew was just some random traveler in the eastern wilds. Either way, they had to be very dangerous indeed. She needed to alert her comrades. She spun around only to find one of the mages directly in front of her. She fell backwards in surprise and started preparing a spell.
"Whoa! Alice, it's me!"
Alice stopped her spell and looked at her attacker. Actually, her attacker was none other than Suzanne. Apparently, Alice's shift was already over and Suzanne had woken up to relieve her of the watch already.
"You really look freaked out! It's too bad I didn't wake up sooner," Suzanne said.
Alice was still trying to catch her breath. "I thought I was supposed to wake you?" she said.
"I had some trouble sleeping tonight. Too excited about the seal I guess," Suzanne said. She saw Alice's face turn to concern and she continued, "Don't worry, I'm sure I'll sleep fine after my shift. For now, you make sure to get some sleep. You look like you've been through a terrible ordeal."
Alice nodded and thanked Suzanne, "Thanks Susie. Don't be afraid of waking Tom early. He'll be grumpy in the morning anyway." Suzanne chuckled as Alice walked away.
The group made it through the night without being ambushed by the cultists. They proceeded up the hills of the eastern wilds. On both sides of these hills were large mountains that the group did not dare try to climb. Luckily, they would not have to, though they would have to circle around the mountains to reach the Cave of Enticement.
The group would have to go through a narrow pass between the two mountain ranges named Gerald Pass, named after the wizard who sealed the Cave of Enticement.
"Be ready guys," Suzanne warned as the neared the pass. "This would be a prime place for them to attack from. If they take up positions on any of the cliffs, we'll only be able to reach them with our own magic."
Alice seemed confident in the prospect of a magic battle, despite her fears last night, "Don't worry guys! I got a new spell down that can take a whole group of those maniacs down!"
"That's great, but do you think you could reach that Cliffside there if they were to attack?" Thomas asked, pointing to a nearby cliff.
Alice looked at the cliff and replied, "Well, that may be a bit of a reach. But hey, if they're too far away I can still blast them with a good fireball. Plus, they won't be able to hit us with the same spell if they know it."
Suzanne just thought of something, "Hmm, I didn't think about area effect spells. That could be a problem. If they do attack as from close to mid range, we should spread out."
Ron spoke up, "That's what I hate about fighting mages. You guys can stand back from a distance and fire away before I'm ever able to even reach you with my blade."
The group proceeded through the pass wary of any mages. Things were quiet in the area, no animals or monsters.
"Over there!" Ron shouted and pointed to the group's left.
Upon a cliff to the left was a group of three figures. They were not terribly far away; there was a large rock near them that they must have hid behind.
"Don't attack yet!" Suzanne warned. "They may not be cultists!"
Alice had already been casting a spell but held it at the last moment. She had her new spell ready and only needed to say the final word before she could unleash it on their potential foes.
The three figures identified themselves as enemies quickly. Three fireballs headed their way quickly. The fireballs homed in on and hit Ron, Suzanne, and Thomas. Alice took that as the signal to finish her spell. The ground underneath the three figures started aflame for a second, burning the three figures.
"Move in!" Ron shouted.
The group rushed up the cliff to try and rush the three mages. They made sure to use the rocks as cover as they ran up. Although fireballs had great homing capabilities, the spell did not take object between caster and target into effect, so the fireballs would hit the rocks. The group split between two rocks and viewed their enemies. A fireball flew by, almost hitting Ron in the head. The group cautiously made their way to the next set of rocks, getting there just in time to avoid another volley.
Now the group was close to the mages. The next rock to use as cover was the rock their foes were using for cover.
"Time to end this!" Ron shouted. He charged at the three mages.
"Wait, Ron! Allow us to cover you!" Suzanne shouted. Unfortunately, Ron was already halfway there when the words left her mouth. The rest of the group quickly joined Ron's charge, Alice with another spell ready.
Ron saw his first target's expression turn to horror as he saw the blade approaching him. Ron cut him down just after the mage finished his spell, a fireball hit Ron square in the chest. Two more fireballs quickly followed, sending Ron flying backwards from the might. However, before the mages could press the attack on Ron, the rest of the group came in. Suzanne and Thomas made quick work of the already wounded mages with a couple of strikes of their own.
Thomas quickly rushed over to Ron to heal his injuries. Amazingly, Ron was not as wounded as it seemed, but he definitely could not take many more blows. Thomas said the heal spell as Suzanne walked over.
"Nice idea Ron. But next time, at least let us provide cover fire first. Then you might not need to take three fireballs head on," Suzanne suggested.
Ron nodded his head and replied, "I hear you. See, this is why I hate fighting spell casters!"
The group proceeded through the hills of the eastern wilds. They saw no more sign of cultists from this point onwards. They did encounter more than the usual supply of monsters, but they expected that. After an exhausting day of travel and fighting, the group set up camp in the hills. Alice once again had a frightening shift at watch as she expected an army of monsters and cultists every minute. Luckily, no such army appeared.
The group proceeded down the hills to the very eastern part of Aliahan, where they came across a beach. According to their map, the Cave of Enticement was directly north of the beach, in a valley inside the eastern mountain range and behind a small lake. The group had to go through another narrow pass in the mountains. Once again, the group prepared for a cultist ambush, but no such ambush came this time.
The group entered the valley and quickly found the small lake. They circled around the lake and found a hole in the ground, big enough to fit a person through.
"Is this the entrance?" Ron asked.
"There's no mention on the map or anything I've read of what the entrance to the cave actually looks like. All I've read is that it's supposed to be behind the lake. This looks like our best bet," Alice replied.
Fortunately, the group had brought some rope and a spike to drive into the ground. After they were sure the spike was secure, they tied the rope to it and lowered themselves into the cave.
As Thomas had mentioned a couple days ago, it did not take long for the group to reach a dead end.
"Well, time for us to go to work Tom!" Alice said.
"Do you guys have any idea how long this will take?" Ron asked.
"Borthan said it wouldn't take more than an hour," Alice replied.
Alice and Thomas went to work on enchanting the magic ball Borthan had given them while Suzanne and Ron made sure to guard the cave entrance so the spell casters could work. Luckily, not a single thing tried to enter the cave. The enchantment was finished without incident. Then Alice threw the ball at the southern wall.
The group quickly retreated out the entrance to the room as the reaction started. Magical energy flew everywhere. Eventually, the reaction stopped and the group examined the results of the incantation. There was now a hole in the southern wall and a visible room on the other side.
"Yes! It worked! Oh, and I almost forgot! Borthan said that this dispelled the seal on teleportation spells into and out of Aliahan as well. So even when we leave, we can easily return with a wing of wyvern!" Alice exclaimed.
"Wait, there was a seal on teleportation?" Ron asked.
"The seal wouldn't have done much good if people could still teleport here," Thomas explained. "So there was a seal put up that prevented people from teleporting into or out of Aliahan as well. I didn't know that the two seals were linked in such a way though."
The group went through the gap and down some stairs. On the next floor, they found the cave was not in the best of shape. There were large gaps in the floor that appeared to drop any unwary or clumsy travelers to the floor below. The group went down the first flight of stairs they came to. The stairs led them to a large room. By the looks of it, if they had fallen in any of the gaps, they could use those stairs to get back up.
"Monsters!" Alice shouted.
Four giant rabbits came at them. However, these did not look like the rabbits they were used to. These rabbits had purple fur. Ron, Suzanne, and Thomas ran at the rabbits with weapons drawn. Ron parried the rabbit's horn with his sword and then counterattacked at the rabbit's head. The rabbit pulled its head back, but not quick enough. Its horn was severed from its head.
As Suzanne charged the rabbit to the right of Ron's rabbit, it lowered its horn to catch her charge. Suzanne was ready for that though; she jumped over the horn and came down on the rabbit with a devastating downward stab. The rabbit lived no longer.
Thomas came up to his rabbit but was caught off guard by its sudden lunge and got caught in the side. He followed up with a crushing blow to its skull with his club, but the rabbit still lived.
The rabbit that Ron wounded jumped backwards away from his next attack. It then began to wiggle its nose and head in a strange way while growling. Ron pursued it and delivered the finishing blow. But right before he did so, purple bubbles appeared above the heads of the humans. Ron finished the rabbit and then fell over, asleep.
Thomas finished his rabbit off with another blow and examined his wound. It did not seem to be too bad a wound, he could leave it for now. He then looked to his comrades only to find they were all sleeping. He looked around to see if there were any more monsters present and we relieved to find there were none. He patiently waited for his comrades to wake.
Alice was first to wake. "What happened?" she asked.
"Apparently, those creatures can cast magic," Thomas answered. "We need to be especially careful around those things from now on."
After the rest of the group woke up, the team pressed onwards. The room they were in appeared to be a dead end, so they went back up the stairs.
The group went up the stairs only to find four of the black-robed cultists standing by the staircase back up towards the surface.
"Quick, alert the others!" one of them yelled. Obeying the command, one of the others broke off and ran away.
Suzanne yelled at the cultists, "Wait! We don't need to fight! Stay your magic!"
The three remaining cultists laughed at her and prepared their spells. Alice finished hers first, however, and the three cultists were severely burned by her ground flame spell. Thomas went up and finished one cultist before he could finish his spell. Ron finished another one with a stab through the heart. Suzanne ran up to the final cultist and felled him just before he finished his spell.
"Damn! That one went to alert his friends!" Ron said in frustration.
"We've got to be careful guys. They'll most likely have an ambush ready for us," Suzanne said. "I'll take the back for now so I can watch out behind us. Everyone, make sure to be quiet. Ron, carefully check around every corner we have to turn around."
"Good idea Susie," Alice said.
The group proceeded carefully and quietly through the cave from here on out. They came across one hallway that was cut off by a gap too large to jump across. The group proceeded the other way. They happened across a chest containing an antidote herb and then went through a very long hallway.
"I don't like this," Thomas whispered. "This would be a perfect place for them to ambush us."
When they got to the midpoint of the hallway, they came across a large caterpillar. The caterpillar sensed their presence and attacked. Suzanne was first to reach it but was forced to quickly roll away as the creature tried a body slam on her with its massive body. This opened it up the Thomas' club and Ron's sword. However, they found that the creature's skin was surprisingly tough.
"What kind of caterpillar is this?" Ron whispered.
The caterpillar turned on Ron now and tried a body slam on him. Ron got away from its body, but the creature slashed him in the face with its surprisingly sharp legs. The creature then earned a fireball to the face and another series of club and sword blows. It finally succumbed to death.
"Geez, that thing was tough," Ron whispered.
"That fight probably alerted our friends too," Thomas replied grimly.
However, the group made it to the end of the hallway without a sign of the cultists. The group proceeded onwards. They had another encounter with the giant purple rabbits, but managed to kill them before they could get off the sleep spell. The group found its way to another staircase.
"Where are those cultists?" Ron asked.
The next floor was a large hallway that split into three paths. The group tried the middle path first, and came up to a large door.
"Wait!" Suzanne said. "See if you can hear anything on the other side of the door."
The group listened on the other side of the door for a short while, and then decided it was safe to open.
"It's locked," Ron said.
"Try Baker's key," Alice suggested.
Ron used Baker's key on the door and disabled the lock. The group proceeded in only to find a dead end. The group turned around and tried the path that had been to the right. They came to another door and stopped and listened again.
"I can hear something," Ron whispered.
"It sounds like…chanting," Thomas observed.
"We need to think worst case scenario here guys," Suzanne said. "There could be a large number of cultists past this door. Alice, have your ground fire spell ready. I'll have my own fireball ready. Ron, they'll probably be able to hear you going at the door. Open one side of it first and back away. Alice and I will fire spells at them from behind the other side, but if they set that on fire, you, Tom, and I will charge in with everything we have. However, Tom, watch everyone carefully. We may need you to start whipping out healing spells."
"Sounds like a great strategy Suzanne," Ron said. "Everyone ready?"
Everyone nodded. Ron worked at the door. When the lock was disabled, he kicked open the right side and then backed away. A large volley of fireballs hit the door, almost destroying it completely and setting it on fire.
Realizing their cover was effectively gone, Ron yelled, "Charge!"
The group charged into the room. There were seven cultists in the room. Four of them fell victim to Alice's ground fire spell, but it did not have the range to reach the other three. Suzanne finished one of the four of with her spell and then drew out her sword and charged another. Ron and Thomas both finished off a cultist each before they could finish casting. However, the three on the other end of the room and the one Suzanne was charging at all got their fireballs off.
Suzanne got hit by three and fell to the ground due to the force of them. Thomas immediately sent a healing spell as she got back to her feet. Ron got hit by one but was still able to finish off the cultist Suzanne was going for. Alice sent another ground fire spell at the remaining three cultists.
However, three more fireballs came at the party. Thomas got hit by two and Alice got hit by one. Thomas healed himself while Suzanne and Ron rushed two of the cultists. The two fell easily to their blades. Alice finished the last one off with a fireball.
As Thomas healed Alice, Ron looked around the room and said, "I hope that's all of them."
"We haven't checked that last room yet. We better check that," Suzanne said.
"It was pretty clever of them to follow us in here. I'm guessing they were using us to leave Aliahan," Thomas said.
"But how did they know we were going to break the seal?" Suzanne asked.
"Maybe they heard about it from the castle?" Alice theorized. "That's where that innkeeper said they were from right? Or maybe, they were just hanging around the cave and sensed the magic ball we had with us. I could sense it had magic in it the moment Borthan gave it to us. They may have just wanted to steal it, but then when we broke the seal, they took it as an added bonus. I just hope that's it. I don't think I have enough magic left in me to even make a spark, much less a fireball."
"Hey, is that the Traveler's Gate?" Ron asked.
The group turned around towards the center of the room. Indeed, there was a mystical blue vortex in the middle of the room.
"Looks like it," Alice said.
"We still should check that last room," Suzanne said.
The group went down the only path they hadn't taken yet. Ron unlocked another door and they proceeded in to find another dead end. There were no cultists inside, but there were monsters. The monsters did not notice the group though.
"Let's just leave," Suzanne said. "We don't need to fight anymore right now."
The rest of the group agreed and they went back to the Traveler's Gate.
"I'll go first," Ron said.
"Be careful!" warned Alice. "It's said that when you go through a Traveler's Gate, you get really dizzy! And I mean really dizzy."
"I'll be fine," Ron said.
Ron stepped into the blue vortex. He immediately started spinning fast and sunk into the vortex. Ron's vision did not register him sinking though. To him he was just spinning faster and faster, the room getting more and more blurry. Ron thought he was going to puke. He desperately wished for the spinning to stop. As if to answer his wishes, it did. However, when his vision cleared, he found he was in another room.
Ron fell off this room's blue vortex and waited for his comrades. One by one, they followed. First Suzanne, then Thomas, and Alice came last. All of them took a few moments to clear their dizziness.
"Let's never do that, ever, ever again," Alice groaned.
After the group recovered, Suzanne spoke up, "Okay guys, we're in a new land. When we get to the next town, we'll all be on our best behavior. As citizens of a land looked down on and even hated by other nations, we don't want to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves. Nevertheless, our task is to gather information on the Archfiend, and even try to persuade people to work together. Now, let's go."