A Brief Recap
A lot has been happening in the world lately. Events are rolling along towards what seems to be an inevitable clash. Seemingly unconnected comings and goings are getting the unmistakable tinge of great import. There’s doings ’a going on. Let’s check in around the world, shall we, and see if we can’t get a better idea of where all this headed.
Well, Duke Delmand, the First Minister to their royal highnesses, the King and Queen of Delstatis, has communicated the news to Rill, that his country is indeed ready and willing to attend the Grand Council at Lake Belvue. In his terse, succinct way he has made the commitment that will send a party of delegates to the Fortress Mountains and contribute, hopefully, to the success of the proposition before them. That, in league with each other, perhaps something can be done to reverse the unfortunate circumstances under which the citizens of the world co-exist.
Unfortunately for the Duke, their most valuable source of learned personnel, namely the community of wizards, has already taken up the challenge of the times themselves and are nowhere to be found. They are, in fact, at the great magical meeting place of Habblestone, high in the Delstatis section of the Spine of the World.
(Ah yes, the Spine of the world. Well the Spine is so-called because it is a mountain range that starts in the north of the world and snakes its way southwards. Every country’s border has an element of the mountains in it and the long valley that stretches between the East and West halves of the spine is shared. Well, shared in the sense that nobody has ever claimed it because no one can get there. It is a forced neutrality if you will.)
High in the northeast of the mountains, in a secluded part of the Delstatis section of the mountains, sits Habblestone, home to the magi of that country. Even now the company of wizardry has gathered and sit together in the large stone meeting hall there.
Aurelius and Sabbatha Godenwelt, having made good the travel spell manufactured by the older wizard, have arrived with the apprentice Tim in tow. The last leg of the journey cost Aurelius a lot and he sits, tired now and aching, waiting for the opening ceremony to begin. Wizards can’t do anything together without an opening ceremony, he is thinking. Why don’t they just get on with it?
No sooner is that thought in his head than the great brass gong is rung by an attendant and the Elders come into the hall. Ha, Aurelius thinks when he sees them, the ‘Elders’. Why I’m older than any of them, other than Maximold of the Diamond. And he’s so old that he can barely stand up. Why have I never been asked to join the Council of Elders?
But of course, he knew the answer to that. It was because of the unfortunate accident in his youth when he mistakenly let his first apprentice use his staff and half the town of Bloomdim was transported to an island in the middle of the Great Sea. It was a stupid mistake to make, admittedly, but that they would continue to hold it against him all this time was ridiculous. Besides, the people of that section of the town took to the sea with great success, becoming the most industrious sea-farers of the world. So, what was the big deal?
Maximod of the Diamond rose to speak.
“My friends! How wonderful it is to see you all gathered here like this. It has been far too long since we have had the pleasure of each others company. Oh yes, we do get together in small groups for Emergence rituals and what have you, but to see all the great wizards of the land in one place is a sight to behold.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are here, as you know, to discuss the dire situation that has come to be known as the Great Shadow. As you know, it has become obvious to all that for the last ten years, things have not been good in our world. Magic is becoming harder and harder to construct and accidents and even deaths have resulted from aberrations through no fault of our own. And that is why we are here today, to discuss what might be done to alleviate these problems.”
“What you might not know, and I have only just been told, is that the Kingdom of Rill has convened a Grand Council made up of delegates from all the lands to undertake the task of finding just such a solution. Much as we have. Naturally, the King of Delstatis, desires that we send some of our association with his delegation as, of course, we represent the greatest magical powers in the world.”
“So, to that end, we must decide who to send. This will not be an easy task as you are all qualified in one way or another to represent our numbers and I’m equally sure that, given the chance, you would all want to go.”
“Well, actually, I don’t,’ came a voice from the back of the group. “I have a project in hand that cannot be interrupted. It would mean having to find a whole new batch of cats.”
“Um, I’m afraid that applies to me as well,’ said a tall mage in the middle. “My last attempt at creating a Mirror of Intimate Reflection ended up with me breaking my foot. I could hardly get here, let alone make the long trip to Rill.”
“All right, all right,’ sighed Maximold. “Perhaps it won’t be that hard a job. But it still must be done. I suppose we must find out exactly who can go. Let’s see, we’ll take a tally…”
And so, they did. More on that later.
And what of the Rundersgrip delegation, only two nights out and already under attack? But by whom? Well, we know whom by, but The Night of The Hand hasn’t become known to the rest of the world. Yet. Croakow Blinth and his party, somewhat decimated now by the attack of the Black Riders, have patched up their wounds, buried their dead, gathered up their party and are now continuing with the journey to Rill.
The road to Rill from Rundersgrip isn’t far really, as the crow flies, but it quickly becomes hilly and the sharp mountain passes provide ample opportunity for an ambush. The party is moving slowly, sending its archers out before it to warn of any such hidden dangers. So, it is slow progress and to top that off, rain has descended upon them and it is all they can do to keep the wagons and horses on the road.
“Frippart! It’s moggly doonans, noo, eh?′ Croakow said, his head covered over with a cowl and cape and the pain in his shoulder from the dagger wound, throbbing painfully. “Were any to try te worsel us noo, they’d probalment pus theyselves off ta cliff! So ah supposit that tent a ferrus thing.”
Waldentort, sitting beside him and only slightly versed in the language, having grown up in Tamora before coming to Rundersgrip to attend the medical school there, thought he understood the rugged dwarf. “You’re right, they’re probably not going to attack in this. But we might be the ones that slide off the cliff if this keeps up.”
“Yer cracked fer tinning there,” Croakow grunted back. “Hey up, der, youse gadburst pinnings!” he shouted at the horses and snapped the driving whip over their heads.
Meanwhile in a dark, badly lit room in the west wing of Throgmorten, The Fist, (who’s real name was Dorpet but don’t call him that when he’s wearing his Ruby Hat) leader of The Hand, was fuming.
“Do you mean to tell me that fifty of our best paid assassins, couldn’t deal with a delegation of engineers and cosmologists!’ he shouted into the faces of the councilors assigned the task of stopping the delegates.
“Well, they had protection,’ ventured one of them.
“Protection? From whom?’ The Fist asked, sitting down at his large black desk.
The ASG, sir. Crowkow Blinth and his men. They had Death Spray with them apparently. It was tricky.
“I thought,’ growled the Fist, ’that the ASG was working with us. Isn’t that where we got the Black Rider contingent? Did they betray us?”
“Well, it’s tricky sir. As you know, the ASG doesn’t take sides in any dispute. It’s part of their constitution apparently. They do tell you that when you hire them you know. They don’t pretend otherwise. On the other hand, they never reveal details of assignments to each other. The Guild disperses the work… anonymously.”
“Well, isn’t that convenient for them,’ The Fist pounded on the desk with… his fist. ’How do the ASG members feel when they find out they’ve been battling their own kind?”
“Well, it isn’t that simple, sir. You see the Fighters Guild is divided into two sub-guilds. The two sub-guilds are carefully aligned to include members in the one sub-guild who are natural enemies of those members of the other sub-guild. That way, if they should end up killing each other, no one really minds. Besides, situations don’t arise very often where the ASG is supplying both sides in a conflict. They prefer to fight outsiders.”
“Listen to me, Frank, when The Hand pays out fifty thousand gold pieces to get something done, we expect value for our money. Next you’ll be telling me that we can’t get our money back.”
“I’m afraid that’s so, sir. It’s a no refund sort of deal.”
“Well, you get over to that gods ridden Hall of Fighters and tell them that we won’t stand for this. When The Hand pays for something they expect that something to come to pass. Anyway, don’t we own that hall they meet in?”
“Yes sir. We bought out all the halls some years ago.”
“Tell them that if they don’t come up with something, we’ll kick them all out. How would they like that, eh? A fighter’s guild with no building to meet in. They’d look pretty bad then, wouldn’t they? What are they going to do, meet under a tree? Ha, I’d like to see that!”
The other members of the Destroy the Delegates team, were getting nervous now. When The Fist got this upset, he generally lost a lot of his ability to make upper management decisions. Then there would be a lot of unnecessary killing and such.
“Perhaps, we should think about this some more, sir,’ said one of their number.
The Fist just looked up at them through his fingers that were cupped in front of this eyes.
“I’ve thought about it enough. Call… The Henchman”
A still silence fell over the room.
Meanwhile, on the trail to Rill from Tamora, Everso Lovely’s butt was getting sore. It was not an easy thing to ride on a Demi-Gorgon, even with its blanket attached, and sometimes she would find herself slipping backwards down the spine of the animal. So, she’d have to pull on Trish’s belt to get herself back into position. Trish, didn’t mind that. In fact, Everso was beginning to suspect that she rather enjoyed it. Still, it was better than walking. The trail was covered with roots and stones that were constantly tripping up the others and one person had reported seeing a Grange Snake about five feet long, slithering between the rocks. No, Everso would tolerate the sore butt.
Over head the War Eagles would appear every so often. At first Roofus had been extremely wary of them but being a much faster bird than they, over a short distance, his natural curiosity had got the better of him and he had approached them the previous morning as they sat and ate a goat.
“Das ist eine lecker aussehende Ziege, die Sie dort Freunde haben.,’ he had said to them, hopping to what he hoped was just outside of their pecking range. One of the great birds stopped eating for a moment and eyed him suspiciously.
“What was that?’ the eagle said, in Eagle.
Roofus reverted back to crow and because all birds can understand each other when they speak any bird tongue, the eagle could then fathom what he meant when he said, “Oh, just wondering if I could trouble you for a morsel. When you’re done, of course.”
The other eagle looked up now. “Where did you come from? You’re pretty sassy for a little black snack,’ he said.
“Oh, I’m with her,’ Roofus said, indicating Everso who was feeding the Demi-Gorgon what looked like chunks of coal.
“With the one who rides with the master?’ said the first eagle. The two eagles exchanged glances. The larger of the two birds tore off a piece of rib and flicked it over towards Roofus. It landed about a foot in front of him. Roofus considered the situation. They could just be luring him in and then they’d grab him and bite his head off or maybe their mentioning of the master made his calculation all right. Roofus decided to take the chance. If he could demonstrate to them that he wasn’t afraid, maybe they would respect him enough not to eat him later. One way or another, the matter would be decided, and the meat did look tempting.
He hopped over to the meat and started to peck at it. Before he could swallow the meat, the larger eagle swiped at him and suddenly he was standing between the two huge birds. They stared down at him with their angry eagle eyes.
“Look at this, Gort, the snack has joined us for dinner,’ said the one eagle.
“Yes, Pang, we’ll save him for later.”
There was a moment of silence. Then the smaller eagle started ripping again at the goat meat. The other eagle laughed. ’Just messing with you, bird. Dig in.”
Over in Slewrock, the hastily penned letter of His Right Honourable Julius Maxim, Lord High Regent, Kingdom of Slewrock, wasn’t going over well with the general public. Things had been dire for some time, as in the rest of the world, but Slewrock was at a definite disadvantage as they weren’t terribly prosperous before the blight. So, things had gone from bad to worse for them when the Great Shadow descended on the world. At any rate, the people were feeling the pinch, as it were, and not many were happy with the prospect of mounting expensive and problematic delegations to the country of Rill, which was one of the wealthiest and most stable despite the troubles.
Plus they had a rat infestation going on and when it was learned that the ASG member who was going to protect the delegation was bringing with him two hundred Crazed Ground Rats, opposition was even stronger. What if the Ground Rats mated with the local vermin and produced some sort of horrendous hybrid? Even though the Rats were guaranteed to have been neutered, this was little consolation to the beleaguered citizenry.
Still, Julius Maxim had asserted his suzerainty and it looked like delegation was going to go ahead. The one thing that Slewrock had aplenty was doctors. Probably a result of the constant need for that practice in Slewrock. One of the shrewdest edicts offered by the Lord High Regent was the creation of the Slewrock School of Medicines in the town of Farsight and maintained by the Church of the Orange Angel. Under the guidance of the Grand Priest of the order, the school had flourished and produced many accomplished healers. Most of whom left immediately after graduation for jobs in more lucrative areas of the world. A practice that had been made illegal after the first few years of the school. It was a mandate that graduates must spend their first five years in the country of Slewrock. Which was a great idea, except the number of graduates exceeded the openings for them to fill. Many towns, even tiny ones, had up to five or six physicians servicing populations as low as a hundred.
However, in this case, that statistic worked in favour of the royalty. So many doctors were anxious to leave the country that when the offer of a waiver of the five-year rule was offered up as enticement, the court was flooded with worthy applicants. Which was great, except there was only room for three on the delegation, so competition was fierce.
On the first three days of the application process, forty-two doctors were either made sick by their fellows or died outright. In the end though, the three were chosen and were busy making their preparations for departure. They were taking a lot of belongings ostensibly to be well-prepared for any medical eventuality, but in fact their boxes and crates were mostly loaded with their personal possessions for none of them had any intention of returning.
Also, being chosen for the expedition were a cook and a procurer. The cook was fairly easy to come by. There weren’t too many experienced cooks around anymore, at least not on a commercial level, as virtually all of the restaurants and taverns were too hard-done by to serve food as part of their fare. The most a pub-dweller might expect along with his pint of ale would be a slice of bread, some cheese and possibly a piece of fruit. But at a ridiculous price.
The position of procurer was the most difficult. A procurer was meant to be able to scramble together whatever the party needed and, in the future, to be able to attend whatever experiments were put together by the Grand Council in Rill and fulfill the same function there.
It was decided that the position would be filled by holding a sort of scavenger hunt. Ten obscure items were put on a list and presented to each of the applicants. They were given twenty-four hours to acquire the items and the most successful would be invited to attend the Council.
That list consisted of:
A purple wine-skin
A cord of white pine
A live Grange Snake
Two pounds of prime meat (This would probably prove to be one of the hardest things to obtain, which is why it was on the list. The Lord High Regent hadn’t had good meat to eat in six months.)
A rock in the shape of a star
Two silver spoons
One magical item
An arrow of flame
A tree in a bottle
The tooth of an animal of the wild
Early in the morning on the day of application there were a dozen men and women gathered to participate in the scavenger hunt. Among them was a diminutive figure wrapped in a dark green cloak. In case you haven’t guessed already, that figure was Emile Vestaberian. He was traveling now under the name of Horrenz of Gaut.
Ever since the night of the great theft, Emile had been on the run. Somehow his Potion of Forgetfulness, with which he had attempted to silence young Milicent Grootly, had gone off and was only partially potent. It had given Milicent a good night’s sleep but the next day she remembered enough of the previous night to identify Marko the Stonemason as being that one that had violated the safe of Albert Grootly. It hadn’t taken long to get the information from Maurice, Emile’s brother about his part in the scheme. Now Maurice was being held in custody until the emerald was returned.
Which wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, since Emile had taken the great green gem to the local chapter of the Thieves Guild, hoping that it would allow for his admittance to that organization. However, when it became known that that the gig was up, and Emile had been exposed as the perpetrator, the Guild Chief declared Emile invalid as an applicant for admission. When Emile asked for the rock back so he could get Maurice out of the pen, he was told something along the lines of ‘Emerald? What emerald?’ Well, it was the Thieves Guild after all, what do you expect.
So Emile was on the run. He did manage to get Maurice out of custody though by a feat of daring-do involving a distraction of a minor explosion and the purloining of a set of jail-house keys. Maurice was extremely angry of course, as Emile had projected, and was forced to flee the country and take up residence with their aunt in Tamora.
Thus, Emile, now Horrenz of Gaut, had seized upon the opportunity to get out of town and perhaps earn some money at the same time.
When he was handed the list, however, he was as confused as the rest of the ‘procurers’. Where on earth was he going to get all this stuff in one day?
More on that to follow.
Over in Rill, there is great hope and excitement in the air. The finishing touches are being put on the Grand Ballroom at the Belvue citadel and everyone is looking forward with great anticipation to the arrival of the first of the delegates.
The citadel, a wonderful structure of ancient hardwoods and rare stones, sits on a low plateau overlooking Lake Belvue in the Fortress Mountains. The lake is a verdant green colour owing to the minerals in the water and on a sunny day, when the blue sky reflects off it, the water takes on a brilliant teal tone.
Despite being in the mountains, the way to the citadel is a long, well-hewn road which winds back and forth up Mount Denrun. It takes only a few hours on horse back from the main Rill town of Cadensrock and many a visitor has marveled at the views that appear periodically on the trip. It almost takes on the tone of a pilgrimage when a traveler happens upon one of the shrines or monuments along the way. Some of these shrines are quite majestic and one can enter them and pay homage or leave tributes to whichever god the shrine honors. Smaller, more numerous caches and stone icons are found every so often, erected in tribute to somebody or other by a relative or lover.
It is one of the most wonderful places in the whole of Rill and it is with pride that the king and his countrymen have put it forward for the use of the Grand Council. In the main building itself is a magnificent hall, with high over-arching pillars and a solid glass wall at one end that looks over the lake. On a sunny day, the reflections of the water are caught in large, hung prisms and the resulting cascade of colours echo off the banners and wall mounts.
There is a great dining hall as well, that can hold up to two hundred people at long tables and the kitchens attached thereon are the best in the land. Outside there are a series of wooden log lodges which contain the sleeping quarters for the guests of the citadel. All of this sits within a palisade of tall iron-wood trees, so named because they have the resilience of heavy metal and create a formidable barricade protecting the inner grounds. Guard towers are positioned beside the great silver gate that leads from the road to the grounds.
The town of Cadensrock itself hosts one of the larger populations of Rill. Now it is even busier than usual as tradesmen brought into service the citadel and curious folk from all over Rill, bustle in the streets and taverns. Every room at every inn is booked solidly and from early in the day to late in the night, songs and laughter can be heard. It is almost as if the blight had already been defeated, the people are so excited.
But, such is not the case because, even now, a lone rider urges his mount towards the royal castle located on a hill between the town and the base of the mountain. He has come with urgent news, sent on by scouts sent out from Rill to greet and accompany the various delegate parties to the city. The most forward of the scouts has come across the Rundersgrip delegation and have sent back news of the nasty attack which they had suffered.
The rider dismounts and runs to the castle entrance and after a brief word with the guard there, hurries inside to break the news to the king.
Meanwhile, a small cart carrying two unlikely looking youths has entered the city and is making its way towards the house of a man named Kristoff Toobudding. Kristoff is uncle to one of the young men in the wagon, Gormat Toobudding. He has agreed to house the two during the Grand Council.
A few days ago, after the shock of the magic boots had slightly worn off, Sethbard the Unready and his friend Gormat, had headed off to Cadensrock to speak to the king. Well, that was their idea anyway. The magic boots could be of great interest to the Council. Not that anybody but Sethbard could use them, unfortunately. They had tried them on Gormat to no avail. Apparently, they were one-owner magical boots. But the magic in them was prodigious and after Sethbard had learned to control them, he was sure he could be of use. Perhaps as a messenger.
In the back of the wagon was the remainder of the Transcended Wood. Their plan was take the wood to Cadensrock and show it to a more skilled wood-worker there and see if it could be used to produce other magical items. A magic chair, for instance, that could produce impenetrable armor perhaps. They didn’t really know if, like the boots, this would be a one-person chunk of wood, but it was worth a try. If it did work, who knows what sort of things could be made to issue forth from the soft, glowing trunk.
Father and Mother had been a bit put off at first, but the boys had made their case with great ardor and the parents, realizing the truth of the idea about putting the tree to the use of the Grand Council, and as Gormat’s uncle was a man of reputation, they had agreed. They had stood and watched the two young adventurers head off on the short trip to Cradensrock with a tear in the eyes as they waved farewell.
Gormat’s father had given him a staff that he had been constructing for Gormat’s Emergence day. It wasn’t finished yet, but it had been invested with all the power and spells that his father could induce into it. It lay, wrapped in special cloth, next to the Transcendent Wood.
The wagon turned into a long alley and pulled up in front of a small but well-kept cottage near a small park. The door opened and a man with one leg and a crutch came out with a large smile.
“Welcome,’ he said to the boys. “Welcome to Cradensrock!”