Blazing Trails (TS)
New timeline, new characters
This TS is set immediately after the game. As such, it is not in the same timelines as previous TSs. The characters for this TS are supposed to be more related to the game and thus most likely not as strong as characters in previous TSs.
See this topic for more information.
I'll probably add more here or in the OoC topic at a later date.
There was something of a celebration in Cademia on this particular day.
News had just reached the town—in the form of Aethon, Meleager, and Timon—that the great hero Bellerophon had succeeded in curing Alaric.
Already, the land seemed to be recovering from the blight that had afflicted it of late and matters were expected to continue to improve at a rapid pace. However, some feared that the effects might linger on for a longer time than many believed, particularly since large numbers of ruffians and such still roamed the wilds. Most citizens did not let these sorts of consideration deter them too much.
Of course, there was also the rather somber bit of news that Bellerophon, having succeeded in his task, had returned to his own home.
A man standing on the outskirts of the town square, where Aethon (occasionally corrected by Timon and often corrected by Meleager) was regaling the crowd with tales of their adventures, reacted rather gloomily to this last bit of news.
Great, we're all going to die , he thought to himself.
The man was of average height, wearing the clothes typical of a Cytheran mage and having brown hair and brown eyes.
His name was Anonymous. Secretly, he believed his parents hated him or just couldn't come up with a good name.
Of course, he hadn't been able to either, so he either just used Anonymous or just about any other name that was given to him.
As he listened to the tales, he noted several things that Bellerophon and his party seemed to have left undone.
For instance, Timon's sister seemed to have disappeared, there was still a strange creature in Attis's iron mine, and Bellerophon hadn't fixed the problem with Glaucus's vineyard, amongst other things.
He wondered now who would complete these and other tasks that might arise. He doubt that Meleager and Aethon would be able to work together and Hector was said to be busy at Land King Hall.
As Anonymous pondered this thought, he realized an obvious solution: he and others would form a new band of heroes to travel the land and do great deeds. He wasn't quite certain why, only that he thought someone had to do it and no one else seemed to be volunteering.
Anonymous's parents had often said he suffered from delusions of grandeur.
(They were right too.)
So, Anonymous, who had been voted "Most likely to incinerate himself on accident" by his class at Pnyx and had been sent from that city to "broaden his horizons" after setting Lindus's hair on fire, turned and left Cademia's square, on the lookout for any heroes (or anyone who looked somewhat like one anyway) to form a party and complete some quest.
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Anonymous was looking closely at every person he passed to see if they were cut out to be an adventurer - so closely, in fact, that he didn't see the girl leaning over to pick something up until he had stumbled into her and knocked her over.
"Sorry, I didn't see you there," Anonymous apologized, and offered his hand to help her up.
"I'm not that short, am I?" she said, a bit miffed, but took his hand and allowed him to pull her back into a standing position.
"No, no," Anonymous said quickly, "I was just looking for adventurers to volunteer to... hang on, you look like an adventurer!"
The girl looked at him in surprise, clutching the arrow that she had dropped on the ground. "I do?"
"You do," he replied decisively, and drew himself up in an important manner. "My name is Anonymous, and I am seeking to form a band of heroes who will travel Cythera on exciting and potentially dangerous quests. Would you like to accompany me?"
"I might consider it if you tell me what your name is. How do I know if I can trust you otherwise? Not having a name sounds suspicious."
"My name is Anonymous," the man said with slight exasperation. "Honestly. That's it. Anonymous."
The girl laughed, but quickly stopped, hoping she hadn't offended him. "Sorry. Nice to meet you, Anonymous. I'm Erica, and if you think I'd make a good adventurer, then I'd love to join your party."
"Excellent!" Anonymous cried, with surprising enthusiasm.
"Um... who else is in this group so far?" Erica queried as she returned her stray arrow to the quiver on her back. When his face fell slightly, her suspicions were confirmed. "Oh dear," she murmured quietly to herself. "I do hope we find some more people."
The hilt of Samuel’s claymore impatiently tapped against the back of his breastplate as he hurried through the crowd in Cademia’s people-choked streets, “I can’t believe that took so long.” He grumbled, recalling the travelers he saved from ruffians on the outskirts of town. They had even forced a reward on him and the weight of the coins hung from a pouch at his hip. It wasn’t something he wanted to accept but he had to admit it would be nice to have a good meal on such a special day.
News of the celebration travelled fast and many hurried to the town to catch a glimpse of the visiting heroes. Bands of ruffians bold or stupid enough to take advantage were drawn in as well, hoping to prey on defenseless commoners while staying far enough away not to invoke the wrath of the men who’d set the city afire for the day. With all the would-be adventurers (Samuel included) descending on the place it was doubtful the bandits would get away with much at all, “They would have to be mad to enter the city now.”
Samuel smiled broadly when he reached the town square where Aethon still regaled the gathering with tales of his bravery. Performers pranced about and merchants shouted their wears, “The finest armors in the land!” “A sword Bellerophon himself used in battle!”. Everyone was out for shameless fun or profit and you could feel the mirth in the air, or so it felt to the swordsman. Someone bumped into him sharply with a murmured apology, but when he turned to look he caught only a flash black that disappeared into the crowd. Strange that.
“Excuse me sir!” an unfamiliar voice called over the din. Samuel was greeted by a plain seeming man in a green cloak, “You have the look of an adventurer am I wrong?”
The swordsman grinned at the stranger, only then noticing the girl beside him, “You have the right of it I’m Samuel.” He rapped against his breastplate with an armored fist, “Now what can a humble fighter do for a wizard and a ranger?”
The mage seemed to brighten even more at hearing he was right, “Wonderful, my name is Anonymous and the fair lady beside me is Erica. How would you feel about joining our band and becoming a great hero like the ones we honor today?”
Samuel had to laugh at that, “I like you already mage, why don’t we talk about your grand plans over drinks at the tavern, I’ll pay.” Few can resist the charm of a free meal and they were likely to meet other adventurers in a tavern so Samuel’s new companions agreed and allowed themselves to be led to his favorite place, the Endless Bowl. The tavern was far more crowded than usual but with a little luck, and smile and a laugh from Erica to the bar keep, the three laid claim to the last free table in the common room, “The food here is delicious and for a little extra you can eat to your heart’s desire.”
“I was wondering where this place got its name,” Erica laughed, “but is the food good enough for you to want so much?”
“Better!” he beamed, waving for the attention of a waitress as his free hand fell to his hip… and found nothing. Flushing red with embarrassment he stood and checked for where he might have misplaced his coin purse.
“Is something the matter?” Anonymous asked with a hint of concern.
“What? Oh no, no.” Sam laughed a bit nervously, “Can you excuse me for just a moment, I forgot something.” He turned and hurried for the door, I had to have dropped it in the square!.
“Should we order?” Anonymous called after him uncertainly, but the swordsman was already out of earshot.
Ponytail swaying, Alon quickly stepped around a rather… large woman to keep himself out of line of sight with the armored bruiser whose coins he had recently “liberated”. When the bigger man disappeared from the tavern the thief noticed a single table with an empty seat and made his way over. A pair of confused travelers looked up at him as he stood by the seat, adjusting his black and gray tunic with exaggerated care. A pretty redhead with a bow smiled apologetically, “I’m sorry but that’s our friend’s seat and he should be getting back soon.”
“Don’t worry I’m just keeping it warm. As soon as your friend comes back I’ll be happy to return the chair.” The pair exchanged uncertain glances and suddenly the waitress was upon them. Alon smiled his brightest smile, “Let me pay for your food as a thanks for keeping me company for now. I’ll even pay for your friend when he gets back.” That seemed to win them over and when everyone ordered Alon fished their friend’s coins from his pocket and paid their bill. He even tipped the waitress. Generously.
The archer offered her hand, “I’m Erica.”
“And I’m Anonymous.” The mage announced.
“Alon.” The thief replied simply.
“You wouldn’t happen to be an adventurer, would you?” Anonymous said hopefully.
Alon grinned, stroking the stubble of his beard, “I’ve always considered myself a treasure hunter of sorts. Adventure just comes as part of the deal.”
The wizard leaned forward conspiratorially, “How would you like fame, glory, and riches?”
Riches? Alon concealed a small grin with his hand as one of the servers dropped off their drinks. He took a slow pull from his mug, looking over it to gauge just how serious this Anonymous was, “Please.” He said at last, “tell me more.”
When Samuel had left, Anonymous had initially believed they were all doomed.
The party that he had started to form would fall apart.
A band of assassins would come after him to kill him in order to stop him from trying again.
Harpies would overrun the city.
Worst of all, he would miss lunch.
However, when Alon had appeared, the mage had started to recover; that is, his delusions of grandeur were reasserting themselves.
"Well, the way I figure it is that if Bellerophon was able to acquire hundreds of oboloi, all sorts of rare and powerful artifacts, and lots of diamonds and rubies, another band of adventurers ought to be able to do fairly well," he told the other man as they sat around the table.
Alon nodded in consideration.
In another minute, the food arrived and three began to eat.
As they ate, they continued to discuss the possible benefits of traveling Cythera and performing bold deeds.
When they were done eating, Anonymous got to his feet.
"So, fellow adventurer, do you wish to accompany us?"
"You make a tempting offer, sir," Alon replied. "But won't you probably need some more people? And what quest were you planning to undertake?"
"Indeed, we'll need to see if we can recruit a couple of more people. There is still the matter of that thing in House Attis's Iron mine. If we could remove it, I imagine Attis would reward us handsomely."
Alon brightened at this prospect and followed the mage and Erica as they headed toward the door.
With that, the three left the tavern in search of more heroes.
Mitsos sat on a street corner hawking his wares, a chest of thread to his left, & a tray of oboloi on his lap. The people surged all around him, but he wasn't selling very well, he wondered for the hundredth time that day whether it would have been wiser to invest in some merchant type training, like Haggling & Persuasion, rather that spending all his spare cash on incendiary devices & protection from their effects.
A fighter of some sort, a swordsman by the look of him, stumbled by frantically, muttering something about lost money, & a band of adventurers in a nearby tavern. Mitsos sighed. It seemed that everybody was dropping their livelihood to join a band of heroes that would right the wrongs of the land that were beyond the LandKing's rule, & most of them had been duped by conmen, or had their pockets picked.
Mitsos rival in the Catamarcan Farmers' COOP Militia, bounced up. "Hey, Pirro! I've been tracking these parties all day, & I found one that appears to be legitimate!"
"Indeed?" Pirro could not hide his interest.
"Yeah, they were just leaving the tavern, they appear to have a delusional freemage, an archer, & an amiable rogue. The rogue may be a con-man, but it was the crazy guy who started it, with the archer, so I think it's alright."
"I have no time for adventure," sighed Mitsos, "I have this thread to sell."
"If that's your only drawback, Pirro, I think I can help," his rival pulled a bag out from the folds of his garment, "How much for your entire stock?"
A price was named, & a price was paid, & a couple minutes later, Pirro was heading off to meet high adventure. Afteral, they were rivals, not enemies, & Pirro wasn't attached to his home community like his rival was.
“Ladies and gentlemen please gather round and bear witness to the mystical feats of Nitsu the Great!” a performer in a sparkling robe called loudly to be heard over the rest and a small crowd began to hover round his table like moths to his slightly brighter flame (or his much brighter clothes). He continued theatrically as he saw interest growing, “I have travelled all the way from Pynx to be here on this grand day and honor the celebration with my amazing skills!”
The average person didn’t see many mages and had very little experience with magic, at least not enough to spot the fraud lauding his magnificence in the town square. A performer could fake magic with the right props or enough skill. The robed man who waved his arms enthusiastically had little enough of either. Anonymous and Erika didn’t spare the “mage” a second glance since they easily knew him for what he was. Alon however found himself rapt with attention. A rabbit was pulled from a hat here, a puff of “magic” smoke there, and while parents dropped the odd coin in a chipped jar at the behest of their children, the post-pubescent onlookers threatened to drift away. Not many yards off pranced a group of fire dancers. Blazing batons twirled in the air over cart-wheeling performers drew in the younger adults. Even the parents watching over the magic act cast furtive glances that way while their offspring kept them chained in place.
From the other direction a man sauntered over to Anonymous. He had the easy grace of a seasoned fighter comfortable with the blade at his hip, “Friend of yours?” Alon asked.
“Not as of yet,” the mage replied, “but I’m sure he will be soon.” Anonymous wore his broadest smile as he stepped forward to meet the potential hero.
Alon took that moment to back out of the normal introductions and instead slipped into the crowd. In his pocket were only three copper coins but he had a feeling he could change them into something far better. On his way to the magic show an old woman sold him a rose for two coppers and he made the flower disappear before he came in sight of the Technicolor mage and moved through to the head of the crowd, “Pardon me!” he said loudly, stopping Nitsu before the next trick. Alon smiled at a little girl in pigtails to his right, “Please excuse me Milady.” He said with a flourish and a bow, the rose in his hand as though from thin air. She giggled as he let her keep the flower, amid the “ooohs” and “ahhhhs” of the gathered crowd.
“Sir,” Nitsu said a bit coldly, “would you mind performing your parlor tricks elsewhere? These people came to see real magic.”
“Did they?” Alon smirked, “I didn’t see a real mage before I came.”
“I’m ten times the wizard you are!” Nitsu declared indignantly.
“Really?” the thief laughed, “Then I propose a Sorcerer’s Challenge! ” he cried righteously followed by an excited cheer from the now growing crowd. Alon grinned at the performer’s confused look, “Surely as a man from Pynx you know of the Sorcerer’s Challenger.”
“Of, of course I do.” Nitsu stammered.
“Good.” Alon continued as though the other never spoke, “I will use my greatest magical power and—“ he paused for effect, “…if you can defeat that glorious skill I will admit that you are the better mage.”
Nitsu gave him a wary look, suspicious of some trap but not knowing where it was hidden, “Alright.” He said slowly, “Show us this so called power.”
Alon nodded, “First I will need something of yours for the spell,” he reached into the performer’s money jar and pulled out the only gold coin, “this will do nicely.” Around the two men the people were huddling ever closer as they tried to see and hear all they could. With his left hand Alon flipped the coin into the air and caught it over and over, “After years of training I have the power to see the future and proving this power to you is simple. I will toss this coin—“
“A coin toss?” Nitsu cut him off with a laugh, “You guessing the right side of the coin is luck not magic.”
“I won’t call it,” the thief said seriously, “you will, while it is in the air so that there can be no doubt that this was down fairly.”
“So if I guess tails and I am right I win… How is that any different from any other coin toss?” the performer asked uncertainly.
“Because,” Alon snatched the gold piece out of the air, “it doesn’t matter what you guess, it will be wrong. That is the future I have seen.”
“I just have to guess right?” Nitsu narrowed his eyes, “what sort of game are you playing?”
“No games,” the thief assured, “but if you won’t accept the challenge does that mean you admit defeat?”
The mage looked about the crowd of expectant people and knew he couldn’t back down, “Of course not! Flip the coin so we can end this stupid charade.”
“As you wish.” Alon grinned. With a flick the gold coin spun madly and glinted in the sunlight.
“Heads!” Nitsu shouted as it began to fall. Alon snatched it from the air and slammed his palm down on the table with a loud crack that sent the coin jar wobbling perilously. When he removed his hand everyone leaned in to have a look, “Aha, heads!” Nitsu shouted triumphantly as he grabbed the coin and held it up for all to see. It gleamed copper in the sun and Alon was nowhere to be found, “HEY!” the mage screamed.
It took some looking, but Pirro finally found the group his rival had described. He started to introduce himself as Mitsos, but just then Alon vanished into the crowd. He looked around, wondering where the rogue had disappeared to, but instead caught sight of the fire-dancers.
"Um..." he began, unable to keep his eyes off the twirling batons of fire for more than a moment, "I'm Pirro, I'd like to join you. But I see something over there that I think will help me develop a better fighting style, so if," he started edging toward the dancers, "we could move this way to discuss it..."
Pirro motioned vaguely in the direction he was headed, before losing all pretense of coherent conversation & bolting for the front row.
Fortune favors the bold. Alon had heard that once, though he remembered not where. He knew though that it also favored the cunning. And the fortunate. Drifting in a sea of people the thief flipped his gold coin into the air once and then hustled it into his pocket. A generous prize for the little effort it cost him. Alone it was probably worth more than all the coins in the pouch he’d stolen earlier. Perhaps he could trade it for something grander?
He wiped the sweat from his brow and smiled ad he scanned the crowd for his companions. There was a story of a young man who came to town with a bag of rice. He met a hungry farmer and traded his rice for some bushels of hay, then met a merchant he traded the hay to for a tailored coat. On and on the story went with the man meeting strangers and trading them just what they needed for whatever extra they had, until that man was quite rich. It was a nice story. If there was truth to it though it probably went more like Alon’s dealing with Nitsu. But a story about a clever rogue who tricked people into giving him more than he gave in return might not have pointed in the same direction on a moral compass.
Alon pushed away his idle thoughts of plunder. Two marks so close together strained the limits of his comfort. Many more could turn the crowd of would-be adventurers into an angry mob ready to mete out justice. The day had worn hot and the sun was weighing down on his dark clothing, cuddling him like an ugly flaming lover. He was eager to be away from her. Under a blue sky the ocean breeze came in fits and starts with the air uncomfortably still between them. Pushing through the stifling square grew less and less appealing so Alon let the tide of townsfolk take him where it would. He would find the others eventually.
Weather aside the dancing and celebration reminded him of his fonder childhood memories. It was a singularly pleasant feeling to find himself before a merchant stand that looked familiar in every way even though he’d never met the man who worked it. There were many knickknacks for sale: jewelry and charms, small daggers and hand-made bags, but it was the modest collection of flasks that caught the rogue’s eye. One in particular, all black with small bits of silverwork, was particularly enticing, “You have a good eye sir!” the amiable merchant said behind his counter, “That is one of the finest items I brought today, all the way from Odemia. It’s a shame to sell it so cheaply but since today is a special day I can let you have it for five silvers.”
The man’s smile was genuine even if his statement was less so. The merchant took in the cut of Alon’s tunic and shrewdly guessed at a price the rogue could afford. Alon picked up the flask. It was cool to the touch even being so dark and basking in the sun all day. He ran his thumb over its smooth obsidian surface and traced the thin lines of silver. Craftsmanship like that was easily worth two or three silvers. There may even have been a very minor enchantment on it that brought the price to four. But half a gold? Someone well versed in trade would quickly realize they were being taken for a ride. The look in Alon’s eyes must have tipped the too-clever salesman off because he hastily retracted his offer, “Did I say five? I meant four.” He said with a laugh.
Alon’s gold coin made a heavy clink against the wood as he placed it on the counter, “Take your five,” He replied with a wry grin, “but tell me a place nearby that I can fill it with cold water.” The thief harbored the older man no ill-will for trying to gain some extra coin. Everyone needed to get by somehow.
The merchant hesitated for a moment in his surprise but in the next moment the gold was swapped for five silvers and the man was dipping the sold flask into a small barrel on his side of the stall, “I’d be a fool not to keep my water handy on a day like this.” He offered the rogue the filled flask and his change then wished the thief a good day.
Alon took a slow drink of his chill water and drowned his thirst as he let the crowd sweep him up again. As a magnet invariable draws in iron filings so too did the fire dancers draw the townsfolk. The audience had grown mightily since the rogue had first taken notice. From the eighth row back he had a commanding view of the back of everyone’s head. Occasionally a flaming baton or leaping performer invaded his line of sight, but such intrusions would be few and far between if he didn’t move up. He sidled through the crowd throwing the odd elbow where necessary to persuade the stubborn to kindly move aside. When he reached the front row he was happy to see his companions only a few onlookers away from him.
A cheerful Anonymous was extolling the virtues of their fledging alliance to Pirro. For his part the fighter at least attempted to listen with half an ear. His was a gallant failure. Unburdened by conversation Erika let herself enjoy the graceful performance and cheer along with the rest. A pair of fire dancers played a fast beat on their exotic drums and another pair made their rounds about the crowd collecting donations from any willing to pay for the show. Just over a dozen of them actually danced, jumping rolling and flipping, all the while passing four staves between them. The “batons” were almost as long as a man was tall and each end was ablaze. Spun quickly each looked like a wheel of fire and roared like an untamed beast.
It was commonly thought that the dances were done according to a carefully planned routine, but that was not the case. Everything was improvised during the show. The dancers worked in groups of four or five and each group moved about in a wide circle so as not to disturb the others. Every so often the groups would rearrange. Aside from looking like a lively performance this meant that the show was always different and the dancers could wow their audience for as long as they had the stamina to keep dancing. Another misconception was that the dancers all came from some distant land. While this was indeed true for some of them a fire dancer could actually come from anywhere. While they shared a similar tanned complexion many of the dancers obviously hailed from differing backgrounds. Years of performing outdoors in beautiful weather had simply left their mark. All you really needed to be a dancer was the skill to do the moves and the approval of the group.
Alon smiled as he remembered the rhythmic beat being played and all that knowledge he picked up in his youth. Anonymous looked to the rogue, “Friend, glad to see you again! Have you met Pirro? He’s our newest member.”
The thief extended a hand passed the mage to the distracted newcomer, “Pleasure to meet you, name’s Alon.”
The fighter glanced over in sudden surprise, “Ah, Pirro.” He shook firmly and went back to his studies, “Sorry this is pretty exciting. They’re all so agile.”
“Oh yes.” Alon laughed, “I was raised by fire dancers you know, didn’t I mention?”
The startled looks he received from Anonymous and Erika said he most certainly did not. Pirro raised an eyebrow in amusement, “You lie.”
“Do I?” the rogue asked jovially. He started bouncing from one foot to the other, syncing with the beat of the drums, “I suppose we’ll have to see some proof.” With that leapt forward into the nearest group of dancers. At first they were shocked but he flashed an hand symbol the dancers had taught him when he was little more than a boy and held the fingers over his heart. The dance resumed while hardly missing a beat and Alon started off back-flipping passed his surprised friends. His group did similar jumps and tumbles passed and around him, gauging his skills and quickly meshing him into the show. It was more a display of their abilities than his own that they were able to adapt to him so quickly. Still they did not pass him the baton (and he didn’t ask for it) because only a member of the group could perform with it.
The dancers collecting donations urged the crowd to make a little extra room and, in the extra space provided, began to encourage some of the audience to try some of their simpler moves. Alon’s group broke apart to happily aid in this task and Pirro was all too eager to join in. His first rolls and tumbles were a bit rough even though he did complete them. Erika was laughing giddily as a dancer tried to coax her into trying and Anonymous could be heard nervously protesting as two urged the mage to join. After a few minutes many were having fun, even those who proved to have no skill at all when it came to the graceful movements. Looking back at Pirro the fighter’s rolls had become much smoother, his tumbles far more fluid, in the short time he had to practice them.
Not to be outshone Alon ran over, vaulted the fighter, and rolled to his feet with a flourishing bow. A tap on his shoulder made him turn around. There stood a fire dancer girl barely so tall as his chin. She smiled broadly, took two steps back, and with a single running leap she somersaulted over his head. The rogue had to spin around quickly to catch her elegant landing and triumphant grin. Fire dancers were a humble lot as a rule but they took a distinct pleasure in putting people in their places. That was something he recalled very clearly from years past. On that he simply bowed and admitted defeat. He shrugged apologetically to Pirro as the fighter applauded the young victor, “That’s what I get for showing off.”
Anonymous finally got rid of the people persistently pestering him to join in the festivities.
He simply asked, "Hey, anyone want to see me do a magic trick?"
Everyone around him backed up and shook their heads in the negative.
Mages were still somewhat mistrusted in Cythera, and, in any case, most people in Cademia firmly believed that Anonymous was a pyromaniac.
(They may or may not have been correct.)
Having done that, he gestured to Pirro and Alon to follow him.
The mage led the way to the edge of the city.
Rubbing his aching head (he was reminded now why he always stayed on the edges of a crowd), Anonymous looked around at the assembled party.
"I think that we should head south. As you all know, Bellerophon and his party cleared out most of the ruffians in that area and destroyed the encampment. Still, I think that someone should take a look and try to clear out any that might have gotten missed. We might also want to investigate the swamp to the south. Timon said that his sister seems to have disappeared in that area."
"Isn't that swamp infested with asps and alligators?" Erica asked nervously. "Not to mention, it's full of poisonous plants. That might be a bit of dangerous place to start at. After all, we're all new at this."
"You have a good point," he finally said. "Let's head for the Encampment, after we've picked up supplies. Once there, we can decide what to do next."
With that, the group split up as each went to gather any supplies they might need.
An hour later, they had all met up again south of the city.
Looking around, Anonymous satisfied himself that all were present and turned toward the south.
"Tally-ho! Into the unknown!" he said dramatically as they started off.
"Is he insane?" Pirro whispered to Alon.
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House Attis was having a little bit of a tough time. The fall of House Comana left some yummy room for them to regain full control over Cademia, but because the work at the mine was still stopped, they hadn't managed this yet.
Matron Thuria was just a tad frustrated. Bellerophon had investigated the iron mine situation for her, but had neglected to shoo away the "ghost," or even to communicate with it some sort of arrangement so that the miners could continue working. The miners were currently doing absolutely nothing except eating at mealtimes and twiddling their thumbs in between.
Thuria had recently sent a young man down with more rations for the miners. She was at a loss for what to do: the workers at the mine were just wasting time and food, but she definitely didn't want to give up the mine. Without the mine, House Attis didn't have much of anything.
The errand boy Thuria had sent should have been back several days ago, and she was worried about what was keeping him. She was impatient to hear any news the iron mine might have had to offer.
Feoras felt gypped.
He had been doing odd-jobs since he dropped out of the Magisterium a couple of years ago. He had only learned two spells at Pnyx before he dropped out: Awaken, and Soporiferousness (he knew those two because he practiced both of them on Selinus). He wasn't sure he could remember them anymore though, and Lindus had kept his Grimoire when he dropped out.
For the most part, Feoras had enjoyed doing odd-jobs. It sure beat studying magic, in any case! But the last job he got, which he was only just now returning from, he especially enjoyed. Though he hadn't known what he was getting into when he accepted the job.
Matron Thuria had hired him to take rations to the iron mine, which was south of Pnyx. He knew it was a-ways to travel, but he figured he knew the area well enough. He was quite wrong. He got lost three times on the way there, once on the way back, and had been attacked by ruffians twice. Also, the rations were a lot heavier than Thuria had made them sound. Feoras decided he was severely underpaid. However much he had enjoyed taking on the ruffians and finding his way through Cythera, he felt he should be paid a lot more for such a dangerous job.
He was now on his way back to House Attis to get his payment, and he wondered if he could guilt Thuria into giving him extra...
He walked along the Southern edge of Cademia, the easiest way to get to House Attis. Before he got there, he noticed a group of four people walking out of the city. On second glance, did he recognize one of them?
Anonymous cringed. Surely his ears were playing tricks on him. It sounded like someone had just shouted a nickname he thought he had finally outlived.
"Nony! Is that you?" the voice called again.
"Um, Anonymous?" Erika ventured.
"Yes?" Anonymous answered.
"Is that man waving at you?"
Anonymous reluctantly turned to look. At first he didn't recognize the person, but as he came closer, Anonymous realized he was an ex-classmate of his from Pnyx.
"Nony!" exclaimed Feoras again, once in easy chatting distance. "I haven't seen you in ages! Did you graduate?"
Anonymous said proudly, "with honours!" (or dishonours, same difference.)
"Wow! What do you do now, as an accomplished mage?"
"I am going to alleviate all the major problems in Cythera!" Anonymous said with full confidence. "Would you like to join us?"
"Really?" Feoras asked, "what kind of problems? Like getting a ghost out of an iron mine?"
"Well... I suppose that might be the general kind of problem, yes," Anonymous admitted. "Right now we're going to kill off the ruffians."
"That doesn't sound terribly exciting," Feoras scoffed. "I've killed at least half-a-dozen already this week."
"What work do you do?" Alon asked out of curiosity.
"Everything!" Feoras exclaimed. "I've just been to the iron mine to deliver rations, no one told me that was ruffian territory. I'm Feoras," he added, holding out his hand.
Alon, Mitsos, and Erika introduced themselves.
"It's hopeless," Anonymous muttered. "Ruffians are still running wild over the whole west side of Cythera. They've surely re-built their encampment by now, and probably have trained the swamp-asps to attack anyone who comes near it. We're all going to die if we try to attack them."
"What did you just say, Nony?" Feoras asked.
But Feoras interrupted, "wanna ask Thuria how much she'll pay us if we get the ghost out of her mine?"
"Do you think she'd pay a lot?" Alon asked.
"I think so, she's desperate," Feoras reasoned.
"Is it a very violent ghost?" Erika asked nervously.
"It didn't harm Bellerophon or his group," Mitsos pointed out. "But how could we get it to leave?"
"We could ask it what it wants?" Feoras suggested. "I was tempted to go see it while I was at the mine, but I decided I wasn't getting paid enough for that. So? What do you think?"
This post has been edited by BreadWorldMercy453 : 04 July 2009 - 08:17 PM
"Yeah!" agreed Pirro, "We should let the town guards & militias take care of the Ruffian Encampment, at least for now. That's what they're trained for. But ghosts at the bottom of a mine shaft? That requires someone willing to diverge from their mundane training."
By now Anonymous was starting to envision his fame later in life because he bravely considered dangers that a common soldier dared not face. The others had a slightly different reaction. Erica saw the possibility of a quest that, though having a less obvious method of completion, appeared to be safer, once they got past the Ruffians on the way to the Mine. Feoras & Alon mostly saw money. Alon was sure he could mark some artifacts in Thuria's house that would fetch a quite respectable price at a future date.
"Besides," continued Pirro, "we won't run out of light." & with that he produced a chest full of torches.
By the time he was finished talking, the group was following the outskirts of Cademia toward the headquarters of House Attis.
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Erica was relieved that she and Anonymous were no longer the only members of the party. That she was the only female could be of slight concern, but everyone seemed friendly and more or less sane (Nony aside), so overall she felt fairly satisfied with the arrangements.
This new direction had her a bit mystified though. Erica wasn't even sure that she believed in ghosts. What would they do if they got to the iron mine and there was no ghost? At least it would make the quest easy , she reasoned. If the ghost did somehow turn out to exist, she thought she was prepared to confront it, but she couldn't help feeling a tiny bit nervous.
Erica sidled up to Feoras as they walked and gave him a friendly grin. "So," she said, "what else do you know about this ghost?"
The trees beside the road sang a soft chorus in the breeze. Leaves pulled from their branches danced merrily on the wind. In orange, yellow, red, and gold they had dressed their best for the day’s festival. They skittered across the ground. Crunch , they cried beneath the boots of travelers. Poor things. Alon barely paid attention to his companions as they made their way, though he smiled and nodded where appropriate. He was too deep in thought for much else.
The iron mine of House Attis was well known across the land. It vexed Alon something awful. Never was there a place filled with so much worthless wealth. Obol was made from the iron of that mine, but it could only be crafted with the help of a mage. Even if Alon was a mage the spells involved were some of the most closely guarded secrets in Cythera. Having a Lich print his own money to fund his schemes was clearly less than desirable. So on his own he would be able to carry off just a few pounds of iron. Which is all it would be. To take enough for the risk to be worthwhile he would need the help of several people. A glance at his companions said that they were not those people. He kept his musings to himself.
House Attis was a very short trip South. The sprawling mansion competed only with the Judge’s Castle for domination of Cademia’s scenery. The gardens surrounding were beautiful and well groomed. The statues of noble ancestry were proud and masterfully crafted. The bricks themselves were pretentious. Standard fare for nobility, or what passed for it in the lands of Cythera. Hiding his contempt for the place was no small feat. When Anonymous announced he would venture within to take on the quest Alon decided not to join him.
Erika and Feoras had their heads together chatting. They followed Anonymous inside. Eccentric as the mage might have been he did have a way with words. The quest was as good as theirs by the time Nony resolved to take it. If Feoras was as clever as he seemed they might even earn themselves a grand reward for the trouble. Pirro gave him an odd look and asked, “Something wrong?” Sharp that one.
Alon gave a small smile he didn’t really feel, “I don’t much like this place. These people.” His eyes drifted over to a pair of upper-class youths heading around the side of the building. He gave chase, if only to learn what was going on.
“Any particular reason?” The fighter came up beside him and walked along to the mansion’s north side.
There were maybe a dozen young men and women loitering around the Old Houses, teens the lot of them, “ Lordlings.” Alon said the word mockingly and flashed a genuine smile. Their wealthy parents had dragged them over to meet the conquering heroes and rub elbows with their ilk. The children were unimpressed. To Pirro he said, “My mother was a Lady here in Cythera.”
The fighter chuckled, “Weren’t you raised by fire dancers?” Again, sharp.
“One truth does not exclude the other.” The thief gave him that to chew on and headed for a small stand of trees. A beautiful young lady rested beneath their wide branches reading a leather-bound book. She was older than most of the others. The oldest boy there (seventeen, eighteen if one were generous) kept glancing to her and smiling from a few trees away. The devilishly handsome sort, he beamed with confidence and had a small following of younger girls giggling and looking his way. The one who caught his eye ignored him. In his hands were steel throwing knives. A black leather holster where they would fit snugly was strapped to his arm. They glinted with silver as he juggled them three at a time. The girl turned another page, oblivious. He was used to having women come to him. The boy reminded Alon of himself years ago. Pride kept the boy rooted in place like one of the trees. Common sense would have brought him over to ask the girl’s name.
Alon marched over to one of the trees that stood between them. With his iron dagger, Bob, he carved a bullseye. Three circles, one within the other, each four finger-widths apart. He marched back fifteen paces. Thunk! The tree trembled and Bob shook in the outer ring. The girl looked up in surprise, “Greetings fair lady.” Alon offered a fine bow, “Are you being made to watch the children?”
The boy bristled territorially. He spoke before the girl could answer, “What is your name sir?” he said the word as though he meant to say peasant. “You do not look like you belong here.” Elitist brat.
Alon dismissed him out of hand, “The adults are speaking, go play with your knives some more.”
The boy laughed mirthlessly, “I’m better with these knives than you old man. I’m surprised you even hit the tree.”
“Is that a challenge I hear?” the thief sneered, “I’d take it back if you don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the lady.”
In reply the boy ripped Bob from the tree and stomped over to Alon. His eyes smoldered as he met the rogue’s and offered the knife hilt first, “Throw.”
The thief shrugged and made his toss. Thunk! Bob returned to the outer ring. Apparently he liked it there. The boy didn’t bother hiding his smile. He threw with practiced ease. Thunk! The middle ring. Alon glowered, “That was luck, boy.”
Assured in his superiority the lordling laughed and gave the lady a wink. She was watching now and he would put on a show, “If you really think so why don’t we make a wager?” He pulled out a gold Obol. The X gleamed in the sun.
Alon had five of them to his name after buying his flask. He could part with one for the game. Pirro said nothing but watched with interest, “Deal.” The thief displayed his Obol and collected both knives. He took his time before making the next throw. Thunk! The very edge of the middle ring. Pirro arched an eyebrow. Alon gave him a look and the fighter kept his silence. Very sharp indeed.
The lordling’s throw was even better than his first, almost to the center ring. He snatched away Alon’s Obol and laughed, “Seems your age is catching up to you.”
“One more.” Alon demanded, “You’re luck won’t hold much longer.”
“I’ve already beaten you twice.” He said contemptuously, “There is no point in humiliating you any more.”
“Oh I see.” Alon said slowly, “You’re a coward. You’re afraid to lose with a beautiful woman watching.” He laughed.
Normally a man might just walk away after that, but the lady was watching. The lordling’s pride demanded another victory. As many as it took to put the rogue down, “How much money do you have?” he asked darkly.
Alon was quiet for a moment. Hesitant, “Four gold Obol.”
The lordling shook his head in mock pity, “Is that all? I will feel like a ruffian taking it from you, but it seems you will not learn elsewise.” He pulled out a pouch heavy with Oboloi. Alon would have been surprised if there was a single Obol there smaller than a gold. His face did not betray those thoughts. The boy produced four gold Oboloi, “When I win I want you gone.”
The thief swallowed hard, “That’s everything I have. It’s a bit steep for a game…”
“And now we see who the real coward is.” The lordling chided smugly.
Alon ground his teeth and through them said, “I’ll take that bet.”
This time the lordling went first. Thunk! He threw with all he had and the knife sank into the edge of the middle ring. A good throw, “You will not beat that old man. If you leave right now I’ll be generous and let you keep your money. You need it far more than I.”
Alon didn’t dignify that with a response. His arm wound back and Bob sailed free of his hand. Pirro nodded ever so slightly. Thunk! Bob stabbed into the center ring, a bare finger-width away from the lordling’s dagger. Everyone but Pirro wore a mask of surprise, none more so than Alon. He tried to look casual under the lordling’s stare. He failed. “S-see.” He stammered, “Told you it was luck.”
“You were the lucky one!” the lordling hissed, “We play again.” The lordling bet eight gold Oboloi. He couldn’t end the game shamed and was convinced the single win was a fluke. Again he threw first. Again Alon made the better throw. Bob was close enough to kiss the silvered dagger. It was a beautiful blade. Alon wouldn’t blame him. The game continued that way, throw after throw. A crowd gathered to watch it. The lordling grew angrier by the moment but he kept playing. He didn’t realize what had happened. Pirro had been sure since the third throw.
Alon had a pouch full of Oboloi. The lordling’s supply had run dry. He still wanted to play, “Why should I?” the thief asked tiredly, “You don’t have anything I’d want.”
“I have these daggers…” the lordling said uncertainly. He wasn’t sure of himself anymore. Given time to think he would withdraw.
The daggers were the reason the rogue entered their contest, “I think I’ll just use your money to buy this young lady dinner.” He turned to her, “There’s a beautiful place in town…”
She looked like she might agree, but the lordling stepped in, “So you’ve lost your nerve then?” he threw his dagger into the center ring. It was the best throw either of them had made the whole time. The lordling tried to mask his surprise. Alon saw through it. He’d been playing that game the whole time. The boy grinned. The crowd hushed and waited for Alon’s reply.
Thunk! Bob made it for him. Dead center in the bullseye.
Pirro eyed the rogue as they walked back to the south side of the mansion, “I saw what you did. A small twist of your wrist at the end of your throw.” The fighter mimicked the motion, “The dagger always went exactly where you wanted it, even the bad shots.”
Alon busied himself strapping the daggers to his arm. The leather went quite well with his tunic. He was nothing if not fashionable, “You have a good eye.” The fighter had picked up on Alon’s throw and the moves of the fire dancers very quickly, “Man like you could make a lot of money.”
Pirro made no reply to that, only grinned and shook his head, “You never really explained why you didn’t like it here.”
“No,” Alon glanced at Pirro as he finished with the daggers, “I suppose I didn’t.” He headed to the front entrance without another word.
As he proceeded into House Attis, Anonymous wondered (again) why it was that just anyone could walk into the house and call on Matron Thuria. It was a question that had always puzzled him. The mage figured it was some sort of ploy to drum up public support by appearing approachable or Thuria really didn't do much of anything and so had a lot of time on her hands.
Either that or it was a scheme to lure people inside, mug them, and then erase their memories of the event.
With that consideration in mind, the mage let Feoras go first. After all, he reasoned the man had some business to conclude with Thuria anyway.
They proceeded into through the entryway and straight into the courtyard enclosed by the house where Thuria sat in her chair discussing the changes in Cytheran politics due to House Comana's abrupt fall with her two children.
Her son Malis looked up and noticed the party coming toward them. Recognizing Feoras, he drew his mother's attention to the party.
"Ah, Feoras" the head of House Attis said, turning to face them. "I assume you've come for your payment? We had expected you sooner."
"Well, I ran into a few unexpected difficulties—"
With that, he proceeded to list all of the troubles that he had had in the past week and to politely ask for a raise.
While Thuria and Feoras argued over his pay, Anonymous and Erica simply stood at a respectful distance.
Malis stared at Anonymous for a moment before saying, "I remember you. You're that mage with no name who almost killed Naxos of Comana, aren't you?"
Anonymous looked startled. Erica looked shocked.
"A job well done. Pity you didn't get him, although I don't suppose it matters anymore."
After Malis had turned away, Erica leaned over to Anonymous and whispered, "You tried to kill Naxos?"
"I most certainly did not," the mage replied indignantly. "I only set his chair on fire."
"You set his chair on fire while he was sitting on it?" she asked skeptically.
"It had termites," he said scowling. "I was only trying to be helpful."
Before either could say anymore, Feoras called them over, having apparently come to an arrangement with Thuria.
"Here are two of my companions, Lady Thuria," he said as he introduced the two.
She looked them over in silence for half a minute.
"So you want to clear out my iron mine, do you?"
"Most certainly, milady, it is our duty to help those in need and probably get killed in the process," Anonymous replied.
Thuria sat in silence again as she considered their offer.
"Very well," she said finally. "I'll give you a letter to the mine foreman and you may attempt to clear the creature out. If you succeed, you shall be rewarded."
"Thank you, milady," Anonymous stated, bowing grandly.
After a few moments, the letter was drawn up and Anonymous carefully took it.
Turning, he, Erica, and Feoras headed out of the courtyard to meet back up with Pirro and Alon.
Zak hurried along the outskirts of Cademia, the wind whipping his robe about relentlessly. He was lost in thought. It hadn't been a particularly good day for him, but at least he had been successful so far in his attempts to avoid contact with people. Fortunately, the festivities kept the large crowds, and therefore the beggars, near the center of the town.
His mind wandered back to his recent days at Pnyx. For a while, he was very happy at Pnyx, and for the first time in his life, he felt relatively safe from all those deadly diseases going around. After all, he was surrounded by mages, many of them masters at healing, how could he not feel safe?
But then they required him to take that stupid class in alchemy. It made absolutely no sense; a student in healing magic should have no need for alchemy. That's what he told his teacher anyway, but she claimed that all students had to have at least one course in alchemy. Ha! I didn't sign up for that nonsense. . . True; he didn't. Yet, in retrospect, maybe it wasn't the wisest choice to never show up for alchemy class. But all those dangerous chemicals! What else was he to do? So, of course, Lindus decided that Pnyx wasn't the right place for him.
Zak was very grateful that he had at least managed to learn some basic magic such as lesser healing. It was invaluable, and he used it frequently. . . on himself. Now here he was in Cademia -- his first visit to Cythera's largest city. He hated it. All the noise; all the people; all the beggars! Zak felt faint at the thought.
Unfortunately, it was the best place for him to finish his book. He had spent the entire morning discussing his theories about illness and how it is spread with the Magess Anisa. He was hoping she could give him some useful information about plagues and such that have spread through Cythera in the past and how they trace to the present day.
Much to his dismay, Zak learned very little. He did, however, become convinced that he was suffering from a rare skin disorder which Anisa described. Once he decided that it was beyond his skill to heal, he had spent the entire afternoon trying to convince Judge Berossus to help him. All he got from that encounter was a pat on the head and something about "just a sunburn."
Zak rubbed his arm with his sleeve, reminded of the itch. "Sunburn, indeed. I have enough to worry about, and now the sun is burning me!" He hoped to get inside as soon as possible, which was partly why he was hurrying.
He was currently on his way to House Attis, not by choice, but now that he was on his own, he had to make money somehow. He wasn't great at manual labor, and he didn't like working with people if he could avoid it. That only left him with writing a book. Writing a book about illness, while not something Zak wanted to do, was something that he felt people needed to know. Hopefully then they'd know to avoid crowds, cover from the sun, and stay inside as much as possible.
Writing wasn't the problem for Zak, though. If he was going to make any money, he'd need to sell copies. If he were a much more experienced mage, he would simply replicate his manuscript, but he wasn't. No, each copy needed to be re-written by hand. That took time and supplies. Maybe if Matron Thuria were in a good mood, she would offer him funds for supplies in exchange for some of the profits. He realized it was quite a risk showing up at her doorstep with that proposal, but he knew of no one else in Cademia with either the will or the resources to help.
Zak looked up to see how close he was to House Attis only to be met with a horrible sight. There were people heading directly towards him! He cursed himself for his inattention. Now he was too close to avoid them!
"Hey there!" One of them men greeted him. The man appeared to be wearing a mages robe.
Zak smiled, hoping it would be enough for them to pass without thinking him rude.
And the others were about to pass when the mage stopped and grinned, "You look like a capable person, well, fairly capable anyways. Would you like to join our group?"
"Your -- uh. . . group?"
"Yes! We are going to travel to the Attis Mine in the south and remove a ghost!"
"To do great deeds! To save the citizens of Cythera from danger!" The man paused. "Do we need any other reason?"
"Well, I don't know. . ." Zak paused, too. This was a tough question.
The other man spoke after a moment; although, from his tone, he seemed to be talking to himself. "Saving Alaric was enough of a reason for Bellerophon, I think. Some people would do it for the fame."
Zak nodded, "Or the money, if there's money to be found in it." Satisfied that he had conversed enough, Zak continued for House Attis.
"There's money to be found in it, some at least. Matron Thuria agreed to reward us if we can remove the ghost." The mage said, again to himself, before rejoining the others and heading out of town.
"Wait, what was that?" Zak whirled around. A reward! he thought, Maybe I won't have to beg Thuria for money now. I'm sure I can survive a short journey with these people, so long as I'm compensated. . . "Did you say something about a reward?" he asked aloud.
The other group turned to face him, the one in the mage's cloak was grinning again. "Yes, I did."
"Well, uh, I suppose I could go with you. . . I mean, I kind of need money now. This isn't going to require a lot of heavy lifting or anything, right?"
"That depends on what you do. What do you do?" The mage leaned in to examine Zak more closely.
Zak backed away as politely as he could, "Umm, I heal. Could that be helpful to you?"
The other man smiled even wider and straightened his back. "Yes! I've never been very good at healing magic. You will be a welcome addition to our group! I'm Anonymous, by the way."
"I'm Zak. Is there anything I'm supposed to call you then, if you don't want to give your real name?"
"Nony," someone who appeared to be a fighter added.
Anonymous winced, "No, Anonymous is my name." Anonymous pointed his hand down the row of adventurers next to him, offering a quick introduction, "This is Feoras, that's Erica, Alon, and at the end is Pirro."
This was the part of the conversation Zak was hoping to avoid: hand shaking. Zak didn't extend his hand, neither did he take the ones extended to him. "Umm. . . hello?" It sounded more like a question than a greeting, but the others nodded to him, so it was hopefully enough. "I'll just be a minute collecting my things, so I'll meet you at the southwest edge of town?"
"Sounds fine," one of them said, but Zak didn't remember the names well enough to know which yet.
Within five minutes, Zak had gathered his few belongings and returned the key to his room at the inn. That wasn't easy, either, because of the large crowds still around the middle of town. He was relieved to be getting out of here. Sure, he was traveling through the wilderness with a group of strangers, but. . . "Oh no!" Zak cried. He had been happily walking along to meet with the others when he realized how dangerous this really was. How could he trust them? They might just want to hurt him and steal his possessions. No, this was too dangerous. He turned around to go back to his room.
He turned back around to rendezvous with the others. Dangerous it may be, but it certainly beat hanging around there with all those unbearable people! He had to get out of here. His few days in Cademia had made him sick with worries, from finding out about all those new diseases to having to actually earn money for a living. Cademia was simply not the place for him! He had decided that days ago, and nothing was going to change it now, especially now that he had the opportunity to leave and make some money out of it.
What can I add to their group, though, honestly? Surely the mages there were just as experienced in healing as he was. Oh well, he wasn't going to let this be another alchemy class. Hang the danger! He was going on this adventure whether he liked it or not. When fate knocks on your door, you don't. . . oh, you get the idea.
"We were beginning to think you weren't coming," the girl said to Zak once he was near enough. Erica, he thought her name was.
"Oh, I, uh, got caught in a crowd."
As they headed out of town, Erica asked Zak quietly, "So, how much experience do you have with healing magic?"
"A lot! Well, a little. Mostly healing myself. Actually, now that I think of it, I've never been great with healing other people." Zak put on a grand smile though and tried to sound confident of himself. "But, there's no time to learn like the present. I'm sure I can help if anyone gets hurt. Umm, how likely is that to happen, just out of curiosity?"
Erica could see that behind his smile, Zak was really very worried. "I shouldn't think it's very likely."
"Oh good," he breathed a sigh of relief. Then he tensed up again, "By the way, do you happen to know if anyone here has any deadly diseases?"
Erica looked at Zak with a very peculiar facial expression, one that seemed amused but confused and surprised all at the same time. What a funny question to ask, she thought.
"No, I, uh, don't suppose you do. Nevermind," Zak resumed his silence as he trailed behind the others.
The group journeyed West intending to spend the night in Pnyx, but as they journeyed through the mountain pass some of them expressed a concern that they might not be welcome there...
This post has been edited by Jehezekel : 16 July 2009 - 09:31 AM
You shall not pass…
A ball of molten fire sank into the ocean, a massive stellar ember cast off a celestial blade in some godly forge. Shining against that backdrop the pyramid of Pynx was as impressive a sight as the stories made it out to be. It was flanked by forests to the south and a river to the north, but in between the grassy fields waved emerald in the breeze. Through them the road ran west, arrow straight, and plunged into the heart of the mage’s sanctuary. It stopped just shy of the open Eastern Gate. As the only entrance it was poorly named.
Pirro suggested they all spend the night before moving on. The guardians of the pyramid had other plans, “The rest of you are welcome but these two,” a stern faced guard jabbed his finger at Anonymous and Zak in turn, “are not.”
“That’s preposterous!” Anonymous shouted, “Why would either of us be denied access completely?”
“One of you was expelled and the other assaulted Naxos of Comana.” The guard replied blandly.
“Why does everyone remember that?! ” Nony grumbled under his breath, “Fine!” he declared more loudly, “People as important as ourselves need not grace your little hovel with our presence. Come friends, tonight we sleep beneath the stars again like true adventurers.”
The mage spun on his heel and marched off expecting the others to follow suit. When they did not he turned around. Pirro shrugged apologetically, “I could sleep outside any time but Pynx is one of the wonders of the world. I can’t pass up the chance to see what’s in there.”
“Assaulted Naxos?” Feoras smiled broadly, “I didn’t know you had it in you. Not to worry, I left on good terms so maybe I can smooth things over for you.”
Erica was visibly torn. On the one hand there were her new friends forced to stay outside. On the other hand… “I’ve never been to Pynx.” She said sheepishly. Feoras patted her on the shoulder and assured the archer he would have everyone inside in no time at all.
Zak was busy pleading with the guard to reconsider, “Don’t you understand the grave peril you’re throwing us into by forcing them to sleep outdoors. Don’t you care if we live or die, could you live with that on your conscience?” The guard stared down at him blankly.
Alon wasn’t even outside anymore.
“That… that’s perfectly alright.” Nony said with a numbed confidence he barely felt, “Zak and I can handle ourselves, aha ha… ha.” The healer looked like a man sent to the gallows. Hardly an inspiration. Nony’s shoulders drooped as the rest of the group slipped passed the great doors of the Pynx.
After all was settled, and Feoras failed in bringing Zak and Anonymous out of the cold, night found Alon in the Main Library. It was quiet there. The air was dry and still, almost fragile, as though an errant breath might shatter the solemn atmosphere. Tomes were piled neatly from floor to ceiling. Many were new. Most were very old. All were practically beyond price to the right people. Alon didn’t let his fingers linger long on any when not reading.
The mages had been kind enough to let the adventurers sleep in the dorms on that same floor as the library. However that did not mean they were fully trusted around the pyramid’s treasures. Every so often the odd guard strolled passed the aisle Alon read in. They worked so hard at seeming not to look in his direction that they would have been less obvious staring, “What are you doing?”
Alon looked over to Erica. He hadn’t seen her since putting everything in his room with Pirro and Feoras. She had her own dorm separate from theirs. He smiled, “Reading.”
He handed her the leather bound book and reached for another as she turned it over in her hands. The archer flipped through the pages and scanned quickly. There was little of interest to the average person. All of it was very technical and theoretical, a book specifically for mages in training, “You’re not a sorcerer, why do you care about any of this?”
“I don’t,” he answered out of hand, passing her another book, “but it occurs to me that our two friends outside would love to get their hands on one of these.”
“Yes…” Erica said slowly, “But they can’t come inside to read them.”
The rogue grinned, “Sometimes you have to bring the mountain to the man.” He slipped the book in his hand into his tunic. A moment later a guard walked by and eyed them suspiciously.
“What are you doing?!” Erica gasped and lowered her voice as soon as she was sure no one was looking.
“Borrowing books, this is a library isn’t it?” he made another book disappear.
“You could spend the rest of your life in a dungeon for ‘borrowing’ these.” She shook her head, casting a nervous glance down the aisle, “I thought you said you were a treasure hunter.”
“”These books are treasures.” He countered.
“They don’t belong to you!” she hissed.
Alon shrugged, “Minor details, nothing belongs to you before you take it.”
Erica grimaced, “You sound like a ruffian.”
“That makes sense I suppose. My father was a ruffian leader. Practically a king among outlaws. I guess it’s in my blood.” The archer looked at him aghast and disbelieving, “Alright.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair, “I’ll put them back.” He neatly returned the books to their original resting places.
Out of sight of the entrance, Anonymous sat down and stared at the door. Zak looked at him in horror.
"Do you have any idea what sort of diseases you could get sitting there?" the healer gasped.
Anonymous ignored him. Zak looked around nervously obviously unhappy about their predicament.
For about four minutes, Anonymous thought gloomily that they were doomed, that the sky would fall, the pyramid would collapse, the earth would shake, and he would get no sleep. Then, he straightened. He was a great adventurer! He was not going to be kept out by any guards! After another minute, the mage suddenly stood up and smiled something of a manic grin.
"Aha!" he crowed triumphantly. "I have it!"
Gesturing for Zak to follow, Anonymous strode back toward the doorway to the city.
"Didn't I just tell you to go away?" the guard sighed in exasperation.
"I am only here to enter the city," the other returned mildly.
"And how do you propose to do that? Need I remind you that Lindus sent you from here?"
"Ah, technically, he suggested that I 'broaden my horizons' and hinted not too subtly that I might find myself cleaning classrooms for the next decade if I didn't take his advice. With Alaric healed, I imagine the old mage is in a jovial mood and would be willing to overlook my entrance."
"Yeah, right," the guard said skeptically.
"Why don't you send him a message about my being here and see what he says?"
"Not going to happen," the guard returned sharply. "Besides, what about Naxos?"
"Even Cademia's Judge didn't toss me out of the city for that! He just rubbed his head and asked me to stop setting things on fire." A crafty look came into Anonymous's eyes and he continued (with rising volume), "Besides, he was a member of House Comana! They were traitors! Are you defending the traitors?! You are, aren't you! Treason! TREAS—"
"All right, all right," the guard interrupted with a hiss. "I'll go speak to Lindus and see what he says."
With that, the guard turned and headed down the south hallway. The other guard remained glaring at Anonymous.
"He doesn't like you much, does he?" Zak asked the other quietly.
"Not after that incident with the guards' barracks," the mage replied mournfully.
"What incident?" Zak asked intrigued.
"He set the barracks on fire to get rid of an ant infestation," the remaining guard interjected, having overheard the conversation, "while we were still in it."
"I was trying to be helpful," the mage muttered. "Selinus had told me to clear that infestation out. I said I was sorry."
At that moment, the other guard returned with a look of annoyance on his face.
"Lindus says you can come in but there are some conditions. First, you don't come anywhere near him or his quarters. Second, you don't set anything on fire. Third, you don't approach the library without telling Selinus. Fourth, you don't approach the alchemy lab without telling Palestra."
"All those rooms have fire-proofed equipment," the mage retorted looking quite indignant.
"Those are the conditions," the guard replied smugly. "Oh, and you have to give the guards a written apology."
"Again? I already did five times!"
Sighing, Anonymous nodded and entered the city. Realizing he had an opportunity, Zak scuttled in after him.
"I'm with him," he told the guards as the two quickly went up the stairs to the second floor.
Zak had spent most of the evening wandering through Pnyx's magnificent halls; the conditions of his entry didn't allow him to go very many places. Staring out the front gate for a few moments from inside, Zak was overcome with a feeling of safety. In a way, this place had been his only home. He couldn't help but smile a little at the thought of being back as he turned and climbed the stairway to the second floor.
The halls were fairly dark, the only source of light coming from the magically-imbued, glowing crystals lining the walls. For the most part, his companions had gone to bed. Very wisely, too, for they knew that they had a long journey ahead of them the next morning. Zak considered sleep, but the mere thought of it worried him. "Maybe I can find something comforting to read in the library," he mused. Unfortunately, he'd have to find Selinus to ask permission first. He wasn't sure how that would go.
"Um. . . hello? Hellllooooo?" Zak peered around the corner into the library. He didn't want to go inside, but Selinus was hard of hearing and rarely went outside the library. "What a stupid rule! 'Don't approach the library without telling Selinus'" Zak quoted the guard's earlier warning in a mocking tone. "He's never outside the library! How am I supposed to tell him I'm coming in without approaching the library?!" As Zak said this, he realized the purpose of the rule was indeed to keep him from entering the library. Unless by some miracle, Selinus was outside the library. It was possible that he had gone to his quarters to sleep, but Selinus didn't go to bed until the early morning hours usually.
Zak backed away from the door, deciding to give up on the library idea. Might as well try to go to bed.
"Oof! What are you doing?"
Zak turned quickly to see who he had run into. "I'm s-sorry; I wasn't thinking. . . Selinus!"
Selinus brushed himself off, "Hmm? What is it?"
Zak hesitated. Oh well, might as well ask, Selinus might have forgotten by now, "Do you mind if I go in and look for a book?"
"Help yourself. I'm just coming in to grab one myself." Selinus begin to ramble, "I was trying to go to sleep, but I just didn't feel like the day was over. So I figured I'd grab a book, a midnight snack, and then possibly some rest. I don't know, though, my room is pretty messy; if I spent more time there, maybe it wouldn't be. Say, what was your name again? I never forget a face, I just don't remember what you said your name was."
"I'm. . . Zak?"
"Hmm. Zak. That's a nice name." Selinus disappeared into the library.
Zak entered cautiously. There was one book in particular that he was hoping to find, something to take his mind off of all his concerns. He moved around the outer edge, examining all of the tomes on the table, until he came to one wrinkled with age. Maybe not entirely age, but that is another story.
"Ahh! The book of Healing!" Zak wiped the front of it with his sleeve and opened it. He had only learned Lesser Healing before leaving Pnyx. Although Pheres had given him some instruction on casting Healing, he hadn't had the opportunity to read the tome.
After a few minutes of closely scrutinizing the book of Healing, Zak thought he was ready. Selinus walked by, "I've found what I was after; I'm going to my quarters. What are you doing? You don't cast Healing that way! That's more like Lesser Healing."
"But it says here -- " Zak pointed to a passage from the book.
"I know what it says, and you're doing it wrong. The spell is fundamentally the same as Lesser Healing, but it is very different in its application. You should have done this when you did this. What you're doing is closer to Cure, or maybe Nutrient, neither of which you have enough experience to successfully cast, I can tell you."
"So, it's like this then?" Zak mimicked Selinus' gestures as nearly as he could. "But Pheres taught me this."
Selinus watched, "No, no, Pheres teaches to do this, which will have the same result as what I just showed you."
"Yes! Only with more energy. Healing is a more demanding spell than Lesser Healing. You can't be trying to cast one while actually casting the other; you'll get neither."
"I see now. I think I understand." Zak performed the motions again, this time with more vigor and releasing more mana. The spell failed.
"Yes! You're doing it right! You just don't have enough experience yet to cast it confidently. I suggest that you practice it whenever you get the chance and, in the meantime, stick with Lesser Healing."
"I will," Zak looked pleased with himself. Even though he had failed to cast Healing, he knew how to cast it at least.
"Good. Just keep practicing, and you'll eventually get it right." Selinus scratched his chin in thought, "It's funny that you would come in here tonight and look at the tome of Healing. There was a student here not too long ago who was trying to learn healing, and he. . . wait a second. . ."
Zak got out of his seat clumsily and started to leave, "Thanks, Selinus; I'll be leaving in the morning."
"Hold it! You're not the one who washed my book of Healing in the kitchen sink, are you?!"
Zak began to shake a little, "Well, I, um, it has been handled by a lot of different people, you know. . . It was carrying diseases, I know it was."
"Look at it!" Selinus lifted it off the table and showed Zak the pages. "All of these crinkles! It took me days to dry it out! Where did you get the idea that books can be soaked in water? They can't be! It destroys them!"
"I'm, uh, very sorry. I know now that you can't put them in water; it'll never happen again. I promise!"
"It had better not! Soaking a book. . . ugghhh," Selinus sounded very exasperated, but, his expression slowly changed to a calm one. "I'm glad that you didn't soak one of the higher level spell books. Oh. . . well, at least we're making a new copy of this one. I don't suppose it will have mattered too much after the new one is done."
"Oh, thank you so much!" Zak tried to exit quickly, in case Selinus changed his mind.
"Just don't take any more books from my library, okay? If you want to read one, it needs to stay in here."
"Okay, I understand completely."
"What was your name again?"
"Zak; my name's Zak." With that, Zak was gone. He breathed a huge sigh of relief at having escaped that situation without getting into trouble again.
Selinus didn't even notice that he had left. "Zak. That's a nice name. Good night." Selinus went out the other exit to go to his quarters.
Zak was sure that Selinus wouldn't send a guard to grab him or anything, but he wanted to get inside his room as soon as possible. Once there, he shut the door quietly and sat on the bed. "Achoo!" he sneezed suddenly. Maybe he had simply breathed a lot of the dust in the library. "I just hope it's not something serious," Zak sniffled. He thought it was best for him to lie down. He was asleep within seconds.
The morning dawned cold & dreary, but Pirro didn't notice, probably the only ones to notice were the guards at the front door. Pirro gathered his things together & left the room he shared with Alon, closing the door gently behind himself. Trusting his memory of last night, he turned to his left & followed the hallway past several doors to the stair landing. The library, he remembered from the brief tour last night, was on this floor & the courtyard was below it. Crazy mages. The courtyard appealed to him as a good place to perform his morning ritual of stretches & swordplay so he took the staircase down instead of following the hallway around to the library.
The courtyard was cool & misty, a perfect emulation of an excellent morning outside. He started his stretches, beginning with general loosening exercises & gradually moving on to a rhythmic progression of battle-stances. For a moment he was distracted by an unexpected audience, but he was able to shift his focus so that he could ignore them. A few minutes later Helen commanded the school-girls into the Study-Hall for breakfast, though judging by the way she encouraged gossip about the handsome young warrior, she probably did it more from jealousy than modesty. Having finished his unarmed exercises, Pirro paused to see why a man was laughing from the shadows beyond the far entrance to the courtyard.
A Guard was leaning against the wall of the barracks, struggling to suppress the hilarity that welled up from his liver, "You know chuckle there's a snort a private training room wheeze right over there!"
He gestured to a door a few steps to Pirro's right, on the left side of the hall. In his home-barracks Pirro may have challenged the guard, but he figured that the people dwelling in the somber magisterium needed what mirth they could get, however ill-gotten. He nodded his thanks, & finished his exercises in the training room, with the aid of the sword dummies. It was well into morning by the time he walked into the study-hall, & found his companions eating their own breakfast as the students left for their classes.
This post has been edited by Jehezekel : 01 August 2009 - 01:58 PM