Alix responded, “We do not know for certain they are tracking you, the Aquila, or something else Magus. Whatever they are doing it is not terribly accurate as they must still search for you. Let us pivot then to the magic item you carry. Can you present it and give us a summary of its known history?”
Elemix did as requested. Stating first that he had for the most part kept it covered and hidden on his person virtually since discovering it, save for some time in Thalasa, while it was being researched and stored in the vault.
He went into the details on how he found it and what he had learned about it over the previous few months’ time. How in ancient times it would have been atop a standard and how its magic influenced people when put atop a staff. Specifically another item his group discovered when dealing with the tianites – a javelin of lighting. The javelin he said when connected and activated shone a light through the aquila which produced a map leading the way to a location somewhat near the hitari gates. He also disclosed that when activating it if one does not have the right blood, he/she must fight off the shadows that are linked to it from within before reading the map. The shadows he said are quite vicious creatures. The aquila itself if broken reforms itself over time.
He also shared who he worked with that helped provide information on it. His description was quite detailed. He even noted he had submitted a paper on it to the academy which was used as somewhat of a basis for them sponsoring his group on the expedition to discover what lies where the map leads.
He then stood back and asked if there were any questions or if perhaps anyone had information they wished to share.
Magus Xavier commented, saying, “So you believe this object was part of an Eterian military standard, the cap piece of an aquila, and that someone went to great amount of trouble to hide a map within it that is both trapped, requiring a specific bloodline, and it leads to something in the Hattani Gates region.”
Magus Calvet added, “and likely it was owned or carried by a sorcerer of the lost legions destroyed when the dwarves were first invaded by Eteria.”
Magus Roult added, “and the Tyannites were searching for artifacts lost in that battle, without knowing the significance of this one in particular, but because you did take it and defend it with vigor, it may be actually less than it seems, but more than simply a curiosity.”
Magus Max asked, “Magus Elemix, is it your belief that this artifact is a key? Perhaps to a treasure trove of the sorcerer Brynnius or his ally Varrus?
Magus Alix added, “It is known that very briefly the Eterians controlled those heights. It is also believed, but not proven that Brynnius was the former student of Draask or at least a colleague. The records are vague on this point.”
Magus Elemix listened to each Magus in turn. “I cannot be sure what the map leads to exactly but I am certain something of real significance is there given the intricacy of the map, how it was hidden, and the traps tied to its use. It is possibly treasure yes, but I think also just possibly a phalactory may be there as well. Possibly containing the essence of Brynnius himself. All of it guarded by undead and who knows what else.
Again exactly what is there we cannot know until we arrive. But whatever it is, it should not fall into the hands of a fanatical group of tyannites who’s mission we believe is to bring chaos to the civilized world. That much at least is certain. And it is one of the reasons the academy chose to sponsor my expedition to learn and recover what is there.”
Magus Sigoléne looked surprised, “that is quite the assumption Magus. There is no record of a sorceror named Brynnius who also was a necromancer. In fact sir, from what little we understand he was a war mage. Else why would he be with an Imperial Legion?”
Magus Skøna added, “there is no legend of undead used at the Battle of Calder Falls. In fact, it was a close-run thing from what my fathers and mothers tell me, so that if a necromancer was there they could have simply raised the fallen and possibly turned the tide.”
Magus Titus, who had been silent asked, “given what we know brothers and sisters, if you were Brynnius, why would take a map of secret location, hide it not on your person, but on that of a soldier, the aquilifer who is on the front lines of battle? This makes no sense, especially given your theory of a phylactery. What if Brynnius himself knew only of the secondary powers of the Aquila, the ability to coordinate units? What if he knew nothing of the map, or if he did was not the author, merely like us a curious party who discovered it, meant to investigate, but had little time and higher priorities?”
Magus Skøna interrupted, “Magus Elemix, you said you believed that Brynnius broke his staff, likely a staff of power, when he and others, possibly legionnaires, were trapped by my people in the old mine. You also said the aquila was embedded in a wall. You added that it was fully intact and could repair itself. Hmm.”
Magus Alix asked, “Magus Elemix, what are your thoughts on these observations?”
“I am not one for speculation,” replied Elemix. “Each of your thoughts on the matter have merit. Perhaps there is no phylactary, but we know there are undead guarding the location.
I tend to agree with Magus Titus. It is very possible Brynnius didn’t know the full nature of the Aquila. The map was very well hidden. Or if he did, he may have simply never had time to follow the map.
When he broke the staff of power perhaps it shattered the Aquila and in the same blast the shards of the Aquila were lodged into the rock and over many years those pieces were able to coalesce inside the rockface.”
Magus Alix followed, saying, “so we can agree the cultists are followers of Tyaa, they are searching for items of power, they are interested in part at the very least in destabilizing areas near the Periphery if not the Periphery itself. They are interested in the Aquila, either directly through some knowledge of the death of Brynnius and where to find him, or indirectly through the tenacious defense of said artifact by Magus Elimix and his companions has peaked their interest. They are tracking this group in some way which may or may not have anything to do with the Aquila.”
Magus Alix added, “but I highly doubt they are tracking the Aquila itself, or yourself Magus – at least not with any sense of accuracy as the item has never been in their hands and they have never seen it – at least there is no evidence they have as all who did see it before it fell into your hands were killed according to your own report. So, therefore, how are they tracking you? Or, may I propose, they are not tracking you at all, but one of your companions – at least enough to narrow down a search.”
Elemix hadn’t thought of that. He immediately replayed all of his encounters with the tianites. If they weren’t tracking the Aquila, what were they tracking?
After thinking on what Magus Alix had said, Elemix added, “Yes. Now that you mention it, it’s quite possible the tyanites are tracking our group by some other method.” Elemix searched his backpack. “This brazier was found on the tyanites we killed when we first found the Aquila. It appeared at the time as though it had been used recently and it has a small trace of magic, though I suspected at the time that it was used to find the Aquila.
If not this, then it’s possible they took something from my companion Tifane when she was taken prisoner in the sewers below Derrien.
One member of the tianites was never captured. It was the one who went by the name Tuderic and who bore a resemblance to a picture we found of the eterian sorcerer known as Tuderic Drask. It must be he who has continued to track us and possibly he who resurrected Theia. That or the man in the wide brimmed hat we encountered in the village at Calder Keep. Though I don’t think he is a tyanite per se. He seemed to indicate he was hired help.”
Magus Alix remarked, “True. He could simply be an ally. In truth we have no evidence his girl companion is a reincarnated Tyaanite. She simply could have disliked you.”
A few of the other mages laughed in a friendly way. Magus Vorn slaps Elemix on the back with a guffaw.
With a smile, Alix continued, “My brothers and sisters it is late and we are all a bit tired. Let us adjourn for dinner and then on the morrow let us assist Magus Elemix and investigate the brazer and the possibility of something having been taken from Sister Tiffanie.”
Alix adjourns the meeting for the evening. Walking over to Magus Elemix, she says, “Magus Elemix, I recommend letting Magus Calvet use her abilities to look over the brazer. She is quite attuned to the pattern and may be of help.”
Magus Calvet walks over as she overhears and says, “yes, if the scryer is attuned to this brazer, we may be able to turn the tide on them and view their abode. That is until they detect us.”
Magus Alix added while turning toward Calvet, “if so they would be wise to break the attunement, else we could find them more easily. The advantage here is they will no longer as easily be able to track you.”
Calvet noted, “if dear Magus Elemix they are tracking you and not your accursed companion.” Whimsically she added, “maybe…they track the curse itself? Hmm…”
She floats off before Elemix can reply. Alix looks back, “she’ll return soon. She does that from time to time. So Magus, are you learning what you hoped to learn?”
“Yes I am Magus,” replied Elemix. “This has been a great experience working together with all of these esteemed minds. It has been most enlightening.
I am glad you called this conclave together. Not only has it helped to further our joint understanding of the Aquila, tianites, and the other threats in the area etc, but it has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with all these other Wizards. I am very hopeful the guild will agree to establish a tower here in Derrien. When we come together like this we can truly accomplish a great deal.”
Elemix glanced at Magus Alix briefly then. He hoped they had overcome their initial misgivings. He knew it would take much more time to build a relationship, but he hoped they were at least on good terms again – both in public and in person.
“Good. Now to dinner, after which I must depart to attend to some matters of state with the Duke and Duchess,” Alix replied.
After the dinner, as various wizards broke into discussions or went on with their own business, Magus Max approached Elemix. “Magus Elemx, it seems you and yours have stumbled upon quite the mystery. A dangerous one for certain.”
“Indeed,” returned Elemix. “I haven’t had the chance yet to thank you for your insights in the matter. You feedback is well appreciated.”
Elemix was going to say something more but stopped himself first not knowing for certain where Magus Max was going with this. Elemix was learning it was often best not to say too much, and not to assume. Especially with this group of highly intelligent comrades.
He didn’t know Magus Max at all, and though he was naturally curious about him, who knew what Magus Max was thinking at the moment.
Elemix had given a kind response. He hoped Magus Max would prove to be of a similar mind so the conversion could move forward more easily and they could learn about each other.
Magus Max replied, “Well, my feedback comes from almost inconceivable years of experience. You say the Academy funded this mission of yours? Had they considered the perils and the instability arising in the Rift Kingdoms from the Maelith civil wars, they may not have done so, or they did and you did not get a sum or support you should have.
But never fear, I am here to give you an out. I saw the look on your face when the rising goblin threat to Uzec and the North was described. You care about that land. I can’t blame you. I could see that you wished it was you and not our sister Lothiel journeying North. Makes sense to me. You cousin is, well, aligned shall we say, with the Baron d’Uzec and given an excuse to stay behind likely would.
Long story short, I am willing to purchase your Academy contract and fulfill its obligations in your stead – with a mighty profit for you and yours should you wish to take it. No dishonor, and you are free to pursue more, immediate, goals.” Max looked at both Alix walking away and briefly at Lothiel.
Elemix wasn’t entirely surprised. He had thought something like this would happen at some point in the discussions but he had thought it would be brought up in the open sessions. He had also prepared himself for the possibility that he wouldn’t be given a choice in the matter when it happened. However, he was somewhat unprepared for this kind of side offer. He did his best however to give the impression that he knew this would happen.
Were Magus Alix and Magus Lothiel in some kind of arrangement with Magus Max on this offer? Elemix had noted them talking among themselves earlier.
“Magus,” replied Elemix succinctly. “What is your offer exactly?”
Magus Max replied, “let us discuss it on the veranda.” He led Elemix out the open doors, taking in the crisp air of the autumn night. “I believe you have a talent Magus. While I have not met her, you mother is well regarded as a wizard and a merchant, and I believe that mercantilist blood runs in your veins as well. I admire that. But this mission is so fraught with unknowns and dangers that it is inconceivable that you would be able to make the journey without great loss of life – with all due respect.
But the facts of the mission intrigue me. So my offer is simple. I purchase the Academy’s writ from you at face value plus five percent. I then grant you an advance on the mission based on the artifact’s worth, say 10000 pieces of gold. I then take on the mission with companions of mine. If successful, I will pay you one-quarter the profits, less the 10000 advance, and if the profits are less than that, then we are even. That is my risk. I will happily share any information gained on the mission to help you and yours secure the North, and Uzec in particular from the Tyaanite threat. As a noted, two of my companions confronted a priestess of Tyaa last year in Adera and would jump at the chance at this kind of adventure. Lastly, we are not being followed, so we would be there and back quickly.
And of course, you are free to deal with the goblins and build up a reputation here.”
Elemix knew what this offer really represented. This mission though it was undoubtedly quite dangerous also meant a significant chance to make a name for one’s self if successful. As such, it likely came with a significant financial rewards too. Not to mention the possibility of magical rewards.
This could mean building a strong reputation among the Wizards guild in a relatively short period of time. Did Elemix want to trade this rare opportunity to Max, Alix, and Lothiel? Success could see them rise in stature instead of him and Emmiline.
But was Elemix and his group capable of seeing this through to the end? Were they strong enough to do so? Elemix honestly didn’t know. This mission had a lot of unknowns. This represented an easy out and one that paid well.
“That is quite an offer. Please allow me to think on it for a bit,” replied Elemix.
“Of course Magus. Take the time you need. Note that this is but my offer and mine alone. I know others who are interested, and yet others who would take your artifact away for the good of the League. I am here to be a friend. Trust that I have your interests in mind as well.” With a nod, Max returned inside.
Elemix turned then and went back inside. When he saw Magus Vorn he approached and asked if he had a moment to talk.
When they were alone Elemix said, “I need some advice. Magus Max has offered to buy out my contract with the Academy and follow the map to its destination with his own group. He says he will deal with any tyanites on the way. His offer seems quite reasonable in that I will be paid 10,000gp up front, and it is guaranteed should there prove to be nothing of significance found. If there is something found beyond 10,000 gp in value he will give me an additional 1/4th of its value.
I think though he is assuming that I am perhaps taking on a mission that is far too risky for my power level and by extension that of my comrades. He may be right, as we don’t really know what we are up against.
I on the other hand tend to think this is a situation where the risk, given the unknowns, warrants the potential rewards. If I am to trust my gut, I would say turn down the offer and continue as planned. The mission, like any other really, will give me the opportunity to learn. And all missions have a certain element of risk. I feel my group is very capable.
What are your thoughts on this?”
Magus Vorn though a moment. Then thought again. Then he said, “Max is not doing this for your own good. He is doing so his own good. Now the question you have to answer is does Max’s good and your good align? Personally I see risk as its own reward as long as you are not stupid about it. He thinks you’ll just blunder into the Riftlands and beyond without a care in the world. He is likely right. If you want to go to this place, you need to think on how to approach it. Once you leave the borders of the league that staff and robe will only get you so far. In fact, it might get you killed. He is preparred to put pride behind him and sneak like a rat into the Hattani Gates, are you? If you are not, then well I’d take his offer. If you are, then maybe you might survive. Then again, the whole map may be a fluke and there is nothing there but the undead and a book on Hattani esoteric philosophy.”
Elemix knew what he wanted to do. Vorn could not make the decision for him. It may have been the wrong decision, but it was Elemix’s to make. Elemix hoped for his sake and that of his friends that it was the right one.
“Thank you,” he said then to his trusted teacher. “You have helped me yet again.
I must do what my gut tells me in this. I shall follow the map to uncover what has been so carefully hidden. I shall do so as I had already planned by putting away my robe and even using a disguise or hiding if necessary. It will be out of character for me but I shall use that to my advantage as my enemies would not expect it.
With luck we may yet be able to discern the method by which we are being scryed upon and cancel it.”
Elemix turned to Vorn. “It’s not every day I turn down 10000 gold, but my mind is set in this. I just hope there is more at the end of this quest than a book.”
Elemix and Vorn started to head back to where the larger group was conversing and on the way quietly Elemix said to Vorn. “There are a lot of people in that room who may not think me and my comrades capable of succeeding in this. We shall prove them wrong.”
“No.” Vorn said. “Don’t prove anything. Just do what you need to do. Don’t let your pride get in the way of your intellect,” he added pointing at Elemix’s head. “None of this is about social climbing or power or wealth or fame. If it is, you’ll be like them at best, or dead at worst. No m’boy, this has to be about the desire to simply know. That is the reward for the risk. Knowing. All else is folly and stupid, stupid pride. Do you know who my master was?”
That was Elemix’s ultimate goal. The whole reason he had initially thought to gather the pieces of the Aquila was simply to learn about it. Knowledge was what he was seeking. Now that Vorn mentioned it he could see why Vorn had thought Elemix prideful. It wasn’t Elemix’s intent to come across that way, but he did feel a certain need to show the other’s he could succeed and that his thoughts mattered. Had he become too prideful, he thought. Is that what his dealings with Magus Alix and to a lesser extent the others were doing to him without so much as him realizing it?
“No.” He replied simply as he turned to face Vorn. “You never talk about your past.”
“I don’t because it is mine and mine alone, but I will share this with you. My master was Magus Marc du Ravions. He was an ideal master, a good teacher, but a lousy wizard insofar that he thought he was the best and if he wasn’t he had to prove himself and everyone around him he was. He was motivated by pride. Got himself killed by letting his pride rule his good sense. He was stupid, letting others dictate what he measured himself by. A wizard is above all that triviality. A wizard is subtle. A wizard is wise – hence the name. Gain knowledge and experiences, learn wisdom. That is what those people out there will respect. Not power, not wealth, not who you know. All that is a distraction. If you truly want their respect, do what you set out to do. Then maybe they will treat you as you wish to be treated. Until then, they will humor you, but they won’t respect you. You will be one more young idiot, like that Roaut over there, who will either burn out, or die out.”
“You are right of course. Thank you for sharing some of your experience.
Until you mentioned it, I hadn’t stopped to think about how I was feeling and acting. I don’t know why but I somehow felt like I needed to prove myself to them. I don’t need to prove anything. I am a wizard. I have always been a seeker of knowledge for knowledge sake. It is the prize. Thank you for reminding me.”
Vorn nodded and then went off to talk with Magus Calvet.
A short time later Elemix respectfully pulled Magus Max aside. He wanted to turn Magus Max down but not upset him in the process.
“I have considered your offer Magus and while I think it is a very fair one, I must decline. Thank you, but I have decided I shall see this thing through to the end. You see I am most interested in the discovery and the knowledge I will gain in the process. If I accepted your offer, I may gain in wealth, but I would lose in the discovery and that is something I would truly miss.”
“What if I offered you 20000 gold? He replied.
“I would still have to respectfully decline,” returned Elemix.
“Okay, okay. I’ve heard your mother is a tough negotiator. Chop of the old block, eh? $30000 pieces of gold. Deliverable within the week.” He retorted.
That was an almost incomprehensible sum to Elemix. Divided 4 ways it could go far. It also meant that Magus Max was willing to bet a huge fortune that the aquila led to a very profitable outcome.
Elemix seemed to think on it for a moment. “Alas Magus no sum will win me over on this. I am in this for the knowledge and the experience that will be required. However, I see you are most interested to take this task on yourself. Perhaps you would be willing to join me in this? My comrades are already on the way. I am sure you would be welcome.”
Elemix took a risk in asking, but it was a calculated one. The risk wasn’t in the potential loss of a fifth of a share. In fact, his help would likely be welcomed. That wasn’t a huge concern to Elemix. The risk was that Max would say yes and try to take over the operation or in some way attempt to undercut Elemix or his companions. Though, he really had no basis to think Magus Max had any kind of nefarious intent. No – he was a business man.
If on the other hand Max refused, he wouldn’t be able to use this exchange against Elemix in the future, and he also wouldn’t have cause to be upset with Elemix at refusing to sell him the contract.
Still Elemix was betting Max wasn’t the type to join in. Something about him seemed to say that Max wanted to do this his own way, and joining with Elemix would mean having to fall in line and not be in charge. Something told Elemix that situation would be unacceptable to a man like Max.
Elemix was pretty certain Max wouldn’t go for it. After all, if he had wanted to partner on this, Max would undoubtedly have already brought it up instead of trying to buy him out. Maybe his mom’s business acumen had rubbed off on him?
Still the offer was a gamble, and Elemix hoped he had a good hand.
Max thought about it ever so briefly. Replying he said, “that is generous, but I have my own crew of comrades. Sadly if our two groups joined forces, your team may feel a bit outclassed. It is no offense intended of course, but we have been at it awhile and they would be adverse to working with amateurs. Not yourself of course, but your companions you must admit are new to the adventuring life. It would be difficult to convince my friends therefore to go.
But I personally think you all have the beginnings of a great talent. Should you yield to my deeper understanding of the East and my extensive knowledge and experience, I would with honor take the lead on such a task. You would then have the opportunity to learn in the relative safety of a great mind and power such as myself. Success would be much more likely.”
Elemix pretended to consider his generous offer for a moment.
“Magus I think perhaps my comrades and I shall go this one alone. We wouldn’t want to get in your way or put anyone else in undo dangers due to our relative lack of experience. And as I am certain one with your background would know, the only true way to grow in experience is to do things one’s self.”
Max looked none too pleased for a moment, “very well…Magus. I certainly hope your talent is up to the experience you will have to endure.” With that Magus Max gave a nod and returned to the room.
Before Elemix could react of say anything, Magus Calvet appeared from nowhere, tapping Elemix on the shoulder, saying, “we would like the brazer now please.”
So do I, thought Elemix.
Turning to face Magus Calvet unexpectedly he said, “Oh yes of course.”
He reached into his bag, unwrapped the brazer, and handed it to her.
He was excited to see what she could discern from it.
“I’ll be back.” she said, and in a moment she was gone. Looking in the room. Calvet and Alix were nowhere to be found. Raoult and Max were discussing something. Vorn seemed to be arguing with Skøna about some point of logic. Xavier was speaking to Sigolene and Lothiel about something while pointing at a wall map of the Periphery. Magus Titus was in a dark corner, reading.
Elemix approached Magus Titus but knew enough not to disturb him while reading. Instead he stood several feet away from Titus and turned to look back at the group. In this way he thought he was close enough Titus could speak with him if he so chose, and he wouldn’t be chastised for interrupting any important reading.
Elemix was careful also so as not to seem to be waiting for Magus Titus. In truth he would have been happy to talk, but it wasn’t necessary by any means.
“What do you want Magus,” Titus asked without looking up from his book.
Elemix turned. “I didn’t want to interrupt you,” he said. “We haven’t had a chance to speak and I thought perhaps we could use this opportunity to chat.
As a transmutation expert, I thought perhaps you would appreciate the story of how we managed to dispatch an assassin that was hired by the tyanites to recover the Aquila.”
He closed the book and looked up, “you have already interrupted me by your presence.” the old wizard said. “are you a bard or a wizard? Never mind. Please regale me with your brilliance so I can get back to my book. But be brief.”
Titus then added a moment later, “young Magus, it has been a long day. Tell me what happened.”
Elemix recited the tale of how the assassin had tracked Elemix and his group for weeks all the way from Uzec to Thalassa. He briefly described his encounters with this particuar assassin (being sure to leave out the time he nearly killed Elemix in the guild tower). And when he finally attacked in the countryside just outside of the city Elemix described the encounter making sure to detail how at the pivotal point in the battle, Magus Bella Dungaruun managed to polymorph the assassin into a frog and then almost instantly he was eaten by Elemix’s newfound familiar Sang.
“I must say I found that a rather fitting end for that particular assassin.”
“Your dragon should be dead,” the wizard replied matter-of-factly.
“Oh,” questioned Elemix. His smile changed quickly. “Why is that? Is it something to do with the spell? Other than its effects I am not familiar with it.”
“Obviously you do not know the spell. If the polymorphed creature dies, then it would revert to its natural form. It would either be vomited by your dragon, explode your dragon from within, or worse. Obviously what you fought was not alive to begin with or not indicative of the assassin’s natural form.” he replied.
“Then again,” he added, “the Lords of Necessity may have shined on you.”
Elemix was surprised by the news. “Indeed it would seem so,” was all he could think to say as he replayed the incident in his head. In truth he hadn’t seen the final part of that battle. He had been knocked unconscious.
“Likely your enemy cheated death so often that the Lords thought it was time to call it a day, step in, and put him into Death’s quota. They tend to notice such things.” noted Titus. “anyway, Death enjoys unusual ends to unusual people.”
Elemix thought on that and nodded. In doing so he was reminded of something.
“Magus,” he said. “I know your specialty is transmutation, but I wonder if you may know any illusion spells? I was thinking of learning the alter self spell to help me go relatively unnoticed from time to time on my upcoming expedition with the aquila. Do you happen to know of it, or perhaps another spell that could help me in this purpose? I plan more mundane methods as well of course, changing my clothing and what not, but I think a spell would also come in handy.”
Magus Titus nodded, “I do at home, but not in my traveling book. In any event I have no time to teach it to you or transcribe it. And before you ask, no I won’t let you peruse my spellbook in my home and place of power. I trust you to a point Magus, but with my spellbook you would need to be my apprentice or owe me a major favor. You are not my apprentice and you already owe me one favor, and sadly there isn’t a market for your favors that would entice me to collect more. Perhaps Magus Skøna could help you?”
“Of course Magus,” replied Elemix simply. This was perhaps the nicest conversation with Magus Titus he had ever expected to have. Elemix didn’t push it.
“I shall leave you to your book then. Magus Calvet should be done with the brazier soon I would think.”
And as Elemix turned around, there she was. “No, you are not being followed or scried do to this thing here.” She placed it in his hands. “Must be either someone spending resources trying over and over to find you, or they have something of your friend’s. Bye.” She turned away and began to leave.
“Wait Magus.” Elemix started as she began to walk away. “I just wanted to thank you for your time and assistance in this matter.”
“Why?” she replied with curious expression. “I did not do so for you. You owe me nothing.”
“Well because you helped me regardless,” replied Elemix. She did it because she could, because it interested her to know. Perhaps they were more similar then he thought.
“Thank you for doing so is all I wished to say.”