It was Benoit who was chosen by Prince Etienne to deliver his evidence to Empress Eriadna. He was instructed to select a suitable group of companions to accompany him on his journey and I was among those he asked. I had never before left Glantri. I never sought adventure, preferring to devote all my time to my studies at the Great School. However, I had passed my final test the previous year and having developed an interest in Alphatia through studying its history and language I found myself accepting Benoit's invitation. There were seven of us altogether: Benoit, myself, Palmir, my faithful bodyguard Hagat Ranjin, Elyth Renedal of Blackhill, Liborio di Bisticiami and a mundaner woman who was nevertheless proficient as a gatherer of information - Raima... I forget her family name, if indeed I ever knew it.
Prince Etienne told us that in addition to delivering his letter to Eriadna, he wished us to remain vigilant for signs of foreign nations conspiring against Glantri. He said that we should pay particular attention to any clerical orders that might be spreading lies about him or the other Wizard Princes. He then teleported us to the Glantrian embassy in Thyatis City with a message for his wife, Dame Catherine d'Ambreville. I recall she did not seem as pleased as a good wife should to receive a letter from her noble husband. Nevertheless, she arranged passage for us on a ship sailing to the Isle of Dawn.
Our ship was not to leave port for a further two days so we had time to explore the city. I found its size incredible but not desirable. The monumental structures, the endless pressing crowds, the noise and smells were overwhelming. It was as if the market in Glantri had become a city.
Being Caurenzean, di Bisticiami wanted to go to the Games at the Coliseum. That the Coliseum was impressive I cannot deny. The entire population of Glantri could attend the 'Games' and there would still be room for thousands more to spectate. It was not however my taste in entertainment. Killing for the pleasure of a crowd is hardly becoming of a civilized nation. I found the whole spectacle to be vulgar - suitable perhaps for the most base of mundaners but not for a wizard of Glantri. Furthermore, I do not understand how the Coliseum pays for itself. Entrance is free but the 'shows' must be extremely expensive. One onlooker told me that for some events they flood the arena and stage battles between small ships. In the short time I was there I must have seen a dozen rare creatures die - there were colourful giant lizards and snakes, displacer beasts and even a gorgon. There was a quartet of hill giant 'gladiators' - imagine how much they alone must eat. Meanwhile, many in Thyatis starve. Madness.
I soon had my fill and sought out Thyatis' Imperial Library. It is not far from the Coliseum but far removed from its world of blood and sand. I was disappointed to discover little or nothing pertaining to the Magical Arts but this disappointment was short lived for any other subject of scholarly interest you can imagine was addressed and in depth. Even the Great Library of Glantri does not contain so many books. It was the only period of peace I experienced in Thyatis for as I later learned the city is not quiet even at night. When this war is over I hope to return there.
The next day Benoit suggested that we should do as Prince Etienne had bid us and watch for signs of clerics spreading calumnies about Glantri. As it happens we heard no such lies but I found it most troublesome that not only were clerics tolerated in Thyatis but they were actively encouraged in their practices. I was dismayed to learn that some of the grandest buildings in the city were temples of clerical orders. The priests walked the streets freely and there were so many of them - seemingly dozens of different orders all proudly displaying the symbols of their foolish beliefs. I listened to many of them preaching in the streets - ridiculous notions and ignorant ramblings. One group were clearly louder and more numerous than all the rest - those who followed an immortal warrior woman with a Bodavian man's name: Vanya. They proclaimed that a new age was upon the world, an age that would see Thyatis vanquish all who had ever opposed her and that would see the utter destruction of Alphatia. I would not have thought it then but I would rather embrace those clerics as brothers than the wizards of Alphatia.
I was relieved when at last it was time for us to set sail. Having never been aboard an ocean-going vessel or even seen the sea, the voyage was another new experience for me and one more that I did not enjoy. It would seem that my Ethengarian blood is still strong enough to make the ocean my enemy. The voyage however was uneventful with the notable exception that it was on the ship we met Felix Mercaturius.
Felix & West Portage
It was the height of the summer and you may remember what a hot summer it was that year. I was on deck attempting to overcome my distaste for the motion of the ship. Elyth, Palmir and Hagat were with me. Elyth was complaining about having to spend most of the days in her cramped cabin to avoid the sun burning her pale skin. It was then that another passenger standing by the ship's rail turned and spoke to us in perfect Glantrian. I had noticed him before but had paid him no mind for he seemed of no consequence to us. However, I remember what he said because it was so peculiar. He said that the sun was indeed hot and burned fiercely - that was why the moon had to eclipse it every now and again; to protect us from the times when its heat was greatest. Palmir has studied something of the movement of the moon and retorted that that was nonsense. The stranger was not offended. He smiled and said that no doubt wizards knew more about the truth of such things than a simple man like himself. His words were polite but I found his smile insolent.
I asked him whether he was Glantrian and he replied that he was not; he was from 'all over'. My interest in him was at an end but he insisted on introducing himself as Felix Mercaturius. He asked whether we knew our destination of West Portage well. When we said that we did not, he said that it was one of his favourite towns and that he had a lot of friends there. He asked whether we were travelling beyond the port and Elyth told him that it was not his concern. That ended the conversation. He just smiled in his peculiar manner and left us.
I did not see him again or give him any thought at all until we arrived in West Portage. I then saw him speaking with Raima. They seemed to be getting on very well. Somehow he had learned of our mission although when Benoit later questioned the woman, she said she had not told him anything. He was also travelling to Alphatia and had invited himself to join us. Benoit was not pleased but upon learning that Mercaturius had been to Alphatia before, decided that he might be of some use.
We were surprised to discover how small the town was. It was less a town with port than it was a large set of docks with an overgrown village attached. It was at least extremely clean and well-kept.
The town was busy with traders from many other ports. Mercaturius informed us that it was a little over 100 miles by road to East Portage where we would be able to get passage on a ship to Alphatia. He also advised us that there were no other settlements of any size between the two ports - only the occasional roadside hostelry. Hagat and I found good horses for the ride while the others arranged rooms for the night. Whilst in town we met some strange pale skinned elves from the Isles of Minrothad. It transpired they were merchant-sailors. Why elves would pursue a mundane life of trade is a thing I do not understand.
They complained that the Thyatians were causing problems for the Minrothad silk trade. Thyatian war galleys were regularly stopping and searching non-Thyatian ships, claiming to be looking for illegal goods, spies or pirates. Occasionally, if the captain of the Thyatian vessel was not paid quickly and in sufficient quantity, they would seize a cargo. In port, soldiers both on and off duty would pick on traders they thought were dealing with Alphatians, which in West Portage was almost everyone. They also complained that Alphatians were becoming less pleasant to deal with and were acting in a more superior fashion than ever before. Apparently there had been an incident when an Alphatian wizard visiting Minrothad had duelled and killed another wizard in defiance of the local laws on magic use. Subsequent investigation revealed the other party to be a Glantrian.
We all found that worrying - it was not the first report of such a thing we had heard.
We set off the next day and our uninvited guide rode with us. He talked a great deal. We had noted that he was carrying no merchandise and so was no trader - what therefore was his purpose in travelling to Alphatia? He told us that he was travelling to recapture his youth, to see the world and to learn. He had a colleague who was a scholar of sorts and currently unable to travel because he had an important project that required all his attention. Mercaturius was travelling on his behalf whatever that meant. Was he not a scholar like his 'colleague'? He just smiled at that and said that he was just a man of business and a traveller, that these were interesting times and that his colleague needed to know what was going on in the world. He was going to Alphatia at this time because he had established a business interest there but a few years previously and wished to see how it was progressing. He evaded all our questions about what sort of scholar his colleague was or the nature of his 'project'. He asked us some very impertinent questions of his own such as whether we had ever considered how many enemies Glantri has and whether this worried us. He asked whether we thought there was anything more important than knowledge and what would we be prepared to sacrifice to gain it. Benoit challenged him and asked why he was asking such things. I remember his reply because it was one of the few times his smile faded."
'Because there is always a price,' he said. 'Because there is always something you must trade.'
The Road and The Sea (again)
On our ride across the Isle of Dawn we encountered many other travellers on the road - nearly all merchants. Mercaturius always insisted on talking to them. They all had the same complaints. Bandit activity, which had always been a problem on the road, was on the increase. The Thyatian and Alphatian troops of West and East Portage were spending more time in unofficial skirmishes with one another than in taking care of the bandits. Consequently, they had to hire more mercenary guards to protect themselves and profits were dropping. We had no interest in the petty concerns of traders but Mercaturius was always sympathetic. They also complained about the aggressive attitude of Thyatian soldiers towards foreign traders. They said it was only the efforts of the lead townsman in West Portage that was keeping the Crossdawn trade viable. I cannot remember the name of the man but apparently he was a friend of Mercaturius.
On two occasions we encountered traders hauling their ships along the road on giant carts. These were not as large as the vessel on which we had sailed to West Portage but nor were they mere river boats. There appeared to be no magic involved and it struck me as a troublesome and unrewarding endeavour to undertake but apparently it is considered by some to be preferable to sailing around the Isle of Dawn as it can be both quicker and safer or rather that used to be the case. I cannot say what is common practice now that the Alphatians control the whole length of the road between the two ports.
It was not only merchants we encountered on the road. At one point we were attacked by bandits. We were heavily outnumbered but it was no real battle. They soon learned the folly of attacking Glantrian wizards. Their arrows were turned aside, their own minds turned against them and they had no means to defend themselves against our fire and ice. We easily defeated them and only Hagat suffered any wounds. Fortunately they were not serious and the potions of healing we had secured from an alchemist before leaving Glantri proved worth their price. Mercaturius did not lift a hand to assist us - not that we had any need of his help - and seemed almost saddened by the deaths of men who were trying to rob him.
When we reached East Portage we found it to be much like West Portage - perhaps even smaller than the Thyatian controlled port and certainly not as well kept.
We considered our options. The closest Alphatian city to which we could get passage was Eagret and I was in favour of this but once again Mercaturius felt compelled to give an opinion without being asked. He said that it would be better for us to accompany him to Aasla. He told us that certain Alphatian clerics had succeeded in engendering an irrational fear and dislike of Glantrians among the general population of the Empire. Although this feeling was just as strong in Aasla as in Eagret, port officials were not as dutiful in Aasla. It would be easy for us to slip ashore and melt into the crowd of the city. In Eagret it would be difficult for us to continue our journey without the proper papers - papers that uncooperative officials might prevent us from obtaining. We were outraged by this. We were envoys of the Wizard Princes of Glantri. By what right would petty officials obstruct our mission? Nevertheless, after much discussion, it was agreed that we would go to Aasla as this would make our subsequent land journey to Sundsvall much easier.
And so we sailed to Aasla. We had the misfortune to be attacked by strange unknown sea beasts no less than three times but every time our magic was moe than sufficient to defend our lives and the ship. Just when I was beginning to become accustomed to sea travel there was a violent storm. Raima claimed to have seen a giant risen from the depths and seemingly taking pleasure in the rain and lightning. I will not say she lied or was mistaken but she had been drinking and no one else had seen it. In any case the storm passed and so did the voyage. Eventually we arrived in Aasla.
Aasla to Sundsvall
Aasla was just as overwhelming as Thyatis had been. At first the many colours of the buildings was bewildering but we came to realise that often the colour of a building indicated its purpose so one could easily tell public from private and tavern from art gallery. We allowed ourselves some time to explore the city before examining our options for travelling to the Alphatian capital. We soon learned that it was at least a week's ride to Sundsvall and that the main route would take us over a mountain range. This did not appeal to any of us so we began to look for other means of travel. We discovered the existence of an incredible transport network using wormholes to connect the major cities of the empire through the medium of the Astral Plane. Naturally, we were excited by such a tremendous feat of magical engineering. Raima wondered aloud what the Movers' Guild in Glantri would pay for information on these wormholes and Mercaturius approved of her curiosity. It transpired that travelling through this network we could be in the Imperial capital in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, we also learned that the means of travel through the Astral was to ride inside a living creature - a giant worm of sorts but one capable of moving at incredible speeds through other planes. Furthermore, the price of using these worms was high and we lacked the protective charms used by Alphatians when entering the creatures. The wormholes themselves could sometimes be hazardous (although not so dangerous to use as they are now). It was clear we would have to find another means of getting to Sundsvall. Once again Felix Mercaturius had an opinion on the subject. He suggested that there might be ship we could charter but I said we had all had our fill of the sea. He however had been referring to a flying ship and Benoit decided his was worth considering. In the end it proved fairly easy to find a flying vessel to take us to Sundsvall. Both cargo and passenger ships flew between the cities on a regular basis and so that is how we departed Aasla.
Before we left, Felix gave Raima a piece of jewellery for good luck. It was a silver bracelet with a simple crescent moon charm dangling from it. He then wished us well and warned us to stay away from Alphatian clerics - an unnecessary warning as we would hardly seek the company of such individuals. Out of curiosity, Elyth determined to divine whether the bracelet given to Raima had any magic about it and indeed it was enchanted but we were unable to determine the purpose of the magic and decided it was most probably simply protective in nature.
Our ship flew several thousand feet above the lands below and so we passed with ease over field and water, over hill and mountain. At one point we passed above a vast stretch of dark, ominous looking territory full of murky water and rotting vegetation - The Haunted Marshes of Haven, a great blot on the kingdom's otherwise perfect landscape. The crew were constantly alert during this stretch of the journey for a number of black dragons were known to dwell within this swamp and some of the bolder ones had attacked Alphatian ships in the past. No dragon attacked us however. The ship was not especially fast but the experience was certainly interesting and in a little under a week we had completed the journey and landed in Sundsvall.
Sundsvall & The Death of General Torenal
Sundsvall seen from the air resembles nothing so much as a gargantuan spider's web. The Imperial Palace squats at the centre and eight great roads radiate from it to the city walls with thousands of smaller streets connecting them. It is a vast city - perhaps even larger than Thyatis; I do not know. In the centre, behind the palace is the Aerodome - a great port and shipyard for the Alphatian Air-Ships. This was where we landed - just one amongst dozens of flying vessels. We were in awe of what we saw around us. I will not try to explain to you what it is like to see Sundsvall for the first time. You will see for yourselves soon enough.
Once we had found our way out of the Aerodome we began to search for an inn. We made the mistake of departing from one of the main roads and became hopelessly lost in the chaotic twist and turn of the city's alleys. Around every corner was some incredible and unexpected sight - fantastic structures, towering above us, blocking out the sun in places and proclaiming the power of the Alphatians. It took us nearly an hour to find our way back to a familiar street and from there locate an inn.
Once we had settled into our rooms Benoit decided that we should waste no further time but rather should head for the palace and make ourselves known to the Empress. We were not all pleased with his decision - it had been a long journey after all - but Benoit was determined. And so we approached the great 60' walls that enclose the palace complex and presented ourselves to the guards. We were questioned extensively but eventually admitted to the complex - a town in its own right - and conducted to the palace past a landing field for air-ships and flying beasts.
We were escorted through ornate vaulted hallways to a waiting chamber and left to await a summons to the throne room. It was not long before General Torenal came to inspect those who sought an audience with his Empress. He was an exceptionally tall man with pale skin and dark hair like the Alphatians of Blackhill. He wore his military uniform with obvious pride and, as I have already said, spoke courteously and intelligently - for a common warrior. He asked about our journey, the purpose of our visit and how we were finding Sundsvall. He mentioned that he was planning a trip of his own - to Norwold. The civil unrest there had been growing steadily worse over the last few years and the Empress had been advised that it could cause problems for the Empire in the future if King Ericall was not able to exert control. As Ericall was his son, Torenal felt he should be the one to remind the king of what Eriadna required of him. It was after these pleasantries that he regretfully informed us that the Empress would not be able to grant us an audience that day and that we should return on the morrow. We therefore took our leave, returned to our inn, were all overcome with weariness and fell asleep. When we awoke we were in a spell damaged tenement, feeling like we had been drinking for a week and surrounded by agents of the Empress. Within minutes we were stripped of our belongings and on our way to the Imperial dungeons. A few hours later e were subjected to the Alphatians' investigative techniques and charged with the murder of Torenal.
We were confined to the deepest cells in the Imperial dungeon pending further investigation by the Alphatian authorities. However, it was made clear to us by our sadistic gaolers that Eriadna was not interested in the investigations. She had decided we were guilty of Torenal's murder and we were to be executed. We were chained, gagged, starved, kept in darkness, deprived of sleep and beaten every few hours. Our only hope came from the visit of a strange woman - Galatia Allatrian. She was accompanied by obviously nervous guards. She told us that we were to be executed within a few days but that there was powerful individual who did not wish to see this happen. This individual had persuaded Galatia that Eriadna's plans for us were unjust. Before you ask, we never learned nor gained any clue as to the identity of this individual she spoke of. Galatia carried a small sack containing a few of our magic items she had managed to obtain - daggers, potions, wands, rings, scrolls and the strange bracelet given to Raima. Raima, who had managed over the course of several days to escape her chains with the aid of a pick she had somehow kept concealed about her person, snatched the charm and put it on. She had the look of one who has been long separated from something they love. Galatia had also brought us the key to our cell. This and the other items were hidden behind the slop bucket, which had never been emptied, for Galatia warned us escape would not be possible just yet and we were to wait for a sign. She also warned us not to try to teleport before we were out of the lower levels. She gave us a plan of the upper levels of the dungeon and indicated the exit we should make for. Unfortunately, she had been unable to come by any reliable plans for the lower levels and she herself would be lost without a guide - we would have to rely on our own wits.
The day of our execution came and with but a few hours left to us the relentless taunting of the guards suddenly ceased and a light appeared outside our cell area. Raima slipped out of her chains and within minutes had picked the locks to all our manacles. We gathered what items we had, unlocked our cell and found a lit lantern in the passage beyond. There was no sign of any guards but we saw a lone figure in the shadows. The figure nodded and then disappeared. We began our escape. The passageways were confusing and I am convinced the walls must have shifted. It was not long before we encountered our first guardian - an obsidian golem that demanded a password we did not have. We were able to destroy it easily enough but the alarm was raised and soon other things were hunting us down – hellhounds, amber golems and invisible stalkers. At one point we came across what we thought was a band of hobgoblins but they turned out to be thouls. Three of us were paralyzed and Hagat was badly wounded but his great strength prevented him from being paralyzed and he managed to wrestle a sword away from one of the monsters and properly armed at last made short work of the rest - he is not an educated man but he is useful on occasion and very loyal.
In fairness I must say that the success of our escape was largely due to Raima - she spotted every trap and no matter how complex managed to disarm it using only what tools she managed to improvise. She moved without any sound and when we had to fight she would seemingly disappear only to reappear behind an opponent with a blade in her hand. However, I remember there being something strange about her - a change in her demeanour. At the time I assumed it was the result of our captivity and torture but now I am not so sure.
We made our way up and eventually the dark, impossibly confusing passages became more regular and were lit by torches. We had made it to the upper levels but our magic was almost exhausted and surely the whole palace would be aware of our escape attempt by now. At this point Liborio treacherously abandoned us by teleporting away - he was the only one of us at that time with knowledge of the spell. We expected to be discovered and stopped at any time but we encountered surprisingly little resistance and with the plans provided to us by Galatia were soon at an exit that left us outside the main palace structure. She was waiting for us with details of a safehouse where we would find our spellbooks and be able to gather our strength before fleeing the city.
I believe that brings me to the end of the tale you wished to hear.
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