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The Alphatian Mainland

Arrival in Goltar

The journey from the northern tip of the Isle of Dawn proved uneventful, the leagues passing quickly as the Sapphire Spirit sped onward under winds which were favourable even without magical bolstering from the captain who remained confined below deck. Lana and Karnus spent the remainder of their time aboard in the company of the adventuring party from the Pearl Islands, listening with interest to their tales of years' worth of adventures travelling from their homeland to the Isle of Dawn, then from one end of that enormous landmass to the other. Why the 'Isle' wasn’t considered a continent in its own right, Lana had no idea.

On the morning of 23 Yarthmont 1006 AC a cry rose from the crow's nest, alerting those below to the appearance of land on the eastern horizon. Closer to noon that day, the Spirit found itself entering the mouth of a wide river as the crew brought the ship into the port of Goltar, where the sun glittered on the surface of unusually clear waters. The buildings making up the medium-sized town were a world apart from the sprawling, ramshackle dwellings of Helskir – mostly white stone and spaced at regular intervals from one another. The style brought West Portage to mind, Karnus said, and the party of Pearl Islanders agreed. Here and there a tower could be seen rising out of the rooftops, slender and graceful, not like the solid style of Thyatian fortifications.

Teldon observed that the majority of vessels within the busy port were small sailing boats, suitably only for plying the coast rather than venturing onto the open sea. A number of fair-haired and fair-skinned men could be seen labouring on the docks, evidently slaves going by their basic attire (short sleeved tunics) and bare feet. A man atop a raised platform in a long, patterned robe kept a watchful eye on the labourers, his impassive features perhaps belying a stern demeanour.

As the crew of the Spirit secured the ship, the Nuari party took their leave and departed, leaving the Karameikans to consider what would be their first port of call. All agreed Captain Arcan should be their foremost concern – Teldon spoke with several people in the street and was told of two Immortals who were represented in the town – these being Koryis and Asterius. Not being familiar with the former, it was decided that the Patron of Merchants and Travellers would be most fitting to deliver Arcan from his affliction. Teldon obtained directions and led his younger companions away from the harbour along a wide street lined with shops and inns. One such establishment, Teldon informed the others from spying a sign, was "Luzadaror's Trail Maps". The three decided they would return once they secured aid for the Captain.

The rogue adept... aid for the Captain

After a while the trio located a modest single story building they would have missed had their directions not been sufficiently specific - no larger than any of the private dwellings they had passed, a crescent moon was engraved into the stone above the doors of the Temple. To all three's surprise the doors were shut. They turned out to be unsecured therefore the three entered, finding a modest shrine inside but no signs of life. Calling out, there was no response. A small room behind the altar was checked, sleeping quarters it appeared, equipped with candles and incense and other clerical paraphernalia. At a loss as to what to do next, the three exited and bumped into a woman in orange robes who was passing by. Teldon addressed the woman politely and she stopped. Teldon conveyed the woman's curious response to his companions – she did not know where the cleric of the Temple was, but was not surprised the place seemed so neglected. "It's a temple of Asterius," she was quoted as saying. "Not even the merchants really care for them any more. Not since Aasla." The woman had declined to expand on her comments, and carried on her way after providing Teldon with directions to the town authorities.

Just then, a young man in a violet robe bustled round the corner, seeming surprised to see three wizards standing outside the Temple. Teldon spoke with the youth, who it seemed was willing to converse in Thyatian. The youth introduced himself as Sarazyl, and invited the three to wait inside the shrine until the Elder of the Church arrived. He enquired about the trio’s reason for travelling, their intended destination and how they planned to travel. Lana gabbled freely with the young man, going as far as to take out her flying carpet for the youth to inspect. Sarazyl nodded approvingly, answering questions about the Empress and the road ahead while going about the process of blessing the carpet in the name of Asterius. Suddenly however a look of alarm crossed Sarazyl's face; he excused himself and exited in the direction of the sleeping cell, claiming he was going in search of refreshments. Long moments passed and the youth did not return. With growing paranoia, Karnus approached the small room and looked inside – it was entirely empty.

There came a rattling of keys at the front doors, which swung apart to reveal a middle-aged man staring in confusion at the lock. As he laughed and approached, staggering slightly, the odour of wine emanated from his clerical robe. Upon asking whether the adept Sarazyl had summoned him he replied that he had no adept, nor were there any Elders, only he as the sole Temple priest. The party had been duped! Karnus reached for his crystal ball and summoned a vision of Sarazyl who appeared seated at a desk, scribbling furiously with a quill on parchment. Evidently he was compiling a report... but for whom?

Kicking themselves, Lana especially for having spoken candidly to a stranger, the wizards focused on the task in hand – reversing Arcan's curse. The priest of Asterius agreed to lift the curse in exchange for remuneration. The four therefore returned to the dock, witnessing the arrival of a small gnomish craft en route, then the cleric set about reversing the Curse. After returning the Captain from cat form, Condric Arcan's human appearance was frightening to behold – utterly deformed across one side of his body. The cleric of Asterius was appalled, declaring the effects of the curse to be one of the darkest and most evil enchantments he had ever witnessed. After a moment of prayer the Captain's body was bathed in golden light and slowly returned to its former, healthy state. Coiling black smoke was seen escaping the man's mouth – the curse had been lifted.

The Quest spell remained, compelling Arcan to sail for Minrothad, and to purchase its release a further payment to the Church of Asterius would be due. The Quest and its resultant Curse were two separate manifestations of dark magic, and would have to be dealt with separately. The party held the magical axe they had taken from the barbarian aboard the undead longship – Arcan would be best placed to fetch a fair price for such an item, the proceeds going to Asterius' donation box.

The party asked the priest whether he was familiar with the symbol of the Immortal whose dark power had indisposed their captain – the half white, half black skull. The cleric professed that he did not, though he knew of many dark cults such as those on the Isle of Dawn's Great Escarpment and among the northern barbarian tribes, that adopted a skull as part of their symbol. The names of certain Immortals were put forward – among them Thanatos, Alphaks the Destroyer and Nyx – all of whom made use of the skull or similar imagery, yet none seemed to fit the known characteristics of the mysterious Dark Queen.

Obfuscation and implication...

The cleric went on to describe the rapid expansion of Asterius' faith through recent years, this having continued until Temples of Asterius had been burned throughout Alphatia. Blame had been levelled at Glantrian elves belonging to the Erewan clan, though Lana had spent time among the Erewani and knew them to be peaceful beings, who would be affronted by the misuse of fire in particular. Asterius himself, the cleric remarked, had appeared in visions informing his faithful that the elves were not to blame for the series of disasters. The clerics petitioned the Alphatian authorities to release the captives however their pleas counted little to Empress Eriadna who appeared hellbent on obtaining vengeance for what seemed to have been the contrived assassination of General Torenal. She simply would not believe the Glantrians were innocent. Sentence was passed however prior to execution the elves managed to make their escape. Through whatever events followed the most beautiful city in the world – Aasla – burned in their wake. The followers of Asterius were perceived as having allied themselves with the Glantrians, and fell from grace in the eyes of the Alphatian folk. Who knew how long things would stay that way, it would most likely be decades yet before common folk forgot, longer still for wizards to do so.

Stopping by Luzarador's Trail Maps before finding on a suitable inn, the party ordered food and set about considering the best road to take to Sundsvall. The capital city lay almost due east through two full kingdoms - Haven and Vertiloch. Despite the convenience of the carpet meaning it would be just as quick to depart from roads, the three did not wish to risk getting lost in a foreign land where they knew pursuers could be lying in wait. They therefore agreed to stay to main trails, and would head through the string of villages and towns leading roughly south-east to the once-great city of Aasla before proceeding to Dovir, home of the Queen of Haven herself. All three wizards acknowledged that to stop by Aasla meant they would follow an indirect route to Sundsvall, but having heard so many tales and out of morbid curiosity if nothing more they wished to look upon the ruination with their own eyes.

Accidental faux-pas, disaster averted

Lana thought to speak with a young woman sharing their table, and inadvertently caused offence when commenting in Thyatian on the inn's fare. After a reconciliatory intervention from Teldon the two resumed their discussion in a friendly manner, this time in the Elvish tongue, and the woman introduced herself as Hanaply, apprentice to a local mage who was here in Goltar to petition the local ruler Gerethar on behalf of her mistress. Audience would be sought tomorrow. Hanaply spoke of Gerethar as a strict but fair master, one of the Thousand Wizards of the Alphatian Council and therefore of ultimate power rank.

Awaking the next morning, a light breakfast (all Alphatian fare seemed to be light, at least as consumed by the more well-to-do folk) was consumed then the three made for the Tower of Gerethar, its administration building identifiable by a large red door. Entering, a servant led the party to a waiting area where Hanaply and Condric Arcan were present. Hanaply greeted the trio before entering for her audience with Gerethar. The Captain who now appeared the picture of health despite his continuing inclination to return home as soon as possible (the Quest remained in effect) mentioned having made enquiries about Gerethar – the wizard was reputed to follow the Minrothad Tutorial Guild's example by regulating local trade in commodities such as magical items and components – all of which dealings required to be carried out through Gerethar and his agents. Arcan was keen to establish friendly contact with Gerethar before setting sail back to Minrothad.

The party's turn came, and they were led into a small room where not Gerethar but a young woman in a multi-hued robe was waiting. Looking through a window from her writing desk, the woman's brow furrowed for a moment and clouds outside were seen to race across the sky to be replaced by bright sunshine. Satisfied, the woman returned her attention to the newcomers, informing Teldon that Gerethar had little need to meet with the Karameikans however she would inform her master of their details and the nature of their mission. A meeting with the authorities in Dovir would be more worthwhile.

The Army of Haven

Leaving the complex feeling less than satisfied, the three's attention was attracted by the blaring of a horn, then the beating of many drums. Some public spectacle was about to take place nearby. Following the sounds, the three made their way to the market square where a miniature army had assembled – men and woman were proceeding in columns in brightly coloured regalia and bearing an assortment of weaponry and musical instruments. A great many individuals were twirling staves and throwing batons in the air, rhythmically in time with music and drumbeats much to the applause and cheers of the onlooking townsfolk. The whole assembly appeared to be moving as one grand choreographed routine, culminating as a single green-cloaked woman levitated into the air bearing an expanse of cloth which she threw apart to reveal three designs: the Thyatian Eagle, the Thirteen Hourglasses of Glantri and the Black Lion Rampant. The hundreds of men and woman below began to chant, each creating a coloured missile of magic which shot forth to obliterate the enemy flags in a rainbow display of force. The crowd went wild with enthusiasm as Karnus, Lana and Teldon stared dully. The whole spectacle, at least from their perspective as outsiders, appeared over-the-top and unnecessarily theatrical.

Deciding to leave Goltar, a broad trail led south-east and it was this path the three wizards chose to follow on their carpet. Pastures filled with grazing livestock lined the road, with patches of woodland becoming less and less frequent the further from Goltar they travelled. Several camps were passed too, each comprising hundreds of men and woman – evidently army troops, greater in number than those seen in Goltar itself but fewer in robes. Instead, the midday sun gleamed on armour and weapons as these troops lounged idly in the lush green grass, seemingly at a loss for something to do.

Druzdum's Homestead

Toward late afternoon the three decided to stretch their legs and alighted for a while, spying a village ahead – Nitry, they would learn. There came a commotion as a bull appeared to have escaped from a group of nearby peasants. Karnus reacted instantly, intoning a spell before the surrounding landscape shifted to form a chasm around the raging beast. It ceased at once, confronted by towering walls on all sides with nowhere to go. Only a small gap remained in the quarry and as the beast lurched it fell to one side, allowing the men it had escaped from to draw near and subdue the animal. They turned, bowing toward the wizards and Teldon spoke briefly with one of their number, a man named Druzdum who invited the three to spend the night at his homestead nearby. The offer was accepted and the wizards enjoyed modest hospitality that night, regaled with tales by the man and his family (one of whom a budding artist, but whose talent had no basis in magic therefore was unlikely to prosper in a land such as Alphatia). It transpired Druzdum had many years ago purchased his farm and a small plot of land from a powerful local wizard and landowner named Myskuramis, whose tower was a few miles to the south. Druzdum could not take his eyes from Karnus' staff as he spoke of Myskuramis, and suggested that the party might find it worthwhile to pay Myskuramis a visit. The wizard's symbol was the jackal head – the same sigil that adorned the headpiece of the Staff of Hutaaka. Unnerved but with a sense of anticipation, Karnus took his companions' views and it was decided out of fascination if nothing more that they would look into this seeming coincidence.

Departing Druzdum's homestead the next day, after gifting the family a small coin which had enchanted to emit a constant radiance, the three resumed their places aboard the carpet and headed south in search of Myskuramis' home. The ground rose on a gentle incline for the first few miles, then sloped downward the further they travelled on. After not long the landscape altered drastically – turning from lush pasture to arid desert, great hills of sand interspersed with rock. Soon a structure came into view – a huge and unmissable construction the like of which none of the three had ever seen.

The "Tower" of Myskuramis

Four triangular walls rose from a rectangular base, converging in a high central point. They were to learn the name attributed to this style of monument was a 'Pyramid'. The structure rose two hundred feet out of its arid surroundings, flanked by enormous statues which appeared to be Hutaakan priests, hands folded in the depths of their robes, in addition to a pair of mighty sphinxes at the end of a long causeway leading to presumeably the main entrance. Slaves wearing ragged attire were milling to and fro, several bearing water in buckets from an oasis the carpet had passed a short distance back. Lana willed the carpet to follow the causeway and their approach was unchallenged until the very entrance, where guards blocked their way with crossed spears. The eyes of the sphinx statues appeared to follow the wizards' approach, but nothing more sinister occurred. Teldon spoke briefly with the guards, directing the guards' attention to the headpiece of the staff Karnus bore, then moments later entry was permitted.

Inside was a long hallway, dimly lit by torches with further guards standing among shadows at the end. The walls were decorated with colourful frescos, seemingly depicting a narrative of some sort, ending with a group of wizards combining their magical abilities to create the immense structure. Back at the entrance, one of the guards struck a gong with his spear, the crash reverberating along the hall and causing a lone figure to emerge out of a room and come to meet the trio. The figure, a shortish bald-headed and barefoot man wearing a plain white tunic introduced himself as Erateh, personal scribe to Lord Myskuramis. The wizards were bid wait and enjoy refreshments while Myskramis finished other business; they did so in the presence of one of the wizard’s twelve apprentices and her adventuring colleagues. The female named Ilyrisel (with whom Lana was able to converse in Elvish, Shiye being the local dialect) hinted at her master’s power rank, revealing that Myskuramis had been offered a position among the Thousand Wizards but had declined. According to Ilyrisel the Pyramid structure had been inspired by ancient monuments of Thothian culture – such structures ordinarily being built as tombs for great kings. On hearing this, Teldon declared that he considered such a choice of dwelling somewhat morbid.

A man then entered, causing Ilyrisel and her friends to bow low and depart. He was slender and tall, standing over six and a half feet tall, dressed in a long, wide sleeved, blue silk robe trimmed with gold. His straight, shoulder length hair was a very dark reddish brown. He looked to be about forty. His thin face was angular, his almond eyes surrounded by black makeup that trailed away to the sides and his upper cheeks in thin, carefully drawn, spiraling lines. He had a neatly trimmed and oiled rectangular beard that protruded from his chin and he wore a simple gold chain around his neck and a scarab brooch on his chest. A faint smile played upon his thin lips, increasing as his wandering gaze fell upon the Staff of Hutaaka.

After introductions, Myskuramis professed that he had taken the jackel head as his personal sigil after noting the image throughout much of the ancient culture of the region of Thothia, on the Isle of Dawn. He was a scholar of that nation and its heritage intrigued him greatly. Karnus spoke of the Immortal named Pflarr, reputed to have created the mortal race known as the Hutaakans – despite long years of research Myskuramis was unfamiliar with the name of Pflarr, knowing only of a jackal-headed Immortal. Myskuramis thanked Karnus for the information he had imparted, and bid him speak more on the traces of Hutaakan culture, from his own homeland of Karameikos, which seemed to share a great deal with the culture of Thothia.

Karnus spoke at length on the matter, maintaining Myskuramis' interest throughout – the full text of Karnus' discourse can be viewed HERE. Needless to say, Erateh’s quill scratched furiously as the scribe struggled to record as much as he could.

"It seems to me," Myskuramis concluded, "that the question with which we are faced is this. What was the relationship of the Thothian's ancestors to your Hutaakan civilization? Which came first? We will not answer this question today but I now have renewed hope that I will succeed in my goal. I have learned much from you but I would learn more. And so my final question for you Karnus... What price for the Staff of Hutaaka? Thirty thousand gold Crowns? Forty thousand? I want that staff. Name your price."

Lana's eyes widened in what was probably visible shock, though she didn't care. The man was shamelessly audacious. If nothing more, the monetary amounts Myskuramis offered were paltry and would have afforded little more than a lesser wand in most magical markets of the Known World. Notwithstanding his position of immense magical might, Myskuramis could not surely imagine the Staff was available to him? Karnus' response was cool and controlled. He replied that part of his own lifeforce was caught up in the Staff, and that it could serve only him. With utmost tact, Karnus conveyed that in the event of his deceasing the Staff would return to its homeland or might disappear completely from time and space. Hearing this, Myskuramis' eyes narrowed with displeasure, as he appeared to accept that there was little prospect of the Staff becoming his. Karnus made a counter-proposal however – that he should act as Myskuramis' agent for research and information-gathering back in Karameikos. Myskuramis indicated that he would make such an arrangement worthwhile for Karnus, particularly since the ongoing war and his duties to the Empress meant he and his dozen apprentices were all prevented from leaving the Empire. However, there were two tests of divination he wished to perform on the Staff before he could be minded to enter such an arrangement. He outstretched his hand, expecting Karnus to pass over the item. At Karnus' side, Lana fought hard to keep her mouth shut, knowing this was her companion's decision. He surely knew what he was doing.

Myskuramis' slender fingers encircled the Staff as he intoned words of magic, his golden eyes rolling upward in their sockets as he entered deep concentration. Teldon deduced that this was a Lore spell, intended to give Myskuramis an indication of the Staff's abilities and command functions. For a long while no-one spoke, then Myskuramis returned the Staff to Karnus with a warning: the Staff's power had been expended greatly in recent times, leaving limited reserves. A way would need to be found to replenish those waning resources.

Sitting back in his chair, Myskuramis announced that he had a second test to perform. Without awaiting Karnus' consent he closed his eyes and intoned another spell. After only seconds he stopped abruptly and grew still. The Staff shook violently in Karnus' hand then broke free of his grasp, levitating into mid-air where it revolved slowly. The guests watched in a mixture of fascination and horror as the Staff's gemstone eyes turned from sapphire then with a swirl to gold... then the process reversed, reverting to blue. If anything the eyes glowed more brightly than before, almost with a certain ferocity.

Myskuramis' body jerked in his chair and his eyes snapped open. He rose gets to his feet, addressing Karnus. "There is indeed a portion of you within the staff Karnus. It is a tiny fraction of your Life Spark but it is enough to bind the staff to you as you have said. The staff seems to have a limited form of intelligence. It may even have a will of its own but that is very difficult to determine. Truly you have a unique treasure. Even this brief examination has been of great value to me and now I would reward you for all the new knowledge I have gained. So, what will it be ... how would you be rewarded?"

Lana's eyes narrowed suspiciously. To her mind, Myskuramis' offer of a reward followed the failed stunt a little too closely. Nevertheless, Myskuramis and Karnus left the hall together, conversing at length. The scribe Erateh indicated that he would arrange for books to be brought from Lord Myskuramis' personal library for Teldon and Lana to peruse while their companion was engaged. Teldon requested books relating to Empress Eriadna and the conquest of Thyatis. Lana selected tomes on the life of King Lucinius I, thinking the Alphatian perspective might be worth checking, and anything else regarding dragons. This prompted two titles to be made available to her: 'Lessons in Defeat' and 'The Magic of Dragons'. Lana made her way to a heap of comfortable looking cushions at one end of the room and settled with her selected titles beside her.

Reading time

All the books were written in Alphatian script therefore Lana invoked the incantation which by chance she had memorised that morning to allow her to read foreign languages if only for a short while. After what felt like no time, the enchantment wore off leaving Lana feeling frustrated. Bored, and concerned for Karnus at the same time, she brought out her crystal ball. Half-expecting the Pyramid's interior to be protected against scrying she was surprised when her companion's image came into view, seated at a table beside Myskuramis. Perplexed, Lana watched as Karnus reached behind his neck and removed a chain bearing two metallic discs. Karnus passed his hand over one, causing a sigil to illuminate brightly. For a second the disc and a book appeared to co-exist within the radiance, then the brightness cleared and only a book remained in the disc's place. Myskuramis nodded with approval as Karnus opened his spellbook at an empty page, lifted a quill and sat poised to write. Satisfied Karnus was safe, at least for the time being, Lana stuffed the crystal ball pack into its pouch on her belt and with nothing better to do settled among the cushions for a nap.

Time passed and Lana woke as Karnus rejoined his companions, seemingly unscathed, and gave a nod of satisfaction. Nothing more needed said – the time to leave had come. Before departing however, Lana expressed her disappointment that she had not been able to fully digest the contents of the tomes Myskramis had loaned to her. She asked Erateh whether the loan period might be extended – to enable the books to be borrowed from his Master's library and returned safely in the near future. Erateh himself was not in a position to grant such a request, but consulted his master and returned still carrying the books in question under his arm. To Lana's delight, her request had been granted.

Emerging out of the Pyramid it was early afternoon therefore several hours of daylight remained. The carpet was unfurled and the party travelled on...

Read the next instalment - The Road to Aasla

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