The day had finally arrived for meeting Kellor at the Bazaar, and as the hours dragged slowly towards the Hour of the Lizard, it became harder and harder for Prospero or his apprentice to concentrate on their studies. Pox, the hobgoblin librarian, had glared at them occasionally over the tops of her glasses when their discussions about the possible meanings had gotten louder than should be allowed in a study hall. That stern look was enough to send the conversation back to muted tones more appropriate to the studying they were supposed to be doing for their trip through the Conundrum. At last, the time came for them to make their way to the Bazaar to meet with Kellor, and with their bodyguard and familiar in tow, the pair made their way towards the merchant stalls. As the party drew near to the shopping district, four guards wearing the livery of the city galloped by on horseback towards the heart of the Bazaar, crying “Make way, make way,” and almost running some of the pedestrians in the street down in their haste.
“I wonder where they are going in such a hurry,” asked Prospero of no one particular as they continued on their way.
Within a few minutes, the party stood outside the door of the shop of Conril, purveyor of fine staves. Prospero opened the door to the shop and strode purposefully in, looking at the staffs lined up around the wall. “Good day to ye, sir,” said the dwarf behind the counter with a smile, “Looking for anything particular, or just here to see my selection, which is, of course, the finest to be had in Emancia?”
“Are all of your staffs enchanted, or do you sell normal ones as well?” asked Prospero.
“If you tell me what you’re looking fer, I can probably find it fer ye, within reason, of course. As they say, the impossible takes a little longer,” said the dwarf with a chuckle.
Prospero looked up from the intricate design on the staff he had picked up from its resting place on the wall. “I’d really be interested in something fairly simple, a normal staff, capped with rune metal. Darkness runes would be best, if you can find them.”
“Hmmm,” said the dwarf thoughtfully, stroking his beard, “Rune staff, ye say. I think I know just the thing for ye, take me a day or so to lay my hands on it.”
“What price would you be looking for?” asked Prospero.
“Well, I’ve got to see what it is I can find, ye see,” began the dwarf, “but I think I can find ye something in the neighborhood of about…ummm, say, four hundred and fifty silver talons,” said the dwarf, eyeing Prospero for his reaction.
“That should be acceptable,” said Prospero, “By the way, I was supposed to meet a friend here, by the name of Kellor, you wouldn’t have seen him by any chance? He’s actually late for our meeting.”
At the mention of Kellor’s name, the dwarf visibly started. “Kellor, ye say? Funny ye should mention him, there was a ruckus just outside me shop on the street, and some of the city guard were hauling off none other than yer Kellor. Right outside me shop! What’s an honest shopkeeper to do with goings on like that happening outside me establishment?”
“The city guard arrested him? Did they say what for? Were you sure they were the city guard?” asked Prospero.
“Well, they were wearing the livery of the guard sure enough; said something about arresting him for high crimes of some kind, with him protesting the whole way, swearing to them four guards that he had nothing to do with anything,” the dwarf peered at Prospero intently, “Here, yer not getting me tangled into some sort of mess, are ye? I’m not about to risk me livelihood fer a bunch of scallywags!”
“No, nothing illegal, but it is strange that Kellor was arrested,” said Prospero, “We’ll be back in a few days for the staff, thank you very much for your help.”
After leaving the shop, the party began the long walk home, speculating about the arrest of Kellor, and what it portended for their investigations, especially in light of the cryptic message he had sent Prospero. As they got closer to the Crystalline Bridge, the head of a nearby group of guardsmen began to look at Prospero intently as they party approached. As they began to pass the guards, the leader began to move towards them, “Excuse me, citizen, I’d like to have a word with you.”
Under normal circumstances, Prospero would be inclined to ignore the request, but the guards had moved out, and while not exactly surrounding them, they made it very clear that he was the one they were addressing. “Yes, how may I help you?” asked Prospero as pleasantly as he could.
Looking him up and down, the guard said, “Are you the apprentice of Master Balardus?” he asked gruffly.
“I am,” replied Prospero.
“I need to inform you, sir, that the use of offensive magics within the city limits is illegal, and is subject to a heavy fine or even arrest with hard labor,” replied the guard.
Prospero managed a shocked look, “Who would make such an accusation?”
“The merchants of Fleet Street made a report, and we’ve been briefed to keep an eye out for you,” said the guard.
“Nightshift, have we been on Fleet Street?” asked Prospero.
Looking puzzled, the troll answered, “Yeah, boss, that’s where we ran into those thugs the other day.”
“Fighting isn’t allowed…” began the guard.
Ellisandra stepped up, “Sir, my master, Prospero, has been out fighting wars against Chaos, and has only just returned from a campaign to take me as an apprentice, and help me to walk the Conundrum. Do you have to formalize this report, or is there something else we could do to take care of this. You know, for a veteran of the wars against Chaos?”
The guard looked at Ellisandra and stammered, “Well, ma’am, we all know someone who has fallen against the legions of Chaos. This war has left many an orphaned child or a wife without a husband…”
Seizing on the opening Ellisandra made, Prospero offered, “Then perhaps these gold coins could be used to ease the suffering of some of these citizens. I’m sure that someone such as yourself would have a far easier time getting this money to those who need it than I would.”
Taking the coins, the guard said, “I suppose that would be the right thing to do, especially if it was a matter of self defense. I’ll make the appropriate report this time, but rest assured, if I hear your name again, I’ll take a personal interest in bringing you to justice.”
The rest of the trip back was uneventful, and before long, Prospero and Ellisandra were back in the library. “Within the Conundrum, there will be four challenges,” said Prospero, “It will test your different spell abilities. I had to use earth manipulation, banish an undine, and do a hand to hand battle. There was something else, but for some reason, I can’t think of it right now. Too much else on my mind, I suppose.”
Ellisandra asked him, “I hear that you will find your familiar when you’re in the Conundrum.”
“That is correct,” said Prospero, “That’s how I met Grimclaw. He was there, and we’ve been companions ever since.”
While Ellisandra studied, Prospero wrote a quick note to Master Balardus and signed it with his arcane mark. He took the note to Pox, the librarian, who said she could get a courier for the note without any trouble. She gave Prospero, who she had known since he was a student in the university, a significant look and said, “You be careful with that girl, Prospero. She is very special to a lot of us here at the university. She’s more down to earth than a lot of the folks that come through. Really interested in helping where she can, and we’d be awfully upset if anything were to happen to her.”
About an hour after he sent the note, a courier arrived with a reply. The note read: “Kellor is being held in The Orb. After you finish your studies, go there, and see if you can speak to Kellor. I will be doing an investigation on my end as well to see what I can turn up.”
After a couple more hours of study, Prospero rounded up his apprentice, bodyguard and familiar, and headed across the Crystalline Bridge to The Orb, the notorious mages prison. About halfway across the bridge, two wizards stopped the party by blocking the bridge with their arms outstretched. They were joined by a third wizard who came up behind the party after they stopped. “You are in our way,” said Prospero, annoyed at the delay.
“No, you are in the way,” hissed one of the mages in front of him, “You will not find the ring of Velu”
As if that were a preordained signal, all three wizards cast a spell, and then immediately dove from the side of the bridge. Prospero had no time to try and see where they went, because he was confronted with the sight of an enormous spined demon standing in front of him where the wizards were seconds earlier. Behind the demon were four kushna devil dogs. A glance behind him told him that the magician there had not been idle either, as two dissolvers pulsated in a disgusting mass in the middle of the bridge. “Invokers,” said Prospero between clenched teeth, “the filth!”
Screaming began quickly, as students and teachers on their way to or from class saw the Chaos creatures in their midst. Grimclaw pounced on the spined demon, but wasn’t able to hit it as Prospero cast a banish spell that glanced harmlessly from the demon’s side. The demon flicked its tail into the air, sending a swarm of spines towards the party, but the swarm passed harmlessly by the group. One of the kushna and one of the dissolvers were quickly dispatched by some of the other mages on the bridge, although one of the dissolvers caught a student that ventured too close. The student’s clothing began to smolder and dissolve in the grip of the creature, and the pain was causing him to scream. One of the kushna behind the demon breathed out a cone of flame, immolating friend and foe alike. The screams of the demon and Ellisandra blended into one eerie sound as the flame seriously wounded them both. A second kushna joined its fire to the first, completely consuming the demon and wounding Grimclaw. Within moments, the battle was over, as the city guard, mages, and Prospero finished off the kushna and the last dissolver. The city guard asked questions about what happened as the injured were tended to by healers, and didn’t take long to assure everyone that it would only be a matter of time before the invokers would be caught.
A short while later, the party arrived at the prison, and after a physical search (to look for weapons) and a spiritual/magical search (to look for mind control or shapechange spells, common with assasins), Ellisandra and Prospero were led to Kellor’s cell on the holding level. “Kellor, eh,” said the guard as he took the pair to the cell, “Quite the troublemaker. Murdered the wife of one of the council wizards. Shameful business.”
Once at the cell, the guard moved away just far enough away that he didn’t have to listen to the visit, but could see if the pair tried to give the prisoner anything. “How’ve you been, Kellor,” began Prospero.
“These are strange times, what are you mixed up in? I have some important information for you, but now is not the place for it, too many ears,” said Kellor, casting a significant look towards the guard, “Come back tomorrow, they will have moved me downstairs, and the guards there are easier to bribe for privacy.”
Not much more was to be said, and after a few pleasantries and a short time catching up, it was time to leave the prison. After an uneventful night and trip back to the prison, Ellisandra and Prospero found themselves being led to the lower levels of the prison. They passed a containment field that had many Chaos creatures stalking inside, as well as chambers with magic dampening spells that contained magic items deemed too dangerous to be allowed outside and too difficult (or impossible) to destroy. Ellisandra slipped the guard a few silver talons after he opened the door to Kellor’s cell, and the guard moved away down the hall, presumably on a mission “to find the visitors something to drink.”
Prospero and Ellisandra entered the cell to find Kellor curled up in the fetal position. Turning him over, Ellisandra let out a gasp. The man who had been in fine health yesterday, had been beaten bloody. His face was swollen almost beyond recognition, and his right hand had been broken. Ellisandra began to use her skill as a healer to mend the wounds to the best of her ability, and as she did, Kellor’s broken mouth began to chant, “Prospero, Prospero, Prospero…I like the way that sounds. You are for the Ring, but when…when is a ring, not a ring?”
Ellisandra did the best she could with her healing, but nothing she could do would touch the unhinged mind of the creature that used to be Kellor. The guard returned a few minutes later with drinks. “Has Kellor had other visitors?” asked Ellisandra.
The guard consulted his log book. “Nope, no other visitors, why do you ask?”
“Because he’s been beaten within an inch of his life, that’s why,” replied Ellisandra.
“What?” asked the guard, “Come here, Frierson, they say Kellor’s been beaten.”
The guards seem genuinely puzzled as to the condition of their charge, and had the medic on call for the prison come downstairs to look at Kellor. After a thorough examination, the medic says, “I can’t do anything more for him than the young lady has done. I’ll file my report, but I can’t tell you more than what you already know. He’s been beaten by person/persons unknown. Only time will tell if his mind will return.”
As they exited the prison, a student was waiting, “Prospero? I have a message for you”.
Prospero took the message and handed the student a few coppers for his trouble. The message was short, “I hope that I have caught you before you leave the prison, come see me in my laboratory when you are done there.”
A short while later, Ellisandra and Prospero stood in the laboratory of Master Balardus. Balardus’ penchant for familiars was well known, and the lab swarmed with creatures, flying, slithering, or scuttling around the room until they got used to the visitors. Prospero told Balardus of their findings so far and about the beating that Kellor had been given. “This is troubling,” said Master Balardus, “Framing someone isn’t really unusual, but it’s something that is usually cleared up in a few days and is merely an inconvienience. However, it would take a special hand to deliver a beating like that in prison. The invokers involvement is also a puzzle, and one that does not bode well for us. Anything that can reach him in a mage’s prison must be a powerful force indeed.”
Master Balardus handed Prospero a key, “This is the key to Kellor’s room. I’d like you to go there and see if you can find any clues as to what is going on, or to the warning he was going to give you.”
“Certainly, master,” replied Prospero, putting the key in his pouch and removing three potions, “I wonder if I could trouble you to identify these potions I found on our travels?”
“I can,” replied Master Balardus, “It will take some time and research, though. Go ahead and find out what you can in Kellor’s room, I’ll let you know once I know what they are. Also, when you are done with Kellor’s room, take your apprentice to the House of Tamlin, she needs to choose a familiar.”
The Ellisandra and Prospero arrived at Kellor’s room, and as Prospero headed towards the door, a voice called out to him, “You’re not Kellor.”
Somewhat taken aback, Prospero looked for the source of the voice, and soon realized the lock on the door had spoken to him. “No, I’m not Kellor,” he said.
“Do you have the key,” asked the lock.
“I do,” replied Prospero, holding up the key in his hand.
“Did you take it by force?” asked the door.
“No,” replied Prospero, and he put the key in the lock and opened the door.
Kellor’s rooms consisted of an entry/living room, and a study/bedroom in the back. The entry room was virtually bare, except for a couch, a couple of chairs and a small table in the middle of the room. The bedroom was much more populated, with shelves full of books, a small bed that had not been made, and a cluttered desk with items stacked all over it. The things that stood out the most on the desk, however, were an open journal, a mummified hand, a severed head, and a box containing a beating heart. Ellisandra and Prospero began looking through the room, and as she looked at the shelves with the books, he flipped through the journal. Prospero exclaimed involuntarily as the mummified hand flew up from the desk, touched him on the shoulder, and then fell back to the desk, writhing momentarily, then becoming still again.
When she heard the noise of the hand hitting the desk, Ellisandra looked at it, “That’s a Hand of Glory. They are very dangerous, and they have recently become a fad to have here in Emancia.”
“They have, eh?” said Prospero, “How do you keep them from harming you?”
“From what I’ve heard, you have to kill the mage who created it,” said Ellisandra.
Everytime Prospero touched something different on the desk, the hand would leap up at him, touching him briefly, then falling to the desk. Suddenly, the beating heart began to beat faster and louder, and with a sigh, Ellisandra passed out, falling heavily to the floor. Prospero shook her awake, and continued to check the room. Ellisandra stood, and began moving the books on the shelf, and the hand leapt across the room, touching her, and then flying back to the desk. Prospero opened a clothes hamper, and the hand jumped across and touched him. He said, “This thing is getting really annoying. Reminds me of the time where we came across a giant spider and found a bandit leader glued to the wall.”
The hand leapt at him again, and he swung his staff in an attempt to knock it into the chest. “Apprentice,” said Prospero in an exasperated tone, “come here, and when I knock this hand into the chest, you slam the lid shut on it.”
Prospero touched the chest again, and as the hand flew towards him, he batted at it with his staff knocking it into the chest. Ellisandra slammed the chest shut with a grin, and they slid a piece of metal through the clasp as the hand battered against the top of the chest trying to escape. With the hand no longer a problem, Prospero touched the severed head with the tip of his staff. The head rolled over to come to rest on its neck, the eyes opened and looked at Prospero. The blue lips moved and the head said, “Good morning…You’re not Kellor! I’m Trell, Kellor’s roommate, who are you and what are you doing in our room?”
“We’re friend’s of Kellor’s, he sent us here to pick some things up,” replied Prospero.
“Really, friend’s of Kellor’s, you say? I’ve never seen you before. What’s your name anyhow?” asked Trell.
“I’m not sure I want to give my name to a severed head,” said Prospero.
“Severed head? Where?” said Trell as his head swiveled slowly on the desk.
After a few minutes, Prospero realized two things, the head didn’t realize it was just a head and not Kellor’s roommate, and that he would get no further unless he gave the head his name. “My name is Prospero,” he said finally.
At the mention of Prospero’s name, Trell’s eyes rolled back in his head and said in Kellor’s voice, “Prospero, even methods such as this are not completely safe from your enemies, so I’ll have to trust that you will be able to figure the following riddles out.
What strength and force cannot get through,
I with a gentle touch can do,
and many in the street would stand
were I not a friend at hand.
What am I
No legs have I to dance.
No lungs have I to breathe.
No life have I to live or die.
And yet I do all three.
What am I?
I am what I am
but if you know what I am
I wouldn’t be what I am anymore
what am I?
It has no top or bottom
but it can hold flesh, bones and blood
all at the same time.
what am I?
Up a hill, Down a hill,
Over them I may roam,
But after all my walking,
There’s no place like my own
When is a ring not a ring”
The head then seemed to lose consciousness and toppled back over on the desk. “I think we’ve found out as much as we can here,” said Prospero.
The trip to the Bazaar was uneventful, and much less surprising than finding a talking head. It wasn’t long until Ellisandra’s haggling skills had gotten the party the troll’s rune staff and a pair of daggers for her as well as a stack of potions for a very reasonable price. While Ellisandra was browsing the wonderful menagerie located in the House of Tamlin, trying to find her familiar, a page approached Prospero with another note from his master. “Kellor is gone, meet me at the prison in the morning.”
The party entered The Orb after passing another uneventful night. They were led to Kellor’s cell, where Master Balardus stood talking to the head of the prison. Prospero looked into the cell, and saw Kellor’s clothes, laying there as if he had been teleported out of them, but that was not the most unusual thing. That honor belonged to the writing in charcoal that covered all the walls of his cell. “When is a ring not a ring.”
“Prospero,” said Master Balardus, “Danger is closing around you like a hangman’s noose – I can feel it. You must stay alert to stay alive; skip class tomorrow and study in the mage’s guild library. See if you can find more clues there.”