After the battle for the Thicket, Prospero and Arghmon departed with their masters to return to Emancia to walk the Conundrum. “As you know, Prospero, every time you walk the Conundrum, it changes you,” began Master Balardus, “It binds you to the magic of Shadora, makes you become closer to your apprentices, and increases your abilities to wield the magic. But it also reminds you just how infinitesimal you are in the scheme of things, and if you don’t respect it, it will destroy you and those around you. We will take the days of our travel to Thenga Velu to review your formal lessons, and ensure you are ready for the Conundrum.”
With that, Master Balardus launched into a series of questions and lessons, often making Prospero take time during “rest stops” to show him practical applications of spells. Sometimes the task was to widen the area of effect for a spell, and others to cast a spell through the tiniest of orifices to hit a target on the other side. Arghmon was being worked as hard as Prospero, possibly harder, because when they were pitted against each other for practice, Prospero won more often than not, breaking Arghmon’s defenses, and making Arghmon’s master work him even harder afterwards. Often times, getting back on the horse was more restful than the breaks had been, but once on horseback, there were quizzes on Journeyman lore, and even tips on how to use Grimclaw’s skills more efficiently. The trip was largely uneventful, as they were traveling with a full retinue of Nein centaur cavalry and a large portion of the force that had won the War of the Thicket (as many of them had started calling it when recalling past campaigns at the campfire before turning in at night). After twenty days had passed, the high walls of Thenga Velu came into view. As they made their way closer, it was apparent that the size of the walls gave a misperception as to how close they had been when they first saw the city. The walls surrounding it were over 100 meters high, and even above that massive height, the top of the Wizard Spire was visible, from where it sat on the mana nexus of Trade Island. The Nein said their farewells as the party reached the diamond gate at dusk. The masters led the procession through the town with no eye to the wondrous sights unfolding before them, but Prospero and Arghmon stared like country cousins on their first trip to the big city. Once they arrived at the Wizard Spire, the party was led into the Air wing of the spire, where they soon came to the Chamber of Motion. Within the Chamber, there was an ancient Journeyman arch, and the air hummed with the vibration of teleportation circles within the Hall of Homing surrounding the Chamber. The masters waved to the Chamberlain of the Circles as they entered the outbound queue for the arch, and as the party waited, whole platoons of soldiers marched into the arch, but didn’t come out the other side, as they were instantly teleported to where the operators of the arch sent them. In addition to soldiers, there were huge floating barges of cargo manipulated through the arch by air mages. The traffic was not one way, as new people and cargo came through the arch, with all of the transport being directed by the Chamberlain of Circles and his compatriots around Shadora through the use of arcane far speech transmission devices. Soon enough, it was the party’s turn to go through, and once they could see the image of the arch room in Liberty City, they stepped into the arch, and with a lurching feeling in their stomachs, the journey of over a thousand miles was done within an instant. “I’ll never get used to that,” muttered Prospero under his breath.
As the party stepped from the arch, they were reminded that the arch in Liberty City was built into the wall surrounding the city itself. It effectively sealed the most direct approach to the city off, because anyone trying to attack through it would find themselves transported to the other side of the world, or a battalion of soldiers from the other side of the world could be transported out to attack invaders with fresh troops from someplace that was not under siege. It was not just because the gate was made of black onyx that the enemies of Emancia had dubbed it the “Black Gate”.
Arghmon and his master make their farewells, and as they left the master could be heard telling Arghmon, “You simply must work harder, there is no excuse for sloppiness!”
With their departure, Master Balardus said, “Prospero, come. There is someone here you should meet”.
As they drew closer to the edge of the arrival area, Prospero’s attention was drawn to an enormous troll at the edge of the crowd, who was accompanied by a beautiful young woman who had a harp slung over her back. As they neared the unlikely duo, Master Balardus indicated the woman with the harp and said, “Prospero, please meet your apprentice, Ellisandra. She is a Spellsinger”.
The woman with the harp bowed to Prospero, then turned to Master Balardus, “I have secured a bodyguard, as you requested. He comes very highly recommended, and his name is Nightshift.”
Hearing his name, the troll nodded at the wizards, “I am mighty. I yearn for adventure!”
With the introductions concluded, the party headed from the arrivals courtyard to the city proper, where they were met by the city guard, who stopped them from going further. “Sorry gents, you’ll either have to leave the weapons here, or peace-bind them. No open blades or weapons beyond this point.”
After Master Balardus and Prospero bound their swords into their sheaths and the party headed into the city, Master Balardus told Prospero, “We have been unable to find any more information in regards to the ‘Ring of Velu’. Frankly, the archives are a mess, and have been for some time. The answer to the riddle of life is probably in there somewhere, but you’d never know, because some fool student will have covered it over with a scroll on how to make a love philter.” He sighed, then continued, “I recommend staying in The Dragonfly Inn, near the University Tower, there are libraries and such close by and it will be a good base for you. You need to be studying and practicing for entering the Conundrum, but I would also ask you to keep your eyes open for anything to do with the ‘Ring of Velu’. I will be headed to begin preparations for your walk, which should be in a tenday from now.”
Master Balardus then headed in the opposite direction of Prospero and his new apprentice and bodyguard. “I believe the Crystaline Bridge would be the fastest way to the Inn, master,” said Ellisandra. As they came through an alleyway that led to an open market area, the market stalls were being closed down for the night. However, as soon as the stall owners saw the party, they stopped what they were doing and left the area. Just as he was about to comment on the odd behavior, Prospero felt a shooting pain in the top of his head, as a tile from the roof above hit him. Prospero and Nightshift both scanned the area, but could find nothing of note. “It could have been dislodged by an animal or something like that,” said Prospero with a shrug. Moving into the square, three rough looking characters came from around the corner of a burned out building to their left. As soon as he saw them, Prospero cast Armor on himself. Smiling, the dirty faced thug who was obviously the leader said, “So, you’re this Prospero guy? You don’t look so tough to me.” He laughed, “Well, mister tough guy, I’ve got a message for you.”
Prospero said abruptly, “Then I suggest you deliver your message and be on your way before my patience runs out with you.”
The thug just laughed again, a harder, meaner sound this time, “Well, you see, the message I’ve got, it’s more of a physical message. You’ve been messing with things that you shouldn’t have been messing with, and we’re going to make sure you don’t mess anymore.”
At a silent command from his master, Grimclaw pounced forward, attacking the ruffian, who managed to jump back just out of reach. One of the men beside the leader swung down with his blade, catching Grimclaw with a glancing blow, stunning him briefly. “Behind us!” bellowed Nightshift, running to meet the three new ruffians who were trying to flank the party from behind.
Within moments, Nightshift was surrounded, and stunned. Ellisandra brought up her harp and began to play a mournful tune, but cried out in pain as the spell backlashed on her, almost causing her to drop her harp. The leader of the group rushed forward to attack Prospero, who cast Armor on his stunned apprentice, “I’d never hear the end of it if I lost my first apprentice before we even got to the inn,” thought Prospero as he cast the spell.
Ellisandra began to play the harp again, playing minor chords and singing in a key that made the listener feel very uncomfortable, and stunned the leader of the ruffians. Prospero cast a Bolt spell, and suddenly three bolts burst from his outstretched hand, killing the stunned leader and one of the men attacking Grimclaw instantly, and stunning one of the men that was attacking Nightshift. With two of the attackers dead, the remaining men kept casting glances towards the burned out building as they fought, as if they wanted to run away, but their fear of the thing in the building was greater than their fear of death at the hands of two enraged wizards and their troll bodyguard. Suddenly, the earth around Prospero and Ellisandra burst into licking green flames, stunning the young woman. Nightshift grabbed one of the ruffians, snatching him off his feet, and flung him into a nearby wall like a rag doll. As well as breaking most of the ruffian’s bones, the cutpurse’s skull was caved in when he hit and he came to rest in a heap next to the wall, dead. Roaring as he attempted to grab the last of his attackers, blasts came from Ellisandra’s casting of Bolt, but the bolts exploded harmlessly against the chests of the two remaining attackers. Moments later, the last of the attackers had been brought down by Nightshift and Grimclaw, and Grimclaw could smell the presence of something coming from within the burned out house. He rushed in, and leapt to the second floor, but the smell was suddenly stronger from the first floor. As he rushed back downstairs, the rest of the party entered, just as a door to the basement floor shut with a click. A search of the basement revealed nothing but a small broken window. Their quarry had escaped. “The smell still lingers,” Grimclaw told Prospero through their mental bond, “but whatever made it is no longer here, and I cannot tell where it went or what it was.”
Regrouping outside, Prospero felt something touch his mind, and a strange voice said, “Seek not the Ring of Velu.” As suddenly as it had appeared, the presence in his mind was gone.
Without further incident, the party made it to the Crystaline Bridge. It was completely transparent, giving off a faint glow, and lead to the entry hall of the University Tower. The tower itself held about three hundred practicing sorcerers, and some masters had laboratories or conducted studies there, but no one really lived in the tower. The party headed down the stairs to the lower level that would lead them to The Dragonfly Inn, and within a few minutes, they were standing outside a cozy inn with a board depicting a dragonfly resting on a leaf. The colors of the placard were so vivid that it appeared the large bug would take flight if they got too close. Once inside, they went to the front desk, and within moments, a man walked out of a back room. “Hello, my name is Ian, how can I help,” he paused briefly as he saw Ellisandra, “you.”
Ellisandra smiled at Ian, and he visibly brightened, “Ian, I hope you can help us. We need a suite for at least two weeks. Is there anything available?”
“Well, I’m afraid there’s no vacancy at the moment,” began Ian, “but I think I can work something out,” he followed up quickly when Ellisandra quit smiling and began to look sad.
“It’ll be four silver talons a week,” he followed up with a smile.
Ellisandra looked distraught. “Four silver talons a week, that’s an awful lot of money,” she said as she started to turn away.
“No,” said Ian as he did some quick math in his head to figure out how much he could afford to lose on the suite, “did I say four silver talons, what was I thinking, of course, it would be only two silver talons a week.”
Ellisandra’s smile as she turned back to him was like the sun coming through the clouds on a spring day, “Excellent, two silver talons would be fine.”
Ian gestured towards the common room and said, “Please make yourselves at home while I go ensure your suite is…made up.”
As the party entered the room, everyone noticed the troll first, but once Ellisandra walked in, no one paid attention to anything else. As they sat down at the table and waited for their meals, Prospero tried not to notice the commotion out by the desk as Ian showed a visibly irate couple of merchants out the front door. After their meal, some of the bolder souls in the common room asked Ellisandra to play her harp for them, and she pulled a stool to the middle of the room and began to play and sing. She played many of the songs that were well known in the region, and no matter what she played, the emotions of the crowd went with it. When she played a martial tune, all of the men felt as if they were ready to go off to war for their country, and when she played a lament, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. She finished her performance with a love song, and when she passed the hat afterwards, the generosity of the crowd had netted her two silver talons. One performance had gotten enough money for the party to stay at the inn for a week! When they left the common room, the good feelings from her last song had inspired one person to buy a round for the entire bar.
When they got to the front desk, Ian was waiting for them, “Lovely singing, m’lady,” he said to Ellisandra, then turned to Prospero and handed him an envelope, “This came for you while you were eating. Please, let me show you to your rooms.”
Once the party was settled in their rooms, Prospero cast a Detect Arcane spell on the letter. After determining that it was not apparently dangerous, he opened it, and found a note from an old school friend, Kellor. The note read, “You are in grave peril – Stay Alert. Meet me at the staff seller’s shop in the Bazaar two days hence, at the Hour of the Lizard.”
The two days of study and fruitless searching for references to the Ring of Velu seemed to pass very slowly, but it was soon time to head to the Bazaar…