Chapter 2, by Tom K. Loney
Cutter took a moment to look at the Citadel of
Tinkerology as they crossed over the ridge of the last hill of their
journey. Behind him the priest-warrior Nemo rode in silence as Sash the
Green and Mousehide carried on an argument that had started more than a
few leagues before. It was smaller than he expected. The warrior had
imagined a tall tower, at least as tall as the great redwood trees that
grew along the coasts of western Isun. He had pictured it to be an
off-white color that would gleam against the sun. Billowing clouds
would shift lazily in the background while its many banners flapped in
To be fair, the day was cloudy and there was no wind to
speak of. That still did not ease his sense of disappointment when he
saw a small village with well-established but un-stoned roads leading
out from its center, and the occasional two-to-three storied building
and supporting sheds built up along the dirt road. Here and there in
the distance, he could see taller and more oddly-shaped structures - an
oval, a pyramid, and a couple siege machine-looking things to name a
few - but no bastion of otherworldly meta-magical innovation.
"You happy to be in your homeland?" Sash the sorceress
stopped her bickering to poke fun at Nemo, her other favorite pastime,
it would seem.
"My home country is in Namar, wizard." Nemo replied
without turning. "I serve here. It's work. I am sure you've heard of a
"Reminds me of a shipyard that I saw in Amar once." Mousehide jumped in.
"Aye." Nemo nodded. "We build ships of our own here."
"You have to drag them overland, or do you teleport them
magically to their destinations?" Sash asked, actually not teasing in
Cutter noticed the holy warrior smiling at that. Nemo
kept his tone even and not sardonic, though. "Oh our ships carry
themselves where they need to go."
With that the religious soldier straightened his back, a
signal for his horse to begin to trot, moving to the head of the group.
"You'll understand more when we get to the main campus."
Cutter unconsciously held his horse back just a bit, to
allow their escort to take the lead. "Surely, a curious and interesting
day ahead for all of us." He said to no one in particular.
The wizards, both master and adept, were a pathetic lot to say the
least. As they began to ride from the trail onto one of the major roads
to the compound, Cutter noticed that there were no common folk around.
Instead, the spell-casters had to fend for themselves, often wearing
ill-fitting craftsman clothing, like a leather apron or a baker's
scarf, and going about their chores as just that, grungy work. Every
now and then, a fully robed wizard with a sense of importance about
himself or herself would appear to take in the newcomers, then get back
to whatever deep thinking the magus had been preoccupied with before,
suddenly worried about seeming to loaf while everyone else was working.
Just as Cutter began to be reminded of a farm, if still
a bigger farm than he had ever seen, Nemo spoke up. "This is our
argichemy area, where the Citadel focuses on food-growing and livestock
husbandry." He said, then pointed. "We're headed to the Stargazers'
manor, just down this road and up that hill."
On top of the hill that the paladin pointed to was one
of the strange structures that Cutter had noticed earlier. It could
have been a temple, as it was large, circular, and probably
three-stories high, made of marble, then it had a domed-roof, of
smoothed limestone with what appeared to be a rectangular opening
worked into the curve of it. Currently, the opening was closed with
ill-fitting wooden shutters, but it had to be a window. He figured it
must be a landing area for gargoyles or other flying magical creatures,
since Nemo had mentioned flying ships earlier.
Where do you tie the floating longboats?
The warrior almost asked, but decided it was better to keep his mouth
shut. He'd seen no signs of floating ships of what-has-one since they
had approached the Citadel of Tinkerology. There had to be something
more to what Nemo had said earlier.
"Not a decent tavern in the whole place, from what I can tell." Sash said loudly from behind him.
Nemo deigned not to answer. Cutter took a breath then
said, "I'm sure your bookish colleagues here have a Hole-in-the-Wall
somewhere to practice alchemy if nothing else."
Mousehide laughed, probably relieved at some revelry of
familiar voices in this rather strange place. "They have enough wheat
to brew beer for storm giants, I'm sure we'll find a beverage
With this round of comments, the group started to ascend the hill of the strangely domed building and the shacks around it.
Upon entering the Stargazers' manor through an
ivy-laden wooden gateway arch without any sort of fence or anything
else to mark its perimeter, a youngish wizard in neat, proper
sorcerer's robes looked up from his position at a watchtower to ring a
small iron bell. The repeated clanging brought a few more than a dozen
other robed wizards. Cutter noticed that there weren't many
craftsman-clad among them.
Ah the cream of the butter-churn, he thought to himself.
In the center of the reception committee was a tall
human wizard, rather robust in frame with more than a few scars across
his face. Most notably, he had a golden nose-piece, the sort of
prosthetic that warriors used after losing their nose in a fight. The
warrior couldn't help but be impressed by the man's not frowning, not
smiling reception of him, Sash, and Mousehide.
Beside the scarred wizard stood a dwarf dressed like an
iron smith. This one didn't carry himself like he had been slaving away
at mundane chores all day, though. He was a proud and knowledgeable
wizard, as comfortable in his soot and grime as most wizards are in
Typical dwarf, laughed Cutter to himself. Even the wizards are made of tin.
Coming up on the other side of the golden-nosed wizard
was a dark-skinned elf, probably from the plains of Sakharia by her
dress. She carried herself with the same purpose and privilege as the
One always needs an elf, Cutter thought.
Nemo brought his horse to a halt and casually handed its
reins to an unimpressive looking wizardling to his side. He nodded to
the golden-nosed one before beginning to dismount.
"Welcome, Captain of the Guard." Golden-nose said with a
return nod. "I see that you completed your assignment in a very timely
"My lord Coppernik," The warrior-priest made a salute by
touching his sword's hilt and pulling it to his side after dismounting.
"Here we have the esteemed and capable adventurers of great fame.
Culthwaite, the swordsman, who likes to be called 'Cutter.' Salisha the
indomitable Green Sorceress. And the ever even-keeled Mousehide, not
the Hidden Mouse, as we had heard from elsewhere, the arch-rogue of
Cutter almost was embarrassed by such a formal
introduction, then he met the golden-nosed gaze of Coppernik, who
seemed to know how he felt as he nodded to each of the adventurers to
say, "Pleased to meet you, masters. Let's move indoors. You must be
tired and hungry after your journey to our humble college."
The meal had been something of a celebration, or a flat
out bribe before the corrupting favor had been posed. Quail and roasted
pig, with all sorts of breadcrumb porridge with gravies, along with
brussels sprouts, and carrots. The cooks were not stingy with the
onions or garlic, either. Some sort of curry spice was thrown on top of
some egg-yielding chickens, which tasted a lot like snake to Cutter.
Dessert consisted of chicken egg custard sweetened with rhubarb or beet
and covered with caramelized cream, served with the thick hot coffee
the lands Isun and Namar were known for. The elf wizard from Sakharia
had introduced herself as Fye Thagarus, the Counting Sorceress, and had
reclined between Mousehide and Cutter on the plush pillows that lined
the food tables in the high-ceilinged feasting hall. Her perfume added
to the pleasure of the on-going meal for the two men. The hall's
luxurious trappings helped eased some of the tension for both the
swordsman and the rogue as they had expected austere settings, akin to
what one imagines for monks and such.
Sash, for all of her grumbling about the Wizards' Guild
and any wizards who formed citadels, was on her best behavior. She
hadn't made more than a snipe at any of the wizards, of whatever level
of experience, around her. Indeed she seemed rather impressed with
Coppernik and the dwarf, Arkimedes. She was sitting between the two, on
a chair, as she claimed that riding horses for more than a few days was
giving her back problems. It seemed the wizards of the Stargazers'
College were doing their best to impress with conversation as well as
"wine and dine" Cutter, Sash, and Mousehide. Nemo had made his way to
the dinner after tending to some security matter or other.
As it would happen, both Coppernik and Cutter had
campaigned in the last war between the Easterners of Pholus and the
Salimists of Sihlt-Awash some ten years before - on opposing sides.
Like true adventurers, however, neither harbored resentment towards the
other, nor the side which paid their salary. Instead, the two used
shared experiences with the climate and flora and fauna of the western
edges of the Graptak Expanse as a conversation piece for the dinner.
Both would bring up a certain hardship and look at the other with a wry
smile, which the other would immediately sigh or laugh about, bringing
on laughs for the larger group around them. Even when Coppernik talked
about the loss of his nose, by the misfire of something called a
"Death Spell Number Nine" by one of his colleagues, a "worthless
charlatan from some Eastern citadel near Kopfenhaage" not a person in
the room could help but laugh. His gruff comments about the abilities
of most Guild wizards warmed even Sash up to him.
It was Mousehide who finally broached the subject of
business. He sat himself a little higher in his pillows and looked at
Coppernik across the hall from him. When the golden-nosed Stargazer
made direct eye contact in return, there was the slightest of nods and
the rogue spoke.
"This must be some job, considering the wonderful feast that we have had," he said.
The wizard could only nod, and the rest of dinner attendees fell into a silence.
"Not only a hard job." Coppernik replied. "But a dangerous one as well."
"Perhaps we should retire to our Planning Room." Fye Thagarus cut in, starting to stand.
With her statement, all the magi and other stargazer
staff except Coppernik, herself, Arkimedes, and Nemo, started busying
themselves with cleaning up the dinner. The arch-wizards, for lack of
better term, and the warrior-priest, stood up and waited for the
delvers to do the same. Sash, though only sitting on a chair was, of
course, the last to stand up. She took some time to straighten out her
gown, never one to be rushed. Once the green sorceress was finished
with her preening, Arkimedes led the group into a side room. Once all
were in, he shut the door with a look that told all the underlings
outside not to disturb them.
The room itself was rounded along the outside wall,
indicating that it was on the outer side of the building, though there
were no windows to confirm this. As the dark-skinned Counting Sorceress
lit the room's oil lamps, the white stucco of the walls helped give the
enclosure a less oppressive feel. In the center of the room were two
Wizard Staves, and above each of them floated a mirage of a single
geometric shape. One was a sphere, the other a cylinder. Both were made
of glass it seemed, hovering in a background of sheer blackness with
some sort of harsh white light illuminating them from below.
Occasionally, an image would shift just a bit, which made Mousehide and
Sash think that the objects presented were in motion. The Green
Sorceress would swear that she could see flickers of stars, moving as
fast as falling stars, every now and then. Coppernik indicated that
everyone should have a seat on one of the many stools arranged around
It was Arkimedes who spoke first. "What you see here are my babies," he said. "The Crystal Ball and the Looking Glass."
Mousehide and Cutter could only nod. It was Salisha who grasped what the dwarf was talking about.
"Floating observatories? Big enough for people or whatnot?" The Green Sorceress asked, then added.
"Some place where its night currently."
Fye Thagarus smiled. "Where they're floating, its always night, Green Sorceress."
"They happen to be directly overhead." Coppernik added.
No one laughed when Cutter looked at the ceiling. No one but Sash, that is.
"I think they mean a little higher than the ceiling, oh fierce swordsman." She snickered.
Mousehide patted his friend's shoulder. Nemo gave a
sympathetic shrug of his shoulders and leaned to whisper. "These
egg-heads love to be clever."
"As not to be so clever," Coppernik continued. "These
two structures are very large 'floating observatories' as the astute
Green Sorceress noted, that we have placed over our lands. One might
even say, our whole world. They were built mostly for observing the
heavens from a closer perspective, and it has helped immeasurably in
the mapping of Namar and southeast Isun. Not to mention predicting the
"Predicting the weather?" Mousehide couldn't help but
ask aloud. "Let me guess, it's hot during the day and cooler at night?
And it rains a lot in the spring?"
Arkimedes laughed, though Coppernik stiffened just a bit. "Yes that is about what we have found out."
"But the point is what we have done." The dwarf
continued. "Coppernik came up with an idea that would help us see the
stars better, as well as see rainstorms up to seven days to the east or
west, well before the clouds get thick on the horizon. And after a
couple of test models, I was able to design big enough places for
wizards to dwell in while doing so. And Fye Thagarus here, was able to
find a way to keep the observatories floating without the constant
expenditure of magic. No small tasks I tell you, son."
If he wasn't hearing it from a dwarf who was probably
over three centuries old, Mousehide would have bristled at being called
"Not using Fly-Me spells?" Sash had to ask.
"Not a one." the Counting Sorceress blurted in. "Well
except every now and then. You see, the World is not as flat as it
looks. It's most likely a sphere in shape, according to my calculations
from the data available. At a certain level, the objects we placed 'In
Circling' above are falling towards the horizon, not directly down -
once we get them high enough, that is." The dark-skinned sorceress
leaned forward, gesticulating as she explained things to Salisha, her
voice somewhat excited.
"It kind of makes sense." The Green Sorceress nodded. "As long as the bigger object is not flat. Wow, Elder isn't flat."
"And that was going to be our next project." Coppernik
spoke up again. "Seeing if the World is indeed flat. With special
scrying devices that we'd place into the 'Circling' altitudes, just not
as high as our observatories, so they'd fall past the horizons and we'd
see if they came back to the skies above us."
"That was going to be your next project, " Cutter said in a laconic fashion. "Before what happened?"
"Well," Coppernik looked at his co-wizards, who nodded,
poker-faced. "That was before we lost contact with the wizards aboard
the Looking Glass and the Crystal Ball."
"Lost contact." Salisha repeated.
Mousehide was not one to be in awe, despite the total
weirdness of the conversation going on around him. "Why not just
Wink-Wing someone up there, but not using your gates?" the half-elf
Coppernik nodded and composed his thoughts before
answering. "Let me put it to you this way," he said. "Why haven't you
ever been to Gefar in the Southern Climes, yet?"
"It's half way around the world." Mousehide answered.
"And if you had a steam and iron horse to get you
there?" The scarred wizard continued asking questions. "It would only
be a matter of distance?"
"There are a couple of mountain ranges and oceans in the way." Mousehide began following the wizard's logic.
"And cliffs in the mountains," Coppernik continued the analogy. "And sharks in the seas. With storms, reefs, and avalanches."
"Mhmm." Mousehide said thoughtfully "Get a lot of storms and sharks in those 'Circling Altitudes' of yours do you?"
"Hopefully only metaphorically speaking." Fye Thagarus
chimed in. "But we don't want to rule out anything. Though in theory it
is possible for me to Wink anyone anywhere, there are many more factors
than just distance. In this case, places sometimes don't like to be
visited. Clouds don't let birds rest on them. River beds don't like
land-dwellers hanging out."
The female wizard moved close to the rogue, letting her
perfume do some of the convincing. Mousehide let the mental images sink
in. Cutter looked between him and Sash, and he could see that the
sorceress was already enthralled.
"We call it the Void," The other sorceress continued.
"Well, the Void hates to be visited. When the first test dummies - we
used daemons, of course - were sent there, we expected arrows and
finger burns from the good spirits and godlings dwelling in the Glory
Lands up above. That wasn't the case, though. They described a realm
colder and hotter than the nether-realms . A void that pulled the
breath from their chests and tears from their eyes."
"I have never seen a spirit so diminished," the wizard
went on. "as those daemons returning from the Void. It took them months
to recuperate. The Void does not want to visited."
"Until we designed the Crystal Ball." Arkimedes chimed in.
"And quite an ingenious artifact you designed there,
master dwarf." Fye replied. "A sphere composed of transparent crystal
melded together. Elementals of ice and fire here and there to keep the
structure rather comfortable for our guests."
"You mean the bound daemons." Sash stated, a bit of irritation in her voice.
Cutter smiled inwardly. He was reassured that the magus would never be very patient with other magi and their euphemisms.
"As well as our own Stargazer wizards whom were soon to
send up." Arkimedes said with a mixture pride and regret. "The whole
project is to get us, the Stargazers, up there."
"So the daemons made, excuse me, make up a large part of
the operations, at least initially" Mousehide pointed a finger at the
ceiling, "Up there?"
"I think we should introduce our specialist here."
Coppernik said as he reached for a bell that would ring outside of the
It wasn't long before a tentative knock came on the door. Arkimedes got up and answered it without ceremony.
A smallish human came in. An Easterner by the looks of
him, but his dark hair was dyed with henna and his scrawny beard was
braided in the fashion of the necromancers of the First Kingdoms of
"I suppose you're the demonologist." Sash asked, not hiding her contempt.
The man literally cringed at the accusation, for lack of
a better word, but Coppernik stood up and placed himself beside him.
"This, my esteemed guests," the wizard said with a firm voice, "Is my
colleague Karriun, the Driven."
Cutter shushed Mousehide's and Salisha's snickers.
Besides the fact that they were being grossly rude, there was something
that had piqued his interest. "Excuse my cohorts, lord
sorcerer-summoner." The warrior said evenly. "Where we come from
demons, even daemons, are nothing but trouble. It is hard for us to, "
he looked directly at the chuckling two, "just shut-up and listen."
"No, seriously." Sash would not be diminished. She spoke
mostly to Arkimedes and Fye Thagarus. "After the trial runs, why would
you keep using demons?"
Karriun shored up his courage with the physical presence
of Coppernik next to him and some sympathic looks from Fye and
Arkimedes. "In all fairness," the Conjurer spoke up. "Despite their
inherent hate of captivity, daemons are instinctive creatures of
servitude. A bound daemon is often quite happy collecting secret
knowledge that he can use later in other situations. Kind of keeps them
from other activities, I might add. The captive spirits in the 'Ball'
were, maybe are, quite happy. They had even set up a hierarchy amongst
themselves. The weakest ones did all of the observing and their finds
were sent to us by their 'superiors.' The best finds were sent by their
'boss' for no other reason except their ego. It is a model of simple
efficiency. At least until we could get proper wizards involved in the
"Which brings us to why the Stargazer's School needs you three." Coppernik cut in.
Here it comes, Cutter thought.
The warrior knew the name that the wizard was going to
say, just by looking at the marred man's face. "Maelitesh Verximirexrev
is the demon boss that Karriun is talking about." Coppernik said.
There was no dramatic silence. Instead Mousehide became
quite animated. "Verimixer?" He asked loudly. "Didn't we banish him
back to the abyss or whatever some ten summers ago?"
"Your party, you three and Pils, the Healer, did indeed
drive him from his earthen shrine in the Back-Wood." Fye answered. "But
he stopped a bit short of being exiled from Elder. He was hiding in our
wine cellar sucking out rats' blood trying to recover."
"So you gave him a job?" Sash snorted.
"Not so fast, " Karriun sat forward, eyes blazing.
"Before you criticizing my work. I have been dabbling in spirits for
three decades. I know a thing or two about shades. Verximirexrev is a
knowledge-spirit as well as blood-sucking fiend."
Sash took a breath, once agin not trying to hold her
contempt in check. "It's that sort of reasoning that makes me think the
Black Schools should be abolished," she stated.
Cutter looked over Nemo, the warrior-priest, and saw a
secret smile appear in his eyes. It diminished as soon as it appeared.
He suddenly liked the guy.
"It's that sort of reasoning," Fye said to Sash
directly. "Which keeps you self-employed, a member of the 'Fresh Air
Citadel,' as we stodgy sorts like to say, young sorceress."
Mousehide moved a bit away from the Counting Sorceress, but had to admit that Sash was not being very diplomatic herself.
"What our esteemed colleague from the Black School says
is true." Coppernik spoke up, hoping to interpose himself before
tempers could fare even further. "Verimixer - a clever name, by the
way, sir rogue - has always been more of a knowledge-for-blood trader.
Not geared much towards carnage and flesh-rending. I am willing to deal
with the type of information he disposes, despite the price. He isn't
genocidal. The binding of him was not an amoral, careless act."
Cutter couldn't think of how binding the demon could
fail to be an amoral, careless act, but declined to engage in the
philosophical treatise required to explain his own gut feelings on the
"I don't get it." Mousehide asked after a moments
reflection. "This Void you are talking about is a hellish place. No,
it's beyond hellish. Why bother with it anymore?"
The Stargazers all looked at each other as if they
couldn't understand how someone could fail to understand. It was
Coppernik who spoke next. "Our observatories are
progress in action." The wizard explained as best he could, his hands
palms-upward as if offering his vulnerable soul before the assembled
three. "We can't just abandon them."
Cutter looked at Mousehide and Salisha, who did not get
it either. He looked at Nemo, who was currently leaning his stool
backward to rest his back against the wall, as if weary from a long and
arduous hike. When the warrior-priest met the warrior's eyes, it was
clear that he had asked the question many times to much the same answer.
The man almost could not think of what else to say or
do. The room was utterly silent. Four scholarly wizards awaiting an
answer like children awaiting the Solstice Magus with a bag of gifts
and four adventurers who knew better than to say 'yes.'
Finally Cutter spoke. Someone had to. "Okay." He said to
Coppernik, his golden nose blazing in the lamp light. "We'll help, but
it is going to cost."