Chapter 4 – Onto young Land
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There I stood, at the foot of Mount Proxilus and before me a moving construct of rock, awoken to life by a crystal from the Professor’s staff. Although it consisted of mineral, metal and stone, it seemed to give off very little noise as its limbs and plates moved over one another. Yet it was not entirely silent; with a hum-like grinding, it turned to the Professor, who made an introducing gesture towards the construct. 

“This is Chrysita, my familiar... or more precisely the corporeal body Chrysita uses to assist me.” 

“Is it a... golem?” 

“Yes, she is a golem.” 

“She?” 

The Professor chuckled. “We name our ships after women, so why not our golems as well?” 

Until then I had not heard of a functioning golem still existing anywhere in Ackarom. “How did you get hold of such that thing?” Was my first reaction. Looking back, I have to scold myself for not greeting Chrysita as the sentient, sapient being she was, but I had still been overcome with wonder. 

“Get hold? That thing?” A bushy eyebrow rose on the Professor’s forehead. “Boy, I have created this shell myself, thanks to the knowledge and wisdom of ancient elemental singers.”  

“And how do you power... Chrysita. Didn’t the Pliranti sacrifice a slave a day to keep their golems running?” 

“No slaves are required to keep her functioning, so worry not, boy. Chrysita is my familiar, an elemental spirit bound to a corporeal body and as an elemental spirit, she can feed directly on the raw forces of rock and fire that emerge here. Outside of such places she is however largely immobile, unless I really do sacrifice living beings. But no worries, the biggest things I had used to grant her motion were shrimp.” He nodded and turned to the golem. “Buckets and buckets of shrimp.” The golem nodded in agreement. 

I immediately knew what that engraved crystal was: a phylactery of a spirit bound to the mundane world, so it could always be in and perceive the corporeal world. 

The Professor made an impatient gesture towards the golem. “Well then, get out of there, so we can get the rest of our equipment!” Chrysita did as she was told and stepped out of the large crate, in which the Professor was now rummaging, retrieving many supplies to put them aside. I saw two small casks of flux powder, many bags and boxes of various supplies, as well as what looked like instruments to take various measurements. Finally, the Professor retrieved an object he handed to me: a mage’s staff of straight, featureless, bright wood and a simple crystal sphere at its end. “This will be yours.” 

I carefully took both the staff. The seal of Northbridge University was carved into the shaft, a bridge over a river’s mouth and above, three stars. I beheld the seal for a moment. On the Professor’s and Anne-Liese's hand it already blazed in fine, colourful lines, and once I graduated, I would get to bear it on my hand too. “Is it good with protocol?” 

Professor Scutolith chuckled. “Of course. It is not uncommon for expedition members to wield one. We can ill have you assist without a mage’s important tool, can we?!” 

I tightened my grip around the bright wood. It may not be one that I had made myself for the graduation ceremony, but it felt almost as good. I extended my mind’s sight through the crystal, feeling everything beyond with greater clarity as well as the heft of the crystal in its movement through the arcane medium. The crystal was obviously grown in a laboratory, not a natural one like a truly wealthy mage could afford, but still it straightened my back and broadened my shoulders to merely hold this object. I stabbed the coarse black gravel of the beach with the end point. I was finally ready ascend the mountain. A gust of wind blew, as if to strengthen my back. How I would curse that wind now. 

I was brought back to the real world again by Professor Scutolith. “You will also need this, Havellan.” He handed me a leather pouch filled with that dark blue iridescent powder; flux. “What good is a mage who lacks the necessary energy to fuel his spells?” 

I took the pouch and attached it to my belt. Then the Professor beckoned me to follow him. “We shall now take the first measurements, come help me.”  

“With the measurements?” 

“Of course with the measurements!” The Professor pointed to the various instruments and contraption retrieved from the crate. “How will we make monumental discoveries without accurate measurements? Lieschen, please see to our cargo together with Brad.” 

I hurried to his side and he instructed me to set up each instrument and to note down the readings he told me. A few of the instruments everyone would recognize, such as compass, thermometer, hygrometer, barometer, as well as other instruments I quickly gauged the use of. A glass sphere and inside a wooden ring engraved with runes hanging from three threads was used to measure small fluctuations in the attractive forces of the ground, a simple indication of changes in ley-lines; a metal scale with crystal weights instead of pans was used to measure the flow of ley-lines more accurately; but there were tools in this repository I did not recognize and neither could I make sense of the measurements the Professor read from them; with a glass box in which crystals hung from metal wires at different heights he dictated me odd remarks such as “red incremental, blue leap-wise, green and yellow southbound” and from a bar with blue statuettes hanging from each end he told me to note down “screeching and weeping, but not furious.” 

I noted all these down diligently and after checking my notes, the Professor nodded with satisfaction. “Very well, let us head on upwards, where to our dear guide?” 

Beredalion sat on a boulder, tossing pebbles into the rolling waves, and was somewhat surprised by the sudden address to him. “What? Oh yes.” He stood up and pointed to the righthand slope, south for us, of the mountain. “There is a secondary chute where I often observed discharging magma from a distance. At first, we shall see whether you can find anything there without having to ascend all the way to the top.” 

“Very well, lead the way.” 

Only now did I notice that Chrysita was wearing what seemed to be a storage shelf in the shape of a backpack on her back. By the wood it looked to me to have been built out of the large cargo crate and some metal bracings. I knew quite something about using all the available resources from my service, but without a golem, I had never even thought about turning a crate into anything other than firewood. Anne-Lieschen had already stored a few of her supplies on the portable storage shelf. 

We set out up the mountain slope and although the Professor had the most gusto of us all, Beredalion and I soon outpaced him. Along the way I saw signs of fertile soil between the rough stone. From single tufts of grass growing amongst boulders to palms and ferns that burrowed their way free through cracks. Often had I heard the story that volcanoes were a blessing upon farmers, and many times had Leonard told me of the superior quality of vines from such regions. I decided to finally try a bottle of such upon returning to Northbridge. As he had often offered me. 

The day went on and the sun approached the horizon. Beradalion voiced his discomfort with our slow progress, but up the loose slope of rubble and pebbles, Chrysita took careful steps to not slip down, taking our supplies with her. Our guide finally decided to make rest on a small ledge just big enough to set up our tent. 

I sat there, holding a cup of hot tea and looking over the ocean dotted with dark rock and bright sails. I could easily tell the position of the passage of Phainos by the many large sails that rode the wind slowly but steadily, while smaller ships with smaller sails tried to take a shortcut, thinking luck and profit on their side. I did not notice Beredalion sit down next to me, but I did not mind either. 

“It is a view to live for, is it not?” He asked me. 

I nodded and hummed in agreement. 

“I often climb these mountains. From this high up, I can update my maps.” He pointed at a spot where I had previously seen only the ocean’s surface, but he enlightened me. “By the way the waves curl and flow there, you can tell something is rising up from below. Soon, the water will be shallow enough for ships to run aground. You cannot see it from the deck of a ship, but here, all the small signs come together.” 

“You have made your peace with the furrow, haven’t you, Beredalion?” 

“Yes, I have. And please, call me Brad. Now look over there:” 

I followed his finger as he continued to show me more phenomena that interested me greatly. I told him of my experience when learning to survey a construction site. We shared a few more stories. He told me of his youth as a top man on a barque, where he had learned all one needed to know about sailing. Later, he was hired by a merchant to help him navigate the shallow bogs of Botrelandt in a small punt, finding a way from town to town, selling wares and braving the harsh wilderness of the northern continent. From then on, he knew he would always skirt civilized society, finding ways in ever shifting nature and discovering safe passage for the rest of civilization. I told him of my time in the University’s service. Most students signed a few years of their lives over to the university. For low-born like me, it allowed to pay for the tuition, while nobles did it to bring honour to their name. Most of them, at least. Two years of service were necessary before the studies even began. Not as a mage or high-ranking officer, but as a mere deckhand, grunt or errand boy. Only when we had graduated, received our seal and thereby the license to practice magic, could we enter as mages into the University’s service. Enchanting soldiers’ arrows, hurling fireballs, building or tearing down fortifications, the uses of magic were as manifold as the mind of the mage. 

The time for dinner eventually came – a simple stew of bread, salted port and yam – and afterward, Brad updated his maps with compass and astrolabe while I enjoyed the view some more. Anne-Liese also came to sit at the edge, keeping to herself. Although she had sat down in a telling distance, I decided to address her nonetheless. “Say, Anne-Liese,” I scooted closer and nodded into the Professor’s direction, who was whisper singing a tune while leaning against Chrysita’s immobile body. “if he has a familiar, does that not mean he can also speak to spirits?” 

Anne-Liese kept her eyes fixed on the vista while answering me. “Yes. The lucky bast- I mean... yes, he has the mystic gift as well as the arcane gift. He is both a medium and a spellweaver.” 

I looked back to the Professor. If he could talk to and interact with spirits, demons, possibly even gods, while at the same time weaving arcane spells, that made him a truly powerful man. He, like me, was born of commoners, but both of us were graced with gifted blood and he even with gifted soul, while his niece with noble heritage remained ungifted entirely, still having chosen the profession of alchemist, that most mundane and material of magics. She had a strong will it seemed, but she was unwilling to share it. Why she held back was unimportant. All of use were merely conscripted for our services, not our wishes. 

“So, his singing; is that part of that? I heard mystics are often called singers in Botrelandt and other parts of the world.” 

She nodded. “Yes. He says there are other ways to commune with spirits, but I ever only saw him sing.” 

I wanted to ask more, but Anne-Liese let out a weary sigh and stared on into the distance and decided against pestering her even more. I could not tell whether she was easily annoyed with the world or just stretched thin regardless. 

The darkness settled in and we retired to our sleeping bags. I threw a last look outside to the starry sky. The stars seemed to wave to us with promise of a better future. A gesture of cruel cynicism, as it would turn out. 

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