The mist rose again and when it would set, our group of companions would no longer be under the protection of Councilwoman Signi Wyde. We stood before the temple of the Siblings, a large hall with open gates, where many people entered and left during that time. Chrysita was now with her body again and we felt ready to set out. All we needed was a guide, which we hoped to find in the form of a priest helping pilgrims.
We remained outside and waited for the Urshog in the blue shirt and while we waited, I addressed Sarita about a question I had been meaning to ask for a long time. “Do you know his name? I don’t think I ever heard anything as such.”
“Oh, he doesn’t have one yet.”
“Urshog, at least the ones I know, don’t get to bear a name until they fulfil a deed worthy of a name. That’s why he is on his quest. He needs to find something worth achieving and have someone else report about it to his banner – a family or clan of sorts. Then they grant him a name.”
An odd custom but seeing as how odd the people’s of the world below were in general, certainly not the oddest things to accept. Then another thought followed right up to my mind. “Wait, is that why they all wore different shirts?”
Sarita nodded. “They need to call each other by something. Or maybe it’s just for others like us, I don’t know.”
The Urshog in the blue shirt eventually showed up. He greeted Sarita and we agreed to enter the temple in search of a priest to ask concerning the pilgrims.
The inside of the temple was a huge chamber with seven shrines along the walls, each with a statue above depicting geometric bodies and shapes. It seemed rather than people, these siblings were represented instead by abstract shapes, perhaps for the fact that not all adherents of this religion were of one singular people. After all, on the surface, most humans adhered to the Church of Her Holy Radiance, while the Crolachans of the surface world rarely worship the human gods and instead turn to the beliefs of their western or southern homelands.
“How does it come that there are seven shrines here when you only told us about three siblings?”
Sarita rolled her eyes. “I told the story as I was told, but some peoples tell the story differently. These temples are neutral ground and not supposed to serve as ground for such discussions.”
It was not that I had never heard of something like this, the Church of Her Holy Radiance after all also had two major cults, one from Fulgor, one from Chsyatana. With so many different peoples and cultures fractured and isolated by stone walls, there were bound to be many different interpretations of any scriptures. “What are the other gods, can you tell us?”
Sarita sighed and pointed to the different statues beginning from the right of the entrance. “The Stern One we call Hallif, the Fierce One we call Atall, the Eternal One, the Radiant One, the Knowing One, the Giving One we call Fjoersa, the Wandering One.” There seemed to be little reverie in her voice, as if reciting lessons she had tired of long ago.
“Now we just need to find a priest.”
Sarita soon spotted and pointed out a Gisrin woman in decorated robes that watched over a group of acolytes tending to one of the shrines. The scales on her arms and around her face were painted intricately painted with patterns and shapes reflecting the statues around us. When she saw us approach, she turned to us with a calm demeanour, expecting to be addressed. As we had agreed, Anne was the one to speak up in ceremonial Pliranti.
“Please let us be excused, your eminence, we seek to travel to a city close to the pillars. Are there any pilgrims making such a journey anytime soon?”
The priestess threw a glance over to the rest of the group. She seemed especially interested in the Professor and me. She finally turned her attention back to Anne. “What cadre do these mages belong to?”
Anne was confused and shot a helpless look back to me. “They do not belong to any cadre. We are guests from a faraway place.”
“They are truly mages then?”
Anne nodded hesitantly.
The priestess’ face turned sour, her grey skin wrinkling in something easily recognizable as a look of aversion. “I am sorry, but no group of virtuous pilgrims will ever associate willingly with unfettered mages.”
“Yes, unfettered. Who do you expect to vouch for their integrity of character and morals if not a cadre or at least a noble lord? Who can guarantee that they will be held accountable for any transgressions in the use of their powers?”
Anne appeared lost for words, then raised her right hand to reveal the glowing seal of Northbridge University. “Well, the University of Northbridge will attest to that.”
“I care little for what tricks you can conjure, please leave righteous pilgrims alone, unless you find a cadre or someone else to vouch for you. The temple knights already provide protection enough.” The Priestess turned back around to watch the acolytes, signifying the end of the conversation.
Anne turned to us with a look of defeat.
Sarita spoke out in her sarcastic tone. “What else did you expect, running around without a cadre?”
I had to remind Sarita of our ignorance. “We don’t even know what exactly they are and how to become a member of one.”
Sarita again sighed then led us out of the temple. Outside, she looked to the chamber’s ceiling until she found a faint spot of light. We could see there people hanging in what appeared to be swings fixed to the ceiling.
Sarita pointed them out. “See those? Those are mages of the cadre that keeps the chamber intact and secure. Further away from the pillars, rock cracks and wears down much faster. That’s why the city employs and pays a specific group of mages and their assistants to keep it in order. They also construct buildings with their magic and fix dilapidated ones. That cadre does that job and nothing else. They train their apprentices to be the best at this job and they hold each other accountable. They are outside regular city jurisdiction, instead, if a member of a cadre commits crimes or violates their contracts, members of other cadres are called in to judge them.”
It all sounded very much like a university to me, except that universities trained all sorts of mages, not just ones for a specific purpose. Even their separate jurisdiction was how legality of magic worked in the surface world. “Are there no mages who work by themselves?”
“Singular mages with their own ambitions are, if at all, employed in the service of a wealthy person who acts as their patron. Again other mages work only for their tribe or village but often even those belong to some sort of cadre, like Sudhitan, who is a member of the cadre of the 88 Archmagi, who provide mages and advisors to the services of the 88 chieftains. Entirely unfettered mages are distrusted almost everywhere.”
The Professor, Anne and I were already thinking of this conundrum. It was the Professor who spoke up first. “Our friend Thorin was most likely so impressed by our seals because he had heard of them before. But it seems everyone else would be wholly unimpressed.”
Anne had already taken a look at her clothes. “What does it take to appear to be part of a cadre? Who is able to check this?”
“Cadres all have their own colours and their special pattern on their clothes. The pattern cannot be faked they claim, you need magic to create such a pattern, that much I know. The members of a cadre are confirmed by other cadres or lords, you would need to ask them.”
Anne nodded in contemplation. “So there is some sort of exam, I imagine. I know somewhat of dyeing, I could maybe create some dyes with my equipment, but not much.” She considered her loud thoughts. “I am sure you don’t want the cheapest cloth either, and you need to buy a lot for two robes. Our funds are not exactly large and we have no secured income.”
The Professor added his own loud thoughts. “In a situation like this, a rich and powerful patron and a permanent place of residence would have been of use.”
Brad and Anne shot evil glares his way.
“It was just s thought; I accept that we shouldn’t make business with Signi Wyde.”
Sarita brought up the most obvious but also most important point: “We can’t stay here, we are still hunted and can no longer rely on the protection of anyone.”
The Urshog in blue had remained silent and almost unmoving for the entire time, but now stepped closer to the rest and talked to Sarita. She seemed pleasantly surprised by what he said. “He says he knows of an exposed pillar to the southeast of here, but much further down. If we take the other throughway from this chamber, we can get east quite quickly, he knows a path down away from the throughway.”
I have to admit that at that point of our journey, we had no real idea where to go except for a pointer by a passing acquaintance. In the end, for the lack of any better ideas, we decided to truly set out for the road, eastbound. We spent most of our again dwindling funds on supplies and a map that would guide us as far east and down as possible. The last funds went into making sure we had enough toll coins to get at least five days of travel for all of us ahead. We also definitively decided to allow the Urshog to accompany us. He had brought his own supplies and funds and would be useful when keeping watch once we left the throughway and entered the wilderness.
The other throughway that passed through the chamber of Slabtown went straight ahead eastbound. It too was plastered with intricately shaped cobble stones, but these had a different shape, obviously to show off the skill and dedication of this throughway’s cadre of mages.
We spent the first three days without any significant events or happenstances. We occasionally saw groups of this throughway’s cadre and used the opportunity to study the cloth’s pattern in the hopes to get a clue as to how they were created. The one of this cadre was of yellow lines and points on dark blue cloth running in a fine pattern from angles of either 30, 40 or 120 degrees to each other. The lines were incredibly fine and very accurately straight. Anne and Sarita said they could not think of any technique to create such clean lines apart from directly painting them, which would then most likely ruin the perfect symmetry and immaculate line work.
It remained a mystery and one we were unwilling to address in any sort of direct interaction with the cadres. Our search continued.
We saw the usual sights of natural caves, trade depots and rest stops along our way and we even learned enough of the common language to actually understand our Urshog companion in direct dialogue.
He was a mostly humble person who could best be described as an unsure youngster. He was less than twenty years old and on a superficial level, very eager to spring into action, often offering his service as night guard, but he had also been taught to keep his mouth shut and await orders, which put him at odds with his former attribute. He carried a spear with him, nothing out of the ordinary although it was even shorter than me, short for a spear, especially for a person of such a size as him. He remarked that a too long spear was a hindrance in tight tunnels. A short sword with only one edge was his accompanying sidearm and he used a buckler with a long steel spike in synergy with either weapon. He told us that his banner, the Seeking Spears of Bultahiin, was one focussed on hunting and exterminating dangerous beasts, either for payment from others or to sustain themselves. When we told him of the Tunnelwyrm we had encountered, his eyes glowed brightly at the prospect.
I also noticed that when he talked, that the Urshog do in fact have lips, they are merely behind their huge, interlocking teeth and behind those lips was a set of grinding teeth, not dissimilar to those of cows or horses. Certainly an odd arrangement, but when thinking of the mythos of creation we had been told, the gods that shaped these people were of completely different make than those that made the humans, who went entirely unmentioned by the poem.
It was on the third day that our Urshog companion stopped at a natural cavern crossing the throughway. He beckoned us to consult the map and found our current position. Here was the point that we would have to leave the throughway and look for a way down through the wilderness. We still had a trampled footpath to follows but other than, the map would be of only diminutive help.
We made camp next to the footpath, where it cut the throughway and gave up some more funds on rations of merchants coming by.
I was trying to sleep easy, knowing that the Urshog had done nothing but well wishes for us so far, but the feeling he was going to be trouble did not let go just yet.