The inn Magus Alfvin had graciously arranged for us was not too far. With the letter, we managed to get two rooms for four and breakfast in the morning for free. Our little pay-out from our urshog companion would keep us fed for at least five days.
We managed to find a spot for Chrysita’s golem body in the inn’s backyard where it would remain while her crystal was back in the Professor’s staff.
We travelled up and down the city, quite the exhaustion on our legs, but the sights were impressive beyond compare. After the mist had left the chamber, the thousands of windows carved into the rock faces would glitter in the dark almost like stars. By the looks of it and by claims from shopkeepers we asked, the chamber and the housings bordering it were inhabited by roughly five hundred thousand people, a dizzying number. Northbridge held a similar number, over a vastly larger area and with much less verticality.
We bought something to eat at a baker’s stall and settled to bed. In the morning, a delicious breakfast was prepared for us in the inn. The time came that we returned to the Vault of Fregna, where Magus Alfvin again welcomed us. He told us of his plan for us:
To convince the other magi to take on and help our quest of finding the wanderer’s gates – as he called the heptagonal tunnels – he would need more hints and evidence where to find the specific one we came through and whether it was still open. For this purpose, he wanted to go meticulously through our notes and piece together our route that we had taken. Based on that, another magus of the Seekers of Fregna would then send their own expedition to check the veracity of our claims. If that turned out to be true, Alfvin would have a case to take us on board as associates and maybe further on in time, even members of the cadre.
We were overjoyed at the news of this prospect, except for Brad, who was still convinced that any moment not spent on crawling that vertical shaft several hundred miles up to get back home was a waste of time.
“Now,” Magus Alfvin continued in a more direct tone. “there is business at hand concerning that favour I demand in return for me rearranging my busy schedule at such short notice.” He retrieved a small shard of pottery from his pocket, engraved with finest patterns. “this is a shard from an archaeological site of a city that was even when it supposedly existed already only a myth. It was founded by a community of perfectionist artisans of the gisrin, who wanted nothing more than keep their trade secrets and perfect their crafts in peace. I have by the order of a noble lord investigated the rumours and found the supposed ruin. Of course, I sent an expedition there, to enter the almost ten vertoch old ruin. The noble lord is getting impatient and I need to secure more funding. All you have to do is find the expedition, get word and a few artefacts from them and bring it back.”
I raised an eyebrow and looked to Anne. She seemed unconcerned so I spoke up on my own behalf. “That sounds like a simple task, why send an entire expedition of five people?”
Alfvin smiled. “I’m not.” He turned to the Professor. “Since Sir Scutolith claimed to be both a teacher of arcane and of spiritual magic, he would most certainly make an expert candidate to accept into our cadre. I would ask that he stays here and helps me record exactly what secrets and powers he could teach us.”
At this, Anne raised her hand. “In that case, I would like to stay here was well...” I knew she wanted to stay to make sure her uncle wouldn’t be tricked by Alfvin, but also knew she could not say that. “Since I would be of little use on such a type of expedition and I too can bring much knowledge, as an alchemist.”
Sarita suddenly jumped in with hand raised. “I want to stay too!”
Brad with a quick motion grabbed her ear and pulled her over. “Oh no, Princess Magpie, you will come with. You are of no use here and I still have the bad feeling that Magus Sudhitan will have sent emissaries and spies to this city. The longer you away from the streets here for now, the better.”
Sarita, trying to wrest her ear free from Brad’s vice-like grip, gave the rest of the people in the room a strong taste of her collection of cursewords.
“Also,” Brad continued. “If we are to crawl through some ancient ruins, we could use the smallest member of our expedition to get into those hard-to-reach places.”
A chuckle escaped Alfvin. “Oh very much so. As I mentioned, the ruins were built by gisrin. Their diminutive stature means the hallways might be quite cramped.” He pointed at me. “You might have to duck your head.” He chuckled again.
The room was silent for a moment, then Alfvin clapped his hands together. “If there are no objections, I shall see this as an agreement to this plan. The two crolachans and the apprentice will head to the excavation site to bring news, the alchemist and the professor will stay here and allow me to peer into the treasure trove of knowledge they possess.”
I felt as if I had to make a point. “I agree with the plan, but I am a student, not an apprentice. The Professor is not my master, I was hired by him to -”
To that, the Professor had to interrupt me. “Well actually, Havellan, since we are cut off from the University, I might as well take up your education. As a dean of the university, I have the right to choose up to three private apprentices to further their development into excellent mages.”
It was a weird feeling at that moment. It seemed odd to hear this. Being made an apprentice was rare, it was no longer the time of quarrel, when mages called themselves wizards, lived in towers and turned people into toads. “Are you sure?”
“Of course! You already proved yourself a capable architect with that ramp you built. Once you return from this assignment, I will personally help you construct your own staff. Time has come for your graduation.”
I was surprised. Finally, something good had come for me from this expedition. “You mean that? I don’t suppose you can grant me my seal then.”
The Professor shook his head. “No, sadly, without the sealstone, that is impossible. But I will vouch for your abilities.”
Magus Alfvin meanwhile held something out to me. It was a staff, plain, simple wood, without any ornaments or embellishments, a simple crystal sphere at its head. “It will have to serve on your first assignment, along with this. Please keep it always close to your person.” He handed me a small collection of pages bound in thickened and stiffened paper.
I flipped through it and albeit in a foreign script, I recognised the geometric and logic constructions of spells.
“Those are just basic sensing and probing spells, some for illumination, and all these things. I trust your abilities to use them wisely.”
I was barely able to read the script at times and I was far from learning their numerals and calculation operators, but I kept my tongue; there was no reason to diminish his astounding trust in us.
After I had been given my equipment, he held out three vests for the expedition in the colours and patterns of the Seekers of Fregna. “It will identify you as associates. And this will cover your travel costs.” He handed the vests and a small coin purse to Brad, who took out a coin. It was a token made from wood or horn or similar, and as he turned one of the coins, I saw a shimmering effect, like a pearlescence with different colours and structures. I then realised that it was the colours and pattern of the cadre.
Magus Alfvin raised his finger to get our attention. “One of those coins will pay the travel fee for one of you once at a tollgate. Don’t let the toll guards tell you they need more or that you need to pay some extra fee. One token, one person, one gate. The cadre will then reimburse their cadre later on.”
Brad nodded. “I know of such people, I dealt with my fair share of toll guards.”
“And finally.” He held a folded piece of paper out to Sarita. “I entrust you with reading and finding directions.”
The girl was surprised at the responsibility she was being entrusted with and I have to admit that we had been more than cautious with what we granted her in capabilities. She folded the piece of paper open and looked at it, shortly after nodding knowingly.
“With all that, all you need is equipment and supplies.” Alfvin called for the servant again and he pointed us to the neighbouring room, where a set of three backpacks was already prepared for us.
I again felt the need to address something. “Professor, will you be sending Chrysita with us?”
The Professor seemed almost insulted by that notion. “Of course not. I will finally have some time to repair her here. Maybe I can even give her arms again.”
“And adding to that.” Magus Alfvin turned to me with a smile that seemed to hide something. “The golem is a fascinating construct. It moves and acts all by itself, without any instructions necessary. It will be of most value to the cadre to know how to build one of such.”
I had to accept the decision. Hopefully, we would not be required to do any heavy lifting on this expedition.
We said our goodbyes, wished the remainders the best of luck and were on our way. Sarita was studying our directions intently. “We first have to take the throughway of the Green Wheels for five tollgates, then cross over to the throughway of Long Stakes for three. Then we have to wander on some footpath for a while.”
She looked around the chamber and searched for any signage indicating where to find the first throughway. “When we were browsing the traders' shops, I saw a map. According to that, there are over twelve throughways ending in or crossing this chamber. That’s a heap!”
We found the throughway of Green Wheels and were on our journey. Each day, we managed to pass two tollgates and we rested in inns by the wayside, having no tent or sleeping bags in our provided equipment. Our rations however were stocked up fully, vrata biscuits and salted meat for the entire journey of four days each way, added to that supplies for two days of stay if necessary. The tollguards took our tokens without question or additional demands.
After the third tollgate of the Long Stakes, Sarita guided us off the throughway. “It says we should be looking for a logging camp... there are some coordinates, give me the compass!” She held her hand out while trying to figure out what the coordinates said. After a compass had still not appeared in her hands, she looked to the two of us with an angry face.
“Which one of you buffoons has the compass?”
I tried to remember when I last handled the compass, Brad seemed to remember. “The Professor has the compass, remember?”
Sarita stood there looking at us as if we just told her the most inane and trivial thing. “I doubt they sent us away with this without giving us a compass. Go check your backpacks.” She barked, almost like the spoilt princess she was.
After digging through our backpacks over and over again, we found the compass in Sarita’s. While Brad was admonishing her for her tone, I took the instructions and compass and tried to triangulate our attitude and elevation by the compass’ readings.
At the time, I was a bit rusty in trigonometry and Sarita was showing signs of having problems herself. The mapmaker in Brad however managed to get a sensible reading and we soon found a flat and vast chamber filled with tree-like vines, with several men being hard at work chopping them down and loading them onto wagons drawn by urshog pups in chains.
The loggers gave us queer looks when we asked them for directions, claiming the chamber to be a dead end, but after asking for a man by the name of “Laggie”, which was written on the instructions, the man in question led us to a small tunnel behind a pile of logs. Apparently, he had discovered the ruin and sold the information to the Seekers of Fregna. We headed down the tunnel, for less than two minutes. The two crolachans fit through without a problem, but I had duck my head in quite frequently. We finally arrived at a square frame in the ground, once covered by a hatch, but now a rope ladder just recently placed there lead down. The first two did not hesitate to climb down, but I couldn’t help but throw a glance backwards, only thin light reaching this far into the tunnel. Then I followed my companions.