The next few days moved fast for the island fishing community in the west of Britannia. After the town meeting the citizenry of Skara Brae began to prepare for this crisis with the same resolve as they have every other one that had troubled their little island. Indeed it seemed that a new crisis was always threatening the world and while Skara Braens were used to it (like everyone in Britannia) that didn’t also mean they weren’t a little sick of it.
“I hope the comet waits for the fall harvest,” more than a few remarked at the Tavern the next few days.
“Remember when Yew flooded?” said others working in the fields. “Ruined the wine for a year after that. Hope that won’t happen to the wheat!”
“And what about that great big chasm?” asked the tailor working at Shear Pleasure. “I swear half of the island slopes down because of it.”
Governor Jepeth had ended the meeting with a brief outline of what they, as a community, were to do. They listened respectably, offered some feedback (“Stop asking us to pray, Jepeth!”), and then got to work the next day readying the island for a foe they didn’t truly understand.
A moongate opened onto a cliffside in the middle of the day. It’s blue light seemed washed out in the afternoon sun but still every bird in the immediate area turned and was fixated on it. Light seemed to ripple out from within it bending reality. This beauty lingered only for a moment as two men exited the moongate and every bird around fled in a panic.
“Here we are!” said a very tall man wearing blue mage’s robes happily.
The other man, wearing dull silver plate armor, took the scene in with one hand on his sword, ready.
“Seems empty,” replied Jepeth.
“I believe that was its idea, sire.” said Tejnik.
Tejnik (the Marvelous) breathed deeply, enjoying the unspoiled air but then noticed Jepeth with his sword ready to be drawn.
“Ah, perhaps you should relax? I don’t believe it intends us any harm.” said Tejnik.
Jepeth shook his head.
“Ye must forgive me if I’m a bit on edge,” said Jepeth. “Every time I seem to let my guard down during this we’ve had to pay the price.”
Tejnik smiled again, his toothy grin stretching ear to ear.
“But now you’re with a mage! And a marvelous one at that!” he said. “Nothing would dare test us.”
Jepeth sighed and turned away from his aides blustering. He looked around the area trying to place exactly where in Britannia Tejnik had magically taken him.
“Is this near the terrible Dungeon of Wrong?” asked Jepeth.
“Nae sire, but close.” he replied. “We find ourselves on the cliff sides due West of Minoc.”
“Hmm, near the Cavern of Ice and the Lost Lands,” said Jepeth.
The Lost Lands were a whispered fear to some Britannians. The magical paths between them and Britannia had been blasted open by means of the Armageddon Spell years ago. The Wisps taught this spell to one of Britannia’s foes for reasons still unknown. Within these new lands was a facet of man-sized snakes, terrifying spider-creatures, and all manner of other dangers.
Tejnik had brought Jepeth here to meet a Wisp. Whatever its intentions, the fact that this Wisp had asked to meet them so near one of the paths to the blasted-open Lost Lands was not lost on Jepeth.
“Does it live here?” asked Jepeth.
“I’m not sure it ‘lives’ anywhere,” replied Tejnik. “There’s still some debate if they’re even alive.”
Jepeth made a scoff sound and crossed his arms.
“Magical creatures,” he said, shaking his head.
Tejnik frowned at Jepeth.
“Again, Governor, I’ll remind you to hold your tongue around the Wisp,” Tejnik said. “Insulting a human mage is one thing as we know you’re just jealous but Wisps can be… let’s say ‘difficult.’”
Jepeth bowed his head to his aide.
“I promise I shall not offend the flying ball of mana,” he replied.
“Oh!” exclaimed Tejnik happily. “But they’re not mana at all! The Council believes them to be an as-of-yet unknowable form of magic with properties to…”
Jepeth kicked a rock as hard as he could. The sound of it bouncing off his plate metal foot and flying into the water below was enough to stop Tejnik from speaking further. Tejnik looked pleased. His wide face was always delighted to torture his employer with a magic lecture.
“But this is not where you met it originally?” asked Jepeth.
“Nae, nae, I found it near Yew. Or rather it found me?” replied Tejnik. “I got the distinct impression it had been looking for me.”
A week earlier Tejnik the Marvelous had wandered through the Spiritwood of Yew looking for a Wisp to ask about the current situation. Wisps were said to be magical, wise, and respectable, afterall. He felt elated that the first Wisp he found seemed to know exactly what the situation was by saying the word ‘comet’ in the midst of other untranslatable Wispish.
But to Tejnik’s disappointment and dread the only other words it would speak to him were ‘Governor,’ ‘meeting,’ and ‘death.’
Not too far south by southeast from where Jepeth and Tejnik were waiting was the great port city of Vesper. As a city of islands inter-connected by a series of bridges, shipping trade was Vesper’s main concern with ships coming and going all hours of the day. While Minoc was the true manufacturing hub of the world all its goods were shipped out through Vesper. It had been said every single sword, shield, and soup bowl made in the world passed through Vesper’s custom house.
All this shipping made Vesper the northeastern hub of culture as imports from the realm enriched the lives of its citizenry. Granted, nothing would ever challenge Britain as the center of all arts and entertainment in the world, but artists and antiquarians found plenty of places to display their grand works and curios. The Vesper Museum drew in crowds every day of people from as far as Trinsic who wanted to experience some of the amazing cultural works Britannia had to offer. Not all of this amazing art, archeology, and artifact could be displayed at once, though.
In an almost forgotten basement of a storage facility off-site from the main Vesper Museum Orton sat at a table stirring his bowl of soup. He had warmed it up over a small magical flame (real fire was not allowed anywhere near collection pieces) but it had turned cold quick. Something about magical fire never seemed to hold heat very long. He kept stirring, however, with the hope that it’d eventually taste better.
The cold, damp basement room in which he worked was one of many facilities holding pieces from the collection. Crates stacked as high as the ceiling that had, at least as long as he worked there, never been opened even once. He was not a very art or history minded person, though, and cared very little for what was in the boxes. The fact that he could read and write had gotten him this watchmen’s job. Despite the boredom and the cold soup he was glad for it, it beat being out on the Vesper docks in the rain. All he had to do was keep inventory of the crates on a long ledger and track what came in and out.
Nothing, however, ever left. The collection seemed to get bigger and bigger every year. Eventually, Orton knew, this basement facility would run out of space and they’d either need to open a new one with another watchmen employed or build a bigger facility. Orton hoped for the latter, this one was becoming a little claustrophobic.
Tonight, though, he was more concerned about his soup than about space consideration. He held the bowl over the small magical candle again, stirred it, and took a few more spoonfuls before repeating the process.
He forced down some more of the cold soup and wrapped a cloak around him a little tighter. It seemed to be extra cold in the basement tonight. He returned to his ledger and wrote a few more entries for the day’s new arrivals.
About here many things happened at once.
A crack echoed loudly through the basement causing Orton to almost jump out of his own skin. The cold bowl of soup crashed down onto the ledger leaving a pale yellow stain on the pages. He also knocked the candle over but thankfully it didn’t go out.
He picked the candle up off the floor, shook as much soup out of his ledger as he could, and then turned and stared down the long narrow corridor lined with crates.
Orton’s eyesight had never been that great, but he swore he saw something moving in the darkness.
“Hail?” he called out.
Another loud CRACK answered. It echoed off every surface around him.
It took Orton a minute but he finally realized what he was hearing. Someone was prying apart a wooden crate.
This was both surprising and a little exciting. In the many years he had worked as a watchmen he’d never actually had someone try and break into the storage facility. He grabbed his candle and, for some reason, his now empty bowl of soup.
“Ye might as well come out!” he called into the darkness as he tried to follow what he thought was the source of the sound. “I don’t know how ye got past me but yer in fer it!”
He walked through the darkness and reached the end of the corridor but found nothing. He turned back and walked a few crate stalls back the way he came and again saw no one.
Orton was confused. He was sure that the last sound he heard was a crate opening but he saw no one. He started to hold his candle out at the wall of crates in front of him. Each was marked with a city name “GLOW,” “JHLM,” “BRIT,” as well as year. He walked back up to the center of the great room and turned the corner down another aisle.
As he searched either from the beating of his heart or the exercise he was getting he felt warm. He dropped the cloak onto the floor along with the soup bowl he realized he was also toting around and kept looking aisle to aisle, crate to crate.
Finally, in the furthest part of the basement holding some of the oldest crates he found it. A box had been opened and the straw which had cushioned its contents was strewn about. ‘Opened’ wasn’t even the right word as Orton noticed that it looked like something punched through the front of the crate, tearing whatever it was inside of it out.
He leaned in towards the box, feeling around inside. Indeed whatever had been in there was now gone. He wiped some sweat off his brow.
Suddenly, a hard, hot hand grabbed him from behind. He felt himself rise up a half foot off the floor, his legs kicking and dangling in the air. The hand was hard and dull in places, and sharp in others. He struggled and tried to call out but in the split second after he was grabbed and tried to fight back he felt warm. Warmer. Hot. Burning! He was burning!
For a moment the entire dark basement was lit up. A bright red and orange glow seemed to reach every nook and cranny in the facility. Before the flame was extinguished it lit up the words printed on the outside of the broken crate:
Orton’s charred, dessicated body fell to the floor with a dull thud.