Posted by Darth Krzysztof
14 Planting, 595 CY
Liberty walked up the cobblestone path which wound through the healthy, manicured grass, toward the little red-and-blue house. The house’s paint never faded, and the grass never withered or ran riot. She had never seen anyone working out here, and the house’s lone occupant never revealed his secrets – to her, or to anyone else. That suited Liberty just fine; as the wizard so often said, “Life’s more fun with a bit of mystery.”
She found him in the meditation garden next to the house. He sat cross-legged on the ground among the vertical stones and small pools of concentric circles, his eyes closed. There was a bit more gray in his short, dark hair than he’d had at their last meeting, and a few more silver threads wove through his braided beard. He wore his favorite scarlet robe, the one she always pictured him in. “Hello, Master,” she called, though the wizard always heard her coming. Liberty had never officially been Allustan’s apprentice, of course, but the man commanded that kind of respect – as far away as the Free City of Greyhawk.
“Well met, Miss Grace.” Allustan opened his eyes and gave Liberty a smile. “You’ve managed to catch me on the one day I’m not mired in appointments or research.”
“Oh! I don’t mean to intrude. I can come back later if –”
“You aren’t interrupting anything. Truth be told, I’ve just been sitting here being bored. What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to ask you about some names and symbols I found in one of the cairns.” If I’m lucky, Liberty thought, he’ll be so interested in what I’ve brought him that he won’t ask too many questions about what I’m doing poking around the cairns, or who I’m doing it with, or why… “Would you mind?”
“Not at all.” Allustan untangled his legs to stand, then turned toward his house. “Let’s go inside.”
She had him now. He dealt with most visitors at the old tree stump in the front yard.
As she followed him into the cool comfort of the house, a strange nostalgia crept up on Liberty. She’d spent the better part of four years here, trying to make sense of Allustan’s lessons and tomes, desperate to retain anything he told her about spellcraft, or arcana, or unfamiliar languages, or planar lore. His kindness and patience eventually molded her mind into something more disciplined, better able to learn. And, as trying as the experience had been, they’d emerged from it with an odd friendship based on gratitude and respect.
Allustan crossed the room and slid behind a massive desk carved from a hard, black wood from Hepmonaland or some other place south of the Flanaess. He laid a small stack of blank pages to his right, set an inkpot and quill just above them, and motioned Liberty to one of the chairs in front of the desk.
As she sat down, took her journal from her backpack, and tossed her battered top hat onto the other seat, Liberty wondered how this chair could be so familiar to her, yet so much smaller than she remembered. It’s not the chair that’s changed, dummy. You were what, thirteen the first time you sat here?
“Before we get started,” Allustan said, “I’m curious. Which cairn have you been exploring?” The wizard’s fascination with the tombs around Diamond Lake was no secret; it was one of his primary reasons for retiring there. He’d told Liberty once or twice about his plans to write the definitive work on the subject; as far as she knew, he had yet to get started on it. Of course, this was the first time she’d seen him in nearly four months…
“It’s the Whispering Cairn.” Dancing around it would be a waste of time.
Allustan looked up at her. “Really! You know, that one doesn’t appear on any of my maps. Not by name, anyway. Boccob’s books, but I’m glad you got here when you did. A bit of mystery’s just the thing to shake up a dull Low Summer’s day! Tell me about what you’ve found.”
Whew. “It’s more than just a burial site, definitely. We uncovered some symbols – elemental symbols, which I think represented names.” She opened her journal to the page where she’d sketched them, turning the book so Allustan could see. “Icosiol, Zosiel, and Nadroc.”
Allustan made his traditional mmm noise as he peered at the sigils, pausing to admire the ring on Liberty’s finger. “That’s new,” he said. “Ring of feather falling, is it?”
“It is, yes. I found it in the Cairn.”
“Mmm.” The quill rose from the inkpot on its own, scratching copies of each symbol onto the wizard’s paper. “You’re right about these symbols; they look like names to me. Names that I don’t recognize, but I can research them easily enough. This one, though, represents Ogrémoch.”
“I recognized that one, too,” Liberty said, suddenly proud of herself. “And there were several bodies down there, marked with this red star.” She turned the page to show Allustan the eight-pointed sigil.
The corners of the wizard’s mouth turned down. “Yes, I know it. They were Seekers – a group of unscrupulous archaeologists and pseudo-historians.”
“You’ve had dealings with them before.”
“Mmm.” Liberty was about to mention that she’d recently applied his lessons in the Elven language, when Allustan tapped her sketch of the broken arcane apparatus. “What’s this?”
“I’m not sure. I think it was some kind of transportation device, judging by these glyphs.”
“Reasonable. And these fragments surrounding the pedestal?”
Liberty shrugged. “It was like black glass. I’m afraid I didn’t look at it very closely.” Because Xan scooped them up, quick as thought.
“I might like to see those, if it’s not too much to ask. I’d even be willing to take the fragments off your hands, in lieu of my usual fee for this research.” Allustan charged twenty gold orbs to answer any question, no matter how challenging. It was never about money; treasure from his adventuring days more than covered his modest lifestyle.
“I’ll try to get them for you.”
“Excellent. Either way, give me a few days, and I’ll have something for you.”
That’s Allustan’s experience talking. He knows what it’s like to be in my place, not wanting to answer a bunch of nosy questions. And he knows I’ll probably tell him more later on. “I appreciate it, Master. There was… there was something else, though.” She told him about the empty graves they’d found at the Land farmstead, without mentioning why she’d gone there, or who she’d gone with, or the severed arm they’d found, or the owlbears, or… much of anything else, really. “I don’t know why anyone would dig up bodies that’ve been in the ground for twenty years, or why they’d bring them back to Diamond Lake…” She felt stupid for not realizing until now: “Of course, they’d have to leave the town to rob graves; the Cult of the Green Lady guards the Boneyard like a dragon guards her hoard.” Mother wouldn’t let anything like that happen, certainly.
Liberty tore her thoughts away from her mother. “But my first thought is necromancy.”
Allustan leaned back in his chair. “Boccob’s books, I hope not. You and I are still the only people in this town with any arcane skill that I know of. Let me know if you hear anything more about this business.”
“Of course, Master. I, um, I’ll leave you to it, then.” Allustan had never shown much interest in Liberty beyond her magical talent, but that was his way. Teaching her had been ordeal enough for both of them; standing as some sort of surrogate father would have been too much. Stashing her journal, and returning her hat to her head, she said, “I’ll see you again in a few days.”
“Mmm. If it’s not too much trouble, could you bring me some teacakes when you return? I’ve had the most peculiar craving for teacakes lately. Most peculiar; I don’t even care for tea.”
She nodded, got up to leave, bowed, and had almost reached the door when Allustan added, “I’m glad to see you taking up the adventurer’s life, Miss Grace. Clearly, you’ve survived at least some peril already; your talents must have played a part, but I’d like to think that the things I taught you were also of use.”
Liberty paused long enough to say, “Absolutely,” and tipped her hat to Allustan before leaving.