Willard Lives, Edmund Shits
Somewhere on the Elemental Plane of Water
I’m breathing hard. I just threw the construct’s head into the river that runs by the mouth of the cave. Now that the imminent danger is passed, it is bizarre to reflect on the legendary wizard Willard, whose mention alone would be enough to send men running. Here he is in this unmarked cave on a distant (and miserable) plane, represented as seated upon a chaise, without a heart. Something meaningful to learn from this, perhaps. I’m recalling a lesson in which my master…
Voices in discussion draw me out of my reverie. Abby is awake and moving around now, Jon having rescued her from the poison she received while seizing the eerie gem from the heart of the mage’s statue. Abby and Edmund are debating how to free Willard from the gem, if indeed it is Willard within it. Certainly, there is some vague human-like shadow trapped within the prism of the gemstone. Edmund, pointing to the ring he recovered from Willard’s study, remains convinced that his master is indeed caught within like a fly in amber.
“We need to return to Willard’s study”, says Edmund. “Breaking the gem might kill him”. We gather around, eager to be free of the plane of water. Jon readies the rod we obtained along with much pain at the Temple of Helga. With a crack he shatters the precious rod, and we seem to dive forward and backwards at the same time, reality shifting…
I have a vague recollection of the Elium in front of me, the droning of the monks, a certain friendly-if-overly-eager young face turning suddenly from lent prayers to peer avidly into our midst. Muttered words from Edmund. Again a shift in reality. And…
I’m very tired. Things were clearer when the Guild was calling the shots. Now I’m on my own and not doing very well for it, either. I’m tired of wizards, death and resurrection, existence. Where will I find the meaning I need to keep moving forward, now that I know beyond a doubt that Uros has abandoned me to my fate?
Edmund breaks the circle, replacing Willard’s items in their proper places, unlocking his desk. Jon and I agree to search the room again, this time looking for anything relevant to gemstones or soul capture. Jon finds something on what he believes translates as ‘Soul Alteration’. I find a slim volume on Dweomery, written in Common. The title causes me to start, then smile: “Semi-Precious Stones: Is the Spell Really Worth It?”. We bring our discoveries over to Edmund, who has taken a seat at the desk and is pondering the gem with uncertainty (fear?) marring his otherwise-remarkably attractive face.
“I believe we need to break the gem to free Willard”, he says. He and Abby begin to argue about how to open the gem. Worry is written strongly across Abby’s face. “Why don’t we smash it right here on the desk?”, Edmund suggests, gesturing for Abby’s enormous and possibly-enchanted bastard sword. Against her protests, he rests the gem on the flat side of the blade and strikes at it with a stiletto he had recovered from Willard’s desk earlier. Anticipating the inevitable reaction of an impervious mass hit by a sharp object on an unstable surface, Jon and I watch the gem fly across the room to land with several bounces and rolls on the study floor.
“Michael!”, Edmund yells. The manservant is soon leading us to the tower’s stables and workroom, where saddles can be mended and steel gear repaired. With some discussion we decide to use the vise near the furnace to crush the stone. A moment passes while we wait for Abby to set the gem within the jaws of the vise. Is there not some other way?
Abby sets about this task with gusto, using her lithe arms to twist the lever around and back, around and back. The gem is soon crushed into dust.
She halts, we all halt expectantly. Moments pass. Nothing moves. No sound passes. The moments become seconds, the seconds become minutes. No lighting. No thunder. No wizard. Dust.
Edmund shakes his head. “I’m going to bed”.
Late in the evening, Edmund awakens and comes to us in the study. “We need to find the house cat, Felicity. She’s orange, she was around the house this morning, and you’ll know her when you see her”.
Within an hour, Abby recovers the cat. Dead. Edmund looks upon this discovery and all color drains from his face. “We killed Willard, people. We must return to the Elium and get help”. Jon shrugs eloquently, “They will expect something horrendous from us in exchange.”
We gather in the familiar circle and soon are back in the main hall of the Elium, with a few monks still awake and praying. Linnfard is amongst them. “I knew it was you this afternoon. I knew it!” After a brief greeting, Edmund sends him off in search of Mother Jana. He leads us back towards our former rooms in a nearby gallery for visiting monks.
Linnfard has returned and is watching this avidly. Jon clasps Linnfard’s shoulder in a friendly manner and suggests, “This might be a good time for us to go see how your swords skills are coming along.” Linnfard is swept up in this. During the course of our walk to the weapons training area, he relentlessly pushes Jon to accept that if Linnfard can successfully hit all three of us, then he should be allowed to ask Mother Jana to join us. Jon attempts to scare the Paladin-in-Training with some cautionary notes about our travels.
His attempts are swiftly undone when Abby fumbles with her wooden sword and Linnfard easily (if clumsily) deals her a touch with his wooden sword. “Gotcha! That was easy!” “You certainly have improved, Linnfard,” she manages, though not pleased with her performance. “What’s the name of your teacher?” Linnfard blushes. “Her name is Rosie… but she’s not as pretty as you” he blurts.
We stifle laughs. I step up onto the mat next, and take a defensive stance. Linnfard spins and wheels as he launches attacks. He has certainly improved since those few weeks ago when we were last here. However he can’t penetrate my defenses tonight.
Linnfard is disappointed but still up for a game. “C’mon Jonathan! You promised!” He launches at Jon, but with practiced ease Jon vaults backwards and out of reach. This cycle is repeated a few times until Linnfard tires. He reaches towards some dull spears on the edge of the practice mat. “No fair!” he yells and begins to throw these practice spears at the tumbling form before him. To everyone’s surprise, one of his last spears bounces off of Jonathan’s arm. With a whoop, Linnfard begins to celebrate his victories. “See, I have gotten a lot better!”
We sit and chat for a while longer, eventually returning to our room, where we reunite with Edmund (?). Linnfard disappears for a while, and returns to our quarters with food and a very dusty bottle of wine.
“Linnfard, this had better not be a special bottle of wine!” scolds Jonathan. After some discussion, we send him back with instructions to return the wine and find something less ‘Rich’. He returns a few moments later with what can only be the same wine, this time poured into a glass jug. The smell is simply delicious and most of us enjoy it. Jonathan studiously avoids drinking it. He instructs Linnfard to leave the jug by the wall in a corridor not too close at hand.
Another day has passed. We have likely killed one of the most powerful wizards in Atlin, and delivered ourselves back into the hands of Mother Jana and the Church of Helga. I will be happy to close my eyes and sleep, if only to imagine simpler times. With that thought in mind, I climb into my bed and soon…
Just after sunrise. The monks are in the midst of their morning prayers.
After a brief breakfast, Abby and Edmund awaken and decide to visit her parents in Sweetwater. After his surprising victories in the practice yesterday, Linnfard was frothing with excitement for true battle. Perhaps hoping to bring him back to earth, or just to pass the time, Jon agreed to meet him later for another round of practice.
The day passed slowly at the Elium. By early evening, refreshed from exercise, both Jon and Rouse were waiting in their quarters when Abby and Edmund return. With a pop, they appear in the room. Quick greetings ensue. Jon asks, “Learn anything from Abby’s parents?”
Edmund looks bemused. “It appears that Abby’s mother Geraldine is a magic user. She attempted to cast a spell on me to make me, shall we say, more reliable”. His face darkening, he continued. “The bad news is that I misunderstood the spell that was holding Willard. We may very well have destroyed his soul when we crushed the gem. It was a higher level spell than I had assumed. Which makes Salithius the most likely suspect”.
The group pondered his words for a moment. Jon looked to Abby. “Do you remember your mother using magic when you were a kid?” She half-shakes her head. “I kind of remember moving things as a child. But I haven’t really thought about it in years…”
After some more discussion of her childhood memories, the group ate the remaining bits of cold cuts and breads brought in by Linnfard earlier. They begin to turn in, Abby extinguishing the candle, last to fall asleep.
Jonathan awakened with a start. Edmund was not in the room, a pale moonbeam illuminating his empty bed. Jon ran to the door, and peered down the hallway. In the dim corridor, a sheepish Edmund was walking painfully back to their quarters, wrapped in bedsheets. “My sphincter just emptied”. This is cause for some celebration.
Jon woke the rest of the group as Edmund entered the room, foul smell clinging to him. “My ring says that he is alive again. My sphincter says that he is well enough to be mad”. He looked expressively to Abby. She smiled.
A moment of calm. Suddenly, the door to the room swung open. And Edmund shat himself. Again.
Two monks entered the room, with a third man in simple garb between them. Dark hair shot through with grey flecks, youngish face of indeterminate age, neatly trimmed goatee. Swaying slightly, he turned his fatigued eyes upon the group, letting them linger slightly on Abby. Willard Kurtz, returned from the dead.
“Unworthy pupil, please tell me what it might feel like to be crushed in a vise?” He turned sharply towards Edmund, who was the source of yet another blast of horrible smell. “Or to hear your unintelligible argument over how to break the gem?”
We are back in Willard’s tower, in the kitchen. Michael told us upon our arrival that Willard has returned with Mabel, and is looking after her. On hearing that, Edmund returned to the Elium, presumably to settle accounts with Mother Jana. I don’t know how that turned out but here he was back in our midst, feared wizard in his own right, making pancakes meant to comfort Mabel upon her return. They’re not bad.
I want to know what terrible thing we need to do to make up for Helga’s intervention. Edmund shrugs. “Willard called me back. It’s not his problem, and not ours, yet. I think he wants us to do something for him first”.
Not expecting more than that, I sit down again and tuck back into the pancakes. A few moments later, Willard walks in, looking chipper, whistling slightly. A tiny kitten is nestled in the crook of his elbow. Edmund places a plate of pancakes before him on the wooden table. The arch wizard snorts softly and sits down with the food.
Willard sets down his fork. “She’s going to be fine. But she’s mighty angry at you and…” He points his knife at me. I take the point, figuratively. Abby asks the looming question. “So, what happened?” In response, Willard describes how he was conducting a particularly dangerous experiment with his colleagues, when he messed up. “Salithius took advantage of my momentary weakness to trap me in that gem”. He turns towards Jon. “Salithius is not involved in the little political game that MacEachern cooked up. He was after a different sort of prize. I’m somewhat diminished, and will remain that way for a while”. He falls silent for a moment.
The wizard turns back to Edmund. “I have a task for you. All of you, actually. I was working on it this morning.” He produces from his pockets a carefully-wrapped gift-box, like something you would buy a fancy chocolate in. “You are to deliver this to Salithius’ home on Cauldron Island. Not his home, really. I’d like it to be on his pillow. Then you will have to leave. Quickly. That’s your job.”
He hands a ring to Edmund. “This should help someone in your group”. He rises, the tiny kitten mewling as it wanders up his arm towards his shoulder. “Oh, and one thing more. Think about how to celebrate Mabel Day. Every year from now on”.
With that he wanders out of the room. Michael sneers slightly at us as he gathers the plates and pots from the breakfast.
October 11, 1135, noon
Edmund has returned to Willard’s tower from scouting The Cauldron with Vinnik. Though he sensed no magic, he did find a small cave at the waterline, accessible by boat from the lake, and by tunnel from a sentry post some distance inland. The island is a natural fortress, a good place for someone who didn’t want to be bothered by the outside world, and didn’t care what company he kept. The only settlement is by a group of privateers, pirates who make their living from those crossing Sweetwater Lake.
We discuss plans and set into a lunch of cold cuts and bread, provided by Michael. Edmund steps back from the table and heads to his room, whether to explore the cave further with his wizard’s eye or to rest, I’m not sure.
Commotion at the gates. The sound of galloping hooves as a lone rider enters the courtyard of Willard’s tower. Light footsteps running up the stairs. “Michael, Mabel!” a young girl’s voice yells, running into the kitchen. Amy has arrived, covered in branches and dirt.
Jon, Abby and I are in the kitchen as well. Amy sees us and looks greatly relieved, though entirely out of breath. “I was…delivering a package…to Johan the mender…when I got a message from…” She locks eyes with Abby. We bring her up to date.
Edmund has awoken and rejoined us, along with Amy. We are eating a warm dinner prepared by Mabel, who looks as if she lost about 10 pounds during her 14 hours of treading water on the elemental plane. It is a wonder she is still alive. We explain our plans and decide to set out the following morning, with Jon, myself and Edmund carrying out a reconnaissance mission. We will come back for Abby and Amy once we have determined how best to approach Salithius’ sleeping chambers. This is what assassins and thieves do. I’m looking forward to getting moving again.
October 12, 1135, late morning
Jon, Edmund and I have teleported into the water-filled cave that Edmund found on the east coast of The Cauldro. A landing stands at one end of the cave. We have passed through the door of this landing into an extensive cave complex. Edmund has made us invisible, hastened us and given us the power of flight. We have fought our way past two rust monsters and explored the twists and turns of these caves, with their many traps of poison darts, collapsing walls and ceilings. Going right we made it past several traps only to hit a dead end. Going left, with painstaking effort to find and disable alarms and traps, we have jumped through a permanent portal to a different set of caves. Going left from our arrival point, we move from the rough-hewn igneous rock of the previous passages into a rectangular room with wood paneling. We find secret doors, one in each wall. This looks more like a wizard’s type of home. Time to get Amy and Abby. Edmund disappears and quickly returns with the ladies, both armed for the occasion.
After a quick orientation, we gather our plans. Amy identifies tracks leading through the door on the left side of the room. We open this to find a toilet and behind it a guest room of some sort. Light is coming in through one of the windows, and we spot sails and water, a galleon floating just a few feet away. It appears we are in the pirates’ town at the center of the The Cauldron.
Reversing course, we take the right door. It leads us into a series of horrendous traps, culminating in a dead end. Time to reverse course once more. It seems likely that we are in the wizard’s guest house. Perhaps we will be luckier going back to our more recent teleportation point and heading right.
Doing so takes us back onto a promising path. We pass by an additional teleportation device with indeterminate destination. Soon the corridor changes appearance again, becoming marble-covered and decorative. A marble balustrade and waterfall blocks our path at the end of this corridor. Jon pushes ahead of the group, saying that it is just an illusion. He walks right through the balustrade. We all follow, breaking through the waterfall illusion.
Soon, we are walking up a stairway. At least a hundred stairs pass as we start upwards. We are now in a large marble room with a teleportation portal at its center. No other exits are apparent in spite of our searching.
After some consideration, we decide to try the portal out. Not knowing where it will deposit us has us all concerned. But it appears we have few options. The teleportation spell jumps us into an identical room. But Edmund detects that we have triggered an alarm. Reacting quickly, we gather into a circle and Edmund teleports us back to Willard’s kitchen. We will return the following morning, once we all have had a chance to rest.