The Mage's Quest

by C. Edwards

Prologue: Proud City of the High Seas

His hands and teeth clenched tightly as the silhouette at long last appeared against the starlit horizon.
"Canst thou not go faster?" he snapped at the man standing at the bow.
"This 'eres but a fishing boat, milord," the elderly captain said apologetically, "She won't go no quicker 'an this."
Erstam glared at the other, thinking to press the issue, but the weathered old eyes merely met his angered own with kind sympathy. With a deep breath, Erstam forced himself to calm: If what he had heard was indeed true, he told himself, it would make no difference if he arrived tonight or a thousand nights hence.

With a slight sigh, he returned to the starboard rail, clutching the damp wood tightly as the shadow ahead grew larger. Finally, as the captain and his two mates furled the small boat's single sail, Erstam could make out the large oaken dock in the faint moonlight. It was quickly bathed in pale white as Erstam's tall wooden staff burst forth magical light. The sailors thanked him, swearing under their breath of the lack of a lighthouse as they extracted large oars from the ship's hold. With a slight jolt, the ship came to rest. As the mates tied it in place, Erstam stepped up on the rail, jumping to the wood planks barely a foot below. Ignoring the shouted warnings of the sailors, he ran toward the city of his birth.

He barely noticed the crumbled remains of the lighthouse as he quickly passed, nor did his mind fully register the debris of the once mighty marble wall as he stepped over the piles of rubble. Only one thing mattered. At the north end of the desolate ruins, he stopped short as he beheld his goal.

Where there had once been his home now lay a pile of shattered oak planks and crumbled bricks. As his magic light bathed the charred remains, a glint of gold caught Erstam's tear filled eye. Climbing over the rubble, he bent down and began tossing chunks of rock aside, quickly finding the source -- a ring, wrapped around the finger of a lifeless hand. Now crying aloud, he desperately uncovered the whole of the body, finding its fine silk dress stained in blood, the once fair face marked with scars.

"Mother," he whispered. The only response was a forlorn wailing of wind. Softly crying, Erstam sat at the dead woman's side, whispering softly the stories she had once told at his bedside. As he spoke, the cold air began to stir. A low mist seemed to appear from nowhere, swirling around the still form before him. Suddenly, his heart skipped as he jumped up with a gasp, the mage slowly stepping back as the mist now formed itself into an unmistakable human form.

It was her! It had to be! The apparition seemed to reflect his mother's younger days, long before he had been born, but he could still recognize the distinct features, seemingly sculpted from the fog. Her kind eyes gazed into his, reflecting both sorrow and joy at seeing her boy had come home. Her mouth began to move, and though not a sound could be heard, Erstam knew she was telling of her pride in him, while also trying to warn him of the one path he she did not wish him to seek.

Before she was done, however, another light tore his attention away. Angrily turning on its source, he saw the captain of the fishing boat carrying a small torch toward him. When he turned back, his mother was gone.

"Just as I said, lad," the captain said softly as he approached, "I am so sorry; she were indeed a good woman."
With a heavy sigh, Erstam discovered that his frustration with the old man's interruption had quickly vanished. He was right, of course: There was nothing left. Nothing could be done about it either. Even if what he had seen had not been his imagination, there was nothing that could truly bring back his mother. Bending over the body one last time, he removed a small golden locket from around her neck.

"Family heirloom?" the man asked as Erstam stood again.
"I suppose," the mage quietly replied, "She said she would give it to me if I married, so that I could pass it on to my betrothed."
"Well," he said with a small smile, "Thou never knowest."
Erstam simply shook his head, "I doubt it. Mine studies are mine life." Then, reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his coinpurse, "For thy troubles..."
"Put them coins away, young mage," the other said, "Nothing I would not do fer another of mine hometown." With a start, the sailor then carefully turned to scan the area.
"What is it?" Erstam asked, again pocketing his purse.
"We must leave," he replied shakily, "According to ol' stories, those killed by Daemons will come back to haunt eternally. We do not want to be 'ere to find out if they art true."

Startled, Erstam looked back to where his mother lay. Perhaps the apparition had been real. He now closed his eyes, reaching out with his magical perceptions. His senses extending over the whole island, he could now feel a great disruption of natural forces surrounding each of the dead bodies. Their souls had not made the journey into the Ethereal Void. Instead, each of the dead were bound to their former body, and would each rise to forever guard the once proud city.

"I am afraid we should not even take the time for a decent burial, milord," the captain was now saying, "There may even be daemons still about!"
"Very well, let us leave this place," Erstam said, bringing his senses back into the natural.

The two then quickly walked back to the dock, eyes shifting as they both nervously watched the ruins for any signs of the undead. As Erstam climbed back into the boat, he allowed himself one last look over the fallen town. His despair now turned into anger, his mind now seeking some person or thing he could blame for this tragedy. Far to the northwest, he thought, there was a pompous man sitting on his new throne; the man who considered himself responsible for ending the Ages of Darkness.

What a pathetic man. The town had fallen due to its pride, or so the story first told to him by the old sailor went. Pride, as it happened, was the opposite of this 'glorious' new king's so-called Principles of Enlightenment, which he sought to impose upon the people of his new Britannia.

What would be next? Would more towns fall to this tyrant? Now filled with anger, Erstam envisioned himself storming into Castle Britannia, putting an end to this with his own bare hands. Such a vendetta would be foolish, however. If Lord British could have an entire town destroyed, one man, or even an army, could not hope to defeat him.

There was only one thing left, Erstam realized as the boat now set out to sea. As soon as news of this outrage reached the rest of the rebellion, he was sure they would follow his plan to leave this land and its tyrant behind. With another look in the direction of British's castle, Erstam hoped that someday, in this beast's new kingdom, there would be one who could stand up to the fool. He hoped it would be before he led the good people into a Fourth Age of Darkness.

What a truly pathetic man.

Part 1: Voyage of the Osprey

All around the ostentatious dock, in the shadow of a huge, triple masted vessel, the people were solemnly preparing to leave their homeland. From the hilltop, Erstam watched as the last of the supplies were carried into the ship. From the heavy step and sad faces of the Moon, Fawn, and Montor folk, it was clear none were pleased with the impending exile. None among them, however -- not even the brave knights of the Montors -- were willing to stay and face the daemons of an unjust king. Though they would not admit it, Erstam knew they were stricken by the fear of imposed ethics, and the horror of potential slaughter for their disloyalty.

Two figures now approached him on the hill. Erstam's eyes lit as they met those of his mentor, the kind and wise Armand. The old mage was clearly just as glad to see his apprentice, his charismatic smile beaming as he strode towards him. The other, a familiar girl a few years older than he, was not as happy at the reunion. Erstam felt the feeling to be mutual as he met her tired, worn eyes. To his surprise, she took a deep breath and spoke first.

"Erstam," she greeted, her face brightening slightly, "It has been a long time."
"Indeed, Jenna," he returned with a quizzical look.
"It is time thou didst resolve thy differences," Armand explained, "After all, thou wilt both be on the same voyage."
"Thou art coming?" Erstam asked, taken by surprise.
"Yes," Jenna replied, "As soon as I heard of Magincia, I decided to join the rebellion against the tyrant." She then quietly asked, "Mother?"
Erstam solemnly shook his head. "All in the proud town are gone," he said.
"Such is why the leaders of Fawn, Montor, and myself came to this decision," Armand said, gesturing to the people working below, "I dare say that most of them do not believe in thy plan to find a new land, Erstam. They are here out of desperation."
"I am certain we will find the Serpent Pillars," Erstam said determinedly, "Thanks to thine help, mine research has shown how the Osprey may find our new home."
"I hope thou art right," Jenna said.
"So do I," Erstam said under his breath.

A tall, powerful warrior clothed in brightly decorated plate armour now strode up to the three.
"It is nearly time to go," he announced, "Thou shouldst all get on the ship."
"Very well, Kalad," Armand said as he prepared to follow the knight, "Our destiny awaits."

Erstam and Jenna carefully walked beside each other as they came to the huge vessel. Each eyed the other questioningly, afraid the bitter family arguments of times past would return. Finally, as they stepped onto a wide boarding plank, Erstam broke the tense silence.
"We can put the past behind us," he said, "Mother would want us to."
"Perhaps we can," Jenna smiled slightly.

They came onto the crowded deck, joining Kalad and Armand at the port rail of the Osprey. All eyes turned for one final look over the now abandoned city of Fawn, the many beautiful marble houses and palaces stripped of their belongings and inhabitants. Kalad and the other knights of the Montors turned their thoughts to their mighty fortified villages, which also lay unmanned, while the mages remembered the simple huts and shops of Moon.

Several fighters drew in the large planks. With a heavy jolt that rocked the whole ship, mighty oars on the middle of the three lower decks thrust against the dock. The Osprey began her long journey, at last setting out on the ocean. While the crew fought with heavy ropes and pulleys to unfurl the huge sails, the passengers looked to the stern, silently watching the coast grow smaller against the midday horizon.

The Osprey spent a long month on the open sea without great incident. Though she had encountered several squalls, the sturdy vessel held well against the fierce waves and strong winds. Thanks to the quick reactions of her well trained crew, the ship had never taken on any great amount of water, and had successfully navigated each of the small storms.

The passengers passed most of the time in their quarters, only meeting three times each day at the long table in the mess hall. Though minor arguments and fights between folk of differing origins often resulted, the clearer minded mages and knights had so far quenched the squabbles.

Erstam found most of his time spent with his books and scrolls. All held some mention of the Serpent Pillars; a few even claimed knowledge of the land beyond. Most of the earlier works were little more than the ramblings of drunken sailors, but over the years following the Second and Third Ages of Darkness, more and more stories of the great artifacts had appeared. The most recent came from mages who had actually seen the pillars, using their magic in attempt to ascertain their properties. Over the last five years, Erstam had gathered their logs from across the lands, with the gracious help of Armand.

Tonight, though, Erstam found his mind turned to another pursuit. Setting aside the writings of the pillars, he reached in to the small dresser beside his bed, extracting a small rectangular chest from the top drawer. He then pulled his mother's locket from a small pouch tied around his simple robes. Carefully, he opened the locket, revealing the tiny portraits of his mother and father. With his fingernail, he dug into a small notch carved between his father's picture and the golden shell. Prying the picture from the shell, he revealed a tiny, dull gray key. Pulling this out, he slipped it into the lock of the chest. It fit perfectly. With a slight turn, the chest popped open for the first time in two decades.

Inside, a black leather-bound book bore his father's name in runic across its dusty cover. He had placed the locket, key, and chest inside the drawer, preparing to open the book, when a sudden knock on the door startled him.
"Who is it?" he asked.
"'Tis only I, Armand," came the reply.
"Do come in," Erstam said. Armand entered the small cabin, sitting next to Erstam on the cot.
"What is that?" the older mage indicated the book.
"It is a journal of mine father's. I have become quite interested in his experiments."
"Ah, yes, he was a bright man. More than a little impetuous, as I remember," then with a slight smile, "Much like thee."
"Oh, but I did prove thee wrong," Erstam said with a chuckle.
"And never have I been happier to be disproven!" Armand exclaimed, "I decided to fuel thy search for the Serpent Pillars despite my disbelief. I was so proud when thou didst return with so much proof."

The two talked long into the night, as they had many times before. As always, Erstam listened intently to the stories of his father, in the days before his tragic mental decline. When the morning sun was only a few hours away, Armand at last stepped from the young mage's quarters, allowing him some much needed sleep. Not yet feeling tired himself, he wandered to the stairs at the end of the hall, climbing up onto the deck of the gently swaying ship.

There, at the bow rail, Jenna stood in her night gown under the bright glow of Trammel and Felucca. A slight wind tugged at her thin garment and fine red hair as she turned a thoughtful gaze to the starlit horizon.
"Greetings," she said as she noticed his arrival, "Please, join me."
"Art thou not cold?" he asked as he approached.
"I hardly notice it," she shrugged, "I believe I have too much else on mine thoughts."
"Erstam, I would imagine."
"Yes," she nodded slightly, "And our family."
"Thou shouldst speak with him more."
"Our quarrel is an old one," she said with a deep sigh, "But thou art right, of course. I have hardly talked to him at all since I left home." Thoughtfully, she added, "Tell me, what is he like?"
"Much like thy father," Armand said, "I know Erstam barely knew him, but he does seem to take after him. Why, when I visited tonight, I knew I would find him reading late. Thine father always did."
"That is what I was afraid of," Jenna said, "That he is becoming our father." Just then, a sudden thought struck her. She turned her eyes directly into Armand's, asking sternly, "What was he reading?"
"Actually, it was your father's own notes," Armand replied uneasily, "What is wrong?"

With a wince of pain, Jenna turned her gaze back to the sky, filling her lungs with a deep, careful breath.
"It appears," she said evenly, "That I will have to have a chat with mine little brother in the morning. Thank thee, Armand."

A startled Armand could only watch as she turned sharply, storming down into the lower decks.

Erstam yawned widely as he collapsed into his seat at the small table. He slowly dug into his breakfast, tiredly watching as the mess soon became crowded with the rest of the ship's waking passengers. The other seats at his table were quickly filled, as a group of Montorian knights placed their hefty helpings around him.
"Good morning, mage," a voice boomed from across the table.
"Good morning, Kalad," he muttered, recognizing the large figure.
"Well, 'tis another, bright, peachy morn, isn't it? Not a Pillar in sight!"
Erstam simply continued eating, ignoring the loud laugh of the other knights.
"Tell me Erstam; didst thou not say we should see them by now?"
"We are close," Erstam calmly explained, "We shall find them in a matter of days."
"We have been out for a month now!" another knight yelled, "I cannot wait another day!"
"Yes, I think our little mage here has led us on a wild chase," Kalad said, "For thy sake, worm, we had better find something!"
Erstam now jumped to his feet, striding around the table to the leader of the knights. Bending down, he brought his face dangerously close to Kalad's.
"I do not take well to threats," he said quietly, "Or insults."
"What, exactly, wilt thou do about it if I continue?" Kalad asked, now standing to tower over the mage.
"Stop it!" a voice yelled from across the room. Turning to look at the rest of the mess hall, Erstam and Kalad saw that a small crowd had formed, many eagerly awaiting a good fight between the warrior and mage. At the head of the spectators, though, Armand calmly stood with several other passengers who had volunteered as security guards.
"We cannot fight amongst ourselves," Armand continued, "The Pillars shall be found only through our cooperation."
"They shall not be found at all! We must return, or perish out here at sea!"
"And face the beast British?" Erstam quietly challenged.
"Better than dying on thine foolish quest!"

Kalad thrust his fist into the mage's chest, sending the young man to the hard planks of the floor. As the other knights jumped from their seats, the guards charged over to subdue the violent Kalad. Their attempts were met with the well trained kicks and punches of the Montor knights. Other fights soon broke out among the rest of the passengers, as those who agreed with Kalad struck in outrage against those who endorsed the continued search for the Serpent Pillars. The entire room was quickly consumed by the brawls, the guards helplessly caught in the middle of the violence.

Pain searing through his back, Erstam slowly stood. Nearby, several guards already lay unconscious at Kalad's feet, as the warrior's rage tore towards Armand. Erstam flinched as he saw his mentor receive a mighty kick in his stomach. He didn't get the chance to see Armand's counter; a flying fist of one of the other knights impacted heavily on his right ear. Erstam yelled with the pain, but quickly turned on the young man with a viscous punch to his face. Before the stunned warrior could recover, Erstam sent him to the floor with a quick kick to his stomach. As an idea suddenly came to the mage, he left the winded man and climbed on top of the nearby table.

Standing above the melee, Erstam grabbed a small package from one of the many pockets inside his mage's robes. As he carefully unwrapped the parchment paper, revealing a finely ground blue powder within, he heard a loud metallic ring among the shouts and blows of combat. The knights had drawn weapons. Quickly, Erstam recited a series of arcane words, completing his spell by blowing into the powder. The small cloud of dust quickly expanded as it floated away from his hand, sprinkling a glittering rain of blue dust over the fighting crowd.

Though the dust quickly vanished, its powerful spell was quickly felt. Drawn weapons fell from the hands of suddenly fatigued soldiers, violent rage dying away to tired yawning as the sleep enchantment took effect. Armand and Kalad stopped their exchange of blows as many around them simply dropped to the floor, so tired they had nearly fallen asleep where they had stood. Soon, the only left standing in the room were the elder mages and strongest fighters among the passengers. Armand left an astonished Kalad, carefully stepping over the sleeping bodies as he walked to Erstam's table.

"Good work, lad!" he said with an appreciative smile. As he helped the young mage down from the tabletop, Kalad stormed angrily to Erstam.
"Damn thee and thy foul magic!" Kalad cursed. Before Armand could act, a heavy blow from the great knight sent Erstam a fate similar to that of his powerful spell.

When he awoke, Erstam found Jenna's worried eyes looking down into his own. As he sat up, surprised to find himself back in his quarters, a cold, damp cloth fell onto his lap. Now noticing the heavy throbbing in his skull, Erstam brought the cloth back up against his bruised forehead.
"Thou didst take quite a beating this morning," Jenna said quietly.
"So did quite a few, as I understand," Erstam replied, "Wert thou hurt?"
Jenna shook her head, saying, "I try to avoid the mess when the Montor men are in there. Mostly because I am tired of their constant propositioning!" She laughed slightly, but quickly became serious again, "I heard it took Armand and the others several minutes to subdue Kalad in his quarters after he knocked thee. We can only expect more violence if the Serpent Pillars are not soon found."
"We should be entering the area I triangulated on mine map by tomorrow morning," Erstam said, reaching into the bottom drawer of his dresser. He pulled out a cloth map, handing it to Jenna. An ink circle covered a large area of ocean far to the east of the known Sosarian lands, Erstam's shaky writing marking it as the most likely location of the Serpent Pillars.
"That is a fair bit to cover," Jenna said, "It will take a week just to cross the breath of thine mark."
"Hopefully, we should see them before that," Erstam said. He then asked thoughtfully, "Why art thou here?"
"I talked to Armand," she said, meeting his eyes with an intent gaze, "He told me thou wert reading a certain journal."
"What of it?" Erstam shrugged, "I read what I will."
"Thou art seeking the answers Father could not," Jenna said sternly, "I know thou hast sought to continue his foolish research for many years."
"Thou knowest nothing of me!" Erstam protested.
"Then why art thou bothering? Thou knowest Father died in his pursuit!"
"I would find out how!" Erstam cried, "Mother wanted me to! She would have given me the locket..."
"That old story!" Jenna exclaimed incredulously as she jumped from her chair, "The truth is, Mother was waiting until she was sure thou wert old enough to handle the facts of our Father's death. She wanted to be sure thou would not tread the same path."
Erstam stood as well, facing his fuming sister. "I have no intention of dying as our father did," he said evenly, "I feel I have a right, however, to find out exactly how he perished. It is a shame thou hast never trusted me -- it would appear our mother did not fully believe in me either."
Jenna flinched, tears streaming from her eyes as she realized the harsh truth to her brother's statement. Very carefully, her voice lowered once again, she asked, "Thou wilt not do it then?"
"Of course not. Thou hast mine promise."
"I will give thee a chance then," she smiled slightly, "As thou said, thou dost have a right to know. Perhaps, in due time, I can tell thee what little I knew of our father. Armand was his best friend though; I am sure he has already told thee far more."
"Actually," Erstam returned the smile, "I would appreciate that."
"I should go now," Jenna said, finally allowing herself to relax, "I will visit again."

The following days each seemed an eternity as the ship searched the area Erstam had marked. Though he wisely stayed away from the mess hall during its most crowded hours, Armand brought Erstam many reports of further violence, each incident quenched mere seconds before blood would have spilled. The mages, taking after Erstam's example, had begun to come more prepared to the room, having several nonviolent spells at their disposal. The restless warriors and other sea-weary passengers managed to cause more and more havoc each time, though, and soon people would suffer before the mages could act.

Jenna passed most of her time on the ship's bow. More frequently, though, she had visited Erstam, at long last trying to reconcile with the man. Though their brief conversations were tainted by many tense moments, Jenna had managed to reveal snippets of her ten years on her own. Most of it had been in the beautiful city of Fawn, where she had found employment as an aide to Lady Fawn herself. Though many of the pompous residents had often been a pain to deal with, Jenna had to admit that, at first, she had been somewhat flattered by their adoration of her beauty. After the Lady's passing, however, she had soon grown tired of the superficial values upon which the town was based, and had fled to the Montors. Though many of the men here were even more difficult to bear, she had managed to learn some fighting skills by the time she had heard of the plan to leave Britannia.

As two more weeks slowly passed, the crew's careful search of the ocean revealing no sign of the pillars, the bold plan seemed to be for naught. Now, most of the passengers and even many among the sailing crew felt their best hope lay in a return to the mainland. Even Jenna and Armand had discussed the prospect and come to the same conclusion; with heavy storms looming on the horizon and Osprey's rapidly dwindling food supply, there were simply no other choices.

That night, as the two once again watched the night sky, many heavy thunderheads could be seen in the northeastern horizon. Slowly emerging from the hatch to the lower decks, Erstam joined them, head bowed as he silently spoke.
"I have heard of the plans to face the Beast."
"We have little choice, my friend," said Armand, "If we only had more time, more rations, perhaps we could locate the Pillars."
"Assuming they do exist," Jenna added with a slight bitterness.
"Thou dost not believe in me?" Erstam asked with a quiet sigh, "Actually, I can not blame thee. We have been searching long with no sign they were ever here."
"Then thou dost agree that we should turn around?" Jenna asked.
"One more night," Erstam said, "Allow the search to go on until morning. We shall turn back before noon tomorrow."
"Erstam, my lad," Armand said, "I am glad thou hast made the right choice; I know how important the pillars were to thee."
"I have seen and felt the ravages of this voyage," Erstam said solemnly, "Mine head doth still ache from Kalad's mighty blow! Frustration doth tear at this crew -- if the violence were to kill, I would feel the heavy burden upon mine own shoulders."
As he slowly turned back to the hatch, he stopped short, feeling a gentle hand placed upon his shoulder. Looking back, he met an appreciative smile from Jenna.
"Wilt thou be okay?" she asked kindly.
"Of course," he returned the smile, "Thou see, there should be other islands of which Lord British has not heard; I shall devote my new studies to finding their location."

Jenna and Armand watched the man calmly disappear into the lower decks.
"He has taken this far better than I would have expected," Armand noted, turning back to Jenna, "His research was the most important thing in his life."
"Actually, there was one other," Jenna said softly, "I just hope he doth have the strength to resist its lure."

Late that night, Jenna suddenly sat up in her bed, a terrible shiver running through her spine. She felt a deep tingling in her gut, one she had felt many, many years ago as a young girl. Though she was no mage, she had always felt a mysterious ethereal connection to the last man who had cast a spell similar to the one she was surely feeling now. As the feeling slowly died away, her mind came to a horrible, yet undeniable conclusion. Her brother had cast one of her father's spells.

Though awakened at an early hour, Erstam eagerly followed the messenger up to the torrential downpour on the deck. All around, crew were struggling to furl the huge sails, a heavy wind roughly tossing the ship from side to side. Having great news for the captain, he quickly followed up the short flight of stairs to the bridge, where the old seaman stood at the ship's wheel.

"Hail, mage," he shouted over the howling wind, "We've run afoul of a great storm, as thou hast surely noticed. It'll get worse yet if we continue on this bearing -- Osprey will never survive its full fury." He gestured to the messenger, who obediently ran off to aid the other sailors.
"Captain, I know where the Serpent Pillars are!" Erstam exclaimed, "I found them with my magic last night; we must head northwest!"
"Northwest!" the captain exclaimed, "That'll take us straight into the storm's heart!"

Just then, a drenched Jenna ran up from below. With an angered look at Erstam, she yelled, "I hope thou art telling him to turn around!"
"No, lass," the captain said, "He just told me he knows where the pillars can be found!"
"Oh, dost thou," Jenna placed her hands on her hips, "Would that have something to do with Black Magic?"
"How couldst thou..."
"How couldst thou, dear brother?" she screamed, "Thou didst promise!"
"It was not a dark spell!" Erstam stammered, "''Twas only a simple scrying, to help me see into the Ether!"
"'Tis but the first step upon the Foolish Quest!" She cried heavily, sharply turning her back to Erstam as she made her way back to the bow.

Before Erstam could go to her, two more figures appeared on deck. The young mage was more than a little shocked as Armand and Kalad also came to the bridge.
"Hail, captain! I have roused the knights as thou ordered," Kalad proclaimed, "They now man the oars."
"Good work, but we'll also need men strong of arm to work the pumps," the captain said, "No doubt we'll take on much water if he head into that tempest!"
"Head in to it?" Armand exclaimed incredulously, "Why?"
"I have found the Pillars!" Erstam exclaimed again, "I saw them with mine magic."
"I thought this was settled, mage!" Kalad bellowed, "Even Armand and I now agree it would be our best course!"
"But, the magic doth not lie!"
"I do not trust thy magic!" Kalad brought his reddened face dangerously close to Erstam, "We shall go home now!"
"I agree! Home to New Sosaria," pushing Kalad away, he turned to the captain, "Thou heard me; if thou dost wish to live a new life, far removed from the tyrant British, thou shalt have this ship turned to the northwest!"

Before any of the stunned three could respond, Erstam fled back to the deck, placing his hand on Jenna's shoulder as he approached the young lady. His hand was tossed aside as she spun on him.
"Thou traitor!" she cried.
"Jenna, I will keep mine promise!" Erstam explained, "I only cast a simple..."
"'Scrying spell'," she interrupted, "Yes, I know what thou said, but how can I believe thee? Thou said thou wouldst not cast any of his spells."
"I said I would not follow mine father's path!" Erstam corrected.
"The spell is the first step, dost thou not see!" Jenna screamed, "Thou knowest this is wrong; our mother knew this was wrong!"
"How wouldst thou know?" Erstam challenged, "Thou never knew Mother! Thou never loved her!"

Erstam's felt his face suddenly explode with pain as her fist impacted. Before he could act, a second blow to his chest sent him down hard against the wet, rocking deck.

As Jenna stepped back, astonished at what her anger had done, Kalad stormed onto the deck, drawing a large sword from a scabbard on his great leather belt.
"Step aside, woman," he growled, roughly pushing her away as he advanced on the fallen Erstam, "I shall finish this for thee!"
"Kalad, no!" Armand yelled from the stairs as he rushed down, though he knew there would be no way to reach his apprentice in time.

Seeing the brutal man standing over her brother, about to deliver a fatal blow, Jenna sprang into action once more. She sent her foot high, connecting with a dull thud against Kalad's thick neck. The warrior yelled out, clutching at his throat with his left hand, as he turned on his attacker. He thrust violently with his sword, but she quickly sidestepped, sending her fist at his face. The punch was deftly blown aside by his well-timed left arm, while his left sent the sword toward her abdomen. Just as the sword came within a hair's breadth of its mark, he suddenly stopped its motion, instead bringing his left hand around into her ribs.

"I do not wish to kill thee, fair lady," he explained, as she doubled over at the crushing blow. Leaving her, he strode back to Erstam, now standing firmly against the swaying of the deck. As Kalad strode to him, he noticed the all too calm expression on the mage's face. Too late, he realized why; the mage brought his left hand, which he opened to reveal a small amount of blue powder, to his lips and gently blew. The resulting dust filled his lungs with a soothing aroma as it blanketed his body. As the tension drained from his muscles, he found himself falling to his knees, his sword falling from his limp hand as he fought to suppress a wide yawn.

"No," Kalad protested, "Thy magic... I cannot..." It was all he could manage before the full impact of the spell collapsed his body into deep slumber.

Erstam had little time to rejoice, however. The wind around the ship was gathering strength, blowing heavy waves against the hull. As Osprey tipped more violently now, those on deck quickly ran to the ship's rail, grasping for support. A recovered Jenna was helped to Erstam, Armand and the woman taking hold next to Erstam.
"Erstam, we should get out of here!" Armand said.
"No, look!" Erstam shouted, pointing to the northwest.
"I see, nothing, Erstam!" Armand yelled.
"Look with thy magic!"
"Very well." Armand closed his eyes and concentrated. Intoning a simple spell, he suddenly saw the ship in his mind, far below as if he were seeing from a hawk's viewpoint. The image shifted as he sent this mind's eye to the northwest, the vision piercing through the gray storm clouds, giving a clear view of the seemingly endless ocean. Suddenly, he stopped, sensing something strange. A great magical power seemed to reach out to the eye, drawing the mage's mind down to and below the water's surface. There, many feet below, he could make out a large shape against the dark, murky water. It was a serpent's head.

"By the gods!" Armand exclaimed, opening his eyes, "Why could I not detect that before?"
"Thou hast first to know where to look," Erstam said, "Only my father's spell..."
"I'm sure there would have been another way," Jenna protested. Then, calming, "But I will not argue with thee now. If the Pillars are there we must go to them now."

As the ship now temporarily came back into balance, several crew now gathered on to deck, having successfully brought the huge sails in. Overhearing Jenna, the captain ordered several of them to go below deck and help the Montor knights with the oars. Two others grabbed Kalad from the starboard rail, which had saved him from the cold ocean during the ship's great rocking. Not long after they disagreed under the deck, the ship began to turn against the terrible blowing.

The effort of the strong men slowly pushed the ship further into the storm. The passengers had all been roused from their quarters by messengers from the crew, each instructed to help as they could. Buckets were passed out from emergency holds around the vessel, as the exhausted men below were having little success bailing the torrents of water with the ship's pumps. The heavy waves and driving rain brought still more water, though; the battle to keep the ship afloat was a losing one. Already, the Osprey was riding low in the raging sea.

Then, with a deafening boom, mighty sprays of water suddenly shot from the water ahead of the bow. From the deck, two large eruptions of foam could be seen through the thick storm clouds. The ship was shaken even more violently than before, those on deck clinging desperately to the rail as Osprey tipped sickeningly up and down in the water. Two large stone columns suddenly shot up out of the water, quickly rising far above the tallest mast of the large ship. Finally, as they rose a final height nearly twenty times that of the mast, the ship was once again left to only the storm's ravages.

It was a small relief, but allowed a large group of passengers to make their way up onto deck, marveling at the huge structures as they dumped buckets of water back into the sea. Though the ship still carried much water, and took on more by the second, all simply stopped and awed at the huge Serpent Pillars as the ship at long last drew toward them. Though the tired workers below were now taking a much needed rest from their rowing, the ship was mysteriously gaining speed as she approached.

As the stone serpents entwining the Pillars loomed closer, many screamed and wailed in fear at the imposing, lifelike beasts. A loud hissing sound grew louder by the second, and some even thought they could see great forked tongues flicking in and out of the creatures' mouths.

Seeing the panic around him, Erstam turned to address the crew, shouting above the loud din.
"Please, be thou calm," he said, "According to the legends, the Serpents are merely guardians -- they will not bar us if we doth come in peace."

Though his words did little to reassure the frightened passengers, all were quiet as the bow of the ship came between the Pillars. A blue-white glowing formed in the air around the ship, bathing the ship from bow to stern as more passed into the gateway. In seconds, nothing could be seen but the magical light. It then grew so bright that many thought they would be blinded, and then, just as suddenly, vanished altogether. And the world around changed forever.

The clear sky showed a new set of stars, and neither Trammel nor Felucca could be seen anywhere. A young mage quietly stood under this new sky, reflecting on his long journey.

As soon as the last of the water had been bailed into the now calm sea, most of the passengers and crew had retreated into their quarters for much needed rest. The clear sky showed no signs of further trouble for miles; sailing further in this new world would simply have to wait until all were refreshed.

The rogue knight Kalad had been confined into his small room by the others of Montor, and would surely face a harsh judgement as soon as their new society was founded. Already, he had been stripped of all title and rank for his crime of attempted murder.

Erstam's sister had not spoken to him since they had arrived in this alien ocean. Though he knew their bitter argument would no longer continue, neither would any further attempt to reconcile their many differences. Thankfully, Erstam still found Armand to be as kind as ever; the old man was indeed proud of his apprentice now, having overseen the young mage's plan from its earliest seeds to this new, unbelievable achievement.

Late into the night, as Erstam stood alone at the rail overlooking the fruits of his labour, he pulled a familiar gold locket from his pouch. He had closed and locked his small treasure chest, and the gray key now lay back in its shell. The locket, which now brought only sad memories of a distant land, now slipped between the fingers of his outstretched hand. He could barely hear the splash as it disappeared into the water.

A loud cheer could be heard the following morning, from all the weary passengers and crew of the Osprey. Not more than half a day's sail to the east, New Sosaria, their home, awaited.

Part Two: The Land Beyond the Pillars

The early years passed quickly, as almost every waking moment of Erstam’s life was occupied with studying the so-called Serpent Isle. The Ophidian ruins had intrigued him since the moment he had spotted them from the bow of the Osprey. He often took other, more seasoned adventurers with him on his treks, exploring the many temples and buildings throughout the land. He made sure to visit his new home in Moonshade, the town which the mages had established on the Isle of Beyond, each summer. There were some students in town who took magic lessons from him when he was around, and he served a mostly ceremonial position on the Council of Mages, as most Adepts knew and respected him as the founder of Serpent Island civilisation.

In his travels, he also took the time to visit Monitor, to hear news from Jenna, his sister who had been among the passengers of the Osprey. Though their talk was brief and often awkward, Erstam had learned that she held the rank of commander among the stalwart knights. She told of the raids of goblins, the despicable green-skinned creatures who roamed the land. Though Erstam had crossed paths with the beasts in his journeys, he had been horrified to learn that they made a meal of their enemies. He thought she was mad to charge into battle against such abominations, and tried to coerce her into a less dangerous profession. Stubborn as always, she would hear none of it.

His few visits to his home had been taxing, as he had endured the Council and their political bickering. Thankfully, the Council was far different from the monarchy of Old Sosaria; though the mages had a king-like Head Councillor, this position was appointed by the other seven members. All laws passed by the Head were also first approved by the rest of Council, allowing for a much more equivocal government, in Erstam’s opinion. The arguing and infighting, however, had always made any law difficult for the leader to pass, often leaving an important issue undecided for months or even years.

Armand, Erstam’s old friend and mentor, had been the first Head Councillor, and had overseen most of the town construction in the early years. He had been a wise, efficient leader, and had managed to calm most of the chaos in the Council. It did not last long, however, for Armand soon became frail with old age. It had been in the spring of Armand’s eleventh year in Council when the old man had simply passed away in his sleep. Erstam felt a deep emptiness when he had gone; the only man who truly cared for and trusted the once naïve, headstrong young Erstam.

Armand’s widowed wife, a wise woman named Xenka, was asked to take over the Council in Armand’s absence. However, she had started having ‘visions’, as she called them, about the end of the world. She would preach these visions often about the town, and though Erstam hardly believed her mad words, he was appalled at the Council’s treatment of the old woman; they banished her from the city, telling her never to spread her lies around again. Erstam finally saw the Council for what they were: self-serving charlatans who simply disposed of anyone who got in the way of their rule.

Just as he had been preparing to leave the Council for good, however, the mages had appointed a new member. A stunningly beautiful and strong willed woman, Drogeni had quickly gained favour within the council. Erstam had met with her several times after Council, often dinning with her at the Blue Boar Inn. They slowly fell in love, marrying five years after they had met, in a quiet, private ceremony. Their times together, though few and often far apart, would be remembered by the mage as both the happiest and most trying of his life.

He caught the boy by the shoulder, his mischievous grin quickly fading as he was turned to meet Erstam’s heavy frown.

“What is thy name, little one?” Erstam asked evenly.

“Torrissio,” he swallowed hard, shaking with fear.

“Very well, Torrissio,” Erstam replied, “What hast thou in thy hand?”

“Nothing!” he cried desperately.

“Show me now!”

The boy reluctantly put out his right hand, showing Erstam a small, ivory tooth.

“A Serpent Tooth!” Erstam exclaimed, “That would have been the fifth one to go missing, had I not stopped thee! Who told thee that thou shouldst steal this?”

“Pothos!” the boy explained, eager to place blame on anyone but himself, “He dared me!”

“Pothos, eh?” Erstam considered.

“Yes! Please do not beat me!” Torrissio cried.

“I shall not beat thee, Torrissio,” Erstam sighed, “This time. See to it that thou dost never come in my house again.”

Just then, Drogeni entered the house. Her muscles lax with exhaustion, she frowned at the sight of her husband arguing with a boy half his size. Grabbing the tooth from the boy’s hand, Erstam let him go. He wasted no time bolting past Drogeni, who simply stood aside to let him pass through the door.

“The children are stealing thy Serpent Teeth again?” Drogeni asked with a sigh.

“Indeed,” Erstam said, “They have no respect for their teacher.”

“Has their teacher respect for them?” she asked. She came into the main room, sitting herself in a one of the three oaken chairs set at the small table in the centre of the room. Erstam, relaxing only slightly, placed himself across from her, meeting her eyes directly with his.

“I respect all who use magic to seek the truth about our universe.”

“Thou didst not answer my question,” Drogeni returned flatly.

“Drogeni, must we do this now?” Erstam desperately tried to change the subject, “Thou art obviously tired.”

“We must, Erstam. I am going on business soon, as thou dost well know,” she now spoke very carefully, “I want Pothos in good hands whilst I am away. I cannot have thee losing thy temper every time one of the children bothers thee.”

“They all test my patience! Canst thou not see?” Erstam implored, “Of course I doth not respect them; they do not earn it!”

“And thou dost not earn theirs!” Drogeni snapped, “We hath spoken of this before, Erstam: thou need not be such an ogre to them. They are merely tweaking thy beard to see what reaction they can draw from thee.”

Erstam shot up from his seat, about to shout a reprimand, but stopped as he came to a sudden realisation. Maybe she was right. He sat again, carefully considering her words.

“They must know who I am,” Erstam said, “I was the one who”

“Everyone knows that!” Drogeni interrupted, “Does that give thee any right to lash at those who taunt thee?”

Erstam paused, again taken back by her words. As much as Drogeni's bluntness had hurt him over the years, his love for her was only strengthened by her honesty.

“I suppose not,” he said at last, “Though I do wish I knew why they treat me so.”

“Most likely, they have heard of thine experiments,” Drogeni whispered back.

“What experiments?” Erstam suddenly felt the dark shadow of guilt creeping into him.

“The immortality experiments, Erstam. I found thy father’s notebook, torn from its casing, in thy laboratory.”

“You went into my laboratory!” he yelled. The loud slam of his fist on the table startled both of them; Erstam rarely became so enraged when his wife was around.

“Yes, Erstam,” Drogeni’s voice still managed to sound calm and cold, though her eyelids were now wet with tears, “Thou canst keep no secrets from me; I am thy wife, am I not?”

“Indeed, and as mine wife I expect thee to respect mine privacy!”

“And I expect thee to tell me when thou art endangering thine own life.”

“I am always careful with mine experiments, thou knowest that.”

“That did not help thine father, Erstam,” she didn’t even blink as Erstam’s eyes went wide with surprise and anger, “I have read the notes; I know what happened. As thy wife, I can forgive thee for whatever you have done so far. But know this: If thou pursue immortality any further, thou wilt lose my love, and thy son.”

“Thou wouldst leave me?” Erstam asked quietly, “Thou wouldst take mine only son away?”

“I will Erstam,” as she rose from her seat, Erstam could catch the unmistakable glint of tears streaming down her delicate cheeks, “When I get back from this business, I want to see the abandon thy quest. I also want to see that thou hast stopped letting those children pull thy strings.”

Without another word, she stormed to the large, rounded door, throwing it open and slamming it shut behind her.

Outside, Drogeni nearly collapsed with grief. She braced herself against the door as the tears came out. How could she be so foolish as to marry this man? No, that was not the question - she knew exactly why; he had been a charming man of high morals when she had met him. He was not the same as the other mages, was not the double-dealing, self-serving hypocrite that the typical Adepts was. Instead, he had been an honest, decent man who pursued his craft with an unmatched enthusiasm.

His attitude, however, had steadily become more negative over the years, though. Like Drogeni, he was tired of dealing with the other mages, and wanted only a fair and even ruling for the city. Drogeni had fought the greed of the mages herself, and could understand how one could grow tired of them. When they were not plotting to raise their status in Council, they were likely stealing magic secrets from another, all the while furiously guarding that which they learned.

If only Erstam would fight against the scandalous behaviour, as Drogeni had. She had spent years working her way up in the Council, hoping to work her way towards leadership of the city, when she would be in a position to stop the dishonesty. She had tried many times to convince Erstam to pursue similar goals, but he insisted the effort was worthless; the others would not listen to him, he claimed.

Over the years, it had become clear that Erstam cared only for his research. He seemed to have few friends in the town, and rumours of the occult nature of his studies spread like wildfire among the town gossips. She was bound to him though, and would not revoke their marriage even if such a thing were possible. Leaving him was an extreme measure, one she would only take if left with no other choice.

Her fear of the dark tales surrounding Erstam had often led her to covering his tracks, trying to dispel the rumours of research. Also, she had not let it become general knowledge that Pothos was Erstam’s product. She had always found an excuse to keep to two apart in public - if anyone saw them side by side, they would surely note the resemblance.

She knew she should not have to be ashamed of her husband, however, and hoped with all her heart that she could help the so-called Mad Mage improve his reputation.

Erstam stood solemnly, young Pothos at his side as they waved to the rapidly vanishing ship. Long after it was gone, father and son stood on the long pier, silently watching the gentle rolling of the sea.

Erstam’s found himself recalling the many arguments with his wife, and how he and Drogeni still managed to love each other regardless. Their devotion, however, had become more strained with the appearance of their son. Countless nights, it seemed, had been ruined with their heated exchange over the proper raising of the child. Though many compromises had been drawn, their had always been that one line Erstam could not cross - Drogeni would not let him teach magic to his son.

The mage had reluctantly agreed, and in truth, was glad Pothos was learning from Fedabiblio; the man had seemed a wise, devoted scholar, who taught the arcane arts with admirable patience and tolerance.

Perhaps Erstam could aid Pothos’ studies, the mage considered. Though Erstam’s temper was short with the lad for his role in the other children’s constant pestering, perhaps when she returned, he could renew her trust in him.

“Come, Pothos,” Erstam said at long last, “Thou must continue thy studies at the Semanarium.”

“Father?” Pothos asked, “Couldst thou teach me? Fedibiblio’s is boring!”

“We must keep thy mother’s wishes,” Erstam met his son’s curious face with a small grin, “After all, wouldst thou really want thy father as thy teacher?”

Pothos giggled slightly, but abruptly stopped as he realised at whom he was laughing.

“Do not care for that one, eh? Have I ever read thee Lord British’s Tyrannical Adventure?”

Pothos quickly shook his head, obviously confused at his father’s unusual joviality.

“Come, then,” Erstam said, leading the way from the docks, toward the huge stone wall which marked the boundary of Moonshade, “I promise thou wilt laugh at this story.”

Pothos could only shake his head in bewilderment as he followed his father back into the city.

The large laboratory was practically spotless, Erstam thought as he regarded his hours of work. He could actually see the grey stone of the floor, the piles of books and papers which usually covered it now neatly arranged on the shelves mounted onto the tan-coloured walls. His desk, set at the far end, bore only a quill resting in its ink jar, and a burning oil lamp, casting its soft glow across the room. The greatest improvement, however, was the stone pedestal, set in the centre of the stone floor. No trace remained of the countless animal subjects which had been studied. It had taken all day, and much of the evening, to clean the crimson stains from the stone. Though both his assistants had offered to help him, Erstam had insisted on tackling the job himself, bidding the two to return to their homes for the day.

He supposed his hired hands would have to find other jobs soon; he would no longer require their services. He could put away his search, would gladly revoke any chance of immortality if it meant that Drogeni would love him. He would even endure the teasing of the students if it meant she would stand at his side.

A loud rapping startled him from his thoughts. Walking from his laboratory, into the main room of his house, he made his way around the dinner table to the door. Standing outside the door, drenched and dishevelled from a spring rainstorm which must have started while Erstam had been cleaning, was a young man, obviously out of breath from running.

“Milord,” the man gasped, “I bring news from abroad.”

“Please, do come in,” Erstam could hardly mistake the urgency, and dread, in the young man’s voice; his tidings were obviously not pleasant. He let the boy come in the threshold, shutting the door behind him.

“I bring news of Mistress Drogeni,” the man hesitated, “As thou didst request.”

“Get it out, please,” Erstam said quietly.

“She passed through Monitor two months ago, sir,” the man took a deep breath, “She hath not been seen since. None from Monitor, the Sleeping Bull, or Fawn have reported seeing her.”

“I see,” he suddenly felt a dreadful loneliness creep into him, threatening to crush his spirits and hopes.

“Dost thou wish more updates?” the messenger asked softly.

“Come to me only if she is found,” Erstam reached into his simple black robe, pulling some guilders from a hidden pocket. As he placed the money in the messenger’s hand, he met his eyes carefully, continuing, “Either alive or otherwise, I want thee to come to me, understand?”

“Of course, milord,” the messenger again hesitated, and began to fidget nervously with his hands.

“What is it?” Erstam demanded, his already diminished patience strained to its breaking point.

“The knights of Monitor recently began an assault on the goblins. Jenna was their leader,” he stammered, “She, also, hath not returned.”

“Mine sister!” Erstam exclaimed, hot anger now boiling in his heart, “Leave at once! Thou canst not help with what must now be done!”

The sentries were roused by his approach through the dark forest, but it hardly mattered. Just as they raised their spears, the Mad Mage raised his hand, shouting arcane words. Two bright red bolts sprang from the outstretched fingers, their bright glow reflecting from the damp trees at the edges of the grass clearing, as they shot toward their targets. Each hit a goblin guard, burning deep, bloody holes into their chests. As they fell to the ground with loud shrieks of agony, a score of their companions appeared from behind the trees.

Erstam did not give them time to charge; with another incantation, he sent an blazing orange fireball to the centre of the mob of goblins. The explosion from its impact lit up the night forest, and sent scorched goblins flying in every direction. Of the creatures not badly hurt, a few managed a vicious, if haphazard, charge at the mage. Their spears were within inches of skewering him, when the mage simply vanished in a flash of light.

Appearing behind the bewildered goblins, Erstam drew a dagger from his cloak. He stabbed the nearest goblin, sinking his blade between its shoulder blades. The others turned on him, Erstam pulling the dagger free just as they again raised their weapons at him. He was outnumbered at least ten to one, and his spell power was beginning to diminish. Hardly worried, he reached out with his magic to the surrounding forest, calling out to the creatures of the night.

The goblins screamed as fifteen vicious wolves bounded into the clearing. They attacked Erstam’s foes, commanded by Erstam’s spell to hunt the goblins in place of their usual quarry of rabbits and deer. Though his power was now almost completely exhausted, Erstam smiled as he watched the goblins scatter in every direction as the wolves took them down. Not too smart, he mused. If the goblins stood their ground, their spears, if wielded correctly, could dispatch the wolves. However, goblins were always cowardly, attacking only when victory seemed certain.

Ignoring their screams as they tried, quite futilely, to outrun the wolves, Erstam made his way toward the light of the goblin campfires. As he entered their encampment, his mouth went wide.

Strewn about the rocky clearing were human body parts; bloody limbs, heads, and torsos, some with large bites taken by hungry, sharp teeth. Five campfires lit the mess, four small fires set in a rough circle around a larger fifth. Each bore a makeshift spit, hastily crafted from wood, and from each of these hung a human body, stripped of clothing. Their bodies half cooked, none were now alive - though they had been when they were tied, their struggle against the ropes indicated by deep scars on their ankles and wrists.

At last, Erstam spotted the cause of his rage. Stepping over the various remains of humans, he made his way past the blood stained rocks to stand in front of the large central fire. Her body was horribly charred, and lined with gashes, but he could still make out her face. Jenna.

The five fires suddenly extinguished in a cloud of thick smoke, snuffed out by the last of Erstam’s magic. His face betraying no emotion, and ignoring the choking stench of the smoke and cooked flesh, he quickly untied the prone body, slinging it over his shoulder. He quickly left the camp without looking back.

A mournful howl echoed through the forest just as Erstam reached its eastern boundary. A thin, morbid smile stretched across his face. The wolves had won; any remaining goblins would stay far away from humans for a long time after this bloody night.

He had one final task before he could get some much needed rest. Finally arriving at the long cobblestone highway, not far to the south gate of the port town of Fawn, he turned to walk the long road to Monitor.

He had little sense of the passing time as he followed the path, lit only by the dim light of a small torch Erstam carried in his free hand. He did not know what he would do if any creature decided to attack now, but he did not care. I must make it, he prayed, She must be remembered.

As he at last came to the outer gate of Monitor, the sky overhead was brightening, the sun’s rays peeking from over the eastern horizon.

“Who goes there?” demanded a harsh voice from the other side of the iron portcullis.

“I am Erstam, mage of Moonshade,” he responded, “I carry the remains of Jenna.”

“Commander Jenna!” he exclaimed. Without another word, the knight quickly worked the winch, drawing the portcullis up into the stone archway.

The knight took Jenna’s body, calling out to the other guards. As they saw the body, and the man who had brought it, they bowed deeply to Erstam.

“You must have fought bravely, milord,” one knight said, “One man against an army of goblin scoundrels.”

“I did only as I had to had to,” he spoke quietly, “Mine vengeance is paid.”

That Jenna had received a proper burial, and a statue had been commissioned in her honour were Erstam’s only comforting thoughts. The years dragged as he brooded over her loss, and that of his one true love, Drogeni. She never returned, and Erstam knew she never would.

He delved deeper into his studies, once again treading into the dark territory his late father had pioneered. Moonshade and its pompous Council of Mages grew more distant, Erstam having abandoned the petty bickering to further his travels and studies. When news of the Council reached his ears, it was rarely pleasant: most of it told of mages who were either exiled or executed when they conducted business considered dangerous by the Adepts.

Pothos came home only for supper and bed, avoiding his father as much as possible. As he grew to the age were he could care for himself, Erstam made preparations to leave Moonshade for good. On a secluded island north of the Isle of Beyond, Erstam had found the perfect place for his new home. The children’s pranks, played more often than ever before, had left him with only a few serpent teeth. Nonetheless, they were enough to allow him to teleport to Moonshade, should he decide to visit again. Doubtful, but the gate on his island would no doubt prove useful to his travels.

When he heard the Council had been taken over by a power-hungry Filbercio, Erstam knew it was time to leave. Having taught the now-powerful adept, Erstam knew he would bring nothing but shame and scandal to his office. Filbercio had already claimed the monarch-like position of “Magelord”, as he called it, and decreed that any who opposed him would be imprisoned. He had called for a new dungeon to be built for just this purpose, constructed, ironically enough, from the abandoned mines of the Freedom Mountains.

Nearly a decade after the loss of Drogeni, he finally had all important equipment and books moved to their new place in his isolated home. He gave the care of his family property in Moonshade to Pothos, who now held the job of gathering, preparing, and selling reagents for the town. Erstam was inwardly proud of the boy - though he was not an Adept, an apothecary played a role of great importance to mages. Only a few, very powerful Adepts in all of known history had transcended the need for reagents; to ordinary mages, they were as essential as food and drink.

Having bid a brief farewell to his son, wishing him luck with his new profession, Erstam wandered through the corrupt town, paying little attention to the surroundings and passers-by. As he came to the serpent gate at the south wall, he remembered one final person to whom he should speak. Turning to his right, he came to the metal door of a large stone building. He rapped his fist against it.

The door was answered by Fedabiblio, a wise, even tempered man who had proven to be an excellent teacher for young mages.

“Erstam,” he said, “Mine door is always open; there is no need to knock.”

“Fedabiblio,” Erstam returned, matching the other’s small smile, “I came to thank thee for teaching Pothos. Thou shouldst know that I am leaving town.”

“Ah, but yes,” he said, shaking his head with displeasure, “The mages do not treat thee well, I hear. Thou art widely known as ”

“The Mad Mage,” Erstam cut him off, “Yes, I know. I have come to ask thee keep an eye out for Pothos while I am gone. If thou canst, help him avoid the stain of rumours surrounding me.”

“Ah, but your mind is questing again, Erstam,” he said, “Thou seekest the answers of life and death itself, according to town gossip. Perhaps thou shouldst seek the abbey that old Xenka built when she was banished by the Council; the monks are said to dabble in such mysteries.”

“I have no desire to live as a monk,” Erstam replied, “Anyway, I doubt they would approve of my motives.”

“Whatever thou dost wish, Erstam,” the scholar said with a sigh, “Take care, and do visit again some time.”

Erstam shook his hand, and turned back to the serpent gate. He heard the metal door close behind him as he walked onto the ancient cobblestone, one of the many remnants of an ancient, mysterious culture. Carved into its surface was a menacing serpent’s head, marking the ancient teleporter which would now take him to his island. The greatest mystery of all lay beyond this serpent gate.

He would solve that mystery. He would cheat death itself.

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