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Covenant of La Roche Caribet

Part 17: An Alchemical puzzle

Animal magic

The Spring equinox will soon be here, and a new Season. The last few weeks of the old season have passed quickly. My laboratory is now ready for me to begin some real work, at last, though I cannot start right away. I have taken most of my meals lately with Maga Saskia in conversation about shape change magic. It is difficult for us to understand each other, not entirely because of the strange way she has of pronouncing Latin. Most of my questions to her on the subject are aimed at a better understanding of the magical theory of the matter whereas it seems to me that her answers are involved with the excitement and importance of assuming animal form just in order to be the animal. I do not share her instincts and enthusiasm for taking the shape of a creature for its own sake though I do appreciate that there are times when it is very useful, especially for swift travel. She regrets that it is probably too late to try and find out if I have any heartbeast and considers this a sad loss to myself, while I am not at all concerned by this but would welcome any advice she can give in a form I can understand about temporarily taking on the shape of an animal for a purpose.

A visit from Magus Elaboratus

Two days before the equinox, five large black birds flew into the Covenant from the south, over our defences both mundane and magical, and on landing turned into the Magus Elaboratus scholae Criamonis, filius Gliris Grandioris ex Mummolides and four grogs. Many of our own grogs had been brought up at Mummolides so they greeted the grog visitors warmly. Jehan knows Elaboratus and his foibles very well, and quickly made him comfortable by the fire in our council chamber while sending grogs to alert us to the visitor and to fetch refreshments. I was one of the first to find our unexpected visitor and was about to ask the reason for his coming when Iuris Perita came down the steps from her Sanctum and formally bade him welcome, as was fitting. He said he had come to see how we were getting on. This may have been so, but I later came to suspect that he knew something already of what we were about to discover.

Magus Elaboratus seemed content to sit by the fire for hours on end. It blazed brightly, warming the interior of the tower very pleasantly, without need of more wood while he sat beside it. Joach and Speculor spent some time with him and I noticed them playing with fiery figures in the air. On walking closer to observe, I overheard our visitor telling Speculor that he has grown stronger through Twilight and that "one understands the other side of an argument better for having been there". Saskia embarrassed us by eating with her shield grog in the council chamber in front of our guest; I wonder if she will ever learn to value her superiority as a Maga. It was probably fortunate that she spent much of the time out in the forest seeking Vis sources amongst the burgeoning spring flora. She was able to find the flowers within the thorn thicket which yield four pawns of Rego Vis and will be essential for recasting our Aegis of the Hearth on the equinox.

Elaboratus gave Speculor a potion of some kind to promote visions. I would like to have analysed it but he just drank it eagerly. The two magi were sat staring fixedly into the fire for several hours after that and the discussion of what each had seen filled many hours more. I was busy in my laboratory and made frequent tours of the glade to examine the flowers, particularly the blue ones, which my recollections of our arrival here a year ago suggested may be in some way special.

Spring equinox

I was awake and up early on this special morning, eager to see Saskia perform the ritual of the Aegis of the Hearth which she has been working so hard to perfect, but Speculor was already outdoors and inside the Regio around our Menhir. I did not realise this at first. My immediate concern on rising was to examine the bluebells in the area of the Covenant which had struck us so with their brilliance when we first arrived here. I was feeling a little disappointed with them when Speculor strode out of the Regio and appeared close by me, full of enthusiasm. I at once enquired the reason for his obvious excitement and as he told me, he shouted for grogs to come and gather flowers then turned and we both went quickly around the menhir to be inside the regio. Saskia and Beate, who can not have been far away though I had not noticed them before, followed close behind.

Speculor had been in the regio to observe it as the day dawned and was delighted to see it expand to fill the whole clearing. remembering the experiences at the Summer Solstice, he had spoken to the menhir but it had not responded and its face was unclear. Neither did the trees respond to talk. His attention had been caught by the vivid flowers, blue and golden, and it was these he had taken me to view. He had determined that a diffuse field of Imaginem Vis pervaded the bluebells. The golden narcissi grew in four distinct clumps, marking the cardinal points around the glade. The trumpets of those in the clump to the east were all aligned in that direction, pointing out of the clearing, whereas those of the other clumps grew in random orientations. There was something magical about the aligned flowers but it was not raw Vis. Speculor told me that he had examined these flowers using InHe and been rewarded with a vision of an upward-pointing triangle of fire, but confessed that this might have been a flash-back to the visions he experienced the day before under the influence of Elaboratus' potion. I decided to spend the day in the regio observing the golden flowers in case the other clumps aligned their trumpets as the day progressed.

I had just made this plan when Elaboratus strode around the menhir and into the regio. Galliene was with him, leading a small group of grogs equipped with baskets - she must have shown him the way which I was not quite happy about. Speculor told Elaboratus about the fiery triangle and asked if he too could see it. Elaboratus cast an InHe spell and a wave of magical power swept through the glade, like a great triangle of fire encompassing us all, then Elaboratus and Saskia disappeared. Beate looked around the clearing in great anxiety, as if she could not cope with the sudden loss of her mistress. I decided the best thing was to fetch Zane as quickly as possible as he is so good at seeing what others cannot without the aid of magic. As soon as I came around the menhir and back into the normal clearing, I caught sight of Elaboratus; he seemed unharmed and quite excited by whatever had happened but didn't seem to know anything of Saskia. I listened very carefully to the torrent of words in which he seemed to be trying to tell me of his new insight into Magical Theory, probably with reference to the Art of Ignem, but he has a very convoluted and confusing way of putting things and I much regret that I was unable to truly profit by the conversation. I was quite glad when Iuris Perita came over to join us.

A moment later, Speculor reappeared from around the menhir. He had news: Saskia had rushed back into the regio by the normal route just seconds after she vanished and had made much of being reunited with her shield grog. Speculor was able to break into Elaboratus' effusion by telling how the fiery triangle seemed to be tugging towards the east and that he had determined that there was a fiery path leading east from the narcissi. Joach wandered over while this discussion was in progress to remind us all that the important business of the day was the re-casting of the Aegis. Speculor and Iuris were willing to get on with that right away but I feared the fiery path might fade away before we had had time to examine it further. Joach was insistent, however, so Speculor went back into the regio to collect Saskia. She looked a little shaken but said she would be fine, and she certainly made a very good job of the ritual as it should be done, us all trooping behind as she recited and chanted from memory. The ritual seemed to settle her and by the time we concluded she was as eager as usual for a good meal. As we were taking our places, Galliene came to inform us that the blue flowers had been gathered up. I had a quick word with Marie Briére about processing the flowers to extract the Vis into a stable, usable form.

After the meal, Joach declined to come with us into the regio since he was mindful of the need to ensure our defences were secure. The rest of us, with our shield grogs plus our visitor and Zane, all went into the enhanced regio. Speculor pointed out the fiery path. I was able to see it myself. Saskia described a vision she had had when Elaboratus and herself were cast out of the regio, in which she had seen a path of fire leading eastwards away from the clearing, and people walking along it. and she had stepped onto the path, drawn along it, to a place of fire whence she was thrown out into the normal clearing. I was a little concerned that this 'place of fire' might be Infernal and was sure the path Saskia described was that now before my own eyes. Just then, I saw Elaboratus walk towards and past the golden flowers and vanish. Speculor followed him but walked into a bush and stayed visible. Speculor stood firmly beside the narcissi and cast a spell of InIg and declared that he could see the path, stepped forward and vanished. Iuris cast similarly and she she stepped and vanished. Saskia cast her spell but then decided to change shape so lost her concentration. Once in her Heartbeast shape, she had Beate sit astride her back and tried again to seek the path. Meanwhile, I cast InIg, saw the path, stepped forward and found myself with Iuris and Speculor on a cool, grassy path.

Mars

iron Saskia appeared on the path just behind me a moment later, still as a sow but without Beate. She stood for a while looking around then turned back and vanished. I assume she went back to the clearing around the menhir, which was a very odd thing to do by choice, I think. We walked for about a mile together along the grassy path, vague shadowy trees seemed to stand behind the more ordinary-looking trees and bushes to our left and right but none of us seemed interested in investigating them. We kept straight ahead, and we could see Elaboratus some way ahead of us, making good speed. We reached a small glade with what seemed to be an altar, like the top section of a stone column, illuminated by a strong beam of sunlight, in the centre and leaning against it, a figure that can only have been Elaboratus. The Magus had slipped into Twilight and stood there, wavering between man and statue, one hand on the altar stone close to an iron dagger. There was a symbol carved into the stone, that of Mars. Speculor peered at the symbol and recognised the link between it and the fire we had all felt from this direction. He speculated that this area was an extension of the regio and felt sure it had a strong magical aura.

I examined the dagger without touching it and determined that there were no strong magical effects or enchantments upon it. Speculor examined the symbol then passed the dagger to me. It was very sharp indeed and I put it carefully back down again. Speculor picked it up at once and cut his finger slightly so a few drops of blood fell into the carving. Nothing happened. Iuris examined the altar itself and announced that it was not enchanted. Speculor suggested that the dagger might be not something that belonged here but might belong to Elaboratus and used a spell to discover that it was indeed linked to him. We wondered if he had put the dagger there as an offering, and whether he had gone into Twilight here deliberately. I was rather concerned that we would have some difficulties if he stayed this way for long and wondered how we could send him home in this state. Speculor said the sunbeam was an allegorical symbol, which I thought might mean 'enlightenment' so I examined the carving with InVi and found it had a faint hint of magic about it while not being itself magical. Speculor tried with InIg which showed its magic was associated with iron.

Speculor put Elaboratus' dagger away and laid his own knife on the altar stone. He meditated for a moment or two with his hand on the knife. Elaboratus was still the same, one moment of flesh the next of stone, which suggested that he was perhaps under the influence of an uncontrolled MuTe effect. I pushed the iron knife over the carving and cast MuTe on it. Under my hand, the metal flowed into the shape of the symbol and solidified as a bright shining form. I took my hand away as Speculor lifted the symbol and announced that it contained 1 pawn of raw Vis. We were discussing whether it was worth trying the MuTe effect a second time, using Elaboratus' dagger, when he began to show signs of returning to normal. We watched him in silence a while then Speculor formally handed over his dagger. Elaboratus thanked him and said he was going to attempt to transform the dagger in the carving. I offered him my knife, partly because it seemed a shame to use such a good dagger when a common knife would do and partly to increase the strength of the claim that the Vis would be ours. Iuris explained to our guest that, under our Charter, and Vis found so close to, even within, our Covenant would belong to us, and he decided not to perform the attempt. Speculor did the MuTe casting on my knife but although it flowed and solidified, it did not shine nor hold Vis the second time.

We all walked back down the grassy path and at the end found ourselves back in the regio around the menhir. There were no people there now. The clump of narcissi to the east were now pointing at random but those in the clump to the south were aligned to point south. Before turning our magic on these, Speculor determined that the Vis in the symbol of Mars was Intellego Vis, which pleased him greatly. Then he cast a spell to the south and announced 'Aquam', which brought me rushing over. I cast InAq and clearly saw a watery path leading away to the south. I was eager to step forward onto it but Elaboratus called out to say he would not be coming with us, since he was feeling rather unsteady after his recent experience, but that he strongly recommended that we ensure we had the correct materials with us before we went any further. Speculor said we needed silver, lead and copper. I was eager to explore the path of water so ran around the menhir to shout for Jehan to bring us something suitable. It did not take him long to come with a few silver coins, a copper pan and a lead ewer. I ran back to Iuris and Speculor with these. I must have rushed too much because I was unable to see that path again right away. By the time I had caught my breath and brought it to my sight again, Joach had arrived to accompany me.

Luna

silver As before, we walked about a mile along a grassy path. We came to a glade lit by soft moonlight where a stream flowed from the opposite side, over a sloping slab of rock and into a wide, still pool. The rock was marked with a carving of a crescent moon. Speculor took the silver coins and strode out through the shallow water, placed the coins on the carving and cast MuTe. This created a glistening silver symbol which was filled with Intellego Vis. As before, we returned to the glade around the menhir.

Venus

copper Golden flowers to the west were aligned and InHe indicated 'Auram'. I was very excited by this and cast my InAu easily to see a clear path leading outwards as we expected. I stepped quickly onto the path, Speculor, Iuris and Joach right behind me. At the end of the path we came to a high cliff with a narrow cleft in it under a brooding dark sky. High up on the sheer cliff face was carved a symbol of Venus. Joach used 'Lift the Dangling Puppet' to raise me up so I was able to place the copper pan on the symbol and cast MuTe (which required a little concentration under the circumstances). He let me down gently, a shiny magical copper symbol in my hand. As before, we returned to the glade around the menhir.

Saturn

lead As expected, the narcissi were all pointing their trumpets at random except those to the north. InHe indicated Terram. We found and followed the path to a gloomy cave under a night sky. I used CrIg to create a soft illumination into the cave were we saw a carved symbol. It was Iuris who took the ewer and cast the necessary MuTe this time. We returned to the glade around the menhir. All the narcissi were pointing at random and none of the paths were visible to any of us.

I was anxious to put the newly acquired Intellego Vis in a safe place and to check on the progress of our perfumier in extracting the essence of the bluebells, I found that her work was progressing well and the blooms had yielded three pawns of Imaginem Vis. Speculor was going to spend the rest of the day in the regio by the menhir, observing. He reported later that the regio shrank back to its usual size, tight around the menhir, at sunset.

Council business

Our Council has decreed that it will be necessary during the coming year for all Magi to devote three seasons to Covenant service - very regrettable but understandable given our meagre resources and large debt. It has been fairly easy to agree that Saskia should start writing out spells, especially those she needs to translate into Latin for them to look like true Hermetic work and to be of any use to anyone but herself. I too have some writing to do, which will be a pleasure in our fine scriptorium during this time of lengthening days and strengthening light. It is a great good fortune that our community here includes a percamenarius and a competent bookbinder.

Magus Speculor will be best employed in any activity which can assist our acquisition of Vis. We have agreed that he should create a minor enchanted item to enable the grogs to cast far and wide through the forest in Summer and the bogs in Winter to narrow down the most likely areas for closer investigation and so save any of us having to spend as much time travelling as we have had to during the past year. Magus Joach will create and enchant a device to assist in the cutting of stone so the work on our planned building around the menhir may begin. Maga Iuris may take this first season for herself.

The only serious point of contention concerns the imminent Tribunal meeting and whether attendance at it constitutes service to the Covenant. Maga Saskia is firmly of the opinion that no more than one of us should attend as 'service' because there is so much that needs doing urgently here. Magus Joach seems to find all politics tiresome and gives no opinion. Maga Iuris Perita keeps silent, as so often. Magus Speculor appears enthusiastic at the prospect of a visit to Petrusca but has not yet made it clear how he feels about the point currently in question. My view is that it is most appropriate for our Princeps, Maga Iuris Perita, to represent Saxum Caribetum at the Tribunal and, since as a Quaesitor she may not vote, for another of us to accompany her, bearing the sigils of the other Covenant members to vote.

I agree with Saskia that, should the accompanying Magus be attending as Covenant service, they should act and vote at all times in accord with the best interests of the Covenant and the wishes of our Council. Where I strongly disagree with Saskia is her insistence that it should be herself who goes with Iuris. I believe my reasons are entirely valid:
With the cloud hanging over Covenant Priscus at present, it is obvious that some of the dubious reputation of Priscus will fall on one who trained there and it would be tragic should the bad reputation of Priscus pass on to us through Saskia. She would be better to maintain a low profile until the Priscus matter has died down.
The reason just stated is, of course, no reflection on the character and standing of Maga Saskia herself. However, my next reason does concern her own behaviour and is not one I have stated out loud. Despite having lived here for a year, Saskia still clings to her shield grog for company like a frightened child to its mother. I shudder to think what impression it would give at Petrusca if she were to always be in the company of a mere grog, and what if she refused to enter the council chamber without Beate? One would almost think that Saskia's Gift required the constant presence of the shield grog. In addition, it seems to me that if she cannot see that it is unsuitable for her to represent us, it proves she is unsuitable.

One decision concerning the Tribunal has been reached. We have agreed to repay 5 pawns of Vis to each of our benefactors now, and in such forms that we trust they will look favourably upon us and assist us in the essential vote of welcome. Letters and packages have been prepared to send with Redcap Aversus, who is expected to pass this way any day now. They contain:
To Septem Montes: the magical Helm taken from the head of the leader of the bandits around the barrows in our first adventure in the forest which is a unique artifact and contains 4 pawns of Rego Vis; plus one man-shaped Carrot from the Covenant vegetable garden containing 1 pawn Corpus Vis
To Petrusca: the remains of the chair, sword and bones from the haunted tower near St.Breiuc which together form a unique artifact and hold 5 pawns of Perdo Vis
To Taurus Candidus: Four leathery body parts retrieved from bogs and one man-shaped Carrot from the Covenant vegetable garden, together worth 5 pawns of Corpus Vis
It is hoped that the Corpus Vis is from resources we can draw on again during the coming year but I do very much regret having to part with that Helm. I argued long against giving it up but was out voted.

Aversus has also taken a letter from myself to Petrusca giving details of the fascinating alteration in our Regio at the equinox and the mysteries it revealed at the Cardinal points. I hope to be able to make a complete study of these phenomena over the next few years. The first step must be to question Elaboratus; I believe his visit to us at this time was no coincidence. It is also a dream of mine to find a way to transform our apparent relative abundance of Herbam Vis into a more useful form, even if it takes many pawns of the former to make just one of something more useful.

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