It was a subdued group that reassembled back at the guild several hours later. The Automatia department had a large room that served as a classroom and a meeting room. It was only a few steps from the workshop and it was there that they gathered. The fires had been extinguished but there was still the lingering smell of smoke in the air and oddly - the scent of fresh cherry blossoms.
Misha, Caroline and Idette were the last to arrive. All three looked worn, battered and bruised. Their clothes were torn and burnt in many spots and all had bandages in various places.
"Any information on the lion?" Carlisle asked nervously.
"We tracked him as far as the Southbourne," Misha answered in tired tones as he placed his bow and quiver on a convenient table. "Before we were ambushed and lost the trail."
"Ambushed?" Joeline asked excitedly. "By what?"
"Several dozen Summonings," Idette answered. The woman had a large bandage covering her scalp and part of her face. "Strange magical creations."
Misha carefully sat down in a seat."They weren't really seriously trying to kill us but they did delay us long enough for them to escape."
"Are you all right?" Carlisle asked as looked at the new arrivals.
"A little battered but all right," Idette picked several feathers out of her hair.
"This was well planned," Caroline said. The otter placed her bow and quiver onto a table and sat down next to Misha. "And well timed. They must have been months studying the department and the guild."
"Who did it?" Carlisle asked. The man's shoulder was wrapped in bandages and he was resting in a softly pillowed chair. "And how? How did they get the lion?"
"They used a control spell and simply walked the automaton out," Misha explained and moved the fingers of his left hand in imitation of someone walking.
"Simply?" Carlisle got up and walked over to Idette. He examined the wound on her head closely. "First they would have had to sneak into Mages Hall and past the wards and spells. Then they would need to get past the spells guarding the whole department. All without setting off an alarm or being spotted by one of the two or three hundred mages on the property."
A look of realization suddenly crossed Joeline's face. "What if there already was a soul inside the lion when we obtained it?"
"Already inside?" Carlisle turned and looked at the girl. "You mean a soul had already been put inside the lion BEFORE we got it?"
She nodded her head. "That makes sense and it would explain how they got control of it so easily. No need to get past the wards and alarms to get inside. They were already there. We brought them inside."
"It would also explain how they were able to know when the lion was alone and vulnerable," Caroline was checking a small gash on Misha's arm and spoke without looking up. "They were already inside just waiting and watching." She looked toward the head of the department. "Didn't you examine the lion when it arrived?"
"We did but we did not get the chance to do a full examination," Carlisle explained. "We had just started to when we discovered Salona."
"The search and assembly of Salona distracted us all," Misha snarled. "They took advantage of that to steal what they could."
"Why?" Caroline asked.
Carlisle turned to look at the otter morph. "What?" The mage asked slowly.
"Why go to all the trouble of sneaking the lion in, just to steal it back?" The otter asked.
Her answer was several seconds of stunned silence and baffled looks from those around her.
"What exactly did they get?" She asked.
"A fully assembled lion automaton," Idette answered slowly.
"One WE helped assemble," Alton commented with a scowl on his face. "I even forged some of the parts myself."
"Four animation spells, two metal reinforcement spells, and five spells for enhancing the senses," Carlisle said. "But the worst loss is that the lion had a power cell."
"What is a power cell?" The otter scout asked.
"It's a storage container," Carlisle explained and gestured with his hands as if holding a small ball. "It holds the magic and energy that actually powers the automaton."
"Salona and Madog use a power cell?" Caroline asked.
"No. A power cell simply stores energy that is put into it," Misha said with a shake of the head. "They use something far more complex. They actually generate their own power. It's why Madog is always eating various metals."
"The way an animal or person eats food to gain strength?"
"Exactly," Carlisle replied. "Thankfully we didn't install one in the lion."
"We don't know how to make such a system yet," Joeline admitted with a laugh.
"Even so that cell is a valuable prize all by itself," Misha said. "It can be used to recharge a failing spell or increase the power of a new one."
Caroline shook her head. "So they created the lion just to steal some spells? That doesn't seem right. Seems a lot of effort and work for just a few spells."
Carlisle nodded his head. "An excellent point. Then why did they go through the entire elaborate charade?"
"What if they couldn't finish the lion?" Beatrice said. "When we got it the lion wasn't finished. My father had to craft several of the parts himself."
Carlisle's face brightened in realization. "And we had to recast many of the spells on it."
"They couldn't finish the lion themselves so they tricked us into completing it for them," Idette snarled.
"Who are they?" Jolette asked in clipped tones.
"The Arenul Ceen," the head of the automaton department shot back.
"We cannot confirm that yet," Cecelia countered. Speaking for the first time. The woman had been sitting quietly in a corner till now.
"It's always them," the mage commented sarcastically.
The historian shook her head. "We cannot be certain of that."
"If not the Arenul then who?" Idette asked.
"Excellent point," Carlisle commented. "There are few people with the skills needed to control the lion. And fewer with the ability to build the lion. Seriously. That limits it to the Arenul. Unless there is some other group out there that we don't know about."
"That is an option we must consider," Cecelia commented. "Even if it seems a bit extreme. But at the moment we simply do not have enough information."
"Carl," Misha asked. The vulpine had pulled up the bottom of his shirt and was examining his left side. Even through the fur a good sized bruise was visible on the skin below. "You said whoever is controlling the lion was an automicant like you and me. How did you know that?"
"I talked to him." the man explained. "While he had me pinned to the ground. When he saw Salona he was completely distracted and complimented me on the good work we did. Actually called me by name!"
"So that means he knows you," Caroline said. "And you know him."
"I know many people," Carlisle answered slowly. "And talked to many fellow mages about automatons."
"But not all of those are Automicants," Salona added, speaking for the first time. "When you leave out the pretenders and those only casually interested who is left?"
"That does shorten the list considerably."
The door opened and Demarest slowly walked into the room. The mage's usually clean and neat clothing were tattered, torn and had a large splatter of mud across it. The right sleeve was gone, only ripped shreds at his shoulder told of where it had been. The arm exposed was covered in a large bandage from shoulder to wrist.
"Are you all right?" Cecelia asked.
"What happened?" Carlisle asked slowly. "And who did you fight?"
"I had a minor altercation with a representative from the Arenul Ceen," Demarest said slowly as he sat down next to Misha.
The vulpine leaned close. "Did they get to the vault?"
The mage turned and glared at the fox.
"I know how people like that think," Misha explained. "I have the axe. I've run into greedy fools before. And I had the chance to speak with Madog."
"No," Demarest said slowly. "They didn't but I was forced to activate certain, safety procedures. The vault is secure."
"Did you get any prisoners?" Caroline asked. "Someone who can answer questions."
The mage gave a shake of the head. "No."
"Their leader?" Carlisle asked. "The one who hired them?"
"He escaped," the head mage answered in clipped terms. Then a smug look crossed his face with a cruel smile. "He learned not to cross a guild mage."
Misha leaned close to the mage. "Who was HE?"
For that the Headmaster had no answer.
A lot of people had seen Headmaster Demarest slowly walking through the city and then through the hallways and corridors of the guild. The mad chase through the streets had left chaos and confusion in its wake. The Guild lawyers would be spending days calming down irate people and paying for repairs.
The city was alive with rumors and gossip. The most popular rumor was that Elvquelin mages had openly attacked the Guild. The pillar of blue smoke rising from the Automata department had been seen all over the city and lent credence to it.
Demarest made no attempt to deny the attack. Guild officials openly told everyone that someone had attacked the guild, stolen things and tried to destroy the entire department. They didn't specifically say it was the Arenul Ceen but the rumors spreading did say so.
Sir William Targhe's next meeting with the leader of the Marigund mages guild was a lot calmer than his previous one. The personal representative of King Alfred found the Headmaster staring at a badly damaged room that had been the main workshop of the Automata department. "How are you?" He asked in way of greeting. "Was anyone killed?"
The headmaster nodded his head in greeting and gave a short bow. "I'm fine, thank you for asking. And thankfully we had no deaths."
William looked at the room. Most of the damage seemed to be limited to a few benches and tables burnt. "What was lost?"
"The worst lose was the automaton lion but we are not sure if anything else was stolen. Master Baldren is still taking account," was the mage's answer.
"Any permanent losses?"
"No," the mage responded as they looked over the damaged room. "Baldren was careful to make copies and secure the most valuable items tightly. All we really lost was the lion. That alone is a serious loss."
"Rumor is that the Arenul Ceen did this. Is it true?"
A shrug was Demarest's answer. "Had you asked me that two hours ago I would have said it most certainly was. But my temper has cooled and I am not so sure. I need to investigate this more before I decide what really happened."
"Understood," the knight responded. "King Alfred sends his regards and his condolences."
Demarest bowed deeply to the knight. "Thank you. That means a lot to me and the guild."
The knight leaned closer to the mage. "What happened Morvyn? I have heard some disturbing rumors."
The mage turned and looked at a group of men and women who were carefully cleaning up the debris. "The theft of the lion I can understand William. It is a valuable prize and it was a most well planned operation. Done fast and with a minimum of damage and injury. But what truly angers me is that they went after the vault itself."
Sir Targhe's body stiffened as he glared into space with a face as hard as stone. When he spoke it was in a soft voice that carried the undertones of great anger. "So that rumor is true. Did they get in?"
"No," the mage answered in clipped tones. "Thankfully they didn't get close. And those involved were punished."
"Any prisoners?" William asked.
"No. At least nobody who could be helpful to us. The attempt was well planned to allow for the possibility of prisoners," the mage said slowly. "Still the fighting was intense. Remind me to officially thank Madog for his help."
"The metal fox?" Targhe asked, surprised.
"He was most helpful," the mage answered. "He probably saved my life."
The knight gave a wry smile. "The little metal fox continues to amaze and confound." Targhe was silent a moment before talking. "On a related subject. I had a long talk with Father Harson before coming here. He explained about Cassandra and her family."
"Blackmail and kidnapping," the mage said with a shake of the head. "That is most troubling. Guild people have been attacked, injured, property stolen and destroyed and the Vault itself assaulted. I did not think the Arenul would do such evil."
"Man's evil never fails to surprise me," Targhe commented. "We cannot be certain as of yet that it was them. I will have my people look into the issue."
"Thank you," Demarest said. "The guild owes her a great debt for her warning. It prevented a serious catastrophe. We will do whatever is needed to help them all."
"What happens next?"
"We will tend to our wounded and repair the damage. The vault and its contents will have to be moved," the mage answered in a calm tone that masked his true feelings. "Then we will see to who was responsible. Whether the Arenul or not."
"I understand your feelings," the knight said slowly. "But do not act in haste. And please," he stepped closer to the mage. "Please remember the royal decree against feuding with the Arenul."
Demarest shook his head. "I do remember and I have not become head of the Guild by acting in haste or out of anger," he said in an oddly calm voice. "First the situation with the Vault must be dealt with."
Targhe relaxed visibly. "Where will you put it? Where will you put the vault?"
Prince Caranthir V. Aegidius was as his title suggested a member of the house of Aegidius, the royal family of the Sathmore empire. That meant technically he was in line for the throne. Unfortunately he was tenth in line for the throne behind two brothers, one sister and six nieces and nephews. But he had never taken seriously any chance of gaining the throne. He had since an early age shown an aptitude for magic and had been sent to the Arenul Ceen to get a proper education.
Arenul Ceen translates to the rather unimaginative name of Institution of Magic. He had proven to be a good mage and an even better administrator and had risen through the ranks of the massive institution. Still it was obvious to everyone where this was going and no one was surprised when he was officially appointed as the Doyen or leader by his brother, emperor Prætextatus Aegidius.
The daily, mundane affairs the the Arenul Ceen were easily handled. Previous Doyon had set up an efficient if over bloated bureaucracy that ran itself fairly well. But the Aegidius family had not ruled for so long by being lax and inattentive. Still the prince found time for special projects. The results of one such project was now in front of him.
A full, life sized metal replica of a lion rested on a large table in the center of the room. The automaton was made of gold, silver, bronze and a dozen other metals and was a masterful replica down to the fur and whiskers on its metal muzzle.
The prince rushed over to where the automaton rested. He stopped just short of it and examined the feline closely but kept himself at arm's length. "Beautiful, he's absolutely beautiful. They really did some fine work on him. We'll learn so much from him!"
"Indeed we will," the metal lion responded. "I can truly feel the difference."
"The operation went well?" the prince asked. "Are you all right? Anyone injured or killed?"
"Not really," the metal lion said. "The alarm was raised a lot sooner than expected but it was a contingency we had planned for. A little fighting but we limited it to some minor damage and only a few small injuries."
Suddenly a figure moved out of the shadows off to the left. The creature that walked into view looked like a lion with the same tawny colored fur. This feline was obviously male but was missing the thick black mane of a lion. It was also larger, far larger. He was four feet tall at the shoulder and weighed at least eight hundred pounds. The massive feline slowly walked toward the prince. "There was only one small problem," the cat growled.
Room 322A was located in the area of the guild complex assigned to the Automaton group. It had many functions including classroom and assembly room. All the chairs had all been pushed to the corners and out of the way but the tables and desks remained. Each table and desk and a good part of the floor was covered with all manner of papers, parchments and scrolls. All were filled with precisely drawn diagrams and schematics. Misha and Carlisle were hunched over one of the drawings, examining it intently. They were alone in the room, everyone else had gone off on different errands. Even Caroline was off visiting the Brightleaf family.
"Here it is!" Carlisle said and lightly tapped one section of the diagram.
Misha leaned closer and looked intently at the section the mage pointed out. Amidst the web of lines, rods and gears was a vaguely oval shaped item. It was completely covered with intricate symbols. "Is there a close-up drawing of this?"
"What's the object number on it?" Carlisle asked. Everything on all the diagrams had been carefully labeled.
Misha squinted at the numbers and letters embossed on the item in small print. "ML233571A."
The man leafed though several pages of a small book before answering. "No. To get a detailed drawing meant disassembling the entire chest cavity. And we weren't up to that yet."
The vulpine muttered several curses in Lutin. Both of them leaned closer to the drawing. "Well," Carlisle said slowly without looking up from the drawing. "It looks a lot like Salona's culua."
"And Madog's as well." Misha tapped one of the symbols drawn on the item. "I recognize that symbol. It's an defense enhancement rune, used to protect against mental attack."
"So Joeline was right. There was already a soul inside the lion when we obtained it," Carlisle said.
"This brings up another, more unpleasant question," Misha asked. "How did it get there in the first place?"
Azaelle had never liked using such magic but it was useful especially at times like this when it allowed someone in Marigund to communicate with her superiors at the temple in Elvquelin. The spell had encompassed the three of them. Delminie and Azaelle seemed to be standing in an empty, dark room but that was an illusion. In reality there were in Delminie's private chambers in the temple in Marigund. Opposite them was the high priest Cousinea who was in Elvquelin more than a thousand miles away.
"SOMEONE PUT MY PEOPLE AT RISK," Deliminie shrieked. Her face was twisted into a visage of pure rage. "What idiot, what moron went after the deadly items in the vault? And who attacked the guild Master?"
Azaelle pondered what the woman was saying. The high priestess hadn't said some people - she had said HER people. Already High priestess Delminie had taken the people of Marigund to her heart.
"This cannot be true," the man countered. If High Priest Cousinea had assumed that sending Delminie halfway across the continent would see him rid of her, he was sadly mistaken. Even at a distance she was good at causing trouble.
"No it's not true," Delminie snapped. "I just like screaming and spreading wild rumors."
"We are all aware that you like screaming and yelling," he commented sarcastically. "Curb your tongue woman and remember your place. Remember who you are speaking to."
Delminie took a deep breath and seemed calm but Azaelle saw the woman's eyes narrow. A sign that the high priestess was really angry. "Guild Master Demarest told me that himself."
"Do you trust this man?"
The woman didn't answer at first but pondered her answer for a moment. "Yes. I do not see why he would lie about such things. And evidently this was not the first time an attempt was made on it."
"I have never liked the idea of those mages having such evil magic. Even if they do not use it," the man commented.
"It must be kept somewhere," Delminie responded calmly. "But now is not the time for that debate. Someone tried to enter that vault and openly attacked a guild mage."
The man took a deep breath. "Do they know who?"
"The Arenul Ceen, The whole city is saying that."
He leaned closer to the priestess. "And do YOU believe it?"
She pondered the answer before speaking. When she spoke it was in a calm tone and with a serious look on her face. "Yes. Yes I do. Who else would be capable of the theft? Who else would WANT to?"
"Excellent points." the high priest answered. "But we cannot rush to judgment just yet. Things in the Outer Midlands are always more complex than they seem. I can think of several people who would want to break into it but few with the resources to achieve it."
Delminie gave a wry smile. "So I am learning. The Guildmaster is unhappy about the theft of the lion but he is truly angry about attacking the vault. This is very serious. I cannot overstate how serious this is. People are very angry. If the Arenul were not responsible for this the true criminals must be found quickly. Before the Guild decides on revenge. And the true culprits must be found and stopped before they try again."
"Agreed but do not assume anything. Do not prejudge the Arenul," the man waved his hands. "Keep me informed of developments. Do your best to keep things from escalating. Also suggest to Demarest that perhaps the Lothanasi could help ease their burden in the vault." With that he gave a curt bow and broke the connection before she could answer.
The dark room disappeared, to be replaced by a chamber back in Marigund. The two women were silent for a long moment.
"I think I know why our hierarchy in Sathmore cannot find the records of the trial," Azaelle Ferame said finally breaking the silence. "The Arenul have them."
Delminie turned and looked at her. "That is a distinct possibility. It is an idea we must consider. But the invasion in 175 saw immense destruction. There is the distinct possibility that the records simply no longer exist." She turned and looked at Azaelle. "Arrange a meeting with the Guildmaster. Today if possible. I must see master Demarest immediately."
It was a very small group that met in the office of the Headmaster of the Marigund Mages Guild. Just Misha Brightleaf, Carlisle Baldren and Guild Master Morvyn Demarest.
"We cannot be 100% certain without examining the item itself," Carlisle said slowly. "But we are both sure that object ML233571A is a culua and contains an active soul."
"A recently constructed one," Misha added in a conspiratorial whisper.
The Guildmaster stiffened. "Meaning?"
Carlisle took a deep breath and looked the Headmaster straight in the face. "Someone constructed a culua and put a soul in it."
The color drained from the Headmasters face."Are you certain of this?"
"Yes," Carlisle answered flatly. "There is no doubt of it."
The Headmaster shook his head. "This is a complication I do not need. But it is not unexpected."
Carlisle shifted nervously from foot to foot. "What do we do now? Do we tell anyone?"
"NO!" Both Misha and Demarest said out load and at the same time.
"We cannot keep this secret forever," Carlisle countered.
"Agreed," the Guildmaster responded. "But we must go VERY carefully on this."
"People are already asking me how someone managed to steal the lion," the automaton mage commented. "What do I tell them?"
"Tell them nothing," was the elder mage's answer.
"And if they persist?"
"Confuse them," Demarest answered calmly.
Carlisle looked at the other man, himself confused. "What?"
Demarest gave a wry smile. "Most people know nothing about Automatia. So simply lie. They won't know the difference. But for no reason do you reveal the truth."
The automaton mage was silent for a moment but there was a confused look on his face. "So confuse and lie?" He said slowly.
"The truth is a dangerous thing sometimes," the head mage answered. "And this one is especially dangerous. This information will be revealed but only when the timing is correct. But that is a long term problem."
Carlisle slowly nodded his head. "I do not like lying and deceiving people. It's against my nature and the nature of the guild as a whole."
"Understood," the elder mage said. "But we have enemies. And until we can identify and neutralize them we must act carefully. The truth is so precious it must be protected by a bodyguard of lies."
"I do not like it but I do understand it," the automaton mage responded.
The headmaster sighed deeply. "First we must recover the lion. Is there any information on who or what might be in the lion?"
"He must be a member of the Arenul Ceen," Carlisle said in an almost offhand manner.
"Are you certain of that?" Demarest asked. "We cannot prejudge."
"I have considered it," Carlisle said. "Who else could it be? They are the only group with the skills and the resources to accomplish this."
"Do you know the person in the metal lion?"
Carlisle shook his head. "Unfortunately we know nothing."
"We know one thing," Misha said calmly. "He must be dead."
Both men looked at the Keeper. "What?" They said in unison.
"If he has put his soul into the lion then it means he has given up his flesh and blood body," the scout explained.
"That makes sense," Carlisle nodded in agreement. "But as to exactly who, I'm still not sure."
"If you can produce a list we will have them all investigated," the head of the guild answered.
"All right. I have been thinking on it," the mage answered. "One clue I do have is if there is a soul in this automaton it would require knowledge we here in Marigund simply do not have."
"Who does have such knowledge?" the vulpine asked.
"I didn't think anyone still had that knowledge," the automaton mage answered with a shrug. "I have no reference to work from. We literally have no knowledge of how such a soul transfer would be done. Or even who would have it."
"Anyone who does have such knowledge would keep it very secret," the elder mage commented. "The guild has very carefully avoided researching that subject. Anything involving souls is very dangerous."
"It sounds like a religious question," Misha commented.
"Agreed," the headmaster said. "This is a question we would need to broach to the four religions. They are certain to have more information on the subject."
"How do we do that? Just reviving Salona almost got us all beheaded," Carlisle asked as he rubbed his neck with one hand.
"The head mage gave a shrug and a small shake of the head. "I don't know. Yet."
Mage Rustius Tannonius had a lot to think about as he relaxed in large bed that graced the apartment he was using for the next few days. He would have preferred to be at home with his wife and family but in his present form it was best he stay at the Osto Nolme itself. The vast complex was the heart of the Arenul Ceen and had plenty of places for a mage to rest and stay out of sight. At least till he was capable of walking on only two legs again.
A full day had passed since the metal lion had arrived and he had been rudely changed into the form of a Cave lion. Until he could regain his proper form the mage had to remain unseen.
The male feline was laying on his back and looked at the new arrivals without turning over and so he saw the prince and his guards upside down. "Prince Caranthir. It's an honor to meet you." He started to turn over and get up.
Prince Caranthir V. Aegidius gave a wave of the hand. "This is an informal meeting so please relax. Besides I'm not sure what is the proper way for a large hunting cat to greet the Doyen of the Arenul Ceen."
"Thank you," the feline said and relaxed a little but not completely.
"That is an impressive body you have now." The prince said calmly as he sat down in a chair by the door. One some twenty feet from the bed and its feline occupant. "Can you change back to your human one?"
"Yes," the feline growled. He was in the middle of the bed and settled into a good sized collection of pillows that looked to be very comfortable. "The spell involved was not powerful but it is impressively complex. It will take me a while to unravel and understand it's inner workings. I could just dispel it but I might want to use the spell again later. Also several mages and scholars have asked to examine this body before I change back. It seems this particular species has been extinct for seven or eight millennia."
"Most interesting," the prince commented in a tone that sounded only vaguely interested. "When did this happen?" He waved a hand at the feline.
"It happened the moment I touched the lion," the feline answered. "It took some effort to disable the spell. It was on the Sabercat and several members of the Marigund guild were changed before they managed to control the original spell. It seems they used it as a security measure. And a most effective one."
The nobleman took a pitcher off the table and poured some wine into a silver goblet. The liquid was a dark green. Supposedly created from a special fungus grown only in the distant south. "Certainly amusing but not fatal. I would think they would use more deadly protection."
"Agreed," the cat answered. "I was expecting spells a lot more deadly than this. It got past my wards before I was ready. It was a most ingenious defense."
"Indeed." He took a sip of the wine and was quiet for a moment. "I had a visit today from high priest Cousinea today," the prince said without looking up from the goblet he was holding. "He had some personal comments on the commotion you created in Marigund."
The feline mage winced. "That was unfortunate. The guild's security was stronger than expected. We kept the damage to a minimum and avoided any unnecessary injuries." His tail was flipping back and forth slowly. "It was a simple theft. Albeit one of a large object."
The prince looked up and stared at the feline with an intense glare. "And was attacking the Guilds most secure vault part of your operation?"
"Which vault do you mean?" The feline answered slowly. His tail came to a halt and his body stiffened. "The lion was in a secured room but it was not a vault."
"I don't mean the lion. I mean THE vault. Their most secure vault," the prince snarled, waving his hands. The wine in his goblet splashed over and spilled onto the floor. "The legendary one everyone is always talking about."
"WHAT?" The massive feline snarled. He flipped over and stood up with a lightning speed that belayed his great size. "The famous vault? The Marigund guild's vault for its most dangerous items?"
The prince leaned closer."Yes, that one," came the sarcastic answer.
As the massive animal slowly climbed down off the bed the prince realized just how big he really was. The feline weighed more than he and all three of his guards combined. "Whose stupid idea was that?"
"You did not order it?" The prince asked.
"Of course not," the feline mage answered. "Why would I want any of the obscenely dangerous items in the vault? It is the automata I am interested in. I have spent my entire life studying automatia. You yourself authorized the operation with the lion and nothing else. You were most specific on what we could and could not do. We even managed to limit the damaged and injury. And no one was killed."
This was the answer the prince had expected from the mage. "This is not a rumor or wild gossip. Headmaster Demarest himself helped defeat the attack. All of Marigund is talking about it. High priest Cousinea personally asked me about it."
"Have the Lothanasi officially lodged a complaint?" The feline asked in a soft tone filled with tension.
"No," the prince answered. "Not yet. But they are of no doubt that we were responsible for the attack. And my brother has already asked me to come and explain the incident."
"My prince," the feline said slowly and with great decorum. He understood that in spite of his powerful body and considerable skill in magic he was very close to being killed. "I do sincerely apologize for any embarrassment caused by the operation to obtain the automaton. It was more messy than expected. But I can assure you that never, ever would we have attempted to enter the Guilds most secure Vault. I am all too well aware of the truly dangerous items stored there."
"Someone did," the prince answered coldly. "Someone openly attacked a Guild mage with the intent to kill."
"I can assure you my lord that never would I violate the royal decree against violence towards the Marigund guild," he said solemnly. "And NEVER would I even consider going after the Vault. There is nothing there I want. And what would I want with all that dangerous junk? My people and I were occupied with the theft of the lion. We could not have been involved in attacking Master Demarest."
"Then who was?" The prince said slowly.
The massive feline shook his head. "I do not know my lord but we WILL find out."
"Of course. I have launched my own investigation into this as well." The prince smiled as a thought occurred to him. "But to give you some added incentive perhaps you should keep that form for a few more weeks."
"Thank you my prince," the feline said. His true feelings and thoughts were inscrutable like any feline's are.
"And with that the axe traveled north."
"A History of the Five Sisters."
A Marigund Mages Guild Publication
Marigund City, Marigund, 1007 CR.
"The axe, Borelli, my ancestor. All of them are tied together somehow," Misha commented.
Cecelia Armhurst sat down at her desk. "But how?" The mage and the Metamor scout leader were alone in the small but well appointed office she had as the head historian for the Mages guild.
Misha shook his head. "I don't know. My family's attempts to track my ancestor's path has failed. As has the Borelli clan's attempt to discover more about their ancestor. And the axe herself will not reveal any information. For reasons she refuses to disclose."
"So those avenues of research are closed to us." She was quiet for a moment. "Perhaps you are looking at it from the wrong direction. Instead of trying to track your ancestor and Sir Borelli and their path north. Go after the axe. If you can find where the axe was then you'll find your connection to Sir Borelli and the elder Misha."
Cecelia walked over to a shelf and pulled down a small wooden chest. It was barely two feet long, by a foot high and wide and was bound with steel straps and hardware. Removing a key from a pouch on her belt she unlocked the box. "The guild has been keeping an eye on your axe. We've been trying to study all five of the sisters ever since the elder Misha brought the axe to Marigund. With mixed results." She opened the box and took out a large, brown leather bound book.
"I'll admit that much of the axe's history has been based on information you've given us," she said and smiled sheepishly.
"What do you know? Where was the axe before Great Grandpa found it?" Misha asked.
She turned back several pages. "The last know owner before him was Liscus Cathadinus. He was in . . . ," she paused and looked at the document again. "Daramantia in -119CR."
Misha winced. "That's a gap of over six hundred years."
"Our history of all of the sisters is fragmentary at best," she explained. "We are lucky to have a letter mentioning that Liscus Cathadinus was nicknamed Nigrum Securis. Which translates as Black Axe. So it is an intelligent assumption that he had the axe at that time."
"Cathadinus," Misha said slowly. "That name isn't familiar. Do you know anything about him? Who was he?"
"He was of the equites class. Which is roughly equivalent to knighthood or of the lower nobility but the comparison is limited," the woman answered. "The only other information we have of him was that he was a Duplicarius in the army."
"He was a soldier?" Misha leaned closer to the woman. "What unit was he in?"
She looked at an entry in the book for a moment. "The 12th Victrix legion."
Misha stiffened. "That's how the axe got north."
Cecelia looked up from the book. "Oh?"
"The 12th was at Metamor in 150 when the invasion happened," Misha answered. "Everyone at Metamor has heard about their ferocious last stand."
She closed the book and gently placed it back into the box. "Could the axe have still been there over 260 years later?"
Misha shrugged. "I'm not sure but it gives me more information than I had before."
The historian locked the box and placed it back on the shelf it had come from. "To be honest Misha the Guild has been studying the axe for almost a century. Any information on her in Marigund would be here in this book. And there is nothing here on the period you are looking for."
He nodded his head slowly. "The 12th might be little known here but they are famous at Metamor. Caroline is actually descended from a 12th legion soldier."
"Caroline is descended from a legionnaire?" The woman asked with a look of surprise on her face. "I didn't think anyone from the legion survived the invasion."
Misha shook his head. "The legion fought to the death but their families managed to get to safety. At least most of them."
"What?" The vulpine looked at her, puzzled.
"How did they survive?" Cecelia sat down at her desk. "I mean, it's a narrow valley. Not too many places to hide."
He opened his mouth to answer but didn't speak for a moment. "I . . 1 honestly don't know."
The historian smiled then her face grew serious. "I am interested in answers to all those questions but you will not find them here in Marigund."
"North," Misha said slowly. He turned and looked in that direction as if he could see through the stone walls and across the thousand miles distance to Metamor. "All the leads take me north to Metamor and the Giantdowns."
In Pyralis, Pyralian Confederation
Pyralis was a city of many contrasts. It was an old city - her history stretching far back into the misty legends of the distant past. And yet it had many new buildings and was growing. Already there were good sized communities outside its massive city walls. Its many piers, wharves and docks played host to the countless ships that came and went all the time. Many built in the city's own shipyard.
Located in a relatively quiet section of the city was a complex of buildings. The neighborhood was neither the richest nor the poorest but it was among the oldest and one that had its own protective walls. Even if those walls were over a thousand years old they were strong and provided extra protection. It was also far enough from the water to be away from the warehouses and granaries that fueled the city's commerce.
The complex was itself rather plain looking. Two towers, one only some fifty feet tall and another over a hundred feet tall had a dozen smaller buildings clustered around them. A stone wall surrounded the property. Being some fifteen feet tall and five feet wide it told everyone that the occupants took security seriously. But it told nothing about what was inside. There were many such walls in the city. They surrounded manors and mansions and had been built by nobleman who valued their privacy. As such those were meant to simply keep out stray animals and drunks. But looks could be deceiving and in this case they were for this was the High Sept (or main headquarters) of the Cunaha Rede.
When the old Suielman empire shattered under the Lutin invasion so did it's people and organizations. One was the Virtut Secturum. Little is really known of organization save that it was devoted to magic. Few of its members survived the invasion but those that did devoted themselves to preserving and recovering the knowledge lost. So as the Outer Midlands has the Marigund Mages Guild and Sathmore has the Arenul Ceen, the Pyralian Confederation has the Cunaha Rede.
The name Cunaha Rede translates as We Endure. It's an appropriate one. For when the Lutin invasion was finally driven back in 153 CR the number of Virtut Secturum mages in Pyralis who had survived could literally be counted on the fingers of one hand.
The signs on the surrounding wall read 'Trespassers will die," and citizens of the city understood the occupants meant it. During the day the place was alive with mages, students and servants going about their business. But at night it was far different. None but the invited or the suicidal crossed that wall in darkness. But getting invited in was easy - just knock at the front gate.
It was early evening and the complex was quiet. Students and servants had long ago been dismissed till the next day. The complex looked empty with the courtyard barren, windows shuttered and doors locked and bolted. The only sign of life was two men standing guard at the front gate.
The two sentries noted the horse and rider as they came up the street. As the new arrivals came closer the guards were able see that the rider was wearing the black clothing of a member of the clergy. The horse came to a stop in front of the gate and her rider dismounted.
The rider was indeed a priest of the Follower faith. His brown hair was cut short and his clothing was simple black cloth as dictated by his order.
"Good evening," the priest said. "Father Notariano wishes to speak with Grobmeister Notariano."
The one guard bowed deeply. "Please follow me Father."
The office of the leader of the Cunaha Rede was on the first floor of a brick and stone building that looked more like a barn than the home of a magical organization. The office itself was of middling size - slightly larger than the workshop of the average craftsman. The furniture was of high quality and of a dark colored wood that was only lightly carved and decorated.
One could easily see that the two were related in the sweep of the cheekbones and the set and color of their eyes. Only their hair was markedly different. The mage's was a dark brown and longer. The mage's well tailored clothing were colored a dark burgundy, was edged with silver and had gold flowers embroidered on it. "It's good to see you Philippe!" He said honestly and hugged the priest. "How are you doing my brother?"
"I am doing well. How are you doing Vincent? How are Balthild and your children?" The priest asked.
Vincent sat in a soft, leather chair. "Thankfully all four are doing well." He answered. The man paused for a moment. "Have you heard the news from Marigund?"
"You mean about the automaton they found?" The mage asked as he face brightened. "Indeed I have. Amazing!"
"It seems the creature was in pieces all over the city." the priest explained. "They simply collected them and just put her back together. One piece was actually being using as a frying pan in the kitchens! Can you imagine that? Something so valuable being used as a common cooking implement!"
Notariano settled into a chair opposite his brother's. "Amazing! So it was hidden in plain sight."
"Indeed. That brings me to the reason for my visit," the cleric said and paused. "Cardinal Bertu has been dealing with the issue in Marigund but he has been asking for any information we might have," the priest answered. "Unfortunately we have little except for a few stories that really can only be called wild legend."
"That's not surprising," the mage added.
"You're organization dates from before the fall of the empire does it not?"
"It does," the mage answered with pride. "It is the direct continuation of the old Seuilman Virtut Secturum."
The cleric scowled slightly. "So you would have records from back then?"
The mage slowly nodded his head. "We might indeed. Unfortunately our records are incomplete. Much was lost when the empire collapsed. Too much."
"It would be a great service to the Ecclesia and to me personally if we could have all the information you can obtain."
"I'll admit we have been following events in Marigund but I did not consider that we might have some information of use. But whatever information we have I will send to you personally." He leaned closer to his sibling. "You do understand the value of such information and the need to keep it secret."
"Thank you," the priest said. "And of course I understand the value of it but the Ecclesia needs to make informed decisions."
"I can understand that and I will pass along all that we have," the mage responded. "To be honest, although we claim to be a continuation of the Virtut we inherited little from it. Even the building we are in now had to be rebuilt after the invasion."
"Has the Cunaha Rede ever dabbled in this automaton magic?"The priest asked in a soft clear tone that was filled with tension.
The mage shook his head. "No. We have collected a few bits and pieces over the years but nothing serious. We were considering selling what small pieces we have to the Marigund Guild."
"SELLING THEM?" The priest asked, surprised.
"Why not? They offered a good price for anything related to automata." The mage responded. "My dear brother. To be honest automata was never a widely used field of magic. Those few who were known to work in it were all put to death when it was banned. There are rumors and myths about various secret societies but those are just that - myths and rumors."
"The working automatons in Marigund are not myths, They are very real."
"The mage smiled broadly. "Amazing to think they actually survived."
He scowled at his brother. "It was banned and all users killed for a reason," the priest said in clipped tones.
"You know nothing about automatons except what overblown myths you've heard and already you are condemning it. Cardinal Bertu saw fit to allow them. Are you saying HE is wrong?" The mage snarled.
"I . . ." the priest stuttered for a moment.
The mages face hardened into a deep scowl. "I don't expect you to agree with me brother. I DO expect you to decide when you are well informed."
The cleric pondered his response for a moment. "Fair enough," he said and smiled.
The rest of the visit went well and ended with talk of family and the coming holidays.
When the door was closed and locked the mage stood there for a moment, lost in thought. Finally he walked back to his desk and sat down. He looked to where a bowl of soup rested. His lunch before being interrupted by his brother's unexpected visit. Gently he picked up the still warm bowl and looked at the trivet it had rested on.
He placed the bowl on the desk and examined the trivet more closely. The elaborately decorated piece of metal had been a gift from his wife many years ago. In all the years since he had never really closely examined it. A mistake he intended to rectify immediately.
Carlisle found Misha in the small workshop carefully packing all of his tools. "When are you leaving?" The mage asked.
The fox paused in his packing. "Tomorrow. I'm not looking forward to the four day trip."
"It's too soon," Carlisle commented. "There is so much left to do."
"I know," the fox said. "But I've been away from my duties at Metamor for far too long. I will be back soon enough when things have calmed down. And I'm sure Madog will come and go as he pleases."
"Whether we want him to or not," the mage added sarcastically.
Misha gave a bark of laughter. "You'll get used to it."
"No," the mage countered with a shake of the head. "But I'll learn to deal with it."
Misha reached into a pocket and pulled out something. "I have a gift for you," He extended his hand toward the man.
The book was barely the size of the palm of the hand it rested in. It’s bronze cover had been smoothed and polished to a high glossy shine. The pages were of brass smoothed to the texture of glass.
He carefully took the book from Misha. "What is it?" Carlisle asked as he slowly leafed through the metal pages. The writing hadn’t been inscribed with a pen, instead they were engraved using a hammer and die.
"Madog gave that to me," Misha explained. "And told me to learn. Now I'm giving you a copy and telling you to learn!"
"I . . I . . " Carlisle stuttered. "Thank you," he hugged Misha.
There was one last stop to make before leaving Marigund. And for Misha it was the hardest. The entire Brightleaf clan gathered in the courtyard of the family mansion.
"If anyone asks about HER," Misha said out loud for all to hear. "I no longer have the axe. I lost her in the Giantdowns."
"Which is the truth," Caroline added loudly. "Sort of." She finished in a whisper.
The two Keepers spent a long time with each of them all. Hugging them with words of caring and promises to stay in tough.
Misha spent a long time hugging his parents.
"You'll stay in touch?" Muriel, his mother said.
"I will Mom," the vulpine responded.
"And don't wait eight years to visit again!" Reuben added.
Misha didn't answer at first but simply hugged his father. "I love you both."
Nearby, back at the Menomenta Gul Joeline was busy studying. Now as a student at the Guild she found herself fully involved with schooling. There was so much to understand and learn.
KLANK! A small metal object dropped onto the table in front of her. It was a tiny book barely as big as her hand. Its bronze cover green with verdigris and covered with a series of mystical symbols. She turned to see Madog sitting next to her.
The metal fox looked at her with a surprising intensity. "You start learning NOW!"
"What?" She asked, confused. Why?"
"Young lady, small mage, big lady, big mage!" Madog said cryptically.
The young girl looked from book to fox. "What? I don't understand."
"You will," Madog said solemnly "With time."