Five weeks of sail later.
Amates 15, 1277. Windtracer Company Records Hall, City of Ishnanor. Planus Continent
“I can’t believe you did it.”
I frowned at Lorekeeper Ihodis Jenro and his comment, then set the gray, box-shaped relic on the desk between us. It was no larger than a loaf of bread. The thing was stained, battered, but despite age and travel, none the worse for wear. At least, that is, for a thousand year old relic.
The Lorekeeper’s sky-blue eyes lit up at the sight of the relic. A broad smile lit up the centaur’s face. He stroked his trim white beard in silence, then nodded. Absently, he tugged at the bottom of his blue vest. It was an old habit from his days as a privateer captain, before the Windtracers. A nervous tick of sorts when he was making a complicated decision.
Ihodis gently scooped up the magic detection device with no small amount of glee. Holding it close, he peered at the inset compass on what I figured was the top of the relic.
“Did what?” I prodded, genuinely curious. “Getting this out of the Obvion Complex in Chivit?”
The older Lorekeeper smirked, eyes twinkling brighter as he peered at me from under those bushy steel gray eyebrows of his.
“Leaping off the waterfall, my dear. Interesting plan.”
I snorted a little at that. Words like ‘plan’ and ‘interesting’ weren’t words I would use to describe cliff diving off a waterfall into the churning water of Kanathi Bay. Especially while being chased by a pack of mercenaries.
“What plan? I was making it up as I went along.” I tapped the end of the relic facing me and grinned. “Anyway, we got it. Vargas didn’t. Even better? I think it might still work.”
Ihodis turned the device in his hands to scowl at it from all sides. I tapped the small compass embedded in the relic, next to what appeared to be a handle.
“The compass needle moved when I brought it through the Ancient History museum. It turned to point at the Elemental Enchantment Relics.”
It could have been Ihodis’ lifeday, and I had just handed him his favorite cake, given how fast his grin reappeared. Delighted? That wasn’t a strong enough word. The Ancient Order’s magic detection relics have always fascinated him. Now he had one that actually might still work.
“Splendid! Just splendid! We finally will get a glimpse into how the Ancients viewed and monitored magics. I can’t wait to start trying to decipher how it works. Blessed skies to you, Tela.”
Then, the Lorekeeper set the relic back on the desk. He moved it to one side while he scrutinized me for a moment, hands flat against the desktop. Ihodis’ expression suddenly shifted from ‘delighted’ to 'business’ in the span of one deep breath.
“But that isn’t why I asked you here, Tela. Please, take a chair if you would.”
I couldn’t help but shoot him a wary, even suspicious look. The old centaur had something in mind. An offer for a new expedition? Maybe. Ihodis was known for his sunny disposition, but right then, his expression had gone chilly. There was something wrong.
It took a moment for me to locate a stray, human-sized chair among the bookshelves and tables. I pulled it over to his desk.
“Ihodis, that look on your face tells me this isn’t about that magic detector from Obvion.”
“No, not exactly,” he said before holding up a hand to forestall the conversation.
His eyes searched the room somewhere behind me. The Lorekeeper pursed his lips a moment, then trotted over toward one of the many bookshelves that lined the room. After browsing one of the higher shelves, Ihodis returned with one of the thicker volumes, bound in green canvas.
“Tell me,” he began while he set the book on the desk. “Have you ever heard of the Automatic Crystal of the Eclipse?”
The name didn’t ring any bells for me. But hints from discoveries like the Chasm Papers to the Ancient Map of Lluvia had handed over clues about thousands of possible Ancient Order relics. It was impossible to keep track of them all.
“Never heard of it. Is it something from the Ancient Order? Before the Great Collapse or just after?”
Ihodis set the book on the table, then opened it to one of the bookmarked locations. It was a few pages after that when he tapped an old sketch of a studded dark orb.
“Before.” He tapped the drawing once more. “There have been a few obscure references in the collected Lorekeeper records and stories. More if you count references from the Archivists Guild across the sea in Centrum.”
“Centrum? That’s a good distance across the water. You’ve been really researching this.”
I leaned forward to study the drawing a bit more carefully.
The sketch depicted an orb the size of an Ishnanor melon. Just large enough to hold comfortably with two hands, but not so large that it looked cumbersome to carry. A collection of thumbprint-sized studs were scattered evenly across the surface.
Except for what may have been the top, or ‘north’ on the orb if it was a globe. That section was almost blank, save for a plain circle carved into the surface. There was an odd-looking rune of a rounded square, with a dot in the middle. I frowned at it, then pointed at the symbol.
“That rune. I’ve studied all sorts of Ancient Order runes from their trade language and other cultures. I don’t recognize that one.”
Ihodis shook his head.
“I don’t either. No one does. What makes this even more interesting is that there are two different accountings of what it possibly does. The first recounts how seers and even wizards of the Ancient Order used these devices for study and at times communication with each other.”
The Lorekeeper smiled.
“Yes! Study. Several subjects, I believe. Position of the stars, weather, many other items.”
I nodded. Other Lorekeepers had stumbled over references that the Ancient Order used amazing means to communicate over long distances and share what they knew. Why not an orb? It looked simple enough to carry or store.
“You said ‘the first’. What else was there?”
“A weapon. Apparently, when used, it could generate devastating magical rays of energy. We have no idea if the Ancient Order devised this to defend themselves from someone or something. But the few partial references we have suggested it was devastating.”
I knew where this was going. Ihodis had his moments where he would want to sit and debate various pieces of lore from the Ancient Order. Often he preferred to do that on walks along the lakeshore or in a tea shop in Underside. Here? This didn’t seem like that kind of conversation.
“You know where one is, don’t you?”
He nodded and closed the book.
“Yes. The Foxglove arrived a few days before you returned to Ishnanor. A spice merchant had happened over an old leather satchel with some papers. I happened to be in Underside when he was selling them as ‘wrapping paper’.”
The Lorekeeper chucked dryly. “The man had no idea what he was selling. But, after a brief haggle, I paid him accordingly and brought the papers back here. They make a reference to one of these orbs and a possible location. One you’re a bit familiar with.”
I stared. Visions of the Anestri'for and its long list of things that want to eat people leaped to mind.
Ihodis raised an eyebrow, then tugged at his vest in a scholarly fashion.
“Why no, my dear. Long Deep.”
Just the mention of the place sent a cold chill along my spine. Long Deep. The deepest section of the Great Chasm. The Windtracers had only ever sent one expedition there, and it was mine. I lost almost the whole expedition. It went without saying I didn’t have good memories of the place.
“Hells, Ihodis. My last and only expedition to that place was a nightmare! Those I didn’t lose came back a little broken. Probably even me.”
The Lorekeeper slid the book across the desk toward me.
“Tela. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. Also, I’ve two important reasons to ask you. The first is that you have the best knowledge of the place.”
I folded my arms over my chest.
“Which I could recount in absolute horrible detail to any other expedition foolish enough to jump into that death trap. So. What’s the second?”
Ihodis let out a long, drawn-out sigh.
"Because this wouldn’t be an expedition. It’s a race. Someone else has learned about the Automatic Crystal and that it could be a weapon. One Baron Marius Apollinare. A cruel, ambitious man. He’s hired a mercenary company to get the Crystal for him. The Crimson Company.”
I hammered the desk with my fist.
“Aile Shavat! Vargas and his band of killers! He would be involved in this.”
“Yes. And you know Vincent Vargas better than anyone.”
I took two breaths to find my composure. A host of memories, most being Vargas trying to murder me in a dozen slow, tortured ways, rushed out from the back of my mind. It took a moment, but I shoved the past aside. At least for now.
“All right. How bad is it Ihodis? If this Lord Marius gets the Crystal, what could happen?”
The old centaur pursed his lips, expression grave.
“Nothing short of conquest. Lord Marius, like some, are keenly interested in the Ancient Order. But he doesn't want to learn about the Ancient Order. He wants to bring back the Ancient Order. Remake it on his terms.”
Ihodis gestured to the old book on the desk in front of me.
“Like I said, the tatters of records say the Automatic Crystal of the Eclipse can be used to project some sort of magical energy. A Schutz Crystal or a Blackstel Shield might stop it. It might not. The Automatic Crystal might could overpower either defense. We just don't know.”
I watched my old mentor for a long, quiet moment.
“You don’t think a Schutz Crystal or a Blackstel Shield can stop it, do you?”
“No, Tela. No, I don’t. What little we know is that the Automatic Crystal of the Eclipse wouldn’t have any effect on cities. The walls of, say, Ishnanor, Centrum, Sol, or anywhere wouldn’t be harmed. No, the effect of the Automatic Crystal targets people. Only people.”
Ihodis tapped the side of his head.
“Their minds. The Automatic Crystal of the Eclipse might can summon some special type of magic storm inside a victim’s mind, trapping them inside it. A magical storm raging out of control inside the victim.”
I blinked as nightmares of what a magic storm in a person’s mind might be like. It made me shudder.
“Exactly,” Ihodis added. “Now, think of doing that to the population of an entire city.”
Katarina D.M. Ewert
I love the effect of the automatic crystal of the eclipse! What a fascinating concept. I wonder, what happens to the victim outside of their mind? Are there any physical symptoms or effects that are clear to those unaffected? I can't wait to read more and maybe find out :D
If you're looking for a pastime yourself, feel free to pop by & take a look at some of my story fodder :D
C. B. Ash
Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying it! It's a fun and wild ride so far with the characters taking some interesting turns. More theories come out later as Tela discovers more. :D