The room was dark and musty, but that’s the way Jerem liked it. He flipped through old books, making meticulous notes of the symbols and arcana held within. After a few hours his eyes protested the candlelight, forcing him out into the main room of the house. He exited the dark room and turned, sliding a large hidebound book out of its place. The bookcase swung closed, hiding the door behind from sight.
“The papers were signed,” Jayden said. The taller man had entered his office without permission and was sprawled on an antique divan. He had a glass of whiskey in his hand, and his gold pocketwatch in the other.
“The Inquest is on board then?” Jerem asked, sitting stiff-backed in the large armchair before the fireplace.
“Yes father. They will update us on the location of the artifact when the golem becomes operational.”
“Do you trust Commander Arrt will keep to his word?” Jerem felt his son’s unease, despite his relaxed appearance.
“Of course not. He is loyal to knowledge, and money. We have paid him handsomely, and if we play our cards right, we can possibly even have him work out how to use the artifact for us.”
Jerem shot his son a deadly look. Jayden winced, and corrected himself.
“I mean, you paid him father. And they’re your cards to play. My apologies.” He hung his head like a chastised boy.
“Go. Offer a prayer to the Unseen Ones.” He pointed at the door and it slammed open. Jayden extricated himself from the divan and bowed before leaving. Jerem stood, and walked to the window.
Before him was the cliffside town of Garrenhoff. Its picturesque vistas of the bay below, and the high cliff walls were dwarfed by the floating wizard’s castle above the sea. Isgarren, the wizard, regularly sent elementals down to the town to assist the townsfolk, who accepted their presence with a hint of cautiousness. As he looked upon the town from above, he saw the fire elementals heating braziers and hearths, earth elementals lifting heavy loads, and ice elementals keeping watch. Truly, this town would seem to be a bastion of peace, and at face value it was quaint and charming.
The presence of the wizard’s tower complicated things. No one had seen or heard of the wizard for many years. Whispers began to percolate around the topic, suggesting he no longer resided in the floating fortress. Aside from the regular arrival of the elementals, one could be tempted to suggest the magic and power in the castle was anyone’s for the taking.
And the White Mantle would take it. Jerem had spent the last two decades mopping up the mess his father had made as High Inquisitor, and delivering the White Mantle stability and leadership. The Unseen Ones, whose presence he had not felt for many years, would bask in the glory of the magic they would find there. So, he had moved their headquarters away from Divinity’s Reach, away from those halls of power, and set his eyes on another.
The sun appeared from behind a cloud and Jerem stepped back to avoid its gaze. He had not worn sunscreen today, and he covered his face from the bright summer sun. He sat back down in the armchair and closed his eyes. There came a knock at the door.
He felt, rather than saw his son enter the room again.
“The golem is operational.”
“Where are they?” he asked his son.
“Moving towards Ascalon Settlement. We have a small team there.”
“They are not to engage. Find out if they still travel to Divinity’s Reach, and why. Perhaps our plan requires—adjustment” He waved his hand, and Jayden left the room. He looked out of the window once more, at the tower floating in the distance. He had not divulged his full plan to his son, but offered a silent prayer to the Unseen Ones. He knew, once he was done, his gods would walk the mortal plane again.
“Names?” the clerk asked, holding his quill high. They had waited to enter Ascalon Settlement for an hour, as an unregistered merchant had forgotten to secure paperwork and needed to bargain his way in. As such, the gate clerk was suitably annoyed by the time they walked up to him.
“Ulfridda of Hoelbrak. Koda’s Breath and Serene Wrath, of the Spear of the Sea. Alepe of Rata Sum, and Korr, of…” Ulfridda trailed off, realising she had no knowledge of where their charge came from.
“Jotunheimr,” Korr answered. “I am from Skode’s kingdom.”
“Jo-tun-heim-er.” The clerk guided his own spelling. “I have no idea where that is, but at this point, I don’t care. Have you the admittance fee?”
He looked pointedly at Ulfridda, who stared him straight in the eye.
“We were robbed on the way here. We have no money.” Ulfridda tensed, expecting an argument. The clerk sighed.
“That’s fine. We have adopted a new system put in place three years ago. You all enter bonded to assist the town until you leave. There is a list of possible tasks there.” He pointed at a sign, and began reading off it.
“Train our brawlers, honour the fallen at our shrines, raise morale. Check in with Private Starks if you wish to be involved with the creation of care packages. These posters are spread around the town, so if you ever find yourself with nothing to do…” He left the statement hanging.
“Thank you. May we enter?”
“Here are your passes.” He handed them five rectangular silver plates stamped with the Ascalon Settlement insignia. “We have enchanted leather cords if you wish to wear them around your neck?” he offered, and Ulfridda took five. They secured the passes around their necks, and walked past the guards into the town.
Built into the side of a great hill, Ascalon Settlement had two distinct areas. The low town was more open and had the major facilities, including the brawling pit and the shrine to the fallen. The high town was packed with houses standing precariously on the side of the hill. The effect was a cascade of quaint human dwellings, stuccoed and built with the local dark wood.
The town was also built into the ruins of Ascalon, the human city that was destroyed by the Searing more than two hundred years prior. The charr, with the aid of the servants of the dead god Abaddon, called down a cataclysmic storm of fire, demolishing the city in a matter of hours. As such, the old and the new stood side by side in Ascalon Settlement.
The group found a kind innkeeper who, upon hearing their story, allowed them to stay free of charge provided they work behind the bar at night. His eyes twinkled when he saw Korr, and immediately put him to work reshuffling his barrels of wine and beer. Korr took to this easily, as the work was easy for him. Ulfridda explained that they would be required to assist the town during the day, and the innkeeper waved her down. He was a kindly fellow, if a little simple.
Ulfridda and the team made their way down to the brawling pits, and watched them fight. Centaur raids from the north had forced the town to be militarised, and the townsfolk took their fighting seriously. Any new techniques were welcome, and Ulfridda quickly found herself giving pointers to the less experienced fighters. Serene Wrath and Koda’s Breath sat beneath a large oak tree, and as dusk began to fall, sat arm in arm with each other and watched the sun set over the mountains to the north.