The Madrigal's Tower (Adventure III)
1075 SC, Twenty-sixth of Stormwall
Having spent most of the previous evening well and truly drunk, much of the morning was focused on recovering. For everyone except Angruval, that is. Calle, Sevog and I both seemed to have suffered the worst from consuming a truly impressive amount of ale, while their leader was as chipper as ever, according to his subordinates. He was up before the sun, seeming content to eat a bit of some simple rations and watch the sunrise while the rest of us mewled like week-old kittens.
“It’s good to get it out of your system, from time to time,” Angruval had said, a wry smile never leaving his face. Calle and Sevog both cursed at their leader while I scrounged up water for everyone. A bit of hydration and a rather obscene amount of pipe smoking for this early in the morning went a long way towards improving my disposition. Eventually the Farstriders had managed to gather themselves and were preparing to depart once more.
“So,” Sevog started, “what comes next for you, Madrigal?”
I looked at the empty, cold space of the first floor, kept free of dust and dirt by the enchantments I had laid upon it. “Well, I have to fill it with all sorts of strange and wondrous items. Starting with a proper bed and a few rugs. I do not fancy sleeping on the rocks for much longer.” That garnered a few laughs and sounds of agreement. “First, though, I need to do something that as far as I know, nobody has attempted to do.”
Calle ran her hands through her hair and tied it back behind her head. “Nobody at all?”
“Nobody who lived to tell about it, at least.”
At this, Angruval looked rather concerned. “It’s dangerous, then?” I could see the wheels turning around in his mind, trying to judge if leaving me to my devices would cause irreparable harm to his Moor.
I shrugged. “Life is dangerous. But in this case, it would only be dangerous to me. The tower would most likely be removed from the landscape, and the surrounding area would be scarred, but there should be no lasting effects other than that.” There was, of course, no way of knowing how the ley line would react to my meddling beyond the time-honored method of poking it with a stick and seeing what happened.
Angruval narrowed his eyes, but began nodding ever so slightly. “When are you planning on performing… whatever it is that you’ll be doing?”
“Within the next couple of weeks, I would think. I have a rather massive amount of research to do before I even attempt it.”
“That seems reasonable.” He turned to his companions. “Sevog, Calle, draw up a few patrol plans for me when we return. The forest has been quiet for the last few months, so I think we can divert a group or two in order to make sure the area surrounding the tower is clear of any wandering souls.” He paused for a moment. “If anyone grumbles about it, tell them they might be able to witness a rather impressive detonation.”
I laughed heartily. “I appreciate your confidence in me, marshal.”
“I have to motivate the troops somehow.”
“Everyone loves a good explosion,” rumbled Sevog from the back. It always surprised me how quietly he spoke for being such a large man.
We finished exchanging pleasantries before parting ways, with the Farstriders disappearing off to the east, where I assume their main holding was located. Once again left by myself, I began to plan out the rest of my tower. It would make very little sense to fill it with all of the items I had collected over my life if it went up in flames when I tried to dip into the ley line. The one thing I would need to spend more effort on, however, was a more permanent teleportation circle.
On top of saving me the effort of drawing one every time I needed to use it, the more detailed and robust the circle was, the more pleasant it would be to use. In my earlier years I had some downright repugnant teleportations. It’s never a good thing to attempt to return home quickly, only to vomit on your own boots when you get there. With that horrifying memory fresh in my mind, I set out to carving the most geometrically perfect design I could on the first floor.
I kept around a set of chisels - magically enhanced, of course - just for this purpose. I had been using this particular set for decades, and they felt as though they belonged in my hands. The design of a teleportation circle varies from user to user, and everyone eventually develops a method that works for them. The same basic rules applied for everyone, though; A large outer circle, another shape with proper corners within that, and then it would repeat, with the shapes growing smaller and smaller towards the center. Various glyphs could be carved into the empty spaces between the shapes to improve it, or simply to make it look more eldritch. My old mentor loved that last bit. He always told me how you could just alternate circles and triangles to get the desired effect, but carving squiggly nonsense into the open spaces added dramatic flair. He also declared that dramatic flair increased the likelihood of the spell to be exponentially more powerful, although I’m not certain the research backs that up.
Due to my previous enchantments on the tower, dust from the floor being carved up dissipated on its own, and after adding some mercurial filigree to the design I was finished. While not my most breathtaking work, it would most likely perform better than anything I had made in the past. Over the decades I had added and subtracted things from my design, making the end result more elegant in its simplicity.
With a more permanent circle in place, I would be able to travel to just about anywhere the other Madrigals had set up circles of their own, unless they had locked it. That particular thought reminded me, and a few drops of blood and an incantation later my own circle was ‘keyed’ to my blood. Not exactly foolproof, but anyone who already had my blood on them was either someone I trusted or someone who killed me. All that was left to do was figure out where to start my research on ley lines in order to avoid ending myself in some magical explosion.
Curiously, as soon as the thought crossed my mind, the image of a book sprung up in my mind. It was a simple leather bound tome, with ‘A Leyman’s Guide to Ley Lines’ embossed down the spine. Horrible wordplay aside, from what I could remember the author, one Leman Harkin, was rather well known during his heyday. In fact, I had perused through this very book in the past. Despite the amusing name, it was a rather dense collection of knowledge on the subject of ley lines, and it just might have the clues I need. It should be simple enough to find in the Madrigal’s Keep, as well, which was just my luck. I tried to avoid going ‘home’, such as it was.
I made sure to clean myself up as best I could, taking special care to lightly oil my boots and the outside of my coat. “A little goes a long way,” I muttered to myself as I meticulously massaged the liquid into the leather. Not only did this ensure the material remained supple, but it also simply made it look more presentable. I wasn’t attending any royal galas, but taking pride in your appearance was never a bad thing. I washed up and debated on shaving the beard I had grown on my journey to the Moor, but decided I liked how it helped the shape of my face. Besides, I hadn’t grown a beard in several decades, and everyone always tells me that variety is the spice of life.
With my appearance as proper as I could make it, I gathered up the items I would need during my research, starting with the essentials. My pipe bag was tucked into the small satchel I would be taking with me, followed by an inkwell and quill, along with a sheaf of paper to scribble any findings on. Anything else I might need I could requisition from the stores at the Keep. After a moment of internal debate, I strapped my blade to my hip. I didn’t believe I would need to draw it, but to some of my peers a sword was almost a badge of office, something that set us apart from the common wizardly rabble.
Steeling myself, I stepped onto my circle and fixed my desired location firmly in my mind. I barely finished the incantation before I was suddenly no longer within my tower. Teleportation was an absolute marvel of magical ability, and it never ceased to amaze me. The uneducated farm boy within me always had a sense of wonder about these things, despite the fact that I had been performing these feats for over a century at this point.
The room I found myself in was not dissimilar from my tower, although a bit more lived-in. It was essentially a round hub, with six masterfully carved teleportation circles placed around the edges. Ever-burning, warm candles ringed the room and a soft rug led to the lone door placed within the wall. Not surprisingly, no one else was using the room at the same time as me, so I was free to make my way through the immediate area without being subjected to conversation.
The Madrigal’s Keep was a keep in the same way that a massive two-handed broadsword could be called ‘a very large knife’. It was a sprawling complex, with the largest portion of it being the library at the center, which happened to be built much like a castle. This would be an absurdly large place for six people and their apprentices, but the Assemblage knew this was a safe refuge for any of their traveling scholars and as a result, there would often be at least a hundred people within the walls.
I knew the Keep as well as anyone, and I took the more unused corridors towards the main library. I thought about stopping by my old room first, but decided against it. Right now it would be a wasteful trip filled with too much nostalgia for my liking. I would need to return eventually to gather a few things for my tower, but I had more pressing matters. The closer I got to the library the more people I ran into. Usually scholarly types, although a few of the Assemblage’s more… creative problem solvers were out and about today. Those ones were dangerous, as they did the dirty work of gathering knowledge from forgotten places, and they had enough tricks up their armored sleeves to get the job done.
My determined pace and furrowed brow served to keep most people from engaging in conversation, not to mention the fact that to them I was just another scholar looking for one book or another. Just when I thought I was in the clear, a voice called out from the open door to my right.
“Alastair! Please, come in!” It was a warm, friendly tone, but it was also the conversation I had been trying to avoid the most. I could see the open archway into the library a scant few feet in front of me. It would be so simple to lose any pursuit amongst the stacks. Alas, life is full of things you’d rather be doing instead of what you have to do. I slowed my pace and slipped through the open doorway and went to greet the source of the voice.
The office was very pleasant, filled with books, scrolls, and tablets. Rugs were tastefully placed about the room, and a fire that served to heat the area was constantly smouldering. Behind a sturdy desk sat the First Madrigal himself, Brewyck. He was old, far older than the rest of the Madrigals combined, or so it was told. Despite that, the strange magics that allowed us to live these extraordinarily long lives made sure he only looked a scant few years older than the rest of us; among regular society, he would only be around seventy. As he aged, he preferred to keep his hair trimmed, stopping just short of shaving it off completely. For the most part, he was the same man he had been the last time I saw him, decades ago.
“Brewyck!” I replied in the same warm tone. “It has been a very long time, has it not?”
“Too long, some would say.” His eyes were bright and alert, as they always were. He was an exceedingly clever man, although he had his fair share of ghosts haunting him and preferred to leave the field work to the other Madrigals.
Despite a deep familiarity brought on by years of training and working together, I still felt a bit of terror in Brewyck’s presence. He had a commanding presence built over centuries of conflict, victory, and heartbreak. I couldn’t help but be in a bit of awe. This was a man who had quite literally toppled kingdoms on his own. He hated this comparison and refused to acknowledge it in any form, but plenty of people believed his raw power was second only to the gods themselves, and they aren’t around to argue either side.
Brewyck chuckled lightly. “You may sit, you know.” He gestured to one of the comfortable looking chairs across from him. I stiffly sat in it, still feeling like a child about to be chastised. The First Madrigal rolled his eyes. “You make it seem as though I am about to scold you, Alastair. I have not seen you in nigh on three decades, and I make sure to check up on all my progeny.”
“You mean prodigy,” I tried to joke. Lucky for me, Brewyck at least found it somewhat amusing.
“You could say that, I suppose. You were moving with purpose, though, so I would hate to keep you for long. What are you looking for?”
I thought for a few moments, weighing the pros and cons of letting Brewyck in on my plan to tie my tower into the ley line. Knowing him, he would find out either way. “I am building my tower, after decades of you and the others accosting me about it.”
Brewyck nodded, a slight smile on his face. “Where did you decide to put it?”
“In the Grieving Moor, in an area known as the Crag.”
“What made you come to that decision?”
“Well… you remember my mentor. He gave his life to stop whatever dark entity was trying to push its tendrils over the mountain.” I swallowed hard. It seemed over a century of dealing with this hurt still wasn’t enough. “Whatever it was, I think it originated from somewhere in or beyond the Moor. If it comes back, being closer will help me identify and confront it.”
Brewyck scratched his chin. “I thought his sacrifice ended it completely?”
“I think everyone thought that, and that is why the other court wizards agreed to sacrifice themselves in such a manner. But after following his footsteps and reading his findings… I think he knew it was not the end, and he was taking steps to ensure someone else could finish the job.”
“Well, if that is what you believe and what the research suggests, I wholeheartedly endorse your decision. I trust your judgement, Alastair.” Brewyck’s tone held no sarcasm, judgement, or anything else that might hint he was simply humoring the wild fantasies of the most junior member of his order, but something bothered me nonetheless.
“Do I what?”
“Trust me,” I said, staring him down. “I have forever been the outcast of the Madrigals, and you know this. When my mentor died, not one of you stepped in to train me, to help me. You made me scrape and crawl for everything I earned on my own. And then, when I had finished the journey, you shuffled me off to that damned cathedral and made me into another one of your pawns, assuming I would just go along with what you had been doing for centuries.” These were thoughts I had been harboring for years. In my younger days, there was a whirlwind of events in my life, and I never had the time to address them properly. I was swept up in the vicious currents, which deposited me here.
Brewyck stood up, and I was reminded of how tall he actually was. “Understand this, child,” he declared, his face a mask of rage, “if I did not trust you, I would never have let you into that ‘damned cathedral’ as you called it. I would have done you the supreme mercy of killing you on the spot the moment I thought you would harm this world.” He pounded a fist into the table as a heavy rain began to impact the window behind him. “Who made sure you would feed yourself as you dealt with the terror of your mentor’s passing? Who gently guided you towards your path of self-discovery? WE DID. Your kin among the Madrigals. We knew you had potential, and we did our best to nurture it. Every other Madrigal had an apprentice of their own at the time, and the only person who could have possibly taken up the mantle was me.” He stabbed a finger into his chest, almost accusingly. “For reasons I do not need to explain to an ungrateful, petulant child, I refuse to take on another apprentice. Suffice it to say that even you deserve better than to become what I am today, and I cannot go through that again without losing whatever shred of sanity I have left to me.” His words were like thunder, booming through the room and blasting away any feelings of justification I had, leaving me only with a deep shame.
“I… I am sorry, Brewyck,” I managed to choke out.
He sighed heavily and slumped back into his chair, as if the outburst had drained him. “You could not have known, Alastair. We certainly did not tell you anything.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I know we were not perfect, but please try to understand that we did what we thought was best, whatever that counts for.” He offered a weak smile. “You were always one to prefer action over patience or prudence, and I think that has seeped into how you view the actions of others. If they do not act as you would, you assume they are at best wrong, and at worst malicious. Sometimes, child, the best thing to do can seem like nothing at all.”
I thought back to all the trouble I had managed to get myself into during my younger years, often due to my rash actions fueled by spur of the moment impulses or otherwise unsound decision making. Looking through the lense of hindsight, it was easy to pick out all these little moments. Amusingly enough, I was now undertaking the most dangerous task I had attempted, but I was doing my research. It seems you can teach an old dog new tricks. Hopefully it wasn’t a situation of ‘too little, too late’.
I pinched the bridge of my nose between my thumb and my forefinger, sighing. “As much as I probably need to do some introspection right now, I do not believe I have the time.”
Brewyck nodded, acquiescing to the point. “Very well. You did come here with a purpose after all, and I would hate to disrupt your plans. What were you looking for, if I may ask?”
I resumed my internal debate on telling Brewyck the whole truth. Despite my bias about his treatment of me as a child, he had been something of a father figure to me. It pained me to lie to any of my peers, let alone the titanic First Madrigal. Finally, I spoke up. “I am looking for Harkin’s Leyman’s Guide to Ley Lines.”
I regretted my decision almost immediately as Brewyck’s eyes narrowed. “You know we have done our best to safeguard that particular tome from the prying eyes of others, Alastair. More importantly, you know why we have done so.”
“To prevent further meddling with the ley lines, I know. But this is not just meddling for the sake of it. I have a clear goal and I believe the way to accomplish it lies in something that book can provide.” My vague explanation sounded pitiful the moment it left my tongue.
“And what makes you believe that?” Brewyck’s skepticism was palpable.
I tried to think of a way to explain the strange feelings when I awoke every day. While I couldn’t remember any specifics of my strange dreams, it seems as though my subconscious held onto tiny fragments of information with a vice grip. I had the distinct impression that something had been communicating with me while I slept, and I had a hunch towards what it was. “Answer me a question, if you would. After you found that cathedral all those years ago, did you ever wake up flooded with strange emotions that you could not explain? Vague feelings that you had been disrespected or shamed?”
Brewyck sat forward in his chair, his brow furrowing as he folded his hands in front of him. It shouldn’t have been surprising, but it still shocked me how quickly he came to the same conclusion I had. “It talks to you, does it not?”
“It does. And saying it is an unpleasant conversationalist would be an understatement. I find myself waking up in a rage or drowning in shame, and I can only surmise it is due to the nature of the talks it has with my sleeping mind.”
“It has been… a point of contention with other Madrigals in the past,” Brewyck admitted. “When others have approached me about it, there was an obvious desire to learn more about its origins and motivations, but some wished to go a step further. They suggested we worship and venerate it, as it was quite obviously some sort of deity providing us with these absurdly long lives of ours.” Brewyck sighed heavily, as if the whole topic was weighing on him. “It may seem crass of me to say so, but I am glad those few who thought as such have passed beyond this life. Do not mistake me, they were excellent people, but those thoughts had the potential to cause a schism within our order, which would undoubtedly have immense repercussions.” He waved away any further inquiry about the topic, almost desperate to return to the original conversation.
“I have been dealing with it for centuries longer than you have, and still it seems to withhold any useful information from me. How have you managed to not only remember certain details, but have it guide you towards a specific piece of knowledge?”
I shrugged, clasping my hands in my lap. “I am not entirely sure, but what I personally would have done is used its own sense of self preservation against it. A part of it or its power must reside within us, and I think it would be loathe to lose it to something as mundane as the creation of a tower, even if ley lines were involved. There is no telling if that is what my subconscious decided to do, but it is at least as clever as I am.”
“Probably more so,” said the First Madrigal with a smile.
I gave him a rude gesture. “It might be an absurd waste of potential to tie a tower into the ley line, but at the very least it gives us some interesting new knowledge to work with. And, if it all fails spectacularly, the tower itself will act as a conduit for most of the rampant energy and should channel most of the destructive power away.”
“Killing you in the process.”
“Most likely. But avoiding that was the whole point of coercing the little brain parasite to throw in with the plan.”
Brewyck snapped his fingers, and a simple book appeared on the desk in front of him. He slid it over to my side of the table, but did not remove his hand when I went to take it. “Do not make me regret this, Alastair. These are dangerous, unpredictable forces you are working with.”
I placed both hands on the book. “We have been doing nothing but meddling with things we do not understand for our entire existence, sir. All due respect.”
He released the tome into my care, albeit reluctantly. “Make sure you catalogue your findings, at least. You were always terrible at that.”
I smiled at the old man. “I know, I know, the only difference between research and putzing about is writing it down. One thing at a time, Brewyck. I cannot have too many life changing conversations in a single day.”
Brewyck snorted and shook his head. “Make sure you stop by more often, if you avoid disintegrating yourself. It is always good to have you around.”
“So you can harass me about taking on an apprentice, like a parent asking newlyweds about grandchildren?” I joked. “With a stable place to keep my things, I might actually be around more frequently, if you can imagine.”
“That will be the day,” he replied, smiling warmly. “Keep yourself safe, Alastair.”
My exit from the Keep was as uneventful as my entrance, much to my great pleasure. I returned to my tower to begin my studies on the tome I had been guided to. Of course, as it turns out I was rather unprepared, having neglected to take anything from my room in the Madrigal’s Keep with me. So, if anyone had happened upon me at that moment it would have been a sorry sight; a lonely wizard, sitting on the cold stone floor, reading by way of a magical light floating above him and scribbling notes on a well-worn journal.
My poor work environment notwithstanding, I managed to glean a respectable amount of knowledge from the book. It seemed as though Harkin knew what he was talking about in regards to ley lines. It helped that I could extend my magical senses and dip into the ley line beneath me to see and corroborate what he had written down, as well. From what I could remember, nobody knew exactly how a second-rate scholar from several hundred years ago managed to acquire such reliable information on ley lines, and as such his publishings had been tightly controlled. It was one of the few main success stories of the Assemblage and the Madrigals working together; it was believed every copy of this book resided within the Campus or the Keep.
It would seem that a ley line was much like an immensely swift river, just with raw energy and power instead of water. It made sense if you stopped to think about it, but then came the issue of how to control it. If you treated it like a river, then logic would dictate that it could be manipulated like one. Much like the aqueduct that provided an immense amount of fresh water to Leathad, perhaps something similar could be devised for my purposes.
Following that logic, I began to research how the dwarves piped pressurized water throughout their holds. It must have been a massive undertaking, but I knew from personal experience that they used underground rivers and reservoirs to get the job done. After a fair bit of trial and error, it looked like I could create a sort of ‘valve’, to restrict the overall flow of power into my tower. It would let the ley line funnel in just enough energy to power my spells and anything else I needed, and I could open it wide if I required the influx of power for whatever purpose.
I tested several models of my valve, sending a bit of my own unrefined and chaotic energy through it each time to test its limits. I finally settled on a design that was essentially a focus set into a small pillar, about waist height. The pillar would have its own magics laid into the surface which would augment the resilience of the focus, and once the ley line was linked, the resulting flow of energy would power it indefinitely.
It was an elegant solution, or so I thought. The first attempt I made almost ended in disaster as I failed to account for the massive differences in the types of energy involved. The power I had been using to test my valve with was chaotic, as that was what I assumed the ley line had. The resulting explosion took out the upper levels of my tower, ruining what little ale was left over in the keg on the roof and setting me back several days. The only benefits were the improvements on my stonemoulding technique and the information I gathered on the energy flowing through the ley line, which seemed wholly unique to it. With this in mind, I altered my model and put it through its paces.
After a tense few moments where the entire tower seemed to vibrate, ever increasing in pitch and intensity, the whole surrounding area seemed unnaturally calm. I moved to the roof and found that the wind had stopped entirely. The bugs and other minor fauna that inhabited the Crag had gone silent, leaving me in an eerie bubble of tranquility. With the connection seeming stable for now, I opened the valve slowly, using it to awaken the dormant runes I had carved around the tower. These ones I had specifically left unpowered by my own energy, as they took a tremendous amount of strength to use. A soft orange glow crept out from the edges of the tower, humming ever so slightly. I continued to open the valve, pouring more and more energy into those sigils. Before too long, a glowing dome had sprung into existence over my tower.
I smiled to myself, immensely pleased at my accomplishment. As far as I knew, I was the only person in existence who had utilized a ley line in such a way, and the connection and flow of power was stable. Well, as stable as a ship on rough seas - it was designed for this, and it would hold. The hum grew in intensity, stabilizing into an oddly pleasing tone. Nothing shattered within the tower, and the sigils carved onto the plinth supporting the focus burned with a rather unsettling fervor, but after an hour or so of just staring at them nothing seemed to change. Satisfied with my tests, I shut off the shielding and promptly made several backup foci in case this one somehow failed.
Having finished my tremendous undertaking, I passed out as soon as my head came to rest on my rucksack.
“Well, well, well. I honestly didn’t expect you to connect the dots quite so well.”
As always, the figure was waiting for me, lurking in my mind without my consent. This time, the robes it was wearing were more defined and regal, although the details of its stolen face were still hidden. “Did you really expect any less from a Madrigal?”
The figure held its hands out, palms facing up. “From a Madrigal, no. But from you…?” The snide accusation was apparent despite being unsaid.
I rolled my eyes, not wanting to engage in any more verbal sparring than necessary. “So, what now, godling?”
“I really do hate when you call me that.”
“I know. Why do you think I say it?”
A sigh resonated through this particular piece of my mind. “I suppose now all there is left to do is the same thing you’ve been doing for ages. Watching and waiting.”
I shook my head. “No. No, I do not think that is the plan this time around.” I thought back to how some of the other Madrigals operated, content to sit back and wait for trouble to appear before handling it in their own ways. I was never one for sitting around. “I do believe it is time to go on the hunt, my unwelcome guest.”
For a moment, the figure froze, still as a painting. Then, I could see its mouth split wide, revealing unnaturally sharp teeth. “I thought you would never say those words, oh host of mine.”
The sheer relish in its voice sent a cold shiver down my spine, but I remained resolute that I had made the right decision.