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Chapter 4 - You have been warned.

Chapter 4 – You have been warned

 

In the week that followed the Knights Excelsior’s arrival, preparations started in earnest for the Laus Stultitiae, the big annual festival. Festival goers began to arrive in the city all looking forward to the celebrations and with plenty of money to spend.  Street markets sprung up everywhere, taverns were full of revelers and across the whole city, houses and squares were decorated with garlands and banners. The festival was a celebration of the history and origins of the city of Montalban and on the last day of the festival, a large carnival parade would be held where, by tradition, the humblest of the citizens would be crowned King for a Day.


The carnival was called 'the burial of the sardine'.  None really knew how it came by that name.  According to folklore, when the city was once besieged by a large Beastherd, the citizens of Montalban had been reduced to eating rotten sardines from the last fishing boat that made it into the harbour before the city was cut off.  When it ended the carnival was created to celebrate their finally being able to eat something other than sardines. It was a nice story.

The Knights Excelsior didn't take part in any of this, locking themselves away in the guard barracks, never opening the door to anyone.  Even victuals had to be left at the gate, until suddenly a Stormcast soldier would open the gate and take the food inside without saying a single word.  Sheriff Albertus would visit the Greatswords standing guard outside the barracks several times, during the day and night. But the soldiers could tell him nothing more than that they heard the Knights were holding weapon drills during the day in the parade square, singing hymns during the evening and nothing during the night. Only once was there an incident. Some drunken festival revelers had come in the middle of the night to the barracks, taunting the Knights Excelsior.  “Oi, Stormcastie boy!”, they were heard shouting, “You lot you think you are tough, yeah? Well, why don't you come out and show it then! We here in Montalban ain't afraid of a bunch of peacocks like you lot.”  Within moments the Greatswords ran over and started arguing with them.  Soon enough there was a fist fight in front of the gate and when they all had thrown and received enough punches, the drunks melted back into the town hurling insults at the Greatswords and Stormcasts.  But from the barracks came no response.

The next morning, Sheriff Albertus decided it was time to pay a certain person a visit. He went over to the Greatswords guard and asked the captain and the sergeant to accompany him.  When he was asked whereto, he said “nowhere, and that is where you have been if someone asks, nowhere, understood?”. Both nodded.

The three walked out of the city gate and headed up the road. After a half hour, they left the main road and took a path leading into the forest. Only then did the Greatswords realise they were heading for Haldor Hollow.  Past the forest, the path led to a clearing where several ruins of farmsteads and barns stood.  One of the farms was still looking inhabitable despite its rickety roof and broken windows. They knew this was where the old mad mage lived and they didn't like it at all.  The old fool was crazy enough to turn them into a statue or even worse, a frog or a donkey.  Albetus approached the door and shouted “Nostro, it's Albertus here. I know you are in there.”   From inside came a voice “Of course it is.  Do you think I'm blind? I 've got no money, you greedy leech”.   “Oh shut up” Albertus answered as he pushed the door open. “You two wait here” he told the Greatswords and went in.

Both Albertus and Nostro sat around a table peering into a glass sphere.  Clouds seemed to swirl inside it, changing reds to blues to vibrant purples as Nostro muttered unintelligible incantations.  Sheriff Albertus had not always been sheriff of Montalban.  He was a man with a long past - a past which was nobody's business if he could help it.  But with that past came a lot of experience and he knew the value of a mage of the Collegiate Arcanum.  Even if the one sitting in front of him might have faked his diploma on the wall, as Albertus suspected.  But papers don't matter on the battlefield, it’s the gift that mattered.

 

Finally Nostro spoke. “I see a lot a trouble ahead”.

Albertus snorted, “I could tell you that looking in a brick, you old fool. The city is full of trouble with the festival going on.”.

Nostro took no notice. “No, I mean real trouble. You have trouble makers in town. Bad ones.”

Albertus swallowed.  He knew perfectly well who that was.  That was why he was here.

“What will happen?” he wanted to know.

“Oh the usual,...violence, death, battle, and then some more.”  Nostro sighed.  “But there is also an agent at work, an agent of the ruinous powers”.

“Who?” Albertus pressed.

“I don't know. I can't see through the concealment wards”.

Suddenly Nostro looked up.  “Listen, I know where you came from and what is in your past. You're not fooling me with this sheriff malarkey. You are going to help me.”

“How?” asked Albertus.

“I want my Hurricanum and Luminark back”, Nostro answered, fixing him firmly in the eye.

Albertus straightened up. “No way, read my lips, no way” he hissed back to Nostro.

Nostro once resided in town as the well-respected mage of Montalban. He lived in one of the city wall’s large watch towers and was often found shouting to the heavens, practicing old spells and experimenting with new ones. But one day in high summer just before the harvest, one of the Hurricanum experiments went badly wrong. He unleashed the mother of all hailstorms on the surrounding countryside which ruined the crops in the fields. The farmers besieged the stadthouder in the city hall, beside themselves with rage, waving their pitch forks to all who tried to get near them. They demanded that Manstien threw the mage out of town.  Eventually Manstien managed to appease them with promises of a severe reprimand, 20 lashes of the whip for the mage and even more punishment.  Later he exploded with anger in front of the mage but did not carry out the punishment. The banishment eventually came later after another failed Hurricanum experiment.  Nostro managed to land a comet out of the clear blue sky right in the middle of the town's animal menagerie, crushing several Demygryphs to death and barely missing the Stadthouder's battle griffon by a whisker. This time the Stadthouder needed no prompting from the shocked Demigryph Knights and he banished the mage out of town. Since then the mage had secluded himself in Haldor Hollow.

“Something has happened, Albertus. Something very bad in a place called Shyish.  You may not have noticed anything unusual but the air has changed and the forces of magic and evil are getting stronger every day now.”

Nostro stared silently into the glass sphere, a look of despair creeping across his face.

Albertus stood up.  “Yeah sure, you're not intimidating me, you old fool.”.

As he walked to the door, Nostro shouted after him. “Don't call me an old fool, Albertus, you are the fool here.  Your past will catch up with you.  And I tell you now: before this is over you will be on your knees here, begging me to get back to my Hurricanum and Luminark.  You have been warned!”

Albertus and the two Greatswords walked back to town in silence. They knew better than to ask him what had happened.  Once through the gate, he beckoned them to come with him.  They went up the steps of the city wall to the curtain wall and followed the wall to the large gate tower on the south side.  They knew this was the old mage's tower.  Once at the gate's tower door, Albertus looked around them and took a key out of his doublet.  He turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open.  Inside the room had remained undisturbed as it was left years ago when the mage was banished.  “Follow me” he said to the two men.  He swept a carpet aside and lifted up a large wooden lid in the floor.  A dark staircase lead to the basement of the tower.  A feint light seemed to come from down there.  As the three gingerly descended the staircase, Albertus whispered “Holy Michael the Hermit”.  Once down, in front of him stood the Hurricanum and the Luminark with its lenses and mirrors.  But they were not still as they expected them to be. The Hurricanum was slowly whirling its parabolas on its own accord and the lenses of the Luminark were pulsing with faint green light.

As Albertus locked the gate tower door behind him, he turned to the captain and the sergeant. “Remember, you've been nowhere”.

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