Relating the arrival of additional magi to the covenant of Tugurium. Happens a few wekks after 1205 Spring - The First Wave (Story).
While traveling south, to their new home, hopefully, Celeste suggested they stick to path less trodden. Lencor's appearance was the main reason, but she preferred to take the time. between the three of them, they could quite easily survive the wilder areas, and they didn't require much human contact, for now. When they did need to get some food, Celeste could walk alone, in her male form, to buy the supplies they needed, and see about hearing news, and directions, but for the most part, she thought it best to travel without many people knowing where they went.
It was still early Spring 1205, when Celeste and Alba were coming to Tugurium. Celeste had suggested the day before they got closer, to rest and wash their clothes, and she wore her black robes, as cleaned as they've been since they started their travels from Durenmar. Lencor, of course, was by her side, and he seemed excited to be approaching this new covenant. Don't get me wrong, Celeste was also excited, but she was a bit nervous. Not for herself, but for Lencor. She knew his appearance can be off-putting to mundanes, but magi, at least, knew how to stop themselves, and she was expected here, along with Alba.
She did apologize to Alba about the cold shoulder during their Winter in Durenmar. And explained how Alberto was a sort of mentor, but that she didn't fully trust his motives.
Would she be able to find more clues about her mother's killer? During the travel here, her ghost has really stirred up, and was whispering to her about ancient secrets, terrible mysteries, and long-forgotten curses. She shunted most of it away, because to deal with it all would be overwhelming, but she also had a sense that her mother wasn't just warning, but also encouraging.
As the snow began to melt and the weather began to improve, Celeste and Alba prepared to leave Durenmar and reach Tugurium.
They planned an easy route to follow, so as not to get lost. They would march south, keeping the Black Forest on their right until they reached the Rhine. This would be the hardest part of the journey, for they would have to cross forests and wild lands, but once at the Rhine they could follow well-trodden paths and everything would be easier.
Once there they would proceed west, following the Rhine towards Basile, and then continue along the Birse until they reached Laimunt. A clear and easy path.
As Celeste waited with Lencor and Stella outside Durenmar, a young man approached her. He wore an old and worn looking green-hued magus robe and a sash from which dangled his meager possessions. His round, almost adolescent face was outlined by a platinum blond bob that gave him the look of a cherub. His green eyes were serious and cold, though after years of looking at them, Celeste could see a tinge of pleading in them. He stumbled toward the group, almost as if he suffered from pain in his manhood, or maybe as if he was trying to step on eggs without breaking them.
"H-hi C, don't worry, I'm Alba" - the young man clarified in a totally unnecessary way when he met her - "H-how long did it take you to get used to... this?" - he asked pointing his body from top to bottom. This was the first time that Alba used the spell learned from Celeste and was feeling clearly akward into her new body.
Despite Alba's obvious discomfort with her new body, it didn't take them much longer to finish preparing everything and leave.
As usual when they traveled, Alba changed her curious and inquisitive behavior that she always maintained towards the more everyday and normal things when they were in a settlement, to become more silent and thoughtful.
However, this time with the Black Forest in the background, Alba was even more silent than usual and only spoke when someone addressed her, or to comment on some anecdote from her past while she was looking at the great shadowy forest.
Her demeanor returned to normal when they left the forest behind and reached the Rhine. From there to Laimunt the journey was uneventful, and upon reaching the town, Celeste suggested getting ready for her arrival at Tugurium the next day.
Stella, as usual, was nowhere to be seen, possibly scouting or hunting nearby, so Alba accompanied Celeste and Lencor and bathed with her in the river. She had come to the conclusion that it would be better to come to Tugurium as herself, and not using spells to change her appearance... she would certainly feel more comfortable and avoid unnecessary explanations.
As she was pulling out of her bag a new green robe that she had bought in Durenmar before leaving the place, Celeste apologized to her for her treatment in winter.
Alba looked at her for a few seconds as if she were remembering, and then she gently shook her head.
"I was afraid that I had done something to upset you... I'm glad to know that it's not the case, but you don't have to apologize. I don't feel like I should forgive you for anything, you are just going through a bad personal moment..." - Alba replied using a calm, almost bored tone in stark contrast with her words - "I didn't want to bring it up... but I've seen that your mother's ghost has been a little restless lately. I don't know if I would be of much help, but please, if you ever want to talk about it count on me." - she added shyly averting her gaze as her cheeks blushed slightly. Even after so many years, she still had a hard time getting close to other people.
Alba looked towards the horizon, to the south, as if she could see the covenant from there.
"Tomorrow we will arrive at Tugurium... Do you think I will be accepted there?" - although her look and her voice did not show it, she felt very uneasy about that new place.
"My dear Alba. First of all, that look is endearing, but keep in mind that we want to be left alone, and that requires a less endearing look. But it's a great first attempt, and am sure you'll get used to it. It definitely was awkward to get used to it. Not just the different voice, and posture, but also the fact that our clothes are not well suited to the male body. It can get chafing in some places we're not used to. And you need to learn how to do some things standing, when we're using to kneeling. I can tell you that Lencor here found the first week of out travels quite hillarious..."
"I am certain that you'll be accepted. You're a Magi, and as such, you will be accepted. Plus, you're a valuable friend."
Alba's face got red after listening that she did it wrong.
"Mhm... Thank you C... b-but this is my normal look. As a man, I mean. Since my hair hasn't turned green and the leaves haven't grown yet, I thought it might go without using the Disguise of the Transformed Image spell... I see I was wrong. I'll think of a more suitable look for when the time comes..."
She answered, even when she didn't fully grasped what she should change in her appearance and will surely need some help later.
Alba blushed with the last part of Celeste's answer.
"Sometimes I feel like you're too nice to me, C. But thank you." - she said without diverting her gaze from the horizon.
She was generally clumsy undestanding people, but she noticed that Celeste avoided to answer about her mother. She was always saying to her that she was a valuable friend, but Alba didn't understand how that could be true when Celeste never gave her opportunities to act like one.
Alba took her clothes and began to dress.
"Tomorrow will be an interesting day. And surely a very long one. Let's go to rest early..."
Just like she did regularly, she cast a spell and she offered a beautifully red apple to Celeste before they went to rest.
Celeste graciously accepted the apple. She might have been able to cast this herself, but she was well aware that Alba was self-conscious, and she let her do it.
"Tomorrow will be a great day, when we finally get to meet Clusius, and whoever else he has gathered here."
Her smile wavered a bit while she heard her mother's ghost laugh, saying "My daughter, tomorrow starts the best chapter of your life."
When they get up the next day, Celeste forgoes her usual casting of The Succubus' Trick, preferring to come as her female self.
Most of the morning has already gone by and the sun is high in the sky as Celeste and Alba approach the village of Chastillon. The mountains rise to the south, blocking the view. The path where they fold over themselves, giving entrance to a valley, is barely visible between the handful of houses around them.
The village is mostly empty, the people taking care of their own affairs, but as the magas walk they soon overhear a small confusion. A woman in her late 40's looks displeased at a blonde youngster in a half leather armor. The blonde holds a small boy by the neck, and speaks in what Celeste recognizes as French. She catches a few of his words.
"Sorry... not again... will watch him". It looks like he is... apologizing?
Suddenly the woman notices Celeste and Alba at the end of the street.
"Keep the little rat on a tight leash from now on." - She says in High German, before quickly entering her house and closing the door. The blonde seems confused by the development, until he looks around and sees Celeste... and then Alba, and takes a step back. The boy on his grasp also turns around, his mouth sticky with what seems like honey, or maybe jam.
He glances at Celeste's black robes, at Alba (OOC: not making assumptions on Alba's current appearance, except that it's likely to stand out as "not quite right") and at the big dog before taking a deep breath and shielding the small boy behind himself. He seems wary as he speaks, first in French, but quickly changing to a somewhat ok Latin.
"Hello... Speaking Latin, I hope? May I recall your business? Not wanting not trouble. Unless... You guesses?" It takes a moment for you to realize he probably meant guests.
Celeste isn't surprised at the woman's reaction to possibly Alba and Lencor, but when the boy turns, and she sees the smidge of honey on his lips, she can't help but smile, but holds herself from bursting out laughing.
She answers the boy in Latin "Hello darling, yes, we speak Latin, and have come here to meet up with Clusius, if you'd be kind enough to show us the way." And in a somewhat broken French, she adds to the little boy "I hear apples work well with honey."
When after accepting the apple, Celeste showed itself positive and encouraged by the prospects for the next day with a big smile, Alba looked at her seriously with a cold expression for a few more seconds than necessary. She finally looked away from her with a melancholic gesture and followed her partner without saying anything else. Although Alba's behavior might seem strange, it was actually completely normal for her and it was no longer weird to Celeste.
After that exchange of words, Alba couldn't avoid a little envy for Celeste's great ability to express herself and meet new people. Alba's calm and naturally stoic personality led her to face such situations without complaining and without being noticed, but that didn't mean meeting people stopped being terrifying and exhausting in equal parts.
They both lay down and prepared to sleep. Alba was uneasy, but she pushed away those negative thoughts about things she couldn't control. Before she knew it, her body gave in to the exhaustion of the last few weeks of travel and she fell asleep.
When she woke up the next day, Stella was sleeping between her legs. At some point in the night she had returned, as she usually did. Due to the cat's weight that also meant that Alba got pinned down and now she felt her body stiff due to being into the same position for too long.
After a short fight with Stella to be able to get up and stretch a little, both magae prepared and left early so that they could reach Tugurium before noon if possible. Alba covered her hair with her white scarf, because after so many spring days her hair had already turned light green and her leaves had grown between it. In this way, she intended to go more unnoticed without having to cast spells that would hide who she was... at least to be able to present herself as... well, as herself. She also dressed in a new green tunic that she bought in Durenmar before leaving thanks to Celeste giving her the idea, since the previous one already very worn and holey.
Both reached the town of Chastillon earlier than expected. Stella stayed close to Alba's legs using her invisible power to avoid becoming the target of a broomstick from a local resident. As usual when they were into a population, Alba looked openly and with great curiosity both the buildings and the people and her daily activities.
But a scene in the middle of the street caught the attention of both. As Celeste stopped to watch, Alba stood over her, her deep green eyes darting between all the actors but not really understanding anything that was going on.
Finally, the leather-armored youth addressed them in clumsy Latin, so Alba immediately classified him as a grog and the little boy as his younger brother. Celeste came forward to say hello, so Alba, who wasn't quite sure how to act either, hung back in the background and let her partner do the talking... after all, she had the Gentle Gift, so he was better for it anyway.
While Celeste was talking, Alba felt a tug on her leg and looked down since Stella was trying to get her attention. She bent down to listen what the cat wanted to tell her.
"How do I suppose that for a change you don't understand shit about what's going on, I'll explain it to you." - told Stella in a low voice with her classic rude tone - "That human pup seems to have eaten without permission some honey that belonged to the adult woman, and the oldest young man seems to be the one in charge of the first one."
Alba looked at the scene again, it seemed that Stella's explanation fit. She thanked to Stella with a caress before getting up again.
"Oh, sorry madam. He speaks not French, not Latin. Very trouble to talk to. Master says Argos speaks Greek. But not often he speak at all" the oldest one says, still in Latin.
"But my manner. If guesses of master Clusius, then I will gladlyly show the way! You can call me Simon. Little boy Argos. We both servants of master Regulus. How should I announce you when we arrive?"
As he talks Simon makes a gesture for both of you to follow him, still keeping a firm grasp on Argos. He tries to keep a healthy distance from both Alba and Lencor. From time to time Argos steals a glance at you, curiosity beaming in his eyes.
Celeste smiles at the two boys and gives a dismissive sign towards Simon "Don't worry Simon, I am sure Regulus will make sure he learns to speak." And she was curious to see whether the boy Argos is a potential apprentice, though Simon didn't react to him like he has the Gift, maybe the boy was Gentle Gifted?
"We would be more than happy to meet both Clusius and Regulus. And you can introduce us as Celeste and Alba of Merinita."
Since she was prepared for it, she told Lencor and Alba "The boys seem to have a reaction to both you, so it's best to stay behind them a fair distance. I will try to keep them busy."
And she proceeds to charm the two kids, asking them questions, and entertaining them, while they make their way.
Alba continued to listen in silence to the conversation. If both boys didn't even speak the same language, it was clear that they shouldn't be brothers either...
Celeste motioned for her to keep her distance from the young men. Something unnecessary, since it was something that Alba was already planning to do, but even so, she nodded seriously in silence and waited with Lencor for the group to advance a bit before following them.
Simon makes an effort to keep the conversation going, despite his broken Latin. Celeste's gentle gift surely helps. He touches briefly on how he has been Regulus' servant only for the past month or so, and how they have only arrived at Tugurium recently.
You follow a small creek upstream towards the south, and are quickly greeted by the view of a beautiful valley. Not far from the entrance you see a huge oak towering over you, maybe the largest you have ever seen. After passing the oak you finally glimpse a jumble of buildings to the east, twelve score paces away from you, give or take. Simon goes on that direction through a paved road, gesticulating to a few guards as he approaches.
"Hello!!! Guesses for mister Clusius. Madams Celeste and Alba, from House Merinita!"
After a few words you get to pass by the guards, reaching a large courtyard in front of a manor. Simon eyes the buildings warily.
"Madams, I go fetch someone to attend you shortly. Then I need to report to master Regulus."
He bows to you before entering, dragging Argos behind him.
Alba followed the group in silence, accompanied by Lencor and Stella, listening to Celeste and Simon from afar while observing as much of the place as she could.
Once they were far enough from the village of Chastillon, Stella became visible again and jumped on Lencor.
"I haven't had the sleep I need in a long time. You don't care, do you?" - she told him as she snuggled onto the back of the huge faerie dog and closed her eyes, not waiting for an answer.
Alba for her part was staring at the stream that followed the side of the road. The sound of the water was very relaxing and beautiful.
Turning her eyes back to the road, it was when she saw the valley stretching out before them.
"Lencor, it seems that we are going to live in a very beautiful place" - she commented with her enormous companion. Her voice and her expression were indifferent as always, but there was a glimmer of emotion in her gaze.
When she noticed the huge oak tree that seemed to guard the entrance to the valley, she was about to run towards it, but she stopped herself.
"Look at that oak... surely it has many things to tell..." - she verbalized her desires to Lencor, since she was unable to stop there now. In her mind she already was seeing herself coming back as soon as she had a moment to talk to that old tree.
Then, beyond the oak, the first buildings of the covenant made an appearance. They were of all types and styles. Alba was surprised, because she had understood that Tugurium was a new covenant and that it still did not even have an association with any court, so she did not imagine so many constructions and something so big even it at the Clusius' letter was described as a "well-developed site".
As they got closer, she saw that the buildings were also very old and/or in poor condition... some of them seemed to be about to collapse. Perhaps they had taken advantage of some existing ruins to set up the covenant?
When they reached the checkpoint with the guards, she was also surprised when Lencor and Stella crossed it without any problems, which indicated that there was no Hearth either... She supposed that it might be because of how new the covenant was, but it was still a bit disturbing idea somehow.
At last they reached what must have been the main buildinga nd Simon walked away, dragging Argos by the hand.
Alba watched them disappear into the distance as she walked to Celeste.
"The valley is very beautiful" - she told her as soon as she was next to her - "but I didn't expect to see so many ruined buildings... I wonder what the history of this place is"
A few minutes pass before someone comes to greet the newcomers, a hooded figure striding towards the two maga and their animal companions through the courtyard from one of the numerous entrances to the covenant coumpound.
The gait of the greeter is strange, but it is hard to pin down why exactly. Perhaps it is too precise, too regular, yet a bit jerky. As if it was walking on stilts, maybe.
The figure finally comes to a stop before the two maga, who realize this apears to be a tall gaunt man. Alba feels a slight distortion of her vision, as if there is something hidden there that her second sight is just barely unable to pierce.
"Greetings, Madams Celeste and Alba, from House Merinita," says the figure, using the exact same appellation that the young grog Simon has used. "I am Julius, steward of Tugurium," he continues in an emotionless but cultured voice in precise Latin. "I have sent for master Quintus Clusius, who should join us shortly. Can I offer you the hospitality of Tugurium while we wait for him?"
"The history of the place is something I'd love to learn as well, but am sure we'll have time for such questions when we meet our sodales."
Lencor takes a step forward as the hooded figure approaches. Celeste was aware that it was a preemptive move, in case the strange figure attempted anything, so she dropped her hand on the back of his neck, to reassure him that it was not a time to raise problems. She was confident this newcomer isn't out to attack them, or very much hoped for, but if he did, he'd encounter the might of two Maga, and two supernatural creatures.
"Greetings Julius, we would very much enjoy your company, and the hospitality of Tugurium, after all, we have traveled here for that same reason. Would you care to entertain two young ladies, and regale us with stories of this place, before Quintus Clusius arrives?"
"Excellent. If you would follow me, I am sure that the staff will have some refreshments ready by the time we are at the dining room," Julius says, turning towards the multi-building compound. He walks slowly towards a short set of wide stairs leading up to a terrace before a large double door.
The maga notice that there are weeds growing between some of the stones, but the stairs are still sturdy and well made. On the terrace, when Julius opens one of the doors, it opens without the creaking sound they expected. Apparently not all of the covenant is in poor repair.
Julius holds the door open, waiting for the maga and their companions to enter. "The valley was first settled by Master Leonardus of House Jerbiton about fifty years ago. He found the first vis source here in the valley, the Oak of Binding Promises, which you passed when you came into the valley. He soon found another vis source here in the valley, which prompted him to establish a small secret refuge for himself as he explored the area. Over the years, he brought people here to live at his 'refuge' and make it larger, various people and beings which were ill-suited for live amongst mundane society, or even covenant life. Some were craftspeople, and he put them to work enlarging his refuge."
"I was one of the first he brought here, in order to assist in creating a secondary laboratory for him and coordinate the work of his refugees."
As soon as Lencor tensed and a new voice sounded, Stella raised her head and looked in the newcomer's direction. As soon as she looked towards the new individual and saw a slight distorsion where he should have his face, her curiosity activated and she had to smell it and take a closer look... She turned invisible and jumped off from Lencor's back stealthily, ready to satisfy her curiosity.
Meanwhile, Alba's attention was totally focused on Julius too. She also had noticed something strange about him... obviously it couldn't be a invisibility spell, so it was most likely an illusion. Maybe was he wearing a magical disguise? But he wasn't a magus but a steward, right? She was wondering if she should ask or not about it, or if that would be rude, when Celeste stepped forward to greet him, so she decided to not mentioning it for now.
At the bare minimum Julius seemed to know about magic already, so her green hair with some leaves shouldn't seem so strange to him either, so Alba took the opportunity to remove the kerchief from her head, finally letting her hair free.
The maga started to follow the group towards the gate when she took a look towards Lencor and noticed for the first time that Stella had disappeared. She looked around her, to no avail. It was pretty normal for Stella to roam freely, and being into a new place where surely they will end living surely made the cat even more curious to start exploring, so Alba didn't really worry about her. Despite this, she would have preferred to be able to count on her presence... Sadly she couldn't search too much for Stella, since the others were already entering into the building and Julius's hood was focused on her, clearly awaiting, so she decided to enter.
While Alba looked around, Julius began to tell the story of Tugurium. Unfortunately, even if the history was interesting and although some of her questions were answered, many others were left unanswered... and a new one emerged.
"Do you have fairy blood?" - Alba asked him, speaking for the first time since he had appeared and looking him intensely - "You don't have the voice of a person of the age you indicate... unless the illusion you use changes that too" - she added while she approached Julius to look at him more closely. If the dates he had mentioned were correct, he should have at least seventy years. Either he was hiding it or he was more longevous that a normal human.
When Stella turns invisible and starts wandering off, Julius' gaze follow her, unfazed by her invisibility. "You might want to keep your companions with you for the time being, maga. There are areas of the covenant that might be hazardous to them, and they would benefit from the coming tour of the place."
Looking closely at Julius, who seem uncaring about how close she looks at him, her sight starts to penetrate the illusion covering him. His words hit just as she starts seeing the skull beneath his face.
"I do not have faery blood, or blood of any kind, for that matter. My current body is only a few decades old, crafted by a Verditius magus for the benefit of Master Leonardus, and I sarted occupying it some years later. But I was born in the time of Emperor Macrinus, but my spirit wandered for almost a millenium before it came to occupy this body."
Stepping back, Alba can see what the illusion was hiding. Any part of Julius' body that is not covered by his robes are in fact a skeleton made of silver. Julius is clearly not a human being, but some sort of animated construct.
Julius just stands there, waiting for the maga and their companions to enter the covenant.