Clusius proceeds to give Celeste and Alba a tour of the covenant. (Regulus can tag along if he wants -- there is always something new to be seen and that way he can interact with them.)
(Putting together extracts from old posts to give an impression of the covenant as a whole -- places, atmosphere and people. Some of this they may have seen while arriving, while other things may be noticed during the following days.)
From the moment the small group crests the mountain and start its climb down the small valley, the small man catches his first climpse of the covenant. A sprawling jumble of connected halls, towers and terraces with a double handful of smaller houses scattered below; a lone, squat tower amongst the houses; and a slim watchtower rising from the mountainside above all this. A small road leads leads out of the valley to the north, parallelling a small river, and several paths branching out through and around the buildings and over smaller streams.
Tapping sounds can be heard in the valley, which are soon revealed to be coming from a small quarry close to the group's trajectory. A small number of mundanes appear to be working there. A few more people can be seem moving between the houses below.
A bell tolls in the distance, with a repeating rythm implying some sort of message. The visible mundanes stop in their movements, and even the tapping from the quarry stops. Movements resume after a few moments, with a different pattern.
The servant that Julius speaks to -- in a germanic language -- is a wan older man who looks to be in his fifties. After listening to the steward's instructions, the man nods and starts walking away without so much as a glance at Perion. Noticing the magus' hesitation, Julius says, "Follow Mathias."
Fortunately, Mathias does not walk very fast, so Perion has no trouble catching up with him. You spend the next ten minutes walking up and down stairways, crossing halls and corridors. These are in a mixed state of repair, from pristine and well-lit to damp or dusty. At one point, your path even takes you through a small enclosed courtyard, with weeds growing between the flagstones.
Finally, Mathias stops before a door and opens it, leading Perion into a small but cozy chamber. High and narrow stained glass windows illuminate the room, which contains a plush bed, a nicely made table with three chairs, a clothing chest and an armoire. The air is a chill inside, though not as much as it was outside.
Mathias moves to a small hearth and starts to build a small fire which, once lit, starts to take the chill out of the aire. The servant shows Perion where the chamber pot is, then opens a side door to a smaller room where you discover an empty bathing tub. Mathias finally turns to look at Perion with washed-out blue eyes, a questioning look on his face.
At no point does the servant utter a single word.
Clusius speaking animatedly about sculptures and how they could make the covenant beautiful. "I think I should start working on a statue of Leonardus, my grand-pater. I'd like it to figure prominently in front of the covenant. As I told you in my letters, he is the one who actually established this place. What do you think of the idea?"
With a nod, Clusius answers, "Yes, there are several access points to the caves from within the covenant. Not all of the caves are interconnected, and those that aren't are mostly used for storage. But the main caves can be accessed without going outside. There is a reason for this -- one of the covenant's most valuable vis source is within the main cave."
Later, when the company rides the path into the valley, the first thing they notice is an enormous oak tree, all twisted and lumpy, its mossy branches just starting to show the green of budding leaves. It towers above the surrounding trees, its branches covering an area over twenty paces in diameter and its trunk wide enough that five grown men probably cannot encircle it with their arms. (It looks a bit like this oak tree .)
The stream that runs out of the valley gurgles a dozen yards to the right and below the path. The ground is still muddy, and the group may notice the tracks left by a cart which recently navigated the path, drawn by a donkey or a smallish horse.
As the company follows the path around a tight curve around a steep rocky cliff, they finally catch sight of the first buildings. The path itself splits up in three, with the center path leading towards the buildings, while the right goes down in the direction of the oak tree and left one snakes up the mountain face. As only the center path seems to have been used recently, as well as being much wider than the other two, the company continues ahead.
As they continue, a choatic assemblage of towers, halls and structures is revealed to their gaze, growing up along the mountain face. Some parts of the structure appear to be in disrepair, dark and their windows gaping, while other pristine with stained glass windows. No wall surrounds the compound, with a number of secondary buildings scattered before and below the main structure.
After leading them generally southeastward through the compound, taking several corridors and flights of stairs, he stops before a thick wooden door reinforced with two bands of black iron. Selecting a large key from a ring with several others, he unlocks the door, which makes a loud screech when he pushes it open. He waits for the magi and Clusius, forewarned about what was coming, lights a lantern to light the way.
The somewhat flickering light reveals a tunnel into the mountainside, which was probably a crack into the cliff before the building was put up. The passage is fairly narrow, but not so much that a man cannot pass without brushing the sides. as you pass the door, you hear the faint sound of water flowing nearby. You remember that one of the smaller stream cascades down from the mountain right beside the covenant. This must be the source of this sound.
Julius takes point, while Clusius closes the march. The passage soon meets another, of a completely different appearance. Where the first was a sharp crack filled in with sand and gravel underfoot, this one is much smoother and the ground is mostly bare. Wider than it was high, it's cross-section shaped like a flattened tube. There is a bit of moisture on the rock and the air is cool. The two magi can now easily walk side by side, Clusius joining them to share the light from his lantern.
Julius speaks, "When Master Leonardus first discovered the caves, he was exploring the aura in the valley, because of the villagers' stories about the oak. He found it strange that the aura wasn't at its strongest near the oak, but rather here near the mountain. The entrance was hidden behind brush trees and small rocks, so none of them at the village were aware of its existence."
They turn left and follow the wandering tunnel for some time. It splits a few times to side caves, one of which is barred by a masonry wall with a door. "We have configured this cave to be used as a sanctum," explains Julius, "as requested by master Clusius. We could do the same with a number of others, should other magi wish undergroung laboratories. There are a few tunnels that end back within the covenant as well."
"Note that some of the tunnels wander off into dead ends, while others are prone to simply disappearing or forming anew."
After this, they show the main cave, with its incongruous vis source -- a Roman galley, broken in half. Wrapped around it is a petrified sea serpent, its body as thick as a man is tall and its head raised in a soundless roar.
"All the known entrances leading into the covenant are barred with a door," answers Julius, "but the tunnels themselves are prone to change. Leonardus often speculated that the nature of the magical event that led the serpent and its nautical prey here, in this state, was so powerful that it formed a second pole to the magical aura within the valley. It's relationship with transformation -- probably what petrified the serpent in the first place -- affected the very fabric of magic inside the caves and tipped it towards the Art of Muto. This causes the caves themselves to change and you will also notice the same effect in many areas of the covenant."
Julius explains a little, "Master Leonardus often speculated that the nature of the magical event that happened in the caves was so powerful that it formed a second pole to the magical aura within the valley. It's relationship with transformation -- probably what petrified the serpent in the first place -- affected the very fabric of magic and tipped it towards the Art of Muto. This causes the caves to change and this spills over into the main compound. This may also have been amplified by a Twilight episode that Master Leonardus experienced while here."
"As to why this doesn't happen as much in the parts of the covenant where people live, that is unclear. Perhaps the presence of living beings somehow serves as an anchor. Or perhaps the structure is shy and doesn't want to act when people are present." For the first time since you have met Julius, his mouth forms a smile. It looks quite weird and deliberate.
The smile remains frozen on Julius' face for a moment, then simply disappears as he answers, "I was attempting a joke, master Perion. I have had no successful communication with the structure so far."