Chapter 0: Four Magi Walk Into an Inn

A larger cargo vessel suitable for sea travel and a smaller boat for short trips. Perfect. I am sure Bernhard can point us to a warehouse where we can leave our goods under secure protection while we go to check the covenant's location. I used one such warehouse in Bruges, and I am sure there are similar facilities around here as well.

Quercus smiles to Japik.

Your mother probably referred to the fact that you were building up an initiative of your own, making your own decisions and questioning imposed rules unless they were demonstrated to be sensible ones. We Tytalus do that. The more settled members of our Order do not seem to always understand the benefits of such behavior, even if it has brought great things to the Order. The creation of House Exiscellanea correspond to such a challenge to established rules, for example, and I am sure we all agree that it is a great idea to attract hedge wizards suitable to be part of our Order and increase cooperation instead of needless mass murder.

You are about to find out what an excellent idea it was, sodales! In all seriousness, I think there is much to be admired in such a philosophy. Nothing better than showing some moldy, stuck up farts what is what.

Pytheas shakes his head

"Bah, there's no point in showing off to a moldy old fart. He'll just resent you even if you force him to admit that, just this once, he was wrong. For sure he won't change his policies one bit. No, it's the new generation that need showing off to. They need to realize that there is a rewarding future for the one who challenge the rules and step outside the towers of old established covenants."

Prochorus furrows his brow.

You speak well, esteemed ally. Perhaps it is so. But both the better! Our success will shake the moldy and wet-behind-the ears in equal measure.

Look at me get ahead of things. First the victory, then the celebration. And before all that, hard labor aplenty.

It seems our friend Bernhard has picked us from a common mindset, a will to break free from the old establishments, to question the standards and rules. Not so much as we break the code of course, but stretching it. I would say invigorating it since the order is about to stagnate in it's old conservative principles. Pytheas, you are correct it is the new and young generation we need to address first if we want to make a major change for the future. The old farts he smiles and looks at Prochorus will never accept our right to change things in their overall organisational structure, except perhaps for Tytalus and a few other individuals.

After a pause to drink from his ale he continues.
Prochorus and I come from Oculus Septentrionalis in Lübeck where we have no enemies but nor any friends to rely heavily on. He gives Prochorus a look to see if he confirms. I know some people at Crintera and further back in time at Fengheld but again nothing I would rely upon. Ardea my mater moved to Novgorod and even if we split as close friends I doubt that I will have the chance to see her in a very long time. What about you Pytheas and Quercus, do you have any allies to draw help from in times of need? And then I must ask you. Does anyone of you have any friends at the Waddenzee covenant? The last question is said with a harder almost hateful voice.

Some time during the evening when the spirits are high and they are discussing all possibilities and eventualities of their joint venture project, Japik will play a little prank just to set his tone.
When Alice comes to refill their mugs from her tankard she suddenly spills out half a mug on the table as one of the mugs is only an image. Japik throws himself over the table in laughter and there is a distant laughter coming from the mug image as well as it disappears. Japik puts the real mug back up on the table and excuses himself to Alice. Perhaps I should have no more of that tonight, he says still laughing.

((Sponting a CrIm effect to duplicate an image of a mug, (B1, R:Touch, D:Conc, T:Ind). I didn't roll since it's no big deal just wanted Japik to have some fun :laughing: Also I'm not sure how and where rolls are taking place.)

Alice drives swords through you with her eyes and scurries back to get a mop before the mess increases.

Alruna chuckles quietly, having seen it coming way in advance of anybody in the room, even Japik, just by observing the mage's attitude and body language. To her, the sleight of hand exchange of the real mug for the fake one was so blatant that she wonders how the others could have missed it. But then, this happens all the time. She doesn't trust any of them, but that was funny. However, she regrets it almost immediately since the maid is obviously distressed by such a prank.

(Let me know when the magi have nothing further to discuss for the moment, as Bernhard doesn't arrive that day.)

The day passes as the magi get to know each other and discuss their plans for a new covenant. There is a little bit of frustration mixed into the hope as the absence of Bernhard, and the information he possesses, is felt keenly. Being repeatedly asked by the innkeeper to stay out of the common room, once business picks up in the evening, just makes the waiting more difficult to bear.

It is only the next day, late in the morning, that the innkeeper sends one of the magi's servant to inform them that Bernhard has arrived and wishes to see them in the cellar.

As the magi arrive in the portion of the cellar set aside for their use, they are greeted by the round-faced Bernhard. His pale brown hair and matching beard look even more anonymous than usual in the dim lighting of the cellar. He rises as the magi arrive, his slightly overweight body not deserving any second glance.

Once the four magi are seated, he looks towards the stairs and asks, "Four of you? I guess some didn't make it. Or they decided that they preferred the safety of their current position. Let us hope they didn't flap their mouth too much, but that is why I told you so little." His voice is nervous and uncertain, but nevertheless he rushes to continue.

"I am sure you have many questions regarding my proposal. But I cannot tell you more here, nor for as long as you have not agreed to my conditions regarding the vis source I spoke of when I approached each of you." He looks around at each magi in turn, "As you know, I am a redcap. Although the Order of Hermes recognizes me as a magus, that is a 'courtesy' that is in most parts a sham. Granted only so that the messages enthrusted to me are not interfered with. I do not have magical powers, nor can I call upon most of the resources that real magi can. What I do have is information, gathered as I travel around to deliver messages to other magi."

"It is such information that I offer to you. Some years ago, I discovered a source of what you call vis. Without the magical knowledge that magi possess, I was still able to gather some of it to pay for things that most magi take for granted, such as a longevity potion. Yet, I am no fool, and realize that I may have only been able to gather a fraction of what the source can offer. So I bided my time and tought about it for a long time in secrecy. For I knew that if I shared my knowledge of this source, soon enough it would be claimed by a covenant or a powerful magus."

"So, I have had a contract prepared." He gestures to a scroll on the table, "in it, I establish the following conditions for sharing the information with you. In short, you are to protect the source and share it with me. Other sources that you'd discover in the area you will share with me also, to a lesser degree. Should you officially found a covenant and it is recognized by the Tribunal, I shall be offered membership and the same privileges as other magi."

"Until you have agreed to this, there is nothing more that I can reveal. Once you have signed this contract and it has been registered with a Quaesitor and my House, then I will reveal some more. Not all, because I do not trust other magi not to spy on us and attempt to steal my source. The rest, I will disclose as we travel to the area where it is located."

"Do you have questions that I can answer at this time?"

Bernhard has been wringing his hands all the time while talking, and now looks nervously at the magi. There are beads of sweat on his face. For all you can tell, he seems to think you are ready to turn him into a toad or torture him for the knowledge he possesses.

When the magi read the contract, they can see it is relatively simple and expounds on what Bernhard has said. In short, that every fifth pawn collected from the source will be paid to him, and that every tenth pawn from any other sources collected within ten leagues of the primary source. And that he will be offered membership to your covenant, should you form one.

Pytheas reads the proposed contract, then nods.

"This appears to be quite clear, and more or less what you had given us cause to expect. For me, I am ready to sign."

Japik looks intensely at Bernhard as he explains the setup for the contract.
You hinted that the source was close to the sea when we met in Lübeck. Can you confirm that as at least two of us would not be overly comfortable if it is too far inland. He gives Pytheas a glance.
You are worried to tell us the location of the vis source before we have signed this contract but when we have done so you will have it registered by a Quaesitor and your House. Do you trust them? Can we trust you that this is not some kind of scam? He looks at the redcap with a harsh look but he can't hold it for long and it starts to break up in a weird smile before Bernhard answers.

Bernhard shakes his head nervously, glancing at anything but the magi's eyes. "I will provide no information about the location of the source at this time. That includes confirming or denying its proximity to the sea."

Some of you may realize that none of the magi have offered to extend his Parma to Bernhard. Nor has he asked for it.

"I trust Quaesitor to perform his duty to the Order. Should he be found to be doing otherwise, I assume the consequences would be severe for him, as that would constitute breaking his Oath of Hermes. My House is family, so yes, I do trust them in this." He breathes in deeply, before continuing, "As for trying to 'scam' you, the contract is clear that I only get one pawn of vis after you have gathered four, in the case of the main source, or nine for additional sources located. At the worst, you will gather nothing and depart, so the risk is minimal to you. And I would gain nothing by this. On the other hand, I risk much if you decide to defraud me. Some magi may go as far as arrange for me to..." another deep breath, "disappear." He hastens to add, "I have taken other measures in case this would happen. And note the clause in the contract specifying that should I disappear or die, my share would pass on to my House." There is indeed such a clause in the contract.

Sodales, I thin that Bernhard is right here. Some of our less level headed sodales might have wanted to play tricks on a non GIfted member of our Order, even if that is dishonourable in the extreme. I for one do not intend to do that, and after one day and a half with all of you I am fairly sure that none of the other magi present would like to do that. I trust Bernhard to honor his side of our deal, and I will sign this document he present us.

We are all aware of the effect that our Gift has on people not protected by our great magical shield. If that makes you, Bernhard, less suspicious I will offer to share my Parma Magica with you if you would like to interact with us without being hindered by our Gift. Whartever suits you is fine.

After saying this, Quercus takes the letter from the table and asking for quill and ink proceeds to sign the document as soon as they are produced.

"I will not let one of you touch me, or meet my eyes, until the contract has been registered, for doing so would make it easier to cast a spell on me without the knowledge of the others." He drops his gaze to the table. "I am aware that this does not protect me completely, but precautions can only go so far."

Quercus nods with a slight grimace. The Gift is certainly a gift, but it contains an important curse that causes such effect on people.

As is you wish Bernhard. Nothing farther from my intentions than to offend or make you wary.

A steep price, but understandable. Let us get this over with. Prochorus gets ready to sign.

Japik nods and gets ready to sign the contract after the others have done so. Just as long as the location is not in Transylvania. Then I'm out.

Once all four magi have signed the contract, Bernhard signs it as well. Then he rolls it back and place it into its protective sleeve. "I will have this registered by my House and a Quaesitor, who will probably want to meet with all of you in order to verify that you signed it without any duress or deception."

"This may take a few days, so if you want to take advantage of the town's facilities and merchants, do so. Just be careful not to cause any trouble. We should be ready to depart in a week or so. I will arrange for transportation for yourselves, your mundanes and whatever supplies you have gathered. Can you tell me how large these would be?" After the magi provides him with numbers and size (including both the knarr and the boat), Bernhard nods and rises.

Being careful not to touch any of you, he moves towards the steep stairs that lead out of the cellar. "I will make the arrangements. Let us reconvene in five days' time." With that, he climbs the stairs and departs.

((I fast-forwarded the end of the scene, as I think there was little more to be gained by dragging it out. No important information is forthcoming until you have left Anvers, so my plan is to move on to a point post-departure, as you are all aboard a ship towards Heligoland.))

Fine with me. I assume we are not storing our stuff here but bringing it with us?

If this is the case (we are not coming back to Anvers) I would like to ask bernhard where to buy supplies for a lab in order to bring it to +0 status. I would also know how much that is likely to cost.

If, on the other hand, we are leaving most of our stuff stored in a secure place to be recovered later, I will not ask such questions, since they are unnecesary at the time.

Will Bernhard arrange for a ship of his own even if we tell him we have enough carrying capacity already?

Japik will spend most of the time in the city outdoors and close to the harbour. He will let the grogs or the crew handle most or all of the contact with the mundanes. He will use some minor magical tricks (spont CrIm effects most likely) to play pranks on people, usually those who look stronger or think they are stronger and better than others for the others to laugh at them. It's nothing big or physically harmful and he will be careful not to draw any attention to himself while doing it. He will laugh heartily at the result though.