Again at the underground dwarven node. The node had – to James’ senses – been flashing, blinking a disquieting purple colour, quite unlike the cheery red-gold of a dwarven forge. But when Toasten reported that there were trouble down ‘t graveyard, James decided that it was all quite straightforward. The purple indicated necromancy, and the node was acting as it should.
Down ‘t graveyard, Aeg was there. Stuff happened. Aeg indicated that he did not work for the Lich King, but used him as a tool. “Fool”, thought James. How many others thought that they were hoodwinking the Lich King, or the Priestess, or any one of the other great powers to serve their own ends. They uniformly come to a bad end. But there could be no point trying to explain this to Aeg, who was a mage of considerable power. Aeg addressed himself mainly to Toasten, who James hoped might have better sense than to buy into any of it.
Elsbeth, meanwhile, ran off and got herself into trouble. Impetuous. Sorcerer, you know.
Aeg finished his little sales pitch for necromancy. The team collected Elsbeth and headed back to town. But the node was still playing up, still giving off those odd purple flashes. James asked his companions to accompany him. Misthanar elected to do his own thing and attend to the gimp.
Oh – one thing. Before marching off, Aeg collared James for a moment. Oh, perhaps James should have just walked off, but James is a wizard from a family of wizards, and generations of bred-in curiosity can’t be stamped out by a few years in military school. “How old,” Aeg asked, “do you suppose The Archmage really is?”
An odd scene at the node. The whole complex surrounding the node was oddly deserted, save for a sleeping guard and a dwarven child. The child began to tell James about the great magic man who lit the forge, and how the forge won’t stay lit for long. He explained, slipping into suspiciously adult vocabulary, that to be truly light the node, one must light “the forge within”.
James approached the node, and once more cast his fire cantrip intoit’s magic. Again the fire bloomed, and a great sphere of red-gold light expanded from the node. But James, forewarned, could see now that it would not last. It would not sustain itself.
James considered. He only knew a little magic so far, and could not manage the more difficult spells – but more and greater spells would not help here, he suspected. There was something fundamental that he needed to understand.
He considered the spark cantrip. A simple evocation of fire. Fire permeates all. Like ether, it exists just beyond reality, so close that even simple physical rituals can bring it into the plane. The savage using a fire drill is performing basic magic.
But evocation is only one type of magic. In a moment of insight, James understood: there is evocation – to bring a force into the external world, and there is also invocation – to call a force into the caster.
Truthfully, invocation is more congenial to druids and barbarians, who will call into themselves the ferocity of beasts. It carries rather obvious risks of madness, of becoming overwhelmed. Unlike transmutation, it works on a spiritual rather than physical level. The caster must willing surrender to the invoked presence.
Forge of the soul, soul of the flame. Could such a thing be done? Did it even make any sense? Technically, it was a moderately complex modification to the spell, but within James’ ability. Just stupidly dangerous, is all.
But James had worked with this node before. He had the safety of the town to consider. And he had the cryptic advice of a compete stranger – a dwarven child. James persuaded himself that he should do this for the good of the town. He was fooling himself, really. Rather like Aeg, in a way.
He placed his hand on the node, and spoke the words of his modified cantrip. He called the nature of flame into himself: to burn; to be bright; to be an agent of change – wood to coal, ore to steel; and most of all to ward and guard; to stand foe to darkness; to reveal the hidden thing.
The node took his spell and amplified it, reflecting it back, lifting it in a moment far beyond a mere spark to light a candle. It reverberated, not just the magic, but the meaning of the magic. Elemental. For just a moment, James’ soul caught fire. No, his soul was fire. He was not filled with great and terrible purpose. There was no purposefulness at all: the flame that was his soul did what it did because of what it was.
There was no pain. A fraction of a moment, and he was himself again. And the node once more bloomed, this time a pure blue – the hue of human magic. Rich, complex, and clearly more stable. Several things occurred to James in that moment. The astonishing beauty and complexity of the magic around the node, no longer a simple forge flame, but with all the fractal intricacy of human magic, the intricacy of the shifting wardlike patterns on his cloak. The fact that he was lucky to be alive and sane. And a twinge of guilt that he had just apparently stolen a node of the dwarves for the empire. There might be repercussions.
James stole a look at the dwarven child with the oddly adult vocabulary. “Oh, Mr Mallard!”, the child said, “You are not nearly as perceptive now as when we last met!”
Meanwhile, Misthanar had discovered that the gimp had been kidnapped, or possibly killed, by ninjas. Obviously. This would have happened while the crew were still on their way to the node, so let’s hope Misthanar has the good sense not to try to take them on by himself.
As for the dwarven child’s comment – you’ll need to read James Mallard’s “One Unique Thing” to make sense of it. 🙂
It will come out next session, but James is going to be pretty convinced that this is bigger than Chancer’s Hope, and that what he really needs is to hit a serious library. That means home, or preferably Horizon. As I mentioned before, our whole group of players and the DM would like to see more of the 13th age world. We have plenty of adventure hooks to take us through the Red Waste, up through Horizon and on to Forge.
Oh, and I might alter James’ personality a little. Having your soul transformed into elemental fire for a moment will do that, and he is – frankly – a little dull.