“Ah, finally, my dear friends! We are at the destination of our little quest.”
With a small smile on his face Prudus slowly stepped into the stone-walled room that hadn’t been cleaned for at least a few centuries, judging by the amount of cobwebs and dust covering every surface.
“You are calling that a little quest? I stopped counting how many times we were nearly wiped out in the last hour alone!”
Viribus on the other hand was not in such a good mood. Like the rest of the group he was incredibly exhausted from all the traps they had circumvented and all the enemies they had fought on their way to this room. Prudus was the only one still looking as if the adventure was merely starting.
As always Stultus was living in the here and now, trying to focus the group’s attention on the most important issues at hand.
Everyone was standing in the room, looking around in confusion to see that there seemingly were only a few stone benches on which old alchemical equipment had been placed, though most of it was useless after such a long time of neglect. There was a thick layer of dust covering everything, indicating that no creature had interacted with the items recently.
“Stultus is right — where is the treasure? You said that someone told you there would be something of immense value in this crypt, but all I can see are the remains of what looks like a very old laboratory. Nothing in here seems to have any value if you ask me.”
“Steady Lathraia, my dear. Most of what you can see in this old room would be of immense value to archaeologists and admirers of the art that we call Alchemy these days. But what we are searching here is of immense value for our group. It is just not visible at the first glance.”
The half-elf didn’t look like Prudus’ words had fully convinced her. With a raised brow she took another look around the room, still breathing heavily from the fight with the Mummy Lord a few rooms before they got here. The way to this chamber had been very taxing for all of them and most had quite a few wounds that they needed to tend to.
“You are keeping us on the tenterhooks again Prudus.”
“Yes, I do, my dear Taceta. I will explain everything to you in due time.”
With these words he started to slowly walk through the room, taking a good look at the items that were placed on the stone benches. His smile widened a bit at the prospect of being able to tell his friends more about how magic works and what it means to call yourself a Wizard.
“You know, it would be faster if you just told us what we are looking for in this dusty old storeroom. That would also mean that we could visit the next Inn faster.”
Viribus and Stultus didn’t want to spend more time in the old mausoleum than they had to. The fight with the poltergeist was still vividly present in Viribus’ memory and as the party’s knight he couldn’t do anything in that situation, except for trying to defend Prudus, who would need time to cast his magic. And defending in such a case always means acting as bait.
“You can start to tend to your wounds, my friends. I cannot possibly tell you what the artifact we are searching for looks like, for I have to feel and see it myself. It is the same as with the staff I bought when we were visiting the central marketplace of Terastia.”
Everyone looked at the staff with its blood red gem at the top, that looked as if the wood had grown around the gem, and remembered how Prudus explained to them what was important when appraising a wizard’s staff. How hard wood was better for smashing the heads of opponents in, while soft wood was better for using magic and how important the correct gems at the top of a staff was to be used by a wizard.
“You all need some time to recover from the efforts of the last few hours. I will tell you a few things about magic in the meantime, once I have found what we are searching for.”
The disappointed look in Stultus’ eyes, like a child who was promised a visit to the fair only to find that is was in fact a visit to the dentist, could melt your heart — if you didn’t think about this being an Orc, capable of breaking every bone in your body with his mere hands if he felt like it.
“Come here Stultus, the wound in your shoulder is not looking very good and apparently this will take a while.”
Stultus slowly started trotting towards Lathraia, his head hanging low and mumbling what might have been words like Want shiny…
Everyone sat down while Prudus continued his slow investigation of the room.
After a few minutes he came back to the group with a big smile on his face and an old, dusty book in his hands.
“This, my friends, is what we were looking for!”
He held out the book like a prized possession and as if he would expect cries of joy at the sight of the old book, whose cover couldn’t be seen through the layers of dust.
The group, however, was completely silent, staring at the wizard and wordlessly demanding an explanation.
“My friends, I will now tell you why this book is far more valuable than every amount of treasure that you might have expected. Make yourself comfortable.”
You wouldn’t think that the corners of Stultus’ mouth could move further down, but they did. Add to that a face that shows confusion like a child trying to understand how taxes work and you have a pretty good image of the group’s Barbarian.
“This artifact we uncovered, my dear friends, is one of immense power. This is the grimoire of Imperius, the world’s strongest Lich.”
Everyone opened up their eyes wide and their mouths involuntarily dropped. Stultus looked around even more confused than before. Taceta was the first one to recover a bit, looking around to see what the others were doing, when she saw Stultus squirming because he didn’t understand what the words Prudus just used meant. She turned to Prudus and asked:
“We just raided the tomb of the world’s strongest Lich?”
“Yes, my dear, we did.”
“Then why are we still alive and for how long will this state persist?”
“We are still alive because of this magnificent staff, which I acquired at the marketplace. This, my friends, is Imperius’ old staff. Because of this the state of being alive will persist for quite a few years, my dear.”
Taceta’s mouth fell open again.
“The reason, dear Stultus, why everyone around you is looking at me as horrified like this is that a Lich is a very strong wizard. Creatures that were so strong that they managed to defy great death himself by placing their souls inside a special container called a Phylactery. There are only a handful of people who can say that they survived encountering a Lich, which is why raiding place a Lich used for his experiments is normally regarded as a suicide commando.”
“Please tell me again — what makes the current circumstances anything else than normal? Except for the fact that we just raided the tomb of one of the strongest and most dangerous, probably psychopathic and highly intelligent beings in existence. One of those tombs of which you only hear about in stories where the protagonist dies a slow and painful death caused by magic that not even the best elfen wizards can comprehend. And we didn’t even know about it!”
“As I have said before, my dear Viribus, I have Imperius’ staff in my possession. This great artifact allows me to command the most vile of the creatures that are lurking in these tunnels and navigate around the most deadly traps set up by Imperius, making the way quite easy compared with the normal difficulties one would have to face when trying to advance to this chamber.”
Now everyone turned completely white — quite the sight with Stultus -, thinking about all the dangers they had endured, all the near-death experiences with spike traps under their feet, skeletons coming out of the walls, slimes falling from the ceiling chemically burning everything they touched, great monsters that had special chambers that would only allow you to advance if you killed the adversary — and all of that was apparently just the easy stuff.
“And now we have managed to steal the diary of this absurdly powerful creature, whose staff you hold in your hands?”
“Well, if you want to say it in this fashion, then yes, dear Viribus, we did steal Imperius diary.”
“Why book special?”
Again, Stultus’ assessment of the situation was on point, subtly steering the conversation in the direction he deemed the most useful.
“This grimoire, my friends, contains information about the knowledge Imperius collected through most of his un-life.”
“Does that mean he is dead now? … Errrm… Dead-dead I mean?”
Slightly amused at Taceta searching for the correct words to express the non-existence of the Lich, Prudus continued his explanations.
“Yes, my dear, my sources informed me that he ceased to exist quite some time ago.”
“So, your sources could theoretically be wrong. Is that correct?”
“Trust me, my dear, my sources are not wrong in this matter. They are extremely reliable.”
“Why. Book. Special?!”
Stultus was not as amused by the interruption as Prudus was. He was neither a man of eloquence, nor of patience.
“As I’ve said before, this book contains information that Imperius collected through most of his un-life and about most of his un-life. You see, my friends, a grimoire like this is a source of incredible power through the information it contains. When it comes to magic, knowledge directly equals power.
Have you ever asked yourself why a book is only ever able to teach a wizard a single spell?”
He looked into the round, but the confusion suggested that this was the first time that most of them had heard this fact.
“A wizard has to learn how to use spells. And books are the resource most wizards use when it comes to learning material. A single book is only ever able to teach a wizard a single spell and it’s important that the wizard memorizes everything that is written in the book if he wants to master the spell that is contained in the pages of his book of choice.”
“Why would a book only ever teach a single spell? Whenever you cast a spell there are only a few gestures you are using and a handful of words you murmur to yourself. But you can’t tell me that you need a whole book just for that. At least not for every spell you are using.”
“Of course, dear Viribus, there are big differences, depending on the kind of spell that you are trying to cast. A simple flame to guide the way requires far less effort than a Fireball to cast and this is apparent in the amount of gestures and words that are needed. But it still takes a whole book to teach a wizard how to make a little flame arise from the tip of his finger. Every book contains far more than the gestures and the words.”
“So it does contain more than a single spell.”
“No, Lathraia my dear, it does not contain more than a single spell. What you seem to never have thought about is the way a wizard is living.”
It was obvious that none of those present understood what Prudus meant with this remark.
“You see, my friends, to cast a spell means far more than to use the right tool, like this staff I am holding in my hand, or the right gestures, like those you have seen in the last hours whenever I cast a spell, or the right words, like those you have heard me saying whenever I was using magic. To be able to use a spell and not hurt yourself or others that are not the intended target of your magic your have to learn and prepare much more than those things. Those are only the tip of the iceberg.”
While he was talking to his friends Prudus was brushing off most of the dust on the old grimoire. You could see that it was once a beautiful book, bound in leather and with a cover that was dyed in a red color, similar to that of his staff’s gem. There were lots of decorations, silver patterns crossed by small streaks of gold. And when you looked long enough the patterns seemed to slowly change their appearance, transforming in an incomprehensible way, without a goal and without any outer influence.
“The first thing every book that is supposed to teach a wizard a new spell has to contain is a statement that summarizes the quintessence of how the wizard is supposed to live his life, my dear friends. A life motto.”
As concise as a life motto could possibly be. With his remark Stultus easily managed to lighten up the mood of the group.
“That is a fine life motto you have there.”
Lathraia smiled at him and he smiled back, feeling proud at the fact that he understood something from the complicated conversation and could even contribute to the advancement of said conversation — which means that he brought the group one step closer to the next Inn and his next meal.
“So, how does any Wizard manage to cast more than one spell if you need a certain life motto to be able to cast one? As Stultus explained you can only ever have one life motto.”
“That, my dear Taceta, is a good question. Do you remember the time at the marketplace when I told you that most wizards only ever master one or two schools of magic, thereby carving invisible patterns of magic into the wood of their staff?”
“Yes, I remember. Viribus and Stultus were stuffing their faces with sweets, while we tried to understand how we were supposed to help you with your search for a new weapon.”
“Yummy sweets. Hungry…”
Lathraia started to unpack the proviant she kept in her backpack to cook something that would stave off Stultus’ hunger. At least for long enough to get back to the next town.
“As I’ve said, most wizards only ever master one or two schools of magic. The life mottos of all spells in a school are close to each other, making it easier to follow them at the same time. As a simplified example you can imagine that one spell states that your life motto needs to be Hit everything and that another spell states that your life motto needs to be Hit everyone.”
Stultus nodded in agreement.
“Some schools, my friends, seemingly exclude each other. Imagine one school stating you should Hit everyone, while another states that you should Never hit anyone. Being true to both of them is rather difficult.”
“Seemingly — What do you mean?”
“This request, dear Viribus, is far too broad to answer it in this format. Could you please try to narrow it down? Otherwise, I fear, I have to refrain from answering.”
For a moment Viribus was staring at Prudus as if the wizard made a joke. But when Prudus would not continue he changed his question so that he would hear the explanation he was interested in.
“You mentioned that those two schools only seemingly exclude one another. In your example I can’t see how anyone would be able to adhere to both practices at the same time. There is no way you would be able to hit everyone, while at the same time you are never hitting anyone. How can you adhere to both of these principles at the same time?”
“Now, this is a good question! You see, my friend, nobody is infallible. The people writing books that contain the secrets of the magic only write down what worked for them. But it can be quite hard to express yourself in a written fashion. Finding the right words is often difficult and our concept of speech is often quite lacking, especially once you get introduced to the art of telepathy. Sadly we can’t preserve thoughts and emotions as well as we can preserve writs. The mottos I gave as an example do not correctly represent the reality. They will never be able to actually achieve this as they are a mere approximation of the truth.
To give you an example, imagine that the mottos were not sufficiently detailed. The first one should really read Hit everyone who hits you and the second one should read Never hit anyone who hasn’t hit you before. Suddenly you can easily adhere to both at the same time.
But finding mottos that are closer to the truth is difficult and often results in problems. Only a few ever manage to do this. Most people stick to what they find in the books and only ever adapt it slightly to suit their specific needs.”
“When we were searching for your staff you explained to me that you are not limited to one or two schools. Does that mean that until now you managed to combine the life mottos of all spell books you ever encountered? And how many are that?”
“You are correct, dear Lathraia, until this day I have never encountered a spell book containing information that would force me to live differently than I had always done. And I’ve memorized 41 books so far.”
“Impressive. How are you doing that?”
“I do have my little secrets and when it comes to magic I am planning to keep those secrets safe. Anyway, the second important part any spell book contains are rituals that the wizard must follow in certain intervals. This could for example be that one is supposed to meditate for a few minutes each morning or evening. This again depends on the school of magic and the concrete spell. And just like before these rituals may very well be mutually exclusive — prima facie.”
“No, dear Stultus, prima facie. At first view.”
Stultus nodded again, now that the sentence from before made a little more sense. He wasn’t listening the whole time as the sausages Lathraia gave him had demanded his undivided attention, but now that he exterminated most of the proviant that Lathraia brought with her he started to listen again.
“So, you are keeping track of 41 rituals already that you are executing on a daily basis?”
“Not quite, dear Taceta. Some of the books contain far more than one ritual and not every ritual has to be performed on a daily basis. I am currently keeping track of 68 rituals, some of which have to executed as often as three times a day and some of which have to be executed only once a year.”
The group exchanged a few glances at this information, as they had never noticed a lot of rituals that Prudus was adhering to on a regular basis. He had his quirks, but nothing you would view as a regular ritual.
“Let me guess — you will keep it secret what those rituals are exactly and how you manage to keep track of all them all the time?”
“Indeed, my dear Taceta. Let’s move on to the next piece of information — the gestures and the incantations. These are the easy things that you already mentioned in the beginning of our little conversat-”
“- that you already mentioned in the beginning our loooong conversation. These are the basics and they need to be executed precisely at the right moment of casting the spell. They make sure that the energy will not find an unwanted exit out of the wizard’s body and that it will manifest in the correct way once it exits the gem of the wizard’s staff.
After the gestures and incantations most spell books move onto the application of the spell. These are quite often lengthy lists of best and worst ues cases, notes from the development phase, preferred tactics of the original creator, important appearances in wars and skirmishes of differing sizes, potential use cases that were not yet researched completely, shortcuts that can be used when casting the spell whenever certain circumstances are met, important preparations, tips for the correct and most time-efficient performance of the corresponding rituals, risk/reward-analyses, comparisons to other spells from the same school, comparisons to certain spells from other schools,…”
While he was listing a lot of categories for the information that each book contains he was flipping through the pages with a little spark in his eyes, showing the fascination he felt when reading the old pages.
“I can show you the book, my friend, but you probably won’t be able to read the text. It’s written in a language most races have forgotten centuries ago.”
Prudus turned the book around so that everyone may see the text. It was a beautiful script and it looked as if hundreds of lines could fit on each page. The corners of each page were adorned with small red and golden images, each page unique. Though the book was very old the ink was perfectly readable. Again, it seemed as if the script was very slowly moving and the images were constantly transforming.
“And you can read that?”
“Yes, my dear Viribus, I am able to decipher what is written on these pages. It’s a powerful spell that will allow us to take on foes much more dangerous than what we were facing until now with ease. This book contains the information one of the world’s most powerful creatures collected over the course of his long life and un-life. The information he had hidden for centuries for someone worthy to find and utilize.
I will need some time to master what was written in this grimoire. The amount of information and the importance of understanding every detail, no matter how small and unimportant it may seem at first, are necessitating a careful approach. Especially when you think about who wrote this grimoire. My sources couldn’t tell me exactly what this book contains, but I can feel that it will be a great asset in the adventures to come.
I thank you, my dear friends, for going on this mission with me. With this power we will earn glory and wealth beyond measure in due time.”
Everyone looked at each other quite happy — some because of the prospect of glory and wealth, others at the prospect of dinner.
“The first round in the tavern is on me.”