Author: We’ve reached rank #1 in the weekly!
Forte watched the execution of three Halfast citizens intently, as he considered the diplomatic ramifications of the act. But it mattered not to him that these so called traitors died, as long as he and Nightmare were safe. No one else in the world mattered to him now. He had already begun to miss his dragon, although he knew that training at the Academy was important to growing his strength, and he would need to answer too many questions if he brought in a black dragon.
After the execution, the crowd died down and the citizens went back to their daily work. Forte meandered the streets, taking in the sights. The mood was less boisterous than it was a mere hour ago. After an hour of weaving between eateries and potion shops, Forte happened across a large market, where spice merchants and soap makers sold their wares next to each other, and children played as their mothers bought groceries. He entered the market.
“Observe,” said Gerald Leblanc, as he uncorked the potion of veritas and walked towards Horace Hammerhead, who was tied uncomfortably to a wooden chair. Horace was addled by magic, with unfocused eyes and an angry but disoriented expression.
“Who did this to him?” Vaun asked tentatively.
“That, my son, we shall find out now,” Gerald replied, as he forced opened Horace’s mouth after a brief struggle, and poured in the silvery liquid.
Horace coughed, but Gerald kept pouring, forcing the mercenary to drink the entire potion. After the last drop, Horace’s eyes became focused again, but there was still a slight daze in his expression. Gerald placed the empty flask on a table in front of Horace, and sat directly across from him. He motioned for Vaun to sit down beside him.
“You are familiar with the effects of the potion of veritas?” he asked gently.
“Yes, sir. The subject is dazed for roughly half an hour, and will answer any question truthfully—they will not remember that half hour at all. However, the potion has a side effect of temporary or even permanent insanity, and the subject may not be capable of answering the questions asked.”
Gerald tapped his fingers against the table.
“There is a fourth side effect, Vaun, that is not written in any potions textbook. The subject is also temporarily freed of most magical effects except for the strongest of curses and spells. Our dear friend here has had his mind addled, and we have restored it to him. Temporarily. Now, let us begin.”
Gerald took out a pen and parchment, and began questioning Horace.
“Who ordered you to do this, Horace?” he asked softly.
Horace blinked and shook his head. “I… I dunno.”
Gerald tapped the pen onto the parchment impatiently. “Let’s start simpler then. Why were you on my property on Sunday night, armed with a dagger?”
Horace smiled dumbfounded. “To kill some ‘un called Gerald Leblanc, methinks.”
Vaun looked on with awe as Gerald coolly scratched the parchment with some notes. “Let me ask you again, Horace. Who did this to you? And who ordered you to kill me?”
An angry look flashed on Horace’s face, and he blurted out. “I owed that cunt money, alright. That’s why I took the job. But when I got to the job, it wasn’t her. It was some guy with a hood on. He did something to me. I forgot where I was, who I was, until now, and now I’m here with you guys.”
All that could be heard was the scratching of parchment.
“Who did you owe money, Horace?” he asked calmly.
“The old witch, Amelia Grindleheart. I bought a love potion from her, and wanted to pay her back later, but I had no money. So she offered me a job and…. Oh.. Ahhhhh!!!!” screamed Horace, as he began to thrash around uncontrollably.
Gerald stood up and rushed to Horace as fast as he could. “Help me, Vaun! His body is rejecting the veritas potion. Hold him down with me.”
Vaun rushed to Gerald’s side and grasped Horace’s flailing arms, holding him down as best as he could.
“Would you tell me what this job is about now?” shouted Vaun over the screaming din Horace was making.
“The truth will come in time…” muttered Gerald, barely audible over the ruckus the captive was making. “Now hold him in place until he calms down.”
Horace continued to thrash for a few minutes, and then stopped. A daze re-entered his eyes, and he slumped down in his chair. Gerald moved back to his seat, and put the pen and parchment back in his hands.
“Good, good. Now let us continue. Amelia Grindleheart. Where does she live? Where can I meet her?” he asked calmly.
“She… she lives… in… Lievestrum. By the old bakery and tavern.”
Gerald quickly jotted down a note, and then rolled up the parchment. He stood up slowly and took his cane in hand. “I will explain all to you now, Vaun. You see, I believe the practice of slavery to be unsavory to say the least, and so I have taken it upon myself to free one or two shipments of slaves into the capital, before they got to their final destination. And yet, some way or another, someone has found out that I am behind these machinations, and has targeted me with an assassin. This man.”
He hit his cane against the floor with anger, then continued. “Alas, if it were any regular assassin, I would not trouble you with this matter. But this is no regular assassin. This is the work of a mind addling potion, a forbidden potion that is created through black magic and the sacrifice of a human life. And that is where you come in. We will combat this assassin, whoever it may be, and find the true identity of our assailant. Until then, I cannot free any more slaves, and I must stay vigilant. Will you help me with this endeavor, Vaun? It is dangerous work, but I will reward you handsomely. To tell you the truth, I am afraid. I need reliable allies in this dangerous time, allies that share with me a common cause.”
Vaun nodded. “Fear not. I will help you, Mister Leblanc.”
“Did you hear? The king ordered an excavation party of a mine nearby. I heard from my nephew, who went with the party, that the excavators have been digging endlessly without being told what they are looking for,” a woman gossiped to her friend as they walked through a marketplace.
“Really now? Why?” the second woman replied.
“I have no idea. Maybe the king has gone… just a touch mad?” whispered the first woman.
“Shh…. Don’t let them hear you say that, or you won’t be long for this world,” chastised the second woman playfully.
Forte listened in on the gossip as he wandered through the crowded marketplace, dodging between fishmongers selling fish on ice and sculptors selling their wares. He was looking for a guard. The old mage had not given any instructions to Forte to find him besides a cryptic ‘show this letter to a guard”. He read the cryptic letter, which contained only one line and a signature—‘This boy is to be admitted into the Academy. Please let him through. Signed, Alfred Bumbus.’
The signature also puzzled him, as the elderly mage had told him that his name was Bumbus Biggles, not Alfred Bumbus. Forte looked for a city guard, and then found one dressed in full steel royal armor with the Barron family’s white lion sigil emblazoned on his chest plate, standing by the large city gate. Forte walked up with the letter in hand.
“Sir, can you take a look at this?” he asked nicely.
The guard shot Forte a quizzical look, then took the letter from his hands and began to read it.
“The boy is admitted to…. signed, Alfred Bumbus,” he muttered. The guard’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Alfred Bumbus… that’s Bumbus Biggle’s proper name, isn’t it Mike?” he asked, nudging the fully armored guard standing next to him. The guard’s armor clinked as he moved.
“Yes, yes it is,” replied Mike.
The guard looked Forte up and down, and then passed the letter back to him. “Go to dreary lane, on the eastern side of the city. That’s the office of the former headmaster Alfred Bumbus. You should find him there at mid-day.”
Forte thanked the guards, and then began heading towards the eastern portion of the town. He noticed that the bustling town center became more quiet as he travelled eastward, almost eerily quiet. The lively citizenry and tall buildings of central Burstranton were slowly replaced by shady characters and decrepit buildings as he headed further east. After fruitless searching for a while, he finally found dreary lane. A small magic shop with a sign that said Bumbus’ Tea and Potions was crammed in between two houses. He walked into the magic shop, and a bell on the door signaled his entrance. The shop somehow managed to be even tighter and more cramped than the shop in Adith. Pot and pans whistled and clanked, as strange potions bubbled and the aroma of musky tea leaves wafted through the air.
“Welcome, Forte. Have a seat,” a familiar voice piped. It was the elderly Bumbus, still wearing his thick spectacles, with a tome and a cup of tea in hand. He turned the page as Forte sat down on a plush armchair. “There you go. Have you, perchance, ever heard of the wiggling willywump?”
“No sir, I’m afraid I haven’t. Is it an animal?” Forte replied.
“Yes, of course. It is a creature similar to a pig, the size of a rabbit. They burrow deep under willow trees, and come out on the full moon to scavenge for food,” said Bumbus as he closed the tome with a thump. “Unfortunately for us, the last sighting of a willywump was more than a century ago. Perchance we should concern ourselves with more current matters. Your start at the Academy, for instance.”
“But sir, I don’t know where the Academy is, and I don’t have any suppl—“ said Forte.
“Fret not, my boy. We will go shopping for supplies, and then I will personally bring you to the Academy,” interrupted Bumbus. “Do you know why I keep my shop in this, for lack of a better phrase, disreputable part of town?”
Forte looked around. “Because you like your privacy?” he guessed.
Bumbus chuckled and took a sip of his tea. “That is true, but it is not the only reason. There are plenty of magical stores in this neighborhood, selling all sorts of trinkets and baubles and ingredients. That is why I keep my shop here, to stay close to the source of my ingredients. Yes, there are fancier shops near the city center, but these do just fine. Now, let us get you clothed like a proper mage.”
Bumbus lead Forte outside. The eldery mage was surprisingly fit for his age. They strolled through the neighborhood, as unsavory people seemed to shy away from the mage.
Forte remembered to ask Bumbus a question. “Sir, I realized that you signed my letter with another name. Alfred Bumbus. If it’s your proper name, why do people call you Bumbus Biggles?”
Bumbus simply chuckled. “I have many names and titles. Alfred Bumbus is my proper name, a name I used when I was younger, and stronger. When saying my name would make my enemy to shake in fear. Those days are long gone, and since I retired as headmaster of the Academy, I decided to choose a new name, one that would inspire laughter instead of fear. Thus, Bumbus Biggles. You may refer to me as whichever name you desire.”
They arrived at a small mage’s clothing shop called Pumpkin Delight. They walked in, and a young woman dressed in a robe and pointed hat walked to the counter.
“Welcome, Alfred! And who might this charming young man be?” she said, extending her hand out. Forte shook her soft hand. She was slightly older than Forte, with black hair and deep blue eyes and a smell of peaches. The shop was small, and an assortment of colorful robes and strange hats lined the walls.
“Hello Felicity, my dear. This here is Forte Minot, a transfer fourth-year student to the Academy. Dress him like a true mage, will you?” Bumbus responded.
“It will be my pleasure. Step over here, darling,” said Felicity, as she began to measure his shoulders and arms with a string. “You will need a large robe.”
Felicity walked into the back of the store, and came back a minute later with a black robe and pointed hat. “This is the standard black for the Academy. Try it on!”
Forte tried on the robes, and found the sleeves covered half his arm. “This is too long, is it not?”
Felicity smiled. “Darling, it’s a perfect fit! The sleeves are meant to be longer. They protect you from potion accidents.”
“We’ll need four sets of those, and that’ll be all,” Bumbus chimed. Felicity disappeared into the back of the store again, and reappeared with four sets of uniforms and a cheery disposition. The scent of peaches spread through the room. Bumbus paid for the uniforms, and they headed off to the next shop.
They walked to a shop called The Crippled Cauldron, a rickety old shop with sign of a cracked cauldron on the front. Bells chimed as they walked through the front door. A short, fat man with a moustache sat at the counter. The shop was larger than Pumpkin Delight, although not by much. Cauldrons of different sizes lined the walls, and a large bookshelf stood in the corner. Two stone sculptures of a bear and a slog adorned the walls.
“Name’s Scrimoad. Owner’s out today. How may I help ye today?” the man said lazily.
“We require a small cauldron, A History of The Magical Arts, Potions and Brews, and Fundamentals of Combat Magic, please,” dictated Bumbus.
“Aye, we got ourselves a fourth-year here then,” said the man, his moustache bouncing as he talked. He stood up and walked into the closet, struggling as he retrieved a black cauldron and a stirring spoon. He then walked to the bookshelf and found the three books, and placed the items on the counter. Bumbus paid for the goods, and put them in a bag for Forte to carry. They stepped out onto the street, and the mage turned to face Forte.
“It is late. Meet me tomorrow morning in front of my office, Forte,” said the elderly mage. “It’s about time I bring you to the Academy.”