The Wizard and the Senator

The early evening air was crisp and rife with the smell of smoke as the fighter arrived at the campsite. Traces of blood and pixie dust were strewn all about the place, alongside what appeared to be the ashes of a charred shelter. But the only sound in the clearing was the faint crackling of the fire and the gentle rustling of the leaves. And not a soul to be seen, save for the druid Urakis sitting peacefully on a log, her hands held out above the fire. The skirmish, evidently, had ended. All at once Jedd noticed a grumbling pain in his stomach – it felt like he hadn't eaten in days. Taking one last look around to make sure there were no other brigands lying in wait, he placed his glaive on the ground and grabbed some oat meal cake from his pack.

He then noticed that Urakis's eyes were glued to his meal. "Hungry?" he asked.

She nodded with enthusiasm. "Can never say no to home-cooked food."

"Perhaps this was cooked at home," he said, "but if so, it certainly wasn't cooked at mine." Jedd leant over to pass the druid a slice. "A treat from Andris."

"Thank you very much. I've just fish steaks... mostly burnt."

"Speaking of which," said Jedd, "I was on my way there currently."

"To Andris?"

At that moment, a newcomer emerged from behind a nearby outcrop. He was garbed in robes as black as night, with a purple wizard's hat fixed atop his head. He drew near with slow, determined steps, his eyes fixed on the fighter.

"Forgive me, strangers," the man said, "but I overheard you speak of Andris?"

"Yes, my good sir." Jedd straightened his back in a posture of deference. 

"Are you from that... great city?"

"Hmmm." Jedd thought hard. Something told him that he would need to choose his words carefully here. Something about the man's demeanor, and that tone... did he detect a hint of sarcasm? Best to play it careful. "I am from all cities and none," he said. "I have been keeping a close watch on the Red City, these days, what with the recent attacks."

"Attacks?" The stranger smiled. "Oh how awful."

"Yes, brigands."

"And privateers!" Urakis said. "Or so I've heard."

"Tell me, O 'all cities and none' dweller, what attacks do you speak of?"

This gave Jedd some pause. Had he not heard? "The Black Hand, or at least the latest iteration of it, is responsible."

"Is it now?"

"Brigands," said Jedd, "under the command of a druid, I believe."

Urakis coughed. "Not me, I promise."

"Yes – Fyod was his name."

"Oh? Tell me more. I am intrigued."

Something was definitely off. Just who was this man? There weren't too many people that were simultaneously so uninformed yet so interested. Either the man knew more than he was letting on, or else he lived underground. Perhaps he was in hiding, unable to show his face in the city – in which case, the need for caution was dire. It was time to play ignorant. "The reasons for the attacks remain a mystery to me, I'm afraid. But I believe they are after a certain individual, some sort of thief."

"A thief?"

Urakis nodded. "I mean, recently my half-sister Jacquelinne faced off against some brigands by umm... that 'F' town. Fohaun?"


The conversation was momentarily interrupted with the arrival of Amere and Mustafaa. Pleasantries were exchanged, and all attention quickly returned to the stranger.

"You have brought friends," he said, with the ghost of a smirk on his lips. "What a pleasant surprise."

"Who's this guy?" Amere said. It was a question that Jedd had been itching to ask, of course, but one that his cautiousness wouldn't allow.

"What is your name, stranger?" asked Urakis.

"Stranger? Am I?''

"I am not so certain." Jedd's brain was positively spinning. He turned to the Royal Guard. "There had been a brigand encampment in the area, Amere."

"This gentleman was telling me of the Red City," said the stranger. "Clearly he is a man of valour."

"And, yes, we were discussing the attacks on Andris. With the elections drawing near, the attacks worry me all the more."

Amere began to walk about the scene of the battle, pausing once he came to a sad-looking pile of pixie corpses. "Do you know what the brigands were doing here?"

"No, I'm afraid," said Jedd, as Amere pulled up beside him. "I believe they were attacked by a local nest of pixies. Or was it the other way around..."

The stranger waved his hand dismissively. "Tell me of these elections."

"Yes, well..." Jedd wracked his brain, thinking of ways to answer the incessant questioning without giving away too much to a potential enemy. Common knowledge, give him common knowledge!. "Well," he said, "the Senate seeks to replace a vacancy. Two candidates have been cleared by the city. One man a worker, the other... a bit of a layabout, I'm afraid."

At this, the stranger let out a hearty laugh. "A layabout! So the mighty city is falling. And what vacancy is this?"

Jedd held his tongue. It wasn't a particularly devious question, but this was getting far too one-sided. He needed to flip it around. "Pardon my question, but are you from the Red City, yourself?"

"Me? Oh, nevermind about me. I am so dull your friend is asleep."

The fighter turned around to see Urakis completely knocked out on the ground, reclining against the log. "Oh..." He turned back to the stranger, who was wearing an infuriating smile. "She has had a long day, I suppose."

Suddenly, the druid awoke with a violent sneeze, and jumped up to her feet. "Pardon me... quite a long day. You're not boring at all. Just tired from running away from brigands and zombies."

"So," the stranger cut in, "many senators have died?"

"The Black Shadow assassin murdered two of the senators in cold blood, some years ago," said Jedd. "Senators Anderson and Ellychas. And Senator Morgans went missing not long afterwards."

"Morgans is missing, is she?"

"Has been for a bit," said Urakis.

"So I had heard, I admit."

"Oh, yes?" Jedd said, doing his best to keep his enthusiasm hidden. "Have you heard anything else about her whereabouts?"

The stranger raised a haughty brow. "And if I had?"

"Then we would love to hear what you've heard," said Amere.

"Each of us – as far as I can see – has two ears." The stranger stepped idly to the side. "But only one mouth." Suddenly he swiveled back on his feet. "Does the Red City wish for Morgans to return? Or have they grown tired of gingerbread?"

Jedd was astonished. Who on earth could this infernal man possibly be? Who in Andris would not wish for the return of Morgans, the very face of the city? He felt like he must have been standing there for a minute, dumbstruck, before he finally managed to open his mouth again. "I...cannot speak for anyone but myself, but it is almost certain."

"Almost," the stranger said. "I see. But you do not serve Andris?"

"Not in any official capacity." Jedd thought back to the time when he acted as an unofficial agent for the Red City, and of the countless days and nights he spent buried in research for Senator Muqities, may the Goddess bless his soul. But those days were long past. "Perhaps you would be inclined to speak with a member of their Vanguard?"

"Perhaps, O you of 'all cities and none'. Perhaps. Now, I should like to know more of this thief."

"I'm afraid there is little to tell," said Jedd. It was a lie, of course. "I am not even sure what he might have stolen – chocolates?"

"Chocolate? The stuff from Gohoran?"

Before Jedd could manage an answer, Amere gracefully cut in again. "What of yourself, wizard? I would like to know more about your story."

"Wizard? You flatter me."

"Is that not what you are?" Amere gestured to the man's hat.

Just then, Urakis marched right up to the stranger before shuffling back just as quickly – perhaps to examine him, or smell him? Jedd could not be sure. The druidic arts had always been baffling. 

"Careful." The stranger glared at the druid. "I do not like to be threatened."

Urakis looked around nervously. "It was mostly an accident... sorry."

"We mean you no harm, sir," said Jedd. 

"We don't?" Urakis blurted out.

Jedd stole a quick glance behind him, just to make sure that Mustafaa was still there. And indeed, the silent fighter remained standing alert in a full suit of armor, just a few paces back.

The stranger stuck out his pointer finger in the direction of Urakis, still looking at Jedd. "Is this creature yours?"

"Creature...?" Urakis's face tightened up into a scowl. "I'm no creature."

"It bared its teeth at me."

"Let's all relax a bit," Amere said calmly.

Seeing an opportunity to help defuse the situation and cut short this bizarre interrogation, Jedd walked over to the firepit with practiced casualness. The flames had long since died out, but the embers were now beginning to shine a little bit brighter in the rapidly darkening sky. "Pray," he said, "the hour grows late – are you venturing to the Red City, stranger?"

"Perhaps. But you, O servant of all and none, you will go to the Red City."

Jedd looked back toward the stranger. "Would you care for a message to be delivered, then?"

"A message? Perhaps. Yes, a message." The stranger clasped his hands together. "I should like a message. I wish to know of this thief. What is it that has been stolen?"

"Yes...I would hope to find out soon, myself." Jedd stooped down to gather up his belongings.

"It would be... most kind of you. O servant of all and none."

"Will that be all?"

"Leave me a note at the house of the man who lives in the forest. The man with all the... bones."

Jedd stood up straight, pack slung around his shoulder, and bowed his head ever so slightly toward the stranger. "You may expect a response from Jedd the Fighter."

"For good information I will reward you most handsomely, O Jedd, servant of all and none."  The stranger held up his hands. "Enough!" he shouted, and then suddenly he was gone, vanished into thin air, leaving in his wake the faint echo of three magic words: Mora Olsen Preldian.

"Wizard," said Amere.

Jedd breathed a heavy sigh of relief. A wizard indeed, and a dark one at that – but at least he was gone. Purposely withholding information had always been exceedingly difficult for Jedd. Somehow, he'd managed to do it fairly well today – though it took just about all of his strength of mind to do so. Such was the curse of knowledge, he supposed. It was far from the first time that some disreputable character or other had sought him out for information, and it probably wouldn't be the last. But it had been a little bit easier this time around, seeing how the man had been so downright detestable. Disrespecting the missing Senator Morgans, treating Urakis like some sewer rat...

And then there was that nickname the wizard had given him. The servant of all and none. Jedd supposed that he had come up with it himself, but the stranger sure found it interesting. And as odd and pompous as it sounded to his ears, he couldn't deny that there was some truth to it.

Jedd put his helmet back on and started walking to the south. Putting aside conjecture about the wizard's identity, the present mission was now clear. Get to Andris at once and deliver the news of their encounter, and then from there to the house of the cannibal, to leave a purposely vague report. Should the need arise, perhaps some sort of trap could be—

Suddenly a deafening crack of thunder exploded behind him, lighting up the night sky, and an ear-piercing voice echoed through the forest.

"Your soul will feed me!"

Jedd spun around and sprinted toward the campsite. A pack of bone mages was emerging from behind the outcrop to the north. Mustafaa and Amere were several steps ahead of him, swords in hand. Jedd unstrapped his glaive and charged for the nearest mage. He struck the mage's bony rib cage, knocking the thing off balance, but it wasn't enough. The mage rose up with its staff held high, eyes now fixed on Jedd. The fighter scrambled away and threw himself behind a tree.

"Burn... burn... BURN!" The mage cackled wildly. Another terrible crash of thunder and blinding light, and Jedd's tree bursted into pieces. The mage lifted his staff for another spell, but at the last moment Amere swooped in, cleaving the thing into two.

"Any idea who that was?" asked Amere as he swung at another mage.

The fighter rushed back in, laughing. "I have one now!" He knocked the mage aside with a particularly well-aimed strike. "I must confess it came to me earlier. Even before the mention of bones." Jedd swiveled around to find the next mage, but there was no more movement, and the forest quieted down again. 

"Did he summon them?" asked Mustafaa.

"I knew it." Urakis snarled. "Blasted evil."

"Right." Jedd looked over the scene of the scuffle. Definitely the work of a necromancer. Maybe even Black Hand – the timing of the wizard's appearance had been more than a little bit suspicious, after all. Could it be Marthonis himself? No, not with that purple hat. And besides, he would've in all probability sent one of his Bone Lords instead. Perhaps some other underling or associate.

Amere kicked aside a shattered skull. "To Andris, then?"

"That would be ideal," said Jedd, before taking off toward the south, Amere not far behind.

He hadn't gotten far when Urakis called out after him. "Wait, Jedd..."

Jedd signaled for the other fighter to go on ahead and then turned around. "Yes, Urakis?"

"That man..." The druid's voice lowered as she drew near. "He made me angry beyond belief... something about him smelled off."

"Yes, I agree."

"Called me a creature, same as the brigand." Her eyes narrowed. "Almost made me want to switch forms."

Just then, the sky lit up with another deafening thunderbolt. Jedd and Urakis raced back over to the other fighter, who was chasing after yet another blasted bone mage. This one, oddly enough, was covered in gray robes. The unwitting mage ran straight past Jedd, perhaps not seeing him in the dark. The fighter struck it from behind, and the thing came crashing to the ground.

Urakis ran up to the pile of bones and inspected the robe. "Robe of resistance."

"Interesting," said Jedd. It wasn't like them to walk around adorned with such valuables. Whoever this necromancer fellow was, he was certainly the attentive type. Amere patted the dust off the robe and placed it into his pack, when another bolt of lightning sounded in the distance. And then, the unmistakable moans of an approaching horde of zombies. Jedd nodded at his two companions – where had Mustafaa gone off to? – and turned around to steel himself for the oncoming charge. It was going to be a much longer journey than he had thought.


  • Part Two

    The two fighters passed through the gates of the Red City in the wee hours of the morning, just in time to see the cleric Alec heading for the portal. They must've looked quite a sight, as the blessed cleric dropped everything and began casting a healing spell. A faint blue light, a massive shiver down his spine, and just like that, the gash in his shoulder was all sewn up.

    "Ahh, thank you!" said Jedd, while Amere disappeared into the streets. "And good evening. We must be off to the Keep, but you are welcome to join. Some urgent business about a black magician."

    "Oh! Sure." Alec picked up his things and followed the fighter back into the city.

    As they made their way through the dimly lit streets, Jedd's mind drifted back to the stranger's request. It was truly quite baffling. All he had really asked for was information on the thief. And then, Jedd supposed, he decided to punctuate his request with hordes of undead beings – why on Elara had he felt it necessary to do that? Ah, well. In any case, he needed to review what he actually knew about the thief. It had been some days since he'd read the reports, and there were many things weighing on his mind of late. Lushe Satel would be the thief, of that he was quite certain. As for what he had stolen...some papers, and a ring. He couldn't recall what sort of ring it was. But the papers – they contained a spell! The new druidic spell, stolen from the Hand, and given to Brigobaen. And now, knowledge of that spell had spread far and wide among the mage community... there would be no stealing it back. So why was the Hand still so interested in the Satel, interested enough to attack the Red City itself? Could it be because of the ring?

    "Ah! There you are!" It was Sikaru, the sister of Urakis.

    They were now all at the bank. Jedd had almost forgotten about the druid – she had grown tired again, doubtlessly exhausted from all the fighting, and had set up camp in a secluded glen near the coast.

    He then noticed a familiar figure in royal robes standing with hands clasped behind her back. Even without being able to see her face in the dim torchlight, Jedd could tell that they were in the presence of Senator Grantham. "Good evening, senator," he said.

    "What's this, a delegation?" asked Grantham.

    "Of a sort," said Jedd.

    "Grantham," said Sikaru, "as I'm sure the others are about to mention, there's evil afoot."

    "Oh? Where?"

    Jedd cleared his throat. "A black-robed wizard with a purple hat, by the hall of the Red Battalion. We encountered him after stumbling upon yet another brigand encampment."

    "Red Battalion? That's a long way from Andris."

    "Yes, this much is true." Jedd suddenly felt a tug at his shoulder, and turned to find Sikaru.

    "Jedd," she whispered, "what of my sister? Is she safe?"

    "Yes," he whispered back, "for the moment!" He turned back to the senator. "But this wizard – he was greatly concerned with the Red City."

    "Oh," Grantham said. "In what way?"

    "He sought much information about current events, and the elections."

    The senator sighed. "You'd better come to the castle."

    The ragtag delegation followed her to the east, with Jedd falling in at the back of the group. Sikaru was informing the senator of some encrypted message she had received, probably from her sister, but Jedd found he was having trouble focusing. He needed a bed, and desperately so. Suddenly, as they were passing by the eastern park, the senator stopped. Jedd drew closer, alarmed. It appeared that she was glaring...into a bush?

    "Hmph." She put her hands on her hips. "These hedges aren't trimmed properly," she said, before promptly continuing on to the castle. Jedd had to stifle a laugh as he followed after. Senator Grantham was another one of those people he wouldn't dare upset, though for very different reasons.

    At last, they had arrived. The senator marched straight up to the center of the room and then spun around. "Now be quick," she said. "I don't have all day."

    "Certainly." Jedd walked up beside the others. "This man, he was particularly interested in the Black Hand attacks, and rumors of a thief."

    "Thief? What thief?"

    "The reports I have seen claim that the Black Hand is after some sort of thief. I believe this thief to be associated with the Satel family. But I made sure to keep that secret from our wizard friend."

    "I'm glad to hear it. There is no official comment on the matter. This man, was he dangerous?"

    "Enough to anger my sister!" Sikaru said, before immediately putting her hand to her mouth. "I'm sorry, I've outspoken. My sister hasn't lost control of her anger since the last time there was a necromancer."

    "He knew black magic," said Amere. "And was very secretive. He did not want to talk about himself at all. But he clearly has a connection with the undead."

    "Ah." Grantham sighed. "You have done well to bring me this report. What else do we know of him? What magics did he use?"

    "A single teleportation spell," said Jedd, "on his departure. If he summoned those bone mages, and it is highly likely that he did, then he did so out of our sight."

    "Why was he interested in Andris?"

    "The elections!" Sikaru said with a strained voice. She appeared to be munching on a half-burnt fish steak. "Why else?!"

    "The election will go ahead as planned. We can delay no longer."

    Jedd nodded. "As Amere said, he was very reticent. But there was one oddity. When I told him of the vacancies on the Senate – common knowledge – he mentioned that he was aware of the disappearance of Morgans."

    At this, Grantham sighed again, a very long and wistful sigh.

    "And," Jedd continued, "he asked if the Red City wished for Morgans to return. Or... how did he put it... if they had grown tired of gingerbread? It was all very odd, and I couldn't help but think he knew something."

    "The insolence!" Grantham threw up her hands. "How dare he! There's not a day goes past when we don't miss Morgans, and Ellychas, and Anderson. And Waltham, and poor Narthias. Small wonder we have such a poverty of candidates... I mean, I am sure... anyway." She straightened up her robes. "Did he give any clues as to his whereabouts?"

    "He did leave a location in which we might contact him," said Jedd. "The house of the cannibal, far to the north. I am sure he does not reside there, of course."

    Grantham nodded. "Something to go on, at least."

    "Aye. All he sought, in the end, was information. Information on the thief. He asked in specific about what was stolen. Perhaps he is curious about the thief's identity, as well, since we left him in the dark on that matter. I just don't know what to make of it all."

    "I think it's clear," said Sikaru. "Whoever they are, they want Andris to fall. My sister only wrote that she saw red, whenever she stared at him."

    "I suggest you give him some information," said Grantham. "Something true, but something he could easily find out by other means. Tell him the man is a Satel, and that he is a maker of chocolate. But nothing else. That may pique his interest."

    "It just might. Plus, I believe that information can be gleaned from reports in the archives, anyways. If one knows where to look."

    "Good." Grantham started for the door to the basement. "You may report to me, or to one of the guards here in the castle. For further service, Andris will reward you. Let me know what you find in the forest."

    "I am honored," said Jedd, as Grantham's hand gripped the doorknob, "but I seek not reward. You will hear from me, in due course."

    "Good. Farewell." The door slammed shut behind her.
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