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Scribed by Terentius

Spring 1286AD

All members of the council were present as we met on the first day of spring. Pontifex Volutus reminded us that we had committed to determining at this meeting the advice we would give to Oratio regarding the sword Excalibur. Though the final decision of who should bear the blade was Oratio’s alone, it was clear that he was in two minds about the issue, which meant that the Council’s opinion might have an important role in shaping his choice. In previous seasons, I think the enormity of the decision had daunted us all, but for my part I was keen to see it resolved once and for all, as it had become increasingly clear that we could not continue with the current situation lest the matter be taken out of our hands.

Oratio began the debate by recounting the tale of his visit to speak with the shade of the sorceress Morgan le Fay, who haunts a ruined tower near a marsh close to Glastonbury. Though Oratio possesses a spell that allows him to speak with the dead, regardless of their original tongue, the spirit had initially resisted his attempts to communicate, speaking only a strange tongue that defied translation. Only after Oratio mentioned the purpose of his mission – to understand Myddyn’s decision to grant Excalibur to Arthur rather than Morgan le Fay – did she deign to make herself understood, revealing that it was her choice to speak only the strange language.

She explained her view that Myddyn’s decision had had a long and deleterious impact, leading to the rise of the dominion and the retreat of magic and faerie power. She claimed that Myddyn had originally intended to give the sword to her, but he had changed his mind after speaking with a mysterious spirit she named as Volutus. Quite how this could possibly have occurred remains unknown, yet it would not be the first time that this journal records encounters with Myddyn’s spirit to seemingly violate the laws of time and causation. Oratio mentioned to her that he had seen words in a strange script etched into the blade that he attributed to Myddyn, and Morgan le Fay offered to attempt to translate them should he bring it to her. Oratio initially agreed, despite the obvious danger that the spirit might attempt to seize it from him, but he eventually decided to make a copy of the script and have her translate that, keeping the sword at a distance. The spirit claimed that the words made little sense, almost as though some of them were missing. She explained that Myddyn operated at the boundary between magical and faerie powers, and though she could see the faerie aspect of his enchantment, there was no sign of the magical part. With this mystery unresolved, Oratio departed.

Volutus then described his journey to the crystal caves to consult with Myddyn’s memories. Volutus and Arcanus called on the Lladra, a faerie or elemental linked to the spring at Severn Temple, to transport them through the underground waterways to the heart of Mynydd Myddyn, thereby circumventing all of the potential perils that now lie about that regio. There, Volutus gazed into one of the crystals, while Arcanus used a ritual to somehow anchor Volutus’ spirit to the place as protection against him becoming lost within Myddyn’s memories. Volutus found himself on the edge of a tangled wood, where he encountered Morgan le Fay, who initially imprisoned him within twisting vines before Myddyn released him. The two spoke for some time, with Volutus trying to reveal as little as he could while Myddyn sought to read his reaction to his words. Myddyn explained that he had gathered the treasures of Britain together to create a nexus that would force a decision, though Volutus did not enquire why exactly he wanted this. His aim was to balance magic, making it neither too tame nor too wild. Myddyn viewed Arthur, who was still a child, as good natured, righteous and just, though granting him the sword might make magic too tame. Morgan le Fay, his apprentice at the time, was brilliant and wise, but she was unconstrained by civilisation, and granting her the sword might make magic too wild. His initial intuition was to favour her, as he thought he could guide her, but as he spoke with Volutus, he mused that perhaps Arthur would be a better choice, as his simplicity meant that Myddyn could manipulate him. He also pondered that perhaps the decision did not matter. Volutus departed shortly thereafter, though not before Morgan le Fay once more tried to ensnare him in the coils of the forest.

With these tales completed, we each gave our views in turn. I spoke first, arguing that it would be better to grant the blade to Hypatia, for she had proved wise and judicious in her use of power, was more closely tied into the covenant’s aims, and had protections against assassination and theft that her brother lacked. Hypatia, in contrast, argued that Theo would be the better choice, as he would be able to use the sword’s powers to forge alliances and strengthen the kingdom. She also mentioned that her gift was susceptible to faerie influence, so she did not know how she would react to the sword’s powers. Volutus also sided with this view, his conversation with Myddyn having convinced him that Hypatia would be able to provide advice and counsel to her brother. Finally, Jari chose Hypatia, partly due to the legal consequences of not doing so and partly because of his desire to bolster magic and faerie power at the expense of the dominion. With opinion thus split, Oratio was left to consider our words and make the final decision. He vacillated for some time, and I confess that I did not follow all of the elaborate scenarios that he set out, some of which seemed rather convoluted, but he eventually decided in favour of Hypatia.

With a certain amount trepidation, Hypatia took hold of the blade and then declared that she would place it in the treasury for safekeeping. We waited a while for her to return before we received the alarming news that she had been seen departing the covenant and heading towards the faerie regio. None of us had expected this, though we speculated that it might have been a response to some faerie influence on the blade that we had not understood. Quite where in the faerie realm she has gone we do not know, so Jari agreed to consult his allies there to see whether they have news of her movements. Before the meeting concluded, we also agreed that Jari and I would spend the summer season pursuing the location of the scabbard, for its influence may be needed to control the blade’s power. As the council meeting broke up, it seems that we have exchanged one problem for another; let us hope that our decisions prove wise.

Two days into the season, we received news from the captain that Hypatia had returned. Curiously, she had arrived in the garb of an armoured warrior, riding a huge destrier. Volutus and I spoke with her, though the conversation was frustrating. Her manner was distracted and unfocussed, and she appeared remarkably unconcerned about her unannounced absence and the fact that Jari had ventured into the faerie regio to try to find her. She explained that taking the sword had awoken previously hidden memories in her, and she had left the covenant to pursue some matter that she refused to discuss. I found her explanations unconvincing, particularly since she paused awkwardly several times when asked questions, almost as though her subsequent answers were not her own. Despite our misgivings, there was little we could do in the face of her intransigence, and she departed for London the next morning.

A few weeks later, the redcap Acerbia arrived with news of the wider world. A conclave of magistrates and nobles is due to meet in Winchester in summer to discuss inheritance laws and the wider legal system. On the continent, King Theo has suffered a minor defeat at the hands of the French and Castilians, though he was able to withdraw the bulk of his forces from the field. More happily, his wife Beatrice has given birth to a second son. Of most concern, spies from House Mercere brought news that Pope Martin has summoned his cardinals to Rome to consider calling a crusade against England. For the moment, it appears that the Pope is just feeling out whether he has the support for such a declaration, but given what we know about him, this may be the prelude for violent conflict to come.

Summer

Jari had still not returned from the faerie regio by the time we met as a council on the first day of the season. We debated whether we should mount an expedition to retrace his steps, but Hypatia and Volutus argued that it might be precipitous to do so given that time can move so differently in the regio. After a brief discussion, we resolved to wait at least another season before investigating further. In Jari’s absence, I also agreed to postpone the planned mission to Bamburgh to pursue the scabbard removed by the Knights Templar.

Oratio announced that his apprentice, Jaquelin, had reached the end of his training. Subject to a successful gauntlet, he would join House Ex Miscellanea later in the year. Jaquelin had decided that covenant life was not for him, and Hypatia offered to write a letter of introduction that would secure him a place in one of England’s universities should that hold more appeal. Oratio said that he would pass the offer on, and we congratulated him on the success of his endeavour.

Hypatia then explained that she now had the means to travel to and from London more swiftly, which meant that she would be able to attend council meetings more regularly in future. We did not press her for more details, though it is not too difficult to speculate on the reason for this new capability. To aid our ship to avoid any delays caused by additional inspections due to the war with France, Hypatia also agreed to scribe a writ requesting the vessel be permitted to travel through English waters without hindrance.

Some weeks into the season, Blanche reported that she had experienced a strange vision during the night. She had seen a figure garbed in golden scales holding a blade that shone with the light of the moon. The figure walked a path between a dark forest in which various beasts bowed before her, and a great city bedecked with many church spires. The gates of the city opened, but there was no sign of anyone entering or leaving. However, the figure felt a grip around her throat, almost as though she was being strangled. She sank to her knees, then regained her feet, and she managed to stagger on for some way, before she collapsed. Blanche was initially reluctant to allow Oratio to use his magic on her to help interpret the vision, though she was eventually persuaded to do so, though she insisted that the incantation be performed in private. Some time later, Oratio and Blanche returned, and Oratio explained that he believed the vision represented some form of threat – initially political and then physical – to Hypatia arising from Rome. The fact that no visible enemy had left the city suggested to him that the threat might a be a disease borne on the air that would first weaken her support and then come to harm her directly. Unsurprisingly, we all made the connection to the plagues that had broken out in south Wales and Oxford in recent years, though we were puzzled by the implications of a link between the diabolist behind these events and the church. Still, the threat seemed clear enough, and spurred on by Blanche’s intuition that the vision referred to the near future, I travelled to London as quickly as I could to warn Hypatia.

As I made my way through the city, I saw a great number of military forces encamped about the place. After making contact with royal agents, I was able to gain an audience with Hypatia, and I recounted the tale of Blanche’s vision. She was alarmed by the prospect of a plague breaking out in London, though she said that she might have way to find its instigator. She would not explain how she could do this, though I have learned over the past few years that whatever training she received from Myddyn has given her considerable powers. Searching for our foe would take a few days, so I used the time to commission a number of flint and animal bone arrows, reasoning that they might prove a way to circumvent the typical protective wards that our enemy might employ. All seemed to be going to plan when disaster struck: while casting the Strength of Hercules, some property of the dominion warped my magic, and rather than augment my strength, it struck me with a malady that left me scarcely able to lift my blade. The timing could not have been worse, for shortly thereafter, I received word that Hypatia had managed to track our quarry to the borders of Hackney marsh. There was no time to wait until the effects of my miscast spell faded, so I was forced to grant my weapons to one of Hypatia’s agents, since they were of little use to me.

Nevertheless, I accompanied the group of half a dozen men as they made their way to the marsh, hoping that I could at least use my magic to turn the battle in their favour. We made our way across the waterlogged ground as stealthily as we could, aided by the mist and dim light that shrouded the place. The second camp we investigated proved to be our goal, for we spied a group of three men hunkered down around a low fire. Two of them appeared robust and well armed, whereas the third had a slighter build. Knowing the magnitude of the rituals used to summon the plagues in Wales, I directed the agents to concentrate their efforts on slaying or disabling the third figure before he could cast a spell, while I focussed on the man’s guards, for I suspected that my arts were too weak to penetrate the magician’s protections. The battle was short and brutal. One of the first volleys from our side struck the magician squarely in the chest as he sought to incant a spell, as I blinded his bodyguard. Seeing the magician fall, I abandoned my plan to remain at a distance and leapt towards him, cutting his throat. Having made sure he breathed no longer, I turned to the final guardsman, once more using the Incantation of the Milky Eyes to render him defenceless against the royal agents’ blows, who cut him down. With our foes all slain, we searched their belongings, and were surprised to find that the two guards wore Templar robes. The magician also had a number of arcane props and items about him that I gathered up. I informed Hypatia of the good news, noting that her agents had fought bravely, though it had cost three of them their lives. I then returned to the covenant to apprise my sodales of the events.

Back at Severn Temple, Volutus, Oratio and I discussed the implications of my actions. Oratio confirmed that the skull of the diabolist exhibited lingering signs of magic with the same sigil – black veins – as those of the plague-spreader, confirming the identity of our foe. Though all were glad that he was dead, we faced the difficult proposition of whether we should inform the Quaesitori. The investigation of who was behind the plagues had passed from Faelon to Octavia, which meant that I might face uncomfortable questions given that she had previously challenged Oratio’s assertions that the diseases had been created with infernal magic. Examining various items that I retrieved from the diabolist’s corpse, Oratio confirmed that they had an active infernal taint about them, but we know that the use of his second sight to determine this renders it inadmissible as evidence under Hermetic justice. Despite this, my natural inclination was to inform Octavia and brazen the matter out, but I could see no way of doing so without revealing Hypatia’s role in locating our quarry. Given the doubts many hold about House Guernicus’ involvement with the various church conspiracies, this risked handing them a powerful weapon to use against her. After much discussion, I resolved to keep the matter secret, and so I destroyed the diabolist’s skull and hid his belongings in a chest sunk deep in the fast-flowing waters of the Severn.

The only other matter of note was that, towards the end of the season, we received news that Blanche and Agnes the Red had departed the covenant carrying many of their belongings. Though it was not unusual for them to make trips into the forest of hunt for herbs, they had not returned after several days. On speaking with the apprentice herbalist, Lucy, Volutus learned that Blanche had apparently been offended that we had pushed so hard for her to agree to Oratio’s magical investigation of her memories. Quite why this should have resulted in her departure, I cannot say, but Oratio confirmed that there had been no other signs of her anger during the ritual. Oratio agreed to travel to speak with Blanche’s amicus, Renwick, to see whether he knew of her whereabouts, but he returned a few days later with news that Renwick was also absent from his dwelling. It seems likely that these two events are connected, but the motivation eludes me at present. We are obviously missing some piece of the puzzle, but for now we must simply wait to see whether and when Blanche and Renwick re-emerge.

Autumn

Jari had still not returned by the time of the autumn council meeting, but all other members were present. As the first item of business, Oratio announced that he intended to leave the covenant. He declared that the place only served to remind him of the friends he had lost, so a fresh start in a new location might allow him to recover something of his old self. He had secured a place at Holy Isle covenant with the ultimate intention that he might one day replace Faelon as Quaesitor of House Ex Miscellanea. Although the decision is ultimately his, several of us asked him to reconsider, for he is by far the most experienced of us all, with arts that none of can match. Given the numerous dangers we face, his loss is extremely ill-timed, and we have little prospect of replacing his talents in the short term. After some consideration, Oratio agreed to postpone his departure until Jari has returned so our numbers are not so stretched when he leaves.

[Terentius’ private journal: I am extremely disappointed with Oratio’s decision. It is yet another example of how he runs away from problems, rather than confronting them. His stated reasons for leaving are risible: he claims that he would enjoy leading investigations once more, yet he routinely has to be badgered into pursuing them, rather than giving up at the first obstacle, and he leaves several mysteries here unresolved. Though he has lost many friends over the years, is this really any more tragic than the experiences of anyone else – peasant, lord, or magus – who lives a long life? The idea that his problems will vanish with a change of scenery is ridiculous; no, it is nothing more than a self-pitying excuse. If he was truly the good friend to Lysimachus that he claims to be, how could he possibly abandon his filia in such trying times? We shall miss his arts, that is true, but not his character.]

Hypatia then reported that she had heard that Pope Martin had secured the support of his cardinals to call a crusade against England, though he had not yet exercised this authority. We do not know at this time whether this is just a negotiating tactic designed to strengthen his hand, or whether he actually plans to go ahead with this madness, though given his connection with the Templar conspiracy, we should prepare for the worst. On a related matter, given Jari’s continued absence, we decided that I should learn some Scots Gaelic before venturing north to try to find the scabbard, as the trail undoubtedly leads to Templar strongholds in those lands. Volutus announce that he would also be in the north this season, as he must travel to Bori-Tor so Voressio can brew his longevity potion. We wished him a safe journey, and the meeting then concluded.

We received two sets of visitors during the season. The first, Archimagus Quintillius of House Tremere, had recently travelled from Thebes. He intended to take up residence at the new Domus Magnus of my House, though before doing so, he planned to travel the Tribunal to get the lay of the land. Quintillius appears to be an experienced politician, and he asked various probing questions about the nature of the Tribunal and its most influential figures. He presented me with a new consors, Vasily, as thanks for the aid I had granted the House in finding the location of the new Domus Magnus. The second visitor, Pyrrhus of Flambeau, announced himself as the former apprentice of Archimagus Laurius of Holy Isle. He had heard that Severn Temple might be seeking new magi in the wake of Gnaeus’ death. We made him welcome and suggested he stay a few weeks to familiarise himself with the covenant and its inhabitants.

[Terentius’ private journal: Pyrrhus seems brash and self-assured, with little sense of how this comes across to others. He would do well to reign this in, else he be disappointed at how is application to join our number fares.]

Winter

We met as a council on the first day of winter, still without Jari. We had also yet to receive a response from Marissa, who we had contacted earlier in the year regarding Jari’s whereabouts, but Hypatia cautioned against reading too much into this, as that maga is often away from her covenant for long stretches of time. Hypatia also brought news of her brother’s struggles against the French on the continent. Theo had won a sizeable victory, routing a French army and capturing the town of Limoges. This had allowed him to reclaim much of the territory he had lost in the early weeks of the conflict, which has improved morale and reduced the likelihood of rebellions amongst his vassals. In Scotland, King Alexander has died unexpectedly, leaving his pregnant Queen, Yolande, and a three-year-old daughter, Margaret, who has been promised to the King of Norway. It is unclear what will happen next, as various noble factions might attempt to use the turmoil to advance their own claims on the throne.

[Terentius’ private journal: I had the opportunity to spend more time with Pyrrhus over dinner one evening, and my initial impressions of him may have been somewhat hasty. He exhibited a scholarly bent that I had not anticipated, and he waxed lyrical for some time about the philosophical nature of fire, his interest in alchemy, and his desire to study more of mundane lores. The self-confidence that I first detected is certainly a part of his character, but it is clearly only a part. Perhaps he would make a suitable member of the council after all.]

Later in the season, we received news that Blanche and Agnes the Red had both travelled to Cad Gadu, where they had sworn the oath and become members of the Order of Hermes. It seems Volutus was right: the events at the Grey Hill all those years ago, when the party came so close to Twilight, must have awakened latent magical powers. I wonder quite how long they had known this, for they certainly kept it quiet, and their sudden and unannounced departure suggests that they were aware of the implications of their deception. The reaction on the council was mixed: Volutus was clearly somewhat frustrated with their actions, though Hypatia argued that Blanche, at least, had provided good service to the covenant over many years, and her actions had not resulted in any real harm. Ultimately, we agreed that we would send a message of goodwill to the two, and invite them to collect any of their personal possessions should they wish to do so. On reflection, had I discovered in different circumstances that Blanche had always possessed some magical art, I would not have been particularly surprised, for she has always had something of a mystical air. Agnes is a different matter altogether: I believe the woman is quite mad, with a violent temper that renders her a danger to all around her. I suspect her time will be short if she picks the wrong fight.

The only other matter of note during the season was a visit by two other new members of the new Domus Magnus of House Tremere. The first, Silustria of Tremere, was an engaging sort who evidently enjoys travel. I sense that she and Volutus may have much in common in this regard. The second, Eremon of Bjornaer, was taciturn but mystically inclined; he said relatively little, though his few words were laced with portent. He noted that the land was hale hereabouts, despite the high degree of cultivation needed to support the growing mundane population. This both surprised and encouraged him, for the situation in his homeland was quite different.

And with that, the events of the year – and my duties as scribe – are complete.
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