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The Hunt for Caelestis

Scribed by Magus Astrius, filius Garius, discipilus Flambeau, Nominated Hoplite to Quaesitor Medius, filius Prorius, discipilus Guernicus

This journal is a personal account of the hunt for the Renounced Magus Caelestis, one of the three confirmed diabolists to have dwelt at this covenant.

Caelestis was a magus of Arabic descent who joined Severn Temple in the Autumn of 1119. He had a deep fascination with the stars, claiming to be able to divine the future in their patterns. It was one such conjunction that he said led him to journey across Europe from the city of Antioch in the Levant tribunal to Severn Temple, just one year after passing his Gauntlet. His arrival was certainly well timed, as the concilium had just decided to seek a new member to replace Magus Lothar who had been slain in a wizard's war. As a member of House Bonisagus, Caelestis' application was naturally well received and after a season he was duly invited to join, after it was decided that he would be a worthwhile addition to the covenant.

After a seemingly quiet couple of decades, during which Caelestis appears to have established himself as a respected, if somewhat na�ve, member of the covenant and tribunal, matters came to a head in 1138. In Autumn of that year, Caelestis discovered that his pater had bound a spirit of some sort into his sigil. This spirit was using mentem magicks to stop him returning to the Levant, as his pater apparently believed that if he did so then a dark prophecy could come to fruition. A few weeks later however, even with the memory of this still fresh in everyone's minds, Caelestis expressed a desire to go to the Verditius house meeting in 1140 with Magus Turold, and from there to travel to the Levant. The concilium reminded Caelestis of the black prophecy that his return to the East was supposed to herald, to which Caelestis replied that he had seen something in the stars that made him believe that his God, the Islamic one, had demanded such a trip.

Later that season, Caelestis, aided by Magus Antonius, went searching for an apprentice. However, while their party was camping by the river Wye, the prayers of Hassan, a Moorish consortis of Caelestis, were overheard by a nearby group of mundanes. A fight swiftly ensued, which was brought quickly under control by Magus Antonius' mentem magicks. The surviving attackers were captured and bound, but it was then that Caelestis and Antonius discovered that one of the group was a monk from nearby Tintern Abbey. Unfortunately this monk recognized Antonius' voice, even though his guise was different and so Antonius had Hassan cut his throat and his weighted body thrown into the river.

Whether it was the death of the monk or sheer bad fortune, the events attracted the attention of a demon. This infernal spirit assailed Antonius, claiming that it had long sought the soul of the monk and all it's efforts were now in vain, for the monk had died still virtuous. Unlike the other corpses, the body of the dead monk had not sunk, despite the attached weights, but was floating, albeit obscured from the view of the magi by the steep riverbank. The demon threatened to bring the wrath of the Church down on the covenant by ensuring that the monk's body was found. In response, Antonius flew up to see if he could destroy or hide the body, taking him beyond the ward against demons he had erected to keep the spirit at bay. When Antonius continued to refuse to strike any bargain with the demon, it tried to intimidate him by interfering with the winds that held him aloft. Realising his predicament, Antonius took the decision to escape while he could; and apported back to the covenant.

Meanwhile, Caelestis, frightened by the presence of the infernal aura that had sprung up about the location, had fled and attempted to hide in a nearby copse of trees. Unfortunately the demon soon found him and approached, claiming that it had Antonius prisoner. It offered to return Antonius without harm, if Caelestis would kill the remaining prisoner in it's name. At first, though scared, Caelestis apparently listened to this proposed bargain; even suggesting that should the monk's body also be destroyed that he might agree to the pact! However, in Caelestis' words, in the end Antonius' life was worth less than Caelestis' soul; and Caelestis refused the bargain. At this point the spirit revealed itself, probably in an illusory form, as a great, winged beast bearing cruel blades. It threatened to kill Caelestis should he not agree to the pact. It seems that this changed things for Caelestis; and cutting his finger with a knife, Caelestis swore a pact with the demon by letting a single drop of blood. The demon then disappeared, leaving Caelestis to return unmolested back to the covenant. Once there, in front of most of the concilium, he openly confessed his crime, showing either breathtaking naivety or arrogance, or more probably both. The Renounced Magus Ruaridh, in his role as Quaesitor, was left with little option and had him committed to the dungeons at Blackthorn where he was to be held for trial at the tribunal of 1143.

One question concerning Caelestis' actions remains unanswered, to my mind at least, if Caelestis could indeed read the future in the stars, and certainly if this covenant's journal is to be believed, it seems that he showed that he could, did he divine his own fall from grace? I find it hard to believe that he did not read his own horoscopes, or were they, like intellego magicks, unable to penetrate the deceits of the infernal?

The following year, in 1139, Ruaridh visited Blackthorn to interrogate Caelestis about his betrayal of the Order. The interview did not go well, as Caelestis refused to accept any blame for his actions, arguing instead that he had been forced to make the deal with the demon to save himself. With Caelestis not disputing the facts of his diablerie, the tribunal's judgement was in little doubt, but justice was to be denied. In the Spring of 1143, just a few weeks before the tribunal, Caelestis somehow managed to escape from Blackthorn's dungeons.

Ruaridh immediately began an investigation into how he had been able to escape. Using the ritual 'Eyes of the Past' he saw Caelestis being freed by someone with the appearance of Praeca Eloria. Naturally, when Ruaridh asked her about this, she denied any involvement and asked if he had tried to locate an arcane connection so that Caelestis could be pursued. Ruaridh immediately did so and using the maps that Blackthorn holds was able to establish that Caelestis was somewhere near Southampton. Ruaridh and his nominated hoplites, the magi Garius and Antonius, travelled down to the South coast of England where they assembled in the town of Southampton. Using further scrying magicks, Ruaridh traced Caelestis to a warehouse in the docks, where they found the fallen magus dead, his heart crushed, although there were no signs of any external physical assault or magical attack. They removed the body to a nearby inn, but as sunset came the body disintegrated. After some discussion it was concluded that the body was probably a construct, created using an unholy mixture of hermetic and infernal arts.

That Summer, on the second day of the Stonehenge tribunal of 1143, the trial of Caelestis was held. Accusator Ruaridh stated the details of the case and Patronus Dialectica offered no defence. All present voted him guilty with the exception of three abstentions and Caelestis was Renounced from the Order and sentenced to death in absentia. Although word was sent to the Levant lest he be seen there, Caelestis' trail went cold and nothing more was heard of him for two decades.

The story resumes in the Spring of 1163, when Medius' Kabbalah contact, Zedekiah, told him that he had cast an augury which revealed that a man who once resided at the covenant had returned from a great voyage after making a pact with the Deceiver. A man of law, whom Medius took to be himself, was destined to play some part in his destruction, with the secret to the mystery lying in the deserts beyond the Holy Land. Zedekiah also said that some part of Medius's lineage or relationship with this diabolist might be relevant. Although Medius was unsure how much credence to give this prediction, a lot of it did make sense to him and later events at the covenant would support a lot of it.

Shortly afterwards, Magus Cormoran, abandoning his Imperatorial duties as defender of the covenant despite the pleadings of his sodales, joined the ice faerie Erechwyth in battling two Moorish diabolists in the surrounding forest. Despite his dereliction, his gamble paid off and the two moors were slain, with their severed heads deposited on the council table by the giant. At the ensuing emergency council meeting however, tempers ran hot and Cormoran challenged Magus Tiarnan to certamen. Tiarnan won comfortably and Cormoran was rendered unconscious. Tiarnan's triumph was short-lived, as a few minutes later the Aegis was felt to resist a challenge and then to be breached.

A magus, believed to be Caelestis, had managed to compel a grog to open the gates for him, using vis to cast a spell of sufficient magnitude to breach Severn Temple's powerful Aegis. Hurling lightning at any who dared approach him, he flew up to the top of the tower and entered the main keep. He made his way to the mundane library where he took the covenant's copy of the Almagest, a map of the tribunal and some notes regarding the lost covenant of Moorstow. In total three covenfolk were slain, but fortunately he chose not to attack the magi present for none had any defensive or offensive magicks of note and he could have wrought great devastation had he so chosen.

Clearly a direct assault on a covenant by a Renounced Magus could not be ignored by the tribunal, so, in the Summer of 1165, Medius and I joined a large group of magi and grogs led by Praefecta Orlania to seek out the lost covenant of Moorstow and determine whether Caelestis or other servants of the infernal were hiding there. As we neared the covenant our scouts found sign of tracks and some sigils were also detected, mostly connected with moving a heavy object up the steep slope that formed the route into and out of Moorstow. We were disappointed to learn that the tracks were leading out of Moorstow and were several days old. Clearly at least one of the people we were after had already left with the treasure we believed them to be seeking, an astrolabe, which is a device to predict to the movement of the stars. Nevertheless we pressed on, in the hope that there were still others who remained in the covenant.

The covenant itself seemed initially to be dusty and deserted, but as we split up into groups to probe its secrets more carefully we found what we were looking for, or rather they found us. We lost several grogs to invisible assassins before we uncovered a hidden trapdoor in an old storeroom. The trapdoor led down a narrow a spiral staircase so, with Orlania leading and me guarding the rear, we made our way carefully down it. After descending for perhaps fifty yards it ended in a level passageway, heading where I know not. I was instructed to guard the entrance to the stairwell and so remained behind. Not long after the remainder of the party had gone on ahead I suddenly heard a voice coming from out of thin air incanting in latin. I did not know the spell but the words 'creo' and 'auram' gave me a good idea what was about to happen. Long years of training and a special technique that my pater taught me has however given me a strong parma and so the lightning bolt did not slay me.

Nevertheless, I did not want to risk taking another such hit and lashed out with my sword in the direction that the voice had come from. Fortune was with me and I was felt my sword connect with something, though I think Caelestis had a ward of sorts for no blood was drawn. Drudwhil with his keen senses joined in the assault and Caelestis, taken aback by the physical nature of the counter assault fled up the stairs, a coward at heart like all diabolists. I made a dive to try and grab him but failed to get a good enough grip to pull him back. Drudwhil raced after him and was quick enough to catch him as in the storeroom at the top of the stairs. My familiar managed to sink his teeth deeply into Caelestis' arm, bravely holding him for long enough for help to arrive in the shape of Orlania who slew him on the spot before he could wreak any further mischief.

Just a few minutes after his death, a wind picked up in the small room and I had the uneasy feeling that something foul had just entered the room. Then, despite being held in a powerful Ward against demons Caelestis' body vanished. This led some magi to speculate that he might not truly be dead, particularly as the disappearance of his body sounded not dissimilar to that seen by Garius, Ruaridh and Antonius in Southampton in 1143. Yet this time he had been heard, if not actually seen, speaking, moving and casting spells bearing his sigil so many thought that he had indeed been slain. To add to the sense of frustration, later mundane investigations revealed that a magus, probably one of Caelestis' apprentices, had indeed escaped on a nearby ship with a heavy cargo that we assumed to be the astrolabe.

Medius was one of those who were unconvinced that Caelestis was truly dead and so in the following season, he travelled to Chepstow to visit his religious contacts to see if they could offer any advice on the matter. Towards the end of that season, Magus Loretius, in his role as Redcap, informed us that Prima Ex Miscellanea had investigated the spirits of one of Caelestis' companions and concluded that it was indeed Caelestis who had died in Morstow. Praefecta Orlania had therefore declared that the investigation was over.

Following the Praefecta's pronouncement, I was content to consider the matter closed, but Medius was not. While with his Kabbalah allies, Medius had cast an augury that led him to believe that not only was Caelestis alive, but his plans had not been stopped. Medius dreamt of a 'Follower of Mohamed', a member of the Islamic faith apparently, who is beginning a journey in the Holy Lands. It is the destiny of this man to rule a vast area of the Levant and Caelestis seeks to turn this destiny to his own corrupt ends. Despite my initial scepticism, when Medius asked me to accompany him to the Levant as his Hoplite I naturally accepted without hesitation. Let it never be said that members of House Flambeau do not aid the Quaesitori.

So it was that at the Spring meeting of 1166, Medius announced that he and I were to travel to the Levant at the beginning of Summer to bring justice to Caelestis permanently. The concilium was greatly supportive of our planned mission, with Pontifex Dialectica offering whatever resources the covenant could provide, most notably a season's worth of brewing potions by Magus Aelfwin.

After a parting feast, we set off on a bright sunny day at the start of Summer 1166, with packs full of coin, vis, and potions, heading first for the port of Southampton. With the need to pay our way across most of the known world, our party was small, comprising Quaesitor Medius, myself as Hoplite, Medius' consors, Giovanni, and two shield grogs, Dunstan and Sergeant Eadhild, not forgetting of course my familiar Drudwhil. To minimize any risk of antagonizing the mundanes, Medius and I were to travel under different names, I by my birth name of Geraint and he as Antonio.

We reached Southampton with little trouble and once there, met up with the captain of the 'Autumn Sorrow', one of whose patrons is the Jerbiton magus DuClerc. The ship itself was small and cramped, but sturdy enough and it coped comfortably with the calm seas between it and La Rochelle. There was thankfully no sign of any of the pirates who were reputed to be active in the area and the five weeks passed without incident. La Rochelle is a bustling port, on the west coast of French-held lands, in the province known as Aquitaine. Large enough to have its own cathedral, a large church to those unfamiliar with such places, the city acts as a meeting point between traders from the Mediterranean and those from Northern Europe. Although I can see how some might find such a city fascinating, I must confess that I find these places deeply unsettling. These cities, which are bursting to the seams with people, have an unhealthy stench about them, and the cold, cruel aura of Dominion is ever present and overbearing. There is no room for the natural world in these towns and cities and precious little for magick.

Medius's consors, Giovanni, was dispatched to look for passage further on to Venice. While we waited for him, Medius took the time to warn me about Venice and the Rome tribunal. If what he says is true, and I have no reason to doubt our Quaesitor, the whole tribunal is a nest of vipers and oath breakers. I can only hope that whatever bad experiences he suffered there as an apprentice have clouded his judgment. While he was seeking ship, Giovanni heard rumours that Venice is at war with the Byzantine Empire, a great power to the East of the Rome tribunal. This may pose us problems journeying beyond Venice, but we will deal with that once we reach there.

In any event, Giovanni was able to secure us berths to Venice on the 'Santa Maria de la Croce", a Venetian galley. Such ships are noticeably different from ones seen in British waters. They are much sleeker and sit lower in the water, and also have large banks of rowers should the sails fail through lack of wind. Happily this vessel was also better appointed than the 'Autumn Sorrow' and the passenger accommodation much more comfortable and spacious. The Captain, one Salvatore Castini, had the ship wait a week in port for other ships to travel with. Apparently North African pirates from the Barbary Coast make the waters East of the Pillars of Hercules extremely hazardous.

The sea became noticeably rougher as we moved from the French coast into Iberian waters and thence down towards the Pillars of Hercules that separate Europe and Africa. As we passed between them the seas became wilder still. They were so rough that two sailors from our galley were washed overboard and one of the ships sailing with us lost its mast. After some consultation this ship was left behind, putting in to shore to effect repairs. We could only hope as we sailed on that the pirates would not find it in such a state. Although the fate of that unfortunate ship is not known to me, there was at least no sign of any pirates as we made our way into the warm waters of the Mediterranean.

A month after leaving La Rochelle, we reached the isle of Sicily. Much to my surprise I discovered that the island is ruled by Normans, although it is still technically part of Italy. From there we sailed into the serene turquoise seas of the Adriatic and up the Eastern coast of Italy, with the galley making great speed, despite the frequent stops to pay tolls along the way. Then, finally, as the summer drew to an end we reached Venice. I had listened to people extolling Venice's beauty on the journey, but my skepticism proved to be groundless as the city itself is quite something to behold. It appears almost to float on brilliant blue waters that are as calm as a mountain lake on a windless day. Yet, although it was so pleasing to the eye, there was an air about the place that left me feeling distinctly out of sorts and ill at ease. Indeed once we had disembarked, such was my feeling of discomfort, I would have rather been back amidst the storms about the Pillars of Hercules than standing on that bustling quayside.

To add to this feeling of oppression, Giovanni believed that we may be under observation, possibly by a magus or at least an agent of one of them. Why he thought this was not entirely clear to me. Anyway, Giovanni was able to find some very well-appointed apartments for us to stay in while he sought passage on a ship to Tripoli. Giovanni and Medius seemed to be delighted to be back in their native country, eagerly enthusing about the food and the wine. While I concede that the wine was good, Italian food is overly fussy and spiced to my taste. Over dinner on the first night in Venice, Medius explained that there may be some etiquette involved in visiting magi announcing themselves when arriving in Venice, for it is apparently regarded as a neutral city in this highly politicized tribunal. Unfortunately for us, neither Medius nor Giovanni could remember just what the correct procedure was. Giovanni has gone to try and find out. While he was absent we spoke again with Captain Salvatore who informed us that Venice's fleet had been defeated in a mighty battle with the Greeks. This was ill news for it meant that there would now be precious few ships left to sail East. He said that there may be a voyage across the Adriatic to the great forests that lie on its Eastern shores, but it may be a way off yet. We discussed the possibility of traveling on overland but that is apparently even more hazardous. A mere 1 in 10 pilgrims make it to the Holy Land on foot. Eager to escape this alien and cruel city, I suggested that any of the bandits who inflict such heavy casualties on the traveling Christians would get a very unpleasant surprise if they assailed us. Medius however pointed out that the journey would take too long, even were we to survive its rigours.

Later that evening Medius was surprised to receive an invitation to dinner from Don Fabio Dandalo. The Dandalo's are one of the more senior Venetian families, but they have a slightly unsavoury reputation. From what I could ascertain a 'Don" is a noble title, though what rank it would equate to back in Britain I have no idea. After some discussion Medius decided it was best to accept the invitation. Giovanni was to act as his manservant and I his "barbarian" bodyguard. He seemed slightly concerned that I should not take offence at such, but frankly if this is civilization then I am happy to be called a barbarian. Venice has an altogether darker air at night as evidenced by the sizeable escort that Don Dandalo sent to escort us to his home, though I suspect that his primary motive in sending so many men was more about showing us how powerful he was, a not-so-subtle form of intimidation. As we neared the house, Giovanni observed a man leaving it. He said that he was one of the Sforza clan, Milanese warlords who are extremely dangerous and powerful, one of the great mundane powers of all the city states in this tribunal.

The Don himself was an affable enough host, but clearly an intelligent and perceptive man. Obviously somewhat aware of our Gifts it was noticeable that he welcomed me before Giovanni and I was given better seat, even though in such circles I should have been viewed as having lower status as a mere swordsman, albeit a well trusted one. Of course neither Medius nor I are gently Gifted, but nevertheless the fact that he recognized what he could sense about us was noteworthy. Yet I believe at the time that all three of us simply assumed that he was a consortis of a Roman magus or at least had regular dealings with one. Also present at the meal was a cousin of the Don's, Cardinal Alfredo. A Cardinal is apparently an extremely senior member of the Christian Church so naturally we were on our most cautious behaviour and even the appearance of some proper food in the form of roast suckling pig could not stay the apprehension I felt at being in the presence of such a man. Like the city itself, the cardinal had a judgmental and cruel air about him, though it was by no means as strong. Throughout the meal, Don Fabio referred to Medius as a 'wise man'. The Italian tongue is much like latin, that is to say, 'wise man' is spoken as 'magus'. Given the way we were treated before the inference was clear, he knows that we are magi. Yet if he had any scheme in mind he did not indicate such and instead offered 'Antonio' free passage on his 'pilgimage' to the Holy Lands, such being our cover story.

Afterwards, when we were returned to our apartment, Giovanni and Medius both expressed their grave concerns that we were being drawn into some intrigue and wondered what the true cost of such 'free passage' would be. Their strong belief was that another wizard had asked Don Fabio to offer it to us. In truth, this somewhat reassured me, for while a mundane has no Code to bind them, a magus must abide by his Oath. Yet in this they did not share my opinion and were greatly vexed. They saw some plot behind all this and stayed up into the early hours of the morn' tying themselves into knots over all the possible labyrinthine directions such a plot could take. They did I suppose grow up in this tribunal so have much greater experience here than I, it does however strike me as exceedingly strange that the tribunal that houses Domus Magnus Guernicus should be so poisonous a place. Giovanni tried to find a Redcap but, perhaps unsurprisingly for a city with no covenants in it, he had no luck.

A few days later, the same servant returned and told us that Don Fabio wanted to meet with us once more as he had some good news. Giovanni immediately set out to see if he could learn aught from the streets and inns nearby as to the details of any plot that may be arrayed against us, however, such a search proved to be as fruitless as his hunt for a Redcap. All he heard was that there was a big meeting organised by the Dandalo's in some square ahead of us, which word had it would be spectacular.

We were welcomed quite cordially into the Don's house as before, though neither the Don himself nor the cardinal, were there to meet us, nor did any of the rooms we were shown into have any windows. Giovanni pretended to have need to relief himself as an excuse to find a window so that he might see outside. In the meantime Medius and I were led on through into a large room with a door in the far wall. I was on high alert, fearing that a physical attack of some sort was imminent, but the threat turned out to be less overt, though equally dangerous. We were ushered to the doors, through which could be heard the noise of a large and excited crowd. I tried to peer through one of the shutters but could see little and as I did so, Medius stepped through the door. I quickly followed him and we found ourselves on a balcony looking out onto a large square that was thronged with people. Aside from two soldiers on either side of the door who quickly moved in behind us to block our exit, also on the balcony were Don Fabio, Cardinal Alfredo and the Sforza agent we had seen on our previous visit. While Medius was still surprised, Don Fabio grabbed him by the arm and pronounced to the crowd below that he had powerful backing for his campaign to become the new ruler of Venice, the Doge. One by one he indicated his guests, Cardinal Alfredo gave him the Church's blessing, the Sforza man gave him military backing and then it was Medius's turn. Don Fabio announced Medius as Antonio, a wizard of the Order of Hermes, who would use his arcane arts to aid Don Fabio.

Naturally, Medius hesitated to use magic in front of such a large crowd of mundane folk, but as catcalls began Don Fabio pressed his point using a concealed dagger held into Medius's side. I was somewhat distracted by the two guards standing behind me, but had I noticed the small narrow-bladed knife, known here as a stiletto, things may well have gone differently. As it was I did not and Medius decided to cast a spell that could be explained away as mere sleight of hand. Calling forth the arts of Creo and Animal he attempted to conjure forth a small rabbit pelt. Yet, as is so often with this Gift of ours in times of stress and in hostile auras, his magic went awry and a real rabbit appeared on the balustrade. Then another, and another, and another, until there were at least a dozen of them hopping all over the balcony. I took advantage of the confusion this caused to cast spells of fear upon the two guards blocking our exit and Medius and I retreated hastily back into the room as Don Fabio attempted to regain his composure. We then had a hasty conversation in which I established what measures could be taken to ensure our safety, namely slay anyone, bar the cardinal, using whatever means I deemed necessary. Don Fabio and his entourage then swept back into the room, he was plainly very unhappy but then so were Medius and I. Fortunately for him, he decided that the best course of action would be to have Medius leave the city and he gave us the use of the galley, the 'Black Crow' to take us on to the Holy lands. A wise decision on his part, for if he had opted for a violent resolution the fat pig would have been the first to die screaming in flames.

Naturally we made swiftly for the ship, were I a superstitious man I would have regarded the name alone as a bad omen, but I am not and in any event, with the strength of the Dominion here, I doubt the Morrigan has much if any influence here. We were somewhat cautious on board, fearing that Don Fabio might have given the crew some murderous orders to be carried out once we were at sea. Happily this turned out not to be the case and the journey was quick and uneventful. We had good winds as we rounded Greece and the sea was calm as we sailed smoothly into Tripoli, just before the end of Autumn.

Although I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, to my surprise Tripoli was quite similar to La Rochelle in many ways. A fortified harbour leading into a walled city, with an impressive castle overlooking both. As the Black Crow glided into port we could see a man standing at the end of the pier watching the ship closely. It turned out that he was called Caleb, and had been sent to meet a man named Abraham, Medius' Jewish name. He offered 'Abraham' and his companions hospitality on behalf of Mordechai, who is a member of the Kabbalah.

The malign atmosphere in Tripoli was also strong, though here the dominion seemed angrier somehow and it was hard not to feel on edge as though an attack was perpetually imminent. That aside, the streets of the city were noticeably different again to those of England and Italy. Once you moved away from the harbour and the scents of salt and fish, and into the warren of streets, the smells changed to an odd mixture of strange perfumes and excrement. The air was also oppressively hot and humid, once away from the sea breezes I was sweating profusely and very uncomfortable underneath my mail armour.

Maybe the Easterners are not quite so clean as they would make out, though once we arrived at Caleb's mother's house we were taken to a steam bath of some sort, which though not something I have ever experienced before was I confess very welcome. From the expression on Medius's face I would guess he was already thinking about how he might arrange to have something similar constructed back at Severn Temple. Yet as I wrote this journal and gazed out across the foreign city it was clear that I was many, many leagues from my home.

After bathing and being given fresh clothes made of silk that are more suitable to the hot climate here, we spoke a little with Caleb. He told us that there was a small Jewish community here, although life under their Crusader overlords could be tough. The knights freshly off the boat are apparently hardest on them, though if my own experiences are anything to go by I would wager that it is as much due to irritation caused by the intense heat as any predjudice or alcohol-induced violence. Caleb said that we would become acclimatized to the temperatures here, but even in the silk garments that we had been kindly provided with it was difficult to see how.

The next night Mordechai arrived and spoke with Medius in Hebrew, blatantly ignoring the rest of us. The two of them had a private audience, the gist of which Medius later revealed to me. Mordechai explained what Caelestis had been up to recently in these lands. It seems that he infiltrated a court and became Vizier (chief counselor) to the muslim leader. The previous Vizier was so angered by his fall from grace that he sent one of the country's best assassins to kill Caelestis. The assassin managed to infiltrate Caelestis's private quarters and slit his throat, but instead of dropping dead the wound sealed itself and although the assassin fled in terror, his horribly mutilated body was found hanging from a tree the next day. It seems that the pact that saved Caelestis' worthless hide in the ruins of Moorstow is still at work. Mordechai says that he now rides with a band of men in the desert East of Tripoli.

Having told Medius all this, Mordechai then told him that he would take him to a special Kabbalah place to enact a ritual to divine more of Caelestis' doings. As this was a sacred place, Mordechai insisted that no one else could accompany him. Despite my strong protestations that as his hoplite I thought this to be both unwise and unsafe, Medius agreed to go on alone to this place. He is clearly more religious than I had previously realised.

The ritual was supposed to be completed in one night, but by the next morning there was no sign of Medius. Naturally concerned about Medius' safety we asked Caleb to take us to Mordechai's house, but he was either not in or not answering the door. As Caleb didn't know the location of this sacred place either there was little we could do besides wait, fret and plot bloody retribution against Mordechai should he be proved false. However, a couple of hours after noon, Medius returned with Mordechai. My sodales was in a sorely distressed state, alternating between shouting gibberish and vomiting profusely. Mordechai refused to say what had happened and instead gave Medius a herbal concoction of some kind that put him into a deep slumber. This continued for two long days, though the medicine did its job for when he awoke Medius was relatively lucid once more. He told us that the place he had been taken to was a place of visions and that after enacting a Kabbalistic ritual he had been struck with a number of visions.

When he was recovered enough to speak, Medius recounted them for us. The first was of a great plain of yellow and orange sand, upon which was camped a huge army bearing green flags. A group of riders clad in black, led by Caelestis, rode up and Caelestis went into the command tent where two men were discussing plans. The younger of the two men was suggesting a modification to the older man's plan. After later discussion, we came to believe that this bearded older man was probably Saladin, a great Islamic war leader. Caelestis was well received by the two men and he in turn proposed an alternative plan, one that the two men seemed very amenable to. As he left the tent soon after, his friendly visage shifted to a very cruel and evil one, doubtless reflecting his true nature.

After leaving the camp, Caelestis and his riders rode away and across a lush valley up to a huge gateway, where the body of a knight with a swan on his helm lay impaled on his own lance. As they rode on they came to the edge of some large Roman ruins where they all stopped, save Caelestis who rode on into the middle of these ancient remains. Then the vision shifted slightly to show Medius in Tripoli, giving an orange to an old beggar woman who in return gave him a thin candle. The vision then changed again to show Medius, Giovanni and I on a dark hillside looking down to the same Roman ruins that Caelestis had been seen entering in one of the prior visions. Holding the old woman's candle, Medius walked down towards the ruins by himself. Then this prophetic dreamscape shifted one last time to show me standing on the same hillside with a sword stuck in the ground in front of me. Apparently sensing something I grabbed the sword and conjured flames about it, spinning round in surprise and alarm as some great foe landed on the hillside. The vision then ended.

Although I was obviously intrigued as to the part that related to me, the most curious thing was that before enacting the visionary ritual, Medius had indeed given an orange to an old beggar woman in a charitable moment and she had in return given him a thin candle just as the vision had showed. The candle was quickly examined but was not magical. As we pondered what this all might mean, Medius rested a while for he was still weak from his ordeal.

That evening Mordechai returned, but would speak to no one but Medius, and that conversation was held in private in the Hebrew tongue. Medius emerged from these talks and told us that the Roman ruins that he espied Caelestis entering lie to the East, beyond the mountains. There are nomads, traveling desert people called the Bedouin, who Caleb knows that dwell there and they should be able to help us. The journey to reach them is however very hazardous so Medius suggested that we find a convoy of crusaders heading for the mighty fortress of Krak des Chevalier. the route to which matches ours until after the mountains.

To do this we had to change our guise somewhat and after some further debate, we decided that I would travel as a Sir Geraint, a Welsh knight, and Giovanni would assume the role of Don Giovanni, an Italian knight, with Medius acting as his retainer. After some discussions about the wisdom of having Caleb, an obvious Jew, with us in a party of crusaders, it was agreed that he would journey ahead and meet us by the turn in the road after the mountains. Caleb claims to know the terrain well and as one man says he will be able to elude any attackers and in any event, it is crusaders such as our group that they will be after, not lone Jews. After a little searching in the taverns of the city, Giovanni was able to find a small crusader party that will be heading to the Krak soon. This motley group was made up of two knights, Sir Heinrich Hollensollen, an old fat German, and Sir Jerome de Alby, a young, raw-looking Frenchman, who between them had some twenty men. After some complicated initial discussions where it quickly became apparent that none save 'Don' Giovanni shared a common tongue, we agreed to travel together for safety They were a little dubious at first as I think they doubted whether we were truly knights as we claimed, but then it is not improbable their knightly claims were equally false and in any event they were genuinely glad of the extra numbers we brought with us.

A couple of days later, having left most of our monies behind in Caleb's mother's house for safe-keeping, we journeyed to the East gate where we met our travel companions and set off into the desert. Although the sun beat down fiercely upon us as we left the shade of the city I nevertheless felt a palpable sense of relief as the oppressive weight of the Dominion was lifted from my shoulders. The land around Tripoli is flat and dusty, although still mostly green, and our progress was initially quick. It took us two days travel across these plains before we reached the foothills of the mountains and began our slow ascent. It was however ten long days before we reach the top of the pass and some of the less hearty members of our group were greatly relieved to finally make it there. The mountains here are much larger than even those of Snowdonia back in Wales and even as we stood enjoying the refreshingly cool air after our long ascent, high above us still loomed the peaks of the mountains, tall enough to be shrouded in snow, even in this hot climate. Before us, to the East, stretched a seemingly endless desert.

Yet, although the climb was over, as we made our way down the narrow rock-strewn valley we knew that here was where we were under greatest risk of attack. On the second day of our descent, an ambush by hidden archers killed three men and wounded several others. Fortunately none of us from Severn Temple were hurt, although these six casualties represented almost one-third of our total fighting number. Given that no one got even close to striking back at the brigands as they rode off swiftly down the hill when counter-attack was mustered, the threat they posed was grave indeed. Medius and I had sombre discussions about the possible consequences if I were forced to use blatant magicks in front of crusaders. As we set up camp, Drudwhil set about tracking our assailants and picking his way quietly down the mountain found their horses tied up with just a single man guarding them. In the confusion of the darkness, he was able to outwit the sole brigand and scare off three of the six horses.

Meanwhile, emboldened by their easy triumph earlier, four of the bandits stealthily made their way round to the rear of the camp, attempting to launch a surprise attack under cover of night. However, having taken the precaution of casting 'Eyes of the Cat' upon myself as night fell, I spotted them a moment before they moved in and led a counter charge. After a short but brutal fight, two of them were cut down in the camp and I was able to chase down and slay a third as he tried to flee. Dunstan bravely pursued the fourth, but the brigand's greater experience in the mountains meant that he was able to escape. A closer inspection of the dead assailants revealed that they were dressed much as lightly armed soldiers and it seems likely that they were probably skirmishers of some sort, sent by the Saracen army to harry crusaders en route to Krak des Chevaliers. The surviving two raiders evidently decided that their numbers were insufficient to press any further attacks for we were unmolested during the remaining two days of our descent.

At the foot of the mountains the road turned North, skirting along the edge of the desert towards the great crusader castle. Here we split from our travelers, pretending to make a stand against any further Saracens who would pursue us to avenge their fallen kin. Sir Heinrich and Sir Jerome clearly thought we were mad and to their credit sought to dissuade us, but when it was clear that we would not budge they left. In a curious way I was almost sorry to see them go. Although the Dominion that they seek to spread across all lands is anathema to me, I can understand the appeal that crusading must hold for those who call themselves Christians. To travel to unknown lands and test your strength and skill at arms against enemies whose prowess is unknown to you must offer an excitement that is unlikely to be matched in any normal battles in your own homeland.

Not long after the crusaders had disappeared from sight, Caleb arrived with extra supplies for the trek across the desert. Without further ado we set off West into the desert to find a watering hole, known in these lands as an 'oasis', where we might find the Bedouin whom we hoped would help lead us to the ruins where Caelestis skulked.

I had thought that the time we spent in Tripoli had acclimatized me to hot conditions, but the desert was several orders of magnitude worse than anything that I had experienced before. I am not exaggerating when I say that the desert at midday is like being inside a baker's oven. During the morning the heat was intense, but repeated conjurations of water were able to keep us cool enough to continue walking, but by noon even that was not enough and we were forced to seek shade under our tents, with a magically summoned breeze to keep the air moving. In contrast, at night it turns as cold as a harsh Welsh winter and we needed a campfire and furs to keep us tolerably warm. After enduring two days of this, we reached the oasis only to find that it had run dry. As we only had three days left of water this presented us with something of a dilemma. Caleb said that he knew of another oasis that never dries up, just half a day's walk away. He wasn't completely sure of its location, but seemed confident enough for he and I to head off to try and find it, while the others waited behind to conserve water. However, after half a day's march there was no sign of it. As we paused, trying to spot where it might be amidst the dunes and heat haze, I spotted a couple of rock formations that matched Caleb's description of the place. Caleb picked the closest one, which lay about two hours walk away, as being the most promising of the two. With the amount of water we had left, things could have got interesting if he had chosen wrongly, but happily he was right.

Yet, as with much of this voyage, things turned out to be more complicated than expected. As we entered the narrow sandstone canyon where the water lay I noticed a covenant sign carved into the dusty yellow stone. Guessing that this oasis must be a vis site of some sort I quickly stopped Caleb from drinking. As he turned to ask me what was wrong, I heard a strange clicking sound from outside. I loudly declared myself to be a member of the Order of Hermes in latin, but there was no response. Then, as I looked round for the source of the noise, a giant scorpion appeared at the edge of the canyon above, peering down almost directly above me. The creature was bigger than a horse, with a pair of large pincers and a tail tipped with a vicious-looking barb the size of a great sword. I was not about to give it the chance to strike first and so swiftly let loose with a 'Bolt of Abysmal Flame'. The spell burnt it, not badly, but enough to cause it to retreat back out of sight. As I waited for a counter attack, I distinctly heard a man's voice incanting in latin, invoking the arts of Perdo, Imagonem and Corporem, presumably an invisibility spell of some sort. Angrily, I once more declared myself, but the only response was a further spell, this one involving the arts Intellego and Vim. Although I felt no sign of my parma resisting anything, I was quite sure that he had just cast a scrying spell upon me even though I had clearly declared myself to be a member of the Order.

There then followed a vociferous argument where the invisible magus said that I would be brought up before the Levant tribunal for attacking his familiar, to which I retorted that I had simply defended myself against a perceived threat after having stated quite clearly who I was. I also stated that if he wished to press charges I would do likewise, requesting sanction be brought against him for scrying on a nominated Hoplite in the service of a member of the Quaestori.

After a brief, heated argument, we both agreed to forgo any charges and he let his invisibility spell drop, appearing in front of me as an old man with heavily tattooed skin. He said his name was Magus Viatoris of House Criamon, from the nearby covenant of Helion's Reach. I explained somewhat of the mission that Medius and I were on and he agreed to help us. He apported back to his covenant to fetch us some water and escorted Caleb and I back to the oasis where the others were waiting. Once there, Medius explained further about the Roman ruins that we were searching for and he said that they might lie in the Bekaa valley. This is a powerful magical place, apparently guarded by a mystical knight with the head of a swan who is reputed to slay all who approach. This tallied so closely with the details of Medius' vision that it must be the same place. Viatoris made a further trip back to Helion's Reach to bring us more supplies, as well as directions to a nearby watering hole where the Bedouin were camped. He also agreed to pass message of our meeting and location on to the next redcap to visit his covenant. With that he departed, glad I think to return to whatever solitary esoteric studies he has in this desolate and suffocatingly hot land.

It took a hard day's march in the desert, but just as night was beginning to fall we reached the oasis that Viatoris had directed us to and found to our relief that this time the Bedouin were there. Their camp was a large one, with maybe 100 people and 50 camels. The camel is a curious-looking beast, slightly larger than a horse with a hump in the middle of its back. The Bedouin call this creature the 'Ship of the Desert' for it can be ridden like a horse, albeit a bad tempered one, and yet can walk for many days in the hot desert without the need for food or water. Caleb went on ahead into the circle of tents to make our introductions and came back saying that we were welcome to join them at their campfire and share their evening meal. The Bedouin look much like the Saracens who ambushed us in the mountains, though Caleb assured me that they were different peoples. They were a little wary of us at first, but polite and hospitable nevertheless.

After we had shared food together, Medius, going under his Jewish name, Abraham, spoke with the Bedouin chief, a man named Mehmet, and asked him about the Bekaa valley. There was a little discussion about this, for it seems that this valley is regarded as something of a special place to the Bedouin, but after we all swore an oath that we would not reveal its location, Mehmet agreed to lead us there.

Next morning we set off, riding on camels as the Bedouin do. Camels are bad-tempered animals, but if they are dealt with firmly then they seem obedient enough, though my natural understanding of the ways of beasts and my ability to speak with them almost certainly made the ride easier than it might have been otherwise. Disagreeable creatures they might be, but they make travelling through the desert much quicker and easier. We journeyed for 3 days, stopping off at hidden water holes known only to the Bedouin until we reached another range of mountains. Curiously they only came into view as we got close, though I saw no sign that we had passed through any regio. As we drew nearer to them, Mehmet appeared to be following a circuitous route, looking perhaps for a way across a regio boundary. On the fourth day he must have found the secret path that he had been seeking for he led us to a cleft in the mountains through which we saw a lush and fertile valley. The Bedouin stopped at this point, saying that they would go no further, but would stay here for 10 days, awaiting our return. Mehmet explained that the swan knight dwells halfway up the valley, by a great arch.

Medius confirmed that this was indeed a magical site of some power, for even at the beginning of the valley the aura was of the second magnitude. The climate here was refreshingly cool and pleasant as we made our way down the path that led through the valley's center, following a small river. By the second day, the river had broadened markedly and the aura had risen to the third magnitude. Towards the end of the third day we could begin to make out a huge stone arch in the distance. As we drew near we saw the body of an armoured knight, perhaps twice the size of a normal man, impaled upon a great lance stuck into the ground by the side of the arch. The knight's body was burnt and badly clawed, and Medius was able to determine that it had been struck by the spell 'Incantation of Lightning' bearing Caelestis' sigil. Any lingering doubts that I had about the truth behind Medius's vision were now dispelled.

Drudwyl found tracks of horsemen leading through the arch, which Medius determined also marked a regio boundary. We made to pass through it, but sensing no change as we did so, returned and waited until dusk to try again. At this point we remembered that we had Petrus' dagger with us and so we used that to cut our way through into a hellish landscape. Where on our side of the arch there was a river running through green grassland under a clear blue sky, on the other there was a stream of lava, belching foul-smelling sulphurous fumes and all was dark as night. We needed no magicks to determine that this was now an infernal aura. Pausing only to cast 'Eyes of the Cat' upon our party, I led the way through. Ahead of us, through the thick smoke, we could make out a flat hill just like the one from Medius' vision. We pressed on anxiously, not wishing to spend a second more than was necessary in such an evil place. As we crested the hill we could see the ruins of a great Roman temple below us, the fallen columns lit up by geysers of flame erupting periodically amongst them.

After a short debate and against my advice, Medius decided that he was going to place his faith in his religion and head down alone into the ruins, just as he had seen himself doing in his vision. As I watched him walk down the hill towards that infernal place I wondered if I would ever see him again. Yet if Medius' visions held true, as they had done in every detail thus far, I knew that those of us left standing on that desolate hilltop would have a battle of our own to worry about. I conjured a circle of light to banish the shadows from about us and to make ourselves obvious to whatever foes lurked below, in the hope that we might draw off enough enemies to enable Medius to reach his target. With that done, I set a sword defiantly into the ground in front of me to await the fight that was fated to come. Although the light made me feel better, I was only too aware how horribly exposed we were on that bare hilltop and although I did my best to appear confident and undaunted in front of the others, I confess I was sore afraid. As we made ready we availed ourselves of the potions that we had been given by the covenant, for I was sure that this was the time when their help would be most need.

It was not long before we spotted the first demon, a great winged creature flying high overhead, out of reach of any spell I had. As we watched it warily there was a hiss from in front of us and a second demon came charging in towards us. It was taller by at least a head than any of us, with a serpentine body and scaly muscular arms that wielded a large spiked mace and a shield. After my initial attempt to conjure flames about my sword went strangely awry, I was able to send a bolt of flame against it and burn it, but it was not slowed noticeably and soon I was fighting toe-to-toe with it, alongside Giovanni and Drudwhil. The demon was immensely strong and although I was able to parry its first blow, the second caught me squarely on the shoulder, spinning me round to land face down and dazed into the mud. I was only saved from serious injury by the potion of the 'Gift of the Bear's Fortitude' that Aelfwin had brewed for us before we departed. The others rained blows on it as I climbed a little unsteadily to my feet, but it soon became apparent that normal swords were just glancing harmlessly off its scaly hide. I shouted to Giovanni to buy me enough time to get a spell off and without hesitation he bravely leapt in front of it. Although the demon swept him aside with a single swing of its mace, I had had enough time to cast the 'Blade of Virulent Flame' upon my sword and I leapt forward to meet its charge. Stepping inside its guard, I brought my sword down in an overhead sweep with all the strength I could muster, cleaving the creature almost completely in two.

I let out a roar of triumph but there was little time to celebrate, for even as the serpentine demon fell lifeless to the floor the ground shook violently. Just as Medius had foretold I spun round, flaming sword in hand, as the winged demon that had been circling overhead landed on the hillside. It was a terrifying sight, maybe twice as tall as a man with bat-like wings and black talons the size of long daggers. I let fly with a bolt of fire but to my dismay the flames simply crackled harmlessly about its torso and dissipated. Caleb, who had been standing nearest, charged in heroically to meet it. To the horror of the rest of us, the demon lashed out with terrifying speed and tore his face and half of his head clean off before he could even bring his sword to bear. Badly shaken, I attempted to conjure another bolt of flame, but either through some mistake made in haste or fear, or through the influence of the infernal place in which I stood, my spell went awry and I was engulfed in my own fire. Fortunately I was not burnt, but before I could do aught else the demon was upon me. It caught me about the ribs with its claws, bruising them badly and ripping clear some of my chain but not seriously wounding me. I struck it back cleanly with a blow that would have felled an armoured man, but to no avail.

Just then, when it seemed things could not get any worse, there was a blast of lightning from behind as Caelestis arrived, and Dunstan fell dying, outlined in white fire. The winged devil in front of me took immediate advantage of my momentary distraction and lunged, claws outstretched for my face. I tried desperately to bring my sword up to block them but to my horror I knew that I was too late. Time seemed to then slow down as the talons came ever closer, ready to tear the life from me. As it did so I saw my life flash before my eyes, my apprenticeship in Cad Gadu with Garius, my first hound Gelert, evenings in taverns with Theo, my pride as I took the Oath and was accepted into the Order, times good and bad at Severn Temple, binding Drudwhil as my familiar and finally moments from the long journey across Europe to this desolate hillside where my life was now about to end. Yet just as the claws were so close to my face that I could smell the blood of Caleb upon them, they were suddenly withdrawn as the demon turned abruptly to look back down towards the ruins. With a look of fury it launched itself up into the air with a great beat of its leathery wings and flew off swiftly down the hill. Whatever Medius was doing there had almost certainly saved my life. I could only hope that we had bought him enough time.

There was no time to ponder such matters though for Caelestis remained and he could yet kill us all. The fight that followed was chaotic in the extreme. In the darkness and confusion of battle, with no doubt the infernal aura aiding in some malevolent way, Giovanni slipped and accidentally hit Drudwhil instead of Caelestis and I in turn missed as well and my bolt of flame struck Giovanni in the back. Fortunately neither my familiar nor Medius' consortis were critically wounded though Giovanni was out of the immediate fight. With Sergeant Eadhild overcome with a fit of terror that left just Caelestis and I to finish matters. We immediately called forth elemental magicks and flung them at each other, fire from me and lightning from him. Our parmae flickered under the assaults but both held, albeit badly weakened. Drudwhil attacked Caelestis then, breaking his concentration as I let fly with a second bolt of flame, this one backed up with half a rook of ignem vis. The fire engulfed him, shredding what little remained of his parma and searing the flesh from his bones. Yet the taste of victory turned sour quickly as although his body was so badly charred that he could not possibly live, Caelestis smiled horribly and said "Not enough" as his hands once more shaped the arts of creo and auram. Then, suddenly, there was an almighty scream from off in the dark ruins behind him. I hurled a final bolt of flame at him and hit true. For an awful moment it seemed as though my fire would once again fail to slay him, but from down from whence the scream had come there was a great explosion and the light in his eyes died as his body fell smoking to the ground like so much charred meat.

About half an hour later a blood-soaked Medius returned. He did not speak of what had happened within the temple, but it was clear that we had succeeded, so after gathering up the remains of Caelestis and the bodies of our fallen fellows we made our slow way back to the arch. Our initial attempts to pass back through the arch failed so Medius used Petrus' dagger once more and we stepped through, grateful to be out of that damned place.

Back in the Bekaa valley the sun was just beginning to rise. Medius was in no mood to tarry, not even to wash off the blood that he was drenched in, so after applying a salve imbued with the 'Chirugeon's Healing Touch' to Giovanni's burned back we set off again. After half a day's march, as we looked behind us we could see a huge column of black oily smoke rising behind the arch. It must have been a fearsome blaze to behold. Only now was Medius content to stop and so we slumped gratefully to the ground, lying in the cool long grass by the riverbank as he tried to wash off the blood, which thankfully was not his.

We had been there for less than a quarter of an hour when Mehmet and four Bedouin warriors arrived. It seems that after ten days had passed without our return, he picked his four bravest men and set off to try and find us, another indication of the nobility and loyalty of these reclusive folk. They helped us build a pyre for Dunstan and we held a small ceremony to mark the passing of a brave warrior. A 'Charm against Putrefaction' was cast upon Caleb's body and then it was wrapped in cloth so that it could be returned to his family, as is apparently the Jewish custom. The next morning we resumed our march back to the desert, but stopped abruptly after just a few hours when Medius, who had been acting somewhat strangely ever since descending down into the ruins, said that there was something still to be done, though he did not know what. After some moments' meditation, he rose abruptly and told us that we had to go back, although he admitted he was still unsure exactly what for. Needless to say there were more than a few raised eyebrows at this decision, however having come all this far there was no way I was going to let the task go half done, even if Caelestis, or at least what remained of him, was now in a sack by my feet and Medius didn't know what we had still to do. Medius assured us that what he wanted did not lie within the infernal regio, and indeed, told us that with the passing of the corruption that Caelestis had brought, the tainted regio should have faded with the first touch of sunlight.

Mehmet provided us with camels and he, Medius and I rode back up the valley. There was no sign of a regio beneath the archway and the land beyond it was now a fourth magnitude magical aura. We reached the old temple without any further problems. Mehmet elected to wait outside as Medius and I headed down into the depths of the ruins, which extend deep under the ground. All about us was evidence of the fire that we had seen from a distance, with the ancient stone walls covered in thick black soot and an acrid burnt smell lingering in the corridors. Although the blaze seemed to have burnt so fiercely that nothing could have survived I was still nervous, wondering if the infernal had one more surprise awaiting us. Medius however remained almost preternaturally calm, confidently leading his way through the maze of tunnels.

Eventually we emerged into a large room in the heart of the temple with a crude altar in the middle of the room. The fire had not reached this part of the temple and there were signs that the place had been looted recently, with various artifacts and items scattered haphazardly about the place. Without so much as a pause, Medius strode over to one side of the room and uncovered a large red leather bound book. This he said was what we had come back for. The tome defied his attempts to open it until he read aloud the latin words carved into the walls saying "For the glory of Rome". The clasp holding the book's strap firmly in place sprung open and Medius eagerly opened it, keen to uncover its secrets. As he did so a brilliant white light spilled out from the book, filling the entire room. I watched as Medius began to read and saw to my horror that as he did so the hair on his temples was turning grey and his skin wrinkling even as I looked on. As quickly as he was able Medius dropped the book, which promptly slammed tightly shut, the strap sliding back to hold it closed once more. Amidst the smells of dust and soot there was the now the unmistakable and unsettling tang of twilight in the room.

Medius gathered his waits as quickly as he was able and asked me to burn a series of astrological parchments, presumably drawn up by Caelestis, which I duly did. This completed we left, with the book held firmly under my arm. As we wound our way back up to the surface where Mehmet was waiting Medius told me that under no circumstances could the book be allowed to be taken and if anyone was to try to do so then I was to use any means necessary to protect it. I could not help but wonder what this book was, but after having seen what reading it had done to Medius I had no desire to open it.

We met up again with Mehmet, who if he noticed the changes in Medius did not say anything, and thence back to the others and then the desert. The burning sands were much easier to pass with the help of the Bedouin and within a few days we were back on the road to Krak des Chevaliers, looking up again at the mountains that separated us from Tripoli.

After an overnight rest we pressed on up the mountains as swiftly as we could. Thankfully there was no sign of any of the Saracens who had assailed us previously, however we were soon to come face to face with a much more frightening foe. We heard the sound of hooves behind us after a day and a half's climbing and decided to scramble off the road and let the riders go past. As they rode near we could see that there were 18 heavily armed crusaders with a red cross on their white shields and harsh unforgiving expressions on their faces. Unfortunately they spotted one of our party and their commander demanded that we coame down, obviously taking us for brigands. As we made our way cautiously out of hiding and drew nearer I could feel the weight of the Dominion they carried with them as an almost physical presence. There was a very intense feeling of being judged and found wanting, and for a moment I swear I could feel my Gift flicker like a candle in a breeze.

Thinking quickly, Giovanni, resuming his guise as Sir Antonio's, reassured them that we were simply pilgrims to the Holy Land, much as they. Their leader, a harsh-faced, humourless man in his late thirties, seemed to accept this and in return stated that they were Knights of the Hospital of Saint John. They threw us a couple of skins of water and then rode off. I tried to hide it as we resumed our trudge up the mountainside but in truth I was badly shaken by this encounter. I have experienced the power of the Dominion in towns and cities, but never as fearsomely as this and never had my Gift felt so fragile in its grip. I can only hope that most crusaders are more like Sir Heinrich than these, or they will pose a potential threat to the Order than may rival, or possibly even exceed, that of the UnNamed House.

Thankfully the rest of our trek back to Tripoli passed without further incident. Caleb's mother was obviously distraught about the news of her son's death, but we could at least reassure her that he had died a warrior's death. Giovanni was able to secure us a ship after a fortnight and so soon we were on our way back home. Despite the concerns of the ship's captain about attacks by Greek warships, the journey back to Venice was swift and trouble-free. Arriving back in the great harbour of Venice, we decided to remain on board to avoid any of the problems we had experienced on our outward journey and Giovanni was once more dispatched to find a ship that could take us back to France or England.

Yet, as before, finding suitable passage on from Venice proved to be difficult, as the continuing conflict with the Genoese meant that ships were few and far between. Giovanni was able to find one vessel heading to La Rochelle, but he reported that it was in a sorry state and when we went to look at it for ourselves there was enough doubt as to its seaworthiness that, with the memory of the Pillars of Hercules still vivid in our minds, we refused to sail on it, even if it meant staying longer in this city of vipers. Our ship had to take on fresh cargo so we were forced to venture into the city itself and take up lodgings in an inn. Medius adopted a different image than before, going under the new name of 'Angelo'.

Although this ruse was sufficient to evade any attentions from Don Fabio or any of the other so-called 'great' families of Venice, Giovanni noticed that he was being followed as he sought further ships for us. He tried to avoid leading whoever it was tailing him back to us by hiding out in an inn and paying a boy to send a message to warn us. That evening however, as we debated what to do about this latest spy, a messenger going by the name 'Roberto' arrived at our inn. Roberto said that he had come on bearing message for Medius on behalf of his master, Magus Thucydidus, follower of Criamon, of the Cave of Twisting Shadows covenant. Still cautious, but curious to know what a magus from Domnus Magnus Criamon wanted with us, we followed Roberto to speak with Thucydidus. I accompanied Medius, still in my role as Hoplite, though he stated that I was only to use non-lethal methods if Thucydidus was to try to take the book, which I carried in my pack for safety.

Despite his illustrious home covenant, Magus Thucydidus was waiting in a house in one of the poorer quarters of Venice, a fact that immediately aroused my suspicions. An old man, Thucydidus was hospitable enough when we met him, though the sense of his Gift and the stench of twilight about him were strong enough to be felt from some distance away. After initial pleasantries, he and Medius went to speak in private in a side room. They remained there for a fair while before Medius emerged and told me that Thucydidus had told him much about the book and just how important it is that it does not fall into the wrong hands. It is apparently called the 'Codex of Rome' and the study of it has been Thucydidus' life's work. Medius asked me to show the tome to Thucydidus who had professed a strong desire to simply set his eyes upon the book before entering final twilight. The sight of the book clearly meant a lot to the old Criamon for there were tears in his eyes as he saw it and he was deeply grateful for just the short glimpse that he was allowed. As we made our way back through the narrow Venetian streets, Medius asked me to keep the Codex secret, even from the concilium, and to hide it carefully in my sanctum until a better place could be found. After a little hesitation I agreed to both his requests. What exactly this book represents I know not, but I have seen enough of its power to realize that in the wrong hands it could be extremely dangerous and several members of our council have shown themselves to be less than capable of keeping secrets.

The next day our luck changed as Giovanni discovered that the 'Santa Maria de la Croce' was back in port and the captain had agreed to take us back to La Rochelle. Our good fortune continued on the long voyage home as the weather stayed fair and even the seas between the Pillars of Hercules offered little threat. After a short wait in La Rochelle, we were able to catch a ship back to London and thence overland to Gloucester and the covenant, where we arrived a few days before the end of Summer 1167.

Long will the dramatic events on that dark hillside in the Bekaa Valley live with me, even now as I sit back in the warmth and security of my sanctum I can still see in my mind's eye the demon's claws just inches from my face. I was lucky this time, next time fate may not be so kind, so I must redouble my efforts to develop my martial capabilities. 'Tis said that those who live by the sword, die by the sword, and if such is to be my fate, as it was that of my pater, then so be it. Yet while falling in the service of the Order would be a noble end, it is one that I would put off for as long as possible. For all the troubles of this world, my life here at Severn Temple is a rich and rewarding one, and the longer that I draw breath, the more enemies of the Order and this covenant can be brought to justice, just as Caelestis was.

Magus Astrius, Summer 1167
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