A Magician Enters the Picture
[Hathor]

The man stirred, sighing slightly as he slowly moved arms and legs, eased stiffened shoulders. His eyes slowly opened, revealing a piercing, dark-gray gaze. Despite his whitened hair, he had the kind of face that made it difficult to determine his age--though one got the feeling he was older than he looked. He was dressed in a black robe that was simply made, but of the finest silks. He was also leaning back on silken pillows of midnight blue. The rest of the furnishings in the dimly-lit room were also expensive, though not ostentatious.
Though there were plenty of finely-crafted oil lamps throughout the room, the only light came from four large candles mounted on tall pillars. These pillars surrounded a marble pedestal, on which rested a curious stone. The stone was about the length of a man's arm measured from wrist to elbow, and about twice as thick. It had a glassy appearance, like obsidian, but was even blacker than that, seeming to absorb the light of the candles that fell on it.
Hathor straightened up in a joint-clicking stretch, then abruptly relaxed against the pillows again, a satisfied smile on his face. He'd made much progress in this last session. In fact, he was sure now that the time until he achieved his goal could be measured in months, perhaps even weeks, instead of the years it had been for so long. And still no more opposition than he'd had at the outset. Once he'd reached that goal--why, the world would be his...eventually. But at that point, "eventually" wouldn't matter anymore.
He reached for the plate of bread and cheese that his servants had quietly placed on the table next to him, replacing it four times a day to ensure he had a fresh plate when he awoke from his "meditation." As he ate slowly, his body welcoming the nourishment, he suddenly remembered what he'd sensed just as he entered his meditative state. Someone, or something, had triggered one of his outer traps--a rockfall along the main road through the mountains. He was curious, now, about what had happened, as it had been years since a merchant braved the entrance into the valley.
After finishing his food--enough to hold back his hunger, for now--he crossed to a window and drew aside the curtains, checking the time of day. A last, lambent glow circled the horizon, and a few stars shown high in the east. Just past sunset, then--certainly early enough for him to get in touch with Captain Beya.
He crossed the room to stand in front of a large, wall-hanging mirror. The clear glass, framed in ornately-carved white oak, reflected his gaunt features and the dim room. However, when he said, "Captain Beya," his image swirled and blurred, soon replaced by the image of the captain's office. She wasn't in sight, but Hathor waited patiently, knowing that she would be aware of his desire for communication the moment she entered the room.
[Beya]
Captain Beya strode into her office, frowning as she pulled off her gloves. The soldiers were showing the effects of too much inactivity. Many of them were getting out of shape, losing the edge that they needed for effective combat. Others were becoming restless, picking quarrels among themselves to release pent-up energy--or spoiling for fights with the orcish troops. The soldiers needed something to focus them. Much as it galled her to agree with Groch, she had to admit that she would welcome some combat with the strange party that had passed through earlier. Well, time would tell what they were up to, and whether combat would be necessary.
Now it seemed that Hathor wished to speak with her: the large, oak-framed mirror on her office wall, instead of reflecting her desk and chair, was displaying an image of the black-robed magician. Beya stepped over to the mirror and bowed respectfully before it. "Good evening, sir."
[Hathor]
"Good evening, Captain," he replied cordially. "I am ready to hear a report of any events during my most recent meditation session."
[Beya]
Beya stood straight to make her report. "A party of travelers passed through here yesterday. They claimed to be searching for a missing young man, but they behaved most suspiciously. I've ordered the patrols to report their movements to me. I've detained three of the soldiers for brawling. And Captain Groch is being insubordinate again. Sir."
[Hathor]
Hathor chuckled inwardly at Captain Beya's last comment--she and Groch were always sparring, trying to gain or maintain his favor. Which was fine by him--it kept them from noticing other things. But he was keenly interested in the news of the group that had passed through. He was surprised that any had made it that far.
"Tell me more about these suspicious travelers, Captain. How large a group? And how many did they lose at the rockfall?"
[Beya]
"Seven in the party, Sir. It seems they got lucky at the rockfall, since the orcs didn't find any bodies. There were six humans and one elf ... and the orc sniffer said there was something suspicious about one of the horses." Beya decided to omit mention of the incident with the eagles.
[Hathor]
Hathor was rather surprised that the entire party had survived his trap, though his impassive face showed nothing. And a horse that smelled of magic...though if any of the group was a mage, as he thought likely, his or her horse could well pick up such a scent. Still, this was definitely worth more--and probably personal--investigation.
"Call in Captain Groch and his sniffer, Captain Beya," he said. "I'd like to hear more about what they found."
[Beya]
Captain Beya inclined her head toward the mirror. "Sir." Normally, she would dispatch a sergeant to fetch the orcs, but since it was payday she thought she knew where Groch could be found. "And when Hathor sees the shape he's likely to be in," she thought with a chuckle, "this could be fun."
---------------------
[Pigmakesh]
Most of the other orcs hated to be on guard duty, but for Pigmakesh, it was something of a relief. It was the only time he had to himself, and he could think about what he called "big thoughts." Just now he was thinking about the sun. He was wondering how such an object could give off so much heat and light. It did not seem to be very big when he looked at it, but he knew that objects looked smaller the further away they were. That meant the sun could be any distance away. If it were really far away, then the sun could be very big indeed....bigger maybe, than the whole world. But if it were that big, would that not mean that the world went around the sun? Small objects tended to move more than big objects, he had observed, so it would make more sense that the world would go round the sun if the sun were bigger.
He began to scratch out a map in the dirt with his spear. Placing the sun in the center, he then drew a circle to represent the world. If the sun were in the center then the world must turn, he decided, to create day and night. The stars, he surmised, must be outside the system. He wondered what a star might look like up close. A huge thought struck him. What if the stars were just like the sun, only very far away?
[Groch]
Groch ignored the laughs in the tavern behind him as he stumbled out the door, tripping on his way out. There was nothing wrong with spending one's hard earned money after being paid. And since that no-good, lousy Captain docked him part of his pay, Groch thought with a smirk, there was nothing wrong with relieving Pigmakesh of his. It had bought quite a few mugs of ale. Groch laughed to himself through a loud belch as he turned around to look what he stumbled over.
"Oh, issss you," he mumbled, looking down at Pigmakesh where he was told to keep watch outside the tavern. "Good werk, yesss, for onsse."
Groch started to laugh uproariously, staggering into the street as he clutched the sword at his side. "And now!! Back to worrrk!" Singing a raunchy tavern song, he started down the road.
[Pigmakesh]
Pigmakesh watched as Groch stumbled down the road, smearing the star map he had been drawing in the dirt. He sighed heavily. In his mind, he had the map pretty much memorized, but it was harder to see it when it was just inside his head. Taking his spear he painstakingly began to recreate his vision in the dusty road. There were some stars that moved from year to year, he knew. He wondered if his new way of looking at things might account for that somehow.
[Beya]
Captain Beya rounded a corner and, unable to stop herself in time, ran headlong into the orcish captain. "Watch where you're going, you big oaf!" she snarled, rubbing her head. Regaining her composure, she added crisply, "Report to my office immediately, Captain Groch. Hathor wishes to question you. Pigmakesh too, if he's--oh, there you are, Pigmakesh."
[Pigmakesh]
The little orc looked up and saw Captain Beya standing with Groch. He saluted smartly, accidentally knocking his metal helmet askew. "Um.... Ma'am, Yes Ma'am! Right away, Ma'am!"
[Groch]
The orc smirked and followed with his own salute, mockingly snapping to attention before pushing past Beya. The ale still thick on his breath, he started to roar into the streets as he walked to her office.
'Orcan warriors rage in battle As fiercly as in bed, Taking wives as easily as cattle As long as they give good...'
[Beya]
"That's ENOUGH, Captain Groch!" roared Beya, her face turning an unusual shade of purple.
[Groch]
Groch continued down the road, silent but with a self-satisfied grin on his face. Outside Beya's office he paused, knowing how Hathor would be waiting. With a much more serious expression, he followed Beya into the office, ignoring Pigmakesh as he scrambled in behind them.
[Hathor]
Hathor watched Captain Beya and the two orcs enter into his field of vision. Despite his sober expression, Captain Groch was obviously drunk. However, that was nothing new for an orc, so he merely said, "Captain Groch, I'd like to hear what about you and your sniffer found at the rockfall two days ago."
[Groch]
Groch nodded sternly. "Yes sir," he responded, sounding strangely respectful. "We examined what was left after the rocks fell, and found no casualties. We doubt that anyone was killed or seriously wounded, since they had moved out of the area by the time we got there with no apparent delay."
He cocked his head back towards Pigmakesh. "The boy here thinks he smelled some magics in the area...some sort of strange horse."
[Beya]
Beya was disappointed that Groch had managed to appear reasonably sober and respectful. One day he'd go too far in front of Hathor and then perhaps the orcish troops would be dismissed. Though she had to admit the sniffer was useful. Maybe they could just keep Pigmakesh and replace Groch with someone reasonable, someone who would treat her with respect.
[Hathor]
Hathor turned his grey gaze on the small ogre, nearly hidden behind Captain Groch. "Can you tell me more about this 'magical horse?'" he asked mildly. "And," he added, sweeping his gaze across all three of them, "were any members of the party mages?"
[Pigmakesh]
The little orc poked his head to the left, then to the right of Captain Groch, trying to see around him.
"Uh, sir, yes sir! Definitely a mage, sir. A female elf. She went over the side of the cliff in the rock slide and someone pulled her up, sir. I...I'm not sure about the horse, sir. It's a kind of magic I've never smelled before. Like rosemary, sir, with a touch of sage and lemongrass."
He stopped, at a loss for words. It was hard to describe how different kinds of magic smelled to someone who wasn't a sniffer like himself. Elf-magic smelled like marigolds and pine. Human magic smelled like sulfur. The few times he had smelled dwarf magic, he caught a sniff of coal and spring water.
"Um, it might be some kind of illusion magic, sir. I'm not sure."
[Groch]
"Illusion magic or not, it wasn't such that brought all those birds into this room," Groch interrupted with a slight smirk off towards Beya. "By the way, Captain, your cleaning girl talks too easily after a few sips of ale. And I'd be careful sitting down...she left a nice bit of eagle crap on your chair to surprise you with."
[Beya]
Captain Beya lost her cool. "You see what I have to deal with, Sir!" she exploded to Hathor, not caring that she sounded petulant.
[Pigmakesh]
The captain's outburst startled Pigmakesh, who tried to hide himself behind Groch. He hoped that the conversation between his superiors would not focus on him again. The only time he ever got much attention was when people needed his skills, or when someone felt like beating him up. Unfortunately, the latter circumstance was the more common of the two, and it had made him quite skittish.
[Hathor]
Hathor merely raised one eyebrow. "Eagles, Captain Beya?" he asked. His tone was mild, but there was an undercurrent that said he expected a full answer.
[Beya]
Cursing inwardly, Beya gave Hathor a much-trimmed version of the scene in the office when the tall, cloaked man had summoned the birds with his flute. "That was part of the reason I suspected them," she finished. "If they really had been wealthy merchants they would have simply paid the toll without quibbling. I don't know whether that man used magic to call the birds. For all I know, they're his pets. He looked like a strange one."
[Hathor]
Hathor fixed Captain Beya with a stern gaze. "You should have told me about that at the outset, Captain--no matter if it's personally embarrassing. The information is more important."
He frowned, thinking hard. A party of travelers containing at least two mages, one using a type of magic with which he was unfamiliar. And he had never been a believer in coincidence--he found the timing of this intrusion troublesome. What had brought them here?
[Groch]
Groch placed his hand on his sword, with a sneer on his face. "They couldn't have gotten far. And despite the Captain's orders not to follow them, the sniffer here could still find the trail. Let us go after them!"
[Hathor]
With a sharp gaze at the ogre, Hathor replied, "No, Captain. No...I wish to test them myself first, and gauge their powers and abilities. But remain there until you hear from me again--I may have use for you later."
He turned away from the mirror, the reflection of his own room returning with a wave of his hand. Striding across the tower room, he carefully picked up a large, black bowl, as well as a small table, and brought them to his cushioned couch. While the mirror was keyed only to its twin in Beya's office, his scrying bowl would allow him to search the valley and beyond.
He searched along the road to Abydos, finally spotting them almost a full day's journey from the crossroad that led to his keep. He watched the group for a moment, as they were gathered around a fire and eating. 'Not a very preposessing lot,' he thought, though he knew full well that looks could be deceiving. He sent his consciousness further into the woods surrounding them--nearly into the mountains, in fact. With a small smile, his magic caught hold of two large wolf packs and spurred them toward the campsite. 'Very well, strangers,' he thought as he turned his scrying back to the camp. 'Let's see what you're made of.'

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