The Consulate Hall rose triumphantly above the variegated rooftops of the surrounding city of Urvolsk, that lay as an alabaster maze atop the roiling hills of Austr. Within the colossal structure, a tall man, habilimented in a slashed-sleeve doublet, rugged breeches, riding boots, and wolf-hide cloak, moved with purpose to the ornate double doors at the end of the main corridor. Halfway down the pass, two guards bearing a manic man of middling age emerged from a rightward doorway. “Quit your bellyaching, dog, or we’ll give you reason proper to bleat.” The speaker straightened a little as he spied the lone man. “Evening captain.” The captain nodded respectfully, saying nothing as the prisoner was dragged into a leftern passage, protesting all the while. When the party had gone the solitary strider passed through the double doors at the end of the corridor, which let out to a garish, cluttered study in which a old man sat before a wide desk, puffing on a pipe and reading from the pages of a large, weathered book. The elder sat up upon hearing the footfalls of his pelt-shrouded guest.
“Ah, Valyncort. Welcome. I’ve grown so accustomed to our insouciant bureaucrats, I half expected delay.”
“Timeliness is next to godliness, your excellency.”
“Wise words, captain. Sit. Sit.” The aged regent gestured to a plush armchair before his paper-strewn desk. Valyncort did as he was bid, casting a curious glance to the blocky scrawl on thick pages visible between the regent’s veiny, pampered hands. Whatever language the book contained, it was not Urvolskian. Beside the large book was a bottle of ink, a quill and a sheet of vellum which appeared to depict some kind of map, elaborate and intricately detailed.
“Congratulations are in order.” The old man declared, gesturing to the wolf’s head pauldron from which the soldier’s long fur cloak descended. “Slayer of the Dread Hound of Barrikar.”
“Was simply doing my duty, Proconsul.”
“Long has the consulate lauded your skill, but this recent triumph surpasses all expectations. The foul beast was not only possessed of monstrous strength, but wits to match. And so we come to the matter at hand.” The Proconsul closed the antediluvian tome and ran a hand across the cover. “Do you know what this is?”
“Have you heard of Dur Mazr?”
Valyncort chuckled. “Who hasn’t?”
“Tell me what you know.”
The soldier was taken aback by the Proconsul’s seriousness at what he assumed was the set up to a jest. After five seconds without a punchline, he replied with haste.
“He was a Hlfglarean, purportedly a sorcerer of terrible potency, who subjugated the whole of Urvolsk and the surrounding provinces some eight hundred years ago. I had read that ‘Dur’ was Hlfglarean for ‘Lord,’ and so was not a proper name, but a title. Such trifles are the extent of my familiarity. Why do you ask?”
“Before I explain, you must swear to exercise discretion upon the matter.”
“Of course, Proconsul. As beeswax on parchment, my lips are sealed.”
For a long moment the regent silently and severely regarded the younger man, reading the permutations of his angular and weathered face. When he had satisfied himself as to his subordinate’s sincerity, he raised the ancient tome from the desk.
“This is Mazr’s codex.”
“Truly? It was thought to have burned in the cataclysm. It’s hardly aged.”
“Mazr was said to be able to restrain the gears of time and command the elements. If the tales are to be believed, the preservation of a single paltry tome would have proven of little challenge.”
“This is all quite fascinating, but I’m no scribe. I’ve as little knowing of ancient languages as tales of gealdory. I fail to see how I can contribute to your apprehension of the book’s contents.”
“The contents I have already deciphered. It is not for linguistic prowess, but daring, that I summoned you. I know you’ve grown restless and thought the task I am to put to you might whet your appetite. You see, Mazr’s stronghold, Jarnhjalmrodall, though scribed in the records, was never found, and no records of its precise location were known, until now.”
“The book details the location of Mazr’s fortress?”
“Cryptically. Yes. And much more besides. I have prepared a document consisting of my exegesis of the codex. You can understand my reticence in sending along the original.”
“I want you to stage an expedition.”
Valyncort leaned back in his chair. “This is most extraordinary. May I ask why?”
“We’re in substantial debt.”
The soldier spread his hands with confusion.
“I was told all debts had been repaid.”
“We’ve kept the extent of our borrowing from the public. Rest assured, I was opposed to the idea, it was reckless, but I was overruled. Our fields have grown fallow, and so in like fashion have our means of evading arrears. Should our debtors in Karcon and Vanislayde call us to pay, we will be unable. And if we are unable,” the regent trailed off, giving the soldier a grim look.
Valyncort leaned forward apprehensively. “You fear war?”
“They have pillaged their debtors before. In our present state, we stand a paltry chance of repulsing their combined might. But with an artefact of Mazr, our chances would increase substantially.”
“If what is written in the codex is true.”
“Yes, but there is only one way to verify. It is a gamble, to be sure. But what other option do we have? You must confess, it is the elaborate charlatan who would pen a tome of such length as a joke. Besides, if you should reach Mazr’s tower and find nothing within, we will not be any worse off than we were before.”
Valyncort nodded. “I understand and see the wisdom of it. I shall do as you ask.”
“And with haste, I trust. Again, captain, not a whisper of this to anyone beyond those necessary for the venture’s success. As should be obvious, official furnishings are out of the question, too much paperwork, too many scribes. Too many rumors. Should word of the true nature of this expedition reach the public, there is no telling what could happen.”
Valyncort rose to his full and considerable height and inclined his head in respect.