Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with a great story from Greyhaven, entitled
The Cotton Homunculus
Joining me in this podcast are Cordelayne Valkaris, as Jariel, and Margaritte, as Bronwyn.
Background music by Smartsound
It is a constant source of amazement how seemingly innocuous little things can turn out to be very troublesome. When faced with the extraordinary, no matter how small, it is often best to conduct an appropriate investigation to properly understand what you are dealing with. You may find the result surprising.
Permit me to illustrate this by example, by telling you about a little handkerchief that young Bronwyn once found in Brittany.
When visiting the Hidden Vale a favoured haunt of ours is the Hearth of Britannia tavern in Kingsport. It gives us an opportunity to catch-up with our good friend Jarial “Brightstaff” and his sidekick, Ned, Farmer Burniston’s son. These two likely lads are often found propping up the bar and helping drain the establishment of whatever exotic imported ales are on offer. I can remember one evening at the tavern in particular which turned out to be more eventful than expected…
Three hearty tankards of ale arrived at the table, delivered with a flourish and a cheeky wink from Megan who always looks after us well. These were traditional rim-surpassing brews with large foamy heads trickling over the sides and pooling on the table top.
Very much a young man of action rather than words, both of Ned’s hands shot out and grabbed the nearest tankard with the lightning speed of a hungry praying mantis. Whipping the drink to his mouth, he continued to guzzle down the liquid as though his very life depended on it. Considering that this drink happened to be “Old Clobber”, one of Scrattock’s brewery’s finest with a reputation of disconnecting you from your senses in short order, gulping it down may not have been the wisest course of action.
Jarial noticed the look in Bronwyn’s eyes.
“Don’t worry Bronny, you can have some of mine,” he said. “Only a small mouthful, however. If you copy Ned we will be scraping you off the floor!”
“Great!” She beamed, and took a hearty swig.
The reaction was immediate. To the hardened connoisseur, Old Clobber makes your cheeks tingle as the tongue gets to grips with the surprisingly broad and robust flavour. Young Bronwyn however suffered the experience of a true novice; that is to say feeling an almost physical attack on the brain, very similar to being clobbered on the back of the head. Yes, it was a well-named drink.
Leaping off her chair she half spluttered and half snorted out the offending brew.
“Crikey! What the hell is in that stuff?” She gasped. “Oh God, it’s even coming out of my nose!”
Shaken, she sat back down and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe her face. Immediately I grabbed her wrist.
“What is this you have?” I enquired.
“That’s a flashy one Bronny!” said Jarial, intrigued. “Did you steal it?”
What had caught our attention was the fact that Bronwyn’s handkerchief had a border pattern in a strange glowing pink thread.
“No I didn’t steal it! I found it!” she chided Jarial. “Nice though, isn’t it??”
Bronwyn laid the handkerchief out flat on the table so that all could appreciate the pattern properly.
“Too posh for a street urchin like you!” laughed Jarial.
Bronwyn stuck her tongue out at that (even though I have warned her not to do this many times!)
Then something strange happened. As we were all admiring the handkerchief’s craftsmanship, the thread pattern changed colour from pink to blue and then back again!
“Whoa! Did you see that? It’s not done that before!”
Now this is where my note about investigating the extraordinary becomes pertinent. Luminescent thread may be a beautiful and a sought after material, however it is not of any great interest in itself. Such a thing is commonly found in a Shardfall region, for those brave enough to collect it. Thread that changes colour is another matter entirely. That is evidence of warped Shardfall magic, or other magic entirely. Such things need proper examination to determine the nature of the enchantment and any likely danger it may pose.
“Ok people, it appears that young Bronwyn has found herself a magic handkerchief!”
“Cor! I always wanted one of those!” enthused Bronwyn, then her expression changed. “Is that good magic or bad magic?”
“Well, let’s find out shall we?” I said and cleared the drinks off the table to make some room.
“Everyone be quiet and watch the handkerchief. Oh, and Bronwyn…”
“No fidgeting – it is most distracting!”
“Would I ever??”
The colour change illustrated that the enchantment was active. Next came the dangerous part – to examine the potency of the magic and determine if it was benign or malicious. Naturally, you cannot get an enchantment to reveal itself by gentle coaxing. Especially one that spends most of its time dormant. No, instead it must be commanded, with as great a force as you can muster.
It was my voice of command, cracking like a whip and slicing through the murky tavern atmosphere like a hot knife. The poor tavern customers, out enjoying an evening drink and a bit of cheeky banter, were all stunned into silence with many turning towards us to see what was happening.
The handkerchief twitched!
“POTENTAS VITAK EUSMOD MOLLATIS!”
Words of Power delivered in an irresistible combination such that no magic can ignore! The handkerchief leapt into the air and twisted around, changing shape before our eyes to form a little cotton man-shaped “homunculus”. There was a collective gasp from the tavern punters as the creature landed back on the table spitting and snarling like a cornered feral cat.
“I thought so!” I addressed the handkerchief directly. “You’re a nasty little fellow aren’t you?”
Poor Ned took one look at the creature, a look at his empty tankard, and then another look at the creature before grabbing my ale and guzzling that down as rapidly as his first. After wiping his mouth with his forearm he quickly lost consciousness and tipped over in his seat, crashing to the floor. Two “Clobbers” and you are out!
This sudden noise gave the magic cotton creature a shock and it flew across the room like a startled bat towards the window, zipping over people’s heads as they tried to duck out of the way. Ricocheting off Farmer Burniton’s bald-patch the flying handkerchief missed the window and hit the adjacent wall, stunned and just inches away from freedom.
My legendary reflexes had already sent a dagger spinning blade-over-hilt towards the creature, however even I had been outmatched by young Bronwyn! Only fourteen (and a half as she is constantly reminding us) she had reacted with near-impossible speed, grabbing her small shortbow and quiver in a blur of limbs, and sending one of fletcher Colletus’s finest “True-sight” arrows coursing through the air to catch my thrown blade. Both dagger and arrow struck the homunculus simultaneously, pinning it to the tavern wall, and sending it into wild frenzy, thrashing about trying to escape.
Young Bronwyn was jubilant, “Ha ha! Who can hit a flea in the eyeball from 100 paces?”
“JARIAL!” I barked.
This proved unnecessary as my friend had already leapt to his feet to chase after the creature. More than just a simple apothecary and alchemist, Jarial had also mastered the basics of fire magic. With flames spewing from his palms he grabbed hold of the animated handkerchief which promptly set alight and let out a deafening screech. Jarial pulled the burning creature off the wall in an effort to minimise damage to the tavern.
“NO! THROW IT OUT OF THE WINDOW!”
Quick as a flash, and not a moment too soon, Jarial did as I directed and the little screeching fireball was launched out into the evening air. A mere fraction of a second later there was a loud “BANG” as the homunculus exploded releasing the chaotic magic from its binding physical matrix and sending it dissipating into the atmosphere. Everyone in the tavern dived for cover as the resultant shock-wave sliced through the bottles and glassware behind the bar, showering the poor proprietor in broken shards and a variety of different liquors. A picture of his eminence, Lord British, which had never had a particularly secure hanging, rocked from side to side before falling to the floor with a crash.
There was a moments silence whilst everyone checked that there were still in one piece before it was rudely interrupted by my young protégée.
“That was brilliant,” enthused Bronwyn. “We only came in here for a drink and a chinwag, and we get exploding handkerchief monsters as well! I think this place is great!”
Fortunately, everybody had escaped with only a few minor cuts and bruises here and there, (although many swore that what little remained of Farmer Burniston’s hair was a shade or two greyer than it had been before). I gathered everyone around to explain what had happened.
“I am really sorry about that, it appears matters got a little out-of-hand. I must be losing my touch in my old age! I am truly surprised at the level of pent-up power that was confined in such a small thing. Rest assured the Order will pay for all the damage sustained.” Which was a statement much appreciated by Abbott, the proprietor, and he gave me a grateful nod in acknowledgement.
“What we had here was a simple handkerchief embellished with a pattern in thread taken from a Shardfall region.”
“That would explain the glow,” interjected Jarial.
“Quite so, but not the colour change or the vicious spitting behaviour! Shardfall magic, you see, might have energy but not focus nor sophistication. What we have witnessed is likely a combination of magics! Indeed, I suspect that an entity (or any number of entities) of a dark magical nature has died within the confines of a Shardfall region and the evil released has combined with the Shardfall energy!”
That provoked a bit of murmuring as people speculated about the implications. I ignored all that of course and continued:
“Yes, the Shardfall provides the energy and the source of black magic provides both focus and malicious intent! Not something we want released upon the world. We have seen what a small amount of decorative thread can do – just imagine what an entire garment made out of the material is capable of!”
There was a collective gasp as this point sank in. The mind might concoct all manner of scenarios including ones where the evil material was being worn at the time it became aroused! Could such a thing corrupt the wearer, transforming a person into a maddened creature hell-bent on violence and destruction?
For all we knew, there may have been many glowing garments sold. And the high prices charged for such a special material would ensure that most would end up in the homes of the nobility . (Or worse still: Royalty!)
There was obviously not a moment to lose.
“So, Bronwyn – it is imperative that you tell me where you found the handkerchief so our investigation may commence.”
“OK matey,” she said innocently. “But before we start, I think that you should better have this other one!”
With that she reached into her pocket and pulled out a handkerchief that was completely pink and glowing.
Aye, all manner of fun and games ensued I can tell you. And the more we investigated this corrupted Shardfall cotton, the stranger and more dangerous things became…