Author’s note: Well, free Ironman membership is wonderful, much love Jagex, but came at an inopportune time for this particular project, I’m weeks away from needing to do any member’s quests. I’ll just continue the pace as normal, although this means I have a guaranteed partner for Shield Of Arrav. If I’m able to I’ll get some member’s stuff in there – we can already see a bit of it creep into the story here.
Chapter 5: Ernest The Chicken
Inside the Tower’s longhall banquet room, located on the third floor – Cassie and Eric were still shrugging off the strange sensation of floating up through the tower’s central power beam that acted as an elevator. The feast had been serene and quiet, and the conversation stimulating. Cassie found herself sitting next to a young and handsome wizarding student, who introduced himself as Wizard Finix.
“Cassie, you beauty, I am so excited to go see the air altar after this,” Finix had said as she sat down. “You guys have done the tower a great service by helping bring the talisman to us.”
“Oh, it was nothing,” Cassie stammered. She found the young wizard quite attractive and being quite sheltered, didn’t quite know how to react to him being so interested in her as an outsider, although she was fairly sure he was just being friendly. He was now teaching her a new spell, teaching you how to confuse your enemies.
“Just take this,” he said, pressing a rune with some light orange markings into her hand, “and pick a target. Then concentrate on scrambling their mind. It’s ultimately harmless, so why don’t you try it on your friend?”
Cassie looked at Eric, who was talking deeply with a pretty female wizard who Ilona had pointed out as Elriss, another runecrafting hopeful.
The spell was quite easy, and the rune crumbled to dust in Cassie’s hand. A small pulse of purple light leapt from her hand and hit Eric, dissipating as it did so.
Eric suddenly stopped talking. He looked blank. Then he put his hands up to his face.
“Wha…what is going on?” he asked, sounding slightly terrified. “I haven’t even started on the mind bombs yet but I feel like I’ve had pints.”
“Finix,” Elriss sighed, “We haven’t found a mind talisman yet. Go blow someone down a corridor if you really want to pull out pranks.”
“It’s not like we’re running short on mind runes either,” Finix retorted. “Traiborn always has spares from his research lying around the place.”
“Okay, I think I’m back to normal,” Eric said, taking a swig of his mind bomb. “Finix, chuck me one.”
Cassie looked at Finix desperately, shaking her head, but too late, as Eric already had a mind rune that Elriss slyly passed to him. Purple light left his hands too. Cassie then felt what Eric had felt, but probably worse, as she was already one mind bomb in.
Sitting across from them, next to her friend Ariane, Ilona smiled. Cassie had been half listening to their conversation and had caught snatches of ‘Caitlin’, giving her a pang of guilt. It seemed that Caitlin had not been particularly popular, but from what she could tell, neither was Ariane, who sat at the end of the table and talked to nobody but Ilona, although she would often cast glances towards the high wizard’s table, where all the old and powerful wizards, Aubury, Sedridor and some others who Cassie hadn’t yet put names to faces with. On the other hand, Ilona seemed outgoing and popular, other apprentices passing by the table to refill their glasses would nearly always stop and say how glad they were she was back safely.
“So,” Ilona said, “where are we off to after this?”
“You’re not staying here?” Cassie asked.
“Want to get rid of me already?”
“No, no, of course not, I just thought we were returning you to your studies.”
“I’ve talked with Sedridor about that already,” Ilona said. “I don’t have any pressing assignments to do and he’s happy to let me go off and learn more about magic from the world. If it’s okay with you and Eric, I thought we could continue travelling together.”
“That’s fine with me,” Eric said, taking a few more sips of mind bomb.
“Is it okay with your friend?” Cassie said, looking at the shy Ariane. Her face was partially hidden behind a shock of pink hair, she didn’t look especially confident. It didn’t look like she’d want Ilona to leave for long.
“I’m actually okay,” Ariane swished back her hair, sounding a lot more confident than Cassie had imagined. “I’ve got a big assignment from Ellaron that’ll keep me busy for a year or so. It’ll unlock even more abilities for me, I’m sure. He’s always so helpful and open-minded, that old wizard.”
“Unlike some in this tower,” she said, glaring at Finix and Elriss.
The runecrafters looked nonplussed.
“Ariane, don’t take it out on them,” Ilona said, before they had a chance to respond. “Everyone at this table respects your abilities.”
Ariane apologised, or attempted to, and the feast continued on as it had before.
“So what was all that with Ariane back there?” Cassie asked Finix, Elriss and Ilona, now on the forest path directly to Draynor. They had left the tower as soon as the feast ended. Finix and Elriss were already on their way to the air altar, carrying sackfuls of rune essence and the air talisman that Cassie’s group had brought to the tower. Aubury was also with them, joining the runecrafters before heading back to his home in Varrock, but he was up ahead, moving rather sprightly for his age, talking with Eric, who led the way towards Draynor.
“She’s from the village of the seers in Kandarin,” Finix said. “She’s got some very powerful precognition abilities so some of the younger apprentices don’t like her because she didn’t have to work for her abilities. She’s brilliant though, one of the best wizards the tower has taken in in years.”
“She’s just a bit standoffish,” Elriss said diplomatically. “Don’t worry, you didn’t say anything wrong.”
“I do like spending time with her,” Ilona said. “She’s really interesting once you get talking with her. But she’s also the sort of person who’ll probably get her wizardship, get a permanent room to herself and spend her life uncovering the secrets of the world rather than talking with people. She doesn’t like that, normally.”
Ilona spoke well of her friend and looked it. Cassie had been rather taken aback by the bluntness of Ariane during the meal and didn’t quite understand what Ilona saw in Ariane but resolved to think no more of it.
“There’s Draynor,” Eric called back to the rest of the group. “We can stop here for the night.”
“Can we not camp like last time?” Cassie asked.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Aubury warned. “North of Draynor there are a lot more dangers than those in Lumbridge.”
“Aye,” Finix said. “The villagers of Draynor are always telling me to be careful when you’re within five miles of the manor.”
“That manor is a Saradomin-forsaken place,” Aubury said. “We’d be best off avoiding it at night. See, it is already getting dark here. Back at the tower, it’s the middle of the afternoon. The whole place casts a long shadow over Draynor.”
“What’s in there?” Cassie asked.
“A vampyre,” Elriss said, looking quite nervous. “A creature from Morytania that has made this place its home and the people of Draynor its targets.”
“The army of Misthalin won’t come out this far to deal with it,” Eric said. “Though I haven’t heard of it attacking anyone as long as I’ve lived in Draynor, perhaps it’s not as ferocious as vampyres are supposed to be. Regardless, Aubury is right, it’s far more sensible to stop for the night. Although my house is on the north side of town, I have a good lock.”
The market square was closing up for the night as the party moved into Draynor. Cassie noted a bank for future use. She couldn’t see what was in the stalls and as they moved through the village, it became apparent that those would be the only opportunities to buy anything, Draynor really was a small, mostly residential settlement, not far from the border with Asgarnia but not particularly well populated for that.
Eric’s house was on the northern edge of the town. It seemed to be a potter’s house but there was no one around as the party entered.
“Shhh,” Eric said. “My parents are sleeping. They won’t mind if you just flop down on their couches, I’ve done it with friends plenty of times.”
Without much talking as instructed, the party made arrangements for sleeping comfortably among the potter’s wheels and couches.
Cassie found herself looking at the potter’s wheel she was sleeping by and noticed a strange rock lying by it. She put her hands over it and it came away easily. It clearly wasn’t part of the potter’s wheel so she put it in her bag.
The following morning, Cassie was suddenly awakened by a banging on the door. Cries for help followed. Cassie got out of her sleeping bag as quickly as she could and ran to the door, reaching it at the same time as a middle-aged woman, presumably Eric’s mother.
Cassie made quick introductions, Eric’s mother was called Amphora, and looked very much like she did manual labour for a living, tough and sinewy. They didn’t stop long as the banging kept going and behind them, the members of Cassie’s party were waking up and rubbing their eyes.
A distressed young woman stood in front of the door. She looked like she hadn’t slept and had tear stains all over her face.
“Dear, what’s wrong?” Amphora asked. She didn’t seem to be put off stride by a number of strangers sleeping in her front room, Eric being there was clearly the only explanation needed.
“My name’s Veronica,” sniffed the newcomer, “I’ve lost my fiancé,”
“Oh gosh,” Cassie said. “I’m so sorry.”
“Ah,” Veronica corrected herself, “He’s not dead. He’s missing. He’s been missing all night. We were travelling past Draynor to go… get married… and…”
She broke down in another flood of tears.
“I’m really worried he’s not okay,” she sobbed.
“Why would that be?” Aubury asked, moving to the door. His kindly voice seemed to calm Veronica down.
“He went up to the manor,” Veronica said. “I’ve heard horrible things about that place and so has he, he just said he was curious. I waited at the crossroads all night for him to come back but he’s still not here.”
She looked at the party of wizards and adventurers.
“You guys seem like you know what you’re doing. Would you be able to help look for him?”
“Of course,” Elriss said. “We can spare the time to do that.”
“Does that mean we’re going up to the manor?” Cassie said, a bit nervously.
“Anyone who doesn’t can stay here with me and fire up the kilns for Kaolin when that oaf wakes up,” Amphora said. There was a hint of fear in her voice but she made no move to stop Eric or anyone else going as all six volunteered to go and help Veronica.
The manor was bathed in clouds and a dark aura, even though it was making progress towards noon as the party arrived. There was a large fence around the manor, extending further than the eye could track, although that was made difficult by the large forest of trees surrounding and inside the fences, all without any leaves, even though it wasn’t winter. Finix patted one, saying they looked dead, but jumped back when it started to move.
“Those must be cursed trees,” Ilona said. “Keep your distance.”
“Elriss,” Aubury said. “Wait here with Veronica. It could be dangerous and we don’t want to risk all of us.”
Elriss nodded and took Veronica back to the entrance to the courtyard
As they moved towards the large house, the light grew ever darker, and chills swept through the dark path to the manor entrance.
“Do you think this is really a good idea?” Cassie said. “We’re not even sure Ernest went in here?”
“It’ll be okay, Cassie,” Eric said, although he didn’t look sure himself. “I’ve been up here a number of times and survived fine.”
Aubury glared at him.
“You’re taking risks way too much young man,” he said.
“I only mean walking around the garden,” Eric said. “Young kids do what young kids do,”
“Let’s get inside,” Finix said, keen to stop any dissent.
They walked inside the large house into a long entrance hall. A huge, draped staircase led up to the upper floors, candles were burning on walls that were otherwise dusty. There was no sign of life save for a few rats, which disappeared into holes in the wall as the group walked in.
As Ilona let the grand front door go, it slammed shut behind her. Panicked, she tried it but it wouldn’t open.
“We’re stuck,” she said. “There’s an enchantment of some sort on here.”
Aubury frowned and concentrated.
“There’s a route out of here,” he said. “The back door should open. Let’s stick together and see if we can find Ernest.”
“Watch out for the vampyre,” Eric warned. “He may be sleeping, in fact, that may be all he does but it’s probably best we don’t run into him.”
“Good advice,” Cassie said, moving carefully up the stairs. Above her she could see a dark hallway with little light.
“Hello down there,” called a voice, well-educated from the sound of it. “Who might you travellers be?”
Cassie was startled, and looked around to see where the speaker was. A light shining down from above the stairs gave her a clue and she looked up.
An old man with wild hair was shining a torch at the party.
“Who are you?” Eric called.
“Oddenstein’s the name,” he said. “Come up, come up. I’m not sure my landlord would appreciate strangers walking around his part of the property.”
“Oddenstein?” Aubury clearly recognised the name. “So this is where you’ve gotten to, you old scientist. Haven’t seen any of your writings ever since you moved out of Falador.”
“Forced out more like,” said the scientist. “Saradomin’s faithful didn’t appreciate my research.”
Oddenstein lived in what seemed to be the attic of the manor. For that, it seemed spacious, although a good deal of that space was taken off by a myriad of confusing machines that Cassie didn’t dare think to ask about.
“So why are you all here?” Oddenstein said, motioning for them to sit on a couch in the corner. “I don’t get visitors often.”
“We’re looking for a man called Ernest,” Finix said, remaining standing. “His fiancée is very worried about him and says he wandered off in this direction last night.”
“Ernest,” the professor said. “Ernest. Oh yes, my new assistant. He’s around.”
Cassie looked around the room. No one was there, except for a chicken, pecking quietly in the corner.
“And where would… around be?” Aubury asked.
“Right here,” the professor said. “He’s the chicken?”
Cassie and Eric’s jaws dropped. The wizards however looked very interested.
“You mean you’ve successfully transmogrified a person?” Ilona asked. “That’s wonderful.”
“Well, I suppose pouletmorph would be a more accurate term for what this thing does,” the professor said, looking rather embarrassed.
“I should get some notes,” Aubury muttered. “Truly incredible.”
“Can you change him back?” Eric asked, pointedly.
“Well, er,” the professor said, scratching his head. “I’m not sure that I could do that. You see, this place is ravaged by poltergeists. Wild ghosts, can’t do a thing about them. The Count’s always too busy to deal with them and I daren’t ask him, I’m rather scared of the fellow myself but the rent’s cheap and he doesn’t care what I do up here.”
“And what did these poltergeists do?” asked Ilona.
“I turned Ernest into a chicken as a test and my machine broke. I told Ernest I’d fix it in the morning but when I woke up, so many parts had gone. My pressure gauge and rubber tube, and all of my oil. It’s completely gone. It could be anywhere in this house. Well, the spare oil is in the basement. But it’s so very complicated.”
“So,” Cassie said, “we can fix your machine and you’ll turn Ernest back for us? Just like that?”
“Of course, my dear,” Oddenstein said. “I’ve got the results I wanted now. Now I just want to work on a way to harness the power of the clouds that often hang over this house. Ernest can be on his way to get married.”
Cassie noticed the chicken stop pecking and take a suddenly keen interest in the conversation. But it was mostly over as Aubury rose and began delegating.
“Right, let’s split up,” Aubury said. “Groups of two, if you don’t mind, professor. I’ll go with you down to the basement. Finix and Eric, go outside and search around the manor garden. Ilona and Cassie, would you search the house?”
They all agreed and set off downstairs.
On the bottom floor, the air was noticeably thicker and creepier, the pictures on the wall with eyes that follow you around doing very little to help that cause. Ilona and Cassie moved from room to room, keeping an eye out for any of the professor’s equipment. It was dead silent and when Cassie tripped over a broom standing out over the floor, she noticed Ilona ahead of her instantly jump at the sudden noise.
“Sorry,” she said, brushing herself off, but she had noticed something with her face a bit lower. Lying in the dust, next to a closet door was a key.
“Shall we try this?” she asked, moving the key up to the door.
“Wait,” hissed Ilona, but it was too late, the lock sprung open with ease and instantly skeletal hands closed around Cassie’s arm. Cassie felt a jab of terror, recalling the night when she had been attacked by a skeleton in the Lumbridge swamp. But then, she was alone.
Cassie struggled as silently as she could, they had been instructed to keep the noise down lest they disturb Count Draynor.
Ilona levelled her staff towards the hand and unleashed a huge blast of air at the skeleton. Cassie was released and she heard the clatter of bones against a wall inside the closet.
Peering inside, she saw a smashed skeleton lying in disparate pieces, and something that looked like a long piece of rubber tube.
“That’s one of them,” she crowed.
“Shall I take it upstairs,” Ilona offered. “That was good practice but I don’t feel like wandering around much more.”
“Good idea,” Cassie said. “I’ll go find the old guys in the basement. See how they’re getting on.”
“No, no, it’s lever C then E,” Oddenstein was saying to Aubury, who was getting frustrated with the complicated system of levers that kept the manor’s spare supply of oil secure. “It’s colour-coded, it’s not that bad now. It used to be pretty much guesswork.”
“Anything I can help with,” Cassie called down. “We’ve got the tube, professor.”
“Fantastic,” the old scientist called up. “Give us a second, and we’ll have the oil all ready for you.”
Cassie dropped down into the basement and was confronted with a wide open room with several doors and levers and doors within levers, all apparently keeping one tank of oil locked away from potential thieves.
“Wow, I am very glad I didn’t have to unlock this,” she muttered to herself.
“Got it,” called Aubury. “That wasn’t too hard after all.”
The wizard looked a bit ruffled but none the worse for wear as he walked out smiling. Cassie was still inwardly shaking from the skeleton grabbing her and almost thought about telling Aubury about it, but it seemed like a trivial matter now. She remained silent as the older man smiled at her.
“Right,” Oddenstein said, grabbing a can of oil. “Let’s see if your young friends have found my pressure gauge.”
They found Finix and Eric in the hall. Eric had cuts all over his arms, but when Cassie looked closer, she could see that they were actually bites.
“Piranhas,” he moaned by way of explanation. “The pressure gauge was in the fountain outside.”
“I have it though,” Finix said, holding the object up. “Eric was very brave, distracting all the fish like that.”
Eric shot him a glare. But Cassie thought he looked happy, she was starting to pick up on his cues as a person.
“Um… thank you all for turning me back into a human,” Ernest said, rather reluctantly. The reverse process on the Professor’s machine had just gone through and this rather average man was now standing in front of them.
“You’re welcome,” Cassie said. “Shall we take you to Veronica?”
Ernest looked at Oddenstein, as if to say “save me”.
“Go, go,” said the professor. “I only needed you for a couple of days. I have a new assistant moving in tomorrow. Go be with your fiancée.”
Ernest shrugged and turned to follow the group out, who were already saying their goodbyes to the professor.
“Well, that was a good day’s work,” Eric said to Cassie as they walked out of the back door of the mansion and found their way towards sunlight again. He waved at Elriss still standing at the gate, who tapped Veronica on the shoulder and pointed to Ernest.
“We still need to get to Varrock,” Aubury said to Eric and Cassie. “Are you up for a trip up that way?”
“Never been,” both of them said together. “Let’s go.”
“I’m with them too,” Ilona said. “But I’ll see you guys, the wizards that is, to the air altar.”
“Fine by me,” Finix said. “I’m sure you three are going to have some excellent adventures given what I’ve seen of you. The world is going to need people who are as fearless as you, I’m sure of it.”
Cassie didn’t think she was fearless but she smiled at Finix’s words anyway.
Next Quest: Demon Slayer/Shield Of Arrav (one of the two, I can’t see that it matters which way round I do them)