"What a dump." Spider gave its opinion on the ruins. "Umm was this a church or something before it dropped to bits?"
"A Monastery. It still is. Once over it dominated just about all of Humper's Hummock. The number of monks dwindled and the place began to fall into disrepair. Shame really. It must have been a beautiful building." Raze said.
"It was, yes." Spider agreed. "I must have been here pre slag heap. Surely I wasn't owned by the sack cloth and self flagellation brigade! Say it isn't so!" It wailed dramatically.
"Well if you were, you'll be documented here. There are still a handful of monks here, living in the west wing." Raze said. "Should we go and inquire? I doubt the students have ever seen the monks. I've only seen them three times."
"My Ma says they're all weird." Seth said knowingly.
"Yes, this one coming towards us looks a bit creepy." Theo edged closer to Seth.
"Good day, sir. We're from the University." Raze said confidently, holding Spider so it was clearly visible. "Students often come to see the ruins."
"Would you like to break your fast with us? The Brothers prepare a meagre, but ample, meal." The Monk asked.
"Er ... I'm ..."
"We'd be honoured." Spider accepted for everyone. "Raze, you clod. This is Mage Raze Farren and these are his pupils. I am Spider and you don't look as alarmed as I expected with the fact that I'm talking."
"I'm Brother Snogger and my Order and I have seen many things. Not alot alarms me. Please, follow me." Brother Snogger headed to the dwelling area and the rest followed on. They were led through a big oak door and into a dingy stone corridor that was cold, damp and eerily lit by flickering candles.
"No wonder they all buggered off. This place makes my mantras crawl." Spider said.
"It is a bit gloomy." Raze agreed. "At least we're getting a free breakfast that isn't going to attack us." Brother Snogger led them to a hall with a vaulted ceiling that was high enough for birds to nest in. The breakfast was more meagre than ample and consisted of a few dry beans and a stick of celery.
"Was the meal to your liking?" Brother Snogger asked, as another monk, Brother Rubstick, glided over to collect the crockery.
"Delicious." Raze lied and the students all nodded in agreement. "We really should be ..."
"I have a matter to discuss with you." Brother Snogger shifted his eyes from Raze to Spider.
"You do?" Raze asked eagerly. The Monastery could be the only place with documentation about Spider.
"In my private sanctum. For my own security and focus of mind, I will see you alone. I must also insist that you leave your staff. Brother Rubstick will lock it in the vaults if you like." Brother Snogger nodded ponderously.
"No chance." Spider said flatly. "I've been in a vault before and I didn't like it. Dark, dusty places with someone's collection of rare stamps for company. No thank you."
"Spider can stay with us." Theo spoke up. "We'll take good care it, Raze." Raze looked at Brother Snogger and he nodded. If he hadn't nodded Raze was prepared to simply leave the monastery. They were a team. Brother Rubstick took the students, and Spider, to a small library with a few stark tables and chairs among the stacks and rows of books. "Oh well. Pick a book." Theo shrugged his shoulders.
"Stuff that." Seth stated. "So do you think this place is haunted, like folk say?"
"Well I wouldn't stay in this dive even if I was dead." Spider said. "Now Shadowfall Hall is very haunt-worthy. Dozens of rooms to lurk in and lots of people to unnerve. There are cellars and attics too and creepy paintings and suits of armor and dusty old books."
"I've seen paintings of Shadowfall Hall." Berwick sat on a dusty old table. "It must have been quite something in it's day. How do you know about it Spider?"
"I'm not sure but I think I spent alot of time there, probably as a broom handle or something. Paintings? Is it not there anymore?" Spider asked.
"You've been there?" Theo asked in amazement. "It hasn't been inhabited for a century. The last Lord Shadowfall died without a heir. According to history books, the place got looted pretty harshly. The people of Sunstroke took it over about seventy years ago but there's only half of the building left and the only thing that haunts it are tourists."
"Similar to this cack-hole." Spider said. "Anyone know any drinking songs?"
Raze followed Brother Snogger into a tiny cell containing a table, a chair, and a wooden sleeping palette. Even if he'd wanted to wreak havoc with Spider, he'd end up causing more damage to himself.
"Your Staff. How did you come by it?" Brother Snogger sat on the only chair.
"Believe it or not, I found it in a scree pit." Raze stood by the only door. "Do you recognise it? I can't find out anything about it at all."
"I know what I assume you know too. It's very old and very valuable. It's probably the only sentient artifact still in existence."
"That's about the size of it yes." Raze hoped he didn't sound too disappointed. "I'm sorry if I've wasted your time with Spider, but I know nothing of its origins, nor does Spider."
"Did you refer it to the University Elders?"
"Heck no. I ... I mean they were otherwise engaged and I had obligations to my students. This field trip." Raze ad libbed.
"Elder Winkle was a sixty year old Master when I became an Elder." Brother Snogger said and Raze just stared at him in surprise. "I'm about one hundred and five, give or take a few." He smiled at the look on Raze's face.
"You were ... are ... a Mage?" Raze asked stupidly.
"Was. I know when it's time to hand over the reigns, unlike some." The Monk said, obviously referring to the current Elders. "There's no tactful way to say this so I'll say it how it is. Your Staff, Spider, carries a Curse."
"What?" Raze exclaimed in alarm. "What sort of curse. Curse as in ... magical Curse?"
"I've no way of knowing the nature of it but yes, a true magical Curse. No one uses Curse magic today and the ability to do so has gone, quite rightly too. When I was your students' age, the ability was still there and still used, albeit rarely. Because of that, the need to spot Curses was also still there. It was one of the first disciplines I learned. Spider is Cursed."
"I don't know what to make of that." Raze said in bewilderment. "This may be a silly question, but are all Curses bad?"
"Curses were generally applied as caveats. 'You can still do ABC but if you want to do DEF there will be consequences.'" The Monk explained.
"So it's Spider who carries the Curse and not Spider who can cast Curses. Is that right?" Raze tried to keep up.
"Unfortunately tools were normally crafted to deliver the Curse. After all, consequences don't apply to tools. It doesn't care if all the crops die or the mayor gets scabby virus."
"So Spider is dangerous?" Raze asked in despair. "It would explain the slag heap, the lava cavern and the vault. Brother Snogger, this is very important, given Spider's sentient state and intelligence, will it know about this Curse magic?"
"I've no way of knowing for sure so I'd just be guessing, but I'd say yes, it is aware of it. Even if it isn't aware of the Curse magic's nature, I can't see a remarkable Staff like that being unaware of such magic imposed on itself."
"I see. Excuse me." Raze left the cell with a hundred emotions roaring round his head and none of them were nice.