Hal Logger lived in his own bit of the barracks, by himself, away from the likes of Bilton and Wiggam. He was in a sound, snoring sleep when someone started battering on his door.
"What in blue soddery is that!" He hauled himself out of bed and realised it was a few hours before dawn. "This better be good." He yanked open the door to see four students and ...
"Drisep? Do I want to know what's going on?" Hal asked warily.
"We can't find Master Raze, Sir." Theo said, clutching a sack full of books. "It's really important and we didn't know who else to go to."
"It's the middle of the night! He's probably asleep." Hal said patiently.
"No he isn't. Harvey picked his lock and we checked." Seth said and Harvey kicked his shins.
"We have to find him, Captain Logger, before it's too late." Theo said desperately.
"So you expect me to send out search parties for an adult man without knowing a valid reason? Tell me what's going on. Drisep I'm surprised at you."
"You should hear them out Captain." Herb said seriously and that really did put the wind up Hal.
"Let's hear it. If I decide you're wasting my time, I'll hand the lot of you to him in Pigger's Tor, starting with you, Drisep." Hal held open his door and they all filed in.
"What do you know about the Shadowfalls and Shadowfall Hall, Captain Logger?" Theo asked.
"Not much apart from most of it was pulled down because it was unsafe. Just like the slag heap eh Whetton?" Hal glared at Harvey and made him squirm.
"The Hall was home to the Shadowfalls for generations and there was a good few Mages along the lines." Theo took out the books and spread them out on the floor. "These are Conrad Shadowfall's diaries."
"W ... what?" Hal said in disbelief. "You'd better explain, Potter."
"I'll take the consequences later, Sir." Theo said impatiently. "Conrad was a Mage, like his father Lord Dougal Shadowfall. Judging by these books they were both very powerful and we've had a glimpse of what old magic can do. Dougal was very proud of his Mage son and started training him up to be his successor when Conrad was barely old enough to hold a book, let alone read one. One great Mage teaching another great Mage. When Conrad was fifteen, his mother died giving birth to yet another potentially great Shadowfall Mage, yet Conrad knew nothing of it. As far as he knew, his sibling died at birth with their mother. Eighteen years later, Lord Dougal broke his leg in a hunting accident and it never healed. He got blood poisoning and knew he was dying. One night, Conrad found his father in the cellar doing magic of wondrous proportions. Wondrous but terrible. Dougal had the translucent form of a young woman, suspended in a gravity based sphere. Dougal attacked his own son with freeze spells that rendered him motionless and Conrad watched in fascinated horror as the girl shimmered and turned to dust clinging to the inside of the sphere. Conrad lost consciousness and he woke in his own bed. He'd decided to pass the incident off as some sort of delusion in his own head but late one night, he heard a carriage, followed by another carriage, then a third one. Each carriage had transported four mages to Shadowfall, one carriage also carried a magnificent artifact that had taken the twelve Mages, and their own rings of twelve Mages each, eighteen years to craft. Just think of it, Captain. One hundred and forty four Mages working for eighteen years. It was a beautiful and priceless, black crystalline staff." Theo looked at Hal.
"The one from the slag heap?" Hal asked in astonishment.
"Spider, yes." Theo continued. "Lord Dougal had sent the estate plummeting into debt to fund its crafting. Understandably, Conrad was not very amused. He waited until his weak and sick father was sleeping and broke into his private study to find out what was worth the entire Shadowfall estate. The staff was a vessel with the capacity to absorb and retain hundreds of spells. The dust girl in the cellar was to be infused into the staff in the hope of giving the staff intelligence. It turns out old Dougal also saw the process as a way of ridding the world of what he saw as an abomination. The girl was Dougal's daughter,, Pagan, and she was the only female Mage to have ever been born. Dougal sensed this the minute she was born and held her captive for eighteen years, until the only way to control her was crafted. A Staff that could be wielded by a man. The girl would never love and never be loved and her father used this as a rod to try and break her and inflicted it as a Curse. Conrad was appalled, devastated, and revolted at what his sister had endured, and what her fate was to be as a property and tool of a Mage who saw her as an object. This was a sister his father had lied to conceal, even to his son. He couldn't bring his sister back so he took another course of action. He took every spell book from every school and study in Sunstroke, including his own and that of his father. He spent seven days infusing the spells directly into the sphere where his sister had been disassembled. Later, Dougal and his associates, unknowingly, transferred an essence containing the spells of two hundred wizards, into the Staff and the staff stored them all, as well as retaining her own. When Dougal died, the associates descended into chaos and squabbles over the Staff, none of them with good intentions. Conrad took the Staff deep into Frostbottom lands and left it with a druidic order of women. After that, it's a mystery that's spanned two hundred years."
"And that's all in those books?" Hal was completely stunned. "So that Staff we found was Pagan Shadowfall?"
"It still is. Dougal gave her the pet name Spider because he considered spiders to be vile, hideous, servants of the impure. He gave her a name that he considered repulsive. Horrible old gett." Theo said in disgust.
"And Raze doesn't know any of this?" Hal asked.
"He knows Spider is Cursed. An old Monk told him. Nosey old fart. He doesn't know how or why or by whom. All he knows is that an unknown Curse means an unknown risk." Theo said miserably.
"Theo, you can't blame him for that. He's a teacher and he's responsible for a school full of brats, especially you lot. Minus Drisep, obviously. I'm still not sure why you're in among it." Hal gave Herb the eye.
"Yes but it's a ... weird arsed Curse! Pagan was fated and condemned never to know love. End of. Game over. Nowhere in those diaries does it say anything dangerous will happen if she does." Theo tried to explain. "Dougal set that Curse because staffs don't love and no one in their right mind loves an object in that way and making his daughter into an object would ensure that. What an old nutsack. Captain Logger, Spider is safe because the Curse has no unsafe repercussions for anyone, just a state of isolation for Spider. The so called Curse is just another part of Spider and a safe part at that."
"We have to find Raze and tell him all this." Seth spoke. "He was on about immobilising Spider and there's no need to. The realm is a better place with Spider in it for a hundred reasons."
"I believe you. I couldn't cope with you reciting all one hundred. You may have noticed that I'm about as magical as that chamber pot. How does one immobilise a staff?" Hal began pulling on his trousers.
"Wrapping it tightly." Berwick nodded.
"Binding it in cloying spells." Seth added.
"Casting advanced nullifying spells on it." Was Theo's contribution.
"Generating a cryogenic freezing chamber." Harvey suggested and everyone just looked at him. "Alright I made that up."
"Chuck it back in the slag heap." Drisep didn't want to be left out.
"The slag heap!" The students all shouted at once.
"Oh no. We have to stop him, Sir." Theo pleaded.
"Alright, alright! I'll talk to Raze but if he makes more sense than you lot, then we have to accept it. He's not a Master Mage for nothing."
Raze sat by the Scree pit with Spider. He'd unwrapped it and put it in the Reptile.
"I can't believe I'm doing this." Raze rubbed his eyes. "Spider it would mean alot to me if you said you understood my reasons."
"Ease your conscience, you mean." Spider replied. "Still I can't blame you, Raze. As far as I know, I've never been responsible for the welfare of others so I have to trust someone who has."
"We've learned quite a bit from each other." Raze said sadly.
"Yes we have." Spider agreed. "I wonder if the other Mages said that before I went in the slag heap, the lava cave, the vault, and bugger knows what else."
"Spider don't. Please." Raze got to his feet and picked up the harness.
"I don't know if I'll remember you the next time I resurface but I hope so. You and the brats."
"Well I'll always remember you. I love you." Raze hurled Spider into the darkness of the scree pit, seconds before being hurled backwards down the scree.
"Raze!" Theo came scrambling over the scree with Dick held aloft. "I've got it! Captain Logger it's in Dick's whirwind!"
"Hal?" Raze got to his feet, just as his other students scrambled into view. "Whatever they've done, it can wait."
"My half cousin Barry waited." Herb ascended from behind a gravel pile and Raze almost toppled into the pit. "A tree fell on him."
"Drisep!" Raze snarled. "I'm serious. Whatever's going on, I don't want to know just now."
"Hey! What the fanny is going on?" Everyone turned round and saw a naked woman being buffeted around in a whirlwind.
"Th ... Theo?" Raze stammered and Theo struggled to direct Dick away from the pit.
"Raze it's Spider!" Seth yelled. "She's Spider!"
"She's ... that's ..."
"Raze you have to help Theo!" Harvey shouted. Raze visibly jumped and pushed against Dick's power.
"It's wobbling!" Berwick shouted in alarm. "You're losing her!"
"Potter! Lose the wind!" Hal ordered. "Now!" Theo jammed Dick into the gravel and fought to dampen the spell. Hal and Herb shot a weighted net, tethered to a harpoon. "Drag her in, Raze." Raze floated the snared woman over the gravel hill.
"You arse! Get me out of this crap. It's chafing." Spider barked. "Oo! what's that?" Spider held out a clump of raven black hair. "Is that mine? A ... arms? My arms? Ti ... "
"Yes those are yours too. Your cape, Herb? Yes I'll pay for the bugger." Raze and Hal cut Spider out of the net and draped Herb's cloak round her. The students crowded round and stared at this beautiful lady.
"Lady Pagan Shadowfall." Theo laughed.
"Huh?" Raze glared at Theo. "So where's Spider?"
"I'm Spider. Torment's Tits man, We've done all this." Spider heaved.
"I think we'd better go to my barrack house." Hal suggested. "I like her, Raze. Straight to the point."