"The air elemental, Fremmoun, has recently returned to the earth after a journey to the third planet of the star Srendix, where he discovered the long-lost Compendium of the sorcerer Paroul," the demon reported sullenly.
Intrigued at this intelligence, the young karcist, Chan, questioned the captive diabolous further on this point without, however, learning more. Satisfied at length that the infernal spirit possessed no further details on this matter, Chan uttered the Greater Dismissal, broke the circle of luminous powder which had confined the demon, suffused the invocatorial chamber with camphor and strode from his house for a turn or two through his gardens.
Deep in thought, the youthful karcist strolled the gem-strewn path which meandered through his pleasaunce, absently driving an archeopteryx from his mandragora beds by hurling a well-placed opal. With a gutteral squawk, the ungainly feathered reptile flapped away through the tall stand of nodding cycads that bordered the garden.
The implications of the demons message were most alarming. On a sudden impulse the young karcist returned to his house, belted on his Live Blade, took up his Waystaff and a purse stuffed with potent amulets and strode off to visit his nearest neighbor.
Chan's house of red stone stood on the southern slopes of Mount Ong; the mountain was a nexus of occult forces and many fellow practitioners of the Secret Sciences made it their home. The domed dwelling of his nearest neighbor, Hormatz, a theomancer, rose on the same slope a bit higher than Chan's house; toward it the impulsive youth headed without further cogitation.
The dome, a handsome edifice of bronze and smoky crystal, stood amid a grove of feathery tree fern. Chan found the decrepit theomancer, his senior by a dozen centuries, busied making oblations to a squat, yellow jade idol of Muvian craftmanship. The elder nodded perfunctory greeting at his approach. Without ado the karcist informed his senior colleague of his information regarding the sylph Fremmoun. The old theomancer was not impressed.
"I fail to see the reason for your concern," he said absently. "However, I will consult my idols if you require further data on the matter."
"I would indeed appreciate it," the youth admitted. "But can you not see the horrendous implications? Paroul was the preeminent sorcerer of the last epoch. It is a matter of common knowledge that Fremmoun is subject to Nelibar Zux. Zux, once he has mastered the Compendium's contents, will thus become the most advanced sorcerer of our day."
"I still fail to perceive the cause of your perturbations," the theomancer reiterated.
"Has not Sarthath Oob, the leader of a rival enclave, sought for some time to enlist the sorcerer in his coven? What a coup it would be for him and what a loss to us!"
The aged theomancer paled as the full import dawned upon him at last. The wizards who dwelt about Mount Ong had long since formed a local enclave. They were twelve in number, lacking only a final member to total thirteen, at which number they could become a full coven. A rival enclave, that headed by the nefarious Sarthath Oob, was in an identical predicament. Both enclaves had made overtures to the sorcerer Nelibar Zux, but without success. Were the nefarious Oob to succeed in persuading Zux to join his group, it would be a coup of considerable value: at once he would achieve full covenhood for his group, thus outranking the enclave of Mount Ong, to say nothing of the prestige he would gain for his group, since Zux, his occult authority newly enhanced by mastery of the long-lost Compendium, would be the supreme sorcerer of the age, his presence lending enormous luster to the coven of Sarthath Oob. The prospect was horrible to contemplate, and Hormatz hurried to consult his collection of gods.
These divinities ranged in size from an amulet of blue paste the length of your middle finger to a rough-hewn monolith of porous lava the height of a full-grown stegosaurus. Some were squat and fat, with features jovial, complacent or sleepy. Others glared beneath crowns of woven vipers, leered with fangs of sparkling sparkling black obsidian or howled in graven wrath, brandishing skulls and scorpions in the grasp of multiplex limbs.
In oracular response to the theomancers queries, a brass godlet from the Southern Polar Continent informed them that Fremmoun had indeed borne with him from the star Srendix a ponderous volume bound in diplodocus hide, whose contents were, however, unknown to him.
A triple-headed eidolon from age-lost Hyperborea, fashioned from a pillar of flint, reported that the sorcerer Nelibar Zux had recently canceled a scheduled tour of the astral plane and remained in the seclusion of his subterranean palace, presumably deep in study of the famous Compendium of advanced sorcery.
The remainder of Hormatzs collection of carven gods professed ignorance in the matter.
"Perhaps the brothers, Themnon and Thoy, can inform you as to the current activities of our rival, Sarthath Oob," suggested the decrepit theomancer. The young karcist offered hasty thanks and departed at once for their abode.
The necromancer Themnon and his twin, the warlock Thoy, dwelt together in a mansion of gray stone on the east face of Mount Ong. Chan selected the shortest path, but it was late afternoon before he reached their mansion, a somber and ominous structure, built on a glassy scarp of glittering quartz which overhung a deep chasm. The mansion bore up a crest of turrets; scarlet lights flickered in its tall, pointed windows; potent runes, cut in pillars of harsh corundum, protected the dwellers therein from unwanted visitors. Before the portal of scaly and verdigris-eaten bronze, a heavy slug-horn hung. Chan set it to his lips and sounded and echoing call. In a few moments the magical fence flickered and went dead; he strode between the pillars and up to the door, which creaked open on rusty hinges. To the worm-eaten lich who served the necromancer and the warlock as butler Chan crisply stated his business and was ushered into a gloomy hall hung with moldy tapestries thick with cobwebs, while the magically animated cadaver stalked into the farther recesses of the mansion to fetch its masters.
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