Sulphur Sorcerers

Zonastrild hurried to her father's chambers and frowned when she also noticed her brother, Zwaluw, waiting outside. He was younger than her by three years and they were about as opposite as siblings could be. 
"What are you doing here?" she sneered.
"I could ask you the same." Zwaluw retorted.
He'd been called to his father's office and had not expected to see his older, stuffy sister. She was only three years his senior but acted more like someone from his parents' or even grandparents' generation. They both wore red, the colour of their house, but for very different reasons. The two glared at each other but right before they could start arguing in earnest, the door to their father's office opened and they were greeted by him with a stern glare. 
Immediately the two of them straighten and forget about their mutual rivalry. All three of them take a seat, their father sitting in his large, slightly raised, throne-like chair in front of them. Both Zonastrild and Zwaluw eye the chair with desire as it is the symbol of the head of the family. 
"I've gathered you today to discuss my succession." Their father starts as if on cue, "I'm getting on in years and I want to leave the family to one of you."
Zonastrild shifted in her chair, she was the eldest, surely she was the one most suitable. After all her brother was no better than an air-headed pretty boy. At the same time, Zwaluw opened his mouth to speak, feeling he would be the better choice as his way of forging new connections would help their family grow in the new era in the subterranean mines. But before either of them could voice their arguments, their father raised his hands to silence them.
"I know both of you want to be the next head of the family and I honestly cannot choose between you. Which is why I've devised a contest." He waited a moment and made eye-contact with both to gauge their reaction. 
"What kind of contest?" Zonastrild dared ask.
"Are we allowed to ask for help?" Zwaluw bargained.
"Both valid questions." Their father nodded, "You can both ask one other to join you. For fairness' sake you will be given a week's time to prepare but you will only get the assignment at the starting time. The one who is best prepared, has chosen the best companion and finishes the quest first will earn the right to succeed the family. I will not answer any more questions. All you need to know will be given to you next Wodan's day."
Their father stood, signalling that they were expected to leave. Both Zonastrild and Zwaluw knew that he would not budge. But what had he told them really? Get a friend and prepare for a quest without any more details. It was madness. But they had a week's time to think up a strategy and that would have to suffice. 

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Zonastrild rushed down the hallways. There was only one place she could go and that was the library. Maybe other ancestors had had to deal with a similar scenario, and if they had, the blond Viking-dwarf maiden might find clues as to which items would be necessary. A thorough research base would be vital to this mission and she didn't want to waste any time.
And that was how Zanggors found her, buried in two stacks of books that towered on either side of a table, notebook and pencils by her side and small, tired eyes. This wasn't an unusual look for Zonastrild, but it was a bit unusual since both of them had graduated some years prior. Zonastrild after extended education on history and heraldry, Zanggors after the minimum required amount of effort to pass. Though they had quite different approaches to study, the two of them had become friends. most likely because Zonastrild liked to talk and Zanggors didn't mind listening as long as he could lounge. 
"New research?" Zanggors asked, "Found some new ancestor?"
"If only!" Zonastrild sighed, "My dad has had this crazy idea that me and my brother should compete for the right to succeed him. We have a week to prepare but will only get the assignment next week."
"So, just rest up and see what happens." Zanggors yawned.
"I though I might be able to get some clues in the family records. But there was nothing so I'm now going through the old newspaper records, hoping they picked up on the story."
"That would only work when they made a big deal out of it." Zanggors argued, "I'd think they might want to keep it secret."
"It's possible." Zonastrild sagged, "But what else can I do?"
"Practice some magic that might come in handy? Get food and camping gear and probably ask some people for advice. Where could they send you anyway, it can only either be deeper into the earth or up to the surface."
Zonastrild looked across the table and wondered once more why her best friend was so averse to working. He clearly had amazing ideas. With his pale skin, black hair and small build he looked a lot like the pixies that were said to be part of his family tree. Maybe their playful nature had resurfaced in him. Although Zanggors wouldn't be called playful by most people either, just lazy. 
"With those choices, I'd think he'd send us deeper. Going up to the human world hadn't been exactly safe the last few decades." Zonastrild theorised, "But to do what?"
"You'll just have to be prepared for anything." Zanggors shrugged.
"Well..." Zonastrild said hesitantly, "I'm allowed to bring someone with..."
"And you have no-one else to ask then plain old me." Zanggors concluded.
"I wouldn't exactly call you plain." Zonastrild objected, "But yes, i don't think I could ask anyone else."
She really didn't have many friends. She probably wouldn't have called Zanggors a friend but people always assumed they were since they spent so much time together. But knowing he would be there with her, calmed her nerves a lot. 
"Leave the preparations to me." Zanggors said, "And go practice your magic, we'll likely need it."
And just to be safe, Zanggors made a mental note to collect some extra dust just to be safe. It would be a pain but pixie dust could help them if they were met with a pinch that Zonastrild's fire or earth magic couldn't deal with. 

In a different part of town, Zwaluw was drinking with some friends and getting their ideas on what he should bring. The pub was crowded and loud and absolutely nobody cared about what a couple of young lords were talking about - at least as long as they weren't treating. 
"You'll need tools and ropes." Havik, a gaunt young man from one of the lower families suggested.
"And if this is going to take longer than one day, you'll need food and camping gear. You can prepare these and decide whether or not you need them on Wodan's day." Finch added.
"You can never go wrong with money." Ekster added, "A little bit of gold greases a lot of doors. And then you can buy whatever you need."
Zwaluw nodded, they were all decent ideas, but none were fresh. he'd come up with all of them himself.
"What values does your father favour?" Zilverreiger asked, "He'll likely give a task that tests you on things he cares about."
The tall, thin red-head looked a bit sullen and tired as usual. He was someone who usually kept to himself and stayed largely unnoticed in a group, but once again Zwaluw noticed that he knew what he was talking about. He also excelled at sword fighting and was stronger than he looked. Which was why Zwaluw had asked him to join him on his quest. Zilverreiger had been honoured and had agreed. Like a true friend, he had been quietly going over different scenarios and had a few ideas.
"In my family, something like this would mean we'd need to prove our strength by bringing down a formidable foe. I have a lot of family in the guard after all. Not to mention our credo...."
Yeah, but my family is different." Zwaluw interceded, "There's been a lot of different styles of leadership so it's difficult to draw a line. But my father definitely isn't the soldier-type. He's more of a businessman."
Zilverreiger kept quiet. He was a good thinker, but not a very fast one. He had deduced that even though they might not need to fight a foe outright, that this quest might still be quite dangerous. People in charge often forgot the danger of those that acquired the goods they traded. And Zwaluw certainly wasn't an adventurous person. But then, neither was his sister. Zilverreiger had seen his friend's sister often when they were studying since he was only a little younger than her. They'd often shared classes and he'd been impressed with her studious mind. Zwaluw wasn't as thorough in his studies, but he had a way of gathering people and getting the information he needed that way. Zilverreiger was interested to see this contest play out. 
"Enough of this though, time for some fun!" Zwaluw ended the meeting and signalled the bartender to give a round.
They'd have time the next days to get organised. Tonight Zwaluw wanted to show off his good fortune and to celebrate the fact that he might finally rise up in the family ranks. If he managed to win the contest he would be set for life and he would prove to his sister once and for all that the only way was forward. 

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Wodan's day came far too quickly for Zonastrild. She had her doubts about how ready they actually were for it, but none of the men seemed to share her concerns. They did say women were the ones with the most foresight, but this time she hoped she was needlessly worrying. Zanggors seemed as blasÚ as usual, Zwaluw was busy with his appearance and Zilverreiger looked pretty stoic as if he had not a care in the world. Zonastrild remembered him vaguely from her lectures but had hardly exchanged more than a dozen words with him so she couldn't gauge his expression. 
The duo's talked softly with each other, Zwaluw, despite what his sister thought of him, not all that preoccupied with his looks. He had donned fancy, but sturdy and practical gear. Paying extra to have it fit nicely to his frame was only common sense as badly-fitting clothes and armour would only drag him down in a fight. 
And then their father's steward approached. He carried two sealed envelopes and each duo was given one. Zonastrild had to contain herself not to rip the paper. Zwaluw acted not at all impressed but he too quickly broke the wax to get to the message inside.

Dearest children, 
I task you to find one of the elusive crystals from the sulphur mines.
Travelling through the mines is perilous but I know you will  be careful.
Return with a crystal and it's amplifying powers will be a great asset
meaning the seat of head of the family will certainly be yours.

The letter was signed by their father but as far as assignments went, this one was pretty basic and lacking in instructions. Zanggors handed the letter back to Zonastrild and whispered: "Back to the library."
It seemed they would need to do a little bit more research to know what they would be up against. As they set off back to the university buildings, Zwaluw and Zilverreiger took the time to strategise.
"We could go ahead to the mines." Zwaluw said, "Maybe ask the people close by for clues."
Zilverreiger agreed, the sooner they headed out, the more likely they were to get the crystal. The note said it was elusive, but was that actually a fact? The quiet soldier went to their horses and started unpacking.
"We can leave the tent, we won't need a cover inside the mines. Do we need extra lights?"
Zwaluw smirked and used his magic to illuminate the crystal in his staff. He could adjust the colour and brightness of the light. 
"I can keep this up indefinitely so we don't need to worry about fire or light."
"I've got water covered." Zilverreiger agreed, "We might need to pack some extra food as I doubt we can hunt in the mines."
Zwaluw agreed and after a quick stop at the butcher's and grocer's they were on their way. 

Zeekoet stirred as one of her wards signalled an intruder. She lived deep in the Sulphur mines as the current Duckliss family guardian. Her quarters weren't exactly big, but they were well-hidden and comfortable. And terribly boring. Which was why she got up and raced to the crystal set-up that acted as her security system. The crystals were rare and powerful and property of her family. Few members still visited to get them which was why Zeekoet felt all of the remaining crystals were hers to use. She'd been tasked to stay here until someone came to take over. With their life-expectancy that meant she would probably be here for a long time. And that in turn meant many hours she'd need to fill. 
Zeekoet fiddled a bit with the crystals and sent some of her magic to power them. Just a tiny fraction was enough to show her the entrance of the mines and the two men that had entered. She let her gaze go over their shapes and decided they were not really worth her time. Which meant she would get to scare them. A gleeful smile appeared on her face. 
But just as she turned away from the crystals, two other people entered the image. A woman and another man. They seemed to know the other two but clearly were not on exactly friendly terms. Arguing ensued and Zeekoet was wondering if she could add sound to the video feed when the four suddenly seemed to reach some conclusion and headed into the mines. 
The thin, tall sorceress with fae heritage raced toward the mines. The entrance was a single shaft but soon after the path split and she assumed that the adventurers would split up and try their luck thus. Zeekoet could leave the choice up to them, but to be honest, she just wanted to see how far she could influence them. Her illusionary magic itched to be used on something other than her walls. Interior decorating had it's perks but she wanted to see just how far she could go. The surrounding villages were already primed not to come inside by the efforts of her predecessors. Zeekoet secretly hoped there adventurers would prove to be a bit tougher. 

"How come you guys got here so fast?" Zwaluw yelled.
"We have mad research skills." Zanggors shrugged.
Their trip to the library had been exceedingly short, much to Zonastrild's dismay, but Zanggors had convinced her to only look up the most common knowledge. Anything else would probably be speculation anyway. As such they'd found a few clues in the history of the Sulphur Mines and after that they'd set off, only about an hour behind. An hour Zwaluw and Zilverreiger had lost listening to the local myths.
"As if I'd let you get a head start." Zonastrild added.
They argued back and forth but in the end, it was Zilverreiger who ended the argument:
'We can keep arguing and it will get us nowhere."
He put his pack on his back and started walking. The other three soon followed, quietly. They followed the large cavernous route until they reached a vaulted square, several paths diverging from it.
"Plenty of choice." Zilverreiger gestured when the others entered the space behind him. 
It was at that moment that Zeekoet unleashed her magic. Tiny shards of crystal were embedded in the different corridors and she could send her magic to them by writing in the magic signs she'd learned for as long as she could remember, and likely even before that. Their meaning came as natural to her as breathing and soon one corridor was full of the sound of singing while another seemed to leak heavy shadows. Yet another seemed to be ready to collapse. Zeekoet wondered if such small tricks would scare them off. And if they didn't, whether or not they would travel in group or whether they would split up. 
Zilverreiger drew his sword while Zonastrild and Zwaluw lifted their staffs. Zanggors seemed deceptively unimpressed, but below his coat he clutched at the bag of pixie dust. As if rehearsed, all four of them released their magic on the same moment. Zwaluw intensified his light and suddenly the large cavern was as bright as a sunny day. Zonastrild's fire magic sent tendrils of smoke up while Zilverreiger's air magic swept as a fresh breeze into the different pathways, carrying the smoke with them and finding several that had been hidden from their gaze. Along with it, the breeze also carried some of Zanggors' pixie dust. 
And somehow the combination of all that magic had a curious effect. Maybe Zeekoet's crystal-enhanced runes called something forth. Maybe it was the pixie dust luring something to them or maybe it was the smell of barbecue on the breeze that enticed something to come closer. Whatever it might have been, the earth trembled.
"Zonastrild stop!" Zwaluw called.
"I'm not doing that!" Zonastril retorted, "Something is coming!"
Meanwhile Zeekoet was rushing closer, afraid that something might truly be caving. In her mind she wondered briefly if she should leave these adventurers to their own devices, they clearly possessed magic, or if she should help them if the ceiling crashed down on them. Her shards of crystal could shield them from the rubble but it would likely expose her presence. But could she live with their deads on her conscious? Zeekoet figured it would probably be better not to find out. 
Just as all five of them were nearly at the same place, Zeekoet still slightly cloaked, a head seemed to pop out of the wall. A white reptilian with red eyes appeared, closely followed by a man with tanned skin and greying black hair. The dragon nearly filled the cave, leaving very little space to move.
"So." the man said, not wasting time, "I think I've got a proposition to make."
Tao turned around and looked directly at Zeekoet who was attempting to fade in the background.
"You too." he said, "Vekpoiedae here knew just where to guide our entry. I had my doubts when he asked me to dig but look, he's always right. And if you'd like I can take you to different world, to a place where you can grow and explore, where you can experience adventures you wouldn't have dream of."
Tao looked all of them in the eye and added: "What do you say?"

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[STORY] -~- [ZONASTRILD] [ZWALUW] [ZANGGORS] [ZILVERREIGER] [ZEEKOET]
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