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The Soul of a Demon . Chapter 5 Rise of the Mage . It is high noon in the Frosty Mountains, and a landscape eternally blanketed by snow and ice is briefly blessed with radiant sunshine. Jagged peaks glisten with a brilliant golden glow, and the restless winds respite their advances on the mountain at the apex of the day. No creatures stir, and no living soul seems to inhabit the land. Even the great northern pines seem to be frozen in time; an eternal slumber uninterrupted since the dawn of creation. But a disturbance soon becomes apparent within this peaceful kingdom of ice; a group of travelers coming down a winding road. Four of them dressed in simple peasant drab, led by a figure clad in black. There is haste in their step; an invasive urgency that seems to forsake the natural tranquility that surrounds them on all sides. The group continues down the road until it reaches a clearing that overlooks a snowy valley. Looking closer, it is no mere clearing the travelers have arrived at; ancient stones grafted onto the native rock betray a man-made formation, ravaged by millennia of frost and wind, still recognizable as a doorway into the great mountain itself. Kaloyan: “I think this is it Roger! The rune has stopped glowing; this should be the entrance to the catacomb!” Roger: “And you say you were told about this in a dream ser?” Kaloyan: “Never mind that Roger! Inside this archaic crypt lies the key to my rise of power over Leon! With it I will be the mightiest mage in all the land!” Priest: “Greetings travelers, I am Father Broms. What brings you to a cemetery on such a frigid day? Have you come to pray and give offerings to the ancestors?” Kaloyan: “Greetings father. I wish to enter the catacombs of the ancestors.” Priest: “You do not want to venture into the cavern my child! This is the Tomb of Jarl Ulfsark the Bane; surely you’ve heard the stories the local folk tell?” Roger: “Stories?” Priest: “Yes child, the catacombs are most unholy; the villagers tell tales of strange noises coming from within at night. I myself have heard eerie echoes from beyond the entrance; there is true evil dwelling inside, I must advise against your entry!” Roger: “True evil ser! Perhaps this isn’t a good idea after all! We have the sword; must we risk our lives for this artifact?” Kaloyan: “I don’t believe a word of it father! I’ve heard stories like that all over; simply fabrications to scare away the curious and the grave robbers! I am going in, whether you like it or not!” Priest: “I warn you traveler, none who have entered there have ever returned!” Kaloyan: “Then perhaps it leads to a place more appealing than this frozen wasteland! Let’s see, how does this door open?” Kaloyan holds the rune up to the door, which begins to groan and shake as if being pried open by an invisible force. The sound of stone grinding on stone deafens the previously peaceful landscape and the blackness within gapes open and peers into the souls of the travelers like the black eye of oblivion. Kaloyan: “Here we are, let’s get some torches lit and go find this demon shard!” Priest: “By the Axe of Mighty Krom! What evil guides you into this cursed place!!?” Kaloyan: “Don’t worry about us father, by the time we come back out, you will be looking at the most powerful mage in the world!” Priest: “May the Gods look after you travelers!” The party heads in. Kaloyan and his men traverse the narrow corridors of the cavern. The air inside has the musk of a millennium of stagnant dirt, and the torches they carry are barely bright enough to illuminate the path. After nearly an hour of twisted corridors, the party emerges from the gloom into a dimly lit major chamber. Kaloyan: “Behold this place Roger! Built by the ancient Norsemen for their dead; it must be centuries old! It looks like the groundwater has eroded the ceiling of the cave; I can see snowflakes coming in from above… Now listen up! This place is ancient so don’t touch anything! I don’t want to be trapped here because one of you drunkards collapses a pillar on the return path. Touch nothing, understood!?” Eric: “Oh, milord I’m sorry about the trouble at the inn, we were just having a good time!” Kaloyan: “Enough! Over the bridge you go, one at a time. Looks sturdy enough.” Kaloyan: “The rune has stopped glowing, this must be the spot! Eric, John, Atos? Pry this sarcophagus open; the shard is probably in there…Eric? Eric!??...?” Eric: “Look milord! It’s a real precious stone! OOPS!” Eric bumps into the statue which falls to the ground below, shattering the silence of the tomb. A low rumble reverberates throughout the chamber. The sounds of metal striking wet stone and ancient leather twisting reach the party. The unmistakable trotting of running feet can be heard from the distance. Atos: “Look! Dead bodies, milord! They’ve come alive!” Kaloyan: “Stand your ground! Purge these abominations! Eric, I’ll kill you!” Eric: “I’m sorry milord! Aaah!” Kaloyan: “You just had to get greedy! How many times did I say don’t touch anything!? AAARGH!!” Eric: “Can we talk about it later milord?! Ah!” Atos: “Hit their legs!” Kaloyan: “Stand back! EXURO!” (A flash of flame downs the remaining undead) John: “That’s all of them!” Roger: “The sarcophagus is opening ser!” Dead Jarl: “Hold off trespassers! …Lower your blades! …I am… Jarl Ulfsark the Bane and you… are intruding in my tomb! …What do the living seek in this place of the death?” Eric: “It just spoke! Kill it!” Kaloyan: “Quiet you! Mighty Jarl, I am Kaloyan the Mage, and I have come in search of something.” Dead Jarl: “A mage? ... I haven’t seen a mage before… only grave robbers make it in this far… Have you come to rid us of the evil that haunts the cavern?” Kaloyan: “Evil? I am here looking for an artifact! A demon’s soul trapped in a shard of crystal! Have you seen it?” Dead Jarl: “Yes…it haunts the dead and makes them walk the earth once more… We can’t find rest. It creeps in like a mist… and overtakes our remains…If you swear to take this demon away… I will give it to you…” Kaloyan: “Yes, I will take it away from your catacomb, now please hand it over.” Roger: “Milord, this artifact sounds evil! Are we sure we want to take something like that with us?” Kaloyan: “Of course Roger! Only the soul of a demon can turn my staff into the most powerful weapon in the world! We are in agreement then Jarl, give me the shard, and I shall remove it so you can find peace.” Dead Jarl: “It is not as simple as that…this shard is a prison…you must venture within…and liberate the prisoner for him to…leave.” Roger: “What, venture within? This is nonsense milord, clearly the undead lord has lost his mind…err…as it were.” Kaloyan: “No Roger, this crystal is a conduit; a vehicle to the dream dimension in which the demon is imprisoned. Only ancient Tasher Mages knew of this. Hold on everyone, this will be quite a stir for you.” Kaloyan touches the crystal with his staff and a brilliant white light engulfs the party. They find themselves in a world of whiteness with no visible dimensions. A light haze seems to hang in the air.” Eric: “Is this a dream!? What is that giant throne for milord?” Kaloyan: “No you fool, we are inside the crystal! That is the altar where the demon must be imprisoned. Look at those symbols Roger; they are exactly like the glyphs back at the tower! This demon is trapped here by ancient magic, and only a mage can set it free!” Roger: “Surely you don’t wish to set it free ser?” Kaloyan: “First let’s see what we’re dealing with! Edrin’s texts were explicit about summoning demons. We conjure up its true form by calling out its name…Hmm, must be here somewhere…Ah there on the glyphs on the throne. ISPOLIN! I command you, reveal your true form!” A high-pitched noise forces the party to cover their ears, and the air above the throne seems to tremble and boil. Out of obscurity, the large form of the demon materializes in the throne. Demon: “Who dares summon ISPOLIN!?” Kaloyan: “It is I, Kaloyan the Mage of the West! I command you demon to do my bidding!” Demon: “ISPOLIN does not take commands from mortals. He is a prisoner; trapped here by conniving sorcerers. He will not yield to your bidding!” Kaloyan: “These chains say otherwise! The glyphs bind you to this purgatory for an eternity! If you wish to see the light of day again demon, I suggest that you recognize your true master here and now!” Demon: “ISPOLIN does not remember daylight…Only the darkness of this crypt. Not a soul in sight for him to feast on; a meager existence unworthy of his might.” Kaloyan: “You miss your freedom don’t you? What would you say if I could take you to the surface and unleash utter chaos on the mortal world? Think of all the souls you could consume, all the fear you will instill! These can be yours, if only you swear loyalty to me; Kaloyan the Mage!” Demon: “Hmm, the mage makes a fair offer to ISPOLIN, but he cannot leave this damned prison without an exchange! Let ISPOLIN offer the mage this; feed the crystal a soul, and ISPOLIN will pledge allegiance to the mage and rain chaos down on the surface world.” Kaloyan: “I accept your offer demon! I bring a soul for the exchange.” Demon: “This one will do!” (He grabs Roger) Roger: “AAH! Help! Help me ser!” Kaloyan: “You put him down demon! His is not the soul I offer! I swear I will use these chains to crush you if you don’t put him down!!” Demon: “Then who’s soul do you offer to ISPOLIN?” Kaloyan: “Take these three! Have all of them, just put that man down!” Eric: “Did he just say what I… AAAH! Help!” The demon lets go of Roger and swoops up Eric. Atos and John panic and run. Kaloyan: “Roger! Are you alright?” Roger: “Yes…Oh ser no! It’s got Eric!!” (The demon screeches and Eric disappears in a puff of smoke) Demon: “Ah, it’s been ages since ISPOLIN has tasted freedom! Very well mage, he is ready to serve you!” The demon disappears and the environment deteriorates, the white light once again overtakes Kaloyan. He awakes, once again in the main chamber of the catacomb. Roger: “Ser, John and Atos ran away! I can’t believe you were ready to sacrifice them! And poor Eric! ” Kaloyan: “They are fools Roger! Incompetent fools and greedy drunkards who nearly got us killed twice! We are better off without them, now we have a weapon Leon will fear, and our allies will respect! It’s time we go raise an army!” Roger: “As you say ser…Thank you.” Meanwhile in Imperial Leon, Asparuh the warrior is unaware of Kaloyan’s existence or the death of his old friend Edrin. He is on a mission to find an old acquaintance; the sorcerer known as “Him”, in the hope that he can make sense of recent events. Asparuh’s riders arrive in the Imperial City of Varocha; the last known residence of the Orc sorcerer. They make their way to the slums of the city; filthy streets and decaying buildings make up the bounds of this shady metropolis. Beggars, pickpockets and rats peer out from every crevice. Asparuh: “If my memory serves, this is the place. I must warn you, he is a bit of a peculiar character; don’t take him too seriously.” Rider Alistair: “Sir, why does a mighty sorcerer live in this forsaken slum?” Asparuh: “He has a brilliant mind, but is sour on civilization. He’s always been a castaway of sorts.” Rider Alistair: “And why is his name “Him” sir? I’m not sure I understand that bit.” Asparuh: “It’s a long story but the short version is this; Orcs that display magic ability are destined to become sorcerers in Orc clans. When “Him” was born it was discovered that he could manipulate magic and was designated future shaman of his clan. Tragically, everyone in the clan was killed by a raid, and the raiders took the young Orc prisoner and referred to him as simply “Him” because they thought him subhuman.” Rider Alistair: “That is a terrible fate sir. How did he ever escape?” Asparuh: “Well the brutal raiders did not know the young Orc possessed magic, and that he was getting better and better at controlling his ability. Several years after he was captured “Him” managed to escape his captors and turned them all into herrings, or so the story goes anyways.” Rider Alistair: “Incredible sir! I would imagine this was quite traumatic?” Asparuh: “He is a tough character lad, but to this day he resents bandits of any sort. I guess we should head up, he’s not answering. Soldier, wait out here while Alistair and I talk to him. Watch yourself; the pickpockets here can steal the horse out from under you.” Rider: “Yes sir.” Asparuh and Alistair head up the creaking half-rotten stairs to the main floor of sorcerer’s home. The room they walk into is significantly neater than expected. Vials, magical items and furniture line the shelves and floor space. As Asparuh and Alistair step into the main room of the house, the sound of a cocked musket comes from the space behind them. Both men turn around and find themselves staring down the barrel of a loaded weapon. Him: “Give me one reason not to blast a hole in your Imperial armor! Have you come to arrest me?? Has the Empire not put me through enough humiliation already? Can’t I enjoy my old age in peace?? Speak up now; you have but a moment before I start shooting!” Alistair: “Put that weapon away!” (Draws his sword) Asparuh: “Easy lad, easy! Sheath your sword! “Him” old friend, don’t you recognize me? It’s me Asparuh, we don’t mean any harm! We’ve come to ask for your help; please lower that thing before you hurt yourself.” Him: “Asparuh! By the gods, you got old!” Asparuh: “It’s good to see you too old friend! You look like you’re doing well.” Him: “It helps to live as far away from your damned empire as possible. What’s this about?” Asparuh: “We have a problem that needs your expertise. The sword of Vlad the Necromancer was stolen from its hiding spot not two weeks ago.” Him: “They stole that cursed thing? The work of bandits no doubt?” Asparuh: “Not likely; only Edrin and I knew where the sword was hidden. All signs point to their previous knowledge of its location! Worse yet, Edrin has not been heard from in a long time; my riders were turned around in the west and told the Mage at the tower has taken over, isn’t that right Alistair?” Alistair: “Indeed sir, I witnessed this with my own ears and eyes.” Him: “You suspect old Edrin has finally gone crazy? You think he might have stolen the sword?” Asparuh: “We’re not sure what to think, but the war minister has given us a week to figure it out before he marches a legion on the west. We need to find out whatever we can, “Him”. Can you help us?” Him: “Hmm, very intriguing. Edrin was never one to covet power. Assuming that the sword theft and his absence are related events, I can only think of two possible scenarios.” Asparuh: “Enlighten us my friend.” Him: “Either Edrin has been meddling with the dark arts again and is trying to contain the damage… “ Asparuh: “Or?” Him: “Or our old friend has succumbed to some terrible fate, and some other mage is pulling the strings.” Asparuh: “I thought of this, but there is no one in the west that could get that close to Edrin’s tower!” Him: “What about his apprentice? What’s his name…? Kaloyan!” Asparuh: “Edrin had an apprentice!? This is not recorded in the Imperial registry!” Him: “You think everything I do goes in the Imperial registry? Let’s be realists Asparuh; Edrin loves his country but he wasn’t ever one for protocol! The boy’s name is Kaloyan and he is just the naïve, ambitious type to stir up this sort of mess.” Asparuh: “But how could he have known about the sword?” Him: “He may have gotten it out of his master, or he may have been communicating with the dead. In either case, this thing must be stopped before it begins Asparuh!” Alistair: “Sir I’m sorry to interrupt, but what is so significant about this sword?” Asparuh: “It is a symbolic weapon, but it has a darker quality… When we defeated Vlad at Zagora three decades ago, his soul was fragmented. A fragment went into the sword; whoever possessed it was haunted by dreams of Vlad. This is why it was hidden.” Him: “Yes, if the young mage has the sword, the dreams will direct him onward, feeding his sense of ambition and his hunger for power. It will lead him down a path chosen by Vlad himself, and there are no possible good outcomes while a demon directs him!” Asparuh: “What do you say my friend; will you help us resolve this?” Him: “I’m too old for this, and so are you, but…oh well, I suppose we can muster one more endeavor. What’s your plan Asparuh?” Asparuh: “We head for the west and go straight to Edrin’s tower! If this apprentice is there, he’ll have a lot to answer for.” Him: “Let me prepare a few things, and we’ll be off. I’ll meet you out-front in a few.” Him: “Esmeralda; watch the house, feed the drake and if anything goes missing so help you god!” Alistair: “Feed the Drake?!” Asparuh: “Don’t ask. “ Him: “That should be all.” Asparuh: “We take the old Tasher Highway we should be in Pliska by sunset tomorrow.” (They depart) Back in the Mitgardian Mountains Kaloyan and Roger emerge from the catacomb. Kaloyan: “Well hello father, what is this?” Priest: “Two men ran out of the catacomb and told horrific stories mage! They said you’ve unleashed a demon, they said you tried to feed them to it! So I’ve fetched the guards to stop your madness before it goes any further!” Guard: “You’re dead mage!” Kaloyan: “EXURO!” Priest: “You just burned them up! Devoured them! I curse you mage! May the Gods have no pity on your soul!” Kaloyan: “So much for redemption, huh father? Let’s go Roger.” To be continued…

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