The Elven Shrine . Rise of the Mage Chapter 7 . A silver moon rises over the mountain, sending ghostly beams of moonlight cascading down onto the world. It is a world deprived of commotion, frozen in an archaic antagonism of the elements, unchanged and untouched since the days of creation. Below the harrowed dominion of the stars, perched on the barren cliff faces of the mountain, an immense fortress bathes in cosmic rays. A crimson glow emanates from within it, as if to defy the moon’s command over the night.
Looking closer, a small group of figures becomes evident; their armor reflecting the lunar beams, their movements quick and precise, all moving in unison towards the fortress and disappearing within its crimson-lit bellows.
Nya: “Make way for the leader of the rebellion; make way for Kaloyan the Mage!”
Roger: “Ser!! You did it! You mastered the dragon! I was so worried!”
Kaloyan: “I told you not to worry, didn’t I Roger?”
Roger: “Where have you been ser? Everyone left after your trial.”
Kaloyan: “We found an old cavern nearby where the beast can make its lair; I can call upon it to serve me at any time! That is true power Roger!”
Nya: “Kaloyan, have a seat at the head of the table; we have a lot to tell you, and not very much time.”
Kaloyan: “Our revolution is at hand Roger; you are dismissed for the night.”
Roger: “Very well ser, I’ll be in the kitchens if you need me.” (He walks out)
Nya: “I’d like to say Kaloyan; your display was quite magnificent, why even Vlad himself could not have subdued a dragon so quickly! You have already met Lord Bandrik; he is our trusted ally and informant in our fight against Leon.”
Lord Bandrik: “It is a pleasure Kaloyan; the powers you posses are awe-inspiring.”
Kaloyan: “Thank you Lord Bandrik, now what was it you wanted to talk about?”
Lord Bandrik: “Right on point then; indulge me in a story. Three decades ago the Emperor marched his armies across the horizon, aiming to take over all the lands of men and unify them in one “Glorious Empire.”
Kaloyan: “I am familiar with the history of the wars of expansion.”
Nya: “You aren’t familiar with this story Kaloyan; the Emperor struck at the heart of his enemies; defeating even the mightiest of warrior clans with sheer numbers, technology and wealth. I was at Zagora, fighting alongside Vlad when the legion crushed our defenses, killed our clan brothers and sent the mightiest of the Vampiri to his end. What the Imperials did not realize was that many warriors survived and made their way to this ancient keep decades ago. We call it Vostok, fortress of the East, and it has been a haven for us ever since.”
Lord Bandrik: “The Emperor did not stop there; his greed and ambition led him to seek land that he had no claim to; my province in Avalonia was taken and has been under Imperial control for two decades now. I intend to get it back, and to punish the Empire for its intrusion!”
Kaloyan: “We will get your land back Bandrik and your people will have their revenge
Nya. I will be the ruler of a mighty new world order, but I have lived in the West long enough to know what a colossal army the Empire sustains. This will be no easy task; two dozen vampiri warriors cannot take on ten thousand Imperial Legionnaires.”
Nya: “Precisely why we have been biding our time Kaloyan; over the past three decades I have formulated a plan to cripple the Empire without engaging its armies. All that was missing was a figure head; a powerful leader to tip the scales in our favor, and now we have such a leader in you!”
Kaloyan: “You say you mean to undermine Leon without engaging it directly? How?”
Lord Bandrik: “We will use the Empire’s own strengths as weaknesses. They have vast legions, but the direction of this force is mired in politics. The Imperial Court makes military decisions on paper, not on the battle field. Leon’s best generals have no more power than desk clerks; all major decisions lie with an incompetent war minister. This makes their military slow to respond, and easy to evade.”
Nya: “The Empire has over-expanded and spread itself too thin, leaving hundreds of tribes and Kingdoms broken and resentful. These crucial allies will join our cause if we gather enough momentum. It all depends on the success of our plan.”
Kaloyan: “And what exactly does this plan entail?”
Nya: “There are four major steps we must attend to. First and foremost we must discourage any of Leon’s allies from backing them. We will deal a decisive blow to their most devoted friends, which should force the rest to remain neutral in the upcoming conflict.”
Lord Bandrik: “Secondly we must acquire enough coin to pay tributes, fund our campaign and cripple Leon’s Economy. We will target the richest nobles of Leon; steal their fortunes and turn them against their own country!”
Nya: “Once we have enough resources we will obtain advanced siege machines and weapons so that the walls of the Imperial cities come crumbling to the ground, and so that our forces are armed to the teeth.”
Lord Bandrik: “Lastly we will raise a massive horde to fight for us, some bribed, some tricked, some rallied into joining the revolution. This army will follow you; will follow the sword of Vlad, and the promise for independence against the Empire.”
Nya: “With all of these hallmarks complete, we will move on the Imperial Capital; the administrative center of the Empire.”
Kaloyan: “That is a masterful strategy; but what of the legion that guards the capital?”
Nya: “Lord Bandrik has helped stir Orc rebellions on the southern border of Leon; the legions are all currently in the south. The high command has no reason to expect an attack to come from peaceful Mitgardia.”
Kaloyan: “That is ingenious! But what about when the Legion realizes the capital has been attacked? Surely then we will have to face an enormous army!”
Nya: “This is the critical flaw of their centralized system of government. Once the city falls, the army will be left without orders and fall into disarray, and there will be chaos throughout the ranks. Most of the legions will dissert, and the whole Empire will come crumbling down. “
Kaloyan: “Even so, the city has a permanent presence of Imperial Guardsmen!”
Lord Bandrik: “The Capital has a garrison of two thousand strong, but that will be no match for the massive horde we will bring down on them.”
Nya: “This will work Kaloyan; Lord Bandrik and I have made sure of it.”
Kaloyan: “I can see that you have thoroughly prepared for this moment my friends… I am convinced. Let us begin this onslaught as soon as we are able to!”
Lord Bandrik: “We will start our campaign with a strike at the heart of Leon’s most devoted allies; the elves.”
Kaloyan: “The elves? How does attacking a cult of nature-worshipers help us bring down the most-powerful empire in the world?”
Nya: “The elves are the only group that still follows Leon with absolute loyalty. We will target a Woodland Shrine in the Locrian Forest; a holy site for the Elven Race. These shrines have been considered too holy to attack in previous conflicts; once we show them that we are not deterred by such petty semantics the rest of the Elves will not dare enter the war out of fear of further attacks.”
Kaloyan: “A true test of faith; I like it. Very well, are we ready to move?”
Nya: “Lord Bandrik, are you prepared?”
Lord Bandrik: “I will ride out to the northern fringe of the Locrian Forest with a few clansmen tonight and prepare; we will meet there at sunset tomorrow. Nya, Kaloyan. ” (He walks out)
Nya: “Get a good night’s rest Kaloyan; we will depart first thing in the morning.” (They leave the room)
The morning arrives and Kaloyan prepares for departure. As he walks into the entrance hall he sees two Vampiri Clansmen moving a large iron object.
Kaloyan: “Nya, what on earth is that?”
Nya: “Ah, Kaloyan, we will be testing out a new weapon today; dwarven made, packed with black powder; they call it a tempest orb. Once we pacify the Elven guards, we will place the orb in the middle of the shrine and ignite it. The resulting flames should level the forest a mile in all directions. Careful with that you slobs! ”
Kaloyan: “An orb filled with black powder? The dwarves will be the end of us all … Why not simply use the dragon?”
Nya: “Kaloyan, the dragon must be used discretely; we should only call upon it at night, and in cases of extreme peril. If word gets out that we have a dragon, the Empire will march its legions straight into Mitgardia to find this place. No we must be discrete. ... The horses are saddled and ready to go; are you set to depart? “
Kaloyan: “Yes, lead the way to the decadent tree lovers.”
Deep in the Locrian Forest the air is thick with the scent of tree sap, moist undergrowth and flowering bushes. Greenery flows from tree tops to young saplings, and the sun itself barely penetrates the emerald crown of ancient conifers and broad-leafs. It is said that the forest has a soul; a mystic spirit that watches over its inhabitants. Here, the Elven race has made its home for centuries, and temples built to honor the woodland spirits rise from the ground all the way into the canopy. It is a world of natural harmony where few men set foot; a world unprepared for violent intrusions.
Elven Priest: “Mycota come over here lad.”
Elven Boy: “Yes Elder Nepenthes, what do you need?”
Elven Priest: “Bring some water from the creek to the Temple; you’ll be leading us in the spirit ritual today.”
Elven Boy: “Me? Leading the spirit ritual! But that means…I will be a true Ranger! Oh my! This is a great honor Elder Nepenthes! Thank you! Thank you!”
Elven Priest: “Hurry now, the essence of the spirits already seeps into the air.”
Elven Boy: “Yes, I will go now!” (He runs off, talking to self) “I can’t believe it! By the ancestral spirits! I will be a true Ranger!”
The boy fills a bucket with water. He hurriedly heads back, but as he does so, his eye catches a glimpse of something terribly strange in the woods.
Elven Boy: “What in the name of… Intruders!”
Vampiri Warriors: “Cut him down!”
Elven Boy: “Rangers! Rangers! Sound the alarm! Intruders!”
A massive group of Vampiri warriors break through the tree line and come out into the clearing, headed by Kaloyan, Nya and Lord Bandrik.
Lord Bandrik: “Clear the area, take no prisoners!”
Elven Guards: “Sound the bell! We are under attack!”
Nya: “Kill those rangers! Kaloyan, watch your flank!”
Elven Guard: “There are too many of them! Run to the temple, get the Elder! AAH!”
Vampiri Warrior: “Die leaf-eared freaks!”
Elven Boy: “Ahh! Unholy scourge!” (His arrow rips through a Vampiri warrior who falls dead) “Ahh, I’ve got to hide!” (He disappears in the shrubbery)
Vampiri Warrior: “Lord Bandrik, the elves have closed themselves off in the temple, shall we burn it down?”
Kaloyan: “No, I want to personally burst through the door and see what these tree-dwellers pass off as magic!”
Nya: “We are here to send a message, not to study Elven magic!”
Kaloyan: “Yes, however I know Elven temples house caches of ancient magic and Tasher artifacts! A brand of enchantment untouched by men in a millennium; perhaps a weapon we could use in our fight, no this we will not pass on. Follow me, bring the Tempest Orb!”
Kaloyan and his followers stand in front of the solid door of the shrine.
Kaloyan: “Stand back! IGNIS!”
The massive frame of the door flies open, and the intruders storm into a major chamber.
Elven Priest: “Enough of this carnage! I am Elder Nepenthes, High Priest of this shrine, and you are threading on holy land! Do you know what this place is!? Countless armies have burned the world over but none have had the audacity to set foot in an Elven Temple! Be gone! Be gone!”
Kaloyan: “Elder Elf, show some respect for the future ruler of your world! A war is coming, and the time of your precious imperial allies is dwindling down. You have picked the wrong side of the fight I’m afraid. We will be taking your cache of Tasher Magic artifacts.”
Elven Priest: “You’re a mad man! A mad man! As the spirits are my witness, I warn you again, be gone from this pace!”
Kaloyan: “Oh my, I don’t think the Elder understands the severity of his predicament; let us show him just how dismal his situation is. Viktor, kill these elves.”
Viktor: “Yes Milord.”
Elven Guard: “Merci! Merci!” (Viktor cuts down all remaining elves but the Elder)
Kaloyan: “I ask again Elder; what artifacts do you keep here?”
Elven Priest: “The… the alter… the diamond skull…what have you done mage!?”
Kaloyan: “A true Tasher diamond skull! The rarest receptacles for mystic beings… So you have been summoning woodland spirits have you Elf?”
Elven Priest: “Summoning!? Summoning!… This is too much, I can’t handle this much ignorance.”
Nya: “Are you satisfied Kaloyan?”
Kaloyan: “Yes, indeed. The Elder comes with us, prepare the Tempest Orb!”
(The Orb is primed and activated)
Nya: “We have mere minutes to clear the distance of the blast, let’s go!”
As Kaloyan turns and heads out into the dim light of the open forest, the skull in his hands emits a strange leathery noise.
Kaloyan is engulfed in white fog and his consciousness is transported elsewhere.
Kaloyan: “What in the name of?! Where am I?”
Voice: “From root to root the wayward son dug deep, and from the earth he pulled a mighty oak.
Rejoiced he as the trunk fell into heaps, exclaimed he as the great fall broke the stalk.
Alas he did not draw a solemn breath, nor was his heart affected by the act.
And though he sought to bring the giant’s death, he was remiss to contemplate the fact;
That while he watched the world go down in flames, and dreamt of debased power and of might,
He had neglected to untie the reigns, and had been made incapable of flight.
Thus all too late the wayward son did find, that blind ambition does indeed make blind.”
Kaloyan: “What on earth are you? You are no demon…”
Spirit: “I am the Lady of the Woods; I have been watching you Kaloyan. Watching you since you first set foot here. You have caused a great deal of suffering today… killed innocents, young and old, men and women, all cut down before their prime in your name…”
Kaloyan: “In my name? This is a war! Wars have casualties.”
Spirit: “A war you began Kaloyan; you sow conflict where there is none. You hurt the innocent to empower yourself. Where is your humanity? Where do the limits of your honor lie?”
Kaloyan: “This war is not about me! This war is about the fall of a tyrant!”
Spirit: “Do you believe that you are in control of this bloodshed? Do you believe that you could make it end if you so willed?”
Kaloyan: “Of course! I am the leader of the revolution!”
Spirit: “I fear that you have been deceived Kaloyan. What you have started today you cannot control; beware the friends that come and go as summer rain.”
Kaloyan: “Deceived? Spirit you will not trick my mind with your words! I am Kaloyan the Mage and I will rule the world one day!”
Spirit: “Alas, then all is lost… My final plea to you is this; have courage to do what is right, and wisdom to know when to do it. Farewell my wayward son…”
(Kaloyan regains consciousness back at the Elven Temple)
Nya: “Everything alright Kaloyan? You just started off for a while. We have to move, the Orb is set!”
Kaloyan: “Right, yes, everything is fine…
Elven Priest: “Everything is fine? Look around you! Look at what you’ve done! The Council will not forgive this!”
Nya: “Hush elf! Let’s go!” (They depart)
As Kaloyan and his followers leave the temple, a small figure emerges from the surrounding shrubbery.
Elven Boy: “By the spirits! What have they done! What have they done! Everybody is dead! Oh no, where is the Elder!?”
The boy passes under the doorway into the main chamber.
Elven Boy: “The horror… What is that?!” (He approaches the Tempest Orb, mechanical clicks and cog sounds fill the air) Oh this is not good!”
Dying Elf: “Mycota…Come here…”
Elven Boy: “Brachus! By the spirit what have they done!!!?”
Dying Elf: “Mycota, run…run... Before… before that… thing goes off… tell the Council…. Tell them it was the mage… the Mage of the West… Now RUN!!” (He gasps and dies)
Elven Boy: “Brachus! NO! Run? Oh no!”
Mycota runs at break-neck speed out of the temple; as he nears the creek an ear-splitting bang emanates from behind him. Without turning to look he dives for his life. As his body sinks into the water, a violent cloud of fire extinguishes life in the forest.
A few miles away on a hill overlooking the Locrian Forest, Kaloyan and Nya gaze out at the devastating damage.
Nya: “That should discourage any of these leaf-eared freaks from taking up arms against us. Our plan is quickly coming to fruition Kaloyan! ”
Kaloyan: “Yes… let’s go Nya, I have no wish to linger here any longer.” (They depart)
Meanwhile in the Mitgardian capital Valholl, Sir Asparuh the Knight, the Orc Sorcerer known as “Him”, and the Emperor’s youngest son, Prince Jason of Leon have arrived at the Royal Palace in search of answers about the whereabouts of Kaloyan. They are led into a decorated chamber; the Jarl’s throne room, awaiting an audience with Jarl Nibelung of Mitgardia.
Asparuh: “Jarl Nibelung, thank you for seeing us on such short notice; I am afraid that the emergent nature of this problem forces us to skip the proper introductions.”
Jarl Nibelung: “No need for apologies Asparuh, you are always welcome in this hall, and I am well acquainted with the wise “Him” and young Prince Jason. This is my trusted Hersir and advisor Elon Chorian. Now they tell me you are on the hunt for a rogue mage?
Asparuh: “Indeed Mighty Jarl, we seek to find Kaloyan the mage; he is the culprit in the attacks on frosty Mountain. We believe that he is still in Mitgardia, and trust me when I say that the malignancy of his actions cannot be over-stressed. We hoped that we could find some answers here.”
Jarl Nibelung: “I see your instincts are still quite sharp Asparuh, this is the best place you could have come. We were made aware of the mage’s presence a short while after the attack. My scouts have gathered insight into his movements here and there, but nothing quite as profound as an actual breakthrough.”
Him: “What can you tell us about the mage Mighty Jarl?”
Elon Chorian: “The mage was seen at an inn not far from frosty Mountain three days after the attack. His followers lost their grip at the local pub and started bragging about killing Mitgardian guardsmen. After that, all was quiet for a while, and it seemed that the mage had left Mitgardia. But then a week ago, word came in from the Northern Provinces that a mage had tried to kill two men, and had incinerated two soldiers. I took no chances and marched a company of pike men out there, but alas the mage had slipped away.”
Jason: “It seems this Kaloyan is a slippery fish.”
Jarl Nibelung: “Indeed so, but we may have found a way to finally locate him. Two days ago a patrol near the Serrated Peaks encountered what they called a “mad man”. A crazed peasant who claimed that he had followed the mage into Mitgardia and had indeed killed two guards on Frosty Mountain. He is unfortunately quite unstable; claims that the mage tried to feed him to a demon; alas our inquisitor has not been able to get anything further out of him.”
Him: “Feed him to a demon… Jarl Nibelung, with your permission, could we have the prisoner brought in?”
Jarl Nibelung: “Of course, “Him”, but I must forewarn you, he seems to cling to his fantasy with absolute certainty.”
(The chained prisoner is brought in)
Asparuh: “By the gods, look at this medallion, are you from Pliska boy?”
John: “Yes! Thank the creator! You are Imperials aren’t you?? Take me away from these savages, I want to go back home! I want to forget all about this madness! ”
Elon Chorian: “Well that is more than he has said in a two days, maybe you’ll be more successful with him after all.”
Asparuh: “What is your name son? I am Sir Asparuh of Leon, and I am after Kaloyan the
Mage. I need you to help me so that we can prevent him from doing something incredibly bad, do you understand?”
John: “Yes ser, my name is John, I am a woodsman from Pliska, and I followed the mage into Mitgardia. All was well until he tried to feed me to a demon!”
Jarl Nibelung: “Oh here we go again, I’m sorry Asparuh; he is clearly not going to deviate from this fairy tale.”
Him: “With your permission Jarl, I’d like to ask him a question.”
Jarl Nibelung: “Go right ahead, I’m interested to see what else he’ll say.”
Him: “John, was it? Listen, I believe you, I’m a sorcerer, and I know how these things work. Now tell me about this demon.”
John: “It was trapped… in a blue crystal, it made the dead come to life! Kaloyan, he... touched the crystal and we were all pulled right inside. “
Him: “And then what?”
John: “He made a deal with the demon; our souls for his servitude…It killed my best friend Eric…”
Him: “I see, now think really hard; what was the name of this demon?”
Jason: “The name? What are we playing at here?”
Him: “Hush royal brat, I’m talking with John here. John, the name please.”
John: “IS… ISPO…. ISPOLIN! That was it! ISPOLIN!”
Him: “Oh this is not good…”
Asparuh: “What is it my friend?”
Him: “I know that name; it’s in the old Tasher Texts. Jarl Nibelung, may I take a look at your archives of ancient tomes?”
Jarl Nibelung: “Of course “Him”.” (Signals for guards) “Show the honorable Sorcerer to the Archive Tower”
Him: “I will return as soon as I find what I am looking for. This is getting very complicated Asparuh.”
Asparuh: “I know, but under all the complexity there is a simple truth, we must find out what it is. Go to the archives, I will have a talk with John and see what else he can help us with. Jason, wait here for a while.”
Jason: “Oh but I want to help out!”
Jarl Nibelung: “Prince Jason, I am told you are a proficient hunter, join me in my trophy room, I have a few hunting tales to share with you if you’ll indulge me.”
Jason: “Of course Jarl Nibelung.” (They all head off)
A few hours later…
Jason: “And how did you get out of there?”
Jarl Nibelung: “Well there was the bear, there was the wolf pack and there was I, in a tree, ankle twisted, arrow lodged into my shoulder, coming down with fever, as I took aim and shot an arrow which struck the bear in the neck.”
Jason: “Just one arrow against a brown bear? Did it slow it down? ”
Jarl Nibelung: “It didn’t even notice it, but the wolves did! Smelling the fresh blood they circled up around the bear, and tried to sink their teeth in!”
Jason: “Haha! Ingenious! Bad idea on their part no doubt?”
Jarl Nibelung: “Oh yes they got mauled to a soft pulp! While the beasts faced off I managed to climb down from the tree.”
Jason: “And you got away before they noticed!”
Jarl Nibelung: “What, to abandon my bear? Nonsense! I waited until it had taken down the last of the wolves and I came at it, spear in hand. It gave a fair fight, but in the end I came out victorious. I’ve had it mounted here ever since.”
Jason: “What, this is the same bear?”
Jarl Nibelung: “Indeed. He was easy picking compared to that walrus over yonder. You see, the key to a successful hunt, young Jason, is to stare death in the eyes, and come home in one piece.”
Asparuh: “Well I got everything that he knew out of him; names, direction they were headed, the fact that Kaloyan had strange dreams, it all makes sense.”
Jarl Nibelung: “So Sir Knight, what is the next step on your hunt for this mage?”
Him: “Hold that thought Asparuh! I’m afraid I have bad news!”
Asparuh: “What did you find my friend? “
Him: “The name of the demon; ISPOLIN. I knew I recognized it; it was one of the original gatekeepers between this world and Erebus!”
Asparuh: “And why is that relevant?”
Him: “Oh come on Asparuh even you should be able to see this! Of all the demons Vlad has knowledge of, he purposely directed Kaloyan to a gatekeeper! He could have infused his staff with a Chaos Demon, or a powerful elemental demon, but instead we went for a weak spirit with a special skill. Am I the only one who sees what’s going on here?”
Jarl Nibelung: “Are you suggesting that he is trying to open a portal to the Underworld?”
Him: “Damn right that’s what I’m suggesting! If Kaloyan finds an opening between the worlds he can use the staff to open it! Think of it! Demons pouring in like sacrilegious water from the sky! It’ll be the end of the world! Literally!”
Jason: “Wait, wait, wait! Are you joking or is your age finally catching up with you?! Did you say this mage will make it rain demons? This is just preposterous!”
Asparuh: “If there is one thing I have learned in my forty years of service to the crown, it is that sometimes the real dangers are things we cannot see or believe in. I killed a villain three decades ago, and now he is back tormenting and threatening us from beyond the grave. I would like to believe that the laws of men dictate the fate of our world, but there are such things as magic, spirits and alas, an all-too-real underworld. What do you think Jarl?”
Jarl Nibelung: “I have full faith in your convictions and instincts Asparuh. If you believe in this theory, then I am willing to place personal beliefs aside and give you the benefit of a doubt. If this helps you locate the mage in any way, I say run with it. You have my full support.”
(Mitgardian soldier enters)
Soldier: “Jarl Nibelung, I am sorry to interrupt, an Elven messenger has just arrived; he says it is urgent; an Elven Shrine has been attacked in the Locrian Forest!”
Jarl Nibelung: “What!? There has never been an attack on the Shrines! Grant him an audience!
In the Jarl’s throne room, a worried Elven Rogue is led in.
Elf: “Mighty Jarl, my people’s shrine in the Locrian Forest burns this hour, at the hands of treacherous invaders led by a mage! I am here to inquire you for support and protection!”
Jarl Nibelung : “I am sorry for your loss, Elf-Kin, mark my words, this offense will not go unpunished! Sir Asparuh, it seems that destiny has brought you here just in time!”
lon Chorian: “Shall we prepare the men?”
Jarl Nibelung: “Yes, send a company of soldiers to the Locrian Forest! Leave immediately; we must get there while the trail of the assailants is still fresh!”
Asparuh: “It looks like we are headed out to the Locrian Forest; if we catch him now maybe this demon scenario will never come to pass! Why do you shrug my friend?”
Him: “I simply believe we are destined to fail against the schemes of demons.
Asparuh: “My friend, I believe in making your own destiny; now let’s finally catch up to this mage!
To be continued…