Battle for the Imperial City . Chapter 10- Rise of the Mage . It is early morning in the city of Preslaff, and the chiming of bell towers and rooster calls alert countless sleepy citizens to the advent of a new day. It’s a day like any other; somewhere a baker dons his apron and rekindles his furnace, elsewhere a carpenter sharpens his tools and sweeps the floor of his little shop. The clicking of hooves and the commotion of hundreds of people are like the buzz of worker bees, hovering around a flowering meadow. In essence, the city behaves like a hive; hundreds of thousands of organisms, all out and about, doing their part in the harmony of human commotion.
Preslaff itself is a sight to behold with its countless rooflines and steeples illuminated by the first rays of pink light. The capital of the Mighty Empire of Leon is not only the world’s richest city; it is also the most protected. Layers of outer walls encompass the city center, buffering against foreign invaders, doing their job well.
Throughout the city Imperial Guardsmen in shining armor patrol the streets and protect its most famous landmark; the Imperial Palace, home of Emperor Leopold III of Leon. It appears to be a day like any other, when suddenly a chorus of bells begins to ring relentlessly. The citizens halt their daily strolls and look around in sheer disbelief; the signal for impending danger is rarely heard in the Imperial Capital.
At the Imperial Guard’s Barracks a sleepy night watchman awakens startled.
Watchman: “What the… oh bloody hell, the alarm!” (He grabs his musket and rushes out into the street. There, a few Imperial Guardsmen assemble.)
Watchman: “What on earth is going on?”
Imperial Officer: “The alarm has been raised! Go around and tell the people to head inside; the western gate is under attack!”
Watchman: “Under attack!? How is that possible?! This is Preslaff! We don’t get attacked!”
Imperial Officer: “Off you go now! That’s an order!”
Watchman: “Yes sir, right you are…” (He scurries off) “Head inside! Everybody inside! Head inside!!”
Imperial Officer: “Form up men! Head to the western gate; they’re facing a horde out there!”
Guardsmen: “Yes sir.” (They head off)
A galloping rider in a senior officer’s uniform arrives.
Imperial Officer: “General Tervel, thank the Gods you’ve come! What on earth are we facing!? We’ve had no reports of troop movements; where did this army come from?”
General Tervel: “I’m not sure commander; the sentries raised the alarm not ten minutes ago. I’m headed to the Baldwin tower to get a better look, come along!”
An immense booming noise like thunder emanates in the distance, and its sound wave travels throughout the city, rattling shutters and causing shingles to fall.
Imperial officer: “What the hell was that Sir?!”
General Tervel: “Sounded like an explosion… Come on, grab a horse form the stable!”
The riders gallop through the city street as scared civilians dart in and out of doorways, panicking and rushing back to their dwellings. The whole city is in upheaval as the uncertainty of this rare threat looms over its occupants. The riders reach the base of the Baldwin tower, and ascent its winding steps. At the top of the tower Imperial Sharpshooters fire their muskets relentlessly, and the heavy cannon emplacements shell the unseen enemy in the distance.
Imperial Officer: “By the Gods! Take a look General! I can’t believe my eyes; Orcs, goblins, an entire horde!”
General Tervel: “Indeed; I see the banners of the Orc horde, and the squirming ranks of the Goblins, but there are other creatures here! They’ve overrun the outer wall; the tower has collapsed! Soldier, report! What happened?!”
Imperial Soldier: “General, there was a huge explosion, the tower and parts of the wall caved in and toppled over! The horde is overrunning the outer defenses! They’re swarming the residential districts! We have to close the gate!”
General Tervel: “Are you mad?! There are hundreds of civilians between us and the outer wall, call them inside the city!”
Imperial Soldier: “We don’t have time Sir; they’ll reach our defenses in minutes! If we leave the gates open they’ll flood the city!”
Imperial Officer: “I don’t understand; where’s the Third Legion? Why have they not come to back us up?”
General Tervel: “The third is reinforcing the southern border, and we are unprepared for an attack! These fiends have somehow exploited the opportunity! Hold the gates open until the Orcs get within melee distance, and then close them! Gods have mercy on our souls for leaving these defenseless peasants to their fate.”
Imperial Soldier: “Yes Sir!”
Other Soldier: “Here they come!”
The battlements are lined with musket-yielding defenders who unremittingly fire their arms at the swarms of approaching enemies. The horde arrives as the last group of citizens manages to squeeze through the gate before it is shut.
General Tervel: “Hold your muskets steady lads! Aim for their hearts! Why have the cannon stopped firing?!”
Cannon crew: “They’re too close sir!”
General Tervel: “Keep firing at the outer defenses, they’re crawling all over them! The wall will hold; man your station, and stay strong! For the Emperor!”
The cannon continue to fire, thick smoke envelops the wall, and the constant booming of gunpowder deafens the defenders. There is a sudden calm; the smoke obscures everything.”
eneral Tervel: “Report!”
Soldier: “We can’t see anything Sir!”
Suddenly a grappling hook is flung across the battlements.
Soldier: “They’re scaling the walls!”
General Tervel: “Prepare for battle! Bayonets ready!”
Out of the fog come the silhouettes of siege ladders, being attached throughout the whole length of the wall. In mere moments, the contours of Orc berserkers and Goblin marauders are visible; the invaders jump onto the wall.
Soldier: “Berserkers! Ahhh!”
Imperial Officer: “Hold your ground, beat them back! Push those ladders off!”
General Tervel: “Beat this scum back! Throw them off!”
The Defenders manage to push most of the ladders back while arrows from below start to rain down on them. The berserkers manage to wound some of the defenders before they are cut down.
General Tervel: “Hold it steady men! They won’t take the gate! They’ve stopped coming!”
Soldiers: “Sir, we have major movement down there! The horde isn’t advancing, but it is parting! They’re letting something come through!”
Imperial Officer: “Let me see! General they’re right! They’re bringing something forward! Sir… SIR!!!! It’s a tempest orb; it’s a bomb! That’s how they toppled the tower; they’ll set it off!”
General Tervel: “By the Gods! Don’t let them get close! Fire on that movement! Everyone!”
The defenders keep on firing, but the tempest orb quickly reaches the wall.
General Tervel: “NOO! They’re at the base! Everyone off! Get off the wall, retreat to the inner city, warn the Emperor! I repeat RETRE…”
Before the general manages to finish his order a sudden explosion rocks the gate, sending the tower crumbing down, throwing the cannon and defenders off of the wall.
General Tervel is thrown in the air, and lands on the hard ground below, narrowly dodging the falling debris. His armor absorbs the force of the fall, but rattles him to his core. As he looks up through blood-shot eyes, he sees the immense horde crawling over the top of the wall. As the horrific figures descend towards him and the other wounded Imperials, General Tervel attempts to stand up and draw his sword. His knees buckle, and he collapses, losing consciousness.
On a hill overlooking the capital, Kaloyan the Mage; the man who assembled and led the horde to the doorstep of the Emperor overlooks the burning city in the company of his lieutenant Nya.
Nya: “It looks like our dwarven weapons did their job Kaloyan. The city’s defenses have fallen! We are ready to move in!”
Kaloyan: “Excellent! They call this the impregnable city; can you believe it? How delightful to know we’ve shaken things up for the Imperials already!”
Nya: “The fight is far from over Kaloyan! By breaching the walls we’ve forced the Imperial Guard to concentrate in the inner city around the palace. That is where the fighting will be hardest, and they are now more alert and battle ready. It’s time you call on the dragon Kaloyan, if we set the city ablaze the mass panic will make troop movements harder for the Imperials.”
Kaloyan: “You mean to incinerate the civilian neighborhoods? Those are just peasants Nya! They just happen to live in the city; they’re no dogs of war to the Emperor!”
Nya: “This is a battle we need to win at all costs Kaloyan. Now call the dragon, we’re losing time!”
Kaloyan: “Very well…” (He raises his staff and utters a chant, and what looks like a reddish projectile darts across the sky and descends upon the city spewing fire from above) “Oh my, that is a force to be reckoned with…”
Nya: “Your entourage is ready Kaloyan; we follow the horde and pick off whatever remains of the Imperial scum.”
Kaloyan: “Very well Nya… remember this moment; my entry into the great city! Bards will sing of this day… Let’s go!”
At the center of the city, at the war minister’s office inside the Imperial palace complex, War Minister Servius is busy working on paperwork when a guard bursts through the doors.
Guard: “Sir! A massive horde has breached the walls of the western gate! Reports are coming in of Orcs, Goblins and a dragon raining hell on the civilian districts! What are your orders?”
War Minister: “Unbelievable! This cannot come at a worse time! The Emperor is meeting foreign dignitaries today. Tell the guards to keep it down while they push back these invaders. We don’t want to interrupt the ceremony.”
Guard: “With all due respect Minister, this is not a small deal; we are not even certain if we can keep them from reaching the palace! We must evacuate the Emperor!”
War Minister: “What!? The Emperor of the greatest Empire on this earth forced to flee like some penniless refugee because a few Orcs decided to band together and cause a ruckus!? Unacceptable! Now without further ado, kindly do your job soldier, and discreetly kick these green monkeys out of his majesty’s city.”
Guard: “Discreetly... But we must use the palace’s heavy cannons to defend the plaza…”
War Minister: “Absolutely not! Can you imagine the ungodly noise that will cause inside the great hall? Keep it quiet out there, even if you have to club them to death!”
Guard: “But war minister, the situation…”
War Minister: “The situation requires tact and patience, two things I’m running low of in this conversation. Now go, I have papers to sign.”
Guard: “…Yes Minister.”
Kaloyan and his entourage make it into the city. Bodies line the streets; defenders, attackers and citizens caught in the cross-fire. Kaloyan’s strides are triumphant. As he walks through the rubble he surveys the smoldering cityscape and imposes on it the glorified, imagined vision of “his” future city. The party reaches the ruined western gate.
Kaloyan: “Under my rule these walls will be twice as high with dwarven-made foundations that angle up; blast-resistant to prevent this kind of destruction.”
Nya: “Kaloyan, focus on the battle! We have not won it yet! Clansman, report!”
Vampiri Warrior: “We found an Imperial officer and a few dozen Guardsmen here milady, all killed by the horde. We’re clearing the rubble so that the larger equipment and catapults can be brought through. The Orcs and Dark Elves are pressing ahead, but the Goblins are pillaging the civilian houses and are refusing to advance on the rest of the city. They aren’t following orders; they may have taken your speech about the blood and gold belonging to them to heart my Lord...”
Kaloyan: “Those little thieving vermin! I won’t lose this battle because some green-skin pests decided to plunder and steal!”
Nya: “Where is the Goblin Chief?”
Vampiri Warrior: “Last we saw him he was leading a raid on a tavern up the road.”
Nya: “Bring him here; tell him the Goddess summons him.”
Vampiri Warrior: “Yes milady.”
As Kaloyan and Nya direct the rest of the vampiri warriors, the Goblin chief is brought along, he trails a raggedy torn cape.
Goblin Chief: “You ssssummoned, me Goddesssss.” (He bows)
Nya: “Kulkan, what are you doing!? You have to press ahead and follow the Orcs! There are Imperials to kill in the inner city! You’re jeopardizing the siege with this plundering!”
Goblin Chief: “Apologiesss Godessss; Kulkan wasss doing what the mage told him to do… Pillage and gut Imperialsssss… ssssso many more left in thisss disssstrict… sssso many more hiding in their hutssss.”
Nya: “There’ll be time for that later! Right now it is my will that you should press ahead! Follow the Orcs; kill everything they leave in their wake!”
Goblin Chief: “Yessss Godesss… Your wish isss our command.” (He bows) “Boyssss, follow me!”
Nya: “Here we go! They’re pressing onward. Let’s move… Is everything all right Kaloyan?”
Kaloyan: “There are more civilian bodies here than soldiers! What kind of war are we fighting?”
Nya: “They were abandoned here to die, while the Imperials are held up protecting the Emperor. They’d rather lose ten thousand citizens than one cruel old man.”
Kaloyan: “I can’t wait to meet this coward face to face! Let’s go Nya; the smells are making me nauseous!”
The entourage heads for the central city.
Inside the residential districts pandemonium rules supreme. Citizens make their way out of the burning neighborhoods with whatever possessions they could carry. They shout and scurry across, dodging the falling embers and collapsing roofs. In the distance Orc catapults fire and the occasional flaming projectile lands amidst a block of houses setting them ablaze. General Tervel regains consciousness in the middle of this chaotic scene. He is laid on his side in a small alley, and a wet towel has been placed on his head. He tries to move his arm and sharp pain shoots up his spine.
General Tervel: “Aaargh…what…where am I? What’s going on with… The siege! The tower!”
Soldier: “Easy General; you’ll be all right! You were thrown from the wall when it exploded! Luckily the fall didn’t kill you; you were pulled to safety by the regulars before the horde managed to descend.”
General Tervel: “Is... is the gate breached?”
Soldier: “Alas, yes sir! They’ve swarmed into the city. We’re holding them off at key choke points, but they outnumber us ten to one! We were holding steady before the dragon showed up!”
General Tervel: “Dragon?? What dragon?!”
Soldier: “Great big beast Sir! Belches fire from the sky; our musket shot has proven useless against its scales.”
General Tervel: “We have to pull back; we need to regroup with the rest of the guard before we push them back!”
Soldier: “We’ve been trying Sir; they have us surrounded on all sides!”
Other Soldier: “Here they come again, ready yourselves!”
A group of Orc Berserkers storms into the small alley. The defenders fire their muskets and down the approaching Orcs.
Soldier: “That was the last of my powder!”
Other Soldier: “We’re running out of ammunition, and we can’t engage these monsters in melee; they’ll cleave us in half! Their swords and armor are dwarven!”
General Tervel: “Dwarven swords? Dwarven bombs? Orcs, Goblins, and Dragons? This is not the work of Orc planning; this is a massive rebellion! By the Gods, this may be the greatest threat we’ve faced since Zagora!”
Soldier: “What are your orders general?”
General Tervel: “If we stay here we’ll die! We need to head for the palace and make a stand there! The walls are fortified and great bombards can protect the square from the invaders! Save all the ammunition you can, follow me and stay close! I’m gonna give these cockroaches the fight of their lives! For the Emperor! ”
Soldiers: “For the Emperor!”
They storm into the alley.
Preslaff is an old city; one of the oldest in the Empire. It was initially built on an island in the middle of the mighty Thensa River, and the only way across was a bridge to the main land. As the city expanded stakes were driven into the river bed, the waters were subdued and diverted, and the island continued to grow. What remains of the mighty river now are but a few channels that run around the central part of the city. This central city is the home of Leon’s nobles. Mansions, temples and monuments are the fashion here; spoils of war and trade have paid for some of the most remarkable Imperial architecture ever built.
It is at this glamorous inner city that the Imperial Guardsmen make their stand against the advancing horde. The scene is chaotic. Defending the bridges to the center with muskets and field guns, Guardsmen fire and shout from behind makeshift barricades. Buildings burn as far-off catapults deliver their fiery cargo with deadly precision.
Wealthy citizens rush out of their burning homes with sheer panic in their eyes; there is nowhere left to run; from here the last fallback point is the Imperial palace, and they will not be granted entrance.
Imperial Officer: “Give them hell men! Defend Leon! Defend your Emperor! Don’t let these fiends get within a foot of this shore! For the Emperor!”
Soldiers: “For the Emperor!”
Imperial Officer: “Guardsman, what’s’ the situation at the Palace?”
Guard: “War minister Servius has forbidden use of the great bombards Sir! He doesn’t want to interrupt his majesty’s ceremony!”
A house is engulfed in flames and collapses in the distance sending sparks flying all over.
Imperial Officer: “Bloody hell! That good-for-nothing bureaucrat! You run to Eastern battery and you tell them to open fire across the river! We need to thin out their ranks!”
Guard: “But Sir that is a direct violation of the War Minister’s orders! What would
General Tervel say!?”
An Orc Berserker crosses the bridge and buries an ax in the chest of an Imperial Guardsman before he is cut down by musket fire.”
Imperial Officer: “Damn it! General Tervel is dead for all we know! That makes me the senior commander of his majesty’s defenses! Now go tell the cannon crews to open fire!
That’s an order!”
Guard: “Yes Sir!” (He rushes off)
On the other side of the bridge Kaloyan and his entourage arrive to a grizzly scene. Dozens of Orcs and Dark Elves storm across the bridge and are cut down by the defenders. A gargantuan Orc in black armor shouts at the top of his lungs and directs the attack as
Kaloyan approaches him.
Kaloyan: “Warlord Gurack! What’s the situation? Why have you stopped advancing?”
Warlord Gurack: “Kaloyan! They’re held up behind the bridges, those Imperials vermin! They’ve been cutting down my boys with every push! I’m not ordering any more to their death until we get the catapults close enough to deal more damage!”
Nya: “That is not an option! We cannot wait while they reinforce the palace defenses! We need to cross now!”
Warlord Gurack: “Then why don’t you send your own men to slaughter!? The Orcs have taken the brunt of this siege, and we’ve given the most casualties! Those dark Elves are squishy and can’t do it! The Goblins are not disciplined! Send your Vampiri across to fight for once!
Lord Bandrik and his force of vampiri arrive at the scene.
Lord Bandrik: “Kaloyan! We have great news! For some indefinite reason the fortress battery is not firing! That was to be the biggest threat to our forces; if we overwhelm the Imperial Guard now, then we can get to the Palace without further losses on our end!”
Kaloyan: “You hear that Warlord? Your men have fought bravely, and this will not be forgotten! We just need one more push, just one more surge to overwhelm the defenders, and we will be at the palace gates!”
In the distance an Orc is shot through the heart and falls dead with a heart-wrenching moan.
Warlord Gurack: “Not one more surge unless you wish to lead it mage!”
Nya: (Whispers to Kaloyan) “Kaloyan, we’re giving the Imperials valuable time to regroup and fortify! Call the dragon! Summon it to take out the Imperial defenders so the stubborn Orc Warlord advances!”
Kaloyan: “I see… well Warlord, your Orcs have given enough; my turn to bring a weapon to the fight! Stand back!”
Kaloyan raises his staff and a great bolt of purple lightning rises from its tip and towards the heavens. The Imperials across the river halt their fighting and look up. As the muffled shouts of thousands of attackers and citizens echo in the distance a great big spot in the sun appears. It grows bigger, bigger and soon casts an enormous shadow on the Imperial defenses below.”
Imperial Officer: “Gods, have mercy on our souls!”
The dragon lands with a thud that resonates throughout the city, crushing defenders, field guns and barricades alike. It pivots and seeks out any remaining humans. As a few wounded Guardsmen attempt to scurry away, it belches a fiery stream that incinerates them instantaneously. The officer stands his ground along with a few remaining Guardsmen.
Imperial Officer: “Hold it steady men, fire!”
The musket shot bounces off of the dragon’s armored scales, and with a mighty swing of its tail it knocks several defenders into an adjacent burning building. The remaining Guardsmen scatter at the sight of the beast, leaving only the senior officer staring down its enormous gullet. The dragon roars and levels its nostrils with the officer’s bloodied face. The officer raises his sword and utters in a clear disciplined tone:
“Long live the Emperor!”
The dragon swallows him whole and roars from across the river, and spreads its wings, once again taking off towards the heavens.
Kaloyan: “There you are Warlord, the defenders are dealt with; now we cross the river and move on the palace!”
Warlord Gurack: “Warghh, follow me brothers and sisters!” (The Orc horde advances, along with the Vampiri, Goblins and Dark Elves)
Nya: “Mighty impressive Kaloyan! The tide has turned in our favor! The cannon are silent, the defenders are running scared!”
Kaloyan: “I can taste victory Nya! Once the Hell Gate opens we will exterminate every last soldier in the city and then fortify the defenses! When the Third Legion gets word of the attack and returns to Preslaff we’ll be ready to face them with an army of demons and our victory will be complete!”
Lord Bandrik: “Don’t forget we’ll deal with the Emperor! He’ll have hell to pay for thirty years of tyrannical rule!”
Kaloyan: “Yes, my first act as ruler of the new world order shall be to punish despot! Onward we go; I can almost see the coward’s golden throne from here!”
In the war minister’s office, Minister Servius has finished compiling his papers for the security of the diplomatic meeting currently being held in the palace’s great hall. As he hums a melody under his breath there is a knock on the door.
Minister Servius: “Come in!”
The door opens and a scared guard peeks his head inside the door. There is immense terror in his eyes.
Guard: “War Minister… I… I am sorry, the complex has fallen... They have reached the gates of the palace…”
Minister Servius: “Impossible! Are you sure?”
Guard: “Well, War Minister, they are here now… forgive me, I had no choice...”
The guard is struck with a club from behind and collapses on the floor as a small force of Orc Berserkers enters the minister’s office led by a gargantuan Orc clad in black armor.
Warlord Gurack: “So, you are indeed War Minister Servius of Leon. You don’t know me, but you soon will. I am here to avenge Orc honor. Today is the day you die human!”
Minister Servius: “I … I … I …”
Warlord Gurack: “Lost for words in the face of your doom? How very out of character for a “true Imperial” war leader! Take him outside brothers and sisters! Bring him to the gate so he can see the might of the horde!”
The minister is tied up and brought outside where an Orc force assembles in front of the
Across the river from the Palace, a small group of Guardsmen led by a man dressed in a senior officer’s uniform arrives at the scene. Wealthy houses and temples burn and the bodies of countless Orcs, citizens, and Guardsmen line the streets. The officer leading the group stops so abruptly that the soldiers accompanying him crash into his back.
General Tervel: “By the Gods! They’re over the Bridge! Why haven’t the cannon fired on them!? The palace is defenseless!”
Soldier: “Sir, look across! Orcs!
As General Tervel looks across the bridge the Orc invaders notice their arrival and charge across towards the Imperials. The soldiers and the general jump into covered positions behind city debris. Musket shots ring out.
General Tervel: “Save your ammunition! Collect the powder off of your fallen comrades! We can’t beat these creatures back on our own! Pick off the Orcs and hold it steady! You there! Private, go find as many guardsmen as you can and bring them here! Look for field guns!”
Soldier: “Yes Sir, I’ll bring back as much help as I can!”
General Tervel: “Hurry back! We can’t hold out very long! Now go, we will cover you!!”
The soldier dashes out of cover and runs down the ruined city streets.
The Imperial palace of Leon comes into view in the distance. The seat of Imperial power, the largest, most decorated palace of its kind in the world, is home to the most infamous Leon leader of all time; Emperor Leopold III. The triumphant banners, plaza and architecture that usually greet the world’s nobility now swarm with hundreds of raggedy invaders who plunder its many rooms, and break its picturesque stained-glass windows. As the horde pillages, Kaloyan and his party reach the main gate into the emperor’s great hall.
Kaloyan: “Behold my friends! We have achieved what no other force has ever been able to achieve! We are at the Emperor’s threshold, in the middle of his sparkling city! The old fool Leopold has brought suffering to many! Orcs, Goblins, Elves, Dwarves have all been unjustly hurt by his politics, and today I right his wrongs and bring justice to us all! As I speak the coward hides away in his chambers, surrounded by his loyal dogs of war, all of whom are hell-bent on sacrificing their lives to save this gutless oppressor! By all means let them! They will die along with him in a hellish firestorm brought on by the might of the mage Kaloyan! I will not ask you to sacrifice any more my friends! Here and now I use my ultimate weapon; I open a gate to Erebus, and summon an army of demons to fight for me!”
Kaloyan pulls the spell out of his robe, and speaks.
Kaloyan: “Ispolin, aperta portam ad Erebi! Dimittere daemonum monstra!”
The Staff of power illuminates and emits a piercing, high-pitched tone. As horde steps back, the staff hovers, and bright light begins to cast circles in the square in front of the palace entrance. Voices become audible; they whisper in strange tongues and seem to fade and then whisper once more. Some whispers are ominous, others saddening, and as the horde looks around nervously a sharp beam of green light pierces the ground below the staff. The solid paving of the square erodes away like sand being licked by an ocean wave. The pulsing light grows into a cone, forming concentric circles each larger than the previous, each eroding the square further and further, until the pavement blocks fall through and an eerie greenish glow emanates from below. Mist, smoke, and green chain lightning fire as the gate ceases its movements and the smoke begins to clear.
From within the mist, silhouettes of figures become visible. They ascend the steps with inhuman speed and precision, as Kaloyan steps forward and raises the staff.
Kaloyan : “Demons, my name is Kaloyan the Mage! I am your new master! You will wage war on this world for me, and serve as instruments to my will! Bow down to me, the greatest mage in all the land!”
The demons emerge from the mist. Their skin is a blood red color, and their eyes glow with the intensity of a furnace. They are clad in demonic armor, their skin covered in repulsive lesions, their muscles animal-like and their movements like those of flickering flames. The demons surround Kaloyan and then turn and face the gate.
Kaloyan: “Spawn of Erebus! Bow down before me! I command you demons! I am your true master! I command you to do my bidding until I have taken over the whole world! I yield the sword of the necromancer!” (He pulls out the sword) “Swear loyalty to me now demons!”
A booming laughter descends across the silenced horde. A dark figure emerges from within the Hell Gate. As it steps into the light of day, a rusty chain falls by the wayside.
Kaloyan looks up in disbelief into an alabaster face, into blood-red piercing eyes, and into fangs like those of a wolf.
Kaloyan: “It cannot be! You… How... How is this possible! Vlad!”
Vlad: “Hello Kaloyan.”
Outside of the imperial capital a small group of riders pause their ride to observe the burning city. Sir Asparuh of Leon, the Orc mage “Him”, the Imperial heir Prince Jason, and Asparuh’s Elven daughter Loki have turned up at a site of utter destruction. The city of Preslaff burns in the distance.
Asparuh: “We are too late! They’ve breached the gates! Look at that thick smoke! It’s coming from across the river! They’re close to the palace!”
Him: “If they’re still holding out we need to reach them as quickly as possible! If the palace falls, the whole city will fall!”
Asparuh: “Ride quickly everyone! Those poor people down there depend on us!”
The riders approach the western gate. Asparuh dismounts his horse, and runs into the smoldering ruin.
Asparuh: “NO!! They’ve burned the slums to the ground! Look at all of these bodies! Women, children, elderly! This mage will pay!”
Him: “Looks like an explosion brought down the gate and tower. Which way now Asparuh?”
Asparuh: “We make a run for the palace! General Tervel and his troops should still be holding out! The palace has great bombards which will keep the horde at bay!”
Loki: “I do not hear cannon father... Perhaps they have been overrun.”
Jason: “This is horrific! I have never seen so many dead! So much destruction! I’ve ridden out through these doors many times in the company of peers!”
Him: “How many of them probably lie face-down in the mud right now?”
Jason: “Don’t be heartless! This is my home! Look what these monsters did! This is a tragedy!” (He turns away)
Him: “I see here many an Orc, Prince Jason. You think this is a great human tragedy? You should think about how many more Orcs lie dead in front of you, while you sob over the carcasses of murderers!”
Loki: “Don’t pay attention to him Jason, my mother’s told me plenty of stories about “Him” and his twisted sense of humor. I think it’s sweet that you care enough to shed a tear for these strangers. Compassion is not something Imperials are known for.”
Jason: “Shedding tears? Me?! Never! I’m the Emperor’s son!” (He wipes away his tears)
Loki: “It’s ok; I won’t tell anyone…” (She winks) “You know… you’re not the spoiled prince I thought you would be.”
Jason: “You know Loki, I really enjoy your company…” (They stare at each other, their eyes gleaming)
Asparuh: “We’ve got company!”
As the heroes look around a young Imperial soldier rushes in from a ruined side street.
He approaches the party.
Soldier: “Thank the Gods I’ve found you here Sir Knight! We need all the help we can get!”
Asparuh: “What’s the situation?”
Soldier: “They’ve reached the palace Sir Knight; we are trapped on this side of the river! Gods only know how the Guardsmen inside the palace are fairing!”
Jason: “They’ve breached the palace!!! My father and my family are in danger! I need to get there now!”
Soldier: “I’m afraid we can’t cross the river Prince; the horde is thickest in the city center, and the wretched dragon the invaders brought continues to hover overhead and breathe fire and dive on top of remaining Guardsmen! I just saw it disappear into the clouds, a soldier still screaming between its talons!
Him: “A dragon? They brought a dragon!? Asparuh, we can’t win this fight! It’s beyond us!”
Asparuh: “We have no choice my friend! You have nothing to gain here, so I will understand if you will not join me, and I would never put Loki at risk against her will, but Prince Jason and I are heading to that palace and seeing this thorough to the end!”
Him: “Asparuh…You know I’d never let you face a dragon or a mage alone ... But it is foolish to throw your life away! You’d be committing suicide!”
Asparuh: “If the mage reaches the palace and kills the Emperor, the Empire will fall, and I cannot let that happen! I’m going in whether you come along or not.”
Him: “Urghh … damn it Asparuh! Damn it to hell! So be it! Lead the way soldier!”
Asparuh: “Thank you my friend. Private, has anyone from the high command survived the onslaught?”
Soldier: “Yes Sir, General Tervel and a few Guardsmen are held up at the bridge not far from here.”
Asparuh: “General Tervel is alive! Then perhaps we still have a shot! The fate of the
Empire depends on us reaching the palace! Lead the way!
The party disappears into the ruined streets.
Back at the Imperial Palace, Kaloyan is in shock having seen the visceral figure of Vlad emerge from the underworld.
Kaloyan: “You… You are alive? You’re walking the earth once again? How…How is that possible?”
Vlad: “How is it possible? The only person I can thank for getting me out of my impenetrable prison is you Kaloyan! You alone did what no other mortal has ever managed to do! You survived the odds, you beat the elements, and you were, for lack of a better explanation, incredibly lucky along the way!”
Kaloyan: “You… You said this gate will take your soul! You said you’d be sacrificed! What on earth is going on!?”
Vlad: “I see you’re quite startled still, so let me help you connect the dots! You did what you did in an effort to help me escape! You unleashed a demon necessary for my release, you gathered my allies, you fought my enemies, and you assembled my horde for me! Why, you even brought me my sword!”
Kaloyan: “You… used me!?”
Vlad: “Incredibly sorry to say it but yes… You are quite the little self-righteous narcissist you know! I must admit, it was getting hard to stand your rants about greatness towards the end, but you did your part, and you did it masterfully!”
Kaloyan: “How dare you! I hold the staff of power! I will destroy you!”
Kaloyan feels a sharp blade held up against his neck.
Nya: “Lower that staff Kaloyan!”
Kaloyan: “Nya! Not… not you! Please don’t tell me you knew about this!”
Nya: “I’m sorry Kaloyan, but the Vampiri need their leader… their true leader, and a chance at revenge.”
Kaloyan: “I…can’t believe it! Vlad, you’ll never get away with this! This massive horde follows me!”
Vlad: “This massive horde is disposable Kaloyan! You’ve just handed me the keys to the underworld! My minions are countless!”
Kaloyan: “I am the greatest mage of my time you bleeding demon! You will regret this!”
Vlad: “Greatest mage? Kaloyan, Kaloyan, Kaloyan… you’re a weakling unworthy of holding up that staff! Not only are you not a mage, but you are barely capable enough to be called an apprentice! Your master was a great mage; you are a fool. You were fooled into thinking you could ever evoke respect, you were fooled into thinking you could rule an empire, and you were fooled into thinking you had a chance at being the equal to an immortal being! When I rule this world, I will find a position for you worthy of your worthless status. Until then, I have a few bones to pick with old Emperor Leopold! Take care of this Nya; I’m heading inside to pay the old man a visit.”
Vlad takes the sword of the necromancer from Kaloyan’s trembling hands. He heads towards the palace with a group of demons, while the Vampiri surround and disarm Kaloyan and
Roger. Lord Bandrik storms up to Vlad.
Lord Bandrik: “I don’t care who kicks the Empire around, but my understanding with the mage was that Avalonia was to be released from Imperial control once this was all over! I expect you to uphold that agreement!”
Vlad: “Ah, I was wondering when I’d get a chance to do this. Might as well let it be now.”
Vlad swings his sword and stabs Bandrik through the chest. Lord Bandrik screams out in pain, and collapses on the floor dead.
Vlad: “Yes… Still sharp after so many years.” (he turns to the horde) “Anyone else have any requests?”
Warlord Gurack: (Whispers to his Orcs) “I don’t like the look of this demon business, we’ve gotten what we came for; let’s go before they decide to target practice on us as well! Bring the War Minister!” (The Orcs begin to leave the plaza)
Vlad and his demons disappear inside the palace. The disarmed Kaloyan trembles like a leaf; his reality and fantasies crashing down both around him and inside his head. Nya binds his hands and the Vampiri escort him as he walks.
Kaloyan: “Nya, please…”
Nya: “Listen here you ghastly human leech! I have had a lot of patience with you and your shameless advances! If you want to stay alive long enough to reflect on your pitiful life, I suggest that you shut your mouth and obey every order! Guards! Find me the Goblin Chief, and then take Kaloyan to the dungeon; we’ll deal with him later. Take the old man too.”
Roger: “I’m coming along! I’m coming along, by the gods…”
The two are bound and the Vampiri begin to walk them towards the dungeon.
Kaloyan: “Roger… I… I am so sorry… You were right... You were right all along... I think I’m gonna be sick Roger! “
Roger: “It’s all right Ser… I’m happy to be alive and well with you… at the moment, as it were.”
Kaloyan: “Roger, I have failed in every obligation I ever swore to uphold as a mage… I’ve effectively released hell upon the earth! It was all for naught! A trick! Vlad is the greatest evil I’ve ever encountered and I trusted him to benefit me! They’re right Roger! I’m nothing but a fool!”
Roger: “Ser… Fate has been our friend throughout this journey; let’s trust in it once again. If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that fate is kind to fools.
Kaloyan: “I sure hope you’re right Roger… I sure hope you’re right…”
To be continued…
Stay tuned for the epic conclusion of "Rise of he Mage", coming in mid August!