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Lord of the Dragon Riders . Rise of the Mage Chapter 6 . It is nightfall in the Frosty Mountains, and the last rays of sunshine disappear behind the mountain peaks, illuminating them and highlighting their serrated contours. When the last wavering beams fade away, the night sky is transformed into a great celestial chasm from which hundreds of stars peer out. The heavens are cloudless and crystal clear and the endless expanses of space reveal their true form to a world uninhabited and gripped in coldness. Soon the starlight is displaced by a dazzling explosion of colors; northern lights. Brilliant greens and golden yellows dance across the night sky like the great banners of the gods, casting a greenish glow on the endless expanse of pine forest below. The forest itself is asleep, unmoving, and dark. Only a small glow of embers somewhere down below seems to be fighting a futile battle with the infringing darkness. The glow comes from outside a tiny shelter; a tent made of thin fabric, strategically positioned away from the main forest route. A figure moves in the gloom outside, hunches over, spreads the skirts of the tent, briefly letting out a brilliant glow from within, and then disappears inside. Roger: “The tea is ready ser, it’s a bit watery, but we’re running short on ingredients. Kaloyan: “Thank you Roger. Have a seat.” Roger: “I can’t believe what just happened ser; we could have all been killed!” Kaloyan: “Roger, it was clear that this journey will be perilous and sacrifices would have to be made. Now I have a staff fueled by the soul of a demon, and the sword of Vlad the necromancer!” Roger: “What is your plan ser; we can’t stay out here any longer. There are wolves about, and we have food for no more than three days.” Kaloyan: “You worry too much Roger! We are at a crucial point in our endeavor; we must make contact with the Vampiri Clan. They will have strength in numbers, and once they pledge loyalty to me as their leader, we will begin our onslaught on the Empire!” Roger: “I don’t know about this ser, what if it’s all a trap! What if we walk in their camp and they simply rob us of the staff and sword and feed us to a troll!?” Kaloyan: “We are not their enemy Roger; they were defeated by the Empire decades ago and now seek a chance for revenge. That is what I will promise them!” Roger: “And how are we going to find them ser?” Kaloyan: “I don’t know Roger; I’m setting up a small ritual so that I can communicate with our friend in the underworld; he will direct us onward.” Roger: “Be careful ser, you know I don’t trust demons.” Kaloyan: “Uhh, Roger this is terrible! What’s in it?” Roger: “Pine needles, sugar and snow ser. We have nothing else. I will go tend to the fire and leave you to your reading.” Kaloyan: “Yes, wake me in the morning, and please do better at breakfast.” Roger: “Yes ser.” (He exits) Kaloyan: “Let’s get on with it… (Reading from text) “And round about I moved my rested eyes, Uprisen erect, and steadfastly I gazed, to recognize the place wherein I was. True is it, that upon the verge I found me of the abysmal valley dolorous, that gathers thunder of infinite ululations. Obscure, profound it was, and nebulous, So that by fixing on its depths my sight nothing whatever I discerned therein.” (A familiar white light fills the room and Kaloyan collapses in his bed) Kaloyan finds himself in a world of hazy whiteness; he realizes he is trapped in a cage. Kaloyan: “Ah, this is getting irritating! Vlad! I know you’re here somewhere, save the theatrics and tell me what I need to know!” ” Vlad: “Uneasy behind bars are we? I thought perhaps you’d like to see things from my perspective. I must say, I am thoroughly impressed by your success Kaloyan! I would have given anything to have a soul as powerful and ancient as ISPOLIN under my command thirty years ago…but I digress. You are about to take the most important step in your journey yet; meeting the Clan; if you hope to survive the encounter you will listen to me very, very carefully.” Kaloyan: “I’m listening, just let me out of this thing!” Vlad: “Patience! When you walk into the camp you will be greeted with open hostility. You are to utter the following phrase or else it’ll be your head on their spikes; “Your lord once again talks from the shadow realm, and I alone walk as his disciple.” Kaloyan: “You must be joking! I am no messenger or disciple of yours! I will sway their will with my power alone!” Vlad: “I admire your courage and complacent sense of self-importance, but these warriors are not swayed by words, only by actions. You will travel up the mountains from your camp for half a day until you reach the fortress of Vostok. Once they take you to their leader Nya, give her this amulet. She will explain the rest.” Kaloyan: “And then they will swear loyalty to me?” Vlad: “…yes. However, there is a small problem. You are a human, and they are vampire. They will inherently distrust you and your resolve and power. You will have to prove to them that you are a powerful mage! There will be a test…” (A distinct reptilian roar shatters the silence. The beating of giant wings and then the heft of a giant body landing reverberate through the air.) Kaloyan: “Test? What test??” Vlad: “You have never encountered one of these up close have you? In ancient times vampiri warriors used to ride dragons into battle; show them that you can master such a beast, and they will follow you without question. Remember; the key to your survival will be using the staff; “Fight not fire with fire. Exhibit respect, not fear. Strike with calm not with anger. This is all I can tell you, the rest is up to you, and if you fail then… let’s just says it may all have been for naught. Take care now…” Kaloyan: “Wait, what was that!? Where are you going!? I have more questions! WHAT THE!!!!” A giant gaping reptilian mouth opens and flames explode in Kaloyan’s face. He awakens. Roger: “Ser! Are you alright? You were having a nightmare, it’s morning” Kaloyan: “Roger! Uh, yes… I’m alright…” Roger: “Here you go ser; real rabbit stew. Was it another Vlad dream ser?” Kaloyan: “Yes…But what’s important is that I know how to locate the Clan; let’s get everything packed, we’re leaving today!” Roger: “As you say ser.” The mage and his servant pack their camp and begin the trip up the mountain. After several hours of walking they arrive at an impressive sight; an ancient keep built into the mountain itself. Kaloyan: “Look at it Roger! It’s magnificent; it looks like an old Tasher fortress! It’s been here a thousand years, tucked away in the throat of the mountain peaks; an incredibly remote and natural base of operations!” Roger: “Ser, are you sure about this; it looks heavily guarded!?” Kaloyan: “Of course Roger, I know exactly what to say to them.” Roger: “Be careful ser!” Kaloyan: (stepping out into the clearing) “Greetings blood-Kin! I am Kaloyan the Mage here to lead you to glorious victory!” (In a flash the guards draw their swords and surround him) Vampiri Guard: “I love it when the prey comes straight to you!” Second Guard: “Hold him steady, I bet I could cleave him in half in one strike!” Kaloyan: “Hold off now! I am on your side you bloody fools!” Guard: “I found another one, cowering in a snow bank.” Roger: “Ser! For goodness sake, I though you knew what to say!” Guard: “Are you lost mage?” Second Guard: “No matter, I’m giving it a try!” Kaloyan: “Enough! Enough! Your lord once again talks from … the shadow realm, and I … alone walk as his disciple!” Guard: “Did he just say what I think he said?” Second Guard: “Damn it, get him inside now! Is this old one with you?” Kaloyan: “Yes, he’s with me, now lay off!” Guard: “Bring them to Nya, she’ll know what to do!” Kaloyan and Roger are rushed into the fortress. They climb stairwells, are rushed across a sky bridge, and brought into an entrance hall. A woman clad in armor marches into the room; she looks young and beautiful; her complexion pale and her gaze razor-sharp. She approaches Kaloyan and draws her sword. Nya: “Where did you hear that phrase mage!? Don’t make me tear you limb-from-limb! Speak now!” Kaloyan: “You must be Nya of the Vampiri Clan. I was expecting a warmer welcome; I am Kaloyan, Grand Mage of the West and I am here to lead you to victory against Leon!” Nya: “I don’t much give a damn about who you are; answer my question!” Kaloyan: “I was told to give this to you. (He hands her the medallion) Nya: “This…This belonged to Vlad! Could it really be happening?” Kaloyan: “Could what really be happening! I am here to lead you on a glorious campaign against the Empire!” Nya: “Yes, yes, of course you are. Give me a moment… Victor, Sergei; go back outside. I need to talk to these men.” Roger: “Oh thank the gods, I thought they were going to kill us for sure ser! This place gives me the creeps ser! Look at the poor fellows in the cages!” Kaloyan: “Hush Roger!” Nya: “Kaloyan, was it? Have you talked to Vlad? Do you have his sword?” Kaloyan: “Yes... met him in the underworld. We hatched a plan to bring down the Empire. You see I despise all they stand for, and you seek revenge! I am here to assemble an army and move on...” Nya: “I have waited for this moment thirty years!” Kaloyan: “Yes…as I was saying…so if you will swear allegiance to me I’m sure I can make you a high-ranking officer of some sort…AAH!” Nya: “Listen Kaloyan! The fact that Vlad has chosen you of all others to lead his Clan and carry out his revenge is baffling to me, but I don’t swear loyalty to rambling fools! You will have to convince me and the Clan that you are indeed worthy of this honor!” Kaloyan: “I am very aware. Perhaps you wish to see the might of my staff!” Nya: “I do not care about your staff! I have been laboring for three decades to organize, to build alliances, and prepare a rebellion! If you are to lead and inspire leadership, all parties involved must see your display of power.” Kaloyan: “And I am ready to show it!” Nya: “We will see… Dmitri, come here!” Dmitri: “Yes milady.” Nya: “Summon Lord Bandrik to the Fortress! Tell him we may have a figure-head in our campaign. Be back before sundown!” Dmitri: “At once milady!” Nya: “You will be put through a trial Kaloyan; if you succeed you will have the loyalty of the Clan. If you fail; you will lose your life.” Kaloyan: “I accept your challenge!” Nya: “Very well; prepare and rest. Your trial begins at sundown.” (She walks out) Roger: “By the gods ser! What have we gotten ourselves into?!” Kaloyan: “She was beautiful Roger; such loveliness is uncanny!” Roger: “Have you been listening milord! You will be put through a life-and-death trial!” Kaloyan: “Have I told you that you worry too much Roger? Let’s get some real food; we still have hours till sundown.” Roger: “Uh, yes ser…” Meanwhile in Imperial Leon, Sir Asparuh the Knight and his companion, the Orcish sorcerer known as “Him”, have arrived at the outskirts of the town of Pliska. Unaware of the events going on around Kaloyan, the two heroes have come to investigate the troubled western province. Asparuh: “This is the bridge at Pliska, men, we’re within a few miles of Edrin’s Tower. “ Him: “Looks like a welcoming party. I hope you packed a speech or two.” Asparuh: “Greetings townspeople; I am Sir Asparuh, Captain of the Royal Guard and Champion of Imperial Leon, and this is the Honorable mage “Him”. We have come to investigate claims that there is trouble at the Tower of the Arcane; what can you tell us about this?” Town Guard: “Sir Knight, I beg of you turn around now! The mage at the tower has ordered all Imperial troops to keep out, and has threatened to level the village if we do not comply! We have no quarrel with you; please don’t make us engage you!” Asparuh: “I see… Fear not, we are here to help you, not to endanger your lives; can you tell us why Edrin has forbidden Imperial presence in Pliska?” Town Guard: “Sir Knight, haven’t you heard?! Edrin the Wise died months ago! All was well until his damned apprentice Kaloyan took over at the tower. “ Him: “I knew it! I knew old Edrin could not be behind this!” Asparuh: “Yes, but this is a saddening affirmation, Edrin was a good man. We have to confront this apprentice; is he at the tower now?” Peasant: “We don’t know Sire; we have not heard anything from him in weeks. If you intend to help us you may pass through, but please speak to Elder Rosso at his farm up the road from here.” Asparuh: “Very well, let’s see what the Elder can tell us. Men wait here.” Riders: “Yes Sir.” Asparuh and “Him” travel up the road and arrive at the designate house, perched on a hill overlooking a valley ripe with life and greenery. Asparuh: “Pliska, pretty as a painting; just a regular sleepy provincial town.” Him: “In my experience, the best kind of place for all types of shady business.” Asparuh: “Not in Edrin’s time. Hello there lad, we’re looking for Elder Rosso; is this his farmstead?” Boy: “Yes milord, I will go get him for you.” Town Elder: “What in the creator’s name is this! Imperials are not allowed past the bridge; get away now before you cause us anymore trouble than we already have!” Asparuh: “Elder Rosso, I am Sir Asparuh of Leon, and we are here to help you. Please, can we speak in private?” Town Elder: “You’re Asparuh? The most famous soldier in all the Empire! By the Gods, if they’ve sent you maybe they haven’t abandoned us after all… Very well, come inside, quickly now before anyone sees you!” The Elder rushes the party inside. Town Elder: “Damn stuck-up apprentice devil! He’s had us living in fear for weeks! If I had the strength I’d ring his neck, I would! ” Him: “Calm yourself, we need to know what’s been going on around here.” Town Elder: “And who are you exactly? We don’t get many orcs in the west.” Him: “Is that why this mutt is growling at me? Bugger off!” Asparuh: “This is the honorable mage “Him”, a great friend of the Empire. Now, you were telling us about Kaloyan.” Town Elder: “Yes, my apologies, have a seat gentlemen. It all started when “Lord Kaloyan the Mage of the West” decided he was entitled to running this region when Edrin passed. Initially we resisted this incompetent youngster’s command, but he later returned with powerful magic; summoning a golem from the Earth itself! It tore through the village, and we had to give in you see; it would have reduced Pliska to rubble. Kaloyan has been running things ever since.” Asparuh: “This is understandable; you have no means of defending against such magic. Where is Kaloyan now?” Town Elder: “The mage is travelling; he sent his servant into town not three weeks ago to seek out three local men to go on a journey. We have not seen them since that day, and things have been very peaceful.” Him: “Him: “Bugger off dog! What’s he want? ” Town Elder: “Sharro outside!” Asparuh: “Three men, the mage and his servant? So five men dressed as townspeople, departing here not three weeks ago? It sounds like we found our culprits for the attack on Frosty Mountain! If they are not back here, they must still be in Mitgardia.” Him: “So they’ve been running rampant through Mitgardia for a half a month now!” Asparuh: “Is there anything else you can tell us Elder Rosso?” Town Elder: “It just so happens a woodsman found a heap of discarded ingredients in the woods near the tower. He brought them to me in hope that I can make sense of what the Mage is planning. I will bring you the urn; take a look.” Him: “Ground Arnica roots…pheasant beaks, a skull. It looks like the set up for a summoning ritual, and this is a fragment of a map of Erebus… “ Asparuh: “Is there anything else?” Town Elder: “We found this golden crest after the golem attack; I thought it may be valuable…” Him: “I don’t believe it; a seal from a black grimoier. Necromancers use them to pass on their knowledge and spells. If the apprentice acquired such a text, he will have extensive knowledge of incredibly powerful dark magic! What do you make of this symbol?” Asparuh: “That’s Vlad the Necromancer’s personal seal!” Him: “So Kaloyan may have ventured into the underworld, and emerged with knowledge of dark magic, from a grimoier belonging to Vlad, all a little bit before Vlad’s sword disappeared in the Mitgardia…This proves it; Vlad is the puppeteer, and Kaloyan the puppet!” Asparuh: “And what does he hope to accomplish?” Him: “Perhaps the undoing of the Empire, perhaps something more-sinister. This apprentice could implode our reality itself if we don’t stop him!” Asparuh: “We must alert the Emperor at once!” Boy: “Sir Knight, there are soldiers here looking for you.” Asparuh: “What? Soldiers? Thank you Elder, you have been invaluable help to us; if you’ll excuse us.” Asparuh and “Him” step outside where they find a small group of Imperial soldiers. Asparuh: “What is all this? I was given a week to report to the war minister; explain why you’re in the west!” Soldier: “Letter from his Imperial Majesty for you Sir Knight!” Asparuh: “What? From the Emperor? Let me see! (Takes letter, reads out loud) “Sir Knight, accompanying these men is the youngest of my three sons, Jason. Despite all of my efforts, he has disappointed me in every way it is feasible for a son to disappoint a father. I want him to accompany you on your endeavor so that that he may learn what it means to be righteous and a true son of Leon. –Emperor Leopold III of Leon” Which one of you is Prince Jason?” Jason: “That would be me Sir Knight; the disappointing son.” Asparuh: “Prince Jason you arrive at an unsuitable time; we are in pursuit of a dangerous mage. I am afraid your apprenticeship will have to be postponed. Please return to the capital. Let’s go “Him.” Jason: “Sir Knight, I have exhausted my chances for redemption with my father. This is my last shot at doing something noble before he sends me to a monastery like he did my middle brother! I am a trained swordsman, and an expert hunter, I can live the frugal lifestyle! You are the noblest Knight in all of Leon, if anyone can help me, you are him! ” Asparuh: “I certainly understand that Prince, but I cannot bear to have you tag along.” Jason: “Oh please Sir Knight, it’s either this or monastic life, and I can’t keep vows! For the love of all you believe in, please let me come along! It’s my last chance! It’s your emperor’s will! ” Asparuh: “I see… Well, if you are to come along, you are to do as I say when I say, are we clear?” Jason:”Perfectly!” Asparuh: “And you are not to whine and complain. Is that clear?” Jason: Yes, yes! Thank you Sir Knight!” Him: “Excellent, how thoughtful for our leader to burden us with a royal brat just as we need to make haste.” Asparuh: “Very well, welcome to your first journey. We’ll head for the Mitgardian Capital of Valholl, they are sure to have heard something of the mage or at the very least can help us find him. Jason, I hope you are ready to face real danger.” Jason: “Don’t worry Sir Knight I’ve survived six Spring Festivals in Varocha! A dozen barmaids in Lev can vouch for my…shall we say “vigor”. That’s my type of scuffle.” (He nudges “Him”) H im: “I’m sure all the trolls we encounter will be charmed.” The party crosses the bridge at the river. Midway on the bridge the golden seal begins to vibrate and shake violently. Him: “Oh my… this is awfully clever…” Asparuh: “What is?” Him: “It appears our friend Kaloyan has placed a protective ward on the seal, and afterwards on the bridge here, so that nobody can take it out of the town and survive to tell the tale… how devilishly clever of him…” Asparuh: “What are you talking about!?” Soldier: “Sir Asparuh, something stirs in the water!” A giant stone mass rises from the river bed, as the soldiers panic and run off of the bridge. Him: “It’s a golem! Don’t move!” Asparuh: “Run! Are you mad?!” Him: “It’s a big stupid rock! It can’t see you if you’re not moving, now everybody; stand still!” Asparuh: “Plan?” Him: “Working on it. Cover your eyes. That’s right, turn a bit more…a bit more…IGNIS!” (A fireball hits the golem square in the head, which explodes into hundreds of tiny pieces) Asparuh: “By the creator, it worked! What’s so funny? Why are you laughing?” Him: “An Earth Golem! That’s what had these peasants scared? They could have clubbed it to death!” Asparuh: “You have a strange sense of humor my friend. Soldiers, ride to the capital; inform the war minister that the west is secure, and that Edrin the Mage is dead. Tell him we are headed north into Mitgardia in pursuit of a suspect and that we will send word on our progress from Valholl. Are you alright son?” Jason: “That was madness!” Him: “There’s going to be plenty more “madness” where we’re headed. Welcome to our type of scuffle.” (He nudges Jason) Back in the Mitgardian Mountains Kaloyan is beginning his trial.” Nya: (From the tower top) “Very well mage, show these warriors why you’re the one to lead them. It has been three decades since Vlad tamed a wild dragon. We will summon a beast, and you will subdue it or die trying. Are you ready?” Kaloyan: “I will succeed. I’m ready to begin.” Roger: “Be careful ser!” Kaloyan steps out of the shadow of the fortress. Above him, a horn sounds an ancient battle call. Kaloyan stands in the center of the clearing and raises his staff. There is a familiar beating of wings and a reptilian screech. Kaloyan looks up and a magnificent dragon flies over the fortress and lands it monumental body with eagle-like poise. Its scales glistening, its teeth bared, and its claws digging into the frozen ground, the beast eyes up Kaloyan. . Kaloyan: “Fight not fire with fire. Exhibit respect, not fear. Strike with calm not with anger.” The dragon screeches and belches fire at Kaloyan, who screams and jumps behind a cage. Lord Bandrik: “Get out of there you coward!” Roger: “Ser!!!” Kaloyan: “How am I supposed to approach that thing? It’ll eat me alive!” Nya: “You must tame it like the dragon riders of the past! You will either convince it you’re its master, or it will kill you!” Kaloyan: “Great! Let’s try this again! Fight not fire with fire… so how about…TEMPESTAS!” The dragon is struck by lightning, and stops its advance; shocked by the mage’s bolt. Kaloyan: “Exhibit respect…” Kaloyan bows his head, and stands up to his full height facing off the beast. Kaloyan: “Strike with calm, not with anger.” As the dragon rears its head once again Kaloyan calmly points the staff at its throat and utters “TEMPESTAS”. The bolt hits the dragon directly in the nostril, and it panics and shakes its head violently. It is unsure of what to do, and dares not attempt to belch fire again. Kaloyan calmly steps towards the beast and raises his staff. The dragon stiffens its musculature, lowers its enormous head, and relents to the mage. Kaloyan steps on its giant scales, climbing on its neck. An awe-struck audience files down from the tower and bows their heads in respect. Kaloyan: “I am Kaloyan Mage of the West and I beckon thee warriors; join me in my cause to destroy the empire of Leon; who stands with me!?!” Nya: “Unbelievable! You are the one! The Vampiri Clan pledges loyalty to Kaloyan the Mage!” Lord Bandrik: “Lord Bandrik of Avalonia and his men pledge to follow Kaloyan the Mage!” Kaloyan: “Dear friends; the age of the glorious Empire are numbered. Let us bring the Lion to its knees!” To be continued…

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