Assembling the Horde . Chapter 9 - Rise of the Mage . The Mitgardian sun rises and sets on the world below with little regard towards the affairs of men. The celestial shepherd traverses the Northern sky, as if herding fluffy white clouds with its gentle rays, always traveling onward, never stopping. Its interest is never piqued by the myriads of creatures that shuffle below, and neither peace nor conflict seem to matter enough to warrant a look downward.
How strange is it, then, that on a day like today the sun seems to have ascended to the highest point in its climb, stopped, and cast its eternal gaze downward with unprecedented interest. It illuminates the snowy peaks and melts the primeval glaciers sending water cascading down the rocky slopes. It banishes shadows from the icy crevices of the pine forests and it extends its regal rays all the way to the lowly creatures of the earth; so that they too may partake in its majesty.
On this rare sunny day, Kaloyan the Mage awakens in his chambers at the fortress of Vostok, and slowly climbs out of bed and dons his robes. The door to his chamber opens and an elderly servant limping behind a wooden cane enters the room.
Roger: “Hello Ser.”
Kaloyan: “Ah Roger, what time is it? It’s mighty bright outside!”
Roger: “Yes Ser, it’s sunny out! It’s a nice change walking outside without shivering. I hear the trip to the Dwarf city went well?”
Kaloyan: “It went better than well Roger; we are on our way to having a force mighty enough to challenge the Empire of Leon!”
Roger: “By the gods, Ser, you have the sword of Vlad, your staff, the dragon, the Clan, the Leon nobles and some fancy dwarven weapons! What more do you need to prepare this rebellion?”
Kaloyan: “Don’t be foolish Roger! We need a large force to take the capital! You think that a few hundred vampiri can take down those mighty gates? Even with our advanced arms and all the demonic magic I can muster we would still make easy targets for the legionnaire sharpshooters. No... We need cannon fodder. We are setting out today to secure key allies for the fight. When we attack the capital we will overwhelm the Imperial Guardsmen with sheer numbers!”
Roger: “You’re taking off again Ser? But you just came back! This constant running around and not eating can’t be good for you! Look at you; you’ve become skin and bones! You’re not like these vampire folks; you have to eat a fattening chicken every now and then. I’d cook if you ever stuck around long enough to eat it.”
Kaloyan: “Precisely why you’re coming along with us on this trip. Follow me now; we must get to the Great hall.”
They leave the room and walk down a dark corridor. Inside the great hall, the sun’s joyous rays illuminate the mage and his servant.
Roger: “And where exactly are we off to ser?”
Kaloyan: “Dark, ancient places Roger! It is the final step in our plan! Now go and tell the Guards to bring our Elven prisoner up; I have a few things to ask him. Then start preparations for the trip!”
Roger: “Of course Ser.”
The servant walks out of the room, and several minutes later an elf draped in a white tunic is brought in under heavy guard.
Kaloyan: “Welcome to my modest headquarters Elder Elf. Rejoice; you’re seeing history in the making! From this humble beginning will emerge the greatest ruler of our time!”
Elven Elder: And who might that be, mage?”
Kaloyan: “You’re looking at him! My empire will be the pinnacle of modern civilization! I will be hailed as the great savior, the great unifier! Millions will bow down before me!”
Elven Elder: “Murderer, heretic, anarchist., and an ego-maniacal fool… Yes, you are a prime candidate for a great human ruler.”
Kaloyan: “Watch your tongue elf, or I’ll have it snipped off! You and your people have already faced my wrath, you don’t want to test me again!”
Elven Elder: “Have you brought me up from the dungeon to gloat? If so, I’d like to go back; no amount of torture makes me cringe as much as watching your smug expression as you talk about great deeds.”
Kaloyan: “Not quite; we’re going on a little trip and your presence is warranted. I’ve been studying the Tasher skull from your sanctuary; it seems it’s capable of incredible magic, but I need your expertise to tap into its full potential! I’ve incorporated a shard of it into my staff.”
Elven Elder: “And what makes you think I will help you on your wicked crusade? I’d rather die than add to your mayhem!”
Kaloyan: “Because the fate of the Elven Race rests entirely on your actions. If the elves are to have a place in the world under my rule you will aide me in my quest no matter how brutal the task at hand seems, are we clear? If you should refuse, what happened in the Locrian Forest will happen to a major Elven city! Doryan comes to mind, or Praghya. Trust me Elder; you do not want to refuse my will!”
Elven Elder: “You are as impious as a demon, mage! You force my hand but I have no choice!”
Lord Bandrik: “There you are Kaloyan, are we set for departure?”
Kaloyan: “Hello Bandrik, we are indeed! Guards, get the Elder to his horse; we don’t want to be late for our first destination.
Guard: “Yes Milord.”
The Elder is led out and Bandrik and Kaloyan face each other.
Kaloyan: “Very well then, is everything set Bandrik?”
Lord Bandrik: “Indeed Kaloyan; the first shipment of weapons has arrived from Omurtag, we’ll be taking them with us as tribute for the Orc Tribes. Nya has departed to Broken Steel Mountain where she will form an alliance with the Goblin horde. She has taken the dragon along; the Goblins are superstitious and believe Dragon Riders are deities! They will follow us into battle without question. It’s up to us to secure the alliance of the Orcs, and the Dark Elves. Avalonians will join the fight as well, when the hour of battle comes.”
Kaloyan: “Excellent! Our first destination is an ancient temple deep in the Dark Elf kingdoms. Once we unlock the power of the Tasher skull, I will have access to tremendous elemental magic! I will use its power to force the locals to join the fight in our favor! What do your scouts report about the Orcs?”
Lord Bandrik: “The Orc warlord Gurack and his tribe are living in the ruins of an old Tasher fortress in Nocturnus. By all accounts they kill humans on sight and don’t ask questions, so getting in will be quite difficult. How we could approach without alarming the camp; I do not know.”
Kaloyan: “Not to worry, we have a little gift for the Warlord; the Duke of Plevna, an Imperial noble who single-handedly led the relocation and genocide campaign against the Orcs, twenty years ago. He’s the second most hated man by the Orcs in the Empire next the Emperor; the sight of him should at least grant us an audience with the Warlord.”
Lord Bandrik: “Excellent. But, what is this? I see Viktor has returned from his patrol, he’s beckoning us to come.”
Lord Bandrik and Kaloyan leave the great hall and approach the returning party of Vampiri scouts.”
Viktor: “Troubling news My Lord; a platoon of Mitgardians has been spotted approaching south of the Serrated Peaks.”
Lord Bandrik: “Damn it! They could not have arrived at a worse time! Tell us, have they seen the fortress?”
Viktor: “No My lord, they seem to be unaware of our presence; they’re on their way elsewhere.”
Lord Bandrik: “Then they are no danger!”
Kaloyan: “I don’t like these Norsemen getting in so close! Perhaps we should deal with them before we set out?”
Lord Bandrik: “Nonsense! We should not waste valuable resources and time fighting Mitgardians! Viktor, remain behind with two dozen clansmen. If the Norsemen spot the fortress, ambush them and make sure they report its location to no one. No prisoners, am I clear?”
Viktor: “Indeed My Lord, not a man will escape to tell tales of this place.”
Kaloyan: “Very well, let us ride out; the ancient secrets of the land await us! Bring the Elven Elder!”
Viktor: “Yes My Lord.”
Kaloyan the Mage, Lord Bandrik, two prisoners, and a horde of Vampiri warriors set out into the brilliant light of the day, setting their sights on the great shadow realms known as Nocturnus. Unbeknown to them, just miles from the fortress of Vostok, a great force of Norse warriors assembles. The forest-green tints of capes and the metallic shimmer of helmets and swords carpet the rocky terrain of the frosty Mountains, as entire platoons of Mitgardian soldiers assemble at the base of the mountain. At the head of this force, an old warrior clad in shining armor, trailing a blood-red cape, directs the men.
Asparuh: “There! At the base of the mountain! What fortress is that!?”
Mitgardian Captain: “We do not know of it Sir Knight. This is a remote region of mountain; no patrols ever pass by here.”
Asparuh: “Loki, you’re sure they were headed inside?”
Loki: “I am father; I saw them with my own eyes.”
Him: “Bloody hell, look at that place! It’s a damn hornet’s nest! It’s probably crawling with undead abominations. We risk it all if we attack head on!”
Asparuh: “Yes, but if the mage is within those walls, the risk is well-worth taking!”
Jason: “You don’t plan on simply charging in do you Asparuh? I’m no strategist, but I’ve heard enough war-stories to know we’ll be cut down by their archers before we even reach the wall!”
Asparuh: “Under regular circumstances I would never suggest that, but the extreme nature of this situation warrants an extreme plan of attack. We will strike from the West, just as the sun is setting. The day is bright, and the falling rays will blind the defenders as we make our approach. If we are lucky, they will not see us coming, and if they do, will be unable to aim accurately. The fortress has no outer wall, so we will storm the keep; once at the main gate we can break it down and storm in. Captain, how many soldiers have we gathered?”
Mitgardian Captain: “Four hundred and seventy Sir; it’s a sizable force. We have portable rams to break down the door, and ladders to scale the walls.”
Asparuh: “Very good; we will lead a two-pronged attack. My party and I will attack from the South West, drawing the archer’s fire away from the main attacking force coming from the North-West. This will give the rams and ladders enough time to reach the gate. “Him” can you put on a big display of magic?”
Him: “I can light up the ground with puffs of smoke and sparks. This should work… But Asparuh, I am weary of Kaloyan’s staff! The soul of a trapped demon is a powerful force! You and I alone should face off against the mage when we reach him!”
Asparuh: “Agreed! Loki, you stay behind us, and keep an eye on Prince Jason and make sure no harm comes to him!”
Loki: “Don’t worry father, I’ll watch over his royal behind, and make sure he doesn’t get an arrow lodged in it.”
Jason: “When it comes to behinds, I would not mind having your leading in front; I’d take the view in gladly.”
Jason: “Ah right, my apologies, I keep forgetting she’s your beautiful daughter… I mean, daughter… Err.. Sir.”
Asparuh: “Captain, prepare the men. Loki, would you mind coming along, I’d like a chance to talk to you before we set out.”
Loki: “Sure thing father, looks like the prince needs a little breathing room anyways.”
(They walk away)
Him: “So that’s the famous smooth talking you’ve been bragging about, heh? Right in front of her father too; very interesting approach, but what do I know, I’m only an Orc.”
Jason: “Oh hush! She’s something else though isn’t she…”
Him: “A big heap of trouble if you ask me. Elven women are all crazy, and this one’s got Asparuh’s temper… Now come, time to test your swordsmanship.”
Deep in the jungles of Nocturnus, the ancient Dark Elves once ruled a kingdom of tremendous wealth. Cities of stone, temples, monuments and shrines, graced the forest as far as the eye can see. After centuries of conflict with other tribes and human invaders, the cities were abandoned and the Elven temples fell into ruin. The most majestic of these temples were built on the foundations of ancient shrines to elemental magic. These shrines predate civilization, and go back to the early days of wizardry; when covens of mages roamed the wilderness. It is at such a shrine that the Tasher skulls were forged, and it is at such a shrine that Kaloyan, Mage of the West and his party now find themselves. After hours of cutting vines, hiking through the wilderness, and exploring miles of underground ruins, the party emerges at an awe-inspiring site; an abandoned Tasher Shrine.
Kaloyan: “My, oh my! Take a look elder elf! This is where it all began; this is where magic was first harnessed! Do you feel the tingling in the air? There is ancient magic here; it’s been here for millennia!”
Elven Elder: “It’s a sight to behold… It’s heavily weathered; the cavern is flooded.”
Lord Bandrik: “Salt water; it must be seeping through from the coast. We’re within a few miles of it. Let’s hurry this up Kaloyan; I don’t like the look of this place…”
Kaloyan: “Nonsense. The Elder and I must unleash the might of the Tasher skull. Come, let’s cross the water!”
Roger: “What are these crystals for Ser?”
Kaloyan: “Crystals of elemental magic; I advise that you not touch them Roger; remember what happened last time?”
Roger: “Ay, Ser, it seems there are always evil things buried in these dark temples. Perhaps there’s a reason they’re abandoned.”
Kaloyan: “Not this place. Look around Roger; we’re surrounded by shrines to the four elements; the water shrine in the lagoon, the earth shrine at the roots of an Elderwood tree, the fire shrine at the furnace, and an air shrine at the apex of the statue. The skull shard must activate them somehow…”
Elder Elf: “I feel obliged to tell you not to do this mage. Reconsider this madness; stop your bloody war before you unleash something terrible upon the world!”
Kaloyan: “Noted. Let’s see… Ah yes runes. They’re in Tasher, you need two magic yielders to pronounce them at the same time. Let’s read them together Elder, nice and slow.”
Together: “Ot – em –erv – an – tus – ukv -mis -rut –kap “
There is a tremendous boom of magical sparks in the air, the Kaloyan’s staff and the elemental crystals begin to glow. An ancient door slides open and exposes an old weathered tome.”
Lord Bandrik: “A book? This is what we came all this way for Kaloyan? A book?!”
Kaloyan: “Not just any book Bandrik; this is a Tasher Grimoire! By the Gods!!! Look at these spells elf! They are incredible! I can summon elemental spirits with this magic!”
Elven Elder: “What now Mage? You have your treasure, will you let me go?”
Lord Bandrik: “He knows too much, we can’t risk him letting the imperials find out our plan. I say we cut him down here and get the hell out of this cave!”
Kaloyan: “Do with him as you will; he’s outlived his usefulness to me.”
Roger: “Ser, we’ve got company!”
As Kaloyan turns a spear drives itself through the armor of a vampiri warrior on the other side of the cavern, who falls dead. As the party turns to face the threat, they are surrounded by a group of muscular, pointy-eared savages all clad in tribal wears, painted from head to toe with clannish tattoos. From amongst the ambushers steps out an old warrior, who wears a regal red cape.
Dark Elf Elder: “I am Leader of Cocoranshu Tribe; you trespass on holy land, but you bring White Elf with you. We see you enter cave above, we follow you down here; you carry great magic, great magic. We see white elf, we want him come along with us. No harm to white elf, no harm to Elf Elder.”
Lord Bandrik: “Dark Elves Kaloyan; they’re tribal with a primitive culture. Let’s not upset them.”
Kaloyan: “Let me handle this. Greeting Elder! Behold; I am the greatest mage of all time! I wage a war against Leon; join me and you will be handsomely rewarded! I can rebuild your world; I can make the Dark Elves powerful again! As you are my witness, I swear I will bring you riches and glory in a victory against Leon!”
Dark Elf Elder: “Mage fights Leon? Leon banish Cocoranshu Tribe from forests long ago! They make Tribe live on reservation, trade furs for trinkets! Mage is not powerful enough to fight Leon.”
Kaloyan: “That is where you are wrong Elf, but let me demonstrate! Step back everyone!”
Kaloyan steps away from the Fire shrine and raises his staff, Grimoier in hand. He reads off from the text.
“Ognen duh, stani, stani y mi sloguvai”
The ambers in the fire pits begin to glow and from the subdued flames rises a massive conflagration which twists and turns in the air. The fire and ash wind and deform to shape the contours of a mighty fire golem. The heat it emits is almost unbearable and its glowing eyes survey the cavern with devilish flickers.
Dark Elf Elder: “Holy spirit! It shows up in true form! Never have we seen such magic! Mage is indeed powerful. We bow before might of Kaloyan. We beg mage, release white elf to us.”
Kaloyan: “Fair enough, take him! (He releases the fire golem which falls apart as ash and smoke) Be ready for battle; we set out tonight! Is that clear?”
Dark Eld Elder: “Clear, yes, mighty Mage. We go prepare for battle. We leave tonight.”
The dark elves take off with the Elven Elder, and the cave is once again silent and dim.
Lord Bandrik: “That was too close for comfort, and this was to be the easy task on our journey! I hope it was worth it to you Kaloyan; we lost a powerful warrior in young Sergei here. Let’s hope the Orcs are in a better mood when we get to them!”
Kaloyan: “Well worth a hundred warriors Bandrik! This is the last school of magic I have not mastered! Elemental magic is now at my fingertips, and I truly am the greatest mage to ever live! Now… Lead the way towards the Orc clan!”
The party ascends back to the outside and rides towards the fearsome warlord Gurack and his Orcish clan.
Orcs are a nomadic race that once moved freely throughout the world, hunting and foraging for food. When they encountered men in prehistory, they quickly learned that the life of hunting and gathering could not be sustained in competition with human farming and husbandry. The Orcs of the past assimilated into human society and were deemed a permanent laborer class; unskilled and muscular, worthy of work as farm hands and infantry men, but never farm owners or military elite. Orcs stayed subordinate as second-class citizens until the time of Emperor Leopold III of Leon, who decided to segregate the Orcish populations in large ghettos, and ultimately forcibly moved hundreds of thousands of Orcs out of Leon and into Orc cities. (Usually abandoned or war-damaged human cities) The discontented Orcs rebelled against the social injustice and were hit hard by Imperial Legionaries; numerous Orc towns were burned and hundreds of Orcs were killed in the unrest.
From the ashes of this defeat rose radical leaders who called for violence against humans, and a unified Orc Kingdom. They formed war parties and migrated to the fringes of the Empire, from where they could launch raids and gather in numbers. Amongst the most radical Orc leaders is the Warlord Gurack, also known as the “Lord of Black Mountain”. His parties of hunters and skirmishers have made their permanent base of operations in an old Tasher Fortress, long-abandoned by men. It is at this grizzly ruin, that Kaloyan and his party of warriors arrive mere hours after securing the aid of the Dark Elves.
The setting sun illuminates the decaying corpse of the old fortress; giant gaping wounds from long forgotten battles plaster its walls and towers, and crudely made timber structures betray the reinforcement efforts of the new occupants. Blood-red Imperial banners hang torn from wooden posts, and the dismembered heads of Legionaries are scattered about as a warning to all who encroach on the fortress. As the party approaches the makeshift entrance of the compound they are met with open hostility.
Orc Guard: “Ah, would you look at that! The fly has come to the spider’s web on its own! Boys, we have ourselves some fresh meat!”
Second Orc Guard: “I want the skin of the young one; it’ll make a nice war drum!”
Kaloyan: “Easy there fellows! Are you mad? Are you bitter? Are you craving some Imperial blood? Just you hold on a second! Bring the Duke forward!”
The Vampiri escort the duke towards the entrance.
Kaloyan: “Behold! The great war criminal, the great killer of Orcs; the Duke of Plevna!”
Orc Guard: “Duke of Plevna?! … It can’t be! Get him!”
The Orcs advance towards the Duke, and Kaloyan fires off a fireball which strikes the ground and sends debris flying in all directions. The stunned Orcs halt their advance and look at the mage, weapons drawn.
Kaloyan: “Nobody touches the Duke until Warlord Gurack agrees to the terms of my proposal! I request an audience!”
Somewhere above the battlements a hunting horn sounds. The Orcs turn to face the fortress, as a massive wooden gate opens. A daunting Orc steps out from its shadow, his black armor clinking and clanging as he strides towards Kaloyan. As he approaches the entrance, all the Orcs come to attention.
Warlord Gurack: “And who might you be human?”
Kaloyan: “I am Kaloyan; Mage of the West, soon to be ruler of all of Leon! I yield the sword of the Necromancer, and lead an army towards the gates of the Imperial Capital! I request the allegiance of the Orcs in my battle! I come bearing gifts; Dwarven armor and weapons, Imperial coin straight from the treasury, an old war criminal, and the promise for a bright future for the great Orc clans! What say you?”
Warlord Gurack: “You are Kaloyan? We’ve heard stories about your deeds! Is it true that you subdued a dragon and single-handedly destroyed the shrine of the Empire-loving Elves?”
Kaloyan: “Very true indeed! I possess magic and resources so ancient no living mage has ever laid an eye on them!”
Warlord Gurack: “And this prisoner? Is it truly the Duke?”
Kaloyan: “Take a look mighty warlord; what do you think?” (He thrusts the Duke forward)
Warlord Gurack: “Warghh! I’d recognize that face anywhere! Remember me you measly little squid? You burnt my village to the ground! You had my brothers beat to a pulp, and my sisters enslaved! Oh, this mage sure has proven to be a friend of the Orcs by simply bringing you here so I may have my revenge!”
Duke: “The Empire will not allow this! You will all be hung as traitors! Let me go at once or else the seagulls at the gallows will be picking the meat off of your bones in three days time!”
Warlord Gurack: “How comically Imperial… Even as he stares doom in the face he continues to believe he’s in charge and will be safe! Take him to the dungeon! Let’s put him through all the phases of Orc misfortune! You hear that you slippery carp? You’re gonna regret the day you swore allegiance to the crown! Make a slave out of him!”
Orc Guard: “Yes Boss.”
(The Duke is carried off into the fortress and the Warlord turns to face the mage)
Warlord Gurack: “You seem to be all-powerful! How you got to him, I haven’t got a clue; why even the best of Orc dissidents could not have gotten within a mile of that fiend! Perhaps you are the ally we’ve been looking for all along. “
Kaloyan: “You will join me then? And spread the word to all the Orc tribes in the Leon? Can you mobilize them quickly?”
Warlord Gurack: “The clans can be gathered by sundown should I call for them!”
Kaloyan: “Wonderful! Swear allegiance to me now, and I will make you and the Orcs richer and more respected than you’ve ever been! You’ll be masters in the new world order I create, not servants! You will be the first class, and Imperials will bow down to you! All I ask in return is your swords and shields in battle! What say you?”
Warlord Gurack: “Hmm… come this way.” (The enter the fortress keep, and climb up to the battlements) “Listen up Brothers and Sisters! The Orcs were once a great race! WE yield from the blood of Kuraj, and the mighty loins of Tarkalan! WE built the cities of the Empire, and fed its people, served in its armies and crushed its enemies! WE are the reason the lion rose to dominate the world, and as a reward for our service, WE were banished, hunted, hated and treated like animals! Brothers and Sisters, Sons and Daughters, today I implore you; the time of reckoning has come! Kaloyan the Mage has come to our aid to help us regain our glory! On this day, our time of hiding is over! Today we emerge from the shadows and use the chains of oppression to hang the Lion by the head! Today we take our rightful place in the world! I, Warlord Gurack, Lord of Black Mountain swear allegiance to Kaloyan the mage! TO WAR!!!!!”
The Orcs exclaim and shout in support. Swords and axes are thrust into the air, and banged against shield as the fortress fills with battle cries of hundreds of rejoicing
Kaloyan: “You have a way with words Warlord. Our armies assemble in front of the capital city in five day’s time! The Legion will not be there to meet us! I expect to see the mighty Orc horde there!”
Warlord Gurack: “We will be there in force, Kaloyan. We’ve been itching to give Imperials a taste of their own medicine for ages!”
Lord Bandrik: “Kaloyan, our messenger has just returned from Omurtag; the siege engines have been finished and will be brought to the plains of the Capital in four day’s time!”
Kaloyan: “Very well, we must depart and set up camp where we can coordinate our tactics! It’s been a pleasure Warlord Gurack…”
Warlord Gurack: “Nonsense, the hour is getting late, the sun is setting; very soon it will be night all over! These mountains are treacherous at night; trolls and mountain giants roams the land after dusk. You are my guests tonight! You’ find warm beds, food and water and all the firewood you could want. Stay the night, and depart tomorrow morning. It is the least I can offer! ”
Lord Bandrik: “Hmm, I do like the sound of that; we haven’t eaten since we left Vostok, and the men are weary.”
Kaloyan: “Very well, I will use the opportunity to study the Tasher Grimoier. Thank you for your hospitality Warlord.”
Warlord Gurack: “Come right this way Kaloyan, for you, I give the most spacious quarters in the camp; the hut of our sorceress!”
The warlord summons the sorceress.
Warlord Gurack: “Uruka, make room for the Mage of the West, he’s staying in your hut tonight.”
Sorceress: “…Death and rubble, demon’s scheme and fright…fool a man with foolish heart… to bring forth an eternal night and bathe in blood of myriad innocents…”
Warlord Gurack: “She’s an old coot, disregard her… I hope you find everything you need Kaloyan. I will be in the keep if you need me.” (He walks away)
Kaloyan: “How strange and ominous… Ah, but I digress; Bandrik, I intend to study the tome tonight. Do not disturb my reading unless something incredibly important happens! Same goes to you Roger!”
Lord Bandrik: “Yes Kaloyan, I’m off to indulge in the festivities, Orcs sure know how to make a hearty meal! Farewell for tonight, see you in the morning!”
Roger: “Very well Ser, I’ll see about making breakfast first thing in the morning.”
Kaloyan: “Now to delve into the mystic secrets of the arcane arts!” (He disappears within the hut)
Meanwhile in Mitgardia, Asparuh begins his attack on Vostok Fortress as the sun begins to set over the mountains. Golden light falls at a sharp angle, and stabs the gaze of west-bound gazers. Under the cover of this celestial shield, the Mitgardians begin their charge. As the force approaches the fortress a horn goes off somewhere in the high towers; an alarm. Vampiri defenders rush out onto the battlements, and they peer out into the unforgiving sun. Silhouettes of hundreds of spearmen shimmer in the distance, but the merciless sun does not allow the defenders more than a moment’s gaze. Before the first arrows begin flying the force has reached the base of the fortress. A few Vampiri standing guard outside engage them.
Asparuh: “For Leon!”
Him: “Die you buggers!”
Viktor: “Retreat! Retreat to the fortress!”
Him: “Watch your flank Asparuh!”
Asparuh: “Got him! To your right!”
Him: “EXURO!” (A Vampiri warrior is engulfed in a fireball)
Jason: “Two already! AAAH! I’m on a roll Loki!”
Loki: “Five for me, aim in the armor below the neck!”
Jason: “The battering rams are here!”
The battering rams and ladders arrive amongst a crowd of Mighty Mitgardians, and immediately begin to pound on the massive gate.
Mitgardian Captain: “For Mitgardia! For Jarl Nibelung!”
Asparuh: “Smash in the door! Come on lads; put your muscles into it! Break down the windows!”
After a several powerful swings, the aged door begins to give.
Soldier: “Sir Knight! We’re about to break through!”
Asparuh: “Get ready lads! Once inside we clear one room at a time! We must find the mage! Get ready for the fight of your lives! Loki, stay here and clear the battlements!”
The door shatters, and the Mitgardians rush in, led by Asparuh. The first hallway is empty, and the warriors quickly rush into a major corridor.
Asparuh: “For Leon! Die abominations!”
The defenders are quickly cut down.
Him: “Asparuh, something is not right! We should have been greeted by an army; instead we’re fighting a few dozen defenders! These aren’t even made clansmen; not a one has put up a good fight. What on earth is going on?”
Asparuh: “I know… the fortress seems ill-equipped for defense. The bulk of the Vampiri are not here! Not a sign of Kaloyan yet!”
Mitgardian Soldier: “This door leads to a great hall Sir knight, it’s been bolted shut!”
Asparuh: “Then let’s unbolt it! Yaaaargh!” (He kicks the door open, and storms into the Great hall)
Asparuh: “Kaloyan!!! Are you in here you coward! Come out and fight!”
Viktor: “Kill the intruders! Don’t let them get any further!”
Vampiri: “Die Imperial scum!”
Asparuh: “Dare you insult the Empire! AAAH!”
Viktor: “By the Gods! Asparuh! You mad dog! I will kill you! AAAAAH! (Viktor is struck with a spear through the chest)
Asparuh: “Hold on! Let him live! Bring him here!”
Asparuh: “Viktor… I thought I killed you at Zagora!”
Viktor: "You thought wrong human… (Coughs)… The Vampiri are more-resilient than you can imagine… (coughs up blood) and you will soon learn that lesson the hard way…”
Asparuh: “Where is the mage? Where is Kaloyan?”
Viktor: “That depends on whether or not he’s fulfilled his usefulness…Haha” (Coughs up more blood)”Very soon, all humans will be but a memory, and the Dark Lord will rule supreme!”
Him: “Answer the damn question you worthless guttersnipe! Or you’ll wish you were never reincarnated! Where is the mage now!!?””
Viktor: “Weak! So weak! You don’t deserve a place in this world…” (Coughs up a substantial amount of blood) “Long live the dark Lord Vlad!” (He collapses and dies)
Asparuh: “Damn it! We’ve missed our shot! We’ll never catch him now! They’ll never return to a smoldering fortress! We have failed!”
Him: “This is a great Victory my friend! Whatever their plan was, you’ve single-handedly set it back long enough for the Empire to intervene! We will have a legion marched here and they will search every nook and cranny of this frozen wasteland until the Mage is found!”
Jason: “Asparuh, come quick! They’ve found the mage’s quarters; there’s something you should see!”
The party rushes over to the mage’s bedroom.
Jason: “Take a look! What do you see!?”
Him: “It’s a crude drawing… a plan maybe? For a great big tower, it seems too large to build. What’s upset you so much young Jason?”
Jason: “Look at where it’s built! It’s in the middle of the Capital City!”
Asparuh: “The Mage fancies himself a residence on top of the Emperor’s palace then?”
Jason: “Yes! But look at these letters! Look at these plans! He’s written it all out!”
Him: “He’s right! By the Gods, look at this Asparuh! This is where he is now: securing alliances! Goblins, Orcs, Dark Elves… Why even an Avalonian force is on this roster… led by some Lord Bandrik!”
Jason: “Lord Bandrik?! I know him well! He advises my father on Avalonian affairs! What the bleeding hell is he doing involved in this?!”
Asparuh: “Look at this… Nya! Vlad’s second in command from Zagora! Her body was never found… She must be the one orchestrating this! She and Vlad are working in unison, manipulating the Mage!”
Mitgardian Captain: “Sir Knight, take a look at this letter; it’s dated yesterday!”
Asparuh: (Reads from letter) “We’ve successfully convinced the Imperial war minister that the Orc rebellions in the South warrant full militarization of that border. The 3rd legion has been relocated to the Southern Border, giving you a window of opportunity of a week to move on the Capital… Signed, Lord Bandrik”
Jason: “They’re moving on the Capital! Within a week!”
Him: “So that’s why we found no trace of the horde… These Vampiri were a skeleton crew… The real bulk of the Clan is marching on Leon as we speak!”
Asparuh: “The war minister ordered the 3rd Legion to leave the capital… That incompetent fool! The city is now only protected by a force of two thousand Imperial Guardsmen, completely unaware of the impending dangers! Upon them will descend a force of Orcs, Goblins, Dark Elves, Vampiri, and God knows what else!”
Loki: “If he succeeds in recruiting them!”
Asparuh: “We can only assume he already has! Everything he’s tried has worked so far! We have to go! We have to go now! Search the fortress for prisoners and supplies; Captain can you get some horses for us?”
Mitgardian Captain: “Yes Sir! They can be ready to ride within the hour!”
Asparuh: “Thank you Captain. “Him”, Jason, Loki, prepare to ride.”
It is sunset and the now captured fortress of Vostok looms in on the dark horizon like a sinister reminder of the evil that encroaches on the Empire of Men. The four adventurers mount their horses, and as they prepare to depart, Asparuh and “Him” look back to the fortress once more.
Him: “How many more battles do we have in us old friend? How many graves are we going to leave in our wake before we find our own?”
Asparuh: “We did not choose this war my friend… This is the work of evil, rearing its head once more. There is no other way. Now come on, I pray we are not too late…”
Back at the hut of the Orc sorceress, Kaloyan the Mage is preoccupied reading and studying the ancient text; it is close to midnight and the cool mountain air penetrates the cracks in the timber hut and chills the mage’s spine. He wraps his robe closer to his shivering body. It is a body weary and tired, sleepless and neglected; not in the sense of cleanliness, which is as impeccable as that of an imperial officer, but in the sense of a long-term plan. Long-gone is the baby fat that covered his body back in Western Leon; instead, long, bony arms and well-defined musculature protrude through the gentle creases of his robes. As Kaloyan turns another page and absorbs its knowledge with thirsty eyes there is a knock behind him. He does not turn but simply replies with annoyance.
Kaloyan: “For the last time Roger, I don’t want any supper! For the love of God, stop interrupting my reading!”
Nya: “Well it looks like I’ve got you in a bad moment…”
Kaloyan: “Nya!!” (He drops the book) “Not at all, oh my, forgive my annoyance, Roger has been pestering me! What are you doing here? I thought you were out securing an alliance with the goblins!”
Nya: “The alliance is secured; as soon as they saw the dragon, they knelt and swore allegiance to our cause. Goblins are such funny superstitious things… They called me Goddess, can you imagine?!”
Kaloyan: “I don’t blame them Nya, you certainly are a vision…”
Nya: “…And, you’ve managed to secure both the dark Elves’ and the Orcs’ alliance I hear?”
Kaloyan: “Yes indeed! We are ready Nya! Ready to take on Leon! Soon I will be the ruler of this world! And in this new world ruled by me there will be a spot for a beautiful Queen… And yet I am alone in this world…”
Nya: “I’m sure women from all corners of your realm will be eager to become Queen, Kaloyan; don’t you worry about it.”
Kaloyan: “Very true, I’m sure there will be hundreds of beautiful girls, each an excellent companion and partner… But perhaps my best companion has been right near me this whole time… I guess I’m saying that…perhaps … well, you would like to be my Queen once this is all over… I wouldn’t want it any other way Nya; you are the most beautiful creature in all the world, and your tact and strength are beyond measure… What do you say Nya? Let us rule the world together!”
Nya: “Ah… Kaloyan, look… We should focus on the task at hand… There is a major battle coming, these thoughts are very much misplaced.”
Kaloyan: “Misplaced! I have planned this journey from the very start, and never have I had a misplaced thought! Don’t torment me with your silence as you always do! I beg you Nya, for once give me an answer; do you fancy my companionship, will you be mine once we take the throne, or am I fooling myself as pesky Roger tells me!”
Nya: “Kaloyan, in another time and place we might have been more than allies, but we are just too different you and I; I can live for an eternity and you will age, and perish and turn to dust within a few decades. You are destined to be a mighty human ruler, and I’m sure you’ll find a loving human wife to give mean into your life; but I am not for you, and you are not for me. Now, let us put it to rest and focus on the task at hand. I will see you in the morning Kaloyan, have a good night.”
Kaloyan: “But, Nya wait! I love…” (She walks out) …you”.
Kaloyan throws the book on his bed; he looks around the empty room. Jumps on the bed and curses the heavens.
Kaloyan: “Misplaced thoughts!? How dare she?! After all I’ve gone and done for her! After all the tests and all her gentle looks, to stab me in the heart with icy rejection! As if I can’t find a way to live forever! As if she can do much better! Oh that heartless she-devil; how I love and hate her at the same time! What I wouldn’t give to feel her ivory flesh, to hear her say swear her love to me… What can a man do to appease such a capricious creature as her!? … Ah, but my head is killing me, I must rest; nobody said this would be easy; tomorrow I will try her once again. “
Kaloyan falls asleep quickly. The night sets in and the chilly mountain winds begin to sing their symphony in the crevices of the fortress walls. As Kaloyan sleeps he twists and turns. He shuffles his feet and arches his back; from the darkness comes a voice:
Voice: “Kaloyan… Kaloyan…”
Kaloyan: “What… (yawns) .. Who is it?! Nya, is that you?”
Voice: “Indeed it is my love, I’ve changed my mind! Kaloyan, I cannot fight these feelings anymore… You are the one I want and need! Take me here my love; make me your Queen!”
Kaloyan: “Nya! Really?! I…I can’t believe it, I’m so happy! I love you, I love you Nya!”
Nya: “I love you too Kaloyan! Take me now! Make me yours!”
Kaloyan: “Oh my, I have thought of this often, just give me a second, I am shocked, you were so against it before! But…hold on a minute Nya… Where on earth are we? What is this place?!! Nya, is this a dream!? Please don’t let this be a dream!”
Voice: “Kaloyan… Kaloyan…”
Kaloyan: “Damn it! Damn it! Where did you go Nya! Come back! What manner of dream is this!? Vlad is that you!”
Vlad: “Very good Kaloyan! I must say, I almost did not think you would catch it… seeing as you were so focused on the prospect of immortal flesh… Welcome to my prison once again.”
Kaloyan: “Dare you trick me in this despicable way demon! Dare you make a fool of me! I will have none of it!”
Vlad: “I’m afraid you have no choice. You have failed Kaloyan! Your rise to the top has been halted; Vostok has fallen, and your plan is revealed to the Empire.”
Kaloyan: “What are you talking about!?”
Vlad: “As I sat in my prison in Erebus a curious new soul stepped off the boat; my old minion Viktor. He told me all; Asparuh the Warrior and his party have taken the fortress and are undoubtedly on their way to warn the capital! The legion will be alerted, and will march there making your attack a suicide run… How unfortunate, you had such
Kaloyan: “Vostok! How could they have found it!? Curse the damn Imperials! We are not ready to attack yet!”
Vlad: “Indeed, your force won’t last a day against the Legion… I suppose it’s your turn to run away now and spend the rest of your days hiding like vermin… it’s only natural, for weak magic users. No wonder Nya would reject your fancy; your weakness is repulsive to immortal beings.”
Kaloyan: “Hold on a damn minute! I won’t be talked to in this way! I’ve succeeded where no one else could have! I’ve risked my life, fought demons, undead, Elves, and tamed a dragon, not to mention single-handedly acquired half the arcane artifacts of the Tasher mages! I’m the most powerful mage alive, and I say I will never be reduced to running from the Empire! We’ll find a way; we’ll settle elsewhere, build up our force…”
Vlad: “For an immortal that would be acceptable; for your limited lifespan, I’m afraid you won’t be able to wait it out. The imperials will learn from this, will reinforce the capital, and you will never rule over anything! Now is the only time the capital is vulnerable. A shame… unless…well, I don’t think you’re a strong-enough mage to consider another option.”
Kaloyan: “Another option?”
Vlad: “Yes, a rare chance, and a very dangerous plan; it will require all your might, but it will win the battle, and secure you the throne if you succeed.”
Kaloyan: “Tell me! What is this plan?”
Vlad: “In my time in Erebus, I’ve studied the passage in and out… You see, all souls, dead and alive must be allowed through by a guardian demon. Once this demon opens the passage to the underworld, souls may travel in either direction. If you had command of such a demon, he could open a gate to Erebus, and from there you could summon a mighty war band of demons to fight! Your force is strong enough to breach the gates of the capital, but not strong enough to hold the city against the Legion. If you can breach the walls and make your way to the center of the city, then you can open a gate which will ensure that you have a constant source of obedient soldiers at your disposal. These demons are fierce warriors and will obliterate the Empire’ soldiers… But you must be a powerful mage to force the gate open…”
Kaloyan: “Demon soldiers? But you said they were unreliable and disloyal! And where would I even start to look for such a gate-keeper!?”
Vlad: “You already have him Kaloyan! ISPOLIN is an ancient gate-keeper who was entombed for millennia; you can open the gate by simply using your staff, and uttering this spell… Imagine the terror on the Imperial’s faces when your demonic horde comes at them! Imagine how feared you would be, and how powerful! Why even an immortal like Nya will be unable to resist the natural magnetism that that much power brings! But… I suppose only an ambitious mage, not a human, will attempt this plan.”
Kaloyan: “Nya? … But, why haven’t you told me about this before?”
Vlad: “It’s a dire plan; it will require a sacrifice on this side of the divide; a soul. The only one obtainable is my own… If you open up the portal, my soul will be obliterated in the process, it will be the end of me…Forever. But, I am willing to sacrifice myself for this cause, for this future; for the Vampiri and for revenge against the Empire. So... if you think you are strong enough; I will give you the spell, so that you may crush yours and mine enemies.”
Kaloyan: “I am! I will do it!”
Vlad: “Excellent, but you must hurry! There is no postponing the attack! It is now or never! Farewell Kaloyan, it has been a pleasure knowing you…”
Kaloyan wakes up in the hut, and quickly summons Nya, Bandrik and Roger to tell them of the new plan. He tells them about his dream and about the timely nature of the attack.
Lord Bandrik: “Are you sure we can trust it? It was merely a dream!”
Nya: “Mages’ dreams can carry them to the spirit realm… If Vlad appeared he was telling the truth.”
Lord Bandrik: “And we are to make a rash decision on this appearance alone?! We are not ready! The dwarven siege weapons are still at Omurtag, the Avalonians are at least a week out! We have no chance should the Legion return!”
Kaloyan: “We don’t have to hold the city Bandrik, just get to the steps of the palace, and unleash a demonic army on the Imperials within!”
Nya: “Then let us mobilize our forces! I’ll alert the warlord Gurack that we move tomorrow! The goblins are here, and so are the Dark Elves and most of the Vampiri. We march in the early morning!”
Lord Bandrik: “Very well, I suppose since all the rest of your bizarre magic schemes have worked, we could wager it all on yet another one. I will be ready in the morning.”
Kaloyan: “Very well my friends, now please leave me to sleep, I am thoroughly exhausted.”
In the morning the Orc clan assembles and marches out. Hundreds of Orcs don rusty armors and shields and march to the beat of war drums.
Roger: “So this is it Ser, we are really going to war?”
Kaloyan: “We are Roger; we make a line for the Imperial capital!”
Roger: “Ser, I don’t like this demon business one bit, what if you can’t control them?!
Kaloyan: “Oh Roger, of all the people here why must you be the one to doubt me!? I will show you just how powerful I am, the world will see, Nya will see, just how mighty Kaloyan the Mage is! This is history in the making; now come on, we march!”
The sun rises over the golden domes of the Imperial temples in the capital of Leon. The richest city in the world gleams like a treasure trove in the distance; its houses nestled in close niches, its gargantuan walls shining with marble, and at the center of the city rises the ultimate spoils of war; the Imperial Palace of Leon. The city has never been conquered, and its defenses are said to be impregnable. Today, they will be put to the test.
On a hill overlooking the city the army of Kaloyan the Mage gathers in full strength. Here are ranks and ranks of creatures; Orcs and Goblins, tamed trolls and Dark Elves, Vampiri warriors and disgruntled human allies. The thunder of thousands of boots marching and the horde’s collective shouts overpower the silence of dawn. At the head of the horde walks Kaloyan followed closely by his entourage and the Vampiri Clan.
Kaloyan: “Preslaff, The Capital of Leon! The Imperial seat of power! Take it in, look at this gem of a city, built with the sweat of slaves and paid for with the blood of millions!”
Nya: “Let us go over the strategy once more; we attack the gates and overwhelm with sheer numbers. The Orcs and Goblins will lead the charge; until the clansmen saboteurs plant their Tempest Orbs at the base of the towers. Once the towers fall, Bandrik and I will storm in with the Clansmen, picking off the Imperials as we go. Once the outer defenses are down, the dragon will fly over and rain fire from the sky. We will charge across the city once it is safe to do so. Are we clear?”
Kaloyan: “Excellent! Once we make it to the palace, I will open the Erebus gate, and our forces will be reinforced by demonic minions!”
Lord Bandrik: “We are ready! Rally the troops Kaloyan, order the attack!”
Kaloyan fires off a purple bolt from his staff and the massive horde falls silent. He walks into the gathered creatures, lifts the Sword of the Necromancer and speaks.
Kaloyan: “Today is the day the world changes forever! Today the downtrodden and abused fight back against a tyrant! For too long we have been oppressed by the arrogant Empire and its blood-thirsty dogs of war! They cast us out! Deemed us inferior! They turned the proud Orc into a renegade savage, and the lowly Goblin into a mountain-dweller! They took our land for pitiful compensation, and oppressed us as second-class citizens! I see here many who were treated like animals by the forsaken Imperials! I see many who have a blood lust in their eyes! I say this to those who wish to gut every Imperial within the city; indulge! Let the streets run red with Imperial blood, topple their statues and pillage their phony temples! That gold and blood is yours for the taking; any man who wears the colors of Leon deserves a fate no better than that of an animal, for he is an animal! Fight for me and fight for yourselves; a new world order is coming and you will all be handsomely rewarded for you part in its beginning! Give no quarter, take no prisoners! Topple the gate, burn this city to the ground! Today we fight back! Today they die! Death to Leon!!!”
Horde: “Death to Leon!!!”
To be continued…
(Special thanks to Lisa Parker (darkdragon on EB) for the custom Nya torso, and Brickthing and Citizen Brick for designing and printing custom Orc heads for us. Thank you all!)