Chapter Seven: The Battle of the Urals

That night, Fortuno lay awake in his comfortable, staring at the intricate patterns on the ceiling. He was struggling to get to sleep, his mind kept drifting back to a fateful day four centuries ago…

‘Keep up Alexander!’

Novice sorcerer Alexander Fortuno struggled to remain with the rest of the search group as they tramped up the ice cold peak in the Ural Mountains. They were being led by Elder Jalka, a tireless tracker who wore no furs despite the intense cold, and Elder Nikolai, who knew the area like the back of his hand. Bringing up the rear was Elder Takayo, the sleek, graceful Elder from China, who had been sent by Bernard to keep an eye on his protégé. There had recently been reports of necromantic attacks in this area and the group had been sent out to reconnoitre. At this time Alexander was without a familiar, as were many of the group for whom this was something of a training mission, real action with protection from the Elders if the tide turned. Fortuno had asked Bernard if he could go with Miguel and Elder Vincenzo to the wars in Greece, but he refused. The Elder was fiercely protective of his young apprentice and refused to send him into highly dangerous situations; it was only through a lot of pleading that he was allowed to join the Ural expedition.

At the front of the line behind Nikolai was Simon Liberthine, a young sorcerer about Alexander’s age who was the protégé of Elder Thomas. He was over six feet tall and had a handsome, boyish face that did not match his outwardly stern exterior. It was not surprising when he became the new Arbiter to the Elder Conclave after the war. In reality, he was more like that Fortuno than would be expected, sharing the sorcerer’s almost adolescent awkwardness and warm nature. The two got along cordially, but with little warmth, not speaking unless it was necessary.

‘Jalka, any sign?’

‘No. It could just be an idle rumour.’

‘Yes, you know first hand what these peasants can be like.”Jalka gave Nikolai one of his trademark smirks, which resembled one a shark might give its prey before devouring it.The Elders chuckled slightly before they were interrupted by a voice from the rocks above.

‘Jalka and Nikolai…when you’re finished joking…’

William Griffon was perched on a snow covered outcrop, with several hooded acolytes standing silently at his side. His raven familiar, Cornelius, was perched on his shoulder, staring intently at the enemies below.

‘Griffon!’ growled Nikolai.

‘I must say, you’ve done a good job finding me…or have you?’ The necromancer smiled sardonically. ‘A bunch of novices sent to defeat me, no, I suppose even Bernard hasn’t such trust in his students.’ Griffon then gave a bitter, self deprecating laugh. ‘I suppose I set a bad example.’

‘Just a fortunate coincidence William.’ Nikolai replied, reaching for his staff. ‘Your choice of headquarters leaves much to be desired.’

‘Unfortunately, I had no choice. With Andreas betraying my location in Dijon, I was hardly going to wait for you to walk up and slap the irons on me.’

Andreas Macellan had indeed submitted the location of Griffon’s headquarters to the Conclave, but by the time they reached Dijon, the necromancer had fled

‘You were lucky to escape.’

‘I have my ways.’

‘Your spies have already been dealt with.’

There was a pause, and the sorcerers had begun to spread themselves out, preparing for the inevitable attack.

‘Will you come up and join me? There’s a wonderful view.’ Griffon laughed sardonically. All of the sorcerers reached for their swords and staffs.

‘No? Then I’ll just have to come down.’

With a yell, Griffon leapt down and slammed his staff into the ground, the resulting shockwave blasting many of the sorcerers to the floor. Those that still remained standing rushed Griffon and his acolytes, who were following their master downwards. The Elders engaged Griffon, but he proved more than a match, even for three at once.

As a full scale battle arose, Alexander managed to avoid the thick of the conflict due to his position at the back of the group, yet he still managed to dispatch several acolytes who tried their luck. Then suddenly, Griffon spotted him and immediately made a beeline for the sorcerer. He found his path blocked by Elder Takayo and her slender katana blade.

‘Takayo, beautiful as ever.’

The sorceress responded with a swing at his head, which the necromancer parried.

‘And still so silent. What a shame.’

They had a frantic duel, but several acolytes distracted the Elder, who was soon facing four all at once. Griffon, ignoring the chaos around him, strode up to Fortuno.

‘So, you are Bernard’s bright new star.’ He smiled wistfully. ‘That used to be me.’ He deftly knocked Fortuno’s blade aside.

‘I’m going to enjoy this.’

Fortuno closed his eyes and rapidly began to speak an incantation. Griffon laughed, but his smile turned into a frown as he heard a rumbling coming from above. A vicious downpour of snow and ice rained down on the necromancer, with such force that he was pushed to the brink of the outcrop. Shards of razor sharp ice shot from the sky like arrows, and the battling sorcerers parted, enemies united against the force of the elements they desperately tried to halt.

‘What..? How did you…?’

There was a rumbling and both men cast a wary gaze at the peak above, as a torrent of ice and snow made its way towards them. Griffon ran at Fortuno, but he was carried away by the avalanche, cursing and fuming at his failure. Fortuno’s last memory before collapsing from the exertion of the spell was the serenely calm Takayo carrying him off as the mountain fell down around them.

Not long after the battle, Griffon’s second, Evanna Rosemunde, had been defeated in Greece, causing the remaining necromancers to flee or surrender. Fortuno destroyed Griffon on Bosworth Field and the war was brought to an end. Alexander had become an agent of the Conclave, sorting out minor disputes and uprisings, usually with Miguel at his side.

That had been back in the old days, when he was fresh-faced and full of life. But the years had taken their toll on the sorcerer, and his joie de vivre had faded. Alexander never had Miguel’s easy charm with women and after having his heart broken several times, he eventually came to see his immortal life as being no more than one long lonely journey towards nothingness. Twenty years ago, Miguel had found Fortuno in an alcoholic stupor, vainly attempting to drown himself in Plymouth Harbour. It had taken a while for him to get back on his feet, but after coming close to tasting death, he realised how much life still had to offer.

The sorcerer’s eyes finally closed. He let go of the remnants of the past and began to focus his thoughts on looking towards a brighter future.

 

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Chapter Six: Lunch is Served

When Miguel had finished, he met up with Fortuno to find that a late luncheon was being served for them in the dining room, and that Lord Weaver would be joining them shortly. The sorcerers noticed a great deal of hustle and bustle around the house, as the preparations for Rosemary’s birthday were being made for the next day. They also observed that they were the only guests invited to dinner, despite there being five others who were already present for the party. Clearly, Weaver was pulling out all the stops to impress Her Majesty’s representatives. They took their places at the table, with Fortuno’s eye noticeably wandering amongst the servants in search of the mysterious fencer Miss Warwick. Miguel noticed this and nudged him in the ribs.
‘So, have we perhaps come to your last mission Alex?’
Fortuno did not reply, rising to his feet as Lord Weaver and Rosemary had entered the room.
‘Ah, good afternoon gentlemen. I hear you’ve already met my daughter.’ Weaver bellowed, though the two men were right next to him. This had the effect of making Fortuno wince and Miguel had to stifle a giggle, as did Rosemary.
‘Yes, I’ve already had the pleasure.’ Miguel smiled at Rosemary, who turned crimson with delight. Lord Weaver did not notice this, and sat down at the head of the table. The servants had finished setting the table and left the room, bowing.
‘So, are your rooms to your satisfaction sirs?’ Weaver asked, delicately dipping into his soup.
‘Oh yes, quite fine thank you.’ Replied Fortuno, who stirred the soup with his spoon, trying to disperse several nasty looking clumps of an unidentifiable substance.
‘Might I ask, what became of the Lady of the House?’ Miguel enquired. A heavy silence fell. Lord Weaver looked up from his plate and swallowed.
‘Oh, my wife passed away several years ago. Smallpox. Place isn’t the same without her.’ Weaver sniffed, looking sadly at a sepia-tinted photograph that was framed on one side of the hall. The Lord Weaver of some eighteen years ago stood with his wife and their infant daughter, whose expression was radiant even then. Fortuno’s eye was drawn to a slightly older girl who stood with the servants. Time couldn’t disguise Miranda Warwick, whose mother stood behind her, smiling but with a great sadness in her eyes.
‘I’m sorry milord, I shouldn’t have asked.’
‘No, it’s alright. It’s been six years; I’m able to talk about it.’ Weaver wiped his eye clumsily with a napkin.
‘You have beautiful grounds here milord.’ Said Fortuno, hastily changing the subject.
‘Oh thank you.’ Replied Weaver, stiffening. ‘Cost my great-grandfather a small fortune all those years ago.’
‘I’m sure it did.’
Weaver continued, pausing occasionally to take another bite of the roast meat that had been placed before him.
‘Yes, what with the planning, hiring gardeners to landscape everything for him, bringing in new flowers to keep everything looking fresh, it’s surprising we didn’t end up destitute.’
‘So what saved you?’
‘Well, it wasn’t long after that that he earned us our peerage, fighting in the wars against Napoleon. Lost his right leg, but always considered it a worthy sacrifice…’
Alexander nodded, remembering his own years of service in the Napoleonic wars. The small talk continued through lunch, though Rosemary and Miguel took little part in the proceedings, merely seeming to gaze longingly at each other throughout the meal. When dessert was served, Miguel suddenly snapped out of his trance and nudged Alexander.
‘I think that’s your lady friend with the blancmange.’ He pointed out. Fortuno looked up and saw Miranda with a large silver dish, accompanied by several other servants, all carrying numerous delicacies. As they were laid on the table, Miranda leant over and whispered something to Rosemary, who smiled and nodded. When the servants had left, Rosemary turned to Alexander.
‘Miranda tells me the two of you fenced today Mr. Fortuno.’
‘Yes ma’am, that’s true.’ replied Alexander, nervously, suddenly feeling rather uncomfortable.
‘Never thought it was a sport for the ladies myself…’commented Lord Weaver, before Rosemary elbowed him lightly, and he quickly added.
‘But er…what do I know?’

‘She’s very good.’ Fortuno stammered. Rosemary smiled at him cunningly, as if the two of them shared a secret. Lord Weaver, oblivious to this, continued.
‘Didn’t know you were a fencing man, Mr Fortuno. I was quite the swordsman in my youth, but I seem to have lost all skill for it lately…’Weaver let out a belch, as he finished eating a large portion of trifle. ‘Excuse me for a moment sirs.’
He hurried off out of the dining room, not noticing the muffled laughter of the other diners. The moment he left, Rosemary turned to Alexander.
‘She says you’ve been giving her a few odd looks Mr. Fortuno.’
‘Erm yes…I mean…no…well…’Fortuno struggled to express himself.
‘It’s alright. I think she likes you too, though she’ll never admit it.’ Rosemary, although a day shy of twenty five, was a schoolgirl again as she spoke.
‘Although I’d be careful. The last man who got on her wrong side ended up at the doctor’s with a broken jaw.’
Fortuno almost choked and spat out the wine he was drinking in a most unceremonious fashion. Miguel laughed heartily at him and threw his friend a napkin. At this point, Lord Weaver returned, and with him followed the dignified mood of all concerned.

Following lunch, Fortuno decided to take a walk around the manor garden. Miguel declined the offer to accompany him, preferring to do his exploring at the manor. Fortuno immediately understood, and left through the back door onto the terrace. Several important looking men were lounging about on the terrace taking lunch, but Fortuno paid them no heed, merely walking down the steps in an affected, upper class manner, as to not arouse suspicion from the men. It would hardly matter however, as they seemed more engrossed in their food than him. Only one man, sitting alone and dressed in the garb of a Royal Marine gave Fortuno a quick, polite ‘Good afternoon’, before returning to his plate.

At the bottom of the stairs was Dr. Emerson, playing softly on a wooden flute, though his eyes were firmly closed. Alexander shook his head in disbelief and followed the path, which ran alongside a man made lake that looked like an overstated garden pond. He noticed several swans flying across the lake as he walked, occasionally landing on the water with aplomb, and immediately adopting a cool, indifferent air as they swam. He smiled as he reached the end of the lake, and sat down on a smooth rock. The surface of the water was clear and calm, and for a moment, Alexander Fortuno felt at peace.

What the sorcerer did not notice, however, was the raven, perched in the willow trees overhanging the lake, watching his every move.

Half an hour later, Alexander returned through the house to hear hearty laughter from the sitting room of Miguel’s chambers, so he withdrew into his own room. After a few minutes, he crossed the corridor and knocked on the door. It was answered almost immediately. There was a chess board set out on the table.
‘Did you have a good walk?’ Miguel asked, gesturing for his friend to sit down. Fortuno, surprised to find his friend alone, took the first move, sending a pawn forwards, before replying.
‘Yes, very pleasant. Did you have a good time?’ He winked at Miguel, who did not reply, responding by merely giving a characteristic devilish grin and taking one of Alexander’s pawns. The game continued at some speed, the two men studying each other intently.
‘I’ll have you know that nothing untoward happened in your absence.’
‘Oh, playing the gentleman? Or was she the one who held back?’
Fortuno moved his rook, taking one of Miguel’s bishops.
‘A gentleman would never tell and a friend wouldn’t ask. Check.’
‘Ah, so it was her.’ Alexander teased, moving his King out of check.
‘That, my friend is something you will never know.’ Miguel replied, grinning. ‘All said, I don’t think much of some of these party guests. It seems the nobility are too pompous and the commoners are too…well…common.’
‘Whereas you manage to acheive the best of both worlds eh Miguel?’
Miguel chuckled. His blood was divided by both class and culture, while his father had been an Italian aristocrat, Consuela Carrera had been a Spanish servant in his household at Cordoba. After an insult concerning his parentage from his stepbrother, and ensuing fight, Miguel was forced to leave his home with little in the way of provisions. Only a chance encounter with Vladimir Serapus had saved his life and set him on the path to becoming one of the finest warriors the sorcerous world had ever known.
‘Tomorrow, we need to be on our guard. I have a feeling that if whatever arrived in that forest was a necromancer, then they’ll act at the party tomorrow, when everyone’s distracted. Such a gathering could mean plenty of fresh corpses for whatever they’re planning.’
The game continued, with Fortuno at an advantage.
‘It’s clearly something very powerful, possibly more so than anything we’ve seen before.’
Miguel confidently took one of Fortuno’s rooks, smiling as he prepared for the endgame.
‘So, why do you think the Council sent us?’
‘Why? Well, no one else is stupid enough to do it. Check.’
Fortuno moved his king diagonally.
‘Or maybe they didn’t know the true power behind it.’
Miguel gave Alexander a sceptical look as he checked his king.
‘I don’t think so. I think they viewed the matter more as pest control than anything. Besides, it’s not so much of a big deal if it’s one of us that get killed. Although I’m betting Bernard wouldn’t want to see his chosen one with a hair out of place.’
‘Now, now.’ Alexander smiled, remembering back to when they had first met. The elder sorcerer, already a veteran of many battles, had been talked into supervising the younger on his first assignment in the field. Miguel had disliked him immediately: ‘I hate Chosen Ones’ he had remarked bluntly, and the relationship had remained frosty until several months later, when Alexander saved his life from the blade of an assassin called The Gentleman in Luxembourg. The two had been the best of friends ever since.
‘Checkmate.’
Miguel looked surprised at his defeat, but graciously knocked his king over and handed him to Fortuno.
‘Well, whatever it brings, I am certain that tomorrow will be a night to remember…’

Q & A

Hi everyone, thanks for your keen interest in my work its nice to get some appreciation! Just so you know I’m always open to a bit of Question and Answer whether it’s about The Sorcerer’s War or about anything in general (though try to stay a but relevant). So if you have any questions just drop me a comment and Ill reply asap.

Keep reading all!

Chapter Five: Fallen Star

The two men left the house shortly afterwards, informing Roland that they were exploring the grounds. The butler nodded, although the fact that he was using a chair to support himself as he stood by the doorway gave them little confidence in his memory. As soon as they reached the woods, Alexander gave a whistle.
‘Sam. Sam!’
After a few minutes of whistling and shouting himself hoarse, Fortuno gave up.
‘Can I help you gentlemen?’ asked a matter-of-fact voice from above his head. Fortuno looked slowly up into the tree beside them and scowled.
‘Where on Earth were you, you furry miscreant?’
‘We cats do not respond to calls. We cats come when we choose.’
‘Is that so?’ Fortuno replied, before flinging a small pebble upwards. There was a hiss, a scraping of claws, and the black cat shot down from the tree.
‘That was uncalled for. May a thousand years of bad luck fall upon your head for your discourtesy.’
‘Yes, enough of the curses Sam. Now where’s Eduardo?’
‘He’s around here somewhere. Sleeping on the job probably. Maybe I should give him a little nip on the…’ Sam stopped, because he suddenly noticed the small lion cub moving towards him, having emerged from under a large evergreen.
‘Little nip on the where, sorry?’
‘Erm, nothing, nothing.’
‘Because I’m sure that you…’
‘Oh don’t try to intimidate me, you feckless…’
‘Forget that! We need you to take us to the crater.’ Miguel interrupted, standing between the two bickering animals.
‘Right this way sir.’ replied Eduardo, who moved off with speed that was more fitting for a cheetah than a lion cub. Sam followed on behind, leading the sorcerers through the woods, leaping at the occasional passing fly and pulling faces at his fellow familiar. The two animals shared a great many similarities with their masters, their personalities developing to match. Eduardo was a carefree, energetic optimist, much like Miguel, while Sam had never quite recovered from Alexander’s cynical phase and remained caustic and wary.
‘It makes a change being in mortal company for once, doesn’t it? They do so much living in their brief spans, and then we, with our centuries of life, complain that there is nothing worth living for.’ Fortuno suddenly stated.
‘Oh don’t start another of your wistful observations on life Alexander. Your problem is you hit your mid-life crisis too late and it’s never let up since.’ Sam snapped at him.
‘Alex has a point though Sam. And it does make one disheartened. I mean, look at Bernard. Nearly two thousand years old, never been married or had children.’ Miguel sighed. ‘We live a lonely life, we sorcerers. Like weary travellers we walk on to our destination, with only our familiars for company to prevent us from being driven completely mad, only to reach a precipice. We can do nothing but sit on the very brink, and sometimes one will push another into the chasm, or despair and plunge in himself.’
‘And all this time, the mortals try so hard to cling on to the edge, not knowing how lucky they are to be finite.’ added Eduardo.
‘You’re starting to depress me, kindly shut up.’ Sam interjected, breaking the thoughtful mood.

Eventually, they reached a glade. At least, it appeared to be a glade until Alexander and Miguel stepped out from under the shade of the trees and noticed the deep crater that had lurked just below their eyeline.
‘What a mess.’ Alexander commented. The crater was about the size of a small house, but the devastation it caused was at least triple the size, as if it had caused a spreading infection in the trees, that had caused them to rot and fall apart. Though the impact had been several days ago, an acrid smell remained hanging in the air, almost choking the sorcerers as they examined the carnage.
‘I’ve never seen anything like…’
He stopped, realising that he had trodden on something, grimacing as he realised it was a skeleton’s rib cage. Miguel unhesitatingly picked the skeleton up and began to examine it with a trained eye.
‘A woodsman?’
‘I’m not sure. Whoever he was, from the look of the charring on the inner rib cage, it appears that this man was killed by intense heat from the inside, as if he swallowed hot coals or something. It is unlike any sorcery… or even necromancy I have ever seen.’
‘So, what could have caused it?’
Miguel shrugged and dropped the skeleton unceremoniously on the floor.
‘I have no idea. And there are no footprints, see. Just patches of scorched earth.’
Fortuno circled the crater and managed to find several other skeletons littered around the edge.
‘Curious locals. Such a pity.’
‘Well, you know what they say about curiosity.’ said Eduardo, shooting a glance at Sam, who glared at him.
‘Very funny.’
‘So, we have no leads, no tracks…what do we have?’
‘No hope.’ Muttered Sam, whilst cleaning his paws.
‘I hate to admit it Alex, but he’s right. We’re best off returning to the manor and waiting for further activity.’
‘And what if the ‘activity’ consists of someone else dying?’ asked Fortuno, a little harshly.
‘What would you do then?’ Miguel retorted, not looking up. Alexander did not reply and Miguel turned to go.
‘Very well then.’
The two tromped back through the woods, not noticing the mysterious figure lurking in the trees across the glade.
‘No need to fear Mr. Fortuno. I have all the life I need.’ The figure whispered to itself, silently slipping away.

Upon returning to the mansion, Fortuno and Miguel headed into the manor garden, where they noticed a number of noblemen practicing their fencing skills.
‘Up for a challenge Alex?’
‘Oh I wouldn’t dream of challenging you. What was it Wellington said ‘the greatest swordsman of our time, just a shame he’s a bally foreigner’. I tend to agree with him.’
Miguel mimed being hit in the heart with an arrow.
‘You always know just how to hurt me Alex.’ he replied with mock sadness, before clapping his friend on the back and making for the course.
‘Would you mind if we joined you?’
‘Certainly not sir, the more the merrier.’
Miguel and Fortuno took out their blades and began to practice, clearly outshining the others on the course, who were clad in the full fencing regalia and armour, and wielding fine epées. The two fencers closest to them both used swirling movements, Miguel moved fluidly, seeming more like a flamenco dancer than a swordsman, whereas Fortuno fought more like a gentleman, straight and upright. Eventually, the two warriors parted, and one of the other fencers came up to Fortuno, raising his mask. He had a noble bearing, with grey, curly hair and a huge beard. It was clear from how he held himself that he was of an aristocratic background.
‘Would you care to trade partners sir, it seems you have quite a skill with the blade.’
‘Certainly sir.’

Miguel swapped places with the other masked swordsman, and they began to fight again. Miguel soon gained the upper hand over his opponent, who threw his arms down in defeat, but with a satisfied grin on his face, content that the best man had won. Fortuno, on the other hand, was enjoying a challenge with his partner, who had managed to match both his hits. Eventually, the two of them both went for the deciding blow at the same time, scoring a draw. Miguel looked on with bemusement at his friend, who saluted his partner.
‘You clearly practice often Mr…’
‘Miss.’ The duellist lifted up the mask to reveal the young servant girl who he had seen with Rosemary earlier that day.
‘Miranda Warwick.’
‘Alexander Fortuno, at your service madam.’
They shook hands, gently.
‘Now, if you’ll excuse me sir, I’ve got to start setting out dinner.’
‘Of course Miss.’
Miranda smiled coolly, and left the field after removing the padded armour and leaving her sword on a low stone wall. Miguel and the other duellist joined Fortuno on his court.
‘Odd, usually very talkative that one.’ commented Miguel’s duellist, who introduced himself as the Earl of Leicester.
‘It must just be Alexander’s natural charm, leaving her dumbstruck.’ Miguel smirked, patting his friend on the back. By then, the duellist had noticed a number of other fencers that had assembled, ready to take him on.
‘You go back Alex; I’ll be there in…’ He looked at the queue of men, which equalled seven in all. ‘About five minutes.’