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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