Authors: Donald Wigboldy
Battle Mage Visions
Donald L. Wigboldy Jr.
Copy Write April 2016
For World Maps and More Go To:
Other books by Donald L. Wigboldy Jr.
From the Tales of Alus series:
The High King: A Tale of Alus
The Emperor’s Shadow War
Battle Mage: A Tale of Alus
Battle Mage: Winter’s Edge
Battle Mage: The Lost King
Battle Mage: Dragon Mage
Battle Mage: Dark Mage
Battle Mage: A Hero’s Welcome
Battle Mage: Forging New Steel
Battle Mage: Winds of Change
Voran the Night Guardian
Standing Before Monsters
The Mermaid’s Chest
Beyond the Nebula Series:
War Wolves (coming soon)
Chapter 1- Friends in Dark Places
Dim, gray light from a cold winter day barely seemed to illuminate the stone beneath his feet as the figure huddled into his brown cloak and hurried along his path. Winter had struck over a month ago and it had hit the northern lands particularly hard. The continent had been named simply North by his ancestors and it seemed to hold all the qualities of the reported ice lands at the top of the world in that single word.
While the cold was biting to the bone, at least the man could thank the stone ceiling overhanging the city for keeping out the snow. To the south, Southwall was equally cold without the ceiling created from building a city inside of a mountain. Moisture from snow had been on his boots as well, but he had made sure to clean them off when he arrived; since the residents of Ensolus might question how his boots had any snow on them when he had come from the east side of the cave city.
A wizard might note the trace of magic in the man, but it wasn't significant. Such a man might be able to cast simple spells, but would more likely be written off by the warlocks of Ensolus. They didn't bother with the weak like Southwall, or so they liked to say. That defense only went so far when their southern neighbor and enemy refused to die or go away after nearly two centuries of war.
Looking to the north, the man slouched slightly as he tried to blend into the light crowd ahead of him. Thick stone columns rose up near the center of the city. They didn't just serve as supports for the stone of the mountain above him. There were lights glowing along the vertical spires revealing homes cut into the natural supports. Enough remained for strength but every inch was used inside the giant cave apparently, he thought, until he recalled the open fields west of the buildings.
He had been to Ensolus enough to believe that space hadn't been considered a waste. It separated the elven folk, humans and orcs from the more bestial races. A giant building was surrounded on all but the east side by their stone homes. The other races looked down on them, if only because they were said to have been grown inside of the Emperor's Breeding Pits. The idea of making the monsters of the emperor's army in a building of tanks sounded appalling to most races, even those serving the emperor.
His nose wrinkled at a change in smells as he walked towards the gray mouth of the cave. Strange foods and spices were part of the problem, but they couldn't fully mask the smell of orcs, even with winter to deaden the air with cold.
Noise spilled out through a door open only for a moment as an orc stumbled out the exit already drunk. It was still morning and too early to drink for most civilized people. Another thought occurred to the figure as he walked towards that door, that perhaps the orc soldier had drank all night and was actually just leaving the bar. It wouldn't surprise him.
The human ghetto to the east settled down only a few hours after it turned dark, but their orc neighbors seemed to enjoy the night. It was they and the goblins which had helped turn this cave into the city it was now after all. They had harnessed the power of beasts like the armored viles and the trolls to do it, but it wasn't those alone.
All of this information had been gathered over the last month, and not just by him. There were others trying to figure out how the emperor's city worked. He was feared by all and demanded their service, but the population lived more from fear of what they had heard from their elders. Few outside of the castle at the heart of Ensolus had seen the emperor in years and that view was of the shadows he gathered around him.
Shadows were one thing, but the man with his meager magic could feel the power radiating from the castle. No one else he had ever known held such magical power and those which could feel it served for fear of being crushed.
Ensolus wasn't an old city compared to those to the south, but the Cataclysm had destroyed many older cities and sank others. The emperor was said to have caused it and taken the northern lands for himself. Now his city continued to grow, one of several in his so called empire.
The door closed and the man looked around the bar trying to find the person he was looking for. It should have been easy. Most of the patrons were orcs. Some wore their armor, or parts of it. This section of the city was held by orcs from the military, so it wasn't surprising. Humans made up the remaining quarter of the customers, but they were rough looking and probably there for more than just the drinks.
Humans and the elves which had come with the emperor monitored the other races and served their master dutifully, but that didn't mean orcs and the other races necessarily liked that attention. He had seen the way humans moved out of the way for an orc. They were thicker bodied and strong, so it was safest to do so and some orcs bumped into them anyway. It was their way to bully those in charge, though they couldn't get away with such actions with the officers and warlocks. An orc who got on the wrong side of those tended to die in one way or another.
Moving to the bar, the young man pushed back his hood. While a hood and cloak helped disguise him outside, it made him more of a target than his light brown hair and human face did here where orcs ruled. He continued to wear his cloak since it was chilly even inside the tavern. Orcs didn't seem to mind, though most were layered in cloth, leather or fur. He wondered how they had found fur for clothing. They were inside of a cave after all. Most of the fur showing didn't look like that of rats at least, though there were a few he might question.
The man thought of the cave opening with its guard towers and thick stone walls. There was supposed to be a trade quarter there. It seemed odd to have trade with the emperor when everyone knew he was the one behind all the devastation of the Cataclysm; but that was a long time ago as well.
Time heals all wounds, or so it went. Still it was a major wound and the emperor's armies had killed many more humans to take over the area north of the great wall called Northwall. Once more the humans had been simple in their names and called the land below it Southwall besides.
His mind considered these things while his eyes looked over the bar looking for a familiar face.
"Drink?" the bartender demanded more than asked the human sitting at his bar. His other patrons had noted the newcomer also. Some had ignored him shortly after entering, but there were eyes remaining on him still.
"Mead," the young man answered laying two copper coins on the bar. This wasn't his first time here, though the reaction always seemed to be the same and so far no one really seemed to recall the sight of him. Most orcs could barely tell one human from another anyway, so his identity was likely safe enough.
"It's three now," the bartender stated with a slight shake of his head.
As the customer produced the third coin without complaint, the orc frowned again but revealed his mind saying, "Most of the others complain. No complaints from you, little boy?"
"Would it make a difference?" he asked gruffly trying to keep his voice deep. His face said that he was calm, but the bartender seemed to feel that it concealed more than he was letting on.
"Nope," the orc replied filling a mug below the bar. His customer just hoped that what he was getting was actually from the mead family, but at least the mug had a healthy head on it as it was placed on the bar top.
Heavy footsteps had moved closer to him as he waited. The young man placed his hands on either side of the mug, but a certain tension remained in his back. He heard their steps and felt them coming. Tavern bullies he guessed by the intent in their step. It was a stroll, but he could tell even so.
"So leetle mahn, hooman boy, yoo tink yoo cahn jus' walk into my bar? Yoo cahn't handle orc mead. Go ta da hoomans and drink dere," the orc demanded placing his hand on the young man's right shoulder putting enough pressure on him to turn the man away from the bar.
"They're not open yet," the young man answered simply and lifted the mug to his lips with his left hand.
"Ha!" the orc laughed in disdain. "Thaht ees cus' yoo hoomans are like leetle flowers. We step on flowers when we go ta fight, leetle flower boy, ha!"
"It's too cold for flowers," the young man stated. "Now if you don't mind. I'm waiting for someone."
The orc appraised the calm human in front of him. Though the smell of alcohol was on the orc's breath; the man, in turn, was pretty certain that this orc disrupter wasn't actually drunk. The bully didn't choose to remove his hand lingering on the human's shoulder tightening his grip slightly, though the young man remained firm in his stance.
About the same height, the orc was much broader and likely outweighed the human by a hundred pounds. Orcs were typically thicker than a man with dense skin and muscles. Most humans feared orcs because they were stronger and harder to kill than their human counterparts because of those traits.
"I could pick yoo like a leetle flower. Den I smash yoo and spread around ta make da place smell bettah. Orcs love da smell o' blood."
"Come on, Cordeb, leave the boy alone," a new voice said to the orc calmly. The tone should have been soothing, but Cordeb didn't want to be handled.
The orc turned to face the one to address him with a scowl on his already angry looking face. "What do yoo wahnt, Drayden? Dis no concern of yors."
Smiling with his mouth, the bearded man, who was only slightly taller than the younger one in the orc's grasp, appeared cheerful; yet to most human eyes it could be seen that the smile didn't extend to his eyes at all. An orc understood less of a human's expressions, but the tension between the two wasn't lost. Two more orcs flanking their friend placed their hands on the hilts of their swords. In fact, only the cloaked figure at the bar appeared devoid of weapons. No sword rested on his hip, but an experienced eye might notice the calluses on his right hand matched those of trained swordsmen.
"I am the one that my friend is supposed to meet here. I would appreciate it if you would let him go so that there is no bloodshed," the bearded man said continuing to smile as his voice remained calm.
Cordeb and his friends didn't seem to care how calm the two men were. The orc retorted, "Den yoo should get a new friend. Dis one cahn't be in dis bar. He rood."
At that the bearded man called Drayden barked a laugh that sounded genuine in its amusement. "I didn't say that I feared for his bloodshed."
The comment was said jokingly, but Cordeb frowned and tightened his grip on the younger man's shoulder. "Yoo treatenin' me, Drayden? Ah cahn break yoo in half too."
"You are strong, but are you strong enough? I tell you what, my friend. I will arm wrestle you. If you win, I'll buy you and your friends the next three rounds of your choice; but if I win, you and your three friends must buy my friend and me a mug of ale and you go back to your drinking."
The orc grinned at the idea and he asked, "Yoo serus? Yoo tink yoo cahn beat me arm wrestlin'?"
"Does it matter?" Drayden asked in reply. "It's for free drinks."
The orcs exchanged looks with grins before Cordeb released his hold with an emphatic nod. "Tree rounds o' whate'er we want?"
Nodding in return, the bearded man agreed saying, "If you win, yes."
Cordeb and his men shooed away the orcs from the near end of the bar. Not worrying over protocol, the human leaped over the bar to take his place near the liquor. The orc bartender frowned only for a moment as his attention was recalled to the challenge in front of him.
Despite Cordeb's declaration that it was his bar, he was not the owner. A smaller orc who had looked a bit upset at the disruption had calmed down slightly at the change of pace. An arm wrestling challenge was certainly better than throwing bodies around breaking tables in a bar room brawl, but nothing said the loser would take his loss without throwing a punch yet.
"Yoo shore?" the orc asked laughing and everyone could tell as he rolled up the sleeve of his winter shirt that Cordeb wouldn't have let the man out of the bet even if he wasn't sure.
"Why not?" Drayden replied placing his elbow on the counter. His sleeve remained covering all but his wrist and hand. Traces of blue ink tattoos reached out from under the cloth up the wrist onto the back of his hand. Even with the ink to give the impression that he might be comfortable with pain, no one in the bar truly gave the man a shot at winning. While he was slightly taller than the orc, the circumference of his arm was barely half that of Cordeb's. Dark brown skin with a trace of green covered thick corded muscle on the orc, while the typical pale north man's skin covered the arm of someone accustomed to the sword.