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Authors: Jonathan Moeller

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Frostborn: The Gorgon Spirit

BOOK: Frostborn: The Gorgon Spirit
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FROSTBORN: THE GORGON SPIRIT

Jonathan Moeller 

Description

RIDMARK ARBAN is the Gray Knight. Outcast and exile, he seeks to stop the return of the terrible Frostborn to the realm of Andomhaim. 

At last he knows how the Frostborn shall return, and how to stop them. A weapon of great magical power waits in a ruined dwarven city, a weapon with the power to stop the return of the Frostborn.

Assuming the ruined city's guardians do not kill Ridmark first...

Frostborn: The Gorgon Spirit

Copyright 2015 by Jonathan Moeller.

Published by Azure Flame Media, LLC.

Cover design by Clarissa Yeo.

Ebook edition published March 2015.

All Rights Reserved.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law. 

A brief prologue

In the Year of Our Lord 538, Malahan Pendragon led the survivors of the High King Arthur Pendragon’s realm through a magical gate to a new world. There Malahan founded the realm of Andomhaim, and raised the banner of the Pendragons above the walls of his citadel of Tarlion, and in time his realm expanded far and wide. Yet Malahan’s heirs were not alone in their new land, for many other kindreds dwelled upon this world. The bold men of Andomhaim waged wars against the sorcerous dark elves and the fierce pagan orcs, against the grim dvargir and the skulking kobolds. In time the men of Andomhaim found allies as well, for some nations of orcs accepted baptism and the Dominus Christus, swearing to the High King as vassals, and the halflings swore fealty to the nobles of the High King as servants, grateful to their liberators. 

Yet in time the men of Andomhaim encountered a kindred that would be neither foe nor vassal.

To the east of Tarlion lay broad, dry grasslands, and there dwelled the manetaurs, a kindred strange to human eyes. For the manetaurs possessed the proud mane and head of a lion, the arms and torso of a strong man, and the lower body of a mighty lion. They had the strength and speed of a hunting lion, yet had the reason and intellect of a man. The manetaurs dwelled upon the grasslands in a mighty kingdom called the Range, lords over all they surveyed.

Three times the manetaur warred against the men of Andomhaim, until at last the High King of Tarlion and the Red King of the manetaurs concluded a truce, agreeing to respect their borders and to aid each other in war. When the terrible Frostborn assailed the realm, the manetaurs honored their word, and fought valiantly against the Frostborn and their servants. 

After the defeat of the Frostborn, it is said that the manetaur prince Murzanar and his trusted retainers went to the fallen ruins of the dwarven citadel of Khald Azalar, seeking a treasure hidden within its dark vaults.

Yet they never returned.

Chapter 1: Blur

Ninety-nine days after it began, ninety-nine days after the day in the Year of Our Lord 1478 when blue fire filled the sky from horizon to horizon, Ridmark Arban moved northeast through the thick forests of Vhaluusk. Patches of golden sunlight fell through the thick branches overhead, throwing patterns of light and darkness across the forest’s tangled floor. Despite the uneven ground, Ridmark moved without sound, his gray cloak hanging loose around him, his black staff in his right hand. His eyes scanned the trees for danger, his ears listening for the sound of predators. Vhaluusk was a perilous land, but no trace of danger came to his eyes or ears, and Ridmark kept walking. 

He knew where he was going. For the first time since his wife had died, Ridmark Arban knew where he was going. 

That was a new feeling. 

Sometimes it was so strange that he did not quite know what to make of it. 

A long time ago, both the urdmordar Gothalinzur and the Warden of Urd Morlemoch had warned Ridmark that the Frostborn would return to destroy the world. After Aelia had been killed and Ridmark had been banished from the High King’s realm, he had devoted himself to finding the truth about the Frostborn. It had been partly because no one heeded his warnings. It had been partly because Ridmark held himself responsible for Aelia’s death and he wanted to die. Certainly he had expected to die in his quest. 

Instead, with the aid of his friends and by the grace of God, he had found the truth. 

The Frostborn were returning. 

They had not been wiped out, merely defeated. For a year and a month after the omen of blue flame, a powerful wizard could open a gate between Andomhaim and the world of the Frostborn. The corrupted high elven wizard Shadowbearer, master of the Enlightened of Incariel, sought the empty soulstone that Calliande carried. If he claimed the soulstone and killed Calliande, he would open the gate and bring forth the Frostborn again. 

So, at long last, Ridmark’s task was clear. 

He would keep the soulstone from Shadowbearer for another nine and a half months, until the conjunction of the moons had passed and the way to the world of the Frostborn could not be opened. He would help Calliande find her staff in Dragonfall, hidden in the depths of Khald Azalar, and she would take up the mantle and power of the Keeper of Andomhaim once more. 

And then they would defeat Shadowbearer and root out the Enlightened of Incariel. 

After five and a half long years of searching, Ridmark Arban knew what he had to do. 

Now it was just a matter of surviving long enough to do it.

Though as he looked around the forest, he conceded that survival might prove a challenge. 

Ridmark kept moving. He was not far from the foothills of the mountains of eastern Vhaluusk, and the earth had developed a noticeable slope. A few more miles and they would reach the foothills proper. The ground, tangled with roots and stones, did not lend itself to preserving tracks.

But tracks he saw nonetheless. 

Ridmark spotted the marks of heavy booted feet, slightly larger than his own. Orcish men, he thought, hunters and trappers from the nearby villages. From time to time he saw the spoor of deer and rabbits and the feral turkeys that wandered the forests of Vhaluusk. 

There were other tracks, ones that he did not like. 

The tracks were long and narrow, shaped like an inverted wedge. Holes the size of Ridmark’s fingers marked the impact of sturdy claws. The tracks started in clusters of two, but then shifted to four, as if whatever creature had produced them had dropped to all fours for additional speed. 

Like the creature was running down prey.

A shadow flapped overhead, and a raven perched on a branch, its beady eyes glinting. Ridmark looked at it for a moment, smiled to himself, and went motionless. He considered his surroundings, and looked at a thick tree ten yards to his right. 

“You can come out now,” said Ridmark.

For a moment nothing moved, and he felt slightly foolish. 

Then a scowling young woman came out from behind the tree. She wore leather and wool, sturdy clothes for the wilderness, and a cloak of tattered green and brown strips hung from her shoulders. A long wooden staff, its surface carved with sigils, had been slung over her shoulder, a leather strap across her chest holding it in place. A hunting bow rested ready in her hands. Her long black hair had been bound in a braid, and her black eyes were deep and stark in her pale, lean face. 

Right now she looked annoyed. Or more annoyed than usual, anyway. 

“How did you know that I was there?” said Morigna. 

“I didn’t,” said Ridmark. He waved his staff in the direction of the raven. “The bird gave it away.”

Morigna sighed. “Alas. The ravens are useful scouts, but the concept of stealth simply does not enter their minds. One suspects that they consider stealth the province of lesser creatures.” She spoke Latin with a peculiar, stately formality that had been archaic decades ago. 

Given that the man who had taught her magic had fled the realm of Andomhaim a century and a half past, it was not surprising. 

“The ravens’ opinions do not concern me,” said Ridmark.

“One certainly hopes not,” said Morigna, a smile almost flickering over her thin lips. “That would be troublesome.”

“I am more interested in their observations of the forest,” said Ridmark. “Have they seen anything?”

The faint smile faded. “Nothing at all. No creatures, no orcs, not even any animals.”

“That is unusual,” said Ridmark.

“It is,” said Morigna. “It is clear that a great many orcs lived here recently. Now I find no trace of them.”

Ridmark nodded, thinking it over. They stood in comfortable silence as he considered the problem. Other thoughts intruded upon his mind. He was alone with Morigna. He remembered the taste of her mouth beneath his, the feel of her body as they lay together in the night. If he pulled her close and kissed her, she would not stop him. She would welcome it. And then…

He rebuked himself. His ardor for Morigna had almost gotten them killed once before in the Torn Hills, when they had succumbed to it long enough for a group of urvaalgs to surprise them. Granted, the forests of Vhaluusk were not nearly as dangerous as the spell-haunted wilds of the Torn Hills, but they were still perilous enough. He had to remain focused. 

There was a glint in Morigna’s eyes. Likely she had guessed his thoughts. She had gotten good at that. 

“Kharlacht says there is a village not far from here,” said Ridmark. “Another mile or so. We’ll have a look, and then rejoin the others.” 

Morigna shrugged. “Perhaps it will be empty. We have seen many empty villages in Vhaluusk.”

“Aye,” said Ridmark. He slung his staff over his shoulder, hanging it from its own leather strap, and lifted his bow. He wasn’t as good a shot as Morigna, but he had spent five years wandering the Wilderland, and the necessity of hunting for meals had improved his skills with a bow. “Vhaluusk…emptied itself.”

“What happened?” said Morigna.

“It was five years ago,” said Ridmark, starting forward. “Vhaluusk had never been unified. There were a score of different orcish tribes, all of them worshipping the old blood gods. Then an orc shaman decided that he was the incarnation of one of the blood gods. He convinced many of the tribes of Vhaluusk, and they marched south at his command…”

“Mhalek,” said Morigna. “Then he and his followers met you.” 

“No,” said Ridmark. “You…know what happened then.” He did not like to talk about that day, though God and the saints knew that it was always in his thoughts. “I suspect that is why we have had little trouble with Vhaluuskan orcs on our way to Khald Azalar. All the true believers perished with Mhalek and Qazarl, and those that remain are cynical and have lost their faith in the old blood gods of the orcs.”

Morigna laughed. “Do not tell Brother Caius. Else the dwarf shall be eager to win converts at every village and crossroads.” She considered for a moment. “Do you think that is what happened? That the men of this village followed Mhalek to his doom?” 

“No,” said Ridmark. “The tracks are too recent. I think there were orcish men in this forest yesterday.”

“Aye,” said Morigna. “And those other tracks, too, the long ones with the claw marks.” 

Ridmark nodded.

“I would say they were kobold tracks,” said Morigna, “but they are far too large. Kobolds stand three or four feet tall. Whatever left those tracks, to judge from their stride, was far larger.”

“You have a good eye,” said Ridmark, his own eyes moving back and forth over the trees.

“Calliande is right about you,” said Morigna. 

That startled him so much that he almost stopped. “You and Calliande never agree about anything.” 

“She says you keep secrets out of habit,” said Morigna, “and that you would rather make a point in a dramatic fashion than go to the trouble of explaining something. Like the marsh gas near Moraime. Or that carnivorous plant in the Torn Hills. Or…”

“Yes, I see your point,” said Ridmark. “I think those are troll tracks.”

“Trolls?” said Morigna. “Truly? There are such creatures as trolls?” 

“You’ve never encountered them?” said Ridmark. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t have. They prefer it colder. They rarely come as far south as Moraime, and prefer the peaks of Vhaluusk or the Mountains of Ice to the north. They are to kobolds as a lion is to a barn cat.”

“A pleasant thought,” said Morigna. 

“Not really,” said Ridmark. “Their hides change color for camouflage. Not as effective as an urvaalg’s ability to become invisible, but they’re much smarter than urvaalgs. They regenerate, too.”

“Regenerate?” said Morigna. 

“Heal themselves,” said Ridmark. “Not as quickly as Calliande can heal wounds, but close. Fire and acid are the only things that do lasting harm, and the only way to permanently kill trolls is to cut off their heads and remove their hearts. Otherwise they can regrow anything.” 

“Even their heads?”

“Even their heads,” said Ridmark. 

“That,” announced Morigna, “sounds grotesque.” 

“It’s not a pleasant sight,” said Ridmark. 

“You think trolls attacked the orc village,” said Morigna. 

“I suspect so,” said Ridmark. “Let’s find out. No more talking until we’re there.”

“I shall send the ravens ahead to scout,” said Morigna. Her black eyes went glassy for a bit, her expression distant as she used her magic to command the ravens. Wings flapped overhead, and the dark shapes of ravens flew away to the northeast. Ridmark beckoned, and they kept moving. 

The trees thinned around them as the slope grew steeper, and suddenly Ridmark and Morigna came into cleared fields, a wheat crop waving in the breeze coming down from the cold mountains. The hillside had been carved into terraces. A tall hill rose from the center of the terraces, topped by a fortified village. The houses had been built in the fashion of the pagan orcs of Vhaluusk, with round walls of fieldstone topped with thatch.

The village’s gates stood open, and utter silence reigned within.

“Anything?” said Ridmark after a moment.

Morigna’s eyelids fluttered as she communicated with her ravens. “Nothing. There is no one inside. One thinks the orcs were negligent in leaving their gates open, no?” She closed her eyes, her frown deepening. “The ravens smell…”

“What?” said Ridmark.

“Blood,” said Morigna. “Quite a lot of blood…oh.”

Her eyes popped open, and she took a cautious step back. 

“What do trolls eat?” she said.

“Anything they can catch,” said Ridmark. A dark thought occurred to him. “You know what happened to the orcs.”

“There is a pyramid of skulls in the center of the village,” said Morigna. “Fresh ones, too. Bits of blood and meat are still stuck to them.”

“Like the trolls stacked them there,” said Ridmark, “after they had finished dining.”

“One suspects so,” said Morigna. “The ravens…are quite excited.” 

“We had better get back to the others,” said Ridmark.

###

Calliande stared at the shapes of the mountains to the east. 

They had come into sight a few days ago, and had gotten larger with every step. Now they loomed like the wall of a vast fortress. They did not really take up half the sky, she knew.

In her mind, it felt as if they did. 

Because she knew what lay beneath those mountains.

What waited for her. 

“My lady Magistria?” said a deep, smooth voice. 

Calliande shook off her reverie. “Oh?”

A short halfling man stood a few paces away. He wore a vest of black leather and a white shirt that he somehow managed to keep crisp and clean despite the rigor of travel. His black trousers and boots matched his vest, and a sword and dagger rested in scabbards at his belt. He had large, amber-colored eyes with a square chin, his brown hair thick and curly. A glittering brooch held his dark cloak pinned in place, and in his right hand he held a biscuit.

“I must say, my lady Magistria,” said the halfling with a flourishing bow, “I have never seen anyone look so dismayed at the prospect of breakfast. I do hope it is not a commentary on Brother Caius’s cooking. I fear his feelings shall be crushed.”

“Ignore his witticisms, my lady,” said Brother Caius, straightening up from the campfire. He was of the dwarven kindred, broad and strong, his skin the color of granite. His hair was fighting a losing battle against his forehead, and his black beard was streaked with gray. His eyes were like blue marble, and a wooden cross hung from a cord around his neck, resting against his brown robes. “I fear that Master Jager is too used to the luxurious cooking of Coldinium. Alas, the simple fare of travelers is far too humble for his refined stomach.” 

Jager, who had once been the Master Thief of Coldinium, snorted. “As I recall, when I prepared breakfast yesterday you compared my cooking to one of the ten plagues God visited upon the Pharaoh of Egypt on Old Earth.” 

“You misunderstand me,” said Caius. “Your cooking was quite adequate.”

“Adequate,” snorted Jager. “He damns with faint praise. How like a preacher!”

BOOK: Frostborn: The Gorgon Spirit
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