Authors: Jonathan Moeller
FROSTBORN: THE BROKEN MAGE
RIDMARK ARBAN is the Gray Knight, exiled and outcast, seeking to stop the return of the dreaded Frostborn. At last he has come to the perilous ruins of Khald Azalar, where the answer to his quest awaits.
Assuming the master of Khald Azalar does not kill him first.
MORIGNA was the Witch of the Hills. Now the dark magic within Morigna threatens to devour her. Unless Morigna can tame the power, it will transform her into everything she has always hated.
MARA's father was a dark elven noble of terrible power. She escaped his grim realm, but now she must confront him once more, or join countless generations of his slaves in death.
CALLIANDE has sought for answers since the day of the great omen heralding the return of the Frostborn. Her answers await in the darkness of Khald Azalar.
But the truth might be more than she can bear...
Frostborn: The Broken Mage
Copyright 2015 by Jonathan Moeller.
Published by Azure Flame Media, LLC.
Cover design by Clarissa Yeo.
Ebook edition published June 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.
Chapter 1: Frost
One hundred and eight days after it began, one hundred and eight days after the day in the Year of Our Lord 1478 when blue fire filled the sky from horizon to horizon, Ridmark Arban stood before the yawning black gates of Khald Azalar.
It was past midsummer, but the air was colder than he would have expected.
The cold wind came from within the Gate of the West.
Khald Azalar’s western gate rose before him, tall and mighty. Two massive reliefs of armored dwarves had been carved into the cliff, rising nearly three hundred feet overhead. Elaborate carvings and glyphs covered the face of the cliff between the two reliefs, and Ridmark had no doubt that the carvings concealed hidden redoubts for archers and siege engines. Compared to the towering reliefs, the black archway of the Gate itself looked tiny, but it still stood fifty feet high and twenty wide. Once it had been sealed with massive doors of dwarven steel, but now those doors lay in twisted ruin upon the ground.
Beyond lay darkness, but Ridmark knew that was only a mask. Within the darkness waited the ruins of Khald Azalar, once one of the Nine Kingdoms of the dwarves. Within the ruins was Dragonfall, the resting place of Calliande’s staff, the key to stopping the return of the Frostborn. Ridmark and the others had been looking for this place ever since Calliande had awakened in the darkness below the Tower of Vigilance one hundred and eight days ago.
In a way, Ridmark mused, he had been looking for this place for his entire adult life, ever since an urdmordar had first warned him that the Frostborn would soon return.
He looked back at the others. Calliande was blond and blue-eyed and looked like a woman in her twenties, but she was older, far older. Once she had been the Keeper of Andomhaim, and her memories and her staff rested within Khald Azalar. Her face was composed, but Ridmark knew her well enough to see the fear there. She had been searching for her memory ever since awakening beneath the ruined Tower of Vigilance.
Perhaps Dragonfall held things she did not wish to remember.
The others followed Calliande. Morigna, her black hair and eyes giving her a stark kind of beauty, her staff slung over her shoulder with a leather strap and a bow ready in her hands. Kharlacht, a tall, grim orcish warrior armored in blue dark elven steel, the hilt of a greatsword rising over his shoulder. Brother Caius, a gray-skinned dwarven noble of Khald Tormen, clad in the brown robes of a friar, a wooden cross hanging from his neck. Gavin of Aranaeus, the curly-haired boy of the Wilderland who had become a Knight of the Soulblade, his face hard with new maturity, and Antenora, the ancient apprentice of the Keeper who had fled to Andomhaim from Old Earth, her gaunt face gray and scarred, her eyes a harsh yellow. Then came Mara and Jager. The halfling thief wore his usual cocky smile, though his hands remained near his weapons, and Mara gazed at the grandeur of the Gate with thoughtful green eyes, her blond hair stirring in the cold wind to reveal the pointed ears of her dark elven blood. Last came Sir Arandar, a Swordbearer like Gavin, his weathered face proud and stern, his mane of black hair shot through with gray.
Ridmark had departed Andomhaim alone after the death of his wife five years past, after he had failed to save her. Partly it had been to find the secret of the Frostborn. Partly it had been to seek atonement for his failure through death, though no one had managed to kill him yet. After the omen of blue fire, he had set out for Urd Morlemoch alone…but despite his best efforts, he had acquired companions.
It was just as well. Without them, he would have failed months ago. Together they had defeated an urdmordar, dared the Deeps, overthrown the Iron Tower, and entered Urd Morlemoch and escaped the Warden’s wrath. A wave of affection went through Ridmark, so strong it surprised him. But why should that surprise him? They had dared tremendous dangers together and come out alive on the other side. His eyes strayed to Morigna, and the memory of her lips and body burned through him. She had come to mean a great deal to him…
Then Jager opened his mouth, and Ridmark remembered one advantage of traveling alone.
There had been so much less bickering.
“You know,” said the halfling. The deep resonance of his voice always belied his size. “Walking into this gate puts me in mind of striding into the maw of some vast stone beast.”
Morigna scoffed. “You would know, master thief, given the way you stuff yourself at meals.” She spoke Latin with odd stateliness, her archaic accent acquired from her ancient teacher.
Jager’s smile did not waver. “Some of us do appreciate the finer things in life, madam. You might have grown up in a forest, but not all of us had such a unique upbringing. Civilization does have its benefits. Besides, we stole that food from the Mhorite camp fair and square.”
Kharlacht grunted. “He has you there.”
“I do not believe it was stealing,” said Caius. His eyes were like disks of blue marble, blinking as he looked at the grim Gate. “Technically, they were spoils acquired upon the field of battle. The Mhorites had been trying to kill us for days, and our self-defense was legitimate. So therefore we were within our rights to take some of their supplies after they went in pursuit of the Anathgrimm.”
Arandar laughed. “You indeed have the golden tongue of a friar, Brother Caius.”
“Thank you, Sir Arandar,” said Caius. He grinned at the Swordbearer. “Am I wrong, though?”
“Every link in your chain of logic rings true,” said Arandar.
“As does mine,” announced Jager.
“Your twisted words and convoluted sophistry,” said Morigna, “are hardly logic. One suspect that you would argue that the sun set in the east, if only you might profit by it.”
“It is surprising that this group is so effective in battle,” said Antenora, “given how much you bicker.” Her voice was a tired rasp, as if it had been worn down from centuries of use. Likely it had. She was older than any of them, older than the High Kingdom of Andomhaim itself. That did not make her any less dangerous. The black staff she carried had been carved with elaborate sigils that shone with a harsh orange-yellow glow, and she could use it to conjure deadly blasts of magical fire.
“I like to think it clears the air before a battle,” said Jager. “Puts our minds at ease.”
“You would talk at your own funeral,” said Kharlacht.
“An affair I hope to avoid for quite some time yet,” said Jager.
Ridmark said nothing as they approached the yawning archway, listening to the argument with half an ear. Gavin remained silent. He had become harder and more serious since taking up the soulblade Truthseeker. Mara, too, said nothing, her green eyes flickering back and forth. A life as first the Traveler’s slave and then as an assassin of the Red Family of Mhor had given her a level of watchfulness that never quite relaxed.
Calliande herself said nothing, her eyes fixed on the dark square of the Gate.
“Calliande,” said Ridmark, and the others fell silent. “You can sense it?”
For a moment Calliande closed her eyes.
“Aye,” she said, opening her eyes again. “It’s here. Within this mountain.”
Ridmark nodded. Since they had come to the Vale of Stone Death a few days past, Calliande had somehow acquired the ability to sense the location of her staff. It would have been helpful if she had possessed the ability since awakening, but from what she had said, the power had only come to her after she had learned of her true identity as the Keeper of Andomhaim.
“I suppose that narrows it down,” said Jager.
“Only somewhat, master thief,” said Antenora. “This mountain is large enough to contain many secrets.”
“You speak truly,” said Caius. “At its height, Khald Azalar held hundreds of thousands of dwarves. It was one of the mightiest of the kingdoms of my kindred.”
“Then there countless places something as small as a staff could be concealed,” said Kharlacht.
“Just as well that you can sense it,” said Jager.
“It’s in Dragonfall, somewhere within Khald Azalar,” said Calliande. “I suspect we shall know it when we see it.”
Ridmark nodded. From what they had learned, it appeared that Dragonfall was the tomb of the last of the dragons. Ridmark knew little about the dragons, and in truth, no one did, perhaps save the high elves. All he knew was that they had perished before the elven kindred had sundered into their high elven and dark elven branches. Perhaps Calliande would know more once she had recovered her memory. The warrior who had helped her defeat the Frostborn the first time had been known as the Dragon Knight.
“I suggest,” said Arandar, “that we delay no further. Lady Calliande can sense her staff, but so can Mournacht and the Traveler.” Mara’s eyes tightened a bit at the mention of her father, but she gave no other reaction. “I suspect they shall be in pursuit.”
“Mara,” said Ridmark. “You can still sense your father?”
“I can still hear his song,” said Mara in her quiet, calm voice. “He’s drawing closer. For a day he was heading west. I think Mournacht’s army pushed the Anathgrimm back. But now the Traveler is heading for the Gate of the West.”
“Likely Mournacht defeated the Anathgrimm and then marched here with all speed,” said Kharlacht, “and now the Traveler has reformed his army and comes in pursuit.”
“I concur,” said Arandar. “Best we not wait here to greet them.”
“Very well,” said Ridmark. He looked at Calliande. “Are you ready?”
She took a deep breath and offered a faint smile. “I had better be.”
Ridmark nodded and adjusted his grip on his black staff. Tthe high elven archmage Ardrhythain had carried the weapon for millennia, and while it had no magic of its own, the archmage had worked enough powerful magic with the staff that its nature had changed. Now it could wound and kill creatures of dark magic.
Ridmark suspected that would come in handy very soon.
“Then let us make an end to this,” said Ridmark, and he strode forward, the others following.
He passed through the archway and into the Gate of the West of Khald Azalar.
Beyond a shaft of sunlight stabbed into a vast pillared hall, so large that the gloom quickly swallowed the light. The polished granite floor clicked beneath Ridmark’s boots. He glimpsed towering pillars on either side, another archway on the far end of the hall, and numerous uneven shapes upon the ground.
It was strangely cold in here.
“Antenora,” said Calliande. “Could we have a little more light?”
“Of course, my lady Keeper,” said Antenora, raising her staff. The sigils burned with light, and a hot white flame appeared at its end, throwing back the gloom.
“Useful spell,” said Gavin.
“It is,” said Antenora. “Especially if you wish to light a pipe.”
“A pipe?” said Morigna.
“Ah,” said Antenora. “I forgot. I suppose tobacco is unknown in Andomhaim. Upon Old Earth, some nations have the custom of burning the leaves of the tobacco plant and inhaling the smoke for its stimulant effect. It started…mmm, I cannot recall. After the death of Martin Luther, but before the defeat of the French Emperor at Waterloo.”
Ridmark felt a flicker of pity for her. Antenora had seen over fifteen centuries of Old Earth’s history, but the human mind could not contain such vast spans of time. Entire centuries had fallen from her memory, and what she could recall she could not always remember in the right order. He could barely imagine having lived so long.
At the moment, though, the carpet of bones upon the floor of the hall held his attention.