Chapter 8: The temperature on this “night world” had suddenly become sub-zero, but that wasn’t the reason for Landon’s paralyzed muscles as the vampire Estaban lunged for his throat. The seventeen-year-old wizard was still holding tightly to his staff, and in a panic, he released a wave of light from the iron covered top, now shaped to resemble an eagle.
The disfigured undead being shrieked in horror as the simulated Sun’s rays raked across his melted face, the result of being engulfed in a dragon’s breath, as he reeled backward. Brilliant illumination continued to shine forth from the head of the staff, engulfing a three meter in diameter area around the two of them, the only sanctuary from the otherwise arctic winter that had possessed the wooded landscape. The snow was streaming down all around them, driven by high winds, but inside the mystic bubble, everything was warm and calm, except that the screams of the vampire had now been reduced to a helpless mewing.
“Talk. What happened to you? Who’s behind all this?” The experience was far too close to his recurring nightmare to be mere coincidence, but Landon still didn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle put together yet.
“The Master,” Estaban gasped, agony coursing through him like poison in this veins. “You can’t stop him. You’re dead already, just like me.”
“You’re not gone yet, but you will be if I have to keep this illumination field up much longer. Take the cold away and I’ll turn it off.” Landon went down on one knee to get closer to the defenseless night creature.
“Too late. Master punished me for failure. Turned me into one of them. Only way to preserve me after dragon’s fire…” Estaban’s ebony cloak was shriveling as he was. He still wore the soldier’s casual uniform as did Landon, but it was melting into his bubbling, steaming, and streaming skin.
Feeling pity for his enemy, the young magician reduced the solar elements of the light field, focusing on a warming heat and counter-wind to foil the frigid gale around them. But it was too late. Estaban was only moments from extinction. He could no longer speak. All that was left of his eyes were empty sockets, half filled with goo, but as he begin to lose consciousness, his mental barriers collapsed, and Landon could see the vision of a crystal city on the one side of a world in perpetual night.
Beings of unimaginable evil lived there, and at its center, like a spider at the hub of a web, was the Master, the Architect, the one who was thought long dead, but who could never die. The boy heard a single word echo in his mind: “Impaler.” Then, as winter gave way to autumn once again, Estaban crumbled to dust. Landon allowed his shield to vanish, and a wind from the east, that horizon beginning to show first light of a new day, scattered the remains of the vampire unto eternity.
“I’m sorry.” Landon was still looking down at the spot where the former time master had died. Then he stood and looked toward the rising sun. Wherever this Impaler and his Crystal City were, it was not here. That planet was tidally locked, with one side always facing its sun and the other in eternal night. The perfect home for a vampire.
“Wait. The Impaler. A vampire. No, THE vampire. In the Name of the Lords of Law and Chaos, it can’t be him, can it?”
“Come, boy.” The voice inside his head was ancient, over 600 years by the reckoning of some. He wasn’t trying to hide anymore. Landon could clearly see the path through the space between spaces that led to his world, the one he appropriated the last time he had disappeared, supposedly forever. But now he was different, not just the King of all Vampires, but a Sorcerer Supreme as well. How had this happened?
There was only one way to find out. Accept his invitation and visit the Crystal City of Wallachia, named for the land of his father, on the world of Moldavia, christened after the realm of his mother.
He decided he should wait, not attack yet. The Impaler was far too powerful for Landon to battle alone. He wouldn’t have a chance, especially not in the evil one’s stronghold. He needed allies. Yes, he should go back and recruit an army.
“Really, boy? That’s your best plan?” Then the Impaler showed Landon just how close he was to attacking the garrison at their former fort, his friends, Carmen. With them defeated, for they were woefully unprepared, the villain would set free the Master of Collars and the Council of Twelve, and with their combined might, invade the dragon’s sanctuary in the forest city of Vovin, take what he wanted from the still comatose golden dragon Xen, and then attain bloody mastery of the human world, Landon’s home, and that would just be the beginning.
“Alright, you barbarian. I’ll come. But don’t think me easy prey, you disgusting monster.”
“No,” the eerie voice replied. “I will consider combat with an apprentice of the dragon Xen to be an honor. We await your arrival. I shall inform the guard to admit you into Wallachia as my personal guest.”
“I can’t wait.”
The voice and its accompanying presence abated, but before Landon set of upon his fateful course, he had one small task to perform.
Carmen gasped as she woke up suddenly, sitting upright in bed, pulling the blankets to her neck, though she was covered in a cold sweat. It hadn’t been just a dream, but a prophesy, and she had scant hours to fulfill the mission she was assigned, or the realms, all of them, would be lost.
The dragon’s former apprentice stood in eternal night on a broad, black plain made of volcanic stone. The landscape was utterly flat for as far as he could see in every direction, except for innumerable craters, many from ancient meteor impacts, and a few from seismic and vulcan activity. The air smelled of sulfur, which reminded him of the fetid odor of rotten eggs, but the smoke and soot in the scorching, humid air could not obscure his view of the crystal city directly ahead of him.
It stood low to the horizon, the tallest building no more than three floors high, that is except for the tower at the center, which was ten times as tall, and made out of every imaginable gemstone, gleaming by the light of a billion stars above, with this half of the world never having known the touch of sunlight.
Landon, staff in hand, and a soldier’s blue and black tunic clinging to him because of his sweat in this furnace of a land, walked forward, appearing more confident than he felt. As he approached, he heard the howls of wolves and jackals coming from behind the low walls, barely the height of two grown men. The walls also shimmered under the starlight, but colors melded and shifted from pale blue, to sickly green, to the color of plums when they are not yet ripe.
A gate opened where only the wall had been before, wide wooden doors swinging outward, left and right, hinges, handles and braces made of gray iron, riveted by tarnished brass bolts. Now he could see a small patrol, hideous, pale almost-men, dressed in rags of black and dull rust, each holding a leash, and at the end of each leash, a wolf, or things like it, mouths filled with razor-sharp yellow fangs, and foaming with disease and madness.
But instead of attacking, as Landon expected, the vampiric sentries pulled with great might against the taut leashes of the feral canines, who obviously were eager to rend the young mage’s tender flesh.
Landon could feel his stomach drop as if it had suddenly become bottomless, his skin felt clammy, and his throat tightened. He gripped his staff in his right hand, the metal covering now a mere knob again, and prepared for their assault.
It never came. The undead warriors managed to take enough command of their four-legged companions (though a few seemed to have six-legs), and drag them foot by foot, back through the gates and into the city.
The boy willed himself to be calm and continued his approach, and by the time he reached the still open city entrance, what appeared to be a young woman, fair in appearance, skin and hair of alabaster, cloak the color of cinnamon, bowed to him.
He returned the bow and then they both rose. “I am Greta, a minor bride of my Master. In his name, I bid you welcome to Wallachia, City of Eternal Darkness, Sanctuary of the Chosen. My Liege awaits you within, and I have been tasked to be your escort.”
Landon found her attractive, in a macabre sort of way. Even without touching her, he could tell the young woman’s skin, if young and a woman she be, was as cold as the icy north of his own world. She smelled slightly of decay, a sign of the grave, and though her hair flowed with silky motion, it was as dead as the rest of her.
Greta’s eyes sparkled an emerald-green as blood-red lips parted, momentarily revealing enlarged canine fangs. “Would you come with me, please?”
“I would be honored, Bride of the Impaler.” He nodded politely as he followed her into what was certain to be a trap. The streets had been cleared, so that even the guards and their animals were not detectable, but as the couple began to walk down what appeared to be a main avenue, the thunderous sound of the gates closing behind them confirmed that there would be no escape for him, not unless it was hard-fought for and well-earned.
Although great pains had been taken to make the environs appear to be a small city in 15th century Europe, Landon could sense immense power around him, power contained in crystals. He detected the typical elemental forces of air, earth, fire, and water, but also of illusion, power, reality, time, and transforming. The vibrations emitted by the latter were all too apparent, particularly from Greta. Only her head, hands, and bare feet shown from within her long cloak, although it tended to move in a manner that revealed hints of a lithe figure beneath. However this did not seem to be her true form, or at least, not the shape she preferred.
She did not attempt to engage the wizard in small talk, though he had half expected she might as a way to distract him from his surroundings, so they walked in silence, with only the sound of the wind and the tiny calls of many bats above them as company.
The crystal tower, like that from a tale told by a man named Robert Howard, that once spoke of an elephant that was not what it seemed, loomed before them. There indeed were hundreds, perhaps thousands or more in the buildings around them, but Landon could not have said that they were exactly alive, though the forces of mind, death, and life were readily becoming obvious as they neared their destination.
A low wall, about four feet high and containing a garden of uncharacteristic lush greenery surrounded the tower , and just ahead, an opening without a gate or barrier of any kind, which the lad found strange. Then again, what need did a King have of protection from loyal and controlled subjects, for he now detected how intense the Impaler’s influence was upon the myriad minds in the city.
“We will enter the tower. The stairs to the throne room are in the center.” Greta walked in first. A pair of guards, like those Landon had seen before, but without their expected jackal accompaniment, were on either side of the door. They bowed deeply to Greta, for even a minor Bride of the Impaler was accorded the honor of Queens. To their credit, they remained bowed as Landon walked by, but moments after he passed them, he felt the malevolent gaze of their hateful eyes upon his back.
The first floor was a single vast chamber with many entrances and exits. Ghostly and undead figures passed with some regularity both in and out, up the grand, marble staircase, fully twelve feet wide at its base, and down. At the approach of Greta and Landon. All traffic ceased, and those on the stairs stood like granite statues, allowing them to pass.
Throughout their journey, not only was Landon gathering what information he could, he was resting, for their pace was relaxed, conserving every bit of his energy for the ordeal he did not doubt lay ahead of him.
Once they passed the second floor, the area around them narrowed, and even the dragon’s student could not sense what was behind the crystal walls.
Up and up they climbed, their way seemingly illuminated by torches, but they were only for show. The true light was ethereal, and paradoxically, its source was darkness.
Landon was young, a trained soldier, and again, Greta seemed not in any hurry to arrive at the tower’s apex, so the young man in the eye patch earned in battle, and still in possession of his staff (he had expected to be relieved of it at the city gates), arrived not even winded.
“I will leave you here as I have other duties I must attend. The doors will open for you as you are expected. I again welcome you to our city, and hope, as our guest, you will be fulfilled with all the pleasures we have to offer.
She bowed and he returned it. Rising, he said, “I’m sure I will find my stay here most interesting.” He said the last word as if it were a threat.
If Greta noticed, she showed no sign of it as she turned and began her journey back downward into the shadows. Landon turned as he heard large doors begin to swing open, creaking as would a sailing ship of old, rising and falling upon wine dark waters on a voyage of adventure and mystery, or of certain doom.
He stepped across the threshold and found himself in a circular room, large enough that it took him almost half a minute to walk to its center. Besides the doorway through which he had entered, there were ten curtains, five on a side, which Landon supposed concealed ten entrances, no doubt the source of unpleasant things in his not to distant future.
At the far end of the room, there was a throne of dark stone, with flaming braziers on either side, the room itself lit by the same torches and eldritch magics he had seen in the stairwell.
Upon the throne was a man, or so he seemed, though he exuded a formidable evil, soaked, it seemed, in the power of demonic forces. He was dressed in dark slacks and a long coat of the same color, with a white shirt of silk buttoned to his throat. His hair was as black as Greta’s was white, and his mustache and beard was copiously trimmed. In contrast to this precise appearance, his eyes were wild, monstrous, like those of the wolves he had seen outside the city gates.
Landon bowed with respect as one is expected to do in the presence of a King. The man on the high throne rose and bowed as well, though only slightly.
“I welcome you, Landon, student of Xen, to the humble abode of Vlad the Impaler.”
“So it is true,” the boy muttered to himself. “Dracula.”
Here’s the table of contents for this series so far:
Now the true identity of the foe has been revealed, but can Landon hold his own against the notorious vampire King at the center of his lair and prevent disaster from befalling the universe?
I haven’t had a chance to add to this series I’ve been writing for my nine-year-old grandson lately. I probably won’t be able to read it to him for several days. I’ve had fun composing it. I hope he enjoys my reading it to him.
The next chapter is Descending Darkness.