It took Valec most of the day to ascend the staircase built inside the mountain. Along the way, he passed many paths that branched away from the main staircase, dark corridors that led to the outside world or deeper into the mountain. None, though, that brought him to Jaladurga, the mountain fortress.
But at last, Valec reached the final step. He stood in a small alcove and what appeared to be a dead end. But just ahead on the left, a gray lever protruded from the burnt-red rock wall, four feet from the floor. His journey had been long and arduous, though, so the nephal paused for a moment to rest.
Valec sat cross-legged on the floor and looked about him. Something about the lost grandeur of the ancient chamber made him reflective, almost nostalgic. Great artisans of stone and steel, the Vayama had even carved the walls and ceiling of this stairwell into intricate murals depicting the heroes and history. Here, in the vestibule where Valec rested, the Vayaman General Asvarya stood on the back of her oliphant. Her arm pointed skyward, imploring her troops, also mounted on oliphants, to launch their spears. And above Valec, carved so that it hung separated from the ceiling, soared Asvarya's foe, a gigantic roc, talons extended toward the pleading general. The artwork stirred Valec's blood, especially since neither the Roc or Asvarya would survive the battle.
Too bad he was the only nephal to have set eyes on the scene.
The Nephilim had been entangled with this planet for eons. Its history and secrets, such as this buried world of the Vayama, were well-known to Valec's kind. Those of his race who came before him, though, had been conscripted by small-minded magicians with little vision of how to bring this world to its knees. Those malamagi had confined Valec's kindred to the mountains of Borea, where they tended to their dragon's needs. They, too, had known of this planet's secret places. But they had never been allowed to leave Borea once they were bound to a Malamagus's will.
Valec's Master was different. Powerful and wise—for a human. This Malamagus had a plan, a patient plan. Only the Paladin Order could stop Valec and his Master, but corruption and internal dissension had infected the ranks of the magic-wielding knights. They'd grown overconfident and naive. And, the first step in his Master's plan, the warg attack, would soon drive them further apart and secure their blinders even tighter.
His Master's plan also called for Valec to do what no nephal before him had ever done. He had left his dragon. He had crossed the channel between Borea and Barata, and soon he would wreak havoc on Ontavia. His next attack would drive the wedge into the Paladins so deeply they would never recover.
Valec smiled at the thought. Of all the things he hated about this planet, he hated the Paladins with their smug righteousness the most. They smelled somewhat like Seraphim to him, and that was all he needed to wish for the death of all the Paladins and their kin.
A ripple of excitement made Valec's blackened veins flutter. Eager to continue, the nephal sprang to his feet, crossed to the lever, and yanked down. Heavy stone scraped against stone as a section of solid wall before him descended into the ground. He inhaled as fresh mountain air, seasoned with a hint of salt from the nearby sea, flowed into the stale cavern.
For a moment, Valec's long-buried instincts responded to the updraft rushing past him. The nephal squeezed his pectorals, and the bony protrusions above his shoulder blades snapped toward his sides. But his wings had been clipped in a different lifetime forever ago, and nothing caught the wind. Instead, a shiver of disappointment shook through him.
Valec the Fallen wrinkled his nose at his foolish reaction to the wind. He shrugged his shoulders and dismissed his disappointment. Wings or no wings mattered little. Victory would soon be his. Filled with this confidence, he stepped out of the world hidden inside the mountain and into a copse of tall trees.
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Cursed by Fire: The Grandmaster's Son Book 2Fantasy
Oz dreamed of becoming a paladin so he could avenge his parents' murders. But now that he's had a taste of the paladin's life, he is filled with uncertainty. The Warrior's Way comes with a heavy price and has already cost him dearly. The path Oz onc...