The dark figure stumbled through the undergrowth. Branches and brambles reached out, tearing his clothing and shredding his flesh, as though seeking to halt his escape. Oppressive darkness surrounded him as the canopies of the trees blotted out all but the smallest sliver of moonlight. The perpetual darkness, however, was not the problem. The cut which had opened up several inches of flesh along his thigh slowed his escape to nothing more than a shamble. The barbed arrow embedded in his bicep grated deeper and deeper into him sending pain shooting up his arm with every movement. His other arm was pressed tightly against his stomach, where blood seeped from where a spear point had pierced him. He could feel his life force draining away and what little power he had left was barely enough to keep him moving in the right direction. Drawing on the power in the drabs of moonlight, he kept himself going.
A demonic roar far behind him split the silence of the night. A roar so feral and unnatural that it could have sent a chill down the most stalwart of men’s spine. However, the sound had an altogether different effect on him. A smile found its way onto his lips. Some of them survived after all he thought, his hopes rising now. Stopping suddenly he rested up against a nearby tree. If he could breathe he would likely be gasping for air. Instead he closed his eyes, focused, and listened intently into the night. Yes, he could hear them now. Just over a score of the creatures which were quickly catching up to him. But other sounds reached his sensitive ears. Leaves crunching under hoof beats, metal grating against metal and the short sharp breath’s of exhausted but determined men.
“Humans” he spat. Their arrival was not unexpected, but he realized, to his dismay, that they were much closer than he had anticipated, perhaps half a mile behind him and riding hard. And there were a lot of them. They outnumbered his forces several times over. He sighed; they were clearly determined to finish him off. With a sharp exhale of breath he opened his eyes and looked at his demonic creatures, which had caught up and were now looking at him expectantly, if there horrific faces could portray such an expression. They were wolf like, standing on all fours with snouts bristling with vicious teeth. But these creatures were at least twice the size of even a large wolf with a few even larger than that. Their eyes were pure red, no iris or pupil, just unyielding blood red eyes. Their muscles were so large as to tear the flesh, leaving black blood seeping down their hides. Their jaws could barely contain the enormous teeth that protruded from their gums, all glistening viciously in the night. All covered in blood. In some of the creatures the teeth had grown to the point where they no longer fit the jaw and so simply pierced through the mouth. Singularly these creatures were horrific, but as a pack they were a truly terrifying sight.
But it wouldn't be enough. Even if he had twice the number of powerful monstrosities they likely wouldn't be able to stop the hundred or so angry, armored and mounted warriors bearing down on them. With that thought he reached out with his mind and connected with one of the smaller wolf-creatures. Then with a sudden flux of magic, drained it entirely of life and brought its life force into himself. The creature crumpled to the floor, its blood red eyes shrivelling into its sockets and its body already visibly rotting. New life filled his body. The ache in his muscles faded and was replaced with an eager energy. The pain in his many wounds lessened until it was just a dull throb. His senses sharpened. He could see his creatures clearly, every grisly detail revealed in earnest. He could smell the blood trail he had left all the way back to the entrance of the forest, every droplet revealing the story of his flight through the forest. His ears easily picked out the sound of the humans, growing ever closer as they crashed through the forest at a reckless pace. He could also sense his destination.
In a sudden blur of movement he ran. With enough speed to make a horse jealous he rushed through the foliage letting the scenery become a haze of black. His pace would have been reckless if not for his heightened sense’s. Instead of being stricken by out reaching branches, he was able to move just enough to let them fly past harmlessly. His wolfen minions followed, their powerful muscles enabling them to stay close behind.
Within minutes he reached his destination. The trees gave way to a small clearing devoid of all greenery and life. Moonlight flooded the clearing illuminating it in stark contrast to the pitch black of the forest. The grass here was black and withered, almost as though it had never seen sunlight. Corpses of various animals were strewn around close to the edges of the clearing, as if simply entering the area had caused them to die. The corpses seemed alive with movement from the thousands of maggots, rats and insects that covered the bodies, devouring all and leaving nothing but bones in their wake. Only scavengers could survive in a place such as this. He ignored all of this though; it was nothing new and instead looked towards the centre of the clearing.
A simple black altar stood there defiantly. Its sides were caked in dried blood which had begun to crack and flake off. It was clear that this altar was intended for sacrifice. Where it’s perfectly smooth sides should have reflected the moonlight they instead seemed to draw it in, leaving the immediate area around it just that bit dimmer while the altar itself was basked in concentrated moonlight.
With a surge of leg muscles and magic the necromancer leapt the 20 yards to land atop the altar, dexterously keeping his balance as he landed atop the smooth altar top. He could feel his energy was critically low again. His quick flight through the forest had burned all the power he had taken from the wolf, and he now again felt weak and diminished. A burning pain returned to him again as his wounds raged anew, his muscles quivered from the strain and a sense of dizziness almost caused him to fall. The moon here was clear in the night sky and so he was able to draw on its power, steadying himself and lessening his pain somewhat. His one good arm reached into his cloak pocket and retrieved a vial of pure black liquid. Holding the vial up towards the moon, he began to chant. His wolves stalked into the clearing and formed a semi circle around the altar, facing back the way they came. While their master chanted atop the altar, they remained motionless.
Time seemed to stand still. The forest was motionless and silent as though it was waiting in anticipation for the climax of the night. The only sound in the night was the low chanting of the necromancer standing atop the altar, illuminated by the moonlight.
Mere moments later the wolf creatures were stirred into motion. The scent of human flesh had reached them. Paws clawed sharply at the ground in anticipation. Lips parted to reveal grisly snarls while deep growls escaped through their bared teeth. The necromancer atop his altar finished his incantation. As the last words were uttered the liquid in the vial began to change colour. A wry smile parted his lips as the liquid settled on a sickly green colour. Just in time he thought. The humans were here. The sound of them crashing through the woods was almost upon him. As the first horses head emerged from the trees, thundering towards the necromancer, the golden warrior mounted atop it screamed his war cry which was taken up by those riding alongside him. A shout of pure rage and determination which issued a challenge to any and all enemies that heard it.
The wolves responded in kind.
A thunderous roar leapt from the wolves mouths as they rushed forward to meet the humans, the scent of human flesh sending them into an uncontrollable frenzy which could only be sated by blood. The roar was so horrific and powerful that for miles around birds took to the sky, fleeing in fear. The humans looks of determination turned to ones of horror at the sound and their horses ground to a halt, many sending their riders to the ground as they stopped suddenly or bucked in terror. Only the golden warrior was unaffected. When his horse halted its charge, spraying up dirt and dead grass into the air, he simply leapt from the saddle, his golden armour and huge blade reflecting the moonlight sending dazzling rays outwards, as though he was an angel descending from heaven to smite the wicked. Barely breaking stride he continued his charge towards the wolves and necromancer. Alone. He let forth yet another bellow of rage to rival that of the wolves. The necromancer just watched on in amusement.
One of the larger wolves leapt towards the golden warrior, its mouth opening impossibly wide as though to swallow him whole. With surprising agility the warrior sidestepped to his left as the jaws grew closer and swung his huge blade two handed and horizontally. The blade passed between the jaws, shattering teeth in its path while cutting cleaning through almost half the length of the wolf, sending a spray of black blood into the night. Using the momentum of the swing he spun round, his blade trailing blood behind it, and brought the sword above his head in an overhead chop. The blade descended and embedded into the head of yet another wolf, opening a gaping wound along its head and shattering the skull beneath it. Removing his blade he looked up, his blood flecked face distorted by a ferocious scowl. He was surrounded on all sides by the demonic wolves, a wall of muscle, teeth and blood that was slowly stalking in for the kill. The warriors grip on his handle tightened. His men were still struggling with the horses, and so no help was coming for him. He gritted his teeth and, and prepared to die.
Suddenly, the wall parted. The wolves ran past him and towards the still struggling humans, intent on easier prey. The warrior looked around, shocked and confused, wondering why his life had been spared. Then he looked towards the necromancer who was still stood atop the altar, the green vial in his injured arm, a sword in the other, and a grin on his lips. The necromancer pointed ears revealed him to be an elf, but his ebony skin signalled him out as a dark elf, the more chaotic sub race of elves that dwelled beneath the surface of the world in underground caverns. His long white hair, which would normally have shined in the moonlight, was caked with mud and blood dying it a sickly brown colour. He was clad entirely in black clothing but as with his hair this was also dirtied from his flight through the forest, and blood still was visibly seeping from his many wounds. Regardless of this the elf stood with an air of confidence about him, as though he was the king here and not the one looking like a beggar thrown into the gutters. The blade he held was long and seemed to have no discernible hilt or guard. It was also a brilliant white which shined in stark contrast to the dark figure that held it.
A wide grin split the elf’s face, which seemed out of place in this dead clearing. “Oh don’t look so surprised.” He said smugly “those creatures may put on a grand show with all the teeth and roaring but look at how quickly you killed them! It was like slaughtering children for you!” A considerate look crossed his face as he eyed the warrior. “Though I don’t suppose you’ve killed any children have you?” His look was one of almost childlike eagerness as he awaited the reply. “Quiet demon! Those creatures were sent back to hell and I will ensure that you’re soon to follow!” growled the warrior, taking a menacing step forward and raising his blade. The necromancer was unconcerned at the threat and instead looked disappointed. “Hmm yes well I’m sure you will. I mean clearly I’m no match for you. Just look at you! With all that shiny armour and huge blade! I'm literally quaking.” The elf raised his arms and quivered mockingly. “I must say it’s all a bit too tacky for my tastes. Far too….predicable. But it doesn’t matter. My little minions seem to be having much more fun with your men. Take a look” he said, pointing behind the warrior.
The warrior’s eyes narrowed at that and he stepped closer towards the altar, now just a few feet away. The necromancer pursed his lips and showed his hands defensively. “It’s not a trick, promise” he said with a smile. The warrior turned hesitantly and was shocked by what he saw. The wolves were tearing into his men with a frenzy. The few men who had been thrown from their horses lay where they had fallen, torn to pieces before they could rise. The wolves had obviously reached the men while they still struggled to dismount as several men could be seen hanging limply from their saddles, throats torn, limbs severed and in one case a vicious bite had left one man with just half a torso. The press of panicked horses meant that only a few soldiers could get to the fight at once, and those that did were soon set upon by the wolves. One soldier screamed as a wolf’s pounce left him on the floor with its powerful jaws clamped tightly around his midriff, his chainmail giving no defence against the viciously sharp teeth. Another was able to sink a blade up to the hilt in one of the creature’s flanks before it swept him of its feet with its snout and leapt in, tearing at his throat. One unfortunate soldier was bore down by four of the creatures which preceded to rip his body limb from limb. The humans were beginning to get their numbers into the fight as the skittish horses had slowly been forced away, but the loss in life was proving to be dear, already over a dozen men lay dead on the ground, and many other lay wounded and screaming for aid though none would be forthcoming. It would be a bloody fight.
The golden warrior looked over this in horror and took an involuntary step towards the battle, seeking to aid his men. A tap on his shoulder drew his attention and he turned to see the necromancers smiling face but a hairs breathe away. Before he could act the necromancers hand had connected sharply with his cheek with a resounding SLAP. The warrior stumbled back in surprise from the force delivered by such a slight figure. With a flip the necromancer landed nimbly atop the altar once again. You shouldn’t taunt him so, he’s not someone you should trifle with and you’re already close to dropping as it is. Just drink the vial and end this now. No more theatrics!
“Oh I’m sorry. Did that hurt?” Well we do love theatrics’
The warrior bared his teeth in an almost feral snarl. “You’re going to wish you killed me when you had the chance!” his voice was almost a growl as he stepped towards the altar, his blade raised high. “Yes, you’re probably right” replied the necromancer, checking his nails with disinterest. “But if I’d done that I wouldn’t get to see your face as you saw your men being slaughtered.” He added with a smile “oh I have no doubt they’ll prevail in the end. But as it is you stand to lose over half your men. Is it really worth that just to kill little old me?”
“Any price is worth paying to kill a foul demon like you! Now be silent and fight like a man!” He screamed as he rushed forward, swinging his blade at the necromancer with all his strength. With a sign the elf half-heartedly somersaulted over the blade, its keen edge passing but an inch below him. With barely a sound he landed on the grass, putting the altar between him and the warrior. “I would be quiet but I’m afraid we evil masterminds do just love the sound of our own voice. As for fighting fair well....” another smile “I am the bad guy.” That’s enough. You only just cleared that blade. A moment later and you’d be on stumps! Just drink and end this! But again he made no movement towards opening the flask and instead watched intently as the warrior leapt on the altar and ran towards him.
With a mighty surge of muscles the warrior leapt from the altar, bringing his huge blade crashing down towards the necromancer. A smile parted his lips as he knew this would be a killing blow.
His blade came to a bone jarring stop.
The impact sent a shockwave coursing through his body, his skull felt as though it was moving within his head and his legs quivered as they hit the ground. He looked in utter surprise at the blade which had blocked his attack. With one arm the necromancer had put a stop to a blow that would have felled a giant. The elf’s look was one of tired disappointment. His mind revealed otherwise though Good gods that blow was powerful! You need to end this now. It’s taken all your magic just to prevent your arm from shattering. If you don’t drink now you’re going to die. And this time you’ll stay dead. His face revealed nothing however and the warrior was completely unaware of the internal berating his foe was getting, and so simply looked on dumbfounded at the enemy who had so easily stopped his attack. The necromancer tutted. “Is that all? Then I guess this fight is over” His foot shot out and connected sharply with the warriors stomach, winding him and giving the necromancer time to fall back. As he retreated he pulled the stopper from the vial and drank the liquid inside. The bitter taste almost caused him to gag and he fought the urge to vomit in order to keep up appearances. Bah why can’t potions ever taste nice? Would it kill them to add some liquor?
He noticed that the warrior had recovered and was now striding purposefully towards him, rage burning fiercely in his eyes as though he was trying to kill with just a look.
Say something then."Well my friend, its been fun, but I’m afraid I have to leave now” he extenuated the point with another wicked smile and a ridiculously low bow.“Oh no you’re not escaping me! The gods themselves couldn’t stop me from killing you!” The warrior’s blade was in motion yet again, swinging swiftly towards the necromancer’s neck. Say something clever. the elf thought to himself. But for the first time that evening he was genuinely stumped for what to say and so just looked on dumbly as the blade swept towards him. Time seemed to slow. He could see the snarl of the warriors face, spittle flying from between his gritted teeth. He could hear the screams of the wounded, the sounds of battle, the growls of demons. The smell of blood was thick in his nostrils and he savoured it. And smiled.
The blade swung in.
And hit solid rock.
For the second time that night the warriors blade had come to a sudden halt. For the second time he was left with his bones rattling beneath his skin. For the second time he looked on in shock at the necromancer. Who was now encased perfectly in stone. His every feature was immaculately captured as though carved by the gods themselves. Everything was captured down to the last detail. The blood trickling from his many wounds, the amused grin parting his lips, even the look of mockery in his eyes was so perfectly depicted that the statue gave the impression that it was laughing at the warrior.
The warriors face flashed between emotions. Confusion, hatred, sadness and pain before settling on the one emotion that gave him comfort. Rage. With a shout he began to hack at the rock with his blade, the blade with which he had felled ogres, giants and even fouler creatures, the blade with which he had defended his lands from the grasp of evil. Each hit sent a shudder through his body, but his rage would not allow him to stop. With a final mighty swing, he stopped and gasped for air, and again looked over the statue.
Not a scratch.
With a sigh he turned and looked over the devastation. Corpses littered the clearing. Men, horses and wolves lay strewn around in tangled knots of bodies, as though still locked in battle. Most of the wolves were now dead and those few that were still alive were methodically being surrounded and hacked down by the weary soldiers. Many of the soldiers comrades were now providing food for the scavengers of the dead clearing, and very few of them were still in one piece. The once black grass had become thick with blood and was now dyed a deep red. With a tired eye the warrior king counted his remaining men. Just over two score remained. The rest of his once proud men had been reduced to nothing more than scraps. Body parts were indistinguishable and there was no indication as to who they could have once belonged to.
“The bastard had been right” he muttered, thinking of the necromancers prediction for the night. "Sir?” the warrior king turned to his left and noticed one of his captains stood there expectantly. The man was young, surprisingly young for a captain. The lad was exhausted and breathing hard. Blood and sweat, likely not all his own, matted his chainmail and stained his tunic. He had removed his helm and now held it in his one good hand, his other was hanging limply due to a grisly wound along his wrist. However the boy had ignored this wound and the obvious pain he was in and, forgoing seeking treatment, had come for orders.
The golden king gave a weary smile, clasped the boys shoulder and spoke softly “Gather what horses you can. Get the wounded on horseback. Burn the dead. I will not have my men reduced to maggot feed.”
the boy gave a grim look at that and asked “what about the wolf creatures?” the king looked over at the one of the creatures corpses, its body was rotting away already and it was being devoured by insects. “Leave them here. This is as fitting a place as any for them to be. And bring me three of the strongest men we have left, I want that statue brought back with us” he said, with a quick wave towards his stone encased adversary.
“Yes sir” the captain gave a quick salute and turned to leave.
“Oh and get that arm seen too. You fought well tonight”. With a firm nod and a proud puffing of his chest, the boy clasped a fist to his chest “Sir!” and ran to give the orders.
The night sky was growing light revealing yet more of the carnage. The sun was beginning to rise, sending rays of red to push back the darkness. The blood red sky gave further prominence to the violence of that night. The king glanced once again at the statue, his lips curling in hatred as he saw again that mocking grin.
And the two sharp canines protruding from the necromancers gums.