The eerie cold of the night settled over the battlefield like an unsettling promise. The lumbering corpse focus its undead gaze upon me and swung his ax. I dodged to the side and swung my sword to send its head flying into the gorge. As I retreated back I could see the confusion and chaos amidst the ranks of the men around me as the rest of the dead rose.
“Fall back,” yelled Remus as he turned his horse about and rallied the men around him, “Fall back to the second line!”
The men were slow to move as uncertainty and confusion became rampant. As if sensing the opportunity the enemy forces charged the line with renewed vigor. With an angry hiss I counter charged across the bridge to help cover the retreat as Remus rallied our forces. I clashed with a group of wild mountain men and aimed to hit anything that struck out at me.
I swung my sword wildly in an attempt to create space around me. I could only engage so many at once even with my enhanced strength and speed. I was being pulled in deeper into the conflicted.
Ducking underneath a wide swing, my blade flashed up through the attacker’s jaw. I stepped back in time to parry another swing from the next opponent to take his place. With a well timed kick, maneuvered him to the edge of the bridge. Before I could topple him over a spear thrust caught my side.
An angry hiss escaped my mouth as I turned upon the foolish mortal to kill him. The pain in my side increased as I spun and I felt something snap that wasn’t the spear. Wide eyed the mortal enemy dropped the spear and turned to run. I pulled the spear free but before I had a chance to retaliate two more wildmen charged in to take advantage of my weakness.
I leapt backwards and fell back to where Remus was holding the line, cutting down an undead soldier that started to rise as I passed.
“Are you okay?” asked Remus, “By the-, someone retrieve bandages!”
“Remus don’t,” I commanded, as I looked over the wound. It was already starting to rapidly heal, and with it came a stronger thirst, “I need blood!”
With a moment’s hesitation Remus pulled his knife out and cut a gash across his forearm. He offered it to me and I greedily drank the freely offered blood.
When I was done, Remus staggered back uneasily on his feet. One of the men returned with the requested bandage and offered it to Remus. Shakily Remus accepted it then fumbled with it as he tried to wrap his arm.
I took it from him and wrapped the wound for him, then cut and tied it off.
“That was foolish,” I muttered.
“Anything for my Lady,” he said with a grimace.
“We need to kill that necromancer,” I declared.
“I know. If this keeps up we will be forced to abandon the bridge and tower.”
Glancing over at the bridge, I replied, “We can’t let that happen. If they take the bridge and watchtower, it will be hell on earth to take it back.”
“We can always come back with reinforcement.”
I nodded in acknowledgement. Looking past the bridge and gorge I tried to spot the old woman who I assumed called forth the forces of the undead.
“Brutus mentioned you had a personal necromancer under your employ?”
“Unfortunately,” I muttered half distracted, then my eyes finally settled on the unassuming figure that stood next to a larger man that towered over her armed with a large heavy sword. She looked exactly like the old crone that I had noticed shortly before the dead started to rise, the same one I was sure was the cause of necromantic curse. Neither she nor the large man she stood next to had moved, only watching from where they stood overlooking the fighting that occurred over the bridge.
“I think I know where to find their necromancer,” I said.
“Where?” asked Remus as he tried squinting through the darkness.
“Unfortunately on the other side of the gorge.”
“That might be a bit problematic, considering we would have to break through the enemy’s forces that are holding the other side of the bridge. It looks like our defensive terrain is being used against us. Not to mention every causality we suffer adds to their number.”
“Which is why we need to stop her before we are overwhelmed.”
Remus looked over the battle being fought across the bridge with an expression of deep thought. I considered the brief idea of using my enhanced strength to try and jump the distance then sneak close enough to kill her. However there was the uncertainty of whether I could clear the jump across the gorge. Not to mention what might happen if I was caught that far behind enemy line. I may be nearly immortal but if I could be overwhelmed my regeneration might not be able to keep up.
“We could try to push through,” suggested Remus, “If we can break past the enemy line and strike directly at the necromancer…”
“We would be leaving our back exposed to the dead that will rise behind us.”
“It's the best we have for the moment,” I said, “the alternative is to fall back and withdraw.”
Remus nodded, “Very well. I will try and rally the men for another charge.”
With a hand over heart salute Remus bowed then mounted up on his horse to formulate the attack against the enemy. I took a moment to center myself and focus my mind a bit. By the time Remus had relayed his orders I was ready.
As a unified force the men who had pledged themselves to me pushed hard against the enemy line. For a moment it looked like the enemy was going to hold its ground against us when I saw another group of men suddenly appear over the over the rough terrain and charge down the slope into the enemy's rear flank.
The enemy was unprepared to fight on flanks and the line folded underneath us as we moved forward. As soon as the bridge was cleared, I sprinted across and launched myself over the battlelines. I made a beeline for where I had last spotted the old crone and hardly slowed down for anyone or anything. I didn’t want to be engaged or bogged down in another skirmish. The moment of the battle could easily be swayed again in favor of the enemy if we couldn’t counteract the rise of the undead.
As I dodged past a group of men and I spotted the old woman. Her eyes widened in surprise as I leapt forward with my sword aimed to kill. I almost didn’t see the large heavy sword aimed to cleave me midair. With quick shift of my blade I parried the blow and crashed into the old woman. I rolled to my feet and spun around in time to block the heavy blade as my attacker swung his large sword.
I hissed angrily at the fool for denying my prey.
The man man’s eye narrowed then he snarled, “Usurper! I will take great pleasure in displaying your broken body before the Dark Lord once he returns!”
“I will enjoy feasting on your blood,” I taunted.
He roared and swung his blade in a wide arc. I ducked low and rolled to the side, swinging my blade out to catch him unawares. With a surprising burst of agility he dodged the attack and countered with another hard swing. We continued to exchange blows, and as the conflict escalated, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to strike out at the witch controlling the dead.
I poured my frustration and rage into my next attack with a hiss of anger. The side of my blade caught the underside of his forearm, drawing blood. He swung into his next sword strike regardless of the wound, forcing me to back off.
“You have some mastery over the Dark Lord’s gifts young one,” crooned the old woman, “but hardly enough when it counts.”
“Silence witch!” threatened her protector.
I darted to the side in an attempt to get past the large man. He moved in pace with me and swung his sword to discourage me from forcing my way past again. I backtracked before I took a flying leap, with the intent to jump over him to get at the old woman. His sword caught me in the air and I tumbled into a heap with an open cut along my side.
Quickly I rolled to my back and managed to avoid being plowed further into the ground by the large wild man’s heavy sword attack. I deflected his further follow up attacks as I struggled to my feet.
A squad of swords suddenly surrounded us. For a breadth of a moment, I thought they were going to attack me while I was down and out numbered. That changed when I saw Remus lead them in the charge against the wild man.
There was a loud scream from the old woman followed by a flash of blinding fire that exploded around us leaving me blind. The heat and fire sent me into a panic. Frantically I swung my sword and retreated from the burning light.
Once the blindness cleared, I could see Remus squaring off against the wild man that stood protectively nearby the old woman. The smoldering embers of dying flames highlighted the small battlefield that somehow encompassed only the four of us. Remus had a look of shocked horror as he stared down at the wildman across from him.
I took stock of myself. I was covered in burns that were slowly healing. It seemed fire was something that was harder for me to recover from. When I had enough strength I stood up and began to creep forward.
“Remus,” said the wild man in stern quiet voice.
“Uncle Vendurn,” whispered Remus.
“You have joined with the usurper then.”
“Brutus brought us into the alliance,” Remus almost seemed torn, “it was to secure our family’s safety.”
“Uncle we thought you were dead! Join us! Lady Gwenyth is a good ruler.”
“No!” yelled the man, “I serve only one master and that is the Dark Lord, the chosen of the true gods. Not that harlot! Not she who rejects the divine gifts of the Dark Ones!”
I bristled at the term harlot and imagined gutting the fool for his insolence. Flicking my gaze over at Remus, I considered the implication of the news of this not dead uncle of House Castillo. Somehow I had the feeling that this was the same uncle who was the former Lord and head of the House.
“You are a fool to fight against the might of the Dark Lord!”
“The Dark Lord is dead! Defeated and gone! Uncle see reason!”
Lord Vendurn Castillo charged Remus with his heavy sword. For his part, Remus didn’t flinch and meet the attack head on.
“The Dark Lord will rise again! Stronger!”
Watching Remus fight was a lesson in and unto itself as he expertly maneuvered his opponent where he wanted him. I took this chance while the two where occupied to creep closer to the old woman. Her head turned to face me as I approached.
“Daughter of Darkness come to have a drink?”
“I have come to kill you and end your undead army,” I spat angrily. At first I had simply wanted to cut her down, but the idea of drinking seemed like a delicious idea. My fangs lengthened eagerly in anticipation. She was weak of body and no doubt easy to kill.
She crackled madly, “Yes, come drink my blood. Something the Dark Lord had refused to take from me no matter how much I offered.”
I grabbed her offered arm and bit.
The surge of energy and strength from her blood addictive, it seemed thicker, almost darker, and more enriching. I could feel the burns I had suffered from the fire begin to close, as my senses sharpened. I could hear the clash of battle around me and almost tangibly feel the beating hearts of everyone around me with the promise of fresh delicious blood. It was deliriously better than the blood I had from other mere mortals, and it came with a deepening understanding of my Dark Powers.
“Yes, Daughter of our Dark Lord. Drink and know,” she crooned, “I too have been gifted a part of the Dark Lord’s own blood. Not enough to become him, but certainly enough to please those embraced by him.”
She began to chant and mutter under her breath. It was a spell of binding. I could tell through the weird intimate knowledge I had through her blood. She was going to bind me! Bind me through the blood I was drinking! The blood I craved and would not have taken from me!
I lashed out with my tallon hands cutting her throat. She coughed in surprised. Blood trickled from her mouth. As I released her arm and looked down upon her.
“Foolish hag,” I muttered as she stared up at me with anger, “I will not have you spoil my drink so free offered to me. I will not bow to you nor the Dark Lord. I will ensure that neither he nor you will live to see another night.”
Grasping her grey hair, I pulled her close and leaned over her neck. The scent of her blood was intoxicating and eagerly brought my lips over her seeping blood.
When I stood again I felt stronger and far more powerful. My senses far more attuned. Hearing the approached charge of heavy footsteps with a strong beating heart I turned to see Remus’s Uncle rushing towards me.
“Fear me,” I hissed looking him in the eye. He faltered and took a hesitant step forward then shook off my influence. I focused my mind on the knowledge the Dark Gods had imparted with the crone’s blood and pushed on with my willpower onto his mind. I felt myself weakening as I did so and felt a surge of thirst begin to rise up within me from the effort.
It seemed this new power came with a cost.
“Fear me mortal,” I hissed, “Fear me and flee. Take your men and run!”
Another hesitant step forward then he turned back.
I watched as the wild man mount the first horse he came across. From his belt he withdrew a horn and sounded a blast that echoed throughout the mountainous terrain. I watched the enemy turn and fall back. Someone foolishly wondered too close to me and I grabbed him. I couldn’t tell if was one of mine or the enemy’s.
It didn’t matter to me right then. I looked into his eyes and smiled as I pressed a finger to their lips.
“Shhh,” I gently hushed, then his eyes went dull and I pulled his head back to drink the warm blood of his.
Remus approached me quietly while our men gathered the dead.
“I sorry, my Lady.”
“There is nothing I need to forgive Remus.”
“But my Uncle is…”
“Is a loyal servant to his sworn liege. I will not hold your family accountable for the actions of one man,” I said firmly before turning to look at him. Remus had a look that held an expression of utter defeat. Somehow I doubted it had anything to do with the losses we had suffered at the hands of our enemies.
“Don’t get me wrong. For his service to the Dark Lord your uncle will die,” I declared, “but in spite of him, I am indebted to your family.”
Placing a hand on Remus shoulders, I looked him in the eyes, “Continue to serve me loyally and I will do all I can to pay back this debt.”
Remus blinked in surprise at my words then took a knee in front of me, “Then let me be your knight. Let me serve as your personal guard.”
His actions took me by surprise and I looked up to see a few others of the men who had joined us as they too took a knee. Some drew their swords placed them on the ground in front of them with the hilts pointed in my direction. I spotted Vernt standing a ways off just watching.
With a deep breath I drew my own sword and placed its tip on Remus’s shoulder.
“Very well Sir Remus of House Castillo,” I said, trying to figure out how to say the words just right, “rise as my knight and loyal servant.”