The Dead of Knight
Moonlight illuminates the battle with icy light and a star sparkles in the distance.
The blaring call of the great iron-bound dragon horns blasted through the still night air, jolting Nix awake. An attack.
Far above, the moon was barely half full, waning, much like the King's power. At least it would give them some light. And they would need it tonight.
The army on the esplanade was huge, appearing with no warning, no sound. Not that they'd been expecting any. Nix knew that if he looked too closely, if he paused in the fight, he would see familiar faces in the enemy force. There just hadn't been time to burn them all. He gripped the small crystal orb between gritted teeth and swore that he'd see them laid to proper rest. After.
Armoured feet pounded down the stone stairs, his comrades pouring out the castle gates in a huge steel-clad tide around him. Nix went with them, although he had a different job than the others tonight.
Moonlight illuminated the grass of the esplanade, the river running on one side, the forest on the other. As he stepped from the wards of the castle, the icy chill of the dead washed over him, making his breath catch in his throat and his heart skip a beat. Around him, his squad formed a box, protecting him from the animated corpses which even now were swarming across the grass.
The clash of blades on bone and the unearthly howling of the dead filled the night air. Petra fell beside him, and they trampled over her corpse at speed, leaving her before she rose against them. No time to do more than run. No time.
He directed his people towards the centre of the horde, feeling the sickening tug of a powerful necromancer. His fingers and toes were cold, already going numb, and sudden nausea clawed at his guts. It would only get worse.
By the time they reached the mage, he was having to cut his way through the foe, too many of his people having fallen for the box to hold. Jimmin snarled and turned on him, friend no longer, his head nearly cloven in two by a blow from an axe. Nix cut him down, sliced off his head and chopped into his legs as the corpse writhed on the ground. The cold was worse than ever, and he had nearly been decapitated himself when he had stopped to vomit earlier. But he had to find the necromancer.
Pushing his way through the snarling throng, Nix all at once found an empty space, a tiny space of refuge in the swirling maelstrom of battle. He gasped for breath, looking around him for his squad. No-one. Just him and, a few feet away, the shore of the river, the edge of the castle's defensive esplanade. He could make out the towering trees of the King's forest, and for a moment he wanted to jump into the river, kick off his armour and swim, to lose himself in the dark depths of the trees.
He shook himself, and fell to his knees as a wave of ice rolled over him, like a glacier might roll over a tiny pebble in its path. Gasping, arms shaking as he tried to get up, he turned his head to where his senses told him the icy sensation was emanating from.
In a short black cloak, armour buffed with black lead until it absorbed all light, the necromancer was a person-shaped hole in the world. No brightness, no light, as if someone had taken the darkest depths of the sky, the shadows from the deepest caves and stitched them together to make a human.
"They really thought you could stop me?" The voice was as chill as winter, held less feeling than his dead fingers. He thought she might be laughing at him, but she might just as easily be curious, if such a monster could feel curiosity.
He shook, but managed to lever himself to his feet, although he remained crouched. His whole body was shivering convulsively now, and he could no longer hear the clash of battle, although if that was because it was over or because he was simply dying, he didn't know. The cold made it hard to think.
The necromancer stepped closer to him, the grass withering where she stood.
"I know all about you, sensitive. I knew you would seek me out." The sword at her side dripped blood, black in the moonlight. Everything was black. Nix's vision was cloudy, blurred at the edges by dark mist. He tried to speak, but his chattering teeth caught his tongue and drew blood. The crystal fell onto the grass before him.
Laughing, the necromancer held her sword aloft.
"You will be mine, noble idiot. Perhaps you will serve me better than you have served your fool king."
"N-no." He forced the words past his clattering teeth, his breath catching in his throat like icy knives. His mind, delirious with imagined cold, flashed back to his commander's words some days before, the task he had been entrusted with.
They had given them a tiny crystal, pressed it into his hand and stared into his eyes. He fumbled the gem from the ground with numb fingers, pressed it between blue lips.
"Poison will not keep you from me. But if you wish to die in such a manner, so be it." The necromancer spoke, but it was as if he heard his commander's voice.
"Break this, and it will allow the mages to locate you with pinpoint precision." The commander had clapped a gauntleted hand onto his shoulder. "Don't let us down."
The crystal cracked between his teeth, and he fell. Rolling onto his back, he could just make out the stars in the darkling sky. A hint of grey marred the east; dawn was coming.
The necromancer appeared above him, sword raised once more.
One of the stars was getting larger.
The sword scythed down and the world exploded into flames.