The man’s wail was cut short, his face illuminated by orange light, as the black longsword cut him in two. From his shoulder to pelvis, his guts splattered onto the onyx skeleton’s bony feet. Blue hell-fire eyes reflected in the man’s terror-filled eyes. The village of Iron Horn on his left, being ravaged by flames. Screams filled the air along with a mass of smoke that half shielded the moon and stars.
Layla’s heart roared as fear and adrenaline pulsed through her veins. It screamed at her to run, run far from the unholy monster that stood before her. Black as night, and nearly invisible if not for flame-light; but her maternal instincts kept her rooted. Because behind her, terrified screams of children and their mothers sounded. However, even if she wanted to flee, the skeleton blocked the path.
The skeleton brought the longsword up again, almost mechanically, and stepped over the dead man. Then it brought the sword up and chopped at Layla. She parried at an angle with the flat. The swords sparked on contact, but the longsword slid away into the dirt at Layla’s side. She used the moment to spring the shortsword around, then thrusted the point of her sword at its skeleton’s right eyesocket. She was too slow.
The skeleton reared its head. The blade fell an inch short, and she retreated; cursing her short reach. The monster pulled the blade from the dirt and gave chase. Its bones rattled angrily with each step up the side of the mountain. Layla was already tired from the other skeletons she had fought, this being the last one of the group. She didn’t know how much longer she could fight for…
Without respite, the skeleton attacked again. It brought the sword around again, this time, it swung horizontally as it stepped at her. With a longer reach, and well within its range, Layla had no choice but to duck. The sword cut a few locks of her dark brown hair that had failed to follow her in time. Once the sword had passed, she took her chance.
She sprung up, like a leopard, and stabbed for its eye again. This time, the skeleton could not react in time. Just as it was recovering from its own strike, it turned into the attack. The blade pierced through the socket, and the flame. The skeleton let out a low whine before it crumbled to the dirt. Its bones joined its fallen brothers as they clattered against the other bones.
Layla panted heavily, and her body burned. She had been fighting for no more than ten minutes. However, she hadn’t fought for her life in years. Her muscles had grown weak with peace. Reaction, strength, and agility had left her. Had she been at her peak nearly ten years ago, she could have easily slaughtered all of these monsters. Alas, motherhood had called upon her, and she had grown complacent, and that complacency would be the death of her yet.
Positioned above the mine’s entrance, she could see the entire village from her small enclave. Flames ravaged the cottages, and the dead littered the roads. Soldiers, miners, and villagers alike. Less than half an hour. That was how long she estimated had passed since the massacre started. She did not know from where they came, but unless she escaped with the others behind her, they’d all die.
Her little enclave was the most defensible position with one way up or down. Steep precipices towered opposite of the village. She had picked this spot because of it. Had this been a bandit attack, it would have been the safest place in the village. The undead did not think nor fear, thus whatever advantage she had, besides it being a chokepoint, was lost. Even after she had killed six of them, that last one still fought to the end.
She turned her eyes back down the path. Several more bodies laid further down, where the skeletons had caught some.
Her eyes flicked further down as a group of four villagers scrambled up the path. In tow, six skeletons gave chase; their blades nipping at their heels.
“Help!” One of them called out.
“Layla, help us!” A woman cried. “By the Gods, help us!”
She could faintly see their bodies. They were bloodied and covered in grime. None of them carried any weapons of a sort. Layla cursed them in her heart. They had brought more to her, and she was nearing her limit. She had just fought a group with just her and the dead man. Now, they brought more. Without offering to help her fight, the group passed by her. The fresh skeletons changed their target to her.
The group was not tight or orderly, rather, they were a small file of monsters. The first in the file charged Layla with a black shortsword. She pulled the mana in her to her offhand, knocked the monster’s blade aside, and countered with an open palm-full of swirling wind. The magic, shaped with her intent, exploded forward and flung the skeleton over its friends. The next one never faltered and cleaved down at her with a bastard sword.
She sidestepped to the right and crashed into the stone mountainside with her right side. The second skeleton and the third stabbed at her, and she evaded backward. The swords bit into the stone and skeletons jerked from their momentum. She took the momentary opening and pierced the second skeleton’s eye. It crumbled away, and she kicked the third before it could fully recover. A gleam of a black blade cut through the darkness on her right. She ducked and rolled back.
It was the fourth skeleton, flanked by the last two as it charged past the third. She willed mana into her offhand again, but this time, the three skeletons attacked at once. The first chopped down, and the other two attacked from their respective sides with stabs. The three-pronged attack almost got her. The blades only tore through the hem of her dress. Then the middle skeleton attacked again.
It thrusted the sword out, long and black, it cut the smokey air. Layla parried, knocked its blade away as she stepped into the attack; throwing a large semi-transparent orb that swirled in her off-hand into its face. The aethereal orb splashed over the skull and both the Hell-fire and the orb clashed for a moment. Then, the skeleton crumbled. The hell-fire extinguished from its eyes.
The fifth and sixth continued their assault, the left skeleton stabbed again; the fifth slashed downward at her. She jumped back, rammed against her fence that marked the end of her courtyard. The wood creaked in protest, and a black blade cut against through the air. She was late on the evasion and the blow, a stab from the third skeleton, had stabbed through her left forearm as she tried to bring it up forth another spell.
She let out a pained gasp as she felt the blade stab through her muscle. Searing heat shot through her arm, followed by a sudden chill. As she pulled away, the blade cut a few more inches down her forearm. She swung her sword around and severed the skull from its spin. The onyx skull danced wildly through the air and off the edge of the sloped path. The skeleton let go of its weapon and tried to chase after its head before, it too, fell off the side.
How, along with her lungs, her forearm burned, and she had lost the ability to juggle spells with her sword. She was not a trained Magic Swordswoman, she could not challenge her mana through her sword, nor could she rely on her magic solely. Thus, she could not use her Holy Banishment anymore. One of the few spells she had learned from her adventuring days.
She grimaced at the pain. Baring her teeth, she charged wildly at the remaining two monsters. This warcry was accompanied by another as one of the wounded men from earlier charged in with her, Layla’s shovel in hand.
“Aaahhh!” Layla cried out in her do or die moment.
“For the Empire!” The man called out.
Both the skeletons, unthinking monsters with the sole intent of killing the living; stabbed and cut at her. The left one swung at her, and the man parried away the blow with the blade of the shovel. A lucky blow. Layla stepped slightly aside, let the blade cross a foot away and grabbed the hilt of the black sword. The skeleton tried to pull away, if only just to set up for another blow, and Layla stabbed her the tip of her sword through its left eye socket. Its death whine called out before it crumbled away.
The man was not so lucky after his entrance. He tried to parry with the shovel again, but the blade cut through the wooden shaft. Then through his skull.
“Aahh!” Layla cried out once more, and with the remains of her strength, killed the last skeleton.
It fell away down the sloped path as the man fell back. Sword still cleaved through his head. The sword pierced the dirt, not willing to give from its new home. The black that colored the blade melted away in the firelight and was replaced with rust. The blade was but an old blade, no longer that ominous blade that had cut her flesh like butter.
“Fredrick!” One of the women called out as she rushed out to the dead man.
She sobbed as she knelt beside the dead man. She muttered insults and promises to the man, her sorrow was as clear as he was dead. Not that it mattered to Layla. She cared not one bit for the man, nor the girl. She had only cared to protect the children, and maybe the mothers.
Layla fell back against the fence, only built a few years ago. It hadn’t been painted yet, and now was stained with her blood. She stabbed the sword into the dirt and tore a peirce of the once pristine cotton dress. She bandaged her wounds quickly before she could bleed out, her arm already red with her blood. She tried to control her breathing as her lungs protested from her sudden fight. Her muscles quaked from the effort, and now her left forearm burned.
But she was still alive.
She was not religious, still, she uttered a thank you to every god she knew. To Alistair, the human god; to the forgotten wind, God of the forgotten; To Hades, the god of the Demons; Lastly, to Akysyss, God of the Dragons. Then she uttered a wish, a prayer, or a desire. She did not know what to call it, but she wanted the strength to see her child again. To see Savannah and to tell her she loved her.
Despite her sudden willingness to pray to the gods, she laughed out at the childishness of it. They would not help her survive. She had to do it on her own.
“Why are you laughing?” The sobbing woman looked up, almost offended.
“Shut up,” Layla said with a groan. “I’ll laugh if I want to. I just killed a group of fucking monsters. You did nothing.”
The girl was shocked by Layla’s demeanor. The village had known her for a sweet adventurer who settled down to be a mother. Layla was not a sweet woman, at least, not to those who did not deserve it. She was a fighter, an adventurer, and a woman who had seen the known world. She had lived through much and killed many. No, Layla was wild and fierce, only tamed by that young girl. The only thing she cherished.
“Family is the most important thing. Go to her, and never let her go.” A sweet, melodious whisper reached Layla’s ear. As if it were just a passing breeze. A sudden warmness filled her. Summer. It felt like a cool summer day…
Twisted and pale, his body rested on the lip of his tomb. One black feathered wing stretched out on his left. One Boney wing stretched out on his right. His eyes, glimmering blue orbs of ice, looked over the kneeling draugr. The Lord of the Damned, or little known by his truth name of Lahabiel, was pale as snow and wore nothing over his muscular body. His body the height of perfection, aside from a glaring red “x” over his heart. The mark of his failure.
“And this mortal, who had slain a part of our forces, got away…?” Lahabiel’s voice was dangerously low, almost a snarl.
“Yes. She was a skilled warrior.” The draugr answered.
“And you did not kill her yourself, why?” Lahabiel asked.
“I had sent more of Black Ones.” The Draugr answered. “I believed it would have been enough to deal with the mortal.”
“Clearly, it wasn’t,” Lahabiel growled.
“We have given chase, my Lord.” The Draugr informed Lahabiel, but he only huffed at the undead’s failure.
“Commander Jogun.” Lahabiel began. “You have led my forces in the years past, but I did not believe you would have such a meager failure.”
Jogun’s only response was a deeper bow of his head.
“Leave,” Lahabiel commanded. “Chase after them, but do not go too far. If they manage to leave our reach, it is nothing… There is a more pressing matter. I feel a great power to the south, and we will march for it.”
“Yes, my lord,” Jogun said.
“Also find out how long we’ve been gone from the world,” Lahabiel added. “Let us leave now.”
The drauger nodded as the fallen angel got up from his tomb. His angelic body perfect, and beautiful, and deadly. While he was an angel, he was also the Lord of the Damned. The fallen angel who had helped destroy heaven, and joined the Evil God Hades; Goddess Cyril’s father. He was one of his warriors, and now he walked the mortal plane. As did Jogun. Neither were aware of why they had been brought back.
Lahabiel, nude for all to see, passed the draugr and into out through the broken doorway. He stepped out into a large corridor, old and forgotten by time itself. Tens of tombs lined the corridor, and all of them had been opened. Blood and mangled dead men littered the far end of the corridors. The foolish mortals who had broken into his tomb, and had paid with their lives.
The tombs belonged to his Black Ones. While they were not great fighters, they were immortal. If one had died, Lahabiel could create another. Constructs of Lahabiel’s creation, and far from perfect. They learned over the course of their lives but lost their knowledge upon death. Their uses were limited. For now. He had not the time to tinker with them before he had died, but he would change that. Eventually, he would create a powerful undead army and renew the world.
Lahabiel smiled as he stopped in front of the dead men. There were no less than twenty men, armed with pickaxes. He raised his palm, pulled the mana from the air, and it festered into a black fog in his hand. Once he was satisfied with the amount he created, her upturned his palm. The black corruption dropped listlessly from his hand and onto the bloodied flagstones below. It began to swim towards the nearest ten bodies before it slipped in through their mouths.
The bodies began to convulse and the flesh began to split. The bodies bent unnaturally as their bones began to move. First, their spines ripped broke the skin before their hands moved over and torn their wounds open. Blood and guts gushed over the flagstones, wetting Lahabiel’s feet. The sensation made the corner of his smile grow.
In a matter of minutes, the ten glossy black skeletons stood in the ruins of flesh and meat. Their bodies were unmarred by filthy mortal blood.
“Rearm yourselves,” Lahabiel said in the dialect of angels.
While Jogun did not speak Heavianic, he still understood it. His black hollow eyes watched as the skeletons, drone-like, wade through the shallow sea of blood. They found stone weapon racks. Their contents, long rusted, turned black in their hands. Longswords, shortswords, and maces. All obsidian.
As they did that, Lahabiel dropped another mass of fog onto the ground. It infected the remaining bodies and they danced more wildly than the skeletons had. Also unlike the skeletons, their transformations were done within mere seconds. They did not become Black Ones, instead, they became snarling zombies. Fresh, they snarled at each other before they whimpered at the fallen angel.
“Let us go,” Lahabiel said. Smiling like a pride father. “Let us renew the world.”