A scream of agony rent the air to his left as another of his comrades died, consumed by unnatural flames that licked hungrily at his flesh. The fire burned white hot, the carcass collapsing into a pile of fine white ash and superheated armour fragments in moments. Julius raised his sword to parry another slash from the claws of his own opponent. The move was clumsy, his muscles tired and his vision fogging. Blood leaked its warmth inside his vambrace, his strength leaching away drop by drop to pool amongst the ash at his feet in a murky, dark slurry. The creature hissed at him, baring viciously barbed teeth and a forked tongue. Its red flesh smoked in the cool evening air, and its narrow eyes glowed with a malevolent light. It lashed out again, and Julius took the blow on his shield, the strength of it driving him to his knees. The creature lunged forward with a victorious cry, and Julius took his chance, the sword thrusting upward with the last of his strength. The blade ran through the creature’s throat, impaling it. The weight of the creature and the angle of the blade drove it further down, its blood smoking and spitting off the cool metal of the sword. Its struggles became weaker, and then the light went from its eyes, and it collapsed atop him.

With a cry of pained effort, Julius rolled the corpse off himself, the blade going with it. He hadn’t the strength to retrieve his weapon, and he lay there looking up at the dirty, ash-laden sky above and waited for the end. He was fairly certain he was the last man left at the outpost. The others must be dead by now. So urgent had the rush been to raise an army to stand at the gates of Dholgarth and meet the undead hordes of the foul Necromancer, that barely a handful of the oldest veterans and the youngest recruits had been left to guard the outposts on the plains of Abercarr. Then the earth had split, and they had been under attack by these numberless hordes. Demonic creatures of all shapes and sizes poured forth, the earth scorching black beneath their tread, before being consumed by some wild orange growth which grew with horrific rapidity. Julius could see strands of it winding their way over his own legs as he lay there, and he closed his eyes and lay back, waiting for the end.

A tremor shook the ground beneath him. The tread of some giant being, no doubt come to finish him off. He became aware of a shadow falling over him, but where he might expect the air to turn cooler, it became instead pleasantly warm. He felt a hand grip him by the shoulder and haul him upwards, and he opened his eyes to see what new torment awaited him. As soon as he opened them, he flinched, the brightness of the vision before him painful to take in. His hand came up to shield him, and he watched stars dance before him for several seconds before they faded away. Cautiously, he lowered his hand, and his jaw fell open. His limbs went dead slack as he dropped to his knees, head bowed in supplication. A single whispered word escaped his lips.

“Valandor…”

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