The darkness that spread over the land was the stuff of legend, tales that commoners would tell their children to make them go to bed when they were told, something that was laughed at when used as a threat. Still, when the clouds in the sky turned dark and thundering clouds spread over the land it was clear this was no fairytale.
The hideous laughter was the most terrifying thing of all, the sound of evil cackling as bolts of green lightning lanced out of the sky and struck the land. It carved the ground open where it struck and out of the dark chasms came demonic pests that not even the worst nightmares could conjure.
This was the start… the beginning of the terror that was to come. The Shades were soon followed by an army, an army rising out of the earth; below the headstones of every cemetery and unmarked grave throughout the land.
Un-dead were the most feared form of monster in Gallowmere. This was because the people of the kingdom, by tradition, gave much respect to their deceased loved ones and desecrating the dead was a far more terrible crime than anything done to the living.
So when the dead rose from their graves to assault the royal militia, few were eager to retaliate about those they had loved and buried.
At first this menace was seen as a plague but it was soon obvious it was far more than this. Towns were overtaken one by one, then cities with the walls and doors torn asunder.
Gallowmere was being invaded.
And now, they were at the walls of Castle of the Peregrin line.
The priestess Sophia, arch-deacon of the order of the Dragon, knew that the battle was lost before it had even begun. The royal guard, elites as they were, had no chance against the army besieging them.
Zombies in their thousands, assisted by demonic hordes of Fire and Ice were already inside the walls and the foul stench of death was hanging in the air; accompanied by the souring chorus of screams.
"The King has fallen!" She heard someone call out and she held a hand to her lips in dismay. "The king has…" The repeat was silence by a loud crashing thud and the strangled roar of an Ice Demon.
"Sister Sophia, the castle has fallen… they…they slaughtered the guard!!" Another sister of the order cried, rushing up to her, terror clear in her wide eyes. "They'll kill us all!" She was beyond help, driven mad by fear and with little time for her; Sophia simply brushed her aside and raced towards the centre of the castle to the throne room where the last of the guard was defying the demonic hordes in a last stand.
"The king had fallen sir! We must flee!" Some of the soldiers were arguing with the last captain left alive.
"Never." The offer replied when Sophia arrived via a secret corridor. "I'll not run away. I'll fight to the death against these hordes just as my predecessor did one hundred years ago."
"Millard, with respect you are not Sir Daniel Fortesque!" The Priestess told him sharply. "Demons do not fall before you like wheat before the scythe. As distasteful as it might seem to you… we must run!"
The offer stared at her through his visor with wide stunned eyes.
"Your king has fallen." She reminded him. "Yet his son still lives. Do your duty, sir, protect the royal line." Sophia gestured behind her to the bundle several other priestess' were tending to.
The crown prince, King Vilhelm's only son, still un-named was now the last of the legendary line of King Peregrin; the royal blood bound to the Red Dragons. Beside the child was the Egg to which he was bounded, mentally and spiritually; an infant Dragon waiting to hatch.
"They've taken the west wall, sir!" A soldier came hurtling down a corridor towards their barricade. He was clutching at a bloody stump where his left arm should be. It was clear from the pale face and slurred speech that he was dying, yet had managed to drag himself there to report the events. "They're…they are killing all they see with indiscriminate fury… you… please get them out!"
Then he collapsed to the ground and was dead before he even struck the floor, revealing the five arrows lodged in his back as he toppled over.
"As dishonourable as it is… I have no choice." Millard consented after a moment. "We can not defend the throne room with the west wall befallen. We must flee."
"There are passageways through the mausoleum." Sophia told him. "King Peregrin himself had them built. They lead into the mountains."
The ancient fire mountain that the castle had been built on top of had long since gone to sleep, the heat from the hot molten rock within keeping the castle warm, but was still only held back by a massive floodgate built in an underground cavern. A secret passage behind the throne lead down into this cavern, across a blackened stone bridge before reaching the extensive underground crypt; a resting place for kings and noble warriors.
The oldest laid to rest in these hallowed tombs were covered in dust and their names unreadable. Whoever they were, they must have done great deeds to be allowed to be laid to rest here.
"Forgive us heroes of old, we mean no disrespect." Sophia muttered in prayer, hoping the souls which the bones belonged to would understand the intrusion.
"The Prince must go into hiding." Millard stated, carrying the torch as they took point. "Gallowmere is not safe for him with this horde. He must be taken west to the Isle of Fire and from there, further to lands beyond."
"But sir, how is he to take up his throne when he comes of age?" One of the soldiers asked.
Millard was silent for a moment.
"There is not throne for him to take up." He eventually stated. "As pained as I am to admit it… the line of Peregrin has fallen."
"No." Sophia disagreed with him sharply. "As long as a single one of them still lives the line will survive."
Their small group moved into a large stone chamber with a high arched ceiling, decorated with patterns across the large beams that lined it. The floor was as smooth as marble and as Millard raised his torch, names engraved in the wall appeared one by one.
Millard gasped and sank down to his knees, followed closely by his men and several of the priestess'. Surrounding them were seven stone caskets laid against the walls, each one with a lid baring the honorary mark of a knight. Above these caskets the names of their occupants were engraved.
They stood in the presence of the legendary Seven Angels.
Great men of courage and valour, who, at the battle of Gallowmere plains over a century ago had fought through an army of demons to get to their master, the depraved wizard Zarok and slay him.
There was Karl Sturnguard, the legendary master of the shield, whose almost god like ability to defend against any assault had protected his comrades.
Next to him was Dirk Steadfast, a wielder of a fabled magic sword that cut through the monstrous hordes like parchment.
Canny Tim was an archer, a great marksman of under heard of ability. It was he who killed Zarok's champion, the Lord Kardok, straight through the air at, according to legend, a thousand yards. His casket was adorned with an engraved crossbow just below the royal seal.
The mighty Stanyer Iron Hewer was fabled to be a giant amongst men, wielding a mighty hammer of war that crushed skulls of even the most fearsome demons into dust.
Woden the Mighty was a warrior so skilled in battle that it was fabled he could take on an entire army by himself, armed with nothing but his own fists.
The only woman amongst their number was Megwynne Stormbinder, a pilgrim from a land to the south who had come to Gallowmere to escape her husband. Whatever god held sway in the south had granted her use of thunder bolts that scorched anything in their path. With this she had torn the heavens asunder and literally obliterated the demons in her path.
But the mightiest and most renowned of them all was the one to strike the final blow, killing the evil magician was Sir Daniel Fortesque.
Even before the fabled battle he was well known for heroic deeds that made the others pale in comparison. He had slain rogue dragons, defeated giants and werewolves single handily and was the only other warrior besides Woden known to take on an army by himself.
Songs were still sung of how on that day he spearheaded the charge deep into accursed multitude, how demons fell before him like wheat before the scythe and how at last, through mortally wounded, he killed the sorcerer by slicing off his head.
All seven of these souls had died in heroic combat but Fortesque was held above the rest, his casket decorated with stone angelic wings down either side. These were giants of legend.
"Millard, we don't have time for this." Sophia told the captain.
"We must pay homage." The armoured soldier stated coldly, keeping down on one knee and gesturing for her to get down as well. "These are the seven Angels! We must! To not pay them proper passing respect is… is… blasphemy!"
"Blasphemy you say?" A voice out of the darkness asked in response. "Well well, it appears I arrived just in time." Half a dozen of militia royals reached for their swords but a single gesture of a bony hand sent their weapons flying across the chamber. "Blasphemy is one of my specialities."
The figure that stepped into the light of the torch was that of a frail old man, with wrinkled skin and sparse silver hair. But still it was clear this was no ordinary person. A pair of spikes jutted out of his cheeks, the skin scarred around them as if they had burst out from within. His eyes were almost completely black accept for a dark green centre that glowed with an unearthly light.
His robes were a dark red, embodied by gold woven into symbols. Clasped in his thin left hand was a trident staff, the centre spike curved like a flame with a ruby placed within its centre.
"Really my dear captain, did you honestly believe I did not know about this escape route?" He asked stepped forward menacingly. "I was here when the castle was built. I lived here for twenty years; I know it inside and out."
"Whoever you are, you knave, stand aside." Millard started, keeping a firm grip on the hilt of his own sword. "I will allow none to threaten our passage."
The old man stared at him with wide, almost stunned eyes.
"You don't know who I am… do you?" He chuckled lightly. "Oh this is simply too much. My army's been destroying your kingdom and you didn't even know it was me."
"Millard, don't!" Sophia tried to warn him but in a blind rage, the captain had already drawn his sword. He tried to run the old man through but with a simple furrowed brow and through some magic unknown, the demonic elder reversed the attempt and the sword ended up ramming through the chest-plate of the captain. Blood spurted out as the top emerged through his back.
The priestess' carrying the prince and the Dragon egg screamed and huddled together with a scream.
"Argh…no… the king… my prince… my duty…" Millard gasped, blood running from his lips.
"Stand firm, protect the prince!" One of the other soldiers declared and those left huddled into a phalanx position to defend the infant babe.
"Hear my name you fools and tremble, for I am Zarok!" The old man stated, almost spitting in anger now. "Let my name defile the tombs of these seven around me, the idiots who you painted over a century ago as your saviours but who in reality failed!!"
He jabbed the point of his staff forward.
"And I levelled this castle not for the child nor its fledgling lizard, although they do make an attractive bonus."
"You can not be Zarok… you can not…" Zophia began through gritted teeth.
"Dose thou need further evidence?" The old man asked. "Throughout all the world there are no necromancers as powerful as I! I have lived for over a century, gained powers the likes from the dark realm into which I was cast that make me the most powerful being alive!"
He smacked the blunt end of his staff down on the ground and it shook beneath them, cracks spreading throughout the ceiling and wall; ancient dust falling down.
"This castle has fallen because of you, dear Sister Sophia!" Zarok declared. "I know you inherited the artefact from your predecessor and that I want it back! Where is the Anubis Stone?!"
"You monstrous fiend! I'll never tell you!" She declared defiantly.
"Oh yes you will!" Zarok snapped. "Willingly perhaps not but you will tell me! The artefacts that were taken from me, one by one, will return to my side. The Dragon gems, Dragon Plate Armour, the Witches Seal, the chalice of Souls, the Anubis Stone and the Shadow demon claw. I will find them all and you are going to help me reclaim them!"
The soldiers hustled the priestess amongst the others under their protection, keeping them defended by a wall of blades and armour platting.
"Lady Sophia, what do we do?" The lady holding the baby prince asked in alarm.
"You poor fools. I could call my army down here and they'd rip you to pieces." Zarok told them all. "Or perhaps conjure up a demon right here and now." He paused, his eyes glancing around at the graves around him and at the names engraved above the stone caskets.
"What… what are you doing?" Sophia asked as Zarok slowly raised his staff. The old man didn't answer, instead a wicked grin crossed his lips and the ruby in his staff glowed an intense red.
A shockwave passed through the air, pulsating outwards like a thick blast of hot air. The lids of the stone caskets trembled as it past by, each one suddenly sparking with red lightning.
"Let's just say I'm not without a sense of irony." Zarok slowly stated.
The lid to the casket of Dirk Steadfast twitched for a moment, before it pushed open and cashed to the ground as the long dormant body within pushed itself free.
"NO!" Sophia declared in horror at the sight. The legendary warrior was, by now, reduced to nothing more than a skeleton; clad in rusted armour with a sword by his side. This was the ultimate act of defilement, one of the Seven Angels turned into a thrall.
The horror did not end there. One by one the caskets opened, the legendary warriors rising from the dead; whatever garments left hanging to them like rags under rusty armour.
"Behold, my new elite guards; my new bodyguards and protectors!" Zarok declared with glee. "Take the woman! Torture her day and night until she reveals unto me the location of the Anubis Stone!"
"As you command, master." The thrall that had once been Canny Tim stated, looking over towards Sophia. His eye sockets were empty but through them she could see that the soul of his proud warrior had been torn from the after life and rebound into his bones. He had been turned into an un-dead puppet.
"I'll defend you my…" One of the soldiers declared, moving forward protectively. Before he could even finished speaking, a mighty blow struck him from above as the warhammer of the thrall of Stanyer Iron Hewer smashed his head into his chest; crushing him.
Zarok chuckled, watching in sadistic glee as the soldiers were picked apart by these new ghouls. Within minutes there were only two soldiers left to defend the priestess, the boy and the dragon egg.
The rest were lying scattered, budged and torn across the floor; their blood seeping out almost ankle deep.
"I could kill the infant and end the Peregrin line right here and now." Zarok admitted, looking thoughtful. "But perhaps not. I think I might raise him to be my own son, train him in the dark arts and tutor him in the art of killing. I did always want an apprentice."
Suddenly he noticed that one of the caskets had not opened. The one containing the body of Sir Daniel Fortesque was still closed.
"NO!" Sophia implored. "Not him… leave him alone!"
"Sir Daniel Fortesque." Zarok breathed, ignoring her. "Well well well… always the stubborn one." He laid a hand against the casket lid. "How did you end up in this place? This is a hall reserved for heroes, not arrow fodder.
You were the one to have me exiled from the court. I can think of no better revenge than making you my personal Jester."
He held forth his staff.
"I said come forth! Obey my command!" The casket shook. "Defiance? Against my magic? Interesting resistance for worm food, Fortesque, but it won't save you." The glow intensified and the shaking casket suddenly when still.
"Now rise again, Sir Daniel!"