While the assault upon the castle had gone as planned, the intended goal had slipped through Zarok's grasp.
It was mere chance that thwarted him… a single slip of memory that stopped him from recalling that Fortesque had that genie trapped inside his cranium. Once more Al-Zalam had stuck a torn in his side and now the high Priestess had gotten away.
"With respect lord Zarok, you are already the most powerful being in Gallowmere." His chief Ifrit general stated once the castle had been reduced to nothing more than a smouldering ruin. "If so then why bother seeking these relics?"
"Ah, foolish creature." Zarok snapped at him. "You have not seen the power of the Anubis Stone… nor the invulnerability of the Dragon Plate armor… nor even the potential of the Chalice of Souls. You have no idea just how far my influence would reach with them all returned to me."
He stamped the end of his staff down on the ground.
"The staff of Loki is all I have been able to reacquire thus far… but if this entire world is to be mine I need those artifacts. Only then can eternal night wash over all creation."
The old sorcerer paused to take in a long calming breath.
"But I suppose I can afford to be patient. I will find the relics eventually." As he looked out from the balcony upon which he stood before him lay the shattered courtyard. The bodies of the dead militia were being lined up by the zombie legions to make them ready for the transformation into new un-dead warriors. The dark clouds above were gathering in strength. Soon they would blot out the sun and Gallowmere would be forever shrouded in darkness.
By now, his legions of undead and demons had conquered about a third of Gallowmere. It was time to step up the pace.
"Take your fiery brethren and go join up with my Boiler Automatons. You march south through Gallowmere tonight!"
"As you command my lord." The ifrit replied, slapped a magma type fist against its inferno chest before it marched off leaving a trailing of molten slag for footprints.
"People of Gallowmere, the days of tranquility you knew are at an end." The sorcerer began, laying a hand against the red jewel in his stay. Through his arcane magic he began to speak into the minds of all those that lay outside of his current domain.
Farmers and soldiers, paupers and nobles; all could hear his voice inside their head.
"I am the Master, the Lord Zarok. This will be the only warning you will receive. Defy my legions and you will die. Submit however and you may live.
My new order rises out of the ashes of the crushed Peregrin dynasty and out of the blood of your dead king.
This time… there is no army here to save you."
He left their minds, staying just long enough to hear the frightened screams.
It had taken a century to get back but the struggle had been well worth the effort. While all those responsible for his downfall were long since dead, Zarok found that taking vengeance on their decedents to be just as satisfying.
"Master, we regret to inform you that the priestess has escaped us." Zarok glanced back as his six newest un-dead recruits appeared before him.
"I know." He replied. "You failed and I rarely tolerate failure." Slowly he turned around and looked them over. "Just this once however I'm willing to make an acceptation."
Zarok walked right up to them and studied them each in turn. The ragged remains of their clothes and rusted armour would never do, at least not for serving in his army.
"Lord Kardok served me well the last time but it will take longer to revive him than originally anticipated. You will take his place as my champions." He held his staff aloft towards them. "My six heralds and agents. My harbingers of death and destruction." The jewel in the trident end glowed brightly and its glow engulfed the six Thralls and began to wrap around them like a blanket. "You are my six Fallen Angels!"
As a whole the six of them were suddenly covered in new armor, replacing their long rusted garments. It was armour of demonic origin, scared black by hot fires and engraved with symbols that glowed with a near intense green light. Out the back of each came wings of bone, spread wide with traces of darkness flowing out like feathers.
"I shall rule this land from my own seat of power, the city of Madness." Zarok stated once the transformation had finished. "Peregrin's decedent fort will rot here, a relic of a soon forgotten age.
You will scour the land for me, leading my armies on their conquests. Burn any settlement that defies me to the ground.
Search the ruins of every house you destroy, every building, very church and bring me clues as to the whereabouts of my beloved artifacts. The Chalice of Souls, the Dragon Plate armor, The Dragon Gems, the Witches Talisman and the Anubis Stone… bring me them!"
The Thrall that had once been Karl Sturnguard moved forward.
"Master, we are not complete."
Zarok raised an eyebrow questioningly.
"We are six when were should be seven." The Thrall of Canny Tim explained.
"Fortesque?" Zarok stuttered. "You want Fortesuqe? The man was a blithering idiotic croquet playing coward in life. Your skills far exceed whatever merge ability he has."
"We need him." The Thrall of Megwynne told him. "We must be seven again."
Zarok hissed out through his nose irritably. He disliked any of his minions displaying motives other than serving him still the idea of finding Fortesque and paying him back for having him exiled from the court. And Al-Zalam… that Djinn would most definitely have to pay.
"Well if you insist. By all means, when you have a spare moment seek him out and bring him to me and I will make him another Thrall." He turned his back on them. "But for now go forth… go forth and aid my minions in the construction of my new empire."
Fortesque stepped off the gangplank and once again onto solid ground. It was obvious the priestess and even the two soldiers whose lives he had saved were glad to see him go. They watched him with unblinking eyes, refusing to let him out of their sight until he was safely off the boat. Fortesque could not blame them… after all, they had the fate of the Prince as their concern and his safety was in jeopardy so long as a creature spawned from Zarok's magic as onboard.
He envied the prince now. While the kingdom the prince might have ruled was in tatters, at least he still had somewhere to go… for Fortesque on the other hand there was no respite or safe haven.
There was only the grave left… the only place Fortesque might go.
"You're not thinking very clearly my friend." Al-Zalam told him. "Just… how you say… take five… and think it over. Fate has given you a second chance and those men rarely get."
Fortesque sighed and let his shoulders slump, his armour clattering against itself loudly.
"Second chance?" He repeated.
"I was there one hundred ago effendi, I witnessed the battle of Gallowmere." At this Fortesque froze, his single eye going wide. "You tried everything to avoid fighting. In the end they dragged you out of bed to face that first un-dead army."
"You… you didn;'t want to fight?" The skeletal knight whirled out, not expecting to have someone else standing in his presence. The high priestess Sophia had followed him off the boat and was looking up at him with wide, confused, green eyes.
"Lady Sophia, what are you doing?" One of the soldiers shouted from the boat. The priestess turned around to look back.
"I'm going with him."
That proclamation startled even Fortesque. The other priestess' gasped and the soldiers were utterly taken aback.
"Sophia, please… get back on the boat! He's dangerous." The Priestess holding the precious royal dragon egg shouted.
"How you all so easily forgotten our morals?" The high Priestess argued back. "The dead have our up-most respect. They are not monsters but men of great honour…" She turned to look back at Fortesque. "And this man of honour needs my help more than the prince."
The way she looked at him. It wasn't the look of a woman taking pity on a monster, but rather one of understanding and sympathy. Slowly he drew her hood back exposing her face completely. She had long blonde hair tied back into a braided ponytail and her skinned was darkly tanned. The mark that intensified her as a high ranking member of the Order of the Dragon was a tattoo on her left cheek below her eye. It pictured the icon of a red dragon with green eyes.
"Go. You have your duty. The royal bloodline must survive."
Unable to argue with that, the soldiers complied and drew up the gangplank; the boat pushing off from the river bank.
"Hey Dan, I think you have a fan." Al-Zalam told him. "Oh I made a funny."
They watched as the boat carrying the only hope for the restoration of the royal family drifted down the river, where it would carry on until it reached the coast and relative safety from the hordes of un-dead.
"So… the legend isn't true then?" Sophia began after a pregnant silence. "You didn't slay Zarok. You didn't fight that army. You didn't die a hero."
Dan didn't answer and looked almost sheepishly at the ground.
"Well… he died in battle… let's put it that way." Al-Zalam stated. "Only not the kind of death that good public relations would have. King Peregrin saw to that once that battle was over."
"Why should I trust your word?" Sophia asked.
"Are you accusing me of lying?" Al-Zalam sounded taken aback. "In my culture, lying would earn you forty strokes of the cat… and we are very allergic to cats! So for us, that is a terrible punishment."
"He's… he's not lying." Fortesque began. "You're right. I didn't kill Zarok. I fell at the first charge of battle.
I was the first to fall… and even then I didn't even see my murderer face to face. I died with an arrow in the eye."
"The first arrow fired." The djinn leaning out of his eye socket added. "And then, because I wouldn't bend to his will like all the other Djinn's and Ifrits, Zarok cursed me. He took away my powers and trapped me inside his head.
I had to wait thirty years for the brain to decompose so that I could move around in here. It was disgusting."
"But…" Sophia started. "But what about the dragons and monsters you faced before the battle? Surely…
"The king liked to hear stories." Fortesque said, interrupting her. "And I was a very good story teller. Most of those stories were made up."
Sophia sighed, a long sigh the kind that comes from disappointment.
"Then I truly am on my own." Fortesque looked up as she trudged off a short distance, staring off into the dark horizon.
"This is the second chance I've been telling you about." Al-Zalam said and ushered Fortesque over.
"What task is this?" The skeletal knight asked.
Sophia sniffed once as if close to tears.
"Zarok attacked the castle to get to me, not the prince or even the egg. He wanted to know the location of the Anubis Stone."
"Ah the Anubis Stone… that little trinket." Al-Zalam muttered. "I swear, I haven't the faintest idea what Sekmet was thinking when she gave it to him."
"The stone is an amplifier for necromantic magic." Sophia explained. "It, along with several other artefacts, where taken from Zarok when his army was first defeated. He seaks to reclaim them.
I must not allow him to claim the Anubis Stone, which was charged to me by my predecessor. I must not let him take it… or any of the other artefacts if I can help it."
The skeletal knight was silent for a moment.
"This stone…could it break Zarok's spells as well as augment them?" The priestess nodded once in reply.
"The Anubis Stone is the ultimate necromantic relic. It has the power to summon and dismiss Zombies, Thralls and demons easily."
There was suddenly a hopeful spark in Fortesque's one eye.
"I may not be a hero my lady, but I will escort you to where the stone lies hidden." He stated a little too confidently. "A coward I may be but I am not without a heart. I can not bear to think of my friends as Thralls, under the command of that evil mad man.
I have to save them."
Sophia paused to study Fortesque again… only this time with a more enlightened eye, looking past her own perception of the generic hero she thought him to be. This time she saw the man, the true persona.
Fortesque was just like any other man… mortal and aware of his own limitations but with a great deal of compassion that had the ability to override his own fears.
"Then by all means sir knight." She began softly. "Let us venture forth through this land."
Fortesque took a place by her side as they made towards a nearby dirt road.
He couldn't bear to think about what Zarok had done to his closest friends, especially not the innocent Canny Tim nor the beautiful Megwynne.
There was no denying he was scared. Zarok terrified him more than any demon could but Fortesque was willing to walk through fire to save his friends, and maybe even his realm, from such a horrible fate.
"You know…" The genie inside his skull started. "We may just make a hero out of you yet."
(authors note: now this where the original story I wrote ended. If it proved popular enough then I continue on. It's that simple really. Enjoy these three chapters until I had incentive to write more.)