An Acolyte of Zero

Chapter Eight

Scourge Main Base

"Master," Louis bowed deeply as Louise strode in with the corpse of Henrietta on held tightly. She descended swiftly from the horse, grasping at the body and bringing it towards her familiar. She didn't know if it was her enhanced strength or the lithe princess, but the feat was carried on with relative ease.

She dropped her on the Altar of Darkness, watching then as Louis began to…

"Louis!" Louise sputtered, "What are you doing!?"

"The body needs to be desecrated with a special poisonous mixture, my master."

"So you're undressing her because of that?" she looked sideways slightly.

"Yes," Louis nodded. Louise bit her lips and then mumbled something unintelligible, before turning on her heels and climbing back on her skeletal steed. "Tell me when you're done."

"Would you like to guide the troops to Tarbes in the meantime, my master?" the Acolyte asked.

"I suppose I will," Louise muttered. Kicking the horse's side, she strode off to stand near the head of the small company of Crypt Fiends.

There were ten of them in numbers, and as they watched her with their multitude of eyes she felt strangely placed under test.

"For Nerub," the 'leader' of the Crypt Fiends said coldly.

"For Ner'zhul," she remarked dryly. "Let us be on our way then," she gave one last hesitant look to where Louis was doing his ritual, and then headed off.

Capital

"What the hell are those things!?" Agnes muttered ashen faced, as she looked at the towering structures that now stood surrounding the capital. "How…how many are there?"

"I don't know but…" Mordeau lowered a hand to the cobblestone, pulling a rock free and staring beneath it. "The very ground is rotting, Agnes…" he whispered.

The Acolyte was having a good day. They could have all the numbers in the world, but he just had to skirt around the capital's walls, place a Necropolis a bit on the far end, and then safely retreat. He had repeated this —apparently the humans inside had the belief that the Necropolis couldn't be attacked for some reason or another— for enough times.

Sure, he could have summoned eight ghouls by the time he was done, but as it was, he preferred this system better.

He really was smart when he placed his brain into action. Now, if only he had a plague cauldron or something like that, he'd be even happier.

The capital had lifted the drawbridge after the assault, and was now taking in the situation just as he was. It would be for naught because he merely needed to give an order to the Crypt Fiends burrowed close to the gate, and they'd open it with ease. Doing that would probably see them killed by the defending forces, but once he had an army worthy of notice, it would be a meaningless trouble.

"I require more resources," he intoned sending the message to Louis.

He felt a tingle, and then understood he had received what the main base could spare. The Crypts began to moan and release green fog, as the Ghouls appeared.

That was when the gates came down, and a horde of humans dashed out.

His eyes widened.

Five hundred troops charged in a disorderly fashion out of the main gate, screaming and yelling, as they seemed to be of the impression he was the most important individual to kill.

"That's the Necromancer!" Mordeau screamed as he charged at the tip of the assault platoon —all the brave souls he had mustered in a short time, and armoured with what the local garrison had. "CHARGE!"

"TRISTAN—"

But the screams died as the moans of the Ziggurats began.

The Spirit Towers slammed rays of condensed death and necromantic energies against the armoured advancing units, literally knocking them off their feet as they fell limp backwards, making the charging guards behind them tumble and fall, as the others scattered to avoid the same.

Mordeau was running together with three other men of the guard, the sickening soil squishing beneath his plated boots as he watched one of his long-time friends die, blasted off by a chunk of frost.

"Jacques!"

"Captain!" another screamed as a Ghoul jumped to slash at his neck. He raised his shield just in time, before delivering a massive blow with his war hammer.

Let it never be that Captain Mordeau did not learn.

The Acolyte clicked his tongue against his teeth in displeasure as he watched the Paladin smash to the ground a ghoul. There was something extremely wrong with the health bars of the units —he couldn't see them to begin with— but this simply meant that the hundreds of men pouring out were nothing more than honourable meat bags to be killed.

None of them even tried to attack the Spirit towers, passing through them disregarding their losses.

"Paladins," he muttered. "Stupid lot."

Then an arrow landed with a 'thud' a few meters away from him. Some archers had stopped and were firing upon him, uncaring of the corpses piling up near them.

If only he had a Necromancer or two…ah the masses of skeletons.

Still, he had to make do with what he had.

A soldier finally neared him, wielding a flail and spinning it wildly.

"FOR TRISTANIA, DIE HEATHEN!"

The next, the Halls of the Dead fired upon him, reducing his entire torso to mush and scattering his limbs around the ground. The Acolyte placed a hand to his face, removing the bits and pieces of guts from him as he grumbled.

"These were my best robes!"

And his only ones.

Then a sword stuck through his guts from the side. He gasped as he felt blood fill his lungs. His gaze went to the man who had done the deed, and he smiled even as the tip of a lance pierced him in the shoulder. As the men, armoured or not, with lances, swords, flails or not reached him and killed him through a mob…

He laughed.

Death was the sweetest pleasure for those who served the Lich King after all…

For it was never over.

A Crypt hummed and summoned him back the next instant, gripping his soul and smashing it inside the next Ghoul, as another Acolyte took his place summoned on the other side of the Capital.

The Scourge never wasted anything.

The newly summoned Acolyte looked at the back gates of the Capital with a nod of understanding. He brought up his right hand…and the Crypt Fiends attacked.

Mordeau fell down on one knee as he stumbled down the hill, avoiding in doing so a white ray of death that turned to ashes the villager near him.

Whatever sorcery it was, it required mages and wizards to fight off. He growled as he broke into another charge, trying to get out of the range of the necromantic monstrosities that were hot on the heels of the survivors.

They couldn't remain near the crypts —they didn't have cannons after all— and they couldn't leave the necromancer to act unpunished.

With this, they could wait for reinforcements from the fleet coming in from La Gramont, the only flying port of Tristania, which held the flying navy…under the Admiralty of the La Gramont family.

The problem was…

He heard the rasping sound of the ghoul coming for his back, as he twisted the warhammer with both hands and slammed the foul creature on the ground. "Stay dead!" he yelled.

The problem was…

Food.

Tristain, as a country, had enough food to sustain itself. Tristania, as a city, was devoted to commerce. Their storehouses weren't big, and the granaries themselves were out of reach without a good help from the cavalry.

Of course, the cavalry was made of lesser nobles who had no trouble adopting the 'wait and see' strategy. He knew the rules of engagement always had the militia and the guard go first, and then followed by the cavalry and finally the aristocracy once the battle was over.

He didn't have to like it, but that was how war was fought.

That thought lasted until he reached the gates of the city hard on breath. The moment he saw one of those construction's crystals floating harmlessly in a corner of the city…within the circle of walls…he turned to his men.

"Me—"

None answered him.

His captain's mantle flapped silently in the light breeze. Only corpses stood strewed on the hill, from the gate to the Necromancer and back. Only corpses, with their faces down against the ground or up towards the sky, their eyes still open, their face still morphed in shock.

"Oh Founder…" he whispered. "Oh Founder…guide me."

"Mordeau!" the familiar voice of the captain of the Queen's guard reached his ears, making him look at the woman atop a horse. She was holding another by the reins. "Quick! Mount!

He obeyed before asking the reason, and the moment he stood atop the steed a gun pressed in his hand. "It's already primed. Just push the trigger when you want to fire at someone."

"Agnes?" he asked, befuddled.

"They're in the city. The back gate…it was destroyed. There are things there that are stopping the men from barricading it, and as you saw…those crystals attack whoever's out in the open." She exhaled. "There is more than one necromancer."

"God almighty," Mordeau murmured. "Agnes…"

"The nobles are acting now, but…" she bit her lips. "They don't have the time to pronounce incantations. The moment they try the beasts just ignore everyone else. It's like they don't feel pain or don't care for their lives!"

"What of the Queen?"

"She refused to remain in the palace or to escape. She's in the Church, praying."

"The Church!?" his face paled. "But—"

"Yes," Agnes' grimace told a long deal. "It's exactly next to that blasphemous tower."

Captain Mordeau looked down at the back of the head of his horse, which neighed slightly. He clenched his hands firmly around the warhammer, before giving a single and curt nod to Agnes.

"Let's show these Heathens not to underestimate us!"

"Glad to have a fellow in this madness," Agnes smirked. They both kicked their horses to a frantic gallop, as the streets empty of people made it easy to speed up without risk. "We need to bring the Queen out of the city. The Albion royalty has troubles with the Reconquista, or we would have already departed…you can guide a flying dragon, right?"

"Me?" he choked on that. "No, I can't."

"Now you can," Agnes said crisply. "Listen clearly, Mordeau. I don't know what's going on, I don't know what creatures these are or what sick magic is used to turn the rot the earth and bring forth these abominations but…but I know a lost battle when I see one. The nobles in the city aren't fighters. They're court jesters at most."

"Careful where you're heading with those words, Agnes," Mordeau replied. "True as they might be, don't let someone else hear them."

"The Princess should be safe at the Academy, but for how long the city watch can last fighting quarter per quarter…I don't know."

Mordeau swallowed.

"You are not just suggesting we…"

"I'm not," Agnes whispered. "But there is a difference between leaving to fight another day and dying without reason."

"I'm sorry Agnes," Mordeau remarked. "But I can't mount a flying dragon even to save my life."

"If you wait for the ships to come around and take the survivors…it will be in two days!"

"Then so be it," Mordeau winked at her, smiling. "My duty is to the people, Agnes." The woman frowned, but said nothing as she averted her gaze from him and returned to look ahead.

"We're nearing their tower and—"

A bang resounded as a scream echoed from one of the spider-like creatures that had shot out an alley. The horses shrieked, bringing their bodies upwards as they neighed as high as they could.

"STEADY NOW!" Mordeau barked at his horse, patting the side of its neck as he kicked its flanks. Agnes did the same, unclasping the pouch of gunpowder from her side.

"Listen Mordeau: the rest of the musket corps is safely entrenched in the royal palace. We brought inside as many survivors as we could, and that's where the relief will come."

"Understood," the man grimaced, as he looked towards the Ziggurat coming closer and closer by the second. "What demon could create such a thing?"

"It is not elven at least," Agnes pushed the horse to the left, as she avoided a spider emerging from the ground. Mordeau's warhammer made an arc, as it slammed straight in the face of the Crypt Fiend, smashing its eyes and sending it on the ground to screech and flail.

"You said they didn't feel pain!"

"He's not screeching out of pain, Mordeau!"

He pushed her away from her horse just in time, as five more spiders emerged from the very ground to spit at their horses. Only their hooves remained —half-melted— after the ambush finished. Mordeau rolled across the ground as he fell to the side, twisting his body as he gripped on his warhammer.

They surrounded him, but while three spiders went for him, two went for Agnes on the other side of the street.

He exhaled and smiled.

"FOR TRISTAIN!"

Tarbes

The village was silent. The small community was fast asleep after a tired day of work in the camps and in the forest, the candles out. The normal noises of the countryside interrupted the silence, mixed with the howling of a faraway wolf and the barking of dogs.

The windows suddenly rattled as the sound of a horse's gallop became louder and louder. An old farmer —the one assigned to look after the village at night, in case some noble or wanderer passed through— awoke with a startled gasp.

An armoured knight with a shining pale blue sword stood in front of him. The knight had a long furred mantle that seemed to have a light sheen of icy light, reflected from the moon. His clasp on the reins was tight, and as he spoke, the farmer realized his mistake.

The voice was cold and harsh, but clearly feminine.

"Is this Tarbes?" she asked lightly.

"Y-Yes m'lady," he replied, standing up from his rickety chair and making a light bow. Nobles liked people bowing to them. "It is…it's late, but if you like a place to rest my house is a bit poor but has a clean bed for guests just…"

"Good."

He didn't even realize the blade had moved, or that his head was no longer attached to his body.

It just rolled off with a sickening thud, and the next moment…the next moment he stood up once more.

"Steelmourne works," Louise grumbled clasping on to her blade. "Very well," she twisted her blade in the air, signalling her troops. "FOR THE GLORY OF THE SCOURGE! ATTACK!"

The first farmer to head outside with a hoe to look at the source of the noise found itself meeting his end half-melted by acidic spit. Fangs tore the second apart as the door of his house opened with a sickening crash. The third managed to grip a torch and keep away one nasty giant spider, but when a stinger pierced him from behind he gurgled and died between spasms.

Louise watched, the runes floating around her granting speed to her Crypt Fiends, to her army of monsters. By that time, Louis should have been done with the Princess.

"Louis?"

"Yes, master?"

"The Princess?"

"It was completed, master."

"It? She was resurrected, I hope." She bit her lip, hoping she was just being paranoid.

"Of course master, she was brought back to Undeath."

"I see…as what?"

"Well, master, I personally believed a Crypt Lord would be useful in leading an attack, but then I realized you would probably be affronted —and I didn't know if a Crypt Lady held the same magic as a Crypt Lord— so I decided to transform her into a Lich."

"A Lich? Like, the Lich King?"

"No, nothing of the sort… A Lich is our main spellcaster, master. She can make ice Nova form from enemies' bodies, create frost armours to enhance our troops, bring forth Death and Decay and is generally an excellent way to get past pesky barriers that impede in our mission."

Somehow, she had an inkling Louis disliked having to contend with barriers.

"Indeed master, you have no idea how difficult it was to destroy Dalaran the first time because of the barrier erected."

Right, she had to stop sending her thoughts towards him.

"I live but to serve you, master. Your thoughts will never annoy me."

Oh, now that was sweet.

"Have I displeased you, master?"

"Wh-What! No! Never mind!" she shook her head, trying to remove the thoughts. "Stupid familiar, sweet talking to me in that way," she grumbled. "Henrietta?" she called then hesitantly, "Are you there?"

Somehow, the answer she received chilled her to her very bones.

"I am sworn to Ner'zhul," the answer came through a hauntingly cold voice. "Thy bidding?"

"Henrietta?"

"Yours to command."

"Henr…Henrietta?"

"Direct me!"

Louise clasped on her reins tightly. The Steelmourne whispered darkly words that made no sense to her, as her head hung low while chewing on her lips.

"Conquer the Academy, Henrietta," Louise finally whispered with a cracked voice.

"By your words!"

Now she understood, now, truly, she understood.

What she was doing…was unforgivable.

Academy

Guiche de Gramont was many things. He was a woman lover, a stealer of hearts, and no longer a virgin as of the day before…twice.

Of course he also was trying his best to hide because apparently girl talk, trapped as they were in the academy, seemed to be around who did whom in the event of the upcoming apocalypse. The Princess had died, and suddenly everyone believed Tristain was doomed to fall by the hand of Louise.

Louise, the Zero.

Malicorne was standing guard near a corner of the Academy. While the teachers had told them that there was nothing to fear for as long as the barrier held, the inevitable question was when the capital would send reinforcements.

Since those despicable creatures had been circling the Academy…they had increased in number steadily, a trickle at a time. The very ground beneath their feet was dark and felt funny —a few of the staff had even become sick. Count Wardes did his best to train them, and already he knew he was much stronger than before.

He had no way to prove it, but he somewhat felt he could take on Louise blindfolded, and win.

That thought lasted until he reached Malicorne's patrol area.

Then, he felt a chill in the air that didn't bode well at all. The barrier prevented things both from coming in and from going out, as well as magic. However, it didn't stop someone from morphing the ground on the other side, and if someone hovered extremely close to it, it was possible to let the spell depart from the tip of the wand already inside.

Malicorne was frowning, looking out of the barrier at the top of the tower; he thought he had seen a strange figure floating around the outskirts. Then again, it was impossible for the princess herself to be outside…unless maybe it was a ghost?

He narrowed his eyes and moved his head slightly out of the window. Behind him, the water mage Custard was holding his corner of the barrier with sweat falling down his face. Malicorne had to remain quiet as he looked, but then he saw it again.

A flash of white, pale skin…a bountiful pair of breasts that looked extremely enticing in their milky white beauty. His eyes widened beyond disbelief as he realized the figure was gently floating with the royal white dress in tatters, just beyond the barrier.

It was…

It was the princess, wasn't it?

She had one of those circular royal thingies, the ones that resembled the plumes of a peacock, floating behind her head.

Then her eyes met with his, and in that single instant, Malicorne understood.

He screamed.

Custard opened his eyes in worry, his concentration lapsing shortly, but not enough to destroy the barrier. When Malicorne's entire frame burst into an icy Frost Nova however, he brought his hands up to guard. In that instant…

The barrier came less.

The Ghouls charged through the gates.

Henrietta laughed from atop her hill, frost forming all around her as she held one smooth silky hand forward, ordering the charge.

"EMBRACE THE END!"

Author's notes

Embrace Cliff Hanger.