Necromancer     Ivar joined his conscripted son on the battlefield rather than take his place on the wall of the keep. How could the city’s defenses hold under the necromancer’s vast, fearless army of rotting zombies and ragged skeletons? For each soldier lost, the undead grew in number.

     He heard the sparks of crackling fire falling through the air. Grabbing Tomasz, he pulled him back before running from the fray. Ivar leaned down, panting, hands on knees. He wiped sweat from his hands onto his tunic, to better grip his sword. 

     Undead black ravens, shrieking in defiance, swooped back to their master carrying the news. 

     Tomasz held a spreading red blotch on his side. “It doesn’t hurt.” His son looked up at the plummeting flames, while catching his wind. “Where’s the fire coming from?” 

     Ivar pointed to the city’s mage on the wall. “The magic user thinks his bursts of fire can deter the undead’s march, like it has past invaders.” Fire erupted on the heads and shoulders of dead and living alike. The living screamed, batting at the blaze, while the dead took no notice. Smoke and ash obscured the battlefield. The veteran defenders, like Ivar, avoided the barrage of fire. 

     His three daughters cared for his sick wife, too ill to travel beyond the keep’s protective embrace. They huddled amongst the women and children, refugees from the countryside. Ivar hoped they’d be spared the sight of undead bursting through the gate. He remembered the kiss placed on his wife’s feverish brow before strapping on his weapon to report for battle. 

     Clavros’ army slashed its way through three villages before reaching Sortesk. Ivar feared the powerful necromancer unstoppable. What would happen to his family if they failed? His stomach turned at the thought of the living death, being trapped in the corpse of what once was your body.

     From the hill, he saw the relentless tide advance, and behind, the necromancer followed. The distant houses and barns blazing with fire highlighted Clavros’ jet black hair and cape thrashing in the wind. His eyes searched the cold earth for reinforcements. He lowered long fingernails, raising the newly slaughtered, increasing his hungry army.

     Ivar raised his sword, blocking a blow from a rusty axe. He severed the skull of the skeleton, ducking below the lashing blade. 

     Swinging its weapon with wild strokes, his attacker stepped closer. 

     Ivar slashed, breaking through the thing’s spinal column. He watched it fall into the blood soaked mud. 

     Behind the skeleton twice dead, a small pack of raised dire wolves stood over a fresh kill, nipping at each other, muzzles blood red and dripping. 

     Ivar stepped forward, sun blinking off his weapon as it spun in his hands. The head flew off the wolf ripping at the dead soldier’s bloody throat, before his companion split in half on Ivar’s sword. Purple bruised blood and jagged bits of flesh splattered the ground. The other two fled, searching for an easier target. They howled over the roar and clash of the battle.

     A zombie lunged at Tomasz while he bent over, coughing and spitting blood. It carried a spear and shield. 

     Ivar stepped in front of the injured boy. Through the smoky haze, he aimed for the zombie’s heels, cutting the tendons. It fell to the ground with a thud. The zombie raised its shield to block a blow, thrusting its spear. 

     Ivar knocked the weapon aside, but not enough to spare his leg from the muddy point. He shifted his weight, as blood seeped from the gash left by the spear. Grimacing with pain, he slammed his sword down the length of the zombie’s head. Chips of bone and rotting flesh flew. Odor of old decay drenched his senses; he doubled over, vomiting.

     More came. The ranks of skeletons ran thin, but plenty of zombies filled in the gaps. 

     Tomasz followed his father’s lead, first slashing above the heels, then finishing the fallen zombie. 

     Pounding of approaching hooves grew louder. Ivar dodged aside, falling into his son as a zombie bull charged through the ranks, with wild eyes and heavy snorting. Loose flesh hung off his dirty body. The animal reeked of manure and death. Whipping his head about, he speared the unwary on long horns, tossing them through the air. 

     In the bull-cleared path, Ivar saw the necromancer. Leaning close to the boy, he said, “Lay on the ground. Play dead. When Clavros closes in, we’ll kill him.”

     The boy swallowed hard, as his father pushed his shoulder back, into the mud. 

     Ivar stumbled forward on his knees, placing his body farther up the line. The tight grip on his sword held, obscured by bones, blood and mud.

     One of the undead stepped over him. Others trudged past as a zombie, laden with maggots, tromped on his side. 

     He grunted as bolts of pain charged up his spine. The sounds of metal ringing and screams from the dying surrounded him. He waited through the many feet and fire lit bodies trampling forward, closer and closer to the keep’s gate. 

     The line of enemies thinned as the necromancer loomed near. 

     “This one lives.” Clavros’ airy voice, like an echo carried by wind, sang out to Ivar. The necromancer’s hair whipped about his dark eyes and pale skin. A smile formed on blood red lips. Dagger-like fingertips rocked down and up like a farmer scything wheat in autumn. 

     Pain exploded from Ivar’s chest down to his stomach. Blood poured from the fresh wounds. Any lower, and his guts would spill out onto the cold ground. 

     “I’ll come back for you.” 

     As Clavros turned, Ivar gathered strength, then lunged upward with his sword. He stabbed the necromancer in the left side of his chest, through the heart, with the bloody tip poking out of his back. Falling back, he wheezed and coughed. 

     The necromancer towered over him, laughing. Amusement glinted in the dark eyes. “Stupid man, I can’t die.” As the last of his words swirled around Ivar, the necromancer glided to the boy. “Another living.” 

     Tomasz stared, wide-eyed. 

     Ivar choked, fear piercing every muscle. His sword hung from the necromancer’s body like an adornment. Terror screamed in his brain. How could his boy kill something without life? Desperate to defend his child, he clawed at the earth, pulling his way through the mud and dirt. A maroon trail was left in the wake. 

     He must reach them and finish it; kill Clavros. Ivar struggled for calm as daggers on the tips of fingers lowered toward Tomasz. 

     “Will you kill me too?” The necromancer laughed. His growing army pounded through the keep’s broken gate. Screams rose from inside.

     Blinded to all else, Ivar lost any thought save protecting his child. As he pulled the knife from his boot, pain coursed through his torn body. Crawling forward, the knife’s blade rising up to the smoky sky, Ivar kept his eyes on those of his son. 

     The glint of fear in Tomasz’ eyes fled, replaced by will. Finding the calm in battle, the boy leaned forward on his knees, and like with the zombies, he sliced at the back of the necromancer’s legs, above the heel. 

     Off balance, Clavros fell backward. He landed with his shoulder in the blade of Ivar’s knife. 

     Grabbing at the necromancer’s shoulders and hair, Ivar tried to keep him away from Tomasz. 

     His son lunged forward, dropping the short sword. He crawled on top of the necromancer, and grabbed the thing shaken loose from the neck of Clavros’ cloak, a disc on a chain. He ripped it free. The talisman sizzled, burning his hand. 

     The necromancer lay still, blinking his eyes before lifting an arm, reaching for the necklace. 

     Thomas scampered back. Turning, he threw the medallion far off into the mud and dead bodies on the field. He clutched his burned hand to his chest.

     Clavros screamed. 

     The hideous sound blistered Ivar’s eardrums as he pressed his hands hard, over them. The scream rushed out over the valley, covering the noise of war, and pulling all attention back to itself. 

     The undead army turned to see. 

     The necromancer burst into flames as lightning plummeted down from the clear sky, striking his body again and again. 

     Tomasz closed his eyes as deafening thunder bounded and vibrations shook the plain. After the last of the lightning, Tomasz crawled over to his father. He leaned in close, tears streaming down his face. 

     Ivar struggled to breathe. He locked eyes with the boy, then lifted his head to see the battlefield. 

     Zombies dragged weapons as they wandered aimlessly. A skeleton walked in a jagged circle. Others stood unmoving as the city’s warriors mowed them down like grass for wintering horses. The battle was over; only the cleanup remained. 

     “It’s done.” He lay his head back on the ground, resting.

     “Yes father.” 

     His heart warmed at Tomasz’ sad smile. He breathed in for the last time.

References: Zombie, Skeleton

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