Blood Allegiance

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
A Warhammer inspired novel about the bloody wars and campaign of the Vampires of Sylvania.

Submitted: October 24, 2016

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Submitted: October 24, 2016

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Dust motes hung in the air of the dank, luminescent ruin, lit by the faint glow of sinister looking fungi cladding the walls and ceiling. The atmosphere, undisturbed for hundreds of years, was heavy with the scent of the death of ages: rotten wood, tattered rags and the effluvium of long forgotten corpses. Everything about the chamber spoke of grandeur and nobility brought low into foulness and decay; a stark reminder that nothing is able to withstand the ravages of time. As if in response to an unheard signal, the sound of grinding stone reverberated off the walls to escape via the partially collapsed roof; a low, groaning, tortured sound as if even the stones themselves were attempting to come alive and move away from this place of lonely death.

 

The lid of an unremarkable stone sarcophagus in the centre of the room finally gave way and crashed to the floor, thrust aside from the inside by an arm of unnatural strength. In the centre of the sarcophagus, a shadow began to coalesce and grow in size and shape, almost as if it were gathering strength or sustenance from the surrounding environment. A tall, sinewy shape slowly unfurled from within, cloaked in shadow. The face of the creature may have been handsome once; but no longer. Pallid, grey skin, jutting cheekbones and hollowed cheeks all create the impression of a thing long dead. The commanding eyes of the creature shine with a fell light, and contain a hatred and anger of such depth and power that is rarely seen on the face of the living. As the creature steps down from the sarcophagus, the cloak of shadows shimmers and reforms into ochre-coloured armour, etched with the likeness of a dragon.

 

The vampire, for there can be no doubt about the identity of this forsaken creature, pauses for a moment, reveling in the sensation of taking a corporeal form once again, after so long hovering between worlds in spirit form. Too long; too long spent in the sarcophagus as nothing more than ash after suffering the ignominy of death at Hel Fenn. The brief moment of revelry lasts for only a few seconds before the call of the blood surges up within the body of the vampire. Not the urge to feed; this is a call altogether more beguiling, and utterly irresistible. What's more, the vampire realises what this call must mean and where he must go: Castle Drakenhof.

 

* * *

The dark, crenellated battlements of Castle Drakenhof loom ominously over the surrounding town, perpetually shrouded by an ethereal mist. The mist swirls and undulates around the spires and keep of the castle, in a way that could almost seem to be sentient and purposeful. The vampire pauses by the gate which once admitted the powerful Vlad von Carstein; so many hundreds of years ago, a moment which sealed the fate of the Sylvanian aristocracy forever. As if responding to the memory of that fateful night the gates ponderously swung open to admit the vampire, though no visible living being had appeared to open them. The vampire insinuated himself through the castle exterior into the deserted guest hall, still set for a banquet long since interrupted, goblets encrusted and filled with blood long since shed and congealed.

 

“Veldarre, you came” a soft voice murmured. Quelling the impulse to spin around, fangs and talons bared, the vampire addressed as Veldarre slowly turned on the spot to face the voice. In a space mere inches behind the vampire, unoccupied moments ago, there stood a commanding figure whose very stance suggested domination and cruelty. Veldarre dropped to one knee before the figure.

 

“You know well that I could not disobey your summons Master; even in the space between life and death I could not resist your call” spat the vampire.

 

“No indeed. At my command you would bury yourself under the earth itself, there to devolve into a charming, and ravenous Vargheist, where the last vestiges of your mind would shrivel away, and still you would be wholly under my command” sneered the voice. “Rise” it commanded.

 

Veldarre rose and looked into the eyes of his master and knew that he was perfectly capable of dooming him to such a fate if he deemed his underling to be no longer useful. A surge of hatred and anger rose like bile within Veldarre as he acknowledged to himself that there was nothing that he could do to escape this fate. Veldarre took in the handsome, aquiline face, etched with its permanent expression of cruelty and cursed the day that his path had crossed that of Mannfred von Carstein. Despite his acceptance of his vampiric form and all the power that it offered, the idea of being nothing more than a servant to another creature for the rest of eterninty was galling in the extreme. As he stood there in the presence of his master and felt the power of the Dark Magic emanating from his undead form, a power that far exceeded his own, he did not doubt that this fate would come to pass. He could not imagine what power could hope to ultimately triumph against this monstrosity and his fearsome control over the dead.

 

“Why have you brought me back, Mannfred? The Empire proved too strong for us.”

 

“Archaon has been defeated. Valten, exhalted of Sigmar, is dead. Assasinated, seemingly, by an assassin who could walk through walls and pass unseen by all his guards. The Emperor's reign can't last forever; already the elector counts are beginning to wonder who will sit on the Imperial throne once Karl Franz is dead. The Empire, it seems, craves a vampire emperor, and all the stability that an immortal emperor would bring. I mean it to be so. I will succeed where Vlad failed.”

 

“But Master, the Emperor yet lives, no discord yet divides the Empire. Even you...”

 

“Silence! It is taken care of. Events long planned are beginning to be set in motion. Do not forget that it is not only you who are bound to the service of another.”

 

“What do you wish me to do Master?”

 

“Travel by night to the border between Reikland and Middenland. They are unfamiliar with dealing with our kind and will be less prepared and protected. This should provide a plentiful harvest; there are plenty of border towns between the provinces. No survivors. Warning must not reach either province until we are ready to strike. I will send word. Feed if you must.”

 

* * *

 

Pietr Vas was not a man happy in his current vocation as town watchmen. As he gazed over the town the walls seemed to close in around him, trapping him, with no future prospects of promotion or wealth. His spirits rose momentarily as he thought of his young daughter, with her blond curls and open, warm face. But what kind of life could she hope to have in a place such as this where people barely managed to scrape enough food together to avoid starvation? Pietr vowed to leave this town and its poverty behind as soon as he could, the better to make a life for his wife and child.

 

His spirits sank again as he thought of how many years he had been promising that to himself. He spat over the wall. The day had not been going well to begin with. For reasons unknown the carters bringing food and trade from Helmsberg to the west had not arrived in the morning as they usually did meaning that food was scarcer even than the usual low level starvation that people had become accustomed to. Pietr felt uneasy, a foreboding in his bones that could not quite be explained by the disappearance of the traders. Even the animals seemed to feel it. Dogs cowered indoors and what little farm animals the town possessed seemed restless and anxious. Perhaps it was the fog, which had suddenly enveloped the town shortly after midday, thick and impenetrable, isolating houses from one another and dampening sound so that the town seemed unnaturally quiet.

 

The captain of the guard was not a foolish man and had placed extra guards on the watch. Despite there being no reports of enemies within a hundred leagues, it paid to be careful. It took little effort of imagination to picture enemies emerging from the swirling mists, advancing on the town under the cover of the fog. Pietr huffed on his hands to keep them warm. Orcs, ratmen, devil-worshippers and Sigmar knows what else could attack fast enough and leave precious little in their wake and had done so often enough on towns and hamlets across the Empire, despite the best efforts of the Elector Counts of the provinces. Tales abound from travelers passing through the town about the devastation left in the wake of Archaon's invasion. Pietr bleakly wondered how long the Empire could survive against so many foes, all seemingly determined to bring death to its inhabitants. Not a man usually given to such pessimistic and morbid thoughts he momentarily wondered about the origin of the acute feeling of despair that was rising within him.

 

Suddenly, Pietr felt the pressing need to be indoors, away from the fog. He knew, without knowing how, that he was being observed. He turned to run, and then froze. A noise began at the edge of hearing, quiet at first but growing more audible by the second. A weird, hollow thumping and an incessant scratching sound floated out of the mist. He then noticed two other things in quick succession which caused a primal horror to run through his system rooting him to the spot. First he noticed the smell, an unmistakable smell which could never, ever be forgotten once experienced; the cloying, all-consuming scent of decay suddenly assaulted Pietr causing him to retch and gag. Second, he heard the screams, short lived and muted through the fog but erupting from all over the town. He looked over at other guards on the wall, all in a state of similar distress.

 

“To arms” he shouted in a panic, suddenly unsure of what to do. He hesitated a moment before running down the stairs into the maelstrom of fog and the odor of death. Drawing his sword he ran in the direction of his home to protect his family. He never made it. Emerging from the fog two indistinct figures moved slowly towards Pietr. They both shambled forwards with an unnatural gait which caused a spasm of fear to run down his spine and his bowel to loosen. Their bodies were thrown into relief as they inched closer. He wished that they weren't. Two men barred his way, their skin decaying and blotched, the earth of the grave still clinging to their flesh; bones and organs jutting out from partially decomposed chest cavities and skulls, mouths agape uttering low moans in grotesque parodies of speech. Pietr looked into their eyes and saw that they burned with a sickly witch-light and glittered with malice and hunger. His nerve broke and he ran, knowing that the walls and gates which had protected them from danger had just as effectively trapped them in with the unseen foe. Even if not, it would be a miracle if there were not foes already waiting to ambush anyone who managed to escape.

 

 He felt a gut wrenching pang as he realised that his family, in the middle of the town, had surely already met an unthinkable fate; there was nothing he could do to save them. For a moment he pictured his wife and child stumbling out of the house they had built together to join the ranks of rotting corpses walking the streets, the kindness in their eyes replaced with an unholy hunger. He ruthlessly repressed the image. He had to escape, bring some sort of warning to other towns and homesteads. He had to get help from somewhere, anywhere, to defeat this sudden appearance of evil within his home. Hope surged as he ran towards the smaller postern gate on the east wall; surely the enemy could not be everywhere? He staggered as a marble smooth and cold hand grasped his shoulder, without hesitation he brought his sword down on the arm and continued running, without the nerve to look behind and see his assailant. He darted down the street and through the gate avoiding the shambling figures of his friends and neighbours who turned to follow him with their sightless eyes. But they were slow, too slow. Pietr was through the gate and running when a tall figure emerged out of the fog standing perfectly still sword drawn and smiling. Waves of pure darkness seemed to emanate from the figure, wreathing across his body like an other-worldy smoke. Pietr looked into eyes filled with an unremitting hatred and went numb. All his thoughts of escape and fighting suddenly seemed laughable, insane, when measured against the power of this monster's evil power. His last thoughts were of his daughter and the terrible suffering that she would have endured at the hands of the abominations now stalking from the town towards the figure. Despair washed over him, he wished only to die before being forced to see the corpses of his family moving with unnatural and unholy life. He never saw the blow that ended his life, the figure moved with an inhuman speed, a streak of silver in his bloodless hand heading for Pietr's kneck.

 

* * *

 

Before the pathetic man's head had hit the floor Veldarre caught his soul in a vortex of dark energy, trapping it to remain on earth in eternal servitude.

 

“Go. Seek out those who are still alive. Kill them all.”

 

The shimmering spirit moved off wailing and snarling determined to share its pain and agony with the living, trapped for ever until the magic binding his soul could be broken, allowing his soul to move on to the realm of the dead.

 

Veldarre smiled to himself. It really had been simplicity itself to overcome the townspeople. The signs of Morr over the graveyard were old and weak, in a state of disrepair and took little effort to overcome. After, it was but the work of a moment to use dark magic to reanimate the occupants of the graveyard and command them to consume their victims, moving unseen through the fog. Not one had escaped. He had seen to that, tracking stragglers emerging from the gates and gorging himself on their blood. Invigorated, and full of power, all that remained to do was reanimate the townsfolk to join their former assailants as the cursed undead; mere puppets at the mercy of the will of a vampire.

 

Veldarre's thoughts turned to the next target, a town to the west little more than half a days march away and totally oblivious to the oncoming danger. A quick march, or as much of a quick march as his shambling corpse minions could manage, would see them before the gates of Helmsberg in the dead of night. Perfect. The presence of the sun above the fog had weakened some of the vampire's powers, but not enough to help any of the hapless victims within the town. Tonight would be different. Tonight his victims would be up against a vampire at the height of his powers. Veldarre smiled to himself. He could not see any reason why this raid would not be as successful as his first. In reality, the denizens of Helmsberg were as dead as the moaning, pestilent zombies following in the vampire's wake. And with every town defeated, his army would grow ever larger, swelled with the fresh corpses of his powerless victims. He would move ever on, seeking further slaves to serve his ambitions and those of his master. Thoughts of Mannfred momentarily spoiled his good humour. No, it would not do to fail. Every living creature that crossed his path must be killed and added to his ghastly parade of death. No exceptions, no survivors.

 

With an effort of will the vampire urged his zombies forward into the fog towards the next of many slaughters to come.

 

* * *

 

Away from the hated rays of the setting sun in the shadow of the woods, Veldarre savoured the triumphs that had brought him to this point. Town after town had fallen to his assaults with little or no resistance offered, and their populations had been resurrected to swell his ever burgeoning army of the dead. Pride at the thought of his martial skills surged to the fore as he remembered the challenge offered to him at the last town. The man had run directly at Veldarre radiating righteous fury and wrath, believing himself to have the skill required to match blades with a Vampire. Veldarre looked across at the man's corpse standing vigil with the others, vacant in death. The man had been severely mistaken. He had been cut down in a matter of seconds and ressurected in servitude in just a few more. The man had had courage, but it had been woefully inadequate to take on such a powerful foe. Only the very best men could hope to duel a Vampire and survive. Of the rest, the lucky ones merely died, the unlucky ones would not be so fortunate. Veldarre led his inflated forces out of the ruin of the town and into the nearby forest to wait out the coming dawn.

 

Veldarre looked over his forces. Thousands of zombies and skeleton warriors now clustered between the boughs of the trees, ready to go forth and mindlessly slay at the Vampire's command. He was almost ready. Only one more act remained. He mentally commanded his constructs to remain hidden in the trees and strode out into the night, moving with an unnatural silence and firmness of purpose. Veldarre walked for some time before arriving in a valley filled with mounds and low, flat hills. His eyes glittered with satisfaction and anticipation as he found what he was looking for; a partially sunken recess into one of the hills blocked by a stone door. Tribes of ages past had inscribed many warding runes and charms into the stone to ensure an undisturbed rest for the dead within. The ravages of time had worn away much of their power and properties. A few blows with all the strength that a vampire could muster saw the stone shiver and collapse allowing entry into the chamber beyond. Through the darkness Veldarre could see that the walls were covered in paintings of martial acts and heroic deeds, all telling of the victories achieved by the occupants of the tomb. They would not be the last. Veldarre began to put forth his power, chanting the harsh tones of the Invocation of Nehek, striding the length of the chamber, pooling dark magic into each of the burial sites. And the dead responded. Bones stirred, feebly at first, knitting themselves together as dark magic revived them. All over the cairn the figures of warriors and steeds long dead began to arise, the fell light of magic in their eyes, reflecting off rusted bronze armour and evilly enchanted weapons; their shields embossed with symbols and icons not seen in the Empire for thousands of years. After a few moments the chamber was full of armoured wights standing to attention alongside their mounts, the knights of antiquity had arisen once more to continue fighting against the living. With a mental surge Veldarre commanded the wights to mount their steeds and race out of the cairn to assemble on the plain. The spectral steeds pawed the ground in a dreadful imitation of their flesh and blood counterparts. No hot breath could be seen emanating from them in the cold night air. Rank upon rank of heavily armoured wights, clad in the armour of ages and clutching burial weapons imbibed with potent magic to survive the journey to the afterlife, stood waiting to receive the commands of their new master, a macabre reflection of the proud and disciplined knights of the Empire. Choosing a steed for his own, Veldarre vaulted himself onto his mount and led his armoured company into the night.

 

* * *

 

Upon returning to his make-shift hiding place, Veldarre found his minions standing exactly where he had left them, lifeless eyes staring ahead at nothing, think and feeling nothing, completely immobile; except for one dark figure which materialised out of the shadows to stand before the vampire. Judging by his dark, tattered robes, occult trappings, sallow lifeless looking skin and the tang of dark magic in the air, Veldarre deduced this being to be a necromancer. He had come across many necromancers before; some weak, some powerful, all half (or fully) mad. Veldarre could sense the levels of dark magic saturating the necromancer's form which suggested that his one was more powerful than most.

 

“I bring word from our master” he said, in a high pitched, cracked voice which alluded to the figure having only the slightest grasp on his sanity. Clearly, the use of dark magic had already propelled him nearer to joining the ranks of the undead rather than the living.

 

“What orders do you bring?”

 

“The time to move is now. The presence of so many undead will soon betray your whereabouts to our enemies, if it has not done so already. You must march on the city of Marienberg and take it as swiftly as you can. Undoubtedly, a hurried attempt to halt your advance will occur at some point. Overwhelm them and use their numbers to help take the city. Once this is achieved bring all your forces onto the road to Altdorf. Draw out the defenders” he replied in haughty, imperious tones.

 

“Take this ring. It's magic will aid you in your efforts to control the dead.”

 

Veldarre took the ring from the necromancer’s hand. It was a strange metal, ebony coloured and completely without adornment except for a sickly green stone which seemed to pulse with an inner energy.

 

“Warpstone” said whispered Veldarre, momentarily shocked. Warpstone was dark magic, built up so strongly that it had coalesced into a solid state forming a stone. The wearer of the ring, he knew, would gain an enormous boost in dark magic energy, making it easier to maintain control over the dead and summon all manner of dark creatures.

 

“Perhaps this token will show you the level of Mannfred's expectations of your success. I would wish you luck but we both know that you would not dare risk his wrath through failure” the necromancer replied with a laugh.

 

Before he could move Veldarre moved like a streak of light and pinned the necromancer against a tree by his throat, effortlessly suspending the hapless figure with one hand.

 

“You c-can't hurt me” the necromancer choked. “Mannfred n-needs me!”

 

“You forget yourself” Veldarre snarled. “You are merely a necromancer, a pitiful human playing at dark magic. The Empire is full of pathetic wretches like you who would sell their soul for a chance at immortality. I could snap your neck right now and we could replace you in a heartbeat.”

 

Veldarre opened his hand and allowed the necromancer to slump to the floor, retching and gasping for breath.

 

“Inform our master that I will set out at once. There will be no failure.”

 

Veldarre stalked away from the prone figure and halted at the edge of the forest where the trees petered out into dried out husks and then stepped underneath the night sky. The light of the two moons Morrsleib and Mannsleib glinted off the warpstone ring as he slipped it onto the index finger of his right hand. A rising power surged through his dead body; a feeling of invigoration comparable only to the imbibing of fresh blood. Veldarre could feel the dark magic suffusing his frame, amplified by the ring, and putting forth his power he pulsed a mental summons of great strength out over the darkness of the forest. Before long, low, dark, canine forms began to emerge from the trees to approach their master; terrible and savage wolf packs called forth by dark magic. Overhead the trees rustled, disturbed by creatures as yet unrevealed. Filled with power and purpose Veldarre led his forces from under the now unwholesome forest heading towards the road to Marienberg. It would surely not be long until their presence became known.

 

* * *

 

As the enemy moved into sight on the plain below, Captain Blake, surrounded by his swordsmen bodyguard at the head of his army, reflected back over the events of the last few days. The captain had been summoned to the upper citadel and informed that a large hostile army of undead forces were steadily marching on the city. The captain had stared at his commander in disbelief as questions raced through his mind. Where had they come from? How had they moved undetected by any patrols? What disturbed the captain the most was the horrible thought that the undead must be made up of the citizenry whom they were sworn to protect. No other possibility could explain how the enemy force could have entered their territory unmarked by any spies or sentries.

 

He had then been ordered to depart immediately with all the troops that could be mustered at such short notice to check the undead's advance on the city and destroy them before they could swell their ranks any further. Within three days of marching scouts had returned to inform him that the undead were nearby and approaching fast. In response the captain had ordered his men to halt on strategic ground overlooking the main road to the city and had begun to prepare for the coming conflict. Standing on the highest vantage point the captain had watched the steadily advancing storm clouds which betrayed the presence of the advancing foe. Soon enough, under the gathering darkness, the sun now unable to pierce through the roiling clouds, the enemy was sighted.

 

As the enemy forces were fully revealed in the distance, fear began to gnaw at his stomach. His experience with the undead was extremely limited. He was the most senior captain present in the city when the news came in. He had been briefed, of course, but he now realised that no briefing could ever prepare you for coming face to face with the dead. It could never prepare you for the permeating stench of rotten meat and decay, the sound of corpses dragging their feet as they stumble towards you, the moans arising in putrid flesh full of hunger. Least of all could it prepare you for the sight of bloated corpses and skeleton warriors lurching implacably towards you, the very image of the fate which awaits all mortals, intent on inducting you into their ranks. As zombies shuffled into position, and long dead warriors formed into ranks parodying that of the disciplined formations of the Imperial troops, horror and despair threatened to swamp the captain. How could they hope to prevail over such a foe?

 

He mentally steeled himself. True, the enemy were undead horrors and an unnatural affront to Sigmar, and the terror they projected was their primal weapon, but they appeared slow and clumsy, no match for the hardened soldiery of the Empire. They were outnumbered but by no means outclassed. He turned to survey his troop placement, satisfied that he had prepared well. Solid blocks of free companies and Imperial soldiers armed with stout spears and shields formed a protecting wall before the hand-gunners and archers stationed on the hills to their rear. The units of Knights had occupied a position on the left flank, ready to trap the enemy in a pincer movement. To the right, on the tallest ridge, were mounted several Hellblaster Volley Guns and mortars and their crews, ready to unleash a withering storm of metal into the enemy ranks, blasting the necromantic constructs to pieces faster than they could be magically reanimated. Those attempting to reach the war machines would have to face an uphill climb, constantly being fired upon from above.

 

As the undead began to surge forward, their unnatural cries bringing shivers to even the stoutest hearts, the captain signalled for the war machines and ranged troops to open fire. Skeletons and zombies fell in their scores, blasted apart by bullets, bodies ripped apart bloodlessly by shrapnel and musket balls. Some reanimated and got to their feet once more, resuming their march towards the lines of the living. Many more remained where they fell, too badly damaged to be repaired. As the undead reached the Imperial troops the captain surged forwards to meet them, his heavily armoured bodyguard keeping pace, cleaving the undead apart with greatswords and axes. As battle was joined the captain paused to give the signal to the knightly order, who promptly heeled their steeds into motion, heading for the undead flank. Pride surged through the captain. These abominations were no match for men of faith and resolve!

 

His elation did not last long. Above the blasts of the guns and the clash of arms, the wordless cries of the zombie foe, a strange sound began to make itself heard. It was unidentifiable, and yet, strangely familiar. It soon became known as thousands of dark figures burst from the heavy, dark clouds, wheeling and chittering. They flocked down through the air, full of intent, falling upon the crews manning the war machines. The captain, with a sick feeling of fear, realised what they were. Bats! Thousands of them biting at hands and eyes, weak individually, but together they formed a deadly cloud of death. Within moments the guns fell silent as their crews fought a losing battle against the bats, flailing wildly to keep the airborne assailants out of their faces and hair.

A piercing howl forced the captain’s eyes away from this dreadful sight and he turned, wondering what fresh horror was about to be unleashed. Packs of wolves were charging towards the oncoming knights, their howls panicking the steeds which reared and bucked, throwing their riders as the wolves leapt with slavering jaws, closing on the throats of the spooked animals. All impetus from the knight's charge was lost as the wolves tore into them. Horses panicked and fled, scattering the knights in all directions, the jaws of the wolves claiming those who remained behind. Their heavy plate armour did them no good at all as they were slowly dragged down and crushed by the weight and grasping hands of the dead that had come to join the wolves in their feast.

 

The hand-gunners and archers fired into the cloud of horror heading towards them from the sky, now finished with the helpless crews and intent on more bloodshed. Many fell, but too few. Within moments they too were battling with a foe too small to hit, too quick to stab; scratching and gouging the bats caused chaos in their ranks. In the absence of the crippling fire from the guns and mortars the undead constructs could join the fray unmolested; more than ever were rising to their feet, reanimated by dark magic, re-filled with murderous purpose. The free companies and Imperial soldiers were fighting on bravely,  beheading zombies and shattering skeletons, but every man that fell on their own side was soon back on his feet, clawing at his former comrades, dragging them down to be overwhelmed and devoured by gnawing mouths and bloody hands. Within moments ordered discipline became individual melees as men tried to fight their way clear, hoping to flee. Their foe showed no mercy; were incapable of doing so, and cut them down to a man. As hoof beats rumbled the earth, the captain turned hoping to find succour charging towards them lances levelled at the enemy. Hope died within him as he saw that these horsemen were no knightly order but long dead wights, charging towards the last of the Imperial lines to turn defeat into a rout, catching those who sought to flee. Soon enough only the captain and his armoured guard were left fighting, facing overwhelming odds. All movement ceased and the undead stopped in their tracks. The remaining men paused, momentarily confused at this sudden cessation of combat. Through the undead ranks strode a man, covered in ochre plate armour, embossed with images of death, holding two swords. He fell on the remaining men like an irresistible tide, all power, all fury. He moved with inhuman speed, cutting down the bodyguard with effortless speed and skill, graceful in his attack. The captain lunged at the figure, stabbing out with his sword, hoping to at least destroy the abomination and send it back to hell. The armoured figure turned and in one motion blocked the thrust and sent the sword spinning out of his hand and sank his porcelain coloured fangs into his enemies’ undefended neck, gorging on fresh blood.

 

* * *

 

As Veldarre fed on the lifeblood of the defeated captain, he felt the power surge through his undead form once more, revitalising muscles and senses. Fully satiated, he let the bloodless corpse of the former captain fall to the floor in an undignified heap. Contemptuously, he turned away and surveyed the battle field. Not one enemy had survived the encounter, and in due course all of the slain men of the Empire would be resurrected to serve his cause. The captain had clearly underestimated the potency of his undead forces. His lack of experience had cost him and his men their lives. His tactics may have worked well against living foes; few armies could be persuaded to charge uphill into a storm of bullets and musket fire, utterly exposing themselves and tiring themselves out before even reaching an enemy. No; the undead would never tire, and would never feel any fear for their survival. Even so, it could have been close had it not been for the array of dread creatures under the vampire’s command. The captain had clearly not had a contingency plan in place in the event of his missile troops being incapacitated. The rulers of the city had panicked, sending out insufficient troops and would pay dearly for their mistake; all they had done was to increase the size of his own forces. The only option they now had left was to cower behind their walls and prepare for a siege, praying that the thick stone walls and high towers would be sufficient to keep out the besiegers long enough for help to arrive. But walls are useless if there is no-one to man them, and if all went to plan then Veldarre could simply walk in and take the city virtually unopposed. Smiling, the vampire turned and ordered his soldiers to begin cutting down trees to make rudimentary rams and shields. Before long the dead began to march once more, the vampire at the head of the column, filled with anticipation.

 

* * *

 

Invisible in the darkness of night, Veldarre looked up at the imposing walls of Marienberg. Walls of thick, grey stone fifty feet high surrounded the lower town of Marienberg containing the homes, shops, taverns and trading posts of the peasantry and merchants. Towards the rear of the city, on the edge of the sea-facing cliffs, stood the great keep, it’s elegant and imposing architecture surrounded by another heavily fortified wall, angled to minimise damage from cannons and other such devices. The lowest quarter of the city plays host to the great river flowing to the sea, entering the walls through the means of a low, flat tunnel incorporated into the wall, the entrances protected by two thick, iron portcullises. Unlike ordinary portcullises which could be opened to admit people beyond the gateway, these had been cemented into the very walls of the city and the bedrock of the river bed. The approach to the river entrance was protected by two large towers and several cannon batteries. These defences were largely thought to be redundant as the fast flow of the river prevented anyone from coming close to the iron gates without being overwhelmed and drowning. To attack these gates would be nigh on impossible, even assuming that anything could survive in the deep, fast water flow, the iron would be too thick to break through, even with hours in which to work on them, by which point the defenders would be alerted to their presence.  In lieu of the coming attack, the parapets were bristling with extra sentries, war machines and torches. Archers swarmed every vantage point, keeping an eye on the ground and the skies above. Clearly, the leaders of the city were taking no chances, despite the fact no enemies had yet been spotted within sight of the city, constantly on the alert for any sign of an attack. This was not the first siege that the city had endured, but just because an enemy is unseen does not mean that they are not there. Veldarre dropped his gaze from the seemingly tireless sentries and turned his attention to the iron portcullises. Under the cover of darkness the vampire had approached the gates, completely invisible to the sentries above. Although he could not see them, the vampire knew that the river bed was teeming with zombies that had half marched and half been swept along under the cover of night to reach the iron gates undetected. People seldom had the dead in mind when they created their places of safety. It would be their undoing.

 

Gathering his power, Veldarre grasped the metal in his marble white hands and began to utter the harsh syllables of the curse of years. Veldarre had seen this spell at work on the battlefield, causing whole swathes of enemies to wither and age at an unnatural rate, crumbling to dust within minutes. This would be a far greater challenge, one which may have proved to be impossible without the boosting magic of his warpstone ring. As the final syllable passed his lips, he felt the dark magic pouring out of his body and surging into the metal, leaving him weak and reeling. Within moments the strong metal rusted and warped, becoming dry and brittle, only a little more power would be needed to completely disintegrate the metal. Veldarre smiled in triumph, it would now be a simple matter to order his zombies to use the riverbed to reach the caverns in the bedrock which housed the freshwater springs which provided the city the majority of its drinking water. Their filth and corruption would render it undrinkable, tainted by disease and dark magic. The rest of the zombies would then navigate their way to the riverbanks within the city, emerging to cause chaos in the very heart of the enemy stronghold. With any luck, when he led the rest of his army to the city gates the next evening, resistance would already be minimal as the city guard and militia struggled to keep the zombie threat in check and the townspeople falling victim to the waterbourne plague. His task here complete, Veldarre ordered his zombies to complete their tasks before slipping away into the night, melting into the darkness. By the time the defenders realised what had happened to their barriers, it would already be too late.

 

* * *

 


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