The Fall of Estria
By Stuart Thaman
The ninth year of the reign of King Arias.
“You must go to him!” Ralik urged. The two men stood upon Estria’s southern wall, watching the battle play out before them.
“No!” Merren barked back. “I won’t deal with that wretched necromancer.” He turned his gaze to the nearby gate, the wood screeching in protest as it suffered hit after hit from a massive stone ram.
Ralik whirled on Merren with fire in his eyes. “There won’t be a city left to save! The necromancer is our only hope!” Ralik growled and stalked away, leaving the captain alone atop the wall.
“We can’t…” Merren gasped. He knew his city was doomed. They had held for three days against the strange lizard-like men who seemed hell-bent on their destruction. The ram crashed against the gate for what must have been the hundredth time. “No!” Merren yelled, but his voice was lost among the wail of splitting wood.
Sword in hand, Merren sprinted for the gatehouse. “We can hold!” he shouted to the men below. Some of them cheered in response, but the vast majority of the city guard remained eerily silent. They knew their deaths were at hand.
The ram crashed again, and the gate crumbled, bringing shouts of victory from the lizard army just beyond the walls. Faster than Merren could comprehend, the battle began to rage. Guardsmen surged forward to defend their homes, but the tall, fast lizards quickly overwhelmed their initial ranks.
Merren watched as his men were butchered in the streets. He flew down the stairs of the crumbling gatehouse, barely keeping his balance, and sprinted into the fray like a madman. “For Estria!” he yelled, bringing his huge sword up to parry a lizard’s spear.
Merren let his fury consume him. Urging his men forward, he cut through the nearest lizard with an explosion of sticky green blood. The soldiers rallied around him, but they were sorely outnumbered. Several feet to his right, Merren caught a glimpse of Ralik dashing between enemies, daggers flashing in his hands.
“Hold the line!” Merren commanded. “Push them back!” His soldiers formed a wall of shields and blades around him. “Forward!” Merren yelled as loudly as he could. The men grunted, pushing the lizards back and creating a momentary respite, but what little hope they had dissipated in an instant.
A dozen yards ahead of the gatehouse, the lizard army parted, revealing a handful of giant, lumbering trees taller than Estria’s walls.
Merren fell back through the ranks, scrambling to get within earshot of the archers stationed on a wooden tower nearby. “Fire arrows! Take down the trees!” he yelled.
No response came from the tower. “Archers!” he yelled again, certain he was close enough for them to hear. Slowly, a blood-stained face peered over the edge of the tower, but it was a lizard’s visage, not a human’s. More lizards appeared, all of them splattered with gore, and all of them grinning.
Merren ran as quickly as he could. His armored boots grated against the cobblestones, but none of the lizards followed him into the city. He barely had breath left in his lungs when he reached the open door of the city dungeon. He ripped off his breastplate and tossed his helmet aside, gulping the air like a man refusing to drown.
The stairs leading under the street to the prison cells were old, and Merren fell twice as he scrambled down them. Lit by only a single sputtering torch, the dungeon was a decrepit, filthy pit filled with more corpses than living prisoners. Merren snatched a keyring from the wall and hastily jammed one of the keys into a lock.
“Help us,” he gasped. “The lizards are in the city!”
In the back of the damp cell, an old, withered man slowly rose to his feet. His bones audibly clicked as he moved, and his voice came out as a hollow whisper. “My art is illegal, captain,” the ancient man taunted.
Merren couldn’t see his face, but he knew the necromancer was smiling. “You will die if you don’t save us,” he pleaded. Sadly, Merren knew he had no leverage.
“Will I?” the old man cackled and wheezed. “You are so certain?” He took a shambling step forward, bracing himself against the wall with a boney hand.
Merren bit back his frustration. He turned back to the dungeon’s foyer and smashed his fist through a locked glass case. “Here,” he said, tossing the man’s staff to the ground at his feet.
The necromancer’s hand darted forward, his twisted fingers outstretched. With a whoosh of air, the staff rose into his grasp. “You should not have done that,” the necromancer replied, his voice suddenly surging with vitality.
“Estria is doomed either way,” Merren said sullenly. “Either you help us, or you do not. But the lizards will not show you mercy. They’ll rip the flesh from your bones if you don’t stop them.” Merren didn’t wait for the necromancer to respond. He tightened his grip on his sword and started running back toward the street.
“Wait,” the necromancer called, his voice carrying a hint of magic that made Merren’s feet stop at once. “I’ll help your city, but I won’t help you.”
Black tendrils rose up from the ground all around Merren, lashing at his flesh and spilling his blood. “You fool,” he laughed. “I told you there would be consequences for my imprisonment.”
Merren gurgled out an incoherent response through a mouthful of blood. The necromancer tapped his staff against the ground, and the black tendrils ripped Merren apart in an instant.
“You should’ve come to me sooner!” the necromancer growled as he emerged into the sunlight. The front of the city had been reduced to ruins. Massive, animated trees smashed through everything in their path, sending chunks of entire buildings flying through the air. Only a few paces in front of the dungeon, lizard warriors flooded the streets. “The city is already lost!” the necromancer yelled.
The old man summoned a swirling shield of bone, sinew, and boiling blood to surround his body. With a shriek, he loosed a bolt of inky magic into the nearest lizard and blasted the creature apart. Immediately, he began molding another ball of energy into his grasp, but the lizards were quicker than he had imagined. A pack of the strange creatures swarmed him, clawing against his defenses and ripping his magical shield apart with their razor-sharp teeth.
The necromancer fought them off with bolts of magic, blasting through their flesh, but he was only one against thousands. In a moment, his armor failed. Lizard corpses littered the ground at his feet. Soon his own limbs began to join the bodies of the fallen, and he died beneath their claws.