The words rang out into the courtyard like roaring thunder after a flash of lightning. The soldiers assembled tensed, tightening the grip on their spears. They had known of the arrival for months now. Sightings of monstrous creatures burning a swath of destruction in their direction spanned the entire countryside. There could be no doubt about their destination. Already, the other seven kingdoms had fallen. They were coming here next.
“First Infected sighted!” came a cry from one of the towers surrounding the courtyard.
“Ready the archers!” came the reply.
The Infected. A term only used to describe the most hideous of all creatures that accompanied that being; that being which brought chaos, destruction, and corruption across the land. Forests wilted under his touch, smooth, grainy bark turning withered and gnarled. Life would fall in his wake, families locked inside their cottages, only realizing that they had trapped themselves inside a giant tinderbox. The being used fire sparingly, preferring a direct confrontation so that it could savor the earsplitting cries that must have been a symphony to its ears.
Everyone knew the being’s name, yet no living soul would call him by it. It was as if the mere utterance of the word would be an infection in itself. Thus, the being was only known as, The Corruptor.
A tremendous roar shook the courtyard as the soldiers scampered to their positions.
“Second infected sighted!” another rough shout announced.
The soldiers stationed in the courtyard were met with the low thrum of hundreds of bowstrings, shaking the air with a chorus of vibration. A second later, screams could be heard, echoing beyond the stone walls.
The soldiers let out a cheer. Some let out a breath of relief. Others loosened their armor, exchanging words of encouragement to their peers.
“The enemy is withdrawing!”
The entire courtyard froze. Several soldiers dropped their mouths wide open. Others just shifted uneasily at their posts, as if uncertain as to what they had heard.
Then the floodgates opened. Cheering so loud it shook the walls echoed across the plaza. Soldiers threw down their weapons and hugged each other, some even with tears streaming down their face. Others simply shouted their approval at the sky, begetting a chant of glorious victory.
Wait… wait, no! Stop! No! Don’t come any closer!”
Suddenly a shriek cut through the quagmire of cheers. Almost instantly, all fell silent. Another scream. And then the entire courtyard was filled with the piercing cries of men.
“What’s going on?!” one of the soldiers shouted. Those in the courtyard glanced around, unease already gripping them like quicksand. The seemingly endless screams echoed all around them, closing in like a collapsing tunnel.
Then, all at once, the screaming stopped.
The soldiers glanced around uncertainly, the tension of the Infecteds’ approach creeping back into the air. A roar shook the earth and every soldier instantly scrambled into position. It wasn’t over. It had never even started.
“This is the end.”
A sudden crashing sound echoed through the courtyard. All eyes turned towards the huge oaken gates built into the heavy stone walls. A black splotch appeared in the center of the wood, rapidly spreading over the gate. The soldiers looked on with varying degrees of horror as the black dye ran over the wood. Then, the wooden gates crumbled, as if they had been nothing more than dust all along.
A black cloaked figure stood beyond, an army of misshapen bodies trudging behind him. The figure held up a hand, and the army of Infected stopped. He seemed to smile, although the shadows surrounding him rendered his face completely invisible.
“Hello incessant human filth,” the figure said, and although quiet, his voice could be heard among every living thing in the courtyard. He pointed a finger straight up. “Let me make this brief. If you lay down your weapons and surrender, I will guarantee that you will have a quick death, and not join the ranks of my Infected like those archers I just took care of. If you choose to resist, or try to run, I will have my army capture you, after which I will torture you until I grow bored, then corrupt you and have you join my army in its half-death. Are we clear?”
The soldiers closest to the figure immediately threw away their weapons, knelt down, and put their hands in the air. The ones closest to them followed, and before long, the entire courtyard had fallen to its knees. The figure nodded.
“Good, I see we have an understanding,” the figure said. He gestured to the dark silhouettes, still positioned near the corner of the courtyard and they walked over to him, fading slowly into his body. The figure strode forward into the center of the courtyard, glancing briefly at the soldiers kneeling before him like a farmer inspecting his livestock. When he reached the center, one of the soldiers stifled a laugh.
The figure snapped his attention to the soldier, a young, almost boyish looking youth, no more than eighteen. “What’s so funny?”
The boy looked at the figure. His expression twisted, as if he were unsure of whether to laugh or scream. Finally, he spoke. “You fell for it.”
Almost as soon as the words left the soldier’s mouth, the courtyard shimmered and vanished, an open plains appearing in its leave. Stars shone from above, lighting the sky with a pattern that almost seemed mystic. The figure glanced around, and, for a brief moment, a trace of fear could be seen in his face.
Then, a ring of light surrounded the figure, at least ten meters in diameter. The youth grinned.
“A binding circle…” the figure muttered. He looked at the youth with something between curiosity and anger. “Will you really sacrifice yourself to contain me?”
“The decision has already been made,” the youth said. “I will be the catalyst, and you will be imprisoned for eternity.”
Runic etchings carved through the ground, shining the same blue light as the circle. Slowly, but surely, they made their way towards the figure and the youth.
“Hmm…” the figure said, regaining some composure. “It’s a well thought out plan, very good usage of the astral alignment too, but… your plan still has a flaw.”
“Even if you kill me, the seal will not be broken,” the youth said.
“Yes, yes, the seal has been inscribed within your body, and it would probably take several nuclear explosions to break the protection barrier, those magicians you had, placed on your body. But, you are still missing one crucial detail,” the figure said.
“And what would that be?”
“The seal right now, in a manner of speaking, is you,” the figure said. “Now, I wonder… if the seal were to be somehow infected, what do you think would happen?”
The youth’s face paled. The runes edged closer to the pair.
“You… you wouldn’t!” the youth cried, backing away slightly. “You could destroy the whole world if you did that!”
“I wonder about that…” the figure said. “Let’s try and see, shall we?”
Without warning, the figure lashed forward, grabbing the youth’s throat. Darkness spread from the figure’s hand, dying the youth’s skin black. The youth struggled, but the figure’s grip was almost impossible to break.
The runes surrounding the pair turned dark blue, then violet.
“Please… stop…” the youth choked. The figure didn’t appear to be listening.
Then, as the runes turned black, the world flashed white. When the light had cleared, the two were gone.