Chapter 1

A Knight's Resolve, Part 5

The Knight’s soldiers awaited her command, but with the King’s astonishing appearance, she knew not how to proceed. The fate of Valerius depended on her next actions.

“You think you can win through strength of arms... But the truth is you are alone in the dark, powerless. Nothing more than a weak, frightened child playing at heroics.” Ixiel sneered in seething rage and pointed at Aveline. “Humanity is but fuel for the fire that will cast my lord’s endless shadow over this land. And you, little bird, will burn brightest of all.”

The vile sorcerer threw his cloak back over his shoulders. Glowing symbols covered his bare body. Ixiel uttered another hollow laugh, then joined his palms and set to muttering a spell. Aurleon stepped back from his master with a horrified look on his face.

Ixiel’s chants grew more fervent as he filled the air with the otherworldly language of demons and his body was suffused with light. Looming behind him, a mass of swirling shadow gathered in a titanic form, even larger than the gloom beast of Aurleon. Whatever the sorcerer planned, Aveline was certain it would be beyond her army’s ability to combat. The Knight knew the moment to strike was upon her.

Aveline crouched low, then launched forward. With all of the speed she could muster, she ran at Ixiel. Her blue cloak flapped and her blade thrust ahead, as straight as her will was resolved. Those soldiers nearest her cheered. The Knight would spare her people whatever cruel fate the Archwizard planned, even if victory meant her death. Aveline thought of her father and shouted with ferocity as each step brought her closer to her enemy.

But history is so rarely forged by the righteous.

As the Knight Aveline moved within striking distance, she pushed her magic sword forward and focused on her target, determined to strike a single, decisive blow. In a flash, Aurleon appeared between her and Ixiel. With no time to stop, the brave Knight’s blade pierced the King’s chest, its sharp edge stabbing deep into unprotected flesh and through his back.

Horrified, Aveline halted her attack and withdrew Durendal. Blood poured from the grievous wound. A wide grin spread across Ixiel’s face as he continued to recite his spell and his eyes shimmered with a sickening ruby gleam. The traitorous King Aurleon gasped, then fell to his knees, clutching his chest. For the second time, he had been cut down. The Knight was overwhelmed by disbelief.

At the same moment, a wave of screams exploded from outside the cavern, louder and more frantic than any Aveline had ever heard. The Knight spun away from Aurleon and Ixiel to assess the situation behind, but she could not see beyond the gathered soldiers. When Aveline looked to the army she had blindly led here, she saw dread and despondency on even the most hardened faces.

From the unseen fray, individual voices were extinguished as suddenly as they had been raised. The cries of tormented souls became disturbingly quiet. Aveline commanded her forces to retreat, but it was too late. Any semblance of martial discipline evaporated. Through the chaotic escape attempts, she saw a wall of darkness consuming her forces. Before long, the true terror of the Archwizard’s plot was made clear.

As the Knight watched, each of her soldiers was consumed by obsidian. Black crystals of shadow grew from the floor and creeped upward until the struggling victims’ bodies were encased. Smooth, soundless blocks glowed where brave warriors had stood but seconds before. Aveline realized the fate of the city’s inhabitants, and the disastrous fate of humanity should she fail here. This had been a trap all along. She turned back toward Ixiel, intent on slaying the fiend.

But before the Knight could take a step, her feet were frozen in place by the shadows. Within moments, cold darkness began to spread up her legs. Aveline was aghast. Her enchanted armor slowed the obsidian’s progress, and Durendal destroyed what it could, but the spell was impossible to stop. She desperately searched her memories and experience for an answer. Against all hope, she called to the bleeding King at her feet.

“My King! I beg you, stand and stop this madness!”

Aurleon spat a mouthful of blood, but brought one knee up, and then the other. Amidst the tempest, he rose with a quiet composure, the symbol on his hand glowing brightly. His tear-filled eyes finally met Aveline’s. “I am sorry, my Knight. What little hope I had has died. I thought your sacrifice would mean salvation. But the scourge of Tyrannus is upon us and I have failed you. How can men stand against such power?” Behind him, Ixiel was immersed in darkness, cackling. Aurleon looked at the sigil on his hand, then back at Aveline. Her grime-covered face was streaked with tears.

“But perhaps there is still a way.” Aurleon held his hand out to Aveline. The Knight clutched it desperately as the obsidian grew around her waist. The blood-covered King closed his eyes and began to speak in the demon’s tongue. “Sigillum aeternitatis tibi assigno. Tuum fatum daemon, Tyrannus, adligatur aeternaliter. Dum ardet, simul scintilla animae ardebit.” The symbol on his hand exploded in light and disappeared.

Aurleon opened his eyes and looked again at the Knight. “Our hopes go with you.” He smiled, then collapsed. The King was dead.

Aveline had no words and little hope. The Knight clenched her fist tight around her sword as the void washed over her...