Unhurriedly, the old Master closed his eyes and let his despair rush over him. Hanna. He willed the ghost to him, for the last time of his mortal life. He opened his eyes to find her ethereal form before him, attentive and limitlessly patient.
“Daimin has come,” he announced bluntly.
She nodded and immediately turned to face a wraith in the distance.
“Inform the emissaries that the Conjurer’s forces have reached Lament.”
She spoke normally, but her voice carried with the force of a thunderstorm. The other phantom immediately moved off quickly, without acknowledging her. She turned back to Marhault.
“Abron the Grey has experienced favourable winds and will reach Haven sooner than expected.”
“He has had the location of Haven clearly explained to him?”
“He has questioned several of those who dwelt there in life. Also, Sasha the Grey has reached the Blood Fort, but so far has not been permitted an audience with Master Vanga the Red.”
Marhault laughed without humour.
“What else would anyone have expected? Master Vanga’s arrogance and distrust towards our House is legendary.”
Without another word from either of them, Marhault released his emotions and the spirit world faded away to be replaced with the physical world, where his grim fate remained unchanged.
As he waited for the inevitable, his mind turned to his emissaries, their warnings being the world’s only chance of stopping Daimin’s hordes. Abron had safely put to sea at the Bay of Sorrow, in a fast ship House Despair maintained for quickly sending news to unfriendly places, which was virtually every place. He would travel the northern route, through the Restless Sea, despite the dangers of its unpredictable and often violent weather. The southern route, through the Shrouded Sea, despite offering a shorter and more direct path, would take an interminable length of time to follow, due to the near total lack of wind that characterized it and most of south-eastern Ornland. The other emissaries travelled over land on horseback. Marhault had received daily reports from all of them and was satisfied that they were moving as quickly as they could, and would reach the strongholds of the other Houses well in advance of Daimin.
Suddenly, a shape materialized out of the thick mists in the distance, snapping Marhault’s attention back to the present. It moved with unrelenting swiftness toward the small group of humans. Its stature was that of a large dog, but even at this distance it was clearly not an animal that was meant to walk upon mortal soil. It halted a mere hundred feet before the stoic band of magicians, and seemed to notice them for the first time. Marhault examined the loathsome creature with his sharp grey eyes. Its torso was long and lean, almost skeletal in appearance with clearly defined protruding ribs. Its black skin glistened like liquid in the faint moonlight. Its spinal column extended into a thin, bony neck ending in a long narrow head, bearing a pair of horns both above and below its vicious jaws. Marhault identified it as a skiver, a type of demon minion used by the Conjurer as scouts and advance troops.
It cocked its head, as if examining the small group of humans using its unknowable senses. It stood on four of its legs, the other two held above its back, poised to strike like a pair of scorpion tails. It crouched, readying itself to pounce. The old Necromancer focused his mind on the fear growing within him, letting it swirl throughout his entire being, overwhelming every other emotion. He cast forward, projecting his fear into his adversary. The creature rose from its crouch and hastily backed away. The creature stopped and held its ground hesitantly. A second skiver appeared beside the first, and after a moment, the pair proceeded forward cautiously. The handful of elderly Necromancers hobbled together, and together they amplified their fears, forcing the powerful emotion against the beasts. The pair of creatures quickly retreated into the mist, disappearing from view. Marhault relaxed his mind for a moment, but knew victory would not be won this easily. Moments later, several skivers reappeared from the mist. They waited just at the edge of visibility, mere outlines in the distance. Then, despite the renewed wave of terror projected toward them, the creatures surged forward with all six of their limbs tearing at the ground.
Marhault watched as his destroyer bounded toward him, no longer affected by his magic. The Necromancers near him stirred nervously as they too realized their powers had become ineffective against these otherworldly adversaries. The lead creature opened its jaws in a soundless growl and leapt into the mass of helpless humans. Its jaws crushed one woman’s throat while it lashed out in every direction with its claws, tearing flesh and viscera. An instant later, as the monster ran toward him, covered in gore and dripping blood, Marhault looked again to the south where he saw hundreds more of the demon hounds emerging from the mists. Dark bipedal monsters loomed behind them, surrounded by smaller malevolent beasts. As his spirit left his ruined body, Marhault hoped that his measures would be sufficient to stop the evil horde from washing over his world.