Finally the gates swung open, and the armies could start moving out from the city. It was easy to see the Queens at the front, Wands and Swords, not quite next to each other. Of course the swords wanted to charge ahead, it was clear to see in the way they restrained themselves, matching the pace of the wands, who were marching forward in a determined sort of way.

Alex rolled her shoulder, her broadsword still strapped to her back. No reason to draw it until the fighting was about to start, and it was much more out of the way there than if she carried it, given how many people were packed into this army.

Her hand just brushed the back of the women walking next to her, and their eyes briefly flicked towards each other, meeting for a bare second, before returning forward. Even though they were going into a fight that they expected to be bigger than anything they had faced before, Alex wasn’t too worried. She was at her side, just like she always was, and that was enough to quell most of the unsettlement she felt.

Of course it wasn’t just the two armies out here, all of the remaining Queendoms had gathered. Cups, Hearts, Diamonds, Pentacle, Spades and Clubs were all around too, although somewhat scattered. Clubs were mostly at the back, along with a good number of Pentacles, setting up field hospitals. Fighters from the other courts were interpreted with the two main armies, as well as a rear guard manning the walls of Alhambra. They didn’t have many catapults, but archers could get quite a range from up there.

Out of the corner of her eye she spotted a mixed group of people, skirting along one of the edges of the field. Probably a skirmishing group, but it caught her eye as she recognised a fellow courtier – they’d only joined last night. Alex hadn’t been watching the circle particularly, more interesting in spending the evening with friends and lovers, and kicking her rival from the swords into the dirt once more, but she did know that a princess of hearts had apparently had a change of heart and come to join them. What a time to join, but, if they felt that wands was the right place for them, then Alex welcomed them.

The Queens had stopped, not too far away from them now, and the armies were starting to form up in a long line, stretching across the field for the better part of a mile. Alex took up her position at the front, her lover by her side. Unslinging her sword from her back, she felt the familiar grip in her hands as she watched the rolling mass of darkness stop a distance away, and then fall away from the centre as a women, a queen even, stepped out from the dark.

Alex frowned, as she felt a warm touch on her hand. She looked over at her love, and took the hand off her sword, interlacing their fingers together and squeezing slightly. She was still concerned about the Queen that seemed to be opposing them. She could see her own Queen’s face, and it looked thunderous. They weren’t quite close enough to hear what was being said, but from the way people were reacting, and the slightly smug smile of the opposing Queen, it wasn’t too hard to guess.

Reluctantly, she let her lover’s fingers go, gripping her sword again as her lover swung her spear round into a ready position as well. This was the worst part, as the moments stretched out a little more, the tension in the line growing. Looking over at the wall of darkness, Alex could see that it was less of a single wall, and more of heaving mass of shadowy creatures, all piling on top of one another, forming and disappearing, a constant writhing mass. Her hands tightened on her sword, the leather of the hilt creaking slightly as she did so.

A single tutting noise spread out across, overlaying any other noise despite it not being a loud sound. And the opposing Queen turned away, walking back into that wall of darkness. As soon as she disappeared, the wall broke, creatures bursting out of it, charging straight at the armies. Alex brought her sword up in a great arc, cleaving through the first hellhound that had come charging towards them, kicking it’s head away as it started to disintegrate, the body fading away in the grass. But Alex didn’t have time to think about it, as more creatures were already besetting them.

The battle seemed to pass by in flashes. Hard slogs through dozens of creatures punctuated by quick stops to catch the breath, before diving back in again. Falling back again for a quick breath, she swiped her hand across her face, wiping away the blood. A passing healer laid a hand on her shoulder, stripping off the most recent wounds. She gave them a nod of thanks, before looking around for her lover. A flash of the spear drew her attention, and she saw that her lover was currently engaged with one of the larger monsters, almost troll like in appearance. Her lover was quick, just keeping ahead of the troll’s heavy blows, but it was not going well for her. Charging in, Alex used a passing dog as a stepping stone, jumping off that onto the back of the troll, plunging her sword straight through its neck, the momentum of the leap taking her forward. Keeping a grip on the sword, she sheared it through half the neck, landing next to her lover as she twisted the spear round, hitting it so the last part of skin still holding the head on ripped, and the creature slumped over, ebbing away into nothingness as the two of them plunged back into the fighting.

It was exhausting, mentally and physically. All the bodies of the darkspawn, as they had come to be called, were ebbing away, leaving only the bodies of fellow nobles on the floor. Even though they were killing these things, the evidence in front of their eyes made it hard to believe, especially when there was no end to them. Once again she was wiping the blood from her face, stilling for a moment between the fights as she looked around, taking stock of the field.

There were so many dead, and her Queen was growing, dark clouds gathering overhead, different from the darkness which still loomed like a wall over all of them. Alex had to turn and slay a few more darkspawn before something else caught her attention. Over all of the field, the corpses were shimmering, pale spectres rising up from them, and drifting towards the city. She blinked in confusion, before she spotted the Queen of Cups, leaving the field, heading back to the city. Alex felt anger and bile rising up in her throat as the ghosts and cups left them, but that was nothing compared to the fury that she felt course through her next, as a shattering scream broke through the air.

Alex turned her head just in time to see her Queen, now gigantic in size, sprout a pair of glowing wings, electricity crackling from them and her sword, which she raised up into the thunderous sky. A bolt of purple lightning crashed down, striking the blade, and the blast that it created swept over the battlefield, hurling everything backwards, noble and darkspawn.

Things broke, she could feel that much as she landed in the mud. She noticed the mud was warm on her neck, that was odd. Oh, of course, it was blood that was soaking through the earth right now, not rain. Her sword was still in her hand, although she wasn’t gripping it anymore. It was hard to really concentrate, part of her knew that she was dying. She was tougher than most, but even if she hadn’t been fighting for hours, that explosion from her Queen would have been hard to shrug off. And there was that scream, that terrible, awful scream, still ringing in her ears, singing of loss and anger and vengeance.

A movement in the corner of her eye. She turned her head, and could see her lover, getting up onto her hands and knees, coming over to her. That was good, Alex would hate to see them die, although she guessed that was unfair, considering that they would have to watch her die instead.

There were tears in her eyes as she leaned over, mouthing words at her, but Alex couldn’t hear anything apart from the scream. And there was this tugging sensation, not quite a physical one, but the storm, crackling with purple lightning, surrounding the massive figure of her Queen, was pulling at her. The sword she still loosely held was starting to crackle as well, tiny purple sparks running up and down its length.

Her lover looked terrified. Alex felt so bad, she tried to bring her hand up to touch her face. It’s fine, she wanted to say. If this is where it ends, then that’s okay. She thought back to last night – she hadn’t slept for half the night, staying awake, watching her lover as she had slumbered in her arms, just so peaceful and right. I spent my final time here with you, she tried to speak. I got to spend my life with you. I love you, and it’s alright.

Her lover looked up, and Alex could turn her head slightly to see the Queen from earlier, someone she now recognised as the Queen of Many Courts. She was looking down at the pair of them, a sad sort of smile on her face. A couple more tears splashed down, and Alex could see their mouths moving, and a sense of dread starting in her stomach.

No, don’t. Whatever you’re thinking, don’t. Please, don’t do anything stupid. She reached up with her hand, managing to touch her face. Her lover caught the hand, her grip betraying her panic as she looked down at Alex again, and then back up to the Queen.

It’s not worth it. Whatever price you’re paying, it’s too much, I’m not worth it, please…don’t.

She knew she wasn’t speaking, but she was praying that the words might find her, even as something pulled on her soul, and she screwed up her eyes in pain.

When she opened them again, the Queen was there, leaning over her, one finger extended out. Alex flicked her eyes back to her lover, wide and panicked, looking at their tear-stained face.

What did you do?

Then the Queen touched her, and it all went black.