The Children of Eris
Stationed at Castle Kelsey were five hundred guards, armed with plate armour, spears, shields and swords, none of which ever saw any combat. Their main duties consisted of protecting the Kelsey family from no threats, patrolling the grounds and walls for dangers that never came, and trying to find ways to appease their boredom.
No one dared raise a hand to the Kelseys, not with the rumours going around the country about what Lord Anthony did to those who defied him, many of which his guards had seen and vowed never to speak off. There were other rumours that said he dabbled in forbidden magic outlawed by the church and that he had connections to powerful criminal organisations throughout the Empire.
Even the Holy Paladins didn’t dare cross him.
However, fearing that someone might dare try and take his life, Lord Anthony had hired just enough soldiers to protect his castle from a siege and spared no expense on their equipment.
But, no matter the time of day, his guards never once took their duties seriously. Even at night, when they were most vulnerable, the guards didn’t properly patrol the walls and towers. The torches were all lit to make it seem like they were but, in reality, the guards slacked off and relaxed as best they could on the night shift.
Andrew was no exception.
With a heavy yawn, he lent back against the wall and rested his spear beside him.
“You can’t be tired already,” his friend Rob said. “We’ve only just gotten started on our watch for the evening.”
“Who cares? No one’s going to check on us, are they?”
The two laughed at that as Rob stood beside his friend.
“Still, it sucks that we had to draw the short straw on poker night,” Rob mumbled. “Wish it could’ve been Col or Steve instead.”
“Same. Well, we’ll just have to make sure it isn’t us next week stuck out here.”
A strong, icy breeze blew over the castle, making them shiver.
“Agreed,” Rob said.
The two men stared blankly at the starry sky and exhaled.
Then, something flashed across their vision.
“What was that?” Rob asked, jumping forward, spear in hand.
“What was what?”
“That…black shadow.” Rob turned to his friend. “Didn’t you see it?”
“You got scared by your own shadow?”
“No, dumbass! I meant-”
A knife pierced his neck, killing Rob instantly. Before Andrew could even react, a sword was stabbed through his chest and into his heart.
Mímir pushed Rob onto the floor, blood dripping from the tip of his blade, as the Raven threw Andrew’s corpse beside his friend’s.
Mímir turned back to the wall, his wires quickly shooting down to the ground outside the castle, anchoring themselves in the dirt. A second later, he felt something pulling on his strings and waited patiently for the Machai to scale the walls. Five at a time, the Machai made it to the top of the wall.
As they were climbing up, Mania began flying to the top of the wall slowly, carrying David by his hand. She gently placed him on the battlements, then took out her whip.
Once the Machai were at the top, they turned to face David, weapons in hand, awaiting his orders.
“Only kill the guards, but spare any of them that surrender. No one but the guards are to be harmed,” David commanded. He glared at Abaddon. “No one but the guards.”
With one final shake, Steven pulled up his trousers and walked back inside the walls.
“Took ya long enough,” Colin chided him.
“Hey, some of us had a lot more to drink than others!” Steven slurred at his friend, before losing his balance and almost falling over.
They both laughed as Colin checked that his friend hadn’t hurt himself.
At every poker night, there was plenty of alcohol and that meant there were plenty of loud, drunken guards in each barracks. Colin and Steven’s one was located at the base of one of the four large towers at each corner of the keep and their friend’s cheers or merriment could be heard from a hundred metres away.
“You ever wonder if you drink too much?” Colin asked as they started to walk back.
“Never!” Steven yelled, almost tripping over a slightly loose stone on the floor.
Colin caught him in time and steadied him.
“No worries, just be more careful.”
“I will. In fact, you know what, I don’t think I should drink anymore tonight.”
“Came to that realisation all on your own, did you?”
Steven giggled and wrapped his arm around his friend’s shoulders. “I did. Aren’t ya proud of me?”
Colin sighed and brushed his friend’s arm away. “Whatever you sa-”
Colin came to a stop and reached for his sword.
“What you doing-?”
Colin shushed him and drew his blade.
“What’s going on?” Steven whispered.
“Ain’t it far too quiet?” Colin asked softly.
Steven was about to object, but then realised that the tower that had been roaring with joy had all but come to a stop.
“S-should we sound the a-alarm or s-s-somethin’?” Colin stammered, his hands shaking uncontrollably.
“They might’ve all just passed out from drinking too much,” Steven said. “Lord Kelsey would flay us alive if we raised the alarm over nothing.”
“M-Maybe you’re right. Y-y-yeah, let’s check it out first.”
The two men crept towards the door, careful not to make too much noise. Once there, Steven put his hand on the handle and looked to Colin. They nodded at one another and Steven threw the door wide open and gasped in horror.
Twenty dead men, all strewn across the room, their blood painting the stone floors and walls, and two monsters standing over them. The beasts and their weapons were dripping crimson and they lunged at their new prey.
By the time Captain Roland and his men had got their gear on, the castle was in complete disarray.
Somehow, someone was attacking the castle and killing their soldiers, leaving only the defenceless staff to run and scream at the top of their lungs about the danger.
Roland didn’t even know who they were under attack from or their numbers.
However, Roland didn’t have time to worry about that.
“Jaspar! Take three men, go to the east wing and sound the alarm!” He ordered.
Several guards ran off.
“Ian! Take your men and start setting up defences in the main hall. Don’t let anything past you!”
“On it, boss!”
“Everyone else, with me! We have to protect his lordship and his family.”
“Captain, what about the servants?” One man asked.
“We can’t afford to waste time protecting them. Everyone, with me!”
The guards roared in unison and ran with Roland through the castle chambers, the sounds of battle echoing down the halls. They ran from the guard quarters into the main chambers of the castle, screams and guttural shouts all around them, and to the main hall.
As they ran, Roland saw a few of the guards retreating before muscular monsters in steel armour and with deer skull helmets, cutting them down with ease.
“What in the name of the Goddess is that?” One of his men cried.
“Focus, men!” Roland ordered. “Remember your duty!”
They ran along the upper balcony of the main hall, Ian’s men were desperately trying to barricade all the doors below, only for the main doors to be blown off their hingers. Four of the attackers Roland had seen earlier burst into the hall, tearing Ian’s forces to pieces, and a tall figure in molten rock armour stepped into the chamber.
His blade was bloodier than those of the others.
Ian and two of his men charged at the figure, but the figure swung once and sent all three flying into the wall.
Roland and his men increased their pace and quickly found their ways to Lord Anthony’s chamber where a handful of guards and all the Kelseys were waiting.
“Roland, thank the Goddess you’re here!” Lord Anthony cried. “What’s going on?”
“My lord, we’re under attack by an unknown group,” Roland said. “You men! Barricade the doors with everything we have now!”
The guards promptly got to work.
“Barricade us in?” Lady Katherine burst out. “Are you out of your mind? Shouldn’t you be out there fighting, or shouldn’t we be escaping?”
“My lady, they’ve breached the outer defences and the main hall,” Roland explained. “Ian and his men are getting slaughtered, and Jaspar’s on his way to sound the alarm, but I fear help might come too late.”
“Too late?” Lady Rebecca whispered.
“How would it be too late?” Lord Anthony bellowed. “You have the best equipment money can buy! How can you not hold off for long enough?”
“We are trying, my lord, but the attackers caught us by surprise and seem to outnumber us,” Roland replied.
Roland nodded. “On our way here, we could hear the sounds of battle from everywhere. I don’t know how many attackers there are, but they seem to be intent on killing everyone in their path.”
“My lord, is there no secret passage or safe place you and your family can hide in your chambers?”
Lord Anthony’s eyes widened and he smiled. “Of course! Of course there is! I completely forgot. I had it installed when I had this place built; never thought I’d need it, so I’d forgotten about it.”
“Where is it, my lord?”
“Behind that painting there!”
Lord Anthony pointed at a gigantic and gorgeous picture of an oak tree.
“It’ll lead us outside the walls and to the old servants’ quarters,” Lord Anthony said. “Quick, you men there! Help me move it.”
The guards rushed to it and gently lifted it off, placing it carefully to one side, revealing a locked steel door.
“Where’s the key?” One guard blurted out.
“It’s under the bed, on my si-”
A dull thud against the bedroom doors cut Lord Anthony off. What followed was an eerie silence as all eyes turned to the barricaded wooden doors.
The sounds of battle that had been tormenting them had stopped.
Heavy bootsteps slowly drew closer to them, accompanied by two lighter sets of footsteps; then, they stopped.
Roland’s men aimed their weapons at the door, their bodies quivered with fear causing their armour to rattle.
The doors blew wide open, launching the furniture barricade into the guards, knocking a few of them down, before three figures stepped into the room. One was very tall, the other could only be described as an assassin and the other as a succubus.
“So, these are the last ones,” the tall figure mumbled. “Mania.”
The woman giggled gently and stepped forward, brandishing her bloodied whip. “With pleasure.”
Mania cracked her whip and it snapped forwards, then bent at an impossible angle before launching itself into the guards. It pierced through eight of them at once. She then snapped it again and it cut through another six.
As terrified as they were, Roland and his men charged towards the figures, no doubt hoping that they’d be able to at least take one of them down.
They didn’t stand a chance.
The assassin threw several throwing knives at them, each landing in the chests of the charging guards, before the assassin drew their katana and leapt into the fray.
By the time the two figures were done, only the three Kelseys remained.
Satisfied, the tall figure let out a small sigh. Then, in a deep voice, it said, “Take them.”