Chapter 14:

Next Steps (Part 2)

The Children of Eris

David and the maid arrived at the war room where two Machai saluted him, then opened the doors for him. The maid then politely bowed and took his leave. When David entered in the newly created war room, he was delighted to see that he had been the last to arrive.Bookmark here

In what had once been Lord Anthony’s private study, there was now a gigantic oak table with maps and documents strewn across it. Even though there were more than twelve chairs around the table, no one was sat in them. Stood to one side were Lady Rebecca and Eva, while David’s generals were on the other.Bookmark here

Once he entered the room, all turned and bowed to him.Bookmark here

“It would seem like everyone is here,” David said, the Machai closing the doors behind him. “Sit.”Bookmark here

The generals did so. Rebecca and Eva remained standing and bowing.Bookmark here

David marched to his chair and sat down at the very head of the table.Bookmark here

“Rebecca, Eva. Sit,” David ordered.Bookmark here

“…As your majesty desires,” Rebecca said, curtsying, before taking a seat next to Mania. Bookmark here

Eva, anxiously, took one beside Rebecca.Bookmark here

I wish they wouldn’t act so openly terrified of me, David thought to himself, sighing quietly beneath his helmet.Bookmark here

He knew it couldn’t be helped, but it hurt David that they were so openly terrified of him. But he couldn’t let such feelings show which is why he never took off his armour before them.Bookmark here

“Mímir, your report,” David said.Bookmark here

“Yes, your majesty,” Mímir said, standing from his chair and leaning over the map.Bookmark here

“Using the maps that Lady Rebecca’s family had in their possession, as well as my own reconnaissance, I have determined that we have been quite fortunate in where we find our base placed. The territory of the Northern Hills is quite far away from the bulk of the Empire’s cities and towns, meaning that we will be out of sight and mind for most of the Empire’s citizens, aside from those living within our territory.Bookmark here

“Further, with the Dragon’s Spine mountains thirty miles to our north and forty miles to our west, we have a natural barrier preventing attacks from any nations that lie beyond those mountains. The books I have found within the library here also indicate that the valleys between the peaks are occupied by giants and other monsters, meaning that any attempt to move a sizeable army through them would be an extremely dangerous, borderline suicidal, venture.”Bookmark here

“Giants, eh?” Abaddon murmured, cracking his knuckles. “I bet they’d make for some good practice.”Bookmark here

“That’s not what you should be focusing in on, muscle-brain,” Mania lightly chided.Bookmark here

“What’d you call me?”Bookmark here

“Oh?” Mania smirked. “How else would you like me to describe you, General of Failure?”Bookmark here

Abaddon leapt up out of his seat. “You-!”Bookmark here

“Abaddon,” David said.Bookmark here

Without another word, Abaddon sat back down.Bookmark here

“Continue, Mímir.”Bookmark here

“Yes, your majesty,” Mímir said, clearing his throat. “There are also many caves in the mountains that are home to goblin dens, making them prime targets for soldiers, living or otherwise, and the caves can be used as mines if we take them. Currently, as we have next to no production for resources, we are only relying on the items that we have taken thus far to sustain us.”Bookmark here

“…Food shouldn’t be an issue,” Rebecca said softly. “My parents were quite paranoid and often hoarded food for us to last the castle years.”Bookmark here

“Indeed, Lady Rebecca. However, we cannot send soldiers from the castle to gather taxes or harvests from the surrounding villages. We would have to pillage or conquer them, neither of which bodes well for us.”Bookmark here

“How comes?” Abaddon asked.Bookmark here

“Because it would draw attention,” David cut in. “Right now, those of us in this room, except for Rebecca and Eva, are strong. We four alone could bring this country to its knees if we so chose to do so, but that would thrust us into the attention of the entire world as a threat. If that happens, then armies will come at us from all sides again and again until we lost.”Bookmark here

“Are our forces really that weak?” Mania pondered, leaning back in her chair and planting her boots on the table. “The Machai and skeletons should be strong enough to hold their own against human soldiers, and the Machai can take ten soldiers on alone.”Bookmark here

“However, even with our current forces, we barely have the men to hold this castle and the goblin den we took control of,” Mímir plainly stated. “We are currently in no position to launch massive attacks against Themis yet. We require more soldiers and better equipment.”Bookmark here

“Agreed,” David said. “The skeletons are using the castle guards’ equipment and the Machai have their own. That’s not good enough. If we cannot produce it ourselves, then we must find a way of acquiring it by other means.”Bookmark here

“We could ambush empire patrols and take what we need, couldn’t we, Master?” Abaddon suggested. “Make it look like bandits did it and take the gear for ourselves.”Bookmark here

“…Lord Abaddon, if I may,” Rebecca said, surprising the general. “That wouldn’t eliminate the problem of drawing attention to his majesty, would it? Eventually, as more patrols went missing, the Empire would investigate it and, if by some chance they traced it back to his majesty, the castle would be besieged.”Bookmark here

David smiled beneath his helmet. “Well said, Rebecca. Abaddon, while your idea is not a terrible one, it risks bringing too much attention to us. As it is, if what Rebecca has told us is right, her father usually visits the slave markets fairly often. Now that he is under our care, he won’t be making that trip anymore. Lady Rebecca, your father was well connected with the underworld, wasn’t he?”Bookmark here

Rebecca weakly nodded. “…Very.”Bookmark here

“Do you know the specifics at all, my lady?” Mímir asked.Bookmark here

“I’m afraid not.” She smiled bitterly. “He never told me anything about it.”Bookmark here

“Then, I shall ask him directly for further details at a later date.”Bookmark here

“Make it a priority,” David ordered and Mímir nodded in acknowledgement. Bookmark here

“What if we were to attack a nearby country and blame it on-?” Abaddon began to say.Bookmark here

“That still poses the same issues,” Mímir reminded the Demon. Bookmark here

“So then,” Mania said, slamming her heel on the table. “We can’t steal it or make it, meaning we’d have to buy it, right?”Bookmark here

“That is an idea I had considered, but then I wondered how we would do so,” Mímir replied.Bookmark here

“…My family’s wealth is at your disposal, your majesty,” Rebecca said, bowing to David.Bookmark here

“Whilst we appreciate the offer, Lady Rebecca, it still runs the risk of being traced back to this castle, does it not? Your father might have marked money in some way and, if so, it can be traced to us.”Bookmark here

David clicked his tongue.Bookmark here

Every time we come up with an idea for improving our situation, we realise just how many risks it brings us as well. How the hell am I meant to do this, Eris?!Bookmark here

“Your majesty, I do have a potential solution to this issue,” Mímir confidently said.Bookmark here

“Speak.”Bookmark here

“If we were to open or purchase a business in the city of Stonefall under Lady Rebecca’s name, we can use it as a front to make money and gather information more directly from the people of Themis, thus providing us with two of the things we are severely lacking currently. Bookmark here

“Publicly, we announce it as a business venture set up by Lady Rebecca that, privately, would be run and managed by myself and Mania, and we would use it to gather whatever we can to help you with your conquest, your majesty.”Bookmark here

David smiled. “That is a good idea. Eva, as I said the other day, you are now the Head Maid of the castle. Perform those duties to the best of your abilities.”Bookmark here

“As you wish, Lord Al-I mean, your majesty.”Bookmark here

“Eva. Everyone knows that you and Rebecca are allowed to address me as such.”Bookmark here

“…Yes, Lord Allaric,” Eva mumbled.Bookmark here

“As for you, Rebecca,” David continued. “I am putting you in charge of managing the castle from the chores that the servants do to how the remodelling will go. Given that you know this castle the best and you have extensive knowledge on how this place was run before we took it, I want you to take charge of its day-to-day operations.Bookmark here

“Nothing quite as serious as the tasks I will be giving my generals, of course, but they are vital tasks that need to be done.”Bookmark here

“Exactly, little one,” Mania said. “And, I trust you remember what I told you before, right?” Rebecca nodded. “Now, repeat it for everyone here to hear. Eva.” The maid jumped again, letting out a small shriek that caused Mania to grin. “Listen to what the little one has to say very carefully.”Bookmark here

“…If you obey, nothing bad will happen to you. If you serve, you will be rewarded for what you do. If you rebel, then you will curse yourself until your last breath for doing so.”Bookmark here

Everyone in the room were taken aback by what they had just heard, especially David.Bookmark here

I didn’t say anything like that! He screamed in his head. That’s a really messed up message to spread and it means it’ll be harder for me to relax even a little bit around people in the castle now! However, it is a good philosophy for a Demon Emperor to have and one that might encourage more people to side with me once I show them what I am capable off. Bookmark here

In that sense, you did a good job, Mania. However. David bit his lip hard. It means there are even more people that I have to keep this act up around now. Bookmark here

“Well said, little one!” Mania cried, leaping up to pat the top of Rebecca’s head. “As long as you don’t do anything to go against Master, nothing but great things will happen to you. Though.” She giggled. “I can’t say the same for those who defy him.”Bookmark here

“You speak rather casually in his majesty’s presence, Mania,” Mímir scolded. Bookmark here

“It’s disrespectful!” Abaddon growled.Bookmark here

“It’s fine, you two,” David said with a quiet sigh. “I will permit Mania to act this way for now in smaller meetings like this. However, if there are others besides those in this room, treat me with more respect, Mania.”Bookmark here

“Thank you, Master.”Bookmark here

“However.”Bookmark here

The room went silent.Bookmark here

“That is only because you haven’t disappointed me yet, unlike others in this room.”Bookmark here

Mania gulped and bowed, whereas Abaddon and Mímir looked down at the table, hanging their heads in shame.Bookmark here

Consider that payback for making it harder for me to relax.Bookmark here

“Work hard and well for me and my goal, my generals!” David roared, standing up. “Mímir, Mania: get started on your preparations to set up a business in Stonefall. What kind I will leave to Mímir’s discretion, but make sure that you can maintain it with only supplies found within the city and using Lady Rebecca’s coin.Bookmark here

“Lady Rebecca and Eva; I have drafted a list of the duties I expect you to perform not only daily or weekly, but also what I expect from you and what I desire you to achieve. Abaddon, you and I will have a different assignment to undertake at some point which we will discuss tonight in my private chambers.Bookmark here

“Then, if there are no questions or other points of discussion, then this meeting is adjourned!”Bookmark here

“There is one more thing, Master,” Mania said. “It’s about the girl who was in the dungeon.”Bookmark here

Eva and Rebecca both flinched at that statement.Bookmark here

If they reacted like that, then this might be bad, David thought.Bookmark here

“…What about her?” He asked.Bookmark here

“Last week, when I went to visit her with the little one, she said she wished to speak to you about her future here.”Bookmark here

“Did she not give any specifics?” Mímir quizzed.Bookmark here

“Nope. She just said she wanted to see the person who saved her, so I told her it was the Dark Lord, but she still wanted to speak with you. What do you think, Master?”Bookmark here

David folded his arms. “It’s fine. However, this is not the place for such things. I’ll speak with her in the throne room. Rebecca, Eva, Mania; you will all be present for this. Mímir, continue with your preparations on your own for now.”Bookmark here

Mímir bowed. “Of course, your majesty.” Bookmark here

“Eva, escort the woman to the throne room. Mania and Rebecca will walk with me there and await you.”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

There, on a silver throne, sat a man in pitch black armour, was the one Mania called ‘The Dark Lord’.Bookmark here

She could tell how much Eva and Rebecca were shaking just to be stood next to that man but, in her eyes, he was anything but terrifying.Bookmark here

He was her saviour.Bookmark here

The one who was terrifying was Mania who staring daggers at her.Bookmark here

“Mania tells me that you wish to speak to me about something.”Bookmark here

The woman nodded, causing Mania to click her tongue.Bookmark here

“Very well. Speak whenever you are ready.”Bookmark here

“Y-your majesty, her vocal cords are almost destroyed and-” Eva tried to say, but the man raised his hand in front of her.Bookmark here

“I’m aware. She may take her time.”Bookmark here

The woman opened her lips a few times, but no words came out of them; only faint whistling and breathing sounds. Then, with all of her courage gathered, she looked into the black knight’s eyes and spoke.Bookmark here

“…May I…be…a…knight…in your…service…?”Bookmark here

The whole room went silent.Bookmark here

Mania, Rebecca and Eva’s mouths were all agape.Bookmark here

Not even the Machai that had escorted her in could contain their surprise.Bookmark here

Even though she couldn’t see his face, the woman knew even the black knight had been taken aback by her request.Bookmark here

“W-w-w-w-what are you saying?!” Mania burst out first. “You? A knight? In the service of our Emperor? Are you insane?!”Bookmark here

“She’s right!” Eva chimed in. “While I think Lady Mania’s words were quite harsh, I have to agree with her. Why would you-?”Bookmark here

“Enough.” Bookmark here

The women stopped yelling at the man’s command. Bookmark here

Then, for what felt like a small eternity, the knight went into silent thought.Bookmark here

When he did speak, all listened to his every word.Bookmark here

“I have many things that I would like to ask you, but first, I have to ask the biggest question on my mind,” the knight said. “Why?”Bookmark here

“…Because…you…saved me…from…them…” the woman replied, smiling faintly. “A debt…I…can…can…never…repay…However.” She took a deep breath. “I…would like to…try.”Bookmark here

“So, you would propose to be my knight rather than a maid or servant?”Bookmark here

She nodded.Bookmark here

“While I can understand your reasons, your physical body is severely malnourished and weak. To be my knight, you cannot be either of those things. If you did go down this path, it will be a long, hard road, one which you might not survive.”Bookmark here

Eva’s face became pale. “…What do you mean, your majesty?”Bookmark here

“To be my knight, you would have to be at least as strong as my generals. You would exist to protect me and do whatever I say, no matter what it is.” The knight glared at the woman. “Can you do that?”Bookmark here

The woman didn’t hesitate to nod.Bookmark here

The knight leant back into his throne and once again returned to his thoughts.Bookmark here

A minute passed before he spoke again.Bookmark here

“…Mania, you will be in charge of training her,” the knight commanded.Bookmark here

The winged woman seemed too shocked for words. Bookmark here

“Eva, did anyone find out her name?”Bookmark here

Eva slowly shook her head from side to side. Bookmark here

“…Please…give me…one…Majesty…” The woman said.Bookmark here

The knight sighed.Bookmark here

“Very well.” He took two seconds to pluck one from his head. “Hilda. From this day onwards, you will be trained to become my knight. You will endure whatever I say you will and you will perform whatever acts I say you will. You will be in for a lot of pain, but you will never complain about it. You will become something inhuman, but you will embrace it.Bookmark here

“If this is what you desire, then I shall grant you it and you will become my knight. Hilda, do you object?”Bookmark here

The newly named Hilda shook her head. “…I’m…ready.”Bookmark here

“Very well. Mania, you’ll have to work with Mímir and Eva closely to make sure you train her well. Try not to kill her and make her a strong knight.”Bookmark here

Mania, while dissatisfied, bowed and said, “As Master wishes.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.