Chapter 19:

No Excuses

The Children of Eris

David tapped his fingers loudly, and angrily, against his throne’s arms, glaring at the two people kneeling before him.Bookmark here

Stood by his side was Abaddon with his arms crossed. While David couldn’t see it, he knew that Abaddon was looking down on the other generals, no doubt happy that they could no longer shame him for his errors. Bookmark here

Not after theirs was far worse than his.Bookmark here

Lady Rebecca stood on David’s other side, doing her best not to let her fear show on her face and trying to keep her body from shivering. She was no doubt just as terrified as the generals on their knees for their future.Bookmark here

Not even a month after they had bought the Hierophant, the plan to gather information in Stonefall had already suffered its first major setback. Bookmark here

When the Raven had reported that Mímir and Mania had returned so abruptly before their weekly check-in, David had assumed that something bad must’ve happened but he didn’t imagine that it would be anywhere near as terrible as it was.Bookmark here

Twenty-two horribly mutilated corpses hung not even a hundred metres from the tavern that Lady Rebecca had bought for them and, worst of all, there were definitely people in the tavern that had seen those men in the tavern before Mímir had his scuffle with them.Bookmark here

We’re lucky that this hasn’t already been traced back to them, David thought. I thought that Mímir wouldn’t make such a big blunder like this. I mean, if he was going to kill them, why didn’t he lure them further away from the tavern first before doing it? Why did they inflict such injuries on the bodies and, worst of all, why did they string them up for everyone to see?!Bookmark here

David barely held back his groans. If this does somehow get traced back to the tavern, people could find out that it was Lady Rebecca who paid for it and then anyone who knows the situation of the Kelsey household would think it strange that Rebecca suddenly opened a business in the city.Bookmark here

Mímir’s cover story about a retired adventurer would fall to pieces once anyone with enough resources dig even a little bit of digging and, if my fears are realised, the coins we spent might be traced back to the Kelseys. Bookmark here

Before ordering his generals and Rebecca into the throne room, David was already furious with them, so much so that he was surprised with himself. The last time he could remember being so angry was when Eris had tried to kill Kara and that was after his entire world had fallen apart in the space of ten minutes.Bookmark here

Maybe that’s why, David wondered. Maybe it’s because if they messed up this much, it would be the end of my life again. I imagine they’re disappointed with themselves and terrified of my wrath, but all I care about is that they put my family at risk by screwing up like this.Bookmark here

David took a singular, long, deep breath; then, he exhaled loudly and spoke.Bookmark here

“Mania.”Bookmark here

She flinched just from having her name spoken.Bookmark here

“Yes, Master?”Bookmark here

“Do you remember what Mímir told you to do when you got to the city?”Bookmark here

“…I do.”Bookmark here

“Recite your orders for me.”Bookmark here

“Yes, Dark Lord,” Mania whispered. She swallowed hard. “Find out what would be the best kind of shop to set up, gather information and remain covert whilst-”Bookmark here

“Repeat that last one,” David ordered.Bookmark here

“R-remain covert whilst-”Bookmark here

“Mímir.”Bookmark here

“Yes, your majesty?” Bookmark here

“You and Mania both had the same orders, didn’t you?”Bookmark here

Mímir hung his head low. “…We did, your majesty.”Bookmark here

“Yes, yes you did.” David stood up from his chair, a dark magical aura forming around his body. “I’m glad that you are both willing to answer me honestly and not claim that someone else besides me gave you some secret orders to follow. You didn’t tell Mania to disobey my orders, did you?”Bookmark here

Mímir closed his eyes. “…No, your majesty.”Bookmark here

“And I didn’t tell you to do anything else but what I’d asked, did I, Mania?”Bookmark here

She whimpered and bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. “No, Dark Lord.”Bookmark here

“I didn’t,” David said slowly.Bookmark here

He took a sharp breath of air, exhaled and paused.Bookmark here

Then, he threw his fist as hard as he could into his throne behind him, smashing it into tiny pieces, a few chunks hitting Abaddon and the Machai that jumped to protect Lady Rebecca from the blast. Bookmark here

“So then why did you draw so much attention to yourselves after a week?!” David shouted so angrily that all those gathered in the main hall shook with fear. “Do you remember why it is that we are currently skulking in the shadows, clawing at scraps like rats? It’s because we aren’t ready to destroy this empire yet and raise mine in its place!Bookmark here

“You’ve drawn this much unwanted attention already and all of my plans could fall apart because of you two! After what Lady Rebecca told us, we knew that we’d have to deal with the underworld at some point, but not for a few weeks more at least.Bookmark here

“Now that you’ve killed their people and strung them up like dead pigs in a butcher’s shop, they’ll come for you and you’ll kill them, and you’ll draw more attention to yourself and our operation!”Bookmark here

David marched towards the two generals kneeling before him and sighed.Bookmark here

“I assigned you two to this task because I thought you would pull it off without any trouble,” David muttered, his disappointment dripping off his every word. “It would seem that I was wrong.”Bookmark here

Internally, David was furious, angrier than he had even been in his entire life. It was stressful enough having to try and create an empire in just a year, but it became even more taxing when David’s followers didn’t properly obey his orders.Bookmark here

Failure would not be accepted and they weren’t to ever act against his wishes.Bookmark here

If I’m going to have any chance of pulling this whole thing off, then I need people that will do exactly what I need them to and when I need them to do it, he thought. I had intended to fight the underworld of the empire at some point, potentially taking control of their operations and using them as my own, but not this early.Bookmark here

If the underworld organisations start to get dangerous ideas in their head about retaliating, then we could be in for some serious trouble and, worse, it’ll make taking control of the empire even harder.Bookmark here

“If you two have any good excuses, then I’d start talking quickly,” David said. Bookmark here

“…Your majesty, while we have failed you in this task, I do believe that we can use this incident to our advantage,” Mímir replied, still keeping his head low. “And I am sure that you yourself have already begun thinking of ways to use this in such a way.”Bookmark here

David folded his arms and glared at Mímir so fiercely that it felt like a gigantic weight was pushing down on his spine.Bookmark here

“Are you telling me that you have thought of benefits for us from this incident?” David asked.Bookmark here

“…Yes, your majesty,” Mímir answered.Bookmark here

What Mímir had said was true.Bookmark here

Even as his two generals had reported their blunder to him, David’s mind had already begun racing with potential ways to utilise this incident and use it in their favour. Bookmark here

I only have one idea myself at the moment, but perhaps Mímir has come up with some good ones I can use, David thought. If he has, then I need to hear them all right here and now.Bookmark here

“I wonder, Mímir; can you come up with a better plan than me?” David laughed wickedly. "Then speak quickly, before I take your head.”Bookmark here

“Yes, your majesty,” Mímir said. “Firstly, while this is not the best possible bit of news, the truth is that no one in Stonefall actually knows who is responsible for the murders. As I and Mania were careful in that regard, we have kept our identities anonymous from the citizens and the underworld for a time. However, I do believe eventually someone will make the connection to us.Bookmark here

“That said, this will definitely take a long time for anyone to piece together because everyone in the city will have their own ideas about who did it and why, allowing us to slip out of their gaze for a time. The guards will have their own thoughts, so will the peasants, so will the various criminal and underworld organisations throughout Stonefall. There will be some who connect it to us, but there will be witnesses that will say we were inside the tavern when they were murdered thanks to my illusion magic. Bookmark here

“It will take them time to do that. Admittedly, we have no idea how long exactly it will take for this to happen, but we can use this time to strengthen our position within the city, establishing our information network, then Mania and I can then use that information to help your majesty.Bookmark here

“Further, after this attack, it is likely that the underworld organisations within Stonefall will be distracted from investigating Lord Kelsey missing his ‘business trip’ to the slave markets, meaning that there won’t be anyone coming to investigate this castle as we continue with our improvements and expanding our army.Bookmark here

“Which leads me onto my final point, your majesty. We can use this incident to stoke the fears of the general populace greatly by utilising Mania’s powers.”Bookmark here

“Explain,” David ordered.Bookmark here

“As a Succubus, Mania has the power to charm men with her magic. She could invade their dreams, plant ideas into their minds and make them subconsciously loyal to her. If she uses her abilities correctly, we can make the city’s public criers and other influential individuals say that this is some sort of prophesied ill-omen of a great disaster approaching. Bookmark here

“During our stay within Stonefall, I came across a book that spoke of a cursed ruin in the southern parts of the Empire nicknamed ‘The Shadow Tombs’ that, from what I’ve read, appear to be catacombs that claims all that venture there, making-”Bookmark here

“Making it the perfect staging area for a terrifying disaster to spawn?” David asked.Bookmark here

Mímir nodded. “If an undead army were to march from the tombs and destroy the vital trade city of Black Port in the south, then that could allow us to test the strength of our enemies and strengthen the narrative. We could falsely push of an unnatural disaster befalling the land. The people will wonder if the criers speak the truth of such an event and that pandemonium will spread, making it easy for us to act.”Bookmark here

David smiled beneath his helmet.Bookmark here

Now that is exactly what I wanted to hear!Bookmark here

It was a well thought out, realistic plan that would accomplish plenty of goals, all of which had some form of benefit for David. His own plan that he had come up with was nothing quite like Mímir’s.Bookmark here

However.Bookmark here

“It is often said that great mind’s think alike, Mímir,” David said. “To think that you would have the same ideas as I; that proves that you are worthy to serve me.”Bookmark here

David couldn’t afford to appear weak in front of his subordinates.Bookmark here

That said, there were still some issues with Mímir’s plan.Bookmark here

“While it pleases me that we both came to the same conclusions, the plan is not without issues,” David said. “Namely, how we would go about travelling to such a far away place.”Bookmark here

“Couldn’t you simply teleport there, your majesty?” Mímir asked.Bookmark here

David sighed and walked back to his throne. “Did you think I hadn’t considered that? My version of the spell is the same as yours; it will only allow me to open portals to places that I have already visited, which is why I can go to the cave and back to the castle, so we will have to travel there by normal means.”Bookmark here

“Which means we’d be taking quite the risk,” Abaddon muttered. “Master, if we’re spotted en-route, then rumours could spread and the empire could come looking for us.”Bookmark here

“It is a risk we will need to take and one that we can minimise the risks of using Lady Rebecca.”Bookmark here

“Me, your majesty?” Rebecca asked.Bookmark here

“A noble daughter going on a trip with her ‘parent’ is hardly uncommon and, with me beside you, we would be safe from all possible dangers, and it provides us with the perfect way to slip into the south unnoticed. Once I’ve been there, it would be possible for me to open up my teleportation portals for the rest of the council to visit it as well. That way, it wouldn’t only be me that can transport our forces to the south.”Bookmark here

“I-I agree but, your majesty, with all of us away, who would take charge of running the castle?”Bookmark here

“Abaddon can assume both your and Mímir’s responsibilities whilst we are away, providing he follows every order that is left behind for him.”Bookmark here

“Of course, Master!” Abaddon proudly shouted. “Unlike other people, I will make sure to perform my duties exactly as you intended them to be completed.”Bookmark here

Mania hissed at him too quietly for anyone else to hear.Bookmark here

“What about us, your majesty?” Mímir asked.Bookmark here

“You two will continue running the tavern as previously discussed, with the new parts of the plan we discussed today implemented. Spread fear throughout the city and gather as much information as you can. I want to know everything about that city and other key places across the Empire by the time I return. Make sure to keep training Hilda as well, Mania. Understood?”Bookmark here

“By your will,” Mania and Mímir replied.Bookmark here

“Good. Then, let us begin. Mímir, dispatch some Ravens ahead of Rebecca and I to investigate the site, but leave one behind to pose as our carriage driver. Then, go back to the city with Mania. The Raven’s magic should be strong enough for an illusion of Rebecca’s father. Abaddon, continue to bolster our forces and improve our bases, both here and the cave. Mania, continue to take time to train Hilda when you can spare an hour or two.Bookmark here

“Servants, remember this! A single misstep is enough to cause our entire operation to collapse and, if it does, we will never overthrow this empire and raise mine from its ashes. If we are careless, too arrogant or not efficient in how we use our time, then all of this will have been for naught. And to all of you here, I say this.Bookmark here

“Do not fail me again.”Bookmark here

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