The Children of Eris
The Ash Woods were a grim, dirty and murky place, one that David didn’t want to spend a second in longer than he needed to.
It was cold, dark, damp and filled to the brim with monsters and animals, many of which looked and growled at David.
It was difficult for David to see more than ten metres ahead of you due to how little light penetrated the thick tree line above and, to make matters even worse, the terrain was so bumpy and overflowing with rocks and tree roots made it difficult to travel through.
If Mímir ever suggests that I go and handle something in the Ash Woods again, I’ll tell him to sod off, David thought. Still, if the spiders here are as valuable as Mímir has been informed, then it should be worth the trip if nothing else.
David had reached the Ash Woods early during the day and had spent about four hours walking through them, heading as deep into the woods as he could.
As he ventured deeper and deeper into the Ash Woods, he noticed that the number of eyes and webs around him had begun to increase dramatically.
Where there were once small, tiny spiderwebs, there were now much larger ones.
Where there were once one set of eyes, there were now several dozen.
Even though he wasn’t particularly scared of spiders, it was hard not to feel a slight chill when you had hundreds of eyes staring at you.
It seems that they might be as intelligent as Mímir suspected, given how they’re choosing to stay back and observe me for the time being, David thought. If they can be tamed, then this will expand my forces dramatically.
After walking for another twenty minutes, David came across a large clearing that looked like it had once been a lake, until something had dried it out, leaving a barren, cracked crevice in its place.
Once in the clearing, a hundred gigantic spiders gathered around its edges, staring at him, clacking their fangs together. A few of the spiders were stamping their feet and hissing at David, but he paid them no mind.
He couldn’t afford to.
The Demon Emperor isn’t scared of spiders! David told himself. There isn’t anything in these woods that could even scratch you. Remember that.
“How unfortunate,” David muttered. “It would seem that there are no intelligent spiders here to greet me.” He scoffed and folded his arms. “It seems that the rumours of your intelligence were exaggerated.”
The spiders went silent.
So, they can at least understand what I’m saying. Or did they realise that I’m stronger than them? Actually, am I stronger than them?
As David was thinking, several slow, loud, powerful steps rang out from the cave before him. Whatever sort of spider it was, it sounded much bigger than the others around him.
Great. The mum’s bigger than a horse.
One by one, the several metre long, thin legs of a great spider crawled out of the cave, dragging out with it the spider’s gigantic body and hideous fangs, dripping with a green glowing substance. The spiders around David turned to face the gigantic spider as it finished stepping out of its cave before him.
David swallowed quietly in his helmet, trying not to panic.
It’s bigger than my house!
David cleared his throat and examined the purple-blue skin of the spider more closely.
Unlike the others he had seen, there were few dents or scars along its body, it still had all eight of its bright red eyes, and it gave off an aura that seemed to say it could, and would, kill anything that threatened it.
“…Oh? Are you the intelligent one around here?” David asked.
No matter how terrifying of a beast it was, David couldn’t afford to look weak before it.
He had to convince the spiders to join him no matter what, even if it meant beating them into submission.
‘It is as I suspected,’ an eerier voice spoke from the spider, yet its mouth did not move. ‘You are the great being I sensed.’
“You sensed me?” David repeated.
The spider nodded. ‘A while ago, I felt a great disturbance in the air of this accursed country. Carried on the wind was a dark, foul presence like none I have ever felt, one that I could only describe as a calamity that had been brought into our world.’ The spider laughed. ‘It seems that you are that calamity, aren’t you?’
David smiled beneath his helmet. “Oh? You can recognise my true strength?”
‘Of course, Dark One. Your presence on the wind was oppressive and heavy. To be in your presence face to face like this, it is a feeling so unpleasant I fear for all those that oppose you.’
Did I really make that big of an impact when I was first summoned here? David wondered. I didn’t feel anything like what this spider’s describing, but she’s acting as if I sent out a pulse or- David’s eyes widened. Wait a minute.
“You said that you detected my presence when I first arrived in this world?”
‘Indeed, Dark One,’ the spider replied. ‘I am sure that I am not the only one who felt your presence when you arrived in this world. No doubt, many other creatures that hide in the shadows did and would submit to you, too.’
And many of them would want me dead, David thought.
David clicked his tongue quietly and cursed.
Without his knowledge, Eris had already taken action to undermine his chances of success.
If someone as strong as this spider felt my arrival, then you can bet more people did, too! David yelled in his mind. That definitely means that I made the right choice by keeping my head down. If she really did feel my arrival that day, anyone else who sensed it might be able to figure out that I caused it just by looking at me!
‘Is something wrong, Dark One?’ The spider asked.
David shook his head. “Pay it no heed. Tell me, spider, do you have a name?”
‘Jorōgumo, Dark One.’
“Then, Jorōgumo, I make you this offer: join me or-”
‘I happily accept your offer, Dark One,’ the spider said, bowing its head a little. I, Jorōgumo, and my brood, pledge themselves to the Dark One and his cause.’
“You would pledge your loyalty so easily?”
‘Of course, Dark One, for had you not arrived here today, I would have sought you out to offer myself to you.’
‘Because.’ The spider’s body began to glow a faint purple colour. ‘I know when to choose the winning side.’
As the purple light enveloped the spider’s body, it began to shrink and change, shifting into that of a much smaller humanoid figure.
Once the light had faded, David could see what Jorōgumo human form looked like more clearly.
She had silk like skin, red eyes with four small pupils in each eye which then promptly merged together into a single pupil in each eye, and her hair was a strange dark purple colour. She was wearing a white dress with a pattern of silver spider webs on it and, at the top of her dress along the back of her collar, were four spider leg like spikes.
Then, Jorōgumo curtsied to David and, at the same time, the spiders around them lowered their heads to the ground.
“Once more, I, Jorōgumo, pledge myself to the Dark One and his cause,” she said loudly and clearly. “Forgive the deception, Dark One, but this form is my true form.”
“It matters not,” David replied. “Knowing that you were originally a humanoid is a benefit more than anything; it is not a form of deceit.”
“As you say, Dark One.”
Dark One, huh? David repeated, cringing a little. I don’t know if it’s better than any of the other names people call me in this world, but it can’t be as bad as Dark One, right?
“Then, Jorōgumo.” David opened a portal behind him and held out his hand to her. “Come with me.”
As Jorōgumo smiled and took his hand, David wondered if Abaddon had had as easy of a time as he’d had with the Giants.
Abaddon blocked the fifteen-metre tall giant Suttungr’s fist with his claymore.
Another giant, who was eight metres tall, kicked at Abaddon’s back, but Abaddon leapt over the foot, then threw his claymore through it. The giant howled in pain as Abaddon spun around mid-air and threw his fist into the giant’s face.
Abaddon landed roughly on his feet as the eight-metre giant fell down dead behind him and Suttungr launched a flurry of punches and kicks at him. Abaddon lazily blocked all of them with his sword, before parrying Suttungr’s leg to one side and cutting his foot off.
Suttungr screamed in pain and grasped at the wound, before Abaddon swung his claymore through Suttungr’s body and cut him cleanly in two.
With both of his remaining attackers dead, Abaddon swung his sword onto his shoulders and roared violently to the other hundred giants around him.
The giants around Abaddon began dropping onto their knees in rapid succession, lowering their heads as close to the ground as they could, soon followed by the other fifteen metre giants, including Ölvaldi, their chieftain and Suttungr’s father.
Despite their anger and pain, none dared stand against Abaddon, not after he took on and killed four of their kin at once.
Upon witnessing such a sight, Abaddon loudly laughed at them, then spoke.
“If only you’d done that sooner. Your son would still be alive, Ölvaldi. Still.” He leant closer to Ölvaldi’s ear and whispered, “At least you still have the rest of your family.”
Abaddon walked into the centre of the bowing giants and laughed proudly.
Look, your majesty, I did it! I subjugated the giants for you, Abaddon cheered in his head.
“Goodnight, everyone!” Nate happily called as he saw off the last of his regular patrons for the night. Then, once he’d locked the doors, he turned back to his wife and the guests who hadn’t retired to their rooms and asked, “How’s everyone doing? Anyone need anything else?”
Everyone shook their heads or politely said that they were fine.
“In that case, I’m going to head off to bed,” Nate said. “If anyone needs me or my wife, our room’s down here and-”
The ground began to shake.
The inn quietened down.
“What’s going on?” Someone asked.
The ground kept shaking and shaking, so much so that it felt as if the ground was erupting beneath their feet.
“Dear!” Katherine cried.
“Stay here, I’ll see what’s going on,” Nate said.
He hastily unlocked the door to see if it was an earthquake or something worse.
Much to his horror, it was the latter.
As he opened one of the doors, hundreds of skeletons were running past right through the main village street, screeching as they ran.
Nate panicked, threw the door closed and tried to lock it, but his hands were shaking too much.
“Bar the doors and windows, now!” Nate roared; he looked over his shoulder. “All of you! Now!”
The guests, sensing the desperation in Nate’s voice and still feeling the shaking from before, quickly did as he said as Nate finished locking the door. Once he did, three burly men came over to him with a bench and planted it before the door. Then, Nate ran upstairs to one of the windows and looked out at the undead horde trampling through their village.
Nate had been terrified that the undead army was going to attack Cliff’s Edge and he had thought that today would be his last day. However, to his surprise, the undead didn’t seem at all interested in the village or the villagers.
From his window, Nate could see several soldiers and adventurers, weapons in hands by their doors, watching the horde run through, confused as to why they weren’t attacking. They were so confused that they didn’t dare attack the skeletons for fear of turning the horde’s attention to them.
Nate wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but it caught in his throat when he saw two flying undead mages in the air, speaking in some ancient language to the horde, no doubt urging them forward.
Nate dropped onto his knees to avoid their gaze, his eyes glued open and sweat pouring down his back.
What the hell is that? He thought. What in the name of Themis is going on?
As the shaking grew less and less intense, Nate slowly peaked his head up to look out of the window and soon saw that the horde had passed through and left for an unknown destination.
“We have to warn the empire,” Nate mumbled.
He flew down the stairs, pushed the bench out of the way with the aid of the burly men, and ran out onto the streets, as did more than a hundred adventurers and soldiers do the same.
“Get the men geared up and get the horses ready,” a lieutenant ordered. “I want everyone ready to ride within an hour.”
“Wait!” Nate shouted, pushing through the crowd. “We shouldn’t send everyone out.”
“Why not?” A young soldier asked.
“If that horde came from the Shadow Tombs, then that means that there might be more where they came from,” an adventurer answered. “It might be worth checking it out.”
“Better to fortify the entrance to be safe,” a sergeant said. “If tens of thousands of undead just came marching out of there, there could be even more of them up there. Or maybe even something far worse up.”
“Agreed,” the captain said. “Wright, Edgar, James; get your squads together and ride north. Head to the capital and every single castle in Silverten. Get every lord and lady to send whatever men and aid they can to Cliff’s Edge at once. Until then.” The captain’s expression darkened as he gazed up at the vicious storm clouds circling the tombs. “We’ll try our best to hold on.”