Chapter 38:

Unrest in the Holy Empire

The Children of Eris

“Thirty thousand, you say?” The Emperor asked. “You’re certain of it?”Bookmark here

In the Azurite Palace in Themis, Emperor Hector Gaius the 4th and his two eldest sons, were receiving a report from a rider from Cliff’s Edge about the undead horde and the destruction of Black Port.Bookmark here

Emperor Hector was in his early fifties, his blonde hair had started turning grey; his once vibrant, ambitious blue eyes had lost most of their spark and seemed weary with the world. Bookmark here

His sons, Julius and Augustus, looked exactly like how he did when he was in his early twenties except Augustus, the second prince, wore glasses and the first prince Julius’s hair was cut very short. Bookmark here

Prince Julius was an experienced general in the Holy Legion of the Empire and Prince Augustus was the head of the Advisory Council that was made up of lords and ladies he’d handpicked from across the empire.Bookmark here

“Yes, your majesty,” the rider said. “While I had to count them from far away and on horseback, I believe that this estimate is accurate.”Bookmark here

“I see. Good work. Guards, see to it that this man is fed and looked after, and pay him generously for his service.”Bookmark here

“Thank you, your majesty.” The man bowed deeply and was escorted out of the throne room by two guards.Bookmark here

Once the doors closed, the Emperor’s expression darkened and he gripped the arms of his chair tightly.Bookmark here

“How did this happen?” Emperor Hector murmured, turning his eyes to his sons. “How could an undead horde appear out of nowhere and slaughter so many of our people without us knowing sooner than this?”Bookmark here

“I’m unsure, father,” Augustus replied. “I hadn’t received any word about this attack, or that there was anything out of the ordinary at the Shadow Tombs.”Bookmark here

“I thought your information network was the greatest in the empire,” Julius said.Bookmark here

“It is. Between my council members, we have over a thousand spies and informants across the empire alone.”Bookmark here

“In that case, if you didn’t hear of this until now, is there a possibility of someone on the council being involved in the attack on Black Port that tried to cover it up?” Julius asked. Bookmark here

“Who on the council could possibly benefit from destroying one of our key port cities?” The Emperor asked.Bookmark here

“A traitor who has sold us out?”Bookmark here

“To whom?” Augustus asked loudly. “We have an alliance with our neighbours in the west and the nations to our north wouldn’t risk something so foolish as to try and wage war against us.”Bookmark here

“Augustus, your opinion is that this is a natural disaster and not a scheme from an enemy nation?” Emperor Hector checked.Bookmark here

“It is, father.”Bookmark here

Emperor Hector nodded and turned to Julius. “If your brother says as much, then we will treat this situation as such.”Bookmark here

“As you say, father,” Julius said with a small bow. “Then, father, speed is absolutely paramount in this matter.”Bookmark here

“Agreed. The longer we take to deal with this crisis, the more our people will suffer and die. Julius, how soon could you mobilize a taskforce to handle this?”Bookmark here

“If I set off now, I could get my men ready to march come sunrise tomorrow.”Bookmark here

“How many men do you have here?” Augustus asked.Bookmark here

“Twenty thousand. I could send out riders to gather reinforcements from the local lords and from the Paladins. With your blessing, father, I will use my imperial authority to have them march all eight thousand members to assist us.”Bookmark here

“I permit it,” Emperor Hector said. “Send out the call to arms for every lord and fortress in the Gold Lands and Silverten to join your army ten miles from Black Port. Make camp, organise your forces and retake Black Port and whatever else they take in the south-east. Do not expect the undead horde to remain in the city forever. They will likely attack other locations in the south-east before moving north.”Bookmark here

“What of the Shadow Tombs, father?” Augustus inquired. “Shouldn’t we send someone to investigate the ruins and potentially see if they can be destroyed once and for all?”Bookmark here

“That is what your mission shall be, Augustus,” Emperor Hector replied. “Send out the word to all the adventurer guild branches in the empire to send all C-ranked or higher adventurers to your brother at his camp. Julius, once there, I will leave it to you to allocate your forces to handle this crisis before it spreads any further.”Bookmark here

“Of course, father,” Julius said.Bookmark here

“Excellent. I want this crisis resolved as soon as possible, but do not rush this. The last thing I want is more of our people dying to this plague than needs be. Handle this safely and efficiently. Augustus, see what you and the council members can do to support them. Supplies, information, tents, medicines, potions and whatever else you can think of. If it can help them, give it to them.”Bookmark here

“By your command!” The emperor’s sons answered.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

In Stonefall, riots had broken out with thousands taking to the streets and marching towards the cathedral.Bookmark here

“The Archbishop was right! Darkness has descended on the empire!” Bookmark here

“What is the legion going to do about this?”Bookmark here

“Fool! They can’t do anything about it.”Bookmark here

“Themis has decreed our destruction! We have failed her.”Bookmark here

“What happens if the undead horde moves north? If Black Port fell, doesn’t that mean any of the other cities could be next?!”Bookmark here

“Remember the words, everyone! Death Stalks All!” A crier yelled.Bookmark here

A few people in the crowd repeated those words as the guards grew ever more tense.Bookmark here

One slight push would be enough for the situation to escalate and get truly violent and uncontrollable.Bookmark here

On the rooftop of the cathedral, looking down on the crowd and hidden with Mímir’s magic, were Mania and Mímir, with the former sitting on the edge and the latter standing behind her.Bookmark here

“Do you think we should give them one more push?” Mania mused with a cruel grin, kicking her feet.Bookmark here

“As tempting as that would be, now is not the time,” Mímir warned her. “When the empire is truly ready to fall and his majesty’s is ready to rise, then we can push Stonefall towards its demise.”Bookmark here

Mania pouted a little, but quickly smiled once more as she laughed at the terrified faces of the crowd.Bookmark here

Mania dug her nails into the stone roof in an effort to contain herself, but it didn’t help calm her down.Bookmark here

I really want to see them suffer more, she thought, biting her lip. Hmm, I want to indulge just a little bit, but-Bookmark here

“I’ve got some people you can play with back at the castle,” Mímir said, as if he’d read her mind. “Bear with it for now and play with them later.”Bookmark here

Mania beamed and turned to face Mímir; he had never seen her so happy before.Bookmark here

“If you’re trying to woo me, I’m afraid that my heart belongs to the-”Bookmark here

“Only the Dark Lord could love a woman like you,” Mímir cut her off, before sighing. “I’m sure he’s eagerly awaiting for you back at the castle.”Bookmark here

“Actually, Mímir, I’ve been meaning to ask, don’t you think we should give Castle Kelsey a new name befitting the Demon Emperor?” Mania asked.Bookmark here

“I have considered asking his majesty about this, but the Dark Lord is a busy man, so I have not found an opportunity to do so. Did you have a name that you wanted to suggest?”Bookmark here

Mania giggled and shrugged her shoulders. “No doubt the Dark Lord has a name he wishes to use over either of ours.”Bookmark here

“What would you name it?”Bookmark here

Mania looked down at the crowd again and purred.Bookmark here

“How does the Dread Keep sound?”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

With a distraught shout, Sylvan knocked almost everything off of his desk, cursing, before slamming his fist onto the table.Bookmark here

“How did this happen?!” Sylvan cried. “How are they all dead?”Bookmark here

Ever since the meeting of the heads of the Sons of Tartarus, Sylvan had dispatched his agents to investigate Castle Kelsey, but they had been found dead the next morning. Bookmark here

Then, when he sent two more agents towards the castle, they had been found dead on the side of the road. Not too long after that again, Sylvan had changed his strategy and sent some of his men towards Cliff’s Edge to investigate Lord Anthony Kelsey’s trip he had taken with his daughter, but they had disappeared without a trace.Bookmark here

Within a few weeks, more than half of Sylvan’s agents were either dead or missing and, even worse than that, he hadn’t learnt a thing about their enemy.Bookmark here

Frustrated, Sylvan collapsed onto his chair and put his hand to his face with a groan. Bookmark here

How did they find out who my men were and what we were planning? He wondered. Not only did they manage to uncover their identities, but they also knew exactly when they were leaving Stonefall and where they were going. How is that possible? How can someone have a greater information network in Stonefall than the Sons of Tartarus? Unless. Sylvan frowned. Do we have a mole in the intelligence division?Bookmark here

Sylvan shook his head. That’s impossible. I’ve vetted every single one of them myself and have constantly kept tabs on them since they joined. Taking that into consideration. Sylvan leant forward and planted his face in his hand. The only possible explanation I can think of is that our enemy has greater intelligence gathering than us and that’s why they discovered our intentions.Bookmark here

Sylvan laughed bitterly, stood up, removed his sword from his belt, straightened his clothes and walked to the door.Bookmark here

“If they’re being backed by Anthony Kelsey, then it’d be possible,” he mumbled.Bookmark here

For years, Anthony Kelsey had been one of the biggest investors and supporters of the Sons of Tartarus, as well as other shadowy agencies such as the Night’s Eye and the Encircling Serpent, but, to Sylvan, it appeared as if their biggest benefactor had abandoned them.Bookmark here

Sylvan took one, deep breath, opened his front door and walked out into the dark night of Stonefall with a heavy heart.Bookmark here

He intentionally walked around the backstreets where there was little to no light from the torches and magic stone lamps, until a shadowy figure emerged in front of him. It had a raven’s hood helmet and a dagger in its hand.Bookmark here

Just before the figure killed him, Sylvan threw up his arms and got down onto his knees, lowering his head towards the figure.Bookmark here

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“I wish to defect from the Sons of Tartarus,” Sylvan declared.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.