The Children of Eris
Ten miles from Black Port, Prince Julius and his army had made camp.
After departing from Themis with his twenty-thousand men, Julius had, per his father’s orders, sent word to every single lord and lady in the Gold Lands and Silverten, asking for their aid, and to the Paladins for them to mobilize their entire army.
The Paladins had answered; the lords and ladies, however, hadn’t fully committed their forces.
“Five thousand?” Julius repeated in disbelief. “Is that really it?”
“Unfortunately, your grace,” General Pontus replied. “Many of the lords voiced concern over their own land’s wellbeing in the event that your grace’s army failed to-”
“If I failed?” Julius grunted and spat onto the ground. “The nerve of those bastards. Pontus, I want the names of every noble that failed to send enough men to our cause. I’ll be sure to pass on their names, and compliments, to Father when I return to Themis.”
“Of course, your grace.”
Julius had called his most trusted advisor, General Pontus Antonius, to the war council tent to discuss the coming battle before the official briefing started thirty minutes later. Julius wanted to go over everything about their forces before the main meeting began, so he could properly plan their attack.
General Pontus was a fifty-year old man with thinning white hair and a small beard. Like Prince Julius, his suit of armour was beautifully crafted steel adorned with their family’s crests and symbols of the Holy Empire, and both of their suits had scratches and dents from the many battles they’d seen together.
“To think that we didn’t even get half the men I should’ve from the Gold Lands and Silverten,” Julius mumbled before sighing. “Then again, perhaps it’s to be expected.”
“How so, your grace?” Pontus asked.
“If I fail or die, I’m definitely not going to be next in line for the throne. That honour will go to my brother and then they’ll try to sink their claws into him.”
“To think they’d try something so stupid when your brother loves you dearly.” Pontus shook his head. “He’d never forgive those who abandoned you.”
Julius grinned. “Nobles are idiots, Pontus. They think that all families with power are like their own; dysfunctional, and a never-ending battle for power. They think that what they see at parties and balls between my brother and I hides the tension between us in the battle for ascension, even though there isn’t one.”
Julius began to chuckle as Pontus could only smile weakly. “Does that mean then-?”
“My brother will manage the nation when I’m made Emperor, and I will lead us into battles. It’s the best way for the empire to stand strong once my father passes on.”
With a sad smile, Julius sighed, then changed the subject of their conversation. “Any news on whether or not the Divine Caster or Paladin will be joining us?”
“I’m afraid that they’re both unavailable, your grace,” Pontus replied.
“Did either of them give a reason?”
“Sort of, your grace.”
“They said they were busy investigating a more serious matter that demanded their full attention.”
A more serious matter?
“It’s regrettable, but it can’t be helped,” Julius said. “How many adventurers arrived in the end?”
“Eighty-one, your grace.”
Julius snorted. “Quite the low turnout. Ranks?”
“Three of them are B-ranked and the rest are C-ranked.”
Julius hummed softly before smiling. “Not too bad.”
“Your grace, what sort of strength do they have if they’re C-ranked?”
“I believe they’d be about as strong as a veteran Paladin. However, a Paladin is a specialist who excels at fighting supernatural and undead threats; adventurers battle a great range of monsters and other humans.”
“I see. Then, how strong would the three B-ranked adventurers be?”
“If the three of them were working together, then they would be able to go toe to toe with the Divine Paladin,” Julius answered.
The Divine Paladin and Caster were two of the strongest human beings in the world, not just in the Holy Empire. The Divine Paladin had once cut a giant in half with a short sword and the Divine Caster had destroyed a thousand soldiers with a single low-level spell before.
“Your grace, have you come up with the battle plan for recapturing of Black Port?” Pontus asked.
Julius nodded and gathered the wooden blocks that represented the soldiers of the battlefield, both friend and foe, onto the map of the south-east that was laid out on the table.
“Now that I know our numbers and our strength, I’m very confident that we’ll easily retake the city,” Julius said, setting up the blocks on the table. “In fact, I would even go so far as to say this entire mess will be solved before the sun sets tomorrow.”
General Pontus eagerly turned his attention to the map and the formation of the blocks.
The old general had served Prince Julius for many years and he had seen his majesty’s capability as a commander first hand.
If he declared that the battle would proceed smoothly, then he meant it.
“First, the division of labour,” Julius began, pointing the two separate groups on the map. “When we break camp tomorrow, we shall split into two main groups. The first group, consisting of our twenty-five thousand legionnaires and eight-thousand Paladins, shall move to engage the undead horde outside the city. The second group, consisting of the eighty-one adventurers and the garrison from Cliff’s Edge, shall head to the Shadow Tombs and investigate the site, destroying any undead they encounter.
“The scouts report that there are fifteen different liches in the city, meaning we’ll have to deal with the main brunt of the enemy’s forces. What this does mean, thankfully, is that our adventurers should have no issues handling whatever undead are at the Shadow Tombs.”
“How so, your grace?”
“It’s unlikely that the liches that raised this horde would want to be away from the main army, meaning that all fifteen of them should be with the seventy-thousand undead,” Julius said. “While the Holy Legion handles the bulk of the enemy force, the Paladins and our mages will handle the liches and dispatch them.”
“How do you propose to do that, your grace?”
“Simple. We’ll perform a pincer attack. Our main army from the Holy Legion will meet the enemy dead on. Then, our mages, calvary and Paladins will hit them in their flanks which should hopefully draw the liches’ attention to them where they can more easily dispatch them. Even if that doesn’t work out, an army fighting intensely on all sides will quickly fall apart.”
“What if there are a few liches at the tombs as well?” Pontus asked.
“A few liches shouldn’t be a problem for that many adventurers,” Julius replied. “Then, once Black Port is retaken, we’ll make camp outside the walls, thoroughly search the city and surrounding lands for any undead that escaped us, destroy them and return home within a week.”
“At which point you will be quite busy with a few home visits I imagine, your grace,” Pontus said with a grin.
“Oh, that’s the part I’m looking forward to most,” Julius heartily said back.
“Your grace, the generals and senior adventurers have arrived,” one of the guards outside the tent called in. “Shall I let them in?”
“One moment.” Julius beckoned Pontus over to him and whispered, “Don’t let the men know about that last bit, eh?”
“Of course, your grace.”
“Excellent. Send them in!”
“So, what do you think?” Tiergan asked once the meeting was over and his party were back in their tent.
“About?” Alisa asked back.
“Everything. Our numbers, the prince’s plan, our chances, the other adventurers. Everything. Connor?”
“Hmm, we’ve definitely got the numbers at least. The army’s more than enough to handle the undead horde, unless there are any rare types among them besides the liches,” Connor confidently said. “If their intel is right, then they’ll be dealing with the majority of the liches, so, overall, I’d say our chances are very good.”
“What about his highness’s plan?” Alisa asked.
“I don’t have any doubts about Prince Julius’s plans for the legion and the Paladins, but I’m less confident about our side of things,” Connor confessed. “There’s eighty-one of us, and we’re the only three B-rankers among them. Everyone else is a C-rank. If there are any liches or rare undead types at the Shadow Tombs, then we could sustain heavy losses.”
“Great. That makes it even better that Kella isn’t here then,” Tiergan sarcastically said.
“You really picked a bad time to send Kella back,” Alisa mused.
“You don’t have faith in our comrades?”
“I do. I just have more faith in our group.”
“Agreed,” Tiergan added. “We’re a party of four that’s used to fighting as four.”
“I agree, but I still think I made the right choice sending her home to investigate the murders back home.”
“What’s the real reason?” Tiergan curtly asked. “You know Kella can handle herself perfectly fine in battle and we could’ve done with her help. Why’d you send her home?”
Connor smiled dejectedly. “I really wish I could say it’s because I wanted her to investigate the murders in Stonefall or because she was wounded, or that I didn’t think she was strong enough.” Connor frowned. “Honestly, it’s because I was scared.”
“Yeah. We’ve fought all kinds of monsters, all kinds of people, and been in maybe a hundred battles in our life, but never in something like this. Not on this scale, not with this much at stake. I didn’t want to bring Kella along because I was scared something would happen to her.”
“Wow, so it’s too dangerous to bring your sister, but your best friends are fair game,” Alisa said, rolling her eyes. “Really makes you feel loved, doesn’t it?”
“’If my sister died, I’d be too heartbroken to go on. These two, however, sod them,’” Tiergan added, mimicking Connor’s voice.
“You know that’s not what I meant,” Connor said.
“That we’re disposable to you.”
“You’re both irreplaceable!”
“Sure, sure. Hey, Tiergan, should we have left you at home because it’s too dangerous?” Alisa asked.
“I was going to say the same thing to you,” Tiergan replied.
“Ah, but, actually, if it’s that dangerous, maybe we should’ve left the soldiers at home, too.”
“Good point. When there’s a battle tomorrow, some of them could get hurt or worse. It is pretty dangerous after all.”
“Well, it’s a battle, isn’t it?”
“To think that Prince Julius isn’t as kind as Connor, eh?”
“Okay, you’ve made your point!” Connor yelled.
“Right, now that we’ve annoyed Connor enough, I wanted to ask you guys something,” Tiergan said. “Did either of you know who those masked C-rankers were?”
“Masked C-rankers?” Alisa repeated.
“They were stood towards the back and wearing steel masks and black capes. They said they were from Adelite, but none of the other adventurers from Adelite seemed to know who they were.”
Connor narrowed his eyes a little. “That’s odd.”
“Yeah. They were registered at the guild though, right?” Alisa asked.
“They were, but no one had ever heard of them before. I checked their guild cards personally and they were the real thing.”
“It’s just strange that no one knew who they were,” Connor said.
“Well, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who they are. All that matters is that they’re here to help us and that they can pull their weight.”
“Yeah,” Connor whispered.
I’m sure it’s nothing, but…why do I feel even more anxious about tomorrow?
Early the next morning, three hours before the break of dawn, the army divided into two.
The Holy Legion and Paladins, under the command of Prince Julius, marched towards Black Port, and the adventurers under Connor’s command rode for the Shadow Tombs.
Between the two groups was a whole company of cavalry that were to relay information, supplies and new orders. They were also escorting three caravans of wagons carrying medics and supplies to aid both sides of the operation.
However, as both sides were many miles apart from one another, it would be difficult for the cavalry to act effectively. Therefore, each rider was stationed at intervals more than a hundred metres apart within eyesight of each other, making it easier to communicate with one another.
Hidden from their sight not too far away from the army were six of Mimir’s Ravens, watching them.
“Two for the city, two for the tombs, two for everything in-between,” one of the Ravens restated their orders. “The two at the tombs are to retreat once if the Lich King is defeated, and not a second later. Observe everything, record everything, report everything.
“Remember, these are our orders from his majesty. We must not fail him.”
“Of course!” The others cried in unison.