The Children of Eris
With the battle over and Black Port secured, Prince Julius was pleased when he learnt how few causalities there were.
Only one thousand three hundred and fifty-three legion soldiers had died and only two thousand more had sustained minor injuries. Out of the eight thousand Paladins that had marched with them, only twenty-four had died and sixty had been wounded.
With such light casualties on their side and the total destruction of the enemy horde, it was a glorious victory by anyone’s standards.
It also meant that the clean-up after the battle was quick too.
Black Port had been badly damaged by the undead, but people would be able to start moving into the city as soon as the legion had confirmed there were no more undead.
Once the battle had ended, Julius had sent a relief force, including some medics and mages, to help the adventurers.
However, five hours after they’d departed, a group of horsemen rode towards the prince with grim expressions.
“Your grace!” The rider called, bringing his horse to a rough stop. “Our men have returned from the Shadow Tombs.”
“The adventurers?” Julius asked.
“I’m afraid that they’re all dead, your grace.”
Julius expression turned sombre and he quietly said, “I see.” A moment later, his stern expression returned. “I want you to retrieve their bodies and treat them as if they were royalty. Find out their names and have five thousand Rhams sent to each of their next f kin.”
“At once, your grace!”
The rider and his escorts left hurriedly at once back to the Shadow Tombs.
“General Pontus, I want your honest thoughts on this campaign,” Julius ordered.
“Your grace?” General Pontus asked back.
“Speak freely. What do you make of this campaign?”
“May I ask what specifically you-?”
“All of it.”
Startled, General Pontus nodded and surveyed the battlefield once more.
Despite the intense fighting early in the day, there were very few patches of blood on the grass.
There were bones scattered everywhere and the city of Black Port itself had sustained a lot of damage.
From his perspective, the campaign to retake Black Port and destroy the undead horde was nothing short of a brilliant victory.
There’s no way his highness doesn’t know this either, so he must be searching for something else, General Pontus thought. But.
“All I can say is that you achieved a great victory, your grace,” the general answered. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”
Slightly saddened, Julius smiled at Pontus. “You’re not wrong, my friend. This was a great victory. In fact.” Julius frowned. “I would even call this too easy of a victory.”
Julius nodded. “Black Port’s destruction and the slaughter of its people was a horrific crime, one that could easily be understood as a natural disaster caused by those liches that spawned from the Shadow Tombs, but there are several issues I have with that assumption.
“Firstly, there’s the horde itself. Thirty thousand is the largest number of undead ever recorded to descend from the Shadow Tombs in the history of the Holy Empire, but why didn’t they destroy everything in their path to Black Port? Why didn’t the people of Cliff’s Edge get consumed by the horde as well as all the other villages and towns nearby? Why did the horde come only to Black Port and then stop?
“My father asked that I make the forward operations base ten miles from the city, because he quite rightly assumed that the undead horde would swarm the south-east and then try to move north, but they didn’t. They destroyed Black Port and stayed there. That’s been bothering me since we arrived in the south-east.
“Secondly, there’s the issue with the liches themselves. At most, only two liches have ever spawned at the same time at the Shadow Tombs, so how is it that twenty appeared at once?”
“How do you know all of this, your grace?” General Pontus asked.
“The night before we left Themis, I went over what records on the Shadow Tombs I could find in the palace library and, when we made camp, I asked the adventurers what they knew. Even their records showed that only two liches could spawn at once and that it was a very rare occasion.”
“Perhaps it has something to do with this ‘Great Disaster’ we’ve been hearing rumours of?”
“That’s the other thing that’s bothered me about this incident. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a series of mass murders happen in Stonefall with vague words etched onto the walls. Then, as if it was meant to happen, all the criers and priests in the city seemed to speak of the Great Disaster and that a great darkness would befall the empire.
“If this undead horde is meant to be the Great Disaster, why was it so easy for us to deal with? Or, more to the point, what if this wasn’t the Great Disaster they speak of, but a prelude?”
“A prelude to what exactly, your grace?” Pontus asked.
“Perhaps there is someone manipulating the empire in the shadows and this was some form of test, either for us or them,” Julius said. “What if this undead horde was just a small part of a much greater horde that our enemy has? Or what if this was an elaborate plan set up by an enemy nation that wishes to invade us and they wanted to test our responses to crises.
“How quickly we take action, how many men we send, how many men and lords answer the call, how the commoners react, how strong our forces are. I also believe this to be the case because of the unusual absence of the Divine Caster and Paladin. They said that they were investigating something more important than this, right? Then maybe they too think that this is a prelude to something worse.”
“Did you only consider these things today, your grace?”
Julius shook his head. “I’ve been considering this since we received news of the attack back at the capital. It’s only now after today’s battle that I am wholly confident that my brother is wrong and that there is something far greater happening within the empire. I just don’t know what it is.”
General Pontus was dumbstruck.
Just from a single battlefield and from the information he’d gathered on his own, the prince was trying to see a wider picture that Pontus hadn’t even vaguely considered, and he had thought of so many possibilities as well.
He and his brother really do take after their father, Pontus thought with a proud smile.
“Your grace, if you’re right, then this means that what happened to Black Port will happen somewhere else,” Pontus said. “Should we try to investigate this matter further?”
“We should, but I have no doubt that our enemy will have covered most if not all of their tracks already,” Julius answered. “If they are more incompetent than I think, then that would be a blessing from Themis herself, but I doubt that that is the case. Nonetheless, I shall raise the matter with my family. For now, keep this to yourself in case there are traitors in our midst. After all, there are some noble families we need to visit on the way home.”
Pontus bowed. “Of course, your grace.”
Julius’s gaze turned north, towards the capital hundreds of miles away and he frowned.
“I just hope that no matter what happens next, we’ll be ready to deal with it.”