Chapter 53:

A Gathering in the Shadows (Part 2)

The Children of Eris

On a side street in Stonefall, a cloaked man knocked at a rundown house’s door.Bookmark here

He knocked loudly twice, paused, then knocked once more but very quietly.Bookmark here

He heard the locks on the other side come undone and, waiting on the other side of it, was a Paladin called Christoph.Bookmark here

“We were expecting you to arrive later than this, my lord,” Christoph said, beckoning the cloaked man inside before relocking the door. “Did something happen to hasten your arrival?”Bookmark here

Lawrence smiled as he undid and hung up his cloak. “Only some good news I heard as I was riding north. The situation in Black Port has been successfully handled and the undead are all destroyed.”Bookmark here

“It is good to hear that our brothers and sisters helped bring down that infernal horde,” Isabella, a woman dressed in civilian clothing, said. “It’s a shame we couldn’t be there to help them as well, sir.”Bookmark here

“Well, you had your own important tasks to handle, though I don’t know if you’ll ever get the same recognition and praise as our comrades did.”Bookmark here

The three of them laughed as Divine Paladin Lawrence took his seat at the table.Bookmark here

While the Paladins were commonly known as one of the strongest defensive forces in the Holy Empire, few knew that there were far more than eight-thousand members of their order.Bookmark here

There were twelve-thousand of them.Bookmark here

While all of them were capable combatants, the lesser known four-thousand were specialised spies that reported only to the leader of the Paladins: the Divine Paladin himself. Bookmark here

“What have you been able to find out about the Great Disaster?” Lawrence asked.Bookmark here

“A lot of whispers and rumours, I’m afraid, sir,” Isabella replied with a sigh. “Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear a lot of different stories. A lot of it seems to be exaggerated and baseless, but it’s hard to figure out what’s true and what isn’t.” Bookmark here

“So, we have an idea as to when the stories of the Great Disaster began at least,” Lawrence said. “What else do we know about the men who were killed?”Bookmark here

“Not much, other than the fact that they’re thugs sent to rough up merchants and shopkeepers into paying an extortionate amount of money.”Bookmark here

“Their public records seem to have been destroyed by the Sons at some point, so we don’t know what they were like before joining the organisation, or even what their names are,” Isabella grumbled. “Without much other choice, we just had our agents investigate their old beating grounds and have concluded that the Hierophant seems to be a possible source of the Great Disaster.”Bookmark here

“For what reasons?”Bookmark here

“Our agents discovered that on the day those men were killed, they’d visited the Hierophant and a few other shops. We were scouting out all of those locations at first, but ultimately decided to focus all our efforts on the Hierophant in the end.”Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

“The old owners had been sighted leaving the city a day after those adventurers were killed,” Christoph said. “When we learnt of that, I contacted our agents in the Federation and asked them to investigate. Apparently, the old owners had moved into a remote village and were found dead a week later.”Bookmark here

“What?!” Lawrence yelled. “How?”Bookmark here

“According to the villagers, after the old owners moved in, they then didn’t leave the house, didn’t answer the door for anyone and then passed away, my lord.”Bookmark here

“Do we know how they died?”Bookmark here

Christoph shook his head. “The villagers didn’t say and had buried the bodies long before our agents got there.”Bookmark here

“What’re the chances of it being foul play?”Bookmark here

“There’s a chance, my lord,” Isabella replied. “After all, the house was cleaned out and resold just a few weeks later.”Bookmark here

“So, the lack of leads to follow makes it suspicious in of itself then?” Lawrence wondered. “Have our agents noticed anything out of the ordinary about the Hierophant?”Bookmark here

“Not a thing. Just seems to be a normal tavern. Do we take on a more aggressive strategy, my lord?”Bookmark here

“No, not until we have more evidence. For now, we’ll just have to pursue other leads. What have we learned about the Sons of Tartarus?”Bookmark here

“We did have some luck on that front, my lord,” Christoph happily announced. “In fact, we have learned of a slave auction taking place today and we know where it’ll be going down.”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The Sons of Tartarus’s slave auction house was located in a large stone underground arena beneath the Merchant’s District of Stonefall.Bookmark here

With enough seats for almost two thousand bidders and hundreds of guards, it was one of the most heavily protected places the Sons of Tartarus owned.Bookmark here

Today was the Sons of Tartarus’s monthly auction and over a thousand buyers from across the Holy Empire would be in attendance. Bookmark here

Sat in one of the VIP boxes close to the stage were Lord and Lady Kelsey.Bookmark here

“I know it’s the Dark Lord’s orders, but I hate having to disguise myself as this inferior woman,” Mania grumbled, tapping her heel angrily against the ground. “Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl.”Bookmark here

“It cannot be helped, Lady Mania,” the Raven, her pretend husband, said. “We would not be able to fulfil his majesty’s wishes if we were not using this illusion.”Bookmark here

“I know that, but it still irritates me.” A beaten and bruised woman was dragged up onto the stage in chains. “What a waste.”Bookmark here

“Lady Mania?”Bookmark here

“What a waste of a nice face and a good body. Why would anyone do that to such a pretty thing?”Bookmark here

The Raven, a little unsure of what to say, remained silent and observed the auction below.Bookmark here

“Do I hear five hundred Rhams? I hear five hundred there and-six hundred to the gentlemen over there. Do I hear seven hundred Rhams? Do I hear any advances on seven hundred?”Bookmark here

Mania folded her arms and sighed. “Seven hundred Rhams for a single slave? She would’ve had more value if they hadn’t beaten her face so much.”Bookmark here

“…As you say, Lady Mania.”Bookmark here

Per David’s orders, Mania was to investigate the Sons of Tartarus slave auctions in Stonefall and determine if it’d be possible to buy the slaves and bring them back to the Dread Keep to work at the castle. If it wasn’t possible, then they were to determine if it was possible to free the slaves by force and take them to the Dread Keep that way.Bookmark here

Even though there were a lot of guards at the venue, most weren’t in the basement where the slaves were being held, so it would be easy for Mania and the Raven to kill the ones outside the cells. Then, with the guards dead, they could easily break open the cells and usher the slaves through Mania’s portal back to the Dread Keep.Bookmark here

However, that plan would have a higher risk of drawing more attention to David’s plans which was why he wanted to try the stealthier if more expensive route first.Bookmark here

They had brought ten thousand Rhams with them, there were hundreds of slaves and, so far, the cheapest had been sold for five hundred Rhams. Bookmark here

Most went for twice that much. Bookmark here

The only reason Mania could think of as to why the woman on stage was so lowly valued was because of how badly she’d been beaten. Bookmark here

Her face was swollen and a dark purple, her hair had been roughly cut off and her body had multiple infected wounds on it from the crack of a whip.Bookmark here

“Sold for seven hundred Rhams!” The auctioneer said and the crowd applauded. Bookmark here

“It would seem we underestimated the greed of this world, Lady Mania,” the Raven whispered.Bookmark here

“So it would seem,” Mania muttered. Then, she smiled and said, “I think we’re both in agreement that it’d be easier for us to use force than money, yes?”Bookmark here

“I agree, Lady Mania.”Bookmark here

“Then, I shall return to the Dread Keep and ask-”Bookmark here

“There is no need, Lady Mania.”Bookmark here

The Raven reached into its pocket and pulled out a small, sealed scroll and handed it to her.Bookmark here

“His majesty asked me to present this scroll to you for you to open should we both deem violence a necessary approach,” the Raven explained. “He said that we were to open the scroll and follow the orders on it to the letter.”Bookmark here

Mania sadly smiled and took the scroll from the Raven. Bookmark here

I really have lost his majesty’s trust.Bookmark here

Mania opened the scroll, read it quickly and grinned. She then showed it to the Raven. “Per his majesty’s orders.”Bookmark here

“Per his majesty’s orders, Lady Mania.”Bookmark here

Free all slaves you can and bring them to the Dread Keep. Bookmark here

Do NOT let any witnesses survive but return to the Dread Keep promptly if you risk being caught by the Holy Legion or other law enforcement.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

As they’d been travelling towards the Goddess’s Eye Lake in their carriage, Jorōgumo had told David that Mimir wished to speak to him about a mission he wanted to undertake.Bookmark here

Both David and the twins had been surprised by Jorōgumo’s announcement, before she casually revealed that she was able to communicate telepathically with all of her spiders no matter where she was. Bookmark here

“I had intended to tell you, Master, but you always seemed busy and I did not wish to disturb you,” Jorōgumo said. Bookmark here

David told her it was alright, had the carriage pulled over and then teleported back to the Dread Keep to hear Mimir’s proposal.Bookmark here

“An assassination?” David repeated.Bookmark here

“Yes, your majesty,” Mímir said. “By assassinating Duke Cavan and his family, the Federation will demand answers and blood, which will cause a war to break out to the north. The war will consume their supplies, their forces and their morale, making them weak and vulnerable. Then, after the Holy Empire has fallen, your armies can easily march through their lands and trample over the already weakened countries with ease.”Bookmark here

“You wish me to sanction a plan like this when we have no information on either of these countries? For all we know, this marriage won’t look like a political assassination caused by the Royal Kingdom and more a random act of violence conducted by a foreign enemy. The rulers of these nations might be smart enough to see through your trick, Mímir.”Bookmark here

“Even if they are, your majesty, what can they do about it?”Bookmark here

David smiled. “Go on.”Bookmark here

“If we assume, as your majesty has suggested, that both nations see through my plan and figure out it was done by a foreign nation, what exactly can they do about it? Bookmark here

“If they were to openly suspect or declare war on one of their neighbours with no proof, then their reputation among the other countries of Aangapea would drop significantly and, perhaps even, a war would break out between even more nations.Bookmark here

“Even if the Royal Kingdom and Federation were able to trace it back to the Holy Empire, that means that they’d have to declare war on one of the largest countries in the world. The war between them would be nothing but a benefit to us as it would make it easier for us to conduct our operations and the Holy Empire will quickly fall to your forces.”Bookmark here

He’s really thought this through, David thought, somewhat impressed with Mímir, not just because of how clever his plan was but also because he’d come to David first to ask for permission. It seems that he’s learnt from his prior mistakes. Bookmark here

“How many men do you need?” David asked.Bookmark here

“With your majesty’s blessing, I would take six of my Ravens to the venue of the wedding and strike before the vows are made,” Mímir answered. “I plan to kill as many people on the groom’s side as possible, but I will leave the Royal Kingdom’s family without any casualties to make it seem more like an assassination caused by the Kingdom.”Bookmark here

“Why did you choose to kill the groom’s side of the wedding party?”Bookmark here

“Because I thought that you would want the princess for yourself, your majesty.”Bookmark here

I’m sorry, what? “I would want her?”Bookmark here

Mímir nodded. “The report that Sylvan handed me suggests that the princess is one of the most beautiful women in the world and would be a worthy mistress for you, should you desire her.”Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

“While this might be forward of me, your majesty, as I understood it from Mania, you enjoyed bedding beautiful women.”Bookmark here

What the hell has Mania been telling everyone? David thought, before his heart twisted in pain. He remembered the night he had slept with Mania and the state of her body.Bookmark here

He had slept with Kella, too, when he visited her in Stonefall. Bookmark here

Just remembering those nights was like someone him a red-hot dagger into his heart.Bookmark here

…I wonder what Rebecca and Eva would think of me if they knew about that. Actually. David smiled wryly. They probably already know about Mania, don’t they? There’s no way Mania would’ve kept that to herself.Bookmark here

“…See to it that she isn’t harmed, but do not abduct her,” David commanded. “As long as she lives, the conspiracy you wish to draw up of the Royal Kingdom being responsible will grow.”Bookmark here

“As you command, your majesty. Shall I depart right away?”Bookmark here

“Is the ceremony soon?”Bookmark here

“It is a week from now.”Bookmark here

“Then make haste, but do not forget to return to the Hierophant from time to time. Conjure up some excuse as to why you aren’t showing your face and get it done quickly. While you may pile the bodies up high, you may only be brutal in your killing towards the Duke and his parents. The rest are to be quick and clean; understood?”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

“Yes, your majesty.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.