The Children of Eris
After an intense battle, the auction house had been secured.
Most of the guards were dead or badly wounded, and all the buyers had been arrested.
Soon after the attack had begun, the city watch and Holy Legion had arrived to reinforce the Paladins but ended up arriving far too late to help in the battle.
However, once they had arrived, Lawrence put them to work, cleaning up the site and taking the prisoners to jail, and telling the citizens that the Sons of Tartarus’s vile slave auction house had been captured.
He also sent the city watch to search the surrounding streets and buildings in case anyone managed to slip through the Paladin’s perimeter.
Once Lawrence had finished talking to the city watch and Legion, Christoph approached him with a thin smile.
“I’m guessing we’re not in trouble with the law or anything?”
Lawrence chuckled. “Thankfully, no.” Lawrence lost his grin and asked, “How many did we lose?”
“Nine dead, fifty-one wounded. Most will live, though.”
“Yeah.” Christoph then leant towards Lawrence and whispered, “You need to see something.”
Lawrence followed Christoph down into the basement, leaving the Divine Paladin speechless.
Blood, limbs and body parts were left scattered across the corridor, but, even more surprising than that was the broken chains and cells.
“Those aren’t the slaves, right?” Lawrence mumbled as he looked at the corpses.
“Don’t seem to be,” Christoph said. “Problem is, my lord, we don’t know who did this.”
“It’s worse than that, Christoph. Who took the slaves away?”
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?” Rebecca loudly proclaimed to the anxious slaves. “My name is Rebecca, I am one of the ladies of this castle, and you were saved from the Sons of Tartarus by Lord Allaric. I have no doubt that many of you are confused and scared, especially of the Machai that you see around you.”
Mania had ordered the Machai not to scare the freed slaves, but they were naturally tall, muscular and intimidating.
“Whatever questions or fears you may have, I will do my best to address them all, but for now know this,” Rebecca continued. “Lord Allaric wants all of you to live here at his castle, treated as human beings and receive all the food, water and medical care you need. Further, my lord expects that you all work and live here in this castle for the next few months for a generous wage.”
At that, the soft murmurs in the crowd become angrier and much louder.
Just as Lord Allaric predicted, Rebecca thought with a wry smile. Even though he means every word of it, there’s no way that they wouldn’t be suspicious.
“So, your master freed us to imprison us here and do his dirty work?” A timid, but muscular, man asked.
“No one will be imprisoned,” Rebecca calmly said with a soft smile. “All of you shall receive proper quarters and bed sheets. No one, and I do mean no one, will be held in a cage or chains.”
“Then, why won’t you let us leave?” A woman asked, tears in her eyes. “We have homes, families, people who we need to see. Surely-!”
“If word got out to the Sons of Tartarus that Lord Allaric attacked their auction house and freed hundreds of slaves, what do you think they would do to us and to you?” Rebecca took on a harsher tone to emphasise her point. “Do you think that the Sons would just let any of us here walk away and not come after us? Do you really think they’d let their precious slaves go free and spare the ones who freed them?
“For your safety and ours, Lord Allaric wishes you to remain here and work, earning a wage that you can take back home with you one day. He means you no harm and I assure you that none will ever befall you.”
“How can we trust you?” A middle-aged man asked.
“You might not be able to trust my lady, but perhaps you could trust me?” Eva asked as she stepped forward, putting her hand on her chest. “I am Eva, the Head Maid of this castle and, until Lord Allaric took this castle, I was enslaved, just like all of you. However, it wasn’t just I who was enslaved here; all of the servants currently at this castle used to be in bondage.”
Eva slowly removed the top of her clothes and pulled them down just low enough to display the scar on her left breast, branding her as a slave of the Sons of Tartarus; a grotesque crest of chains wrapped around a person’s neck like a noose.
She fixed her clothing and continued. “If it was not for Lord Allaric, I wouldn’t be alive today, I assure you. I owe him my life and so does every other servant here.”
“…Does your lord really want to keep us safe?”
Eva smiled at the man and nodded. “Yes.”
The crowd began to whisper amongst itself as Rebecca and Eva looked on anxiously.
If the slaves refused, then Lord Allaric’s orders were to make sure there were no loose ends.
Obviously, neither he nor Rebecca wanted it to end up like that but, should it become necessary, then the Machai were to slaughter the slaves and then Mania would raise them as undead to work the castle instead.
Rebecca had discussed the idea of a castle town just outside the walls to house the slaves there once Lord Allaric’s empire was formed. However, Lord Allaric said that he’d still have to put restrictions on their movements for fear of leaks about the inner workings of the Dread Keep.
Even with those restrictions, to Rebecca, it was the best life she could offer these hundreds of slaves and that, maybe one day, they’d be allowed to leave and return to their normal lives.
Please, take this leap of faith! Rebecca pleaded in her mind to the Goddess.
Three people stepped forward out of the crowd, two men and a woman, and they faced Rebecca’s worried gaze.
“How long would we be unable to leave this castle?” The woman asked.
“By Lord Allaric’s estimation, no longer than three months’ time,” Rebecca replied. “You would each be paid for the number of hours you put into working at the castle, as well as receive additional income based on your performance.”
“And you promise to keep us fed and with a roof over our heads?” A man asked.
The two who had spoken looked to the other man who nodded firmly back at them. Then, he reached out his hand to Rebecca with a small smile and said, “Then, we would all be happy to accept Lord Allaric’s offer.”
Rebecca shook his hand back, then began issuing orders to Eva, the servants and the Machai, all the while Mania watched on with a bemused smile.
“Well done, little one,” Mania purred. “I think it’s safe to say that you’ve passed the point of no return and are now committed to our master’s cause.”
Strangely, I’m rather proud of you.
Hours after the raid on the auction house, the Sons of Tartarus were in complete chaos.
Things had been tense since Ryan and his men had been killed and they’d been targeted by whoever was controlling the Great Disaster.
With every passing day, their position grew weaker.
They had upped their security for all their businesses, but had to reduce the number of jobs they took to compensate.
Then, they’d tried to investigate who was behind the Great Disaster, only for their agents to wind up dead on the streets.
All of that, however, wasn’t as significant of a loss as the slave auction house had been.
It was the worst day in their history.
Their biggest source of income was gone, hundreds of wealthy clients were arrested, almost a thousand slaves had been lost and the Paladins of all groups were targeting them too.
At a hastily called meeting of the six heads, the air was extremely heavy and every leader had brought more than ten guards with them.
“What in the world happened, Gerald?” Yohan, the head of the smuggling division, demanded, slamming his fist onto the table. “How did they find and raid the auction house?”
“T-that’s what I want to know!” Gerald, the head of the slavery division, yelled back. “I had more than a hundred guards on duty that day, but what in the world were they meant to do against the fucking Paladins? Herakles! You assured me those were experienced guards!”
Herakles looked lazily at Gerald and shrugged. “Experienced soldiers are only as good as the person commanding them. I gave you strong men and you wasted them.” He narrowed his eyes a little. “I hope you’re not trying to push this onto me, are you?”
Gerald shrieked and shrunk back in his chair. “T-then! Are you saying that this is entirely my fault?”
Ewan, the head of trading, couldn’t help but chuckle a little at that statement. “If it isn’t your fault, then, pray tell, whose is it?”
“Whoever it was that sold me out to the Paladins!” Gerald slammed his palms on the table as he leapt up out of his chair. “We’d operated out of that auction house for six years without any problems and now, all of a sudden, it’s uncovered. I don’t believe that to be possible unless someone leaked its location.”
“It was only a matter of time surely? We’ve had to abandon good auction houses before.”
“We haven’t been chased out of them before like this. We’ve usually had warnings from our friend over there, the one whose agents keep popping up dead on the street. I wonder why he didn’t tell us about the attack in advance?”
Sylvan shot daggers at Gerald. “Even though you just answered your own question, it’s evident that I wouldn’t have been able to do that since my information network has all but been deconstructed by our enemy in the shadows. How, pray tell, was I meant to warn you, Gerald?”
“…Are you truly that short on men?” Carlson, the head of the Sons of Tartarus, asked.
Sylvan regretfully nodded. “I’ve barely got enough men to maintain a shaky line of communications within the Sons itself. If I tried to put any of my guys to work elsewhere, they’d probably die.”
“That said.” Sylvan narrowed his gaze on Gerald once more. “As I understand it, the Kelseys were in attendance at this auction, were they not?”
Gerald flinched and spoke through gritted teeth. “…They were.”
“Then, Carlson, isn’t it possible that they’re the ones who leaked our information to the Paladins?”
“Why would they betray us after we’ve given them so many slaves?” Carlson asked back.
“This is just my theory, boss, but what if the reason the Kelseys haven’t been showing their faces is because they’re the ones working against us? What if they came to the auction house to scout it out and then report back to the Divine Paladin?”
“Do you have any evidence to back that up?”
“Other than all the men I’ve sent to try and investigate Castle Kelsey ending up dead?”
“Other than that.”
“None,” Sylvan bluntly said. “It’s just the conclusion I’ve drawn based on what we know.”
“Regardless!” Yohan interjected angrily. “What in the name of Themis are we going to do now? We’ve lost one of our biggest sources of income and the Paladins are after us.”
“…Well, whatever it is, I’m not having any part in it,” Gerald grumbled.
“Gerald?” Carlson whispered.
“I’m of the same mind,” Ewan added with a thin smile. “Boss, we’ve had a good run, but the Sons are finished. It’s best if we just go back to what we originally were; separate gangs that got along well and nothing more.”
“You’d abandon the Sons after all this time?” Yohan grumbled. “Cowards.”
“Call it cowardice if you must; I call it survival.”
Sylvan shook his head and mumbled, “Fools.”
“Is that your answer then?” Carlson asked.
“It is,” Ewan said confidently.
“O-of course!” Gerald yelled.
“Shame,” Herakles said.
A second later, a wet cracking sound echoed in the meeting room followed by the sound of two bodies crumpling to the floor.
Confused, all of the guards turned and saw two dead bodies with their skulls caved in. The attack of Herakles’s attack had launched Ewan and Gerald off their chairs.
Ewan and Gerald’s guards shivered and hastily retreated against the walls, not daring to draw their weapons out of fear of meeting the same fate.
Herakles, for his part, lazily placed his bloodied club beside his chair and sighed.
Carlson shut his eyes firmly and sighed. “Herakles, I didn’t give you-”
Before Carlson could say anymore, Herakles loudly put his legs up on the table. “Boss, until we’ve killed whoever the fuck is messing with us in the shadows, I’m taking charge of the Sons.”
Despite Herakles’s shocking statement and Carlson’s outrage, Yohan and Sylvan didn’t move. Sylvan simply kept his eyes closed and his arms folded while Yohan stared down at his hands, his face as white as a sheet, as his bottom lip trembled.
“Boss, I might respect you, might even love you like a brother, but.” Herakles’s voice turned ice cold. “I’m not taking no for an answer on this.”
Carlson met Herakles’ gaze before sighing. “Do what you need to.”
“Would’ve even if you didn’t tell me to.” Herakles stood up and spoke loudly to all those gathered. “Listen up. Right now, the Sons of Tartarus are facing the greatest crisis we’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean we can’t turn this around and come back from this.
“First, don’t worry about the Paladins. I’m sure they won’t be able to mobilize anymore people to deal with us. If we play it safe, we can avoid them and maybe even kill some of the bastards along the way. Second, the Night’s Eye are all dead. I’ve seen to that personally. Third, in regards to our friends who have been screwing with us for months, I have no doubt that the Hierophant is connected to them somehow.
“Therefore, all of our other operations will be scaled back to assign more men to deal with our two biggest threats. We’ll get ready to deal with both the Paladins and the scum at the Hierophant and strike when the time is right. Until then.” Herakles grinned. “Don’t get caught or try to run.”
“So, they’re finally making their move?” Mímir asked and Sylvan nodded. “When?”
“I’m not sure, but Herakles is rarely a patient man,” Sylvan replied. “He says he wants to wait for the right moment, but, for all I know, that right moment could be tomorrow, a week from now or even in six months time.”
“How did the Sons of Tartarus last this long if you’re this disorganised?” Mania mocked.
Sylvan laughed bitterly and crossed his arms. “We were doing just fine until an unbeatable enemy came into our territory and tore massive holes within the fabrics of our organisation. Still.” Sylvan grinned. “I don’t care about the Sons anymore. Is there anything else that I can do for you, Lord Mímir, Lady Mania?”
Mímir shook his head. “Not right now. The information you’ve provided us about the Sons and of their upcoming attack is sufficient. I’ll send for you when we have need of you.”
“Then, please, excuse me.”
Sylvan flashed them a bright smile, bowed and then promptly left, escorted by one of Mímir’s Ravens. Once Sylvan was led out of the Hierophant and into a nearby dark alleyway, Mímir finally relaxed and sunk back into his chair.
“Mímir, I know we don’t see eye to eye on most things, but you can’t stand that insect either, right?” Mania spat, frowning.
Mímir laughed. “Fear not. I can’t stand Sylvan any more than you can. However, he still has some use. Like the Dark Lord said, he’s an expendable link for us to cut off whenever we need to. Don’t worry, I won’t let someone who would so easily abandon their comrades serve under his majesty.”
Mania smirked. “If he manages to survive until the Demon Empire is forged, can I be the one to kill him?”
“Be my guest.”