The Children of Eris
In the Holy Empire, there were two individuals whose power stood above all others: The Divine Paladin and The Divine Caster.
The Divine Paladin Lawrence was renowned throughout the world as a strong and virtuous warrior.
The Divine Caster Arieon the Wise, however, was a figure shrouded in mystery.
Arieon rarely showed his face or power to anyone outside of the royal family; he only ever appeared when the Holy Empire faced a great crisis.
Even when his research was released and praised, he remained hidden.
The last time anyone had seen him in public was at Prince Julius’s birthday celebrations in Themis half a year ago.
Now, out of seemingly nowhere, Kella had been invited to meet him at Elvast, a city state ruled by the Trú Elf faction in the Holy Empire’s territory.
What was even worse for Kella was that she couldn’t refuse his invitation and she had to immediately leave Pilgrim’s Post to speak with him.
She would have to miss her own brother’s funeral to meet with him.
Kaida had considered running away when her escort arrived so she could attend Connor’s funeral, even with the risks involved.
Those hopes were soon dashed when she saw who her escort was.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kella,” Divine Paladin Lawrence greeted her with a friendly smile. Standing beside him were two Paladins. “This is Isabella and Christoph, two of my closest aides. Would you please follow us to meet with Lord Arieon?”
Kella said nothing and mounted her horse.
It was childish of her, but Kella refused to speak to any of her escorts throughout their journey, even when they spoke to her.
Do they even know that I’m missing my brother’s funeral for this? Kella thought, scowling at Isabella who was calling out to her. Telling me how much of a great honour this is. She scoffed. How ridiculous.
Once they were at Elvast, Kella was escorted behind the Elven Palace to the back of the city, outside of the walls to a luxurious stone mansion beside the Goddess’s Eye Lake. There were magical golems attending to it as if they were servants and guards.
They secured their horses in the stables and then entered the mansion itself.
It was a pristine, lavish place with high oak ceilings and walls, with beautiful ornaments, artefacts and suits of armour decorating every room. There were metallic golems cleaning the hall so that it was spotless.
Kella had never seen such luxury before and it disgusted her.
I bet I’m the only one in the empire that doesn’t consider this an honour, Kella thought with a small frown. I want to go home. I want to see-. She winced a little and hugged her arms as her loneliness threatened to consume her. I wonder what Allaric’s up to again.
She thought of the masked stranger she met under bizarre circumstances, she thought of his pain, of how isolated he had been, of the night he’d comforted her after she’d learnt of Connor’s death.
I want to see him.
“He’s waiting for us in here,” Lawrence said softly as he knocked on the double doors to their left. “Lord Arieon, we’ve brought the adventurer you sent for.”
“You sent for others?” Someone on the other side mumbled.
Another person chuckled and said, “Come in.”
Lawrence entered the room with his escorts and bowed to the elderly man on the emerald chair. Sat on a sofa beside him was a youthful looking man with black hair and teal eyes, and a tall scythe tied up in a cloth beside him.
The elderly gentleman was a bald, frail looking man wearing a battered white-gold cloak. He had milky-white eyes and both of his hands were resting atop a gorgeous wooden staff.
The sitting room that they were in was just as large and beautiful as the rest of the mansion and, in the centre of it, were three long blue sofas and a single green chair sat around a crystal table.
“Blessings of the Goddess be with you, Divine Caster,” Lawrence greeted.
“And to you, Divine Paladin,” the old man said with a small grin. “Come, sit down and drop all that formal stuff.”
Lawrence smiled. “As you wish, Lord Arieon.”
Lawrence, Isabella and Christoph sat down on one of the other sofas across from the younger man, leaving Kella standing uncomfortably in the doorway.
“Don’t just stand there, sit,” Isabella said.
“Don’t pressure her like that, child,” Arieon told Isabella. “You cannot force someone to do something that they don’t want to.” Arieon turned back to Kella and smiled warmly. “I’m sorry about that, but, please, do have a seat, Kella. It doesn’t feel right making you stand like that whilst we talk.”
Kella snorted and put a hand on her hips. “So, that doesn’t feel right to you, but stopping me from going to my brother’s funeral does?”
“How dare you-!” Isabella started to say, but her words caught in her throat. “…Funeral?”
Kella glared at her. “Surprised? Here I am, the lucky one in a million, chosen to see the Divine Caster of legend and all I can think about is how much I hate this old man.” She shifted her glare to Arieon. “I bet you knew, didn’t you?” She turned back to Isabella. “Did you know he died at the Shadow Tombs, in the arms of the woman he loved?”
“I don’t care what you have to say.” She shot a vicious glance at everyone in the room. “Any of you. You made me miss Connor’s funeral, I’ve shown my face like you wanted to and that’s it. I’m leaving.”
“Don’t you want to catch your brother’s killer?” The young man on the other sofa called to her, a stern expression on his face. “Don’t you want to make sure their sacrifices weren’t in vain?”
“Like you care.”
“Trust me, I know better than most what it’s like to lose those you love to monsters.”
Kella glanced over her shoulder at the young man as he stood up and put a hand on his chest. “My name’s Dante, the last surviving member of the Order.”
Kella narrowed her eyes and stared at him.
There were few in Aangapea who didn’t know of Dante and the Order of Monster Hunters. They were a legendary group who slayed dragons, behemoths, krakens and other gigantic, powerful monsters in groups as small as four.
Alone, they were stronger than a whole battalion of the Holy Legion.
As a group, they could’ve challenged the world’s armies and won.
Dante was the last commander of the Order before the Draconic Wars three hundred years ago where the order was meant to have been wiped out.
Thanks to them, many dangerous monsters went extinct in Aangapea, such as dragons and krakens, and most people thought the Order’s teachings had been lost to time.
Aside from the stories and the ruins of their old headquarters, White Rock, there was little left to prove their existence.
“I thought you were dead,” Kella said bluntly.
Dante smiled wryly. “Most people do. Even after everyone else was slaughtered, I survived. I stayed at White Rock all this time in my sorrow. You’re not at that stage yet, but you might be if you don’t get the satisfaction you need. Arieon wronged you, the Paladins wronged you, but I didn’t. At the very least, all I can and would ask of you is that you hear them out, hear why this old git made you miss your brother’s funeral and why he might have a way to fill that hole in your heart before it swallows you.”
Kella eyed Dante up, then cast a glance at Isabella’s guilt-ridden expression, then to Arieon who was still smiling warmly at her.
It made her sick, but she knew that the Divines wouldn’t bring someone in to lie about being the legendary Dante.
With a heavy sigh, Kella sat down on the last sofa and crossed her arms.
“While it won’t mean much, allow me to apologise to you for-”
“Don’t waste what breath you have left,” Kella hissed at Arieon.
Dante smiled a little and said, “Best get on to it, old man.”
Arieon nodded sternly, then lifted one hand up towards the ceiling and a large scroll floated into his palm.
“Exactly one hundred and twenty days ago, I sensed a great, dark disturbance in the Holy Empire,” Arieon laid the scroll out on the table. “Whilst I do not know what it was or what caused it, it was such a foul, disturbing energy that I couldn’t get it out of my head. In all my seventy-eight years as The Divine Caster, I had never felt anything like it before.
“I immediately began looking across the empire with my golems for any traces of that power, but found nothing. Then, I tried looking in my grimoires and tapestries to see if there was something in them that could give me a hint towards what I felt that day. Alas, I found nothing.
“That was until that day in Stonefall, the day of the first murders, the beginning of the Great Disaster.”
All the participants in the room, except for Dante, looked up at Arieon as he spoke. Arieon then took up his walking stick and pointed it at the map of the Holy Empire he’d laid out. However, it was covered in scribbles of events, dates, times and how long each had lasted.
“On the 26th of Mine-en, members of the Sons of Tartarus were slaughtered,” Arieon said. “The crime was so brutal and so foreboding that I began to investigate it further.”
“Just because of how brutal it was?” Kella whispered.
“No. Because of how unexpected it was. Anyone who lives in Stonefall surely knows of the Sons of Tartarus and what would happen should you cross them, yet they were gutted and strung up like pigs.”
“Which then happened again and again until the Sons of Tartarus were forced into hiding,” Lawrence added.
“It’s precisely because of that that I was so drawn into this case,” Arieon said. “My first instinct was that this wasn’t a usual clash between underworld organisations. There was something about it that left a nasty taste in my mouth. It reminded me of that presence I felt and the scar it left on my soul.
“So, I investigated the city as best I could and even went there in person.” Arieon shuddered. “It was then that I felt something truly disgusting.”
“What did you feel?”
“A great dark, evil power on those streets. During my visit, the city was caught up in a frenzy over the Great Disaster. As I was trying to break free from that crowd, for an instant, I felt that same dark essence again. I turned towards the roof of the cathedral but saw nothing there.
“Not wanting to dawdle, I left the city as fast as I could knowing for certain that whatever began in Stonefall was directly related to that presence.”
“You’ve been talking about that for a while now, but what exactly was it and how did you sense it?” Kella rudely demanded.
Christoph rose to reprimand her, but Isabella grasped his arm. He glanced at Isabella, then sat back down.
“He wasn’t the only one who felt it,” Dante said with a serious look in his eyes. “I felt it all the way at White Rock.”
“You felt it all the way on the other side of Aangapea?” Lawrence asked fretfully.
Dante nodded sternly. “It was a sickly, gross feeling, the sort you’d get from seeing the most terrifying of beasts, like a vampire or one of the great dragons of old. That sort of crawling dread up your spine that makes you break out in a cold sweat even in the safety of your own home, the sort of feeling that something is going to kill you even if you can’t see it.”
“And you felt that in Stonefall as well?” Kella asked.
“I most certainly did,” Arieon answered. “Whatever it is we felt four months ago is connected to the Great Disaster and, by extension, the murders in Stonefall and the destruction of Black Port.”
“If that’s the case, then how do we deal with this threat?” Lawrence asked. “Should I have the Paladins begin to investigate this matter exclusively?”
“As excessive as that may be, it might be necessary,” Dante chimed in. “The more people we have in Stonefall, the quicker we find the connection to the disaster and the sooner we take the bastards down behind this.”
“Yes, I agree-”
“Why am I here?” Kella demanded, glaring at Arieon.
Confused, Christoph said, “To avenge your family and friends?”
“Why me? Why not any of the adventurers who lost people that day? Why not the A-rankers we were friends with? Why not get the guild involved? They’d help out at the drop of the hat to avenge one of their own, especially if ordered to by the Divine Caster. Why just me?”
Arieon leant forward and smiled. “Because Themis herself told me that your destiny was tied to the Great Disaster.”
“We Divines are often visited in our sleep by Themis herself, though sometimes it is for nothing more than a few words of comfort to relieve our burdens for a short while. Other times, it is to preach her warnings to the world. Some of the higher-ranking bishops also get these oracles from time to time. We Divines usually get one a week.”
“It’s as he says, Kella,” Lawrence said. “She speaks to us and guides us as we dream. Then, when we wake, we act as she wishes us to.”
“…And Themis herself told you that you needed me?” Kella asked slowly; Arieon nodded. “Why?”
“Who’s to say?” Arieon mused. “Who are we to question Themis’s teachings? Kella, you have been chosen by Themis to help us stop the Great Disaster and defeat the darkness lurking behind it.
“This is your destiny.”