The Children of Eris
What’s going on? Kella wondered, forcing herself onto her feet. Why is that knight still standing? Is it not an undead? Maybe it’s a golem or familiar of some kind, but surely it would’ve stopped producing mana once its master was-!
Kella’s eyes shot wide open as her mind frantically began racing with her worst fears, trying to process what she saw before her.
However, the knight answered her questions before her mind did.
A low, deep, booming laugh.
It was quiet, at first, nothing more than a whisper in the wind among the cheers and cries of the soldiers.
Then, it got louder and louder, quickly overpowering the soldier’s celebrations and soon all that echoed throughout Themis was the laughter of the black knight.
“This all worked out far better than I expected,” the knight mused, his voice dripping with malice and cruelty. “This was the strength of the Holy Empire this whole time? We spent months hiding in the shadows from this?”
The knight laughed again, taking up his blade and swinging it around him, launching a strong gust of wind with it.
“…No,” Kella whispered, begging in her mind to the Great Goddess that this wasn’t happening.
The soldiers around the knight aimed their weapons at it.
“Mímir was right,” the knight said, the black armour dissipating from his body like mist. “This really was amusing.”
Beneath the armour of the black knight, was the freshly forged, draconic metal armour of a being unlike any other, a true visage of evil incarnate.
Even though his voice sounded different and his words were cold, cruel and blissful, Kella knew exactly who was beneath that armour.
Before Arieon the Wise, the strongest magician in the Holy Empire, had even noticed there were more enemies inside the throne room, a knife had sunk into the back of his neck.
He spat blood as he was yanked back by a force no human could create and ended up hanging from the rafters, unable to breathe as his mouth filled with blood.
The others turned around in shock, unable to process what had happened, and saw two figures before them and Arieon hanging high above them.
There was a thin string tied around the knife in Arieon’s neck held by a cloaked man; beside him was a beautiful woman carrying a bloodied whip.
“Lord Arieon!” Christoph cried.
“Who are you?!” Lawrence demanded.
“Your new rulers,” the woman said with a small laugh. She cracked her whip and licked her lips. “The Dark Lord wants us to show off today to make the founding of the Demon Empire all the more special.”
“The Demon Empire?” Isabella muttered. “This is our home and we won’t let that happen!”
“We know,” the cloaked man said, pulling on the string.
His knife returned to him and Arieon’s corpse fell, slamming with a disgusting thud before them.
“My, I didn’t realise that he was so weak,” the woman mused. “I had thought that the Empire’s finest would be better than this, didn’t you, Mímir?”
“Not at all,” the cloaked man answered. “Then again, compared to our lord, who could really rival our might?”
“Well, that’s true.” The woman licked some blood off her whip and then playfully giggled. “I can’t wait to play with my new toys.”
At the top of the cathedral’s tallest tower with bloodied paws, Fenrir watched Themis descend into panic as her master’s laughter echoed throughout the city.
“That’s our signal,” she said with an eager grin.
Slowly, hundreds of werewolves stood up and transformed from their human forms into their wolf forms, howling madly and gnashing their teeth.
“Remember, go as wild as ya want!” Fenrir yelled. “Try not to kill any civilians but, hey, today’s a special day, so feel free to indulge a little.”
Scylla and Charybdis, accompanied by the gargoyles and the vampires under the command of Lilith, readied themselves on the rooftops on the other side of the city.
They, like the rest of David’s true army, had hidden themselves once the fighting had begun and enjoyed the spectacle, eagerly waiting for the moment when they would begin the first step in forging the Demon Empire.
For Scylla and Charybdis, it was a chance to prove their strength against the other Demon Generals and their worth to the Dark Lord.
For Lilith and her kin, they needed to fulfil their end of the bargain they had struck with the Demon Emperor.
Charybdis fired an explosive arrow into a crowd of soldiers, killing several and sending more than twice that number flying.
“Begin,” Charybdis said softly.
And thus, the army on the rooftops descended.
From beneath the streets, the Machai and the Hysminai were all too eager to get started, more so than any other detachment of David’s forces.
They, by nature, enjoyed violence, bloodshed and cruelty like no other and even hearing the sounds of the battle above had been enough to set off their bloodlust.
David had strictly ordered them not to attack too early, or else he would personally kill them all, so they resisted the urge to attack with the undead.
After they heard the Dark Lord’s laugh, a mighty war cry resonated throughout the sewers; then, the Machai and Hysminai burst out of hiding.
They tore out of the sewer grates, the basements of nearby homes and even some of the streets.
Caught completely off-guard, the defenders of Themis soon found themselves under attack from all sides.
Their full fury and cruelty unleashed, the Demons enjoyed their sport as the other forces descended from above, engulfing the city in complete and total chaos.
All the while, at the centre of the city, David laughed.
“This way, your highnesses!” A guard yelled, beckoning the royal family into the emperor’s bedroom. Once they were all inside, ten royal knights followed them and forty guards assembled outside the room. “Get out of the city and flee west; we’ll buy you some time.” The guard put on a brave smile. “May Themis watch over you, your majesty.”
The royal knights closed and locked the doors, before they began barricading them with everything they could. Emperor Hector and his family started uncovering the stones to the secret passage that led outside of the city.
As they worked, the sounds of battle drew ever closer.
“Augustus, Aelia; you two go first,” Emperor Hector ordered.
“Father you can’t-!” Augustus tried to protest but his father slapped him, silencing him.
“This is not up for a debate! If Julius is dead, that makes you two are the foremost heirs to the empire. Cacus, Penny: go with them and keep them safe. The rest of us will be right behind you.”
“Yes, your majesty!” The two knights answered, gently ushering the heirs into the escape tunnel. “May Themis watch over you.”
The Emperor smiled gloomily. “It’s not us she needs to watch over.”
The prince and princess climbed into the tunnel with their guards; then, something slammed hard against the bedroom doors.
“Seal the hole, quickly!” Emperor Hector hissed.
“If they find this tunnel, they’ll kill you. Go.”
“We love you both so much,” the Empress whispered lovingly.
Emperor Hector and the others sealed the hole up before Augustus could say his farewells.
“Themis guide you,” the Emperor whispered.
The royal knights drew their swords and positioned themselves between the door and the emperor’s family.
Then, the doors to the bedroom were broken down by a handful of bloodied Machai, led by a single Gørviligr.
“Spare the children; do what you want with the rest,” the Gørviligr ordered.
The Machai eagerly obeyed, cutting down man after man, as the imperial family tried to escape through the doors and windows.
They couldn’t let the Machai find the secret passageway and thus tried to divert their attention, and escape if possible.
So, desperately, they tried to flee.
A gargoyle swept through the window and knocked the Emperor onto the ground; then, with a guttural roar, it dragged the Emperor out of the window and flew high up into the sky.
Then, it released him.
Emperor Hector cried out and begged as he fell until he hit the ground with a loud crack.
The Empress screamed and collapsed in horror onto her knees, allowing the Machai to skewer her with its sword, right through her heart.
The Machai roared and threw the Empress’s body out of the window and on top of her husband’s.
The second princess cowered in the corner, begging for her life, but the third prince tried to run past the Machai and out the door. A Machai easily snatched him up as he screamed and kicked madly.
With the fall of the last of the royal knights, the halls of the palace fell silent and were littered with the corpses of humans and Machai alike.
The Gørviligr smiled proudly once they Machai bound the royal family’s children, until he counted them.
“We’re missing three of them.” Furious, he grabbed the third prince by the hair and yelled, “Where are the others?”
The third prince, with tears in his eyes, spat at the Gørviligr.
The Gørviligr punched him so hard in the face that he knocked the boy out.
“Send word that three of the royal whelps are missing,” the Gørviligr ordered. “Take these two back to the Dread Keep at once, then go hunting for the rest. We cannot fail his majesty on this day of days!”
Julius and his men were exhausted from fighting the undead; they were in no condition to fight the monsters that descended upon them.
When the second wave had come, Julius had tried to rally the troops to action, but half of his men had broken and run, only to be cut down or shot with arrows.
The rest couldn’t maintain the formation properly or fight against the monsters on even ground.
For every Machai or other monster they killed, more than eight of Julius’s men died.
The Machai savaged their lines as gargoyles flew down from above, picking up and dropping Julius’s men.
The Hysminai were more organised and skilled than the Holy Legion; the rest of the beasts were too strong on their own for a group of tired soldiers to handle.
As hopeless as their situation was, Julius couldn’t let his men think that.
“Rally to me!” Julius shouted as he struck down a Machai. “We can do this!”
“Can you though?” A deep, female voice asked right into his ear.
Reflexively, Julius rolled to the side and raised his weapon; Fenrir, bemused, grinned and showed him her claws.
“Smart choice,” she said. “You’ve got more common sense than most people in your empire.”
“Should I take that as a compliment?” Julius retorted with a thin smile. “I don’t know who you are or why you’re doing this, but I refuse to let you take another one of my men’s lives.”
“Oooh, not bad, not bad.” Fenrir clapped and took a step towards him. “Though.” She grunted. “I wonder how many men you even have left at this point.”
“It doesn’t matter. As long as even one of them is still alive, I will do all that I can to protect them. That’s my duty as their prince and as a soldier!”
Fenrir shot him a quizzical look. “You’re a prince?” She hummed and tapped her foot lightly. “Strange. I thought we’d dealt with the royal family.”
She grinned at him devilishly. “Your siblings are all safe and sound. Can’t say the same about your parents.” When Julius froze, Fenrir couldn’t stop herself from telling him what they’d done. “I heard your parents’ screams from all the way over here. Your father’s was particularly funny. All that noise and then.” She mimed someone falling with her hands. “Your brothers will become nice little obedient husks and your sisters will become the Demon Emperor’s personal slaves.”
She cackled and licked some fresh blood off her claws. “Lady Lilith doesn’t seem to mind and even encourages him to do what he wants, so I think he might indulge in them a lot.” When Julius didn’t say anything or move, Fenrir brought her hand to her face and asked, “Your sisters are quite beautiful, aren’t they?”
However, no matter the provocation, Julius didn’t move.
He was paralysed, by fear and regret, sweat pouring from his brow.
She knew from his reactions that Julius had to be the prince, but Fenrir was surprised that her taunts didn’t make him act.
“Hey, you still alive in there?” Fenrir asked. “Mania’s really excited to play with you and your brothers, so I’d hate to give her a broken toy.”
Julius’s cry was so desperate and broken, it startled Fenrir.
Then, he ran at her, his sword aimed at her heart.
Fenrir easily knocked the blade out of his hand, then grabbed him by his face and slammed him hard against the ground.
Blood poured from his back and Fenrir quickly bent down to sniff him, making sure that he was still alive.
Satisfied that he was just knocked out, Fenrir pulled him up, whistled, and tossed him to the werewolves who answered her call.
“One of the princelings wasn’t at the palace,” she said, tossing Julius to them. “Take him back to the keep and make sure he doesn’t die. Mania will kill us if he does.”
As David continued laughing, Karak-Harth’s undead horde began to stir as a black mist engulfed them.
Then, the horde that had fallen rose once more.
They joined in on the slaughter of the defenders of Themis and soon, all across the city, the last remnants of the Holy Empire’s armies broke and ran.
None of them fought, but all that did was make the slaughter even easier for David’s army.
Even with people dying all around her, Kella couldn’t move.
All she could do was stare at David in disbelief.
All she could hear was his laughter.
All she could say was his name.
“Get up, Kella!” An adventurer called Felix yelled, dragging her towards a nearby alley. “We’ve got to go, now!”
Some of the surviving adventurers ran with them into the alley and then into the sewers, but others split off from them to try and find another escape route.
If they all went together in one big group, there was a good chance they’d all be found and killed.
As the monsters savaged the capital, Felix led his ground through the sewers in a panicked sprint, only ever stopping to hide when they heard or saw David’s forces running through the tunnels near them.
For Felix, it was the most terrifying situation he had ever been in.
For Kella, it was all a blur.
Seeing the chaos around him, Dante took his chance and struck.
He leapt down from the rooftop and flew towards the Demon Emperor.
He aimed his scythe at their head, but he felt someone nearby coming to attack him which made him reflexively dodge, causing him to miss his target.
His scythe collided with David’s armour and bounced off it. Dante clicked his tongue and swept his weapon through a gap in the armour, but it only drew a little bit of blood from the Demon Emperor.
“Tell me, what sort of monster are you?” Dante asked, swinging his scythe around and pointing it at the Demon Emperor. “I don’t remember fighting anyone as powerful as you.”
David ceased his laughter and looked down at Dante. “There are no demons more powerful than me. I am the Demon Emperor and today marks the start of my long reign.”
Dante scowled. “We’ll see about that!”
With incredible force, Dante kicked off the ground and flew towards David, his blade aimed at David’s neck.
However, the threat Dante sensed before appeared again from behind David, and lunged at him with a spear. Dante pulled back to block the attack with the body of his scythe, but the force sent him skidding backwards.
The spear-wielding knight stepped before the Demon Emperor; they were dressed in full plate armour and carried a spear with a crossguard.
Dante readied himself for a follow-up attack that never came.
The woman simply stood between the two men.
“I always knew there’d be someone like you in this world, Dante,” David said. “Therefore, I made the perfect opponent for you.”
The spear wielding woman nodded and took a step forward. She spun her spear above her head and around her body a few times, then ended her impressive display by thrusting the tip towards Dante.
David put his hand on Hilda’s shoulder and proclaimed, “Behold my Satyr Knight. Satyr, kill him.”
Hilda nodded and shifted into an aggressive stance. “At…once.”
With an explosive kick, Hilda flew towards Dante, her spear aimed at his heart. Dante was taken aback by her speed and roughly moved himself to block, protecting his vitals, but Hilda didn’t stop her assault.
She kept thrusting her spear again and again at Dante, switching from side to side, from his upper body to his lower, all with the purpose of keeping him off balance, stopping him from doing anything other than blocking.
Dante realised what was happening and used his arts to launch a blast of air at her, knocking her back, giving Dante some much needed room to breathe.
He then went on the attack, swinging and slicing at her, aiming for the gaps in her armour, but Hilda was surprisingly athletic and flexible.
Dante swung at her neck, but Hilda easily ducked beneath its blade. Dante followed up by slicing at her legs, but she back flipped away from it and then parried his follow up sweep with her spear. Dante used his arts again and sent five balls of energy at tremendous speed at Hilda, but she deftly wove her way between them and launched herself at him again.
She swept her spear at his feet, but Dante jumped above the sweep and swung his scythe down at her. Hilda blocked it with the bunt of her spear, pushed the blade to one side, spun towards Dante’s body and put her back up against him. She then wrapped her free hand around his neck and pulled him over her, slamming him into the ground.
Dante vomited blood and barely stopped Hilda’s follow-up thrust at his neck. Then, she leapt forwards over his head, then spun around to cut his throat. Dante used his arts to blast himself along the ground, then he blasted himself onto his legs just in time to block Hilda’s next attack.
Dante ground his teeth together and activated what was left of his arts again.
He manipulated the air around Hilda to try and pin her in as eight balls of energy flew at her. Hilda seemed to panic for a second, but quickly moved to protect herself.
She brought her arms across her chest just as the energy hit her, then planted her spear in the ground, shattering through the stone pavement and deep into the dirt, rendering the attack useless.
“How did you-?”
Dante didn’t get to finish his question as Hilda threw a spinning kick into the side of his head, launching Dante rolling across the ground until he came to a stop. Once he did, Hilda ran at him again and sliced at his body. Dante rolled out of the way, but he was a second too late.
Hilda’s spear pierced through Dante’s left shoulder, severing his arm. Dante cried out in agony as he tried to crawl away from Hilda, but Hilda planted her boot on his back and held him in place, readying her spear to thrust into his skull.
Dante was trying to process what was happening but he couldn’t make sense of it.
He had defeated the world’s strongest monsters and people throughout his life, but he’d barely been able to land an attack on the Satyr Knight or her master.
Even if he took his exhaustion into account, it didn’t make sense to him.
Dante dug his fingers into the dirt as Hilda thrust her spear at his skull.
Just before the attack landed, a powerful blast of air knocked Hilda off him, sending her flying towards David.
She landed in a crouched position, looked up and saw twenty soldiers and three mages around Dante.
“Mages, get Dante out of here! We’ll cover you.”
“We will. May Themis watch over you!”
“May Themis watch-”
Hilda stabbed the man in the throat, then swung her spear through the two men either side of him, cutting them in half.
The other seventeen soldiers charged at Hilda as the mages fled into the sewers beneath them, infuriating Hilda.
Hilda tore through the soldiers like paper, then leapt into the sewers.
She ran down the only path as fast as she could, trying to find traces of the mages but there were none due to the running water and sewage.
She followed the path for a hundred metres before she came to a crossroads.
One path went left and the other went right.
“Which…way?” She whispered.
Hilda scanned for tracks but found none.
She tried to listen for their panicked footsteps, but the battle above was too loud for her to hear.
With no better alternative, Hilda picked the path to her left and hoped she would find them.
As Themis was sacked and even when Dante attacked him, David never once moved from the spot he’d been in when Karak-Harth died.
In order to create the most terrifying image of his overwhelming victory, David wanted to make sure he never lifted a finger during the sack or moved once the real battle began.
After telling Kella the truth last night, a part of David had wanted to take her advice and run.
But he couldn’t do it.
He couldn’t when he imagined the pain he’d have to endure for an eternity, when he thought about his family’s deaths and how he’d already gone this far and couldn’t back out now.
Even if he did take her advice and run, David would be all alone, assuming that Eris let him live.
That wasn’t a life David wanted to live.
So, instead, he gathered his generals and made several adjustments to the plan in order to ensure a truly overwhelming victory.
“We will no longer be taking part in the initial attack on Themis. We will simply sit back and watch as Karak-Harth assaults the city on his own, exhausting its supplies and killing as many of its defenders as possible.
“Ultimately, Karak-Harth is a sacrificial pawn and has no right to sit at my council. Mania and I tested our own necromantic abilities and know we’re capable of re-raising his undead army once he’s fallen.
“If he’s able to kill Dante, or either of the Divines, then all the better. If not, then he might at least be able to exhaust or wound them. Just as long as they can be dealt with.
“Until Karak-Harth is dead, the main army will remain hidden until I give the signal to begin the real battle. After the empire defeats Karak-Harth, they’ll celebrate and it is after that I will order the attack.
“Then, we’ll attack them from all sides and finish off what’s left of their army. The terror will overcome them and we shall have achieved a truly great overwhelming victory!
“Any survivors that do escape the sack will tell stories of this slaughter, and fear will seep into the hearts and minds of every single person in Aangapea.
“Remember, my council. Tomorrow, the Demon Empire rises and I demand a glorious victory to mark the occasion!”
David couldn’t believe it; he had done it.
Within a year, with nothing but only a handful of followers in the beginning, he’d done everything Eris needed him to do.
Today, with the fall of Themis and the other attacks he had ordered across the empire, it would fall and, in its place, his would rise.
Perhaps that’s why I can’t stop myself from laughing, David wondered as he continued to laugh just as joyfully and loudly as he had been.
He couldn’t stop himself.
He could hear the screams and suffering of thousands of people.
He could hear children crying as their parents begged for mercy, pleading to spare their lives.
He could hear women being raped.
He could hear people dying, being tortured, and the disgusting cries of joy from his subordinates as they did his work for him.
Yet, all David did was laugh.
Laugh as loudly as he could.
As happily as he could.
All the while, beneath his helmet, he wept and wept, tears streaming like a river down his face, dirtying his body and soul.
But, even then, he didn’t stop laughing.
Nor did he stop apologising in his head again and again to them.
His mind thought to Kella and their conversation the night before.
“I know when the person I love is lying to me.”
To the sound of the Demon Emperor’s laughter, the ancient capital of the Holy Empire fell as blood dyed the streets red and the cries of the people resounded into the small hours of the morning.
In the days that followed, multiple large-scale attacks were carried out across the Holy Empire to make the ancient empire fall in just four days.
And, with old Themis’s fall, would come the rise of the new Demonic Empire and the world shivered in its wake.