The Children of Eris
“Hurry! Get across the bridge and don’t stop running!” Captain Tylus cried, beckoning hundreds of screaming civilians through Pilgrim’s Post.
Pilgrim’s Post, the pathway from the heartlands of the Holy Empire to the west, was one of the few places left in the Holy Empire that hadn’t fallen to the Demon Emperor’s forces.
The town had first learned of the fall of the capital when the first wave of desperate refugees and survivors arrived.
Captain Tylus didn’t want to believe that they were telling the truth but, when he saw how little they were carrying and how exhausted they were, he quickly ordered an evacuation of the town, then rallied his one thousand men to action.
First, they sent riders to all the nearby villages, ordering them to flee the Holy Empire. Then, he sent more riders to the west to warn them of the incoming refugees. Finally, he had half his men force the people of Pilgrim’s Post to flee and had the other half organise a desperate defence.
Tylus also sent a hundred men and adventurers to accompany the refugees.
“Get those barricades set up now!”
“Where should I put these arrows, sir?”
“In the barrels on the other side of the bridge.”
Captain Tylus knew that they couldn’t stop the enemy’s forces.
Their enemy had taken Themis itself when the full might of the Holy Empire was defending it.
Tylus’s plan was simple, but suicidal.
His men had set up barricades across the town, hoping to force their enemy onto a single street on one side of the river; then, after holding on for as long as they could, they would retreat to the other side and destroy the stone bridge.
They all knew victory was impossible.
They could only try to stall the enemy for as long as possible.
Without that bridge, there was no easy way to cross the river safely because of the tall reeds, strong currents and the archers shooting at the enemy.
Half of his men were on one side of the river armed with spears and shields; the rest were on the other side, armed with bows and arrows.
If we’re lucky, we can buy the civilians an hour or two. Even then, it’s worth it.
“Blow the horns!”
Three horns were blown in quick succession, their deafening sound panicking the civilians into an even more frantic, desperate frenzy to escape and the soldiers to hastily take up their positions.
“Archers, fire when the enemy is in range!”
Three hundred bowmen readied their bows as his sergeants passed on his orders down the line.
He squinted his eyes and stared at the encroaching horde of enemies.
There were all sorts of monsters among their lines, their weapons gleaming in the sunlight.
It almost looked as if the horizon had been swallowed up by a demonic horde.
Maybe we won’t even buy them an hour. A hopeless laugh rose up his throat. Tylus slapped his cheeks. I can’t let the men think like that!
“Men!” His roar carried over the sounds of the panicked refugees to his soldiers. “We are the sword and shield of the Holy Empire! If we fail, those bastards will cross the river and kill our loved ones! Failure is not an option! For Themis!”
“For Themis!” His men cried.
At the head of the Second Demon Army was Fenrir, in her wolf form covered in blood stains, and Mimir, who was riding on top of her.
As they drew close to Pilgrim’s Post, Mimir leapt down from the wolf and stretched.
“Getting tired, old man?”
“A little bit,” he confessed as he finished warming up. “We haven’t had much rest since Themis fell, so I’m most surprised you aren’t even slightly tired.” Mimir scoffed. “Perhaps I am getting old.”
“You’ve got to head back to Stonefall after this, don’t you?”
“Well, no time to waste. Shall we get started?”
“One moment.” Mimir drew his bloodied sword and pointed to the far side of the town. “Take your men across the river right away and bring back our citizens. Try not to kill too many of them.”
“Roger that, old-”
“Those are the Demon Emperor’s orders.”
Fenrir paused, then nodded. “Understood.” She let out a mighty howl and broke into a sprint, the army charging right behind her.
“I need to wrap this up quickly,” Mimir whispered before running after them.
“Ready men!” Tylus shouted. Then, once the first wave of the enemies entered the town’s limits, he cried, “For Themis!”
The archers fired their arrows into the horde but only a handful of skeletons fell.
From the back of the enemy lines, dozens of gargoyles flew up into the sky and over the heads of Tylus’s men, far out of the range of his soldier’s arrows. On his right flank, a gigantic wolf and more than a hundred werewolves ran through their defences, easily tearing through his men’s shields and armour.
The main bulk of the horde smashed into the vanguard which broke immediately.
What few men survived the initial impact were swiftly slaughtered.
“Don’t stop shooting!”
His archers fired again but, this time, they were met with a volley of arrows themselves.
Across the bank and on some of the rooftops were Gørviligr archers, shooting at Tylus’s soldiers. Out of fear of meeting the same fate, most of the archers took cover.
Tylus drew his sword. “Drop the bridge, now!”
His men got to work with their large war hammers, smashing the supports they’d pre-emptively damaged during the evacuation.
A couple of hits on each would be enough to drop the bridge.
“For Themis!” Tylus charged forward with what was left of his men.
They smashed against the undead and Machai, engaging them in close, ruthless combat.
As Tylus fought, he could hear his men crying out in agony all around him. He cut down two skeletons at the same time and found himself face to face with a Machai.
It swung its large sword at Tylus, but he ducked beneath it; behind him, he heard the scream of a poor soldier who had gotten caught up in the sweep. Tylus rolled forward, cut at the Machai’s thigh and dove between its legs before the Machai dropped onto one knee.
Tylus then stabbed it in the back through its heart, killing it.
He withdrew his sword and went to engage the next enemy but was met with three stabs through his chest from skeletons. They withdrew their daggers and he fell onto his back, bleeding profusely.
The world became a blur as his mind drifted to the faces of his wife and children.
Themis, please, let Irene and the kids be okay.
The last thing Captain Tylus saw was the sole of a Machai’s boot.
Only a few Machai had reached the bridge when it collapsed.
The men beneath with the war hammers were crushed when the stones fell, but it was a sacrifice they’d been willing to make.
After all, without that bridge, the Demon Army wouldn’t be able to cross the Tethys River.
Or so the defenders of Themis thought.
However, Fenrir and her werewolves had no problems crossing it.
They easily leapt across the twenty-metre gap onto the opposite bank, then broke into a sprint in pursuit of the fleeing populace. Some of the werewolves broke off to finish off the soldiers.
Fenrir herself charged full speed through the town’s main street, howling and growling at all the people trying to escape, paralysing them with fear.
On the other side of the river, Mimir was using his strings to grasp at the remnants of the old bridge, before tying them together into a new makeshift walkway.
Within a few minutes, the army would be able to cross the Tethys and Pilgrim’s Post would fall.
Fenrir transformed back into her human form and whistled loudly. A gargoyle flew down from above, its hands and feet dirtied with blood, and bowed to her.
“Get your brethren; we’re hunting refugees.”
Elvast couldn’t withstand the frontal assault by the Third Demon Army and the twins.
With most of the elven army dead at Themis, they only had four thousand soldiers to withstand an assault by a force five times the size.
Giants and trebuchets threw boulders at the gates and battlements, as the goblins and spiders climbed up the walls.
Once the gates fell, the undead and Gørviligr overran the streets.
The Trú tried to hold them back, but Scylla and Charybdis made short work of their formations every time they formed, allowing the Demon Army to advance unimpeded. The Trú fell back to the palace, hoping to at least force the Demon Emperor’s army to lay siege, but Charybdis ensured that wouldn’t happen.
She reduced the gates to the palace to ashes with her arrows, letting Scylla lead the Gørviligr inside.
As they breached the palace, they began killing everyone in their path; it didn’t matter if they were unarmed or surrendered.
The Trú were to, in the Demon Emperor’s words, get a taste of their own medicine.
The twins and a few of the Gørviligr pushed onwards to the throne room where they found the Trú High King, his wife and their three sons and four daughters.
Charybdis, drenched in their soldiers’ blood, smiled and curtsied.
“A pleasure to meet you, former rulers of Elvast. This city is now the property of the Demon Emperor; surrender now, or-”
“Surrender? Never.” The High King snorted, glaring at the Gørviligr behind Charybdis. “Not to scum like them.”
“Would it help to know that your people in the city haven’t been harmed.” Charybdis’s smile grew. “Yet. I can’t say the same for the people in the palace, however.”
“You bitch! How dare you-!”
“Oi, princelings!” Scylla snapped with a nasty scowl. “If one of you kills your dad, we won’t touch your siblings or mum. You got to the count of five. One.”
“We can’t do something so bar-”
“Dear, please, just surrender!” The queen begged.
A dagger fell out of Scylla’s palm and into her grasp. “Four.”
She raised it up and said, “Fi-”
Just before she finished, one of the princes acted.
In a frenzy, he screamed, drew his sword and tried to stab his father. However, the High King dodged the attack, disarmed his son and held the sword by his throat.
“Ponithan!” The queen screamed.
“How dare you raise a sword to father!” One of the other princes yelled.
The High King turned ferociously towards Scylla, just as her dagger flew at his head.
The blade lodged itself inside the High King’s open mouth.
The queen and her children cried out in horror.
The High King gurgled as blood trickled down his lips, before he collapsed onto his back dead.
“Idiot,” Scylla grumbled. “Gørviligr, take the family into custody. Rough up the lads if you must, but don’t touch the girls.” Scylla grinned maliciously at the princesses. “They're our gifts to his majesty.”
The Gørviligr obeyed, quickly disarming and beating up the princes, before locking the family in chains and dragging them back to their quarters.
“Lady Scylla, what do we do with the city itself?” A Gørviligr captain asked.
“Sis, how you want to handle this?”
“Hmm, I don’t know,” Charybdis mumbled, tilting her head a little. “The Dark Lord promised you your revenge, yes?”
“His majesty did, Lady Charybdis.”
Charybdis nodded a few times and then smiled sweetly. “Then, you can do what you want to half of the men in the city. As for the women, you can make them watch but don’t lay a hand on them yet. The same goes for the children.”
“Might I ask why not the women, Lady Charybdis?”
“Yeah, sis. I think the men have earnt a reward.”
Charybdis giggled. “Perhaps you’re right. Ah.” She hit her fist against her palm as an idea struck her. “The Dark Lord wanted us to spread despair today, yes? Then, let’s do this. You can have your way with the married women; actually, feel free to make their husbands watch if you want.” She giggled a little. “However, no permanent injuries or wounds. How does that sound?”
“That would be agreeable, Lady Charybdis.”
“Very good. Then, go have some fun, captain.”
With a grateful and exaggerated bow, the captain left, leaving the twins alone.
“You sure it’s okay to allow that?”
“I’m sure it will be fine. Also, it's not like you tried to stop me Scylla.”
Scylla smiled and put her hands behind her head. “I think we might have had the easiest job, sis.”
“I’m afraid that honour goes to Mímir in Stonefall.”
Stonefall had been taken in less than an hour.
After months of unrest caused by the Great Disaster, the city was barely functioning. They had sent most of their forces to Themis to help fight against Karak-Harth’s army, leaving only five thousand soldiers behind to protect the city.
To make the attack even easier, Mimir poisoned the wine the garrison drank the night before Themis fell. Then, all Mimir had to do was sit back and watch as the fear he’d and Mania had nurtured consumed Stonefall.
With a third of its soldiers poisoned, the people broke out into riots. Mimir then spread the news that Themis had fallen and the rioting continued. As the people scuffled with what was left of the garrison, Mimir struck with his forces.
Hysminai, Machai, Ravens, Gørviligr and the undead poured out of bases that the Sons of Tartarus once used and easily captured the city.
The soldiers and populace surrendered the second they saw the Demon Emperor’s forces.
With the battle over, Mimir began establishing order in the city.
First, he had the Machai seal the gates and patrol the city outskirts; they were to bring anyone they found back to Stonefall alive. Then, he had the Gørviligr and Hysminai clear the streets, sequestering people inside their homes and establishing an unbreakable lockdown. Finally, he had the undead man the walls.
From atop the cathedral, Mimir watched over the city with a satisfied smile.
His hard work over the last few months had paid off.
“Unfortunately, this is the easy part,” Mimir said as he looked towards the Dragon Spine Mountains in the distance.
North Pass’s soldiers surrendered the moment Abaddon ripped their captain in two with his bare hands.
Any feelings of resistance they had were crushed when they saw the giants, Machai and Hysminai behind him.
They knew they’d died if they fought.
Thus, they dropped onto their knees and bowed before their conquerors.
Pleased with their actions, Abaddon ordered the soldiers locked up whilst the Hysminai and Machai took control of the fortress-town. He then had the giants start construction on a war camp outside the city gates for the First Demon Army. North Pass would serve as their base of operations before launching their campaign into the north.
As he was basking in his glory, a group of Hysminai approached him with people in chains of all ages.
“Lord Abaddon, we caught these people trying to flee. What shall we do with them?”
“Chain them up in the town square and starve them for a few days, but don’t let them die. Let the people see first-hand what happens to those who try to flee his majesty’s empire.”
The Hysminai roughly tugged on the chains, forcing the already beaten and bruised people to march as Abaddon watched on.
It’s easy to take a city but it’s much harder to pacify it. That said. Abaddon grinned as his eyes turned north. They’ll soon submit once they see our full might unleashed.
At the border between the Holy Empire and the Kingdom of Rhodes, a gigantic refugee camp had been set up before the walls of Rhodes’s border.
It had over three hundred large white tents, but it had four thousand people living on the site; only half of that number came from the Holy Empire.
When the first, small wave of refugees arrived, the border guards didn’t know what to make of them. They were battered, exhausted and the desperation in their voices chilled the guard’s souls.
At first, they denied them entry; then, another hundred refugees arrived and the guards realised the horrible truth that had consumed their neighbours.
Immediately, the border guards dispatched messengers and carrier pigeons across the west, calling for aid and telling them of what had happened to the Holy Empire. They told stories of the horrors of the Demon Emperor and that there were small children among those who were seeking asylum.
Three days later, one thousand men and forty supply caravans arrived from Duke Bernhamm, the region’s lord, who sent his eldest, Oliver, to oversee the operation.
Thanks to Oliver’s quick thinking and leadership skills, the refugee camp was established right beside the walls of the kingdom’s border. Then, once people were well fed, clothed and had official documentation, they’d be properly admitted into the kingdom as asylum seekers.
In one of the tents close to the gates were Kella, Dante and the adventurer named Felix who’d dragged Kella out of Themis.
The three of them had been wounded during the battle, and subsequent escape, of Themis, but it was Dante who’d suffered the worst injury.
His entire arm had been cut off and, to make matters worse, it had been cauterised harshly with a torch.
The adventurers they’d escaped with that hadn’t been injured were spread out around the camp, lending a hand wherever they could. There were a handful of deserters from the Holy Legion as well at the camp, trying to help as well, but they got many dirty looks from the citizens.
Unfortunately, there were too few potions and mages that could use healing magic to properly treat everyone, meaning that Kella, Felix and Dante could only wait until it was their turn.
Despite having lost an arm, Dante’s injury wasn’t even close to the worst at the camp.
“…I’m gonna get some grub,” Felix said. “You guys want anything?”
Kella shook her head.
Felix patted her shoulder and left.
Once they were alone, Kella shut her eyes and brought her shaking hands to her face.
Even a week after the Battle of Themis, Kella’s mind still struggled to accept everything that had happened.
In under a year, she had lost everything.
Her brother and friends were dead, her parents were missing, the empire she’d grown up in was gone and the last person she considered a friend, the last man she’d loved, was the one responsible for all of it.
What made things worse was that Kella had thought that her words had gotten through to David when he’d confessed.
She had seen the genuine agony on his face, the way it crushed his soul to tell her the truth, and the tears in his eyes.
Kella knew it wasn’t an act.
It can’t have been, right?
If it was, why would he have told me something as ridiculous as that unless it was true?
If what David had told her was the truth, then he had no choice but to do this, to be the Demon Emperor or else he and his family would be killed.
Whether or not it was true, no one would know what to pick in that situation.
Even worse, Kella understood the pain of that choice.
Had she been in the same situation, she might have done the same.
Her heart and mind were a mess.
David, tell me that you were lying to me, Kella dug her fingers into her hair. Please, tell me that you were lying to me about being forced into this!
“I thought you’d done all your crying.”
Kella snapped out of her thoughts and glowered at Dante.
“I’m not crying.”
“Good. Hard to fight back against this when you’re crying.”
“Fight back against that?! Did you hit your head when you ran away from that female knight?”
Dante laughed, angering Kella even more.
“Cheer up, Kella.” Dante sat up on his bed and gave her a dry smile. “Smile. You’ll feel better in no time.”
“Is that going to help you regrow your arm, hero?” Kella spat.
Dante chuckled and raised up what was left of his arm. “No, but it’s already gone, so there’s no point in worrying about it. Especially when there’s so much to celebrate.”
Kella glared daggers at him. “Celebrate?”
Dante touched his wrapped-up scythe leaning against his bed. “You didn’t see what I did and feel what I did.”
“Are you going to tell me what you mean, or are you going to keep jerking me around until I leave you here to die?”
Dante lost his chipper attitude and glanced up at the blade of his weapon. “I wounded him.”
Kella’s eyes widened slightly.
When Dante saw that, he showed Kella a genuine smile.
“If he can be wounded, he can be killed. We can kill the Demon Emperor.”
In the once prosperous Sapphire Square, a hundred metres from the Emerald Palace in Themis, the beaten down and petrified people of the city were corralled tightly onto it and its surrounding streets.
The Machai, the undead and the Hysminai were barricading them on the street and, on the rooftops, the gargoyles, the vampires and the Gørviligr were watching them.
Fearful for their lives, the crowd only spoke in hushed tones and soft voices, never daring to raise their voices any higher than that.
The sack of the city was still fresh in their minds.
From the Emperor’s balcony, in his full suit of Draconic Metal armour, David emerged without his helmet, with Lilith on his right and Hilda on his left.
“Citizens of Themis!” David’s voice carried throughout the city, silencing any remaining murmurs among the people. “I am your new emperor, your new master, the Demon Emperor Allaric!
“Your old empire is gone; your old masters are dead and their children will follow them should you ever even think of rebelling. Your lives are mine and I may take them as I please!
“You are no longer citizens of the Holy Empire of Themis. You are now citizens of the Demon Empire, my empire!” David smiled sadistically at them. “Soon, all of Aangapea will follow. All those who stand against me shall break and fall, and those foolish enough to still try and resist me will beg for death!
“Hear me and remember these words for as long as you live! If you obey, nothing bad will befall you. If you serve, you will be rewarded. If you rebel, then you will curse yourself until your last breath. Those are the words you shall live by, citizens of the Demon Empire! Bow before your new master!”
To the sound of a tremendous, monstrous applause and cheer, the Demon Emperor’s speech came to an end.
The scared populace bowed down low to David as his soldiers cheered for him. Those who refused to bow found arrows in the backs of their legs or the boots of a Machai pressing down on them, forcing them into the dirt.
Lilith giggled and embraced David’s arm lovingly.
“I’m so proud of you, Allaric,” she purred, cupping his cheek with her hand. “You’ve built your empire.”
“Not yet I haven’t, Lily,” David smiled softly. “No, this is just the beginning.”
Unfortunately, this is where the real story begins.
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