The Children of Eris
The Demon Empire had been officially established in the south-east.
Not wanting to waste any time, David had already started studying books, maps and all other manners of documents that gave him information about the western half of Aangapea. He’d sent Mimir, Abaddon and Fenrir north with their armies to conquer it as quickly as possible.
Thanks to the war Mimir created between the Federation and Kingdom, the north-east should be mine by the time the heroes arrive, David thought as he stared down at the large map of the world, littered with banners and blocks of woods to symbolise everything from armies to cities. The main problem is the west.
The Kingdom of Rhodes, the Yun Shogunate, the Dwarven States and the Woodland Republic.
I don’t think I’ll be able to bring them down from the inside like we’ve done in the east, so it’ll mean either a frontal assault or finding a way of making them turn on one another. Though, I doubt the latter will be possible.
I imagine they’ll all ally together, especially if Eris has anything to do with it.
“I have to do something before the heroes arrive,” David mumbled.
“That’s going to be impossible,” Eris whispered in his ear as the world turned grey.
David dug his hands into the table to stop himself from jumping away from her. “What do you want?”
Eris smiled seductively and gently floated around to face him. “I had come to congratulate you on a job well done but, before that, I have to make a slight rule change.”
He ground his teeth together. “Which is?”
“You’re not allowed to make a move against the west until the heroes arrive.”
“What?! You can’t do-!”
Eris flicked her wrist and David flew across the room, hitting an invisible barrier to his left so hard he felt his shoulder pop out of its joint. He collapsed onto the ground and howled in pain before Eris snapped her fingers, forcefully slotting his shoulder back in. David groaned and got up onto his feet.
“This isn’t up for debate, David Athelward,” Eris said in a curt tone. “I’m telling you what’s going to happen and that’s final.
“You cannot make any schemes or plans to interfere with what’s happening in the west until the heroes have been summoned and, when the heroes do arrive, we’ll be drawing up a brand-new agreement.”
“Is that all, Eris?”
“For now.” Her usual cruel smile returned and she clapped happily. “Congratulations, David Athelward, you have officially become the Demon Emperor within a year. Now, all you have to do to avoid your terrible fate is kill the summoned heroes and conquer the west, and I’ll allow you to live the rest of your days in this world as the Demon Emperor in the empire you’ve built.
“However, remember, if you die within the first year of the heroes being summoned, you and your family will die and face eternal torture. If you die at any point after that, it’ll be just you who dies and suffers for eternity.”
“I remember,” David mumbled.
“Good. Oh, I meant to ask, how did it feel David? To deceive Kella like that, to watch as the soldiers who fought their hardest die after giving them hope that they’d survived? You seemed pretty pleased with yourself to me.”
“Pleased with myself?!”
“You were laughing so happily as the city burned around you.”
“I was disgusted with myself!” David yelled; he took a step towards her. “I’ve never been so horrified in my life. Everything I’ve done this year can’t compare to what I did that day and I hated it! I hated that I had to act like this was what I hoped would happen, I hated that I could hear people dying, and I hated the fact that I ordered it! Everything!” David thrust his finger at her. “Everything that I’ve done is to appease you and I hated every minute of it!”
Eris didn’t get angry, or upset, or visibly frustrated.
She just spoke softly to him.
“You’re a liar, David Athelward,” Eris said.
“What do you-?”
“If you truly hated everything that you’d done, especially that day, then let me ask you this: why aren’t you crawled up in a corner crying? Why aren’t you apologising again and again? Why aren’t you begging for forgiveness? Tell me, David, what matters more to you: finding someone you could call a friend in this world or finding a way to minimise the number of people you killed?”
“O-of course I cared more about the-!”
“Do you remember the destruction of Black Port? I know it’s just one of many atrocities you’ve committed, but I remember it.” She smiled seductively. “I remember it very well. I remember a man who tried to think of tens of thousands of civilians as NPCs in a game and how happy that man was when a woman asked him to save a few hundred people’s lives.”
“T-that was…” David bit his tongue.
“That was what, David?” Eris flew closer to him and gazed into his eyes; David tried to look away from her but an invisible force held his head in place. “Tell me, David. What was it?”
“…That’s not how it went.”
David turned away from her, bemusing Eris greatly.
“Tell me, David,” Eris whispered, floating around to his back and embracing him gently. “On the day Themis fell, did you really feel like throwing up? Did you really hate it all or was there some part of you that enjoyed it?”
“There wasn’t!” David snapped.
“You didn’t feel any pride or sense of accomplishment about the fact that your plan worked perfectly? You didn’t feel like your hard work and effort had been rewarded? You didn’t, even for a moment, congratulate yourself for doing the impossible?”
His emotions had already started to get out of control after Eris arrived; now, she was trying to lead his mind down a path he didn’t want it to go.
Don’t let her trick you!
“Never,” David forced out.
“Never?” Eris repeated, her breath tickling his ear.
Eris giggled cruelly. “Liar.”
“It’s not a-!”
David stopped himself before he said another word; he went pale as he felt something snap inside him.
His senses dulled and his mind went blank.
It’s…a lie…it has to be…
I-I…I’m not…like that.
He went numb and slowly slipped onto his knees.
Why didn’t I throw up?
Why didn’t I try to run away from it all?
Why didn’t I try to forget everything?
It must be because of the stress, right? And how busy I’ve been…that has to be it!
David started to whimper.
“David,” Eris purred, nuzzling against his neck. “Can I ask you one more thing?”
He was too scared to hear whatever she was about to say.
He tried to shake his head but he was too scared to.
He was too scared to listen and too scared to defy her.
Please, don’t say anything else!
“When was the last time you truly thought about your family?” Eris asked. “Did you only remember them when you told Kella the truth? Did you ever really think about them, or is that just a story that you told Kella?
“David Athelward, when did you realise who you were really doing this for?”
Tears formed in David’s eyes as he sobbed.
“…You’re…wrong,” he mumbled. “You’re wrong. I’ve…always thought of them…always.”
Eris flew around to face David, then moved her lips close to his and whispered, “Liar.”
With that single word, David felt his soul break in two.
He screamed loudly and fell onto his knees, crying uncontrollably.
He slammed his head hard against the ground again and again.
“You’re wrong!” He tried to yell through his tears, but his voice was hoarse. “You’re wrong…I did this…for...for…”
“I’m sure you did,” Eris whispered as she struggled to hold in her laughter. “I’m sure you were thinking of your loving parents and dear sister as you heard thousands of people suffering. I’m sure Kara, Hailey and everyone else back home would be so proud of you.
“Actually.” Eris put her finger to her lips and giggled. “I don’t think I’ve seen you that happy since the day you got your exam results. That, David Athelward, is what tells me that everything you felt the day Themis fell was real; it wasn’t an act.”
She forced his gaze to meet hers.
“Congratulations, my Demon Emperor.”
David couldn’t say anything back to her and continued to cry.
Satisfied, Eris’s body began to turn into feathers.
“I look forward to what else you’ll show me. Remember, your life is in my hands. One way or another, you’ll find a new way to entertain me.”
Then, she vanished.
Once she was gone, David struggled to get up onto one knee; his hands naturally curled into fists and his eyes were filled with hatred.
However, they weren’t just directed at Eris.
The thing that frustrated David the most was that she had been right.
I was happy that day, I did this for myself and…He bit his lip so hard he drew blood. I had forgotten about my family. However. He forced himself onto his feet. I’m done pretending.
Even if I’m a monster, even if I’m going to do worse things, I’m still going to do this, to save my life and my family’s.
Eris, you might have thought this would break me for good, but you’re wrong!
I’ll stop lying to myself.
I won’t let you mess with many anymore!
I am the Demon Emperor and I will conquer the world.
I will do whatever I have to do.
Then, once I’ve won your game, to spite you, I’ll live the best possible life in this world and be happy. I have Lilith, my generals and my council.
Watch and see, Eris!
Fear gripped Aangapea as stories of the tyrannical Demon Emperor began to spread.
Bards, criers and messengers told stories of the horror that occurred when the Holy Empire fell.
Of the massacre of Themis and of the maniacal laughter that echoed down the streets.
The destruction of Black Port and Teriscant.
And of the brutal invasion into the war-torn north-east.
Soon, there wasn’t a single soul who didn’t know of the Demon Emperor.
In the west, the four great nations met at an emergency meeting to decide their next move. After a lengthy discussion, they formed the Free People’s Alliance and immediately started making preparations to repel any advances made by the Demon Empire.
Then, the night after the alliance was formed, the court mage of the Kingdom of Rhodes received a divine message from Themis herself.
She told him the tragedy that befell her land and people, and that her power was too weak to stop the Demon Emperor. Themis proclaimed that she would use what remaining strength she had to summon great heroes from another world, virtuous and brave people who would stand with them against the evil in the east.
While Aangapea faced its darkest hour and many people suffered under the Demon Emperor’s tyranny, the world was given a bright glimmer of hope.
It had taken David Athelward two-hundred and thirty-nine days to forge his Demon Empire.
In one hundred and twenty-six days, Eris would summon the heroes who would stand against him.
There, alone in a vast and endless darkness, the woman watched over her world with a solemn and bored expression on her face.
She was sat in a puddle of black liquid, lifelessly staring down at the bright windows that peered into the world.
The woman was dressed in a dark blue nun’s robe with a white trim, holding a golden spear in her arms against her chest. Her eyes were lifeless and she hadn’t moved from this position for two hundred years.
Once, there had been others beside her in this space where they had watched over the world before her, before she had ascended to the heavens upon her death and became a God.
Unlike them, however, this new God could leave this space and visit other worlds.
She could see all other sorts of worlds and meet Gods she didn’t know existed.
The others that watched over her world begged to be free.
When she had been alive, the woman had always been kind and merciful to others. She had been the perfect embodiment of the word saint and so, upon seeing their suffering after an eternity of being bound here, she killed them, freeing them forever.
However, that had been three hundred years ago and, ever since, the lonely saint had watched over Aangapea and the other continents, all of its peoples and religions, alone. She had to pretend to be the others and spoke warnings and blessings to all of the world, trying her best to bring happiness and peace to her world.
For two hundred years, the young God had done that and, after so much time, she had long forgotten who she originally was.
What she treasured.
What she fought for.
Why she cared.
When the young God realised this, she broke.
Her heart turned cold, her soul became empty and she stared mindlessly at her old world uncaringly.
She spoke to its people in their dreams absentmindedly and ambiguously, for she no longer held affection for Aangapea.
To the Holy Empire, she was their founder and saviour, the beautiful, wise, kind and wonderful Saint Themis.
Now, she was a God and one who wished that she could end her own existence.
Then, for the first time in a long time, someone else appeared in the space, a Goddess with charcoal wings and a pleasant smile on her lips.
“I wonder what people would say if they saw their precious Saint Themis like this,” Eris giggled.
“I care not. Saint Themis is dead. Her memories, her feelings, her loved ones are all gone. Only I remain here.” Themis groggily looked up at Eris. “Is it possible for a God to die?”
Eris shook her head. “Only if you were a Lesser God, one tied to a single world to watch over and protect for all eternity. You, my dear, ascended into the realm of the Greater Gods, the ones who can move freely in the Endless Space.”
“I care not.”
“All I wish for is the end.”
“Because it is all I can wish for now. I take no joy or pride in watching over this world and only respond to their calls when they become irritable. I imagine if Saint Themis had known what she’d become, she would sin until she was unworthy to become a God.”
“It’s very rare for someone to become a God from the mortal worlds, especially a Greater God, Themis,” Eris said. “You are one of the only two that I know of who has reached the Endless Space before.”
“Endless?” Themis huffed. “If it is Endless, then it must be just as unfulfilling to live in as this place is.”
A nasty smirk appeared on Eris’s lips. “Hey, if you don’t care about your world anymore, would you mind if I borrowed it for a while.”
Themis cocked her head quizzically. “Why would you wish to borrow this world?”
“I’m looking for a world to send someone into as a foreign invader to see if they can conquer a peaceful world and cover it in darkness,” Eris explained in a sweet voice. “Most Gods, Lesser or Greater, tend to care quite a lot for their worlds, even if it’s a chore, so it’s quite a rare opportunity to find one up for grabs for my purposes.”
“Would this not violate any rules of the Endless Space?”
“Not if I have your permission, and that of the Creator.” Eris then bent down to meet Themis at eye level and asked, “So? Would you mind if I played with your world?”
“If that would let me leave this place, then I would let you do as you wish.”
“Then.” Themis stood up. “Do with it as you will.”
There, alone in the vast and endless darkness, the woman watched him, a bright, blissful expression on her face.
She was lying upon a throne dripping with a dark mist and crafted from thorny wooden branches, twisting together into a grotesque hand.
From this very throne, she had witnessed more than a thousand lifetimes and more than a thousand eternities, each of which had once held her interest but, in time, she had grown bored of them all.
However, the boy she was watching now was different.
She smiled as she watched the world she’d sent him to draw closer and closer to the starting point she wanted to see.
“I have to hand it to myself,” Eris mused, kicking her feet gleefully off the side of her throne. “I knew that David Athelward was a good pick for my Demon Emperor, but I never imagined that things would work out so perfectly.”
David had completed her impossible task.
He’d done everything he possibly could to be the Demon Emperor whilst desperately clinging onto his old self.
Those were the times Eris found most amusing to watch.
“I must confess that I didn’t expect the opening act to be this interesting to watch unfold, so I have to give you my thanks,” Eris said with a bemused smile. “Soon, David Athelward, the real game will begin.” She turned to her side and she was barely able to contain her own excitement. “Things are going to get much, much more interesting moving forward. I can’t wait to see how you’ll entertain me next.”
Eris had already decided who out of the thousands of souls she had stolen to send as the heroes to stand against David.
Five of them she had chosen specifically; the other twenty-five she had chosen at random.
Eris giggled as she swung around in her throne to get a better look at the person frozen in animation before her.
This person was the one that Eris had first chosen as one of her five and it was because of her that Eris couldn’t contain her excitement.
The girl frozen before her had long brown hair and bright green eyes.
Eris giggled gleefully as her usual cruel, sadistic smile crept across her lips.
She reached out her hand and lightly stroked Hailey’s cheek lovingly.
“I can’t wait.”