Lavish, that is how one could describe this magnificent hall. Lit by environmental magic, with no torch or source crystal in sight, neither was there a shadow to be found. A long hall decorated with many kinds of art depicting Druvia’s history. From paintings, statues, tapestries, pottery and even long scrolls inscribed with illusionary spells.
A young boy stood before one large piece of pottery, a dark brown base with just as dark and gruesome colouring for the scenes. The young boy nobly walked about the pot, staring at each scene.
“The ripping of reality, as demons flooded into our world. Villages were burned, as monsters enraged by the demon’s miasma devastated the land. Then a battle, a large army of humans, dwarves and small squads of elves.” The boy recounted the events, “Faced with an even larger armada of mangled monstrosities risen from the abyss.” He placed his hand over the last scene.
“The second war, the invasion of the abyss?” Then spoke an elderly man as he opened the expertly carved wooden doors and stepped into the room. Wearing a red suit flowing down into a robe, the man had fully grey hair and deep white eyes. “Your Highness, I believe it is bad luck to recount old failures when faced with adversity.“ the man respectfully stated as he approached the young king.
“Meister Drew? No, I believe it is smart to study and pick history apart. It is from failures, that we learn the most from.” The boy responded without looking away, staring at the depiction of a human king wearing a fully black Slayer’s armour and wielding a claymore made from the same scale and claw.
“Ah, King Celeste Druvia the Fourth. Your double great-grandfather, in action.” Drew recounted as he glanced at the depicted Slayer, ember hair and light brown eyes just like the young boy before him.
“The demons swarmed us, charging with abandon they ignored the devastating dwarven artillery and the precise elven cavalry. Without a care, unafraid and maddened the abyss’s beasts charged directly into human lines.” The young king told the story, ”Our fine soldiers resisted the horde of monstrosities, military formations and tactics unchallenged by the random and reckless demonic barbarians…”
“Sol…We will be fine, Azruxan’s army is severely weakened by their mindless invasion of the border fortress. They cannot hope to challenge the capital’s defences.” Drew assured.
“But,” Sol continued, “our strategies mattered not when faced with the hundreds of Demon Lords. Like gods given physical forms, they single-handedly decimated entire platoons. Their magic, leagues beyond what our highest order of mages could produce. Their bodies, biological machines birthed by the very abyss for a sole and singular purpose…War.”
Drew grew silent, respectfully listening to the wise young king. Trained by the finest swordsmen, mages and archers. Taught by the kingdom’s best scholars. Drew only regretted one thing, that the boy’s parents weren’t around to see him now.
“Only the Slayers could match the Demon Lords, only them and…Four others. My great, great grandfather. Celeste Druvia the fourth, donning Zyndreth the black’s skin as his own. Taya Fae’er, the elven queen of the fifth age. Wielding the ages-old relic, the grand staff of gaia. Skozmumin Warmantle, the dwarven emperor. Riding his maniacal beast equipped with all kinds of dwarven engineering, Odin the war-born rhino…” Sol trailed off, going silent as he stared at the last depiction.
“The fourth hero of the great second war,” Drew began recounting the titles in his stead, “Pledged to the Ice Dragon Findri, legendary killer of Erikathyr the destroyer, first of the order of Slayers…Alan the immortal. He may be an ancient drunk these days, but your majesty, the man saved countless lives in his past.”
Sol sighed, taking another step to the right revealed the rest of the last scene. “Those four alongside the Slayers Order, held back the Demon Lords. Until he came.” Sol gazed at the fiery colossus, dwarfing the rest of the characters by his size. “The second Devil King, Azruxan the god eater.”
The full scene depicted Azruxan’s gigantic fist falling like a meteor upon Celeste and Taya, as Skozmumin and Alan held back the Demon Lords alongside dozens of Slayers. “The Druvian king and Elven queen, in a last effort to save our world. They cast the ultimate spell, by sacrificing their very lives they cast the ninth-tier world spell ‘God’s Tear’…It merely injured Azruxan, but enough for the Devil to retreat back into the abyss from which it came.”
Sol placed his hand over the fiery depiction, “The demons did not retreat, the Demon Lords only faltering momentarily. It was us who retreated instead, as the demons recovered from their king’s rally…we ran. We gave up half the continent, gave up on ancient elven cities and dwarven empires. We escaped, only to hide behind our walls.”
Sol glanced back at Drew for the first time now, “A wall that has been collapsed. Our countrymen now being massacred by the thousands, people who worked our fields, provided our food. And how do we repay them? Drew? How?”
The young boy’s fierce gaze even made the elderly Drew’s eyes falter, “We repay them by continuing to hide behind bigger walls. To protect ourselves, we abandoned them.” Sol answered his own question. “I will not let their sacrifice be in vain. That is…what I wish, but.” He sighed once more, a dreadful breath as he closed his eyes.
“I’m surrounded by enemies Drew. The landlords do not recognise my rule, my late father never had the time to announce his descendant…I’m merely the oldest of my siblings.” Sol said as he clenched his fists, “They challenge my throne, yet I have nothing to prove their rebellious acts. I know not who to trust, I know not who to call traitor…I know not who to ask for help.”
Drew bowed, “I am your humble servant and guardian sire, I am here to aid where I can.”
Sol waved him off to stand, “Thank you, Drew. But your archives cannot help me here…Yes the past can be a source of learning, but it cannot be the only source. If only spymaster Elias was still alive…He-He’d know what to do.”
“The spymaster’s men are still scattered, their system too complex to reconnect…I’m afraid we cannot rely on them sire.” Drew solemnly reported.
“Yes, I know. What I wish to know is how…How did they figure out his identity? How did they kill him at all? Who? Who did?” Sol’s tone grew angered as he scraped his nails over the pottery. “We will never know, his death the same as his entire life. Shrouded in shadows.”
“I’m afraid so, sire.” Drew bitterly agreed.
Sol opened his eyes, gazing again at the giant form of miasmic flames. “It’s been two hundred years Drew, do you…do you think Azruxan himself has returned?”
“There has been no report of such sir, else we’d be abandoning the city and the continent. The Devil still remains within the abyss, leading his army from the darkness.” Drew explained, “The damage he sustained must have been permanent, else we would have seen his presence much earlier than now.”
Sol nodded with a weak smile, “Yes, of course. Now if-” the young king began to say, when suddenly through a burst of shadows, a cloaked figure materialized before them. Sol immediately back away, as Drew stepped in front of him. Arms raised while bright blue runic lines shone all over his visible skin, the Meister’s entire body was surging with raw mana.
The cloaked figure kneeled, raising Drew’s eyebrow as he stood with both palms raised towards the feminine intruder. Grey lighting sparking in-between his hands. “Who dares appear before king Sol Druvia the first!?” Drew exclaimed, his voice resounding through the hall.
The intruder lowered their hood revealing a female dark elf, “Pyra Xilfir, Dreadblade captain of the east.” She promptly responded.
“Dark Elf? Oh, well then begone-” Drew started to say as the voltage within his palms became fiercer.
“No, wait.” Sol said, as he watched the intruder not move an inch before a grand mage’s signature spell.
“Sire?” Drew’s tone was objecting, yet he did not look away from the dark elf.
“Pyra? Why are you here?” Sol asked, while still standing behind Drew, he showed no fear of the Xilfir.
Pyra nodded her head lower, “My master sends me with valuable information…your highness.” She spoke the last two words somewhat bitterly.
“Information?” Drew repeated as he glared down at the dark elf, “At what price? Drakon.” He spoke the last word in elven, causing Pyra’s pointed ears to bend inwards. It wasn’t a pretty word when translated.
“Drew, she is not being hostile. There is no need for insults.” Sol admonished the mage before turning back to the dark elf, “What is your master’s purpose?”
Pyra’s ears relaxed slightly, “The survival of Druvia.”
Sol narrowed his eyes as he stared at the kneeling Xilfir, she had no binding collars or visible slave’s accessory. (“Dreadblades…”) he easily recalled the bandit cult of dark elves that plagued most of Druvia. They also were one of the many enemies that plotted against his throne, yet never had they appeared so neutrally before a royal.
Sol’s gaze turned, looking once again at the depiction of Azruxan. “What kind of information do you bring?”
“Betrayal, sire.“ Pyra promptly answered this time with some respect, ”Proof of Marquis Selene, Marquis Bjorn, Commandant Sejein, Merchant Guild’s master Fiy and several church officials’ treacherous plans against the crown. The list is extensively detailed, sire.”
Sol’s eyes widened to their fullest as he turned to stare at Pyra with utter disbelief, “W-Who is…this master of yours?”
“He, who does not wish to be known, sire.” Pyra snidely explained.
“Preposterous, and you wish us to believe this wyvern dung?” Drew exclaimed, bemused.
“Wait Drew, we could confirm whether or not what she says is true.” Sol immediately cut back in, “Pyra Xilfir.” he returned to the dark elf with hopeful eyes, “I shall hear you out.”
A couple of hours later.
Thea immediately crashed into the plush blue sofa, “Home sweet home…” she mumbled to herself. Sinking into the soft fabric surrounding wool, it had been almost a month since she was home. Opening her eyes to the bright crystal light that filled the lavish living room, she found herself staring up at Kayle.
“So…how was it?” her sister asked with a sneer, a fancy cold drink half empty in her left hand.
“Alcohol already Kayle?…” Thea grumbled, turning to sink lower into the warm fabric.
“Oh no you don’t,” Kayle sat down next to her “What happened at the prison? What did that oaf, Klein, do? Did Erik try to kill him again? Did he kill the moron? Did he?” she barraged her with such questions.
Thea sighed, turning to face her sister as she drank out of a straw. She grabbed the straw out of her mouth and took a sip, melon flavoured. “No, nobody killed nobody.”
“A drink Madam?” Then asked their butler as he lowered a tray of different drinks before her, an elderly man with sleek greying blonde hair, green eyes and pointed nose. “Maybe some warm tea instead?” he then pointedly asked Kayle.
“Tea, thank you Sebastian.” Thea took the cup gratefully. Kayle though took back possession of her straw and leaned back into the sofa, ignoring the butler’s remark.
“Well? What did they talk about then? Where’s your saviour now?” Kayle teased, causing Thea to pause midway through drinking her tea. “Oh please sister, I saw how you keep looking at him. Sure he’s younger but, you cannot say he wasn’t amazing back at Beckton!”
“Erik. Said. Nothing, he didn’t say a word to Klein. Who might I remind you, dear sister, is my fiancé.” Thea dreadfully explained, “He is still in lock up and doesn’t want anybody’s help apparently.”
“Ohohohoho~” Kayle giggled as she lay her now empty cup onto the coffee table before them, “Sounds like to me that Erik is a tad jealous of your fiancé!” she continued tease, poking Thea’s arm with her bare foot. “Really sister, must you marry that power-hungry fool?”
“That fool is the fourth most powerful man in Druvia. Who our father, the second most powerful man in Druvia, wishes for me to marry and join our families.” Thea sighed, holding her cup of tea with both hands to warm her palms. “I accepted the arrangement Kayle, for father.”
“I wonder if he’s been doing well since we left…It’s been half a year already since…” Kayle trailed off, laying herself down completely.
“Master Fjorn has been extraordinary, misses.” Sebastian politely cut in, “The merchants guild and moving of resources from home to here have kept his mind busy. Biscuits?” he explained before offering them a second tray full of sweets and pastries.
“He never did allow his emotions to show, less so after mother died.” Kayle spoke under her breath as Thea took the tray and thanked the butler. “After we left a month ago…How has he been Sebastian?”
“Ah-Why not ask him yourself misses?” the butler said as he gestured at the opening door, Marquis Fjorn walking in while a guard closed the door for him.
“Pops!” Kayle exclaimed, jumping from the sofa and rushing to embrace her father.
“Ah, little one. Thank the lord you’re both safe!” said Fjorn with a chuckle as he opened his arms wide, taking the younger sister into his right arm as she hugged him. Gesturing for Thea who was still rising from the sofa “Come daughter, give this old man a hug. Graces be, I’m relieved to see you both!”
Thea also joined into her father’s embrace, kissing the old man on his forehead before carefully hugging his fragile body. “It is good to be back home, father.”
“Sebastian! Sebastian bring more refreshments!” Fjorn happily told the butler who rushed off into another room, “Sit my dears, tell me all! What happened at Beckton? I have yet to hear the full story! Tell me of your felling of a Demon Lord!” he exclaimed as they helped him sit down onto his armchair near the sofa.
Thea and Kayle sat down on the sofa once again, starting to retell the story from their arrival at Beckton. How they protected the village for weeks with only a platoon of thirty, slaying plagues of shades, assaults by fiends and the occasional succubae assassin.
Until a pack of fiends three times larger than the usual appeared, easily leaping over the village’s walls and starting a bloody massacre. Many dying before Thea’s platoon could converge, the Fiends running off after the first dropped dead.
Thea told her father how in a rage she chased after the pack of fiends, most of her platoon going with her. Falling into an ambush in the woods where even more fiends waited.
“Thea, we all make mistakes. You mustn’t degrade yourself over being outwitted, learn from those mistakes daughter. Use them to grow.” Fjorn told her sternly.
“Yes, father.” She nodded, her eyes still dropping to her knees.
“And then, the mysterious mage appeared!” Kayle cut in, “Stumbling into the fight as Thea held off all the fiends by herself! Right before passing out like a damsel in distress~” she teased, continuing to tell the rest of the tale from what Thea had told her. Even the siege, from what she had seen herself, and heard from Nerick and Simon.
Most of the story was Erik, Fjorn noticed. “A powerful caster and skilled tactician. Where did he say he hails from?”
“Nowhere, father. He’s a born traveller, raised by his mother who was the same.” Thea explained, “He has little understanding of our society, having spent most of his years studying magic and other things. He’s even observed demons for a while.” Trying to keep her tone neutral but not too much, knowing her father was a master conversationalist.
“Hm, and you say he cast some enhancement spell upon you? Like the one he used against Bjorn?” her father then asked, obviously curious.
“Ah, of course you’ve heard of that…N-No it was different…” Thea answered awkwardly.
“I’m told he’s still in prison, the Sinbeni are not grateful for the assault.” Fjorn expertly directed the subject, “Have you asked for assistance from the Bjorns? I can ease the guild’s issue but legality is his forte.”
“I-” Before Thea could respond the door to the entrance room was slammed open, cutting her off.
“You cannot just barge in like this!” exclaimed the Selene guard captain, wearing dark crimson armour while being rushed inside by several more men wearing silver military uniforms.
“Droy? What is the meaning of this?” Fjorn asked the captain as each of them rose, the Marquis weakly holding onto the armchair to stand. Thea and Kayle rushed to help their father.
“Royal knights, sir.” Droy bitterly explained, as one other soldier walked into the room. The only one not wearing his helmet, holding the wyvern-like helm beneath his right arm.
The soldier glanced across the room, “By royal decree, everyone within this household is under military arrest. You are to immediately appear before his highness, king Druvia Sol the first.” the soldier announced.
“Fairy s***!” Fjorn swore in annoyance, “If his highness wishes to speak to me, he shall come here himself! Military arrest? What is this nonsense?!”
“The Marquis household of Selene alongside that of Marquis Bjorn, merchant guildmaster Fiy, naval commandant Sejein, and the southern church officials, you are all under suspicion of high treachery.” The soldier pointedly explained.
When Sebastian walked into the room carrying two trays of drinks, sandwiches and snacks. Raising his eyebrow as he saw the military men, “Refreshments gentlemen?” the butler asked. A dangerous glint in his eye, causing the soldiers to grip their still sheathed swords.
“Marquis, tell your summoned demon to heel.” The lead soldier ordered, having been told of the household servant.
Fjorn snorted, “Sebastian, show these gentlemen the door.” he ordered the butler.
“As you wish sir.” Sebastian complied, leaving the two trays to hover where he held them while walking forward.
“Marquis Selene! If this escalates you shall be branded a traitor!” The soldier warned, paling as Sebastian suddenly began to change. The butler’s hair elongating and changing into a bunch of hundreds of horns, his eyes warping into three, his fingers morphing into blade long claws.
“Need a hand there, mister Droy?” Sebastian asked in a deep hiss, as he came to stand before the lead soldier. Looking not at him but glancing at the crimson guard captain.
“If you find the time…” Droy chuckled dryly.
“I shall sir.” Sebastian answered, but not moving another inch.
Each of them froze where they stood, the demon, the soldiers, even Thea and Kayle. As another man walked into the room, “You’re taking too long Shaun.” said the brute-like man. Wearing a pitch-black set of Slayer armour and heaving a massive black claymore over his back, the man was bald with green eyes.
Freed from the momentary paralysis, the lead soldier stood at attention. “My sincere apologies General Kolbert! The Marquis will not comply!” he quickly explained.
The general sighed, “I told you before cousin, I don’t mind if you just call me Henry on duty.” Slapping the shorter man over the back and almost tripping him. Henry turned to face the butler, as the demon’s eyes went wide. “A bound demon ey? Don’t see your make much these days. Costly bastards you are.”
Without warning and all too quick for anybody to react on time, Henry unstrapped his claymore as the blade glowed a fierce crimson. He slashed down, cleaving right through the demon before embedding his blade into the tiled floor.
Sebastian’s body was felled in two, each part slowly unclinging from the other before sloppily falling to the floor.
Henry sighed, seemingly annoyed by how easy that was. ”His majesty foresaw your incompliance, Selene.” He said, while easily pulling out the blade from the ground. “Ah, Colonel Thea, Second Lieutenant Kayle. I heard you were back in one piece each, no hard feelings eh?” Henry said with a grin, “Now, come willingly. As I’d rather not have to forcefully carry an old man before his two daughters.”
Fjorn, Thea, Kayle and even Droy were baffled as they stared at Sebastian’s cleaved corpse. All speechless but the Marquis, who looked up at Henry with utter fury.
“You miserable fiend…No, I will not come willingly less so quietly!” Fjorn exclaimed, “You would dare accuse me of treachery!? It is that bratty king of yours who betrays this kingdom! Hiding his armies within these walls! Calling us back with our men to hide with him! Abandoning thousands of people! Giving up our lands and homes!”
The Marquis’ expression was red from anger as he pulled out of his daughter’s hands, moving to stand before the much larger Henry. “M-My wife died for this kingdom! I-I will not be-be-” Then suddenly he screamed out in choked surprise, clenching his chest while falling to his knees.
“F-father!?” the sisters shouted as they both rushed to his side, ignoring the soldiers as the closest few took a step back.
The Marquis fell to his side, trembling as he clutched his abdomen, a continuous choked breath frozen over his confused expression. As the two quickly fell to their knees before him, their voices slowly faded from his ears. As he reached out to touch Thea’s face, his vision also began to give away.
Then his very sense of touch, slowly numbing away until there was nothing more.
Thea stared down at her father, his eyes wide in shock, hand slowly unclenching from his chest as he took his last breath. A breath of strained relief, life disappearing from his eyes.
“F****** hell…” Shaun cursed, “Is he dead?” he asked in disbelief.
“No, he’s taking a nap, you dimwit.” Droy replied harshly.