The next day
A sweet melody played, the expert violinist only adding to the dispiriting atmosphere within the graveyard. The ceremony of crimson guard officers heaving the large and expensive looking coffin through, while the rest followed behind them.
From family friends, work associates and political friends. Dozens had appeared for Fjorn Selene’s burial. His actions and plans against the crown aside, nobody present saw them as misdeeds. In fact, most would have probably agreed with him, they all thought their king a coward.
Most, but not his daughters.
Kayle too disheartened to say a word she stood by, waiting for her older sister Thea. Who, now that the priest had said his part, stepped towards the magically hovering coffin to say hers.
Thea stared at the carefully carved coffin, trimmed with gold and silver to form the family crest on the lid. A golden bow, stringed with silver but nocking not an arrow. Instead the bowstring was drawn with a silver rose, held by the bottom while the rose itself lay as the arrowhead. A magical rose as her mother would tell her when she was young, it would rain petals of beautiful silver upon all it flew over.
Bringing serenity to them all, Serenity, the word from which their family name Selene was constructed.
“My father,” Thea began to speak, “My-father…” trailing off as she failed to agree with the words she wanted to say. Words that now, after finding out everything her father was plotting, made no sense.
“My father was a strong man,” she started anew, “He was a wise teacher, was a good leader and was the epitome of success. Albeit being denied the position of Duke in favour of younger potential, he held no qualms. Instead of jealousy, my father only helped the duchy grow. Seeing the banditry that growth created, he formed his own group of mercenaries to squash it. And he did, the east now having the least cases of robberies and highwaymen across Druvia.”
Thea took a long breath, “Was, he was. Before my mother’s death more than six months ago, during the siege of Fort Balgor in the south. After that event, everyone within this country was changed. But as me and my sister wept for our loss, my father turned not to sorrow, instead he turned to rage. T-That rage, is why he l-lays here t-to-day.”
She couldn’t do it, Thea couldn’t keep a straight face till the end. Her tears now falling freely and suddenly, her face reddening as she lost the strength in her legs.
Thea fell, her legs buckling and sprawling out as she kneeled. There and then she finally wept, a sleepless morning gone numb and now it all just came out on its own. The fact that her father was gone, now fully sinking in.
Seeing her weep, Kayle rushed to her side, kneeling by her on the dirt and embracing her. Thea held Kayle back, hugging her dear little sister closer as she gazed at the hovering coffin. As it slowly descended into the dirt, “Why?…” she asked in a whisper, “For the people? For the kingdom? Or for your own greed?…Because you didn’t do it for mother…” she closed her eyes. Her heart clenching with the cold pain.
“M-mother…would’ve never allowed this!” Thea then screamed, the pain of losing her mother returning to her, the pain of her fallen comrades pulling her deeper.
The pain of losing the father she so looked up to, drowning her in confusion and sorrow.
(“What are you feeling?”) A deep, rumbling voice asked in her head.
(“Pain, anguish, guilt.”) Her mind responded.
(“You feel pain at the loss of those dear to you, it grows into anguish from more loss. But why the guilt? What have you done to feel responsible?”) The voice asked back.
(“I wasn’t around when he needed me, spending my days and nights training the blade. I wasn’t around when he fell, to pick him back up…I was only around at the end, when it was too late.”) Thea explained to the voice, her mind seemingly separating briefly from her physical and emotional states to do so.
(“You feel responsible because you weren’t by to fix his mistakes? Why? They aren’t yours to fix, what do his failures have anything to do with you? Blood or not, he is solely responsible for his own missteps no?”) The growling voice mused.
(“Yes, they are my mistakes to fix. His failures are my own, not because we are family, but because we live and exist at the same time. If I had done something, things now could be different. By my actions, he might even still be alive.”) She solemnly responded in explanation.
(“I see, you blame yourselves for things you could’ve done that in turn could’ve helped others. You feel even more guilty when they are someone close and dear.”) The voice said in understanding, (“You feel…something else though, don’t you?”)
(“No…Yes. I feel revolted at him, for doing the things he did. I feel anger towards him, for doing it behind my back. I feel…Hatred, for being used in his plot.”) Thea continued to explain, watching seemingly from the same eyes her body did but separated from that reality to converse with this voice in her head.
She watched as she rose, helped by her sister to move away as the crimson guard began to shovel dirt over the coffin.
(“You feel sorrow, you feel saddened from loss. You feel guilty for actions you did not take in saving the lost. Yet you also feel hate, anger and revulsion, towards the same person? I do not understand. How can you be saddened by the death of someone that made you loath them? Family?”) The voice asked quizzically.
Thea watched as the last bit of dirt was piled over, the guards now flattening the burial ground. (“Love.”) she told the voice.
(“Love?”) The voice repeated, (“Is it really so simple an answer?”) then asking once more.
Thea felt her mind re-joining herself, (“Love is never simple.”) she responded as all those emotions rushed back into being.
Then it began as a trickle, quickly increasing into a steady pour as the rain began to shower them. Nobles, merchants and others of fine clothing rushed to take cover, the priest and nuns too. The violinist almost tripping as he rushed down the podium he stood on, covering his precious instrument with his own jacket.
The Crimson guard officers that stood around Thea and Kayle made not a single move, undisturbed by the shower as they waited for their masters to finish. All but Droy who pulled open an umbrella and rested it above the two sisters, covering them from the rain.
Thea, now back inside herself, clenched her sister closer. Kayle crying twice as much and twice as loud, although Thea’s own vision was blurring from the tears. She looked once more at her father’s lecherous grave marker, seeing a figure now kneeling before the flattened dirt.
Thea wiped the tears from her eyes to clear her vision, glancing at the kneeling figure once more. Wearing a knee long white leather coat, with all too long sleeves, the kneeling man also had a recognisable mess of dirty blond hair. Even as he gave them his back, Thea immediately recognised him.
“Erik?” She whispered through her sister’s muffled cries, Kayle digging her face into Thea’s chest.
The figure rose, turning to face them. It was indeed Erik, the natural and immaculate perfection that was his face ruined by his stern and emotionless gaze. His deep blue eyes, briefly rushing with gold as they met hers.
Silently he approached them, Kayle now noticing him as well. “Who-Erik?”
He stopped a few feet away, wary of the watching guards. “Will you be leaving this city now?” he asked, standing in the rain with less care for the dripping than the crimson officers.
“Le-leaving? D-did you get released?” Kayle asked in surprise and through her sniffling.
Erik did not respond, only waiting for Thea to answer his question as their eyes locked.
“No, I’m staying in Druvia.” Thea answered, shaking her head with a sad smile. “What about you? I’m guessing you’re still a wanted man.”
“Indeed, even after the issues going on I’ve still seen papers with my face and a bounty going about.” He chuckled coldly before looking up at the grey, cloud-covered sky. “Thea, this rainfall is a sign of the burning forests, a warning from nature. This morning I even spotted scouts rushing to the castle, their pale expressions were all I needed to read.” Erik said in a grim tone.
“Are you sure that wasn’t from the massacre that happened last night?” Thea then asked with a venomous tone.
His gaze fell, meeting her eyes once again. He smiled, a dreadfully cold smile that brought a chill up her spine. “What I do, I do to redeem my name.”
“Erik,” she said while glancing at her father’s grave behind him, “you’re no better than…” trailing off as the words got stuck in her throat.
“I’m nowhere similar.” He shrugged, “I understand that the lands over the ocean from Druvia have also long been colonized, humans meeting with half-beasts in their home and creating a common ground. I think I’ll go there, Sinbeni was it?”
“So, it is you who is leaving…” Thea said as she glanced away with a weak smile.
“A bond once made, cannot be broken. But over time it can weaken, you will forget about me in due time if you wish to.” Erik said before turning around to leave.
“Why…Why are you leaving too?” Kayle suddenly asked while breaking away from Thea, not understanding what was going on she stepped to him. “What about the people here? Screw the law and to hell with that slaver!” she then shouted, losing her temper. “Aren’t you a powerful mage!? Are you going to just abandon all these people to their fate? Why…Why won’t you fight with us again? Like back at Beckton!”
Her outburst made Erik pause and glance back, “Because, Druvia is doomed to fall. What is to come, is beyond your imagination. You think an army of fiends led by weakened Lords is on its way, but that’s just the beginning.” again he turned away. “I would suggest you all leave while you can because none of you will survive. Not a single being within these walls will remain after they trample over.”
The drops of water began to swirl around Erik’s form, “If you stay…You will all die.” he said before suddenly the rain set once more. Erik nowhere to be found.
Not too far off from Druvia
The village burned behind them, the flames licking away at the forest nearby, burning that too. They marched, the clattering of thousands of feet fighting for dominion, as the sound of even larger footsteps briefly overtook them all.
The forest burned, trees felled and knocked out of the way as they trampled through.
Flocks of shades lead the way, a wave of ghastly shadows moving through the forest while fiends thrashed it behind them. Followed by the winged pit fiends, keeping the enslaved thralls moving through fiery whippings, herding them like animals.
And at the centre of it all, a Demon Lord.
This, was merely a single unit.
The forest burned, even to the east where it turned to plains and the west where it turned to hills. It all burned, a violet mist also permeating the air alongside the embers, miasma corrupting everything it touched. Through it all, hundreds of these units moved.
The sound of stomping beasts, the wailing of shades, the moaning of thralls and the snapping of the pit fiend’s aflame whips followed by their shouts. Drums too, groups of fiends within each unit systematically beating away at two large drum basses while the units got closer, and closer to one another.
The drums played.
A rhythm going from the left drum, then the right drum, then back and forth they went.
The demonic army was the sole sound in these lands, hundreds of thousands of mangled monstrosities from the abyss all converging back into a singular armada. One massive marching of horrors, scorching the land as they passed by. No care for territory, no care for the bounty ahead.
Their maniacal chuckles, their bestial huffs, their hungry bellows. All part of the harsh, barbaric start of a melody their kind was most fond of. A melody that doubled in loudness and rhythm as rifts tore open between each unit, reality being split open from the other side. Thousands of more beings from hell gushing out in swarms.
As the new monstrosities joined the rest, they added themselves onto the melody.
Hellhounds howling through the night, fiery canine beasts running about in packs and around the other demons. Daemons, goliaths of molten stone vastly larger than fiends, roaring out in sheer excitement as magma dripped off their lips like saliva.
Hellriders, humanoid from the waist up but a hellish steed of flames from the waist down. Their molten hooves adding the sound of galloping, some even blowing into low pitched horns. Furies, dark-skinned humanoids with bat-like wings for arms, flying out in droves and blacking out the moonlight. Their screeching coming out in waves, as they called to one another.
This melody was converging upon the walled city in the distance, where the sound would reach its climax beat.
A sound brought only through battle, a tune created by the conflict.
A song crafted from the screams of chaos that was sure to ensue.
This was the melody of war.