The next day
“I should’ve stopped him…Why didn’t I stop him?” Thea asked herself while looking into the mirror, wearing her mother’s old suit of armour, yet not a scratch lay on it. Her long light-brown hair dragged over her chest piece as she pulled it up with her left hand, the scissors in her right hand closing in on the bunched-up hairs.
“I wonder if he’s already left…” She closed the scissors around her hair, cutting it above the neck then letting the chopped off strands fall to the floor.
Thea regretted not stopping Erik from leaving, instead she had only discouraged him. She wanted to apologise for being so harsh, she didn’t fully understand what the Slayers meant to him but she did know how pained he felt the first time he saw one.
She wanted to find him, yet she had no clue as to how. She had tried thinking of him, she had tried speaking to him in her mind. But no response came, not a word from the voice that spoke to her yesterday. Her dreams might have included him, but not the real him that she wanted to speak to.
(“He’s gone.”) She told herself, preparing for what was to come as she stepped out of her room.
“Your weapon Milady.” Said Droy as he stood before her door, holding up a gunblade much too similar to the one she had lost weeks before now.
“Thank you.” Thea took the weapon, which was surprisingly light for its size and make. Although that was probably her training making it feel so, having started to train her body at a young age alongside her mother.
“The entire guard is awaiting your orders, I’ve gathered them in the front.” Droy reported, “We’ve also had some new recruits come in this morning ma’am.”
(“The entire guard…”) Thea thought it must be fairly packed out there, the crimson guard mercenaries having over 20,000 members under its flag. “Let us meet them, then.” She said after strapping the blade to her back.
The both of them exited the villa, stopping at its entrance outside. Thea’s stern gaze went over the vast yard that lay ahead, packed with thousands of dark-red armoured men and women. Standing at attention in platoons of a hundred each, the captains of each platoon sporting a crimson feather over their helmets. The higher officers, the ones that each led ten captains, wore a helmet with three feathers.
These higher officers were lined up at the front of the army that couldn’t even fit in the massive yard. Much of the guard’s lines curving around the villa and onto the streets about it.
Thea then noticed three other individuals to her right, standing at attention while wearing the crimson guard’s armour. Her eyes widened as she immediately recognised them, “Kayle? Simon? Nerick?” she spoke all three names, each one smiling or smirking at her surprised expression.
“You’re not going anywhere without me sis.” Kayle said with a sneer as Thea looked at her.
“I would be a failure as a soldier if I couldn’t follow my captain.” Simon said with a chuckle, Thea’s eyes glancing over him too.
Nerick smiled widely as her gaze ended on him, “I’m afraid the army doesn’t pay well enough for this s***, but the crimson guard does, right?” he joked.
“You all left the army?” she asked, gaining a nod from Kayle. “I’d call each of you idiotic fools but I’m too glad to see you.” She said, shaking the two men’s hands and then pulling her sister in for a hug.
“S-Sis…light armour…squashing me-” Kayle squeaked while within her big sister’s grip.
Thea releasing her after another moment, “I don’t know if I can do this…” then admitting quietly. “I’ve led an army platoon, never an actual army before…That is forty-eight compared to…” she glanced at Droy.
“Including all the trainees? Twenty-three thousand, six hundred and forty-…four.” Droy answered her silent question off memory alone, correcting himself at the end to add in the three new recruits.
“W-What he said…” Thea turned back to Kayle with a panicked expression.
“Us officers will make it look easy Milady.” Droy assured.
“Yeah, you know what you’re doing sis just…respect their experience.” Kayle added.
“Hey, I’m fine with letting the army take the first brunt and all but…” Nerick began as he gestured at the wall, clouds of smoke rising off in the distance. “We really should get going if we’re doing this.”
Gaining himself an elbow from Simon, “You’ll do fine Thea, we’ve served under you and we decided to keep doing so. These men and women accept you as their commander, they trust you. So you should trust yourself more.” he then told Thea while gesturing at the crimson guard, who in response let out a bellow.
Thea glanced over her dear friends and then at the thousands betting their lives on her leadership, she steeled herself for what was to come. “Then if none of you have any qualms, I guess I cannot really argue, now can I?” She said with a warm chuckle before turning to Droy, “Staff Captain Droy, let’s make ourselves known.”
Droy quickly saluted before turning to the yard, “At attention!” he shouted, his voice infused with mana to echo further. “About and march! To the south wall!” he ordered, each platoon stomping down their right foot in response then turning about. Captains in each group moving to the front, before the entire ocean of crimson began to move.
Since the streets weren’t too wide, each platoon had to move in a long rectangular formation. One following another, throughout four different streets. Thea and the rest followed after them, Droy, Kayle, Simon and Nerick staying with her while the officers spread out about the entire army to communicate commands issued from the back.
Thea gazed off at the empty buildings that surrounded them, the civilians that couldn’t fight long had been ushered into the city’s underground. Glancing back as they moved, the street was entirely empty, not a soul moving about other than the crimson guard…Her crimson guard.
For several minutes the crimson guard marched through the streets, almost perfectly linear with one another. Eastern boys and girls trained from youth within facilities funded by the duchy, equipped with the finest armour, wielding dwarven made weapons each imbued with a mana core.
Their numbers lacked compared to the military and adventurer’s guild, as each of them stared at the marching mercenaries coming out of the four streets and converging back into a single army. Their numbers lacked, but they made up for it through finer equipment and better training than some bounty hunter and common spearman.
Thea glanced to either side of the military encampments that lay behind the wall, soldiers, adventurers and other mercenaries running about. Their expressions disheartened, as if an impending doom was hovering over them.
Not that it wasn’t.
But seeing their expressions elevate somewhat at the appearance of her experts, giving them a show of their ability merely through their march.
Just the fact that their presence was enough to inspire hope into many, made holding her position worth it all the more.
“Lady Selene, I did not expect the crimsons to appear…at all really.” said Henry as he suddenly appeared before her.
“And why wouldn’t we?” Thea asked with joking smile.
Henry on the other hand withheld his stern gaze, “I will not lie Milady, everyone, soldier, guildsmen and mercenary expected you and your people to retreat to the north. You being here…” he glanced up at the battlements, archers, engineers and other workers cheering at her arrival. “You made them all think, ‘We might just survive’…” he whispered, “If we do survive this, know that you have my and my officer’s respect.”
“I will take your respect, Henry.” she awkwardly said the name, still unused to her new authority. “But I’d prefer if you filled us in on how this is going down, together is how we will win this battle.”
“Win eh?” Henry repeated with a grin, “This way to the command tent, I was just on my way there.”
“Staff Captain Droy will join you.” Thea said, turning to the Staff Captain, “You’ve followed beneath my mother, you’ve followed beneath my father. You’re far more experienced than me in strategy, and I wholly trust your judgement.” She told him.
“I am grateful for those words Milady, but-” Droy began.
But Thea cut him off before he could continue, “I’m a fighter Droy, if I’m to lead I’ll do it on the field with my sword. I’m asking you to be our strategist at least in the midst of it, can you do it?” she asked him, determination in her eyes and tone.
Droy met her fierce gaze, “You have always been more like your mother, little miss.” he whispered before standing at attention and saluting, “I shall take on this task, Milady.”
“Hm, Droy is it? My people will provide you the details, do you have messengers prepared to run them?” Henry then cut in to ask.
Droy gestured at his helmet, “The Crimson Guard doesn’t need messengers to run orders, General.” pointing out a flat grey crystal within. “We magically convey them, much more efficient and much quicker.”
Henry’s eyes widened “I see…Err, well this way then.” he said while still staring at the magical device.
Droy followed after him, “We could provide you with communications, one platoon of ours could spread out among yours to do so.”
“You mean to say each of your men have those?…” Henry asked in bewilderment, “Yes that would…help.”
Thea turned away from the two commanders walking off, finding herself faced with twenty-three thousand expert mercenaries awaiting orders. (“Maybe sending Droy away wasn’t…No, I need to do this.”) She resolved herself, “How many platoons are there available?” she asked the closest officer, a bulky and fearsome looking woman with short black hair.
“Two hundred and twenty-one platoons of a hundred experts, sixteen platoons of fifty trainees. Milady.” The rugged woman promptly answered.
Thea considered the numbers while glancing about the fearsome force that stood before her, “Trainee platoons, spread out along the battlements and aid the workers with preparations. Do as the experienced tell you.” She then said, immediately seeing eight officers salute and jog off. About a thousand worth of trainees quickly breaking off from the rest.
Now she still had about twenty thousand more…standing around doing nothing.
“Milady,” One officer spoke up, a gruff, bald man with cold eyes. “One-third of platoons are archers, should they break off and set up with the military?”
“Y-Yes” Thea stuttered a response, inwardly thanking the man for speaking up. (“I will get the hang of this.”) she told herself, “Archers and casters too, join the inner battlements, merge the melee fighters into adequate platoons too.” Thea ordered and the crimsons guard swiftly complied.
Several thousands of men and women wielding bows, crossbows, spellrifles and staves marching off with half the officers while the remaining melee fighters merged platoons to retain the hundred per officer.
Thea then grabbed the helmet she had strapped to her waist, a smoother design compared to the crooked wyvern-helms the army used. She put it on and tapped the grey crystal on the side, “Droy, I’m scattering one platoon among the military’s men and another among the adventurer’s guild.” she spoke naturally, hoping the Staff Captain was still in range.
“Received Milady, I shall inform the General and Guildmaster Voltair. I have yet to reach the command tent, I will inform you of the situation once I have.” Droy responded through the device, his voice coming out with a small bit of static.
Thea glanced at one officer and without needing to be told he saluted and began ushering orders, “Platoon 23, scatter along the east side upper battlements! Platoon 24, eastern lower battlements! Platoon 198, west side upper battlements! Platoon 199! Western lower battlements!” he ordered with mana infusing his voice, and the four groups from either side of the formed army marched off to the corresponding stone staircase taking up the wall.
The officer then held his own communication crystal. “23, 24. 198, 199. Receiving?” he asked before a response came back, too muffled for Thea to comprehend. She understood that these devices worked on a thought reading spell and sense merging spell, in this case connecting one’s voice and ears to another that was thought of. “Set up a communications perimeter along the army and guild squadrons, midrange limit.” He ordered before standing at attention once more.
Thea then continued, seeing that the officer was done with his orders. “I want five platoons on the east and five on the west edge of the encampment ready to counter any breaches in the wall beyond what the army is covering here. Then twenty platoons to form up by the gate, it is a tough door but not unbreakable. The rest of you, form up along the upper battlements, mainly cover any gaps the army and guild cannot or are at a disadvantage at. The demons may be barbaric but that doesn’t mean they cannot climb a wall and destroy our siege weaponry.” She dished out each order after the other, officers managing themselves and the rest of the numbers through the communications crystal.
Seeing all of them finally moving Thea sighed in quick relief, (“Maybe they do make it seem easy…”) she thought in embarrassment.
“What about us, Milady?” Nerick then asked with a joking tone.
Thea turned to the three of them, Nerick still wearing that dreadfully annoying smirk, Simon looking impressed and her sister Kayle looking at her with new found pride. “Uh…We’ll join up with the platoon closest to the gate, I want to have vision of at least it.”
“Aye, aye. Milady!” Nerick sloppily saluted, before marching off on his own.
“I will slap you unconscious.” Thea warned, watching him stomp away while the others followed with rolling eyes.
The four of them ascended the closest set of stairs, passing by the lower battlements where archers, mages, engineers with their repeater ballistae and cannons lay. Then higher, to the upper battlements where the melee fighters prepared themselves to defend the rest of the engineers and workers who manned the larger magical cannons and concoction lobbing catapults.
“Milady, I’m within the command tent right now. I will have a report shortly.” Droy spoke through the comms, just as Thea and the rest reached the battlement’s edge. Gazing out over the fields dotted with farms outside the city, off at the burning forest beyond.
“Received, Droy…” Thea responded half-heartedly, her eyes locked on the forest’s edge. (“When?”) She asked herself, pondering when the demons will reveal themselves.
“Platoons 1 through 221 in position, communications have also been established along the wall Milday.” One officer reported through the comms.
“Received, continue from Staff Captain Droy’s orders.” Thea responded, “So…now we wait.” She said off comms.
And wait they did, long dreadful minutes of watching. Nerves held back within each of them, their throats drying as they stood with eyes peeled.
“Milady, they’ve been spotted.” Droy suddenly said, disrupting the chilling silence.
As did everyone else, workers pointing at the forest’s edge while the last bit of trees was felled aside. The miasma that permeated the ground suddenly rose into the air, adding onto the black smoke and turning into a misty dark purple fog.
The fog slowly moved forwards, then aside as suddenly loud drums began to play an agitated rhythm followed by low pitched horns.
Out of the fog they appeared, bursting through first were the fiends and hellhounds. Their snarls and yelps, their barks and howls deepening the dread that filled the wall’s inhabitants. Dotting out the fields entirely as they charged headlong, several hundreds of thousands of them.
Following after the bestial horde were arranged platoons of hellriders. Keeping at a steady pace behind the large beasts and wielding long molten bows. The demonic army did not end there either, soon after the flocks of furies flew out, while the main infantry of thralls led by pitfiends and their whips also appeared out of the fog.
The pitfiends whipped away much more fiercely now, agitating the thralls to keep up with the fiends and hellhounds at the front. The consistent drumming groups within their numbers furthering the thralls’ madness to run faster.
Behind all of them then appeared the goliaths, fog still clinging to their massive fiery forms as they stepped out. The Daemons bellowed in excitement, their profound laughter making many a man tremble in his boots. Their every step resounding, reaching the ears of all who presided on and behind the wall.
Then at the very back, the fog suddenly bursting aside as if to give them a clear view of what lay ahead.
The Demon Lords revealed themselves, hundreds of ancient monstrosities from the deepest wretches of the abyss. Not one similar to another, each an evolved state of some demon or the last existence of a long-forgotten race.
Some humanoid, some on all fours and some even serpentine in form. They varied greatly, from winged to even spider-like, these were the strongest of all demon kind and only beneath the Devils themselves.
Many should’ve felt relieved no Devil was present, but the sheer size of the armada charging towards their position shocked them all. This wasn’t what they were expecting, this wasn’t what they signed up for.
This wasn’t something they were prepared for.
“Catapults! Man those siege weapons damn you!” Someone shouted, breaking most out of their gasping dazes. The walls came alive, large contraptions of wood and metal turning and taking aim, above and within the walls.
“Wait for them to get closer!” Thea shouted, infusing her voice with mana to be heard. “Wait for them to get in range!” She said again, seeing many agitated workers above the battlement towers, ready at the triggers.
“All siege hold!” Someone else ordered, “Hold!” they said as the fiends and hellhounds at the front approached the catapult’s range. “Loose!”
Ropes stretched and wind parted as the massive contraptions spun, lobbing large crystal vials of blue or red liquid. The projectiles were countered by the hellriders, firing their hellfire imbued arrows and shattering many a vial mid-air.
But these projectiles weren’t meant for physical damage like lobbing a boulder.
The vials shattered, the liquid raining down upon the fiends and hellhounds. Where blue touched red, explosions began and then travelled throughout the downpour. Fiends and hellhounds were lit ablaze, the blast enough to kill dozens, the flames incinerating anything close enough.
Yet the fiends and hellhounds did not let up, as the fires dissipated they continued their charge. Stomping over charred bodies of their brethren, fearless if not more excited than before.
“There’s too many of them…” Kayle said as she stared in a daze, indeed the wall did not have nearly enough siege weaponry to target the entire front.
Thea inwardly agreed, (“Where did all these demons appear from!? How…How did they arrive so quickly?!”) she thought in brief panic. “I-It’s too late to rethink this now! Ready yourselves!” She told her friends and the platoon of crimson guard that stood ready around them.
“Damn it all to hell!” Nerick cursed as he unstrapped his spear.
“Oh, they come from hell alright brother.” Nervously chuckled one adventurer in response.
“Archers loose! Casters start chanting!” came out a bellowing order from below, arrows showering out from the lower battlements where holes were made for the archers to shoot out of. The arrows flew up, before raining down onto the fiends and hellhounds ahead.
Volley after volley were sent in conjunction with the catapults still blasting away at large groups, the other siege weaponry roaring to life with. Magicannons firing scattering explosive projectiles while the ballistae held their fire, waiting for the larger targets to get within range.
The fields were a massacre, yet still the swarm of demons had barely lessened even as they reached the wall. The fiends began to climb, digging their long and powerful claws into the stone like picks. The hellhounds though gathered at the bottom of the wall, having no ability to climb as easily as the fiends.
“Milady let us!” said the crimson guard captain as him and his platoon took a formation, gunlances at the front while the shield wielders waited behind them.
Thea and the rest moved out of their way, seeing that they were preparing for a volley of gunfire she unstrapped her sword and gestured for her sister to draw. Then at that moment, she remembered something, how the fiends came up in such a random fashion back at Beckton and how they…
“Shields to the front! Quickly!” Thea shouted magically, “Lancemen take formation at the back! Aim high! They’ll come leaping in!” she ordered not just at her crimson guard but any soldier or adventurer that was listening.
The mercenaries immediately did as told, the rest nearby, seeing their formation and hearing their orders decided to trust in what the kingdom considered the finest warriors. But the formation did not continue down the entire wall, high-rank adventurers and military men ignoring the out of hierarchy orders.
“Droy, order all platoons to take a shield forward formation with spears at the back! Tell the spearmen to aim high!” Thea spoke through her comms, “And tell the archers to stop firing at the fiends! They’re wasting time and effort! Target the horsemen and flyers!”
“Yes Milday.” Droy promptly replied.
Suddenly arching lightning surged from below and out into the air ahead of the wall, mages casting short range spells meant that the fiends had climbed by the archer slits and over the lower battlements.
“Here they come! Steel yourselves men!” shouted what Thea now recognised as the nearby military officer.
“Lancemen assign shots! Don’t waste mana on what is about to get skewered!” Thea shouted her last order, now taking aim with her gunblade while Nerick stood with the rank and file, his new gunlance held high. Simon had rushed to the front, joining the rest of the shieldsmen.
Kayle also drew her bow, chanting under her breath to imbue powerful single shots instead of common albeit quicker to loose arrows.
They came, some clambering up the wall’s edge while others leaped right over. The battle truly began, as swords, axes and maces clashed with hide and claw. Spears slamming into the ground impaling many a fiend while some either leaped over even the spears or that group hadn’t listened and found a demon standing in their midst.
Along with the fiends then also came the hellhounds, using the climbing fiends as stepping stones to climb up many a fiery canine found itself faced with a wall of shields. Some engaging the shieldsmen while others using the fiends nearby to leap over their formation and ravage into the spearmen at the back.
“Gunlances, split into two groups! Assist the front row!” Thea ordered, as she herself began firing at the leaping demons. Blasting a hellhound out of the air right then.
“Off and on back formation!” ordered the platoon captain, following up on Thea’s. In response the lancemen split into two lines, the back line aiming high while the front row fired over the shieldsmen. With each volley of cannonfire they’d quickly switch places, the line that fired moving back and aiming high while the line on the front taking aim lower and starting to chant before firing.
Unfortunately, not everyone was equipped with high magitech weaponry like the crimson guard.
The adventurers held their own as their veteran ranks unleashed bloody hell on anything within their purview but some of the military formations and less equipped mercenary groups were falling short. Hellhounds ran rampant among their spearmen while many fiends managed to land or climb up onto the battlements.
But when the furies arrived, chaos truly befall.
The Druvians held the numbers advantage while above the wall compared to the demons still trying to climb up, but the furies had no such issue. Thousands of them had died to volleys of arrows, rifles and magic fire but thousands more managed to reach the wall.
Any fighters that were lucky enough to evade combat till now, had no choice but to struggle for their lives as the winged humanoids swooped down like a swarm of large bats. Half the size of a human yet with claws just as sharp as a blade, they did not fight straight on, instead preferring hit and run. Swooping down in droves to then fly back up and away from their blades and axes.
Thea herself was having issues with the winged pests, as they clawed at her helmet and shoulders, pushing her here and there while she wildly swung only to hit nothing. She managed a glance off the wall, the Daemons were getting dangerously close while they were far from done with the fiends and hellhounds.
Then suddenly a wild zap of silver electricity surged above their heads, dispersing the flock of looming furies while killing hundreds at once. Electrocuting their fragile bodies straight to ash.
Relieved of the flying pests, Thea glanced back to see that groups of mages had climbed up from the lower battlements, flinging spells not only at the furies but rampant hellhounds and fiends too.
“Let the mages deal with the flyers! Focus on the front!” Her platoon captain shouted, the crimson guard quickly regaining formation. While everybody else nearby also sorted themselves.
Thea turned to take aim on the nearest fiend, hope filling her once more as they held tight. (“We can do this!”) She told herself, “Don’t let up! Because they definitely will not! They came from hell? Then let’s send them right back!” Thea shouted with determination.
When suddenly everything to her left exploded, a deafening boom as crimson winds blasted everything apart, being soldier, siege weaponry or stone. Thea and everyone else were knocked aside and down before the powerful explosion of wind.
She groaned while forcing herself to rise, finding a red mist permeating the air where the explosion had occurred. The mist began to dissipate, revealing the bloody carnage within. Bodies ripped to shreds, their armour completely ignored before whatever claws sliced through. Limbs and gore splattered the ground yet the blood that once joined them was receding backing into the mist.
Within the very centre of the blast zone Thea saw the source, the pool of blood draining up into the creature.
Standing on four feet but tailless was a large and lanky canine beast, its body made of a blood-red carapace while pitch-black flames covered it like thin strands of fur. Its eyes were a dark crimson, an empty void of red while its all too long fangs took the colour of dark grey. A wicked contrast with its three heads, the middle snout ablaze.
“Send us back? Oh pitiful hue-manz! I’ve only just arrived!” The Demon Lord’s three heads exclaimed with a wicked triple cackle that would’ve made the bravest of men s*** themselves. Opening its middle maw wide, the monster suddenly let out a breath of black flames down her direction.
“Guardian barrier!” Several crimson guard shieldsmen chanted at once, forming a wide barrier of mana in its path. The magic collided, causing sparks of blue and black to surge throughout the barriers before they all shattered.
The black flames engulfed the shieldsmen, Thea pulling Kayle down to the ground as they just barely evaded the breath attack.
The Demon Lord chuckled, “Oh yes, defend against me! No, don’t run! FIGHT ME!” the beast snarled as it saw several adventurers abandon their post and make a run for it. It leapt at them, soaring through the air as if there was none blocking its pounce, leaping at incredible speed.
It landed upon two unlucky adventurers, its front claws shredding the first while its left maw closed around the second, biting her apart. “You cannot run! You cannot hide! YOU CAN ONLY SCREAM!~” the Demon Lord bellowed with a ravenous tone.
Thea glanced about as she rose back up alongside Kayle,. She saw Demon Lords smashing into the battlements one by one across the wall. They laid waste to even their own kin as they crashed down with powerful magic, sending ear piercing booms of sound followed by quakes throughout the sturdy wall.
Their defences were failing, the monstrous demonic elites too much for them to handle while backed with so many other demons.
Thea dreaded the thought but she thought it nonetheless, (“Erik was right…”) any bit of hope she might have had vanishing with those three words.
(“But of course, I was right, am I ever wrong?”) Responded the deep, snarky voice in her head, as a sense of warmth suddenly filled her heart. She turned towards it, the warmth calling to her.
Thea gazed off the wall, over the army of demons before it and around the Daemon goliaths. She gazed off at the trampled fields beyond them, at the still dissipating smoke and ash that lay where the forest once did.
There, among the smoke and miasma they stood. There, is where her heart was pulling towards.
They weren’t many, maybe a thousand strong but there they were. A small army of white armoured elves, their hair just as white while their skin was grey dark. The gold in their eyes visibly aflame even at this distance.
At their lead was a smaller group, maybe a hundred but she really couldn’t tell from this far. All she could see was the different sets of armour and weaponry they wore and wielded, colouring going from black, blue and red to even gold, white and green.
Her memory told her that they looked like Slayers, but she knew the order was decimated. “Then…He did not.” Thea whispered to herself, realising what she was looking at.
(“Oh, I did.”) Erik spoke into her mind as he stepped to the front of his Xilfir. “Demons, one and all.” He spoke, his draconic voice resonating throughout the entire field and even further over the walls. “Filthy Demon Lords, you sate for a challenge?” He said, gaining the attention of each Demon Lord and more.
“Then come face me if you’re brave enough.” He challenged them, gaining more than a few snarls and hisses. The Demon Lords, attracted by his draconic voice, maddened by his very presence. They leapt off the wall, charging through their thralls with abandon.
Erik smiled coldly as the greater demons charged towards him and his Xilfir, “You who would fall to Slayers, I shall introduce you to true power! Go my Xilfir, teach those Druvians how to truly wield a blade!” opening his arms wide as he spoke.
Speaking the next few words in an excited bellow, “Go my Dragon Knights, remove these hell-shat excrements from my sight!”