Return of the Reaper

Thousands of years ago, the Reaper, Demon Lord and ruler of all Creation, was betrayed and his empire turned to dust. Now he has returned, and is looking for revenge on the one who betrayed him.


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7. Chapter seven

“State your name and the business that brings you to this land” said the fae warrior that commanded the patrol.

 

“Lower your weapons, captain” answered Erandiril, showing him a wooden medallion with an intricate sign carved on it “My name is Erandiril Forestwind and, as you can see, my business has been imposed by the Dream Lords. Will you let me pass, or would you rather bring the matter to them?”.

 

A chill ran through the captain's spine when he recognized an agent of the ancient lords of the fae. With a hand that shook visibly, he made a gesture so the travelers could move further into their territories.

 

“I see you know how to treat your underlings” said the demon.

 

“Even those jackanapes know better than to question the will of the Lords or get in the way of their envoys” answered Erandiril, leaving the medallion over her chest for everyone to see “In a few days we will arrive at Lonsdal, where the South Tower lies. From there, we will continue our journey until we reach the capital” As if it wasn't of his concern, the Reaper shrugged and kept walking.

 

Once inside fae lands, the demon noticed that his presence caused great expectation, almost as if he was some kind of freak to exhibit. After a while, he realized he must be. After all, the inhabitants of those remote lands probably didn't usually see humans, much less humans walking freely and even less with claws capable of beheading a man in one stroke. Once the curious saw Erandiril's medallion, however, they lowered their head and quickly walked away.

 

The Reaper found this quite strange. For the way they hobbled along, gazes downcast, and from the frightened courtsies the made to Erandiril, these people looked as though the great fall of the demon empire had just just mad things worse. The evils he had once known seemed to pale in comparison to the cruel fate their masters imposed.

 

The sun was setting, and they decided to spend the night in one of the inns at the side of the road. When they entered, all eyes focused on the Reaper, then on Erandiril's medallion, and finally -with a surprising intensity- in the swirling of the flames or the bottom of their jugs. Ignoring all this, the young fae demanded food and a room for two. The innkeeper, shaking, hurried to carry out the orders.

 

A few minutes later, both travellers enjoyed a splendid dinner. Suddenly, the door flew open. Behind it appeared a huge knight, wearing an exquisitely crafted armor, with carvings of the great battles the fae had fought in old times. Behind him came many men wearing similar armor and wielding huge crossbows. Without a word, they spread through the hall and pointed at the Reaper.

 

Behind all of them came a fae clad in the same ornate armor. He wasn't wearing a helmet, and the silk cape he was wearing was held by a clasp of solid gold with the same intrincate design of Erandiril's medallion. His features, even more delicate than was usual on his race, showed the arrogance of one who is used to being obeyed without question and the cruelty of those who don't fear facing consequences for their actions. His face was covered by a thin layer of white powder, giving the impression of a marble statue clad in a silver armor. With a solemn gesture, he raised his right hand and, after a few seconds, closed his fist. At this sign, his men opened fire.

 

The strength and speed of the Reaper were prodigious even in his human body. Frail though it was, it held the soul of a colossal warrior from a time that couldn't hold a candle to those that came after. But, despite his prowess, he was no match for the cruel bolts of the Shadow Warriors, empowered by dark and powerful enchantments.

 

The projectiles drove into his chest, arms, face... And still the Reaper stood his ground, moving towards his attackers. Another volley went into his body, thrusting him side to side... And still the Reaper stood his grounds. The nimble bowmen were recharging their weapons while the gigantic man gave one step, two... And fell to the ground in a pool of his own blood.

 

The fae who had ordered the execution showed a smug smile in his face. His minions had once more charged their crossbows, but this time they aimed at Erandiril.

 

“What is the meaning of his?” she yelled “Have you taken leave of your senses!? This man could be the greatest chance we have of prevailing in the war!”.

 

“I see you haven't changed your idealistic views of the world, dearest sister” replied the leader, ignoring the spasms of his fallen enemy “However, you forced me to complete the mission your unit was charged with: to slay the Reaper. When they were informed that you were bringing him to our realm without their leave, they also charged me with the sad task of your execution, on charges of treason and conspiracy with the enemies of the fae” Erandiril was about to reply when the hands of his brother repeated the fateful gesture.

 

None of the darts reached its destination.

In front of the young woman stood a figure that was nothing short of titanic. The stench of sulfur irradiated from him, and his eyes shone with a hatred the world hadn't felt in millenia. His pale, skeletal face towered easily above the tallest fae, with a frown marking its features. It was crowned by a raging mane of fire and its body, stout and solid, made the ample hall look tiny in comparison. He was covered in a monstrous armor of a steel dark as a starless night. At the veering light of the hearth, it seemed as if the desperate faces of the damned could be seen in its plates.

 

At the demon's back lied a sheathed sword, a bit shorter than him. What metal was it made of? No one in this world could tell, but it ebbed and throbbed as if it had a life of its own. In its pommel, a huge ruby seemed to contemplate the scene from fathomless depths. It was beautiful as it was terrible, and no one in that room dared look to see what secrets its many-faceted splendor could hide.

 

On the floor lay the shattered remains of the darts fired against Erandiril, having bounced off against the powerful armor.

 

The Reaper looked like the very embodiment of fury, yet he smiled, showing a row of sharp, white teeth “It's not a good idea to inconvenience those whom I allow to become my companions, dear friend” His voice was soft as velvet, yet the storm behind it was manifest “Oh, but what's happening? Do you not feel well, perhaps?” He asked when he saw the smug smirk fade from the leader's face “Oh, I see. You and your lackeys are a lot bolder facing defenseless victim than when in front of a worthy foe, are you not? It's truly a shame” He said, charging the petrified soldiers.

 

They had barely unsheathed their swords when the Reaper was on them, his vicious claws slaying men left and right. His enemies watched in disbelief as the demon rushed past their numbers, tearing and slashing everything that stood in his path. It looked as if time hadn't passsed through the body that his immortal essence had abandonded so long ago.

 

The fray was quickly over. The iron discipline of the Shadow Warriors didn't stand a chance against the savage onslaught, freed after centuries. Smiling, he allowed one of them to get at his side and thrust at him. In the last moment, he spun, took his foe's hand and, with a savage twist, made the poor man fall to the ground, impaled by his own sword. Now laughing, the demon took the lifeless body of his victim and hurled it against the few warriors that were still standing.

 

Almost immediately they recovered their footing, cautiously surrounding the Reaper. Slowly, they started moving, trying to confuse him and force a mistake. Suddenly, from both sides, soldiers made a deep thrust against his legs. Quick as lightning, the demon took a step back and took the heads of both men, breaking their necks with a simple twist of his hands before letting them fall.

All discipline forgotten, the Shadow Warriors instinctive reaction was to try and swarm the abomination that had so easily dispatched their brothers-in-arms. Tired of games, the ancient Demon Lord grabbed the nearest attacker, breaking his armored neck with a sickening thud. He spun to press his body against the next one's thrust, enjoying the terror in his face as his blade shattered upon impact. An instant later, his claws ran cleanly through the soldier's chest, as if the armor protecting him was made of paper instead of steel.

 

Only three enemies remained now. He took a step to the side, dodging a strike to his legs, using both hands to take the man and flung him against his partner, watching as both fell unconscious to the ground. The third and last, knowing he was doomed, charged blindly against the Reaper, hoping for a quick death. That at least was granted, for the Reaper made a charge of his own, the fearsome claws ripping the man's throat before he realized he had been hit.

 

“You should train you troops better, my friend” spoke the demon as he carelessly licked the blood staining his hands and the corner os his mouth “As you can see, only two of them will live to tell of this tale, and that's only because I willed it so”.

 

The captain was paralyzed, unable to order his body to turn away and run. He was still struggling to force his legs to move when the Reaper spoke again “Having proved my point, you should now be wondering why it is that I haven't used my sword. Was I mocking your pathetic race of craven curs? Or perhaps it was a vulgar display of power? None of that. You see” he said while he unsheathed the terrible weapon, delighted at the way the warrior shrank in fear “It is said that Foecleaver becomes stronger with each foe it slays, feeding on his soul and leaving the body an empty husk. While this is partly true, the full story is quite more... Disturbing. You see, the souls taken by her aren't really absorbed, but instead dragged to the darkest pits of Hell, where the cold is great and they will grind their teeth for all eternity”.

 

“Obviously” the Reaper continued, taking a step towards the captain “Your men didn't deserve such fate. It was obvious they were seasoned warriors, obeying their orders without a thought even if it meant slaying innocent women; maybe they were even convinced they were doing it for the good of their realm. You, however, are of an altogether different sort. What kind of man is vile enough to give the order to kill his own sister? The answer is so simple even you could guess it: a doomed man” He then raised his sword and took another step forward and struck.

 

“Stop!” Yelled Erandiril. The death sentence interrupted its advance when the blade was grazing the captain's neck. The Reaper just stood there, motionless “Please, don't do it” she continued “I know Aeldros deserves death, for this cruelty and a thousand others, but I can't stand the thought of seeing my brother murdered in cold blood”.

 

The demon showed a crooked smile to his enemy. Aeldros, thinking himself safe, turned around and started running, immediately feeling the huge claws closing around his neck and raising him above the ground, cutting profoundly at his immaculate skin “I'm not yet fnished with you, little one” the Reaper said, his voice cold as ice “You will not die today, but you will learn the price of tempting the anger of the Demon Lord”.

 

Ignoring the desperate efforts of his prey, the Reaper sheathed his sword and stepped to one of the walls, savagely beating Aeldros' head against it. Again and again it hit the solid stone, until the trickling blood stained the demon's elbows, and yet he kept hitting, unmoving against the fading whimpers. When his victim fell silent the Reaper stopped and whispered in his ear “Go back to your lords, little one, and tell them we will have a meeting whether they want it or not. Also tell them that next time they should send men to try and kill me, not some whimpering brats playing knight. Now run, little mouse. Fate has smiled upon you this time, but next time I shall not be as forgiving, is that clear?”.

 

A slight nod told the Reaper the message had been understood. Wishing to leave a sign for anyone who would want to take his head again, he raised a single finger, and with its sharp claw he tore at his swollen and beaten face, poking an eye out and marking him forever. Then, with a twist of his wrist, Aeldros Forestwind, captain of the Shadow Warriors, flew through a window and fell in the cold stone of the streets.

 

Once the menace had passed, the terrible demon lowered his head and slowly started to change back. His sword went out first, vanishing as if it was made of smoke. Then the fire crown that surrounded his skull disappeared, and his body started to lose its height, until he was nothing more than a man. Finally, the armor that covered him seemed to melt, revealing his terrible wounds. His eyes, however, never lost the scary depth, dark as night and red as blood.

 

Incapable of enduring his injuries, the man who had once been the Demon Lord fell unconscious to the ground.

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