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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13. Chapter thirteen

 

The dying soldier screamed as he fell to the ground, his entrails staining the ground. The information and help that the smuggler gave them turned out to be very useful, but they didn't count on the soldiers' thoroughness. Hidden in a small cart, they had slowly approached the tower, counting on the driver's eloquence to avoid a registry on the many checkpoints the military had installed throughout the city. Unfortunately, the small bribes and sweet talk weren't enough to convince the soldiers in one of the last points. Thus, the officer in charge raised the canvas covering the cart. Immediately, the Reaper stabbed him in the gut, taking advantage of the surprise to jump to the ground and face the others.

 

By the moment the alarm was raised, the demon had already slain five more fae. Unfortunately, the Shadow Warriors hadn't allowed the discipline to grow lax despite the long time they had been searching, so reinforcements quickly started to flow to the street. Now, the only thing to do for Erandiril and the Reaper was to make a desperate run for their destination.

 

On this luck smiled on them, for the reinforcements that came were only regular troops, not the ruthless murderers the demon had slaughtered a few weeks back. Thus, fear gripped their heart when they saw the giant approach them, his fierce claws cutting heads and slashing throats, viciously killing anyone who dared come near him.

 

Despite the ease with which he was progressing through the ranks of his enemies, his heart was slowly filling with sadness. Were these deaths truly necessary? Was all the blood that now washed the street spilled for a worthy cause? He had led his legions against his enemies many times, massacring them in the tens of thousands. Fae, nordheim, dwarough, it didn't matter. All of them fought and died proudly, slaying as they were slain, always proud before falling, as it was supposed to be. But this was a different era, and only at seeing the pitiful parodies of soldiers dying at the hands of his weakened body did he understand. Those against he had waged war were heroes of another time, warriors of insuperable courage whose legacy had dwindled and tarnished with the passage of time. Too many had died at his hand. He had to put an end to the butchery, or the dreams in which his kind razed Creation to the ground would come true, and the rivers would run crimson not with the blood of warriors, but with that of the innocents.

 

With a yell that made all the nearby soldiers take a step back, he turned his hands into fists, ignoring the pain as the claws bit into his flesh. Then he went forwards towards his enemies, followed by Erandiril. The soldiers tried to stop him, but even when he didn't kill his strength was huge, and soon they were trampled by the herculean Reaper.

 

Having broken the first pocket of resistance, they ran freely through the now deserted streets. When they turned a corner, however, they found a whole batallion going in their direction. If they attacked in an orderly fashion, not even the demon's incredible strength would preserve his life. But fear had clutched their hearts at seeing this giant of a man covered head to toe in blood and brains and entrails, so their charge lacked enthusiasm and many chances to wound their enemy were lost. Seeing this, the Reaper quickly went back until the fae had to turn to face him in the corner. Only when the fear of him was joined by the discomfort of going through a narrow space did the demon lunge forward in a devastating counter charge. His fists were as powerful as a mace, knocking down the soldiers as they went to him with their swords raised high. Tired of fooling around, the Reaper gripped a soldiers chest and arms and raised him over his head.

 

He was about to toss him to the crowd when he heard the sound of crossbows firing.

 

One dart grazed his ribs, another dug deep into his right arm and a third one hit his leg. All around him, those whose lives he had tried to preserve lay on the ground, dead or agonizing, and their desperate cries for mercy touched him who's heart was thought cold as ice. Death itself seemed to take hold of the demon lord as he gazed upon those responsible for the massacre, a squad of deadly Shadow Warriors deployed on the rooftops, frantically recharging their weapons.

 

They would not live to finish it, the Reaper vowed. Hell burned in his eyes as he made an impossible leap, falling near their leader, who was still holding high the saber he used to give commands. Unflinching in the face of danger, the fae brought his arm down to strike at the demon, but it was too late, for two sharp claws had already plucked his eyes out. With his adversary defenseless, the Reaper seized him by the throat and threw him against the nearest soldier. The crack of breaking bones told him he had been successful, while he advanced to take on the rest of his unfortunate pursuers.

 

Seeing they were outmatched, the warriors retreated quickly and in order, honoring their reputation as the most fearsome among their race. Two of them stayed to fight against the Reaper, sacrificing their lives so their battle-brothers would be able to get away safely. They kept their distance, attacking only when it looked like he was going to get away, slowing his advance and not allowing him to retreat. They fulfilled their mission, delaying the Reaper for a few minutes before abandoning their mortal coil, their bodies so mutilated it would have been hard to tell whether the corpses belonged to a fae or to a human.

 

The streets were deserted, for all the inhabitants knew it wasn't safe to go out while the Lords were taking care of their enemies. With the exhilaration of combat gone, the demon tended to his wounds. His chest was bleeding, though the wound was shallow. His leg and arm, however, were more serious. The arrow that hit his arm had bit deeply, tearing at his muscles. Breathing deeply, the Reaper tore out the projectile. Only his pride prevented him from crying out while the muscle was torn and blood gushed out of the wound. He took out the stained shirt Barol had given him and bandaged himself as well as he could before tending his leg. There, the dart had pierced the skin, but not entered the muscles, so he just put a simple bandage to it.

 

He carefully climbed down to meet Erandiril, who had hidden the moment the fight started. Her face, usually calm and apathetic, now showed her fury at the disregard her former comrades showed for the life of their own. When she was near, she told him “There will be reinforcements here soon, we should move.” She took a few moments to adjust both bandages, and then both ran towards the South Tower.

 

They had passed a couple streets when a patrol saw them and raised the alarm. Cursing his luck, the Reaper fled through narrow streets, guided by Erandiril. They managed to advance most of the way until finally they saw their destination, guarded by dozens of both soldiers and Shadow Warriors. At each side of the huge oak doors, a Nightmare Beast stood guard, mounted by a veteran Shadow Warrior.

 

A shiver went through the demon's spine as he recognized the perversion of beings that he had thought dead long before his fall. They were enormous reptilian creatures, with long and leathery wings. Their long necks towered to the height of three men, crowned by a horned head and a mouth capable of swallowing a man whole. Their skin was of a greenish hue, not unlike the most rotten corners of a swamp, and the smell that emanated from them seemed to match this impression. Finally, their long tail flailed like a whip behind them, cracking the pavement each time it was hit.

 

The Reaper couldn't believe his eyes. How was it possible for them to tame such terrible creatures? What forbidden sorcery had they unleashed upon those noble beings in order to reduce them to such a pathetic shadow of their glory? It was impossible, it couldn't be happening, and still he was seeing it with his own eyes.

 

His thoughts were interrupted when one of the beasts turned its head in his direction and gave a long wail. Immediately, the soldiers ran to the place where he was hiding. Before they reached him he turned to face Erandiril “Hide now, little one, and don't go out until I tell you to do so.” As she turned to do so, he stepped out to face the soldiers.

 

He knew that to run now would mean certain death, he first needed to distract them so the girl could hide. Then, he would think of something. The nearest soldier, seeing him distracted, lunged towards him and tried to stab him with his spear. Immediately, the demon's hand shot forward, taking the weapond with his right and punching with his left.

 

“Come and die, maggots!” He said, pointing the spear towards the soldiers. Most of them took a step back, but regained their confidence when ten stout Shadow Warriors unseathed their swords and lunged forward.

 

The Reaper started laughing as the battle unfolded, hitting the Shadow Warriors with the tip of his spear and the regular soldiers with the bottom. He had his back against a wall and his enemies were many, but still he managed to fend them off.

 

He had slain three Shadow Warriors and managed to knock down many of the soldiers when he noticed the crowd retreating to make way for the Nightmare Beasts. He knew he couldn't face the creatures, so he waited until one of the warriors spread his arm a little more than he should, moved to the side, dropped the spear and took his wrist. Thinking he was defenseless, the remaining Shadow Warriors advanced as one to stab him, but he was quicker. With a twisting motion, he forced his prisoner to get in front of him, laughing as the six swords pierced the silvery armor.

 

Taking advantage of the confusion, he knocked a few more soldiers and went running through the streets, hearing the deafening cries of the foul creatures. He fled as quickly as he could, but the beasts had taken to the air and were getting nearer by the moment. When their victim stopped and turned to face them, the riders thought they had him and sent their beasts after him. The Reaper waited until they were a few meters away and, in the last moment, dropped to the ground, barely avoiding their vicious talons. As soon as they passed, he stood up and ran towards the Southern Tower.

 

Despite their huge size, the Nightmare Beasts were remarkably nimble and managed to turn despite the enclosing buildings, closing the distance between them once again. Furthermore, when the Reaper was near the main body of troops, he found them waiting for him, bows and crossbows ready. Ignoring both threats, he kept running until he could feel the beasts' putrid breath on his neck. As soon as he was at shooting distance, the officer in charge made the signal and both soldiers and Shadow Warriors fired as one man.

 

At the same time, the Reaper fell to the ground and rolled, so there was nothing between the darts and the skin of those dimished and corrupt shadows. In a moment, their head, chest and wings were completely pierced, and they fell to the ground, trampling their riders and forcing them to die together.

 

The Reaper stood up and saw that Erandiril had been discovered and now struggled against a corpulent Shadow Warrior, until the man, tired, smacked her in the back of the head with his metal gauntlet and took her to the tower. Furious, the demon lunged forward, leaving aside the mercy he had shown before. His movements were like the wolf loose among sheep as he slashed and tore, slaying many with each step. But his enemies were many and, as the regular soldiers retreated and the terrible Shadow Warriors took to the fight, his strikes started to lose their incredible strength and his sight started to blur.

 

Soon his legs felt heavy as lead, blood gushing from many wounds as a mute testament to the courage of those he vanquished. Through the crimson veil that covered his eyes, he could barely see the entrance to the tower, through which the huge fae warrior was passing with Erandiril limp in his arms. Gathering his last ounce of strength, he gave a loud wail and pushed the attack, murdering any who would bar his steps. His mind was too focused in killing and advancing to notice that, as he neared the ominous portal, black clouds gathered in the sky, plunging the city in darkness. Another terror gripped the heart of the combatants, and the soldiers fled, leaving the Shadow Warriors alone against the demon. Without their backing, they couldn't avoid the Reaper's advance anymore. Soon, he entered the ancient building, fulfilling a prophecy made by a prophet long ago forgotten.

 

As soon as the demon entered the tower, a lightning shone in the sky, followed by a thunder that shook the very foundations of the city. Rain started pouring over the silent city and, as the heavy drops touched the tower's battlements, the rock started to dissolve, revealing the original construction. Thus, instead of a symbol of hope, the ancient building now seemed to pierce the sky like a dagger thrust through the heart.

 

Suddenly, a deafening cry was heard inside the tower, announcing the return of a being that was thought destroyed millenia ago. The Reaper's eyes gleamed with satisfaction when he saw the terror in the Shadow Warrior's face as he was lifted in the air and is armor pierced by dozens of invisible daggers. Incapable of giving credit to their eyes, the soldiers panicked, throwing away their weapons and running as fast as they could.

 

A barely distinguishable silhouette rose in front of Erandiril. She felt an icy claw seizing her by the throat and lifting her as an unnatural chill ran through her body. She was struggling for breath when an imperative gesture from the Reaper stopped her imminent death “No, Prowler.” the demon ordered “You shall not harm her, for she travels with me.”

 

With a heavy thud she fell on the ground, gasping. The shadow stood in front of the demon and started to slowly become more solid, taking the aspect of one whose name was still whispered with fear and respect throughout all of Creation: the Night Prowler.

 

He was as tall as the true form of the Reaper, though he was slender and agile where the demon lord was stout and powerful. His body was completely covered by a vaporous robe that seemed to ebb and flow as its owner moved. His eyes were hidden behind the impenetrable shadows, but his face showed a cold resolve. His grey skin seemed to be cold granite and, in his hands, he held two daggers, the blood of murdered warrior still dripping from them.

 

With a swift movement, he bent the knee and put his weapons in front of his lord “Twice have I failed you, Reaper.” His voice was clear and full of grief “It was my duty to protect you, but you were betrayed. It was my duty to avenge you, yet I bent the knee and obeyed your murderer. Declare then your sentence and I shall comply, even if it means returning to the burning hells.”

 

The Reaper put a hand on his shoulder, forcing him to stand up “Take your weapons, brother, for a great battle is near. Death in the Wind has woken up, and he will undoubtedly try to set as many of the Seven as he can against me.”

 

The prowler bent down to pick his daggers, tears of blood falling freely through his cheeks.

 

Something moved behind the Reaper, and the Night Prowler quickly took a step forward, his eyes scouting for a sign of danger. In the hall, a shadow observed the scene, surprised at the menace that the awoken demon seemed to irradiate. Seeing this, the Reaper laughed loudly and said “Come closer, Erandiril, I want to introduce you to an old friend.”

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