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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31. Chapter thirty one

Erandiril couldn’t believe her eyes. Had someone asked her about it, she would’ve said the meeting was doomed to end in slaughter, for she knew human noblemen to be just a bunch of glorified spoiled brats, while the Reaper was proud and strong, and she had never seen him solve a conflict through anything but sheer, brute force.

 

 Things, however, turned out quite differently. When they arrived at the presence of the king, they found another demon was waiting for them, chatting with the generals as if they were old acquaintances. This turned out to be a great benefit for the discussion, for it showed the demons that humans were people that could be reasoned with. After a few phrases to introduce each other, the king spoke.

 

 “You are welcome in my kingdom, Reaper. It’s strange for me to receive people that seem to come out of our oldest legends, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are our last hope of survival. Given your sudden appearance, I doubt you’re aware of how desperate our situation is.” He pointed to the map on the table, representing the city and its surroundings. “A few weeks ago, large amounts of refugees arrived here, claiming their homes had been destroyed by demons. We first thought they had been attacked by bandits and were exaggerating, but when your brother” He pointed at Beast. “came to us, we knew for certain that the tales were true. We have sent many explorers to the south, but many of them disappeared, while the others haven’t found a trace of the demon army.”

 

 The Reaper listened intently, without interrupting. When the king started explaining the plans set in motion with Beast’s help, he nodded, evidently pleased. “Yes, those preparations seem adequate against demons but, from what you’ve told me about your forces, it’d be impossible for them to hope for victory. Even with our help, the most you could hope to achieve is slowing them down.”

 

 A derisive snort made him turn around. “Those whore-sons killed my wife, my sons, my friends. They destroyed everything that I once valued, and you say we should just sit here and wait for them to do the same with this city? It looks like the legends greatly overvalued your competence.” The one who spoke was a young man with a grim expression. His ragged clothes showed he wasn’t part of the guard or the palace staff. He had stayed in a shadowy corner of the room, and now advanced to face the Reaper.

 

 Both the Wise One and the Night Prowler took a step forward, but their lord stopped them with a gesture and faced the young man, fixing his burning gaze in him. A few tense moments later, Holtz was forced to lower his face, incapable of facing the fire in the demon lord’s eyes. “For what you have said,” he said, turning to the king as if nothing had happened “we can expect them to strike at any moment, so the city will have to be evacuated as soon as possible. We must deny the Vermin Lord the chance for summoning more demons to this world.”

 

 Beast then bowed to the Reaper and said “My lord, I was there when the traitors called for the Gar’Atosh’s help, and the amount of demons that poured forth, probably many thousands, for not only did they sacrifice the city’s population to them, but also the army of deathless abominations that helped them conquer it in the first place.”

 

 “This doesn’t make any sense!” Claimed one of the generals “So this army that can wipe the city almost effortlessly is only the beginning? What’s the point in fighting an enemy we can’t beat?”

 

 It was Holtz who answered the general, hitting him square in the nose and giving a loud “crack” as his nose broke. The guards took a step forward, but the Blood Sultan checked their advance.

 

 “Craven bastards!” Yelled Holtz “If those who have the defenses if this city in their hands are like this pitiful excuse for a man, then all your people is doomed. Your options are simple: on one hand, you can abandon the city, leaving only a garrison to defend it for as long as possible, so the civilians can reach a safe haven. The second option is to act as if you could win this battle, don’t evacuate, and let everyone die senselessly. Finally, you could all flee the city, but that would only cause for the demon army to catch up to you and slaughter everyone. You must face it: this city is doomed. Are you willing to also doom the people in it?”

 

 The general left the room to tend to his wound, while the king carefully pondered Holtz’s words. He sat in silence with his eyes closed for almost a minute, until he finally opened them. “Hans,” he said to one of the guards “bring me ink and paper.” As the man scrambled out of the hall, he continued “We will send messages to the nearby cities, asking for a refuge for the civilians and part of our armies.”

 

 Once the guard came back, the king wrote a few lines for each letter, waited for the ink to dry and bade them be delivered. Once all this was ready, he sighed and said “When a man enters the army, he swears to defend the city and obey my orders, even if it would spell certain death. I never thought I’d have to force them to fulfill that oath.” He turned to face the demons. “What will you do? Your words have already proved incredibly useful, will you stay here and help us, or stay and help us defend the city?”

 

 “We will join you.” Answered the Reaper immediately “But not all of us will remain to do battle: some of us will travel north, so our presence can show others that demons are real, and hopefully make them set their conflicts aside and stand as one against Death in the Wind.”

 

 “All of this sounds very good.” Said a gray haired general. “We know the Reaper wants to destroy the enemy that betrayed him but, should he succeed, what will happen? The old legends remember not only the Reaper’s betrayal, but also his tyrannical rule, slaughtering everyone who dared face him in battle and making slaves of those whom he defeated. How can we be sure that, once your enemies are defeated, you won’t turn and make slaves out of us?”

 

 The Reaper remained unfazed, while the other demons seemed about to tear the man to pieces. “In those times I lived only to do battle. I was the leader of the strongest, and it was against the strongest that I waged war.” He said coldly. He took a step towards the nearest wall and gave it a formidable punch, leaving thin cracks on the stone. “In this pitiful era, there is no one capable of standing before me in combat, except my brothers. In this crippled, pathetic form I have faced the dreaded shadow warriors of the fae, and defeated them by the score. No, this pathetic world offers no temptation for me. I will join you, I will fight at your side and murder the one who dared raise his hand against me, not because you deserve to be saved, but because the price of betrayal must be paid in blood. Once my revenge is done, I shall become a legend once again.”

 

 The demons appeared to be overwhelmed by sadness, and Holtz thought he could understand them. They had lost everything: their empire, their position, even the very world in which they used to live and the dreams of conquest and glory. Only hatred remained now, the urge to strike back at the responsible for their fall, and then to rest for all eternity. Unlike him, they couldn’t even go to their peers for support, for only a few of them remained alive. The humans would tolerate them as long as the threat of Death in the Wind remained, but once he was beaten it wouldn’t take long before they turned on their saviors.

 

 “Very well, then.” The king said in a loud voice “You are hereby declared guests of the city, and allowed freedom to walk freely through it. I don’t doubt your knowledge and power shall be invaluable for our cause, and for that I give you my heartfelt thanks. I shall leave you now, for there are other businesses claiming my attention. May the gods help us all.” Having said this, he stood up and left the room, followed by his guards and generals, leaving only the demons, Erandiril and Holtz.

 

 The Reaper faced his brothers and said “The Night Prowler had told me his version of what happened after my death. Now I want you to tell me what else has happened while I was away.”

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