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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30. Chapter thirty

Confusion reigned after the announcement was made. After all, the king was the only one among the nordheim who could remember the old meetings with the fae ambassadors. Thus, they had to frantically improvise, adapting furniture so it would be fit for the small, frail bodies of their visitors, trying to cook dishes that wouldn’t be distasteful to them, and conditioning rooms so the chilling cold wouldn’t affect them as much. Through all of this, they worked as in the middle of the fog. After all, how were they to react to a meeting with those they had been killing for many a generation?

 

 The fae were supposed to arrive in just a few days, so the preparations were rushed as much as possible. The city guard was increased to levels no one had ever seen, both to protect themselves in case the fae were trying some trick and to protect the fae from the most fanatic elements of their own race if they were not. Their mission was harder than it looked like, for the king had given strict instructions that the security efforts should be enough to dissuade both parties, but not so much that their guests could feel threatened.

 

 Dawn was rising on the day the embassy was supposed to arrive, when a deep call woke the city’s inhabitants. Thinking the fae had betrayed them, they rushed out of their houses, yelling for blood. They realized their foolishness when the sound turned out to be just a hunting horn, filled with an incommensurable sadness. It was a single sound, with no variations, yet its tune seemed to speak directly to their hearts, telling tales of better days, when they were free and didn’t have to bend the knee to angel or demon, a time when they were servants of peace, not slaves of war.

 

 Among them, only one recognized the sound, for he had heard it before. The Doomed King was already meeting with his advisors when he heard it. The sound stirred in his soul the feeling of a time not even he could remember, a time when existence wasn’t a constant toil to survive.

 

 The horn fell silent as suddenly as it had begun, and the king realized all his counselors were gazing at him. Thinking they were still afraid, he said “It truly is a joyous da—“ He fell silent as he realized his voice had changed. Suddenly, it no longer was frail and weak, but vibrant and powerful. With a great effort, he forced himself to look at his hands, finding the skin terse and immaculate. Struggling to keep the fear out of his voice, he continued “It truly is a joyous day, for you have heard the horn of the Great Hunter, coming back in our hour of greatest need. Thank the gods, for his song hasn’t been heard since the far away days of my youth.”

 

 As his subjects whispered at each other, the king stood up and went to his quarters and, giving instructions so he wouldn’t be bothered unless the fae ambassador arrived, he went straight to an old mirror and looked at himself, confirming his worst fears.

 

 His hair was no longer of a dull shade of gray, but instead it gleamed like silver, just as the day when he became king after slaying Padraigh. His sight had long ago become turned blurred and foggy, but now it had recovered its ancient intensity. But the worst of all by far was his face: barely an hour ago it had been a sorry mix of wrinkles and scars, but now it looked soft and unblemished, like he was a youth of forty years.

 

 It was more than he could bear. Taking his head with both hands, he cried until his eyes were dry. Throughout the centuries he had withstood the cruel torture fate had put him through. He had made an unspeakable pact for the freedom of his people, condemning himself to wander through the shadow realms, sometimes for centuries, until the nordheim needed him again. No, he wasn’t ashamed of admitting he had joyfully received the wrinkles and ailments of old age, just as he would have joyfully accepted death at the hands of young Bandalor.

 

 But now the Great Hunter had thrust the hated youth in his bones again, forcing him to carry on living, only the gods knew for how long.

 

 He truly was the Doomed King.

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