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.


21. Chapter twenty one

As always, the dead came to Meroe at night. Silent and clumsy, they were only aware of their obedience and their unquenchable thirst. But this night was different from the others: this time the humans were prepared. Their raids on the nearby settlements had gone too far, so they decided to hire mercenaries as additional protection while they found out what had happened.


 Ignoring the sentries, the Vermin Lord walked to the main gates. The arrows flew like clouds around him, but he was one of the Seven, and such weapons were beneath his notice. He raised his staff and struck the portal, causing the wood to crackle. The rotten staff fell a second time, and the huge gate combed, twisted almost beyond recognition. A third time he called, and huge piece of wood flew through the air, granting entrance to the army, that immediately rushed inside.


 That ferocious charge wreaked the defending lines, and it looked as if the city was already doomed. Fortunately, the mercenaries they hired knew their business, and soon were armed and ready to do their duty. The alarm spread quickly, and they were supported by the city guards, greatly increasing their strength. They clashed against the dead, slow and stupid, but utterly fearless and strong as three men. The battle was fierce, sharp swords against claw and tooth.


 For a few moments, they cut the dead and made them lose ground. Regular arrows were useless against them, so the defenders soaked them in pitch and put them on fire. The dead flesh, dried by the passage of time, was quickly engulfed in flames, felling the abominations in great numbers.


 Unfortunately, soon the demons joined the fray. The men thought they had routed their enemy, only to be slain by the Vermin Lord and raised against the city they had sworn to protect. The survivors were confused, falling to a new charge led by Death in the Wind, who tore men to pieces seemingly without effort.


 The battle became desperate. The soldiers fought for every step, besieged by an enemy that didn’t know fear and whose numbers increased as theirs went down. Facing creatures from another time, they fought with the abandon of those who know are doomed.


 Slowly, the night sky turned blood red: the Vermin Lord was going through the ritual that would bring the legions of Hell to the world they had once ruled. As his voice waxed, courage abandoned the hearts of men, drowned by the horror of the unknown.


 Abandoning all hope, they considered dropping their weapons and embracing their doom when a sudden screech was heard in the whole city, filling the air with promises of madness and blood. Joining the screech, a booming voice claimed for revenge.


 Only then did the defenders notice that the dead were abandoning the fight to engage another menace.


 The Seven were creatures from a time in which true warriors had lived: none of the mortal warriors of Creation could face them now. So it was that Beast went through the ranks of his enemies without slowing down, releasing their souls and unwittingly delivering them to the powers the Vermin Lord was summoning.


 As the sky’s color changed, Death in the Wind watched his brother help completing the ritual. Smiling smugly, he sent the rest of his army against Beast.


 Seeing their enemies abandoning the fight, the defenders could finally concentrate on saving their lives. In normal circumstances they would have fled without trouble, but now the barrier between the worlds were ripping apart, and the legions poured into Creation once again, eager to drown it in an ocean of madness and death.


 Drunk with the smell of fear, the demons charged viciously against the defenders, tearing arms, throats and legs apart, as if they were nothing more than rag dolls. After slaughtering all the soldiers in their vicinity, they turned their eyes towards the shelters of those who couldn’t fight: the elderly, the women and the children. Laughing in their coarse voices, they set fire to the houses, enjoying the smell of burnt flesh and the desperate screams of the dying. Those who tried to flee were captured and slowly dismembered, their anguish and horror feeding the demons’ demonic patrons.


 As the city was burning, a cry of fury was heard, and the last of the dead abominations fell to the ground, not to rise again. Once again, Beast and Death in the Wind stood in front of each other.


 “I must thank you, brother,” said the traitor “for without you the ritual would have taken man hours to finish.” He stood ready for a fight, with both hands held high. Beast made a gesture and Hellscreech vanished into thin air.


 He faced his enemy for long moments, then started forward. Death in the Wind took a few steps backwards, avoiding the ferocious attacks with calculated precision. He couldn’t, however, send a counter-offensive: all his mind was focused exclusively in defending. Slowly but surely, he started to step back from the street, taking the fight to the rubble of one of the houses.


 Beast seemed to lose his balance in the treacherous ground, and Death in the Wind took his chance, lunging forward to poke out his enemy’s eyes. He knew he had made a mistake, for immediately Beast took hold of his wrist and, twisting it mercilessly, forced him to the ground. He twisted and wriggled to free himself, but Beast was too big and strong to be overcome even by him.


 “You are indeed lucky,” Beast said, ignoring the feeble attempts at breaking free “for it’s not me who must kill you, but the Reaper. Go back now to your pathetic legions, we shall see each other once again.” With this, he released him and started walking, slaughtering those few demons who dared stand in his way.

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