Chapter 8

“How did they defeat the kingdom army? This is absolutely ridiculous! It should have been a sure thing!”

A man was violently hitting the table they used for their mission briefings, scattering paper all over the cellar. He was furious, his plan had failed and the target was still alive.

“I can’t believe how incompetent these Northerners are! The Empire should just crush them all already and get it over with!”

Across from the man was his companion who didn’t even bother trying to stop him, she would just wait until he finally calmed down. There was always an element of the unknown in any plan, even the best ones. She wasn’t nearly as surprised as he was, in her observations of Fayde he had proven to be an able commander.

The man’s violent outburst continued for several more minutes before he finally calmed down.

“We will move to the next phase of our plan. You must quickly follow the Foxkin and meet up with him again on the Plains of Sorrow. We must find an opportunity to isolate him from his allies if possible. I will return to the Empire and prepare a proper force for our use.”

His comrade was not happy with his tone of voice, she didn’t serve him, she served the Empire, but she kept her thoughts to herself. He was a violent man, and she would soon be away from him anyway, so she felt no need to respond to him. She would complete her mission for the Empire, but she didn’t mind if this fool didn’t survive it.

“Use this magic tool to communicate with me, you know how to use it. You must keep me apprised of the target’s movements and when I am ready, I will head towards your location and send you a missive.” He quickly handed her the magic tool, which could summon a magical messenger bird that could travel indefinitely in order to deliver its message. It was a very useful tool, it wasn’t an actual bird, so it couldn’t be shot out of the sky, and it didn’t require sustenance so it could fly as far as it needed to go.

For those in their profession, it was an invaluable tool. Once she received the magic tool from her fellow agent, she left the house which had been their base of operations while in this town. They would now abandon it and remove all evidence they had ever been there. It was no longer necessary for them to continue to use it as they had no idea whether they would ever return. Either way, the female agent said her goodbye to Enrain, and made her way towards the Plains of Sorrow.

After Tris and the others got separated because of what happened in the Kingdom it took her several days to locate Fayde and the Foxkin camp. They were moving extremely slowly westward along the Plains. It wasn’t difficult for Tris to track them down since she  was a Ranger. She had various abilities related to tracking and hunting.

She didn’t bother using any special tricks to hide her presence and instead let the Foxkin scouts easily find her. She surrendered without issue and asked that she be brought to Fayde, she told them they were companions.

When they brought Tris to Fayde, he was sitting comfortably on a cushion.

“Tris, you’re back! So you got my message from Orban then?” Said Fayde.

“Yes, he told me what you were planning to do. I still can’t believe what happened. I came as soon as I could. It’s a good thing you guys have been traveling so slowly otherwise I might not have been able to catch up with you.” Tris replied.

Tris looked around the tent cautiously, but then smiled at Fayde and shrugged

“Yeah, a lot has happened, but I am happy you came. I wasn’t sure if you would.” Fayde said with an exhausted tone.

“Of course I came! What would you do without me?” Tris said while winking at Fayde and giving him a light push.

“You look tired, everything okay?” She continued.

“Yeah, just tired. A lot has happened in the last couple of days.”

Fayde leaned back on the cushion and drank from a nearby bowl. Tris could tell that he must have been through quite an ordeal.

“Why don’t you tell me what happened? I only heard bits and pieces here and there…”

She only knew that the Kingdom forces had gone to the Serandal forest, but none of them had returned.

“Well, you know about the Kingdom trying to coerce the Foxkin, Orban should have told you that much. We ended up fighting them in the forest and we beat them. Anyway, a bunch of other stuff happened after that and now somehow I am the Chief of these Foxkin.” Fayde replied.

His reply was hurried and he seemed to be glossing over the details. It was clear he didn’t really want to discuss it much. Tris had an inkling of what was going on because he was ordering Foxkin around and seemed to be in charge.

“A human chief of a Demi-human tribe? That’s unheard of, how did that happen?”

Fayde leaned over and grabbed some flat bread which was on a plate nearby before speaking.

“Just, some things happened. Anyway, none of that is important. I am glad to see you are safe and that you found us.”

“So what’s next? It can’t be that you plan to wander around the Plains.”

“Like I said, a lot has happened. We are heading towards the Foxkin clan. Reia is going to challenge her uncle for leadership of the clan.”

“I thought that only male Demihumans could be leaders of a clan? What is the point of having Reia challenge her uncle?”

“Yeah, you don’t know yet but I am now engaged to Reia. So if Reia beats her uncle, somehow or another, I will become Khan of the Foxkin.”

It sounded quite unbelievable to Tris, she couldn’t imagine how the Demihumans could accept Fayde.

“Wait, you and Reia are engaged?” She almost missed that little piece of info.

“Yeah… we are.” He shrugged it off with a chuckle.

“I don’t understand, why are you even doing any of this?”

Fayde didn’t owe the Demihumans anything and it wouldn’t profit him much to go through all this trouble.

Why is he doing all of this? She really wanted to know.

“Well….. one way or another, everyone got it in their head that I should unite the tribes and become their leader.” He seemed to be a little embarrassed saying it, but there was also a certain resolve in his voice.

It looks like this is something he wants himself. I didn’t realize he had such ambition. It was a little shocking and she could only look at him with curiousity.

“What makes you think you can make them follow you? The Demihumans have never followed any one leader…”

“Yeah… well, I’m not sure just yet but I have my reasons.”

“What? Tell me.” Could there be anything more that shocks me today?

“I can’t really say more, sorry. It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s not really my place to say anything.”

He refused to tell her which only made her more curious.

“I see. Well, if you can’t tell me, I understand.” I wasn’t expecting him to keep secrets from me, this could be important.

“I’m really sorry, but you will find out when the time comes, I promise.”

It seemed to bother him that he had to keep this a secret from her so she couldn’t say much more.

“Alright, well I’m tired. I traveled a long way to get here so I will go get some rest.”

Tris stood up to leave as she spoke and Fayde told her to get a good rest while she could.

Tris was brought to a tent where she could sleep by one of the Foxkin, but she didn’t immediately go to sleep.

In the dark of night, a single light in the shape of a bird flew swiftly southward.

“Shore up the left flank! We can’t let those imperial dogs flank us! Quickly now, send in the third division of infantry!” An enormous and muscular, giant of a man roared out a command to his subordinate.

He was not a man at all, but a Demihuman that resembled what you would imagine a Human, merged with a demon, might look like. Their forms were nonetheless, more Human like than one might expect and there was even great beauty in their forms if one cared to look.

They were called Demon-kin and to those who welcomed the name, it was a name to be proud of, but to those who cursed it, a name to be feared. They were not demons but lacking any other name to call themselves, they accepted it and made it their own.

“My Shakari, the imperial cataphracts are wreaking havoc on our flanks, we can’t stop them.”

Shakari was the title given to the leader of the Demonkin clan. To the Humans, he was known as the ‘Demon Lord’.

The Shakiri did not want to hear the petty complaints of his subordinate, for in his fury he had lost all reason. It was something that plagued him, his unquenchable fury. The Shakari slammed his immense spear into the ground in a rage.

“Then I shall enter the fold myself!”

The subordinates, and his personal guard that surrounded him, pleaded with him to calm down and not to do something so hasty, but he was well beyond reasoning. The Demon lord, when enraged, could not be stopped and he was an incredibly fierce foe who could slaughter hundreds on his own. It was still dangerous for him to enter the battlefield and so his subordinates did everything they could to try to convince him to remain.

The Demon lord was eight feet tall and was wider and stronger than any man. He rushed onto the battlefield with his enormous spear, that must have been almost twelve feet in length. He swung the spear with skillful ease and every swing of his spear sent enemy soldiers to their deaths. Even the feared Imperial Cataphracts, with their heavily armored horses and men, were cut down by him, but there was too many.

His army was crumbling around him as he raged out of control, only finally calming down when he had tired himself sufficiently. His remaining soldiers crowded around him, forcing him off the battlefield, his army was in retreat. They could no longer sustain the battle lines and were in rout. They had dealt a heavy blow to The Empire, but they had been defeated. His hopes had been dashed by the might of The Empire, but as long as he lived, he vowed his revenge against the Humans that had slaughtered his kind.

With great effort, his subordinates pulled him away from the battlefield.

Two weeks later.

“Brother, you must calm yourself. Your penchant for unbridled rage is quite tiresome.” A young Demonkin woman yawned, while holding her hand very elegantly against her mouth.

She had the demeanor of a princess and she wore a violet dress, embroidered with flowers along the hem. Her movements were delicate, like a flowering rose, she was every bit the opposite of her uncultured and vulgar brother.

This young woman was sitting on a palanquin which was being carried by servants of the Demonkin. She would never allow her beautiful dress to be dirtied by walking. Her brother was beside her, towering over the palanquin. He was in a foul mood.

“I can never forgive them! I will crush every last one of them! I will squeeze their heads until they pop! I will stomp on them until their entrails fall out!”

“Big brother! I can’t stand your vulgarities any longer! Cease this uncouth behavior immediately!”

The big brother looked at his younger sister with fiery eyes, but he discontinued his behavior. If there was any weakness this giant of a man had, it would be his sister. If any other spoke to him in such a manner, he would not hesitate to crush their skull.

“My Shakari, we must be cautious, we can’t allow the Imperial army scouts to find us.”

“Listen to your subordinate brother, I am afraid that your voice can be heard from miles away! It would be a bore if we had to face the Imperial army again, especially with our less than flattering performance in the last battle.” The younger sister mocked her brother, the Shakari, leader of the Demon-kin clan, but he ignored it.

No one would dare pay any mind to the words of his sister, for fear of losing their lives. Every Demonkin knew that the Demonkin princess was a special existence that could say whatever she wished, without incurring the wrath of the Shakari.

“Hrmph! Those humans were lucky, it was not my day!” He dismissed the loss that his kin had suffered against the Imperial army.

He had lost a good portion of his army, but he still had strength left. His Demon-kin were the finest heavy infantry in the world, or so he claimed, and there was truth in it. They were indeed a force to be reckoned with and their mastery of metalsmithing was indeed something to brag about, but their advantage over others was much smaller than they believed. This was something they had learned quite bitterly against the might of The Empire.

They were the only Demihumans who were skilled at crafting metal weapons and armor, but their kind had no magical abilities at all, instead relying on their overt strength of arms and physical prowess. This was not enough to defeat The Empire. Their forces were not as inferior as the Demonkin had thought. Not only that, but they had powerful mages, skillful strategists as well as varied units which made their army diverse and effective. Their cataphracts, especially, were deadly.

The Shakari had underestimated the humans and had paid a heavy price, more than half of his army had lost their lives and they were forced to leave their home. The Demonkin clan was sluggishly heading North to the Plains of Sorrow, in hopes of forcing the other Demihumans to join him against the humans, in order to seek revenge.

“Brother, it is not becoming to make excuses for your failures.”

The Shakari finally turned to his sister, “Sister, why don’t you hurry up and get married so you can spend your time making your husband’s life miserable, and not mine.”

“Big brother, you know very well that is impossible. You have killed every suitor who has expressed an interest in me. Have you forgotten?”

The young woman motioned to one of her servants to fan her, the warm weather was not good for her fair skin.

“Hmph! They were all too weak! No weak man is going to marry my sister! He has to at least last one round with me!”

He was way too proud of himself for that, but it wasn’t as if she didn’t feel the same way. She was far too great a prize for just any man, she was a princess after all, and a peerless beauty. Of course, just strength alone was not enough for her, any suitable husband would need to provide her a luxurious lifestyle as well.

“Then you will just have to deal with me forever.” Her voice had a hint of wistfulness, she was beginning to lose hope in ever finding anyone suitable.

“Argh! If only father hadn’t made me make that promise….”

He was beginning to wish someone would hurry and defeat him in battle, just so he could rid himself of her, but she was his only family after all.

“Brother, I am beginning to think we will never arrive at our destination. Traveling out in the open so frequently does nothing for my skin.”

“We still have a long way to go before we get to the Plains of Sorrow, you will have to make do!”

The young woman was not in any way pleased by his response.

“My Shakari, we have spotted Imperial cavalry giving chase! There are at least five hundred of them.”

One of his scouts had reported back, an enemy cavalry unit was advancing on their position.

The sister to the Shakari, glanced over at the scout and asked him in a solemn tone, “Distance?”

“Princess, they are no more than a mile away, and approaching quickly.”

The scout bowed his head with deep respect. The princess was well loved by her clan despite her seemingly peculiar behavior. There was a very good reason why her clan had such deep respect for her.

“Servants! Put me down and bring me my bow, Vale’ria!” the princess commanded.

The servants who had been carrying the palanquin in which the princess sat, gently placed it down to the ground. The princess stood, and the servants carefully lifted the skirt of her dress, so that it would not dirty. She faced the direction of the approaching cavalry and waited as her bow was brought to her.

The bow was the work of a master craftsman long dead, a long bow of dizzying strength. The bow was seven feet in length, taller than she was, and made of Ebony Darkstone, one of the finest metals that existed. The string of the bow was made from the silk of a Jargdari spider, a gargantuan spider that’s silk was stronger than steel, but also possessed high elasticity. Each arrow shot from this bow was three feet in length and possessed enough power to pierce even the hardest of armor.

There were only two who could shoot this bow, the Shakari, and his sister. Despite her delicate form, she was endowed with a monstrous strength similar to that of her brother. However, despite their similar strength, she possessed a keen sight and inhuman precision that her brother lacked. As such, the only one who could use the bow with any hope of success, was the princess, for which this weapon could be said to have been made for.

The bow, named Vale’ria, had been taken from its resting place and was brought to the princess by three servants who gently placed it in her hands. An additional two servants were tasked with handling the quiver of arrows, which this bow shot. They would also hand the arrows to the princess so that she could quickly nock the arrows and shoot them rapidly.

She waited, observing the horizon with her keen eyesight. 700 yards, 600 yards, 500 yards. She took an arrow from her servants and nocked her bow. 400 yards. She shot, quickly nocking the next arrow handed to her, shooting again a second, third, and fourth time. Her hands moved quickly, her servants having already trained for this particular task and handed her arrows one after the other efficiently.

Each arrow the princess shot, pierced its’ target sending them flying off their horses, one after the other. The cavalry did not slow, continuing their charge. She had killed thirty of them, before she finally yawned, with an exaggerated expression and put her hand to her lips, tired of her play. She handed the bow back to her servants and once again sat on her palanquin. The Demonkin watched in awe at the feat of their princess, who all knew her on the battlefield as the feared ‘Mistress of the Bow.’

“Ha ha ha! Look at that, I think you broke your last record! It’s my turn now! Infantry forward! Javelins, fire!”

The Demonkin skirmishers fired a hail of javelins at the approaching cavalry, thinning their numbers, as the heavy infantry formed their ‘Scildweall.’ The Demon-kin heavy infantry met the cavalry, breaking their charge. These were not the mighty cataphracts they had faced in the previous battle, and so they did not have much difficulty in halting their charge. The Demonkin long spears brought the horses down and their riders with them. Their deaths were swift and merciless, the Demonkin slaughtered the Imperial cavalry with relative ease.

“Hmm, this is too easy, these must be the forces of a local lord and not from the Imperial army. I doubt they would be so foolish to attack us with so few men. This lord most likely wanted to gain prestige by hunting some of us down, but it looks like they became the prey instead, hahahaha.” The Shakari bellowed, filled with the thrill of battle.

His sister looked on with a bored expression as her servants fanned her and fed her fruit.

The Imperial palace was an enormous marvel, a true feat of architectural brilliance, one of the great wonders of the world. It had been built in a different time, but when it had been built, it was only the fifth most magnificent palace in the old empire. The current world did not have the technological prowess to build such magnificent architecture and so nothing could compare to it in the world, and the other palaces had long been destroyed.

Within the lavishly decorated throne room sat the emperor himself. Clothed in the finery of the utmost quality, he sat in wondrous splendor upon a decadent throne. Above his head was a banner with a sun on it. He was known as the Sun Emperor, Emperor of the light, Emperor of the Dawn and the hope of all humanity. He was directly descended from the emperors of old and of the highest pedigree.

He was young and handsome, filled with vigor and charisma. All who gazed upon him, did so with envy in their hearts. Standing before him were the bishops of the Holy Church who did not have to prostrate themselves before his glorious might. While not on equal footing with the emperor, they too were powerful individuals within The Empire.

“Emperor, we bring grave tidings.”

The Emperor never showed his true emotions, instead showing a smile which never changed. He wore no other expression, at least not in public. In private, he was a lascivious and depraved soul, who fed on any and all desires to his heart’s content.

“What is this ‘grave tidings’ that you speak of?” The emperor continued smiling, but was giving offhanded glances to a court lady on one side of the throne room.

The bishops nervously looked at each other before giving their answer. “We have reports…” The bishop hesitated, concerned with the words he was about to say.

The emperor was losing his patience, “Out with it!”

The bishops looked at each other again, and answered, “We have failed to remove the threat and the anomaly has moved towards the Plains of Sorrow. Also, although this is only mere speculation thus far…. there may be Dragonkin helping him.”

The emperor’s smile that never changed in public, was now gone and in its’ place was a look of shock, fear and then anger. He stood from the throne, something he had never done before and slammed his hand on the arm rest. This was an action completely unbefitting one with the stature of an emperor.

“How can this be?! They were all exterminated by my ancestors!” The emperor roared in anger and those in attendance shrunk back in fear.

They too knew of the might of the Dragon-kin that destroyed the old empire, the memory of which was used to frighten young children who misbehaved. The emperor calmed himself and sat back down on his throne, his momentary lapse of decorum at an end.

“Are you certain?” His words were calm, but his usual smile was no longer visible on his face.

“We are certain.” The bishop’s words held no room for doubt.

“There is little we can do now; our legions will take years to rebuild.” The emperor was clearly frustrated.

One of the bishops stepped forward, “It may be implausible to send our legions north, especially with our recent losses, but perhaps a more discreet approach?”

The emperor looked at the bishop with a thoughtful expression, “What do you have in mind?”

“We already have operatives who have been observing the situation for some time now, we wish to send them a support detachment for future operations. We need the very best we have on this and ask for your help in this matter.” The bishop inclined his head towards the emperor and waited for his response.

“You shall have whatever resources you need.”

The bishops thanked the emperor for his assistance and left his presence promptly.

“Brother Bishop, care must be taken in this situation. Mentioning the Dragonkin to spur the Emperor on was brilliant, even if it was just a mere illusion that our agent saw. We can now use the Empire’s resources to take control of this situation.”

“Yes, I am aware. Everything has been going according to plan so far despite this hiccup, it is only a matter of time. We have waited too long and come too far to fail now. Inform our agent that they will have the support they require and tell him to do what they can to isolate the anomaly if possible..”

The other bishops nodded their agreement and mumbled their prayers.

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