The cottage door smashed open, a spray of wooden splinters flying into the room. Emily screamed from her place at the breakfast table, while her father shot to his feet, knocking the table aside. Bowls of porridge fell to the floor, shattering and splattering food on the wooden planks. A monstrous form stood in the doorway, its dark armour catching the morning sun as it hovered just above the distant horizon, and the wicked looking sword in its hand gleaming.
The Helot let out a mocking laugh as it stepped into the cottage, heavy boots making loud thumps, as two more followed it within. Emily’s father scrambled to the hearth, grasping for the sword hanging there, while her mother grasped her young brother, slipping in the porridge and tripping. While her brother ran, Emily stumbled back, glancing over her shoulder to the window. The bedroom door slammed shut as her brother vanished, but her mother was cuffed upside the head with a gauntleted hand, a spray of blood spurting from her broken lips as she collapsed again to the floor.
While her father charged at the first beast, Emily turned her back to the scene, and fumbled with the shutters of the window, her panic making her fingers clumsy. When she finally got the shutters open she looked back once over her shoulder, and instantly wished she hadn’t. Her father had been stabbed through the belly, his guts spilling out in greasy loops. He stared down with a blank expression as his blood mingled with the porridge already spilled.
“NO!” Emily screamed, and earned only a smirk from one of the helots, before its blade swung in a wide arc that took her father’s head from his shoulders, crimson spurting upwards from the stump before the body collapsed beside her mother in a gruesome heap. She wasted precious seconds watching as her mother crawled sobbing to clutch at her husbands ruined body, before a helot stabbed his sword down into the floor, and heaved the woman up onto the table.
With quick rough movements, the demon tore the dress from the aging woman, exposing her nethers, before it began to lift the cloths hanging from its hip. The second began to move towards Emily, but she turned once more to the window, and jumped out, rolling across the grass. Tears streamed her cheeks, and she felt a rock tear a rip down the shoulder of her finest dress; they had all planned to go into the city proper today, and visit the market. How quickly her happiness had been quelled. As she got to her feet, she looked around the handful of cottages that homed her neighbours, so far from the city walls.
People ran screaming across the fields, bloodied and dirt streaked. Homes were ablaze, the flames leaping from one thatch roof to another. Helots were stalking between the homes, butchering those that dared to run. Her breath taken from her at the horrid sights, she looked desperately across her family’s field of wheat, to the next collection of farmsteads, but saw the same fate had befallen them. In the distance the bells of Driftafay rang loudly, calling all the peasants back into its protective walls.
It was her only hope. Emily began to run, her young legs struggling to move in the dress, but when she turned around her cottage to get onto the main road, the sight of her friend Helena bent over the well, her dress torn so that only rags hung from her shoulders and waist, breasts swaying beneath her over the depths towards the water, stilled any thought of removing the garment. Emily felt sick to her stomach as the Helot standing behind the stripped woman, thrust himself hard and fast into Helena, her cries of anguish sounding above the screams of agony. Emily turned from the sight, and ran along the edges of the fields, moving around corpses of men, women, even children. There was no mercy from these invaders.
When she broke out from the last cottage, the flames consuming its walls heating her back, she jumped over an irrigation ditch and stumbled onto the road, feeling her dress rip once again at her knees. As she got up, her heart pounding within her chest, she saw a woman scrambling through the cornfield before her, before a Helot mounted upon a horse, its hooves trampling the stalks down into the dirt, tossed a weighted net at her. The iron weights clacked as some hit each other, before falling to the ground and dragging the woman with them, trapping her on the ground before another Helot came forward to drag her away.
Emily stifled a scream, not wanting to draw attention to herself, and looked back. There was no hope for her village. But she might still have a chance. She began to run, her shoes kicking up small clouds of dust as she sprinted towards the city, ignoring the burn in her lungs and legs.
Then a great pain exploded in her back. With a gasp of pain she came to a stop, unable to find the breath to scream. She felt liquid bubbling up in her throat, spilling out past her lips as she fell to her knees. Looking down, she saw nothing. Nothing to explain what had happened. But as she gurgled, struggling to find breath, the world slowly turned black. She could barely hear anything anymore, except the thud of heavy footsteps coming nearer.
Her head hit the ground, but she felt no pain. Not anymore.
Looking down at the dying woman, the Helot archer put his boot on her back. Reaching down he grasped his arrow close to her skin, and pulled hard. Vicious barbs ripped strings of flesh from her body. Blood frothed from the wound as she let out a final wheeze, and life left her form. The Helot merely snorted, and turned to watch others fleeing towards the city. He saw a young boy running through the wheat field, thinking the stalks obscured him. Notching the bloodied arrow and raising his bow, the Helot aimed, drawing the string back until he felt the fletching brush his cheek.
Then he released.
Screams filled the air, and Lillium watched from a patch of high ground just south west of the city. People fled in droves, mostly the untouched little hamlets as the raided ones had very few survivors. Which was most beneficial as her own people ran from these places, dressed in dirtied dresses and trousers, moving towards the city. To hide, to spread her will. Lillium smirked, and looked down off the flat boulder she stood upon.
Lorth was overseeing a group of human engineers as they put together the large trebuchets. The Helots had plans for catapults, but when some of the converts came forward with plans for these much longer ranged siege weapons, Lillium had pounced upon the idea.
Kaln was returning from the raid, covered in blood and soot. He wore the grin of bloodlust upon his features. He pounded his chest in salute to Lillium.
“Baroness. The people flee to the city. We cannot pursue much further without getting in range of their weapons,” the lieutenant reported.
“Call your men back. Begin setting up the camp. I’m not sure how long we’ll be here,” Lillium said, and glanced back to a runner lurking at the edge of the woods. Lillium pointed towards him, and the Helot nodded, setting off at a run to pass on to Bazk to move into position with his cohort of two hundred, put together from deserters who sought a place in Lillium’s army, with stealth. She did not want those in Driftafay to know her exact numbers or positions. They would see Kaln’s own two hundred, and Lorth’s five hundred of the original Helots given to Lillium.
Kaln meanwhile brought a horn of bleached bone, from some animal that had been plentiful on their world, and blew a long deep note. Once, that note had sent shivers of fear down Lillium’s spine, but now it felt powerful. She stretched out her wings, wondering if someone from the walls could see her. Surely they had some kind of eye glass to see distances with, in that place.
And she wanted them to see her.
A soft gasp slipped from Sarya’s lips, as gentle fingers ran along her naked back, slowly moving along the hard muscle beneath skin toughened from a life of soldiering, and over the two long scars earned from Kazdruk spears. The room smelled of sex, and the silk sheets caressing her breasts from beneath were damp from sweat, and juices. Still Sarya relaxed, savouring the afterglow of money well spent, as soft painted lips pressed to her shoulder, the whore Isilda no more anxious to remove her client than Sarya was to leave.
Skilled hands began to drift back downwards, sliding over the curve of hip and rear before moving down to thigh.
“I thought my time was up,” Sarya said, turning her head to look at the beautiful woman in whose bed she laid. Isilda smiled gently, the expression perfected from countless clients who had laid with her in this exact room, on these exact sheets.
“It is,” Isilda replied, leaning forward to kiss Sarya’s cheek gently, her breasts pushing into Sarya’s arms, stiff pink nipples gliding along a scar earned from an Elvish blade years ago. Sarya smiled, and relaxed into the sheets, eyes fluttering closed, as those delicate fingers traced designs absently upon her lower back.
“The amount of coin you’ve spent on me so far, I’m surprised you don’t just buy me,” Isilda said, biting at Sarya’s ear playfully.
“The thought is tempting my dear. But the Coalition had abolished any form of slavery, and I needed eyes within the brothel because of this Niseth you’ve told me about.”
“But we are no longer in the coalition,” Isilda said, and Sarya opened her eyes again, tilting her head to look into the other woman’s blue eyes, filled with warmth and hope. Sarya turned and leaned up, kissing those perfect lips, feeling that practiced tongue sliding into her mouth. When they broke away, Sarya opened her mouth to speak, but the bells of the city began their loud clamour. Sarya looked to the window, gentle vines clinging to the other side of the glass.
A sigh slipped from her lips and she rolled out of bed, looking to gather her clothes, and armour.
“I will wait here for you to come back. And we can finish this conversation,” Isilda said, lounging on the bed, watching Sarya dress. The Centurion smirked gently as she buckled on her Lorica, and headed for the door, pausing for one last glimpse before slipping into the halls of the brothel.
Lillium stood proud upon the rock, looking towards the city. Around her, tents were pitched, and the engineers put the final pieces onto the trebuchets. Newly captured slaves were clapped in irons, and watched over by humans in garb that looked like it might be fitting for prostitutes rather than peasants. Skirts for both men and women that hung loosely off the hips, and while the men went topless, the women wore tightly bound vests, held in place with twine that crisscrossed over their ample cleavage. Many bore tattoos on their backs and arms, of a design that Kiah did not recognize.
But her eyes always returned to Lillium, standing there, her succubus wings spread proudly, fingers drumming on her sword hilt. Kira felt anger stirring in her gut, and her hand went slowly to her own sword, but she stilled her hand, and let patience win out.
Thaden and the other refugees were waiting back by a small stream, all of them hiding in the forest after Kira halted them when she caught the scent of Kazdruk drifting through the woods. She had seen the force of what looked to be roughly two hundred moving through the woodline, and made sure to skirt behind them, to see where they had come from. That’s where she found this camp.
Kira let out a long breath, before the snapping of ropes caught her attention; the trebuchets were firing. All four of them launching large rocks towards the distant city walls. Again her hand went to her sword, but again patience won out. She was one woman, she could not storm this camp alone.
Looking back from where she had come, she thought of the refugees, of Thaden. Perhaps she did have something of a force after all.
Without another word she slunk back into the forest. Making note of each sentry, each patrol, each tent. Blood would be shed this night.
The first volley crashed into the city and earned screams of terror. Two of the rocks struck the walls, sending chunks of masonry falling to the field below, but the other two whistled into the city, striking homes. Timber snapped like kindling, roofs collapsed crushing anyone within, and sent debris tumbling into the streets.
Since the first alarms had been raised, Lady Viviane Stark had been arming herself, and when that first volley struck she had seen it through the open doors of the stable.
“Oan have mercy,” she muttered to herself, before turning into the small building to finish strapping her saddle to her white Stallion, Light Dancer. The horse whinnied as the screams reached his ears, before she gently stroked his mane.
“Easy boy, we’ll get out into the battle soon enough,” she whispered softly, and looked about the stables. There were nine other knights in there with her, all of them experienced warriors like herself. When Sarya had taken control of the city, they were officially placed under arrest, but they had no guards, and had been allowed their weapons. They knew that they could not fight an entire city whose loyalty had shifted with a single utterance.
Viviane struggled to comprehend how Sarya thought she could defend this city without the aid of the coalition and how she thought she could just separate from the Coalition. They needed to be united to stand against the Kazdruk, it was their only chance.
Shaking her head, she cleared her mind of such thoughts. She held no loyalty to Sarya, but these people were innocents still. So she and her fellow knights mounted up, ready for battle. Trotting out of the stables, another volley struck the city, earning more screams, more terror. She only hoped that Sarya could do something, as ten knights would not be enough.
Boots hammering on the stone steps of the stairs, Sarya didn’t feel any fatigue as she ran up to the wall tops. Soldiers moved out of her way, and it didn’t take long for her to soon be leaning against the battlements, staring out across the fields from where the projectiles had come. Smears of greasy smoke curled up into the sky, and in the distance tents were being pitched in preparation for a siege.
Quickly trying to count, Sarya realized she could get an accurate account from this distance. She’d need to send out scouts. The enemy, Kazdruk it looked like, didn’t seem to be very numerous, but who knew how many were hiding in the woods. They might be waiting for a sally to wipe out the bulk of the city’s defenders. The triangle of rivers that curled around the city was too far to be of any effective use in battle, for gain or ill, and was easily forded in the east besides that, meaning it was completely ineffective as a strategic option against these invaders.
The fact that the camp was to the west meant either that Lillium had marched through the forest south of the city from Volgras to the south east, or that this was another army. Neither thought sat well with Sarya.
Thinking quickly in her head, Sarya thought of the tallies she had done after her coup. So many lives had been lost, but she was still left with close to three thousand soldiers. Most of them had no experience save for petty squabbles in the streets. If those Helots out there had any experience, and doubtlessly they did, they could wipe out their forces if they were in any number. She had to know.
Another volley came hurtling inwards, the rocks whistling through the air, a sound Sarya knew all too well. She did not move, even as one struck the wall beneath her feet, another not so far over her head. She could feel the wall shaking in protest, and now she wondered how well this city had been built to withstand a siege. She could not think of any time these defenses had been tested in the past. Driftafay lived and died with the nations around it.
She turned and pointed to the nearest soldier.
“You, get down into the city, start organizing rescue parties for anyone trapped in collapsed homes, start bringing everyone further into the city and bringing the wounded to the healing houses,” she ordered and the soldier looked panicked but ran off to do her bidding, or more likely find a sergeant to do it for him. So long as it got done, Sarya didn’t care. She turned to another, pointing at him.
“Find the Captain of the Guard, have him meet me in the war chamber in the Palace, and anyone he thinks necessary. And find those damned knights as well. They’re stuck in here with us… they might as well fucking fight,” Sarya commanded, the man saluted, and ran off.
Sarya turned again to look out towards the Kazdruk camp. Squinting she tried to make something out, but the enemy were all distant ants moving about their business.
“It’s you, isn’t it Lillium. I’m coming for you bitch,” Sarya snarled, and turned to dismount the wall. A battle was not won with empty threats.
Kamri bowed and left the chamber, leaving Aeltha alone to pace and ponder this task she had taken upon herself. She wondered how Neicul’s own little quest was going, but a shimmer in the far corner of her room alerted her to a presence that had doubtlessly been lurking long before Kamri had left.
“What do you have to report Niseth,” Aeltha asked to the shimmer, and the metallic succubus emerged, soft and quiet as the shadows she inhabited.
“Lillium. She has more ambition than anticipated. Perhaps it is the vampire blood you used in her birth, perhaps it is simply what you found within her soul, but she has been converting those she captures to the worship of Morkate, and many have been turned into vampires, much more than the single vial you gave her would acomplish,” the spy whispered.
Aeltha stared at her shadowy minion, startled. This was not something she had expected. Yet it made her curious to see what would come of it. The vial of magically laced vampire blood she knew Lillium had used on her concubine, Rania, to transform her flesh. She had done so at Aeltha’s wish to see the effects on an untainted human.
Nera had been using vampire blood for years to keep herself beautiful when Aeltha toyed with her flesh. Lillium had been magically altered into the form of a succubus when she was made into one of the undead. Rania had been the first subject to successfully turn; the others dumped into a mass grave in the wastes surrounding Thorlgruz. How had Lillium managed to replicate that without the notes Aeltha had studiously recorded. Had she snuck back to the cathedral? Had she sent someone else back there? Aeltha pondered these questions before turning to Niseth.
“So. She thinks to gain the strength to stand amongst the other great Kazdruk,” Aeltha said with a smile.
“I… am not positive. They call her the harbinger. The holy instrument of Morkate. They worship her, and do not view her as a Kazdruk. The Helots have been gathering around her as well, I’ve heard whispers that she is the salvation of their race,” Niseth explained, and Aeltha’s eyes narrowed dangerously. Perhaps helping this Kamri was more necessary than she had anticipated. Or simply something blocking her from looking into far more serious concerns. Her eyes glanced towards the book of spells that she was studying for the coming invasion of the Western lands.
“Perhaps we have left her on her own long enough. Shadow her, forget everything else. Come back to me if anything else changes about my little vampire slut,” Aeltha said gently, beginning to pace again. Perhaps Lillium should be brought back here. She might learn her place again if Aeltha shoved her cock down her throat.
“Do we tell Yuldasha?” Niseth asked, and Aeltha gently shook her head.
“We will hold this to ourselves. It explains why Helots have been acting so strangely of late, but they are my mentor’s creation, not mine. I cannot change them. Perhaps I should approach Master Yuldasha with plans for a new breed of soldier then. But Lillium will remain our secret, until her blasphemies endanger our plans. Go Niseth,” Aeltha said, and the metal and flesh succubus vanished once more into shadow.
Aeltha’s mind was not upon Kamri’s staff. Instead she thought of Nera, and the blood that ran in her veins. The very same blood she had used to create Lillium. She needed to get back to Thorlgruz soon.