Later on that night, the three town leaders met together in the Adventurer’s Guild meeting room. All three were stiff with grief and regret.
Father Jonas sighed and began, “We didn’t see this coming. None of us did with all the intelligence at our disposal and our combined experience.”
Prince James nodded slowly, “Master Mary, Father Jonas, what can you tell me about this situation?”
“I received a letter from Father Tobias,” Jonas said, “He wrote in haste, and the letter was finished by a subordinate. As you may be aware of, churches can be linked magically at great cost to allow instant movement between sister locations. The initial assault in Duren destroyed every place of worship, eliminating any chance for swift reinforcements or evacuation. The priest who completed the letter said that Tobias went down after facing a horde of demons to save a group of citizens. He managed to eliminate the sloth prince level demon before he died.”
“I received word from the vice guild-master,” Mary spoke up, “My former leader was used as a sacrifice like Lord Rotch for a demon of pride. Thankfully, he was able to subdue the monster long enough for the few adventurers in town to kill him easily. The adventurers of Duren are essentially no more however.”
“My letter was mostly the same,” James revealed as a tear fell down his face, “Kenneth managed to save my sisters and many of the remaining guard and are fleeing here. My father . . .”
James sucked in a calming breath, “My father recovered his mind in the midst of the turmoil and massacred the enemy with my mother’s help. The fire we see is mostly her doing, a worthy display of power from one formerly hailed as a fire magus. Ken said the last he saw of them, they were facing the strongest attackers together in the collapsing palace mansion. He doesn’t think they made it.”
A knock at the door drew their attention. Gran walked in, his stoic face drenched in grief.
“I have received word from my people,” Gran said evenly, “The forest home was also attacked, and many elves were killed. They repelled the enemy, however, and all survivors are coming here. We request sanctuary.”
Guild-Master Mary turned to Prince James, “While the Adventurer’s Guild owns the town, we still fall under the authoritative rule of the surviving family of Duren. Prince James, will you offer sanctuary?”
“Of course,” he nodded, “Gran, you and your people already live with us. We all share in this tragedy now and must work together to recover what we can.”
“There is something else,” Gran continued, “Before they left, my people received word from the other elvin communities of Nehatra. This was a coordinated attack against every city-state. The Empire succeeded in its coup and are able to land their troops on our shores to launch a pronged attack on Groatland.”
James folded his hands and leaned into them.
“This is an unprecedented disaster,” he finally decided, “However, by their means the Empire is showing they disregard both wartime laws and divine laws. How do they expect to avoid both divine and international punishment?”
“By eliminating all survivors,” Mary concluded, “No one can blow the whistle if everyone is dead. That must be why they also attacked the elvin communities even though they hadn’t devoted any aid to fighting the empire.”
“If that’s the case, then why launch such a weak attack here?” Father Jonas questioned, “While the monster was indeed terrible and strong, it was nowhere near a match for a town of adventurers, priests, and elves. While I can’t activate the church’s transportation magic as I am lacking the sacrificial materials, I can easily send notice to the Holy Father.”
“It must be because of the purge in Duren and the failed demon invasion,” Prince James reasoned, “The rage demon was likely supposed to lead the attack with a corrupted town of adventurers, but was instead killed and many pawns eliminated in the city. They couldn’t move other assets from the cities without risking failure, so they had to make do with fake corruption magic and a sloth prince. Sloth demons are more suited for defense than attack after all.”
“The reduced demon-power must also be why there are so many survivors from Duren and the elvin community,” Gran pointed out, “There wasn’t enough strength to eliminate the top powers without substantial loss.”
“However, now that their coup is complete, we are likely a large target for elimination,” Mary observed, “It is likely that traps have already been put into place for any message we try to send from here. We will be effectively cut off from the rest of the world.”
“Is there anyone fast we could send to outrun pursuers?” Prince James asked.
“I’m the best candidate,” Father Jonas admitted, “but if I leave then you would lose my assistance. None of the other priests of Duren come near my ability to control the wind.”
“Then you must go,” James locked eyes with Father Jonas, “We are cut off and in all likelihood would be defeated even with you here. Better someone escapes and warns the other nations of the Empire’s tactics. Bad enough they created the were plague by accident, now they are purposely using corruption magic and demons. Leave tonight before the enemy can set up blockades.”
“Yes your highness, at your command,” Father Jonas bowed and left the room.
Prince James turned back to Mary and Gran, “At first light, gather everyone who can ride and wield a weapon and take them toward Duren to rescue the refugees. Save as many of our people as you can. And may the gods shine their light upon us.”
Claire, Anadine, and The Twins heave din exhaustion on the floor of Doc’s heart-room.
“Doc, you have a problem,” Claire finally managed to get out, “What kind of dungeon loses all self-control when a demon enters your area? We were barely able to restrain you this time from going crazy!”
“You say something Claire?” Doc asked, looking up from the swarm of inferno slimes piling onto the dead body of Lord Rotch and absorbing it, “Sorry, I was watching the slimes eat. These slimes seem to be really into this body; it’s almost impossible to tell them to stop eating.”
“Doc!” Claire whined, “You can’t keep doing this! What if someone saw you sneak that body away? That would reveal how you’ve started to set up dungeon spawn points in town. I still can’t believe you talked me into this, and thank goodness all those adventurers though the body turned into dust like the rest.”
“Yeah, that’s too bad. I think these slimes would have loved to eat those bodies too.”
Missy and Rowen lay quietly on Fred’s large bed. They each contemplated about the events of the day.
When Fred found out what they had done, he had erupted in fury and would have beaten both of them to death had Mary and Fiora not intervened on their behalf. Mary was finally forced to reveal their potentials and powers to a shocked Fred, who found he could not process all this new information.
Finally, he declared that the two of them would be resting in his dead for the night. He would punish them in two days after some consideration and left to find an inn to sleep at.
Milly rolled over to stare at Rowen. “Hey,” she asked, “what did the monster mean when he said you were part of the dungeon?”
Rowen flinched, “Um, nothing in particular. He must have thought my sympathy was a sign of being an adventurer, that’s all.”
“Is that so?” she grinned at him in the dark, “Well, what about that large red and orange tentacle you watched take the monster’s body away. Know anything about that?”
“No,” Rowen squeaked.
Milly giggled, and giggled, and giggled. Finally, she sat up and gazed at him with some affection.
“Hey, want to know a cool secret about me?” she asked.
Rowen, thankful for the change in topic, said “Sure”.
Milly turned and pulled out the skull Rowen had returned to her. She stared at it with a hint of a smile.
“Want to talk to it?” she asked him.
“Mr. Bubbles can talk?” Rowen asked in amazement.
“No silly Rowen, Mr. Bubbles can’t talk,” she laughed at him, “She uses him to talk.”
Milly tossed the skull to Rowen, who looked down curiously.
A red glow appeared deep in the skull’s eyes.
“Hello there Rowen,” a sweet voice echoed in Rowen’s mind, “It is a pleasure to meet you after hearing so much about you.”
Rowen winced at the power contained in the voice, “Who, who are you?”
The voice seemed to chuckle, “I have many names Rowen. But, you may call me Temtra.”
“The coup was an overall success,” Michelle reported in the dark space to her master,” Nehatra has fallen and is open for our armies to use as a foothold to invade Groatland.”
“An overall success is not a complete success. What happened?” the man asked.
“As we suspected, our forces in Duren were not strong enough to completely eliminate the city. Many citizens escaped from both it and the elvin community. They are headed toward the dungeon town.”
“Eliminate as many as possible before they can reach it,” the man commanded, “Are the major pawns still under your control?”
Michelle grinned evilly, “Yes master, the major pawns are still in play and ready to activate.”
“Good,” the man nodded, his back still facing Michelle, “use them only when their guard is down and everyone is together. We must make sure no one survives to report our means. It would make this campaign . . . burdensome. The emperor has started hearing rumors of our experiments and grows suspicious. We cannot allow him to find out before our people have taken a stronger role in the empire.”
“Understood. However, an interesting variable has come to light,” Michelle reported.
“Oh? What is it?” the man asked.
“A chosen of Temtra has been discovered in the dungeon town. She is young and malleable, perfect for grooming to be your successor. She helped eliminate our pawn there.”
The man turned around fully now, an expectant look on his face.
“Interesting; do your best to catch her unharmed. Bring her to me, and I will make sure she understands our point of view.” The man brushed his long, straight red hair away from his face.
“Oh, and it possible, capture my wife and daughter for me. They’ll see my point of view soon enough.”