It turned out the dining room they had seen prior was not the only one in the castle. This one was slightly smaller, only capable of holding up to sixty people. They spread across two massive round tables surrounded by uncomfortably firm chairs.
"How do we know you aren't going to poison us?" Shadow asked, taking a seat besides the Wizard.
Casting Shadow an amused look, Monrun asked, "Why would I need to bother? I could merely squash all of you liek bugs. Poison isn't the route I'd plan on taking."
"So then what do you want from us?" Sir Remmington asked.
The Wizard found himself startled. While the crimson commander appeared perfectly calm, the Wizard could see his heart was roaring with rage.
"With you? I want to convince you. To show you that what I'm doing isn't evil, that this truly is the only way to purify the world. However, I'm also giving you a lucky shot if you will. All of you are here, you're respectable warriors. If you want to try and kill me, here I am," he answered.
Sir Remmington laughed then said, "There's far too much of a gap between us for that."
"Well, I said if you want to try. Not that you'd succeed. Likewise I'd take any attack as a group effort. I'd kill all of you." He spoke with such sincerity and sureness that everyone's blood ran cold.
Monrun slashed the air with his bone covered palm. At once everyone flinched, expecting another beam of energy to cut through them. Yet instead they watched as the plates in front of them were suddenly filled to the brim with food. Tender brown meats, lucious soft bread, fruit fresher then any they had ever seen. Even the goblets in front of them threatened to overflow with the wine inside them.
Of course no one ate. They watched the display with apprehension and looked at the food with skeptical gazes. Monrun noticed and said, "I assure you, the food is safe. It's extremely good as well. It isn't particularly magic either. I merely had several demons kill the closest food next to them and it was sent here. So, please, eat."
His voice was so compelling they found themselves suddenly picking at their food. They picked up light shiny utensils and began tearing into the meat, filling their mouth with bread, and drinking the wine.
Shadow hated Monrun already, but his hunger got the best of him. It wasn't just that either. Monrun was persuasive and extremely charismatic. Shadow looked at a man who was wearing literal flesh and bones, yet found that he would fit perfectly within the nobility.
While they ate, Shadow whispered, "Wizard, before Monrun began hunting bandits, what did he do for a living?"
"He was a simple town guard. I know exactly why you're asking, though. While travelling, Monrun often found himself being hired under highly respected lords and even kings. He's picked up and perfected all their mannerisms and speech," he explained.
Grumbling, Shadow responded, "That must be why I hate him so much. God damn nobles…"
That simple conversation comprised a good chunk of the talking in that dining room, That was until Michael cast a glaring look at the Wizard and said, "Say you are an angel who helped him ascend to godhood. Why would you ever do that!?"
The Wizard looked ahead and noticed Michael had pushed away his untouched food.
"As a human he had done lots of good. I expected him to do even more good as a god," the Wizard responded.
Monrun butted in, "And I did, didn't I? I lead to your time of peace and I kept the orcs, elves, and other vermin as far from your lands as possible. I genocided thieving gnomes and buried the dwarves underground! Yet your own gods claimed I was overstepping because I cared too much."
"I'm sure the gnomes really appreciated that," Shadow cut back, remembering the alchemist from the capital.
Monrun argued, "The gnomes were fuelling the orcs' onslaughts. If I were to spare them then I would have been excusing their crimes. After all, what sort of human would find himself befriending those vermin?"
His colored eyes opened wide as he looked back and forth at the humans, then they pierced into Henry's presence No one else had realized till now, but Henry's plate was empty. Monrun said, "Be grateful he has survived this long."
"If you touch him-" Sir Remmington said only to be cut off by Monrun saying, "Do not ally yourself with the enemy, Sir Remmington! Know that your lands are not the only ones being besieged by their kind. Orcs are the first assault, the foot soldiers of the demons. Their harbingers."
"Can you not see your own hypocrisy?" Shadow cut in. He found his blood boiling at the prospect of Monrun harming Henry. "You're meant to be the god that fought against demons and protected us from orcs, right? So what the Hell were they doing in Forkstead!? Why was Mr 'Era of Peace' laying low while a city went up in flames?"
Monrun spoke with calmness, which only fuelled the fire in Shadow's blood as the man said, "Unfortunately the barrier on the equator hampers me as much as you. Getting to the orcs would be extremely difficult."
That pricked everyone's ears. In the grand scheme of things, even Monrun was not strong enough to break through the equator. No… he would become a massive target.
However the Wizard knew more in the grand scheme of things as he argued, "With how much power you have you could have argued for the orcs staying near the equator to further strengthen the demon armies. They could have assaulted from the north."
Monrun's composure stirred for a second before he said, "The other Devils would not have accepted such an order. They're far too prideful."
No one stirred at that explanation until Monrun said, "What? I can only do so much right now. I still need to get more power from the gods before I can hope to make any true change. Believe me, working from the shadows disgusts me. It is far too cowardly and rogue, but for now it's all I can do."
"You could be fighting," Sir Remmington argued. "You could join your forces in battle and help them."
"And what force is that? I haven't allied myself with the devils, I've simply thrown them against a meat grinder and I collect the paste from time to time. Eventually I'll take the fight to the gods myself, but till then I shall relax."
"I must say," Monrun spoke after finishing his meal, "Haven't an-"
"How did Angela get into the capital?" Jeremiah finally asked, speaking up for the first time. He looked across the table and directly into Monrun's eyes. His glossy dull eyes met with the dietie's shining ones as he asked, "Angela opened a portal into the capital and flooded it with demons. What do you say to that, god of justice?"
Monrun wrinkled his nose slightly before saying, "Like I said, my word only means so much to the other Devils. It-"
"Did you know about their plan? Angela had been in the court for some time. Did you know?" Sir Remmington cut in as well. The memory of the city in flames and the dead being loaded into carts was still fresh on his mind. He asked, "Did you know about the hundreds of bodies we buried? Sixty seven infants were killed by the demons. So I restate Jeremiah's question. What do you say to that, god of justice?"
This time Monrun made a shallow grunt before saying, "Don't you people see the bigger picture? This war had killed thousands before I arrived. Now, yes, it will kill a few thousand more, but then that's it! That's the end of all of it! Can't you see that this little bit of bad will lead to the start of eternal good!"
Shadow scowled at the scenario. He asked, "Maybe your lover dying was also something th-" Shadow was stopped as he felt an intense heat around him. He could sense at any moment his body would burst into flames. Yet the rogue still stared ahead at Monrun and said, "If you couldn't accept your own grief, don't ask us to accept ours for your own vendetta, you hypocrite."
For a moment the heat only intensified, searing the edges of Shadow's cloak. He thought this would be his death, so he painted his face with an intense scowl. Then it was gone as Monrun said, "Very well. I respect your grief. I am sorry for any deaths that had to occur in the past year, but I assure you it will all pave the way for a greater good."
"What is your greater good, exactly? What's in it for us humans, anyways?" Finnegan asked.
"Imagine the time of peace except far grander. On a worldwide scale there'd be nothing but peace, prosperity, and triumph. Children would have full bellies and men would have loving wives. A picture perfect utopia, wouldn't you say?" Monrun asked with a smile.
That was the first time they felt themselves backed into a corner. If Monrun truly could bring them a utopia, how could they face against world peace?
That was when Michael roared, "I've had enough of this godless heathen! I've read a few proper history texts myself, Monrun. Your times of peace center around massacring anything you deem violent or lazy. If someone doesn't fit your standards you'd off them. You're still just some vengeful killer seeing everything as good or evil."
"Ironic, I would say." Monrun replied. "The paladin is lecturing me on simplistic views of good vs evil. Tell me, Michael. Would you not also desire a world free of cultists and sadistic killers? Is that not the purpose of your organization?"
"I seek to rehabilitate and save. My organization had a strict code, you know. Kill only when wounding is unattainable. Wound only when a foe is too difficult to disarm. Disarm only when negotiation is not an option. Your 'code' however is to kill anything that might end up becoming vile. You'd punish anyone for having a dark thought!" Michael countered.
Monrun argued, "I merely crush the seed before it can grow into destruction. You keep replanting it hoping it will grow into something else. Your methods are foolish and only promote the wicked to keep being wicked."
"Now that sounds mighty 'just.' I see now why my church never acknowledged your godhood. You're a false deity and I have no respect for you," Michael growled.
Monrun shrugged and said, "Frankly, I don't give a damn. My way is more effective."
"You're all wasting your time. The fanatic isn't going to give up on his ways," Finnegan said, chewing on the last of his bread. "Our best option is to fight him."
Monrun grinned at the statement but Sir Remmington roared, "Absolutely not! Not one of you is attacking him, I forbid it!"
Everyone jerked bat at the order, even those with no intention to attack found themselves pushing their bodies further away from Monrun.
For a moment Monrun was silent. He bore both of his eyes deep at Sir Remmington. He stared and stared with no one else quite sure what he was looking for. Finally the god looked to the Wizard and said, "Surely you must have realized as well."
A murmur of "What?" went into the air.
The Wizard simply said, "Ignore him. He's just trying to distract all of us "
Monrun laughed then said, "Well I'd imagine you're all quite tired as well. Roam around the castle, you're bound to find the bedrooms eventually. Until then, I surely must depart."
"What would you even have to do that you would need to even depart for?" Shadow asked.
"Ah, ah. Even I have my own secrets. Goodnight everyone," Monrun said with a smile. He then departed from the table and disappeared from the dining room, leaving all forty of the soldiers perplexed with one another.
Then the dining hall erupted. "How are we supposed to beat him?!"
"Why should we? His world sounds pretty good!"
"You moron he'd kill a slime ball like you day one!"
"He'd kill us all, we're all rotten in his dual colored eyes!"
"Shut up or he'll hear us!"
"He's a god you moron, he can already hear us!"
"That's no god!"
This and dozens of other shouts and yells were tossed back and forth. The men descended into anarchy and it looked as if they would start throwing punches. Finally Sir Remmington had had enough as he yelled, "All of you be quiet! Bickering won't get us anywhere! Calm yourselves and rest. Tomorrow we will regroup and discuss further matters."
"What if he kills us in our sleep?" one asked.
It was Shadow who responded, "Unlikely. If he planned to kill us with subtlety he would have done so already. He has some honor."
Michael shook his head, saying, "That's not honor that's indifference. He hasn't killed us because he has no reason to."
"Still, we're alive. That's something," Shadow replied.
Nodding, Sir Remmington said, "Shadow has a point. He hasn't killed us yet, so he likely has no plans to. For now we must wait and abide for the perfect time to strike. Till then, not a single move towards him will be made by any of you. Understand?"
Everyone gave a, "Yes Sir!" in reply.
Sir Remmington turned to the Wizard and asked, "Do you know any way to undo his godhood or any weaknesses he may have?"
Shaking his head sadly, the Wizard said, "No… His godhood cannot be undone. Even if it could, it would be a process that takes days if not weeks. We wouldn't have the time or resources. As for weaknesses… there are none I know. His followers are too vast and he has truly absorbed the power of the Devil of War. If I were to estimate, he has the strength of two or so gods, maybe a bit more."
"And weaknesses?" Sir Remmington restated.
The Wizard shook his head saying, "I have no idea. The only thing that could defeat him is another god."
Shadow suggested, "Didn't he say he had used Matho to open up a portal? If the portal is still open then doesn't that mean he's still alive?"
"Hmm. You're right," the Wizard agreed.
Michael but in, saying, "But with how long a portal that massive has been opened, he'd be quite weakened by now. He would be no match for Monrun."
"Damn it, you're right," Shadow replied with a sigh. "If only we could bring another god here."
"Sadly not," the Wizard responded. "Firstly we would need the means to open up a portal, and secondly bringing a god here would leave the equator undefended."
Finnegan pondered, "Does a god sleep? We could-"
Everyone chimed in, saying, "No, they don't, and no we couldn't."
"Piss on it all, then. I'm getting some sleep and I'd recommend you all do the same." He stood up and turned to Sir Remmington to ask, "Is that fine with you?"
The commander nodded, saying, "I was planning to dismiss everyone anyways. I'd imagine we're all exhausted. You're all free to head to bed."
As soon as he issued the orders, the soldiers began stirring. None of them knew where the bedrooms were, but they expected it would not take too long to find them. One had to wonder if demons truly slept, and what type of beds they slumbered in. After a few minutes the room had been emptied leaving only the Wizard, Michael, Shadow, and Sir Remmington. Even Jeremiah had departed in silence.
"I'm worried about that one," Michael admitted, watching Jeremiah slump off.
Sir Remmington nodded, saying, "I've seen many men fall into similar pits of despair after losing a valued comrade. He will either come out of it stronger… or not at all. Only time will tell."
In their own way, each one of them had felt a similar loss over the years. Shadow had lost mentors, the Wizard had lost apprentices, Michael had lost valued paladins, and Sir Remmington had watched his comrades fall like dominoes. However, there was no time to compare grief or comfort Jeremiah. They had a dire mission at hand.
"There truly is nothing you know to help defeat Monrun?" Sir Remmington asked in disbelief.
"At the moment, no. I suspect we'll need to sneak through this castle to find more information about the 'god." the Wizard suggested. He looked over to Shadow with a grin and said, "And good thing we have such a skillful rogue with us. Do you feel like searching the halls?"
Shadow nodded and said, "Sure, although if I get turned into steam or ripped inside out, all of you blame this one." He pointed to the Wizard before turning around and tightening his hood over his head. He said, "I'll be going out then. Are the three of you sleeping?"
"Hah, yes I'm sure sleep will come quite easy in such a place…" Sir Remmington said sarcastically. "Good luck, Shadow."
"Thanks, Captain," Shadow said, then disappeared off into the hallway.
When he left, the Wizard remarked, "He didn't wait for my answer…"
"Because he knows an old fool like you is going to doze off the moment he sees a
blanket," Michael retorted.
Before they could dissolve into bickering, Sir Remmington quickly excused himself to find a bed for himself, but like he said, he didn't expect to find sleep.
As the blood stained commander wandered through the jet black obsidian halls, he found himself alone. He found himself alone with nothing but his thoughts. His emotions. His unquenchable rage…
From the moment Sir Remmington had chopped that flesh dragon to pieces, from the moment he had burst from its innards, he had only one emotion left. He found himself void of all other feelings and thoughts, there was only one left. It was rage. An unstoppable, pounding, never ending rage that made his heart beat like a steel drum.
On and off Sir Remmington clenched his hilt. He wanted to fight, he wanted to kill. Yet it was clear Monrun was far too powerful.
Sir Remmington had idolized the god, he had seen him as the epitome of what all men aspire to be. A man too powerful for his own mortality. A man who purged the lands of evil. Now Sir Remmington had seen his god's wickedness. He felt utterly betrayed. To know the god he had always looked to had such a massive role in the death of hundreds of his men, it was an angering thought.
Yet what angered Sir Remmington more was how much he could relate with Monrun's thought process. Restarting the world, killing anyone you deem evil. In theory it would work. Sir Remmington truly wasn't smart enough to debate morality with a god, but damn it did he want to. He could never accept Monrun's ways, but even though it angered him deeply, he could understand them.
"RAH!" Sir Remmington screamed, unsheathing his sword. The scream rang out and echoed through the halls as the silver blade sprang forward in the blink of an eye, but it wasn't fast enough for the commander's taste.
"Faster!" he yelled, slicing through the air. He bit his lip till it bled as unsheathed his weapon, even faster. Yet it still wasn't enough. It wasn't enough to face a god, to best Monrun. It wasn't enough to avenge his men, to quell his rage. He had to be faster, he had to be stronger! So Sir Remmington unsheathed his blade against, faster, faster, and faster. He was doing it dozens of times a minute and each time he only got faster, but it was still never enough.
Sir Remmington would spend the entire night unsheathing his blade to no end, until finally he collapsed from exhaustion against the hard walls around him. In his sleep he was plagued with dreams of battle as sweat soaked through his hair.
Each step Shadow took was a silent one. Had a soldier been right in front of him, they would not have heard any one of his footsteps.
It had been some time since Shadow could properly do this. To simply vanish into thin air and sneak through a castle at night. However he never expected to be sneaking through a castle like this. One donning black hallways which were lit up by a red glow that one couldn't locate the origin of.
As Shadow moved around a corner, his cloak flowed with him. Against the black walls, he was almost entirely invisible.
There was only one place Shadow knew to start: the tower. When they had first entered the castle, Monrun had come down from a staircase leading up to a tower. Now Shadow worked to retrace their steps so he could once again find that tower.
After slowly opening another one of those small silver doors, Shadow found himself back within the uplifted throne room. No effort had been made to clean it, as chairs, paintings, and weapons were all lying around the room. Even the throne had been reduced bent weapons and flattened armor pieces.
Yet despite the carnage, there was a long staircase which had remained entirely untouched. Shadow began walking towards the staircase when he saw something catch his eye.
It was another one of the moving paintings, except this one was massive.
The painting depicted a massive man sitting upon the throne of battle. He had a long black beard which fell from a chiseled sharp face. His eyes were bombs which burst everytime he blinked. His skin was a swirling, moving force. Each side of him displayed battle itself. His thighs were dying men, his arms consisted of arrows being fired, and his neck had jagged swords clashing. It was too much for Shadow to comprehend. He was both a tangible entity, yet also thousands of battles stacked on top of one another.
"The Devil of War," Shadow guessed. Before his mind could crack further from the display, Shadow left the painting behind in order to traverse the steps. Once again he made his quiet, untraceable even, as he snaked along the never ending staircase.
It would be several minutes until Shadow at last made his way up the stairs. He found there had to have been over two hundred steps, despite how short the castle seemed. Perhaps it was just more demonic sorcery.
The top of the tower opened up into a large room, about the size of a home, with several doors encircling the exit of the staircase. Shadow took the closest one for simplicity.
He opened it slowly and silently, only to reveal an empty room. It looked to have been a bedroom at one point, but was now overgrown with dust and coldness. Shadow idly wondered who would have slept in it, but thought there was no time for that right now.
Two more doors revealed similar sights. Nothing more then empty beds and worn out wardrobes that had been long since abandoned.
Shadow opened the fourth door, and was immediately caught aghast by the display. The first thing he saw was Monrun, his macabre armor was deeply unsettling, but Shadow continued watching. The god was standing over something, no… someone.
"You may enter," the low, soft voice of the god came.
At once all the hairs on Shadow stood erect, yet he sensed no malice or harm originating from the god. Likewise, he just said once more, "You may enter."
With that, Shadow opened the door wide, and walked in. He promptly closed the door behind him, then looked at the display for a second time.
Now Shadow could see an entirely different scene. Monrun had removed his skull helm, revealing a small ovalular head beneath it. His skin was tan and his hair the color of almonds. He was clean shaven around his small lips and unpronounced chin. He looked… human
Even more was the woman he hunched over. Shadow now saw that he had taken off his gauntlets as well in order to hold her hands. She had small, delicate hands. Brown curly hair fell from her freckle covered head as orangish eyes stared emptily at the sky like she were in a fog. She wore male clothing which kept snugly against her body.
"Who is she?" Shadow asked, although he suspected he already knew the answer.
Monrun answered back in a soft voice, "The woman I love."
"What's wrong with her?"
There was a sad look in Monrun's red and gold eyes as he said, "When she died… This wasn't the realm she went to. No, she was too kind a soul for such a place. She was bound for the Heavens. Eventually, so was I.
"There was more then one reason me and the gods fought so severely. After I became a god the first thing I did was search for her. The rest of the pantheon tried their damndest to hide her amongst a sea of good samaritans and saints, but eventually I found her. I could spot that freckled face from miles… Once I found her, I prepared to spend eternity with her. Being a god allowed me to monitor your world and be with her at once. It was Heaven for both of us.
"Yet the others only grew more and more anxious as we spent time with one another. Likewise when asked about their lack of interference in her death, destiny and something about only being able to watch in order to not stir fate kept being brought up. As spiteful as I was, I couldn't care at the moment. I had her with me, what could I be angry for?
"By now they were also angry about the Time of Peace I had ushered in. More interference in the lives of man, how could I? Yes they grew increasingly bitter… It was around this time that somehow, she got pregnant. No one understood how it was possible. There were a thousand reasons it was impossible, yet it happened. Perhaps I had bended reality in order to let it be, perhaps it was a proper miracle. I do not know.
"Such a being had no right to exist, they claimed. A demi-god they called it. Something they feared, even more then me. They… She had a miscarriage. I knew at once it was their doing.
"So I rebelled. I brought my sword forward and I cut down the nearest god; Matho. However, he wasn't the only thing I took from Heaven."
Shadow saw Monrun tighten his grip around his beloved's hand as the god said, "Yet they knew my plans… They had seen through my intentions. It wasn't until I reached Hell that I realized she had been cursed. Her soul and mind had been fragmented, chipped away until she was reduced… to this," he indicated the woman he held. Her eyes which stared at nothing, her mouth which slowly opened and closed for no reason as drool dribbled down her chin.
"The gods took everything from me, Shadow. Twice. I will not rest until I have killed all of them. I believe you can understand such vengeance."
Yes, Shadow most certainly could. As he listened to Monrun's story and looked down on the withered body of a woman long gone, he could understand such vengeance. He could relate to a never ending urge to kill those that had taken what you held most sacred. Yet he found himself speechless. How could he disagree with Monrun's vengeance when he himself had spent his whole life clinging to such a similar mentality.
"Wait…" Shadow thought aloud. He said, "Still, don't you think you're just using all of this as an excuse to kill thousands?
"I have no interest in killing thousands, Shadow. There are eleven beings left for me to kill, that is all I desire. So long as the battles stay near the equator, no one else needs to die. I don't have any interest in killing humans. The Gods and Devils are where my vengeance lie. Not with you or your friends. I am deeply sorry about Angela's actions however. Or the plague spreading on another continent. No matter how hard I try to build a dam around this battle, leaks and cracks do form," Monrun said with genuine sadness.
Human… Shadow looked at his face once more. This man was… human. Too human. Shadow found himself agreeing with him far too much. He found himself relating to his emotions too much, sympathizing with his cause. It was dangerous, far too dangerous.
Shadow felt his hands tremble as his silver daggers rested against his thighs. He looked
Monrun's unarmored throat. Damn it… Damn it all!
Shadow felt his hands reach for his daggers, he felt fingers coil around the hilt. Damn it… He wasn't some philosopher debating whether the gods were moral or not. He couldn't say for sure if Monrun was justified or if he was merely a sweet talker. Shadow had to kill him… He had to take the shot… He had to kill Monrun.
Shadow lifted the dagger from his sheath. It moved through the air as silently as a phantom. Monrun hadn't detected it. Shadow could plunge it into his throat. He could end all of this, he could send them home. He could finish this mission.
Yet then he would only be continuing this endless eternal war. He would be killing a man who just wanted a more peaceful world.
Think, think, think. No! No more thinking! Shadow was a killer, he was an assassin, a rogue, a vengeful cold blooded murderer. So that's what he'd do. With Monrun's back turned as he cradled the love of his life, Shadow would strike him down! He would kill him!
The blade moved faster and faster, it would strike Monrun any second.
That was when an explosion went off. An explosion so massive it shook the entire castle. In the distance Shadow could hear massive chunks of stone falling to the ground and shattering from its own weight as the castle only continued violently vibrating.
Likewise the tremors had sent Shadow's dagger flying as he fell to the floor. At first he thought Monrun had sensed his desire and put a stop to it, but he realized this wasn't the case. The god turned around with a look of confusion and worry just as apparent as Shadow's. He looked to his lover, then to Shadow before he said, "Stay down."
Shadow did what he was told as Monrun shot a burst of energy through the tower. This ruptured a massive hole in it which allowed for everything to be in full display.
What caught their attention first was the massive portal in the sky. It was about as large as the castle and the same deep shade of red. And it was clear where it had been opened up from.
Surrounding the entire castle were thousands of angels and demons, all tossed amongst one another due to the portal. Shadow watched and saw the more were falling from the portal as well. A few fell on top of the tower, then slid off onto the ground. A vicious hail storm of bodies was going on, with the fighters quickly springing to action midway through the air.
"How can this be…?" Monrun asked, confused. "How!? What have you done?" he yelled at Shadow.
He looked prepared to burn Shadow alive, when a massive shape caught their attention.
From the portal came a large, charred foot. Around it were strewn together pieces of armor. As it fell further and further, the two realized it was the Demon King. His massive crown kept to his face as it fell directly onto one of the towers, crumbling it upon impact.
"No… No… No… No!" Monrun yelled. He shot a powerful beam towards another tower directly across from them. Bricks and stone were thrown about as the tower walls exploded. With the obstruction out of the way, one could now see the old figure of a man clad in blue robes. There was a mischievous yet intimidating look in his eyes as he stared across at the god.
The moment he saw the man, Monrun knew he was responsible for this chaos. "Wizard!" Monrun screamed with rage. He was going to kill the mage once and for all...