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Bloodbane’s growing group was moving rather rapidly now. The men had won a couple of skirmishes and were regaining the confidence that they had lost after repeated losses. A lot of the reason for their success came from the rangers picking off any creatures that were close to injuring a soldier, and the maids massacring any larger threats. As they reached an intersection, there was a bloodcurdling scream down the hallway. The soldiers turned to go to the sound, hoping to find someone still alive.

“No!” Bloodbane, who had been rather silent for some time, spoke up.

“Sir?” Lieutenant Greeves turned to look at the king.

“Ignore it. We must head to the main courtyard and reach the front gate.”

“Yes, sir!” He responded immediately.

Although Bloodbane had gained his loyalty, as they passed the intersection, they could hear more screams. It sounded like a woman being tortured. It didn’t sit right with any of them to walk on. What if she was one of their sisters or wives? Eventually, a man couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Screw this!” he cursed, and then turned and started running down the hall.

“Andromeda,” Bloodbane spoke simply.

Andromeda knew exactly what he wanted. Without hesitating, she pulled a knife she had tucked into her thigh suck and then threw it. The blade struck the back of the man’s head, hitting him just under the helmet. He didn’t even cry out before he collapsed to the ground. She had managed to get him right at the brain stem, ceasing all function in the most painless way. The death was so sudden, that the other soldiers had to stare at the unmoving body for a minute before they grasped what happened.

As soon as they did, several men let out shouts of surprise.

“M-m-murderer!” One man cried.

More and more men started voicing their discontent.

“Silence!” It was Lieutenant Greeves who bellowed, cutting through the men like a knife.

“S-sir… enough of us are dying that we don’t need to be killing each other?” One man who summoned up enough boldness stepped forward. “We’re at least owed an explanation.”

The men all turned to Bloodbane. Although it had been Andromeda who sent the blow, she had a crazed look in her eye, and had already fetched her knife and was cleaning it on her apron while whistling to herself. She had clearly gone insane after experiencing so many losses the last few days and had somehow become the king’s rabid dog. However, he’s the one who ultimately decided to sick her on their own men.

“Insubordination,” Bloodbane responded simply.

“Insubordination. He’s just trying to protect others!” The bold soldier cried out.

He was a stocky man, about two heads shorter than Bloodbane, but he didn’t flinch as the larger man hovered over him. If it came to muscles, he was just as fit. He had a hammer on his bag, and his arms were as thick as canons. He had a big beard on his face, which covered up most of it.

Bloodbane took a step forward, looking the man up and down with a sneer. “Your name?”

“Joss. Conscript Joss.”

“Conscript?”

“I’m a blacksmith. I pulled this outfit off a dead soldier when the city fell. I only picked up my hammer and started fighting to give the women and children time to flee.” He responded, looking Bloodbane in the eye.

Some of the men looked around nervously, afraid that another fight might break out. This blacksmith had actually been one of the strongest men who hadn’t been enhanced by Bloodbane. Other than the rangers and maids, he had the most kills and had the aura of a man about to commit murder. It’d have been a shame if the unit lost him.

“You’re sergeant now,” Bloodbane declared, causing everyone’s eyes to widen.

“Wh-why?” The man himself even looked puzzled.

“What you want isn’t in this castle,” Bloodbane responded before turning to the other men. “To answer the sergeant’s question, I gave you a choice. Follow me into blood, or run. You chose to follow. Now, you must pay the price of blood. It’ll either be theirs or yours. There is no other option now. If you survive to the end, you live. There is no other choice.”

He turned and began walking without waiting to see if the men would follow. They all did. Under the eyes of the crazed maids and Lieutenant Greeves, what else could they do? Lieutenant Greeves shot Sergeant Joss a look, and the man nodded helplessly before he started bellowing some orders, trying to emulate how he had seen the Lieutenant act the last few days. This appeared to be a sink or swim situation. Joss either did his job, or he didn’t.

Bloodbane’s focus was already back on where they were going. His throat felt a bit raw. He wasn’t used to talking so much. Although he had only said a few lines, it was still the most he spoke. Being a king was truly difficult. However, that wasn’t something that mattered right now.

Getting to the courtyard was of the utmost importance. Until they could reclaim the gate, enemies would continue to pour in. They could only reclaim the castle once the gate was plugged. The problem was that no one present knew the condition of the gate. It could very well have been destroyed. If that happened, Bloodbane had a few thoughts on how to block it, but he’d need to wait and see the damage first.

Thus, he pushed the men along, fighting anything that got in their way and no longer attempting to rescue anyone. Even then, they still managed to double their forces from loose servants and soldiers attracted by their numbers. Bloodbane didn’t bother to engage with them or even slow down. It looked like Lieutenant Greeves didn’t care for this duty either. It ultimately fell on Sergeant Joss. The former conscript’s job was now to conscript others. It felt like a joke.

Anyone that approached had an option. They could grab whatever weapons and armor they could find, stand, and fight, or they could bugger off. A few people tried to just follow them at a distance, where they felt they would be safe. However, it was only a few turns when they disappeared, likely ambushed by some force that had avoided the larger group.

Finally, the much larger group walked into the courtyard, and onto an absolutely brutal scene. There was a massive creature with hundreds of tentacles. There was a group of twenty elite guards. They were the best dressed and most skilled fighters Bloodbane had seen to date. Their armor might have looked magnificent once, but after the amount of damage they had taken the group looked in shambles. They were trying to fight the tentacle creature, but they were also being pressured by waves of enemies still coming in from the gate entrance. The gate door had been destroyed. A second layer of defense existed, a thick metal portcullis, but the bottom had been broken and cracked, as if a massive creature had punched a fist through it.  

Although these soldiers were elites, they likely would have been destroyed already if it wasn’t for one particular knight. Their armor was a bit better than the others, and they raced back and forth, cutting down tentacles and monsters alike. They had a long whip in one hand which could swipe out and help someone a good twenty feet away with ease. Meanwhile, the other hand held a sword, which they brandished with extreme skill.

Bloodbane admired the fighting spirit of the lone soldier, as well as the skills of the elites. If he could integrate them into his group, then their combat strength would increase. Before that could be done, the castle gate needed to be reclaimed. Unfortunately, it was clear that simply closing it wouldn’t do anything, as the metal was completely bent. If Bloodbane wanted any hope of closing the gate, he’d need something large to block the entrance. As he looked across the courtyard, his eyes landed on the giant tentacle monster.

“It’s my lucky day,” Bloodbane grinned.

The men all looked at each other like they were crazy. How could this be considered anyone’s lucky day?

“Master?” Andromeda asked eagerly.

“Get the pressure off the knights. If you can keep anyone else from getting through the gate, be my guest, but don’t force it. You can’t hold the gate forever.”

“Yes!”

The maids charged on that order, completely ignoring the rest of the unit as they had been. The three newcomers had quickly grown in Andromeda’s method of doing things. There were only six of them, but their speed and brutality when they fought the monsters quickly caused them to reel back.

“Rangers, give them cover!” Lieutenant Greeves called out.

Sergeant Ross looked at the two crazy groups running forward, looked back at his ragtag band of soldiers. Although his group was the largest, it was clear his fighting potential was the least. He rolled his eyes.

“Come men. Let’s support them. To me!” He bellowed in a voice like an iron gong.

Bloodbane considered giving Ross the last position, but the man hadn’t proved himself yet. He’d wait to see what the man could do to survive. He turned his back and gave more mind to them. He expected them to do their job, and if they failed, then he’d deal with that too. Bloodbane had his eyes on the tentacle monster. It was green, and the tentacles flailed wildly.

From the memories of his predecessor, he knew the name of this creature was a tellaris. It was unclear whether it was a plant or an animal. It was a seed or an egg, and as soon as it touched the water it grew exponentially, consuming any life nearby to increase its mass. Each tentacle likely representing a soldier it had eaten.

Its main weakness was fire, which was easier said than done because it was completely wet. This one had taken over the courtyard fountain, and its tentacles were shooting out from that, splashing water everywhere. If Bloodbane had to guess, some flying creature had dropped a tellaris egg into the fountain, and then it had caught the soldiers by surprise. Before they could successfully mount an attack, the tellaris had broken open the gate, allowing the monsters in.

Having assessed the situation, Bloodbane reached down and picked a large battleax that had once belonged to someone who had fallen in this battle. It was quite large, so it wasn’t clear if it belonged to a strong human, or something else. The original owner was dead now, and this was the nicest weapon Bloodbane had identified yet. Swinging it over his shoulder, he began to move toward the chain mechanism that had seemed to be used to raise the portcullis. There was a mass of tentacles flailing nearby the chain.

“Watch out!” A voice cursed as six tentacles went for Bloodbane.

The knight leaped in front of Bloodbane. They managed to cut down three of the tentacles, but their sudden movements had left them unstable, and the other three managed to land a hit. They felt back as one of the tentacles got a hold of their leg. With a cry, they fell back to the ground, the armor hitting the concrete walkway with a loud bang. The fall caused their helmet to fly off. It went bouncing away, revealing the knight underneath.

It was a beautiful woman with long blond hair. She had fierce eyebrows and a perpetual scowl on her face. Her eyes danced wildly as she tried to keep the tentacle creature from pulling her. However, more tentacles grabbed her.

“Lady Kait!” Some of the elite guards cried out.

At this point, Bloodbane shook his head. Upon seeing her, he had been stunned momentarily. This was because the woman looked identical to the queen. This was the same queen who had cheated on his predecessor and then was raped to death at the entrance of the city wall. Of course, that woman was dead, and this woman was very much alive. He didn’t have to search the memories too deeply to find that this woman was her twin sister.

This Lady Kait and her sister, the queen, had gone radically different directions. One of them married the king and became a proper lady. The other had joined the military and learned to fight like a knight. Bloodbane’s memories had almost no impression of this woman. He didn’t even know if she was close to her sister or not. She had avoided him, and Bloodbane had a feeling she had felt hatred and disgust toward his predecessor.

That disgust probably amplified to all new heights a few days ago when she had to see her sister get raped while her king hid behind the walls. Then again, it was her sister who betrayed the kingdom and sped things up to this grisly fate, so it was impossible to know what was going through this woman’s mind. None of that mattered to Bloodbane. What did matter was that despite everything, when push came to shove, she was the one out here trying to deal with the tellaris, and when Bloodbane was threatened, she had still leaped in front of him to protect him.

Truthfully, he would have been able to handle the tentacles himself, but how could Lady Kait know that the Bloodbane here wasn’t the same cowardly man that his predecessor had been? In a single moment, she had shown her resolve and loyalty. The result was that dozens of tentacles were wrapped around her body, and she was slowly dragged into the fountain. She was fighting a losing battle, every moment becoming more and more immobilized by the vicious vines. Once she got over the ledge of the fountain, she’d be engulfed in the creature’s razor-sharp teeth and reduced to shredded flesh.

Her mood was filled with infinite bitterness and hatred. She knew she had reached the end, and it had come because of the idiot king. At least, that was how she saw Bloodbane. His name was completely accurate, because he had been a bane on the people of this country, and they were now paying with blood. At least, she would join her sister soon.

At this moment, the tentacles near Bloodbane were busy with dragging her into the tellaris’s teeth. This would be an ideal time for Bloodbane to finish what he started. It would certainly be an easy option. However, she had jumped in the way and saved his life. Even if he knew nothing about her, like the fact she was the daughter of a lord who had been his father’s closest ally and best friend, or the sister to the wife he had failed to protect, Bloodbane still would have taken the rocky path on pure principle.

With a roar, he leaped forward, hacking down and slicing off half the tentacles with a single cut. The tellaris reeled back, letting out an ear-piercing cry that filled the courtyard and made anyone nearby want to cover their ears in fear of them puncturing and bleeding. The tellaris reacted by attacking Bloodbane. Whether it even could think was hard to say, but it could definitely act and retaliate, and right now it was trying to wrap Bloodbane up. It had stopped dragging Lady Kait forward, but it was still using three limbs to restrain her while using the next three to tie up Bloodbane.

Lady Kait managed to look up from her bound spot in disbelief. Bloodbane was a notorious coward, but the current man was roaring like an animal, and throwing his ax out, his muscles rippling as he fought off the creature. It was still hopeless. Every attack, Bloodbane was taking a step back. He was on the losing side. Once he was restrained, the tellaris would be right back to eat her, and him soon after.

Just as it looked like he had reached the wall, he let out a laugh and grabbed one of the tentacles. He then jammed it into one of the chains attached to the portcullis mechanism. The portcullis existed on a pully system. It was currently down, but the damage had ripped out the bottom eight feet, allowing just about anything to walk right through. If someone pulled the lever one way and released the catch, the portcullis would rise without the need for any physical effort. If they pulled it the other way, it would drop back down again.

At that moment, Bloodbane managed to get all three tentacles tied up in the chain. They had a grab on him, but he had a grab on the lever. He released the catch, and the mechanism began to spin, pulling the chain. The tellaris let out a shriek as three of its tentacles were slowly pulled. It released Bloodbane and then tried desperately to grab the mechanism and pull it off. It was too dumb to figure out the lever, and it started to panic.

Its body was ripped out of the fountain, the bottom half looking like a fat grub wiggling frantically. As it was being dragged toward the portcullis, it’s razor-sharp gnashing teeth could be seen within the mass of flailing tentacles. Although it had stopped pulling Lady Kait toward itself, more concerned about its current predicament, it was steadily being yanked in her direction, which means the teeth were getting closer and closer to her body.

Lady Kait could feel its putrid hot breath on her body. She closed her eyes, ready for the end. Just as the teeth reached her, a form appeared in front of her. Her eyes popped open as the shadow fell over her body. King Bloodbane’s muscular back showed in front of her. He had grabbed the wiggling worm with teeth by the fangs and was holding it back from Kait.

It let out a horrific shriek at Bloodbane, but he only let out a laugh, his hair dancing wildly as he held it with one hand, and lifted his ax with the other. The ax fell, slamming into the creature, and causing it to shriek even more. He hit three times, and then the pressure between him holding it back and the portcullis pulling on it became too great. It started to raise. With a roar, Bloodbane tossed the entire creature over himself and Kait. With the help of the pulling chains, it landed directly in the gateway.

It was upside-down though, with its teeth facing the ground and its tentacles smooshed. It wildly lashed out at everything, striking goblins, orcs, and undead as freely as anything else. It was trying desperately to right itself so it could begin feeding again. The creature was about ten feet tall sitting in the doorway. Bloodbane grabbed the portcullis lever and dropped it. The portcullis might have been bent and broke, but the creature was too large for the hole it made. The portcullis crushed it, jagged bent metal impaling it in a dozen places.

The creature let out one last streak, its tentacles stilling writhing on the ground, and then it collapsed, finally dead. More than that, its massive girth had plugged the hole. With the portcullis pinning it down, it’d be some time before they’d get back into the castle again.

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