"We cannot allow any more Daemons to arise," Somnus began as he eyed the creature known as a Naga. The Daemon resembled a massive serpent in body but with a head far too similar to a human woman. It gazed at Somnus with eyes narrowed and teeth bared in rage.
The man found that Nagas were near the top of his most hated list as it was unsettling even looking at them. He preferred to fight Daemons that resembled little of their former selves. It was easier to think of them as nothing but monsters that way. Despite the bestial body, the Naga's facial expressions were too human. But even so, Somnus would not hesitate to slay this or any other monster down regardless of how human they seemed.
Somnus turned his head briefly to order his men, "go to the village. Defend those who can be saved and strike down anyone who will soon succumb."
The soldiers did not question their Lord, knowing the situation would be even more dangerous if more of the afflicted were allowed to become Daemons. They'd been told there were already too many monsters, mostly goblins and imps, around the small village they were trying to reach. The Daemons had been attacking the small settlement every night for nearly two weeks.
The Naga Somnus faced was supposedly the strongest from among them and the leader of sorts. The goblins and imps, though still dangerous, would not be too much for his soldiers to handle on their own. Even Arachne or two would fall to the strength of his men even though they had no magic of their own. But allowing more Daemons to arise would put everyone at risk. Especially if they turned into something as powerful as this Naga.
A woman from the village had even told them several inhabitants had fallen to the Starscourge earlier that day. Only their clothing had been left behind as their bodies turned into a dark miasma. The darkness then coalesced into their new Daemonic form that only wished to hurt those around it. And they had, which was why some villagers began to flee.
The younger Izunia brother took a step towards the Naga, his movements causing the Daemon to let out a hiss. It was being cautious now, already having received a painful taste of a thunder spell. It was more wary of this unusual human that faced it. The man raised his sword and the Naga slithered back. Somnus knew he could take on this Daemon on his own but his soldiers were needed elsewhere.
Somnus and Ardyn had been on their way back from another venture when they discovered a Scourge stricken woman slumped beside a tree. It was only by luck that the Izunia brothers and a small group of soldiers handpicked by Somnus came across her. The two Izunias hadn't even been aware there was a village in the area as they traveled by one of the old roads back to the castle.
The woman's fingers were black and the faint patterns of darkness were visible beneath her skin even from afar. She looked quite starved and ill. She'd been as startled as the Izunias when they noticed one another. Ardyn swiftly went to her side, introducing himself and Somnus. The woman hesitantly offered her own name, Sonita. When she realized the men before her fought Daemons, she quickly explained her own situation in the hopes of receiving aid.
The woman stated her home had been under attack for almost a fortnight and that more than half her village was already dead. The rest, Sonita explained, were either ill with the strange disease that was plaguing the lands or from lack of food. The monsters harassing them had destroyed their fields and storehouses in their rampant destruction of her home. They'd started running out of food a week ago because of this.
When asked why the villagers did not leave during the daytime, Sonita said they had nowhere else to go. They knew of no villages or cities nearby they could flee to within a day's distance and they would have to face the Daemons at night if they attempted escape. Most had been too afraid to leave, thinking it was safer to stay in the village and defend it. They had even thought the sickness that had been spreading among them to not be that dangerous.
But staying hadn't worked out. The Daemons kept returning every night, their numbers growing with every attack. For every one that was defeated, another two took its place the next time the sun went down. Every villager that succumbed to the disease meant another body for the monsters. That had not been apparent until the first afflicted went mad and their body turned into a dark miasma. Within moments, the mist had coalesced into a grinning imp that bit the nearest human, spreading the disease to them as well. And unlike the Daemons, when the villagers lost one of their own, there was no one to replace them.
When Sonita's people finally realized they should have fled in the beginning, it was already too late. Too many had fallen or been infected for them to be able to defend themselves with such small numbers out on their own. And now the remaining were even more afraid to leave. They felt it would be certain death while they may be able to survive if they just hid until the monsters forgot about them. Now, almost everyone was infected with many of those having lost their mind to the plague. They roamed around the village like zombies, too dangerous to try and reason with. They'd do this until the disease finally won and their bodies disappeared to become another monster.
The ones too far gone to the sickness would attack everything in sight, biting, scratching and screaming nonsense. It was from these that the disease spread to the rest of the village. Sonita herself had been bitten by another villager when she'd tried to help restrain him when tried to run outside the safety of their shelter.
After two more people succumbed to the disease, several of the remaining inhabitants took what they could and ran once dawn approached. They knew the symptoms of the disease well enough by then to know that even more would be turning into Daemons soon. It was foolish to stay. Sonita too had left, leaving her friends behind when they refused to come with her out of fear. She wasn't sure what happened to the others that fled but she had been too ill to make it far.
Sonita was given some food and water, which she eagerly snatched out of the hands of a soldier that offered it to her. As she ate, Ardyn promised to help her and explained he was a healer while Somnus rounded up his men for battle. At first, the woman didn't pay attention, thinking the man before her was some sort of charlatan like some others that had claimed they could cure the star disease. But quickly, she realized she was mistaken when the sickness was slowly purged from her body through Ardyn's power. By the end of the healing, Sonita was crying in gratitude.
As Somnus prepared, he overheard Sonita begging Ardyn to save her village. The elder Izunia explained he could not cure the ones who had already fallen to the disease but swore he would do everything in his power to save the rest. He promised that he would not allow even one more of her people to die. Sonita had smiled joyfully in return.
Somnus had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach when he heard his brother's words. They'd already clashed a few times in their methods of dealing with the Starscourge. Their previous venture had gone well, with Ardyn being able to heal the infected they found, but this one might not. From the woman's explanation there may not be enough time to be able to fight off the Daemons, restrain the afflicted that had lost their minds and heal the villagers before they succumbed.
The younger Izunia could only hope things went better than he thought they would as Sonita began to lead them back to her village. The sun began to set as she told them what she knew of the Daemons. Sonita warned them of the leader of the monsters, a large snake-like creature.
Before they could reach Sonita's village, they encountered the very Daemon she spoke of. It was about to finish off two humans that were lying prone on the ground. These two were also afflicted by the Starscourge, so much so that their arms and legs were entirely black.
Somnus immediately ordered his soldiers to fire at the Naga. The arrows successfully distracted the monster and it turned to face them instead. It lunged forward and Somnus sent a thunder spell at its face. It was not expecting that and screeched in pain, slithering away from both groups of humans.
Ardyn quickly used the time to rush towards the fallen victims with Sonita close behind.
The Naga lunged at Somnus, its jaws opened wide. Somnus sent another bolt of magic at it. The fire spell struck it in the chest and it hissed in pain and it once again retreated. It glared at the elder Izunia furiously and spat out a stream of some vile liquid this time. Somnus swiftly warped to dodge the attack. The liquid landed on the ground and it fizzled unsettlingly. It was probably best not to get hit by that, Somnus thought to himself. He summoned a bow, sending several arrows at the monster. Most managed to embed themselves into the scaled hide of the monster and it screamed.
The soldiers saw their Lord had the situation under control and turned towards the village to obey his orders.
"Halt!" Ardyn's voice was sharp. He'd overheard his brother's words. "Do not harm the infected. Restrain them if you must. Once I am finished here I will heal them. There has been too much death already."
The elder Izunia was kneeling over one of the villagers. The darkness that had once been covering most of her limbs was much less pronounced than before. His healing was working.
The Izunia soldiers halted at the conflicting orders they were given, unsure on which brother to obey. Somnus spoke up quickly and harshly stated, "Ardyn, she said most are mad or about to succumb. We must stop them now."
"No! I will not allow any more lives to be lost!" Ardyn argued back, his tone final. "Brother, I can save them. All of them. This ability I have been given is a gift like no other."
"I think… I think Lord Somnus is right," Sonita spoke up, wringing her hands in worry as she stood beside Ardyn. She'd been so hopeful before but now she realized that things might not work as she wanted. "I know you promised to save them all but… I've seen how fast they lose themselves to the sickness. If the disease hasn't taken them yet, it will soon. You can't restrain them after that." It was true. Once the disease won, the body of the afflicted disappeared into a black mist that reformed into a monster. She'd seen it happen with her own eyes.
Sonita was looking between the two of the brothers as she said this. And then, as if on cue, Somnus heard blood curdling screams coming from the village. Something terrible was no doubt happening.
There was no time left to waste.
"Go!" Somus ordered his men once more. More would die if they wasted their time arguing here. Ardyn was blinded by his own selflessness, or perhaps his own pride. He may be one of the few people in the world that could cure the Starscourge but he too had his limits. He could not save everyone. And his attempts would just put others at risk.
"No! I am the elder, you must obey me!" Ardyn shouted as he stumbled to his feet. Sonita grabbed hold of him to steady him. There was one more person he needed to heal, Ardyn thought to himself. Then he could go to the rest. Ardyn knew he could save everyone. He was capable of this. He would show his brother, and everyone else here, that he was capable. Then, they would see he was right. His power was something unique and amazing. He was more powerful in the healing arts than the healers of House Fleuret. "I order you to restrain but not kill!"
"Ardyn!" Somnus snarled, turning towards him, "you are putting my men and the people at risk! What if more of the villagers succumb to the disease before you get to them? That's just another monster my soldiers and our people must face!"
"I am only asking that your men save lives, not take them," Ardyn responded icily. "Once I am done here and that Daemon is taken care of we will join them."
The soldiers looked apologetically at Somnus. As Ardyn was the elder, they would have to listen to him. Though Lord Somnus might take care of all responsibilities of the castle, Ardyn was still the rightful heir. The soldiers turned away and hurried towards the village.
Somnus whirled around to face the Naga. He felt a wave of anger and resentment towards his brother. Ardyn rarely ever openly overruled Somnus, at least not like this. Despite his feelings, he could only hope his brother made the right choice.
As the man glanced over to watch the torches his soldiers carried move further towards the village, a part of him did not think so.
By the time Somnus managed to kill the Daemon, Ardyn was finished healing both victims. But both had taken long, far too long for Somnus's liking. The younger Izunia was exhausted, having used a fair bit of his magic against the Naga. It had even managed to strike him a few times with its tail, which he knew would soon leave nasty bruises. Somnus didn't wait up for his even more exhausted brother, only knowing that screams and yells still rang out in the night. And new voices had joined in. Somnus knew he needed to get to the village, now.
Sonita stayed behind with the healed villagers, helping them to find a suitable hiding spot until morning while both brothers rushed to the village. Both used their magic to light the area around them so they could see. Ardyn tried to keep up with Somnus but the healing had taken much of his energy. He stumbled often and began to lag behind. The younger brother noticed the elder having some difficulty keeping up but did not stop to help him as he might have done when they were on better terms. Ardyn could take care of himself, having as much magic as he. Right now, Somnus's first thoughts were of his soldiers. He was worried for their safety.
Somnus continued on, not noticing Ardyn stopping, his face in an expression of pure agony. The elder's hands shook and he had to take several moments to steady himself. He took some deep breaths, feeling sick. The feeling of heaviness he experienced because of his healing became worse as time went on. It took several minutes for him to be able to continue forward to follow his younger brother.
Somnus sprinted into the village, leaping over a barricade made of broken wood and other junk. The villagers had tried to use whatever they could to stop the Daemons from entering. But things like this wouldn't stop them.
Finally inside, the younger Izunia stopped in shock at the scene before him.
His men, the ones he'd led and trained for years were dead or dying. Decimus, the young man that had been so excited to see his betrothed that morning lay with his throat torn open. Lamia, one of the few female soldiers in the entire army, was also lying prone on the ground. Alistar, the man that had only recently joined them, was holding his stump of an arm against his body as he tried not to bleed out and prevent an Arachne Daemon from reaching him. He held a sword in his good hand, his face filled with fear as the monster approached. Other bodies were scattered around, of both his soldiers and villagers alike.
Somnus roared in anger, leaping at the Arachne. His sword embedded into its chest as it turned around to see what had made the sound. The spider-like Daemon screeched and slashed at Somnus with its spindly legs, catching him across his shoulder. The pain didn't stop the man and he unleashed a massive fire spell at the creature's head. The spell obliterated its head and the Daemon's body began to disappear, freeing Somnus's sword.
"Thank you my-" Alistar began, his voice filled with pain and exhaustion. He then stopped mindsentece to shout out a warning, "watch out!"
An afflicted villager screamed as she burst forth from behind a ruined house and rushed them both. The woman's arms and legs were covered in black. Her eyes seeped darkness and her hands were like claws as she leapt at Somnus. The man did not hesitate to slice the woman's head clean off. Her body slumped to the ground in front of him. Another villager ran at Somnus and Alistar but this time, he fell back with an arrow embedded into his leg before he could reach them. One of his men's, Somnus noticed with some relief. He was glad some of the others were still alright.
The remains of the Izunia's soldiers hurried to Somnus once they realized he was here. They surrounded him, attempting to protect him from any other threats as they fought together. Together, Somnus and his men took down both the Daemons and the maddened afflicted alike.
Ardyn arrived some time later and gasped when he saw the carnage. He saw his brother fighting, his men around him.
"What… Happened?" Ardyn asked, horror stricken. But a feeling was quickly overtaking that horror. Anger began to burn within him as he realized they'd defied Ardyn's order to restrain the infected. Once again, his brother had not believed in his power.
Ardyn didn't expect an answer but he got one all the same. There was a soldier nearby, one he hadn't noticed at first.
"We tried to restrain them like you said-" the man, seemingly shocked, said softly. Ardyn looked over, noticing the soldier was sitting closely to another body, holding the hand of the fallen. With a sick feeling in his stomach, Ardyn recognized the two. The twin brothers, Vita and Vati.
Both young, barely past their seventeenth year. Vita was the dead one, while Vati sat with him. Two infected villagers also lay somewhat nearby, both obviously dead from sword wounds. "-but they were so violent… One killed Deci… One got Lamia… There were Daemons everywhere. We couldn't handle it all. What were we to do?"
Ardyn had no answer that would satisfy him. A part of him felt guilty but then the heavy feeling from earlier returned, erasing the guilt. A feeling of indignation arose within Ardyn instead. Why should he feel guilty? If they had just listened from the beginning, things might have gone differently.
It was Somnus's fault. If only he and his men saw the afflicted as he. As people not monsters. Somnus should have trained his soldiers to save, not kill. If they all just listened to him and believed in his power, things would have been different. It was not on him, but on his foolish brother and his equally foolish men.
As Ardyn began to heal who he could, his anger grew with every body of the afflicted he found. Ardyn could have used his power to save them. These villagers should have lived and been able to witness the extent of his power. They would have adored him, seen him as a savior just like Sonita had.
In the end, the brothers were able to save some of the villagers. Some of the inhabitants had managed to survive by barricading themselves in their homes. The survivors had been relieved to see the faces of the soldiers. But though there was some joy, there was so much despair.
So many had been lost.
Somnus's men buried their comrades, their morale low. Somnus offered a prayer, something he did rarely, for the souls of those that departed that night. He grieved as his men did. Those he lost tonight had been his companions as much as theirs.
There was little banter between soldiers as they made their way back to the castle with the villagers. They'd be given accommodations in the nearby city until they could find a place for them.
Somnus and Ardyn did not speak to one another the entire journey back. Both brothers felt the other was wrong in what happened the night prior.
Ardyn noticed the not-so-discreet glares he received from the soldiers as they traveled home. Once, he might have cared about their anger and grief. But today, he paid them no mind. He felt they should have directed that anger towards Somnus, not him. Every time a hint of guilt surfaced, it was pushed back by self righteousness and anger. Sometimes Ardyn felt like there were two voices in his head, one clearly winning over the other.
Ardyn shook his head, feeling light headed as he thought about the events of the night prior and what could have been done differently. But every time he thought upon it, his mind came only to the conclusion that he was right in what he had asked. If Somnus and his men believed in Ardyn and his power, they would have seen this already.
The villagers, on the other hand, gazed at Ardyn with unadulterated adoration. It made Ardyn feel validated. He was a savior to them, something his brother could never be. Somnus could only take lives while Ardyn saved them.
Somnus could not compare to him, Ardyn felt. No one on Eos could, not even the healer of House Fleuret and not even the Gods. When the time came to choose a King, Ardyn felt there was no choice but him.
Somnus gazed into the fire when they next made camp, reflecting on the day's events. His soldiers were grieving and so was he, though he would not allow himself to show it. Those lost had been good men. His comrades in arms, some for many years.
Somnus's men kept their distance from Ardyn and the younger Izunia sensed their displeasure. In another time, Somnus might have gathered them together to explain his elder brother's decision to try and get them to understand it.
But not this time. Ardyn had been wrong. He'd allowed his men to die to satisfy his own desire to be some sort of savior. He'd not even given them words of comfort for their losses, instead ignoring them to shower in the adoration of those he'd healed.
As he was, Ardyn would not be able to save the world as he believed he could. He was not fit to lead as he was. Sacrifices were sometimes necessary for the greater good. If Somnus could not make the painful decisions to save his people then he would doom them instead. This was what Ardyn was doing.
The rift that had been growing between the brothers grew even more that day.
I started this a while ago but it's been really hard to find the time to finish anything up lately. This was something I wanted to add to part 1 of this series. I know this scene needs a bit of work still but if I ever get around to redoing this whole AU, I'll try and fix it up then and integrate into the full story.
Thanks for reading!