Chapter 13: A Collision of Worlds

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Blood ran through the streets. Screams cut through the air. Bodies piled up and bright fires blazed. Charred bones and severed heads fell to the ground, Bloodhorn and Council alike. For now, there was no distinction. All ideals, all goals, all objectives, all opinions, all pretenses were forgotten. There were just two sides fighting each other for no reason other than that they were opposed, and both fought tooth and nail to win this fight. One, driven by hatred that may have once had reason behind it but had now become – temporarily, at least – nothing more than mindless spite, seeking to exterminate the other. The other, driven by the same desperation to survive that could be found in any beast, seeking only to drive off the first and survive another day. Small skirmishes broke out on the streets, demons murdering each other and letting their enemies’ blood spill on the red soil only to be killed themselves a moment later. A dozen small battles raged at once within meters of each other, being won and lost and begun anew with each passing second, and every time one ended, someone was cut down.

And through it all ran chaos. Chaos ran like a deadly river through the streets of the city – all cohesion forgotten, the two sides going at each other like rabid beasts. Chaos blew like a hurricane into the towers and mansions near the centre – the few who were safe from the bloodshed panicking in desperation, screaming and praying they would remain untouched. Chaos covered all of Redgate like a bloody mist, turning almost all inside into no more than wild animals desperate to live another day, telling themselves they would survive even as the cold eyes of Death stared down at them.

For now, all the Council’s forces were doing was slaughtering everyone who hadn’t run away or hidden in time. It was not truly a battle, not yet. Merely a massacre, a disordered mass murder of those who couldn’t defend themselves by those who were too lost in the idea of war to recognize the harmlessness of those they were killing. Civilians were being cut down in the streets, crying out in anguish as cold metal found them, their blood turning the already red soil even redder. Here and there, a few managed to take down one of the Council’s troops with them, but that didn’t change the course of the battle. For now, the Council’s troops cut through Redgate as easily as if it was just a defenseless village.

Darius could not help those who were dying.

That thought, that single piece of knowledge, was like poison in his mouth and a leaden weight inside his stomach. But it was true. Darius, and the men he’d gathered, were part of the few who had managed to retain their composure even in the grip of this hand of chaos, and that was why they knew that going out now would simply be suicide. They would be lost in the disordered fighting, trapped out on the streets and cut down like all the rest. Perhaps they would be able to inflict some losses in return – unlike the people already on the streets, they would have some idea of what they were getting into, and would probably be able to fight more effectively. But it wouldn’t matter. If they came out now, they couldn’t deal enough damage to stop the Council. Not even close.

So they’d just hide out, for now. But that wouldn’t be how it remained. Because this chaos, this deadly hell that the city had turned into, was temporary. Soon the people would scatter, run and hide, and the Council would finish cutting down those who remained. And then – for a while, at least – the fighting would end. Everyone would calm down. The Council’s army would be, even if only slightly, off its guard. And that was when Darius would make his move.

But for now, he and his troops had no choice but to hide and watch their fellow demons be slaughtered, destroyed like trees in a burning forest.

Azal looked out of the window, his teeth clenched.

He’d expected this, of course. He’d already known that when the Council arrived, they’d slaughter whoever they found, and those people wouldn’t stand a chance. He’d already known that it was only through Darius and his men that they would be able to resist, and that those men wouldn’t be able to take action right away. He’d already known that before things got better, they would get worse, and the Council would smash the city like a hurricane.

But that didn’t make it any easier to see the enemy penetrate so deep into his territory.

They were near the centre, already. Thankfully, that was the one place Azal had prioritized guarding above all else – those among the Bloodhorns who had actual skill or actual equipment were positioned to defend the centre, and hopefully, they would be able to keep the Council’s army out for at least a little while. The one thing he could thank the old Baron for was the fact that, thanks to his unwillingness to let the lower classes mingle with the higher ones, he’d built a wall around the centre with only a few gates built into it. Back when the Baron had ruled, he’d been too incompetent and lazy to properly enforce even his own rules of segregation, and the wall had been largely useless – but now, it made the centre defensible, gave Azal’s troops a position from where they could negate the enemy’s advantage in numbers by at least a little. It would give them time. Not much time, but anything was good.

If Azal had to guess, the Council would keep slaughtering until the people fled the streets, and then they’d withdraw. They’d pull back, figure out a way to get through the gates with minimal losses. That was when Darius would begin his attacks.

Strike from the shadows, disappear into darkness. Hit the Council where they were weak, disrupt them just enough to send them reeling, and vanish before the counterattack could begin. Attack everything that was vulnerable, leap at any weakness the enemy left, in hopes that with every strike, cracks would show in things that were more and more important. That would be Darius’ strategy – that would be the one plan they would rely on to get them through this until Johannes came back.

Azal could only hope it would work.

A few days before that…

Johannes knelt in Queen Lily’s throne room, himself and the Queen the only two people there. It had taken some effort to even get himself here, but apparently, the Queen had eventually decided he was interesting enough to meet. But, for now, at least, it seemed like the effort had a good chance of paying off.

The reason Johannes thought that was because of what the Queen’s reaction had been to learning what he’d truly was. It had been… unexpected. He’d expected her to be horrified, scared, maybe infuriated that a demon like him had come into her throne room. But instead, when he’d quietly told her – quietly enough that no one else would overhear him, hopefully – she’d just frozen for a moment, and then her eyes had sparkled and she’d murmured “Well, this promises to be interesting…”

And so it was that now, the two of them were alone, not a single other soul in the room. Johannes took the moment to look around. He’d never really seen a true throne room before, so he didn’t know what to expect, but this wasn’t bad. It wasn’t as ornate or decorated as he’d expected it to be, but it was certainly sleek and elegant, the walls and ceilings finely crafted and painted white and gold, along with a few details in the blood-red color that represented Sagnir. There were several large windows along the sides of the room, and from the ceiling hung a grand chandelier, illuminating the chamber. The throne itself was fairly plain compared to what he’d expected, but even it had an unmistakable tinge of simple elegance, just like the rest of the room.

But besides all that, there was the Queen herself. Just like the room itself, her attire was simple, yet elegant – and Johannes almost felt that in that respect, it outshone the entire room. Her long black dress was perfect, just tight enough to present an elegant figure while still preserving an air of modesty, its flawless fabric reaching partway up her neck and contrasting with her pale skin. The ends of the sleeves, the neckline and the hem of her dress were all lined with red, and red patterns ran along the surface of the dress, each seeming perfectly placed to add to its grace. And the Queen herself was beautiful, too – her face was soft, yet still carrying just enough sureness in it to be reassuring without being intimidating, and her black hair cascaded down the back of her head like a curtain, going down to just below her shoulders. Combined with her sweet smile and kind eyes… the first time Johannes had laid eyes on her, he’d actually briefly frozen up. He was fine around her now, of course, but… her sheer beauty was still striking.

Though for all that elegance all around him, Johannes found his attention being drawn to the oddest thing – the splotch of a slight red tint on the floor of the throne room. Perhaps it was just because the rest of the room was so perfectly crafted, but that tint seemed… wrong, somehow. Almost ominous. But Johannes shook the feeling off. Now wasn’t the time to be worrying about that.

“Now then, you said you wanted to speak to me,” Queen Lily smiled as she stood in front of him, her voice smooth as a gentle breeze. “I can’t say I know what this is about, but… if a demon wants to speak to me, it must be interesting. What did you want, Johannes?” (It wasn’t odd that she knew Johannes’ name – he’d told her it before, after all, and he’d introduced himself to several of her servants before that.)

“Thank you for allowing me this chance to speak with you, Your Majesty,” Johannes said, trying to keep the anxiety from his voice. This… promised to be awkward, at the very least. To just tell a queen that there was a rebellion going on and that he was part of it… “You need not worry yourself – I am not here on behalf of the Council.”

“I figured that much,” she said. “And honestly, I wouldn’t be worried even if you had been. But never mind that. I can’t imagine you just came here to talk with me, so you’ve got to have something to discuss. Let’s start with this, then – on whose behalf are you here?”

Johannes hesitated for a moment. “I presume you have not heard of the Bloodhorns?”

“You are right, I am afraid,” she smiled. “Though, assuming that’s the organization you’re working with, you might want to tell someone higher up to consider changing the name. Frankly, it’s… ridiculous.”

“Uh… I’ll keep that in mind,” Johannes said, a bit surprised she’d state her opinion that frankly – especially about something like that. Weren’t there some rules about tactfulness or something like that…?

“By which, I assume, you mean you’ll forget about it the moment you step outside this throne room and never remember it again,” she sighed. “Well, never mind. That doesn’t matter. What do you want from me?”

At that, Johannes had to supress a sigh of relief. They were back on topic, at least. At least now, Johannes knew what to say. “Your Majesty,” he said, with a small bow, “I am sure that you know the impact the Council has had on the people of Verta. By their very existence, by their endless aggression, they have stopped the good people of this land from living in peace and safety. For as long as their existence continues, you will be in danger-“

“Stop,” the Queen interrupted with a wave of her hand. “That was a very nice speech, but first off, the Council has barely ever touched Sagnir, and certainly not in my reign – they don’t have a Portal here, after all, so even getting to us would require making their way through Paleland. Second, the Council, for all its bark, doesn’t have nearly enough bite for someone like me to be worried about them, even if they did attack. Third, I got your point halfway through your second sentence. I get it – you don’t like the Council. I’m not exactly happy with them, either. What did you have in mind?”

“Uh,” Johannes stammered. He hadn’t expected to be interrupted like that – wasn’t that a breach of etiquette? Never mind, actually – this Queen clearly didn’t care about that in the least. He’d be better off just explaining himself plainly.

“As I have implied earlier, I am part of an organization called the Bloodhorns,” he said. “We are a group of demons who wish for this needless bloodshed to stop, for all people, whether demons or mortals, to be able to live in peace. But to do that… we must face the Council.”

“Ah,” Queen Lily sighed contentedly, seemingly understanding what he was talking about. “A rebellion, then?”

“…Yes,” Johannes admitted. “But I am sure you understand that the Council is powerful, and that we cannot do this alone.”

“So you came to me to beg for help,” she murmured. “Well, I can’t say I’m entirely unsympathetic to your cause. I don’t care much about the Council, but their constant strutting around with their heads held high as they proclaim their superiority to us… well, it does get grating occasionally. But why should I put my trust in you? What assurance do I have that your rebellion won’t simply fizzle out and fail?”

Johannes hesitated for a moment. To talk about matters of rebellion – about something so clearly illegal – in front of a queen felt… dangerous, even when he knew Lily – or any other mortal ruler, for that matter – would never stop anyone from revolting against the Council. It wasn’t a rational fear, but it still caused an odd anxiety to simmer inside him. “…how familiar are you with the geography of Aead?” he ventured.

“I’m afraid I don’t know the first thing about it,” she admitted, not a trace of reluctance in her voice. It seemed she wasn’t the prideful sort, which Johannes could appreciate. “As far as I’m concerned, Aead is the place demons come from. I don’t generally think I need to know anything more, and even if I wanted to find out, it would be entirely too difficult for me to do so.”

“I see,” Johannes said. Under the Council’s rule, mortals weren’t welcome into Aead, which meant that aside from demons, almost no one truly knew what the place was like. “There is a city near the north of Aead – a relatively major one – called Redgate. In the few weeks this rebellion has existed, we-“

“You took over the city, hm?” Lily said, finishing his thought for him. “For the record… I don’t think you’re lying. You seem, if anything, too honest for your own good, and you said that statement with the sort of easy confidence that comes, to most, only with knowing what you’re saying is the truth. But that’s all based on intuition, nothing more. What actual reason do I have to believe you?”

“The fact that I am here,” Johannes responded, not missing a beat. This had been expected from the start. “You should know how tightly the Council controls entry to and exit from Aead. Just as no mortal is allowed to enter, no demon is allowed to leave unless they’re taking part in one of the Council’s attacks.”

“So the very fact that you are here is proof enough, you claim,” the Queen stated, yet again guessing what he would say next. “I suppose that is solid evidence, though not necessarily decisive. You could have snuck out, after all. But… for now, I am willing to believe you.”

Johannes let out a breath. That was the part he’d been second-most worried about. Now came the part he was the most worried about…

“Thank you, Your Majesty. Then, would you be willing to assist us?”

And back in the present…

So far, all had gone almost exactly as Darius and Azal had predicted.

The Council’s demons had kept killing and killing until the people fled, hiding in their homes or in dark alleyways where they wouldn’t be found. Now, their force seemed to have finally come to its senses. The army pulled back, started to make preparations to breach the inner wall. They knew, it seemed, where the leader of the Bloodhorns would be hiding out – though Johannes supposed it wouldn’t be hard to figure out. And they knew also that they could just go ahead and assault the gates head-on – they would certainly be able to break through. But that would result in them taking severe losses, and as Azal had predicted, General Katherine didn’t seem to be happy with that.

So, they’d started plotting. Darius didn’t know all of what they were planning, but he’d managed to find out a fair bit – it seemed they hadn’t expected there to be anyone with his talents working against them, and hadn’t taken the usual precautions. The current plan appeared to be to surround the wall, then get past them without going through the gates using various methods – trying to construct siege equipment out of whatever they could find nearby, or trying to scale them, or similar things – and make an attack on the centre from all sides. The several groups would then reconvene at the tower, and they would storm it in a full-out assault.

Darius couldn’t help but note the vagueness of the plan, but he supposed it was to be expected. This army had expected to slaughter a mob of rebels, not to have to try and perform an impromptu siege, and they hadn’t made any of the necessary preparations that they surely would have made if they’d known this would happen. Still, the plan would work. The Bloodhorns just didn’t have the numbers, the training, the morale or the experience to fight the Council. If just one of the groups managed to breach the wall, that group would be able to easily let the rest of them in. The people they’d posted at the gates were some of their best fighters, but they still weren’t great – and even if they had been, they still wouldn’t have been able to fight an overwhelmingly numerically superior enemy that also surrounded them. The plan, haphazardly crafted as it was, would work.

At least, assuming no one disrupted it. But disrupting it was exactly what Darius planned to do.

The opposing army had spread itself out, which was exactly what Darius had needed it to do. Now, they were vulnerable. An attack from an unexpected direction, striking at an unexpected target, could catch them off guard. In those few moments, before they could react, Darius and his men would cripple them as much as they could, slow them down as much as possible – and then vanish before they faced retribution. It was the only way a force as small and relatively untrained as theirs could fight the Council’s army.

And they didn’t need to fight them – they just needed to slow them down, delay them long enough for Johannes to get back. The only thing they needed to do was buy time. That simplified their job. They didn’t need to strike at critical points, not necessarily, because they didn’t need to drive the Council away. All they had to do was cause enough damage to make the Council hesitate, or, if that failed, start actively delaying their operations. There would be no need to inflict massive damage, though Darius would take the opportunity if it presented itself – they merely had to inflict just enough.

And it was about time for them to get started.

A small group of soldiers stood, sipping from the mugs in their hands. They’d relaxed a bit too much when the first part of the fighting was over, let themselves get a bit too incautious during the preparations for the siege. At this moment, they were in a tavern the owner of which had apparently fled, helping themselves to some of the alcohol that had been left behind. That was, of course, monumentally stupid, and it’d be sure to get them a reprimand from Katherine… but the way they saw it, so what? It wasn’t like they were doing anything at the moment, and it wasn’t like they had anything to be doing. Who was Katherine to tell them what they could and couldn’t do if there was no work for them anyway?

Little did they know, of course, that they’d never get that reprimand. They’d never get the chance.

With a loud noise, the window shattered, and three demons leapt in. The first few of the soldiers went down without so much as a fight – the shock had briefly immobilized them, and even if that hadn’t happened, they were far from combat-ready at the moment. After the first, sudden attack, only two of the soldiers were left. One staggered away in surprise, his eyes wide, not quite believing what had just occurred. Before he got far, one of the three ran up to him and put a knife through his head.

The other had a bit more presence of mind. He drew his sword and rushed at one of the three demons, only to have the weapon batted away by some sort of club fashioned out of a chunk of stone. Still, he had training in swordsmanship, and even in this moment, he managed to remember what he’d been taught. Quickly, he recovered, stepped away to get some distance, and faced his opponent.

But there was no fight. One of the other three demons hit him with their own club from behind, knocking him to the ground. Before he could recover from that, a knife pierced his eye and tore into his brain, snuffing out his life.

In a lone street in Redgate, a lone soldier ran. He was a messenger, delivering some information from one of the contingents around the wall to another. He didn’t know what the information he was delivering was, but that wasn’t his business. His only duty was to carry out the orders he had been given, not to question those orders. It could be said that he was the perfect model of a Council soldier – obedient, eager, and willing to do anything in the service of his superiors. Perhaps his loyalty was something impressive, in its own way.

Not that it would matter.

This soldier didn’t know either, not that he possibly could have. He didn’t know that his loyalty would amount to nothing. He didn’t know that the information would never be delivered. He didn’t know that his own life was about to end.

A demon ran out in front of him. At first, the soldier mistook him for just a civilian, passing by. He shoved him aside, muttering “Excuse me…” as he did, not sparing a second thought for the demon in his way.

But before he could get far, the demon drew a knife and swung at him. On instinct, the soldier stepped away, whirling around to face his assailant. His eyes grew wide, and he didn’t really understand what was happening, but that didn’t matter. All he knew was that this man clearly meant to kill him.

The soldier drew his sword, slashing at the demon, but he stepped back and avoided the attack. Not only that, but the demon backpedalled further, as if trying to get away. The soldier didn’t know what he was trying to do – a retreat wouldn’t look like this, and his knife was shorter than the soldier’s sword, so distance wouldn’t provide a tactical advantage – but he didn’t care. He closed in, thrusting at the attacker, but his blow was just barely sidestepped. In response, the assailant thrust at the soldier with his knife. The soldier dodged by simply backing away and-

-heard something behind him.

He whirled around, parrying another knife just before it hit him, but as he tried to spin around again to meet the first attacker, a knife stabbed him through the neck. Before he could even realize what had happened, another blade penetrated the side of his head, and he fell to the ground, dead.

His information would never be delivered. From here, at least two of the enemy’s contingents would be proceeding on different assumptions. How much damage would it do? Likely, not much. But the damage would be done, nevertheless – and that would be enough.

This group of soldiers would be difficult prey, even for Darius’ men. They were isolated, true, and away from their comrades – but there were still 12 of them, and they were well-trained and alert. The 12 of them had been sent out from one of the army’s contingents to go reinforce one of the others and give them assistance. Even now, even with the first stage of the fighting over, they were on their guard – ready to respond to whatever happened.

But Darius was not one to shy away from a challenge.

The attack occurred as the group passed through a relatively open area of the labyrinth that was the city. All of a sudden, there was a sound, drawing the attention of the contingent. Almost as one, they whirled to face the source, only to find…

…a pebble, seemingly thrown from one of the shadowy alleys that connected to the area they were passing through.

For just a moment, there was confusion, the soldiers not knowing what to make of this. For just a moment, their usual cohesion and discipline was gone. For just a moment, they were distracted, and off their guard.

That was the moment Darius had been waiting for.

This time, he himself was taking part in the attack. He, alongside 8 of the men he’d gathered, stormed forth from a different alleyway, rushing towards the group’s flank. They managed to take down 4 of the soldiers in the initial charge before the rest turned towards them, weapons already drawn and ready for battle. But neither Darius nor his men were here to fight fairly. As soon as the soldiers took notice of them, they retreated, rushing back into the alley they’d come from.

Just in time for the second group of demons Darius had placed around here to make their move.

They rushed at the soldiers from the other side, attacking them from behind as they were distracted by the first attack. This attack could be said to be even more unexpected than the first, as the soldiers would have naturally assumed the first attack would be carried out with all the force their enemies could muster – but nevertheless, the soldiers reacted faster than before, and only two of their number were brought down this time.

Now, Darius rushed forth again, and the contingent he had with him followed him. The two groups of Bloodhorns trapped the enemy soldiers between them, utilizing one of the oldest tactics in military history – encirclement. In the confined space they had suddenly found themselves in, the enemy had to defend themselves from all sides, and didn’t have nearly as much freedom to move as before. With those handicaps now applied to the foe, Darius’ men fell upon them with the ferocity of starving hyenas happening upon a fresh corpse.

But the soldiers fought hard. The poorly armed, hardly trained rebels could not defeat them easily in a true battle, even with a myriad of advantages on their side. Darius winced as he saw one of his men be cut down, and then another. Azal, he knew, wouldn’t have cared –  but he was not Azal, and he was not willing to simply write off the sacrifices of his people. But they had known the risks when they had decided to take on this mission, and Darius could not spare the time to mourn them now.

Another of the enemy’s soldiers was brought down, overwhelmed by the tide against him – but not before stabbing yet another of Darius’ men through the heart, cutting his life short. Seeing that, the remainder of the foes clustered together, tightening their formation so they could protect each other more easily. Darius closed in alongside his men.

A sword swung at Darius, and Darius parried it with his own – a curved blade that he’d obtained (quite illegally) some time ago. The two swords clashed, and Darius pushed his opponent back, just in time for one of his men to strike at that same soldier. Still, the soldier managed to block the Bloodhorn’s knife and turned back to Darius himself, lunging once more. Darius barely brought his sword up in time, but this blow had more force behind it, and he found himself driven back even as he blocked. In that brief opening, Darius expected the soldier facing him to try and attack him again – but instead, he turned and, with a quick swing, cut down the demon standing next to him.

In that moment, Darius realized what he was trying to do, and his eyes widened in dismay. But there wasn’t enough time to stop him. The circle had been broken, and since Darius had been pushed back, he couldn’t step back in line and repair it quickly enough. The soldier who had done the deed was the first through the opening, but his comrades rushed after him quickly, and soon, they had all escaped the circle.

Darius gritted his teeth. But this wasn’t a fight he could win anymore. “Retreat!” he shouted, and ran to one of the nearby alleys. His men followed him. He could only hope the soldiers wouldn’t do the same, or that they’d at least be able to shake them off.

Still, maybe this wasn’t so bad. If they had been trying to win, it would undoubtedly have been bad – but they were still merely trying to buy time. The fact that there were soldiers left alive meant that the Council’s army would know what had happened, and that there was a force in the city that was killing its soldiers. In the long run, that would certainly be bad – but in the short term, it could make them hesitate, giving Azal more of the time he desperately needed.

But even knowing that, Darius couldn’t help but be unhappy at his failure.

Azal looked out from his tower.

Things were bad. Oh, they weren’t as bad as they looked at first glance – Darius was out there, after all, and he was too good at what he did to not be doing at least some damage to the Council’s army. And besides, the enemy hadn’t prepared for a siege, and couldn’t breach the inner wall quickly. But the fact was, things were still bad. The moment even a small contingent of enemy soldiers did breach the wall, it would all be more or less over – and Azal just didn’t have the resources to put up the sort of airtight defense that would be required to stop that from happening. Soon enough, a few soldiers would get through, and then there would be nothing Azal could do.

And even if that didn’t happen, the Bloodhorns were still doomed in the long run. After all, there was still the matter of resources, and of food – and here, in the inner city, they didn’t have much of either. Even if the Council’s army somehow didn’t manage to get through the wall, they wouldn’t need to. They’d just have to starve everyone inside out. It would take a while, but actually not too long, and there wouldn’t be anything the Bloodhorns could do to stop them. Darius was good, and his men were pretty good themselves, too – but they were just too few in numbers to have a hope of breaking that sort of siege. The only thing Darius could maybe do would be to try and attack the Council’s supply lines, attempt to starve them too – but even then, Azal doubted he could do that. Surely, the Council’s army had many ways to resupply from their current position, and Darius wouldn’t be able to block all of them.

No matter how many small victories Darius’ attacks brought, no matter how many setbacks were inflicted on the Council or obstacles posed to them, the overall picture looked grim. This was, effectively, defeat. They had lost, and slowly yet inexorably, the end was coming.

The army of the Council encircled the inner wall like a ring of steel. None could get out – none could escape. When the army broke through, no mercy would be shown. Azal himself would die, of course, and that was if he was lucky – but he would be far from the only one. The slaughter would be great and bloody, and all that stood in the path of it occurring was a single wall. But with every passing hour, the enemy got closer to getting past it. Darius’ attacks were no more than a mosquito biting a dragon, and the best they would was slow the Council down. It was over.

Unless, of course, the one thing Azal had been relying on from the start came to pass. There was still a chance to turn this around – to turn this hopeless situation into a victory, to turn this desperate struggle into a true war. But that chance hinged on one thing.

Once more, Azal’s thoughts wandered back to that one question the answer to which would determine so much. Would Johannes be able to get Queen Lily’s help? And if he did, would the reinforcements arrive in time?

Queen Lily looked at the descendant, a small smile on her face. “And there it is. So… you think I should throw my lot in with you? You believe I should get involved in this rebellion when the Council has never even touched these lands during my reign? You believe I should commit to something like this when I don’t have a single thing to gain from it? Is that what you think?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Johannes said. What she was saying made sense. But he had to get her help. “I believe that you are a good person. I believe that you have the wisdom to know the effect the Council’s attacks have on the people of this realm – on the life and safety of mortal people everywhere. I believe, Your Majesty, that you have a good heart – and I believe that you will make the right choice. Please, I beg of you – will you not help us save all of your kind? Will you not help stop the Council from tearing apart homes and families, from burning villages to the ground with not a thought for the peaceful people living in them? Will you not ensure that mortals everywhere no longer suffer under the Council’s evil whims?”

Lily looked at him, a small smile on her face. And then… she chuckled. “Oh, my. It seems you completely misunderstand what kind of person I am.”

Johannes raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

“To be frank… I do not care about any of the things you have just said,” she explained. “I am not a good person. I do not have a good heart. And I certainly am not worried about the safety of some people who aren’t even in my kingdom. My earlier point stands – I have no reason to get involved with this.”

Johannes’ heart fell. “Your Majesty-“

“And yet… I will assist you anyway.”

At those words from the Queen, Johannes froze.

Normally, he would’ve been elated to hear that. But considering what she’d just said, he was just… confused. “Wait… why?’

The Queen smiled coyly. “Because… why not?”

…and that had been a few days ago.

A small, dark shape darted through the street.

Her name was Aya, and she was a rare sort of demon. There were many types of demons out there, of course, and they were all different, but some of them differed even more than the rest – some particular species of demons actually possessed some sort of inborn magic powers, some unique abilities that no normal mage would be able to achieve. Those sorts were incredibly rare – and yet, the dark shape that ran through the street now was one of them.

And while she knew the Council would love to have someone like her on their side… she was afraid they couldn’t have her. After all, her heart and soul had been with the Bloodhorns from the start.

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