Chapter 15: A Shattering Blow

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The attack was sudden and deadly, like a meteor striking a fortress wall, and the Council had been completely unprepared for it.

In hindsight, General Katherine should have known. She should’ve known that the rebels knew they couldn’t possibly win as things stood. She should’ve realized that they were clearly just trying to buy time. She should’ve figured out that they wouldn’t have been doing that if they didn’t have something to gain from it.

But she hadn’t. She hadn’t even considered the idea that the rebels had, somehow, managed to gather allies among the mortals – and because she hadn’t thought about it, those allies were now joining the battle. General Katherine’s gut reaction to that was revulsion and disbelief – how could those rebels make an alliance with mortals? Didn’t they know that mortals were just vermin stealing the lands of Verta from the demons, that they would never be able to defeat demonkind on its own turf? And yet… she couldn’t think like that, because however much she hated to admit it, the alliance was working. The mortal army was bearing down on them even now, and they couldn’t do anything about it. They were spread too thin, prepared for a siege rather than an open battle, and they had nowhere to run and no space to maneuver. For now, even she had no choice but to admit they were beaten.

And she hated to think that. A part of her wanted to give the order to attack – to at least take down as many of these mortal bastards as possible. But… she knew that wouldn’t work. The price would be too great. No matter how much she hated it, that simple thought remained true. Even mortals could pose a serious threat, if they had enough advantages – her campaigns on Verta had taught her that lesson. And right now, they had all the advantages they could possibly hope for. She was pretty sure her army slightly outnumbered the mortals’, but it didn’t matter. Right now, they were losing.

Katherine was more used to that feeling than she’d like to admit. Even she had to admit that some of the things the Council had sent her to do in the past had seemed… well, utterly impossible. She’d keep trying, of course – if that was what it took to make the Council’s dream come true, she would stay with them until the very end. But the fact was, she’d lost battles before, many times. And when she did, there was only ever one priority – get out of there with as few losses as possible.

It was no different this time.

Admittedly, this situation was different from what was normal. This time, they had nowhere to run. They were encircled, and she knew the enemy would do their best to keep it that way – after all, if they could kill Katherine herself, they would be able to deal a tremendous blow to the Council even this early into the war. She couldn’t let that happen. She had to escape, and she had to make sure as many of her men as possible got out alongside her. And if there wasn’t a way out… she’d just have to make one.

Darius rushed forward. He wasn’t hiding in the shadows and attacking suddenly, not anymore. There was no need for that anymore. Those tactics had been necessary when they were on the losing end – when they had been horribly outnumbered, forced to do everything they could just to hold on. Now? Now, it was different. Now, it was time to take the fight to the enemy.

The great assembly of troops that was the Council’s army came forth to meet them. Two armies clashed, the human army like a deadly flood sweeping through Redgate and wiping out those who supported the Council. Of the troops on the Bloodhorns’ side, the vast majority were the humans Johannes had brought in from Sagnir – there were fairly few demons, seeing as, one, there were far more humans than demons ready to fight for the Bloodhorns at the moment, and two, most of the demons that were with the Bloodhorns didn’t even have proper equipment, much less training, whereas the humans from Sagnir were an actual army. But Darius had his sword, and it hadn’t been too difficult to get a suit of armor, so he was fighting on the frontlines as well.

A demon of the Council rushed forth to meet him, sword thrusting for his neck. With his curved blade, Darius shoved the blow aside and closed in, slashing at the enemy. The soldier stepped back and, just barely, parried his attack, his own sword stopping Darius’ blade short. Darius pulled his sword back and moved as if to slash at the opponent’s other side, but it was a feint, and it worked perfectly. His enemy tried to block the false blow, only to be caught unawares when Darius quickly retreated and lunged again, this time slicing for the throat. The strike found its mark, and the enemy fell to the ground, a red line across his neck.

Darius charged further into the fray, barely aware of what his allies were doing. The battlefield had broken up into a dozen or more small battles, the warriors at the front fighting a series of duels while those at the back tried to move forward to get at their enemy. But, again, that wasn’t Darius’ concern. All he had to do was fight.

His curved sword sang through the air, a deadly river of metal flowing through the battlefield in a twisting path. Another sword met it, and the enemy soldier pushed him back. She rushed at him, thrusting her sword forward, only to swiftly pull it back as he jumped away. Darius danced forward, sword cutting at the enemy like a razor wind, but the enemy parried the blow and repelled it, closing in as she did. Another thrust reached for Darius, and he stepped to the side, slicing at his opponent while she was off-balance – but another blade flashed towards him from the side, forcing him to step back.

Darius’ eyes darted between the two opponents, the female chirean on his left and the male aeadite on his right. The aeadite advanced first, forcing Darius to bring his blade up to block, but since he was still watching the chirean, his movement was sloppy – the enemy’s sword just barely slid off the blade, and narrowly missed him. Again, the aeadite struck, and, not daring to take the same risk again, Darius momentarily focused on defending himself, stopping the thrusting blade as it reached for his head. In that instant, there was another flash of metal, and before Darius could retaliate, he was forced to swivel around and deflect the chirean’s blade, barely stopping its bite from reaching him. He stepped forward to attack, hoping to kill the chirean before the aeadite could strike at him again, but he glimpsed a blade coming at him from the back out of the corner of his eye, and was forced to turn around and block once again.

He gritted his teeth. Trapped between two enemies, it would be difficult to find an opening to defeat either of them. The best option for him would be to retreat, try to separate the two and take them out one at a time. But the two circled him like hungry sharks, making escape difficult. The chirean’s blade cut through the air, reaching for his neck, but he stopped the blow with his own sword and advanced towards the chirean, distancing himself from the aeadite at the same time. At this close a range, both Darius and the chirean would have trouble bringing their swords around to attack, but Darius was in a slightly better position, and he managed to thrust at his opponent first. She hopped to the side in response, barely dodging the strike, and he quickly turned his attack into a swing in response to that, trying to catch her. But the attack was performed hastily, and lacked power. She blocked it easily and pushed back against Darius’ sword, sending him reeling.

There was a sound, and the aeadite behind him struck at Darius again, but Darius managed to turn and block the attack. His sword and the enemy’s slipped off each other, and he tried to perform a quick riposte before the chirean could strike at him again, but the aeadite stepped back and dodged the blow.

But he’d forgotten one thing. Darius wasn’t alone.

As the aeadite stepped away from the blow, he stepped into the path of one of the human soldiers participating in the fight. The soldier turned, his sword already prepared to cut down the aeadite. He didn’t know which one would win, but that didn’t matter. Darius turned around, leaving them to fight their battle as he focused on the chirean. She stepped forward and sliced at him, a small motion aiming right for his throat, but Darius just took a little step backwards in response, dodging the attack. He grabbed the chirean’s blade with his gauntleted hand, shoved it aside, and advanced, trying to stab her through the head. She twisted her body to the side, dodging the blow, and yanked her sword out of Darius’ grip, but in that moment, Darius struck again. There wasn’t enough time to dodge, and Darius’ sword cut a deep wound across the chirean’s face. She dropped to the ground, and Darius took a moment to look around.

His hungry eyes, lost in the battle, looked for another foe. Darius’ mind was blank at this moment – he had left himself behind as he fought, and for now, at least, he was just a blank shell, here for the sole purpose of defeating the enemy. All around him, he saw the foe being pushed back, the human forces from Sagnir chipping away at the mountain that was the Council’s army. Demons fell back, and humans advanced into the space they left, forcing them back further and further. There were no tactics here – this was a simple battle, the outcome decided solely by numbers and the martial skill of the participants, and both advantages seemed to go to the human side. Even though the Council’s force was slightly more numerous, it was spread all around the wall, whereas the hammer of human troops now striking at them was all concentrated in one area – and so, in this particular battle, the demons were outnumbered.

Looking at the series of skirmishes breaking out all around him, Darius pushed forward, joining the front lines once more.

Aya couldn’t fight in this war. Not as a soldier. That much, she knew. She just didn’t have the skill, the training, the discipline needed. There was a little worry in the back of her mind that, subconsciously, she was just thinking that because she was a coward and she wanted to justify her inaction, but she pushed it down. She wasn’t being a coward, she was just being realistic. She wanted to help the Bloodhorns, she wanted to fight alongside them – but she couldn’t. She wasn’t a fighter. And she definitely wasn’t a soldier. She wasn’t the kind of person they’d want fighting on the front lines.

But she could help out in other ways. Now, in the chaos caused by the sudden attack, the Council’s people didn’t seem as paranoid as before – they were too focused on the fighting to be paranoid, and besides, the ambushes had stopped, so she supposed they’d let their guard down a little. Some time ago, she’d stopped by a battlefield where the battle was already over and collected some armor from a fallen descendant, so she could have something that would fit her human form better. With that in tow, she’d gone right back to what she’d been doing before – spying on the army, talking to its soldiers, and trying to get all the information she possibly could.

And she’d gotten quite a bit already. More than she’d expected. When she thought about that, it still made her a bit giddy – she’d never, ever thought she’d ever get to be a spy (for a rebellion, no less!), but here she was, doing exactly that. It was like all her younger self’s immature, childish wishes – wishes that she was a little embarrassed to admit she was still clinging onto even now – had come true. Frankly, it almost felt like a dream.

But that didn’t matter right now. She had her information. She could be helpful. She could do something that would be remembered – she could make her mark on history.

Now, there was just one question. How, exactly, was she going to get this information to the leaders…?

“So, what do we do now?” Darius asked, turning to the human standing next to him. The human in question was a man with hair so short and thin he was almost bald, and a face like a rock. He was named Ian, a noble of some sort from Sagnir who Lily had sent to assist the Bloodhorns along with his troops. So far, Darius had only talked to the guy a few times, but those few times had been more than enough for Darius to decide he didn’t like him.

Still, Ian certainly was competent, so Darius was willing to defer to him in matters like this, even if he didn’t like it. After their initial assault, the Council’s forces had retreated, fleeing to the wall. Now, the Bloodhorns could, alongside the Sagnirian army, push forwards and crush the enemy – but both Darius and Ian had agreed that such a direct assault would be costly. After all, now that the foe had their backs up against a wall, they’d have nowhere to run, which meant they’d have nothing to lose. And a cornered beast fought the hardest.

“This Katherine,” Ian said in a gruff voice. Darius wasn’t sure if he could speak in anything but a gruff voice. “You said earlier that she is important to the Council?”

“She’s basically their hero,” Darius replied.

“If we were to capture her, it could be greatly beneficial,” Ian remarked. “We are unlikely to have a better chance than this anytime soon.”

Darius pondered it for a moment. “It’d still be difficult,” he cautioned. “After all, our enemies have got their backs up against a wall, so they’ll fight hard. And I’m sure Katherine will be especially guarded.”

“Hrmm,” Ian grunted and narrowed his eyes. “Assuming we do manage to capture or kill her, what outcome do you perceive it would have on the war?”

“Well, it’d be a big deal,” Darius admitted, “but it wouldn’t end the war outright or anything. The Council’s still got another General to deploy, and while they don’t like him as much – and, by most accounts, he’s not as good as Katherine either – he’s still pretty damn good. So I don’t think capturing Katherine would solve all our problems or anything.”

For a few moments, Ian considered it, his hard eyes gazing toward the centre. “This other general. How much do you know of him?”

“Not that much, actually,” Darius said. “His name is Leonid, I know that much, and I assume he must be pretty good if he managed to become a General. But there’s not much information out there about him. It’s like the Council wants to keep what he’s like secret, for some reason.”

“But you know much about Katherine, correct?” Ian asked.

“Yeah,” Darius replied. “She’s different. The Council tries its best to make sure everyone’s heard of her and all the stuff she’s done. They basically use her for propaganda, and conveniently enough, that means we know a lot about her.”

“And this second general – he is not yet participating in this war, yes?” Ian pressed on.

“As far as we know, the Council hasn’t deployed him yet,” Darius nodded. He realized what Ian was trying to say. “So I assume you think we should leave Katherine alone for now, because at least she’s an enemy we know.”

“Yes,” Ian said, the slightest tinge of approval in his voice. “You are more astute than I had imagined.”

“Thanks, I guess,” Darius said, a little put off by that “than I had imagined” part. “So, again – what do we do, in this situation?”

“It may be best to intentionally give them an escape route,” Ian said. “Our current situation is good, but it is not as good as it seems at first glance – after all, the Council certainly has troops in reserve, so even if we annihilate this army, they will have more men to send. On the other hand, if we can simply deal enough damage, they should eventually choose flight. If they do, and they flee the city, that will give us time to reinforce and prepare while they get ready for their next attack. This tactic will ensure minimal losses for our side, and remove the issue of the cornered beast you mentioned earlier.”

“Hm,” Darius nodded. “Yeah, I suppose that sounds good.”

As for Johannes, he wasn’t fighting on the frontlines. He wasn’t a fighter, or a soldier. If he were put on the front lines, he wouldn’t have the first clue what to do. And he certainly was no commander, either. So, he’d abandoned the Sagnirian army shortly after having brought it to Redgate.

Now, he was planning to try and get to Azal so he could inform him of the plan’s success. Of course, the human army that had suddenly come to the city and started attacking the Council’s force had probably tipped him off already, but Johannes was sure he’d appreciate a more specific report. In particular, that Queen… Johannes really wasn’t sure if she could be trusted. He’d thought a few times in the past that Azal was overly paranoid, but in this case, he felt like paranoia was entirely justified.

After all… someone who outright admitted she didn’t have any reasons to want to help, and then agreed to help anyway? Someone who flaunted the usual rules of etiquette like that, and yet somehow still managed to maintain a high position? Someone who had such an unearthly elegance about her, seemed so kind and gentle, and yet was surprisingly astute and – even more worrying – willing to outright admit she didn’t have a care in the world for human life? There were too many things about her that were just wrong, that were completely disconnected from how any normal queen would act. If that was the case, was Johannes not justified in his distrust?

Well, it didn’t really matter. Azal was sharper than him when it came to these matters, so all he’d do was tell Azal what had happened in as much detail as possible and then leave it all up to him. Trying to do something about it on his own would be just foolhardy. A part of Johannes was tempted to try and investigate further, to do his best to figure out what in the world was going on here – but, again, it’d be foolhardy. Those were things best left to Azal.

“Um… h-hey… J-Johannes?”

The soft voice roused him from his reverie, and he whirled to the left on instinct. But there hadn’t been any hostility in that voice, and at this point, there wasn’t any reason to automatically assume people were against him. Johannes took a quick breath and calmed himself down.

“Yes?” he asked, looking at the stranger. It was a female descendant (though he couldn’t help but feel like there was something off about her…), dressed in a simple outfit composed of the sort of tunic and trousers one could find on any demon just passing by.

“Y-you are Johannes, right?” she asked, her voice shaky. “U-uh, I… I’m sorry, it’s just…”

“Yeah, I’m Johannes,” he affirmed. “The one from the Bloodhorns. I assume I’m the one you were looking for, then?”

“R-right!” she responded. “U-um, well… I don’t know how to say this, really, but… uh… okay, first off, just let me say I really appreciate you guys.”

Johannes raised an eyebrow, a bit off-put by this odd demon. “Thanks…?” He looked the descendant over again, unsure what she was doing. And that was when it hit him.

That had been why he’d felt like there was something off about her. Because the color of her eyes… it was wrong. Descendants had bright orange eyes, as a rule – the exact shade varied a bit, of course, but it was always bright orange. But her eyes were a cheerful blue like the sky of Verta – the eyes of…

“Wait,” Johannes frowned. “You’re a human.”

Well, that didn’t make sense. As far as he knew, the Sagnirian troops that had been sent over to them had been dragged here by the Queen’s order, and – by and large – didn’t really care about the rebellion themselves. Of course, he wouldn’t be surprised if some of them did – the Council had been a thorn in humanity’s side for a long time, after all – but most of them were just carrying out orders. Besides, thanks to the Council, a lot of humans had a distaste for all demons, in general – it seemed odd that this woman (who acted more like a little girl, which was another odd thing) would greet him so cheerfully.

And besides, if she had been part of the army, she would have been wearing the military uniform. And that was impossible in the first place, because as far as Johannes knew (though, admittedly, his knowledge was quite limited), humans didn’t let women fight as soldiers.

“Um… n-no, not quite,” the woman replied.

“Uh… what?” Johannes asked, suddenly even more confused. “What does that even mean?”

“Ah, well… have you ever heard of a shadow?” the woman asked. “You know, not, like, the shadow under your feet, but…”

“The type of demon?” Johannes asked.

“Yeah!” the woman replied, enthusiastically.

“Yeah, I’ve heard of them,” Johannes said. After all, he had been a noble, before all this. He was pretty educated, as far as demons went. “Little critters that can transform into-“

There was a click inside his mind.

“Wait. You’re not saying…?”

“Yup!” the woman said, a little chuckle in her voice. “I’m a shadow, actually.”

“Huh,” Johannes said, voice a bit hollow with wonder. “But… those are really rare, aren’t they?”

“Mm-hm!” the woman cheerfully agreed.

“Huh,” Johannes said once again. The thought had come to him, a while ago, that this rebellion would mean he’d probably get a rare chance to see a lot of the really rare kinds of demons, but… he didn’t expect it to be this soon. “That’s… huh. I’ve never actually seen one of you before.”

“Yeah, I figured,” she smiled. “Not a lot of people have. My name’s Aya, by the way.”

“Well, hello, Aya,” he said. “I’m Johannes, though you already know that.”

“Yeah,” she murmured happily. “You know, I… I sort of already told you this, but I really am so in support of what you guys are doing. I’ve actually snuck out to Verta once upon a time – that’s why I can take this form – and… I’ve seen, like, how humans live, you know? And, you know, it’s actually really nice. I don’t know, I feel like the Council’s just… like, it’s not right to just take that away from them. You know?”

“Yeah,” Johannes nodded. “I mean, that’s why we got this thing started, in the first place…” Well, that wasn’t quite true. Really, Azal was more concerned with what the consequences would be for demonkind when the mortals decided they’d had enough – morality had never factored into it. But whatever Azal thought, Johannes’ reasoning had always been closer to Aya’s.

“Uh, right,” Aya said. “So, anyway, uh… I, I wanted to help you out.”

“That’d be nice,” Johannes responded. “Shadows are quite useful in times of conflict. What sort of help were you thinking of?”

She looked at the ground awkwardly, her cheeks an embarrassed red. “U-um… well, b-before I came here, I actually… I actually already did a few things.”

“Like what?” Johannes asked. She seemed worried that he wouldn’t approve of her doing something without the Bloodhorns’ permission, but Johannes wasn’t particularly concerned. Maybe Azal would be upset about something like that, but to Johannes, someone helping was someone helping. Were they really going to have the arrogance to call someone out for not helping “the right way”?

“W-well… you know… when I’m in human form like this, I look more or less like a descendant,” she said. “So… I grabbed some armor off one of the Council’s soldiers, and I pretended to be one of them. You know, to gather information… and stuff…”

Johannes raised an eyebrow. “You spied on the Council’s army.”

“Y-yeah,” she said, anxiety in her voice. “I-I know, it’s dishonorable, b-but… I just thought that we’d need any advantage we could get, so…”

“Of course we do,” Johannes said, interrupting her. She clearly had a bit of a self-esteem problem, and if there was no one else around, it was Johannes’ job to cheer her up. “And don’t worry about honor. The Council doesn’t even worry about their people’s lives when they send them out to fight for them – why should we worry about honor when fighting them? They deserve whatever we do, really.”

“R-really?” Aya stammered out excitedly.

“Yeah,” Johannes smiled. “And I’m sure you got some useful information, right?”

“Y-yeah!” she almost shouted in her joy. “I, I got a bunch! Like, I know there’s a bunch of them that were planning to run away if something like this happened – and, and I know what route they’re going to use! S-so you can cut them off!”

“Huh,” Johannes said. “Yeah, that’s useful. Thank you, Aya!”

“Uh… y-you’re welcome!” she replied, a huge grin on her face. “Th-thank you so much!”

“So, what’s this escape route, then?” Johannes asked.

“R-right!” Aya stuttered hastily, and started telling him about it.

Azal was sitting in his chamber atop the tower, looking out the window and thinking about the state of the battle right now, when there was a knock on the door.

This wasn’t unexpected. A servant had already informed him that Johannes was coming to see him, so he’d been expecting him for a few minutes now. Azal walked over to the door and opened it, letting Johannes into the room.

“Hello, Azal,” the descendant said.

“Hello, Johannes,” Azal replied. “Come in.” He did as he was told and sat down on the less ornate chair in the room, letting Azal take the other one.

“So,” Azal said, “I assume you’ve got something to tell me?”

“Yeah,” Johannes said. “First off, I want to talk to you about Queen Lily.”

“The Queen of Sagnir?” Azal said, a bemused expression making its way across his face. “What about her?”

“Well, here’s the thing,” Johannes said. “I know she’s helping us right now, but… I really don’t feel like she can be trusted.”

A ghost of a smile appeared on Azal’s lips. “Hm. You’re being paranoid now, Johannes? Can’t say I ever expected that from you.”

“You’re not exactly in a position to judge,” Johannes reminded him.

“It wasn’t an insult,” Azal clarified. “Well, regardless. So, what’s the cause of this sudden paranoia?”

And Johannes told him, in as much detail as he could, about his conversation with the Queen. About how she’d had no reason to help, and yet had decided to do so anyway. About that unearthly elegance of her, and about her words and actions that contradicted that elegance so greatly. About how she’d outright said she didn’t have a care in the world for human life, and how the admission hadn’t seemed to bring even a tinge of shame – or any other emotion, for that matter – to her. About all the things that made Johannes so suspicious of her, and all the things that told him there was more to her than met the eye.

“Hmmm,” Azal murmured when Johannes was done. “I must admit, you are correct. Your suspicions certainly have a solid foundation to them… though I must say, to me, your first point stands out more than any of the others. The rest are merely odd and unusual – things that are worth being concerned over, but aren’t particularly worrying. The first one, however…”

Johannes narrowed his eyes a little bit.

“To have someone offer help for seemingly no reason is worrisome, indeed,” Azal said, his voice heavy. “Even if her reason had just been based solely on morality, I would have been suspicious – but for her to help for no reason at all? And for her to admit that fact, even when she had to know how much suspicion it would bring? If she did something like that, I am certain she is planning something… but I can’t say what it is. Her actions seem… nonsensical, frankly.”

“Maybe she’s just trying to get into our good graces?” Johannes ventured. “After all, if we do succeed, we’re going to end up in a pretty good position. We’ll have all of Aead to rule over. If we rule well, our nation could easily become quite powerful.”

“Doubtful,” Azal replied. “Sagnir is a powerful kingdom as well, and while I, admittedly, do not know much about the politics of Verta, I do know that the Council is nowhere near as powerful as their greatest kingdoms. If that is the case, there is no reason to think we will be much greater.”

A thought came to Azal. A long time ago – well, not that long, but it certainly felt distant – he’d gone to Verta and talked to a woman named Regina to try and determine whether he could get any allies from that realm, and which countries would be most likely to ally with him. Back then, when Regina had brought up Sagnir, she’d said something about its queen.

She just wants to see the world burn.

Back then, Azal hadn’t really believed her. How could someone like that be in a position of power? Besides, if one was in a position of power, would they really let an odd desire like that get in the way of their own advancement? And with the passing of time, he’d started thinking about that possibility less and less. He’d started to assume that Regina was just lashing out at the Queen because she didn’t like her, that what she said wasn’t actually all that likely to be true. He’d started thinking about Queen Lily like he would about any other queen.

But knowing this… Azal began to suspect that maybe, just maybe, Regina was more right than he’d thought. Maybe the Queen of Sagnir really did just want to watch the world burn.

Or there was still a possibility that was incorrect, and that she was playing some sort of deeper game – but if so, Azal still didn’t know what it was. And if he was correct, if Lily really didn’t care about herself or about her kingdom… then what could he do? How could he begin to reason with someone like that?

“Well… I guess,” Johannes admitted, derailing Azal’s train of thought. “But then… what is she doing?”

“I do not know… but never mind that,” Azal said. “I’ll worry about her. Is there anything else you need to tell me?”

“Actually, yes,” Johannes said, which was a little unexpected. “You’re aware of the type of demon known as a shadow, right?”

“Of course,” Azal replied.

“I met one,” Johannes said, and Azal’s eyes widened a bit. “Aya, her name was. She said she wanted to help us. Apparently, she’s already spied on the Council’s army a bit and gotten some information for us.”

Azal narrowed his eyes. “And you trust her?”

“Azal, I’ve talked to her,” Johannes said, a bit impatiently. “I’ve heard how she talks about us. I don’t think you can fake that sort of enthusiasm.”

“That is a dangerous assumption to make,” Azal cautioned. “But never mind. What is this information she claims to have?”

“Apparently, she knows which escape routes some of the Council’s men are planning to use,” Johannes reported. “She said we could use that information to cut them off.”

Azal clasped his hands in front of his face. “We don’t need to cut them off. A cornered beast fights the hardest, and Darius should know that too. Trying to inflict heavy losses on them here would cause unacceptable losses for our side, whereas the Council has more than enough reserves to replace anyone we kill. It’s better for us if they run away.”

“Oh,” Johannes said, his face suddenly sullen. “So… her information’s useless?”

“Yes,” Azal said. It was clear Johannes didn’t want to disappoint this shadow by telling her that, but that didn’t concern Azal. “Though, you should keep it in mind anyway. While it may be useless, it would still be wise to check if it’s accurate. If it is, we can probably trust this shadow.”

“…I see,” Johannes said, hesitantly. “I… suppose I will take my leave, then.”

Darius looked around.

The plan, insofar as there had even been one, had worked. There was no true battle raging, not anymore. Only a few skirmishes were still being fought, the human army ferociously attacking those few of the Council’s troops who still kept fighting. By and large, the Council’s force was broken. They were retreating, hordes of demons pouring through the streets in their desperate attempt to get out of the city. The human army, and the Bloodhorns, did not make any moves to stop them. Right now, if the Council retreated, that was already a victory. It wasn’t the time for a decisive battle, not yet.

Yes. This was just a respite. But a respite was exactly what they needed. They needed to reorganize, to prepare, to make sure that when the next attack came, they were ready. The Council’s retreat would give them the time to do all of those things. Of course, the Council would be preparing, too… but it was a more level field, now. The Bloodhorns were no longer hopelessly outclassed. They had a fighting chance.

And besides… at the end of the day, there was one more reason Darius was happy with this outcome. And that was because, whatever form it took…

…they’d won.

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