Chapter 25: Divine Intervention

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“What the…?” It was all Azal could possibly say. What other reaction could he have? In such a situation, what question would possibly be more appropriate than that?

“I don’t think we have that much time to talk, good sir,” the golden man said, and Azal knew it was all too true. But still, he sat there in that chair, smiling as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “It’s Azal, by the way, right? And it sort of seems to me like you’re in trouble.”

“I… suppose,” Azal distractedly said, still too blown away to properly think about this. He tried to get his mind to work. This man was human, that much was certain (unless he was another shadow) – he didn’t have the fiery orange eyes of a descendant. But too many things didn’t add up. Why would a human other than a member of Ian’s army even go onto Azal…? And this man wasn’t part of Ian’s army, there was no question about that. The clothing he wore looked nothing like what a soldier would wear – or, for that matter, be able to even afford.

And why was he offering to help so readily? And why did he know Azal’s name? And for that matter, to get to perhaps the most important point, how had he just suddenly appeared in this room?!

But damn, he was right. At this moment, Azal needed help. He would figure out whether this man was trustworthy later – for now, his help was necessary. Even if he was just one man, anything he could do would be appreciated… and besides, he quite clearly wasn’t an ordinary man.

Though, there was still one thing Azal needed to know first. “Who are you?”

“We can discuss that later,” the man shrugged. “For now, why don’t you meet my friends?” He raised a hand, snapped his fingers, and, with a click, the door to Azal’s chamber swung open. Azal turned to look at it, dumbfounded, only to see two people standing behind it.

The first of them looked fairly normal. An aeadite like any other – same rough red skin, same small horns and yellow eyes. He was a bit tall compared to the usual aeadite, and his facial structure looked unusually gentle – though there was a certain strength in his features nevertheless – but still, he was a demon like any other. The armor he wore was curious – it was thin leather armor that would provide so little protection that it could barely even be called “armor” – and the curved sword at his hip was also something to note, but even those things weren’t too unusual. The only truly strange thing about this demon was how he’d gotten here without someone stopping him.

Well… that, and his companion.

Whereas that first person had been a demon Azal could identify like any other, the second visitor was something Azal had never seen or even heard of before. He – at least, Azal supposed it was a he – looked, for the most part, exactly like a male human, right down to the fine, long blond hair that grew from his head. There was just one difference: the newcomer’s complete lack of eyes. Where a human’s eyes would’ve been, the stranger simply had smooth, unblemished skin like anywhere else on his face. And yet, he showed none of the signs Azal would usually associate with a blind person… could this strange creature somehow be able to see even without eyes? Certainly, if so, that wouldn’t be the oddest thing about him.

Further, his choice of attire was odd as well. He wore something like a white robe – though it wasn’t quite so loose as what Azal would normally associate with the word “robe” – that fell to his ankles, and underneath, he seemed to be wearing tall boots that were just as white as the robe and extended upwards to vanish underneath it. More than that, what was even stranger was the sword he had on his hip. It wasn’t that the sword itself was odd – in fact, it was a rather normal weapon, compared to everything else Azal had seen in the last few seconds – but the fact that this creature was even carrying a sword was certainly odd. If he couldn’t see, as his lack of eyes seemed to suggest, he couldn’t use a sword… and yet, he had one anyway. Azal began to suspect that he’d been right with his wild guess before – somehow, through some magical means, this creature could see even without eyes.

The eyeless humanoid grinned at him with a tilted head, seemingly amused by his dumbfounded expression. “Somehow I’m not surprised,” the stranger sardonically murmured.

“How did you get in here…?” Azal half-growled. He needed help, yes, but… he needed answers, too. Something like this… to have three strange beings appear at his doorstep and offer to aid him in his hour of need… there was no way there wasn’t some catch.

“Oh, it wasn’t a problem,” the man on the chair said, drawing Azal’s gaze back towards him. “And the other two arrived with my help. Anyway, you require assistance, don’t you? Cause that’s sort of why we’re here.”

Azal looked at him suspiciously. Now that he looked at the man more closely, he, like the other two, also had a sword. It seemed to be a more-or-less standard bastard sword, though the hilt appeared to be made of – or at least covered in – gold. But… he had it sheathed across his back. Didn’t he know it was impossible to draw a sword quickly from that position…?

Actually, never mind. Azal dismissed that thought. Considering how odd this person was, it wasn’t unlikely he was somehow able to do just that, impossible or not.

“Yes, I… require assistance, I suppose,” Azal conceded. “That said, if I were to accept your offer, what price would you demand of me?”

“Oh, we’re doing this for our own reasons,” the man said. “Letting us do it’s going to be payment enough. Besides, even if I were to demand a payment, I don’t think you’ve got anything that’ll interest me.”

“Or me,” the eyeless man interjected from the side.

“Thank you, Alexander,” the man in gold said, shooting a sideways glance at the eyeless one (whose name was apparently Alexander). “In either case, I don’t think you’re in much of a position to bargain right now, or to ask unnecessary questions. Trust me, I’ll answer all the questions you’ve got, or most of them anyway – just… a bit later.”

Azal sighed. “Very well,” he said. The man was right – he wasn’t in a position to doubt him. Even if this man were to betray them later, it would still be better than if Azal refused his help now. “I will accept your offer.”

“Excellent,” the man said with a small nod of approval. He stood up from the chair and walked over to his two companions, putting his hands on their shoulders. “In that case, we’ll be going now.”

And then, with a slight blueish distortion, they vanished.

Azal flinched at the sight, unable to quite figure out what he’d just seen. The three of them had… simply disappeared, vanishing from sight in an instant. Had they gone invisible, or teleported somewhere else? Or had they been illusions from the start, not really here? In any case, it had to be magic, but… no mage alive could possibly do anything like that. Nor could any of the now-dead ones throughout history.

He sat down on his chair, holding his head. This day was getting more and more annoying…

Melthar grinned as he appeared to the side of the battle, Alexander and Janus by his side. Admittedly, Janus wouldn’t be much use, not here – he was a good swordsman, yeah, but in a big battle like this, he was still just a single person. But Alexander and Melthar himself… now those were different stories.

“Janus, you should probably stand back for now,” he said, shooting a glance at the demon. “Alexander, let’s go!”

“Gotcha,” Alexander nodded, readying his sword. And with that affirmation, Melthar vanished.

He reappeared at the enemy’s flank, cutting three of them down before they could even react. The enemies stumbled back at his sudden appearance, and even those who managed to gather their wits quickly enough to fight back found they couldn’t match him. His sword moved with unnatural speed, cutting the enemies down before they could even bring their blades up.

Well, of course. Melthar’s domain as a Great Power was space… and time. So right now, he was using that second part of it to locally manipulate time within his body, letting himself move far faster than any other creature possibly could.

Enhanced by his own magic, he darted around the battlefield like a blue and golden blur, scattering enemies everywhere he appeared only to vanish a second later and strike somewhere else. Even his sword was barely visible – only the flashes of its blade dancing through the air could be seen as it danced with a speed faster than any of the demons in this battle could even see, much less fight against. His blade cut down enemy soldiers faster than even Melthar himself could count them. They were sliced to pieces, cut down by a Great Power’s wrath without any hope of defending themselves.

Of course, this power wouldn’t normally suffice to allow Melthar to take on an army by himself. Even enhanced as he was, he had to teleport around every few seconds to avoid simply being surrounded and eventually struck down by a stray hit, which was a constant drain on his energy – not to mention the fact that maintaining this sort of speed wasn’t exactly easy in and of itself, either. In a true battle, if he tried to use this tactic, it would work fine for a while, but he would tire out soon enough, and then he’d be easy prey for the enemy.

But he wasn’t here to fight the enemy army, not really. All he needed to do, for now, was clear a path to let the Bloodhorns’ army escape the encirclement. And that was something he could do easily enough, especially with the element of surprise on his side.

He glanced backwards to see Alexander doing just fine, too. Alexander was a mage, after all – and more than that, he was an angel, which meant he had a greater connection to the Spirit Realm than any “modern” species. Therefore, he had a larger supply of power than the vast majority of human mages, and seeing Alexander’s performance on the battlefield was clear evidence of that fact. With a thrust of his palm, he sent a blast of wind that scattered an entire row of soldiers at once, and he did it again, and again, sending foes flying with each attack.

In a way, Melthar could do that too.

All of a sudden, thanks to the arrival of two extraordinarily powerful beings which the enemy could not possibly have expected or seen coming, the enemy’s army was thrown into disarray. Within just a few seconds, they were already scattered and disorganized and panicked, a far cry from the steady and unrelenting assault that they’d been conducting just a tiny bit ago. Now, Melthar just had to deal the finishing blow.

He teleported once more, this time appearing just outside the battlefield, and extended his hand just like Alexander had done moments ago to shoot his blasts of wind. But Melthar’s attack was different. A blur of blue ran across the line of soldiers which he’d pointed his hand at, and in an instant, they vanished. They were spiralled away in a swirl of blue, and a confusing stream of space and air and magic flowed across the line where the soldiers had previously stood, and when it was all over, they reformed somewhere to the sides, confused and scared.

Melthar’s attack hadn’t been anything so… normal, he supposed as wind or force. Instead, he’d “simply” twisted space itself in that area to force the soldiers outside, like manipulating a river’s current to get a piece of debris to flow out of it. It was an achievement far beyond the reach of any mage, of course, but being the Great Power of space and time had its benefits (not that that even needed to be said, really).

And on the other side of the gap Melthar had created, the army that had been encircled until a moment ago stood. They looked dumbfounded, surprised… and more than a little terrified. A few of them stumbled away from the tunnel, moving in stunned shock and purely on instinct as a result.

It was understandable. But still…

“What are you doing, you idiots?” Melthar yelled over the battlefield (though it had very suddenly gone still just now). “I made you a tunnel! Have the common courtesy to use it! Come on…”

At that half-joking admonishment, the soldiers seemed to come back to their senses. They dashed forward, rushing through the pathway that Melthar had just made, filling it with a tidal wave of people, all stomping and running in their panicked haste to escape the trap they’d been caught in. But the enemy soldiers began reacting properly once more too, and they started trying to close the gap back up, push the rebellion’s soldiers back into the colosseum of death.

Still, they’d reacted a bit too late to stop the flow entirely, and even when they tried to at least staunch it, it wasn’t as one-sided as the fighting before had been. Now that the rebel soldiers only had to fight on two fronts rather than being completely surrounded, and now that they had some actual hope of getting away, they were doing a rather good job of holding the Council’s army off. Melthar could see that they still couldn’t hold for long, but they wouldn’t need to – they just needed to keep themselves alive long enough to get to the other side.

As for Melthar himself… well, even someone as great as him had his limits. Unfortunately, nothing came without some sort of price, at least in energy, and even the abilities of a Great Power weren’t exempt from that rule. What he’d done so far had been rather easy, but he had more or less pushed himself to the limit of what he could do “casually”. If he were to keep involving himself, he’d have to start putting some sort of actual effort into it, and that could transform into him getting tired soon enough.

Still, he supposed he could do a bit more.

With a quick twirl of his cloak (not for any practical reason – it just looked nice), Melthar vanished once more, this time appearing above the enemy. He used a bit more manipulation of space to hold himself aloft, taking in the shocked gazes of the enemy soldiers as they looked up at him, while he pointed his hand down and – with a touch of actual normal magic – sent down a blast of wind, smashing them from above and scattering them in every direction. It might’ve even killed a few with the sheer impact, though Melthar couldn’t quite tell from up here.

But regardless, the attack did its job – not that it really had to. In any case, most of the rebel soldiers had gotten out of the trap by now, and the rest were well on their way. Melthar’s job here was, at least for the moment, done.

He teleported away to a nearby rooftop and watched the last embers of the battle die down as the rebel soldiers ran away and the Council’s soldiers tried to figure out what the fuck had just happened.

“Job’s done,” the familiar voice said, making Azal flinch even now that he knew about this strange man. For the Great Powers’ sake, was he planning to keep entering Azal’s room by just teleporting into it? It would’ve been nice of him to knock…

Azal turned to face him. Thankfully, this time, Azal had been sitting in his chair when the man appeared, so the man hadn’t been able to take it. Instead, he was standing beside the door, casually leaning on the wall with his arms crossed.

“You are treating this too casually,” Azal accused.

“I assure you, I’m taking this perfectly seriously,” the man said. “Sure, I might not look like it, but trust me on this – I want you to win. Can’t necessarily say I’ll do anything to achieve that goal or any absolutes like that, but all other things being equal, I do want you to win.”

“All you did was allow my soldiers to flee,” Azal said. “And while I cannot say I am not grateful for that, why did you not kill the enemy as well? With those powers you have, you could have done it.”

“And that’s where you wrong,” the man said, a chastising tone in his voice. “Look, I won’t deny it – I’m pretty great. But even then, you seem to overestimate me a bit. Sure, I could fight an entire army for a while, but even I get tired eventually. Soon enough, they’d just overwhelm me and force me to run away – and, sure, I guess I could’ve taken out a decent number of them before I had to get out of there. But it wouldn’t have been enough to really make a difference, and in exchange, we’d be sacrificing the advantage of having a seemingly unbeatable guy on your side to scare the shit out of the enemy with.”

Azal snorted. The man had put it crudely, but Azal could see what he was getting at. Even discounting his obvious battlefield potential, the psychological impacts of having such a being on their side were not something to understate. Which wasn’t to say his battlefield potential wasn’t great – even if, by the man’s own admission, he wasn’t as powerful as Azal had previously thought, he had still already shown himself to be a terrifying force. If that sort of power were to be truly let loose…

But Azal was getting far ahead of himself. This man had, most likely, saved the Bloodhorns just now – but he was still an unknown variable in a lot of ways. For a start, what even was he? And why was a being clearly so powerful as him taking interest in a simple rebellion like this one? There were many questions Azal had, and until they were answered, he could never trust this strange man.

For a moment, he contemplated trying to simply wait and see, and try to observe the man until he accidentally slipped up and revealed something about himself. But that wouldn’t work, would it? This man, whoever he was, was clearly from an entire class of beings that Azal knew nothing about. Even if he accidentally revealed something about his origin or what he was, it would be entirely unhelpful. Azal had to know more.

Which meant he would have to ask directly.

“I suppose,” Azal acceded, acknowledging what the man had previously said. “Still, your power seemed very vast on that battlefield. If I may, who are you?”

Azal intentionally tried not to give any hints that he didn’t trust the man. With beings like these, insulting them was something that seemed like a rather bad idea.

But.

“You don’t trust me, do you?” the man smiled sardonically, seeing through Azal in an instant. “A paranoid one, I see – although I figured that one out already. If I had to guess, you’re not exactly a paragon of morality either, are you? Well… it would’ve taken a fool to not figure that out. In any case, I can see why you wouldn’t trust me so easily.” His smile grew to a grin. “Alright. I guess I can tell you who I am.”

Azal tensed. Hopefully, this would answer his questions. Once he knew what this man was, he could come to a proper decision.

And yet nothing could possibly have prepared Azal for the answer that the man gave him.

The man in gold pointed a thumb at himself, still grinning. “The name’s Melthar. I think it’s safe to guess you’ve heard of me, right?”

It was a couple of hours later, and Azal still couldn’t quite believe it.

Not in the literal sense, of course. As much as he hated to believe any sort of claim like that, the man’s claim that he was Melthar honestly did make sense. It would explain the sort of incredible power he possessed, and how casually he treated this whole war, too – after all, to an immortal Great Power, it would only make sense that a conflict like this would barely be worth worrying about. Even if it was still a bit of a ridiculous claim to make, it was undeniable that the man was certainly something unusual – and Azal supposed that something out of old myths and legends was actually more likely than something with no previous evidence of having existed at all. So him being Melthar was, in hindsight, not that unlikely.

But still. Even to Azal, who was always so practical, so unwilling to ever let himself get worked up or emotional… even to him, the idea of having a Great Power assist him was simply ridiculous. Something like this would have been considered a miracle in years past – no, it would most likely be considered a miracle even today. If anything, it felt like something Azal would read about in some old story – certainly not something that would actually ever happen to him. It felt… oddly unreal.

To Azal, it was an alien feeling. He was used to knowing what things were, to being able to understand everything that was going on. But now, for once, there was something happening which he had no idea how to deal with, and he couldn’t help but be anxious about it.

Well, he was sure that feeling would go away eventually. In the meantime, he was just glad Melthar was on his side. If such a man had chosen to assist the Council… well, to be frank, Azal’s hopes would be dashed then and there.

In either case, the news had spread quickly through the tower, at least – especially with Melthar himself helping them along. Azal himself had needed a bit of time to process them (which was extremely unusual), but after a while, he’d settled on calling a meeting. This was a new factor that needed to be included in their plans, after all, and it was a very important one to boot – not to mention that Melthar would almost certainly have something to say about their strategy himself. And he still didn’t really know who Melthar’s two associates were…

A blur of blue appeared in the air, and something happened, and Melthar appeared in the room. Even now, Azal couldn’t help but flinch slightly at that, but he managed to contain his reaction and remain stoically in his chair as Melthar took a quick look around the room. “A bit plain for a meeting room,” he commented.

“Unfortunately, it was the best the old Baron had available,” Azal said. “You may take a seat, Sir Melthar.”

“I’m not a knight,” Melthar said, dismissively. “No “Sir” needed. Though it’d be nice if you could treat me with a little more respect rather than just telling me I “may” take a seat.” Still, he walked over and sat on one of the chairs around the long table.

“My apologies, of course,” Azal said. “It appears the others are not here yet.”

“Thanks, I hadn’t noticed,” Melthar smirked, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Well, I can wait. I’m a patient guy.”

“Thank you,” Azal nodded, and waited for the others to arrive.

Ian was first, as before – or, well, Azal supposed he was second this time. He couldn’t help but feel a bit of satisfaction at that. Soon after, the two people Melthar had introduced as his allies arrived, and Darius and Johannes soon after – and this time, Aya also came. Even if she was inexperienced, and Azal still didn’t trust her to actually contribute to strategy, she still needed to know about Melthar.

“Hey, guys,” Aya murmured as she stepped through the door, clearly a bit nervous. She’d decided to come here in human form rather than her natural form, which Azal had no objections to. In any case, it made her easier to talk to. “Uh… should I have a seat or something…?”

“Yes,” Azal nodded. “Please, take a seat.”

“T-thank you, Sir Azal,” she said and sat down on one of the chairs, her eyes darting from side to side. She clearly didn’t feel comfortable here, which was an issue… but it was one Azal had expected, and besides, it didn’t matter too much.

“Well, looks like everyone’s here,” Melthar said. “Or is there someone here you haven’t told me about?”

“No,” Azal said, shaking his head. “Everyone who should be present is.”

“Good,” Melthar said. “In that case, I guess it’s time for a few introductions. So, to start things off: I’m Melthar. Nice to meet you.”

A few heads turned to look more intently at the golden man. What he’d said just now wasn’t a surprise – news of who he was had already spread by now, and everyone in this room already knew – but it was clear a few people still couldn’t quite believe it. Azal couldn’t really blame them.

“The guy over here,” Melthar continued, gesturing to the aeadite he’d brought with him, “is Janus. You might’ve heard of him.”

“Thanks, Melthar,” Janus said, a bit sardonically. “You know, I can talk too.”

Azal blinked a few times. “Janus? The Legendary Swordsman?”

“That’s me,” Janus nodded. “I’ll be honest – I’m not really sure what I’ll be able to do to help you. I’m no tactician, and I somehow doubt being good with a sword is going to help much in a big battle. But, well, I’m here, I guess. So… I’ll do what I can.”

“The Legendary Swordsman?” Ian asked, narrowing his eyes. “I have never heard of him.”

“Well, you wouldn’t have,” Melthar said. “It’s a demon legend… well, not really a “legend” as such, as you can see. They say he’s the best swordsman there is, and from personal experience, I’d say that’s pretty much true.”

“And I,” the mysterious man with no eyes that Melthar had brought with him said, speaking up suddenly, “am Alexander. You probably have no idea who I am, but… still. Name’s Alexander.”

Azal saw Ian hesitate a bit, but the noble asked his question anyway, directing it towards Melthar. “That… man. What is he? I have never seen anything like him.”

“He’s an angel,” Melthar said. “It’s a bit complicated, but without delving too much into history, you can think of them as what came before demons.”

“I… see,” Azal said. He had never heard of anything like that, but for now, at least, he saw no reason not to believe Melthar. Besides, it didn’t really matter that much what, exactly, the man was. All Azal cared about was whether he was loyal and how much he could help.

“Yeah, as Melthar said, I’m an angel,” Alexander said. “One of the last ones in existence, actually. I’m pretty much a born warrior, so you can just stick me on a battlefield and I’ll feel right at home. I figure at least some of you have already seen what I can do, so I don’t think I have too much work to do as far as convincing you of my ability goes. Though, I will say I’m not just a battlefield mage and a swordsman – I’m a pretty damn good commander too, if I do say so myself.”

“That’s true,” Melthar said before anyone else could respond to Alexander’s claim. “In fact, just so you know, a bit over a thousand years ago, when angels were still the dominant race on Aead – and, fun fact, Aead itself looked very different back then – Alexander used to be an army commander. Back then, Aead wasn’t united like it is now – it had a bunch of its own nations and kingdoms – so there were plenty of wars to fight in, and trust me, Alexander more than proved himself back then.”

“Hmm,” Azal murmured. If what Melthar said was true, Alexander would be a valuable asset indeed. Someone whose military skill was praised by Melthar himself was surely a great tactician, and besides, if he’d lived over a thousand years, Alexander certainly had far more experience than anyone else in this room. “I see. I will keep that in mind.”

“Alright, well, we’ve introduced ourselves,” Melthar said. “Now, I already know a bit about all of you guys – I’ve been listening in on things, you see – but while I would like to get to know you a bit better, I think we’ve got other things to discuss right now. Right, Azal?”

“Indeed,” Azal nodded gravely. He turned away from Melthar to address the entire table at once. “Melthar’s arrival has rescued us from a grave situation, and saved our army from obliteration. Further, in the aftermath of the battle, the enemy has ceased their attack, at least for now – presumably due to the unknown nature of the foe they now face.”

“It makes sense that they need a bit of time to regroup, calm down, and figure out what just happened after what I did,” Melthar said. “However, at the end of the day, I didn’t actually do that much to them – their losses were basically minimal. I’m not sure what, exactly, they’ll do – maybe they’ll choose to be cautious and fall back even further, or maybe they’ll go right back to attacking us – but in either case, they’ll be back soon enough.”

“Exactly,” Azal said. “Further, there is the issue of Johannes. As far as we can tell, he has been captured by the enemy.”

Melthar shrugged. “Well, that must’ve happened before I arrived, then. Can’t comment on that.”

“He disobeyed orders by breaking away from the formation around the wall and charging forth to meet the enemy, in what was most likely a brave but misguided effort to save the encircled army,” Azal said. “Since then, he has not been seen. Therefore, we must assume that he was captured.”

“Seems reasonable,” Melthar said. “So, how are we going to get him back?”

“Unfortunately, we cannot make any decisions on that front just yet,” Azal said. “First off, we do not know what they have done to him or where he is – but even disregarding that, we simply have other priorities at this moment. Melthar, as you have said, the enemy army will be back soon, and they will not be significantly weaker than before. The army has been pulled back to the inner city so as to be able to better guard the inner wall, and to avoid a direct confrontation with the enemy – our side would inevitably lose such a battle. Should the enemy attempt a siege, what is likely to happen?”

“Well, let’s get one thing out of the way first,” Alexander said. “Our army, right now, is nowhere near at full strength. We arrived and we saved it, sure, but we arrived too late. By the time we got the army out, much of it was already destroyed.”

“Indeed,” Ian said from the other side of the table. “While we still have enough men to form something resembling a fighting force, any semblance of equality between our forces and the Council’s no longer exists. Even before, we were outnumbered – now, that difference has been magnified many times.”

“Yeah. If my estimate’s right, it looks like we’re now outnumbered by about six to one, and as you might imagine, that’s really not good,” Alexander said. “That’s not to say we’re completely hopeless – these walls make for a good defensive fortification, and the defenders almost always have a large advantage. Still, our odds don’t look good. First off, the gates here weren’t made to defend against armies – or, for that matter, anyone with more skills than a simple peasant – so they’ll need to be defended very well to keep our enemy from simply battering through them. And even if we manage to keep the gates safe fend off the Council’s attacks for a while, they’ll be able to get past the wall eventually – there’s plenty of materials nearby to make siege ladders, at the very least, and more destructive things too. Once that happens, we’re done for.”

“What would you have us do, then?” Azal asked.

“If we just sit here fending off the Council’s attacks, then, as I said, we’ll lose eventually,” Alexander said, restating his grim conclusion. “Which means we can’t do that. Instead, we’ve got to find a way to turn things around. To, at the very least, buy us a bit of time.”

“How?” Ian asked. “We are lacking in numbers. Our forces are less well-trained and well-equipped than those of the Council. The last advantage we have is our defensive position. You would have us abandon that too? And if so, then how, pray tell, do you imagine we will be able to drive off the Council?”

“See, you’ve made one mistake there, Ian,” Alexander said. “You said we’ve only got one advantage, but that’s not true. There’s a few more advantages we’ve got that you haven’t accounted for.”

“Truly?” Ian asked, clearly doubtful. “Then what are they?”

Yet Alexander seemed unshaken by Ian’s obvious lack of belief in his abilities. “First off, we’ve got my brain,” he smiled. “And second… we’ve got this guy.” And he flicked a hand in Melthar’s direction.

Melthar smiled at that. “Hah. I assume you’ve got a plan, then, Alexander?”

“Thank you, Melthar,” Alexander nodded. “Now, I can’t be completely sure if this will work. But it’s our best shot…”

An hour later, Azal stood in his room, pensively looking out the window.

He’d gone over Alexander’s plan in his mind, and it seemed… well, it seemed like it was the best chance they’d get. It didn’t have a great chance of success, and even if it worked, it wouldn’t suffice to do much more than simply drive the Council away and give the Bloodhorns a bit of breathing space – but at the moment, that was really the most they could hope for. So Azal would just have to do the best he could with what he had.

However, there was one thing he hadn’t brought up at the meeting. One thing he’d very specifically avoided mentioning – one that had to do with the matter of Johannes.

Simply put, back at the start of the rebellion, Johannes had been an invaluable ally. He was a man of high standing, someone respected within demon society. Without him, it would have been impossible for them to have gained power anywhere nearly as quickly as they had, if at all. Back then, they’d needed Johannes.

But now… things were different. The rebellion already had its acknowledgement, so Johannes supporting it didn’t matter nearly as much anymore. And he possessed almost no skills that Azal could see that the Bloodhorns would need. He had no mind for tactics or strategy, he could not navigate the world of politics, he had no specialist training that would make him useful… as time had passed, Johannes had become more and more useless.

And now that he’d been captured… well, Azal hadn’t told what he was thinking to anyone, of course. Having something like that get out could be disastrous to his people’s opinion of him. But it didn’t change what he thought.

At this point… trying to rescue Johannes would simply be a waste.

Therefore, there was no point doing so.

Azal made the decision dispassionately, with only the tiniest trace of guilt, and turned away from the window and sat on his chair. He was acutely aware he had most likely signed Johannes’ death warrant just now.

But in the battles so far, many demons had already died. What was one more to add to the list?

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