Chapter 26: Shadow of the Tower

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“General Leonid. Must I repeat myself?”

“…of course not.”

Two lines. Those two lines kept playing in General Leonid’s head over and over, reminding him of why he was here. But it didn’t help.

While General Katherine was back in Aead fighting the rebels – and he had to admit, however much he didn’t like his job, he was still glad he didn’t have hers – he was the only one left to carry out the Council’s will on Verta. So, as had already happened many times before, he’d been sent out through one of the Portals with an army at his back and told to claim the land on the other side for the Council.

It had gone as it had always gone before, of course.

When would they learn? The mortals were prepared, now. The Council had tipped its hand a long time ago, and when they only had five points of transit between the two worlds, a surprise attack could just no longer be done. So of course, when he’d stepped through the Portal, there was already a human army on the other side ready to meet him. The Portals were constantly guarded, specifically because of the fact that demons kept attacking through them. And so, every time they attacked, the result was the same. They were defeated – always defeated. There was no changing that outcome.

And every time, Leonid was the one who had to see the aftermath.

For just a moment, before he stepped back through the Portal and retreated to Aead like he had done so many times before, he looked over the battlefield. There, demons lay, fallen and dead and bleeding out onto the ground, sent to their deaths in a hopeless battle by the Council’s will – all because the Council refused to admit that what it was trying to do was impossible, that it could never beat the mortals on their own turf. And so, no matter how disastrous the battles were, they kept happening. Again and again the Council sent its incursions, throwing demon armies against the walls of mortal soldiers around the Portals.

And again and again, those attempts ended in failure, and again and again, hundreds of demons perished for no reason.

…It wasn’t that General Leonid disliked what the Council was trying to do. After all, in that respect, at least, they were right. Aead… wasn’t a horrible place to live, he supposed, but compared to the bright green and vibrant, living colors of Verta, it seemed like it was. Even Leonid wished that one day, demons would be free to leave – that one day, they would have their own land in the green landscape of Verta, where they would be able to live free of the grey stone and red soil and dull light of Aead.

But still, the method the Council was attempting was impossible. He didn’t know if they kept doing it out of sheer stubbornness, or some sort of belief in the superiority of demons that made them unwilling to compromise, or if they just didn’t realize how impossible it was… but that didn’t matter. They kept trying to do the impossible, to take the mortals’ land by force, and because of their foolishness in doing that, demon lives just kept getting thrown away.

Leonid had always been loyal to the Council. After all, he had to admit that they had overthrown the old king, and that counted for a lot. Leonid had been alive back when the old king had ruled, and though he’d been very young back then, he remembered enough to know that compared to him, the Council’s rule was positively utopian. And besides, even if he did choose to defect from them, they’d simply find someone else to replace him – and as long as he was a General, he could at least try to minimize the losses, whereas he had no guarantee any other person would do the same.

But… even then, there was a part of him that couldn’t help but feel that the rebellion had a point.

With a last, sad glance at the battlefield littered with corpses, Leonid turned away and stepped through the Portal.

“That… thing…” General Katherine murmured.

“Yeah, I know what you’re thinking,” Ihab said. “What… was it?”

“I have no idea,” she said. “Do… do you?”

He narrowed his eyes. “Maybe a guess. But it’s a wild one.”

“What is it?” Katherine asked. Even if it was just a wild guess, it was better than nothing, and nothing was exactly what she had at the moment. She didn’t know where to begin trying to figure that thing out.

“See, given the sort of stuff he did, and how he looked…” Ihab frowned, clearly doubting himself. “No. No, never mind.”

“Ihab?” Katherine asked.

“Yeah, I have no clue what it is,” he said. “Had a guess, but… no, that’d just be ridiculous. Besides, it doesn’t really matter what it is, does it? Just knowing that would hardly help us fight it.”

“How do we fight it, then?” she asked. “If we don’t even know its capabilities…”

“That’s not quite true,” Ihab said. “We don’t know what it is, yeah. But we know its capabilities. It seems like that man has some sort of power over space itself, and judging by how fast he was moving, maybe time as well.”

“But that’s ridiculous,,” Katherine noted.

“Well, you saw what he did,” Ihab responded. “Didn’t it look ridiculous to you?”

Katherine frowned. “I… suppose you’re right. But, if that’s true… how do we fight something like that? And how did the rebels get it on their side on the first place?”

Ihab’s eyes widened a bit. “Good question, actually,” he said, nodding at her. “I… don’t have any clue about that, either. But it’s not really relevant, so we can think about it later. As for the first question… well, that’s not going to be easy.”

“Mmm,” Katherine murmured in contemplation. Something like that… she didn’t have any clue how they could possibly fight it. But… they were the agents of the Council, sent to – trusted to – enforce its will and quell this uprising before it caused untold damage. Could they truly give up so easily?

She didn’t know what Ihab was thinking. But at the very least, Katherine knew that if she gave up just because the rebels got a powerful creature on their side, she’d never forgive herself for it.

“Ihab, you are correct. It will be difficult to defeat that thing,” she said. “But he is not invincible. Remember how he acted when he was attacking our army? He vanished constantly, reappearing somewhere else every second. He never stayed in one spot for long. If he were truly invincible, he would have no need for a strategy like that, would he?”

Ihab folded his arms, a contemplative expression appearing on his face. “I’m not disputing that he can be killed,” he said. “It’s the how that’s harder.”

“His powers are not infinite,” Katherine said. “Again, if he were free to simply manipulate space as he liked, he would have killed us all back during that battle. If he merely cleared a path before retreated, then that implies that his powers are limited – that he can’t use them for long. His store of energy is limited, and if he exhausts it, he will be easy prey.”

“Perhaps,” Ihab murmured. “Actually… yeah, I suppose that make sense.” He grinned and, with a small chuckle, placed a hand on Katherine’s shoulders. “Now when did you become the daring one in this partnership? I’m proud, you know.”

Katherine’s cheeks heated up, and she swallowed, suddenly a bit nervous. Praise from a Councillor… to be praised for her achievements by one of the people she had spent her entire life looking up to…

“T-thank you, Ihab,” she said, trying to get her feelings back under control. It shouldn’t have had that big of an effect on her, but… she couldn’t help it. “In-in any case, I believe our next move is clear. This creature, whatever it is, is the biggest threat to us at the moment. As long as we do not know the extent of its abilities for certain, we can consider it a bigger threat than the entire rebel army.”

“True,” Ihab murmured. “Then what do we do? I’m tempted to say that, golden man or not, we should just attack one of the gates and try to batter them down – after all, they weren’t build to withstand an army bearing down on them, and we’ve probably got the manpower to smash the defenses and overpower the golden guy. Besides, it probably won’t be what they expect. But the rebels have a good defensive position, and doing something like that would definitely result in a lot of losses…”

“I understand, Ihab,” Katherine nodded. “However… for now, would it not be prudent to fall back? Right now, we’re not sure of the rebels’ exact capabilities, not while they have that thing on their side. If we retreat to a safer distance, we can wait and observe that man for a while to try and learn more about his capabilities.” And… there was one more thing she needed to suggest. She didn’t want to say it, but…

“Perhaps we could also try to send elite squadrons of scouts to study him – try and draw out his attacks and retreat before the battle could truly begin…?” she asked, her voice doubtful.

“Hm,” Ihab grunted, thinking it over. “You know most of them would die if you did that, right? Remember, that thing manipulates space. Won’t be easy to run from something like that.”

“I…” Yes. She knew that – she knew that all too well. That was why she’d hesitated. The vast majority of people sent out like that would die. She would have the weight of all these deaths on her shoulders, the burden of having personally and knowingly sent demons loyal to the Council to their ends.

But… “We must understand more about this man,” she said. “One way or another, he is likely to kill many of us before this war ends. So we must be able to fight him, and that means we need to know what he’s capable of. At least some of them will most likely manage to retreat, and they may provide us with invaluable information. I don’t want to send them to their deaths any more than you do, but…”

“But this is war,” Ihab sadly said, shaking his head. “It’s unavoidable, right?” A sad smile grew on his face. “You know… you’d think I’d be fine with that, wouldn’t you? With how much I love battle, you wouldn’t think I’d have a problem with that. But…”

“I understand, Ihab,” Katherine said, closing her eyes. She really did. To have them die on the field of battle, fighting to the last against an equal enemy, was one thing. This…

“Yeah,” Ihab murmured. “This is different, right? This isn’t sending them to battle, this is sending them to a slaughter. There’s not going to be any fighting here, it’s just going to be a desperate struggle to get away.” He lowered his head, his eyes narrowed slightly. “Yeah… sorry, Katherine. I can’t approve of that plan.”

Katherine swallowed. “Thank you, Councillor Ihab,” she said, not bothering to correct herself when she called him by his title on accident. From the start, she hadn’t wanted to do it. It had been something she thought was necessary – something she thought would give them the biggest chance of victory against the rebels. But if Ihab said no, then… “Thank you. I mean it.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I figured I might get that response. You didn’t really want that either, did you?”

“Of course not,” she said. She’d proposed it because it could help, and in a situation like this, when they were fighting an unknown and clearly powerful enemy, anything that could be helpful was potentially crucial. But still, there were certain lines she didn’t want to cross.

No… on second thought, that wasn’t quite right. Whatever she had been thinking a second ago, Ihab’s words had reminded her of something she’d lost sight of. Whatever the case, whatever she was fighting for or whatever odds she faced… the men under her command were still demons, still people. Nothing could possibly justify throwing them away.

It wasn’t that there were certain lines she didn’t want to cross. Rather, she decided, there were some lines she wouldn’t cross.

Because whatever good would come of the rebellion falling, and whatever misery would come from its success… that didn’t mean the outcome of this war was the only thing that mattered. Even as she pursued her objective, she knew she had to remember that everyone around her was still a real, living person, a demon with their own thoughts and feeling and emotions and goals and dreams. Yes, defeating the rebellion was important… but that didn’t mean it was fine to ignore morality just for the sake of doing it. There was nothing, nothing that could justify such a viewpoint.

She wanted to beat the rebellion. But some things were more important than even that. And if beating the rebellion meant throwing away the lives of her people, she would not do it. It was as simple as that.

Ihab had told her as much before, hadn’t he? It’s not the Council you should be loyal to. It’s demonkind.

Katherine didn’t know what the rebels would do to achieve victory. She didn’t know what depths they would sink to, what lines they would be willing to cross. Though, the rebel leader’s decision to only protect the inner wall already demonstrated his lack of concern for his people… but that didn’t matter.

If she threw away her people’s lives to achieve victory, she would be no better than him.

“Regardless,” she said, slowly remembering what she was doing, “we should still retreat. We do not know what sort of enemy we are facing, but what we do know is that it is extremely dangerous. In this situation, it’s better to get to a safe distance and try and come up with a plan. Then, we can figure out what other moves we can make.”

Ihab thought about it, his brow furrowed. “Hmm,” he muttered. “Well… yeah, I suppose you’re right. It would just be stupid to stay here and try to attack again when the enemy has something like that on their side.”

“Besides, the army itself needs time to regroup,” Katherine said. “You’ve seen how the men have been acting since that man’s attack, right?”

“Mmm,” Ihab nodded gravely. “Yeah, that’s an issue, too. The way they are now, I’m afraid that if that guy shows up again, they might break then and there. They’re terrified, you know.”

Katherine shrugged. “Who wouldn’t be? Besides, you know how fast rumors spread in an army. Some are starting to claim it’s one of the Great Powers themselves acting against us.”

Ihab looked up at the grey sky in contemplation, and something flickered in his eyes, but he didn’t respond to Katherine’s remark. “In any case, you’re right. A retreat’s the best option, for now. We’ll figure out what to do afterwards.”

“Very well,” Katherine said, nodding at Ihab. “Let us go, then.”

“Yes, let’s,” Ihab said, and began walking away from Katherine, towards his contingent of the army. Katherine walked in the opposite direction, already thinking over what she would do once they were a safe distance away.

And as she went, she could swear she saw a blur of motion in the shadows on the rooftops…

“S-sir! Sir Azal!” a shrill voice shouted, and a few heavy hits resounded on Azal’s door. He sighed, stood up from his chair, walked towards the door, opened it, and stepped away a moment before Aya slammed into him in her excitement.

She ran into the room, currently in her human form, nearly stumbling over her own feet as she ran past Azal, carrying too much momentum to stop right away. She slid to a halt, looked around awkwardly, seemed to realize what she’d just done, and turned towards Azal, her cheeks red.

“U-umm…” she muttered, her voice embarrassed, “s-sorry about that…”

Azal sighed and closed the door. “Do you have any information to deliver?”

“Y-yes! Yes, sir!” she yelled, beside herself with excitement. It made sense. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been quite so excited, would she?

Azal’s initial idea for Aya had been to use her for espionage in much the same way the Council usually used shadows – have her assume human form and try to pass her off as a descendant, so that she could disguise herself as a Council soldier and listen in on the enemy army’s conversations. It wasn’t much better than simply sending out an actual descendant as a spy, but it had the advantage that if she was caught, her shapeshifting would allow her to escape easily.

But since then, thanks to Melthar, he’d come up with another idea. Rather, really, Melthar had come up with it himself – the moment Azal told him how he’d been planning to use Aya, he’d raised an eyebrow and suggested his alternate idea as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. In retrospect… he really hadn’t been far off.

It went something like this. The Council could use a shadow as reconnaissance in the way they did because they fought wars against the mortal races, and since demons normally looked so different from mortals, no mortal would suspect someone that looked like them to be a demon. Thus, a shadow’s ability to shapeshift effectively allowed them to extract all the information they wanted. However, in a civil war against other demons like this, that wouldn’t work for obvious reasons – but, Melthar had pointed out, wasn’t there another way for shadows to make themselves useful? After all, their natural form was quite small, and nimble, and stealthy. Sure, in Verta, that wasn’t true – they’d stick out like a sore thumb amidst the greens and browns and blues and all those colors. But in Aead, which was all a dull grey except the red soil and even the light was dull and dead, they could easily blend right in.

And besides, this was a city, wasn’t it? A place like that provided excellent hiding spots, especially for something as small as a shadow.

And so it was that Azal had sent her to the city to hide on the rooftops around the enemy army, hoping that her natural form’s tiny stature and dark coloring would make her undetectable. And judging by the fact that she was back in one piece, the gamble had paid off – and judging by how excited she was, she had good news to bring back.

“Very well,” Azal said, sitting down in his chair. Aya took the other one in the room. “Report, then.”

“S-sir! The enemy army plans to retreat,” Aya said, eliciting a small jolt of surprise in Azal. It wasn’t that he hadn’t considered the possibility of them falling back, but… they still had more than enough soldiers to continue the attack. So why would they just retreat? “They’re, they’re planning to get to a safer distance and try to figure out a plan to take out Melthar, sir.”

“I see,” Azal said, frowning. “…Why? They did not seem so badly damaged as to be forced into a retreat.”

“A-apparently, they don’t want to fight until they’ve got a better idea of how to fight Melthar,” Aya said. “A-and, I’ve also heard that apparently, he really scared their soldiers. I-I heard the commanders – they were talking, saying that maybe, if that guy – uh, Melthar – showed up again, the army would just break…”

At that, a small smile slowly grew on Azal’s face. “I see,” he said. Now that he thought about it, he could understand. Having someone like that just show up and wreak havoc would be psychologically devastating, wouldn’t it? It wasn’t unreasonable for the enemy army to be terrified. But it did give him an excellent opportunity. “Did they discuss how they would retreat?”

“U-uh… I left before I could hear that, sir,” Aya said, drawing in on herself. She was clearly a bit ashamed at having run away early. “So, uh, I don’t know. S-sorry.”

“Hm,” Azal murmured. “Never mind, then. Surely Melthar will be able to find them for us.”

“A-alright, sir,” she said. “U-uh… t-that’s all I have to report, sir. M-may I go now?”

“Yes,” Azal dismissively said. She stood up from her chair and walked towards the door.

But as she opened it, she froze for a moment and turned back towards Azal. “Um… sir?” she asked nervously.

“Yes, Aya?” Azal asked.

“Did I… did I do good?”

Azal hesitated.

Yes. That was the obvious answer here. And it was what Azal planned to say. It would improve her morale and make her more loyal to him. That answer was, strategically speaking, the best choice here, easily.

But… well, it wasn’t that Azal didn’t want to say it. After all, she really had done a good job. Rather… for just a moment… that single question struck at something within Azal that he’d buried long ago.

That nervous stammering, that hopeful yet anxious smile, that desperate plea for approval… that need, that desire for someone to prop her up, to tell her she was doing alright… for just a moment, Azal felt something in response to that. For just the briefest of moments, it was there – a desire, a genuine desire to comfort her, to tell her she’d done an excellent job.

For just a moment, Azal realized, he cared about her.

He swallowed. That was dangerous. Ruthlessness would be the one and only way that the Bloodhorns could beat the Council. If he had to sacrifice a pawn, he needed to be able to do it without batting an eye – even if that pawn was Aya. The slightest moment of weakness, the slightest hesitation in doing what had to be done, could all too easily be taken advantage of by the enemy.

“Yes,” Azal said, carefully keeping his voice toneless. “Go, Aya.”

“T-thank you, sir!” she smiled, a sudden cheer spreading across her face. Azal got the feeling that if she wasn’t in a formal setting, she’d have started jumping for joy.

When she finally closed the door and left him alone, Azal was worryingly relieved that he didn’t have to look at her face anymore.

Melthar chuckled as Azal delivered the news. “Well,” he smiled. “Looks like you don’t know everything after all. Who’d have thought?”

“Spare me the sarcasm,” Azal said, waving away Melthar’s joke. He was clearly uninterested in good humor. “You raised no objections when I said they would be back soon, did you?”

“Well, yeah,” Melthar said. “I didn’t know they’d retreat either. I’m not omniscient. The difference between me and you is that I don’t pretend to be.”

Azal closed his eyes and sighed. “Keep your criticisms to yourself, please. I doubt I could stop you from talking about me behind my back in general, but right now, I trust you should be able to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.”

“Eh,” Melthar shrugged. “Worst case scenario, they get away and we get time to regroup.” He folded his legs and smiled at Azal. “Still, I see what you’re getting at. This is a good opportunity, right?”

“Indeed,” Azal nodded, and Melthar allowed himself a moment of satisfaction as he saw the faintest tinge of surprise – one no one who hadn’t lived as long as a Great Power would notice – on the chirean’s face. (It was no surprise that Melthar could read chirean faces despite his own visage being that of a human. He’d had a while to figure it out, after all… to say the least.) Azal must’ve figured that with all of Melthar’s posturing and quirks, he was only useful for his powers. But no one lived for millennia upon millennia without becoming at least a little sharp. “Right now, if the enemy army’s morale is truly as bad as Aya claims – and I doubt she would lie to me – we have a chance to shatter them.”

“So that’s what you want me to do,” Melthar said. “Well, I can do that, sure. Though, that won’t be particularly difficult one way or another, so instead of discussing tactics, let me draw your attention to something else in Aya’s report – if what you told me was right, she said commanders. Plural, right?”

“Indeed,” Azal responded. “It is not unusual. While General Katherine may be in command of the army as a whole, she surely has some subordinates with significant status of their own. Without those, she could not hope to command an entire army.”

“Well, of course,” Melthar nodded. “Normally, that’d be the best explanation, and I’d just leave it at that. But you forget something – I know the Council. Not personally, of course, but I’ve observed them for a long time. And when something like this is going on… well, I’ve got a bit of a gut feeling, let’s just say. Did Aya happen to tell you what any of the commanders looked like?”

Azal grunted, clearly more than a little distrustful of Melthar’s “gut feeling”. Well, Melthar had to admit, he probably would be too, in his place. “No,” he said. “If you have an idea, you may ask her later. Right now, there is work to be done.”

Melthar smiled. “What do you mean, later?” And with that, he vanished, a blur of blue punctuating his disappearance.

A minute or maybe two later, Melthar simply appeared in the chair once more, a knowing smirk on his face. “There’s perks to being a Great Power, Azal,” he said.

Azal sighed. “I would appreciate it if you kept your theatrics out of this. I understand that, to you, this must all seem fleeting and insignificant… but some of us are rather concerned about all this. These are serious matters being discussed right now, no matter how it may seem to you.”

“What theatrics?” Melthar shrugged, still smiling that cocky little smirk. “I just got the information I needed. Just popped down, asked Aya a few questions, and came back up here.”

Once more, the chirean sighed. “I see,” he said, grudgingly acknowledging Melthar’s point. “What did you discover, then?”

“Well, she said there were two main commanders she overheard talking – Katherine herself, and a timor who seemed to be on equal standing to her. She couldn’t tell me much more than that, but… still,” he said. “A timor of clearly high standing in the Council… sound like anyone you know?”

For a moment there was silence, and Azal narrowed his eyes, clearly trying to work out if it really was who must have been the first to come to mind. “It cannot be Councillor Ihab,” he said, thoughtfully. “The Council would not be so foolish as to send one of their number to lead an army personally. The risk would be far too great.”

Melthar smiled, enjoying Azal’s obvious disbelief. “See, Azal, the thing is, not everyone thinks the way you do. As far as you’re concerned, whatever’s got the best logical shot at winning is the best action to take. But… well, as I said, I’ve been watching the Council since a while ago. And they don’t think like that. And Ihab in particular definitely doesn’t think like that. He’s the sort of man who’s only really at home at the head of an army in a raging battle, swinging a great sword left and right.” He chuckled a little. “You know. Sort of like Alexander.”

“Why would the Council allow him to leave, though?” Azal asked. “Surely they are not so foolish as to not see the risk doing something like that presents. Why would they allow one of their number to risk his life like that?”

“They probably didn’t want to,” Melthar shrugged. “But… well, I know plenty about Ihab. And honestly, I doubt he gave them much of a choice. Always been a headstrong one, that guy… almost to the point of stupidity, sometimes. Scratch that – most of the time.”

Azal frowned. “Then I suppose that makes things easier for us.”

“Now, I’d be careful with statements like that,” Melthar said. “A bit foolish he may be, a bit reckless he may be – but Ihab’s nothing if not a damn good commander. He probably won’t truly give an order to flee, not even if you slice his whole army in half – and that’s what makes him dangerous. He’ll keep fighting to the very end, and he’ll do it really, really effectively at that. Even if you bring him down, he’ll probably hand you more than your fair share of losses as vengeance.”

“Hmph,” Azal grunted. “I see. Where is the enemy army, at the moment?”

Melthar closed his eyes for a bit, tuning his senses. Just like Lein, his powers could be used to indirectly find living objects – though since Melthar could only sense the distortion they left on space, his sensing only worked on large groups of living objects. Which, fortunately enough, was exactly what an army was.

“Just getting to the outskirts of the city now,” Melthar smiled. “You know, actually, this might be our best chance. If our troops just pour out of the city from seemingly nowhere, with me at their head… well, I imagine it’ll give them quite a fright.”

“Excellent,” Azal said. “Take as many troops with you as you can without seriously compromising your fighting abilities and teleport to somewhere from where you’ll be able to surprise them. Make your first attack as psychologically devastating as possible, hope they flee, and cut them down as they run, using teleportation to make sure our army keeps up with the enemy. If we are lucky, we may still be able to take revenge for that loss we have been struck with just now.”

“Well, if psychological damage is what you’re looking for, I think I’ve got an even better idea,” Melthar said and stood up from his chair. “Though… before I go, I have a question I want to ask you.”

“Make it quick,” Azal said.

“See, with just about everyone else, you’re always as diplomatic as you can possibly be,” Melthar said. “You never say what you’re really thinking – you say whatever’s going to make them like you, or going to make them less likely to betray you. In the case of Ian, you just do whatever you can to not give him any ammunition to use against you. But you’re not like that with me, are you? When I’m around, you don’t seem to say anything but what’s really on your mind. I don’t mind, but I can’t help but be curious… why?”

Azal scoffed. “You overestimate my pride, Melthar. I’m not enough of a fool to think I could deceive a Great Power – and in either case, I am sure you have already made up your mind as to what you will do, and I doubt anything I say’s going to sway you. What would be the point of trying?”

“I see,” Melthar frowned. And with that, and the usual blue blur, he disappeared.

And as the last traces of his presence faded from the room, as his very existence was folded into the twisting fabric of spacetime and funneled to another location like debris carried down a river – a river he could control at will – he thought a bit about what Azal had just said.

Not enough of a fool to think he could deceive a Great Power? Perhaps. But clearly, Azal was enough of a fool to believe that just because Melthar was a Great Power, that meant he had everything under control.

Really, that wasn’t true. Great Powers were every bit as fallible as normal people. In fact, aside from the immortality and the powers – which, admittedly, was quite a lot – Great Powers were normal people. There was no special cosmic perspective they had, no alien and ineffable mind. By and large, they were just like Azal or Darius or whoever else.

Melthar just hoped that mistaken belief wouldn’t tempt the rest of the Bloodhorns into just following his lead. Because honestly… he himself barely had any idea what he was doing.

A blue blur flickered in the air.

It was brighter than usual this time, and that was on purpose. The sudden blue flash drew the attention of the army underneath, causing them to look up – right at where Melthar had just appeared in midair.

He sat calmly on a carpet of folded space, space that he had simply altered to act as a solid object. For now, he was alone. Oh, he was planning to use the army to help him out, but first… there was something he had to do. After all, once the attack was to begin, he could just teleport the whole army to this place easily. So there was no harm in doing a bit of his own work first.

And besides, Azal had told him to make this first strike as psychologically devastating as possible.

As the army stared up in horror, Melthar let some of the space he’d hardened go back to its natural state, letting the enormous boulder he’d brought with him drop right on the army’s heads.

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