Chapter 28: Lion of the Council Unleashed

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Azal still flinched a bit at the sudden blue blur even now, but this time, he didn’t even look up as Melthar appeared in his room. “Melthar,” Azal said, acknowledging his guest.

“Azal,” Melthar nodded back. “I think you’ll be interested to know what I’ve been doing these last few minutes.”

“That depends,” Azal said. “What is it?”

Melthar’s eye twitched a bit. “I don’t appreciate being spoken to like that, you know. I mean, I know I’m following you for now, but let’s not forget I’m still a Great Power, shall we? I’d rather not be ordered around like that.”

“Melthar, if you were to betray me, I strongly doubt it would be for any reasons related to my politeness, or lack thereof,” Azal said. “What do you have to report?”

“Fair point,” Melthar admitted. “Anyway, I decided to take it upon myself to do a bit of spying. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s Aya’s job, but… well, she wasn’t exactly able to do it this time, so I decided to step in.”

At that, Azal’s eyes widened a bit. “How? One cannot help but think that you are rather distinctive.”

“Well, yeah,” Melthar admitted. “But I wasn’t trying to blend in in the first place. I mean, theoretically, it wouldn’t be impossible for me to just bend space around myself so I’d be invisible, but that’s a bit beyond my actual skill, and besides, it turns out doing something like that would actually make me blind too. So instead, I just put on a grey cloak, teleported really, really high into the sky, and watched from above.”

Azal blinked a few times. “A… novel idea, I must say.”

“Oh, quit that,” Melthar said. ““Novel” or not, it worked well enough. I mean, sure, I was way too far away to actually hear anything the commanders were saying… but whatever it was, it apparently led to a good third of their army just up and leaving.”

There was silence for a few moments. “A third?” Azal finally asked. “Why would they do something like that?”

Melthar shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine on this one, honestly. Maybe they were… I don’t know. Maybe those were the ones with the biggest morale problems, so the commanders decided to get rid of them? Or something like that…”

“Never mind,” Azal said. “They are most likely planning something, which is worrying, but for now, this is good. If a third of their army has left, we have a better chance to prepare ourselves against the remainder. Melthar, what is the status of the enemy troops that have not left?”

“The other two thirds? They still outnumber the “army” we’ve got left, at a ratio of about four to one,” Melthar said. “Oh, and they’re moving straight towards us at this very moment.”

Azal’s eyes widened, and he swore under his breath. “When will they arrive?”

“Well, I haven’t got much more than an estimate. But if I had to guess, they’ll be at the outskirts of the city in… probably less than a day, if they move quickly.” Melthar shrugged, as if not even considering it that important. “18 hours from now or so, maybe? Of course, I still don’t know how fast they’re planning to move, so that’s just the lowest possible estimate.”

“Khh,” Azal hissed, lightly rapping his fist against the table in annoyance. Normally he’d never let anyone see him acting like this, but he was sure Melthar would be able to find out anything he wanted about him anyway, so he didn’t bother trying to hide anything from him. “Have Ian and Alexander get the troops prepared for battle. Get them to defend the inner wall again. And… I’ll figure something out.”

Melthar smirked. “Am I being used as a messenger now?”

“You’re the fastest one there is,” Azal said, not bothering to try and placate Melthar. If he wanted to be unhappy about it, then he could be unhappy all he liked, but he was the best messenger Azal could possibly get. “You realize how much hinges on this, right?”

“Honestly?” The Great Power shook his head. “Not that much, really. In the grand scheme of things, you’d be surprised how little any of this matters at the moment. Though… on second thought, that seems like the sort of thing you’d have trouble accepting.” Melthar spread his arms in a small shrug. “Well, whatever. I’ll go tell them to get ready. You’d best have a plan.” And with that, he vanished in another blue blur, gone from Azal’s room in an instant.

Azal sank down onto his chair, holding his head. How in the world could he possibly get out of this…?

Ian stood on the wall, looking out at the city surrounding the Bloodhorns’ stronghold. All around him stood armed and armored men, demons and humans alike, weapons in hand to defend these walls to the end. He knew that soon, an enormous enemy army would approach, and the small force that had now been spread around the inner city’s outskirts would be forced to stop them. And he knew that if they failed, it would spell the end of the Bloodhorns – and the end of his own shot at power.

And he knew that they would fail.

It wasn’t a question of planning. It wasn’t a question of strategy. It wasn’t a question of which side would outsmart the other. Rather, the fact that had caused him to come to that conclusion was very simple – they were outnumbered. Horribly, hopelessly outnumbered. Back during that disastrous battle when they’d been surrounded, they’d lost over two thirds of their men, and it showed. The enemy outnumbered them tremendously, so tremendously that there was simply no strategy or tactic Ian could deploy to even slow them, much less stop them.

As for Melthar – or at least, the man claiming to be Melthar – Ian was certain he would be helpful. But it wouldn’t be enough. No one and nothing was powerful enough to challenge an entire army like that on their own. That included Melthar. He would be helpful, certainly, and there was every chance he could inflict major casualties before this was done – but it would not be enough. Ian already saw it in his mind’s eye – perhaps it would take a while, perhaps they could hold them off for a bit, but eventually, the Bloodhorns would be overrun and the Council’s force would reach the inner city.

At that point, it would all be over. And that point was unavoidable. There was nothing Ian could do.

…However. He would try anyway.

It was true, yes, that from the start, Ian had only allied with these rebels because Her Majesty Lily had told him to. And it was true that Ian had always intended to use it to gain power for himself – if, by some miracle, the rebellion somehow survived this day, he still had every intention to try and supplant the rebel leader. And it was true that Ian did not really care what happened here in Aead, or who it was that led the demons (unless there was a chance that it could end up being him). In truth, Ian had never truly been invested in the rebellion. All it had ever been for him was a way to gain power for himself.

Yet. Even if that was true, even if Ian had never truly cared about the rebellion, he would still hold this wall to his last breath. That thought was firm in his mind.

It was not a question of principles. Lord Ian Sabrin simply did not abandon something he had begun.

No matter what the opposition was, no matter how hopeless this battle would be, he would hold this wall to the very end. That was the only way this man had ever lived.

And so, he looked out at the city, expression unflappable and mind cool and collected even as he knew that, most likely, he would die here. He would die here, yes. But before he did, he would give the foe the hardest fight he possibly could. And nothing would sway him from doing that.

The angel Alexander, though he didn’t know it himself, was somewhat of a contrast to the man standing on the opposite part of the wall.

Even though the enemy army hadn’t even arrived yet, even though there was still time to prepare before the battle began, Alexander couldn’t help but be nervous. How could he not be? If Melthar’s estimation was correct – and Alexander knew him well enough to know that he could be trusted on things like that – they were outnumbered four to one. Alexander had centuries’ worth of experience leading armies, and magical power that certainly surpassed almost every mortal mage alive, but… even he knew victory here would be unlikely.

Of course, he himself could take to the field. That was exactly what he planned to do, in fact – he would utilize his magic to its greatest effect, taking out as many of the enemy soldiers as he possibly could. And he knew Melthar would do the same. He knew Melthar would teleport into the fray and zip around like lightning, slicing through enemies wherever he went, cutting through droves of men with no more effort than swatting a mosquito.

But would it be enough?

Both of their powers were formidable. Either of them could easily kill a soldier, a dozen soldiers… perhaps even fifty or a hundred. But no matter what a creature was, no matter what incredible power it possessed, it was still bound by one, ironclad rule:

It was still a living creature.

That rule was at the core of the problem. Alexander was one of the most powerful beings alive. Melthar was likely the most powerful being alive, except perhaps the Archdemon. But they were still living beings, still, at the end of the day, nothing more than normal people with some special abilities. No matter how hard they fought, no matter how many enemies they took down, they would eventually tire out when faced with an entire army, especially one as large as this. No single creature could fight thousands of people on its own. Everything grew exhausted eventually, and no matter how powerful that creature was, that would be its downfall.

Which meant that even if Alexander and Melthar used their power to the fullest extent – even if they both carved the enemy army to pieces with their magic and, in Melthar’s case, his power to manipulate space itself – it wouldn’t matter. Sooner or later, they would no longer be able to fight, and it would come down to a simple battle between two armies. Any damage the two of them could inflict would be largely irrelevant, unless one of them managed to get their sights on the enemy commander – and even if the enemy’s leader was slain, would the enemy simply cease their attack? Alexander doubted that would happen.

No, no matter which way one looked at it, this would be a simple clash between two armies. And in that case… even if the Bloodhorns had a solid defensive position, even if they held all the advantages in this terrain, it would be meaningless. The difference in numbers was simply that large. Even with Alexander and Melthar’s powers and tactical knowledge, even with the fortification the walls provided, even with the desperate will to defend the Bloodhorns’ last stronghold driving the rebel army… it would be an impossible task.

But no matter what, Alexander refused to give up hope.

An impossible task? Perhaps. A situation where the chances of victory were so close to zero as to be practically nonexistent? Yes. A city doomed to fall, and a rebellion doomed to end? Certainly. But that didn’t change a thing.

It didn’t matter how heavily the odds were stacked against them, or how grave the situation was, or how many men came to face them. Alexander would defend this wall, damn it – and he would succeed. Whatever it took, however impossible it seemed, Alexander would win this battle.

Battle was the only thing Alexander had ever known. Now, it would be time for him to prove himself. And he would not fail.

Breath held.

Eyes locked on to the outer part of the city through which the enemy army flowed.

Hands tensed up, fingers tightly clutching their weapons, as they waited for the moment.

All of the men on the wall, for this one moment, were as one. This, they all knew, would be the most difficult battle yet. If they won, the Council would be pushed back and the Bloodhorns would have the precious time they needed. If they lost, the Bloodhorns would fall here and now, and they themselves would die. And they knew just as well that the second possibility was far more likely.

But that didn’t matter, did it? Whatever the stakes were, whatever the odds or however little the chance of success… that did not matter to them now. Now, as they waited with bated breath in anticipation for the order to strike, all of that had left their minds. They were not men like Ihab or Alexander – those born for the battlefield, to whom the notion of a fight brought no fear. Those kinds of men could hold onto their ideals even in the midst of battle – they could keep their mind clear and their determination firm even as they fought and killed and defended themselves.

The men on the wall now, on the other hand, were different. Thoughts of the Bloodhorns or the Council or demonkind or politics or what their chances were… they had all forgotten about those things a long time ago. To them, this was a battle like any other. And just like in any other battle, there was only one goal for them. Survive.

They didn’t know it, of course, but that was exactly what Ian and Alexander were both counting on. These men knew, after all, that there could be no escape here. The only place they would be able to run would be into the inner city – the inner city that the enemy would claim if they won. So the only way for them to save their lives would be to fight their hardest and push the enemy back. That was why both their commanders knew these men would not surrender and not falter – they had no choice. No choice but to keep standing firm. Until the very end.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, it came. What they had all been waiting for.

An order rang through the air, clear as the chime of a bell.

“ARCHERS!”

The enemy was in range.

A hail of arrows rained down from the wall. A deadly torrent of wood and metal, a flooding rain of death that impaled and pierced and stabbed through Ihab’s men, leaving them dead or bleeding out on the ground. Wooden shafts flew through the air, their quantity uncountable by any man, turning the sky itself into a bringer of death.

But Ihab did not even slow down as he passed through the withering storm. He did not have to. As the arrows struck him, they simply bounced off his steel armor and fell, the plate far too thick for them to penetrate. Impact upon impact rained down upon him, at least six arrowheads striking him within the span of a few seconds – but through his shell of steel, he did not even feel it. He walked onwards, implacable as he advanced on the enemy stronghold.

His men, unfortunately, were not quite so lucky. Steel – or rather, the iron from which it was made from – was almost exclusively found on Verta, which meant that it was almost impossible to obtain on Aead. Though there was a trace amount of iron to be found in the demons’ homeland, the vast majority of the iron they had was pilfered from the mortals – and that reserve was, by the standards of any mortal nation, tiny. Instead, most Aeadean craftsmen used a metal called abros, one the qualities of which were passably similar to steel – but there was no doubt that it was highly inferior. So even as Ihab walked through the hail of arrows, safe in his armor, his men fell all around him.

But he’d known from the start, hadn’t he? There would be losses if he did this. But it had to be done. This was their chance to destroy the rebels. It would be foolish to simply pass it by… no matter what it cost.

And in any case, the choice of which men to take with him hadn’t been random. Ihab had specifically picked out those who were unsure or nervous or afraid and had them go with Katherine. So now, the only men he had with him were the ones most loyal and driven – the ones that would certainly not mind if their deaths were what was necessary to bring down the rebels.

Or at least, that was what Ihab hoped. But in any case, it didn’t matter. He’d known from the start how bad the losses would be. So there could be no deliberation now. All that was left was to finish what he had started.

The bowmen stowed their bows on their back and readied their spears and shields, preparing to meet the enemy in battle. They stood next to each other, forming an unbroken wall of shields with only a few gaps for the spears to poke through. Thanks to the support from Sagnir, a significant number of the men bore steel weapons and shields and wore steel armor instead of using the demons’ inferior metal, though there were still many that had to use that instead. Ian looked across the line of men around the wall, checking if every one of them was doing his job – they all were. Good.

The hail of arrows having stopped as the archers’ quivers had run dry, the enemy now advanced unburdened once more. It was not long before they were at the walls, and this time, once they were there, they wasted no time. Ladders were brought up to the wall in but a few instants – it seemed they’d prepared much more adequately this time – and the enemy wasted no time in trying to scale them. And the Bloodhorns had no way to fend them off but the martial skill of their warriors.

Although for a little while, at least, that would be enough. As Ian watched, the first few enemies reached the top of the wall – only to each effortlessly killed with quick spear thrusts, their bodies falling from the tops of the ladders and back down to the ground. In that moment, for just an instant, the Bloodhorns’ defence gave the illusion of impenetrability. But the enemy did not stop. They would not stop, and Ian knew it would be impossible to hold out for very long.

And that was to say nothing of the gates. Though they had been repaired and reinforced since the Baron’s time, they were still ramshackle constructions – ones ultimately based off things made to keep out simple peasants. If the enemy army decided to break through them, they would be able to, and with relative ease. Azal had positioned a considerable amount of men to guard the gates precisely in case that happened, but still, those men would not have the sort of advantages the ones on the walls had – if the enemy truly committed to the idea of attacking the gates, it would be impossible to stop them.

Ian just hoped they wouldn’t decide to do so. As far as he was aware, the enemy didn’t know of the gates’ poor condition, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to think that they would simply continue trying to scale the wall. But if they didn’t… the Bloodhorns were doomed.

Actually, why was he even thinking of it in those terms? It didn’t matter what the enemy did. The Bloodhorns were doomed one way or another. There was nothing that could be done to save them. So why did Ian care so much what the enemy did?

No… perhaps that wasn’t quite right. Yes, the Bloodhorns were doomed – doomed to be defeated here. But they weren’t doomed to be defeated easily. Ian may have not had even the smallest chance from the start of this battle – but one way or another, he wouldn’t go down easily. Nor would his army. And the more difficult they could make things for the enemy, the better.

Still the tide of enemies continued rushing up the wall, and slowly, Ian could see them starting to break through. The majority of the men were still holding up well, but even as Ian watched, one of the Council’s soldiers batted away a spear and ascended to the wall, shoving past the shield of the soldier that had failed to bring him down and thrusting a sword through his back. Before the Council’s soldier could get far, he was mobbed by the Bloodhorns’ soldiers, killed, and shoved back off the wall – but the fact that he’d even gotten on the wall told the whole story. It was clear that the Council’s army was beginning to make progress.

And as Ian looked around, he saw more such incidents occurring. Enemy soldiers clambered onto the wall, seeping through the cracks that were starting to show in the Bloodhorns’ ranks. Sometimes they were killed within moments of getting through the wall of shields – but he saw that many of them were starting to get further in, starting to take down more of the Bloodhorns’ men with them before they fell. One enemy got on the wall right next to where Ian was standing, and without even a bit of hesitation, Ian drew his greatsword and skewered the demon, pushing him back off the wall before he was even dead.

The shield wall fell back, and Ian bit back a curse. It must have been the pressure from the enemy that had compelled them to step away from the edge of the wall, but they wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective once they weren’t standing right where the enemy was ascending anymore. Now their foes would be able to get onto the wall without the spearmen being able to stop them, and from there, it would be easy for them to start overwhelming the Bloodhorns’ force.

“What are you doing, men?!” Ian yelled. “Protect the wall with your lives! Do not fall back!” He didn’t expect his order to be obeyed, at least not by most of the soldiers – but to his surprise, many of them actually did step back in line, reforming the barricade on the edge of the wall. These demons were more driven than he had given them credit for.

Still, Ian saw that it was a losing battle.

Darius hissed through his teeth, looking up at the top of the wall. Azal had sent him to lead one of the small forces guarding the gates, but it seemed, at least for now, that the enemy had largely decided to ignore them – a simple oversight, perhaps? Yet even then, Darius could not be happy or relieved. He saw how the battle on the wall was progressing, and it did not look good, to say the least. So far, the men on the wall weren’t doing a terrible job of holding on, but it’d take a lot more than “not terrible” to win something like this – and it was clear the defence was nowhere near something like that.

Even now, the cracks were growing rapidly. Darius could almost see the defence falling apart before his eyes. It was still there, the men were still prepared to fight and the enemy was still being mostly held off – but it was flimsy already. The men were scattered and not perfectly organized and a bit tired already, and even as Darius watched, several of the Council’s demons made it past the wall of shields and climbed onto the wall. So far, the ones that did so were taken down within moments, but how long would that last? The rate at which they ascended wasn’t slowing – if anything, with every passing second, more and more pressure was being applied to the Bloodhorns’ lines. Soon enough, they would have to break, whether from the pressure from the front or the chaos the demons that managed to break through could cause.

At least, that was how it was on Ian’s side of the wall. Darius couldn’t see Alexander’s side from here, but he imagined it was going a bit better. Mages that could significantly help in times of war were rare – the vast majority of mages just didn’t have the stamina to cast even a single spell with the scale that would be required, much less multiple in a row – but Alexander was clearly one of those few, and Darius was sure that with his magic’s assistance, the Council’s troops would find it nigh-impossible to get onto the wall. But that would only last as long as Alexander’s reserves did, and the moment he ran out would be the moment the same fate as had already befallen Ian’s side would befall Alexander’s.

Something had to change, and soon. If nothing did, it was over. Unless something major happened in the next hour or so, the wall would be overrun and the Bloodhorns would be squashed. So someone had to do something – and if no one else would do it, Darius would have to.

But he had no idea what to do. He knew he had to do something, but what? What could possibly help in a situation like this? He hadn’t the first clue, and so he could do nothing but watch the hopeless battle, feeling useless and helpless as he just stood next to the gate with his largely unused force. He wanted to do something, he wanted to help somehow. But he couldn’t come up with anything. No matter how he tried, no matter how tantalizingly close a solution seemed, he just couldn’t.

Across the battlefield, Darius saw the head of a timor in the midst of the enemy army turn. With their sheer size, timors stood out enough that Darius could see them even through the chaos of the battle – but since the enemy had quite a few timors on their side, that alone wouldn’t be enough to help him determine anything useful. Darius was just silently thankful that they were too massive to climb the siege ladders that the enemy had constructed – if not for that, the defence would’ve been smashed in an instant. Haste on an attacker’s part was one of a defender’s best friends, and this proved as much – the only reason they were even still holding on was because the General and the Councillor hadn’t bothered to make ladders that would withstand a timor’s weight.

The timor’s eyes met Darius’, and at that instant, Darius realized something.

The helmet on the timor’s head. It was made of steel. Not abros, the metal of Aead – steel. And at that moment, Darius’ heart lurched as he realized what that meant.

So he’d found Councillor Ihab, it seemed. A shame it was too late. He couldn’t get the information to Melthar, not now. He’d never survive if he tried going out into that battlefield.

For a few moments, Darius stared right into Ihab’s face. He couldn’t make out any details, not from this far away, but he thought he recognized the timor’s general thoughts. He’d realized something just now – figured something out in the chaos of the struggle.

And then, he nodded to himself, and shouted an order Darius couldn’t quite make out over the din of battle, and a contingent of the Council’s army rushed towards the gate Darius was defending.

Alexander staggered over to one of the ladders, panting for breath, and shot a blast of wind down its length, sending the soldiers climbing it back down. He took a moment to wipe his brow before stepping back and taking a look around the battlefield.

“Alright. We’re fine,” he gasped, “at least for now.”

“Sir Alexander!” a demon shouted. “They’re ascending!”

The angel gritted his teeth, but he rushed over to the ladder that demon was standing near as fast as he could. He looked down and saw that, indeed, one of the Council’s men was climbing up it right at this moment. With far more effort than it would’ve taken normally, he raised his arm and formed the spell inside his head. He released it hastily, even knowing it was too early – at this point, he couldn’t bear trying to form it any more precisely. And so, the wave of force was too scattered, not directed enough. The soldiers were thrown down the ladder – but Alexander himself was flung back, and the demons around him were forced to stagger back by the sudden force.

Alexander stumbled to his knees, feeling sweat pour down his forehead. His muscles burned with the strain of sending magic through them over and over again – and more than that, his heart felt like it would burst open, such was the stress of the amount of magic he’d used in the last few minutes. Fire poured through his veins, and every beat of his heart – his heart that had been pushed to its absolute limits – brought fresh pain. But he wouldn’t stop. He couldn’t stop. How could he stop when stopping would mean the enemy would be able to break through? How could he even think about stopping when the lives of everyone who stood by his side rested on his shoulders?

He tried to stand up, only for a sudden wave of pain to course through his body, setting his mind aflame and birthing nausea deep within his throat. For just an instant he saw nothing but white as he collapsed down to the stone, and even his thoughts were stolen from his consciousness, and there was nothing but pain. His forehead smashed into the cold stone, but the pain was nothing compared to the furnace tearing through his brain and his heart.

“Guh…” he grunted, trying to push himself back to his feet. Somehow he managed it – he didn’t know how himself, it felt more like a dream than anything else, but somehow he managed to stand up – and he blearily saw enemies starting to get onto the wall. With a weak, desperate blast of wind, he shoved them off, barely able to do even that with how little energy he had left.

“S-sir Alexander…” one of his soldiers muttered, turning towards him.

“I’m fine,” he said, trying to shake off the sudden nausea that had assaulted him. “I’m… I’m alright.” He staggered to the battlements, gripping the stone tightly just to stay upright.

A few heads turned. His own soldiers looked doubtfully at him.

“With all due respect, sir,” one demon said, “you aren’t.”

“I-“ Alexander tried to respond, but he stumbled and nearly dropped to the ground and had to push himself up again. He looked at the soldier through blurred eyes, barely able to form a coherent thought, let alone talk.

Such was the price of magic. Using magic was like any physical exercise – it exhausted you, put strain on your body. But magic was a bit different, too. With any other sort of physical exercise, a person’s body would stop allowing that person to even try long before they could reach the sort of point Alexander had. With magic, it wasn’t like that – a mage with enough will could keep casting even at the point where their body started to give out, even when their heart could barely take any more magic being pumped through it. The body could not stop it – after all, magic was, almost by definition, not natural. And so, a mage could keep casting long past their limits – and suffer whatever consequences arose.

“You shouldn’t push yourself, sir,” he vaguely heard one of the soldiers say. “We’ll take it over from here. Men, defend the walls!”

“Kh… no, that’s…” Alexander tried to say, but his grip on the stone slipped and he collapsed to the surface of the wall. He couldn’t claim he was unhappy, not entirely. To know his soldiers cared so much for his wellbeing… he couldn’t deny it was good. But… but if he stopped now… then they would be overrun. They wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

And yet, though he tried to get up, the last dregs of Alexander’s consciousness faded, and he slipped into oblivion.

What Darius had expected was for a number of the enemy’s men to charge the gates at Ihab’s command.

But as the charge began, he saw, with a sudden spike of terror, how wrong he’d been. A number of their men were approaching, yes – but suddenly, he saw that really, that wouldn’t matter. Because in addition to those men, every single one of the timors in the enemy army had, as one, turned to face towards the gate.

There was a pause, a moment as long as a heartbeat when nothing happened – when Darius’ small force and the several dozen timors simply stared at each other. The enormous demons looked at the guards as if they were little more than ants… and Darius knew that that was justified. He certainly felt much like an ant right now.

An enormous leg stepped past him, and the timor that had been sent to guard this gate – one of the very few the rebellion even had – stepped forward, facing down the group of enemy timors. Darius was thankful, he was indescribably thankful, but… he knew it would be pointless. One timor against the entire regiment the enemy had? There was no chance.

And a moment later, they charged.

The towering things rushed towards the gate like angered bulls, weapons in hand and wild roars springing forth from their throats. They collided with the Bloodhorns’ one timor head on, one of them swinging his massive blade at the man. The Bloodhorns’ timor caught the blow on his own blade and shoved that one back, but before he could even counterattack, two more enormous weapons struck him at once, and this time, he couldn’t defend. He staggered and fell like a great tree, the last obstacle in the enemy’s path eliminated.

And then, the timors struck. At the gate.

They didn’t even bother with the men guarding it. Why would they? In hindsight, the rebellion had been fortunate to even kill those four timors back at the Baron’s tower. But those four had been largely ceremonial guards, chosen more for how showy and imposing they were than any actual consideration towards their skill. The men attacking them now were different. These timors were trained warriors, soldiers of the Council. There was nothing the puny demons below could possibly do to them.

The very first blow, Ihab’s steel-clad hand smashing into the wood, imprinted a huge crater into the gate. “Wait, what?” Darius heard Ihab ask in confusion as he pulled his fist back, and then, the timor laughed. “It’s that shoddy?!”

Darius looked up at Ihab in horror. “Alright then, men,” the Councillor commanded. “Let’s break this piece of junk down, shall we?”

There was a great roar of challenge, and a flurry of fists flying through the air like a hurricane of red. Wood shattered and splinters flew through the air, and Darius ducked his head purely on instinct. Not that he would’ve been able to do anything anyway.

As the cloud of dust settled down, merely seconds later, there was already a massive hole in the wall. Enormous enough for the timors to fit through – and so they did, rushing into the inner city before anyone could do a thing. The inner city that had, thanks to the lack of men, been left utterly unguarded.

All Darius could do was look on, realizing it was over. All any of them could do was look on. It was far too late to do anything.

The wave of timors rushed into the inner city, and Darius knew it was the end.

And then…

The final challenge appeared.

In a blur of blue, the man in gold appeared, floating in the air in front of the line of timors. He looked down at them, his expression not one of fear or even of worry – no, he looked like he didn’t even consider the timors a threat. And at the sight, the timors all froze, the frenzied rush coming to a sudden halt.

“Councillor Ihab,” the man said, his voice frosted over.

Ihab looked up at him. He’d had his theories as to who this man was. But they were so outlandish he hadn’t even shared them. After all, it just made no sense… and besides, what did it matter? What mattered wasn’t what this man was – it was what he could do.

But now that Ihab could get a closer look, it wasn’t a question of “making no sense” or “being outlandish” anymore. It didn’t matter how unlikely it was. Now that he was seeing the man like this, Ihab knew he had been right. No matter how little sense it made.

Ihab readied his sword.

“Lord Melthar,” he breathed.

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