The two armies stood, watching each other.
Well… “armies” was a bit of a stretch. It was only Azal’s force that could be called a proper army. The enemy had, at a guess, probably less than a thousand men – in fact, probably only around half that many. Azal’s force outnumbered them enormously, and the enemy looked like nothing more than a nuisance, about to be crushed by the Bloodhorns’ forces.
Azal knew all too well that that wouldn’t be true.
Even then, he couldn’t help but feel a bit doubtful that it would truly be as difficult as Melthar had made it sound. Surely even the Archdemon could not cast magic on a scale so grand as to offset this difference…?
No, that was a dangerous thing to think. He could. And most likely, he could do it without any serious effort.
He hoped the Archdemon would save his magic for when the two forces met. That way, yes, his magic would have a shorter distance to travel, and would thus be at full power – but his army could envelop the Archdemon’s much smaller force, making it difficult for him to use any large scale attacks without also killing his own men. In contrast, if the Archdemon struck while Azal’s army was still all in front of him, he could cause incredible damage without any worry.
But in any case, there was no time to think about things like that now. He couldn’t influence the Archdemon’s choice. And besides, his army was getting restless. It had been impossible to impress upon them just how dangerous the Archdemon was, and to them, it looked like this would be an easy victory. So they wouldn’t want to waste their time just standing around.
And seeing as there was nothing else Azal could do before the battle in any case… better not to let morale deteriorate any further.
With a flourish, he drew his dagger from his robes and pointed it forward.
The men rushed forward, a ringing cry enveloping the air. Men shouting battlecries, armored feet slamming onto the ground, steel waving and swinging and clanging. Sounds roared through the battlefield, reaching Azal’s ears atop the walls of Merdrun. The deafening sounds of war.
And then, they were all swept away.
Without warning, fire tore through the army, enveloping the entire front rank. As if unleashed from the maw of some great dragon, or as if cast down as divine punishment by some vengeful god, the fire roared, drowning out horrified screams and shouts and dying cries alike. And though, at this distance, it was impossible to make out, Azal could swear that, for just an instant, he saw, clear as day, the Archdemon’s smirk in the middle of his force.
And, also… he saw a flash of blue in the flame.
Melthar dashed forward, letting the momentum from running carry him onwards after he’d teleported, his sword already drawn. With no more sound than a slight grunt, he brought it around in a vicious arc, putting as much strength as he could into the swing.
The blade was met by the shaft of a spear.
It wasn’t that the spear had been used to block the sword. It had simply appeared there, stuck in the ground, in position to block Melthar’s attack.
But he hadn’t thought it would be that easy.
The Archdemon tore the spear free from the ground and thrust it forward, and Melthar took a step back, away from its point.
“So, here you are,” the Archdemon said, a cruel smirk on his face. “You… I had always hated you, but truly? I had thought even you would have a little too much dignity to sink down to this sort of level…”
“And I used to think you wouldn’t end up being a maniacal tyrant,” Melthar said, “but look where that got us. Is there any point to this other than you wanting to stroke your ego, “brother?” Or can we move on with the battle now?”
“Hmph. So crude…” the Archdemon muttered. “Fine, then.”
Without warning, fire sprouted from the ground underneath Melthar’s feet – deadly, blazing fire. Any normal person wouldn’t have been able to do anything but burn to death. Melthar was no normal person.
He teleported right in front of the Archdemon, out of the fire’s reach, his blade already poised to strike. But before he could strike, without so much as a gesture from his enemy, a raging wind burst out between the two of them, throwing Melthar back. It didn’t move the Archdemon at all… but then, of course it didn’t.
Melthar teleported again before he could hit the fire, reappearing behind the Archdemon, some distance away. The Archdemon turned around, that cocky smirk still on his face.
“Right,” Melthar muttered darkly. “You can predict where I’m going to teleport.”
“My understanding of magic is far superior to yours,” the Archdemon replied. “You could never hide your actions from one such as me.”
“Well, whatever,” Melthar said. “I won’t need-“
In the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of motion as a sword darted for his head. On pure instinct, his own sword shot up to met it, shattering the other blade in a shower of shards.
And then, the Archdemon’s face turned suddenly to a furious scowl, and with a snap of his fingers, fire erupted just beside Melthar, clinging to the demon who had just attacked him like a snake wrapping around its prey.
“Fool!” the Archdemon yelled. “He is mine! Stay out of this!”
Around them, the Archdemon’s congregation dispersed – partly to obey the command that had just been given, but mostly, Melthar thought, out of fear. They were left in an empty space roughly the shape of an oval in the middle of the group of demons.
Melthar teleported behind the Archdemon, and again, a gust of wind threw him back. So he vanished again, and appeared in front of him this time. Again, wind threw him back, and again, he vanished before he’d flown a meter.
This time, he appeared above the Archdemon, and, before the Archdemon could possibly react, shot a blast of space-distortion at his head.
But the Archdemon didn’t need to react. Before Melthar could cast the spell, a blast of wind threw him away once again.
“Hmph. Is that all, “brother?”” the Archdemon asked. “Lein put up a better fight than this.”
“Oh, I’m just getting started.”
The Archdemon chuckled. “Take this, then!”
With a wave of his hand, a ball of flame flew at Melthar. Melthar cut it down the middle, slicing away the very space the fire occupied, splitting the ball in half and sending it flying past him.
He rushed forward, blade readied as if to strike – and, an instant before he was in range, he stopped suddenly. In front of him, a whirlwind roared, for just a moment, around the Archdemon – a whirlwind that he had summoned just a moment too soon, just a bit prematurely. The Archdemon had assumed that Melthar would attack with his sword, and responded appropriately.
Instead, Melthar thrust his hand forward and displaced space in a thin line.
The price of doing something like this – of using his spatial manipulation in a remote way – was that he couldn’t precisely control where whatever he displaced would go. Most likely, everything he displaced would end up just outside of the line of displaced space. But if he hit something vital, that would be more than enough – and even if he didn’t, it would at least distract the Archdemon and leave him open for a more fatal attack.
“Oh, you little schemer… you think you’re so clever, do you?”
The voice came from above him.
Melthar teleported away instantly, just in time to avoid the spear that would have pierced his head.
He looked up. Right above where he’d just been, the Archdemon calmly sat on a whirling mass of air, a grin on his face.
“Did you really think that would be enough to catch me off my guard?” the Archdemon asked. “I can feel where your magic is going. If I notice it going in a line like that, it’s hardly going to be hard for me to figure out what it’s about to do, hm? And since the whirlwind was already active, it only took me a bit of effort to repurpose it like this.”
“Oh, damn you…” Melthar muttered.
At least the Archdemon wasn’t attacking. Most likely, he was having too much fun just sitting there blocking everything Melthar threw at him. And as much as the thought was demeaning, that was convenient – if he wasn’t going to attack, Melthar would have a lot more freedom in dealing with him.
Melthar charged again, and, as the Archdemon sat there without a care in the world, he teleported right above him.
Of course, the instant he did, a burst of wind blasted him away. The Archdemon hadn’t even looked at him.
Which was why he hadn’t noticed that, in the brief instant Melthar had been there, he’d thrown his sword upwards into the air.
It was a bit less than dignified, but… whatever worked.
The sword came down, and its hilt struck the Archdemon in the head.
Heh… you can predict magic, hm? Then I suppose it’ll just take something mundane to bring you down.
Suddenly, the Archdemon’s concentration broke, and, with a frankly comical expression of shock on his face, he tumbled down to the ground. “Wh-?!”
Melthar wasn’t going to let this go to waste. The Archdemon’s spell had been broken, and his concentration had been disrupted – but it would only be for an instant.
Which meant that, in that one instant, Melthar had to finish it.
He teleported forward, bringing his sword back to his hand in the same instant, and thrust down at the Archdemon. At the last instant, the Archdemon turned towards him and, with an angry scowl on his face, thrust his hand forward, trying to repel Melthar once more.
But that wouldn’t be so easy this time.
Compared to the Archdemon, Melthar was an amateur. In the sense of power, he was a more powerful Great Power – but that didn’t necessarily mean anything, and this battle had proven that. The Archdemon had been spending centuries doing nothing but honing his abilities. In contrast, Melthar had allowed his to fall into disuse – that was why what he could now do was so sharply limited. With that in mind, there was no way Melthar could defeat the Archdemon – not with their skills as they currently were.
Which meant he’d have to improvise. Right here, right now, in the thick of battle, he would have to push his limits more than he could remember doing for millennia.
Melthar held out a hand, and space bent around him.
The Archdemon’s winds shot forward, but the very space they were occupying twisted and turned and changed, and that entire space simply moved around Melthar without touching him, leaving him unharmed – and still able to attack.
His head felt like it was splitting open. This was far, far more advanced than anything he’d done in as long as he could remember. Perhaps, with long years of training, he’d be able to do it as naturally as breathing – but now, he was forcing himself to do it here and now, without an instant’s hesitation or preparation. His mind could not handle it. It would not handle it.
It had to handle it.
…but just because something had to happen didn’t mean it would.
An instant more. If his mind had held out for just an instant more, Melthar could have ended this battle in a single strike. Instead, a sudden pain burst out from behind his eyes, turning the world to a scrambled mess and making him forget, even if just for a moment, all about the battle going on here. The sword fell from his fingers, he collapsed to the ground with his hands clutching at his head – and the wind took effect once more, blasting him away.
Mercifully, the worst of the pain subsided quickly, though the strain on his mind remained, pressing down on him like his brain was being squashed by a ring of heavy weights. But there was no time to think about that, not now. Melthar scrambled to his feet, trying to force himself to think.
Damn it. I guess that’s what I get, but… will I even be able to teleport after that…?
“Guh…” the Archdemon muttered, standing up. “To think… to think you would be able to do something like that… Fine. I had hoped to test your powers a little longer, but I will kill you now.”
The Archdemon charged, a vicious charge fueled by magical wind at his back. Faster than any man or demon could possibly hope to go, he rushed forward, spear at the ready. Melthar tried to dodge, tried to get out of the way, tried to do something – but even the simple thought of using his powers again brought about a pale shadow of that pain, that awful pain, and…
…and steel flashed, sending the Archdemon’s spear to the side and making the point sail straight past Melthar as the Archdemon himself stumbled to a stop.
“Good luck with that one,” Alexander said, stepping into the duel ring.
The Archdemon took a few steps back, glaring at Alexander. “You would interrupt our battle?”
“Yeah,” Alexander said. “Melthar’s been my friend for a long time. His life’s more important to me than honor or anything like that… and as for your feelings, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I never considered them in the first place.”
“Fine,” the Archdemon said. “Die, then.”
He extended his hand.
And, without ever making a conscious decision, Melthar teleported to his friend, grasped him by the shoulder, and teleported both of them away before the Archdemon’s magic struck.
An instant later, an eruption of fire spewed from the ground where Alexander had just been standing.
A sharp pain ran through his skull, and Melthar clutched his head in his hands. “Agh… dammit.”
Alexander glanced briefly at him. “You alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Melthar muttered. “Huh. Guess it’s not as bad if I don’t think too much about it…”
“You are starting to annoy me…” the Archdemon grumbled.
“Yeah? What are you going to do about it?” Melthar asked.
“To think you would still make light of things in a situation like this… Do you even understand that you’re about to die?”
The Archdemon extended a hand, and a tongue of flame roared forth, curling into the shape of a dragon’s maw and racing to devour the two. Melthar nodded, almost imperceptibly, and Alexander responded in kind.
Alexander’s hand shot forward, and a raging gust of wing shot forth to oppose the flame. But it was hopeless. The wind barely even slowed the fire’s approach, and in only seconds, the flames were already about to consume the angel.
And in that instant, Melthar reappeared behind the Archdemon and, with a single, lightning-swift cut, sliced him in half.
The flames ceased abruptly, and the Archdemon’s upper body, separated from his legs, tumbled onto the ground. “Wh-what?!”
“Alexander put out a lot of magical energy to create that windblast,” Melthar said. “So I guess you didn’t notice it when I teleported behind you. The streams of magic blended together. Though, you should’ve noticed it anyway when my magic went behind you… but I guess you were just too self-absorbed to even see that much, huh?”
“Ghh…” the Archdemon hissed out, laying on the ground, blood seeping out onto the red soil. And then, there was a red glow, and the Archdemon’s legs simply reformed out of magic, good as new.
Melthar cursed himself in his mind. Right. Great Powers could regenerate. He should’ve just gone for the finishing blow then and there rather than waste time talking about it.
Damn it. Could’ve ended it there, but…
The Archdemon shot to his feet on a gust of wind, apparently too interested in showing off to simply stand up like a normal person. He swept his spear at Melthar, and Melthar blocked it with his sword, shoving the shaft away. The Archdemon attacked again, simply using his spear rather than his magic, and Melthar blocked the attack again-
-and he saw something behind the Archdemon, and his eyes widened, just a little.
That was enough.
The Archdemon, noticing Melthar’s reaction, looked behind himself – and saw Alexander, charging straight at him, sword in hand.
After all, the Archdemon could only predict magical attacks. Against something like this, he had nothing.
But Melthar had given it away, and, after a moment’s deliberation, the Archdemon summoned a blast of wind around himself once again, blasting Melthar away – and giving him the time to turn around and block Alexander’s strike as it came.
But Alexander, though deterred for a moment, simply shoved the Archdemon’s blade aside and struck again. And in that instant, Melthar vanished – and reappeared right behind the Archdemon. He attacked at the same moment he appeared, trapping the Archdemon between the two swords.
And a gale wind erupted where the Archdemon stood, and though neither of the two were blown back this time, their swords swung through nothing but empty air.
Melthar looked up. There, up above, the Archdemon was, once more, calmly sitting atop a column of swirling air.
“Oh, damn you,” Melthar muttered.
“Hmph,” the Archdemon smirked. “Fine… I’ll admit it. I suppose I wasn’t paying enough attention, but… yes. Your little trick got me. But…” He grinned. “You won’t get a second chance!”
For an instant, a thought crossed Melthar’s mind. The Archdemon was using a lot of magical energy to keep himself aloft, and it was going upwards – which meant it was coming from the same direction as where any attack from Melthar would come from. If he attacked now, the Archdemon wouldn’t be able to tell his magic apart from his own. That way, he could hit him again, and this time it would be a fatal blow…
But the column dispelled itself, launching the Archdemon into the air with its last burst of wind, and before Melthar could even think about attacking him, he thrust a hand downwards.
Melthar knew well enough what that meant.
He grabbed Alexander once more and teleported both of them away, moments before a column of fire erupted where they had just been standing – and then, before Melthar could react, a second column erupted right where they had teleported, consuming both of them in flame.
Melthar recoiled in shock, but there was no time for thought. He simply grabbed Alexander and teleported him away, and an instant later, the flames consumed him.
The heat burned like a furnace, and he could feel his mind going, white-hot pain filling every single thought – but he knew what he had to do. It was as the Archdemon had demonstrated a moment ago. Great Powers could regenerate. All he had to do was get out of the column of flame and heal himself.
But that wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Not when the flames burned away at his flesh and charred his skin to ash. Not when the world was suddenly filled with heat that he would’ve never thought possible. Not when he could only focus for an instant before the pain filled the rest of his mind.
And, of course… not when the moment he did teleport away, the Archdemon would simply cast fire down upon him once more.
Melthar closed his eyes, grit his teeth, and teleported.
…In any battle, a single moment of hesitation could spell one’s doom. In a battle like this, that was both more and less true. In a way, it was less true here than in a normal battle. Both the Archdemon and Melthar had powers that could allow them to evade attacks that, for any normal person, would’ve been completely unavoidable. But it was more true, too, in a different way. After all, both combatants knew as much already – and they both knew that, if they just got a single good chance, they’d simply have to attack in a way the enemy wouldn’t be able to counter. For all the power the two possessed, at their core, they were living things like anything else. If their brain was destroyed with a single blow, there wouldn’t be anything they could do but die.
So all Melthar needed to do was get a single opportunity.
At that instant, he knew the Archdemon would sense where the magical energy was going.
He knew the Archdemon would prepare to create a new pillar of flame at the spot Melthar appeared.
And – he knew that, just for an instant, the Archdemon would hesitate.
Because Melthar reappeared right above him.
The Archdemon’s power was terrifying because of its sheer versatility. Though his unique powers as a Great Power were nothing special in a fight such as this – both Melthar and Alexander were far too strong to fall victim to his mental powers, especially when he was already using them to maintain control of at least some of his men – his prowess with simple magic more than made up for that. He wasn’t quite as powerful as any of the other Great Powers, but he could do so much more than them that it was simply irrelevant.
But even so, there were some things that Melthar could do that the Archdemon couldn’t.
Melthar could teleport. The Archdemon couldn’t.
And that was why the Archdemon couldn’t proceed with his plan. He only had a split second to act. He wouldn’t be able to simultaneously create a pillar of flame at Melthar’s location and move himself far enough away to not also be charred to a crisp.
That was why, just for an instant, the Archdemon hesitated. And in that instant, Melthar drove his sword downwards, the point shooting straight for the Archdemon’s brain.
In that instant, there was a blinding light, and searing heat sprung up again – and once more, flame burst forth from the earth.
Melthar’s strike missed its mark, his view obscured by the flames and his blade sent off-course by the sudden heat rushing through his body – and in that instant, wind exploded around the Archdemon, throwing Melthar back once more.
Melthar regenerated himself before he hit the ground, healing all the damage the fire had done. But at that moment, the column of fire disappeared too, and the Archdemon did the exact same thing.
“Did you really think that would work?” the Archdemon asked. “To destroy something like you… something that stands in the way of my destiny… did you think I would balk at the thought of sacrificing my own flesh? You fool!”
“Damn it…” Melthar muttered. “You’re really obsessed, you know that?”
In that case, there was no helping it.
There was still one final idea he had, one final trump card that, if he pulled it off, could let him win this fight. But… he’d pushed his powers to the limits once before already, and it hadn’t gone well. If he wanted to execute this plan, he’d have to go even further beyond that. It was something he thought he could do, something that he should have been able to do, judging from his domain as a Great Power – but he’d never tried it before. In his entire existence, he’d never once done something like what he was now considering.
But… he’d just have to do it.
All he had to do was land a single attack that the Archdemon couldn’t avoid.
That’s all, he thought. Alright, then… I can do that.
Darius looked on, watching the battlefield intently. “Hey… Azal?”
“What’s with that glum look? We’re winning, aren’t we?”
Azal shook his head. “No. Our army is beating the Archdemon’s army… but that outcome was never in doubt. Nor does it matter. The Archdemon is a foe beyond things like that. Right now, the only thing that matters is his duel with Melthar. If Melthar loses that battle, all the forces of demonkind won’t help us.”
“Well… and what?” Darius asked. “In that case, we should be doing everything we can to help him win, shouldn’t we?”
“It’s not that simple,” Azal said. “It’s as Melthar said. His power is suited to fighting single opponents. If he were faced with the Archdemon’s army, he could still most likely win – but the distraction would be more than enough for the Archdemon to kill him. And that is why we are doing what we are. We must keep the opposing army occupied, or else it’s all over. That is how we are helping him.”
“And you?” Darius asked. “Are you just going to stand up here on this wall and watch it happen?”
“What would you have me do?” Azal asked. “I am no fighter. I cannot stand up to even an ordinary duelist in a battle. It should go without saying I am incapable of standing on the same level as those two.”
“Well, there’s still something you can do, isn’t there?”
Azal shook his head. “No. I am a tactician, a strategist, and a ruler. Those are my talents. They are what have led me this far. But sometimes, no matter who one is, they will be forced to admit that their talents cannot help them. This is one such situation. There is no need for tactics or strategy here. Our army will defeat the enemy’s army easily, regardless of what tactics we use – but in any case, as I have already said, that is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the duel. It is a duel I am powerless to influence. The only thing we can do now is put our faith in Melthar.”
“Faith?” Darius asked. “Now that’s not a word I ever expected to hear you use.”
“I used to not trust anyone but myself to do anything properly,” Azal said. “I would attempt to manage every aspect of every task, try to keep everything under my own control. In a way, I suppose I am still like that… but, even if it’s only a small amount, I’ve learned. When the Council sent out Katherine and Ihab to attack us, they didn’t bother themselves with trying to manage all of their actions – and they nearly brought us to our knees regardless. They put their trust and their faith in their people, and that faith was not misplaced. Now, it is my turn to do the same.”
“So… what?” Darius asked. “We just sit here and hope it goes our way?”
“Yes,” Azal said. “I have grown… used to being in control of everything. I assure you, being as powerless as we are now hurts me just as much as it hurts you. But it is the only way. No one can truly be in control all the time. Right now, even if it’s only for the duration of this battle… we must let go of our control, and leave our hopes to those who can achieve them in our stead.”
“Huh. I… get it, I guess,” Darius muttered. “Still… didn’t expect to hear something like that coming from you.”
Azal smiled, ever so slightly. “What sort of ruler would I be if I did not grow from my experiences? Even if it was just a little…”
Melthar looked to the side, to where Alexander was. He nodded once to the angel.
I need time, he thought to himself. I know what I need to do. But I can’t do it while the Archdemon’s attacking me.
But of course, he couldn’t say that. Saying it would just make the Archdemon refocus his attack on him. The only thing he could do was hope Alexander would understand him… or, failing that, that he would at least keep attacking the Archdemon anyway.
Melthar just needed to do one thing. If Alexander could keep the Archdemon occupied for long enough for him to do that, that would be enough.
But for Alexander to be able to do that in the first place, Melthar still needed to do one more thing.
He teleported once more – and once again, he teleported right above the Archdemon. He knew the Archdemon would simply blast him away once more before he got a chance to attack. But this time, he wasn’t planning to attack him.
The instant Melthar reappeared, a blast of wind shot forth – but it was already too late.
Melthar warped space once more, and this time, both he himself and the Archdemon were teleported to the ground.
Alexander seized his chance, rushing forth to cut the Archdemon down from behind. And that was exactly what Melthar had been hoping for.
Melthar backpedalled away as quickly as he could. He didn’t dare risk drawing the Archdemon’s attention by attempting to teleport away, but he still needed to get away, just in case. If the Archdemon’s attention shifted to him once again while he was concentrating, and he was too close, he wouldn’t be able to escape.
The Archdemon looked at Melthar in frustration and reached forwards with one hand, trying to cast another spell and kill him – but an instant before he could, he heard Alexander’s approach and, with a single quick swing of his spear, batted the angel’s sword away. That was as Melthar had hoped, but… even so, he couldn’t help but be concerned. If Alexander fought the Archdemon on his own…
But there was no time to be worried about that. Even if the worst should happen… as much as it hurt to think, it would still be better than if the Archdemon won. So all Melthar could do now was concentrate on stopping that from happening.
But… just before Melthar began to focus entirely on his final attack, he saw a flash of steel come out into the ring from within the surrounding battle.
The Archdemon wasn’t sure himself how he’d noticed it. Perhaps he’d simply heard it an instant before it happened… or perhaps it was something deeper. He knew it was his right to rule over demonkind. So perhaps it was simply already decided that they could not harm him.
Whatever the case, he realized what was going on a moment before it happened, and, with a lightning-fast motion, whirled around and swung his spear again, deflecting the blade coming at him from his other side.
It barely took any effort or concentration to create one more blast of wind, knocking both the angel and the newcomer away.
And as the second one to interrupt his duel with his brother rose, the Archdemon realized that he recognized him.
It wasn’t that he’d seen him in person before, of course. But he’d heard of him. The Cult had told him of the stories surrounding the man who was now undoubtedly in front of him.
Janus. The Legendary Swordsman. A man whose prowess with a blade was supposedly unmatched, not only among demons, but among all creatures – and not only among those alive today, but even among the great masters of centuries past. His curved blade, light armor, and cocky bearing were the stuff of legends almost as much as the man himself and his skill was. He was, quite literally, a living legend.
The Archdemon smiled.
In that case, it was about time to show the world just how little being a legend meant in front of a god.
After all, that was what he was. It was the demons’ conceit that had led him to this point. He had always been meant to rule over them. Was that not how it was? He had more power over them than anyone else. He was their god, their creator. He was their lord and ruler by right. What hubris had driven them to reject him? What foolishness was it that had made them think they could topple a god? Why did these creatures think they had the right to revolt against those higher than them?
No… that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he would make them pay.
Starting with the two cretins who had dared interrupt his duel.
“So, you too would interrupt this battle?” he asked. “Janus, the Legendary Swordsman…”
Janus stood up and shrugged, a mirthless smile on his face. “Hah. You’ve heard of me, too? Guess my reputation’s spread more than I thought.”
“Yes… I suppose it has,” the Archdemon said. “It must have gone to your head. Or do you actually think that just because you are a legend, you can stand against a god? What foolishness.”
“I’m not stupid enough to think something like that,” Janus said. “But there’s one thing I do know. One very, very simple thing. Well… two, actually. The first is that Melthar’s my friend, and I’m not going to just stand by and let you kill my friends without me having some say in it. The second… is that I know full well what it’d mean if you were to win. Look, I never really concerned myself with who the ruler of Aead was. I’d never cared for the Council, nor did I care for the rebels. I only joined them in the first place because Melthar did. But… if you were to win here, it’d be worse than any of that, wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t just be a matter of politics or government or laws anymore. It’d just be an entire race consigned to eternal slavery, trapped under your heel. Right?”
“Hmph.” The Archdemon waved his hand. “I have always been your rightful ruler. It is no fault of mine if you are too proud to accept that.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Janus said. “Maybe I can’t win. No – I know I can’t win. But that doesn’t mean I’ll just stand by and let someone like you do whatever he pleases. After all, as much as I can’t say I like the guy… Azal started from nothing and ended up winning everything. Who’s to say one of us can’t do the same?”
“Fine, then,” the Archdemon said. “In that case, die.”
The Archdemon’s hand shot forward, and a blossom of flames exploded from his palm.
At that instant.
Melthar would never be quite sure why it had worked then. Most likely, it had simply been that fear for Janus had forced him to act, then and there, regardless of whether or not he thought he could. But in an instant, the spell, forced into action, skipped all the steps of its casting and sprang into being in an instant.
After all, Melthar was the Great Power of space…
It was something that he’d never come even close to being able to do before. And he wouldn’t be able to maintain for more than a few instants. But that would be enough.
A few instants would be all he would need when time was frozen.
He knew he should have been feeling pain, pain like he had never felt before – the price for doing something like this. But, though he wasn’t sure if it was simply the adrenaline or something else, there was no pain. There would be time for pain later.
He vanished, reappeared behind the Archdemon – and hesitated.
He had a single instant.
In that single instant, he had to land a fatal blow.
Anything less, and the Archdemon would heal it in instants.
Even if he stabbed him in the brain, that wouldn’t necessarily be enough if he didn’t get the right part of it. And he wasn’t sure what the right part was.
And then, an idea came to him.
After all… they were Great Powers. In a way, they were gods. But, in another, very important, way… they weren’t. They were just people like any other, except that they happened to have some special powers.
And that made the answer perfectly clear.
In his one instant, Melthar drew back his left fist and struck the Archdemon in the back of the head with his steel gauntlet.
Time resumed. A sudden pain assaulted Melthar, and he dropped to the ground. He could just barely see the orb of fire continue its way forwards, Janus trying to dodge out of the way – but it wouldn’t be fast enough. Without a single conscious thought, Melthar teleported to him, grabbed him, and teleported him out of the way.
And then, finally, his vision was clear enough that he saw what he had been hoping to see.
The Archdemon lay on the red soil, unmoving.
After all, he was just a living being like any other.
And it didn’t matter what they were. An impact like that, to the back of the head of something alive, would knock them unconscious instantly.
“-eh?” Alexander muttered in confusion. Of course. He wouldn’t know what had just happened.
But Melthar was more than happy to take his chance.
He picked up his sword, rose to his feet – and, with a single, final blow, ended the war.
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