A Note

And there we go.

Yeah, that was the ending. I know it was terrible. But, as I’ve said… I’ve just gotten really tired of writing this, especially seeing as it had no readers whatsoever. At this point, I just wanted to be done with it. So, unfortunately… this ended up being very rushed. It wasn’t good, but… it was the best I could really do with how much I didn’t want to do it.

And, yes, I know it really needs an epilogue. For the same reason as before, it won’t get one. I really am just tired of this story, and as much as it feels incomplete right now, this is the best state of “completeness” to which I’m willing to force myself to write it. If some demand actually appears, I might come back and write an epilogue… but probably not.

So, until then, goodbye. As of right now, no one’s reading this story, but if, by some chance, you stumbled upon here sometime in the future, then I at least hope you enjoyed it. The later parts were definitely written without any heart in them, but still, there are some things here which I think were good. If any of those brought enjoyment to you,  then I’m happy with that.

Thank you for reading, and farewell.

Chapter 47: Fall of Eternity

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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.

Charge!

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.

But…

“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.

Unless.

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.

He vanished.

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.

But.

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?”

“Yes?”

“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.

Excellent.

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.

Everything froze.

After all, Melthar was the Great Power of space…

…and time.

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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Chapter 46: Denouement

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“Heh… so, I guess you’ve finally done it.” Melthar smiled, though there was something to it that Azal could see. Regret, he supposed. “Well done, Azal.”

“No,” Azal said. “It’s not done yet.”

“Right. The “contingency…” or, if we’re going to stop beating around the bush, the Archdemon.”

“Not just the Archdemon,” Azal said, shaking his head. “I’ve won the war… but that’ll only be the first part of the struggle. The Archdemon was hated throughout all of Aead, but the Council was different. Many demons loved them. And those demons won’t accept me as their leader so easily.”

“Well, that makes sense,” Melthar said. “Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think you were wrong to do what you did. You had a reason, and it was a good one. But the Council wasn’t a bunch of tyrants. They were self-destructive, and lacking in foresight, and overly idealistic… but all in all, they tried their best. Even if it would’ve inevitably lead to disaster eventually, they were doing their best to ensure that demonkind would have prosperity… or their version thereof, anyway. And aside from the constant, senseless war, aside from the sacrifices of thousands of demon soldiers – and the deaths of just as many mortal ones – aside from all that… you can’t deny they weren’t bad rulers. It’s not surprising that they would be beloved… and nor, I dare say, is it unreasonable.”

“Hmph,” Azal grunted. “No need to play coy with me, Melthar. I understand what you’re trying to say.”

“Then I suppose I may as well cut to the chase,” Melthar said. “You’re right. I’m talking about you. During all their reign, during the centuries they’ve ruled over demonkind, the Council has never lost sight of its ideals. Sure, they did some pretty stupid things to fulfill those ideals… but the fact is, they never abandoned them. They never lost sight of what it is they took over for in the first place.” The god’s brilliant blue eyes pierced Azal with a sharp gaze. “Now, my question is…”

“Can the same be said of me?” Azal asked.

“Hah. I see you’ve already seen the issue, then.”

“Yes,” Azal nodded. “I know. I’m all too aware. I didn’t realize it until recently, but… you’re right. Whatever reason I started this rebellion for… I’ve lost sight of it.”

“Well, that makes this easier,” Melthar said. “But just because you’re aware of the problem doesn’t fix it. I supported you all this way, because I knew that if the Council was allowed to keep on doing what it’s been doing all this time, it’d inevitably lead to demonkind’s destruction – and if they did somehow survive, it would be at the expense of the mortals. Whichever way it turned out, that wouldn’t be something I want. That’s why I decided to help you. But just because I helped you get this far, don’t think I consider you my master in any way. I am a Great Power, Azal. Do not forget that I helped you of my own will, because I wanted to. Now that I’ve achieved my goal… there’s nothing tying me to you anymore.”

“You know, you could’ve said that in a much simpler way.”

“Hmph. So you’ve figured out what I’m saying again? Well, don’t get too proud of yourself. That one was easy.”

“Yes… I understand,” Azal said. “You didn’t want the Council to keep ruling demonkind. You wanted a better ruler for them. But just because I deposed the Council doesn’t mean I’ll be a better ruler. And if I’m not, you’re fully prepared to depose me and install someone else on the throne.”

“Yeah… that’s more or less it,” Melthar said.

“As I’ve said before… you’re right,” Azal said. Though he knew Melthar really would kill him if he proved to be just another tyrant, this time, he wasn’t simply saying whatever was necessary to preserve his power. This time, he spoke with absolute honesty – and with a cold, resolved tone. “I started this rebellion for the same reason you decided to help it. Because the Council’s actions would lead to the annihilation of demonkind. But at some point along the line, I ended up simply wanting more power. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten my original reasoning… it had simply become irrelevant, somewhere in the depths of my mind. The people around me became nothing more than pawns for me to use to overthrow the Council, nothing more than pieces on a gameboard. It was necessary, because with how much of a disadvantage we were at compared to the Council, we had no choice but to do everything in our power to win… but at some point, I’d forgotten that it was supposed to be something distasteful in the first place.

“So you’re right. At some point, I have become just as bad as those whom I’ve overthrown. But… that’s because I lost sight of why I was doing this in the first place. Because I lost sight of what this all was supposed to be. But…”

Azal looked up at Melthar. His deep blue eyes, normally so casual and relaxed, coldly bored into him with a merciless gaze. It was the face of a judge standing before the judged – the face of one whose mind was already deciding another’s fate.

Not too long ago, that would’ve scared Azal. Not that he would’ve shown it, of course. But it would’ve scared him. He would’ve known that this was not someone he wanted as an enemy. And so, he would’ve said whatever Melthar would’ve wanted to hear – whatever would’ve kept him on his side.

He was past that now. Back during that final battle, he’d realized something. When the Council’s last line of defenses had simply fallen, trampled by the relentless tide of the rebels… when Councillor Yulia had thrown away her own life for the sake of a future for demonkind… when the Council had collapsed under the force of their attack without so much as a hope of survival… that was when Azal had realized that he’d become just like those he despised. Not the Council, though – Azal had never been like them, and he knew he never would be. He had become just like the one who had been even worse than them, the one whom both he and the Council had known as the definition of evil. He had become just like the old king.

And after that, he’d had to make a decision.

Continue doing what he’d been doing all this time. Build his kingdom. Become the king that would lead demonkind to greatness, that would turn what the mortals saw as nothing more than pests constantly plaguing them into a power to match the mortals’ greatest nations. Gain power, gain influence, gain wealth, and do it all as safely as possible. And do it all at the expense of his subjects. Do it all without sparing a moment’s thought for whomever he hurt, for the feelings or thoughts or dreams of anyone but him.

Or… stop. And become the sort of ruler demonkind needed.

It had been an obvious choice.

He wouldn’t become the old king. And he wouldn’t lie about what he was anymore, either. After all, if he’d already made up his mind… there was no more need to lie anymore.

“I am no idealist, Melthar. I have never believed in lofty dreams or grand ideals. But I believe in something else. I believe in what is here. I believe in all the things around us, all the things we can see and touch and feel and sense. And I believe in one truth, the truth that perhaps all the world’s simple folk believe in – that a great ruler can only be one who rules for his subjects.

“If I were to continue doing what I was doing before, I would not become like what I had fought. I would not become like the Council. I would become like the old king. And considering what I have just said… that is the one thing I will do everything in my power to avoid. Will I be able to avoid it? I can’t know. Not yet. I know the sort of person I am, now. It’ll have to be a lifetime of constantly keeping myself in check, of constantly looking over everything I’m doing again and again and again, making sure I’m not subconsciously doing the very things I thought I’d never do. But I can tell you one thing – no matter what, I’ll try. Whatever you may think of me, Melthar, I assure you that being like the old king is not something I want. And… I think you know me well enough to know what happens when I don’t want something.”

For just an instant there was silence, and then, very slightly, Melthar smiled.

“Heh. So, that’s your defence, then?” he said. “Well… I guess it’s the best I could really hope for. If you really do hold yourself to your words, you could be the exact sort of ruler demonkind needs right now… but of course, that’s still an if, isn’t it? But… I’m willing to give you a chance.”

“Thank you,” Azal said. “And there’s one more thing I want to ask.”

“Go on.”

“The Council’s “contingency…” or, as you said, the Archdemon. The old king,” Azal said. “By now, we both know just how powerful he is. And we know how much of a threat he could easily be. He is the one obstacle we must still overcome before we can truly consider this war won. So… are you with us?”

“Oh, that’s all you wanted to ask?” Melthar asked, a coy tone in his voice. “Well… let me put it this way. You know how… hm, actually, you probably don’t. You know anything about mortal creation myths?”

“Not particularly.”

“Well, back at the very beginning, we, the Great Powers, were the first things to come into existence. But of them, I was the first to be born. Lein and Avylia came into being just a bit later, making me – even if only by a little bit – the oldest creature in existence,” Melthar said. “Or, well… that’s how the story usually goes. But really, there was one other Great Power – one other one that was born at the same instant I was. I won’t say his name, but… well, you’ve probably guessed it already, but you know him as the Archdemon.

“And for a long, long time… we were close. I was far closer to him than I was to the other two. We considered each other brothers. But despite that, I never noticed it when he started to feel differently than all the rest of us… or perhaps I just didn’t want to notice. In any case, when he started growing more power-hungry, when he started thinking that our powers meant we should be ruling over the people, I didn’t notice it until it was too late. Eventually, having had dominion over the realm of Aead, he took the angels and, with a single, enormous spell, turned them into new, twisted creatures – creatures totally obedient to him. Demons.

“Or, well… that was the plan. Of course, for anyone else, anything remotely similar would’ve been totally impossible. But aside from Aead, his domain as a Great Power was power over people. So, with those two dominions combined, his great spell worked… sort of. It twisted the entire realm of Aead, yes. And it turned all the angels unlucky enough to still be there at the time into demons, just as he’d intended. But even someone as great as he was could not enforce absolute obedience in an entire race just like that.

“But, of course… that wouldn’t stand. And at the end of the day, he didn’t need the spell that would make demons obedient to him. Not really. It would’ve made things easier, yes… but since it had failed, he saw no problem with simply moving on to his backup plan.”

“Taking control by force,” Azal said.

“Precisely,” Melthar said. “And the rest is history. So you see now, don’t you? If I’d stepped in a bit sooner, if I’d admitted to myself what I was seeing, if I’d been willing to intervene and stop my brother… we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. The Archdemon’s rule turned the demons into something the mortals feared – and that was why, when the Council took over, they thought had no choice but to keep being enemies with the mortals. If I’d acted sooner, if the Archdemon’s rule had never happened… well, even I can’t know how different things would’ve been. But at the very least, it would’ve never gotten to this point.

“So do you see?” he asked. “I failed to stop this whole mess from starting… but at the very least, I can lay it to rest, once and for all.” Melthar nodded slightly. “Yeah. I’m with you.”

“Thank you, Melthar,” Azal said. “Then we can’t waste a moment. We must prepare.”

“Heh heh heh… so, this is what has happened, hm? This is what has become of my old kingdom… hm hm hm.” The Archdemon laughed. But there was something just behind that amusement, something twisted and dark and roaring and raging – something that was just waiting to be let loose, to be unleashed upon the world. Something that terrified those who heard it, something that spoke louder than words ever could. It didn’t matter how good-naturedly the Archdemon seemed to be taking this. It didn’t matter how much he chuckled or laughed as if he himself was amused by the changes that had occurred.

Inside, the King was furious.

If it was deep inside, that would’ve been fine. But it wasn’t. It was a hot, boiling anger, burning just beneath the surface, visible in every single small motion he made and audible in every single syllable he spoke. He laughed and chuckled and made light of all that had happened, because that was the only way he could keep the rage contained for even another moment.

And, of course, it went without saying that he wasn’t keeping it contained out of the good of his heart. He was merely waiting for the right moment – the right moment to unleash the full force of his wrath.

That was what terrified the man beside him most of all. The knowledge that, at any moment, the Archdemon’s rage could boil over… and if that happened, there wouldn’t be a thing the man could do about it. There wouldn’t be a thing anyone could do about it. They would all simply burn to ashes.

It would seem like common sense that the man’s terror would be shared by everyone else in the Archdemon’s company. But that was far from true. Oh, certainly, there was plenty of fear Ian could see – all of it suppressed, of course; the Archdemon would punish any sign of weakness without hesitation. But it was all near the fringes of the group the Archdemon had gathered as he’d marched across the demons’ lands, pressing any he found “worthy” into service and killing everyone else. Each and every of the demons surrounding them would die if they displeased the Archdemon even slightly… but only slightly over half of them seemed to be even slightly fearful.

Of course, that wasn’t odd at all. After all, all the rest didn’t have any will with which to be fearful anymore.

The Archdemon acted somewhat sparingly with his power over the minds of others. The man couldn’t be sure why, but… he supposed even he had some sort of limit. Even the Archdemon could not forcefully control too many people at once… though, of course, the man would never dare so much as imply that in spoken conversation. Even considering that the Archdemon might have some sort of weakness would be met with instant death.

Then again, the man thought, perhaps that would be better. Once the Archdemon got a proper base of operations again, he wouldn’t stop at simply killing those who displeased him. Perhaps it would be better to simply get himself killed before then and spare himself the inevitable pain.

The man’s name was Ian Sabrin.

After he’d made his attempt on Azal’s life, he hadn’t dared to go north. That was the territory of the Bloodhorns, after all, and he’d seen just how ruthless Azal could be when the situation called for it. He couldn’t be sure the information about his attack had even made it back to Redgate by that point, but… he couldn’t risk it.

So instead, he’d fled south, hoping to pass through uninhabited territory and get to a Portal. From there, he’d be able to get back to Verta and flee back to Sagnir. At that point, his scheme to steal control of the demons had almost certainly been unsalvageable already, but he’d still be able to just get back to his previous life as if nothing had happened. As far as he was concerned, that would’ve been perfectly fine. After all, there was never any guarantee a gambit like his would pay off. Simply getting off scot-free would’ve been good enough for him.

Unfortunately, he’d had no such luck.

He’d managed to make it a decent amount of distance without being spotted, but before he got all the way to the portal, he’d gotten unlucky. Some guardsmen from a small village who were loyal to the Council had spotted him and realized he was a human, and, after they’d gotten over their initial shock, had gone out and captured him. He’d tried to get away, but their knowledge of the geography had been far superior, and he’d had no luck.

Only at that point, it seemed, had the men involved realized that there was no procedure for dealing with something like this, and so, they’d had no idea what to do with him after capturing him. In the absence of anything else to do, they’d decided to take him to the Council – or at least, to someone closer to them – and get some instructions. But just as they’d been planning to do that, the rebels had attacked Merdrun and taken it, and the news had reached the group’s ears. Realizing that they could hardly go to Merdrun now, the group of demons had decided to flee south, Ian still in tow, and figure out what to do once the rebels were defeated (they’d seemed to have no doubts that that would eventually happen).

That was when they’d run into the Archdemon.

The demons that had captured him had been utterly loyal to the Council, and had refused to serve the Archdemon. The Archdemon, not seeing them as worthwhile enough to waste energy mind-controlling, had slaughtered them all. Ian, of course, had had no such compunctions.

Though now, he couldn’t help but find himself halfway wishing he had. Some part of him thought that death would have been preferable to this – to living in constant fear, knowing that every moment, an unstoppable force far beyond his wildest imagination could simply decide to kill him, and there wouldn’t be anything he could do to stop it… but even then, most of all, Ian simply wanted to live. This was the most horrific thing he’d ever experienced, the greatest terror he’d ever felt, and the most powerless he’d ever been… and yet, though many would curse him for it, and he himself was tempted to do the same, he still found it preferable to dying.

If the price for continuing to live was serving this mad king’s every whim… then, though he hated himself for it, it was a price he would pay. If only he had more courage, if only he wasn’t this afraid of death, he could’ve simply angered the Archdemon and ended his suffering. But he couldn’t. No matter how much his mind objected to it, no matter how much his dignity or pride or conscience – whatever conscience he still had – railed against it, his heart could not help but simply do whatever the Archdemon said. He was too terrified to do anything else.

The Archdemon had forced Ian to tell him everything about what had happened in Aead recently, and it seemed like that was the part that had enraged the mad king more than anything else. He had already hated, of course, the fact that his kingdom was being ruled by someone else… but it seemed the thought that he had been overthrown by rulers too weak to even stop their own people when they rose up against them was what made him the most furious. And, of course, he hardly had any love for the new wave of rebels, either.

Ian dreaded what would happen when the Archdemon eventually, inevitably, overthrew the Bloodhorns. Even though he’d planned to betray Azal from the start, even though he’d always been using the rebellion just for his own personal gain, there had been nothing personal about it – and in a way, he had even liked Azal, just a little. He didn’t want to see what the Archdemon would do to them.

Of course, knowing the Archdemon… it was rather likely he wouldn’t just stop at making Ian watch. More likely, he’d make Ian himself carry out their punishments. And Ian knew that he would obey.

Damn it all, he thought to himself. Damn me… and damn those rebels… and damn this cursed Archdemon!

The Archdemon’s stride didn’t change, not even a bit, but his eyes that blazed like flame turned, just slightly, in Ian’s direction.

Ian’s heart leapt up into his throat, and his mind froze.

The Archdemon had the power to control minds. Did that mean… did that mean he could even hear Ian’s thoughts…?

The Archdemon smiled slightly.

And he walked on.

Ian forced down the scream that had nearly torn itself loose from his throat. He wanted to run away. He needed to run away. The group wasn’t that big, not yet. And besides – for some reason beyond his understanding, though probably just a whim – the Archdemon had placed him at the front. If he tried to flee, he’d be outside the reach of the ring of demons within seconds. And then he’d be free, free of all this. He’d need to run far to be sure they couldn’t reach him, but he could do it.

No. He couldn’t do it.

He would’ve been able to do it if it was an ordinary person leading this group.

But the Archdemon would just kill him in the blink of an eye.

He forced himself to march onwards alongside the Archdemon, trying not to think about what would happen when he inevitably tired of him.

“Right now…? It’s not good. A lot better than it could’ve been,” Alexander said, “but not good. After a rebellion like this, it should be obvious that there’s going to be dissent. The army’s been spending all its time supressing it. We should mostly have Merdrun under control, along with the immediate surroundings, but… I can’t guarantee any more than that. And, for that matter, if we get the army to start doing something else, I can’t even guarantee that.”

Azal supressed an exclamation of annoyance. Granted, it wasn’t much worse than he thought it’d be, but… that was still bad enough.

“And yet we need the army,” Azal pointed out. “And we need them ready. And we need them now.”

“Yeah. We do,” Alexander agreed. “That’s exactly the issue. We can’t pull the army back now, not if we don’t want unrest to tear us apart… but we have to.”

“Perhaps we could stall for a while?” Darius suggested, his voice uncharacteristically serious. “If we managed to delay the battle until the area was more controlled, we wouldn’t have to worry as much about unrest.”

Melthar shook his head. “No. You don’t know the Archdemon like I do. Trust me: he’s going to march straight to Merdrun, and he’s not going to let anything stop him. And he’s not going to let anything delay him either. We’ll just have to be ready to fight him whenever he arrives.”

“What do we do, then?” Azal said. “We cannot simply ignore what will happen if we refocus the army’s efforts.”

“We have to,” Melthar said. “Unrest, chaos, protests… we can deal with all of that later. We cannot allow the Archdemon to take Merdrun. If he gets a base of operations to work from, we won’t be able to stop him.”

“Why not?” Darius asked. “The Council did.”

“When the Council had faced him, he was at a fraction of his current power,” Melthar said. The entire time he’s been sealed away, he’s simply been practicing his magic, perfecting it further and further. Back then, he wasn’t that much stronger than a particularly powerful normal mage – no real threat to an entire army, not by himself. Now… now he’s in an entirely different league.

“Right now, he probably doesn’t have many men with him. Certainly, he’s been recruiting throughout southern Aead, but he wouldn’t focus too much on that before he’s taken Merdrun back. After all, knowing him, I’d be willing to bet he thinks he can take on our entire army by himself… and he might not be wrong.”

“Hang on, now,” Darius said. “Didn’t you say even you wouldn’t be able to do that?”

“I wouldn’t be able to even come close,” Melthar said. “My powers work excellently against single opponents, even powerful ones. But the Archdemon is different. He is a fearsome fighter in a duel, yes, but it would be against hundreds of weak foes that his power would truly shine. Our unique abilities as Great Powers are nice and all, but for sheer destructive power, with the possible exception of what Lein could do, there’s really nothing that can match simple, normal magic with enough power put into it.”

“Damn it…” Darius muttered. “Well, what do we do, then?”

“As for that, I have an idea,” Azal said. “After all, Melthar, you yourself just said your powers were good against single opponents, didn’t you?”

“Exactly,” Melthar said. In normal circumstances, Azal would’ve expected him to react to how he’d just guessed what he was thinking, but… these were hardly normal circumstances. “We’ll have the best chance of victory if I face the Archdemon myself… and besides, it’ll give me a chance to finally settle the score. But I can’t do that if whatever demons he’s gathered so far keep harassing me as I fight. That’s why we’ll need the army, Azal.”

“Yes,” Azal said. But still, he hesitated for a moment. The Archdemon was a threat, yes, but… couldn’t unrest and rebellions bring down a ruler just as well as an outside threat? If they couldn’t find a way to keep the people in check while the army was busy, wouldn’t they be destroyed just as surely as if they didn’t prepare for the battle against the Archdemon in the first place?

But if he defeated the Archdemon and was deposed afterwards, then at least the new ruler would still, most likely, have demonkind’s best interests in mind. At the very worst, it’d be as if he hadn’t started this rebellion in the first place.

He didn’t like the thought of that. But it was far better than what would happen if the Archdemon won.

“Very well,” he said. “I will have them prepare.”

“Good,” Melthar nodded. “The answer to this one is probably “no,” but… do we have any information on where the Archdemon is right now?”

“No,” Azal said. “I sent Aya out to see if she could find them, but…”

“Ah,” Melthar said, cringing slightly in his chair. “Damn it…”

Azal closed his eyes. He had to admit, even though he’d tried not to get too attached to any of his followers… he had liked Aya. She’d reminded him of something long lost to him. Thinking about what had probably happened to her was… painful.

But there would be time for that later. For now, they needed to prepare.

“Alexander, get the troops ready,” Azal said.

“Got it.”

“D-damn you…”

Aya trembled, on her knees. She couldn’t help it. She’d sworn to herself that she’d serve Azal no matter what, that she’d never back down from any enemy, that she’d face any trial without fear… but… this man…

This man was terrifying. That was all there was to it. No matter how much she told herself to stay calm, how much she told herself that she had to be loyal, that she had to be brave… she couldn’t stop trembling.

“I-I don’t care what you do,” she stuttered out, holding back tears. “I’ll never betray Azal! Never!”

“Hmph. A little rat like you showing such loyalty…?” the man – she thought she remembered Azal calling him the Archdemon – said, cold scorn in his voice. “Then again, I suppose for a master like that rebel, a servant like you is only appropriate…” He turned away, muttering to himself disinterestedly. “I should never have allowed creatures like you to exist in the first place…. that was a mistake. From the start, I should have been the only one allowed to have such powers…”

“Y-you! W-what… what do you want from me?!” Aya yelled, as much to assuage her own fear as anything else. At least if she knew, if she knew what he was planning… maybe it’d be easier to prepare for.

The Archdemon smirked and placed a hand on her forehead.

And, though she couldn’t describe the feeling, she felt something happen.

“Now then… rise.”

And, without even thinking about what she was doing, she stood up.

W… what…?

“Hmph…” He looked over her coldly. “You still dare to wear that pathetic disguise? Return to what you truly are, mongrel.”

And, against her will, her body began to change. The human form she had transformed herself into twisted, shrunk, began to turn back into the tiny form of a shadow…

H-he’s… c-controlling my mind…

He’d use her. He’d use her in the same way she’d served Azal, only worse. He’d use her to get close to Azal… and when the time was right, he’d make her…

He’d make her…

kill

him…

She’d be forced to… to kill… Azal…?

No…

No. NO!

Anything else. He could do whatever he wanted with her. But… she would never betray Azal! Never…!

No matter what.

The transformation stopped and reversed, and she turned back into her human form. The Archdemon recoiled and pulled his hand away, shocked.

She didn’t pause to think. There was no need for her to think about what she was doing.

She just punched the Archdemon in the face.

“Agh!” he screamed. “You… you bitch…!”

Without a moment’s hesitation, without a moment’s thought, she charged forward.

The Archdemon recovered and extended a hand, a nigh-insane scowl on his face.

In that moment, Aya knew.

She was about to die.

But…

Better that than betraying Azal.

…and then she only felt fire.

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Well, continuing to add hiatuses is getting somewhat tiresome, so I suppose I may as well just say it: I’ll admit it, my drive for writing this story has… declined. A lot. Partly because of the lack of readership, partly because I’ve just got new and unrelated ideas now, but… I don’t really feel like writing this anymore.

But we’re so close to the end now that just dropping it would be silly, and besides, I’m of the opinion that something like this, once started, should be finished. So instead of dropping the story, I’m going to stop posting every Thursday and Saturday and instead just post whenever I have something done. However, I will still hold myself to an update rate of at least once a week (except, possibly, this week).

This may also cause the ending to be… a little rushed. Frankly, I do just want to get this over with at this point, so the rest of the story will be only a couple or so chapters long. It’s not ideal, I know, but… at this point, I really do just want to have this done as quickly as possible.

Apologies.

Chapter 45: The Final Act Arrives

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“Gerhardt, I must speak to you.”

Gerhardt turned. “Councillor Yulia. What brings you here?”

“What else, of course? The things going on right outside our door.” She smiled slightly.

Gerhardt’s eyes narrowed. “…why are you smiling?”

She closed her eyes. “Ah. It’s… amusing, that’s all.”

“What is?”

“Merely… that this would be the kind of person to cause my downfall. Gerhardt, you remember what happened back at Inferus, right?”

Gerhardt thought back to what she was talking about… to what had happened a long, long time ago.

Back when they hadn’t been the Council. Back when they had just been a group of rebels, and not a powerful one, either. Back when… back when they had been in the exact same position that their enemy was.

Inferus was a city that had existed back then, one that had been near the southernmost edge of Aead. It had existed, because during the course of their rebellion, it had been destroyed. Utterly.

It had been destroyed at the behest of Yulia.

It had happened during the relatively early stages of the rebellion. It had happened back when they had lacked power, lacked influence… lacked everything, really. Unlike the current rebels, they hadn’t had the advantage of starting as a cohesive splinter group in a large city. They had just been a loose alliance of like-minded people, spread out across several small villages in the South. Unlike the present rebels, they hadn’t had any good way to gather enough people to make a strong first move. They’d given their speeches and rallied the masses and gathered their mobs, of course, but… it had all taken place in the villages. They hadn’t been able to reach anywhere near the same amount of people that these rebels had.

And they couldn’t go to Inferus itself and start spreading their message, either, because – thanks to what had been, in retrospect, a horribly reckless attitude – word of their dissent had spread by then, and while there had been nothing quite concrete enough for the king to spend his time and effort trying to track them down and stop them, there had been more than enough to ensure that they would be watched if they tried entering one of the major cities. They would’ve never been able to talk to anyone like that.

So taking over Inferus had seemed to be out of the question. It had been something that they simply couldn’t do, not as things had stood. But nevertheless, they had all held out hope. If they could just find an opening, if they could sway the people of the city to their side, they would’ve been able to get a massive boost to their efforts.

Yulia had seen it differently.

To her, Inferus had been a lost cause. She had been more certain than anyone else that it would’ve been impossible for them to take it over. And she had also realized that, if the king were to decide that they were a threat, Inferus’ presence nearby would’ve made it easy for him to strike at them. And besides, as long as it was nearby to watch their every move, they wouldn’t be able to do anything major.

So, although the rest of them hadn’t given in easily, she eventually convinced them all that there was only one reasonable course of action – destroy the city utterly.

And that was what they’d done. They’d gathered their people – those people who had been fanatically loyal to them, but hadn’t yet done anything to come under the king’s particular attention – and they’d sent them into the city. And they’d had them set fire to it.

Inferus had burned. And so had all its people with it.

Even now, Gerhardt still didn’t like it. It had given them the space, the freedom to move and act that they had so desperately needed, and it had convinced people that maybe, just maybe, they would be able to do something. It had helped their efforts massively. But… that didn’t change the fact that it had been murder. Senseless, indiscriminate murder of anyone who’d happened to live in that city.

“Yes, Yulia,” Gerhardt said. “What of it?”

“Hm… I’m surprised you haven’t realized it yet. It’s simply that… I cannot help but see something of myself in this foe we are facing. Two rebels, two demons who wished, above all else, to overthrow the current order… and who would be willing to do anything to achieve that goal.”

Ah. So that was what it was.

Gerhard had heard Leonid’s report, of course. He’d heard of what had happened in the North… of the village that the rebels had burned.

They’d destroyed their people’s homes, even – as far as Leonid had been able to tell – killed some of their own people. And they’d done it all merely to gain an advantage for themselves in the war.

Almost like what had happened in Inferus.

And, Gerhardt realized, Yulia had been the first to propose the idea of releasing the old king from his prison…

Yes. Gerhardt supposed that… the two of them really were alike.

“Why are you telling me this, Yulia?”

“I can’t pretend anymore, Gerhardt,” she said. “We’ve done everything we could. I’ve done everything I could. It wasn’t enough. We’ve lost.”

Gerhardt’s gaze hardened. “…there is always a chance.”

Yulia sighed. “Do you truly believe that, Gerhardt? Or… is that merely what you want to believe?”

“I… cannot answer that, Yulia. I cannot be certain anymore. But… no matter what, we cannot give up. Even if there is no hope remaining.”

For a few moments, Yulia didn’t speak. She just looked down at the floor, thinking.

“Hm. Not too long ago, I would have scoffed at such an idea. But… now, I suppose it makes no difference in any case.” She looked up at him. “Very well, Gerhardt. Do as you please. Do whatever will bring you closure. But… allow me to tell you one thing.”

“What is it, Yulia?”

“At this point… there’s still time. There’s not much time, but there’s time. Whether or not you remain here and fight, the outcome will be the same. But… you still have time to flee. It may feel wrong, but trust me – it will not change anything. And at the very least, you will still be alive.”

Gerhardt looked at her suspiciously. “…why are you telling me this, Yulia?”

“Ah. You think it odd that I would be concerned about your life, do you?” She smiled. But there was a sad tinge to it. “I… have never let my concern for individuals dictate my actions before, true. I have always believed that the whole is more important. But now… it is as I have said. The whole will collapse anyway, regardless of what we do. So… I thought, if it doesn’t matter anyway… perhaps, at least one of us might survive.”

Gerhardt shook his head. “No, Yulia. You know I cannot. I could never simply flee and abandon my men to their fate.”

“I see,” Yulia nodded. “That is… what I expected.”

“And you, Yulia? You still have time to leave too.”

“You… are right,” she said. “But I have no intention of fleeing either. I’ve already made up my mind on that.”

“What will you do, then?”

She turned and began to walk down the corridor. Walk… down the direction that would lead her, eventually, to the doors of the Turrim Tenebris. Down the direction that would lead her right into the enemy’s path.

“Where are you going…?” Gerhardt asked, suddenly concerned.

“I… am going to meet my fate.”

The battle had been over in instants, though perhaps that should not have surprised Azal. Well, not much, anyways.

At an initial look, it seemed absurd. Now, at the end of it all, the stakes were at their highest. The Council was cornered, with nowhere left to go, nothing left to do but fight. If they failed here, they would fall, and the rebels would be the winners of the war. It seemed obvious that now, of all times, the Council’s men would fight their hardest.

But the Council’s men were still nothing but demons… nothing but people. And simple will and grit and tenacity conferred no supernatural powers. They had been unprepared for Azal’s attack when it had come, and they had been horribly outnumbered. Those two things combined into a nearly insurmountable disadvantage, no matter how much one didn’t want that to be true.

Of course… perhaps Azal wasn’t one to talk there. After all, he himself had overcome insurmountable odds several times now.

But just because he’d managed to be the exception several times in a row didn’t mean the reality had changed. The Council could put all its forces, all its resources into driving them back, do everything in their power to ensure that they would not fall here, or at least to make sure their last stand would be a thing of legend… but that wouldn’t change the truth of what was happening.

The real world was cold and cruel. It cared not for will or determination. There was only one thing it recognized: power.

And right now, Azal held all of that.

Which made sense. After all, this was the situation he’d always aimed for, wasn’t it? He had never been one for things like honor or glory. To him, there had always been only one thing that mattered. Victory… by any means necessary.

This was merely the natural culmination of that.

And besides, the real fight would come next. Azal and his men had scattered the Council’s men as they’d tried to make their stand in the city… but that would not be the place where their true last stand occurred. That would be inside the Turrim Tenebris itself.

Which was why it was time to strike at it… to take the fight to the Council one last time.

Azal rushed forward, and, together with his men, they barged through the doors of the Turrim Tenebris.

They were greeted with glimmering steel.

In front of them, across the great hall, the Council’s armies had assembled, one last time, to defend the great palace to their last breath. And at their helm stood… someone Azal recognized.

He’d never seen her in person before, of course. But he’d seen paintings of her. Anyone with any amount of culture had.

There, at the helm of the army gathered to make the Council’s last stand, stood Councillor Yulia.

And as Azal watched, she stepped forward. “Halt,” she called, and her voice echoed loud and clear throughout the room.

She looked across the room. “I wish to speak with the rebel leader.”

Azal looked around suspiciously. His army stood prepared for battle, seemingly unnerved by Yulia’s request… and, of course, he could understand why. It was not difficult to imagine that she had some design.

But… all the things Melthar had said to him before echoed in his mind.

If he merely slaughtered all opposition, if he suppressed everything that didn’t agree with him without even looking at it first… could he possibly claim to be standing for demonkind? It would be a risk, perhaps… but in this situation, it wasn’t as if Azal was defenseless. And after all he had done, he supposed the least he could do was hear the Council out.

“Step forward, then,” Azal said.

He expected some sort of resistance to that request.  But Yulia stepped forward calmly, walking away from the protection of her army – and even dropping the short sword she’d been holding.

Azal turned his head to the side and nodded once. Janus and Melthar detached themselves from the army, came to his side, and walked forward alongside him.

After a few seconds, seconds throughout which the room was permeated with a silence as still and anxious as that of the grave, they stood face to face. Azal stood just behind his two bodyguards. Even if he’d decided to hear her out, he still didn’t trust this Councillor.

Especially not after what he’d hear about her.

“Hm,” Yulia said. Verdoi like her were a rare sort of demon, and Azal couldn’t help but be unsettled by looking at her. She was thin, thin like an insect, and that mouth of hers seemed far too wide for her face… not to mention the unnatural, pitch black skin, or the insectoid eyes, or the long claws sprouting from her fingertips. The nearly skeletal wings coming from her back seemed almost to be the least disturbing part of her appearance.

“And here you are,” she said. “I cannot help but realize that even after all that has happened, I still know nothing about you. What your name is, what inspired you to do all this… before this moment, I didn’t even know what sort of demon you were. But then, none of that’s really important.”

Even if her appearance was unsettling, she spoke with a calm, educated tone… and there was more to it than that, too. In a normal person, one could always detect some sort of uncertainty to their words, some things said more on impulse than anything else. With Yulia, it was different. She spoke as if every word had been carefully picked out – and yet, she did it with no hesitation at all.

Azal could respect that.

“Then what is important?”

“At this point? Just one thing,” Yulia said. “Who are you?”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you believe? What do you want? Why did you do all this?” She glared at him, her gaze fierce – completely at odds with the situation. “After all you’ve done, I can’t help but respect you somewhat, so I’d like to imagine you aren’t just thirsty for power… but if that’s not the reason, then what is? Clearly, you don’t like us for some reason… so tell me. What is it?”

Azal frowned. But then again, he should’ve expected the question. Even if this wasn’t taking quite the direction he’d thought it would, he would’ve been foolish not to expect that to be asked at some point.

“It’s simple,” Azal said. “You… the Council… are all foolish dreamers. You strive and strive for your dream, for your wish to break free of Aead and live on Verta. In a way, it’s admirable. But…

“You forget one thing. You aren’t the only ones you’re responsible for. You are responsible for every single demon in this world, for every single person in your nation. Chasing an impossible dream is… fine. It’s not something I’d ever do, but, in a way, I suppose I can understand it. But you aren’t merely chasing your dream. You’re forcing every single demon, every single person here to chase it with you… and you’re forcing them to share whatever price you end up paying.”

“…I’d hope you’ve heard of this before,” Yulia said, a note of doubt entering her voice, “but the army is made up of volunteers. The men who pay the price are those who choose to.”

“I know,” Azal said.  “But it isn’t that simple. It’s not merely the wars, though I can’t say I like the fact that you throw away thousands of lives on something so unattainable. But you’re right – those who perish there are those who have chosen to risk their lives. But they aren’t the only ones who you’re hurting.

“At the end of the day, though, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you wouldn’t realize. After all… that’s exactly what my problem with all this has been from the very start. You’re obsessed with your dream, obsessed with your endless war against mortals… and you’ve forgotten about everything else in the process. Have you seen what Redgate looked like before I took it over? The Baron was a fool, a tyrant, and a madman… and yet he was allowed to run free and do as he pleased, because you were all busy thinking about your war. All over Aead, dozens of cities and villages live barely under your supervision, governed not truly by you but by whoever happens to rule there… and sometimes, those people are good people, and the people who live in those places are lucky. But all too often, that isn’t the case…. and you never do anything about it, because you’re too busy thinking about your war.

“It’s consumed you. You can’t even be called the rulers of a nation anymore… merely the rulers of an army. You’ve put everything into your war, into your beautiful and yet oh so unachievable dream – and you’ve forgotten about your own people in the process. They deserve better, Yulia. They deserve better than a Council which barely even thinks about them. And if the price of that is to give up that dream… it’s a price I’ll gladly pay. Aead isn’t as bad as you seem to think it is.

“Oh, and… one more thing. You’ve learned, again and again, how large the difference in power between you and the mortals is. So let me ask you one thing – what happens when the mortals lose their patience? When that happens… what do you think will happen to demonkind? Do you think they will be merciful?”

Yulia stood with her arms folded, her eyes closed. Azal looked at her, waiting for her response.

Finally, she smiled.

“Hm. You know… a long time ago, I was very much like you,” she said. “From the start, I’d disagreed with the Council’s dream. From the start, I’d thought that they had to concentrate on what they had before they could possibly turn their thoughts elsewhere. But… I suppose I didn’t believe that with as much conviction as you do. It didn’t take them all that long, in the end, to convince me. Well… at first, I just went along with it because I realized I wouldn’t be able to change all their minds. But I supposed somewhere along the line, I began to believe in it myself.”

“Then, you agree?”

“Well… let me put it this way. It’s as you said. A dream isn’t a bad thing. But when you devote yourself to it to the exclusion of all else… when your dream becomes an obsession, when those who depend on you are left to suffer because that dream is all you can think of… you’re right. At that point, can you truly be a leader? Not even close.”

“I see,” Azal said. “Still, you are a Councillor. You understand that even if I try and negotiate with you, my people will never accept it.”

“Yes… you’re right,” Yulia said. “You’re exactly right.”

“Then why speak with me in the first place?” Azal asked. “If you knew I could not negotiate, why come out and talk anyway?”

Because I knew your people would never accept negotiation,” Yulia said. “Because even though I didn’t know what you wanted until now, even though I didn’t know who you were… I knew what rebellions were. I’ve been in one, after all. You’ve riled your people up into a frenzy… and now, they won’t calm down easily. They’ll demand blood. And the only way you’ll be able to get it all into any semblance of order is if they have what they want.”

Wait. If they have what they want…? What is she…

“You don’t mean…” Azal said.

“I do,” Yulia said. “It’s not in my nature to do anything for my enemies, but… even I have to face the truth at some point. All of us do. Well…” She smiled slightly. “No, perhaps not. I suppose you would probably continue fighting even at this point, wouldn’t you? But… I am hardly that confident. And at this point, the Council has already lost.

“Which means it isn’t about them. Not anymore. Now… the only thing left to think about is demonkind. And if your rebels are going to be the next ones to lead us… if they’re placed in charge without being given a chance to get what they’ve wished for all this time first… they’re just going to tear themselves apart. And they’ll take demonkind with them.

“And the only way for them to be satisfied is for them to watch a Councillor die in front of their eyes.”

Azal stared at her.

“Hmph.” She smiled. “What is it, rebel? Are you of all people feeling sorry for me now?”

“…perhaps… perhaps you are right, Yulia,” Azal said. “But… you are more right than anyone would hope. So far, I’ve been able to keep them in check. But if they get their hands on a Councillor… I don’t know what they will do to you.”

“Neither do I,” Yulia said. “But if I must be the sacrifice to ensure that demonkind can maintain order… then so be it.”

They both looked at each other.

Azal waited for a moment, waited for her to look away. She didn’t.

“I see,” he said. “Then… you are determined?”

“I wouldn’t have told you all this if I wasn’t.”

“Farewell, then, Yulia,” Azal said. “Thank you.”

“I’m not doing this for your sake. But regardless… I must leave the rest in your hands. The fate of demonkind is now under your control.” She narrowed her eyes and glared at him. “So… you had best lead them well. You’re the only one they’ll have now.”

“I will,” he said. “That much… I can swear to you.”

“Then I suppose that is enough.” She turned and took a single step before looking back, one last time. “And one more thing… what is your name?”

“Azal,” he said, nodding to her.

He expected some sort of response. But instead, she just turned away once more, said “I see,” and walked back to her men.

Azal turned and did the same.

As he returned to the front lines, his men raised their weapons.

“Go, men.”

He didn’t see what his men did to Yulia.

Perhaps that was for the better.

She was dead. That much was for certain. The battle hadn’t taken long, but it had been chaotic and hard-fought. The Council’s forces had refused to give in easily, and it showed. All around him, the ground was littered with corpses, nearly every single one of them having fought to the very last, weapons clutched in their hands even as they fell. In such chaos, there wouldn’t have been any opportunity to take prisoners.

And in any case, Yulia had been right. Regardless of whether or not it was possible, it wouldn’t have happened anyway.

This was the price of rebellion, Azal now saw. Perhaps, in the end, his path would be better for demonkind… but it would be a path paved with bones, surrounded by blood. And not all of those who died would be those who had to die. It wasn’t because of any cruel intention of his, or because he particularly hated the Council, or, for that matter, because of anything he had done. It was merely a necessary consequence of stirring up the people to rebellion. Once it begun, it was nearly impossible to stop until all those the people saw as “enemies” were dead and gone.

Yulia had been an “enemy”. But she hadn’t had to die. Azal knew that if she had to, if she saw that the Council didn’t have any hope left of winning, she’d have worked with him. Perhaps she’d have even prevented more unnecessary bloodshed… and once it was all over, she certainly would’ve been able to help him. After all, he was under no illusions. After chaos like this, ruling would not be easy. Having an experienced Councillor to help him out would have been an enormous help.

But, of course, she’d been an “enemy”.

So there’d always only been one possibility.

And now, that one possibility had come to pass. She’d died at the hands of the mob, in some way Azal didn’t particularly care to imagine. It had been her sacrifice, her way to allow Azal’s people to have the satisfaction of striking back at their “oppressors”… and, quite possibly, the only reason Azal would be able to get his men under control once all this was over.

Well… it was too late to go back now. He’d made his choice, and he’d committed to it. He couldn’t back out anymore.

“Go, men!” he yelled as he sprinted further into the Turrim Tenebris. He didn’t know what fraction of the Turrim’s defenders his men had killed in that initial battle. At this point, it had quite possibly been over half. But of course, he couldn’t really make any guesses like that. He had no way of knowing.

All that he knew was that he had to keep going.

They rushed through the castle, storming through the hallways and rooms and chambers. He didn’t know the exact layout of the place, but he’d heard that the Council Chamber was supposed to be somewhere around the center. So the only thing he could do was head towards the center.

He pushed through doors upon doors, rushing through the castle. The sooner this was all over with, the better.

As he opened one of the doors and stepped through into what looked like some particularly wide hallway, he heard something behind him. He stopped, turned, and saw the Council’s men crowding around the door. As his own men ran in, the guards of the Turrim Tenebris turned and closed in on them, trying to use the surprise and attack them from both sides at once. It wasn’t a half-bad tactic, really. Nothing extraordinary, certainly, but it was a move that could’ve worked.

Of course, the difference in numbers was now simply too large.

It was ironic, in a way. Just a short time ago, he had been the one to be horribly outnumbered, to have to struggle to secure a victory even in a circumstance where he had all the advantages. Just a short time ago, he and his Bloodhorns had been the underdog, trying desperately to fight off the Council which was so much more powerful than them. Just a short time ago, a situation like this would have seemed like a dream come true, a chance to finally topple the oppressors that had caused them so much harm and trouble.

But now, he was the one whose forces hopelessly outnumbered the enemy. He was the one with an overwhelming advantage. The Council he was fighting against was now the underdog – and, unlike him, it didn’t seem like they had the capability to overcome their disadvantage. All he was doing now was finishing off an already-defeated opponent.

And Azal simply… found himself unable to derive any satisfaction from something like that. Even though this situation would have seemed ideal just a scant few days ago, now that he was the one actually carrying out this finishing blow… he couldn’t help but feel that he understood all too well how the Council must have been feeling at the moment.

Not just in the sense that he understood how it felt to be defeated like this – though he did. But rather… he felt he understood what the Council believed. He understood how much they felt – they knew – that they were in the right, that the rebels were the evil ones… just as much as the rebels knew that they were in the right, and that the Council was evil.

Which of them was right? There was no way to tell. Though, in such a situation… did something like being ”right” even exist?

For as much as their attack had been a good one, for as much as they fought bravely and without fear… the Bloodhorns cleared out the Council’s men within but a few minutes. Within the crowd, Azal thought that, just for a moment, he saw a face he recognized – a face that he recalled from the portraits he’d seen again and again. The face of Councillor Daniel.

Was he really here, or was it just Azal’s eyes playing tricks on him? More likely the former, Azal decided. After all, there would have to be someone leading the group of men. In a situation such as this, a Councillor seemed like the most likely candidate.

Assuming Azal was right, he already knew what had happened to him. He’d been killed, killed without ceremony or dignity. Simply run down by the vast mob of rebels.

And even if he wasn’t… well, it would happen soon enough anyway. It would be the same thing that would happen to all the Councillors.

From there, it wasn’t much longer until Azal made it to the Council Chamber itself. Inside, as he’d expected, he found himself greeted by an army. The Council’s last defenders, all gathered together for a single, desperate, last stand.

At the front of the army stood Councillors Gerhardt and Adrien.

“So, you’ve arrived,” Gerhardt said, looking coldly at Azal and the Bloodhorns.

“Yes,” Azal nodded.

“Know that we will not make this easy for you,” Gerhardt said. “If you wish to rule, then we will fight to our last breaths to stop you.”

“I know,” Azal said, a small frown on his face.

And just one battle later, the throne of demonkind was his.

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