It was Theo who reached me first, despite not falling back on his own will power. He gave a powerful downward slash, a deliberate killing stroke. I lifted my sword to deflect it and found myself stumbling back. His hands and feet suddenly flashed with color, and he accelerated like lightning. He had used the first strike to give me the impression he didn’t plan to fight with will, and then went ahead and used it on the second strike. It was a sure-fire kill technique to catch a person off guard.
It was clear he was trying to end my life as quickly as possible. If I could be eliminated before things got serious, he could probably still reverse the situation and talk Akkar down. I still wasn’t sure if Akkar knew whether his brother could use will. If he didn’t, I could have used this feint to throw more doubt on who was and wasn’t the devil. Regrettably, the strike was far too swift, and I just didn’t have the proper time to react to it. I had to pull on my will as well.
As a result, two magic clad attacks met with a resounding spark. Yet, Theo was far more skilled than I was, and I found myself falling back again, although luckily with a bit more stability. Now, it was two Theo’s who could use will. The cat was out of the bag, and we were back to equal standing. The use of will did cause the movement of the guards to falter. Battling even one will user meant casualties, even for a full team. As for two, it was best to steer clear and let them work it out.
The guards instead went for those that were most vulnerable. I had pushed Saria away in the initial attack, sending her stumbling into my sister’s lap. Now, all three of them were the target of the guards. After all, Akkar’s cowardly orders had been to kill everyone, not simply cut down the two Theo’s. Even though Lucy and General Tucci were in chains, the elves didn’t hesitate to raise their weapons toward them. I was already tied up with Theo, who moved like lightning and wouldn’t let up for even a moment.
“Bala!” I called out.
A dagger flew out from behind a column, hitting the lock of the chains precisely. Lucy and General Tucci, trained soldiers in their own right, immediately threw their weight against the chain, causing the lock to snap open. By the time the guards reached them, the pair had managed to free themselves. Lucy instinctively shoved Saria behind her while the pair attacked the closest guards. Against two people who could also use will, the first group of guards were somewhat useless, quickly losing their weapons.
However, the second group of guards came more prepared. They included a magician, who managed to cast a spell just as the two managed to knock out the first group of guards. His attack would have been spot on too, and at least heavily injured one of them. However, Bala threw herself at the group, causing the magician’s attack to be off by just a bit. Even then, Lucy barely managed to block it and was tossed back. More guards appeared, and at least one or two seemed to be able to use will. With Bala, Lucy, and General Tucci fighting on one side and nearly two dozen guards on the other, the room exploded into pandemonium.
The two Theo’s, myself and the man across from me continued to engage, but each confrontation put me at a disadvantage. It should be noted that the pair of us didn’t look exactly alike. I had on a much nicer garb. Thankfully, the prideful man’s groom attire was the armor of a warrior, so I wasn’t any less protected than he was, but his was worn armor that showed the nicks, cuts, and hits that came with a long campaign of experience, whereas mine was shiny and new. It seemed to paint a perfect reflection of our true abilities.
I was simply too inexperienced as a swordsman to be able to fight him on the same level. Every engagement ended in me falling back. Had their not been countless others fighting around the room, and even an occasional spell was thrown here or there, I would have definitely been boxed in a corner. At the moment, we were just dancing around in a circle, with me on the constant retreat. I had one advantage, my illusion magic, but if I used it and was seen, I would be found out as the Imposter and the entire battle would shift. Thus, I depended on a trick far less refined.
Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a hand full of powder and tossed it into his face. This was one of a handful of tricks I had prepared on the spot while taking over Theo’s form and putting on the outfit. The dust made it into his eyes just as he was getting cocky, and I launched an attack of three rapid strikes. He managed to deflect them all skillfully even as he let out an irritated cry. I followed him, trying to keep him on the run, but he grabbed one of his own guards and kicked him at me.
It would have been easier to cut the man down, but would Theo be the kind of man to do that? This could be another test. I not only needed to fight, but I needed to fight in a way that didn’t cast too much suspicion on myself. It was extremely draining, and the other Theo seemed to realize that. I dodged the guard instead, not having enough time to dwell on whether it was better to cut him down. This put me on the disadvantage again, forcing me to fall back.
A few guards had been knocked down, but Lucy, Bala, and General Tucci had all taken wounds. They were trying to protect Saria while also fighting. Saria had a dagger in her hand, but she knew that she didn’t have much ability against an armed guard. Although she had some meager magic, it was nowhere close to Olivia’s, and the time it took her to cast, it would make its use irrelevant. Even if she wanted to heal someone, it would force her and that person locked in place, and they were under too much pressure to manage something like that. Thus, she was forced to watch other people fight in her place. It clearly bothered her, as her teeth were gritted, and she looked like she wanted to cut someone.
Unfortunately, the other Theo seemed to not have much care whether Bala or Saria were hurt. He gave a condescending grin at me as I looked over at my companions. They were surrounded by armed guards now and completely backed into a corner. Two magicians in the back seemed to be preparing spells as well. Once they were cast, there was no preventing the girls from becoming hurt. I frowned at the other Theo’s expression, as I wasn’t sure why he had suddenly changed his mind on the two sisters. At first, he had wanted them, but now, he was happily discarding them. Just what was his ploy?
Realizing I had run out of options, I was ready to depend on my illusion magic. I was going to deploy a shadow of darkness. It’d blind the magicians and give the others time to escape. I’d be exposed as the devil, but there was little point in maintaining the ruse at this point—the pair attacked each other once again. Just as I was about to cast my magic, a blast of wind hit us both from the side. The pair of us were thrown back, letting out cries of shock. The whirlwind was enough that it had tripped the bodyguards and caused the magicians to fumble their magic.
Standing in the doorway was an older woman. She had a large sword in her hand, and she appeared to be wearing an old, elvish style armor. If armor really could distinctly be a show of a person’s true experience, then the weathered armor that had been repaired innumerable times showed this woman’s proficiency overshadowed anyone else in the room.
“A-aunt Ayda!” Akkar cried out, his throat strangled. “Y-you have to protect me! Kill them! It’s an order from the King!”
“The true King is sitting in the dungeon where you left him!” She snarled, her face filled with displeasure.
Her words were a resounding shout, and they echoed through the halls behind her. Several of the guards had frozen at her words, looking back in shock. Not every man in this room was Akkar’s, and it looked like those who knew about the coup were few and far between. As for what lie he had told the public that his father was sick with grief over his son’s death and gave Akkar temporary control, or what, I didn’t know. There wasn’t enough good King’s men left in the city to question him.
Yet, Ayda wasn’t without authority either. Her declaration send a schism through the entire castle as quickly as anything. However, no one moved to act. No one knew what to do. Nothing like this had ever happened before. As to which side a person would take, that depended on many factors, such as which side the Lady Ayda took. She was a general as respected if not more respected than General Tucci was to the beastkin. Going against her would be the same as going against the former King.
As for why I didn’t have Ayda just do this earlier, personally, I never expected that she would. The King had all but accepted his place in prison, and given his son full reign to do as he saw fit. Although he had given me a chance to change that, it was just a chance. Even though Akkar had thrown her in prison, Akkar was still family, and I was an outsider. Every act she took likely had the weight of treason on her heart.
Ayda didn’t seem to care a bit about the upset that she had just caused. Rather, her eyes were solely focused on two people who were just standing up after being thrown to the ground. One of them was me, and the other was that Theo. Between the two of us, he had managed to keep his sword. Mine had gone flying and was now too far away to reach. I still had a lot to learn. A smile formed on the other Theo’s face, but as he took a step forward, an indescribable pressure suddenly pinned him in his place. The cocky look on his face dissipated in an instant.
Ayda held up her sword, pointing at the pair of us. “Which one of you is the devil?”
Her voice echoed in the room with a clear and crisp sound. The intent in her voice was clear. She was there to cut down the usurper. The one who had come into this throne room with ill intent would not live much longer.
Theo immediately shot a finger at me, an ingratiating smile on his face. “Auntie Ayda! That’s the devil! King Akkar was fooled by him! You must end his life quickly!”
Ayda waited for him to finish before she turned to me and asked simply. “Are you?”
I let out a sigh, holding out my arms. “I am.”
She blinked in surprise, and all of the others in the room made noises of surprise, whispering to each other. At this point, we had been fighting around the room for a while. If it wasn’t for my outfit, even my own companions wouldn’t know who I was. As for why Ayda didn’t work that out, well, she hadn’t been there when I picked this outfit. It was possible she just didn’t put two and two together in her haste. Although, another thought came to me as well. Maybe she just wanted to see what I would say before she cut me down. Was I the deceitful devil that she thought I was or was I a man of honor?
“However, I will make a promise to you.” I pointed my finger at the other Theo. “If you cut down that man, you will be killing a devil. I’d put my life on it.”
“Arrogant and a liar!” The man snorted. “Kill him, Auntie!”
“I was already planning on it!” She lunged forward in my direction.
I had never fought Ayda before. I knew she was formidable, and Bala had spoken highly of her, but I had never realized how formidable until I felt her pressure on me. Although she didn’t use will, just her bounding down on me had all but stifled my movements. If I used all of my will, I might just be able to make a dodge, but I had a feeling if I even attempted it, she’d catch it and move accordingly. In other words, there was no escaping what was about to happen.
This wasn’t the first time I was ready to die. Since the God of this world had sent me here against my will, I had been ready for it. Life and death had already lost meaning to me long before I had appeared in that white room. Perhaps, that was why God had chosen me for this. He knew it’d take a man who didn’t mind dying to do what was needed. Well, if my journey ended here, I had no regrets. Actually, it might have been nice to play with Saria on our honeymoon.
Saria. Bala. Aeryn. Mother. They all suddenly flashed in my mind in a rush. Some people’s lives flashed before their eyes. For me, it was only those four women. As Ayda’s blade bore down, I suddenly had a feeling like I didn’t want to die. It caught me off guard, and my heart skipped a beat. It was too late now.
“Ahhhhhh!” She let out a pained scream and released her will; her body disappeared from in front of me and appeared in front of the other Theo instead.
“No!” It was the only word he could let out.
He didn’t even manage to bring up his sword before she had taken his head from his shoulders. The scene that felt like it had taken a minute finished in under a second. The room watched as the other Theo’s head toppled to the ground. It rolled a few steps away, stopping near the feet of one of the guards, who seemed to have turned a bit pale at the sight. Ayda was breathing very hard. Her face was red like she had just run a marathon.
As sudden as her action, I took four steps forward and grabbed the back of her shirt. In her state, she didn’t resist as I suddenly yanked her back into my arms. She let out a cry of alarm as I pulled her away. At that moment, blood splurted out of the top of his neck. It would have splattered her where she was standing.
“Wh-what are you doing?” She demanded, her teeth clenched.
I didn’t have to answer, as a commotion occurred as the body collapsed to the floor. The head of Theo had started to change. The skin had turned grey, and the features had altered a bit. The hair turned from blonde to black. The eyes turned red. In a few moment’s time, the head was no longer that of Theo’s, but that of a devil. The body similarly changed into a devilish form. Ayda’s mouth fell open as she looked at it. I let her go and took a step back. Silence permeated the room for several moments.
“B-brother…” Akkar walked forward, a suddenly ingratiating smile on his face. “I… I knew it was you all along. I’m so glad this was settled. Auntie Ayda. Your power of deductive reasoning is exemplary as always. Of course, you must return to your cell, but I will definitely hold this in consideration when contemplating your release. Brother, things can go back to the way they were. Isn’t this great?”
I looked over at the pathetic man standing there. He was set up by Theo since the beginning. The real Theo had died who knew how long ago and had been replaced by a devil. That devil had convinced Akkar to run a coup. He played on his paranoia. Perhaps there was even some devil magic involved. The idiot, from the very beginning, had just been used by the devil to destabilize the country. Theo had killed Onvyr. He had known about the goblin’s tablet and thus driven them under the country to cause even more havoc. With the entire population exhausted from nightmares and scared, he used the opportunity to stage a coup.
However, what was safer than being in charge? It was to become the brother and confidant of the one in charge. Even the two sisters were part of it. He probably had planned to enslave them and use them to further manipulate Akkar. As for the King, he never expected a thing, because his eyes had been focused on Akkar, not Theo. Had the devil tried to seize the throne himself, the King might have seen through his identity and plans. By turning the brother into a proxy, he had almost completely succeeded. He just didn’t account for another devil showing up.
“You seem to be mistaken, Brother… I am not Theo.” I said, looking up at Akkar.
He had already been corrupted by the devil’s magic. The more I looked at him, the more certain I was of it. His paranoia, his fear, and his desire for the throne, nothing could stem that at this point.
“Y-you’re not my brother?” his eyes widened.
“I suppose you are my brother, in law at least.” I dropped my illusion magic, which wasn’t done with a magical potion like the unnamed devils.
Several of the guards gasped, completely taken aback that there were, in fact, two devils, and no Theos. However, none of them would recognize me just by sight. Akkar might have, but that wouldn’t have changed anything. As realization showed on his face, and his eyes widened, he started stepping back away.
“G-g-gua-guar-eh!” Just as he was calling for a guard, he stopped.
A dumbfounded look appeared on his face. He turned around, only then revealing a knife was sticking out of his back, and a girl standing behind him. It was Saria. She was staring at him, angrily and defiantly. If the guards were shocked before, now they were completely lost. There wasn’t a single person who even dared breath.
“That’s for trying to sell my sister, and I like cattle!” She snarled. “Now join our brothers in the netherworld. You were never fit to be King!”
“You?” Rather than afraid or angry, he just seemed shocked.
He fell to his knees and then collapsed to the ground. A few guards moved to him instinctively, but her savage strike to the back had been well-aimed. She had reached and pierced his heart. He was already dead by the time he hit the floor.
Bala walked over and stood back to back with Saria. Her sword was still out, and it made her declaration abundantly clear. It was rare the usually cold woman showed any sign of affection, if ever. At this moment, she told Saria everything she needed to know. A tear fell down her cheek as she reached back and touched the back of Bala’s hand.
“Well, how could I not follow my wife.” I broke the sudden silence, casually walking next to her.
“Who asked you!” Saria glared at me, but a blush formed on her cheeks nonetheless.
I grabbed her hand and casually walked over to the hidden vent, which had been opened when Bala came through. Lucy and General Tucci got the idea and followed us. The guards, without leadership and barely even understanding what happened, were at a complete loss of how to react. The only watched as we slipped out of the throne room, one at a time. Only Ayda seemed to have any clarity of mind. She watched us the entire time, but she didn’t move from her spot as she watched us leave.
As I was the last person in the room, she suddenly spoke. “What should I tell them?”
I glanced around at the guards and magicians, still stuck frozen and helpless. “Tell them the truth. A devil infiltrated the castle. The princes were all killed. The princesses were all ensnared. And the King abdicated.”
“And you? You’re going after Gantar, aren’t you? He’s the rightful King now.”
“You could always stop me.”
She bit her lip bitterly. “You… pulled me away from that blood. I could have become infected. You saved my life. For that, I won’t pursue you this once. However, next time we meet, I don’t guarantee I won’t kill you.”
“Next time we meet, you may not want to.” I shrugged, then ducked into the hole.
It was only after I disappeared that the guards started moving again, almost like a string had been cut that was binding them. It was only a minute later that bells of alarm were triggered throughout the castle. However, using the tunnels, we escaped the city without incident. Shortly after, we had reunited with my mother and Aeryn. I was surprised to see that Captain Moar and the other guard were there as well, waiting to take up their posts once again. We were on our way toward escaping the country by the end of the day. With the use of their underground network, it was difficult to pin us down. Our arrest warrants were clearly issued, but what they intended to do with us if we were caught, that wasn’t known.
“So, you really plan to do it?” Saria demanded, unhappy that her wedding night was spent in an underground cave. “You plan to go to the land of fairies? They hate devils the most!”
I nodded, looking toward the direction North. “I won’t leave Olivia in that man’s hands. It’s time to visit, mother and oldest sister.”