Two armies clashed at the gates of the city that had once been called Azoria. Sword met sword, lance met lance as wave upon wave of humans crashed powerfully against the defensive wall of demons. Shouts echoed throughout the air: shouts of pain, shouts of fury, shouts that called for help, shouts that sang for blood. Each wave of humans that approached the enemy approached in disciplined order, but that order was lost once the combat began – there was no place for formations and ranks in the melee of battle. The vastly more numerous humans threw themselves at the vastly more powerful demons, forcing their opponents to fight numerous enemies at once, overwhelming the enemy with sheer force of numbers. The demon army held steady, but it was clear to any observer that they were beginning to lose ground.

In the midst of the battle, bringing her weapon to bear in large, sweeping strokes, was Vessel. She struck down opponent after opponent seemingly without effort, each cleave of her sword felling three, five, ten opponents. Despite having thrown herself into the thick of battle from the beginning, not a scratch was to be found on her person. The blood which had soaked her hair and armor, staining the pure white with ominous crimson, was not her own. Clearing out the last of the enemies in her immediate vicinity, she turned her clouded eyes in the direction of Regis, the Demon King, who stood at the rear of his armies, rapidly issuing orders to his defenders.

The Demon King bore an appearance which was truly fitting of his status. Taller than the other demons by a full head and a half, he was garbed in pitch black armor that seemed to swallow the light around it. A majestic pair of black, reptilian wings sprouted from behind him, folded up against his back. Shoulder-length red hair rested neatly on his head, framing a pair of clear, intelligent blue eyes. A glowing red brand that ran across his face signalled his status as the King of all Demons. A black-hilted longsword sat in a black scabbard clipped to his waist. A black greatsword, with an intricately carved hilt design and an obsidian blade, occupied his right hand, the tip of the blade resting against the ground. He observed the battle with a calm, calculating gaze, issuing orders quickly and efficiently to his men. He was clearly practiced in the art of war – none of his orders were wasteful. Each order to move invariably reinforced the part of his defensive formation that needed the most help, exponentially increasing the difficulty faced by the human attackers. He addressed changes in the battle situation quickly, effectively, and efficiently.

Still, the demon army was losing ground. As coordinated as it was, it could not withstand the onslaught of such a great number of divinely-inspired humans. It was only a matter of time before the Demon King’s hand would be forced. Vessel had offered to settle matters with a duel when the battle had begun, but the Demon King had wisely declined. It was the logical thing to do. As defenders, the demons had the advantage in a battle of attrition, and it made more strategic sense to abuse this advantage and carefully plan out a strategy for victory, rather than stake the outcome of the battle on a duel that could go either way. Unfortunately for the Demon King, the many traps and stratagems he had prepared for the invaders – such as the spiked trenches, the tar pits and the numerous hidden ambushes – had been made known to Vessel through divine providence, and had thus been easily avoided by the human army. As a result, the demons were being forced to fight a fully defensive war to keep the enemies away from their King.

The Demon King was, thus far, doing an admirable job of overseeing the defence, but Vessel knew he was at the breaking point. Vessel needed to create a situation wherein the opportunity cost of potential lives lost in a protracted battle outweighed the risks of agreeing to a duel. She knew very clearly that her own forces would not be able to outlast the enemy in a war of attrition, and it was thus imperative that she pressure the enemy into a decisive duel. It was for this reason she had joined the fray from the moment the battle started. Her objective was to achieve a rapid escalation in lives lost, such that the Demon King’s only rational choice was to duel.

Sensing the approach of numerous enemies around her, Vessel hefted her sword and cleaved through the body of her first would-be assailant, reversing her grip on the weapon and driving it backward through the body of the second attacker who had attempted to take advantage of a blind spot. Without stopping her motion, she continued the downward swing of the weapon – with the corpse of an enemy skewered on it – and angled it into an upward arc, impaling the third body upon her blade as well. Finally, she reversed her grip on the weapon again and dislodged the two corpses with a powerful kick, sending them flying into a group of enemies who had been charging her. As they dived aside to avoid the pair of bodies rapidly approaching their position, they found themselves abruptly impaled by a set of swords which seemed to be made of pure light – though their composition did nothing to reduce their corporeality.

Straightening, Vessel turned her blind eyes to the Demon King again and glared at him, holding eye contact. The Demon King coolly held her gaze, unblinking, a passive face of indifference masking a calculating mind. Then, not taking his eyes off Vessel’s, he raised his greatsword into the air. Seeing this, Vessel channeled magic into her voice, to make it echo across the battlefield.

“All human forces. Cease combat and withdraw with caution.”

Any other army might have been confused or disoriented, but Vessel’s army instantly heeded the command and began retreating while keeping the enemy within sight. Such was the power of divine authority. Vessel’s commands were the commands of the gods. Obedience was mandatory, for those who held faith.

The demons, on the other hand, showed clear signs of confusion. However, their confusion quickly gave way to resolve as they began to stride forward. Before they could make much progress, however, a different, male voice rang out across the battlefield.

“All demon forces. Do not engage. Stand down.”

The voice was a youthful one, entirely unfitting of the imposing appearance which its owner possessed. Yet it also contained a sort of regal dignity, which radiated power and authority. The demons, hearing the command from their liege, stopped their advance and held their positions. The Demon King glared at Vessel. He expected her to obey the conventions of war. Vessel nodded and gave orders to her army to retreat to a distance of two kilometers away from the demons. When this had been done, she strode to the point in between the two armies and waited. Her patience was soon rewarded by the sight of the Demon King, flying over his army and landing in front of Vessel, contempt evident in his gaze.

“To think that I would be driven this far by a puppet of the gods.”

“Slander will get you nowhere, Regis. My sole purpose is to settle this battle in one decisive blow.”

The Demon King laughed in scorn.

“Watch your tongue. I do not intend to lose so easily. Not to a mere puppet, a mere doll.”

The Demon King raised his greatsword and levelled it at Vessel, the youthful quality of his voice unsuited to the venom that laced his words.

“I will cut your strings. I will tear you open. Perhaps then your god will learn that if he wishes to eradicate our race, he should come down here and do it in person.”

Vessel did not respond to the provocation. It was not a statement that deserved a response. A mere demon like him was not worthy of being dealt with personally by her Lord. She, as His proxy, would be more than sufficient for this execution. She again projected her voice across the battlefield.

“This will be a duel to the death. The loser’s army will cease combat and surrender. Interference of any form will render this duel invalid, and will be considered a re-initiation of hostilities.”

The Demon King scowled and raised his voice, repeating the statements that Vessel had made. Once these formalities had been handled, both Vessel and the Demon King took up battle stances. Then, without any forewarning, they rushed at each other and clashed.