There was a long pause.
Demon Lord Mephistos cleared his throat, and then pushed himself further up on the bed. His posture looked uncomfortable, and Kotori stared at him with a frown on her face. Everyone seemed to expect him to say something — as if he had some kind of secret plan that could magically fix everything.
He was the Demon Lord, a monster among monsters.
The human invasion had devastated the Demon Continent, and they had just barely escaped the Hero's Solar Armageddon. It was an existential crisis for their people, and the foundation of their kingdom was quivering on twigs. Although the humans had retreated, they were sure to be back in greater force.
If there was anyone who possessed a hidden trump card, it could only be the Demon Lord.
Everyone held their breaths, waiting for him to speak.
The horned man coughed once.
"Let's start with any good news first," Mephistos said with a grimace.
There was no response from his subordinates.
"Anyone?" He asked.
However, nobody moved. Kotori took that to be an extremely bad sign. There were no reassuring words from the Demon Lord, and none of the demons were smiling. The atmosphere was grim, almost as if all of them were at a funeral.
"You are alive, Your Majesty," the bull-headed demon said. "That counts as good news."
The harpy rolled her eyes in disgust.
Kotori wasn't sure if that was supposed to be a joke.
Demon Lord Mephistos sighed and sat up straighter.
"Fair enough. I guess I count for something, although I am at a fraction of my strength. The Hero still possesses my right arm, and I was slain once already. Many of the enchantments that were bound to my life are broken. The capital is defenseless without that magic. My arsenal of spells is depleted, and it will take centuries to recover. Right now, I am probably objectively weaker than even Bascilla."
The silver-skinned naga who had been listening wordless the entire time suddenly shifted.
"Even me?" The snake woman hissed.
"Yes Bascilla," the Demon Lord said. "We will all need to be flexible moving forward. On that note, you will now be the Prime Minister."
The snake seemed surprised.
"But I am just the gardener," she protested.
Mephistos ignored her complaints. He picked up a pile of documents and quickly flipped through the thick ream of paper.
"I need you to put together an operations staff. Fill the empty positions and get an emergency government functional. We will need disaster relief immediately, but keep the people poised for a possible evacuation. Abandon the outlying provinces and concentrate our people in the cities with an Underworld gate. I'll trust you to handle the supply chain logistics."
Bascilla blinked a few times, completely speechless. She wasn't sure how to react, but there wasn't any way she could decline. The enormity of the task in front of her was intimidating, but someone had to do it.
The Demon Lord turned his attention to the bird woman.
"Aracari, you are now the highest ranking officer in the military. As the acting commander-in-chief, and I will leave everything to you. Fortify, regroup, and prepare your warriors for the second attack. Without my enchantments or the barrier, you will need to improvise a defense strategy."
"Our ranks need to be replenished," the harpy spoke out with concern. "We took too many casualties the first time around, and I need more soldiers to mount an effective resistance. We need mass conscription."
"Take any volunteers, but your objective isn't to win any battles." Mephistos turned her request down. "If the humans attack again, everything is already lost. Organize your army around a retreat strategy. Utilize tactics to delay the attackers and buy time for a total civilian evacuation."
"I don't see why we're doing this. If we are going to evacuate anyways, why wait until the last minute? My warriors will pay a heavy price fighting a running retreat. The Underworld evacuation should begin now while we have the time. Either that, or we go all in and fight until the last of us are standing. I don't like this middle-of-the-road approach."
"Lord Mephistos is gambling," the bull-headed man interrupted at this point.
The harpy grimaced even further.
"He's counting on the fact that the humans won't attack again," the bull continued.
"Hah? And what makes you think they wouldn't?" The harpy was upset.
"Not everything needs to be solved with muscle, Aracari," the snake woman hissed.
The bull-headed demon wandered towards the window in the Demon Lord's bedroom. Despite his muscular and enormous frame, he was pensive and thoughtful. It went against the stereotype Kotori was familiar with, but the minotaur seemed to be some kind of intellectual.
"The humans have a coalition army. They aren't exactly unified. If the coalition breaks, the humans will fall apart, and they will not attempt a second invasion."
Demon Lord Mephistos nodded along.
"And you have some way to magically make that happen, Ambassador Igor?" Aracari spoke sarcastically.
"Nothing's guaranteed," Mephistos spoke up. "But I agree with Igor and Bascilla. We stand a better chance sowing discord in the dark than trying to fight with our claws. We can't begin the evacuation right now. At the very least, we must present the facade that we are in good health, and we do not fear them. We must make them believe that a second invasion will be costly and bloody. In fact, I plan to show my face a little too, to see if I can intimidate them a little."
"So basically it's just a bluff."
The Demon Lord glanced at Kotori for a brief moment.
"Bluffing can be quite effective," he said. "I think it's worth a try."
The minotaur met the Demon Lord's eyes for a moment, and they appeared to have some kind of silent mutual understanding amongst each other. Kotori wasn't sure exactly what kind of relationship they shared, but it was obvious that they trusted each other extensively. Out of the three demons, he appeared the most relaxed in the presence of the Demon Lord. She wondered how they had gotten to know each other.
"No promotion for me?" The minotaur joked lightheartedly at the window. "I'd love to hang around the palace more, now that you've actually gotten some sleep. You actually seem nice now."
"No." Mephistos responded flatly. "You do better work overseas. You cause trouble when you're home."
"Fine. Suit yourself. I'll just go spark a civil war elsewhere." Igor spoke indignantly.
"Exactly. It doesn't have to be perfect, but don't get caught. Pull a few strings and see if you can get the humans pointing fingers at each other. They hate each other already, and the Hero's kingdom already suffered a major embarrassment. It's just a matter of critical mass."
"You're no fun, Mephistos."
"I'd prefer it if you didn't gamble on everyone's lives, Igor," Aracari gave an acidic glare.
"Hey, I'm usually a pretty lucky guy."
"Ugh. I can't believe we're trusting him to do this."
"It's good to lean on everyone's strengths," Demon Lord Mephistos said tactfully.
"Hey Mel, I know you're weak right now, but it's really good to have you back."
100% chance of getting $20 Votes: 9 22.5%
90% chance of getting $25 Votes: 1 2.5%
75% chance of getting $35 Votes: 2 5.0%
50% chance of getting $80 Votes: 2 5.0%
25% chance of getting $320 Votes: 3 7.5%
10% change of getting $2000 Votes: 4 10.0%
5% chance of getting $8000 Votes: 3 7.5%
1% chance of getting $200,000 Votes: 2 5.0%
0.1% chance of getting $20 million USD Votes: 2 5.0%
0.01% chance of getting $2 billion USD Votes: 5 12.5%
I refuse to participate in this game! >.< Votes: 7 17.5%