20th of Elre, 1733
Her first death was, in her opinion, justifiable and long awaited—even now. How long would it take her to save a life worth living?
This is what she thought of, of all things as she was being led through the wide and twisting hallways of Kaerndale Castle. It was a mistake, bringing her here. Looking into the guards eyes as she passed them, she knew just how much they feared her. She could feel it resonating from their hearts and souls, but beside that fear was a burning animosity. But their hatred would never sink as far as her’s did.
Nobody hated humans as strongly as Deirdre.
Twelve Crusaders, as they liked to call themselves, were guiding her to the courtroom where she would live out her final judgement. Two ahead, four behind and three on either side of her. Cutlasses draped from their sides with pistols in their belts and rifles on their backs. Their uniforms were all alabaster with gold inlay and lining, and she thought of how pretty those uniforms looked after she painted them red.
It wasn’t just them watching her, however. Up in the balconies overlooking the grand hallway were those of the Royal Guard, aiming their pistols down at her, ready to put her down at a moment’s notice.
Perhaps she could, but not with these shackles bounding her wrists or the castles very walls suppressing her energy. Even if she managed to kill the ones around her, she would be shot too many times, too risky.
The silence was deafening—so she started to laugh. She realized how easy this could be if she would just let her true form break free, to break these shackles and subsequently break their necks. She cursed the humans for creating wards that could weaken a demon’s powers, for creating crystal bullets and knives engraved with runes that could very well spill her blood. She almost admired them for trying to hard. Almost.
The Guards on the balconies grew more weary as she chuckled to herself, ready to skip and sing a song. But the Crusaders were on edge, their fists tight. They wouldn’t say a word to her, not even to silence her for fear of her sharp words, her devil’s tongue. She was genuinely surprised that hadn’t gagged her to keep her from exactly that, or to keep her from biting at least.
They pushed open the next set of doors, stepping into the next hallway, practically a copy of the last but with red carpet over the ivory marble. Her laughter stopped as he came into sight: General Valerian. His hair was long, a soft blond pushed away from his twisted eyes with three scratches down the side of his neck. His uniform was white like their’s, except with a long white cape with red inlay, clasped with three golden chains. Over his arms were metal gauntlets and she could glimpse the shine of crystal in them.
The only thing that kept her from lunging at him then and there was imagining his crisp armour turned red and his head on a pike as he bled on this marble floors. The temptation became unbearable, but she just kept her eyes steady, and clenched her fists together.
He was the one who started this war—the one who started the concentration camps, it was his fault so many demons were enslaved, slaughtered or worse.
The cloak flicked behind him as he walked to meet her the rest of the way, but the Crusaders remained encircled around her, only the front two stepping aside. He had a smug on his ugly face as he approached her, standing almost a foot taller than her. Deirdre’s blood boiled at the sight of this monster, and if she hadn’t felt the deepest remorse, she certainly did now.
“Hello, Bloodrose.” His voice was abrasive, looking down at the small demon. “We meet at last.”
She remained silent, her ruby eyes narrowing. If it weren’t for these very walls that suppressed her, his throat would already be split open and she would bathe in his blood. If only she was granted the time and place to keep him alive for days, torturing him, making sure he understood even a glimpse of what he had done to her kind.
“Silent treatment I see.” He clicked his tongue. “What a shame.” He reached back then punched her straight in the gut, making her bend over with a gasp of pain. It wasn’t the strength of the punch, but the sting of the crystal plated into his gauntlets.
He brought the same hand back up to her throat, grabbing and pressing his fingers into her throat making her snarl at him as he forced her to look at him. But his look of satisfaction made her regret even that.
“I would just love to have a few hours to have some fun with you, but King Challen is growing eager to dispose of Helena’s greatest threat.”
The final set of doors were pushed open by some of the guard, and next thing Deirdre knew, Valerian grabbed the chains that bound her and forced her into the throne room. It was dimly lit, but either side was raised up with seats that overlooked the center and to the far end was The Ashen Throne. The room itself was dimly lit, only by flickering candlelight, the stained glass windows revealing to her it was already pitch black out.
Around her, the court whispered.
They were all hidden behind masques, most full faced, all of them silver. The Masked Order always hid behind their masques—anything to hide from the bloodshed, the carnage, the corruption. When the war began, she also adorned a masque, black with rubies like roses, but her reasons were different. It didn’t stop her from feeling naked without it, now, as they all looked upon this demon’s face.
She had almost forgotten Valerian, but as they got near the end he gripped her arm and threw her to the ground. She caught herself on her hands on knees, her shackles smacking the granite floors and echoing.
Valerian placed a fist over his heart, lowering his head. “Til’ death I serve thee—Lyre Challen, King of Helena.”
Challen held his hand out, allowing him to continue.
“My King!” He announced. “I bring you Deirdre, a Devil of the Underworld! Single handily this demon has destroyed at least eight of our dozen concentration camps spaced around Esmer, it has freed hundreds of demons and killed thousands of guards in my military! Every household in Helena fears her very name.” He gives the courts a moment as they murmer amongst themselves.
Deirdre’s eyes do not deter from the King’s, her eyes wide and unwavering. She would never bow to a King that ever let this happen. The King, Lyre Challen on the other hand, sat too relaxed in his throne, watching her with tired brown eyes. His masque, unlike the rest, was pure gold and had a tear drop beneath the right eye.
Valerian continued, “My King, as long as this monster lives, your land will never know peace.”
She bit her tongue. Anything she were to say would only fuel him further, so she dug her nails into her palm.
“This land would already be purified of every last demon if it weren’t for this one Devil. I beseech you...” He went down on one knee, placing his fist over his heart and Deirdre’s eyes flickered with sickness, that he would dare use the Academy’s salute when he debolished them to build up the military.
Blood trickled down Deirdre’s palm and knuckles from her nails digging in too far, but she didn’t relent.
Valerian looked back up at the King with intent eyes. “Let us remove this threat once and for all and finally complete our Crusade to purge this land of all that is wicked.”
The courtroom was silent then, and Deirdre could feel their eyes on her. The King stared at her, as though contemplating, but she wondered what there was to contemplate. There was only one right answer, even she knew that.
He finally stood, and everyone bowed their heads out of respect. Everyone except for Deirdre, whose eyes didn’t deter, filling with hatred. He was not her King.
“This demon’s existence threatens the accomplishments of the war.” He finally spoke, his voice low and hoarse. “Kill her—and the others will fall as well.”
“Yes, my King.”
The time being led back to the execution grounds outside was much shorter than it had been being led inside. Perhaps it was Valerian’s tight grip bruising her arm as he roughly pulled her along, eager to put a bullet in her brain. But she blamed herself—she was daydreaming. Not of how she would slaughter them and make her dramatic escape to the Hell’s Collector, she wasn’t even daydreaming about her mistakes that led her to this moment.
She thought of everything she had done to reach this point, of her title and her “accomplishments”. But it meant nothing to her in this moment. It didn’t matter what she did. She would now die alone, once again.
She started laughing, again, everyone’s faces growing weary with their fingers eagerly over the triggers, itching to put her down now to get it over with, to end their fear, to end this war. Her laughter brought them confusion, and soon, she was hysterical, they had no idea just how mad she was. Valerian glared at her, and jerked her along more forcefully but she didn’t stop, and tears filled her eyes from her hysteria.
Once in the courtyard, he threw her down to her knees again as the other Crusaders surrounded her. She looked up at the dreary grey sky, still laughing, low and menacing. It was a cold day, she could see her breath and soon, snow would begin to fall.
Valerian circled her at a fool’s attempt to intimidate her, but she still laughed, watching him with maniacal eyes. It got the better of him when he punched her across the nose, finally bringing her laughter to a stop as blood spilled from her nose. But she kept her grin.
He took out his pistol, with runes engraved down the side and he held it to her temple, cocking the hammer back.
“Choose your last words, monster.” He commanded.
She stared up at him for a moment. She had to make her decision—if now now, then when?
Her eyes turned to the small drops of blood falling from her torn palms and making small spatters on the stone beneath. She turned her eyes back to Valerian.
“You want a monster?” Her smirk widened. “I’ll give you a monster.”