Someone was cutting through the grass, trying to find me as I heard their shouts echoing in the distance. I pried myself from the ground, the blades ripping at the roots as they tried to contain me. Sitting up, I saw the hallucinations glaring at me, anger upon their faces as their hold weakened.
“I know who I am, and I know who my friends are,” I said, grunting as I stood up from the fall. “And you are not them.”
Holding my ground, I closed my eyes as I let the flames flow forth all around me, burning the field as the apparitions disappeared into oblivion. When I opened my eyes, the entire area was nothing but charred and burning ash, smoke spiraling into the air from all around as I saw the hunters and my friends lying upon the ground with their eyes open.
My heart feared the worst as I rushed over to Gabriel and Josh, the two bodies closest to me, and shook them by their shoulders. They blinked and gasped for air as whatever was in the field was destroyed. I looked around as the others slowly sat up, blinking at the chaos before them.
Callan bounded over to me with Fenrir as he dropped to his knees, enveloping me in a soul-crushing embrace. I heard his breath catch in his throat as he tried to hold back tears, his face overcome with joy at having found me. It surprised me how invested he was in my well-being, but then again, Callan was now a part of this family.
“I thought—I mean I had hoped—”
“It’s okay, Callan,” I said with a smile trying to console him. “We’ve dealt with worse. I’m not going to let a little bit of grass be the death of me. Not now, not ever.”
He hugged me tightly another time as if afraid to let me go. As he did so, my senses rang throughout my entire body as I pushed him away from me. An arrow embedded itself in the ground a few feet away, as I turned to see where the fire was coming from. Beleth and his men were riding towards us on enormous horned lizard-like creatures, their tongues slithering in and out as they caught our scent.
“The smoke from the field tipped them off!” Seth shouted to me as his crew regrouped, surrounding my friends and me. “We’ll take care of this; you all get to safety quickly!”
Callan pulled at my hand, trying to get me to move with the others, but I held my ground firm. I wasn’t about to let Seth and the other hunters die for me without fighting beside them. They deserved more from their Queen than a coward willing to run away as soon as a battle ensued.
“Kas, what are you doing?” Gabriel yelled at me as I walked to stand beside Seth.
“You get our friends to that wall,” I said. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“Not without you, Kas,” Gabriel said, taking my hand. “I’m not leaving you behind. This is our fight too.”
The others turned back towards the hunters, stepping up by their sides, ready to lay down their lives for the cause. As much as I wanted to protect them, I had to let them make their own choices as they allowed me to do. I had to start trusting them to help me instead of taking all the burden upon myself. We needed to work together instead of me trying to bear the brunt to protect everyone.
I glanced to my right and left side, seeing Seth and Trista there. Trista strung her bow aiming it directly at her fellow demons on the other side of the field, ready to fire on my command. Seth pulled out dueling blades, steadying himself in a defense position. It was hard for all of us standing there having to take on our friends and family, but we needed to do what was just.
Beleth kicked his beast’s side as it crawled forward onto the charred remains of the field, its head swaying from side to side. I stepped away from my small army and crossed the field, meeting him halfway. He was just as I remembered, a brute of a demon with his shaggy mane of hair and his long beard with individual woven braids. His appearance was minuscule in comparison to the creature he rode in on.
“Beleth,” I began. “I thought I caught your scent in the woods that night. You had us all fooled.”
“You weren’t fooled. I simply had a higher bid,” Beleth corrected as he stepped down from his steed, the lizard hissing in my direction. He patted it on its shoulder before taking a brave step forward. “Do you like our companions? They’re called Molochs. They can sniff out even the faintest scent. We’ve all been looking for you. You took out some of my good men along the way, and I see you persuaded others.”
“That I did, and I didn’t have to offer them a dime,” I growled, my rage simmering below my calm exterior.
“Ay, you only offered them a false narrative,” he scoffed. “Leviathan doesn’t fill our heads with dreams and feelings. He gives us actual results, tangible items we can use.”
“Leviathan is a liar and only wants the throne so he can continue with Lucifer’s work—”
“And is that so bad? Following in your father’s footsteps, blessed be the Dark Lord,” Beleth mocked. “How can someone so weak come from someone so powerful? You’ve shunned the gifts you’ve been given.”
“The only thing I’ve rejected is allowing Hell to fall into ruin because of selfish, misguided judgment,” I stated coldly. “How could you betray your home? Your realm?”
“I have betrayed nothing!” Beleth yelled with fury. “Hell will be great again—”
“Hell will fall!” I shouted back. “Your pride blinds you to the truths you see before you! Hell will only survive if we stand together and do what we were always entrusted to do: to punish the wicked to restore balance and order to the chaos we’ve created. If I have to kill you because you choose to stand in my way, then so be it.”
Beleth gripped the reigns of the creature tighter in his fist, his knuckles turning white. Before I could react, an arrow blew past Beleth, embedding itself in my chest right over my heart. I buckled as I backed away from him, falling to the ground, stunned at Beleth and his archer’s audacity. I heard Seth yell from behind me as his soldiers charged forward towards Beleth’s side of the field.
They clashed as their swords and daggers flew at each other, fighting over me. Beleth walked over to me as I lay upon the ground, trying to breathe. He pulled his leather gloves further up his wrists as he knelt down beside me. I wanted to move, but I couldn’t from the sheer shock. His hand touched the side of my cheek as he stared into my eyes.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “You were such a beautiful demon, a work of art, really. All that power and drive gone to waste. When your headmistress asked me to train you, I only volunteered so I could sense your movements, study you. It was so easy to collect your scent for my hunters. Of course, this time, I simply had to follow Seth and your pitiful followers. Leviathan sends his regards.”
Beleth stood up, kicking me in the gut before leaving me to my own devices in the incinerated field. All my senses seemed to have left me as I watched the battle carry on without me, demons falling on both sides. Was this how it was going to be? Civil unrest within my own Kingdom?
I sat up slowly, propping myself up with one of my hands as I reached for the arrow protruding from my chest. Pulling it out slowly, blood trickled from the wound. I tugged at the neckline of my tank top where the arrow had pierced through to find it had missed. The tarot card I had held on to for all this time had a hole in its center protecting me from a fatal blow. As I retrieved it and held it between my forefinger and thumb, the card disintegrated into dust, its magic finally spent.
“Thank you, Aunt Helen,” I whispered to myself as the small gash healed itself. While the others held back Beleth’s men, I searched for him through the bodies. He was on the back of his creature again, stabbing at our troops with a spear.
I felt a whirl of air behind me. Spinning around, I dodged a sword as it came down over the space I had been in. Retrieving my dagger from its holster, I caught the sword with its blade, holding steadfast. The hunter roared as he swung at me again, this time from the left at mid-level, trying to throw my off guard as he pulled out a small blade, slicing into my other side. Hissing with pain, I grabbed his wrist with my other hand and head-butted him, rendering him unconscious.
A loud yell told me I had another attacker on me as I dove out of the way. An arrow drove past me, barely scraping by me as I looked to see where it came from. Another hunter was standing a few yards away with a bow drawn taut ready for the next fire. Pulling the first hunter close to me, I maneuvered him in front of the second, an arrow piercing his chest as I threw my dagger towards the archer.
Rushing over to the archer, I plucked the dagger from its position as I sensed another hunter behind me. Gearing for an attack, the hunter put their hands up, showing they were friendlies in this battle. Nodding, I ran away from them as I lifted myself into the air with my wings flying straight for Beleth.
I felt a sharp sting as another arrow ripped through my right wing, burning a hole straight through it. It sent me spiraling downward as more flaming arrows landed upon the battlefield from an unknown location without a specific target. They went through bounty hunters on both teams indiscriminately.
Picking myself up from the ground, I spread my wings to shield myself from the onslaught of arrows as they pierced through, blood running down my back and shoulders. They were making it extremely difficult to fly as the wounds would need more time to heal. Glancing over, I saw my friends picking off hunters one by one, defending themselves and their realm.
The arrows ceased as a large ball of fire was released into the sky. It was heading straight for Ebony and Josh’s location. Racing towards them, I swung my hand out using my telekinetic powers to divert the large mass away from them. Surprised, they turned to see me, acknowledging me with a quick nod before resuming the fight.
“Kas! Take Fenrir!” Gabriel shouted as the hellhound leaped into the air beside me. Grabbing onto his neck, I swung myself up onto his strong back as he weaved through the sea of corpses.
“Kas!” a voice shouted from nearby as a spear hurled towards me. Catching it in my hand, Fenrir jumped over one of Beleth’s men and his Moloch. The giant lizard snapped at us in the air but fell back, unable to reach Fenrir’s height.
We landed on the other side with a jolt as Fenrir gained speed towards Beleth. I held on to his neck, trying to keep myself from falling off as he turned to the side sharply, giving me the perfect angle to catapult into the air. Spreading my wings to help me aim my fall, Beleth glanced up as he saw me descending upon him with the spear in my hand.
The Moloch twisted its head around in front of Beleth’s body as I stabbed through its skull. The giant creature fell to its side, the spear sticking out of its eye socket as yellow liquid oozed down its face. Beleth fell to the ground, his leg trapped underneath his noble steed as I took the spear and pointed it at Beleth’s throat. He grimaced at the sight of a weapon of his own design being used as the instrument marking his death.
“Do you concede?” I roared, raising the spear above me with both hands ready to administer the death blow. “How many more must die because of this?”
Beleth laughed, a reaction that fanned the flames of my anger as I waited for his answer. His beady dark eyes stared into my face, a smile upon his lips. Lowering my spear by a few inches, his amusement confused me. It wasn’t every day that someone was faced with their demise and decided to laugh in its face.
“You truly believe that I have any control over my hunters anymore?” he chuckled, struggling to free himself. “They obey Leviathan now, not me. My command wouldn’t make a difference to them one way or another.”
“Your command means a lot more than what you say. You and I both know that,” I growled. “If you do not concede, then I have no other choice.”
“Do it!” he yelled, spit flying from his mouth. “Kill me exactly like we both know you want to! I will never follow you!”
Turning my head to look away from the demon who mentored me, I held the spear aloft ready to strike. Looking back, Beleth’s eyes grew wide as he saw the weapon crash down into the ground beside his head. His gaze crawled up the length of the staff as it rested upon my face.
“As much as you want me to kill you, I won’t,” I said. “Your punishment is living with the fact you led your hunters to slaughter in the Fields of Wrath, and this spear will withstand all of time, signifying your greatest downfall.”
As my words rang out, the clashing of metal died down, the fighting coming to a standstill. Bounty hunters from all over the field stood and watched their fallen Lesser King. Others from around the boundary areas within the trees came out to the field’s sidelines, ceasing their fire. My allies weren’t sure if they were to continue with their fight or to stand down.
As I returned to the nearest group of our people, the whisperings began. I could hear them all, but it was coming from within them. They were all speaking to me as if something had clicked within me, this universal knowing between us. Beleth stared from the ground as his hunters came forward in a great show of solidarity. One by one, they dropped to their knee in front of me, an arm over their chest across their heart.
My friends came to stand beside me as we stood together, overseeing the crowd. We had somehow done the impossible. I had convinced Beleth’s men of my worth as their leader, and it all stemmed from my act of mercy.
Some of Beleth’s men rushed over to him, helping him from underneath his steed. They dragged him over to me by his arms as he protested against them, a courageous endeavor to portray against their ruler. They forced Beleth to his knees as he spat at them, clawing and cursing them to no end. Holding strong towards their King, his hunters restrained him with a pair of shackles and waited for my orders.
“How?” he said, his voice cracking. The pressure was building for him to concede, and yet he showed no sign of doing so.
“My dear Beleth, you are hereby tried for your crimes upon this realm, before myself and my council. How do you plea?” I asked, giving him one last opportunity to repent.
Beleth lowered his head before bowing his head towards the ground, shaking. “I am, but your humble servant, my Queen.”
The hunters cheered as their King acknowledged his defeat, sealing his fate to mine. Even with this concession, his punishment would have to be carried out due to his treacherous way, one that would be determined by the other Archdemons during a fair trial once I gained my throne. For now, he was my prisoner.
The hunters picked him up off the ground and carried him away as the others stayed behind to aid their fallen comrades. I could only imagine how hard it was to see their brothers and sisters littering the field, a battle that never had to happen. With the hunters now firmly on my side, I had a chance against Leviathan.
“Seth, I need you to do something for me,” I said.
“Anything,” he answered.
“I need you to journey across the realm and tell the others of what occurred here today. They need to know that I’m here and what we’re capable of,” I explained. “Find as many allies for our cause as you can. I’m taking this war to Leviathan in the Kingdom.”
“Yes, my Queen,” he said as he took off with a few other hunters to spread my words.
“I’ll get all of you to the Kingdom walls. They won’t see us coming,” Trista assured as Callan set off to help her ready the troops.
Gabriel sauntered over to me with a grin on his face. It had been a while since I had seen a smile that wide pass his lips. He touched one of my wings, looking at the wounds I had endured and noticed the slow healing accompanying them.
“Do you want me to see if I can speed this up for you?” he asked, touching my cheek lightly. “It looks painful.”
“Yes, right after you kiss me,” I answered.
“My pleasure, my Queen,” he said as he brushed a kiss upon my lips. My skin ignited under his hot touch. My want and need for him had been amplified by the adrenaline of the battle. He held his own against the hunters with his magic, a skill I didn’t know he possessed.
He pulled back from me as I craved his touch. “When I saw that arrow come for you, I was beside myself. I, honestly, thought I had lost you.”
“You almost did,” I recalled. “Remember that tarot card?”
“The one from the Samhain ritual?” he asked, amazed.
“I tucked it right here,” I replied, placing my hand over my heart. “I had forgotten about it myself, but it saved me. The magic is gone now, but it’s the only reason I survived.”
Gabriel took me into his arms without saying a word. I felt his tears fall upon my face as he held me close. I knew that it scared him beyond belief. It was the same feeling I knew all too well that replayed over and over for me. The only thing we could do was protect each other until this was all over.
“Kas…” Ebony said from beside me, her voice pleading. While I couldn’t see her eyes in her demonic form, I knew that there must’ve been tears.
“Ebony? What’s wrong?” I asked, fear striking my heart.
“It’s about Penelope…”