Hellfire

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Chapter 23

While the troops stealthily surrounded the Kingdom’s walls, we waded through the stream’s murky waters near the far side away from the main entrance. It was easier to get close to the wall starting from the back and working our way slowly around to avert attention from any guards Leviathan had placed to apprehend us.

I felt along the stones, the water up to my chest as we walked in a single file spaced several yards apart. Glancing up, I saw a few guards gazing out over the countryside before moving along. Whoever Leviathan employed to protect the Kingdom from me weren’t the best guards out there. They were more aloof than anything, simply distracted by their lack of training and expertise as soldiers. My guess was that Leviathan had spared burner demons atop the walls while hoarding those with actual skill around himself inside the Kingdom.

Stumbling on rocks beneath my feet, my arm landed in the water as I tried to steady myself. The splashing sound alerted one of the guards above us, but he walked away, unbothered instead of glancing straight down. I breathed a sigh of relief as Trista glanced back at me, warning me to be careful and stay aware.

We passed underneath one of the various bridges leading into the city. According to Trista, this was the supply bridge, only available to those going straight to the castle for import and export.

“Down,” Trista hissed as an incoming cart rumbled over the dirt path right before hitting the stone bridge. We submerged ourselves underwater as we waited for the cart to make its way through the wooden gates. We could hear the clinking of metal and feel the wagon wheels’ vibration through the bridge and into the water around us. As soon as it entered the castle, we arose gasping for air.

We drew closer to our destination as Trista swam through deeper water. I followed her, my feet no longer able to touch the ground. Josh took ahold of Ashlin, aiding her through the whole process. Trista raised her hand, balling it into a fist, signaling for us to hold our stance until she investigated the area further. Dunking underwater, she was down for about a minute before we saw her resurface.

She motioned with her head for us to start moving forward as she went back down through the broken stonework in the wall. I held my breath as I went back below the dirty water, pulling myself by the stone’s edges to the other side. The tunnel was dark, so I had to feel my way along the wall until I finally saw a little light. Popping up from the water and into a dark corridor, Trista grabbed my arm, pulling me onto the floor out of the small opening so the next person could pass through.

Regaining my footing, I stood beside the broken floor, helping my friends quickly get out of the water. We worked efficiently in silence until our squad was entirely inside the small chamber. There were grates above us with a little light filtering down into the tunnel at various points, but other than that, the darkness was prevalent.

Glancing upward, I heard the city’s bustling pedestrians and saw the flickering of light they passed over the grates above. I had never seen the Kingdom, but I heard stories about it when I was younger from my mother. It had been created by the Archdemons with the help of my father’s celestial powers. While it would never surpass the real Eden, it was stable enough for us to live out our lives, especially for those who could no longer return to Earth. It was a loophole that gave demons a second chance at life.

Trista pulled out a sealed tube. Opening it, a map fell into her hands as she unrolled the paper. It revealed the intricate workings of the tunnels, our way to our final destinations. Holding the map out in front of her as if surveying it and the tunnel ahead, she rolled it back, placing it in its holder.

“The other teams should be overtaking the supply carts to the east and west of the Kingdom by now. They’ll be inside the city within the hour. We’ll get your friend while you go—”

“No, I’m coming with you, and once I know Penelope is safe, then I’ll go to the throne room alone,” I interrupted.

“Kas, that’s not the plan,” Gabriel insisted. “You have to get to your throne before something else happens.”

“And if you’re down in the dungeons and you get into trouble?” I asked.

“Let her come,” Ebony said, vouching for me. “We’ve never split up before. There’s no reason to now.”

“I agree,” Ashlin confirmed. “I’d feel much better knowing that Kas was there to help us. There’s no telling how many guards Leviathan has down there.”

“Once I know that you’re all safe, then I’ll follow through with the rest of the plan,” I said. “I won’t let any of you down.”

Trista sighed, twirling a dagger in her hand as she thought on it for a moment. “Alright. Once Penelope is free, I’ll get everyone back to safety as long as you do what must be done.”

“Thank you,” I said as we stared down the corridor in front of us. We took our first step forward, walking as quickly and softly as we could.

Trista led us through the twists and turns of the tunnels. If it wasn’t for her, we would’ve never been able to find our way. Some corridors were sealed off, leading to dead ends to disorient enemies. It would’ve been effective if not for the map Seth and Trista had coerced out of Beleth as our temporary prisoner. While we wanted to abandon all caution and run towards Penelope, we had to remain level-headed, knowing there could still be guards stationed around every corner.

Trista held up her hand again as we stopped, backs flat against the wall as she peeked around the corner down the next corridor. I knew she had spotted some of Leviathan’s personal guards. Trista turned her head, signaling to two bounty hunters with arrows placed in their bows. Stepping up beside her, they waited for her to give the order.

Trista swung her hand down as the two archers ran around the corner, lifting their bows and releasing their arrows into the guards’ throats at the end of the hall. I peered around her as I saw the guards fall, clutching their throats as a gurgling sound erupted from them before landing on the cold stone floor.

Panting, my hunger quickened. It was uncontrollable, given my lack of nourishment over the past several days. Racing towards the bodies, Trista flung out her arm, trying to catch me, but it was too late. I skidded to my knees as I bit into the demon’s neck, licking at the blood flowing forth like wine. I knew the others were staring, but I needed the sustenance, the sweet essence of their blood.

Rearing my head back, blood covering my face, I finally took a deep breath, regaining my senses as my hunger died. The others’ footsteps alerted me to their positions behind me as I quickly rubbed my face with the bottom of my shirt, trying to clean away the blood to not scare them any further. With my secret splayed out before all, I stood up slowly, not wanting to face them.

“Kas?” Gabriel said, approaching me slowly.

Turning around, I faced my friends and the hunters as they stared on. Their faces were expressionless, being unable to read them. I had expected sheer horror, but instead, I was met with shock. I wanted to say something, anything, but I couldn’t get myself to start explaining what they had just witnessed.

“It’s okay, Kas,” Ebony said, standing beside me. “We know the sacrifices you made for us. The least we can do is understand you have a hunger inside of you, just as we all do. It mirrors your lineage and purity of your bloodline with the Archdemons.”

“The Archdemons have this bloodlust?” Trista inquired. Apparently, the secret was more well-kept than I had realized.

“Yes, they do,” Ashlin said, stepping up beside me as well. “Do you all have a problem with that?”

Trista and the others shook their heads. It may have been due to Ashlin’s tone of voice, but I knew it was fear. I couldn’t blame them. It wasn’t every day you say one of your own kind, dead or not, being fed upon. It was, essentially, a form of cannibalism.

“I won’t hurt you,” I assured. “The battle with Beleth exhausted me, and I didn’t realize I was running on empty. I would appreciate if this fact stayed between us and didn’t leave these tunnels.”

“You have our word,” Trista said, firmly. Her words were curt, but I had reason to believe she meant every word. Besides, I didn’t have time to delicately tip-toe around feelings at the moment.

Trista brushed past me with a small smile, trying to ease her words’ sting and give me a sign she had some semblance of understanding. I appreciated her efforts to make me feel like less of a monster than I actually was. I turned to follow her as she continued to lead us through the labyrinth.

She stopped short as I saw a Hoard demon glide around the corner in front of us. We had no cover in the tunnels we were in as it spotted us with its glowing yellow eyes. I heard its screech signaling to its friends, my heart dropping as all the careful stealth we had built up crashed and burned around us.

Trista backed up from the creature with her arms outspread in front of us. “Our weapons don’t work against them!”

Stepping in front of her as four more appeared around the corner, I ran towards them as they glided at me from the opposite direction. Holding out my hands, I released a wall of electricity, stopping them in their tracks as they slammed against it. It ate away at them as they dissipated into clouds of smoke. This time, I was able to control my powers without anyone I cared about getting hurt, an achievement I prided in myself.

Their screams reverberated around the walls as the last one was destroyed. Trista and the others ran forward as I lowered the shield. I ran alongside her as we knew other members of the Hoard would be after us. Their screams had alerted them all throughout the city and the castle of the breach. We were running out of time to get to Penelope, and our frantic rushing showed that.

“This way!” Trista shouted as we rounded another corner leading straight towards an old wooden door at the end.

The door flew off its hinges as Trista kicked it in with the heel of her foot, taking out her blade. A few bounty hunters and Hoard demons stood their ground as we attacked. I took on one of the Hoard as it flung me against the stone wall. Springing to my feet, it charged me as I sent a wave of electricity surging towards it. Ebony rushed for one of the cages holding Penelope chained to the wall in the back as I saw an enemy approach her from behind.

Before I could make it to her, Ebony turned around, jumping out of the way into a shadowy area where she couldn’t be seen. The hunter searched for her as she quickly snapped his neck, his limp body falling to the ground before her.

“Kas—look out!” Ashlin shouted as one of the Hoard knocked me down to the ground from behind.

Flipping over, I saw the demon floating over me as its smoke enveloped me, choking me. I gasped for air as the smoke filled my lungs, my face and skin turning blue from the lack of oxygen. Callan dove through the demon, scooping me from the ground and out of the way as I slammed against the wall, coughing up my lungs. The black smoke spilled out of me and into my lap as I held my hand up, electrocuting the demon.

“Thanks,” I managed to say as Callan patted my back, leaning his head against the stone wall.

Ashlin plunged her hand through the last enemy’s chest, ripping his heart from its cavity. The hunter dropped to knees before dropping over to the side, blood spilling upon the floor flowing through the cobblestones’ cracks. Ashlin dropped the heart on the ground with a sickening splat before wiping her hand on her jeans.

“Penelope!” I heard Ebony say from behind me as she shifted into a mouse, crawling between the cage bars and turned back to her human form.

She ran towards her girlfriend, embracing her and holding her body up as she slumped from the chains, her feet dragging upon the floor. Penelope’s body and hair were encrusted with dried blood, multiple slash wounds all across her.

“Ebony, is she breathing?” I asked, worried as I stood behind the bars, waiting for an answer.

“She’s alive,” Ebony cried as she tried to break the shackles around her wrists. Gabriel found a pair of keys on one of the dead hunters. He opened the cage door and ran to his sister, unlocking her shackles and freeing her from the wall. Penelope fell upon her brother as he took her in his arms, lifting her up as he walked out of the cell.

Kneeling upon the ground, he gently patted her cheek, trying to rouse her. “Penelope? I need you to wake up, okay? Please…”

“We need to get out of here. Follow the plan,” Trista pleaded.

“Just wait,” Gabriel growled. “Penelope, wake up!”

Penelope stirred in his arms, her eyes fluttering open underneath all the bruising she had endured. Her lips parted, but no sound came out as she tried to form words. Gabriel stood with her from the floor and turned towards Trista, signaling to lead the way. He simply wanted to be sure his sister was going to make it through all this.

The door at the top of the stairs leading into the dungeons burst open as we heard voices shouting. Our enemies were coming for us, no doubt, with orders to kill on sight. We raced out of the door back down the tunnels, not staying long enough to find out.

The Hoard demons were faster than the others, gaining on us with each step we took. I could feel their coldness right behind me as they sucked the energy from the walls fueling their rage. I glanced at Trista as she knew what I had to do.

“End of the tunnel—turn right!” she yelled as she continued with the others.

“Kas!” Gabriel shouted.

“Go!” I yelled as I turned around, sending a wave of energy barreling down the tunnel, obliterating everything in its path. While the Hoard demons disappeared, the hunters’ incinerated bodies fell upon the ground, an orange glow around their charred remains.

Dropping my hand as I tried to catch my breath, my heart ached at the loss before me, but when it came to saving my friends, I had to do what was necessary. The hunters’ bodies hissed and collapsed into a pile of ash as I turned away from the horrific scene. According to Trista, I was too close to give up now.

I headed for the end of the tunnel and followed her directions, which took me up a stone staircase with a metal door at the top. Pushing it open, I entered into a long slender hall composed of wood, a stark contrast to the corridor I had exited. Feeling around the wall’s edge, I found a switch that illuminated the narrow passage’s lanterns.

Closing the door behind me, I locked it and proceeded down the corridor, being careful to keep my hands to myself. It didn’t take long for me to figure out I was within the castle walls at the Kingdom’s center. While rounding a corner, I heard voices from the other side. Standing still as to not accidentally step upon a squeaky floorboard, I listened to them for a few moments.

“I don’t care how many men we lose, find her!” the voice boomed from the other side.

“Yes, my Lord,” another said before I heard a door close. Footsteps resounded throughout the room near the wall as I heard a door open.

“What do you want?” the voice growled.

“I thought we could go over our terms,” the other voice said, a hint of smugness in it.

“I want nothing from you, witch,” the voice answered. “I know what it is you seek, and I’ll deliver once the girl is dead.”

There were more footsteps and muffled sounds as the voices trailed away. A door closed, and then all I heard was silence. There was not a doubt in my mind they were discussing me. I was sure they were getting reports of the death within the tunnels. I was thankful they were only seeking me and not the others.

Continuing, I found myself in front of another door that was less obvious. It was embedded in the wall itself, covered in an ornate tapestry that featured Solomon’s seal with a depiction of the throne room. I felt around the door’s sides, searching for a lever to open it but to no avail. Puzzled, I simply pressed against the door itself. Hearing a clicking noise, the door bounced back, cracking open.

Peeking through the gap, I searched the throne room to see if there was anyone inside. After deeming the area secure, I further opened the thin wall panel and stepped out upon the smooth black marble floor. Closing the door behind me, there was no turning back now.

Stepping behind a pillar, I took in a deep breath as I gazed upon the throne, perched up a quick flight of steps overlooking the grand hall. Solomon’s seal lay upon the floor with Lucifer’s crest above the throne on the back wall encrusted with jewels. In the center of the stage was a golden thrown covered in crimson velvet. Tapestries covered the back depicting Lucifer’s battles and triumphs, while murals lined the room’s walls.

I moved slowly out to the center as I caught sight of one of the mural’s depicting my birth and my demonic form. It was an exact rendition as if the person or thing that painted it long ago knew I was coming. Glancing up at the high arched ceilings made of glass, the glow from the fires of Hell filtered through, giving light to this space. While darkness had descended over Hell, the room glowed a subtle gray. As if some unknown force recognized my presence, the hellfire lamps brightened in their sconces upon the wall, casting shadows around the pillars.

Turning to face the throne, I ascended the steps. When I was close enough, my fingertips brushed over the silky fabric, resting on the throne’s arm. Turning around, I sat down upon the cushions and stared over the throne room’s vast space with its row of pillars on each side. Above the heavy wooden doors at the end of the hall was another window overlooking the expanse of Hell, a view of the realm and everything the light touched.

It was marvelous, a sight I never thought I would ever behold. A tear slid down my cheek as I quickly wiped it away. My emotions were overwhelming as it hit me. I was finally at home in my realm, where I was supposed to be. If only this moment could last forever, but I had to continue with the rest of the plan, so I waited. Leaning back against the throne, I remained seated as I waited for Leviathan to find me.

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