Sweating, I awoke suddenly from the nightmare I was having, sitting up in bed to escape my damp pillow. Brushing my hair away from my face, I glanced over to the sitting area to the back of a tall man seated with his arms across the top of the sofa. Standing from the bed, I noticed it was still too early for the sun to be up, and I was definitely not in any dream.
Walking across the room, I sat down in the armchair by the fireplace, waiting for Baku to speak. He watched me and then turned his gaze towards the fire, which ignited in a burst of green flames before turning their familiar orange hue.
“It’s nice to finally meet you again, my Lady,” Baku said, clasping his hands in front of him and leaning forward. “It’s been a moment since we’ve spent time outside of a dream.”
“Baku, what are you doing here?” I asked.
“I live here,” he smiled. “Anyway, you’re the kind who likes to go straight to business. Your mother is here.”
“In Hell? Why? She’s not safe here,” I replied.
“She insisted on it. Word has gotten around there is a trial against you based on your father’s death,” Baku explained. “Madam Lilith refused to miss it. She’s been speaking to the Archdemons on your behalf.”
“I don’t need her to speak for me. I’m confident in my abilities to represent myself and speak of my actions. They haven’t heard my side of the story—”
“Some of them don’t wish to hear it, my Lady,” Baku interrupted. “Your father knew long ago that some of the Archdemons would always disapprove of his reign. His downfall is that he didn’t count on the snakes in the grass. I don’t wish to see you suffer a similar fate.”
“I appreciate your honesty, Baku, and your willingness to help my family. However, how can I be certain this isn’t a ploy?” I asked, an eyebrow raised.
Baku laughed boisterously from his seat. “My dear Kasdeya, I’m a man of action. If I wanted to kill you, I would’ve just waited until you fell asleep long ago. You have gumption, and I admire that about you. Keep questioning the motives of your friends, family, and whoever has made it upon your list. It’ll save you in the end.”
“I have all the evidence I need to win this,” I replied. “They can’t ignore it.”
“They can and they will, my Lady,” Baku admitted. “This trial isn’t about facts; it’s a popularity contest. Demons don’t play by the rules, or are you forgetting who you are and who you’re dealing with?”
Baku stood from his seat and buttoned his suit jacket. I watched as he left me with those final words echoing throughout the room. Was he insinuating it was all for show to have me removed anyway? Demons didn’t play fair. It was a true statement, but I assumed that I would receive appropriate treatment as a royal.
I stood from my seat and walked over to the wardrobe, running my hand along the finely tailored dresses, knowing that one of them could be the last piece of clothing I ever wore. Snatching a red silk dress from the hanger, I threw it onto the bed in front of me. It had a low scoop neck with long sleeves, fitted bodice, and a flared skirt. It looked old, possibly from centuries ago. I figured if I was going to be burned like a witch, then I might as well dress like one.
I quickly changed into it, picking up the journal from the bedside table and holding it to my chest. If my mother was here, then I knew she had a plan. Opening the journal, I read over my father’s words once again. Reading Mammon’s name within the worn pages sent sparks of anger flying throughout my being. He was one of the few demons I thought was on my side. His elegance and charisma fooled me.
“Mammon—you lying piece of—”
I threw the journal against the floor with all my strength. For someone who pretended to be helping me through this, he had been using me. As the transcriber of contracts, he knew their innocence and created them anyway, especially now, without a ruler to look over his shoulders. No wonder the outer and inner circles were so treacherous.
Snakes in the grass. Baku had been absolutely right. Mammon and Leviathan were working together this whole time right under my nose. The only person who could honestly decide if a soul was fit for Hell was me and anyone else who thought they also held that power was grounds for treason.
I walked over to the journal and picked it up as the first rays from Hell’s fires crossed over the sky. The orange and yellow light burst forth through the windows, illuminating the room. I placed it carefully within the pocket between my skirts’ folds before exiting the room into the hall where two guards were waiting for me.
Before I could protest, one of the guards placed a pair of iron shackles around my wrists inscribed with archaic runic symbols. I let my hands drop in front of me as the guards tried to take my elbows to guide me along.
“I don’t need any help from you. I am perfectly capable of walking on my own,” I said, angrily, wiggling free from their grasps.
“Let her do it,” one of the guards whispered to his friend. “It’s not like she can tap into her demonic powers with those cuffs anyway. She’ll be fine.”
I glanced down at the pieces of metal, hugging my wrists. I felt like a common prisoner, a feeling the others were enjoying. They guided me along the corridors and outside to the courtyard where a carriage awaited my arrival. One of the guards opened the door to the black carriage pulled by two red horses.
The inside of the carriage was uncomfortable, to say the least. The two guards settled in, one beside me and the other across from me as we set off down the cobblestone pathway through the castle gates. We sat in silence for a while until one of the guards took off his hood.
“Don’t worry, my Lady,” the guard said. “Seth and Trista have us stationed all over the city and the castle. We took out the last of Leviathan’s guards last night. We’ll keep you safe.”
“I don’t want an uprising here. Whatever the verdict is, it must be done,” I replied.
“What are you saying? That if they find you guilty, then we should just all run along? We’re putting on lives on the line for you here,” the other guard answered from beside me.
“I know you are, and I appreciate it, but I love my people, and I won’t have them slaughtered because the verdict doesn’t come in their favor,” I said, hoping they would understand. I wasn’t going to be the person to throw gasoline on the fire.
“As you wish,” the other guard said, placing his hood back up over his face. I knew they were disappointed, but that couldn’t be helped. I was to be tried in front of civilians in the middle of the city. It would be my fault if any of them were hurt.
“We’re nearing the city square now,” the guard said, glancing out the window. I held the black curtain back a little bit and saw rows of demons lining the streets around a stage. Some lingered back under the trees’ shade while others were right next to the stage, eager to hear every detail.
I heard the horses whinny as the driver pulled back on the reigns to stop them. The carriage halted, and one of my guards was the first to exit. I stepped out of the carriage door allowing the guard to help me down since my balance was thrown off by the shackles. The square was silent as the others saw me for the first time.
I wasn’t sure what I had expected, but I thought there would either be cheers or roars of anger at what I had done. Instead, the crowd gracefully moved out of our way, allowing us a path to the stage’s wooden steps without a single word. Their silence was more disconcerting to me than anything else they could’ve done.
I glanced around from the top of the stage at their faces in the crowd. All demonic species were represented, and all of them had a look of confusion. Were they disappointed about me? Did I not fit their illusions of the kind of person I was said to be? They simply stared at me and gathered around.
“What’s happening?” I whispered to the guard next to me.
“They don’t know how to react,” the guard whispered back. “To them, you are their Queen, but the Archdemons are saying the position it unfulfilled. You’re not a criminal, but your enemies hope your subjects will eventually see you that way.”
Their faces were solemn as more carriages arrived at the scene. The square was rather large, with streets located on either side. Businesses and homes surrounded the area hidden underneath the branches of trees planted along the sidewalks. A well was located near the middle of the square with a fountain at the other end. My father’s statue was in the center of it in all his glory as a fallen angel.
The Archdemons arrived as they departed their carriages one at a time. I saw my mother exit from a carriage behind Mammon. My heart raced as I saw her in her beautiful swirl of purple skirts, her eyes a deep violet color. I had never had the pleasure of witnessing my mother in her demonic form, but I could see why my father found her stunning.
Her skin was a peachy color, speckled with green and purple spots resembling freckles. Her nails were talon-like, but she had an air of gentleness and elegance about her that differed from other demons with their harsh lines, ridges, and bony exteriors. Yet, she remained soft and refined.
I thought back to how my mother had inflicted pain upon Dr. Melchom with a simple glare, a small smile tugging at the corners of my lips. My mother didn’t have to lift a finger to bring men to their knees. It was no wonder the Greeks referred to her as Aphrodite, often writing her in their epics.
Many of the Archdemons took their seats in front of the crowd, staring up at me, judging me. My mother sat among them, her face not giving away any sign of bias, although I knew she would always be on my side. Mammon ascended the stairs, conjuring a chair and desk in front of him with parchment and a quill with ink.
Leviathan entered the stage, taking a seat near the opposite end, eyeing me with disdain. I couldn’t believe my father had kept him as his second in command even after knowing his intentions. It just showed how messy politics could be.
I stood there in front of everyone as we waited for my judge to arrive. Asmodeus was a fair and just demon, unlike others. I hoped that he had enough sense to see through this façade. Turning to my right, I saw another carriage enter the scene.
Asmodeus stepped out of it as the crowd erupted into cheers. I was startled by the sudden uproar at first until I realized they were cheering in hopes of a fair trial. Swallowing, I waited for Asmodeus to ascend the stairs, backing away from the front of the stage for him to take his place.
Asmodeus was tall with a strong body. His skin was as crimson as the fires of hell and possessed wings of the same color. Upon his head was a golden crown signifying his rank as the Judge of Hell amidst his black curls. He held a staff carved with an eagle’s foot at the bottom and simply tapered off at the top.
“We are gathered here today,” he began, “to judge the actions of Kasdeya Angelov, daughter of Queen Lilith, and our late King Lucifer. She is to be tried for crimes against the realm of Hell based on treason and the murder of her father. How do you plead?”
Taking a deep breath, I took a step forward. “I am guilty.”
The crowd gasped as my mother covered her mouth with her hand. I knew my answer was unexpected, but it would allow me to explain myself without calling upon witnesses and having my story distorted by my enemies. Mammon stopped writing and looked to Leviathan for answers.
Asmodeus turned towards me. “You do know the consequences of such a statement?”
“I do. I also know that with such a statement, I am expected to make an explanation and given the right to last words,” I replied boldly.
Asmodeus walked towards me, his staff thudding against the wooden floor of the stage. He placed a hand on my shoulder and smiled at me. “You truly are the daughter of Lucifer.”
He walked away and conjured a seat for himself as I walked to the center of the stage and gazed upon the crowd’s shocked faces. They whispered among each other as I stood there, allowing for a moment of silence.
People of Hell, I know that my words may come as a shock to some of you, but I refuse to subject you to a drawn-out trial where the truth becomes lost in a sea of lies,” I began. “Leviathan would have you believe that I murdered my father in cold blood without provocation simply to claim the throne and his power. However, why would I do that when I was destined to take over Hell, to begin with? Think for yourselves and see the logic behind the words I speak.
“My father and I had our issues, this fact is known to all. How can you have a relationship with someone who was never there? It was revealed to me through my dealings with a fortune-teller, the same one my father visited the day I was born, that Lucifer had planned to use my coming of age ceremony as a transference ritual, to take my powers away and destroy me in the process.
“Because of this, I did devise a plan to make sure I wouldn’t perish, a key piece Leviathan so earnestly omitted from his own story. At the time, I believed my options were to kill or be killed, so I chose the latter, saving my life. It was a choice any demon before me would’ve made, and I would do it again.
“I later discovered within the pages of this journal—”
“We are not here to present evidence,” Leviathan cut me off as I pulled my father’s journal from my skirt pocket. “Your Honor?”
“Overruled,” Asmodeus said. “I want to hear what she has to say. Go on, Kasdeya.”
“This journal contains the thoughts, dreams, and fears of my late father. Within it, you’ll find that my father suspected a plan devised long before I was born to overthrow his rule. And those demons who came up with that plan are sitting on this stage with me right now,” I finished, glaring over my shoulder at Leviathan.
“What is this?” Asmodeus asked as I handed him my father’s journal. Taking it, he flipped through the pages, skimming its content. The expressions upon his face were fleeting, but my father’s words were raising more than a few red flags as far as I could tell.
“This is ludicrous!” Leviathan shouted as Mammon remained silent. I walked towards Mammon, my heart twisting at his place in all this madness. Not only was he family, but he had been one of the few Archdemons I thought had my back.
“Mammon,” I began, “what have you done?”
His eyes flicked up to rest upon my face as the weight of his betrayal settled into his features. Looking away, he set his quill down and rose from his seat. “Due to what has transpired here, I humbly resign from my post.”
More gasps from the audience circulated as Leviathan’s anger rose to a boiling point. In the first row, I saw Alastor watching the events unfold before him as he gave me a curt nod, acknowledging what I had uncovered.
“None of this matters, Asmodeus,” Leviathan said. “We are not on trial here. Kasdeya has admitted to her guilt of murdering her father. Sentencing must be carried out. That is the way of our laws!”
Asmodeus stood from his seat, holding his hand up to Leviathan while holding the journal in the other. “I fear that Leviathan is correct, Kasdeya. While your findings have been illuminating, your plea was duly noted, and so must there be consequences for your actions.”
I approached Asmodeus, placing a gentle hand upon his. “I understand, and I forgive you.”
Asmodeus gave me a sad smile. “In accordance with the laws of this realm, I hereby sentence Kasdeya Angelov to death as punishment for her treason and murder of late King Lucifer. Do you have any final words?”
The chopping block appeared near the front of the stage as Alastor entered from the stairs as my executioner. He held his metal ax loosely in his hands as I walked forward, gazing out over my friends and family’s faces.
“I love you,” I whispered under my breath, encompassing all the people I had known and who had helped me with my journey as I knelt down.
Placing my chin over the wooden block. Alastor moved to my side, his hands gripping the handle of the ax tightly as my mother looked away, not being able to bear the sight of her daughter being beheaded. I glanced up at the fiery sky, taking a deep breath as I felt the wind of the ax being lifted into the air over me.
The crowd watched in horror as the blade descended upon the point of death. Closing my eyes, I felt a gust of wind and…nothing. Opening them, I saw the crowd’s frozen faces, some turned away, others in the middle of sobs, and more looking at the ghastly sight. I turned my head and saw Alastor frozen in place, the ax in mid-swing as I smelled that unidentifiable sweet scent wafting towards me.
Taking my head away from the block, I looked around me as I stood, trying to find the source of the scent. Behind me stood the Archangel Michael with a scroll in his hand, smiling at me. He approached me slowly as the world around us remained frozen.
“We are very proud of you, Kasdeya,” he said.
“We?” I asked.
“You were willing to lay down your life for your people, an admirable quality, and the one we were searching for,” Michael explained, ignoring my previous question. “Your father entrusted me with his last contract, knowing that no demon would ever be able to find it.”
“You still spoke to my father?” I asked, amazed.
“We may have had our differences, but he was still my brother, after all,” Michael replied. “His way of expressing human emotions had myself and the others envious. However, it was also his downfall.”
“Why are you here?” I inquired.
“Your sacrifice did not go unnoticed by us. We’re giving you another chance,” Michael replied, handing me Lucifer’s contract.
“Again, who are we?” I asked, looking at the paper in my hands. As I glanced up, Michael was gone, my question still unanswered.
Turning around just as the ax struck the block, the crowd saw that I wasn’t there, but standing a few feet away. Alastor left the blade of the ax embedded in the wood as he took a step back. My eyes flicked up at Asmodeus seated before me as I handed him the parchment with my father’s seal upon it. He glanced at it before standing beside me.
“Where did this come from?” Asmodeus asked.
“From a friend,” I answered. “It’s the final deal my father made with me before he died.”
“Per Lucifer’s final contract, surrendered unto me, Kasdeya Angelov is pardoned of this crime and shall be crowned our new Queen of Hell!” Asmodeus yelled, holding the paper high above his head in his fist.
“No!” Leviathan shouted as he grabbed his blade, lunging after me.
Turning around, I watched as the blade came down for me, holding my hands out to shield myself. I waited for the blow, but it never came as a demon stood next to Leviathan, grabbing his wrist and twisting it, causing him to drop the knife. The demon pushed Leviathan off the stage in the center of the crowd that bolted out of the way.
“No one touches my kid!” a familiar Brooklyn accent shouted at Leviathan.
I flew into Misty’s arms as he held me tight, a tear streaming down my face. He kissed me on my cheek before letting me go, Alastor waiting behind us with a key to open my shackles. I turned around as the restraints fell to the ground. Before I could call for the guards, Leviathan opened a grate in the ground, diving inside.
“Follow him!” Asmodeus shouted to the guards. They dove into the tunnels after Leviathan, following him to make an arrest.
“Guards seize the Melchoms!” I yelled as I saw the pair trying to slip away. The guards captured them, placing the same shackles that were upon me onto them. They fell to their knees on the ground staring up at me, awaiting my decree.
“Take them back to the castle. We will meet with them in the Council Chambers,” I ordered as the guards escorted them towards a carriage.
The guards threw back their hoods, and I saw my friends among them as the crowd burst into cheers. I descended the stairs of the stage as my mother came around and embraced me. Mammon stood silently beside us as guards placed shackles upon his wrists as well. I watched as they carried him away.
“Kas, I’m so proud of you,” my mother cried into the crook of my neck, kissing me.
“Kas!” I heard shouts from nearby as I saw Gabriel and Ebony with the others. Before I could wave to them, the crowd was sweeping me away as the guards urged me into a carriage to take me back to the castle.