I sat upon a chair forged from the metals of Hell. It was high backed with a small red cushion. My hands gripped the armrests as the Archdemons lined the walls on either side of the hall in pews that tapered upward to arched windows. The hall had been designed in such a fashion that everyone could see and hear each other clearly.
Gabriel and Penelope were seated in the front row nearest to my left as they watched their trembling parents on their knees in front and center. One of the guards who had gone after Leviathan approached me and knelt, bowing his head.
“My Lady, Leviathan, had others waiting for him in the tunnel. It appeared to be a part of a bigger plan he had developed in case the trial didn’t go his way,” the guard relayed. “I lost a lot of good men down there to the demons under his employ. I barely made it out alive.”
“I commend you on your loyalty and bravery today. Do you know where they could be heading?” I inquired.
“No, my Lady. We do know the tunnel he used to escape was through the East wall. Would you like to deploy any guards to head towards the Deserts of Desolation?” he asked.
“No. I want the tunnels sealed off. Too many people know about them, and I would rather see the enemy coming,” I replied.
“Yes, my Lady,” the hunter replied, returning to his station to see to my order.
Of course, Leviathan had prepared his escape. He knew the consequences of his actions against me would lead to his demise. I glanced at my mother seated to my right upon a smaller chair. She took my hand on the armrest and squeezed it as she gave me a weak smile, a small gesture of comfort.
Another guard stepped forward for the announcement. “Dr. Wilhelm Melchom and Mrs. Pandora Melchom are hereby condemned for treasonous acts as witnessed by…”
The guard listed off the long sheet of witnesses as I patiently waited for him to finish. While royals were tried in front of Asmodeus, subjects within my Kingdom were judged and sentenced by me. It was a power I knew one day I would possess, but I never thought I would be exercising it so soon and without having been properly crowned. Due to the day’s events, my mother thought it best to carry out swift justice and then focus on my coronation tomorrow.
I glanced over at Gabriel and Penelope, who couldn’t bring themselves to look at their parents. I couldn’t tell if they were saddened or enraged. They had more than enough reason to feel both.
“Is there anything you would like to say to her Highness?” the guard asked of them.
“Remember our deal, Kasdeya?” Dr. Melchom hissed as the guard kicked him in the gut for not addressing me professionally.
I stood up from my chair and stepped down to his level. He wouldn’t look at me, so the guard pulled his head back by his hair as he yelped. I couldn’t believe seeing this man now that he used to haunt my dreams.
“That’s right,” I said. “You still believe you have power over me. It was your contingency plan after all when you hypnotized me, causing me to become violently ill. Do you remember? Because I do. I remember all of it.”
Dr. Melchom’s eyes widened with fear. “How?”
“You underestimated me, and you severely overestimated your abilities,” I whispered in his ear. Pulling back, Dr. Melchom lunged at me from the guard’s grip but was quickly yanked back down, falling over on his side as he struggled against the shackles on his wrists behind his back. The guard let him rest there as his rage died down, smoldering until it extinguished along with his hope.
Mrs. Melchom held her chin up. She was much more composed than her husband as she awaited her sentencing. I waited for her to speak, but she didn’t. Turning back towards my chair, I saw Penelope slide out of the pew and stand up. Her face was still badly bruised, but she was healing now.
“My Lady, I have a few words if I may?” she asked. I nodded as I took my seat.
“My parents—our parents, they have been nothing but cruel to us ever since we were created. I always knew that love was something they could never give because they have never known it,” Penelope began. “While I was captive within the Cage of Torment, my mother did visit me, and if not for her bold actions against the wishes of my father, I would not be standing here speaking to all of you today.”
I glanced from Penelope to Mrs. Melchom. She had been telling me the truth the night before about helping my friend, which meant her words about her son may have been true as well. Regardless of any mercy I showed her, it was still a risk for her to live among us.
“All that I ask,” Penelope continued, “is that you bestow upon them a punishment that fits their crimes.”
“Penelope!” Dr. Melchom shouted. “You have condemned us!”
Penelope took her seat beside Gabriel as he wrapped his arms around his sister as she cried into his shoulder. Dr. Melchom continued shouting at the poor girl until my guard gave him a swift kick to the jaw, blood splattering over the Council Chamber floor.
I leaned forward in my seat. “Dr. Melchom, I hereby sentence you to the mines for your grievous crimes against myself and my realm. You will be relieved of your physical form and be under the charge of Alastor if he accepts the challenge?”
“Yes, my Lady,” Alastor replied as he approached Dr. Melchom standing at his side with a whip already in hand.
“You will become simply a number along with the other souls condemned to labor. Once your work has been deemed satisfactory, only then will you be granted peace within Lethe’s waters, crossing over to the next stage your pathetic soul carries you to,” I announced. “Alastor? He’s all yours.”
“With pleasure, my Lady,” Alastor grinned as he took a few steps back from Dr. Melchom, raising his whip in the air. As Dr. Melchom begged for leniency, Alastor cracked his whip around his throat, cutting off his voice. He then proceeded to drag the screaming man away by the end of his whip.
“Mrs. Melchom…” I started. “I hope you understand that one act of kindness is not restitution for everything else you’ve done. You are a danger to me, to my Court, my Kingdom, and my realm.”
Mrs. Melchom bowed her head, her lower lip trembling as I saw a tear slide down her cheek. It was a genuine sign of remorse for her actions, something her husband never had the capability of showing.
“However,” I said, “your daughter seems to think there’s something left to be desired within you. You should be thanking her profusely because you would be joining your husband if not for her testimony. Instead, you offered me valuable information before my trial, and you saved someone dear to me.
“You are to be stripped of your powers and riches. You will aid us in locating Leviathan and his followers. In return, I will do as you asked of me. Once Leviathan has been seized and punished for his crimes, I will then release you to Lethe, where I hope your soul can find some peace,” I stated.
“Thank you. Oh, thank you,” she sobbed as the guard picked her up from the ground and carried her to her surveilled chambers.
“Bring me Mammon,” I called as the guards went to fetch the Archdemons. The others whispered among themselves in the pews, knowing that I had no right to judge one of the royal families.
Two guards entered with Mammon, restraints around his bony wrists in front of him. His sunken eyes were morose as he kneeled before me, bowing his head.
“I’m not here to judge you,” I said, setting the rest of the room at ease. “I understand and have accepted your resignation as Keeper of the Contracts. However, I would be inclined to drop my charges against you if you do something for me. You like making deals, right?”
Mammon’s eyes flicked up at me. “Yes, my Lady?”
I motioned for Headmistress Charon to step out of the shadows of the room. She walked forward with her head held high and bowed low to me as she came to stand next to my chair.
“This is Headmistress Charon, the appointed principal of Brimstone Preparatory School. She traveled here with Queen Lilith and Mist—Mephistopheles. I have tasked her with being your apprentice to take over your position,” I stated. “She has agreed to the terms and will also, in conjunction with you, be mandating the removal of innocent souls from our realms to be redirected to the River Lethe.”
“With all due respect, my Lady, all the souls in the realm have a contract—”
“A falsified contract under the manipulation of rogue demons in service to my father, you mean? Ah, yes. Destroy them,” I replied.
“The contracts cannot simply be destroyed. They must be fulfilled,” Mammon argued.
“Then consider them fulfilled,” I replied.
“Your majesty, your power is tied to the strength of Hell. Your power will diminish greatly,” Mammon countered.
“For one good soul, there are two evil ones. Is that not what we were taught in our studies?” I asked. “Hell is weak because of the abuse it endured, not because we don’t have enough souls to fill it. This realm was created with a purpose, but when we forego that purpose or try and make it into something it never was, we are weakened. You are the reason Hell is dying.”
“Yes…my Lady,” Mammon replied weakly.
“Who will take over Brimstone?” An Archdemon asked from the pews.
“I will,” my mother said from beside me as she stood up. “There will be a Board meeting this afternoon, and I expect all the votes to be accounted for.”
Two guards escorted Mammon out of my presence as I waited for the room to quiet down. Headmistress Charon took a seat beside Ashlin and Josh on the other side of the room. I stood up from my chair, knowing that I had to convey to the Archdemons the knowledge revealed by Mrs. Melchom.
“Before I am to be crowned, it is pertinent that all of you know that my title of Antichrist has been challenged,” I said, as the room erupted into an uproar. I lifted my hands to calm down the room.
“I am only relaying this to all of you so that you’re aware. Mrs. Melchom was pregnant before I graduated from Brimstone. Recently, she gave birth to a son. His name is Samael, and through dark magic beyond my comprehension, he is an adult now, traveling the world and gaining followers,” I concluded.
An Archdemon rose from his seat. “This Samael. What is his agenda?”
“If we’re taking notes from the Bible, it’s to bring Hell to Earth and, in doing so, would destroy both,” I answered.
“We’re trusting an archaic book written by man? Perhaps, what he aims to do is help restore our realm—”
“No!” I growled as the Archdemon slowly sat down. “Mrs. Melchom came to me with this information because she asked me to stop him. She’s terrified of the monster she created with Dr. Melchom in an attempt to rule both Hell and Earth. Instead, what she got, was someone who cares about neither.”
“We ignorantly believed the Antichrist would be Lucifer’s child,” my mother began, backing me up. “Kasdeya’s birth was a natural one, occurring through a loving bond, something not indicative of the true Antichrist. If what your future Queen says is true, a child born by unnatural means filled with hatred may be our end. We should proceed with caution and confront this Samael.”
“So, we’ll simply invite him into Hell?” another Archdemon questioned from the stands.
“No, I will go to him,” I answered. “I would not dare jeopardize our realm by having him in our domain.”
“How do you intend to keep him out? Surely, Mrs. Melchom, informed her son of ways to get into Hell?” the same Archdemon asked.
“Guards will be stationed at the portals like they were when hunting me. Entry and re-entry will be monitored closely,” I explained.
“How will you find this person?” they asked me once more.
“It shouldn’t be too hard. Samael, or Sam as he’s referred to, has made quite a name for himself on Earth. I’ll just watch the news,” I smiled. “We’re not the only ones searching for him. The Paladins have also caught wind of him, believing him to be the next Christ. With Callan’s support, we’re hoping to intercept him before he reaches the Vatican. Or, in his case, persuades them to come to him. It’s my understanding he can’t enter Holy spaces.”
“But you can,” an Archdemon pointed out.
“I can,” I confirmed.
“What were you doing in Vatican City?” another questioned.
“I was there to ensure my team’s safety through the Gates of Hell. Paladins guarded the entrance, and to avoid a bloody battle, I spoke to the Pope about sending them an order to stand down,” I replied fully.
“You were able to get that close to the Pope?”
“I was. While I’m not the Pope’s first choice, we have a mutual understanding with each other. This, in no way, diminishes my support towards my own realm,” I affirmed.
“How can we be sure where your loyalties lie?” another challenged. “Is there anyone who can vouch for your actions and dealings with the Pope?”
“I can,” Callan replied, standing from his seat.
The Archdemons laughed before they shouted among themselves over who they could trust. Without their trust, my realm would soon spiral into chaos.
“I will vouch for our Queen,” a voice said from the back of the chamber. A guard escorted a dark figure with glowing red eyes.
“I know your voice…” I mumbled.
The figure bowed to me as it glided nearer. He lifted his hood on its dark cloak and revealed a ridged face with sickly pale skin. His fingernails were black and sharp like talons as he smoothed his cloak down in front of him.
“Pain,” I said as I recognized the wraith.
“I’m flattered you remember me,” he smiled, a series of sharp, pointed teeth on his abnormally large mouth. “You’ll be happy to know that I have pledged my services to you, and I can vouch that Queen Kasdeya wants nothing more than to save our home.”
With a smile, I nodded to Pain in acknowledgment. “There’s your proof councilmen. What say you about my coronation?”
Paimon, one of the Lesser Kings, stood from his seat among the others as they quieted down once more. “I vote the coronation ceremony to commence tomorrow morning within the Hall of Sorrow, where Kasdeya Angelov will be crowned upon the Throne of Blood and Bone. All those in favor?”
The Archdemons raised their hands in agreement with the motion as my mother banged a gavel upon her chair, ending the session. The room adjourned as I walked out into the corridor in front. Several of the Archdemons approached me to congratulate me on my successful endeavors in the Council Chamber. I was starting to feel that I could actually make a difference in my realm.
Paimon appeared before me, taking my hand in his. “I’m so pleased that our hard work together paid off for you, my Lady.”
“I hope you’ll have the opportunity to prove your service to me even further,” I replied, remembering our training instructions when I was attending Brimstone.
“There is the matter of our dear Beleth,” Paimon reminded me. “Have you thought of what to do about him?”
“I turned him over to his bounty hunters. They’ve…come to an agreement with their Lesser King,” I answered, insinuating a response to his own fate with his people if he ever thought to refuse my orders.
“Ah, I see. Well, good day and do get some rest, my Lady. I eagerly await your coronation tomorrow,” Paimon said before taking his leave.
Headmistress Charon filled his place in front of me. Before she could make her bow, I embraced her. Her surprise at my forwardness made my mother chuckle from beside me. I could only imagine the look upon Headmistress Charon’s severe face.
“Headmistress Charon,” I said joyfully. “I’m so happy to see you. How is everything at Brimstone Prep since I left?”
“Please, my Lady. Simply call me, Charon. I’m no longer the headmistress after today, a title that now belongs to your mother,” she replied. “However, the school is doing wonderfully. We’ve rebuilt most of the main hall and are currently working on restoring the library. We anticipate reopening within the month.”
“That’s great news,” I said. “Thank you for being here.”
“You looked as though you could need the help,” Charon said before nodding to me, taking her leave.
As the rest of the Council members filed out and dispersed, I was finally able to talk to Penelope, who was waiting patiently by the door with Gabriel. I approached her as she smiled weakly through the pain of the bruising around her face. Ebony was beside her holding her hand for comfort.
“Hello, Your Highness,” Penelope said as she curtsied.
“You don’t have to put on a show for me,” I replied. “I’m just glad you’re alright. For a moment, I thought we had lost you.”
“I’m tougher than I look,” she teased.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there…”
“Kas…” Penelope began, “you didn’t know that was going to happen. You can’t blame yourself for that. You were off fighting your own battles to help us win. I don’t blame you at all in your position because I would’ve done the same.”
“It means a lot to me that you believe that,” I stated.
“I do,” she said firmly. “We all do. Watching you inside the Council Chamber today, it was the strongest I’ve ever seen you. You were commanding, regal, decisive, everything that we need in a leader right now.”
“She’s right, my Lady,” Gabriel spoke from beside her. “You were magnificent, the perfect picture of a strong, independent Queen.”
“It’s not over yet, is it?” Ebony inquired.
“Is it ever?” Penelope teased. “We just found out that Gabriel and I have a little brother—or big brother?”
“It’s complicated,” I sighed. “You may visit and speak with your mother so she can tell you the whole story. It’s probably best it comes from her.”
“Are you worried about Leviathan?” Gabriel whispered to me as an Archdemon walked by.
“Of course, I am,” I replied. “Leviathan has everything he needs to start a civil war. I’m sure Mrs. Melchom didn’t keep the Antichrist title a secret from him since she and her husband worked so closely.”
“Sounds like you need people with eyes down here,” Ashlin said from beside me as she approached our small group. “Josh and I can stay with your mother and keep tabs on Leviathan while you take care of the other brat.”
I chuckled. “It’s good to know that I have people down here I can trust while I’m away.”
“I need to stay anyway,” Josh revealed. “I have a conversation that needs to be had with my mother.”
“Like about how she tried to kill us? Can I be there for that?” Ashlin teased. Josh grabbed her around the waist and playfully growled into her neck.
“I’m sure you all have things to discuss, but I need to borrow my daughter for the time being,” my mother said as she placed a hand on my shoulder.
I left the group and walked with her down the hallway. Misty trailed behind us like a shadow. It was different being in Hell with my mother. It was an experience I had never gotten to share with her before. We stopped in front of a bedroom door, different from the previous room I had occupied.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Open it,” she said.
I placed my hand over the doorknob as the metal clicked under my touch. Opening the door, I stepped over the threshold as I was finally inside my bedroom within the castle, the one my mother had personally created for me to be my domain. I had never felt so at home.