Rolling over, I stared at the canopy above me as I lay silently next to Gabriel. His soft breathing was rhythmic, soothing to my ears. It was like a vibrant hum trying its best to lull me back to sleep. It was early morning by my calculations, the sunrise not due for a few more hours.
I sat up from the bed, pushing the comforter back slowly so as not to disturb Gabriel. Swinging my feet over the edge, I touched the cold hardwood floor. I felt Gabriel shift in his sleep as every muscle in my body froze like a statue. While normally I would enjoy his presence, I wanted to be alone for a few moments. I started to feel suffocated by having everyone around me constantly fretting over whether I would be killed today or tomorrow.
Standing from the bed so as not to cause it to squeak, I tiptoed across the room to open the door. It creaked loudly on its hinges, causing my heart to race. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Gabriel still sound asleep as I rushed into the hallway, leaving the door slightly ajar to not cause any more noise.
Gliding down the hall, trying not to place all my weight upon the old floors, I made my way down the carpeted stairs to the den. Sighing with relief, I sat down on one of the sofas and stretched out with my feet along the couch, and my back propped up against the armrest, facing the last remnants of fire within the hearth.
“Can’t sleep?” Helen said from the doorway of the kitchen, a mug in her hands. “I could make you some tea?”
Realizing that my time alone had been spent, I nodded as Helen turned back towards the kitchen to pour another cup. She entered the den with a second mug in her other hand and extended it to me as she reached the sofa. Taking it, she made her way over to the couch across from me and mimicked my posture, sipping the warm tea.
“I assume you have the hunger as well,” she stated. It wasn’t a question.
“You mean you have to drink demonic blood also?” I queried.
“It skips over some of us born to Archdemons. Most of our ancestors require it, but our bloodline has been tainted with lesser demons, causing our hunger to change over time. Unfortunately, for you and I, we were born with a purer line,” she remarked.
“I’ve never really been able to talk about it before. I don’t bring it up to my friends because a part of me wants them to forget that aspect of me,” I admitted.
“You feel like they would be afraid of you,” she reiterated. “That’s completely normal. I felt the same way when I came into my own hunger. Lilith was terrified of me, you know.”
“Really? Your own sister?” I asked. The thought made me wonder if my own mother could possibly be afraid of me as well.
She nodded, setting the cup in her lap with her hands still around it. “It happened when we were kids, a little younger than you. The hunger hits us at different times. Lilith and I were playing within our kingdom near the center of Hell. We were out on the lawn and swinging from a rope tied to a tree. It was the only form of entertainment we had at the time, very unladylike mind you. I was pushing your mother as she stood on the board attached at the end, clutching the rope with both hands, and she fell. She cracked her head open, blood gushing from the wound, and that’s when my hunger peaked.”
“What did you do?” I asked, listening intensely to her story.
“I called for the guards first, but then I neared her to help her up as she cried. When I knelt down over her, I touched her forehead, and she quieted. She thought I was consoling her, taking away all the pain and fear,” she said as she mimed the motion through the air with her hand. “When I pulled my hand back, I looked at the blood dripping from my fingertips. I couldn’t stop it, the feeling inside. Holding it up to my lips, I took the slightest taste.”
“Did you attack her?”
“No,” she said suddenly, letting her hand drop to her lap. “I would’ve, but a guard had made their way over to us and snatched me away from Lilith. That guard knew right then and there that I had inherited the hunger. Our parents were informed, and they sat us both down a few days later to explain it to both of us. At that time, we were unsure if Lilith would inherit it as well, but she gained the hunger for human blood, a trait more favorable with lesser demons for completely justified reasons.”
“You think my hunger will hinder my reign?” I asked, bracing myself for her inevitable answer.
“You’ll always have to hide that aspect of yourself, Kasdeya,” she answered. “While we don’t have to feed frequently, it’s a curse we have to obey. Your friends are gracious enough to help you, and I’m sure they know your condition.”
“You make it sound like something’s wrong with me,” I mumbled, starting to feel sorry for myself as I stared down into my cup.
“No, Honey,” she cooed. “Nothing is wrong with you. Quite the opposite. Your blood is pure, and it was bound to happen.”
“What do you mean by pure? I’m a hybrid,” I pointed out.
“You think celestial beings don’t have a hunger of their own?” she inquired, her eyes darkening.
“What do you mean? Angels don’t drink blood…” I trailed off.
“They don’t, but they also have a burning desire they must feed. It differs from ours. We desire blood, carnage, and malicious energy to thrive in the human world. Where we embody wrath, they embody pride. They constantly disguise their holy missions as a way to rid the world of evil when secretly they enjoy the hunt as much as we do,” she explained.
“I’m not sure I understand,” I replied.
“Who do you think created us? Demons, that is.”
I thought for a moment, stumped by her answer. While we were taught about the demonic hierarchy, we accepted our existence without questioning a creator.
“God, Kasdeya,” Helen answered for me. “God created all of us, down to the lowliest creature.”
“If that’s true, then why are we condemned to Hell?” I asked, intrigued by our conversation.
She sat back in her seat and sighed. “Eve wasn’t the only one who ate of the Tree of Knowledge as much as God would like you to believe. There were creatures in the garden, not only the animals you see in the forests today. Some of them were us. We were never human, simply creatures he created from the elements of his world. They were the first Archdemons, and they too ate of the tree, but unlike his precious humans, we were condemned to Hell where we stayed until Lucifer was sent to command us, to reign over the souls denied entrance into Heaven.”
“So basically we’re mistakes that God doesn’t want to own up to,” I commented.
“It was a blessing, Kas,” Helen continued. “If it wasn’t for God’s act, we would have never had our thriving civilization in Hell. He gave us our own kingdom to rule, and although we may have to deal with the vile and despicable, he deemed us strong enough to do that, to withstand that pressure. Don’t you see? We’re the strong ones here, not celestials.”
“And what of the hunger? You mentioned it was a curse,” I stated.
“It was,” she continued. “Another one of God’s punishments for defying his orders. Condemned to feed on our own kind until we learned to coexist and mix with the other wretched souls around us, diluting our bloodline to weaken us. We saw how that turned out.”
“Okay, we’re strong, but what does that have to do with my current situation?” I asked, frustrated.
“What it means is that you are the true and only heir to Hell, and no one can take that from you. You connect all the realms through your blood, and that’s why Leviathan sees you as such as threat,” she explained.
“Oh, so you know about that,” I said flatly.
“Baku has been keeping us all in touch with one another. It’s safer that way since he can travel through dreams staying hidden from everyone,” she replied. “I knew Leviathan when we were younger. He’s always been extremely loyal to your father, and it doesn’t surprise me that he wants your throne.”
“I assumed as much since I have a bounty on my head, and I’m wanted in front of the tribunal,” I remarked.
“They’re not looking just to dethrone you, Kas. They’re looking to sentence you to death,” she revealed.
“I figured as much,” I muttered. “It seems like everyone would like to see me dead.”
“Keep your friends close and your secrets closer. If you go to trial before staking your claim on the throne, you’ll never sit upon it,” she warned.
“Did my mother ever tell you that you’re kind of pessimistic?” I asked.
Aunt Helen smiled into her cup. “All the time, but I like to think it’s about being realistic. No one likes false hope.”
We sat silently for a moment in front of the dying fire before Helen sat her cup down on the table between us and walked over to the hearth. Picking up a log for the fireplace, she dropped it on top of the embers and took a little bit of the newspaper nearby in a basket, crumpling it into a ball and stuffing it under the log. The paper ignited, causing the wood to smoke before she poked some kindling around it with the iron fire poker leaning against the brick. She sat back down on the couch once the fire was sufficiently roaring.
“You’ll want to maintain your demonic form when you enter Hell,” she began, taking another sip of her tea. “The other demons in your party will need to do so as well.”
“Why?” I asked, not understanding what that had to do with my quest.
“It shows solidarity with the other demons in Hell. Generally, we maintain our forms there as a sign of liberation. We only retain our human form to blend in when we’re visiting above ground,” she explained. “Plus, it can be intimidating. You’ll want to use that to your advantage.”
“Uh, I guess,” I mumbled. “It’s only triggered when I activate my powers.”
“I was able to hide for so long from my demon brethren because they had never seen my human form. They don’t even recognize me,” she smiled. “I doubt many of them have witnessed your demonic form, yes? At least, not outside of the murals there.”
I thought for a moment about the brief times I had entered into that form. “Probably not, but the bounty hunters have my scent—”
“And when they see the heir of Lucifer in all her glory, they will bow and tremble at your feet,” she interjected. “I’ve never had the pleasure of witnessing your power, but I have no doubt that it’s magnificent. They will be in awe of you. It may even save your life.”
“I’ve never even seen the others outside of their human forms,” I mused. “I never knew how terrifying it was to see a demonic form until I met Leviathan.”
“He’s a very proud demon with a very fragile ego. Trust me, he wasn’t worth the time I spent betrothed to him,” Helen said nonchalantly. While her words were a scoff against his character, I could sense there was pain there.
“I don’t mean to pry, but what happened with that?” I asked, too curious to leave the subject alone.
Aunt Helen gazed into the flames of the fire with sorrowful eyes. “He chose a side, and I chose mine. The last time I saw him, he attended my funeral rites on the River Acheron, where the Ferryman escorted a boat filled with flowers into oblivion. There were more people than I actually knew, which was typical of anyone passing in a royal family line. I think he cared for me, but I was dead, and so were any feelings I had felt for him.”
“What does he look like in his human form? Did you ever see it?” I asked.
Helen sighed over her tea. “No, actually. Leviathan stayed mostly in Hell, and when he did visit Earth, I was never with him, so I have no idea.”
“Great,” I said. “He knows what I look like, but I have no idea how he looks as a human. I could walk right past him and have no idea.”
“He and I had the same idea when it came to our forms,” she admitted. “He’s a smart one, I’ll give him that.”
The sun peaked over the rooftops of the houses across the street from Aunt Helen’s, casting a warm yellow glow through the window in front of the den. The rays spread across the floor, illuminating the dark green walls and the old paintings that hung on them. Footsteps could be heard coming down the stairs behind us as we both turned to face the sound.
Penelope entered the den, and I moved my legs for her to take a seat on the other end of the sofa. Her hair was disheveled from sleeping heavily on her side, and her eyes were barely open as the sun filtered in further from outside.
“What are you drinking?” she asked me as she peered over into my cup.
“It’s tea. Would you like some?” Helen asked as she stood from the couch. Before Penelope could answer, Helen was in the kitchen already putting another kettle onto the gas stove that had long since replaced the original wood-burning one.
“How long have you been up?” Penelope asked as she settled down onto the couch, trying to hide from the sunshine.
“For a while,” I answered. “Aunt Helen and I have been talking about Hell and demons. You know, the usual.”
“Anything interesting we should know?” she inquired.
“Did you know that God created demons and we were cursed for eating the forbidden fruit?” I asked.
She blinked. “Well, it makes sense, I suppose.”
“You accepted that theory pretty quickly,” I replied.
“Well,” she began, “if God is the creator of all things, then it would stand to reason that he also created demons. As for eating the fruit, I didn’t know about it, but it does raise an extremely foreign concept for your kind.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“At one point, God loved you,” she stated. “I mean, God loved all his creations, so demons were among that list of creatures he loved at some point in time.”
“Well, he doesn’t love us now,” I pointed out. “Apparently, his curse is the reason the Archdemon bloodline causes us to hunger for our own kind. The more diluted the line, the less likely you turn out to be a freak.”
“You’re not a freak,” Penelope assured. “You can’t help your pedigree, and besides, most of your ancestors before you had the same hunger you have.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not like I can ask Great Grandfather Baal to undo what he did. Probably for the best that he was killed in battle long before I was born. If he knew I had destroyed the Dark Lord, he’d probably kill me himself,” I declared.
“Our Grandfather was one of the worst of the worst,” Aunt Helen stated as she walked back into the den with a new cup for Penelope. “Honestly, if I could’ve faked my death sooner, I would have. That man was not to be trifled with. He only settled down after Lucifer made your mother Queen.”
“How do demons die exactly?” Penelope asked.
“Just like any other person, sort of,” Helen stated. “Of course, we kind of get a second chance if we die on Earth in our human form. Once that happens, we have to stay in Hell because our human form is lost forever, but if we die in Hell, in our demonic form? Then that’s it. There’s no coming back. We may live for a very long time, but we can be killed.”
“What if you’re killed in your demonic form but not your human form?” I asked.
“Then you’re dead,” she said. “Your demonic form is your true form. Take me, for example. What you see right now is basically a disguise, a glamor of sorts in witch terms. Really, you don’t want to be killed in either form. Trust me on that.”
“Is there a chance Lucifer is still alive?” Penelope inquired. The same thought crossed my mind as well.
“Unfortunately, celestials are outside my scope of expertise. Do you hear the voices?” Helen asked me.
“You know about the voices? How?”
“Lucifer could hear them too once he ascended to the throne. He told your mother and me about them before he learned how to listen and control it. If you can hear them, then I think it’s safe to say that your father is no longer among us,” she explained.
“Did he tell you how he was able to control them?”
“No,” she answered me. “I know it took him a very long time to get used to them invading his thoughts.”
“Another thing to add to my plate,” I mumbled. “When it happens, I can’t focus. I have a splitting headache, and it affects my abilities. What if it occurs, and I can’t fight for my friends?”
Penelope looked at me with concern. I could tell she was wondering how heavily these thoughts weighed on my mind. It was starting to make sense to her how afraid I was of losing any of them.
“Do you still have the tarot card with you?” Aunt Helen took a sip of her tea as if it weren’t already obvious.
“You?” I asked incredulously. “You were the one who sent that card? How?”
“The white witches I hang around may have helped me get that to you by adding in a little of my own magic in the mix,” she said with a wink. “Keep it on you. It will help you stay focused enough to think when those episodes strike you, but I implore you to find a way to control it as your father did. I’m surprised that card has lasted as long as it has.”
“You mean its magic is limited?”
“All magic has its limits,” Penelope chimed in. “It’s one of our shortcomings that we don’t like to admit.”
Before I could add to the conversation, the chimes around the porch started to tinkle and then clanged together violently. We glanced about ourselves as the windows around the house began to rattle as if a large gust of wind was pounding against it.
“It’s the wards. Somethings wrong,” Helen stated. “You weren’t followed here, were you?”
“What? No. At least I don’t think so,” I insisted as I stood from the couch. The others ran down the stairs as books fell from the bookcase, and knickknacks crashed to the ground from the mantle over the fireplace.
Suddenly, the chimes and the rustling stopped, the house falling silent.
“What’s going on?” Gabriel asked as the others followed him into the den. Penelope stood up from the couch and walked towards the window.
A large black raven landed on the window sill outside of the house directly in front of Penelope. It stared into her eyes before cawing and taking flight back into the sky. Penelope spun around with a shocked expression upon her face.
“Penelope, what is it?” Ebony asked, worried for her girlfriend.
“They know we’re here,” Penelope said, stunned.
“How? Who?” we asked her frantically.
“That was Blaise’s familiar,” she finally answered. “The Bishop Coven knows we’re here.