Looking around, I could instantly tell that the situation was not a good one. As I gazed upon the faces of the others I could tell they felt the same way. Big, powerful-looking Demons were ordering more squadrons to form up while the Demon in charge of the unit we were in the middle of was staring at us.
“So, uh…,” Tiff whispered, shivering as she briefly met the Demon’s eyes, “we may have to get out of here, pronto.”
I had to agree. Wordlessly I grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the squad, keeping my head low, hoping Tiff had the smarts to do the same. Luckily she did. The others followed my example, and once we were not standing in the midst of his troops the Demon ignored us, issuing orders like nothing had happened. Seeing that was concerning, and an ugly grimace marred my features as I looked around.
“This is a severe issue,” Lydia said, her hand tightly gripping Hailey’s. The half-Angel looked very concerned – and frightened – about how swiftly the Demons had prepared for battle. “We need to locate Diablo immediately and convince him to stop this madness.”
“How?” Nathan frowned at the woman, raising an eyebrow and crossing his arms over his chest. “We have no idea where he could be!”
Lydia gave him a dry look in response. “Maybe if you went and found your mother—”
“What’s this about me?”
We turned to see Yahn standing there, an eyebrow raised questioningly. I didn’t quite know what to say as I looked her up and down. I knew her to be a member of Hell’s Council, thus had never imagined that she would join a battle. Yet here she was, standing before us, clad in armour that didn’t cover her completely. Then again, the other Demons about were dressed similarly. Their hides were tougher than Human skin, so they didn’t really need much in the way of protection.
Yahn was dressed in what appeared to be a battle-skirt with no leg coverings. Over her chest was a leather breastplate, and on her left shoulder was a steel pauldron with a very odd symbol on it. Other than that, she was completely unprotected; her midriff, arms, legs, and head were all exposed.
“Mother,” Nathan managed, just as surprised as I was. “You… are fighting?”
“Reluctantly.” She huffed miserably and looked away. “I feel as if Lord Diablo is making a rash decision, although most of the Council agreed with him when he put the idea forth.”
“They’re all being a pack of twats,” I replied, drawing her gaze back to me. “Sending the entirety of the Demon populace against Ryval is not only stupid, it’s going to result in a lot of Human casualties. She’s in the Human realm, after all, and the second a Demon kills a Human… well, I needn’t say what will happen when that occurs.”
I crossed my arms as the implied truth of my words struck Yahn. She turned her back to us before sighing and nodding. “Follow me,” she murmured. “You and your group may be the only ones capable of changing Lord Diablo’s mind.” She exhaled heavily, then briskly strode away, not even bothering to check if we were following. We did follow but could hardly keep up; Yahn was moving very quickly. It was obvious she wanted this entire battle avoided.
We soon came upon some sort of tent. Yahn opened the flap, ushering us inside and I laid eyes immediately on the Archdemon. Baal and Mephisto’s children were there as well, in the middle of a conversation and speaking in hushed voices.
Diablo looked up at us as we entered, and raised his hand to his family members, signalling the end of their conversation. He did not speak, merely staring at us with quiet, calm eyes. I met his eyes, my own gaze kind of steely.
Yahn left us, then, and for a few moments more all I did was continue to stare at Diablo. Finally, after a short and uncomfortable silence in which he began to grow unnerved, I exhaled and snapped, “You’re being a fucking idiot.”
The Archdemon looked at me in shock, blinking rapidly. He tried to speak but only managed to stumble over his words before choking out, “Excuse me?!”
“You heard me. You’re being a fucking idiot.” I grimaced at him, displeased. “You’re sending your entire able-bodied population against one Demon, which basically leaves the rest of Hell undefended. And you’re sending them to Earth. Have you even thought of the consequences of this ridiculous plan?”
He was silent, unsure what to say, and looked to his brethren for aid. Soren stepped forward at his silence and huffed. “You do realise that if any of your Demons kill a Human, even accidentally, the Heaven-Hell Treaty is immediately made void, potentially plunging your people into yet another war?” he asked as he put his hands on his hips and allowed his words to sink in. “I thought the Archdemon was supposed to prevent war, not cause it.”
Baal raised an eyebrow as Diablo floundered. “They have a valid point, brother.” He peered down at his younger sibling.
The Archdemon looked up at him. “I…” He flushed a bit. “I… admittedly didn’t think of that.” He looked at us with apologetic eyes. “I’m sorry… Did you come here just to stop me? If so… you probably made the correct call.”
I looked briefly at the others, who all nodded at me. Tell the truth, they were saying. So I did. “No. We came here to talk to you about something unrelated; we just found out about this before we arrived.” I winced a little bit. “I… I need to talk to you privately.”
Diablo was quiet, for a time. I could see the bemusement upon his face, but he still obliged my request. Standing and walking over, he placed his hand upon my shoulder and performed a quick, wordless teleportation that soon saw him and me in his office. He then stepped away and turned to face me, putting a hand on his hip. “Alright, Sai. What is so important that it warrants a private discussion?”
“Take a seat,” was my reply as I gestured at his chair. He blinked a little at my tone, his confusion growing. He sat slowly, watching as I took the seat on the other side of the desk. “Diablo,” I began, hoping that I could make this as easy on him as I possibly could. “You may have noticed that the group I came with was… missing a member.”
He rose an eyebrow. “Yes, I did. Aidan is absent. I assume he is at your safehouse, resting?”
This is not going to go down well… “…No.” I shook my head slowly. “That’s… not where he is.” I looked up and met his eyes, miserable. “I… I’m so sorry. Aidan was killed by Ryval.”
I felt the air grow cold, and I swallowed as I watched Diablo’s face pale. “E-Excuse me?” he whispered breathlessly. It was almost as if he didn’t believe me.
I sighed morosely. This was difficult to do. “I’m sorry, Lord Diablo, but your son is dead,” I repeated, my voice little more than a whisper.
The silence in the room was heavy, weighing down upon me. It felt thick and claustrophobic, and I swallowed as I saw tears beginning to prick at the corners of Diablo’s yellow eyes. All I could do was watch as Diablo began to bawl, burying his face in his hands. His shoulders heaved as he sobbed, and he shook uncontrollably.
There was little I could say to him. I could only sit and watch as he cried his heart out.
It took ten minutes for him to compose himself, and when he managed to do so, he was exhausted and deeply perturbed. This distress coloured his voice, as well, as I heard when he said, “Please leave. Track Ryval.”
I nodded and rose from my chair. I said nothing as I departed, although I felt bad about leaving him there alone. I wondered if it was going to take long for Diablo to recover. He would be grieving for some time, and potentially he would never completely heal from this.
The others looked up as I returned, having had to walk back. None of them asked what had occurred; the look upon my face told them everything. Instead, Nathan stepped forward and asked, “Are you ready to go?”
I turned to him, and my stomach flipped as, in my mind’s eye, I saw something I didn’t want to. For a short while all I did was stare at him, utterly paralysed. Only when Soren nudged me and called my name did I return to reality, and I blinked as he asked, “You okay?”
“Uh, fine.” A lie, but I didn’t really care if they knew that or not. Turning to Nathan, I answered his question via a quick nod, and he returned it – albeit with a wary expression – before repeating the gesture to Lydia. She quickly gathered us close, and muttered the incantation to return us to the safehouse.
We bustled into the car once back on Earth, and drove onto the highway. None of us really had a clue where Ryval could have possibly been, so we were merely relying on dumb luck. Or, as we found, not-so-dumb luck.
After driving for a while, we pulled up at a rest stop to get a bite to eat, refuel, and stretch our legs. While walking around the place, Soren found traces of gold.
“Hey, guys, over here!” he called, trying not to draw attention to it.
I hurried over, followed by Lydia, Tiff, and Hailey. I knelt down and peered at the shining liquid. To most, it would have looked like the molten state of a certain precious metal. But I knew differently. “Angel blood.”
Soren nodded as Nathan joined us, having paid for petrol and put the snacks in the car. “Ryval’s definitely been here.”
“Let’s follow the trail. It could take us to her,” I decided, looking back at everyone to see what they wanted to do. Once they’d confirmed they would come along, Soren began to lead us along the path. We walked carefully, treading lightly, and slowly began to find more than just coagulated and half-dried blood. Long feathers – once as white as snow, now dark with mud – were scattered about, scraps of clothes and armour as well. Dread pierced my heart, and I swallowed a lump in my throat.
We had come to a clearing. Trees were snapped and shattered to splinters. Grass was torn up. Shreds of flesh, armour, and clothing were scattered amongst the destruction. Ichor – golden blood mixed with black – was splattered everywhere. Whatever beauty this place had held was now destroyed. Yet it wasn’t the clearing’s appearance itself that disturbed me. It was what I saw in the very centre.
What was once able to be called an Angel was now little more than a bloodied lump. And the reason behind that was the pack of Hellbeasts currently tearing and devouring the body. Meaty chunks were being ripped from bone and swallowed whole while we all watched. My stomach churned.
“How vile,” Nathan grumbled as he summoned a spear to his hand. “This is a clear violation of the treaty.” He looked at me. “Let’s go.”
I nodded, summoning my rapier to my hand and walking out of the bushes. The Hellbeasts immediately focused their attention on us, unsurprising due to most of us being at least half Angel in some way.
“Let’s chase these things off,” Lydia grunted as she pulled out her own sword. The katana’s blade shone in the light as she held it in front of her “I’ll stay a little bit back and protect Hailey and Tiffany.”
“Good idea.” I looked over as Soren summoned a hammer to his person, nodding approvingly at his choice. Then I leapt forward, slashing at one of the Hellbeasts when it lunged for me. Another one tried to jump me when I killed its pack brother, but Soren came to my rescue, slamming his hammer into its side and flinging it into a tree. Nathan was stabbing at a few with his spear, and whenever they broke through our defences, Lydia swiftly dealt with them.
Slowly, but surely, we managed to fight off the beasts, combining the steel of our weapons with our Magic. We only managed to kill six, but the rest decided it would be wiser to flee. I was grateful for that. As much as I could continue to fight, Hellbeasts were incredibly tough creatures with hides thicker than a normal Demon’s skin, not to mention twice as strong as the Earth wolves they happened to resemble. Battling them was always arduous even if you did know what you were doing.
Once the last of the Hellbeasts had retreated I returned my weapon to the sheath I had summoned to my side, then walked over to the corpse and carefully knelt down beside it. My heart went out to the poor Angel who’d probably had no chance to get away. “Damn it…”
Soren came to my side, looking regretful as he too knelt. “We were too late.”
“Too late to save them,” I whispered, frowning. “We can still bury them…” I waved my hand, using my Magic to create a shallow grave beside the fallen warrior. I carefully picked the body up, ignoring the fact it basically fell apart in my arms as I stepped over to the grave and set the Angel in, putting them in the most respectful position I could. It wasn’t much, but it was all I could do. I covered them and murmured a soft prayer, hoping the Angel would have a painless journey to Oblivion, before rising and dusting myself off.
Ominous laughter snapped me from my train of thought. I whipped around, eyes widening when I saw a very familiar figure standing on a raised ledge nearby to us. There was a twisted glint to her eyes, and an equally as demented grin on her face. Anger coursed through me, and I balled my hands, digging my fingernails into my palms. “YOU.”
“Ah, Sai, my dearest daughter~,” she chimed. The way she said it made a chill run up my spine; her tone was malevolent and venomous. “Oh, and you bought your friends, too!” She examined our group, and her grin stretched evilly as she mused, “You appear to be missing a member.”
Because you killed him, I felt like spitting. Instead, I just glared furiously at her. I refused to give her what she wanted.
Unsatisfied that she had not elicited a response, she rolled her eyes and smirked more at us, looking at her fingernails with interest. “You are all weakened from your fight with my dear pets… it will be easy to kill you.”
“Move!” Nathan yelled just as the Demon summoned a pitch black spear to her hand, and jumped down, determined to strike one of us. I jumped to the side, Soren jumping in the opposite direction. Lydia was far enough back to only need to step back a few paces. Tiff and Hailey were behind her, so they remained safe.
But Nathan failed to dodge in time.
Ryval struck him in the back of his right leg, the tip of the spear slicing through the flesh and muscle. I heard him cry out, and looked up to see him keeled over, blood gushing from his wound. No! I wanted to scream, but no words would come as Ryval towered over him, grinning sadistically as she raised the spear above him.
“Nathan!” I heard Lydia cry, but he didn’t look up or respond. As the spear was raised, time seemed to go in slow motion. Nathan gasped and panted in agony, and Lydia screamed his name again, trying to run for him… and not being able to even take a step before Ryval brought the spear down.
The point didn’t pause even briefly as it shot through his neck, and I heard someone scream as I watched in paralysed horror. The spear slid all the way through his throat, the tip soon burying itself in the dirt. Nathan choked and spluttered as the shaft remained lodged in his throat, slick with blood, as Ryval released the spear and took a step back. Red dripped from the puncture wound and pooled on the dirt beneath Nathan as he clutched feebly and pointlessly at the spear. His eyes began to glaze over. His breathing became shallow and rapid as he desperately, futilely, tried to suck in oxygen. But within minutes, he collapsed, eyes wide with agony. His breathing stopped soon after.
As we all stared in despair and horror at the corpse, the laughter began, ringing through the empty air and truly setting what had happened in stone.
It was Nathan who had been next to die.