It was the last class of the day for Tiff and I, and we were fidgety, raring to go. It had been a week since we’d met with Lazarus, and after much careful preparation, our group was ready to venture into the Demon realm. Tiff and I hadn’t really been allowed to help with the preparation; we had been relegated to just bumming around, really, and keeping an eye on the door. Nobody else in the school ever appeared to notice it, and if they did, they didn’t really care about it, which was good for us.
Finally the bell rang, and Tiff and I were out of the classroom before anyone else, like per normal. We were both excited and worried about what our little excursion would reveal to us, and we were itching to see if we could convince the Archdemon to send us, and not his forces, to deal with Ryval.
We quickly headed to the lockers, talking animatedly in hushed tones, but Tiff shut me up as one of our other friends approached, a frown on her face. She looked really concerned, and I knew that Tiff wasn’t about to say anything, so it was up to me.
“What’s on your mind?” I asked, concerned, and she told us that our recent behaviour had been concerning her and the others. I had to very quickly think up a ruse, not wanting our cover to be blown. “Oh, um… A couple of mates of ours are taking us on a trip, and we’ve been really excited for it, as well as nervous because we’re going somewhere we’ve never been before.” It was a terrible explanation (and technically not a lie), but our other friend seemed to buy it and walked off, already having gathered her bag.
“Wow,” Tiff said dryly as we too collected our stuff and left the school grounds. “That was the worst excuse ever.” She grinned and stuck her tongue out at me as she spoke, and I returned it before laughing. “Well, I guess the proverb is right. If it looks stupid, but it works, it’s not stupid.”
“Exactly,” I agreed as we walked out to find Nathan’s car waiting for us. He was leaning against the side of it, tapping away at a mobile phone, although he looked up and inclined his head in our direction as we approached. He pushed himself off of the car and slipped the phone into his pocket as we stopped in front of him. “So. Everything ready for tonight’s venture into Hell?” I asked him, raising an eyebrow.
He nodded. “Yes.” He pulled open the driver’s side door and got in, and Tiff and I followed suit, jumping into the back seats before he pulled away from where he was parked and started driving back towards the safehouse.
Once we got back– after Nathan almost killed us with his insane driving because he ran a red light and almost got hit by a truck – we discussed going to Hell a bit more with the group, confirming final details and how we were going to go about finding the Archdemon, until it was time to go.
Under cover of darkness we all packed into the car, drove towards the school, and after I went in first and disabled the security systems, snuck into the building and stole over to the door. In all its normality, it was perfectly reasonable that it had gone unnoticed, but at the same time it just looked odd where it was. I shook my head as I thought about it, then looked back at the others and nodded.
Aidan nodded back, stepping forward so that he was directly in front of the door. We all stepped back to give him space, but before he could start the incantation, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why are you the only one who can do this? I didn’t think Humans had any Magic… and… why couldn’t a Nephilim do it?”
Aidan frowned at me as he turned to face me. “Some Humans have magic, Sai. And, well… Because you’re tainted with Angel blood,” was his reply, and that served to bewilder me. I didn’t understand, and it must have showed on my face because he sighed and said, “This is Demon Magic that doesn’t work when one has Angel blood running in their veins. Nephilim have both, so the spell will fail.”
“But Human magic isn’t capable of this… is it?” I asked, feeling very lost.
He nodded. “No, it’s not, but… I’m not a full Human. I’m only half-Human.”
That was a revelation that shocked me, and I didn’t quite piece it together until Tiff said, “And you have Demon blood... so you’re half-Demon too.”
He nodded as I stared at him, shocked. “Yep, because my dad’s a Demon. Only these guys knew that.” He motioned to the others, who merely shrugged, before he turned back to the door and started to chant the incantation that would open it. As he did, I noticed his eyes change from a dark blue to a piercing yellow, and I shuddered before the door swung open, revealing... Well, it wasn’t a wall; that was for sure. I didn’t quite know how to describe it. It looked like blackness, but at the same time, it looked like fire. In any case I didn’t want to step into it, but I knew I had to. And, once it was opened the full way, Aidan stepped back and indicated that we could enter.
“That looks ominous...,” Tiff murmured to me as I watched Nathan hesitantly step into the doorway first. Lydia and Soren followed, then Iris and Hailey. Tiff and I had more reservations than the others, but Aidan informed us that he had to go through last to ensure that we weren’t trapped if the door closed, which disallowed either of us two from going last. So, apprehensively, we stepped through in unison.
It was... sort of like falling through a dark tunnel. A very warm one. Gravity took hold, causing us to plummet downwards, and Tiff and I screamed as we fell, clinging to each other dear life as we descended. Neither of us could keep our eyes open, thinking that we were going to splat on the ground... but we never did.
Instead, we found ourselves slowing and landing quite gently, feet first, on red, cracked, dry ground. As soon as I opened my eyes, I looked around and frowned at the scenery. It was the total opposite of Heaven; it was ominous, the sky sickly and yellow, with dark clouds that flashed with streaks of electricity. There were structures in the distance, although I couldn’t tell what they were.
“Well,” I huffed, biting my lip and shivering despite the sickly heat of the realm. “This place is a treasure.” I shook my head and looked at Lydia. “Okay, so, what now?”
“We must find the Archdemon.” The Nephilim agent frowned as she looked up at the malevolent-looking sky. “Yet already we have stumbled upon a problem: we have no guide, unlike our time in Heaven.”
“How about we just wander around until we find something?” Tiff seemed reluctant to say that, but it was the best idea that any of us had, and we all nodded before heading around. We stuck close together, soon stumbling upon the earlier seen structures, which turned out to be civilisation. Buildings of black, roughly hewn stone surrounded us, and the suspicious eyes of Demons peered out of the gaping holes that substituted as windows. I shivered underneath their gazes, and shifted close to Tiff and Iris, who were the most afraid of our group. I was worried, but only for their safety; Demons were a species of hunters and predators. Or so I’d always been told. These ones... just looked intrigued and suspicious of our presence.
We wandered around, soon finding ourselves in front of what appeared to be a large dome of smooth onyx. The black stone looked interesting in the yellowish light, yet also appeared more ominous due to the sheen of the rock. It was not, however, the dome itself that drew our attention; it was the woman approaching us. She looked very formal and important and her eyes were calm, yet she held the same suspicion that the other Demons we’d come across had possessed.
Before any of us could greet her, however, the woman said to us, “You must leave immediately.”
“Who are you to tell us what we must or must not do?” Aidan scowled, crossing his arms, not liking how brusque the lady was.
She looked at him, her eyes calm and slightly lofty, her body held confidently. “I am Yahn of the Demon Council.” Her words made Nathan smile, for some reason, and I frowned, not understanding why. “Hell is under a state of lockdown. Visitors, as rare as they are, must be turned back. I know not how you got in – you are unguided – but you must return to your realm.”
“Sorry, but we’re not leaving.” Nathan’s voice was gentler than I’d ever heard it, and Yahn turned to him before smiling warmly. Did they know each other? “We have to ask for the Archdemon’s assistance.”
She turned her eyes down. “Ah, no. I’m afraid that is not possible. I must still turn you away.” She turned her back, then stopped, and sighed before looking over her shoulder at us. “Please. Leave immediately.”
“No can do,” Iris said, her voice cheery. “We need to speak to the Archdemon about Ryval!”
This caused a reaction; Yahn stiffened before whipping around fiercely. “Why do you mention her?!” Her unexpected and intense anger was alarming, and most of us – everyone except the ever-calm Hailey, and Nathan – flinched backwards. Her eyes were ablaze, which only added to our fear, but that flame died out as she composed herself. “I apologise. It is just that… tempers are frayed at the current time.”
“Can we ask why?” Nathan asked, his brows furrowed in concern. “You’re a Demon Councillor, Mother. you do know the reason behind the lockdown, and you’re technically not disallowed from telling us.”
“Mother?” I inquired, quite shocked. “Yahn is your—”
“Yes,” she said briskly, cutting me off. “And I do know indeed the reason behind the lockdown. I’m afraid you all came here in vain; the Archdemon was found dead – murdered – in his bedchamber.” Her words struck a horrible silence into us. “We believe that he was murdered by a Demon, although we’ve yet to find the perpetrator.” She turned her head away. “Now, we must elect a new Archdemon, before chaos begins to descend.”
“Do you not have a temporary leader?” I asked, frowning. I didn’t know a lot about Demon culture, but I understood that they would usually have a stand-in for the missing or deceased Archdemon until either said Archdemon’s return, or his replacement was selected.
Yahn huffed at me. “Unfortunately, the one we would normally look to in times like this is in self-imposed isolation and refuses to see to it. Thus, the responsibility has fallen to one of his younger brethren.” She shook his head. “It does not change a thing. Leave at once. I will not ask again.”
“Too bad, Mother,” Nathan said. “We are seeing the Archdemon or, rather, his temporary fill-in.” He crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow at her. “Would you stand in our way, especially when we may know who killed Lord Kruan?”
A bold statement, that was for sure, but I had my sneaking suspicions about who had committed the act, and the others had to be in the same mindset. To us, it was actually fairly obvious who’d done it, but we said nothing; we merely looked at Yahn, who appeared to have been stunned by Nathan’s proclamation. She looked away, her eyes darkening with thought. Eventually she looked back at us, heaving a sigh. “Very well. I shall take you to our current leader.”
She turned on her heel and waved her hand at part of the onyx dome’s wall, and much to our surprise it just seemed to melt into a black puddle. She stepped over the threshold, then looked back at us, raising an eyebrow expectantly. Knowing this was our cue to follow, I took a deep breath and stepped over the melted door. Surprisingly, the temperature inside of the dome was a comfortable one for Humans and Nephilim, despite it actually being much cooler than comfortable for Demons. I blinked a few times, trying to adjust to the darkness inside; the dome was only dimly lit, as Demons didn’t need much light to see by. But I had no complaints as Yahn beckoned for us to follow, and we did, treading carefully and ensuring we stayed together.
We walked through shadowed, twisting corridors, nervously following Yahn, who walked confidently. She knew the place like the back of her hand, Nathan told us, which was good because I had absolutely no idea where we were within this dome. I was actually glad that she was taking us to the stand-in Archdemon, because had we entered this place ourselves, I doubted we would ever find our way to our destination… or our way out.
After about twenty minutes of traversing the maze of corridors, our group finally stopped in front of a door, and Yahn knocked in a particular pattern before there was a loud clunk, and the door slid into the roof. We strode inside, only to find ourselves in a room that once again reminded me rather painfully of the Nephilim Council’s chamber: a large semi-circle desk was surrounding us, while a higher seat was behind it. The Councillors were all there, although one seat – Yahn’s, I assumed – was empty, and there was a red-skinned Demon man standing in front of them, languidly speaking in the Demon tongue. He stopped, however, as we entered, and stared at us with piercing yellow eyes that lacked any sort of whites or pupils. What caught my eye, however, were the very Demonic features of the man; he had large, dark grey spikes jutting from his back, on both sides of his spine, as well as had a thick tail with six spikes on the tip of it, and large dark grey horns framing his face.
He raised an eyebrow as he focused on our guide. “Councillor Yahn, the entirety of Hell is in lockdown. No visitors are allowed. And yet...” He looked us all over, his gaze resting on Aidan a bit longer than the rest of us. “You bring Nephilim, Humans and Halflings?”
I was more than a bit confused when he said the plural of Halfling, as I was certain that we only had one Halfling with us. Halfling was the term used to describe someone who did not fall into the strict categories of Nephilim, Angel or Demon; all Halflings had Human genetics. Halfling was not the official name for these half-Humans, but the official title was rarely used. Aidan was our Halfling... so why did the red-skinned Demon say that we had at least one other with us?
“They claim they may know who murdered Lord Kruan.” Yahn’s uttered words caused the rest of the Council to whisper among themselves, but they silenced when the Demon man raised his hand, allowing her to continue. “They also wish to speak with you about Ryval.”
I swear, his eyebrows almost shot into the roof. “Really now?” he mused, looking at us. “Do enlighten me, once we exit the room.” He turned to Yahn. “The Council has been waiting for you, but now that you have arrived, you can begin.”
“Of course, sir,” Yahn said. She looked at us. “Go with him. Tell him what you assume, and keep an eye out for Lazarus, too. He’s dealing with two injured Angels one of our warriors brought back the other day.” Then she took her place at the Council table as we all filed out, the red Demon leading us. He said nothing as we left the room, and for a number of moments, we were walking in silence. I couldn’t help but wonder about the two aforementioned Angels; were they the missing ones Augral and Tyta had mentioned back in Heaven?
”So, you say you know who killed Lord Kruan?” The Demon’s question snapped me from my thoughts, and I looked up to see that he was looking over his shoulder at us. “Please, enlighten me. I am currently in charge of the Demons, in place of my older brother, so all queries and leads are to be reported to myself.”
We walked into a large corridor filled with cells as I went to speak, and I was cut off when the Demon gasped and ran over to Lazarus, who was crumpled in the middle of the hallway. He was heavily wounded, and thick black blood pooled around him as the Demon man who’d been guiding us knelt down next to him.
But Lazarus’ injuries were not what concerned me the most, even if I was immensely worried for his wellbeing. The cells nearby looked like they’d been broken into, and there were no Angels in sight. And going off of what we had been told back in the Council chamber…
If there had indeed been Angels here, then they had been taken... and that meant they were possibly in danger.