Kiera, former apprentice to the Demon King, thwarts his assassination, but in return receives a reward she never wanted.
A Horrible Kingdom
by Gabriel Merithew
The wretched demon might have heard the soft whoosh and clink of the deadly winged creature as it’s sharp talons touched down softly on the tiled roof above, but he wasn’t listening. He poured over a scattering of papers at his desk, his brow furled, whispering urgently to himself as orange candlelight flickered across his wrinkled face. If everything went according to plan, the Demon King would be dead before the burnt-out remnants of the sun appeared on the black horizon. This would be no small feat. He knew that whatever happened tonight would determine his fate. He would either remain trapped in the Underworld to vow eternal allegiance to the dreaded Demon King or return to his human body which currently resided in a shallow grave in the human world, where it had maliciously been left to rot. The wretched demon felt the hairs on his neck become stiff at the thought of giving up and bowing down to the embodiment of evil. He couldn’t bear to do that. His plan had to work. This would be his only chance and he couldn’t put the task off any longer.
Rising from his desk, the wretched demon let out a low growl that reverberated around the tiny room. He blew out the candle, but instead of the room going dark, the cold moonlight enveloped him, and he smiled, his large lips curling over pointed black teeth. The courage to carry out the task had finally graced him and he knew that it was time. He took a step towards the door, not noticing the shadow on the wall until its blade pierced his spine. He stared at the bloody blade protruding from his chest, knowing that after all his preparation, his fate had been decided for him. And as the light drained from his glowing green eyes and the putrid smell of demon blood filled the tiny moonlit room, his last thoughts were of the plans in the drawer that would never be carried out. He’d failed before he even had a chance to begin.
The assassin pulled the glinting dagger swiftly from the wretched demon’s skinny corpse and let it fall to the floor with a loud thud. As the assassin turned, moonlight washed over the right side of her pale human face and illuminated a forlorn, yet peaceful expression most peculiar considering the act she’d just committed. The left side of her face remained concealed by a curtain of silky black hair. She wore a black dragon-leather jacket that seemed to only appear in direct light and tight pants of the same material. But her most impressive feature was a wall of giant feathers behind her. Her crow-like wings almost touched the floor in their tucked position and protruded a foot above her head. The feathers ruffled softly in the chilly gusts of stale air. Not wasting any time, she took one swift leap and dove out of the open window, spreading her massive wings at the last second to catch a gust that carried her high above the mass of grey dilapidated buildings and out over a blood-red ocean whose thick liquid undulated and gleamed in the moonlight.
The winged assassin flew through the night, and when she arrived at her destination, she brought her wings in close and plummeted downward, slowing her descent mere feet from the castle parapets. She alighted upon the tallest one and ruffled the feathers of her wings before folding them flat against her back. Then she strode purposefully down the steps with her silky hair billowing out behind her, and her taloned feet clicking softly against the stone. Even though she was no longer in the air, she seemed to glide with the same elegance.
The Demon King was seated at the dining table in the great hall when the assassin swept in. He sat alone, wrapped in a heavily frayed cloak, his bright eyes burned with little wisps of green flame, but to the assassin, he looked tired, for the flames weren’t as intense as usual. He looked up from his disgusting plate of mystery meat, nodded at the woman who’d just entered, and motioned for her to sit next to him at the table. The assassin obeyed, and the scrape of the chair on the rough stone floor echoed throughout the hall. Then she sat, reclining comfortably in the chair, seemingly unfazed by the immensely ugly creature next to her. She emanated a deadly calm and focused aura as she stared fixedly into the eyes of the Demon King.
“Was your assigned task successful, Kiera?” The Demon King spoke in a deep gravelly voice that echoed off the stone walls before being consumed by the palpable air of overwhelming despair that filled the hall.
“Yes, Master,” Kiera replied in a calm voice filled with confidence and certainty.
“Well done. If only the others had your abilities. You impress me once again… I’d like you to continue doing so.”
“I will, Master,” Kiera said.
“Yes. Of course you will,” The Demon King replied, then chuckled to himself. “That Taroz. What an incompetent idiot. He thought he could actually kill me. And to think, I trained him to be an assassin just like you, Kiera… Within these very walls.”
“You can’t have trained him well enough if he couldn’t get within five hundred miles of his target without getting himself killed,” Kira said in the same calm, knowledgeable voice.
The Demon King sat forward at this remark and rested his stubby chin upon twisted interlocked fingers and looked amused, the green flames in his eyes burning a little brighter. “They can’t all be as dependable as you, Kiera. But tell me, do you feel he got what he deserved.”
Kiera knew better than to hesitate at such a question. “Yes. Treason is punishable by death. No exceptions.” She responded immediately as if reciting written word.
The Demon King chuckled again and leaned back in his seat. He grabbed a chunk of meat off his plate and took a large bite. Juice and blood dribbled down his chin and dripped onto his cloak, though this didn’t seem to bother him.
“So how did it happen? I want to know how the fool met his fate.” The Demon King said excitedly once he’d swallowed. He stared into Kiera’s pale face expectantly.
“He was studying his plans to kill you, Master, when I arrived. As I watched through the window, he put his papers away and said in Tallka that he had ‘found his courage’. I assume this meant he was planning to travel here tonight.”
“And?” The Demon King said, his voice becoming malicious and his breathing intensifying.
“I entered through the open window and severed his spine with my blade. He died within seconds.” Kiera said simply, staring at the disgusting creature before her and showing no signs of fear or revulsion.
“Was he surprised? Did you see the look on his face?” The Demon King’s lips began to curl into a sinister grin.
“I would assume that he was surprised, but he did not say anything. As I said, he died within seconds.”
“Ah.” The Demon King said, his grin fading. “Oh well. I almost wish he would have come here, that way I could have killed the wretched creature myself.”
“He is a trained assassin, you would not be able to kill him, Master,” Kiera said, the words escaping her mouth before she realized.
The Demon King scowled. “Do not forget, young one, that I am the one who trained you.”
“Yes, and for that I am…”
“Do you really think I am unable to defend myself?” The Demon King interrupted. “I am more than capable. I let you work for me out of courtesy. The abilities of the royal demon bloodline far surpass the abilities of a moderately talented human spirit.”
Then, as if to prove his point, the Demon King let out a low growl much like Taroz had done, except this time five ghostly shapes phased into existence and encircled him. Kiera didn’t move but continued to stare at the Demon King with the same calm expression on the half of her face not concealed by her cascading hair.
“It seems this notion has been manifesting in your mind for too long. Yes, I think now is the time… I would like you to try to kill me.” The Demon King stated matter of factly, his lips once more curling into a grotesque grin, he was working hard to remain composed. “I will show you what I am capable of since it seems you have forgotten.”
“You would like me to try to kill you?” Kiera sounded wary for the first time. “I do not think it wise, Master.”
“And I’ll try to kill you.” The Demon King continued as if Kiera hadn’t spoken. “I have many other human spirit assassins, and though they may not have your talent with a blade, they at least have full confidence in my abilities which translates to unwavering obedience. Disobedient talent is worth less than faithful mediocrity. Do you understand Kiera? I want to be feared by my followers, and you are just that… nothing… more…”
“You are being childish. I will not try to kill you, and I’ve known you too long to fear you.” Kira stated, adopting her calm tone once more.
“Just think,” The Demon King was now building up an excited head of steam. “You could take the throne for yourself if you succeed. You seemed so confident in your abilities moments ago, my dear Kiera, but now that you’re finally starting to realize just how expendable you are, you will not lift a finger to harm me.”
“If I wanted to kill you, I could,” Kiera said simply.
“THEN DO IT!” The Demon King yelled, spraying Kiera with bits of saliva, his face suddenly contorted with rage.
Kiera did as she was told. In an instant, she had leaped behind the Demon King who was ready for the attack. He turned swiftly and muttered something under his breath. One of the five shapeless ghostly wisps morphed into an armored warrior who flew at Kiera. She unsheathed her blood-stained dagger and in one swift movement ducked under the ghost warrior’s swung blade then jumped on its back, plunging the dagger into a slit in its visor. The ghostly warrior vanished and before the Demon King had a chance to issue a command to the other smoky wisps, Kiera pushed off from the floor and spread her great wings. She threw the dagger with deadly accuracy and it slid easily into the Demon King’s left eye and its fire was extinguished immediately.
The ghostly guards vanished and the Demon King crumpled to the floor. Kiera’s talons clicked on the stone as she landed in front of him and knelt down.
“Why did you make me do that to you, Master.” She said quietly, a hint of remorse in her voice.
Kiera looked into the Demon King’s face and saw that he was smiling as blood trickled from where the dagger still sat lodged in his eye. “Forgive me, sweet Kiera… I am tired and have been for a long time. As I’m the last of my bloodline, I needed someone to take the throne… And though I have succeeded tonight, I can’t say I’m not disappointed that even with your deadly abilities – talent beyond measure – you are as easily manipulated ever.”
“What are you saying?” Kiera breathed.
“Even with your faults, you are still the strongest among my ranks. Kiera, the Underworld will be yours to rule…” He chuckled. “I knew I must trick you into killing me. It was the only way. Please understand.”
“But Master, I don’t want this.” Kiera pleaded.
“Do you think I ever wanted this either?” He said, his words becoming slower and slurred. “I’ve already made the necessary arrangements. When I die – and it should be any moment now – the powers of my bloodline will be yours to command… Please turn this horrible place into something better.”
As Kiera watched, the fire in his remaining eye flickered and died. She stayed at his side, staring into his lifeless face for some time before rising to her feet and looking around. She was now the Queen of the Underworld and this castle was hers.
Without a second glance at the demon slumped lifeless on the floor, she walked out onto the balcony and stood looking out at the vast expanse of misery. The blackened ground below was covered with demons, and they seemed to make up a single writhing mass. The blood sea stretched endlessly beyond, its surface shimmering in the flat light as thick sluggish waves formed and broke. Filled with a sudden surge of tremendous energy, Kiera spread her wings and arms wide and let out a sharp cry that reverberated through the underworld. Giant black thunder clouds formed above in a matter of seconds, then the skies split open and torrential rain began to wash away the muck and slime of millennia.
As one, the demons below stopped whatever they were doing and looked towards the towering castle as their winged ruler leaped from the balcony and glided through the storm, weaving effortlessly through bolts of crackling lightning descending from the sky. Fear was setting in and Kiera knew what she had to do to survive the night.
To Be Continued