A Demon’s Wrath: Chapter 6

2015 A Demon Wrath Book Cover Version 1Chapter VI

CECELIA WOKE UP TO THE sound of laughter. She turned her head toward the window as a gentle breeze caressed her face. She sat up and looked about her surroundings. The sun was starting to set. How long had she been sleeping? She was about to get up when she saw a woman standing at the opened doorway. Her blond hair floated all the way down to her waist. Her blue eyes and fair skin made Cecelia catch her breath. Never before had she seen such beauty.

Both Lady Rosanna and Lady Juliet could never compare to this one, she thought.

“I apologize if I bother you,” the woman said.

“Nay, you did not bother me at all,” Cecelia said, blushing, for she knew she was staring. She couldn’t help herself, of course. “’Tis me who should apologize. I’m ogling at you,” she admitted.

“I am used to it,” Vera said and laughed. She came to Cecelia and touched her arm. “I thank you for saving my son.”

Cecelia widened her eyes. “You’re Lucifer’s mother?”

The woman smiled. “Aye, I was told by the king that I should not be here disturbing your rest, but I cannot wait. You see, Lucifer is very dear to me.” Her eyes softened.

“I understand,” Cecelia said, thinking about her mother and Brian. Her heart suddenly constricted. It had been three full weeks now.

“Oh Lord,” Vera said, “do forgive me, but I am a bad hostess indeed.”

For a moment, Cecelia forgot she was supposed to be her brother. She quickly nodded at the woman who was now curtsying to her as to a king.

“Welcome, Brian, to the Demon Kingdom.”

Cecelia’s heart kicked in her chest. She blinked and stared wide-eyed at the woman. “Demon what?”

Vera looked up to her then and repeated, “Demon Kingdom.”

“You are?” Cecelia stared at the woman.

“Lady Vera McNamara, wife of Lord Adam McNamara who is a cousin of the king,” she provided.

“But… but,” Cecelia stammered, shaking her head in disbelief.

Vera raised her brows. “But what?”

“But you are not… demon-like, hideous,” Cecelia finished, blushing, for she knew she sounded stupid even in her own confused mind.

Vera laughed. She couldn’t help herself, for she too had once thought of demons as hideous, monstrous creatures who merely lived to kill. That, however, changed when she had met Adam.

“My dear boy, what did you expect? Demons looking like monster?”

“Well, yes, I saw demons. They have beastlike bodies and faces like wolves.”

“Do stop there, Brian. But if those are the demons you have just described, they are child’s play,” Vera said, though she didn’t at all sound very concerned or put off because Cecelia had just looked down on her husband’s kind.

“I didn’t expect demons to look like humans,” Cecelia said.

“Oh, do not be surprised, my dear boy. Demons are much the same as human.” She smiled. “Now enough talk. ’Tis getting late. Dinner is on soon. Would you like me to help you clean up?”

Cecelia clamped her lips and her cheeks turned crimson. “Nay, but thank you,” she said quickly.

“Very well, then. Those are your clothing for now. I do hope they will fit your small frame. Do you always keep your hair so long?”

Cecelia touched her messy hair that was still tied at the nape of her neck with a black ribbon. “Aye, ’tis our fashion at the moment where I come from,” she lied.

“Our men like to keep their hair short. It is a fashion led by Gerick. You could say he is the handsomest demon in our kingdom. The females fall for him no matter their age. Drake, our king, he is different. He likes his hair long. It reminds him of freedom, like when he was a prince. He likes sailing his own ship and does as he pleases. He has been to many kingdoms. But no matter, here I am muttering about things you must find very boring. I will leave you to your bathing now,” she said, thanked Cecelia once again for saving her son, and then left.

Not long afterward, two maids brought in a hot tub, which they placed near the brightly lit hearth. Cecelia was able to bathe in peace once they had left. She stayed in the tub for half an hour, enjoying the lovely scent of herbs and rose petals and the warm water. She closed her eyes and relaxed her tense, tired body. When the water had gotten cold, she climbed out and got dressed in the breeches, shirt, and coat provided by Vera. Once her dark hair was slightly dried by the fire, she tied it at the nape of her neck with her black ribbon.

She was walking out into the corridor when Lucifer rushed from the corner and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Brian!” he squealed.

“Lucifer!”

“Come, come,” the boy said, pulling her by the hand. “Dinner is starting. This way. I get the honor of showing you to the dining chamber.”

“Oh!” she said, allowing the young demon to drag her across the great hallway.

Without Lucifer’s aid, she was sure she would get lost indeed, for the castle was a maze of a place. There were so many doors that she couldn’t keep count. The castle was beautifully furnished and artfully designed. Numerous gigantic paintings of demons in generations past were hung on the walls. Many were males and a few were females. Their hair colors were all different, but their features, to Cecelia’s interest, were all very similar.

Lucifer turned to the right, and before she knew it, she was walking along a very high-ceilinged corridor with huge red drapes hanging against enormous glass windows. She looked about her in fascination, for there were more interesting paintings. One caught her eyes. She couldn’t help but stare at it as she walked.

The eyes in the painting gazed down at her as if perceiving deep into her soul. The dark-gray color seemed, to her very imaginative mind, to be burning with smoke. The shoulder-length, dark-chestnut hair, strong, prominent jaws, and high cheekbones quickened her beating heart. Surely, she had never seen a more darkly handsome man in her life. But then, she reasoned with herself, this was no man; this was a demon. But demons were supposed to be ugly, not so pleasing to look at that it set her heart to jumping hazardously. And it wasn’t even the real demon she was looking at. It was merely a painting.

“We’re almost there,” Lucifer said.

“’Tis rather a long way,” she said, tearing her gaze from the painting and concentrating on trying not to get lost the next time she was to come to the dining room. But then, she thought, there would be no next time, for she planned to get the pearl as soon as possible and leave. She knew her mother was getting weaker by the day, and it was wise not to waste more time.

They were turning another corner when she heard the humming of laughter and buzzing of conversation.

“We’re here,” Lucifer announced, leading her toward the huge open double door.

She hesitated. She wasn’t used to barging into a room full of people she didn’t know.

“Come on.” Lucifer pulled her hand.

She stood rooted to her spot. “I…” She wanted to turn back.

“There you are,” Vera called, appearing at the door. She glided toward them. “Come along, Brian. Do not be bashful.” She laughed, and Cecelia blushed.

Vera took her hand and led her into the dining room. Cecelia stared fixedly at the polished floor the whole time she was being dragged in. They stopped behind a huge mahogany dining table.

“Brian, ’tis a pleasure to have you here. We wanted to thank you for helping our son,” Vera started. “Brian, may I introduce you to our king?”

Cecelia didn’t turn her face to look at the demon king. She fixed her gaze on the beautifully designed cutlery and plates on the table. She was about to curtsy when she hesitated, remembering she was not Lady Cecelia Van Zandt right then, but young Lord Brian Van Zandt. She bowed her head instead.

“Lift your face, boy. I am not pleased to look at your head when I am addressing to you.”

Cecelia’s heart kicked in her chest. The deep timber turned her stomach hollow. She took a deep breath, and summoning all her courage, she lifted her head. Her dark-brown eyes met a pair of stormy-gray ones. Her heart drummed in her chest. The sound was so loud in her own ears she was surprised no one was complaining about it.

“That’s better,” Drake said, a hint of a smile on his lips.

Cecelia couldn’t stop staring at him. He was the demon she had seen in the painting. He was the demon king.

“How do you find yourself in such a situation, boy?” he asked.

Cecelia blinked. She didn’t know how to reply, and the room turned silent. Everyone was watching her and waiting for her answer. Her throat became dry and her cheeks reddened with embarrassment.

Vera saw this and said, “This is not the time to ask young Brian questions, Drake. Now, Brian.” She touched Cecelia’s arm and turned her toward her husband. “This is my husband, Lord Adam McNamara. That’s Lord Julius Falkland, the wise wizard.”

Cecelia turned to the long, blond-haired male with pale blue eyes nodding his head at her.

“Lord Gerick McNamara, the king’s cousin and my husband’s younger brother.” Vera introduced her to a very handsome young demon with pale gray eyes and ash-blond hair.

“And that is Commander Leon. He’s a distant relation to the king.”

Cecelia nodded toward the dark haired demon with hazel green eyes. He nodded back.

“Well, that’s everybody.” Vera sighed. “Let’s dine, shall we?”

They all took their places along the table. Drake took the head, while Adam took the other end. Everyone else took the side chairs. Cecelia found herself facing Commander Leon. On her left was Lucifer and to her right, Vera.

“’Tis great this night I get to dine with everyone,” Lucifer whispered to her.

She raised her brows. “You do not dine with them daily?”

“No.” The boy shook his head. “I am too young to dine with everyone yet, but tonight, it’s different. It’s a feast.” He giggled.

The first course arrived. Footmen with fine velvet uniforms of black and purple carried trays into the room. One placed a small round and deep plate of fairy-embossed design in front of her. She looked into the bowl. It was soup of a thick, creamy color.

“It’s seafood soup,” Lucifer whispered.

“Oh!” She nodded.

“How did you meet Lucifer?” Leon asked.

Cecelia turned to look at the demon. “In the ship,” she replied.

“How in the ship?”

“Err…”

“He saved me from those men’s beating,” Lucifer put in.

Everyone turned to look at Cecelia, including the stormy-gray eyes of the king. She blushed and lowered her eyes for receiving so much attention.

“Did those humans beat you, Lucifer?” Gerick asked, narrowing his eyes dangerously.

“Aye.” The boy nodded.

“What did he look like?” Gerick prompted. He needed to know which of those bastards they had killed that morning was responsible for Lucifer’s beating so he could throw his body into the wild and allow the beasts to eat his flesh. The rest he would be kind enough to bury in the forest near the cave, and maybe he’d consider carving their names on headstones, too, to warn off other stupid human intruders.

Lucifer cocked his little head to one side and said, “He has dark hair and he’s not that big, not like you, Uncle Gerick. You could beat him easily.”

Gerick smiled pleasantly at the compliment.

“Lucifer is a brave boy,” Cecelia said, looking at the cute boy smiling up at her.

“Of course he is. He’s my son,” Adam said, matter-of-fact.

“I don’t think I could have handled the situation as well as he did if I were five years old,” Cecelia said.

Drake looked at Cecelia. She caught his gaze for a split second and quickly lowered her eyes. She tried to concentrate on her food, but she couldn’t seem to do so because she could still feel his intense gaze on her person.

“I’m not five years old,” Lucifer announced.

Cecelia frowned and said, “Oh, I apologize. Six, then?”

Lucifer looked at her rather disappointedly.

“Lucifer, do not be rude,” Vera put in. “He didn’t mean to offend you in any way, Brian.”

“Aye, I’m six and a half,” Lucifer said proudly. “And I’m learning how to wield a sword.”

“Really?” Cecelia widened her eyes in surprise. “At six years old?” She turned to Vera. “But Lucifer is so young.”

“Brian, he’s a demon,” Gerick chimed in, as if that would explain everything.

Cecelia turned to Gerick even though she didn’t want to because she had to look at the king too, who was staring at her most intensely.

“And you, Brian?” Drake’s deep voice caused Cecelia to jump in her seat. “How many summers have you seen?”

“Nineteen summers, sire,” she replied without looking at him.

Drake narrowed his eyes and lifted a smile at her. “Nineteen? Where is your muscle, boy?”

Cecelia swallowed and blushed. She had forgotten she was supposed to be her brother. The fact that she was a woman meant her womanly body had no muscle like that of the males of her age.

“I, err…”

“Drake, ’tis no way to converse during the meal,” Vera put in, patting Cecelia’s shoulder. “I’m sure Brian has his reason for not telling the truth of his age.”

“Why do you lie about your age?” Julius put in, frowning at her. “’Tis unwise at best, for wizards can find out with a mere look into your eyes.”

Cecelia frowned and lowered eyes to avoid Julius’s gaze.

“Come, let me look into your eyes so I can guess how old you truly are,” Julius said.

Cecelia started to feel very uncomfortable.

“Julius, you are making Brian blush,” Vera snapped.

“Blush? He can’t blush. He’s a man,” Gerick said, looking at Julius, expecting him to provide them with answer with his limitless knowledge.

Julius thought for a moment and then turned to look at Brian. “Perhaps humans are different?”

“Aye, humans are different,” Cecelia said, nodding her head. “Lucifer.” She turned to the young demon. “Can you take me around for a tour?”

“Oh, yes,” Lucifer said excitedly. “I will show you our stables, our garden, and our castle.”

Vera said, “It will have to be tomorrow. You two are tired. You need your rest, Brian.”

Cecelia nodded.

Thankfully, dinner went smoothly after that for Cecelia. Once it was over, she begged tiredness and left immediately. In the guest bedchamber, she lay in the large, soft bed, thinking about her mother and brother, wondering how they were getting on without her. She’d have to somehow find a way to get the Pearl of Life and then travel back home. She calculated that it had taken her three weeks to get to the Demon Kingdom, so it would presumably take her another three to four weeks to travel back, if she were lucky. That meant there was no time for her to waste.

The stables. Lucifer had said he would take her to see the stables tomorrow. That meant there would be horses. If most of their horses were like those she had seen when the king and his comrades had come to save her and Lucifer that morning, then she’d have a good chance of borrowing one of them to fetch the Pearl of Life. Perhaps Lucifer would also show her their port as well, for Vera had said the king loved to sail.

Nodding, she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep, dreaming of the misty gray eyes boring into her person.

* * * * *

A Demon Wrath: Chapter 5

2015 A Demon Wrath Book 1Chapter V

AS STRANGE AS IT MAY be, Cecelia sensed as though someone was watching over her and Lucifer as they slept. In her fitful slumber, she dreamt of a pair of gray eyes boring into her, as if finding her interesting and seeking into her inner thoughts. She laid there on the cold, wooden floor with Lucifer snuggling up against her. A gust of cold breeze swirled into the room out of the blue. She sensed Lucifer’s shiver and wrapped her arms around him, pulling his small body even closer to her. The ship swayed, rocking them back and forward and side to side, reminding Cecelia once again of where she was and how she came to be there.

As she laid there with Lucifer in her arms, she remembered the gray eyes in her dream; the color bottomless and mysterious, giving her a sense of intrigue. It was a pair of the eyes that could only belonged to the demon king. A shivered coursed down her spine, and she tightened her arms around Lucifer as if for comfort.

A whimper escaped Lucifer’s lips, which drew Cecelia’s attention. His body shook violently as he cried out in his sleep, tears flowing down his cheeks. She held him tight in her arms as she soothed him with soft, sweet words.  Poor boy, she thought, to be dragged into such a condition. Surely, his family must be frantic searching for him.

Eventually, his whimpering stopped and his body relaxed. Cecelia eased her holding of him and kissed his forehead.

“You are a brave little boy,” she said softly.

It was about an hour or so later that loud noises could be heard from upstairs and then the swaying of the ship came to a stop, telling Cecelia that they had reached land. She sat up in alertness, her eyes searching about her.

“Lucifer, I think we have stopped,” she said softly.

Lucifer frowned at her for a moment, as if confused. “What?”

“Come, we must try and escape before they come down for us.” She got up and walked toward the locked door. She wiggled it a few times. When it didn’t budge, she tried to pull the chains.

“It won’t work. It’s too strong,” Lucifer said, rubbing his sleepy eyes. “If only Papa were here, or Uncle Drake, or even Julius or Uncle Gerick,” he groaned.

Cecelia’s hands were getting sore. She slumped down and rested her head against the wall. She was tired and hungry. She would never escape this, she thought and felt very depressed.

“You two!”

Cecelia bolted upright. A man headed toward them and then unlocked the chain.

“Out!” he shouted, “and no funny business.”

Cecelia and Lucifer staggered out of the prison as he opened the door. They were rudely escorted with sword pointed at their backs up to the top deck.

Cecelia felt for the first time in days a gentle breeze caressing her face as they came up. She breathed in the fresh, open air and stared wide-eyed at the sight before her. The beach was long and wide, with white sand that stretched to the endless horizon. Behind the beach was a jungle of lush tall trees and exotic flowers of unimaginable sizes, shapes, and colors.

She searched around her and realized that not one man was in sight except for the one escorting them.

“Where are your men?” she asked curiously.

“No questions! Start moving!” he snapped, shoving his sword against her back. “There!” he nodded toward the beach.

Cecelia went to the floorboard and walked down the ship, Lucifer following behind her.

“That way!” he said.

The sands were deep and porous against her boots. She found it more tiring than walking on hard earth. Once they had reached the jungles, she found herself stumbling over vines and dead wood many times. Lucifer, on the other hand, seemed to know his way around. When she fell, he helped her up. He didn’t at all seem to be very tired as she was, which she thought a bit odd for a five-year-old boy.

It wasn’t long when they came to a small camp. The men were there with their tents and weapons. They were sitting around a fire with some unfortunate odd-looking bird—it had the head of a bird and the body of a cat—that had been stripped to the skin and now was roasting upon the pit of a fire.

“Go, sit there!” The man behind them shoved her.

Without a word, Cecelia went to sit by a tree. Lucifer made himself comfortable beside her.

“I’m hungry. Won’t they give us some food?” Lucifer groaned, looking at her with his sky-blue eyes large.

“I don’t think so,” she said, her mouth watering at the sight of the odd bird. The skin was turning, glistening and golden brown, and its fat was dropping from its skin, landing on the spiting fire.

She turned away, ignoring her hunger and diverting her thoughts to finding a route of escape. A man came to her then and tied her hands and feet. He did the same to Lucifer.

“To make sure you two stay put,” he said, grinning at them, showing his stained, yellow teeth. His breath was stinking and hot against her face.

She gagged in disgust.

They had their meal and gave none to her and Lucifer. She closed her eyes, pretending sleep so she wouldn’t have to watch them eat the bird while her tummy grumbled. She was drifting into a slumber when she was kicked awake.

“Get up. We’re moving,” a man snapped at her, and then he proceed to cut her and Lucifer loose.

Freed, Cecelia stumbled up, aiding Lucifer at the same time. They walked through the jungle for a long while before they came to the mouth of a cave.

“In there. Get the boy,” Jackson shouted.

Cecelia was alert because Jackson sounded rather excited. She watched as one of the men came to them. He stared at her and pulled Lucifer from her side.

“Come,” he said, shoving Lucifer so hard the boy fell to the ground.

“Don’t you touch him!” she snapped and shoved the man back. She bent down to help Lucifer. “Can’t you see he’s only a child!”

“Don’t care!” the man said, dragging Lucifer.

Cecelia would have none of it and pulled Lucifer to her side.

“Come!” the man said through gritted teeth.

Cecelia glared at him. She wouldn’t let Lucifer go. The boy turned and wrapped his arms around her waist for support.

“Where’s the boy,” Jackson shouted, looking at them.

“Come!” The man dragged them both toward his captain.

“You, lead us in.” Jackson pointed a finger at Lucifer.

“I won’t,” the boy cried. “’Tis against the rule. I will be punished.”

“Lead us in,” Jackson snapped, drawing out his sword. “Or bear the consequence.”

Lucifer widened his eyes as the sharp blade was pointed near his throat.

“Don’t do anything stupid!” Cecelia shouted, her body shaking with rage. “He is only a boy.”

“Now lead us in.” Another man shoved her from behind.

Slowly and hesitantly, his body shaking uncontrollably, Lucifer walked into the cave with his hands clutching onto Cecelia’s. The men followed them.

Inside was total darkness. The men lit their torches. Instantly, the flames lightened up the hollow passageway.

“Walk faster!” Jackson snapped, shoving both her and Lucifer forward.

“He’s only a child,” she snapped again.

Jackson only laughed. “Lead us, demon, to the Pearl of Life.” His callous voice echoed in the silent cave.

Cecelia’s heart kicked in her chest. So this was the Cave of Doom where the Pearl of Life was rumored to exist. She was right; the men did come to steal the pearl.

“How long to go?” a man asked.

There was silence except for the thudding of their footsteps.

“I said how long to go?” the man hissed again.

“I don’t know,” Lucifer cried, his grip tightening on Cecelia’s. She pulled him closer to her as they walked.

“There, I see it,” Jackson shouted excitedly, laughing. “There!”

“Let’s get it,” another man said, rushing toward the clearing.

He was about to reach the end of the passageway when he stepped on something that moved beneath his foot. He frowned, and before he knew it, the ground opened and swallowed him. He screamed to his mates for help. One rushed forward with his hands reached out, but he was too late. The man fell into a pool of molten lava below.

Lucifer shoved his face against Cecelia’s side. She could only stare at what had just happened.

“We must be careful. There are traps everywhere here,” Jackson shouted, nodding to his men. “You two!” he snapped, looking at both Cecelia and Lucifer. “Come here and lead the way. Everyone, stay behind them.”

What a clever ploy, Cecelia thought. Those coward men, they’d rather let a child and young boy die first.

“I’m scared,” Lucifer whispered to her.

She looked at him and patted his shoulder in encouragement. They both started moving again. They took each step carefully so they wouldn’t step into another trap.

Once they’d reached the opening of the cave, they were thrust aside as the men made their way toward the huge waterfall. High above them was the cleft of an opening. Clear blue sky from above shone upon them.

The shower of water streamed around a small island. There Cecelia saw the largest clam she’d ever beheld in her life. And inside its opened mouth was the Pearl of Life. It was a small thing and its pinkest color shone against the hot ray of sunlight.

“’Tis our luck all right, captain,” one man said, smiling.

“Aye, Joe, let’s get across,” Jackson said, pointing to his men.

“Is the water deep?” another asked.

One hopped into the stream. It barely reached his chest. “Nay, not at—” He didn’t finish the sentence, for he started screaming in pain. “Aaghh…” The agony in his voice echoed like death, and birds high above them hiding amongst the trees dispersed in every direction in fright.

“What happened?” Jackson shouted.

“Get me out! Get me out!” Joe screamed, his hands scrambling for his mates.

“Pull him out!” Jackson shouted.

Two men hurriedly pulled Joe out. As he landed, the lower parts of his body steamed with smoke. His breeches stuck to his legs; his boots were burned and melted to his feet.

“What kind of water is this?” Jackson shouted, twisting his face in rage toward Cecelia and Lucifer, demanding them to answer.

Cecelia turned her face away. Her heart sank at the thought of ever getting the pearl herself. If those men couldn’t get through, what chance had she?

“I said what kind of water is this?” the captain snapped. When none answered, he stalked toward them. “Tell me!” he growled, pulling Lucifer up and shoving the boy about.

“Stop it!” Cecelia snapped angrily. “You cannot treat the boy this way.” She pulled Lucifer into her arms. “Leave him be.”

“Get out of the way!” He slapped Cecelia with the back of his hand, sending her falling to the ground.

When she looked up at him again, she touched her sore face, glaring at him.

“You, tell me now,” Jackson growled.

“I don’t know,” Lucifer cried.

“You nuisance bastard! No point in keeping you,” he growled, drawing out his dagger.

Cecelia panicked when she saw the knife moving toward Lucifer’s stomach. She got up and raced to the boy, thrusting him aside. The blade slid through her arm as she and Lucifer fell to the ground.

“Damn nuisance, the both of you,” Jackson snapped, throwing away his dagger and drawing out his sword. Cecelia stared wide-eyed as he raised the blade high, intending to kill them.

“No!” she whispered, closing her eyes.

She felt the blade moving slowly down toward her heart, its sharp coldness inches from her breasts. That split second felt like an eternity.

The next moment, she opened her eyes and saw an arrow hit the captain’s hand, sending the sword flying, landing in the stream. The sword shriveled, and within seconds, it was destroyed into nothingness.

She looked up toward the entrance and saw giants. She was sure they were giants, for they were as big as pine trees.

“You scoundrel, you dare to hurt my son?” the man with dark-blond hair growled, his deep-set eyes glaring at the captain. The intensity in that gaze could send a man running in tears.

It almost did, but Captain Jackson stood his ground. “Give me a sword!” he shouted at his men.

“But captain—” one said, his voice quivering as his eyes flickered from one giant to the other.

“I said my sword!” the captain growled, reaching his hand in the air. One threw him a sword. He caught it and nodded toward the giant addressing him. “You, let’s fight man to man.”

“I am no man, you bastard,” Adam growled, taking a step forward.

“Look at all those scary little humans,” Gerick said from behind. “I’ll take those ten there.” He nodded to the bunch on his left.

“I’ll take the captain,” Adam said, taking a step toward the leader.

“You will not,” Drake said, handing his bow to Leon. “You will take your son home. He needs you.”

Adam frowned darkly. He wanted to kill the bastard human who had hurt his son. If that boy hadn’t shoved aside Lucifer to take the blade himself, Lucifer would be dead by now. He was still damn angry, but Drake was right. Lucifer needed him right now.

He grunted loudly to show his displeasure for not having the chance to kill the captain.

“I’ll take the captain,” Drake said, sliding out his thick, sharp sword. “We will fight man to man,” he said to the captain.

Jackson swallowed. “I’ll kill you all, demons,” he screamed and rushed toward Drake.

Drake stepped aside and rewarded Jackson’s neck with the back of his hard fist.

Captain Jackson fell forward. He scrambled up and rushed for an attack. They were fighting with their fists and feet—blow to blow. Both Gerick and Leon charged the other men and began their combat.

Adam went to his son. “Lucifer?” he said, kneeling beside the boy.

“Papa?” Lucifer said through the sounds of swords slashing and men grunting. He rushed up to the hug Adam. His tears flowed down his little cheeks. “Papa, I’ve missed you. I’m so scared,” he admitted.

“I’m here now, son,” Adam said, picking up Lucifer. He turned to look at Cecelia. “Come on, boy. Let’s get out of here.”

Cecelia stared at him, at a loss. She had never seen any man as tall and big and muscular as this one. His face, she saw, was quite handsome.

“Come!” he said again, dragging her up none too gently and leading her toward the passageway.

“What about the others?” she asked.

“Do not worry yourself about them,” he said, pulling her after him.

“But Captain Jackson has many men. There are only four of you, and now you left your comrades. They will not escape.”

Adam didn’t reply and kept dragging her toward the clearing. She had to keep up the pace by running so she wouldn’t fall. It was only a short time later that they were out again.

Out in the clearing, Cecelia saw four animals. She supposed they were horses of some breed, for they had horns like those of a unicorn. Their bodies were bigger and more muscular, however, which she supposed indicated strength. Their colors were of particular interest to her. One was beige, two were grey, and one was a sinful velvety black.

Adam led her to the beige one. When she was standing beside the horse, her head barely reached the saddle.

“CloudStorm!” Lucifer shrieked with delight, patting the animal’s long nose.

Adam placed his son on the ground and turned to Cecelia. She took one look at him and knew what he was going to do.

“Nay, I can’t—” She could go no farther, for she was being lifted up and swung over the saddle like a doll. “Thank you,” she said. Her backside was quite sore because he’d dumped her on the saddle none too gently.

Adam picked up his son and easily climbed on the saddle in front of her. He made his son comfortable sitting on his lap and took the bridle.

“Hold tight,” he said and slashed the reins.

The stallion hissed and rushed forward. Cecelia had to quickly grab for Adam’s coat so she wouldn’t fall back from the force. She didn’t know how long they were going to ride until they got to somewhere safe. But she didn’t care, for Lucifer was safe with his father.

Somehow, she knew she must find a way to get that pearl. The thought of her mother was at the forefront of her mind as she drifted off into a slumber.

Not long afterward, Adam heard the thunder of hooves approaching them. He didn’t slow down, for he knew they would catch up to him soon enough. Then three stallions were riding alongside him. Adam slowed his stallion to a slower pace. Gerick took the lead, while Leon took the rear as guard.

“How is he?” Drake asked, looking at his nephew.

“Doing fine,” Adam said, gazing down at his son. “Brave boy,” he said, glancing at Cecelia sleeping behind him.

“Must be tired,” Drake said. “Here, let me take him.”

They moved their stallions closer and Drake lifted Cecelia and laid her on his lap. She snuggled against his large chest, sleeping in contentment. Drake wrapped one arm around her and then kicked his stallion to gallop faster.

* * * * *

A Demon Wrath: Chapter 4

2015 A Demon Wrath Book 1Chapter IV

 

 

Demon Kingdom, McNamara Castle

 

COMMANDER LEON McKNIGHT MADE HIS way along the gigantic hallway, his steps quick and his polished boots clattering loudly against the marble floor. He turned to his right, then his left, and then left again before he came to a stop in front of a massive mahogany double door. He took a deep breath, lifted his hand, and knocked in a rhythm of three.

“Enter!” a voice boomed from inside the room.

He hastily opened the door and entered the conference room. He bowed slightly once he saw the king—not sitting in his large golden chair, but standing with his hands clasped behind him, his head tilted to one side, and his eyes gazing out at the clear, sparkling blue sea in the horizon. Bright sunlight shone on his aquiline features, silhouetting his form in a mysterious shadow.

Drake Oswald McNamara, the formidable, powerful demon king turned his attention to his trusted friend and distant relative, Leon McKnight, commander of the general army. “What news have you, Leon?”

“The ghost birds, Drake,” the soldier began. “They smelled Lucifer’s scent somewhere deep in the Siren Sea of Death.”

“Is he coming home?” a soft female voice that belonged to Lady Vera McNamara whispered.

Leon turned his attention to the beauty standing beside the king. Dressed in a flowing empire gown of a sea-blue color with gold trimming, her blond tresses styled into ringlets about her head, and the beautiful sapphire earrings and necklace that complimented her blue eyes, she looked enchanting. He stared at her, lost for a moment in her beauty. Then he remembered his place and said to her, “I’m not sure, my lady.”

“What else did the ghost birds say they saw?” a male voice that belonged to Lord Adam McNamara, Vera’s beloved husband and the king’s cousin, snapped.

Leon turned as he addressed Adam and said, “They thought they had seen lights.”

“In the middle of the sea?” Adam questioned gruffly.

“I believe we have unwanted guests,” Drake said chillingly soft.

“They have kidnapped my son and dare to even step foot on our land?” Adam growled, slapping his palms on the table.

The fact was Adam was very angry with himself and the incompetency of the Meridianus warriors. If only they hadn’t ventured to Meridianus Kingdom. If only Lucifer hadn’t wanted to celebrate the Summer Rising with his maternal grandparents, the Hemsworth, whom Adam still couldn’t get along with despite Vera’s effort. If only Vera hadn’t encourage the idea. If only he had said no to his wife’s begging to visit her homeland. If only Lucifer hadn’t venture so far off with those other Meridianus boys, then he wouldn’t have been kidnapped. The thought of those lawless Meridianus thieves who dared to kidnap his son sent Adam’s temper soaring. He growled loudly and sent his mighty fist down on the table again.

“They won’t hurt him, will they?” Vera asked, eyeing her husband.

“Lucifer can look after himself,” Drake said. “He is a demon after all.”

“I could not bear it if he is hurt,” Vera sobbed, throwing herself into her husband’s arms.

The moment he saw his wife’s tears, Adam forgot about his own temper. He hugged her tight and patted her slender shoulder to comfort her. “Lucifer is a brave demon. He will be all right,” he said softly. Then with a dark scowl, he turned to the demon with long blond hair and pale blue eyes, sitting behind the large table that separated them. “Well, Julius, use your damn globe to find Lucifer.”

Julius Falkland, the king’s adviser, glanced at Adam McNamara and said, “You cannot force the vision, Adam. It will allow us to see if Lady Fate wants us to see.”

“But surely, Julius, Lucifer is in trouble. My son, your student, is in danger,” Vera said, fresh tears threatening to spill out of her eyes.

Julius said, “I will have to use a lot of power to force the vision.” He stood up then and turned toward the door. “I will fetch the globe first, and Drake?” He glanced at the king. “I will need your superior power to help, sire.”

Drake nodded, and Julius left.

“Don’t just stand there, Leon. Come and tell us what else the ghost birds saw,” Adam growled.

The soldier nodded and took a few steps toward the table. At that moment, the door crashed open. Gerick McNamara stood there, hands on hips, as he surveyed the room at large with interest.

“What’s this? A conference without me?” he said.

Adam ignored the question from his younger brother and snapped, “Well? Any trace of the Meridianus bastards?”

Gerick frowned for a moment and then said, “My warriors and I have traced from the south to the north of the Meridianus Kingdoms using our flying steeds. The hounds smelled Lucifer’s scent. We followed it, and here we are.” He turned his attention to his cousin, the king. “Drake?”

“Gerick,” Drake said, a dark scowl on his face. “They have just arrived in our land.”

“They set foot on our land?” Gerick shouted, his brows rising dangerously. “Surely, they are not that stupid,” he said more calmly, walking into the room.

“What do you expect? They are human after all,” Adam said, helping his wife into a chair. Vera gave her husband a slight smile and murmured to him a thank you.

“Ah, Leon,” Gerick said, slapping the demon’s shoulder. “So you are the one to bear the news?”

“The ghost birds spied them in the night past,” the soldier said. “They reported back this morn.”

“I can’t wait to slice those humans’ guts with my sword,” Gerick said with one hand gripping the hilt of his weapon

“Gerick!” Adam snapped. “You will not talk of such in front of my wife.”

The gorgeously handsome demon thinned his lips and shrugged his broad shoulders. “Sorry, Vera,” he said. “Where’s Julius?”

“Getting his crystal globe,” Adam supplied, taking a chair beside his wife.

“Are we sight-seeing again?” Gerick asked, glancing heavenward.

“Are you trying to say my globe doesn’t work, Gerick?” Julius said from the door.

“Not at all, Lord Wise Wizard.” Gerick shrugged his shoulders.

Julius narrowed his eyes at Gerick. He walked into the room and placed the globe in the middle of the table. “Drake, I need your help.”

“Aye,” Drake said, making his way toward them.

Everyone circled the table. Drake placed both his hands on the crystal ball. Julius did the same. They both closed their eyes and summoned their inner demon power to the surface. Instantly, the clear ball turned cloudy with smoke and waves of blue-green color.

“I see him,” Julius said, his voice thick. “It’s so cold. The water is so deep. Lucifer is alone.”

“My poor Lucifer,” Vera cried, leaning against her husband for support.

“The storm is brewing, strong and evil,” Julius continued.

“Is Lucifer all right?” Vera whispered, turning her teary eyes from the misty magic globe to look at Julius. She saw that his forehead was starting to sweat, his face scrunched in concentration.

“Hush, love, Julius is working,” Adam said.

“Wait, I’m growing warm. I’m not cold anymore,” Julius said, frowning as though he were confused.

“Lucifer is all right,” Vera asked.

“Whoa, it worked?” Gerick said, raising his brows.

“I can feel his happiness. Nay, he is sad again. No wait. ’Tis a different color, a different warmth.”

“For God’s sake, Julius, make up your mind,” Gerick snapped.

“Perhaps Julius is seeing more than just Lucifer,” Leon suggested.

“That is possible,” Adam said.

“So is Lucifer all right?” Vera asked again.

“I don’t know. I…” Julius frowned for a moment. “Wait, I can distinguish the difference now. Lucifer, I feel him. I see him. He is in a small vessel. They have passed the Siren Sea of Death and are on their way to the Deadly Hollow Cave by the beach of our land.”

“They’ve arrived,” Vera said, her voice sounding oddly hoarse in her own ears.

Julius opened his eyes and released his hand from the globe. “Now we know they are here and Lucifer is with them.” He turned to Vera. “Don’t worry. We’ll save Lucifer from those human bastards.” He nodded and turned to look at his friend. “Drake?”

“Why is Drake still holding on to the crystal ball?” Gerick asked, looking at his cousin, wide-eyed.

“Drake?” Vera touched Drake’s arm.

Drake’s eyes were closed and his face was a composed mask. In his mind’s eyes, he saw the coldness of the sea, the whirling of ice-blue water rushing about him. The stormy wind gusted around him as he stood his ground. Then he was flying. He was in the air. He could feel the fresh, cold air fluttering against his skin. He looked down, and below him he saw a vessel. He felt himself descending toward the ship, and then his body went through ceilings and floors. Down below in the vessel was a prison. There he saw two figures lying side by side. He recognized Lucifer. The other boy wrapped his arms around Lucifer as a mother would to keep her child safe and warm. He saw the youth looked up at him, his soft-brown eyes begging him, and his delicate hand reaching out to him.

Drake felt a sudden coldness settling in his heart. A feeling he had never felt before. He opened his eyes and removed his hands from the globe. He looked around and saw his comrades watching him.

“What did you see?” Julius asked. “What happened?”

“I saw Lucifer,” he said. “They are coming up to the beach as we speak.”

“Then let’s go rip their limbs apart,” Gerick said, heading toward the door.

“Stop!” Drake shouted. “Don’t be such a hothead.”

“Well, we can’t just sit here and wait for them to come through the castle door,” Gerick snapped.

“Gerick, I won’t have your temper killing my son,” Adam said firmly. “What is it, Drake?”

“We will surprise them. I think they have more than ransom on their mind,” Drake said, narrowing his eyes.

“You don’t mean…?” Gerick looked at his cousin in disbelief.

“The Pearl of Life!” Julius said, his eyes wide.

“The gall of them,” Leon said with his hands fisted.

“It has been ten years since anyone has reached this far,” Drake said. “Come, we leave now.” He turned and led the way out of the study.

* * * * *

A Demon Wrath: Chapter 3

2015 A Demon Wrath Book 1Chapter III

CECELIA WOKE UP JUST BEFORE dawn and dressed herself in her male garments. The tight breeches fit her just right, though the shirt and coat was a bit loose on her small frame. The tall boots and hat completed her attire. She inspected herself in the mirror. She widened her eyes as she gazed at a young lad staring back at her.

I’ll fit in as a young man just fine, she thought proudly, thankful for her small breasts.

She inserted the dagger and then the smallsword beneath her belt at her waist and then turned to grab for her belongings. All set, she thought as she took a deep breath. She walked to the door and slipped out. She tiptoed across the corridor and then down the grand stairs. All were in quietness, and she was pleased the guards were fast asleep at their post.

The sun was starting to rise when she was standing just outside the palace gate, looking up at her mother’s window from the north side.

“I will bring back the Pearl of Life, Mother. Stay alive,” she murmured and turned toward the sleepy street of Zakynthus City, the capital city of Dardania Kingdom.

It didn’t take her long to get to the harbor. There were people everywhere, all of different color and dressed in different styles of garments. There were many ships ready for sailing that morning—all to different cities and kingdoms. She was thankful she had found a ship boarded to Kingsbridge City of Meridianus Kingdom, a route to the Demon Kingdom.

She bought herself a passage, and not long afterward, found herself in a small cabin with nothing more than a bunk. The bed itself was hard on her back, which was uncommon to her since her bed both back home and at the Van Zandt Palace were made of goose feathers. She sighed and closed her eyes for some sleep. It wasn’t long before she was swayed off and landed hard on the floor. She looked about her, her mind in a muddle of confusion. Where am I? Then her memory rushed back. She was about to get up when the ship swayed again and she was thrown on her backside.

Outside, she heard the ruffling of sea washing up on the floorboards and thunder booming. They were in the middle of a sea storm, she realized. Great, just what I needed. She hoped she wasn’t going to die before she reached her destination.

Staggering to stand, she went back to the bunk and lay still, trying very hard to ignore the motion of the ship rocking and the storm unleashing its anger on them.

It was bright and sunny after the night of horrible tornados. Cecelia found herself out and about, offering her fair and flawless cheeks to the sun to kiss.

On her fifth day, she was on the deck, looking down at the deep-blue ocean, when she heard a group of men talking behind her.

“It’ll have ta be done tanight.”

She glanced over her shoulder and saw five men talking. They were all dressed like commoners: boots, breeches, coat, and hats. Their clothing, however, was well worn, which indicated they had spent much time in the streets and seas. Their very stance was suspicious to her. It looked like they were conspiring.

“I dunno. What if t’ey found out?”

Ah, that certainly confirmed her suspicion. She moved closer to the corner so she could hear better.

“They’ll not find out. They’re dumb beasts,” one said, presumably the leader of the bunch.

Cecelia flicked her eyes to the five men again.

“What abou’ ta ‘reasure?”

“Nay, not talk ‘ere. Dangerous ‘ere. My cabin tonight…” the leader said.

Cecelia turned and saw they had already parted ways. The treasure? Were they intending to go to the Demon Kingdom to steal the Pearl of Life? The object was a rare piece indeed and would fetch a high price.

Cecelia returned to her room, deep in thought. She must find out more about the men. If they were intending to go to the Demon Kingdom, then she would be able to journey with them.

It didn’t take her long to learn of the men’s intentions. Two days later, she found them talking again, in a very secluded spot. Their talk concluded her suspicions. They did intend to go to the Demon Kingdom to steal the Pearl of Life. Knowing this was her only chance to have travel companions, she worked quickly in finding a plan to join them.

The next day, she pretended to bump into one of the five men. She introduced herself as a young lad in the process, traveling to different kingdoms to learn the art of exotic plants and such like. She explained she was particularly intrigued with the Demon Kingdom where various and unknown plants were located. She said she didn’t know how to get there, and she certainly didn’t know any ship that was going there anytime soon, which was true enough.

The man with the thick black beard looked at her, his large ears going quite red and his gray eyes sparked with interest when she mentioned she was quite rich and would offer any amount of gold coins, a universal currency in the nine kingdoms, in order to get there.

“Oh, aye, I do know of some who intended to go there.”

“Do you?” Cecelia smiled. “I would offer any amount as long as I get there and do some study of the plants. Surely you find them interesting, too? Such a mysterious place, don’t you think?” she said further.

“I will ask my people and give you the answer on the morrow.”

“Marvelous, my friend,” Cecelia said and turned to go. “Until the morrow, then,” she said over her shoulder.

It was midafternoon the next day that she saw the man she had approached the other day coming toward her.

“They agreed,” he said.

Cecelia smiled. “Good indeed. How much have they agreed on?”

“Ten gold coins.”

Cecelia raised her brows. The price was expensive indeed. But she wasn’t one to argue when her chance of getting to the island was more important.

“’Tis expensive.”

“The voyage is dangerous and long. Looking after a wee lad like ye would cost us much.”

“Indeed,” Cecelia said, nodding. “I will pay half when you get me to this ship that is to go to the island, and I will pay the rest once I land there, safe and sound.”

“I dunno.”

“I can always find another. How do I know to trust you? For all I know, you could be tricking me to steal my gold.” Cecelia narrowed her eyes at him.

“What cabin do you stay in?”

“I will not tell you. What is the answer?” She stared at him sharply.

“’Tis a deal,” he said. “The ship arrives at Kingsbridge City on the morrow. Meet me at the port, and I will take you. We sail then.” He turned to go.

Cecelia sighed with relief. She returned to her cabin and packed her belongings she had unpacked when she’d arrived.

The next day, the ship arrived at Kingsbridge City. She waited at the port. People were everywhere, shouting and cursing, jostling and running, shoving and pushing each other to get to their destination. There were carts loaded with stacks of hay, family’s bags, vegetables, and animals like pigs, chickens, and goats zigzagging hazardously along the so-called roads. There were men on horses making their way toward the city streets. Never mind that they might step on beggars with their begging bowls. There were drunken sailors singing and shouting to whores who happily yelled back with their rusty voice, luring these poor, stupid sailors of their money. Cecelia felt, for the first ten minutes, very confused and dizzy. When she got her bearings back, she looked for the man she’d talked to on the ship the previous day.

“Come this way. The ship’s not far,” he said, leading her through the massive crowd.

He took her for a great long walk, away from the main port, until there was no noise of any kind made by human, except for the waves of the ocean water lapping onto shore. Then she saw a ship. It was small, very easily hidden in the dark and behind cliffs or cave. As she came closer, she saw men at work. They were in the process of packing and setting sail.

Upon the deck, she gave the man her promised five gold coins. He grabbed the currency greedily and showed her to her cabin. As she was about to enter, she saw a man with a thick dark beard and piercing blue eyes staring at her. He was big and tall. What a menacing-looking man, she thought and then shivered.

“How long will it take to get to the island?” she asked, turning away from the imposing stare.

“Three days,” came the quick reply.

Cecelia dreaded the thought of spending that many number of days in the company of these men. She considered changing her plan.

“We travel light and fast. No time to waste,” he said and left her before she could ask for her gold back and run off the ship.

At dinner, she ate some cheese and bread and then went to bed, not wanting to go outside, for she did not want to bump into any of them. After all, she told herself, she only wanted to get to the Demon Kingdom. She didn’t need to make friends with these men.

The rocking of the boat woke her in the middle of the night. She was thirsty. Surely, she thought, the men will all be asleep by now. She wouldn’t meet any of them. She left the room then to find fresh water.

All was in silence as she made her way through the claustrophobic corridor. She was lost for a moment in the darkness. She looked from one end to the other. Then she saw one door slightly ajar at the very end. She went toward it and looked in.

It was dark, though the hint of light from the moonlight shining through the window showed her there were stairs leading downward. The storeroom would be down there, and water, she was sure, would be there too.

She carefully made her way down. Once she landed at the bottom step, she stood for a moment to get used to the darkness.

“No!”

Cecelia looked around. Her heart kicked in her chest. A cry, as though a child were whimpering for help. She scanned about her and made her way toward where the sound had come from. She found herself confronting a thick old door. The cry of the child was louder. She felt her heart burn in reaction.

Thud, thud, thud…

The whimpering was getting louder. Finding she couldn’t contain herself any longer, she opened the door, and to her horror, witnessed the most disgusting sight she’d ever beheld.

One of the men was whipping a boy no more than five years of age. So disgusted she was that without thought, she rushed to the man, grabbed him by the arm, and smashed her fist onto his face. The man fell against the wall, his lips bleeding from the attack.

He staggered up and stared at her. His eyes were wild. He sneered and shouted, “Out of me way!”

Cecelia knew a madman when she saw one. She cursed herself for not bringing her smallsword with her. However, if things did get out of hand, she still had her dagger.

“Don’t you come near!” she shouted back, moving to stand in front of the boy.

“Ye defend that demon, ye traitor,” he shouted.

Cecelia glanced at the boy behind her.

A demon? But how could that be?

The boy was no different from human. This man was so demented that he needed to be locked away for the safety of others.

“You’re mad!” she said. “May God have mercy on your soul.” She spit. Dismissing him, she turned her attention to the boy, lifting him. “Are you all right?”

“Traitor!” the man screamed and started whipping her with his strap. It slashed on her back, and Cecelia winced. She gritted her teeth and twisted to glare at the man. She jumped up, swiftly and expertly withdrew her dagger from her belt, and swung it across his wrist in one smooth motion. Blood spurted. The man screamed, dropping his strap to the ground.

“Me arm!” he shrieked.

Cecelia inserted the dagger back in her belt, rushed to help the boy up, and they ran to the door.

They were climbing the stairs when the thudding of footsteps reached their ears.

“Who goes there?”

Cecelia felt cold sweat settling on her body. She tried to drag the boy toward the top of the stairs. Just one more step, but the boy was quite heavy for a five-year-old. Once they were at the door, she saw the men appearing before them on the landing. She sighed with relief.

“Quick, that man, he’s mad,” she said breathlessly.

“Traitor!” the man from below shouted.

“Quick, seize him. He was beating this boy.”

When they simply looked at one another, as if they didn’t quite know what to do, she frowned at them for their lack of haste to help.

Finally, she saw the leader, Captain Jeremy Jackson, the one who had been staring at her that first day she climbed on the ship. He nodded in command. A man behind him came to her and grabbed the boy from her arms. The other seized her none too gently. Suddenly, Cecelia felt a coldness deep within her stomach.

“Lock them up and don’t let them get away,” Jackson snapped.

Cecelia widened her eyes. A sickening feeling lurched within her, and she wanted to vomit.

“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice a mere whisper.

“Don’t let him get away. He’s too precious,” Jackson said. He finally turned to her and glared at her with his malice-filled eyes. “I was hoping ye wouldn’t get involved, boy.”

Cecelia swallowed. She stared at the four men looking at her, their eyes dark.

What are they planning to do to us? More importantly, can I fight with all these men and escape with the boy?

She did some calculation in her head and found it was better to do what they wanted, because the boy, as she glanced at him, was tired and weak after the beating. Besides, where could they run off to in this small ship and the vast sea?

Cecelia heard groaning from behind her. She shifted and saw the mad man appearing from below the stairs.

“And you!” Jackson shouted. “I told you not to beat him.”

There was a low grunt and then, “But, master, he’s a demon.” He stared at Cecelia, his shaking hand was covering his bleeding wrist. “And that bastard, he cut me deep, master.”

Jackson turned to Cecelia. “Ye,” he growled, “ye know our plan. Ye won’t be leaving ‘ere alive. I’ll have to kill ye now.” He drew out his sword.

Cecelia stared at the sharp blade pointing at her. Good Lord, she thought, this is the end of it, and I haven’t even reached the Demon Kingdom yet.

Jackson moved the blade toward her. Cecelia hands reached for her dagger. She was ready to draw it out as Jeremy thrust the blade forward.

“Captain! The ghost birds, they are everywhere!” a man shouted from the door.

At this point, the blade halted near her neck and Cecelia’s dagger was halfway out of her belt.

“What?” Jackson shouted and twisted around. “Out with all the lights. Don’t let them see us,” he shouted. Then he turned his attention to Cecelia. “And, ye two, take them to the prison below,” he ordered as he rushed off toward the deck.

The men hustled off in every direction, blowing out candles in all the cabins and the torches in their hands. The corridor was suddenly almost in total darkness except for the small, flickering lit candle in a man’s hand, coming toward them.

He said, “Down ye two go,” as he pointed a sharp blade at them. “That’s right. Don’t ye struggle, demon, or this sword will cut ye alive.” And then he laughed as though he really liked the sound of that.

Cecelia stared at him and really would like to give a hard knock to his leering face.

“You too, boy, down you go,” he said, shoving the sword’s pointy end at her throat.

Gritting her teeth, she turned and walked back down the stairs, her arms around the limping boy. They were shoved into the wooden prison. The boy fell, and Cecelia quickly rushed to aid him. Once she got him lying down on the ground with his head resting on her lap, she looked up to see the man locking them up.

“Ye won’t live after we deal with the ghost birds,” he said, looking at her as he tested the locked door. “It’ll be a pleasure killing ye.” He laughed as he left them.

Cecelia turned to look at the boy. She saw his young face paled with fatigue.

“Were you kidnapped?” she asked as she stroked his blond hair.

The boy had his eyes shut. She heard his deep breathing and thought he was asleep. So she gave up waiting for his answer and closed her eyes as well.

“Aye.”

She flashed her eyes open and noted that he was watching her. She was surprised his voice was still strong after the beating.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m awfully sore before, but I’m better now.”

She knew he was lying. No one could feel better that quickly after such a severe beating. But she said nothing.

“Do you miss your family?” she asked as a way to keep his mind away from the pain. She knew it worked when she thought of her loving family.

Once, she had fallen off Snow, her mare, and broken her ankle. The healer had made a potion for her to drink. It had been so bitter that most of the times she had spat the concoction back out. The healer had also bound her limb with a thick green mixture. The pain at night had been unbearable, but her mother had talked to her of her great ancestors on her mother’s side, of how bravely they had fought in wars, of how they had survived and were rewarded with an island called Rosevalley, of how they had turned that barren island into green, lush vineyard and farmland, and of how they had first built Rosevalley Castle with their bare hands. Her mother had also told her of how she’d met her father, a prince of the Dardania Kingdom, and of how they had fallen in love at first sight.

“I missed Mama and Papa,” the boy said, shifting his head so he lay more comfortably on her lap.

He was being very brave, Cecelia thought, remembering of how vicious the man had whipped him.

“Do you have any brother or sister?” she asked, thinking of Brian.

“No, but Mama promised to have more so I won’t be alone.”

“What’s your name?”

“Lucifer,” the boy said, shifting his head back again so he could look at her. “What’s your name?”

Cecelia thought for a moment. She didn’t know whether to tell him her real name or not. “Brian,” she said finally, using her brother’s name.

“You’re very brave for a human boy.”

Cecelia raised her brows at his statement. “I am not a boy, Lucifer.”

“Really? I don’t believe you,” he said firmly.

Cecelia smiled. “Think as you wish.”

Lucifer turned his face away again and closed his eyes. “Papa and Uncle Drake and Uncle Gerick will save us,” he said some moments later.

“I do not know if your papa knows where we are,” Cecelia said, closing her eyes to get some rest.

“He knows.”

“Those ghost birds, what could they be?” she said, wondering aloud.

“Ghost birds?”

Cecelia opened her eyes to look at him.

“They are birds that appear like ghosts.”

Cecelia was good at imagination. A dead bird was the picture that came to her mind, ones that could fly. But how could the men be afraid of some mere dead birds? She couldn’t imagine why. Then again, she reasoned with herself, she was green to this outside world.

“Thank you,” Lucifer said suddenly.

“What for?” She blinked at the boy.

“Stopping the madman.”

Cecelia smiled. “You’re welcome.”

“When we get home, I will tell Papa and Uncle Drake to thank you properly by giving you a big feast.”

“You must be very rich.”

“Aye, I live in a castle with Papa and Mama, Uncle Drake and Uncle Gerick, and Leon, and ugh, Julius…”

Cecelia saw that he went quiet all of a sudden. “That’s nice. They must love you very much, then,” she said, wondering from what kingdom this boy came from. And why had those men kidnapped him? Apparently, it must be for ransom. Lucifer did say his family was rich. She wondered if he was royalty, like herself.

“Aye,” the boy said proudly.

“I love my family, too,” Cecelia said, thinking about her mother and dead father.

Lucifer turned to look at her again. “Why are you so sad?”

Cecelia blinked. She didn’t know tears were brewing in her eyes. She wiped them away with the back of her hand and said, “My mother is very sick. I must find the Pearl of Life to save her.”

“What’s wrong with your mother?”

“She was poisoned.”

“Oh, that does sound bad,” Lucifer said.

She knew he didn’t understand anything about poison or the pain she had within her heart right then. He was just trying to help ease the hurt. But that was still kind of him.

“I was poisoned once,” Lucifer began, “with the white tiger butterfly. It stung so bad, and I cried. Mama kissed me so I wouldn’t feel the hurt. Usually I don’t like her kissing me so hard cos it’s embarrassing in front of my friends. But this time I like it. The witch made me a potion. It was so very bitter. I didn’t like it much, but Uncle Drake said brave warriors like to drink bitter potion, so I drank it anyway.”

“That’s nice,” Cecelia said. “What’s a white tiger butterfly?”

He stared at her, his eyes large. “Don’t you know anything?” he said.

Cecelia shook her head.

“It’s a butterfly,” he began. “They are very big, this size.” He held out his hand in the air as to indicate the size of the insect.

“Lord, that is large,” Cecelia said, looking at the empty space the size of a fat cat.

“Aye, they sting badly, too.”

“Lucifer?”

“Hmm?”

“You said you were kidnapped. Do they intend to get ransom from your parents, then?” she asked.

The boy nodded.

“We’ll have to escape.”

“I know. I wanted to escape, too. I want to do it myself. I don’t want anyone to save me,” Lucifer said.

Cecelia thought it odd that only a moment ago he had said his father and Uncle Drake would save them.

“I’ll think of a plan before we reach the island. Sleep now, Lucifer, so we can gain some energy for the escape. I am rather tired.”

“I know how you humans tire,” he said, closing his eyes.

Cecelia wasn’t listening to him; she had already turned her attention to the locked door. There must be a way out, she thought. Somehow, once they landed on the demon land, she’d have to find a way out before those men killed her and Lucifer.

* * * * *

A Demon’s Wrath: Chapter 2

 

Chapter II

 

2015 A Demon Wrath Book 1THE IDEA CAME TO HER in the middle of the night. It was so simple, yet why had she not thought of it earlier? Cecelia was excited. She knew she must save her mother, and all she had to do was to fetch the Pearl of Life herself.

As soon as the idea formed in her head, she slumped her shoulders. The journey, as the king had told her, was fraught with danger and unknown creatures. Then there were the demons themselves to deal with. How was she ever going to get to the Demon Kingdom?

Nay, she must not think too much. She would just have to do it no matter what. Her mother’s life was very important. Without her, Rosevalley would not rise again.

Cecelia drifted off to sleep with the thought of her beautiful land coming back to life.

She spent the next three days planning and packing. She didn’t tell anyone, especially not her mother. She knew the woman would forbid her from acting out her plan.

Finally, it was her last night, and as usual, she and Brian were having dinner with their mother. The food was delicious, but Cecelia couldn’t taste anything apart from the bitterness in her mouth. She supposed it was because of the fear, the doubt in her own ability that she hid deep in her heart.

“You look pale, darling,” the countess said.

“Oh.” Cecelia turned to look at her mother.

“Is something the matter?”

“Nay.” Cecelia lowered her soft-brown eyes.

“Destiny, my darling, has a way of finding us.”

Cecelia lifted her face to look at her mother. The woman had a fatigued paleness about her that made Cecelia’s heart ache in her chest. “Mother, you are tired. Brian.” She looked at her brother.

The youth nodded, got up, and kissed Margaret on the cheek. “Good night, Mother,” he said.

“Good night, darling,” the countess whispered and touched his cheek. Brian nodded and then left the room.

“Was the food to your liking?” Cecelia asked, tucking the sheets around her mother.

Margaret nodded and yawned. Then she closed her eyes. Cecelia sat and clasped her mother’s hand in hers. She brought it to her lips and gave it a gentle kiss. “I love you,” she whispered with her eyes closed.

“Please don’t do it.”

Cecelia darted her eyes to her mother in surprise. “You knew?”

“I am your mother, Celia. You are so like your father, so determined and stubborn,” the countess said tiredly.

“I am his daughter after all.” Cecelia smiled.

“I know I cannot stop you. But I’m afraid. What if you are not here when—”

“Hush, Mother, do not speak of such. Milan the healer will look after you well. I promise I will be back with the Pearl of Life as soon as I get it.”

“When will you leave?”

“Before the sunrise.”

“How?”

“As a lad. There are travelers leaving the city. I will go with them, and then—”

“I am worried.”

“I will find a way, Mother. I’ve already packed. There are gold coins.”

“How will you protect yourself from thefts?”

“I have father’s smallsword and dagger.”

“And the creatures in the forbidden forest?” the countess prompted.

“I pray to God for his aid.” She bowed her head as tears flowed from her eyes.

“My darling, you will die,” the countess said in anguish.

“Nay, Mother,” Cecelia said, shaking her head. “I will not die. I will come back with the Pearl of Life… for you.”

“My life is not worth this dangerous journey. I am ashamed of myself. I am your mother, yet I bring danger to your life.”

“Nay, Mother, it is the demons that should be ashamed of themselves, for they were the ones that attacked our land and killed Father,” Cecelia said bitterly.

“You have hatred in you against the demons?” the countess questioned.

“Aye, I despise them.”

“Sometimes, my darling, the ugliest demon could have the kindest of heart. It is the one with beauty that is ugly on the inside.”

“You speak in riddles. I do not understand.” Cecelia looked up to her mother, frowning.

“You will in time.” The countess patted her daughter’s hand. “Will you look after yourself, my darling?”

“I will.”

“God be with you,” the countess said, closing her eyes.

Cecelia knew her mother was tired. She leaned down and kissed her forehead. “I love you.”

Countess Rosevalley smiled with her eyes still closed.

Cecelia left her mother and went into her own bedroom. She saw her brother sitting on the sofa near the hearth, reading the history of Rosevalley Island by Lord Mark Van Cortlandt, the wizard, died three years ago defending her father against the demon.

She came to sit beside him and looked over his shoulder.

“Halfway already?”

“Our island is interesting. I miss our home.”

“I, too, miss our home,” Cecelia said, resting her cheek against his. “I remember the rose field in summer, the wildflowers, the vineyard, and the smells of grapes and lavender and honeysuckle. I remember our castle, our bedchamber looking over the vast blue ocean. I remember seeing Father’s grand ship, the Lady Emerald, sailing into our harbor with goods from other kingdoms. I remember riding my mare, Snow, all white and so beautiful and so gentle. I remember many things, and I wonder, Brian, if we will ever have those things again.”

“Will the king restore Rosevalley for us?” Brian asked, closing the book.

“I hope so. He has promised.” When she said that, she knew in her gut that the king would not help them. He was too busy trying to sort out the war between his kingdom and Virdis Kingdom to have time to think about anything else, least of all the building of Rosevalley.

“He has done naught but promise. I do not trust him.” Brian turned to look at her, his hands clutching the book.

“You are wise,” she said. “The last I heard, the king has ordered the rebuilding of Rosevalley Castle. But why he didn’t allow me to go and see to its progress, no matter that I’ve asked him many times, I do not know. He said I am a woman and do not know these things. He has a lord there working for him. I wonder, I just wonder if he was ever going to let us return to our homeland.” Cecelia sighed after she had said that.

Perhaps, she thought, her suspicion of the king trying to imprison them here had gotten to her imaginative mind. Why would he want to keep them away from their home anyway? Sure, Rosevalley was a very rich island. Could that be the reason? Because the king wanted to control their vast wealth? By controlling them here?

“I only wish we didn’t have to live here. The place is big and nice, but the people…”

Cecelia turned her attention to her brother then. “I know,” she said, knowing those other youths who were sons of the princes, lords, and ministers living in the palace had bullied him, as had both Lady Rosanna and Lady Juliet who had always been bullying her. Not to mention Queen Eliza herself.

“Brian?” she started.

“Hmm?” The youth turned to her, his brown eyes very much like their father’s, large and warm.

She swallowed hard because she was afraid to tell him what she was going to do, afraid he would suffer without her here.

“I must leave for a time,” she began.

“Why? What for?” Brian frowned.

“Will you promise not to tell anyone?” She touched him, her hands clutching onto his shoulders.

“What’s this, Celia? Why are you being so secretive? Why are you leaving?”

“Just promise me, please?”

Brian stared and then nodded. “Aye, I promise.”

She took a deep breath and said, “I am going to the Demon Kingdom.”

He just stared at her as if she were mad.

“What? That’s suicide!”

“To fetch the Pearl of Life,” she explained quickly.

“But, Celia, ’tis dangerous!”

“I know, but Mother’s life… The king, I have pleaded with him. He would not agree.”

“Don’t go. You will die and Mother will die. I will have no one,” he said in anguish.

“Do not speak of such, brother. I will not die. Mother will not die. And you, Brian, will not be alone. That much I promise you.” She touched her fingers to his face and looked deep into his eyes. They stared at each other as they read each other’s thoughts and feelings.

“When will you leave?” he said at last.

“Tomorrow, at dawn.”

“So soon?”

“Promise me you will look after Mother.”

“I… I promise.”

“Study hard. You are going to be the next Earl of Rosevalley. I love you, Brian.” She hugged him tight.

“And I you.”

“Now go.” She pushed him away. “I must get some sleep before the sunrise.”

Brian stiffly got up, clutching the book in one hand and the other still holding on to hers.

“You must go,” she said.

He nodded and lowered himself to kiss her forehead. “Good night, Celia,” he said and left her.

Cecelia went to her wardrobe and took out her packing. Her satchel wasn’t large. It contained only the essentials. She laid out the man’s garments on her bed, the set she had asked her elderly maid Agnes to steal from a stable boy the other night. A commoner’s clothing was what she needed for this journey.

“My lady, I know I shouldn’t speak,” the maid said at the door as Cecelia was brushing out her long tresses.

“Then don’t, Agnes,” Cecelia said, putting down the brush.

“But…”

“Help me off with this gown,” Cecelia instructed. “I must rest before the journey.”

The maid sighed and then said meekly, “Aye, my lady.”

Agnes helped Cecelia take of her sack-back gown. Once the heavy fabric was off her body, she felt light and airy. A feeling she wished she could experience more often. But it was impossible with these types of gown and the many petticoats, not to mention the corset she had to wear while at the palace. If she were back home at Rosevalley Island, she’d wear breeches. She smiled a little then. Aye, she’d wear breeches again soon enough.

“Don’t forget, if anyone asks,” Cecelia began, “tell them I’m with Mother, looking after her. I am sure none would visit her, for her condition is getting worse.”

Agnes nodded as she untied the strings of the corset around Cecelia’s back. “I am sure they will not visit her, my lady, for I have heard the maids have rumored that the poison is contagious and will spread to others within a foot away.”

“And you, Agnes? Do you fear the poison?” Cecelia turned to look at the fifty-summers-old woman who had been looking after her since she was a wee baby.

Cecelia lifted her hands and Agnes removed the corset from her body.

Agnes said, “Nay, my lady, I’ve known of the Westwick’s poison. It will kill the person it has infected but will not spread to others.”

Cecelia had to smile then. “You are not dimwitted like they are,” she said.

The maid grinned at the compliment.

Once Cecelia was in her nightgown, she turned to the older woman and said, “Do you think I am dimwitted, Agnes?”

Agnes looked at her beautiful lady long and hard. She sighed, her heart heavy in her chest. Then she shook her head and said, “You are not dimwitted, just too brave for your own good and for loving your family too much.”

“Thanks, Agnes.” Cecelia smiled.

“Sleep well, my lady. I will pray to God for you every night. May you return unharmed.”

“Thank you, Agnes,” Cecelia said as she climbed into bed.

* * * * *

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Falling For Sakura Trilogy Book 1: A New Adult Contemporary Romance Series

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In Japan, Sakura is the beautiful cherry blossom that blooms vibrantly in spring and symbolizes the insightful Buddhist phrase mono no aware, which means the pathos of things, a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life. FALLING FOR SAKURA is the story of Caucasian-Japanese Sakura, her journey to finding herself, and her torn love for two very different brothers, Sebastian and Darcy Princeton.

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A Demon Wrath: Chapter 1

2015 A Demon Wrath Book 1Chapter I

 

 

Two moons prior…
Van Zandt Palace, Dardania Kingdom

 

LADY CECELIA VAN ZANDT STARED at her king sprawled back in his mahogany and golden chair, his plump hands resting atop his prominent belly. He was contemplating his giant ruby ring on his porky finger, ignoring her speech of plea.

She felt quite annoyed by his lack of interest. He looked as though he were about to fall asleep, but she knew he wasn’t because he was now playing with the ring.

How could he not care? He was her king and, more than that, her uncle. How can he act as though he has not a care in the world? My mother is dying, for God’s sake.

“Surely, sire,” she said, staring at his hazel eyes and chubby face. “Could you not send your most trusted and strong soldiers to fetch it?” She raised her hand in the air to stress her point. “There are many strong soldiers in our kingdom.”

“My dear child,” he said, finally looking at her. “You are young and your mind is weak with neither thought of danger nor death. Listen well, child…”

Cecelia grimaced. She wasn’t a child anymore. She had seen ten and nine summers past, and that made her a grown person. Of course, the king didn’t think thus.

She was petite and, to her annoyance, came short on all the womanly traits men seemed to adore. She was too thin, her hair too dark, and her skin not at all petal white, as fashion required. This was because she’d spent too much time in the sun. She knew people had been comparing her to Queen Eliza Van Zandt, Lady Rosanna Van Dyck, and Lady Juliet Van Dyck, who were all fair beauties.

“I will not send my soldiers to die,” the king said abruptly.

“But, sire, ’tis the only way Mother can live. The healer said she will soon die if we do not do something. The Pearl of Life will cure the poison.”

“There is nothing we can do,” he said slowly.

Cecelia was angry. There was always a solution to a problem, but the king was a narrow-minded man. She knew he would prefer to do what was safe for him.

She fisted her hands and said through gritted teeth, “You do not care for your brother’s wife, then?”

King Leroi Van Zandt turned to look at his niece, his hazel eyes narrowed in distaste as he took in her person.

“Child,” he said, sitting up straight in his large, dominating chair. “I do care for your mother.” He lied and felt no guilt because it came too easy these days. “It is simply too dangerous even for an excellently trained soldier. I do not care to let my men set foot in that forbidden land. The creatures that inhabit that sea of death and those monsters roaming in that forbidden forest, not to mention the demons themselves.”

“But Mother’s life depends on—”

“Have you ever met a demon?” he asked.

Cecelia closed her eyes. Her heart began to beat faster. Her mind flashed back to that night three years ago when she’d first sighted the demons. They were monstrous creatures with two thick, black horns on their heads, faces and large bear-like bodies resembling a beast. She shivered as she remembered the fire burning down walls and furniture, devouring everything in sight, and the figures of demons shrouding around her.

She fluttered her eyes open and looked at her uncle.

“Nay?” King Leroi smiled as he looked at her shaking her head. “I imagine they would give you nightmares for weeks to come.”

Cecelia was still shaking. It was not only weeks. It was years.

“Monstrous creatures they are. Met one many years ago. Killed ten of my soldiers on the spot, ripping them to pieces.”

Cecelia paled and her stomach hollowed.

King Leroi smiled inwardly. “You are afraid at the thought?”

Cecelia clamped her lips together in response.

“Aye, you are not unfounded to be afraid of them. I am a good king. You must appreciate that I am, and this kingdom is protecting you from them.” He leaned forward, his small eyes scrutinizing her. “Do you appreciate what I’ve done for you and your family?”

Cecelia couldn’t look at him. Instead, she stared at the polished marble floor of white and gold. She felt quite numb.

“Do you?”

“Aye, I do,” she softly replied.

He smiled, his plump cheeks nearly covering his small eyes as he did so. “Then you know it is for the best to leave things be.”

She looked up at him then, her brown eyes misting with tears. “You will not send the soldiers to the Demon Kingdom?”

“Nay,” came the harsh reply.

Cecelia had to control her anger by fisting her hands. Her knuckles began to turn white. She felt a sense of defeat. All of her planning from the previous three nights had come to naught. All her plausible explanations as to why this Pearl of Life—a mysterious seed that grew within a giant clam in the Demon Kingdom, which, according to rumors, had the power to cure her mother from the Westwick poison—was to no avail.

“We will not talk of this in the future. Perhaps it is God’s will that your mother would leave us soon,” he said, looking heavenward and crossing himself.

Nay! Cecelia cried in her heart. ’Tis not God’s will that Mother would die soon.

“You are dismissed.”

Cecelia curtsied, and turning on her heel, she left the king’s private study.

In the long corridor, she was still feeling defeated and angry when she met the two women she most wanted to avoid. Even though she’d heard the clop-clops of their backless mules, she couldn’t escape them as she did not know where an alternative exit was except for the one shown to her by a footman. That exit was at the end of the corridor, behind the two vile women.

“Lady Cecelia Van Zandt, already back from whispering your wicked thoughts to the king?” Rosanna sneered, folding her arms across her generous bosom.

Cecelia looked at the blond-haired woman. She was, as usual, exquisitely beautiful today, dressed in a silk lavender gown. Her silver-blond tresses were styled into ringlets about her head, thus showing off her slender, swan-like neck, which was adorned with a large ruby and gold necklace of an intricate design.

“What did you say to him?” Juliet, the younger sister, said, grabbing hold of Cecelia’s arm and nudging her toward them.

Cecelia glanced at Juliet. She was also very pretty today, dressed in a pastel silk gown and her honey-blond hair styled into ringlets on her head.

“Nothing that concerns you,” Cecelia said, shook her arm free, and moved aside to pass them.

Rosanna smoothly stepped in front of her, stopping her escape. “Tell me or suffer the consequence,” the woman said, her green eyes so sharp Cecelia thought if they were real blades, her smooth cheek would be cut by now.

Though she was afraid, she stood her ground and tilted her head a notch higher so her eyes met Rosanna’s.

“I said nothing that concerns you,” she repeated without showing her fear.

“Insolence!” Rosanna snapped and slapped Cecelia’s right cheek.

Cecelia took a deep breath as she fisted her hands. Slowly, she turned to glare at the woman. She itched to retaliate but knew she would only get into more trouble, for Queen Eliza would soon hear of their fights and would, as always, punish her.

“You will not talk of such to me again, do you hear?” Rosanna hissed. “I am the queen’s cousin. I have all the power, and you have none. It is as well that you know your place here. You should thank the good king for taking you and your family under his wing, for providing you and your family food and shelter after the attack. You should thank the Lord you are still living and breathing this day and not being ripped to pieces by those demons.”

Cecelia squared her shoulders and said, “I do thank God for his mercy every evening tide afore retiring to bed, Lady Rosanna.”

“So what did you talk to the king about?” Juliet asked, yanking at Cecelia’s sleeve.

Cecelia didn’t answer.

Rosanna frowned and her lips thinned into a line. “Tell me now!” she said and yanked her again.

“The Pearl of Life,” Cecelia said.

Both women stared at her in disbelief.

“The Pearl of Life?” Rosanna repeated. “You cannot think to ask the king to dispatch his soldiers to retrieve it, can you?”

Cecelia didn’t answer. She made a move to leave.

“Do you?” Rosanna snapped, grabbing Cecelia’s arm and yanking her back.

“Aye,” Cecelia said and shifted her arm free.

“But it is in the Demon Kingdom, somewhere in the cave deep in the forbidden forest where the terrible monsters live. ’Tis the demon king’s treasure. The creature won’t allow you. The men will die.”

Cecelia ignored the women’s barks of outrage and turned to go.

“You would let the brave soldiers die to save your useless mother?” Rosanna said.

Cecelia twisted around and slapped Rosanna on the cheek. She felt oddly satisfied. To hell with Queen Eliza, she thought. If the news of this small fight reached the woman’s ear and later she got the punishment, so be it.

Rosanna’s mouth hung open in disbelief.

“My mother is not useless,” Cecelia said in a low, heated voice. “She is a great woman, a great lady. She is Countess of Rosevalley, who loves her people.”

“And why is the great Rosevalley gone, turned into ash overnight? Because your dear father was useless, that’s why,” Rosanna snapped.

“It was the demons. It had nothing to do with him,” Cecelia said angrily, tears brewing in her eyes.

“It’s because your father was weak. That was why he couldn’t handle a few demons,” Rosanna said.

“It wasn’t just a few demons,” Cecelia defended. Inside, she felt hopeless, and she knew no matter how hard she tried to argue with them, she would still lose.

“How do you know it wasn’t just a few demons?” Juliet asked.

“I know,” Cecelia said and knew they were laughing at her acting like a child, defending her hero father, Prince Peter Van Zandt, Earl of Rosevalley. In her heart, she knew it wasn’t just a few demons. There was a whole army of them. She had seen them herself. They had attacked at night, killing anyone in sight. It was a miracle she, her mother, and her brother had escaped at all.

She looked at Juliet, and without another word, turned and walked as fast as she could from the corridor.

“Where are you going? Come back here. I’m not finished with you,” Rosanna yelled.

Cecelia ignored her shout of outrage and walked faster, her shoes clip-clopping against the polished floor.

She exited the king’s wing and entered the courtyard. Though the bright sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the flowers were beautiful and blooming in all different shades of the rainbow, she didn’t see them, and if she did, she wouldn’t appreciate them.

She ran across the courtyard, passing the exotic pond swimming with Koi and turtles, the great magnolia trees blooming with white and pink blossoms, and the bushes of bright-red roses that would have made her smile and entered the corridor of the north wing.

This wing was assigned to her family three years ago when they had arrived under the king’s aid after the demons’ attack.

Cecelia was very glad that this north wing was old and not very elegant as were the other three in the palace. And furthermore, because the wing faced north, this meant it was colder than the rest, which both the king and queen themselves, not to mention Rosanna and Juliet, disliked immensely. Hence, they had never come to visit. Not that they wanted to anyway. Queen Eliza had never liked her mother, a fact Cecelia found most suitable to her since her mother, and herself of course, had never liked her in return.

Cecelia came to a grand foyer decorated with a light rose-pink and royal-purple drapes over the long windows. The grand stairs were made of white marble and the large walls were hung with paintings of previous kings, queens, and lords of the kingdom—her ancestors.

She climbed the stairs and then came across the corridor. Turning to her right, she came to a huge door. She stood there for a moment to calm her nerves. Once she was composed, she walked into her mother’s bedchamber.

Closing the door behind her, she wiped her tears clean. She didn’t want her mother to see her crying. The woman already had enough trouble as it was.

“Mother?” she called into the large, elegant room.

“Celia, my darling?” She heard her mother’s hoarse voice and her heart nearly broke. She walked toward the large four-poster bed in the center of the room.

Lady Margaret Van Zandt, Countess of Rosevalley, was sitting between large pillows, and her fragile figure only confirmed Cecelia’s suspicion that her mother was getting weaker.

“Mother,” she said, taking a seat on the side of the bed. “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” Margaret said, trying to smile but failing.

Cecelia knew it was painful to even lift those once beautiful lips. Her mother tried for her sake, she knew.

“I can hear the bees buzzing and the birds singing,” her mother whispered. “So beautiful in spring, don’t you think, darling?”

Cecelia agreed without much thought.

“The festival will be so lovely with wildflowers everywhere.” Margaret reached out her frail hand to touch her daughter’s.

“I won’t be joining,” Cecelia said as she lifted her mother’s hand to her lips. She kissed it and then gently moved it to touch her cheek.

“Why?” Margaret asked, watching her daughter with interest.

“It will be no joy without you there.”

“Nonsense.” The countess frowned. “I want you to go and enjoy the festival. Take your brother with you. Perhaps this time, you will find a fine young man—”

“Mother, you are weak. Do not talk more,” Cecelia said firmly, resting her mother’s hand back on the bedding. She moved up to tuck the blanket around the woman.

Margaret looked at her daughter and knew Cecelia didn’t like talking about finding a husband. She knew it was the very least important matter for her daughter to consider, for her small shoulders were already heavily burdened with many other problems. She knew she and her sickness was one of them.

She changed the subject to ease her daughter’s mind. “Aye, I am tired. Pass me some tea, darling.”

Cecelia poured her mother a cup of tea and helped her as she drank the warm, dark liquid. After her mother had finished, she helped her settle back in bed. The countess was just closing her eyes when Cecelia broke the silence.

“I’ve been to see the king,” she began.

Margaret reached for Cecelia’s hand. “Do not bother him. He has enough on his mind already. The war—”

“Mother, please stop. Where have you heard of such?”

“The maid and the healer.” Margaret opened her eyes just a little to look at her daughter.

“They gossip too much. But you are important, too. The poison… the healer said it has reached your heart. I’m so afraid.”

“Perhaps it is time for me to go.”

“Please, Mother, do not speak of such.” Cecelia shook her head as tears started to brew in her eyes.

“We are only mortal, here to live in this world for a short time and then be taken away again. Even demons, they too will die someday—”

“Please do not speak of them. Not the demons. They have caused us enough pain,” Cecelia said, her heart raging with hatred at the mere mention of them.

“Your father was a brave man, Celia. He stood up to them. He was a great lord and a great warrior.”

“I am proud of him,” Cecelia said, touching her mother’s hand to her cheek again.

The countess sighed.

“The Pearl of Life—” Cecelia brought up the subject.

“Do not speak of it, Celia. Let fate take its course.” When Margaret looked at her daughter, there was a command in her brown eyes that Cecelia found hard to disobey. She was a good daughter, and she must do as she was told. So she dropped the subject. She didn’t want her mother to think too much, for the mere act of thinking itself, the healer had told her, would also increase the poison’s power.

“I will let you rest now,” she said.

After helping her mother comfortably settle in bed, she left.

In her own bedchamber, Cecelia was deep in thought, planning what would be the best course of action to save her mother’s life. There must be a way to get the Pearl of Life. Her previous solution was to plead with the king for his help, but now that wasn’t possible. Another idea that came to her mind was to hire a well-trained soldier to retrieve the item. But who would risk their life to go into the Demon Kingdom? There were too many unknown creatures along the dangerous journey already and many unknown obstacles they must overcome in order to reach the kingdom itself. The very word demon would send people shaking with fear. A demon could suck the blood out of a man and then rip his body to a thousand pieces.

There is no hope for her now.

Cecelia threw herself on her bed, helpless. She lay there for how long she did not know, deep in thought. She was also beginning to get a bad headache.

“Celia?”

She lifted her head and saw her brother at the door. She quickly sat up as her brother walked into the room. She saw his left boot was ripped at the heel, his breeches and coat were smudged with dirt, as was his young, handsome face, and his dark hair was tousled.

“How was the hunt?” she asked, not surprised at all at the fact that her brother looked like he’d been beaten severely. His skin was so pale that it worried her.

Brian Van Zandt came to sit beside her on the large, four-poster bed. She frowned when she saw his dark, scowled face. She knew he must have been silently raging inside. She knew he felt trapped and worthless. He craved to do much, much more. Her heart ached for him.

“They left you in the forest alone again?”

Brian frowned fiercely and then reluctantly nodded.

“They will get it back one day, Brian. You will see,” she said, wiping the dirt from his cheek.

“How is Mother?”

She didn’t know whether to tell him the truth of their mother’s condition or not. She knew if she lied to him, it wouldn’t sit well with her.

“She is getting worse, Brian.”

“Why isn’t the king sending his soldiers to fetch the Pearl of Life?” Brian snapped angrily.

“It is too dangerous. The journey is long and there are many unknown creatures. There are also the demons,” Cecelia explained.

“If only I were healthier, then I would go myself and fetch it,” Brian said, nodding his head and squaring his jaw Cecelia had seen their father do so many times before. She heard the bravery in his seventeen-year-old voice. “If only… if only I were not so sickly. This body of mine.”

He was referring to his chronic condition that had caused him much pain during the nights. Ever since the sickness had struck two and a half years ago, a sickness no one knew the name nor had ever heard of, he had been coughing and his whole body aching severely. He was always tired and so very pale. Most of the time, he couldn’t breathe easily. The healer said strenuous exertion could kill him, which she feared might just happen if he continued to burn himself out just to prove to those other youths that he was capable of standing on his own two feet, that he wasn’t just a pampered young lord.

Looking at him now, Cecelia thought how different he was years ago when they’d been back at Rosevalley Island. The younger Brian had always been so outgoing and active. He had love exploring and riding and practicing his smallsword against her, sharpening his skills. If it weren’t for the infection, he would have grown to be a fine young man, strong and powerful. A young man who could one day take back Rosevalley Island. But fate had dealt them a dreadful blow. Now he could do naught of those things he loved, those things that would make him stronger, for in doing so, it could kill him.

“And if only I were born a boy,” Cecelia said absentmindedly, nodding her head.

“Aye, then you could become a soldier and you could go to the Demon Kingdom and fetch the Pearl of Life.”

“You must not forget I must first fight the demon king, for the Pearl of Life belongs to him.”

“Aye,” the youth said, nodding. “I trust you would beat him. After all, you are very good with the smallsword. I know your fencing is unparalleled, but those teachers and lords, they don’t know you know how to fence, let alone lift a smallsword.”

“The demon king is a very powerful warrior, Brian. How could I defeat him? I am only a woman with a woman’s strength.”

Brian eyed her. The innocent look in his brown eyes nearly made Cecelia forget everything, and she wished she were once again a child. Then she would have no worries. But that is not to be.

“Father was huge, but Mother was still able to defeat him,” he said, thinking about those times long ago when their father had surrendered to their mother when they’d been fighting with words.

Cecelia widened her eyes. “They are different, Brian. The demon king is a demon. He is not a man.”

“What is the difference?” Brian asked. “Surely demons are like humans, too? Surely they look very much like us?”

Cecelia thought even though Brian was seventeen, his life had been quite sheltered, as was she, for they had been exiled here in this northern castle since Rosevalley had fallen. He didn’t have friends, nor she. They went through life without much experience of the outside world. Thus, he didn’t know demons were creatures to fear. He didn’t know they were monsters that killed without mercy. He didn’t know they were hideous beings with beastlike bodies and faces resembling wolves. But she knew because she had seen them.

“Well, for one thing, demons are demons,” she explained weakly.

“Celia, I just know you’ll defeat this demon when you meet him,” Brian said. “I will go wash up. I smell very bad.” He kissed her on the cheek, stood, and then slowly limped out the door.

Alone, Cecelia turned to look out her window into the large city below the palace. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She wondered if she were to meet this demon king, would she be able to defeat him? She doubted it. She would probably faint on the spot just looking at him. Nay, she would never meet him. That she was certain of.

* * * * *