THE DEMONS DIDN’T LIKE HUMANS very much. They considered these beings twisted, cunning bastards with nothing more to fill their time than to get drunk, plot, plan, kill amongst their own kind, and of course, going to war with other kingdoms to conquer.
The Demon Kingdom was one of those prized nations, with its fertile soil excellent for farming, lakes with an abundant supply of fresh water, woods full of wild animals, ocean copious with sea creatures, and mines rich with precious metal ore such as silver and gold. For centuries, the humans had their eyes on the demon land, their hunger for it driving them to a feverous pitch that led to numerous wars and millions of deaths. When they failed in their attempt, they spread lies and rumors that demons were monstrous creatures born to destroy and kill.
For the last few hundred years, the war against the demons had turned into a Holy War, brought about by the human Holy Knights to eradicate these nightmarish, malevolent beings from the nine kingdoms. They failed spectacularly, and now fifty years since that war ended, many still believe the demons to be these grotesque murderers the humans portrayed them to be.
Though Drake himself didn’t dislike the humans as passionately as his demon citizens, he still regarded them with disdain and preferred to interact with them at arm’s length. He understood that all races were of the same make, that the urge to lie, steal, or kill was fueled by the need to survive by some, passion by others, and greed by a fair few. Of course, this included those who were here to steal his treasure, and there had been many since this kingdom became his after the death of his parents.
As with anything, there was the exception of the very selected few whom he’d encountered and found very amiable. One of those was Lord Peter Van Zandt, the Earl of Rosevalley, whom he had met many years ago during one of his sea adventures. The man and his beautiful wife showed him the true meaning of being alive, being a part of a loving family and friends, and how one should always be true to oneself, whether a powerful king or a poor farmer. Of course, the earl had taught him the art of viticulture and viniculture as well. These were lessons that Drake cherished and knowledge he kept with him since.
He was currently sipping the fruit of one of those lessons now. The dry and sweet taste of the wine swirled playfully in his mouth as he carefully analyzed the current urgent state in which they were. Marcus Arthurs, who had escaped the dark prison four years ago, was now gathering troops, preparing for imminent war, with the help of what kingdom Drake had yet to find out.
As a young king, Drake had to show his demon followers his strength and capability to protect them from the continuous threats of wars that raged across the nine kingdoms. It was a hard job, one that required constant late nights, an alert and sharp mind, and wise decision-making, of which Drake possessed in abundance.
Now, however, it wasn’t that threat of war that put him on edge, for they had no fear of such things. Drake and his comrades were skilled, ruthless warriors and had trained their demon armies, which counted in the hundreds of thousands, the art of battle to perfection. They were always ready for any combat, and none were afraid to die for their country. Marcus Arthur, a demon and Drake’s ex-comrade, wouldn’t be able to withstand them, regardless of the influential and powerful help he managed to acquire from outside.
It was the imminent need for a blood heir that worried Drake. He was ready for marriage, but his pearl of life was still dormant, hadn’t yet informed him it had found a suitable bride for him to mate and bear his children. Such was the fate of a true demon king, for if the bloodline wasn’t suitable, the power within would die, and along with it the kingdom.
“Your scowl is darker than usual, Drake,” Julius said from the other side of the library. He had a book in his hands, his eyes scanning through the ancient text as he stated his next query. “Are you worried about the pearl?”
Drake, perched on the step of the stairs above, gazed off into the distance through the long window that overlooked the city below. Dots of bright light illuminated the vast kingdom like fireflies, an enchanting picture. This kingdom was his, and Drake loved and cherished it—his land, his demons, and all that was within the boundaries of his responsibility.
“Aye,” he replied. “The pearl isn’t yet ready.”
Julius took off his spectacle, resting it gently on the table, and lifted his head to look at Drake. “Well, there is naught we can do but wait until the timing is right.”
“Timing,” Drake said, “is not on our side. Marcus Arthur, as we know, is now gathering his armies. He knows I’m without a blood heir. This kingdom is vulnerable. He will challenge me and kill me if he gets the chance. If I die, this kingdom will die with me, and you know it.”
Julius was silent for a moment. The situation was dire. Unlike the human kingdoms, the survival and prosperity of both the Angel and Demon Kingdoms rested on the hidden power of the true blood king. If that king were to die without an heir to continue the line, so too would his land and, in turn, his followers. The Demon Kingdom had been blessed for the past few hundred years, for they had the blood line of the McNamaras, defeating that foolish war the humans regarded as holy, preventing them from ever stepping foot on their shore again. Before the McNamaras there had been the Arthurs, whose pearl of life wasn’t strong nor vibrant, thus marking the king’s power as weak and dark in both mind and spirit. That line had craved dark power and had put their kingdom in constant war and the civilians under threat of death for many centuries. None wanted a repetition of that.
Luckily, ever since Drake had come into power, the kingdom had grown in prosperity, even more so than his parents and grandparents before him. Yet the pearl of life, a seed that came to life when Drake was born, had not yet decided who Drake’s bride would be, the female who would carry Drake’s son, the future true demon king.
“I still can’t believe that bastard managed to escape!” Adam growled in disgust from across the room. He pounded his mighty fist onto the table for effect, just to show everyone how upset he was. “If only you’d let me kill him that first time, Drake.”
Julius frowned at Adam over his book. After all this time, he thought, Adam is still consumed with anger at the thought we managed to allow Marcus Arthur escape our clutches. Of course, the fact that Marcus had also very nearly killed Adam’s lovely bride Vera whilst the woman was with child didn’t help douse the fuel of rage within Adam either. If anything, it made the demon crazed for Marcus’s blood, whether they used to be best friends or not.
“Keep your voice down, Adam. I’m reading.”
Adam narrowed his eyes at Julius. “Aren’t you worried?” When Julius just stared at him, he turned to Drake.
Drake’s scowl darkened. “You know as well as I that we cannot eliminate the Arthur blood line. Marcus is the last. If I die without an heir, he will be the next demon king.”
“What? And let him waltz in and kill you when he feels like it?” Gerick voiced for the first time. “He’s a threat, Drake. He’s as strong and skilled as the five of us in battle.”
By the five of them, he meant Drake, Adam, Julius, Leon, and himself, who had been schooled and trained together since they were children, along with Marcus.
Adam was the oldest and the one with the hottest temper and the strongest sword, yet he was also the one with the gentlest feelings. He was simply a big bear with a hard exterior and a bountiful love for his family and friends. Marcus, the one who had betrayed them and was the same age as Adam, was the smartest and most resourceful with his unmatched ability in the use of dark power and strange magic.
Julius, with his know-it-all attitude, vast knowledge, insightful wisdom, a knack for white spells and magic, and a love for books was a year younger than the two previous demons. Drake, the most serious, responsible, intelligent, innovative, powerful, and skilled of the warriors, was a year younger than Julius.
Gerick, the handsomest, most flirtatious demon with an appetite for good food, fine wine, and of course, beautiful women and young men, was a year younger than Drake. There was, of course, another side to Gerick—seriousness and shrewdness with an art in war strategies and his loyalty to his comrades that was beyond compare. Leon, who was quiet, intelligent, and skilled as a commander of the armies, was a few months younger than Gerick.
“Demon’s blood!” Gerick said. “He trained with us, and we didn’t even know he was an Arthur. We all know what will happen if Marcus becomes king. That bastard practices black magic. We know how dark his pearl is. It will be a disaster.”
“I’m not about to let him kill me, Gerick,” Drake said. “I will kill him if he tries to lay his hands on me. Though, I still have hope we can return him.”
Julius looked doubtful at that statement. “Once the pearl is marked black, it cannot return to its original color, Drake.”
Drake ignored Julius and glanced at Adam, who looked both hurt and angry at the same time. His pale-gray eyes were dark with emotion. It was hard to lose one’s best friend and watch him turn against you, even though it happened many years ago.
Drake said, “For now, I need my pearl to be ready. I need it to give me a bride.”
Leon, who was sitting in a chair by the brightly lit hearth, suggested, “Why don’t we just do another presentation?”
Julius gave him a dry laugh. “We all know what happened last time.”
Gerick nodded in agreement, his face sour as a lemon. Leon nodded soberly.
Their last presentation, which was of course Julius’s cunning plan of a shortcut, was a chaotic disaster to say the least. They’d presented about a dozen beautiful female demons from noble families to the pearl. Most, however, couldn’t even get into the enchanted water. They were too afraid of the magical acid that would eat their alabaster skin. A very few managed but couldn’t go any farther than a couple steps before they came running out again, screaming as if death were after them.
All five demons were silent as they pondered on what the best course of action might be. When Gerick said, “What if Drake is meant to have a male lover?” Adam wanted to punch him in the face, and Leon managed to hide a chuckle.
It wasn’t because Adam had anything against that sexual orientation, since it was very acceptable in the Demon Kingdom to be either way, but because that implied Drake wouldn’t be able to have children and, therefore, no future demon king. And that would leave them very vulnerable.
Drake raised a brow at Gerick as he came down the stairs. He placed the now empty silver wine goblet on the table and said, “I know what I am, Gerick.”
“Oh?” Gerick raised a brow at his cousin. “The way you looked at young Brian back there at dinner…”
Drake narrowed his eyes dangerously. Adam and Julius looked to each other, sporting a suspicious look on their faces. Leon raised a surprised brow.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Drake said darkly. He himself wasn’t against male-to-male sexual orientation, nor was he against demons and humans or angels and demons for that matter. After all, Adam and Vera worked out just fine as a demon husband and a human wife, even though the marriage was for political reasons at the beginning.
“Well, if you say so,” Gerick said. “Then you wouldn’t mind if I—”
Gerick didn’t even finish before Drake moved in and grabbed his shirt collar. He pulled his cousin so close they were eye to eye and nose to nose. Drake’s eyes were scorching like a raging fire. “If you touch him, you’ll be sorry, Gerick.”
Gerick got his answer. Though, he doubted Drake understood his own action right then. Slowly, the younger demon laughed. “And you say you don’t give a damn.”
Drake released his cousin in an instant and snapped, “I’m a king. That boy is my responsibility.”
Julius and Adam once again looked at each other, wondering if Drake were truly attracted to Brian. Leon didn’t know what to think.
“I warn you, Gerick, keep your hands away from Brian,” Drake said as he walked out the door.
“And what if I don’t?” Gerick asked merrily after him.
“Then I’ll kill you,” came the reply.
Gerick laughed loudly and teased, “I’ll challenge you, cousin.”
“We’re doomed,” Leon said under his breath. Then to Gerick, he asked, “Are you truly going to challenge Drake? Sorry, but I’m not going to be your second.”
Gerick raised a brow at his comrade. “Don’t be ridiculous. I won’t last five minutes within Drake’s hands if he uses his demonic power.”
“Precisely three minutes,” Julius gladly pointed out.
“What about Marcus? How long do you think he’d last within Drake’s hands?” Adam asked curiously.
“Ten minutes if Drake uses his demonic power,” Julius said. “Then again, if Marcus got his hands on Drake’s pearl, that’s a different story.”
“Drake is a strong warrior even without his pearl and demonic power,” Leon said.
“Aye, but Marcus is cunning and resourceful. He knows dark magic and strange spells.”
“If that war starts before Drake has himself an heir,” Leon said, “our kingdom is doomed. We’re all doomed.”
“Nothing is ever doomed,” Julius said, returning his attention to his precious book and continuing reading.
* * * * *