In a world where humans are unaware of the demons that roam amongst them, it’s left to the Nephilim to keep it that way—or at least that’s what Grace Campbell was brought up to believe. Grace might have been born half-Nephilim and half-demon, but her loyalty is wholly on the side of the good guys. She’s dedicated her life to protecting the innocent, and her mixed linage only makes her better at her job. Unfortunately, her blood also makes her the only one capable of entering Hell’s hidden wards.
Now her latest assignment will see Grace endure the trials of the seven deadly sins to win a barbaric tournament and secure the Spear of Destiny for the Nephilim. To survive, Grace will be forced to embrace her dark side and accept the help of her greatest opponent yet, Lucifer’s son. The very sexy Prince of Hell, Zadeon, will have Grace questioning just how bad, the bad guys are.
Around 6000 years ago …
“Sir, we still have concerns,” Semyaza said hesitantly, crossing his arms as he leaned on the door-frame. His magnificent wings unfurled behind him, and a kaleidoscope of colours was sent dancing across the room as the soft rays of the dawning sun caressed his snow-white feathers.
I sighed, rubbing my forehead. It was an old argument and a valid one. I understood their hesi-tation. I even agreed with it. “Please, Sem, come sit down with us, brother,” I told him, indicating an empty seat at the wooden table where the rest of the leaders of my Elite Warriors sat. There were seven of them, handpicked by myself for their fearlessness and unmatched ability with a blade. They were the best of the best, charged by our Lord himself with the most prestigious of assignments. We were The Watchers.
I waited as Sem maneuvered his large frame through the small room and took his seat with the rest of us. “I will not go against your wishes in this. You all know that. But delaying the inevitable will change naught but time. And time, my brothers, is something some of us cannot afford to lose.” They knew what I spoke of, or who, as the case may be.
My gaze stalked her. The most exquisite creature I had ever beheld. She seemed to almost glide around the room as she offered my men refreshments and comforting smiles. Occasionally, she would glance my way, a knowing smile lighting up her delicate face. A face so beautiful that even angels would envy it. Waves of long, flowing locks that shone the colour of honey fell around her shoulders. Her chocolate-brown eyes sparkled with trust and warmth. It was in these moments, when our gazes connected, that I knew. Knew such pure love, it seemed to overflow and float around us, binding us together. Her name was Annabelle, and she was my heaven.
“Where is Xaphan?” I asked, for the first time noticing he was the only one of my seven currently absent.
“He is with his wife, sir. Alice. She gave birth to their first babe last night.” Azazael, my second-in-command, announced.
His words were met by a chorus of hoots and hollers from all the men, genuine happiness for their fellow brother undeniable. Xaphan was the youngest of the Seven. And although his skill with a blade was legendary, he maintained an innocence to his nature that drew out the protective in-stincts of the other men.
“Oh! How wonderful! We must visit as soon as she is receiving,” Annabelle gushed, coming to my side and running her fingers through my feathers, as she was so fond of doing.
It was wonderful news. I knew Annabelle was overjoyed for Xaphan, but I couldn’t mistake the hint of sadness buried deep within her brilliant eyes. She longed for a babe of her own, but we had not yet been successful in our attempts. A fierce little warrior son who loved as intensely as his
father, she would often tease.
“Yes, we must celebrate.” Gadreel proclaimed, opening another bottle of the fermented grape juice he had begun brewing some time ago. He placed cups full of the wine in front of everyone. “A toast,” he announced, raising his cup above his head.
The men had begun doing this strange gesture more frequently. It had seemed rather odd to me at first, but I had to admit it was catching on.
“To love and to family, and may the Lord bless the precious gift Xaphan has received.” Azazael cheered, and we all raised our cups and clinked them together.
“Do we know if the babe is a boy or a girl?” Armaros asked.
“A little miss, I believe,” Azazael answered.
Boisterous backslapping and a few “pay ups” joined the cheers that were exchanged at his words. This was another thing the men had begun doing. They would attempt to predict certain outcomes and, if they guessed incorrectly, they would then owe something of value to those who guessed correctly. Betting, they called it. Where they came up with such things I didn’t know.
“So, are we all in agreement?” I asked, bringing everyone back to the subject at hand once they had calmed back down.
“Have you heard anything that suggests this a bad idea, Sem?” Gadreel asked.
Angels could not read minds, but as it was the Seven’s sacred duty to watch over our Lord’s most blessed creations, our Lord had charged Semyaza our messenger. He was gifted with the ability to read the thoughts of both angels and mortals and project his own thoughts back telepathically to relay information. To be bestowed with such a prestigious title was the highest of honors, but it was not without its burdens.
Semyaza shook his head.
“Well then, we might as well get it over with,” Gadreel replied, downing the entire contents of his drink all at once. “We all knew this day had to come.”
I looked to each of my men, my heart filling with pride as I accepted their individual nods of agreement.
“Wonderful! You know, I daresay we have been fretting all this time for nothing.” I chuckled. “We must remember our Lord is mercy and love. He is the embodiment of all that is good and right. He would not forsake us because our capacity for love and joy has grown. After all, it was He who gifted us with ability to do so.”
My attempts to assure my men didn’t quite carry the air of confidence I was hoping for. My men felt it too. They nodded and smiled in agreement, but their laughter fell short, leaving an uncomfort-able silence.
I too was not entirely confident in my own assurances, but as I looked into the rich chocolate-brown eyes that held my heart captive, I knew without a doubt, some things were worth risking everything for.
“I love you, my dear Annabelle,” I whispered to my wife as I wrapped her up lovingly, cocooning
her in the warmth of my wings. “And I will fight to keep you always.”
She rested her forehead softly against my own and whispered back, “And I love you, Lucifer.”
“All done, Natara,” Doctor George said as he placed a white cotton ball and a piece of tape to hold it in place on my arm.
“It’s Grace, George. Call me Grace,” I reminded him for hundredth time—why I bothered, I didn’t know. My full name was Natara Grace Campbell, but I chose to go by Grace. I had never liked the name Natara. What my mother was thinking when she chose it, God only knew.
Doctor George just sighed at me, ignoring my request, as he liked to do. “You appear as healthy as ever, young lady. You’re free to go,” he told me, carrying the blood and tissue samples he had taken over to another counter in the small, sterile exam room.
“That’s what you always say, George, which really has me wondering about the need to change these lovely little mandatory ‘checkups’ from every six months to every three months. Don’t get me wrong, George. I love a good poking and prodding as much as the next girl, but you have to admit, three-monthly examinations are a little extreme considering I have never been sick a single day in my life.”
It wasn’t an exaggeration. Being Nephilim, a rare breed of humans who had been gifted with special abilities by angels, we rarely got sick. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop The Organisation from insisting on these frequent checkups. The Organisation was the name we had given to Nephilim HQ—original, I know. Calling it a checkup was a bit of an understatement too. With the amount of overly personal questions, poking and prodding, sticking and extracting involved, these exams would likely test the rules of the Geneva Convention.
“Doctor George is just following the new protocol, Grace,” Tristan said, coming into the exam room and exchanging an odd look with George that I couldn’t decipher. Tristan was the leader of the Australian branch of The Organisation. Admittedly, he was pretty hot and oozed charm, but he took far too much pleasure in observing my little torture sessions for my liking. He almost certainly had to be into some kinky shit.
“Yeah, well, your new protocol sucks,” I complained, watching Tristan look over the chart Doctor George handed him. I thought I saw a flash of concern cross his face, but he masked it so quickly I couldn’t be sure.
“Everything alright?” I asked.
“Everything is perfectly fine,” he assured me as he scribbled something down on the chart and handed it back to George. “You’re a special girl, Grace. The Organisation just wants to make sure we keep our secret weapon at the top of her game.”
Please. “I’m perfectly aware of what I am, Tristan, and you can trust me when I say there is nothing special about it.”
My mother had been raped by a demon while on an assignment, and nine months later, I had been born. She was killed not even a year after by the very same demon. She and her team had managed to track him down, and although he had been killed, it hadn’t been in time to save her. As far as anyone knew, I was the only known half-breed in existence. Special, indeed.
Unfortunately, demons were as real as we were, and sadly, just as common. As Nephilim, it was our duty to purge their evil from this world, which was lucky for me since I was highly motivated to slaughter every single one.
“You’re wrong about that, Grace. Being half monster makes you very special,” Tristan answered.
If his words were meant to comfort me, he had missed the mark. He didn’t even realise he was insulting me. Which only proved my point.
“But enough about that,” he continued, unconcerned. “You need to be worrying about tonight’s assignment. Has your team been briefed about the new weapon you’ll be trialing?”
“Of course. Everyone is prepped and ready to go, just as soon as I’m finished here.”
“Good. That’s good,” Tristan smiled.
He began pacing back and forth in front of where I still sat on the hospital gurney. His typically calm expression suddenly resembled something I could only describe as positively giddy. He was even rubbing his hands together in anticipation. Tristan had short blond hair slightly darker at the roots, deep-green eyes, and a ripped, athletic figure. A heartthrob by any girl’s standards, but right now he looked like a kid just discovering his presents on Christmas morning. His enthusiasm was contagious, and I found myself grinning along with him.
“I’m sure I don’t need to explain how important the success of this particular assignment is. But my God, Grace, the sheer magnitude of resources it has taken to develop this device is unprece-dented. Over twenty years of exhaustive research by the best scientists money can buy. Two entirely new elements were added to the periodic table before we even came close to creating the right reaction.”
My own excitement increased as I watched him get carried away in his own ramblings. His voice grew more excited with every word he spoke, and his beautiful green eyes appeared unfocused as they sparkled with his fervor. I wasn’t sure if he even realised I was still there until he grabbed hold of my shoulders and spoke so vehemently gooseflesh broke out over my skin.
“Grace, if these weapons do what we hope, we will finally turn the tide in the fight against evil. Everything is resting on your aim; I hope you’re ready.”
My lips twisted up into a half-smile, half-sneer, and my voice was equally as intense, conveying a silent promise. “Don’t worry, Tristan. My aim will be perfect.”
* * *
I crouched on a low branch of a large fig tree, the wide, spreading canopy providing perfect coverage from anyone passing by. From my position in the shadowy corner of the parking lot, I had a perfect view of the front entrance of The 9th Circle. The new club had seemingly popped up out of nowhere
overnight, yet entrance was already in high demand. Tristan’s sources believed it was popular hunt-ing ground for demons and a perfect place for our trial.
“Silver Fox. Check,” I said softly into the supercool earpiece The Organisation had us use on all our missions.
An exasperated sigh came through loud and clear, quickly followed by Madison’s “In position.”
“Fine,” she hissed. “Silver Fox is in the den.”
My team didn’t quite share my enthusiasm for cool covert code phrases, but I was confident they’d see the error of their ways soon.
“Copy that, Silver Fox. Bluebird, check,” I continued.
“Do you even know any code phrases that don’t involve animals?” Ash whispered back.
What was wrong with animal code phrases? All the best spies were using them. I didn’t answer him, mostly because I did not, in fact, know any.
He took the hint. “Bluebird is in the nest.”
Perfect. Everyone was in position. “Copy that, Bluebird. Over.”
They were covering the other two exits from the club. The only thing to do now was lie in wait to see if one of our not-so-friendly neighborhood demons emerged. I found myself cursing the need for this subterfuge. Just once it would have been nice to storm a place, swords blazing. But demons tended to flee at the sight of Nephilim. The cowards were happy enough to feed on the souls of innocents, but faced with a fair fight, they would tuck tail and run. Or more accurately, sift away. Handy trick; unfortunately, it wasn’t one Nephilim were blessed with.
Which meant we were left to rely on the more traditional stakeout-then-ambush approach. It was probably for the best since we didn’t want any human casualties. Not to mention the complete pandemonium that would ensue if humans found out there were real, live demons amongst them. Not even the demons wanted to risk announcing their existence to the humans. There was only one demon that had ever been stupid enough to try it. It had happened around eighty years ago. He called himself Blaze and was your typical egotistical narcissist who believed ruling over the humans was his due and planned to burn down anyone who disagreed. Hence the name. Apparently, even Satan had taken issue with that because before the Nephilim had a chance to stop it, Blaze’s short tyranny had ended.
I checked over my weapons while keeping a close eye on the club. I was wearing form-fitting long black plants and a black sleeveless vest that hugged my frame. It was a little cliché but neces-sary, since it permitted maximum flexibility while still allowing my dagger and sword sheaths to be strapped firmly to my arms and legs. After double-checking that the experimental device was still securely in place, I pulled my hair into a ponytail and settled back against the rough bark to wait.
As was often the case, we didn’t need to wait long. I sensed them before I saw them, the telltale tingle of power alerting me to their presence. A group of six demons materialized in the parking lot. Demons were mostly human in appearance although most had one, if not more, abnormalities that
exposed them as monsters. Horns, claws, tails, varying skin shades, scales, or fangs were the most common. We called them demon marks. Although they were able to use glamour to conceal these marks from humans, it didn’t work on Nephilim.
Funnily enough, these demons didn’t look like they had arrived to partake in the festivities in-side. No, these demons had an unmistakable look of determination, a singlemindedness that said they were on a mission. Normally, the demons we took down were too busy toying with their prey to notice a group of Nephilim bearing down on them; that would not be the case here tonight. That was okay, I thought, a grin spreading across my face. That would be perfect.
“Six Eagles have landed. I repeat. Six Eagles have landed. Go-time in ten,” I whispered to my team. Giving them till the count of ten to move into position, the anticipation was clear in my voice. This way, if the device didn’t work, we would be able to strike simultaneously, hopefully before any of them could get away.
On ten, I leaped from my position, my Nephilim abilities making me as fast and agile as any demon. My heightened position allowed me to clear a third of the parking lot before my feet even hit the pavement. I landed in a crouch and quickly rolled to my feet. I could hear my team closing in on both sides. I flew toward the demons, releasing the small grenade we were testing. It rolled across the pavement until coming to rest perfectly in the centre of where the six demons stood. They had formed a semicircle on spotting me, as if preparing to fight instead of flee—not that they would get the chance, but still, it was odd.
The grenade exploded. A bright, white light flashed, igniting the sky for a brief second, only no sound was made. Then, as if in slow motion, a huge blast exploded outward, sending an icy chill racing over the parking lot before smothering the demons in what appeared to be a sticky, watery substance. That’s when I finally noticed one of the demons had managed to escape the blast radius. I smiled as I watched his dark eyes grow wide when he comprehended what was happening. The liquid was slowly absorbing into his friends’ skins, and by the look on their faces, it was not a pleasant feeling.
Silence fell as we watched the last drop vanish. Time stopped and I waited to see what, if any-thing, would happen next. Ear-splitting screams suddenly rang through the night, throwing every-thing back into focus, screams of horrendous pain and suffering unlike anything I had ever heard before. Each unending shriek was layered with such unfathomable anguish I found myself stepping away, desperate to retreat. It was unbearable to witness. Whatever that stuff was, it had begun to eat away at the demons like a powerful acid. Patches of skin bubbled up violently before great chunks of flesh peeled away, sloughing to the ground in masses of rot and pus. I fell to my knees, gagging on the stench. It was the most sickening smell, like rotten eggs mixed with burning flesh. I looked up from my now-bent-over position and caught the eyes of the sole surviving demon. His eyes held nothing but fear and revulsion as they wavered between us and the piles of putrid meat that had been his friends. Then he vanished.
Ash and Madison stood beside me, the same horrified expressions on their faces.
“Come on guys, the chicken has flown the coop,” I said, trying for a light tone but failing miser-ably. “Let’s get out of here.”
There was no way I was cleaning up this mess.
“Who needs another one?” Madison asked as she stood to get more drinks.
She and Ash had turned up at my door about two hours ago, loaded up with all the trimmings for a margarita mixer, announcing we were celebrating.
Ash and I both raised our empty glasses in answer.
I was lying sideways across my bed in my favorite grey sweatpants and a white tank top, head propped on the pillows. Ash was sitting on one of two small beige sofas that were standard issue in all of the Nephilim dorm rooms. A small smile crept onto his face as he texted someone on his phone.
Madison caught it too. “Ooohhh,” she teased. “Are we sexting with Brittany?”
“Nah.” Ash sighed in mock sorrow. “I had high hopes, but, alas, Brittany and I were not meant to be.”
“You had one hope, and after you got it you moved on to the next poor unlucky schmuck,” I laughed. He was a terrible slut, but everyone knew that so it really shouldn’t surprise these girls when he moved on.
“Unlucky? Please. I can’t help it that I’m quite the stud muffin and all the ladies want a piece. If I didn’t share the love they’re likely to riot, you know. It’s a lot of responsibility for one man.”
He even managed to sound put out, and I had to give him the stud-muffin comment. He was gorgeous, all dark hair, killer eyes, and tanned skin. The true definition of tall, dark, and handsome.
“Oh, I don’t know about that. I can think of quite a few who are relentless in their pursuit of helping you share the load,” I teased.
Not that I minded. I was a firm believer in the ‘love ’em and leave ’em policy,’ just not on the same scale as Ash. Secretly, being half demon just didn’t provide a sturdy relationship foundation.
Madison walked over, handing out our drinks. She didn’t adhere to the same policy as us and had been burned pretty badly by a couple of guys. Not that she’d ever admit it.
She turned up the radio slightly, Illy’s “Papercuts” (featuring Vera Blue) was playing. I didn’t mind that the radio was playing it to death; it was a great song. I got up and danced along to it with Madison, who had acquired a slight stagger but was otherwise holding it together well. My demon blood gave me a high tolerance for alcohol, so unfortunately, I was sober.
Ash put his phone away, rolling his eyes at our dancing. Ladies’ man he might be, but Ash wasn’t pulling in the chicks with his dance moves. He had never ventured onto a dance floor the whole time I had known him, which was all of my twenty-five years, given we had all grown up together. He took out one of his guns and began cleaning it methodically. The man loved his guns. I loved guns too, only I leaned toward the large, manly biceps variety.
Madison and I shook our groove-thangs at each other, lip-syncing into hairbrushes and remote controls, as was required when getting your groove on. Madison had thick, coffee-coloured hair that
fell in waves around her face, and full, black eyelashes framed her striking hazel eyes, making them appear rimmed with thick eyeliner. We were complete opposites with my strawberry-blond hair, pale skin, and blue eyes. She was slightly shorter than my five-foot-four, and she was all sensual grace. Not that I’d ever tell her that. Again, anyway. She had a mean right hook, even in sixth grade.
When the song ended I flopped onto the other sofa. Madison half-tripped, half-stumbled as she lay across my bed. Ash just shook his head at our overly dramatic displays and went into the small kitchenette to pour another round.
Even though we were celebrating last night’s success, no one had actually mentioned it. Ash came back with the drinks, yanking my pillow out from under Madison’s head, using it to lie the proper way along the bed. She just used his washboard abs for a pillow instead; I laughed as she tried to fluff them first. I loved the easy closeness they shared. We were all close, but being half demon I was always slightly separated from everyone else.
“So, that grenade worked pretty amazingly, huh?” I finally asked, wanting to know their thoughts.
“Hell yeah!” Ash exclaimed. “I’ve never seen anything so fucked up in all my life.”
“It was …” Madison paused briefly as if looking for the right word, finally settling on one, “Wrong. On so many levels,” she finished, lifting her head up to glare at Ash.
Her answer surprised me, because I had been feeling the same way but wasn’t willing to admit it.
“I agree,” I confessed. “I want nothing more than to see every one of those evil bastards dead and gone from this world. But I’ll stick with my demon steel.”
Demon steel was the only thing that could kill a demon when pierced through the heart. It was a rare metal we had discovered deep in volcanic earth. Any type of beheading would also do the trick, but demon-steel blades slid through their flesh much easier. Demon-steel bullets would also work, but only if you were fast enough to destroy their hearts before they slaughtered you for trying. Call me traditional, but I much preferred the satisfaction of looking into a demon’s eyes as he met his death, which is why I was partial to my sword.
“What was in that shit anyway?” I asked. If anyone would know, it would be Ash since his dad worked in research.
“I don’t know the ins and outs of it all, but from what I can gather, demons have a high level of sulphur in their bodies, something to do with there being a lot of it in Hell.”
“But they don’t stink. If demons are made of sulphur, shouldn’t they smell bad?” Madison pointed out.
“They did when we threw that shit on them,” I reminded her.
“Anyway,” Ash continued, “the research department managed to synthesize two new chemical elements. My dad’s only an assistant, and the researchers usually keep him on a need-to-know basis.
But creating not one, but two new elements. Well, that had everyone talking. The first allows the solution to stick to and then be absorbed into their skins. Once it’s inside, the high temperature of their bodies heats up the second element, which then eats away at the sulphur. Along with every-thing else too, evidently.” He mumbled the last as if in afterthought.
“Well. Here’s to dead demons, may the Devil have mercy on their souls, because we sure won’t.” I toasted, sitting up and raising my glass. A knock on the door at the same time startled me as I leaned to clink my glass with Ash’s; my drink sloshed over the side and all over his shirt. Oops.
“Only me,” called a familiar voice as I reached the door.
“Hey David,” I called back, swinging the door open wide.
David took one look at Madison, lying half in Ash’s groin region while Ash struggled to take off his shirt, and quickly tried to escape. “Oh. Oh, I didn’t mean to interrupt. I can come back,” he stam-mered.
“Nonsense, David, come in,” I laughed, dragging him over the threshold. “Just ignore our sexual shenanigans,” I continued, teasing him. He drew up short at that, his eyes wide, mouth opening and closing.
“I’m kidding, David. We were just celebrating last night’s successful mission,” I assured him.
David was our mentor. He had originally been one of our teachers growing up and had unluckily been handed the role of mentor after our graduation. Which just meant he was responsible for giv-ing us advice that we in turn ignored. But he had also been friends with my mother before she died and was the closest thing I had to a father figure growing up.
“Yeah, come celebrate with us, David.” Madison implored, slurring some of the words. She heard it too and tried straightening her face in a bid to appear sober. It didn’t work.
“Well, actually, that is why I came by. To offer my congratulations.” David spoke carefully, eyeing Madison’s inebriated state with a look that was a half-concern, half-evaluating. Good luck to him if he tried to cut her off.
David took a seat on the sofa Ash had vacated, and I noticed he angled himself so he could keep an eye on Madison.
“I’m guessing you spoke to Tristan,” I said to David. I sat on the opposite end of the sofa after offering him a drink, which he declined.
“Yes, not that I needed to, mind you. The whole community is abuzz with the news. It has given everyone hope that the fight against evil will one day prevail.”
We had branches all over the world. Each one was equipped with its own schools, housing, training facilities, medical facilities, and shops. Every branch was essentially its own Nephilim com-munity.
“Well, it will certainly even out the playing field, believe you me,” I told him.
“Perhaps. Yes, we have been blessed with sight, hearing, strength, and speed that are superior to humans. Abilities which seem equaled to the demons we have encountered so far. And this new weapon may very well make up for the fact that demons are able to sift and have some telekinetic
ability. But Grace, you must remember we only encounter a small percentage of demons in this world. We have no way of knowing what evil truly lurks in the depths of Hell. You must be prepared, honey.”
He had turned so serious. Almost sad. “Trust me, David. Not even the Devil himself could escape the effects of those grenades.” I tried to reassure him.
A chime alerted me to a text message, distracting me. I looked at my phone. The message simply read.
Meet @ 8 tomorrow. T
“It’s Tristan,” I said. “He wants me to meet him tomorrow. I am quite the popular girl today.”
David smiled, but he looked even sadder. “I should be going. I just wanted to congratulate you—all of you, of course. Help an old man to the door, will you, honey?” he asked me.
He was by no means an old man. Nephilim had almost double a human life expectancy and David was only sixty-five, his dark hair and facial hair just beginning to tint with grey. “You know I love you like my own, don’t you, Grace?” he said when we reached the door.
“I love you too, David,” I told him, meaning it.
He smiled at that. A real smile. “You are going to be just fine, sweet girl. Your demon blood isn’t a disadvantage, honey. It makes you so much stronger, a survivor. Remember that.” He touched my cheek with tips of his fingers, turned, and walked away.
David wasn’t usually so sentimental, and as I went back to my other guests I decided I didn’t like it.
* * *
Tristan regarded me from behind his desk. Soft morning light spilled through the large windows on the wall, mocking me with their warmth. A chill had settled over me the moment I had entered Tristan’s office.
It had nothing to do with the cold, clinical tones of the room and everything to do with the cold, stony determination that had replaced any trace of Tristan’s usually charming disposition.
That’s when David appeared in the doorway and took the seat beside me. He wouldn’t meet my eyes, and my heart sank even further. I knew without a doubt I was not going to like whatever Tristan had called me in here for.
Turns out that was the understatement of the year.
I sat stunned, my mind numb with shock as it failed to process Tristan’s words. The soft, buttery material of the leather seat suddenly felt like hard stone beneath me.
“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” Surely I had misunderstood.
“We need you to enter the Tournament,” Tristan repeated softly as if that might lessen the blow. It didn’t. He may as well have been screaming at me while bludgeoning me with a sledgehammer.
David’s words from last night rose to the surface of my struggling thoughts. We cannot be sure what lurks in the bowels of Hell. You must be prepared, honey. He had fucking known. My eyes shot to his accusingly.
“Why didn’t you warn me?” The hurt in my voice was unmistakable. David met my eyes; his were full of remorse and pain.
But it was Tristan who answered. “David didn’t know anything until yesterday, and I expressly forbade him from telling you.”
“Wanted to be the one to break the good news to me yourself, Tristan?” I spat. My anger be-ginning to rise, replacing the shock.
“We knew how you would react, understandably, but I need you to hear me out, Grace. The destiny of the world might very well depend on it.”
Oh, so no pressure. “Well you best send out a memo, because we’re all screwed.”
The Tournament was a sadistic competition the demons held in Hell every fifty years. The vilest and most brutal demons got to showcase their capacity for violence, slaughtering each other for some momentous prize—and these fools wanted me to enter it.
“Grace, the prize this year will be the Spear of Destiny.” He said Spear of Destiny intensely, dramatically enunciating every syllable as if the words held great meaning. I had no idea what the Spear of Destiny was, so he just looked stupid to me.
“I don’t care if it’s the bloody Philosopher’s Stone; my chances of winning it are slim to none.” I shot up and began pacing, my thoughts running wild. I wanted to punch something. These bastards were actually serious.
“The Spear of Destiny is the spear the Roman soldier, Longinus, thrust into the side of Jesus as he hung on the cross. Christian knights discovered the spear during the First Crusade. The sight of the sacred artifact inspired the besieged soldiers, prompting them to rally and send the Saracens from the city. Accordingly, the legend arose stating that whosoever possesses this spear, and under-stands the powers it serves, holds in his hand the destiny of the world for good or evil.”
“Please. If that was true, why would Satan offer it up as a prize? Why wouldn’t he use the spear himself?” I countered.
“Perhaps he was unable to unlock its secrets and hopes his minions will have better luck. We don’t know. Trying to understand the inner workings of the Devil’s mind is pointless. But we cannot ignore this opportunity. And you are the only one capable of doing it. Not only could you win the spear for our side, but the information you will be able to garner inside their wards will be invalua-ble.”
My heartbeat was rising with my pacing as it became clear they were really expecting me to do this. “We don’t even know if my blood will allow me to pass through the wards.”
“If it does not, then the mission will be terminated. But we do believe it will.”
“It won’t matter. The demons will kill me on sight. They won’t allow me anywhere near their world.”
“Our sources assure us that all demons must be permitted entry. They will see your aura and it will clearly prove your blood right.”
“It will also clearly announce me as half Nephilim,” I screeched. They were delusional if they
thought this would work.
“Yes, but we hope that your mixed aura will surprise them enough to hear you out. If they do attack on sight, you will dispatch them easily enough.”
The booming of my rapidly beating heart was almost deafening now. I began to break out in a cold sweat. I wasn’t going to be able to talk my way out of this. They had all gone mad.
“Who are your sources? How do we even know the information is reliable?” I was grasping at straws, and I knew it.
“You know I can’t tell you who our sources are, but I can promise you we have used every means at our disposal to verify the information. I would not ask this of you if I wasn’t entirely sure, Grace.”
“Even if by some miracle the demons don’t kill me on sight, allow me to enter, and agree to take me to their highly guarded, top-secret Hell realm, which they won’t, what makes you think I even have a chance in hell at winning?” I said, trying to smother my racing emotions and sound reasona-ble. It didn’t work.
“You can do this, Grace. Your skill and technique far surpasses any other Nephilim in recorded history. Even before you graduated. Your team is responsible for three times as many demon kills than any of the other teams. You’re a formidable weapon, Grace, and with your mixed blood the demons will underestimate your abilities, which will be their downfall.”
I turned my back on them, closed my eyes, and tried for deep, soothing breaths, attempting to steel myself to the inevitable. There was just no reasoning with the insane.
“I’ll need lots of those grenades,” I told him, finally turning back around to face my fate. So much for being content with my demon steel, but tough times and all that.
Tristan let out a long sigh, “I’m sorry, Grace. The demons would only strip you of them before taking you into their world, and we cannot risk them discovering our secrets. It’s bad enough you allowed one demon to escape at the club. He has no doubt informed the others to be on guard against them.” His tone held a slight note of censure.
Way to kick a man when he’s down. “How long do I have to prepare?” I was going to need a lot of intense training.
“None. The Tournament will be held in two weeks.”
I stared, stunned into silence for the second time that day. Then I stormed out, the sound of the door slamming behind me offering no comfort.
Once again I found myself in the parking lot of the 19th Circle. Unfortunately, I would not be hiding in the bushes this time. I remembered my thoughts the last time I had been here, dreaming of being able to the storm the place, swords blazing. Guess you really should be careful what you wished for.
Apparently, this place was not only a demon hotspot. Tristan’s sources believed the demons had set up their own little private club in the back of the building. Nice of him to mention that earlier. I wish I knew who these damn sources were. They seemed to have an unlimited supply of inside information, and I could really do with a bit of that myself.
They didn’t, however, know where the demons’ underworld was located, which was a source of great irritation to The Organisation since we knew finding it was the key to ending their existence. We knew it was not actually on a separate realm from our own but was warded by magical barriers, shielding it from human knowledge. Nephilim had dedicated centuries to finding its hidden location but were as yet unsuccessful, which particularly sucked for me since I now had to procure a demon to take me there.
My teammates had taken the news of this impromptu mission as well I had, but pure outrage and shock quickly turned to strengthening assurances and encouragement after realising the futility of their protests. God, I loved them. Which was why I had said nothing when Madison insisted on dressing me in a belted, white strapless baby doll dress, of all things. She claimed it was necessary since I was trying to appear less intimidating; after all, we were hoping I wouldn’t be killed on sight. I knew it was just her attempt to feel like we had some control of the situation, which is why I didn’t have the heart to tell her the only advantage this dress would give me was if the demons were as impressed as I was that it managed to make the girls appear like D cups instead of their usual Cs. I doubted they would be. My daggers were strapped to my thighs, the flowing skirt of the dress keep-ing them hidden from view; brown knee-high boots, equally loaded with hidden contraband, com-pleted my ensemble. I had braided my hair so it fell over my shoulder, but it did nothing to mask the handle of my sword. That was okay, though. I might not wish to look like an immediate threat, but appearing defenseless was not in my best interests, either.
I wasn’t sure how or if I could pull this off. There were so many variables to consider I couldn’t possibly plan for them all. Really, the amount of ways this could go wrong were endless. The plan was simple. Simply stupid if you asked me, but no one had. That hadn’t stopped me from throwing in my two cents, though, not that anyone had listened. I would just waltz on in, crash their little party, and kindly ask to enter the Tournament. Yeah, it wasn’t solid. A lot was riding on our assump-tion that my mixed aura, which would appear Nephilim gold and Demon red—humans had silver auras—would confuse any nearby demons long enough for me to state my case. Being able to see auras was another gift the demons possessed that we did not. I consoled myself with the knowledge
that I could just kill them all if they didn’t immediately warm to my plan. Not that I had any idea how many I would actually encounter until I got in there. Yeah, it was a shit plan, but it was all I had.
I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and strode right up to the back door like I had every right to be there. Might as well get it over with. Steeling my resolve, I gave one hard kick to the door, smashing it open. I didn’t waste any time, realising immediately that breaking their door down prob-ably wouldn’t win me any brownie points and may possibly give off the impression they were under attack. Oops. Not to worry. It was all part of the shock and confuse plan I was working with, or on, as it were.
“Hello, boys. I’m looking to enter the Tournament.” I stated clearly, with all the fake bravado I could muster.
It worked! Twenty demons sat inside staring at me in utter shock and disbelief. True, it only lasted a second before their expressions changed to aggravated disbelief, but it was a start.
I used the brief reprieve their surprise gave me to take stock of my surroundings. It looked like any typical local bar. Four demons sat at a long bar that dominated the entire right side of the room, while five more more sat, chatting and drinking, at the high tables surrounding it. There was a small dance floor and DJ station in the centre of the room directly in front of me, which was currently empty. The left side of the room bore two demons and three demonesses in various stages of un-dress, reclining on slim-line sofas, watching as five more demons sat around a large poker table, playing cards.
One of the poker players, a large demon with a bandana tied around his head and two back-ward-curving, black horns was the first to recover. He stood slowly and casually began approaching me, tossing his large bowie knife and catching it by the handle in a continuous motion. “Well, well, well, what have we got here, boys?” Rambo sneered.
His buddies took that as their cue, rising from the poker table and coming over to join the fun. The five of them began circling me, although they were keeping their distance for now.
The tingling sensation that nearby demons gave off to all Nephilim irritated my skin, making me eager to fight. I fisted my hands to stop myself from reaching for my weapons. “I’m here to enter the Tournament. Anyone of demon blood qualifies for entry, and as you can clearly see, I am of demon blood. I have no wish to fight anyone except in the Tournament.” Liar. Liar. “But I will if you force me to.”
I held myself completely still, attuned to their every movement in case they decided to strike, which is why the abrupt explosion of immense power that suddenly entered the room hit me like a hard slap to the face, making me flinch. Three new demons emerged from a door hidden behind the DJ station. They had no visible demon marks, but their combined power felt like high-voltage sparks racing across my skin.
“Ah, but demon blood is not the only thing running through those lovely veins, is it, Little Hunter?” the demon in the centre of the new trio mocked as he and his friends took up positions in front of me.
They were probably three of the most gorgeous men I had ever laid eyes on. The one on the left was the tallest, maybe slightly over six feet. His polished black hair was slightly longer than the current fashion, and his face was all smooth lines and strong features. He had the most striking baby-blue eyes I had ever seen. Even if they were currently glaring daggers at me. I noticed the more he took me in, the more unforgiving and hard his stare became. The demon on the right was the shorter of the three, but not by much. He had that stereotypical bad-boy look about him. A shaved head, tattoos, two small silver plugs in his ears, and another small silver hoop piercing the left side of his lip. His eyes appeared almost black and looked so haunted and bottomless you could get trapped staring into their depths.
But it was the demon in the centre that held all of my attention; his relaxed self-assurance told me he was the one in charge. His hair was a rich array of brown tones, perfectly textured and slightly spiky, like he ran his hands through it often. His high cheekbones and strong jaw gave him the look of chiseled perfection. Still, it was his eyes that stood out the most. They were a magnificent rose-gold. I had never seen eyes that colour before. He was in a whole other class of beautiful. It pissed me off that vile murderers and rapists could hide behind such pretty masks.
“Search her,” the demon in the middle commanded.
The two demons flanking him wasted no time. The one on the left shot forward so fast I didn’t even see him move. He grabbed my hands roughly and held them to the back of my neck while his friend got ready to divest me of my weapons. I kept my eyes on the demon with the rose-gold eyes, instinctively knowing he was the biggest threat.
“I understand forgoing the dinner and dancing but not even an introduction before you try get-ting under my skirts? Seems awfully presumptuous.” I tsked, masking my sudden fear.