Angel of Aether


Aether is life, love, death, rebirth. But above all else, it is power.


To save the person you love, sometimes you have to destroy them. 


For years, Dex deceived me. Now I am the deceiver. He was right; I am more powerful with a demon by my side. Only it can never be him. And that terrifies me.


Trapped in the Netherworld, I must find a way to accept Baladon as my mate. Even though I loathe the idea of bonding with him, it’s the only way to save everyone I love. As I learn to navigate this ruthless new world, more of Dex’s lies are revealed. Yet, it’s hard to judge him when I’m a liar too, especially when truth and lies can be so easily twisted. 


Staying alive in the Demon King’s court has to be my main focus, especially when Baladon’s agenda remains a mystery. It soon becomes clear that I can’t trust anyone. Coming here alone was the worst decision I’ve ever made, but if I run, the consequences won’t just affect me. They will wipe out everyone—in both worlds. 


Saving the Aether’s Heart might be my destiny, but it isn’t my only goal. 

Surviving is.

I am the Angel of Aether. 

I will not be enslaved by anyone, especially the Demon King. 

Chapter One



I panted, the damp and musty air invading my nose and mouth leaving the rank taste of  decay on my tongue. My body shook, and my hands trembled. Gritting my teeth, I squeezed my eyes shut and concentrated. Shadows curled around me, as weak as my body, but I didn’t stop trying to pull energy from the dark side of the Veil. Breathless and dizzy, I collapsed against the wall, my heart hammering. Since the youngest prince of Tetron had flung me into this dungeon and thrown away the key, I’d had to learn some godsdamned patience. I blew out a heavy breath. At least I’d started recovering quicker from my little bursts of defiance and stubbornness. 

I’d been left here to rot for days, possibly even weeks. Time meant nothing. Sometimes stale bread and an occasional pitcher of water were shoved through the small hole in the rock wall. I’d learned to listen for the footsteps that told me it was coming. The first time my captors had shoved water through the hole, I’d been too weak to even sit up. Before I could stop it, the metal cup had tipped over onto the ground, soaking me. It was so long before they’d returned with more, my tongue had stuck to the roof of my mouth, and my lips were split and bleeding. I couldn’t see the bread, but I could taste the bitterness of mould, not to mention the crunchy bits that were sometimes in it. I shied away from thinking too hard about what they were. If I didn’t eat it, I’d remain weak, which meant I’d never escape. So I ate, greedy for every bit of strength it offered my flesh. My magic was another story.

Grunting, I straightened until I sat with my back against the wall. The darkness folded over me like a blanket, comforting and familiar.

The battle with Baladon, the Demon King, and, unfortunately, my power-hungry half-brother had left me with grievous wounds. It was true that I was immortal, but without my magic, I could still be brought to my knees by infection, blood loss, and starvation. Immortal didn’t mean invincible. I could die. Thankfully, though, not from the silver arrows that had embedded in my flesh or the damage they’d caused. I glanced in the direction I’d thrown them after I’d pulled them out. The wounds had become infected, but if I’d left the silver there, I’d never have regained any magic. Without magic, my eyesight wasn’t good enough to see the arrows, but if I needed a weapon, all I had to do was reach.

Curling my hands into fists, I took some steadying breaths and tipped my head back against the cold rock. Anger and regret were fast becoming my companions. The fact that Baladon knew how to break the enchantment around the gate shouldn’t have surprised me. I knew he was looking for the Angel. What I hadn’t anticipated was the alliance Haruin had formed with him. No matter how much I thought about it, I still didn’t understand the benefit to either of them.

Haruin had always been more cunning than his brother, though I’d still thought him level-headed. I frowned. He’d played the part of a sickly prince well enough to fool everyone for years, including his father, his brother…and me. I wondered how long he’d known he was a half-blood demon. Maybe his mother, the demon I’d killed, had told him.

A low growl escaped my throat, echoing into the darkness. Haruin must have bargained with Lia’s life and freedom for Baladon’s assurance he wouldn’t attack this world or interfere in Haruin’s plans. If the prince knew about the gate, he’d probably paid one of my staff to move the tapestry enough that I’d find the entrance to the tunnels. He’d wanted vengeance for his mother’s death.

I banged my head back against the wall, hard enough to hurt. Gods, he’d played me so well. 

Being locked up like this was totally my fault. Even though Hentus and the others had returned, my brother triumphed over me because I was too scared to tell Lia that I’d killed the people she believed were her parents. Baladon had used my lies against me and made himself a saint in her eyes. I snorted. My brother was a demon, through and through. He’d always wanted more: more power, more magic, more riches, and he didn’t give a shit who he hurt to get them. 

I wasn’t angry at Zahlia for leaving with him—or for driving that blade into my chest. I deserved her wrath. I’d lied to her and twisted the truth for years. It hadn’t taken much for Baladon to convince Lia I was using her, that I had my own agenda. I was to blame for that. I’d thought holding back the truth would protect her, and instead, it only fuelled her need for vengeance. I’d watched as, year after year, that need grew stronger, knowing that one day, my actions would sever us apart. 

Now they had.

I rubbed at my chest and took a slow deep breath, swallowing the lump in my throat.

If I’d just been honest…

I shook my head. Even before Baladon had attacked, she’d made up her mind about me. She’d severed our bond. Love wasn’t something I’d ever thought myself capable of after seeing how my father treated my mother. I was his blood, after all. Yet my heart was Lia’s. The moment her eyes had met mine when she was only a young girl, I’d felt something settle in place inside me. I’d protected her as best I could from the harshness of the mortal world. Now I was left with nothing but an empty hole where my heart should be. I’d bared my soul to her, I’d bonded with her for Aether’s sake, and she’d thrown that back in my face. Though her rejection didn’t change how I felt. I still wanted her. The ache in my chest, the need to get to her when she wasn’t by my side, the knowledge that I’d hurt her, that she might never forgive me… I released a shaky breath, trying to ease the tightness in my chest. Those thoughts were on repeat in my head and they were driving me insane.

I sighed. 

I loved her. 

Living the past twenty years as one of the hardest criminals in Tetris flashed through my mind. Everything I’d done had been for her, to protect her in any way I could while she grew into a strong woman who was as sexy as she was fierce. 

“Shit,” I mumbled.

She’d dug her way into the darkest parts of my soul; bond or not she would never leave. I needed to find her before Baladon enslaved her and made her dependent on him—even if, ultimately, she rejected me. I would offer her everything I had, even my life, if that’s what it took to prove myself worthy.

I carefully explored my wounds, relieved when I found they were no worse, though they were far from healed. I needed magic to knit the flesh together. I wrinkled my nose. The stink coming from them was disgusting, but at least I wouldn’t die from that infection, not like a mortal would. 

Panting, I felt along the wall to where a steady drip of water came from the rock above. It hit the floor in a slow, steady rhythm. Without my enhanced eyesight I had to feel my way around the cell. It had taken hours of grunts and retching against the pain to figure out that my current home was a small square, barely big enough for me to stretch out along the floor, nor tall enough for me to stand up. There was a windowless metal door that was only about four feet tall. I had no idea what was beyond it. I hadn’t heard any other voices calling out, and there had been no response to my shouts. I’d braced for guards to come in and beat me into silence, but there’d been nothing.

I laid down on my back, opened my mouth, and waited patiently for the water to drip into my mouth. It was a slow process, but once my mouth was full, I swallowed and started the process again. Finding the steady drip after being so dehydrated had brought tears to my eyes. I’d never been imprisoned like this, nor had I ever been too weak to fight. Once I found a way out, I never wanted to feel so helpless again. I thanked the Higher Powers that Haruin had stayed away from me. Whatever the reason for ignoring me, it wouldn’t be good. I concentrated on the blackness as I waited for my mouth to fill. To me, it was a comforting blanket, not something to fear. Like my father and brother, I was a Shadow Demon, and my magic came from the darkness. But unlike them, I also had the power of an angel running through my veins. Baladon wanted Lia to bond with him, but he would never be able to give her as much power as I could. The dark side of the Veil spoke to me, but I could access the light too. Even now, when I couldn’t gorge myself from the dark side, power from the Veil eddied around me. If I concentrated, I could absorb tiny amounts, enough to keep me conscious—for a time.

I pictured Lia’s face. All I could see was how happy she’d been when she’d discovered how my dark magic mixed with her light. Her gift made her one of the most powerful beings in both worlds, but now that she’d hit the zenith of her magic, she needed a Shadow Demon to help her syphon power from the dark side of the Veil or she would die—as would I, now that our bond was severed. There weren’t many ways I could die but my mate severing our bond was one of them.

The Demon King could feed her, but she would forever be his slave like my mother was to my father. Love wasn’t a concept he understood. He would keep her locked away and use her. I quickly swallowed the water in my mouth before I choked on it. Without love, Lia would fade, exactly as my mother had, and the Aether would die. 

I thrust away those thoughts. It didn’t matter if Baladon manipulated her into bonding with him, I’d still fight for her—for us. First, I had to get to the Nether. Finding my Angel was the only way I’d get to explain everything I’d done. I couldn’t just let her believe Baladon’s version of my actions. 

I dragged myself off the wet ground to a drier patch, grunting with effort until I could lean my back against the wall. Concentrating, I coaxed tendrils from the dark side of the Veil to me. It baulked when it sensed the scar on my soul, the one Lia had left when she broke our bond. Gritting my teeth, I didn’t give up. I kept gently tugging until it gave me the tiniest ribbon of darkness. I smiled as that ribbon eased into the empty well of my magic.

Chapter Two



A sweet smell drifted up my nose from the flower vase on the window seat of my new room. I don’t know what I’d expected from the Netherworld or the Demon King, but it wasn’t this. Soft light, almost like twilight, bathed the land beyond the obsidian stone palace. That’s what this place was, a palace, not a dreary, ancient old castle like the one in Tetris. Its stone walls shone in the half-light. If true brightness ever graced it again, it would be stunning.

Cocking my head, I heard…silence.

Tetris had always been noisy, even before refugees flooded it. I’d often yearned for peace from its ceaseless noise. Now I had it, and it was deafening. I closed my eyes. All I could hear over and over was the crack of bone as Dex’s skull hit the rock and his whispered plea not to leave.

Leaning out of the window, I peered at the ground, shivering as the frigid wind cut through my dress. Below, landscaped gardens that could have been beautiful, with perfectly carved steps, and terraces, were devoid of life. The tiers were crossed with white chalk paths, their borders neat and cared for but empty. No birds sang. No people chatted. There was no market or docks, or waves crashing on the rocks. No smell of sewage or rotting bodies. Perhaps there had once been life here, but now it was dark and barren.

 Such quiet and emptiness were disturbing enough that I had to look away. Instead, I thought about the passing of time. From what I could tell, I’d been here nearly seven days, though I had no idea if time passed the same way in the Nether. It was difficult to tell when there was no true sunrise or sunset. The Netherworld was a land of perpetual darkness. The only thing that marked day from night was the horizon, which got slightly lighter and marked the beginning of the day. In the distance, a column of weak light rose into the inky sky, where it was swallowed completely. I had no idea what it was, but I suspected it was related to the Heart. There were no stars or moon. All things I’d taken for granted at home. I huffed. Except Tetris wasn’t really my home. 

I rubbed my tired eyes, exhausted though I’d done nothing physical for days. My fingers brushed my pendant. It was my only connection to Dex, and, despite everything, I was glad I’d kept it with me. I tucked it down under the bodice of my dress, and pulling back inside, I climbed off the window seat. Goosebumps peppered my skin, and I rubbed at them, grateful for the fire in the grate. It crackled and burned merrily, adding a soft glow to the room. 

The quarters I’d been brought to were luxuriously furnished, warm, and comfortable, yet I never been more unsettled in my life. Fisting my hands, I lingered in the middle of the large room, unsure what to do. The door wasn’t locked. That had been the first thing I checked. Yet I couldn’t run. With no knowledge about what was outside this palace, that would be stupid. I took a deep, steadying breath and exhaled slowly. To survive, I needed to learn more about the Netherworld, especially anything dangerous—demons included. Though, no matter how much I learned, I couldn’t leave because I needed Baladon. Fixing the Veil was my goal, and if that meant seducing him to form a bond so I could feed, then I had to try.

Someone banged on my door. Not enough to make it rattle, but firmly enough to say they wouldn’t be ignored. My heart raced. I was certain it wasn’t the servants since they knocked with less force. It was Baladon. The Demon King had been nothing but polite since I’d awoken in this room with him sitting by my side. He’d been attentive and patient as I’d pulled myself together enough to think and function. I closed my eyes, hating that I might have to give my body to him. Not that he was ugly. He was far from it. He was handsome in a more refined way than Dex. Despite his fine clothes and elegant manners, his body was a warrior’s and he moved with a fluid confidence that I had no doubt enchanted many. Mixed with his power and the fact he was the King would mean all he had to do was snap his fingers, and demons would fall into his bed. I had no doubt sex with him would be good, but he wasn’t who I saw when I closed my eyes. It wasn’t his touch I craved or his mouth I desperately wanted on mine.

I raised my chin. It didn’t matter who my heart or even my body wanted. I had a destiny to fulfil. 

Grabbing a book from the nearby table, I walked across the carpeted floor, hoping it looked like I was already on my way to the bookshelf when he knocked rather than standing in the middle of the room looking lost. Because no matter how convincing the welcoming smile on my face I was lost.

“Come in!” I called.

“Good evening, Zahlia. How are you feeling?” Baladon’s steps were smooth and effortless. He might be a demon, but he showed no signs of having horns or wings. But then again, Dex never had until he’d needed them. Baladon’s strange silver eyes watched me steadily, though there was warmth in the smile that curled his lips. 

Relaxing my shoulders, I returned his smile. “I’m still a little tired.” Understatement of the century. “But it’s so peaceful here.” The silence is deafening. “I’m sure I’ll recover soon.” I hope. 

Coming through the portal had been like nothing I’d ever experienced. My joints had screamed with pain like they’d been ripped from their sockets, and every cell in my body had burned. I tensed at the memory, my fingernails digging into the leather-bound book. Turning away to hide my face, I stood on my tip toes and reached up to shelve the book. Silently, I cursed the bodice of my new dress when my breasts almost fell out of the low neckline.Closing my eyes, I took a deep calming breath. What I wouldn’t give for some fighting leathers, boots, and a blade. I’d already asked, of course, but been told in a kind yet firm way that, as a guest of the King’s, I wouldn’t need fighting leathers.

“That’s good to hear.”

I turned around, surprised when his gaze didn’t drop to my exposed cleavage. I wasn’t vain, but I knew men found me attractive, and I wasn’t ignorant of how to use my assets to my advantage. Baladon was either ridiculously polite or he genuinely wasn’t interested in me. That didn’t bode well. Dex had said his father had used his mother for her connection to the Aether’s Heart. That he had never loved her. Inwardly, I flinched. I didn’t want to be used—or lied to, again. But, did I have a choice? Not really.

For a few tense moments, we stared at each other. 

“Why am I here, Baladon?” I had my reasons, but what were his?

His mouth pressed into a tight line. “Let’s sit.” He gestured to one of two silk-cover armchairs.

I did as he suggested, flattening the deep purple silk of my skirt with my palms. I knew it made me look nervous, but it gave me something to do with my hands. I didn’t like this at all. I was far away from anyone I knew, in a world I didn’t understand, with a man…demon I didn’t know. Or trust. I had no magic, and the only way to get it back was through him. 

I hated being vulnerable, yet it would be dangerous to let that show, so I smiled in what I hoped was an encouraging way. For Baladon to hold this seat of power, he had to be formidable. Nothing about him had given me cause for fear, but I welcomed the feel of the letter opener against my thigh where I’d strapped it with a curtain tie. I’d discovered it in a bureau drawer and not thought twice about keeping it where I could reach it. I wanted to save both of our worlds, but to do that, I needed to stay alive.

The Demon King sat back, the picture of calm sophistication in his dark, embroidered tunic, trousers, and black boots. His mid-length hair was tied back, revealing the strong line of his jaw. I blinked. He and Dex clearly got their square jaw from their father, though that was where the similarities ended. Where Dex was heavily muscled and exuded brute strength and raw power, Baladon was sleek and contained. He cocked his head, studying me intently. Something in his mercury eyes set my alarm bells ringing, no matter the pleasant expression on his face. It was always on my mind that he’d worked with Haruin to overthrow Escalon and kill Dex. 

Ignoring my racing heart, I forced a warm expression and waited. He’d come to visit me every time the sky lightened, and never had he mentioned my powers. It made me doubt he wanted to bond with me and save the Veil, which was even more worrying than being stuck here alone. Like me, Baladon had an agenda; I just had to figure out what it was.

His attention dropped to the silver on my wrists. “I’m sorry, I can’t remove them yet.”

The familiar, comforting power of my magic thrumming through my veins would make me feel safer, but Dex’s words about the Heart draining my magic came back to me. It had been his reason for placing the silver on me in the first place. I just hadn’t wanted to listen when I’d been so angry and upset about the prisoners. But playing dumb with Baladon was probably wise.

“Why can’t you?” As I spoke, I lifted my hand, rubbing at the empty ache in my chest. 

Baladon kept his expression pleasant but shook his head. “It’s safer for you to remain in the Nether as a mortal. If I remove the silver before we are ready to bond, the Heart could drain you dry.”

I raised a brow, hiding my surprise at his honesty. Perhaps his agenda was the same as mine. “So Dexalion told the truth about that?”

Baladon’s nostrils flared at the mention of his brother. “He did.”

We sat and contemplated each other again.

Baladon smiled, this time trailing his gaze over me, slowly and thoroughly. My cheeks heated, but I fought back my awkwardness at that scrutiny. “Well, little else he said was true.” I leaned forward a little and cocked my head, holding the Demon King’s gaze. “But something tells me there’s another reason you won’t let my magic return.”

He leaned forward, too, amusement in his gaze. We were close enough that I could feel his breath on my lips. “It is the truth, Zahlia. You’re the Angel of the Aether. Your destiny is to restore the balance between our world and the mortal world by repairing the Veil.” His gaze flicked to my lips before moving back to my eyes. His voice dropped a little deeper. “To do that, we must bond so that you can feed from the light and the darkness.” 

My heart pounded as his lips brushed mine, and it took everything in me not to flinch away.

He chuckled and pulled back just a little. “Did Dex keep that from you too?”

I shrugged, sucking my lower lip between my teeth, my brows dipping down in what I hoped was a picture of confusion. It was time to keep my cards close to my chest. Baladon was charming, but something in his eyes made me wary.

“He told me he had to bind my magic so that the heart didn’t suck me dry when we came through the gate, but he didn’t say much else. He just said he would explain everything when we arrived here.” I blinked and let tears fill my eyes. “I believed him.” 

Baladon gently grasped my chin with his fingers and thumb, staring deeply into my eyes. I hid my scowl, wanting to slap his hand away, but… I blinked slowly. That wasn’t an option.

“I will never lie to you, Zahlia. I swear. When we’re ready to bond, I’ll remove those silver shackles, and while we enjoy each other’s bodies, I’ll let you feed until you are powerful enough to join with the Heart.” 

Let me? More alarm bells rang, but I didn’t react other than to arch towards him, giving him a full view of my cleavage. I hid a smile as his attention dropped to my exposed skin. His eyes darkened, specks of purple flashing in his gaze.

“First, you need to learn how the Angel of Aether replenishes the Heart and guides the souls of both worlds to their next journey. Once you have an understanding of how to use your magic, we will announce our bonding to the representatives of the Nether Kingdoms.” He held my gaze as he leaned in, his grip firm enough I’d have to fight to get away. Every instinct told me to do just that as his tongue flicked out, leaving a trail of ice crystals over my lips. My eyes widened. He chuckled and did it again, only slower. My eyes fluttered closed, the sensation messing with my head. I wanted to hate it, but I didn’t.

More purple bled into his irises, a small smile gracing his beautiful mouth as he pulled back. “Just think what that would feel like on other sensitive parts of your body, Angel.”

My cheeks flushed, anger zipping through me. That pet name was already owned by Dex. Had Baladon used it on purpose? Hiding my mistrust was hard, especially when there was something cold about him, and I didn’t mean just his touch. Giving my body to this beautiful, dangerous demon scared me more than I wanted to admit, particularly when I knew how his father had treated Dex’s mother. I jerked away. The only hands, the only mouth I wanted on my skin or between my legs, was Dex’s. 

As if reading my mind, Baladon smiled wider. 

“Don’t fret, Angel. When we bond, I’ll make it so good for you, you’ll forget all about the traitor prince. You’ll be screaming my name in pleasure, not his.” His irises turned completely purple, and I fought the need to push back into my chair, away from him. He grinned, exposing perfectly white and very sharp teeth. “You’re mine now. Soon the stain of Dexalion Azaraah De’ath will be wiped from this world…and from you.” 



I sighed, peering into my wardrobe with a decided lack of enthusiasm. Dress after white silk dress hung limply from hangers. Shortly after Baladon left yesterday, they had been delivered by a spindly creature with big eyes, strange grey skin, and long pointed teeth. When I asked if there were any other choices or even some undergarments, the servant avoided eye contact and mumbled something in a language I didn’t understand. 

Even the purple silk ballgown with the low bodice had disappeared.

“Higher Powers save me from the dress sense of men, males, urgh! Whatever they are in this world!” I slammed the wardrobe door shut. It bounced back. This time I kicked it, screeching loudly when it bounced open again. I panted. I didn’t know what to expect from this world, but being dictated to about my clothing would not cut it for me.

“Bring back my leathers,” I muttered. Even when Dex had kidnapped me, he’d given me practical clothes for warmth and fighting. He’d known what I liked to wear, and it wasn’t long gowns that would get caught around my legs. Well, until that damned ball, anyway. I shook his image from my head, determined not to worry about him. He was immortal. The stab wound I’d given him had been to slow him down and prevent him from following me, not to kill him. I sighed. But I couldn’t deny I’d wanted to hurt him like he’d hurt me when I found out about my parents.

Nausea rolled through me as I remembered the sound of his head cracking against the wall. I shook my head, trying to push away the images of Dex’s desperate face, of his pleas to believe him as he lay there bleeding and broken. With a shaking hand, I grabbed the first dress my hand hit. It was either I wear white silk or walk the corridors of this palace in my sheer nightie. At least the white silk wasn’t completely see-through.

I stalked into the washroom, used the privy, and set about filling the stone bowl with warm water before freshening up. This place was even more luxurious than Dex’s quarters. Where the castle had been ancient and modernised as best as it could be, this place was built of gleaming black glass and grey stone that glinted with beautiful flecks of green. Green-coloured metal was everywhere. It formed the surrounds of huge mirrors, pipes were made from it, window frames, door handles, even the huge bath. I eyed said bath longingly but turned my back on it. I’d never had so many baths as I had since arriving here. It was decadent, and I loved it, but I’d used them mainly to pass the time during my otherwise boring day. Today, I needed more than baths to occupy my overactive mind. Worrying for my friends, my future, and especially Dex was driving me to distraction. What I needed was to get out of this room. 

I smoothed my hands over my loose silver hair and slipped my feet into the ridiculously high-heeled shoes Baladon had provided. Clenching and unclenching my fingers, I reached out, turning the handle. My inhale was sharp when the door clicked open. It seemed Baladon was true to his word; I still wasn’t a prisoner in my room. 

The corridors were well-lit and as plushly furnished as my room. Wiping my sweaty palms on my ridiculous long skirt, I walked cautiously away from my room. It was time to explore. Even knowing I would have to bond with Baladon if I was to repair the Veil, I couldn’t blindly follow him. I’d learnt my lesson with Dex. Never again would I be manipulated and lied to so easily. Earning my trust would take a long time.

 The corridors of the upper floors were empty, but that changed as I descended a large, curving staircase. I could see people gathered in small groups below, their strange appearance not the only disconcerting thing. There was no sound. It was still silent.

Two warriors guarded the base to the stairs. They weren’t men but demons with overly large horned heads and no eyes. They stood upright, their muscles bulging, the joints of their knees pointing backwards. They wore loincloths and nothing else. I tried to calm my racing heart. They held no weapons, which probably meant they had some weird demonic power and didn’t need them. Were they stationed at the stairs to protect the Demon King’s quarters or to keep me confined to the upper floors?

Only one way to find out.

My dress brushed the plush carpet, whispering as I descended the last few stairs. Standing straight to hide my nerves, I glanced at the guards, half expecting them to yank me back. But they ignored me, their entirely black eyes scanning the large hall and the mingling guests. I breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived. Unease skittered down my spine as I scanned the demons milling around. They didn’t even notice I was there, but I was more concerned that there was still no sound. My heart beat faster. Their mouths moved, so why couldn’t I hear them?

I took a steadying breath, descended the last step, and walked out onto the polished floor. It was like stepping through a weird curtain. The chattering of voices hit me, and after the silence, it was overwhelming. I blinked, staring at the beings who stared right back; only their gazes were predatory. Mine wasn’t. Some were beautiful and very mortal-looking, like Baladon, while others were like nothing I’d ever seen. Some were squat with large bodies and short stubby legs, their hands nothing but spindly fingers or claws. Others must have been ten feet tall and like sticks, with small beady eyes and rows of teeth. All spoke in a language I didn’t understand, but the hungry looks and malevolence coming from some told me everything I needed to know. They sensed I was mortal. To them, I was weak and fair game.

The weight of the letter opener strapped to my leg gave me a small sense of comfort, and I was glad I’d taken the time to slit the dress to thigh level, making my makeshift weapon easier to reach. Did these creatures know I’d spent years killing reapers and demons? Was that hunger in their eyes for revenge or something else? I shuddered. Either way, I was fucked. They knew I was alone, even as Baladon’s ‘guest’.

Tears pricked my eyes. Dex would never let them hurt me, but he wasn’t there. I shook my head slightly. I missed him like crazy, but I’d alienated him to achieve my goal of reaching the Demon King, and nothing had changed. Besides, I didn’t need his protection to survive. I hated killing, but I’d do it if I had to.

Hiding my fear, I lifted my chin and stalked forward. The open hostility wasn’t a surprise, but the reverence I saw in the eyes of others was. Some even dipped their heads or bowed. Keeping my chin high and plastering on my haughtiest look, I headed to the nearest door, watching those in my peripheral vision. Observing and assessing risk was second nature, yet I just wanted to get out of there. It was an exercise in restraint to walk with purpose yet not rush.

Goosebumps rose over my skin as cold gently brushed my cheek. Looking to my right, my footsteps halted. Baladon lounged on the biggest throne I’d ever seen, resting his chin on the fingers of one hand, an amused look on his face. The metal, stone, and obsidian throne was raised above floor level, making him easy to see. Beside him stood a woman in a deep red gown. Her face was cold, her eyes like chips of ice as she stared at me while leaning down to talk in Baladon’s ear. Baladon made a dismissive gesture with his hand, stood and walked towards me. A blink of red flashed in her gaze before she followed at his heels, disdainful and ignoring those around them who bowed. Some even dropped to their knees and lowered their bellies or foreheads to the ground.

On the surface, Baladon had been nothing but respectful and kind to me, but clearly, he wasn’t benevolent to everyone. No one grovelled on their belly for a kind king. My stomach tightened. It would be a huge mistake to show any weakness, so I put a hint of a smirk on my lips and waited. All I wanted was to run from him, but I had to find a way to make peace with my destiny and survive in my new world.

My heart thundered, and my stomach dropped at the thought of being unable to leave. Making peace with my destiny was looking harder and harder with every moment I was near Baladon, but I kept that smirk plastered on my face. Navigating this court and my place in it would at least give me time to form an escape plan because instinct told me I might very well need one.

“Zahlia.” Baladon gave me a polite bow, his eyes sparkling as if he knew I wanted to run. “I wondered when you’d be brave enough to come and find me.”

I didn’t bother to disillusion him. Let him believe I was looking for him if it made him happy, though there was nothing further from the truth.

“Well, I have been in that room for days. I feel strong enough to leave now, and I’m really excited to learn more about my new home, especially if we’re to bond soon.” I looked up at him through my lashes, hoping the lie wasn’t obvious. He might be my destiny, but my whole being shied away from the thought of joining my magic and soul with Baladon. I didn’t want to get naked with him or feel him moving inside me. I wanted someone else entirely, no matter how impossible it was. 

Baladon’s smile widened, though I could have sworn a shadow passed over his face. He peered over his shoulder at the hard-faced woman before taking my hand and moving to my side so that we were both facing her.

“Mother, this is Zahlia…” There was a slight pause, and Baladon’s face twisted a little, his smile turning rueful. “I’m sorry, I don’t know if you have a family name?”

I swallowed, doing my best not to drop my gaze even though my cheeks heated a little. “I don’t.” None of the vipers bothered with family names, not when most of us had been shunned for one reason or another.

The woman raised her brows at Baladon, ignoring me. “Surely you are mistaken, son-of-mine.” Her calculating gaze finally landed on me. I kept my expression pleasant, insipid, even.

“If this is the Angel your father’s bastard stole, her family name is Nuthrai. She is from Myrkis. Her parents disappeared when she did. Your father believed Dexalion killed them before that murderous bastard took her and sullied her by exposing her to the mortal world.”

My hackles rose as she talked about me as if I wasn’t there. It pissed me off even more that I had no idea who was telling the truth. Dex had told me his father kidnapped me, took me to the mortal world, and gave me to my guardians to raise. The Demon King had always intended to bond with me when I reached the zenith of my magic, which I just had, but Dex had killed him, searching the mortal world until he’d found me. Dex had killed my guardians and then lied about who he was—until recently. It was interesting that Baladon’s mother had a different version of events. Dex had lied to me, but the thought I might have had to fuck his father was almost as uncomfortable as the thought of bonding with his half-brother. My face flushed as I recalled my desperate need for sex and my insatiable appetite for Dex and his magic. His touch had taken me so high I’d seen stars as my body shuddered around his. I’d taken and taken, and he’d let me gorge on his body and magic, leaving himself weak. I hadn’t realised how weak until Baladon attacked, and Dex couldn’t fight him off. 

This woman’s words only inflamed my instant dislike of her. I made a conscious effort to relax my hands by my sides instead of forming fists and punching her in her supercilious face. I blinked and kept my eyes wide and innocent. “It’s very kind of you to tell me about my last name. Now I know I’ll never meet my parents—because of him.” I pulled my brows down and gave a shaky exhale. That bit of emotion wasn’t an act. Now I knew that before I bonded with Baladon, I had to find out the truth about what happened to my parents, and the only way to do that was to get away from here. Even if, ultimately, I had to come back. Thanks to this old shrew, at least I had a destination. 

“Thank you, Mother. I’d forgotten my researchers discovered who Zahlia’s parents were. I’m so glad you saw fit to remember and inform her where she’s from.” Baladon didn’t look pleased. He looked anything but. Had he been deliberately hiding information from me?

His mother smiled insincerely. “Of course, dear.” Then she looked pointedly at me. “Well? Inform the girl who I am.”

A muscle ticked in Baladon’s jaw, and hate flashed through his eyes before he smiled. “Zahlia, this is Lady Hazielle Azaraah De’ath. You will treat her with the respect she deserves.”

It was hard to keep my face pleasant when I doubted this demon female warranted much respect at all.

Hazielle smiled, her teeth little white razor points, her skin flawless, her poise perfect, and her eyes full of venom. “You are now my son’s betrothed. You were born for him, and together you will save our world and all the kingdoms of the Nether.” She looked directly at her son. “Do not let us down.”  

Us? Did she mean the kingdom as a whole? And why did those words sound like a warning to Baladon rather than me?

Chapter Three



Pushing my hand flat on the hard dirt, I sat upright. Dizziness assaulted me. It took a while, but after some deep breaths, it settled enough that I registered the putrid stink that still wafted from my wounds. Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it had been, and at least my arms could support me now. Even if every muscle and joint in my body ached, I was a bit stronger. 

I tensed, suddenly on full alert. Magic filtered through the air—and it wasn’t mine. At my behest, my shadows slipped under the door as far as I dared let them. My magic was still not at full strength, but it might be enough to fight my way out.

I sensed multiple people outside my door.

Had Haruin finally returned to see if I was alive or dead? I grinned, my hands curling into fists. I was weak but not the same broken warrior they’d thrown in here. 

There was a metallic click, and the door opened. Light from a flickering torch obscured the bearer’s face. 

“Well, my King? Are you coming out of there?”

“Omeron?” I blinked, stunned to hear my friend’s voice.

He stuck his head in through the door, and this time I could see every familiar thing about him, from his gleaming dark skin to his yellow eyes and the Barg tattoos on his shaven head. His teeth shone white when he grinned.

“You didn’t think we’d leave you here, did you? I’m offended.”

I crawled forward, ignoring the pain from the festering wounds in my thighs and chest. Two strong hands grabbed me under my arms and hauled me to my feet.

“Whoa,” said another familiar voice as my knees tried to buckle under my weight.

“Escalon?” My brows rose, unable to hide my surprise.

The mad prince grinned, grabbing my other arm and wrapping it across his shoulders. “Yes, General. You’re not hallucinating. My brother has made a play for the throne, just as my wife said he would.”

“Marianne? She got away, though?”

“She did, my friend. But I think explanations should wait until we’re safe.”

Friend? I had no idea what was going on, but I nodded. We needed to get out of the castle.

“This way,” said another voice.

My gaze flicked to Dala. She nodded a greeting, a dark look on her face. “I haven’t forgiven you for lying to Lia or for hurting her enough that she’s run away from everything she knows—with a complete stranger.”

“Dala,” rumbled Omeron, warning in his tone.

Her hazel eyes flashed, though her tone softened a little. “But Omeron has explained some of your actions. I just wish you’d told Lia before Baladon found her.”

“So do I,” I rasped, my voice rough from disuse.

Escalon stepped forward. “Come along now, less talking. Haruin may have left you to rot, but his soldiers still patrol these tunnels.”

Omeron and Escalon kept hold of me. As much as I wanted to appear strong and not rely on them, I knew I couldn’t stand, let alone walk by myself. With Dala in front, I half walked and was half dragged down the dark corridors of the dungeons.

“We need to go up one level, then head to the cave where you kept the magickers. We can reach the ocean from there. Haruin doesn’t know about that secret exit.”

I glanced sideways at Escalon. “And you do?”

He smiled, and I was struck by how clear his gaze was, how lacking in worry and stress he appeared to be, despite his brother stealing his throne. He’d spent most of the years I’d known him fretting about his queen, to such an extent that he’d neglected his people and the war with the reapers and demons. 

“I do. When Mari confronted me about her illness, I knew we needed an escape plan. I hated that Haruin ordered so many magickers to be killed, but I could do nothing to stop it. My brother has threatened me with Mari’s life every day since you saved me instead of my father. I’ve wanted him gone for years, but I needed to gather men I could trust to fight alongside me before acting against him. I’ve no idea which soldiers or staff in the castle are his.” He met my gaze, cocking his head. “I’ve always wondered where they went. The bodies. None were disposed of over the cliffs like the other prisoners Haruin executed. After the last execution, I took a more thorough look at the tunnels under the castle.”

“You found the exit tunnel from the cave?”

He smiled. “I did. You hid it well, and for that, I’m glad. I am much like other magickers in this kingdom in that I cannot access anything but a fleeting amount, but it helps me to find things when I concentrate enough.” His expression sobered. “Killing all those people went against everything I believed. But Marianne was always my priority.”

“I understand. I didn’t—until recently—but I do now.”

Escalon clenched his jaw. There was a beat of silence before he added. “I know, and thanks to you and Zahlia, Marianne is safe and with me.”

“How did she get out? I saw Hentus and the others and hoped she didn’t return with them. I thought Haruin and his guards would kill them once I was down.”

He grunted as he supported my weight up some steps. “Because while my brother was distracted fighting your men and imprisoning you, I got my wife and your friends, along with my personal guard, away from the castle.”

“You knew Haruin was going to make a play for the crown?”

Escalon nodded. “I always knew he wanted it. I didn’t; I never have. But the thought of him ruling over Tetron filled me with terror for our people, even when I was young, so so I let my father teach me to be a ruler. My father always thought Haruin too weak and sickly to do much of anything and mostly ignored him. I always felt sorry for my brother until he showed me what he was really like. When I married Marianne, she was barely an adult. She was so scared, but I thought she was the strongest person I’d ever met. She’d survived her brother’s coup in Pa’dur and the death of her parents and family, as well as being a prisoner and being married off to a stranger, never once succumbing to her fears. I never expected to fall in love with her, but I did. All I wanted was for her to be happy—and safe.”

“What happened?” I asked quietly.

His throat bobbed. “She started to become unwell not long after we married. She was already my world. The only light in a future filled with responsibility. A few months after you saved me and Father pronounced you General of Tetron’s army, Haruin told me what he was doing. He said he wouldn’t stop and if I ever fought him, he’d kill her. I never figured out how he got the poison into her. I changed the servants, the whole kitchen staff. I even had food brought from other places for her, yet still he managed to hurt her. I couldn’t protect her, and it drove me mad. Every day I worried that he would kill her. He threatened me with her life whenever I disagreed with his course of action: the magickers, the starvation, abandoning people to the Nether monsters. I either fought him and lost the woman I loved or submitted to him. I agreed to do whatever he wanted. I couldn’t stand the thought of losing her.” 

“I understand.” And I did. Lia was my world. I’d do anything to keep her safe.

“Mari worsened these past months. My fear for her was enough that I finally decided to kill my brother. Years ago, when Marianne first fell ill, I told her she had an incurable illness. I was too ashamed to tell her the truth. But Marianne came to me. She knew she was being poisoned. The lies were too much, especially when she looked at me with such suspicion, as though she believed I could hurt her like that.”

We halted near the corridor that led to the cave.

“She forgave you?” Something twisted inside me when he looked at me, happiness lighting his eyes.

“She did. I think she was as relieved that it wasn’t me as I was to finally tell her the truth. We continued with the plan for her to leave with Hentus, and I was to meet her down near the docks. Ultimately, I have no intention of leaving the crown in Haruin’s hands, but the men I trust are not in that castle. I needed, and still need, to have them by my side if I am to win a war with my brother. When I left the ball and saw Haruin and his guards weren’t even on the palace grounds, I ran to the tunnels. I knew something was wrong, and I feared for Mari. I’m sorry we didn’t get to the cave sooner.”


“So am I,” drawled a voice that had my demon side ready to fly into a rage. 

I tensed as a dozen torches were lit, illuminating Haruin and the warriors standing with him. I pulled my arms away from Omeron and Escalon. Dala drew her daggers and glared at Escalon’s brother.

“Do you have any idea how bored I’ve been waiting for them to rescue you?” Haruin drawled.

I glanced behind at the sound of footsteps and the clang of armour, trying hard to hide my smile. The torches had given me the very thing that I needed. Shadows. Absorbing them sent a rush of strength to my muscles. I was still weak and depleted, but at least I could fight.

I cocked my head, my eyes narrowing. “I don’t give a shit.” And I let my shadows fly. “Weapon!” I bellowed.

“Here!” Omeron threw me a heavy object that I caught in my left hand.

“You found it?”

“Obviously,” he drawled. 

I grinned and swung my axe. “Onta demons be praised, that feels good!” I yelled as it sliced through the nearest soldier’s neck.

Escalon faced his brother, holding his sword confidently. “Let us go, brother, and I’ll consider giving you a quick death when I return for my crown.” 

Haruin smirked and raised one brow. “Really? You think you’ll escape this time?” He chanted something under his breath, and all the torches except ours went out. My shadows disappeared. 

“Shit! My magic is done. I’ve got weapons only,” I quietly warned Omeron.

“Understood,” said Omeron. In a flash, he shifted into his death hound.

The clash of blades echoed through the darkness. I blocked, parried and struck until the coppery stench of blood stung my nostrils. We were outnumbered, and my body was already beginning to shake. 

“Keep fighting. Reinforcements are coming,” Escalon yelled as he fought two soldiers simultaneously.

I nodded, even though he couldn’t see me. Bellowing with a single strike, I took out one of his opponents. The darkness awoke with a cacophony of growls and howls. Yellow-eyed hounds joined the fray. The soldiers didn’t so much as yell. There was no scent of fear. I frowned. Haruin had enslaved the soldiers with some kind of enchantment. They were as emotionless as corpses.

Within minutes all of Haruin’s soldiers were dead or dying.

I looked around. 

“He’s gone,” said Dala.

“He is,” agreed Escalon. “And we need to be as well before he returns with more troops.”

I staggered behind them, leaning against Omeron’s huge body. Two more Barg protected my back, nudging me up when I stumbled. We passed through the cave where Lia had severed our bond and made our way through the illusion I’d created around the ancient doorway.. We We walked unhindered down the stone tunnel to the cliff face.

A boat waited for us, bobbing up and down on the swell of the waves. Fine spray misted my face and wet my clothes. For a moment,, I closed my eyes and savoured the cold air. It was extremely welcome aIt was extremely welcome after the silence and oppression of my small cell.

“Let’s go,” said Omeron, once again in mortal form and dressed in armour. 

Dala’s eyes flicked to him, her gaze dragging over every inch of his body. She remained silent, but I saw the worry ease from her eyes as she realised he wasn’t injured.

I smiled. 

“What?” she scowled.

“You know he’s immortal, right? It will take more than a soldier’s blade to kill him.”

“Not if it takes off his head,” she snapped. “Or do immortals possess the ability to sew it back on?”

I laughed. “It’s good to see you too, Dala. And no, he can’t sew on his head, but, in his hound form, only an enchanted blade could penetrate his armour, and to get one of those, you have to give up your soul. That means no blessing from the Angel of Aether and no rebirth. The only way to kill a BBarg is to get up under its armour from its belly.”

She huffed and turned away, plonking herself onto the deck. 

Omeron grinned and walked over to her, sitting down opposite. He leaned forward.

“I’m fine.”

“I don’t care,” she snapped, shivering in the spray and the wind.

His grin widened. “Of course,, you don’t. Here,” he said, swiping up a waxed canvas sheet. Moving to sit next to her, he placed it around her shoulders. “This will keep the worst of the weather off you.”

“It’ll take more than the weather to bring me down,” she muttered as a wave broke against the side of the boat, soaking both of them.

“Glad to hear it. But humour me.” He put his big arm around her shoulders and kept it there. 

I smiled, though my heart ached, seeing my friend with the one he loved. Dala hadn’t given in to his charms yet, but she would. He was a stubborn bastard when he wanted something. He wouldn’t give up on her,, no matter how much she tried to push him away. Dala was his chosen mate, his future queen. I faced the ocean. Now I had to find a way to win back mine.


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