Alicia felt it when Jacob went unconscious. His body slumped against hers, his limbs became like wet noodles. She held him for a bit longer than was perhaps necessary, yet she eventually set him on the ground.
Guilt gnawed at her as she stared at his unconscious form. She knew that, had she asked, he would have helped her. No, even if she hadn’t asked for his help, he would have done so. Considering how much he had already helped, it was all too obvious. That was why she had knocked him unconscious. She didn’t want him to do something that he was afraid of doing.
Jacob had never said it out loud, but she could tell, she knew that he was afraid that she would hate him if she found out what he really was. It was the reason she hadn’t asked. That, and because Jacob had never asked more about her past than he needed to. He had respected her privacy. The least she could do was return the favor.
“I’m sorry,” she said, smiling sadly at the young man who’d helped her. “But it looks like this is where we part ways.”
She stood up.
“Have you said your goodbyes?” the voice croaked. She didn’t know which devil was after her, but the chances of him being a member of Belial’s peerage was high. That also meant he likely possessed a strong affinity for the fire element.
“I have,” she said in an unyielding voice.
“Good. Then come along quietly.”
She smiled. “I think not.”
Before the devil hiding in the shadows could do anything, she spun around in a circle and made a slashing motion with her hands. Dark red, almost black, energy flew from her fingertips in a crescent wave. It engulfed the lesser demons surrounding her. They screamed and shrieked and cried, flopping to the ground and squirming as the Powers of a King, the powers of the Bael clan, consumed them. The lesser demons were reduced to ash in seconds.
“Thank you for the compliment,” Alicia said as she held her hands out to Jacob, palms out and fingers splayed. A magic circle appeared. She felt a drain on her energy. Then a bright crimson shield crackled to life around him. “There. Now you can no longer use him as a hostage.”
“Do you really think a barrier like that will protect him from me?”
“Of course it will.” Alicia smiled into the darkness. “That barrier is made from the energy of the Bael clan. No normal devil can break it. I don’t know who you are, but the fact that you haven’t attacked me yet is proof of your wariness. You know that you can’t defeat me in a head on fight. Isn’t that why you kept sending your legions after me? You were hoping to tire me down so I’d be easy to kill. Too bad for you it didn’t work.”
“Damn you! I’m gonna fucking kill you, arrogant little cunt!”
“The day a pathetic excuse for a devil like you kills me will be a cold day in the Underworld.”
Alicia had no intention of sticking around. While she was confident in her barrier, she didn’t want any stray attacks to hit it either. She didn’t want to risk the person who’d helped her getting hurt.
“Catch me if you can, weakling.”
“That does it! You’re dead!!”
Alicia ran off, her footsteps echoing loudly in her ears, though they were nowhere near as loud as the pounding of her heart. Confidence aside, she didn’t know if she could defeat an entire horde of lesser demons and a member of Belial’s peerage–if this devil was indeed a member of that devil’s peerage.
Several lesser demons leapt out of the shadows. Alicia swung her right arm, a magical circle appear in front of each of her fingers. Crimson energy leapt from her fingertips like ethereal whips, slicing through the lesser demons as though they were wheat falling before a scythe. More appeared to take their place. They came at her from all sides, but she would not allow herself to be hemmed in.
Leaping into the air, her sailor shirt tore as black, bat-like wings emerged from her back. The lesser demons, incapable of flight, could do nothing as she decimated them with more of her dark powers. They writhed as she set them aflame with crimson energy. They squealed as she unleashed cutting blades that tore through their bodies as though they were made of paper. When her enemies were naught but ash on the wind, she landed back on the ground and continued running. She could’ve flown, but she needed to conserve her strength. There was no telling how many were at this devil’s command.
“You can’t escape from me!!” a shout echoed all around her.
Fire appeared in front of her, blocking her path. The heat from it was enough to make her flinch. More demons leapt through the conflagration, their hands coated in flickering red flames. Several sent attacks similar to her cutting blades at her. The flames shaped like crescent blades soared true, but Alicia swatted them away with contemptuous ease.
Lesser demons could use the demonic affinity of their liege, though their powers were pathetically weak when compared to the devil they were bound to. That said, seeing these flame attacks let her know that the person after her was likely the same one who’d nearly kidnapped her during her escape from the mansion. She had thought he was dead, buried under several tons of rubble.
Alicia countered the lesser demons’ attacks with several of her own. She moved her arm in intricate patterns, creating magic circles and sending what appeared to be a net of dark crimson energy at her foes. It was too large for them to dodge. The attack slammed into them. They were consumed as their bodies broke apart and evaporated.
Those who had escaped her attack, the ones on her left and right, closed in. She shuffled to the left, avoiding a slashing claw that would have sliced through her face. Flinching as her left foot caught her right, causing her to stumble, she did her best to avoid the next attack. Pain flared in her shoulder as flame covered nails tore her shirt and sliced into her flesh.
Hissing as she leapt back, she slashed out her hand and sent a massive wave of crimson hellfire at her foes. There wasn’t even enough time for them to scream before they were consumed.
Her chest heaved as she tried to suck in a breath. She was strong. She had power. But she wasn’t invincible. Fighting so many enemies, slaughtering so many demons, it was beginning to tire her out.
“I commend you on killing so many of my legion, but it looks like you’re beginning to run out of energy,” the voice taunted.
“Coming from a coward who hides in the shadows… your compliment doesn’t mean much,” Alicia replied sharply, or as sharply as she could under these conditions.
The hidden devil chuckled. “You can call it cowardice if you want. I prefer to call it tactics. As you said, you’re powers are a bit too much for the average devil, and while I could defeat you on my own, there’s no need to tire myself out, not when I could just wait for you to exhaust yourself before disposing of you.”
She would have liked to call him out on his idea of tactics, but it really was a sound decision. Most devils wouldn’t think twice about using a tactic like this. The only ones who would’ve done things differently were people like her father and Belial. Her father would never hide in the shadows and let others do his dirty work, and while Belial often sent minions to do his dirty work, when he did deign himself to kill someone, he enjoyed torturing them with his own two hands.
“If you think I’m going to let you remain the shadows forever, then you are sorely mistaken,” Alicia shouted before unleashing her power.
Energy burst from her every poore. Dark crimson waves emitted from her body, radiating outward and crashing against her surroundings. The ground beneath her feet cracked and broke apart. Trees were felled as her power uprooted them, though they disintegrated seconds later. The lesser demons that had been surrounding her burst apart like sand particles flying away on a strong wind.
A shield appeared several meters to her right, a vibrant red dome made completely of fire. So she had been right. This devil had a strong fire affinity.
She turned to him. His skin, like those of his minions, was red. However, rather than the leathery red of a lesser demons, his was a crimson akin to fresh blood. His sleek body, covered by a business suit, of all things, lent him the appearance of a sharkish lawyer. As he walked, his expensive shoes clapped against the ground, and she noticed the spaded tail wavering behind his back.
“Tch!” the devil clicked his tongue. “I see you still have a good deal of energy left over. I was hoping to tire you out a bit more before attacking myself.”
Eying the devil as he stalked toward her with the kind of casual arrogance that pissed her off, she looked at the two horns on his head, which curved around in an elegant slope before ending in sharp points. Then she peered into his eyes. While his irises were red, the rest was all black. She knew who this devil was.
“You are Xaphan, if I’m not mistaken.”
“You are correct,” Xaphan said with a mocking smile. “Do forgive me if I don’t bow, Princess Alicia.”
“As if I’d want scum like you bowing to me,” she fired back.
He scowled. “Such defiance. It’ll bring me great joy to rip that sarcastic tongue from your mouth.”
“I’d like to see you try.”
Alicia barely had a moment’s time to react as Xaphan unleashed a massive column of crimson flames in her direction. Unlike with the lesser demons, this flame was powerful enough that she didn’t have confidence in deflecting it. She dodged. Leaping to the side, she avoided the attack, ignoring how the heat singed her arms, and then she retaliated with a crescent blade of her own demonic energy.
It was blocked by a wall of bright blue flames.
“Do not think such a weak attack will reach me.” Xaphan sneered as the wall in front of him changed into a spear.
The spear shot forward, heading for her faster than Alicia would’ve thought possible. Gritting her teeth, she leapt to the side. It wasn’t quite fast enough. She hissed as the spear grazed her left arm, instantly cauterizing the wound. Though no blood leaked from her body, the attack hurt more than if she’d merely been cut. Fire. It felt like her nerves had caught fire, as though they were being broiled.
“How do you like that?” Xaphan asked. “My flames are far more powerful than your average devil. There’s a reason I am the keeper of the Underworld’s furnaces.”
“Like I care!”
Pushing past the pain, Alicia clapped both hands together. She pulled on her energy at the same time that she pulled apart her hands. Within the magic circle that she had created, a ball of darkness appeared inside of them, growing bigger the further apart her hands got. It then suddenly grew smaller, becoming more larger than a tennis ball. Without waiting, she launched the attack at Xaphan, who thought to create another fire wall.
The attack slammed into it. The fire wall broke.
Xaphan tried to dodge the attack, but he couldn’t get away in time. The condensed ball of demonic energy plowed into his left side. His shoulder and the arm attached to it disintegrated. Xaphan screamed, agonized fury echoing throughout the park. Alicia wore a grim smile.
The smile left when Xaphan burst into flames.
Not even a second later, pain erupted in her back and abdomen. Too shocked to scream, Alicia looked down to see a sword composed of blue flames extending from her stomach.
“You really are too simple,” Xaphan said from behind her, his breath on her ear causing a shiver of disgust to run down her spine.
He yanked the blade out of her stomach. Alicia screamed as she tumbled to the ground. She placed her hands on the wound, which had been cauterized. The demonic flames from Xaphan’s blade were still inside of her. She could feel them eating up her insides. It felt her her body was being burnt from the inside out!
“You’re such a disappointment,” Xaphan said. “You have so much power at your fingertips, yet you do not know how to properly use it. Ah, to be young and stupid. How does it feel to know that your lack of tactics is going to be your downfall?”
Alicia gritted her teeth as her mind whited out with pain. She tried to move her limbs, but they would no longer respond to her commands.
Footsteps approached her. Blinking, she saw two shiny leather shoes appear in her vision. She blinked again. Then she looked up. Xaphan was staring down at her, a macabre’s smile tugging at his lips. He raised his hand, which was coated with blue flames.
“Goodbye, Princess,” he said.
Then he brought the hand down.
Time slowed. Alicia watched as the hand rushed toward her. She thought back to all of the things she’d never been able to do. She recalled the times she spent with her father, with Matilda. Alicia wanted to see them again. She wanted to hug them and tell them how much they meant to her.
“You’re always spending more with dignitaries than you do with me! I hate you, Father!”
Alicia recalled the final words she’d had with her dad. At the time, she had been upset with her father, who’d been so busy pushing his policies into place that he’d be away from home for weeks, and sometimes even months, at a time. During the last time she’d seen him, they had gotten into an argument.
She didn’t remember what they’d argued about. It had probably been something stupid. However, it had eventually turned to how he no longer spent any time with her. He had tried to placate her, telling her that he would spend time with her once he’d fixed the Underworld, but she would hear none of it. She had told him that she no longer wanted to see him. She had said she hated him. Then she had stormed out of the dining hall and locked herself in her room.
If she had known that would be the last time she saw him, she wouldn’t have said such harsh words.
The hand continued its descent. Time reasserted itself. Someone appeared in front of her. Sparks flew in all directions as whoever stood before her blocked the attack meant to end her life. Alicia looked up.
His school uniform was the male version of the one that she wore. The dark blue blazer adorned his tall build, accentuating a pair of broad shoulders. He wore pants that were the same color as his blazer. His messy head of blond hair was also quite distinctive. She knew who this was, but how could that be? She’d knocked him out and placed him in a barrier!
Jacob turned his head and smiled. “Hold on one second while I send this guy packing.”