Darkness rolled over the land, visceral power that pressed down on him and chilled his blood.
Around him, the battle stilled, warriors frozen in position, locked in combat for a heartbeat before they all broke apart and turned as one towards the black mountains.
Grave looked there.
A male stood on a huge rock at the base of the mountain, just metres beyond the edge of the battle. He towered over them, black eyes surveying every warrior below him, gold elliptical pupils flashing as his gaze shifted quickly from one male to the next. His stance was casual, the black gauntlet covering the lower half of his right arm resting on the hilt of a huge black broadsword that stood beside him, the point buried into the solid rock, but Grave had the feeling this male hadn’t come to the edge of the Devil’s domain just to watch them fight.
The demon straightened and curled his clawed fingers over the pommel of his sword as his black eyebrows pinched low and his broad lips flattened.
Grave watched him closely, wary of the newcomer. He was young, appearing little more than in his early twenties to mortal eyes, but that meant nothing when it came to demons, especially those of the Devil’s ranks.
This male could easily decimate both sides of the warriors gathered before him.
It was rare for one of his kind to leave the Devil’s realm, although as far as Grave could tell, the male still stood within the threshold of his dark lord’s lands.
The sensation of death and power that he exuded seemed to grow stronger as he searched the faces of the warriors, and many of them began backing away from him, some of the Preux Chevaliers included.
Grave remained where he was, beyond the line of demons and vampires now forming between him and the newcomer.
The young male ran the claws of his left gauntlet around the curve of his polished black horn and then ran the pad of his thumb across the pointed tip. They looked as if they had been sharpened, made even more deadly.
The longer Grave watched him, the stronger a sensation within him grew, a feeling that he knew the male even though he also felt sure he had never met him before.
He was oddly familiar.
But then, most demons looked the same to him.
The male’s broad bare chest shifted in a deep sigh and he moved his left foot, his shoulders twisting as he went to turn away.
His eyes landed on Grave.
He stilled and narrowed his gaze, and his demeanour darkened, the sense of power that flowed from him becoming a crushing wave as he turned back to face him and lifted his left hand.
Pointed right at Grave.
“You,” the male snarled through sharp fangs and Grave had half a mind to point a finger at his chest and blink hard.
Instead, he remained perfectly still and held his calm façade even as a question pounded in his mind.
What had he done to deserve the bastard’s attention?
He scowled as the ranks of warriors between him and the demon parted, all three factions quick to clear the way, removing themselves from the firing line.
Grave bared his fangs at Asher, daring him to back away any further than he already had.
So a demon of the Devil’s ranks had come to them looking for a fight.
It wasn’t the first time he had fought a demon of his kind and it wouldn’t be the last. He had fought older, stronger demons from the Devil’s domain than this one and lived to tell the tale.
He would mount the bastard’s head on his wall.
Or his entire carcass on the towering metal spikes outside his palace.
The demon pulled his black broadsword free of the rock and dropped to the earth, the obsidian armour on his lower half rattling as he landed hard. He straightened and the warriors around Grave backed off another step. Asher wisely remained where he was, his sword at the ready and his crimson eyes locked on the demon.
Grave calmly walked forwards, into the gap between the two groups of warriors. The situation was turning strange, with warriors who had been fighting to the death just minutes ago now united in silence in the face of a potential new enemy.
An enemy that had singled him out for some damned reason.
“What do you want?” Grave barked and the male’s black eyes darkened.
“You,” he hissed and stalked towards him, crossing the threshold between the realms.
Grave arched an eyebrow. “Any reason why? I was in the middle of a battle so I would like to know why you chose to disturb it and by the looks of things ruin my chances of getting paid for the job we had undertaken.”
“A job,” the demon spat and flexed black clawed fingers around the hilt of his obsidian blade. “For a price you will do anything… kill anyone?”
Maybe the demon had come to buy the services of the Preux Chevaliers.
That thought died when the demon disappeared only to reappear right in front of him, launched a hand out and grabbed him around the throat. He choked as the demon lifted him from the ground by his neck and kicked out, striking hard with his boots, battering the male’s legs.
He sensed Asher rush forwards.
“Retreat,” Grave bit out when the demon turned his black eyes on his men, his elliptical pupils little more than gold slits burning in their centres, and he felt the male’s intent to attack.
Whatever he had done, he could find a way out of it, but he wasn’t going to put his men in the firing line for no reason. He was their captain, their commander, and he was damned if they were going to die because of him.
“Retreat.” He squeezed that word out again and relief poured through him when he heard Asher barking orders to his men and sensed them moving back, drifting into the distance.
The lands around them emptied, leaving him alone with the demon male.
“How very noble,” the demon said, his voice a low purr laced with darkness, fury so strong that Grave could almost feel it sliding over his skin, tugging at his bloodlust. The male’s eyes slid back to him and narrowed again as he studied him, tilting his head to his left. “Odd that you have such an approach with your subordinates when you do not extend that nobility to others.”
Grave frowned and grasped the male’s wrist and hand in an attempt to lessen the pressure on his throat.
The male snarled and tightened his grip in response, and Grave choked as his head felt as if it was going to burst and he swore he could feel his trachea collapsing.
He kicked out again and the male snarled, twisted towards the mountains and hurled him at them. Pain exploded across his back as he slammed into the rock on which the demon had stood and he breathed hard as he collapsed onto the black earth, wheezing as he fought for air.
“Where was your nobility when you murdered my family?” the demon growled and the ground shook with each word, causing small chunks of rock to break off the boulder at Grave’s back and rain down on him.
He closed his eyes and flinched as one struck his temple and he felt the sting, smelled the fresh blood as it bloomed to the surface of the cut.
He had murdered the demon’s family?
“I came only to deliver a message… this time.” The male’s voice was so loud that Grave tensed, his eyes shooting open.
Boots filled his vision.
A face filled it a moment later as the demon hauled him off the ground by his throat again and shoved him against the rock. A face filled with fury, twisted in pain and hatred, darkened by anger. Razor sharp fangs flashed between his teeth as he snarled and his black horns flared further forwards, so close to Grave’s face as the demon leaned towards him that he leaned back, pressing the back of his aching head into the rock.
“I came to deliver a warning.”
Grave swallowed as best he could. He wasn’t sure he should be thankful about the fact he was going to survive this encounter, not when the air around him had slowly turned ominous, a sense of doom steadily growing within him.
“I have spent my years well, Lord Van der Garde,” the male hissed in his face and smiled slowly. “My dark master gave me access to his seers… gave me knowledge and power. I know of Night and Bastian… your brothers… I know of your cousins, Snow and Antoine… I know of their family.”
Grave tried to shake his head. No. He wouldn’t let this bastard target his family because of something he had done.
He lunged forwards and cracked his forehead against the demon’s, and the male grunted and reeled backwards from the force of the blow, his grip loosening. Grave broke free and shoved his hands against the male’s chest, and then darted around him, gaining space and freedom.
He would kill the bastard right here and put an end to his threat.
He ran across the black earth, crimson eyes furiously scanning it for a weapon, any weapon.
The air behind him shifted and the ground slammed into his face, and he cried out as his right scapula shattered under the force of the demon’s blow.
The male leaned over him, bringing his mouth so close to Grave’s right ear that his left horn stabbed into the nape of his neck.
Grave stilled, heart pounding as he felt the press of the male’s horn against his spine. One wrong move and the male would kill him with it, he knew it.
He gritted his teeth and bit back the growl of frustration that wanted to burst from his lips. As soon as the male gave him space, he would find a way to break free again. He had to bide his time. He would find a way to break free and he would find a blade, and he would cut the bastard’s head off.
“Such anger,” the male whispered into his ear. “Imagine how I feel… imagine seven hundred years of waiting… yearning to kill you and your kin as you killed mine before my very eyes… taking my family from me… leaving me to die in that castle… nothing more than a helpless babe.”
A shiver ran down Grave’s spine.
He remembered that night, and he hadn’t been alone in leading the attack on the black castle at the edge of the Devil’s lands. Snow had been with him.
It wasn’t possible the demon had been at the castle though.
They had been thorough, had checked every room, every damned nook and cranny to ensure they had killed the entire family of demons. It had been part of the contract they had been carrying out for the Preux Chevaliers. The Seventh King of demons had wanted the noble family eradicated because they had been sending the more powerful Devil’s demons to raze their lands and kill their people.
It had been a message to the Devil, a warning to remove his cherished elite from the borders of their realms, and it had worked.
But this male had survived, and now he was sending a message to Grave, one he couldn’t dare to ignore.
“Next time our paths cross… I will be delivering the heads of your entire family… one by one.”
The demon stilled and Grave could feel his eyes on his back, close to his hand where it pressed into his broken right shoulder, keeping him pinned face down on the black ground.
Grave gasped as the male ripped the shirt from his back and squeezed his eyes shut as claws raked lightly over his skin, tracing a pattern between his shoulder blades.
“A mating mark,” the demon murmured and continued to follow the lines of it.
Grave swallowed against the bile rising up his throat, fought the flood of vile oily darkness that pulled at his bloodlust as the male stroked his claws across his flesh and his power flowed over him. Into him.
Power that Grave knew he wasn’t strong enough to overcome on the battlefield, not as he was now, weakened by the very mark the male had noticed.
“This is unexpected.” The demon moved his hand to the back of Grave’s head and shoved it down against the rough ground, and he grimaced as pain splintered across his skull. The male leaned closer again and smirked. “Unexpected but not unwelcomed. I will take my time with the female when I find her. Perhaps I will even keep her alive for a while… to serve me.”
Grave snarled and flashed his fangs, unable to keep still any longer. No one touched Isla. No one but him. He was going to be the one to end her, not some demon. Her life was his to take in payment for what she had done to him.
The male pressed harder on his head and he ground his teeth against the pain, stilled beneath the demon, fearing he would crush his skull if he kept fighting him even when he knew the demon wanted him alive.
Wanted him to suffer.
“I will send you to your death soon enough… but first you must witness the bloody end of your family… and you will die with the knowledge that your mate is forever in these hands.” He brought his claws close to Grave’s face and Grave flinched away, unable to stop himself from reacting.
The demon’s smile grew wider. Darker.
And then he was gone.
Grave remained face down on the earth, breathing hard as he battled the sudden flood of emotions, feelings he hadn’t experienced in a very long time.
He rolled onto his back and stared at the dark grey sky of Hell, and the mark on his back warmed, began to tingle as a connection started to open.
He slammed it shut on her, unwilling to allow her to see him like this, shaken and afraid, fearing for his life and that of his family.
He had already lost too many of them.
He pulled down a hard breath, curled his fingers into fists until his claws bit into his palms, and then roared his fury at the sky, stopping only when his lungs burned and head turned. His fangs bit into his gums as he snarled, fury obliterating his fear, darkness destroying the despair.
He was the King of Death, second only to the Devil in this dark realm. A lowly prince of demons was no match for him.
Grave would hunt him down and kill him before he could lay a claw on any of his family.
If the male wanted war, then he would have one.