To Hell and Back - 13 | viii

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They came through using three portals. One created by Ava, the other two by Cale and Rea. On the other side, they emerged on the field of battle in Hedgewood. The ground was scarred black. Trees toppled over and uprooted. It looked like a nuclear weapon went off turning black everything in its path. The familiarity of the scene had an itch running down Marx's spine. This place was either where they would claim victory or where he would walk over the corpses of the people he loved. He brushed his somber thoughts aside. Victory was their only option.

To Ava who stood on his right, he said, "Your handy work?"

"I may have caused a patch here and there."

She bobbed her head from side to side, as she said that. It was such a human gesture Marx found he had an urge to smile. He allowed his amusement to light his eyes, his lips remaining in a stern line.

"Seems he was expecting us," Marx said, directing his gaze to the scene they faced.

In front of them, the army of their foe was spread out already holding their battle lines. There were human soldiers, all possessed. Gollums intersperse between them and to the rear. Above the sky swarmed with shadows attacking shadows. For now, the battle in the heavens was holding even, on the ground the war was about to begin.

"Ah, I don't believe I have met your new comrades," Kunz said. "I am Kunz Le Granc Dubes, King of the Shadows, ruler of Lansguard. And you will all be?"

"Not interested," Shea called out from behind Marx.

A snicker came from Bryan and Yuri. When Marx glanced over his shoulder at them both men straightened their backs, the smiles melting from their faces. It was something that amusement could be found in the heights of everything around them. What they didn't want to do, however, was antagonize the man more than they had to. However, on the other hand, pride did go before a fall and Kunz struck him as the type to carry his pride like extra baggage. Marx made a note of that.

Kunz did not show any offense as he carried on a cruel gleam in his eyes. Seeing Salvay's face did not throw Marx at all. They were a fitting pair. "Thanks to my new vessel," Kunz said, "I know all that I need to—Shea." He directed his gaze to Marx. "Marx, the Alpha." His gaze shifted. "Penny, the Unknown. Sven," he titled his head to the side regarding Daniel. "I can see through the mask you wear," Kunz called out the names of all the leaders. "A Native," he said, referring to Roan. "Fighting with the enemy? Did your creations not chase you into this world?"

"You are the enemy," Roan replied.

"This is your last chance to go back to Lansguard," Marx said, knowing it was an out Kunz would never consider. "Leave, and we may let you live."

Through his peripheral vision, he saw Ava give him a side eye. She was not planning to accept Kunz's surrender any more than Kunz was planning to make one.

"Let me live?" Kunz asked amused. "You are all outmatched, even with the Book of Shadows Avana, my Queen as a mountain to climb." He said the word 'mountain' with more meaning than Marx was comfortable with. In his statement was a veiled threat. No, defeat was not an option.

"She has surprised us many times since we've met her. Perhaps she will surprise you. I doubt she is the same person you remember."

"Mayhap," Kunz agreed. He lifted his head to look at the sky. "Or perhaps I will be the one with a few surprises."

"Enough of this talk, Kunz," Cale said. "You may seek to delay your demise, but you cannot avoid it."

"Very well old friend." A rune formed underneath Kunz's feet. It levitated, rising into the air taking the King of Shadows with it. Rea and Cale followed suit with their own floating runes.

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