The Desert of Perdition
It was only two hours before the Red Night. Daphne would have exactly five hours to get in and out of the Desert of Perdition.
Her black boots ended up on her knees. A tight, complete corset covered part of her waist combined with a white, long-sleeved Victorian-style cotton blouse. A small black leather dagger belt was attached to her left thigh. The leather sheath was secured over one shoulder, keeping one of her razor-sharp swords in it. The final piece that completed Daphne’s outfit was a black hooded cape reaching her calves.
Looking at herself one last time in the mirror, the figure of Eve appeared beside her. Her friend’s arms took her by the shoulders.
“Good luck, Plum Cake” Daphne could not help but smile subtly. Plum Cake was the name Eve had given her the week after they had met. She rarely called her that. And although at first Daphne objected to that nickname, she secretly didn’t mind.
She hugged Eve one more time. When she parted from her embrace, she looked at the shadows and spoke out loud. “Take me to the Desert of Perdition.”
Shadows wrapped her body, transporting it to the place where that prisoner was supposed to be.
Daphne had finally arrived, and the hours began to count. Before her eyes, a desert of cracked soil was spreading everywhere. A kind of steamy smoke was rising from the cracks. Some sort of dry, leafless trees stood not very upright. Their trunks were dark blue and wrinkled. Their bare branches were covered with huge blackthorns.
Daphne glanced up. The sky in this part of the Kingdom was now in red and silver shades, overshadowing the surroundings with reddish glints.
Further ahead, she could see as if an accumulation of those trees with long thorns and wrinkled trunks were giving shape to what looked like a forest.
She could only hope that this place was really desolate.
“We can’t take you through the Forest of Torments. You must walk. Once you get out of there, we can take you.” The shadows spoke.
“We need to find anything that indicates a possible prison or entrance to something,” Daphne answered them.
“Understood,” said the shadows in unison.
“Once you find something, come to get me.” Daphne started walking towards the thorn trees.
Every step of the way, she avoided the smoke that came out from between the cracks in the ground, always maintaining her alertness, looking everywhere. She had no idea what kind of creatures inhabited this place. Approaching what seemed like an impenetrable forest, Daphne noticed that the ground was beginning to change to black sandy soil. Carefully she stepped forward, avoiding branches that could hurt her face.
A long time had passed, and Daphne was still walking, eluding the long thorns in the branches and trunks. As she went further, she couldn’t help but feel the impression of being watched. Something that made her hair stand on end. From her forehead, drops of sweat began to run down her face. There was no breeze blowing through the place.
She stopped short, her eyes inspecting the surroundings. Only thorns and more trees circled around her. Would she have gotten lost? She looked up. At least she could still see the red sky. She had no idea where she was going. Could it be that she was walking in circles? Could it be that she was moving further away from the place?
There was no time to waste. More determined than ever and trying to free herself from the frustration she was starting to feel, Daphne kept going, pushing the branches further away.
For several minutes she continued, and finally, she noticed that the trees were beginning to recede, making way for a less thick forest. Her boots began to sink into the muddy ground.
“Daphneeee,” A familiar voice beckoned to her. Daphne scanned the area, looking for the owner of that voice.
“Here, my dear, here I am.”
Her eyes did not believe the person who was calling her. “Mother?”
“Yes, dear, I’ve missed you, Daphne.”
Her mother was standing in front of her a few feet away, wearing the same clothes as when Daphne last saw her. The woman approached, placing the palm of her hand on Daphne’s cheek. “I have missed you so much, my child, you have finally come. I am happy; we will be together again”.
Daphne frowned. Her mother had never referred to her in that way before. That woman barely paid any attention to her and her brother, eventually abandoning them when James was just a boy of about eleven.
It was impossible for her mother to remain alive all this time and wearing such a dress. She smiled at her mother, reaching out to her in an attempt to embrace her. “I have missed you too, mother.”
The smile of the woman froze when a dagger was thrust into her stomach.
Daphne’s face darkened. “You are not my mother.”
The woman’s brown eyes became yellow with a thin black pupil, similar to a snake’s eyes.
She witnessed the creature transforming into its true self. Its body lengthened, leaving a red skin and a bony frame. It was at least seven feet tall. Its teeth were sharp. Its hands looked like those of mortals, except that from its fingers, long, pointed yellow nails expanded from them—a monstrous image.
The creature began to roar, craving the death of the one who had attacked it. Some of its blood, dark blue in appearance, was coming out of its belly. Without further warning, the creature lunged at Daphne. Trying to tear her apart with its hands. Daphne dodged every attack. She threw strikes with her sword, injuring the beast with small cuts on its legs and arms.
Another terrifying scream came from the creature’s throat who lunged at her once more, only this time she lost her sword, being crushed practically by the hands of the redskin monster.
She started running, not looking back, she could hear the creature hunting her. The further she went, the muddier and denser the ground became, causing her speed to gradually decrease. The murderous screams continued to reverberate throughout the gloomy place.
Daphne stumbled unexpectedly. She turned quickly in time to avoid the creature’s bite. Her hands were pushing firmly on the sharp teeth that were meant to cut into her. She grabbed a handful of mud and threw it into the creature’s eyes, blinding it for a moment. Taking the opportunity, she stood up and quickly plucked out one of the thorns, and before the beast threw itself in one last attempt, the thick thorn was buried in its chest. The creature staggered and groaned, falling to the ground.
Daphne was panting. Her hands were bleeding from the sharpened teeth of the beast; her clothes were muddy. Taking another deep breath, she turned and headed back down the path.
The mud was gradually beginning to reach her ankles. She did not know how much longer she would have to wait to find the demon. The shadows had not yet returned. At least three hours had passed since she had entered this horrible place.
In one of her footsteps, she fell into a muddy swamp, but the strange thing was that she did not feel the bottom.
“Oh, no, no, no, no!” She exclaimed alarmed.
The mud had begun to sink her. Her despair began to replace all her emotions. There were no branches, no single object that she could reach. Trying to swim to the spot where she was initially walking before she fell but in vain. The mud now got her chest. It swallowed her fast, very fast as if it was so hungry for something that it needed to devour her as quickly as possible.
Her screams could be heard everywhere. No matter who happened to show up, she just wanted the shadows to come in time to rescue her.
The swamp now covered her neck. With difficulty, she raised a hand in the air. Even in despair, she was only crying out for rescue. Her face lit up when she saw her demented saviors. A claw grabbed her and tightly released her from her torment. The swirl of shadows enveloped her, disappearing from there.
She reached the edge of a huge, wide gap with no apparent end in sight.
“ We think the demon may be down here.” The shadows spoke in unison.
“Let’s go,” Daphne commanded.
Wrapped in her allies, the darkness swallowed her up, welcoming the unknown. Her feet landed on solid ground.
Her eyes caught sight of a narrow underground passage. It was quite dark, and Daphne could barely see what was in front of her.
“I can’t see anything.”
“We will be your eyes.”
She felt the shadows clutching her arm as if they had materialized themselves. After walking through several passages, her pupils reacted to the flames’ sudden light from multiple torches. They began to ignite one by one, revealing a smooth stone wall in front of her.
There was no sign of any entrance.
“Is this the place?” She asked the shadows, who did not answer her but began to talk and laugh like lunatics among themselves.
She approached the wall. Her fingers registered the traces of some letters in Hoaxan engraved on it. The language of the witches.
“I can’t read this,” Daphne spoke to the shadows.
“Take another look.”
The letters went from being unknown to being understandable. What magic is this? Daphne thought. Then she read.
I am round, and I am not a wheel. I look like the Moon, but I don’t shine like one. I was born for your hands. Yet my aim is to let what is hidden to be shown.
“It’s a riddle,” Daphne said.
She read again and again. The answer would be the key to open a passage.
A battle was occurring in her mind, trying to guess the answer. The shadows didn’t respond to her request to help her solve the riddle.
Her eyes began to run along the wall in search of something, of what? She didn’t know exactly. But that’s when she spotted near a corner to her right, a rarely shaped structure.
Unable to decipher what object would fit into that hole, she returned to the riddle.
“I am round, and I am not a wheel. I look like the Moon, but I don’t shine like one. I was born for your hands. Yet my aim is to let what is hidden be shown... I am round, and I am not a wheel...I am round, and I am not a wheel... I was born for your hands.” Daphne looked at her hands. “What was born for my hands? Round and not a wheel... A ring!” She exclaimed. “I look like the Moon, but I don’t glow like it. The Moon looks grey with white flashes...as if...as if it were silver. The key is a ring.” Daphne remembered, at the same time, the ring of Agate.
All this time, I had the key to open this damn place. She thought in astonishment.
With the ring in her hand, she took it to that structure in the wall she had seen before, believing that perhaps that would be the right place. The ring fitted perfectly. A thunderous noise was the first sign that the wall was beginning to open, splitting in two, forming a double door. Dust and a few other small stones were falling to the ground.
Daphne had started walking, going into what looked like a cave, when she stopped in her tracks. Her amber eyes clashed with the demon’s wicked gaze, who was gazing at her for the first time.