A few hours earlier
An absolute vacuum, that was the first thing. The silence was the second. Her vision was being blocked by the blackness of the place. Her ears were buried in a state of silence as she did not hear any noise that would give away her location.
The confusion was wreaking havoc on her mind, and fear was shaking her body. Daphne’s bare feet stepped on the tiny particles of stone on the rough ground. Her legs were hesitant to move forward or stay put.
In a moment, she was walking to her room. And at another, a pair of hands grabbed her and left her here.
A glow burst out in front of her. Daphne covered her eyes and blinked several times. Orange flashes with a mixture of bright cherry red rippled over her head. The flame barely lit up around her, but it was luminous enough to reassure her. As time passed, her vision became lighter.
As she looked around the place, she noticed a humid and dark cave, despite its sepulchral appearance, was spacious. Long twisted branches, one on top of the other, were stuck to those thorns she had already seen. They were vines that came from the rocky roof. A familiar, unsettling, and claustrophobic feeling were evident. Her gaze crawled over every detail, realizing where she finally was.
By no means was this a product of her mind, no. Her feet were nailed to the ground, absorbing reality. Daphne was not aware that someone else was in there, only that he was hiding in the shadows and had been watching her the whole time.
The figure decided to reveal itself, and she turned towards the noise of those steps.
“Why did you bring me here?” She asked, somewhat panicked. The head of the demon group that attacked her in her house was standing in front of her. The bare muscles of his strong arms, his ominous face, and his sunken eyes made him look both belligerent and intimidating.
Daphne also noticed that a warrior-leather bracelet covered from his wrists to his forearms on each arm. The bracelets bore the insignia of the Realm.
She turned around, as the demonic figure was not paying attention to her but to someone else. The King of the Demons, dressed in his dark purple suit, with part of his black shirt sticking out of his neck, revealed himself to be unyielding, attractive, and evil.
With his eyes fixed on her, Rothvaln was deliberating her sentence. “I didn’t want it to come to this, Daphne, but you leave me no choice.”
“I allowed you to make amends for your mistakes. I gave you time to consider, but I see you chose another path.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t play the foolish whore,” the other demon spat at her.
“I was informed that Lorcan appeared in your house to save the damsel in distress,” Rothvaln claimed.
“Rothvaln, he didn’t do it for that purpose.”
“Oh, so it’s true?” he laughed humorlessly. “What did he want, then?”
Daphne kept quiet.
“You won’t talk?”
She lowered her eyes to the ground. If she confessed everything now, her brother James could be in danger. Because even if Stelios told her that James had somehow made a friend in that dangerous circle, she did not believe that the Lords would be able to save her brother’s life over theirs.
“Daphne, Daphne... my dear Daphne” Rothvaln was surrounding her now. “As much as I try to offer you the opportunity to redeem yourself, you still choose to keep silent about the truth.” The low tone of his voice reached her ear like a ghostly whisper.
She did not miss the moment when the King gave the other demon a meaningful glance.
Standing there in the middle of the disturbing prison where Lorcan had been before, Daphne found herself in a sea of despair. She struggled in instinctive fear as rough arms dragged her towards the vicious flowers made of thorns sprouting from the branches.
Daphne did not beg. She struggled silently, trying to get away from her captor. But her strength could not be compared to his. Only when the branches acted independently by imprisoning her did she stop. Her arms were now bound and extended to both sides.
“Aaaah,” Daphne shouted wobbly. The sudden pain in her back had taken her by surprise.
Another shuddering scream escaped her. Her eyes quickly filled with tears—perfidious tears in Rothvaln’s eyes.
She looked up at her executioner. A long, red, thin whip was held in his fist.
Her skin was burning, the intense and constant pain of her new wounds was rapidly weakening her.
“My King,” the demon said. “You must see this.”
Rothvaln removed the torn and bloodstained cloth from her back. His henchman could detect the clenched jaw of his King, who hid his disbelief to perfection. Only one thought ruled in his preoccupied mind: she could not belong to anyone else but him.
“Tell me...” he stopped in front of her. “How did you get the mark?”
She only closed her eyes, squeezing them and the tears that had accumulated in them finally ran down her cheeks.
“Who else knows you have the mark?.” He asked again. The anger in his voice was palpable.
“Nobody knows but you.” She said in a whisper.
“Don’t lie to me!” Rothvaln shouted at her.
“Nobody else knows, I swear.” She lied, lied for her brother’s safety, lied for Bossurk’s sake, and lied because she now recognized his infinite cruelty.
“How did you get the mark? Who told you about Lorcan?”
She did not answer him.
Zass! Zass! Zass! The whippings continued one after the other, with more fury. Each lash showed the resentment and contempt of his torturer, savoring his moment of revenge. Daphne did not beg, she did not cry again, she did not scream again, swallowing her pain.
“Impossible.” The demon said, interrupting the whipping.
“What’s going on?” Rothvaln asked.
“Her mark...” Rothvaln approached her. His eyes witnessed the broken skin where the mark was closing quickly, leaving it intact.
“Keep going, ” He ordered with indifference.
It didn’t matter if her mark wasn’t cracked. The rest of her back was.
“I want you to understand something, my dear,” Rothvaln started to say, from his position, unaffected by her. “No matter what, you will always be mine and no one else’s.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked and then swallowed a high-pitched cry after another lash.
And that’s when he understood: she didn’t know. Daphne saw how his face drew a strange and disdainful smile.
“Will you still say nothing?” Mmm?” he asked again. “Is it really worth protecting him?”
She could not formulate a clear answer, not with the immense pain spreading through her body. For James, I would do anything. I would endure a thousand hells. No matter what.
But she did not know the real intent of the question.
Please give me strength, I beg you. I need to be able to keep going. I need to protect James. Please give me the power I need.
Between each lash, drowned in real horror, and in her hopelessness, her silent prayers were the plea for her salvation.
The flames that rippled in the air moved brusquely and suddenly. A light wind blew and reached her face. The lashing stopped. Rothvaln and the demon were searching around them. It was impossible for there to be any breeze inside this place.
Daphne’s vision had become blurred at some point, drenched in sweat, the blood coursing through her body, and the lingering pain draining her strength.
She looked up, and Rothvaln’s blurred face was becoming more distinct. The cave that seemed to be poorly lit at first could now be clearly seen. She dragged her eyes around. Those branches of dark thorns that she had always seen now shone as if thousands of minuscule diamonds were all embedded together. It was a beautiful image in a dark and secluded place. She blinked aggressively, verifying that everything was just an illusion. But the images she was seeing came and went. And they seemed very real at the end.
But there was something else, she wasn’t sure, but she could sense it. It was like a dose of adrenaline. A shudder accompanied by a disturbing agitation was injected into her body.
Neither Rothvaln nor the other demon had noticed the subtle change in her.
The noise caught the attention of both. The sound of falling branches caused Rothvaln to turn around. Daphne had slipped out of her chains.
She paused in her hands, surprised even by the strength she suddenly possessed. The King of Demons looked at her perplexed, not believing that she was strong enough to get rid of those thick stems. It was impossible for a mere mortal. Only she was no ordinary one. She was much more than that, and he knew it.
The drops ran down her back, liquid and red. Her face was pale and drenched in sweat.
The crack of the whip made her fall to the ground abruptly. Which one was this? She had already lost count. Her skin was being torn away, her mark still intact, like an entity with a life of its own.
“Tell me the truth!” Rothvaln had lost his patience. Daphne looked at him with a mixture of fury and pain.
“You asked for it” With the snap of his fingers, a young woman appeared.
Daphne’s eyes widened. “Please don’t do this,” she implored.
He took Eve by the throat, who started to whine as the oxygen began to disappear. Her nails tried uselessly to scratch him in an attempt to get loose.
“Nooo! Don’t do it,” Daphne cried out, imploring this cruel demon for the life of her friend. “Please don’t do it, I’ll tell you everything” she looked at her friend, finally feeling defeated.
“Start talking!” Rothvaln shouted at her furiously, taking away Eve’s last sparks of life.
Meanwhile, a few stealthy steps through the gloom of the sordid thorn forest attracted the hungry gaze of the creatures that lived there.
“Bring her to me.” The deep, firm, intimidating voice gave the order.
A dozen creatures rushed to the prison where Daphne was held.
On the other hand, Rothvaln released Eve from his grip when he felt a vibration. The demon with the whip still in his hand, recoiled by instinct. And Daphne, who was continually watching Eve’s body, had started to crawl to her aid.
The horrible screech of dozens of redskin creatures rushed in unison, entering the cave in numbers.
As Rothvaln and the other demon faced this new enemy, Daphne rushed to find Eve coughing heavily. Soon the creatures were being quickly exterminated.
“Eve! Get up! We have to go... Aaah!” An agonizing cry escaped from her as she was caught in the clutches of one of the creatures. “Eve!” “Let go of me!” “Eve!” she started to fight too. But the beast rushed to the exit.
At the end of the passage, giant wings spread from her captor, who began to flap them until she came out.
Daphne found herself flying over the Desert of Perdition.
The creature began to descend, and fearing that it would fall into the mantle of thorns, she raised her arms to protect her head from the impact. But the creature released her on the muddy ground safely.
Feeling the touch of a hand on her bare shoulder, she turned to see who it was and found herself standing in front of a cabin.