The days had passed. What did it matter to count them when all Daphne could think of were those terrified innocents running through the Desert of Perdition, fleeing from the red-skinned beasts.
Every time she closed her eyes, she heard the victims’ pleading cries and saw the faces of those who sought shelter among the thorn trees.
Rothvaln had taken her there every day. She once again had to show apathy. Once again, she had to be apathetic, hearing the screams from within the dense forest, as each one of the demons came to an eerie end. Each time, after those murderous creatures had finished with their prey, Rothvaln demanded a kiss. And she, pretending as best she could, answered his wish as if it was the only thing she ever wanted.
Daphne believed there would be some triumph after kissing him. Except that the sickening, guilt-ridden feeling was even more acute. Avina had warned her. The poison would not have the same effect on Rothvaln as it did on other demons. But Daphne had to embrace any method possible to weaken him. Though the outcome was slow, at least she had begun to notice the results.
Rothvaln was gradually becoming weak. The wretch did not realize that for every kiss he demanded, he was getting closer to his doom. He had no idea what was happening to him. While he kissed her, the poison, made of Fae’s blood, was at work.
Perhaps the method of overthrowing the false King wasn’t the most convincing or wise. But Daphne had found no other way to reach him and gain his trust. No one else could send the Rothvaln into the Abyss.
A pact bound Lorcan and the Lords. And the rest were not strong and capable enough to send him into the bottomless pit. Not if they wished to face the fury of the demon who held the Realm’s power.
Daphne was now wearing a shimmering tulle over a solid toned fabric. Her sheer shoulders, with long, slender sleeves in shades of black and dark purple with dazzling glitter. And her crimson-red lips were the purest vision of a Queen.
Rothvaln had left her in that prison for two more days. Until he couldn’t bear to be away from her, couldn’t handle the physical pain of not having her. It was more than a kiss that he hungered for. He wanted to ravish her and leave her ecstatic. And as much as Daphne dodged his intentions, Rothvaln failed to notice. The false King was being manipulated by each of those times he sought her lips.
Yet, she fought against weakness. The more she smeared the crimson cream made of Fae’s blood, the longer the confusion grew. It was becoming harder to stay focused. But her ruin was necessary to restore Lorcan’s power.
No word had been heard from him. Since then, he hadn’t come back for her, not even the Lords. And while that might well be a consolation, it wasn’t a relief to her. Because Lorcan wasn’t the type to sit idly by, maybe he’d given up on Daphne quicker than she’d thought. Or perhaps he was planning something else.
She had to act faster on her plan.
“My dear,” Rothvaln devoured her with his gaze. And she, as if it were her mate, offered her lips to him, who took them eagerly. “It’s time to go.”
With hidden reluctance, Daphne accepted the proffered hand. Today something was foreshadowing the outcome. She could feel it in her very bones.
Once again, they both reappeared in the Desert of Perdition. Daphne was dressed to witness a death sentence. Disgust for Rothvaln surfaced once more. That was the only thing he could provoke in her.
The edge of her dress became muddy as she moved forward with him.
Walking through the twisted trees filled with those thorns like sharp stingers was like entering the gates of Death. She could feel her shoes sinking into the mud and feel it sticking to her toes.
Rothvaln had not spoken since they arrived. His face did not look stern but expectant. She noticed how those thorns were thickening as they advanced further into the unknown as more trees were added.
The thorn-cleared path was narrowing rapidly.
“Where are we going?” Daphne said. He did not answer, but he led her to a part of the forest where the path began again. And they stopped.
Her eyes moved from left to right. She was looking for something without knowing exactly what. Rothvaln was awfully quiet, yet his eyes were watching something above them.
Daphne dragged her gaze upwards.
She held her breath.
The colors drained from her face.
Thin branches with small thorns were entwined around a woman’s wrists. Her immobile body looked dead, but she was not. The woman was stiffened by the large thorns protruding from the trees encircling her. If she moved even a little, the sharp thorns would pierce her skin.
Daphne couldn’t take her eyes off her. The woman, blood-stained face, eyes closed and hanging by her wrists, was her friend, Eve.
“Eve!” Daphne screamed, running towards her, but she was stopped by Rothvaln’s hand.
“I don’t think she can hear you.”
“Please, Rothvaln! Please don’t do this. I beg you.” Daphne could take no more, pulling off the mask of indifference. She didn’t save the others, but she needed to save her friend.
He cautiously studied her, observing as tears streamed down her face. Moving closer to her, he placed his fingers on her chin and placed a kiss on her lips. Daphne did not respond this time.
“Please, I beg you, don’t do this.” She said, sobbing. “Please. Let her go.”
“I can’t.” He said calmly.
“Please, I’m begging you. Not her.”
Rothvaln stared at her. After a slight sigh and with the corners of his lips turned up slightly, he said, “Not once did you beg for the others, and now you beg for her.”
Those words sank into Daphne’s heart. A terrible realization of how selfish and guilty she was that she had not tried to save the many others who perished on the very ground she was now standing on. And yet, it only took one of her loved ones to make her beg.
She stopped sobbing, but her tears were still falling.
She was as to blame as he was. She deserved nothing less than to die, to pay with her life for all the times she had failed to plead for the lives of the other demons.
With a snap of his fingers, Eve fell to the filthy ground. Unconscious and in bad shape. Some of her clothes were torn from the whipping.
Daphne went to approach her.
Daphne froze in her tracks as she heard him. Eve’s body disappeared from there.
“Where did you take her?”
“Don’t worry, she’ll stay for now in the same prison you already know.” Remnants of tears rolled down her cheeks. “Ah dear, you don’t have to cry. I did as you asked.” Rothvaln stood behind her, kissing her neck. “You and I are not so different, Daphne. It doesn’t matter who we are hurting when we fight for what we want. You are perfect, my dear, perfect to be my Queen.” He whispered in her ear, stroking some of her hair.
No! we are not the same. Daphne thought.
I am not like you.
I’m not like you.
Eyes closed, hating herself with heart-rending desire. Her ears filled with the memory of the screams of those who perished in this place. Her vision, with lifeless faces covered in their own blood.
Bile threatened to rise from her as she relived the times she had to kiss him, the times she had to smile when all she wanted was to destroy him once and for all. She tried; she really did.
She tried to stick to her plan, smearing her lips with poison, inflicting the same peril herself and feeling weak each time. But she could no longer go on. Not when her dislike for him was growing in rhythm with her own breathing.
Something began to build inside her, in her mind, in her heart, in her soul. Deep anger took over her body, clouding that part of her mind that knows right from wrong. It was like a tornado that swept her emotions, stripping them away, leaving only a void in her chest, something raw and callous emerging in her core.
Rothvaln frowned, recoiling at the sight of Daphne’s darkened skin. Her eyes turned black and empty.
A power ravaged her whole being. She felt it in the depths of her mind.
The damned thorns she detested so much had begun to elongate even further as if she were a magnet responding to its power.
“Daphne, stop!” Rothvaln ordered her. Thunder-like noises caught his attention. The reddish sky had formed circles of clouds that resembled whirlwinds. The Realm was speaking back to her and accepting her as its rightful Queen, offering her fate.
Rothvaln tried to stop her by the art of immobilizing her entirely with a snap of his fingers. But it did not affect her.
Tremors could be felt in the Demon Realm. Rothvaln sensed it, and the rest of the demons did too.
He lunged at Daphne, and without his foreseeing it, she locked him in place with a single glance. She grabbed his neck with the strength of a high-ranking demon. Rothvaln tried to deploy his power to tame her to his will, but it did not work.
The thorns that lived in the branches and trunks of the trees stretched even further. The Desert of Perdition was filled with shrieking from the red beasts. Hundreds of them surrounded the two of them.
Rothvaln ordered them to attack Daphne. The beasts tried to obey but stopped when they met her eyes. He was petrified when he saw her too.
Through those black eyes, the mists were there.
Somewhere in the depths of her mind, Daphne watched what she was doing. Letting the Darkness that now inhabited her do its work.
She couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t wait patiently for this miserable wretch to be at her mercy.
Eve was the trigger. She just couldn’t handle it anymore. And though she wasn’t sure what was happening to her body, to her mind, and that new feeling of fearing nothing, Daphne accepted the Darkness in her—watching it as if it were her reflection with a grim smile on her face.
The cries of the creatures turned to silence. The forest of thorns also was gone, leaving now only a sea of mists moving beneath them.
Rothvaln found himself in the Abyss, standing on that bridge that connected the entrance to the black-boned palace that loomed with mournful magnificence.
He struggled now with growing panic. How could she possess such power? He brought his gaze to hers, trying to break free of her grip, but he could not. He still felt the power of the Realm in him, but it wasn’t working against her. He tried to summon the Abyss, hoping it would envelop Daphne in its mists and take her away.
And Daphne smiled. With satisfaction.
“What’s wrong? The Abyss isn’t responding?” she said. Her voice was Daphne’s, but Rothvaln knew something else was exerting its dominance on her.
She sensed the hideous demon summoning the Abyss over and over again. And she could only smile in derision.
She let go of Rothvaln suddenly, and he went to grab her once and for all, take advantage and finish her off. But once again, he was pinned to the floor of the rock bridge.
Rothvaln growled loudly, his long horns protruding from his head, his skin dark, his eyes completely black, and his fangs long, and Daphne just stared.
He couldn’t end up like this. The bloody woman had to die. And with all his might, he summoned the Abyss once more. The mists below them began to rise, searching for the intruders.
But still, nothing more occurred. In all his demon glory, Rothvaln was at Daphne’s mercy.
“Who are you?” He asked, restrained again.
Daphne approached his lips, without kissing them, and said softly. “I am the Abyss.” And she blew subtly in his face. The mist came out of her mouth. Rothvaln’s eyes widened, and the last thing he felt was the free fall into the depths of the Abyss.
Then there was only silence.
Daphne closed her eyes.
This place finally felt like home.