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Screams boomed down the narrow corridor as two guards dragged me back to my cramped cell, walls of hewn stone stretching for miles. After being tortured for hours, I couldn’t stand, let alone fight, so the dux demons didn’t bother shackling my feet.
The big one on the left released my arm to unlock the barred door, and I dropped to my knee while the other one kept me from completely collapsing. They released the cuffs around my wrists and tossed me inside, my cheek scraping the rough ground.
“I don’t see the reason for the extra security on this one, Tajeed.” The guard sneered while the yellow lights cast a sallow glow over his scaly green skin. “Prisoner 487331 is nothing more than a weakling shifter. The dampening sigil prevents her from fully changing anyway.”
A number was all I was to most guards. Unless they were in Venna’s trusted circle in Heldrok, no one knew who I was or what I’d done to get thrown in here.
“She’s much more than what she appears, Vankis.” The dux demon’s midnight horns curled from his forehead and disappeared into the shadows high in the ceiling. “Why do you think a royal demon is visiting Heldrok to torture her?”
Vankis huffed. “I could stomp on this little girl and ground her bones into dust.”
I rolled onto my back, gritting my teeth from the pain shooting through my extremities. “You can try.” Why was I goading this demon? I was in no shape to take him. Still, I couldn’t stop my hand from lifting to flip him off. “Remove this sigil if you really want to know the truth.”
“You’ll be dead in seconds, sigil or not.” Vankis’s heavy foot stepped into my cell, but the other guard yanked him back.
Tajeed slammed the door and locked it. “You have to do a lot better than that pathetic excuse to escape. Even if you managed to get the sigil off, you won’t make it out the doors of this place.”
They pivoted and trudged down the hall, leaving me in a heap on the hard, cold ground.
Why would it matter if I remained on the floor? The thin, lumpy cot wasn’t much better.
But Fane would tell me to drag myself off the ground.
A sharp bolt of pain hit my heart at the thought of the demon shifter. There was a time when his image brought on bouts of rage and disappointment. Now, I ached for him.
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Fuck. I missed Fane. It felt like I hadn’t seen or touched him in years. Honestly, I had no idea how long we’d been in Heldrok. When we arrived at the onyx castle perched on a high cliff in the Underworld, Venna ordered the guards to separate us.
We hadn’t been able to visit each other outside of our bodies either. The dampening sigil each prisoner was given blocked most magic, but I’d hoped our bond was strong enough to break through.
I choked back the lump growing in my throat and pushed onto my hands and knees, crawling the few inches to the cot. The mildew, blood, and sweat aroma stirred as I climbed onto the uneven mattress. Fires burst through my body while I settled on my back, breathing heavily from the exertion and pain. Familiar cracks in the stone ceiling greeted me, and the spider in the corner hunkered down in his web.
Was he a regular, run-of-the-mill arachnid or a sub-demon biding his time to reveal his grotesque form right before he attacked me?
In this hellhole, probably the latter.
Another long shriek ricocheted down the hall, setting off more from the other captives. Their anguished cries pummeled my eardrums, so I slammed my hands over them, but muting that sense cast more attention on the others, especially smell. Being a shifter—even one who couldn’t transform—in this place wreaked havoc on my nose.
Death, rot, sweat, and blood perfumed every corner of Heldrok I’d visited, which wasn’t a lot. Venna kept me isolated. I’d only seen the inside of my cell, torture chambers, and the large shower room when the guards escorted me to bathe—while they watched. And not all of them had purely professional intentions. The lust pouring off them had my stomach churning and bile shooting up my esophagus. It reminded me of being in a few foster homes that weren’t as kind as they appeared on the outside.
When I showered, Mr. Bowden’s sweat, chlorine, and liquor odor would clog my nostrils like he stood right behind me. I’d check over my shoulder to find that one or both guards had stepped closer.
It was times like those I’d wish for the Infernal Sol’s dark power.
As I ran my hand just below my ribs, nothing stirred. The Infernal Sol remained dormant after they branded the dampening sigil on me. Blinding pain seared my veins as the high demon stamped that device on my arm and whispered a spell to mark me with the symbol that drained my shifter and demon power. I’d felt the moment they did it to Fane too, and then our bond quieted to a low hum.
My fingers trembled as I unbuttoned the orange jumpsuit and slid it down my arm to unveil the black symbol in the shape of interlocking triangles and swirls marring my flesh. Many prisoners had tried to destroy the mark or slice it off, resulting in a flood of pain so intense most passed out and pissed themselves.
This wasn’t the type of sigil you could simply cut off. An incantation weaved through it, tying the symbol to each individual. Shifters couldn’t fully transform. Vampire and demon strength and speed were greatly diminished. Any elemental magic in fae was unreachable, as was the magic within a witch. No one could use compulsion either.
Venna tried several ways to claw the Infernal Sol out of me without success. It only resulted in a shit-ton of pain on my part and frustration on hers. She couldn’t cut the amulet out without that dagger Furic left in Ruin’s house, and even that might not have been successful.
After Furic had attempted it, I tapped into the Infernal Sol’s magic and allowed it to take control. I plucked out his fears and made him experience them, feeding off his screams and torment. Even though the Infernal Sol was in in the driver’s seat, the real me was there the entire time. And I didn’t want to stop the mayhem.
In fact, I’d wanted more.
I finally took back the reins when Fane’s fear for his mother washed over me. Venna had snatched Kesandra to force the demon shifter’s compliance and mine by proxy. She knew I wouldn’t trade my life for Fane’s mother’s.
However, when Fane and I willingly went with Venna and Mykel to keep Kesandra safe, I didn’t realize how difficult escaping Heldrok would be.
Damn near impossible.
I rolled onto my side, wincing as flares of pain whipped through my body.
I’d been through worse. I could keep going.
As those words repeated in my mind, I bit my lip to keep the sobs in as a few tears rolled down my cheeks. My lids grew heavy from exhaustion. Fane wouldn’t give up, and neither would I.
It was just so fucking hard.
I closed my eyes and pictured the demon shifter stretched out behind me, holding me. It felt like a hand caressed my back, and warmth leaked through my veins, restoring my energy.
A sob slipped out as Fane’s nickname for me swirled into my ears. I could almost smell his leather and bergamot fragrance.
I had no idea if this was real or simply my tired soul seeking comfort, but I pretended Fane was with me. The soothing touch on my back lulled me to sleep, and the last thing I heard before the darkness pulled me under was my nickname again.
Snarls startled me awake, and I scrambled into a sitting position, pressing my back into the abrasive wall as four guards shoved a dux and a high demon down the hall. The inmates still donned regular clothes, so they just arrived in Heldrok.
“The dampening sigil isn’t doing much to drain their strength,” Vankis hissed as he struggled with the male dux demon.
The other guard holding onto the prisoner’s left side cursed. “These two are absolutely out of control. I don’t think anything will stop them except for knocking them out with a spell.”
“Let’s get a witch CO to meet us.” The female guard dug her talons into the high demon as he bucked in her grip. “I’m not a bull wrangler.”
Ice coiled through my bloodstream as the four officers struggled to keep the two inmates still. The high demon prisoner locked eyes with me, and the only thing within those onyx depths was hunger.
Drool slid down his chin as he sniffed the air and then charged toward the bars of my cell. Metal rattled as he tried to bust inside.
My hands curled into fists, and my muscles tensed, poised for a fight. Noticing what had caught the other inmate’s attention, the dux demon fought his guards to get to my cell. They reminded me of the beasts who attacked Roxie and Hawk when I escaped from Ruin’s and also the high and royal who tried to suck my soul in Mohan Wilds the night of the agrigon attack.
What the hell was going on with these demons?
The guards cursed and struggled to maintain control of the new inmates. “These aren’t the first two who have acted like this,” the female said.
“I had one just the other day.” Vankis snatched the dux demon by his horns and yanked him from the bars of my cell. “The bastard almost bit my nose off.”
The four officers finally wrestled the two inmates down the hall, disappearing from my sight, and the growls and snapping teeth faded. The sallow yellow bulbs barely lighting the corridor glowed on a lump of metal a few feet from my cell.
No fucking way.
My heart pounded as I bolted out of my bed, wincing from the explosion of fireworks in my tired body. One of the guards had dropped their keys.
I crashed to my knees and slid my arm through the bars, the keys just out of reach. A curse burst from my mouth as I stretched on the ground and tried to grab the metal ring. The guards could realize they lost their keys any second and retrace their steps.
A dribble of sweat leaked down my temple, my tendons straining and arm shaking. My fingertip brushed the cool metal of a key and nudged it closer. Closer.
The hard edges pressed against my palm when I finally had a grip, dragging the collection into my cell. I gave a manic laugh and staggered up, my hands trembling as I tried the first key.
It took four attempts before the lock disengaged. My heart slammed against my ribs as I yanked the door open and darted into the hall. The other inmates trapped in their cages paid me no attention, either exhausted from torture or too broken to care. Hell, maybe they thought I was a hallucination.
I sure as hell hoped I wasn’t imagining this whole thing.
As a shadowy alcove emerged, I pressed my back against the wall, breathing heavily. Fane could be anywhere in this hellhole, and I wasn’t stepping foot out of these walls without him. I laid my palm against the tattoo on my neck and concentrated on the demon shifter.
The bond swirled and sizzled within my core. The dampening sigil tried to smother it, but the more I concentrated on Fane, imagining him in front of me, the more I felt the invisible strings tying us together.
My lids opened, and I slinked down the corridor, taking the first left as that pull directed me toward the demon shifter. Nothing would keep us apart forever, not even this prison in hell. I would find him.
“I’m coming, Maverick.”
Heavy footsteps pounded the ground, and my heart shot into my throat. Shit! Someone was coming. If I didn’t duck through one of these doors, I’d be left standing in the hall like an idiot, and my escape plan would shatter.
My hands trembled as I sprinted to a solid door on the right, the keys rattling as I shoved one into the lock. It didn’t work, and neither did the next two, but the third fit. When I turned it, the metallic gears unlocked, and a loud clank echoed.
Blood thundered in my ears as I yanked the door open and stepped into a small room with a couch occupied by a dark fae, a wooden table where two demons played cards, and a radio blasting heavy metal.
Was this a rec room? Heldrok had spaces for things other than torture?
A massive high demon perched on a ledge running around the entire room, his piercing blue eyes boring into me as his lips twitched into a smirk. A scar ran down the left side of his mouth, and another one sliced across his shaved, tattooed head.
“What do we have here?” He jumped down, his heavy boots planting on the ground. The blue jumpsuit strained against his shoulders and barely contained his muscles. “I smell a little wolf I’ve yet to meet. You must be new.”