Only one chapter to go and it'll be a fairly short epilogue. Sad to see this one end but excited to begin working on the new projects.
There's a Fine Line...
“Where the fuck were you?” Alicia hissed. Her talons clicked together as she stifled the urge to wrap them around her father’s neck. “You swore you’d be there and then you just fucking walked away. You never called or explained or nothing. Marie’s legs stayed permanently open which eventually brought Markus into the picture.”
“Alicia…” Johnston stepped towards her but she flashed her dual sets of fangs and launched into the air out of his reach.
“Did you know what he was doing to me? Did you even give a shit?” Huge tears rolled down her cheeks as she vented over a decade of hurt, anger, and frustration. “For years, I tried to figure out why you hated me so much. What did I do, what was so wrong with me that you’d leave us like that?”
“No! Honey, no, no, no,” the newly-appointed General of the Seventh Circle held his arms out to his only child in desperate entreaty as fiery tears rolled down his cheeks. “You did nothing wrong, pumpkin. Nothing! It was never your fault, Alicia.”
“Then why? Why didn’t you come back for me?”
The dark fire of her wings dimmed and she drifted to the floor. Though Johnston ached to take his daughter in his arms and comfort her, Blake shook his head. The vampire stepped forward and pulled her against his chest in a warm embrace, noting absently that her fiery wings neither burned his flesh nor gave off any discernible heat. He slipped her arms into the sleeves of his ripped shirt and covered some of her nudity with the thick material. It fit oddly, backwards as it was, but at least she was partially clothed. Regardless of familial attachment, the presence of the demon near his naked mate sat poorly with his beast’s possessive nature. The shirt eased that instinctual reaction somewhat. Running his hands soothingly over Alicia’s back, he brushed his lips over the shell of her ear but remained silent. She deserved her answers.
“He wouldn’t let me.” Johnston growled harshly. His human form wavered with his struggle to remain in control. “I’ve spent the past fifteen years trying to tear myself away from Malphas’ will in order to come back to you. I fought him, and suffered for those fights, until he swore that you were being cared for.”
“And you believed him? A demon?”
“Yeah, I believed him. I believed him because he hadn’t lied to me until then. He explained about the changes. He helped me manifest the wings. He kept me sane down here in this Godforsaken place! How was I to know it was only a means to an end? He wanted it hurt when I discovered the truth. He wanted me to hate him. Hate feeds a wrath demon like nothing else, and my hate fed more than just myself; in some strange way, it fed him, too.” Johnston paced the oddly changeable floor, tugging on his hair in frustration. His path was meandering but managed to be one step ahead of, or behind, the columns of fire that periodically shot into the sky. The more agitated he grew, the more frequent the geysers until it looked like a fiery fountain at a casino.
“You were bound to him by blood, Johnston. That’s why your anger fed him.” Blake’s eyes carefully followed the demon lord’s path. They were uneasy allies at best, and he wouldn’t let down his guard when his mate was involved.
“He said as much. Rejoiced in it, even. He said the connection of our bloodline gave him greater control over me. I would have believed that until I learned he’d sent the Marquis. It didn’t matter what kind of pull he had over my will, I wasn’t about to leave my little girl in the hands of a fucking lust demon.”
“You did,” Alicia hissed, burrowing in her vampire’s embrace and surrounding herself with his scent.
“When I heard about the Marquis, I stormed into his tower ready to take his fucking head. He batted me aside like a kitten and then he laughed. He fucking laughed, Alicia, as he strapped me into that damn frame and forced me to watch that bastard touch you and my Marie.” Flames shot from the floor as his rage soared.
Johnston’s human form melted away to reveal the demon lord in all his glory. He stood over nine feet tall with spiraled horns jutting from his bald head. His wings unfurled twice the length of his height before draping over his shoulders like a leathery cloak. A black loincloth tied around his waist covered his genitals but left his trunk-like thighs bare. Unlike his predecessor, he bore no trace of feathers above his cloven hooves – instead, a layer of coarse fur covered his legs from knee to hoof. The fur was the same color as his hair had been when he’d been human.
“I spent ten human years in the Pit, Alicia.” The demon’s voice was little more than a growl as he continued to pace the cavernous chamber. His hooves echoed in the silence. “Ten years of constant torment and torture. Ten years of having the skin flayed from my body only to have it grow back just so they could do it again. Ten years of fighting in the arenas, pitted against the foulest of infernal creatures. Ten fucking years of being screwed by any demon who pleased the General, castrated and forced to eat my own dick, dismembered with dull blades… only to be put back together just so they could do it all over again!” Flames shot from the walls and floor and the entire building shook as he stomped around the room. He reached the metal frame that had recently held his child and ripped it from the floor. The metal bent and twisted as easily as a wet noodle before melting into slag at his feet. Outside, the mephits and lesser demons that had been preparing to test their new General’s strength cringed and slid out of range of his fury. They would challenge him another day.
“Oh, God.” Alicia’s swirling eyes widened with horror and she eased from her vampire’s embrace. How could anyone have survived such torture? How could he care for her that much?
“So do not tell me that I did nothing!” Johnston snarled, sending foul magic to strike at one of the slowest of the mephits. The creature shrieked as it slowly burned away. The rest flew much faster to avoid a similar fate. “My only reason for survival was you, Alicia. My only shred of sanity concerned you. My final, wavering scrap of humanity centered solely on keeping you safe.”
“And in the end,” Alicia walked cautiously towards the demon lord, “you did. Daddy, you kept me safe. If you hadn’t brought Blake with you, I’d still be strapped to that cage. You succeeded, Daddy.”
“Did I?” His blood-red eyes met her swirling crimson-and-black ones as he reached a tentative hand towards his child. His fangs had pierced his lip where he’d bitten through them to hold back his tears and the blood dripped from his chin to sizzle on the stone floor. “Did I save you or did I just prolong both of our torment? You’re not a demon; you’re not even a tiefling anymore. You don’t belong here but I can’t bear to let you go. Not yet. Please, pumpkin, not yet.”