She screamed and rolled tone side to avoid being trampled, ending up in a small corner between the wall and a marble column. She staggered to her feet, leaning against the wall as she looked out into the crowd for Thaltos or the others.
"I see her! Thaltos!" Silthos' voice rang out, making her whip her head around to look for him.
He about fifteen feet back, still trapped in the mass of demons, his eyes locked on her as he shoved his way through the swarm. He called her name, warned her to stay still while he made his way to her. She nodded and gripped a corner of the column tightly, pressing her back against the wall to stay out of the way of the crowd.
"Thaltos! She's back here. Silthos has her!" Darrow's voice called out to his friend, his black eyes also trained on her.
Claire remained completely still, waiting patiently for them to come. She exhaled a sigh of relief. They had found her and were coming to save her. She may survive the experience after all, despite the bumps and bruises of her tour
No more adventures, ever. I'd rather be safe and bored than dead form excitement.
A hot puff of breath rushed past her ear. "You're a pretty one, aren't you." A clawed hand wrapped painfully around her wrist, making her wince. "Why don't you come with me?"
Claire screamed as she was jerked backwards into another pool of shadow, watching as Silthos' eyes widened with horror and anger.
"NO! She's ours!" he roared into the darkness.
But the voice didn't listen. Instead, it laughed as it pulled her away from her lover, hauling her deep into the darkness beyond. The shadows swallowed her, and then spewed her out seconds later onto a cold stone floor. She landed on her hands and knees, looking down on the same slam of marble flooring she'd just been dragged on.
Terrified, Claire shot up onto her feet and whipped around. This corridor was darker than the main hall, the wreathes of flame dimmer than usual. The hall was colder, too, with small gusts of wind whipping around the hallway and chilling her skin. She looked out through the cutouts in the wall, surprised to see the marshland of human souls much nearer than before.
This corridor must be closer to the bog that the main hall. No wonder it's so damn cold.
She wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing her palms against her skin to warm her flesh. The skimpy clothing she wore did little to deter the breeze. She shivered, still looking around to see if she could catch sight of who had taken her.
"My goodness, you are pretty, aren't you?" Deep laughter resounded through the hall. "I was lucky to have found a soul like you."
Claire spun around in circles, unable to locate the voice. "You stole me! Where are you?"
More laughter mocked her efforts. "Such a feisty one, too. Oh, you're going to be loads of fun."
She fumed at the voice's ridicule. She spun around again, calling out to her kidnapper. "Come out and show yourself, you coward!"
"A coward, you say? And what would drive you to make such an incendiary claim?"
"A real demon wouldn't take the servant of another. He'd catch one himself instead of sinking that low!" She scowled into a pool of shadow, having finally located the voice. "Only a weakling would take something that wasn't his."
Her taunts were dangerous, she knew, but maybe if she could enrage him enough to draw him out, she could get a good look at him. Silence followed for a second, making her think she'd lost her fight.
"A weakling?" The voice was deeper now, angrier. "I'll show you a weakling. I can make you scream so loud your lungs will collapse."
The pool of shadow shuddered, quaking as a new, massive form began to emerge. Enormous, with ashen skin and black twisting horn sticking out from its shoulders, head and back, it tromped forth out of the blackness. Its face was beautifully carved, but covered in jagged scars and horrific burns. It stopped two feet from her, clouds of steam streaming from its nostrils.
Claire stumbled backwards, her heart racing and breath coming in short gasps. Her taunts had been a very bad idea, but at least he would be easy to describe to the others when -- if - she got out of there she got out. She doubted such a grotesque creature would be difficult to identify.
The creature smiled, revealing rows of sharp red teeth. "Let's see if you're as much fun as you look."
One long, muscular arm shot out and gripped her wrist, flicking her aside. Her shoulder cracked against a column, making her cry out in pain as she sunk to the floor. Quick as lightening, the creature sprang forward and knocked her onto her back, crawling over her to stare into her eyes. Orbs of blood-red burned into her, rendering her speechless.
The creature smiled again. "So fragile and delicate. It's a shame you humans break so easily. We could have so much fun if only you were stronger."
She scowled at him. "Get off!"
She lashed out an arm to strike at him, but his clawed hand caught her wrist and forced it down, smashing her hand into the rock. She cried out again, tears welling in her eyes.
"And still so spirited. You are interesting aren't you?" His breath reeked of rotten meat and blood, making her stomach twist in disgust.
She threw her head back, trying to break away from the nauseating smell. "Thaltos!" She cried out for him, wishing he would break through the wall and rescue her.
The demon laughed. "No, my girl. They won't find you here." A long, thick, ink-black tongue rolled out of his mouth, swiping against her cheek and leaving a trail of slime on her skin. "Not until I've had my fill of you."
She turned her face away, grimacing at the feel of the slick flesh of her skin.
"And delicious. You're full of surprises." He pulled his tongue back, still grinning at her. "I wonder if your pussy tastes good as your skin."
Thin stands of shadow speared out to hold her, tightening painfully around her wrists. She winced in pain, confused and frightened that they were so threatening. These were far from the comfortable, gentle bindings she'd come to know. These were darker, meaner and far less playful.
With her secure, the demon began to inch down her body, dragging his tongue along her skin. She screamed again and tried to fight her restraints, but no matter how hard she pulled the shadows remained taught. His tongue dipped into her bellybutton making her stomach spasm and started a fresh burst of squirms.
"Silthos!" She tried again, still hoping they'd find her.
The creature laughed again. "Yes! Keep screaming! It whets my appetite for your flesh."
He continued down, his tongue still leaving a trail of slime on her skin. He reached her thighs, commanding more strands to slither out and bind her feet. The shadows spread her legs wide, revealing her body completely to him.
He groaned. "So beautiful. I don't think I've ever had a woman as luscious as you." Dipping his horned head, her placed his nose against her sex and inhaled deeply. "And so sweet. You are exceptional."
His tongue traced the line of her sex, drawing out another scream from her throat. He chuckled into her pussy, burying his face between her thighs to feast. She arched her back against his touch, hating the situation but helpless to her body's needs. Her mind raged and cried at the though of being ravaged by a demon who wasn't hers; her body reveled in the new attention it received. Her heart and body warred with each other as he continued his depraved play.
His licks turned harder, his tongue now probing into her sex. It slid out and pressed roughly against her clit, making her gasp and writhe against him. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Through no fault of her own, she was betraying the people who loved and cared for her, and she was far from strong enough to break free.
With one final panicked effort, Claire sucked in a long breath and let out the loudest scream she could. "DARROW!"
The creature stopped instantly, his head whipping up to stare at her. His mouth twisted into a menacing scowl while his eyes showed confusion. "How do you know that name?"
The thought made her heart skip a beat. She screamed again, kicking and thrashing against her binds. The violence of her struggle startled him a bit, causing his to rear up and glare down at her.
"So you're the new girl he's got." Tarrin lunged forward and gripped her wrists, pinning her to the floor and stopping any further struggles.
"Let me go!" She thrashed again, trying to break free.
"A fool like him doesn't deserve a wonder like you." His eyes narrowed to slits of crimson.
She glared at him, hellfire in her own eyes. "Is that what you said about Elaina, too?" She spat the words at him.
Tarrin chuckled. "Elaina? My dear, that wretch has nothing on you. She was nothing more than a good fuck here and there, but she had no passion, no drive in her heart. You," he raked on sharp claw down her cheek, "you are far more than she could have ever wished to be."
"Get off me!" She screamed again, the pain in her wrists now burning up her arms.
"Not yet." Tarrin smiled at her. "I haven't had my fill of you yet. I'll feast on you first, then break that tender virginity of your and make you mine. Then I'll let you go."
"Damned creature!" A voice rumbled in the hall. "I'll see you executed for this!"
Tarrin whipped his head up, staring down the dark hall for any trace of the new voice.
A flurry of sharp spike shot out from the darkness, spearing Tarrin's face and body. They dug into his flesh, locking themselves into his body. The demon roared with pain and stumbled back, swiping blindly at the thorns with his hands.
Without his focus on her, the strands of darkness pulled away, freeing her. Claire sat up immediately, crawling over to one of the massive columns. She stared at her attacker, fascinated by his struggles and relieved to bee free for the moment.
Where the hell did those come from?
A strand of sticky white webbing speared out from the hallway, catching on her arm. Fast as lightening, it yanked her back into the shadowy corridor, twisting and turning past the columns and into a small alcove in the rock. Claire screamed as she was pulled in, tumbling on the floor until she landed on her side.
Cautiously, she stretched her hands out and felt for the floor, pushing herself gently onto her knees. The recess was pitch black, illuminated only by the dim light spilling in from the main hall from the creviced she was pulled in through. She scooted back against the cold wall, pressing her hand against her chest to slow her heart.
Outside, Tarrin was still raging form the ambush roaring in pain and fury. She whimpered and scooted farther into the small fissure, trying to put as much distance between herself and the opening as possible.
A thin leg, covered in soft hair, wrapped around her neck and pressed against her mouth, shutting off all noise. She squealed silently into the limb, terrified that she'd found a new enemy.
"Hush, girl," a voice whispered in her ear. "We must keep silent if we are to hide from him."
Heart still racing, Claire nodded, her eyes never wavering from the opening of the crevice. The leg removed itself from her mouth, allowing her to breathe again. She heard soft, almost imperceptible movements along the floor- tiny footsteps made by something large yet agile. The sounds stopped, coming to rest next to her. Swallowing her next scream, Claire turned her head to look at her savior.
Half-illuminated by the dim light from the hallway, she saw the head of a gargantuan spider staring out into the hall. Enormous fangs dripping with venom extended from a voracious-looking mouth. Its eyes, black as night, shined in the soft light. The spiky hair on its body was a vibrant mix of cobalt blue, emerald green and gold. Eight long, hairy legs held a massive abdomen covered in swirling patterns of its colorful hair. Behind her, she could see the makings of a colossal web, a large bundle of sticky silk already stuck to the intricate patters. Lunch, no doubt.
Her stomach tightened, her throat emitting a strangled wheeze of fear.
The massive head turned to her, eight giant eyes focused on her horrified face. "Why are you here, girl? You should know better than to wander into these corridors alone." Its mouth moved as it spoke, showing a plethora of sharp teeth hidden under the fangs.
She shook her head, loosening her jaw enough to speak. "I didn't walk here," she whispered. "He dragged me here."
"Ah, that explains it. No wonder you look so frightened" The head turned back to stare out the crevice.
Claire squeezed herself back against the wall, fear still fresh in her mind. She was caught between an exiled demon who wanted to claim her for himself and a giant spider that shot spines from it body. Caught between the biggest rock and the hardest place imaginable, he struggled to decide which fate was worse.
"I thought he was exiled." She whispered. "How did he get back?"
"He was, many centuries ago," the spider crawled forward, watching the hallway. "Though how he managed to return is beyond me. To come back after being banished is a death sentence. The guards should have killed him the moment he tried to enter here."
"Do you think he found a way around them?" She looked at her new companion for answers.
The spider shook its head. "I think not. There are only two ways into this world: you are either a demon, or you come by one. There is no other way here."
Claire scrunched up her face in confusion. "Then how-"
She stopped. Outside in the hallway she could hear Tarrin's snarls of rage. He'd freed himself of the spider's spines and was now stalking the hall searching for her. She whimpered and pressed harder against the wall, closing her eyes and holding her breath. The spider also backed away, staying clear of the streams of light spilling in.
"Where are you?" Tarrin roared. "Where did you go, my little beauty?"
His footsteps shook the hall, making small bits of stone shake loose and fall onto her shoulders. His shadow passed by the crevice, blocking out the light for an instant before passing by. She exhaled soft sigh of relief, though her mind remained alert for any movement he made.
The spider looked at her again. "So you're Darrow's new conquest. I see why he's so determined to claim you."
She nodded slowly. "He seems to have a habit of that."
"Tarrin has a habit of taking what doesn't belong to him." The hair framing its eight eyes furrowed, the creature doing its best attempt at a scowl
"So what's his deal with Darrow? The moment I called out his name, Tarrin nearly bit my head off." She bit her lip, unsure if she'd like the answer.
"It's more of a jealous control thing than anything else," the spider answered. "Darrow has a way of getting the girls Tarrin always wanted; namely, the most attractive ones. Stealing them away is Tarrin's attempt to even the odds."
"Oh." She nodded silently before looking at her companion again. "So, that's Tarrin. And you are?"
She forced a smile. "Claire."
"Ah, a lovely name. Latin for 'bright', I believe."
She smiled slightly. "You have a nice name, too."
Kerion looked at her, his eyes shining in the soft light. "Thank you. It's not often I receive compliments on my name."
"You're welcome." Her heart had stopped pounding so loud. In the short amount of time she'd spent with Kerion so far, Claire understood that he was the far lesser of two evils.
Kerion raised on hairy leg to her mouth again. "Shhh."
She clamped her mouth shut and leaned back into the shadows of their hiding place. Tarrin was making a second round in the hallway, still searching for her. He called for her, his voice deep and rumbling. She heard the sounds of crashing marble and shattering glass. His search for her was far from over, and he'd decided to tear the place apart to find her.
Crap, does that man ever give up?
"We must get you out of here quickly." Kerion turned around, one of his legs wrapping around her body and pressing against her back, urging her deeper into the crevice. "If he continues that way, he'll eventually find us."
They crawled along the cold floor, dodging any low-hanging slabs of rock as they moved. Now that she was away from the small entrance, the crevice was pitch-black and ice cold, making her shiver slightly. She was encased in a world of black shadows, and Claire could feel small tendrils creeping out to caress her skin. She brushed them aside, trying to stay focused on her path. Despite the darkness blinding her, she could still hear the soft sounds of Kerion moving next to her, telling her she was moving in the right direction.
After another ten feet they stopped, far enough into the hole that they were completely hidden by shadows. She rested against the wall and closed her eyes, listening to Tarrin still raging in the hallway. Damn it, that man was relentless. He'd probably tear the whole place apart if he could.
"There. We should be safe for now." Kerion whispered. "We still need to get you out of here and back to your owners. Where did her take you from?"
"The main hall. I got swept into a tidal wave of demons and he grabbed me when I managed to claw my way to a corner." She peered down the cavern, relived to see no trace of light.
"Good. That will make it easier for you to return. Have you ever shadow-walked before?"
Claire shook her head. "Not on my own. Thaltos held my hand the first time."
"It's not as frightening as it seems." Kerion turned and stomped one of his enormous legs, the sound echoing down the cavern. "It's the feel of it that takes getting used to."
She nodded. "I'm not quite used to the shadows grabbing me."
Kerion laughed. "Yes. They're quite rambunctious, aren't they?"
She opened her mouth to answer, but was caught off guard by a sound coming from farther down the fissure. Soft squeaks, coupled with the sound of gentle tapping, emanated from the dark. They grew louder, coming closer with every passing second. She backed away an inch, fearful of what was coming her way.
The first soft brush of legs against her hand sent her tumbling back, though she managed to keep herself from screaming. More legs and bodies crawled over her, tickling her skin. She shivered silently, keeping her terror locked inside her throat.
Kerion let out a sharp, angry hiss. "My children! That is enough!"
The mass of legs stopped immediately, waiting eagerly for their father's instructions.
"The girl means no harm to us." Kerion began to scratch at the wall, bringing a fresh batch of shadowy tendril caressing her skin. "Forgive my children. They are unaccustomed to visitors. They're simply curious about you."
She shook her head, offering a sketchy smile. Gently, Claire reached out and slipped her hand under one of the tiny creatures, lifting it off her thigh. She stroked the arachnid gently, coaxing a soft purr from the creature.
"They like you. Not many have treated my children so kindly." Kerion continued to scratch at the wall, moving constantly as if searching for something. "Believe me when I say it is better for my children to like you than to fear you."
She continued to caress the small spider in her hand, giggling when it moved around her palm to rub against her thumb. She'd never been particularly frightened of spiders. To her, they were just a tiny thing with eight legs that devoured bugs, nothing more. Wasps, on the other hand, gave her the ability to walk on water if they came near her.
"You're so cute. Look how tiny you are," she cooed to the tiny creature.
Aware of the attention she was bestowing on their sibling, the mass of spiders swarmed up her legs and arms, vying for her affection. She laughed softly in amusement reaching out into the darkness to run her hands over all of them, feeling the soft, silky hairs tickling her palms.