There's a Fine Line Ch. 16byMazuri©
This chapter flowed for me in a single brain-sucking burst so I hope you enjoy. Once I recovered, I rewrote and filled in gaps and fixed a lot of goofs in flow but it's been a while since I've had such a violent burst of creativity. I'm sure Archangel would appreciate less of them as I omitted quite a few words in the copy he recieved and he was like...WTF goes here? I'll do better next time, I promise! lol
If I had to guess, I'd estimate there to be at most only two more chapters after this one (unless I need to do a short epilogue). Again, my thanks to my awesome group of beta readers - Jaisen, Mokkelke, & Mostera1 - and my favorite Red Pen of Doom editor, Archangel_M. You guys rock!
Malphas and Alicia barreled through the portal and onto the charred stone floor of a cavernous chamber. The impact sent the tiefling tumbling off the demon lord's back and jarred the sunblade from her hands. It bounced and skittered across the floor to rest in a far corner of the room, well out of her reach. Alicia slammed her fist into the floor and released such a string of vulgarity that she was certain she'd pay for it later with her ass. Her fangs lengthened at the thought of her vampire's discipline before she wrestled her mind away from her delectable mate.
She glanced around the room in search of the celestial sword and was struck by the strangeness of the building's materials. The smooth walls looked to be worn away by years of friction rather than tools, and stretched upwards until they faded from sight. A closer look at the stone showed black and dark-red waves undulating just beneath the surface, breaking through in unexpected bursts to shoot geysers of fiery lava into the air.
"Once more you meddle in things of which you know nothing, Tiefling!" The demon growled his pain as the severed wing began to heal. The one she'd sliced with the glowing blade showed no signs of repair. Her lips curled into a cruel smile.
"Yeah? Well, consider it a character flaw."
"I will do more than that." Malphas chuckled evilly as he rose to his full height and stretched his newly grown wing. "I will ensure that you will be unable to make such foolish choices in the future."
"You think so?" Watching the infernal's every move, Alicia rose into a crouch and matched his steps to maintain the distance between them. "Blake hasn't had much luck with that, you know, and I adore my vampire. Can't really say the same for you, Gramps."
"Your insignificant feelings have no bearing here other than the joy it will bring me to watch them crumble to my will." Malphas' tail stabbed from the left, causing her to roll to the right to avoid the deadly appendage. The floor opened up beneath her and she barely managed to avoid a burst of fiery brimstone that shot almost two feet into the air. The demon's grin of delight was terrifying to behold.
"You really need to see someone about that god complex you've got going on. You're never gonna get a date that way."
"Foolish child, haven't you learned, yet? Here, I am a god! This is my domain and all here bow before me or face my wrath!" His bellowing voice echoed in the large chamber and a cacophony of wails and cries of agony and terror rose in an answering chorus. The sound chilled her to her very core and she gazed longingly at the celestial sword. "Since you gave up your humanity for that blood-sucking parasite and ruined plans centuries in the making, I will drain the vampiric blight from your soul and create a pure creature of the Seventh Circle. You will become mine for all eternity, tiefling. Mine to keep or destroy. Mine to cherish or ravage. Mine," he stabbed again from the left, moving her further and further away from the softly glowing sunblade, "to command and control."
"Good luck with that, asswipe. I checked my to-do list, and nowhere did it say 'relocate to a place that smelled like an egg fart factory'." She hesitated for half a second to gauge the distance to the sunblade and the third jab from the demon's tail sliced through her thigh, drawing a hiss of pain and anger from between her fangs. Instead of dodging to the right as the demon anticipated, Alicia dived between his legs. While he was off-balance in the midst of a right-handed grab at her former location, the tiefling placed both her feet on his upper thighs and kicked hard. Though it was like kicking a Sequoia, her vampiric strength enabled her to affect the demon lord's balance. Malphas struggled to remain in place but had to stagger forward to stay upright, giving Alicia the time to move towards the blade. She checked the cut on her leg as she rose and was pleased to see that it had already begun to heal.
"Deny it all you wish, but it's already begun, tiefling." Malphas chuckled and slowly turned as Alicia scrambled for the glowing sword. "Pick up that blade you're so anxious to get to, hellspawn, and feel the pain as it burns away at your very nature."
"The fuck?" The scent of burning flesh mingled with the sulfur and brimstone already present in the hot air. Though she gritted her teeth to ward off the pain, Alicia couldn't maintain her hold on the celestial blade for more than a few seconds. Hissing in frustration, she allowed the sword to drop from her fingers. "It didn't burn before. Why do you always have to fuck with shit that's not yours, demon?"
"I've done nothing to the blade, tiefling." The demon lord's triumphant grin was a hideous display of vicious fangs and cruel triumph as he approached. With her back now against the wall, there were few places for Alicia to go and, though it burned, she was still unwilling to abandon the sword that seemed to inflict permanent damage on the infernal. "It is you who are changing. Just being here is leeching away all but the demon inside you."
"You've finally snapped, haven't you?" Alicia's eyes darted around the room looking for something to wrap around her hands so she could pick up the glowing sword at her feet. "I mean, I've heard that some humans get a bit delusional as they get older so I can only imagine how totally bat-shit crazy you've gotten over the centuries, Gramps."
"You already feel it. Don't you, tiefling? How much stronger the demon within is growing. How much weaker the blood-sucker has become. The pull of my will increases, influencing, forcing you to obey me."
"In your dreams, you overgrown bat," Alicia sneered, but inwardly she trembled. She did feel the changes and they terrified her. Where would that leave her vampire if Malphas had his way? Would he think she had died and abandon her to her fate? Would he discover her altered form and abandon her still?
"That's it, tiefling. Give in to me and you shall be stronger than the vampire who's enslaved you. He'll leave you like all the others -- all but me. I have never abandoned you, tiefling. I have watched over you from the day your worthless father broke his promise and a young child's heart by walking away without a second thought."
Hissing in fury at her lingering doubts, she steeled herself for the pain and reached for the sunblade. In an awkward move borne from desperation rather than skill, Alicia grabbed the hilt as she rolled to the demon's left side. The celestial blade sliced through Malphas' calf before she flung it away with a cry. "I will never be yours, Malphas," she ground through her clenched fangs as she cradled her injured hands to her chest. "I'll fight you for all eternity if I must, but I will return to my mate."
Malphas' shout of pain shook the floor and opened several jagged tears in the changeable stone. Geysers erupted around the room from both the floor and the walls and showered the area with molten stone. Alicia dodged and rolled away from the deadly lava bursts, finally coming to a stop several feet away from where she'd dropped the sunblade. There were welts forming on her left hip and across her back where she hadn't dodged quickly enough and suffered the burn of lava splattering on her skin. Her heart thudded rapidly in her chest as she desperately looked for an exit. Already she felt weaker, slower than before, and her connection to her mate had grown fainter as well.
"There's no chance of escape, tiefling, or rescue." The demon lord growled as the wound on his leg festered and oozed thick black blood. "No matter how long you defy me, I shall be victorious in the end. My benevolence towards you and your fate will be determined by your actions."
"Benevolent? Did it hurt you to say that, Gramps? Because if you think for one minute that I believe you're gonna be anything but a rat bastard, you're stupider than you look."
"Perhaps you're right." He advanced on her naked form with a mocking grin on his hideous face. Each feathered hoof hit the floor with an ominous crash. His remaining wing flapped lazily, stirring the sulfuric air and feeding the molten geysers. Alicia fought hard not to cringe away from his imposing form but her demonic nature was no match for the demon lord's force of will. Only her vampire kept her from prostrating herself at his feet. "Perhaps I had no intention of being lenient with you. Such a shame, too, as you'd make a delightful whore."
"Your buddy tried that once before, Gramps. Didn't end so well for him." Her silent voice cried out for her mate and she instantly felt the warmth of Blake's mental voice. His strength bolstered hers and she managed a mocking smirk. "I'd go so far as to say I fucked him up, in fact."
"Enough of your mockery, tiefling!" Malphas bellowed and rose to his full height to tower over the petite girl. With a gesture, the walls began to press closer, shrinking the room foot by foot and bringing Alicia closer with every second. "I could have chosen to remove the vampire's blight over time which, while not pleasant for you, would still be easier to bear. But, you have pushed me too far." Alicia half-ran, half-crawled towards the sunblade as the room grew ever smaller. A clawed hand tangled in her hair and brought her movements to a sudden, painful halt.
"Ow! Let me go, dickface!" She wrapped her hands around the demon lord's thick wrist to ease the pain of dangling by her hair and kicked at him with her taloned feet. He merely laughed at her ineffective motions.
The structure formed to his will as he walked, creating corridors and rooms beneath, above, and around him. The ease with which he used his ability to manipulate worked stone amazed Alicia even as she fought his hold. The sheer scope of his power was terrifying and she wondered for the first time if she'd been wise to pursue the demon into his lair. Malphas stopped in a large room that opened out to the rest of the Circle of Wrath and Violence. The three walls were covered with magical sigils and murals depicting tortures of every imaginable method. Trapped souls animated the warriors in one painting locked in perpetual battle; as soon as a combatant perished, he faded away only to return immediately to the fray. Their cries of victory and despair and pain filled the grand chamber and sent a shudder of fear down Alicia's spine.
A stone and metal contraption with chains and shackles dominated the view overlooking the rest of the Seventh Circle, standing mere inches from where the floor dropped several hundred feet into the lava pits below. Malphas pulled her feet apart with his agile tail while directing the shackles to clamp around her ankles. Alicia winced when they tightened to the point of pain, but refused to cry out even when she felt the warm trickle of blood running down her feet. He released her hair only to pull her arms up and away from her body and secure them with another set of metal shackles that bit into her tender skin. All of her weight rested on her shoulders and it didn't take long for them to burn with the strain.
"Look out at my realm, tiefling." The tips of his talons bit into her chin as he forced her to face the vast expanse of land broken by slow-moving lava flows and round gladiatorial arenas. The closest one was filled with mephits and lesser demons screeching and cheering on two unusual creatures as they battled to the death. "Look at the hundreds of thousands of souls under my command who fight and suffer or triumph at my will, and tell me that you truly believe you will be victorious in your defiance."
"Fuck you." Alicia spat in the demon's face, earning her a dizzying slap that made her ears ring. Licking the blood from the corner of her mouth, she suppressed her fear enough to smirk. "The fact that I am defiant, demon, is its own victory."
"Let's see how long that lasts, shall we?"
Blake's vociferous and inventive curses delighted the minions of the Seventh Circle as Johnston flew them towards the tower that dominated the bleak landscape. The mephits swarmed the pair and taunted the vampire, jabbing at him with their prehensile tails and causing the demon to adjust his grip several times in order to maintain control of the snarling vampire. The angrier Blake became the bolder and gleefully cruel the mephits grew. The lesser demon wasn't quite as amused. He dumped his furious cargo on a narrow ledge several hundred feet above one of the large lava pits and turned to face the annoying cockroaches.
The first mephit attempted to fly around the demon to get to the exposed vampire. Johnston waited until it was parallel with his position and grabbed its barbed tail with both hands. Using the creature's momentum, the demon swung it around and into the face of the second attacking mephit. The sound of an object whizzing past his head was followed by the screech of a third planar cockroach. It bounced and weaved erratically as it clawed at the dagger protruding from its right eye. When it got close enough, Johnston yanked the blade from the creature's eye and slit its throat with it. As it spiraled lifelessly towards the molten lava, the other two mephits disentangled and hovered just outside his reach.
"The Master is waiting, lesser."
"If you hadn't fucked with me, we might have been there already, cockroach." Johnston backed towards the ledge to prevent the demon lord's minions from swarming the vampire. "As it is, you've delayed our arrival. I'm sure the General will be most pleased to hear of your... accomplishments."
"Don't think he doesn't know of your defiance, lesser." The second mephit spat a line of hellfire towards Blake, which the vampire barely managed to dodge on the narrow ledge. A second mercury- and silver-coated cold iron dagger flew unerringly at the hovering minion. With a gurgle, it too fell into the brimstone lake.
"You know nothing, cockroach. All is going to the General's plan." He tensed at the vampire's angry hiss but never took his cold gaze from the mephit. With a cackle of disbelief, the smaller creature turned and flew straight for the looming tower. Once the air was clear of their screeching, he turned angry eyes on his daughter's mate.
"All is going to the General's plan, Johnston?" Blake clutched the elven blade in his right hand and a third dagger in his left. His crimson eyes burned into the demon's ebony ones as he judged the force and angle needed to ensure they would fall well away from the lava pit should he attack the infernal creature.
"What did you expect me to say to them, vampire? Very fucking little occurs in the Seventh Circle that the General isn't aware of. Of course he knew we followed him and Alicia. Of course he knows you're here. Hell, my orders are to bring you to him. I'm obeying him because his orders align with our plans perfectly. No matter how much I love my child and want to see her free of this place and him, I am still very much a minion under his feathered hoof."
"And that is why I find it hard to trust anything you say or do. A puppet on a string isn't an ally one can rely on in the best of situations. This is far from that, demon."
"I'm doing the best I can." Johnston tossed the dagger at Blake's feet with a snarl of frustration. "As we get closer to his tower, it'll be harder to resist his command but I'm gonna fucking try! I allowed that bastard to steal my life in order to protect Alicia. No way am I going to let him destroy her, too."
"Yes, you protected her so well," Blake sneered. His need to hurt the demon before him had his beast clawing for control. "Where were you when Andrealphus was touching her, demon? When he was ramming his cock down her throat? She was still a child, you son of a bitch!"
"You don't think I know that? I begged the General to let me return and watch over her. I groveled and prostrated myself before him and did things that would make the most hardened of criminals turn white with fear and still he denied me." Blood-red tears of fire rolled from the demon's tortured eyes as he relived his only child's anguish. "I shredded my own pride, whored myself out to all of his cronies, and he kept promising... maybe next time. Or the next. But he sent that lust demon instead and the things he did..."
"I know what he did, Johnston. I also know that she still has nightmares about what happened. She used to call out to you; she wanted her Daddy to save her. She doesn't any more. Now when she wakes up screaming, it's my name she calls. You left her; I never will."
"Enough, Simons!" Crossing his arms over his bare chest, David Johnston steadily flapped his wings to maintain altitude just outside the vampire's reach. "I could cheerfully drop you in one of those pools of brimstone if not for my daughter. I've done enough to hurt Alicia without adding to it."
"Yes, you're Father of the Year material," Blake sneered as his claws tapped an angry rhythm on the stone behind him. "You broke your promise, demon; abandoned her when she was just a child. You left her to be molested and violated by Andrealphus and did nothing to stop it! I care little for your belated concern."
"Don't you dare accuse me of not caring about Alicia! Ever since I became this... this monster, she's all that's kept me sane. Do you think I wanted to leave her? That I wanted to be here, a pawn to the lord of the Seventh fucking Circle of Hell? I had no choice, vampire!"
"Everyone has a choice, demon. You chose the coward's way out and left behind a little girl who couldn't understand why her father didn't love her anymore."
"I had no choice!" Johnston hissed through the fangs that bit into his lower lip. The fiery tears continued to roll down his cheeks unheeded. "I had started having thoughts... dreams, urges of slaughtering my friends and family. I'd go to work and imagine all the ways I could kill my coworkers. I was putting up siding and was five feet from putting the nail gun to my boss' head. Thankfully, I got too far from the compressor and the gun shut off. Five feet! Frank wasn't my buddy but he was a good boss. I definitely had no desire to kill him, or anyone. Hell," the demon laughed humorlessly and dug his taloned fingers into his scalp, "I didn't even go hunting 'cause the sight of blood made my stomach turn; then suddenly I was plotting the deaths of everyone I saw. I thought I was going insane!
"Our insurance sucked. It didn't allow for mental health visits and we were already living from paycheck to paycheck. With Alicia about to start school, all our extra money was going to her. I couldn't afford to pay out of pocket and have them tell me it's all in my head. When I started having the dreams about her, about my babygirl...I knew I had to do something, get away before I did something unforgivable."
"Why didn't you talk to someone? A priest or..."
"Yeah, right." Johnston perched on the edge of the ledge, careful not to crowd his child's mate, and shook his head. "There was no Reveal then, vampire. If I'd told anyone what I was thinking, dreaming... yearning... they'd have stuck me beneath the nuthouse. A priest would have patted my head, assigned me a few Hail Marys, prayed for my soul, and asked if there were problems at home or if I'd been drinking."