Lair of the Enemy

Nicanu awoke before Megan. He wanted to be ready. He knew he would be needed should a fight break out. From the way Megan's eyes snapped open, it was already bad.

"Bebelus," he said, "they know where she is. Just a little longer. God, this can't end soon enough. I know you might hate me later, but if they don't get to her before dawn, I swear, I will end this. If they do save her, if Ambrose can connect to her, I will help you rest, to heal after everything they put you through. Either way, this ends this night, do you hear me? No more after today."

Antony, Anastasia, Erik, Cassius, Ambrose, and a handful of nearby hunters gathered around the newly opened cave entrance. There seemed to be a number of amphibians gathered there and, though they acted naturally all the hunters kept the prince and his lifemate from the view of the creatures.

"Antony," said Erik, "you and your mate must stay out here. I trust the others with your safety, but not in the lair of a vampire. We cannot lose you, cousin."

"Must you always act like my parent, Erik?" Antony said with a chuckle, though Anastasia could feel Antony's true feelings. "As usual, I will stand behind the wall of hunters while all of you look for Ambrose's woman in the cave."

"Just remember where your duty is, Antony," continued Erik before he turned to Anastasia and her glare. He motioned the others to go ahead of him as he said to her, "Is something wrong, Anastasia?"

Cassius inhaled as they entered the cave. He growled. This place is heavy with magic. I cannot tell illusion from reality. This is more than the master vampire's lair. It is a giant maze.

They left a string at the entrance, just like in the story of the labyrinth of myth. Cassius didn't bother asking Ambrose if he could feel Emily. The sporadic growls told Cassius Ambrose knew she was there, but still could not feel her. After about ten minutes, the smell of blood and vomit filled the cave, making it difficult to pinpoint her location. It took all of Cassius's strength to keep Ambrose with them when the screams were heard. We don't know her location here, and the enemy has the advantage. She needs you to be a methodical hunter, not emotional. Calm, brother. We are close.
Emily heard the door open. She stood still, even as fear coursed through her. She heard animals scurrying to hide, and wishing she could move to do the same. Dolen walked up to her and yanked hard on her hair. She bit back the yelp of pain. He always made her look at him, even when she couldn't see him, when he got angry but this was the worse it had been yet. She didn't move, knowing it made him grip tighter and shake her a bit.

"The hunters are in my domain," he growled. "My illusions will slow them down but you won't escape so easily, Ice. I will find you, and if I have to torture your man or the boy to make you see what I'm capable of, so be it."

He bit into her, hard. This time, she couldn't help groaning in pain, or how she attempted to get free. His arm wrapped around her to pull her closer, making her want to gag from the feel and stench of him.

He closed the wound, but Emily hung limply, crying and her head swimming. She heard him snicker and slurping up the blood from his lips, making her shudder. She felt his oily touch in her mind. She tried to put up barriers, but lack of food and proper sleep, coupled with her fear and the constant pain in her head, didn't allow her to make strong obstacles. It only served to hurt her more.

Dolen said, "I'll just reveal what you were to me, my puppet and warrior. That thing's safeguard is weak enough now because of my barrier." She gasped as she felt a barrier in her mind painfully break and memories began rushing through her. Not all of them, she knew, but the darker ones from those four missing years hit hard. She felt sick from all the pain, but it allowed her mind to stay clear so she could think and listen. She had to get out and she had to have a clear head to do it. "You are Ice, trained to bring me food at any cost. Remember how lovingly you looked at me, your savior, until the night of your treachery? I trained your mind and soul to be what they are, my gift to you. Instead of being grateful, you tried to kill me." He gripped her throat, showing Emily he still controlled her as pain from the fresh bite caused her to gasp even as her airway was closed off and the pain fogged her mind slightly. "I will get Nature's Wrath back, and you will give it to me." His grip tightened. "If I don't get what I want, I will kill your hunter while you watch. He will suffer and look into your eyes as he dies. You will be the cause of his destruction, Ice, and it will be a beautiful thing to watch. I promise."

He let her go roughly. She coughed, trying to get air into her burning lungs. Dolen walked away with a laugh and closed the door, signalling the creatures in the room. Emily felt scales and slimy skin touched her. She felt tiny claws on her calves and ankles. She shook from fear and pain. Dark, long forgotten memories kept flooding her mind.

Men, women, children, they all had followed her to the den of a monster. Being a child was no excuse for blinding herself to what had happened to those people, what they and she had suffered at Dolen's hand. She led people to their death, she had been tormented and abused, but she didn't want to know the truth about what she was doing... what Dolen was turning her into. She had been his puppet, being trained to be a warrior, but she escaped. She remembered that night, when Ambrose had been in the group of would-be victims. His presence, just as the memory of him did now, had given her strength and courage. But that didn't change what she had done, what she willingly did for an illusion. Even as she needed someone to care for her during those four years, she felt her crimes were ever growing. At the time, she thought she was doing good, but looking back, she saw how blind she had been... just like any victim of someone cruel and abusive. But ignorance was an excuse, at least to Emily. She wanted to please because it meant no pain and staying in the light. She had let that fear take over and keep her as his puppet until Ambrose saved her... as always.

"I'm sorry," she said to the ghosts she felt gathering around her, needing to rely on herself to think and try to get out. "For it all. I'm sorry." She lifted her head. "I am not Ice, his puppet. Not ever again. I am Emily Daratrazanoff. I do not deserve the life, the good fortune, given to me, not for my part in the atrocities committed. But I swear, his crimes will not go unpunished. He will meet justice at the hands of the weapon he tried to create. I will end him myself, on this I swear." She let her head fall again, no longer having the strength to hold it up. "I will destroy this demon and free you and myself. I'm sorry for what I did. There is no redemption." Tears fell. "I should have made myself see the truth. I'm so sorry. Ambrose... I'm sorry..." She fought to get free, the ropes cutting into her wrists with each movement. "If I can slip out... maybe I can..."

Pain slammed through her as an invisible whip slashed across her back. There had been no sound, no warning. She felt the sting, tensing every muscle in her body, and a scream escaped before she threw up bile. Another lash, another scream. I don't think so, puppet, Dolen said. I want them to play my game. So, for trying to escape, scream. Your blood and pain will send them scurrying around my maze like rats. A truly wonderful form of entertainment. Emily tried to hold in the screams, but it was impossible. After a moment, it stopped and she sobbed, wishing she had been given the ability to black out. Her back felt raw, aching. She knew her clothes were undamaged, but they were sticking to her now from her blood and her vomit.

Then, the torture began. Volts of electricity seemed to course through her body. Emily begged for him to stop, cried out for Ambrose. She never gave in, but that wasn't the point. He was proving to her he had control over her, and she hated how helpless she felt. He said hunters were there. She had hope, but he had tried to strip it from her. She prayed Ambrose wasn't with them as she feared. She couldn't bear the thought he was in danger because of her. She didn't want him to have heard her torture, too see what had happened to her. Most of all, she wanted him safe.

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