Lost in the all-enfolding shadows, I pull myself forward, away from Vein-she's stopped growling-towards the place where the hole used to be. I wonder if the rest of the tunnel will close the way the hole did. Impossible to tell in this total, unearthly darkness. Probably better that way. Banba used to say that knowledge was strength, and for the most part she was right. But in this place knowledge only means more distress and pain.
Struggling forward, weeping softly, steeling myself against the bite of Vein's teeth, sure she's playing with me, waiting to jump on my back when I least expect it. Why didn't she return to the Demonata's universe along with the rest of her kind? How did she remain? I'd have made it to safety if she hadn't attacked. I'd be in the cave now with Bran, laughing at our close escape, mourning the deaths of Drust and my friends, looking forward to...
No. Forget such thoughts. They can only torment me. I didn't get out. Vein delayed me just long enough. I'm trapped here now. Accept it. Take comfort in the fact that it won't be for long.
My left hand touches rock. The end of the tunnel.
I press an ear to the rock, in case I can still hear Bran. But there's nothing, not even the rumbling sound. Not as warm as it was either. The rock is cooling quickly now that it's rid of the druid Brude.
Maybe, if Vein isn't here-if she's been sucked back to her own realm a little later than the others-I can rest. Return to the lodestone. Recharge. Then force my way out. Break a hole through the rock with magic and...
Light behind me. A green, low, throbbing light. And a sad chuckle.
I turn slowly, already knowing what I'll find.
"Poor little Bec," Lord Loss says, floating not far away from me, flesh as lumpy as ever, coated in a red sheen from the blood oozing out of the cracks in his skin, the hole in his chest filled with those wriggling eel-like creatures. He's holding Drust's bag and a couple of his hands are rooting through the contents, stroking the chess board stored within.
Lord Loss drifts closer. I spot Vein behind him, sitting to attention, eyes hot with evil delight. The demon master picks a piece out of the bag and gazes at it. "All alone," he sighs, looking at the chess piece but speaking to me. "Friends dead or cut off. No way out. If only you'd known it would end this way. Maybe you would have stayed in your rath. Or perhaps you wouldn't have used up all your magic on the lodestone."
"We won," I snarl. "We beat you. We sent all the demons back."
"Really?" Lord Loss's crimson eyes widen and he drops the piece back into the bag. "Then what am I doing here?" He grins when I can't answer. "Poor Bec. You know so little of the universes. I didn't come to this world through the tunnel. I was wandering your land long before Brude set about his ignoble task. Your wind-impressive as it was-had no claim on me. I was too powerful for it."
"You weren't so powerful when Drust banished you from sight," I sneer.
Lord Loss's features twitch. "I grant you that one. But I wouldn't be so boastful if I was in your position. That spell of Drust's was clever but costly. Remember my geis?"
"I'm not afraid of a demon's geis," I tell him.
"You should be," he replies, face darkening. "Humans should never mock a demon master. We make perilous enemies. I might have let you live if you hadn't scorned me. I liked you, Bec. I gave you some of my magic. I was looking forward to watching you mature."
"Why did you give me the magic?" I ask, curiosity winning out over fear. "We wouldn't have been able to close the tunnel if you hadn't."
Lord Loss smiles smugly. "I am a sentinel of sorrow. I feed on the misery of humanity. I cherish this world and its sad, pathetic, pain-struck humans. But if my fellow Demonata had been able to come here at will, they would have destroyed it. Demons are vulgar, wrathful creatures. They would have murdered every human in sight, swiftly, leaving no survivors, and in a short few years I would have had no more subjects to play with. I couldn't let that happen, could I?"
I stare at him with disbelief. "You betrayed your own kind! You tricked them! You gave me power so that I could close the tunnel!"
"Of course," he chuckles. "I couldn't act too obviously-I don't want hordes of Demonata screaming for my head-but by slyly interfering, providing you with the means of stopping Brude, I was able to secure peace for this world, thus preserving my mortal minions of misery.""But..." My head's awhirl. I can see it all now. "Connla was working for you. That's why he protected Drust whenever he was threatened.""My wolf in the fold," Lord Loss laughs. "I let him kill some of the others for sport but warned him not to let any harm befall you or the druid. He forgot that at the end and summoned the demons to butcher you all. He almost ruined everything. I'm glad you dealt with him, though I would have preferred to do it myself-I'd have made him suffer much more.""Why use him at all?" I cry. "Why set him against the rest of us if we were working towards the same goal?""Pain," Lord Loss says, his smile growing. "I knew he would create discord and unhappiness, delicious misery for me to relish. I was having so much fun." His smile fades. "Until the druid banished me."The demon master clicks his fingers and Vein trots over. Lord Loss tickles the demon's head with one of his eight twisted hands. "You could have walked away from this," he whispers. "Your death serves no purpose. You'd have been more interesting to me alive. Misery would have followed you-I could sense it. I'd have been there, trailing you, delighting in the sorrow you both suffered and caused."But that can't be. In my fury I cast a geis. I made a solemn vow. And now, as a creature of my word, I must make good on my promise."He drifts away from me. The green light fades slowly. Vein stays where she is. Other demons join her. A score or more. Monstrous creatures, misshapen, one with fire for eyes and the body of a baby, another covered in scales like a fish, another a giant insect with a knife-sized stinger in its tail."My familiars," Lord Loss whispers, disappearing from sight in the lengthening shadows. "They have more fleshly appetites than me.""No," I whimper, cringing against the wall. "Please don't do this. I'll do anything you ask. I'll..."I stop and catch myself. Remember who I am, my heritage, my people."Damn you then," I growl as the light fades away to the dimmest of glows, even the light in the sockets of the demon with fire instead of eyes."Goodbye, Bec," Lord Loss calls softly."Damn you!" I shout again, throwing it after him as a challenge.The last light flickers out and everything turns black.Silence for a moment. Then a snicker. A growl. The sound of claws and fingers scuttling forward. I relax against the rock, resigned, not crying or begging. I want to die with dignity, like a true priestess or warrior. The sounds come closer. Hissing. Crackling. The grinding of teeth and fangs.I lay my head against the wall. Stare up into nothingness. Try to be strong.Fingers touch my damaged legs. Claws and tendrils explore. Soon I'm being mauled everywhere, pinched, stroked, sliced. Their breath is both hot and cold on my face as they crowd around me. I imagine their savage jaws, twisted faces and sharpened fangs.I tremble, then grit my teeth hard, determined not to give Lord Loss the satisfaction of crying out. "I won't scream!" I tell myself. "I won't! I won't! I-"Teeth and fangs bite into my flesh, every part of me at once. Nails dig in deep, burrowing through to my guts. Hands worm inside me and pull bits of my innards out, scraping at my skin from the inside. I'm being torn apart. The pain is unbearable. I lose control. My mouth shoots open. My senses dissolve. My brain goes wild. The last thing I hear, before madness and demons consume me, is the tunnel filling with my anguished, uncontrollable death howls.Screams in the dark.