A story about the developing Stockholm Syndrome a girl feels for the demons who took her.
|Synopsis: Betrayed by her mother and just one out of the dozens of daughters taken from their families, Lana is cast into a world of torture and terror. Death is imminent, but a developing Stockholm syndrome towards the demons who took her is proving to complicate things for Lana... and the demons.
Chapter 1: https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2213897-Disturbing-Devotion-Chapt...
Chapter 2: https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2214030-Disturbing-Devotion-Chapt...
Chapter 3: https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2214031-Disturbing-Devotion-Chapt...
Chapter 4: https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2214355-Disturbing-Devotion-Chapt...
Chapter 5: Current
Chapter 6: https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2214898-Disturbing-Devotion-Chapt...
Chapter 7: https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2215254-Disturbing-Devotion-Chapt...
Chapter 8: https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2217285-Disturbing-Devotion-Chapt...
The Right Side of a Wrong Choice
All of the daughters had freed themselves from their shackles, and although they each remained against their posts, I was succumbed to watching those I could see comfortably rotate their wrists around, massage their sore bones, stretch their arms, and for those who I couldn't see, the relief of a slight freedom radiated from them and filled the room with a new sort of energy. I remained with my hands securely behind me, wrists placed just so as to not cause my own shackles to fall. It would be so easy to join them in that comfort, in those limited moments of a small, yet earth-shattering pleasure, but I wouldn't risk it. I couldn't. For a while I had remained convinced that I wasn't the one being senseless, that I was wise in my decision —and warning— not to attempt an escape. But the longer I had to think about it, I wasn't sure I was as convinced anymore.
Even if their attempt failed, it was the attempt that would have counted, right? Their freedom meant so much to them that they would brace ten or so demons to achieve it, face impossible odds, all to chase after something that they might not obtain. So many people would fight for their freedom or die trying, and in the end they would much rather perish than to live on in entrapment. But for reasons I couldn't place I was making the conscious decision to live in entrapment, no matter what misery that brought. I wasn't willing to fight for freedom. I wasn't willing to try at all. And that's what frightened me.
The stillness within the cell made it too easy to stay trapped within my own head, and the thoughts screamed in comparison to the quiet around me. It was impossible to have ever known what horrors the Taking would deliver, and even after having experienced those horrors it remained impossible to even imagine what else might be looming around the corner. But what I certainly never would have anticipated is that it wasn't all horror all of the time. I thought of Jey, and the fact that he had actually fulfilled my wish for a shirt. I thought of Birch and Twitch as well as my wounds and how they had spent the time to clean them, stitch them, wrap them and I thought to that blissful weightlessness that came with having been carried, and the misplaced warmth. The moment my mind went to Weylond I shivered, shutting my eyes tighter as to will that memory away. But naturally, it was the loudest in my head.
Are you liking this? The words rang on and on in my head and the longer I was made to sit here and think about them the more the line between pleasure and relief became blurred. And I hated it. Hated myself for it. It was bad enough finding comfort in Twitch's arms but to have felt anything other than disgust, hatred, fear and especially pain from any one of them? It was immoral. It was low. It was unacceptable. Perhaps I should join the daughter's fight to freedom. If not for liberty than for redemption. I still could... I could—
A door easing open interrupted the silence, and it caught the attention of every one of us. Nobody dared let out so much as a breath. Footsteps echoed within the hall, drawing nearer, and I turned my head slightly to look to the girl orchestrating this whole thing, Tiffany. Her hands were falsely placed behind her back, but I could see her firm hold on the knife she had taken. Her body was tensed, wound like a spring, ready to make her break, to embrace the fight. My own heart started to race.
I was the first to see the demons at all, as I could see them coming down the hallway. Jey lead the group as usual, and I knew, despite the countdown to the escape attempt, nothing good would come of them all marching to the cells. It never did.
The creatures crowded around the bars, peering in, eyeing us and grinning at whatever plans they had in store next. My eyes couldn't linger long on any of their faces, but when they fell upon Weylond, who very much unlike himself was not front and center of this display, I didn't look away. There was this look on his face, an expression of... discomfort? Worry? I couldn't tell, but it was so uncharacteristic of him. My heart leaped to my throat when I realized he had probably been spending just as much time as I had thinking back to what had happened in that room...
Jey stepped up to the cell door and allowed Birch to move in front of him, the key prepped and ready in his hand. I glanced to Tiffany, her stern expression, heaving chest as she readied herself. I could hear the rest of the girls shuffling where they sat, preparing themselves, too. I looked to Jey and found his eyes planted on me as he waited for Birch to unlock the door. I thought to the girls, to the knife, I looked to Weylond, to my bandaged feet. I traced the stitching along my palm with my finger. The cell door squeaked open, Birch stepped inside followed by Jey, the others crowded behind him, ready to pour in. Birch was looking to Tiffany, already taking a step closer, and I imagined her plunging that knife into him. I thought to the rest running, screaming, crying.
I was gasping for air, I felt like I was going to vomit, I could feel it rising, rising, rising, and then—
"They're planning to escape!"
I had never known true silence until that very moment. I could feel every single pair of eyes on me, crushing me beneath the weight, but the heaviest glare of all came from Jey, who looked positively enraged just as much as he did bewildered. My body was shaking so violently I could feel my own shackles starting to slip.
"Their chains are undone—" my voice cracked, and I swallowed, but I couldn't stop. What was wrong with me? "She has a knife."
Jey never stopped staring at me, even when Tiffany took her last chance to fight. She was on her feet quick, knife raised, but just as I had predicted, as I had known, as I had warned, she was no match for a demon. None of us were. Birch moved faster than I could fathom. Within the blink of an eye had grabbed her wrist, forced the knife from her hand, and as it clanked to the ground he had spun her around to hold her against himself, hand clutching her throat. Tiffany never even had the chance to scream.
"Close the door!" Jey growled, snarling as he partially looked behind him, and the few demons who had entered the cell with him moved fast to do as their leader commanded. "Check them." He pointed to no girl in particular, but the demons within the cell stepped forward and peered behind each girl's back, most of who were already starting to cry. The medieval helmet demon moved to me then and not a second went by before he was looking to Jey.
"Hers are undone, too."
Jey's eyes snapped to mine once more and my heart plummeted to my stomach as I struggled for words, shaking my head. He took a step towards me and my shaking grew twice as severe.
"They were already undone!" I pleaded, watching him advance toward me, and he leaned down, ripping the shackles off my wrists. "They were already loose! I didn't do it— I swear." He looked from the shackles then to me, his eyes moving down my body, taking in sight of the bandages and stitching, I was sure, before they raised back to my own. "S-she offered to undo them but I told her n—"
"Who last brought you here?" Jey interrupted, and I let out a breath. Did he really believe me?
"Who was the last one to return you to this cell?" He raised his voice, enunciating every word. I couldn't shut my mouth as I searched for words, and I tore my vision from him for a split second and looked to Weylond, who remained behind the rest, staring directly at me with that foreign expression...
"I... I don't remember."
Jey's nostrils flared and he began to lean closer, pausing only after I continued rambling on, continued to lie.
"I really don't! I was out of it, and tired... I didn't— I couldn't..."
He stared at me another moment, his brow furrowed deeply in contemplation. Then he nodded to himself and stood to his full height.
"The girls want freedom from this cell so badly? Fine." He loosely waved his hand and side-glanced to his fellow creatures. "Give it to them. Show them what freedom brings."
The girls cowered as the cell door opened and more demons stepped in. I cowered at his words, too, the threat within his tone, but none of the demons came for me. They pulled the girls up easily and in the midst of the swarm Jey was speaking over them.
"Do not kill any of them." His command was harsh. "When you're done taking them all back..." He turned to me again, locking eyes. "Bring this one upstairs."
He threw the shackles down and I jumped as they collided with the stone. He hadn't bothered binding me again, though not that it mattered, I was absolutely frozen where I sat, and I would have stayed that way even if I could walk. Once the last girl was dragged out of the cell the door slammed shut, and the shuffling of bare feet scraping against the ground and distant cries echoed on until finally there was silence.
I couldn't move, I still could hardly breathe. Thinking back it wasn't really me who spoken, it couldn't have been. I didn't know where that had come, why it had risen and for what purpose. And lying to Jey? To protect Weylond? My eyes fluttered and my head fell back against the pillar.
I listened to the sound of footsteps amplifying within the hall. Somehow I had forgotten all about Jey's request to 'bring me upstairs'. This is it, I thought. This had to be the end, it had to be. I was sure of it. Whatever consequence the girl's were fatally facing right now I was sure I would get it twice as bad. That seemed to be the theme here... half of the time.
Birch stepped into the cell, alone, and I shivered. Compared to the apprehension I felt for him now, after having seen him move so quick, disarm and entrap Tiffany within an instant, I realized I hadn't really been feeling that fear and discomfort from him as I did the others. His gentle nature had started to fool me, and I reminded myself now he was still a demon, still like the rest of them: a torturer, a killer, brutal and vicious. He picked me up with ease and began out of the cell. Despite the shaking and the clenching of my joints I found myself speaking anyway.
"What's he going to do?" My voice was barely over a whisper. I didn't clarify, I had a feeling he knew what I was talking about, and I was right.
"Your guess is as good as mine."
I frowned, wishing to bury my face and sob. But I didn't let myself. We walked down the familiar hall, but rather than turning to move down the maze of hallways as I was used to, he continued forward, stepping simply up a few stairs before pushing open a heavy door. It whined on its hinges and I recognized it to be the very door that always sounded their arrival.
This hallway was shorter and before us sat a narrow concrete staircase that looked as though it was a mile long. He climbed the incline without breaking a sweat. I could see a wooden door ahead, a warm light shining beneath it, illuminating the top most steps, and I braced myself. He pushed open the door. Already a gasp was waiting a behind my lips, panic loaded and ready to blow, but—
There was absolutely no reason to panic by sight alone. It was like walking in a dream; one second we had been in a damp, dark and cold basement of despair and the next I found myself in what looked to be nothing other than an average household. The lights that shone cast a warm yellow hue, the floors were made of a dark wood, the walls painted soft tones of tans and pale reds. There were rugs on the floor, pictures on the walls, signs of living judging by the few discarded items laying around on end tables and in the corners. I blinked rapidly, absolutely unable to believe the sight.
The wooden door closed behind us and Birch carried on through the... whatever this was. The floors squeaked softly, pleasantly, the settlement of the structure disturbed as Birch walked, crackling and groaning as an old family home would. Between an arch in the wall I could see what looked to be a kitchen, with counters and a dark wooden table in the middle, but before I could stare too long he was turning another corner.
This space wasn't behind a door of its own, but rather offset from the rest of the areas in which I had seen. The hall opened up to a wider space. There was a table along one the wall with a lamp in the middle. On the wall opposite, a small sofa and lounge chair lined with wood and deep burgundy fabric. The panic and the fear I felt had completely vanished and was instead replaced with perplexity, even as Birch headed toward a set of large, wooden double-doors along a diagonal wall. He turned the handle and stepped inside.
This room was large, and by far probably one of the nicest rooms I had ever been in, let alone seen or imagined, even though the room had long since lost its former luster. The ceilings were high but covered with spiderwebs, the wood floors scratched and faded, and there was a large fireplace against the wall adjacent to us, with built in bookshelves around it. On the wall opposite there were a few other closed doors and directly before us a gigantic cherry-wood desk that sat in front a long series of ceiling-to-floor windows, each masked behind dusty, though flowing red curtains.
Jey was sitting behind the desk but I paid him no mind yet, as the demon who wore the hands on his face was glaring at me, positively giving me the most murderous look I had ever received, and I couldn't help but shiver. He stood a few feet away from the desk, and as Birch stepped past him, the hand-demon never ceased looking at me. Birch set me down carefully in a chair that had been moved sit before the desk (I could tell because its twin sat alone on another wall beside an end table), and finally I made myself look to Jey.
He was leaning forward, elbows on the desk, fingers interlocked, and he didn't blink as he held my eyes. I swallowed, wishing simply to look away though something within made it very clear that would more than likely be a poor idea. A few solid moments had to have gone by before he was leaning back and finally speaking.
"Every few years or so there is always a batch who plot some ridiculous escape."
A batch, I thought. It was plainly evident that the daughters, myself included, were not viewed as people to them; living, breathing, emoting beings who mattered in the slightest. But to hear it verbally, to be reduced to being nothing more than a batch made me flinch lightly.
"Their attempts fail every time. Naturally," he added. "But never, in all of the years, has there ever been a telltale."
I couldn't bear the weight of his eyes anymore and I had to tear mine away to stare at a corner of the desk. I thought to the girls downstairs, but all of my pity centered on myself. Torture of a physical nature was one thing, but sit here and be confronted about the lunacy I had committed, to be reminded of the betrayal to my fellow humans, to accept the favor I had done for demons. That was the truest torment. And I had brought it all on myself.
"I find myself having many questions for you. But I'll start with this: why did you do it?"
"Jey," a voice I had never heard sounded from somewhere behind me, and the disgust within it was evident. "This is blasphemous—"
Jey held his hand up to who I assumed was the hand-demon, ignoring him. "Why." He said to me again.
There was no humor to his tone, no nod towards the fact that he had me right where he wanted me, and was waiting to hear something he already knew would be said. His words were of genuine curiosity, carrying with them a burning desire to understand why a hostage, a victim, an evil-being's play-thing would ever possess the audacity to warn her tormentors of a potential danger —or at the very least a nuisance. In that moment many words flew through my mind: panic, favor, protection...
"I don't know," I chose to go with.
He was lightly shaking his head. "I doubt that very much. Consider all you've been though, the suffering, the anguish, the—" He paused, his eyes lifting to stare at something just slightly above my own before they were slowly crawling over my body. "Unless..." His eyes continued wandering downward, and they stopped on the bandages upon my feet for a moment before flickering back to my own. He took a breath, ready to speak, but the doors to the room crashing open stole his attention and I couldn't help but to jump. I heard someone pacing towards us and I held as still as I could. They stopped beside me and tossed something on the desk, which slid over the wood and tumbled off the edge sloppily. I dared to turn my head slightly to see who had barged in, and at the sight of Weylond my heart skipped a beat, though it seemed as though he hadn't even noticed me. He was fighting the urge to grin as he stared at Jey, and when he spoke the expression finally broke through.
Jey's own expression darkened as he glared at his fellow demon. "Who?" He growled.
"I don'know. B-something or another. Brenda.. Beth."
Jey shut his eyes, breathing in deeply. "By your hand, I imagine."
"Yup." Weylond's reply was simple. His nonchalance and even pride toward having killed was nauseating at the least, but what set me on edge the most was the lack of nervousness in confessing the action to his leader, only shortly after having been told not to kill anyone. I held my breath and the room fell silent. Jey had finally scooted back in his chair to bend down and retrieve whatever it had been that Weylond tossed at him, and I couldn't resist stealing another look. This time when I turned my head, Weylond's eyes met my own, and his grin fell immediately into a deep frown. It looked like anger touched his eyes, and I wonder what emotion he could read in my own. The sound of Jey sitting upright again caused us both to look to him, only now Jey was the one staring at us oddly, his eyes moving back and forth between us.
"You disobeyed my orders. Again," Jey said.
"Yeah." This time Weylond sounded nervous. Jey's eyes narrowed on him and I cast my own gaze down, sure that he, too, felt the discomfort that had filled the room now.
"You realize by having done this you take away from your brothers. You endanger them. There is an order to this and yet you keep forsaking it—"
"Jey!" The hand-demon interrupted again. "You speak so freely in front of her!"
I could feel the color draining from my face, his voice so harsh with deep hatred. Jey ignored him once more, though, by remaining silent. I could feel his eyes look to me.
"Just"— he was shaking his head, dismissing Weylond easily. "Put her body with the others."
The room was still until finally I heard Weylond walking away, and only after the door had closed behind him did I finally release the breath I had been holding. How sad, I thought, that another girl had suffered to the point of death. Weylond had first seemed so proud about it, pleased with himself about it despite the command he had received. I couldn't even imagine what horrors he brought onto the girl, whatever her name was. I'll become the one you fear the most, I recalled his words to me. I always am. I could feel a sort of weight pulling me down where I sat and I had to think: that girl was dead because of me. Another girl gone, both of them my fault.
I thought to Jey's order to Weylond before he had left, and my mind fell to the girl in that dream. It's the least you can do. It was a long shot in asking I was sure, but I had to try. I might not have another opportunity to ease the guilt, to do what was right, to somehow make up for what I had done. It seemed safe and evident enough now that physical brutality was not looming near in my immediate future, and this could be the only chance I'd get to even ask...
"Do you burn the bodies?" I looked to him as I spoke, sinking down a bit further at having interrupted him, at having asked the question so fluidly and point-blank. It took even Jey aback, as he was now staring at me with narrowed eyes, an eyebrow cocked. It was a look I had only ever seen on his face one other time, mere moments ago when I had betrayed the daughters, only this time there was something more to the look, something that went beyond confusion.
"Why?" His response was simple, but it sounded as though he had spent ages choosing carefully what to say.
"I had a dream. About the girl I killed," I forced the word out of my mouth. "She asked me to 'close her eyes before they burn' her. So she wouldn't have to see anymore... I told her I would try..." My words trailed off slowly as Jey's eyes narrowed on me further, and he moved them to the hand-demon, his expression remaining fixed in place. Despite my better judgement I couldn't resist looking behind me to him as well, and I saw he was returning the same expression to Jey. I didn't understand.
Jey looked to me again. He held my eyes for a long minute, as though he was searching for something. A part of me wished to know what that would have been, but on the other hand I found myself wishing I hadn't even brought it up in the first place. After another moment his expression relaxed, and he leaned back in his chair. That mystified expression finally left his face and was replaced by that familiar smirk.
"I'll tell you what," he began. "As a reward of sorts for the prodigious favoritism you displayed tonight—" his grin expanded, I knew, due to the obvious discomfort his words brought me. "I will allow you to abide the girl's request."
Physical shock struck me and I could feel my jaw drop slightly because of it, but I couldn't fix the expression. I couldn't believe that he would allow me to do this, let alone even humor me about the dream in the first place, though I hated where this 'reward' had stemmed from, the depths I had to sink to to earn such a thing. I tried not to think about what terrible sights awaited my eyes in order to fulfill my promise to the girl, and instead focused on the fact that I would get my redemption, even if this was all due to some bizarre dream. It was at the tip of my tongue to express gratitude again, even though I knew doing so would make me feel so much lower. But something in me screamed that it was warranted, to say it now so I could get this over with before he changed his mind. I took in a breath to speak, but Jey beat me to it.
"Or. You can have a bath."
Any gratitude I previously felt drained along with the relief and anticipation of redemption that had filled me, leaving me absolutely hollow as I stared at him.
"And a hot meal."
I felt dizzy. Just the thought of cleanliness, of food at all —let alone hot food— was enough to make a self-inflicted desperation take a choking hold. I couldn't remove my eyes from Jey, and as that smirk expanded into a wicked grin I wanted to cry. I felt like it was all that I could mange. It wasn't fair...
Jey looked away from me then, shrugging lightly as he did so. "You can close that girl's eyes and then return to your cell. Or you can bathe and consume the means to sustain yourself a little longer. It's your choice." His tone darkened as his eyes slid back onto mine, and judging upon the way he was looking at me now, it was clear he already knew what my answer would be.
The clawfoot soaking tub was nearly finished filling, and as I listened to the rush of water pouring from the spout I stared down at the floor from where I sat on the closed toilet seat lid. Guilt was hardly a strong enough word to describe how I felt, as I had somehow managed to sink far lower than that of shame. I had betrayed my fellow man, broken a promise to a girl's last heartbreaking request (even if it had been just a dream), and now had selfishly taken the the lower end of an impossible bargain, as offered by a demon. Jey, he had known the choice I would make before I could even answer myself. If this whole thing was some moral lesson in which he was set on proving something or making some kind of point, then he had surely done so. Prodigious favoritism, he had called it. That's how he had interpreted my actions, but was that really why I had done it? It couldn't have been.
I hardly registered the faucet had shut off until Birch was standing before me and reaching down to the hem of my shirt to tug it off. It was a blind reaction as my own hands came down to stop his and shock pierced my chest. When I looked up to him he was letting out a sigh.
"I'm not going to fight you on this," he said. "If you want to bathe with these filthy clothes on, fine. But it defeats the point, don't you think?"
Admittedly, there was no disagreeing with that logic. But yet I found myself speaking before I could help it. "Do you have to be in here?"
He looked to the tub, then to me, purposely lingering on the distance between the two within the larger bathroom. "I don't see you getting yourself in that tub anytime soon." His eyes dropped to my feet for a short second and he grinned. Again, there was no disagreeing. I took away my hands and closed my eyes tightly.
He wasted no time with removing my clothes, and I could feel them literally peeling off me. I closed my eyes tighter, as if doing so would somehow make the bareness any better to deal with while he removed the bandages from my ankles. He discarded them in the same corner where he had tossed the clothes, picked me up, and I held my breath as he carried me to the tub, wishing in that moment more than any other that I possessed the ability still to walk myself. As soon as I felt the hot water upon my skin my body tensed, freezing and locking in place, and only after Birch eased me into the water was I finally able to relax once absolutely submerged.
And I did relax; I couldn't help myself, and I had abandoned any notion of trying to keep myself covered, too. Once the initial burn of the water against the grime on my body, the cuts and stitches, scratches and bruises faded, all that was left was warmth and ease as every ache and pain left my body. I sunk deeper into the water until I could feel it against my chapped lips, and it was easy to keep my eyes closed, despite the fact that I wasn't alone. I might have fallen asleep, if it wasn't for a hand on top of my head pushing down to shove me under the water, holding me in place below for a few seconds before allowing me up for air with a gasp. I should have known I wouldn't be free of torture or near death by drowning. But when I turned around I saw Birch to have taken a seat on the edge of the tub, and he held in his hand a bottle of soap. I was so taken aback by the sight, hardly able to believe that Jey's definition of bath and bathe meant more than just sitting in a tub full of water, that I didn't register the fact that Birch had poured a handful of the soap into his palm and was now leaning forward. I froze at the touch initially, but ultimately found myself turning back around and sinking into the water once more. His technique was rough, I could feel his nails scratching and scraping over my scalp, but I did nothing to move away from it...
"Have you ever had to do this before?" I forced the words, if only to keep myself from thinking or dwelling on a particular memory.
"No." His response was curt as he kept scratching away. "But I imagine it's no different than washing a pet."
"Have you ever had to do that?"
I decided to speak no more. Another moment went by, and when I felt his hand on the top of my head I was ready this time. I sucked in a breath as he pushed me under as a fast means of rinsing the soap from my hair, and I moved the strands out of my face one I had surfaced. I found him to be smirking lightly when I looked up to him, and the towel in his hands didn't go amiss.
"Can I... just stay here for a little longer?"
Perhaps it was stupid to have asked, but I couldn't help it. My mind flashed to the cold the cells, the stone floor, the other daughters... Bargaining of any kind was more than likely far from anything acceptable right now, considering this bath was more than I ever thought I would ever have again, but I had to try. I wasn't ready to return to the prison, to the shackles, to the aching bones and disgusted stares from the girls. Birch let out another sigh and glanced to the closed bathroom door.
"I guess." He took a seat on the toilet lid, stretched out his legs, and leaned back. Relief of the purest kind struck and I wasted no time in sinking back into the water. I closed my eyes, though the guilt of my action loomed above no matter how far into the water I sunk.
"I wouldn't feel too bad you know," Birch's voice broke the stillness. I opened my eyes and found him to be in the same position from minutes prior, his eyes on my own. "Any one of them would have picked the same thing, if it had been them."
He was talking about the daughters, and the selfish choice I had made in accepting the luxury of necessities I thought I would never have again. I thought to Tiffany and her drive to escape, and her selflessness in assisting the others. I thought about how they were all willing to sacrifice so much all for the sake of chasing freedom. I thought to the girl in my dream, her plea to me, those faded eyes...
"I doubt that," I mumbled, and I looked away from him.
"Don't," he encouraged. "In the darkest of hours, humans always save themselves, always chose themselves. Some of them just won't admit it on their own. If given the option again, would you have chosen to close that girl's eyes this time? Be honest."
I swallowed. His words brought no comfort; they only served to make me feel so much lower. "No," I answered. And it was the truth, terribly so.
"Exactly. And if given the choice, would you have given up this opportunity to allow one of the others to bathe and eat?"
I so desperately wanted to say yes, wanted to truly mean it and believe it. "No."
"There you go then."
Birch allowed me to soak in the tub for longer than I had could have hoped for. I finally mustered up the courage to use the soap on my body and by the time I had been lifted from the water, set down and wrapped in a towel I couldn't help but to absolutely revel in how much better I physically felt. Bathing, an otherwise simple necessity had become a luxury of the highest degree. Still, Birch's words would not stop repeating in my head. It was though he had been suggesting I feel pride in the choice I had made, but I couldn't. The shame was too strong, and I hoped I would never ever dream about that girl again. Having to sit alone with the daughters would be excruciating enough.
After removing the plug from the drain, I listened to the water rush downward as Birch shoved a piece of new fabric over my head. Once my arms had been adjusted I realized it was a nightgown— white, fresh and soft. It wasn't the first piece of clothing I would have ever chosen, but it certainly beat that green tank top. I rubbed the fabric of the nightgown between my fingers as I stared at the tub.
"Why is there a bathtub here at all?" I blankly asked, dreading the inevitable now that it was all over, but in that moment I more so hated how easy it was proving to be to talk to the demons, or at least Birch, on more of a casual level than I could have ever imagined.
"We enjoy our simple comforts, too." He picked me up.
"D-... demons bathe?" I could hardly use that word so casually.
"When they possess a body, they do."
The room spun at his answer, and I decided that was the last question I wanted to ask for a while.
We excited the bathroom and I could feel my body clenching all over again at the thought of returning to the cell, but when Birch took a different turn and instead headed into the kitchen I had noticed earlier, the relief that came with remembering the second part of the offer was overwhelming. Somehow I had completely forgotten about the promise of a hot meal, and as we stepped into the dim kitchen I saw there was a plate and a glass of what I assumed was milk set on the table. I couldn't focus on it too long, however, for lingering on the other side of the table and leaning against the counter in the shadows was Twitch, and his eyes glowed through the darkness. I stared at him wearily as Birch set me down in a chair in front of the food, and only after he moved over another chair to place my feet on top of was I finally able to tear my vision from the mutilated demon. Granted Birch's face was not easy on the eyes either, but somehow his was easier to get used to.
A grilled cheese sandwich had been prepared, and hot steam still flowed up from it. My stomach clenched, my mouth watered, and like the animal I was reduced to I wasted no time in picking it up and taking a large bite. Like the sweet drink I had been offered prior, I didn't care in that moment if the sandwich was burnt or poisoned or doctored in anyway. There had been no true threat present during the bath. I'd take my chances in assuming the same applied now.
As I ate, relishing every bite, the taste, the way the cheese burned my tongue even, Birch had busied himself in looking over my wounds, checking the stitching, and finally wrapping my feet with fresh bandages. In the distance I could hear footsteps, the floorboards waning beneath somebody's weight, but I was too distracted by savoring the last few bites, that is, until an unfamiliar voice was sounding directly in my ear.
"Why'd you do it?"
I jumped, the sandwich slipping from my fingers and I nearly choked. Birch glanced up with only his eyes as he worked, and despite my better judgement I turned my head slightly to see who had spoken. Three demons had entered the kitchen: the medieval helmet one and two whom I hadn't really seen before. One of them had self-created pointed ears and four vertical scars that began from his lips and stretched to his chin and jaw, and the other was taller than the rest, his hair in several long braids that fell to his stomach. The one with the pointed ears was the one who had spoken, I knew, as he was now grabbing my chair and holding onto the back of it as he loomed closer, waiting for an answer. I could feel myself sinking, and instinctively I leaned away, but in turn he only moved in closer. Even in the dim light I saw that one of his eyes was pale green in color, the other simply black.
Pinpricks were coursing up and down my spine and I couldn't think straight. "Do what?"
A wide, toothy grin stretched his features, morphing the scars, and he looked to the other demons as one of them chuckled.
"You know what," he said, his eyes sliding back to mine. "Those girls got it so bad. Weylond killed one of them!" He giggled, glancing over his shoulder again to the other two. He looked down to what was left of the sandwich, picked it up and took a bite. "That could'a been you," he went on, pointing at me with the sandwich, and he took another sloppy bite. "But instead you're here. Sitting at our table. Eating our food—"
"Fiske," Birch spoke then, stealing the demon's attention. "Leave her alone." Fiske ignored him.
"Safe and sound," he went on. "Did you plan for that? Is that why you did it? To earn a break from having your bones ripped from—"
I jumped again, but Fiske calmly looked to the main entrance of the kitchen. I followed his vision and saw Jey leaning against the arch.
"Let the girl eat," Jey said as he stepped into the kitchen. Fiske smirked again, and he took one final look at me as he tossed the last bit of sandwich back onto the plate, and without another word the three of them left. Birch had just finished with the bandages, and when Jey nodded wordlessly towards the other entry-way to the kitchen that was behind me, both Birch and Twitch made their exit while Jey sat down directly across from me.
"You have perplexed everyone here."
I didn't know what to say to that so I stayed quiet, staring at the patterns within the wooden table.
"Aren't you going to finish that?"
When I looked up I saw Jey loosely pointing to what was left of the grilled cheese. I glanced down at it and all I could fathom were the large teeth marks. I wished not to have anymore of it, though at the same time I dreaded it being forced down my throat if I declined. "Do I have to?"
"I would," Jey said easily, and his casual response surprised me. "It's the last nourishment you might receive for a while."
I let out a breath. He was absolutely right.
"Additionally," he went on. "You might offend Twitch if you don't."
"He made this?" The words flew from my mouth before I could hold them back. Jey was staring at me.
"Yes. Is that a problem?"
I waited a moment before answering, deciding it best not to speak my mind and confess that yes, honestly, it was a problem in the sense that it disturbed me and for some reason made me all the more skeptical of the contents. Furthermore, I knew it wise to not criticize the last meal I may ever receive. "No. I just didn't know d—" I hated saying the word— "demons ate human food."
"It's more complicated than that. Do you want to know why?"
It felt as though a thousand tiny spiders were crawling their way up my body. Sitting here in this dark kitchen, speaking to Jey, however casual, had me so on edge. I had seen his ruthlessness, fallen victim to his brutality first-hand, been made a fool of by his cunning irony. I was waiting for him to lash out at any minute, but as the seconds ticked on he merely remained still, patiently waiting for my answer. I thought to where the casual conversation and questioning had led to with Birch, and his statement about possession. A chill coursed through me and I quickly shook my head, forcing down any morbid curiosity that might have been there.
"Fair enough. Eat."
His tone carried with it the physical force of a thousand evil entities, and I obliged quickly, trying not to think about the teeth marks as I tore a piece of the sandwich off around them. Jey caught this and he let out a laugh.
"His saliva isn't poison, you know. It won't kill you."
"Yeah right," I muttered, and I could have kicked myself at having spoken so freely again.
I looked up to him and swallowed roughly. ""I- I said— I said..."
"You don't believe me?"
He held my eyes, and all I could do was shake my head.
"Humorous," he mused. "You think the statements I tell you are untrue, yet I've never told you a single lie. You, however, have been the one to lie on several occasions. And not just to us, but to Marilyn Sanders, as well."
A small gasp stole my breath as that same shock stung the back of my neck.
"You know the name," Jey said. This was a statement, not a question, and I nodded. "How?"
"I know the last name," I clarified. "Because she mentioned it."
"In the cells?"
"In the dream."
Jey nodded to himself. "We burned the bodies while you had your bath. I set fire to Marilyn last, so that she could see the flames all the longer."
My stomach clenched and I finally had to tear my vision away from him, finding it hard suddenly to keep down my food. As I had anticipated, this experience upstairs wasn't completely free of torture.
"That bothers you," he observed. "Why?"
A heavy weight was crushing me where I sat, and what made it all the worse was that it was self created and inflicted. "Because I feel guilty."
"For choosing this." I raised my hands slightly as a means of gesturing to my selfishness.
"As opposed to having the chance to do as she asked?"
"Even though it was just a dream?"
"Y—" I hesitated, forcing my eyes back to his. "It felt... real."
Jey was nodding again. "I see." He grinned at my obvious discomfort at the use of that word. "Have you had dreams like that before?"
"No. I don't think so."
He said nothing, finally. His eyes dropped from mine, strangely, and I couldn't help but wonder if there was something he was choosing not to share...
"Drink," he gestured to the glass of milk. "You need the protein."
Milk had never been my drink of choice, but nonetheless I couldn't help but to take large sips, savoring the cold liquid. Only after I had nearly finished it did I finally force myself to stop. I was sure as soon as I finished the milk and last bite of the sandwich I would have to return to the cells. I wondered how much longer I could prolong this, or if I even could. I set the glass down gently on the table and wiped my mouth.
"Who failed to lock your restraints?"
The sudden question took me by surprise and when I lifted my eyes to Jey in panic I saw he was staring at me again.
"I don't remember..."
"Convenient. But you remember warning us of the escape."
"Why did you warn us?"
My lips parted to speak, but the words never came. "I don't know," I whispered. I should have known it was a matter of time before he brought this up again. I wished desperately to just forget about it.
"More lies," Jey pointed out and I dropped my gaze as that weight doubled in size. To be proven a liar by a demon had me sinking lower than I previously thought possible. I couldn't tell him the truth about Weylond, not without having to share what happened before it, and not without possibly falling victim to Weylond's wrath if he were to get in trouble for the mistake. Even more so now than ever after having learned he had disobeyed his leader and killed a girl anyway. As for the warning— no. I couldn't go there. But still, I couldn't carry all this shame anymore. I spoke up, this time choosing my words carefully, sharing with him an honest truth, though only as a means of gaining a small redemption.
"Some things are just better left unsaid."
My answer intrigued him, and he leaned forward. "So you do know why you did it. You just don't want to tell me."
I closed my eyes and I nodded. It was all I could manage.
I finished the milk and even the last bite of grilled cheese, and just as Jey had said, it didn't kill me. With the meal finished, Jey stood from the table and I held my breath as he picked me up. Just like having been carried by Twitch, Weylond and Birch, that feeling of weightlessness overcame me, and it caused that pinprick sensation to resurface, a feeling that had my throat closing up and my face to redden in hue. I could see the curve of definition in his muscles, feel the light grip of his hands, and I had to close my eyes. I listened to the wooden door open, I could feel the descent upon the narrow stairway, and I anticipated the dreadfully familiar whine of the door that came next. But instead, I heard Jey's voice.
"I respect what you said." His words had me opening my eyes. "And I respect the fact that you don't want to tell me, for whatever reasons that are your own. But you should know, that doesn't mean I won't do all I can to beat it out of you."
The color drained from me as my stomach dropped to the floor at his threat.
"That being said, however..." We were nearing the door now. "You are my little survivor, the strongest one yet. I doubt you'll cave to physical abuse on its own. So, I'll make you another deal."
My fear surpassed that of trembling and shaking, but I held my breath again at his offer. He opened the door, and it whined loudly.
"As soon as you tell me who did not fasten your restraints, and why you warned us of the escape, I'll allow you to sleep in a warm bed, and relish in a full night free of torture."
We had reached the cell now, and even if I wanted to say anything to him I did not possess the ability to do so. The promise of a night free of pain, a real bed... I was no longer holding my breath on purpose; I simply could not breathe.
He unlocked the cell door, and as it squeaked a few of the daughters within glanced up with only their eyes. Tiffany was one of them. Before I shamefully looked away I saw their restraints were different. From where they sat their hands were no longer bound behind them, but rather their arms were stretched upward and bound from above. As a further precaution, a large restraint cuff was around their necks, the chain attached allowing no clearance, and it forced their heads to remain upward and resting against the concrete pillars. My body was already aching at the discomfort and the fact that these new bindings and forced positions were my fault entirely.
Jey sat me down against my usual column and I offered no protest when he lifted my hands above my head, the shackles clicking in place with a loud echo thereafter. I waited, dreading that heavy iron to be placed around my neck, but it never came. Instead, I felt warm fingertips against my skin, dragging gingerly up my neck, and when he took hold of my jaw he forced my head up to look at him, though his grip was loose. I was made to stare into his dark eyes and I hated the way my heart raced...
"Act quickly," he told me in a low, quiet tone, though I very much knew all of the daughters could hear him. "Because you're not going to enjoy what happens in the meantime."
He squeezed lightly on my jaw, nodded once to assure his promise, and when his fingers slid from my face I remained positively frozen.
A hoarse voice beside me had me turning my head, and I locked eyes with Tiffany. Her body was bruised, her hair a knotted mess, and one of her eyes was completely swollen shut.
"You really are a witch."