Chapter 78 – Earned Punishment – Raine's POV

I trembled uncontrollably, with no idea what to expect next.

General Raed crossed the room to me and then led me to a freestanding pole. It took every ounce of my control to let him raise my hands and clasped them tightly inside of the shackles bolted into the pole. I knew the aperture was there to support my weight, to keep me in position, when the pain made it impossible for me to stand on my own.

I couldn't see Alaric now. He was behind me, no doubt gathering the necessary instrument to inflict my punishment. Quinn gave him a stern warning, "I will know if you are holding back. If your strikes do not satisfy me, she will be afflicted with the additional ten once you are done!"

I shuddered hard.

Alaric growled, but said nothing.

I was glad I couldn't see his face.

Before another thought crossed my mind, I heard the telltale sound of a whip slice through the air. But absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the impact. Pain, like I had never felt before, shattered through me like fire, so stunning that for a moment, all of my breath was pulled from my lungs, leaving me unable to utter a word.

My silence didn't last long, because the second hit came almost immediately, causing me to scream in excruciating agony. It was the same as if he had taken a knife and scored open my back. I felt hot liquid gush freely from the wounds and trail down my back, landing in crimson droplets at my feet.

I shook violently as the third blow connected with my flesh, another blood curdling scream wrenching from my chest. It shocked my senses, and confused my brain with its severity. Sweat poured off of me and tears streamed down my face. I gasped for air as I sobbed uncontrollably.

Right after the fourth punishing slash mutilated my skin, I abruptly felt a change. Strength and power suddenly flowed through me! Enough, that when I thrust back, I jerked the shackles right out of the pole! They dangled on my wrists as I spun and attacked Alaric, using the force of my momentum to knock him off balance and pin him to the ground. My intention was to keep him there, but the shackles were making it difficult for me to throw a punch.

I probably would not have been as successful, had Alaric not been so shocked by my assault. In the next instant, he regained his composure and heaved me off of his chest. General Raed caught me from behind, his steel arms wrapping around me in a vice grip. I writhed desperately to break free but the movement only further exacerbated my wounds, causing my ruined flesh to gape and pull apart.

I screamed, trying to maintain my strength. But it was of no use. I had already been damaged too severely, weakened too much, and the pain ate away at all of my logical thought and licked at my skin like fiery tendrils. I fell limp in General Raed's arms.

Instantly, he turned my body so that my back was away from him and gripped me tightly by my forearms. I knew what his positioning meant. Alaric confirmed it when another blow impacted with my body. The force of it caused me to jolt uncontrollably and more screams ripped from my chest

Additional blows came in quick succession, brutalizing my back, but I was no longer able to count them. There could have been two or twenty, for all I knew. General Raed continued to hold up my limp form. I suspected his arms and hands may have been struck a few times as the whip curled around my body before snapping back. But he said nothing; just continued to hold me in place.

Without warning, the sound of glass breaking filled the air, along with Loki's furious roar! The massive cat had somehow freed himself from the enclosure, and barreled through a glass window to get to me! He attacked Alaric from behind, slicing through his back with his claws. General Raed dropped me so that he could help keep Loki from removing Alaric's head.

I landed hard on my hands and knees, pain shooting down my spine. But I couldn't think about my own suffering, because Quinn suddenly ordered, "Neutralize the cat!"

Loki might have gotten in the first hit but he was no match for a room full of vampires. I could barely think, let alone speak, but somehow I managed to whisper his name, "Loki...No."

Instantly, he came to my side and dropped down next to me, whimpering. Apparently, it was enough to keep him safe because the vampires left him alone after that. General Raed returned to me. He crouched in front of me and instead of pulling me to my feet; he just held my upper body up. The whip licked at my back twice more, before General Raed whispered quietly in my ear, "It's over."

I think I would have felt relief had I not been so utterly consumed by the agony. General Raed gently lowered my upper body to the ground, but I cried out at the movement. He had tried to be careful, but even the slightest touch caused excruciating pain.

Loki growled furiously.

I didn't have the strength to raise my head, so I couldn't see him, but I heard Alaric snarl, "Are you satisfied  now?!"

From my position on the floor, I blinked, trying unsuccessfully to focus my eyes. My eyelids fluttered, and I could barely make out the outline of Quinn's feet as he walked to me, so that he could inspect the damage. He commanded Alaric, "Remove her shirt."

My shirt was mostly gone as it was, with the upper half torn to shreds. Only the fabric around my waist and hips remained. Alaric growled and carefully tore the remaining portion of my shirt in half, revealing my entire back. I couldn't be sure, but I was almost certain I heard Quinn gasp. Adrenaline ran through me. Was my back so mutilated that even he was surprised?!

Quinn hissed, "What the fuck is that?!"

"It is a tattoo!" Alaric answered shortly, obviously confused and irritated by the seemingly unrelated question.

Oh, I understood now.

Quinn was asking about my mysterious tiger crest at the base of my spine. Alaric had seen it the other night when he had me bent over the countertop, but it hadn't come up in conversation yet, so naturally, he had just assumed it was a normal tattoo.

Only Cage and I knew the mark was far from normal. It had appeared, along with Armand's family crest, when he healed me. But when Armand's crest faded as his blood left my system, the mark on my back remained.

Quinn growled, "That is no tattoo!!"

My heart beat faster. I wanted to ask him what he knew about it, but forming words right now was completely impossible. Whatever it was, it clearly made him uneasy.

"What the hell are you talking about?!" Alaric's frustration could be plainly heard in his response.

"Does she know Felaern?!" Quinn demanded.

Clearly Alaric had had enough. He replied, "What the fuck does Felaern have to do with anything?!"

"Answer the damn question!" Quinn barked.

I could almost see Alaric roll his eyes as he hissed, "Of course she knows him! She is Brialle's daughter. He is quite protective of her."

Quinn's voice rose higher, obviously laced with anxiety as he spat, "Fuck, why didn't you tell me that before?!

"At what  point in the conversation should I have brought up Felaern?!" Alaric yelled.

Quinn didn't answer him. Instead he spun and strode away, leaving me confused and Alaric even more angry.

As soon as Quinn was gone, Alaric dropped to his knees next to me and whispered fervently, "I am so sorry!! Please forgive me for hurting you!!" His fangs descended and he quickly lifted his wrist to his mouth.

General Raed clasped Alaric's arm to stop him as he murmured, "It will not help."

Alaric shrugged him off, trying once again to cut open his wrist as he snapped impatiently, "What do you mean it will not help?!"

General Raed explained, "She cannot be healed with vampire blood."

Understanding washed over Alaric's voice as he breathed in horror, "No!"

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Can I just say, this chapter was hella difficult to write. It has been planned since the beginning, hence my previous descriptions of Quinn, but not at all easy to get through...

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