Zsadist was quiet as he stole back into his room. After he fixed the thermostat and put the medicine on the bureau, he went over to the bed and leaned against the wall, staying in the shadows. He became suspended in time as he loomed over Bella and measured the slight rise and fall of the covers that marked her breathing. He could feel the minutes dripping into hours, and yet he could not move even as his legs grew numb.
In the candlelight he watched her skin heal right in front of his eyes. It was miraculous, the bruises fading from her face, the swelling around her eyes draining away, the cuts disappearing. Thanks to the deep sleep she was in, her body was throwing off the damage, and as her beauty was revealed once again, he was so damned grateful. In the lofty circles she ran in, a female with imperfections of any kind would be shunned. Aristocrats were like that.
He pictured his twin's unmarred, handsome face and knew Phury should be the one taking care of her. Phury was perfect savior material, and it was obvious he was into her. Plus she would like to wake up to a male like that. Any female would.
So why the hell didn't he just pick her up and put her in Phury's bed? Right now.
But he couldn't move. And as he stared down at her while she lay on pillows he'd never used, between sheets he'd never turned back for himself, he remembered the past…
Months had gone by since the slave first awoke in captivity. And in this time there was not anything that had not been done to him, in him, or on him, and there was a predictable rhythm to the abuse.
The Mistress was fascinated by his privates and felt the need to display them to other males she favored. She would bring these strangers into the cell, get out the salve, and show him off like a prized horse. He knew she did it to make the others insecure, for he could see the delight in her eyes as the males shook their heads in awe.
When the inevitable violations started up, the slave did his best to release himself from his skin and bones. It was so much more bearable when he could rise up into the air, rise higher and higher until he bounced along the ceiling, a cloud of himself. If he was lucky, he could transform entirely and just float along, watching them from above, playing witness to someone else's humiliation and pain and degradation. But it didn't always work. Sometimes he couldn't free himself, and was forced to endure.
The Mistress always had to use the salve on him, and of late he'd noticed something strange: Even when he was trapped in his body and everything being done to him was vivid, even as the sounds and the smells burrowed like rats into his brain, there was a curious displacement below his waist. Whatever he felt down there registered as an echo, as something removed from the rest of him. It was odd, but he was grateful. Any kind of numbing was good.
Whenever he was left alone, he worked at learning to control his huge, posttransition muscles and bones. This he succeeded at, and he'd attacked the guards a number of times, totally unrepentant about his acts of aggression. Verily, he no longer felt like he knew the males who watched over him and who found such disgust in their duty: Their faces were familiar to him in the manner of dream figures, naught but hazy leftovers from a wretched life he should have enjoyed more.
Each time he'd struck out he'd been beaten for hours—although only on the palms and the soles of his feet, because the Mistress liked him kept pleasing to the eye. As a result of his offensives, he was now guarded by a revolving squad of warriors, all of whom wore chain mail if they came inside his cell. Moreover, the bedding platform was now fitted with restraints that could be sprung from outside, so that after he'd been used, the guards didn't have to endanger their lives letting him go. And when the Mistress wanted to come calling, he was drugged into submission either through his food or by blow darts that would be shot through a slot in the door.
The days passed slowly. He was focused on finding the weakness in the guards and on removing himself as much as he could from the depravity… when for all intents and purposes he died. And died so hard that even when he was out from under the Mistress, he would never truly live again.
The slave was eating in his cell, trying to keep his strength up for the next opening within the guards, when he saw the sliding panel on the door shift open and a hollow tube protrude. He leaped up, though there was no cover to be had, and felt the first sting in his neck. He pulled out the dart as quickly as he could, but he was hit with another and then another until his body grew heavy.
He woke up on the bedding, shackled.
The Mistress was sitting right next to him, her head down, her hair shielding her face. As if she knew he had found consciousness, her eyes shifted to his.
"I am to be mated."
Oh, sweet Virgin in the Fade… The words he'd longed to hear. He would be free now, for she would need no blood slave if she had a nellren. He could go back to his duties in the kitchen…
The slave forced himself to address her with respect, although to him she was no female of worth. "Mistress, will you let me go?"
There was only silence.
"Please let me go," he said raggedly. Considering all he had been through, to throw his pride out for the possibility of being free was an easy sacrifice. "I beg you, Mistress. Release me of this confinement."
When she looked at him, tears were in her eyes. "I find that I cannot… I have to keep you. I must keep you."
He started to struggle, and the harder he fought the binds the more the look of love overtook her face.
"You are so magnificent," she said, reaching down to touch him between his legs. Her face was wistful… nearly worshipful. "Ne'er have I seen such a male as you. Would that you were not so far beneath me—I would show your face in my court as my consort."
He saw her arm moving slowly up and down and knew that she must be working that rope of flesh that interested her so. Mercifully, he could feel it not.
"Let me go. …"
"You never harden without the salve," she murmured in a sad voice. "And you never find completion. Why is that?"
She stroked him harder now until he felt a burning down where she was touching him. Frustration bled into her eyes, darkening them.
"Why? Why do you not want me?" When he stayed silent, she yanked at his male staff. "I am beautiful."
"Only to others," he said before he could catch the words.
Her breath stopped, as if he had choked her with his very hand. Then her eyes slid up his stomach and his chest to his face. They were still glossy with tears, but rage also filled them.
The Mistress rose from the bed and stared down at him. Then she slapped him so hard she must have hurt her palm. As he spit out blood, he wondered if one of his teeth wasn't leaving with it.
While her eyes bored into his, he thought for sure she was going to have him killed, and a calmness came over him. At least the suffering would be over then. Death… death would be glorious.
Abruptly she smiled at him, as if she knew his thoughts, as if she'd reached into him and taken them out of him, as if she'd stolen them just as she had laid larceny to his body.
"No, I shall not be sending you unto the Fade."
She leaned down and kissed one of his nipples, then sucked it into her mouth. Her hand drifted over his ribs, then onto his belly.
Her tongue flicked yet and still over his flesh. "You grow gaunt. You need to feed, do you not?"
She worked her way down his body, kissing and sucking. And then it happened quickly. The salve. Her getting up on top of him. That hideous merging of their bodies.
When he closed his eyes and turned his head, she slapped him once… twice… many more times. But he refused to look at her, and she was not strong enough to force his face around, even when she grabbed onto one of his ears.
As he denied her his eyes, her weeping grew as loud as the slap of her flesh against his hips. When it was over, she left in a swirl of silk, and not long thereafter the chains were released.
The slave eased himself up on one forearm and wiped his mouth. Looking down at his blood on his hand, he was surprised that it was still red. He felt so soiled, it wouldn't have been a shock to find it some kind of rusted brown.
He rolled off the bed, still groggy from the darts, and found the corner that he always went to. He sat with his back to the juncture of the walls and curled his legs up against his chest so his heels were tight to his male parts.
Sometime later he heard a struggle outside his cell, and then the guards pushed a small female inside. She fell in a heap, but launched herself at the door as it closed.
"Why?" she yelled. "Why am I punished?"
The slave rose to his feet, not knowing what to do. He hadn't seen a female other than the Mistress since he'd woken up in captivity. This one was a maid of some sort. He remembered her from before…
Blood hunger rose in him as he caught her scent. After all the Mistress had done to him, he couldn't see her as someone to drink from, but this diminutive female was different. He was suddenly dying of thirst, his body's needs coming out in a chorus of shouts and demands. He took lurching steps toward the maid, feeling nothing but instinct.
The female pounded on the door, but then seemed to realize she was not alone. When she turned around and saw who she was locked in with, she screamed.
The slave was nearly overcome by his drinking urge, but he forced himself away from her and scrambled back to where he had been. He crouched down, wrapping his arms around his trembling, naked body to keep it in place. Turning his face to the wall, he tried to breathe… and found himself on the verge of weeping over the animal he had been reduced to.
After a while the female stopped screaming, and after even longer she said, " 'Tis truly you, is it not? The boy from the kitchen. The one who carried ale."
He nodded without looking at her.
"I had heard rumors you had been taken here, but I… I believed the others who said you'd died during your transition." There was a pause. "You are so large. Like a warrior. Why is that?"
He had no idea. He didn't even know what he looked like, as there wasn't a mirror in the cell.
The female cautiously approached him. When he looked up at her, she was eyeing his tattooed bands.
"Truly, what is done to you here?" she whispered. "They say… terrible things are done to the male who dwells within this place."
When he said nothing, she sat beside him and softly touched his arm. He flinched at the contact and then realized he was soothed by it.
"I am here to feed you, am I not? That is why I was brought here." After a moment she peeled his hand free from his leg and put her wrist into his palm. "You must drink."
He wept then, wept from the generosity of her, from the kindness, from the feel of her gentle hand as it rubbed over his shoulder… the only touch he had welcomed in… forever.
Finally she pressed her wrist to his mouth. Though his fangs unsheathed and he craved her, he did naught but kiss her tender skin and refuse. How could he take from her what was regularly taken from him? She was offering, but she was forced into it, a prisoner of the Mistress just as he was.
The guards came in later. When they found her cradling him, they seemed shocked, but they were not rough with her. As she left she looked at the slave, concern on her face.
Moments later the darts came at him, so many through the door it was as if he were pelted with gravel. As he slid into oblivion, he thought vaguely that the frantic nature of the attack didn't bode well.
When he awoke, the Mistress was standing over him, furious. There was something in her hand, but he couldn't see what it was.
"Think you too good for the gifts I give you?"
The door opened and the young female's limp body was brought in. As the guards let go, she flopped onto the floor like so many rags. Dead.
The slave screamed in fury, the roar rebounding off the stone cell walls, magnifying to an earsplitting thunder. He strained against the steel bands until they cut him to the bone, until one of the posts cracked with, a squeal… and still he roared.
The guards backed away. Even the Mistress seemed unsure of the fury she'd released. But as always, it was not long before she took control.
"Leave us," she shouted to the guards.
She waited until the slave wore himself out. Then she leaned over him, only to grow pale.
"Your eyes," she whispered, staring down at him. "Your eyes…"
She appeared to be momentarily frightened of him, but then she cloaked herself in a regal forbearance.
"The females I present you with? You will drink from them." She glanced over at the maid's lifeless body. "And you'd best not let them comfort you, or I shall do that again. You are mine and no one else's."
"I will not drink," he shouted at her. "Ever!"
She stepped back. "Do not be ridiculous, slave."
He bared his fangs and hissed. "Look upon me, Mistress. Watch as I wither!" He screamed the last word at her, his booming voice filling the room. As she went rigid with fury, the door flew open and guards came in with swords drawn.
"Leave us," she snarled at them, her face red, her body shaking.
She lifted her hand up and a whip came with it. Slashing her arm down, she brought the weapon across the slave's chest. His flesh broke and bled, and he laughed at her.
"Again," he hollered. "Do that again. I felt it not, you are so weak!"
Some dam had burst within him, and the words would not stop… He railed against her as she whipped him until the bedding platform flowed with what had been in his veins. When finally she could lift her arm no more, she was panting and blood-splattered and sweating. He was focused, icy, calm in spite of the pain. Though he was the one who had been beaten, she was the one who had broken first.
Her head fell downward as if in submission while she dragged breath through her white lips.
"Guard," she said hoarsely "Guard!"
The door opened. The uniformed male who ran in faltered when he saw what had been done, the soldier blanching and teetering in his boots.
"Hold his head." The Mistress's voice was reedy as she dropped the whip. "Hold his head, I say. Now."
The guard stumbled over, slipping on the slick floor. Then the slave felt a meaty hand clap onto his forehead.
The Mistress leaned over the slave's body, still breathing hard. "You are not… permitted… to die."
Her hand found his male flesh and then dipped down underneath it to the twin weights below. She squeezed and twisted, making his whole body spasm. As he cried out, she bit her wrist, held it over his open mouth, and bled into him.
Z backed away from the bed. He didn't want to think of the Mistress in Bella's presence… as if all that evil could escape his mind and endanger her as she slept and healed.
He went over to his pallet and realized he was curiously tired. Exhausted, actually.
As he stretched out on the floor, his leg throbbed like a bitch.
God, he'd forgotten he'd been shot. He stripped out of his shitkickers and pants and willed a candle to light beside him. Cocking his leg around, he inspected the wound on his calf. There was both an entrance and an exit hole, so he knew the bullet had passed through. He'd live.
He extinguished the candle with his breath, draped his pants over his hips, and lay back. Opening himself up to the pain in his body, he became a basin for the agony, catching all the nuances of his aches and stings—
He heard an odd noise, like a small cry. The sound was repeated, and then Bella began to struggle on the bed, the sheets rustling as if she were flailing around.
He shot up from the floor and went around to her, just as her head tilted toward him and her eyes opened.
She blinked, looked up at his face… and screamed.