Chapter One

Lurking in an ill-lit corner, Isabella cast a satisfied, somewhat arrogant, glance around her and reflected on just how far she'd come. The room was large and elaborate, cluttered with nearly every luxury one could wish for. A large fire glowed in the hearth and multitudes of extravagant furniture were crammed just about everywhere Isabella could fit them. She relished in her triumph, indulging in a satisfied smirk, revealing a pair of ivory fangs which provided glorious contrast to her thin, scarlet lips. Sweet, sweet victory was hers to enjoy, and would be for the rest of eternity.

Stretching out two enormous pairs of black, bird-like wings, Isabella strode across the room, glaring out through the window of her fortress. And, oh, what a sight it was! With less than a dozen miserable hovels still standing, there were hundreds of miserable wretches that could be seen on the streets, begging and struggling to survive. Come winter, more than half of them would be gone. And those fortunate few who were not languishing out in the world were slaves belonging to Isabella and expected to obey her until their death. Wretched humans!

Speak of the Devil… The hinges let out a mournful moan as the room's heavy, oaken door was pushed open. In the doorway stood a pitiful creature clad in rags. Bruises and welts covered his exposed skin, and he trembled so violently it was a wonder he didn't topple over. Such fear was evident in his expression that it looked as if he expected to be beat for just standing there. He wilted beneath Isabella's cold, scrutinizing gaze as her pupil-less, indigo eyes narrowed with ineffable hatred.

She snarled, "What is it now, slave?" The man cringed as if he'd been struck. He willed the words to come, but his jaw hung slack from fear and refused to move. He managed to force out a few unintelligible syllables before Isabella lost her patience. She advanced and, by the time she reached her prey, the poor man had been driven to his knees by terror. She drew back her hand and slapped him across the face, her long, sharp nails leaving thin scratches on his cheek. Grabbing him by the throat and hauling him off the ground, Isabella said, "You know I have no patience for you and your kind! Now out with it, you dumb beast!" Though her voice remained calm and level, it was laden with ill concealed venom. "Unless," she added ominously, "You need a bit of encouragement?"

Horrified, the wretched slave shook his head, instantly finding his voice. He whimpered piteously, "I-I merely came to i-inform you th-that I h-h-have f-finished the ch-chores I had been a-assigned. P-please forgive the i-i-intrusion, Master." Isabella waved her hand in a gesture of dismissal; as he exited the man bowed deeply, revealing open wounds from numerous whippings.

Once the door clicked shut, he felt as if he would faint from relief. His master had been kind… Reluctant to test his luck, he flew down the stairs as quickly as his weak, trembling legs could carry him and returned to his cold, lightless cell, where he would remain until Isabella bid him come out and perform whatever task was required. For the life of him, the broken man couldn't imagine what he'd done to deserve such an abominable existence. Happily and readily, he would have traded places with any free person on the streets. Either way, he would be cold and starving. But, if he were free, he wouldn't need to fear beatings or other cruel punishments for a misstep or an ill-timed entrance.

Not for the first time, he wondered if any of them realized just how fortunate they were to be free. Freedom… No one seemed to notice just how lucky they were to have it, or what a gift it was. But, of course, things always did seem better when one was looking in from the outside. He was sure that there were some unhappy, twisted people who envied him. Somewhere…

Isabella began pacing across the large room, eyes mere slits and wings flaring in a colorful display of displeasure. Damned slave, intruding upon her joy! She should have killed him for that! He was nothing, after all, save a vile, loathsome human. He was fortunate she had let him live this long. They all were! But she wasn't sure how long it would be until their luck ran out. What precious little tolerance she had for them was dwindling rapidly.

But, really, she reasoned, they should be thanking her. She had graciously granted them life, and through occupying their time with their own pain and death they couldn't concern themselves with killing or harming anyone else. Since she had risen to power, murder, assault, or any similar crimes had ceased to exist. Everything save work, fear, and suffering was a thing of the past! So, really, there was some, small gain for the humans. But, ultimately, Isabella came out on top, and she would make sure that never changed.

The mere thought of the misery beyond her fortress's walls was enough to calm Isabella's nerves. Slowly, she began to relax. It was but one slave. Surely it didn't constitute such a reaction! The stupid thing was of no consequence. With a slight sneer, she reflected that he could always be punished later anyway. Let it stay in its cell for a day or so. It wouldn't dare come out for anything without direct orders to do so. Isabella had trained it well enough for it to fear her, and she reveled in its terrified obedience. Everything was as it should be. She was in control, and the humans were too weak and fearful to even consider protests or rebellion. There was nothing for Isabella to concern herself with.

Weary, she slumped down into her large, plush armchair. It was the sort that no human had touched for decades.With a tired, agitated sigh, Isabella buried her pale face in her long, thin hands. She'd won and yet she was still haunted and not nearly as exuberant as she should have been. She'd conquered them all, brought them to ruins, and yet she often went for months on end without a wink of sleep for fear of the horrid visions that would torment her dreams.

While sleep was no longer a necessity, it was a very pleasant, peaceful way to rest and pass the time. After all, twenty-four hours was a very long time to fill when one was living with no one save slaves who could not say a word without provoking her anger. Such a terribly, terribly long time… But the power and triumph was well worth the boredom, and she certainly didn't crave company. Especially not human company. At long, long last the disgusting things were at her mercy, and they would never escape.

In that instant, her mood changed. What began as a low rumble in Isabella's throat turned into a thunderous roar as her malevolent, hateful laugher permeated the walls, echoing throughout the empty building. She tossed her head back in malicious mirth, her eyes aglow and her soul twisting itself in knots, extracting every bit of exquisite pleasure it could from the situation at hand. Let them die, let them languish! Let all those hateful, vicious vermin suffer and crawl in the dirt, begging anyone they could for pity. Yes! Yes! Isabella's blackened, distorted mind ran itself in circles, plotting the demise of the weakest and envisioning new ways of bringing agony and pain to those living in captivity.

Suffering. That was all it took to bring joy to Isabella, all that was needed to erase the visions which plagued her. And it was so, wonderfully abundant that she could access this unique source of pleasure whenever she pleased! Oh, what a sweet, blissful life she could look forward to! She would surely be the envy of all those below, giggling with glee while they lamented their losses. Oh, what a wondrous, glorious twist of events this was! And Isabella relished every moment of it.