Author's Note (AN)

Possible trigger warnings: NOT for kids, hints of noncon, sexual situations, violence, blood, biting, human trafficking, steamy romantic "noncon," shapeshifters, blah blah blah.

Note: this story is COMPLETE.

Hello and welcome to the final stretch! Special thanks to those who have been here supporting for years and a hello to all you beginning this journey anew!

I got word today that my work is being read in 36 countries! How did I notice this? Some of the fanmail was coming through in strange English. Turns out it was being translated!

Special thanks to all who continue sending me mail. I read every single one.

Updates on publishing at the end of this chapter.

As always time to read, review and most importantly enjoy!


"I'm so sorry, Hikaru. I love you. I truly do…"

Her father's trembling voice whispered somehow, dancing on the night's winds. She didn't recall the words in the morning or even see the man who'd spoken them. In fact, Heather Hikaru noticed only two things that night: the dark, empty halls of her suburban home, more lonesome than she'd ever known them, and mother's tears: that steady, unending flow of pure, refined misery. One clear drop fell for every crimson one he had shed: life drained away, along with her joy, and he'd left only one letter, crumpled and wet in her pale, shaking hands.

And Heather didn't understand it then, but there was something to be said of a love torn apart: a soul that had lost its one mate. The barefoot eight-year-old could never hope to console her mother, nor grasp her father's reasons for leaving: destroying everything his family held dear, but she did realize just one thing:

I don't ever wanna fall in love.

This childish wish lasted a decade: a stubborn refusal of all that was true and ordained, until the day fate would cut across worlds, making the choice for her.
"Come find me, Love," he had whispered again and again in her dreams, "Now you've returned to our world, come return to my side." She felt his strong hands on her arms, tracing soft warmth with his promise. "I will find you, if you cannot find me. We will not be alone any longer." The mysterious pulse of his powerful voice dulled to grey other thoughts, demanding she think only of him, though she did not even know him. Yet she knew he was waiting, knew she could find something new, and so knew, finally, there was some kind of purpose in life; one single reason to live.

Disgusting. Consciousness crashed down like a bucket of ice as she woke on her side, choking up putrid, green water. Heather's frame felt so small as it shook from the cold and the sharp, piercing pain at her throat. Her lungs seemed to scream for the dank air that filled them, relieved by precious oxygen even with the bitter aftertaste of lakewater and blood. She remembered only cold, somehow pressurized darkness and the tight, crushing hold on her legs, dragging her deeper and deeper into frigid, black water. But not who had dragged her, and not why he had.

The world seemed to stop spinning once she'd caught up on her breaths, and her first and fast instinct was to get some kind of bearings, but this chance was cut off. Her legs and her arms felt too heavy, bruised up with purple she could not even see, but she could feel the rope at her wrists and her ankles, biting down into her flesh as it held her in place. The cloth gag at her mouth was now soaked through with water and the smell made her sick. Cold, solid hardwood seemed to press up from beneath her, just to make everything worse. But as it turned out, that was nothing. Heather felt her whole body freeze as a voice suddenly tickled her neck. He was knelt right behind her.

"Well well well, looksss like the female's awake…"
Heather did not need to look to know those words had not come from a human. His voice seemed to roll, like a hiss through bared teeth, almost rattling, somehow. It was like nothing she'd known; a snake's thoughts filtered through human tongue. Heavy footfalls echoed from somewhere else, also behind her, and another voice answered to his. "Still worth selling, Snake?" This one wondered, words darkly swamped with a deep, grasping greed. "Or can I put human soup on the menu tonight."

Heather felt her eyes widen as her body responded, doing the one thing that she could, struggling onto her stomach as both voices cracked into barks of sharp laughter. "Awe look now, you scared it," the first pretended to chastise, but the second barked orders to Heather herself. "Stop movin' stupid!" She would have obeyed, out of sheer fear, but he didn't leave her the option. Rough, leather-gloved hands caught her and forced her to roll back over, Heather yelping as her weight crushed her hands to the ground.

He was still snapping, complaining, but she did not hear a word. Her wide, terrified eyes seemed to drown everything out as they drank in the view of her captors. The first, who she recognized as the one who had kidnapped her, had a sickly pale, lanky frame with a sharp face and fierce, glaring eyes the exact color of vomit, but the second proved even more fearsome, standing at least a foot taller with a build like a linebacker and dark, empty black eyes. He had a pair of sharp, crooked antlers jutting out of his head, surrounded with a messy, short bed of rust-colored hair. "Ruined these parts!" Her voice finally translated, though Heather could swear he'd just growled. She struggled again, forcing herself onto her side as those hands tried to grab at her ankles, but the second thing caught her and held her in place, hissing for her to stay put. "Let Master lookit the bruisesss you made on yourself."

She would have said "No!" with the next attempt to roll into a ball, but the gag at her mouth choked it out, and her much larger captor seemed to lose patience. A sharp, powerful blow had her gasping with pain, and it took her shocked mind a full
minute to realize that he'd stood up and kicked her, square in the gut. "I said sit still, didn't I, stupid?!"

And she did, mind racing with thoughts drowned in terror as her eyes darted anywhere but to what he was doing to her. She forced herself not to think of his hands on her body, even as her own legs pleaded for a swift amputation. His cold fingers felt more like poison-tipped beads, pressing cold toxins into her already chilled skin, but she stared off at anything but. Her eyes caught a slight glimpse at the pale, snakelike man's inky black hair, as he remained knelt right over her face, but her brain remained elsewhere, trying desperately to convince her she knew where she was. Dark hardwood flooring and nearly matching, uneven walls were the only merciful clues, and the dim lighting made even them appear shadowed and alien. She could smell a faint line of smoke in the air, and her ears almost detected the soft hint of life from a fire. Was this room truly lit only with torchlight? She prayed that this couldn't be true. How far must they have dragged her from civilized society if the rooms here had no electricity?

Again the gag stifled a yelp as Heather was forced onto her back, and her eyes met with dark, narrowed animal ones. "You call me Master," was all the larger male said to her, tossing his antlers. Heather wanted to die when she recognized the way his eyes matched with a deer's. Oh my god, they're both animals!
It took everything in her to not try to escape, but the half human creatures had already turned to speak with each other, ignoring her terror.

"So what do you think?" The snakelike one asked. "Worth anything?"
"Oh, it's worth something, alright," his cohort assured. "So long as we get it cleaned up. See here-" He made a gesture with his hands in midair, tracing the outline of her body, and Heather immediately wished she could die. "Got pretty much average curves for a human but good thighs- didn't expect that. This thing probably eats better than us, eh? Wheresabouts you got it from?"
"Arkansas the humans call it."

"Figures." He scoffed. "Fat little things, most of them 'mericans, but this female looks like it's a good size, eh? Skin's a little pale but here- see the brown hair? That's a rare color in the king's province. It'll be child's play cashin' her in."
"Hmm, little goldilocks, aren't you?" The snake-man teased, leaning over with those reptile eyes narrowed. "Not too big, not too small, not too short, not too tall..." His clawed, sickly albino hands ghosted over her chest and Heather nearly shuddered, hating the way those thin lips slid back into a toothy, fanged grin. "Not too flat either..."

"I like them eyes too," the other added, and Heather was shocked to see he was actually talking to her. "Where'd you get 'em eh? Never seen colors like that. Are they fake?"

What? That question didn't make sense to Heather. She knew for a fact that her eyes were plain brown, no different from most of her friends, but the Master insisted she answer, yanking the gag from her mouth. "That a spell or what? Wheresabouts your eye colors came from?"

"Um... my mother?" To her painful shock, Master then stood and kicked her again. The force knocked the wind out of Heather, leaving a muddy brown bootprint, and then that tight, wet gag was shoved right back into her mouth. "Think you're cute, dontcha!?" He spat, "Well ya ain't cute, you got that!? You better learn some respect 'n answer like you got a brain in that head!"

"Okay!" That had come out muffled too, and he only yelled in response, "Okay, Master!" She repeated obediently, eyes screwed shut with the pain, but inside Heather swore she would never stoop so low as to call anyone Master. Her mind thought of only escape, but she couldn't dare move again. Her chest throbbed this time, and she prayed he had not broken a rib. Her eyes screwed themselves shut and Heather forced herself to stay as still as she could, despite the fear-induced quivering.

"That's better," the one who called himself Master scoffed. "Now sit still."
To Heather's disgust, he then got to his knees and made to slide those gloved fingers right up under her shirt. Automatically she flinched, legs tied together or not, but he caught her and pinned her back down. "I said sit, didn't I, dummy?"

"He just wants to see the bruisessss," the snake-like man added, prompting her to stay still for a moment, and true to those words, Master did pull her shirt up, right to the base of her bra and furrowed those thick, ugly eyebrows at the marks he had only just made. "Not too bad," was his assessment, "the pink ones'll heal."

"The purple ones will get worssse though," Snake pointed out, indicating her bound wrists and ankles. "If it keeps movin' around."

"Wild one," Master scoffed. "Gotta get this one broken." Broken? Heather did not like the sound of that word. She struggled even more after hearing it, but Master had had enough at that point. He flipped her back over, hands in her hair, and this time a pounding headache sprang up with the darkness.