Writer: This chapter is considerably more mature-themed than the previous ones. Proceed at your own discretion.
Title: If looks can kill
Chapter 10: I thought you knew? Guess you don't
"You can get lost."
My freedom had been within my grasp like low-hanging fruit. But I'd turned my back on it, because I cannot leave him.
I cannot leave this person who risked everything for me. He must have known that the Snatchers would go for him over me. And yet he'd shown himself deliberately to distract them.
No, I cannot leave this drugged, helpless captive to his fate. Not when it's my fault that he's in this mess. I was the one that ignored the hoof beats. I was the one who called out. I was the clumsy oaf that fell over my own feet.
And I cannot leave this stranger who has become a friend. Simply because I owe him too much. I would likely be dead of a mad dog's bite if it were not for him.
The Snatchers view me with suspicion at first, when I do not go running off as soon as they had released me. They are even slightly taken aback when I haul myself onto one of their horses, and refuse to budge. But no matter how they taunt me and try to frighten me with what awaits me at the Fortress, I resolutely stick to Rayne's side.
They keep a close eye on Rayne, always keeping him within sight of at least one of them. And they won't let me touch him for longer than a few moments at a time. But eventually, they stop guarding me. It is clear to them that of my own accord, I am determined to go along with them all the way to Fortress.
Not that I am in any way capable of hauling him along with me even if I manage to escape their close guard. He hasn't been awake since our whispered exchange, and he may as well be a sack of stones for all the help I'm going to get from him in any attempt to escape.
Looking at me with a puzzled look, the local one asks, "Are you sure pretty face here really means that much to you?"
I don't answer him.
It's more than a day before we reach the end of the journey. We ride through most of the night to reach the outer wall with its massive metal gates, taking only two short breaks. Half asleep from exhaustion, disoriented, hungry, I hang on grimly to the horse as we go hurtling through the darkness. Then it's another half day's ride to reach the Fortress itself. Once we enter the Fortress gates, I am once more a prisoner, though they have not bothered even to loop a rope around my hands. I've convinced them I will not resist as long as they have Rayne under their power. They prod me forward, while the still senseless Rayne is slung limply over a shoulder. And so we come to the great hall. The cavernous chamber seems to be filled with people, but their faces are obscured by the dimness in the outer reaches. Only the centre of the hall is brightly lit by clusters of lamps suspended from the rafters.
The Lady is of course the centre of attention. She sits on a great carved chair, raised up, her gown of diaphanous material hinting at and yet not giving away the secrets that lie beneath. Over her face, she has a thick veil that hides her features in shadow, but I have no doubt she can clearly see every single thing in the hall.
The Snatchers dump Rayne unceremoniously on the floor. At some unseen signal, all three bow together before her. I am made to join in the bowing too, by a rough hand pressing down forcibly on the back of my neck.
"I've been waiting all day," the Lady complains.
I stiffen at her voice. I could swear I've heard it before somewhere. But that can't be possible, because I've never been here in my life.
The Snatchers present their humblest apologies for the delay, nervousness thickening their tongues and making them stumble over their words. She silences them with an impatient wave.
"Let's see what you have then."
This is the signal for Talkative and the local to pick Rayne up from the floor. They strip him quickly and efficiently, and then Talkative soaks a rag with something from a bottle and stuffs that under his nose, which revives him enough to prevent him from flopping like a wet rag.
That beautiful body, handled without respect or tenderness, like it's nothing more than a piece of meat. Something is twisting inside me to see what they're doing to him. I wish I could look away, but I can't.
The Lady descends from her chair and approaches them. The two Snatchers avert their faces while holding Rayne up, one of them supporting his head with a hand on his neck. She takes a good long look at him, her veiled face betraying nothing of her emotions. Then she runs a long talon-like nail down his chest to his belly, reaching as low as her arm would reach. When he shivers and arches his body away from her touch, she giggles.
"This one will do just fine." There is a predatory ring to those words that disturbs me. It's what a cat presented with a bowl of cream would say if it could speak.
She inclines her head in my direction. The remaining Snatcher comes up to me and reaches out with a beefy hand. I can't help myself. I slap his hand away with a sharp cry. A small commotion spreads through the crowd gathered in the hall, which quickly dies down into a tense silence.
Talkative hurriedly drops Rayne and whispers something to the Lady, looking at the floor as he does so. The Lady nods.
"Lovers… How interesting." A talon is pointed at me. "Strip yourself. Or you won't like what happens to your precious lover next."
I hesitate. Languidly, she reaches out and twists her hand in Rayne's hair, making him cry out.
"One." In the stillness of the chamber, the word rings like the sound of breaking glass.
Clearly, a challenge has been thrown out, and the next move is up to me. "He's not my lover!" I blurt out.
"Then don't do as I say," she purrs.
I grab the hem of my shirt, but go no further. Surely she would not injure him? I'm wrong. She lets go of the hair and takes up an ear. With a playful laugh, she twists it savagely, wringing another half-stifled cry from him.
I am frozen with indecision; inside me, my rebellion struggles with my fear for Rayne.
"Three." She reaches for his eyes.
I can't afford this gamble. Not when it's Rayne's body that's the stake. So I start removing my clothes, staying her hand. I can feel every eye in the hall on me, even Rayne, who is staring at me in fascinated horror.
When I get to the chest bindings, a ripple of sound goes around the chamber again. And when the bindings come off, I hear a muffled gasp or two. If this were happening anywhere else, I'd probably find it really funny.
In all the eighteen years of my life, this is the greatest fuss that's ever been raised over the fact that I'm a girl.
The biggest fuss, however, comes from none other than my fellow captive. With an anguished cry, he suddenly twists himself out of the one remaining Snatcher's grasp and rushes towards me. He almost makes it. Our outstretched hands almost touch. But he is dragged away, still shrieking my name.
The Lady claps her hands in glee. "Better and better!"
Now the whole room is focused on me. I am scarlet with anger and embarrassment. This must be what it feels like to be an apple that's fallen into a pigpen. I incline my head defiantly at the Lady, asking, "Enough?"
But she is relentless. The talons hover over Rayne again. Awkwardly, I remove the rest of my clothes, confirming my gender without a doubt. For one heartbeat, two, three… nobody speaks, or moves. And then a collective wave of excitement goes around the room once more, including even the Lady herself, it seems.
She comes up to me and grips my chin with one hand to secure my face. I strain to catch a glimpse of her face, but the veil obscures everything. Very slowly, she traces the trunk of my scar with her other hand, using the sharp tip of a vermillion nail.
If she thinks I'm going to take this kind of treatment meekly, she can think again. When she reaches my mouth, I snap at the finger, almost succeeding in biting her.
She gasps as she pulls her finger back. There is stunned silence in the hall. I brace myself for whatever consequence that will bring. As long as it befalls me, and not Rayne, I am ready for anything. But she just laughs. It is a girlish laugh of delight that does not match her bearing at all.
"It's always so much more entertaining when they put up a fight!" she trills.
Turning to the Snatchers, she announces, "I'll keep her too."
The three men relax visibly, exchanging looks of relief.
"You have done well this time," she continues. "Your reward will match the pleasure I take in them."
Her next words are directed at nobody in particular. "Prepare them. I'll play with both tonight."
Immediately, countless hands are laid on us.
She looks back over her shoulder at us. "I've never had lovers before. I'm sure they'll be delicious!"
Somehow, those words set off something inside me. With an enraged cry, I hurl myself madly at her, screaming curses that I hadn't realised I knew.
I never reach her. A blow on the back of the head stops me cold.
The last thing I hear before I pass out is Rayne's voice, screaming out my name in agonised desperation.
Is this the end? Noooooooo! If you'd like to find out what happens to our hero and heroine, check out Under a Blue Grey Sky. Sorry for being a pesky tease...