[1]

Dying might have been better than this.

Adrik's whole body hurt and when he moved, fresh pain washed over him, threatening to black out his vision again. He grit his teeth, stilling and forcing himself to breath through the worst of the pain. When it finally eased up, he relaxed and forced his eyes open. The top of his cage greeted his vision and he frowned. Last thing he remembered was the blue white glow of magic and pain as someone had sliced into his chest. Adrik lifted his hand up, fingers brushing over his exposed chest. He sucked in a breath, eyes clenching shut, as his fingertips made contact with one of the wounds.

Blood was dried and caked all over his chest — as was usual. The mages, Adrik had realized quite early on, did not care much about dressing his wounds or cleaning him up. He laid there a moment, not willing to move just yet. Finally, Adrik let out a slow breath as he gingerly ran a finger over one of the new runes, brows pinching together as he wondered about the meaning of this one. Already the wounds were scabbed over and healing. Meaning he had to of been out for at least a day or two.

Adrik wondered when this would end. When would his vision fade to black and he never gained consciousness again? He'd seen it many times already — those weaker than him succumbing to the tortures the mages put them through. Too many times he had seen fellow shifters being dragged from their cages, never to return. It seemed like it was only a matter of time befor the same thing happened to him.

The loud, scraping sound of the door opening caused Adirk's eyes to jerk open and gaze flick to the source. Were they coming for him again? So soon? He steeled himself, wondering what else they could possibly want to do with him. After one of their goes at him, they usually left him alone for another week or so. He held his breath as a figured moved into the room and only let it out when no one else followed the other in and he closed the door behind him. Still wary, Adrik's attention followed the man, for they were always men, as he moved closer.

The hood of his cloak obscured most of his face, leaving only small flashes of dark, rich colored skin for Adrik to see. The mage hesitated as he saw that Adrik was awake, his posture quickly changing and his nervousness easily detected by Adrik. It was then that his gaze flicked over the mage, eyes focusing on the tray the mage held and staying.

"Food."

The voice, unexpected, made Adrik jerk and wince as the sudden movement pulled tight at the still healing wounds. The rustling of robes and the clink of the metal tray being sat on the floor caused Adirk to force his eyes open and focus back on the man. Squatting, and closer now, Adrik could see more of the man's face — full lips, wide nose and the deepest brown eyes he'd ever seen. Adrik shook his head and grit his teeth as he forced himself up into a sit. The mage was smaller than the others. Younger, maybe? No older than twenty summers, if Adrik had to guess.

At the movement from Adrik, the mage stumbled backwards, falling onto his butt and dislodging the hood from atop his head. Exposed completely, now, Adrik's eyes narrowed as he instantly recognized the mage. Though most of the time he was in the background, he had, personally, cut into Adrik's flesh himself. Testing, they had said. They had used Adrik to test the boy's skills. Finris, Adrik remembered, is what they had called him. He bit down on his tongue until the metalic taste of blood filled his mouth and a low growl escaped his throat.

Finris scrambled back at the noise, all but abandoning his task as he pushed himself up and quickly exited out of the room. Adrik's shoulders sank, exhaustion already setting in again. He eyed the food — barely identifiable and most definitely not what his body need, nor wanted, at the moment. He let his body fall back down to the floor, shuddering as he turned his back to the tray and curled up. It didn't take long before sleep was taking over again.

•••

It took almost a full week for Adrik to recover most of his strength. Though his senses were dulled, the food he did consume most likely laced with some sort of potion to keep him subdued enough that, should he attack, the mages could easily overpower him. In the week that passed, he still occasionally saw Finris — though the mage tended to stay clear of Adrik and his cage. It satisfied him, in a way, knowing that he made at least one of them nervous enough to steer clear.

Like clockwork, the mages filed in on the same day each week, ready to cart Adrik off for more experiments. They didn't disappoint him as they moved in. Adrik,having grown tired of being locked up and cut open, had finally made up his mind. The last few times they had brought him food, he'd taken a few bites and then moved the rest around on the plate, giving the illusion that he had ate more than enough for their potions to take effect.

By now the process they went through was automatic to Adrik. He watched carefully as their three strongest mages moved towards his cage. Another feeling of smug satisfaction raced through him at the fact that they were wary enough to send in three larger mages to cart him off, drugged and all. His mind raced with possibilities as they hefted him up and dragged him out of the cage. His gaze flit around, locking onto every possible escape route as he was taken out of the room and into the one where they cut him.

The metal instruments were already laid out on the table next to where he'd be strapped down. They had learned the hard way, their first time with him — no matter how sedated, he still struggled the instant their knives had cut into his flesh. He let his lids drop to half mast and his body sag in their hold as they hoisted him up onto the table — giving the brief illusion that he had passed out on them. He heard movement off to the side and voices.

"Stay and watch him."

"But…I...he..."

"Finris, that's an order."

The sound of the door opening and closing filled the air and what remained after was silence. For a moment he wondered if the mage, tasked with watching over him, had slipped out too but then he heard the soft swish of fabric against the floor and footsteps moving closer to him. Adrik cracked open an eye, only enough to see a blurry picture of the mage from the week prior — Finris, he reminded himself. He had hoped to be left completely alone for a moment. While this complicated things, though, Adrik knew that it would be his only chance. He watched, waiting patiently, and was finally rewarded when Finris turned his back.

Unrestrained, Adrik's lids flit open and he moved, grabbing hold of the nearest knife and slipping off the table and stalking towards the small mage. Guilt washed over Adrik as he approached but after only a moment's hesitation he pushed forward, free arm snaking around the man's torso and arm and tugging him back flush with his chest. The hand with the knife raised, poised dangerously close to the man's throat. Fingers clawed weakly at his arm, gripping and digging in. Adrik held steady, the blade pressing more firmly against the mage's throat, stilling his struggles.

"Make a noise and you die."