Chapter Twenty-eight


Zsadist stopped in the underground tunnel, halfway between the main house and Vishous and Butch's place.

When he looked behind himself there was nothing but a row of ceiling lights. In front of him there was more of the same, a strip of glowing patches that went on and on. The door he'd entered from and the door he would exit out of were both unseen to him.

Well, wasn't this a perfect fucking metaphor for life.

He settled against the steel wall of the tunnel, feeling trapped in spite of the fact that he was held by nothing and no one.

Oh, but that was bullshit. Bella was trapping him. Chaining him. Tying him up with her beautiful body and her kind heart and that misplaced chimera of love that glowed in her sapphire eyes. Trapped... He was so trapped.

With a sudden shift, his mind latched onto the night Phury finally got him away from the slavery.

When the Mistress had shown up with yet another male, the slave had been disinterested. After ten decades the eyes of other males no longer bothered him, and the rapes and the invasions had no new horrors to teach him. His existence was an even-keeled stretch of hell, the only real torture resting in the infinite nature of his captivity.

But then he'd sensed something odd. Something... different. He'd turned his head and looked at the stranger. His first thought was that the male was huge and dressed with expense, so he had to be a warrior. His next was that the yellow eyes staring at him held a shocking misery. Verily, the stranger standing in the doorway had paled until his skin was waxy.

When the smell of the salve assaulted the slave's nose, he went back to looking at the ceiling, uninterested in what would happen next. Yet as his manhood was manipulated, a wave of emotion surged in the room. He looked back to the male who was standing just inside the cell. The slave frowned. The warrior was reaching for a dagger and looking at the Mistress as if he were going to kill¡ª

The other door burst open and one of the courtmen spoke with panic. Suddenly the cell was filled with guards and weapons and anger. The Mistress was grabbed roughly by the male at the front of the group and slapped so hard she hit the stone wall. Then the male went for the slave, unsheathing a knife. The slave screamed as he saw the blade come at his face. A searing pain cut through his forehead and nose and cheek; then blackness claimed him.

When the slave came to consciousness, he was hanging by his neck, the weight of his arms and legs and torso choking the life right out of him. His mental reappearance was as if his body knew his last breath was coming and had awoken him on the off chance his brain could help. A sorry attempt at rescue, he thought.

Dear Virgin, shouldn't he feel pain? And he wondered if he had been splashed with water, for his skin was wet. Then he realized something thick was dripping into his eyes. His blood. He was covered in his own blood.

And what was all that noise around him? Swords? Fighting?

While choking he lifted his eyes, and for a split second all manner of suffocation left him. The sea. He was looking out at the vast sea. Joy soared for a moment... and then his vision swam from lack of air. His lids flickered and he sagged, though he was grateful that he'd seen the ocean once more before he died. He pondered vaguely whether the Fade would be anything like that vast horizon, an infinite expanse that was both unknowable and a home.

Just as he saw a shining white light before him, the pressure at his throat ceased and his body was handled roughly. There were shouts and jerky movements, then a jarring, bouncing ride that ended abruptly. Along the way, agony bloomed all over him, rushing into his bones, beating at him with dull, pounding fists.

Two shots from a gun. Grunts of pain that were not his own. And then a scream and a blast of wind on his back. Falling... he was in the air, falling...

Oh, God, the ocean. Panic spread through him. The salt¡ª

He felt the hard cushion of the water for only a moment before the sensation of the sea hitting his raw skin overloaded his mind. He blacked out.

When he came to once more, his body was nothing more than a loose sack holding in aches. He realized dimly that he was freezing cold on one side, moderately warm on the other, and he moved to see if he could. As soon as he did, he felt the warmth against him shift in response... He was in an embrace. A male was against the back of him.

The slave shoved the hard body away from his own and dragged himself through the dirt. His blurry vision showed him the way, pulling a boulder out of the blackness, giving him something to hide behind. When he was sheltered he breathed through the discomfort of his vitals, smelling the brine of the sea and the wretched decay of dead fish.

And as well a tinny scent. A sharp, tinny...

He peered around the edge of the rock. Though his eyes were weak, he was able to pick out the form of the male who had come into the cell with the Mistress. The warrior was sitting up against the wall now, his long hair hanging in strings down his thick shoulders. His fancy clothes were torn, and his yellow stare aglow with sorrow.

That was the other smell, the slave thought. That sad emotion the male was feeling had a scent.

As the slave sniffed again he felt an odd pulling in his face, and he lifted his fingertips up to his cheek. There was a groove, a rigid line in his skin... He followed it up to his forehead. Then down to his lip. And remembered the knife blade coming at him. Remembered screaming as it cut.

The slave started to shiver and wrapped his arms around himself.

"We should warm each other," the warrior said. "Truly, that is all I was doing. I have no... designs upon you. I would but ease you if I could."

Except all the Mistress's males had wanted to be with the slave. That was why she brought them. She liked to watch, too...

Yet then the slave remembered the warrior raising that dagger, looking as if he were going to gut the Mistress like a pig.

The slave opened his mouth and asked hoarsely, "Who are you, sire?"

His mouth didn't work as it had before, and his words were garbled. He tried again, but the warrior cut him off.

"I heard your inquiry." The tinny smell of sadness got stronger until it overrode even the fishy stench. "I am Phury. I am... your brother."

"Nay." The slave shook his head. "Verily, I have no family. Sire."

"No, I'm not..." The male cleared his throat. "I am not sire to you. And you have always had a family. You were taken from us. I have searched for you for a century."

"I fear you wrong."

The warrior shifted as if he were going to get up, and the slave jerked back, dropping his eyes and covering his head with his arms. He couldn't bear to be beaten again, even if he deserved it for his insubordination.

Quickly, he said in his now messy way, "I mean not to offend, sire. I offer only my respect to your better station."

"Sweet Virgin above." A strangled noise came from across the cave. "I will not strike you. You are safe... With me, you are safe. You are found, my brother."

The slave shook his head again, unable to hear any of it, because he suddenly realized what was going to happen at nightfall, what had to happen. He was the property of the Mistress, which meant he would have to be given back.

"I beg of you," he moaned, "do not return me unto her. Kill me now... Do not render me returned to her."

"I shall kill us both before I allow you to tarry there once more."

The slave looked up. The warrior's yellow eyes were burning through the darkness.

The slave stared into the glow for a passing time. And then he remembered, long, long ago, when he'd first awoken from his transition in capture. The Mistress had told him she loved his eyes ... his canary yellow eyes.

Among his species, there were very few with irises of bright gold.

The words and the actions of the warrior began to penetrate. Why ever would a stranger fight to get him free?

The warrior shifted, winced, and picked up one of his thighs.

The male's lower leg was gone.

The slave's eyes grew wide at the lost limb. How had the warrior saved them both in the water with that injury? He must have struggled simply to keep himself afloat. Why had he not just let the slave go?

Only a blood tie could engender that kind of selflessness.

"You are my brother?" the slave mumbled through his ruined lip. "Verily, I am blood to you?"

"Aye. I am your twin."

The slave started to shake. "Untruth."

"Truth."

A curious dread set upon the slave, chilling him. He curled up into himself in spite of the raw flesh that covered him from head to foot. It had never occurred to him that he was other than a slave, that he might have had a chance to live differently... live as a male, not as property.

The slave rocked back and forth in the dirt. When he stopped, he looked once again at the warrior. What of his family? Why had this happened? Who was he? And...

"Do you know if I had a name?" the slave whispered. "Was I ever given a name?"

The warrior drew a ragged breath, as if every one of his ribs were broken.

"Your name is Zsadist." The warrior's breathing shortened and shortened until he choked out his words. "You are the son... of Ahgony, a great warrior. You are the beloved of our... mother, Naseen."

The warrior let out a wretched sob and dropped his head into his hands.

While he wept, the slave watched.

Zsadist shook his head, remembering those silent hours that had followed. Phury and he had spent most of the time just staring at each other. They'd both been in rough shape, but Phury was the stronger of them even with his missing limb. He'd gathered driftwood and strands of seaweed and cobbled the stuff together into a rickety, unreliable raft. When the sun had gone down they had dragged themselves into the ocean and had floated down the coastline to freedom.

Freedom.

Yeah, right. He wasn't free; never had been. Those lost years had stayed with him, the anger over what he'd been cheated of and what had been done to him more alive than he was.

He heard Bella saying that she loved him. And he wanted to scream at something.

Instead, he started for the Pit. He had nothing worthy of her except his vengeance, so he was damn well going to get back to work. He would see all the lessers crushed before him, stacked in the snow like logs, a testament to the only thing he could offer her.

And as for the one who had taken her, the one who had hurt her, there was a special death waiting for him. Z had no love to give anyone. But the hatred he had he would channel for Bella until the last breath left his lungs.

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