In To The Dark
The moon was the only light that she had to light her desk as she wrote. The cozy interior was bright with the full orb’s light. She scrawled hastily in Nuelm.
I do so hope that you find this. There is but a crack left open and this may be the only chance I have of contacting you. I do apologize for the silence of this, I’d much prefer in person but as you can tell, it is just not possible.
Enough of that though. I’m as well as can be expected under the circumstances. It is gruel morning, noon and night. Devotions to the Light before that, I can honestly say that I have been sending prayers out. They aren’t to the light though.
I fear to ask but need to ease my conscious. Is he well? Please give my condolences for the loss as well. Tell him he died with honor, not hesitating a moment as we materialized. That is if you even know where they are.
I should go now. I know not if the monster that holds you from my presence will show up and I cannot afford to have…
There was a heavy knock at the door. She quickly hid the ink and quill and hastily stuffed the letter through the crack in the door that led to the part of her that was Beldin. She composed herself and threw the bolt on the door. Looking up she said, “It has been quite some time, what brings you now?”
That seductive voice rolled over her. She closed her eyes in spite of herself, opening them to opulence and a beautiful man running his fingers through her shoulder length hair. “I would like to continue our previous conversation.” He whispered just a scant inch from her mouth.
What should have been the most revolting smell she had ever inhaled was instead the sweetest thing she had ever tasted as his mouth descended towards hers. Once their lips parted, she was in a daze. “What were we discussing again?” she asked in something akin to a drugged whisper.
“Ahh, the door back there my dear and who or what it leads to.”
Her brow knit in confusion. Door? “Oh that, it is just Beldin.” She paused. “He’s nothing to worry about. Besides, if you were truly up on the news you’d probably have heard already.”
He twirled her out as the next waltz started in the ball room. “Oh really?”
“Yes. It is a horridly long story that begins back home. There was a Praetor who had tried to take the academy. He would have succeeded if not for the vigilance of several persons.” A shadow of pain crossed her eyes briefly. “Being the best choice, Beldin and I were sent to help.” She looked down for a moment. “That was actually the first time that I felt the kiss of a crop.”
The music stopped and the scenery melted away to her mindscape. There was a fire in the hearth and a warm blanket around her shoulders. “It is fuzzy how that connection was broken. I can only assume it is because the ‘Ambassador’ died.”
The entity handed her a steaming cup of mulled wine. She took one sip and grimaced setting it down. “Would that it ended there, but no, Beldin went and picked up the crop. It did little to him as he resisted the urge to enslave those around him. But it nearly drove me insane with the dreams.”
Her voice lowered to a whisper and tears came to her eyes. “That is where you pulled the horrid picture from when you first contacted me. The memory of one of the dreams it sent me. That is also why it has become somewhat easier for me to tell the difference between here and reality. Though it is sometimes still difficult.”
“Speaking of difficult, why do you resist so much to becoming a fully functional member of society?” He asked, sensing the need for a change in direction.
“I do what I feel is right.”
His brow furrowed. “Even if it causes you trouble?”
“Yes.” She answered firmly. Then continued with a snort. “It only seems to cause me trouble here.”
He raised an inquisitive eyebrow, already knowing what she was alluding to but wanting her elaboration.
She gave a heavy sigh. “I was returning to my quarters when I came across a group of young ones beating on a hopeful. I did what I felt necessary to stop the problem and then rushed the hopeful to the healers for aid. I think his knee was seriously injured. Of course I was accused of beating the child myself; none of the assembled healers heard the child thank me for aiding him.”
“This is not how the story was presented to the Shepherd.”
“Of course not, she knows my lineage. I have no doubt that there are those here who have an idea of it or even outright know. It is the ones who know that worry me. They conspired to discredit Shevar and have him removed from his position. The problem is not knowing who the conspirators are.”
“You are sure of this?”
“Why else would Ilum’s name be signed on contracts in the City as Lord High Praetor, long before he even held the title?”
“Interesting. But what does that have to do with anything.”
A bitter smile stretched her lips. “Everything. They want to see if he can be lured back. How better than to capture and torture the daughter of his only child?”
All she got from this was a guarded nod. “You know that she comes for you.”
“You thought that I doubted that. I was just wondering how long it would be.” She smiled shakily. “Be yourself.”
With that he smiled. Grabbing her with a rough hand and shoving her.
She woke to her own hoarse scream. Knees feeling as if they had been broken and rubbed raw. The Shepherd stood over her, crop cutting off circulation on one side of her neck. Once her eyes focused, she could make out the look of fury in the half-orc’s eyes. “You have much to account for beast of the darkness. Make no mistake you will admit it all.”
“I will admit to nothing but the truth.” She croaked out receiving a deeper jab as she spoke.
“Oh really. We shall see, but not here. Your fellow tainted children shall hear of it from your own lips.” She turned on heel and two of the attending flocklings swept forward to drag her to her feet. Her knees ached in protest but still supported her somewhat.
They half-drug her to a stone platform in the center of the slave quarters. In the center of this was a suspension device, it was into this that they strapped her. Arms out at a painful angle and legs pulled so that she hovered at an angle to the stone. It was with her in this uncomfortable position that the questioning began.
The Shepherd’s voice carried out through the shanty town, such that even those that had not gathered would still hear the questioning.
“State your name for the record.”
“Sareth Deidre M’Kilas.”
“You are hereby charged with neglect to ward off your sinful ways of violence and control. How do you plead?”
“Perhaps if you would elaborate.”
She didn’t even hear the whistle of the whip through the air. The bite was all too real and caused her to catch her breath in an aroused hitch.
“Just answer the charge.”
“If I say innocent you continue the beating for lying, guilty will get me more of the same. But if you will, I am innocent.”
This time the whip sung and bit five times, setting her nerves into an aroused fire, before the Shepherd continued.
“It does not show well that you hold to the lie you have contrived.”
“The only lie here is that which you have been given in order to conduct this travesty of Justice.”
She paused long enough to let the whip continue to sing and bite. She could feel the blood trickling down her skin. She concentrated on that tickling sensation to take her mind from the pain and horror of her growing arousal. Once the whistling of the wind ceased she continued.
“It is painfully clear that you could care less for the truth than even the vilest of creatures that exist in the planes. If you want to beat me for actually saving the life of one of your aspiring Praetors, then so be it. As well, do not expect me to turn over those that did it. They were coerced into action by another. That person was given a chance to reflect on his actions as well, but was also warned that he would be watched.”
As another series of singing and biting carried on, causing Sareth to begin squirming in her bonds, so did the Shepherd.
“There is no reason to believe anything that you have contrived. Unless you give the names of these supposed people, there is no one to corroborate your “facts.” She turned to the growing crowd. “You have heard the charge, heard the rambling of the accused, now hear the story of what happened.”
Dominic stepped from the edge of the crowd. His arm was slung and tied close to his body. He shuffled up the three shallow steps to the platform. Bowed low to the Shepherd and began to tell his tale when motioned to rise.
“I was minding my own business on my way home from class when I heard shouts and muffled crying. On investigating, I ran into a group of misguided beating on one of the hopeful. When I tried to help him, my arm was dislocated and my life threatened.”
Sareth darn near snorted at the blatant lie. She had not twisted it that hard, just enough so that if he moved he would have caused himself discomfort. Something else was up though because he was now genuinely injured.
“Who was it that did those things?”
He simply pointed at Sareth with his good arm. She had known that was coming, but when Cylus rushed from the crowd she shook her head to try to warn him off.
“Hold your lies Dominic. You know full well that you were the one that incited us to do it. You were also too much of a coward to actually do anything but watch while your dirty work was conducted.”
He paused as the whip cracked out and kissed the backs of his knees, causing him to hit them hard on the single step leading to the platform. Serge’s voice rang out angrily over the crowd.
“You admit accomplice in this matter. But your testimony is in question, as you were witnessed by no less than two guards speaking with the accused ho her way to her quarters earlier this evening. Most likely in order to make sure you were well versed in the lie in case this matter happened. Have you anything to say to refute this?”
“Just one question for your “witness” milady.”
“Why would you betray a friend and countryman in such a way, Dominic?”
The older youth’s eyes narrowed in blazing anger. “I no longer claim that demon loving country as mine. I have come to see the truth of the Light and seek true redemption and citizenship here. She is therefore no longer a countryman of mine. She has admitted to me that she has aided and abetted the number one enemy of the state, as well as admitting that she is the blood relation to said traitor. It is my belief that I am the only one that she had told this for when I confessed it to the priests they were genuinely shocked and appalled.”
There was a ripple of murmuring through the crowd. One word from the Shepherd ended it abruptly, not even the sounds of the evening creatures could be heard.
“Silence.” Her knowing, piercing gaze met Sareth’s. “Is this true?”
Sareth narrowed her eyes and took a fortifying breath. “I am the grand-daughter of Harbael’emarthar Feraualfisyr, daughter of Ahkahna Feraualfisyr-M’Kilas. I have been bitten by the crop of one Ambassador Filrith, who tried to single-handedly take over my home town of Snildon by attempting to subvert every mage at the Academy of Higher Learning. He died in the effort as did a many good priests and mages there. A close friend of mine became bonded to the crop of that Praetor and we travelled as merchants to your country to see it removed from his possession. I and my friends were captured, how they escaped I have no idea, but I was separated from them and taken to a gilded cage. Your current Lord High Praetor missed cropping me by a cross draw seconds before I met my grandfather for the first time.”
She never faltered the entire speech, the strength and conviction behind her words creating a flicker of informed opinions to take root in the crowds’ minds. The Shepherd caught a flicker of warning from her crop that she needed to take control of the situation back. She cut Sareth off as she drew breath for her next sentence.
“Some of that contrivance I am willing to believe. But answer me this…did he even attempt to keep you?”
It wasn’t so much the question that caused her suspicion that there was more to this whole thing but more that, even though she would have told less than the truth to answer that question, she felt herself spilling the facts before she could stop herself. Tears falling at her lack of capacity to protect information condemning her grandfather on top of the building sexual frustration.
“No. In fact, he sat on the bed and looked the other way as I knocked him out. He had his most trusted remove me from the building. From there I was led to my friends, at some point I was warned to never return to this country.”
“But yet here you are…why is this?”
“Because, in the attempt to see my grandfather to the safety of a defector’s sanctuary in Nuelm, our teleport was detected and diverted. This had been anticipated so we took measures to see to it that there was more than one group.”
“To what end?”
“In the hope that the first group’s teleport would be able to mask the second’s and they would make it to their final destination.”
“Where was this destination?”
“My group’s was a swamp near a plantation on the outskirts of Snildon, the others was changed at the last second so I do not know.”
She expected to feel the loving bite of the whip once more, but it did not land both frustrating her sensitive nerves and relieving her troubled mind at the same time. There was movement out of the corner of her eye as she had made out the Shepherds halted intake of breath signaling a new question. Pain shot through her as she turned to see what had halted the questioning.
There stood the head priest, a look of fury in his eyes, though she was not sure if it were directed at her or the Shepherd. She heard the jingling of the chains as she was lowered to the ground and they were adjusted to hold her in place with her wrists clamped together in front of her. It was once this was done that Serge spoke again. The beginning coming out as a snort.
“It appears that this spy has been busy, in her free time that is. So now I ask, who is it that has been spending the nights with her, of course you do know that is doesn’t matter if you come forward or not I will find out who got this treacherous harlot with child and they will answer appropriately. The harshness of the punishment is dependent on whether or not you come forward now or I have to root you out.” She paused long enough for a low mumble to rumble over the crowd but no one stepped forward to answer the accusation. She looked directly at Sareth. “Perhaps you would like to point the person responsible out?”
Sareth was confused. Pregnant? She couldn’t be. She had been with no one but Graham and had been taking precautions since that very first time. She had been keeping to herself, no one but her had been in her shack…How could this have happened. This was all that was going through her head while she blinked blankly at Serge. Who laughed at her reaction.
“You didn’t know? Did your parents not teach you where children come from. Ahh…no matter, whoever got you in this condition will answer the charge in one fashion or another. In the mean time, you are going to have your wounds attended to and be given a harlots punishment.” With that she waved off the crowd, who were harried through the darkness by the guards that had originally kept the masses there.
Sareth was aided to her feet by two junior priests in time to see Cylus being aided to his feet by two hopefuls to be led away. She was uncertain if she had caught her look of apology as they roughly turned him toward his date with debriefing. The priests that held her gently carried her to the back of the platform where a litter sat waiting. They carefully placed her on her side avoiding causing her anymore of the excrutiatingly arousing pain to her wounds, hoisted her with practiced gentleness not jarring her at all as they carried her off.
She came to rest in a stone room she recognized from the statue at its back. She assumed that the priests bowed and left, at the very least there was movement from behind her and the sound of the door closing. The echoing boom it made left her with a feeling of dread, she could feel bile started to rise as the elder priest turned toward her his vibrant ice-blue eyes near to glowing in the faint light of the room.
“It is my turn to see to you. I can assure you that it will be almost as pleasurable for me to see to this as it was for me to watch you’re taming, not that you will be allowed to remember it; all you will know is that your back was healed and the bit was placed. That in and of itself will bring you to the brink…”
He trailed off as another being scraped into the room behind her, she wasn’t about to turn onto her back to look she had just gone comfortably numb, but she could feel that it was not fully humanoid. She closed her eyes as the priest approached to unceremoniously jerk her arms over her head causing a gasp of pleasure/pain to rip through her. Her wrists were shackled in the toughest, most comfortable shackles…hadn’t she felt this before?...that she had ever been placed in. They didn’t chafe and had a little give but they did not loosen when stretched out nor did they feel like they would be easy to cut. Her earlier bile came out as she was tilted onto her back abruptly enough that there wasn’t a chance for her confused nerves to register the pain as pleasure.
When the almost familiar wetness touched her stomach her eyes went wide, mainly at the niggling familiarness of the pictograph he was drawing. He worked in silence, sure strokes, switching deftly between brush and pencil as needed; almost as if he had done this drawing hundreds of times so efficiently did he complete it. His sadistic smile met her eyes as he scratched the quick strokes on her forehead and chin . Then he moved to lining her eyes. A tracing on the upper lid that continued out to her temples to end in a swirl there, much like the one he had drawn on her stomach. Then along the bottom crease of her lid and out, carefully under-tracing the swirl as if to create a cradle for it to set in. She was distanced yet very aware of her face and head. She felt the scratch of the charcoal pencil on her cheek; he drew an angle from the hinge of her jaw out, first on one, then the other. The muscles in her face reacted as he traced the last line, easing open to the angle he had drawn. He then added a couple of quick glyphs to this. Causing the excess saliva to dry and immobilizing her tongue. He then set to work covering each of her teeth with a metal cap that reached into her gums. She was so focused on the high pitched ringing of the tiny hammer he was using to tap the caps into place that she barely noticed the sting at her hips as something pierced here there, nor did she feel her body’s instant release at this violation of her person. No she felt more the fission of painful pleasure as the caps violated the edged of her gums to seat themselves securely around the roots of her teeth. The supposed numbness of her lower body was irritating, she really wanted to know what was going on, but she could not move her head either. It wasn’t until the priest paused hearing something that she couldn’t perceive that she fully realized there was something going on down there at all.
“No. Leave those ones, we do still need the cover of pregnancy or have you forgotten that we have a cover to keep as well?”
There was some scraping and tapping that sounded upset.
“He will understand too. Serge would have whipped her until she miscarried at the very least, if not until the traitor had only a body to retrieve. There was no other way.”
She had a brief, distant sting of pain from the vicinity of her hips, but that was nothing compared to the pain she felt suddenly from her teeth. He hadn’t stopped the placing of the caps during the entire conversation. Now, as he tapped the last one into place, they contoured to her teeth clamping down with such force that she could have sword every tooth was pulling from her head. That pain set her nerves on fizzing edge, just to be turned to a searing fire as the priest ever so gently caressed the markings from her cheeks, continuing to clean her in the reverse of how he had marked her in the first place. The muscles were so tired from being forcefully held open for so long that her already heavy jaws snapped together with a muffled clink. It was all she could do to not bite her cheeks they slammed so fast. Before she could attempt to say anything the priest said something that she couldn’t make out, as she tried to open her mouth she was rewarded with the blinding pain of all of her teeth attempting to pull themselves out of her head at once. The disconcerting thing to her was that she actually felt herself climax from this pain. It was shortly after this she heard the chanting begin, it was in Imperium this time so she could tell that it was a healing chant, from elsewhere other voices could be heard joining in.
She remembered being in the chamber for the healing but the details were fuzzy, everything but the priest placing the gag into her mouth seemed to be missing from her memories. This puzzled her as she had a strange sense of déjà vu that occurred while she was there that she could not seem to shake. She shrugged it off as she went through her daily chores in the mute silence caused by the gag. Her knees ached and the muscles wanted to cramp in protest because she hadn’t had sufficient food or water this rising, but it seemed that every time that she had one moment to even poke her head into the kitchen someone would pull her to another task. Perhaps someone was really opting to keep tabs on her now, a suspicion as she was summoned to the Shepherd’s presence by Mg’rlr that was confirmed in her mind.
“You are herby summoned to the presence of your master, you will comply immediately or face the consequences.” She had gotten to know the demon in the Shepherd’s crop fairly well over their many encounters and while he would never betray his nature she still considered him a friend, so she answered quietly.
“As you say, my friend. I will come as fast as my abused body will allow.”
She turned, yet again from the haven of the kitchen and much needed fluids, to trudge her way across the compound to the Grand Shepherd’s quarters. On her way there she contemplated her current attire. The non-descript robes began with a tight collar that wrapped itself just under the connection of the head and the neck following the line of the skull closely. On reaching the closure it wrapped up to form a hood that covered her now shorn head from its beginning in the back to the eyebrow line in the front where it changed briefly to a piece of cloth just sheer enough to allow her to see before once again turning into solid cloth that covered her face melting over her chin to seamlessly meet back up with the collar. Following the collar down, to where it loosened enough for the entire thing to flare out enough to cover the body, yards and yards of cloth with no defined shoulders or sleeves, just slits that were hard to find, so that her gloved arms and hands could be used in order to keep the robes clean. Which was extremely hard to do given how flowing the material was, she had seen one of her fellow silenced ones pass too close to one of the hearth fires, the screaming, mobile torch that followed was forever burned into her memory. No one had moved to help the poor soul, no one had been able to identify the body afterward either, the only person who would have known who it was had been out of the area at the time; attending some dinner or some such in another part of the realm. Now Serge was back and, strangely enough, demanding Sareth’s presence.
She arrived after the long, boring if somewhat scenic, walk to the Shepherd’s Palace entering in through one of the entrances that the demon had indicated to her was designated for her kind. He was also kind enough to give the route to where Serge was located in the manor at the time. So it was she wound her way through back passages and deserted hallways until she found the doors to the Shepherd’s parlor, pausing momentarily before she politely knocked on the closed door, her hand hovered over the lovely wood when she was given leave to enter. Her aching muscles protested opening the heavy door but still managed to close it behind her after she entered. What greeted her eyes was the last thing she expected, there was a meal set out which was obviously more than Serge could possibly eat in one sitting…was she to be tortured in this way as well…her stomach rumbled loudly causing her captor to admonish her.
“Don’t lurk in doorways child, it’s rude. One might question your upbringing. Come, sit, and fill your belly.”
She eyed the half-Orc suspiciously as she came further into the room. This was a sure flip from the way she was used to being treated what could have possibly…
“Oh enough with the suspicion already, it was pointed out to me that starving a pregnant woman was tantamount to murder, so you will report here to wait on me personally for the duration of this condition. You are allowed to eat and drink as you need but will remain silent otherwise, is that clear?”
She simply nodded her shrouded head in affirmation as Serge approached; she flinched as the Praetor’s hands lifted toward her head.
“Easy child, if you want to eat the hood must be removed. I’ll not have you soiling this set of robes unecessisarily so actually we will remove the entire thing at the moment.”
So she stood there in nothing more than what the gods graced her with on her birth, having peeled the gloves off as well. She felt the other woman’s assessing gaze on her. But stood firm in place until she was lightly shoved in the direction of the table, Serge gave a brief guttural laugh.
“You needn’t worry about me, little bird, I am quite firm in my like of the opposite sex. On the other hand there are several sexually deprived young men here who might not restrain themselves at the wanton display of so much female flesh.”
That caused Sareth to move quickly to a chair so she could put as much cover between her naked body and the young…boys really… who entered the room from the opposite door. She noted that the Shepherd beat a hasty retreat out of the room, gesturing for her to eat before the door closed and she heard several locks slide home. Before she reached to the nearest platter, she noted the approaching group. Seven in all, each of them she recognized at the least and one she knew remembered by name.
“Cylus!” She near stood but caught herself remembering, rather embarrassedly, that she was not wearing a stitch of clothing.
“Sareth! They took you to the healers and we never saw you after that where have you been?”
She gestured to the yards of cloth pooled on the ground half way to the chair in which she sat from the door which she entered. “In that. And while it is much warmer than what I had been afforded before I do not suggest doing anything to warrant getting it or the accessories that go with it.” She cracked a smile that showed her platinum encased teeth. Every last one of the boys cringed back in mock horror, Cylus closed his eyes.
“Best you not know, my friend. Come and eat with me, I am afraid that I may be pushing my luck with this reprieve.”
He drew a breath to ask her what she meant but took the meaning when she placed a finger over her lips and gestured for them all to sit. It was the biggest spread of food that they had all seen in quite some time. Sareth garnered a guess that at least two of them had never seen this much food in their lives, having been brought up here their entire lives. She herself had only seen something like this at a state function. They all ate in relative silence, the only sounds heard were the occasional slurp or burp. She could tell that these ones were genuinely happy to see her and would not try anything that might cause her to defend herself. She smiled for the first time in weeks as one of the others asked her a question.
“Do you think they will let you teach again soon?”
She simply shrugged. She really didn’t know but didn’t believe so. She furrowed her brow for a moment, searching her memories for his name. “Sadly, I think that I will not be allowed amongst the rest of you ever again, Peter.”
“Then we will refuse to leave.” Another piped in, this one she pegged much quicker.
“I can’t allow you to throw your chances of getting out of here on my account, Sacha. I know they will not allow me, short of my death. But at least there is a chance that each of you will be chosen, hopefully by a Praetor with a good head on his shoulders, and actually have a chance at something other than the daily grind of this prison.”
“It would be just trading one prison for another!”
“Nicolai speaks truly, some of us would rather die than have that happen.”
“Truly, you would rather throw what life you have a chance at living down the privy Mikhail?”
This conversation was quickly getting out of hand, there was also no doubt in her mind that Serge was either monitoring the conversation on the other side of the door or her crop demon was acting as relay. She had to convince these boys to leave her here, go back to their lives outside of this room and forget her. As she was trying to think of an argument to get them out of here before Rufus and Bartok joined their damning two cents in, there was a commotion from the other side of the doors.