Painting Petals Red

by Red Queen

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/142169.html)

Lilly-white. The last one had possessed such skin too, before he’d thrown himself into the fire.

Tried to make himself ugly to him, as if that would stop him from admiring the bone structure beneath the skin, the organ that lay limp between his legs.

And then he’d ripped into the flesh of his own wrist, determined to be free of the life of captivity, when he’d been rescued from the fire and healed. Though burned, he still had looked beautiful.

Ever the prideful ones, fae.

Markus had placed the new one in the virtual room for Lilly’s own protection, had watched with sharp, hawk-like eyes as the technicians went through the surgery to install the necessary ports, and then again as they lay him down in the cream chair and strapped him down with restraints suited to a hospital. Thick, padded, those restraints were nothing like the ones he was used to using. There were no buckles, just soft padded cotton underneath thick brown leather that hooked under plastic loops, clicked in place. Thick, chunky, oddly arousing.

Blindfolded; a tube driven down his throat for air; along with a feeding tube; a machine that would breathe for him; needles driven under his skin for water and vitamins; catheter.

Lilly-white and mostly hairless, colour-less down to the hair that dusted the area between his legs.

Markus waited until the technicians were done, waved away the head doctor’s repeated concerns for his now-patient, how much of a bad idea this was, an abuse of technology and the medical creed.

Markus was a grimlord prince, what did he care about creeds and honour?

He placed the virtual reality equipment on him himself, plugging in the nerve stimulators, his fingers caressing the metal at the base of Lilly’s spine, where metal port met skin. Lilly’s hair smelt like rotten leaves and dirt, his long eyelashes a shade darker than his hair, lips so pale they were tinted blue instead of pink like the majority of Adentvas’ inhabitants. Markus’ teeth ached just looking at him.

When they were done, Markus ordered them all out, until it was just him and Lilly in the room. Markus turned on his heel, stared at his own reflection in the two way mirror. Cold yellow eyes and markings as black as sin on his tanned skin, so different to the creature tied down behind his reflection, the lights of the machinery and monitoring equipment blinking here and there. The technicians would stay on the other side of that mirror; he would make sure of it. None would interfere with Lilly, nor touch him more than needed. No one else really needed to touch him.

He turned again, walked over to his pet and stood over him. His hands extended themselves without his permission, caressed up a forearm made of wiry muscles and hollow bones. So light, his pet. He held his sable hair out of his face as he bent at the waist, brought his face closer to the sleeping beauty.

His pet, his captive fae. His toy.

He breathed in his scent. Light, like sunshine and the dunes before a shoreline, stubborn shrubbery and sea salt.

The animalistic growl that reached his ears did not sound like his own, yet, it was. Like a lion’s rumble of a purr.

He pressed his blackened lips to the white neck, tasting the blue veins beneath, branching out in every direction and forking across Lilly’s skin like his own natural markings, only underneath the sheath of skin instead of burned into it.

He straightened, ran his hand through his hair, sighed.

He locked the door behind him.

No one would get in. No one would get out.

Behind the viewing screen, the king sneered at his son’s attempts to keep him away.

Severtas last remembered…

Screams.

Orders to run, though he didn’t want to. The priestess…

Hands and snarls. Hands on his skin, his body responding as it was taught. The shame.

He groaned, buried his face deeper into the warmth around him and brought his hand up to touch his face. The weirdness of the simple action jerked his thoughts away from worrying about where he was, who now held dominion over him.

Great Adimas, why did he feel so weird? Like he’d taken a fall from a tree taller than the eye could see. All his reactions were sluggish, like his body operated with a two-second delay.

“Ah, you’re awake.”

Severtas froze. That voice.

The hand he held to his face rotated to push down the covers as he opened his eyes, brilliant blue taking in the white of the thick furs covering him and the disgusting elegance of the room around him. Four walls, no door that he could see; it all spoke of grimlord wealth and arrogance. There was not a flame above, it was instead a chandelier with crystal encasing the synthetic light. The walls looked as if it were all made from dark, varnished wood. It was stifling, those walls. The window was too small. He felt like a caged animal. Like he couldn’t breathe for a second.

A man sat in a chair beside his bed, peaking past the curtain enclosing the low bed. The chair itself was opulent, but the man seemed out of place in the midst of all this elegance. Dressed in leather. Dragon-hide. Killer.

Yellow eyes, like a wolf. Or a hawk. Severtas shivered. That voice, those eyes. He remembered him. Yes.

The grimlord smiled. “I was beginning to think that you wouldn’t take to immersion. You see, since my pets have an annoying habit of killing themselves, we couldn’t meet in the real dimension, so instead, we’re here.” He gestured to the room at large with arms marked with rings of black.

His mind sputtered and tripped over itself. Immersion?

Were Severtas not already as pale as the moon herself, he would have blanched. Each dark ring around the man’s arms was a life taken, and how many rings were around his arms? Too many to count. His lips were pure black too, and across his eyes and temples, to his hairline, like a thin blindfold leaving the white of his eyes even more stark against the honey of his skin.

“Are they natural?” he asked, his eyes not straying.

The grimlord looked at his arms, an eyebrow rising. “Oh, yes. I forget the rumours. Tattoos, pet. Just tattoos.”

“But you smell like blood.” The tang of it was thick in his nose. He smelt like he’d just come from a torture chamber. Was that what this was? A bedroom, filled with artificial light and candles lining every surface. Candelabras for smashing skulls in, the iron poker by the fireplace for branding and sodomy, bed for rape.

“I’m a grimlord. I eat pretty things like you for breakfast.”

Severtas shrank down into the furs, peeking out from them with accusing eyes. “Cannibal,” he hissed.

The grimlord didn’t seem affected by the slander. It was what he was, after all. They ate their own kind as much as others. Animals were sacred. Bipedal creatures were not. There was some sort of edible hierarchy, but Severtas had never bothered himself to try and understand it.

The man just sat there and watched Severtas until he shrank further, unable to take the sharpness of those eyes, like a knife piercing his skin. Yellow, yellow. Severtas gulped in air greedily, breathed it out slowly. Disconnected, his heart rate and his breathing. He was panting, nigh hyperventilating in panic, and yet, there was no rush in his blood. It was slow to come.

“Do you understand where you are?” the male’s voice came.

“Captured,” he replied, closing his eyes tightly and drawing his legs up. He was naked, he realised, and his body felt weird. He felt as if this wasn’t his body, everything was just that little bit off. Calibrated wrong, though that was improving by the second.

“Yes. Captured. You’re in the country of Adentvas. I bought you at an auction, though I doubt you’d remember that; they had you drugged on so many things I didn’t know the colour of your eyes until I brought you here. They kept rolling back in your head.”

Hands, inspections. Preparations. Showers in a cold room, thrown to the floor and hosed off, dressed in a scrap of cloth that covered his cock and little else. Crowds. Jeering.

Yellow eyes. A hand in his hair. Lips against his neck.

“Who are you?” He picked at the fluff of the furs covering him, wondering which beast had been slain for the honour of warming this barbaric scum.

“Prince Markus. And you are Lilly.”

Rage boiled up, and by Adimas, he would need it against this foe. He allowed it to nestle in his chest, pool in his gut. He flung himself at the other male, hissing and extending white claws from fingertips.

The grimlord seemed to have expected it, as he was already tense, and somewhere in a flurry of painful quick movements and jarring switches of momentum, Severtas found himself pressed face-first into the bed, hissing at his brute of a captor.

“You do not name me!” Severtas shrieked.

His arm was jerked up and back, the backs of his own fingers brushed along his own nape. Severtas screamed, struggled and thrashed until he was blue in the face and drooling with rage and pain, his blue eyes glowing faintly.

“Done with your fit, pet?”

“Curse your mother’s rotten womb!”

The grimlord, Markus, only laughed. It was a deep, melodic sound that, if it hadn’t come from a grimlord, would have made Severtas weak at the knees and hard between the legs. He wanted to croon, ask it to make more sounds. See if he could come from just that.

A knee forced its way between his thighs, and Severtas’ eyes widened. A hand settled on his head and began to comb through his hair. “Such long hair,” Markus said softly. “And so white, like your skin.”

“Don’t touch it!” he cried. His eyes fluttered about, wide and frightened.

“Oh yes. Hair is sensual to you fae, isn’t it?” The male’s voice was closer to his ear than it had been the last time. Severtas trembled.

Markus continued to comb his fingers through his hair, massage his scalp. Soothing the rage and terror in him like a whisperer to a filly. It sent shivers through his body, made goose flesh rise along his skin. Severtas managed to strangle the sound that tried to leap from his throat.

Damn his kind for being weak to pleasure. He’d never hated it before. He’d been trained to become aroused at the slightest touch, his skin sensitive and all the more pleasing to the priestesses when he visited them for the sacrifices that had to be made for the moon to shine her grace down on them each month anew. By time the new month came, having deprived himself of touch for the entirety of that time, he craved it, and it was the gods who received his pleasure, his energy, through the priestesses.

“In fact, for you, everything is sensual. Even the simple touch on the arm.” Severtas wanted to claw away that smugness, along with the traitorous blood within his body, rushing down, making him thicken. He was not a stranger to male touch. ‘Priestess’ was only a term used. Some had no sex. Some had both. Severtas catered to them all.

Severtas forced himself to remain quiet.

“Pity I cannot explore the true extent of your training just yet. It will take a while for you to become used to your environment. Your breathing is off, no? And your movements sluggish?” Markus asked, the illusion of polite interest grating against Severtas’ skin annoyingly. He did wonder. He raised his head from the furs, blowing his hair from his mouth.

“What have you done?” he asked.

“Oh yes. Immersion into an artificial world. Like artificial light to a candle’s flame, only on a much larger scale. Everything you’re hearing, feeling, seeing, is generated from inside your mind, and not taken in from the outside. Grimmish technology. I believe your kind consider it a blight on Nature and Her ways.” Still smug.

He couldn’t think for a moment. “That’s…”

“Genius?” Markus prompted.

“Do you want to be struck down by the gods?” he asked, honestly bemused. He couldn’t understand why anyone would ever dare.

“Ah, fae. We have no gods but our own flesh and blood Sovereign.”

Severtas remained silent for a long time. His mouth ran away from him. “If you aren’t here to rape me, then please release me.”

The pressure on his shoulder joint eased immediately. Severtas straightened and scrambled up onto the bed and away as soon as he was able. He spun to face Markus, pulling the white furs up to cover himself out of a sense of belated shame, and a wish to discourage the rape that was only apparently delayed until this monstrosity of an…illusion was properly configured down to the smallest touch. It would take a while, he assumed. Pleasure balanced on the tip on a needle, and the differences, though small, were so great to him. His body was different.

Markus remained standing by the edge of the bed. He hooked his thumbs into the loops on his leather pants, and Severtas’ eyes dropped to the long strips of bare skin he could see on the outside of each leg, the dragon hide bound there with thick string, or perhaps tendon of some sort of beast. The cross-cross pattern along skin was strangely fascinating. He looked up. His captor was tall. Six feet, perhaps.

Markus smiled, and bared fanged teeth at him. Severtas tensed, a violent strike of panic coursing through him.

“Explore if you like, but you’ll find you will not be able to leave this room unless I am here.” He pointed to a circular table, made of thick, almost crimson brown wood. “On that table is a screen. If you’re hungry, thirsty, request it from that. You’ll have it. You’ll have anything you want, from clothes to hobbies. But you cannot leave this room.”

Severtas refrained from pointing out that he couldn’t have left the room anyway, since his body was probably dead by now anyway. Despair hit him hard, clenching in his chest. He curled in on himself with the weight of it. He wouldn’t be able to be in the sunlight, beneath the moon. He would be trapped in here.

He looked up to Markus.

“I’ll return later, when you are calm and we can talk properly,” the grimlord said, his body flickering, turning flat and oddly coloured, then simply two dimensional and then not there at all. Just gone.

Severtas took a shaky breath. “Fuck.”

King Liitas was blind. Funny how he should want to come and investigate this new pet of Markus’s. Still, Markus refused to allow him into the room, and took him to the observation chamber instead. It was a dark room, lit only with the light of the room the observed. The machines and computers flashed information Markus cared little for as technicians rushed here and there. The calibration was almost complete.

“How cruel of you,” the king muttered, tilting his head at him and reaching out to run his hand down his mute pet’s back. His other pet, the deaf one, draped itself over his shoulders and nudged at his neck, forked tongue tasting the air for the vibrations to their words. The nagas made Markus more than a little annoyed. They didn’t belong so close to one of his own pets, and yet, here they were. If only because they were with the king at all times now. The king who was his father, who owned him and everything Markus bought with his money, the country’s money. Thus he owned Lilly as much as Markus did.

“Oh?” he asked, turning on his heel to look at his father more properly.

The king was tall, bound in so many black markings that the honey of his skin was barely visible. Killer. Sadist. His hair fell in his face, covering his eyes and obscuring the sharp angled cheekbones and jaw. At his temple, a device allowed him to see into Lilly’s room, to examine the records of their first meeting. To see as he could not see.

“It will become desperate for companionship, another person to talk to. You have denied it that, as it was denied touch to heighten its sensitivity. You will be its only contact to the world. And, you have trapped it not only indoors, but in a single room.” King Liitas sighed, stroked a long tail that wound around him. One of the nagas brushed up against his bare chest, seeking his gentle caress. “Truly, you are named well, mine son. Markus was ever the most violent of the First Humans to wander into the Grimmish ranks. You make his legacy, the legacy of our ancestors, live on in glory.”

Markus smiled. He bowed his head a little. “I thank you.”

“Thank me not. I wish to see its progress.”

Markus’ lips twisted in distaste. “You will not join us.”

“Of course not. I merely wish to see its progress. Nothing more. I have my own pets. They fulfil my needs wonderfully.” The nagas seemed to understand his words (perhaps he had been teaching them Common tongue) and coiled around him, rubbing their more human-like upper bodies against him, the gaudy jewels that hung from their necks and wrists making soft sounds. One moaned in appreciation, the other, being forced silent by a bar between its jaws, merely ran its hands through King Liitas’ hair and attempted to convey its want through its sea-green eyes. Their hands skirted down his body, to the layers of leather skirts he wore, pulling the material up enough to rub their cheeks along his feet and ankles.

“So I see,” Markus said, watching them. Pitiful things.

King Liitas chuckled, extended a hand, palm up, and curled a finger. Beckoned him closer. “Come here.”

Markus clenched his jaw. “I would rather not.”

King Liitas tilted his head, and his hair parted, just a little, until Markus could see the clear white of his eyes. His father, normally calm, was annoyed. “Come. Here.”

He pushed his precious nagas back, and they retreated, wrapped around each other, kissing and mewling. Making an annoyed sound, Markus closed the gap between them, left as much space as he could, while still being polite. King Liitas arms snapped out, curled around him and reeled him in. Markus began struggling immediately. The technicians fled, and only the nagas remained, crooning to each other in their strange tongue.

Instincts rushed up, choking Markus. No, that was King Liitas, his large palm enclosed around Markus’ throat like he were still a child. He was lifted up until his feet no longer touched the floor, and Markus dangled, clawing at the king’s leather arm-guards uselessly as he made wet, crackling noises in his throat. He kicked out, and then the world spun around him. Falling. The sounds of wood splintering and then snapping. Pain bursting through his skull and shoulders.

He gasped for air, blinking rapidly to clear away the black dots everywhere. King Liitas was standing over him, reaching down for him. He tried to smack away the arm, but he missed, dizzy and confused as he was. He felt ill. The hand fisted in his hair, pulled him up.

The wall was cold against his back. King Liitas warm as he held him there with his own body. One of those large hands reached up to hold his head steady and he shook his head to dislodge it, suffered a blow that brought white lights to his eyes for it. He let himself be caught this time, his head tipped back, pressed against the wall.

He met Liitas’ unseeing eyes. “Are you worried, mine son?”

Markus parted his black lips and hissed, long and sharp. He thought he tasted blood on his lips, and panicked for a moment. Blood and grimlords went together like white on rice. They went together all too well. It created blood crazes of the worst kinds.

“Oh, come now. You were in need of punishment. Know you why?”

“Uhnn…” His tongue was thick and heavy in his mouth.

“Correct. My pets. You do not look down on them in future as you do now, or yours will get an introduction into my bed. I’m sure it would like that. However, I’m sure you would like for it to remain in your hands. Similarly, mine son, you do not challenge me. You are not yet ready to take the throne. Your comprehension of interpersonal relations lacks… insight.” King Liitas’ cruel lips twisted into a smile.

Markus was released and he fell to the floor. He coughed, tried to ignore the taste of his blood, the thrill it sent through him. ‘Hit me again,’ he wanted to say. ‘Beat me until I am dead, and I am happy.’ Just the thought of it made him hard, his cock pressing up against his leather pants uncomfortably. Bloodlust rose, thick and cloying.

A hand soothed his dead-straight hair, flowing through it. “Mine son,” his father crooned. “You grow up too quickly. Have dinner with your mother and me tonight.”

“Yes, sir,” he replied automatically. His mother, oh, his mother. She wasn’t his real mother, Liitas had eaten his real mother, his twin Leetus. This one was a snake, just like all of Liitas’ other pets and lovers. The hard-skinned ones who screamed the loudest, and writhed in the most beautiful ways.

Severtas made tea.

The tea set was all some sort of mineral, shiny and grey, reflecting his face when he looked at himself in it. The blue glow of his eyes drowned out much of his face, though, and obstructed his view of what he looked like. Mirrors weren’t common amongst his colony. Other than water and naturally occurring reflective surfaces, there wasn’t really anywhere for him to be able to see himself. There was art, but the Sacrifices weren’t allowed to be painted or recorded in any sort of way. He was sure one of the other Sacrifices had done so, however. Outside of their duty to Valdane, they thrived on socialising. The artists were often the ones most eager to talk to them, and the least liable to be taken advantage of as might have occurred with the common folk.

After filling his cup with the dark liquid and neglecting the chilled milk, he took his reflective cup and saucer and moved to the window. The window itself was in an alcove, and there was a day bed in the recess before it. The lilac pillows and purple cushions were soft against his knees as he knelt. He faced the window, looked out at the unfamiliar countryside beyond. Fake, perhaps, but countryside nonetheless. He missed the green. He missed his cousins and his fellow Sacrifices.

He’d dressed himself in white, finding most of the clothing annoying in that it rubbed against his skin too harshly. He’d rather be naked than coming every two minutes. There were, however, quite a few interesting pieces of clothing, which he donned quickly and didn’t remove thereafter, even though he was beginning to go stir crazy and spent most of his time attempting to decode the language most of the books in the room were written in as he paced back and forth. Now he knew how caged birds felt.

The change in the air alerted him to his captor’s appearance, and he ignored him for the most part, attempting to maintain his dignity.

“How is my Lilly finding his surroundings?” the deep voice came.

Severtas considered telling him to take a flying leap. “Dull,” he replied instead. The truth.

He shifted, setting his cup on the saucer and turning to look at the prince.

He looked a little worse for wear. He was sitting in one of the chairs by the table, facing him. The pads of his fingers drifted over the wood slowly, back and forth, back and forth. Severtas stared, becoming entranced. Back and forth. Those were harsh hands. From weapons, no doubt. And killing.

Back and forth. He wondered what they would be like on his skin.

Back and forth. He wondered what they would feel like inside him.

Back and forth. He imagined the rise and lull of pleasure of each thrust.

Back and forth. Of each breath.

Back and forth. Of each wail.

Lilly.”

The fingers had stilled.

Severtas looked up slowly, blinking as he did. “Hm?” He offered a slight smile, resettled himself back on his knees instead of all fours, crawling across the daybed. He combed his hair with his fingers, moving it to lay over one shoulder where he could reach it all.

Markus frowned, dark eyebrows merging with the dark line that ran over his eyes, temple to temple. Then he smiled. “It hadn’t occurred to me that you would be starved of company.”

Severtas’ eyebrows rose, but he didn’t look at him. He kept his eyes on his hands as they worked through his hair. “I suspect it didn’t occur to you that I too am a person, either. That I was quite happy where I was. Why am I here, if all you ever want to do is watch me?

Markus’ yellow eyes dropped down to Severtas’ nipples, bared, like his chest, since the robe he wore was never drawn up over his shoulders. Those nipples were the palest shade of blue he’d ever seen. Light like his skin, matching the colour of his lips, his tongue. “Perhaps I like watching.”

Severtas tilted his head, looked up at Markus finally through long eyelashes. “You know, our kind can tell when you lie. You’ve done so twice. Once when I asked about the tattoos, and now, about your liking to merely watch. Shall I act the shoulder, ask you to lean on it, and lend you my ear?”

Markus snorted, but rubbed at his lips and chin in thought.

Severtas returned to his preening. “What do they mean?”

The prince raised an eyebrow.

“The…markings.” He refused to call them tattoos now. It wasn’t what they were.

“We get them for each significant kill. Grimlords can go a whole lifetime without having any markings at all and then some end up like my father, covered in them. First taste of blood, first blood frenzy, we get this.” He pointed to the tine over his eyes. “After that, one is a true grimlord. Before that, we’re hunters. No one knows how we get them. They just appear. It tells us what we are, what our intention, purpose, in life is.”

“To kill?” Severtas was horrified.

The prince crossed his arms over his chest and proceeded to look thoughtful. “Only those who submit to the bloodthirst. We can never see them again, never touch them; those who resist the first blood presented to them when they come of age. They are sent off to the Euxeden colony. Those in Euxeden are sacred. Those in Euxeden are the Protected, and we the Hunters.”

“Merely ticking bombs,” Severtas hissed.

From behind long, dark eyelashes, yellow eyes appeared, pinned Severtas. Shot a cold thrill through him. Such intense eyes, he could imagine them above him, and the face they were inlaid in, amidst the rigour of sex. He wondered if Markus were a vicious lover, if he were depraved. “Yes. One grimlord in particular wiped out the whole colony due to an accident. He spends his time in my father’s correction facilities in the Nolands. We don’t take it lightly.”

Severtas snorted. “Perhaps it was divine retribution for your whole race. Destructive creatures, the lot of you.”

Markus merely smiled as if he’d paid him a large compliment. Severtas huffed and pulled the long material of his robes in towards him, pooling it in his lap.

“Shall I point out your own history?” he asked, unfolding one arm to run a finger over his black lips. “You are, after all, a member of an Unseelie cult, even though you were born in the Seelie Court.”

Severtas shut down. Turned cold. He turned, shuffling on his knees, and faced the window. He didn’t want to hear any of it. Didn’t want to think of it.

“What made you turn to the goddess of the moon, Valdane instead of Adimas? Adimas is the collective term, isn’t it? For all 37 of your deities?” Markus’ voice was relentless and Severtas lowered his eyes to his knees and the swathe of fabric pooled around and over them. He raised his hands and pressed his fingers against his ears, ignoring the way his blue nails scraped along the shell of his ear. He closed his eyes and all he could see was the orgies in Valdane’s name, the Sacrifices with him, pooled around him, each and every one of them mindless and drugged beyond belief. His life, his body, belonged to that one, singular deity.

“Curse you!” he screamed, eyes snapping open. He picked up the closest thing, his tea cup, and twisted to hurl it at the horrid creature who had broken his well constructed wall and forced him to think about just how very much he loathed his life under Valdane. It was sacrilegious to have even thought so. It was sacrilegious to have even doubted, even if he prayed to Adimas still.

Markus smirked and turned into a group of malformed pixels before disappearing and leaving Severtas alone in the room. Alone with his thoughts.

“Fuck.” Curling in on himself, wrapping his arms around himself as well as he could, he tried to make himself forget.

“Fuck,” he repeated through his sobs.

Grimmish dining was a rather interesting experience, considering that the main course was usually internal organs. Still, King Liitas was nothing if not sophisticated. Instead of bringing the body into the pristine dining hall, it was instead prepared in the kitchens and brought up to them on porcelain plates. They ate with forks and knives, drank wine as they discussed the days events. Markus tried to avoid family dinners as much as possible. Sometimes it only seemed to make his father all the more interested in his newest acquisition, and so, he had begun to have dinner with his family nightly. It nearly killed him, sitting in the same room with them for so long, staring across the black table at his mother who was not his mother. His brothers didn’t seem to share his reservations for all they ate quietly and rarely spoke.

The strip across her eyes was thin, her lips more grey than black, her eyes lined in white ash. Her fingers were flighty, flickering over her plate as she talked with King Liitas, who, for the most part, completely ignored her and instead turned his attention to the hungry and begging nagas at his feet. Markus wondered when this wife would end up in a pit of snakes too, after being flayed and eaten to the king’s satisfaction, of course.

“The Ladies told me that you have another fae in your possession,” she said, turning her soulless green eyes on Markus. She picked up her glass of wine and sipped at it, licking the blood from her fingers as she leant back in her chair.

“This one has been called Lilly.” He looked back to his plate and set about finishing his meal as quickly as possible.

“Hm. Yes. I can imagine it rather suits him. Pity you have not allowed others to see and touch him for themselves.”

“Lilly is in quarantine while he is locked in the virtual reality system,” he supplied, shooting her a heated glance.

She abruptly feel silent, her eyes darting to her plate. “To prevent another travesty, mayhap?”

King Liitas’ head rose and turned in his wife’s direction, eyes visibly narrowing, even through the veil of his hair. Markus glared at her, and then slid his eyes to King Liitas, watching the fury on his expression deepen. He twirled his fork, his appetite suddenly disappearing.

Still he held his chin high and twisted his lips into a snarl. “I dislike it when my toys kill themselves. The virtual programs ensure that he cannot do so, and I may still have my fun. He can also never run away.”

She picked up her wine, her hand shaking. “Of course. A lot of money was spent on your last pet, it was a shame to see him so disobedient in his last year.”

King Liitas’ lips twisted into a grimace, his eyebrows pulling down. “It should have been terminated long before it decided to waste our money. Better we end its life than spend all that time keeping it alive.” His head angled towards Markus, tilting. “You broke it marvellously well, mine son. I’d never before heard such helpless cries.”

Markus threw his fork on the table and sat back in his chair, picked up his own wine and took a great deal of the glass in a few gulps. He couldn’t deal with this. “I had grown attached to Petal’s broken nature long before it turned more serious. His loss was…annoying.”

He noted how his mother’s hand was still shaking in fear, even though King Liitas’ anger seemed to have been soothed. He despised how they were both at his mercy. Further down the table, and sitting beside him, his brothers were silent, most of them preferring instead to let their eldest brother talk. They, after all, were luckily ignored. King Liitas seemed to only have eyes for tormenting one particular son, and that, it seemed, was Markus.

Markus missed Petal, he really did. He missed being able to return to him after dinners like this and be comforted in pale but warm hands.

“Why was it you asked for Lilly specifically?” she asked, turning inquisitive eyes on him.

He felt like tipping the table over and smashing her face in with the crystal glass in his hand. Why would she say such a thing in the presence of King Liitas?

Then he noted the malice in them, and the curious tilt to King Liitas’ head. Of course. She was getting back into his good graces, making herself look all the more heartless and strong, worthy of being his wife. Markus understood, but wished it was not at his own expense. He cursed her under his breath.

“Petal was the same as he,” he replied smoothly, sipping from his glass. He combed his long hair with his fingers absentmindedly.

“Indeed,” King Liitas acknowledged. His tone was low, dangerous. “The same original village even, I am informed. The two likely knew each other.”

Markus met his father’s sightless eyes. The king smiled blandly, reaching down to pet the naga who rose from the ground and nudged at his arm with its forehead, careful to keep its long, straight horns from getting anywhere it could harm him. He chuckled, setting his wineglass down and meeting his mother and father’s eyes in turn. “Shall I tell you a secret I have discovered about the fae of that particular town?”

Silence. He even had his brothers’ attention.

“They have a rather unique ideology. One family in particular. They despise male to male relations,” he lied smoothly. “It makes it all that much sweeter to grind that in their face. Makes it all that much more dirty and horrifying to them. Besides, Lilly doesn’t yet know about Petal.”

There was a tense moment where he wondered if his mother and father had bought the outrageous lie (because there was no way in hell he was telling them the truth) and he thought he might have given himself away, be declared a traitor and sent to his death a pervert for having fallen in love with Petal. Thankfully, however, the tense moment was broken by King Liitas’ roar of laughter. Several of his brothers smirked and his mother briefly looked stricken at his heartlessness; weak-willed and only just keeping herself from being sent off to Euxeden as she was.

He sighed deeply.

Amongst the laughter, the horror of his family, his race’s violence, he was disturbed that his only salvation may have been his ‘mother’.

Severtas remembered…

Screams. Adentvas being raided by the Valdane warriors, hunting for new blood, seeking to replenished their Sacrifices, since the last ones had either gone insane or killed themselves.

Orders to run, though he didn’t want to. To abandon his home with his brother, Alaren, to run and keep themselves safe, since their lovers could not. The both of them being captured and taken to become Sacrifices. The priestess…forcing him down, teaching him the ways of the Valdane, hooking him on the drugs that would make him needy, and the permanent after-effects that made him all the more sensitive to touch, to want.

Hands and snarls. Hands on his skin, his body responding as it was taught. The shame. The orgies of helpless Sacrifices, locked away from the rest of Valdane’s worshippers, given meagre meals and ignored until they were near breaking with their need. The coming of the new moon was their salvation, their lifeline to sanity. They, forever needy, forever enslaved.

Alaren breaking out, along with seven other Sacrifices and Severtas himself. Their sprint through the woods, their recapture. Alaren’s promise that he would save him, come back for him.

The punishment they had faced for their unsuccessful escape attempt. The coming of the Grimmish warriors and Severtas’ joy at seeing the streets lined with Valdane worshipper’s blood.

He remembered and he cried, cursed and damned Markus for making him remember such painful memories. How was Alaren to find him now, when he’d been taken by the Grimmish? Forced into yet another kind of slavery, trapped and lonely all the more. Going without touch for so long was driving him insane, and soon he would throw himself at Markus, the only one who ever came to visit him here, and shame himself further by fucking his captor, his enemy.

In a rage aided by sexual frustration, he howled and destroyed any furniture not fixed in place, held by whatever convoluted laws of physics this synthetic world allowed him. He tore at his hair and his clothes, and yet he couldn’t feel the pain, couldn’t feel the material tearing between his hands. It drove him wild, made him scream and scream until his eyes hurt from the tears and his throat was so sore he could barely swallow from all the screaming.

He ended up in a corner of the room, facing the window with its fake blue sky and green meadows, the swaying forest just out of sight where he couldn’t make out the individual trees, only the mass of green canopies. He curled in on himself, naked but for his own skin, shivering a little at the cold and his own frayed nerves. He couldn’t stop his own thoughts from racing. What he needed was a body, release, something to calm him and settle him until he could think again.

He was like that when Markus arrived, materialising in the centre of the room. He twisted on his booted heel, looking around at the once opulent room’s upturned furniture and shredded bed, and then finally his eyes settled on Severtas who huddled in closer to the wall and kept his head turned away. It was too tempting. His arms were trembling with effort to keep himself where he was; to not lunge at the grimlord and fuck him, or make him fuck Severtas until his throat was raw for an entirely different reason.

“I can’t…” He pressed a shaking hand to his temple. “I’m going insane.”

“I know,” came the cold voice, and Severtas leaned towards it despite himself. Oh that voice, it was as deep as the depths of the ocean. Reminded him of velvet, stones smoothed over with kindness and warmth. He didn’t want to look.

“Then why…?”

“Don’t I touch you?” The bed creaked as Markus sat, his boots thudded against the carpeted floor as he toed them off.

“Yes.” He sniffed. “You kidnapped me to be a sex slave, didn’t you? So why haven’t you used me yet, after that first time, you’ve done nothing? Are you waiting for me to throw myself at you?” His voice broke, wavered, and he pushed his tears away from his cheeks angrily, rubbed the wetness that remained on his palms into his hands and wrists.

Silence.

He glared at the edge of the rug that covered most of the room, a dark thing with many colours woven into its symmetrical pattern or curls and weaves. His cheeks flushed blue with anger, and he screamed, “Answer me!”

He made the mistake of turning his head to glare at Markus.

He sat on the edge of the bed, hands in his lap, yellow eyes filled with nothing but regret. It shocked Severtas into silence, stilled his nerves and his need for skin against his own. His eyes widened further as Markus held his hands up, then dropped them and shook his head. His mouth worked, as if he couldn’t decide what to say.

“I never knew Petal’s real name,” he began, looking up at Severtas. “Your brother. We caught him when we were out hunting one day; he was running from your temple. You look just like him, you know.”

Severtas stared. Shook his head. “He was here?” he asked.

Markus’ eyes turned sharp and intense once more. “Yes,” he said. “For a while.”

“Where is he now?” he asked, his voice raising, nigh hysterical.

They met eyes, and both flinched a little, for various reasons each their own.

“Dead.” The word hung in the air for a long time, like a thick black cloud pressing down on their shoulders, sucking all the life out of both of them.

Severtas shrank back against the wall and dropped his eyes to his knees. A lead weight descended in his stomach. “How?”

“He killed himself.”

Adimas forbade taking one’s own life, though Valdane allowed it, thought it was a rightful way out if needed. It couldn’t have been over nothing. Immediately, however, his thoughts turned to Markus. He’d caused it, surely. Taken his brother from him. He stood, pushed himself off the wall, crossed the room in a few strides and launched himself at Markus in a fit of fury. The grimlord seemed to have expected it, however, and pushed his hands away, deflecting his long nails-cum-claws, defending himself with only a blank expression of endurance as Severtas swiped at him and hit him with all his strength until his captor was forced back on the bed and he finally managed to punch him. And again, and again.

Rage became him, turning lust into bloodlust. He snapped. He screamed until his throat turned hoarse.

And Markus’ eyes stared up at him as he took it all, only half-heartedly defending himself.

“Why?!” Tears of rage fell, tracked lines down his face. “What did you do?”

Markus caught his arms again, remained lying on his back with Severtas arched over him, blood seeping from his skin in various places. His eyes, if possible, became even more like the colour of the sun, bright, almost glowing. “I loved him.”

Severtas stared for a moment, his hair swinging gently, falling over his shoulders, his blue eyes wide. Then he spat at him.

“I did,” Markus said, more firmly this time, reaching up to wipe away the saliva in a detached kind of way.

“Then why did he kill himself? He was my only remaining family!” They had promised to remain, through thick and thin, together. They would support each other, love each other, be each others only when no one else would. Street rats, was all they have been, and then whores, and then slaves to the same whoreson of a man.

Markus’ golden eyes were brighter than anything else in the room, even the sun Severtas could sometimes see through the window. He waited, choking on his sobs, blinking away his tears. “I loved him. That’s the truth. I would never have hurt him.” He paused, collecting his thoughts.

Severtas tugged one of his arms from Markus’ hold and raised it, preparing to punch him again, but the prince held a hand out.

“I’m trying to think of the best way to put it.”

“Well–hurry up, grimlord.”

Markus’ eyes hardened, and his jaw tightened, but he began to speak again. “He loved me too. He wasn’t locked in the room like you are. He was free to wander around. He wasn’t taken in as a slave. He was inducted as my concubine, for the time being: it was the best way I could think of to keep him close and safe until we figured out what to do. He couldn’t leave, since we were at war with the Valdanes. If they discovered that he was one of them, he would have been tortured, killed.” He paused again, and Severtas had all but gone lax at this stage, leant against him weakly, propping himself up against his chest with fisted hands.

“Things were going well until the king took an interest in him.” His eyes sought out Severtas’. “You have to understand that the king, my father, is not…sane. He took to visiting Petal, and I could do nothing but keep him away when I could, but he knew, King Liitas knew about our secret. I don’t know how, and he never actually said it, but he knew that Petal was Valdanian. What could I do? I was beside myself, helping Petal escape would mean exile myself, and if I didn’t help him escape my father’s viciousness would only grow and grow.”

Severtas’ eyes flew wide. “You saved yourself over putting him through that hell?!”

“No!” Markus took his face between his hands, his eyes searching, trying to make Severtas see his sincerity. “If I was a commoner I wouldn’t be able to save you. We both wanted to get you out before we decided just what to do, where to go, how much money we would need to leave the palace with.” Severtas settled and Markus shook his head, settling back into his own thoughts, voicing them. “Petal was pushed to the edge before the opportunity presented itself, and he threw himself into a fire to destroy his beauty, beauty that you have too, Lilly. We…we thought that would be enough, but King Liitas came back again, and Petal couldn’t take it anymore. He needed to get out. He needed to be selfish.”

Markus fell silent and Severtas jerked his head out of Markus’ hold, finding the skin of his hands too warm, too welcoming. He pressed a hand to his mouth, wiped at his tears. “He left me,” he said quietly, brokenly.

Markus shook his head, reaching out a large arm. “No. He left…a letter. Said he wanted me to find you, just as we had planned. And once he was dead, it was simple enough to take you. I knew who you were instantly. You look just like Petal…”

Severtas lifted his eyes to Markus and swallowed thickly. His throat hurt, felt thick. “Then let me go…”

They stared at each other as Markus appeared to fumble over his words, something like pain passing over his expression. “I…I can’t…”

He glared at him. “Do you want the king to come after me too?!”

Markus shook his head. “He cannot. The virtual room you’re in is locked; the key is well-hidden. He can’t touch you, can’t speak to you. The only one who can is me.”

Severtas sniffed, looked down at his lap. He was still straddling the prince, the white cloth of his robe pooled about his hips and waist, the sleeves remaining on his wrists and nothing else. He let himself feel the sadness for his brother’s death and the ache of loneliness. “Is that why you won’t touch me? Because I look like Al– like Petal?”

Markus jolted a little. “Al? What was his name, Lilly, what is your name? He never told me. He only ever referred to you as Lilly.”

Severtas shook his head a little, then again because his hair against his skin felt too good to ignore. “We don’t give our names. We don’t need them usually. What we are called is what the gods and our relatives may call us. Names are….names are sacred…”

“I’m–” Severtas’ hand pressed itself against Markus’ lips before he could say anything.

He shook his head. “Don’t apologise. I just…Lilly is fine.”

Severtas looked at his hand, pale and white against the honey of Markus’ skin. His eyes flicked up, to the golden depths of his eyes, and the black band around them. He felt the stomach beneath him shift and expand as he breathed. He lifted his hand, just enough to trail them down so that he could run his fingertips over Markus black lips. Stained, maybe. It seemed the skin there was simply just as black as coal naturally. Not with kohl or any other manner of substance.

His arms, no longer holding Severtas’ to prevent attack, were resting by his head, away from Severtas’.

“Why won’t you touch me?” Severtas asked again, voice wavering with his need.

Markus looked pained for a second, and Severtas moved his hand so that he could speak, shifting it to his cheek instead, then into his hair, carding through the long sable length. “You’re…a lot like him. Like Petal. You could be twins.”

They were.

“It wouldn’t be right,” Markus finished.

“Petal lives on in me,” he murmured, leaning forward just that little bit. “I could… I could love you, for all you’ve done for him. For…how much you tried, were prepared to risk…”

“But you’re not him. It would be wrong. It…somehow it’s taking advantage of you. Unhealthy… I wanted to fuck you that first time because I thought I could pretend you were him. You’re not. But I still want you.” That Markus, a grimlord, was protesting morals even though he wanted him made Severtas want to laugh.

Instead Severtas broke down. “Please!” He sobbed and lowered himself, pressed his hands to Markus’ shoulders and brought their chests together. He was so much bigger than Severtas, but still, there was plenty of skin to admire. He rubbed himself against it, cheeks flushing with arousal. “I need it so bad,” he whispered. “I’ll go insane. Just, please, I need to fuck…”

Markus’ control snapped.

He rolled them over, and Severtas gave a small cry of surprise. He stared, wide eyed, up at Markus, and licked his lips hungrily at the expression on his face. It was predatory, hungry, and before it would have made him shake in fear but now it only excited him because he knew he wasn’t in any danger. For some stupid reason he believed everything that came out of Markus’ mouth. He still shook with sobs and his tears still edged in on his vision, but he managed to, at least smile up at him. He arched his back a little and reached up for him, wrapping his arms around Markus’ neck and pulling him down.

Their lips met, and Severtas felt that first violent spark of the slow build up to what he knew would be the most wonderful orgasm of his life. He’d been here…possibly six, seven weeks. He was already at breaking point, and this, with Markus, was more emotionally charged than anything he’d ever had at the temple, on the streets. Arching his back, Severtas pressed himself up against Markus, feeling his body against him. It was hard, solid muscle, and Severtas whimpered into the kiss.

Severtas thought he’d get whiplash one day, from Markus’ sudden changes from supposed calm to his times of chaotic energy. Markus’ hands drifted, down his neck and sides, unhooking the sleeves from his wrists and pushing the robe down past his hips, tearing the sash around his waist that held it closed. He rocked down into Severtas, and he could feel his hardness, moaned at how good the resulting friction felt. Severtas bit at Markus’ lip, sucked on his tongue, let his arms drop so that he could work Markus out of his leathers, so he could feel his naked skin against him. He wanted Markus like he’d never wanted anything else before, even with his addiction. He was like a looming giant, propped above him, and Severtas squirmed below him. Markus wouldn’t let him break the kiss, not that he minded, really.

But when he felt the heat and the weight of his cock in his hand, and Markus pulled back enough to moan and then bury his face in Severtas’ shoulder, Severtas minded. He wanted that kiss, wanted that cock, wanted everything and more the grimlord would give him. He bucked up into him and groaned at the sensation of their cocks sliding against each other, trapped between their bellies.

Coming back to himself, Markus took Severtas’ arms and pinned them to the mattress either side of the fae’s head, bent down to catch his lips in a hungry, dominating kiss in which Severtas only fought against, played with. Rocking down into him sent spirals of pleasure throughout the both of them, and they moaned, gripped tighter at each other. Pale legs hooked over Markus’ thighs, and encouraged him, pulled him closer with each movement he made, and Markus hissed lightly.

“Fuck me,” Severtas mewled, tilting his head back so that Markus could mouth at his neck. He paused to suck at the blue vein in his neck and tease the tendon and soft yielding flesh there, the small hollow behind the fae’s ear that made him moan deliciously. “I don’t care who you see…”

Markus flinched and pulled back, but Severtas only surged upwards and caught his lips again, used the muscles in his thighs to lift himself up and writhe against Markus like the true wanton little creature of the hedonist’s goddess he was. The moment he felt Markus give in was a wonderful thing, fleeting but so very powerful.

His arms were released, and he was flipped over, pressed into the bed with a hand between his shoulders. “Markus,” he moaned, panting as his hips were lifted up until his back was forced into a sharp downwards arch. He was held like that for a long moment while Markus shifted about, and he whimpered, let his knees slide outwards in a bid to let his hanging, leaking cock brush against the sheets just for some touch.

Then two fingers slid down the ravine of his ass, slick with something thick and fluid-like at the same time. Severtas gasped and pressed back into those fingers as they traced a wet path down over his entrance and towards his balls. He whimpered when they didn’t immediately slide back up and into him. “Don’t–don’t need it, I’m loose enough, been fuck too many times…please more…”

Feeling Markus’s hair trail along his back and hearing him growl, Severtas’ body trembled in anticipation, knowing the grimlord was bending over him. The relief he felt when first one, then two fingers entered him was tangible, touchable, drawing out a sighing moan from him. He fisted his hands in the sheets, pressed back into those fingers as well as he could. The fingers swirled inside him, sending rolling waves of shudders throughout Severtas, and then they brushed something so much more sensitive, and he almost passed out from the intensity, nearly came from how swift and beautiful the bliss was. Then the fingers curled over that spot and with a high cry Severtas came, spilling himself onto the sheets and writhing, shaking his head until white hair was flung everywhere and he thought it would never end.

As the pleasure began to fade, the fingers slipped from him and he mewled at the loss, feeling as if he was incomplete with something in him, feeling only half a person without a cock filling him to the point where it burned and made him sob. He didn’t have to wait long for more. Markus cock brushed up against his entrance, and Severtas lifted his head, gasped at its heat, its thick weight against him.

Markus growled as he watched his cock press past the only slightly reluctant ring of muscles, sighed deeply as he pressed in all the way, closed his eyes and clutched tightly at Severtas’ hips as the fae tightened around him with a wanton moan. His expression twisted into of of pained pleasure, and he gasped for air, remembering how tight Petal had been that first time he’d fucked him too. Lilly wasn’t tight, Lilly was loose and disgustingly knowledgeable about fucking. It disturbed him, what this must have meant.

“More,” Severtas moaned, lifting head head from the sheets and propping himself up on both arms, rocking back into each of the grimlord’s thrusts. His hair hung in his face, caught in his lips when he licked and bit at them in his pleasure. “Markus…”

It didn’t take Markus long to come, moving at a harsh and fast pace, pulling Lilly back onto his cock and watching the fae shudder and cry out at almost every thrust, his almost pained cry when he came again panting and clawing at the bed. His balls tightened at the sight, at how very exhausted he’d made the fae, at how his arms gave out and he collapsed, still writhing on his cock and moaning like a greedy little whore. He clutched at his hips tight, his fingers pressing into pale skin, nails biting into his skin.

Markus wasn’t sure which name he called.

But Lilly still squirmed beneath him until he pulled out of him, and cradled him in his arms until the lasting pleasure had eased out of the both of them.

Markus made his way back to his room, feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. When he pushed open the large red wood door to his room, he closed and locked it, and moved straight from his antechamber into the small room branching off the decorated and elegant space; a bland room with dirty stone walls. It smelt of ash and earth and there were black candles over every available surface. At the apex of the small room there was an altar, which he knelt at, lit two candles and bowed his head.

It had been a long time since he’d attempted to summon a friend, rather than an ancestor, through prayer. He didn’t usually find a point in asking for the wisdom of his relatives past – the majority of them being heartless and cruel – but years ago, he’d discovered that all manner of those who were connected to the dead could be contacted through the same practice.

He knelt, repeating the same long phrase over and over, almost feverishly. He asked for a necromancer, one whose name he knew only through the offhand mentionings of an old friend. He didn’t know how else to contact that old friend, but through the necromancer. He was grasping at straws, he knew, but he needed – Lilly needed – support to do what he intended.

Unsure of how long he was meant to stay and repeat the same phrase, he remained until time became an illusion, and he fell into an almost trance-like state.

A voice broke him out of it.

“That is sufficient,” the voice said, light and smooth.

Markus’ eyes shot open, and he looked over his shoulder, towards where to voice had come.

A tall man with oddly long limbs stood there. His grey hair fell from under the hood of his cloak like a great waterfall, plaited in places, interwoven with feathers and small bones. The man didn’t look amused.

“Markus, prince of the grimlords. What can I do for you?” He didn’t quite sound amused either.

“Lactrodectus?” he asked, straightening and shifting to face him properly, his back facing the altar now.

The shadowed face tilted, and black lips quirked a little. Even in the orange glow of the candles, Markus could tell his skin was grey with death. “You have the right person, yes. I’m the necromancer.”

“I didn’t know what else to do. You’re our last help. Aeron mentioned you. I can’t leave the castle without attracting suspicion; at the moment you’re my only hope of reaching him.” The words fell right out of him in a rush, and he made himself slow down. He looked up to Lactrodectus, trying to meet the one visible eye.

The necromancer was silent for a moment, then he made an amused sound. “You know Aeron?”

“He was one of my beloved brothers in arms, before he was sent to Euxeden.” His eyes dropped.

“And you know now that he is no longer in Euxeden, correct? I made the mistake of giving him my eye and the thirst awakened in him. He was exiled into the commons afterwards.” He sounded far from pained, victorious even.

Markus thoughts whirled. Aeron was in the commons? How would he find him? The commons were far too wide and large for him to search alone. His hands fisted at his sides, and he raised himself to his feet so he could look at Lactrodectus directly. He still had to tip his head back, since Lactrodectus had to be seven feet tall at least. “I need his help. I need him to help me overthrow King Liitas.”

Lactrodectus tilted his head, and his single remaining eye narrowed. “Why would you overthrow your father? To take the throne yourself?”

“Grimmish rule has outlived its usefulness, and I want to protect my pet. I want to leave the castle and live with Lilly in peace.”

Silent for a moment, Lactrodectus seemed to turn into a statue, but then he returned to himself. Long, bony fingers reached up and pushed the hood of his cloak back, revealing a gaunt, thin face and a single shining eye. The other side of his face was covered in his silver hair. Markus knew the other eye would be sunken in and sewn shut. “You love the fae?”

Markus was stunned into silence. “I don’t–I don’t know. But…I want to protect him.”

Lactrodectus’ stern face turned soft and he smiled. “You love the fae.”

He could say nothing. He’d loved Petal, and Lilly was a remnant of him. Whether he loved Lilly or the one he was a shadow of confused him. He didn’t know what he felt; didn’t think it mattered for the moment, only wanted to get this all over and done with. He wanted to leave with Lilly by the end of the week, tomorrow if possible. He would not have his father taking Lilly from him like he had with Petal, as he knew he might try to do. “Please,” he begged, swallowing his pride. “Ask Aeron to help me. He’s the only one who can.”

After a moment of silence the necromancer made a soft sound. “Aeron is mated to my brother. I shall talk with him, see what I can do.”

Markus felt like a great weight had been lifted of his shoulders, yet he was still uncertain. He sighed, and his head hung, his hair obscuring his vision for the moment. “Thank you.”

There was no reply: Lactrodectus has disappeared as suddenly as he had come.

Severtas woke suddenly, gagging violently. He couldn’t see when he opened his eyes, couldn’t lift his arms to fight off the hands pulling and pushing at him. Something was being pulled from his throat, something that forced him to keep his breathing regular and paced, even as his heart sped up and he could hear the high pitched beeping that marked each beat of his heart chirping faster and faster as a rough hand cupped his cheek and an unfamiliar voice told him to let it happen, to not fight against it.

He whimpered, and that only made him choke more. Finally, the–tube, he realised– was pulled free of his throat and he could breathe freely. He gasped for air, deep and quick, frightened. “What?” he managed to croak, flinching at a sudden violent crash and loud screams, both in another language. Grimmish, he recognised.

That hand again, stroking at his face. His blindfold was removed and and blinked as the sudden explosion of light, crying out as it hurt his eyes. The light bulb above them shattered, spraying glass around the room, and the body connected to the hand stroking his face bent over him, protecting his naked skin from the spray. Again Severtas opened his eyes tentatively, and managed to see grey, nothing but grey and white. Then a yellow eye, staring up at him. More cords were pulled from him hurriedly, the restraints at his neck and arms removed quickly. “We are getting you out of here. I am Lactrodectus; Markus is here too, along with a friend of ours, Aeron. King Liitas is here, trying to stop us from getting you out, and causing a revolution amongst the Grimmish people.”

It was too much to take in all at once.

Still somehow unable to move even after being released, Severtas squinted a little, trying to see the dark shapes across the room more clearly while Lactrodectus worked on the restraints and sensors at his legs. His limbs felt too heavy, and Severtas wondered if he would ever be able to regain the use of his body again.

Eventually, he saw them.

Markus, dressed in armour and clutching a sword, and another grimlord, holding King Liitas still while he struggled and cursed, spat at the both of them. Severtas’ eyes widened as Markus raised his sword high, and in a flash of silver, brought it down. Red sprayed against the wall and the two grimlords, and suddenly most of the noise in the room was gone, left only with the sickening sound of blood flooding the floor around their feet.

Severtas looked away, eyes wide and stricken. All this for him?

“Come,” Lactrodectus said, sliding an arm under his shoulders, another under his knees, and lifting him up. Severtas’ couldn’t lift his head at all, and so he was shifted in Lactrodectus’ arms until his head was propped up against a bony shoulder. Through his hair Severtas watched the room spin and then lurch forward as Lactrodectus carried him towards his lover and the other grimlord.

“He is weak and confused,” Lactrodectus said, “but alive.”

Severtas would have recognised Markus’ sigh of relief anywhere. A hand, slick with blood, touched his cheek.

Yellow eyes again, but he knew these ones. Hawk-like, intense in their protective instinct. Lips against his. Severtas tried to return the gentle kiss as well as he could.

“You’re free, Lilly,” Markus said, sounded tired, relived and sad all at the same time.

“Yeah…” Yeah.

Another unfamiliar voice. “Romantic moments later, let’s go and make sure we all stay free.”

Severtas cried as they fought their way out of the castle. He’d forgotten what freedom smelt like, and he hated that it smelt like blood and regret.

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