Chapter 22: Mercy
It ached—my body ached.
There was a pounding in my head and an unpleasant discomfort at the back of my neck. The sound of my own breathing burdened me and with this came the horrifying stings shooting through my eardrums.
I wanted to scream but I found myself so weak that the mere instinct to part my lips failed and all that dared erupt from the back of my throat were low groans and whimpers. I felt as if I was trapped in my body, unable to move and forced into a torment of indistinction of my final memories before this very moment.
Confusion and disorientation flooded my mind, keeping me from gaining the slightest bit of composure until slowly, I began to gain the smallest sparks of strength with every little breath that I took. It felt as if I was pacing myself forever, steadying my breath and calming my mind in an attempt to shift my muscles.
After what seemed like hours, my eyelids were the first to show mercy by lifting the weight they held against me as I forced my eyes to open. With this, I caught sight of my bare feet and the cold, concrete floor that they were planted on. The harsh discomfort of my shoulders registered when I hesitantly rose my head from it’s uncomfortable bowing position and hard stinging pulls shot through my spine, stopping at my tailbone. I hissed sharply, trying my best to shift myself into comfort to rest my shoulders that had been forced into a restless position due to the shackles imprisoning my wrists. I hardly had the concern to notice Erebus standing before me, holding a whip in his hand with an awfully calm demeanor rolling off of his stance until I realized that I wasn’t going to find a resting posture.
I was confused, watching him stand there and watching him from a perspective that I recognized through the memory of torturous beatings I took—we were in the dungeon and I was prepared to be taught a lesson.
Wh...Wha— How? Wh—
A surge of pain shoots through my body, rooting from the back of my eyes. The scream that had been concealed before was no longer held within and erupted to pierce the ears of any who rested within the walls of Erebus’ mansion.
Tears of agony broke from the brim of my eyes, sliding down my cheeks as memories of the same pain flashed in my mind.
Hunter. Celic. Enos. Cam.
My cries dripped from my chin, wetting my bare chest and muffling my scream.
I remembered—I remembered everything.
I understood why I was here: I was to be punished. I was being punished for being pushed to my limits and snapping. I was to be punished for being provoked and rightfully, yet wrongfully, reacting to that of a lower power than me.
I was being punished for finally having enough and resisting against the brand that has been placed on me:
“What was that?” Erebus’ voice nearly shook, withholding its quiver for fear of the unknown.
I could see it in his curious eyes: he was entirely and truly ignorant to me. He didn’t know what he had done when he...when he hit me so hard that he had killed me. He didn’t know that mending from death was not alike to any other pure blood or vampire as it was for one who held the gift of a Traveler: a Traveler’s curse.
A shaky breath passed my lips—a breath of frustration. The tears that dried at my eyes and stained my cheeks were deceiving, and the pained, worth-sympathizing look in my features quickly lifted when the spark of anger reignited within me and fixated its sight on him.
“It’s called a Traveler’s Curse,” I spat. “You should look it up...” a bitter harshness rolled off of my tongue, attacking him as I glowered at him.
Despite him being at fault, despite the anger I have earned to have against him, he stood aggressively against me and stepped forward into what appeared to be justified arrogance. He challenged, “You’re in no position to get smart with me, slave.”
He had arched an eyebrow at me, clearly demanding answers that I initially had no intention on giving him. I wanted to stand my ground. I wanted to show him that he could no longer bend me at his will and beat me to obedience.
However, I realized that I should do all but fight against his hand though my hopes of leaving this place were quickly dying along with my chances. Additionally, whatever he had planned for me, I deserved.
I deserved it for Celic.
Maybe if I allow him to punish me, I won’t feel so guilty for hurting her.
I will be hurt too; in more ways than one.
“Mending from death…” my voice trailed off. “I-It has it’s side effects when you bare the gift...”
Then, I couldn’t look at him anymore. I sighed heavily and dropped my head and chin against my chest. The floor was a much prettier sight, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before my blood and I rested on it.
The sound of the whip’s blades scraping against the floor made me shrink in my place, memories of its lashes kissing and breaking my skin wanting me to stray away though I had no where and nothing to move to.
“What happened tonight?” Erebus’ calm voice rung in my ears. It warned me, pushing me to simply answer the man’s questions in my body’s hope that there’d be mercy though I felt I deserved none and doubted for any.
My mind, my heart and my body battled: stand up to him and tell him the truth, stand down because you own Celic this, too much pain will come and I won’t be able to hold on for much longer.
Ultimately, my mind won.
“Oh, I don’t know, Erebus. Maybe because I’m sick of this. I’m sick of you. I’m sick of being pushed around by everyone, including those ranked beneath me merely because you have named me worthless.”
I had snapped my head up, my eyes locking with his, and I regretted nothing. I regretted not a word that came out of my mouth.
That was until I spotted that sly smirk of his that broke on his lips as he taunted, “Whose fault is that?”
I noticed the grip he held on the whip tightened until his knuckles turned white and through the half-smile on his face, his jaw had clenched: it threw me off.
The Erebus I knew wouldn’t have bit back his anger. The Erebus I knew would have, without hesitation, swung the whip up and lashed at me. However, there was something lingering within him that he did his very best to hide and successfully managed to ultimately push down.
“Why did you run off?” he abruptly asked, taking a set of short steps until he stood but mere inches before me.
My eyes followed his own, tracing him with a fear well-settled in my heart. I had no intention on telling him a word, I knowing that if I were to say the wrong thing I could blow my cover.
Would it truly matter if I had blown it at this point?
Still...the idea of one day being free from him and free from my family--truly free--clung in my head like a cancer. I was stubborn and behaved fearless though I was far from such.
“Answer my question,” he pried, acknowledging that he knew that I wanted nothing more than to keep my mouth shut, “and I’ll spare you this punishment; you won’t shed another drop of blood tonight.”
He wasn’t lying. There was a glint in his eyes that made me feel as if I could trust his word and within, there was a sign of mercy.
He was showing mercy.
“I-I bumped into an old friend...” the words quivered at my throat and slipped from my mouth so effortlessly that it shamed me.
“And who is this old friend of yours?” Erebus slightly tilted his head to a side, eyeing me with a curiosity that I could’ve easily confused for jealousy if I were a little more out of my senses.
Nonetheless, his reaction didn’t bother me so much. However, what struck me was his question. What would I say? I couldn’t tell him the truth because then I’d blow it all. Everything that I tolerated would be for nothing.
Hurting her would be for nothing.
“It doesn’t matter anymore...” I mumbled away, allowing my sight to fall on the floor again. “I hurt that person and now that person hates me. So, that’s that.” I shrugged.
“I see…” his voice trailed off. I couldn’t bring myself to look at him, partially because I knew that looking into his eyes would allow him to see right through my own. Then, he’d know. He’d know that not only had I hurt the other person, but I too ended with a broken heart.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Erebus’ hand reach beside me and I flinched away, expecting an attack along with the feeling of betrayal. When I felt his hand touch my own, the shackles on my wrists opening, my eyes snapped up to meet his own in surprise.
He didn’t look at me, but instead, with his unoccupied hand, he grasped onto my upper arm and forced me to follow his guide to the open cell that waited for me. I wasn’t defiant, so he hardly put any effort into forcing me into the cell and closing the door at my face.
“One week,” he stated blankly. A sigh passed his lips soon after, and he bothered to not look at me as he turned on his heels and walked to the rack of whips where he hung the one he once held in his hand and collected himself by fixing the collar of his shirt.
Between my loss for words and thoughtless mind, my eyes were left nothing to do but roam his body. His long-sleeve, white shirt had been untucked and the tight that he once wore was nowhere to be found.
He expected to punish me, so it wasn’t surprising that he made himself comfortable to deliver what sickeningly pleased him.
If it still did.
“For what it’s worth,” his husky voice drew me from my thoughts, reverting me to the sight of his back as he began his steps down the corridor that’d lead him to the exiting door, “I’m sorry about your friend.”
He vanished, the sound of the door slamming behind him echoing to my ears.
I sighed, “Yeah...I am too.”
“It’s been a very interesting night,” Enos spoke as I emerged into what I expected to be an empty hallway.
My eyes landed on him and the rest of the Emperors who waited silently, standing separately without their pets by their side. There was a discomforting feeling that rested in my chest as I scanned their faces filled with a mix of curiosity and boredom.
“Shouldn’t you be on your way?” I asked slowly, but not enough for it to be missed.
With the incident of tonight and my slave’s reaction, I had enough. I wanted to be alone, however, oddly, I felt that being alone would only anger me further. I would be forced to think about tonight and how Enos had his hands all over her.
I would be forced to think about how much I wanted her not to screw up so that I could give her a reason to perhaps start feeling a sort of liking toward me, even if it was slight.
I had grown to appreciate her efforts. After this long, she was still alive. She was a fighter; I liked that. But, she was stubborn and disrespectful. Among those things...she was stupid and oddly clever.
She made me contradict myself and I wasn’t the one starving to utter weakness.
“I just wanted to thank you for the invite,” Enos’ voice pulled me out of my thoughts, my eyes reverting to meet his own as he and the others followed me to the open set of doors that allowed the cold, night breeze to invade my home. “And for allowing me to dance with your slave,” he added with a sly smirk.
I had stopped in my tracks, my hands slipped into my pockets and my muscles tensed under my untucked shirt.
She didn’t like being called slave, and somehow, that began to matter. It began to matter to me and I knew it was hypocritical of me that I felt only I could call her that, but again...she was mine. I could do as I pleased with her and I had the power to control the way others handled her.
She was special to me in ways I refused to admit and I had to protect her.
“Her name is Hope,” I spat through my teeth.
“Oh?” He arched an eyebrow in surprise, nodding as he stated, “My apologies, then.”
With this, Enos began his steps down the stairs and onto the pavement trail that lead him to the driveway where his chauffeur had readied the car and Cam sat curiously in the back seat, staring at me.
It wasn’t long before I was left to stand with only Tatianna and Seth as the others expressed their goodbyes and went on their way home.
Once the driveway had cleared and all the remained was the car that would be taking the couple home, Tatianna shifted her sight to me, turning her head to face me as I stared blankly into the trees covered in night.
“I hope you enjoyed the night,” I acknowledge her long stare as I eye her through the corner of my eyes.
A small smile broke upon her lips and she reached for my hand, taking it into her own and squeezing firmly to break me away from nature and force me to her sinful beauty.
“Erebus,” she began as my hazel eyes met her deep blue ones, “I am quite fond of you. I rather enjoy these annual gatherings you hold; they serve as a sort of stress reliever.”
I didn’t understand whether she was thanking me or not, she never was one who was easily read. So, I stared back at her until she explained, “However, tonight, I didn’t quite like it.”
My eyebrows furrowed on her, questioning, “Why is that?”
I was fond of her, I truly was. She had the most innocent voice and her soft features were that of an angel. She was beautiful, and I would say that...if Seth hadn’t been the one for her, I sure as hell would’ve given it my all to make sure she picked me to mate with.
“You’ve made one of us your pet, an inferior,” her voice quivered. She had furrowed her eyebrows at me but quickly rested them. It seemed that she wasn’t trying to be angry with me but she continued to pry on the issue, “What is to stop you from making me one as well? Am I too liable to serve as nothing more than a servant or personal entertainer? Am I --”
“Of course not,” I interjected, “I value you as the strong woman and friend that stood by my side in the fight for the beginning of my reign.”
“But, we are the same—her and I. Why does she wear a collar around her neck?”
“Tatianna…” Seth stepped forward, taking her upper arm into his hand. I saw the intention to draw her away from me in his concerned features and I knew that he believed that it was none of her business to interfere. However, it was not because he disagreed with her, it was because he feared for his beloved’s life.
“You may not see this now,” Tatianna continued as she released my hand to touch the top of Seth’s who continued to hold her, “but one day you will realize that you have made a grand mistake. For the sake of our race and the love that I have for you as a companion, I hope it doesn’t cause you much grief.”
I felt ashamed and it was clear to her.
With this, she pulled away from her beloved and closer approached me to plant a kiss on my cheek. She whispered in my ear, “Be careful and stay safe, my love.”
When she drew away, her lips drew a sympathetic smile that matched her sincere eyes and she turned to her beloved to softly state, “My King, we may leave now.”
With one last glance, Tatianna waved at me and she and Seth went on their way, leaving me to stand in my thoughts.