Shadow Games

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Chapter 8

Persephone could feel her back burning as she woke in Kylia’s dark room. She didn’t want to move for fear of igniting it further but she had to turn her head to look around. The dull ache only increased slightly as she did and she bit her lip fearing she would let a whimper escape. Kylia was asleep, sitting on the floor next to the bed so she was still eye level with Persephone. She didn’t remember much after Kylia had applied the mystery liquid to her back, just a lot of pain and finally blissful blackness. The fire that had raged through her was now just glowing embers compared to the inferno she’d experience earlier. She was hoping that whatever was poured onto her back worked and the pain would soon end. She tried to move again and found it easier, no less painful, just easier. Her movement woke Kylia and she met her eyes without a word.

“It’s alright.” Kylia reassured her in a sleepy mumble as she moved to get up. “The medicine should have worked it’s magic. Literally.” She smiled her sad smile and Persephone nodded, steeling herself to push up from the bed. When she did her muscles protested the motion fervently, but she didn’t stop until she was sitting up. Her shoulders heaved from the exertion and the fact that she had been holding her breath until that moment.

“See?” Kylia said in a forced cheery voice and moved to her dressing screen where she changed her clothes.

“I don’t understand.” Persephone mumbled as she tried to touch one of the wounds that had laced up her shoulder.

“What do you mean?” Kylia asked from behind the screen.

“How is it so… so much better?” Persephone found that her wounds were healed as if it had been weeks instead of hours since they were inflicted.

“I told you, the mixture works.”

Persephone rolled her shoulders cringing when it stung.

“Thank you.” She murmured softly as she gingerly massaged her shoulder without touching one of the cuts.

“No problem.” Kylia said absently as she stepped out from behind the screen dressed for bed. Persephone’s brows furrowed thinking it was later than it was.

“It’s still before midnight.” Kylia answered her look with a smile. Persephone nodded and stretched back out on the bed being careful not to lay on her back. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew she was in one of Kylia’s camisoles but she wasn’t sure when it had been put on her.

She felt like she’d been sleeping for hours but at the same time her body was so exhausted she thought she could sleep for days. So she laid there drifting off to memories that were less painful than the wounds on her back.

Lukas walked past the window again and Persephone watched him as he stroked his chin in thought. She felt like a peeping tom, and that’s what she was essentially. She was watching him from the shadows outside his ramshackle house on a mostly deserted street. It didn’t make her feel any better when he moved to his room and started removing clothing. She found herself suddenly more interested, more interested than she should be for her job. Persephone looked away and examined the street. A lot of the houses were boarded up and broken into, she couldn’t tell what color they’d been through the layers for spray paint. It was sad how such a nice neighborhood turned so dark and twisted. Persephone could feel the lingering pain and suffering and it made her sigh softly.

When she turned around she was looking at the ground. How odd it was that she suddenly saw toes poking out from tattered jeans. Her eyes opened wide and she looked up to see a bare chested Lukas staring down at her, his eyes hard.

What are you doing here?” He asked his words dangerously edged.

I… I… I…” She couldn’t talk, think or move. He’d caught her stalking him and she didn’t have a decent reason to have followed him.

Why are you watching me?” He demanded as he took another step forward and she took one back. Persephone shook where she stood and her default demeanor took over as she hugged herself tight, trying to tuck into the shadows. Her meek actions made Lukas’ eyes soften and he let his arms drop.

I’m just…” She kicked herself mentally, trying to say something, anything. Lukas ran his fingers through his hair and sighed.

Do you have somewhere to go?” He asked already guessing an answer and Persephone’s eyes lowered to his toes again thinking this would be a good cover as any. She thought to herself that even his toes looked good. She shook her head as she rubbed her arm as if she were cold. Persephone knew how to play up her small meek stature when she was anything but.

Well, I’ve got space and it’s warm. I might be able to scrounge up something decent to eat. If you want.”

She knew she had her in and mentally she jumped for joy. She’d thought she’d botched the whole job when he’d spotted her in the park, but now things were turning out for the better. He turned and strolled back into the house and she followed him, transfixed by the movement of the muscles in his back and the way his jeans fit just right. Again she shook her head and reminded herself that it was just another job.

***

Persephone woke slowly, still caught in the dream that was a memory. She attempted to stretch when the fiery pain spread through her back again, enough to make her gasp. She sighed, as she always did after dreaming of Lukas, and attempted to sit up. It was slow going and she gritted her teeth as she did. Again her chest heaved from the exertion and she looked around. The room was quiet and dark like it usually was right before sunrise.

“What were you dreaming about?” Came Kylia’s sleepy voice as she rolled over and face her. Persephone almost jumped but kept herself cautiously still.

“Hm?” She muttered as she feigned a yawn. Kylia perked an eyebrow as she raised her head and propped it up on her hand. Persephone sighed with a smile and gave a shrug.

“The past.” She admitted then felt herself blush.

“Really? You looked happy.” Kylia said softly. “Will you tell me about it?” Persephone felt her breath catch and she blinked a few times.

“Tell you?” She asked and Kylia nodded emphatically and sat up Indian-style ready to listen.

“Well…” She started and Kylia nodded again pushing her to keep talking. “A while back I had a job. Well not really a job per se, more of a calling. See growing up I had a lot of trouble dealing with my empath side and that’s how I became so shy and timid…” Persephone was rambling and she ran her fingers through her hair and found that it was tangled. She made a face and disentangled the strands from her fingers. She was stalling and Kylia knew it.

“Ah.” Was all she said and Persephone knew she was waiting to hear what she was really getting to.

“Well I got involved with a group of people that were like me. We used our abilities to help people. See… I can feel others pain, joy, any emotion really. And I can take away that pain and emotional damage that makes a person go dark. I can siphon that from a person’s soul and essentially filter it out into the universe.” Persephone was trying to stall going on with her story but Kylia made a motion for her to keep going. Persephone sighed and nodded.

“Well my last case was for a man named Lukas. He was on the edge of becoming just another twisted soul and I was sent to help. Well… long story short…”

Kylia stopped her and shook her head.

“No I want the whole story. I don’t get to talk to many people like this and I’d like to hear as much as I can.” She smiled encouragingly and rested her chin on her hands.

“Oh, ok… well he found me following him but instead of telling me to buzz off, the little bit of untainted humanity let me in to his life. He even took care of me for a long time.” Persephone paused as she rubbed the back of her head as she winced from the pain again.

“I’d never felt for anyone, hell I’d never really ever talked to anyone because of my abilities. Lukas was just different, and I fell in love with him.” Persephone gulped back the lump that was building in her throat.

“It didn’t work out, to say the least.” She gave Kylia a sad smile as she looked away. Unfortunately the memories still burned brightly in her eyes.

“I can’t do what I do without permission, and even after Lukas found out what and who I was he refused. I stood by him as he got a little darker and a little more twisted every day. And I begged him, constantly but that would only make him withdrawal.”

Persephone closed her eyes as tears welled up. She didn’t want to remember what happened. She didn’t want to relive the pain that she knew she would when she went over the story. She felt Kylia’s warm hand on hers and squeezed it gently. She opened her eyes and looked at the girl sitting there and only felt warm compassion flowing from her.

“He killed a man that betrayed him. It didn’t take long for police to find our little haven in a rundown neighborhood. They took him away in cuffs.” Persephone sobbed but immediately regretted it when pain tore through her. Again, Kylia’s hand squeezed hers and gently tethered her to the present when the past threatened to sweep her away.

“He was tried, convicted and put to death.” She summed up before the emotions could break her. She almost tried to disappear into the shadows again but she looked down at Kylia’s hand in hers and squeezed it back.

“What happened to you?” Kylia asked quietly, knowing there was more to the story. Persephone didn’t want to alienate Kylia, she just started to like her and she’d been so kind to her.

“I went into my own darkness. Empaths tend to feel raw emotions a little harder than most other beings. I killed every man that had killed my love. I took vengeance, swiftly and without prejudice.” Persephone let the words hang in the air as she feared Kylia seeing her in a different light.

“I would have done the same. But I’ve lived through a lot and to be that happy and having it taken from me… I’d kill for it.”

Kylia’s serious tone brought Persephone back from the edge of her emotional abyss and she furrowed her brows. No one had ever been able to bring her back that quickly and so efficiently. Persephone was looking at Kylia in a new light and it confused her completely. She didn’t want to let go of her hand but she did gently and rested her own on her lap.

“I spent a long time trying to keep myself sane after doing it. Even tried punishing myself because of it. Not to mention the people that helped me deal with my abilities and taught me how to use them banished me. I was all alone, again.”

“And how did you get better if you were in your own darkness?” Kylia asked softly as she grabbed Persephone’s hand.
“I met Vin.” Persephone smiled genuinely as she squeezed Kylia’s hand again.

“Aaaand who is Vin?”

“A really good friend, like a big brother to me. He’s a Darkling actually.” She was starting to think aloud with her last few words. Persephone realized that there were a lot of Darklings around Nicholas doing his bidding. Absently she wondered if Vin knew Nicholas. That was when a little spark of hope sprung to life inside her. If Vin knew Nicholas, he’d know about him and what he did and maybe somehow figure out that she was there, being tortured.

Kylia’s expression derailed Persephone’s train of thought. She’d frowned at the term Darkling.

“Nicholas owns a lot of Darklings.” She murmured.
“Owns?” Persephone’s interest was piqued. “I thought he employed them.”

“He employs them as much as he does me or you now. He’s won them in bets or outright bought them in the slave market. He has them do his bidding or they get the same punishment we’d get. And we both know how unpleasant that can be.” Kylia gave an ironic smile and shrugged a shoulder as she rubbed her thumb over Persephone’s fingers.

“There have been whispers of what he’s been doing with them.”

“Doing with them?”

“Some say he loans them out to factions that want to start fights or wars. He gave over a lot of them to the Alwins a few years back, and wasn’t too happy with the results. The little Elf that was helping them stays here often. She’s become one of his favorite partners in crime. Now she, she’s actually employed instead of owned.”

“Wait… the Alwins? As in Beau and Diana?” Persephone’s eyebrows shot up at the name.

“Yes…” Kylia answered as she looked at Persephone the confusion plain on her face.

“Is the Elf’s name, by chance Ruavia?” Kylia nodded and Persephone’s eyes widened.

“What?” Kylia asked, worried now.

“Vin is employed by King James whose daughter was in the middle of that whole thing. She’s been hunting Ruavia ever since.”

“Serina?” Kylia asked in shock.

“You know her?” Persephone was almost in awe of how much Kylia knew.

“Only what I hear from the Elf and Nicholas talking. The advantage of being a slave is that when someone has no need of you they don’t pay attention to your presence.” Kylia gave Persephone a wry smile then shrugged.

“I’ve gotten used to being invisible, and I know a lot of things they probably don’t want anyone to know.”

“You know Nicholas’ secrets.” Persephone felt that little spark of hope grow. If Kylia knew things then she might be able to help her.

“Not all of them, but yeah a good bit of them.” Kylia looked uncomfortable as she shifted.

“I know that he’s been researching things.”

“What kind of things?” The spark of hope had turned into a small fire and Persephone started thinking of escape.

“He uses the Darklings somehow. He’s trying to find out how to get to the mortal plain himself… in a more permanent form. He’s actually trying for all ancient demons.”

“But what do Darklings have that the they don’t?” Persephone asked, now listening with rapt attention. Kylia smiled and shook her head as if Persephone was missing something.

“Darklings are an ancient race of demons. They never went through the whole mish-mash of human additives. Darklings have always been the only original demons that were able to be a part of both worlds. But they weren’t always a slave race.” Kylia looked sheepish as she gave Persephone a small grin. “I also have a lot of alone time to read when Nicholas is away. I’ve read a lot of old demon texts.”

“That’s not a bad thing.” Persephone muttered as she stared at the Elf in amazement. The girl definitely had used her status and invisibility to her advantage.

“It’s never been a useful thing either. At least not to me. Lately all Nicholas has meetings about finding someone he intensely dislikes.” Kylia rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“What does that mean?” Persephone realized she was pressing her but she needed to know all she could find out.

“Well… something happened to him, very tragic apparently. And if he goes off the deep end and go schizoid he’d be coming for Nicholas because he messed him up pretty bad.” Kylia shrugged not realizing Persephone was a part of it all.

“Do… do you know what the name of this person?” Persephone asked hoping that it was leading where she thought it was going. If it did then she had a better chance of getting the hell out of here. Kylia wrinkled her nose as she thought, she was trying to remember if the name had ever been uttered around her. A lot of the time she was forgotten but every now and then people were careful what they said when others were in the room; slave or not.

“It’s only been mentioned a time or two and it was a little odd…” She paused. “I think something like Vigar or Vintar, a weird name.”

Persephone’s hopes died a little but she had to try any way, it could be their only hope.

“Vintgar?” She asked the hope inside her saturating the name. Kylia nodded emphatically.

“Yes! That’s it. Somehow he’s important. I’m not sure how or why.”

Persephone couldn’t imagine why Vin would be so important one way or the other to Nicholas. All she knew was that the embers of hope were burning hotter than the pain. She had hope that she’d be found and maybe that bastard would be taken down. Kylia watched her get more and more hopeful and tilted her head.

“This seems to be good news for you.” She murmured as she raised an eyebrow and Persephone smiled.

“Vintgar is my friend, he’s the Vin I was talking about before. Maybe he’ll come for me and we can get you out of here too.” Persephone wasn’t sure if Kylia was terrified or excited as she drew her hand back.

“I couldn’t think to wish for such a thing.” She murmured before fidgeting with her hair. Persephone tried to change the subject just to keep her talking.

“What kinds of research is Nicholas doing on the Darklings?”

Kylia stared off into space as she twirled her hair round and round her finger. She brought herself back slowly and her eyes met Persephone’s.

“He experiments on them. He’s trying to figure out how they can travel through the shadows and be in both worlds.” She shivered before looking away again.

“Experiments?” Persephone couldn’t fathom what Nicholas hoped to gain from any sort of experiment done on demons but she was sure the demon community couldn’t care less if they lived or died. So he’d have full range to do as he pleased in the name of science or cruelty. She guessed whichever struck his fancy that day. She pulled herself from her thoughts and noticed that Kylia had been quiet for a long time.

“Sometimes he makes them go places they shouldn’t, he wonders what it would be like if they appeared in an active volcano. He’s done all kinds of things to the Darklings. Mentally, physically, metaphysically, surgically… every which way he could possibly think. He’s the demon version of Hitler, trying to find out how the Darklings tick.”

Kylia looked uncomfortable as she talked about the horrors going on somewhere in the house, or maybe in its own facility. Persephone let her mind wander away from the visualizations that immediately popped up and thought more on why Vin would be a part of it all.

***

Vin didn’t go straight to the Otherworld when he’d left Elira and James grasping at straws. He might have a half-baked plan but he wasn’t stupid. He knew Nicholas had several resources both known and unknown at his disposal and the man was vicious. He made a detour back to James’ estate and into his room. Edie was still there but she’d fallen asleep clutching the picture of father and son from a far happier time in their lives. He couldn’t wake her, she would try to stop him, or come along. If he was going to get himself killed he’d rather do it alone. So instead of tearing through his belongings to find what he needed he tiptoed around. It would be comical if the situation weren’t so damned serious.

Why should you go down alone? Go on a killing spree… take some friends with you. Go out with a bang.’

Vin growled at the villains voice and it chuckled in response. A thought made him pause. Maybe I should get some help when this is over. He shook his head as the burst of sanity slowly faded. He knew there was no help for the things that he’d done. He’d always be damaged; there was no way around it.

He turned looking around his room. It had been years since he’d been here yet everything was as it was besides little things here and there. No doubt when Vincent raided his closet he’d moved those things. Vin opened the wardrobe and found one of his canvas jackets missing but another still hung in place. One set of his swords were missing from their holders but two others remained. Unfortunately the prettier ones were the ones that were gone. He picked up the next set, familiarizing himself with the weight and balance. They had often been used in training but were as deadly as any weapon he’d ever owned. He nodded to himself as he set them aside and slipped into the holster that held them tight to his back. Vin slipped into his routine easily and he silently ran though his weapons. His jacket foregone, he stretched his arms and rolled his shoulders as he opened a portal. He’d only been to Nicholas’ once before and he didn’t leave there in a conscious state. He took a last glance at Edie and watched as she curled into a tighter ball. She wasn’t sleeping well and for all the world he wished he could hold her in and make everything better. Vin shook himself and started to fade into the shadows. He couldn’t comfort anyone, not in the way they’d need anyways. He breathed a sad sigh for lost things and stepped into the shadows.

It took a moment to get reacquainted with the path that would lead him to his desired destination. Not only was traveling between worlds difficult it was sometimes dangerous. Moving between shadows in the mortal world was easier than going from the mortal world to the Otherworld. The way he liked to explain it was to imagine a cheese grater, then imagine walking through said grater. To say it was uncomfortable was an understatement. As far as Vin knew most demons avoided it or learned to project themselves across the divide; like astral projection. Those were only the ones that had come from altered demons. Vin looked around the mortal world’s shadows, glimpsing vague pictures of mortals thinking they were alone in the dark.

How easy it would be to just snatch one of them from their haven.’ Whispered the voice and Vin agreed with it as he watched a woman getting ready for bed. He pulled himself from the tantalizing visual and set his sights on a place a little darker with far less intriguing than the lonely woman.

Mentally Vin reinforced his will and pushed through the edges of one reality and into the burning acid of the other. He was able to brush the pain aside and compartmentalize just to bare the transition. He came out the other side into the Otherworld’s shadow realm and fought the instinct to run like hell. These weren’t the velvety soft pulsing shadows of the mortal world, here they were much different. Where the mortal worlds looked like pulsing gray and black clouds moving in and out of sight these were harsh and tinged with an amber color. It made everything take on a sickening jaundice color. He swallowed back the taste of bile. He began to move through the shadows instead of popping up in the main streets. Being a Darkling it was dangerous to be out in the open unowned. It was asking for some asshole original to try and lay claim to a loosed slave. Vin wasn’t going to go back to fighting in the pit for the pleasure of bored aristocrats.

He jumped another shadow and glimpsed a busy street, he was getting closer. To avoid sentries that were sure to be posted in the shadows. Vin would eventually have to appear somewhere near but not in Nicholas’ house. That’s when he saw a stand of warped trees and knew that’s where he’d be headed. He remembered seeing them before and knew they were close to where he wanted to be. Nothing in the Otherworld grew right anymore. Too many of the demon’s wars had twisted and warped the world with their magic. But magic hadn’t been the only thing used. Demons liked to experiment and that usually ran amok causing even more damage to the world around them. This was the reason so many of the ancients had worked day and night to figure out a way to escape their dying world and invade the mortal one.

Too bad they never did figure out how to do it themselves instead of making new breeds to do what they wanted. It would have given the human race something to truly fear.’

The voice wasn’t wrong, but Vin still ignored it. If ancient demons had figured a way to cross the divide themselves, there probably wouldn’t have been a mortal race left by now. Vin moved out of the shadow realm and into the Otherworld. It was a much easier transition than the previous one and he let the tension seep from his body, only keeping enough to make him ready to fight. The grounds were silent as he tread carefully across the brown burnt grass. Everything was always burnt or burning here and the sky was always so clouded with the smoke that demons rarely saw their sun. Not that the half burnt out star provided much in the way of hope for them and the moonless night even less. Vin looked up and above the twisted tree line stood an affront to every beautiful piece of architecture he’d ever seen. The house was as ancient as Nicholas and the great stone edifice towered over the grounds. If he had to give the type a name he’d have to say Medieval, if Van Gogh had gotten a hold of it.

Again he took a look around him before starting up through the trees that grabbed at his clothing as if they were alive. The thought made him shiver. He didn’t have long before he’d reach the walls of the morbid dwelling. He stopped at the edge of the trees and brushed another branch from his hair and it pulled. He squatted down and leaned out to peer up and down the strip of bare land that separated the trees from the wall. There were few lights here and there dotting the walls but past that the night was pitch black. Vin moved across the empty strip to the wall. He closed his eyes and calmed his breathing, making sure he was fully focused on the job at hand.

Who cares? Just bail now, go have some fun.’

Vin rolled his eyes and wished he could duct tape the voice’s mouth shut. He pressed his back to the wall and looked up to see if anyone had appeared to confront him. He frowned when absolutely no one appeared or raised an alarm. Even though he’d entered the grounds farther away, any Darkling worth his salt would have felt the portal opening and closing. They learn to ignore the constant motions through the worlds but sentries should’ve been paying attention.

Vin took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he melted into the shadows again, popping out as soon as he could inside the wall. He pulled his swords expecting someone now that he’d effectively breached the perimeter. Still nothing and it put him on edge. He could have dealt with a few of the guards, and maybe a little more but the silence was suspicious. Again he crossed the empty space to the outer wall of the house and crouched under a dimly lit window. Not much movement could be heard through the thick panes of glass but muffled conversation reverberated through quietly. Vin held his breath and closed his eyes, listening. It was two men by the deep voices and one was pleading. That was it, he couldn’t tell what they were saying so he leaned up to look in. At first glance Vin could have sworn he was watching an old monster movie. There was testing equipment, monitors and electrodes attached to a man lying on a table. He didn’t move as Vin watched silently. A shorter, chubbier man stood over him with his back to the window. He was wearing what looked like a long lab coat that used to be white but was so stained that it more resembled a butcher’s clothes. He wasn’t sure what the man was saying but he was clearly talking to himself because the man on the table wasn’t answering him. The big man shrugged his shoulder as if disappointed and pressed a button on one of the machines and the gaunt man on the table jumped to life.

The man was clearly being electrocuted. The screams that passed through the glass were unmistakable and Vin cringed back. The big man was unfazed as he jotted notes down after reading something that came across the screen. Then he shook his head and stopped the man’s screams by another press of the same button. The skeleton of a man went still except for the heaving of his chest. Vin wasn’t sure if he was actually conscious but he seemed to be muttering. He turned his head side to side as if he was waking up and he opened his eyes. His mismatched, Darkling eyes were unfocused but he was trying to make them clear. Vin’s mouth tightened into a hard line as he turned from the horror movie playing out before him balling his hands into fists around the hilts of his swords.

Oh my, what an interesting practice. Are you looking forward to experiencing that?’

Vin growled at the voice as he spun and smashed the hilt of one of his swords, hand and all through the thick glass. It exploded inward and the chubby man in the disgusting coat jumped and spun around, shock written across the face. Before he had a chance to act, Vin leaped through the window slicing down with both swords in unison and the mad doctor fell to the floor in a pool of his own blood. Vin took a moment to assess the room before looking to his brethren on the table. He wasn’t sure if it were the shock of Vin’s entrance or the actual shock but the demon laid there still and lifeless. Anger burned through him and he raged, smashing and throwing the medical equipment into the walls. They exploded in an impressive amount of plastic shards, metal bits and wires. He seethed as he looked down at the broken man still lying on the table. Upon closer inspection he found that the man had been through a lot more than what he’d just witnessed. There were sloppy surgical scars on his forehead and chest that had been partially healed. They were clearly infected and untreated.

“What the hell did they do to you?” He murmured as he turned away looking for a door. After moving the rubble that used to be a monitor he slipped into the hallway that was at odds with the look of the rest of the house. If he hadn’t known better he would have thought he stepped into a well-kept old world home. It took him a moment to adjust to the setting but he kept his swords in hand.

There were several rooms that ran along the hallway and some had their doors open. Vin glanced in only a few but from what he saw it was more of the same and worse. Apparently the cleaning crew for the rest of the house had either forgotten these rooms or hadn’t been able to get to them. The last room that he looked into stank so badly of blood and other bodily fluids that Vin reeled back until his back hit what he thought was the wall. How he wished it was the wall but when he felt that it was a little too soft and giving he turned to see a large Darkling towering over him. Before he could spin around the demon brought his sledge hammer like hands down on Vin’s shoulders forcing his knees to buckle. Vin landed hard on one knee but was already bringing his swords up to ram them through the demon. Again his plan was foiled and deflected by thick leather cuffs on thick meaty wrists. One sword went clattering to the floor and skittered out of reach. Again the powerful fists rained down but this time he rolled to avoid them and landed sprawled across the floor in a very uncool manner. He’d barely had time to be thankful that no one saw his flailing before he was being thrown, bodily, farther down the hall. Again he landed less than gracefully and winded, he tried to pick himself up.

“Nicholas will want to see you.” The beast grumbled and picked him up by the back of his shirt and tossed him again but this time against the wall, where he slide down and through a table. The demon grinned stupidly, pleased with Vin’s dazed expression.

“I think I’ll have to refuse the offer.” Vin slurred as he rubbed the back of his head where there was a knot the size of his fist starting.

“Please send my regards.” Vin looked up with a cocky grin he was sure to regret. The answer to his smart-assed comment was immediate and without warning. As the brick of a fist met his face stars flashed through his vision. The world tilted as the giant picked him up and carried him to where, he didn’t know. Vin was sure it wouldn’t be pleasant. The trip was short as far as he could tell, all he knew was the room got far brighter than the hallway of gore. The next thing he knew he was bouncing on the floor, face first. Vin managed to lift his head to see a pair of immaculately shined shoes peeking out from underneath flawlessly pressed black slacks.

“Vintgar.” The voice was dark and full of satisfaction.

“Where is she?” Vin grunted as he tried to push up to his knees and for his efforts was kicked down by the giant.

Nicholas lifted a hand to call off his beast and to Vin’s amazement he backed down. Nicholas was so tall and thin that he knew the monster could snap him like a twig. But despite the obvious differences the beast looked afraid.

“She who?” Nicholas drawled with an expectant smile.

“You know damn well who. Where’s Sephie?” Vin spat as he noticed the thin line of blood that had appeared stringing from the floor to his lip.

“Aw, I love the cute little nick name you have for her.” Nicholas crooned as he folded his hands in front of him. “I think I know who you’re talking about now. Short, sweet, blonde… the sweetest screams…” He closed his eyes as he savored the memory and Vin growled as he again tried to get up without being kicked.

“If you hurt her…” Vin growled as he pushed himself to his feet.

“Oh I didn’t just hurt her, I made her scream for mercy.” Again the cruel smile curled Nicholas’ lip as he reveled in Vin’s reaction.

“Son of a bitch…” Vin spat as he reached for his weapons that were no longer there. That didn’t stop him as he tried to rush forward, only to miss Nicholas as he sidestepped and kicked his feet out from underneath him and sent him sprawling.

“Granted… my mother was pretty bitchy a lot of the time but that’s neither here nor there. And as for your darling Sephie, I own her.” Nicholas crouched down as he emphasized her name.

“You can’t own her.” Vin argued as he lifted himself up from the floor.

“Oh, I have a contract, signed in her own blood to say otherwise.” He smiled infuriatingly and Vin shook his head. He wasn’t prepared to believe that Persephone would sell herself to this monster, but he was also sure others would have thought that of him before he actually did it.

“What did she want?” He asked quietly as he pushed himself to his hands and knees and stared at the floor. He was afraid of the answer.

Nicholas paused for a long time and Vin watched his black blood drip to the floor in odd patterns. It looked like ink blot tests and Vin watched as different shapes appeared and disappeared. For a moment he swore it could’ve been Persephone’s face. His blood wasn’t the only blood on the floor there was old spatters and even older. He wondered in silent horror if some of it belonged to her.

“Well… I know when my contracts are broken. I feel it. Somehow your Sephie did too and she wanted to spare you.”

“Spare me?” Vin wasn’t able to fit the pieces together and Nicholas was being painfully withholding with his information.

“Did you think you could cause all that pain and destruction and an empath wouldn’t feel it? Do you think she wouldn’t feel your pain, a man she respected and befriended. She came to me for a power boost.” Nicholas tilted his head and swiped back the hair that covered Vin’s face.

“She didn’t know I’d had a contract with you. She knew I could giver her the power to find you quickly and she wanted to take your darkness, make you better.”

Vin shook his head and growled refusing to believe it. He couldn’t believe that Persephone would be so stupid to risk herself for him.

“I can have my friend here fetch her for you. So you can see what your stubbornness has brought to your friend.” When Vin didn’t answer Nicholas stood to his full height and snapped his finger getting the giant’s attention.

“Fetch the new girl, have Kylia get her ready.” The giant nodded and lumbered out of the room. Vin sat up on his knees and watched Nicholas stroll around the room.

“What do you want with her?” He muttered as she wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand.

“What do you think? She’s beautiful and so petite…” Nicholas closed his eyes as if in ecstasy and grinned as he opened them again. When he looked at Vin his eyes were dancing with glee and he smirked.

“Like Kylia, who you’ve met briefly, Sephie will be my personal slave. They are my girls to do with what I please.” Vin knew exactly what he was suggesting and it wasn’t hard to imagine the cruelties Nicholas could inflict on someone, let alone one he thought he owned. Vin could feel black rage building in him.

Kill him, you know how. Just do it.’ For once he agreed adamantly with the voice but was powerless to obey it. Even if he could have gotten to his feet, he wasn’t sure his legs would support him. The last kick down had damaged something in his knee that he was sure would be a hindrance.

“You’re a bastard.” Vin mumbled as he sat back on his legs and looked up at Nicholas. Nicholas smiled sardonically and shrugged his shoulders.

“I’ve been this way for a millennia, why change now? Besides… I think I’d find it unimaginably boring to be anything but who I am.”

Vin’s hands balled into fists as he rested them on his legs. The visions of the rooms he’d found upon his arrival came to him. He might as well find out as much as he could while he was still able to think reasonably.

“What are you doing with your lap dogs?” He asked, his voice hard. He couldn’t bring himself to look up but could feel the weight of Nicholas’ stare.

“You saw my research rooms? Fitting, I guess, since I plan to send you there eventually.”

Vin couldn’t help but scoff as he wiped the back of his hand across his chin again. Another thin smear of black showed that he must have split his lip one of the times he’d been thrown to the floor. He didn’t care about that but what had him held in equal amounts interest and disgust was the term ‘research’.

“What exactly are you researching?” Vin asked quietly despite his urge to bellow in rage as the memory of the gaunt demon came floating to the surface.

“Oh you know… this and that.” Nicholas answered absently as he picked up what looked like a small whip and wiped blood from one of the wicked looking bards and rubbed his fingers together with a smile.

“What I saw didn’t look much like research, more like torture.” Finally Vin glanced up to see Nicholas perched lightly on the arm of an overstuffed chair with a pleased look making his lip curl into a smile.

“There are a lot of things you can learn from torture.” He paused and his face sobered.

“I need to know how your kind does it.” Nicholas growled all trace of his cocky attitude vanishing and was replaced with an obsessive one. Vin stared at him trying to fathom what the hell he was talking about but Nicholas wasn’t paying attention.

“I mean your kind is just…” He made a disgusted noise. “You’re a lowly slave race and have been for centuries. Yet you can travel between the worlds.”

Suddenly pieces started falling into place but Vin still didn’t understand his train of thought. Darklings had always been able to travel the worlds and it’s what had started the original search for demons to be able to do it. Which lead to the creation of Vampires and eventually started the war. It was common knowledge to any demon that had spent their lives in the Otherworld, few of the ones that spent their lives in the mortal world weren’t as well versed in demon history and it showed by some of their actions. For example Persephone grew up in the mortal world and that was probably the reason she’d made such a huge mistake by signing away her freedom to save a lost cause.

Her blood is on your hands.′ The voice purred softly and Vin swallowed back his response.

“But the elitist ancients found a way with their research, hundreds of years ago.”

Nicholas threw down the whip he’d been examining and rose to his feet.

“A way? Yes they found a way to create abominations like Vampires and the few demon women that survived the alterations. Please… a way?” He scoffed as he began to pace. “They mixed our pure blood with that of… of… humans. But I am going to make it so we don’t have to diminish ourselves. I’m going to bring my race into the mortal world, unaltered.”

Vin watched the man pace back and forth a few more times before he chuckled mockingly.

“And how’s that working for you? How long have you been beating your head against that particular wall?” Vin probably shouldn’t have scoffed but it was an unimaginable to think that Nicholas could be serious. Nicholas stopped and growled before backhanding Vin with all the force he could muster and sent him sprawling across the floor. Vin clenched his jaw as spit yet more blood onto the floor and let it mix with god knows how many different kinds. He looked up to see Nicholas calmly cleaning the black smear from the back of his hand with the fold of silk from his breast pocket.

“I must admit it has been a trying process and it’s taken several years. But I do believe I’ve made some head way.” Again Nicholas perched on the chair and smiled as if they were having a civil, sane conversation.

“That’s because it can’t be done. It’s been tried and tried again, that’s why your precious pure blood had to be tainted.” He pushed up from the floor again and waited for Nicholas to continue.

“They didn’t go to such extreme measures as I have put in place. I’ve been a little more invasive.” His smile turned wicked as he scrubbed the back of his hand before tossing the scrap of fabric on the side table.

“I’ve learned interesting things. Like why your entire race has those odd mismatched eyes.”

Vin’s brows furrowed but he kept his jaw clenched tight.

“Turns out it was an ancient defense mechanism. One was designed to see better in the dark when you’re shadow walking.” Nicholas slid down into the seat of the chair crossing his ankle over his knees and rested his arms on the chair arms.

“Of course as time has gone by there is no discernible difference anymore other than the color. But that was found by accident. I’ve been studying what happens when your body dissolves with the shadows and how the portals open and close.”

“Find anything interesting?” Vin spat as he leaned his back against the chair opposite the one where Nicholas currently sat. Gingerly he drew up his knees and rested his forearms on them noting the burning pain in his left knee. Nicholas paused his eyes boring into Vin but he was no less pleased to talk about his ‘research’.

“Oh tons. Did you know that one can force a Darkling to step out into some very nasty places. But I’m not going to get into that now. Right now I feel like I’m close.” Nicholas steepled his fingers in front of him.

“You’ve mastered projection into the mortal world, why does it matter?”

Nicholas sighed, exasperated.

“Projection.” He scoffed. “It’s like going to the beach via Skype. I can see everything but I can’t feel the air blowing, I can’t feel their sun shining on me. I want to be able to touch and feel and experience a world that isn’t decimated by ancient egos.” A sadness crossed his features and Vin couldn’t fathom the insanity that would cause it.

“What do you want with me?” Vin asked quietly as he scrubbed his hands together trying to get the sticky blood from his hand.

“With you?” Nicholas asked as if the question confused him.

“Yeah, me. You removed me from the world for three years and now that I’m back you’re suddenly interested in keeping me pretty dark and twisted.” Vin grinned at his own admission of insanity and waited patiently for Nicholas’ answer.

“If I told you then you’d know.” He smirked as he let his hands drop. “Granted the sheer fact that your son negated my contract by accident was a perk.” Nicholas chuckled darkly.

Without thinking Vin was on his feet and trying to cross the room, injury be damned. The next second, after a flick of Nicholas’ wrist, he was on his back again staring at the ceiling. The wind had been knocked from him again and he gasped.

“Did you really think you could actually get to me? The concept is laughable, I’m much older and have studied magic so much longer than you can imagine.”

“Yeah.” Vin breathed. “I can tell.”

“Your son negated my contract and now I haven’t got what I want. So let’s just say I’m interested in how your nap affected you.”

Before Vin sat up the door swung open and a small blond Elf came in silently and knelt, keeping her eyes down cast, completely ignoring Vin’s presence next to her. He recognized her as one of the slaves he saw the night he made his deal with Nicholas. She hadn’t changed other than a few more scars and now a sad look as she glanced sideways at him for the first time. Nicholas looked up and gave those at the door a toothy grin.

“Ah… Sephie.” He exclaimed as he stood with his arms held out as if to welcome her, but the look in his eye was clearly a command. Vin pushed himself up again and turned to see the giant at the door. No one else appeared and Nicholas dropped his hands and scowled as he snapped his fingers, pointing to the floor in front of him. The giant reached back and tugged on a thin silver chain but when it only went taunt he grabbed Persephone and threw her into the room. She cried out in pain as she stumbled and fell to her hands and knees at Nicholas’ feet. Vin growled to see her in the state she was in. She was wearing the same kind of sheer slip of a dress as Kylia, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. Her hair had been pulled up away from her face in the same fashion as the Elf and to Vin’s outrage Persephone bore the same scars, although much newer, as Kylia down her back. Both girls wore the same ornate silver collar and arm braces, they were dressed exactly like the slaves Nicholas said they were.

“Persephone…” Vin murmured as he reached out a filthy hand to touch her but found it slapped away by hammer hands as he growled.

“You don’t touch master’s girls.” The giant grunted before moving back to his place at the door.

Vin glared at the giant, one of his brethren and planned how he’d kill him. He was outright ignored, as if he wasn’t a threat.

“Sephie…” Nicholas drew out the nick name with a smirk. “I see Kylia here hasn’t told you how to sit like a good girl.” He said darkly as his gaze landed on the top of Kylia’s head. “This should be rectified.” Without another word Nicholas backhanded Kylia, knocking her over. The girl didn’t make a sound but simply scrambled back to her position, eyes averted.

“See how she is? She’s been a pretty decent girl over the years but I fear she’s getting forgetful now a days.” He shook his head with mock sadness. “Maybe that was why I was so eager to have you. And trust me…” He murmured as his gaze lingered over Persephone’s bare skin. “I will have you.”

Vin growled and started to get up again until the giant slammed him down onto the floor. He hadn’t even heard him move and with his size it was impressive.

“Vintgar, nothing you do is going to help her, trust me.” Nicholas said as his grin returned and he reached down to grab the thin silver chain that dangled from Persephone’s collar. He yanked it with enough force to bring her from her hands and knees straight up to her knees.

“Now, sit like your sister and be a good little girl.” He released the chain and Persephone shakily lowered into the position Kylia was currently sitting in.

“So, there she is Vintgar… perfectly safe.” He smiled and waited for Vin to react but he was still reeling from the last shove to the floor.

“Now that you’ve seen her you can help me with my research.” Nicholas said finalizing the conversation. “And I can get on with training my new girl.” He snapped his fingers and turned away but before Vin could try anything the giant grabbed him and hauled him to his feet.

Vin somehow found it within himself to fight off the hands grasping him and limp forward. Nicholas turned with a raised eyebrow as Vin stopped short just inches away from him.

“I’ll kill you.” Vin growled dangerously.

“Will you now?” Nicholas smirked. “Maybe I need to try out Sephie’s empath powers, you know… how she can feel others pain.” He glanced at the giant and he grasped Vin’s shoulders again, this time squeezing with all his strength. The only thing keeping Vin on his feet as he screamed in pain was the fact that the giant was keeping him there.

“Emotional pain!” Screamed Persephone as she shivered with fear for both herself and her dear friend. Nicholas made a motion to have the giant stop and slight relief flooded Vin.

“Well then.” He looked at Persephone then back at Vin. “Let’s talk about Vincent.” He smirked and Persephone whimpered as Vin’s black hole of despair tore at his soul.

“I was good enough to help him live after he and his mother got in a bit of a rut. It’s your fault he’s dead ya know.” Nicholas leaned in inches from Vin’s face and chuckled darkly. Persephone sobbed from the floor, her hand holding her stomach as if she were going to be sick.

“Persephone wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t have given into your dark wishes. And look, you can’t even muster up the strength to save her. Her pain and her humiliation at my hands will be… your… fault.” Vin roared as tears welled up and trickled down his cheeks at the injustice of it all. How he could have been the cause of so much death and despair… how the people he loved would have been better off with him dead.

The door opened again and this time another Elf entered the room but Vin ignored her as the pain, emotional and physical tore him apart. He slowly sank to his knees as the voice in his head laughed so loud that he was sure those around him would be able to hear it. Next to him Persephone trembled with his unimaginable pain.

“Oooo this looks fun.” The new audience member chimed in and Vin’s head snapped up. There in all her evil glory stood Ruavia. She was in skin tight jeans and a somehow even tighter top that was almost busting open at the top. She looked the same but the slight differences made her look alien to him. There was no longer a drunken stupor about her, her eyes were clear and cold and her words weren’t slurred like their last encounter.

“Oh my… Vin.” She giggled softly as her dark curls bounced with the movement. “It’s been what? Three years? You look like shit.” Her smirk was as cold as her eyes as she gingerly sat on the arm of Nicholas’ chair. Nicholas smiled fondly at her as he stroked a finger down her cheek.

“Ru, how nice to see you.” He muttered before turning back to the three on the floor.

“Now since you’re going to be difficult I can’t see us working together on my research.” Nicholas said addressing Vin, then looked up at the giant. “Kill him.” The order was final and Nicholas turned to coo over Ruavia once more. The last thing Vin remembered seeing was the fear and pain in Persephone’s eyes as she reached for him.

“Vin!”

***

The guards dumped Vin onto the hard floor without ceremony. It hurt, but it pissed him off more than anything. He growled dangerously and pushed up from the floor only to get a boot to his gut that flipped him to his back. The air whooshed out with a groan and he laid there staring at the ceiling as his assailant stood back at the door again.

“Kicking a man while he’s down, seems kind of low.” He muttered as he rubbed a hand over his sternum. Both guards stood silently, framing the only physical way from the room. Seeing as most of Nicholas’ experiments are done on Darklings like himself, he guessed popping into the shadows was out of the question. But still it didn’t hurt to try. He attempted to shift into the shadows and screamed. It felt like his body was being torn apart by rabid squirrels. When the little phantom rodents departed he gritted his teeth at the sound of scoffing chuckles.

“Ok... so maybe it will hurt to try.” He murmured to himself and managed to sit up farther away from the statues at the door. They were his kind and the thought of this whole mess pissed him off.

“What exactly are you getting out of this?” Vin spat as he leaned his bruised back against the wall. The guards remained silent, staring straight ahead and Vin rolled his eyes.

“I’m rather good at talking to unresponsive things, ya know.” Vin sighed and watched for any reaction. There was a shift in the gaze of the guard on the left and he focused on him.

“How did you get the cushy job of babysitting a half mad demon? Hm?” He leaned forward, wincing when his ribs burned.

“I’m sure it’s entertaining...” He wheezed and leaned back again “but how far can the novelty really go before it starts getting boring?” The guard that had focused on him smirked before letting his eyes move back to the wall in a blank stare.

“Yeah sure, don’t mind me... I’ll just be over here...” Vin looked down at his hands, black with his blood. “... bleeding.” He shook the blood and grime from his hand then gave up and wiped it on his jeans. A visceral growled echoed through his head and bit back from mimicking it out loud. He was having an easier time pushing back the madness that kept bubbling up but at the same time he wondered why he even cared.

He kicked his legs out and crossed his ankles as he relaxed against the wall. He figured he may as well make hims self comfortable if he was going to be here for a while. He tried to focus on the room around him and the details past the fact that there was only one way out. Crumbling stone walls, a rough concrete floor. He squinted trying to decipher what was the darker spot in the larger dark spot on the floor. His eye twitched when he realized it was a drain in the floor. Another growl from inside his head and this time he echoed it aloud but this time it was in disgust.

***

Giselle looked through the slot in the door with icy indifference. The man on the floor acted cocky but she could see in the way he carried himself he was only biding his time till he saw a window of opportunity. She hated this, hated having to break these demons into submission. She closed her eyes and turned away, fortifying herself mentally for what she needed to do. Giselle’s particular brand of demon could cause searing pain with just a touch at first, then a thought when trained. D’lor demons were widely coveted among masters for keeping others in line and for the status of their rarity. She had the extreme displeasure of being taken from her mother when she was barely a week old. The woman that delivered her dropped to her knees in agony the second their skin touched. Her mother had been an inactive D’lor but she was closely watched through her pregnancy. As soon as the news spread of what she could do, masters descended on her family.
Giselle shook her head, clearing it and looked down at her gloved hand flexing it. The creak of leather made her feel better. A barrier between herself and the world. Not for her own safety but keeping the world safe from her. She shivered as she slowly peeled the glove from her hand and watched as sparkles sizzled between her fingertips. The reflections danced in her icy blue eyes as she stared. It was almost beautiful, like star dust making her skin shimmer. She fisted her bare hand and looked back at the cell door. If only I weren’t deadly. She thought breathing a soft sigh. She shook her hand dissipating the glow and slid the glove carefully back into place. Again she wished she could be far away from here in a different life. The heavy door creaked open with the sound of steel on stone. It made her cringe inwardly, but she strengthened her resolve and turned to the guard at the door.′

“Ma’am?” He asked with out meeting her eyes and she nodded that she was ready.

The room stank of old blood and bodily fluids and Giselle resisted the urge to crinkle her nose as the stench enveloped her. The man on the floor didn’t look up as she focused on him. He’d already been worked over once, maybe more from what she could see. She was just grateful he hadn’t immediately started begging for his life. That had always gotten to her, it was the soundtrack to her nightmares. But she had a job to do. An awful, stomach turning job but it was her life. Her soft sigh brought his attention to her and when their eyes met her breath caught. Those mismatched eyes were something she’d never forget. Giselle was thrown back into her early memories as her heart pounded.

It was dark as it always was and Giselle was lost inside her own head. Being owned had distinct disadvantages in her world. For one she was carted everywhere like a trophy by her master, Biel. She was barely into her teens and was all lanky and awkward. But still he took her everywhere and showed her off to his colleagues. The one thing she’d always been grateful for was the fact that he never passed her around like other slaves she’d met. Then again no one chanced even accidentally touching her, in that way her curse became a blessing.

The darkened streets were lit with intermittent glow of fairy lights that hovered just above head height. Biel had taken Giselle to the Pit where ancients would sit in the top tier and talk business while lower demons would tear each other apart below. The arena was reminiscent of those built by Romans, and served the same purpose, gruesome entertainment. Biel had been discussing a mundane business deal when the fights started. She had long ago taught herself to watch without seeing. Her mind wandered in to nothing while the night dragged on. A tap on her covered shoulder brought her out of herself and she blinked. Without thinking she started to stand, thinking the night was finally over. Biel’s heavy hand stopped her and she looked questioningly at him. His depth-less black eyes met hers and he gave her a smile she always thought was warmer than possible. She was absently grateful that she was allowed to be covered from neck to toe in supple leather.

This last one may be one for the history books.” He murmured close to her ear. His accent was thick and dark, one she thought better suited to ancient or dead languages than modern English. Giselle turned her gaze back to the arena as one of the fighters made his way into the middle of the blood spattered sand. He was scarred and bent as he looked around the crowd. She could see he was missing his left eye and ear. It looked like he’d survived a fire caster. The crowd barely noticed him as they waited for his opponent. When the other man’s silhouette darkened the gate at the far side they erupted with anticipatory cheers. Giselle realized there was barely an empty bench, which was unusual. Her gaze swept back to the new man that entered the arena. He wasn’t tall for a man but was solidly built with long black hair. Scars crisscrossed his torso and over his runic tattoos. When he looked up Giselle saw that he was a Darkling by the tell tale mismatched eyes, one silver the other lavender. She was sure she’d seen this man before but if she knew his name it wasn’t coming to her. She looked again at Biel hoping he would provide the answer to her unspoken question.

These two have survived the longest in the Pit.” He nodded towards the two now facing one another silently as the crowd continued to carry on.

The winner tonight will be the first demon to be set free for completing their contract.”

Giselle’s eyebrow quirked as she watched them wait.

Has that ever happened?” She asked quietly without taking her eyes from the arena.

Not in a very long time.” He breathed as he sat back. “Not since the whole to do was a voluntary contest.”

She breathed a low sigh. That was indeed a long time. She thought about mentally checking out again but the significance of what was happening kept her attention. Giselle immediately regretted it as the men started brutally tearing at one another. It wasn’t anything she’d not seen before, but it still disturbed her deeply. The pure animalistic brutality seemed unreal but it ended much more quickly than she could have imagined. Again the onlookers erupted. The Darkling stood over the burned demon, his blood slicked shoulders heaving. The sounds of crowd changed but Giselle couldn’t place how until she let her gaze drop away from the center few rows of benches. Fights had started breaking out in the first few rows. She frowned wondering why they’d turned on one another when she realized other prisoners from the pit were climbing the sides and killing their captors. Biel was on his feet shouting orders to his peers and underlings alike. Giselle was too dumbstruck by what was happening to her much of what was being said. Someone pulled painfully at her arm and she spun to see Biel’s hard glare boring into her. He’d been trying to get her to leave with everyone.

We have to go before anyone makes their way up here.” He spat as his dark eyes moved over the growing mass of bodies in the seats. Some still fighting, others gazing sightlessly as their dark blood seeped across the stone floor.

Come! Now!” He snapped and pulled her again but refrained from hurting her.

She lowered her eyes submissively and let herself be lead from their box of seats. Blurs of motion spun around her as she struggled to keep up, slipping in pools of blood. The captive demons came for the ancients with murderous intentions, fighting for their freedom as they’d been trained to do. In the confusion Giselle hadn’t realized that her long gloves had separated from her sleeve and when Biel took her elbow to guide her through her power reacted and threw him back into the crowd. She turned in the mass of people only to see frantic demons rushing to escape their fate. Before she could do the same she was knocked to the ground and they began trampling her in their fear. She curled herself into a ball and tried to ignore the kicks and stomps to the softer parts of her body. The thought of using her power came to her. But even as she thought this might kill her, she refused to remove her gloves and wrapped her arms tighter around herself. Suddenly she was lifted by someone and the noise dimmed. She hadn’t realized she’d been sobbing and the tears had mixed with her blood. The stranger sat her down on the floor and she still refused to move.

You should get out of here.” A deep, husky voice commanded and she lifted her head. Her gaze swept up over the dark figure and she met his eyes. It was the Darkling that had won his freedom, he had saved her from being trampled. His face softened as he glimpsed the terror in her eyes.

I’m Vintgar...” He murmured, his voice softer and gentler than she could’ve ever imagined. He held out his hand to help her up and waited. “You can call me Vin.” He prompted and waited for her, a sense of calm settled over her and she knew he wouldn’t hurt her. She slipped her gloved hand into his and he helped her to her feet.

Giselle.” She murmured softly as she averted her eyes. A loud cry sounded somewhere close and she jumped. Vin’s eyes darted around and he became nervous.

Well, Giselle... I have to go now. Are you ok to make it on your own?” He asked as he peaked out from where they were hidden.

Yes.” Giselle croaked with fear and he turned to her with a reassuring smile and winked as he disappeared into the shadows.

***

Giselle couldn’t make her brain work as they stared at one another, her heart was in her throat. Finally recognition flickered in Vin’s eyes.

“Giselle?” He asked bewildered. She took a step back her hand covering her heart as if she were trying to keep it in her chest. It hurt with the weight of the situation and she knew that she couldn’t go through with this. She closed her eyes and shook her head taking another step back.

“Vintgar.” She whispered, pained. He’d remembered her after all this time. The scared little girl that should have died in the riot for freedom, trampled by her betters. She opened her eyes in surprise at his soft chuckle.

“Didn’t I tell you to call me Vin?” He laid his head back against the wall wincing in pain as he drew his knees up. “Fate has a twisted sense of humor.” He muttered. Giselle couldn’t help but smile sadly in agreement. Her stomach twisted as she lowered her eyes again.

“Yeah I know..” He said softly acknowledging what she wasn’t saying. They both knew what she had to do but neither were in a hurry to get it over with. A surge of defiance jolted through Giselle and her confidence returned. She looked to the remaining guard at the door, her icy demeanor returning.

“You can go. I don’t need a babysitter.” She spat as she peeled her gloves off and the guards departed without so much as a glance in her direction. The clang of the door shutting shattered her resolve and she looked around the room nervously. Vin’s eyebrows shot up in question.

“You saved me once...” She whispered in a rush as she squatted down to his eye level. “Let me return the favor.” Giselle’s eyes pleaded as much as she looked apologetic.

“Something tells me it’s going to suck.” Vin sighed softly and glanced down at her fingers that were glowing again. He took a deep breath. “D’lor?” He asked hoping he was wrong.

Giselle bit her lower lip then nodded. “Yes.”

“Oh hell... What do I need to do?”

“I can get you around the barrier spells...” She whispered but was hesitant to continue. Her heart thudded again and she took a breath.

“Just tell me.” Vin said with resolve. She met his eyes again to find the same hard look she’d seen so many years ago. The look said he was ok with dieing if things didn’t work out.

“You have to be on the verge of death and the spells will over look you. But you have to be very close.” She held her breath waiting for his response. He nodded as he looked away.

“I knew this was going to suck.” He muttered.

“I don’t want to but it’s the only way I can get you out.”

Vin nodded again that he accepted this fate and held his hand out to her. Before she could chicken out she grasped his hand firmly. Vin’s body seized as the shock rampaged through him and a scream tore from his throat.

“I’m sorry...” Giselle whispered through her tears as she closed her eyes and let her power bring him to the edge of oblivion.

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