I couldn’t breathe.
I felt as though I was being suffocated, a napkin shoved into my mouth, possibly tickling my throat. My hands were bound, my legs pressed together. I was in a bag, an odd way to kidnap someone, but still, we were in India. Everything here was weird.
I struggled against the bind, slowly pushing the napkin out of my mouth with my tongue. It tasted bitter, like iron and outdated milk. Perhaps whoever had used it wiped milk and iron stains with it.
That thought only made my stomach churn harder in disgust and I gagged, coughing and forcing my body to continue struggling, despite the fatigue I felt. My bones were aching, my mind was swarming. How exactly had this happened?
Something burned on my thigh, and I winced, hot liquid streaming down my leg and onto the sac, creating a dark wet spot. The sting coursed through me, ripping in my leg, up my spine, rippling through my ribcage.
“Damn. They must’ve hit me harder than I thought they did,” I grunted, shuffling in the sac. I spit the napkin out of my mouth, but yelling at my kidnapper wasn’t an option, not here. If they found out that I had managed to free my mouth, they would probably stuff a gag right into my throat, knowing how hard they had hit me in the back of my head.
“Great. Fucking great,” I grumbled, keeping my voice low and level. “I finally find out something about Raja, and now I’m kidnapped. He could have warned me that he had enemies!”
The rope rubbed uncomfortably against my wrist and my bare ankles. I could feel he rough twine ripping my skin, shafting toward my bone. I felt like crying, something I didn’t usually feel. Anger, hurt, and...pity crashed into me, all at once, like fireworks going off inside of my empty chest.
“I’m a fucking idiot,” I groaned, bashing my head against the sac. The horse whinnied, but my kidnapper did nothing about my shift. They had been ignoring me ever since I had been kidnapped, so what motive could they have had?
“They were probably hired by someone to take me,” I murmured hotly, ripping my hands in the rope, trying anything to get out of the binds. Nothing had been working, believe me. I had been trying for what felt like hours.
I looked down, the darkness grasping at my eyes, my lips, my bruises and wounds. Would Raja come looking for me? Would he even know that I was gone? Would he care?
I closed my eyes, trying to even my breathing. Of course, he would come. He was my friend, he...he...
He won’t come, I admitted to myself after a few silent seconds, defeat settling in me. I’ve been living in a fucking fairy tale. Raja doesn’t need me; he can easily go find someone else to suit his tastes, to make him come around, forget a past romance and find a new one.
Realization settled in me, like a hard slap across the cheek. Raja only needed me to try and love me, to try and get past a lost love. If I was gone, what was the reason for him to come and get me? He could easily go find another woman; he could wait till the next auction and pay for another there.
The horse skidded over a rock and I jostled in the bag, my tears jumping directly onto my lap. I didn’t realize that I had been crying, but now that I was, I let the tears come out, tears that had been held inside of me for ten years flowed like angry rivers on my cheeks, my skin sticky.
He wasn’t going to come, so why did that sting me so much? It was hardly week 2 and I hardly knew anything about him; hell, I didn’t even know his name! So, why did it hurt so much? Why did my heart feel as though it was squeezing; why was it so hard to breath?
I felt like I was going to die; that I was going to be either raped, or brutally murdered in the lake. It had happened multiple times before, or at least, it had been attempted. Before, I hadn’t been bound.
Forget about that! Raja’s not coming! My mind screamed, forcing me to remember the one person I didn’t want to think about right now.
How do you know? I challenged weakly, not daring to open my mouth. He could come!
For you? You don’t even know him! He doesn’t even know you; what makes you think that he’ll come after a slum girl? My mind taunted, ripping at the strings of my heart. It’s all in your head, Radha. Raja, or whoever he really is, doesn’t love you. He’s stuck on his old lover, he’ll never be able to learn to love another.
T-That’s not true, I defended, although I was beginning to sway my decision. My heart roared in my chest, my head pounding from either the hit or the pain. I wanted to curl into a ball, any confidence that I had dissipating in the air.
You’re accepting it, Radha, you just don’t realize it, my mind continued. Raja needed to find a wife, someone he could connect with. If he didn’t connect with you this week, what’s the chance that he’s mourning your loss now? What’s the chance that he’s coming after you? Huh? He probably thinks you ran away after he said he was a hideous beast; after he said he wasn’t ready to tell you anything about him. You don’t even know his real name! How can you trust him-
Just stop! I wailed. Stop talking, okay? I know he won’t come, no matter how much it hurts! I didn’t understand why it hurt so much; what this new feeling inside of me was. It burned through me, breaking my bones, breaking my heart. It wasn’t supposed to hurt so much. It wasn’t supposed to make me feel like shit.
But it did.
I couldn’t bury my face in my hands. I couldn’t cry loudly, but then again, since when was I allowed to cry? I hadn’t cried for ten years, and my Dad made sure I was never allowed to cry in front of him.
But here, in a sack, being kidnapped by a person I didn’t know and who was probably going to kill me, I let the tears out. I let my heart cry, my mind wail.
He wasn’t going to come.
Deep down somewhere, I think I already knew that. Raja, or whoever he was, didn’t need me. It was as if I was a tool that was rusting away in his toolbox (an analogy my broken hearted neighbor had given me when her husband cheated on her).
I swallowed the bile that had risen in my throat, willing my eyes shut, despite the dampness soaking my eyelashes. The horse whinnied again, stumbling over another rock, but the drop of my heart prevailed over my anxiety of my life. I could feel my breathing, once a harsh panic, level to a slow pace, too slow of a pace.
Suddenly, something crashed outside, and with a grunt, I toppled to the ground, the rope still wrapped firmly around my wrists and my feet. A roar shattered the forest, and quite possibly my ear drums.
“Great. Now I won’t be raped. I’ll be killed by a monster,” I growled lowly to myself, my heart accelerating. I shuddered as the horse’s hooves clattered by my ear, the rope around the top of the sac loosening slightly.
I glanced from my binds, to the dim opening in the bag. I bit my lip harshly, weighing the pros and cons of trying to escape now.
“Well, I can either get out unnoticed, or trip and not only make a fucking fool of myself, but also bring the attention of whoever is out there and my kidnapper,” I grumbled to myself, shifting my wrists in the twining rope. I regarded the hole again, the yellow, dull light seeping into the bag, giving light to the blood spot on the bottom of the bag, as well as the large wound on not only my thigh, but also my stomach.
“Shit. That’s not good,” I snarled. A roar thundered through the canopy of the forest again, the grass stalks bristling in the wind, or possibly the effect of the roar. I wasn’t too sure, but when a gunshot went off, I didn’t want to know anymore. True, whoever was out there, or whatever was out there, was delaying my execution, but that was only by a human. Ever since finding out that mythological creatures existed, I wasn’t sure what to believe!
Or, it could be Raja coming to save you, a quiet voice in my head whispered.
I blinked, sharing my head when violet light appeared in front of me. I was missing the moon/sun of Raja’s palace too much. It probably isn’t, I thought to myself, unaware that I wasn’t talking to anyone except my own mind.
But it could be, my mind fought back with me.
...This is stupid, I finally decided, a thump breaking my train of thought, stopping me from answering myself. Raja isn’t coming; I’m leaving. I’m done talking to myself...yet I still am. I slammed my palm into my head, shaking it roughly.
“Grow up, Radha,” I scolded myself. “You aren’t living in a Disney fairy tale. You don’t live in a dream. This is reality, even if...it hurts.” I clenched my heart, my fingers wrapping around the shredded side of my blouse. Blood soaked my petticoat, but when another shot fired from outside, a roar shaking the entire forest, I knew it was time to pack up and run, bound bleeding or not.
“Fuck this. I’m living,” I sneered. I pressed my head against the tiny opening in the bag, shoving the crown of my head. I could hear the fabric rip, and I cursed myself internally. Had I known the bag was easily rippable, I would’ve made my escape hours ago!
I rammed my head like a charging bull into the hole, and after a few tries of grunting and tangled hair, I managed to make a large enough hole in which I was able to wiggle myself out of, as if I was a catepillar escaping my cocoon after so long.
The brisk, angry wind pounded on my shoulder, slapping me with such intensity that I almost shuffled back into the bag. I could feel my knee scraping against sharp rocks underneath my body, the sting of the cutting edges slicing through my thin, tender skin. I wanted to howl, cry out, but I didn’t. Biting my tongue, I slithered out of the rest of the bag, collapsing against a larger rock that stood beneath the shade of a canopy of trees. I didn’t even care at this point that the rope was probably touching my bones by now, or that I was laying my cheek on dirt. I was out, I was free, I escaped.
Until a roar brought me back to the scene at hand.
Fear spiked in me, my lungs shattering at the pace they had galloped in. I completely forgot about the reason I was able to escape. I had completely forgotten the battle raging behind me.
A gunshot skimmed past my ear, and with the next, threatening roar, I whipped my head around to see who was fighting who; who was my savior, or possible, killer.
My heart sped up as I caught a glimpse of the face of the person, or rather, the lack of face. The dark hood, the masked face, the gloved hand: apart from the magic spinning around them, the dark violet strands wrapping and suffocating my kidnapper, I knew exactly who the person, or demon, was.
It’s Raja! I answered in my head, too elated to care that my blood was feeding the plants underneath me. Myheart leaped in my throat and my toes curled, warmth spreading like hot lava through me. I knew he wouldn’t leave me! I knew he’d come after me!
All of my negative thoughts evaporated into the dry air as soon as I caught sight of the hulking, masculine, and positively furious frame. As soon as I saw the gold and black mask, the dark blue, godlike skin.
I didn’t recognize the easy, yet turbulent flow of what looked to be magic as it surrounded not only Raja, but the hooded man that kidnapped me. I watched with bated breath and clenched hands as Raja’s hands clenched in a fist, and in a snap, the wisps wrapped around the man’s neck, pressing against his throat harshly. I had no pity for him, which shocked me. It shocked me that I was actually willing to let Raja kill a man for me, a man who had hurt me—who had hurt him.
I didn’t know how, but it didn’t shock me at how angry Raja looked, despite never coming across a fury ridden Raja before. His eyes seemed darker than they already were, his aura thicker. Something jutted from his gloves, but it was too hazy to see whether they were claws or not.
Looking at him now, I could feel something curdling inside of me, not with fright, but with nostalgia instead. This whole scene felt familiar, except something was missing. Like a puzzle piece I had lost years ago, only to come looking for it years later.
Must just be the jitterbug after seeing him again, I thought, wincing when the man began to choke. I shouldn’t have been pitying him; he had nearly ended my wife, but something in me clicked. Raja’s form may not have frightened me, but it was certainly frightening him. Besides, I didn’t even know the man, and I’m sure he was only paid to kidnap me at ransom.
Gathering whatever strength I hadn’t used in fighting my bonds, I collected my voice, hoping Raja wouldn’t ignore me. “Raja! Raja, stop it!”
“Why?” Rja growled, and I thanked God he was listening to me, much less speaking to me. “Why should I spare his worthless life when he nearly took yours? Why should I let him live when he took you away from me?” His grip on the man’s neck tightened, and the choking sounds increased, sounding worse than a dying reptile.
I grimaced, trying to get closer to him, but my wounds prevented me. Raja noticed, and his already dark eyes darkened even more. “Please, Raja. I don’t know him; he was probably paid to take me! Please, you aren’t a killer, Raja!”
Something in my sentence made him pause, for the wisps around the man’s neck faltered, flickering in the ugly yellow sun; the star that could in no way compare to the sun/moon of Raja’s palace.
I could see Raja’s eyes widen, his body trembling slightly. The man, by now, was knocked out, unconscious. Raja’s chest heaved heavily and he set the body of the man down, the strands of steam retreating into his gloves.
I didn’t know I had been breathing heavily until I looked down, feeling much airier than usual. I could feel my vision haze over again.
It must be from the blood loss, I thought, fatigue spreading like rich wine through me, drowning me in the sensation of warmth and clenching pleasure at the same time. I could hear footsteps frantically approaching me, and I felt my body being lifted from the ground.
“Radha? Are you okay? What did they do to you? Did they hurt you?” Raja asked hurriedly, already checking my leg and my stomach. His smooth, velvet covered hands ran across my skin, sending tingles through my nerves.
Swallowing, I nodded, gazing into his dark, richly colored eyes. His strong arms wrapped around me, pressing my body carefully, yet protectivley against his muscled chest, another round of tingles spreading through me.
“Y-Yeah, I’m a bit shaken, but I’m fine,” I stammered, heat creeping to my neck. My heart hammered in my chest. I felt like I was being swept off my feet by a hero—
Raja smiled warmly at me, brushing some strands of hair out of my face. His thumb smoothed along the plush flesh of my bottom lip, wiping the blood dribbling down the cut there away. His eyes bored into mine, drawing me towards him, yet also holding me back.
He sighed, easing his palm over my cheek, cupping the hot skin. “I’m so glad that you’re alright. When you weren’t in your room I—I thought that I had scared you and you had left me.”
“Scared me—left you? What are you talking about? What could you have scared me with?” I asked, appaled.
Raja shuffled on his feet, licking his fangs. I felt my body bump up and down in his arms, an indication that he was walking.
“When I told you...that I killed my lover...I thought I had scared you and ran away.” He sighed again. “And I would have killed someone again, had you not been there.”
I reached up to him, cupping his sharp, cutting jaw. “Raja, what happened, happened. I don’t know what you had with your lover, and but I know two things: 1, I am not afraid of you. 2, you are not a killer; and don’t you dare say otherwise! I only have known you for a week, but already, I know that you are not a killer. You were protecting me,” I said firmly.
Raja looked away, mumbling something under his breath, and when he did look back at me, his lips were pulled in a tentative smile, his fangs pressed against his lips; something that made him looked hotter than he already did. “I...I’m not sure if I believe you on the murderer part, but I can say that I am relieved that you are not afraid of me, Radha. It would kill me if you were.”
I snuggled closer to him, basking in his warmth, a blush rising on my cheeks at how outgoing I was being. “N—No problem. Anything for you.”
Raja was silent for a few moment, and when he finally spoke up, it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting him to say. “When we get home, I have to show you something. Something important...something that...”
“That what?” I asked, cutting him off.
Raja swallowed. “Something that can kill me.”