Hollis, trembling like a kicked mutt, slid onto the creaking wood floor, back against the nightstand, cold revolver grasped tight in her hands. She kept her finger from the trigger, knowing she would not risk firing off a shot unless she intended to kill. That thought alone made her perspire, made the mutton stew sit heavy in her gut. There was no noise, not yet, still just the distance hammering of hooves on the trodden ground, dotted with thunder rolling closer, echoing in the valley.
The betrayal of their host, though a bitter taste in her mouth, did not surprise her in the slightest. All her mother’s warnings seemed to have roots, and now those roots had grown into her reality. She stared at the scratched white door, waiting.
The moments before this—those potent, frightening memories, were enough to make her want to crawl under the bed and weep. Never before had she been so resigned to her fate, knowing there was no escaping the ultimate predator. Had he been designed that way by the scientists? She hoped not, for it was a wicked and evil side, the likes of which she’d never seen on anyone’s face before. It was unearthly, demonic. She pressed the back of her hand to her lips to still their trembling, feeling his heavy, strong body on hers, feeling his fingers and palm clamping down on her mouth to quiet her pleas, feeling him, hard and eager and massive against her thighs and back and bare bum.
What could he have been dreaming of to result in that response? He’d been whimpering, twitching, crying, face wet with tears she didn’t know he was capable of producing.
It didn’t matter to her, now; she was safe from him, from one foe, brought back from the precipice of a deadly cliff, embraced tightly in arms that had had her pinned moments before. Her heart had leapt into her throat in relief as she’d cried into his chest, but it all sickened her, for the one who’d sworn to protect her was seconds away from degrading her.
She wiped her tears, listening as shouts erupted outside, jumping and jittery, sniveling and pathetic. Would it always be this way, for her now? Danger on each end, with her in the middle being ripped apart? Whatever choices she made, there was always a price to pay.
She pinched her eyes shut, curling in on her self as the first shots volleyed through the valley. The cacophony was met with silence, then piercing screams of utter fear. He’d risen from the dead again, she thought. The floor outside her door creaked, but she was listening too intently on the fight just outside her window to notice. The door swung open, slow, and she stiffened, peering through the darkness, heart clenching like a fist.
Cara stood, rifle in hand, glaring down at her. Hollis, shaking, raised the revolver, petrified cries issuing from her mouth. Her finger stayed still as stone, unable to move the few centimeters to the trigger.
“Put your gun down, girl,” Cara hissed, stepping into the room, lowering her rifle. Hollis raised her gun higher, watching as the heavy, shiny barrel shook. Even if she fired off a shot, she was sure to miss. Oberon’s words echoed in her mind. Cara had sold her.
“What did you…what—”
“Shut up, little whore,” she sneered, though she stay rooted to her spot, a small twinkle of fear glimmering in her beady eyes.
“Yer wasting your pathetic life, breeding with that impure scum,” she hissed down at Hollis, who felt herself go rather icy. She shook her head, ready to defend what little honor she had left, but Cara cut her off, jutting the barrel of her rifle in her direction.
“Yer mother was an idiot. Two daughters with genes so pure you could lick them, and she hid ye both away while the world rotted.”
Hollis waited, her trembles beginning to cease as premonition crept over her. Outside, the screams of agony continued. Oberon was winning.
“That’s right, girl, I saw your sister. Pretty thing. Wasn’t too hard for a handsome boy to sweep her off her feet,” she said, wrinkled face glaring at Hollis with what she felt was jealousy.
“What?” she breathed, thinking about Willow, about the night she snuck out against her sister’s pleas and begging.
“She took one look at what we’d created and ran, calling us monsters,” she said, spitting a wad of chew onto the floor at Hollis’ feet.
“Couldn’t have her running off to tell mummy dearest what she’d seen. What a waste, to slit that pretty little neck. She could have given us at least three children by now.”
Hollis stilled completely, something like ice creeping into her veins, nestling into her heart. Her tears ceased, her vision of the woman now starkly clear. Willow, murdered because of what she’d witnessed. Lured under false pretenses, under the promise and guise of a life she had always dreamed of obtaining. Her precious big sister, her protector, trying one last time to keep her and her family safe, and she’d paid the ultimate price for that decision.
The screams outside turned to garbled begging for mercy, and this time, Hollis sneered. Cara’s eyes turned to panic as she raised her rifle.
“Call him off!” she yelled. Hollis shook her head, gambling with her life. Cara wouldn’t kill her on the chance that she could have her and her prized womb.
“Call him off or I’ll kill you!” she shrieked as the men outside cried for Cara’s protection. The woman lurched forward, rather nimble for her age, gnarled fingers like old tree branches reaching for Hollis’ neck.
“I’ll enjoy watching them all take their turns with you, hearing your screams when you birth their children—”
The shot rang out, clear, precise, a sound Hollis now recognized. Cara’s last words stuck in her mouth, now a gaping, bloodied cavern where her face should have been. The revolver fell from her slippery hands before the body did, and as much as Hollis wished she could tear her eyes from the macabre sight, she simply couldn’t. Blood dripped down her own face, the shot having been point blank. Cara slumped to the side with a resounding thud, and all was quiet, save for the buzzing in Hollis’ ears. She vomited between her legs, unable to move.
Shock, she thought. I am in shock. It had happened before, the feeling familiar. When she’d found Willow. At least she had been able to dole out the justice herself, but it wouldn’t ever bring her sister back.
She heard his heavy footsteps, carrying him to her as fast as he was able. Breathless, he steeled himself before pushing the door open wider, his heart on fire. If that bitch had killed Hollis—
But there she sat, staring at nothing, hands upturned, legs sprawled, a pile of vomit between them. Her pale face was coated in crimson, matching the red soaking Oberon’s bare torso and once-grey shorts. He recognized the dead glint in her eyes, tuning out the final moments of Cara’s wretched life. He would have to address that later.
He ensured his approach was slow, calculated. He’d already traumatized her enough for one night, but to save her from the fate he’d seen in those men’s eyes—the monster inside him raged, celebrating each kill, relishing their agony and terror.
He crouched in front of Hollis, cutting off her view of the woman. His bare feet slid across the blood soaked floor, and he ignored the brain spatter as best he could. Hollis’ lips moved, slight, as though she were murmuring to herself, but no noise came out, and her wide eyes stayed fixed on nothing. He reached out, cupping her chin with as gentle a touch he could muster. She was unharmed, but her mind was screaming—broken, but not beyond repair. She would be haunted by this moment for the rest of her life.
He pushed one arm beneath her knees, the other cradling her back, sweeping her up. No words he said now would be heard. He walked them outside, into the wind and slight drizzle, past the bodies strewn in the dirt, some so mangled they barely looked human. He sneered at their corpses, having drawn out their deaths as long as he’d been able, making them all watch.
He saw in their eyes what they would have done to her, what they had been doing to dozens of women. Chains, screams of pain, tests, rape, making them bear their children. Each man would have taken their turn with her and made bets on who’s child she would birth first. He wished to kill them over and over.
Using his foot, he nudged open the door to the shower room, the stall large enough for the both of them. He set Hollis onto her feet, and she stayed still, muttering her words to no one but herself. He cranked on the shower, ensuring the water was hot enough before he stripped down, kicking his shorts aside. He frowned, silently hoping she would remain in her catatonic state while he undressed her, for he refused to leave her side at the moment, even if she snapped out of it and demanded privacy.
He gripped the hem of her stained white shirt, pulling it up and over her head before tossing it on top of his discarded shorts. Bared to him, her skin pimpled, but she made no move to cover her breasts. As much as he wanted to stare, he felt wrong doing so in this moment.
For the second time that night, he tugged her underwear off, sweeping her into his arms again as steam swirled in the space. He situated her under the flow of water, making sure she was steady on her feet before he began to smear the blood off his hands, then her face and chest. He dampened a rag, lathering it with a bar of soap, and set to work on her. Blood had a tendency to stain even skin, and he wanted Hollis to have no recollection of how horrid killing could be for an innocent human, even when necessary.
He used his thumbs to wipe under her cheeks, and she stared at his chest with eyes as cold and dead as the bodies outside. He worked shampoo into her hair until it no longer held any hint of pink. Satisfied, he cleaned himself as best he could, eyes watching her for any sign of movement, but she stood under the cascade of water, mumbling.
He tuned into it, then, curious but apprehensive. A pain unlike anything he’d ever felt shot through his chest, right into his heart. Ahh, he thought. Willow, the young woman in the grave. Hollis finally had an answer to the mystery that shrouded her sister’s death. With a frown, he cupped her cheek, stroking his thumb over her silky, wet flesh.
“Come back, Hollis,” he demanded. She made no move, no sign that she’d heard him or even wanted to hear him. His frown deepened. She was giving up. He growled, for he wouldn’t have that. His hands shot down, gripping the backs of her thighs and lifting her up before pinning her against the cold tile wall, forcing her legs to stretch taut around his hips. He knew he was in control, that he wouldn’t hurt her, but he needed her to come back to him. His fingers dug into her flesh, his eyes searing as he stared into hers.
“Do you want me to ruin you?” he hissed. Slow, her eyes travelled bit by shaky bit to meet his.
“I will make you mine, here and now. I will take everything you have,” he growled, waiting for that spark in her gaze. It flittered for a brief moment before it died out. Not enough, he thought. He detested the words he said to her, but at the same time he’d been thinking these things since the moment he’d rescued her.
Her thoughts centered on Willow, her parents, her grandmother. Everything she had was already gone, in her mind.
“Is that what you want, Hollis? To be my whore?” he said through clenched teeth, the shower sending droplets of water over his archangel face. There, the spark, small but growing stronger.
“I think you want it, that you would enjoy it,” he said, one hand leaving her thigh to grip the back of her neck, pulling her face to the side so he could trail his nose up her veins. He hoped she could feel the eagerness between his legs, and he pressed himself up harder against her. A small sound issued from the back of her throat. He smirked, pulling away. Her eyes, once dead, were now vibrant, alive with fear and animosity. She was livid.
“Fight me off,” he said, lips crashing to hers in a bruising, malicious kiss. He heard the slap before he felt the sting on his cheek, no more bothersome than an itch to a being like Oberon, but it was enough. He pulled away, her bottom lip trembling as tears threatened to overcome her fiery demeanor. It had worked.
He felt his face soften, eyes searching hers, feeling for himself how potent her pain was.
“They killed her,” she whispered, voice small and strained. He cupped her cheek, gentle once more.
Her face crumpled in sorrow, and without warning, she threw her arms about Oberon’s neck, cementing herself to him. He stilled, for the contact of her chest to his was something he’d only been able to conjure up in his imagination until now. She trusted him. She may not want to give herself to him, but she knew where her control ended and his began, now in perfect balance.
She sobbed into his neck until the water rain cold. Weak, entirely spent, she allowed him to wrap her in towels as she sat in his lap on the slatted wood floor. The storm outside raged overhead. Oberon would gather their possessions come dawn, and Hollis would never set her eyes on this place again.
He ran his fingers through her damp hair, resting his chin on her head as her hitched breathing turned to a calmer rise and fall.
“Don’t ever take my clothes off again,” came her tiny, muffled-yet-furious voice from his chest. He stilled, somewhat shocked, but snorted.
“I’ll remember that when you one day beg for me to do so.”
He could feel her roll her eyes.
“Why do you want me?”
Her voice was almost inaudible this time, her question catching him off guard. He supposed it would crop up someday, but not this soon into their journey. He sighed, shifting her in his lap and holding her tighter. Perhaps she deserved the truth, after all that had happened tonight.
“Because, you don’t want me.”