A glimpse of shifting obsidian gleams below and then my stomach dropped as the invisible skyrider beneath me swung into a sheer vertical position—but no, that couldn’t be right, because above were the stars, and my adjusting eyes could make out a horizontal horizon with the faintest sheen of light at its border…. A dark shape loomed up ahead but Dazzle swerved to avoid it, her muscular arms pressing against my sides as she guided the skyrider, urging it to its speed limit. Wind blew my hair back, almost took my breath away as we glided over dark, heaving waves.
My arms, bound to the console, shook uncontrollably—and not because it was cold. The wind was warm here, and it carried a floral scent that in another circumstance I would revel in.
My first visit to Mirage. A captive. A slave to Dazzle’s whim, because of what she held over me.
Maybe she’s bluffing, a hopeful voice inside of me suggested. I doubted it, but… until I experienced what she threatened—something I dreaded with all my soul—I couldn’t accept it….
We flew invisibly over the ocean for what seemed like forever. I hated the warmth of her breath against the back of my neck. I could even feel the thump-thump of her heart, which slowed to a steady rhythm after its original franticness now that we’d lost the M tails. That we could tell, anyway. There could be invisible Ms anywhere.
That might be what I had to hope for. Rescue. Any action on my part… Dazzle could direct disaster, even from another world.
The sun slid over the lip of the horizon, then its rays pierced the sky and spread a bright glow which doused the light of the stars.
“Where are we going?” I asked in a raspy voice, struggling to form each word.
“You’ll see,” she said, her voice suffused with impish delight. A horrible shiver of weakness spread over me and dark spots glinted at the edge of my vision. I slumped over the console, only held there by the invisible metal bonds, until my feet found purchase again and I clung there, gasping, unable to do anything but balance and breathe. And feel a deep burgeoning dread that spread through me, weighing me down so that even my vision darkened and I fell into an abyss. Though achingly still conscious of her body pressed against mine.
Finally, the skyrider descended. The sun was creeping toward its zenith by this point, although we’d been chasing it, perhaps through several time zones. My heart sank as we fell toward the earth. The edge of an island, fringed with volcanic rocks that bulged out from it like fists. A sheer drop over several hundred feet to a thin band of sand where waves splashed, shallow blue-green depths painted with a goldish hue.
We sped down the side of the cliff, so close I feared we’d smash against the rocks. But Dazzle laughed, the sound thrumming against my back. Where the rock curved out above the sand, there was a small opening in the pockmarked stone. Without hesitation, Dazzle took us through it, the rider scraping the mouth of the opening as we shot into darkness.
I felt like I’d fallen into another world again, perhaps the hell of the Abyss. The slosh of water echoed on stone. Then a faint glow, emanating from behind me, illuminated a low-ceilinged cavern. A half-circle of rock, rimmed by a small beach, then another hollow that looked smaller than the first one. Dazzle took us through the small tunnel, winding around the labyrinth at a more leisurely pace until we came to a large cavern, a higher ledge that jutted out over a long, shallow pool, the last remnant of the ocean from outside. Water dripped, echoing in the vast space. Dazzle settled the skyrider down on the broad ledge and stepped off. She quickly unbound me from the skyrider but kept my hands and feet shackled to each other. She ordered the holomask off, and my own skin and my ragged clothes appeared, and even the cuffs showed themselves, copper-gold orikal, the strongest substance in the multiverse. Along with the visibility seemed to come the ache, my shoulder throbbing violently from the knife wound. Dazzle tugged on my chain and led me to the edge of the rock face. Across from us was another narrow mouth; I wondered if it led to another tunnel. This volcanic rock, riven by the ocean, was probably riddled with them. A way to escape, my mind offered dully.
Dazzle guided me to a seated position beside her on a slightly upraised piece of rock. I didn’t need much persuasion; my knees nearly collapsed beneath me.
She held the chain that connected the cuffs, pulled slightly toward her. “Ah, let me look at you. Mine at last!”
Her eyes flickered over me, and an unpleasant heat spread through me as if her eyes were its source. I looked away, not wanting her attentions in the least, wishing I were somewhere else. Impossibly exhausted, I just wanted to lie down and sleep. But I couldn’t let my guard down—what little I had left, anyway.
She smirked. “Tantalizing, how those shreds cover the last bits I want to see. Maybe I’ll just take what I want now. Then tease out your willingness later, after I’ve satiated myself with your—ah, gorgeous beauty.” She slid her fingers down my cheek, and they trembled with the touch. She cupped my chin, turning my head toward her. “Still some defiance. I’d like to see that spark burn out—then fan it bright again.” She laughed low in her throat. Released my chin and slid her fingers down my neck, pressing so hard their passage burned and I knew they’d leave a temporary mark, if not bruises. She pinched my collarbone, though not the point of pain, then dug her fingernails under its ridge. Now that hurt. I flinched and slid away from her. She yanked the chain and twisted it—the metal bit into my wrists and she wrested me to my knees. She knelt in front of me, holding the chain, her knuckles white. Her eyes burrowed into mine; I couldn’t look away from their harsh goldenness. Her other hand ran down the center of my chest, then slid slightly left, over my heart. She pressed her palm there and closed her eyes. I could feel my heart thumping frantically against her hand, making me feel faint when it skipped random beats.
Her eyes shot open. Her fingernails twisted into my chest. Almost as if she were about to rip out my heart. I doubled over, my hand falling to support myself on the damp rumpled rock. She scraped. I cried out. Her fingernails came away with blood, which dripped onto the pale stone. “I own this.” She grasped my arm. “I own your physical heart. Soon, I will own your soul.”
“Never,” I said. She could never force me to love her, no matter what she did. Everything she did now just made me more revolted.
She flipped her straight black hair back over her shoulder. “We’ll see about that. Some say the bond created by making love is immutable, even when it’s forced. I’ll own you in one way, if not in the way I want…yet.” She pushed me down, my back against the stone. A sharp piece of it dug into my injured shoulder and I shifted to get away from it, but she pressed me down with both hands and straddled me. “So injured—so beautiful! You know, if you cooperate, at least a little bit, I’ll give you another medpatch. Otherwise, in about an hour, that pain will be excruciating.” She tapped my injured shoulder.
I could hardly deal with the horror and shock coursing through me. I couldn’t be here. This couldn’t be real. “Please…let me go.”
“Why in the world would I want to do that? When I went to all the trouble to get you?” She shoved her knees against my waist, digging in hard, trapping me. She buried a long-nailed hand in my hair and pulled it back, just to the point of pain, and regarded me with half clinical detachment and half unabashed desire. Her golden eyes flickered, glowing slightly in the low light. Then she plunged forward, smothering me, her lips wrestling a kiss from mine. I was shocked, but I had enough energy to struggle weakly. She laughed and yanked my head back harder, seeking my lips relentlessly, her dark hair falling over me like a black curtain, brushing my face and neck with random feather touches that made me quiver with hate.
I pushed away, but she tamped me down by grinding her knee into my stomach, stealing my air. I doubled up a little, gasping, and she took that opportunity to writhe her lips against mine. I turned my head but she bit my lip, her eyes dancing with delight. If I pulled away this time, she might come away with more than skin. Her teeth pressed harder and the taste of blood seeped into my mouth. I almost gagged. She released me, letting my head fall to the hard surface. Pain burst across the back of my skull and I chided myself for not bracing myself better.
Get away, get away, I thought. Even if it means…. I turned onto my side, looked over the edge. If I fell from this height, I might die…. I’d hit rock and not water. But what if I were horribly injured and she still… wanted me…. the horrific thought froze me in place, giving her enough time to seize the waistband of my pants. I dared not move or they might slide away completely. She smirked, her eyes boring into me. Then she leaped forward, flattened me onto my back again, pressing down on my chest with one palm, her knees digging into my hips. “You’re mine,” she whispered. “I will own every part of you.” She pressed her lips to my chest, kissing it insistently. Lightning lashed out from her palm and she laughed with abandon. “No control today, I think. A little burning will teach you to surrender, and a few lightning scars will brand you as mine.” She kissed in a random path along my chest. Disgust rippled through me. I felt nothing but dread for the next violation, hatred for the warm wetness of the kisses.
She didn’t say she’d hurt Sym and Sol if I didn’t cooperate with this…. just that she wouldn’t give me another medpatch… it isn’t worth that…
I struggled, gathering all my strength, and writhed away from her. Squirmed across the rocks, their jagged edges jabbing at my skin. But I didn’t care. Summon lightning, I thought—then remembered that the metal would just make it feed back to my body.
I kicked out as she crawled toward me, hitting her shoulder, and she fell back with a yelp. I sought a place to escape—a hole I could slip through—but couldn’t find any large enough on this side of the rock. I wriggled to my feet and shuffled as fast as I could to the edge of the cliff. Maybe a handhold, a foothold—
The skyrider! I called for it and it came, and I did an awkward jump off the cliff, just managing to grasp the handles with my manacled hands. I flew up, up to the cathedral-like ceiling of the cavern.
A dark shape shot after me.
I took the rider out—out through the winding path…intoxicated by my freedom—didn’t mind the scrapes of the rocks against my shoulders and sides—
The small circular cavern, horse-shoe shaped beach. The entrance.
A hard object slammed into me, knocking me off of the rider and hurling me onto the sand. I came to a stop, my back against the rim of rock that surrounded the beach. Dazzle tamped my shoulders down. I cried out with pain, sand grinding into my shoulder wound.
Her eyes flashed. “Don’t you ever, ever try that again, do you hear me!” Her voice echoed against the cavern walls and I hoped an M would hear her. “You think I’m bluffing, don’t you. I’ll have to send your enemies to crush one of your friends. Then you’ll know the leverage I have is serious. But first… I have unfinished business. I won’t be so gentle this time.” She kissed me so hard her teeth ground against my lips. Lightning snapped into my mouth and I gasped with the shock of it. She sucked my lower lip, letting violent sparks flick into it. I cried out. Her fingernails dug into my shoulders, ripping into the knife wound. I could hardly recover before she spread frenzied kisses down my chest, then giving a vicious twist with her teeth along with the sizzle of electricity, skittering bright across my chest to my neck. I was surprised to not see blood dripping from her lips, but apparently she hadn’t broken the skin. Her fingernails raked my sides, digging harsh scratches and letting lightning lance into the furrows. My vision blurred. I writhed backwards, heedless of any consequences, but lightning snapped into me, white-hot pain shooting through me, and blackness flickered at the edge of my vision, so much so that I almost thought the voice I heard was a dream. “Stop!” it called.
Relief washed over me at the absence of her hands. A cool patch pressed against my neck. Though there was something disturbing about the glowing eyes that looked down at me coldly. The face that came into vague focus…the golden eye and the white one with the scar above it.