Prince Woldmont stared at her, seemingly stunned as much by the condition of the great room as he was by her word. Ember had made her decision the night before, and in accord with that she had torn the bed to pieces and turned the blood-filled trough over into the irrigated stone channel that served as her toilet.
She knew that that alone would not be enough. The Prince could get another bed for her. He could get more blood from the altars. And she was still chained. The metal had been beyond her after she was done with everything else. Possibly even before.
Prince Woldmont advanced on her. She coiled back into the corner, as much as she could with how her body felt, and as far as she could go with the chain around her neck.
Natat, he was big! So powerful…
She should just give in. He would win anyway.
She felt a prickling sensation move along her skin again, leaving arousal in its wake.
I am not that woman anymore.
You are filthy. You can’t change!
She looked at the prince, at his beautiful, piercing yellow eyes, the glow of gold edging his scales, the flicker and flow of light emphasizing his powerful muscles. His smell came to her, musky and smoky and male. His deep breaths echoed in the great chamber.
No matter what he was, he was a person foremost, not an object to be used for pleasure. And she… she was not her own anymore, that she could give herself away, and not an object either, that she should.
I will hurt you! He will hurt you! You CAN’T SAY NO!
She cringed, and Prince Woldmont saw it and smiled.
“You may complain, but you know your place. The sooner you stop fighting where you are, the better it will be.”
The threats hovered around her. The rewards for submission, too.
Fight and be hurt. Refuse and be hurt. Participate and have pleasure. Or just lay down and be silent, and perhaps he would take what he wanted and leave.
She stared at the threats and seductions, then past them at the truth.
The pain would not destroy her, but the pleasure would rip her soul to pieces with every bit she took. And again, this body was no longer her own. She had been bought by her god Yahsaw, who had not abandoned her, and she could not and would not give it away. Not anymore.
He had not abandoned her.
She remembered the stroke of the sword into her heart, the plunge into the water before the Akahllis and the hands lifting her up out of the deep darkness of the waters, the bread and wine with the slave the night before.
Lantil, his name was Lantil.
And before him, she had eaten that meal with Ean. And Trin. And Bethania. And Mirzha. And the Tixeries. And so many others.
So many gifts. A family.
They hate you! They abandoned you!
But Yahsaw had not. He had given himself for her. The bread and the wine was a reminder of that. And many others had fought for her because of him. She would believe the rest of what Bethania had said about her God.
He would not abandon her.
You can’t! You CAN’T!
The pressure to give in twisted her, torqued her being. She would give in. She always had given in. She could not do otherwise now. She felt herself falling before those yellow eyes. Before that smile.
Before that powerful body promising pleasure and forgetfulness. Pleasure that she could have right now. Freedom to forget her pain when she wanted to.
Yahsaw. The sword. The hands lifting her from the deeps. The bread and the wine.
She was not that woman anymore. As she backed up inside before the pressure she struck a wall, like a great hand set down behind her, and a voice inside, less than a whisper around her heart.
She was loved.
No. The very idea of giving herself to another this way was abominable. If Prince Woldmont wanted it, he would have to break her entire body first.
She snarled in his face.
“This body is not yours. It is holy to my God. You will not have it again.”
Prince Woldmont laughed and move in, snaking around her in an instant.
Give in. Fall down. Let go. You can make the pain go away when YOU want it to…
She took the offered control and threw it away. Outrage surged through her. This body was NOT his to do this with, and she would not let him.
She latched onto the back of Woldmont’s neck and bit down. Strength surged through her, power that she had forgotten. Impossibly hard teeth crunched down on impossibly hard scales. The teeth were MADE to pierce.
Prince Woldmont pulled away with a roar, several of his scales falling to the ground with a clatter.
Ember smelled fresh blood in the air.
He struck her in the head and reality went sideways.
Claws caught her throat and slammed her head back into the tile floor. Ceramic cracked.
She raked her claws along his side.
He slammed her head into the floor again. And again.
She felt dizzy, but continued to bite and kick and snap. She felt her claws and teeth connect several times.
Woldmont’s whole weight slammed down on her and his mouth closed around her throat, teeth pressing in on armored scales and squeezing until she couldn’t breath. She continued to fight, but she was running on her normal muscle power, not electricity. She was weak and running out of oxygen.
Heh. I remembered what oxygen is!
The random thought flitted through her mind. She was definitely getting light headed. The world started to get dark.
Doors boomed and something snapped. At the end of the great chamber she saw the double doors that Woldmont came in through swing open, revealing a tiny human figure in their frame.
“She said ‘NO’. I believe you should respect that.”
The contralto rang off the walls, full of all the scorn that Ember could imagine it holding.
Her friend swept off one of thewhite cloaks favored by the citizens of Wahstruhl, revealing full drax-plate armor, sword and bow, and a long narrow box that Trin set down with one end balanced on the toe of her right boot and the other braced against her right shoulder. Her eyes sparkled through the slitted visor of her helm in the light coming in through the stained glass windows as she eyed the Prince holding Ember down.
Prince Woldmont let up some of the pressure. Ember yanked her neck out of his jaws and pushed away from him, scrabbling back into the corner again. She breathed hard to get her air back.
“Who are you that you dare interrupt me, human?”
Trin stood up straighter, but kept her helmet on.
“I am Knight-Commander Trinity Sahrah Tavarin, of the Order of the Handmaids of Skye, blood-sister to Crown Prince Ean Tavarin, whose betrothed you and your people have stolen from our border, and keeper of the Boots of Skye Chan. I come in the name of my kingdom, Salshira, and my God, Aihay, the true Most High, to bring this woman home to her betrothed. Who are YOU that you dare to profane her?”
“Aihay. You are one of those pathetic Yahsaw worshippers. I am Crown Prince Woldmont Vohrskrain, son of the only Most High God, Emperor Tarshaddus Vohrskrain. I would tell you that this woman has been very willing for the past week and that I do not think your god or your brother would have any interest in her now, but you will not leave here alive. I am going to kill you, Knight-Commander Tavarin, and have my way with this woman, and your pathetic country and your pathetic god can do nothing to stop me.”
“You would call into question the power of Aihay and spit on his name as you commit injustice on his people?”
“Natat on your Aihay, and your Yahsaw, mortal!”
“May Aihay rebuke you then as he pleases. As for me, I will not leave without Princess Rehkskarri.”
Prince Woldmont snarled.
“You will not leave here at all!”
He launched toward her.
In slow motion Ember saw Trin pop the box up onto her shoulder with her foot and anchor it there with both hands. She pressed something and a door flipped open on the front and back. She aimed the front at Prince Woldmont, halfway into his jump.
A rust red cloud shot out of the back of the box and a thunderbolt leapt out with a shriek.
The boom blew every one of the stained glass windows out of the great chamber.
Prince Woldmont fell to the tiles, roaring in pain. He thrashed back to his feet.
Trin was already moving, a blur that shot arrows.
Prince Woldmont tried to dodge. Fire sprouted all over his body, burning dots of white amidst the gold and black, and he screamed again.
Trin hadn’t struck anywhere vital, though.
Woldmont inhaled and shot out a stream of fire that cracked the air. Tiles and stones shattered as he tracked Trin through the room, filling the air with red hot shards flying in every direction.
Trin dodged easily, shifting out of the way as if his attack was the slowest thing in the world. She ran back in, launching more arrows.
Woldmont roared again as more white fires sprouted on his body. One lit up in the base of the shallow wound the thunderbolt had blown in his chest armor and he shrieked and writhed, thrashing around at everything with his tail.
Ember took a slash across the face from the sharp tip and fell back further into the corner.
Trin leapt over the tail, twice, shooting again and again. More arrows, and now some that cracked as they hit and blew off small scales… most of them on Woldmont’s head, close to his eyes.
He lidded his eyes completely and spun around, striking at everything with his wings and tail. Stone walls shattered. Stone pillars broke apart and collapsed. The ceiling began to groan.
He breathed more fire, until the hangings on the walls were all burning, along with the remains of the bed. The fire rose toward the wood framing mixed into the stonework in the ceiling.
Somewhere in that whirlwind of blows Trin missed a step.
Ember watched her go flying into a wall and bounce off. Her impact sounded more like a crack than a thump. She fell to the ground and lay still, face down.
Prince Woldmont stopped thrashing and opened his eyes.
He looked down at Trin.
He approached a step. Two. Looked closer.
Then opened his mouth and inhaled.
Trin rolled over and shot an arrow into his open mouth.
The crack was muffled by his mouth, but his eyes bugged and he stumbled back.
Trin rose to her feet as Woldmont fell over to the side with a crash, twitched a few times, and lay still. The flames continued to rise into the overarching support structures, and the ceiling groaned more.
Trin limped to where she had dropped her cloak and gathered it up, then headed toward Ember.
“Come on,” Trin said. “We’re getting out of here.”
“Can you get the chains off?”
Trin eyed her.
“Why don’t you?”
“I can’t change.”
Ember opened her mouth to say something, but couldn’t think of an answer. Only, there was a pressure every time she tried to, like the power to do it wasn’t there, or she was too weak. Like something was holding her back. She tried to explain.
“Stop listening to those things. Now. And change.”
Ember tried. Her head hurt.
She whimpered as something fought back.
“Yahsaw owns you! Not them!”
Trin kicked her and something else shrieked.
Ember remembered. She believed.
She shrank, tipping her head and neck forward as she did so that the great collar fell off onto the floor. It landed with a tile-cracking clonk.
Ember stood there naked until Trin wrapped the cloak around her and tied it closed. Ember grabbed the front edges and pulled them closed with her hands.
“Come on. They’ll be coming here soon.”
“Where is everybody?”
“Putting out a fire in the Imperial Library. Sacrilege, I know. It was the easiest thing to set on fire with a few arrows. Come on.”
Trin found her arm through the fabric, gripped it, and lead her out through the open doors. Behind them the flames turned into a roaring inferno, smoke billowing out of the great chamber she had been kept in. They walked quickly along the courtyard, then the paths. Off in the distance Ember heard another fire and the cries of the people working to put it out. A ground shaking crash heralded the collapse of her prison, and servants and guards ran past them to this new problem. High overhead Ember saw a Garagran banking in with a huge tub of water, but it ignored them in favor of the fire.
They reached the gate. The guards hadn’t been told to keep anyone in.
They passed through, and then on through the city by the back alleys. Ember ignored it all, her attention on keeping her face hidden and cloak closed as she stayed near Trin.
The sun was setting when they reached the edge of the city. Smoke rose behind them in two great pillars. The main road leading along the Emral river stretched along the ground North-West, pale stone pink in the fading light.
“Now, change back and get us out of here.”
For a moment Ember thought she wouldn’t be able to do it.
But Trin convinced her again that she could.
A kella later Ember set out at a gallop, Trin astride the back of her neck as Wahstruhl became smaller and smaller behind them.