Where is Pyromage?
In a dungeon.
Homura was very mean to me. Kuval backed him up and Eldyn refused to take sides. I almost feel the story is redonkulous. There are things I want to fix and I'm taking a break so that I can come back to it. Conversely, I realized I should continue with the series I do have out there, which is the Notice Me Senpai series.
Readers voted for Kai's story next and therefore, I'm granting that wish. Just like Seducing Sensei, Handle with Care delves into the dark part of the soul. Kai, our hero, comes out of it but it's going to take Liam and a very dark, twisted scene in the beginning that I'm debating on leaving in the final book. It's going to be up to beta readers. I'll need as much feedback as possible. But looking at it I wonder if it's necessary.
My goal is 10K - 12K words a week. The book should be around 60K, I think, but I'm not so sure. I have 7k right now and I've finished with a project and will have time at least for 2K a day. That's my public, social accountability goal. We'll see if I get mob lynched.
So, to start off this party, I'm giving you the character profiles! You get to meet Kai Akiyama and Liam Kroll.
Now that you've met them, what do you think?
It's going to have a dark start if I ditch Chapter 1. But as most people don't read the prologue, I might just call it the prologue for the sake of having people skip over it. But it might confuse if it's not there. And...now I've lost you as I'm rambling.
Of course I have a snippet for you so take a look and tell me what you think!
Handle With Care
Some parents just—aren’t.
And that is saying something, coming from me. I do not “do” word contractions. Yet the abbreviation fit.
I could not stand for that boy to be in that house any longer. Because I was a child care service provider, there was something I could do about his situation.
“Mr. Akiyama. We’re waiting on you.”
Officer Glen DeSoto and officer David Corey attended me for tonight’s extraction. I had been waiting for them to show before I knocked on the door of 8211 Labrador Street. There were pockets in the grand city of Reseda that were worse. Right now, I could only think of two places in the San Fernando Valley that could not be described as better.
“Tonight, we will be removing Liam Kroll. He is twelve years of age. Male. Caucasian…”
“We get it man, can we just get him out of there?”
I turned my head and bore my eyes into Officer Corey. He stared at the house, his jaw tense. He refused to look at me. Whether he avoided eye contact because people found my attention disturbing or for the kid we were here to rescue, I could not be sure.
Most people found my cold stare unnerving. But if these officers knew what I was capable of, what kind of past I lived, they would beat me down like a dirty hog. My only saving grace were the lives I had saved along the way. I was not looking for redemption. Redemption was for thieves. For adulterers. For murderers. But not for me. All I could have was an acceptance of past actions I could not take back.
“I would like this to go smoothly. Losing him to a technicality is not acceptable.”
Glass shattered inside the house. We all stood at attention. This was routine for this family. Every night the parents would fight. Every night their child would be the one who suffered. Tonight would be the last time Liam would be covered in bruises.
“Jesus. Go man…”
But I was already walking across the street. I pounded on the door as good as any SWAT team member and waited.
Footsteps shook the floor boards of the thirteen-square foot house. The door opened in haste and there stood Liam’s father, Jacob Kroll. I did not believe in stereotypes, however, Mr. Kroll was the poster boy for portly, polish, and poor. He wore a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. His jeans were made for Sunday School—Holy and worn.
“What? We don’t want any!” He tried to slam the door on my face. I slipped my foot in between the door jamb. Fuck protocol.
“Mr. Kroll, I am Kai Akiyama, from child care services. I am here to inform you that your parenting privileges have been revoked by the state of California. Please present Liam Kroll.”
Little boy cries filled the house. “Nooo! Momma! Stop!”
Mr. Kroll flinched and turned back. I wanted to shove him aside and enter his place of residency, but that was not procedure. I was teetering on proper regulations as it were.
“Mr. Kroll, let me inside or present Liam Kroll to me.”
He snapped his head back. “Get off my property.”
“Mr. Kroll, if you do not cooperate, then I will be forced to use extreme measures.”
“Extreme measures, huh?”
I narrowed my eyes. “Do you happen to see Officer DeSoto and Officer Corey behind me?”
His eyes flicked over my shoulder.
“We have a warrant to search your house for the illegal storing and selling of contraband.”
Mr. Kroll’s eyes bugged out of his head.
“Let me inside or present Liam Kroll.”
“Papa!” The little boy was right behind him. He wore a brand-new shiner on his left eye. The bruises on his right eye were fading. Guess his family thought he needed another.
Mr. Kroll tried to shove me back. It was the excuse I needed. Soon as his palm touched my chest, I took hold of his wrist, bent it around, stepped backwards and yanked him with me. He was on his back before he could register the twinkling stars in the night sky.
“Liam Kroll?” I glanced behind me.
His face registered shock. Liam stared at his father as I kept the bastard pinned to the ground.
I held out my free hand. “Liam, come with me and I won’t let these people hurt you again.”
“Liam! Get back in the house!” Mr. Kroll yelled.
Officer DeSoto and Corey were on the father in seconds.
“Mr. Kroll, you are under arrest for accosting a CCS agent…you have the right to remain silent…”
My attention remained on the boy. His swollen left eye didn’t hide his uncertainty. But there was hope mixed in with the shyness. I could still reach him. Make him understand that life was not night after night of torment.
He stared into my face and unlike most people, he didn’t look away. There was…a connection. Our souls were the same. Kindred spirits. Ying to Yang. We both burned within the same hell. We both bared the burden of being a disappointment to our fathers.
“Come with me.” My hand offered him refuge, he need only take it.
“You’ll take me with you?”
“Yes.” It was not a lie, but I knew I could not keep him. A part of me wanted to. But I was the extraction officer, not a foster home. The other part of me did not trust myself. My upbringing was not ideal and though my father taught me what not to do, I had no notion of how to raise a child correctly.
Liam’s eyes flickered in a type of knowing. Children his age began to understand the world, how adults worked, how adults told untruths. I was sure he could see through to the demon inside me. The connection we shared ripped me open. Its intensity blew apart the hidden, dirty bits I tried to keep from surfacing.
His steps were tentative. Slow. But his trust in me slayed all my pride. His arm reached out…
“Liam!” His mother came around the door. She took one look at the scene, snatched her child and ran back inside the house.
“Damn it!” I turned to the officers. They had everything in hand. Mr. Kroll was being cuffed. I chased after Liam and his mother and entered the small abode riddled with…things. The Kroll family horded everything from books to bottles, signature plates to thimbles. They had enough to fill a five-bedroom house. Only this was a two-bedroom, two-bathroom cookie cutter home built when most people rarely grew taller than five feet.
The ceiling was so low, my six-foot-one-inch height made me want to duck as I maneuver around the “pathways” in between piled furniture. I pursued Mrs. Kroll as she ran into the kitchen.
When I got there, I froze. The blood drained out my face and all the way out my feet.
And that's all I'm going to reveal. Hopefully you see how dark this will get, but I'm not giving the whole thing away until the release...because, that's what I do. I'm a tease. I know. But this one, I'll see to the end and you'll be along for the ride as we go!
Until next time, happy reading!
XO ~ Stephy
I would recommend this book to those that like:
Suspense & Thrillers
I feel an homage has been paid to me. You see, I love playing chess and in the book, there is a chess game that emulate's what is going on in the story. It's such a good scene that it leaves me with the desire to read the third book immediately, but alas...at this time it has yet to be written. I can only hope that when you read this review the third book is out. You'll want to see the chess game in it's entirety and without pause.
While this is a stand alone you will want the pleasure of meeting Sable & Hiro. They and the whole cast of characters are introduced in book 1 (An Evidence of Magic).
This book has M/M relations. As in sex between two men. If you no like...scroll on by...
On to the review...
This book is wonderful and the M/M relationship is only a great addition to the character growth. I felt we didn't get to see the real Tony (one of the main characters), as in--what's in his head, until half-way through. But I'm glad for it.
Even if you only like a good detective story, this is the series to read. It's phenomenal. Granted I dare say it's for the intelligent or for those who want a well thought-out, clever story. It's fun, but may require someone who likes a book beyond the mindless daddy billionaire type of read. And yet, the book allows my imagination to soar.
Sexy, meaningful and exciting. I'm glad they still make books like this and I'm glad I can't say they don't make book like this anymore. Inspiring.
Sold at the age of twelve to support his mother’s drug habit and rescued from a life on the streets by a cop, thirty-two-year old Tony Locke had had a brutal start in life. He’d risen to the position of homicide detective in the Everlight Police Department—a testament to his intelligence and driving ambition to help other victims of Everlight's prolific industry in sex and drugs. With his promotion to the hush-hush Interdimensional Task Force, he could broaden his reach—if he could just get along with his a-hole of a partner.
Leo Fortan labored under a soul-crushing burden of sacrifice, trapped in a lonely and rigid existence. Hand-picked from that existence and assigned to the Interdimensional Task Force, he thought his life had taken a turn for the better—until he met his partner, Tony Locke. Leo thought it probable they would kill each other.
For a man who thought love didn’t exist and a man who’d sacrificed everything for it, finding common ground may require more than an incident of magic.
I realize these images are coming in and don't have relevance to the chapters, but as this is my first story with illustrations to go with it, I hope to be forgiven.
As it stands, I remember we almost didn't get the color illustration up in time. Well, same thing this month too ☺
Anyway... Cynthia said this about the pose she chose and why:
My movement swift, my aim true. I lopped the weapons at Chartan’s heart.
The thief deflected one and caught the other. Then slammed me against the wall. The point of my own dagger scrapping against my chin.
Despite me trying to kill him, Chartan’s smile was hearty and his eyes sparkled to life. “My King was right.”
She say she chose it because it was the (second?) most tense part of the whole scene, in her opinion.
Now, I need to WARN those that are sensitive.
This particular chapter is gruesome. It has a torture scene in it, so faint of heart BEWARE! Can I double underscore that? BEWARE!! Ummm...BEWARE!!!
No, no, I can do better...
BEWARE! TORTURE SCENE!
If I could make it blink, I would. Neon sign beware. As long as I keep repeating beware I think I'll be okay.
But we finally get to meet Bowden. I can't help but think I broke one of the "rules" to writing which is Do Not have two people talk about a third that's not in the room. It's FORBIDDEN! What can I say other than...I write Taboo. Have you seen my author tag line? Dirty Stories Revolving Around Social Taboo's? Yes? No? I even have stickers and send my fans a couple on request.
Now if you are just coming in...
If you are completely lost, and this is your first time here, you might want to start from the beginning. I suggest clicking on "The King's Thief" under the CATEGORIES on the right hand side of the screen. Or clicking the button below to start at the beginning.
For the rest of you...bombs away!
This is a FREE internet story for my fans. This chapter is the continuation of a story called "The King's Thief". Click the button above for more details.
No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted without written prior permission from the publisher. This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, events, incidents and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
If you find any grammar, spelling or punctuation errors, please let know via the comments!! I may not get to them right away, but I will get to them. Thank you!
The King's Theif
The last incline to the city revealed the flags and towers first. Red and black colors waved in the wind, replacing the blue and gold I’d remembered in my youth, reminding me this was not the same city I’d grown up in.
As we labored upward, the hill revealed the rest of the castle, the town and the wall that protected them. A shroud of Randisar grime covered the city of colors. Twenty years had gone by and though I wasn’t expecting ruins, I was shocked at how the spiral towers no longer sparkled in their pearled splendor. The gleaming palace once inspired hope and sanctuary for future scholars, the talented, and great drinkers with tall tales. Whether you were accomplished in the arts, mathematics, philosophy, theater or magic you resided here. Philosophers grouped together in taverns and conspired about nature and the world. Actors, singers and dancers delighted audiences nightly. Mathematicians executed theories and created inventions beyond imagination. The best of Quenarre had to offer was found here. But from the looks of it, not anymore.
Reserving hope to see the very last of Rouelle’s splendors was saved for last. Once you reached the apex of the hill, the fields leading to the palace use to cut their way through wild flowers. You could find every color ever found in nature here. Blue, purple, orange, red, gold, even green flowers could be found. Painters often popped up their heads and waved from their task of gathering their pallet needs. Hardly any mixing of colors were needed for dying clothes. Look hard enough and the right flower offered itself directly from this field.
Traversing the path leading up to the hill, my heart longed to see those wild flowers. I urged my horse forward and rode to the top of the hill. My stomach flipped over and my heart sunk. The fields were gone. Cows now trampled the land in front of the capital. Dirty, smelly bovine. One bored-looking sow raised her head continuing to chew her cud and looked at me.
“Dauphine,” My cousin offered my name as a condolence. Truly, it was the death of a once fine city. I painted a smile pretending everything was all right. Detrien knew better but everyone else didn’t.
“It’s fine,” I said in light manner. “Let’s entertain a city, shall we?”
My cousin didn’t smile back. He nodded and took the lead in front. The road to the palace was empty and the gates were closed.
“How do we get in?” I’d not expected the front gates to be closed. Foolish of me to think everything would be the same and we could stroll in. The three story gates of the city cracked open. Instead of inviting and open as they’d always been, they were now imposing.
Torg answered with distaste, “Through the front. Mind you, the gates are meant to keep people in, not out.”
After enduring the smell of cows down the overrun path, we traveled single file inside the gate. People running around in the streets, much like the cows outside, seemingly with no manners or organization, scrambled to get from one place to another. The houses that use to line the streets were no longer there. Huts and a market replaced all the civility of the roads.
A line of guards stopped us. One more hurdle to get around. It’d been twenty years since the Randish took control. But if they suspected a Rouellean came back to claim power, or the former king’s niece come to rescue a sorcerer, than my neck was as good as severed.
“Name?” A bored voice asked. On the ground a man in dirty plains-clothing holding quill and parchment wasn’t even looking at me. I could have told him my name was David and he’d not think about it.
“Dauphine.” We’d decided mixing truth with the lies. It gave more credibility. The man scribbled, and I didn’t correct him when he spelled my name with a double f. Never looking up the porter asked my cousin the same question.
“Detrien.” My cousin said with that voice that could stun a crying baby to silence.
The man paused mid “t” and looked up. The quill in his hand trembled. “Guards!”
I panicked. Keeping my face neutral, I resisted the urge to whirl on Detrien and scream for him to run. Pretending nothing was wrong, I breathed in deep retaining a slight smile. I glanced back. The gates had closed. My mind furiously thought while my body prepared for action. I would fight, I’d not be taken. Oh, Chartan, I am so sorry.
The man took off his hat and his voice rattled as much as the paper in his hand, “Saint Detrien, welcome back. Will you be performing?” There was more to the question, but the man’s prudence stopped him from asking. I could tell in the way of his manner and the clipped off question that he wasn’t asking his full question.
Detrien gave the man a flourish with a hand. “I am! I must see if time permits me to sing other than for Bishop Aldo.”
Two burly armored guards approached Detrien and saluted. The porter replaced his hat and ordered the guards, “Protect Saint Detrien and his company to the main halls.”
The guards bowed and one of them called for others. Detrien squeezed my hand and winked. “Easy as stroking a cat.”
I let out my tension. “You could have told me you were known here.”
“Didn’t I mention I’d been back to Rouelle?”
He had in passing. “You are a brute for torturing me so.”
He chuckled and for that brief moment I was home.
“The problem is getting out of here alive.” Detrien scanned the crowd. “Any moment they’ll recognize me and we’ll be the middle of a crush.”
A line of twenty guards surrounded our party and we walked forward. The rogues had covered their faces the moment they realized they might come under scrutiny. With this many people they didn’t know, the men were edgy. Torg remained in front and scanned the crowd keeping his hand over the pommel of his dagger. The others hunched over, trying to melt in the backs of their horses. But how the people remained focused on Detrien the rogues would be remembered as packs over a handful of horses.
Once people saw my cousin, the whisper mill began and jittering energy consumed the streets. It grew into a frenzy to take a gander at the singer. People pushed at each other, following our small caravan, staring. I was sure the guards were the only thing preventing dirty faced admirers mobbing Detrien. My cousin stayed the course, chin lifted, eyes straight, hands loose and shoulders relaxed. He gave the people no eye contact, which for him was unusual. He loved people, loved talking with them. Our walks would become strolls because Detrien couldn’t help but entertain friends and passers-by.
“Don’t stare at them,” Detrien said. “They’re likely to rush the guards if you do.”
But I could not help looking at them. The drab clothing they wore and their scrambling reminded me of rats in the streets. The stench of too many bodies in one place overwhelming. The further we rode, the worse it got. The guards lowered their pikes as they walked beside us, giving us a path. A construction I’d never seen, a wall around the palace, came into view. During my time nothing separated the people from the monarchy.
I saw a boy of maybe fifteen years of age climb the seven-foot wall and crouch on top watching Detrien with soulful eyes. He was as filthy as the grown-ups but with his innocence still intact. He looked at Detrien as if he were a god. I heard someone yell for the boy to get down and from the opposite side of the wall I saw the butt end of a pike strike the boy’s head.
I gasped and clutched my steeds mane watching the boy fall and then disappear behind a crowd of people. “The boy!”
“Dauphine.” Detrien clutched my hand. “Ride.”
“But the boy.”
Detrien shook his head, “It’s too late for him.”
My heart reeled back at the malice in his voice. He blamed these people for the crimes of their regime. Perhaps my cousin burned for the destruction of the Randish more than I believed.
Once past the wall the palace was more civil. The gate closed and I halt my steed. Turning to the guard next to me I said, “Sir, please, a good Catholic would check on that boy even if he deserved reprimand.”
The guard turned his steely gaze to me and we locked eyes.
Detrien sighed and walked his steed closer to mine. “Good sir, please check on him. She’ll turn that gaze to me and I’ll have no choice but to walk out there myself and do it.”
The guard slid his gaze to my cousin and nodded. “Of course, Saint Detrien.” And the guard turned and went back out the gates.
“Thank you.” I murmured. “I don’t think my charms work much on Randish guards.”
Detrien spurt out a laugh. “Oh, trust me, it took all his training to stand there. He just needed permission to go do as you asked.”
“He could have told you no, couldn’t he?” I smiled. Thinking the guard had every right to deny my request. But, after all, men were men. They didn’t want to admit weakness. Especially to a woman.
We dismounted and Detrien patted my cheek. “My dear, don’t be nervous, it doesn’t suit you.”
He was telling me not to ruin my cover. He was right. But this idea of mine could get everyone killed. How were we to make a quick escape with those people out there if we were found out? Most of my espionage endeavors held only myself responsible. In Xaxyia I was able to protect those who gathered rumors. Politics were my navigational waters of choice. But here…this place…these people were ruled over, not guided. This was civilization. It was a jail.
Inside, the marble floors and pillars made from mother-of-pearl remained but red curtains covered the tall three story windows. Without light filtering through, the splendor of colors bouncing off the mother-of-pearl diminished. The Randish didn’t believe in joy, they believed in chastity. Instead of giving beauty to the world, they hid it.
The great halls opened to a chamber in which countrymen used to conduct business and create connections. Now rows of pews faced the back of the room.
“Welcome to the worship room.” Detrien gestured. Only I knew the joke—presenting me to these rooms when I knew the layout better than him.
A robed man with a funny hat sitting on a throne happened to be the only bright color in the room. We were brought before the bishop who smiled and stood holding out a limp wrist, exposing his bishop’s ring to Detrien. The rogues and I stayed behind the group of soldiers while my cousin climbed the short row of stairs.
My heart clenched in pain watching Detrien, of the lesser Rouellean court, kneel to this Randish bishop and kissed his ring. In respect to my cousin, I closed my eyes from the humility he endured.
“Saint Detrien,” the bishop hugged my cousin. “I wasn’t expecting you for some months.”
“Ahh, bishop,” my cousin returned the hug. “I cannot stay away from you or the people for very long.”
From Detrien’s back, coal eyes shaded in crow’s feet glanced down at me and the rogues. The two men above us broke apart with the bishop pointing a limp finger at me. “And who might this young lady be?”
Detrien hopped down the stairs, wrapped an arm around my waist and took my hand in his. “This, my dear bishop, is my cousin, Dauphine.”
My stomach dropped. The bishop eyed me, trying to place where he’d seen me before. I bowed and smiled, playing the shy spinster.
“Ah,” The bishop nodded. “Another singer?”
“No, your grace, but give her any musical instrument, even one she hasn’t seen, and within fifteen minutes she becomes an accoutrement to my voice.” Detrien bowed and I was getting sick of his continual subservience to this Randish pork-chop.
“Come here, child.” The bishop waved me closer. His long facial features resembled that of a mule. A man that could be mistaken as slow except for those eyes. The intelligence and malice happened to be a deadly combination. In all my experience, I’d never seen a man more sexually repressed than this one. Bishop Aldo hid it well but his lust burned cold, twisted—sadist. If this man stepped foot in my brothel he’d be thrown out immediately, and it had nothing to do with his Randish heritage. Those who hurt or would hurt my girls were not welcome. Those eyes left no doubt this man would bear down on any he could with as much pain and he could dish out. I went closer, bowed and remained standing for the bishop’s inspection.
Behind the bishop’s head a flash of white caught my attention. The man in front of me did not frighten me so much as make me angry at his existence. But the face beyond the bishop, buried deep in the shadows, terrified me. When his features came into focus his expression became clear. Fury. Chartan LeBeau watched us from obscurity up high and exposed only his face and only to me. The others were too low to see him. He was up in the rafters above everyone. His face taut with strain, his lips peeled back in anger, his burning eyes punched a hole in my heart. I could hear him thinking, I will kill you myself if he doesn’t. The blood drained from my face and I stepped back. I’d lied to him and now my heart faltered because of it.
In front of me, the bishop smirked just enough to let out the evil within. He’d thought it was him I was terrified of. Good, I could use that to my favor. “So you can play any instrument?”
I bowed, “Yes, Your Grace.”
“Show me.” He snapped his fingers and two men brought out a long box that I guessed was a clavichord. I’d played one before, but Bishop Aldo didn’t have to know that. The instrument adorned forty-four wooden keys and laid flat on a square table. The clavichord, if it were a man, would be a thin, tall reedy banker with spectacles and a high pitched voice with enough bass attached to be a pleasant listen. The only problem—the clavichord’s voice wouldn’t carry far.
Taking the instruments attributes in account, I reminded myself that hitting the keys harder did not make the clavichord louder—it changed the note of the key. So if my fingers landed the key soft, I would get “f” sharp. If I hit the key hard, I would hear a “g” note. This was a peculiar instrument that was a joy to master. A woman must have invented it, for how could any but a woman build something based on strokes and applied pressure.
Touching the keys, I feigned first contact with the instrument. Searching for the “c” note, I hit it a few times and listened as the note changed the harder I pressed. Doing the same to my other hand, I began to exercise my fingers to the keys. Within a minute, I was playing Thus passes the glory of the world.
After he recognized the song, Detrien accompanied me with his voice and our duo became a holy power. In years past, we would play for hours to honor my uncle in this very room and he never tired of our music. When we stopped, the illusion of being in a time long ago passed and the bishop clapped his appreciation. “She is good.” The bishop turned his eyes over the rogues. “And them?”
Detrien swept a grand gesture over them. “They each have their own entertainment value.”
“Such as?” The bishop slid that malignant gaze to my cousin.
“I wouldn’t want to spoil their talents before the show.”
The bishop smiled in wry satisfaction. “Tomorrow then. For now, I’ll let you rest.”
“Much appreciated, Your Grace.” Detrien bowed. “We will camp outside the city walls near the field.”
“Nonsense, a Saint and his company should stay here, in the palace.”
Detrien pressed a hand to his heart. “Your Grace, I am honored.”
He knew as well as I did the bishop wanted to watch us under lock and key. It would also mean that we’d have less leeway to sneak around. But when the bishop drifted a malignant eye over me, the pit of my stomach tried hiding below my knees. Bishop Aldo waved us off and the same guards that brought us here escorted us down the hall. We were silent until it grew uncomfortable. It might look suspicious if we didn’t speak.
“That went well, I think.” I slipped my hand into Detrien’s.
He gripped my hand like he wasn’t going to let go. The force of it made me look up at him. All the color of his face drained away. He was terrified. He turned those clear blue eyes to me. “Stay close to me when you can.”
We came to a fork in the hall that separated the east and west wings. The head commander of the soldiers spoke. “The lady Dauphine will go to the west wing, the rest of you shall come with us.”
Detrien protested, “But she is my cousin.”
“She is a woman. Ladies to the west. Men to the east.”
Of course, Catholics and their gender restrictions. “I’ll be fine cousin.”
Detrien’s eyes went wild but he kept his mouth shut. I wrapped my arms around him and pressed my lips to his ear in a kiss. He snatched me, holding me tight, his distress and the desperate plea in his eyes begged forgiveness. He’d seen the way the bishop looked at me and picked up on how the bishop liked his bedroom entertainment. I whispered in his ear, “Saint Beauty watches over me.” Code for LeBeau is here. I hoped he understood.
Detrien relaxed and pulled back. His smirk was an unmistakable triumph. I took a breath and went with the two guards down the hall while Detrian and the rogues headed the opposite direction. We climbed the stairs to the second-floor apartments. The floor used for our unexpected guests during my uncle’s reign. At least that hadn’t changed since my hasty departure twenty years ago.
Everything else cried its wear and tear under soldier’s footsteps. These halls were heavily patrolled, scuff marks on the marble floor proved it. The curtains were drawn in every window preventing the natural light to shine on the seashell pillars. Mounted candelabrums lit the way not giving the columns a tenth of the splendor they could give. It was sickening how the Randish professed being in the light, when they blocked the sun from their lives.
The room they introduced me to happened to be one of my favorites. But the royal purple furniture, curtains and rugs were replaced with a drab gray. The only thing that remained were essentials. But essentials to the Randish was not the same as essentials to a Rouellean.
A four poster bed devoid of its curtains, one table, one hard-seat chair, one chest reaching the height of my waist and with only four drawers and of course, heavy drapes over the windows.
No rugs, no sitting chairs, no pictures on the walls, pottery, books or sculptures resting on night stands. Only two candles produced just enough light to see your hand waving in front of you. The first thing I did was open the curtains to watch the sun set over the hill.
Renewed after the show of colors, I sighed and decided to check if they left the tub and toilet. Otherwise, the grime from travel would never come off. Peeking, afraid to see what they’d done to the bathroom, a wave of relief washed the anxiety away. They must have run water during our introduction to the bishop. Steam rose out the tub. Hot water already drawn and waiting, I removed my clothes and climbed inside. The water settled at a perfect temperature. Too hot at first, but after becoming adjusted, relaxed my muscles and my mind. This would be my only time to rest.
We had a plan, and weren’t so foolish to think we’d have time or the privacy to formulate the details here, so early on we decided to improvise when we got here. Because I knew the layout best, I would find where they kept Bowden. Detrien would distract the bishop with his signing, while the rogues snuck Bowden out. Simple.
By the time I slipped out of the bath, my fingers were pale prunes—and my dress was gone. A white knee-length chemise placed on the bed was the only covering. Not that I ever had a problem being nude, but the hairs along my spine stood straight out. I felt eyes upon me and not the welcome kind. I put on the chemise and heard a knock at the door.
“Come.” I said.
A meek woman dressed in white and black scurried in. “Good evening. His Grace thought you might like fresh clothes.”
She kept her eyes down and her shoulders hunched. Many a woman who didn’t know her power came to me in such a fashion. If this one entered my halls, I’d have her flaunting confidence, strutting her shoulders back with a lifted chin and having every man crossing her path falling for her attentions in three months.
“Thank you, my dear. What is your name?”
“Margerite.” She bowed.
Inwardly I blanched at the black garment she held but kept my voice pleasant. “I am Dauphine. Pleasure to meet you.”
She blushed, chancing a glance at me. “You’re very pretty.”
“Thank you.” I beamed.
She frowned and bowed. “I’ll try to make you as unflattering as I can.”
That comment had me reeling back. I didn’t know what to say so I let her go on with her work. The corset laced in back and Margerite did a fine job of tightening the laces. She kept trying to hide my feminine mounds with the chemise but the girls and the cloth were uncooperative. Cleavage abounded and I’d never tried to hide them. When she started pinning my hair for the third time, the poor thing was frustrated to tears.
“Margerite, you’re doing a more than adequate job, why are you upset?”
“Oh, miss, you seem like such a decent woman, why did you have to come here?”
“What’s wrong with coming here?”
She clamped her lips together and darted her eyes to the walls, then shook her head.
“Margerite?” I placed a hand over hers, but she pulled away. “Dinner is in half-an-hour, is there anything else you need?” She stared at the floor.
Trying to catch her eye, I sighed. She did not hide her secrets well. Her submissive behavior was not natural. Her inner fire had been tapped down by physical abuse. My heart burned for her predicament, whatever the details. “No. Thank you Margerite.”
She bowed and scurried away, the pit of my stomach hoping her obscure warning would go without punishment. Painting on a meek expression and body language, I would play the docile imp to the bishops lustful sadist and traveled with my guard escort to the dining room.
In my time the dining hall was filled with intimate round tables where groups of people could sit a carry a moderate level of conversation or walk to their friends. Now, a long opulent table inconvenient to talking, but to those four people around you, spanned the great dining room. The bishop sat at the end with Detrien on his left. On the bishops right, a squirrel of a man complete with puffed cheeks and small claw-like fingers grabbed for the butter and bread in front of him.
To my relief and dismay, I sat away from the bishop, but also, far from my cousin, who was animated in conversation but gave me a wink as I entered the room. The rogues all sat in a statuesque fashion, able to remain still for long periods of time with the exception of Gustave. The boy hadn’t mastered the art of melting into the shadows of plain sight and jigged in the confinement of his chair. He smiled at me bringing a hand up from under the table to wave at me.
Roy snatched the boy’s wrist and craned his hand down. Gustave winced and lowered his head. The older sailor whispering an irritation at the boy. Whatever Roy said, quieted Gustave for the next five minutes. The acoustics of the room was not built to carry voices, and the fact I could hear Detrien and the bishop all the way down the table was attributed to the silence of Chartan’s men.
The bishop seemed not to notice me as I slipped in the chair beside Torg. The barkeep leaned over to me and turned his head toward me, “The man next to the bishop is Philippe, keeper of keys.”
Torg leaned back melting in his chair. Inclining my head I met Gustave’s brown eyes. He smiled, broke off an offered chunk of bread, swallowed it whole and looked to Philippe. His nonchalant motions were communication. He was going to swallow Philippe’s keys, but I had to tell him which one.
The rest of the dinner we ate while listening to Detrien tell stories and conversing with the bishop. It seemed his grace had forgotten all about me.
The church bells tolled eight and Bishop Aldo stood. “Time for evening mass.” He turned to Detrien. “Will you be joining us?”
“I would like to…” Detrien stood and bowed. “But I ask that my men give their prayers while in bed. Singing is not as taxing as their physical performances, and I want them at their best tomorrow.”
The bishop nodded and looked my way. “And you lady Dauphine?”
I tried to blush the best I could and looked down. “I must decline, for I am just a woman and the road here was very taxing.”
The bishop nodded. “Very well, but I should see you in the pews tomorrow morning.”
Nodding furiously, I said, “Oh, yes.” Knowing full well I’d be searching this palace most the night and probably sleep during the two hour service.
Without fuss, the bishop took his crosier staff and walked out the dining room with Detrien behind him. My cousin gave me a warning look and proceeded out of the room.
My two guards walked me to my room and I’d thought about seduction, but knowing Chartan was here and watching naturally tampered down my abilities. Thinking about LeBeau was going to put a damper on my business exploits. My desire to seduce them, as I would have on nights before Chartan, seemed unappealing. That, and I didn’t want to mess around with these two, I needed to find Bowden.
I opted for climbing out the window and coming back in through the secret tunnels. Unless the Randish were shown, they’d never find the hidden passageways. I’d only known after drawing it out of one of the architects who put them in. I smiled at the memory. My first introduction to what a man would say to get a woman’s lips around his cock.
I waited for a little while, hoping Margerite would come to help me out of this dress. Sneaking around, climbing down walls and general scheming of this sort was better off without a dress snagging on tree bark, door hinges and drawers. I’d wear my pantaloons and chemise, a much better combination climbing out of windows.
Without knocking, Bishop Aldo entered in his full white and gold regalia complete with staff. My breath caught and my first thought was—we’ve been made.
“Dauphine,” My name came out a curse on his lips. With all my being I knew I was locked in a room with a deranged man who wanted to harm me for the pleasure of it.
“Bishop! Are you not leading mass?”
“Deacon Ricardo leads the flock tonight.” His eyes honed in on my frame with the force of a bird-of-prey moving towards me but never veering that predators gaze from my body. “I felt you deserved my full concentration.”
I shook, backing away. “Thank you, bishop, but why would I need your attention? Surely you are needed elsewhere?”
“I knew you would be the perfect specimen when you first walked through those doors.”
Remembering what Margerite said I countered, “I am not perfect your grace, I do have flaws.”
“I doubt that. A woman with such skin, a beautiful face, I see what you think of your beauty, your conceit. You believe yourself flawless, but I’ll make sure to make concession.”
I didn’t know what he meant, but I didn’t want to find out.
“Come,” the bishop held out an elbow for me to take. “I want to show you what I’d like to do to you. I sensed your need for discipline, and I will administer it, but first I want to show you.”
He wanted me thoroughly terrified of him. Men such as Bishop Aldo reveled in fear and pain. Maybe I could talk my way out of this. Other options were not available. I took his elbow and he led me out the room. Several guards, hardened men, surrounded us down to the south wing. The dungeons were below.
“It is unfortunate you didn’t arrive earlier in life.” Bishop Aldo cradled my hand as a lover. “But, by the time you leave here, you will know God and your place.”
Like a good little disciple—like Margerite.
The halls were empty besides our small caravan. Footsteps echoed down an intersecting hall. I prayed it was Detrien, Torg, LeBeau. No one was coming to my aid. They were making their own plans. Philipe bowed to his grace as we approached and cast a dirty smile to me. Dirty was the perfect word for Philipe. Tan skinned, weathered hands, and eyes too large for his face, like a squirrel. Philipe was much like the bishop in that he liked giving pain, but his manor professed violence. He’d thought his pristine cock could cleanse the evil from a woman. I was not afraid of rape, but this man reeked of past women he’d forced.
We turned and went down a set of stairs I dread, but also needed to go. The passageway to the dungeon sent a chill down my spine. Everything here remained the same, though I’d only seen this stairwell once. Bowden could be down here. A small receiving area to the left of the stairs held rings on the walls and ceiling. A place to string up prisoners before they went through the small door guarded by two Randish soldiers.
Philipe reached inside his shirt and produced a ring of three keys. My eyes followed the keepers fingers when he chose the round ended key.
The hallway was too narrow and the bishop herded me through. Ten steps forward and the hall opened into the basement below the entire south wing. Black mold crept up the walls turning into a dark green as it climbed. Chains attached to the walls, some dripping dark ooze, tables stained with dark red, sharp points on manacles, tools in rows on shelves and in disheveled boxes. All torture devices.
Panic rose in my chest. I would feel pain here. The guards remained at the opening, but the bishop and I followed Philipe to a stone table. The table was occupied by a naked man who had already been tortured.
A long row of stitches stretched down his stomach. His legs and arms were swathed in gauze that did little to stop the blood from oozing. But his face contorted in a silent scream. His eyes unseeing, unblinking. His facial hair clumped in brown mattes. But I recognized Bowden even as unkempt and riddled with stitches. The court mage had always been a lithe, spare man with features resembling that of the elven nations but now he looked strained of life-force. His young face and white hair matted with grime. His eyes stared up and I doubted he could see anyone. At least not those around him. He looked as a fossil does from some archaeologists dig—frozen in time.
“Well, has he said anything?” The bishop waved a hand over Bowden.
“No.” Philipe smiled in glee. “He just screams.”
I closed my eyes knowing Bowden couldn’t speak. Landon said he’d spelled himself not to say anything hence this state of conscious unconsciousness.
“He needs to talk Philipe.” I could hear the or he needs to be dead in the bishop’s voice.
“Open your eyes, Dauphine, you need to see what happens to infidel who work their magics.”
Philipe picked up a blade thin as my finger and cut the stitches along with healing skin down Bowden’s abdomen.
I clasped my mouth with both hands.
Bowden started screaming, lightning passed over his body sending Philipe across the room against one of the support pillars. Then Bowden’s head lolled to the side and his shallow breaths stopped.
“Philipe!” The bishop said.
“I’m fine.” Philipe stood and dusted himself off.
The bishop stepped up to the stone slab, closed his eyes and held his hands over Bowden’s face. Faint gold light radiated from Bishop Aldo’s palms and Bowden started coughing and moaned.
Pulling back, Bishop Aldo let his protégé resume control of torturing the mage.
“You think that’s funny half-breed?” Philipe loomed over my friend and I remained helpless to save either one of us.
Bowden turned his face to Philipe but still remained silent.
“That’s right, I know what you are.” Philipe brought his knife over Bowden’s cheek. “I’ve dissected a few elves in my time. Your heart is on your right side, but your blood circulates the same as a humans. Tell me, what lineage do you get your freak ears from? Did your father fuck your mother?”
“Philipe, language!” The bishop pointed. “There is a lady present.”
Philipe scowled at the bishop but didn’t speak to his grace directly. “Hear that abomination? He wants me to go easy on you for the lady.” Philipe stuck the knife inside the slit where Bowden stomach was open. Bowden screamed but this time there was no lightning.
“Stop!” The plea left my lips before I could think.
Bowden thrashed, trying to bend his head backwards, trying to see who cried for him.
“Stop, please.” I said.
“Hear that? The lady wants me to stop. Why don’t you tell me what I want to know so we can accommodate her.” Philipe’s dirty smile sent shivers down my spine.
Bowden went still and remained quiet.
Philipe went into a rage, “No you don’t freak! Stay with me.” Philipe started slapping Bowden’s face. Whatever it took I wanted them to stop.
Bishop Aldo put a hand over my shoulder. “There now child, I think you get the point of why you’re down here.”
“What?” I tried pulling away but his clawed talons for fingers gripped me tight.
“I don’t want this to happen to you, Dauphine. I want to help drive the evil from your body before we have to resort to this,” Bishop Aldo waved a hand to Bowden.
Instead of pulling back, I yanked myself forward, away from the bishop’s hold. “I don’t have evil in my body!” You sadistic fuck.
“Now Dauphine, denial will only prolong your punishment.” The bishop strode forward and pushed me back the way we came.
I looked at Bowden willing him to hear my mental conviction, we will save you friend—hold on.
As we left I heard shrill laughter and Philipe yelling, “Are you crying freak? Are you crying? They must be giving you too much water if you can cry…”
I was going to hyperventilate, but my exterior had never molded itself so hard in profound calm. I wanted to turn around and stab Bishop Aldo in the heart, then string Philipe up to the rings on the holding walls we passed and shred his skin in thin slices. I would feed him to the Randish people outside.
Fierce satisfaction of imagining people dancing with strips of arm, cooking parts of leg, chewing on his dick’s foreskin courtesy of Philipe, keeper of the keys. I thought of nothing else while the bishop and twelve guards escorted me back to my guest room.
When we got to the door, the bishop said, “Guards tie her, face down, to the bed.”
I did not struggle, protest or show fear as they stretched me to the four winds of each post. My arms and legs splayed out, I was helpless, but I would not cry.
“Leave us.” The bishop said and everyone was out the room except me and this monster. The bishop knelt on the bed and unlaced my corset. When the strings lay across the mattress, he tore the chemise in half, exposing my back. Skin exposed his hands wandered over my shoulders like oil over vinegar.
“We must drive the lust out of you, my dear.” The bishop rolled his hand under me and groped my breast. “Or every man here will be driven to madness with your beauty.” His thumb flicked my nipple until the pink flesh puckered and grew hard. I grit my teeth hating him all the more. He pulled away and I looked over as he unscrewed the top half of his staff off. After setting the ornate part on the table, he held a sword length stick in his hand. His eyes possessed eagerness of a sadists addiction to giving pain. “I will draw the devil out in you and banish it to hell!”
Metal over my flesh and bone felt as if he took the wind from my lungs. I could not breath. He struck again with the metal pole and started chanting. Again and again my back was struck. My ribs were bruised, my shoulders felt broken, my skin raw and I knew I was bleeding, even from the blunt pole. I cried out into my pillow and was answered by harder strikes. Finally I passed out from the pain.
Thank you so much reading!
The next installment *should* be up September 14th, 2017. I say *should* because dates can vary.
Until next time!
Hugs ~ Stephy
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