slave yshlad made a sound like a drowning man breaking the water’s surface and sucking in the air he’d been denied as every muscle in his body tensed and relaxed all at once in a ripple that traveled from the top of his head to his feet and back up as he flew awake. Though perhaps calling it ‘flying awake’ was not the right term because that implied some level of violent reaction and the Imènian didn’t have that. No, it was like coming across a wild animal without any warning it was there; one knew the second that animal registered that it wasn’t alone. It didn’t have to lock eyes, one just knew with some old instinct that was left over from the Beginning when things were much simpler but so much more dangerous.
And when slave yshlad went from unconscious to alert, he knew, he felt that awareness flare into being like someone had lit a lantern. He stood very still, watching as his fellow slave blinked those jewel-like eyes sluggishly, eyelids staying down for less and less time with each blink. He stood unmoving from half an arm’s length away, too close if the other male deemed him a threat, but he didn’t dare move. Not until he was certain doing so wasn’t a deathtrap waiting to be sprung. And probably not even then.
Because he’d heard the screams that had echoed across Qishir Xitlali’s palace before he’d been fetched and told to get his things packed, that they were leaving within the hour. Had felt the way the energy of the palace had fluctuated and knew that those screams had been caused by the collar around the Imènian’s throat. And it was that knowledge that had him going still in the way only his kind could, as though if they stayed unmoving for long enough they’d disappear. He held still because for all that slave yshlad was an Imènian, Anointed One Lílrt and Qishir Xitlali had collared him for a reason. They kept him in magick-tampered rooms, had spellwork that didn’t just bind one’s magick but ate it, made it into a curse, and then flung it back at the caster at ten times the strength etched into the ring of silver around his neck for a reason. And that wasn’t something done to just any slave. It was done to one that a slaver feared was stronger than appearances made them out to be.
But how dangerous could one Imènian be? The way the bones of his face still ached with the memory of slave yshlad using them as a handhold to throw him into the floor with enough force it had shaken the walls was answer enough. It had only taken thinking he was safe one time to teach him that if slave yshlad woke up disoriented that everyone was a target to be taken out as swiftly as possible until proven otherwise. And sometimes that otherwise never came.
“Where.” It wasn’t a question but it didn’t need to be. Not when the voice that spoke it sounded like whiskey poured over rough rocks and swallowed dry. Not when he could feel the way the other slave all but threw the curiosity about his new prison in all directions, how he took in the entire room without ever raising his eyes.
It would have been more unnerving if he wasn’t so very used to it by now.
“We were moved,” he replied, watching as the clarity he’d come to understand was only shown to him and no one else rose up that face aiming for the eyes that had never failed to capture his attention and hold it. “I’m not sure to where. They blindfolded me for the trip and removed it only when we were brought to this room.” He aborted the unconscious movement to gesture at said room before his hand had even fully lifted from his side when orange-amber eyes cut up at him, narrowed and filled with a danger that made him question not for the first time how an Imènian with that much physical presence could be born to Dhaoinic parents and be magickless. “I know nothing more that we were moved and that we are to live together now. Only separated for meals and clients…”
He trailed off slowly, meeting those unnervingly striking eyes and swallowed thickly on a throat suddenly so dry it hurt. He watched that clarity seep away and he wished he could take back his words so that his fellow slave wouldn’t look so defeated where he half knelt, half hung at the base of the wall opposite the bed near the hearth. Plus he felt guilty for forgetting that they had an agreement, albeit an unspoken one, that they wouldn’t discuss the clients slave yshlad saw daily, sometimes hourly. That when they spent time together, slave yshlad just wanted to forget what he did to earn the right to stay alive in Qishir Xitlali’s Court. What allowed him to keep his tongue even when he spoke out of turn, even when he was warned three times and more to behave as a slave should.
He opened his mouth to apologize but slave yshlad cut him off, “And the chains?” The other slave didn’t even sound upset. He sounded emotionless, as though he couldn’t care less that their agreement had been broken, that he had been moved, that he was chained. Almost as though he just needed the information to fill the silence that pressed in from all sides; a silence that held a weight he didn’t think even Laedens with their meager magickal abilities could sense. And perhaps slave yshlad didn’t care but he did. He cared enough to be angry though he did his best to hide it. If only because he couldn’t read the other male’s mood fully, not like he usually could, and that made him nervous, made him cautious.
Because the last thing he wanted to do was risk hurting him further when he was supposed to be someone slave yshlad could trust.
“They said you have to earn back your freedom of movement,” he answered in a rush when the other male raised his eyebrows at his prolonged silence.
“Of course they did.”
He didn’t acknowledge those words and the derision that dripped from them. Just slowly took a step back and then another until those eyes looked away from him. He let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding, relaxing more and more with each step away he took that when a sharp knock came at the door he jumped. slave yshlad chuckled at his back as he crossed the room and opened the door to one of the guards that were assigned to slave yshlad staring at him. He sank into the proper position and waited for instructions.
“Prepare him. We’ve got one,” a moment’s hesitation, quick enough that if he hadn’t been used to the five guards that had been with slave yshlad since he’d gotten to Qishir Xitlali’s Court, he’d have missed it, “and it’s one of the nastier ones.”
He didn’t reply though only because the guard didn’t give him the chance to before shutting the door again. Slowly he rose to his feet and looked at slave yshlad who took a deep breath and let it out slow, looking at the floor in front of him.
“Stop looking at me like that, xefras,” his voice was still that whiskey over rough rocks and swallowed dry but there was something else to, something he recognized but couldn’t name. It made the tiny hairs all over his body stand up. “There’s no point to it.”
“And how am I looking at you that isn’t acceptable, exactly?” he asked as he moved about the room to prepare it for a client. Trying to tell himself as he did so that he didn’t care that slave yshlad was going to suffer again, like he always did, all because Qishir Xitlali hadn’t managed to di–he cut that train of thought off before it could finish. Because once he had it, there was no going back. And he wasn’t ready to cross that line, not yet.
“With pity, with hope. With a sense of confused wonder at how I can be so calm about being forced into pleasure slavery when I have no problem telling that stupid mad cunt where to shove it.” slave yshlad shrugged and even bound by heavy spellworked shackles to a wall knowing he was about to be paid for sex, the act was graceful. As though he’d done it a thousand times in situations similar or worse to this one. “This is my penance. And until I have paid my dues, I’m not getting out of here. Not alive and not without taking those I care for down with me.”
He turned from where he was fixing the pillows on the bed to frown at the other slave.
“Penance? What could you possibly have done that warranted this,” he gestured almost angrily at the room and at slave yshlad himself, “kind of treatment, of existence?”
Those orange-amber eyes moved to stare at him in a slow rolling movement and the emotion in them made his heart climb into his throat as his blood roared in his ears. As though his instincts recognized that this Imènian bound by a collar and magick-tampering shackles was more dangerous than he, a Dhaoine who could perform magick with the ease of long practice. It was unnerving and frightening and he didn’t like that his body responded with the rushing tingle of sexual anticipation. Didn’t like that he wanted everything that look promised even as his mind reeled and his heart hurt that the one he’d come to consider his friend could look at him like that. Like he was nothing more than a tool to be used, a toy to be played with and tossed aside when boredom struck or its use ran out, whichever happened first. That his friend, his only confidante in this horrible, horrible World they were both trapped in, could give him a look that promised unimaginably nightmarish things and pleasures that one would do anything to feel again all at the same time.
He didn’t get a verbal answer but then, he didn’t need one. That look had been enough. But for all that it had been enough, slave yshlad gave him an answer anyway. One he never expected, one that didn’t make any sense.