20

The floor was cold and hard where it pressed against his knees through his pants but he took no real notice of it beyond that. His nails were broken and bleeding, cut down to the quick from where he’d scratched and clawed at the stone beneath him when his body had seized and flailed. His lower lip throbbed from where his fangs had bitten through it when he’d screamed and fought. Every single part of him ached in a way that he doubted was going to fade any time soon. 

Part of him wanted to touch the weight around his neck, that dug into his shoulders, keeping him on his knees better than any threat ever could. But he didn’t. Not because he was afraid of the magick in that metal being used again. No, he stayed like he was with his hands resting on his thighs, bleeding into the already stained fabric of his pants, eyes staring vacantly at the floor because he couldn’t feel…anything. Not his magick, not the ambient magick in the air, not the spellwork and power in the collar around his neck even though he knew both existed. Couldn’t feel Azriel or Jerald or Relyt. Couldn’t feel any of his Others.

He thought the numbness he’d always felt after Anislanzir had used him had been absolute. Had thought the emptiness after Azriel’s death and River crossing had been total. Neither of those things had come close to this. This was… this was worse than death.

And he had the not so sneaking suspicion that death was a mercy he was never going to receive.

“I’ll admit… I’m surprised it worked,” a voice said above him. Slowly he raised his eyes as the body attached to that voice squatted down. Stopped when he got to a pair of eyes that were so light a black they were nearly grey. Wondered why they seemed so similar, like he’d seen them before, just a different shade, surrounded by a different face. “Everything I’d ever read said it couldn’t be done. That trying to contain one of your kind was a suicide mission. That it was easier to just kill you outright or leave you the fuck be. But y’know, I always liked a challenge.”

He growled lowly when the other male reached out a hand towards his face, leaning away from that impending touch. But short of actually getting to his feet or crawling backwards like a coward, he couldn’t escape it for long.

“Don’t worry, slave yshlad, you’ll get used to it eventually,” that male said with a smile that made his skin crawl. “And until you do?” The collar at his neck jerked, fingers slipping between it and the front of his throat, pulling him forward off his heels and onto his knees, those black-grey eyes inches away now. “I’ll have a whole lot of fun using this to keep your stubborn ass in line.”

“Fuck,” he snarled, “you.”

“Oh, we’ll get there.” He was let go, rocking back at the sudden loss of tension and watched as that male stood in a graceful roll, waving a hand over his shoulder to two guards stood by the door. “Take slave yshlad to his new living quarters and make sure he’s cleaned up and prepared. His first guest arrives at dawn.”

“Aye, Anointed One.”

He frowned as the guards lifted him to his feet, uncaring of how rough they were with his battered body. He only had eyes for the back of the male they’d called Anointed One. It was then that he realized where he knew those eyes, that voice, that scent. For all that he couldn’t read magickal signatures anymore, for all that he was Imènian-blind now thanks to the fucking thing around his neck, he still knew.

“You’re Lílrt,” his voice was hoarse, like he hadn’t used it or had water to drink in days. “Relyt’s disowned brother.”

The Anointed One whipped around and snarled, the sound smacking against his skin but the power behind it didn’t touch him. The only magick that could now was what was built into the collar his Steward had placed around his neck. Everything else? Well, his body would feel the impact but nothing else. Guess I should be thankful for that much at least. Means they can only physically torture me. It didn’t make him feel any better.

“I am not disowned,” Lílrt yanked up the right sleeve of his shirt, showing the gretluos that curled beneath his skin. “I am a fully accepted member of the Greymend family line, inducted and inked as one of the Twilight Walkers Clan.”

He laughed, the sound sharp and painful even to his own ears. “Uh huh. But I’m guessing no one but Relyt actually accepts that. That’s why you took on the title of Anointed One, why you bastardized their traditions and their culture.” He shook his head and laughed again, closing his eyes as exhaustion swept over him. “You’re pathetic.”

“Maybe,” the Anointed One sounded far too conversational but he didn’t open his eyes. The worst the male could do had already been done. Anything after this moment? It wasn’t anything he hadn’t experienced before at the hands of his sire. “But I still managed to collar you and strip you of your magick.”

“For now,” he replied. “But I’ll get free eventually, Lílrt.”

“Won’t matter even if you do, Rhyshladlyn.”

He raised an eyebrow as he slowly opened his eyes and immediately wished he hadn’t. Because the smile Lílrt was giving him was one that was so eerily like Relyt’s that it made his heart clench. Reminded him too keenly of the betrayal that had led him here. But he kept the emotion off his face, kept his eyes blank, breathing even. Lílrt wanted a reaction out of him but that was the last thing the bastard was going to get.

“Fine, I’ll bite,” he said when the Anointed One stayed silent. “Why won’t it matter?”

“Because you’ll never remember what happened.”

Lílrt walked out without another word and Rhyshladlyn sagged in the guard’s hold. Didn’t fight them as they dragged him out of the room and down a series of hallways. Just stepped deep into his mind and prayed that his Court wouldn’t believe he’d died. Prayed that if he couldn’t find a way to escape on his own that his family would come for him. Prayed that no matter how long it took to get free, no matter what was done to him, that he survived. That at the end of it all, there were Worlds left to save. 

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