“Is she dead?”
“Why not completely?”
“I’m not finished; you said to prolong it.”
“It’s been prolonged enough. Finish it.”
“She’s said nothing. If I finish it, you’ll get nothing.”
“It’s been three hours. You’ve done everything but…”
“I could do that. She’d need to be cleaned up first, but I can do it.”
“Would you? Would you really? Even now?”
He looked at me a long moment.
“You’re going to tell me I’m a monster? A fiend? A devil?”
“ ‘No’,” I imitated his voice, “ ‘I’m just going to think it.’ Right?”
“I…I’ll leave you to your work.”
“Ha! It’s your work, wizard; I’m just the tool you’re using.”
That stopped him in his tracks, but he didn’t turn around, and after a heartbeat or two, walked out.
I went back to work.
“You heard him, Chrystal?”
Her voice was raspy from screaming and the smoky torches, deliberately dabbed in something to make them so.
I leaned in close: “He doesn’t care if I kill you. Do you?”
She nodded again.
“I’m going to take off the gag, all right? Just tell me what I need to know.”
She gasped, and I gave her some water to wet her throat, clean the blood, and deceive her into thinking I just might be merciful.
“Where are the others?”
“He told you to rape me.”
“You told him you would, if he wanted.”
She paused a moment, then said “What if I said you didn’t have to force me?”
I smiled in shocked amusement at her pluck.
“Do you think I’m so easily bought? I could have you whether he granted me permission or not.”
She gave a smile of her own, red rimmed as it was. “You know that’s not true.”
Interesting. It had been a statement meant to rattle her.
“You’re stalling, Chrystal. When he returns, he expects me to hand him your corpse.”
“You’ve broken me up inside already, and what have you gained?”
“I told him that, but I believe you know where the rest of your kind is hiding, and…”
I picked up a branding iron, spit on it to let her hear the sizzling hiss.
“I would so hate to ruin that lovely face.”
“Do it. I don’t know where they’re hiding, and it no longer matters.”
I took off the hooded mask I wore, and she flinched at my appearance.
Walking toward her now, I saw her shrink back, and I smiled, which made her flinch even more.
“Before I do…”
Gripping her chin, I forced her lips to mine a long moment, heard her retch in her throat, and I stuffed the gag back in, and jammed the brand onto her thigh.
As she thrashed against the bonds and screamed behind the gag, a thought occurred to me.
Maybe I am going soft…
The pain shooting me through me made me drop the brand, as if I’d burned myself with it.
Chrystal was still kicking a bit, her eyes watery, and mucus and saliva pooling around the gag made her unlovely.
I knew immediately where I’d made my mistake, and I could torture her no longer; everything I did to her, I would now feel. Already I could see bruises appearing, feel the aches she felt, saw the cuts I’d made on her now slice my own skin open and weep with blood.
I could see the brand on my own leg.
Her eyes were still defiant, and if I weren’t going to go blind in the doing, I would’ve gouged them out with my thumbs.
The gag dissolved, and her smile had that same smarmy slyness when she told me I couldn’t have her without permission.
“Free me. Now.”
“You marked me.”
“You marked yourself with your lust, Bressal. You knew, or said you did, of our powers.”
I freed her.
“Are you going to kill me?” I asked her.
“No. You’re going to kill the wizard for me. When he comes, don’t bother dragging it out.”
She walked over to my array of bloodletting toys, and picked out an axe, one I’d trusted through the years for other duties, but it was somewhat dull now, as I’d not used it in some time.
I bowed my head in defeat.
“Put this through his skull,” she said.
“It’s dull.” I could no longer meet her eyes.
She laughed. “As are you. My husband has made his choice, now I’ve made mine. Strike as many times as you have to; I’ll be back to see what you’ve done.”
Her eyes narrowed, and I felt something like a fist around my heart.
“And if I see no body, Bressal, I’ll know you’ve betrayed me, and make you wish you were never born.”
The fist let go.
I didn’t like being threatened. She’d bested me, and now felt emboldened to boast.
“We will one day have reckoning,” I said to her retreating back. “I will break this spell, and then you, Chrystal, into shards of bad memories your husband’s maid will sweep under thick carpets.
“My ruined face will be the last thing you see, my kiss the last thing you feel, as I take your womanhood along with your life.”
The door shut on my tirade.
I wiped at the tears in my eyes that baptized me into her service, but I couldn’t stop them, and decided to blame it on the acrid torches.
Then I took the axe, put it across my lap, and waited.
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