Written by Juxian Tang
Bright, obnoxious light streamed into his squinting eyes; and he was cold.
After a few moments of struggle against sleep, Hellar sat up and peered at
Alora's skinny form in front of him. The torch in her hand crackled and smelled
and she held Hellar's blanket draped over her arm.
"Get up. You are too sloppy. Sleeping like this will kill you one
"What happened?" Hellar slumped back, deciding that it obviously
was not an emergency, and rubbed his face. He tried to figure out what time it
was. Maybe, an hour or two after he'd fallen asleep. Tarkh's place near to him
was empty and cold.
"Nothing yet," Alora answered enigmatically. "Rhys needs
Hellar felt her gaze on himself as he groped on the floor for his clothes.
Her cold eyes slid over him slowly, causing an almost physical sensation. He
suddenly felt an urge to speed up dressing and shook this thought away. It was
not that the superiors of the Legion had never seen him naked, with or without
"You are a fine specimen, Carlos. Something to look at," Alora
said thoughtfully as Hellar got dressed. "Even the scars - now when they
faded a bit, they just add to your looks. It's a pity you have to wear these
rags all the time."
The night was bright and icy, the air completely still as they briskly
walked through the camp. Hellar had noticed before that Alora's walk could be
very swift and efficient when she wanted; becoming a shuffle of a hag when
"So, what's the matter? Where are we going to?"
"Don't you know?" Alora's dry mouth curved in a sarcastic smile.
"It's a big party that Rhys gathers. Half of the camp is there."
"And we are invited," Hellar added.
"Yeah. For a job. They tend to go overboard on these occasions,"
Alora informed. "Rhys wants us there just in case. There is always some
case, of course. Broken ribs or squashed nose or bad overdose of kyth."
Hellar wondered how much Alora really was annoyed with this prospect - or
whether she secretly enjoyed another proof of her indispensability.
"And what am I going to do there?"
"Oh, I dunno. Bandage some wounds? You aren't used to feel unnecessary,
Carlos? I bet you never felt like that in the Legion. You were a model officer,
weren't you? A Praetorian poster-boy? Feral, ruthless, determined... and
looking stunning in black leather, not to mention." She laughed at him;
she always did that. Hellar thought he should've got used to it by then.
"Only you fucked up your own carrier," she continued. "All your
beautiful career. A Captain at twenty-five - you could've become a Major some
years later or after leading a smart operation. How do you have to regret it,
It was a rhetoric question; Alora should've known that. He'd never succumbed
to the temptation to admit he was sorry to those who'd interrogated him in the
Legion. Why would he share what he felt with her?
Yet sometimes Hellar wished he could do it - could tell things to someone,
even to Alora, with her snappy, deliberately uncaring voice and her ability to
get under his skin purposefully. He didn't know if Alora would understand - if
anyone would understand. He just would like to talk.
He would tell her about that time when, entering his quarters, he saw a
thin, tall figure in the shadows and heard a quiet voice:
"I want to talk to you, Captain."
Major Alexis Dimitriades. Slender and dark and exotically beautiful - and a
hero of the last operation in Engure. He and Hellar had known each other, had
drinks in a company but hardly ever exchanged a personal phrase.
At first Hellar thought it was some secret mission; a part of him wanted it
to be something else, though. He would relish a thought of the handsome Major
in his bed but it was not how these things were done, Dimitriades had a wide
choice of subordinates of lower ranks for that.
"I want to talk about the Legion," Dimitriades said. "I want
to know how you feel about some things here."
Hellar didn't know how Dimitriades could guess; he never - not to his
closest comrades, not even to Ursula - said anything about his secret thoughts.
In fact, there were things he even didn't dare think about. Later he wondered
why he answered Dimitriades' questions so openly, as if he couldn't think it
could be a provocation or a test. Perhaps he was sealing his own fate then.
"I'm glad I'm not mistaken in you," Dimitriades said at last.
"The last concern of the Legion is whether there is peace or not. In fact,
we all are better off if the conflicts in the System keep smoldering. It allows
us to come off as champions, as rescuers. And who really cares about the High
Command trading information and, sometimes, weapons with both sides?"
"It's always been like that," Hellar said.
"No," Dimitriades said plainly. "And it means that it doesn't
always have to be like that. We can change it."
It was when he told Hellar about the Organization - and about the machines
they had; not really mind-control machines, it would be impossible - but the
ones that allowed to alter a mind slightly, to change an individual's mood to a
positive one. With these machines, Dimitriades said, they could secure peace in
the System and make the Legion unnecessary.
"It doesn't scare you - that the only thing you can do won't be
needed?" Dimitriades said. "You'll have to change your life
completely, after our aim is achieved."
"It doesn't matter," Hellar said.
When the Major was about to leave, Hellar stopped him, a sudden thought
coming to his mind.
"How can you be sure I won't report on you to the High Command as soon
as you walk out?"
There was a light, easy smile on Dimitriades' lips, making him look boyish
"I risk. There is no other way. I can draw you - another man - into our
Organization. Or a man - me - can be lost. My life means nothing. I am ready to
everything that can happen to me. Are you?"
Hellar said 'yes' and he meant it. But when, a few weeks later, Dimitriades
asked him whether they should've tried to enlist First Lieutenant Ursula Wong,
he cut it off, suddenly scared for her.
"She has nothing to do with it."
Then there was an assignment, the negotiations between Tergaron and Manos.
And Hellar failed and was captured...
"And look at yourself now." Alora was still talking to him, her
crisp, cold voice very clear in the transparent air. "You are alive just
because Tarkh fancies you. Well, I understand him, of course - you have
probably the most fuckable ass in the whole camp - except the little Rauni
prince, that is. Tarkh must consider you a gift from the Goddess - especially
since you don't mind his specific face."
"It's just a few scars," Hellar muttered. He felt tense, hating
what Alora said - but even more awkward because of his urge to defend Tarkh.
Defend Tarkh... it was truly ridiculous.
Alora's laughter was like snapping of gunshots.
"Good for you if you see it like this. As far as I remember, when we
picked him up in the desert, he had his nose cut off."
"You picked him up?" Despite his stubborn resolution not to pry,
Hellar couldn't help it, his curiosity was piqued.
"Oh, I see you woke up." Alora snorted. "I already started
wondering if I was talking to this stupid moon up there. Didn't he tell you it
was Rhys and me who found him?" And, as Hellar kept silent, she couldn't resist
taking a dig. " Sorry, I forgot. You apparently don't meet to talk."
"I do what I have to do," Hellar forced himself to say.
"Six years ago we found him," Alora continued lightly, ignoring
his snap. "He almost reached the camp - but you know in desert you can die
in two hundred feet from a habitation and never know it. He was pretty weak
when we stumbled against him, half dead with thirst and the sand made his face
wounds all festering.
"I think he'd been good-looking, before Rauni did their knife-work on
him," Alora went on almost dreamily. "What a waste. It's a pity I
didn't have any devices for facial corrections, either. But let me tell you
something - I don't think Rhys would let me use them even if I had. He liked it
how Tarkh was... is. It makes easier to keep him under control this way."
"Well, Tarkh was quite a valuable acquisition, wasn't he?" Hellar
said through the clenched teeth. "He's pretty good at what he's
"Tarkh had been one of the warlords of Rauni." Alora shrugged.
"A right hand man or something like that. Another one who'd fucked up
everything himself," she added irritably, glancing at Hellar as if
expecting some comments. "You don't even know that part? You two really
have strange relations for lovers."
We are not lovers, Hellar wanted to say - but it would come off awkwardly,
too, so, he just kept silent.
"Tarkh fell in love with his father's bride. When they were caught and
punished, he got spiteful and returned to Rauni with mercenaries from Shegra.
Killed his father and two brothers in the commotion. Eventually Rauni caught
him and marked him... kin-slayer and a traitor, you see. He'd managed to escape
before they proceeded with the mutilation... below the waist."
"And the girl?" Hellar didn't know why he felt so uneasy suddenly.
"The one he fell in love with?"
"How can I know?" Alora snapped.
The tents in front of them were noisy, illuminated brightly, with people
walking in and out unceasingly.
"Not so quickly, where do you hurry so?" Alora whined suddenly,
lagging behind. Hellar slowed down and heard her whisper acidly. "Now we
are going to say 'hi' to Rhys - and then just wait for trouble."
As it was, Rhys barely acknowledged Alora's arrival, his eyes sliding over
Hellar as if he didn't recognize him. Rhys sat at the head of the table,
between two Kori, nipping delicately on food and bringing the glass to his dry
lips from time to time. Whether Rhys was amused with the party, Hellar couldn't
say - but others seemed more than to enjoy it, their cups emptied and filled
again, the whores of both genders sitting on the men's laps or kneeling at
their customers' feet, working with their mouths.
Hellar looked around, noticed a man he hadn't seen before - slim, neat-looking,
sitting not far from Rhys, his eyes half-shadowed as if lazily but his gaze
sharp and cautious. And there, at his feet - at the first moment Hellar took a
double look and knew he saw right - there was Tsianni.
At least he's not sucking the guy's dick, Hellar thought meanly. Just
sitting there like a nice little slave. A slave with just a loincloth to cover
him and a few jingling bracelets around his wrists and ankles. Tsianni's thin
braids were unplaited and his hair was made into neat, tight locks spread over
his shoulders. His lips were glossy with pink, bright lipstick.
He looked... attractive, Hellar decided. He looked like a whore. But he was
a whore, of course.
It was not that Hellar had really shown any interest in the destiny of the
fuckin' kid - but he couldn't shut his ears when people talked, could he? So,
he knew that Rhys had tried Tsianni - and got bored with him - and then Tsianni
was passed to the master of the house. A common whore; almost.
What an end... Normally Hellar wouldn't have dwelled on it, actually,
would've shrugged away any thought about the kid. Tsianni was a goner; he
couldn't have fallen any lower - and there was no way up from there.
And surely Hellar was not going to feel remorse for his own role in what
happened; in fact, there was hardly anything that depended on him, since the
moment he'd lost consciousness on the flyer. After all, it was Amanar who'd
sold his baby cousin to the bandits. Life was unfair, okay? Hellar had enough
occasions to make sure in it.
He still realized he was staring - and unsuccessfully tried to bring two
images of Tsianni together: his haughty, chilly-cold bearing in the desert,
ahead of his people - and the perfect little whore who seemed to belong at the
feet of his master.
He sneered when Tsianni, having sensed his gaze, met it. The way Tsianni
stared didn't change much. Still trying to look as if he's a head taller than
anyone else - when in fact it was exactly the opposite.
Hellar brought the cup of kyth to his lips, saluting Tsianni, and
expected the kid to look away contemptuously. He saw Tsianni mutter something,
carefully articulating the words.
He didn't get it; the voices around were too loud. And why would he care?
The kid's eyes, almost black, narrowed as he moved his head, as if calling for
Hellar. His master didn't appear to look or allowed him this much slack - so,
Tsianni got on his feet and walked a little away, to the corner.
It was insane; Hellar was not going to follow him.
He got up casually, drained out his cup and walked there; an absent,
careless look on his face. The kid leant against the wall, his thin-boned body
a comprehensive display of scabs and bruises, old and fresh ones.
"Where is your master, Praetorian?"
For a moment the question - or, rather, the tone - didn't register with
Hellar. He saw Tsianni smile - a nasty, deliberate smile that curled the kid's
upper lip; there was no shadow of humor in it.
"You are looking for Tarkh, aren't you?" Tsianni's voice still
sounded unsteady, too quiet; he probably never got over after a Kori.
"You mean something?" Hellar scowled; he almost knew what Tsianni
was going to say - and yet asked it.
"Just wondering. Why did he leave you all alone, huh? Already bored
with you? Or is he fucking someone else at the moment?"
There was a tiny sliver of reason in Tsianni's words; Tarkh was not at the
party and Hellar wondered where he was. Needless to say, Tsianni hitting the
nerve didn't make him feel happy at all.
"You tell me. You probably know every whore here." Hellar
shrugged. "You look like you were born here, kid, not in your father's
"You apparently think you are less a whore than I am?" The boy's
smile was as insincere as Hellar's must've been - even as Tsianni continued to
talk in a casual, almost civil way. "It's hardly for long, Praetorian. I
wonder how soon Tarkh will start sharing you with his men. You won't make good
price, damaged goods as you are - but they can get a free fuck from time to
It made him feel uncomfortable, a little, to hear Tsianni talk like this.
Another change that'd happened to the kid. Not just in his appearance but in
his manners, too.
A whore, indeed, he was.
"For Goddess' sake, boy." Hellar tried very carefully to sound
casual - and hoped he succeeded. "You have a twisted perception of things.
Do you even have any idea that people can just have sex because they like it,
not because one forces the other? Oh, sorry, I forgot - it's not how you Rauni
It got to Tsianni, for some reason. Hellar didn't expect it to - but he saw
a ripple of pain go over the kid's smooth face - and Tsianni's voice, as he
talked, had very little civil in it:
"Don't you tell me it's Tarkh's pretty face you are helplessly in love
with! Or do you get off on fucking a traitor and a murderer? I won't get
surprised - for it's what you are, too."
Hellar flinched. He hated feeling like this, as if Tsianni managed to find a
soft place inside him, a place where he could wound him. Well well, what he was
doing around the kid all in all? He should've been back at the table, having
"Tarkh must've been the best of you, Rauni, since he made such a damage
before you could stop him."
He saw a twitch of Tsianni's mouth, almost as if the kid was surprised; it
made Tsianni look like a small boy, suddenly very vulnerable. Hellar tried to
get rid of this thought; he couldn't afford anything but pure animosity towards
"You really are in love with him, aren't you?" Tsianni said
quietly. "I wonder what makes him fuck me then."
It was bullshit. The kid just said it to get to him. Hellar felt an
uncertain smile curve his lips. He noticed Tsianni's eyes, that looked very
dark, not light-brown as usual, search his face for the sign of impact of his
"You sure it was Tarkh? I thought you're not allowed to look up from
your client's cock."
"Well, he was talking as I blew him. He told me how you played a bitch,
wiggling your ass in front of him, Praetorian."
Hellar raised his hand, clenched in a fist, about to smash it into Tsianni's
face. He wanted to see the boy bleed, to see tears spring out of his eyes. Then
he saw a hawkish, too attentive gaze of Tsianni.
As if the kid expected him to do it, wanted him to do it.
Perhaps it was the thing. It must've been Tsianni's plan all along - to
provoke him, preferably to make Hellar snap his neck... Damn the kid!
A heavy hand lay down on Hellar's shoulder - and he snapped back without
"Don't you see we are talking?"
"I only see that you are about to damage my property." The silver
voice behind him made Hellar shiver. He turned around, knowing whom he would
see. Kori right next to him - and then - Rhys, leaning against his other
bodyguard; Rhys, so fragile and seemingly vulnerable in comparison with Kori -
yet the man's eyes couldn't be any colder.
"Sorry, my lord," Hellar mumbled, carefully keeping his eyes down.
"I didn't mean to, my lord..."
"Coward," Tsianni whispered distinctly. "You lick his ass as
well as Tarkh's?"
Anger made Hellar see white. What did the boy know? How did he dare accuse
"You don't look so much like a road kill any more, Praetorian,"
Rhys continued thoughtfully, as if Hellar's words slid over him unheard.
"Amazing what a couple of weeks of safety and sharing your bed with
someone powerful can do. You even dare snap at my men."
"I apologize, my lord." It was getting difficult. What else could
he say? The Kori looked at Hellar without any expression in the narrow eyes.
"I really wouldn't think to do anything that would anger you..."
"Good," Rhys cut him off. "Because I don't want to get angry.
I want fun. Preston!"
The slim, smooth-haired man appeared at Rhys' side fast and soundless, like
a shadow. Hellar noticed a brief look the man cast at Tsianni but couldn't
interpret if there was annoyance or something else in it.
"Everything is ready, sir."
"Listen to me!" Rhys clapped his hands just once, facing the crowd.
The silence took a few moments to settle down but Rhys didn't need to ask for
it once more. All the eyes were on him now. "I know what you are waiting
for. And I know you wonder what's the price for the fight today. I'll tell you.
A special whore, his ass as close to virginal as possible - I checked it
myself. You fight and win - you get him. For the whole night at your disposal -
and not a credit to pay for it."
The man called Preston locked his thin-fingered hand on Tsianni's upper arm,
shoving him forward. The men applauded enthusiastically, whistles and remarks
approving Rhys' offer.
"Gentlemen, those who want to participate in the fight can put their
rings on my table," Preston announced in a cool, cultured voice. Hellar
noticed that his arm was knotted, though, as he made Tsianni stand still.
"Here it goes." Alora suddenly was next to Hellar, her face
flushed with kyth and her eyes not all unhappy. "They are going to
punch the shit out of each other and we are going to patch their ribs and
The flow of fighters wasn't actually overwhelming, Hellar noticed. Perhaps a
lot of men already bought a whore for the night or were too drunk to stand.
There were still quite a few coming up to Preston to submit their rings. Some
tables were moved out, freeing the space for the fighters.
Hellar glanced at Tsianni who was pushed on the floor at the feet of
Preston's fat assistant. The kid's face was ghostly pale, his lips, compressed
in a thin line, unnaturally pink with the lipstick; Hellar could see how
desperately he tried to look unaffected, probably put all his strength into it.
But the kid's eyes were not calm, darting around the room, stopping at Preston,
who didn't look at him - as if the stupid boy had something to expect from the
Bummer, isn't it, Hellar thought. He knew he probably should've felt more
malicious joy at what was going to happen to the little prince of whores;
Tsianni's words, about Tarkh, still smarted. But, strangely, he didn't feel
glad or anything. At least not till the moment when Tsianni's eyes met his -
and the boy formed one word with his lips:
Hellar felt his face twitch. So much for a brief moment of almost compassion
he felt! The darn kid didn't deserve any compassion. In fact, he deserved...
The idea came to Hellar, freeing the urge that stirred inside him all the
time as he watched the man who gathered in front of Preston's table. He stepped
up there and put the obsidian ring from his little finger on the board.
The rings were defining signs in the camp, holding the information about the
owner's status and occupation. Hellar so far had only one, given to him by
He saw Preston glance at him for a moment, a weary, casual look, as he
gathered the ring.
"I'm going to fuck the little blondie's ass until he screams," a
man next to Hellar said. Hellar knew the words reached Tsianni and knew that
the kid looked at him, understood he'd joined, too. He smiled deliberately,
keeping his gaze, making Tsianni look away.
"What is it you think you're doing?" Alora was at his side, her
voice barely containing anger. "You are here to fix the troubles, not to
"What do you worry about?" Her words barely registered with Hellar
as he studied his opponents. There were eight men, him including. Four fights
would be carried out simultaneously, then the winners meet each other - and two
last winners have one more fight. "I'll wrestle them all down."
"Exactly, my Praetorian boy," Alora sneered. "That's the
He didn't care. He already felt high with the expectation of the fight.
Preston threw the rings by two by chance, choosing the opponents. Hellar's was
a stocky bearded man with a broken, badly put together nose; the man's chest
bulged with muscles as he dropped off his jacket.
"Shall we start?" Rhys' melodic voice covered every other noise in
the hall. Hellar couldn't explain it but he distinctly felt Rhys' gaze on
himself - and made himself not to turn back.
"You start at the count 'five'," Preston said in a hollow voice.
"One, two, three, four, five..."
For a short while everything became a blur for Hellar. He heard the calls of
the crowd, knew their presence and presence of other fighters - but his
perception was only on the man who moved towards him. He moved so slowly, it
seemed - like though the water. Hellar dodged a blow, felt a heavy fist swish
over his head - and slammed his fingers upwards into the hollow between the
man's collarbones. The man's eyes rolled up and he collapsed on the floor,
choking. The crowd went wild. Hellar was the first one to finish the fight.
Two other victors defined pretty clearly when their opponents couldn't get
up - but the fourth pair was either too drunk or too weak - so, they clutched
on each other, just exchanging a punch or two from time to time, under the
jeering remarks of the audience that they seemed more interested in each other
than in the prize. Hellar noticed a slight frown of Preston, as if the man had
"Some changes in the program, gentlemen," he announced at last.
"These two are disqualified and the last fight is going to be a
three-some, so to say - all against all."
That was perfectly okay for Hellar. The sooner it was over, the better. He
turned to the other men and clenched his fists.
At the very first moment he understood that they agreed to act together
against him, probably having noticed how quickly he'd done his opponent. He kicked
one man in the guts and meanwhile the other managed to slam his fist in
Hellar's ribs. It was not too bad but sensitive. Hellar blocked the next blow
and drove his heel in the other fighter's solar plexus. He didn't stop when the
man fell on his knees, curling down. He hit twice more, until the man was
spread flat on the floor.
The last one was pretty good. Hellar missed a blow that made him feel like a
fireball exploded in his head. He tasted blood in his mouth. He was also
getting tired. Two weeks in the camp, with normal food and without getting
beaten had made him feel much better, just as Rhys noticed - but he still was
not, would apparently never be as strong and tireless as the chip used to make
He knew he should've finished it as soon as possible. The man's eyes were
white with anger as he moved on Hellar. It was the man who promised to fuck
Tsianni's ass mercilessly. Hellar smiled, feeling the split on his lip open
some more, and thought: not tonight - as he broke his fist into the man's jaw.
A few moments of his opponent's disorientation were enough to finish the
sequence. The guy was probably concussed, Hellar thought as the man collapsed
on the floor. Sorry, Alora.
Hellar straightened, looking around, and snuffled blood back into his nose,
then felt it leak out again. The faces were slightly swimming in front of his
eyes and he shook his head, returning the sharpness of perception. The men
cheered him, not extremely enthusiastically - but, after all, he was still
pretty new there.
He saw Alora tinker with her devices over the man he'd knocked down first -
and winked her. She gave him a murderous look.
He turned to Tsianni. Ah, the boy was an eyesore... couldn't even meet
Hellar's gaze. Hellar smiled.
With his peripheral sight Hellar noticed Rhys give Preston a sign, calling
for him - and didn't know at the first moment what kind of unpleasant feeling
seized him. He watched them talk, Preston's eyes going wide at first - and then
the man just nodded and nodded. His walk was kind of slow, however, as he
walked back to his table.
"And now - another little change of the rules, gentlemen. A new
contestant in our most entertaining games. The winner of the fight gets the
prize." He reached his hand at Rhys' direction and for a moment Hellar
thought incredulously that Rhys decided to fight himself. Then he saw a Kori to
Everything went quiet. Of course, no one said it was unfair or anything.
Hellar was not going to say it was unfair - he was not a fool enough for that.
"Of course, either contestant can refuse to fight - and will relinquish
the victory," Preston said calmly, definitely for his benefit.
"Tell him you refuse."
A hard palm clasped on Hellar's wrist as familiar slurry voice sounded
behind him. He turned back and looked into Tarkh's dark eyes over the
"You stupid fool, Hellar. Can't I leave you alone for a few hours
without you getting in trouble?"
Really, where have you been, Hellar wanted to ask. 'Fucking some
whore...' Tsianni's words resurfaced in his memory. He bit his lip
"Why is Rhys angry with you? What have you done?" Tarkh continued
in a furious whisper. "I hope he'll let it slip if you just admit you've
Hellar looked around, pointedly not meeting Tarkh's glare. Rhys smiled -
almost pleasantly; the Kori looked as idol-like and detached as always. It was
not the same one who'd touched his shoulder, Hellar realized; that one had red
beads in his hair and this one - blue.
"I'll fight," Hellar said.
"What?" He heard an explosive gasp from Tarkh - and the man's
voice became scathing. "Don't be more pigheaded than you can help! It's a
Kori if you didn't notice."
"I noticed," Hellar whispered in the same sarcastic voice.
"Are you worried for me - or don't you want me to have my cock up the
Rauni prince's ass?"
For a few moment Tarkh was silent, just eyeing him as if in disbelief. His
voice was almost careful as he spoke at last.
"You can't be so stupid, Hellar, can you? If I cared for this Rahuni -
why would I mind you fighting Kori? Don't you know a night with Kori will kill
him? I don't want *you* to get hurt. And the Kori will kill you, Rhys will
allow him. You apparently outlived your amusement with Rhys..."
Of all the words Tarkh said, only one phrase really stuck in Hellar's mind. 'I
don't want *you* to get hurt'. He looked at Tarkh, met his fierce, widened
eyes - and felt unexplainable relief wash over him. Whatever Tsianni said about
Tarkh - it didn't matter.
"Too late," he said softly.
"You start at the count 'three'," Preston said.
Hellar let the Kori start, studying his movements. Goddess, the man was
huge. He'd never fought a Kori before. He'd had spars from different races but
Kori was a small race, the Legion didn't consider them as enemies. Yet Kori
must've been vulnerable; all living beings were.
Hellar waited, letting the Kori closer, watching for the first blow. The
giant approached him rather carefully. And then everything happened very fast.
Hellar sidestepped, evading the blow - and didn't manage to escape it completely.
If the Kori didn't miss, his fist would probably crushed Hellar's ribs. As it
was, the impact made his shoulder go numb.
He placed a kick into the Kori's groin - and felt a hand catch his ankle.
The floor hit hard and swift against his side as the Kori threw him down.
Hellar barely managed to roll away before the Kori's fist slammed where his
head had just been.
He hadn't taken Tarkh's words seriously, that the Kori might've intended to
kill him - but whether it was Rhys' permission or just the style of the Kori,
Hellar knew he wouldn't have survived the blow, if it had landed right. He
kicked with both his heels in the Kori's face. The Kori shook his head
Hellar got up, as fast as he could - but not as fast as the Kori. The Kori's
fist slammed into his belly. The blow was stunning; Hellar felt as if all the
air was knocked out of him, as if his insides burst. Dazed, he watched as the
Kori lowered his head, preparing to another attack.
He plunged forward and slapped his palms over the Kori's ears.
He didn't know if it would work; he knew he had little chance if it didn't.
But it worked - the Kori lost his balance, his motions became disoriented. A
trickle of blood ran from his ear and Hellar knew one or both his eardrums
Yet Hellar underestimated him; as he hit again, the Kori caught his wrist.
Excruciating pain pierced his arm, the bones giving way under the pressure.
Hellar heard his own growl of pain - and thrust his fingers into the Kori's
It was possibly the only place where thick planes of muscles didn't cover
the Kori's body. Hellar's fingers grasped on the Kori's Adam's apple and he
twisted, tearing his throat out.
The Kori choked with blood. His hand kept gripping on Hellar's wrist - but
these were just convulsive movements. He started in the eyes of the dying Kori
and, when they went dull, the grip loosened.
"I won," Hellar said with a smirk.
He felt light-headed with pain, his arm feeling huge and throbbing - yet he
felt very jolly, almost playful. He bowed towards Rhys, politely. The man's
fine-lined face blurred in front of his eyes - but Hellar could see the other
Kori get up and look at his dead comrade as if in disbelief.
"Nope," Hellar said. "I don't fight any more. No more
contestants. I get my prize."
He knew Tarkh was somewhere behind him but he didn't look back. He walked up
to Tsianni and pulled him up on his feet, holding the kid's forearm. The kid
didn't struggle, probably too stunned for that. Hellar wrapped his good arm
around Tsianni's neck, feeling the incredible silkiness of curled locks against
"You are mine," he informed Tsianni and giggled at the fact that
he couldn't clearly see the kid's face to enjoy all the expression of repulsion
on it. "Come on. Give me a kiss."
He shoved his tongue between Tsianni's lips, tugging the kid closer, and was
vaguely surprised that Tsianni's mouth tasted like blood.
The End of Part 7a
Written by BlueGreen
Hellar's eyes didn't leave his as he spat out and wiped his lips.
An instinctive reaction, nothing a man should be blamed for, some detached
part of Tsianni's mind noted. So, Hellar realized he'd put his tongue into the
mouth of a whore. Which had to be quite another taste than having a freshly
captured Rahuni prince under him.
Spiked by the sharp fumes of spilled kyth, the odor of blood and sex
suddenly became over-powering.
He would not swoon like some girl, Tsianni told himself firmly. It was
humiliating enough that Hellar had to hold him upright when his legs began to
shake with spastic tremors. Nothing of his rage was still with him, nothing of
the madness that had let him escape into the fantasy of a quick death.
He flinched as Rhys' shrill and incoherent yell cut through the reigning
pandemonium, convinced that he was its focus. For a short breath the noise just
ceased to be. And all Tsianni felt was this monstrous tiredness that rushed
through his veins until the world around him shrunk to the little bubble of
silence around him and Hellar.
The parties inside the tent, those not on their knees serving their
customers, were too far gone to react in their usual cowed way for any length
of time, though. As if on cue, one more incoming wave of intoxicated bandits
started to shove and bawl, afraid to miss the fun. Within seconds the clamor
"Didn't they tell you, I'm not a good lay?"
Tsianni snapped at the fingers that wanted to paw his face.
"Go and fuck Tarkh!"
It was almost funny to see Hellar's expression.
Wasn't it the guy who'd risked slow dismemberment by the camp's champion for
a privilege that he could've gotten for a few coins from any camp follower? So,
why did the man's obvious disgust sting so? Hellar hated him; how could he not?
Tsianni couldn't let himself care what this foreign bandit lover thought of
him. Everything else was just - delusions. He should've started seeing things as
they were. If Rhys demanded a performance right over the Kori's dead body,
Hellar would oblige.
But I won't. I-- can't.
"You touch me and you will so rue this-- Fuck you!" Tsianni hissed
catching the other's grin.
Was the bastard making fun of him?
He nearly bit his tongue when Hellar gave him a furious short shake that
left him dazed. His own kick Hellar evaded with ease, still hyped up from the
battle, faster and stronger and much more devious when it came to inflicting
pain. Tsianni never knew what hit him.
White, hot pain shot like a needle-thin lance through his side and the next
breath wouldn't come. He didn't make a sound as he sagged into the Praetorian's
With pain-hazed eyes, Tsianni saw Hellar glare at him from above, annoyance
and some kind of resentment in the man's gaze. Gods, but what did the
condescending bastard expect? That Tsianni would fling himself into his arms,
thanking him for salvation from dying an ugly death under a rutting Kori? Did
he want some kind of reward, risking his life for a skinny slave who'd tried to
hang on to the rags of his former honor instead of submitting to the
The man was so stupid. He'd come to Rhys' entertainment, arrogantly
flaunting his newly protected status and thinking he wouldn't be used. What a
blind fool -
Anyone could've seen that there was a nasty game of power going on - and the
Praetorian, as well as he, Tsianni, were just pawns in it.
And he - he was as bad as Hellar at that, Tsianni thought. He'd hoped he
could somehow make Preston react...
In hindsight it felt like the dream of a madman. Worse even. Like those
pitiful fantasies a slave might harbor towards an indifferent owner. Mistaking
the very sentiment that made the master tolerable for something it was clearly
Now Preston was gone form his corner. For a moment Tsianni's vision went
black completely. He knew he wasn't taking this well at all - that Preston
might as well have washed his hands of him.
No, he wailed inwardly, it couldn't be. There was more between them.
Humiliated, Tsianni felt Hellar's hand grip on his tresses and noted that
his open hair provided a good hold. He had earned himself a beating, fighting
against having his hair washed and perfumed and oiled to make it softer to the
touch. It had been done to mark him not just as a slave - for those were
customarily shorn short to keep the bugs down - but as one of the whores in the
camp. Rhys' orders, of course; Rhys had an eye for such gestures.
The man who pressed him against Hellar's front was yelling something over
his head. Tarkh, he guessed from the smell and rough leathers. The raiders'
leader was not a happy man. He only grunted as Tsianni's naked foot managed to
connect with his own sturdy footwear. Determinedly, Tsianni pushed his head up
from the shoulder he'd been slumped on - there was a thigh wedged between his
legs now and he could just see himself being done in public by both of them.
He gave a mindless growl and tried to jerk his head out of the hold of
"No - I won't - "
But fighting was useless, he knew that. Rhys' toy inside of him was tuned to
his rebellious nature - and would act accordingly. He did it nonetheless.
Earlier that day Rhys had done a demonstration of the worm's use while
Preston stood silently at his side, eyes gone cold and dead as he looked down
at Tsianni's writhing body.
"You can't get enough of that, can you?" Rhys had his almost
boyish grin on, one arm around Preston stiff shoulders, drawing the reluctant
man nearer. "Or you wouldn't defy me again and again..."
Although his eyes where glued to the show at his feet, the words were for
Preston alone. And Preston had watched almost - as if he wasn't there. Nothing
in his demeanor betrayed the fact that he did care for the man at his feet or
would mind that his slave might not survive the evening.
A training device for the willful, Rhys had called it, the night Pig had
delivered him greased and primed at the abode of the returning leader.
It won't stop until you do.
Hellar transferred his grip to his upper arm and turned them around, away
from Tarkh, who let it happen, just stood there motionless, flanked by two of
his men. His eyes found Tsianni's briefly, promising murder. The rambunctious
masses pushed them to the side of the tent and then into the open; one of many
pairings, a whore and his customer looking for a quiet place.
Hellar's mouth come hard upon his lips and left them burning.
All reasons were swept aside as Tsianni's mouth opened and he felt the
tongue touching his, then withdraw and lick across lips that were raw and
hurting. He couldn't get enough of the sensation.
With the last bit of his will he turned his head away.
Preston, pale and fine, stood out among the coarser crowd. Tsianni dug his
heels in violently as he got a glimpse of the man turning away - and was nearly
bowed over by angry pulse the thing inside his guts sent. He swallowed the cry.
Where were Preston's men? Those few who were not already creatures of Rhys,
they should've been with him, Tsianni thought, alarmed. He didn't see a single
one. Rather there was Pig's fraction, in full force and disturbingly much more
sober and determined than usual, cutting though the crowd like a pack of
sandsharks who'd scented blood.
"Where do you think you are going, Rauni?" Hellar asked coldly.
A man a little distance in front of them turned around and Tsianni was
stopped by the weird way his hair rose in a sudden swaying cloud. Blue
crackling lights appeared to dance above the crowd near him.
Next to him Hellar exploded into motion. Tsianni was swung around with
enough force to nearly dislocate his shoulder, then lost the rest of his
footing as a ferocious push catapulted him in the direction of the nearest
Consciousness went for a few seconds and came back with him disoriented,
spitting sand and blood. It felt as if a ton of hot and hard growling
Praetorians had landed on him.
"--fighting! Stay down, cover your ears - open your mouth!"
Whether he'd followed any of these orders, Tsianni never knew; it was more
likely that he just started to curse the man on top of him. But once the wave
of hellish noise and pressure rolled over them, every recollection just
* * *
You had to be born and raised lowland to find your peace in the constant
level of noise that ruled festival season.
The drums of the lowland clans would play day and night until every
movement from tiny platter of the evening rains to the very act of breathing
surrendered to their rhythm.
Tsianni and his guards took wax ball in their ears like any foreigner,
unlucky enough to get stranded there during the holy weeks.
But silence isn't just absence of sound and that was something Tsianni
began to realize once he'd cut off the noise from outside, only to drown in the
deafening pulse of his own blood .
* * *
His eyes must've been open for quite a while, for when he saw the dark sky
turn to daylight and then plunge back into the blackness of a starless night,
it didn't amaze him. It left curious greenish glowing writings on the inside of
his lids that he couldn't decipher, so he blinked his eyes to make them vanish.
His ears rang.
The next time the burn of the brightness was muted through the curtain of
Hellar hair - a smooth dark waterfall that glowed indigo blackness that
surrounded Tsianni for a breath or two.
Don't go to sleep. Can you hear me? That is an energy weapon on overload.
A big one.
Odd. He seemed to be lying on something soft. And he couldn't move his arms
that were strung over his head. It disturbed him a bit but not to the point
where the notion of struggling ever came into consideration. Tsianni really
wanted to ask something fundamental, like where he was but the sound that made
it out of his mouth suspiciously sounded like a moan. It echoed eerily inside
Hellar's loose hair dragged over his skin briefly, cool and silky at the
same time. Tsianni shivered long after the sensation was gone. The thought came
to him that it shouldn't have felt so good.
They... are dead then?
A grin or rather white teeth bared like a charging animal.
Not likely. Deaf, dazed and with aching heads and some broken bones,
probably. Minus one tent for sure. And with all their fucking machinery shorted
Light wandered behind closed eyes and into his very brain. Then darkness.
Then light again. In the darkness that followed, Hellar's quiet voice seemed
"They must've been mates. The other tried for self-destruct - can't do
with contraband weapon and too little extra energy to draw on. So, he's been
shooting his weapon unshielded on maximum into the sky. For hours."
"The remaining Kori. Who else? He's committing suicide."
It was inside one of the gutted flyer wrecks that Hellar had found them
Those were quite a way from Rhys' tent, if Tsianni had their location
correctly, in the north of the wadi and then some distance from the
working flotilla. Not that he remembered walking under his own power but
somehow the picture of Hellar carrying a naked slave through camp wouldn't come
The man's shadow played on the gently shifting walls of cloth that shielded
them from the frosty skies with a strange fluidity that made its elongated dark
gestures strange and alien. An elusive sight. The fire in the sky only came
sporadic now, its brilliance muted; almost grudgingly it gave way to the murky
light of predawn.
Tsianni's flesh still tingled form the wet cloth that Hellar had used to
clean the worst of the dirt and blood off him. The old wreck proved to be a
neat little spot that came fully equipped for a night's quick pleasure; soft
blankets, a tiny heating apparatus and water, enough water for a man to last
him through a week...
Never a week at this rate, Tsianni corrected himself, and found that he'd
stopped being bothered by waste of water. No longer to smell his own fear and
sweat, that was rather nice, too. He gulped down the offered water, horribly
aware that he was too weak to raise his head properly, waiting for a nasty
comment. But all he received was a long serious look from shadowed eyes that
saw too much of his condition to be fooled by any shows of stubborn pride.
Maybe Hellar would let him rest for a bit longer before doing whatever he'd
planned to do to him. Tsianni found it hard to care. A blanket had been thrown
over him negligently and he was just burrowing deeper into its fold as best as
he could with his arms like two unfeeling sticks above him when his sight fell
on the rations which hung neatly knotted from the ceiling and the way the
insect netting was tied just so. He knew then it was Tarkh's hideout, and it
was Tarkh's bedding he was stretched upon. He went very still. With his
heartbeat rushing in his ears, he tried to keep his breathing even and
desperately strained the bonds around his wrists.
Hellar had his back to him for the last few minutes.
Hurting, Tsianni thought. In his memory the fight was a hazy collection of
blood-splattered flesh clashing and that ever-roaring noise, but not much else,
not even how long it had gone on. And the sight of Hellar's hands dripping with
the hot blood of his kill as he came for him. That was burned into his soul.
But not even a fighter of that caliber would survive a fight with a Kori
So, Tsianni's only chance would be right now, while the other was
preoccupied with tending his wounds and not willing to risk further injury. And
He saw the Hellar's suppressed flinch as he shifted, now that he was looking
for it. The next tug at his wrists felt as if he'd touched bone. The bangles
around his joints gave a musical tingle.
Hellar turned almost lazily.
He reached over Tsianni's head leisurely, ignoring the other's reflective
wince to unbuckle the strap around his wrists.
"This will hurt."
It did, eventually - enough to make Tsianni's eyes tear, but that wasn't why
he gave a warning snarl when Hellar reclined next to him. The scent of the man
had enveloped him and he found it difficult to breathe all of a sudden -
confused and frightened, he had to witness his body react like an animal
trained to please.
"Don't try me, kid, you're not in the shape." Hellar said without
his usual exasperation. "Why don't you take it easy for a while."
Say it, Tsianni raged silently, say that I should be glad it is
you rather than the Kori.
Instead, he had to succumb to having his arms flexed back and forth, then
skillfully massaged until the numb flesh began to tingle painfully with the
return of sensation. Just a good clean kind of hurt, something he might have
done to a comrade and not have felt like touching on his honor.
It wouldn't stay that way, Tsianni thought. He wouldn't be fooled.
This man wasn't the one he'd spared in the fight with Hebners. It occurred
to him that he'd so far never seen the real Hellar; the ruthless soldier, the educated
person, the lover - all those parts that made the man.
He watched Hellar tie his hands again this time to his front.
And isn't that a sensible precaution...
Surely he would've done the same, just with no care for the other's comfort,
for Tsianni couldn't remember a moment when they both hadn't been looking for a
way to do the other in.
Only that Hellar had fought a Kori when all he'd had to do was step back and
enjoy his revenge.
What are you waiting for? You want to fuck me, he thought rather at a
loss. I know that. That's why you kissed me. What more do you want?
"I lied," he whispered against Hellar's throat. "I am good at
it. I can suck you till you scream." With the tip of his tongue he lapped
at the salty smooth skin he could reach, tiny delicate licks that forced the
body above him into the faintest shiver. "I am not going to owe you
My life. There, he nearly had said it. Don't lose it now, Rahuni.
He looked up to meet irritated green eyes.
"No? And what makes you think I will collect the debt?" Hellar
said bitingly. "Not that I doubt your training. But I am not in the habit
of sleeping with whores. "
Then he rode Tsianni's furious jerk, pressing them both deeper into the
"Who is the whore here?" Tsianni howled. "Who showed his
belly the moment we saw those fucking low-life bandits? Who sucks up to Tarkh?
WHO are you calling a whore, you bastard!"
He sobbed with rage.
Hellar hadn't drawn back during his fit, and now every bruise seemed to
flare with its own agonizing beat wherever their two bodies touched. It didn't
keep Tsianni's traitorous cock down and that was about the last straw, that he
should have no control over his own sluttish flesh.
When he went for Hellar throat, he knew his speed was frightening, knew his
sharp teeth could make a man think twice about letting him come anywhere near.
But Hellar hardly flinched.
Crazy, he thought, crazy and proud enough not to show his fear.
We're not so far apart.
With tiny growling sounds Tsianni lapped at skin prickly with the shade of a
new beard. As soon as hands closed on his shoulders he dared for a quick taste
of the man's lips before shaking out of their hold. Almost frantic then, he
kicked off the scratchy blanket and twisted to his side to lick a path from
Hellar's sternum to the lower belly, over hard flesh lighter than his own and
scarred by stranger weapons. The tiny starburst of a white scar on Hellar's
thigh caught his attention briefly and he let his fingers stroke over it before
returning his ministrations to the rapidly filling cock. Hellar made his first
involuntary sound then.
Encouraged, Tsianni dared to rub his lips over its length much harsher than
his previous caresses and felt the whole body under him flinch satisfactorily.
The intoxicating smell, that sharp blend of the man's own scent and the smell
of camp-life that clung to his skin went right into Tsianni's brain. He groaned
as fingers forced his mouth open and a thumb pressed down on his tongue, until
he had to swallow his own salvia. His hands clawed into Hellar's thigh as his
own hips began to jerk.
Immediately Hellar pushed him off and rolled him over onto his back covering
his burning body with his own - and held him down forcefully enough to make a
struggle impossible. Tsianni wasn't allowed to move expect to breathe and even
that, he was shown, was under the Hellar's control.
"I don't want your mouth," he whispered into Tsianni's ear.
"And I want you to scream for me to fuck you."
He must've felt Tsianni's staccato heartbeat.
"You're free of the thing, kid, I am not into fucking hardware."
Then he met Tsianni's eyes from a hand-span - and Hellar's eyes were green
like no clansman ever had. This time Tsianni's lips were touched almost
hesitantly before his leg was raised over Hellar's shoulder.
It was a position Tsianni knew he would hate - so exposed and vulnerable he
felt as soon as the other's fingers pressed urgently at his opening.
Hellar's open hair touched his shivering skin and he barely suppressed a
groan. A fist closed around his arousal, hot and possessive, and squeezed.
Tsianni was given the very fist stroke and screamed as the fingers slid into
him to the last digit.
Then again - and he thought it would rip him apart. And once more - only
this time the strokes got faster and a place inside him flared up. Then the
"No..." Tsianni gasped and lifted his hips. "Don't
Hellar's mouth, devouring his, silenced him but did nothing to quench the
feverish ache in him. So, it was pure animal relief that made him groan as
Hellar resumed to slowly stroke his cock. Just to stop anew. Tsianni nearly
cried with frustration as his hands were slapped away and pinned over his
head.. But when the hot flesh of Hellar's cock did press against his separated
buttocks, he shrunk back. Hellar gave his bottom lip a sharp little nip to get
Then he pushed in.
Tsianni bit into the back of his hand not to scream.
He knew that pain.
"Shh, there. I will go slow, I know you can take me."
"Bastard-" Tsianni got his sobbing breath back under control.
Hellar gave a short breathless laugh and then moved.
He could've never taken him like this without being worked by the worm
first, that thought flashed through Tsianni's mind and yet he didn't care. He
was burning with each deep and slow thrust. Spinning out of control with each
stroke of the hand and each stabbing shove of the cock that hit the place in
him Hellar's fingers only had teased. His body threw itself towards completion
and he came hard then.
Hellar stilled and drew in a hissing breath above him. He seemed oddly
vulnerable now with his hair hanging into his flushed face and those eyes gone
I could touch you now, Tsianni mused. Your mouth would be soft.
Tsianni was already half asleep when he felt Hellar sag next to him; infused
with a strange warming glow that pushed both the pain and the numbness back.
The End of Part 7b
Written by Juxian Tang
Tsianni's thin arm was flung across Hellar's chest, his metal bracelets
feeling cold at the first moment and then getting warmer against Hellar's skin.
The strands of his soft hair under Hellar's cheek felt warm and silky, keeping
the residuals of some sweet, fruity perfume.
Hellar liked this smell - he admitted it to himself, lying with his eyes
open, sleepless and in silence. He liked that he could feel it even through the
stronger smell of their recent sex and ever-present, copper scent of blood. He
didn't feel ashamed with liking something un-masculine like this; it was only
temporary, only for a few minutes, on the brink of the dawn; a few minutes when
Hellar felt warm, comfortable and purely content.
Through the seams of the tent, the rays of the sun laid narrow stripes of
light across Tsianni's face. The kid looked surprisingly peaceful; his mouth,
bright and nearly bruised with kissing, seemed unusually soft, Hellar thought.
The kid's eyes under the closed eyelids moved swiftly as he dreamed but his eyelashes
Hellar grinned slightly, recalling the feathery softness of these eyelashes
against his lips last night - and the fury, mixed with resignation, in
Tsianni's stare as he kissed the kid's face. Just thinking about it made him
conscious of the warmth spread through his body,
the sensation of Tsianni's arm against his ribs emanating heat.
He wondered how the kid would react if he put his mouth on his lips now,
woke him up this way. Would probably thrash again, deliciously, the way he'd done
yesterday, in a fight that Tsianni obviously wanted to lose as much as Hellar
wanted to win.
"You little slut," Hellar whispered. Tsianni's soft, steady breath
didn't break. For a moment Hellar almost felt ashamed with the injustice of his
words, the injustice that he realized and yet didn't want to admit. His hand
hovered over Tsianni's cheekbone, just short of touching, and he pulled it
away, unwilling to get into a contact.
Well, too many good things were dangerous. And what had been fun at night
might've turned out to be just a nuisance in the daylight. Time to get up.
Deftly Hellar slid from under Tsianni's arm and got on his feet. The fight
yesterday with the Kori reminded him about itself with sharp claws of pain in
his arm and side. He gnawed at his lip, willing the pain away. He was not going
to pay attention to these things; it was the best tactics. And his injuries
certainly hadn't hindered him to enjoy the previous night, so, there was no
reason to slacken now.
He gave Tsianni's face one last look before getting out of the tent,
somewhat melancholic. It was nice, kid, but I don't think we'll ever do it
again... In fact, he hardly was going to afford Tsianni's services, not
when Rhys priced them like this.
The sun, bright as usual, was low above the horizon and the air still so
cold that Hellar's breath made small clouds of white. He stretched, squinting
his eyes against the light, pointedly ignoring the complaints of his body. Damn
the Kori... Damn both of them.
The camp was quiet at last, quieter than always, people probably exhausted
after the eventful night. The flames were gone but Hellar could smell the
bitter tang of fuel quite distinctly.
Fuel - and fire smoke. He turned around, wide-eyed, to see Tarkh sitting
cross-legged at the small fire in a few steps away from him. The man wasn't
asleep; his figure, wrapped in a fur cloak, was motionless, except for a stick
in his hands he used to stir the ashes from time to time. He didn't look back
at Hellar, as if not hearing him - although, for Goddess' sake, Hellar had made
enough noise to disturb a flock of khaasi.
Hellar sighed. In fact, there was no reason why he hadn't expected to see
Tarkh here. Last night, in the hell started by the grieving Kori, Hellar had
gone nearly mad with the tearing pain in his head as the machines went wild.
Tarkh was the one who shook him back into consciousness, slapped him until
Hellar managed to focus again.
He didn't know what Tarkh thought, perhaps that Hellar shitted himself in
fear - but it didn't matter. Seeing Tarkh's face, uncovered with the cloth, was
suddenly everything Hellar needed. It was something he was able to hold onto,
while trying to dispel the pain. He saw Tarkh pick up Tsianni's lax body
effortlessly - and then felt himself being pulled up on his feet.
By the time they reached Tarkh's hideaway place, Hellar was more or less
"Take the little shit and get into the tent." Tarkh's voice seemed
to be the only thing that could get through the horrible noise in the camp. And
as Hellar tried to say something, Tarkh just shook his head and dumped Tsianni
on him, making Hellar reconsider what hurt worse, his head or his ribs.
"Use your winnings."
Well, that's what he'd done, eventually.
Now Hellar made a few steps towards Tarkh, stopping behind his back
"You... spent the whole night here?"
For a few moments it seemed like Tarkh was intended to ignore him further -
but eventually he glanced back at Hellar, his eyebrow raised.
"The quietest place in the camp last night."
His voice had its normal, annoyed tone; Hellar tried very hard to keep a
contented smile away from his face but he was not sure if he succeeded.
"Ugh... Thank you for letting me use your tent. And... I'm sorry."
"The hell you are!" Now Tarkh's eyes were on him and glaring.
"Sorry - with this shit-eating grin? And why would you feel sorry after a
night like this? The little scum was loud... If not for the explosions I bet
the whole camp would be able to hear him! What were you doing? Fucking him
through the ground?"
If Tarkh wanted him to feel guilty, he couldn't choose a worse way to get to
"Hmm, well. I know I'm good," he admitted meekly.
"You're a smug asshole."
In a moment Tarkh was on his feet, his fist aimed at Hellar's face. Hellar
reacted instinctively, his hand catching the fist as he slammed against Tarkh,
sending them both on the ground.
He must've been out of his mind, fighting Tarkh... And yet somehow Hellar was
sure it couldn't turn to be too bad. Not when he felt so good.
If only Tarkh knew... Okay, he had a reason to be smug. Two reasons, in fact
- and only the lesser of them was the memory about Tsianni's futile struggle,
the flailing of the kid's hands suddenly turning into pulling closer. The other
In Tarkh's tent, near to unconscious Tsianni, there was time when Hellar had
thought he would pass out as well, blood streaming from his nose and mouth as
the pain tore his brain apart. And then... something seemed to snap. The pain
was going away; he was making it go away.
The catastrophe created by the Kori hadn't killed him, hadn't driven him
mad. And more than that - suddenly Hellar understood that he could make it
stop. Could take the machines under control, could make them do what he wanted.
Go on or stall. Just as he'd done with the flyer, a while ago. Only with more
ease and more certainty.
Surely, he had no intention to stop anything. In fact, the only target he
applied his power to was the device inside Tsianni; removing it was as easy as
snapping a buckle on a belt...
Hellar smiled again thinking about it. Last night he'd been in control, both
over the engines and over the kid. And now...
Tarkh's struggling body under him felt hot even through their clothes. The
man's eyes, furious, glittering, stared at Hellar unblinkingly. Hellar shook
his head, letting his hair fall over Tarkh's face - and saw a shade of torment
and passion flitting in Tarkh's gaze. He reached his hand and pulled Tarkh's facecloth
"Why do you want to hit me? Wouldn't you rather kiss me?"
He felt a soft, painful jolt inside his chest as he saw Tarkh's eyes change,
as if trying to escape Hellar's gaze as he looked at the man's mutilated face.
But whether Tarkh wanted it or not, Hellar was not intended to let him go.
He sank down and put his lips on Tarkh's mouth.
For a moment, before his lips touched Tarkh's, he saw Tsianni's face in
front of himself, as he'd seen it yesterday - its clean-cut features, lit with
the orange light of the torches. A pale, flushed face, with eyes bright with
tears and arousal. I only used you, little slut, he thought. And a
moment later he already didn't think about Tsianni, plunging his tongue into
A minute or two later, as they paused, Hellar felt a cocky grin on his face.
He wasn't sure it was a good idea, to look so happy, but he couldn't help it.
"Get off of me." There was no conviction in Tarkh's voice at all.
"Come on, Hellar, behave your age."
"You mean I do something that can be qualified as childish?" His
hand slid between the folds of Tarkh's clothes, brushing against the smooth
"Stop it... You're not going to... right here, where everybody can see
"No one's around," Hellar whispered even without checking.
"And who cares, anyway?"
He felt Tarkh tremble but he was sure it was not of the cold that must've
been seeping into the man's body from the ground. He dug his hands through
Tarkh's clothes - and under the rags the man's body was ablaze, the greatest
heat in his groin, the length of Tarkh's cock almost burning against Hellar's cool
He ran his palms along Tarkh's shaft, knowing that the roughness of his skin
was scratching, knowing that it was exactly what made Tarkh arch and growl
through clenched teeth. Hellar smiled before wrapping his mouth around Tarkh's
cock and felt a convulsive movement of Tarkh's hand tightening in his hair.
He knew, even a while ago, this gesture would send a pang of panic through
him, momentary but undeniable. The Hebners had liked to use his hair as they
guided his mouth on their cocks, he still remembered that. But now it seemed to
be the past. Last night, Hellar's new ability - it made him feel powerful, made
him feel in control in more ways than one.
He still could feel the taste of Tsianni's skin on his tongue, salt and
slight bitterness of perfumed oil, as he slid his mouth down Tarkh's cock. He
heard Tarkh take a sharp inhale - and as he continued his movements, Tarkh's
breath became panting. Hellar tried for more, flickering his tongue, causing a
groan reverberate in Tarkh's throat. Tarkh's hands were feverish in his hair,
tugging, then patting almost gently, then clenching again, in the rhythm that
Hellar set with his mouth.
He heard the words between Tarkh's gasps, couldn't figure them out at first
- and then, realizing them, smiled contentedly.
"Beautiful, beautiful one..." Tarkh's whisper was so soft, almost
inaudible as he let Hellar's hair spill through his hand.
Tarkh's cock pushed into his mouth urgently, making him lose his smile - and
Hellar let it in, as far and as fast as he could. He knew he did all right as
he heard one more, almost suffering moan Tarkh made - and then his mouth filled
with Tarkh's come.
Hellar rolled it on his tongue, looking up at Tarkh's face, still slack with
passion, the man's dark eyes slitted, and stretched along Tarkh's body,
bringing his lips to Tarkh's.
"Wasn't it a better way to spend time, hmm?"
Tarkh's voice was hoarse, a little muffled:
"And what about you?"
He didn't want to lose this moment; he couldn't quite explain it but it felt
as if letting Tarkh go down on him or bring him off in some other way would
mean losing a part of the wonderful, utter control that he felt now. Hellar
felt like he hadn't felt since the moment the chip had been removed from his
Rising on his elbow, looking down at Tarkh's face, Hellar saw a strange
mixture of emotions in the man's eyes - anger, and satisfied passion, and some
kind of pain down there. And he was so carried away that this time Tarkh's fist
came unexpectedly, wiping away Hellar's smile.
"What was that for?" The blow wasn't full force, not even making
him bleed. More a statement. Hellar sat up, touching his mouth and watching
Tarkh get on his feet.
"Spare your skills to impress the Rahuni bitch."
"Rauni bitch..." Not the kid... again. "The little brat is
nothing, Tarkh. Forget him."
He felt Tarkh look at him as the man readjusted the cloth over his face - a
searching stare, as if checking for something. Hellar wasn't sure if he truly
could see it, something surrender in unyielding blackness of Tarkh's eyes. And
if he was glad to see it.
"Get up. Let's go." The last notes of languidness were gone from
Tarkh's voice as he brushed his clothes and started without looking back at
Hellar came alongside with him in a few steps and still it almost looked
like Tarkh was running away from him.
"You are going on the raid with me."
Hellar nearly stopped, a smirk on his face brief but completely delighted.
Goddess, could it get any better?
"You changed your mind, didn't you?" Somehow he knew he shouldn't
have pried but he just couldn't resist. "It's because I fought the Kori,
right? Because I'm so good?"
He practically bumped into Tarkh as the man stopped and turned towards him,
his eyes all but burning Hellar to ashes.
"It's because you're a cretin! A damned self-complacent
Praetorian!" Tarkh turned away as abruptly and walked again.
"And Rhys?" Now there was no more smugness in Hellar's voice.
"Did he permit you... to take me on the raid?"
"I don't have to coordinate it with Rhys - whom I take on my
missions," Tarkh muttered without looking back.
Hellar bit his lip, his all-too-happy mood suddenly shadowed. It was not
fear, not the hint of threat that he at last managed to figured out in Tarkh's
words. He'd fallen out of grace with Rhys so badly that now it was dangerous to
leave him alone in the camp...
But Tarkh was going to risk his standing to protect him. It was what made
him feel both uncomfortable and strangely warm.
* * *
There were five people, apart from him and Tarkh, preparing for the raid -
and the flyer they were taking was a small one, not the behemoth that the
bandits had used when picking up him and Tsianni. Hellar wondered briefly about
the essence of their mission - but knew better than to ask.
The men met him silently; whether they minded him joining them or not, Tarkh
obviously had enough authority not to have his orders argued.
"Take this." Right before they climbed on the flyer, Tarkh put
something into his hand - and Hellar recognized a smooth handle of a dagger. He
couldn't help feeling a flare of delight in his chest. It was the first time he
got hold on a weapon in the camp. So, Tarkh trusted him enough to give him
that... and Tarkh trusted him enough to let him out of the camp.
A mistake. Only as the flyer rose in the air, Hellar let himself
think it. It'd been a much better judgement on Tarkh's part when he'd kept
Hellar in the camp, under Alora's eyes. Because nothing had changed in those
weeks - nothing changed for him. Hellar still was prepared to escape - as soon
as there was a chance.
And there was a chance. Hellar tried this thought carefully and felt a small
shiver run along his spine. He could escape. Right now.
From where he stood, Hellar saw the man at the steering panel of the flyer.
He closed his eyes, letting the connection establish, between something in his
mind and the engine of the machine. Taking over the control.
It was so easy! A small pang of pain pierced his temples - and then the
flyer sank in the air, going down uncontrollably. Uncontrollably - for others.
Hellar knew it was him who was doing it.
He heard others yell - immediate panic in their voices. There was this
sweet, dangerous feeling in the pit of his stomach, caused by the falling - but
the sand-cloth that covered his face hid his smile. He could make the flyer do
whatever he wanted. Fall; or not fall; or fly whatever direction he wanted. As
soon as he wanted.
He let go the link with the engine - and let the operator resume the
control. Not yet. Not this time. He'd do it on the next raid. It was
just stupid to do it now, to go like this, unprepared and without a plan. He
could afford waiting a little, now when he had the trump cards.
Hellar listened to the men yell at each other for their imaginary faults -
and turned towards the wind, feeling the strands of his hair brushed away from
his face. His eyes stung with sand slightly but it felt good.
Next time. He'd do it. He'd just give himself a bit of time.
"Fuck." Tarkh's voice behind him was tense and unhappy. "I
wonder what was up. Those flyers are acting weirdly recently, you know... I
guess Rhys needs to buy the new ones if he wants to hold up."
Tarkh's closeness and voice affected him suddenly more than Hellar wanted to
accept, bringing an unexpected sadness that made it difficult for him to
Next time. Next time nothing was going to stop him from escape. He was going
to be free - and if there was no place for Tarkh in this freedom, so let it be.
* * *
They kept moving for a little more than an hour, Tarkh giving short, quiet
directions from time to time. The landscape under them looked the same dull and
uneventful as before when Tarkh ordered to go down. And only when they were
already on the ground, Hellar saw their destination.
Three figures standing in the hollow between the dunes. Standing and
waiting. Not the intended victims of the raid at all.
Tarkh jumped on the ground, with others following him closely, and stopped,
looking at the men from under his palm. Hellar's eyes already felt teary with
irritation but even like that he recognized one of the men... Fierce beauty,
proud silhouette, long smoldering eyes and clean-shaven scull - how wouldn't
Hellar recognize it, even if the guy in question seemed to be the least likely
person there? Amanar...
Tsianni's cousin stood between two of his men and Hellar caught a sign Tarkh
"Devon. Hellar. Follow me."
Sand crunched under their feet as they approached in silence. Amanar's face
stayed impenetrable - and beamed in a radiant smile only when they were in a
few steps away.
"At last. You've made me wait, Tarkh."
"Those in a hurry die first."
Amanar... Interesting. Hellar recalled the clashing of swords between those
two, on his first night in the camp, the open hatred in their eyes. Well, they
didn't look like they were going to get onto each other's throats in a moment
Or... Perhaps he was wrong. The hatred was still there, just barely veiled.
Just put away handily until they could afford to get back to it.
"You're right, brother, I'm not in a hurry to die. In fact, I think
there's someone else who'd better be dead now. You know whom I mean."
"I know." Hellar could sense a smile in Tarkh's voice even without
seeing his face. "That's why I'm here."
"You hate the old goat as much as I do," Amanar nodded.
"Which means - Ka'hazaya's is a goner."
There was still contentment in Amanar's voice - as his heavy-lidded, too
black eyes slid over Tarkh's companions. And suddenly his eyes blazed up, his
stare clinging to Hellar's face.
He shouldn't have recognized him, not with the sand-cloth covering half of
his face, Hellar thought.
"Praetorian!" In a moment Amanar's hand was on the handle of the
sword, pulling it out. Hellar pressed the dagger to his palm, ready to throw
"Now stop, you!"
Tarkh seemed to make just a small movement but it somehow was enough to get
between them, separating them from each other. Hellar didn't know if Amanar
knew it but he could see Tarkh hold his own blade behind his back - even as his
voice continued to sound placid, pacifying. "I thought you came here for a
business, Amanar, not to get into fights."
"Why is he here?" Amanar's face stayed feral and frozen.
"He's one of my men now. You can trust me as much as you trust
"Trust you? It's not even funny. I trust neither you nor your bitch or
whoever he is for you."
It was said in a very deliberate manner, in a manner that urged Hellar to
act - so, he did, making a step forward. A fierce motion of Tarkh's palm
"Leave him alone, brother."
"Oh Tarkh..." Amanar laughed, his beautiful neck bared as he threw
his head back - but he put the sword away. "You never learn, do you? You
always let your whores take more than just a place in your bed, don't you? Like
you don't know where it brings them eventually."
Hellar saw Tarkh's palm slide along the blade, dangerously close from
cutting the skin - but eventually he kept control.
"Why do you hate him so much, Amanar? If anything, you should be
grateful to him - since he delivered you from one very inconvenient heir of
"Right you are!" Amanar shook his head, the change of topic
obviously pleasing him. "The little Tsianni is gone. Now it's time to
finish the business."
"I have my orders from Rhys to fully cooperate with you." Tarkh
lowered his head.
"Especially since it goes along with your own wishes?" Amanar's
laughter halted as abruptly as it started. He pointed with his chin at Devon's
boots. "Like it that case with Khaled's squadron."
"They hindered you - and I hated them. So, we got rid of them. We both
are criminals against our people, Amanar. Only I paid for it - and you..."
"I'm going to run the tribe in the nearest future," Amanar
"Did Ka'hazaya nominate you as his heir already?"
"It's not like there's much choice," Amanar said smugly.
"With his poor little Tsianni dead and gone, who else can he choose?"
A note of insistence broke through in Amanar's voice suddenly. "Come on,
brother, you'll do it for me. I have everything planned. In two days
Ka'hazaya's going to on a diplomatic visit. The fool wants to make a pact with
them against the bandits - and my people will accompany him, as usual. You send
a small group to attack - and we stay to fight, sending Ka'hazaya forward. Then
you strike. When we come to the rescue, it'll be too late. I don't care how
many others die - but Ka'hazaya must be the first you finish off."
"I'll do it."
"I know you will." An almost delirious smile appeared on Amanar's
lips. "And you'll enjoy doing it. The old bastard has a few scores to pay,
doesn't he? He judged you twice and both times found guilty, nah, brother? Only
the first time they just whipped you half to death and made you watch how your
whole family enjoyed Lea's body in front of you. And the next time you said
farewell to your nose."
"I remember this, Amanar. I remember everything."
Hellar wondered if Amanar could hear it as clearly as he could, the notes of
hatred sounding in the quietness of Tarkh's voice. Perhaps Amanar could - and
"I also remember how you promised to take care of Lea, Amanar. How
happened that she died, my blood brother?"
"Like many women die. In a childbirth." A challenge in Amanar's
voice was practically undisguised. "Perhaps she just didn't want to live.
Giving a birth to a child when she didn't even know its father..."
"Perhaps someone helped her to die," Tarkh said flatly. "Or
didn't help her when she needed it."
"You imply something?"
"Imply? I don't imply anything, brother. Watch your back when you come
to the 'rescue' of your uncle - because I'm going to try to kill you."
"Same to you, Tarkh." A sneer was gone from Amanar's voice, just
deadly cold stayed. "I'll try to spare your bitch's life, though - so that
our people could have fun with him."
"In two days." Tarkh concluded and turned away without another
Following him, Hellar could feel Amanar's stare that didn't leave them even
for a moment. As the flyer rose, they looked down at three figures that walked
across the sand towards the big dune where the rest of Amanar's squadron
waited. Tarkh's laughter behind him was like a snap, making Hellar move
"He thinks he can beat me, my brother. Only he's in for a big
surprise... One big surprise."
Hellar didn't care and was not going to ask - and yet it came off almost by
"You're not going to kill Tsianni's father?"
Tarkh's eyes stopped on his face, completely black and suddenly very
serious, no amusement in them any more.
"Of course, I'm going to kill him."
The End of Part 8a
Written by Juxian Tang
His right side was freezing cold;
but the left part of his body seemed to be cozily warm. Tsianni wiggled a
little, unwilling to wake up, snuggling closer to the source of heat, burying
himself deeper into the soft rags. The cloth had a familiar smell - strong,
musky and strangely titillating - and almost despite himself Tsianni took a
starker breath, reaching his hand unconsciously to try to grab something that
smelled so nicely.
There was nothing but a quilt,
crumpled and still warm - even though Tsianni knew there had to be... someone.
His eyes flew open. Hellar was
Almost surreptitiously Tsianni
scrambled away from the place on the bedding that still held the indentation
from the Praetorian's body. Gods... what was he about to do? Oh yes; exactly.
Tried to cuddle - and against the Praetorian, no less.
Tsianni was lucky the man was
gone; so, he had to do only with his own shame, not with Hellar's mockery.
He fell back on the bedding,
groaning through the clenched teeth, feeling how blood pulsed in his flushed
cheeks. Well, his face was definitely not the only thing about him that pulsed
with blood, though, but Tsianni decided to pretend it was not happening. He was
not going to think about his erection - and then it would go away. He was not
going to think about the Praetorian. No reason to let vain regrets eat him up.
But the damage had already been
done. Tsianni felt well-fucked. And he liked this feeling.
Nibbling his lower lip, Tsianni
realized that he had to keep his hands pinned down under him to prevent himself
from smoothing his palms over his body, in a phantom memory of last night
touches. The Praetorian's hands were rougher - and unmercifully skilled -
pulling Tsianni closer, capturing his hips, holding him... and it was what
Tsianni had wanted himself: closer, harder, faster... more... wanted to suck
this man into his body and stay linked with him... forever.
Gah; he felt sick. He was going
mad, wasn't he? It was Hellar he was talking about. Hellar; stupid loser...
Well, if the Praetorian was a
whore, what did it make Tsianni?
He flopped onto his belly,
burying his nose in the crooks of the elbows, not wanting to see even the
little light that seeped into the tent through the slits in the walls. Light...
morning. The Praetorian had left him in his sleep.
And left him in someone else's
tent, by the way. Suddenly Tsianni became aware of this additional source of
irritation. The tent was too spacey and well-furnished to belong to the
Praetorian. Tarkh's tent, wasn't it?
Face it, he told himself with a thin smile
. The man fucked you in the tent of his lover.
Somehow it made things all the
And what now? Did Hellar leave
him for Tarkh to have his fun as well? I'd
better die, Tsianni thought in a fit of self-hatred.
No, I'd better kill him.
He was not sure if 'him' was
Tarkh or Hellar.
He couldn't stay still any more,
too much in anxiety - crawled very quietly to the tent flap. It was a silly
thing to do; with Tsianni's usual luck someone could choose right this moment
to come in and stumble over him, on his fours and butt-naked - but... well.
He reached for the flap - and his
hand froze in mid-air.
"Why do you want to hit me?
Wouldn't you rather kiss me?"
The voice, low, almost purring -
unmistakable - sounded so clearly in the transparent air, in the complete
silence of the camp. A shiver went through Tsianni's body as he thought for a
moment it could be him Hellar talked to, somehow knowing Tsianni was right
there, behind the thin wall of the tent.
A pause; there were small noises
like a fight but not really a fight. And then Tarkh's voice, angry and hoarse,
sounded somehow retrained.
"Get off of me. Come on,
Hellar, behave your age."
Oh. It felt like a gut punch.
Blood rushed into Tsianni's temples with deafening wave. If he already was not
on his fours, he would probably reel; as it was, he just shuddered a little. He
missed Hellar's answer - the noise of his pulse was so hard and loud. Just
before a growl fell from his lips, Tsianni managed to catch it. Not good - he
didn't want them to hear him.
Only they were too busy to
His body seemed to be pulled into
two different directions; one was to scramble back into the depth of the tent,
farther from the offending sounds - to bury himself into the pile of quilts,
cover his ears with his hands. But a part of him wanted to stay - certainly a
very perverted part - wanted to raise the flap just enough for him to see...
Gods... If he wanted, he could
see; everyone could. They were going to have sex outside, in the plain view of everybody!
Was there a limit to the Praetorian's depravity?
"No one's around..."
Hellar's whisper was so soft - Tsianni didn't know how he managed to hear it.
So soft - like silk touching his skin, raising the little hairs on his arms.
The first impulse won; Tsianni
crawled away and hid. Only he could not stop listening all the same. He didn't
miss a word - a sound.
The Praetorian was going down on
Tarkh. After the night he'd had with Tsianni - like it was not enough for him -
he was plastering himself all over the traitor - and Tarkh's ugly face didn't
matter for him at all...
This thought made something
freeze inside Tsianni. It didn't matter for Hellar that Tarkh was mutilated,
did it? He recalled how the Praetorian's face had fallen yesterday, when
Tsianni said to him something indicating that Tarkh could be fucking around.
What if it was not because Hellar was worried about his position?
What if he...
But it was not possible, right?
Even if Hellar didn't care what Tarkh had done to his own family - how could
the Praetorian want someone who looked like that? He, Tsianni, was much better
looking, wasn't it? Among his mother's people he had been considered beautiful;
among Rahuni, due to their own dark looks, he was exotic but still caught
enough appreciative eyes. Even Rhys found him desirable... and others...
How dared Hellar prefer Tarkh to
Anger didn't let him think
straight - made white and red stains flash in front of his eyes, made him gnaw
into his lip until he tasted blood - just to prevent himself from screaming
aloud. He hated the Praetorian! He hated Tarkh! He hated his own fuckin'
"Rauni bitch... The little
brat is nothing, Tarkh. Forget him."
Why didn't his anger prevent him
from hearing *this*?
I'll kill him, Tsianni thought again. Definitely; as soon as he
gets back to the tent.
But Hellar didn't ever get back -
and neither did Tarkh. Tsianni was vaguely aware of their conversation,
something about Tarkh falling out of grace and Hellar being in danger - and he
felt a small pang of malicious joy hearing it. But it was truly not enough in
comparison with the flare of pain that blazed in his chest.
"Wakey, wakey, little slut.
Someone likes to sleep too much, I see..."
He should've tried to get out of
the tent while he could. Get out and run. Arms covering his eyes, blocking the
light, Tsianni let miserable thoughts float through his mind. He could've done
it. Tarkh's tent was on the edge of the camp, Tsianni could've gotten out
unnoticed. And who cared that he had no fuckin' idea where to go and most
likely wouldn't last a day in the desert, barefoot and without any supplies? He
felt mad enough to run amok; why hadn't he?
But now it was too late - and who
else but Pig was sticking his head into the tent, his mocking greasy voice
clinging to Tsianni's skin like a layer of oil.
"A difficult night, wasn't
it? Have you made it up for the Praetorian? He certainly looked satisfied when
I've seen him this morning. Did he and his lover use you from both ends?"
Pig was inside now, towering over
Tsianni. He didn't want to pull the arms away from his face, like it could make
Pig go away. Empty expectations.
"What? Playing deaf on
Now, there was only one person
Tsianni hated more than Hellar... and it was Tsianni himself.
A toe-cap of the boot
unceremoniously pushed him under the ribs. And suddenly it felt like something
snapped in him. Tsianni whirled up, scrambled onto his knees, snarling:
"Don't you dare touch
"Or what? Or you'll throw
your lipstick at me? I've touched you already, pretty girl - and I'll be dead
if I don't touch you again."
The man was like a pile of flesh
above him - a sweaty, huffing, disgusting mountain of flesh. With a dizzy
feeling Tsianni remembered the filthy taste on his tongue as Pig's cock was
tearing the corners of his mouth, slamming deeper into his throat. His stomach
lurched almost to the point of vomiting - but somehow he managed to do without
The boot kicked him again -
well-aimed at the thigh; Tsianni clenched his teeth refusing to make a sound.
Pig's small eyes measured him with an appraising look.
"You certainly look
well-worked, little bitch," he drawled. "This puffy mouth, smudged
mascara... and the smell... the traces... let me see."
The hands were on Tsianni's hips,
jerking them apart - and for a moment Tsianni allowed it. He heard Pig
He didn't wait to find out what
looked so interesting for Pig - Tsianni's gaping ass-hole or the streaks of
Hellar's dried sperm on his thighs. Anger flared in him, switching off the
reason, driving him to insanity.
He wrenched out of Pig's grip,
kicked with both feet into the prominent belly. The muscles under the layer of
fat were surprisingly taut; and he was barefoot. Yet Pig staggered a little -
enough for Tsianni to get on his feet.
There was some trinket on a
rather sturdy chain hanging from Pig's neck - and Tsianni grabbed it, twisting
it around his hand until the chain bit into his palm and into the man's neck.
Something like that a Praetorian
could have done, he thought distantly. A brief flash of memory came to him - of
Hellar, half-naked, wrestling out other contestants. Then Tsianni saw nothing
but Pig's eyes going very big in surprise. The man's hands flew up
It was easy, Tsianni thought
feeling very light-headed. Killing... was easy. Now his reputation of a
ruthless killer would be well-earned. And now Rhys wouldn't limit himself to
such non-damaging punishments as before...
He didn't care. He reached for
Pig's waist, finding the handle of a dagger - and he already could imagine how
the steel slid into the fat body, how the man gaped in apparent shock as his
intestines fell out of the gash. Very possibly, Pig imagined it as well.
Tsianni saw his reflection in Pig's dark, frightened eyes - and his own pale
face seemed to Tsianni menacing and strange.
Was it what the Praetorian saw
countless times in the eyes of people dying from his hand?
Tsianni thought he could just
learn to like it.
And then... things happened very
quickly. First the chain gave in under his grip, the links unclasping, falling
apart - and his feet gave in under him as well since he was holding on Pig by
this chain. But there was a cool hand that caught him, preventing from falling
- as the other hand wrenched the dagger from him.
Preston... Tsianni didn't even
notice when the man entered the tent... seeing death with his own face in Pig's
eyes was much too fascinating.
The contact was short - next
moment Preston threw him on the floor, pushed to the corner of the tent.
"I thought I'd find you
fucking him bloody, Marvo, when you took so long. But I never thought I'd find
you getting yourself killed."
The voice was almost kind - but
somehow Tsianni knew there was contempt masked under it. Apparently it got
through Pig's thick skin as well. Rubbing his neck crossed with a faint red
welt, he looked down at Tsianni - and now it was Pig's eyes that flashed
"Fuckin'..." his voice
was coarse. "Fuckin' shitty bitch..."
Preston's bearing grew a bit more
rigid as he looked down at Pig in a no-nonsense way.
"I suppose Tarkh is going to
be tremendously happy if you thrash his tent while he is away. He will be
totally understanding, after hearing all the story."
Tsianni would almost feel triumph
at seeing Pig back away slightly. Yet the memory of the chain cutting his
fingers was still too stark, the wish to kill still singeing his nerves. He
didn't know if he felt sorry for being unable to complete it.
"Let's move to a more
appropriate place," Preston said. "Not you, Marvo, you are free to
go. You failed one single task I've chosen to charge you with - so, for now you
can consider yourself dismissed."
Tsianni could hear a small growl
in the man's throat as Pig turned and left, shooting two dire glances at
Preston and at Tsianni. Tsianni shook his head, swallowed - and looked up at
the man who stayed.
Preston's pose, so casual, with
his arms crossed on his chest, suddenly reminded Tsianni about the first time
he'd seen the man. He'd taken Preston for Hellar then for one moment. Preston's
stance was more refined, of course, his expression more of boredom than of
predatory wariness. Yet for a second Tsianni felt a pang of pain shooting
Stupid... Don't think about the
Praetorian; don't you dare to. Think what can happen to you for your attempt to
"Get up," Preston said
One more mutinous look didn't
impress Preston. He didn't repeat his order, just waited. Tsianni got up.
Ooh fine; this look again. Not
like it was totally unexpected, taking into account how little clothes he had
on - namely, a few bracelets, a necklace and earrings. Tsianni felt a helpless
flush flood his cheeks; then a sudden terrifying thought came to his mind -
what if Preston made him go out like this as a punishment - with nothing on
apart from the clear signs of belonging to someone... and Pig was right - his
make-up was smudged, his lips red without lipstick.
remarked with his eyes slightly widening. "I thought I hadn't given him
the key to take out the grub."
Tsianni shuddered. Indeed... that
thing in his ass... it was gone. He hadn't even noticed Hellar taking it out -
he really was not up to thinking at that moment, after all. But now his spine
vibrated in relief of being free from the constant half-alive weight inside
And how the hell had the
Praetorian managed it?
He stuck his fingernails in the
palms deeply, in fear that Preston would make him accept that grub inside him
again. But the man just shrugged.
"Cover yourself. Let's
He should've felt a bit better
that he was permitted to dress; maybe, he even did feel better.
The sun was so bright it burned
the eyes. Or, maybe, burning was somewhere in his head, the chaos of emotions -
fear, humiliation and fervent hatred.
Everything was the Praetorian's
fault. From that miserable moment when Tsianni had seen him after the Hebners
massacre, bedraggled, battered, exhausted and with that hungry fire in hazel
eyes - everything was Hellar's fault. Tsianni should've never allowed him
closer... Should've never let it happen... should've never recalled how the
Praetorian looked last night, his face in fresh streaks of dark-red blood, a
strand of black hair falling from the braid, almost touching Tsianni's cheek.
Tsianni shivered, suppressing a
small moan. He wanted to see this face like that again; he wanted to slam his
fist into this face.
"I need to talk to you...
sir." They were near the entertainment tents now - and Preston still
hadn't said a word. The silence felt strange; from a distance Tsianni heard a
few catcalls from the bandits - about him, a whore ushered home after a night's
work - but for once Tsianni just ignored them.
He was not afraid of the
punishment; he was afraid Preston would let someone else carry out the
punishment. He was afraid he would lose any chance then.
The man's light eyes stopped on
Tsianni, slightly narrowed, studying him for long moments - not un-kindly, just
without interest. Tsianni felt his stomach twist again.
"What do you want?" the
man said almost thoughtfully.
What did he want? To play a game?
To learn from the fuckin' Praetorian how to survive?
"To talk," he repeated.
He didn't look away from Preston.
"Go take a wash," the
man said finally. "I'll see you in my tent."
Getting clean felt good; using
Preston's name for authority, Tsianni managed to shoo out other slaves from the
bathroom and get some privacy. Running a wet cold rag over his body, cleaning a
thin film of perfumed oil, he also told himself he was wiping the touches from
his skin, the marks, the memories Hellar had left. Tsianni told himself he
should've been exultant doing it.
Yet he just felt numb inside.
He dressed; well, donning his
usual outfit consisting of a loincloth could hardly qualify as dressing - but
it was clean at least. The ankle-bracelets clinked pitifully as he walked
towards Preston's place.
What was he going to do? Of all
things, the one he planned was probably the most crazy. But Tsianni didn't
The man reclined in his seat,
leaning against the comfortably propped pillows, a laptop on his lap; his hands
hovered over the keyboard, fingers moving ghost-like light and fast. There were
small rimless glasses perched on Preston's nose, Tsianni suddenly noticed. They
changed the man's face, made it somehow more distant... and even less fitting
for this camp and for Preston's position as Rhys' assistant.
Light grey eyes looked at Tsianni
- and for a moment he had a sinking feeling in his stomach. He took a deep
breath, his nostrils flaring, made himself stay upright.
"Spit it out, boy. And you'd
better make it worth my while - because if you're going to beg me to take mercy
on you for the stunt you pulled with Marvo - I'm going to be
"I'm not going to beg."
"Well, then?" He
clearly waited - like Tsianni was wasting his time.
"I'm still a Rahuni prince,
"A Rahuni whore, you meant to
say? Haven't we already discussed it?"
He was not going to think about
the expression of those tired eyes behind the round glasses, about the way warm
air clung to his uncovered shoulders, about the earrings tugging on his
The words came out easier than
"Help me to resume my place.
And I'll put you to the highest position in the tribe. My father will pay you -
we Rahuni are not a poor tribe, we have enough money to reward your
He went on before Preston had
time to say anything:
"You can't possibly be happy
here, serving the filthy madman, gathering dead bodies, watching over whores.
It is not the place where you belong to... sir."
Yes; that was it. An outright
call for disobedience - for betraying Rhys. A suicide, most possible.
Preston did it again - moved
faster than Tsianni could notice - got up on his feet. A thin strong hand
grabbed Tsianni's chin, forcing his head up. The man was tall - and Tsianni
looked up at most men - so, he strove up to meet the glare, to see Preston's
thin lips move apart in a sneer.
"What's that, boy? Growing a
backbone all of a sudden? What happened?"
Just don't care enough to live any more. Just want out at any price.
Just a certain Praetorian telling
his lover that he, Tsianni, was nothing...
He didn't look away; blinked
slowly, holding Preston's gaze.
A memory washed through him, of
yesterday, of Preston so easily letting him become a prize in the contest,
letting him get killed should the Kori win. Only now this thought slammed on
Tsianni fully. If the Kori had won, he would've been dead now. Ripped so wide
open his guts would be spilling out of his ass... cousin Amanar would like it,
If not for Hellar... No, don't
think about it.
And Preston had not done a thing
to save him. Why did Tsianni think he would do anything now?
Maybe, he didn't think that;
maybe, he simply wanted to die.
"What do you know about me
to judge where I belong?" the man said unexpectedly. "You're just a
Tsianni started shaking -
vibrating in the grip of Preston's hand - and hated himself for that but
couldn't do anything. At least his voice didn't sound too weak.
"You're not happy
here," he said. "This place is not yours."
"And the place next to a
prince-turned-whore is mine?" Preston raised an eyebrow. Strange...
Tsianni would think the man should've sent him to the whipping post by now, not
keep talking to him. "Sorry, boy. I don't have taste for losers."
It hurt; almost as much as the
memory of Hellar's voice... whispering to him:
"Open up for me, don't be afraid, yes, like that..."
"I can go back."
Tsianni said it with such certainty that he almost made himself believe in it.
"I brought my men from my mother's land. They won't desert me - once they
know I'm alive. My father will execute Amanar, will cut off his nose, like
Tarkh's - and I..."
"You'll flash your brand for
everyone to prove you're a true Rahuni prince?" Preston asked mildly.
"Start a new fashion, maybe?"
The brand... right.
For a moment there was silence -
and then in the reflection in Preston's glasses Tsianni saw how a little smile
curved his own lips. He wrenched out of Preston's grip, made a step back,
squatted, reaching to the hearth.
"No one will see the
brand," he whispered. "It's just... a piece of skin."
He reached into the fire, ran his
fingers through the licking tongues of the flame and clasped his hand on a
glowing ember. He didn't let himself think how much it would hurt - because
otherwise he wouldn't be able to do it. Pushing the loincloth away with his
other hand, he pressed the burning wood to his thigh.
It hurt worse than the moment
when the brand had been put there; it hurt incredibly. His hip - and his hand -
it seemed the pain rose from there right up to his heart. Breath was caught in
his throat. The pain was so immense that the only way not to let out a scream
was not to breathe. Tsianni kept silent - and let it burn.
It took a few moments for Preston
to realize what he was doing - and then a moment more to get to Tsianni, grab
his wrist. Tsianni resisted until Preston managed to knock the ember out of his
hand, then slapped him hard enough to send him falling on the floor. But the
truth was Tsianni couldn't stand firmly on his feet anyway.
Curiously, the slap cleared his
hazed vision somehow. He looked up from the floor at Preston's distorted face,
the man's chest rising in hard panting. There were lines of anger marring his
"You stupid... stupid... little
"Is Rhys going to punish you
for letting me do it?" Until then, Tsianni hadn't thought about it - but now
it flashed through him like a lightning. "He's going to be displeased with
you - you didn't manage to watch over his property. He doesn't trust you that
much as it is, right - with Pig sneaking all around and all? Why? Are you too
clean for Rhys? Are you too clever? Are you..." he wanted to say 'in love
with him' but somehow couldn't manage these words.
Pain made him delirious - his
left hip in agony, burning excruciatingly, and his hand feeling swollen and
alien to him. Tsianni didn't want to look at what he'd done to himself - he
looked at Preston instead.
There was a strangest expression
in the man's eyes; it seemed even anger was drained out of him. He looked down
at Tsianni, biting his lip slightly. And his voice as he talked sounded rather
"Rhys probably is going to
punish me for not preventing you to damage yourself. But are you aware, my boy,
how he is going... to punish you?"
Then I'll finally be dead, Tsianni thought.
"Well..." Preston said
with the same thoughtful expression. "Maybe, it will change nothing. He
already wrote you off yesterday, after all, intending you for the Kori. It's
just a matter of time before he decides to finish you off."
And the matter of means, too...
but Tsianni didn't want to dwell on it.
"All right," Preston
said almost compassionately. "No need to precipitate it, though. And your
wounds still needs to be taken care of."
His cool hand touched Tsianni's
shoulder, bidding him to get up - and Tsianni did try, ignoring the pain flare
up. He managed to get up on his knees - and then the world swirled around him -
and he slipped back on the floor in a heap.
He was drowning in quick sands.
The fathomless mass caught him - he didn't know how it happened - and he
must've struggled; it pressed around his chest, tight like a ring of steel,
impending his fluttering breath. He choked - tried to inhale - but all he could
manage were small shallow gasps, not nearly enough. The sand squashed him - so heavy that it was about to snap his
bones. Wrenching pain enveloped his hand - and below, in his hip, was another
center of agony, as if the sand was fire and it burned.
He wanted to breathe; he wanted
something more than this abominably hot air. A strand of hair clung to his sweaty
forehead but as he tried to push it away, he realized he couldn't reached to
it. His lips, swollen, parched, were opened - but he didn't know if he wanted a
gulp of water or...
Or someone's lips pressed to
his... warm, unexpectedly soft lips brushing slightly against his mouth in a
mocking yet strangely affectionate touch. He didn't know why; why at the moment
that seemed to be his last one this face came to haunt him - hard features and
soft lips, predatory yellowish eyes and long ink-drawn eyelashes.
He wanted to reach to this face,
find out if it was real - but he couldn't. His body gave in. And then the face
faded; unconsciousness stepped away.
Tsianni knew he lay flat on
something hard - and he knew he was not alone. Voices blurred over him, for a
moment unrecognizable. He decided he wouldn't look up, wouldn't let them know
he came round. What good could expect for him apart from punishment - and this
pleasure could wait.
Smells were next to come - sharp,
metallic blend of chemicals and herbs that reminded him the smell he sniffed on
Hellar's clothes last night. A strange humming sound of a small machine was
very close - and there was this pain in his hip again, rising suddenly to such
acuity that Tsianni nearly yelped
He managed not to - the pain
"Here, the tissues knotted a
Tsianni recognized the voice -
the old woman, a medic or who she was in Rhys' camp. The other voice belonged
to Preston, no doubt of that.
"Is it possible to restore
"No, I am afraid. He's burnt
it off pretty thoroughly."
For a moment Tsianni felt
throat-gripping relief at these words. He'd done it - he'd managed; cleaned
himself from the obscene mark.
"I guess you'll just have to
re-brand him," the woman snickered. Tsianni would have hated her if he
hadn't felt so tired.
"As if." Preston didn't
sound so happy with this suggestion as well. "And what about his
Now when his thigh bothered him
much less, all the pain seemed to concentrate in Tsianni's palm - fingers
feeling puffy, huge and throbbing - and so sore that he couldn't even think
about moving them.
Someone else's hands, indelicate,
"Is he left-handed?"
the woman asked.
"No... why? I didn't notice
if he was."
"Then he's simply a fool,"
she said. "Should've used the hand that he needs less."
Oh gods... gods... Breath caught
in his throat, Tsianni didn't know how he managed to stay silent and
motionless. He'd done it, hadn't he? The thing that scared him most of all.
He'd crippled himself. And not in a fight, not in a contest - but out of his
own sheer stupidity. He felt his eyelashes going wet but tears never broke down
onto his cheeks.
Well... Maybe, he wouldn't need
to live with it - lucky him - taking into account that soon Rhys would come to
deal with him...
The humming of a small machine
sounded again - and now pain laced the palm of his hand - for a long, long
time. Finally the device was switched off.
"Better," the woman
said smugly. "He'll likely be able to use it, in a while."
"You certainly pride yourself
on good work, don't you?" Preston said with a kind of mockery in his voice.
She didn't sound perturbed as she answered.
"Why not? I am good."
"You former Praetorians are
of terribly high opinion about yourselves, aren't you?"
Praetorians... so, she also was...
"At least I'm not the one
who got into a situation like this." For some reason Tsianni realized
quite distinctly that she meant him under the 'situation'. "What are you
going to do? Rhys will not be pleased with the state of his property."
Well, Preston always could lay
the blame for everything on Tsianni; and there was blame, by all means - enough
to sign his death warrant. At least he would go not as a slave then...
He wished suddenly Hellar knew
about it. But would the Praetorian even care?
"I don't know," Preston
said in an almost melancholic tone. "Maybe, I just won't tell him anything
so far. He seems to have lost his interest in the Rahuni."
"So he seems."
What was so annoying about this
woman, Tsianni thought. She made Preston's words sound like a flimsy hope. She
shared it with Hellar, he decided, this impossible arrogance. But anyway, why
did he care what Preston was going to do? He played to win - and lost; if he
was not going to get out of here, he might be better off dead.
All right; he didn't want to die
- he just wanted not to feel so miserable any more.
"Marvo won't say
anything," Preston mused. "He was stupid enough to nearly let the boy
kill him - so..."
"Kill him?" the old
woman's laughter was unpleasant - mean and harsh. "Something new about our
little desert queen, huh? He didn't look dangerous to me. I wonder what bit him."
"What? Maybe, who? He'd
spent the night with your Praetorian."
Assholes. Tsianni clenched his
fists to stay quiet; he wasn't sure he could keep from blushing but fortunately
they didn't look at him.
"He tried to talk me into
helping him to get out."
"Oh... wouldn't they
"And then he's gone and
done... this. After telling me my place was really not next to Rhys."
Had he really said that? Now
Tsianni couldn't remember clearly - was yes">
not sure any more what he'd done and why.
Silence stretched a little - and
then the obnoxious woman chuckled.
"He's smarter than he
"You know why I'm
The calmness of Preston's voice
was surprising. And with an icy feeling Tsianni wondered if his idea, of
Preston being in love with Rhys, was true. He didn't know why it disgusted him
so much - and at the same time scared him.
"Just like I know why you're
here," Preston added.
"Only our purposes are
different, little Intellic priest," the old hag croaked.
"Not a priest any
"Sure thing - since there is
no Intellic any more as well."
"Because you Praetorians
Her voice sounded as if she'd
been through this topic times and times before.
"The Legion hasn't destroyed
Intellic. Why would we? We benefited from it, like many, many others."
"Who then?" Bitterness
unexpectedly laced Preston's voice, making it somehow vulnerable.
"They say cyborgs did
It seemed the man mused on this
possibility for a while, then Tsianni heard a faint rustle of cloth, as if from
"I don't care."
"You don't care about anything
much at all," she said in a barbed tone. "As long as you're next to
"Neither do you." It
was not a harsh retort - just a statement of fact.
"That's what he does,
doesn't he?" At this moment the woman sounded mellow, almost dreamy, too.
"It's his power... his special ability - just like Intellic predicted. To consolidate
the energy of large groups of people... Tete-a-tete with him - it is difficult
to resist him. But en masse... it is impossible. He's ruling two hundred
bandits with ease now - and with much greater ease he will rule a country... or
a planet... or the world."
"Rule - or at least 'change
its face'. That's what Intellic said."
Wait... what was it all about? Tsianni's
head was spinning. He felt too exhausted to think clearly but still latched on
every word, knowing somehow that it was important. Did they talk about Rhys?
Rhys was... special? The thought sickened him, making his stomach revolt. And
then he recalled sandsails and the touch of Rhys' long cool fingers - and how
his body and mind, despite his efforts, seemed to melt into this closeness - to
plunge into the trap eagerly.
"By the way... Your little
Praetorian pet," suddenly Preston said with a snort. "He doesn't seem
to be affected with Rhys'... charms, does he?"
"Ninety nine comma five per
cent," the woman said flatly. "That's the number we counted - that's
the number of those who get under Rhys' influence - alone or in a group."
"So, he belongs to the
blessed half a per cent, right?"
"Blessed?" There was a
thin smile in the woman's voice. "Do you think the fate of those who won't
submit to 'The One' will be blessed? Hellar doesn't fare too well even now, you
know. Rhys doesn't know about his own ability yet - or not in so many words -
but he feels resistance. He doesn't like it. My little pet, as you put it, is
as dead as yours."
Tsianni told himself he should've
been seething inwardly at someone putting his fate next to Hellar's. But the
truth was he also felt fear. Stupid Praetorian, so smug... didn't even know how
close he was to death.
On the other hand, why did Tsianni
care? The Praetorian certainly wouldn't care shit for him - didn't care shit.
And Hellar had faced death so
many times - it probably lost its novelty for him. Maybe, he'd get away again.
"I wonder sometimes,"
Preston said almost softly, "what the world is going to be when Rhys
realizes his ability. Isn't it disastrous that this role belongs to..."
"Someone so unsavory?"
The woman grinned. "Intellic said about it, too. That it will be 'not a
"There is something," Preston
added quietly, "that indicates that 'The One' won't even be a human.
'Created', is said, 'not born.'"
"Oh right. 'And those who
created him will come to claim their creation.' Interesting, isn't it?
Especially taking into account that no one still knows where Rhys has come
"I wish Intellic could've
been a bit clearer," Preston said rather sadly.
"What do I hear?" she
laughed. "The priest doubts his superior being? Even if the superior being
"It was just a
computer," Preston said blandly.
"Yes. But it still said
enough for us to calculate it through. Soon Rhys will come to force completely."
"And what then?"
"You know what."
There was some special meaning in
the tones of Preston and the woman - but Tsianni couldn't interpret it. And
weakness washed over him again. The voices continued sounding, blurring
together, distorting - but Tsianni's mind seemed to be too tired to decipher
the phrases any more. The words he still could catch - 'Intellic', 'The One',
'the prediction', 'change' but they were losing their grip on him. He started
slipping back to oblivion.
And then something happened. He
couldn't even say what exactly it was: a slight draft of air, a sound of steps,
of the tent flap pulled away. But he felt as if a huge hand took him and shook
him up violently, robbing him of the shreds of hopeful unconsciousness. He was
as awake as ever. And as his eyes finally cracked open, he saw the third man
entering the tent in his habitual slightly swaggering walk, his ragged clothes
dusted with sand and strands of black hair falling from the braid onto his face.
Hellar stopped in the center of
the tent, looking around with the manic glint in his yellowish eyes, and grinned,
turning to the woman:
"Anyone missed me
Tsianni closed his eyes and
The End of Part 8b
Written by Juxian Tang
"Smart ass," Alora
muttered through the clenched teeth. Hellar snorted. He almost felt like
playing along - casting a demonstrative glance at his backside and saying: 'Is
it?' - but decided it would be pushing too far. Besides there was that gloomy
major-domo of Rhys, Preston or whatever his name was. Hellar shrugged, trying
to put a rein on his disgusting cheerfulness.
Well, maybe, it wasn't
cheerfulness what he felt - but rather something like fever-high. He thought
for the millionth time how he missed the chip that allowed him almost full
control over his emotions. But anyway - now he had to learn to control it by
The air in the tent seemed
tingling with recent use of healing machines; and the smell - Hellar realized
all of a sudden - was slightly sickening, salty smell of patched burns.
Then he heard a groan, recognized
the voice - and knew what he'd see. Perhaps he was already aware about the
presence of the third person in the tent from the moment he'd entered. Like
something faintly bothering... like the lightest touch of fingertips against
his spine. He just didn't want to look.
Oh, don't be ridiculous.
A flash of anger was short and
directed against himself - and then Hellar turned and looked intently at the
figure curled on the thin bedding.
Really - what else could he
expect from the damned kid? Who else could be stupid enough to mess himself up
within several hours that passed since Hellar had left him in Tarkh's tent?
The boy's face was very pale -
even his lips, normally pink, seemed to be of the same ashy color. The eyes
under dark thick eyelashes were shut tightly. There was some bitterness in
Tsianni's expression - maybe, a result of lingering pain - and he looked older
- he looked worn out at this moment.
"Hmm... that's something
new." Hellar's voice didn't change - sounded as light and unconcerned as a
moment before - and he congratulated himself on it. "I don't remember
leaving my prize in such a condition."
"If you left him in such a
condition, Rhys would have your sorry hide nailed to the wall," Alora said
Now as he'd taken a look at
Tsianni, he couldn't look away. The nearly naked body was covered only with a
thin sheet caught between the boy's thighs. And then the sight of pink, half-healed
flesh that was Tsianni's right hand struck him.
Oh. The impossibly crude
machinery used by Alora couldn't do anything better. It was just the boy's bad
luck - as always.
What did you get yourself into,
you stupid thing? A fit of rage was so sudden that it took Hellar a few seconds
to remind himself there was no reason why he would care.
Behind him, he heard the man -
Preston - move slightly, changing his position. The voice that came was quiet
but rather insistent.
"What I wonder about is how
you managed to get the grub out of him. I don't remember giving you the
Ah. The grub. The icky thing
inside the kid. It was giving Hellar headache when he was near to Tsianni -
until Hellar realized the boy had something shoved up his ass that was half-alive
half-a-machine. A weird creature... he'd never seen anything like this before.
It wasn't a problem, given his
new abilities, to order this thing to get out. It slid from Tsianni's anus and
trailed over the boy's thigh - and then, when touching the ground, it just
seemed to dissolve in a pool.
Right... he should've known
better. One doesn't stuff something like that in the slave's ass to be removed
"He took out the grub
without a key?" Alora's voice was pretty amused. "How did he do
"That's what I would like to
Shit. Hellar really wanted to
turn and glare at the man - see who'd look away first. But he knew it probably
was a bad idea. Instead of it he tried hard to sound unimpressed.
"Is it a big deal?"
"It's a matter of safety for
our whores. I don't think it'll please Rhys if anyone could just use
This Preston man was giving him
headache, too. Unfortunately, Hellar couldn't just switch him off.
"Ah that..." He
grimaced. "Don't worry. The thing was dying... I don't know... it just
slipped out. Maybe, all that vibration from explosions or something..."
A look from Alora was strange;
well, she knew him better to wonder about his sudden patience. But at least she
"Or, maybe, the kid's ass
seemed too tight for it," he smirked. Being nasty actually felt good.
A small sound made him look.
Tsianni's eyes were open, very dark, staring at him.
Hellar remembered suddenly how
he'd seen this face for the first time, when the blindfold was taken off his
eyes: half-childish features schooled in complete, haughty absence of emotions,
many braids falling like thin snakes over deliberately straight shoulders. Yet
Tsianni's eyes were alive then - full of greedy interest as he looked at
approaching Hellar - like a kid hoping for a new fairy tale. Now those eyes
were dull - except for the low burning of hatred in them.
If I had any choice, Hellar thought in a surge of honesty,
Well, Hellar wouldn't be here to
see that. By that time he would be out of the camp, luckily approaching Shegra.
Maybe, that's why now he was close to feeling guilty for what he'd done. Not
that he was going to say it aloud.
He knew Alora was saying
something, forced himself to listen.
"What are you doing here,
anyway? You aren't my assistant any more."
"Just wanted to make sure
you know that," he smirked.
"How nice of you... ditching
me as soon as something better turned up... I hope you'll break your neck, on
He could live without her
berating him like that - so, he turned to Tsianni again, meeting the
pain-darkened, loathing eyes. It was a challenge - and Hellar accepted it.
What's wrong, boy? Last night you looked at me differently.
He almost could swear Tsianni
read it correctly in Hellar's gaze. The line of the boy's compressed lips broke,
parting - and then hatred - resentment? - became even more fervent.
Last night you were pretty willing to move your legs apart for me.
Melting - as if Hellar's touch
was a blessing - as if there had never been any bad blood between them - as if
nothing in the world mattered but a joining of their bodies. He licked his lips
absent-mindedly, recalling the taste of blood and strange sweetness coming from
It was not that it was the most
intense sex in Hellar's life; but, maybe, no one before had given himself to
him with such self-abandonment.
Get a grip, he ordered himself. Don't
think about it.
He could change nothing in the
boy's life. The boy would become an orphan soon. There was something sad in
this thought. Hellar hadn't known his own parents, being 'born for the service',
specially to be taken into training since the earliest childhood - so, he
couldn't understand filial love.
But being alone - that he
He grinned, shrugged and
deliberately slowly turned to Alora. She was looking at him with disdain.
"I just wanted..." he
said easily, looking only at her, not at Preston who still stood with his arms
crossed on his chest, with a distinct feeling that he wanted Hellar out of here
as soon as possible. "I just wanted to thank you," he said. "For
everything you've done for me."
Alora's pale eyes peered at him.
She snorted - and partly to piss
her off even more, partly because he felt like doing that - Hellar stepped
towards her and locked his arms around her, hugging, raising her up a little.
She was so skinny it wasn't a problem.
He brushed his lips against her
cheek - and then, not waiting for her indignant reply, he turned and walked
Fingernails dug into Tarkh's
shoulders. Lips bitten in passion; unplaited, tangled hair clung to his sweaty
forehead - and Tarkh's hips slammed between his thighs, hard and fast. Each
stroke was just right, sending a jolt through his body, making Hellar push back
just a little more every time, spread his legs wider, arch his spine towards
the other's body.
Their panting seemed deafening -
harsh, loud sounds mixed with the cracking of fire in the hearth. One probably
could hear them outside; these sounds wouldn't leave any doubt what they were
doing - so, Hellar didn't know why he tried so hard to stifle a moan. He did so
feeling a sharp tang of blood on his tongue - and for some reason it was driving
him even wilder, even further over the edge.
Tarkh's hand, very hot and
sweaty, unwrapped from Hellar's nape to run over his cheek. He leaned into this
touch, feeling long fingers brush against his temple. He saw Tarkh's mutilated
lips in something that was supposed to be a smile - and mirrored this smile
with his own, then tightened his legs around Tarkh's waist.
Tarkh leaned down and kissed
Hellar's mouth, mixing the sour taste of kyhf
with the salty taste of blood.
So... When should he make his
There was something perverted in
combining those two things: responding to sex in self-abandonment and coldly
reasoning at the same time, weighing opportunities and making choices. Nothing
new for him - in letting his body derive all the pleasure he could from an
intercourse while his mind seemed to be completely distanced from it, locked in
a cold secluded place where it was free to roll in planning. Hellar had learned
to do it quite early, when realizing that he had ambitions - and that to
satisfy for his ambitions he had to go through the bed of his elders. Not that
a lack of ambitions would spare him this fate; but Hellar decided to take
everything he could.
And now he just slipped into
The logical suggestion for the
attempt of escape was the day after tomorrow - when Tarkh was going on the
raid, intending to kill the Rahuni's chief. He apparently would take Hellar
along - he still was worried about Rhys' anger: since after Kori's death he
barely let Hellar walk around the camp unsupervised - and even then, Hellar
suspected, someone of Tarkh's people held an eye on him. So, that time would be
a perfect choice - most reasonable by all means. He would be out of camp and on
the flyer - and there would be only a limited number of people he'd have to get
rid of. What could be better?
In the dim light he felt rather
than saw Tarkh looking at him; the man's eyes seemed completely black, staring
at Hellar with absorbed attention - almost like he wanted to look through
Hellar's scull, to read his thoughts. It didn't worry Hellar - he knew Tarkh
didn't suspect anything. And this gaze, this devouring fascination made him
feel a strange warm wave rising in his body, made him thrust towards the
entering cock harder.
Tarkh's breath halted, turned
into a near whimper as he felt Hellar clench around him. His lips moved, scar
tissue distorting. Hellar thought he could almost catch the words - his name...
and something else... something that made him feel lightheaded and strangely
Well... so, if he was going to
make it on the day of the supposed assassination of Tsianni's father... likely
he would have to do it on the way there, right? That'd mean that the old man
would be safe, at least for now. The idea had its merits: for one thing, it
would be good to ruin Amanar's plans. The other thing Hellar didn't
deliberately think about but it kept hovering in the back of his mind. This
way... this way he could make it up to Tsianni somehow - saving his father in
payment for ruining Tsianni's own life.
Not that the kid was ever going
to find out about it.
But then... another thought came
and it was strangely, unhappily passionate. Then Tarkh wouldn't get his
revenge. He wanted to kill the man. The man who'd mutilated him, who'd wrecked
his life. Didn't Tarkh have the right for a payback?
Hellar knew everything about
being helpless to revenge himself upon those he hated. He didn't want Tarkh to
feel the same.
The cold, almost manic stare of
the bright black eyes captured his gaze again - as Tarkh looked down at Hellar,
slamming deeper, almost painfully violent - his heavy, dirty hair falling onto
Hellar's face, bringing the taste of sand and bitterness on his lips.
name, said in this choking, accented voice had a sound that was disturbing.
Hard fingertips touched his face, pulling Hellar's moist hair away from it. Hellar's
breath was caught.
The safe place in his mind that
made him invulnerable, that kept him sane through everything - it was
crumbling. Let Tarkh have what he wants... let him kill Tsianni's father...
help him kill Amanar... whatever...
Don't go just yet.
Maybe, it was the crux of it. Hellar
wanted to be free again; wanted nothing more than that - but a part of his mind
wanted t stay with Tarkh. And it scared him most of all.
He had never wanted to be with
anyone before. Okay, he had... he had never wanted to stay. Those romps - it
was just what he had to do, to assure his safety in the camp... necessary
His lips parted letting out a
breath. And as if it was a clue, Tarkh leaned down, pulling him closer,
pressing his mouth to Hellar's again. The scars were rough against his lips and
harsh on the tip of his tongue as Hellar licked and lapped - until a hot wave rolled
through his bottom belly, his balls tightening, spurting his come into Tarkh's
stroking hand. Tarkh didn't stop kissing him until, in a few more thrusts, he climaxed,
Afterwards, there was orange
glowing of the fire - and their bare arms tangled together. Minutes slipped
away in silence. Hellar didn't sleep looking at the crossing of thin beams
under the tent's ceiling.
Tarkh didn't sleep either.
started; his voice was hoarse and he broke for a moment, clearing his throat.
There were things he wanted to ask: what exactly Tarkh planned to do about
Ka'hazaya... how he was going to prevent Amanar to stab him in the back... was
he going to be satisfied with the man's death - or would he keep avenging on
Amanar as well. But what he said was a completely different thing, totally
unexpected for him. "That woman, Lea..."
Goddess, he didn't know what he
was saying. What pushed him to bring it up? And he didn't even know what he
wanted to ask. 'Do you miss her?' 'How important was she for you?' 'How did it
feel to lose her?' Questions he didn't have the right to ask and shouldn't be
He distinctly felt Tarkh going
tense, the muscles under the smooth skin becoming steel. And a moment later the
heavy hard body was over Hellar again, implacable fingers grabbing his face.
"Why did it come to your
mind that you could ask me that?"
Hellar expected worse - maybe, a
fist in his face - maybe, 'don't desecrate her name with your filthy lips' - but
neither came. Tarkh just held him and stared down at him.
Okay, he thought, okay, let
me go. But sometimes Hellar acted against his best judgement.
"Would you..." his
voice was stifled - Tarkh pressed on his ribcage - but Hellar still managed the
words. "Would you rather me to pretend I don't know anything? Haven't
heard a word?"
It seemed his words hit the aim -
far more successfully than they should have. In Tarkh's eyes, something
"Or do you just enjoy
holding me like that?" Hellar said in a completely unexcited voice.
"Not that I can't make us switch the places."
A hand grazed his face - not
quite a slap but not a gentle touch as well.
"You overstep every border,
Praetorian. Don't you understand what can get you killed?"
But you won't kill me, right, Tarkh? No, you won't.
Hellar shook his head, carefully,
as much as he could in Tarkh's grip on his face.
"No wonder Rhys hates you so
much," Tarkh said.
Tsk, tsk. Another reason why
Hellar didn't want to overstay Rhys' hospitality. He wondered suddenly what Tarkh
would do if he knew Hellar was going to escape - that it was Hellar who'd
tampered the flyer today... Would he decide that Hellar was too dangerous to
Or would he... join Hellar?
A palm lay on his face, covering
his mouth, preventing him from talking. Tarkh's eyes were very close, boring
into Hellar's face.
"I'll tell you," he
said - and his voice, low and hushed, made a strange shiver run through
Hellar's body - almost like then, when Tarkh had called his name - only now
there was apprehension in this feeling. "I'll tell you - but listen here. After
that, I don't want to hear a word back from your flux of a mouth, you stupid
chatterbox. Is it clear?"
Not like Hellar could say
anything anyway. He nodded.
Dark, elongated eyes were
half-shielded with heavy eyelids - Tarkh still looked close at Hellar but also seemed
to be staring through him, somewhere far away. His lips parted.
"She was everything I ever
wanted. She was my sky and my earth, the beginning and the end of my world."
The hand was gone from Hellar's
mouth - and Tarkh's body shifted away. Without his heat it felt very cold suddenly.
But it was good Tarkh didn't touch him any more - because he couldn't feel the
shiver that ran through Hellar, so long and violent it almost hurt.
Hellar rose on his elbow, reached
for the half-empty bottle of kyhf and
He recalled suddenly a strange image
that once flashed in his mind on the verge of consciousness - an awkward figment
of imagination: of him and Tarkh coming to Shegra together, starting a new life
in the huge city where no one knew them.
How pathetic. He... was pathetic.
He didn't know what he felt -
what difference Tarkh's words made. What was that woman, long dead, for him? No
difference. He'd already made his mind, hadn't he? He'd do it the day after
tomorrow. And if Tarkh tried to prevent him... so let it be.
He was aware of Tarkh lying flat
again - the man's arms were braced under his head. After the intensity of the
touch, the words - this pose seemed unnaturally relaxed. Hellar consciously made
himself ease up as well, taking his mimic under control, smoothing the features
of his face.
Goddess... what did Tarkh say
that made him so wired up, really?
Just the words that no one had
said about Hellar.
Not that he wanted anyone to say
something like this about him, to feel something like this. Emotions were a
weakness; emotions bore dependence - and that was not what a Praetorian could
"Hellar..." Tarkh said
suddenly. There was something unusual in his voice - something tentative; like Tarkh
wanted to ask him something but didn't. Hellar didn't ask back - and silence
went on, until Tarkh's hand reached to him in the darkness, running over his
chest strangely softly. The touch on Hellar's scarred nipple was almost gentle.
A part of him wanted to lean to this caress, to respond to it - but a part of
him wanted to recoil, to wither away.
Perhaps Tarkh sensed something;
the hand lingered and then was gone.
"Why don't you say
anything?" Tarkh asked in his normal tone.
"I recall it you forbid me
to say another word." Hellar's voice was regular, too - and he wondered if
it was as false as Tarkh's tone. Or, maybe, Tarkh's was not false - he really
put it behind.
"Come on," it sounded
like a chuckle. "You know better than that. You know... I can't wait for
the day after tomorrow." Tarkh rolled onto his belly now, settling
comfortably. "I almost can't breathe so much I want the time to run
faster. I would like to kill every one of them - every one of Rahuni. But as it
is impossible... I guess I'll settle for the second best."
Talking about those things was
safe. Hellar could do it concentrating on his plan at the same time.
"What exactly do you have in
"What do you think the
Rahuni will do with the chief of their tribe dead? And the heir proven to be
So, that was Tarkh's plot; Hellar
coldly appreciated the deliberate cruelty of it. The tribe would be left
headless - would lose its authority among other tribes irrevocably. And such
thing meant that at the time of the next alliance it would get scattered
Clever... simple... ruthless. Much
like Tarkh himself. With a kind of sadness Hellar thought that they two really were
of a kind.
Too bad he had to choose between
freedom and... his partner.
"But the best thing,"
Tarkh continued almost dreamily, "the best thing is that the Rahuni will
have a heir - one they won't be able to deny. The little prince is still the
old man's son. The new chief of the tribe with a brand on his butt! Rahuni will
perish - and they will go in shame."
He said the last words, turning
away from Hellar. His bare back emanated heat - and Hellar lay with his eyes
opened, Tarkh's last words sounding in his ears.
It was unexpected; crueler that
Hellar would be able to plan it. But... he could learn from Tarkh. In fact,
he'd need every sliver of ruthlessness to do what he was going to do - and to
There was another unexpected
thing as well. In the chilly pre-dawn morning, with the wind chasing snakes of
sand over the ground, the flopping of the sandsails and low rumble of two
flyers were the only sounds. He saw Tarkh coming up to them - dragging a thin
shivering figure after him. The kid's loincloth was nothing more than a piece
of rag and his braids rumpled from sleep. Tarkh was hauling him by the hair -
then shoved on the ground roughly, making him fall.
Tsianni's eyes, puffy from sleep
and still holding some kind of vulnerability in them, like he didn't understand
what was going on, stared up at Tarkh. Hellar buried his hands in the wide
sleeves of his robe and tried not to feel the piercing wind.
"You know where we're going,
The boy's eyes traced the flyers,
then stopped for a moment on Hellar, no doubt recognizing it even with the
facecloth on. Then the wide look was on Tarkh again.
Be ready, boy; it'll hurt.
Tarkh leaned down, so close
Tsianni apparently could feel his breath through the facecloth - his whisper
was clear and loud enough for Hellar not to miss a word.
"I'll come back wearing your
father's boots," Tarkh said.
The kid's face went white. And at
the next moment Tarkh pushed him away and walked to the flyers lightly.
Hellar saw Tsianni surge forward,
like he wanted to stop the man - but all he managed was to grab the tiny
jiggling bells from Tarkh's boot, clench his fist on them. Tarkh didn't even
notice it; the bells tore off, staying in the kid's hand - and Hellar noticed
clearly how Tsianni's hand shook.
The boy's lips trembled, he all did
- like in fever, small convulsions distorting his face. But there was no sound
coming from him.
"Let's go," Tarkh waved
Airborne, Hellar kept looking at
the huddling figure on the sand - as it grew smaller until became just a dark dot
- and the camp itself looked like a patchwork now.
So, he was leaving at last -
leaving for a new life. He listened to the soft rumble of the engines that echoed
deeply in his mind - and counted. Two flyers; nine people on the other one and
seven on his - apart from him and Tarkh... no, wrong, he should've added Tarkh to
Never mind; he'd do what he had
to. He always did.
Bracing himself, he concentrated,
reaching through the distance to the control panel of the other flyer - pushed
in his mental fingers. Pain enveloped him but it was a good pain, he could bear
He clenched his teeth, feeling a
thin trickle of blood slide from his nose - and made the engine stop.
The End of Part 9a
Written by Juxian Tang
Sand was on his teeth; his jaws
clenched so tightly they ached. He
tried to concentrate on little things - like the grit in his mouth -
like the wind tossing the braids in his face - like heat and wetness of blood
dripping from his palm that clasped around tiny metal bells from Tarkh's boot.
It didn't help him; there still was that huge, unbearable emptiness - and he
felt as if he was sucked into it whole yet it still wasn't filled.
He felt like he was dying.
The roar of the engines grew
weaker - but Tsianni barely noticed it; the pounding of blood in his temples
made more noise. Sand was in his eyes, too - they burned and his vision
blurred. He knew he had to raise his head, to see how far the flyers were gone
- but he couldn't. His world narrowed to the small patch of yellowish sand
under his knees, the wind playing with the light upper layer of it.
If he never moved - if he stayed
like this, no matter what - maybe, the ground would open and swallow him. It
would be a good thing; Tsianni wanted it to happen. It was a silly thing to wish
- he never knew he would want something so silly so fervently. But if he died -
no, if he just stopped being - it would be so much easier.
Then he wouldn't have to deal
with knowing that he had to do something - and didn't do anything.
Sickness rose in his throat,
tasting bitter and seeming to be poisoned with sand as well. Tsianni recognized
this taste. Fear tasted like that. Fear was this all-enveloping numbness that
he couldn't even try to shake off.
Fear of losing.
Right now, Tarkh was heading to
kill his father - and he, Tsianni, knew about it but could do nothing. The
cursed traitor really hated him, didn't he? That's why he told Tsianni what he
was going to do. So that Tsianni had to live with it, with his helplessness and
deficiency, with the realization that he failed as a son and as a member of the
tribe. Sweet revenge it must have been, indeed... to ruin him, Tsianni, just in
a few casually dropped words.
Until now, it still could be
repaired. Even when something that belonged to Tsianni by birthright had been
ripped from him so brutally and unfairly - he still knew that it didn't change
But he only had a useless
jingling ornament in his hand instead.
Tsianni raised the hand to his
face, looked at the sore, bleeding palm and licked the gashed skin
absent-mindedly. It tasted with sand, too.
Loser, aren't you, boy?
The voice was suspiciously
familiar, sounding in the aching void of Tsianni's mind. He didn't want to hear
it - it was the last thing he needed: to hear the phantom teasing of the
Praetorian. He'd rather be left alone - to take the whole brunt of his shame,
to say good-bye to the last hopes he had.
I'm not a loser.
Yeah? And what are you then?
I'll stop... you.
Did he really talk to someone who
was not there? And in any case, the Praetorian apparently considered it below
himself even to taunt Tsianni before leaving to kill his father.
His fingers dug into the sand,
like claws, burying deeper.
I'll stop you!
His inner scream was so desperate
it felt like his head was going to explode. Tsianni reeled a little, gathering
some more sand in his palms, mixing it with blood.
Gods help me but I won't let you...
The hand on his shoulder felt
scalding. Tsianni gasped, looking up, staring at the surly wide face peering
down at him, mouth pursed in disgust.
"You're going to sit here
for the whole day or what, whore? Don't you have anything to do?"
Pig made a step back, seeing a
sneer on Tsianni's lips. The guy was really wary about him since that time in
Tarkh's tent... not very pleased that Tsianni apparently got away unpunished
either but not daring to try anything.
"What amuses you so, you
It felt good - brought a little
jolt of pleasure into the abyss of dismal - to see a blink of fear in Pig's
eyes. Well, Pig was in for a bigger surprise now. Yes, Tsianni would do it;
would try to be more cunning and ruthless than the Praetorian was, than Tarkh
was. He had to defeat them, after all.
"Nothing, Marvo." It
came like a drawl. "Nothing at all." And then Tsianni's voice rose,
almost to hysterical pitch. "Rhys! I want to talk to Rhys!"
He forbid himself to think that he
was most likely warranting his death order now.
"I want to talk to
He knew he was heard - there were
people gathering around - bandits, camp whores. Tsianni stood, swaying just
slightly, and waited - until, in his easy gait, surrounded by his new
bodyguards, the man appeared - yellow hair in the usual spikes, yellow eyes
gleaming in a strange dreamy way that made Tsianni's knees weaken.
It's difficult to resist him, he recalled the conversation in the
"Master..." His lips
were numb, the word didn't want to come out. He pushed it out by force. It was
how Rhys wanted to be called - and Tsianni was going to give it to him... and a
part of Tsianni also wanted to call him so. "Master..."
"My little Rahuni!" the
voice was cheerful - making little hair rise on Tsianni's forearms. "What
do I owe this pleasure to? Have you missed me so much you could not live
another hour without me?"
"Master..." he croaked.
His throat was parched and Tsianni coughed, desperate to sound clear and loud.
"I want... I want to report a treachery to you."
It grew so silent around him that
it seemed he could hear his heartbeat - his own breath sounded explosive. The
aged beauty of Rhys' face distorted slightly but the grimace was gone
momentarily. He swayed a little bit from heels to toes lazily; one golden
"Yes?" The whisper was
"Tarkh... Tarkh conspired
with my cousin, Amanar, to kill my father..." The world was not steady,
seemed to swirl in front of his eyes, and Tsianni clung to the sound of his own
voice - his voice saying things that lead to hell. "They..."
"I know they're going to
kill Ka'hazaya, little one," Rhys interrupted him, words dismissed with a
wave of thin hand. He said it almost kindly... only Tsianni was not deceived with
this kindness. "I don't see where a treachery is there. Or rather, I don't
see why you thought that your father being betrayed by your cousin is any
business of mine."
"It's not my father who's
going to be betrayed." Somehow he managed to make his voice sound as
softly as Rhys'. "It's you."
Tsianni swallowed; there was
something sharp in his saliva. His vision was blurry but he never looked away
from Rhys - never had to give him a reason to think Tsianni lied.
He looked as if he allowed Rhys
to stare right into his soul. And it scared him, too - because it was so easy
to really let Rhys get into his soul - let Rhys slide into him like the silver
body of the grub slid inside him.
"After killing my
father," he said, "Amanar is going to take over the tribe. And then
they will unite their forces and attack you."
He seemed to hear a few gasps,
vaguely recalling that there were other people around. No, he didn't have to
look at them - only at Rhys - if he wanted to pull it off.
"Tarkh... He knows every
weak place of the camp, doesn't he? It won't be the first time when he brings
the enemy to his own folks. Once a traitor is always a traitor. A snake
slithering in the night, hiding, waiting for a moment to strike..."
He talked so fast, afraid that he
would be interrupted - and at the same time the words were nearly meaningless
to him. If Rhys wanted to stop him from talking, he'd have to kill him. Tsianni
really didn't care much if it happened.
"Rahuni under Amanar's
command - together with Tarkh's people - are a formidable force. My tribe knows
how to fight - they know how to kill. And betrayal will be their secret
"And pray tell, how the
little bitch like you, spending his days in the whore tent, can know about
With amazement, Tsianni realized
that Rhys had let him talk this far. And now the question, asked in a teasing,
rather bored tone - it indicated doubts, not outright disbelief.
And the answer... he had the
answer - had put it all together.
"I overheard that," he
said simply. "That night, remember, Master... when Kori died. I spent it
with the Praetorian, in Tarkh's tent. Tarkh talked to his lover in the morning
- and I heard them."
With a strange feeling he thought
that those words implicated not only Tarkh but Hellar as well. He didn't know
if he felt guilt or malicious joy at it.
See? I told you I'd stop you...
The Praetorian deserved it. He
was going to kill Tsianni's father... and not only that... It was Hellar's own
fault, let him pay for it. Rhys would make him pay.
"They caught me
eavesdropping," he said evenly. "Tarkh said he would skin me alive if
I let out a word... he..." Tsianni's voice broke, as if it was fear that
made him tremble. "He did this to me."
The loincloth pulled away,
showing ugly pink scars in the place where the brand had been. He heard some
reaction again - surprised whistles and low noises.
Pig, Tsianni thought, Pig could
give him away. And Preston.
It was difficult to focus his
eyes on the crowd around, to look at someone but Rhys - yet he managed, found
with his eyes the pale face of the major-domo. Grey eyes didn't want to meet
You can't say anything, Tsianni chanted mutely as if he could pass
his thoughts to Preston. If you do, Rhys
will know you failed your duties; let the blame fall on Tarkh...
Maybe, in some strange way
Tsianni succeeded; or maybe the same thoughts came to Preston's mind. A shadow
flickered in the light eyes. He won't say anything, Tsianni understood in
triumph - and felt another gaze on himself. The old hag, the medic, stared at
him with the strangest expression in her usually watery eyes. Was it hatred? A
threat? Did she understand that he'd accused her precious Hellar, together with
"He said if I kept his
secret, he would let me go back to my tribe, they would never know about the
brand. But Master... I couldn't betray you! I beg your forgiveness for not
telling you before..."
The old woman's words kept
replaying in his mind - about Rhys knowing of his power intuitively, enjoying
people bowing to him. The sand scraped his knees again as Tsianni lowered on
the ground, staring down.
"Master... please... stop
Please stop him from killing my
Rhys would never do that. What he
would do was stopping Tarkh from betraying him.
Over his head Rhys' silence
stretched, mingled with small, quiet whispers - seeming endless to Tsianni. The
old woman was silent, too; perhaps she was not sure whom Rhys would believe if
she argued with Tsianni - and she couldn't blow her cover, endanger her
mission. Thanks gods.
"You don't lie to me, little
one, do you?" Rhys' voice was like a trickle of cold water running over
his spine. Mutely, not raising his eyes, Tsianni shook his head. Rhys must've
made some sign - because suddenly he was jerked up, shaken back onto his feet.
Rhys looked right at his sand-smeared face.
"We shall check if you tell
the truth, Rahuni. And if you lied... you know what?" Rhys laughed a
little. "I'll let Tarkh deal with you. And I'll tell him I don't need you
back in one piece."
The land slid beneath him like a
sheet of rippled silk, yellow and grey
where it was flat - and colored pink on the slopes of dunes.
Kneeling on the hard surface, Tsianni looked down over the edge of the flyer;
his eyes watered and he felt dizzy with the ground flashing far below but he
didn't turn away. He couldn't - Rhys' cold fingers tangled into his hair,
holding him in place - from time to time stroking his nape half-affectionately.
"You make such a sweet little pet, Rahuni," Rhys had told
him. "It will be a pity if I have to
let Tarkh rip you limb from limb."
In reply Tsianni forced a
delirious smile on his lips, like it didn't bother him at all, like he didn't
doubt he was safe. And as Rhys touched him, he made himself lean into this
touch, pretend he wanted it; and a part of him agreed that it was true - a part
of him did want it.
Tsianni told himself there would
be time to hate himself for it later; when his father was safe. He had to wish
single-mindedly for it now, to wish nothing but it. Everything else was
unimportant: his own fate, Tarkh, the Praetorian...
Weird... he didn't even know his
father well. A white-haired, cold-faced man who hadn't even hugged Tsianni when
he had come to Rahuni from his mother's land; a complete stranger then - and he
and Tsianni had never grown closer after that.
His mother... Tsianni loved her,
simply; for her he would die happily. For his father he would die, too... or,
maybe, not for his father but for himself. Because he had a duty to carry
out... or had to die trying.
His lips curved in an anguished
grimace, feeling numb and parched with the wind beating in his face. The flyer
cut through the air, impossibly fast - so much faster than any machine Tsianni
"Sir," a voice said
above him; he couldn't look back to see who it was. "We spotted
something... on the ground. Should we check?"
He started shivering again; was
it a delay that would ruin everything? But of course he couldn't do anything
about it - just pray. So pray he did.
"Let's see." Rhys' long
shadow was an ink drawing over the steel surface of the flyer.
"What the hell is
Tsianni's heart jumped in his
chest, up to his throat, choking him. With sandy palms he wiped his eyes
furiously, trying to see. Below them a flyer stuck in the sand under a wrong
What was it?
He couldn't breathe; Tsianni's
heart fluttered helplessly - hope was worse than fear because it made him so
weak. It was a flyer from the camp, one of those that had left this morning.
Could it be possible that his father found out about the conspiracy and
And which flyer was it?
They approached so slowly... he
had to know... he would die if he didn't find out immediately... The crashed
bulk of the flyer grew closer - and now Tsianni could see scattered bodies
around it, motionless and looking very broken. A sudden memory flashed through
his mind, of the impact of his flyer that time when the Praetorian had hijacked
it. Only the bandits' flyers went much higher and on much greater speed.
Was the Praetorian there? Tsianni
realized abruptly that it was exactly the reason why he looked so intently.
As if he cared...
Rhys' hand in Tsianni's hair
"It's Demir's flyer,"
someone said tentatively. "Something happened to the engine or what...
Tarkh said there were problems..."
There was a cold feeling in the
pit of Tsianni's stomach.
"Yeah?" Rhys said
airily. "Then he'll sure explain us everything."
And Tsianni knew suddenly that if
he probably was not going to survive this day, Tarkh was not going to survive
it for sure.
And where were Tarkh and Hellar?
Shouldn't they have been there, checking if someone had survived, as unlikely
as it was? Was Tarkh so carried away with his wish of revenge that he'd left
his people... the corpses of them, anyway - just like that?
Blood was bright and crimson,
soaking into the sand under the bodies. There was no movement other than
billowing of the cloth under the wind.
counted. "Everyone from Demir's party."
The fingers yanked away from his
hair, nearly ripping thin braids out on the way. Tsianni barely managed not to
cry out. Now he could turn - and he did, peeking cautiously at Rhys pacing
The man was so thin - almost
fragile - and yet Tsianni knew he was not the only one who felt like any next
motion of Rhys' delicate hands could bring death to him or anyone else.
"Rise," the order was
like a snap of a metal band. "Find Tarkh. Now!"
The sensation of the flyer
soaring up made Tsianni feel groggy. He'd never had any airsickness before -
but now they were just too high, going too fast. The landscape under him
changed, expanding - dunes seemed insubstantial from here. It hurt to breathe,
And then... his heart leapt up
again - far below he saw a cluster of small shadows moving in a group, the
outline so familiar for him. Slow, dignified passage of his father's caravan.
The oblong bigger flyer in the center
of the party must've be the chief's... even if from here Tsianni couldn't
discern the figure of his father, he still could see the colors - bright-yellow
and silver, the colors of Rahuni that he'd worn once... and never would wear
Perhaps it was the moment when he
truly understood that everything was over.
His father was safe - Tarkh was
nowhere near to attack him - and his, Tsianni's, mission was over. He thought
suddenly... what if he were a little closer to the edge of the flyer... what
would prevent him from making one step then?
Had he ever thought he would be
able come back - revealing Amanar's evilness to his father, providing that
there was no brand on his thigh and no one alive to tell about his shame? Had
he thought he would be able to take his position again - a Rahuni prince, a
heir to Ka'hazaya? What a fool...
His destiny was sealed; nothing
could change it. He would never be with his tribe again.
But the worst thing - the thing
that made the numb ache inside almost unbearable - was that he didn't even want
to come back.
He wanted to be dead.
Sahr, he thought, please
forgive me... mother, please forgive me.
He got up on his feet carefully -
Rhys was too occupied with his anger - and inched to the edge of the flyer. The
memory of how distorted the bodies looked after the fall made him sick but
Tsianni fought the bile down. At least it would be short.
He inhaled full lungs of bitter,
The flyer whirled suddenly,
throwing Tsianni away from the edge. He slipped, falling awkwardly, crying out
in pain as his badly healed thigh and hand contacted the surface. His shriek
was drowned in the piercing squeal of the engine as the flyer moved forward and
Panically, instinctively Tsianni
grabbed the rails. It was a strange thing to do, after he'd wanted to jump down
just a few moments ago - but his body acted independently from his mind. He
felt new bruises form on his skin as the flyer tossed in the air currents,
throwing him back and forth. He heard Rhys yell something in delight, in a
language Tsianni had never heard.
He managed to raise his head -
and just below them there was the other flyer.
Something strange was in the way
it flew; no, Tsianni thought, strange was not a good word. It looked like the
pilot was drunk - or mad - or the flyer itself was drunk if it were possible.
Leaping and swaying, it dived to the earth and rose lopsidedly again - and
several moments later, when Rhys' flyer approached enough, Tsianni saw what was
It was not that the pilot was
mad; there was no pilot at all. No one stood at the control panel.
Two people whom Tsianni could see
on the flyer were fighting.
Even slipping and falling at
every bounce of the flyer - there was no mistake: it was a fight - and a fierce
one - the bodies clashed, hands clawing in each other's shoulders.
Tsianni had never seen them
having sex; he could only suppose they had done it with the same ferocity. But
now Tarkh slammed the Praetorian against the rails of the flyer, again and
again, and Hellar's whitened face was richly coated in blood.
At first the Praetorian resisted,
trying to push Tarkh away; but then, after an especially vicious blow, he
suddenly went limp, falling in Tarkh's grip, his head drooping. Tarkh slammed
him against the rails one more time - and then... the flyer started falling.
Just like that - Tsianni realized
suddenly that one of the sounds was missing - and it was the engine of Tarkh's
flyer. Like a dead weight, it went down and down, twisting in a spiral.
"After them!" Rhys
They followed close enough - and
Tsianni saw how Tarkh looked up, his facecloth gone, his mutilated face having
a wild, somewhat desperate expression. He didn't know if Tarkh realized Rhys
was there - his black, bleak eyes slid over the approaching flyer without
anything changing in them.
But he must've understood they
were falling. It looked like he made a motion towards the control panel - but
the flyer was in a pique - he wouldn't be able to do anything, even if he got
in time. With a strange feeling that seemed to block his breath Tsianni saw how
Tarkh grabbed Hellar, clenched his hands on the Praetorian's clothes, shook the
"A proper payback for
traitors!" Behind Tsianni, Rhys laughed piercingly. But over his voice, over
the wind and the noise of the engine, Tsianni could hear Tarkh's anguished
voice asking as he kept shaking Hellar.
The Praetorian's eyes opened dazedly,
his face crumpling as if he tried very hard to figure out what was happening.
Then his eyes flashed - and suddenly thicker trickles of blood ran from his
nose and ears.
In two short splashes the engine
of Tarkh's flyer started working - and choked again.
Suddenly Tsianni felt he didn't
want to look at it any more, wanted nothing more than to look away. But for
some reason he kept watching - as the Praetorian raised his hand uncertainly
and reached to Tarkh's face. The strong fingers that Tsianni remembered playing
with his body caressed the mutilated features. The Praetorian said something - Tsianni
didn't hear what.
And at the next moment Tarkh's
arms locked around Hellar, wrapping his body around the Praetorian in a snake
coil - melding them together. The flyer spiraled down, a needle piercing the
air - and Tsianni knew only moments were left. But still those moments seemed
to dribble like a tar, dark and burning and poignant - until with a huge crash
the flyer slammed into the ground, disappearing in a huge cloud of sand.
He'd already seen it today. The
wrecked body of the flyer - and next to it, among the debris of broken metal...
human figures. He'd seen it. Only this time - it was different. This time there
was no hope.
Rhys' flyer descended smoothly,
not in a hurry any more. The sand that had risen in the air settled down a
little, clearing the scene. The ground still hummed slightly from the impact -
but the flyer was dead. The men were dead, too; had to be.
I don't want to look at this, Tsianni thought distantly. I don't want to see him dead.
Not that he had any choice.
The flyer landed. Rhys jumped
down, cat-like easily, and his people followed him, scattering around. Tsianni,
as if leaded on an invisible leash, stepped down, too.
He couldn't see the bodies immediately
- and found himself looking around jerkily - and yet it was not him who first
spotted them but some of Rhys' men.
"That's Tarkh, here!"
A big chunk of the flyer's
facing, smeared in something suspiciously red, was dragged away - and there Tsianni
saw him - lying on his back, his limbs thrown apart, tangled black hair hiding his
face. From his midriff, a broken rail stuck almost perpendicularly in the air -
and a huge pool of blood spread under him. Continued spreading, Tsianni realized.
Tarkh was not dead.
Someone grabbed his hair, pulling
The man's face was purple - blood
vessels must've burst at the collision - and at the rough touch a hoarse, low
sound escaped Tarkh's lips.
"Let him go," Rhys
ordered. "I'll deal with him myself."
He stepped towards the
outstretched body, habitually rolling from heels to toes - and it was when someone
else hailed him.
"The other one! Alive as
The Praetorian really always
landed on his feet, didn't he? Tsianni turned, almost convulsively, found the
group of Rhys' men clustering around the other body.
Only this time it was Tarkh who saved
the Praetorian's life - shielding him with his own body, taking the brunt of
the fall - didn't he?
Well, of course, Hellar didn't
manage to get unscathed out of it. As Rhys' men shook him up, Tsianni figured
his legs must've been broken - and several more bones in his body. Blood kept
leaking from his mouth and ears, spattering the ground under him.
He probably was in shock, Tsianni
thought - his face deathly white - and he didn't seem to react at rather cruel
grip of those who held him. They yanked him closer, presenting him to Rhys who
spared just a glance to him.
"How lucky - looks like this
one is not going to die on us any minute. So, we'll deal with him a bit later.
Now I want to talk to my traitor."
It was wrong, Tsianni thought; Tarkh
was not a traitor - at least he didn't want to betray Rhys. Despite his own
words, despite the accusations he had thrown at Tarkh - Tsianni just knew it. Tarkh
was loyal to Rhys.
A keen, high sound cut his
nerves; he didn't want to know the source of it but couldn't deceive himself.
On the sand, Tarkh writhed like a pinned insect - and Rhys' boot pressed on his
belly, pushed and pushed, until Tarkh's eyelashes, glued with blood, rose and black-floating-in-red
eyes looked up. Bloodied lips moved.
Rhys was leaning down, spiky
blond hair falling over his eyes. Tsianni saw how his thin mouth worked - and then,
casually, almost indifferently Rhys spat on Tarkh's face.
Nothing changed in Tarkh's gaze
for a few moments; he just had to be too tired - too much in pain. And then
something flashed in his eyes - his muscles straining as if he tried to get up,
tried to find something.
Hellar, Tsianni thought, he
looked for Hellar.
An expression in Tarkh's eyes as
he saw the Praetorian, sagged in the grip of Rhys' men, was something Tsianni could
not name. Was it joy? Something beyond that, maybe...
"Why did you do it, Tarkh?"
Rhys asked almost conversationally. His boot continued to press on Tarkh's abdomen
- and with sickening feeling Tsianni noticed that some of Tarkh's entrails slipped
out of him on the sand from his wound.
"I..." Tarkh's voice
was so hoarse it was unrecognizable. Thick clots of blood came of from his
mouth with every breath. Through the gashes in Tarkh's clothes, Tsianni could
see how the man's chest fluttered oddly. "I... I'm sorry..."
"Not good enough!"
The boot slammed in his side,
raising Tarkh's body from, eliciting another cry that choked abruptly. Then Tarkh
just lay with his eyes closed - and breathed.
"Why did you betray
me?" Rhys repeated. "I gave you shelter when your people doomed you
to death. You don't know a thing about gratitude, do you?"
A strangely trapped expression on
Tarkh's face made Tsianni's heart clench. Why didn't Tarkh even try to explain
anything? Of course, it was insane to wish for it - because if Tarkh denied his
betrayal and proved it, it would mean Tsianni's death.
Only Tarkh didn't deny anything.
Maybe, because denying it meant death
for one more person, right?
"I'm sorry," Tarkh
"Scum." The word from
Rhys came almost disinterested. "You disgust me, Tarkh."
Tarkh's eyes were still close -
and now there were two trickles of slightly dissolved blood sliding from under
the man's eyelids.
"You disappointed me so, so
All of a sudden, Rhys stepped
away, making a sign to his men.
"All right, guys, there's
nothing more for us to do here. Let's go."
For a moment Tsianni couldn't
believe it. That was all? Rhys didn't even kill Tarkh! And then the realization
slammed on him. Killing him - it would be a mercy. Leaving him like that, in
agony that could go on for hours - it was a payback that Rhys probably
Without a word Rhys' men moved to
their flyer; those who held Hellar shook him, trying to make him walk and
failing. Following others like in a haze, Tsianni still looked back - and saw
that Tarkh's eyes were open now - staring unblinkingly at the half-limp figure
of the Praetorian. Tarkh's lips moved a little, forming some words.
Tsianni didn't know if anyone
else heard them - and if they did, if they understood - Rahuni accent in Tarkh's
voice was thicker than ever. But Tsianni didn't miss them, no matter how
strange they sounded.
"You were... everything I
ever wanted... my sky and my earth... the beginning and the end of me..."
Tsianni was already near the
flyer as the Praetorian suddenly thrashed in the hands that held him,
struggling wildly, with incomprehensible force - as if half of his bones were
not broken. Those who dragged him were clearly unprepared. A small commotion
ended as they threw him on the ground - and without their support Hellar
couldn't get up again.
He moved painfully on the sand -
trying to reach Tarkh, Tsianni realized suddenly. A man raised his boot for a
kick - and Rhys stopped him with a small gesture. It seemed he was quite
fascinated with what was going on.
The Praetorian pulled himself on
his arms, closer to Tarkh's broken body.
There was no word coming from him, just short, painful gasps that could be
because his ribs were cracked. He touched Tarkh - almost like in a caress. Tarkh's
eyes never left his.
"You f.. fool," the Praetorian said.
And then his hands locked on Tarkhs' face, jerking his head sharply. The
vertebrae snapped with a dry sound so easily that Tsianni couldn't believe it,
even as he saw how Tarkh's head flopped bonelessly - and the black eyes went dull.
The Praetorian lowered Tarkh's head on the ground quietly and looked back
at Rhys' men who approached him.
The End of Part 9b
Go to Parts 10-12 & Epilogue