For the coastal city of Mairport, more politics, power and money trade hands behind closed doors than the unwitting common folk may ever know. Travelling as an Ambassador of the sovereign’s inland nation, Lady Erys Wynthae stands at the heart of such matters, yet powers beyond her are already at play. Played for a pawn in the schemes of others with but one escape, Lady Wynthae will welcome the mere beginning of events that see the city brought to its knees in vengeance.
Now published in ebook formats as part of the Wight Snow series.
“Goodness, are we almost there, Gyles?” Yawning into her soft hand, perfectly manicured nails flashing in the midday sun before lazily raking and coiling a furl of her silken brown hair, Erys was not a woman whom travelled well over long distances.
“I believe so, milady, we have passed Tylfen, so I dare say less than an hour’s wait now.” Her assistant sat opposite her, much more tempered to waiting on the noble lady’s whim and temperament, his voice a slow and somewhat disinterested drawl.
“Hmm, very well… it has been a rather pleasant journey for once. Ah, but I do hope it does not stink overly of fish and sea, now that would ruin it…” The noble lady complained, wrinkling her nose and sniffing loudly as though to cling to what may be the last of the clean air as she flicked the rustic curl of hair back over her shoulder.
“I believe it will not, milady. Mairport is a city beyond its docks, its lordship holding manor a fair distance from them.” Sat with his back to the road the juddering carriage took, Gyles was a man that looked as simple as his droll voice, gaunt cheeks to a sharp chin, trim brown hair, moustache and sharp green eyes gave to more of a dashing than handsome image. Dressed in the regal near-black violet thread popular amongst the Linhern nobility, a trait most often inherited by their servants’ dress code, his rather simplistic, lower class aesthetic appealed to the Lady. Servants should look the part, and not draw the eye.
“As he should… truth, but I would have turned down such a request to mediate were it not for how pitiful the situation quite is. Flaming port ‘cities’ are little more than towns clinging to their shores and ships for trade, no cultural worth at all!” Erys complained, wearily leaning back against the soft cushion of the carriage and smoothing out her travelling dress needlessly. Even in travel it was important to make wealth known, and so whilst her servant’s attire was a simple cloth that would pass for a black livery in poor light, hers was slashed with all shades of violet, white and gold trims, a beacon of the high life and all its regal intricacies.
“Might milady rest if she is uneasy?” With little to say on the matter and no intent to indulge her idle tantrum, Gyles’ suggestion saw her nod acceptingly, so much as even closing her eyes as she rested against the high back of the luxurious leather seat.
“Ah, yes… wake me when we have arrived, if I do not gag on the scent first…” Left to a peaceful silence, the carriage drawn by a pair of horses down the uneven country road by a single driver cloaked and hooded from the scorching sun whom looked as though they too could be asleep continued on its uneventful journey to the fair, coastal city of Mairport.
Within an hour of the sun on high, the carriage stood within a thick tunnel of a gate in a high stone wall. Nothing quite so grand as Linhern, evident by the carriage driver’s apparent apathy for the broad cityscape to spill out from beyond the mouth of the harbour city, but a sheltering gateway all the same. Segmented into residential blocks and broader commercial streets that led straight down to the dock, one could come and go without getting lost, here.
“Woah now! Hold!” Halting the horses, it seemed there was a running security check at the gate, not uncommon for such a place, through it brought the first reaction from the hooded driver in form of a despondent twist of the lips.
“Name and business, traveller? Get that flaming cowl off in the city, have you no manners?” Taking a moment to calm, the driver placed the reigns into the holding wedge and slowly pulled back the cowl. Beneath was a pretty young girl with ash-black hair that contrasted harshly with her pale skin and the near-grey of her fair blue eyes.
“Hail, my name is Eliza Morl, though that is of no consequence, my Lady Erys Wynthae of Linhern is an expected guest of your lordship, Sir Larson Moore.” Eliza explained from atop her carriage seat, earning a bewildered look as the gateman scratched at his brow. This Eliza was pretty to be sure, but it almost seemed too young a beauty to be up there. She looked small, but neither fae nor circus freak.
“You even old enough to be up there, young lady? Truth be the names sound familiar, but I’ve no time to entertain children’s games, let me speak with your guardian…” Dry of an already limited patience for his post, the man dressed in the simple blue livery and chain of Mairport began to make for the carriage before Eliza slammed an open palm into the wooden seat, leaning over the edge.
“How rude! I’ll have you know I celebrated my first adult age at the turn of the year, I am completely legal!” The declaration made at quite a pitch left the gateman to wince and groan, turning back to glower up at the young lady putting on her best disgruntled pout. He really did not have the patience for this sort of thing, and the carriage’s driver seemed much more spirited, her pout quickly turning to a wicked smile.
“Hmm? What, is that disappointment? Don’t tell me you’re that sort of person, mister… one that would detain young girls under suspicion then give them a thorough insp–” Eliza teased, all but laying across the carriage seat now, boots wagging in bemusement as her voice turned to a huskier tone full of words no innocent young lady should know to consider.
“Enough! Truth but I will have you taken to a cell for disturbing the peace if you don’t watch your tongue. Mercy you’d think to take it as a flaming compliment, not call a flaming scene…” Walking back up alongside the driver to stop her from raising her voice again, his mood was far from improving, but her own seemed unfettered.
“Well now, it’s only a compliment if you mean it, but I’ll believe you. Maybe I’ll visit your dungeons later, make sure there’s no bad men on the watch, but you’re a good man, aren’t you? Here.” Sitting back up properly, Eliza pulled a small grey cloth pouch from within her cloak, throwing it to the man who caught it against his chest. It jingled with a familiar weight of coin, and something softer.
“What in hells is this?” Rolling the pouch in his hand, he found his palm was covered in a soft white dust as though it were full of flour or grain along with the coin. Quick to lower it out of sight into his own coat and wipe his hand off against his side, he put the concern out of mind for knowing to not be seen taking such things from travellers on the watch. Eliza only smiled with a thin, knowing glint.
“A gift! Is it not good will to bring something with you when visiting a new place? Think nothing of it, but no hard feelings, right?” Setting herself straight and putting on a demurely pleasant voice as she gathered up the reigns, Eliza looked down to the man for approval, leaving him to groan and wave her on.
“Get out of here, straight down and right at the second market. If anyone stops you tell them the flaming West gate flagged you as an important person to not be disturbed.” Waving her off on that claim, it seemed he was glad to be through with Eliza, whom giggled considerably more cheerfully as she gave her thanks and clapped the reigns, setting the horses moving.
A street later, the small carriage driver had her cowl back up with a ragged sigh, all but slumping down in the seat as though all her energy had been spent. Over hard cobbles the carriage continued, shaking and rattling from side to side as it passed through the first market. For as vibrant and busy as the simple street was, none were fool enough to get in the way of traffic to and from the dock down the central divides, no need to pay a great deal of attention to them.
Entering the central market, just before the turn off down the road to the Mayor’s mansion, both the horses reared and whinnied in shock. Perhaps someone was fool enough to run in front of a carriage? Waiting for them to calm down and be done trampling whatever had gotten under their hooves, Eliza closed her eyes and lowered her head under the hood to focus, ignoring the bustle of those beneath her high seat.
“Nnh? Hells… what is going on?” From within the carriage, the wailing horses had woken the Lady Erys to look out the window with bleary and unfocused eyes.
“I believe something has spooked the horses, milady, it shouldn’t be a matter.” Gyles replied, as level and disinterested as ever. Leaving the noble lady to gather her bearings, the servant watched as she flitted from one side to the other’s window and back, sniffing derisively.
“We’re here? Why did you not wake me?” Affronted by being taken off guard in such a way, the lady folded her arms and sat back against the fine leather, scowling over at her servant, who only smiled and raised a hand.
“Forgive me, I thought that perhaps yours might sleep through whatever commoner’s stench we occur before reaching the manor, or if it may truly waken you…” So he said, and in truth the smell was not as terrible as she could have imagined, a rather fair standard for a marketplace, if common. Looking back out the window, some heavily built man was dragging a cloaked figure away from the carriage and off the street into their butcher’s shop.
“Heavens, what do you suppose he’s going to do with them…?” Lady Erys wondered, a rather natural prickle of unease at witnessing such a scene with a fellow already rather bloodied by trade. Gyles gave a thoughtful hum before responding.
“I feel it would be unwise to do trade there, in the near future.” A candid and measured reply, nothing more detailed needed be said on the matter. Whether accurate or not, the event had only concerned them vicariously through halting the horses for a moment.
“Or ever, honestly…” Erys breathed out in a disparate disgust for folk that would resort to such things, letting her eyes wander the roaming crowd as the carriage resumed movement. Amongst them, her gaze was drawn to and locked with a young woman that stood out sorely amongst the common mess. To find the girl staring back amused and interested Erys, whom met and held the gaze beyond that glancing moment.
A cute girl, amusingly so, she was not so… unclean as most around her, and held the look of a wild animal amongst predators. A deer, or maybe a hare, Erys decided, given the thick twin braids to flail and swing out from down her back as the girl quickly averted her gaze in a flustered panic. Not a city girl at all, it seemed.
“Ah, pity… were we not here on business, I think I would buy that young girl and show her to a true city…” The thought of it, seeing the timid hare shrink to but a shrew that clung to its Mistress’ tailcoat in a vast and powerful world it knew nothing of certainly lifted Erys’ spirits. Oh, but the fun she could have toying with such an innocent little thing amongst nobles.
“Perhaps when we are done you will have the fortune to meet her again, milady.” Gyles put in, thinking nothing of her bold statement. As one who had been bought into her service, he knew the procedure was not all so uncommon amongst the nobility. Those with power had ways of paying to remove all trace of another’s existence and leaving them dependent on their new ‘owner’.
“Perhaps so! She would make a fine closure to this messy business of diplomacy, after all…” Sighing wistfully, Lady Erys sat back and waited for the ride to be over as the carriage weaved through streets and down quieter lanes to finally pass the manor’s tall gates, having passed through the rest of the city with no trouble at all.
Stepping out first, Gyles shielded his eyes as he looked up at the fine mansion, sun glinting off its many windows. A fine establishment indeed, expansive gardens in every direction ensured guests were easily seen and well received with much to enjoy. Not too stark a contrast from the stone-laid city around it, but a quaint island of sorts all the same.
“Ahem…” Lady Erys’ impatience prompted her servant a reminder to turn and offer a hand, the expectant woman stepping out of the carriage with a relieved sigh to have finally arrived. Within a moment, a pretty maid was at the door to greet them both, lowering herself appropriately and thanking them both for making such a journey. Eliza simply sat at her station, waiting for them to be done and away from the carriage wheels.
“Yes, of course. Well then, if you will see us to rooms.” Erys prompted, wanting to be away from the chill sea air and relax after such an arduous journey. A bath would do her good, too.
“Yes, right this way! Ah, Jerel, would you see to the carriage?” Turning on quick feet, the homely maid addressed another servant within the manor, waving him over. A handsome young man in a simple, shaven way, he interested Erys no more than Gyles did, and knew better than to try and eye interest in the nobles that ran his life. Quickly walking outside as the Lady and her servant were guided in, Jerel made his way to the front of the horses with a fond patting of one’s side to make his presence known.
“Hey there… ah, greetings, I didn’t see you up there. The stables are this way.” As quiet as Eliza had been, the carriage driver managed a small smile as she clapped the reigns, ushering them to move as the young man guided onward.
“I don’t mind if you rather romance the horse, stable boy. You’ll help me carry some things afterwards, yes?” Her casual remark got the hooded driver a strange look, but was otherwise ignored as the carriage was guided along the length of the mansion and around the back to its stables, a good distance from the main house.
“Things? Oh, luggage from up top? Of course, but shouldn’t we have done that around the front?” Unhitching the horses from the carriage one at a time to lead them, the young man scratched his head as he glanced up. Waiting for him to be done, Eliza tied the reigns and tucked them into their notch on the centre of the seat before standing up and turning to work the binding ropes holding the crates and luggage in place.
“My, how astute. No, not an awful lot of it is personal luggage so much as… gifts, supplies and valuables for storage. Some are very valuable, so take care.” There was a quiet harshness in Eliza’s voice as she explained that, untying the ropes and threading them out through the canopy of the tall carriage. Coming back to stand aside it and rub his chin, Jerel looked up to the diminutive driver with the quick tongue.
“Really, that valuable? It looks like a lot, too, why would they need so much…?” His questioning earned a brisk tutting as Eliza threw a suitcase off the top at him, leaving him to stagger and almost fall as he caught it.
“You’re a man, aren’t you? Don’t sound so weak-willed over a little work. Besides, should you really be asking questions like that? I hear in Linhern they’ll pierce and bolt the tongue of servants they find gossiping over their betters so others know to be wary as soon as they see one open their loose lips again. I wonder what they do here…” Eliza mused, smiling quietly from under her cowl as she picked up a smaller case, dropping it off the side of the carriage. What hand luggage the noble Lady did have would not worsen for being kicked around a step.
“No, I… right, forgive me.” Jerel blurted, trying desperately to shake off the unease as he gathered up the cases and put them to one side. With those out of the way there wasn’t much atop the carriage, it had just been a clutter of spread, as though to cloak the larger crates.
“Hm? I don’t care, but you’re here to help, not give me annoying questions. Here.” Passing a solid wooden crate down much more carefully, Eliza waited until the man had it firmly secured in outstretched hands before letting go, giving much more care to each of these than the clothing.
“So these are the supplies? Ah… I mean, they’ll want to go in storage, right?” For all his legs were steady against the weight of the crates, all easy enough to handle, it still felt as though he were on thin ice with the woman handing them down, and had no interest in testing her patience.
“Correct, you should have a basement around here, right? I saw at least one set of cellar doors on the way around. We’ll take them down there.” Eliza declared, as much making herself at home as the noble Lady to have gone on ahead. With all the smaller crates down, there was but one longer, rectangular box that spanned the length of the carriage roof for Eliza to carefully pull to the edge and turn so its end peaked over.
“Okay, this one is extremely important. You drop it and I’ll drop a boot on your head so hard you wake up dead, understood?” Nudging it a bit further, the lengthy crate didn’t even begin to tip until it was all but half off the roof. Jerel had his hands up readily for it, suitably anxious to get it safely.
“I don’t think I could… alright. I’ve got it.” Choosing to not even attempt to understand the strange woman’s choice of words – perhaps it was a quirk of these Linhern folk – Jerel caught the tail end of the long crate and helped ease it a way down before Eliza hopped off the carriage, slipping underneath to support it leaving the lip of the carriage. There was a silent reverence in her for this one, and Jerel thought better than to question her again, or even make conversation.
“Alright, we’re taking this one down first.” All but pushing him from her end as she held the thing up, Eliza did not care for quips or small talk either, and simply instructed him onward. For its size, it wasn’t all that heavy, as though very little lay within it, but that was not Jerel’s place to wonder about at all, and frankly he no longer wanted to know what their business was at all. Before long, all the smaller crates were stacked away neatly alongside the important one in the safety of one of the mansion’s many cellars, their work done.
“Aah, finally! Here, for all your manly lifting.” Happy to be done, Eliza threw the servant a small pouch that jingled when he caught it, a puff of white dust bursting from it and coating his hand. Coughing and waving off the strange mist, Jerel looked down at the pouch and back up to the rather short driver.
“Ah, don’t mind that… the pouch got a little messy, but the coin is good, go on.” Shooing him off with the gift, Eliza worked a passing smile as she waited for him to be gone, collecting the last of her things from the top of the carriage. Only asked to usher the horses in and content to be away from the strange woman, Jerel took the coin pouch thankfully and made his leave on her graces. With her own satchel in hand, Eliza stood to look out across the landscape surrounding them.
The docks and tranquil sea beyond bustled with ships and workers. The distant prison nestled into the far walls of the city on high cliffs stood in a gloomy silence, as far from the people as it could be. Markets and buildings with interweaving streets spanned a good distance in every direction around the grand mansion. An image of growth and development, to be sure.
“Soon…” Hoisting her pack, Eliza sighed out the single word and jumped from the carriage, walking around the mansion to the cellar they had used to walk down, shutting and bolting the wide board doors behind her as she entered the solemn gloom. Despite the thick darkness, the woman had no trouble navigating the musty corridor into the spacious storeroom without falling over anything along the way.
Aside the most important crate at last – longer, taller and heavier than any other – Eliza dropped her pack and knelt aside it, kneeling down to stroke the fine grain of the wood around its locked hinges. It wasn’t nearly as elegant as she would have liked, but then she understood the necessity for it to be this way. Taking the key from her pouch, Eliza carefully unlocked the crate in the dark of the cellar, slowly raising the lid on its hinge.
“Mistress…” To the softly ethereal glow that emanated from within the long crate, Eliza gave only the softest whisper. Within, rested on a bed of padded black silk, a sleeping beauty with efflorescent white skin and silvery golden hair lay. Even resting peacefully with nary a thing to cover her porcelain skin, the ethereal woman gave an air of nobility and power those above could not dream of.
Shuffling out of her robe, Eliza leant forward to cup her Mistress’ soft cheek that all but glowed like the moon above on a full night. No, of course mortal humans could not attain the beauty of one freed from their world of weakness and death, but they could come to serve her, in time.
Leaning in, Eliza pressed her lips to the firm chill of her Mistress’ own, working them softly as her fingers moved up to glide through the true Lady’s elegant hair. It did not matter that the kiss was a one-sided affair as she gently parted and squeezed on the tender curve, softly licking her Mistress’ lips to soften and wet them before nudging past to deepen the gentle embrace, for Eliza’s duty and desires were aligned accordingly.
Twirling her tongue around her Mistress’ still mouth, teasing her tongue and savouring the icy taste, Eliza slid her fingers down. From the beautiful, silken hair to her Mistress’ fine collar, tracing the lines in it until brushing against the necklace of pure white moonsteel that trailed down to an intricate, twisted cage.
Following the necklace down, Eliza stopped short of touching the dark gem, instead moving her hand away to caress and cup the unyielding swell of her Mistress’ breast that barely gave under her gentle fondling. Focusing on rubbing her fingers over the dark blue cap of a nipple, Eliza suckled and breathed into the kiss dutifully until a twitch of life rushed through the otherworldly woman beneath her.
Her wetted tongue and lips were the first to react, flicking and nudging against Eliza’s intrusion as her long eyelashes fluttered and rose. Bold rubies glowing in the dark of the cellar fixed Eliza’s gaze with a tranquil, almost unliving stare until focus and emotion filled them, narrowing slightly in a smiling glimmer. Breaking the tender kiss, Eliza smiled down at her Mistress as a subtle chill touched her cheek.
“We are here, though it is yet seven of the hourglass until nightfall, Mistress.” Eliza explained, her fingers gently tracing and hugging the resting woman’s breast fondly. In return, she smiled and nodded softly, a pure white hand rising up rake fingers through Eliza’s hair and cup her cheek. Gasping at the harsh rush of frigid chill to run through her, Eliza closed her eyes as the illusion of colours and makeup froze and shattered from her face – the dull pink pigment falling away to show her for the soft violet tone and sheer white hair true to her being.
“Good, then there is time…” Speaking in a sultry whisper of appraisal, the ethereal woman’s hand drew Eliza closer, her free arm rising up to snake around the smaller woman’s waist and guide her into the coffin-like crate until she lay atop her.
“Aah… yes, Mistress Lystra…” Daring to breathe out her divine name, Eliza allowed herself to be invited in, laying atop the firm chill of her beloved Mistress whose legs deftly slid to see Eliza straddle one of the supple thighs. Shorter as she was, Eliza’s knee all but nestled between Lystra’s legs with how she had been guided, pressing softly at her soft folds, just as her thigh pressed at Eliza’s sensitive spot. Lystra giggled softly, sealing her lips back to Eliza’s own to quiet her, gently shifting her leg against the smaller woman’s thighs.
From Lystra’s delicate white hands that held her servant close, a second pair of much more ghostly and ethereal arms rose. One traced down the contour of Eliza’s spine, making the little woman twitch and shiver before it slid down, over her pert behind and between her legs. The other reached up, grasping the door of the long crate to gently pull down and seal them into the darkest of privacies. None would find their way down to the cellar, but if they did, they would still discover naught but stored boxes and packs.
Far above them, the Lady Erys prepared for a banquet of hospitality and business alike.
Sat across the dining table from the good Lord Larson Moore, pleasantries over a wine glass came easily to Lady Erys Wynthae, Ambassador of Linhern. This was why she was here – to seduce, in a way. To charm and acquiesce security of the allegiance in Mairport’s trade routes. She was, of course, much obliged to enjoying the fine cuisine brought before her whilst doing so, lightly sipping the heady wine as she smiled through their conversation.
“Quite right, Lord Moore, I’d expected no less of Mairport’s Trade Prince, but your wealth of news for the times is yet impressive.” A sincere enough compliment that saw Erys tilt her glass to him before placing it down to take up the cutlery once more, cutting into the soft venison lavished with a creamy sauce and freckles of spice. Across from her, the hearty man – as stocked in build as he was in wealth – laughed appreciatively, waving the comment away.
“Ah, it is my business, Lady Wynthae. We of the Mahtanel Seafarers Guild are a lifeline to many lands, politics are something we remain impartially aware of to not step on bloodied toes, as it were.” Larson explained his situation while chuckling softly and gesturing with his silvered knife. Erys could only work a pressed smile as she ate, as much swallowing how his boasting made her skin crawl as the fine meat.
Where it not for the independence founded by noble ancestors, their pithy Mahtanel towns would have simply been annexed into ownership of the lands years ago, and this would not all be necessary in the first place! Of course, wars for ownership of the sea straights would become more prevalent than that of the land without their impartial unity, but this was no time to get full on it.
“A prudent course! Should the upstarts to the south and west of Linhern gain the support of a supply chain enough to threaten the sanctity of Linhern itself, we could no longer guarantee the safety of Mairport against such action.” It’s only by our grace your flaming town is safe at all! Sipping on the wine, Erys let the more heated thought race through her mind alone, smiling as Larson across from her nodded thoughtfully.
“Hmm… so you say, but to attack the Mahtanel is to make an enemy of the world at large, none are so foolish as that, surely.” Back in his posture of confidence and power, the comment made Erys want to bite through the fork before relenting and taking a moment to savour the food as she thought.
Of course, having an independent control of much of the high seas trade levied a sense of equality and stability across all ports. A formidable nation with no borders, as it were, their power over trade had earned them a certain immunity to conflict, as a port city assaulted was a city removed from the sea map at large, and much of the value in ownership with it.
“So it may be, but have the trade routes not been under considerable harassment from nameless privateers and pirates of late? Were your Mahtanel so impervious, Linhern would not have needed to aid in the construction of sea-faring battleships to protect the waters, now…” Her words held as much venom as truth, a careful balance of threat and persuasion nestled beautifully in her feminine charm. Again a pause for thought and meat before Larson was given to reply.
“Hm, you believe these… rebels to be in allegiance with those raiding ships at high sea? A very serious claim to pin so far.” He had seen and understood both sides of her words, of course, but would not be so simply goaded by guilt and the unwritten expectation of good will. For those of the Mahtanel, written contracts were the only solid ground in a vast sea.
“Oh, I can only speculate, my lord, but certainly if Linhern cannot devote resources to fighting crime at sea, I dread to think of all the black market privateers and pirates who would dock for extortionate rates in our and your absence. You are less alone on the seas with each coming year, it seems.” It was time to press her point, for Mairport’s allegiance affected both sides of this conflict, and Erys was beginning to grow weary. Whilst Linhern had a stronger stock to outlast any siege, farms and fields beyond, protecting them from pillage would mean little if supplies came from sea to the gathering rabble beyond the gates.
“Well now, yes… we are grateful for the military assistance, of course – the first ships are scheduled for departure in mere days, are they not? As soon as the last of their crews arrive.” Assistance. Was he truly trying to downplay Linhern’s involvement in it? The crews were as good as conscripted from around the continent by the Mahtanel’s network, but they, the wood and carpenters included were under the capital’s payroll, and flew the flag of their patron nation. The protection he stood upon to even seem as though he could barter over the city’s security despite that was enough to turn Erys’ stomach.
“Now, that is not to say I do not appreciate the ramifications of your plight, I would just like to enjoy your company for a while longer before settling the matter to pen and seeing you off, no gain in haste. You are, after all, staying to see the first ships sail, yes?” Finished with the meal first, it was Larson to place the cutlery down, signalling over a maid to take the plate as he dabbed at his lips and finished the wine. Erys nodded quietly as she contended with the last of her own dinner.
“That is right, the journey is tiresome once, a chance to rest and see Linhern’s efforts in person would do well before suffering that return, I believe.” Finishing her own for the silent maid to slip in and clean out of her way, Erys lounged back in the tall chair, finding her body relax contently after the meal.
“What better way to show our gratitude, I would have it no other way. So long as you are within Mairport, you are my esteemed guest, Lady Wynthae. Allow me to show you the grounds properly, that you might make yourself at home.” With the maidservant away handling the dishes, it stood to reason that he should see to entertaining his guest personally, of course.
Dabbing a tablecloth at her cheeks, Erys nodded and rose from her side of the table, moving around the corner in the lavish purple dining dress she had changed into. Not four steps around the corner and Erys’ legs buckled and gave out, staggering and stumbling forward to be caught against Larson’s chest.
“Goodness, are you alright?” Her head felt dizzy and dull as she squinted and groaned, pulling herself up and off his chest – or at least trying to. A flustered rubbing and nuzzle was all she could manage until the man aided her in standing straight, letting her rest against the edge of the table.
“Yes… I think so. Gods but I hadn’t thought the journey had exhausted me so…” All but breathless in shock, Erys shook her head and pushed away from the table, able at least to stand on her uneasy legs. The clouding fuzz was not getting any better, so much as impairing her hearing.
“It is quite a distance! You must have left before the dawn itself, no time for a Lady to be out.” Larson put in, standing close to support her as Erys teetered uneasily.
“Yes, you are right, of course, but I… I think I must decline the offer for now, and retire.” Her body taking the words as resignation, a crashing wave of fatigue swept Erys into a sudden blackness, crashing down into Lord Moore’s chest.
“Goodness, truly… Anna! Come and give me a hand!” The last Erys heard was the man calling for a maid to aid him as she slumped against him. It seemed shame would wait, for there was no controlling her body’s will in that moment, sending her quickly into a restless sleep. As time passed in that darkness, strange scenes fluttered behind Erys’ eyes, memories and voices that felt as if they belong to another, yet somehow filled her mind.
“Being sent to negotiate treaty… already signed off, sold…”
“Bandits on the long road beyond Tylfen… seem like a simple mugging.”
“Yes, you’ll have to take care of them to have a free hand at her.”
“All the subjects you require. The city will become yours.”
Chills ran through her sleeping body, penetrating her restless mind without causing her to wake, as though gentle fingers were caressing her very soul. Where was this voice coming from when she had never heard it before? What did it even mean? It was not the Trade Prince, nor Gyles or anyone she could recall speaking with in Linhern about the business she had been entrusted with by the Noble’s Court that all but ran the city.
Similarly, there had been no bandits, and nothing was signed off or sold, yet. Those unwelcome thoughts seemed to haunt her through her unconsciousness, but Erys felt there was still much work ahead of her. When the Lady finally awoke, she would find her work had not yet begun.
Groggily waking to a dim light and pallid chill, her arms throbbed with a numb pain. She was standing, or at least able to relieve the strain in her arms from pressuring her feet against the ground already, but that made no sense. She should have been resting in a comfortable bed on her back in a much warmer room than this.
“Nnh, what…” Groaning as her groggy head slowly woke to the reality of her situation, the noble Lady was yet slow to piece anything together. She could hear a conversational voice, what sounded like Larson and another woman. The surrounding walls were dark and simple, no elaborate furnish or flare one would expect from a rich mansion.
Erys moved to rub the hazy sleep from her face so that she might better see and understand, except her hand would not move. Realisation prickled the back of her neck – her hands were bound in a wooden stock, high above her head. Hard on its tail came the realisation that she stood naked in the dark room, not feeling a thing on her body from her cold feet – similarly spread and locked in wooden stocks – to bared chest and empty hands.
“What is the meaning of this?! Larson, is that you? Release me at once!” Unable to see the man speaking a distance behind her, Erys could only twist and struggle against the bondage that held her upright, exposing her body hopelessly to the cold air. For a woman so recently asleep, her mind raced with furious indignation as though rest were a distant memory. What had he done with her?
“Yes, it looks like it’s about time, go on, and oh, Anna… get to bed afterwards, you seem pale.” It was most certainly Larson’s smooth voice, one that left Erys to clench her teeth now. No political immunity or protection would save him from this indecency.
“Yes, Master. Excuse me.” Bowing herself out, Anna ignored the Lady’s yells and left the stone chamber on quick feet, her voice hoarse and uneven. Footsteps scuffed closer to her, a ragged sigh coming from the approaching man.
“I don’t know what happened to the welcoming party on the Tylfen road, but you certainly have been a troublesome one. I should hope you’ll be worth the costs it is incurring me.” Fingers raked up Erys’ supple behind, making her flinch and try to wriggle away, getting nowhere with how she all but hung from the chains above.
“Release me and explain yourself, Larson, and I may yet see Linhern spare you for this affront…” That fury in her was tempered by something darker, something colder that allowed the noble lady to continue to bridge her words in a level tone fit for delegation just as she had been trained.
“You know… on the Ciras Isles, men and women are kept as a living canvas of sorts, their whole bodies painted with special inks. It’s makes for quite a display of power to own a completed canvas – both for the owners to have such a fine piece of art and for the slave to have earned it. Now, I am no Algar ink painter, but I must say you would make for a wonderful canvas, yes.” Those fingers on her behind curled and clenched, softly sinking into the giving plumpness as her equally giving thighs shook and rubbed against one another.
“Nnh, you will regret this…” Losing notes of her composure as a second hand caressed up her side, hugging the slight curve in her waist, Erys could only grit her teeth and ignore the roaming fingers that seemed to appraise her figure like a block of hanging meat. Larson’s chuckle came rich in her ears.
“Oh, of course I may, what is a business venture without the potential for regret? Nary a spot of risk for gain is what. Truth, I already regret hiring some vagabonds to swindle good coin over the simplest of kidnapping. Just imagine my surprise when you – whom should have been dragged off the roadside and reported missing – parade through the city and arrive with nary a care.” The fingers left Erys’ rump, only to swing down and smack the soft curve with a hard, flat slap, as though she were responsible for the matter. The quick rush of pain was more infuriating than agonizing, leaving Erys to gasp and all but growl through clenched teeth as she squirmed and struggled with the bondage.
“Nngh, when Linhern hears of this…” The hissed threat fell on laughter as Larson circled around to her front, his fingers brazenly tracing around her thigh and up her tensing stomach as she tried to back away.
“Oh yes, when Linhern hears of how your returning carriage was discovered broken and burned on the side of the road with no sign of its passengers, I don’t know what I’ll do to console myself.” Mulling over the tragic situation, Larson lifted his hand up to cup and weigh one of Erys’ breasts, squeezing a soft squeak from her as she shivered to ignore the jolt of stimulation running through her.
“Hnn… don’t touch me, you filth…” Erys spat her words, eyes dark with all the outrage she could manage, but nothing had ever been quite so out of her control. To have the rug so fully pulled from under her was something she was not prepared for at all.
“Hmm, filth… perhaps I am.” Larson began, smiling quietly and ignoring her order, instead clasping her soft nipple between thumb and forefinger to roll it thoughtfully. “I’ve always thought there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who control money, and those controlled by it. Is it not fascinating how quickly one becomes the other? Rather, how quickly one who believes they are in control is proven wrong?” The self-assured smile about his face as Larson tweaked and tugged her nipple was sickening. Pulling and lifting her breast by that teat, he forced its weight to hang and tug all the more roughly as Erys squirmed, too off-balance to talk back.
“How quickly ‘aggressor’ becomes ‘victim’, how soon ‘true’ is revealed to be ‘false’, how you have devoted your life to following a façade of nobility, and with one simple trade, that all falls to nothing. For you to live such a grand, yet empty existence, I wonder which of is truly filth.” It was strange for words to sting more than the touch of his fingers. Erys could only surmise it was that the touch was much too gentle, the words stabbing much too deep beyond an unguarded front. No amount of training had left her to deal with a situation such as this.
“Is this really the time or place for philosophical talks, Larson? They don’t suit you at all.” It was from behind her that the familiar, tired voice came, walking down the staircase into the room she couldn’t see. Behind it a metal-hinged door whined shut and locked on a thick latch.
“Gyles? Help me, get me out of here!” Twisting and trying to turn to the servant, support and protection she had brought with her, Erys struggled with a surge of hope. His plan revealed and foiled, oh yes, who was true, false, and the victim of others would change very suddenly, now!
The cracking bite of a leather crop across Erys’ behind stung more from how it ripped those thoughts of freedom and a quick turnabout from her mind as she gasped and quivered to strangle back a cry than it did from any physical pain. The aftershock of the strike nibbled at her skin with a sordid heat.
“Oh peace, man, I was simply passing the time while waiting on you.” Letting go of her breast, Larson spoke with such a familiar and expectant tone that sent a chill down Erys’ spine, shattering hope beyond hope.
“Gyles, you’re… you would betray me?” Still squirming to try and see the man behind her, the question earned another sharp lashing of that hard leather tip across her soft buttocks, leaving her to squeal another gasp and shake as her manservant barked a weak laugh.
“My lady, when loyalty is as deep as one’s pockets, might you wonder what would happen if a more… lucrative hand was offered?” A pause, no more strikes of the crop. She was to think on her situation clearly and stew in the throbbing bites that already burned her perfect skin.
“But why, why?! I provided for you in Linhern, gave you safety and reas–hnn!” Another sharp crack, the stiffened tip licking down across the swell of one buttock to make it quiver and clench as Erys squirmed, bucking and struggling to escape the hot pain that dug into her.
“You saw me as a thing to be purchased, owned, and bought me as one would a pet animal. Never once did I ask for your manipulation, the disappearance of all I was, nor the dependency on your will!” Another strike, lower, across the supple backs of her thighs made Erys squeal and almost jump from the welt of pain to echo through her legs.
“Nnh… is that what you want, money? You can’t trust this man! You’re going to live on the run if you do this, I’ll give you whatever you want so just stop, release me and I will forgive you for being so easily swayed!” Trying to find her footing to barter was difficult enough when the man was beneath her, never mind whence her body burned with such indecent humiliation, but Erys understood the pull of power and greed well enough to exploit it like any other. Larson had left her, walking across the room to rummage in a drawer for something. That unsettling laughter tickled her ears again as the stiff tip of the crop was gently brushed up her thigh and between her legs.
“My Lady, you have nothing left to give me, least of all forgiveness. The one thing you yet may give me is the satisfaction of seeing you pulled off your pedestal. Your very name has already been stricken from record in Linhern, and me? Well, I never had a name there, did I, now?” The words made Erys shiver despite the heat in her body as she stared ahead with wide eyes into the dark nothingness of the stone wall. It was true that servants held no register beyond employment to their owners, yet still… her name, connections, everything she had built, gone? Impossible.
“Ah, that’s not fair, Gyles.” Larson had turned around, waving past Erys and chuckling. “Why, it’s very important her name still exist! Such a fair ambassador, taken by bandits on what should be safe roads? Why, when I hear the news of her fate from Linhern, well… I should think I’ll press for a stronger militia presence along trade routes in our dear lady’s late memory.” She could not believe it – did not want to believe it, but this was the truth of it. She had been made a pawn, a chip in someone else’s game? Ridiculous, she had been sent here to bargain, not to be the bargain!
“And whomsoever the militia that rally to your noble cause may be is of no concern when ‘fealty’ has been honoured to Linhern in her memory.” Gyles’ familiar, droll tone as his fingers touched the throbbing sting of her behind was a jarring presence amidst this whole thing, yet it seemed this plot was more convoluted than simply selling her off.
“Oh, yes, to Linhern’s future… whomsoever that may lie with, but enough about that, here, this is much more efficient for your needs.” Picking up a wicked thing of black leather strips, Larson ushered Gyles over, the man finally passing Erys’ vision. Dressed in a fine shirt of white silk with laced collar and cuffs, she would barely recognise him at a glance, especially with that evil crop hooked under the belt of his trousers – an opaque blue that reminded Erys of the dark sea, and the blackest of leather shoes.
“I see, yes… and this, to stop her biting her tongue, I take it?” Ignoring her to converse over the disturbing items on the table, Gyles had picked up an item that seemed like the chomping bit of a horse’s reigns, a number of straps hanging from either side of it.
“Precisely, likely you have seen them used in public floggings? The whip is very similar, but much more treated – it won’t break the skin or leave any permanent marks that might devalue her.” His tone was much too familiar for Erys’ liking, and Gyles all too accepting of the information, nodding as he looked over the assortment of things arranged on the far table.
“I see, yes, and these… hmm, yes, interesting.” Gathering them up, Gyles turned back to the hanging Lady with a cruel twist of a smile Erys did not like at all. Bunched in his hand along with the new whip was a whole bundle of dark leather, buckles and straps. Well, the bit would stop her from giving him the satisfaction of a humiliating voice, and with that, surely she could endure anything these fiends gave her.
“Oh, no complaints or spiteful words? Hah, could it be, your fair lady longed to be dragged through the dirt and treated like a real woman?” Larson had kept his distance, having little part in the act, but still had a quick remark for how silently Erys accepted the gag into her mouth, knowing if there were things to resist in this situation, that was not one of them. Unprepared as she may be, she was not a complete fool unable to fight.
“Hm, perhaps she trusts me, or as you say, longed to be made a woman by those beneath her, how scandalous.” Gyles’ soft tone in her ear as he tightened the gag around her head sent a rush of shame down her spine, crashing into a torrent of illicit fury as the feel of his fingers gently rubbing her bare sex shot up through her from below.
“Nnh!” Well, now that she was unable to speak, that left her unable to defend herself from their verbal assaults beyond defiant grunts. Twisting her hips and trying to pull her body away from those roaming fingers that sent such unwanted licks of pleasure through her body was futile, the shackles around her ankles allowing her no room to move at all. Furthermore, struggling seemed to amuse the fiend that easily followed and worked his fingers over her supple mounds.
“I think that must be it.” Gyles declared, smiling quietly as he pulled his fingers away, only to firmly slap his palm up against those sensitive folds, making Erys squeak as she bit into the gag and jumped with wide eyes. What was that feeling? Why was she starting to drool, too? Struggling to catch her breath, Erys could barely feel the collar being slipped around her neck until it too tightened down, constricted her breathing ever so slightly with how it gripped her neck.
Giving her no time to even try and stop it, Gyles was in front of her once more, holding her head still with one hand as he fiddled with what looked like a pair of fish hooks on the end of a strap in the other. On closer inspection, they were not sharply tipped and more rigidly curved than a traditional fishing hook, even padded at the ends, but the noble lady could think nothing of what they were for until it was too late.
“Nnmh! Gnaah!” Those small, leather-padded hooks were pushed into her nostrils, perverse and uncomfortable enough to force a muffled whine from her, yet that was apparently just the beginning. With them hooked in, Gyles lifted the strap above and behind her head, tugging firmly on it until Erys cried out from how it scrunched and yanked her nose up.
“Hah, yes, it suits her! Ah, I knew that was something to look forward the moment she arrived.” Breathing felt somehow more difficult already, forcing her to whine out breathes through her gagged mouth as she tried to settle her mind and ignore the deranged thing. Gyles was fiddling with it behind her head, tugging and locking it into a buckle on what must be a harness for accessories to the collar around her neck. Erys did not want to know, but understood well enough that it wasn’t coming off any time soon, and hurt less than it humiliated.
“Yes, your explanation did not do it credit. Fitting for one who turns her nose up to all around her though, don’t you think?” Punctuating his question with a hard slap to her behind, the only answer Erys could give was a squeaking whimper, muffled and silenced by biting down on the bit stuffed between her lips, and to glare with defiant fury. Gyles could only chuckle, wiping the saliva from her chin to pat her cheek.
“That’s a good look, but I wonder how long you’ll keep it.” His tone soft and self-assured, those wetted fingers moved down to squeeze and tweak one of Erys’ unattended nipples, forcing the bound woman to squirm and bite on the gag to remain silent against the indecent onslaught. In his other hand, a shining glint came from his pocket, reflecting what little light the room held. The sight of it made Erys’ breathe catch as she stared.
“Oh, you know what these are? Well then, you know if you struggle it could hurt a lot more, so be still.” In his fingers was a tiny golden ring, a section of it cut away and curled outward to create more of a U shaped horseshoe hoop that, once snugged into place, framed Erys’ hardened nipple from either side. A second came to size up Erys’ other, already wakened nipple like a pair of fingers poking at her skin before being taken away, leaving her to squirm and whimper quietly in the back of her throat.
“They’re over here, yes?” Turning away from Erys and her pinched nipples, Gyles gestured over to a table where a portion of the room’s illumination came from for something she could not see, but also something she did not need to see.
“Ah, yes! Heated and sterile on my word, can’t have her marred by an infection now. You’re free to use them, but take care, too many can lower her value!” Larson was taking the role of some spectating devil, guiding the younger man through his fiendish acts. With Gyles out of sight, Erys devoted her time to glaring at that man across from her. She would make him pay for this.
“I can think of a place one or two others, but yes, this will do for now. Too many would grow gaudy.” So focused was her anger that Erys had ceased paying attention to exactly where Gyles was until she felt the hot needle-tip of the first binding catch poke the tiny hole at the tip of that pinching gold before sliding through her nipple like fire through butter.
“Mhh! Nnmhf!” Whining and clenching down on the bit gag hard enough that she wondered if she might break it, Erys braced against the piercing heat and pain, knowing very well that struggling now could tear her in the most horrifying of ways.
Within a single stifled breath, it was over, the needle threaded through to the other side of the hoop and nestled into a little gold ball clip to match the one opposite it. Clenching and shivering against the dull throb of pain that washed through her breast, Erys tried to calm herself as Gyles left for the second bar, leaving her painfully aware that it was coming, this time.
“Shh, just hold still…” Gyles’ words were anything but comforting and assuring as he returned, lifting her breast and carefully lining the pin up with the hoop’s threading hole, snug against her helpless nipple. A tiny thing, little more than half an inch long, thick enough to force the piercing to take shape and hold the hoop in place, Erys stared at it with fearfully resentful eyes all the same.
A simple push forward saw pain lance Erys’ chest once more, wincing and biting back a pained whine. The hot tip peeked out from the other side of her nipple immediately, threading perfectly before another little gold ball was clicked into place, closing off the needle. There was a certain elegance in them, but pierced jewellery was a thing for the ears – for fashion and show, not something so improper and vulgar as a place never shown!
“There, they suit you. Do you have a mirror for her?” Squeezing and kneading her sore breasts in those firm hands caused her nipples to puff up and squeeze on the bars running through them, swelling against the new intrusions until the pain ebbed out.
“Ah, of course. We can’t have a fine Lady go without admiring herself, now, can we?” Larson concurred in an all too knowing way, returning quickly with a full-bodied mirror to allow Erys to feast in just how helplessly degraded she had become. Her wrists lay bound in a stock high above her head, her ankles spread in a similar wooden frame with no give at all that made moving difficult, and ultimately as futile as struggling for privacy.
Those new rings of gold rested snuggly on her heaving breasts as though they were always there, not a spot of blood or discomfort showing on her body. It looked as though the fine metal merely adorned and hung from around her nipples like a frame to the engorged teats, but the truth was far more painful. The saliva trickling from her lips and down her chin had started to drip down there too, creating a slick and messy crevice between those adorned breasts.
Even so, it was from above that point, above the snug black collar around her neck that truly shocked Erys. Rushing straight past the bit gag, her eyes locked on just how badly her nose was distorted, her nostrils flared and stretched up to make her all but look like a pig. Who would create a device to mar and contort the face in such a way?! Shame rushed through her like a storm, leaving her to squirm and groan against the gag with a newfound energy and want to be free of such a ridiculous image, closing her eyes and turning away until her behind earned another hard smack, Gyles’ hand clenching her hair to force her gaze back up.
“Don’t look away, this is what you are, now.” Gyles declared, reaching for one of her new nipple rings to hook his finger in it and pull, making Erys wince and squirm against the sudden pangs it sent through her. No, no matter what these perverse fiends did to her, this was not who she was at all!
Panting heavily, Erys winced and reluctantly opened her eyes, staring at her image in the mirror and beyond to the reflection of him behind her. Letting go of the ring, he met her gaze with that satisfied smirk about his face, picking out another thing from behind her back.
“Remember your new face well, this is the last thing you’re going to see for a long time.” So said, Gyles produced a thick pad of leather, buckles and metal hoops lining the straps that fell from it. As the centrepiece – the thick pad of black leather with its cross-work of straps stitched in by metal clips – was drawn down over her eyes, Erys knew exactly what it was, and could no longer glare in fury, for fear overtook her.
As the light was snuffed out, the last thing the noble woman saw was the thick blindfold covering her eyes as though for a masquerade ball, but without any gaps in its fit for her eyes to see. Shrouded in darkness, it was all she could do to feel every strap wrapping around her head and tugging tightly as it was locked into place, holding the blindfold down securely from every angle, and snugging the straps under it in kind, tugging slightly on her nose.
Unease quickly set in. For all her predicament, she could at least see what was coming and defiantly glare at her captors, but now there was nothing she could do but stand and wait, robbed of her senses but for sound. The rigid clack of a lock behind her head sealed the finality of it all – she was not escaping this, now.
So it was that the booming crack of leather across the small of her back almost made Erys leap out of her skin, screaming around the gag in a way she had hoped wouldn’t be possible. With not a sound for warning and no sight to detract it, focusing on that searing lick was all her senses could do, unwittingly focusing and accentuating its presence.
Another strike, crossing back the other way. A lash across the backs of her thighs, a strike down her convulsing back. Left cheek, right thigh. The wicked leather tails hugged her side, licking her breasts and raking down her side, but there was no escape from the torrent of fire seeping under her skin.
Forearm, buttock, back, shoulder, never once with the same pace or ferocity, leaving Erys with no footing to get used to the demonic lashings that caressed her defenceless body so. His footsteps moved around in front of her, his hand in her hair to lift and straighten her head. She could not meet his gaze, but knew exactly whom it was as he chuckled softly, those deceptively soft leather tails swinging and gently brushing up between her legs.
“Faltering already? Oh, but we’re just getting started…” Gyles tone was full of unwanted promise as those gently flicking twists of the whip against her sensitive folds quickened, Erys’ panting quickening with them. While they began as gentle fan, even a constant flail at that soft speed was going to quickly sharpen and sting, and the truth of it was all her mind could focus on, now.
“Nnmgh, nmh!” Shaking her head was useless, and only made the fanning spin quicken, its angles changing as it already started to bite into her tender vulva. Each swinging lick was turning to a stinging tinge that set a perverse, quivering heat into her body. Wriggling and bucking away was all Erys could manage to try and escape its torment.
“What, you want it to stop?” For a wonder, the strikes did stop, though on some instinctive level, Erys felt no relief, her body bracing against a tension she could not see, but assuredly felt. A single cracking slap validated her fear. The multitude of tails licked – never once cutting or biting beyond an echoing sting of fury – down the front of her crotch, each evil length nipping at the fronts of her folds and biting into her clit.
The surge of agony to rush up through her body almost felt like an orgasm in and of itself, the strike not at all physically violent, but sharp enough to send quivering echoes of agony through her body. Thrashing and wailing into the gag her lips clung to for silence, Erys gave her all to enduring that sadistic blaze that would not calm, her head growing light and fuzzy from it all.
“You’ve never slept with a man, have you, Erys? Is that why you’re twitching so much?” His fingers were back on her, stroking and covering her throbbing mounds. The words and what they may mean put a new shock of panic in her, shaking her head and furiously muffling into the gag as she struggled away. Futile as it should have been, his fingers did leave her, replaced with that knowing laughter and a quick blow of the whip against her side that left Erys wobbling.
“Oh, don’t misunderstand, we’re not going to touch that. My apologies for disappointing you, but you’re worth much more with it intact. Nobles will pay a fine price for innocence, right?” The question was birched to Erys with another clap of the whip across her behind, but it was Larson to bark a quick laugh from across the room and answer.
“Hah, oh, they will! I must say I’m surprised, but then when one looks down on everything around them, they keep a cold bed, hm? Perhaps it’s just as well those bandits were not the ones to get at her… cheaper, but god’s truth they’d lay hands on her too, hah.” Musing over the turn of fortune, Larson chuckled to himself as the wicked lashings returned, each licking bite and snapping tear of stinging torture sapping the Lady’s pride and posture.
Sold… she was going to be shipped away, her name removed from memory, forgotten and placed on auction. Her freedom, identity, purity and all, a condiment for coin. It simply was not fair! She was a noble of the high life, not one to be broken and bought! She had done nothing to deserve such a fate! It was enough to make her weep, and in that crumbling weakness, as her legs buckled and went limp under the torment, Erys held only to one desperate wish.
“Someone, anyone, save me…”
Cold brushed Erys’ cheek, like a subtle breeze where no such wind would ever find her. It was too soft to be from the men, not water to waken or wash her nor the tears or saliva that marked her face. Softer, gentler than anything her addled and throbbing mind could understand.
“Poor thing, to serve such a fate…” A voice, a woman’s voice? Lashes drummed and painted her skin in fire as she hung in the bindings – she was not free, but who was this voice, then? Another come to torment her weakness? Would there be no end? That airy chill circled around her, softly caressing her aching shoulders. Somehow, the fire in her skin began to fade.
“Here…” The chill crept up her face, caressing Erys’ cheeks and sneaking under the blindfold to wash her eyes. Already gasping and whimpering with each lashing her body took, her shock of something manifesting in the darkness that filled her vision was muffled into the flood. A soft, ethereal outline and image of a face filled the void, lips forming to smile at her. Hands and arms appeared, reaching out to touch her cheeks and gently circle around her.
“Submit to me and I will take you away from this nightmare. Save you.” Erys wondered if she’d lost consciousness and was now having those delirious dreams from another’s mind again, fantasising some intangible escape or merely hallucinating through the torturous onslaught for the spirit she had lost. She didn’t know, and didn’t care. The illusion behind her eyes felt too soothing to turn away from, too alluring to deny. She didn’t know how, but she wanted to submit to it, to open her being and let it take her away. Anything but this.
“Good…” Erys couldn’t tell that she’d done or said anything one way or the other through the madness, yet suddenly, everything stopped. The pain was gone, feeling was gone. Her world was still a void of darkness, but now she felt separated from it all. The face before her smiled as it drew closer, seeming to join with her and meld into nothingness.
“Rest here for now, puppet.” Erys didn’t understand, yet nor did she care to try, for rest came naturally. Drifting peacefully in the darkness, she let the somehow familiar, haunting presence overtake and protect her from the world outside. Beyond her blindfold, Erys had finally gone limp, like a puppet with most of its strings cut. Her gasps and whimpers trailing off into nothing. Each new strike of the whip earned no reaction, her body wholly unconscious.
“Hey, I think she’s out.” Watching from across the room where he had a fine view of how she hung heavily in the bindings, Larson raised warning of her condition, barely shaking from her last stroke. Gyles stopped, slowly rubbing his hand across the harsh red of her behind and up the patchwork he had made of her back. She was breathing fine, but gave no reaction to their presence.
“It would seem she is, so that was her limit… well, the softer they are, the easier they’ll break, I suppose. Help me take her down.” Gently and carefully, the pair of men unlocked the stock around her ankles and eased the limp-bodied woman down off the hook that held her wrists’ stock up, removing her nose hook and bit gag before carrying her to a simple bed in a far corner of the room. Laying her down, Larson picked up a length of chain from aside the bed, linking it to the hoop on her collar with a small padlock.
“Well, she’s not getting far in that blindfold, but this will keep her, too.” Leaving her leashed and bound as less than an animal, the pair left the darkness of the basement to discuss matters and retire into the night. Erys was alone, deep within the dark of her mind. For a time, she rested, her body relaxing and beginning to heal the lashings it had endured. The ethereal chill caressed and covered her body with a soothing touch she was too deep to feel, but her body appreciated the unwinding calm all the same. Hours passed in that soothing chill.
“Wake up, puppet.” The voice that had pulled her down now drew her back up into the waking world. The men were gone, the restraints on her feet were gone. She could not see, but could move her lips and feel nothing between them. Everything hurt, but it was nowhere near the dizzying blaze she had felt wrack her body before.
“If you want to escape, wake up. If you want more…” The voice held a tantalising air, for all it barely seemed real, as though coming from within her own mind. Slowly rising to sit, Erys fumbled as she was made aware of the chain and stocks about her wrists.
“More…?” Unable to see, she couldn’t tell how foolish it looked to speak to nothingness, but had no mind to do otherwise. She wanted to be saved, no matter by what. The voice laughed softly, swirling around her with that ethereal chill.
“More. Vengeance… become mine, and see it done. You have nowhere else to go, but I will protect you.” Vengeance? For her betrayal, her humiliation, for all that had turned on her… the heat of her tormented body returned, if only in memory, and focused squarely in her heart. Erys nodded.
“I want it…” A single admission, fate broken and sealed anew under her own hand. Come what may, she would see it done by her own hand. The chill stopped, hanging over her like a veil.
“Then see your world through my eyes.” The biting cold seeped in once more, those faint, ethereal lines forming behind the darkness of her blinding veil again, yet this time they were more than a face. She could see her naked body, the boards binding her wrists, the chain, bed, room, as though hastily sketched over a black canvas. Like an echo of what was, a strange sense of vision filled her mind. It would take getting used to, but turning her head and eyes did allow her to ‘see’ the room around her, the edge of her bed and where the chain latched onto the wall.
“Rise, and be freed to me.” Strange as it all was, she could move, and could effectively see where she was going. She didn’t know how she was to free herself, but stood blind and moved to the wall, threading the chain through her hands. Not too thick, but her eyes did not betray her – there was no break in the links all the way to the wall where it disappeared into the stone. Fumbling at the collar she wore proved as useless for the binding lock on her neck, but then how?
Desperate for that flare of freedom, reminded of what twisted fate might greet her tomorrow, Erys grabbed the chain, gritting her teeth and yanking at it. She didn’t want that, to be beaten down and broken here.
Not now, and not ever. Frantically and without reason, Erys pulled and yanked on the chain, knowing full well she was not strong enough to tear metal from stone. That ethereal chill slid across her arms and down into the chain, a soft laughter filling her ears.
“Here.” Paying little attention to the voice, Erys continued pulling, and something popped, causing her to fall back onto the hard floor. Gaping down at her hands through the estranged sense of vision, Erys saw a limp chain that trailed down between her legs freely. At the wall, the remainder of it dangled uselessly, a single link crumbling to nothing.
“Now… the door is locked, but there is a way. Go to the drawer.” The voice pulled Erys’ thoughts away from worrying about how she had ripped the chain out. She was still trapped here, and if they discovered she had broken it, she would surely be worse off. Clumsily standing, Erys turned to the drawer that seemed to glow with a focus above everything around it, her guided vision drawing her attention inexorably towards it.
Within lay a number of instruments Erys wished to know nothing of, a collection of long metal rods with intricate hooked tips amongst them. The thought of how such delicate things might be used – especially given the new piercings that hung from her nipples and promise of more to come – made her skin crawl, but her eyes held.
“Take them. What they are for is not important, but they will break the locks that hold you in this place.” The voice explained as though it knew her thoughts, and whilst Erys did not know how these supposed lock breakers would aid her, she reluctantly touched the wicked metal, taking them up. Backing away from the drawer and turning to the small staircase up to freedom, the remainder of the chain leash she wore brushed coldly between her legs with an uncomfortable chill she did not appreciate, but there was nothing to be done.
Left to walk naked with her wrists bound close together, Erys knelt before the door’s keyhole, fiddling awkwardly with the bars she had in hand. Somehow, she understood what was needed here, her hands moving on their own to fit a pair of the thin bars into the keyhole.
Clicking, grating and twisting until something finally snapped, Erys watched the locking mechanism thunk out of place with a surprised gasp. That was it? Was she finally free? Leaving the twisted, broken metal jammed in the now dead lock, Erys reached up for the oval doorknob that filled her ‘sight’, tepidly twisting it and opening the door. No, she could still be seen and stopped.
“No one is there. Go.” Through her sight beyond sight, the door all but seemed to vanish, the outline of the hallway beyond, filling her world. It was a strange, disorientating thing, but whatever was responsible for possessing her sight and mind with its voice that promised vengeance, she had to trust in it. Easing the door open, Erys took her first steps out onto a softer carpet and a palpable taste of freedom.
“I know not what god you are, but thank you…” Erys whispered, still entirely fearful of being found as she ran down the hall, her quick feet silent against the comfortable padding. Her heart beat faster with each passing moment, but Erys was growing used to ‘seeing’ through these eyes, and moved more naturally until the naked and blindfolded woman stopped dead, her breath catching and heart stopping.
In the room beyond the hallway, she could acutely hear the sounds of a woman wailing in pleasure, and also a man. If not for the incoherent grunting, she would have recognised the voice, and could only peek through the open door to have her fears founded. Whilst everything held the same ethereal blankness, the couple showed vividly, bold and warm colours emanating from them both.
The woman – splayed out over the table with her dress hiked up and bodice ripped open – was the maidservant that had attended her on their arrival. The man stood thrusting between her limply spread legs with his trousers around his ankles in the crudest fashion was no other…
“Gyles…” The voice was her own, hissed inside her mind with all the fury she had endured. Erys gripped the metal devices in her hands tightly, using them to break him with his pants down and dick in some common harlot would be a fitting end… yet Erys could not move. Forced to listen to his droll, sexual insults as he slapped the maid’s behind and leant forward, clamping a hand over the girl’s throat, Erys could not move a muscle.
“His time will come, but your vengeance does not lie in this moment. Pass quietly, find the front doors and free yourself.” The voice, the will that superseded her own would not let Erys move until she once more submitted to it, biting back the bile in her throat and accepting. Her own freedom came first, forcing her to slowly, silently walk through the dining room, as far from the table as possible.
With the bastard’s back to her and the maid thrown over the table, Erys passed undetected, and only wished her ears could have been covered against the girl’s perversely choking moans. Once out of the room and assured the coast was again clear, Erys all but ran to be away from them. She knew the mansion well enough from here, having been escorted through these halls not so long ago, and soon found herself back at those front doors in the grand entrance hall.
Dropping the tools to the carpet, the bound woman knelt before the subtle draft of cold to seep under the door, fumbling for a pair with her awkwardly spaced hands. With one finally in each hand, Erys moved to make quick work of the lock, all but forcing the mechanism to bend to her will and open, twisting and jamming the metal in its opening. Its squealing clack filled her with the hope of freedom at last.
“Not yet, pick up the tools.” The voice to come to her froze that hope dead, leaving her to catch her breath as her hands moved to collect the remainder all the same. A soft chuckle echoed through her mind as the chill ran down her back soothingly.
“Ah, do not fear. There is but one more lock you must break, the gate to your freedom from the nightmare.” Erys breathed. Of course, the mansion and its rich grounds had been surrounded by a high perimeter and ornate gates she could not just walk through. With the last of them gathered up, Erys rose and opened the door, dashing through it without a care for the biting cold and hard cobble path that now lay under her bare feet.
Figuring out where she would go, how she would recover her dignity and such lesser discomforts would come later. Dashing down the long path, the chill air of what must be night and the ethereal cool to surround her kept Erys from feeling any fatigue, whilst the adrenaline of her flight kept her body thrumming with heat and power, following the path laid out for her.
The blind intensity saw her crash into the gates on arrival, bouncing back and slamming into the hard stone of the path. She could tell she was bleeding now, scuffed and cut, but felt nothing of the pain that paled in comparison to what she had already been through. She certainly could not just run through them, it seemed.
Gathering herself up, Erys searched for the gate’s centre and lock, jamming the remaining three pins into it. Moving her fingers carefully as she tried to control her ragged breathing, Erys stared through the blank nothingness of her sight, seeing through metal and mechanism until all the world beyond what she needed to understand had faded away.
This was how she had understood and worked them, if it were truly even her own hands at work, and this would be the last. Thicker and tougher than the doors, the gate’s key would have been a much thicker, ornate piece, but one that worked all the same. One wrenching click at a time, Erys made her way with the dirty process.
Metal cracked and threatened to break as the bundle of pins was twisted, but Erys didn’t care. The whole thing would be unusable after this, but all that mattered was that she could unlock it and escape. The gate’s mechanism whined in rustic resistance, juddering to push back and stop from being forced open before finally snapping and sliding off its block. The gate immediately swung away from Erys, the keyhole and everything else fading out of focus.
“Whew, now that’s service!” A woman she had never heard before was before her, and her ‘eyes’ no longer worked. Stunned and frozen in a panic as footsteps surrounded her, Erys’ voice caught in her throat as someone hoisted her off the ground, throwing her over shoulder.
“Well, she really did it, huh? Come on then, let’s get to catching up with the Mistresses.” Another, and what sounded like a group of people. Erys was being carried, and from the feel of it, back to the mansion? Confusion and fear prickled her skin, she didn’t want to be a captive again…
“No! Let me go! Put me down!” Struggling seemed futile in the iron grip of whomever was holding her up, though it did earn her a swift slap to the thigh.
“Ah, quiet your bleating! You’ll be down when it’s good, or you want to run butt naked and chained into some dirty streets that bad?” The woman’s voice was firm and commanding, birching no nonsense from her. Erys stopped her thrashing at once, conceding that she did not want that.
“I do!” Another, much more enthusiastic voice called from the group that seemed to be several strong around her. A boisterous round of laughter filled the area Erys could not see, though for a wonder, it seemed they were all female.
“You can have all the fun you want later, Irena, we’ve got work to do.” The one carrying her reprimanded lightly, knowing the group shared light spirits as they marched up towards the mansion. Left to dangle in her blindness, Erys wondered if this group was somehow an instrument of that promised vengeance, and that her business with whatever it had been to grant her sight was not yet over.
“Put me down…” Spoken softly, calmly, it was almost a whisper of a plea that earned a nudge from the shoulder she rested over.
“Hey, what’d I tell you? When it’s–”
“I can walk! There’s a leash, isn’t there? Keep me with that if you must, but let me stand.” Erys was quick to interrupt, the calm and fresh air filling her head with that ingrained sense of stubborn pride and posture once more. The only thing she should be carried by was carriages and horses, and this was not becoming of her.
“Put her down, Merith, she has served us well, and will not flee.” A voice somehow so familiar prickled Erys’ ears, making her hair stand on end as the motion of her carrier came to a dead stop. Without a word, Erys was lowered down onto her feet carefully, left to steady herself.
“Mistress Lystra, Lady Eliza!” The one carrying her exclaimed from what sounded to be beneath Erys, kneeling? Little made sense, yet wasn’t the second the name of her driver? Erys cursed her lack of sight, feeling dumb enough about standing blind in the cold without also being naked to make matters worse. Just what was going on?
“There will be time for pleasantries later. Rise, break her bonds and give her a cloak.” That voice that had so softly ordered her now ordered others in person, and the rustling sound of them rising around her was all Erys could sense before their hands were on her.
Tugging, fussing and prodding at the gear wrapped around her head and wrists, there was no warning as the sound of snapping leather and cracking wood filled her ears with what she could only imagine must be an inhuman strength. The stocks around her wrists fell away uselessly, splintered into pieces.
“Ouch, thank you…” Being able to move her arms again hurt, but it was a pain she could appreciate, for it spoke of freedom from her bonds as warmth was draped around her shoulders. Rubbing at her bruised wrists, the last of the straps was finally cracked and torn from around her head, the thickly padded blindfold to have covered her face sliding away. With this, she could finally lay her own eyes upon her saviour and the company she was now surrounded in.
As she had presumed, it was now the dead of night, and her eyes needed no adjusting to the dark of the gardens, yet because of that, she wondered if they were still playing tricks on her. The one who stood before her must have been whom they called Mistress Lystra, yet even in the lightless night, Erys could tell her beauty was impossible.
Dressed in a hugging dress of the richest purple satin, rimmed with what almost seemed to be clouds. Her curvaceous figure all but bled into the dark of the night as she stood tall with pride and power beyond anything Erys felt. By contrast, her skin glowed a pure, soft white with how it drank the faint moonlight, her golden hair flowing smoothly over one shoulder to frame the jewellery nestled in her ample bosom, raised on folded arms.
Erys waited for her eyes to adjust, blinking and trying to refocus them, but nothing changed. She had known it wouldn’t, but hoped to be proven wrong in vain, for what stood before her surpassed the simple image of a noble, or even human to something beyond the realm of mortals. So captivating was she that Erys barely noticed Eliza stood aside her. A good two feet shorter, her skin and hair different tones to what she remembered, the girl barely levelled with her companion’s indomitable bust.
“Hey… for having no time for pleasantries, we’re sure spending a lot of time standing around waiting for her to finish profiling the Mistresses, aren’t we?” It was a voice from behind Erys to break the dazzled silence, followed by a murmur of laughter.
“Ah, it can’t be helped when Mistress Lystra poses under moonlight.” Another put in coyly, snickering cheerfully. Erys pulled the cloak around her, happy for the sanctity to hide at least some of her shame, lowering her head slightly, but unable to tear her eyes from the ethereal Lady. Was this really so amusing?
“They are moving.” An airy voice more distanced than the others with no hint of their humour cut through that banter with warning, and wordlessly, the group was moving away behind her. Lystra only smiled, stepping closer to offer one of those perfect white hands up for her own.
“Shall we?” A soft, guiding question that Erys knew there was no two ways about. Lystra simply expected those whom she set her eyes on to dance to her tune. The effectiveness of her will was frightening. Erys took the luminous woman’s hand, nodding slowly as she kept the long, dark green cloak wrapped around her tightly.
“You fought well, but you’re safe now, rest assured.” Lystra explained as they walked up the path to the mansion, leaving Erys feeling the safest she had ever known. Astride this being, under her care, nothing could touch Erys, that much she was sure of. Here, there was power.
Finally reaching the front doors on her own terms, Erys caught her first good look at the group that she had welcomed in. Six in total, and a stranger lot than she had dared imagine. From the shortest with black hair fashioned to bunches as popular in Merthal, to the tomboyish sandy brown, hair cropped short enough to pass for male if not for her bust as was common in distant desert climates, Erys’ first glance perceived a wealth of worldly diversity.
Just what sort of reach did this ‘Mistress Lystra’ have to attract and command such a group? Even a fae, elven figure stood amongst them, a good two hands taller than Lystra, her knifed ears a giveaway signature even in the dark. For all their differences, there was uniformity in not only the dark cloaks all but the elf wore but things Erys wondered about being tricks of the night. All the eyes on her seemed to have an ethereal and luminous glow to them, similar to the wondrous glow of Lystra’s body.
“All okay, here! Door open too, whenever you’re ready.” The dirty red standing centre was the one to speak up, revealing she was Merith, the one to pick up and carry Erys over her shoulder as she waved down to them. The others amongst them carried what looked to be hefty crates underarm with little effort.
“Good, then let us welcome vengeance.” Just hearing Lystra speak the words made Erys’ skin prickle with anticipation and hope, for whom or what so ever the porcelain-skinned noble aside her may be, she had been proven honest so far. Grinning and spinning on her heel, Merith slammed her boot into the door handle, cracking wood and breaking them open.
“Damn it Merith you even just said it was open…”
“Hey, if it was still locked that wouldn’t have budged!” Watching the group walk into the mansion’s warm light whilst reprimanding the brash entrance, Erys was forced to accept what she could not believe. Beyond the glow of their eyes, what had unified them in the dark was the dull hue of the skin. She had thought it a trick of shadows, but each bore an ashen pigment that appeared not quite dead, but far from a normal and healthy, living shade.
“Zoltei’ar…” Erys whispered the ancient name of Undeath itself in disbelief, staring blankly from each of them to Lystra and Eliza. Whilst the taller walked on ahead, the smaller woman Erys had thought naught but her carriage driver not so long ago smiled over at her, fixing her with piercingly dark, purple eyes.
“Not many know that name, scholar?” Stepping back into the mansion, her tone was soft and conversational for matters that would have chilled most who did not believe them to be mere fae stories of old and nonsense. The culminated fear of that which she had been unable to confront and accept since that voice first entered her mind choked Erys as she worked to shake her head gently.
“No, I… my parents had me study many things, to appeal worldly knowledge and intellect as was expected of a Lady to be, they were but tales of literature to be analysed…” Even now the attempt to deny it felt hollow to Erys. The mansion’s doors slammed shut behind her as Eliza chuckled quietly, shaking her head and looking ahead.
“Oh, it’s real, but you understand what Mistress Lystra is, then. That makes this easier.” Eliza put across, faintly smiling as she stretched her arms and glanced around the empty greeting hall. The crates brought inside were being dropped in front of the double doors, blockading them better than any broken lock would.
“What in hells is the meaning of this, who are you people?! You…” Finally reacting to their raucous entrance, Larson burst through a door at the far end of the hall, carrying a rifle with the familiar maidservant close behind, likely the one to alert him of some break in. When his eyes fell on Erys, they glared with a confused anger, but Lystra casually stepped in front of that gaze, shielding Erys from having to meet it. Under the warm lighting of the entrance hall, the curve of Lystra’s smooth back was breath taking even for the sheltered noble.
The awkward standoff lasted all of a heartbeat before one of Lystra’s companions bolted forward, dashing for Larson before the booming crack of the rifle knocked them clean off their feet. Behind him, the maidservant buckled and fell in shock, screaming and sheltering her head as she edged back against the wall. Even Larson dropped the spent rifle in shock, not having expected to fire on a person with it.
“You do make me wonder if your brain rotted away sometimes, Irena…” While Erys had similarly huddled down in shock, Lystra paid the shot no mind, and it was Eliza to move to the felled body, kicking her in the side. Coughing and rolling over, Irena groaned and pushed herself up to sit, scratching at the hole in her black cloak.
“Ah, hole’s a hole, right? Maybe I’ll get some fun out of it.” Grinning up at the petite woman able to look down on someone for once, she seemed unfettered by the intercepted shot. Eliza only groaned, shoving Irena back down with a light kick before turning away and walking through the hall.
“Maybe it really has… the rest of you, get to work. That shot probably woke half the damn place up, well, not that there’s many here, but you know what to do.” Barking the quick order, the rest of their companions complied in quick order, splitting up and dashing through the mansion while Eliza walked across the hall, ignoring the confused Larson entirely to hunch down before the maidservant, reaching out to touch her cheek with a chilling smile.
“Shh, it’s alright, now… Anna, right? Say, since you’re about to be lacking a Master, why don’t you come work for me, hm?” Spoken in a voice so unnaturally sweet and calming for the intimidating look in her dark eyes, it left the maidservant stunned against the wall in a paralyzing fear as Larson spun to yell at the diminutive poacher, but no words left his mouth.
Around his neck lay a thick ring of blue-grey mist, slowly solidifying into a clawed fist big enough to close around and pressure the man’s throat. Were Erys able to see Lystra’s eyes in that moment, she would have gazed into an abyss of death itself, but needed no assistance in knowing where the grasp came from. Left to struggle against the ethereal grip indenting his throat and smothering him, Larson choked and gasped as his feet even left the ground. Lystra was slowly walking towards him.
“Who are we…? We are the monsters in your nightmare, the curse come home to roost. Vengeance itself.” Her words put a freezing chill up Erys’ spine, even from a safe distance away and supposedly under Lystra’s protection, she was afraid. Larson slammed into the ground hard, coughing as he lay limp – defeated.
Turning and craning her head back to gaze over her shoulder at Erys with those captivating red eyes, Lystra smiled ever so slightly as a chill ran up her stomach. That ethereal hand appeared once more, gripping the chain leash that yet dangled from her collar and tugging it firmly. Erys did know what her new Mistress was, and finally realised, as she staggered forward on that compulsion, she had traded one bondage for another.
Amongst the legends of monsters and those who fell under Zoltei’ar in particular, few were so incorporeal as that gripping hand or the presence that had entered her mind and gifted her with blind sight. Amongst those few ghosts and spirits, none but wraiths were said to be capable of retaining and animating their physical forms.
Those few who transcended both the confines of the flesh and transience of the spirit held a feared name of their own – Wights.