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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Stop! Please, Drenna, I beg you to stop hurting him!” Malaya was gasping through distraught tears, her whole body straining toward Guin. When Helene let go of his head, he could see the metal grips were making Malaya bleed with her struggles.
“Is that a decision I hear?” Acadian asked eagerly.
“No!” Guin croaked out loudly. “Malaya…tell her you want to live. I don’t trust her to do it any more than you do, but you have to tell her to let you go.” He drew for a hard breath, the expansion of his chest sending rivers of blood down his body. “Sacrifices,” he rasped. “Remember what you said about sacrifices?”
Malaya could barely see him because her eyes kept filling with tears. She didn’t want to give Acadian the satisfaction of her sobs, but she couldn’t control herself. Watching her rip into Guin made Malaya’s entire being scream in pain, her chest burning in sympathy. And now he was trying to tell her she should sacrifice him for herself. If she used pure logic, he was right. She had great value to her people and to her brother, and the young regime was too raw to take such a blow. But how could she ever live knowing she had watched him die like this and let it happen? And what did it matter anyway? Acadian was lying. She was already planning the future for her daughter. She had slipped up by saying that, telling Malaya she had no intention of letting her go free. But there was a chance she really would let Guin go. In Acadian’s eyes he held no importance and no influence to interfere with what she wanted for Fatima and herself.
Pulling herself together, catching her breath, Malaya straightened her posture and stared at the woman hurting the man she loved.
“Let him go,” Malaya said flatly. “I’ll trade my life for his.”
“No! No! Malaya, goddammit, no!” Guin exploded in fury, his flailing at his chains hurting him even more.
“And if you do it now, without forcing him to watch any of this, I’ll tell you what your future will be.”
Acadian inhaled loudly, loud enough for her prisoners to realize how much the idea appealed to her. She came around Guin and pointed a clawed hand at her.
“That’s right. You’re a precognitive. But how do I know you won’t lie?”
“Why would I? What difference does this make? Odds are you’ll kill us both anyway if you decide you feel like it. But let me see you walk him out of this room at the very least and I will tell you whatever you want.”
“Hmm…useful talent. Maybe we’ll have to keep your torture slow so I can make good use of you. Andonel, prepare an injection of that memory toxin.” Acadian walked over to Malaya and bent with her hands on her knees to look the Chancellor in the eyes. “You realize once I give him this, he will forget ever making love with you and any feeling associated with that?”
Acadian laughed when she could tell by the raw pain in Malaya’s eyes just how aware of it she really was. Helene loved it when people were so willing to make painful sacrifices. It made her job so easy!
“Do you know what my third power is?” she asked her prisoners amiably as she tugged and tightened her glove. “It’s very unusual. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered it. I can sense both emotional and physical pain in a wide radius. The most amusing part of that is that it gives me a very direct sort of pleasure. A rush of endorphins or some such thing. I can literally get off on the pain of others!” She laughed at that. “Anyway, it was hard to ignore that sort of reward system. So maybe it will make you feel a little better to know that I didn’t choose this way of life, rather it chose me.”
Malaya held on to her retort, not wishing to alter Acadian’s good mood and obvious steps at setting Guin free. But the idea that she’d had no choice because of her power was ridiculous. The feedback of pleasure was probably a condition of her upbringing, not her power. Someone had taught her to enjoy the pain of others. Her ability might have even developed from that. Who knew? Malaya refused to believe that Drenna and M’gnone would purposely create something so evil and rob it of free will from being anything but what she was. No. She was an empath, able to feel pain, but it should have been a gift she could use to seek those hurting individuals out and bring them her help. She had twisted the power into what it was now.
Malaya focused on Guin, watching the fury in his eyes as the servant returned to the room with the toxin prepared in a syringe.
“I won’t forget,” he swore suddenly, straining against his bonds toward her. “Not a minute of it. I’ll remember every word, Malaya. Every minute.”
“Impossible,” Acadian chuckled. “Face it, Guin, there are just some things you can’t fight. You can’t fight the effects of this any more than you could fight the effects of the tranquilizer. But do keep looking at her and clinging to your agonized hope. It feels so tragic and good. Are you also thinking about all the ways she can be used by anyone and anything in my reach? If you do remember anything, remember her being gang-raped just so you can leave with your life.”
“You said he wouldn’t have to see it,” Malaya cried.
“What does it matter if he does? He’s going to forget.”
“It matters to me and it matters to you! I won’t tell you a damn thing about anything if you don’t let him go right now!”
Acadian frowned, making a sound of frustration.
Helene turned at the sound of her daughter’s voice.
“I thought I told you—”
“I saw Andonel preparing the injection, and I was wondering if I could give it to him?”
Acadian looked genuinely surprised. And no wonder. Her daughter had proven to have no stomach for her work. But this was relatively bloodless and harmless, so she supposed it was her way of trying to join in on the fun.
“Of course, dearest. Just be careful going near him. He’s a fighter.”
“Yes, Mother, I know. I have been spying on them all these years, haven’t I?”
Acadian chuckled at her daughter’s pique, giving her a mean prick in her arm with the metal talons as she passed. “Don’t give me lip, girl. You’re still my daughter.”
“Yes, Mother.” Fatima took the shot from Andonel and walked up behind Guin.
Guin just stared at Malaya, burning her and everything they were into his memory. He felt Fatima swabbing the back of his neck with a cold liquid he assumed was alcohol.
“I love you,” he said softly.
Malaya sobbed deep in her chest, wanting to say a million things to him. But soon none of it would matter. He wouldn’t remember any of it. He wouldn’t remember making love or her declarations of love. He would lose her thinking she’d never become aware and that his love was forever unrequited.
“I am your daughter,” Fatima said with slow purpose. “The daughter who spies and lies. The one who spent thirteen years serving on her knees for this woman, and who was always close by for every single detail of every single day. A very long time, Mother.”
“Yes, well, I’m sorry, dear. That was all in the name of furthering our ambitions.”
“I learned a lot,” she noted.
“Yes dear, it was very helpful. Now let’s give him the shot and watch her cry her eyes out. That should make up for all those years, hmm?”
“I’ll never forget them,” Fatima argued. “Not a single minute. No more than Ajai Guin will. Because I learned what a strong and amazing woman it takes to gather and rule a culture. I learned how honestly good she always meant to be, even though she had her flaws like anyone else. I learned how strong a man could be as he selflessly repressed his feelings year after year just because he thought speaking up could be a detriment to her happiness.”
“Fatima, what are you talking about?” Helene barked.
Fatima leaned close to Guin’s ear as she steadied the needle above his skin.
“I learned how to think for myself and act for myself. Like I did when I ran to the palace a few minutes ago and told them where these two were and what your plans were for them. And like when I opened the door and let them all in the house.”
Andonel realized what she was saying first. He rushed Fatima, grabbing for the needle. But she thwarted him by jabbing it into her own arm and pressing the plunger. Acadian screamed, turning sharply toward the stairs as she recognized her daughter’s betrayal at last. She turned just in time to see Daenaira throw a sai at her, the weapon hitting her so hard she was flung back against her table of torture. Acadian regained her balance and struggled upright, staring in shock at the three-pronged weapon spearing through her left shoulder.
“You bitch!” Helene screeched. No one knew if she meant Fatima or Dae.
Fatima meanwhile had slipped free of Andonel and raced across to Malaya, sinking down on her knees in front of her and throwing her arms around her in a hard hug.
“I love you, K’yatsume. I have for so long now. I wanted to tell you every single day, but I thought you might never forgive me and would send me away from you. Half of what I told her was lies. The rest was vague and going to be made public soon anyway. When Nicoya was moving quickly into power, I knew going along with her would be the only way to protect you. It’s like Ajai Guin said. She never broke any laws. Not until she actually took you. She lied. I didn’t tell her where you were. It was someone in the tavern. I should have said so, but I was so afraid and I knew this was a chance to catch her in the act so you could punish her for all she’s done once and for all. I never meant for you to be hurt. I ran as fast as I could. I did.”
Fatima drew back and looked into Malaya’s eyes.
“There’s no such thing as a memory toxin,” she whispered.
The young woman collapsed back on her heels, her arms sliding weakly away from Malaya.
“Oh gods, no,” Malaya gasped.
“Good! Treacherous little bitch! Die!” Acadian screamed.
Then she grabbed at the implements on the table, fumbling for something sharp to do some damage with. The room was filling with armed men, but it was Magnus who strode up to her, grabbed the sai lodged in her body, and twisted it hard.
With a horrible scream of pain, Acadian fell to her knees. Once she was down and kneeling, Magnus settled his katana’s blade along the back of her neck. Malaya could see his blade vibrating with the rage he was trying to hold in check. The katana pricked through the skin of its victim and Acadian began to bleed.
“Your crimes are many and straddle both common and religious law, but the gods have seen to it that I am here first and so to me you will answer first.” Magnus clamped his hand down on her shoulder, his third power blossoming forth. Whatever he asked, she would now be forced to speak only truths. “Do you regret your crimes and repent of all your sins?”
“Yes!” she cried the word in triumph, thinking it would be that easy.
“Do you really, now? With all of your heart and soul, will you pay whatever penance to your gods that I assign you? Even if it means serving Daenaira on your knees for a year in order to be forgiven for your crime against her?”
And here the truth came out.
“Never! I’d kill your whore the minute you turned your back for what she did to my baby! My daughter. My real and only daughter who was loyal to me every—”
Her tirade was cut abruptly short when Magnus’s sword cut through her windpipe.
The instant he was finally free, Guin raced across to Malaya and dragged her into his arms. She wrapped herself around him, holding him tightly and sobbing openly. Gods, how he hated to see her cry. Feeling her tears on his skin, the salt of them stinging his wounds as they rolled down his chest, he was dying a little with every sniffle.
“They almost killed you!” She was looking over his shoulder at Fatima, who lay struggling for her breath, her gaze already fixed and glassy. Magnus was leaning over her, talking softly to her, no doubt providing her the opportunity for absolution. She should be absolved and more. Her sacrifice had saved them both and would benefit her people for generations. Malaya would see to it that Fatima was recognized for her heroism. So unrecognized in life, she would be honored in death if they couldn’t find a way to save her.
“I’m all right,” Guin assured her, kissing her and stroking her hair, checking the raw wounds on her body where the chains had bit into her. “We’re both all right.” He looked around the room, seeing others watching them with curiosity. The only one who didn’t look surprised was Daenaira. She just twirled her remaining sai and looked very amused. Guin found Killian in the sea of guards and snapped at him, “Get the Chancellor something to cover up with, damn it. And start thinking up a good reason why you let her get away from you.”
Killian chuckled and drawled, “Because I wasn’t on duty. You think I’d be dumb enough to fall for a trick like getting locked in a room?”
Guin fought a grin as he looked back at Malaya.
“Hmm, the old room trap, eh? I fell for that once.”
“Only once,” she added, smiling wetly as she tried to wipe away her tears. “Something like forty-seven years ago.”
“The old tricks are the best tricks.”
Malaya went to sit back a little, but he kept her very tight to his chest where she would be mostly protected from the eyes of others. It didn’t matter to him that kneeling with her legs wrapped around his waist was a very provocative position. He knew everyone else was too concerned with what they had been through to really think about it. He wished he could say the same. He was being crushed by adrenaline and was so relieved to feel her safe in his embrace he couldn’t even think straight. Working more on instinct than anything else, he was very aware of the need for her that was crawling steadily through him. To come so close to such horror—he couldn’t shake the idea of forgetting her love for him, and all he wanted to do was make memories with her. Not just sexually, but anything where he knew all the while that she was in love with him and wanted him more than anything else in her life. However, sitting the way they were, sexually was pretty much easy pickings.