Author's Note 7/7/14: Please note that I have not touched this story since I was 13 years old. A re-write may be pending, please see Chapter 46 for further details. Thank you!
My original novel is now published. There is a "Bonus Preview" beyond what is available in the Amazon preview at the bottom for all of you that are interested. It is called "The Mage Council" by Amber A Draper and is exclusively published on Amazon. It is $2.99 USD and free to download for anyone with Kindle Unlimited.
Lone Child Chapter 1: The gifted child
A little boy of about 5 sat on a woman's lap reading a book. The little boy had long silky black hair tied in a ponytail. He was tall and skinny with emerald green eyes. The woman on whom he sat had curly blonde hair hanging loosely over her shoulders. Her eyes were light blue with dark streaks running in them, she was reading the book from over the boys shoulder.
A bright fire was lit in the fireplace burning merrily. Sitting opposite of the fire was a man; he was in his late 30's and had a few specks of gray in his brown hair. His hazel eye's watched the fire dancing about as if it were the only thing in the world. He was startled out of his little world by his wife, Emma, speaking.
"James, it's past your bed time. You need to get to bed," said Emma.
James put a small slip of paper in as a bookmark and stood. "Yes, mum," said James with a huge yawn. He hugged and kissed his mother good night and walked over to the man. "Good night dad," he said, hugging and kissing the man as well.
"Are you coming to bed as well, Alex?" Emma asked her husband.
"Yes, I'm going to go check the locks on the doors first though," said Alex, standing and walking down a hallway to the front door. The lock was secure and Alex headed to the back door when the door blew open.
A tall man with flowing black robes walked in through the hole that was the front door. Alex jumped up from the spot he had fallen when the door blew started to confront the man. He didn't get more than a few steps before the man pulled a stick from his robe and yelled, "Avada Kedavra!" The last thing Alex heard before the curse connected with his chest was his wife scream.
Emma had just come around the corner to investigate the noise when she saw a ball of green light hit her husband in the chest. She screamed as she saw him sink to the floor, dead. With an audible 'pop' several more men in black robes appeared around her and one pulled out their stick and yelled, "Crucio!" Emma dropped to the ground screaming as pain enveloped every sense.
James, who had been watching every thing from around the corner, jumped on the man that was making his mother scream. As soon as he had touched the man his mother stopped screaming. James clawed and bit at the man, aiming his fingernails at the robed mans eyes.
The man tried to throw James off but left his eyes open in the process. James sent both off his thumbs at the man's eyes, only one made its target. The man screamed as James thumb cut threw his eye like a knife threw boiled egg. At that point another man grabbed the still clawing and biting James and pinned his arms to his sides.
The leader of the robed men chuckled at the man rolling around on the floor holding his eye and the little boy trying to get to his mother who was trembling on the floor. The man pulled his stick back out of his and pointed it at Emma and yelled, "Avada Kedavra!"
James fought even more to get to his mother as the green ball of light hurdled towards her and hit her in the chest, as it had done with his father. An almost unnoticeable silver aura glowed around James as he looked at his mother's dead body. The leader pointed his stick at James and for the third time that night yelled, "Avada Kedavra!"
Time seemed to slow down as the ball of green light hurdled it's self at James and the silver glow amplified. Finally the ball reached James and hit his forehead but instead of killing him it reflected back on its sender.
The robed leader screamed as the ball hit him in the chest and a white light exploded from his body. All of the other men disappeared as the light spread through the room and covered everything. When the light faded away all that was left was James and his parent's bodies.
James began to panic and disappeared with a 'pop'. He reappeared in a small living room, where a fire was lit and dropped to his knees shaking and crying. A strong pair of hands picked him and cradled him, whispering comforting words in his ear. Finally after a few minutes James was able to get hold of his emotions. He looked up at the person holding him and saw an old man.
The man had long brown hair with a few strands of gray here and there, tied back similar to the way James hair had been before. His eyes were emerald green, but unlike James's they had dark blue streaks in the pool of emerald.
"Hey, kid. My name is Dragon. What's yours?" he asked, smiling down at him.
"I'm James," James said to Dragon.
"Well, hello James. Actually I was on my way to go get you. I'd hate to explain this to you tonight, after what you've been through but I think you need to know what happened. James, did you know you were adopted?" asked Dragon.
"Yes, mum and dad told me last year," said James.
"Okay, you know what wizards and elves are right?" James nodded. "Well, a long time ago there were four people, two witches, two wizards. One of the wizards, Salazar Slytherin, was half elf and married into an Elven family. He had two sons, one of the sons however was not the son of the woman Salazar married and therefore unable to inherit the family fortune.
"When Salazar died, everything he owned went to his youngest son, Alexander. The older brother, Nicolas killed his brother to gain control of the fortune. What Nicolas didn't know was that Alexander's fiancé was with child.
"Somewhere down the line Alexander's side of the family married in to one of the original witches line, the Hufflepuff line to be exact. Several generations later your father was produced.
"During this time the second witch, Rowena Ravenclaw, married in to the second wizard's line. That wizard was Godric Gryffindor, the Great-something grandson of Merlin. Again several generations later your mother was produced. Unknown to most people both your mother and father were half-elf, but there genetics took after their human side so they don't look it.
"Your genetics however will take after the Elven side of you. You are very gifted and the Elven in your blood only amplifies that. One of your many gifts is Shape shifting and that will hide your ears witch will appear as soon as I take the spell off them. Any questions?" asked Dragon
James nodded and said, "One, who are my real parents and are they dead?"
"No, neither your mother nor your father is dead. Your mother 'abandoned' you as far as I'm concerned. I'm sorry to say you were a product of rape. You know how I talked about Salazar's oldest son?" asked Dragon. James nodded. "Well Nicolas caused a lot of trouble and he stained the Slytherin name. Most of his decedents caused quite a lot of trouble but none-more than Tom Marvolo Riddle or Lord Voldemort, as he liked to be called.
"About 20 years ago he gathered a lot of followers and started to kill people. Your mother fought against him with her husband. During one of the battles she was taken, tortured and raped, however the one who raped her was a spy for Albus Dumbledore and was able to get her out after words. When she found out she was pregnant she was sure it was her husbands child but when you were born a DNA test proved that you were not.
"The minute she found out she requested that you were put up for adoption. I haven't talked to her since that day. The last I heard she was a professor at Hogwarts," said Dragon.
"What's Hogwarts?" James asked.
"Hogwarts is a school for Witchcraft and Wizardry. You will go there when you turn 11 but I would watch out for Dumbledore, he's a manipulative bastard," said Dragon with some venom in his voice.
"Okay, Lord Voldemort was the man that exploded in the light wasn't he?" asked James to change the subject.
"Yes, no one knows of his down fall yet and everyone thinks your dead. I'd prefer it to stay that way; I'll get you a new name, birth certificate, ect, from one of my contacts. Any more questions?" Dragon asked.
"Just one, you said that Shape shifting was only one of my gifts, what other gifts do I have and what do they do?" asked James.
"Good question. I believe that you will have many gifts but at the moment you have 7. The first is, as I told you, Shape shifting. It is the art of morphing your body into what ever you want. There are people with similar gifts like Metamorphmages and Animagi but all of those have some kind of spell to make them revert to natural form. The only way a Shape shifter would by forced back to natural form is if they ran out of energy and couldn't hold the image.
"Your second gift is being an elemental, you can control all of the elements to a point. I'd say that cut on your forehead means you will be especially good at controlling lightning," said Dragon running a finger across James forehead.
James touched the skin over his left eye and sure enough there was a cut in the shape of a lightning bolt, the only problem was it wasn't a cut, but a scar. James looked at Dragon who continued talking.
"Your third gift is that of advanced healing. I also have the gift, that's why you have a scar instead of a cut. Your gift however will be much stronger than mine. You won't have to concentrate to heal and you'll be able to heal your self when necessary.
"Your next gift is very rare, you are a Transporter. A Transporter can disappear and reappear at will. The catch is you have to be able to see where your going, it is possible to port to a place you can't see but you can only do it every 24 hours, 12 if your only transporting someone or something.
"Your fifth gift is Will wizardry or Wand less magic. A few wizards can do simple things like make fire or light but that's it. You will be able to do what ever you want by just willing it to be.
"Telepathy is your third rarest gift. You can do anything where the mind is concerned, even control people's minds. Out of all of your gifts this one needs to be hidden the most, the ministry of magic would lock you away and throw away the key if they knew you had this ability. I am afraid the ministry is full of prejudice and incompetent morons.
"Anyway your last power is your inheritance from the Slytherin line. Salazar Slytherin was famous for his ability to speak with snakes. He was the first Parselmouth in existence. The gift has been past down to the chosen heir, you. As Ollivander would say 'you are meant for great things'," said Dragon, mimicking a spooky old voice.
"Well, I think it's time to get to bed. Follow me," said Dragon walking threw the room and into a hallway, James close at his heels. Dragon led James to a large room with a four-poster bed in the left corner, a desk next to the bed, a bookcase across from the desk and two doors on the wall to the right of the bookcase.
"The two doors over there lead to your library and bathroom. In the bathroom you will find a walk in closet with any cloths you'll need. The library has every book ever created and there for is huge. The bookcase in your room has all of the books on your gifts, so you won't find any in the library. You should go take a quick shower before bed, your cloths are covered in dust and blood," said Dragon. James looked at him self and sure enough was covered in dust and had a few blood splatters on his shirt.
After his shower James walked into the closet a grabbed a pair of lose mesh shorts to sleep in. He wouldn't sleep in shirts because it felt like he was being strangled in his sleep. James brushed his hair and lay down, finally able to sleep after his hard day.
A/N: My original novel is now published. This is a "Bonus Preview" beyond what is available in the Amazon preview for all of you that have followed me here. It is called "The Mage Council" by Amber A Draper and is exclusively published on Amazon. It is $2.99 USD and free to download for anyone with Kindle Unlimited. You can like "The Mage Council" page on Facebook for sneak peaks/updates on when the next book is coming out. The URL is also in my author profile. Thank you everyone!
The hair on the back of his neck stood on end and the prickle of a thousand spider legs ran down his spine. For a moment he thought he was about to be struck by lightning. The motorcycle rumbled and wheels ate the ground between him and the electrical sensation drawing him closer. After so many years of running down the clock excitement began to pool in his chest. It felt good.
Iron gates stood between him and the anomaly drawing him closer. He turned away. There was a place to hide the motorcycle so he could sneak back to investigate the source of the anomaly. A luxury car passed and he reached out with his mind. A subtle manipulation of electrical current and chemical balances convinced the driver to pick him up. He passed through the gates. The sensation waned and then flooded his senses, calling to him. She was in danger, which meant everyone around her was in danger.
He'd seen them in action. An anomaly just learning to manipulate particles at their most basic level could be dangerous. Sometimes they didn't understand the physics of what they tried to do. He remembered a greedy, foolish student who tried to convert raw elements to gold. A student who didn't understand the rules and destroyed himself and part of a city block over a few thousand quid.
As a young man he'd fallen prey to the allure of the challenge, the enticing 'Is It Possible?' Science was young and they'd learned so much since then, with much more left to learn, but he would have no part of it.
Years of loneliness, even among his own kind, hardened his mind. He wanted to be left alone, to wander the earth until one of them turned to dust yet this anomaly called out for him in a way he could not ignore. She was in danger yet she was the danger. She had pulled and yanked and tugged on his mind until he stood outside of a ballroom.
'Trapped,' her mind whispered.
It only took a moment to understand what was happening inside the ballroom. He could smell her fear, anger, and sour resignation and the hair on his neck stiffened as the anomaly's power swelled.
'I'm really doing this, aren't I?' Anika folded her arms over her chest in an effort to conceal the breasts threatening to burst over the top of her bustier, a garment forced on her by the image consultant her stepfather hired. She felt awkward in the blue gown, like she would trip over the hem or snag the expensive fabric on an invisible edge. Still, she couldn't help but admire the image so painstakingly created by her stepfather's consultant.
Normally limp, dark hair had been styled into an intricate braid with a few strands left to hang in contrast with sapphire eyes and olive skin. The empire waist of the gown added a dimension of mystery and emphasized imaginary curves. The consultant had the most trouble with her breasts, using an assortment of padding and tape to create the illusion of a full bust. The end result was a stunning woman in her early twenties, not a gangly teen still several months shy of her eighteenth birthday.
She sighed and resisted the urge to rub her eyes. It would smear her artfully applied make-up and Duane would see it as an excuse to punish her. 'In a few hours I won't be his anymore. Of course he'll want one more chance to punish me,' she thought bitterly.
As if she'd spoken his name aloud the man from her thoughts crashed through the door. Anika jumped, startled by the sudden noise, but resisted the urge to cower under his gaze. She bowed her head as grey eyes swept from her bare feet, over the curve of her breasts and to the pendant around her neck. She could feel his sneer brush over her skin. Duane hated the sapphire pendant because the depth of the dragon eye made him uneasy, a fact Anika sometimes used to her advantage when she wanted to turn the man's attention away from her.
"I thought I told you not to wear that ugly thing anymore?" he spat, his voice deep and smooth as his eyes locked on the necklace.
She did not raise her eyes to meet his knowing it would invite his wrath, something she could not afford tonight. "Yes sir, but Malia picked the pendant from my things and insisted it was the only piece that would match my dress. I tried to explain that you don't like it but she insisted," she explained, a small hitch in her voice. Duane always played better when he thought she was afraid and in a mood like this Duane really did scare her.
She held her position, eyes lowered to the floor with her hands clasped behind her back as Duane's heavy footfalls echoed in the bare dressing room. His glossy black shoes came into her field of vision and she couldn't help a small flinch when she felt cool fingers brush her collarbone. He traced a line down her cleavage then up to the sensitive skin along her nape. She shuttered and goose bumps rose under his trailing fingers. His hand wandered until it found purchase on the back of her neck and his grip tightened, forcing her to look up at the grey-eyed monster that is Duane Black.
His mouth cocked into a friendly half smile, the one that could convince any stranger that Duane was an upstanding citizen completely incapable of the violence she witnessed daily. Sapphire met slate and she sensed Duane's intentions before he finished the thought. She did not dodge or flinch as his open palm flew through the air and connected with the soft skin of her cheek. The sound of flesh on flesh echoed off the bare walls causing Anika's ears to ring and her vision to swim but she showed few signs of distress aside from her reddening cheek.
"Oh Ani, you think you're so smart, don't you?" Duane hissed, all pretense of charm gone as his fingernails dug into her neck. "With your attitude I'm starting to think you want me to sell Brie and Charlie right along with you."
Anika's heart raced and she could feel the ever-present rage burning, aching to escape and do harm to the man that would dare threaten her family. 'I can't lose control or they'll come for me and Brie and Charlie. Stay calm, stay calm, calm, calm, calm…' The air crackled with invisible energy. She could feel the low hum of the rage under her skin and it assaulted her willpower, begging to be released on Duane Black as it had many times before.
Duane sensed the shift in the air and shoved her backwards. She stumbled a few steps and lost her footing in the train of her dress. She crashed to the floor, her eyes watering and her elbow burning from the sudden impact on the hardwood. The rage cooled. 'No, no, no, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm…'
She expected Duane to stay standing and to laugh at her unusual clumsiness. Instead he drew her up by her wrist, holding it above her head as he pushed her until her back hit cold plaster. She tried not to struggle as Duane pinned her body against the wall with his own, signs of his arousal rubbing roughly against her belly. With his face so close to her Anika could smell the alcohol he'd binged on while waiting for the consultant to finish her work. 'I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't…'
"I'm sure I could find someone who would love a little boy as sweet as Charlie," Duane taunted, his voice still deep and smooth despite his heavy alcohol consumption. His breath was hot against Anika's neck and she squirmed.
"No," she spoke, flinching as he rubbed against her small frame just a little harder.
"No, what?" His lips were on her neck now and she could feel his teeth grazing her skin. He wouldn't bite, tonight was too important for him to leave such an obvious mark on merchandise he was marketing as untouched.
"No Master, please don't sell Brie and Charlie," Anika answered, her whole body vibrating in a combination of rage and fear.
Duane laughed, anticipating her answer. "What are you willing to do to convince me to keep them?" he asked. His tone was low, seductive. Anika fought the wave of nausea that washed over her. Assaults by a drunken Duane were not a new occurrence and would probably become a more frequent part of her life when she was transferred to her new owner. The idea made her sick to her stomach.
'For Brie and Charlie, for Brie and Charlie, for Brie and Charlie…' Anika screamed the mantra in her head, at the same time responding to Duane's question. "Anything."
The chandelier in the middle of the ceiling, the only real décor in the room besides the mirror and a chaise lounge in the far corner, swayed in the non-breeze, the teardrop crystals humming but not quite chiming together. She watched the chandelier sway while Duane, satisfied by her response, pressed his wet mouth against her neck and forced her to rub against him. After a moment he placed his heavy hand on her shoulder and she knew what he was demanding of her. Anika closed her eyes, shame washing over her as she allowed him to force her to her knees.
He fiddled with his trousers, his hands uncoordinated from the alcohol and Anika resigned herself to her fate. 'Just this one last time,' she promised as Duane finally loosed the top button of his trousers.
A soft knock sounded against the still-open oak door and he froze. "Mr. Black?" a polite voice asked. A petit black woman stood in the doorway and for the first time Anika was pleased to see Malia, the woman Duane hired as her image consultant.
"What?" he barked, angry he'd been interrupted. His hand gripped the back of Anika's neck, keeping her on her knees and prolonging the burn of her humiliation.
"I would appreciate it if you didn't undo hours of hard work satiating your libido," the woman chided, hands on her hips as if daring Duane to challenge her. His expression darkened but he released Anika's neck. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave, Mr. Black. Ms. Snow is not ready and we are short on time." A full head shorter than Duane, Malia still managed to look intimidating in her dark jeans and beige blouse.
Duane's eyebrow twitched, unaccustomed to being ordered around by a woman. For a moment Anika feared he would argue or place his hands on the petite woman but after a moment of indecision he left the room. "Bitch," he muttered as he swept through the doorway. The picture of professionalism, Malia didn't rise to the jab and went about her business, fixing Anika's dress and makeup as if she hadn't just caught her employer molesting his teenage stepdaughter.
"It's almost time and you look beautiful," Malia admired, inspecting her finished product from top to bottom. Little changed since Anika last looked in the mirror. Some of her makeup had to be reapplied to hide the red marks on her face and neck, and her dress needed some adjustment after Duane's rough treatment. Heels much higher than anything she'd worn before were also added to the ensemble, tall enough to keep her from tripping over the hem of the dress with every step. Malia ignored her objections, promising walking would get easier with practice and she didn't have to go far.
"Please have a seat, dear. You're not expected upstairs for a little while and I'm not certain I can keep Mr. Black from ruining my work if we leave early," Malia explained as she packed her cosmetic supplies into a large, rolling suitcase. Anika was secretly amazed by how much stuff it took to prepare for an event like tonight.
Anika looked around the mostly empty room, trying to focus on anything except the events that would come over the next few hours. The room was large with white plaster walls and gossamer curtains that obscured the last light of the day. A three-paneled mirror along the wall looked new and had probably been placed specifically for girls like her. 'Slaves like me…'
Finally her eyes fell on Malia. The woman's dark hair was slicked back into a bun and the soft cream of her blouse complemented a dark complexion. Not the typical image a person conjured when imagining one of the cogs in a high-priced slave market.
She sighed. 'I miss Brie and Charlie.' Anika's heart ached at the memory of her two younger siblings, the two people she was giving all of herself to protect. 'I hope Charlie forgives me for breaking my promise.'
"I'm going to miss you so much while I'm gone!" Anika promised, squeezing her four-year-old brother so tight she worried she might break him. Charlie squeezed back, the slate grey eyes he'd inherited from his father overflowing with tears.
"Please don't go Ani!" he pleaded. Anika's heart broke but she forced her lips to turn into bitter smile. Charlie had never spent more than a few hours away from Anika and she didn't have the heart to tell him this would be goodbye for a long time, maybe forever.
"I have to go Charlie, but it's only for a few days. I'll be back before you know it and Brie will be here to play with you, I promise!" Anika comforted, motioning to the eleven-year-old sobbing in her bed. Brie was smart, smart enough to see past the lies fed to their little brother and the truth crushed her.
'In a few years Charlie won't even remember who I am,' Anika lamented, on the verge of her own tears. "Brie!" she called out, motioning for the dark haired girl to join them on the boy's bed. She held both children while they sobbed, rocking and assuring them everything would be okay because she would be back soon, all while crying her own silent tears because she knew she might never see either of them again.
Anika brushed away a few stray tears. 'At least the makeup is waterproof.'
Both women jumped when the door crashed against the wall for a second time in less than an hour. Duane stood in the doorway, the picture of a gentleman in his tuxedo and a glass of amber liquid in hand. "Time to go," he ordered.
Anika stood, a little uneasy with the height of the stilettos, and carefully made her way across the hardwood. Duane made no attempt to touch her, only leering as she brushed past him in the doorway. No more words were exchanged with the image consultant.
Duane guided Anika down the long hallway by a hand placed low on her back. Identical, white paneled doors lined the corridor leading back to the main staircase. Chateau de Slave was enormous from the outside, seated on several acres of private property in rural Georgia. During her time inside Anika had seen little of the home apart from the foyer, the main staircase, and the seemingly endless line of doors on the second floor. The third floor landing was unremarkable by Anika's standards, seemingly a duplicate of the second floor. The fourth floor landing, though, opened to large doors made of frosted glass.
A man stood in front of the doors, a guard in the guise of a servant. She could see the faint bulge of a firearm under his jacket and the outline of a transparent earpiece running from his crisp white collar, up his neck and over the shell of his ear. His face betrayed no emotion as he watched their approach, politely nodding to Duane as he opened the heavy door to allow their entrance. Anika felt the pressure in her chest rise as Duane pushed her through the doors and into the modern day auction house.
She expected a quiet affair filled with sobbing girls led on to a stage one by one and sold to the highest bidder. Instead it looked like any of the high-class parties she had ever seen on television. Women in a rainbow of colors flirted with men in black suits, many congregated around a full-service bar and tower of champaign flutes. A string band played in the farthest corner of the hall, barely heard over the constant hum of conversation.
She watched the gathered strangers and attempted to distinguish which of the patrons attended by force, which ones were buyers, and which ones were negotiating their own contract. A dark haired goddess in a flowing red dress appeared to be one of the self-contracting slaves. Full, ruby red lips parted in a surprised laugh as a blond suitor whispered something in her ear, his fingers grazing her breast as his arm slipped around her waist. Anika turned away from the display, disgusted.
Academically she understood sometimes the benefits outweighed the repercussions for the self-contracting slaves. Sold into the market as children and then booted into the world when they were too old to serve their purpose, they often didn't know any other way of life. In their eyes a rich, abusive spouse willing to send them to school and shower them with gifts was better than prostitution. Maybe it was, but watching a person willingly give away their freedom made Anika's already delicate stomach lurch.
The pressure on her spine eased, a silent order to stop. Duane stepped around her, eager to shake hands with a tall, red-haired gentleman in a dark suit. The man, introduced as Harold Delany, appeared less than pleased by Duane's interruption. Pinned to Delany's side, a petite Asian girl trembled as he traced circles on the bare skin exposed by the cut of her dress. The child glanced at Anika and for a second she could only see Brie's face. Momentarily weakened by shock, the beast hammered her mental barriers. She bit down on her lip as a fiery arc of pain forced the air from her lungs.
Duane continued his hushed and angry conversation with Delany, ignorant of Anika's distress and the chiming of the chandelier over their heads. She stomped the pain away, eager to focus on anything besides the fire threatening to tear her apart from the inside. Duane's arm returned to her back and she realized she'd missed his entire conversation with Delany while trying to reign in the beast that plagued her. Through his touch she could sense Duane's irritation with the ginger and his Asian consort, but there was also a determination to find a buyer for his loathsome stepdaughter.
It wasn't long before another man drew Duane's attention, a man whose gaze froze Anika from the inside out. His nose sat a bit more crooked than could be considered natural and his teeth were yellow but it was his pitch black eyes raking her from floor to breast that really turned her stomach. "I wasn't expecting to see you here, Russell!" Duane greeted, his own surprise and dislike evident in his voice.
The man, Russell, sneered and pried his eyes from Anika's costume cleavage. "I heard there would be a young virgin girl taking her place in the world and I couldn't resist placing a bid. Though I must say, your girl is exquisite." His fingers reached out to brush Anika's cheek but Duane was faster and slapped Russell's hand away. 'Just because Duane doesn't like me does not mean he won't protect his investment from a cheap pervert.'
"Not much fight left in her," Russell laughed, his hand dropping. "I half expected her to take a swing at me."
Duane sneered at the shorter man. "Anika is the virgin you've heard about. She is well-trained and I'm sure you're aware of the price on her head."
Russell eyed Anika again, now concealed behind Duane's considerable height. "I am. A million dollars is a little steep for one girl, isn't it?"
"A girl from my personal stock, one I can guarantee is well trained in the art of pleasing a man, yet has not been taken to bed. If anything I should be asking more."
"Your stock or not, surely we can come to some kind of an arrangement?"
Anika's heart plummeted. 'Duane could decide to negotiate a lower price if he is desperate for money. No, no, no, no, no…' The idea of being forced to leave with the sneering stranger made her weak in the knees and the beast took the opportunity to hammer against its constraints again. The force of the attack dropped Anika to her knees and for a moment she thought she would faint. Already she could hear the chime of the chandeliers and feel the wood floor vibrate beneath her fingers. "I can't do this," she whispered. Partial loss of control had always been overlooked but the burn spread uncontrollably and this time Anika didn't want it to stop.
A pair of hands grasped her burning shoulders and she braced herself for Duane's punishment. 'Pain might make it stop.'
Rough fingers grasped her chin and forced her to look up. Eyes so deep and blue they could have been black locked with hers and she could feel his concern and curiosity as if it were her own. "Calm down," he whispered, his soft voice carrying a distinct estuary lilt. Staring into his eyes it felt like the mysterious man could sense the wild rage preparing to unleash itself on the entire chateau.
A new pain tore through Anika's scalp and another wave of fury washed over her, this one not her own, as she was torn away from the mysterious stranger. The connection severed and she found herself at Duane's eye level, suspended by a fistful of dark hair. The fire spread into her arms and down to her fingertips. 'It's too far gone to control.' Duane opened his mouth to berate her but words were cut short by his screams. He pushed her to the floor, his hands blistering and bleeding from the fire forged by her beast.
Pushing past the all-consuming burn she raised her arms to protect herself from the furious kick flying towards her head. The pale stranger leapt between Anika and her tormenter, intercepting the blow and cracking his fist across Duane's jaw. Her beast purred in satisfaction when Duane crumbled to the floor.
Ignorant of the gathering spectators, he kneeled by her side again and pulled her into a sitting position. Her fingers grazed his dark stubble, reestablishing the previous connection so she could sense his feelings of anger, concern, disgust and relief. Still staring into his eyes, panic seized her mind as a small band of light formed around his iris. The ring expanded until she could make out soft silver against the dark blue, the same silver present in her own eyes. 'Oh no!' Anika thought, scrambling out of the man's arms and back to her feet. Her heels were gone and she tripped over the unexpected length of her gown.
The mystery man reached out to catch her. "Get away from me!" she screamed, the beast pushing him away before his hand could close around her wrist. The second encounter with the floor was more violent than the first and pain shot through her wrist as she scrambled backwards.
He held his hand up in surrender. "I'm not here to hurt you, Anika. Let me help you," he pleaded, his sincerity shining through as he inched forward.
"Help me?" Anika growled, rising to her feet again, this time gathering her dress so she wouldn't trip. "Help me like you helped my father you bastard!"
Confusion flashed across his face but he pressed on. "Listen to me, Anika. My name is Leon and I'm here to help you. There are a lot of people in this house who might be hurt if you don't. Please let me help," he implored. Anika froze.
A crystal champagne flute in the hand of an elderly gentleman exploded. Bystanders watched with morbid fascination as champagne, crystal shards and blood filled the air. The old man's scream rippled outward and another flute burst, followed by dozens of teardrops on one of the chandeliers. More screams followed. Flutes in hands, on tables and in the tower fractured, showering those nearby with sharp fragments of crystal. Men and women fled the hall, pushing and trampling over each other to escape the destruction. Anika watched the havoc helplessly, though she could feel the beast's pleasure as the now conscious Duane scrambled to his feet and fled in the wake of the beast's power.
'Blimey, I've never seen an untrained anomaly do so much damage!' Leon thought, awed. He could see the waves of energy rolling off the girl in his mind's eye, the perfect frequency to tear through crystal, glass and even wood. 'She's going to burn herself out if she keeps that up.' Familiar electricity danced across his skin as he gathered his own power to interfere with Anika's beast, to redirect it until it finally exhausted her and he could help.
Leon's manipulation left him with no time to react when a wave of Anika's energy changed direction. Bones broke and flesh tore as he slammed into the crumbling tower of champagne flutes and crashed through the bar on the other side. Bottles of alcohol smashed against the unforgiving floor and candles rolled off the bar top and into the mix. Fire roared to life and spread across the hardwood, up the adjacent wall and to the ceiling in the blink of an eye.
On the far side of the broken bar Leon climbed to his feet, blood dripping from a wound on his arm and a gash on his forehead. "Anika, you have to stop this! You are hurting people!" he shouted, limping away from the heat of the rapidly spreading fire. All the other guests from the hall were gone but their frightened screams echoed as the destruction followed them. 'You called me here. Please don't make me hurt you to protect them.'
Anika glared, the rage boiling over as Leon approached her. She could see the jagged source of blood dripping down his arm and a hint of bone in the wound. He was in no shape to fight her, yet he advanced.
"Please Anika! I know what the bastards here are doing and it's wrong, but some of the people being hurt in the crossfire are innocent," he implored, dragging his leg as he edged closer to her.
"Do not lie to me, Councilman. I know your kind. You don't care about the humans; you just want me to reign in the beast so you can kill me with less of a fight!"
"Councilman? Wha-" Leon's question cut off as another wave of power rolled towards him. His skin burned and his insides buzzed as a shield surged forward to protect his broken body. The wave struck him with all the force of a meteor and he braced himself. He crashed through the wall of the chateau and his shield shuddered, barely holding together as he struck the ground.
Anika approached the hole Leon's body formed in the wall, cautious of the spreading fire and toxic smoke with the beast primed and ready for attack. As expected, he lay unmoving on the dark lawn. For a moment Anika felt a stab of guilt at seeing his broken body but rage and fear overpowered it. 'I have to get out of here. I have to get back to Brie and Charlie before Duane does.'
The flight from the burning hall to the lawn passed in a blur. She stopped a few times to help fallen slaves to their feet, boys and girls abandoned by their masters and too defeated to move on without assistance. 'They don't deserve to be punished for their master's mistakes.' A few were trampled in the frenzy to escape the burning mansion and their glassy, lifeless eyes weighed heavily on her damaged soul.
Flickers from the fire on the upper floors illuminated the night along with a waning moon. Men and women scattered across the lawn and gravel drive, some of them trying to escape and others trying to capture their fleeing merchandise. Sirens echoed in the distance, no doubt able to see the pillars of smoke billowing from the broken windows.
Anika barely comprehended her surroundings, her eyes locked on a sleek BMW flying across the gravel. "DUANE!" she screeched, reaching out for the vehicle as it raced away. The beast roared to life and snagged the car's metal chassis. The engine revved in response and struggled to pull away under the invisible weight. 'I will not let you go home to Brie and Charlie, you son of a bitch!'
The engine whined and screeched until the hood burst open and smashed against the windshield. The car swerved, Duane no longer able to see the road in front of him, and the beast released its hold. It accelerated wildly, narrowly missing men and women fleeing the grounds until finally crashing into the brick wall separating the chateau from the main road. The horn blared and the engine smoked but the driver-side door didn't open. For a brief moment Anika hoped the impact killed her tormenter, that he wasn't wearing his seatbelt and had shattered his skull on the windshield or that the sudden stop broke his neck. In the next moment she felt a rush of shame. "Mom wouldn't want me to be a killer," she whispered.
A grunt of pain to Anika's left drew her attention and to her great surprise Leon was conscious. He screamed, setting his broken arm with an inhumanly strong tug and then he was on his feet. He favored his leg but the lacerations on his head and arm knitted together as if they'd never been there. She was tempted to attack him again, to make sure he would not follow her but the urge to get back to Brie and Charlie was stronger. For the first time in her memory she had the opportunity to escape.
Mindful of the sharp rocks making up the driveway she sprinted down the soft lawn toward the wrecked BMW. Duane still hadn't emerged. 'He is either unconscious or dead.' Anika did not care which so long as she got a head start.
Dozens of vehicles lined the driveway, all belonging to masters attending the party. Lexus, Porsche, and Mercedes… all brands she learned to associate with the rich slavers she detested. The first vehicle she reached, a dark Audi sedan, roared to life, the door already open and waiting for her. An inexperienced driver, she forced the vehicle into gear and peeled onto the lawn before circling back to the gravel drive.
On the main road she could see more men and women running, a few of them being chased and a smaller few already captured. The raging beast was almost under her control now that she wasn't fighting it and it only took a little push here and there for the slavers to go down with broken bones, giving the slaves time and space to get away.
Fire trucks, ambulances and police cruisers passed her as she sped away from the scene. There was some comfort knowing that the various slaves might have a chance to be free. 'The word of one or two doesn't mean much against a master with a good attorney or highly placed friend but the word of dozens? Probably enough to get the ring shut down if that many of them are brave enough to talk.'
In minutes the main road became the highway and the car weaved itself through traffic with inhuman precision, ignorant of the objections from other motorists. The burn of power abated and Anika felt the beast calm for the first time in months, maybe years. Senses dulled by the rage returned, bringing with them the smell of smoke, screams and dead faces. Anika vomited on the passenger floor. 'What did I do? The beast has been destructive before but not like that. The Mage Council…'
Shattering hundreds of crystal pieces fell beyond anything she ever knew she could do; something that the Mage Council would sense. One councilman had been at the chateau, either by chance or by picking up on her power fluctuations during the last several hours. 'Mom always said the magi are unnaturally aware of each other,' Anika thought, furious with herself for blowing her cover. There was no telling how many more councilmen sensed her presence, or how many they would send after her.
Anika briefly considered letting the beast guide her and taking I-95 as far as she could go to disappear into another city. 'A lot of people in a condensed area make it hard to pick up on a single person…' She dismissed the idea. If Duane survived the crash then her timeframe for escaping with Brie and Charlie would be narrow and Anika knew exactly what fate awaited her siblings if she left them behind. The Asian tween on the arm of Delany came to mind, again with Brie's face. The image generated an entire new wave of fury and steeled Anika's resolve: tonight all three of them would be free.
No guns, drugs or slaves were stored at House Black, which meant the only security would be the fence and a few locked doors. Hannah, Duane's personal slave, was left in charge of the children. As a contract slave Hannah would not be as keen to escape as Anika but if it came to a physical fight there was no question who would win.
'Where will we go? Mom told me to find her sister, but what if she has moved away?' The idea caused another wave of nausea to roll through Anika's stomach but her options were limited. The woman lived in Florida, only a few hours south. With funds restricted to whatever Anika could find in the house, a nearby safe-haven would be their best bet but would leave all three of them within Duane's grasp. She entertained going to the police but again dismissed the idea. 'It didn't work last time so why would now be any different?'
The Audi glided off the highway to a main road in Richmond Hill. She felt relief and an overwhelming sense of fatigue as she approached Duane's home. Pavement turned into dirt road, jarring the car and stirring up road dust. The vehicle was not designed for rough terrain at a moderate speed but it pushed on anyway.
Stone pillars held a wrought-iron gate in place, protecting House Black from intruders. Anika knew the gate was electrified to preventing unwanted visitors, or escapees, from climbing it. She pressed the gas petal to the floor and rammed the gate. It collapsed on top of the car, denting the hood and cracking the windshield before breaking off and allowing her entrance to the paved driveway. House Black came into view and the imposing three-story redbrick caused anxiety to stir in her belly. 'The sooner we are free of this place, the better.'
Anika parked the Audi in Duane's five-car garage to hide the damaged vehicle from anyone coming to investigate the downed fence. Inside, only two motorcycles and a black Escalade occupied the space. "Escalade it is," Anika muttered, slamming the side door of the garage closed behind her. 'Duane keeps the keys locked in his safe. Sounds like a good place to visit before we leave.'
Again lifting the skirt of the dress so she didn't trip, Anika dashed across the lawn to the main doors of the house. 'I have to change,' she thought, knowing a torn and stained designer dress would draw unwanted attention. The beast was calm but responded to her need by removing the main doors from their hinges. Her bare feet made no noise as she crossed from the marble foyer to the kitchen cellar, where Hannah, Brie and Charlie had been locked up when Duane dragged her away.
Again, the door blew off its hinges. 'Something feels… off.' Anika expected a shout of surprise from the bang of the door breaking but no sound echoed in the cellar. "Brie!" Anika whispered, pausing at the top of the stairs. No one answered and a new panic seized the young woman. 'Duane did something to them!' She managed only one step down the stairs when something sharp pierced her skin and every muscle in her body seized. Her balance shifted forward and she turned as she fell. The first impact against the wooden stairs forced the air from her lungs. The second filled her vision with tiny white stars. The third blackened her vision completely.
'I can't see! I can't breathe!' Anika felt strange, like her arms and legs were hundreds of pounds heavier than they should be. Her vision cleared a little as she gulped air and gave her a perfect view of the cellar's ceiling. She wanted to look around, to figure out how she ended up at the bottom of the stairs but her body refused, heavy and worn out from channeling the beast.
On the verge of unconsciousness, she was dragged back to reality by a hot, sweaty hand yanking her off the ground. She screamed, white-hot pain shooting through her chest and into her skull. She willed the beast to roar to life. It barely stirred, governed by the same drugged-exhaustion weighing down her muscles. A shoulder dug into her damaged ribs and the lack of air made her head spin. She watched as the cellar steps passed by with only one thought: 'Duane is going to kill me.'