Disclaimer: I do not own Iron Kingdoms, the universe where this is set, though it can be read without prior knowledge of the setting.


Why have you forsaken me?
In your eyes forsaken me?
In your thoughts forsaken me?
In your heart forsaken me?

System of a Down, Chop Suey

The room she found herself in was oddly familiar, though she couldn't quite place it: an uncertain cold feeling deep in her stomach as she tried to remember where she was. Sitting up, she opened sleep-heavy eyes and cast about. Her head was filled with a fog of indistinctive memories, her limbs seemingly weighed down by tiredness that seemed to restrict her every motion.

It was a basic room, nothing marking it as unique or special: it could be the room of a hundred different people in hundred different places, a double bed and a dresser being the only notable pieces of furniture present. The looking glass flickered with what little light there was in the room, showing her reflection to be concerned, lost and confused: the crack upon its surface distorting her horribly. Aoima looked away quickly, not liking the way her other self seemed to sneer, the broken glass intersecting her face as a scar would.

She couldn't remember how she had gotten here, to whom she had been speaking, the face of her last gentleman caller…where Nestor was. Aoima couldn't see her weaponry or any of her recognisable possessions; she was dressed in something that she herself had never seen, something utterly plain and simple that she almost tore it off. Exile she might be, but she would never admit to being a pauper.

Reaching for the dressing gown that lay upon the chair, she wrapped it over the thin nightie, and walk slowly towards the window, gazing out at the lawn that lay beneath. She could view the carefully manicured trees of a knot garden, with expansive lawns stretching as far as she could see, as well as the delicate blooms of a rose arbour in the distance: all in all, a grand garden that could belong to any of the many houses she had visited in her 45 years of life. Yet it struck a chord within her, her heartbeat rising to an alarming rate. Something uncertain was echoing within her, and she wasn't sure how best to answer.

It perplexed her; she recognised it from somewhere, but she couldn't seem to drag it to the forefront of her mind. Like a bad taste, the familiarity haunted her, but she couldn't quite place the location, the sick feeling in her stomach growing stronger as she leaned against the windows and gazed across the balcony. Something wasn't right: It wasn't right at all.

Then it came to her: she knew where she was: her hands fiddled desperately with the locks on the door, claustrophobia overwhelming her all of a sudden: she had to get out! This was her prison, the cage she had been forced within by those who claimed to love her…and it wouldn't be long until her gaoler was along.

That balcony…it was a10foot fall to a hard stone path underneath, where her heels would break and she would have to run shoeless to the stables…memories of those unspoken 2 months from 5 years ago, that period of her life she refused to acknowledge around her right now, a solid reality she could not easily escape from. The locks seemed to have stiffened since she last entangled with them, the metal refusing to move despite her best efforts.

"So glad you could join me again, my darling…" Aoima's breath caught in her throat as she recognised the voice, slippery as silk and twice as elegant: her eyes widened as she felt the dread rush through her, sapping her strength still further. Fingers frozen from their task, her blood turned to ice as she turned on the spot to face the speaker.

Reginald de Breos wore the darkness like raiment, the shadows moving sinisterly over his person as he stalked towards her. "It's been far too long, wouldn't you say?" His uniform was well presented, as always, the faint scent of starch that always seemed to linger whenever he was apparent: every line, wrinkle and imperfection exactly as it was the first time she met him, his sneer still lecherous and smacking of perversity.

"How…what am I doing here?"

"What, no witty retort? No comeback? My dear, you do disappoint."

Her face creased with confusion, overwhelmed by the absurd impossibility of it all…she could not be here; de Breos could not have caught with her, not after all this time. How had he reached Five Fingers alone: he hated humans, despised them even. There was no way he'd ever have left Ios: so how had she been brought to him? Who would have caged her and sent her back to this animal? They stepped tentatively around each other, assessing the other: Aoima did not feel confident in herself, her usual strength and speed seeming slurred by something she couldn't understand or comprehend.

"You didn't think I'd forgotten you, petal?" A cold hand rose to touch her cheek: she tried to deflect, but found his grip stronger than she recalled, thin stony fingers coiled about her wrist. She gasped aloud in pain, and he seemed to take pleasure in this, sneering lips peeling back from pearly teeth, musty cold breath cast across her face. "That pale, deceptive beauty that caused me to lose so much? The traitorous slut who took the valet into her arms, but not the lord?" His words were hissed with poisonous venom she had never heard him use before: clearly, her elopement had been a major loss for him. "Oh no, you may have hoped for it, but you have never been far from my mind, my dear Aoima."

"I never wanted to be with you, I made that abundantly clear to both you and my family!" She tried again to pull away, only for him to capitalise upon the momentum and pull her back, her body tumbling to interact with his. His arms snaked around her and held her tightly to him: She shuddered, feeling his clammy flesh, an odd cold sensation left wherever he had touched her.

"You could have had everything, Aoima…but you forced me to punish you." His icy lips whispered into her ear, twitching against the tip, sending a reflexive shiver of pleasure through her. Sickened, she struck him with her elbow, smashing it into his ribs and managing to break free…temporarily. "When will you realise that you cannot escape me?"

"You don't own me…you never have and you never will!" Her voice was loud and harsh and completely foreign to her ears, the wave of emotion that ripped further from her throat draining her energy. She was pulled backwards as her hair was yanked: she screamed in pain as Reginald dragged her back to the bed. He threw her down, her body contorted as he forced her body around like a doll, laying his weight upon her and restraining her.

"Oh no Aoima…I've owned you since the moment your father signed you away to me." Her head twitched in response to this, a look of anger passing over her features. She pursed her lips, arched her neck and spat at him. This only seemed to spurn him on, the leering smile growing even wider. The pressure upon her seemed to grow as he shifted his weight to keep her down, his mouth again pressed beside her head. "Even as you fled as far away from me as you possibly could…you're still mine."

"I hate you…and you hate me – why can't you just let me go?"

"But you are so delightful, my dear…I could never tire of playing with you." He whispered into her ear, like a dirty secret only the two of them could share; a deviant shame he seemed to delight in revealing to her.

"I'm not here for your pleasure… for your enjoyment…" She whimpered, her voice not entirely still, shaking with fear and worry as he wrenched her around and held her still, looking down at her, almost hungrily. He felt cold against her, icy and strong and utterly indomitable, his face twisted viciously into that of a gorgon. "I'm not yours; I belong to no one." Tears began to fall down her face, her wrists beginning to ache as his weight continued to suppress her.

"You've never been free, Aoima, you're fooling yourself if you believe otherwise. You'll never be free…I'll always be here, haunting you…tainting you and everything you pursue." His voice began to grate on her nerves, drilling into her mind as she attempted to resist him. Her breast rose and fell fast as her breathing increased even more, dread rising within her.

"And why is that? Do you believe I'll never find some way to defy you, some way to defeat you? I escaped you once before, and I will do it again." Hidden strength surged through her, something tapped at the final moment to carry her through, flooding through her like adrenaline, renewing her conviction. "I'm not alone anymore; I have friends and allies who will not allow you to do what you did to me again!"

Her face furrowed in anger, even as he struggled to overcome her: she felt her lost strength returning as she kept him from her, scrabbling hands restrained frustratingly only inches from her body. Aoima would not allow him power over her: he could only have it if she relinquished it…and she would never do that willing, not to him.

"Your rag tag mercenaries mean nothing to me, just as your spouse means nothing." He barked his response as if it were an order she was not obeying, his normally well controlled mask splintering away to rage and frustration at her refusal to kowtow to his demands. "I'm here, inside your mind, where you can't escape me…Your worst enemy, the person who knows you better than any other. I know where you are, I know what drives you…I know your weaknesses, and I know how to undermine you." He became more controlled, his voice now carrying a heavy sense of threat, subtle and succinct as it was when he had dealt with her on particularly stubborn days. It was a voice which promised a great deal and gave nothing away, sly undertones sending cold fear through her veins.

"I'm more than what I once was; you will never turn me into the shell of the being you intended for your wife." Her voice cracked as she spoke, the strength faltering slightly as she felt a reminiscence of those two months return, how it felt to crawl naked across a cold floor, to be kicked in the face and then for fingers to be trodden upon, the noise of ones bones crunching and splitting before her…

"I don't need to…you do that perfectly well on your own." Just as suddenly as he had struck, he withdrew, disentangling himself from her and drawing from the room almost completely, gliding shadow-like faster than she could follow. "When you least expect it, I'll come for you: when you are at your weakest, that will be when I return to claim you!"

She lunged forwards wildly, screaming indistinctly as she tried to tackle him, only for the darkness to swallow both him and her, the floor rushing to meet her as she fell, senses keen to the pain that occurred. Her eyes closed and snapped open again, to hear an entirely more welcome voice speaking, a more familiar set of warm hands holding her tightly.

"Wake up, Aoima…it's me!"

Breathing deeply, she looked around, confused and unsettled. Nestor looked back down at her from where he stood over her, the beginnings of red scratch marks becoming apparent on his face. More damage seemed apparent in the half light, but he would not stop to check it, leading her back to the bed. Standing up ungainly, she clambered back onto the mattress, a little ashamed at the violence of her nightmare: that she had ended up hurting someone. Her body ached, and she imagined that she herself would have some fairly extensive bruising in the morning.

"I'm sorry…bad dream." She mumbled, not wishing to discuss the specifics, preferring to keep this rather explosive subject silent. "Did I hurt you?" Her fingers rose to touch the sensitive looking flesh on his cheek, only for him to wince away in pain, reaching up to remove her hand and to inspect it himself.

"I guessed." He sighed, blue eyes watching her for a few moments as their breathing slowed to a normal level. He seemed to be considering what to say next, words and sensitive subject matter both apparently of concern. "It was him, wasn't it? You're dreaming about de Breos."

It wasn't a question: she interpreted the statement as an accusation, knowing all too well Nestor's opinion of what had occurred, and the tone of his voice.

"I don't want to…It hasn't happened for such a long time. One of the reasons I don't think about what happened before, or him…" She sighed and drew closer to his warmth, feeling his longer hair tickle her nose. "I don't like to think of the power Reginald has over me. Its frightening…or it is to me. I don't want to be owned or possessed, and that is exactly what he did to me – how it feels to me still."

"You're here now, you're safe – no one can reach you in Five Fingers, not whilst I'm here watching your back." His words were brittle, well intention but difficult to speak allowed: the tirade of words and emotions he felt towards her ex-fiancé still as strong as ever, waiting for the appropriate outlet to unleash them. His fingers ran through her hair as he coaxed her into relaxing again, calming her emotions and lulling her into a dreamy semi-consciousness.

"Thank you…" She drifted off to sleep again, face serene and calm, mind remaining blissfully clear of any pervading influences, wrapped carefully in the arms of Nestor. How long this serenity would last, neither of them could say: just as neither of them could accurately surmise when the past would finally ensnare Aoima with any certainty.