Overheated limbs stretched to the brink of snapping found relief in the cooling bath of sweat beading upon Zevran's skin. Every nerve of his body protested, seeking an end to their torment. But Zevran knew none would come. It was a test, this rack, his confinement. Pleasure peaked the corners of his tormentors' mouths as they took another turn, twisting the knobs of Zevran's own tribulation another notch.

A wince shot sharp across his mouth, involuntary. He would not succumb. He had felt worse. His nostrils filled with the acrid breath of those men, those many men that preyed upon the flesh of his innocence lost. The son of a whore, the whore of a son, his titles were many – each worn proudly in testament to his survival.

A boy of five stood before him. A coin flipped playful between deft fingers. Magic! Back and forth it whipped agile between the digits, a trickster's game. A boy of five stood before him cowering before the man with meaty fingers and all too moist lips. A boy of five stood before him, tears coating once rosy cheeks.

"This one, he's so pretty…he'll cave for sure." They taunted him and teased with their commentary. The things he would do to them if the tables were turned. Give him the control and watch the world twist and change. He would endure for his time would come. It was just another trial along his jagged and fractured path. The end was in sight.

A Crow he would become. Men, women, they all would fall at his hands. His will would be done, theirs undone. He had only to withstand the cracking and snapping, the searing of muscle from bone, the tearing of ligament. Never would those men control him again. He would play their games. He would smile their smiles. The masks would be worn. The facades paraded. Shattered glass would be reformed in mosaic.

Another click, an additional twist, the pain radiated sharp and unrelenting. They would break him if they could and kill him his necessary. His life was worth next to nothing – three sovereigns he had once been sold for, nothing more, nothing less. It was on his birthday that he found freedom and new servitude simultaneous. But it did not matter to these men, these cruel taskmasters. They took immense satisfaction in their task -- the prettier the recruit, the sweeter the reward. He had been warned.

His back arched, his spirit unyielding. Every ounce of his being poured rebellious in the twist of lips in smile. "Are we done yet," he teased. They could have his pain. They could have the breaking of his body. They would not have him, though. He held possessive onto the remaining slivers of his being, unwilling to part with those small bits he still claimed as his own.

Fingernails raked across slick drawn skin, his body extended impossibly. That hand, those fingers, he would flay them one day. Another promise catalogued in his mind, adding to the many debts he would one day collect upon.

"He has withstood enough." He knew the voice – Master Pangrazio. It prickled at his ears hinting of sweet release. Brought to the threshold, teetering trepidatious he waited. It could be another ploy, an attempt to fill him with hope only to further turn employ the rack for further torture. But another click, another turn, it did not come. He felt his bonds grow slack. He felt the pressure release its hold upon him. He was indeed done. He had indeed survived…yet again.

A gypsy had once told him he would live to be an old man. He looked upon her with disbelief and a mocking scowl. A crazy woman, he had thought. But as they took his bruised body from atop the rack and carried him to the awaiting litter he began to wonder the merits of the wrinkled woman's prophecies. Had there been truth in her words? Has she seen something in him the many mirrors of his past and present had failed to reveal?

Everything became blurred. His body's chemistry played its games, twisting the images of his mind, the sensations of his body into a mish mash of images and feelings. The real and the imagined became morphed into one, a collage of pandemonium.

The cruel touch he could withstand, the slap of the sadist he was prepared for, the gentle caress of the caring rattled him to the core. Eyes fluttered open at half lid, only a sliver of light allowed to permeate his vision. Taliesin. Friend, brother, fellow recruit, the pair had met as boys and become fast friends. Their backgrounds were freakishly familiar. Both were brought to the Crows under auspicious circumstances.

Gentle fingers stroked careful Zevran's wounds, tracing the burgeoning bruises. "You have lived to fight another day." The words tasted like the finest of wines upon Zevran's tongue. He could swim forever in the sweetness of that voice.

Energy reserves were drawn from, mouth tugged into meager smile, "You have but yet to see me truly live, my friend." And live he would.