Disclaimer: Sanctuary nor any of the ideas associated with Sanctuary are mine. They belong to any and all others who actually do own it.
A/N: Wowz...once again, long time in updating. *Sigh* Not even gonna say it this time...On a much happier note, I feel way too excited about this (still) to pass up the opportunity to share this with all of you (since you will be the few who understand my happiness over this)! I got to meet (well, kinda) Amanda Tapping, Chris Heyerdahl, and Robin Dunne over Labor Day weekend at Dragon*Con (yes, that's part of the reason this is so long in coming). It was soooo AWESOME! They're hilarious and really amazing and sweet (Robin saying he liked me wouldn't have anything to do with that, of course). ...ANYWAY!
Enough about that...and on to this chapter...I realize it's probably not my best work (I'm more than a little sick as I write this. Which is the reason I was even able to update this week). I'm afraid it seems a little rushed, but I also kinda wanted to give the feeling that everything was happening really quickly to Helen as well - like she couldn't quite keep up with it all because things were just progressing and happening so fast. So that's why it's written that way. If anyone has any ideas or issues with it, please (I beseech you), let me know so I can work on it! Read, Review, and (of course) ENJOY!
Oh yes, and a quick shout-out/thank you to everyone who reviewed last chapter. I know I didn't get around to thanking each of you personally (one of the things that got lost in my hectic life to my dismay), so I just wanted to take the time now to thank you all so very much! Also, a huge hug and smile to SJ officially antsy who has been amazing and very encouraging. Your words mean a lot, and are so amazing! To answer your question, no I haven't posted on any other sites. I promise you, I WILL finish this! The end is in sigh! (mine, anyway (; )
Torture and violence warnings on this chapter. Nothing too graphic (me being sick while writing this kinda put a damper on that...), but the warnings are there mostly for the ideas and concepts expressed in this chapter.
For the second time in too short of a space of time, Helen awoke to the steady drip of water on her face. The blackness that was pinioning her slowly lifted, pulling away to reveal a sodden, gray sky and a muddy earth. Rain cascaded from the water-logged heavens, water running down her face and dripping from her hair in rivulets.
She was cold and numb, and in as much pain as she could ever remember being in. Her stomach burned, the water doing little to alleviate the stinging pain that radiated from the deep gashes. Her head pounded, and her ribs were increasingly sore, each breath an ever increasing labor. Her shoulder ached dully, small sparks of agony fizzling through her if she twisted the wrong way.
Her outer extremities were so completely numb that it took her a few minutes to realize that her hands were tied behind her back, her wrists crossed at an awkward angle and bound to a rough wooden post a few feet above the ground. Vaguely, she could feel the ropes biting into her flesh as she jerked at the bonds, attempting to pull her wrists from between the soaked twine, but she felt no pain. Finally, the warmth of blood trickling down her hands and off of her fingers stilled her movements.
As Helen sagged against the post, her knees folded beneath her in an awkward kneel, she took a mental inventory. Her abdomen burned and stung all at once, the ragged gashes pulling every time she took a breath. Her head pounded with each heartbeat, and the bullet wound in her shoulder stabbed in fitful flashes. Her coat was gone, the only barrier between her and lovely Mother Nature her thin blouse.
She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment before opening them into slits, taking stock of her surroundings. The rain pelted through the air, sending small globules of mud flying into the air at the harsh impacts. Through the wavering air, the hulking shadow of a cabin sat against the trees, the single window emanating the faint, flickering gleam of firelight. To Magnus, it reminded her of a Cyclopes crouching in the narrow avenue of her escape. A fence surrounded the courtyard that she found herself in, meeting with the walls of the cabin to form a complete enclosure.
With a slight groan, Helen leaned her head against the rough wood of the post behind her, her hair clinging to her forehead and neck with soggy fingers. The cold water continued to pepper her face as she looked heavenward, her eyes closed. Slowly, the darkness that had been hanging just around her mind began to encroach once again, and she eventually lapsed back into unconsciousness.
A harsh voice and a vicious, stinging slap brought Helen back to consciousness, yanking her back to the real world with a harsh thud. The resounding tone brought painful, unpleasant memories to the forefront of Helen's mind. Rope pulling taught around her wrists. The sharp crack of a gun discharging. She dull, biting pain of a vicious kick to her searing stomach.
"Look at me, bitch," the voice yelled again, this time the words slightly more understandable, pulling the woman back into reality. Blinking in the sudden wash of bright, morning sunlight Magnus forced her eyes open, ducking her head as the light stabbed merciless shards of brilliance into her sensitive pupils. She bit her lip, stifling a small groan that threatened to escape from between her locked jaws.
She was sore all over, an aching exhaustion filling her already leaden limbs. The world seemed to tilt around her haphazardly as she shook her head, attempting to clear it of the cobwebs of unconsciousness.
Gathering all of her thoughts and emotions, Helen crammed them into a tiny ball before forcing them into the deepest, most protected corner of her mind. She squeezed her eyes shut for a second, taking a deep breath, then lifted her head.
"What do you want?" Magnus asked, finally finding her voice.
"Just to ask you a few questions," came the calm, almost soothing voice, a far cry from the tone of voice used just a few seconds before. Helen barely managing to suppress the snort of derision that fought valiantly to sally forth.
"And if I won't answer you?" Helen asked, her voice laced with a quiet challenge.
"You will," the man said, this time his tone low and icy cold. A shadow knelt in front of her, blocking out the sunlight that continued to beat down on her unprotected body. A firm, almost painful grip latched onto her chin, and forced Helen's face upward until her eyes met the man's. His eyes were just as cold as his voice, the cold blue glittering from underneath the shadow of his Stetson. His jaw was square and strong, and a cruel grin curled the edges of his lips, turning them upward in a feral sneer.
Magnus held his piercing, calculating gaze unwaveringly, unblinkingly. The silent battle of wills stretched endlessly onward, each second ticking away like an eternity. Then, Helen made her move. She lifted her chin, asserting pressure on his tight grip, setting her jaw. A small smile suddenly flickered along her features, her eyes flashing. A sudden chill overcame the man, the irrational notion that she could see down into his very soul flitting through his mind.
With a snarl, the man lowered his eyes, pulling Magnus's head to the side sharply as he released her chin. Her head slammed into the coarse wood of the wooden pole tethering her to the ground, stars popping in her vision as her ear collided with the uncomfortably hard surface.
She knew she would regret her small victory later, and yet she couldn't find it in herself to feel remorse for her choice. Instead, a small bubble of something blossomed in her mind. Even if for a split second, the man had been afraid of her. And that was something that she knew she could use to her advantage.
"Who are you?" the cold voice asked, the sound of the man's booted feet treading around her. Helen refused to follow his pacing form, instead using the opportunity to get a good look at the clearing in the daylight. It looked just as it had the night before, although slightly less wet. The door to the cabin stood open, and Magnus could detect movement inside. As her gaze roved around the fence, she caught a glimpse of two other figures leaning against the wooden slats, observing the goings on.
"I asked you a question," the man growled, coming back to stand in front of Helen.
Magnus retained her silence, allowing a small, tightlipped smile to grace her features. Once again, she saw stars pop as, once again, her ear collided with the wooden post.
"I'm waiting for an answer," the man growled.
"Then you're going to be waiting for a very long time," Helen said lightly, hoping that her answer and tone of voice would grate on the man's arrogance as she lifted her eyes to meet the man's gaze once again.
"Where is the creature?" the man asked, changing tact abruptly, hoping to throw her off her guard.
"I don't know," Helen replied airily. "Although you'll hardly believe me," she added.
A hand gesture from the man and tug from behind her was all the warning she had. The next instant, pain exploded in her shoulders, wrists, and hands as the ropes holding her upright were released and her arms dropped to her sides. Surprised and completely unprepared, Helen fell forward, the support holding her up vanishing. She attempted to break her fall with her arms, but they buckled, the pain of blood suddenly rushing back into numbed nerves searing.
Rough hands jerked Helen to her feet, spinning her around so she could look at her interrogator.
"You're right; I don't believe you," he said, a foreboding menace in his tone. Before she could register what was happening, Magnus found herself being dragged across the muddy ground, her arms shrieking and her shoulder crying out painfully as the metal of the bullet grated against bone.
She was shoved and sent stumbling, her numb legs unable to support her weight either, sending her crashing into the wooden posts of the fence. A boot connected with her hip, flipping her onto her back and eliciting a surprised yelp from her. Yet again she was grabbed and hauled to her feet, shoved against the fence, the uneven wood biting into her skin even through her blouse. One hand was pulled around the post and fastened to the nearest railing, the ropes securing her before she could begin to think of an escape.
"I will ask you again, where is the monster?"
After a few seconds of silence, Helen replied, her voice cold as she allowed the anger that was harbored in her heart to show through. "He is not the monster."
Complete and total silence stretched across the clearing. Finally, the man spoke, his voice sad and yet almost…pleased?
"You should not have said that," he told Magnus coldly, the sound of something uncoiling from his belt turning Helen's head.
The shriek of leather splicing the air gave her less than a second's notice. Her body jerked as the force of the whip's blow slammed into her back, the edges of the rawhide biting deep into her skin, shredding both her shirt and her body with hardly any resistance. She locked her jaws, swallowing the shrill cry before it could be born. The warmth of blood cascaded down her back, causing her to shiver at the stark contrast between the liquid and the cold breeze that tickled her skin.
"Between each lashing, I'll give you a chance to answer my question," the man informed her. "I'll count to thirty."
All too quickly, the whistle of the bullwhip cracked through the air again, another line of fire cutting across Helen's back. Her body jerked, her teeth clenched together painfully as she fought to keep from giving her tormentor satisfaction.
As the time passed, the lashes became more and more painful. Whether it was that her own barriers were weakening, or it was that the man was becoming angrier, Helen was unsure. All that she knew, however, was that with each blow, she lost a little more of her courage. As she lost more blood, the edges of her vision began to become more and more blurry, dark splotches beginning to swim across her view of the fence post. She fought back the desperate moans and whimpers that resounded through her mind, unsure if they were audible or not.
And then, her resolve snapped. As her body convulsed for the thirteenth time, she screamed. The short, shrill yell of pain echoed around the clearing, bouncing off of the sides of the cabin and disappearing into the ethers.
Through the haze of pain that filled her mind, threating to completely overwhelm her, Helen thought she heard a boy's voice.
"Stenton, that's enough."
"Don't talk to me in such a way, boy," the man – Stenton – snarled. Without warning, one final tongue of agony was sliced down Helen's back, her following cry louder and more drawn out than the time before.
Through her ragged breathing, Helen could hear the thump of boot steps retreating, disappearing into the world somewhere beyond her sphere of hearing.
Without warning, the bonds holding her to the fence were released, and she fell to her knees. She was grabbed on both sides by the same rough hands as before, then was dragged along the ground, her legs forming muddy furrows in the soggy ground.
Looking up, Helen saw the far side of the fence leering at her mockingly. Much closer stood the pole to which she had been bound the night before, and Helen assumed it was her current destination.
With a sudden surge of energy that she hadn't been sure she possessed, Magnus pulled her feet underneath her, lunging forward as soon as she had traction. Surprised, the two men holding her stumbled, the man on her left crashing to the ground with a thump. Whirling, Helen slammed a foot into the other man's side, shoving him away from her. He cried out as he fell sideways, barely managing to retain his feet.
Knowing that her window of opportunity would soon be gone, Helen leapt forward, locking away the pain that threatened to overwhelm her, sprinting for the fence. She hoped to get over it and disappear into the forest, hopefully managing to avoid any search parties sent out for her until she could make it back to where she had last seen the dragon.
It was her own body that betrayed her. As she reached the fence and reached for the top to hoist her damaged body over, her weakened legs gave out. She staggered, falling against the fence, barely managing to stay upright.
Someone pulled up beside her, grabbing her right shoulder. Helen pushed herself upright, attempting to shake off their restraining grip as she heaved herself upward, grappling with the wooden slats. For a second, elation filled her as she felt her body rise upward, but then a grunt of shock and a thump issued from a few feet to her right, and the next thing she knew, a vice-like grip had clamped down on her neck, pulling her backward ferociously.
She landed on her back. This time, she wasn't able to stifle the scream that tore from her lips as her ravaged skin was torn even more. Something hard made vicious contact with her stomach. As her body recoiled, she realized that, this time, she hardly felt any difference in the pain, her mind unable to cope with the ever increasing levels of agony. It was as if she slipped into a near comatose state at that point, barely aware of her surroundings. Vaguely, she was able to feel herself being dragged over the uneven ground of the stock yard, then pulled partially upright as her wrists were fastened to the post again.
Silence descended around her, the men departing and leaving her to her own thoughts and pain. Darkness descended on her, pulling her down irresistibly. Finally, she gave up the battle, allowing unconsciousness to take her.
As she finally went limp she thought she heard a worried chirp, and then she knew no more.