She pushed against the guards that held her, a slave girl barely eighteen years old, she had been dragged from her Mistress's chamber to the castle of Viktor, they had forced a sack over her head and dragged her, fettered and chained, through the mud and forest until they reached this forbidding place, she had been led across a stone floor, like ice beneath her bruised and bleeding feet, the rough cloth choked her, the shackle heavy about her neck, she heard screaming and shuddered, perhaps they were nearing the torture chamber…
The sound came again, that endless howl of agony, unending and cruel, it hurt her ears and brought tears to her eyes, she squeezed them shut as though such a futile gesture could somehow stop it.
It was only feet away; she longs to beg her captors to free her from her bonds, to allow her to help the poor man in his sufferings.
The cloth is ripped from her head and the shackle about her neck is undone, it is her turn to scream, beside her is a heavy wooden door and through the bars she can see a great wolf, it has a man in its jaws, blood runs from a bite in his shoulder and he thrashes and shrieks, it is barely a human sound anymore, at last he is pulled from the chamber and pushed into the line of shaking men who have already been given over. Their wounds are bloody and treacherously deep in the flickering lights of the torches on the cold stone walls. It is a miracle he is alive.
She is dragged forward and pressed against the door, her hair hangs matted in her face, her tears burn her cheeks, they check that her arms are bound securely behind her back and open the door, her feet drag on the stones, and she screams, begging to be spared, they push her through and slam the door, she looks about wildly, there is no escape, the creature is chained to the wall, she gazes out at the men hunched in their pitiful line, soon she must join their number, one way or the other, she closes her eyes and steps toward the monster,
She hears it moving, she can feel its breath on her face, the scent of blood sickens her.
She must be brave, one final step.
She is within its reach and she feels the rush of wind as it lunges, its bite burns like fire from heaven, the wrath of God poured into her flesh in punishment for her sins.
Her eyes flash open and she screams with all her strength, as if it will lessen the pain, she thrashes and sobs, the wolf's grip crushes her chest, and she can barely draw enough air to vent her suffering.
The rope about her wrists is broken in their struggle, of beast and prey.
She throws her head back, the full moon whispers above in the endless blackness of the night, her vision is scarlet from the agony, she hears a man's voice, "it is done, she will turn! This is torture!" A man has thrown himself against the bars. She gazes out at him, beyond the crimson haze he is all that she can see.
He tries to reach through to her, she throws out her arm wildly, feels his fingers through the metal and clutches at him, "Be still" his voice is like a rush of molten silver in the burning of her torment, she tries to quiet herself, the monster releases its mighty jaws and she falls to the stone, fighting the urge to curl in on herself and shriek.
She lies still. She hears the sound of a key in the lock, and the scraping of wood as the heavy door is opened, high above she can see the wolf standing over her trembling form, it nudges her with its snout and she bites her lip to keep from crying out in pain and terror, the man has entered the chamber, the wolf leans over her, protecting her as if she were its kill.
The man snarls and the monster steps back, head lowered. He kneels down beside her, and lifts her in his arms; she hangs there all but lifeless, she is dimly aware of shadows and voices as she is carried deep into the bowels of the castle, down into filth and damp, down amongst the Lycan slaves.
She is laid upon the straw and the man sits beside her, leaning against the bars, watching her with eyes as dark as the winter sky, she reaches up tentatively, her shoulder has healed, the vicious bites of the wolf have faded like the stars before the dawn.
She sits nervously, glancing about she is locked in a cage, the man beside her smiles "Do not be afraid, the worst is over. I am Lucian."
Her voice is hoarse "What have they done to me?" it is all that matters now.
Lucian holds out a ring of metal pierced with points of silver on the inside "They have made you one of us, a lycan, your life will be little different from that which you are accustomed to, you are still a slave nothing more."
She eyes the collar "And this...a sign of my enslavement?"
"Yes" he holds it out; she pushes his hand away.
"I will never wear such a thing! I am not an animal!"
She hears the rough laughter of the men clustered about in the adjoining cages, each one of them bears such a collar.
Footsteps ring on the stone; a guard stands outside of the cage, "Is it done?"
Lucian shakes his head "I cannot persuade her to wear it."
The guard snorts, with a sound like a hog "You filthy animal, she is a woman, if she refuses you force her." He raises an eyebrow at the disgusted expressions of the slaves "Well I am certainly not risking myself by coming in there, she is one of yours now."
He stalks off and they hear his keys jingle as he leaves; he calls back " I will return in one hour and if it is not in place, Viktor says she will be flogged. He will not stand for a disobedient slave."
Lucian sighs 'You must put this on. We all wear them, it is no hardship"
She sneers "Never! It is inhuman! I have been whipped before, I do not fear it."
He crawls towards her, and she leaps back, pressing herself against the bars, Lucian kept his voice gentle, it would not do to frighten the girl further. "The whips are coated in silver, the Lycan's bite will seem delightful by comparison. Trust me and put this on."
She half reached for it and then withdrew " I cannot. It is a monstrous thing."
"Then close your eyes, and I will do it for you, but it must go on, either at your own hand or by mine." Lucian's dark eyes hold her prisoner; she cannot break her gaze.
She closes her eyes and swift as lightening Lucian closes the collar about her delicate throat, it looks strange, too cruel a thing on one such as she.
The heavy iron sits oddly upon her lily-white flesh, she opens her eyes pale as the starlight and blue as ice, they seem to burn into his very soul "What am I? Will I become like that…thing they locked me in with?"
Lucian nods "Yes, they have made you one of us now. A lycan"
Her eyes shine with tears unshed "So I am a beast…a monster…like you."
"Yes. But you have immortality, perhaps some small comfort."
"Eternity as an animal and hell at the end of it." Her voice is bitter as poison. She gazes up at the moon high above, through the bars of their prison.
Lucian sighs, "You will become accustomed, you need not be afraid."
She is trembling "But I am." She looks back and her eyes glow in the darkness, the cruel silver of her moon shackle digs into her throat, she can feel the silver's poison like fire in her blood, it keeps the change away.
She shivers at the rain that falls through the bars, the castle walls protect them from the icy wind that screams beyond, she does not sleep that night, but stays huddled into a far corner looking up at the moon.
The sky begins to lighten with the first caress of dawn, fading from black to blue and finally to a bloody scarlet.
Lucian awakes, and sees her still hunched there, he holds up the thin blanket littered with holes "Why did you not take this?"
"It is yours." She seems more resigned this morning, as if the horror has sunk in, driven itself as deep into her bones as the nails at the crucifixion of Christ.
The rattle of keys echoes in the morning and Lucian stands and offers her his hand, he helps her to her feet, the guard opens their cage and they step through as she passes she turns and snaps her teeth at the guard, who leaps back in mortal terror.
She giggles, the Lycans laugh with her as she follows them out into the courtyard, one by one the men leave to their own enslavement, until she is left standing beside Lucian, "You may work with me until Viktor gives you work of your own."
She is grateful for she sees the back breaking work to which the men are put, she hurries after Lucian across the courtyard, they stop beside the glowing forge and her eyes widen "I am a ladies maid I cannot work like this!" her delicate sensibilities are clearly offended at the idea that she might be expected to sweat for her enslavement.
He laughs at her then and takes a sheet of iron, she is standing well back as he turns and heats it in the flames, "You fear fire?"
She nods, mute and pale.
Lucian smiles "You will have to overcome that, come here. It cannot hurt you from so far away."
She edges nearer, he catches the sleeve of her dress and pushes it up her arm, "You cannot work like that, it could cause you some harm. Here like this." He shows her how to mould the metal across the anvil, to forge a sword.
She is sweating within moments, dizzy with the heat, she lays down the hammer and pushes her hair back, Lucian hands her a strip of rough cloth and she ties her hair back with it, as the peasant women of her village did.
The Moon Shackle hurts her, she wonders if she will ever become used to its endless weight on her neck. A realization dawns and she touches it feeling the icy iron and the silver burning at her throat "did you make these?"
Lucian nods "yes, every one, at Viktor's command."
She slams the hammer down listening to the metallic ring and imagining the Guard from the previous night's face.
At noon Lucian brings her water, and a hunk of stale bread and creamy cheese, she takes it gratefully, sees that he has kept none for himself and breaks it in half, over their meager meal Lucian tells her a little of the Corvinus Coven, their whip masters, the Vampires.
They sit beneath the burning sun, and she glances up at the castle that towers above them high as the reaches of heaven, Lucian follows her gaze "The legends are true, they cannot leave their castle in daylight, how did you come to such a place?"
She bites into a hunk of bread and chews it slowly "I was a handmaid to the daughter of Lord Bárath, I was dragged from my young ladies' chamber as a tribute to Viktor, in return for his protection of my lord and master."
Lucian nods, it is the same story as many of the others "Were you not afraid?'"
She blushes, a most charming sight " I was mortal afraid, we've all heard the stories about his Lordship, but I thought them nothing more than stories until…the wolf." She has been careful, she has noticed his silent displeasure should she use the word monster or beast. "You are not like the others are you, sir?"
He smiles "I am only Lucian, a slave as you are. But I am…not like the others; I was the first Lycan. Viktor spared my life when he found me at the side of my dead mother." His voice lowers "I was six years old before they found out what I was. And so they forged me this." He touches the collar at his neck. "Viktor forbids me to change, or to leave the Castle grounds. You are forbidden likewise. You may never remove your moon shackle, the change is forbidden to you as it is to me and to all Lycans"
She nods "I understand, I will obey of course. I have no wish to displease my master. But what of the wolves that roam the forest? We heard them howling in the night."
His eyes darken "They are different, mindless beasts, you are of my bloodline, we are not like them. We are not savage animals." He sounds almost angry and she lowers her head instinctively, pushing the last of the cheese onto her offensive tongue.
He drinks and then hands the rough wooden cup to her, she drinks deeply allowing the water to soothe her burning throat and to wash the taste of ash and metal from her mouth.
As they work into the evening Lucian tells her of Viktor, the Vampire's patriarch, who rules this day, of his daughter Sonja the warrior, the Death Dealer, famed for her beauty and brutality.
As the hours pass she learns more of the skills of the blacksmith though she is confined mostly to stoking the fire and cooling the red-hot blades in the water buckets, it takes Lucian a full hour to convince her to hold one, he takes her hand and wraps it with cloth about the palm, it will stave off the worst of the heat, but burns are something she must become accustomed to.
It is iron today but in time it will be silver.