Probably going to be a three part.
Basically what the summary says. Pretty dark so fair warning, but also some fluff.
Disclaimer: Valek and Yelena were born in the head of Maria V. Snyder, not me. Sadly.
As we moved through Brazzell's manor I could feel the tension rolling off Yelena in waves. The rational part of me attributed this feeling to my assassin's reflexes, honed over years of training to pick up on slight changes in my environment. But if I were being honest, this was something that ran deeper. In recent months I'd developed a sharp awareness of Yelena: the sound of her walk was immediately familiar to me, as was her scent, her voice, and the sound of her breath in a quiet room. I could immediately discern shifts in her mood – though what exactly she felt remained enigmatic – could tell when she was relaxed or nervous. Now she was most definitely feeling the latter.
Her tread, normally fluid and rhythmic, stuttered, like she was forcing herself to take each step. Her breath came in shallow pants, and her face, when I risked a glance at it, reminded me of the first time we'd met, when she'd just been pulled from the dungeon and thought she awaited execution. The metallic tang of blood pierced the air and I noticed that she'd bitten through the skin of her hand, a nervous act I'd only ever seen her do once before, in Brazzell's presence.
In sympathy, my body felt coiled in anticipation, as if enemies were about to jump from out behind every corner.
When we entered the laboratory, I suppressed a shudder of revulsion. Cold stone slabs were glittering with sharp, metal tools and a pile of manacles and ropes graced the corner. I'd been in enough torture chambers to know one when I saw one. And in spite of my rather horrifying reputation, I vehemently disliked them. I was an assassin, not a torturer.
Seeing nothing of interest in this room, Yelena led me down the hall to a slightly larger, more ornate door. There she stopped, trembling. Part of me wanted to reach up, rest a hand on her shoulder to comfort her, but I had the distinct impression that she would shatter like one of my stone statues if touched.
Instead, I turned my attention to the door, which swung open on well-oiled hinges at my touch.
The room was dim, bits of dust floating around in the air. I cautiously lit the lantern in my hand, shuttering it so that only a soft light emanated from it. What it illuminated rooted me to the spot.
Red-brown stains spattered the stone at my feet, looking as if nobody had bothered to clean them up. The blood, which was too far from the bed to be from Reyad's death at Yelena's hand, reminded me of an impromptu torture scene.
I stepped forward, nearly nocking my head on a pair of manacles that hung from the ceiling. I reached up. They were crusted with dried blood that flaked off under my fingers. I rubbed them together, wondering which unfortunate soul had been shackled here and getting a sinking feeling that I already knew.
Instead, I tuned to the bed which had been fastidiously scrubbed and stripped of its sheets. Likely the household had been unable to stand the evidence of Reyad's murder left unattended.
The light of the lantern glinted off the metal lock of a large chest, and I moved to kneel before it. The lock was old and unused, requiring a minute of attention with the lock picks before it sprang open. I quickly threw it aside, pushing up on the lid of the chest, which gave a screech of protest.
Inside, meticulously ordered, were all the instruments of a master torturer. Little knives while another held whips, from barbed to braided, the simplest of which was still coated in blood. A flail was tucked in amongst leather-bound rods, leather gags resting across them. Settled on the top, almost lovingly, was a leather bound journal. I picked it up, adjusting the lantern to give me enough light to read.
I flipped to a random page:
Today, Yelena ruined my best shirt while practicing acrobatics in the mud with her friends. In repentance, she will perform those same acrobatics, naked, with her hands chained behind her, and be whipped for every time she makes a mistake. When she is sufficiently coated in blood, I will bend her over-
I threw the book from me, repulsed. The knowledge I'd been repressing hit me with a vengeance. All the blood in this room had come from Yelena. Each of the tools in the chest had been meant for her, if they hadn't been used on her already. That journal…
I swallowed, fighting back nausea. The mere thought brought with it equal parts fury and horror. I quickly snuffed the lantern, not wishing to see any more of the damnable room, and staggered for the door.
Yelena stood in the hallway where I'd left her, looking tired and haunted. I stared, unable to shake the image of that whip cracking across her lovely skin, shackles chafing her wrists raw and bloody…
She must have seen something of my thoughts in my face, for her eyes widened slightly and she swallowed, hard.
I tore my eyes from her, shutting the door on that horrible room and stalking over to the next. I wanted to hurt something. I wanted to feel the hardness of bone beneath my fist. Wanted to feel my knife slicing someone's – no, Reyad's flesh. For once in my life, I wanted to hurt instead of kill. Wanted to inflict as much pain as humanly possible before allowing him to die. And it terrified me.
I pressed a hand to my forehead, forcing such dark thoughts into a corner of my head where they wouldn't interfere with the task at hand. There would be time to sort them out after all this mess was done.
Yelena and I continued searching, and I dared not look at her. I knew I would see the horrors of Reyad's room written there, and I'll admit, I was too cowardly to see them.
At the last door, my anger threatened to break loose again. Filthy, vacant-eyed teenagers cringed from us and the light we brought into the room. They were shackled to the floor.
Gathering my courage, I walked toward them, asking questions in the hopes of eliciting a response. They only stared back at me, uncomprehending. I reached out to touch the shoulder of a young man about Yelena's age, but recoiled. The air around him was sticky with magic.
Yelena's cry brought my head up. She knelt before a red-haired woman, stroking her face and grasping her shoulders. I could discern desperate whispers of "Cara" and "Please wake up!" from beneath the tears that streamed down her face. Her tears shocked me. I could count on one hand the number of times I'd thought she might cry, let alone the act itself.
Eventually she looked up at me, eyes wide in a pale face. "What now?"
I had no answers. I drew in a breath – to say what, I don't know – when someone answered first.
"You are arrested and thrown in the dungeon."
Yelena and I spun. Mogkan.
Suddenly, I had an outlet for my anger. Someone to blame for what had happened here. I charged Mogkan, unthinking.
As I burst into the hallway, I stopped just soon enough to avoid being skewered on a guard's sword. Mogkan stood behind eight of them, grinning like a cat that's just caught a particularly juicy mouse. My mind raced, trying to come up with a way to escape, to fight my way through. I raised my hands, realizing as Yelena raced up beside me that I had likely just consigned her to die in the place of her nightmares.
End part 1!
I'll try to update as soon as possible, but as always reviews give me the warm, fuzzy feeling that generally spawns writing.