Release: Davlova: Book One (26 page)

BOOK: Release: Davlova: Book One
13.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“It’s a bit late for that. I think it’s swollen as much as it’s going to.”

“You don’t have to keep seeing him, you know. Talia doesn’t put up with abuse here in the house. If you told her—”

“It’s not that simple.”

“I see.” He’d still been touching me, but he pulled back suddenly, as if I’d burned him. “Forget I mentioned it, then.”

I’d hurt him, without meaning to. “I appreciate your concern, but it’s not worth worrying over.”

He shook his head, biting his lip.

“What?” I prodded.

He shrugged awkwardly, disconcerted by my question. “I just think…that’s what my mother used to say, after my father beat her. She’d say, ‘it doesn’t matter,’ or, ‘you don’t understand.’ And it’s true that every time it happened, he’d be sorry. He’d apologize, and bring her flowers, and promise to never do it again. And everything would be perfect for a while. They’d laugh together and smile at each other. But then...” He looked up, finally meeting my gaze. “Those happy times never lasted. He’d always end up beating her again. And what started out as a slap or two eventually became beating her to death.”

“It’s not like that.”

“Are you sure?”

“He was angry. He’d had a bad day, and that’s part of what I’m there for.”

He pondered that, but I could tell I hadn’t convinced him. If anything, he looked even more skeptical. “I think in some way, my mother started to believe the violence was justified, too. But you can’t do that, Misha. You can’t play into their cycle. Granting them license won’t save you.”

I turned away to stare sightlessly down at my breakfast. It was as if he’d read my mind. As if he’d somehow known what I’d been thinking when Donato had asked me if I wanted him to beat Ayo instead—I deserved his wrath; Ayo did not.

“Misha,” Lalo continued in his quiet, soothing voice, “if you feel you have to continue this job, then do it. But don’t forget what kind of man you’re dealing with. If he can do these things to you, he’s evil. Don’t make excuses for him.”

I didn’t speak, and after a moment, Lalo stood and left me in solitude to contemplate what he’d said. Was I playing into Donato’s sadism? After all, it wasn’t as if it was part of a mutually pleasurable sexual experience. That would have been different. The bruises he gave me were the result of his rage. And that was a part of him even he had no control over.

Had I actually believed that I deserved it?

Did I still believe it now?

I couldn’t answer either of those questions. The truth was, more often than not I liked being with Donato. In some strange way, I loved him. I’d come to think of the bruises as part of the job. As long as he didn’t make me hurt Ayo, I felt he was holding up his end of the bargain.

I also hadn’t forgotten what he’d said to me about leaving the trenches. I’d even begun to hope it would happen. I’d dreamt of nights when he’d share my bed until morning, cuddled against me, whispering praise into my ear while we made love. I’d imagined him sneaking into my room in the dark of night, telling me he couldn’t stand to be away.

But if I was in his house, I’d be within easy reach when his rages came upon him, too. What would happen then? Would the beatings happen more often? Would I learn to enjoy them?

The thought turned my stomach.

I stared down at my breakfast. It was nothing but a lump of hard bread and a bit of fish. My appetite was gone, but it had nothing to do with the fare. I wondered what Donato had for breakfast. Eggs? Maybe even bacon? Would I be allowed those luxuries, too?

And if so, was it a fair trade, knowing that his rages could someday cost me my life?

I didn’t have an answer to that question, either. I loved Donato, but he terrified me, too. I was glad to be granted some distance while he took care of whatever business the council had for him in Deliphine.

And yet, I found no clarity in my time alone. As the days passed, I grew more confused. One minute I missed him, and the next I wished I’d never have to face him. Sometimes, I wanted to pretend I’d never known him. To forget about either loving him, or hating him. But other times, I longed for the familiarity of his touch. After all, there was no going back to my former life. The idea of returning to Anzhéla’s was depressing. As much as I had rejected the idea of being a whore, I fit in better at Talia’s now than I would with the young thieves in Anzhéla’s clan.

But was that what I wanted?

I thought often about Donato’s offer to move me into his house. He might do that when he came back, and if that happened, I might never see the lower city again. I longed to go out, into the trenches. To revisit my old haunts. To pick some flat’s pocket, simply to prove to myself that I still could. But the lower city had become a dangerous place. I paced endlessly, wanting out, but not wanting to face the crowds and the anger. Part of me prayed that the revolution would happen while Donato was away. At least then he’d be safe.

But what about Ayo?

It was enough to drive me mad. Even playing chess with Lalo didn’t ease my mind. I felt his eyes on me across the chessboard, assessing my mood.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

I let him beat me rather than face his inquisitive gaze.

Later that day, I finally received the message I’d been waiting for: Dharma had completed her translation. The relief of finally having something to do was overwhelming.

She was waiting for me when I arrived at the temple. I could tell the moment I looked at her that she’d managed to learn something. She either didn’t notice or didn’t care about the bruises on my face. She dragged me to the far corner of the temple and pinned me to the wall with a suspicious glare. “Are you toying with me?”

Her accusation brought me up short. “No. Why would I be?”

She sighed and pushed her long hair out of her face. “Where’d you get the tattoo?”

“I told you. From a friend.”

“So, you’ve actually seen it?”

“Yes. Why? What does it say?”

She chewed her lip, glancing around the temple to make sure nobody was within earshot. “A slave?”

“Yes.” Because there was no point in denying it.

“Fine,” she relented. “I’ll tell you. But not here.”

She led me around the corner, through a door, down a hallway and into a small room that held a table and a few chairs. There were no gas lamps, but a few candles burned on the small altar that filled one corner of the room. “What is this place?”

“We have lots of rooms for study or prayer. Sometimes people need to talk in private.”

She sat at the table and I followed suit. “What did you find?”

She sighed again and pulled a roll of paper, as if by magic, out of some hidden pocket in her robe. “Parts of it were easy. Parts of it, not so much.” She unrolled the scroll on the table to reveal a copy of the tattoo I’d made, with notes written next to it. “The first bit is basically filing information.” She pointed to the first few symbols. “This says, ‘Product of the Dollhouse.’” She turned to stare at me, as if expecting an explanation. I simply nodded. “You’re not surprised?”

I met her gaze. “No.”

“It actually exists?”

“It looks that way.”

She shook her head and turned back to the paper to indicate the next batch of symbols. “As far as I can tell, this is basically a serial number. The last part of this first line says it —”

Not ‘it.’”

was gifted to somebody, and there’s a date, but there’s no name. It’s only another number.”

Gifted. Not purchased. That was one bit of the puzzle solved. But gifted by whom? “So they have their customers numbered as well.”

“I suppose it helps to protect their anonymity.”

“What’s the date? How long ago was it?”

“Not quite four years ago.”

I closed my eyes and breathed deep. Somehow, I’d hoped that Ayo hadn’t been held prisoner in Donato’s house for long, but nearly four years? And even if he was, technically, an adult now, he wouldn’t have been at that time. Not unless he was more confused about his age than he realized.

“What else?”

“The next line is more difficult. The first half is just a stream of letters and numbers. I checked every book we have, trying to find some significance, but couldn’t. It’s like some kind of code. I have no idea what it means.”

My heart fell. If she couldn’t find the meaning of the tattoo, was there anybody who could? The Dollhouse, obviously, but I didn’t have any way of asking them. “So, that’s it? There’s nothing else there?”

“I didn’t say that. That’s only the first part of the second line. The second part...well, I can tell you what it says, but not what it means. Not for sure, at any rate.” She traced the next symbol with her finger. “This is an odd glyph, but it translates roughly as ‘return to death.’ Or maybe, ‘return by death.’ It’s hard to be sure. And then this one”—she moved her finger down—”means ‘command.’ And this last bit? It’s almost the strangest of all.”


“Because it’s in another language.”

“It’s all in another language.”

She pursed her lips in frustration. “I know. It’s hard to explain. Basically, the entire tattoo is written in the glyphs of Ancient Tovce, which most scholars think originated in Aurius. But nobody’s spoken that language since...well, we don’t even know when. We don’t even know what it sounded like. But when it’s translated, it’s always into the common tongue of the country. But this? This doesn’t translate right.”

“So, you can’t read it?”

“I didn’t say that. It isn’t a known glyph. I had to take each line and translate it letter by letter. It reveals a word, but it’s not a word I know. But I did some more research, and I think I found it. It’s a word from Chilpan, in their language.”

I’d heard of Chilpan, a country on the far side of the world, but I didn’t know the first thing about it.

“Why Chilpan?”

“Some say that’s where the Guild originated.”

“Yes, but why use it with Ayo, when nobody he knew spoke the language?”

“That’s a good question. I have a guess, but you have to understand, that’s all it is. A guess.”

“It’s more than I have.”

She nodded and took a deep breath. “The glyph before it means ‘command,’ right? And they’re separated by this symbol, which is like a colon. It’s saying that this Chilpanic word is some kind of command.”

She looked at me expectantly. My heart was suddenly pounding. “It’s a trigger?”

She nodded. “I think it is. And that’s why they used a foreign language. They didn’t want it to be a word he’d hear in day-to-day conversation. I mean, think about it. He could be at the market and hear this word, and
! He drops dead on the spot.”

“Wait! What? Drops dead?”

“Well, again, it’s only a guess. But since the middle part of the line is that glyph about returning to death, and the next thing appears to be a trigger word.” She shrugged again. “I’ve heard of that. I’d hoped it wasn’t true, but...”

Yes, I’d heard of it, too. A way for slaves to be killed with nothing more than a word. It was a failsafe in case they rebelled. But I’d always assumed it was a myth. A street legend. Just a fable to scare clan kids in the dark.

Then again, I’d thought the Dollhouse was a myth, too.

“You were able to translate the trigger word though, right?”

She nodded.

“What does it mean? Does it translate to ‘death’ or anything like that?”

“Yes and no. The word has a lot of meanings. It’s very vague. It could mean ‘freedom’ or ‘death’ or ‘climax.’””

“Climax? So it has a sexual implication?”

She scrunched her eyebrows together, her focus turning inward as she thought back. “It might, I guess. But not overtly. The closest single word I can give you is ‘release.’”

“So what is the actual word?”

“It’s hard to spell, but simple to say:

I left the temple with my head spinning.


The word flew ‘round and ‘round in my head, but what did it mean? I’d hoped to learn a bit more about Ayo’s past, and I’d done that, although only barely. I’d also secretly hoped to find a way to trigger his orgasm. And maybe I had.

Or maybe I’d found a single word command that would end his life.

Will you kill me?

I remembered with heartbreaking clarity the hope in his voice when he’d asked it of me. What would he say if he knew what I’d learned?

I knew the answer immediately. If I went to him—if I somehow found a way to see him and told him everything I’d learned—he’d tell me to use the trigger. Whether it killed him or made him come, he’d want me to use the word. He’d beg me to do it.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand the thought that I might be responsible for his death. I wanted to help him and protect him and get him away from Donato.

But not like that.

So I tucked the word away, deep inside my mind.

BOOK: Release: Davlova: Book One
13.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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