Authors: A.M. Sexton
“Master, no,” Ayo cried, tugging on Donato’s arm in an effort to turn him away from me. “Master, hit me! Hit me instead.”
Donato obliged him, turning to backhand him across the face. My head still pounded. The room still seemed to move from side to side. I struggled to come up with a plan—something that would save Ayo and me both—but I couldn’t get past what he’d said.
“Slaves?” I gasped.
He turned on me. “What did you say?”
At least he was focused on me again, instead of Ayo. I squirmed, trying to bring myself upright in order to face him. I managed to get my feet under me, although the room still swayed. My arms were twisted uncomfortably in their binding, and I had to lean against the bedpost to stay on my feet, but it felt like victory. I wiped my eye on my shoulder, trying to clear the blood from my vision. Trying to get enough air into my lungs to say the words. “You said ‘slaves.’”
“Explain yourself, whore.”
I glanced at Ayo. He was quiet, his eyes wide. His pale hands covered his mouth. Tears streamed down his face. He shook his head at me. His eyes seemed to beg me to do something. Or to do nothing. I couldn’t tell which.
“You said, dealing with ‘bitch slaves’ for three days. Do you mean, on your boat? You had slaves on your boat?”
Donato stepped toward me, his cheeks red with anger. “I think you’ve forgotten your place.”
But I hadn’t. The truth was, I’d finally remembered it. And it wasn’t in his arms, or even in his bed. It was in the trenches, with the people who knew the value of life. And Jabin’s words echoed in my ears.
Better than the auctioning block, right? That’s what they kept telling me. Better than those other poor fools.
Jabin had obviously gone across on a previous trip, but the fact remained that Donato seemed to be shipping arrestees across the sea on a regular basis. And this time... “It was Talia’s whores, wasn’t it? You took them to Deliphine. All those raids, and you leaving town each time right after. All those people never heard from again. Except the few who get lucky and end up with implants—”
“You better shut your mouth—” he said, advancing on me, but I wasn’t about to stop now.
“You’re selling them. You’re selling your own people to the slave trade in Deliphine!”
He clenched his fists and closed in on me. I was already against the bedpost with no place to go. “Who told you that? Who the fuck told you that? Was it Benedict?”
“Nobody told me.”
“Liar!” He hit me again, a backhand across the face that made the punches he’d meted out earlier seem like child’s play. “Don’t you lie to me!” He hit me again, across the other cheek this time. My ears rang. My vision skewed. I fell again, and couldn’t tell if I’d landed on the bed or the floor. “I’ll beat it out of you, if that’s what it takes.” He hit me again.
“No!” Ayo cried again, trying to put himself between us. “Stop. Please stop. You’ll kill him.”
“Ayo,” I said weakly. “Don’t.”
Donato turned on me, and if I thought he’d been angry before, it was nothing compared to the rage I was faced with now. “
What the fuck did you call him?
Holy Goddess, I’d said his name. “Nothing,” I tried to say. I wanted to stand. I wanted to bring all of his anger down on me, if that’s what it took. But it was too late.
Donato grabbed a handful of Ayo’s hair and pulled the boy in front of me. “You take it well enough when it’s you I’m beating. But how will you handle it when I take my anger at you out on him?”
“I’m sorry. Master, please—”
He spun Ayo around, letting him go with the one hand while spinning to strike him with the other. The blow knocked Ayo back onto the bed, and Donato lunged at him, punching him with both hands, swearing as he swung. Ayo curled into a ball, trying to protect his face and his ribs, but it only made Donato angrier. “You stupid fucking slave!” he screamed. He began tearing at Ayo’s tunic. It took only a moment to strip him bare. Donato hit him again, alternately punching him and fumbling with his belt.
“Don’t!” I pleaded. I tried kicking, but tied to the bed as I was, he was out of my reach, and his blows had ruined my balance. The attempt only made me fall again.
Donato’s anger had turned to lust. He pushed his pants down as he pulled Ayo toward him. “Fucking whore. Fucking slave. I’ll fuck you both bloody—”
Ayo sobbed. His face was already turning red from Donato’s blows. Donato grabbed a handful of Ayo’s hair and pulled, wrenching the boy’s head backward. Ayo screamed, and not only from the pain. The programming was at work, making his cock hard, making him moan and writhe. He managed to turn his head enough to look at me. “Please,” he said.
Not to Donato, but to me.
“Shut up!” Donato roared at him, before turning to me. “Shall I make you fuck him instead? I could make him suck you while I pummel him. How would that be? You can act high and mighty, like you’re somehow better than me, but you’ll still rise for his sweet mouth. You’ll still come if he does it right.”
“Leave him alone! He’s done nothing!”
“No, but you have, whore. And punishing him is the best way I know to punish you.”
He pulled his belt free of his pants. He wrapped it around Ayo’s neck like a noose, pulling the end back through the buckle, tightening the leather around his pale throat. Ayo gasped, bucking backward, prying at it with his fingertips. Donato pushed him down face-first onto the bed. He held him in place as he fisted his erect cock, angling it toward Ayo’s hole.
“If you’re lucky,” Donato said to me, no longer yelling, but speaking in a voice that was so low and taut with anger, it made my knees shake, “I’ll come before he chokes.”
He slammed his cock home. Ayo bucked. He might have screamed, but with the belt tight around his neck, it came out a strangled whimper.
“Please, sir. Donato. Master. Stop,” I begged. My bravado was gone. I choked on my tears. “Please. Hit
. Please. I’ll do anything. Just let him go.”
Donato ignored me. He began to slam into Ayo ruthlessly, panting, calling him filthy and disgusting, telling him he’d pay. He held him to the bed with one hand while pulling on the belt with the other. He fucked him violently, and as he did, the belt got tighter. Ayo’s gasps grew more shallow. His eyes were wide. He turned again—he couldn’t move much, but it was enough for him to meet my eyes.
He struggled to speak. The words were weak and broken, nothing but tortured sounds. But I could see his eyes. I could read his lips. What he said was, “Please.”
I sobbed. It might kill him, and yet if it didn’t, Donato surely would. Either way, his death was on me. At least this way, it would grant him one final act of defiance.
I swallowed my tears. I brought myself to my feet. “For you,” I said.
He understood. His eyes changed—no longer panic, but relief.
Ayo’s body convulsed. He bucked violently off the bed, slamming the back of his head into Donato’s face. It was horrifying. So sudden and alarming that I screamed and tugged against my ties, trying to reach him. This wasn’t the sexual pleasure-and-pain spasms of before. It wasn’t even the contortions of gasping for air he couldn’t get. This was worse.
I’d once seen a young girl have a seizure. She’d thrashed so hard that she’d wet her pants and cracked her head open on the cobblestone street. Even that was mild compared to this. Ayo’s back arched violently. His head whipped back with such force, I could have sworn I heard a crack.
And then he came.
I’d imagined a dozen times what it would be like for him when he was finally allowed to climax, but I’d pictured it being something positive, the way orgasms were meant to be. But this was anything but pleasant.
Donato backed away in shock. His nose was bleeding from being slammed by Ayo’s head. He let go of the belt and Ayo fell to the bed, landing awkwardly on his side. He continued to convulse, his back arching painfully as he spurted semen again and again. Some landed on me. Some hit the wall. And still, he ejaculated. The entire bed shook from the force of his thrashing. His head snapped back again; his teeth clacked together onto the tip of his tongue. Blood spurted from between his lips.
“Ayo!” I screamed.
I was drowned out by Donato. “
What have you done?
You fucking bastard! What have you done?” He fell on me, striking me, screaming at me. Blood covered his lips. Spit flew from his mouth as he punched me again and again. “What have you done? Who told you that word?
He could beat me until the end of time. He could kill me if he wanted. I didn’t care. I was immune to the pain. I fell to my knees, sobbing. His blows continued to fall, on my face and my head. He kicked me again and again, but all I could see was Ayo.
The convulsions ended as quickly as they’d begun. He lay unmoving on the bed, a trickle of blood across his cheek, so pale and so still it could only mean one thing.
“I’ve killed him,” I cried, choking on both blood and tears. “I’ve killed him.”
Until finally a blow came that mercifully took it all away.
Everything was hazy after that, like flashes of life, images and sensations bubbling to the top of the murky depths of my subconscious. How much was real and how much was the fevered work of my addled brain, I didn’t know.
Ayo, lying dead across the stained bed, utterly still.
Donato, with his face in his hands, crying.
The inside of a familiar carriage. A ride so bumpy that I vomited all over myself and the floor.
After that, I regained consciousness, lying in my own bed at Talia’s. Lalo held a cool cloth to my face. “I told you this would happen,” he said angrily. Not speaking to me, I realized, but to somebody I couldn’t see.
“He’s sending his own doctor,” a woman’s voice said. “She’s on her way.”
The pain hit me hard, knocking the wind from my lungs. It was everywhere. My face. My mouth. My abdomen ached when I tried to breathe. But the pain wasn’t the worst of it. Images of Ayo—covered in semen and still as death—filled my head. “I killed him.”
I tried to sit up, but the pain caused me to double over, groaning. Lalo eased me gently back against the pillows. “You need to rest. He did a lot of damage.”
“He’s selling them in Deliphine. After the raids.”
Lalo went still, his eyes wide with alarm. “Selling who?”
“Misha, don’t talk,” the woman said.
“Benedict. The Council. They’re in on it. Jabin has an implant. They’re selling them as slaves.”
“Dulcie. All of them.”
“Holy Goddess.” The woman suddenly stepped into view. It was Talia. “Misha, are you sure?”
“I killed him.”
Lalo looked at her in alarm. She shook her head at him. “He’s talking gibberish. Donato’s alive and well.”
“Not Donato. Ayo. Oh Goddess, I killed him.”
“They’re selling the criminals. Don’t you see?”
“I’ll tell Anzhéla. Now hush. Let it go. You’ve done your job—”
A sob wracked through me, causing the pain to spike. “I killed him!”
Talia looked at Lalo. “We can’t have him talking like this when the doctor gets here.”
Lalo nodded. “Shh,” he soothed, putting the cloth down. “Enough.” He lifted a cup to my lips. “Drink.”
This time, the darkness didn’t hurt as much. And it lasted a lot longer.
When I woke again, everything had changed.
I was still in my bed at Talia’s, but it was daytime. Sunlight poured through my small window. Outside, I heard shouting. Not the normal hubbub of the market, or children paying in the street, but the chaotic noise of an angry mob. And on the chair next to my bed sat Frey, elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. Long, tan fingers and heavy silver rings tangled with his close-cropped hair.
“What’s happening?” I asked. Or tried to ask, but my throat was dry, and it came out as more of a croak.
Frey looked up at me. His eyes were red and swollen. I’d never seen Frey cry—in truth, I’d never seen him show much emotion at all—and I knew instantly something was terribly wrong.
I tried to sit up, although the pain brought me up short. I moaned, hugging my abdomen as I struggled to bring myself upright. “What’s going on?”
“It’s the revolution,” another voice said. I jerked my head around, although it caused the pain in my head to spike. Aleksey stood in the corner, leaning nonchalantly against the wall. He was dressed as he had been the one other time I’d seen him, holding his silver-tipped cane in his hand. Only the lack of tattoos on his face distinguished him from the rich bastards on the hill.
“What are you doing here?”
He didn’t answer me, but instead went on as fervently as before, as if I’d never spoken at all. “It’s happening, Misha. Thanks to you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Talia called us here, after Donato beat you. Of course, she hardly needed to. The men at the gate saw what he’d done to you. Word was all over the street by the time we got here and Talia told us what you’d said.”