Chapter 7: Elementals are Scary
Kynan came alert immediately when the door opened. His heart beat a quick, nervous rhythm against his chest. He saw the prince's feet enter, take a few steps, half-turn, and then the demon knelt, peering into the darkness where Kynan lay. He could see those green eyes in the reflection of torch-light, knew the demon could see him, too. From his hands and knees, the prince leered at him.
"Now this, I would not have thought of," he said, teasingly. "Come out, come out, my sweet!"
Looking out at the demon prince, Kynan felt a familiar surge of envy riding along with his fear. The prince wore his full courtly regalia now, with green breeches that matched his eyes, wide silver belt and cuffs about each wrist, each studded liberally with gems, rings and necklaces and other jewels, and a deep green cape. Two items dangled from his belt: A set of keys and a plain leather sheath that Kynan knew held a force rod. Due to their combative natures, the demon court had long ago banned swords from court due to dueling. The force rod, already developed to control unruly slaves, took its place.
In all his life, trying to blend in, to be what he was and not what he looked like, in a world where being part or even half-demon was not demon enough, here was the epitome of his kind: large, strong, powerful, almost unbearably handsome! And fixated on probably the only demon in the world with a vow of chastity.
The vow was a child's whimsy; he'd been angry and frightened and hurt. He hadn't understood what had happened, and still didn't, not really, but he'd sworn that he wouldn't ever touch anyone again. Ever. Then he'd run, disappeared back into the Borderlands. He might have stayed there for good if another demon hadn't taken pity on a mostly-starved human boy taking refuge under his porch. He'd been just eighteen, Alan's age, three years on the run, the day his life had started to turn around. Azil had heard him in the dark and the cold and had lowered a tiny lantern into the crawlspace to give him food and a blanket. Perhaps a week later he'd coaxed the mess that Kynan was out from his hidey-hole. He'd been scared; ready to bolt at any second, but what Azil offered was simply too much for an emotionally-starved boy to resist.
Keeping the vow had proven to be the easy part, replacing the need something else entirely. There was something about the broadcasting of strong emotions that drew Kynan, that sustained a part of him that food and drink simply could not, which was why he'd been drawn to the Borderlands in the first place. It wasn't until he'd been exposed to Azil and Karadur, and to something called Love, that he began to have hope for himself again.
Queen's Minstrel Azil and Queen's Hunter Karadur were Pairlings and this became Kynan's introduction to the demon world of intrigue. Karadur was very old, the oldest demon that Kynan knew. Azil had confessed to him that he and Karadur had not at first liked each other; they'd hated each other in fact, as only two sons of ancient rival families could. Why they'd been bonded neither had ever said. The ritual had been done during the previous king's reign and in great secrecy. Only four people now alive knew this secret: Karadur and Azil, the queen, and Kynan. This secret was why Karadur had taken Kynan on as an apprentice, and was the reason why no one else had as much of the queen's trust, not even Kynan, much as it might appear otherwise.
Pairlings shared everything; what one knew or felt, the other did. While the queen held this secret, Azil was both Karadur's greatest asset, and his greatest weakness. With the pair bond came trust and safety; but at any time, should either of them displease the queen, she would strike at Azil, and they would both die. A pairling could not live without its other half. The magic in creating such a bond was old, ancient magic, from a time when demons were far more peaceful than they were now. Now such a thing was the greatest form of slavery they knew, to keep a person faithful and trustworthy, and in peril, forever.
While they had certainly held little like for one another at first, over the centuries, Karadur and Azil grew to care for and love one another. Love was a foreign concept to most demons; strong emotions, the kind that could withstand a demon's long life, were so unheard of as to almost be forbidden. The constant flow of emotion around the two demons was intoxicating, far beyond what Kynan could get from the harsher emotions he'd only known until then, and that was only the dose he received from just being in their vicinity. What would it be like to have such things directed at him?
There were times in his earliest training missions where he'd look over at his mentor, to see the other smiling dreamily, with a far-off look in his eyes. Or he'd laugh abruptly, or nurse wounds that no one else could see. It was mysterious and alluring; it was the most beautiful thing Kynan had ever witnessed and he'd yearned for, hungered for, something similar ever since. What he wanted was not his own pairling, for he was not Karadur to keep Azil safe. What he wanted was someone to treasure, who would care for him in return, but how to find such a person? He'd found the few overtures made to him both crude and offensive, and since becoming one of the queen's 'favorites' even those offers had stopped.
"Come, Little One," crooned the prince, "I will not harm you." Xeran yanked on the chain around Kynan's ankle.
The bed was wide enough that the prince couldn't reach the halfling except by the chain around his ankle; and sturdy enough that he wouldn't be able to move the bed to get at him, unless he took it apart first. If the demon was pissed off enough, he just might do that, but not yet at least. Kynan braced himself against the dusty stone walls as the tugs became stronger and the prince's amusement turned to irritation and then anger.
"Come out here, at once!"
"Go to hell."
"Been there. You've got a lot to learn as my servant."
"I'm not yours!"
The prince pulled back and moved away. "Get him out of there."
Kynan braced himself, but the struggle was short-lived. He simply was not as strong as even a weak demon and he was bordering on exhaustion. He hadn't slept properly in he didn't know how long.
He came bumping and sliding out into the main room, grabbed immediately by the female black demon that had been with the prince before. The prince himself stood to one side, hands on his hips. The bodyguard yanked Kynan roughly to his knees, keeping him there. Kynan glared at her, but with those muscular arms on his own, he wasn't going anywhere, and he didn't have the energy to resist.
Xeran smiled. "You are living up to your nickname, you know," he remarked, gesturing. "Chain, doghouse, what a human," his tone made the word an epithet, "thing to do. How did you come by such a name?"
"I d-don't know," replied Kynan. How could he say that 'Kynan' was his given name? His mother's idea of a joke, and a reference to the tainted Made blood of werewolves, for his own half-blood ancestry? He wouldn't receive a proper name unless he were publicly acknowledged or adopted by someone, and that was never going to happen. His mother would never allow it.
"I think you're lying to me again," said the prince. He tapped his lips with a finger. "Tell me," he mused out loud, "why my sister seems to find it important enough to put her best Hunter on your trail."
It was unnerving, to be the center of the prince's attention and Kynan swallowed anxiously, staring back hopelessly. The queen's best Hunter was Karadur. This was bad. Very bad. He hadn't wanted to be right about that. Fuck! Alan....
The prince slipped the force rod into his hands, eyes never leaving Kynan. To an outsider, a force rod appeared to be just a wooden rod between a half-inch and an inch in diameter. In the hands of a demon trained in its use, a force rod became something more. Kynan had learned the theory behind activating its properties, but had never mastered the technique. Perhaps, as had been suggested, his halfling blood was not pure enough for the mental discipline involved.
The rod hummed in Xeran's hands. "Well?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know much, do you?"
"I just do what I'm told." Which might be a lot more convincing if he wasn't trembling so badly.
The prince laughed. "Somehow, I don't think that's quite accurate." He tapped Kynan with the end of the rod, raising a few, circular welts on one shoulder. "You are Karadur's apprentice. Karadur doesn't take apprentices. Why you?"
"He found my impertinence amusing? Ah!"
"Somehow," growled Xeran, "I don't think so." He stood there for a minute, staring at his captive, at the bright red blister raised on a cheek. "You've become a liability to me. Give me one good reason to keep you alive."
"I don't have any."
"Liar!" The prince, of all things, began to smile. "You are one terrible liar, Little One." He started to pace, the rod bouncing behind him at each step, wings rustling. "And yet," he mused, "you are in my sister's confidence. Either she has something on you, or you," he paused, "have something on her -- ah! I can see it in your eyes! Speak!"
"Insolent halfling! I'll have it out of you yet!"
Kynan ducked his shoulders against the beating, falling to his hands and knees as his captor released him temporarily. He sagged against the other demon when she lifted him back up, glaring. "What do you want with me?"
"Little one," frowned the prince. "You ask far too many damn questions." He hung the rod again at his belt, and then approached, to run his hand along Kynan's cheek. "I could see how you might be attractive to the Hunter," he continued softly. Though, if Karadur had ever had a lover, that was news to Xeran. "But he wouldn't have taken you on if there wasn't ... something! Hmm, you did cause me no little amount of grief in the city. So easy to lure, though." He laced his fingers through the hair at the back of Kynan's head.
Kynan squirmed, but there was no escaping that kiss. His body teetered on the edge; he was tired and losing control.
"Give in," whispered the prince, releasing Kynan to shiver in his bodyguard's firm grip. "Give it up. I know you find me attractive. Give yourself to me. I can give you anything you desire. Just name it. Anything you want, and you shall have it."
Squeezing his eyes closed, panting and shaking, Kynan turned his head away. "No." He wanted to shrink away from those hands on him, large and firm, strong, pushing at his self-control. "No! Get away from me!"
The prince actually staggered back a step. "Hm." He rubbed his jaw in thought. "Why this loyalty? Your queen has done far worse things in her time than I. I wish only that demons have every chance to walk in sunlight as the inhabitants of this place. Is that so awful?"
"You lie." He had to be! Everything he'd ever heard about the queen's brother emphasized his treachery and deceit. They were valued traits in demons.
"Do I? You have only heard one side of the story, is that not so?"
"And what would you do, if you were king?" Play along, he thought desperately. Maybe he could actually learn something, something that might spare his life if -- when! -- he ever got out of here.
The prince smirked. "Shall I tell you my plans? And what shall you give me for that information?"
"I've given you too much already," Kynan retorted. Whatever his mother had given him, he reflected bitterly, she hadn't imparted on him more than a bit of her cunning and Kynan felt this lack acutely. He could only guess at how long he'd been a prisoner and worry that the prince would not be satisfied with the status quo for long. He was as voracious in his appetites as the queen and far less disciplined. This was playing with fire, and in the worst possible way, for Kynan could not afford to lose.
He dropped his gaze, scowling at Xeran's answering chuckle. A sudden smell preceded the arrival of ... something else. The prince growled slightly in annoyance. Kynan could only stare.
A river of thick, black mud flowed across the floor, reforming into a vaguely human-sized form, with two arms, two legs, a thick trunk, and a head that rested directly on the shoulders, as if it had no neck. The body seemed crafted entirely out of mud or wet clay that continuously shifted and slid against itself. Two black holes were eyes, and a wide mouth gaped at Kynan in a mockery of a smile, revealing row upon row of tiny, needle-sharp teeth. Kynan shifted uneasily under that stare, wrinkling his nose as the stench grew more potent, akin to that of wet earth, but overlaid with something so inherently putrid and foul that he shivered and drew back against the demon that held him captive.
"What is it?" snapped the prince.
Kynan stared as that awful mouth moved and actually distinguishable words came out: "You should let me have him."
Kynan shivered, swallowed against the bile at the back of his throat. The creature had not yet turned its gaze away and the slippery, slimy feel of its mind against his own made Kynan break out in a cold sweat. Understanding and manipulating emotions on the dreamscape was an instinctual thing he had explored and developed over the years. He didn't often get the same impressions in the waking world, but he could feel this creature's hunger as palpably as if it had actually licked its lips. The creature seethed with anger, like sharp prickles against Kynan's skin. The emotion didn't seem particularly directed at anything, but who could say what else lay hidden beneath the obvious?
The prince's steady, steely voice finally succeeded in drawing the creature's attention. Now it was annoyed. Kynan didn't question how he knew that; he only took advantage of the distraction, kicking out at the female behind him hard enough to be released. Dropping to the ground, he lunged for the tentative security of his hiding place. Faster than Kynan had thought it could move, the monster grabbed him by a leg and hauled him back out.
Kynan struggled, but his kicks were simply absorbed by the mud.
"I can get the information you need."
More mud flowed over Kynan, encasing him fully. Something pressed against his head, there was mud in his ears, his nose, everywhere. Then the mud constricted, simultaneously stabbing at his mind with burning, searing, gut-twisting pain.
He was still screaming as the mud vanished and he fell to the ground hard enough to knock the breath from his body. He coughed, wheezed, spat mud, and all the while tried to draw air into his tortured lungs. Tearing eyes strained to make sense of his surroundings and his ears didn't seem to be working. He could see the prince shouting, his lips moving, but there was no sound. The mud-monster was gone; in his place stood a man with dark, dark skin and black eyes. He was bald, wearing black leather pants and a sleeveless shirt that looked painted on, rather than real. He seemed to feel Kynan's gaze and looked at him, grinning ferally.
Kynan recoiled and started to drag himself away, only to find that he had no strength, his muscles spasming and jumping as if with a mind of their own. He spat up more mud.
The prince slapped the other man across the face. He didn't flinch, but he bowed his head in acquiescence. His eyes never left Kynan's, though, and Kynan trembled. If ever there was a greater danger than the prince, then that ... an elemental! Kynan's mouth dropped open. He'd never seen one before. That man, Mostyn, must be an Earth Elemental.
Mostyn strode to the door with heavy strides, giving Kynan one last, hungry look.
"Now, Little One," said the prince, "where were we?"
Though Kynan couldn't hear the actual words, he saw the demon moving toward him and saw his lips moving, but he didn't need words to read the intent written all over the prince's body. He scuttled backward. The prince pounced, waving away his bodyguard, and easily pinning the still semi-dazed halfling. He leaned forward.
"What's this?" breathed the prince, grabbing Kynan's jaw. Demons did not cry.
A finger touched the little bead of moisture that trickled its slow way down Kynan's cheek. Xeran cupped another tear, Kynan flinching away, closing his eyes, but the prince still had his jaw and he couldn't move. He pressed his lips together to keep them from trembling.
Standing abruptly, the prince started to pace furiously. His bodyguard wisely stepped away from the halfling, toward the door. Xeran took one of the chairs and slammed it against the wall, showering the room with splinters. Turning back, he saw that Kynan still lay where he'd left him and the demon strode over, stared down at him a minute in disgust for the display of human weakness, and then stomped from the room.
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