🔥🔥✍️✍️A Journey of Black and Red by Mecanimus



Caution This work of fiction includes graphic violence. Profanity delicate material Sexual Information

           Page 1.

1. Cruel Genesis

Where… where am I?

I take a deep breath in, which promptly turns into a coughing fit as I spit… something on the ground. Agh! Disgusting. This is entirely too disgraceful. I hope there is no one around to witness my shame!

The thought is born and dies in an instant. I struggle to remain calm, but I can already feel the onset of panic.

I smell dampness, old stones, and rust.

This is not my bedroom, nor is it any hospital I would be sent to.

What has happened?

I am lost.

The stone bricks I can see through my waterfall of blonde hair are oddly well-defined, as if the distance did not affect my sight. Darkness is now just deeper shade instead of an impenetrable veil. I can hear individual sounds of dripping water and groaning wood with perfect clarity instead of as background noise. 

The air smells of dampness and iron and the taste on my tongue is as cloying as it is distracting. Every sensation is magnified, and each one catches my attention briefly before another one takes over in a disorienting dance. Soon, the sensory overload grows into a stabbing pain just behind my eyes.

I feel sick.

I need to understand. 

I take stock of my situation and shiver in fright.

My wrists are shackled. My legs are on the floor, the skin scraped raw. I feel the coarse fabric of a simple tunic on my shoulders and… Oh, I am not wearing undergarments! Someone may have seen me without... I cannot bear the thought.

I twist a bit and feel wet hair plastered to my skull, falling to my shoulders. I see my legs, coming out of a rough piece of fabric. They are even paler than usual and dotted with red spots, which I realize is blood. The very same blood I spat earlier.

I breathe deeper to control my fear. I shall not break down. I shall not scream. I am no tender flower from Charleston to faint at the mere sight of the crimson liquid. I am made from sterner stock!

My fear does not recede, yet I am once more in control of myself. I do not know exactly the predicament I find myself in but I know that panic shall not help. I will not succumb to it.

Wary, I continue my inspection.

Bare walls of the ubiquitous grey stone and a single massive door with a barred window. Is this a farce? I am in a dungeon! I must be dreaming. Yes, this is a dream and I am still asleep. Or perhaps I am quite mad, and this is one of those “hospices” I have heard so much about, and what is this? I am wearing rags! Even slaves would not wear such a thing! I swear, I will get to the bottom of this, or my name isn’t… My name isn’t…

I am…

Cannot focus. My thoughts are a jumble of impressions and emotions, of needs I do not understand. They slip away before I can grasp them fully. I shake my head and bite my lips to clear them, to no effect. Nothing works.

I cannot recall my name. I must recall my name. Unbidden, my mouth opens and the sound escapes.


The pain! 

I bend forward as much as I can while my throat burns me. Soon, the agony extends to my stomach and tears me from inside. My mind blanks from the sheer intensity. This is a hundred times worse than anything I have ever felt. God please, make it stop. Make it stop! Someone, anyone!

And it seems someone listened to my prayer. I can hear the clang of a door open far in front of me. Three sets of footsteps approach. Faster, I beg you!

“Told ya I heard something. Sun just set, so it’s possible.”


Despite the lack of any light source, I can see with great clarity the face of my would-be savior, and now I know for sure that I am doomed.

This man looks like a highwayman. Why, if I met him in the street, I would immediately flee and call for the nearest guard. He has unkempt black hair and a greasy beard that he must not have trimmed in months! Yet even then I could take him for a laborer were it not for a pair of insane blue eyes that freeze my very soul. 

The man smiles and displays a full set of uneven teeth. How very chilling. And yet I know with certainty that this man could help me, were I not stopped by a strange feeling. 

This man already belongs to… someone else. And I would be better off not touching him. I know I should be curious, but the pain is making me dizzy.

The second man is not white. He is not unlike some of the coolies who help dig the train tracks, with the same golden skin and slanted eyes, and yet to compare them is to compare a Pomeranian with a wolf. His arms bulge with muscles and his expression is fierce indeed. I can tell from his posture that he is a fencer, or a pugilist of sorts. 

He moves with the grace of a predator, and once again a strange feeling washes over me. I know with certainty that this man is dangerous beyond his appearance. He has a cold aura to him, and he cannot help me.

The third man can.

I feel joy and warmth fill my chest. Yes! This man is a captive like me, an adolescent with a lost look. He wears the clothes of a smith, or perhaps a cooper, and a thin chain hangs from his neck. He can make the pain stop; I just know it in my heart.

And so, I move.

And I stop. I look in confusion at my stretched arms but of course, silly me. I am still in chains! Heavy locks of a silvery metal join my wrists to the wall in two taut lines. I am trapped.

“Wow! A feisty one heh? Come on, give her the boy.”

The Asian man frowns. Our eyes meet and there is a hint of sympathy in his rugged features. He pushes the young man towards me.

My left hand brushes the boy’s collar. Yes! Yes, finally, I am saved! I drag my hero closer and breathe in his neck. Oh, this delicate bouquet, like an exquisite wine from a perfect year, so rich and intoxicating. I am losing my mind. My canines brush his skin, pierce the flesh. Something thick and sweet brushes my tongue.

The world explodes in ecstasy.

I have no words.

For an eternity, nothing exists. Nothing but heavenly pleasure that rolls and roils and boils and drowns. I die and I live again, and I die once more. The wave of felicity ravages my very being and shatters my psyche. 

If this is half as good as lovemaking, I understand women who find themselves with child out of wedlock. This is good enough to sell one’s soul.

I love it.

Love it, love it, love it.

I wish it never stopped.

Alas, at some point, it does. I do not know how long it takes but when the tide recedes, I know peace and the certainty that all is right in the world. How peculiar. No amount of prayer has ever brought me to such heights. I am touching on the realm of the divine!

I release the young man who flops on the ground. He can no longer help me and worse, he smells terrible!

The creepy man chuckles and drags the adolescent’s chain to pull him out of my reach, as if I were an animal. How rude! I frown in disapproval.

“What…” my voice croaks “What is the meaning of this?”

How I wish I could convey my outrage at being held like this! Not even a bucket of water, or a chamber pot! Am I to live like a beast? I do not want to think about it. I do not want to think about a great many things.

The smaller, white man jumps in surprise and even the Asian guardian lifts an eyebrow. What is wrong with them? Did they expect me to cower, to beg?

“Well,  Milady. Forgive this humble Baudouin, heh? Did not expect ya to be so…”

I huff with impatience and address his companion.

“How about you, warrior, care to explain why I am being held so?”

While Baudouin is flustered, this one seems barely amused.

“It is for your own safety.”

“My safety? I will be secure when I am unbound and at home, you rogue! What will it take for you to release me?”

Baudouin interrupts me, apparently miffed at being ignored.

“Don’t ya worry your cute little head, Lady, you’ll be released soon enough.”

“I… I…”

I want to go on, I want to extract information from the reluctant duo, but I feel so tired, so very exhausted. Torpor invades my limbs and makes everything so heavy. My eyelids slide down with the weight of an executioner’s axe. 


t is summer at the plantation. Sugar canes raise from the red earth, lush and green, as far as my eyes can see. The relentless sun beats down on my shoulders with a weight that is almost physical. It would be unbearable but for a light breeze and the smell of the river.

A massive blond man kneels in front of me. His knife slices into the flesh of the sugar cane until only a dripping sliver remains. His face is rugged and red and there are tangles in his blond beard, but I do not care. His shining blue eyes, which I inherited, look at me with all the warmth in the world.

“Try this, mon ange”

“I don’t wanna! It’s dirty!”

“Try it to make Papa happy. Allez!”


I take it with a tiny hand and bring it through my lips. It is strangely fibrous and at the same time, sweet and juicy.


“See? Your Papa knows best. That’s why you should have listened, mon ange.”


“I told you to always wear your hat outside because it is so hot when the sun is out. But did you listen? Oh no, you didn’t. And now, you burn.”

Flames erupt from the flesh of my hand, I scream and scream, and I try to stop them, but my other arm catches fire and it spreads all over me. It hurts, it hurts so much. Blackened meat cracks to reveal tarnished bones. My hair combusts. Nothing stops the raging inferno. I beg the darkness to take me and eventually, it does.

I awaken in the same grey cell. There is no sign of the captors or anyone else. I feel odd. There is a part of me that fights and rebels and tries to make me question my circumstances. I am aware that there have been inconsistencies in, well, everything, and yet I find it hard to focus.

Like a patient in the claws of high fever, my grasp on reality is tenuous and uncertain. No matter how hard I try to focus, I am only afforded bits of lucidity. I remember a nightmare. I remember yesterday. I remember my name. What was it again? Ariane. Yes, my name is Ariane, although I must be honest and state that it is merely a praenomen.

Using my voice helped.

I shall endeavour to do so again.

“My name… is Ariane… I am… nineteen.”

I am of age to be married. I have… suitors. I think?

“I… come from…”

Two city names come to mind, one is Baton Rouge, and it gives a homey feeling. The other is New-Orleans and it feels more exciting but also tainted.

I cannot finish the sentence. I feel myself drifting into apathy and I cannot let that happen, so I force myself to press on.


I what?

“I have… a family.”

Yes, I know this is right. I try to recall the man from my dream, his smile, and happy looks but his image blurs and another one replaces him. The second man is terrifying. I remember a cruel smile and doll-like eyes that mirror a soul as black as the night.

My musings stop when the same craving comes over me. My throat is parched. It is only natural as people need to drink quite a bit of water every day. 

I remember stories of sailors going mad when deprived of it, their sanity robbed as they suffer surrounded by a liquid they cannot ingest. I am sure someone will come. If they wanted me dead, it would have already happened.

Time passes with agonizing slowness. My thirst grows so much that I start moaning. My teeth bite painfully into increasingly dry lips. The only saving grace is that after two days I haven’t had to go to the... Well, this is embarrassing and queer. How come I have had no need to visit the... the what?

A distant clang interrupts my thoughts, whatever they were. I have already forgotten. Three sets of footsteps again. I wonder how I can tell with such accuracy but, well, it does not truly matter. 

They soon stop and yesterday’s Asian man gives me a passing glance before opening the door. He steps in and stands aside with the dignity of a British Royal Guard.

The second visitor is a woman out of a fairy tale. Truly, if anyone had described her to me, I would have called them a liar, and yet here she stands.

Tall and lithe, her slender body is clad in a blue gown that would be the envy of King William’s court. It suits her form perfectly and manages to be enticing without being vulgar which, given her silhouette, is quite an achievement. 

Her skin is as white as alabaster and her face is the very image of grace and majesty. Black curls fall with restraint from an elaborate hairdo and encase two striking green eyes, bright as emeralds. Why, if my mouth were not so dry, I would be gawping like some country bumpkin right about now. 

The same cold aura that encases the Asian man also comes from her and yet I hesitate to compare them as she seems in a class of her own. If the man’s is a drum, the woman’s is an orchestra. The pressure it gives off terrifies me to my core and I do not think that demanding anything of her would be a good idea.

I turn to the last to enter, a man, and I am immediately in love.

He is tall and incredibly handsome, like a legendary king of old. Brown curls and brown hair adorn a skin lightly kissed by the sun. His build is powerful, but it is not the solid weight of the farmer. It is the deadly grace of the duelist.

 I feel like I am kneeling before Achilles, or Romulus, such is the presence of this man. I just know he is the one for me. His aura is less cold and somehow familiar, so powerful and yet restrained. I bask in his presence as a strange warmth grows in my belly. 

Oh, the shame! Am I to be swayed so easily by somebody I just met? I must not! And yet I know that if this man touches me, I will be undone. I forget my thirst; I forget my discomfort. If he but takes me in his arms, I can die with no regrets.

 “… his spawn could communicate, Ogotai, and yet…”

I blink and realize that the noble Lady is talking to the Asian man, Ogotai apparently. What is most curious is that they do not speak English. This language of theirs is mostly sing-song vowels and soft consonants with the occasional guttural sound. I am sure I have never heard anything quite like it and yet I can understand it.

I assure you that she spoke, Lady Moor.

I must have day-dreamed again. This lack of attention is so taxing, and now my love must think me daft! I must give my best impression so that he becomes mine forever. I turn to him and use a lull in the conversation, or should I say the harsh reprimand, to address him.


All eyes fall on me. No that is not quite right. If I speak English now, they will not think of me as worldly.

Greetings lady, and gentlemen. My name is Ariane. May I ask yours?”

There, concise and polite. My voice cracked mid-sentence, I am filthy and dressed in rags that an orphanage would not take but my manners remain impeccable.

The woman scowls and displays such intense disgust, one would think I am drenched in manure. Without a word, she turns around and leaves the room while covering her nose with a perfumed handkerchief. I would blush in shame and anger if it were not for the man.

He kneels in front of me and I lose myself in the intensity of his liquid eyes. He is smiling, he must be. He is proud of me, I think.

No, hE is SmUg.

No, he is proud of me. He loves me and only wants the best. I love him!

I do nOt. He huRt me.

I love him, and he will be mine forever. The comfortable blanket settles on my mind until only adoration remains. I wait with bated breath for a sentence, a word, anything until I can’t anymore.


Once more, the chains block me, my face only a few fingers away from the golden skin of his neck. I strain and stretch and the metal moans but, of course, I am too weak to break free. I am only human after all. I cannot bend metal.

Can I?

The man captures my attention and the thirst fades away for a while. The fragrance of his perfume makes me dizzy and at the same time, safe. I am where I belong. By his side. Yes. No. Yes.

He places a single finger under my chin to raise my head until our eyes are level. The touch of his skin sends tiny shivers down my back.

“You will address us as Master.”

“Yes, Master.”

“You will speak only when spoken to.”

I nod in silence. Of course, I will do as he asks.

“You will obey the woman known as Jimena in all things. You will behave properly. Do so, and in three days you may draw our essence, and live.”

I nod frantically. I want to say that I will be good, but I hesitate to talk. The man is done and stands back up before turning to Ogotai. Oh, how I loved it when he was so close. It was everything I expected. It is everything I could dream for.

“Why is my fledgling still in a drone cell, Warden?”

Ogotai’s bow is almost servile, which should be odd on such a man, and yet how can I blame him? Who could stand before this man and call themselves his equal? Surely, even Alexander and Scipio Africanus would find themselves wanting.

The man exits the cell without a look back. 

Why did he leave me so? I love him so much, surely, he must see it plainly! I am the one for him! Or am I simply not good enough? Is a landed Lady from Louisiana perhaps too rustic for his tastes? 



What was I thinking again?

I can hear a keening whine and soon realize it is coming from my throat. Augh! I need to get a hold of myself. What is wrong with me?

A strange Asian man approaches me with a silver key. Ah yes, Ogotai. He was here earlier. He is to take me out of the cell and… Do what?

Ah yes, I finally remember. I am to obey that wonderful man. My love. No, AboMinAtion. Love. I remember his orders. I am to remain silent unless spoken to. I am to obey Jimena in all things. I am to behave properly.

I will do so, since he asked this of me, and he is so irresistible. I just hope there will be something to drink. I am dying of thirst.

“Ah!” I cry.

The manacles drop on the ground with a surprisingly loud clang and take with them a layer of skin. I look at my now free wrists. The horror! I am flayed! The flesh is raw and thick with black blood!

Convinced I am about to retch I move forward and yet, nothing happens. I do not feel nauseous at the sight of those unsightly wounds. They are most certainly infected and will quite likely scar! 

Oh, the humanity! Shall I have to bear the stigma of my captivity for the rest of my life?

“Come out, slowly.”

I take a staggering step forward. I feel weak and light-headed. I pray they have water somewhere.

Page 2


I see the.

The Asian man stares at me with a mixture of disgust and caution, and I cannot help but feel offended. Of course, I would not look proper dressed in rags and filthy like a coal merchant! The audacity of my captors is simply incredible.

I finally leave my cell to the sight of a short corridor of the same stone. A single torch provides enough illumination to see everything clearly, which surprises me a bit. The passage is dotted with what I believe to be murder holes. How very quaint. I must have collapsed and been magically transported to some Scotsman’s demesne.

Ogotai locks the door behind me and I move forward, quite eager to be away from this dreary place. As I am about to reach the second door, the naked blade of a saber taps my shoulder.

“Hold. Move to the side.”

I turn around with outrage, although I remain silent. How dare he draw a blade on me? The master said I was to obey Jimena and he is not her.


A hand grabs my raggedy shirt and propels me into the wall.

He threw me like a doll!

My back hits the rock and explodes in blinding pain. My head follows suit and my teeth rattle from the impact. Agony radiates in every bone, only exacerbating the discomfort I am already in.


His hand drills my chest in the wall. My bones creak and groan under his abuse. I frantically scratch his arms so that he lets me go but I stop when I feel a metallic cold against my neck.


“I will have no attitude from you, fledgling.”

There are red spots on his sleeve. It seems that, in my panic, I scratched him bloody. My nails are dark as black pearls, and quite sharp to boot. When did that happen?

The blade of his weapon leaves my neck and its tip buries under my chin until I start yelling. Oh God, what have I done to deserve such treatment? Why must they be so cruel? It hurts!

“Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes!” I whimper.

How I hate to debase myself, but what can one do against such wanton brutality?

Slowly, the man lets me go, although his blade remains drawn. I stay still and massage my poor chest. Terror starts creeping into my mind and awakens primal instincts. I want to run, but I cannot. The door is locked. I do not even know where to go.

Ogotai patiently works his set of keys and I finally walk out to another stone tunnel. This one, however, is different.

It appears that my jail is but one of many. Several blocks made with thick walls cover most of the area, lit by the occasional torch. Each cell has four walls and a passage that would allow the wardens to circle it completely. 

The murder holes I noticed let visitors look inside the corridor and, I assume, shoot through them as well. I do not know what manner of beast is normally held here, but I would complain about being treated that way, were it in my power to do so.

The Asian man guides me through the labyrinth of passages to a massive door made of the same silvery metal as my shackles. He pushes it open with little effort. How strong can this man be?

I walk up a set of stairs to several landings with more doors, but Ogotai does not let me stop. Eventually, we cross one last metal gate and finally emerge into a proper building.

And what a building it is.

I want to take a deep breath and celebrate being out of this accursed hole in the ground, yet I find myself at a loss. Who in their right mind would spend the fortune required for something like this? 

A hallway spreads to my right and left to an intersection and a dead-end, respectively. 

Closed doors alternate with subdued alcoves supported by Doric columns. The ground is made of marble and the walls of pink granite. Tapestries and paintings hang everywhere, leaving an impression of subdued elegance.

Never in a thousand years would I suspect that such a place exists in the Americas! I believe I would need to cross the Atlantic, to Buckingham or Versailles, to find a match for this gaudy display.

And the owners of this place have me at their mercy.

I shiver once more. I thought I had seen wealth, how naïve I was! These people are no rakes and outlaws out for a quick ransom and a ride West. Why, were I to escape and come across a lawman, who would he believe? A filthy waif or the masters of this place? My testimony would be the ramblings of a madwoman. 

What have I gotten myself into?

The excitement offered me a moment of clarity, as if external stimulus could lift the veil upon my mind but soon enough, I find it hard to focus again. Why did I want to escape? I want to see that man again; it is my heart’s fondest desire.

Ogotai leads me up another set of stairs and down another corridor. We come across a man in a suit that would leave him drenched in sweat if he were to step outside, a pair of women in maid outfits who exude a pleasant smell, and a slip of a girl in a white dress. 

Every time we pass someone, Ogotai holds my neck and forces my head down so that I cannot meet their eyes, not that I need much encouragement. My embarrassment is reason enough.

Finally, the warden leaves those endless alleys and forces me into a bedroom. Before I can even start to panic, he bids me to get cleaned and slams the door shut.

Once again, I take stock. The room itself is rather small, which is only sensible as there are so many of them. It is also lavishly decorated in shades of red and gold. Whoever designed the baroque hallways clearly extended his influence on my new lodgings. 

The bed has four posters and takes the entire middle of the room with a writing desk and a chair lining the side wall. The living space is partitioned by white panels and I find a copper tub on the other side, as well as amenities and another surprise. This place has hot running water.

I prepare a bath and rid myself of that vile potato bag I was wearing to slide in the bath with a sigh of pleasure.

I do not know if I should attribute how I feel to my previous ordeals or the state of my body, but the very act of washing myself has never been so pleasant. 

Water caresses my skin with its silky touch as the heat of the liquid seeps into me, to my delight. I could almost forget how thirsty I am. Oh, how silly, there is now water to be found! What was I waiting for?

I bring the warm liquid from the tap to my lips and take in a hasty gulp and I know without a doubt that, unfortunately, it will not do. How strange! Is it the symptom of some disorder? Well, I will think upon it later.

When did my skin turn so white?

Summer reached Louisiana a few weeks ago and I remember a light, but distinct tan, and yet now I look as pale as a Canuck. My nails are also black and quite sharp, which I cannot explain. One more mystery to add upon the pile. 

Or perhaps I should realize whAt I haVe beCome why I do not feel hunger? 

Wait, there are more urgent matters to attend. I must be presentable. If that warden comes in while I am still undressed, I shall surely die of embarrassment. There is only so much humiliation a proper lady can tolerate in a single day.

I scrub myself vigorously and enjoy every moment of it. After drying myself, I find undergarments and a simple linen dress on the desk, which I promptly don. They do not fit me, exactly and are a bit tight around the waist, and yet I find I care little. 

It feels so nice to be decent again, and the sensation of soft fabric on my skin is simply divine. I luxuriate in it until I am disturbed by an insistent knock.

I open the door to see two men outside. Ogotai stares me down without emotion, the other man is younger and dressed as a servant.

My thirst surges at the scent of him. Such an intoxicating perfume! Before I can lean forward, Ogotai’s hand grabs my neck once more. Ah! Must this man irritate me so! I want to CLAW HIM APART LIKE THE CUR HE IS!


I force myself to swallow. I do not want a repeat of the cell scene. Those ruffians made it clear they would resort to violence given the opportunity. Except that handsome gentleman of course.

“You will cease when ordered.”

The servant looks at me with undisguised fear. His chocolate eyes are fixed on my smile as he starts blabbering in some unknown language I care not about. His attempt at retreating is stopped by the Warden’s steel grip on his neck and only serves to whet my maddening Thirst. It bites into my chest and drills into my mind, demanding satisfaction. Nothing matters but that merciless craving.

How peculiar, the sight of a terrified man makes me… giddy? And even more thirsty? This abduction has made me a moNster. What? No, this ordeal made me a little bit hysterical. Yes. Just a little tense. Nothing to it.

I chuckle as I grab the man firmly between my arms, and then as he vainly tries to push me away. I am still laughing when his eyes meet mine and grow unfocused. 

I sigh as I take in the musk of his terror, with just a touch of desire. Scrumptious. I smile as my fangs puncture the skin of his neck and I can finally, FINALLY, slake this godforsaken Thirst.

Rapture, again.

I am transported, I am ravished, I am undone.

If there is one way to transcend time and space, this is it. No dervish and no prophet, no shaman and no mage would come close to this divine experience. Not with all the incense and prayers of the world.

I love it, love it, love it.

A piercing pain brings me back into the real world. The warden’s clawed fingers dig into the muscles of my neck, forcing my jaw open inch by inch. The young servant is dragged away, still mesmerized by God knows what.



I swallow as the pain turns my vision white. I stop moving. This is just too much.

“You will lick the wound closed. Do it now.”

With the tip of my tongue, I manage to clean the precious nectar from the young man’s skin even as the trickle stops. I waste not a drop. Eventually, Ogotai pulls him away further and he collapses against the wall in a daze. The expression on his face is content, for some unknown reason. I, however, am not. I need more. MUCH MORE.

“Aaaiiii!” I cry.

Ogotai’s hand does not relent. His other arm, now free, forces my own in a lock behind my back. I arch myself to prevent the agony from becoming too much. I barely struggle against his hold. My frustration is no match for the constant pain and the prospect of dislocation.

The horrible Thirst finally abates. It retreats into the recess of my mind like a wary tiger, pacified but not gone.

I am myself again.

Wait, what just occurred?

I cannot recall.

Something to do with nourishment.

Ogotai pushes me away and I fall on the bed. With a yelp and scramble, I am upright again. I am not so innocent as to not understand the implication of being in a bedroom with a man and the Warden makes me wary. 

Fortunately, my apprehension was unfounded this time. Ogotai bends to the servant to, I assume, check on his well-being. Apparently satisfied, he stands back up and bids me follow him.

We leave the room, and I do my best to keep up with the tall stranger. Torpor once more makes my limbs heavy and my mind weary, yet I refuse to yield. 

We descend back to what I assume is the ground floor, and shortly reach a thick set of gates made out an essence of wood I do not recognize. Ogotai opens one with ease and shoves me in.

The room I find myself in is, without a doubt, a training room. It is an extremely wide rectangle surrounded by an unadorned wall of grey stone. Racks of weapons line my left, targets my right and the far wall is adorned with benches. 

I am surprised to see that the ground is stone covered by a layer of sand, reminding me of this illustration of the Colosseum I once saw in a book. Why, if a lion and a gladiator were to strut in to the sound of a brass horn, I wouldn’t even bat an eye.

The only person present besides us is a woman with black curls tied in a bun. I cannot decide whether she shocks me or impresses me more. 

Her face is handsome, rather than beautiful due to an unfortunately squarish jaw and yet she exudes an aura of gentle grace that is only enhanced by a scandalously fitting leather armor. Her appearance makes me once again question my sanity. 

I know that Napoleon’s “Cuirassiers” would ride into battle with a steel breastplate, but she looks more like a poacher than a soldier and besides, the gentler sex should not dress so, it is just not proper.

She ignores us as we approach until there can be no doubt that we come to address her. With a frown, she sheathes a blade she had been cleaning and turns to us. 

Her cold aura is as strong as Ogotai’s yet more refined, and I believe she’S oNe of thEm, I mean I believe it is the source of her self-confidence. Is she an Amazon, to stand here before that man without fear? I surmise that some horrible accident befell me, and I am now in the thrall of some potent concoction that causes me to hallucinate.


“Courtier”, she replies with a sneer.

There is a flash of anger on Ogotai’s twisted face, quickly hidden.

“You are to induct this fledgling while her master attends to the important matter of the conclave.”

“What kind of master would bring a fledgling here? Is she so flawed that she cannot be left unattended?”

“You may relay your concerns to Lord Nirari. I am sure he will be delighted to hear your objections, squire. The order is passed. I bid you farewell.”

And with this, Ogotai turns around and leaves us both stranded. I harbor some hope that this person would take pity in my plight, but those expectations are too soon dashed. 

The disgust on her face reminds me of Lady Moor’s, only hers is laced with fury. I instinctively take a step back. 

A sense of danger dissipates my lethargy and I realize that the Warden set the stage masterfully so that there is no chance that I would find a friend here. 

I still do not understand what is happening. My mind is barely working. I am a woman playing an intricate card game without having been taught its rules and I am even forbidden from asking for help.

The woman seems to resolve herself to the situation and gestures me to join her next to a rack. I gaze at rows upon rows of medieval weapons, including some that must have come from barbarian kingdoms. 

Never have I laid my eyes on so many bladed, pointy and blunt instruments, coming in all shapes and sizes. One is just a chain, with a blade at the end, and I simply cannot fathom how that could be a sensible weapon.

We both stop and she looks at me expectantly.

I have no idea what to do.

Does she expect me to pick a weapon myself?


I feel panic rising in my chest. Eager not to displease the harridan, I desperately look for something to defend myself and I find it. I grab it and hold it protectively before me.

“That is a shield.”

I nod in approval. Obviously, it is.

“Are you provoking me, fledging? Can you even talk?”

“Yes, sorry, yes I can talk, and no I am not trying to provoke you.”

“And what, pray tell, can you wield?”

I do not remember much, but I do know for sure that my… father? Yes, my father, whose very face I cannot recall, would have never allowed me to take up fencing. Wielding a blade is so unladylike. 

Louisiana is already the dumping ground for France’s debtors, whores, and scoundrels. There is no need for us landowners to act as savages as well.

With that said, I did hunt for fur and meat, and there are enough escaped slaves to make leaving the plantation without weapon a foolish endeavor.

I am a good shot with a flintlock rif -agh!”

The woman’s face turns into a mask of rage. She grabs me by the collar and in a seamless gesture, throws me across the room.

My mind blanks.

The world turns and twists before my eyes. I land, painfully, on my shoulder, and still I slide on the ground.

Eventually, I stop against a machine.

A second later, I hear the crash of my shield against a distant wall.

Pain steals my breath away. I cannot think.




I do not know how much time I spend here, sobbing hunched on myself. Everything hurts, I am so tired, and I am still thirsty. 


Why why why why why?

Something cold pokes my ribs painfully. I open an eye to see that evil hag looking down. She uses a dull training sword as a poker. Oh, why, why must she be so cruel?

“Well, fledgeling, let me see you fire that rifle of yours.”


“What are you waiting for?”

And she stabs me.

The tip of the sword pierces into my chest, not enough to kill me but enough to hurt.

This new agony only adds to the old one and I go over the edge. I cannot do this anymore. Their cruel games, their pointless aggression, their cold demeanor. 

I did not ask to be here, ridiculed and humiliated at every turn. Abused. Tortured. And for what? What sinister game are they all playing, that they do not deem me even worthy of knowing the rules? I just want it to be over, I just want to die. 

Papa, please come save me, I can’t take this anymore.

And so, I bawl like a baby. Sobs wrack my body and tears stream down my face.

I wait for the armored hellion to continue her abuse, crying all the while, and yet it does not come.

A pair of hands picks me up gently and sets me against the stupid mannequin. I keep my eyes closed in terror.

A finger brushes my chin and holds my face up.

After a few seconds, I dare open my eyes.

The woman’s face is frighteningly close to mine. She stares at my cheeks with wonder.

“Fledgling, I have a request.”


“Can I please lick your tears?”

“W… Wha?”

Is this woman entirely insane? This request is completely senseless! And yet, there is suddenly a longing on her face so powerful and so pure that my breath catches in my chest.

“Please… Please, I beg you.”

My instincts tell me that she speaks the truth, as unlikely as it seems. It is all so very surreal that I find myself speechless. Is this the same person who tossed me across the room like a ragdoll?

I must decide, and against my better judgement, I agree.

I close my eyes as she slowly leans forward. A cold slip moves across my skin and I force myself not to yelp. This new sensation is so strange, and yet so intimate that I dare not move.

The cold tongue traces the other side of my face. Immediately, I hear a gasp and a sob. I open my eyes once more to witness a spectacle that defies common sense.

The woman, whose posture had been so flawless before is now sobbing before me. A pink tinge colors her and as I watch she slowly collapses forward.

A protective impulse guides my left hand to the back of her head. I pat it in a soothing gesture. Her black curls are the softest thing I have ever touched.

She tenses, at first, but soon she leans into my gesture and for a moment, we just lie here.

My pain fades away quickly. Was I wounded? No, probably not.

I let my arm fall. This feels so delightful. I believe I may just fall asleep right now.

I blink. The Amazon is looking at me with her usual frigid mask. Have I dreamt the whole encounter? Surely not! Why, her skin is still rosy.


I gulp in fear.

“Do you know who I am?”

I shake my head, too scared to cause another bout of mindless rage.

“I am Jimena, squire of clan Cadiz and quartermaster for this underkeep.”


“Can you understand anything I said?”

“You are Jimena.”

She sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose.

“How old are you, exactly?”

“I am nineteen.”

She frowns.

“I had not heard about Lord Nirari siring a fledgling, especially not one that could talk. What has he taught you then?”


“Lord Nirari, your master.”

“I do not know that man.”

“What do you mean? You are his, I saw your fangs.”

I silently gape at the woman. Fangs? Master? I am dealing with a raving lunatic!

“Unless… No!"

Jimena looks at me in utter disbelief.

“Did you happen to meet a tall man with brown eyes and brown hair recently? Dark, imposing?”

“And incredibly handsome,” I reply with a dreamy voice. “Yes, and he did tell me to call him master. Is his name Nirari?”

“Yes, and when, exactly, did you see him first?”

“Why, this very morning, in my cell!”

Jimena appears increasingly agitated, and I still cannot say whether I am mad, or she is. At the very least I learnt the name of my kiLl… my master. Nirari. Such an exotic name. Perhaps one day it can be mine as well.



“I need you to tell me the truth.”

“Oh I will, the master told me to obey you in all things.”

“I see. Well, please do tell, is your earliest memory of that very same cell?”

“Yes! Oh my G…” I cough, my throat suddenly obstructed. Jimena winces in sympathy.

Yes. I woke up there yesterday. Or at least I think it was yesterday. It is hard to tell the passing of the time without sun or the clock.”

“Yesterday? YESTERDAY!?”


“And you feel as if your mind fails you, as if your memories were hidden behind a veil?”

“Yes!” Finally, someone who understands my plight! Oh, I could cry in relief!

Instead of answers though, Jimena just stands and starts pacing.

“Is it some sort of affliction?”

“Yes. Yes, it is. You will also notice the paleness, the sharp nails. And the Thirst.”

“Does it get better?”

Jimena stops pacing and stares into the distance.

“No… no, it does not.”

I wait patiently for her to elaborate. I can learn more about my circumstances from her, provided I do not agitate her further. I hope she hurries, as I find myself more and more eager to return to my bedroom. Perhaps there I shall find something to drink.

“What is your name, do you remember?”

“Yes. Ariane.”

“Well met, Ariane. Has Lord Nirari mentioned a ceremony?”

“He said that if I do well, I may draw his essence in three days and live.”

Jimena mutters to herself, and I unfortunately manage to hear what she says. The woman can swear like a sailor!

“Well, young Ariane, you find yourself in a delicate situation. However, you gave me something quite rare, and something that can only be gifted, not taken. Powerful emotions are such a precious thing. For that, I am grateful and shall endeavor to assist you.”

She helps me up.

“You are afflicted, yes, and I am sorry to say that there is no cure.”

“What? I… I have never heard of such a disease! And is that why I am your captive? Because of this condition?”

“Indeed. You may consider the veil over your mind as a sort of anesthetic that will shield it during the transition.”

“But… I don’t want to-”

“Shh,” she says, “'tis a terrible thing, I know, yet you are still Ariane. Always remember, that you are still your own.”

“Y-yes, I am Ariane. I am my own.”

I stagger forward.

“Ah, you must be exhausted. Rest on my shoulder, that I may guide you to a room.”

Page 3

False Haven

My best friend locks arms with me as we walk the streets of New-Orleans. Already the sun creeps past the horizon and the dying light paints the cobblestone red. How daring we are, two young women, out with no chaperones!

“It is so good that you came amiga, for alone I would never have dared!”

“Think nothing of it, Constanza. I have a good reason to attend this ball as well. It is said that Lady Le Moyne opened a distillery in Haiti and has an eye for business. It is truly fortuitous that she is there tonight, and I would be unwise to miss such an occasion.”

Blond locks brush my shoulder and I find myself staring in a pair of laughing chestnut eyes.

“Ah my poor Ariane, is it always business with you? You should keep an eye open for a husband instead. Then he can open that distillery you crave, while we spend our days in merriment!”

“Psssh! Licentious woman, you shall not tempt me so! And besides, men cannot be trusted. Even Papa said so.”

“Ah amiga, your Papa is not here tonight, and truly I understand now, that I have to find you suitors of a more mature kind.”

“Whatever do you mean?!”

“Hahaha, fret not amiga, and look! Here is a new contender!”

I follow my best friend’s direction to the entrance of the manse, only to recoil in terror. In front of the double door stands a monster out of the grisliest tale. 

It stands taller than any man. Its skin is white as the moon and it is completely hairless. Eyes the color of the abyss drill into my soul. I want to run; I try to run but I am paralyzed. My best friend holds my arm in a death grip. A deep gash mars her pretty face and her eyes take on a mad glint.

“No, do not leave, he is the one just for you. A perfect match, for one who tries to reach above her station.”

I cannot move, I cannot even blink. I am forced to watch as the monster steps closer. It grabs my head and exposes my throat. The last thing I see are eight merciless fangs.


I wake up in a bedroom that is not my own. Memories slowly come back to me and I find myself in a turmoil. I have some hope now that I found an ally in Jimena, and yet I have little doubt that she speaks the truth. 

I am indeed afflicted by some unknown condition. The realization almost crushes my spirit and for a while, I sit under the velvet canopy, too stunned to move. It does not last though for Jimena bids me join her and I must obey.

I stand and make myself ready. The ill-fitting dress I wore yesterday is still clinging to my body. A few drops of blood have stained the front and back, yet I do not recall being wounded. Curious. 

This specific guestroom is similarly equipped as the previous one, so I quickly take another bath after making sure the door is locked. It takes all my willpower not to luxuriate in the sensual feeling of warm water on my skin, despite how thirsty I am. 

After drying myself, I find that someone left a strange looking grey ensemble by the entrance. I put it on. To my surprise, it is extremely comfortable, with the notable exception of the area around my, hmm, posterior, which is too tight. 

Nevertheless, it does not limit my range of movement in any way. What a great find! Oh, if only I could wear this in polite society, but it has trousers, and this simply will not do.

Difficulty strikes when I try to sort the bird's nest that my hair has become. There is not a mirror in sight! How do they expect a lady to show her best without a mirror to attend to herself I wonder? Does Lady Moor… oh. She probably has servants of some sort.

Fortunately, my hair easily parts under my tAloNs fingers, and I believe I am at least somewhat presentable. They do not expect me to appear in polite society in any case!

With everything done, I leave.

Fortunately, it does not take me long to find the training room. I take the stairs down and wander a bit until I find the double doors. 

During this, I only come across one maid who avoids my eyes as she rushes by. She has an enticing scent, but I do not let it distract me. I am, after all, expected. I only hope that Jimena has something to drink, this Thirst is killing me.

I find her at a table, cleaning an elaborate fencing foil. Next to her is a short and stocky woman in a peasant dress. She has short black hair and stares at me with a frown and worried black eyes.

As I come closer, I realize she smells divine, why, I just cannot stop myself-

Jimena halts me with a hand on my shoulder.

“Oh, sorry, where are my manners! Good morning Jimena, and you as well madam. Hmm, it is morning, isn’t it?

Jimena returns my greeting with a nod and a smile.

Not quite. This is Aintza, she is a retainer for the Cadiz clan.”

“Oh, greetings Aintza.”

The woman does not answer. Instead, she nervously swallows, and I find myself fascinated by the movement of her neck. Such a pretty neck, so very fetching.



“I need your attention. Look at me.”

I turn to her and realize she is much closer than I am comfortable with. She takes my hands in hers. Her skin is soft and cool.

“Do you want to get closer to Aintza?”


“Are you feeling thirsty?”

“Yes, quite so. It is almost unbearable.”

“Close your eyes. Good. Now, I want you to think about a place where you are safe. The safest place you know.”

“But I do not remember my past…”

“Your mind does not, but your heart can. Do you remember what I told you yesterday?”

“I am mine. I will always be mine.”

“Good. Let your heart speak, Ariane. You are safe. You can see around you. What do you see?”

“I-I don’t know. I am so very thirsty. I just NEED A FEW DROPS FROM--

“No! Stop! Good. It will work better because you are thirsty. Now, try again.”

At first, I find the entire exercise silly. 

Why, it feels like one of these hogwash meditation exercises those charlatans claim can cure blindness? Jimena, however, does not relent. She guides me with a soothing voice. 

When the Thirst becomes too much, she grabs my neck in a firm hold and it helps me remain in control. 

Eventually, I feel it.

On the edge of the sugar cane fields stands a log cabin. It is barely large enough for a single bed, a chest and a small fire pit. It was never meant to be lived in. It is merely a shelter, unadorned and unpolished. The only thing that matters is that it is safe.

I drag myself up on the straw mattress. It smells like soap and sunshine and I know I can wait here for him to return. A cool wind rustles the trees outside and carries the smell of rain on fresh soil. 

Now that the weather is better, he will come back shortly and hopefully bring me something to drink. In the meanwhile, I will just hug Mr. Scruffybear. Mr. Scruffybear is such a gentleman.

“Good. Now, does it not smell so nice?”


“Good, now lick it.”

I lick something exquisite. It must be the world’s very best bonbon. Someone moans in pleasure, and I know I should be shocked but cannot make myself care.

“Good, it will turn the pain to pleasure, and now, just follow your instincts.”

I bit down delicately. Something soft and warm parts under my teeth like the sweetest of fruits, and once again the delicious nectar comes to sate the Thirst.


It is so good, so very good.

And yet, it feels duller, somehow. It does not compare to before.

There is a partition between the feeling and me. I am enjoying myself, but part of me also sits in the bed of my cabin with Mr. Scruffybear.

“Slow down and listen.”

I can hear mostly two things. The first is a woman moaning most shamefully. I am not too naïve not to understand that she… 

Hah, I cannot even make myself finish the thought.

The second is a heartbeat, and it has been beating increasingly faster.

“The heartbeat is too fast. When it is so, you must stop. Stop now.”

I do so immediately. The Thirst has abated enough that the urge is no longer so pressing. I also remember my master’s instructions. I must obey Jimena in all things.

“Excellent. Now lick the wound clean.”

I do so. I am overcome by a feeling of strong intimacy and were it not for my strange state, I believe I would be blushing.

A moment later, I open my eyes. Jimena is holding Aintza in a princess carry. I dare not mention how inappropriate this all is, not to mention Aintza’s rosy cheeks! Why, if someone were to come right now, I would surely die of embarrassment!


Yes? Hrm.”

“Do you know what just happened?”

“Hmm, you told me to find a safe place, which I did, and then…”

I frown in confusion. What happened then? I cannot seem to recall.

“I do not remember. Is it this accursed affliction?”

“Yes. Do not worry, the veil in your mind will be lifted when you next meet your master, or so he said.”

“Oh, this cannot come soon enough…” I reply in a dreamy voice. Before I can embarrass myself further, Jimena turns around with a sad smile.

“You should not be too hasty. Not all knowledge is good to take. Ah, I am not good at this. Stay here while I bring Aintza to safety. As you wait, I want you to remember that safe place you found. When you suffer from the Thirst, or when you quench it, you may find it again. This is important Ariane. If you must remember but one thing, remember this.”

“I understand.”


Jimena leaves and I am left alone. I can already feel that call of torpor even though I must have awakened not an hour ago. To distract myself, I inspect the training dummies.

I am simply astonished when I realize that some of those are automatons! How wealthy must those lords and ladies be, that they can afford such intricate machinery for such a trivial task? I can only assume that they are from Europe, for duels are still a way to resolve a dispute among nobles.

My musings are interrupted by the sound of the door opening and closing behind me. I turn from my inspection to greet a returning Jimena and instead recoil in surprise.

There are now two people in the room, only a few steps from me, and I have never seen them in my life.

How can they already be so close?! It is impossible! Unless…

I blink.

What was I thinking about? Hmmm. It matters not. There are people in front of me and I haven’t greeted them yet.

I curtsy, even though I do not wear a dress. Master told me to sTop RunNing to behave, and I shall do so.

And I wait.

The woman on the left is wearing a richly embroidered cream gown with green eyes and shockingly red hair. She is extremely beautiful, and both her aura and her posture remind me of Lady Moor. A younger Lady Moor at least. Perhaps a relative?

The black-haired man on the right is dressed in an assorted cream jacket that went out of fashion a century ago, and yet I would never call him on it. 

With his chiseled jaw and handsome face, he would be at home as a Shakespearian actor in the fanciest theaters of London. His own aura is blander, yet similar to that of his companion. While she is sneering, he appears to be a victim of the most dire form of boredom. His blue eyes dismiss me almost immediately.


I have not grown to the age of nineteen without learning how to spot trouble. Whatever they want, I must delay it until Jimena returns without drawing their ire. And so, I remain silent.

Time is on my side, and the newcomers know it too. The woman’s sneer turns into a scowl as the first round goes to me.

“We came to see the latest spawn. Tell me, spawn, do you even speak?”

Jimena, I beseech you, wherever you are, come back with all haste!

“Are you referring to me?”

“Obviously! Who else do you see in this pathetic hovel?”

I must thread the needle between aggression and passivity. Too meek, and she will escalate. Too witty, and she will retaliate. I let silence draw as long as I dare before continuing.

“In case you were still waiting for an answer, yes, I can speak. Is that so surprising?”

“It is. Lord Nirari seldom chooses them sharp, you see, he prefers to go for… other attributes.”

What is it with everyone expecting me to be a simpleton!?

“Although this time he may have made an exception.” She says, eyeing me critically.

Does she expect me to lose my composure so easily?

“Are you perhaps related to Lady Moor?”

It appears that I hit the mark. Her face freezes and her eyes turn calculating.

The man’s head turns to the door and he voices a warning.


She continues, unfazed.

“And why do you believe that?”

“You have all the bark but none of the class.”


“You DARE!”

She was just waiting for an excuse. She moves, and I can see it. Something sings in my veins like the leftover of a good dream, and so, I move as well. I go to grab her backhand and manage to catch her fist.

This was a terrible idea.

She is not quite fast, but the strength behind her strike is unthinkable. I am launched through the air as if I weighed nothing.

By chance, I manage to roll on the ground without hurting myself too much. Her power is truly inhuman! If her backhand had landed, I would have had to collect my molars from the farthest door. How can a slip of a girl like her…

Wait, what was I thinking? I do not know; I know however that I am in danger.

I grunt and pull myself on my knees. I somehow ended up between two of those automatons.

“Time is short, Melusine.” Says the man, as impassive as ever.

Melusine strides towards me, wearing on her face the promise of pain. Their urgency must come from Jimena’s imminent return; therefore, I only need to stall for a few moments.

I am, however, spent.

This affliction has sapped my strength. My limbs are heavier than they were a minute ago. I will not be able to fight her. I will not be able to escape. In desperation, I do something that I can only attribute to my addled mind. I catch the side of the nearest automaton and pull its lever.

At best, I was expecting the dummy to rotate and buy me a few moments. Instead, the unthinkable happens.

A complex imprint flashes in the automaton’s chest and basks it in crimson. It shudders and steps down from its wooden support, and then it stretches four arms ending in wicked blades. Its eyeless head finds the closest moving target, Melusine.

I am too stunned to move. Sorcery! Sorcery of the vilest sort!

I barely notice the man pulling his astonished companion behind himself, when a voice sweeps the room in one mighty roar.


Jimena walks in with the confidence of a lioness. Her eyes find the dummy, which moved a bit forward for some reason and then settles on Melusine with an amused sneer.

“It is good to see clan Lancaster attempt to remedy their abysmal lack of martial prowess. With that said, you could just have asked me instead of scurrying around the proving grounds like rats.”

“Watch your mouth, Squire.”

I jump as both doors shut without any visible intervention.

“You should take your own advice.”

A heavy silence falls in the room as Jimena closes the distance with the two outsiders. Before she can reach them, the man takes a step forward and offers a formal bow.

“Squire Jimena, it appears that we have come here by mistake. Perhaps you would consent to open the door?”

Jimena stops and considers for a while.

“You will leave the fledgling alone while she is in my care.”

“Very well.”

Is that all? After all of this, they are free to leave?


No, it is a perfectly reasonable outcome for this farce, and I am delighted to see the back of them.

They leave without a word.

“I suppose I should start to train you to defend yourself.” The woman sighs after the gates close.

“With all due respect, Jimena, I think not” I respectfully disagree. “I need to understand who those people are, and the reason for their animosity. Why, when we first met, were you not goaded into attacking me by Ogotai?”

Jimena flinches.

“You are correct, young Ariane. Ah, but I am bad at this. Where should I even begin?”

“You could start by telling me why I am a fledgling and you a Squire, and why does Lady Moor despise me so.”

Jimena stops to consider, then quickly nods in assent.

“Very well, but please bear in mind that I will remain intentionally vague, lest your mind obfuscates some of the information.”

“I assumed that I would be unable to learn more about the affliction until I meet my master once more.”

“Indeed. Now, to begin. Newly turned… Afflicted, start off as drones. They are mindless and pitiful creatures who only react to obey their master’s voices. Most remain in that sorry state for a few weeks at most. Others never move past it.”

I shiver in disgust, what a dreadful fate!

“When drones recover enough of a sense of self, they receive, ahem, their master assists them, and they become fledgling, as you are. A fledgling is essentially a young afflicted.”

“Jimena, my dear, are you not mistaken? I have not yet received that help you mentioned! Am I still a drone?”

“Yes, and no. Someone who has reconstituted a sense of self is always treated as a fledgling. Receiving help is but a formality.”

“What if--”

“No, Ariane, do not think of it. Your master will assist you when the time has come." 

“He told me to behave… And I--”

“Did not roll over and bend to Lancaster curs. Worry not, Ariane.”

“Thank you, Jimena.”

deems the rules of hospitality sacred, yet every slight is met with ruthless vengeance. He is universally feared and reviled, and his reputation reflects on you.” 

What!” I interrupt, scandalized, “He is A bEasT the very soul of kindness! A gentleman of refinement! How dare they slander him so?” 

Jimena does not interrupt my ranting; instead she looks at me with pity. How I wish I could convince her.

“Nevertheless, his reputation is well established, and he is known for, ah, not caring about the fate of his protégés.”

“Jimena, I am so confused. Does he have a clan, or not? Do I?”

“He, well, he is just known as the Devourer, and to my knowledge only one of his Spawns, besides you, still lives. You are the third member of his line." 

I… What?

“I am sorry Ariane, your legacy will always be known, Lord Nirari’s afflicted are quite distinctive.”

Her attention flickers to my mouth.

“I do not understand! This makes no sense at all!”

“You will, in time. I am sorry.”

I am too astonished to reply. None of this makes sense. A mysterious disease? Clans and politics? A clan of three? 

“Jimena, please, tell me the truth. Am I hysterical? Is this some asylum where the mad are left to live their insanity?”

“Ariane, believe me, you are not insane.”

I am not insane. 

“This is a difficult time for you, yet if you are tenacious, and if you display a better political acumen than my own, I am confident that you will thrive.”

“Thrive? I do not want to thrive! I want to go home! I just want to go home…”

I try to hold it but despite my best efforts I start crying.



“May I… may I please drink your tears?”

Nothing that happens in this madhouse can surprise me anymore. I nod in assent, then yelp as Jimena pulls me in her embrace. Before I can react, she licks my cheeks! How daring! 

We stay there. I would be otherwise offended at her familiarity and yet I realize how much I owe her. 

If what she says is true, and I have no reasons to doubt her words, then my master is a bit of a pariah. Our acquaintance taints her reputation. 

Her honesty and loyalty are costing her and yet she defended me. I can only be thankful that I met her.

“For an afflicted, you cry a lot.”

“Oh, shush!”

I feel so comfortable in her arms. I was already tired before my confrontation with that horrible harridan and now my entire body feels so heavy. I believe I shall take a quick nap. 

Just a few minutes.

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