Bloodsong Ch. 02byAschermer©
Hello again, and thanks for all the feedback, favorites and votes y'all left on the last chapter. They meant a lot to me, honest. I wanted to update sooner, but this chapter turned out to be slightly -- er, a lot -- longer than expected. So long, in fact, that I ended up having to split it in two. The second part will probably be finished and ready to be submitted by the time this one appears.
If you clicked on this story without reading the first chapter, please do so. I'm pretty sure you won't understand a thing if you don't. Also, for those who never thought to check my profile, I usually update my word count between chapters, so that you know how far advanced I am with the next one.
That's all. On to the story.
"And this, Valeriana dear, is where the brunt of the work gets done."
The other woman beckoned her to come forward. She slumped a bit - the humidity and coldness of Earth weren't agreeing with her, and she was sure she had caught some kind of human disease, because her head felt funny all the time and every step seemed like a chore -- and peered over the railing. At first, the large amounts of brilliant, eye-searing white made it difficult to see, but when she finally adjusted to it, her jaw dropped. Under the balcony lay a huge circular room, filled to the brim with tables laden with bodies. People -- and not a single one of them looked like people, what with their skin as white as chalk, tiny black eyes and misshapen heads - walked among them, measuring, taking blood samples and writing notes on clipboards. Either humans weren't the only intelligent species on Earth, or those creatures had been brought from another world she'd never heard of.
Still stunned, Valeriana turned to give Marabeth a questioning look. The woman was smirking, not at her but at the happenings below, in a fashion that was both unsettling and scary. She swallowed, afraid to ask but strangely certain that it was important to know.
"So...this is how a slaver union works?"
"Oh, no no no. It's much more complicated than this," Marabeth said, frowning disdainfully.
It was undeniable that she owed her, but in truth, Valeriana wasn't sure she liked Marabeth Aramis very much. She had helped, like Jack promised she would, and complained little about her tagging along on the journey to the land called Ah-emrika. In fact, she barely seemed aware of her presence unless she tried to make herself noticed, which hardly happened, and allowed her to do as she pleased as long as it didn't interfere with her designs. She also wasn't needlessly rude. Stand-offish, overly derisive and proud to a fault, yes, but Valeriana had been counting on that. She was Jack's aunt, after all. And yet, there was something about her. Something so subtle she couldn't put a finger on what exactly it was, but still made her blood run just a tad colder each time the other woman said her name.
Perhaps she was being unfair or overly suspicious. She certainly hoped so.
"This here," Marabeth continued, in her best tour-guide voice, "is just them doing a body inventory slash checkup. After that is done, we can move on to the breaking procedure. Which channel each future slave is put through depends on a great many variables, such as age, gender, physical traits, IQ results and other useful skills it may possess. Now, come along. I want to show you something."
Valeriana followed obediently. It would be foolish of her to upset the woman, even if she found her unnerving. She was saddled with Marabeth until Jack arrived, -- he'd said it wouldn't take him long, but with the time-rift between worlds, who knew what that meant? - since trying to forge her own path on human Earth was unthinkable at least for now. There was a war going on, a war that was said to be fought all over the world. She had learned about it by chance, and although it didn't seem to bother Marabeth in the slightest, it still made her apprehensive about straying too far from her shadow. So she made sure to behave and not question anything, even if some of the things she had seen and heard so far did make her wonder.
"This is my favorite part of the whole thing," Marabeth said. They had reached a shiny aluminum door, in front of which was a desk. The girl -- vaguely girlish creature - seated at it leaned forward to press a set of buttons, ran to open the door, beamed at them both and scuttled out of the way as if obeying an unspoken command. On the other side was a corridor, and more doors. They walked past them. Marabeth paused once or twice to read the writings on the boards next to them, nodded in satisfaction and told her to keep moving.
Finally, they arrived before the one that seemed to be their destination. Marabeth opened the door herself and motioned her through. The tiny room was even more brightly lit than the larger one had been, but mercifully less white. Instead, the walls were painted in a dullish grey tint that matched the steel contraptions that littered them, and the operating table that held the central spot. Valeriana's eyes traveled from the mean-looking switchblades that hung on the far end of the room, to the naked body chained to the table. For some unexplainable reason, the sight made her stomach flip-flop. Marabeth, who had been studying her reaction from the doorway, strode in and came to stand at her side.
"Nice-looking, isn't it?" she whispered, voice deceptively soft, while resting her hand on the chained girl's tight. Valeriana couldn't even begin to guess how she was expected to answer, and nodded just to stay on the safe side. It seemed to satisfy the woman, at least. "Has a bit of you in it, I'd say."
"I suppose?" They shared a few basic features, she'd grant her that. Mayhaps that was the reason for the uncanny amount of nausea she was feeling. The chained girl had her hair-- black and wavy, only it was cut at chin-length instead of falling to her waist -- blue eyes that were just a shade or two lighter than hers, and the same ivory skin. The similarities stopped there, though. Other girl was smaller and slighter, her face broader, and her nose looked a little like a hawk's beak. On the whole, she reminded her more of her older sisters than of herself. The thought made her feel a bit more grounded. She had never been particularly close to the twins, especially Angelica, whom the girl resembled the most, but she liked them better than her half-sister Tessalia, and at least the vague similarity explained the sensation she was experiencing. It wasn't pity -- pitying a human would, after all, be absurd -- but only a bout of home-sickness that had chosen to express itself in an unpredicted way.
"So, rule number one." Marabeth bent over the table and reached for the ball gag in the girl's mouth. As soon as it was removed, the girl began to trash and beg. The language she spoke was unknown to her. English was the only human dialect she had some amount of fluency in, on account of the grammar being so similar to Barashnik, and Jack had taught her enough French for her to be able to accurately picture a bidet, but that was where her talents as translator ended. It didn't matter, though. She could understand exactly what the girl was trying to transmit, even if she didn't know the words themselves. "Always gag them during the first stage. About ninety nine percent of them fail to cooperate from the get go, and shutting them up is far less bothersome than hearing the same old 'Please, have mercy!" repeated over and over."
As if on cue, the girl started on a string of tearful pleas, even as her mouth was forced open and the ball gag shoved back in place. Her desperate wails died down instantly, although the crying and sobbing continued for a while.
"Now, pay close attention, because eventually you will be expected to do this on your own. It's very important to know your subject before initiating any kind of treatment." She laughed, as if it were some kind of joke. Valeriana just stared ahead, too shocked for words. "Know its background, and you'll know which buttons to push. This one, for instance. Got it from the Germans. Father is Irish, but the mother is Jewish and managed to convert him. Probably not the best of ideas, in hindsight. Bottom line is, it has spent considerable time in Dachau, and as such, ought to be used to much..."
"Dachau. Concentration camp." At her look of bafflement, the woman sighed and elaborated. "Place where stupid human vermin do ghastly things to other stupid humans they consider to be vermin. Fairly illogical, but quite fascinating from an anthropological standpoint. Useful, also. Wars generally are, but this one has been especially good for business. With people being apprehended and killed left and right, it's unlikely a few thousand disappearances more will raise eyebrows."
"No, I mean...I'm meant to learn how to do...this?"
"But of course. In case you have failed to comprehend a fact this simple, you are an outcast. Your family won't be sending me money to pay for your lodgment or alimentation, and I greatly dislike freeloaders. Therefore, you need a job. I'm being kind enough to provide you with one, and to personally instruct you on how to go about it. Don't be too concerned. It's far easier than it seems." She gave the crying girl a condescending pat on the head, walked around the table and fastened each of her feet to the iron bar at the end of the bed, forcing her legs open.
Valeriana took a step back and instinctively closed her eyes. It wasn't prudishness that made her do it. Sharing a room with her sisters since an early age ensured that she had seen many nude women before - well, three if she were to include herself, but that was still a reasonable number - and it had never fazed her. It was the...lewd manner in which the other girl was being displayed that made her uncomfortable. It brought back memories -- possibilities - she'd rather repress.
"It will be trained as a sex-slave," Marabeth was saying. From a drawer under the table, she retrieved a bottle and a leather suitcase. "Some minor corrections will be required, of course -- it needs to put on some weight, and its nose is frankly hideous -- but we usually save that for after the subject is broken in. No sense in wasting resources on a slave that can't learn."
Against her better judgment, Valeriana shuffled closer to see what she was taking out of the box. Initially she felt perplexed, since the large blunt object seemed to lack the edges and spikes she'd expect a torture instrument to have, but her confusion didn't last long. Marabeth had, after all, said that she intended the girl to be a...
The impulse to flee the room hit her with renewed vigor. She fought it as well as she could. It was irrational, to feel sorry for a glorified whore. Her father owned a few himself. It was customary and acceptable for men who had gone unmated or, in his case, lost enough mates to not want to bother with another, to use specially trained women as an alternative venue for release. The girls at her old home were pretty, meek little things who spent their days lounging in the gardens and fawning over their lord and master. She had never given much thought to how they came into being. Possibly she had assumed they were born randy and nymph-ish. It had never entered her mind that they would start this way, lying on a table, terrified out of their wits, while their unwilling metamorphosis was prepared.
"The thing about bodies, my sweet, is that they are easy. Stick something in them just the right way, and they'll give you the response you desire." Marabeth dipped two fingers in the oil bottle and raised them in demonstration. Valeriana was starting to feel sick again, and this time she knew no human illness was responsible for it. "Minds now, minds...those are a great deal more difficult to bend. Still, if one perseveres..."
The chained girl -- she couldn't bring herself to call her 'it" -- let out a soundless scream as Marabeth reached between her legs to part her pink lips, and inserted an index finger in the tiny hole. She trashed against her chains like mad, eyes rolling back in her head while tears streamed over her cheeks. Marabeth did nothing but smirk malevolently and add another oiled finger, and barely seemed to notice when Valeriana turned on her heels and ran out of the room.
Two hours after nightfall, Jack began to stir. She barely spared him a look, choosing to focus on the road instead. Still, when he woke at last, it was to find her sword at his throat. She did glance at him then, silently daring him to move. For a few seconds, that was all they did. The wordless face-off came to an end when he threw back his head, exposing even more of his neck, and laughed. The sound left her more disgruntled than surprised. Of course he'd pretend to find the entire situation hysterical. Had she been in his place, she'd do exactly the same. It was a way to throw the other party off, to confuse and simultaneously maintain a semblance of dignity. A silly little act, meant to trick oneself into not feeling like a victim.
Which begged the question of why he had chosen to enact it on her. She'd never allow herself to see him as a victim. That would imply seeing him as weak, and thinking about him in those terms would compel her to underestimate him. As it was, all it did was make her even more annoyed than she already felt. However, she kept her silence.
"You," he said, when he was finally done acting like a demented clown, "are unbelievable."
"Duly noted." Better to cut down the useless bickering straight from the start. It had also just hit her that he hadn't heard the deal she'd made with Nicolai, and was therefore clueless about the fact that she wasn't about to kill him. That was definitely something she could use to her advantage. "Let's keep this short and sweet, alright? I need to know things. You are going to tell me things. If I know enough things by the time we are done, I won't chop off your head. Any questions?"
"No, I think you made yourself clear." She frowned. Act of not, his demeanor was too...relaxed, and jovial and cheery to allow her to feel comfortable. "And seeing as I'm in your power and do love to talk, what is it that you need to know?"
"The invasion. What happened, and what do you plan to do now?"
"Assuming that with 'you' you mean my side, I'd think it would be easy to guess what we are going to do now." She shot him a dirty look, causing him to sigh and raise his hands. "Alright, alright, if you insist in having it spelled out...to start with, your little human friends will all end up on one slave market or another. Vive la Resistance, eh?" Valerie made no comment. Rising to his bait would only be a waste of time. "As for the rest of Westmont, you probably were in town long enough to notice we are working on the implementation of protocol Centrarc. So far, it seems to be doing good."
A shiver shot up her spine. She hadn't, and she hadn't noticed, but Centrarc was something she had been told about before. She could only remember it dimly, possibly because it had been almost a decade ago, but she did recall...Mrs. Drakma, triumphantly stating that the dawn of the age of information would ruin any attempts at putting it in practice...a celebratory glass of wine, half empty...something someone had sent about a magician in Boston...a tiny village in Russia, vanished from maps and public conscience at the height of the Cold War...
"You don't even know what I am talking about, right?"
"Of course I know what you are talking about," she spat. "I just can't believe your side would be stupid enough to try that nowadays. You can't just erase a town. I already find it incredible that none of this shit appeared on Twitter while it was going down. Do you expect that none of the, oh, I don't know, kids who are bound to come back home from college next month won't be wondering where their parents went? That nobody from out of town will call? The whole world is connected, Jack. You can't take a couple links from the chain and hope no one will notice."
"You'd be surprised. Now, do you want to hear the rest or not?"
"No, actually..." Since they were there, she might as well milk the unpleasant situation for all it was worth. "Tell me more about Centrarc. How did you people get it to work, and how do I undo it?"
"Undo it? You can't."
"And I'll believe that because I am dumb as a brick, yes?"
"I'm serious. You'd need to be as powerful a magician as the one who cast the spell network to even begin to unravel it, let alone destroy it. Which you are not. And you won't find anyone to do it for you, either. You know what they say - said - about my aunt. Her powers were an oddity. There never was anyone as good as her before, and likely never will be. So no, you won't be able to do a thing to undo this.
"Fine," she said. Not because she trusted him to be telling the truth, which she didn't, but because there were more important matters to discuss, and it would be hard to torture facts out of him while keeping an eye on the road. Better to save that particular subject for when she had him in a suitable position, and switch to one he'd already proven himself to be more than willing to talk about. "So, Marabeth. What happened to her?"
"She's dead. What else do you need to know?"
"I get that she's dead. What I want is details." Because as much as she'd try to deny it, a part of her would remain restless until she knew for sure that the bitch had been ended properly.
"Details? Aunt Briseis hit her in the back with a rocket-launcher and dropped a church on her. Is that graphic enough for your tastes, or would you like me to describe the exact amount of flying bits and blood spatters?" The amount of bitterness in his voice caught her by surprise, not because she hadn't counted on him dropping his mask of aloofness sooner or later, but because of how pained it made him sound. Belatedly, she remembered that despite being all kinds of deranged, Marabeth had been his favorite aunt. She immediately blocked the memory. It made her feel strangely guilty, and that emotion was too dangerous to afford. "Oh, and of course you want to know what we did to her. Don't worry, she won't be sold to anyone, despite being the one who deserves it the most. Father wouldn't allow it; family pride and loss of respect, and all that. She's to stand trial instead."
She shot him an incredulous look.
"Trial? An official, Council-sanctioned trial?" To her bewilderment, he nodded. "On what grounds? She has a clean slate as far as the Council is concerned. What happened in Westmont falls under territory dispute laws, over which they have little to no influence even when said territory happens to be located in Barashi."
That had been one of Mrs. Drakma's most brilliant ideas, at least in her opinion. It had taken a massive amount of paperwork and old favors called in, seeing as she was a virtual outcast, betrayer of everything the Barashi culture stood for, and an all-around embarrassing person. Still, she had managed to get herself officially registered as interdimensional conqueror. In theory, a lord or lady of Barashi could do as he or she pleased on another world, as long as their actions didn't endanger their own. However, if one were licensed, it was possible to obtain the Council's backing, should another noble come along to claim a territory they occupied. Mrs. Drakma and Marabeth were both licensed, meaning that the Council had long ago given up on trying to support one or another, and seemed content to let them duck it out between themselves. Which they had done with gusto.