The Rebellious Slave Ch. 24byHisPet21©
Author's Note: Good day, fabulous readers! Thanks so much for your patience over the past few months. I know there has been a great deal of demand for this particular chapter and I hope you enjoy it! As always, comments & ratings are SUPER appreciated so, if you have a minute or two to spare, let me know your thoughts.
Kara couldn't sleep. No matter what she tried—warm milk, soft music, a steaming bath—nothing seemed to work. Arlington's face kept swimming before her eyes, it's malevolent grin and sharp features haunting the darkness. With that face polluting her mind's eye, there was no way Kara could safely slip into unconsciousness. Nightmares were sure to follow or, even worse, another sex dream. If she woke up wet again and drenched in sweat, Kara wasn't sure she'd be able to face Lord Arlington the next day. He already evoked far too many emotions in her: fear, anger, lust, and oddly enough, pity. That last one was new—brought on by Greenwood's omission, no doubt—and it wasn't nearly as strong as the others, but it was still there. Surely, there was a reason Arlington had become such a monster?
No, there isn't, Kara reprimanded herself, letting all the anger and terror of the past resurface. She allowed memories of the coffin to enter into her mind, and then of Arlington's whip. Those set her straight real quick. Evil's in Arlington's blood. Besides, even if he was like Greenwood—even if he did start out differently and then change—it's not your job to find out why. Your only job is to keep that lunatic occupied and put on a good show until negotiations are finally over.
Much of the night went by like that, with Kara contemplating fretfully, so when sunlight finally began to peak through the curtains, she was relieved. Even if the new day meant an unpleasant reunion with Arlington, anything was better than the waiting and worrying. So, with a determined air, Kara stepped out of bed and threw open the windows. Far below her sat Nulme, Nardia's Capital City, still overcast in the morning fog. Even so, Main Street was already bustling with activity, cars mingling together with horse drawn carriages and oddly shaped bicycles. Here, the bucolic atmosphere of the nation melded together with the metropolitan aura of Nardia's largest city. Kara could see businessmen chatting away on cell phones while, just a few blocks away, a farmer from out of town was riding a tractor down the road and holding up traffic. Then, lining both sides of the street, shops were opening their doors, selling everything from country sweets to fancy clothes and from pure-bred horses to high-tech computers. Kara had never seen anything quite like it.
But there was much to do before Lord Arlington's arrival and after a quick shower, Kara was hurrying to meet her companions for their morning security briefing. Beyond her bedroom door, there was a long, red carpeted hallway lined on either side by alternating wooden doors and windows, a style characteristic of most big city inns. Then Kara's watch alarm went off and grumbling to herself, she made a run for the elevator. Since she was housed on the twenty-fourth floor of the Companion Court Hotel—the headquarters for Nardia's upcoming negotiations—it would take some time to make it to the basement. Kara had learned the previous night that the elevator was being finicky. Repairmen had recently been hired to take care of the issue, but until then, service would be slow and tardiness inevitable.
"Morning, sunshine!" Querren greeted, racing to embrace Kara as soon as the elevator doors had parted. "Nice to see you up and about!"
"Querren, she's late," Alyssa groaned, although an endearing smirk managed to escape her lips. "You can hug and kiss and ogle each other later, but we have a tour to get started."
"Alright," Querren sighed, winking affectionately at Kara and pushing her toward the rest of their tour group, which included Tamius and Ben, among others. "Let's get a move on, then."
Leading the way, Querren and Alyssa took their group down a long, narrow hallway, gloomy and gray. It consisted of nothing but concrete flooring and wet walls, yet for such an unimportant looking place, it was remarkably well guarded. Intermittently, heavy steel doors blocked the group's path and at every corner, security personnel were poised with rifles. Kara was a little irked by the whole thing, but not Alyssa or Querren. Both were decked out in top-notch military gear, complete with padded body armor. They'd been up since three in the morning or so, preparing security for that evening's reception, and made their way through the maze of hallways as if they owned the place.
"Sleep well?" Ben asked as they walked, grasping Kara gently around the waist. His touch was comforting and without meaning to, Kara found herself leaning into him. "Anymore nightmares?"
"I didn't sleep," Kara admitted, cringing slightly at the mention of her 'nightmares.' "Not that it matters. I'm awake as I'll ever be, what with today's meeting and—"
"Alrighty, folks, this is our stop," Alyssa called out, standing very seriously before a set of metallic doors, secured by a massive lock. "Many of you are going to be in close quarters with some very dangerous people tonight, so it's imperative that you understand the security system we're employing."
With that, the doors swung open to reveal a large, circular room and Kara followed her tour guides inside, feeling more than a little awestruck. She'd expected Nulme to be more technologically savvy than the rest of Nardia, but the Bureaucratic Council had gone all out in preparation for toady. Lining the room from floor to ceiling were a number of screens, featuring live footage of the entire hotel. On the far wall, Kara even spotted the door to her room. Then, at the very center of the room, a massive control panel was being operated by three young techs, all of whom smiled and waved before returning to their work.
"The entire hotel is essentially booby-trapped," Querren explained. "In preparation for these negotiations, Nardia's security personnel have put remote controlled locking mechanisms on all of the doors and windows. There are also gas canisters throughout the ventilation system, explosive and projectile units down certain hallways, and cameras along virtually every floor. All of which can, of course, be activated from this location."
"Kind of like a fun house," Alyssa offered. "Except with deadly weaponry."
"That sounds a little dangerous," Kara whispered to herself, but Alyssa heard anyway.
"Obviously, but isn't that the point?" Alyssa chided, indicating the control panel and its massive collection of knobs and buttons. "Isn't it true that Arlington is a sore loser and shouldn't we anticipate some kind of retaliation should negotiations go sour?"
"Nothing's automatic and nothing's motion sensored," Querren interrupted, and there was an obvious loss of tension from the room. Apparently, Kara had been saying what everyone else had been thinking. "Nothing goes off unless one of the techs has a visual and decides to manually set something off, so you'll all be completely safe. But this way, if we're attacked, we have a major home advantage. It'll be easier to protect our people and separate them from any intervening threats."
"All of the earpieces we handed out earlier have a small button on the side, which you can use to contact me or, if I am unavailable, one of the techs," Alyssa announced, tapping her foot irritably and looking down at her watch. "Any questions? No? Good. Querren and I still have a lot of work to do. "
Kara had hoped to have breakfast with Ben and Tamius following the security briefing, but the two were immediately whisked off to discuss the protocol for Nardia's negotiations. As a hostess, Kara wouldn't be attending those, only the social events associated with them. Still, she had much to prepare for. After a doughnut and some coffee, Kara was first given a crash course on the names, ranks, and nationalities of all the attendees, then rushed off for a medical inspection. She'd wanted to have her tracker removed, as well as the hormone release unit Martkorp had implanted as a means of birth control, but the medics on staff refused to engage in any kind of surgery immediately before the negotiations. Then there was a tour of the hotel, another crash course on the proper etiquette for a hostess, a hair appointment, a nail appointment, the works! It all happened so fast that Kara could hardly believe it when the clock struck six and it was time to head to the Honorary Reception being held for Isleydor's ambassadors.
Standing nervously before the bathroom mirror, Kara glanced at herself and sighed. She didn't look like her usual self—having been made up with thick mascara and a deep red lip gloss—and yet, the scene was all too familiar. The designers hired to dress her had chosen a long, sparkling red gown to match, with a slit up one side and several golden teardrops. The color scheme was identical to that of newly captured slaves in Isleydor and Kara felt like she was back on the auction block, with the future frightfully uncertain. The only major difference was that, this time, Kara didn't wear her hair down. Instead, she wore it in a ponytail, using the clip Ben had given her and that she'd almost forgotten a second time back at Highland Valley.
"Alright, remember, he doesn't own you," Kara told her reflection, looking into her own eyes and willing herself to be the determined, strong willed woman who'd escaped Arlington's dungeons and who'd out ran his cronies. "Whether or not he likes it, you're a free woman now! It's time to show this son-of-a-bitch that you cannot be controlled and will not be debased."
With a deep breath, Kara stalked out of her room and headed toward the elevator, which opened up onto another long, red carpeted hallway. At its end, Kara could see the entryway to the hotel's ballroom, bordered on either side by greeters and guarded by a security booth. It was a long walk to the reception and the closer she got, the more queasy and nervous she became, a torrent of butterflies creeping up from her stomach and consuming her heart. But Kara angrily pushed the anxiety down. This was her one chance to prove to Arlington that she no longer feared him and that she was a force to be reckoned with. All be damned if she was going to let her nervousness show! Tonight, Kara would face her fears and she would triumph! Smoothening her features, she forced her feet to move with grace and certainty, then added a slight smile to the mix, both proud and self-confident.
Before she knew it, Kara had made it through the metal detector and was standing alone in the ballroom. It was quite massive, with an open bar and a full buffet. Waiters were passing out horderves and wine on silver trays, while guests danced to elegant music being played by a live orchestra. That's when Kara heard it: the cool, collected voice of Lord Arlington. Even amidst all the music and laughter, it stood out proudly, making the hairs on the back of Kara's neck stand up. With it, there was an overwhelming urge to disappear into the crowd—to pass the voice off as a hallucination—but it persisted and if Arlington was here, then Kara had no choice but to greet him. Grabbing a glass of wine from a passing waiter, she downed the entire thing in a single gulp, turned toward the front of the room, and forced her feet to move.
Don't look away, Kara told herself, hardening her heart in preparation for their reunion. It would be an understatement to say that the two had never gotten along and Kara didn't see why tonight should be any different. Just look straight ahead. Don't give him the satisfaction of breaking eye contact.
Suddenly, there was a break in the crowd and not ten feet away, Kara could see Lord Arlington. He was dressed rather handsomely in a blue dress cloak and the same dark, leather boots he'd once rested upon Kara's back. It was by chance that he glanced in his hostess' direction, missing her at first and then doing a double take. The look on his face was one Kara only seen once before, right after freeing Tamius Sue: complete and utter shock. That gave her the extra boost she needed to widen her smile and pick up the pace.
And yet, the glorious confusion on Arlington's face lasted only a moment. Soon enough, his surprised features receded to reveal the cruel, sinister smile Kara had become accustomed to and horrified, she realized that he was happy to see her. Remain calm, Kara told herself, refusing to slow her pace, even as Lord Arlington's eyes gleamed wickedly. With a curt nod, she watched as the man excused himself from the present company and moved to meet her half way. Don't break eye contact, Kara. Keep it together.
"Well, well, well," Lord Arlington mused, stepping up to Kara and bowing his head curtly. Surrounded on all sides by reporters, he couldn't afford to be anything less than polite. But when Arlington took her hand in his own and bent down to kiss it, Kara was taken completely off guard. His lips were silky smooth and warm, bringing up memories of a different, more threatening kiss back at Bremmington. "What a marvelous surprise to see you here," Arlington greeted, straitening up, but refusing to let go of Kara's hand. "Pardon me if I look a bit flabbergasted...I didn't expect to find you like this, out in the open. How very daring of you. And I must say, you do look fabulous this evening. I'd be willing to wager that you belong in red and gold."
Subtle as it was, the sinister nature of the compliment was not lost on Kara and her lips tightened. But all be damned if she was going to lose her cool over something so petty and allow Arlington to see any kind of weakness. If his lordship wanted to play mind games, then so be it. In the midst of a public event—surrounded by security personnel—the playing field was finally even and Kara was ready to take a stab at Arlington for a change.
"Oh, I'd hardly consider dinner and a few drinks daring, but I'm flattered that you like the ensemble," Kara tried, refusing to let her sickeningly sweet smile droop. It took every fiber of her being to remain in character, but somehow, she fought the urge to wrench her hand free of Arlington's grasp and slap him across the face. "I'm rather fond of the hair clip, in particular. It was a gift from a very, very good friend."
"I see," Lord Arlington hissed from between clenched teeth. "Exquisite."
"Anyway, as much as I enjoy getting reacquainted, there's business to attend to," Kara resumed, as if she didn't notice the perverse darkening of her lord's eyes nor the slight flush in his cheeks. "I'll be your hostess during your time here, David. So, if you need anything, just let me know."
"Excuse me?" Lord Arlington asked, a slight lift in his voice the only indication of a problem. "What did you just call me?"
"Oh, David?" Kara replied, pleasantly surprised by this new form of ammunition. "It's customary for a hostess to get on a first name basis with her guest, isn't that so...David?"
"You're really throwing caution to the wind this evening, aren't you, my dear?" Arlington warned, taking Kara by the arm and guiding her over to the bar. It was the busiest region of the ballroom and amid all the noise, there was no way his lordship's voice would carry. "You're not out of the woods yet and it would behoove you to watch what you say."
"Are you still having those delusions of grandeur?" Kara retaliated, and she finally pulled free of Arlington's grasp. A waiter passed by then and she snatched another glass of wine from his tray. Kara had a feeling she'd be needing it. "You know, narcissism is a clinically recognized ailment. I could probably prescribe some anti-psychotics to help you with that problem."
"Keep piling it on, pet. You're in enough trouble already."
"It's you who should be careful," Kara insisted, turning toward Arlington with a firm, confident expression. She was surprised she had the gull to talk to her lord like that, but it gave her a warm glow, egging her on. "I've got men all over this place and if you even think of touching me, you'll be made to regret it."
To prove her point, Kara nodded toward her uncle, who was working security in the back of the room. Lifting two fingers to his eyes, the man pointed first at himself, then Arlington, as if to say, I'm watching you. Alyssa wasn't far off either and when she spotted the pair, waved politely at Kara before flipping Arlington off.
"The woman's not much for subtleties, is she?" Arlington mused, his eyebrows quirked playfully.
"It's Alyssa," Kara shrugged and, after finishing her drink, she took Arlington once more by the arm. "But now that we understand each other, let's resume our evening, shall we? I'd like to introduce you to a few people."
During her brief period of training, Kara had learned that it was the hostess' job to serve as the middleman between an incoming ambassador and Nardia's Bureaucratic Council. After welcoming Arlington, it was her duty to guide him around the room and help him mingle with the guests, reminding him that Nardia's citizens were people too, with a rich cultural heritage that he ought to respect during negotiations. Kara had just spotted Council Woman Silveine at a table beyond the buffet, when she nearly ran head first into a muscled woman in full, black body armor. Looking up, she suddenly recognized the woman and her jaw dropped.
"General Myiat?" Kara asked, incredulous.
"Ms. Chrystein," Myiat smiled back, her dark locks caressing a bold, but amiable face. With a curt nod, she acknowledged Kara, then bowed low before Arlington. "I see you're acting as a hostess this evening and I thank you for your service to his lordship. But if you have a moment, my Lord Sillias has been dying to meet you."
From behind Myiat, Kara could see Lord Sillias, who stood out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of the guests in attendance. She was wearing a purple suit with a yellow tie, which matched her brightly painted finger nails and gold jewelry. Black lipstick and dark eyeshadow completed the eccentric look, but that wasn't the worst of it. Perched on Lord Sillias' shoulder was an enormous lizard, about the size of a small house cat, which was bound by a silver chain wrapped around her lordship's wrist. As she walked up to the trio, Kara could see Sillias remove a dried cricket from her suit pocket and feed it to the creature. It was a little disgusting.
"Ms. Chrystein, I presume," Lord Sillias greeted, with a sincere but slightly warped smile. "What a pleasure it is to meet you in person." Nodding curtly, Sillias gave Arlington a meaningful glance, then turned back to Kara with that same, odd smile. "This is Mr. Richardson," Sillias told her, indicating the lizard hissing atop her shoulders. "He acts frightfully mean, but he's just a big show-off. Any who, I've heard all about your daring escape into Nardia and I'd like to hear more about it."
"With all due respect, my lord," Kara offered, feeling more and more uncomfortable with the conversation as it went. "We're here to celebrate our similarities, not dwell on past conflicts."
"Oh, but of course," Sillias agreed, petting Mr. Richardson playfully and watching him relax in response. "How rude of me, my dear. I have no filter, you see. Still, perhaps we can meet on less formal terms someday. I'd love to hear all about it." Kara watched as Sillias then walked up to Arlington, taking him away momentarily and giving her some much needed respite.
"How are you holding up?" Myiat asked, receding into a less formal stance and turning worried eyes toward Kara. "I am glad to see you under less horrendous circumstances, but still...Lord Arlington has been fervently plotting your return these last few days and from what I've heard, it's gotten ugly a few times." Nervously, Myiat glanced in Arlington's direction, but he was still otherwise occupied.