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  • Heir to the Shadows(Black Jewels,Book 2)(48) by Anne Bishop
  • The surly guard had performed the beating. Not his back this time but his legs. Not a whip to cut, but a thick leather strap to pound against muscle stretched tight. Working to a slow drum rhythm, the guard had applied the strap with care, making each stroke overlap the one before so that no flesh was missed. Down and back, down and back. Except for the breath hissing between his teeth, Lucivar had made no sound. When it was finally done, he'd been hauled to his feet—feet too brutalized to take his weight—and fitted with Zuultah's latest toy: a metal chastity belt. It locked tight around his waist but the metal loop between his legs wasn't tight enough to cause discomfort. He'd puzzled over it for a moment before being forced to walk to his cell. There wasn't room for anything but the pain after that. And when he got to the cell, he understood only too well what was supposed to happen.

    There was a new, thick-linked chain attached to the back wall. The bottom loop of the belt was pulled through a slot in the band around his waist, and the chain was locked to it. The chain wasn't long enough for him to do anything but stand, and if his legs buckled, it wouldn't be his waist absorbing his weight. No doubt Zuultah was being oiled and massaged while she waited for his scream of agony.

    That wasn't reason enough to cry.

    Slime mold had begun forming on his wings. Without a cleansing by a Healer, it would spread and spread until his wings were nothing more than greasy strings of membranous skin hanging from the frame. He couldn't spread his wings in the salt mine without being whipped, and now his hands were chained behind his back each night, locking his wings tight against a body coated with salt dust and dripping with sweat.

    He'd told Daemon once he would rather lose his balls than his wings, and he had meant it.

    But that wasn't reason enough to cry.

    He hadn't seen the sun in over a year. Except for the few precious minutes each day when he was led from his cell to the salt mines and back again, he hadn't breathed clean air or felt a breeze against his skin. His world had become two dark, stinking holes—and a covered courtyard where he was stretched out on the stones and regularly beaten.

    But that wasn't reason enough to cry.

    He'd been punished before, beaten before, whipped before, locked in dark cells before. He'd been sold into service to cruel, twisted witches before. He'd always responded by fighting with all the savagery within him, becoming such a destructive force they'd send him back to Askavi in order to survive.

    He hadn't once tried to escape from Pruul, hadn't once unleashed his volatile temper to rend and tear and destroy. Not that many years ago, Zuultah's and the guards' blood would have been splashed over the walls of this place and he would have stood in the rubble filling the night with an Eyrien battle cry of victory.

    But that was when he'd still believed in the myth, the dream. That was when he'd still believed that one day he would meet the Queen who would accept him, understand him, value him. Meeting her had been his dream, a sweet, ever-blooming flower in his soul. The Lady of the Black Mountain. The Queen of Ebon Askavi. Witch.

    Then the dream became flesh—and Daemon killed her.

    That was reason to grieve. For the loss of the Lady he'd ached to serve, for the loss of the one man he thought he could trust.

    Now there was only an emptiness, a despair so deep it covered his soul like the slime mold was covering his wings.

    There was only one dream left.

    The ache in his chest finally eased. Lucivar swallowed the last sob and opened his eyes.

    He'd always known where he wanted to die and how he wanted to die. And it wasn't in the salt mines of Pruul.

    Lucivar's legs vibrated from the strain. He sank his teeth into his lower lip until it bled. A couple more hours and the guards would release him to take him to the salt mines. More pain, more suffering.

    He would whimper a little, cringe a little. Next week he would cringe a little more when a guard approached. Little by little they would forget what should never be forgotten about him. And then . . .

    Lucivar smiled, his lips smeared with blood.

    There was still a reason to live.

    6 / Terreille

    Dorothea SaDiablo stared at her Master of the Guard. "What do you mean you've called off the search?"

    "He's not in Hayll, Priestess," Lord Valrik replied. "My men and I have searched every barn, every cottage, every Blood and landen village. We've been down every alley in every city. Daemon Sadi is not in Hayll,has not been in Hayll. I would stake my career on it."

    Then you've lost."You called off the search without my consent."

    "Priestess, I'd give my life for you, but we've been chasing shadows. No one has seen him, Blood or landens. The men are weary. They need to be home with their families for a while."

    "And ten months from now an army of mewling brats will be testimony to how weary your men are."

    Valrik didn't answer.

    Dorothea paced, tapping her fingertips against her chin. "So he isn't in Hayll. Start searching the neighboring Territories and—"

    "We've no right to make such a search in another Territory."

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