It is the coppery tang of blood that wakes me or, at least, the very first thing I notice when the sweet reprieve of unconsciousness abandons me and I stir again. The metallic bite reminds me, in an instant, of long, terrible years. Of cruel masters and unwarranted disciplines, of learning things the very hard way, and sometimes learning them again. For a moment I'm that stolen child again, small and terrified in inky blackness, completely uncertain about the future.
It passes. It always does.
The ground beneath me jostles, and as I coax weary eyelids open, I realize that it is no ground at all. Though the days of hanging in the meat market have ended, mercifully, my entire body aches for the experience. I've known worse, but that doesn't ease stiff muscle and sore bone. I had expected to find myself in a cell somewhere, surrounded by concrete and hopelessness. Instead I am in some sort of transport, a moving vehicle that has only one high window, through which waning sunlight streams in. The air is dusty, dry, and when I lick a my thirsty lips it burns like fire.
The pain brings to my recollection the incredibly close brush I had with escape, and the terrible beating that followed. It also chases away the last remnants of rest, if one could call it that, and I'm woefully alert, pained by every jostle. I bite back a groan, because I've been trained to keep silent, and attempt to sit up. When I reach my elbow, I feel accomplished. I hurt. Sitting upright unsupported is a major milestone, and I wheeze over the exertion it took. Recovery isn't nearly as quick as I'd like, as I expect from myself, but I am dehydrated and starving, beaten and exhausted. I haven't slept properly in weeks, nor had more than the crumbs required to keep me from starving to death in just as long.
A jostle near the bolted doors draws my attention, mercifully diverting me from the mental catalog I am making of my injuries.
A Keeper, though I cannot see their face. I hope it is not the woman with the golden hair and eyes like the sky. She is beautiful, and devastatingly cruel.
"Water," I try to demand, but my voice is hoarse and broken. It sounds like a plea, but I'm too tired to despise myself for that token of weakness. I am nothing, only a slave, and they can watch me die at their leisure if it pleases them. I have leverage now, though, no matter how small.
He wants me.
I have no idea what worth he sees in my emaciating form. I cannot imagine his purposes. I only know the pressure of his hands, assessing me, and the easy way he possessed me with mere words.
This one will do.
They tried to argue, seeing perhaps something he could not. I am broken, weary of this long road that has led me from my mother's lap and the freedom of the sea to the cool collar and relentless chains. They called him Sir.
Whoever he is, he has their respect, perhaps even their fear. And he has chosen me. Perhaps I should be frightened of that unknowing, but I cannot think beyond the immediate urgency of my thirst.
I say it louder, earn a derisive snort, but they concede. A cool, steel bottle skids across the floor and my chains rattle heavily as I grapple for it. It nearly escapes clumsy, damaged fingers, and I am a madman, fighting ghosts over a drop of water. When at last the vessel is safe in my palms, I drink. The water is stale and slightly bitter, but I can't bring myself to care. It is more refreshing than I could have even imagined, and when I am convinced that the last drop is gone, I drop it to the floor. It clanks loudly, earning me a rough jerk on the shackle attached to my ankle.
"Ungrateful shit," he curses. At least it isn't the doe-eyed devil, but instead a plain man I've never seen before.
Feeling perhaps too emboldened by that sip of water, I sneer at him, though I'm clearly at the disadvantage. He curses again, and pulls hard on the same chain. It throws my balance off so that I hit my back on the cool metal floor beneath me, and suddenly I'm being pulled towards him. He is slow, and so I manage to land a solid kick upwards into the soft flesh of his stomach. A great gush of air escapes him, a pained hiss, and I can feel his fury radiating off of him, filling the small quarters in which we are trapped.
I've killed men for the amusement of others, often with my bare hands. In any other circumstance, I could take this miserable ass who comes at me with all of his weight and absolutely no strategy. Today, though, he has the upper hand. I am weak and beaten already, and he has the benefit of chains and cuffs. Still, I give him a decent battle as we scuffle across the transport floor. I don't even notice that we've stopped until the doors swing open. It is moonlight, now, that floods in, and the handler scrambles to distance himself from me. I glower after him, but slowly edge myself backwards towards the far corner, like some pathetic beast.
I despise what I've become.
I know that voice, low and serious, but the full moon casts her silvery arms around the world behind him, so that his face is bathed in shadow. Still I cannot see.
I have no where else to go, no further overtures to make, but the handler seems properly chastised, and when he jumps down out of the back of the truck, I think I see a bead of scarlet on his lower lip.
At least I can be satisfied with that. Blood for blood, after all.