WindVerse, Book Ten.
Riezell Guardian Major Dominia Alamaine has heard about the celebrated sexual prowess of Jaegar Rosakaris. The an Tuirc prince's cock is legendary and she's anxious to experience it firsthand. But the mating doesn't quite go as planned. Her love 'em and leave 'em attitude won't work this time since fate throws a monkey wrench in the gears by bonding the two as eternal mates.
Jaegar isn't that upset about the bonding. In fact, he's rather pleased with the situation. Domi is a gorgeous woman with a laser-hot body, sultry lips and a mind as sharp as an assassin's dagger. With her at his side, he won't mind taking over the rule of his home world. But his mother has very lethal plans for the woman he wants to be his bride. And though love hits Jaegar hard, it's hatred that will ruin his young life and make it a living hell.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Catch the Wind by Charlotte Boyett-Compo
Lieutenant Colonel Dominia Alamaine rolled her shoulders against the unease that had settled upon them like a heavy wet wool blanket. Eyes and nostrils stinging, she squinted against the noxious fumes wafting up from below the floor of the mesh iron cage of the elevator. The piercing shriek of the rusted chains on the lowering cage combined with the stench of escaping methane gas was giving her a brutal headache. She put up a hand to rub at the sharp stab of agony over her right eye.
"This is your first visit to our facility, isn't it, Colonel?" the warden asked. "We don't get many visitors, you know." He blotted his sweaty face with a handkerchief. In the glow from the phospho lamps attached to the inside of the cage, his porcine face had taken on a bluish cast that reminded her of bloated corpses she'd seen on battlefields.
"How many prisoners are incarcerated here?" Emissary Santos Delgado inquired. The representative from the United Court of Justice on an tSualainn shot Dominia a meaningful look for not even the UCJ knew how many men and women were being held at Utuk Xul.
"More than our share," Warden Xaphan replied dryly. He turned to the emissary. "But we have plenty of room for many more if need be."
Spying a luminescent marking on the black craggy wall of the shaft down which they were traveling, Dominia's unease increased. They were already at the fifteen-hundred-yard mark and when she looked down, there was nothing but blackness below the platform of the cage. The farther down they went, the worse her headache since the atmospheric pressure was hundreds of times greater than up top. She knew the vertical shaft was at least five thousand yards deep but possibly even deeper. Just as with the count of prisoners at the maximum-security installation, such data had never been made available. However, she had been told it was believed the main levels of the penal colony stretched across thirty-two hundred yards of a complex network of limestone galleries and tubes and there was a sublevel beneath where the worst offenders were kept. Four hundred and seventy yards of passageways had been mapped and surveyed officially, but it was thought there were many hundreds more.
She shivered for the air was getting colder the lower they went.
"Forty-nine degrees," the warden informed her upon seeing her shiver again. "You are from Bandar, aren't you, Colonel?"
Dominia shifted her gaze to the fat man, striving to stifle still another shiver. "I am. What of it?"
"You're not accustomed to such low temperatures," the fat man stated.
"I trained on the Plaines of Gesch�ft for two weeks," she snapped. "I can handle the cold."
"But you'll never get used to it, eh?" A flicker of a smile spread over the warden's pudgy face. "We have two other hell hags working here. They..."
The words were no sooner past the man's rubbery lips before Dominia sprang at him--arching her hand beneath the multiple folds of sagging skin under his weak chin to grasp his neck. She backed him against the mesh wall of the cage and pinned him there.
"Use that derogatory term again and I'll snap your neck like a gods-be-damned twig!" she said. She shook him like a cat with a mouse. "Are we clear?"
"Perfectly!" the warden squeaked. His eyes were wide in his flaccid face and when she released him, he took a few steps back from the tall Bandarian warrioress.
"I believe she prefers to be called a Daughter of the Night," the emissary quipped, striving to keep from breaking into a smile. "They all do."
"Aye, indeed," the warden said as he massaged his throat. He eyed her warily, bringing up his handkerchief to scrub at his oily face.
Switching her attention to the emissary, Dominia enunciated each word clearly. "I prefer to be called a Riezell Guardian for that is what I was before I retired," she stated then lifted her chin. "The honor is still mine--retired or not."
"Of course, Colonel," the emissary agreed, bobbing his head. "It is, indeed, very much an honor to be among the cadre of Guardians."
At the rear of the elevator, the two burly guards who had accompanied them snickered. When she slowly swiveled her head in their direction, twin sneers vanished like morning mist from their beefy faces and hard eyes lowered before the deadly onslaught of the Guardian's sharp stare.
Emitting an irritated exhalation of breath, Dominia returned her attention to the rough walls of the shaft just as they passed the three-thousand-yard level. The throbbing between her temples and the ungodly stabbing pain above her right eye had doubled in intensity. She had to force herself not to rub at the agony.
"I heard there was an execution here last week," the emissary commented.
The warden nodded. "A mass murderer from Sauria," he replied. "He opted for lethal injection, though if it had been left up to me, I would have fried his reptilian ass."
"Draqu Avat�s, wasn't it?" Dominia asked, and when the warden acknowledged that had been the man executed, she snorted. "I would have impaled his scaly asshole with a dull pike, ran it out his mouth and left him to cure in the hot sun."
Though the emissary winced at the bloodthirsty description, the warden laughed. "Aye, well, sometimes the United Court of Justice binds our hands so we cannot exact the punishment these miscreants deserve," he said. "Allowing them to choose their form of execution should not be permitted."
"No criminal--no matter the crime--deserves cruel and unusual punishment," the emissary was quick to point out. "That is part of the Charter of Planets signed by the Burgon and ratified--"
"Had it been one of your teenage daughters Avat�s savaged with his dual cocks, I think you'd feel differently," Dominia interrupted.
"I've no doubt he would," the warden agreed. "I read the transcript of the Saurian's trial." He shuddered. "As hardened as I have become to the crimes these reprobates commit topside, even I was sickened by what Avat�s did to his victims before he allowed them to die."
Dominia almost groaned as the elevator passed the six-thousand-yard mark and there was still unrelieved black beneath the cage. A slow, simmering anger was beginning to replace the irritation.
"We've not far to go now," the warden said as though he sensed her impatience.
"Is this the only way down to the main level?" the emissary inquired.
"For security reasons it is," the warden answered, "and there will be a score of heavily armed guards at the bottom, just as there were at the top. Each man carries a laser carbine. They have orders to shoot to kill. If a prisoner attempts escape, it is the last thing he or she will ever do."
"How many have tried?" Dominia asked.
"Since I have been at the helm--and that is fifteen years now--nary a single one has been so foolish."
"And has anyone ever been paroled from this facility?" Dominia asked with a snort.
"I am happy to report the answer is no. We are sent the worst of the worst, Colonel," the warden stated. "These are the dregs of the megaversal societies, the mass murderers, the serial killers, the child molesters and sick degenerates of the lowest order. Trust me. You do not want such criminals returned to society."
"So what exactly did Kanvar Barda do to wind up here?" she demanded.
The warden straightened his round shoulders. "I am not at liberty to discuss his case with you, Colonel. His record is sealed." He squeezed his shoulders together. "As are all the records of our inmates."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" she queried, relieved to see a flicker of light below them. The elevator slowed.
"Frankly, I am surprised he is being released," the warden continued. "From all I know of him, he is a very dangerous man."
"More dangerous than you know," Dominia mumbled. She staggered as the cage came to an abrupt halt a goodly distance from the cave floor. Looking down through the iron mesh, she saw several guards staring up at them--carbines at the ready.
"Forest gnome," the warden called down then explained that was the code of the day to let the guards know all was well.
The cage lowered again and settled with a gentle clank. A titanium ramp was extended to the cage, hooked into two slots along the front of the elevator floor and a guard crossed over it to unlock the heavy padlock that had been applied topside to secure the cage door.
"You take no chances," the emissary commented.
"We can't afford to," the warden replied. He swept a hand before him to indicate Dominia was to precede him.
Feeling on edge with the laser carbines aimed at her--the steady red beams pointed at her head--Dominia stepped from the cage, glancing down at the sheer drop over which she passed. Out of habit, her hand went to her hip where her own laser pistol should have been. She frowned when she remembered she was weaponless. Forced to relinquish the pistol as well as the laser whip and onyx-bladed dagger that were her stock in trade before being allowed into Utuk Xul, she felt even more naked now than she had an hour earlier when relieved of her armament.
A rail-thin man came hurrying forward, his face set in a tight scowl. The guards moved back as though they would be contaminated should they come into contact with his person.
"My sub-warden," the warden explained. "He is not the friendliest of men and the guards do not care for him, but he gets the job done."
"How do the prisoners feel regarding him?" the emissary inquired, his head swiveling from side to side as he watched shadowy figures moving about at the periphery of the stone chamber into which he walked.
"Their feelings do not concern us, Emissary," the warden said with a sniff.
"Warden Xaphan, you are late," the thin man snapped as he reached them. "We expected you half an hour ago."
"The release papers were not in order," the warden said, sending a quick look to Dominia. "A few changes had to be made."
The thin man lifted his chin. "What changes?" he asked, his tone conveying his anger.
"None that concern you," Dominia said and, when the bony sub-warden turned a nasty glare upon her, arched her brow as though daring him to voice his irritation.
Sub-warden Sheol's upper lip twitched before he deliberately looked away from the colonel. He held out an emaciated hand. "The papers," he demanded.
Warden Xaphan reached into the breast pocket of his royal blue uniform and pulled out the release papers, wincing as they were snatched out of his hands.
"If things are not in order, there will be no release today," the sub-warden declared.
Dominia had to bite her tongue to keep from lashing out at the officious little bastard. As he flipped through the papers--his beady eyes getting hotter and hotter with fury as he searched for that one loophole, one error that would deny the prisoner's release--she dug her fingernails into her palms to refrain from laughing. When the sub-warden reached the last page, he snapped his head up. There was unconcealed wrath emblazoned on his pinched face.
"I want to go on record as saying this is an ill-advised and exceedingly foolhardy disaster, Warden Xaphan!" he snarled.
"So noted," the warden acknowledged.
"Ah, where is the prisoner?" the emissary inquired. He ran a finger beneath his collar, his Adam's apple jumping as the sub-warden impaled him with a furious glower.
"In his cell where he belongs!" the sub-warden replied.
"You were told to have him here and ready to go," Dominia stated. When the skeletal face whipped toward hers, she smiled for there was rage and lethal ferocity in the thin man's glare.
"This is a mistake!" the sub-warden shouted. He started to say something else but found his throat locked in the iron grip of the woman who pushed him backward until he was pressed against rough timber.
"Don't ever raise your voice to me, you pompous little turd!" she warned. She dug her thumb into his carotid artery. "Do you understand?"
The sub-warden stared into her eyes and Dominia was surprised that he was neither intimidated nor afraid of her. His thin lips pulled back into a grimace of disdain, but he made no move to extract himself from her grip. He stood stock-still, never breaking eye contact. She watched his nostrils flare and stepped back, releasing him. When he did not cough from the brutal pressure she had applied or reach up to rub his bruised throat, she was forced to begrudgingly admire his courage.
"You will rue having released him," Sub-warden Sheol said, directing his prediction to the warden. "He will come after us. Mark my words."
"What have you done to him to warrant that happening?" the emissary asked. He looked from the silent sub-warden to the warden. "It is against the penal code to use torture or--"
Dominia snorted, her rolling eyes and shaking head leaving no doubt as to what she thought of the emissary's statement. She glared at the sub-warden. "Take us to him," she ordered, and when the man did not seem inclined to move, she narrowed her eyes. "Now!"
The sub-warden flicked his eyes to one of the guards and nodded. He said nothing, pushing from the rock wall. He straightened his uniform tunic, brushed his hands down the front then pivoted on his heel and walked off without a backward glance.
"That's the way to win friends and influence enemies," Dominia mumbled, and heard one of the nearby guards snickering.
"If you will come with us, Colonel," the guard to whom the sub-warden had looked spoke up.
"Where's his cell?" she asked as the man headed for the elevator.
"On the lowest level," the guard replied.
"Well, of course it is," she said on a long, annoyed sigh.
* * * * *
Jaegar Rozakaris watched the scrawny, flea-infested rat as it scurried across the iron floor. It stopped to scratch industriously behind its tiny ear then lowered its twitching nose to the ground again as it searched for food. Little things like the visit of the rodent fascinated him. Locked in solitary confinement, he'd been without human companionship for years, so the smallest diversion from his dark, lonely and silent world was greatly appreciated. When the rat lifted its head, aimed its unwavering gaze at Jaegar then rose up on its haunches, he shrugged.
"Sorry. There wasn't anything left," Jaegar said.
The rat stayed perched on his hind end for a moment longer before it scampered away, fleeing back into the crack or crevice from which it had materialized.
Sighing loudly, Jaegar laid his head against the cold, damp metal wall of his cell. He closed his eyes with the express purpose of transporting his mind as far from the dank, filthy cell as he could get it. However, that wasn't to be. Try as hard as he might, he couldn't dredge up anything that resembled freedom, and he opened his eyes again, sighing tiredly.
"Even my memories are leaving me," he complained.
The stench from the slop bucket sitting on its platform two feet from him didn't help. Normally the bucket was lifted up through the six-inch hole in the ceiling of his cell every morning, emptied then returned to him, but that hadn't been the case today. As best as he could tell, it was almost time for his one meal of the day--lowered in a double bucket-like utensil that housed tepid, sulfur-laced water atop whatever glop was being served as nourishment--yet the bucket with his shit and piss still sat where he'd placed it. His stomach growled as the thought of food--no matter how unpalatable it might be--gnawed at his peace of mind.
It occurred to him as he stared at the offensive bucket that perhaps they had decided to starve him for a few days just for the hell of it. As punishments went, that wasn't much in comparison to the other things they'd done to him over the years, but it was bad enough. The only bright spot in his dark-stained world was that meager helping of watery gruel or bland porridge. While he sat cross-legged, dipping his dirty fingers with their chewed fingernails into the bucket, he had hope he'd live one more day.
Now he wasn't so sure.
Maybe they weren't punishing him but planning on starving him to death.
Not a good way to go, he thought, although as malnourished and thin as he knew himself to be, it wouldn't take all that long to turn his living death into a true one.
He looked up at the tiny infrared light that blinked above the door to his cell. The camera and microphone were on 24/7. The night-vision capabilities recorded every move, every sound he made, and someone, somewhere within the facility was monitoring him at that very moment.
"Piss needs emptying," he said, "and I'm hungry."
Not that anyone would come any quicker because he dared to complain. If anything, they'd probably take even longer now.
He shrugged and put up an iron-manacled hand to scratch under his chin. Once in a while--and he never knew when that was going to be, though he thought it might be every six weeks or so--they put something in his water that knocked him completely out. When he woke, he would be clean-shaven and bathed, his ragged prison uniform replaced with a cleaner, if not better one. Yesterday had been one of those days.
That furtive handling bothered him more than his imprisonment. It hurt him more than the pain they had inflicted early on. The prophets only knew what else they did to him while he was unconscious. Just thinking of the eyes seeing him naked, the hands touching him, bathing him, cutting his hair and shaving him sent shudders of revulsion down his spine. If such insidious doings were meant to intimidate him, they surely did. He loathed being touched by the unknown.
A little noise in the corner of his cell made him turn his head. The rat was back and had brought a friend.
"No," Jaegar said, shaking his head. "You aren't going to take a few nibbles out of me for shits and giggles. Go away and take your buddy with you." He moved his shackled foot, but the rodents made no effort to flee. They sat in the corner and stared balefully at him with their wiry whiskers twitching.
If he'd been entirely human, he wouldn't have been able to see so clearly in the pitch darkness that filled his cell from one wall to the other. He wouldn't have been able to hear the quiet intake and expulsion of air from the rats' tiny lungs. His nostrils would not have been as sensitive to the musky rodent scent.
A muted clang brought his head up slowly. He turned his eyes to the ceiling, but the chain attached to the handle of the slop bucket hadn't moved. Another sound lowered his head and swiveled it toward the thick iron door. Such sounds were never heard and that meant only one thing--someone was coming.
He cocked his head to one side, listened intently. He sniffed the air.
Four distinct smells washed over him, bombarded his senses.
His eyebrows slashed together. Deep furrows appeared over his nose as he drew in the scents once more, testing the air just as the rats were doing.
Four smells. Three were male.
The three male scents he didn't care about, but the fourth scent--
He inhaled deeply, too overwhelmed with that scent, too stunned by it to react to the scrape of feet outside his cell, the mumble of voices pitched low, the sound of a key grating in the door lock.
He could feel the accelerated thunder of his heart as the lock disengaged, the rusted hinges began to shriek.
Light blinded him as the door creaked open to allow lantern light to flood the cell. The heavy chain attached to his wrist clanked against the wall. He threw up his arm to block the harsh intrusion that was painful in its intensity then turned his face aside, closing his eyes. The beam of light drove through his head like the blade of a hot dagger.
"Turn that light down!"
It was a voice he had never expected to ever hear again--speaking with authority he knew all too well--and as the light decreased, he slowly lowered his arm, squinting as he wedged his eyelids open to stare disbelievingly at the two people who had entered his hateful world.
He couldn't speak. He didn't dare. Though her back was to the light, her eyes in shadow, there was no doubt in his mind who she was when she dropped to a squat beside him.
"Milord?" she repeated, and he hated the pity he heard in her voice. When she put out a hand to touch him, he cringed, sliding as far along the wall as his restraints would allow.
He heard her whip around, felt the air as it was displaced, drew in the scent of her righteous anger as it was expelled alongside a demand to know what they had done to him.
"He's shackled hand, foot and neck to that goddess-be-damned wall like a dog!" she exploded. "Where the hell did you think he could go?"
"He is a Shadowlord," the warden protested. "If he isn't chained with iron, he can use his powers to--"
"He is in an iron-sheathed cell!" she shouted, slapping her hand against the wall so loudly Jaegar winced. "His powers are nullified in here. Those shackles are meant to torture and humiliate him!" She moved so quickly the warden had no time to jump back, coming toe-to-toe with him, her lips drawn back over her teeth. "What other evil shit have you done to him?"
"He hasn't been t-touched!" the warden stuttered. "As you can see we cleaned him up."
"Look at him!" she snarled, and shame ratcheted through Jaegar. "You call that not being touched? There are scars all over him!"
He hid his face against the wall, pressed his cheek to the cold metal wall for he had no idea how he looked. From the quiver in her voice, he knew it must be bad.
"T-they'll heal, won't t-they?" the warden asked, his voice quivering. "Once he has his powers back. They'll--"
"Unlock those gods-be-damned irons!" she said. "Get those things off him before I strangle you with my bare hands, you son of donkey semen!"
Once more the air moved around him, and he felt her withdrawing, getting to her feet, moving aside for the hated guard. He heard the unknown man speaking softly to her, but his heart was beating so fast, so hard he couldn't make out the words. He could not believe she was here--that any of them were. By his reckoning, it had been seven, maybe eight, years since he'd last seen a human face, heard a human voice, felt hands on him. He had to bite the inside of his mouth to keep from crying out as the guard knelt down in front of him to unlock the shackle from his ankle for the iron had long since bitten into his flesh, almost melded with it. As the band came away, he could not keep the groan of pain from coming, and she pounded on that, whirling around so quickly the guard had no time to spring back before she backhanded him aside.
"How dare you hurt him!" she shouted. "Give me those fucking keys!"
He didn't want her to unlock the manacles circling his wrists. He didn't want her flesh to touch his. Despite the bath, the shave, he felt things crawling on him, and he didn't want her contaminated by the contact. As she hunkered down at his side, laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, he tried to shy away from her touch, quivering like a leaf in a hard wind.
"I'll be gentle, warrior," she said softly. "I swear it."
He couldn't help himself. He was drowning in the sweet waves of her soft voice, helpless to ignore the gentle pressure on his shoulder. Breathing freely for the first time in years as she unlocked the heavy iron collar from around his neck, he felt as though he could float up through the ceiling. Slowly--infinitely so--he turned his head toward her. The unknown man standing behind her now held the lantern and its light fell fully on the most beautiful face in the whole of the megaverse. His throat closed as he looked into the tearful green eyes of the only woman he'd ever loved.