Author's Note: The premise: A dark, sinister tale of harsh injustice and vengeance in the medieval era. Loyalties will be tested, limits will be pushed, and lechery will run rampant - nothing is sacred in this supernatural tale of sexual depravity.
Prologue: Plunged Into Pain
A young woman swayed gently through the dank air of the cold dungeon cell. She was suspended by her ankles above a large clear cistern, her bare feet spread and locked against the cold stone ceiling by thick chains and heavy shackles. Her long crimson hair dangled just above the glistening pool, though it was already damp from the moist subterranean air around her. She could see her reflection in the glassy surface below: a pale girl stared back, her emerald-green eyes sparkling with unshed tears, her countenance shivering with apprehension yet wearing the stoic expression of one who refused to give in to her fear. The only light in the dim cell came from two wall-mounted candles whose flames cast a soft glow across the girl's naked form. Her chiselled figure and shapely curves taunted her, serving as unwelcome reminders of a time long past - a time when she would do the teasing and her body was revered as divine, not strung up like some hunk of meat.
The woman was not alone, of course. Someone had bound her there, and that someone was pacing around the giant glass box wearing a menacing grin. He was a handsome man who clearly possessed considerable wealth and power, but the girl knew little else about her sadistic captor.
Satisfied with his handiwork, he began turning a crank on the wall, revealing the purpose of his latest contraption. The girl glanced up as the chains securing her ankles to the stone ceiling began to clink through their fixtures, lowering her slowly into the looming cistern. She leaned forwards, lifting her head up higher the further she descended. Soon her back was parallel with the dark surface and just inches above it. She shook her wrists in their restraints, only now realising why they'd been shackled so tightly together - were her arms not trapped behind her, she could have held her thighs for support. Instead, her slim waist was burning with the effort of keeping her torso horizontal, and the only reprieve was to dunk her head into the drink.
This she did reluctantly, cursing her predicament as her head and chest went under. She gasped, releasing a few precious bubbles of air - the water was ice-cold. While it felt blissfully soothing against her burning abdominal muscles, another part of her body was now on fire: her lungs. After just a few seconds of respite she tore herself back out of the tank, gasping for air.
When her abdomen again seared with exertion she went back under, opening her eyes in the water to quell the claustrophobia-inducing darkness. She could faintly see a blurred man pacing around her icy prison as he watched the light wash away slowly from her ocean green eyes. She might be the one in the frigid water, but it was his heart that exuded true cold.
Her long ruby locks drifted freely through the water around her, bestowing a ghostly appearance to the woman so desperately fighting to stay alive.
Her captor watched as her struggles dragged on, occasionally reaching up to spin her luscious body or tease that taut navel. What was a life-and-death struggle for her was prime entertainment for him. Her body was his plaything; her pain his pleasure; her despair his delight. But while the girl in the tank regarded him as a mere sadist, there was more to him than that, for he was in fact an immortal creature of the night. A vampire with a particularly kinky personality, as it happened. If there was a scale from ordinary to sadist, he'd break it.
In truth, it was her hair - of all things - that had drawn him to her, for the ancient vampire had heard there was power unlike any other in those rare women of blood-red hair. It was a scarce trait and he greedily acquired all who possessed it. Sadly he'd yet to discover any power beyond the power to amuse him, and even the girls themselves seemed to have no knowledge of their alleged power. At least he'd found other uses for his sexy mortal subjects.
The vampire sighed and slipped his fingers between the struggling girl's parted legs. It was such a frustrating existence sometimes.
Chapter I: Beneficiaries and Beguilers
It was a cold night in the rustic village of Lumina. The locals liked to call it the city of light, yet nothing could be further from the truth: it was a small town with fewer residents than trees, and nights that were darker than anywhere else. The shadowy alleyways attracted equally dark individuals - it was not uncommon for unlucky townsfolk to go missing entirely. The authorities were either ignorant or incompetent - or both - for nothing was ever done about these disappearances. It was perhaps because of this that there was a sombre aura over the village, clinging to its inhabitants like an ill omen. Whispers, rumours, and old wives' tales slithered through the community, leaving fear and superstition in their wake.
One place where mirth always found a foothold, however, was the village tavern. On a night such as this, the hearth was ablaze and there were sloshing mugs aplenty. No one blinked an eyelid when the door creaked open to admit another patron, but heads soon turned as the newcomer strolled over to the counter. His clothes were a fine linen, rich with vibrant dyes and spotlessly clean - a stark contrast to the squalid garments of the locals. What such a decorous gentleman was doing in a lowly tavern was anyone's guess. And no answer was forthcoming: the man simply stood quietly by the counter, his eyes sliding around the room.
Next to the royally-dressed patron a woman was slouched over the bench, an untouched ale loose in her hands. She was not an eminently attractive woman - at least, not in her current impoverished state - but nonetheless, there were distinctive features about her that bespoke a more exotic lineage. Her wispy silver eyes were slanted and almond-shaped, a subtle departure from the round brown eyes of the other patrons around her. Her hair was a sanguine red, as vibrant in colour as the newcomer's clothing, although rendered a tangled mess from poverty and neglect. Her skin tone was remarkably well-bronzed for a citizen of Lumina: a detail that, to any sober local, would immediately betray her exotic descent. Fortunately the tavern was one place where sober locals were a rarity, for Lumina was not well-reputed for its benevolence towards foreigners. But none of this mattered to the princely newcomer, who scarcely knew Luminese from Latino, for he was not the sort of man who frequently mingled with common folk. He simply saw a young woman of uncommon beauty alone at the counter, and this was enough to catch his eye.
The man straightened up and nudged her shoulder. She turned and smiled, apparently brimming with barely-concealed ecstasy at being touched by such affluence. They exchanged a few quick sentences. Her name was Anna; his Richard. He spoke with eloquence and respect: two qualities that did wonders in quickly elevating her opinion of him. They shared little in common, so their exchange was brief, but after a few amiable laughs Anna secured herself a generous dinner invitation. The patrons near enough to follow this conversation turned and stared at the unlikely couple. It was something every impoverished low-towner heard tales about, dreamt about, fantasised about - but few had ever seen it happen. Anna's face burned with the sudden attention, but Richard seemed unfazed. He offered to convey her to his estate; she hastily accepted, and they left the dank alehouse hand-in-hand, every eye following them out the door.
Outside the grubby tavern, the cobbled streets were silent and still. Richard's carriage awaited them, drawn by two gleaming black steeds shaking their manes against the chill. They boarded and kicked off, trotting out of the dreary village and into the countryside. Anna could see nothing outside the red velvet curtains of the carriage, so when they finally came to a stop and disembarked, she gasped in surprise. Gone were the dejected structures of the poor township of Lumina; in their place stood an opulent mansion, complete with two towering spires rising from the steep roof. There were four floors and more windows than she could count. A set of carved stone steps led to a pair of large double doors at the front entrance.
"-home," finished Richard, smiling slightly at her speechlessness. "Now, let us see if we can lend you a more flattering image. Ripper!"
Ripper was a manservant, it seemed, because at that moment one of the thick doors swung open and an enormous man hurried out. His hulking frame was covered in muscle, his neck as thick as a bull's, and he stood a head taller than the delicate village girl. Like Anna, it was clear from his complexion that he was no local - but while her skin was merely a swarthy bronze, his was darker than a starless night sky. Anna wondered briefly how he'd acquired such a name, but quickly decided she didn't want to know.
"Welcome home, master." The manservant's booming voice shook the awed girl back to her senses. He didn't even look at her as he awaited Richard's orders.
"Please ensure our guest is properly prepared for dinner."
Still without so much as glancing at her, Ripper simply grunted, "Follow," and turned to lead her into the mansion. The building's interior was every bit as luxurious as the grandeur outside had suggested. The foyer itself was larger than the entire tavern she'd been brought from, with a grand staircase dominating the centre of the room. As she skipped to keep up with Ripper's long strides, her footsteps echoed softly through the silent hall. The manservant led her to a pristine bathroom complete with a large copper bathtub and a silver mirror with the clearest reflection Anna had ever seen. He closed the door and left her.
Anna stepped up to the polished mirror and marvelled at the clarity of the reflection. The image itself disgusted her, however - her hair and clothes were encrusted with muck and her skin fared little better. Only her pale silver eyes were clean - she had to wonder what Richard could have seen in her. She turned to the bathtub and spun the ivory handle on the faucet, again amazed by how clean and swiftly the water flowed. She'd only ever bathed in public bathhouses before, and the quality of water there left much to be desired... not to mention the low-lifes who would grope at any girl their muddy hands could reach. But now she had a whole room to herself, and she going to make good use of it.
The woman who emerged from the deep basin some time later barely resembled the one who had entered. As the opaque bathwater was sucked away, Anna stood before the mirror and admired her new reflection. Gone were the coarse rags, revealing a figure of smooth bronze she hadn't seen in years. She'd rinsed all the dirt from her thick red hair, though the strands themselves would not stay straight, leaving her with a head of long wavy locks that gleamed in the light. But the most dramatic change was in her visage - no longer was she a dusty pauper begging for admittance to a drab tavern; she was a radiant beauty, a sylphy bachelorette who'd have men all over her... On second thought, perhaps it would be best to roll in some mud again before returning to the village. But she might as well enjoy cleanliness while she could.
To her delight, Anna found a clean set of clothes folded in the corner - the kind only the most wealthy women could afford. After some fiddling with laces and straps, she put them on - kirtle, corset, and all - and left her old clothes in a muddy pile as she made for the door. The clothes were somewhat uncomfortable, especially the corset, but for any discomfort she felt she had to concede that the attire bestowed upon her an air of resplendence - not to mention how the red satin corset was such a flawless match for her crimson hair. She'd seen rich women wearing such clothes before and scoffed at them, but now that she wore them herself she realised they were actually rather empowering. She felt valued.
Ripper was waiting patiently outside the door to lead her to the dining hall. She was slightly unsettled by his constant presence, but it was probably just normal behaviour for a servant. When they arrived at dinner, Richard was there waiting. The table was set for two, but there was no food there yet.
"Soap and water have never had a more exalting influence," he commented, smiling appreciatively.
"You have fine taste in women's clothing," simpered Anna as she sat.
"Not my taste, but that of my late wife, I confess," chuckled Richard. "I daresay they are not quite contemporary by the standards of modern fashion, but you bear the garments magnificently. Now, food! I believe that time has come." He gestured to his manservant, who hurried off into the kitchen.
The food arrived, and it was as succulent as she could have imagined. There were dishes she'd never even seen before, including bulbous vegetables, sweet bread, delicate meats, and more spices than she could possibly make use of. Her conduct was less than dignified in her enthusiasm for a decent meal, and Richard watched with amusement, scarcely touching his own plate. When she finished she felt like she could have had more, but no second helpings were offered.
"If that was a race, I believe you took first place," smiled her host. "Ripper, please see the lady to my chambers. I will join her shortly."
The manservant inclined his head and led Anna back towards the main hall. Where she expected to ascend the grand staircase to one of the upper floors, he instead led her through a side passage where they took some stone steps down to a cold subterranean level. Goosebumps sprung up all over her freshly-cleansed skin. She felt uneasy here, and not just because of the drop in temperature, but she trusted the servant to know where he was going.
Soon enough they arrived at a regally-furnished bedchamber. A large pristine four-poster stood against the windowless wall, rich velvet curtains pulled back at the corners. The room was equipped as one might expect of nobility: a writing desk and padded chairs here; a great bookshelf there; a needlessly-gilded dresser in another corner. Most curious was the thick mahogany wardrobe door on the left side of the room. Anna imagined a hoard of radiant raiments lay behind it, but it seemed odd to have such a sturdy deterrent to so trivial a closet. And that wasn't the only thing amiss - if this was Richard's room, why was the bed so neat? There was practically a layer of dust resting on the covers.
As Anna began to realise that her lavish host might not be all he seemed, the back of her head erupted into agony and stars appeared in her vision. She staggered forward and spun around, squinting. Ripper was holding a heavy iron cosh aloft, ready to strike again. Anna's thoughts were a mess, supplanted by pain and confusion. Was the servant betraying the master? Or... was this Richard's plan all along? Whatever the case, she had to act quickly. All was not lost - yet. She leapt backwards as the cosh whistled through the air, a word of power springing to her lips.
"Disaura!" she cried, flinging a blast of compressed air from her outstretched fingers. Her assailant went flying backwards, his head colliding with the stone wall with a loud crack.
Before she could revel in her victory, the monstrous manservant groaned and pushed himself back up to his feet, apparently unscathed. In one swift movement he took aim and hurled the cosh powerfully through the air, straight at her head. Any ideas of a counter-attack fled from Anna's mind as raw survival instinct took over. She uttered a spell intended to stop the projectile in its path, but only succeeded in slowing it to a non-fatal speed. The resulting impact was still well beyond what the skull of a nimble sorceress could shake off, however, so she was unconscious before she hit the ground.
Sara awoke with a start. It was the dead of the night, but she could swear she heard someone whispering outside the door. She glanced down at her younger sister. Fira was still fast asleep in the bed beside her, wrapped in significantly more than her half of the woollen blanket they shared. Sara rolled her eyes. Fira was the rascal of the family, always pushing buttons and getting into just as much trouble as she could flirt her way out of. While ruby red hair was a trait they both shared, it was Fira whose looks turned heads wherever she went. And when two young women lived alone together in a town like Lumina, drawing such attention was a risk they couldn't afford to take. Yet subtlety had never been the younger girl's strong suit. All the same, blood was blood - there was nothing Sara wouldn't do to protect her little sister.
Careful not to wake the sleeping princess, she got to her feet and crept over to the front door of their shack. The wind was howling outside, and she shivered as the cold air slipped through cracks in the walls and brushed against her bare skin. But it was not the wind she'd heard. She put her ear to the door and strained her ears for any unusual sound. Then she heard it - a soft whimper, right outside the door. Conscious of her nudity, she quickly threw on some rags and opened the door slightly to peek outside.
A shivering traveller was hunched against the wall, wincing. He looked up at her as the door opened, and Sara saw that his eyes were red from exhaustion.
"Please... My horse bucked and ran... Ankle cracked... I have been limping for hours through the storm..." he croaked.
Sara was immediately sympathetic. Their home was a humble one, but it was a great deal more preferable to the weather outside. She opened the door wider and gestured inside.
"It isn't much, but you can wait out the night with us if you'd like."
The man hesitated, swaying on the spot as he looked at the mess of scattered belongings inside.
"This is where you live?" he asked dumbly.
"Look, I said it wasn't much, but you're welcome to stay a few hours," replied Sara impatiently. She supposed the unfortunate man must be accustomed to greater luxury - if he owned a horse, he could well own an estate.
"Sorry, I just... I do not mean to impose, if it is too much trouble..."
"Oh, just come in already," snapped Sara, a little aggressively. She wasn't in the mood to be treated inferiorly.
The man needed no further encouragement; he limped over the threshold and made for a corner, collapsing into it with a deep sigh. Fira was awake now, rubbing her bleary eyes and staring at the stranger, confused. Sara answered her probing gaze.
"Sis, this is..."
"William," offered the man, a hint of amusement flashing in his eyes that this was not already known.
"-William, who'll be staying for a few hours until the sun rises."
The traveller's eyes flicked nervously to the window at this, but neither of the girls noticed. Fira raised her eyebrows at her sister, then rolled over and went back to sleep. Sara too was beset with tiredness, so she lay down facing their guest and waited for sleep to claim her. She wasn't concerned about leaving the man unsupervised: he looked honest enough, and they had nothing worth stealing in any case.
How wrong she was. Not long after sleep had claimed her, Sara felt William's cold body pressing against her back. At first she thought it was an audacious attempt to get between her legs, until she felt his arm around her neck. It was not the gentle embrace of a lover - it was assault. By the time she realised her plight it was too late - his hand was over her mouth and his iron-like forearm was squeezing the fight from her body. Desperately, she flung out her arm towards Fira, who slumbered on beside her, oblivious to her sister's silent struggle. William simply rolled them both away and whispered to her in an ominously calm voice, "Don't worry, she's coming too."
Sara kicked out with the last of her strength, then the world went dark.
When she awoke, everything was different. She was shackled in a standing position in the centre of a small damp cell. Her arms were held horizontal by a metal crossbar and heavy chains secured her feet to the ground. By the firm ass pressing against hers, she gathered she was back-to-back with her sister and that they'd both been stripped of their night garments.
"Fira?" she whispered urgently, hoping her sister was unharmed. A low groan came in reply.
"Don't worry sis, I'll get us out of here," said Sara, with more bravado than she felt.
"That's the last time you invite a guy over," came the sullen reply. Sara breathed out in relief. That was her sister, alright. She had every right to be angry, but Sara knew the derisive pixie well enough to recognise when she was putting on a bold face. Her younger sister was terrified.
"I didn't invite-"
"Oh, I beg to differ," said William as he entered, his deep voice booming around the stone cell. He strolled in confidently without the slightest hint of a limp. Had everything he'd said been a lie?
"'Come in,' you said. Never underestimate the power of an invitation, my dear."
"I'm not your dear," Sara snapped, twisting her head to look at him. Fira groaned - they were wearing linked metal collars, and every sudden twitch jerked painfully on the other girl's neck.
"You are quite right. You are in fact my captive, and defiance would be... most unwise."
"Then you'll find me the most unwise captive ever to grace your chains," she retorted.
He sighed, seeing she wasn't going to yield to him any time soon. Then his brown eyes glowed to a bright red and needle-sharp fangs sprouted from his gums. Before she had a chance to react he was against her, clamping her mouth shut to stifle the inevitable scream. She watched wide-eyed as he brought up his wrist and bit hard into it, holding it up to her mouth. This all happened so swiftly that before she knew what was happening she tasted his blood on her lips. It had a sour metallic taint that made her want to gag, yet even as it flowed across her tongue it seemed to grow sweeter. Her initial repulsion turned to curiosity as the thick lifeblood continued to flow from his wrist, as sweet a syrup as she'd ever tasted. She stopped straining to turn away and sucked on greedily, the blood awakening a thirst inside her that she didn't know she had. The more she gulped down, the more alive she felt, until at last William pulled his wrist away from her. Sara moaned in frustration, licking her lips of every stray drop.
"I think she likes it," he teased her, his fangs receding and his eyes reverting to their ordinary brown. She blinked and shook her head, wondering if she'd imagined the whole episode.
But no, she felt different now, as though a fog was lifting from her mind - like a stronger, smarter Sara had awoken within her. She tugged at the shackles holding her wrists to the crossbar, half expecting them to break loose, but they merely clinked softly. Still, her mind was alive like never before, spinning like a dairy churn with new ideas and insightful reflections.
For the first time she took in her full surroundings: she was in a gloomy dungeon cell, yes, but there was more to see than that. Some bricks were infested with moss, suggesting they were deep underground; others were chipped and crumbling, as though they'd been there for centuries. The wrought-iron fixtures around the room were a newer addition, however, as neither they nor the chains they held showed any signs of rust. Sara's knowledge of the countryside surrounding Lumina was sketchy at best, but she knew there was only one location that had been around for that long: the derelict Gormwall Manor. Evidently it was not as uninhabited as everyone believed.
She turned her focus to her captor. Previously he had lurked in the shadows, just beyond clarity; he hadn't moved, yet now Sara could see him in flawless detail. He was clothed in opulence, his deep red tunic studded with lustrous gemstones and adorned with expensive furs. He was a ruggedly handsome man, and he carried himself with pride and arrogance. There was something else about him that she couldn't place her finger on, however. His blood had power, she realised, but why? Did he realise he'd just handed her an advantage she could use to escape? And when could she drink some more of it?
As if reading her mind, he said, "There will be more of that for you later if you remain a good girl."
Sara swallowed the retort she was going to make - about how she was not a child to be coddled - and simply nodded. She didn't mind being coddled by this man, she realised.
William stroked her scarlet head and walked back around to face the younger woman. Fira was bewildered by this point: her sister's attitude had transitioned from defiance to compliance in the space of a few seconds. Whatever he'd given her, it can't have been good. She'd need every beguiling charm in her arsenal if she wanted to win this enigmatic man's favour and avoid the same fate.
"Now, you are a sweet thing," he said, his umber eyes soaking in her exposed curves. "I wonder, does that sweet allure extend to your temperament, or will your behaviour prove as indecent as your sister's?"
Fira forced a smile. "Oh, but you seem to like indecent girls," she said coyly, thrusting out her busty chest.
"That I do," William chuckled as he groped one of her mounds appreciatively. "There are so many adventures to be had with one so... well-equipped for them," he murmured, his rough fingers toying with her nipples. As if betraying their eagerness, they swelled under his touch, radiating a warm cherry-red hue as his fingers danced around the sensitive nubs.
He produced a fine length of wire and pressed it to one of her swollen nipples, wrapping it around the bud with expert precision. The wire was easily moulded by his touch, but it held firm around her nipples like a tiny vice. Fira gasped as he looped the wire through her collar and repeated the process to her other nipple, lifting her breasts up to sit as perfect globes against her chest.
This all happened so swiftly that it was another few seconds before Fira realised her mouth was hanging open. The tiny nubs that crowned her shapely breasts glowed a fiery scarlet in their metal snare, and burned something furious to match.
Her soft green eyes widened as they met his, bewildered at how he could just do that to an innocent girl. But she bit her lip and remained silent, refusing to give him the satisfaction of hearing her suffer. William simply smiled and stroked her hair as though she'd passed some kind of test.
"I think we shall get along marvellously, you and I."
Chapter II: The Sorceress and the Maiden Fair
When Anna came to, her head felt like a lump of molten lead: heavy and searing with pain. It was as though she'd consumed a whole barrel of ale - but that was impossible, because she never drank enough to become intoxicated. In fact, she usually only sipped from flagons for the sake of appearance, as a lapse in judgement could be disastrous in her line of work. Unfortunately, this hangover wasn't something she could recover from by rolling around in bed for hours; in fact, she quickly realised she wasn't actually in her own bed, and she wasn't even able to scratch her nose, much less roll around.
Then she remembered what had happened and her eyes flew open. Two faces were looking down at her, neither of them sympathetic. They'd had the foresight to gag her, too: a bundle of silk was packed tightly into her mouth, robbing her of any vocal output above a soft mew. She needed to speak in order to work magic. Without speech, her years of training amounted to little more than threat evaluation - and she knew exactly how threatening her current plight was. For the first time since mastering the arcane, she was as helpless as any common girl off the street.
"Was the bruising really necessary, Ripper?"
"She fights," the manservant grunted.
"Of course she fights, you fool," the master replied coldly, speaking slowly as though to a dull child. "If you were a scared little girl and I assaulted you with a large metal stick, you would retaliate too."
Anna froze, her hopes lifting for the first time. If Richard didn't know of her magic yet, there might still be an opportunity to get the upper hand. So long as his dim-witted servant didn't spill the beans first. Of course, if they knew who she was they might just surrender to her anyway. But she'd better not risk losing the advantage.
"She fights," Ripper repeated. Clearly a more descriptive debriefing was beyond him.
Richard sighed. "Truly, your company is as inspiring as always. Go torture a rat or something, would you?"
The bumbling manservant shrugged and left the room. Richard turned to Anna and sized her up, his eyes raking her clothed body as though searching for a concealed weapon in the ruffles.
"So, a combative soul, are we? Well, I would not dare question the intelligence of a lass who angers a brute thrice her size," he mocked her, "But as far as any quaint rebellion is concerned, a little dissuasion might not go amiss."
He walked over to the large wardrobe door that had drawn her gaze earlier, and after a few seconds of fiddling with the lock, swung it open.
Anna choked into her gag. The stench of perspiration was overwhelming. Where an ordinary person would hang their clothes, no less than thirteen human women were hanging by their ankles, twitching in their bondage. They were each gagged with sturdy leather harnesses, their wrists bound against their rears, and not a stitch of clothing was in sight. But her heart skipped a beat as she realised something else: each and every girl shared the same blood-red hair as her. Anna had always thought she was unique - now it seemed this perverted creep had just been abducting every other ruby-haired girl he could get his lewd hands on. Apparently he had a type, and by some sick twist of fate, she was it.
"You may consider these lovely ladies your predecessors. Each of them were, at some point or another, the jewel of my collection - until I grew tired of them and searched for a more lustrous gem. You might think their restraints excessive, so allow me to assure you that your evaluation would be correct." His fingers ran down the nearest perspiring body, spinning the poor girl gently. "Even supposing they slipped out of these wrought-iron shackles, freed their bound ankles, and dropped out of their suspended position without knocking themselves senseless, there is no power on Earth that could open this door from within."
Anna wanted to kick him. What right did he have to take these women from their homes and subjugate them into complying with his sadistic fantasies? Then she realised the most remarkable thing: some of these girls must have been in their musty prison for decades, yet none looked much older than her. If not outright dead, they should at least be weak and malnourished. But to the contrary, they were the picture of health: their cheeks were as rosy as a blushing bride's, their curves as pleasing to the eye as any desirable young damsel's, and their muscles strained with tireless vigour against the strict bonds that held them. How could this be?
Richard slammed the door shut on their desperate moans and turned back to his latest acquisition, smiling. "One day, this cosy closet will become your home, too - but whether tomorrow or ten years from now is largely up to you." He paused between each closing word, emphasizing the assonance with a finger jabbed at Anna's chest.
Her heart pounding with barely-contained dread, Anna glared at her tyrannical captor. How wonderful it must be to possess eternal youth and beauty - yet how horrendous to spend that eternity bound in the stale closet of a ruthless sadist! The only bastion of hope that stopped her from plummeting into total despair was the knowledge that she was not like those other girls; she had the power to overcome that fate, if only she could expel this infernal gag from her mouth.
No amount of optimism could wipe away the image now etched into her mind, however: thirteen desperate girls, their youthful features alike enough to be sisters, their enviably-flawless figures inverted and dripping with warm perspiration, mouths clamped around stiff leather gags, their faces as red as their vibrant hair draped below, and each of them staring back at Anna with wide, pleading eyes mixed with pity and despair. She would not accept that fate. Moreover, she would free those girls before she burned this accursed place to the ground.
Richard walked back towards her, put an arm around her and pulled her close to him. She bristled against his strong arms, fearful of the man who'd subdued so many girls before her.
"Come now," he murmured into her ear in a more soothing tone. "You don't truly believe I would risk damaging that fine dress, do you?"
He laughed and pulled away. "It bestows a resplendence matched only by the beauty it once lavished on them," he added, gesturing to the wardrobe filled with silenced captives. "But, regrettably, its presence is required elsewhere. We must always be prepared to welcome new visitors, after all."
A minute later the tightly-laced finery had been carefully removed and folded neatly into a pile. It seemed he took better care of the dress than he did of the women who actually wore it. Were they just lifeless dummies to him? At least now without the corset she could breathe freely, though being naked and spread-eagled before this psychopath was doing little to calm her nerves.
In truth, Anna had never been with a man, for the cost of keeping her powers was remaining pure in body and mind. If she were defiled, even against her will, her magic would leave her. If she turned to using her powers for evil, taking the life of an innocent, her magic would leave her. But mercifully Richard appeared to have no interest in taking advantage of her open thighs just yet. To her surprise, he instead proceeded to loosen the ropes that held her arms and legs to the corners of the four-poster bed. Then he deftly retied her wrists together behind her back and pulled her to her feet.
For a moment Anna considered running. She was no longer encumbered by a ruffled full-length dress, and there was no obstacle between herself and the open door. But how far would she get with her mouth gagged and arms pulled back uncomfortably behind her? Even if she could outrun her arrogant captor, his hulking manservant could be waiting just outside. Considering what she'd just seen, it was a foolish risk to take, and one that could easily sentence her to an eternity of inescapable bondage with no one but gagged sympathisers for company.
So she just stood there, waiting. This choice bothered her: she'd never been one to stand idly by or give in, especially to such an abomination. She was a trailblazer, a free spirit, a crusader against evil. Her proper name, Annabeth, was spoken in awe by the masses, and her powers were unmatched in all the lands. It was a sign of how grim things had become that her best option was to play along with a soulless deviant like Richard.
As he grabbed her shoulder to lead her out of the room, she noticed for the first time just how strong his grip was. As she thought about it, she realised Richard was not just a well-knit man, and his dark manservant was not merely a mountain of muscle. Their brawn seemed to far outweigh any plausible level of human strength. The only explanation was that they were somehow more than human. And then it struck her.
Richard and Ripper were her targets. She'd come to Lumina seeking to solve the mystery of their dwindling population and hopefully deal with the person or creature responsible. Her young informant had been vague, but she'd made it clear that there was a great evil in the town that needed to be stopped. An individual so ruthless he would smile as his victims screamed their last. And by the way the distraught young woman had spoke, Anna shuddered to think how close the girl had come to being one of those victims herself. This was precisely the sort of threat Anna dedicated her life to eliminating, so she'd taken the job without so much as a name with which to begin her search.
After months prowling the streets of the unwelcoming city she'd began to lose hope. There was injustice on every corner, but nothing deserving of the gruesome end she was to deliver. Until she'd met Richard. Or rather, until she'd been enslaved by Richard. His charm had seduced her: never in her wildest dreams had she imagined such a cruel deviant could masquerade so convincingly as a chivalrous gentleman. She'd only been looking for one suspect, but if Ripper was Richard's accomplice than he was her target too.
If her theory was true - and she was confident it was - it meant that Richard was responsible for far more disappearances than the number of women hanging in his wardrobe. Most likely he'd killed the others and kept those for whom he had a depraved fetish. Anna was beginning to look forward more and more to doling out her vengeance.
One pressing question remained, however. What was he? If not human, then what? She'd dealt with all manner of monstrous creatures throughout her colourful career, but never a human-like being who flirted by day and murdered by night. His primal lust was so convincingly masculine that she had to keep reminding herself he was not a man, but something else entirely. It didn't really matter what - he would die all the same.
As these realisations all clicked into place, so did Anna. She'd been led into a room cluttered with barbaric torture devices, and Richard was now shoving her head-first into a thick metal shackle just large enough to close snugly around her slender neck. The collar was held in place about a metre above the ground by adjoining pipes, so she had to get on her knees and lean forward to fit into it. Once it was closed she was stuck staring at the cold stone floor. She felt her arms being raised up behind her into a strict strappado. She tugged them back in protest, but they were now chained to the ceiling and there was no reprieve for her aching shoulders.
A slim metal pipe was then slipped just under her knees. She felt Richard's hands fiddling with a leather belt around her legs, and then her ankles were pulled tightly against her thighs, holding the pipe firmly in place. Then he turned his attention to her chest. She didn't consider herself a very full-chested woman, but after several coils of rope had been wrapped around her breasts, they were as plump as melons and beginning to look just as red.
The purpose of this rope soon became clear: he lifted up the pipe to her protruding mounds and secured it there, bringing her knees up with it and pulling her bust out in front of her vision. Now she was on her toes, her back hunched over painfully from her horizontal neck to her vertical hips, and every twitch of her knees tightened the coils of rope encircling her sensitive breasts.
What had started as merely an uncomfortable position had turned into a full-blown torture predicament, and she was powerless to resist or even protest as her jubilant captor continued to add to it. Wooden clothes pegs were applied to her nipples, a muffled scream escaping her gag as her sensitive buds were cruelly crushed. Her arms were pulled even tighter together until her elbows touched. A cold slimy object was pushed against her rear and her eyes widened in shock as it lodged firmly within her. Her flaming hair was then pulled back and connected somehow to her wrists, tugging painfully on her scalp whenever she tried pulling her arms out of their brutal strappado.
Richard slipped his hands around her as she rocked back and forth on her tiptoes, feigning sympathy for the brutal predicament he'd subjected her to. Tears rolled silently across her cheeks and onto her breasts, unnoticed by her sadistic captor, as she lamented her plight and cursed the man who had his lascivious hands wrapped intimately around her bare waist as only a lover had any right to do. She couldn't move a muscle without it straining another, and Richard was in no hurry to let up on his beautiful bound slave.
"Anna," he said thoughtfully. "A lovely name for a lovely body," his hands exploring every inch of her bronzed flesh.
As the days slipped by, Fira began to realise her sister wasn't going to free them as she'd promised. In fact, as time passed Sara only seemed to grow more content with their cruel enslavement. Ever since their abduction she'd been acting differently, shrugging off injustices that would have outraged her in the past and turning a blind eye to Fira's welfare. If someone was going to get them out of here, Fira knew it would have to be her - if Sara even wanted to leave when the opportunity arose.
They were kept apart for most of each day, not that day or night had any meaning down here. It was just a cold, unending existence, peppered by occasional meals and frequent abuse. Fira only saw her sister for what their eccentric host called "play time" - a period of a few hours where the two were dragged out into a shared cell to be stripped and humiliated. Fira seemed to be his favourite toy, and fittingly enough, they were treated as little more than glorified toys. She didn't mind this too much, for she'd never been one to bridle her lust in the past - with the notable difference that she herself was always the one who'd done the playing, and not, despite Sara's frequent criticism, any of the men she hung around with. The humiliation instead came because of her company. Moaning in pleasure was one of Fira's favourite pastimes, but doing it in front of her sister brought on an entirely new level of discomfort.
Did she actually enjoy these sessions? For all the salacity she displayed, it would be easy to think so, and she hoped that William at least was fooled by her empty smiles. But this was not a life she had chosen. William was a cruel master, and his toying often involved more pain than pleasure. In truth, it was all an empty experience to Fira, who did her best to detach her mind from the proceedings whenever one of his devious contraptions came into sight. She was, at least, kept well-nourished - the gruel that was forced into her cell was as bland as corn starch, but it kept her healthy and replete. Whatever William's nefarious purpose was for her, it was not to let her die of starvation in these hellish dungeons of his.
A sudden clanging on her cell door snapped Fira from her reverie. The metal door swung open to admit her maleficent captor, William, alone and unarmed in his usual opulent vestments. Though months of struggling against unyielding restraints had given Fira a robust, toughened physique, she knew better than to raise a hand against him. She'd learnt the hard way that his own lean build was deceptive: despite appearances, he was stronger and faster than she'd have thought humanly possible. On one occasion he'd lifted both sisters at once, one hand around each neck, as effortlessly as if they were stuffed dolls. Fira thought this advantage was monstrously unfair, but she'd soon conceded it didn't matter. Free and independent people had claims to fairness; slave girls simply submitted to their master's will. Not because they wanted to, but because they had to - because they knew the cost of disobedience.
"More haste, pet," snapped William, standing in the doorway.
Fira scurried to her feet and dutifully shed her sleeping rags as she'd done countless times before. She stepped out of them carefully, taking care not to trip from the short length of chain between her legs. Her wrists and ankles were kept shackled at all times to prevent her from running or walking too fast - not that she had anywhere to go. The unyielding metal cuffs also doubled as anchor points for any chains William decided to attach to her, much to her chagrin.
She stepped over to her master, holding her shoulders back proudly as though she still had some sense of pride over her shapely figure. It was what William liked, and pandering to William's deviant tastes was all she could do to ease her plight. She suppressed the urge to flinch as he reached towards her crotch, aiming a playful slap at the gap between her thighs.
They set off down the stone passageway, William pushing Fira from behind as she stumbled with her chained ankles. Most of the doors they passed held no new surprises for her - Fira had been subjected to more contraptions than she cared to remember, and was intimately familiar with the layout of these dungeons. She couldn't help but liken this walk to that of a criminal walking to his execution - and she was sure that one day that's where she'd be heading too.
But not today, it seemed. They stopped outside a small room with mirrored walls and a single item of furniture standing in the middle: an iron maiden. This was not like any other iron maiden, however: the spikes inside were short and blunt, intended to cause discomfort without injuring; around the waist there were thin leather pads instead of spikes; but most notably, the exterior was forged to resemble a maiden out of some hyper-sexualised lustful fantasy. Her curves were obscenely exaggerated: the bulging bust, narrow waist, and wide hips formed an idealised hourglass figure that a noblewoman would trade her rarest diamond for. The maiden's chest and navel were buffed to a dull sheen, emphasising her impossibly voluptuous figure. Whatever pain the victim was spared by the absent spikes would be more than compensated by the sensation of having their body squashed into a more attractive shape. The maiden was also smiling, her lifeless visage crafted with an air of naive beauty that radiated joy and pleasure, romanticising the extreme pain and discomfort her occupant would feel.
Fira became aware that William was holding out his hand towards the open maiden, gesturing for her to enter it. She looked between him and the sexualised metal prison with dread, wondering if her curves were not already pleasing enough to him or if there was something more she could have done to avoid this horrifying fate.
"Go on," he growled. She started inching towards the maiden before he grew any more impatient. When she was a few steps from it he spun her around and pushed her backwards. She slid unceremoniously into the metal shell, its polished interior cold against her smooth skin. Then he tucked her arms in beside her and swept her hair out of the way. It was almost comfortable - until William swung the front closed, pressing it firmly against her as he locked it in place.
She threw her head up and gasped. The maiden's constrictive waist was bad enough - Fira's ribcage was abruptly compressed, squeezing the air from her lungs and restricting her to quick shallow breaths. Her breasts spilled over into their designated space, surrounded by stubby spikes on all sides. To her mortification, the spikes around her nipples prodded them to arousal, making her breasts even more sensitive and the pain ten times worse. Meanwhile, a thick bar had slipped through her crotch, forcing her thighs apart and widening her hips. To top it off, there were more spikes beneath the soles of her feet, adding another discomfort to the ever-growing list.
But William wasn't done yet. His sexy slave was now squashed inside an even sexier iron maiden, but it wasn't a satisfying predicament until her every freedom was snuffed away. So William stuffed her mouth with a chunk of hard leather, specially moulded to the contours of a woman's mouth, and strapped it in tightly enough that her flushed cheeks were cleaved into two bulging mounds.
"How do you fare, pet?" smiled William, all but purring with contentment. "No doubt you feel ensnared by the tight metal conformed to your mellow form - rest assured, that intimacy is intentional. Put simply, the tighter it feels, the better it works." He paused, watching Fira's distressed expression turn to dread as he continued. "Henceforth, for two hours each day you shall return to this device until it is determined that your delightful curves have adapted to the voluptuous shape I seek. Now: enjoy your maiden voyage!" He laughed as he reciprocated her knack for innuendos.
A single tear rolled down Fira's cheek, her glazed eyes threatening to open the floodgates. William cradled her chin gently in his hand as he brushed away the tear and said, "Cry to your heart's content, my dear, for your tears sing a sweet serenade that motivates my toils."
With that, he closed the head of the buxom maiden over her pleading eyes, smiling back at the deceivingly sensuous visage that concealed the true evil within. Inside the devious device, the only connection poor Fira had with the outside world were two small sets of holes - below her nostrils and in front of her eyes. Through these she could plainly see the entire maiden reflected in the mirrored wall ahead, and somehow it made her predicament all the more hopeless to see the sturdy exterior of her confinement.
William finished sliding shut the dozen or so clasps to keep the maiden firmly closed, then proceeded to run his hands lasciviously up and down her polished curves. Though Fira could feel nothing from within her iron shell, she could not help but feel violated by this. The lifeless maiden she saw in the mirror was effectively her - she filled every inch of it, and it was her eyes staring out from the maiden's jovial visage. She was also painfully aware that the eroticised curves of the female figure she saw in the mirror would become hers in time - even now the iron maiden was slowly altering the soft contours of the hapless girl within.
William gave his metal slave a playful peck on the cheek and left her alone in the endlessly-reflected room of beaming maidens. Now to attend to the other sister...
Chapter III: Revenge is a Dish Best Served with Bondage
Anna was living her own personal slice of hell. The supple body she'd spent years training to its physical peak was being stretched even further beyond her prodigious limits. If she was anyone else, her ligaments would surely now be strained beyond what time could heal. And to Richard, she assumed, she was no one exceptional, so it must be his intention to inflict permanent impediments upon his victims. Or perhaps he just didn't care; perhaps he merely saw her as expendable meat to be tenderised as his sadistic whims desired. Whatever the case, there was not a muscle in her body that wasn't sore from straining in one direction or another. Her shoulders were the worst - at this rate she'd have to kiss her right hook goodbye, and still her sadistic host continued to adjust her restraints and groom her hair as though she was an inanimate ragdoll in his deviant fantasy.
But then it got worse. Her previously-neglected crotch received an innocent rub. And another. Despite the aches all across her body, this new sensation was producing an itch she didn't realise she wanted scratched. The rubbing continued until it was no longer just hitting the spot, but fuelling a fire. Unsought lust engulfed her until sexual release was something she needed, and she was utterly dependent on her captor to deliver it.
Her body was turning traitor - such carnal indulgences were beneath her, especially at a time like this. But she was in no position to shake off the persistent finger stroking the soft lips between her crouched legs, or to shake anything except perhaps her protruding bust. After a half-hearted attempt to twist out of her unyielding restrains, Anna convulsed with guilty pleasure as the stimulation overwhelmed her. These convulsions turned to erratic twitches as she tried her utmost to escape the wriggling digit.
Were she able to, she'd be hanging her head in shame - she'd barely put up a fight against the surge of lust that had gripped her, and now her well-meaning altruism was soiled by base sensuality. Fortunately, her powers were still with her, for her maidenhead was yet intact. But even if her body's reactions were beyond her control, her mind was not, and she could not deny that she had enjoyed the involuntary climax far more than she should. This disgusted the sorceress and drove her hatred of her serene tormentor up to the level of a sizzling malediction. She would see him suffer if it was the last word she breathed.
"So... tense..." he admonished as he ran his hands around her heaving form, slick with sweat despite the cool subterranean air. "What would it take, I wonder, to loosen you up a little?"
He squeezed her crotch as he said this, making her tiptoes stumble and sending a wave of discomfort propagating across her cramped form. Anna huffed angrily into her silk gag, her rosy cheeks bulging out around the tight band of cloth.
"Awww, is my little slave struggling?" Richard teased her, prodding her firm engorged breasts. "Tell you what, I'll give you something sweet to suck on."
He dropped his velvet-lined trousers and unsheathed his impressive shaft. Though Anna had never been on the other end of one, she'd seen enough men disrobe in her travels to know he was a monster in more than deed. She would actually be intimidated if this reveal didn't carry a joyous implication: he was about to ungag her.
Anna froze as he reached down to loosen the gag cleaving her lips apart, not daring to move lest her anticipation betray her intention. She'd have but a split second before her mouth was refilled with a much less desirable gag. And so, the moment the silk was pulled from her mouth, she spat out a word in the ancient tongue. Richard's eyes widened in surprise as he was lifted into the air and flung across the room with the force of a sledgehammer.
But this would only detain him temporarily, Anna knew. She'd made that mistake once already. So she followed with another spell to send numerous shackles and restraints flying over to pin him to the wall, muttering words of power until Richard was surrounded by more metal than air. She didn't know the limits of his strength, but that should buy her enough time to free herself and the other unfortunate slave girls.
Her next spells were more calculated: she had to unbolt and untie countless restraints one by one without seeing what she was doing or putting herself under further strain. After a few minutes she finally collapsed to the ground, exhausted but otherwise unharmed. She was eager to conceal her nakedness, but that would have to wait until she could find more suitable clothes. She wasn't going anywhere in that frilly dress. Not that she was ashamed to wear it - it was simply too restrictive to manoeuvre around in.
She climbed to her feet, rolling her numb shoulders and wincing as her nipples seared with pain from their recent release. Freedom! Anna could scarcely believe her luck. With Richard out of the picture she had only to deal with his dimwitted manservant before freeing the others. She left the bedroom and began checking other doors along the stone passageway. As she beheld the contents of each room she began to form an increasingly disturbing image of her host's pastimes.
Most cells seemed to be outfitted for one purpose: torture. There were torture chairs, torture racks, torture cages, torture wheels (or Catherine wheels, thought Anna, her heart sympathising with the poor girl who must have been its namesake), and just about every other contraption associated with the word torture. Upon seeing each devious contraption Anna involuntarily empathised with its imagined victim, her heart pounding ever faster as fear and despair flashed repeatedly through her. In her mind, she was locked in a narrow human-shaped cage suspended above the ground, her arms pinned to her sides as sharp tools poked at her unprotected flesh... She was trapped on a pyramid-shaped saddle, its pointed edge buried deep in her nether region as she winced in pain with nowhere to go... She was curled up inside the belly of a giant bronze bull, gasping as the metal around her grew uncomfortably warm and listening to her own distorted wails as they echoed through a system of tubes and escaped as distant moans of anguish.
The predicaments may have all been in her head, but the creeping dread Anna felt was all too real. She had to get away from this depraved place.
There were many other peculiar contraptions in the rooms she passed - cunning arrangements of wood, iron, leather, and hemp - and while she didn't know how they all worked, they all made one fact painfully obvious: the unfortunate victim whose neck went on the block was not in for a pleasant ride. Other rooms housed primitive holding cells, and there was one room which stank so badly Anna could only gag and back straight out.
She found Ripper in one of the many torture rooms, but it wasn't a rat he was torturing. Another ruby-haired girl had her back arched across an overturned barrel, her arms and legs pulled wide in opposite directions. Her face was fearful, and no wonder: the mammoth torturer was twirling a cat o' nine tails between his thick fingers, its ends whistling dangerously through the air, murmuring a repeated mantra that sounded suspiciously like "rip her." Fresh scarlet lines decorated the girl's bare navel and chest.
Ripper spun around and registered surprise upon seeing the smiling, unfettered Anna. He truly was a sight to behold: a mountain of black muscle with calloused hands and well-defined creases where his cruel smile normally stretched across his face. All that muscle was useless against magic, however, and Anna quickly had the manservant pinned to the wall just like his dazed master. It was a testament to Richard's extensive fascination with torture that there were enough contraptions lying the room around to bury the servant's hulking figure in more metal than a dozen suits of armour.
Anna knew her improvised restraints wouldn't hold the powerful creatures forever, but she'd at least bought enough time to free the other slaves. She started with Ripper's victim, loosening her wrists and ankles so that she could wriggle off the spine-bending barrel.
"Thank you," said the girl, her voice thick with an exotic accent Anna didn't recognise. "The back-breaker becomes most uncomfortable after many minutes."
Her English was clumsy, and she spoke in a husky tone that together with her dusky complexion was suggestive of a tribal background. But Anna knew from her travels that nomadic tribes hadn't been seen in nearly a century - just how long had this young woman been Richard's slave?
"How long have you been down here?"
"But a few hours. James allows us stretching time often." She said this matter-of-factly as though describing the habits of a man who walks his dog. While it came as a relief to Anna that the girls weren't simply locked in that closet indefinitely, she would hardly consider being whipped over a barrel to be adequate exercise.
"James?" Anna queried.
"The master of this house. You have seen him? I think I am in trouble now," she whispered, her voice quivering. So James must be Richard, as Anna knew him. It didn't surprise her that he had multiple pseudonyms. If his cunning ever proved insufficient, it would never occur to the incompetent authorities that a single man was guilty of such unfathomable counts of abduction and murder spanning multiple identities and multiple centuries.
"Hey, no one's going to hurt you anymore," she assured the frightened girl. She put her arm around the girl's bare shoulders. The two of them made quite the sight: two flushed naked girls amidst a mother lode of varied torture devices, like rats in a lion's den.
"But how long have you been here with James?" Anna pressed, her curiosity fighting her desire to let the girl recuperate.
The girl's eyes glazed over for a moment before she replied, "Long. I do not remember what came before, only what happened after."
"What happened after...?"
"The gift he gave me. I will never forget it. A gift he can give you too, if you let him."
Anna shook her head in confusion. She was starting to speak in riddles - the girl's mind must be addled by her long captivity. What gift could such a monster possibly offer her that she'd actually desire? She decided to shelve the mystery for later - there were more girls in need of freeing.
"Wait here," Anna admonished. "I'll be back soon with your friends."
The girl nodded and turned away. Anna hurried back to the master bedroom where Richard was pinned to the wall. He began to speak as she walked in, but she quickly picked up the gob of silk he'd gagged her with and stuffed it into his own mouth. Then she took a long length of rope from the bedpost and wound it around his head to hold it in. She could have done all this in an instant with magic, but the personal touch felt more satisfying as she gagged her former captor and briskly slapped his cheek.
His trousers were laying on the floor where he'd dropped them, so she went over and extracted a large golden key from the back pocket and took it to the sturdy wardrobe door. It was the only key that would possibly fit the oversized keyhole - and sure enough, the mechanism made a loud clunk and the door gave way. Even so, it took all of the sorceress's might to shove it open - the door must have been constructed from solid metal with only a thin veneer of mahogany.
And there they were, still bound in their inverted suspension, still struggling futilely against their bonds. They stopped when they saw Anna, swaying gently as they awaited her move.
Anna grimaced as she went about releasing each girl, carefully lowering them to the stone floor to avoid any head injuries. As she ungagged each one they muttered their thanks but seemed otherwise devoid of enthusiasm at their release. It must simply be too surreal for them at this point - after potentially years hanging upside-down in an airless wardrobe, unable to speak or move, freedom must be a dangerous hope to have prematurely. She was sure celebration would come later.
Richard's eyes narrowed as he saw her strolling out with his captives in tow. Anna had half a mind to end his pathetic existence right there, but decided she would return to savour the moment once the other girls were escorted to safety.
She got as far as the end of the corridor before she realised she was hopelessly lost. The cobbled passageway split into two directions, neither of them looking like they would take her to the surface. Anna turned to ask if anyone knew the way out and discovered they were no longer behind her. She returned to Richard's room and froze in horror.
She could scarcely believe it: the girls had actually pried their cruel master free from his metal restraints and were lying in wait for her. When she entered, she was assailed by an aggressive mob of naked women, their hands crawling over her own nude form and forcing her to the ground. One girl shoved her fingers into Anna's mouth, grabbing her tongue before she could defend herself with magic. She was now trapped at the bottom of a massive pile of sweaty bodies, crushed on every side by firm abdomens and thighs. If she wasn't on the verge of suffocating, she might have died from humiliation.
There was no sensible explanation for their betrayal. Anna had let her guard down for a moment, thinking she was in the company of fellow victims who yearned for vengeance - but as though of one mind, they had freed their savage captor and turned on her without the slightest hint of hesitation. Why?
"That will do," rumbled a voice from above. The crushing weight around her slowly eased off until Richard's tauntingly gleeful face came into view. Only the girl holding her tongue remained; some others had shifted around behind her, hugging her arms together as if they were human restraints.
Richard swiftly pulled out the girl's fingers and filled Anna's mouth with a sturdy leather gag, tightening it far more than necessary just to drive home her doom. Anna's eyes flashed with anger and fear, the latter gradually taking over as she considered her chances of a second lucky break.
On Richard's order, some of the girls left to free Ripper while he addressed the one who'd had the initiative to gag Anna with her fingers.
"Tell me your name, pet," he commanded. Anna glared at him. He didn't even remember his slaves' names?
"Well, Sara, you have pleased me greatly. Open your mouth."
Sara's chest swelled with pride as she obediently opened her mouth widely and waited. Anna watched in disbelief as Richard sprouted fangs and bit into his own wrist, his eyes glowing red as he pressed the wound against Sara's waiting lips. Almost as surprisingly, the girl seemed to like this reward - she sucked greedily for several long seconds until Richard pulled his wrist away.
Ripper entered the room, his eyes narrowed at the restrained sorceress. "Rip her! Rip her!" he bellowed, making her jump. Suddenly his name made sense, and Anna was all the more intimidated by the dark-skinned brute.
Smiling, Richard said sinisterly, "Patience, Ripper." Turning to Anna, he continued, "Had I known you were so talented I would have treated you accordingly. Yes, truly," as she rolled her eyes, "I have searched too long for someone of your talents, and it is time to bring that search to an end."
He grabbed her shoulders and plunged his sharp fangs into her neck as she flinched and squirmed in protest. Blood drained from her body and gushed out her neck as Richard's lips formed a seal around the twin punctures and sucked her life-force away. She was going to die right there, limp in the arms of a ruthless vampire. Her limbs were lead and her head was drowning in ale. She couldn't even scream, and not for the gag stuffed in her mouth - she simply didn't have the energy.
But somehow, the sorceress clung to life. She felt as feeble as a newborn when he finally pulled back, grinning with blood-stained teeth.
"Well, you are special," he murmured. "Annabeth, is it?"
Her formal name sent a tingle down the girl's spine as she realised he'd taken more than just blood from her.
"So young, yet so accomplished. I had indeed heard the name, but... I must say I expected more." Anna weakly strained to get at him, but her efforts only made her light-headed. "How frustrating it must be to require something as easily removed as speech to unleash all that power... Now I need only keep you muzzled like the bitch you are, and you shall be rendered as harmless as a kitten."
Anna trembled in his hands. She wanted to point out derisively that he was mixing metaphors, but her usual defiance was crippled by her weakened state. Then she realised what he'd called her. Bitch. It was the first time he'd lost his composure, even for a moment, and resorted to petty name-calling. For all her frustration she hadn't recognised his own: he was inwardly teeming with rage that his dominance had been challenged by another, especially one so young. It gave Anna a small smidgen of hope that she could still somehow triumph over him.
He laughed. "I should be thanking you. It appears you have dedicated your life to eradicating my competition. The delectable women of this world have never been so vulnerable, for without the savage beasts of mortals' nightmares preying upon them they are ripe for the tasting."
"And to think, if only your saucy informant had been truthful with you, I might have been a toasty crisp by now," he taunted. Anna was bewildered. Her informant? What did she have to do with this? "Alas, you were kept in the dark, and now the dark is all you shall ever know."
He licked her neck where two droplets of blood were growing and closed his eyes in satisfaction. "There is a slight tingle to your blood, did you know that? You are a mystical young woman indeed." He grinned and stared her intently in the eyes, his piercing crimson irises locking with her wide silver ones. "For so long I sought to know how you came to possess such power... How glorious to find one whose blood reveals all! I am awed by the discipline it must demand of a luscious exotic woman to deny herself all intimacy for as long as she lives, and for what? So you can crawl through struggle after struggle, scarcely denting the immutable forces of darkness? I see now I am unable to take your power for myself, but it will be an honour to free you from your futile crusade."
For all his feigned sincerity, Richard couldn't hide the smirk from his features as his hand slid threateningly over Anna's virgin mound. She twisted away in defiance, but her feeble struggles were as a fly ensnared in a spider's web. Losing her powers was a fate worse than death. To be brought so low... She had no doubt that Richard knew exactly what defiling her would entail: the victim it would make her, not only now but for the rest of her life - she would forever be at the mercy of every hot-headed man who looked at her in lust, at the mercy of every corrupt official or cruel oppressor, and vulnerable to every evil creature that prowled in the darkness and preyed on the weak. After all the creatures she had seen and fought, she'd never sleep soundly again.
It would take an utterly merciless individual to subject her to that fate, yet she didn't doubt for a moment that her ruthless captor was capable of it. He was, after all, a vampire. She felt stupid not to have seen it - the unnatural strength, the ageless appearance, the enthralled slaves, even his antiquated speech, forgoing informal slurs - how could she have missed all the clues? While she'd never had the pleasure of meeting one, she knew enough about the immortal creatures of the night to have her muscles clamp up in fear: they lust for blood, but can survive indefinitely without it; they learn their victims' deepest and darkest secrets and assimilate a lifetime of knowledge from just a few drops of blood; they can turn others into vampires at will, but usually prefer to turn them into hapless slaves instead, enthralling them by an unnatural blood bond without bestowing any of a vampire's enviable strengths; they're swifter than an arrow, stronger than an ox, and the most cunning and cruel beings who are capable of speech. Unfortunately, Anna knew little of their weaknesses, if they even had any - but she'd never met a creature that could live without its head.
A few minutes later, Anna found herself poised in the air above a vertical metal shaft. It seemed Richard was intent on defiling her virginity in the most horrifying manner imaginable: by making Anna do it herself. The ribbed phallic-shaped shaft had been lathered in oil to render any resistance useless, and the only thing that would stop it from slipping in too far was the solid iron rocks at its base. Where did he get these things?
The shaft was fixed in place, but Anna's nether region was inching lower by the second. Her thighs were strapped to two angled plates which pushed her upwards when squeezed firmly together and dragged her downwards if she let her muscles go slack. The device was rigged against her, for the plates required an enormous effort to even hold in place, and her energy was already drained along with most of her blood. Her arms were no help at all - Richard had replicated his thralls' restraining arms with a number of leather straps that fused her forearms together from elbows to wrists. Not only did this deny her the ability to help support her weight, it also pushed her bust forward and subjected her sensitive mounds to Richard's lewd attentions.
She was holding up alright, for now, but the plates beneath her thighs seemed to push more strongly against her by the second - it was becoming outright torturous to keep her crotch safely above the lubricated shaft.
Anna wished he would just get it over with. He'd won - she was so thoroughly gagged that it would likely be hours before she resembled coherency even if she miraculously managed to free her mouth. She didn't have any tricks up her sleeve, or even a sleeve for that matter - he had her as naked and helpless as the day she was born. Without her magic, she was no more special than any of the carmine-haired captives he kept as pretty baubles in his wardrobe. Any minute now her poor muscles would tire and she'd fall upon the solid iron phallus below, ravaging her maidenhead and magic in one fell swoop. He'd won. So why did he insist on drawing this out, on making her suffer the torment of seeing her beloved powers pillaged away?
Yet as much as she wanted the nightmare to end, Anna could never bring herself to willingly give in. She had so little freedom left, but as long as she was able, she would fight to stay off that accursed shaft and retain her power. Still, at this rate the feisty sorceress knew that she would not remain one for long.
A searing pain erupted across her side, drawing an indignant huff from her stretched lips. She nearly dropped onto the shaft right then in shock. Richard had struck her exposed torso with a long narrow cane, and it appeared many more strokes were to follow. The wood stung like a hornet and it had barely been a tap. Richard seemed to have grown impatient watching her struggle towards inevitable defeat and was now helping her along the only way he knew how: more torture.
Seeing her outrage, he whispered to her, "Oh, worry not, my dear, you will scream from both pain and pleasure many times before the night is over."
Anna clenched her abdomen, bracing for the hail of hornets to follow. She kept her eyes on Richard as his cane rapped her flesh at random across her breasts, her stomach, her shoulders, her upper arms, her thighs, or under her feet. Each time it landed she flinched, losing an inch between her virgin orifice and the rod of certain defloration positioned below.
Meanwhile, Richard was having a ball. His grin was one of pure pleasure: evidently nothing entertained him more than abusing a woman at her most vulnerable. Depriving an innocent girl of her ability to defend herself was a reprehensible crime enough, but exploiting her with the express intent of inflicting pain was simply evil. To make matters worse, she was forced to endure this torture in complete silence. No scream could escape her lips: no matter how brutally the cane stung her soft flesh, catharsis was denied to her.
The shaft directly below her wasn't going anywhere. Anna herself was slowly inching downwards. There was only one way this predicament would end...
Chapter IV: Blood Bonds and Tough Love
Faint footsteps woke Fira from her fitful slumber. In this silent underground domain she'd become accustomed to, noise always carried significance, especially in the dead of the night. Though there was nothing to tell her the cycle of day or night, she knew only a little time had passed since she'd been locked in here because her ribs were still tender from her latest session in the maiden.
Fira clambered out of her primitive cot and crept over to the cell door, her bare feet inaudible against the stone floor. The footsteps outside were getting louder, so she peeked through the keyhole to see who they belonged to.
Strolling down the corridor with her captor, looking for all the world like she wanted to be there, was her sister. Sara was unfettered and walking freely beside their malevolent kidnapper. Fira recoiled from the door in shock. She'd known her older sister was losing resolve, but now she was on friendly terms with the enemy?
The troubled redhead couldn't sleep after this revelation. She tossed and turned for hours until William's gruff voice sounded through the door.
"Rise and shine, pet."
He entered the cell as she hastily stripped and stood to attention. She no longer bothered to hide her modesty - her hands were always prised away anyway.
"What's happening today, master?" she asked, trying to muster some enthusiasm for the sake of appearance.
William smiled and gave no answer, instead turning to lead her out of the cell. She followed him into a small cell where a gigantic tank of water had been positioned in the centre. A soft clinking sound drew Fira's attention downwards. He had just attached a long chain to each ankle. Her eyes travelled upwards along the chains, noticing the fixtures on the ceiling they passed through and the crank on the wall they wrapped around.
Fira let out an involuntary whimper as her impending predicament hit home, but made no plea for mercy - she knew it would fall on deaf ears. William stroked her hair fondly as she trembled with apprehension. Crossing over to the crank, he began turning it slowly, pulling the chains upward. Fira hastily lowered herself to the floor just in time as her feet were yanked into the air. Halfway up the side of the tank her ascent halted and she felt William binding her arms together behind her. Then she was off again, hauled high into the air and over the side of the massive cistern.
It was several hours later that she finally emerged from that evil room, dripping from head to toe in ice-cold water. Her chest was constricted from the numerous times she'd almost drowned, yet her captor was grinning ear-to-ear. In that moment Fira resolved to take her revenge on this monster, whatever the cost.
He shoved her along into one of the larger dungeons next, where Sara was already gagged and bound to a large X-shaped post. Angry red markings coloured her pale skin, making her traitorous behaviour all the more baffling in light of such harsh ongoing treatment. Sara beamed at Fira as she entered, apparently glad to see her.
This was all too suspicious for Fira, who was exhausted and already seething with rage at their merciless host. "You traitor," she snapped, glaring at her sister. "I saw you two together last night, fraternising," she spat, all the contempt she'd been suppressing now bubbling to the surface.
"Careful, pet," warned William, holding her arms.
"My name is Fira," she hissed, twisting out of his grip. She charged at Sara, stumbling forward with a curled fist aimed at her exposed stomach. But before she got within reach of her traitorous sister, William's cold hand slipped around her throat, pulling her back. Though she continued to strain against him, his grip may well have been another iron collar for all the give she mustered. He slipped a wide belt around her upper arms as she stood there, pulling them firmly together behind her back with the noisy creak of leather. Now she couldn't reach more than a few inches in front of her, much less throw a punch. That was a liberty she probably wouldn't regain for days.
William then attached a chain to her collar and fed it through a loop on the floor. Their eyes locked briefly as he tugged on the chain - her vivid emerald eyes filling with apprehension as his dark brown ones filled with smugness - before her head was yanked downwards. He smiled as she was forced to her knees and then all fours in a begrudging show of submission. When would he stop finding new ways to humiliate her?
"Are you certain?" he enquired satirically, looking down at her on all fours. "You look more like a pet than a Fira to me," he said, forcing her head the rest of the way to the stone floor where she was practically kissing his feet. Her hands scrambled to preserve some dignity as she fell head-first towards the ground, but her impaired arm movement gave her all the grace of a three-legged dog. Once William had finished chuckling at her awkward collapse, he continued.
"Do not condemn your sister for her actions. It is likely that, given the chance, she would like nothing more than to flee my humble estate with you at her side." He chained Fira's wrists tightly to opposite walls, dropping her bare chest against the cold stone as her hands were pulled out from under her. "But I deprived her of that chance when she tasted my blood those many nights ago. Her will is now indelibly bound to my own for the rest of the days in her generously extended lifespan."
He strapped Fira's ankles to her thighs and spread her frogtied legs wide apart, her knees resting up near her crushed breasts with her ass thrust into the air. He continued tightening black leather belts around her folded limbs until her haunches looked more like a zebra's than a woman's. Her elbows were drawn ever closer together and her shoulders pulled even further back. It only took one belt to secure a man's trousers - it didn't take many more to secure a flexible girl like Fira, but that didn't stop William from buckling her up with more belts than she'd ever seen in her life. By their smell, they appeared to be recently tanned - she couldn't imagine who would cut belts for the express purpose of restraining captive girls, but it unfortunately meant they were more likely to chafe and less likely to fray from wear. Belts were not like ropes or chains, either, which at least seemed to give some degree of elasticity. Like rope, they conformed to the contours of the body and were thus suited to long-term wear, but unlike rope, once they found their notch, belts held their victim in a vice-like grip that no amount of wriggling could loosen. Fira knew all this - belts were a common household item, after all - but she'd never imagined them being used to restrain someone against their will. She was shocked and humiliated at just how effective they were.
"But... You're a strapping young lad," Fira gasped, making every effort to reprise her playful disposition despite her difficulty breathing in this position. "Why didn't you simply beguile her with your masculine charms?"
William laughed and slapped her upturned ass. "My desires are more demanding than most mortals would accommodate."
"Well, you have me in a bit of a double bind right now, but-" she panted, flicking her tangled wet hair out of her eyes, "Generally speaking, I'm pretty flexible with my time."
He crouched down in front of her, grinning. "I speak not of time demands, as you well know. My desires demand a much more... physical commitment. And after that attempted assault on my slave, something your own deeds now demand too: punishment."
William stood up and finished securing her helplessness, roping her knees to her elbows and tightening the connection until Fira gasped at the strenuousness of her position. Now she was well and truly pinned, her body coiled up like a spring unable to burst, and her soft inner thighs and pink snatch were forced open for business.
"As much as I enjoy your clever wordplay, it would be remiss of me to withhold your just punishment, hmm?" He walked over to where Sara stood bound to her post, impassively watching the proceedings. With a few flicks of his wrist she fell forward into his arms, still gagged but breathing heavily.
"You shall be on punishment duty today," William informed her. "Show your sister what you are willing to do for me."
Fira caught her eye and raised an eyebrow. Sara wouldn't really bring harm to her own sister - she'd spent her entire life fighting to prevent such treatment. Maybe at most she'd put on a little show for their sadistic captor, but nothing too extreme.
William merely smiled and handed her a long cat o' nine tails. Fira scrunched her eyes closed and waited for impact. When the impact came, her eyes flew open and a surprised scream escaped her mouth. That was no soft blow! She felt as though a dozen little red hot pokers had been shoved into her back. And before the worst of the sting had even passed, another blow rained down on her, tossing more coals onto her fiery flesh.
What was Sara playing at? Didn't she see the pain she was inflicting? Was this revenge for her accusation? She tore at the chains holding her arms outstretched, desperate to escape the molten leather whip that continued to strike her back. No matter how she twisted or turned, the result was the same: she was stuck. Never had she been so painfully aware of her own vulnerability. Her breasts were pressed flat against the cold stone, her hands were held far out of the way, and her privates were held up for any lewd spectator to tamper with... And there was at least one lewd spectator standing by who would delight in exploiting that helplessness. She began begging for mercy, but her cries may well have fallen on deaf ears. Had her sister already become as merciless as their captor?
Kneeling down in front of her, William gently caressed Fira's cheek. "Are you growing angry?" he taunted her softly as his fingers brushed her face. Her bright emerald eyes narrowed in response. "Is your little heart racing?" he continued. "Does your blood lust for vengeance?"
The restrained girl answered his taunts with silence. Her body had its own way of communicating, however. Even as her sister's whip continued to rain down cruelly on her helpless form, William's intimate caress cradled her head, and her naked body trembled at his proximity. Her nether lips puckered open and closed as if panting for air. William noticed and smiled.
"Or do you lust for something else?" he rumbled. "Stop," William commanded, and Sara dropped the nine-tails as Fira breathed a sigh of relief. His cold fingers traced her pulsing orifice. Chuckling, he added, "All women are the same. You are so desperate to be used that at the slightest touch your bodies react, craving further contact."
Fira tried to ignore his words, to block him out, but the jibes sank into her like arrows. She could not deny there was a spark of truth in his remarks, even as a spark of lust was kindled within her. She had never been one for modesty, and her racy figure had always served her well when her mind turned to a desirous mood.
Suddenly she felt a cold object pressing against her rear. Her muscles tensed up, impeding its entrance.
"You are quite right, it should really be lubricated first," said William. He brought the object around in front of her, gesturing Fira to open her mouth. The object was a large black metal hook, its tip slightly wider than the rest. She didn't want that disgusting thing in her mouth, much less her rear, so her mouth remained firmly closed. William sighed and put his thumb and forefinger against her lips. With barely a hint of any exertion, he prised her jaw open and popped the end of the hook inside. She moaned in protest as he held her mouth agape and lathered the metal intruder in her saliva. Her tongue seemed all too willing to comply, producing ample fluid to coat the metal hook. She balked at the sour taste of iron in her mouth, but was powerless to resist the process.
Once William was happy with her contribution, he let Fira close her mouth again and moved the hook back to her clenched ass. Its fresh coating of saliva strained her efforts to keep the foul object from her rear, but somehow she managed to hold on. Abruptly, William slapped her face, and her ass puckered at the pain and shock. Quick as a flash, her captor pushed the hook into its hole where it lodged firmly inside her, the curved base nestling between the cheeks of her clammy posterior as if it belonged there.
Fira let out an involuntary whimper, unaccustomed to this depraved new sensation. She now appreciated the expression of have a stick stuck up one's ass: her body was suddenly as rigid as a plank. She wriggled around stiffly, trying to escape the unwanted sensation to no avail.
Her tormentor wasn't finished. Grabbing a fistful of her ruby locks, he tied the metal hook to a makeshift ponytail, her wet hair bonding firmly with the rope knot as he pulled it taut. She was now forced to hold up her head with her chin resting against the stone floor, otherwise the blasted hook dug even deeper into her sensitive rear. If her ass had been sticking up before, now it was all but hauled into the air.
Then she felt it. Amidst the pain racking her bound form, a warm buzz nestled in her throat. It gave her comfort, somehow. It reverberated with her voice, lending authority to her words even in her desperation. She had a feeling that if she uttered the right words, she could channel the warmth - direct it somehow. She didn't know what those words might be, though. No one else seemed to react to this sensation, but she knew it was real: she wasn't losing her mind. Not yet, anyway.
William turned to Sara, standing obediently behind them. "Play with her," he said, removing her gag. "Use your mouth. Be creative."
Fira frowned. He couldn't mean what she thought- ohh, yes he did. She felt Sara's tongue brush against her most intimate orifice and didn't know whether to feel disgusted or grateful. This was not something her sister would ever do of her own volition. As the only remaining family either of them had, the two girls loved each other dearly, but not like this. This was a line no self-respecting blood relative ever crossed. And Sara was more straight-laced than most - whoever it was licking her virginal slit, it was not the sister she'd lived with and bickered with for two decades. This actually gave Fira a small amount of comfort, as it meant her sister was not responsible for the lashing that still glowed across her back.
It took a certain mood to draw a moan of pleasure from a girl's mouth, and Fira was currently as far from that mood as it was humanly possible. Her mind was not on pleasure, but pain. Yet she soon discovered the two had a curious way of melding together. As the wet tongue continued to lap at her unmentionables, Fira found herself craving any and every sensation across her body, the more extreme the better. Her striped back had gradually receded to a dull ache and now emanated a warmth not unlike the one being kindled between her legs, but now she craved another stimilus. Anything, really, so long as it was intense enough to add to her growing arousal.
Almost on cue, William knelt down over her and unleashed his fingers against her sides. They danced playfully across her bare skin, eliciting an involuntary giggle as she writhed with discomfort. The hook dug deeper into her rear as her head shook, a shiver running down her spine as she felt the intruder move inside her and instinctively tried to expel it. Meanwhile the assault on her crotch continued, evoking feelings of both pleasure and shame in the bewildered girl. The curious warmth in her throat was not forgotten either, but it seemed content to idle there for now.
Fira began to anticipate her climax, reckoning that a moment of bliss was owed to her after so many weeks of endless torture. It seemed inevitable that she would get her just desserts - she hadn't been this close to an orgasm since leaving the privacy of an abandoned alley near their dwelling. Her mouth hung agape, rugged moans escaping with increasing intensity. She could practically taste her arousal, the pink blemishes on her back now far from her thoughts.
William suddenly grabbed her throat and forced her head up to look at him. Even crouched he towered over her bowed form. She could not have assumed a more submission pose if she'd wanted to. He spoke in a dangerously soft voice, and with every sentence Fira squirmed with embarrassment.
"Look at yourself. I came into your home. I took you against your will, throwing you and your sister over my shoulder like hunted game. I imprisoned you in a grimy dungeon. I robbed you of your dignity, removing your garments and claiming that voluptuous body you'd denied to so many as my own, to tease and torture as I desire. I turned your sister against you, depriving you of your only remaining friend and making her an enthralled slave to my whims. I robbed you of your own body, subjecting you to countless hours of torturous constriction in an inescapable iron shell for no other reason than to mould your feeble form more to my liking. I violated your precious holes in ways you have never imagined. And now I command your sister to defile that sacred taboo between those of the same blood."
Any hope Fira retained of escaping was melting away, but her sadistic captor wasn't done yet.
"I have given you every reason to despise me with every ounce of your remaining energy. But instead you scream in pleasure at the touch of my hands - the hands that have wrought so much misery in your life. Tell me, pet, what does that make you? How depraved must you be to enjoy yourself at the hands of such a cruel master?"
Fira wanted to stop and consider this, to find some bastion of comfort that her self-worth was not entirely forsaken. But it was at this moment that her arousal finally boiled over and her body gave in to its long-awaited bliss. As her love mound spasmed under Sara's warm tongue, William's words rung through her head: "What does that make you?"
He watched her eyes drift out of focus, smiling as she succumbed to the inevitable. He released her neck and allowed her head to loll about on the stone floor, mouth agape and panting in exhaustion. That was enough taunting for now. He'd have ample time to wash away every one of her defences, bending her will to his. This one had sass - a rare amusement to him. His traditional method of enthralment might destroy that, so he would have to break her the old-fashioned way. And besides, it would satisfy him far more to tame this one without resorting to an inexorable blood bond. To know she submitted body and mind of her own volition... that was an enticing goal. Of course, her years would be limited by human frailty, but he could always step in and enthral her later even if it was at the cost of her colourful personality.
Fira watched with exasperation as William got up and left the dungeon cell, slamming the heavy door shut behind him. He was going to leave her here, trapped in ashamed orgasmic bliss by her sister's tongue? She glanced down at Sara from the corner of her eye. The older girl showed no signs of letting up: in fact, she'd just brushed her long crimson hair aside to give her unobstructed access to Fira's immobilised crotch.
"Sara?" she murmured. Was her sister still in there somewhere, subdued by some dark power?
"Oh." Sara was surprisingly candid for someone whose mind was enslaved. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because he asked me to."
Fira rolled her eyes. "If he asked you to drown yourself, would you do it?"
Sara winced, appearing to struggle for a moment with the answer, then replied in an even tone, "Yes."
Fira decided to change tact. "Remember all those times you lectured me about keeping myself chaste, denying the privilege of intimacy to all the pathetic low-lifes who don't deserve it?"
Her sister nodded. Fira looked pointedly at her exposed tongue, paused between licks. "Has it occurred to you that you might be holding a double-standard there?"
Sara grimaced. "I can't help it, sis, you don't know what it's like..."
"You're not the one strapped up tighter than a bridled horse, sis."
Suddenly Sara sat up straight, eyes wide. A plan was beginning to form in her mind. It was so crazy it just might work. Fira would despise her for it, but with any luck it would give her a solid shot at freedom. There wasn't any hope left for Sara herself - already the plan was beginning to give her a headache just as any other thought of resistance did. She needed to act fast.
"Sara? What is it?" whispered Fira. There was no reply. Sara got to her feet and picked up the gag she'd worn earlier. She approached her sister and roughly forced it into place. Fira fought against her, but she'd had many years experience in winning scuffles with her feisty sister. It helped that Fira was unable to move a muscle, too. But it was crucial that Fira remained gagged and subdued until her work was done, otherwise William would hear and put an end to her scheme immediately.
With Fira angrily gagged, she got to work. William had told she was on punishment duty, and so that's would she would do. She would punish her beloved sister until her very life was threatened and William had no choice but to turn her into a true vampire or watch his favourite plaything die before his eyes. And if she failed... If she went too far... Well, she was saving Fira from a fate far worse than death - a fate Sara was all too familiar with.
With the cat o' nine tails in hand, she began to revisit the red stripes she'd left before. It pained her to see her sister bucking so ferociously in her restraints, her hair nearly torn out from the hook holding fast in her rear, but Sara's discomfort was outweighed by the unnatural pleasure induced from doing her master's bidding. She may have become a tad overenthusiastic, for soon her whip wasn't just leaving stripes - it was drawing blood.
Sara was well past stopping now. She'd entered a sort of frenzied trance, the vampire blood within her calling out for more to be spilt. She left no part of Fira's body unscathed. Her helpless sister had long since grown too exhausted to struggle, and now merely twitched as wounds were struck open across her flesh. Her whimpers were growing weak, but she was still conscious and very much aware of every strike Sara brought down upon her.
The dungeon door slammed open. William stood for a amount on the threshold, his nostrils flaring as he took in the sight of his blood-soaked slave twitching beneath her sister's unrelenting whip. He crossed over to them in the blink of an eye, knocking Sara back and barking at her to stay put. His dark brown eyes turned towards the mangled heap of flesh Fira now resembled.
As he crouched beside the lacerated girl, Sara noticed his own body now sported some fresh wounds on his shoulder and forearm. His clothes were torn in several places, as though he'd been engaged in a fight of his own. But who would he be fighting in his own mansion?
William raked his eyes across Fira's body, evaluating the extent of the damage. Then he began licking her wounds, cleaning the spilt blood from her flesh. But even when red was no longer the predominant colour of her flesh, it was clear she'd lost too much blood and her wounds were too extensive to patch up in time to prevent further blood loss. So far Sara's plan had progressed flawlessly - now everything hinged on William. Did he care enough to save her life, or was she just another slave to him?
In either case, Fira's time was running out. She was teetering on the edge of consciousness, and once she fell into darkness there would likely be no coming back.
Chapter V: Pets Come In Many Forms
The famed sorceress Annabeth was a mess. Her long sanguine hair stuck to her sweat-soaked shoulders and breasts like creepers to a castle. Her grey eyes were raw and bloodshot, staring defiantly ahead. Her chiselled face was cleaved into bulging quadrants of flesh from the strict leather harness that kept her gagged. Her fused arms burned to spring forward into a more natural position, but multiple straps held them securely against her back. Her entire lower body was trembling from the navel down, her innocent pink flower all but kissing the iron rod that threatened to leap inside her.
She was alone in the dungeon cell: Richard had left to return his loyal thralls to their musty home, and Ripper stood outside her door like the watchful hound he was. Her life as she knew it was coming to an unscrupulous end, and her heartless captor didn't even care to see it.
Anna closed her eyes. She wondered if she would be missed. This might not be the end of her life, but it would be the end of her crusade as a force of justice in the world. She thought of her informant, a distressed young woman who would never have the satisfaction of hearing her cruel tormentor had paid the ultimate price. Instead, Anna had fallen victim herself, never to help another unfortunate soul again.
The sorceress focused her attention on her straining thighs, clenching her eyelids against the pain. This was it. She could hold out no longer. Moaning a smothered scream, she relaxed her muscles and braced for impact. Then suddenly a cold hand caught her crotch, halting her descent towards the perilous shaft. Anna opened her eyes in disbelief.
Richard stood before her, having silently returned from his task, now grinning as infuriatingly as ever just inches away from her flushed face.
"On second thought, it might be handy to keep a pet witch hanging around," he mused, moving the oiled shaft out from beneath her. Anna's crotch dropped into its place, leaving her outstretched in a complete split, legs parallel to the ground below. Her overworked thighs burned from their sudden tautness, but her virginity was mercifully intact.
Anna didn't think much of this alternative - losing her powers would be devastating, but becoming a sadistic vampire's lackey for all eternity was a far more daunting prospect. When Richard said "hanging around" he really wasn't joking.
But she was helpless to resist him in either case. She watched apprehensively as his eyes burned red and fangs appeared in his mouth as they had before. He bit his tongue so that small beads of blood began growing there, then loosened her head harness and prised away the hard leather gag, locking lips with her before she even considered articulating a spell.
Though Richard held her head firmly against his, forcefully reminding her who was in control, the kiss itself gradually became as passionate as one between two long-separated lovers. Their tongues danced with each other, his releasing a trickle of sour blood onto hers while it writhed in response. The kiss induced an astounding change in the sorceress: her muscles were rejuvenated, her bloodshot eyes returned to a healthy silver, and her fused forearms went from feeling dislocated to merely a dull ache. She was no better off than she'd been mere seconds ago, but somehow her plight seemed a hundred shades less terrifying. The straps binding her slender figure seemed less intrusive and more natural. Less obscene, and more... pleasing. It was right that she be bound before her master, was it not?
When Richard withdrew, her lips were left hanging slightly open as though shocked at being free to form coherent words at last.
"You are never to use magic against me or my subordinates," said Richard firmly. "You are never to use a spell to free yourself from any restraints I have applied. You are never to use your power to wreak any manner of destruction upon these premises."
Anna nodded dumbly to show she understood. Instinctively she tried to utter a spell to loosen her arms, but a searing pain through her temple made her reconsider. If his other thralls suffered from similar inhibitors, it was no wonder they remained unwaveringly loyal. Every misdeed - or even the thought of misdeed - was met with an immediate dollop of searing pain.
So she was his thrall now, was she? How could a mere few drops of blood hold any power over her, let alone the absolute control he now commanded? She sensed another presence in the back of her mind, a haze of subservient bliss attempting to seduce her conscious mind into letting it swarm her thoughts, but the sorceress was wise enough to keep it at bay. Why was her mind still her own if she was bound to his will?
"Make this harness float," commanded Richard, eager to test his new pet's abilities. Anna found herself obeying before she even considered the request. At her word, the leather harness in his hands lifted gracefully into the air, swivelling slowly on the spot.
Richard clapped his hands together in glee. "Excellent, excellent," he applauded her. She grimaced, pained to see her talents reduced to petty spectacle. Richard smiled as he considered the opportunities his new pet presented, then rushed out of the room and left her swaying helplessly in the air.
Sara jerked to her senses, immediately wishing she hadn't. She was suspended by her bound ankles in a small pitch-black room. Her wrists were fused together in solid metal shackles against her naked rear, rendering her incapable of any movement besides a gentle swaying. A stiff gag filled her mouth completely, held in by a tightly-fitting web of straps that filled her nose with the distinctive aroma of freshly-treated leather.
In any other dark chamber, the darkness would only last as long as it took for one's eyes to adjust to the gloom. Here, there wasn't the slightest hint of light to which Sara's eyes could adjust. She could well have gone blind and never realised. Instead her spatial awareness slowly heightened, and she gradually became aware of the trembling forms of others like her - girls stripped of their dignity and bound in the same suspended position. Occasionally they brushed against one another, the spontaneous flesh-on-flesh contact sending a jolt through Sara's body each time it happened. From this she speculated that they were packed quite closely together, though it gave her little comfort to think that a group of unknown naked girls kept her company.
Foolishly she tried communicating with one of them, but a mere huff sounded through her gag. She tried to take a deep breath and found that she could not - there was simply no air to breathe. Her lungs burned in protest and Sara thrashed wildly in a futile attempt to escape. This only made her muscles burn too, and soon her entire body was on fire from within. Her blood had turned to acid: every fibre of her being screamed in agony.
Her throat constricted and she froze, paralysed with pain, as blood rushed to her head. She felt like the slightest prod would split her in two, sending her on a one-way journey over the pain threshold. But as the seconds dragged on, nothing happened. In fact, her heart continued to beat strongly - she could hear it pounding away in the darkness and feel it pumping acid around her helpless body.
Sweat poured off her in rivers. It felt like an oven in here. Sara was ready to die, but death refused to come. She struggled to make sense of the last few memories she could recall.
She'd started to gain their kidnapper's trust. He always seemed so curious about her younger sister, so Sara had fed him bits and pieces of trivia that Fira herself had probably long since forgotten. Her favourite childhood play areas. Her first crush. Short anecdotes about her mischievous exploits over the years. The more she shared, the more William pried, ever more curious about the unique relationship the two sisters shared. "Family love is something I can work with," he'd explained. It hadn't occurred to her to ask what work he was talking about.
She'd been a fool to play along, Sara realised. She'd known all along there was something off about him, but his many cruelties had never seemed to matter to her. It was his blood, thought Sara. She remembered her first taste of it - sickly sweet and filled with false comforts. Its power must have waned with time, for she didn't think him any sort of hero now. How could she? She was currently hanging upside-down in a closet suffocating to dea- well, suffocating - because of him.
But though she now saw him for the monster he was, Sara was still, by some dark power, compelled to obey his every whim. Fira could never know what it was like - being trapped inside your own mind, your body betraying your will, yet remaining fully conscious of the pain you inflict on the one you love. No matter what dark influence might be at play, the sense of guilt and shame was inescapable. So Sara had seen to it that Fira would never follow in her footsteps. Flayed her to the brink of death, she had, and she'd do it again if it somehow freed her from this torturous existence. This was her life now: powerless, burning muscles and the ever-present smell of leather restraints. Fira deserved better than this.
Suddenly the wardrobe door swung inwards and blinding light split the darkness, accompanied by a wave of stale but breathable air. Sara sucked it in greedily, the fire in her muscles receding to a bearable ache.
As her eyes adjusted to the light, Sara watched William enter lugging a squirming figure over his shoulder. The newcomer was shouting all the usual pleas Sara had heard countless times before, not yet realising her manhandler was about the most stone-hearted being ever to befoul the earth.
The new girl was pretty, like all the others, with hair the same colour as her new companions. William bound her ankles and chained them securely to the rack above, making her the thirteenth subject in his growing collection. Sara no longer even wondered at this one's story - she'd seen too many of them tossed into the group already, and not once had William removed anyone's gag to give them the opportunity to socialise. In fact, their heartless captor hadn't even glanced at Sara in what felt like a lifetime - she was just part of the scenery.
William finished hanging the girl and proceeded to gag her, humming a tuneless song under his breath. Once she was gagged like the rest of them, he slapped her cheek and walked out, slamming the room back into darkness. Sara wondered if the girl realised he wasn't coming back for her - that this was it, this was her fate.
She'd realise sooner or later.
Chapter VI: Loyalty Is A Fickle Thing
Drool trickled slowly down the sorceress's bare chest and glistened in the candlelight as she looked down to survey the damage.
Anna's once-flawless exotic figure was marred by angry red stripes criss-crossing all over her body. Some were only superficial, but others had bitten through her flesh and left her skin visibly uneven. Her toes were still firmly curled up, because unfurling them meant renewing the burn on her caned soles. The only part of her left unmarked were her loins. If Richard was keeping her around as an enslaved sorceress, it at least gave her some small assurance that she would not be violated in any way. Assuming he could control his lust for the sake of retaining her usefulness... The flock of redheads abandoned in his closet did not give her much faith.
Where did she go from here? Well, not here precisely, as it was clear she wasn't getting out of these bonds unassisted, but what did she do now with the cards she'd been dealt? Richard believed his victory complete - and indeed, his superiority complex would be in overload now with a sorceress under his command - but whether intended or dumb luck, she wasn't entirely down for the count quite yet. Sure, she was compelled to obey every command he gave her, but as long as he didn't give a command it appeared she was free to act as she wished. Of course, she couldn't magic her way out of here, or blast him senseless, or burn his mansion to the ground as she'd intended, or in fact use magic for anything useful at all... Alright, maybe those were major disadvantages. Not to mention any plan, however ingenious, would be unveiled if he simply decided to take another swig of her blood. Damn vampires... They had to have a weakness. Something she could exploit without magic. Or personal confrontation. But what?
Returning with dual flails in his hands, Richard entered the dungeon cell and smiled as he saw Anna's suspended form.
"All ready for round two, I see," he said menacingly. Anna's eyebrows bunched up, confused, but she understood the moment she looked down at her body. Her flawless exotic figure was back, her marred flesh having healed in the space of a few minutes. Her mouth dropped open in surprise, amazed and greatly relieved, until she registered what Richard was holding. Now she realised her new-found ability to heal swiftly was something he'd banked on and had every intention of exploiting.
Each flail consisted of a long spiked chain with a small weight on the end. They were unmistakably instruments of torture, not of war. They would not swing with enough momentum to cause damage to an armoured opponent, but to a naked woman bound and splayed... Even with vastly accelerated healing, the pain would be excruciating, even life-threatening.
Richard swung his tools deftly around in wide arcs as his eyes delighted in her fearful expression.
"Please..." she pleaded before he cut her off.
"Be silent, witch."
Though she continued to move her lips to beg, no sound escaped Anna's mouth. Once more she'd been rendered mute - and this time she didn't even have a gag to bite down on. As the flails swung closer and closer her hands instinctively jerked up in defence, only to be reminded of the inescapable straps fusing her arms together behind her. She was a spectator to her own body, forced to watch as savage torture was inflicted upon her helpless form.
Anna closed her eyes and waited for the first strike.
It never came. A soft clinking prompted her to open her eyes, and Anna gasped in wonder. Another woman stood in the doorway, her pale hand wrapped around the spiked chain where she'd caught it in mid-air. She wore featureless leather chaps that conformed to her shapely thighs, her crotch concealed only by a pair of russet linens. Her chest was clad in a sleeveless blouse, pulled tighter by the glossy lacquered corset hugging her slim waist. They were curves that Anna recognised immediately, even before her eyes reached the newcomer's face. She know only one woman who possessed such an enviably voluptuous figure: her informant, Fira.
Somehow Fira had found her way into the depths of Richard's dungeons. Why? How? Anna was bewildered, but still Richard's edict kept her vocals stiffly silenced.
"The one who got away," smirked Richard without turning around. "I knew you'd be back after I heard your lies through this one's blood memories."
Fira smiled dangerously. A trickle of blood now dripped from the hand clenched around Richard's flail, but she didn't seem to notice.
"Count Nosfarius Griscard. For innumerable crimes committed against the people of Lumina and the rest of humanity at large, prepare to face justice."
Her elegant face contorting with rage, she yanked the weapon from his hands and lunged at her foe, hands flying for his neck.
Anna thought she had him for sure, but then Richard - or should she say Griscard now? - spun around with astounding speed and deflected her attack. This began a fierce brawl between them, each combatant moving at a blur as Anna watched helplessly from the sidelines. Fira moved as he did - twirling and ducking with inhuman grace, her punches as loud as the crack of thunder as Griscard parried and blocked each strike. She must be a vampire too - was that the lie he mentioned? Anna doubted there was any way she could have known - these creatures seemed adept at fooling humans into dropping their guard. But if they were both evil creatures of the night, why were they fighting each other?
There was a pause in the skirmish as they reached a stalemate, inches from each other's face. They were evenly matched: the Count had superior strength, but even impeded by a corset Fira outmanoeuvred him at every turn. Both had the endurance to keep fighting for a long time yet.
Griscard snarled at her, his face distorting into the beast Anna knew so well. Fira growled back, her own eyes glowing the distinctive blood-red of a vampire. Her fangs were smaller and more slender, but no less sharp. With a sudden jerk she rammed her head into his and went limp to slip out of his grasp. Taking advantage of his momentary daze, she rose up and attacked from above. A moment later she had his head held firmly between her thighs as he struggled in earnest to dislodge her.
Catching Anna's silent gaze, Griscard snapped, "Attack her, witch!"
Roused from inaction, Anna reluctantly muttered some feeble words under her breath, sending a harmless blast of water at Fira. She might be compelled to obey his will, but she had no desire to disadvantage her only ticket out of here.
The water did have the effect of making Fira's chokehold slippery, however, allowing the Count to escape after struggling for a few more seconds. Anna cursed under her breath. Griscard threw the soaking vampiress to the floor and mustered a taunting smile.
"Did you truly believe I would allow a slave to best me?"
Fira landed in a crouch and quickly evaluated the situation. She was back to where she started except without the element of surprise. She couldn't take them both single-handedly. Annabeth was a wild card, but likely to do more damage than good in her current state. And soon the brutish lackey she'd detained in the corridor would rejoin the fight, pitting her against two angry vamps and an enthralled sorceress. Those were not odds she was willing to take.
As much as she hated the idea, she had no choice but to fall back. Revenge could wait. With a final sympathetic glance in Anna's direction, she fled from the room and into the darkness of the dungeons she knew so well. Griscard followed her to the doorway just in time to see her disappear out of sight. Ripper was slumped against the wall, snoring softly.
"A fine help you were, you fat lump."
He kicked the unconscious vampire awake and sped off in the direction of his escaped assailant. Ripper peeked into the cell to check that Anna was still fully bound, then shrugged and went back to standing guard.
The next few minutes passed in total silence. Anna was tortured with suspense - had Fira been discovered? Had she fled the mansion, or was she lingering somewhere in the shadows? Would she return to rescue her? Why should she?
After what seemed like hours, Anna's questions were finally answered. A hand grabbed her mouth from behind and she flinched before she realised it was not the beefy hands of Ripper or the rough hands of Griscard, but the smooth elegant hands of Fira. Anna's eyes had never left the doorway, but she hadn't seen anyone enter. Could a vampire really move that far in the time it took her to blink?
"What's a luscious tanned body like yours doing in a dark gloomy place like this? You should be out enjoying the sun," murmured Fira in a soft, playful tone. Her breath tickled Anna's bare shoulder, sending goosebumps across the girl's naked flesh. Becoming more serious, she whispered, "I'm sorry about this, Annabeth, but I've got to ensure you won't fight at the Count's beck and call." Then she pinched the sorceress's nose and sunk her fangs deep into her neck. This time Anna really did scream, though no sound escaped Fira's cupped hand.
It was the second time that night Anna's blood had been nearly drained, and this was no less awful than the first. She fought for air, her struggles growing more feeble as she felt her body becoming weaker and weaker. That was not the only change her body underwent, however. As Fira sucked her precious life-force away, Griscard's tainted blood went with it. This was a bitter-sweet victory: the aches and cramps in her bound muscles returned in full force, but the sensation reunited her mind with her body in a satisfyingly intimate way: it was as though she'd been detached from the world, unconcerned by her fate, and now she was once again anchored to it. The world could be a cruel place, she knew, and her current entanglement was testament to that - but she'd much rather live in it than float outside it. The pain she currently felt was almost debilitating, but it told her that she was alive. It told her that her plight was deeply wrong, that she needed to escape. Most importantly, it told her that she was mortal: one day her work would be complete, and she would be granted eternal peace. But that day was a long way off yet. It was time to serve justice, and she was no longer alone in that verdict.
"You're free now," whispered Fira. "Just remember who it was that freed you."
With that she removed her hand and slipped out of the cell as silently as she'd entered.
Fira remembered perfectly the day she died. It was one of the many curses of vampirism, having flawless retention. Flawless memory, sight, hearing, agility, pain tolerance, even immortality: it was ironic how many of these perceived boons turned to torment as time passed.
Well, to call it day would imply the sun was up, while in reality the sun was nowhere to be seen. She'd been in a dungeon, one as deep and dark and demented as the fire pits of hell. At least, that was how her human eyes had perceived it. Her vampiric eyes saw straight through the darkness and embraced dementia.
She understood why he'd done it. Why her sire had drained all those people of life and kidnapped those girls to be his unwilling sex slaves. It was boredom, pure and simple. He was a superior being in an inferior world. When all else failed to amuse, he'd become morbidly curious in pushing boundaries of everything considered sane and natural. How far could he go? How perverted could he become? How extensively could he tamper with the natural order of life before the world itself folded inwards?
Of course, despite all the evil he'd wrought, the world kept on spinning. It became just another game to him, seeing what he could get away with. The men and women whose futures he'd stolen meant nothing to him. The grief he struck into the hearts of those left behind meant even less. Grief like her own, for the sister she'd once had before he'd twisted her into another one of his immortal slaves. Fira was a young vampire by the measure of his existence, but she'd vowed to end herself should the day ever come when she begins to follow the trail he'd blazed.
It had seemed so important to her at first that she understood his motives. She'd spent months just researching his true name, for he'd gone by many over the centuries. William, Henry, James, Walter, Robert, Richard... Always a name that would garner little attention from locals at the time. But an ancient burial scroll rotting in the ruins of a haunted fortress had held the answer: Count Nosfarius Griscard, circa 508-554 AD. Presumed dead at age 46, though of course no corpse was ever found. His name was likely derived from the old Slavic word meaning the insufferable one, but Fira had a hard time believing any parents would name their child such except perhaps as a joke. And if he truly had been a count, it meant he at least had experience with ruling over people. No surprises there.
Her search for reason had ultimately led nowhere, however. She'd found out everything possible about the so-called Count, but nothing explained his drive to kill more innocents than the Black Death. Then, for whatever reason, he'd decided to settle down outside Lumina and narrow his target demographic to young female redheads. Fira knew all too well his reasons for exclusively selecting females - it was not for their gentler spirit - but the hair colour had seemed rather arbitrary until... "The power to quench darkness will be granted only to the virtuous women with hair as red as the blood they spare."
The origin of the prophesy was unknown to Fira, but it explained the troupe of redheads in Griscard's wardrobe. It also explained the warm buzzing sensation she'd experienced once in her throat, for she too matched the criteria. Why her power had never materialised was a mystery to her - perhaps vampires were not virtuous enough, whatever that meant.
The only remaining question was how he'd come to be so utterly devoid of compassion. But after all she'd read about his many crimes, she no longer cared. His crimes were irredeemable. Perhaps an omnipotent divine being could have the mercy to forgive, but she did not. So she'd begun planning her revenge. Not only for herself, but for her sister.
Sara, once so pure of heart, had been corrupted into the shell of a human. Fira had died by her hand, at last granted release from the chains of slavery - for a fleeting moment. Griscard had brought her back as an accursed creature of the night and caged her so securely it had taken several hours to escape even after she'd forcibly acquired the keys. As a newborn vampire she'd been stretched out in a cage so constrictive it was as though it was shaped to her curves - which wouldn't surprise her after spending all those long painful hours locked in an infernal iron maiden, reshaping her modest figure into an eroticised caricature of a woman that fulfilled her captor's dark fantasies. Then he'd commanded Sara, her own sister, to torture her with a red-hot poker through the bars of the cage. That was the first time she'd experienced the curse of vampiric healing. All of the pain without the escape of mortality.
She'd only escaped when Sara had snuck her some of her blood, giving Fira the strength to dislocate her own arm and manoeuvre into a position from which she could grab Griscard's turned back.
Fira reflected on all these things as she lay in wait in the darkness, gaining renewed resolve from her reflections. There were one, maybe two vampires presently searching for her. Vampires were born hunters: it was only a matter of time before the rustle of a vine gave her position away. But she was banking on just that. In fact, all she needed to do was slip past them and slink back to the sorceress currently racked with silent agony as she hung exposed in chains. She didn't think much of her chances without magic on her side - getting Annabeth onboard was imperative. Even as a vampire, the other girl's power scared Fira, and she knew the sorceress could just as well turn her vengeance towards her, but it was a risk she had to take.
Muted footsteps piqued her sensitive hearing and her head snapped towards the source. It was the Count, but he hadn't seen her yet. She cautiously backed deeper into the crawlspace, her feet feeling for the loose brick that granted entrance to a secret passage. She'd been held prisoner in these dungeons for many months, and though she'd been kept securely under lock and key for most of that duration, there had been times she'd done some harmless exploring. Like any archaic mansion, Gormwall Manor was home to more hidden passages than there were roads in Lumina, and she was proud to have discovered a great number of them. Whether they were secret was anyone's guess, but Fira had never seen him crawling through a false wall.
She soon left the stalking Count behind as the passage led back into the heart of the dungeons. The cell where Annabeth was chained was one of the largest and most well-equipped for restraining a woman in any way Griscard chose. Fira had foul memories of that room and the horrors it had held for her and Sara. Now there was another girl trapped there, and Fira was in a position to help her. Would the cycle of injustice finally be broken?
Fira emerged into the candle-lit cell and straightened up, acutely aware of the hulking guard standing watch outside the door. Annabeth was stretched out before her, chains clinking softly as she swayed in her bondage. She was ungagged, but Fira understood that thralls were bound to their master's commands more tightly than any physical restraint. Her own mind had never been enslaved - a mistake Griscard would pay for dearly - but she'd discovered the power of vampiric seduction on her own after kissing an admirer with a shade too much fervour. A vampire's fangs were all too eager to draw blood, she'd found.
Still, she wasn't taking any chances. Fira grabbed the sorceress' mouth from behind, whispering what she hoped were soothing words of comfort. She also pinched her nose, completely silencing the girl, before sinking her fangs into the soft flesh they ached to devour. Fira had never tried this before, but she could smell the other vampire's foul scent in the girl's blood, as revolting in flavour as Annabeth's was sweet, and was confident she could suck it out without killing her. Hopefully.
But blood was blood, and it had been too long since she'd had a good feed. The sweet nectar of life gushed down her throat as Fira closed her eyes in bliss. An endless stream of images flashed through her mind, the girl's whole life contained within them - yet somehow Fira had time to process every frame, every thought, and every memory. The sorceress was not as young as she appeared, that much was clear. While still mortal, she'd been fighting the good fight for many years and had more than just battle scars to prove it. Her magic fascinated Fira, for she already understood the joy of wielding a power few others could match, and this was several orders of magnitude beyond that. A power far more wondrous than even her own vampiric abilities. Yet the price seemed so dear - abstaining from all carnal pleasures was a tall order for a girl of Annabeth's beauty and physique. Fira knew now why her own power had never manifested - she'd explored all those pleasures shortly after receiving immortality. Men were never so desirable as when they were frozen in terror.
It was several long seconds before she regained her own senses and remembered whose neck she occupied. Hastily, she pulled away from the weakened sorceress and backed off before her bloodlust got the better of her.
"You're free now," Fira whispered, fervently hoping Annabeth wasn't too weak to take advantage of that freedom. With a final admonishment she left the same way she'd entered, doubling-back to make a frontal approach on the cell. The tables were turned now - this time, she would reign victorious. She had to.
Chapter VII: Turning Tables and Burning Bulls
Anna ached from head to toe. She was forced into the full splits in mid-air, for goodness' sake. Her body may have been augmented with years of magical training, but she was still human, and it was not humanly possible to endure such a position for the time she had without feeling as thrashed as a stubborn mule. But these aches no longer bothered the sorceress, for she could now dismiss them with a word. So she did, flexing her bound limbs as new energy returned to them.
She didn't cut herself loose just yet, however. Instead she stayed just as she was, biding her time until that sorry vampire lord returned to meet his doom. She wanted to see his face when he realised his reign of despair was over.
She didn't have to wait long. A few minutes later she was joined by a small party: Count Griscard looking smug as his brute Ripper dragged in Anna's informant-turned-accomplice Fira. The vampiress didn't look too concerned, though, making Anna wonder if the Count had spent so long in the company of helpless mortal women that he underestimated the considerable strength of his kind.
Addressing Fira, he said, "You see, slave, no one escapes my wrath."
"Burn her," he commanded the sorceress, his eyes fierce with suppressed hatred.
Anna acquiesced, vocalising the ancient word for flames, but instead of directing the inferno at Fira, she engulfed Ripper's arms in fire. He released the vampiress with a yelp of pain, diving to the ground to pat out his scorching forearms. Fira pounced at the stunned Griscard as Anna uttered another spell to free herself, landing in a shaky crouch.
The sorceress burned with rage as she regarded her sadistic captor. She yelled at him in the ancient tongue, not really caring what destruction her spells wrought as long as he suffered the weight of his cruelty. Bricks came flying out of the cell walls, Fira ducking just in time as they rocketed into their target. Cracks appeared in the floor and ceiling while deep rumbles echoed through the earth. Ripper looked terrified, Fira was smug, and even Griscard's eyes widened in fear.
Soon a swirling storm of bricks and mortar filled the dungeon, suffused with occasional flashes of fire and ice, all of which were drawn to the Count like a magnet. It was becoming hazardous for all in range, so Fira grabbed the enraged sorceress and hurried to the corridor, keeping low to avoid stray debris.
Anna turned on her when they were clear of the storm, hissing, "Why did you drag me away? He needs to pay for what he's done!"
"You hear that?" snapped Fira, pausing to let the distant rumbling invade their argument. "You've started something big. This place is going to come down soon, and then we'll all pay. Is that what you want?" She breathed deeply and calmed down somewhat before continuing. "Believe me, Annabeth, I wish to see Griscard suffer as much as you do, but he's not worth your life."
Anna glared at her in silence for a moment before conceding. She appreciated Fira's concern - a cave-in probably wouldn't hurt the vampiress one bit, just make her somewhat dusty and rather annoyed when she eventually crawled free. But that meant Griscard would survive too. There was no longer time for a drawn-out scheme of revenge - she had to act fast if she wanted him to suffer at all.
Fira grabbed her arm as she turned to re-enter the perilous dungeon cell.
The sorceress had half a mind to argue with her, but something about the glint of fury in Fira's bright green eyes held her back. A moment later Fira was rushing out of the cell with an angrily-struggling Griscard in her arms. She shouted for Anna's help, and the sorceress cast a spell of restraint upon him. For most beings this would result in full immobilisation, but for Griscard it would probably just feel like he was moving through treacle.
"You... escaped... the blood-bond," groaned Griscard, finally catching on. He turned slowly to look up at Fira, understanding dawning on his face. "Because there's... no more... blood left in her... Clever girl..."
"But tell me... Fira... How do you... feel?" Fira's eyes narrowed and her grip around his arms tightened. Then Anna understood. The vampiress had sucked all his blood out of her - which meant Griscard's blood was now in Fira. But surely it took more than a swig of second-hand blood to enthrall another vampire?
"Maybe... you feel like... draining that witch... for me?"
Fira looked at Anna, confused. Then her vampiric side emerged, her green eyes glowing red as small needle-sharp fangs grew in her mouth. Her eyes were apologetic now as Griscard slipped out of her grip and she took a step towards the sorceress.
"Fira..." Anna said cautiously, backing away. "You can fight this. I did. Don't let him control you!"
The vampiress shook her head in resistance but continued to advance on Anna.
"Look! He's going to escape if you don't stop him!"
Indeed, Griscard was scrambling away, apparently content to leave the two females to fight it out. Fira let out a groan of torment which grew into an animalistic roar of anger. Both Anna and Griscard flinched with fear, but it was the vampire who had Fira's attention now. She grabbed him by the neck and plunged her fangs into it, her rage subsiding as she sucked away his ancient and powerful blood.
Anna didn't know if this was a good idea - if it was his blood commanding control over her, it would seem that more of it would only worsen that situation - but nothing about vampires made sense to her, so she hoped this was another case where logic flew out the window.
It was. Fira withdrew a moment later, perfectly composed. With a reassuring smile to Anna, she grabbed Griscard once more and rushed down the corridor as cracks appeared in the stone above. She took corners at lightning speed, challenging Anna's ability to keep up. But she clearly knew her way, for they soon burst into a familiar bedchamber.
Anna let out of sigh of revelation - she intended to lock the Count in his own wardrobe! There was surely no better punishment for all the crimes he'd committed. She remembered his words from what seemed like an age ago, as Anna herself had been trussed up on this very bed. There is no power on Earth that could open this door from within. She didn't doubt for a moment that the vampire spoke true - he was too proud to settle for anything less than the most inescapable of prisons for his immortal captives.
So that was where he was headed. Anna summoned the large gold key from his pocket and hefted open the bulky door for Fira to throw him inside. The enthralled girls were still bound there, but not all of them, Anna realised. There were only twelve remaining - the girl whom Griscard had rewarded was missing. Sara, her name had been. Fira seemed to notice this too, though Anna knew not how - she hadn't seen all of the captives that were here before. Nonetheless, Anna cut down the girls that were there, leaving them bound as she levitated their inverted forms out of the musty room. She didn't need another repeat of her last foiled rescue attempt.
"This won't hold me forever," croaked Griscard, but his fearful eyes spoke otherwise. If he was going to beg, now would be the time. "Don't you think... you're overreacting?"
"Overreacting!" exclaimed Fira, gesturing to her constrictive outfit. "You confined me to a corset for eternity! Without its support my waist is racked with constant pain. Not to mention the daily torture you put us through for years! How many others have you inflicted far worse horrors upon?"
"More than you will ever know," he retorted, a demented smirk on his face.
Fira and Anna stood in the doorway for a moment more, looking upon their old captor one last time. A nearby rumble shook them back to the urgency of their situation, and Fira slammed the door with relish, turning the key until a satisfying thud indicated the deadbolts had secured the undead creature inside. Anna took the key and, with a nod from Fira, conjured a molten flame to consume it, allowing the gold to splash to the floor below. The Count's fate was sealed: nothing would get in or out of that room ever again.
"There's a girl missing," remarked Anna as she looked over the pile of bound thralls. Fira nodded.
"Leave them. Their life was spent long ago - death is their only escape now."
"But you freed me from his control-"
"You were only recently enthralled. Most of these women have been captives for decades, even centuries. I could free them like I did with you, but most would simply crumble to ash, or at best live a few more years as a shadow of their former selves."
"Then free them. They deserve to be free of his tyranny after all this time," said Anna fiercely.
Fira's eyes were sad. "There is no time, Annabeth. We have to hurry from this place before it collapses." Another rumble shook the room, affirming her assertion.
"There's time enough. If you won't free them, I will."
The vampiress raised an eyebrow in query, then grimaced as a dagger flew into Anna's hand. "So be it. Grant them peace while I find the thirteenth girl."
Anna nodded and Fira sped from the room, straining her ears for human sounds as she scoured the dungeons. There was no sign of the Count's lackey - maybe he'd already escaped. She wasn't too concerned about him with his master locked away.
A faint wail caught her attention, and she ran towards it. In the deepest level of the dungeons she found a room with a single brazen bull in the centre. It was forged with intricate detail, the horned head lifted in a perpetual cry of agony. Frequent bellows of anguish echoed through it, like the cries of a great bull. A small fire crackled underneath, heating the bronze so it was too hot to touch.
Fira had never seen such a contraption, so it was a few seconds before she found a way open up the side. And inside... Fira choked back tears... Inside was her sister, Sara, curled up in a ball with her eyes clenched shut. Her naked flesh was raw and bloody, scorched from prolonged exposure to the blistering bronze. She this was the reward Griscard gave to those who pleased him, then. Any mortal would have succumbed to the pain long ago, but his immortal thralls had the accursed constitution to survive such a plight indefinitely, albeit at the cost of unimaginable torment.
Her eyes bloodshot with grief and anger, Fira reached in and lifted her sister out of the bull, setting her safely on the cold stone floor. Sara remained as she was, curled up and oblivious to her surroundings, so Fira gently leaned down and kissed her neck, drawing Griscard's blood from her veins and spitting it out on the ground.
When she was done Sara opened her eyes wide, noticing Fira for the first time.
"Hey, sis..." she croaked. "You escaped, then. I hope you'll forgive my methods... I only wanted you to be free of that horrible monster..."
"I know," Fira reassured her, smiling sadly at her older sister, albeit with a flash of discomfort as she was reminded of the excruciating final hours of her human life. "And it worked. He won't be hurting any girls ever again."
"Better watch out for the men then..." she joked, wincing as she moved her scorched arms.
"Lie still now... It's all over."
"I feel... old," mused Sara. Then her eyes widened. "Stay strong," she whispered, and crumbled away to ashes.
A single tear trembled on Fira's cheek. She stood up and brushed it away with a cold, pale finger. She hadn't believed a vampire was capable of tears - it served as a reminder that she was not the heartless creature her sire had been. Perhaps she could turn this curse into a blessing yet.
Barely a minute later she rejoined Anna as she was just covering the last body.
"Did you find her? The thirteenth girl?"
Fira shook her head sadly. "Let's get out of here," she declared, and the two of them turned and hurried from the scene of death, beginning their journey up and out of the labyrinth of twisted dungeons hidden beneath Gormwall Manor.
It was almost dusk by the time the two heroines surfaced into the grand foyer. Except now it could scarcely be described as serviceable, let alone grand. Everything was a wreck: the wallpaper was stripped, the marble cracked, the chandeliers fallen, and the staircase missing half its steps. It appeared to have been in a state of disrepair for decades - but that was impossible, because Anna had passed through here barely a week ago.
"What the..." she muttered, ever the one for eloquence.
Fira chuckled. "From the moment you touched his hands, you were seduced by his illusions," she explained. "Vampires are an ancient and powerful race, evolved to ensnare even the sharpest of wits. Our insidious wiles wouldn't compare to your own impressive abilities, mind you, but to the unprepared there is little we couldn't fool them into believing."
The sorceress glanced over at the vampiress, mistrust plain in her features. Fira shrugged off her suspicion, adding, "Have no fear, I've no desire to enthrall or beguile you, Annabeth."
"Your kind must have a weakness," prompted Anna, changing the subject. Fira's eyes narrowed.
"We do. And I will tell it to you, not out of charity, but on the condition you will exploit that weakness should there ever come a time when I follow in Count Griscard's footsteps, treating the world and its inhabitants as my personal playground to take from and destroy at will."
If Anna was surprised by Fira's candid reply, she hid it well. Instead she merely nodded and affirmed, "You have my word."
"First of all, you needn't worry about being attacked in the night, for vampires can only enter a home by an explicit invitation. But if you really must face one, sunlight will kill a vampire as surely as a sword will kill a mortal man. Of course, that's a great reassurance when you're locked in an underground dungeon, so you should know that the only other way of ensuring a vampire's demise is this: a wooden stake through the heart. Or a wooden spear. Or even a chair leg, I suppose - just put some solid wood through the heart, and you'll make the world a better place," she finished bitterly.
Anna had doubted the vampiress's sincerity before, but now her reservations were put to rest. Here was a creature who considered herself a blight upon the world, that much was clear. The sorceress found herself affected by sympathy for the girl who'd unwillingly been turned into a feared creature of the night.
"I'm going to burn this place to the ground," she said. It wasn't a question, but she waited for Fira's response all the same. If anyone would appreciate the spectacle of Gormwall Manor going up in flames, it was the vampiress beside her.
"I'd be honoured to watch," Fira smiled as they headed for the entrance, where the large double doors now hung askew in their frame.
A crunching of debris behind them drew their attention, and they spun around to see Ripper emerging from the basement, brushing rubble off his mammoth body. Evidently he hadn't been as successful in escaping the earthquake as they had.
Anna immediately raised her palms in preparation for a spell, but Ripper's words stopped her. For the first time since she'd known him, he spoke lucidly and without hesitation.
"Just a moment please, lady magician. I wish to extend my undying gratitude to the woman beside you."
Fira raised an eyebrow.
"You consumed the blood of my former master, did you not? From his veins, I might clarify. His blood held me enthralled these past two centuries, warping my mind beyond hope until you just now prevailed against him."
"Two centuries..." breathed Anna. "What were you doing two centuries ago that caused you to cross paths?"
"In truth, a foolish land dispute. I was the lord of a neighbouring estate - I can't imagine it has fared well in my absence - and I was enraged that his choice of prey included some of my subjects. He broke our agreement, you see. I was just a slave who'd inherited a small fortune when he offered me immortality, promising the world if I but tithed a few workers to him on occasion. I must have been a fool to believe a man - nay, creature - such as him wouldn't lust for more. Soon enough the tithes got out of hand, and I elected to confront him in his own home."
"No," interrupted Anna, as his story was beginning to tug at her sympathy. His words may be more confident, but his voice was the same gravelly bass that had cheered for torture so frequently in his time as Griscard's manservant - his very name was testament to that. It took Anna every ounce of self-control not to smite him where he stood. "I saw you in there - you were torturing those poor girls with a grin on your face. You can't tell me that was all Griscard's doing."
"Begging your pardon, magic-lady. It pains me to think how many more innocents might have suffered at my hands, but alas, my memory of these past years is scattered at best."
"I assure you there is nothing convenient about losing two centuries of your life to a ruthless maniac," said Ripper softly.
"Annabeth," murmured Fira, "Give him leave on this occasion - his actions will soon declare the truth of his words."
Anna glanced at Fira. For all her self-pity, she still displayed an unnerving lack of respect for human life. "And if he proves dishonest? Am I to have the blood of his first victims on my hands?"
"Not your hands. Mine. I will take responsibility for his actions - and for meting out justice if the need arises."
"Fira... You didn't know him before, did you? It's not a risk I would take."
"I did know him," she said, looking back at Ripper. "I was half-dead at the time, but I remember the wounds inflicted on Griscard's body, and how Ripper here - though that was not his name at the time - appeared as the Count's servant shortly afterwards. Trust me, he was not in league with Griscard then, and I don't believe he is any longer now."
Anna sighed, wondering how victory could be so complicated. "Fine," she conceded. "It's your lucky day, Ripper. You're free to return to whatever ruins have become of your former estate. But for goodness' sake, if you're starting a new life, think of a better name..."
"Thank you, my lady," he said, inclining his head. Then he was off, running swiftly into the night. Anna shook her head at the whole scene. She had an unshakeable feeling she'd regret this sometime in the future.
A minute later, Anna and Fira were standing outside Gormwall Manor, ready for the fireworks.
"I don't remember it looking so... decrepit," Anna remarked as she summoned a flame in her palm. "It's not what I would have expected of a wealthy vampire."
"Illusions are always most effective when they pander to your expectations," replied Fira. "But who's to say his wealth wasn't all an illusion too?"
"Hmm. You're right - this manor is probably the only thing of value he owned," Anna said, happily hurling fireballs through the doorway and windows. Everything the fire touched immediately went up in a blaze, for the interior was rife with dry dust from years of neglect. Soon the entire lower floor had flames licking the windows. A loud crack split the night as one corner began to collapse from its weakened supports. The two spectators jumped back hastily to avoid any potential debris. A horse whinnied nearby and two black stallions galloped from the manor's stables, racing off into the night together. Fira chuckled.
"That'll do it," whistled Anna, lobbing a final fireball into the foyer. "Soon there will be nothing but a pile of charred rubble."
"A vast improvement, I've got to say," smiled Fira.
"What will you do now?" asked Anna, turning to the vampiress.
"Find a place to settle in and develop a unjust reputation steeped in superstition, I'd imagine," she grimaced. Smiling again, she continued, "But don't worry, I won't cause too much havoc."
Anna rolled her eyes. "You know I'd track you down in a heartbeat. I'd have to keep my word, after all. But Fira: aim to make your sister proud, and you need never fear the darker nature of your kind."
"How did you-"
"Sara was your sister, then? I thought so. You spoke of suffering alongside another when you were shouting at Griscard. And I don't think it was out of charity that you opted to track down the missing girl."
The vampiress remained silent for a moment, then said quietly, "Your reputation is not undeserved, I see. Yes, Sara was my sister, but that bond is long severed."
"Family bonds are never broken," countered Anna. "Even in death. Yours is a connection more beautiful than any twisted enthralment by a creature as perverted as Griscard. See that you never forget what she meant to you, and Griscard's legacy will amount to no more than a pile of rubble."
Fira opened her mouth to reply, then closed it again and nodded. "Once again, Annabeth, you display wisdom beyond your years. Farewell - I hope we meet again under kinder circumstances."
The sorceress chuckled. "I hope not. That would be terribly dull."
After a moment of hesitation, the two embraced, Fira's pale skin cool against Anna's fire-warmed hands. When they broke apart, Fira winked at her and headed off, walking in the opposite direction to Ripper's earlier departure.
Anna was left alone staring at the crumbling spires of Gormwall Manor, her bronzed figure warmed by the flickering orange glow of the flames before her. So little remained of the almond-eyed maiden that had once sat alone in a noisy tavern: Anna could never have imagined what she would witness and experience in the days that followed. It took a healthy dose of pragmatism to live her life, but yet another layer of innocence had been stripped away as she became embroiled in the dark lusts of her deviant captor. Her faith in humanity had taken a blow, and it was only through the knowledge of Griscard's sinister vampiric nature that she found solace. For now, she'd continue to do what she did best: hunt and vanquish evil, whatever form it took.
Anna looked around, her mind struggling to process the events of the past few days. She usually adjusted to change fairly swiftly, but it would be much longer before she regained any sense of dignity after having it so thoroughly robbed away. There was also a more pressing matter...
"I really need to find some clothes," she muttered.
Epilogue: A Legacy of Lust
Months later, the humble town of Lumina welcomed a new citizen - a sassy and rather wealthy dame by the name Fredrica. She mostly kept to herself, but occasionally would be spotted turning the tables on a seedy ruffian or bandit in a back alley. Of course, what the locals didn't know is that Fredrica was far older than her beguiling looks would suggest and more than capable of handling herself around a sleazy womaniser. Secretly, she wanted to make a difference in the harsh town she'd known as a child, and now she was in a position to do so in more ways than one. Amusing how the mere mention of money could prevent a conflict before it even began.
When she did allow a man into her home, she kept the strangest company. A hulking brute of a man with skin as dark as coal would visit at ungodly hours of the night, and those with prying ears scratched their heads at the sounds they heard when he was around: sudden cracks and thuds mixed with low animalistic moans. Some worried for the fair Fredrica's safety, but her milky flesh never bore the slightest mark when she eventually emerged glowing with high spirits.
In truth, Fredrica had been haunted with waking nightmares of countless unrecognised girls being bound in extreme positions and whipped until tears weren't the only liquid flowing. But explicit images were only part of the nightmares. They were accompanied by shameful sensations of satisfaction and pleasure. It wasn't long before she realised that the deviant deeds she witnessed in these dreams were on her mind more and more as time went on, though not as haunting images, but as fantasies.
A part of her recognised that these dreams were not really dreams at all, but memories from a deviant individual whose blood she'd once consumed. They'd begun to infect her own mind with kinky desires beyond any she'd ever known. And so she sought to make these fantasies reality by seeking the one person she knew had ample experience in such matters. A vampire whose darkest desires rivalled those of his old master, though he was immeasurably more discrete about their fulfilment.
As a vampiress herself, Fredrica had little to fear from indulging her dark fantasies, and her chosen expert had no objections. After their first meeting it became clear that an ongoing arrangement was in both of their best interests, fulfilling whatever depraved lusts they shared whilst eliminating any collateral damage to the region's recovering population of submissive women.
It was some time before Lumina began to lose its reputation for losing inhabitants, but gradually Fredrica's evening exploits took root. Soon it was not the innocent inhabitants but the town's reprobates that whispered fearful stories of the "demonic dame" that prowled the streets at night.
No one was surprised to hear that the ruins of Gormwall Manor had finally crumbled, and most were even glad that the "blight upon the countryside" was no more.
Meanwhile, oblivious to his kinky legacy, the pioneer of those perversions remained healthy and active, albeit buried under many levels of solid rock. His wardrobe had stayed stubbornly intact as his manor crumbled outside the door - a testament to both its secure construction and his own endless arrogance. Now, of course, he found it infuriating how it had never occurred to him that his inescapable prison was perhaps too inescapable. His stone-cold heart burned with vengeance for the day he escaped this place - for he would escape, of that he was certain, though it could be years or centuries before a foolish excavator punched through the ceiling, unaware of the blood-starved creature within.
That pesky sorceress would rue the day she crossed him. This time he wouldn't hesitate to go all the way, introducing her to the feeling of true submission, her petty spells wiped away as easily as her coveted virginity. He practically drooled at the thought.
But who would have thought that the worst part of being held captive in a closet for decades was the boredom, having nothing to occupy his thoughts but fruitless cravings for retribution against the despicable foes who thrived somewhere beyond that door?
And the sorceress herself? Annabeth is sighted from time to time riding her loyal black steed across the countryside, always in a hurry to get somewhere. She recently received a tip about a seemingly-ordinary man who transforms into a murderous beast by night. Not so different from a case she'd recently buried, really. But this time she knew it would be unwise to work alone. It was time to call in a favour from an old accomplice.