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Collin, the slaver, had gone inside with the two slave boys he had brought. Shadow knew he should go in after them. He should be helping to free those people in the house. The vampire knew his anger would swell at the sight of the cruelties his old love had inflicted upon the innocents. His heart ached so much already! He needed to move; he needed to see to the safety of the man’s daughter who had pleaded so pitifully. Would the whoremaster simply take the slaves here to his own version of hell? What had he changed? It was a cold question to ask oneself after the damage was already done, but it was a necessary one. A cruel torture for enslaved passion…was it enough to repay his betrayal of his own companion? No, he thought, only the total freedom of each and every slave within this house would ease the pain. He looked back at his old lover’s face. Tarkin’ton had once been good, but his family was pure evil on both sides. He was a Shadow Mage! He sighed, deeply disturbed by his own thoughts.

He touched his cheek fondly. Pure black skin, darker than liquor ice and tasted even sweeter, he knew. He wouldn’t burn his body. He could not bring himself to destroy completely something he had once held so dear. It was a silly risk, but one that Shadow would gladly take. He closed those wide, accusing eyes. The trees shook in a wind and the shadows suddenly felt ominous. Only the most powerful creatures could return from death, and even they needed powerful help to do it. Still, he could not help feel a chill of forewarning. If anyone was strong enough to do it, it was Tarkin’ton! He looked into the nearby trees trying to vanquish his sudden fear. If anyone believed this was over, they didn’t know his old companion very well. His ghost still lingered; his lover kept his body from being burned. Oh yeah, it was not over. Tarkin had known he could show up at any second. He should have been prepared, like he always was for every eventuality. So why had it been so easy to kill him? Why was he still alive when he had fully expected to die despite the final outcome?

Even more importantly, now what? He was alone…like he had never been before. The worlds were open to him once more. Shadow could go anywhere, see anyone he had ever known, and discover new places. Whatever he wanted! Why wasn’t he excited? It would be just like it used to be…only alone. He groaned in dismay! D’Vorgas came outside at that very minute. The boy watched the pain and confusion cross his face by turns. He was clearly worried about the vampire, worried and afraid. Collin had told him he would be returning to the club with him, and not leaving with Shadow. He had been hurt by the news, so he had returned to confront him. Seeing the vampire in the condition he was in now, he understood. Shadow was hurting, true, but he had also lost something vital that he needed to exist. He had clung to his survival before. Now all he clutched was death. He had destroyed something that meant too much to him. Just to give them all a chance to live, but would Shadow not take that chance, also? Or would he give up and die? The whoremaster slaver told D’Vorga not to expect too much out of the vampire. He had said that most true bonded pairs died with one another. Shadow was ancient, and he had never been without Tarkin’ton! D’Vorga swallowed and took a deep breath of air. Was he not to dare to be happy too? He wanted Shadow! He stepped out across the lawn in pursuit of his own dreams.

Up close, it looked worse, he decided. He could actually see the love shining in Shadow’s tormented eyes. All of the bitterness he had seen there before had burned away. Tears ran unchecked down the other creature’s face. “Shadow,” he whispered. He was hurting for him, but upset that he would do this. Then, leave him to rot in hell! He loved Collin. He was grateful; he owed him his life. However, he didn’t belong with him. He couldn’t pretend. D’Vorgas, the half dragon, was simply not cut out to be a whore in a house of exotic shining stars. Nor did he qualify to be a skilled, undetected assassin…just bait. There was no way other than Shadow to repay the debt he owed. He wanted his freedom back; he wanted to live his own life. Just when he had found a way to do it, the vampire had crumbled. He knelt at Shadow’s side.

If he could only convince him to stay at Collin’s side, could he persuade him to take him when he finally bets10 did leave? He brushed the vampire’s face to remove the damp white strands clinging there. “Who was he? Not the creature the world saw, but the man you knew,” he added softly. His frown was as kind as he could make it. Shadow shook his head not answering him. Then, the vampire seemed to suddenly remember something!

“Where is the slaver?” His words were hissed in alarm.

“Killing the rest of the guards,” he answered. “He will take any he believes are ‘salvageable’ with him as a slave,” he remarked dryly.

“Not yet in the dungeons,” he mused inaudibly. “Stay here!” Shade cleared his eyes ruthlessly. “Do not allow any one or any thing near him,” he ordered firmly. The short vampire stood up and tried to run at the same time; he stumbled in his haste. Seeing disoriented him with a blaze of blurry colors. It confused his already heightened senses, and he found he had to close them and concentrate often to find the dungeon’s below. It gave off a powerful stench! He recoiled from the doorway. Tarkin’ton usually kept them spotless. He grew still as he sensed several guards coming after him. Foolish, he thought in surprise as they rushed forward. The vampire concentrated and turned to look at them. Not a one moved after his eyes had met their own. They stopped and waited for his orders. “Where is the one I seek? Show him to me,” he told them. Three identically uniformed men held out their arms pointing to a small silver box chained into a corner.

“Oh, Gods! No!” He raced to the box tugging and turning. Locks dropped away, latches opened…All of the while his hands are burning from contact with the silver. Swords pierced the box. Shadow pulled firmly at each one but they were sticking, grown into the flesh of the prisoner contained inside. There was distantly muffled screams. Finally, he pulled the top off of the box and reached inside. He fell back under the assault of a red-eyed, almost mad boy. The creature still looked like the child he remembered, only half man. He held tight to the attacking prisoner allowing his fangs to find his neck. Shadow purposely used the blood in his own veins to break into the boy’s mind. In his own, he thought of only one image. The one burned there for all time. He thought of Tarkin’ton lying on the ground bleeding and lifeless.

He felt energy gathering around them, as the younger vampire healed from his terribly brutal wounding and wrapped his suddenly glorious flesh in fine clothing. The energy continued to build. He was furious! It caught Shadow up in an even tighter grip as his old ward prepared to fight. “And now you will go to join him,” he hissed low and nearly feral. “Traitor!” His voice was cold and devoid of any hint of a prior happy past.

“No! Ashra,” he said begging the boy to listen to him. There was no time and he must understand that! “You have to go! Ashra…there is a slaver! He is here right now,” he urged frantically, “taking everyone that Tarkin’ton once owned! You have to flee!”

“Why? You hate me,” the vampire hissed clearly suspicious.

“I never did,” Shadow whispered sadly. “When you understand that, you can come back and kill me if you still want to do it. Please,” he begged softly, “listen to me.”

He felt the boy releasing him cautiously. He still didn’t trust him. The anger hadn’t left his hurt and betrayed face. A face he held almost as dear as the dead man above. A face he had helped raise from birth. A face he knew as well as his own nephews. There were no tears in his regal expression, no tears in his warrior stance, but the tears were a shadow of emotion in his steady, accusing voice. “You let him take us! You stood there and let him hurt us, and sell us.”

“I did. I did,” Shadow mouthed wanting to sound less cowardly and failing. “I fled this house. I couldn’t stay. Now, I am here. I am freeing you…so go!”

Ashra studied him with his resigned expression. The creature before him might be much younger, but he was still bordering on being called an ancient these days. He was of a highly powerful, frightening bloodline. If he chose to kill him, he would likely win the duel. When Shadow had stood back and done nothing while Tarkin killed his family, Ashra had stared at him in disbelief Tarkin had said. He had cried. Cried as he stood and watched Shadow’s blank face bets10 giriş both of them hearing the sounds of his family dying around them all. Shadow had held his brother, Baal, and one of Tarkin’s soldiers had held Ashra. It was said the boy had never cried again. Who knew if it was true? Tarkin’ton had then sold the two children, betraying his promise…breaking his heart. He had sent them gleefully to someone who would hurt them, abuse them, terrify and break them. Yet here he stood, unbroken. Ashra would always be a warrior, and for that Shadow was grateful. He hadn’t saved him; he had saved himself. They stared in that distrustful silence as the pain of the past whirled around them just as magic did.

“You owe no allegiance to me.”

“I know,” Shadow rasped. His throat felt tight, but he didn’t want Ashra to know. He did owe him; he owed him a great deal! It was hard to put into words. “I betrayed my people. I betrayed every vampire that is or ever has existed when I stood there without fighting him as he killed your family.” Even in a soft voice, he saw the hidden young boy in the imperial man he saw flinch. “I betrayed myself,” he added even more softly as his voice began to close off, “when I stood back and let him hurt you. I shouldn’t have done that, Ashra. I fully admit that. I should have stopped him, or died trying. I did not. The day he sold you two…” He almost turned away, but somehow he hid how wounded he was and met his eyes. “The day he did that, I knew, I could not stay here anymore.” He heard a noise and turned frantically.

Obviously, the other vampire had heard it too. He tensed and stared behind Shadow towards the door. “Will you…?” He stopped on a bitter laugh. “Protective instincts,” he joked with a sour smile. “I forget who I speak to, it seems.” Shadow inclined his head to the side at his backhanded compliment and looked down sadly. “You don’t need anyone to protect you, Shade, least of all a dethroned prince!” He sighed causing Shadow to look up. Surprisingly, Ashra smiled. Stunned, Shadow allowed him to gently touch his face. “Thank you,” he said with a noble bearing trained into him at a very early age. A sting of magic touched his forehead as his hand moved there. “Even late…you came back for me. Go in peace, Shade. Hannibal can no longer track you.” Shadow’s eyes widened in horror! Ashra melted away into the darkest corner not noticing his dismay. Baal had marked him? When? Why? It was a magic that ran in their bloodline allowing them to know when someone died, or track them to the ends of the solar system. They only marked hated enemies they planned to kill when they were later able, or loved ones they thought they may someday need to find to save. He had never even considered one of them might mark him, for either reason. He barely managed to slip away as the slaver was opening the door leaving the entranced guards and chaos to mark his passage. A small part of him wondered if the slaver would be angry that his prize piece was stolen out from under his very nose.

He reformed into the creeping shadows outside of the house. D’Vorga was still there where he left him, but he was paler and looked shaken. Had he missed something? Or was the boy just afraid to be left here with a dead corpse? He stepped out into the light and the boy jerked. He froze in fear before relaxing. “Shadow! Thank the Gods it is you!” He pitched himself at the vampire. Shadow barely caught him and kept his feet he had moved so swiftly. Had he seen Ashra leaving? Or something more sinister, he wondered. Perhaps Ashra stopped to check personally that his tormentor was truly gone. He let go of the little dragon boy and moved to make certain Ashra hadn’t disturbed the body in any way. D’Vorgas made a frightened sound hurrying to his side and clinging. Shadow looked up to see the shape of a man in the dimness beneath the trees. Ashra, he hoped, but his heart lurched in exaltation and fear simultaneously. It was a form he was rather intimately familiar with and could not mistake it for another! Burn the body, his mind cried in desperation. “He will kill us all!” D’Vorga made a good point; he probably would. Shadow could not do it! As much as he feared Tarkin’ton, he realized painfully, he loved him even more… The image faded away. Had it been his ghost?

Kasey came outside. He knew who he was by his scent alone. The boy’s bets10 güvenilir mi hair was burnished mahogany, and his eyes golden amber. His skin was pale, but a touched sun-kissed still. Kasey was also about the same height, and far more delicate than Shadow had ever been in his life. He was shapely, almost feminine like D’Vorga. He wondered how many people underestimated him at first sight. Having ‘seen’ him as a blind man would, he understood how deadly a thing that would be to do. He had ‘felt’ the power this boy contained trapped in that beautiful, fragile frame. Was he really a relation to the Sieve? He looked like him. His body was so graceful and supple, Shadow found his breath stilled in his chest as he moved. It was poetic. He had the poise of a hunting jungle cat, and the sway of a trained pushadin whore. He wore the unholy look of a dark angel who could woo or destroy in the bat of an eyelash without conscience or consequence. At the moment, though, he looked irritated. A hint of amusement filled his voice as he spoke. “Shadow, you have been very, very naughty.” His voice teased, yet his eyes remained cold. “Where is the vampire?”

He didn’t want to speak around anyone else. He had managed the dragon child and one from his past, but he didn’t want to speak around others he did not know. Still, he did. “Set free,” he told him firmly. A soft sound of dismay made him look further. Now, he realized Kasey’s most deadly skill. While he had been distracted, the slaver had moved up behind the boy. He knew Collin had to be the man standing behind Kasey; he was never far from his little pet’s side. Besides which, power moved the air around him like a heat mirage off of hot pavement. Few people could see auras, so nearly seeing his without having the skill would indicate that the phoenix had near Godly power. It added to the strange mystique that surrounded him. Without seeing that, he was a normal sized blonde with tan skin and lovely to look at. Then, the sunlight struck him just right. His skin suddenly flared to life like he was coated in red-gold glitter, and his blonde hair lit up like the white of a Christmas tree angel. It flowed down his back in a mass of silken waves so lush and rich they begged a soul to touch. His eyes were gold and brown, but seemed to shift erratically like a prism reflecting light. He face was beautifully feminine but his body was all male and powerful. A hint of a smile graced that cold face in dark amusement. Shadow shivered. Without his eyesight, he had judged him fairly and to his mind accurately. With it, he could see why so many feared the man!

“So, what will you do with him now?” He looked down at the body.

Kasey glanced between the two nervously, but Shadow only shrugged. He would wait and see. If Tarkin’ton arose, he would decide where to go from there. Heaven help them all if he did and he was the same cruel creature that so many spoke of these days. Shadow sighed tiredly, letting the boy he held go. He didn’t want to, but Collin was taking him. He doubted he would ever see the kid again. Kasey suddenly blurted, “You owe my master for the creature you set free! You knew he was the one he wanted…”

“Kase,” Collin warned in soft protest.

“You owe us,” he pressed firmly ignoring Collin completely. “You must come to the club when you are done here, to discuss when and how you will repay it. It is a debt separate from the one Collin owes you! If he so chooses, he may strike your debt to repay his own.” Collin touched Kasey’s side as he settled up against his back. The boy looked down almost closing his eyes as he relaxed into him. “Do what you will here,” he offered more friendly. “We only took prisoners of the guards and one female for a client. We wanted what you freed,” he reiterated. “It would have given us a very large bargaining chip when dealing with the Sieve’s advisors.” He snarled the title of his supposed father with loathing. His attitude toward the man worried him more than his threatening words. “You have put me in a very uncomfortable position…but since I am only a slave, I can’t demand recompense!” D’Vorga looked at him like he had sprouted two fanged beast heads. It drew Kasey up into his polite mask once more. He did it so well even Shadow wondered if he had imagined his anger. “Don’t forget to come to the club, Shadow…or we will come find you.” With that ominous sounding challenge laid before him, he pulled D’Vorga’s arm. They all trotted away into the undergrowth. Collin looked back to nod and seemed to suddenly agree with his slave’s decision. Strange…Wasn’t it odd, he thought, when a slave could get away with that?

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