It was during his third year as a pleasure slave, serving in a Black Widow’s court. She wasn’t Hayllian, but she’d been a protégée of Dorothea SaDiablo and had relished the lessons on how to cripple the male spirit. He remembered what it felt like to lie on his back, tied hand and foot to the bed, wearing a gag like this one. Already dosed withsafframate , a vicious aphrodisiac, he’d had no control over his body’s merciless need. He’d lain there, helpless, while she played with him and rode him until he screamed.
Something had twisted inside him that night, and he’d felt the first flash of savagery. But it had taken six more soul-killing years before his father’s training and the ingrained honor and respect Blood males felt for the feminine gave way to hatred strong enough to let him fight back. Six years between that night and the night that savagery had broken free and he killed the Queen and her Prince brother. But two years ago, he’d secretly rejoiced when he’d heard that that Black Widow had played one game too many with the Sadist—and had lost.
A slap on the belly brought him back to the wash-down room and the current source of pain.
The guard bared his teeth in a smile. “Since you ain’t going to the salt mines now, the least we can do is bring a little of the salt mines to you.”
The other guard grinned as he opened a large sack and poured coarse-grained salt into the half barrel of water. Using Craft, he raised the half barrel and guided it across the room.
Jared closed his eyes as the half barrel floated toward him. He ignored his quivering body.
He would make a brutal dive down into the abyss until he reached the full strength of his Red Jewels. He would gather every drop of strength he had. And as he dove, he would place a Red circle around the building to form a psychic boundary. Then he would unleash all the power he had gathered. That Red strength would hit that boundary and turn back on itself. Even if someone survived the initial unleashing of that much dark power in a small space, the backlash would finish the destruction. They would all die— and so would he, because he wasn’t going to hold back any of that Red strength to shield himself.
I’m sorry, Mother. I’m sorry.
He dove into the abyss.
The wild stranger rose to meet him, smashed into him, stopping his descent.
Damn you, LET ME DIE! Jared screamed as he tried to slip past the part of himself that had become his enemy and reach his Red strength.Let me —
The half barrel of salty, frigid water flooded over him. Jared’s muscles locked around his lungs. The open lash wounds burned. He couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe.
With a scream of rage, the wild stranger dove back into the abyss, going so deep he could no longer feel it, could no longer find it.
Sagging, Jared felt the pull in his shoulders as his arms took his weight. The plan he’d had a moment ago to destroy himself became less than a memory. The past nine years of slavery pressed down on him until he thought his shaking body would snap under the weight.
He wasn’t broken. His psychic power was still there, but, somehow, the wild stranger had taken away the will to use it.
I’m a Shalador Warlord. I am Blood.
The words sounded pathetic and empty now.
The guard removed the gag, pulling out strands of Jared’s dark hair that had gotten caught in the buckles.
Jared absorbed the new pain, idly wondering if a soul could bleed to death, if that’s why he felt so weak and hollow.
He was dimly aware of the guards untying him, half dragging him into the next room, then cuffing him to another set of iron posts. The steward appeared in front of him and said something that sounded sharp, but the words were murky smears, and he couldn’t hold on to them long enough to understand them.
Someone removed the wide leather collar.
His chin sank to his chest.
His mind drifted until fingers gently lifted his chin and he found himself captured by hard gray eyes. They looked into him as if his inner barriers were completely crumbled, and there was nothing he could call his own—no thought, no feeling she couldn’t examine and discard as a worthless trinket. He cringed as memories of his family kept trying to surface. He didn’t want her to have his memories of his younger brothers, his aunts and uncles, his cousins, his father. His mother. No, he didn’t want her to have his memories of Reyna, especially not the last memory of her standing there, bleeding from heart-wounds his brutal words had caused.
The gray eyes still held his, but the fingers drifted down his shivering body, brushed over the hair at his groin, gently circled him like a different kind of Ring, and finally circled the Ring of Obedience. He felt the tight band of gold expand until he felt nothing at all.
Turning slightly, she flicked her right hand toward the wooden table in the room. The guards’ startled gasps didn’t completely muffle the other sound—like a heavy coin spinning, like a child’s hoop that finally loses speed and circles round and round, lower and lower until the ground claims it.
The shocked exclamation meant something, but Jared felt too empty to react. His body hurt so much it didn’t even register the usual discomfort that came from the Ring of Obedience—the discomfort that effectively kept a man’s attention focused on the threat of pain.
“Hell’s fire, Lady, Ring him!”
The psychic scents of the males in the room stank of fear.
Jared frowned and wished his thoughts weren’t so fuzzy. Ring him?
He slowly realized it wasn’t a heavy coin on the table, but the Ring of Obedience. The one he’d worn for the past nine years.
Before he could even try to shake off the emotional lethargy and physical weakness, to comprehend what it meant, Grizelle’s fingers closed around him again and squeezed lightly. He gasped as pain shivered along his nerves.
Light flashed from her fingers, blinding him. A clap of thunder shook the building. The unmistakable feel of power filled the room.
Grizelle stepped back and calmly stared at the nervous guards, the shocked escort, and the sweating, hand-wringing steward. “You have nothing to fear,” she said. “He wears my Ring now.”
The steward pointed a shaking finger at Jared’s groin. “B-but, Lady, there’s no Ring.”
“Ah,” Grizelle said. There were so many nuances in that small sound, so much ice in the calm smile. “But there is. He wears the Invisible Ring.”
Jared’s heart began to pound. The Invisible Ring?
The ghost of a memory drifted just out of reach.
The steward chewed his lip. “I’ve never heard of such a Ring.”