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The Barren Dagger

In this sneak peek at THE BARREN DAGGER, we meet Rebekah Horvendue.  Her brother, Hector Horvendue, is an influential baron of Hell, and he has just been promoted to the office of Scourge of Absconders - the important official charged with locating runaway demons and returning them back to Hell where they belong.   Rebekah is his Key Watcher, it is her burden to guard the key that allows Hector and her to come and go from Hell at their leisure.   In this excerpt from the first chapter, Hector and Rebekah visit a lowly beaurecrat that owes Hector some money.  The resulting meeting would change Rebekah's cursed life forever...
                                          Artifices
 

 

            Somewhere warm and inhospitable, a young woman with the appearance of a goth teen-ager stood on the street corner of a desolate part of a city with a key in her hand. Her name was Rebekah, and the key was her property. It had been for roughly twenty minutes now.

            The key felt heavier than it looked. That’s what Rebekah thought as she felt the weight of the thick iron artifact in her palm. It would dangle around her throat like an anchor, but at least she had strong shoulders. If she had placed it in her pockets, she was sure that it would have forced her pants to drop down to her ankles. If she had been foolish enough to throw it away, it would have shattered a window or cracked the pavement. It was an uncomfortable, cumbersome thing, and she was forced to wear it on a chain forged of appropriately heavy links. When she released the key, it fell between her breasts with such force that it nearly made her cough, and then it would vanish entirely until she had need of it again. On the whole, it was a bothersome thing. It was also the most valuable item she had ever possessed. She would guard it with her very existence. As a Key Watcher, that was her duty and her privilege.

            Rebekah was a wild looking little thing, scrawny and edgy, looking barely strong enough to carry such a heavy weight around her shoulders. She had lengthy black hair tinged with crimson highlights, and she would twirl the locks around her fingers when she was nervous. Her eyes were tawny and brilliant, but they were obscured under a dark curtain of eyeliner and mascara. Her clothes were as black as her fingernails, ripped and shredded in such a way that made her look seductive and dangerous. Or, at least, it made Rebekah feel seductive and dangerous. It kept most people at a distance, which was to her liking. Her natural beauty seemed only to attract the worst types of suitors.

            She was standing at the door of the Department of Petty Torments, located at the fringes of the great city. As government offices go, this one was pretty far down the totem pole. It didn’t have the prestige of other offices, such as the Dominion of the Damned, or the Crucible of the Fallen Gods, or even the Graveyard of the Forgotten Saints. It was why this building was so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the main city, where the view was lackluster and the least impressive demons eked out a living doing manual labor and drudgery work.

            Accompanying her was her brother, Hector Horvendue. He had been summoned here, and he wasn’t happy with the request. He knocked on the door a second time, impatiently waiting to be allowed inside. He felt it beneath his station to be out here in the lower class neighborhoods. The smells were unfamiliar and unpleasant, even for Hell. He stood several inches taller than his younger sister, who was now leaning against the brick wall of the building, rubbing her leg as she balanced on one foot.

            “Stand up straight,” Hector ordered her. “You look like a whore trying to attract some business.”

            “These lowlies couldn’t afford me,” she giggled. “How much longer do we have to stay here? I want to check out the new apartment in the city square.”

            “As soon as we finish our business here,” he replied impatiently, banging on the door of the Department of Petty Torments once again.

            Rebekah caressed her chest, and the iron key once again appeared between her fingers.  As it was explained to her earlier that morning, this was not a key to any particular door. Rather, it would create a door to anywhere she wanted. That door would be a passageway leading from Here to There. Very few had access to such a key, and it was envied by everyone.

            She let it slip from her hands, and the key fell against her chest. After it slammed against her chest and the links of the necklace chain settled, the key and the necklace vanished entirely. When she stroked her chest again, the key re-appeared.  It was a part of her body and her soul now, unable to be removed by any means known to Rebekah.

            She called it back into existence again, and waved it through the air as they continued to wait for someone to answer the door. She imagined that it would make a fairly dangerous weapon, if you were to hit someone with it. She thrust the key forward like a knife, and found that the chain around her neck seemed to magically stretch to accommodate the reach of her arms. She couldn’t take the necklace off, of course, but she was comforted to know that she was unlikely to strangle herself with the chain now that the key seemed destined to be her eternal companion.

            “Bloody pus-sucking hells, I don’t have time for this,” barked her brother again, pounding at the door a third time. “Canchi! Answer the door, or I’m going back to my tower!”

            Her older brother wasn’t the worst demon Rebekah had ever known, but he did have an impatient streak. She gave her brother a sideways glance, and then played with the key for another moment. She stabbed again at the air, taking out imaginary angels with a girlish giggle. This time, a rectangular portal suddenly appeared behind her.

            A sharp gust of air exploded around Rebekah and Hector, as if a door had been opened on an airplane in flight. On the other side of the gateway, there was a sight unfamiliar to the residents and prisoners of Hell. A grassy field beckoned to them, with flowers and haystacks and a couple of confused cows. The skies were blue, and the air was sweet.

            “Oh, shit,” Rebekah said with a laugh, covering her mouth in embarrassment. She snuck a look at Hector, who was aghast at her carelessness.

            “What the hell are you doing?”

            “I’m sorry, I’m bored!” she snapped back in defense. “Where’s the off switch?”

            Hector took a step towards her, his hand raised to slap his younger sister. It wouldn’t have been the first time he had done so. But his attention was diverted towards a number of figures at the end of the block. A few skeletons with thin tendons of meat stretched across their bones, a large brute with fiery skin, some wraiths, and some other unpleasant things with a vaguely humanoid shape were all running towards them. More specifically, they were running towards the portal that had appeared and shone like a beacon in this dark part of the city.

            Rebekah released the key, and it fell to a rest against her body. As before, the key vanished. When the key was gone, so was the opening that led from the nasty pollution of Here to the pleasant fields of There. Most of the assortment of creatures came to a halt, and sadly turned around to resume whatever they were doing before a door that lead out of Hell and over to Earth had suddenly appeared.

            One of the creatures did not turn around. It was the big one that stood taller than even Hector, the one with the face of a bull and patches of fire burning on his flesh. He marched up to Rebekah with an expression that was part angry, part desperate.

            “Please, I’ve been here for so long,” the creature screamed. “You have to let me out of here!”

            He clawed towards Rebekah, hoping to get his fingers on the key that could let him out of Hell, but Hector intercepted him. With a deft movement, he grabbed the creature by the shoulder and flipped him to the ground. When the attacker was on his back, Hector calmly punched him in his thick nose three times.

            “You’re here to stay, and you will know unimaginable punishment if you approach my sister again,” Hector hissed at the unfortunate fool. “Begone, and go spread the word now.”

            The creature whimpered pitifully as it struggled against Hector’s grip. He would not forget again. Hector released his victim and rose to his feet, allowing the bleeding fool to scamper away and lick his wounds.

            “All right, then,” Rebekah muttered awkwardly. She was known to say that when she found herself in an embarrassing situation, which was to say that she said it often.

            “I got blood on my pants,” Hector complained. “This is never going to come out.”

            “Sorry about that,” his sister commented. Her apologies were often sarcastic and disingenuous, but this was a sincere one.

            “Despite the fact that you’re a child, that is not a children’s toy.”

            “I’m not a child, Hector. I’m three hundred years old.”

            “You’re two hundred and ninety-four, little thorn. Still a baby, both in age, experience and attitude.”

            “And you have a stick up your ass,” she shot back. “Especially since your promotion.”

            For that remark, Rebekah did receive a slap to the face. It stung harshly, as it always did, both on a physical and emotional level. She often reminded herself to watch her tongue, but she just as often forgot this lesson.

            “My promotion. You say that as if I’ve just become a shift manager at a food shack. I am the Scourge of Absconders. This is a title of honor and prestige among our people, and you get to share in my glory. Don’t you realize how lucky we are, little sister? Don’t you comprehend where we’ll be spending our days?”

            She was aware, and she quietly nodded while rubbing the welts on her cheek. They were going to be allowed to journey between Here and There. They could go into those rolling grassy fields with the blue skies, sunshine and human creatures. They were given the privilege to leave Hell with a certain level of autonomy.

            “I’ll be more careful,” she replied. “The damned are always looking for a way to escape.”

            “Those weren’t the damned trying to get back to Earth,” Hector corrected her. “Those were other demons, our own brothers and sisters.”

            “What?”

            “Grow up. They don’t want to be in Hell any more than anyone else.”

            Rebekah understood that, but she assumed that it was only her young age that made her yearn to escape the pits of Hell and explore other worlds. Apparently, that longing existed for them all. Perhaps, she wondered, even Lucifer Morningstar himself.

            “Do you think even he wants to escape--”

            The door opened suddenly, and Hector held up a finger to silence her. Standing in the doorway was a male face of roughly humanoid appearance, long dark hair and angular eyes. He wore a dressing gown that flowed all the way to the ground, and the sleeves completely concealed his hands. Underneath the fabric, Rebekah swore she saw movement that she would describe as slithering and writhing.

            “I apologize for keeping you waiting, Mr. Horvendue,” he said graciously. There was a greater emphasis, almost a hissing sound, upon the s’s in his dialect. His voice made her skin tingle. “I am Mimaz. Mr. Rawman will see you now.”

            Twirling around and gliding down the dusty hallway of the small building, the creature calling himself Mimaz beckoned his guests to follow. Hector and Rebekah walked over the threshold, watched as the door closed by itself, and accompanied their host down the corridor.

            “Don’t embarrass me,” Hector said warningly.

            “I’m not the one with jikininki blood splattered on my crotch.”

            “Shut up.”

            “I have a tampon, if you’re having one of those heavy flow days.”

            “Sister, do shut up. I won’t warn you again.”

            Rebekah smirked, satisfied that she had successfully irritated him. Even if it did frequently earn her a slap to the face, her day just wasn’t complete without pissing him off at least once.

            The office of Canchi Rawman was nothing particularly impressive. He was the Director of the Department of Petty Torments, which would never impress the sultry succubus and the proud demonic baronesses that Canchi enjoyed fraternizing with. This was just a lowly branch office, a small cog in the sprawling bureaucracy of Hell.

            It was a very small hill, but Canchi Rawman was the king of it. He chose his appearance carefully, wearing the dress and styles that were the fashion of the day in 19th century London. He kept his hair long, his nails sharp and clean, and his smile sparkling yet malicious. He sat behind his desk, an ancient evil masquerading in the guise of a handsome but foppish young man, looking bored with his duties and indifferent to life in general. He regarded Rebekah and Hector with a nod as they entered his office.

            There were others in the office as well. A young-looking woman with a girlish figure, blonde and brunette streaked ponytails, and a skirt that left far too little to the imagination. She was reading a vacation magazine, and the cover promoted an offer where you could spend two weeks in Las Vegas for the low cost of just eighty mortal souls from your personal collection. The girl glanced at Rebekah and Hector for a brief moment, then disregarded them and flipped another page of her magazine. Her name was Bethia, and her silly and bubbly personality masked a heart riddled with insanity.

            Standing behind Canchi’s chair was a tall dark-skinned male with shoulder-length dreadlocks and thick horns jutting from his forehead. His name was Seikome, Rebekah had met him in the past. He was topless, and his muscles glistened in the heat of the room. He was massaging Canchi’s shoulders, and he regarded the visitors with a stern and unwelcoming stare.

            In the corner was another woman. Her jet-black hair was short and wild, streaked with red tints. She wore a mesh body stocking that covered her from neck to toe. She may as well have worn nothing at all, her charms were mostly exposed for all to admire. She favored Rebekah with a disturbingly wide, opened-mouthed grin. She had three times as many teeth as you might expect, and they were all sharper than the edge of a blade. She never took her eyes off of Hector. She never blinked. Rebekah found her unsettling, even for a demon. She hoped that if she just ignored her, she would go away. She called herself Viranha.

            “The Scourge of Absconders,” Canchi said with a greeting, without looking directly at his visitors. It was customary to stand in the presence of one who outranked you, and Hector more than deserved that respectful courtesy. But Canchi remained seated as he enjoyed his shoulder massage.

            “I see your office is keeping you busy, Mr. Rawman,” Hector remarked. Rebekah knew that her brother was being facetious.

            “Don’t underestimate the morale drain of petty torments,” Canchi replied, with almost wounded pride. “They might not have the influence and reputation of your office, but what I do has its merit.”

            “I don’t care.”

            “Don’t dismiss our job of spreading petty torments so quickly. Think about all the work we do. Passive aggressive remarks to one’s wife. Stubbing your toes on footstools that weren’t there a moment ago. Not being able to fast-forward through the commercials on your DVR. These things have an accumulated effect.”

            “I couldn’t give two shits,” Hector admitted. “It is beneath my station to be trading words with a lowly bureaucrat in the petty torments department.”

            “You’ve become quite a snooty bitch since you got promoted.”

            “I’m only here because you said this was important,” Hector said.

            “That, and I owe you some money.”

            “Indeed. When I leave here, I’ll be relocating to my new home. Far away from you, Mr. Rawman.”

            “Up There?” Canchi elaborated, gesturing towards the ceiling. His expression was resentful, the first real show of emotion he’d offered since Hector and Rebekah walked through his door. “Must you leave so quickly? Mimaz is an exquisite cook, and he could prepare a tempting dinner for us all. We could banter about the current intrigues in Lucifer’s court. Why, have you heard the blather that the scobblelotchers on the fifth plane have been--”

            “I did not come all the way to the edge of the city to exchange niceties. I have much to do today. Have your little bitch servant fetch what belongs to me so that I can take my leave of you.”

            The remark was directed at the dark-skinned demon who’d been rubbing Canchi’s shoulders for the last few minutes. Seikome reacted to the comment by glaring hotly in Hector’s direction. A web of cracks appeared in his rough skin as he bristled angrily. Beneath the cracks, an illuminated light the color of rising lava could be seen. It was how you could tell you were annoying a holocaust demon like Seikome.

            “Seikome is not my servant,” Canchi replied. He reached up and caressed Seikome’s cheek, which seemed to calm his companion. “He is my husband, thank you very much. He has a beautiful body, don’t you agree?”

            “For a holocaust demon, I suppose,” Hector replied. “I don’t exactly swing in that direction.”

            “Narrow minds bear the burden of enduring a shallow, pointless existence,” Canchi sighed. He glanced up at Seikome, and gestured towards a dusty door in the back of the office. “Go fetch Mr. Horvendue’s property, if you would, darling.”

            Seikome nodded obediently, and walked into the back room. Viranha moved in immediately to fill the vacancy. The practically naked woman with the teeth like a shark plopped into his lap, curled her arms around Canchi’s head and began kissing his neck. Canchi seemed to take no notice. Rebekah, however, couldn’t help but stare.

            “Something wrong with you, little girl?” snapped Viranha.

            “Won’t Seikome be mad? You giving his hubby a lap dance?”

            “I was here first,” she replied with a prideful boast in her voice. “I am Viranha. I am the first and the most talented of his spouses. I am the one he loves the most.”

            Viranha was purring now, licking her husband’s neck while massaging his crotch. Canchi was barely aware of this, as he flipped through a few papers and notes on his desk. The girl with the ponytails continued reading her magazine, clearly bored by this display. Hector kept staring at his pocket watch, clearly ready to be rid of this place. Rebekah didn’t get out of the family home very often, and her experiences with the twisted families of other demons were limited.

            “I thought you only liked the dudes,” Rebekah commented.

            “Man can’t live on meat alone,” Canchi said dismissively, focusing on the papers on his desk as Viranha continued to distract him. “That’s why I keep a collection of spouses. Four of them, actually.”

            “I was the first,” Virhana announced proudly, nuzzling against Canchi.

            From across the room, from behind her magazine, the demon with the ponytails giggled. “But Canchi said he wanted someone who would swallow, so he married Mimaz too.”

            “Seikome joined our family next, and for some reason he invited that little muppet to the family,” Viranha explained, ignoring her sister-wife while staring at Rebekah with those unblinking eyes. “But there’s always room for one more set of tits at the table. I go both ways too. You know, Seikome might be down in the vault for awhile. Wanna kill some time with a nice little three-way, little girl?”

            “I don’t think so, butterface,” Rebekah replied with clear disgust in her voice. “I’m saving myself for marriage.”

            At this, Viranha bared her rows of teeth and hissed at the young demon. “You refuse the opportunity to lay with my glorious husband? You aren’t fit to lick the last asshole he’s been generous enough to service, you stuck-up little twat!”

            At this, Canchi took a deep breath and suddenly stopped thumbing through his paperwork, and eventually turned his attention towards the writhing woman sitting in his lap. He slid his fingers through the black and red bangs of Viranha’s hair, clutched tightly, and slammed her head into the unyielding wood of his desk. When she sat up again, her nose was broken and blood dribbled down her chin. When Canchi spoke, his voice was unnervingly calm and still.

            “You are the first of my spouses. That does not give you license to insult my guests.”

            “That was so hot, baby,” Viranha smiled, pushing a glob of blood back into her mouth.

            “This is not some idle amusement. You will learn your place and you will hold your tongue. Do you understand?”

            “Yes, daddy…”

            Canchi grunted in disgust, and shoved Viranha off of his lap. He snapped his fingers at Bethia, and pointed towards his bleeding first wife.

            “Help your sister-wife get cleaned up,” Canchi ordered.

            “That’s gross work,” Bethia whined. “I’m reading an article, Canchi!”

            “We both know you can’t read,” Canchi said impatiently. “Go attend to her injuries, and we’ll make some homemade cookies tonight.”

            Bethia grunted something her breath, but she did as she was told. As she walked out with Bethia through one door, Seikome returned through the other. He was bearing a small container made of onyx and ivory. He nudged past Rebekah with a fairly cordial nod, and returned to his place by Canchi’s side.

            “I apologize for her behavior,” Canchi said in a cordial tone. “She has yet to learn some manners.”   
            “It is forgotten, Mr. Rawman. After all, her behavior is consistent with what I would expect from someone from her station in life,” Hector replied. It was a pompous reply from a conceited demon, his elitist attitudes only reinforced by his recent promotion. Canchi couldn’t help but notice that his snobbery, while directed at Viranha, also extended to him. But while he was known for sudden bursts of violent reactions, he rarely lost control of his emotions.

            “She likes to be hurt,” Canchi explained. “Would you like to abuse her a bit before you leave? One or the both of you, she wouldn’t mind. Neither would I.”

            “This meeting has already run uncomfortably longer than I would have liked,” Hector snapped. “Your hospitality in sharing your woman is magnanimous, but unnecessary. I have things to do, Rawman.”

            His patience was at end, Canchi realized. He was no longer paying him the courtesy of referring to him as Mr. Rawman. He snapped his fingers at Seikome, who placed the container of onxy and ivory on his desk.

            “I suppose we should settle our accounts then,” Canchi agreed. “After all, we cannot part ways without the sordid matter of favors promised and debts unpaid lingering betwixt us.”

            Seikome opened the container, revealing the contents hidden inside. There should have been ninety-three pieces of silver paper stacked neatly inside, an old debt that Canchi owed Hector. Rebekah didn’t even know why her brother was bothering with such a trivial sum, she would have just considered it an acceptable loss in exchange for not having come here in the first place. But Hector was a prideful demon who forgave no slights or debts, no matter how insignificant. And true to Canchi Rawman’s word, the silver that Hector was owed was there in the box.  But there was something else as well.

            A small stone hexagon inside the container. It was inscribed with words that Rebekah could not even comprehend, which she would later discover to be a secret language wielded only by Lucifer and his closest circle of lieutenants. There was a noticeable crack along the edge of the hexagon, stained with what seemed to be black ink. Its significance and purpose were a complete mystery to Rebekah.

            Her brother, however, blanched when he saw it. Canchi steepled his fingers, and smiled widely.

            Hector, for the first time that his sister could remember, appeared nervous. “What is this?”

            “We’re adults here, Hector. Don’t play the fool. You know what that is.”

            “I have no need of a broken soul stone,” Hector replied carefully. “Why would you think I should want that?”

            “I should think you would have wanted to hide it somewhere more discreet,” laughed Canchi. “I should think you’re now regretting having buried that little artifact in the dead forest. I own those lands, didn’t you know? Part of the dowry I received when I married little Bethia.”

            Rebekah was getting worried now, and she put her hands on Hector’s shoulders. “Maybe we should go. You have your money.”

            “It’s not that simple anymore, my sweet little one,” said Canchi.

            “What is that thing, anyway?” she asked.

            “It’s nothing, not now anyway,” Canchi said. “It’s empty. It’s junk. A year ago, it was dropped in a careless manner, and the valuable contents have been dispersed to the winds.”

            “But what is it?” she pressed.  

            “You’re too young to own a soul stone, aren’t you?” Canchi said in a condescending tone. “To own the soul of a mortal is to own power and prestige. The more you possess, the greater your status in the ranks. Most soul stones can hold about five or ten souls. They are the part of the currency of Hell.”

            “I’m not an idiot,” said Rebekah defiantly.

            “Then you would know that this is an exquisitely crafted soul stone, designed to hold about a hundred souls,” Canchi continued, dropping it on the desk in front of Hector.  “Before your dear brother was promoted to his current posting, he was responsible for the transfer of these valuable trinkets. Why, you were once tasked with the transfer of Lucifer Morningstar’s private funds to the Infernal Bank of Distrust, were you not?”

            “That is privileged information,” Hector snarled, but without the usual pompous and arrogant venom in his voice.

            Canchi leaned close to Hector, whispering into his ear. “Our sweet master would be quite displeased to learn that you accidentally destroyed one of his stones, and tried to hide the evidence by burying it on my lands.”

            “You’ve known about this for a year, and yet you did nothing?”

            “Of course not,” Canchi said with a smile, sitting on the desk in front of Hector. “You had nothing I desired at the time.”

            Their eyes met at last, and the reason for Canchi’s crucial request for a meeting was finally laid plain. Canchi held out his hand in expectation.

            “Go fuck yourself, you stunted little peacock.”

            “No reason to drag this out, there’s only one outcome that won’t end up with you suffering with the rest of the dregs of humanity. Lucifer put many years of work into that particular mix tape of lost souls.”

            “I’ll be made an example of,” Hector admitted angrily.

            “You’ll be demoted to being the back molar of the pernicious shit-eater of the Anxious Prattlers. But all is not lost. Truly it isn’t. I’ve kept Lucifer from finding out for a year now. I replaced this error with a clever substitute, one that will remain unnoticed amongst the millions of other soul stones in his vaults. I’ll make sure he never learns the truth. You know how unforgiving he tends to be. But in exchange, you know what I want.”

            Rebekah could stay silent no longer at this, and she jumped between Hector and Canchi. Her brother, for the first time in ages, looked defeated as he stared at the floor.

            “Brother, no! You’ve earned this office.”

            “Be silent,” he hissed, shoving her to the side. “We have no choice here.”

            “No, you do not.” Canchi Rawman continued holding out his hand until Hector finally removed a golden badge from within his jacket, and placed it into his rival’s palm.

            Canchi smiled at his new prize before putting it into his pocket. He reciprocated by producing a smaller badge of an inferior looking metal, and setting it down on the desk in front of Hector. The defeated demon hardly gave it a glance, yet it now belonged to him.

            “It’s not such a bad gig,” Canchi assured him. “You’ll enjoy running this office, Hector. It’s quiet and peaceful, away from the hustle and noise and chaos of downtown. You’ll have plenty of free time.”

            “Which I’ll be using to make certain that your deeds today not go unpunished,” he replied without looking up.

            “Don’t be a sore loser, Hector.”

            “Suck my cock, you backstabbing hedonist.”

            “Perhaps another night,” Canchi said with a grin. “Unlike you, I do swing both ways.”

            Rebekah plopped down on the couch where Bethia had been reading. It smelled vaguely of sour apples, and the vinyl was sticky. She immediately got up, and began to look for a less repulsive place to sit down. “I can’t believe you’re going to roll over and die like this,” she whined. “Do you know how excited I was about going Up There?”

            “Nobody said you weren’t going,” Hector told her. If this was a cruel joke, the punchline was lost on Rebekah. She looked at her brother, waiting for him to elaborate, but it was Canchi who did the explaining.

            “Let’s go, my fine little flower,” Seikome said with an inviting wave of his hand, gesturing towards the door. Rebekah was confused, and angry that they would think she’d go with them.

            “Are you expecting me to go with you guys?” she asked in astonishment. “I’m not going with your freak family.”

            “You have no choice,” her brother told her resentfully.

            “I have just accepted the office of the Scourge of Absconders,” Canchi reminded her. “Linked to this office, body and soul, is the assigned Key Watcher. You have taken a vow to serve that post. Your brother no longer holds that office. As of now, I do. Ergo, you now serve me.”

            “You are fucked in the head if you—“

            Rebekah was a wiry, nimble and vicious demon when she needed to be, but she was no match for a hulking holocaust demon that outweighed her in height, weight and power. She never saw Seikome move, but she felt his blistering knuckles hit her across the face. She lost her balance, and fell into his arms. Once she was there, she would not be free until he put her down. She screamed as Seikome carried out of the room, her pleas going unanswered by her brother.

            She had lived a somewhat sheltered existence up until the day, living in her brother’s mansion. She wanted for nothing and enjoyed the luxuries that the name of Horvendue carried. What lay ahead of her was both exceptionally better yet disturbingly worse than the life she was leaving behind. Despite the chilly relationship she had with her brother, she would have given anything to leave Canchi’s family and return to her old life. But twenty years went by, and by then she started to accept the possibility that she would never see her brother again.