Episode 2.

CW: Male Violence, Drug Use, Alcohol, Nudity, Knives.

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image shows the letters C, I, T, B, in bold green type.

The archer caught her first, preventing her fall with strong arms and a permanently smug, heavy-lidded expression, and gauged his interest – as though appraising the expense of a weapon. He stands back, arms crossed, cool as he arrives at her value, and unguarded, he looks her over while she mirrors him. Dark hair no longer than his collar. Honey-hazel eyes she recognised. Tall. Built as though he'd lived outdoors his whole life. A perpetual, sarcastic sneer that demanded to know 'What the fuck?'

Loosening a silken scarf, he broke the silence. “Strip.” An order. She followed without hesitation, folding her things, neat, and taking her time, and his eyebrow is only very slightly cocked when a small blade slips from her boot. Shrugging, still easy, she continued to undress while he did nothing until she was down to her smallclothes. “Enough.” Binding her arms, again she refused to struggle. Her compliance irritated, and he pulled at the ties then, too brusque. “Oh come on. What's this? You've got to put up a bit of a fight. Set the mood a little at least?”

Snide, he seemed dismissive, verging on disappointment. “No screaming or crying? Not even a little? I thought for sure you'd be a noisy one. What's the matter? We not scary enough for you?” Disgust began to show. “This is no fun at all. Bit young for me. Nowhere near my type.” Finished at that – still terse, resolute and disinterested – underlining his statement, he turns her, sticking a boot into her arse cheek and pushing her away.

Still bound, Issané stumbles. Falling to her knees and hating it, he towers over her, laughing. She will not cower, even then, even as he crouches beside her, a threat. Curiosity piqued at her audacity, and realising she means to take them all on, he leans in close. As he does, the nearer he comes, the louder his name comes to her. I. Am. Reed. As though shouting it, he has never possessed her skill, nonetheless he is forcing her to see, and apprehension provoked by the familiarity of his face washed over her again. She did know him. But she didn't? Annoyance nettled her – indeed as he spoke, she couldn't place him still. “Well then, if this is the game you're going to play, you'll need this...”

Kneeling over her, he slipped her a dose of blackout from an unseen pocket. A handful of hair in one fist, he rubs the fine powder into her gums. “It won't work instantly,” his voice lowered, “however, it will help you. With Kayn.” Eyes closed, he swallowed, dry. “For later.” Nodding in the same direction Shirtless had left in, Issané realised his meaning and her eyes widen with his. Her reaction chokes him, earning at last the glimmer of fear he wanted. Too little, too late, and he hid it with another sneer. “Oh now,” a drawl to match. “That's my girl.”

Sardonic, he lifted her to her feet. Freeing her, he took back his property, re-tying the fabric around his neck and she wondered how many others he'd used it on, guessing a high number – she'd watched him secure the none too distant bandit crew. This Reed indeed was as nippy as she'd assumed, and Issané had courted it from him up close. New things in those few seconds had stunned her, far beyond anything she'd already read. Out of the town, into the forest to where she stood now, it was clear she'd misjudged more than one, and when he turns himself away, she exhales, glad. Distracted and indifferent – away from the fire, at home in the gloom – he sits alone, darkly observant of the others, yet decided he won't participate further.

Grinning at her now, intent, was one of the big Frenetics. The one with the laugh. Raven haired too, this one wore his tresses in a long, silken mane which fell short of his waist. Vermilion, carnelian, coal bright eyes shone at her. Oh, a menace. The fire type for certain. He'll go in for the kill – like one of those warhorses...

He is without a doubt hung like one. Muscles ripple a smidge in the firelight as he stands there, entirely nude – not even boots on, much less a single shred of shame. “Well? Are we not all doing this then?”

“Nah, Jed.” Reed told him from where he sat in the shadows. “Put that... Thing away will you?”

He shrugs, mild in his disappointment, but a leer widened when he caught her admiration. One leg into his trousers, he waves his prick at her, a crude scoff before following Reed's instruction and tucking it back into his clothes. A snort at her jolt, his eyes squint a touch and when her face turns from awe into a sneer at his behaviour, he sulks, petulant. “Aww, now. Don't look like that at it. He'll get shy. And you're so pretty when you're smiling.” His grin sparkled back her way, after a glance over his shoulder at his brother. He hadn't missed his stare either. She didn't appear to mind him, but if he did, he'd leave it. “Aye, a pretty one indeed. Be willing to bet you're worth a pretty penny or two, no? Not quite up to my tastes, mind. Too much tit. Not enough arse.”

Disregarding his aggravating attitude, she gathered she was at home in his company. Where Reed had chilled her, she held the warmth of this one's jeering, at ease. He wouldn't put her in danger by will, and was well acquainted with the game. Had respect for it, even. Wouldn't harm a hair on her, yet not a gentle giant by any means, as the bandit blood still spattered on him was clear to distinguish. A quiver in the cold, with a shimmy to her. Too much tit and not enough arse, she wasn't slight by any stretch of the imagination. Brawny enough from trekking over land by foot or horse, she had a belly with an appetite for cooked food more than not which dared you to try drinking her under the table. She'd be slimmer if she were taller – but who really had time to give a fuck about that?

She turned away from this quickly dressing – and shivering himself – Jed, and ignored his dig, her whole universe keenly narrowed to this one point in time. The other Frenetic is just... There. Butterflies rose, and she began a familiar chant for her heart to proceed beating again, absorbing the sight of him. The one who'd galvanized her into setting off this whole damned mission, following him had forced her hand into acting on the magic she'd gained a meagre control over. Yet more importantly than the blood magic ritual she'd come to perform, he had hair the same as Jed's. Loads of it – his a lighter brown, it was gold where the sun caught it and shorter, owing to a slight wave. Maybe it would curl? Perhaps he might tie it back sometimes? I bet it smells amazing...

Ruining her view to a degree, annoying still, Jed brays, loud, slapping her on the arse. A direct hit on the bruise that was welling there from Reed's kick, he cackled on his way past. Down with the archer away from the fire, he is in stitches, pulling on his shirt, and he nudges at his now grimacing friend – while Issané turns back a beat, shooting him the filthiest of all looks. Intentional in spoiling the moment, he leers back again, and shakes his head at the mood evident on his brother's face. Enjoying his airs change from sullen to startled, when she steps towards him he jogs at Reed's arm again – ignoring his discomfort at getting so wantonly shoved.

Grim, and silent, another hiding from the reach of the light, Tristin was conflicted between keeping out of view and claiming this heavily breathing and quite undressed prize. Jed was dead wrong about her. This girl wasn't pretty when she smiled. She was fucking magical. As much as he tried to avoid it, when she approached, she met his eye, with a crooked, enthusiastic grin which assured him that any kind of agreement among them would be a fine thing indeed. As if it were entirely possible everything could be just bloody fine again. Coming into the fire-glow, he half fleered, closer to a growl than he wanted, anticipating her attempted escape and weighing up its consequences. Plenty had scarpered from him before, and giving her the chance to now, his eyebrow furrows when she doesn't bat an eye – much less flinch – neither does she when he lunges forwards to grab an arm. Confused by this boldness, he marches her aside before offering coin. Keeping the others from hawking their way, he moves her aside, tucking the two of them behind the cart. He wanted away from the brightness of the fire. Away from them.

Checking again with an uncertain grimace, still evading her eyeline, she was sure this was what she wanted. Unable to lay eyes on her the same way she did him, when her hand made to lift his shirt, it was too much. He stayed her. The length of his hair hid scarred skin – twisted and gnarled, once raw, now healed. Stretching from his ear, they spilled over the front of his shoulder and down his back. Both fixed there by her shock at the extent, she stared at the place where they crept towards his cheek. She saw them, yet when she looked back, she looked at him. He couldn't return it. Couldn't show her more of himself than she could already see. He avoided having to, glaring over her head instead, and the belt in the night sky tempted his gaze. Gold and silver shepherd moons shone down on them through the trees – Obbé and Sina. More eyes he wished he could get away from.

He'd asked if this was okay, checking twice and paying well to gain her approval – now it was her turn. His hand halted her still, despite her obvious enthusiasm and his growing interest in it, and she realized something remained in his way. Placing his hand on his buckle instead, leaving it there with the smallest step back, she waited. “I'm sorry... I...” He shucked off his jacket instead, cloaking her in it before pulling her arms through. Words came through gritted teeth. “I can't.”

“Come on then, Tris. You've been long enough.” Their leader swaggered into view. “Oh? You're not even going to? Well then, move over and let's have a go.”

The girl froze at his approach. Holding up a finger to wait, she shook her head, wanting to know if he really was done – and Tristin made it known, in abundance, that anything less than her instruction being followed was forbidden. “Stay the fuck back, Axel. I'll mark her. No need for you to get involved here. This one is gonna belong to me now.”

“Alright. Calm down...” Stumbling as he took the advised step away, it is obvious how drunk he is. “I notice you haven't got your knife out yet, though. If she's gonna be yours now, then at least you could share. I won't be long, I promise.” Hands up at his tone, a look was beginning to form on Tristin's face, and even in the state he was in, it was not one he wanted to incite any further. But, stepping forwards, an arm out, a sign for them both to stop, she'd collected herself. Axel showed her the coin he has, and she nods. “There you go.” His voice took on a bizarre degree of amplification. “She's into it. No problem then, is there?”

Reading Tristin's silent warning that this wouldn't be anywhere near a good idea, it registers, although, the girl implied interest after all, one on one, and there wasn't anyone around to stop him... Obeying the boundary, Axel makes do with his curt instruction, “You gonna suck it, then?” Catching her attention and tossing her his coin, a small sneer curls his lip when she jumps to catch it, beckoning her over. Yet, once out of sight, he stops her almost immediately. “No. We're just gonna pretend, okay?”

Issané's turn to sneer, she pictured miming a blow job, the mental tableau dissipating as he offered extra coin for her time and whatever favour it was she was doing him. Enough minutes seemed to pass, and he walked out from behind the cart – with flair, and a skip in his step – re-doing his belt up. Returning to the tome he was studying before, he wanted to talk with Reed over some scroll or another. Departing into the shadows, taking the same direction his archer had – after the discovery of Jed's rabid yanking – her heart plummets. Her chance squandered, she cursed herself for fucking up her plan, and she knows. His powder won't have taken effect in time for shirtless' go.

At Tristin's timid approach, he confirms the danger she is in. Concealing his blade, pressing it into her palm, he closed her fingers around its handle. “Mark yourself with this, and I'll protect you.”

Intense, at his urge for her to accept, panic rose, a sour acid in her throat. Can't even do it himself... The mood is changed, the boys all leaving – and petrified by the sight of his knife, she drops it and holds up her hands. Shaking her head, she will not allow it, stepping back away from him, fists clenched hard behind her back. No drawn arms in camp.

“No, please. Take it.” His voice sank into her. “He'll no use a dagger. You'll at least have the upper hand. You'll be grateful for it...” An awkward to and fro over her refusal, he leaves it with her anyway. Their cover well and truly blown by her defiance, his deep exhalation accompanied a calloused frown at her still holding it by the pommel. A pincer grip, she flung it away from her, chucking it into the mud. She knew as much as he did. It'd be certain death to accept it. At the frosted advance from the treeline, a single glance told her that thin ice had returned. A second look at Tristin's face, and it was proven. Following the rules wasn't going to save her. Any kind of mark wouldn't do the trick. The other Sanguine weren't going to try and stop him – Jed's loud yet empty bluster disappearing with the rest of them told the tale.

Seething now, incensed – and more distinctly, by her still having breath in her body – she wished she'd paid closer attention, wishing she had any idea why he wanted her disposed of, as if it would matter. Magic showed under his skin, and she is only aware that she has crossed some invisible line. Violated some unspoken rule. In making himself clear that she will pay a steep price when fingers tighten around her throat, he snarls into her face, and as his voice comes, she swallows back grave dread – audible by a scarce whisker, it did nothing to make him any less terrifying. “You. Disgust. Me. Fucking dead cunt.” Hoarse, he warned, low. “I won't kill you straight away, but you will be dead before sunrise. Or whenever you can beg me into ending you, whichever is sooner, but I promise. This morning was the last one you'll ever see.”

Throwing her to the ground and pinning her, hitting her square in the face, his punch inflicts a vicious split in her lip. Both of her wrists in one of his hands, there is a fleeting satisfaction at her attempt to check him still, and she braces, hard. Thanking stars when he breaks her block – wanting nothing to with pleasure, he continues to punch instead of prise her knees apart. Nauseated, a vague hope crosses her mind. Maybe he will spill enough blood after all... A second smack to her face distorts her eyesight, and the searing pain in her temple told her not to be so naive. Feeling him grab her, aware of him kneeling down over her, she curses over and over. Should have paid more attention... Black sleep taking over – the creeping loss of her surroundings a blessing, actually – an unfamiliar, commanding voice at her periphery rested on her last awareness.

“Kayn. Stop.”


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