This book is NOT SUITABLE For Young Readers!
Contains adult themes and graphic violence
The temple was dimly lit and Altirriba couldn’t see the expression on the young girl’s face, for which he was grateful. Standing outside the entrance to the cavern, all he could see of the high altar were writhing shadows that hid what the tentacle-faced demon was doing to the girl. He didn’t know if the girl was his daughter or not, something that hadn’t really bothered him until now, when he saw what her mother had planned for her.
He had witnessed enough rituals since first he had fallen under his mistress’s sway to guess what was being done to the child, what debauched and torturous acts would be perpetrated upon her young body. There had been a time when such acts had aroused him, but the participants then had been willing adults, not innocent children. No child should be forced to endure such pain.
He swallowed hard as the girl screamed. His mistress turned away and started towards the doorway. He felt a flash of hope. Perhaps seeing her daughter subjected to the very torture that she herself had survived had touched something in her heart. If her heart could be touched, then perhaps he could touch it.
She passed by one of the incense lamps and a gleam of light ran over her naked body. He felt his manhood stir at the sight. Pregnancy had only made her the more beautiful. Both hope and tumescence withered at the sight of her face. He knew that expression well, and whenever it was turned on him the pain that followed left him pleading for death.
“Mistress?” he asked when she had stepped out of the temple. “Will you not witness the testing?”
“No.” She strode past him and on up the rough tunnel.
Altirriba fell in behind her. “May I ask why, mistress?”
She spared him a glance. “I cannot bear to watch my lord embrace one who might not prove worthy, not when my loins quiver with need of him.”
Altirriba’s heart fell.
“You will satisfy me, Altirriba. If you do not, I will hand you over to the crones for more training.”
Altirriba’s hands grew clammy and his mouth dry. Training with the crones was worse than anything his lady had done to him. She was attractive, they were not, and yet they demanded that he treat them as though their withered dugs were plump and fresh. He shuddered. “I will do my best mistress.”
She turned into her quarters and Altirriba spared one glance back down the tunnel to where he heard the echoes of a long-drawn wail. Whether it was of pain or pleasure though, he couldn’t tell.
“Come! She is not for you, not yet,” said his mistress. “If she survives her initiation, then she might choose you to help slake her need, but only if you prove yourself worthy.”
Altirriba stepped into the chamber, not sure if he should be excited by the promise, or sickened. Looking upon his mistress, he realised that it didn’t really matter. He would do what he was told, the alternative didn’t bear thinking about.
Altirriba bit back a groan as his muscles cramped, grateful for the glyphs of strength and stamina his mistress had granted him. Without them, he would have been in far worse shape and would have failed. He wanted to be gone from the temple, back to Ishmek where he could soak his aches and pains away, but that wasn’t going to happen until his mistress was done plotting. He studied her face, so peaceful in sleep, feeling a weary twitch in his groin as his eyes travelled down to her breast. He longed to reach out and caress it, but doing so would wake her, and he didn’t have enough energy left to pleasure her again.
The nipple hardened and elongated and he glanced at her face to find her eyes open and locked on his face. She leaped to her feet, sending cushions tumbling and hurried towards the door. Altirriba sprang after her. That reaction could only mean that the demon had summoned her, and though entering the demon’s presence had its risks, he didn’t want to miss whatever passed between them.
When they got to the long ramp going down into the cavern, his mistress stopped and held out a hand. “You will stay here.”
A protest sprang to his lips and he choked it down. He gave her a low bow to hide his face and the expression of dismay and doubt that he was sure he was displaying. “Yes, mistress.”
He heard the purr of satisfaction in her voice, and dipped his head lower while his shoulders tensed with anger and he thought he would throw up from shame.
“Don’t try to conceal your anger, pet. It amuses me.” There was laughter in her voice, but it was a hard and cynical amusement, and her voice grew hard. “I don’t care how you feel, Altirriba, just so long as you obey.” She turned away, leaving him outside the door.
He stayed there for a long time, listening to the sounds of their coupling, then to the murmur of their distant voices. Anger and jealousy, lust and disgust, all coiled within his belly, making him sick. When he finally heard her steps approaching, he leapt to his feet and turned to watch her. She looked satisfied, sated in a way that he could never accomplish. There were fresh welts and bruises covering her legs, back, belly, and breasts. He winced, displaying a sympathy she would have laughed at if she’d noticed it.
She had a smile on her lips and her eyes were bright with some emotion he couldn’t guess at. Her eyes were distant though, and she paid him no mind as she walked past, lost in thought.
She glanced at him. “The Great Work begins.”
“Great Work, mistress?”
“The girl survived her initiation and will become high priestess if I fall.” She sighed. “Three hundred years my lord has waited for his revenge,” she shivered, “and he favours me enough to be the tool by which he enacts it.”
Altirriba stayed silent as he followed her back up through the complex to the arched opening in the great mound. There his mistress halted and stood staring towards the south, over the swamps and jungle to where they both knew Ishmek stood.
“It must fall,” she said, voice intense, “and Castello with it. Then the survivors can be brought back to the worship of their forsaken god. This time there will be no failure.” She turned her head and glared at him. “I will see to that, and you, General,” her mouth crooked into a hard lipped smile, “you will help me.”
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