Bind the Soul by Annette Marie

Alone with nothing but her thoughts and the rats, she waited. And thought. And waited.

  The timeless night stretched on and on with no end in sight.


  SHE WAS pacing again when the jailors finally returned.

  The door swung open, blasting her with light. She flinched, throwing her arms over her face. Rats squeaked irritably as they scurried back into the drain. She lowered her arm to squint at the two daemons standing in the entrance to her cell.

  They looked like all the others, dressed in black with a simple red band around their right arms, marking them as jailors instead of regular soldiers/guards. She could barely tell them apart and had no idea if they were the same two who had taken her clothes and searched her for hidden weapons—more so to prevent her from hurting herself than any concern that she might attack them. Fear flashed in the pit of her stomach; she was defenseless against them.

  “How was your night?” one of them mocked.

  She scowled and didn’t answer, not planning to admit she’d spent the last few hours trying and failing not to cry in absolute misery. She was frozen and aching, her feet and ankles were covered in bite marks, and she was so thirsty she could barely think straight. Hunger came in a poor second on her list of immediate needs.

  “Are you ready to be useful? I don’t want you putting the Warlord in a bad mood.”

  “Yes,” she said through gritted teeth.

  Jailor One looked at Jailor Two. “Does she sound ready to you?”


  “I’m ready,” she snapped. “Just let me out of here.”

  “She seems to have some attitude,” Jailor One said.

  “Yeah, I don’t really want to let her out,” Jailor Two said. “Not unless she can prove herself.”

  “What? How am I supposed to do that?”

  “Be creative,” he said. “You have to the count of ten to impress on us why we should take you to the Warlord. One.”

  She stared at him, her mind a total blank.


  “Look, I’m telling you—”


  “I’m ready,” she said desperately. “I’ll do whatever he says!”


  “Please, just let me—”


  She let out a shriek of frustration. “What the hell do you want me to do?”


  “I don’t know what you want!”


  “You bastards!” She lunged forward, not sure what she intended to do, just knowing she couldn’t stand another minute in that cell.

  The guards both reacted with the same quick motion, each pulling from his belt a foot-long black rod with a small loop at the end. In the center of the loop, blue light crackled like a dot of electricity. She came up short, barely out of their reach.

  Jailor One tsked softly. “Definitely not ready.”

  “No,” the other agreed. “I don’t think she deserves this either.” He pulled a small bottle from his back pocket. Its contents sloshed enticingly. He unscrewed the top and up-ended the bottle, pouring water all over the floor.

  She almost burst into tears upon seeing her water dumped at her feet. Her throat burned.

  Jailor Two stuck the bottle back in his pocket. “We’ll come back later. If we remember. Maybe your attitude will be better then.”

  Smirking, they stepped back and swung the door shut with a metallic bang. The bolt slid home with a second, loud clank. Darkness filled the tiny cell. Hopeless fury sparked before despair swamped it.

  She stared downward in the pitch black. Tears stung her eyes as she dropped to her knees and licked the dirty water from the floor.

  . . .

  She counted over four hours’ worth of seconds before the jailors returned. This time she covered her face before the door opened. The light still stabbed her eyes. When she grimaced in pain, her parched lips cracked. She tasted blood.

  Cautiously, she rose to her feet. The jailors studied her. She quickly scanned them for signs of a water container. She honestly didn’t care about anything else except water. She desperately needed it.

  “So . . .” one of them drawled. “Are you feeling more obedient?”

  She nodded.

  The other tilted his head. “Are you really? We still want to see you prove it.” He grinned maliciously and gestured for her to get on with it.

  Four hours to plan hadn’t yielded many ideas. She didn’t know exactly what they wanted from her. Obviously, talking about her desire to be obedient wasn’t enough. She had to do something to prove it.

  With clenched hands, she carefully approached them until she was a step away. Then, breathing a little too fast, she sank to her knees in front of them and bowed forward until her face was nearly touching the floor.

  “I will do whatever you want if I can please see Samael now,” she intoned. “Please?”

  Silence answered her. She held the position even as every fiber of her being rebelled against it. She’d never bowed at anyone’s feet before. It was even harder than she’d imagined. Humiliating at the same time it made her feel crushingly vulnerable. She was helpless on the floor. They towered over her, holding all the power.

  “Hmm. An improvement, at least.”

  Taking that as a good sign, she dared to sit up.

  “What do you think?” Jailor One asked his counterpart.

  He shrugged. “Not sure.”

  “I swear I’m ready,” she croaked.

  Jailor Two grinned. “Ah, well, you know what? It’s actually too late to see the Warlord now. So you’ll still have to wait.”

  She clamped down on a surge of fury before it showed on her face.

  He reached into his back pocket and again pulled out a bottle. He jiggled it, making the water slosh loudly.

  “Are you thirsty?”

  Her heart pounded in her throat. She couldn’t remove her eyes from the bottle. “Please,” she whispered.

  He slowly unscrewed the cap. When he made to dump it again, she jerked forward involuntarily. Too late she realized he’d only been pretending. Shaking his head in mock dismay, he considered the bottle. He tilted his head back and hawked loudly, then spit a mouthful of gob into the water. Grinning, he screwed the cap back on and dropped the bottle onto the floor in front of her.


  She snatched the bottle and clutched it as they backed out, laughing, and shut the door, plunging the room into darkness. For a long moment, she held the bottle. Tried to think it through. Her throat burned. Her body demanded it. Squeezing her eyes shut, she twisted the cap off and drank.

  . . .

  The jailors didn’t come back. She waited and waited, listening for the faintest sound that could possibly be footsteps. She got up to chase away the rats every quarter hour and returned to her spot right beside the door, ear pressed against it, listening.

  Hours passed. It had to be night again. Her thoughts turned in circles, convoluted and confused. With only a bottle of water in the last thirty hours, her endurance was waning fast. As the night dragged on, her thoughts got fuzzier.

  Twice she fell asleep. Each time, she awoke screaming with rats crawling over her legs, nipping flesh off her feet and ankles.

  Sometime in the middle of the night, while she was curled in the corner trying hard not to drift off, the bolt slid open on her cell door. She looked up without shifting out of her frozen ball. Dim light trickled into the cell. Bewildered, she stared at her visitor.

  Raum studied her emotionlessly. Then his gaze flicked toward the squeaking vermin at the other end of her cell. She looked too, and for the first time, she saw the rats. A scream bubbled up in her chest. She barely fought it down.

  The rats weren’t rats. They were far more terrifying.

  “Nili,” Raum murmured.

  His dragonet appeared at his feet. Its attention locked on the rat-things and it charged. The small beasts squealed and hissed, baring mouthfu
ls of pointed yellow teeth as the dragonet chased them back into the grate. Their red eyes flashed as they retreated.

  Piper cowered in the corner. Raum stepped into her cell and swung the door mostly shut. His dragonet paced in front of the grate, keeping the rat-things away.

  Raum crouched in front of her. The dim light came from a tiny orb, like a candle-flame, suspended in the air above him, fueled by magic. He held a bowl in one hand. She said nothing as he studied her.

  “I told those fools to be careful,” he said, his toneless voice quiet.


  “I told them you weren’t a daemon. Didn’t I warn you? What they do daily to daemons you wouldn’t survive.” He set the bowl beside him and pulled a folded square of material off his shoulder. He shook it out, revealing a thin wool blanket.

  “Sit up,” he ordered.

  She sat up. He swung the blanket around her, helping her scooch back on top of it so she was no longer touching the cold metal floor or walls. She pulled the edges around her, cocooning herself inside the scratchy wool, and buried her frozen feet in the folds. Raum picked up the bowl and offered it to her. She snaked a hand out of the blanket and took the metal dish. It was hot. She lifted it close to her face and smelled beef broth.

  “Drink it slowly,” he said. “Small sips.”

  He sat over her, threatening to take the bowl away every time she drank too fast. She sipped the broth, nearly swooning as the hot liquid slid down her throat and heated her belly. For some stupid reason, tears pricked her eyes. She blinked them back.

  When she finished, she handed him the empty bowl. Pulling the blanket tight, she eyed him. “Why?” she asked.

  “Everything here,” he said quietly, “happens for a reason.”

  “Did Samael send you?”

  He collected the bowl and rose to his feet. “Nili will stay until morning so you can get some sleep.”

  She nodded again, swallowing a barrage of questions. She wouldn’t get any answers out of him. He probably wasn’t doing anything out of kindness; he had to be following orders.

  Without a backward glance, he stepped out and swung the door shut. She closed her eyes against the overwhelming blackness, listening to him slide the bolt back into place. His footsteps must’ve been silent, because she didn’t hear him walk away.

  A rustle in the corner as his dragonet Nili got comfortable. The soft sounds of its breathing were indescribably comforting. If Raum’s visit had been on Samael’s orders, had leaving his dragonet been part of the plan too? The blanket and broth, yes. But a rat-protector?

  Before she could decide, fatigue overwhelmed her and she dropped into unconsciousness.

  . . .

  Samael was waiting for her in a spacious sitting room adjacent to his office.

  She shuffled in, trying not to step on the scabbed bites on her bare feet. Raum followed, prodding her in the right direction as needed. The walk through the estate had been both a gift and a nightmare. A gift because she was walking, there was sunlight, there was noise and normalcy and fresh air and warmth. A nightmare because of all the people: daemons dressed in beautiful clothing, groomed and clean and well-fed, staring at her and grimacing like she was some foul bit of filth on the floor that they’d almost stepped in.

  Samael, too, looked expensive and impeccable in a simple blue dress shirt and black slacks. His gaze rose to meet hers as she came in. She flinched. She couldn’t meet his eyes. Instead, she stared at the floor as she walked to the empty wooden chair set before a small dinette-style table in the corner. He sat in the opposite seat, the narrow surface of the table filling the small gap between them.

  Once again, Raum stood behind her chair. She opened and closed her hands in her lap, terrified of what Samael might ask of her. Terrified she would fail and he would send her back into her dark cell. Terrified she would somehow get it right and he would have his answers.

  “Good morning, Piper,” he said.

  Anger flashed inside her—there was nothing good about anything right now—but it quickly died under the wave of fear that he would notice her reaction. She mumbled wordlessly.

  “Are you ready to begin?”

  She nodded.

  He placed his hand upside-down on the tabletop and uncurled his fingers. Sitting in his palm was the Sahar. A silver chain had been attached to it, fused directly to the top of the Stone. She stared at it, terror pounding through her. She remembered the hot flash of power in her fist, the strange spike of something in her head.

  “Take it,” Samael ordered softly.

  She swallowed hard and reached for the Sahar. Careful not to touch his skin, she lifted the chain until the Stone rose from his palm. Heart pounding, she slowly closed her other hand around it. It was heavier than it looked, strangely dense, alien against her skin. But she felt nothing else. No sudden heat or surge of power.

  Samael’s hand closed around her wrist. She flinched, though his touch hadn’t hurt. His hands were warm. She’d expected his skin to be cold. He pulled her hand closer to him.

  “Open your fingers.”

  She obeyed. He laid a fingertip on the Sahar. His eyes went out of focus as his attention shifted to some internal sense. For five minutes, they sat unmoving while he did whatever it was he was doing.

  He eventually refocused on her. She shrank slightly.

  “Commune with the Stone,” he ordered.

  “I—I don’t understand.”

  “Attempt to connect to its power. You have already done this, if unintentionally.”

  Panic flared inside her. She had no idea what he meant but dared not say so. Breathing fast at the prospect of failing, she looked at the Stone and concentrated. Nothing happened. She tried to recapture the feeling from the one time she’d used it. Tried to will the power into her. Tried to make some sort of connection—even as she wondered how the hell she was supposed to mentally connect with an inanimate object. It didn’t make sense.

  Once it was clear she wasn’t making any progress, Samael began making suggestions. None worked. He tried holding the Stone at the same time as her to see whether he could commune with it instead. With each failure, she expected fury, but he merely told her to keep trying and continued suggesting new strategies, everything from mediation to visualization to getting angry. She attempted everything he suggested. Nothing.

  Finally, he lifted the Sahar from her hand and sat back in his chair. He pushed his pale braid off his shoulder and rolled the Stone between two fingers. Piper clenched and unclenched her hands.

  “I am disappointed, Piper,” he said softly.

  “I—I tried everything. I don’t know how. I told you I did it by accident.”

  “You must find a way to duplicate that accident.”

  “I’m sorry.” She fought back tears, desperation clawing her insides. He was going to send her back to the bastille. “I’ll keep trying. I—I’ll figure it out.”

  “Perhaps you will be better motivated next time. I hope for your sake that progress is made.” He rose to his feet.

  “No—I’ll keep trying—please, let me—”

  Samael walked out of the room.

  Raum’s fingers pinched her arm. She swallowed back her pleas. He dragged her from the seat and steered her across the room and out into a side hall. The tears she’d held back in front of Samael trickled down her cheeks.

  “I tried. I really, really tried,” she choked.

  Raum didn’t reply. He guided her back through the luxurious manor. The bastille was several buildings away, the elaborate complex joined by covered courtyards and arching hallways that acted as bridges. She barely noticed the daemons they passed—until she glimpsed one with iridescent red hair. She stopped dead and turned.

  The draconian walking in the other direction noticed her attention and paused. He was maybe fourteen, his hair rumpled like a typical teenager’s. He had three half-healed cuts across his face and one arm strapped to his chest to keep the injured limb from moving. He wore bla
ck clothes similar to Raum’s but carried no weapons.

  She and the young draconian stared at each other. His dull eyes were paler than Raum’s, almost ice blue. Curiosity flickered in them as he glanced at her prisoner’s garb.

  Raum reached for her. She stepped away and faced the draconian.

  “Where’s Ash?” she asked sharply.

  Surprise flashed across the draconian’s face and his gaze darted sharply to the left. Piper turned in that direction. A window alcove offered a shocking view of the hovering planet, as well as a view of a long, low building set in a corner of the compound.

  “What’s that building?” she demanded, looking back at the draconian.

  His eyes were wide and horrified. He backed away. Raum swept past Piper. Before she could react, he’d backhanded the young draconian across the face with enough force to throw him to the floor. The boy scrambled to his feet, hand pressed again his face and blood running from the corner of his mouth. He slashed a hateful glare at Piper before breaking into a run and vanishing around the corner.

  She planted her feet to keep from cowering as Raum turned to her.

  “What’s that building?” she asked again.

  He grabbed her arm in a painfully tight grip and hauled her down the hall. She half-jogged to keep up, trying not to whimper. He didn’t loosen his grip until they reached the bastille. Two black-clad jailors came forward to take her.

  Raum bent down, putting his face close to hers. “I underestimated your capacity for manipulation, Piper. I won’t forget.”

  Her eyes widened. “What?”

  “You took advantage of a child. Now I have to beat him for his error.”

  “You—no, don’t—don’t do that!”

  “I have no choice. He should have known better.”

  The two jailors took her arms. The draconian watched as they dragged her backward, his face colder than she’d ever seen it.

  “No—Raum, don’t hurt him. It was my fault. Beat me instead. Punish me!”

  The force of his stare diminished as he slid back into his chronic apathy. He looked at her jailors. “Take her back to her cell. No rations.”

  “Wha—Samael didn’t say no rations. Raum? Samael didn’t say that!”

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