Thank you for reading! This is an NSC written by Aia and InBrightestDay, written with my approval and reference. Discussion for this story will be primarily located on discord! Come on in and let us know what you thought, we don’t bite.
“We need to talk.”
Shautan scraped the improvised sharpening stone across the speartip one last time before lowering the weapon. His eyes narrowed as he looked towards the source of the voice.
Kareii shambled into the sectioned-off area. The older kthid wasn’t much larger than Shautan, but he was bulkier. Disheveled, even by the standards of the commune’s various residents. His frayed half-discarded shed still coated his body like a thin coat of fur over his scales. He had fresh wounds in his chest and shoulders, though all were closed now. They would completely disappear in a matter of days.
“You are hurt,” Shautan said. “How were you hurt?”
“Some drifters on our patrol,” Kareii said, striding into the room. The stack of plastic sheets creaked under his bulk as he seated himself.
“Did anyone die during the patrol?” Shautan asked.
Kareii grunted. “If they had, I’d have led with that.”
“Did anyone get hurt?”
“Tazak and Riiveik. They’re resting up. Look, I’m not here to talk to you about that right now,” Kareii said. “I heard you were going to volunteer for the next boarding.”
Shautan stiffened. “Where did you hear that I was going to be part of the next boarding?”
“So it’s true then?” Kareii asked. “Kid, why? Didn’t you just get your stabilization shots? You don’t need to go to the front lines again!”
Shautan hissed, turning away. “You have yet to tell me how you found out about this. Did Ehnna tell you that I was going to volunteer for the next attack?” he demanded.
“Why does that matter?”
“Because my plans are not her business, and they’re not yours either.”
“Shautan you can’t just run off and do whatever you want! We have a council for a reason!” Kareii snapped. “We don’t just send off our council members to risk their lives fighting the huntsmaster’s war for no reason, kid! How long before you get called up? Two weeks? Four? Where are we even going to find escorts for you on this short notice?”
“I have no need for escorts,” Shautan said. “I do not want anyone to accompany me.”
“You’re a council member, kid! You don’t get to choose!” Kareii snapped. “This commune needs you here! Not helping some casted prick catch new slaves!”
“I never asked to be made a counselor,” Shautan responded. “The commune will still have the other council members and they’ll have plenty of people to pick to replace me. There is no one that needs me here.”
“Then why are you doing this?” Kareii demanded. “Are you just bloodthirsty? Do you just have breeding urges? Kan’lun’s tits, boy! You’re not jumping straight into the front lines just because you’re horny, are you?”
“Do not use Kan’lun’s name as a curse,” Shautan growled. “I would not risk my life for something ridiculous like a chance to breed.”
“Then why, boy?”
Shautan turned away, far enough that he was sure Kareii wouldn’t be able to see his face, before he allowed the irritated scowl to take over his expression. Why did he even go to Ehnna about this? He should have just waited for Anle to rotate in from the gate five camp and ask her instead. At least she would just do what he wanted without asking annoying questions.
Though considering how the bugs were, Ehnna would probably find out about it anyways. It was stupid for him to trust them to keep a secret. Shautan raised his spear again and scraped the chunk of metal across the head. The plastic polymer scraped off in thin layers, spiraling off and dropping onto the grated floor. He should have just stayed silent and snuck off when the day of the invasion came.
Kareii hadn’t moved. Shautan couldn’t see the expeditioner even out of the corner of his eyes, but he could feel those eyes on his back. Expectant eyes.
“I’m not going anywhere, boy,” Kareii eventually said. “If I need to follow you for the whole next week to get an answer, then that’s damn well what I’m going to do.”
Shautan sighed. “Why do my reasons for joining the invasion matter? It is too late for me to retract my name from the volunteer list.”
“Because this isn’t like you!” Kareei sighed. “If you’re some whelp still thinking all they need to do to get picked for a caste is to fight well and get an officer’s attention, then that’s one thing. You’d be delusional, but I’d still understand you. You aren’t though, boy. You know better than that!”
Shautan finally lowered his spear. “The invasion force may send me to the same battlefield as my father.”
“Your father?” Kareii asked, grunting as Shautan responded with a silent nod. “Lad, why would you want to go see him? I doubt he’d want to see you again, what with how you ended up down here. Would he even recognize you?”
“I’m not going to find my father to make him happy. If my father does not recognize me, then that only makes my task simpler,” Shautan said, raising the spear up to his eye. Like the sheets that made up the commune’s walls, the spear was made of plastic. The material made the spear brittle, but the first stab was always sharp and the wound left behind would always be vicious. Shautan lowered the weapon. “I am going to find my father so I can kill him.”
Kareii’s jaw hung open for several seconds, before the older kthid spluttered in disbelief. “Have you gone mad, boy!? Isn’t your father a casted warrior? How would you possibly hope to kill him?”
“I’ll find a way to kill him when the opportunity presents itself,” Shautan responded. “The daughters of Kan’lun prove to be dangerous foes this time. The battle that will come will be chaotic and bloody. I will find my opportunity in that battle.”
“Lad, even if you manage a miracle, you’re going to get executed by torture for killing a casted warrior as casteless!” Kareii hissed. “Is that what you want? For all the young ones who look up to you to see you hanging from hooks over the pit, bleeding to death?”
“I’m not giving the casted a chance to capture me,” Shautan said. “I am going to go down killing every single one of the warriors I can.”
“I knew your reason was going to be bad, lad, but this is beyond stupid!” Kareii snapped. “When will you even get a chance to get close to a warrior? They always sent us forward to draw fire and break formations! You’ve done this before, lad, have you forgotten? Or have you just gone insane?”
“I am not insane,” Shautan growled, locking his jaw. His blood seethed. He could feel it almost bubble in his veins, leaving his hands trembling and his claws curled. He breathed in, then out, then in again. Just like he had been taught. Stay calm like lakewater. Let the tranquility and the quiet flow through him. His digit curled around the thong he wore as a necklace and slid down until he reached the little object dangling from the thread.
The jewelry was tiny. A thin string had been carefully threaded through it, the fibers so delicate that Shautan couldn’t understand how it didn’t snap even after all these years. It was painted over with lines, words in a tongue he couldn’t read, but whose meaning he would always remember. Shautan’s paw balled around the tiny seed.
“I am not insane. I am only doing the right thing,” Shautan growled, letting his necklace drop from his hand. “Before I kill my father, I am going to force an apology out of his mouth. Before I kill him I am going to make my father regret what he has done.”
Holding the little object used to make him feel calm. It used to make him feel safe. It had been a long time since the object calmed him. Now it only made him feel angry. Now it only helped him remember. It reached deep into that place in his chest and wrenched open what felt like a festering wound.
“An apology won’t make up for what my father has done, but it is at least something,” Shautan growled, feeling the weight of the necklace on his scaled neck. The jewelry probably weighed a few dozen grams, and yet it hung like an anchor. “Maybe that will be enough to at least earn her forgiveness for me.”
The vet said nothing as he guided Selara through the ship’s corridors. No jeering, no mockery, no orders. He didn’t even leer at her. His intermittent glares were brief and sharp. Simply there to check that she was following him.
Selara did continue to follow him. A heitera might belong to and be obliged to obey their master first and foremost, but every kthid was still above every slave in the imperial hierarchy. Disobeying a kthid would always mean punishment. Being raped by kthid would be torturous, but Selara knew that the monsters had plenty of ways to make the ordeal even worse.
Especially considering what she was dealing with. Selara kept her eyes on the floor and her posture bowed and subservient, but she still kept looking the vet’s way. What did the kthid want with her? Despite Master Avraks’s prodding, the vet had never raped Selara before.
Would that change today? Had the kthid changed his mind about violating her? Or had that been his intention all along, and he had simply been concocting some fiendish scenario he was going to subject her to? Selara could only imagine those horrors as she followed the vet towards whatever eventual destination he had in mind.
The vet quickly took Selara out of the narrow corridors of the slaves’ floors and out into the wide, meandering halls of the kthid floors. The light burned oppressively bright in these corridors, so much so that even her narrowed eyes and the protective shade her hand provided was insufficient to block it out.
Selara could surmise that this was one of the more central passages of the Night. Even though it was hours until the next change of shift, the wide passageway was still busy with kthid. Some were clearly heading somewhere, both on foot and on small buggies. Others were lounging on benches, and yet others seemed like engineers going about maintenance tasks.
Most were participating in the favorite pastime of the kthid. The din of suffering dominated just about every kthid living space, but the cavernous high-ceilinged corridors magnified the sounds. Some were of peoples Selara was more familiar with, whilst the rare few were of species more exotic. They all suffered the same, the screams, wails, yelps, and sobbing all blending into the all-too-familiar canvas of suffering.
The long walk eventually took Selara and the vet to a series of wide double-doors. The door opened a few minutes after the vet pressed the button to call for an elevator, and the wall of scent that struck Selara’s face was enough to make her stumble.
“Get in,” the vet commanded, his voice a gravelly bark.
Selara drew a sharp breath, nodding. “Yes, my lord,” Selara whispered as she shuffled through the doors.
The elevator was an image of opulence, marbled walls trimmed with gold leaves detailed into the familiar scenes of conquest and brutality. The elevator was as large as some barracks Selara had been in and lavished with beds, couches, and racks of implements of restraint and pain. The room stank of cum and sex.
Selara winced as the vet shoved her, pushing her into a corner of the massive elevator and setting her bells ringing. His shadow loomed large over the umbral as he stepped in after her, his wide bulk like a concrete wall. Selara looked up at the kthid, her eyes wide and her breathing shallow.
“Quiet!” the vet hissed, looking away. His eyes turned away from Selara and towards the closest corner of the rectangular chamber. “You! Floor zero.”
The arane jumped. “Y – yes, my lord!” the slave answered frantically, as if she were shaken awake from a stupor. The arane quickly pressed a button on the control panel.
Selara’s stomach felt light as the elevator moved with a lurch, descending through the height of the kthid warship at a palpably brisk pace. Though she stood in a chamber the size of a hotel lounge, she could still clearly visualize the hundreds of floors of the kthid warship hurtling past her as the elevator descended towards the belly of the vessel.
The vet was still close, so close that she could feel the heat of his body against her skin. He didn’t move for her, however. He simply cornered her with his frame, his arm against the wall like one side of a livestock pen. Selara pulled her lips into a line and straightened up, glancing back towards the slave across the elevator.
Unlike most of the arane, the bellhop across the elevator wore a golden collar around her neck. The metal ring was linked to the elevator wall by a chain that wouldn’t permit the girl to move more than a meter from where she had been leashed. Silks covered her body, though they were splattered with cum. Her tear-stained face and her inner thighs were similarly sullied, with both of her lower holes leaking and bubbling with foul seed.
It was far from the only source of the elevator’s nauseating smell or sounds of misery. A trio of falirans were held in pillories on one side of the elevator, their arms restrained next to their heads and their asses forced upwards. Their hands weren’t just held in place by the restraints. Nails had been driven through their hands to affix them to the stocks.
The falirans were being sodomized viciously by just as many kthid, who hurled insults and mockery at the restrained females. From the jovial conversations between the three monsters, Selara could guess that they were participating in some kind of competition. She couldn’t see any rules, except perhaps one of the usual brutal cruelty and pain.
One kthid was tearing into the faliran he was impaling with a knotted whip, shredding her wings and spraying blood across the floor. Another went at his victim with an electric prod, making the faliran girl spasm and scream as he pressed the device into her back. The last used no tools, instead just raking his claws across the girl’s back. Pieces of bloodied carapace littered the floor alongside puddles of cum.
A feathered corvid was kneeling on the floor, her light body shaking as the kthid brutally hammered into her from behind. Her wings, Selara realized, appeared to have been removed. In their place were handles of bone that jutted from her feathered back. The result of some horrific surgery, the girl had had two of her limbs turned into handles kthid could use to rape her more effectively.
Save for the arane, all the slaves bore the same simple piercings. Rings through the nipples and the clit, and larger hoops running down the sides of the labia. Dildos had been crammed deep into all their pussies and a thin chain had been fed through the rings before being tightened up, almost giving the impression of their quims having been sewn shut.
Selara had seen this before. Even the usual treatment of slaves by the kthid would shock the most brutal psychopaths on her homeworld, but this was anything but. The slaves all bore bruises, open wounds, and even broken bones, and yet they were not being released so they could go seek any medical care.
These slaves were being punished. Not just for their master’s amusement or because their master considered them to be insufficiently pleasing either. They were being punished for something considerably more severe.
In the months following the kthid conquest and genocide of her people, and following the fall of the corvids, the harriers, and recently the mirucains, there were many more slaves who were still willing to meaningfully lash out at their new masters or to try to plot a viable escape. Such efforts were always met with horrific brutality: the rape and tortures of the kthid, used not for mere recration, but as a means of execution. Master Avraks called it a learning period. A demonstration to the slaves, the ones who had lost their friends, their families, and their futures during the genocide, that things could always get worse.
Selara’s mouth grew dry. Like many of the everyday brutalities that went on around her, it was something she had numbed herself to and turned away from. Now, however, she found that difficult to do. Now that she was going to stand against the kthid once more. Now that she was planning an escape.
Should she fail, this was the fate she would be subjected to. It was the fate her friends would be subjected to. Just the thought was enough to send a shudder up her spine.
Selara clenched her fists. No. She couldn’t back out now, especially now that Sena had found out about the plan. It wouldn’t matter either way. Either she tried to escape and risked getting caught, or she allowed who knew how many slaves to perish when the kthid were caught in the maw of whatever trap the terrans were laying out for them. When the decision was to risk execution or die without having attempted anything, it wasn’t really a choice.
The doors slid open with the faintest of hisses. “Cave Worm, come on,” the vet snapped, striding out of the elevator. Selara blinked herself out of her silent apprehensions and followed him.
The lights were far less painful here. The ceiling was lower, the walls were bare metal, and the dull red glow bathed almost everything. Selara remembered these hallways only vaguely, but she did remember them. The vet’s clinic.
Squirreled away in one of the most remote corners of the warship, it was surprisingly easy to locate the clinic. A large, plain sign with no words and only a medical symbol hung over the top of a sliding door. The vet approached, causing an automated message to emotionlessly inform her that the vet wasn’t in.
He entered the waiting room and held his face up in front of the small panel by the next door, until it also slid open. The faint scent of antiseptic hit Selara’s nose instantly, a relative relief after minutes of being in a confined place breathing in the smell of kthid bodily fluids. The vet pulled open the drawer beneath his table and threw a blindfold at her. Selara had worn these before, not actually intended to blind, just to reduce the light that reached her eyes, allowing umbral patients to see in the examination rooms and do…whatever the vets required of them.
“Put that on,” he ordered, “and sit down.”
“Yes, my lord,” Selara said, tying the blindfold over her eyes and carefully settling down onto the stool. She was especially careful with her tail, settling the limb behind her without setting off any of the bells. The kthid continued to rummage behind the table, searching for something.
She found it difficult to sit still. She still didn’t have a clue what the vet wanted with her, but doubted that this was about her escape plans. Had she done something the kthid found suspicious, Master Avraks would be the very first of the monsters to interrogate her. Well, him or one of the kthid responsible for security and surveillance.
So what did the vet want with her then? Selara couldn’t help but shrink away as the giant slammed his drawer shut and rounded the table. He grabbed her face with his paw, forcing her to expose her vulnerable neck to him. His paw felt like a metal claw against her chin and cheeks, hard and unforgiving. Selara could feel something whirling and vibrating against her neck through her heavy collar, but she couldn’t see what was happening, which just led to her heart racing even faster.
Selara felt a click. The vet let go of her face and cupped his paw, dropping a small metal cylinder into his palm. Selara’s fingers, having reached for her neck reflexively, confirmed her suspicions. Something had been removed from her collar.
“Do not breathe a word to anyone about this,” the vet growled. “Whatever happens here today, whatever you see, don’t dare tell anyone. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir,” Selara whispered.
The kthid grunted, turning away and dropping his tool on the table. “Come over here,” he ordered, not even turning around as he entered through the side door.
Selara followed the kthid gingerly, like she was walking through a minefield. There was a door that led to the infirmary, but the kthid didn’t head in that direction. Instead he went for the door that had always remained shut during Selara’s last visits. A flash of infrared danced across his face before the door obliged and hissed open.
Selara’s eyes snapped right to the bed. It was large, suited for the vet’s colossal frame, and flanked by four posts. Chains led off those posts, terminating in manacles, collars, and belts. Next to the bed was a tall shelf stashed full of dildos, plugs, floggers, and dozens of other implements whose purposes she didn’t even want to think about.
“Get in. Quickly,” the vet growled, striding into the room.
Selara’s hairs stood on end and her mouth was bone-dry, but she nodded and obeyed. Her eyes couldn’t help but slide over the restraints as she walked into the vet’s darkened room. What did he usually do to slaves that required such an extensive set of restraints? Was she about to find out? Selara shuddered. Nearly a decade, and she still hadn’t managed to shed the disgust she felt when she even thought of one of the monsters laying his hands on her.
The vet walked right past the bed. Selara blinked, confusion immediately flooding her mind again as she followed the giant with her eyes. The confusion disappeared an instant later as she was struck with a shock that almost left her stumbling.
The vet only grunted in response, stopping as he reached a glass wall. The room had been divided into two. On one side was what Selara could guess was probably the vet’s living area. It bore many of the same features as Master Avraks’s own quarters with a bed, a workstation and storage areas for various implements. It was entirely bereft of decorations. No war trophies, no commendations, not even art. Just a blank wall that looked like it had been scrubbed meticulously clean of personality.
The other side of the room was a chamber that Selara struggled to describe. The ground appeared to have been tiled with some kind of soft, padded material. Strange pillars, tall enough to brush against the ceiling, cluttered the entire other half of the room like the trees of a lifeless forest. Branches jutted from the simple pillars to form a uniform frame. More than anything else, the chamber looked like a storage area for truly bizarre kthid equipment.
Selara’s eyes went right for the center of the room, however. Anisa knelt there with her back hunched over and her hands on her thighs. Rather, one of her hands was on the stump that used to be one of her tentacles. Manacles went around her wrists, binding her to the floor. The leash was long enough for her to wander in the glass cage, but not quite far enough to leave it.
The poor girl was trembling horribly, her face smeared with tears. Many of the tears dripped into the plate in front of her where clear cubes had been piled to create a small pyramid. Selara recognized it as nutrient jelly.
“You’re alive,” Selara whispered. “Anisa is alive.”
“Yes she is. No thanks to those bastards,” the vet growled, his voice practically bubbling with vitriol.
Selara’s body tensed as she turned towards him. Angry kthid were dangerous at the best of times, and she knew there were few ways the monsters liked to express their anger more than through sexual violence and conquest. Trapped in here and completely alone, the kthid’s wrath could only fall upon her or Anisa. Selara didn’t even attempt to run. Fleeing prey only inspired the monsters towards more viciousness.
The tension passed in silence. The vet didn’t lash out at her or even turn her way. Instead, he deflated. His shoulder slumped and he rubbed his eyes. His scales cooled as blood, having rushed to his extremities in anger, pulled back deeper into his body. It should probably have made Selara feel relieved, but instead she only felt more confused and apprehensive.
“This is absurd,” the vet growled. “Do you realize that?”
“My – my lord?”
“Somehow I thought I might have actually gotten good advice out of Ehnkath. He did it once before, didn’t he?” The vet laughed, the sound sharp and derisive. “It’s absurd.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t! How could you possibly understand!” he barked, his head snapping towards her, “I was the top of my class in veterinary studies, do you realize? This isn’t medicine or doctoring either! Any idiot who could fail their way through foundational biology could have done that! No, we had to study the physiology and biology of nearly one hundred species before we could even think of trying to pursue a position as a posted veterinarian!”
Selara pulled back as the kthid snapped his head away, his skin growing hotter as he fumed. “I have spent years poring over the medical texts both from the tolerance studies institutes and from the worlds of all the captive species. I’ve spent entire months barely sleeping and running off nothing but stimulants and neutral repair nanites so that I could learn enough to make sure that I was always, always at the top of my class! And I didn’t stop after I received my commendations from the Sunbreakers and just lie around like the morons that infest this ship’s veterinary department either! I kept studying! I kept learning! I read everything I could get my hands on and didn’t let a single interesting study, publication, or scrap of information slip me by!”
The vet snapped his head towards her again, baring his fangs. Having just unsheathed from behind his scaled lips, the dagger-like teeth glowed like magma. He looked practically feral. Less like the quiet, smoldering creature he was and more like one of the half-mad casteless.
“And you!” the kthid snarled. “What are you!? Were you even trained in medicine?”
“N – no, Sir.” Selara whispered. “I was a soldier.”
“A soldier. Brilliant! And he thought you were going to be able to help me!” the vet scoffed. “As if being Anisa’s friend was a qualification! As if that would give you any insight into how you were going to fix this!”
The blood drained from Selara’s face. “Fix? What’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know! You were supposed to know! Ehnkath told me that if I went to ask one of her friends, one of you, about what to do then you’d be able to help me!” the vet shouted. “It’s those bastards! They broke her! She wouldn’t eat anything I put in front of her, she barely sleeps, and she just has constant psychotic episodes where she tries to cut off her own limbs!”
Selara paled even further. “Anisa did what?”
“She tried to tear one of her caudal tentacles right off! She took my scalpel when I wasn’t watching and tried to cut her limb off! She’s lucky she didn’t manage to tear into her nerves and damage her ganglia even more!” the vet shouted. “And she’s losing muscle mass again no matter how much nutrition I try to pipe into her stomach! And the only thing she says to me anymore is just incoherent nonsense!”
The vet spun around and marched away from the glass wall. Selara watched him before, tentatively, following after him. The kthid slammed a digit down onto the keyboard, causing Selara to wince as the too-bright screens flickered on. The screen, uncalibrated for her eyes, read as incoherent to her.
“I’ve read every single study on causes of death amongst cephalian heitera! I poured over every stress study and psychological analysis of their entire species and they keep telling me the same damn thing! That it’s hopeless and I should just save myself the trouble and put her down!”
Selara’s blood ran cold. Living life as a kthid slave was not only torturous, it was also lethal. Each day was treading water and trying to keep the masters happy enough to not destroy them through torture and violence. The moment a slave ran out of fight, out of the will to survive and keep going, was the moment they withered away and perished.
That was about to happen to Anisa. The words were out of Selara’s mouth before she could stop herself. “Please don’t kill Anisa!”
“Then tell me how to help her!” the vet snarled, spinning his head towards her. The sight of the kthid’s snouted visage left Selara without any words. The kthid’s scaled face was drawn back and forced to wrinkle by the contortions of strained muscles. Hot liquid streaked from the kthid’s face, almost as bright as the light reflecting off his scales. Tears, Selara realized with shock. The giant was crying.
The vet twisted his head towards Anisa, his countenance distorted by pain. He clutched his chest so hard that Selara thought that those hooked talons would draw blood. “Tell me how to fix Anisa! Tell me how to make her normal again! Tell me how to fix her so that I don’t need to put her down! She’s going to die if she keeps going like this! She is going to suffer and atrophy away until her body no longer works and then she’s going to die!”
The vet spluttered. He made sounds, but neither her ears nor the translator could decipher what he was trying to say. The kthid continued to choke and spasm, like he was trying to throw up the contents of his stomach, as he dry-heaved and doubled over. The giant eventually sank to his knees, his claws trying and failing to keep himself from slumping over his table.
“Please. Please just help,” the vet whispered, his entire body wracked with trembles. “I saved her already. I thought I saved her already. I don’t want her to die now. She can’t die now! I’m so scared.”
Selara was truly and utterly at a loss for words. It felt like she was in some kind of surreal fever dream, with her stressed brain trying to sort through absurd hypotheticals. She felt too conscious for this to be a dream though. The pain of her wings was still sharp, and she could recall precisely how she had arrived in this room. Selara turned her eyes towards the glass wall.
Questions could wait until later. Anisa was clearly unwell, the kthid wasn’t lying about that, but she was still alive. Selara needed to do everything she could to keep it that way.
“My lord? How long has she been like that?” Selara finally asked.
The kthid vet coughed, pushing himself off the table. “She’s been like this ever since she woke from her coma,” the giant muttered, shambling back towards the glass wall. His tail dragged on the ground behind him.
Selara licked her lips nervously. “My master, Master Avraks, showed me a recording of Anisa having her limbs removed at some kind of event. Was that the cause of this?
“What else could it have been?” the vet muttered.
Selara nodded slowly. “I’d like to go talk to her.”
The giant’s withering glare nearly made Selara bite her tongue. “I called you here because I was told that you would know how to make her normal again,” the vet growled. “Can you help? If not, then the door’s over there.”
“I don’t know if I can help,” Selara said, “but I’d like to talk to her anyways.”
“How is that supposed to help her?”
“I want to help her, but I need to find out more about what’s happening first,” Selara said. “May I please go talk to her?”
“Absolutely not! Contact with her must be kept at the absolute minimum!” the vet shouted, causing Selara’s eye to twitch. She could still see Anisa crying out of the corner of her eye, the poor girl’s entire body curled up like she was imploding. Still the giant kept shouting. “Every time I go into her enclosure whilst she’s still awake, her heart rate and the stress hormone levels in her blood spike so high she risks cardiac arrest! If I didn’t need to go in to renew her nutrient patches and assess her condition then even I wouldn’t be going into her enclosure! No one is to visit her!”
“Well maybe the problem isn’t that she’s being visited but that she’s being visited by a kthid!”
Cold, the sensation of a frozen icicle being driven into her heart, took over Selara’s body. The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, and she could see the effect of what she’d said on the kthid. The giant’s expression darkened and his lips pulled back to reveal a jaw of fangs locked so tightly she could almost hear the teeth grinding.
That was a mistake. Selara shouldn’t have said anything. What was going to happen to her now? Was she going to see what those tools next to the vet’s bed did after all? Would he just kill her right now? The latter was hardly a rarity, especially when the only penalty for killing a heitera was usually a fine. What could she do now that —
A hiss filled the chamber, and the room grew noticeably brighter. The vet pulled his finger off the keyboard and turned towards Selara. He was clearly angry. Furious, in fact. The boiling emotion was painted all over his visage, both in the expression on his face and on the blood seething beneath his skin. He glared at her.
“I’ve seen dozens of cases like Anisa’s before. I have read about thousands. Once a slave breaks, it always ends in the same way. A slave on a death trajectory doesn’t recover. They never do,” the vet growled, his voice like grinding machinery. “They always die in the end. It’s wasted effort. Every research paper says the same thing.”
The vet’s eyes smoldered. Selara could see thoughts churning in the giant monster’s mind, but she was privy to none of them. She could only interpret and guess as the kthid, an emotionless mask falling across his tear-streaked face, turned towards the now-open entrance.
“You have five minutes,” the vet growled. “Then I am throwing you out.”
Selara blinked. She regained herself quickly, nodding. “Apologies, my lord, and thank you,” she said, glancing over her shoulder as she cautiously moved towards the brighter half of the room.
The first thing Selara noticed as she entered the other half of the room was how cold and damp the air was. The bells rattled as her body tried to reflexively pull the wings around her like a blanket. Selara dug her toes into the padded ground and walked forwards, to the place where Anisa was sitting.
Anisa’s eyes were fixed firmly on the ground. Her trembling was even more visible now than it had been from outside the glass cage. Everything about the cephalian’s body language was defensive and fearful, yet she still held her submissive position as perfectly as she could.
Anisa didn’t look well. The horrible piercings that had once mutilated her body had been entirely removed, but the cephalian looked deeply withered, and not just because of her lost limb. Her limbs had worn thin and her skin clung tightly to a body that looked even more frail and brittle than Selara remembered.
Selara’s fangs dug into her lips. Anisa’s belief that she might be able to earn mercy through unfaltering obedience and servitude was incorrect, but it was earnest. To see her try to put faith in that belief, even after the horror the monsters had inflicted on her, made Selara’s stomach churn with nausea.
It was sickening. The uniformity of the misery made it easy for her to forget how sickening everything was. That flame of anger within Selara fed eagerly, and she let it feed. It was good that she came here, after all. The risks she was taking in her escape attempt might have been steep, but it was good to remind herself of what she was fighting for. That this was worth it.
Anisa only seemed to grow more terrified as Selara’s shadow fell over her, her entire body practically vibrating. Selara went down on one knee, pulled the food tray away from her, set it aside and carefully reached out for her dear friend’s shoulder.
The cephalian’s head snapped right up. “Miss Selara?” She whispered between the tears. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to see you,” Selara said, putting a smile on her face. The smile felt brittle, but she held it in place with all her might. “I thought you died. I was so worried that I – I am so happy you’re still alive, Anisa.”
That was enough to set the cephalian off. Anisa practically hurled herself at Selara, bawling her eyes out. Her tentacles coiled and twisted around Selara and bound her into a crushing embrace. Selara winced slightly, both from the bells and from being reminded how strong Anisa was, as she reached behind her friend’s head and stroked the cephalian’s smooth skin.
“It’s okay, Anisa,” Selara whispered. “I’m here.”
“Oh Miss Selara, I was so scared! I’m so scared!” Anisa wailed, clinging to Selara’s body. “What shall I do? What can I do? Please, Miss Selara! I don’t want to die!”
“Anisa, please calm down. Please just calm down a little. No one is going to kill you,” Selara whispered, stroking the cephalian’s head. “I promise that no one’s going to kill you.”
“But I’m a failure and a worthless disappointment! All I had to do was simply be a good fucktoy and entertain the masters and I failed to even do that correctly! Worse than that, I refused the orders of the masters! They said they wanted my legs and I couldn’t even do that without whining and complaining like the ungrateful whore I am!”
Anisa was shaking like she was on the verge of freezing to death. The grip of her tentacles might have been crushing, but her hands were tiny and frail on Selara’s skin. Selara took one of Anisa’s hands and gave her friend a tight squeeze.
“Miss Selara, did you see Master Krathan on the way in here? He was the one that let you in, right?”
“That’s right,” Selara said. “Anisa, please, you need to calm down.”
“I won’t fail the masters again! I won’t complain about how much it hurts or whatever’s being commanded of me! I’ll show Master Krathan that I can be an obedient little whore! Please just give me a chance and I can show him that I can be a good slave!” Anisa wailed. “Please, Miss Selara! I don’t want to die! Please let me prove that I’m worth keeping around, that I can still be a good cocksleeve for him! Please! I don’t want to be thrown away! Not again!”
“I’ll tell him that. I promise to tell him,” Selara whispered. “Anisa, please just calm down.”
There was a thought that gnawed at the back of Selara’s mind. The vet’s emotions had been incredibly suspicious. In her years of slavery she had never once seen a kthid shed tears. She hadn’t even realized it was possible. Was this some kind of game? Some kind of act that the vet was putting on so he could pull the winds out from beneath her wings later?
Selara couldn’t think about that right now. Anisa took up all of her attention, and it was taking a good portion of her strength just to stop her friend from accidentally squeezing her lungs shut. Selara elbowed and pried the tentacles away from her body as she continued to whisper frantic assurances to the crying cephalian.
It took minutes of pleading before she finally managed to get Anisa’s screams and wails down to sobs and whimpers. A lot more pleading and also a lot of wriggling also managed to help her wriggle herself free from Anisa’s crushing grip. She managed to wrangle both herself and her hysterical friend to a point where they were both kneeling facing each other, Selara holding both of Anisa’s hands in her own.
“I don’t want to die,” Anisa whimpered, snot oozing from her nose.
“I know, Anisa, I know. You’re not going to be killed. I promise,” Selara whispered, her voice as soothing as she could get it. “Anisa. Your food. Is there something wrong with it? Something that makes it so that you can’t eat it?”
“My – my food?” Anisa asked.
“Yes, your food,” Selara said softly.
Anisa’s eyes followed Selara’s to the tray of jelly, a thin layer of tears having built up around the piled-up cubes. Selara heard the sound of Anisa’s stomach growling.
“That – that’s not my food, Miss,” Anisa whispered, tearing her eyes away from the plate.
“Anisa, you’re clearly hungry,” Selara said. “Why don’t you eat something?”
“I can’t!” Anisa whispered, her voice haggard. She twisted her head away from the tray, new tears coming to her eyes. “Please, Miss Selara. Please don’t bring that up. I must try to be a good little fucktoy for my master.”
“I’m not sure what that has to do with anything,” Selara said, picking up a cube and holding it out for Anisa. “Here. Just have a bite. It’ll make you feel better.”
“I can’t, Miss! I can’t!” Anisa sobbed. “My master hasn’t given me permission to eat!”
Selara drew in a sharp breath. “Permission?”
Anisa nodded, the motion shaking a few of her teardrops loose from her chin. “I haven’t been given permission to feed, Miss. Master Krathan hasn’t allowed me to feed and so I must not eat,” Anisa answered, her voice strained. “My master is frightfully upset with my pathetic behavior already! I mustn’t anger him any further.”
That made Selara frown. The vet seemed to wear his expressions very differently from Master Avraks and his friends, but she could see when he was angry. That anger, as far as Selara could tell, certainly didn’t seem like it was directed towards Anisa. “Why do you think your master is angry with you?” Selara asked gently.
“I know Master Krathan is upset with me, Miss Selara! He hasn’t spoken to me in days! Before then, all he would do was just stab at me with the needles and then just leave! He won’t even use my holes for his pleasure!” Anisa protested. “What good is a fucktoy if her master won’t even use her?”
“Anisa, you’re being ridiculous!”
“No I’m not! Everytime he looks at me it’s like he’s in pain! It’s like just being close to me is hurting him!” Anisa’s voice trembled, her fingers digging into Selara’s palms. “We’re heitera, Miss Selara. We’re fucktoys that only exist for our masters’ pleasure and entertainment. If I can’t even do that, then I’m fit to be nothing more than trash that’ll be thrown to the casteless so they can tear me to pieces!”
“Anisa, please just slow down for a moment!” Selara hissed. “You’re not in danger, Anisa! You’re not going to be given to the casteless! Your master just wants to know why you haven’t eaten!”
“I can’t just eat, Miss Selara! Food is a privilege a heitera must earn from her master and not just some indulgence she may partake in because she’s a little hungry!” Anisa protested. “I realize you are trying to look out for me, Miss Selara, but I must prove to my master that I’m still worth something! I need to show him that I could still be useful and pleasurable for him!”
Selara bit her lip, reaching up towards Anisa’s face and gently stroking her cheek. The cephalian’s eyes had shrunken in and her cheeks were growing hollow. A little hungry, she says.
“Just stay right here, Anisa,” Selara said softly, squeezing her friend’s hands. “I’ll be right back.”
Selara turned and marched out of the room, moving so quickly that metal rattling faintly chimed around her just from her movements alone. She found the giant still hunched over his workstation, the muscles of his back strained.
“My lord. Anisa thinks that – ”
“I heard!” the kthid snapped. “This is ridiculous! I never had to tell her to eat her food before! Why do I need to tell her now!”
“Excuse me, Sir, but Anisa wouldn’t lie about something like that,” Selara said.
“I didn’t say she was lying! I’m saying she was wrong!” the vet shouted. “It must have been those bastards! My scans said that Anisa’s brain wasn’t injured, but something must have happened! Maybe the scanner doesn’t have high fidelity! Maybe the aneurysm expresses itself in a way unique to cephalian physiology! It’s the only explanation that makes sense!”
“I can’t say anything about that, my lord. As I said, I’m not a doctor,” Selara said. “But if you didn’t find anything, perhaps that’s because there’s nothing there.”
Selara stepped up towards the edge of the workstation. The kthid glowered at her from the corner of his eye. “My lord, you must have said or done something that must have given her the impression that this was what you expected of her. Or perhaps something her old master did? I think Anisa mentioned something about being sold to a new master before she disappeared.”
“If this was a problem then I would have found out about it long ago! I might have purchased Anisa just a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve been taking care of her for months before that! I — ” Realization seemed to dawn on the kthid’s face. He grabbed his chin with his paw. “I – I always used to feed her by hand.”
“She must have interpreted that as having been given permission then. Something that, I imagine, you haven’t been doing since she has woken up.”
“This is ridiculous. Why do I need to give her permission to eat? She’s a living thing! She needs food to survive! If she sees food in front of her and she’s hungry then why doesn’t she just put it in her mouth!”
Selara’s eyes twitched. “You can’t blame Anisa for this!” she snapped. “Anisa didn’t learn this from her homeworld. She doesn’t even remember her home anymore! This is something that kthid did to her!”
The vet recoiled like he was struck. Selara immediately questioned if she should have been so frank with her words, but the surge of emotions that took over the giant’s face didn’t direct his attention towards Selara. The vet instead turned around and strode into the large section of the room where Anisa was being kept. Selara headed the same way but stopped short of entering into the chamber, peering at the two through the glass.
Anisa looked up at the vet as he approached her, her eyes so wide Selara was afraid they would pop out. She continued to cry and sob and tremble with such violence that it genuinely seemed like she would injure herself. The giant got down on a knee in front of Anisa with his paws clasped in front of him.
Selara bit her lip. The vet’s demeanor couldn’t help but leave her feeling confused and uncomfortable. Anisa was obviously terrified of the kthid, but the giant also seemed to approach Anisa like he was terrified of her as well. Like he was trying to thread a pass through a narrow chasm.
Their conversation was too quiet for Selara to pick out the specifics. The vet spoke and Anisa hung on every word. Her reactions looked muted and stunned at first, simply responding to the kthid with nods even as her eyes fearfully scanned his face and body for whatever meaning she thought she might be able to divine from him.
It took less than a minute before Anisa’s emotion came flooding out in full force. The cephalian girl wailed and sobbed and cried out as loudly as her lungs would let her cry. She kept trying to wipe the tears away from her face, but even her hands couldn’t move quickly enough to stem the flow of tears.
The vet had his paw on Anisa’s head, gently rubbing back and forth over her scalp. His voice, what little Selara could hear of it, was unnervingly soothing. No cruel jeering, no dismissive contempt, and no mockery and insults. She couldn’t make out the words but she could hear the tones. Cautious. Almost apprehensive. Anisa didn’t stop crying, but she did grow visibly less stressed and jumpy. Her tentacles, previously coiled around her body like a protective shell, slowly came unwound.
By the time the kthid finally pulled Anisa towards him, she didn’t even flinch away. She just clung to his chest and cried. The giant continued to speak to her, his voice inaudible to Selara, and gently stroked his hand over her body. His touch was light and measured. So unlike the harsh grabs and vicious groping Selara was so used to seeing from the monsters.
Selara watched quietly, not quite sure about what she should be doing or saying. The vet eventually let go of Anisa and reached out for her plate, whispering more words to the cephalian girl. Anisa’s eyes went wide and she nodded eagerly before falling into prostate supplication and sobbing with thanks. The vet sat her back upright and pushed the plate of jellied cubes into her hands. He watched her silently as she ate and took the plate out of her hands when she was done.
The kthid unfastened the manacles from Anisa’s wrist and set them aside before picking her up off the ground and putting her on one of the strange frames that filled the room. He whispered a few words to Anisa, presumably some final orders, before turning around, walking out of the room and sealing the glass cage behind him.
“Cave worm, come on,” the vet muttered. “We’re done here.”
Selara followed the vet out of his quarters and back into the more familiar space of the clinic. The vet went right for a nearby shelf and began to rummage through the contents until he found what he was looking for. He pushed something small and cold into Selara’s hands.
“There.” The vet growled, “Remember. Don’t breathe a word of what you saw here to anyone.”
Selara looked at the metal cylinder in her hand. It was sealed off on one side with a plastic lid. “What is this?”
“Painkillers.” The vet said curtly. “For your wings. They hurt, don’t they?”
Selara furrowed her brow, nodding slowly. “They do, my lord,” she said carefully, looking at the cylinder and then back up at the vet.
Was this some kind of trick? Were they just sugar pills, or something more insidious? Selara wouldn’t be surprised, in the slightest, if the moment the pills touched her tongue her body was wracked with agony. She wouldn’t voice her suspicions in front of the kthid, however. Selara simply lowered her head in a bow.
“Thank you, my lord. I won’t be telling anyone about this,” Selara said. She probably would end up keeping that promise, though certainly not for the vet. Master Avraks’s belief that she was still devastated by Anisa’s supposed death had given her latitude and relative freedom she wasn’t going to be squandering.
“Good. Now go,” the vet said, turning away. “Go do whatever it was you were doing before.”
The giant shambled over to the corner of the room, pulling a cup from a nearby rack and setting it on a surface before jabbing his thick fingers at the buttons. The machine whirled and beeped before a thick liquid poured into the mug. The kthid pulled the cup out and shuffled back to the large seat behind the clinic table, practically collapsing into it.
The vet took a sip from the steaming cup, letting out a long sigh. “Do you want more painkillers or something?” the giant muttered, vaguely hostile.
“What do you want then? Permission to use the infirmary?” he muttered. “I’m not going to go around giving out permission for you to sleep. If you need to sleep, then go sleep. Don’t bother me about it.”
Selara swallowed. It was nerve-wracking. Every word the vet said made her more nervous to say anything, and yet everything he said made her more sure that she needed to say something. “My lord. If I wanted to come see Anisa whenever I wanted, would you accept that as well?”
The kthid bristled, flashing his teeth practically on reflex. “Why? Anisa’s eating again. You’re not needed right now,” he growled. “If she stops eating again, then I’ll go find you immediately.”
“I would prefer it if I could see her more often than that, Sir.” Selara said. “Anisa is not well. She might be eating again now, but I doubt the trauma from what she went through has disappeared. I’d want to come here every few days, if possible, to make sure that she’s still okay.”
“Why? Aren’t you busy with your master?” the vet demanded. “I’m already watching her. If something goes wrong then I’ll deal with it.”
Selara managed to stop herself from blurting out a retort. Thus far, he hadn’t lashed out at her when she did something that Master Avraks would consider impudent, but Selara couldn’t be sure that that would remain the case.
The vet continued to watch her suspiciously. Selara had always thought of him as being indecipherable; enigmatic, an entirely different breed from the lurid and aggressive cruelty of Master Avraks. That had been the wrong assumption. The two of them had never actually had what could be considered an actual conversation. With the brief exchange, Selara felt like she had the kind of grasp of this vet that it took her months to get on Master Avraks.
This kthid was fixated on Anisa. That much was clear. Selara didn’t know why he was fixated yet, but that was of secondary concern. What mattered was that Anisa was in a very fragile state and both Selara herself and this kthid wanted to make sure that she survived.
It wasn’t much, but it was something. She wasn’t fighting to survive under a master who wanted to inflict unremitting pain and misery upon her. The vet clearly didn’t want her help, and he was incredibly defensive around the subject of Anisa, but their objectives did align. At the very least it was something.
The vet hadn’t stopped glaring at her for a moment as Selara stood there in quiet contemplation. She finally opened her mouth, licked her dry lips, and cleared her throat.
“My own people never reached even a fraction of the medical knowledge you commanded. Recreating entire limbs and creating sprays that halt wounds within seconds are still practically miracles to me. I can’t replace you as Anisa’s doctor,” Selara said, “but you can’t replace me as her friend either.”
The kthid’s eyes smoldered. What she was saying irritated him, that much she knew. She also knew that if she didn’t take this opportunity, right now, then she had no idea when she was going to do this again. Selara pressed on.
“I can help her in ways you can’t. I’m a slave like her. She’ll be much more willing to talk to me honestly, and I’ll be able to understand what frightens and hurts her far better than you could,” Selara said. “Your knowledge of Anisa’s body might be more extensive than mine, but I know Anisa’s mind better than you do. If you want as good a chance as you could get for Anisa to recover, then you need my help.”
Silence and stillness. Selara usually liked both, but right now it only made her uncomfortable. Standing naked and blindfolded alone in a room with a kthid, she was simply unable to stop her heart from racing. Selara still held her ground. She stared straight into the monster’s eyes and waited for a response.
“Fine,” the kthid growled. “Do what you want. Just make sure to keep helping Anisa.” He grabbed the narrow metal cylinder from the table. “Are you done then?”
“Nearly, my lord. Just one last thing.”
“Just a suggestion, Sir,” Selara said, biting her lips.
Should she even be saying this? Like so many things in Selara’s life, she had committed before she had fully considered the implications of what she was getting herself into. “Anisa sees kthid like yourselves as the absolute authority. To her, you may as well be gods,” Selara said. “She draws her sense of worth and identity from your enjoyment and your approval. She fully believes that if she doesn’t continue pleasing you, then you’ll discard her like garbage.”
“That’s ridiculous,” the vet snorted.
“It’s what she believes,” Selara affirmed. “Anisa was panicking because she thinks she’s lost your favor and was trying to do whatever she could to regain it.”
Selara couldn’t help but feel her stomach squirm a little. Reiterating the position of the kthid over Anisa made her feel sick. It felt like she was giving their imperial creed, their warpath of horror and pain, underserved legitimacy.
But she was doing this for Anisa. Perhaps one day, Selara would be able to get Anisa help. Real help. For now, for these next few weeks, this was about as good as she could manage. It would have to be enough.
“Please tell her that you are pleased with her. Tell her that you still want her. If she does something well, then please make sure she knows it,” Selara said. “I realize this might not matter to you, but it does matter to her. I can’t tell her that she deserves to exist, that she still deserves to live.”
“That’s absurd,” the vet muttered. “Of course she deserves to live.”
“Those words mean nothing coming from my mouth, my lord,” Selara said. “It has to come from you. Please promise me you’ll do that for her.”
The vet shook his head, incredulous. “Fine. I’ll take that under consideration,” he muttered, throwing up a paw. “Now come here. I’m going to put the power cell back into your collar.”
Selara left the vet’s clinic behind her. She headed straight for a nearby tunnel, walking up the spiraling path and heading deep into the snaking passages that would take her back towards the heart of the Empty Night. Though her bells remained silent, Selara was walking at a brisk pace. Her legs took some of the jittery energy that was running through her body and pushed it towards her legs.
Anisa was alive. Her friend was alive. The understanding hit Selara in waves, continuing to seep into her mind as she continued to walk.
The revelation she had was a cause for both celebration and concern. Anisa was still breathing. It still wasn’t too late to save all of her new friends.
It also meant new complications. The vet was obsessed with Anisa, growing defensive even when another slave like Selara was approaching her. He would keep Anisa in relative safety and would probably have her as healthy as possible when the hour of the escape finally arrived, but he would also be watching her incredibly closely. Stealing Anisa away beneath his eyes would not be an easy task.
But it still had to be done. Selara had been given a second chance to make sure that all of her friends would be able to escape from slavery and she would not squander it. She headed straight back towards the meeting room, where she hoped that Sena would still be. The plan had to move to the next stage. She needed allies. Now, more than ever, what she needed to do was clear in her mind.
Selara would not fail.