Thank you for reading! Me and my coauthor Darinost are gradually combining forces and blogs, so the joint comment section for our stories is currently located on discord! Come on in and let us know what you thought, we don’t bite.
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.
“She’s alive?” Nareen whispered. “Anisa’s actually alive?”
“It’s what Sel said,” Sena shrugged.
“Really?” Nareen demanded, straining forwards with eyes brimming with hope even with her body marred by barely healed wounds. Reality seemed to reach her a moment later and misery took hold of the mirucain’s expression again. Just watching was enough to make Sena wince. “But – but she died! I saw her die, I’m sure of it!”
“She’s alive,” Sena said. When Selara had asked her to tell Nareen the news, Sena had pressed to make sure that she wasn’t just being used to lie to the grieving woman. It was still painfully uncomfortable to be doing this. It felt like her guts were squirming. “From what I’ve heard, at least. I haven’t seen her alive myself, but Sel said she was sure.”
“Praise the ancestors! I prayed and I prayed and I prayed but I didn’t believe! I just couldn’t believe!” Nareen wailed, sinking to her knees. She kept talking and words kept flowing from her mouth, but what she was saying was too garbled by tears and sobs for the translator to decipher.
Sena sighed. Selara just had to leave her to deal with this mess, didn’t she? The faliran rolled her eyes before going down on a knee next to Nareen, carefully placing her clawed hand on the mirucain woman’s shoulder where she wouldn’t be irritating any wounds.
Nareen stopped trying to choke any words out quite quickly, though she remained hunched over and sobbing and crying much longer. Sena soothingly stroked the mirucain’s shoulder whilst constantly looking over her own shoulder to make sure there weren’t any kthid close by. They had ducked into one of the servant’s corridors to talk, but the spot was far from private.
Fortunately for their relative discretion, the spectacle of a weeping slave was hardly worth remarking on in the Empty Night.
It took a few minutes before Nareen’s tears slowed. The woman looked towards Sena, her hair frayed and her face a mess.
“Thank you! Thank you so much!” Nareen squeaked out, her voice broken. “I – I’m so happy!”
“Thank you? Hey look, I didn’t do anything,” Sena retorted quickly, holding up her hands. “I wouldn’t even know about any of this if it weren’t for Sel.”
“Selara?” Nareen asked, wiping the mess from her face. “Where is she?”
“Couldn’t come today. One of the lizards wants her for something.” Sena shrugged. “She said she wanted you to know about it soon. Said she didn’t want to wait three damn days to just tell you herself.”
“Thank you. Please tell her I said thank you,” Nareen gasped, rising unevenly. Sena rose with her, trying her best to keep the much bulkier woman balanced. “I’m sorry. I – I need to go. Master Thrakur will want to know why I took so long.”
“Yeah, don’t worry. Wasn’t like I came over here because I wanted to sit and talk all day,” Sena muttered. “Just – take care alright.”
“Yeah. Thank you,” Nareen whispered, turning away. She didn’t look back at Sena as she scuttled over to the front of the corridor before taking off. Even injured, the mirucain moved extraordinarily quickly. She was out of sight within moments.
Sena breathed out a sigh and turned away. In a way, she still couldn’t believe she was getting herself involved in Selara’s nonsense. It didn’t matter. She was involved now, and she wasn’t sure how long she was going to be able to hold the thought in her head. Because of her suspicions, she wanted Selara to tell her everything. Now, she was in too deep to back away.
Lights almost strobed past Sena’s eyes as she picked up her pace, disappearing deeper into the tunnels. A part of her cursed herself for her curiosity. She had stuck her head into a hole and jumped in without knowing how deep it was. Now she had no way to back out.
The other part of her, the bigger part, was grateful. If she had left Selara alone, the woman would still have gone about her insane escape plan even without her help. With her in the know, Sena would at least be able to steer Selara a little, nudge her the correct way, and, of course, employ her particular skills towards what has become their shared objectives. Sena closed her eyes as she rounded a corner, sending out a probing pulse from her mind.
She had much work to do.
“She hasn’t tried to injure herself again in the meantime. I’ve removed any pointy objects from her enclosure just in case,” the vet said, his reptilian features drawn into even starker focus from the way they were lit by his tablet screen. “She’s sleeping an appropriate length of time for her species. I’ve taken her off her circadian correctors and that has held.”
“She’ll be okay then?” Selara asked.
The vet grunted. “Her condition isn’t deteriorating,” he said, fingers flicking over the tablet, “but she’s below her healthy weight and not gaining. There’s nothing about her body that should be wrong. The literature agrees on cephalian gross metabolism rates, and her food is measured to be above that. Her body should have everything it needs to repair itself.”
The kthid turned his eyes towards Selara expectantly. “Which is why I think there’s something else wrong with her.”
Selara couldn’t help the shudder that ran through her. Save for Master Avraks, she wasn’t used to being under such intense scrutiny by a kthid. She’d been raped by many, but to them she was just another set of holes. The pain and tortures were agonizing, but brief and quickly forgotten by the kthid.
This was different. The vet’s eyes felt like they bored straight through her, hollowing her out as they did. If things went wrong here then the vet would remember it. That much she was sure of.
Selara tried to force those thoughts from her mind as she turned her eyes back to Anisa. She couldn’t let herself get distracted by the reprisals the vet might enact on her if she failed to help her friend. Failing to help Anisa survive this next month was, in every sense, a failure for her as well.
Selara and the vet both stood behind the glass screen, dividing the kthid’s quarters from the brightly lit glass cell where he kept Anisa. Selara’s frail friend sat at the center of the room, eating from a plain metal tray full of clear cubes. Anisa pulled at the cubes until they detached from each other before bringing one up to her mouth, chewing for a few seconds and swallowing.
“That jelly,” Selara said. “It’s what you were feeding her the last time I was here too.”
“It’s the same thing I feed her every day.”
“I see. My lord, just so I understand what you want. You want to improve Anisa’s condition and make her more comfortable and healthy, am I correct?”
“Is that not what you’re here for?” The kthid growled, eyes narrowing. “Do you really need to keep asking me that again and again?”
“Sorry, my lord. I just wanted to be sure,” Selara said, turning away from the vet’s accusatory glare. She still couldn’t figure out what he really wanted, and why he insisted that all he cared about was Anisa’s wellbeing. She had been given orders, however, so at least he couldn’t fault her for obeying them. She turned to Anisa again. “I think it might be good if you started feeding her something else as well.”
The vet frowned. “Why? The jelly has all the nutrients she needs.”
“Maybe, but I can’t imagine she enjoys having no variation in her meals,” Selara said. “Imagine if you were forced to eat the same thing every day, my lord.”
“What’s wrong with that?” the vet demanded.
Selara’s hairs stood on end and her entire body tensed. The reptilian was giving her a sullen and accusatory look, like she had somehow just insulted him. “My lord, what do you usually eat?”
“What’s the problem with that? Do you think I have time to waste every day figuring out whether or not the food I’m getting is fulfilling all of my nutritional requirements?” the vet snapped. “I didn’t let you come back here to get lectured, Cave Worm. You’re here to help with Anisa and nothing else, do you understand?”
“I do, my lord. Sorry,” Selara muttered. “Well, I think it might be good if you fed her something else. I think giving her more types of food would make her happier.”
“I see,” the vet said, digits drumming over the tablet as he jotted down notes. “I don’t think I’ve read literature on this kind of treatment.”
Selara’s nose itched, and a rush of blood rose to her head like fumes. It felt like she was being mocked. It didn’t feel all that different from the way Master Avraks jabbed at her as if he was trying to get her to react and lash out. Starve her and make her beg and humiliate herself for food. Leaving blinding lights on and acting surprised when she couldn’t get any sleep. Acting like it wasn’t common sense that people needed that kind of thing to live.
Then again, the vet didn’t seem to have much common sense. Not even by the standards of the monsters. Selara’s eyes flickered back towards the darkened portion of the room again. No trophies, no decorations, and not even any furniture that didn’t come with the room. It looked more like a prison cell than a bedroom.
Selara winced inwardly. It’s no wonder he was struggling to think of ways to take care of Anisa. The kthid barely seemed to even consider how to take care of himself. Selara turned back to Anisa, pointing back into the chamber and clearing her throat to get the kthid’s attention.
“My lord. Those — things, you put all around Anisa’s room.” Selara said, eyeing the coatrack-esque protrusions. “They’re not support beams, are they?”
The vet glanced up briefly from his tablet. “Oh. Those are trees.”
Selara frowned. She didn’t think he was making fun of her, but it was so hard to tell. “Trees, my lord?”
“Yes, trees. Cephalians are a semi-arboreal species. From the xenocultural studies, they spend even more time on trees than they do in and underneath the water, though they’re adapted to both,” the vet said, his hands back on notetaking. “Exercise is good for the body and also promotes the release of happiness hormones, both of which should improve Anisa’s disposition and health.”
A twang of displeasure came across the kthid’s expression. “Not that Anisa has been using it. She’s never going to get her old muscles back if she doesn’t exercise.”
“Have you told her what you want?”
“Of course not. That would be against the point,” the vet grumbled. “She needs to exercise, yes, but this is as much for her mental wellbeing as it is for her physical health. If she’s being ordered to do it then it’ll be another task that can stress her out.”
“I can’t help but feel like you’re inventing problems for yourself.”
“I am not! I got all of those trees because I thought it’d make her happy. If I need to give her orders then clearly she’s not enjoying herself.”
“Maybe she doesn’t like climbing.”
“She’s a cephalian. Of course she likes climbing. Climbing is natural for them, there’s thousands of studies on it.”
“I’m not sure about that reasoning,” Selara said. “You could say that it’s natural for us umbrals to fly, but some just don’t like doing it.”
“So Anisa’s an exception, then, and all of the information I’ve read on cephalians is completely useless,” the vet growled. “Great.”
Selara shuffled slightly. The vet, she was coming to realize, was almost constantly irritable. It was difficult to focus on anything else when her instincts were screaming at her to put her full attention on the angry, dangerous kthid in the room with her. That irritation hadn’t resulted in him directing any pain at her or Anisa, but it was still deeply uncomfortable.
“Does she know she’s meant to climb up on the frames?”
“They don’t look much like any trees I’ve seen, my lord,” Selara said. “The trunk is too thin, there’s no bark, and no leaves.”
“It’s far safer than a real tree. There’s no snapped branches that might stab Anisa and no loose bark that might slip off and cause her to fall.” The vet said dismissively, “And if I went down to the training arena and picked out a tree, it’d be something endemic to Maldoror. What if Anisa has an allergic reaction to a chemical on the plant? Or a typically benign microorganism that turns out to be pathogenic for cephalians?”
“I’m thinking about something different, my lord,” Selara said. “I think the problem is intent. Does Anisa even know those frames are there for her to climb on?”
“What else would they be for? Why else would I put something climbable in her enclosure?”
“I can’t speak for Anisa, but I can speak as a heitera,” Selara said. “If my master brought in some new piece of furniture and put it in my cell, I would not take that as permission to use it. Even if it looks comfortable and even if I wanted to.”
“I guess I’ll need to tell her about the frame, then,” the vet sighed, typing on his tablet, “and everything else I bring in for her as well.”
“Actually, my lord, that does bring up another issue I wanted to talk about,” Selara said. “Anisa’s cell -”
“Anisa’s enclosure is very sparse right now,” Selara said, turning back towards the cell. Her eyes moved over the brutalist ‘trees’, the blank walls, the harsh lights, and the cylindrical aquarium standing at the heart of the room. Sparse was too kind. It looked grim. “I think it may be good if there was more to her living space than the same climbing frame.”
“They’re the only prefabs I could find,” the vet said. “I could design a few more frames.”
“I was actually thinking of furniture or decorations,” Selara said. “If you’re looking to make Anisa more comfortable, then I would probably start there.”
“Did Anisa mention wanting something like that when she was with you?”
“I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned wanting a comfortable bed with fresh sheets in a darkened room for me to sleep in, but I know I would very much want that.”
“Anisa needs to sleep at least partially submerged in water or her gills will dry out,” the vet said. “Putting a bed in there isn’t going to make her any more comfortable.”
“I was using myself as an example, my lord,” Selara sighed. “With how different our bodies are, Anisa’s idea of a comfortable room is going to be different from mine.”
“Unfortunately,” the vet sighed. “This’d be so much easier in Maldoror. I could just go to a zoo and ask the caretakers there.”
“If they’re like the kthid at the ‘zoos’ I’ve been to, I doubt they care much about the comfort of their captives,” Selara said. She paused, quickly clearing her throat and taking deep breaths. “Though I suppose there are a few things Anisa and I probably share, even despite us being from different peoples.”
The vet arched his brow. “Such as?”
Selara’s eyes flickered up towards the top of Anisa’s cell. Four large camera mounts, each with multiple lenses and protruding sensors. The cluster, likely housing cameras calibrated for multiple spectrums of light and probably paired with microphones, motion detectors, and whatever other sensor the designer had thought of.
“Such as those cameras,” Selara said.
“Where would you add more? They already cover the entire room.”
“I would suggest removing them,” Selara said.
“Why would I do that?” the vet demanded. “What if I’m up in the veterinarian wing and something happens to her? It might be hours if I don’t have a way to keep my eye on her.”
Selara tried to keep her expression flat, as if she wasn’t suggesting anything unusual. “Being watched is very uncomfortable for me,” she said. “I’d imagine it’s the same for Anisa, especially since she’s so obsessed with trying to be a good slave. If she has no idea when she’s being watched, then for her, it’s like she’s always being watched. It’s probably very stressful for her.”
The vet fell silent, locking his jaw. His eyes practically smoldered as he stared into the glass cell. “I can’t just stop monitoring her,” he muttered. “She’s still at risk.”
“I understand that, but I know I’d be very stressed if I had cameras constantly staring at me,” Selara argued. “It’s probably best if you get rid of them, for the sake of Anisa’s wellbeing.”
The vet’s eyes kept flickering between the sensor mounts for a long while. He finally grunted, typing on the tablet once more. “I’ll order new cameras. Smaller ones, disguised to look like something else, so Anisa won’t worry about constantly being watched.”
“I can tell you, as someone who’s been a slave this long, that you develop a sense for this kind of thing,” Selara said. “An instinct. She’ll probably be able to tell that she’s being watched.”
“That would be paranoia. Unfortunately very common in heitera,” the vet sighed, shaking his head. “I really wish I’d just gotten to Anisa sooner, before she got this bad. I’ll need to prescribe her more targeted antianxiety hormones and make sure to change out those cameras for the new ones.”
Selara pondered going further, but stopped. Trying to slip Anisa out of here would be far easier if she didn’t have to do it beneath the scrutiny of security cameras. If Anisa somehow disappeared from her cell, it wouldn’t be long before the vet would notice and an alarm was raised. Nonetheless, pushing any further would look highly suspicious. She quickly glanced at the giant.
The vet was taking notes, his eyes flickering between the screen and Anisa. It seems like he had a train of thought going, so Selara retreated into her own as well. She shifted backwards silently and turned her eyes towards the exit to the vet’s chamber.
The door was reinforced metal, and looked a good twenty centimeters thick. It would likely stop a tank shell, never mind any combination of improvised tools or strength that Anisa and what allies she could gather for her escape plan could bring to bear. If it wasn’t a door that would open automatically or at the press of a button, then it might as well be a solid wall.
Which was a problem, since every door between Anisa and the rest of the ship went through the vet.
“There. The new cameras will arrive later today. There are apparently thousands of them in reserve,” the vet said. “I’ll install them once Anisa falls asleep.”
“My lord,” Selara said, “about my first suggestion…”
“But – ”
“Anisa isn’t leaving her enclosure!” the vet snapped, his voice suddenly rising. “She isn’t going anywhere. She is safer here than she could be wandering around the ship where she could run into those bastards at any point. What if they decide they just want to finish the job they started at that horrid party? No, absolutely not. Anisa is going nowhere.”
“My lord,” Selara said, holding up her hands. “Please. I want to help Anisa too.”
The vet’s jaw hung open, showing off the rows of horribly jagged teeth. The giant’s mouth snapped close with a click as he turned away. From what she could tell from his reflection on the nearby glass partition, he looked vaguely ashamed.
“Has my advice not been useful and honest? Do you doubt that I really want to help my friend?” Selara asked. “I wouldn’t suggest something like this if I didn’t genuinely think it would help.”
“It’s too dangerous. I’m not going to allow it,” the vet muttered.
“I see. Would you at least let me bring Anisa’s other friends here then?” Selara asked.
The vet looked displeased, but at least he wasn’t rejecting it outright. “I’ll think about it,” He finally said.
“You said that last time as well,” Selara said.
“Well perhaps I haven’t had enough time to think about it,” the vet retorted sharply.
“Everyone wants to see Anisa better, my lord. They’ve all been worried sick about her.” Selara pressed on. “They miss Anisa very much, and I’m sure she misses them as well. Getting to see them might do her good.”
The giant’s eyes narrowed and his jaw was firmly set. Selara could see lines of muscles running beneath his skin, stretching from his shoulderblades to his jagged maw. His skin glowed faintly, almost lighting up the air around his body with his body heat. The vet said nothing.
“None of us would ever hurt Anisa. You have nothing to fear from any of us, if that’s what you’re worrying about. I can assure you of that,” Selara said. “And if you’re still worried then you could be there with us. You’d be able to overpower any of us easily.”
“That doesn’t mean it isn’t risky.”
“I’m not sure I understand, Sir,” Selara said. “What are the risks?”
The kthid’s eyes turned towards Selara. “I’ve recently received a promotion. It wasn’t one I asked for, it was one my elder brother decided that he wanted to get for me. Like always, he just went ahead without ever stopping once to ask me what I thought,” he said. “But because of what he did, I’m the head of the veterinary department aboard the Empty Night now.”
“I see.” Selara frowned, suddenly confused. “Congratulations, Sir?”
“I didn’t do anything to earn it, and Anisa almost died because of it. I’m still pissed off that Grakrash let them do that to Anisa,” the vet growled, his fangs flashing.
Selara didn’t say anything. She wasn’t privy to kthid politics, and none of this seemed like it could help facilitate the escape. The videos Master Avraks had shown here were horrible enough that she honestly didn’t want to even think about the incident again.
“But I’m the head of the veterinary department now. I’m in command of all of the specialists who work to guarantee the health of all the slaves aboard this vessel,” the vet said. “The standards and conduct aboard this ship have been, quite frankly, shameful. I wouldn’t get a single client if I ran my clinic half as badly as some of the morons running around calling themselves vets.”
The kthid stepped forwards, approaching the glass screen. “I’m going to start implementing changes. Start issuing proper guidelines for safe limits of all captive species and rearranging the clinic towards mass treatment. Push for greater availability of emergency healthcare. I doubt I’ll manage to convince these rich cretins to stop using slaves like disposable toys, but we’ll at least stop preventable deaths.”
The vet laid his scaled paw against the glass, the digits curling. “Anisa nearly died to get me this position,” he said softly. “Maybe this way, that won’t have been for nothing. Maybe her suffering might end up saving some other slave.”
It was honestly hard for Selara to really know what to say. She had never gotten to know any kthid apart from Master Avraks, not really. They were interchangeable. Genocidal monsters. Rapists and torturers. Casted or casteless, they were soldiers of the war waged against her homeworld; harbingers of misery, pain, death, and despair. They wanted to conquer and they wanted to hurt females and they never wanted to stop.
The vet turned towards her. “Do you understand?”
“I don’t, Sir,” Selara admitted. “I feel like I’m only getting more confused.”
“As the head veterinarian, I am the foremost expert on the medicine and science that goes into keeping a slave alive. I am the authority and the leader that dictates policies to all other science caste practitioners beneath me,” the vet said. “Do you know how I’d look if it got out that I needed to get advice about my own heitera from a slave?”
Selara took a deep breath. She honestly couldn’t care less. The vet clearly did, however, and so she settled for “It seems like a complicated issue.”
“I am already risking every shred of my credibility by getting advice from you. They might not be able to make me casteless for this, but I would never be seen as credible by anyone ever again,” the vet growled, “and I only did it because Anisa might have died if I hadn’t. I already have to trust that you won’t go talking to anyone about what’s happening here, and you’re asking me to let more slaves know about our arrangement and risk this secret getting out?”
The vet breathed out, the air hissing between gritted fangs. “I can’t risk that. Anisa’s suffering would have been for nothing.”
Dealing with kthid was always the same for Selara. Whenever one of the monsters turned their eyes to her, she knew that pain and violation would soon follow. She’d been raped so often she had grown numb. Master Avraks managed to draw other reactions out of her occasionally, but that was rare. It only ever fed that same flame that vowed revenge on her brother’s murder.
The vet was anything but simple. He’d never raped Selara, or even laid his hands on her in lust. By doing so it made her all the more unnerved. He wasn’t after sadism and wasn’t there to relieve his lust. The things he wanted meant that Selara was flying through turbulent skies, unable to take her attention off the winds or to risk falling into old patterns for even a moment.
“I don’t know why we’re even talking about this. You’re Anisa’s friend and she’s still not returning to normal. Clearly something else is wrong with her,” the vet said testily. “Start talking about the furniture again. That sounded like a good idea.”
“Not sure there’s much more for me to say on that front,” Selara said. “If Anisa’s going to be locked in her ce — in her enclosure, then she probably needs a lot more to be comfortable.”
“You mentioned a bed,” the vet said. “Any other ideas?”
“I think that might be a question better posed to Anisa, Sir,” Selara said. “Anisa would likely have a good idea of what she thinks of as a comfortable space.”
“I doubt it,” he sighed. “Honestly I don’t think she’s had the time to put much thought into what would make her comfortable.”
“You may be right, but it’s a question worth asking.”
“Can you go ahead and ask her for me then?” the vet asked. “Hopefully it’ll seem less like a task for her if you’re the one prompting her instead of me. You’re her friend, after all.”
“I could do that,” Selara nodded. “Is there anything else you want to ask her? Something you would rather not ask her yourself?”
“Food. What kind she wants. If something simple like that can make her happier, then that’s a really easy change to make,” the vet said. “Oh, and I also want to know why she’s not climbing the trees. If she just doesn’t like climbing then I’ll have the frame removed. I think I should also — ”
A sudden sharp beep made Selara jump, setting the bells rattling. She cringed and froze, waiting for the bells to fall silent as the vet glanced back at his tablet. He flicked something on the screen away before turning towards Selara.
“A regular has arrived. I’m going to need to go see her,” he said. “Does your master have orders for you today, or can you spend some time with Anisa?”
“I’d like to spend time with her if possible.”
The kthid nodded, tapping and poking at his tablet. There was a faint hiss as seams appeared in the previously flawless glass and two glass panels slid out of the way to form an entrance for Selara. Anisa dropped the plate she was trying to polish with her bare hands and scampered over towards the front of the cage, prostrating herself with her forehead pressed against the ground.
“Wave at the cameras if you need to be let out. If you get hungry or something,” the vet said, nodding towards Anisa. “The bathroom’s in the back of the enclosure. Ask Anisa where if you need to relieve yourself.”
“Understood,” Selara nodded. She started stepping towards Anisa before catching herself. “Sir?”
The vet frowned. “What?”
“Anisa finished her food,” Selara said, pointing her hand towards the empty tray.
The kthid looked at her, as if trying to disentangle a puzzle. The realization hit him a moment later and he poked his head into the enclosure. “Anisa?” he began. His voice was suddenly about an octave higher than it had been when he’d been talking to Selara.
Anisa looked mortified as she sat up, looking like she was simultaneously on the verge of tears and fainting. Her eyes were downcast. “Master Krathan?”
“You finished your meal. Well done,” the vet said, his unconvincing smile unable to disguise the worry in his expression. “I’m very happy that you’re eating again.”
Anisa’s expression changed in an instant. Her eyes were practically sparkling even as they brimmed with new tears. “My sincerest thanks, Master! I live only to please you!” Anisa sobbed, her voice cracking and she prostrated herself again. “How else may I serve you today?”
“I’m leaving Cave Worm here with you. Just – talk to her, okay? I’ll be back with you later once I’m done with work.” He shifted his attention to Selara. “Go on. Get in and I’ll close the door.”
“Very well, Sir,” Selara nodded, moving to do exactly that, and then paused. Her eyes moved towards the vet.
“What?” the giant grumbled.
Selara glanced at Anisa and then quickly moved closer to the kthid. Her heart pounded in her chest, so loud that she was afraid the kthid might be able to hear it. She nevertheless tried to keep her face as blank as possible.
“Actually, Sir, if I might suggest something,” Selara said, her eyes moving towards the object in the kthid’s paws. “That device. Is it connected to the ship’s systems?”
The kthid frowned. “Why does it matter?”
It was hard for Selara to keep her nerves from showing. Her blood was racing and her palms were growing clammy. She forced herself to breathe deep and slow. She wasn’t doing anything strange. She was in the presence of a kthid, it was only normal that she be nervous and fearful.
“I had a thought. Since we were talking about getting furniture for Anisa earlier,” Selara said, “I’m sure that tablet has some connection to the ship’s mainframe, correct? I’d imagine it’ll at least let me take a look at what kind of things the ship has in stock.”
“There’s no stock for things like furniture. Those are always printed,” the vet said.
“But I’m sure there’s some kind of record, right?”
“There’s nothing in this ship’s library for cephalians,” he said, turning away and tapping at his tablet. “I’ll need to design something custom for Anisa.”
“That may be true,” Selara said, keeping pace with him and maintaining the calmest, most casual tone she could, “but I could still start taking a look at what’s already in the library. I doubt I’ll be able to find exactly what Anisa wants, but I can probably find something close.”
The vet’s brow was knitted. He glanced between the device in his hand and Selara. The kthid seemed suspicious. Selara could only hope his mind wouldn’t quite go where hers had.
After a long moment, he sighed.
“Fine. I guess the faster Anisa picks something out, the sooner the prints will arrive,” the vet conceded, holding the massive device out for Selara. “Do you even know how to use this?”
“I’ve used devices like it before, Sir,” Selara said. “I’ll figure it out.”
The kthid grunted and turned away, shambling out of his quarters. Selara did the same, forcing herself to walk into Anisa’s cell with an almost exaggeratedly languid pace. Only when she was inside did she allow herself to release the breath she’d been holding. She quickly looked over her shoulder to make sure that the vet wasn’t watching her.
“Miss Selara, is something wrong?” Anisa asked softly, still stuck in her kneeling position in front of the open door.
“No, nothing’s wrong. In fact, I have some good news for you,” Selara said, offering Anisa a warm smile. She walked up to her friend and sat down next to her, placing the oversized tablet on her lap. “Your master has been very happy with you.”
Anisa gasped. “Really? He truly told you that?”
“Absolutely. In fact, he has a reward for you,” Selara said. “He told me he’s going to let you decorate your room however you like, to make this room as comfortable as you want since you’re such a good girl.”
Anisa smiled wanly at Selara. “I’m a heitera, Miss Selara. I need nothing of my master save for his approval and his mercy.”
“Perhaps, but you can indulge as well,” Selara said. “Especially since your master said you can. You remember what he said, don’t you? About how he wanted you healthy and happy?”
“I – do believe he mentioned that,” Anisa said hesitantly. “So Master Krathan wishes for me to select commodities for the chamber?”
“He wants you to pick something you’d like,” Selara said, turning towards the tablet. “Here. Let me take a look.”
Selara’s fingers trembled as she reached for the glossy screen of the device. The screen was calibrated for kthid eyes and not hers, and that showed. Most of the tablet screen was a red haze bright enough to be unpleasant even through the fabric of the partial blindfold over her eyes. She could still make out the interface, however, and the scramble of harsh lines that formed into words.
Weapons were not the only thing Master Avraks forbade Selara from handling. She was forbidden from handling kthid technology of any sort. Technology was used on her and inflicted upon her, but it was never something she was allowed to make use of herself, even under the direct supervision of her master. Selara’s mouth was dry as she ran her fingers over the screen and watched as the interface reacted to her touch.
Everything she did in here was being observed. Selara was keenly aware of not just the various camera mounts on the ceiling, but also that the vet could almost certainly review what she was looking at. More cameras were on her at this exact moment than likely had been on her for the entirety of her life.
Yet Selara was probably at far less risk than ever before. The vet would be watching, but he almost certainly wouldn’t be spending hours scrutinizing her every move and trying to dissect her motivations and thinking. It was still risky, but Selara couldn’t risk squandering this opportunity. Her eyes scanned over the screen.
Notes. Announcements. Calendar. Alerts. The vet’s device didn’t map one-to-one to any system Selara had ever operated, but the applications seemed broadly similar to what she would have expected to see on a civilian device. Selara’s eyes glided through the list of applications. She drew in a sharp breath as she found what she was looking for.
Ship map. Selara jabbed at the screen so quickly her finger almost hurt. The application filled the screen in an instant and Selara’s heart all but stopped.
The horrors of the Empty Night had occupied a massive swathe of Selara’s life. With every day that passed, it felt more like the days she suffered now were just how things had always been. More and more it consumed her sense of who she was. Despite that, despite all the time she had spent in these halls, she still had issues conceptualizing the vessel as a thing. It was more like a creature of nightmares to her. A truly mythic being beyond her ability to grasp, one that had simply swallowed her whole.
But not anymore.
Corridors gleamed on the tablet screen. The hundreds of floors of the Empty Night stretched out in front of her. The servant’s tunnel, so tiny she could barely see them, wove between the gaps in the walls like tiny capillaries. Her eyes moved with a fervor that bordered on madness. For the very first time since Selara was dragged aboard the Empty Night in chains, she could see everything.
The personal quarters of rank-and-file kthid sat packed like munitions in storage. The larger suites of the officers, like the one Master Avraks owned, ringed the core of the vessel. Selara’s fingers moved almost as quickly as her eyes did, panning past the training grounds, the armories, the leisure areas, the ship citadels, the power plants, and the administrative blocks. All-Mother’s mercy, everything was here!
Most of the kthid words were unfamiliar to her, but tapping the specific chambers often brought up internal images as well as extensive information about whether or not it was in use and whether she, or rather the vet, had the authority to enter that chamber on a whim. Selara’s hands trembled. Her palms were clammy. Her breath was fast and shallow and her heart struggled to keep a steady pace.
The hangar. The Night seemed to host multiple hangar bays, but the largest sat at the rear of the massive vessel. Selara tapped on the massive chamber and quickly thumbed through the details provided. There was unfortunately nothing on the numbers and types of vessels docked there, and the application indicated that even the vet was barred entry. Selara wouldn’t be able to just walk in.
Still, this was more information than she’d ever had access to. The shortest route from the clinic to the hangar was even helpfully highlighted for her. Perhaps she could sneak into the area through a ventilation duct. Perhaps she could hide inside of delivered munitions or mix herself and her friends among the slaves taken there for the kthid’s cruel games. Countless plans were already rising in Selara’s mind like bubbles in boiling water.
“Miss Selara, is everything alright?”
The umbral jumped, barely managing to stay quiet. Her head snapped towards Anisa, her friend’s eyes wide with surprise.
“Was – was I bothering you?” Anisa asked, shrinking away. “My apologies. I didn’t mean to.”
“Oh, that — ” She was being watched. Selara gritted her teeth, pushing aside the urge to punch herself and smiling at Anisa. “It’s nothing, Anisa. I was just trying to get used to the tablet. Come on, let’s pick out your rewards.”
Anisa looked uncomfortable, but she still quickly put a smile on her face and nodded eagerly. She shuffled up right next to Selara, the wandering tentacles tickling over Selara’s legs and ankles. “I still remain uncertain about this, Miss Selara. Are you confident that you understood Master Krathan’s orders correctly? Oh! Not that I’m suggesting I would have been able to better interpret his dictates, of course!”
“I’m quite confident, Anisa,” Selara said. “I want to just go through this ship and find something that you might want in your room. Just tell me when to stop, okay?”
“Alright,” Anisa nodded, her eyes turning to the glass screen.
The vet was always watching Anisa. Selara still had no workable plan to sneak her out from under the giant’s eyes, and she didn’t have unlimited time to work out a perfect solution.
Still, that didn’t mean that there wasn’t important work for her to do here.
Arriving at the high officers’ district always felt to Sky like she was emerging from a cave. Like she had emerged from one of the many bunkers her people had entered hibernation in to attempt to escape the kthid threat. It felt like being shocked alert from a groggy state, awakening twice. Mind forced into function by heat and light.
Gardens stretched out for such a distance that they vanished into the blue-gray haze. Castles, crafted from stone, with walls, towers, mansions, and actual moats, filled out the artificial landscape. Cobblestone streets wove together to form little town squares that crowded outside the castle walls like mushrooms sheltering beneath the shade of a tree.
The high district didn’t look like the inside of a warship. It looked like someone had cut out a piece of a royal estate and transplanted it directly into the Night. Vines climbed up and over the surface of the structures, as well as the massive sculptures of warrior kthid posed against the skyline. Judging by their armor and armaments, they were from an age even before the advent of rocketry. It was all enclosed beneath an artificial sky that stretched over the landscape like a massive dome. Stepping out from the wastes of the casteless hovels to the rulers of the spaceborne kingdom truly felt like stepping into a different world.
The fantastical, almost mythological scene still didn’t allow Sky to forget who these luxuries served. Sounds of pain and lamentation, mixed with jeers and mocking laughter, rang over this landscape just as surely as they did any space that the lizards occupied.
Slaves and kthid alike filled out the old-styled streets. Some were on their way to somewhere, but most kthid were simply lounging on the grass or on the many public benches and they kept the slaves there with them. Unlike the gray wastes, slaves were plentiful here. Some were feeding their masters food by hand whilst others partook in a very different sort of meal. Other slaves were simply being viciously bred. No matter where they were, that much didn’t seem to change.
Sky’s grip tightened around the handles of the cart in front of her as she hurried down the hill as quickly as her unsteady legs would allow. The motorized wheels of the drone cart dragged it forward, requiring Sky only to provide the tiniest sliver of force and basic guidance. Her head was lowered and her eyes were fixed firmly on the ground as she moved through the winding stone streets.
Arane tended to the gardens throughout the estate. There were more of them around than the rest of the slaves and the kthid combined, and all of them were constantly at work. They trimmed branches, picked and pruned flowers and raked leaves, all without a single scrap of clothing on their bodies. The arane weathered the countless tiny cuts without complaints, even as so many wounds opened that blood painted thin lines down their bodies.
There was no reason all of it couldn’t have been done with drones or machines, of course. It was arduous and wasteful, but Sky knew that the wastefulness was the point. Using drones for tasks like this would have been efficient. So much of what the Night’s rulers did was to simply show how powerful they were. So powerful that they could afford not to care about efficiency.
It took the better part of an hour for Sky to reach her destination. The Huntmaster’s castle was impossible to miss, standing atop a hill at the very center of the district. It was wrought from stone like the rest of the buildings and castles, but it was shaped like a giant cube that dwarfed even the tallest of the ‘proper’ castles in height. It was truly a monolith.
Sky shrank down even further as she entered into the clearing leading to the palace. There were few statues here. Instead, the decorations were composed of dozens and dozens of slaves. A corvid was posed atop a tall spire, enclosed by a metal cage that forced her to hold a fixed pose that made it look like she was frozen mid-flight. A pair of llorian women were right next to her, holding hammers in their hands and posed like they were mid-swing. Metal frames wrapped around their bodies as well, alongside snaking metal tendrils that were shoved who knows how far up their pussies and asses.
Feeding tubes ran into the women’s mouth and catheters between their legs. They were left here hours if not days at the time, their bodies chafing against the restraints. Sky tried her best to close her ears against the perpetual low moans of pain and misery as she walked past the living displays, turning left near the grand gates of the palace and ducking into the servant’s tunnels.
The tunnel inclined upwards almost immediately, the slope so steep that Sky had trouble even pushing her own body weight up it. The motorized drone practically dragged her up the winding corridors, moving past other slaves and drones that were all heading for their own separate destinations.
Sky was gasping for air, out of breath and exhausted, by the time she finally emerged from the servant’s tunnel. She didn’t allow that to slow her pace. She’d made this run several times before, and she already knew exactly where she needed to go. Sky kept her head down as she scampered down the lavish hallway.
The corridor was open on one side and lined with wide glass windows. Cheers and sounds of violence echoed even through the glass. The inside of the cubelike palace housed a massive courtyard, ringed on all sides by bleachers, couches and even luxurious viewing boxes. Sky had been called to serve in those private chambers often. Kthid filled the seats, their excitement visible even from dozens of floors above.
Their eyes were on the sands of the courtyard itself. The white sands were stained with the many colors of blood as slaves clashed against each other, completely nude and yet wielding clubs, whips, and bats. They fought with vicious ferocity, going for the other slaves like they meant to kill them even with the less-than-lethal weapons they bore.
Even amongst the scenes of violence, one in particular stood out. Sky couldn’t possibly make out her face from this distance, but she didn’t need to to recognize the Slayer of Scales. The woman was a whirlwind or orange and silver, wielding a stick barely longer than a shortsword in her hands.
Three wingless falirans bore down on her, the armored women moving with perfect coordination. They had Slayer forked and flanked, and yet they couldn’t make any ground. Their blunt spears were constantly batted away. Slayer’s attack flowed from her defense and her defense from her attack, knocking a blow aside before lunging straight into her own offensive.
When the kthid had come for the llorians the second time, the only ones who had managed to even slow them down were some of the greatest physical fighters among them. Slayer of Scales stood out as one of the most legendary. Sky had always admired the woman. Even against the endless tide of scales and fangs, that woman had stood strong. She was captured like the rest but she made the kthid bleed for it.
Slayer probably hated her. The thought struck Sky like a physical blow, almost taking her tired legs out from under her. Sky tore her eyes away. The guilt gnawed at her insides like hunger, but she shoved those feelings aside. She didn’t have the right to feel guilty, or feel bad about herself. She was a traitor. Every horrible thing the other llorians thought or felt about her, she deserved it all.
The door swung open ahead of Sky as she finally arrived at her destination. Her breath caught in her throat as she counted the green bodies. Eight. There were eight casted kthid waiting in the room ahead. Each of the kthid rested on their personal couch, each one of them occupied with a different slave. Sky lowered her head and entered silently, hugging the perimeter of the room as she moved.
Sky spotted Highlord Thron almost immediately. Even amongst the hulking and monstrous frames that seemed to entirely occupy the kthid’s upper ranks, the bulbous-headed karvaak stood out. He was stretched out on his massive couch, swirling liquor in a gemstone-studded goblet.
The Kavaark’s umbral heitera knelt before his couch, attending to his cock with her tongue. A truly monstrous dildo, thicker than even the girthiest kthid and covered in spikes, had been shoved deep into her ass. The woman licked and kissed her way up and down the slick shaft, wincing every few seconds as the dildo inside of her violently vibrated. Highlord Thorn barely seemed to pay attention to her.
“The difficulty, ultimately, lies with getting the upstart into a position where our plan will be able to proceed smoothly,” Highlord Thron said, lazily plucking a slice of fruit off a nearby tray and dropping it on his tongue.
“That shouldn’t be too difficult, my lord,” one of the officers, Kzartak if Sky recalled correctly, said. “I have begun preparing shock troop divisions for rapid deployment and our spies have now managed to establish persistent communications with the Death of Hope. The moment Sarcand deploys to the battlefield, we will be able to immediately dispatch the assassination team to his location.”
“It is still a challenge, and one we cannot simply afford to ignore,” Highlord Thron said.
“Lord Gronak’s new weapon offers unprecedented flexibility in terms of the firepower we’re able to deploy even at the squad level,” Kzartak smiled confidently. “There’s no need to concern yourself with trying to engineer the perfect battlefield, my lord. Just give me the permission and I’ll see to it that Sarcand is destroyed at our earliest occasion.”
“Martial force is ultimately an instrument to serve political objectives,” Thron said. “We have weapons sufficient to turn any world we wish to glass, yes, but that would not serve the greater objective of harvesting the females of those worlds as wombs for our empire. Likewise, the goal is to kill Sarcand, but the purpose is to elevate my brother to the position of harvestmaster.”
“But isn’t risking the Huntmaster’s life incredibly dangerous then?” Kzartak asked.
Highlord Thron sighed. “Indeed it is. Occasionally, I could not help but lament the political illiteracy that seems to cloud the minds of so many a warrior. Alas, my brother will not budge on this point. It is his war and so we will fight it on his terms.”
“We should protest more, my lord!” Kzartak insisted. “If the Huntmaster doesn’t trust some casteless-born to assassinate his enemies then he should send us!”
“I know that, Kadeceraii, and that is why I have called your squad here today,” Highlord Thron said. “I am delegating you as the Huntmaster’s honor guard. You shall be the ones accompanying him to whatever trap we devise for the upstart, and you will be the ones who will ensure that the Huntmaster escapes with his life. Although I find his insistence on honor and his efforts on resolving personal grudges to be deeply foolhardy, I would not wish for my brother to die before he fulfills his duty to Shau’lun.”
Kzartak gulped, his paws tightening into fists. Though seated upon soft lounges, all of the other officer kthid were sitting up straight like they were prepared for a military inspection. Sky quietly wheeled the cart into an area that had been cleared before falling to her hands and knees and crawling over to where the highlord was seated.
The umbral woman had taken Highlord Thron’s cock in her mouth and was bobbing her head up and down the shaft. The torturously massive dildo continued to violently vibrate against her innards and her tits heaved. Tears of pain ran down her face, smearing mascara over her cheeks, and yet that evident pain didn’t seem to dim the woman’s vigor.
“You appear nervous, kadeceraii,” Highlord Thron noted. “Do you not wish for said task?”
“This – this is a great honor, my lord! Greater than should be given to a kadeceraii, surely!” Kzartak spluttered. “Surely someone of greater rank should be given the task!”
“I do not make my choices idly, kadeceraii. I have chosen you because I have evaluated your performance and skills from a long series of options, and consider you best suited to this role,” Highlord Thron said. “I will need the high officers here with me to coordinate the rest of the war whilst Voerash enacts his reprisals.”
The highlord laced his digits and leaned forward. “Your record speaks highly of your valor, your skill and your bravery. Nevertheless, this shall be the greatest challenge you have ever faced. Though indolent and craven, Sarcand’s lot still draws heritage from the Dark Star. They will prove a greater challenge for you than any prey you have ever hunted.” Highlord Thron warned, his voice low. “In the task of protecting Voerash, you will have to risk and perhaps give your life. Nevertheless, I have the full confidence that you will see my brother’s task succeed and him returned to ascend to Sunbreaker.”
Highlord Thron bucked his hips and buried himself deep into his slave’s throat. Sky could hear the umbral woman gagging and screaming around the cock, her eyes rolling back in her head. “So, kadeceraii, will you accept this task?”
Kzartak sat up straight, thumping his chest with a closed fist. “I would refuse no order you would give me, Highlord! I would gladly lay down my life for the Huntmaster, for the good of the empire, and to vanquish Sarcand if that is what it takes.”
“Good. Ah, but let us continue this conversation afterwards. It appears that the entertainment for the afternoon has arrived,” Thron said, smirking in Sky’s direction. The highlord’s gaze on her was enough to make Sky’s skin feel like it was trying to squirm free of her body. The highlord held up his hand, gesturing vaguely. “Cook, today’s meal is right over there.”
Sky bowed her head and glanced in the direction the highlord indicated. Though only one slave was currently being used, the chamber had a considerable number of miserable females busy with waitressing, on their knees, standing quietly, or otherwise on display. Most of the slaves were arane, but there were plenty of others present. No falirans, though that wasn’t that rare for many of these types of meetings.
Sky found the slave the highlord wanted very quickly. She was the only other llorian besides Sky, roped up in a way that pinned her knees and elbows together whilst splaying her hands and legs. Her tail was likewise restrained, the spines on the tail bristling like standing hairs.
The llorian’s mouth had been forced open by a spreader adjusted so wide that her jaw looked millimeters away from dislocating. Her pierced tongue also hung from her mouth, kept in position by a thin chain that attached the ring piercing to one that was attached to her clit.
Sky could feel the gaze of the kthid on her back as she wheeled the food cart over to the restrained woman. The plastic dome that topped the cart lifted as Sky’s finger brushed over the control button. The knives below gleamed as they caught the light of the chamber’s chandeliers. The metal was cold in her hand as she selected the carving knife from the tray and approached the restrained woman.
Spines bristled as Sky ran her fingers over the woman’s immobilized tail. She pushed her fingers up against the woman’s soft skin and traced a line up the spine. Sky found the spot she was searching for quickly, just one joint below the spine.
The woman trembled beneath her fingers at the unbearable anxiety of what was to come. Sky might not know her name, but she had worked on Highlord Thron’s heitera plenty of times before. Sky didn’t know why the woman was restrained. Perhaps the heitera wasn’t sufficiently pleasing to her master. Perhaps she had been slow with a task. Perhaps her tongue was too loose and she said something she shouldn’t have.
Or perhaps her master was just hungry and bored. Sky placed the knife’s edge right up against her fingertip, where she’d found the spine. Llorians were never anesthetized for this. The only mercy Sky might be able to offer the woman was that she had, to a large extent, developed a mastery at butchering her own kin.
“I am so sorry,” Sky whispered, her voice quickly lost in the woman’s screams of agony. The orchestration of her hell.
Highlord Thron’s heitera continued to sob and cry long after Sky had detached the tail and moved it back to the cart, where the side unfolded to form a butchering table where she could work. Filleting knife first below the skin then below the bone, removing and disposing of the inedible parts. The utility knife was next, removing and setting aside the blood vessels and venom glands.
Arane stood next to Sky with trays as she carefully separated the less fatty cuts of meat from the main tail and laid the slices into a flowering pattern that was quickly ferried off to the conversing kthid. Sky worked quickly but meticulously, slicing the rest of the cuts into large steaks. A few taps on the cooking cart’s side, and the butchering table quickly heated up.
The meat sizzled on the grill as Sky recovered several large bowls of steamed grains and chopped vegetables from the food cart’s refrigerated interior. She pushed the runoff oils to the side of the pan as the steaks continued to cook so she could fry the vegetables and the rice in the fat.
Sky’s stomach growled painfully at the aroma. Even knowing what she was cooking, her traitorous body would not behave. Sky could feel the kthids’ eyes on her back and she could pick up scraps of discussion about her. Their interest was palpable. Though kthid broke all their slaves, slaves so cowardly they would literally cook their own kind were still a novelty.
It wasn’t long before Sky started plating the dishes. Arane plucked plates from her hands and fanned out. Highlord Thron was served first, the kthid also being served in a very different way by both of his present heitera. The umbral and the llorian, tortured in different ways. One forcing herself to ride the oversized and violently vibrating dildo, the other with a lost tail and yet still desperately suckling on her master’s balls.
Sky wasn’t dismissed, but the kthid had what they wanted. Her emaciated form, sagging skin, and hollow eyes at least meant that the casted kthid had little interest in her. She quickly tidied up, putting the dirty cooking tools away and closing off the condiments cupboard.
Though the pan was hot enough to sting her even through the solvent towel, Sky forced herself to keep scrubbing. She was no longer the center of attention, no longer an interesting freak show, and so she quickly cleaned up the cart, grabbed the handles and began heading out of the chamber with it, hopefully before one of the kthid found her to be annoying or worth tormenting.
Sky crossed the corridor, entered the servant’s tunnels, crawled deep into the darkness of the winding halls and finally found herself in an incomplete tunnel that led nowhere, where she slid herself between the food cart and the wall. Only then did she allow herself to stop and curl up into a ball on the ground.
Sky was utterly nauseated. Her stomach felt like it was going to turn inside out. It felt like she could feel thick worms crawling around inside of her, squirming and seething. She wanted to throw up, but she couldn’t. She wanted to curl up until she vanished, but she couldn’t do that either. Sky could only sit there and cry, like she was the one who was mutilated, instead of the one doing the kthid’s bidding.
Why was she still alive? At times like these, Sky almost wished she wasn’t so cowardly. That she had it in her to just take her own life and end all this. It would have been so easy if she had died when her interceptor went down, if she had just been consumed by the blast and the flames.
Sky yelped, scrambling as her heart tried to leap from her chest. Her head snapped up. A faliran? The woman was leaning one elbow on the food cart, her other arm on her hip. Her eyes were intense even in the low red lights of the tunnel.
“You’re that cook woman, aren’t ya?” the faliran asked.
“I – I’m sorry!” Sky whispered, her entire body trembling. “Whatever I did to you, I didn’t mean to. Please just leave me alone.”
“Yeah, you’re the cook. You’re just like the spiders said you’d be.” the faliran said, pushing herself off the cart. She squatted down in front of Sky and held up a hand, causing Sky to flinch back. The woman didn’t hit or claw at Sky, however. She just held out an open hand.
“My name’s Sena,” the faliran said. “You got a moment?”