Ashley stood among the weapons and anvils and tools that were less of a comfort to him now than the promise of safety that the container provided, pushed as it was against the single door. The fight with the golem had taken more out of him than he cared to admit, and nothing but quite a large amount of rest would bring him up to full health. He still buzzed with adreneline, and his head was heavy from damage.
This was, he saw, the closest he would come to safety while he rested. Sleep would probably be better than rest. Aloud, he mused, "Though I like not what the creatures of Lea Monde may be capable of while a man sleeps."
Possession, feasting on flesh and blood... several suggestions dragged themself forward from sleepy memories of the faerie tales he was indeed beginning to respect.
No, he would not sleep, he decided, and sat with his back to a workbench, sword ready in front of him.
Elsewhere, two men stood in a magic circle, waiting.
The smaller man, the more dangerous of the pair, smiled a small smile -- Hardin could not tell whether it was terse or enigmatic, or which Sydney wished it to be this time -- and breathed a single word.
And not far from there, a girl barely out of womanhood managed to slide, on her knees, to the door of the room she had been put in, leaning over a stone block to peer through the cracks in the door.
Her hands were bound and her knees bleeding. She had walked or been carried around for ages, and had not slept in nearly fourty-eight hours.
Still, she had a job to do, even if she doubted the likelihood of surviving long enough to report back.
"The stage is set," Sydney said, calm, as if the damned Crimson Blades were not on their way right now. Lost, no doubt, as it was so easy to be in Lea Monde. Hardin knew, nevertheless, that they would hardly be giving up and that it was not safe to linger here as Sydney insisted on doing.
For the sake of his damned game--
"Come nearer, Hardin," Sydney said, and Hardin knew he looked increduluous. Sydney had barely made the circle larger than the length of a man, and he was well within the limits of personal space as it was. With a sigh he barely managed to make subvocal and was probably heard anyway, he shuffled a little closer.
"Nearer," Sydney murmured, voice nearly hypnotic.
The only way Hardin could get nearer now was to press his body to Sydney's. With the Crimson Blades coming, with an Inquisitor locked up in the next room, with their backers betraying them in all directions, with the Titan chasing -- "Sydney, we do not have TIME."
Sydney's look turned cold, instantly, and Hardin thought he could hear ice winds blowing somewhere, not too far off. He felt he should explain, even while knowing he had said the same thing a dozen times since this crazed escapade had begun. "It is death to linger long enough for--"
"Hardin. Come here."
Without thinking, he took a step nearer, pressing the warm length of his body to Sydney's slightly chilled one.
"Good Hardin," Sydney soothed, cold metal hands resting on Hardin's hips so that he could just feel the sharp razors brushing the bare portion of his back. "Sweet Hardin. Now hold still."
Hardin froze as Sydney's hands whipped up to cradle his face, the long clawed fingers too near his eyes and lips. "Sydney..." he murmured, trying not to move his lips too much. "What are you planning now?"
"He is a vessel," Sydney murmured, eyes distant, something hot and powerful twisting in their depths. "Nearly as much as... you shall be our link, Hardin."
Willing or no. It was often that way with Sydney. Worse, it was always willing, wanted or no.
Resigned, Hardin relaxed into the knife-hands.
Ashley looked up, momentarily, brows creased.
He had thought he had felt metal brush his face.
There was nothing in the room, still. It remained a place of fragile safety.
Ashley relaxed, again.
A razor brushed gently over one of Hardin's closed eyelids, and Hardin gasped, nearly silent, at the sexual rush of adreniline. His eye was in danger. Blood was being drawn, ever so gently. Sydney was pressed against him.
"Sleep, Riskbreaker," Sydney murmured.
Ashley's head tipped forward, hair-tails brushing his own arms.
Cold hands moved from his face to his shoulders, rubbing gently up and down, claws scratching gently at his skin.
"Good," Sydney murmured. "Listen to my voice, dear Ashley. Follow my voice."
Hardin knew that it would be pointless, now, to respond himself, to try to address Sydney. He would merely be punished for spoiling the ritual,
For spoiling Sydney's fun, he admitted to himself.
It was not himself that Sydney saw as the slender, fragile-seeming man stared in his face. It was not himself that Sydney addressed.
It was not himself for whom Sydney traced the patterns of sexual promise on his arms.
He closed his eyes again, listening to his breathing roughen.
Ashley turned, slowly, sword in one hand, wondering where his so-called 'safe' room had gone, to be replaced by these whirling mists, how he had a solid foothold.
Not important. Where was Sydney's voice coming from? Not exactly a sneak attack, with his presence announced in that manner, but he had learned by now that with Sydney, this could be much the same.
Sydney was capable of commanding a man to show his soul, and get what he wished for. That was a danger Ashley had not had to deal with, before.
But then, neither were zombies or ghosts or hellhounds, and they all fell beneath his sword. His fingers tightened on the hilt.
"Now, Riskbreaker," Sydney's voice admonished from directly behind him. "You do not need weapons. Look, I am unarmed."
Ashley turned, prepared, and saw Sydney standing there, as barely-clothed as always, arms held out in a gesture of harmlessness as if they themselves were not a formidable weapon.
"From what I have seen as of yet," Ashley said, cautiously, "the arms you bear are not your best weapon. I will keep my sword, thank you."
Sydney laughed, a nearly pleasant sound. "Do so, then. Though it will not assist you here."
Without having seemed to move, Sydney was there, face inches from his own, blue eyes boring into him, rapidly warming hands stroking up and down Ashley's arms.
Ashley's blade was pressed against Sydney's side. It would take so little effort to turn it, to drive it into Sydney's bared, pale flesh.
And if he did, what matter? Would Sydney rise again, as he had the last time Ashley killed him?
"What do you seek, here in Lea Monde?" Sydney whispered, breath gusting sweetly over Ashley's face.
Hardin could have answered for Ashley, if he had wished, even if his mouth were not already being used by the Riskbreaker. Sydney knew the answer, already, as it was, and wished only to hear it to assuage his own ego.
No, that might not be true, Hardin thought as his lips moved without him willing it and Ashley Riot's voice said, "You." That might not be true. Sydney did have plans, after all, and had seemed pleased so far, no matter how worried Hardin got. It was possible that Sydney was asking this to a purpose. Possible.
"Oh?" Sydney asked, smiling, and leaned forward to brush a tongue over Hardin's lower lip.
Ashley jerked back from the touch. "Yes, I chase you, damn it, because you kidnapped an Inquisitor and because I was ordered to kill you. I dislike your game, Sydney."
Sydney laughed, smiling smugly. "I think you like my game more than you would admit. You are designed for it, are you not? The chase," a hand trailed along Ashley's side, nails scraping faint lines of blood. "The capture." The hand rested just on Ashley's hip, claws curving around to dent Ashley's bared buttocks.
Suddenly angry, Ashley watched Sydney's eyes for a moment, trying to determine whether harm or sex was meant, and did not like the equal parts he read in those depths. He turned the blade, drawing blood from Sydney's side. "I do not like it, Sydney. It is necessary, that is all."
The slender man glanced down at the bright red blood running down his side. "You liked that. Your wife would not recognize the man you have become in the time since you killed her."
It hit him worse than a hammer and he froze, for a moment, unable to speak around the lump in his throat. "I did not kill her, you damned--"
"Either way, you are still unrecognizable to an innocent. Humanity does not recognize what it is not. This is why faerie tales exist, after all, to place that which is different apart from itself. As humanity would deem you, you are no longer human, Ashley Riot."
Ashley felt nothing inside, at those words. He thought perhaps he should have been surprised, but he had no reason to be, after all. He was a Riskbreaker. He had been placed apart from humanity a long time ago.
"So stoic," Sydney murmured, taking Ashley's wrist in a strong metal grip, removing the sword from his side.
Ashley released it, letting it clatter down. The blade would not do. If worse came to worse, he would break one of Sydney's arms.
Hardin had tried to fight, when the first drops of blood had appeared on Sydney's skin even here in the real world, but Sydney's magic was too strong, now, winding around him so that he could not move in ways the Riskbreaker was not, could not act to show concern and the anger he felt.
He wanted to shove that unwanted hanger-on away, to take Sydney in his arms -- as if he WERE the fragile man he seemed -- and to protect Sydney from creatures like the one who now ruled his body.
So arousing, Sydney pressed close, blood winding down his body to stain Hardin's clothing.
"You are a sadist," Sydney murmured, dipping one claw into his own wound.
"You define the wrong person," Hardin heard his lips say.
So the foreplay had begun. Ashley Riot was probably not aware of it. But the foreplay had begun.
"Perhaps so," Sydney agreed, amicably. "It is more like you to be a masochist."
Ashley's brows drew in. That was just insulting. "I could kill you again, if I wished."
"So you do not draw pleasure from your own pain? You do not hold to the memories which have just begun to surface as if they held salvation rather than damnation?"
"If I am damned," Ashley said, trying to regulate his voice once more, "Then I am damned no matter what I do or do not remember."
"Humanity brings its own damnation, Ashley Riot. The dead rise because they wish to. They enjoy their suffering, even while wishing to end it. If you died here, Ashley, you would rise from the dead, because you are not the type of man to let go of what hurts you. And because--"
Ashley put his hands up against Sydney's chest, pushed him away. "I will not die here, however."
"No. But you will suffer."
Again, a pushing down of anger to let the fighting-skill take over. "Do you threaten me?"
"I do not threaten. I predict." Sydney smiled, smug in his devil-wrought knowledge, and tightened his hands on Ashley so that blood was drawn.
Hardin moaned, not knowing whether it was his own response, or Ashley's. Sydney was smiling more gently, now, complacent, the cat who has caught the canary but is willing to wait, to savour.
Hardin knew that look.
"Get your thrice-damned hands off of me, Sydney," Ashley's voice growled from between Hardin's clenched teeth.
"If they were, I would," Sydney murmured, smiling, letting his claws move more in the wounds in Hardin's buttocks.
A long silence, so long that Hardin wondered if the connection had been broken, if his own heavy breathing and Sydney's body against him was all that was left of this ritual.
Irritation. He forced himself to examine his lust from a rational viewpoint. "If I bed you, Sydney, as you seem to wish, I win the chase."
Sydney raised one delicate gold eyebrow.
Ashley sighed. "Or if you bed me. Either way, Sydney, I win."
"Oh?" Amusement dripped honey off of Sydney's voice. "How so?"
"You have come to me. You have been caught. The chase is over."
Sydney shook his head, bangs falling in front of his eyes. "I win, if I bed you, Ashley Riot. I have gone nowhere. You sleep, now, and I have this much power over you. I can make you want me without even touching your body. How then do you win?"
Ashley was silent a long moment, considering this, turning options over. He could not let Sydney win this. "You then use magic. By using magic to this purpose, you do indeed come to me. The chase may not be over, but you still..." he trailed off, not certain what to say.
Sydney smiled. "Well, then." He trailed his claws up Ashley's back, ripping clothing, drawing more blood, and Ashley shuddered.
No, he could not be completely submissive. Not to anybody. Knowing where he was going, now, where this was leading, he pulled Sydney close for a violent kiss.
Hardin gasped against Sydney's mouth and was tripped, lowered to the ground, was loomed over by Sydney who dragged claws down Hardin's chest hungrily.
Whether it was him or Ashley answering the call, he could not help but arch into that touch, feeling blood run hot over his skin. It was Ashley who reached out, ripped Sydney's pants open -- certainly, Hardin would never dare! -- and it was Hardin who moved needily.
He needed Sydney, he needed him.
Hardin was a warrior, a fighter. Sydney had made him beg for mercy more than once, for relief. Ashley had not, and would not.
His mouth was open, wordless, making helpless noises that did not belong to either of them.
Sydney smiled down, eyes distant.
Ashley was not certain when he had spread his legs, but knew the moment Sydney settled between them, not making any final move, but settled, a nearly negligable weight against Ashley's greater mass, pressing down more than anything else, now, just an almost-nothing weight pinning him to the floor, the world resting on him.
He could not move Sydney, even if he wanted.
It was almost frightening, that sexual power. Ashley assumed that the power Sydney held there was sexual. Anything else was not worth considering.
More frightening was the amount of blood now running down his body. A fighter did not let himself be hurt. A fighter hurt, but did not let himself--
A claw scraped lightly over a nipple and Ashley caught his scream before it emerged.
It did not hurt.
No, that was not right. It hurt, hurt terribly. But he felt no pain. He was a Riskbreaker. He should not be here. He--
"Damn you," he hissed at Sydney. "Get on with it."
Could warmth and tenderness have produced that flame in Sydney's eyes, the way those words had?
Hardin's voice caught as Sydney manuvered his body with a dangerous metal arm to hold the weight, entered him without any more preamble or, apparently, lubrication. Blood, there, too. Sex with Sydney was a dance of blood and pain. He was desperate, watching Sydney look through him.
He is not fucking me, Hardin thought, desperately. He is not fucking me.
He bit down on his lip. Whatever Ashley said now would go unheard by Sydney's ears. It was the most he could do.
"No," Sydney murmured. "Your wife would not recognize you anymore."
Ashley was silent. This was not love. It was sex, pure and simple. Sydney was in love with words, that was for sure. Ashley would not give them to him.
In such a way, he might almost win.
Why was he playing Sydney's game, anyway? he asked himself, silently, letting Sydney fuck him.
Orgasm was silent, swift, destructive.
Softly, Sydney leaned down and laughed, almost gently, almost tenderly, in Ashley's ear.
Sydney pulled out and stood, stretching like a cat waking up from a nap. Around them, the magic circle faded. "It is done," Sydney said, pleased with himself. The nearly drunken edge that appeared in his tone when he was sated was there, colouring his words.
"Sydney..." Hardin began, not knowing what he was going to say, angry, sad, but Sydney interrupted him, saved him that indignity.
"Thank you, Hardin. I could not have done that without you."
Was that meant to hurt?
"Why, Sydney?" Hardin asked, finally, out loud. "How is this a part of your plan?"
Sydney smiled, smug or happy, Hardin could not tell. "Why, uncertainty, Hardin. Through Lea Monde so far, nothing can shake our Ashley. No magic or monster can ruffle his calm. What can make him writhe and doubt but him himself?"
Hardin's brows creased. "And," he added dryly, watching Sydney's face, "No doubt it gives him motivation to chase you."
Did Sydney's eyes soften, a moment, or did he dream?
Callo shifted away from the door, uneasy. So it was true, then, that Sydney's followers were completely devoted to him.
She might even have called it love, had there been any reciprocity.
But still, magic like that-- Parliament had no idea. She must find a way to escape, and soon. They needed to know exactly what Sydney was capable of, and how.
She closed her eyes for a moment, just a moment.
When she opened them again, Sydney was standing over her, waiting. "We must away, my dear," he told her pleasantly. "Can you walk?"
He could be a gentleman, when he wanted to be. She pushed back against the wall, using the force to lever herself to her feet. "I believe so."
She followed Sydney out into the main room, and glanced around, once, quickly. Hardin waited against one wall, apparently unmarked. The magic circle was faded, and no sign of blood was on the floor.
Had she dreamed--
She turned to glance at Sydney, and saw him watching her. He had been watching her examine the room, she was sure. A measuring look was in his eye as he smiled pleasantly at her.
"Shall we go?"
Ashley awoke and found that he had kicked his sword away in his sleep. Among other things.
He cleaned himself up, pushed his hair back, away from his face, and picked his sword up.
Outside, an angry ghost was wailing.
This place was not safe. No safer than anywhere in Lea Monde. He would avoid sleep again if he could, he decided, though he longed for it.
Longed for it.