OOC: The second part of this story. Getting ideas for more stories to post, but this really jumped to mind. Enjoy.

The first thing they wheeled out was a familiar sight. I had seen it…her…whatever before. Seven feet tall on its pedestal, chains writhing like arms without bones, and the vague outline of a face made of chain, the details of which could only be seen up close in, the St. Peter’s Cross caught the light with a sense of foreboding. While not frightening in and of itself, the Cross represented the most poignant aspect of Changeling life: it imprisoned and did not let go until the Gentry commanded so they could visit the most interesting tortures they could conceive on their poor captures. The irony is that the Cross itself was a Changeling, but I’m not sure it even remembered its time back on Earth.

Once the Cross was wheeled to the middle of the arena and turned so all the assembled Gentry and their Changeling slaves could see it, the drums began.

It was subtle at first, a quiet pulse that could only be felt, holding the audience in place and drawing their attention to the door as surely as any of the powers at the Gentry’s command could do. Two women came out first, dressed in togas with their hair held up in an elaborate design only possible with wire and Contract. Their heads were down and their backs bowed so that they almost looked like walking tables trailing chains down their spines. Their sandaled feet shuffled along as they dragged the two huge chains behind them.

Then, in the doorway, the prisoner came. Two guards stood next to him, vicious short swords pointed at his throat, though it was clear that was merely for show. There would be no mistakes today, and the prisoner, Gaius Arctorus, had obviously been beaten before the chains were ever put on him. He stumbled his bruised body forward, trying to keep up with the chain bearers without pushing his throat into the sword points, affecting an awkward shamble as a result. I’d seen this gladiator fight before a couple of times, but the odd fugue state that normally eclipsed his eyes was gone, replaced with purely mortal exhaustion and a defiance rarely witnessed among our kind. I sometimes feared, more than anything, that years of playing pet had extinguished that light that I had once felt in my own eyes, and I told myself that if it had, it had been replaced with cunning in the ten or so extra years I had been in Faerie.

Having soothed my ego, I once again sat transfixed on my cushion, hardly noticing Lady Violet’s hand idly stroking my hair. I was tempted to look back at her, but I already knew the smug and empty smile she would be wearing, and that look of gentile blood lust that overcame her face when looking forward to such entertainments. Instead, I hoped that this would be quick and Gaius Arctorus would soon be dragged, bloody and broken, back to the pits where he would be able to heal. There was no escaping the pain and humiliation in Arcadia, only hope that it would be brief and far separated.

It only took one person to break the fragile silence that had enveloped the crowd. A single Ogre spit into the arena, and the saliva traveled so far that it hit Gaius in the face from the upper tiers of the arena. That unleashed a fury of jeers and insults. Had Darconis not forbade the throwing of any items into his arena for this event, I would have expected to see all manner of debris flying through the air and hitting, unerringly, the poor gladiator in the middle of the sand.

As the jeers continued, the chains were loosened and the nude Changeling prisoner was roughly lifted and fitted with his chest against the fearsome torture device. The chains from the device wrapped themselves around his wrists and ankles, binding him with fierce sureness to itself. Once he was secure, the guards backed away, lowering their swords with disdain while one went to pick up a whip.

I could feel Lady de LaGlace dig her nails into my skull for a moment before she wrapped her fingers in the roots of my hair and violently pulled my head back so I could stare into her unfeeling purple eyes.

“Do you see the look of defiance he wears, pet? After today I shall borrow Marcus’s Cross and I expect you to mimic it when I do.” She paused and thought for a second, wrenching my head around more so that I had to clench my teeth to prevent from calling out in pain. “Only when you do it,” she said thoughtfully, looking at the arena as the guard readied his whip, “I’d like to see a little more fear.”

She released me, and I resisted the urge to rub my neck from the pain. Instead, I watched intently as the guard demonstrated his skill by whipping released doves from the air. So skilled was he that he actually cut one cleanly in half, it’s blood splattering all over Gaius and the Cross, who were unfortunate enough to be underneath when it happened. I imagine that the noise of the crack alone must have been deafening so near their ears, but neither seemed to notice.

Again, Marcus Julius Draconis stood and everyone fell silent, Lady de LaGlace sardonically so.

“Let this entertainment be dedicated to Our worthy slaves, who I am sure will learn a valuable lesson today about loyalty and purity of spirit, traits that your masters work so hard to instill in you. May each of you become less flawed by this demonstration of what happens to those unfamiliar with these simple traits of your betters.” His voice carried, and I saw several Changelings in the audience cringe at Marcus’s twisted dedication. With a quick nod to the guard, the whip began to fly through the air.

I’m not sure if it was the magic of the Gentry, or simply my mind filling in the blanks with more horror, but I could hear the deadly instrument whistle through the air before licking Gaius’s back, leaving behind what looked like a red trail of saliva before it began to ooze slowly from the wound. Drawn blood on the first strike, they meant business. Lady de LaGlace sniffed, and I could almost hear her thoughts, “Damn Roman efficiency. He has no concept of what it is to entertain.”

The whip strikes fell again and again, wounding with each crack until Gaius’s back, buttocks, and legs looked a latice-work of open cuts and you couldn’t tell his skin color from all the red that ran freely down to the ground. Caked sand that had been drawn up from the arena floor and mixed with blood shored up some of the wounds, but must have scraped and irritated with every twist of his body. Still, the gladiator didn’t cry out or more than move a slight bit to avoid a new strike. I remembered being tortured on the Cross, how I squirmed to make sure the next hit would fall on a new place, or at least one that hurt less than the others. Gaius made no move, and possibly was struggling to keep from such an undignified dance.

The crowd was becoming restless. Blood was all well and good, but they had come to see the beating and breaking of an errant slave. This one refused to show his weakness, and it was clear they didn’t like that. Marcus, obviously disturbed by this turn of events, motioned to the other guard who exited the arena. Within seconds, he had returned with a large metal stick that glowed white at the end. I knew what this would mean. They would start at this face, then work their way down until he screamed, or was a mass of melted flesh. I nervously watched as the guard walked toward the dais and mounted the steps one at a time. I felt myself cringe, at one with the Lost in the seats, as he lifted the brand high into the air as if to swing down with it, his muscles tensing on the handle so as not to lose his grip.

“Wait, my lords and ladies, I think that my Lord Ceasar has attempted to fool us all!” I don’t know why I called it out, or why I grabbed my chain from Lady Violet’s hand and jumped into the arena, but I had already done it by the time I actually thought about it, and by then it was too late.

My bare feet trampled on the hard, sandy ground as I gaily pranced my way to the center of the arena, just below the dais. As I’d hoped, the guard was now watching me, the fiery brand forgotten at his side. Now I was just winging it, so I took a moment of dramatic pause to gaze around at the frightening mass of inhumanity that gazed at me, waiting for an explanation for my outburst. The Gentry were scarily single-minded at times, and now I could read their collective thought just by looking at them. I skipped onto the dais, trying to make myself as ridiculous and harmless-looking as possible. I took the brand from the stunned guard and threw it to the ground next to the pedestal.

“You don’t need this, my lord guard. It’s clear that this isn’t the prisoner at all, but merely a fetch made to look like it so that my Lord Ceasar’s guests might get the full benefit of a real torture without the fear of the subject dying on the Cross. But you wouldn’t want to bring a hot brand near it, or the straw it is made of will light on fire!” I made a “whoosh” sound and lifted my hair with my hands to mimic myself being caught in a giant blaze. I slipped my left hand into my pocket and palmed the crystal coin still in there.

“But this is an obvious fake.” I examined Gaius with exaggerated interest, turning my head upside down, sideways, and crawling between his legs as if to look from every angle. At one point I put my hand on my chin and consulted the whipping guard, who was truly baffled by my behavior and couldn’t find the wherewithal to tell me whether he thought Gaius to be real or not. “Good members of the august Gentry, I implore you to examine the wounds suffered by poor, deluded Gaius Arctorus. They are all surface wounds, meaning that the blood was simply placed into the fetch just below the skin in order to make it appear to bleed, but I know the trick to revealing this little ploy.”

With a quickness I didn’t realize I could summon, I snatched a dagger from the nearest guard and stabbed it into Gaius’s arm. He winced from the pain, but again did not cry out. I dragged the knife an inch or so before pulling it out, then clamping my left hand over the wound. With a deft movement of my palm, I slipped the crystal coin into the wound and dug my nails into Gaius’s arm to prevent him from tensing the muscles and expelling it. Once I was sure the coin was firmly placed under his skin, I pulled my hand back and looked at it with fained shock.

“It appears I was wrong, masters and mistresses alike,” I held up my hand as if in triumph, the blood dripping to the wooden floor of the dais, “it bleeds like a real human! It must have been real this whole time, and the good Marcus Julius Draconis has simply trained his gladiator so well that even he cannot wring a cry from his furious and skillful lips!” I shrugged with mock regret at Marcus, sparing a wink for Lady Violet who was clearly enjoying the show. “Very sorry, my Lord Ceasar.” Cheers and laughter could be heard from the crowd, who were no longer interested in Gaius Arctorus or his attempted revolt. I jauntily jogged back to my place, thinking to the ground as I went so that when I jumped in the air and bounced off the arena floor, I was able to execute a flip and land back on my cushion, silently thanking God that I didn’t try to force anything else when we’d first arrived.

“That was lovely, pet.” Lady Violet laughed very hard as she took my chain back and stood me before Marcus Julius Draconis. It was clear the owner of this little bit of Arcadia was none-too-pleased by my display. “So, Marcus, I think there is a debt owed here.”

The Roman-like creature raised his eyebrows at Lady Violet, who impassively stood next to me. Still, he turned to her with all of the courtesy he could summon. “Of course. I’ll be sure my stables send you the finest horse from our next breeding.”

“No, Marcus, not for me. I had nothing to do with this.” She looked down at me, and I could feel the tension rise as everyone knew where this was going. I didn’t want it, but there was little I could do to stop Lady de LaGlace from saying those next words. “You are indebted to my pet.”

Galled at the very idea of being indebted to a slave, I thought Marcus would simply run me through and call his debt over. I think, had he not had some mysterious pledge to my Lady, he might have done just that. Instead, with a ferocity that I hope never to see again for such a simple purpose, he snatched the bell he used to call his own slaves from the table next to his throne. He pulled a length of cord from somewhere and tied it through the bell, which he then placed around my neck.

“The greatest gift one can give a slave is the gift of anticipation. Now you will know when your masters are near by the ringing of the bell, and will be able to better prepare for their wants and needs.” Quicker than I was, Marcus drew his dagger and sliced a shallow wound across my upper chest, just below my neck. I could feel the blood well and drip down my chest as Lady Violet quickly snatched me back into a protective embrace.

“Marcus! How dare you!”

“You misunderstand, Violet, I was simply attuning it to him.” He reached over and grabbed the bell around my neck. It rang with a sweet, light sound that I would have found relaxing had it not been so tense a situation. “Now only his ears can hear it, so you won’t be disturbed by the ringing whenever you approach.” Marcus leaned in and began to rub my head with a force far too hard for mere petting. He bent close to my ear as if to kiss me, but instead whispered in that hard, inhuman voice, “Don’t ever harm a man’s property, slave.”

Not satisfied with his answer but forced to accept it, Lady Violet steered me away from the cruel Roman lord and into her own cruel embrace as we exited the arena. We would be staying at Marcus’s villa that evening, then back home the next day. I don’t think either of us, were it not for social convention, would have chosen to stay that night.

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