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Content Warnings: child abuse, violence, child slavery.

“Zath vo dor,” commanded the man with the biting whip, pointing to his feet, ‘Come to me.’ Mytra didn’t move, knowing exactly what was expected and defying it, ignoring the magically-infused collar zapping at their skin. They hated the way this continent used Sigileanas, or, as any regular person might say, Sigil. Words that were meant to conjure magic. Words that weren’t meant to be manipulated, sliding past silver tongues and cruel, gnashing teeth.

Retto’s brows furrowed, and Mytra could practically taste the blood in their mouth already. He moved the whip around his feet in a lazy circle, but Mytra knew what was coming. The blow wasn’t a surprise, neither was the pain or the muddy colour that spilled from the welt. Neither was the next word to come from their Aedir’s mouth when Mytra toppled from the second whip-strike, landing pointedly across their chest.

“Epa.” Retto commanded, ignoring the glare from his sauva. ‘Up.’

Mytra stood, balancing on their intact leg. Their left one, crushed and amputated a year ago and barely healed enough to bear their weight on the new prosthetic, wobbled. The rest of them did not. A rich brown obscured their vision in their right eye briefly from the cut that bloomed under the next whip-strike. The next one landed on their unprotected hips, wrapping around their leg and ripping the world out from under them. Rolling, Mytra knew better than to take the rest of it on their front.

Floating up and away, Mytra watched from above as the whip came down across their back. The beating was over before they knew it, blessedly short after the last training session. They hadn’t done so well this time. Their last opponent had really done a number on them and the training regimen after was unforgiving.

When Retto was done, he yanked his teenage slave up by the hair, forcing them up onto one knee and back into their body. The whip was held out to Mytra as always. And, as always, Mytra lifted their eyes to make eye contact with the one person they were never allowed to do so with, and spat. A thick glob of blood and phlegm landed on their Aedir’s shirt, no doubt staining the fabric.

Allowing them to finally sink to the ground, there was a deep, rumbling sigh from the man as he brushed off the spit with a cloth, then began to wipe the whip of Mytra’s muddy colour.

“Mytra,” Retto cooed, moving to circle the magicless teen as he worked, “Dor sauvake.” ‘My little slave.’ Another derogatory pet name. He was good with those. Heat bloomed in Mytra’s belly, an anger that swelled abruptly and without reign.

“Retto,” they mocked smoothly, using his name without pause. Then, “Dor maduk.”

My bastard.‘ Not a light insult on Karothe.

Frowning, he stopped polishing the leather of his weapon to meet Mytra’s defiant stare. Raising an eyebrow, Mytra’s Aedir stepped carefully until he was positioned directly behind the fiery red-head.

“Epa.” Retto’s tone was soft. Up.’

Mytra’s ears drooped. They kept still, barely breathing.

Epa,” repeated Retto, in a deeper, darker tone.

Not daring to look behind them, Mytra made a show of repositioning their leg before standing, grumbling obscenities under their breath. Before they were even balanced, a hand rested on the back of their neck, cool and clammy.

“Do not fear,” Retto said, switching finally from old words to new.

Mytra scowled. They felt the hand at the back of their leg before being swept off their feet, keening high in their throat in surprise. “Da-” started Mytra, cutting themself off. No.’ They would not bend and beg to be put down. Snapping their mouth shut so quick their teeth clicked, the red-headed esva allowed themself to be taken away from the fighting arena. Away from the other sauva. The others, who would judge. The other’s, that would see Mytra’s weakness.

Finally. They could be alone.

Retto carried Mytra through the hall the short distance from the arena’s training room to Mytra’s room. It was nothing more than a closet with a bed in it, but they didn’t mind. There was enough room to do push-ups, sit-ups, and their post-amputation exercises, and that’s what really mattered. At least it was better than sleeping on the ground outside sometimes.

Usually, Retto would set them down at the threshold. Today, he didn’t.

“What are you doing?” A demand, something a sauva like them shouldn’t make.

Retto carried Mytra through the doorway and to the bed, setting them down with a hum. “Shush,” he said, when Mytra protested, moving to kneel in front of them. His fingers began to weave magic. The movement was unfamiliar and practised and everything Mytra hated.

“Get out,” snarled Mytra when the fingers’ energy began to make their skin prickle, brought close to Mytra’s only knee. It was skinned and bleeding, but the flow was sluggish now. An easy wound to heal. The skin knit closed before Mytra could lash out and kick Retto, and by then he had a binding woven around the feisty teen. The straps of magic felt heavy and thick, like the leather of his whip, pushing Mytra’s arms down towards the bed with a snap.

It took everything in them not to howl and scream and make a scene. “Get your filthy magic away from me,” they panicked, words pouring out in a rush. “Don’t touch me!”

Retto ignored Mytra’s protests, instead focusing on the wounds inflicted just moments before. “You’re hurt,” he said, as if it would make it better. As if it would erase that Retto was the one to do this to them, day in and day out. As if Retto hadn’t been the one to trap them. As if Retto hadn’t bought them like a trophy.

And Retto’s magic was nothing but a lie.

It was cool, soothing, dewy. Fresh like sea water on a hot day. It was like a damp sock in your shoe, or a wet cloth over your mouth. It was like drowning.

Mytra strained against the magical binds, hating the collar on their neck with every fibre of their being. Even if they could use magic, the collar would keep it locked away. Not only that, the collar kept them from slitting Retto’s throat during training.

And now. Especially now.

Fingers gentle as they brushed along the bruised skin, sending icy chills along Mytra’s spine, Retto hummed again. Humming here was so disingenuous. Sometimes, it wasn’t just a hum. Sometimes, like now, it was magic. Magic wasn’t meant to be used like this, manipulated by a being into it’s doing at whim. It was a tool. It was a specialty. It was a weapon.

“Novoes,” Mytra said. ‘Stop.’

Retto’s fingers stuttered, concentration broken by the familiar word, unfamiliar on Mytra’s tongue. Tyrian eyes stared back at them when they chanced a faux-defiant glare. Concern was stitched over Retto’s face like a sick mask, and it turned the brown-blood’s stomach. “Dan beel?” His question was genuine and Mytra hated it. ‘Are you okay?

So, instead of answering, Mytra spat at their Aedir again, knowing exactly what would happen next.

Anger would bloom across his face. Yup.

He would stand and assess. Yup.

And then—smack!

But it never came. Mytra stared up at Retto between their lashes, eyes half-squeezed shut and expectant. Instead of raising his hand, he clenched it, keeping it at his side. Then he asked softly, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” the words slipped quickly past Mytra’s lips, a comfortable lie. Nothing was their mantra now. Nothing could stop them. Nothing could stand in the way. Nothing was enough. Nothing, was what they were.

“It’s not.” Retto’s hand unclenched and Mytra shut their eyes. Whether it was a hit or not, Mytra wasn’t able to see the look on his face. The concern. The ‘concern’.

The cool touch of his fingers set Mytra’s teeth on edge, but they didn’t jerk away. His fingers swept a lock of wavy hair from Mytra’s face, tucking it behind their ear. Just the thought of trying to bite the bastard sent a shock of a warning through the collar. Just a little zap to keep those thoughts away.

Finally, Retto sighed and the touch was gone, replaced by something worse. Magic again.

Without being able to move, to fight back, to say anything to make it stop, Mytra felt small. Too small. Smaller than when they had gotten the news about their family. About dear Mesma, sweet and kind and always smelling like cinnamon. About loving Kosir, strong and caring and with hands so big they could hold the world. About innocent Esvy, too young to be taken. About the fire. About their deaths.


“I hate you.”

Mytra opened their eyes, surprised to see the world as a smear. When had they started crying? Trying to wipe their tears was useless, they realized after a moment.

“Excuse me?” Retto’s voice was exasperated, but dark. A warning. An opportunity to change their answer.

“I said ‘I hate you,’” they blurted. “What, need me to use Sigileanas? Too stupid to understand how to–” The words choked off in the air. Mytra’s eyes bulged, and their arms strained against the binds. Suddenly, the air around them was too heavy to breathe. Too heavy to make sound. They knew exactly what sigils Retto was using, too, and for a moment they imagined that this was going to be their death.

At the tender age of 17 and a half, this was it.

“Mytra,” cooed the much-older man. “You know better.”

Then the air was back in a rush, the binds were gone, and Mytra felt their body slump into the bed. For a moment, all they knew was pulsing roar of blood in their ears. There was some kind of movement from their Aedir, but Mytra’s focus was on breathing steadily and not panicking into a heart attack.

Finally, and all at once, there was nothing. A sensory-deprivation spell, one they were used to by now for training. It had a time limit of a half-hour. At least they wouldn’t be able to feel the magic crawling across their body, knitting flesh back together, clotting wounds. Manipulated.

Like Mytra.

Glossary of Terms

Zath vo dor – Come to me
   Zath – to come
   vo – to/for
   Dor – me/mine/I

Sigilleanas – Literally ‘Language of the Sigils’
   Sigillea – The planet
     Sig – Life
     Ils – Death
     Lea – Continuation
   Phinnas – Mouth, language, talking

Epa – Up
Aedir – Master; a title
Sauva – non-‘vampire’ slave
-ke – a suffix meaning ‘little’ or ‘small’
Maduk – Bastard; An insult
Da/dach – No
Novoes – STOP!
   Voes – Stop
   No- – Prefix; emphasizes a word’s meaning

Dan beel – Are you okay?
   Dan – you/yours/you
   Beel – Good

Mesma – Mother figure
Kosir – Father figure
Esvy – Sibling
Karothe – The largest continent on Sigillea
Brixtis – The second-largest continent. War-torn.
Limka – The smallest continent.