Friday, May 27, 2016


Breakpoint is a Shadow Sprawl setting story by Terri Pray
Artwork by Samuel Pray created using Photoshop.

She’s gone.

Smoke from the pyre stung his eyes and he blinked, trying to clear his vision, his gaze never leaving the smoking remains of his wife - the Seer - the one who had guided him and his people for so many years. His back straight, head held high, Romulus shut out everything but the crackling, leaping flames of the funeral pyre from his world as they consumed both wood and woman alike.


The name, one seldom used by his people, now echoed through his mind. Wife. Seer. Guide. She had been all of that and so much more. Now she was gone, her mortal life over with and her spirit - well, that wasn’t for him to know. He’d never had the gift of sight, the ability to see things the way she had. Not one member of his pack, true born, had access to such abilities though who knew what the future might bring?

Flames crackled and licked at the wood, dancing high into the sky, smoke climbing further away from the flames. Did the smoke carry her soul? Or would that remain with the ashes?

He frowned at the thought. Did it matter where her soul remained or if it had already traveled elsewhere? Those were matters for priests, priestesses, those who dealt with spiritual things. Not warriors or an Alpha.

Voices, low conversations and tears. Faint wailing in the distance. On the other side of the pyre maybe? Someone who had loved his wife, or someone trying to draw attention to themselves? It didn’t matter in the end. Those who loved her would grieve. Those who loved themselves would act as if they grieved. The only true way to tell the difference was to get close enough to read their scents. Lies were harder to maintain around his people, but it was knowledge the pack seldom shared with those born outside of the pack.

The wailing increased and he turned, picking out the small group of women, wives and daughters of the Senate, his gaze narrowing. Some he knew, had seen in the company of his wife, others - their cries rang of performances given for the benefit of those around them.

Should he say something? No, he’d done that all ready, lifted his voice to send her into the next life - if such a thing existed. Odd, he couldn’t recall what he’d actually said. Something about devotion, service, duty; if there had been more, he no longer knew or cared. Artume would welcome her ashes, once the pyre had burned down, or so his Seer believed. Had believed. Dead, he had to accept that fact. She was gone, there was no coming back from this, no rebirth, no welcoming into the pack that would hunt forever. It didn’t even matter that she’d born his children. His wife had been only that, wife - not mate. Accepted and claimed by his pack, but never quite a part of them.

Whispers, words that he couldn’t quite make out, reached his ears. The occasional one he could understand but it wasn’t enough to make full sense of the conversations. Disappointment, expectations and doubt. He closed his eyes, listening, trying to catch the thread of conversation. He breathed, letting the world fall away from him as he listened.

“He is weakened.” A male voice, one he recognized but couldn’t put a name to immediately.

“Is it time to push for a new King?” A second male voice, younger than the first.

“Yes, he’s ruled too long. We need a new voice, one who is more in touch with the people as a whole.” The first replied. A member of the senate, that part he knew without a doubt.

“The people love him.”

“Some of them do, the small, the young who have been raised with stories of the founding. Children, nothing more.” The older man shrugged it off. “We are ready to push, to take our rightful place. Yes, he helped to found…”

“Not helped, he did found it.”

The older man snorted. “You believe the stories, just like the children do. Founded Rome indeed. He killed his brother in a petty fight, and then claims he built the city with his own bare hands.”

Romulus’ jaw tightened as the conversation moved off, out of his ability to hear the rest of it. Was that what they thought of him? Did they plan to strike him down in the middle of the night? No, not that, they would be careful, knowing that his pack would continue to protect him. The accents, the slight differences in pronunciations, marked the two men as Sabine’s. Well, that came as no shock to him, ever since the taking of their women the Sabine’s had railed against the core founders of his city. Some accepted the blending of people, others wanted to reclaim their independence.

“Alpha?” The voice, though male, was pitched low without making the mistake of whispering.

“Yes?” He opened his eyes but didn’t turn, didn’t look away from the pyre. He owed her that much, the respect of seeing this through to the end. The Sabine’s could wait. His pack, they were the ones who truly mattered, at least for the time being.

“The seconds want to know if you wish to meet after this is completed.”

Of course they did. Tension rippled across his shoulders, tightening the muscles down to the small of his back. “Tomorrow.”

“As you wish, Alpha.”

It wouldn’t just be the seconds who would want an answer, there was another waiting in the wings, one that had been careful to hide his nature from - or at least the full depths of it. They all knew he and his people assumed the form of the wolf, they didn’t know about the slow aging. Small charms had helped there, charms that meant only the pack saw them as they really were, but men like Numa Pompilius were kept from the truth. It was better that way, and gave his people another edge that could make the difference between life and death.

Numa, that was a man who could step into his sandals, and it didn’t help that the Sabine’s wanted him. He was the best of their number, a man even Romulus respected but it had been a relief when the man had left the city.

You have decisions to make, my love. You can’t stay here, not like this. Sooner or later the others, those not pack, will realize there is something keeping you young. They will not accept an eternal ruler, a king who never ages and will not die.

Eternal. Was he that? Even he didn’t have the answer to that one, nor had his beloved Seer. He was the Alpha, the first of his kind, the oldest and yet, without the charms, he looked no older than thirty at this point. A few lines around the eyes, the weathering that came from a man who spent much of his life outside, working, fighting, patrolling. He was the King but he hadn’t stepped back from the other aspects of pack life. As Alpha he couldn’t lead from behind, he’d faced challenges for control of the pack and fought the struggles that had come from bringing the Sabine’s into the mix.

Sabine’s. Numa Pompilius was one of their number. His wife, the only daughter of the King of the Sabine’s, was but one of the many reasons the non pack members of the city believed he would be an ideal replacement for Romulus, once their King was no longer with them. Yet how much longer would they wait? Even though Numa no longer lived in the city, but had retired to the city, that hadn’t stopped the whispers. Had there been pushes that Romulus had traced back to Numa - yes, but the evidence had been little more than whispers.

Not enough to take direct action.

Then there was the Senate.

Bickering men, each one struggling for power, for control. How often had he had to bare his teeth, snarl and bring them back in line? Those who were pack understood, those who were not bucked like an unbroken horse. His mind drifted back to the conversation he had overheard. No mention of Numa, which was a relief. Perhaps that meant the man was not involved in the current whispers.

Of course he isn’t. He’d send word to me directly if he was involved. The man was honorable, patient and spoke his mind. Those were things he could respect about Numa, along with his many other talents.

Find your freedom. This time, it’s yours, not the city’s or the pack’s. It’s yours. Take it. Use it. Live it.

Easy to say, but reality was another matter entirely. Still, his wife had been right, her visions true nine times out of ten, and in this… He sighed and looked away from the smoking remains of the pyre. Hersilia was gone, he had no reason to remain. The new Seers would collect the remains, the ashes, place them in an urn and present them to him. Within a matter of days he would take the ashes to the grove down by the Rubicon that had been her favorite place.

His throat tightened even as he turned away, back straight, head held high before he began the slow walk to his home. No matter what he felt, he would not cry, not where others, non pack members, might see him. Better to grieve in private, when he freed her ashes, mixing them with the rich dirt as she had requested. It was a small thing but after everything she had sacrificed for him, the children she had given him, it was the least he could do.

“Alpha, the mourners have been turned away.” A male fell into step at his side. “Only pack members are being granted access to your home at this time.”

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Lucius was a good man, first among his seconds, and the man most likely to become Alpha if he stepped down.

“When will you see to the ashes, Alpha?”

“Soon,” the single word threatened to stick in his throat. Grief. He wanted to let it go, to shift into his true form, howl, whine and mourn his wife. Females would come soon enough, seeking his bed, his position and the children he could give them. Others would come wanting to take the status of wife, knowing that no true mate had ever been found and perhaps never would be. He’d felt no sign, no pull, caught no scent that would hint at a true mate for him. One that would bind him to her for life, for however long they both might live, he’d searched, married his wife with the understanding that he might one day have to set her aside for a true mate. She’d nodded, accepted that, her gift making it clear that such would never happen within her lifetime. So, it had worked for them. She had loved him, been loyal, loving, tender and had spent her energy, her gifts on keeping him and his people safe.

Lucius took a step closer, offering strength. “Our females will keep the others in line.” He was, of course, referring to the mates of the seconds. “We know there will be ones who will come for you - seeking position, or hoping to be the one to trigger the mating bond.”

Romulus snorted, anger flaring through him. None could replace his Seer.



“It… will take time.” He blinked, clearing his vision again. Tears. He had no time for grief, not where people could see him. Pack would understand. Pack knew. They guarded, gathered in strength around him, offering him shelter and companionship. Wolves gathered, pressed together, leaning in close, they ran and hunted together, mourned, howled at the moon, the wind, to sing, to speak from their hearts and souls. No matter what they would be a pack.

Even if he left them.

Not if, when.

“There is much to discuss, but not here.” They weren’t far from his home. A little longer and they would be away from prying eyes - or more importantly, ears.

“Yes, Alpha.”Lucius inclined his head, keeping it lower than Romulus’ for a moment before he raised it once more.

Pack habits, the wolf side of their nature, it was hard to deny even when they were in human form. Small things that continued to bind them together as a pack, habits that their human neighbors either didn’t notice, or never commented on. Considering how blind humans were, Romulus had no doubt that they didn’t know what was going on.

Humans. They didn’t even smell what was happening right under their noses.

Leave, pack up and get out. Have Lucius take over the pack. Not yet. A few small things to sort out first, details with the pack, the senate, small matters that needed to be put in order. Ten days of work, maybe more, a moon at most. Then he would leave and then

The guards parted at the entrance to his home, two men armed with simple weapons but they were enough to keep intruders out. Pack, like him, their human weapons weren’t the real strength, but their abilities, the shift, strength, speed and agility. He’d never met a pure blood human who could beat one of the pack.

The walls pressed in on him as he walked in. Her scent still lingered here, touching the fabric, wood and stone. He stopped in the middle of the main room, inhaling deeply. Tears pricked his eyes, his throat tightened as he tasted it, letting it roll through him. Not his true mate, but her presence had been a strong, stabilizing force in his life and now - with her loss - the ground shifted under his feet. He let his gaze move around his home, the emptiness - despite the presence of his pack members - struck deep.

“Alpha, we are here for you.” Lucius spoke first.

“We always will be, no matter what you choose,” Iulius added, his head bowed for a moment before he lifted his gaze. “We share your grief.”

A dozen men, pack seconds, trackers, primary hunters, all gathered around him without crowding him. “Your support is welcomed,” but it was time to tell them his decision, to get the story ready to share with the people of Rome, “the loss of my wife is something I will recover from in time, but it has made me realize that things need to change.”

Silence settled over the room as a dozen pairs of eyes fixed on him. No questions, no demands for more information, just patience and understanding. His throat tightened as a weight wrapped around his heart. Could he do this? Walking away from the city and his pack, was that the right decision?

You know it is. If you stay you will never find her. Never discover your true mate.

He frowned. Those words - Hersilia had never said those words to him, yet the voice was hers. The softness, compassion, the very cadence of the speech, they were all hers.

I am, and forever will be, your wife. Death does not end things, does not prevent me from serving you. I swore myself to you, husband. Until you find her, I have been granted permission to stay with you.

There, she was still there. The body burning on the pyre was just that, an empty shell. Her spirit, her wisdom, those would remain, and a true mate? Someone he could bond with, spend the rest of his life with? Was that really waiting for him?

“Alpha?” Lucius prodded, his gaze filled with concern.

He coughed, shaking his head for a moment, giving himself a chance to clear his thoughts. “My apologies, this has been a trying time.” He tried to smile, but doubted it worked. “It is time that I leave Rome.”

Protests filled the room, declarations that they needed him, wanted him, that his grief would ease and that he should wait, give himself a chance to heal.

“No, I have to leave before the others realize that I am still as strong as I was the day this city was founded. That time will come for all of you, and you will find it is leave Rome or find your families at risk. They know we are different, but how different has been kept secret from them.” He took a deep breath, shifting his weight before he continued. “My life isn’t over, and I will establish a pack home for us, beyond the city. Once I have that place settled, I’d send word to you so you know where to come when it’s time to leave the city.” He knew where now, just beyond the Rubicon, close to the home of the river nymph. There the magic of the nymph would work to keep the human residents of Rome away from them. It wasn’t ideal, but it would work well enough. If Rome needed him, he could take another name and return, offering help for that time before he went back to their new home.

“Alpha, I don’t understand…”

He turned, looking directly at Lucius. “Yes, you do. You might not want to accept that right now, but you do understand. I have reached my breakpoint, old friend. Lucius, you will run the pack until it is time for you to leave Rome as well. One by one it will happen to all of you, your children and mates. In time we may be able to return to the city when those who recall what we look like have died. When our likenesses are no longer known to every man, woman and child within the city. But until that time, they must believe I am dead.”

Run, he could run, hunt, stretch his legs. In time there would be a chance to deal with the renegades who had stolen from Rome. An offshoot of the line of Remus had caused problems for them, but only the wolves would be able to track him down.

The renegades are not your concern. Let them be. They haven’t attacked the city or its people in over five years.

Five years was nothing to a race of long lived beings, like his people.

Perhaps, but you need to heal first before you find your mate. You won’t recognize her if you are still wrapped in grief.

Mate. Yes, he would find his mate.

He gestured to the pack, drawing them close. These were his family and together they would plan his escape, their future, and way to protect the pack and its children down through the ages - because at the end of the day that was the only real duty of an Alpha

Friday, May 20, 2016


Warbride is a Tyme setting story - following on from last week's post, Broken Seal. 
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz 3D, Photoshop and Filter Forge

“You’re insane, there’s no way we can successfully escape. How in the name of all the Gods do you think a mere woman could organize such a thing?”

Mere woman… The words struck hard and deep. “Because, despite everything, I’m still a warrior. I haven’t forgotten any of the skills I learned as a child or as a serving warrior. This world, your people, your King, may all believe that women are the weaker sex, lacking intelligence and abilities to match those of men, but that has - time and again - been the downfall of the Raiders.”

He sighed, rubbing at the back of his neck. “You know I don’t think that way, Elena. I’ve done everything possible to try and make life easier for you.” She looked up, narrowing her gaze as he continued. “Albeit within the confines of our ways. I’m one of the first to admit that, perhaps, our views on females is archaic, but I’ve never dismissed your abilities.”

And there it was, the sad reality. He didn’t even acknowledge the fact that he’d done just that moments before. 

Elena straightened her back, anger and determination rippling through her body. Too many years spent as his slave in all but name and yet there was a part of her that had come to love this man. A man who could have sold her off, or had her killed. The warrior, she had demanded an honorable death, but his people refused to accept that women could be warriors. It wasn’t honorable to be killed by a woman and there were only two fates acceptable for a woman taken in battle.

Slavery or a war bride.

Was it love, or was it survival? She didn’t want to look at that too closely. Yet the minute the idea stumbled into the forefront of her mind, Elena was forced to face the myriad of questions. If it had been love, was love, why did the idea of leaving him behind strike her as the only sane option?

He’s my husband.

Owner, not husband. She was a war bride.

Stop thinking like that. He kept me safe. He loved me, protect me, gave me every chance he could to remain true to myself. 

Had he? Her life hadn’t been easy. She’d fought him, struggled against the role she had been forced into and by the time she was pregnant with their son…


She swallowed hard and forced that word out of her mind. Her son. She loved him, always would. How could she ever do that with a child that had been forced upon her? Same with her daughters. Her beautiful, spirited daughters. Strong, eager to learn but if they stayed here…no, that was a fate she would protect them from at all costs.

To her knowledge she was the only current war bride among the Ontourians. Other women had been brought back only to later be sold, found to be too difficult to bend to the role of war bride. Her jaw tensed at the thought. She’d known some of the women, and in the years since she had accepted her role at his side, she’d been able to discover the eventual fates of those women, even though she had spent her years on one of the secondary worlds of their empire. Havis. An agricultural world for the most part. Farms, fishing, the supplier of food to many other worlds under the control of the Ontourian people.

All but two had died, killed by their masters for refusing to be properly submissive. Women she’d known, fought alongside of, trained and called sisters, friends - one had even been a lover many years ago. Now they were dead or broken to submission because of the way these people viewed women warriors. The men from her unit, they’d been killed or sold off as labor slaves. Two had been ransomed back to their home world, but they hadn’t been treated the same way as the women. The men, honorable warriors, no sexual slavery for them, no demeaning outfits or broken wills. Men were expected to fight back, it was the nature of being a man.

Women - to be killed by a woman was the second worst fate that could befall a man of Ontour. The first - being captured alive by one. If that happened, the man was deemed unworthy, no longer named and numbered as a warrior of Ontour. He lacked even the self-respect to kill himself before falling prisoner.

Raiders - nothing but evil bastards. Nothing will change them. They want to rule, to command all around them.

They hated that name. Her husband hated it, or so had been led to believe, but he had come to accept that she was right. Unless that was an act to help keep her obedient? No, she didn’t want to think about that. He’d been decent to her at times and… he was a Raider. They weren’t protectors on some great and noble cause. They were nothing but thieves, raiders, pirates and worse. Yet she’d been forced to accept her son would be trained and raised with those ideals. Her daughters nothing but potential marriage bait. Never to hold land in their own name, or even have the right to choose their own husbands. She’d been silent, withdrawn, played the game and even welcomed him into his bed.

There had been a good reason. I played the role. Did what I could. Now it’s time to leave. It had been worth it, every degradation paid for, small blows that struck at his people. That can’t be denied.

Nor did she even try, all that mattered during those years when escape hadn’t been a true option was the information she’d gathered and then passed on. In small pieces, hidden within personal messages to her family, she’d been able to send snippets of information. It wasn’t much but it was enough to let them know she was alive combined with snippets that might allow her friends and family the chance to fight back. The first time she’d realized it was working had been when Jarod had returned, venting about the attack that had failed, in a spectacular fashion.

That had only been the beginning.

Over the years she’d sent enough information back to be of worth, formed connections that she would now put to use, and built a network of women.

Something that the Ontourians had never thought to look into.

After all, weren’t the women of their households meek creatures, serving as they were commanded to do so? How could such beings be a threat within their own holdings? No, for the most part her network had remained safe. Only a handful had been discovered taking actions that were outside the boundaries allowed for either women of their status or women in general under the holdings of the Ontourians.

“All I have to do is alert my people and the ship will be ready. It’s not a war craft, obviously. That would have been too difficult to arrange but it will get us to safety.” At least, she believed it would. “Follow my lead and…” 

“Your lead? What are you talking about, woman? Your lead indeed, that’s insane. No one would buy it, even if we did manage to slip out of orbit without raising suspicions. No, this isn't going to work. How could you have a craft set aside? Who would trust you with such a thing? You have nothing to offer them, except a body that doesn’t belong to you - and no true Ontourian male would make a deal with a female. You know that. So, I ask again, where did you get the ship from?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, of course it does!” Jarod snarled, reaching out to grab her. His hands locked on her upper arms, the grip tight, fingers digging into her flesh. “You expect me to follow the plans of a woman? You may be, once, been a commander but you’ve been a female of Ontour for years now. One who has no rights or standing beyond the bounds of our marriage? How can I do that? Why would I put my family, all of my family, at risk by running?”

How many times had he laid hands on her? She’d become so used to it that she’d stopped fighting. Until now. She shuddered and forced herself to step back. Love. Had she ever truly been in love with this man?

The realization struck her, hard and deep. This man, this husband, was nothing like the man she might have taken as her own, one who would have fought by her side and welcomed her into his life. No, instead she had been forced to part her thighs and silence her tongue. An obedient and submissive wife in his bed and in his life.

A slave.

One without rights or a voice. Oh, sure, he’d let her speak - within reason - within the confines of their - his - chamber. Only on matters that he invited her to speak on. Even then she’d had to be careful. Speak in low, soft tones, bringing reason to the forefront. The one or two times that she had attempted to speak on matters outside of his guidance, he had growled, pushing her back and silencing her. The pushing had been, for the most part, emotional or mental, but there had been physical chastisements as well. Things she would never be able to forget.

Things she should never attempt to forget.

“Woman!” He growled. “Answer me. Now! Before I’m forced to remind you of your place in this life.”

“I have friends, ones who have stood at my side for a long time. People who wish to be free yet are held in chains by the laws and customs of your people.” She looked toward the door. “We are wasting time here. We need to leave now, the children will be ready within moments of being alerted, as will their mothers.” Not just women though, there were some men who would meet them. Once they had broken free of the planet’s gravity it wouldn’t take long to reach the larger ship. A vessel that would take them, safely, out of the system.

Her place. He had no idea of her place. How could he ever understand the life she had been forced to live? He had kept his status, his honor, his power - partially by stripping all of hers away. But she would heal, once she was free of this place, of him, she would heal. In the end, she would prove to be the stronger one.

“This is insane.” He turned away, stalking across the room. “I’ll have to present you to Marcus. It’s the only hope I have. Your daughters - they will be sold off but our son - he might be safe. Yes, as long as I swear the blood oath, he will be safe. He’s proven himself time and time again in his service to Marcus.”

Her daughters, not his. He won’t even acknowledge them as offspring. Fool. They love him, for all that he has treated them as disposable. Did he love them? Oh, how she had wanted to believe that he could, that he had, but now - the bitter truth danced naked and taunting before her eyes.

“No.” She raised her chin, knowing that the chains moved with her. They wouldn’t hold her back this time. She wouldn’t back down, the time for that, for kneeling, accepting his rules and the expectations of his people, was over. It was time to stand. “If you attempt to turn me in, I will name you compliant in all of this. You will be killed but first he’ll question you, in depth - and we both know what that means. I’ll simply be sold off.” Death would have been a blessing, a simple thing to endure but there was no point telling him that. It was something he’d never understand.

“Bitch! I’ve given you everything. Protected you. Sheltered you. Now you threaten me with betrayal when I’ve given you a son! What more could a woman want, than a son? The ultimate proof of favor! I could have turned to another woman, given her the status of wife, blessed her with the ability to give me an heir, but I kept only you as my true wife - even if you were nothing but a war bride.”

And there he was, still complaining instead of taking her advice and getting the hell out of here. Was the stupidity of his people that deeply ingrained in him? Why hadn’t she seen it before? I did, I just didn't want to acknowledge what I was seeing. Fool, I’ve been nothing but a fool by refusing to see what was happening right before my eyes. “You can either stand there and swear at me, or you can come with me, escape, find a chance at a new life.” Without her. Gods above and below, had she actually partially fallen for this guy? Oh hells no, she’d played a role, nothing more and… and now she was lying to herself.

Survival method. She could admit that. She’d found a way to survive. A part of her had broken, now it was time to reclaim who and what she was.

It was time to leave, even if he decided to stay, to obey the summons, she was leaving. There were others who would help remove the chains - not that she didn’t have access to the key herself if she wanted to pat Jarod down and retrieve it from his clothing. Would he whine or would he accept the chance to escape?

If he chose to stay, she would have to disable him in some way in order to prevent him from alerting to her escape. 

“What’s to stop me from slitting your throat, woman? You’re weaponless and your skills, long turned to rust with the lack of use. You wouldn’t be able to beat me, Elena,” for a moment his voice softened, a touch of concern flickering across his features. “Listen to sense. If you tell me the entirety of it, we can hand Marcus the traitors and it might change everything in our favor.”

Another lie, and she knew it. Even if Jarod was forgiven, she wouldn’t be. He wanted his position, his power, and if that meant sacrificing her in order to retain his status, then he would do just that. Perhaps he was right, at least as far as he was concerned. Turning over an entire nest of traitors, claiming he had been watching his wife, waiting for the right moment when he could reveal all of her secrets to his King, then there was a chance that he would not only be absolved of all wrong doing but even rewarded.

“If you’d wanted to do that, you would have done so already. Just as you could have called in your guards and denounced me.” He’d opened the message, which meant Marcus - or whomever was monitoring the messages - now knew he had read it. They were, even if he was unaware of it, running out of time.

Silence filled the small office, weighing heavy on her shoulders. Doubts rippled through the back of her mind, yet she knew better than to let it show. Strange, once she had commanded warriors, never doubting her actions but now…

A soft life, one where decisions had been removed from her. Another thing he’d done to her.

I let him do this to me by not pushing for death. I knew the risks of living here, knew the dangers, yet I didn’t fight back hard enough. She had fought, but perhaps not enough. Gods above and below - I can’t back down now.

“Fine, if you truly believe we can escape, then let us be away.” His tone sharp. “Take us away from all of this.”

He wouldn’t survive outside of this place, even if he wanted to - and it was clear that he wasn’t going to try and escape with her. He was pretending, an attempt to gain the information that he wanted. Damn him. He was forcing her hand. His ways, no matter how a part of her wanted to believe otherwise, would set him apart. “You will need to listen to me, the contacts are mine, and they will not look to you for instructions.”

“Bullshit, they will listen to me soon enough, I rule here, men command not women. It will be a simple thing for them to look to me and if you were honest with yourself, then you would accept that instead of fighting me every step of the way.” He shook his head and moved toward the door. “Gather what you need.”

Elena met his gaze and reached for the small data pad she carried in a pouch on her hip. A pad that all of the senior members of his household carried, but hers had been adapted. One person with the right skills and the willingness to help her had been enough to tip the balance in her favor. She smiled, Jarod would rage once he found out who had been the source of her technical assistance. Still, it couldn’t be helped now. Without looking away, she opened the pad, found the right screen and sent the alert to the men and women she had built into a small network.

“What are you doing?” He stalked toward her, reaching out for the data pad. “Give that to me. Now.”

She didn’t blink, didn’t look away from him. “No. From this point on you are no longer in command. Get used to that now, husband.” She granted him the title, though once they were safe that would all change. Won’t it? Gods, it would have to. She’d given up so much with him, albeit through force, that she couldn’t remain with him. All of the lies, the masks she had worn in order to protect herself and her children, fell away.

“What did… woman this is the wrong time for you to flex your muscles.” He reached for the data pad, determination written across his features.

Elena blocked his attempt, her jaw set. If he continued to push she wouldn’t be able to let him escape with her, not even to then dump him later.

Would that be such a bad thing? He doesn’t belong with me, with my people - and he doesn’t want to leave his home. Anyone with eyes would see that.

She’d spent years in his bed, giving him children, care and support. A part of her had become… used to him. She swallowed. Hard. Shake it off, I’m running out of time here. I won’t let him hold me back any longer.

It was time to regain her strength, confidence and power.

“Give it to me.”

“Flex my muscles?” She sighed, taking a step back. “Jarod, husband, breathe, stop and think. If we are to escape, if we are to find a life elsewhere, in a place where we are both free, then you need to listen to me. This is the only way we have a chance of pulling through this.” The message had been sent, the alert given to the team that she had built. Husband - he was never that. Not in any real sense of the word.

“You are nothing in all of this. Give me the data pad, woman. I’m done with your defiance.” Anger colored his cheeks as he reached out for her. “Even in this you will obey me, you will submit to me, as is only right and proper. You’ll give me the pad and the names of everyone involved in this traitor’s scheme!”

And there it was. The reality. He had no desire to leave, no plan on following through with the escape. All a ruse, a means to lull her into sharing information with him. She couldn’t let him do this, wasn’t prepared to surrender her children to the life she had been forced to live. Her people would be waiting for her and…

“You damned foolish slut!” He snarled, grabbing for her.

Even with the chains in place she was able to react. She darted to the left, ducking under the attempt as she swept out with one foot, knocking his legs out from under him. All of the years spent in chains she had practiced moving, walked through the kata’s that had been drummed into her from childhood, adapting them to the length and confines of the chains. She hadn’t wanted it to come to this, but he was leaving her with no other choice. He was too erratic and would put not only herself but her children and her friends at risk.

He stumbled, tripping, a curse spilling from his lips.

She moved behind him before there was a chance for him to recover, straddling him as she dropped her knees, and the full weight of the strike, on the small of his back. He cried out, his years away from the field enough to give her a true advantage. One she used. Silently she wrapped the chains that connected her wrists around his neck and pulled, cutting off his air. No second chances. She had to finish this now. The blow against his back had been placed in a way that she hoped would partially numb his legs. Not a given but the shock of the blow would help.

He struggled beneath her, his hands clawing at the chains.

A part of her wanted to give him a painless death, but he’d prevented that. Strangling someone, even with a chain, was not a quick death. She pulled, her knees digging into his back the chain crushing into his throat, digging into his windpipe. He moved, struggling beneath her, twisting and only the years of practice gave her the chance to finish this.

Tears burned in her eyes even as her muscles ached, sweat beading across her skin. Her grip on the chains threatened to slip but she didn’t give up. Didn’t dare to stop until she felt the struggles not just ease, but cease. Even then she held on, kept the tension on the chains. She had to be sure, couldn’t give him a chance to get back up and only when she tasted salt on her lips, did she finally let go.

A quick check, a touch of fingers to throat and a count of thirty to see if there was a pulse, confirmed he was dead.

Shaking she unlooped the chain, got to her feet and stepped back, her gaze fixed on the body.

Husband. I killed my husband.

No, not husband, captor, master, the man who had taken away her freedom because he’d wanted her. He hadn’t even been willing to grant her an honest death.

Elena shook, her stomach rolling, nausea sweeping through her body. What was wrong with her? She’d killed him, killed an enemy, something she’d done before…

I was his and he was mine. We had children together…

The kids. She blinked and wiped at her eyes. Tears. She couldn’t afford to show anyone her tears. Nor could she waste anymore time. There were children to see to, they came first and it was for them that she went to the small restroom off his office and cleansed her hands and face. A wipe took care of the sweat, a touch of cosmetics - which she’d used before after he’d taken his pleasure from her in the office - then hid the flush and marks of strain across her features.

Head up, back straight and features composed, Elena stepped out of the office, closing the door firmly behind her.

Gavin turned away from his console, rising as he did so. “They will meet us in the landing bay, lady.” He inclined his head slightly.

Gavin, the most important piece in the puzzle. A man of Ontour who, like her, had been birthed by a woman not of these people. A woman who had risked everything to teach him the differences between how the Raiders treated people, and how the other planets treated their people, all of their people. His presence had been a saving grace.

“Is he - I mean…”

“No,” she knew what he was asking and didn’t make the mistake of looking back. That part of her life was over. Her son might never forgive her but by killing Jarod and not reaching out to her son, she was protecting him. There would be no trail that could lead back to him, that would put him at risk of being marked as a traitor like his mother - at least as far as their laws were concerned. I will lose him but will save his sisters.

Head up, back straight, her tears and grief buried for now, she walked away to the docking bay, the ship, the chance of freedom and a safer life with her daughters…