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~:: Endgame ::~
Chapter VIII

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They were not halfway home when Dawl's cell shattered the silence. A harried Zakai was almost yelling into the phone. "Something is wrong. Sheken is gone. But I don't think she left on her own. Her purse is on her dresser, and she was wearing those Capri pants that she sleeps in. You know, the ones that Dani got her for Christmas last year. She hates those pants, mother. She'd never wear them out in public."

"What about the alarm?" His mother was almost screaming by now.

"We had to disable it. Somehow it kept malfunctioning. It kept going off. Each time there was no reason for it to be going off but…" his voice trailed as he realized that there must have been something, or someone. "We were afraid the neighbors would get mad and call the manager, or even worse, the police."

"It's okay, baby," Dawl said soothingly. "You did the what you thought was right. We will be home shortly. We are almost there."

"Almost home?"

"Yes, I had a feeling, and, well, your dad decided to bring me back home."

"Hurry, mom." She could hear the frantic edge in his voice.

"I will, Zakai, don't worry." She swallowed a lump in her throat that tasted like a mixture of bile and raw fear. Turning to Keres, she croaked out two words in a hoarse whisper. "She's gone."

Her head was throbbing so badly she thought it might explode. The drug coursing through her system left her groggy and disoriented as she tried to break the surface of the drowning pool of unconsciousness in which she found herself mired. Her body felt stiff and sore as she struggled to shift position. Immediately she realized that something was preventing her movements. A blinding flash of terror brought her to instant lucidity as adrenaline surged through her body. She began to struggle against her bonds but the tape held fast.

He stood over her, watching silently and fighting the urge to try to calm her. Turning his back he silently stole from the room. She thrashed around for several minutes before she realized that she wasn't getting anywhere. The tape over her mouth pulled painfully at her soft skin as she strove to break free.

Tears of frustration stung her eyes as her mind whirled trying to get some kind of bearing on the situation. Taking a deep breath through her nose, it suddenly came to her. She was back in the Rogue Isles. She could smell the latent aromas of salty air, fish, and crude oil mingled with other scents that indicated she'd somehow returned to the dwelling of the villain who had formerly been her benefactor.

She became still for a moment as she paused, trying to make some sense of the situation. How had she gotten back there? Could this be some kind of bizarre nightmare? Had she ever really left?

Hearing her movement cease, he crept unseen back into the room and watched her. Her brow was furrowed in deep concentration. He suspected she might be trying to muster enough psionic energy to mount a counterattack. Circling the sofa, he slipped behind her and pulled a second syringe from his pocket.

She felt a sudden burning sensation as the needle found its mark in the soft flesh of her gently rounded bottom. Within moments, she found her ability to concentrate was gone. Her thoughts became disjointed and broken.

He smiled. Unlike the tranquilizer, this drug wouldn't render her completely unconscious. It merely interfered with her synaptic functions so that she could not maintain enough control to focus her mental energies.

She couldn't see him, but she new he was nearby. Panic overtook her as she renewed her struggle with mindless thrashing. Twisting violently, she managed to throw herself from the sofa and landed with a dull thud on the hard floor.

Stepping around the sofa, he grabbed her by one thick horn. "I suggest you settle down before you hurt yourself," he hissed through clenched teeth.

He picked her up and tossed her back onto the sofa. Ducking into the kitchen, he returned with a cellphone. Moments after tapping out a sequence on the keypad, he lifted the phone to his ear. "Let Naimah know that I have her," was all he said.

Naimah! She screamed something unintelligible against the tape that covered her mouth. Sheken knew now that something was terribly wrong, if her wicked cousin was involved. Tears stung her eyes as she turned her head towards the back of the sofa.

Now all he had to do was wait for word from Naimah that the girl had served her purpose. He looked over at her small form as she attempted to curl up into a fetal position on his couch. Then he could… no, he couldn't even bring himself to think it. For the first time in his entire career, he felt icy fingers of self-doubt wrapping themselves around his psyche. He shuddered visibly and stormed from the room, trying to shake himself of the feeling of dread that choked him every time his mind focused on the assignment at hand.

Somehow he found himself in the kitchen as he opened a dusty door inside his pantry. Seldom did he over-indulge in spirituous liquors, but right now he felt a compelling need to numb the incredible surge of long-forgotten emotions. He poured himself a good four fingers of the amber fluid and brought the glass to his lips. Taking a deep draught, he coughed as the drink seared his throat on its way to land with a burning splash in the churning pit of his stomach. The mere fumes seemed to scorch the membranes of his nose causing his eyes to water profusely. Closing them tight, the protective flood of saline somehow morphed into a full blown torrent of tears.

Marcus, what are you doing? This is just another job. You have to deal with this. Stop allowing these foolish emotions to cloud your reasoning. He fought inwardly with himself, but the feelings were overpowering as he leaned against the counter and pressed his face against the cold metal of refrigerator. Tears were flowing like the fire hydrants in Brooklyn in the summer days of his youth. He felt weak and powerless to regain control over his own grief.

He drained the last of the glass and refilled it once more. The second swill went down far more smoothly, probably due to the liquid fire scarring his poor throat, he thought bitterly. He lifted the glass twice more, and found it empty. The third fill almost drained his supply. He lifted the bottle to his lips and tilted it skyward to drain the last drops. In a flash of frustration, he turned and violently cast the empty bottle in the direction of the small wooden box that served as his makeshift waste bin. His aim was off and instead it struck the corner and promptly shattered, spewing sparkling slivers of shattered glass across the floor. He growled under his breath as he tipped the drink to his lips, draining the entire thing in one long gulp.

The sound of the shattering glass startled Sheken into a fresh round of hysterics. Once more she thrashed hard enough to cast herself from the couch onto the cold floor.

He wiped his lips with the back of his hand and spun to head in the direction of the thump. Entering the room, he watched her writhe violently. So much so, that she'd actually torn the flesh on her tender wrists.

She knew her hands were wet but couldn't tell if it was sweat or blood that coated her fingers as she struggled to try to free them from their bonds. The pain of tape tearing at her raw flesh was lost to the sea of panic she was drowning in.

Bending down, he hoisted her up. If he laid her on the couch, her blood would end up all over it. Right now it was confined to a small smear on the tiny rug that laid in front of the sofa.

"Stop it," he barked, to no effect. "I said STOP IT," he growled loudly as his hand came up to collide with the soft skin of her cheek. Instantly she went limp in his arms, sobbing hysterically.

He dragged her into the bathroom and shoved her roughly down on the commode, while he turned to adjust the flow of water in the shower.

"I should throw your silly ass in there clothes and all," he muttered darkly.

The voice in the back of his mind reminded him that a sharp blade could easily cut through clothing. Through the alcoholic haze that was fogging the clarity of his mind like a mirror in a sauna, this suddenly seemed like a very good idea. Turning on his heels, he stumbled from the room only to return wielding the flashing steel of his katana.

"Hold still," he growled darkly, as he ran the point of his weapon along her shoulders. Even inebriated, he wielded his katana with a grace that came from years of discipline and practice. The thin material of her t-shirt was no match for the finely honed blade. She held her breath as she felt the cold point of steel lightly graze her warm skin. Her heart pounded in her chest so hard she was sure he could hear it. She trembled as she waited for the razor sharp steel break the surface of her creamy skin. Instead, he blithely slit the seams of her shirt along the shoulder line with the skill of an expert swordsman. The ruined shirt slid off her shoulders and down over her breasts, to pool around her waist. One cut up her right side freed it so that he could toss it to the floor. He turned his attention to the thin fabric of the pair of Capri pants she was wearing. Starting at one hip, he traced the seam with his weapon. She shuddered in fear but knew better than to make any sudden movements. Relieving her of the undergarments was far simpler. One quick slash between her soft breasts and another atop each shoulder and the remants of what had once been her bra joined the rest of her ruined wardrobe on the floor. The tiny strings at the hips of her bikini panties were even less of a task to overcome. Tugging the ruined scrap of material from beneath her, he chuckled softly as he tossed the last vestige of her modesty onto the pile.

Her breath caught in her throat as he devoured her with his eyes. She could read his thoughts through the lust in his eyes, and prayed that he would just kill her quickly. Instead, he gently lifted her in his arms and clumsily made his way across the room. He carefully deposited her under the warm trickle of water flowing from the showerhead. She gasped as the droplets pelted her and winced as he soaped up his hands and washed the blood from her wrists. The cuts weren't deep but she'd managed to rub both wrists raw enough that application of soap caused an immediate caustic burning.

Looking across the bathroom, he tried to judge the likelihood of her staying upright while he went to the medicine chest for some salve. With her feet bound tightly at the ankles, it might be hard for her to maintain her balance, he reasoned. Grabbing his blade, he slit the tape and in one fluid motion, pulled it from around her ankles. Reaching out with his other hand, he steadied her to keep her from falling. She widened her stance and opened her eyes.

"Don't try anything," he commanded her in a deep voice that indicated that he meant what he said.

Returning with some salve, he cut the tape binding her wrists and gently applied the soothing ointment to the raw flesh beneath. Her chest heaved with each sobbing breath but she made no other move to avoid his ministrations.

Once he'd finished, his attention was no longer focused on the torn skin at her wrists. The water glistened on her pale skin, and her red locks clung damply to her horns and to the sides of her face. With a shaking finger he traced the line of her jaw. Grabbing the edge of the tape that cover her mouth, he gave one swift tug. She felt the tape separate from her tender skin in a flash of pain. Instinctively she reached up and put a hand over her mouth, softly rubbing the reddened skin.

He leaned so close she could smell the sour stench of alcohol on his breath. She trembled violently with fear as she hung her head and tried to focus on the water as it swirled around the drain.

A burning urge flared up within him as the booze surged through him and numbed any vestige of inhibitions he might have harbored. All he could think of was the fact that he wanted her now and she was there for the taking. You may do whatever you wish to her while she is in your possession, short of killing her. Consider that a fringe benefit. Naimah's words echoed in his drink-clouded consciouness.

She winced as she heard the sound of a zipper. Hot tears mingled freely with the warm water tricking down her face. She tried to force her mind to rally an attack in her defense but the injection he'd given her had her thoughts so muddled that even a weak dart of psionic energy was impossible to muster. She was completely at his mercy. All she could do was close her eyes and cry as his damp clothing joined what had been her own on the cool tile.

He stumbled into the shower, tripping on the sill and nearly knocking both of them to the floor. Catching himself on the towel bar, he pulled her water-slicked body close to him. He spun her around to face him as he covered her mouth with his own. She choked as his vile breath mingled with her own as his tongue parted her lips and pressed hard against her clenched teeth. Wordlessly, he slammed her back against the back wall of the shower and reached under her legs to lift her up onto his hips. She was crying furiously now as she struggled to no avail. Still disoriented and weak from the chemicals he'd injected into her bloodstream, she was no match for his superior strength. Shaking her head violently she broke away from his invasive kiss, gulping for air between deep sobs as her world began to fade to black. The last thing she remembered was him pressing his weight against her as he pinned her warm flesh up against the cold tile wall.

To Chapter IX