With a labored groan, he forced himself up. His hands met his face as his palms massaged the flesh of his cheeks and brow. Everything hurt, especially the long, raw burns that collected around his collar. His prolonged sleep had helped to rest his mind, but his body would need a few additional days to recover. As his arms fell to his sides, he noticed the objects he had first seen upon his awakening were actually things that would help him. A pail of water, a towel, and large chunks of stale bread all sat untouched on a tray. Someone had been in his stable room while he was asleep, and he had never known it. He must have been very tired.
Reaching forward, he grabbed the pail of water and drank deeply. Liquid streamed out of the corners of his mouth and down his dirty chest as his eyes closed. The water was old, but it was clean and refreshing. By the time he had finished, he realized the water was most likely meant for washing himself off rather than quenching his aged thirst. He dipped the towel in the pail and soaked up what was left and began to pat his face and throat with great care.
A sudden stabbing pain raged through his neck, making him drop the towel and flinch backwards as if he had been slapped across the face by some invisible entity standing in front of him. His eyes closed tightly when the memory of his near-death experience ran quickly through his mind. The unimaginable pain, the inability to control his body or its functions, the blinding light and choking sensation of his lungs being rendered useless, the darkness that followed as his heart and brain struggled to remain alive. His chest rose and fell rapidly as he hugged his knees close. Did he really survive what William had meant to be an execution? Part of him wished it would have killed him, as the humiliation, defeat, and hopelessness he now felt was nearly unbearable.
He slowed his breathing and rested his chin on top of his knees as his ears listened to the world. The dawn of night brought on an eerie silence. He secretly wished for company; to hear a familiar, friendly voice. But none came. His eyes ran along the shadows cast by the bars over his window on the floor, which seemed to point directly to his locked stable room door. His mind knew that he was no longer in the Hole, but it was difficult for him to find comfort in knowing he was still caged.
At some point in the night, Seven had found his mattress and curled himself into a defensive ball against the wall. His sleep was restless this time as his mind began to recover the memories of his experience in the forest. Nightmares of being electrocuted startled him awake over and over throughout the night. The sun rising went unnoticed until the heat of the morning made him uncurl atop the mattress. With care, his legs stretched beyond the dirty fabric of his bed as he rolled over to look at the stable door. Still locked. Still silent outside. Where was everyone? Why had he not heard or seen Three or Six? Did William relocate them somewhere, or were they just avoiding him? His eyes drifted away from the door and lifted to the ceiling as he stretched his arms above him.
And that is when he saw it.
At first, he thought he was still dreaming. How could he see the starry night sky through the ceiling of the barn in the middle of the day? Confusion and wonder replaced his sorrows as he tried to push himself to his feet. His body ached and neck burned, but not as bad as before. He could not take his eyes off of the brightly-colored ceiling. Was this real? A closer inspection upon standing verified that yes, he was seeing the night sky. But it was made of paint.
Deep blues and blacks stretched across the section of wooden planks just above his mattress. No where else. The faux sky was dotted with white stars and splashes of pinks, purples, and cool greens. While it was not an exact replica of the view from his home planet, it was moderately close when working from only a vague description. And he had only told one person about that view and what it meant to him. A sore, tired, yet grateful smile inched its way across his muzzle as he continued to stare in wonder at what was created for him. The comfort and reassurance that it brought to him helped his body ache just a little less. The memories of the nights he spent staring up at such a sky back home helped repair his broken mind just a little more. And the realization that someone on this planet cared about him made him want to live.
Seven's ear caught the hushed sound coming from the window. For the first time in several minutes, his eyes drifted away from the ceiling and examined the world beyond the bars. He approached with caution and saw the squatted form of Six trying to get his attention. He was obviously up to no good, as his eyes continued to dart nervously around, yet he maintained that mischievous, toothy grin. Seven had to admit he was glad to see him.
"Six? What are you doing out there?" he asked as his hands wrapped around the hot bars of his window.
"Getting into trouble, what else?" The Iboa hissed a laugh and continued to move his ears around frantically in the hopes of catching any sign that Two or Three were coming closer. He heard nothing. "How are you feeling? Are you okay?"
"Hungry," said Seven in a neutral tone. He did not elaborate on his experience in the Hole or give any indication of the nightmare he had been living the past several days. "Are they going to let me out of here, or what?"
"I dunno. William's here, but leaving tonight. Probably let you out before he goes, but..." Six's cat-like ears were both moving in unison now and aimed in the direction of the house. "Uh-oh, someone's coming! Gotta go, talk later."
"Hey, wait!" Seven shook the bars of the window and watched as Six's tail disappeared beyond his range of vision. With a grunt, he listened as the outer door of the stable opened and footsteps approached his room. Fear and anger filled him as his back met the wall. At first, he wanted to be as far away from the door as possible -- and then he realized his visitor was a small human girl.
"Oh good, you're awake," said the soft, gentle voice of Ari. Seven wanted to race up to her and question her about the painting, but before he could leave the security of the wall, he saw someone behind her. William.
"Ah, so he is." Seven's neck hair rose like hackles as his eyes locked on to the person that now haunted his dreams. Without hesitation, William unlocked the stable room door and entered before Ari had the chance. She followed obediently behind him and avoided looking up. "And how are we feeling today? Rehabilitated?"
Seven did not speak.
"Oh come now, I thought we were beyond the silent treatment phase. I suppose Kazekians are only capable of begging for their lives in the presence of others." William's hands stayed buried in his pockets as he delivered his taunts. Seven was too jaded to try anything as long as William had control over his collar. Not speaking was the only form of retaliation he could afford to use.
“Have it your way. You can just listen.” William took a few more calculated steps closer before continuing. “There is no point in harboring ill-will towards me. You needed to be broken, and until you prove otherwise, I will assume my therapy methods were successful and you will never try to defy me again. If you would like to prove me wrong about you being broken, now is your chance to do so.”
William spread his arms out beside him, as if to prove he had no weapon in either hand that could be used if Seven attacked. But Seven knew better, and that was what hurt him more than any form of electrocution. He knew better. He really was broken. As William took a couple more steps closer, Seven did as well. But it was not because he wanted to attack or to intimidate his captor. Instead, he wanted to protect the gift that Ari had given him and shield it from view. His plan worked.
“Good. Then we have an understanding and you admit you are mine. You don't need to say so, as your actions-–or lack of-- tell me all I need to know. Now, down to business.” William crossed his arms behind his back and locked his wrists together before continuing. It was yet another display of his confidence and dominance that made Seven's lip curl. “In case it is not clear, I have decided to keep you. I paid good money for you and I expect you to earn some of it back. You have a fight in two days. You will get cleaned up and will regain your strength before my return. When you go into the Ring, you will win. Your life depends on it.”
William's eyes stayed locked on Seven's as the two silently fought for dominance. Seven did not respond or agree to his terms, but knew he was serious about his threat and what the stakes were for the fight.
“Ari.” William's eyes never lifted when he spoke. As soon as Ari stepped up beside him, he continued. “You will be Seven's escort. He is not to leave this room without you, nor is he allowed to walk the grounds without this on.”
Both Seven and Ari watched as William pulled a short, thin leash from his pocket. Seven had never seen such a thing, but already did not like the looks of it. In another display of his dominance, William reached for him and clipped the leash to the thick metal ring on the front of his collar without hesitation or concern. Seven had stiffened at the gesture but could not bring himself to swat his hand away as he normally would. It was the last reminder of how trained he had become. He examined the length of the leash and realized it was similar in function to the reins Ari used to tow Marge around the farm. As if his feelings of degradation could not get any worse.
“There we are,” said William contently as he dropped the other end of the leash into Ari's hand. She looked between the two of them as her small fingers curled around the thin loop that was meant to fit around her wrist. She could feel Seven's eyes on her, yet she did not meet them. He wondered if she felt as uncomfortable about this arrangement as he did, but he was quietly grateful that William had not dropped the end of the leash into Reece's hands.
“You are never to leave him alone when he is outside of this room or to remove this leash at any point. Keep that end looped around your wrist at all times. If you see him without it or if he makes any attempt to remove it, you will notify me immediately. Is that understood?” William stared at her with the same sense of dominance as he did when he spoke to the other Drudges.
“Yes, William. I understand.” Her obedient response was met with a nod as her husband turned to leave the stable room.
“Escort him to the river so he can get cleaned up. And once he is finished, take him up to the house and feed him. He needs to build up his strength and energy, so be sure he eats and gets some exercise. I will be back in two days.” Both Seven and Ari watched as William strode confidently out of the room without waiting for her response. As soon as she was sure he had left the barn entirely, Ari spoke.
“I'm so sorry I have to do this to you, I...” she looked down with disdain at the leash's looped end. Seven could see she was not happy about this arrangement. Humans carried so much emotion in their eyes.
“It could be worse, believe me. If I had to choose between you or Reece, I'd rather you be holding the other end of this thing.” Seven tried to be optimistic, but it was difficult for him. Ari attempted to smile.
“I guess that's true. Sort of weird how I'm the one who has to escort you around now, huh? Are you...okay?” He could see that she was trying to ask this carefully. In truth, he could see more questions being asked in her eyes than in her voice.
“I'm fine. I've been through worse.” He lied.
“Why don't we go on down to the river, then, if you're feeling up to it. I bet cleaning yourself off will make you feel better.” Ari turned to walk back out of the room, but the leash tightened and she was forced to stop suddenly.
“Wait.” Seven remained motionless. He had to ask her now before they left. “Did you...do this?”
Ari followed his line of vision as he turned his head to look up at the ceiling. She took a step forward and examined it closely. Before he could turn to look back at her, her eyes found the floor. He sensed that emotion he had come to know as embarrassment in the way she stood and refused to look at him.
“I...yes, I did that. But Six helped me get the boards up there. It's not very good though since I don't have a lot of colors to paint with. I...sort of ran out of blue halfway through. ” When she finally looked up at him, she was met with a silent, appreciative smile. It reassured her that her gift was well-received without him needing to say so. “I'm glad you like it.”
No further discussion or explanation was needed. Together, the two left the stable room and headed down to the river. Seven could not wait to leave his cage and could not ask for better company.
Summer was beginning to come to an end, as Ari explained that the river may be a bit cooler than usual. For a majority of their walk, Seven had remained silent and just listened as she explained seasons to him and what he could expect to see as they changed. He was grateful for her company and finally felt comfortable and safe again. The leash was not something that he liked, but he was certain she would not abuse it or use it as a way to make him feel worse. For now, he chose to ignore it.
“Here we go, this looks like a nice spot. I brought a clean pair of coveralls for you and a towel. We'll just throw away the old ones. I don't think they are worth--” Ari's voice stopped suddenly after she finished hanging both items on a low tree branch and turned to look at him. Seven had completely dropped his filthy, soiled pants to the ground at his feet. Nothing else remained to shield his naked body from her eyes. Before he had a chance to fully turn around to face her, Ari turned away with a startled gasp. She felt her cheeks flush hot and red as her fingers covered her mouth in embarrassment. Seven was unfazed.
“I...okay then, well, enjoy your bath!” She moved to walk away quickly, but forgot the end of the leash was still wrapped around her wrist. She stopped moving as soon as she felt the tug. “Oh, right, I should take this off so you can--”
“William told you not to. I wouldn't recommend it.” Seven turned fully around to face her. He wasn't sure why she was acting so strangely and refusing to look at him. He thought her diverted eyes were from embarrassment, but she was also giggling a lot and obviously anxious. “Are you okay?”
“Oh yes, I'm totally fine. Totally,” she said with a smothered, uncomfortable laugh. “And you're right, I would hate for him to see me disobeying his orders so soon after giving them to me. Let's go down to the river a bit.”
Seven canted his head at her curiously as she walked towards him with her hand to her face. It acted as a blinder, much like the ones Two used on Marge before taking her into town. But what was she trying to avoid looking at? Him? He decided not to question her further and instead approached the river bank. Slowly, he entered, and noticed Ari only chose to look at him when the water level came up above his waist. Ah, now he understood.
“Have you never seen a Kazekian naked before?” he asked casually as he began to scrub his arms. Ari had found a small pile of boulders that protruded out of the river's surface to sit upon. It allowed her to stay dry while he bathed and gave him enough room to move around while leashed.
“Ha, uh, no. No, not really. I mean it's totally fine and I'm not weird about it. I've seen plenty of guys naked before and...it's fine.” Her thoughts seemed so unusually scattered to him. He tried not to smile or show any form of amusement towards her now obvious embarrassment. As he scrubbed his chest and stomach, he watched her play with her hair, as if to distract herself from what they were talking about.
“Nudity isn't something to be ashamed of. Where I come from, it's rather common, and clothes are only meant to protect the body from the elements, not conceal ourselves. Most Kazekian males especially don't wear clothes, as it rubs against the dentricles.” It seemed odd for Seven to be the one speaking more than her for once.
“Dentricles? Is that like...what you call them down there...?” Little did Seven know, but his explanation was making the situation worse. “Actually, I don't think I want to know any more...”
“Down there...?” Seven looked at her, confused, but noticed she was stifling a laugh. It took him a moment to realize what she thought he had meant. “Oh no no, the dentricles are on my skin. All Kazekians have them, but they are more dense on the males than our females. Here, feel.”
Seven approached her perch in the water and reached out to take her hand. He could feel her tense and wanting to pull away, but she allowed him to pull her arm towards him. He placed her flat palm on his bare chest and guided it up towards his throat. She relaxed when she felt the dentricles he spoke of and looked up with curiosity in her eyes.
“Oh, wow, I see what you mean. It feels so rough, but only in one direction.” Her hand no longer needed guidance and continued to rub up and down on his pectoral. “It's so smooth this way, but like sand paper the other. How interesting. They almost remind me of goosebumps, but more sharp.”
“That's why we don't like to wear shirts. We ruin them, for one, and they are uncomfortable when they constantly rub against us. Dentricles are good in a fight, though, since they raise up when we're pumped and can cut an enemy that brushes against us or tries to hit us.” Ari's hand slid down his chest to his stomach as she continued to explore the dentricles' territory. It seemed to only cover the most vulnerable parts of his trunk, like his ribs and abdomen. They were less dense near his sides, but thickened towards his shoulders and tops of his arms. Ari began to wonder if all Kazekians were as completely ripped and so firmly built as Seven. He was lean and slender, yet built solidly of defined muscle. It took her a moment to snap out of it and realize she was no feeling him for just dentricles.
“Uh, I'm sorry...” she said quietly. “That's very neat and I had no idea your skin had such a feature. Though I personally prefer the smoother side. It's like silk.”
Slowly and carefully, she pulled her arm back towards her side and looked up at him. He had an expression she had not seen before, and she wondered how long he had been staring at her with it. His eyes were intense and focused on her, as if she were a lone doe standing in an open meadow and he the predator watching from the brush. She maintained eye contact for as long as she could, but felt her eyes instinctively fall to stare at the ripples of water bouncing off of the rocks she rested upon. She didn't feel scared of him, more like...hunted? He maintained the same distance from her until she spoke.
“You should probably finish up so we can get you something to eat.” Even her voice carried a distinct tone of submission and hesitation.
“I am pretty hungry.” Whether or not he was actually referring to food was a mystery to her. She knew what he was doing and she was not sure how she felt about it. Was he trying to flirt with her? If so, he was doing a hell of a job. Ari's mouth became dry, which made it difficult for her to swallow the lump of fear that had begun to grow in her throat. It was not a fear of him hurting her, but more a fear of her own feelings of desire.
"I'll get your towel," her whispered words fell on deaf ears as Seven moved closer to her place on the rock. Now she was simply speaking to try and distract him from the moment, but it was not working. She watched as his real hand rose out of the cool waters of the river and very lightly grazed the goose-pimpled flesh of her bare arm. She was so soft. Never had he felt such soft, perfect skin before. His robotic arm soon joined his other in rising out of the water, but he placed it on the rock on her opposite side, which thoroughly kept her from escaping the situation. He could practically smell her submission to his dominance, but noted she did not seem to want to escape.
The voice was foreign to his ears and did not match anyone he had met on the farm. His pupils dilated as he turned to glare over his shoulder at the owner, who stood looking rather dumbfounded at what he had stumbled upon. It was another human and one he was already not particularly fond of for interrupting. Although, strangely, this human was wearing a collar much like his own. Seven fought back a snarl as Ari looked over his arm to see who had called for her. The blush in her cheeks began to fade as she waved nervously to their visitor.
"Oh, hi Four..."
Here it is, the long-awaited Part 15!
In case this part makes no sense, and you are wondering wtf a "dentricle" is, a more detailed description can be found by clicking here. As for the rest of this chapter, well...I think the fangirls may enjoy it. The fanboys? Well, maybe not as much, but it gets better guys, lol. I'm beat, so this is all the description you will get from me unless I think of something to add tomorrow. D:
Enjoy, and the next part will be posted in early November!
Artwork, Characters, and Story © Quaylak
Daww, I almost got tear-eyed when I realized that Ari painted the picture of night sky just for Seven. It was so sweet! And Four actually appears! Since he was mentioned only once and was never seen, I just assumed that both Four and One had died at some point before. Turned out I was wrong…
again great story! can't wait for the next part! this one sent chills down my back. good chills
And thank you, I'm glad you liked it!