Chapter one: Hikaru
"I'm sorry, Hikaru. I love you. I truly do "
Her father's trembling voice whispered to her, somehow: dancing on the night's winds. She didn't recall the words in the morning, and nor did she see the man who'd spoken them. In fact, Heather Hikaru noticed only two things that day: the dark, empty halls of her suburban home, more lonesome than she'd ever known them And mother's tears: that steady, unending flow of pure, refined misery
One clear drop for every crimson one he'd shed. Life drained away, just like her joy, and that final letter, crumpled and wet in her shaking hands.
And Heather didn't understand it then, but there was something to be said of two lovers torn apart; souls that lost their mate. The barefoot eight-year-old could never hope to console her mother, nor grasp her father's reasons for leaving; destroying everything his family held dear, but she did realize just one thing.
I don't ever wanna fall in love.
A childish wish to last a decade. A stubborn refusal of all that was true and ordained.
Through the years she bore that wound; carved by her father's own hands. She'd hated him for leaving and cursed his very breath. Swore to be nothing, nothing like him. But at the very same time? Tread accidentally in his tracks. She remembered the terror of the water and pressure at her chest, slick black tentacles and glowing red eyes.
Murky green water that robbed all heat. All thought.
Chapter One: Hikaru
Disgusting. On instinct Heather coughed up the putrid lake water, nearly choking on the aftertaste alone. Her lungs seemed to scream for the dank air that filled them then; relieved by precious oxygen even with the bitter aftertaste of seaweed and blood.
Once she'd caught her breath, the dizzy teenager tried to get her bearings as well. She seemed to be laying facedown on what felt like a cold, hardwood floor. Something was wound around her wrists, keeping them tied behind her back, and the blank darkness that met her usually sharp brown eyes remained solid, hinting that she must have been blindfolded as well.
Just as she opened her mouth, attempting to cry out even despite the biting gag between her teeth, something cut her off: the loud, boasting voice of a man.
"Well done my Pet! That's two humans you've brought me in just one day! And young humans at that!"
"It was too easy," a separate voice crooned, "young indeed, but stupid too "
"That won't matter," the first assured, "we'll just market them as 'virgin' and 'naïve.' And then they'll fetch an even more handsome price!"
Nothing these two said made any sense to Heather. She tried again to struggle free, but whatever bound her remained solid. Whoever these men were, they were not novices at tying people up...
"How'd you manage to put it to sleep though, I wonder?" How sickening that they'd carry on a conversation with her tied up on the ground. Did neither notice she was now awake? "Simple. I just put a bit of magic into the water. The blood of the lunar clan works wonders on the weaker human race..."
"So's anything else. But maybe it worked too good eh? If'n it don't wake up, I might just haffta use it to make some soup instead."
What? But I am awake!
She tried to scream, only to find herself biting down on the gag. "He-rup, Helrup!" The words came out muffled but her captors definitely heard. One chuckled, cruel and obviously amused. "Oh well looka here. Think its alive?" he fake-wondered. Judging by the sound of his voice, she knew he was standing very close. Perhaps bent down, looking right at her.
Rough, unfamiliar hands met her face then, and Heather flinched on instinct.
"Oh, sit still you stupid thing!" A sudden, painful blow to her stomach had Heather immediately subdued and choking again, but she was too terrified to even shrink away.
"That's better," her cruel captor growled and finally the world sprang back into merciful light. He'd removed the blindfold and now that she could see, Heather immediately took stock of her surroundings. She lay on the hardwood floor of what looked to be a small cabin. The lighting was very strange. Torches had been hung up and lit, so perhaps there was no electricity. Was she truly that far from civilized society?
"You call me Master, like everyone else." Was all he had to say to her.
The 'Master' then rolled Heather onto her back, ignoring the pained yelp that escaped as her hands were crushed beneath her weight. "Come'n look," he called behind himself, grinning as his cohort trumped over too, and it was only then that the nature of this situation fully dawned on her.
To these men Heather was nothing more than a piece of meat.
"Very niccccce," the shorter, snake-like male had actually hissed, crawling on all fours to get a close look at the human he'd captured. His long, leather-black tail trailed afterward as he completed a full circle: inspecting from every angle. "Looksssss healthy, yes Master?"
"Very." The other prodded Heather's thighs with one leather-gloved hand, and she suddenly wished to have her leg amputated, so complete was her disgust and shame from being touched like this.
He however seemed pleased, readily admiring the shape of her hips. "This thing probably eats better than us, eh? Wheresabouts did you say it came?"
"Figures. Fat little things, most of them 'mericans, but this female looks like its a good size."
"Little goldilocks," the snake-man teased, leaning over with those reddish reptile eyes filled with greed. "Not too big, not too small. Not too fat, not too thin..." His clawed, sickly albino hands ghosted over her chest and Heather shuddered, hating the way those thin lips slid back into a toothy, fanged grin. "Not too flat either..."
"I like them eyes," the other added, and Heather was shocked to see he was actually talking to her. "Where'd you get them kinda colors?"
What? That question didn't make much sense. Heather's eyes were brown: nothing exotic compared with the bloodred and seaweed green of the men above her.
"Speak up!" the Master insisted, yanking the gag down just enough for Heather to speak. "Wheresabouts your eye colors come from?"
"Um... my mother?"
To her very painful shock, he then stood and kicked her again. The force knocked the wind out of her, leaving a muddy brown bootprint, and then that tight, wet gag was shoved right back into her mouth.
"Think you're cute, dontcha," he growled, "well you ain't! Got it? You call me Master and give me answers like you actually got a brain in that empty human head eh?"
Her eyes screwed shut with the pain and Heather's first thought was that she would never stoop so low as to call anyone this ugly or this cruel 'Master.' She wished she were anywhere but here; anyone but herself, a piece of meat that now belonged to two greedy monsters.
It took many moments, but she eventually got up the courage to open her stinging eyes again. The sight only made her feel even more sick. Her new 'Master' had short, muddy-looking hair of an unnatural tan-green hue and long, crooked brown antlers jutting out from either side of his head. Her first impression of him was 'salesmen.' Or salesthing anyway, since he definitely wasn't human. And rather than professional, like the pitchmen she was used to seeing in America this guy looked simply greedy.
Was he in the market of selling other people? Or worse yet, their organs?
"Shtop!" It was an automatic reaction. The Master had sat before her again and this time those gloved hands had carelessly trailed down to lift up her shirt! "Don't!"
"Relax," he scoffed, "don't nobody here want a human for a wife. I'm just making sure my Snake didn't leave any ugly little marks on you. Cuts or bruises and whatnot..."
"Snake'ssss me," the other man informed, as if she couldn't have guessed. "But really I'm part of the dragon tribe, you know, someways down the line. Us dragons are good at catchin' weaker thingssss..."
Heather turned then to glare at the creature that had captured her, only to receive a very nasty shock. Those mean red eyes met hers and the snakething changed shape, right before her eyes! Its long black hair shrank back into its heads and its facial features melted into a soft, baby-faced human male's. When next those eyes blinked open, they were human and soft sky blue. Chris!
Had she been betrayed by her very best friend?
"I can tell what you're thinking" the hopefully fake Chris growled, cocking his head in a very subhuman way. "Was I him all along or just for today? Just long enough to lure you clossse and catch you?"
"Just to catch," the one called 'Master,' muttered, ignoring the snake's complaints of ruined fun, and Heather would have felt grateful if the Master's eyes had not continued to roam every inch of her body, making notes on each slight imperfection. She wished she could just melt into the floor. Those cold, seaweed green eyes certainly did look as disinterested as if they were examining a cut of meat; deciding if it should be tossed out or used for the night's sidedish. "This's our job," he muttered, almost as an afterthought, "Collectin' humans what's worth selling. Snake thinks it's fun to use 'em as models for his transformin'..."
So that's what this is about? They were planning to sell her? Well at least this guy was now being decent enough to stop trying to look under her clothing, but he kept pausing to scoff at the bruises on her ankles and thighs.
"Speakin' a worth selling..." He tossed those antlers back then; annoyed. "Lookit, Snake. These purple parts here ain't no good eh?"
"No. Too dark, I think."
"What a sssshame," the snake hissed. "No one's gonna buy a bruised peach."
"Eh, we can still sell it to a Pet trainer."
"Het Twainer?" Finally Heather had been able to speak again, but unfortunately she only got a grimace in return. "Eh," The Master shrugged, finally pulling his hands back to himself. "I guess this thing is pretty stupid after all. But it oughta still sell since it got female parts."
With that said, he stood, reached into his pocket and withdrew a little glass bottle. He uncorked it and held it out, but when Heather refused to sniff, carelessly dumped the contents onto her face. The effect was instantaneous. Suddenly there were no more lit torches or ugly, crooked antlers, just cold, stifling darkness and an oppressive sense of dread.