“And what do you want out of this arrangement?”
She intends it to be a direct question. She should have known nothing would be so simple, given that it really hasn’t been her week. The creature twists around her, intangible and ever-present as smoke. When he speaks, it’s directly into her ear.
“Why, little Miss… nothing at all.”
She doesn’t believe him for a single second. Nobody does anything for free. Not the mercs, not her father, not Hardin and certainly not whatever this new nightmare is. And she refuses to give him the satisfaction of indulging his tawdry attempts at repartee.
She’s soaking wet, been held at gunpoint once today already, and there are corpses all over the place. She’s in no mood to make nice with a creature she commands at knifepoint.
And anyway, the sound of it in his mouth is absolutely abhorrent.
“Don’t lie to me. You’re about as altruistic as a tumour. And don’t call me that”, she snaps, and he has the audacity to laugh at her.
“Does it hit home, then?” The water ripples as his shadows pass over it, and her skin prickles with goosebumps. Keeper might control him, but she isn’t sure how well or to what extent, and this creature reeks of ozone and blood. Every hair on her arms stands on end.
“Very well”, he continues as though he hasn’t just made her blood curdle. “I am Shard, but what shall I call you? Diane? No, that will never do — it’s far too informal.”
She emphatically agrees. And yet, there’s something about the way that he says it that ought to concern her. It sounds rich on his tongue, like caramels and summer-ripe peaches. Diane wonders if it’s a trait he’s assumed over his unlife — the ability to be precisely what you’d want.
He wouldn’t be the first predator to hide behind pretty flowers and honeyed words. She refuses to take the bait, because she might be spoiled but she isn't stupid; Diane doesn’t make the same mistake twice.
“And of course", he continues, deliberately airy, "any claim to a title you might have had ended with your father. A dictator’s daughter is nobody’s Grace.”
She scowls at him. It might be true, but he doesn’t have to rub it in with quite so much satisfaction.
“You’re trying to distract me”, she accuses, and he shrugs.
“Is it working?”
If she weren’t so scared she’s looped back around to irritated, she might have appreciated his audacity. As it stands now, all it does is just piss her off.
“Nowhere near as well as you’d like”, she snaps, and the face he wears splits into a grin. “What do you want out of this? I hate repeating myself, so that’s an order.”
His un-answer, when he finally deigns to reply, only needles her deeper.
“Just a bit of fun, Master. It has been too long since I was allowed to cry havoc.” His tone dips, darkens, becomes a conspiratorial whisper in her ear. “You wouldn’t mind a bit of revenge, I don’t think. It’s good for the soul. Let loose the hounds of war, Diane. Let me loose. I'll bring you your vengeance.”
Whatever he is, she can tell he’s strong, and he makes her name sound filthy in his mouth.
Why else hide him away in an oubliette? And right now, she could use a bit of borrowed — all right, stolen — strength. A dictator’s daughter is nobody’s Grace, and a dead dictator’s daughter…
…is a pawn or an obstacle…
and either option makes her stomach churn.
She knows, abstractly, that it reveals a weakness he will no doubt exploit at some point in their acquaintance. His offer is too enticing, and she is so hungry to get a bit of her own back. She wants to find out who stole her life from her, and ruin theirs. She wants it so badly her mouth waters.
She can’t afford enticing. Not now. Not here. And certainly not with… whatever he is.
“Don’t! Don’t call me that!”, she snaps, and he knows she doesn’t mean her name. He bares his teeth. It might be a smile, but she knows better than to assume. When the things that live in the dark show their teeth, it isn’t a good sign. Her grip on the dagger tightens.
“Why shouldn’t I?”, he purrs into her ear. His breath is cold in the dank air of the oubliette. “If not your name, nor a defunct title, I must call you something."
She can reluctantly concede he has a point, but she knows that names and titles have power and right now Diane doesn’t feel like giving him any.
“Tell me, Diane”, he whispers, and his mouth savours her name like a sweet. “If you aren’t my master and not my little miss… does that make you my Keeper?”
She glares at him with all her might. It has all the effect of an egg against a brick wall.
“Stop it”, she snaps, and his eyes glitter with amusement. “Answer the damned question, Shard. If I'm your keeper, I demand you tell me.”
“You demand”, he murmurs, amusement softening his tone. “Ahh, aren’t we bossy.” There’s a smile crawling over his face and she’d like to smack it clear off. She knows that would probably just make him laugh, presuming he didn’t bite her hand off at the wrist.
She bulls on ahead recklessly anyways. “What do you want out of this?”, she asks for the third time, and this time, he replies.
She feels the tendrils of him trace over her chin, as though cradling her cheek in one large hand. She stays very, very still.
“What do I want?” For a moment, he looks almost wistful. She isn’t sure how she feels about that. “Why, anything you’re willing to offer, Diane. Everything you’re willing to offer.”
She thinks of what she might receive in return for her soul, and prays she won’t live long enough to regret this.