Home > Enthralled (Dark Ones, #13)

Enthralled (Dark Ones, #13)
Author: Katie MacAlister

 


ONE

 


“Hey, Beast, how they hangin’ today?”

A spate of raucous male laughter followed the inquiry. Keeley Moore heaved a mental sigh, and sent up a prayer to whatever deity would deign to hear it.

Please, just kill me. Right now. Kill me this very second, and I swear by all I hold dear that I will convert to whatever religion you lead, and serve you to the end of my days. Which would be forever, since I would be dead. That’s a hell of a deal. You’d be getting a devoted servant all for the cost of the time it took to smite me dead on the spot.

“This here’s the Beast, Taylor. Don’t go beyond the yellow line on the floor of his cell. Last man who did that was a mindless slave in less time than it can take you to say ‘Mississippi.’ The director was extremely annoyed.”

Right now, Keeley pleaded with the unknown deity. Do it now. If you do, not only will you earn yourself my undying—ha!—gratitude and promise of servitude; you’ll also save countless mortals from being turned into brainless playthings of monsters. Surely you must want to protect mortals from them. Killing me right here, right now, will save untold lives.

“I thought the director wanted slaves made. Isn’t that why we’re all here?” a second male voice asked.

Maybe the deities weren’t paying attention to him. Maybe they were all busy with other things. Fear gripped Keeley’s gut, causing his breath to hitch before he got control again. He reached out again with his awareness, every iota of his being trying to reach a benevolent god who could end this torment. Hello? Perhaps you don’t understand the gravity of the situation. I’m a Thrall. Yes, a Thrall. I used to be a Dark One, but then I was made a Thrall when a madman discovered a dormant Thrall, and used his blood to—but that’s a lot of backstory you probably don’t want to hear. Suffice it to say that now I’m a Thrall, and being used by monstrous men who won’t be happy until the mortal world is in their grasp. So you see that ending my life now will be a benefit to everyone, not just me.

“Not us,” the first male voice said quickly. “Them, but not us.”

“Them who?” asked the second.

“The people. The ones who don’t have family to notice when they go missing. They’re the ones we feed to the Beast. Not members of the Collective.”

No smiting occurred. In fact, nothing happened other than a sudden and intense desire to scratch an itch on his nose. Keeley held his breath, hoping against hope that the guards would think him dead. Thanks for nothing, he mentally snapped at the universe in general. If the whole world is enslaved because you couldn’t be arsed to smite me, don’t come crying to me!

“He’s ... er ... he’s not breathing, is he?” That was the second man speaking. Keeley tried to smooth his expression out to one of vacancy, and mentally crossed his fingers. “Is he dead? He looks dead. I’ve never seen a dead person before, but he looks very, very dead.”

“He’s not dead. That’s just the Beast up to his old tricks. He likes to try to lure us in close to him, then whammo! He’s on you in a second and your will is gone. He used to be a vampire, you know. Vicious, they are. Bloodthirsty. Literally.”

“A vampire?” he heard the other man say on a gasp.

“Well, they use another name for it. Dark Dudes or something like that, but it’s the same thing. Brutal nightwalkers. And everyone knows the only way you can kill those is a stake through the heart, and since the Beast here isn’t staked, he’s alive.”

“Are you sure about that? He’s not breathing at all,” the second man repeated.

“Absolutely. No way he could die in here on his own.”

“Maybe someone did something to him?”

If only someone would, Keeley thought.

“Not possible. See those runes on the walls? Those are spells the director had drawn to contain the Beast. That’s what keeps the bad people out. Or in, if that’s what the director wants. All those runes mean there’s no magical crap going on here, including someone offing our prize possession. Get up, Beast. Your dinner’s on the way.”

Keeley, with one last mental glare at what he imagined was a vast panoply of deities who refused to help him, cracked open one eye and stopped holding his breath. “Go away, Tennyson. I’m not hungry.”

“Ha ha ha ha,” laughed the guard named Tennyson in a manner that irritated Keeley like nothing else. Well, that wasn’t strictly true. Life irritated him more. “Ha ha ha. Not hungry. You haven’t eaten in seven weeks. Another two weeks and you’d go into a coma. They go into comas, Thralls do, if they don’t eat for a couple of months.” The last was addressed to a new man whom Keeley had not seen before.

Hope flared to life in him as he eyed the new recruit. Like all the other members of the Collective, he was dressed in a black suit and tie, white shirt, and black sunglasses—what was colloquially known as standard garb of the Men in Black. Unlike the urban legends, however, these men were all too real.

“You stay here—no, don’t go beyond that yellow line—and open the door as soon as I fetch his meal. And don’t talk to him. He’s a master manipulator. He almost got the director himself when they first brought him in here.”

The new man who had been addressed as Taylor turned to look at Keeley. Although his eyes were hidden behind the shades, Keeley was adept enough in the reading of expressions to note the man was apprehensive. Good. He might be able to use that. But he’d have to hurry. “So, you’re new. I’m Keeley. I’m not really a monster, no matter what Tennyson says. I am, however, a danger to everyone and, without putting too fine a point on it, need to be put out of my misery. Let’s talk about what you want out of life. I have no doubt that whatever you seek, I can help you obtain ... assuming you destroy me.”

It was baldly put, and Keeley wished he had more time to be properly persuasive, but there simply was no time for finesse.

“Er ...” The man looked a bit startled. “What?”

“The wish for my own death seems odd to you, doesn’t it? But if you were repeatedly forced to conduct acts of destruction that were morally repugnant to you, how would you feel? I’m willing to bet that you’re a decent sort of chap, and you wouldn’t want to continue to be a tool of torment any more than I want to.”

Taylor shook his head. “No, I understand you wanting to die. I mean, you’re the Beast. You don’t have much of a life, right? But what did you mean by what I seek? You mean enlightenment?”

“If that’s what would give you pleasure, then by all means.” Keeley sat up, straining his ears for the sounds of Tennyson returning. The clink of the shackles binding his wrists and ankles sounded loudly in the mostly soundless room, and had the new recruit backing up a couple of paces.

“Er ... ,” he said again, glancing toward the door.

“I can’t reach you, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Keeley said, standing up. “This is as far as I can move away from the wall. But even if I could, I wouldn’t hurt you. I can see you’re different from the others. Smarter. More sensitive. Empathetic.” That was a long shot, but it behooved him to be as flattering as possible.

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