He knew when he’d been beat. There had only ever been two outcomes – the word retreat held no meaning for him – but defeat itself came as a surprise, and he fought it to the last. He thrashed wildly in his efforts to escape the bonds of fel energy constricting around him, and continued shrieking madly even as an arcane muzzle clamped over his mouth and he was wrestled to the ground. Nothing held him at this point but pure will, the magical energy so close he could smell it – could still taste the power on his tongue mixed with the blood – but he could no longer reach out and take it, and he howled in frustration.
He hated the idea of submission to this, this mortal – his pride railed against it – but he could only be what he was. Mortal or no, power was everything, and she held more than he – even more, it seemed, than the masters she had stolen him from. He strained one more time against his bonds, but they held fast. With one last muffled scream of hatred and humiliation, he lowered his head, and was still.
The room was deathly quiet in the aftermath of the struggle, and as he lay in the circle he listened and felt for those around him. Five mortals: three of lesser power, one of greater age… and her, the one who had challenged and fought and bound him, still kneeling on the ground and panting from exertion. Now that she was so close, now that he could feel her and smell her without the heat of battle between them he was chagrined to realize how small she was, and how soft her flesh. He did not understand how such power could reside in one so fragile… but that was not his to question.
The elder mortal moved from where his stood and made a satisfied noise. “I must say I’m impressed, Astoreth. I sense you have the potential to become one of the most powerful warlocks of this era.”
She snorted in reply, and took to her feet, small shoes scraping softly against the dusty floor with each step. “I bet you say that to all the girls,” she grumbled in a tone inaudible to the other mortals as she knelt near her captive. He heard it, of course. Their tongue was strange, but he understood it well enough. He was incapable of fear, but he wondered what she would do now.
“Kreelum,” she said softly, the first time he’d heard his name spoken by mortal lips; the tone of authority in her voice did little to mask the timbre of youth. “You are mine now, Kreelum. My servant, my guardian, my hound, my hunter, my slave. I am not inclined to be cruel to those who serve me, but neither will I hesitate to remind you of your place. Do you understand me, Kreelum?”
A sigh came from the elder mortal in the room. “He’s a beast, Astoreth, he can’t understand you.”
Stupid mortals. She was young, but smarter than many. He gave a snort and a whine. He understood.
She reached forward and placed a hand along his neck, and Kreelum felt the bands of magic release him. He scrambled to his feet, and at a snap of her delicate fingers he found his way to her side. She lowered her hand to him, and Kreelum lifted his head to meet it. He found he liked the way her hand felt as she stroked his quills. Her touch was cool on his skin, but he could sense a rumbling of pain and anger and seething hatred just beneath the surface. He had a vision of this tiny, soft, arrogant, unexpectedly tenacious creature unleashing fiery hell on her enemies… and now, he with her. He grinned, and let his tongue loll out in a way that had as much to do with the thought of sinking his teeth into new foes as it did the spot she had found behind his right tentacle and was presently scratching. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
“I’d keep him muzzled for awhile,” the stupid mortal advised, but Kreelum’s new mistress chuckled.
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” she answered in a careless tone that Kreelum instantly appreciated. “I am anxious to take him hunting.”
No, he thought, not bad at all.