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Author(s): Elizabeth L. Brooks

Pleasure-slave Cheng takes no particular note of the red-haired woman when she purchases his services. But the morning after her departure, Cheng is taken into custody by the Emperor's own guards and brought before one of the rare and terrifying Chained Mages. Already frightened and confused, things go from bad to worse for Cheng when the mage reveals the demonic nature of the red-haired woman. Now not only Cheng's life, but the lives of everyone around him, depend on their finding the fox-demon as soon as possible.
As a Chained Mage, Jin is at best feared, and at worst, despised. But he can't allow his personal feelings to interfere with his mission, not even when his admiration for the slave deepens. In fact, Jin's love may result in a disaster. The fox-demon has placed a spell in Cheng, a spell designed to turn his sexual energy to a murderous ends, endangering himself and everyone around him. And worst of all, they're not the only hunters on the fox-demon's trail!


The door opened quickly, and the Chung-da fell back a pace or two at Jin's appearance. "Great Lord," he murmured, his dialect as humble as Cheng had ever heard from anyone who wasn't a slave or servant, "the Dewei slave, as you commanded."
"Thank you, Khu Qiao," Jin said, gravely polite and still in The Horizon Draws Near. "Cheng, come in." Jin opened the door more widely to let Cheng pass. Cheng lifted his eyes -- and froze, a rabbit caught in the gaze of a cobra. He should bow, should kneel, should avert his eyes, quickly, before he gave offense. He could not move. He could not breathe. For an eternal instant, his heart ceased to beat within his chest, and then it began to race, as Cheng himself longed to do -- would surely have done already if he had been able to so much as twitch.
Jin was a Chained Mage.
The peculiar metal that covered Jin's forearms gleamed and sparkled, even in the dim light of the lowering sun, and every twist and whorl seemed to writhe and change whenever Cheng was not looking at them directly. They looked nothing at all like the false Chains used by festival actors, but they could hardly be mistaken for anything else.
Cheng felt as if he had plunged his hand into a bag of rice and withdrawn a handful of poisonous spiders. He wanted to fling himself away. To run, gibbering in terror. To--
A hard shove in the middle of his back sent Cheng stumbling forward into the cottage. "Get on with you!" scolded the Chung-da. "Didn't you hear the Great Lord's command?"
"That will do, Khu Qiao," Jin said sternly. "Go and fetch us some dinner. And plenty of it; I'm very hungry."
"Yes, Great Lord!" Khu Qiao barked, and ran off.
Jin closed the door, shutting Cheng in with him. "Whatever stories you've heard, I'm not going to eat you," he said. "Though you do seem to be a delectable morsel."
Cheng stifled a whimper of fear and dropped to his knees, pressing his face to the floor. "Thank you, master," he managed to gasp. A mage, by all the Hundred Gods!
Jin sighed and crossed the small room to sit on the mat before the fireplace. "That was supposed to be a joke," he said gently. "Surely you didn't really believe I was going to eat you. Did you?"
Cheng kept his face firmly to the floor. "N-no, master." That was true, however, only because he hadn't yet had time to consider the possibility. Cheng concentrated on controlling his trembling so that he wouldn't have to wonder what a Chained Mage -- one of only a few hundred in all the world -- could possibly want with him.
"Sit up, Cheng. I don't want to have this conversation with the top of your head."
Obediently, Cheng rose, but he was careful to keep his gaze properly downcast. Had he hoped, less than a candlemark earlier, that this man would take him to bed? A shudder rippled through Cheng's innards and threatened to reveal itself outwardly. A Chained Mage could take a lord's wife to bed -- or the lord's heir, or even the lord himself -- and no one would protest, not even the White Dragon. The Chained Mages were only slightly less terrifying than the rogue mages they protected against. Cheng hoped desperately that the gods had not been listening to his earlier wishes.
"I want you to--" Jin began, and was interrupted by a knock at the door. Jin rose and opened the door to admit Khu Qiao again, bearing a platter heaped with food.
The young warrior set the tray on the table at the center of the room, then paused before Cheng. "En-nal," he growled, "why is the Great Lord forced to open his own door while you laze about?"
A shiver escaped, and Cheng could not form words to reply. Truly, he should have opened the door. Fear had rendered him not only mute, but apparently robbed him of all sense of propriety and honor. Shamed, Cheng bowed his head.
"He is sitting," Jin interrupted mildly, "as I told him to do. I had your captain's assurance that I would be permitted to deal with this situation as I saw fit, without interference. Is that not so?"
"Of course, Great Lord, but a slave--"
"I assure you, if he disobeys my commands, I will take what action seems best to me. Your solicitousness is appreciated, but misplaced. Now go. We will not wish to be disturbed for the rest of the night."
Cheng silently but fervently disagreed: he most heartily wished to be interrupted, as often and lengthily as possible. Even if it meant punishment for his impertinence. A Chained Mage who deigned to notice a slave was a gardener who stooped to spy upon a beetle.
"Yes, Great Lord." Ignoring Cheng's unvoiced plea, Khu Qiao left. A scrape told Cheng that Jin had bolted the door, and he swallowed.
"There," Jin said. "Now we can eat our dinner in peace. Have you eaten at all today?"
Cheng chased after his scattered thoughts. When had he last eaten? How long had he slept in the Chung-da cell? Surely not a full day. So he had last eaten... Yesterday, before the red-haired woman had summoned him yet again to her room. Had it been so recently as that? "Not today, master."
"I thought not. Come sit at the table and dine with me, then." Jin picked up the battered dish that contained what was obviously meant to be Cheng's portion. He sniffed at it dubiously, then tossed the mess onto the fire and began to refill the bowl from his own enormous portion.
Cheng hesitated. "Th-this one is not hungry, master," he tried, without much hope.
He could nearly feel the weight of Jin's look, and it was all he could do not to hunch down into his shoulders. "Perhaps that is true," Jin said, after a moment. "It has been a tiring and frightening day for you, without a doubt. But you must at least take some tea. You will sicken if you don't have something to drink. Come and sit, Cheng."
Cheng winced at the thread of steel in the mage's voice, and could not delay any longer. Trembling, he crossed the small space between them and knelt before the table.
"Good man," Jin said, almost jovial. Cheng kept his eyes firmly on the table. The battered dish, now heaped with rice and meat, appeared before him, followed by a delicately carved stone cup filled with fragrant tea. "Now -- the tea, please. And if you don't mind, at least a few bites of rice. As I told Khu Qiao, we have a long night before us."

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ISBN (Print):
ISBN (Electronic): 978-1-61040-605-5
Genre: GLBT
Date Published: 11/13/2013
Publisher: Torquere Press

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