The Tightest Knot

Disclaimer: The characters are mine! They may share a passing resemblance with other people but I just blame their stylists. Sequel to ‘The Binding Tie’ and ‘The Strongest Bond’; you really need to have read them first in order to understand what is going on here.

Violence/Sex: Slavery exists in this fic as does extreme violence. Sexual violence of a m/f variety in here. Also a loving consensual f/f relationship. If you’re too young to vote, you should probably go elsewhere.

Feedback: Much appreciated mjb1_1@hotmail.com

Chapter 1

Vertebrae popped loudly, cracking like a gunshot in the silent room. Gleefully looking around the men and women who cowered beside her, she let out a maniacal peel of laughter. A flinch went around the room like a wave, further elevating the blond’s mood. Cold brown eyes swept over her companions, assessing them, noticing their strengths and planning on how to capitalise on their weaknesses.

Fear was almost a living thing; people huddled together for comfort. It was obvious who had been freed and who had been owned. The free were more than just afraid, they were terrified and soft! Cracking her knuckles, Thorn began to plan; she couldn’t wait to be back in the barracks preparing for battle. The smell of sweat and blood in the air had never failed to stir her!

Three months after Dettore’s edict and things were moving swiftly. First the free; they had been rounded up like cattle. Over zealous members of the public had clamoured to help shop their neighbours. Many people who had never been a part of slavery had been reported to the collection crews and had to fight their way out of internment. Dettore’s new policies had found support from many other states where the freeing of slaves had always been banned. He continued to ride high in the poles with seemingly little opposition.

After dealing with his major cause, the young senator had decided to repatriate all of the privately owned slaves to ensure that owners were treating them appropriately. This had actually been something he initiated only days after his election by keeping any private slave who was in a programme in custody. His plan was simple, reassess them and those that seemed to have too free time with their owners would be retained by the state.

As keen as private citizens had been to help round up the free, they were resentful of parting with their property. These fears had been appeased by a fast turn around in assessment and now things were moving smoothly along. However, many slaves had been confiscated; the merest hint of relaxed attitude and the owners were instantly banned from any further slave purchases.

Now, with things well under way and as an act of faith, Dettore had handed his sole property over to the programme. Thorn was under no illusion that she would be going back to the senator’s home; she was back where she belonged.

Stalking to the end of her chain, she growled, scaring a young couple who leapt back from her. Not the only member of the group to be chained to the wall she was certainly the most alert and the most frightening. In her incarnation as a gladiator she had been infamous and from the look in the terrified young woman’s eyes, she had seen her exploits.

Pounding feet from outside the holding cell caused the room to grow more silent, if that was possible. People held their breath as they waited for the arrival of the wardens, not knowing what would come next. The rhythmic pounding stopped and the sound of keys jangling replaced them.

Seeing the door slide open to reveal a phalanx of grey uniformed men, several women feinted. Thorn let out a whoop of glee as the eyes of the lead figure turned to her. Rattling her chains above her head, like some victorious champion, she waited for them to come and get her. Peripherally aware that the other three fettered slaves were also being approached she felt a sweaty palm close over her wrist and force it down so that the links connecting her to the wall could be detached. Now only held by handcuffs she began to walk out of the room, ensconced between two uniformed men. Sadistically she waved and blew kisses to those who would be left behind. Time to get started!

######

Strolling down familiar corridors, Thorn made her way through the gladiatorial barracks. Not jest any barracks, these were the barracks where she had lived and fought. This was home. Navigating the familiar terrain with ease she found herself in the common room which, at this hour, was crowded with warriors milling around.

Noticing a group of familiar faces seated at a corner table she zeroed in on them. Snaking through the throngs of people, knocking hapless novices out of the way and sharing casual nods with acquaintances, she found her way to the table. Three heads rose to fix distrustful gazes on the newcomer. Never a shrinking violet, Thorn broke the standoff.

“Nashville Neddy; you not dead yet?” Her words were playful but her tone was icy cold.

“Thorn,” sounding more tremulous than he wanted to, the big man cleared his throat before going on. “So the rumours were true; the bitch is back!”

“Too damn right, cowboy! I want my gang back!” It was a clear challenge.

Belly laughs broke out around the table, the men clearly in disbelief, having forgotten the blond’s destructive wrath. Their mistake! Thorn lunged across the table, shattering Ned’s jaw in a brutal upper cut. A bottle smashed. Shards scattered over the table, one snatched into an opportunistic hand and thrust into the throat of the man grabbing at her from the right. Flipping across the table to land on her feet beside the remaining man, she quirked a smile at him and waited. The silence was punctuated by the snorts and grunts of pain floating up from the floor.

“G…good to see you back, boss!” Gulping, the heavily scarred man took a shuffling step back.

“Ah, Whale, nice to see you haven’t developed a backbone!” Slapping him spitefully on the chest she revelled in his wince as two guards dragged the fallen men away without comment.

“You wanna go see the others?” Like any place of incarceration, the bowels of the arena cradled gangs; Thorn controlled one such group.

“Nah, big guy, take a seat. Tell me who else is back in town.” Spinning an over turned chair back to its feet she settled gracefully.

“Sure,” Whale gingerly settled back at the table and watched the lithe blond take a swig from an unbroken pitcher, “Well…”

Thorn kept one ear on her companion’s words while continuing to scan around the hall. She shifted her attention from group, to group, to group. Assessing. Surveying. Scheming. Almost finished with the room she found herself peering to make out a figure lost in the shadows of the far corner. Straining she could make out a flash of electric blue as the individual moved.

“Shut up!” Whale’s voice ground to a halt. “Is that who I think it is?” She jerked her head in the direction of the corner.

“Yes boss, that’s Hunter. She’s been here all three months.” His watery blue eyes were sorrowful, fortunately Thorn was looking away.

“Hmmm…” He didn’t like the sound of that.

######

Hunter had seen Thorn’s antics, who hadn’t in the crowded room? The moment the slender blond had walked into the room the air had crackled with tension. Unwilling to engage in any sort of sparing with the other women, whether it be verbal or physical, the younger woman had shrunk back into the darkness.

Tipping her head back and feeling the pleasant strain in her neck, she breathed out slowly before looking back down at the table. Taking her mug in hand she drew it towards her, staring into the inky depths. Lifting it and taking a shallow mouthful she swished the bitter liquid around before swallowing. Tapping the base of the glass on the table, keeping her eyes on Thorn, she let her mind travel back over the last three months…

Arriving at the arena had come as no surprise at the end of the protracted truck ride. Men and women spilled out, some resigned as she had been others shocked and devastated in equal measure. Hunter was no less upset but had realised somewhere during the journey that to show weakness now would be catastrophic for her. Standing poker straight, she assumed a once familiar pose of attention as she watched the large group of men and women walk out of the arena doors. A part of her couldn’t help thinking that there were some new faces amongst their ranks.

Unlike the wardens at the reprogramming centre, these slave wranglers enjoyed their work. They connected with their charges, looking them in the eye and if not giving comfort than at the very least extending some hope of humanity in this brutal world. A tall, curly haired woman walked towards the warrior with a purpose. Her attention was solely focused on the sturdy young woman who stood a little apart from the rest. As her colleagues gathered up the herd or sobbing, shouting people, she came toe to toe with her oldest charge.

“Welcome back, Hunter.” It was delivered with a smile which the smaller woman did not return.

“Wish I could say it’s good to be back but I’d be lying!” She fought to keep her tone light.

“You know you’ve missed us, all that soft living can’t possibly live up to the thrill of the chase. I know that I’ve missed you!” Wanting to embrace the taller woman as a friend, though aware that that would be seen as a real breach of protocol she gave her shoulder a little nudge instead.

“I’ve missed you too, Wrangler Rider.” It was a familiar game, not using the young woman’s first name even though she had been asked to.

“Afraid I have to slap this on you, for the time being,” left unspoken was the reality that she would have to be re-implanted with a chip to keep tabs on her.

Hunter lowered her shaggy, blond head to receive the collar around her neck. She felt the cool touch of metal on hot flesh as it was closed, the tiny click as the mechanism was closed. It was an old ritual that with more time never became familiar. Stretching to get accustomed to the weight, she met the compassionate eye of the woman who had been a part of her life for more than ten years.

That had been the first thing, once again growing accustomed to the shackles of an interned life. The collar around the neck that gave way to a chip that lightly thrummed under the skin. The routine of daily training and assessment, being told you’re not good enough. These were the things that had once been as every day as breathing. Now the burden lay so heavily on her that some days she felt she could be crushed.

The next blow had been far greater. In her time with Francesca the heiress had paid for her eyes to be replaced with something much more human than the augmented blue eyes that she had seen the world through while fighting. Alas this change was not to endure under this new regime. A month after her arrival at the arena, Dettore’s new ruling had really taken force and the blond realised that she would not be going home any time soon, if at all. The day that she had been brought into the operating room in the west wing of the building, that realisation had set in.

Lying on the operating table, local anaesthetic in her face, blue clad men standing all around her, a tear had trickled down her face. As her eyes were slowly removed, one by one, her world was thrown into darkness. Words floated around her as her mind went into a state of shock; images of Francesca whirled around her mind. Desperation made her cling to every crystal clear image of the taller woman, knowing in her heart that if she ever did see the other woman again she would never see her with human eyes.

“These babies are state of the art,” nasal tones broke into her dire thoughts.

“That they are, but so are these. Think we can sell these ones on? It would be an awful shame to just throw them away.” They were obviously talking about the eyes he had taken out as well as the new ones she was to receive.

Static suddenly burst to life inside her head. Screaming filled the room. Stunned, all she could do was lay still as a second burst ran through her head. If that was what happened when these appliances were just placed into her head, she braced herself for what would come with connection.

The high whining of power tools filled the room as a pair of hands took hold of her head, steadying her. It seemed like hours ticked by as the laborious process of attaching electronic equipment to her optical nerves took place. Their voices had gone quiet, a clear sign that this was no easy task.

Eventually the process was over and she could feel a bandage being wrapped around her head, accompanied by a dull ache. Rough hands jerked her up from the table and onto her feet. She was guided, non-too –gently, towards the door. Hearing the sounds of people going to and fro past the aperture she knew a warden would be there to take her back to her cell, the doctors didn’t stoop to that. Before letting go, the hand stopped her and brought her around, she imagined to face her temporary guide.

“Those eyes are the newest on the market with a lot of features. You need to take care of them, you understand?” Long accustomed to the patronising tines of these professionals, Hunter nodded and waited for him to go on. “I know you can read, so the manual will be in your room, study it. You will be unable to use them for three days; do not take the bandage off yourself. You will be returned here then and we will give you a demonstration after which the manual will come in to play.” Finally done she felt herself spun around and then another pair of hands was on her, guiding her down the corridor...

That had been eight weeks ago and the eyes were bedded in and working well, as far as she could tell. Almost unconsciously she scanned the room from her isolated position, viewing the world through eyes that were far more than human. Like her old eyes these were the same startling blue colour, lacking either pupil or white. That was where the comparison finished. Her new perspective was sharper, everything was much more defined. They allowed her to target and sight her target with infinite precision. The world was saturated in colour, much more like traditional vision than before but still not normal. She could also switch into different modes with a simple twitch of a muscle, cycling from infra-red to night vision. It was an asset under the circumstances.

Of its own accord her hand wandered up to her head and scratched through her hair. That had been another part of her return to form. Though not now owned by the same company as before, she had soon leaned that her contract had been confiscated from the Prince family and handed over to Poison Breweries. They wanted to cash in on her brand and add it to her own. Hence her eyes colour and her hair had soon followed. Shaggy blond locks had been sheered, barely making an inch all over, though the front was a little longer. It was died the most shocking shade of blue; eye-catching to say the least. Hunter avoided looking into mirrors for fear that she would lose herself deeper into this world, drifting further and further from the woman she lowed, if she acknowledged the change in herself.

The breweries final act had been to have a new tattoo placed on her skin. It was huge and it had impact. A giant snake now coiled its way up her lower leg. Its tail started at the base of her toes coiling around and around her ankle and up to her knee. Its coils were muscular and the scales intricate. Unlike her other marks the snake was painted vividly in colour. Once it reached her thigh, the head appeared and seemed to be striking from the front of her leg; teeth bared and dripping venom from its horned and vicious visage. Even she had been impressed by its realism and its intimidating air. Not that she needed to look much more intimidating but every little helped.

Deciding to cut out while she still could; the stocky warrior made her way to the huge doors at the end of the room which held the gladiator’s quarters. She was under no illusion that she was still considered a top contender. Having kept her ears open while she was at practice sessions or being adorned with these new markings, she knew exactly what the wardens, training and other slaves thought of her. Gone soft, they’d say; looks good but got no stamina, they’d say. It was fine by her. They were right, to a point, she was softer. She no longer craved the violence. Her edge was noticeably missing. However, it was never a bad thing to be underestimated, so she had worked to cultivate the image, being lack lustre at practice and seeming to tire easily. She had yet to have her first public fight but when she did, it would be a surprise!

######

Thorn had watched the other woman toy distractedly with her close cropped hair. Watched her absently reach down and rub at her pant covered leg, bringing her more into the light of the room. She looked much the same as Thorn remembered in their years as stable mates. They had never been friends yet something about the compact fighter had always fascinated her. Not to mention the fact that they were evenly matched in a fight, making the other the best possible opposition. She relished the chance to fight again with the exalted Hunter.

Fixing the sullenly silent Whale with a beaming smile, batting pale lashes she could see him swallow nervously. “Ah, Whale, I think its time we went to see the others, don’t you?” The oddly matched duo headed for the door.

Thorn would be sure to look in on the mysterious Hunter tomorrow. After all, inquiring minds wanted to know; what was the deal with the singer? A wicked laugh burst forth, scaring the large man out of his skin and making him wish that he had never seen the demented blond that night.

TBC…

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