The force of his breath was hot on her neck as he pulsated on top of her. It wasn't soft, sensual, or even caring; it was hard, mechanical, violent thrusts as if from an emotionless machine. Even in a room with air as thick and hot as the one they occupied, her heart remained an unfazed glacier, floating in an abandoned sea. Vercta used the technique she had perfected to remove her thoughts from her body that was pinned under the glistening muscle of her client, Dreddithin.
She allowed her mind to travel beyond the confines of her flesh. It stretched towards the ceiling, thankful for the break from reality. It proved futile to try to enjoy the sexual advances of her one and only client. Whether their clothes were on, or off, they seemed to remain just a handful of harsh words away from screaming and attacking each other until one of them blacked out; she never won. So she escaped, by refusing to consciously participate in their passionless sex that only ever left Dreddithin satisfied, if you could call a meaningless, shallow orgasm “satisfying.”
The time Vercta spent in her thoughts away from her body, she often used to remind herself why Dreddithin remained her only client. She felt more like his slave, or better yet, his prisoner of war. To a certain extent, she was a prisoner of war. Her mind floated back through years of memory, through the abuse, through becoming a full-fledged Escort due to Dreddithin's connections and insistence, growing up learning the customs of the Court because of him, and finally, when they first met. Their meeting was always the same memory she came back to time and time again.
Her mind settled itself at a safe distance in the sky, looking down on her younger self during The Great War. She quietly watched the scene of her memory play out before her for what must have been the hundredth time. She knew every move that would happen far before it did. Vertca wondered if there was anything she could have done differently, but it didn't matter, because she didn't.
Vercta was just nine years old, with curled golden hair and sapphire eyes. Her skin was as delicate and pale as porcelain. She donned a simple white dress. Drops of water dotted the fabric on her knees as tears fell from her eyes. Her cries were hushed and scared. Outside of the safety of her dark closet, the screams of victims of war echoed around her home. It came from outside, inside, everywhere. The Mages had finally risen to power and were methodically going from town to town exterminating every Elemental. Women, children, babes still at their mothers breast, it didn't matter. No one was safe, no one was spared.
The piercing cries of her mother came from beyond the closet, and Vercta buried her face in her nears to suppress the sobs erupting from her core. Her heart ached like nothing she'd ever experienced before. She was small and helpless, but couldn't shake the feeling that she had to do something, anything, to save her mother—until abruptly, the cries of terror stopped. Vercta looked up, eyes wide in the darkness of the closet. Her insides suddenly felt like ice; she was frozen with panic, terror, and grief.
The water droplets on her blotchy red cheeks lifted up from her skin into the air. The moisture from her dress pulled itself from the fabric and hovered about her. The tears continued to flow from her eyes silently, but went directly into the air. The pressure of emotion threatening to burst forth rose within her stricken core. The water droplets hanging in the air began to twirl around her in eery ringlets, mimicking the shape of her hair. The orbs quivered, as if shaking from rage or fear.
Beyond the closet, water lifted from pots in the kitchen, a well outside, a tub in the bathroom. It all rushed into the house without making so much as a whisper, then levitated eerily like a flood searching for the right place to onslaught. From the floor to the ceiling, orbs and rivers of water whirled and rushed about the soldiers who began to shout in panic and fear. Their voices raised an octave; that was pure fear.
“Don't let it control you,” Vercta remembered her mother saying to her. It was the same tales everyone knew. The reasons natural disasters happened. Elementals were generally a peaceful people, but it didn't mean they were perfect. There was Seraphina the angry fire Elemental, Lief the jealous earth Elemental, Airyn the scared air Elemental, and Ryvre the sad water Elemental. Each of them had succumbed to their greatest weakness, followed immediately by unforgettable chaos that destroyed much, including themselves. “We are all born with distinct personalities,” explained her mother, “and our personalities are nothing to resent. However, our power feeds off our inherent weakness, and that's how your power chooses you at birth.” Of course, the most talked about was Seraphina, the fire Elemental who scorched the earth, destroying everything, and left a permanent mark on the planet that they called a desert. Those who were born with fire were always the powerful, showy leaders. Ryvre the water Elemental had merely caused a monsoon and a flood, which eventually created a great river that divided the continent. However, it also provided water for many towns lining it. Vercta always wished Ryvre were a more popular figure. “Vercta, don't let your sadness overcome you,” her mother had stressed. Vercta promised, as she always did, but she knew her mother worried. Her mother used to look at her like she was weak enough to be Ryvre, that she'd be the next water Elemental to let her depression take control of her, and destroy her, along with many other lives.
This was the first time Vercta believed she could have been the next Ryvre. If this wasn't the type of sadness that would destroy her from the inside out, she didn't know what was. Regardless, she didn't realize the power pouring forth from her, nor did she know the fear she'd stricken into the hearts of the men who murdered her family beyond the confines of her closet. All she knew was that her mother wasn't screaming anyone. There was just silence, and she was alone. The sadness in her chest expanded so painfully that any semblance of control she had over herself was failing rapidly. Just as she opened her mouth to let lose the scream she'd been trying so desperately to suppress, the closet door swung open.
Dreddithin stood in the doorway, staring aghast at the sight before him. His eyes, which were dark and serious, had a combination of subtly curiosity, and strikingly obvious fear in them as he stared at the ringlets of water hovering around the small, delicate girl whose eyes screamed more of terror than her voice ever could. He watched her last tear shed itself gently into the air to join the dancing circles of water. He looked at her like she was Ryvre reincarnated.
Neither of them moved for what seemed like ages. Their eyes were locked in a tense, unwavering gaze, both of them waiting to see what the other would do first. Dreddithin's hand was curled around a rapier that was slick with bright crimson liquid—whose blood was never revealed. Dreddithin wasn't an unintelligent man. He knew that an Elemental, even a child Elemental, was a danger to wrangle with. But as he looked at her, it was hard to see anything more than a scared little girl hiding in a closet. His eyebrows furrowed, and a frown formed on his thin lips. There was a job to do, but in a moment of internal conflict, he hesitated.
“Did you find one?” shouted the voice of a Mage military official approaching the two. The sudden new sound interrupted the trance between Dreddithin and Vercta, and the hovering tears cascaded to the ground, creating no more than a mosaic of rain drops. Every ounce of water spiraling through the house splashed to the ground, flooding the ground floor in a pool up to officers' ankles. Dreddithin started slightly and turned to face his superior.
“No, sir. Just a scared servant girl,” he replied with a silver tongue that lied as easily as telling the truth. He cast a sideways glance back a Vercta, whose eyes were the size of saucers.
“Good. The house has been cleared, then. Move out.”
Vercta watched, quiet and puzzled. She didn't completely understand what just happened. Why hadn't he killed her? She wasn't ignorant to the fact that friends and family outside her village had began to vanish one by one. Her parents had looked sad and scared for weeks. People of other magics and races began to scowl at them. When she asked what was happening, why did people hate them, her parents only told her that the Elementals were being taken away. They said the Mages were scared of them because of the magic that lived within them. It was a well known fact that Mages relied on spells and books, without which they were powerless. They feared the limitless powers of the peaceful people in tuned with the world, who helped make it grow and stay calm: the Elementals.
Dreddithin nodded in reply to his superior and turned back towards Vercta. “What's your name, girl?”
“Vercta Radley,” she replied meekly. Her voice was quiet, and like that of a songbird.
Dreddithin contemplated her for a moment, as if trying to figure out what to do with her now that he'd lied to his superior. He held his hand out towards her. “Come.” She hesitated, though she didn't see much option. He was a tall, fit man of average build with slicked back brown hair that reached his shoulders, sharp brown eyes, and a shadow of stubble across his strong jawline. He was dressed in coat of fine velvet with a badge of the Mages sewn on it, a rapier hung at his belt, and a spell book was tucked under one arm. There was a surly look to his mouth when he spoke. “Come!” he barked louder, impatient and on edge.
Vercta jumped, then reached out and grabbed his hand. He led her away from the house, which was already beginning to go up in flames. That was the last time she saw her village.
The war ended soon after Vercta left with Dreddithin. Seven years later, Vercta had developed into a young woman. While she was still beautiful and delicate, something about her were were perpetually sad. Her eyes seemed sunken into her fair face, and her eyes were always lined with a ring of red, as if she had always just finished crying. Somehow, this only made her more distinct and alluring, as if the unusual look in her eyes gave her mystery that distinguished her from all other women. Though she was only 16, she finally lost all of the innocence she possessed when she first met Dreddithin. He seemed to struggle at first with what to do with her. He tried to act a father, but he was painfully awkward around her. Then he tried to make her a servant, but he found her most distracting than helpful. Then he finally made a decision: the wrong decision. He sent her to an Escort academy, a prestigious education that guaranteed women a respectable job that included entertaining clients, normally of their choosing, whether with conversation, dinner, parties, or more intimate meetings. Dreddithin decided that if she were going to be so distracting, he may as well bring her out to the Court to be shown off on his arm. She tried to tell herself throughout her education that she loved Dreddithin for providing her with such an opportunity, but she never fully believed it. She was no longer ignorant to his advances, nor to the consequences of talking back to the man who held the secret to her death. Everyday was spent applying make-up, fixing her hair, and dressing in the fine clothing provided for her. Her job was to look as beautiful and presentable as possible so as to not embarrass her client at the Court. Her smile was small and generic, she said all the expected pleasantries, but avoided further conversation. She danced like the perfect marionette on strings she was supposed to be.
Vercta sat in front of a mirror, brushing out her hair after a night of celebration at the Court. Looking at herself, at the eyes that looked back at her, she saw no life, no personality, no trace of who she once was. The resentment and frustration built up in her throat; part of her felt obligated to please him as payment for risking his life for hers, and another part of her wanted nothing to do with him. Dreddithin told her she should be ashamed of being an Elemental, but she'd never killed anyone, never systematically wiped out towns, like he and his friends had. Every time Dreddithin laid a finger on her, it made her skin prickle with disgust, but whether at him or herself, she wasn't sure. But what was there to do? Asking him to relieve her of her job, or requesting a second client to spend time away from him, only angered him and made their relationship harder.
She watched the tears fall from her sapphire eyes in silence. “Where are you, darling?” Dreddithin called out as he walked in late from a party.
Vercta only looked at the fabric curtain that hung for minimal privacy to her beauty parlor. The curtains pulled apart, and Dreddithin stood, staring at her reflection staring back at him. His eyes were locked on the tears on her cheeks. For a split second, a flash of fear seemed to pass over his eyes before his brows furrowed together in a look of pity. “Dry those tears, my dear. There's no need for that.” He was trying to comfort her, but his voice sounded strained and wary.
Vercta watched the reflection of Dreddithin, unwavering. His hair had gotten longer in seven years. “They're just tears,” she said calmly.
Dreddithin cleared his throat awkwardly. “Quite right, quite right...” he agreed quickly while trying to regain his composure. He approached her and ran his hand affectionately through her hair. He moved a few locks aside in order to kiss the nape of her neck, and his hand wandered towards her chest.
Vercta sighed and shook off his advances, pulling away a couple inches. He was trying to change the subject. “I want to pick my own clients,” she blurted out. She needed more. Vercta realized that to a degree, she was in his debt. He'd raised her, paid for her, educated her, and he may have even loved her. But that simple fact remained that she did not want him, or at least, she didn't think so, and she wouldn't know for sure until she met other people.
A look flashed Dreddithin's face made her insides twist with tension and guilt. He looked genuinely hurt, but that quickly gave way to a fierce anger. He gripped her forcefully on the shoulder and pulled her back towards him, and then hissed fiercely into her ear, “Is this the appreciation you give me? I have given you everything you could ever need, yet apparently my generosity is not enough for you.” Vercta tried to escape his grasp, but he pushed her down into her chair violently. “Don't make me tell the Court about you. I'd hate to see that pretty face yours wasted in death. And that's what will happen if you leave, Elemental. Is that what you want?”
She could feel the flood gates open, and the tears rushed out. Sobs escaped through the fingers she clasped over her mouth. The only reply she could give to Dreddithin was a shake of her head, her golden curls bobbing with the motion.
“Good,” he answered as he pulled her from her seat towards the bed.
Vercta's mind came wandering back from observing the memories from her youth. It'd been 15 years since they first met. Dreddithin's hair almost reached his waist, the distinguishing mark of a powerful Mage, and his stubble had flecks of white in it. Earlier in the evening they'd gone to a party amongst the Mage Court. They glided around the room together, arms linked, talking amongst other equally powerful and glamorous couples. There were other Escorts in attendance, and they exchanged knowing glances with Vercta. She made a point not to grow too close to other Escorts, in case they grew suspicious of the unusually “tight” bond between her and her one client, Dreddithin.
To anyone that looked on, they appeared to be a perfectly happy and normal couple. But if they looked closer, they'd notice the sad, faltering looks that twinged in Vercta's lips when she thought no one was looking. She eyes were still sunken in and red, though it was mostly covered with doll-like make-up.
Then there was the secret that even Dreddithin didn't know. Vercta had recently become more bold. There was another man, a Mage, and a Mage of the Mage Council at that. A powerful man, but not a well liked man amongst the aristocracy. He was shunned as an outcast, often arguing against the oppressive nature of his government. His name was Benjamin Thomas. He was an older, long-haired man of power with gentle eyes and a subdued demeanor. He was a man that Vercta felt she could trust, and she'd been right. They talked, very secretly, of their opposition to their positions in life, and sometimes in order to thank him, she entertained him in the ways she'd been trained in the academy. He touched her with more passion and empathy than Dreddithin ever had. He was thorough, generous, conscientious. She supposed he must have been grateful for her company, rather than just expectant.
There stood Benjamin Thomas across the room. She'd been able to stay composed, avoiding his gaze all night, but finally by chance, they locked eyes. His eyes were gentle, with small wrinkles forming at the edges. He smiled warmly at her, and she in turn let a small smile curled the corner of her lips. He nodded at her. She held his gaze for another moment, then turned away. To most people, their interaction was too fleeting to notice. But to Dreddithin, who witnessed the looks between them that were far too familiar, especially for someone as closed off and distant as Vercta, it was a stab of betrayal that stirred up emotions of fury.
They lay in bed after the party. Dreddithin had just finished up and was smoking from a pipe as he walked towards the wash room. “Clean yourself up and then join me in the bath,” came an aggressive and possessive demand in a gruff voice. She lay staring at the ceiling, lost in thought. She was thinking of Benjamin Thomas, and if he'd be able to help her. She wasn't sure if or how she'd ever get away from Dreddithin, but it was nice to imagine she could. That she could escape with Ben. She didn't love Ben, but he was the only person she'd truly connected to since she was a child.
Vercta began to clean off the sheets on the bed when Dreddithin called again, this time angrier than before, “Where are you?”
“Coming,” she sighed, exasperated. She walked to the wash room, still naked, and stood in the doorway, looking down at Dreddithin who looked ridiculously angry for someone relaxing in a hot bath. “What's the matter?” she asked neutrally.
“You're fucking Benjamin Thomas,” came the cold, flat reply of Dreddithin.
Fear shot through Vercta like an arrow to the chest. She faltered, looking for something to say. “Dredd, I--”
Dreddithin shot out of the tub and stormed towards her. “How could you? How could you?! After everything I did for you!”
Vercta could feel something in her snap. “Everything you did for me? It was all for you! You wanted to fuck me without being embarrassed in front of your council!” Her voice quivered with anxiety. Her eyes stung and grew watery.
His eyes narrowed, his body tensed. “You should be grateful for that. Otherwise you'd be lying in a puddle of blood next to your mother. That's where I should have left you, you ungrateful water elemental.” The last words were hissed as if the very words themselves contained lethal venom.
Vercta steeled herself, then turned to leave the room. In the other room, she began packing her belongings. That didn't last long before Dreddithin stormed over and ripped her belongings from her hands, flinging them across the room. “You're not leaving!” he shouted.
“Yes, Dreddithin, I am.”
He grabbed her by the middle and lifted her into the air. She screamed and started thrashing. The two of them went at this as he dragged her towards the washroom and the tub. “Let me go!” she shrieked.
“Leave, and I tell the Council about you!”
In a moment of clarity, she realized that leaving Dreddithin wasn't an option. At least, not like this. Not with him knowing who she was, what she was. “Okay,” she sighed, and stopped struggling. She'd finally made a decision.
“Good,” came the sinister reply, “I knew you'd see things my way.” He lowered himself into the tub, and motioned for her to join him. She stared down at him in the tub. Tears were now streaming from her eyes, and she couldn't stop them. He looked so vulnerable in the tub, though they both wore nothing.
“I'm sorry,” she said suddenly. She walked over to the bath and took a seat on the edge, with Dreddithin looking up at her, confused. Feeling threatened, he made a move to stand, but found himself pinned down by an invisible force. The water pressure in the tub was growing, which was holding him in place to prevent him from struggling. He started to look scared.
“Vercta, darling, please,” he tried to plead soothingly, but he couldn't rid the fear from his voice. But he could solicit no response from her. Vercta's face became closed off and rigid, the only sign of emotion the streams of tears that flowed faster and faster from her eyes. And in a moment of intense nostalgia, Dreddithin saw the tears float into the air instead of hitting the floor.
Thin streams of water rose from the bath, slithering up Dreddithin's chest and neck, up to his face, and slowly trickled into his nose, and finally into his lungs. Dreddithin started to sputter and cough, but no liquid came up, despite the growing intensity of his struggle. Settled into his lungs the water stayed, ever increasing as the water slunk into his mouth and nose. He was thrashing and convulsing to no avail. Then, suddenly, he stopped fighting. His body went slack. Vercta released the water pressure in the bath, and Dreddithin sank under the water's surface and stayed there.
For the next hour, Vercta struggled to stop crying. Once Dreddithin lay dead, sobs escaped her violently, as if she'd been keeping it in for years and never really let it out. She felt like she'd failed her mother and became Ryvre, the destructive water Elemental who lost control. The whole room had filled with water droplets that flew around the room like pellets fired from a sling-shot.
Eventually, when a melancholy calm came over her, she spent time reapplying a mask of make-up in the mirror. Her eyes remained puffy, but that was normal for her. Besides, it wouldn't seem unusual considering the state of her client. She wrapped herself in a robe, and stone-faced, went to look for help.
“The fool must have gotten drunk, fell asleep in the bath and drowned,” said one of the doctors later.
Everyone stood around, nodding and giving their general agreement. Vercta merely put on a small frown and acted quiet and subdued, not that she had to try very hard. Everyone gave her their condolences, and a couple of them gave her a bit too friendly of a smile for the occasion. It was the first time many of them had talked to an Escort one on one, before. Especially one that would be accepting a new client soon. But she had only one person in mind: Benjamin Thomas.
Vercta spent the next few days moving her belongings into her own, personal chambers. When she was settled in, she got dolled up for an upcoming party, and attended in full glory. She donned herself in an azure gown trimmed with white lace, and jewels wrapped around her wrist and neck. The only thing she couldn't do was rid herself of her sombre, stony expression. An older gentleman with long, flowing white hair approached her, a Mage of power and influence. “Excuse me, lady Vercta, but would you grant me the pleasure of your company?”
Vercta curtsied respectively, yet shook her head. “You do me a great honor, Lord Bastian, but I must decline. An Escort chooses her clients, and I'm afraid that we do not make a compatible fit. Excuse me.” She left the Mage stunned. It didn't take long to find Benjamin. When she did, she linked her arm with his and whispered into his ear earnestly, “Please, I need your help.”