Adam shivered in the cage. The hag had taken Wren to her bed again. The frightening thing was that it seemed Wren now went willingly, eager for the chance to learn some new spell. The old witch hadn’t beaten Wren in weeks.
These days, when Wren messed up a lesson, the hag simply dragged him out, changed him back into a human, and ordered Wren to torture him. It was starting to almost be a relief to be changed back into some form of animal. At first, Wren had begged not to be made to hurt him. Now it seemed she just did what she was told, getting it over with to move on with her training.
He’d almost forgotten what it was like to be human and not in pain. Or at the mercy of another. He was given to Wren as a reward as well. Last night she’d held him down while she’d ridden him. After what had happened at the bar, he’d had no interest in being taken to Wren’s bed. But his body had responded to her so eagerly he suspected she’d used one of her spells. He wondered if the hag used such spells on Wren, considering how often the creature fucked his girlfriend.
His girlfriend. It was difficult thinking of Wren in such terms anymore. At first she’d tried finding a way to make the shifting not hurt. Then, at some point, it was like she’d stopped caring and just been concerned herself with finding the limitations of the spell and his own responses to the spell. Eventually, he’d become so inured to it he just stopped screaming despite the agony. His mind tried to go back to the events of the previous week, and he pushed the thoughts away.
There was something under the agony when the magic surrounded him. Something he could almost focus on, touch. At times he could almost feel it when he wasn’t being changed. He sought for it, the strange sort of hum inside him. They’d forgotten to feed him again. A rabbit was too big to get out of the cage, and… Adam frowned, and concentrated.
Agony filled him as his bones twisted and bent into other shapes. He made no sound as his body shifted and… And as a serpent, he slithered through the bars. If snakes could have, he’d have laughed. Immediately, he headed for the door, slipping beneath it. A snake wasn’t fast enough. He touched the hum again, concentrating.
Instinct guided as much as anything. Rather than assume a human form, he found himself on all four paws. A dog. And then he started to run. He went north, toward freedom. He almost lost himself in the joy of it, the canine urge to just run and run. After having been a prisoner so many months, stretching his legs even to flee was an almost indescribable pleasure.
The road was in view when the world around him suddenly spun. He howled.
Wren stared in shock as a large black dog suddenly appeared in the center of the room. It took two steps forward before halting, then it looked up and snarled. Renee’s face was furious. She waved a hand and the dog’s form contorted. A moment later, Adam was on the floor, on his hands and knees. He rose, staring at them.
“How?” Renee glared. She whirled on Wren. “How did you shift him without making contact?”
“I didn’t.” She shook her head. She’d been concentrating on pleasing Renee, hoping to pleasure the woman enough to learn how to make glamours to fool more than just the eye.
“Don’t you lie to me, girl!” Renee strode toward her, grabbing Wren by the neck. “Did you take the talisman?”
“I…” Was that why Renee no longer needed to touch him to change his shape? How much power did that talisman give her over Adam? “Renee, I was with you.”
“Ungrateful trickster.” Renee’s eyes bored holes into her before the woman stepped back and struck her with enough force to knock her to the ground.
“Leave her alone.” Adam tried to step forward, only for Renee to freeze him in his tracks with a wave of her hand.
“Get up, girl.” Renee stared at Wren.
Slowly, Wren got to her feet. “I didn’t do it.” She couldn’t have. Not without touching him.
“He was a rabbit when I went to bed, girl.” Renee shook her head. “Get the whip.”
“I said, get the whip.”
She gave Adam an apologetic look before fetching the weapon. Renee waved a hand to send Adam outside, and then gestured for Wren to follow. She could feel Renee’s magic around Adam as he walked to the tree and caught hold of a branch, his arms and legs spread to receive the whip. “Renee…”
“You will whip him until one of you tells me what you intended with this little stunt.”
“I didn’t do it.” Wren shook her head. “Renee, I didn’t do it.”
“The lash, girl.”
Wren nodded before stepping into position. Then she brought the lash down across Adam’s back. He made no sound as the whip left an angry red welt across his shoulders. Ten blows were given before Renee held up a hand for her to pause. Then she bound Adam’s wrists to the branch before releasing her hold and stepping away. “Again, girl.”
That time, Adam cried out in pain.
Each blow from the whip was like fire across him. Wren didn’t hold back when she beat him. They’d learned that lesson early and well. If Wren held back, the hag would step in. There had been a time that was worse. Now it seemed he could no longer tell who was wielding the lash.
A moment before the world went black around him, the hag made Wren stop and heal him. There would be no respite in unconsciousness. “Again, girl.”
Flesh was more tender after healing. The next round was worse. He could feel blood trickling down his back. And strangely, he could feel a strange sense of triumph. The lash brought pain, but nowhere near the pain of being forced into other shapes. That he’d done to himself. Willingly.
After two more rounds of healing, the hag told Wren to stop. He saw fury on the woman’s face. It was hard not to smirk. “I can see this is getting us nowhere.” The hag waved a hand. “Girl, release him.” The hag narrowed her eyes. “Then have him bind you in his place.”
“Mistress…” Wren’s voice was small.
“A new exercise for you, girl. You can tell me how you did it, or you test your focus. See how long you can keep control of him while he’s whipping you.” The hag’s voice was cold.
The thought of being forced to take the lash to Wren was more than he could bear. “She didn’t.”
He focused, and then his wrists slid from the restraints as his form changed. He turned to her, now in the shape of the dog once more. The hag’s eyes widened. Wren dropped the lash. “Adam, you…” Fury crossed her face. “Why didn’t you tell me you could —”
“So that’s why you…” The hag laughed. “A mere spark compared to her fire, but you’ve a gift.”
His body contorted, this time under her power rather than his, but he became human again. Wren was staring as though he’d betrayed her. “I can’t believe you —”
“You won’t do it again, boy.” The hag’s fist tightened around the talisman. He could almost feel her hand around him, holding him fast. “Not without permission.”
Adam glared, which just made her smirk. She turned toward Wren. “He’s yours for the evening, girl.”
“You can use magic.” Wren stared at Adam. He could do magic of his own, and hadn’t shared that with her. “How long have you been able to…”
“This was the first time.” He grimaced a little as he sat on the mattress.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Wren put her hands on her hips. Had this been why Renee wanted to know what she saw in Adam? Some kind of subconscious recognition that they both possessed magic? “I sensed it. So did she.” Wren nodded to herself. “That’s why she brought you back here instead of killing you.”
“You mean like she killed my brother?” Adam glared. “And Mark, Vince, Meg, Susan, and the guy who worked at the —”
“We don’t know what they did to provoke her.” Wren started shaking her head. Mark had been an ass. It had just been his luck to try his shit with someone like Renee. The man hadn’t deserved what happened to him, but it wasn’t like —
“Provoke?” Adam stood. “She murdered my brother.” He clenched his fists. “She tore his throat out. She…”
“For all we —” She started shaking her head. They hadn’t seen the bodies of Vince or Susan. For all they knew, those two had gotten away safely and were fine.
“She tortured us, Wren.” Adam glared. “She had me raped.”
It hadn’t been rape. Despite how much more difficult it made the spell, she’d ensured Adam had enjoyed himself too. The biker had even bought him a couple drinks after and showed him how to do a trick shot at pool. “She’s teaching me.” Wren squared her shoulders as she stared back at him. “She’s teaching me to —”
“She’s teaching you?” Adam waved a hand. “She just had you take a whip to me, Wren.”
“That’s because —” He knew how important this was, and he’d still nearly ruined everything.
“Because I tried to escape? Tried to go get help?” Adam gave her a disbelieving look. Then he stepped back, and looked away from her. “I told you how bad it hurt, and then you…” He wrapped his arms around himself. “Then you did it to me too.”
“Adam…” Wren started to reach to put a hand on his arm.
“Don’t touch me.” He recoiled from her. “Don’t…” He looked back at her. “You don’t want to escape her, do you?”
“You see what she can do, Adam.” With power like Renee’s… He had to understand. “Imagine what I can do with…”
“I don’t have to imagine, Wren.” His voice was bitter. “I felt what you did with it.” He looked up at her. “Every. Moment.”
“Adam…” She swallowed. Maybe the biker had been too far. Even if he’d enjoyed the evening, he still hadn’t wanted it in the first place and the man hadn’t exactly been gentle with him. “I had to, or she’d —”
“She’d have what, Wren?” Adam gestured sharply. “Tortured me some more? She does that anyway.” He met her eyes. “No. You did it because if you hadn’t, she wouldn’t have taught you a new spell.”
Wren stared at him with a sense of slowly dawning realization. He was right. She should… Wren glanced at the door, then looked back at Adam. “Yes, Adam. Because she taught me a new spell. Because each new spell she teaches me means I’m one step closer to defeating her and —”
“You’re not defeating her, Wren…” He sighed before leaning against the wall. Slowly, he slid down it until he was sitting on the floor. “You’re becoming her.”