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in the woods somewhere

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The world returns in fragments: warmth, power, pain.

The loss of her staggers, no matter that he was the one to leave. It does not dull the knife’s edge of separation, as sharp and singular as the Cut. Even now, the shadows strain against his hold, reaching out for her. Even now, he can hear the last shreds of her plea, a ghost haunting him from the far reaches of the taiga.


He’s alone in his command tent. Sturdy canvas to keep out the wind, rugs to soften the frozen ground, oil lamps to illuminate the map spread out before him. His shadow falls across it like a living thing, looming over a cartography of ink and memory. She saw him like this, Aleksander thinks. Saw him hunting her through the distant snows, as patient and focused as a predator, and cried out for his touch all the same.

The thought burns through him like merzost, dark and addictive. His power surges, the shadows straining against the iron of his will, hungry, always hungry. They are as starved as his little Sun Summoner, mewling his name, pleading with him as he drew away. It cost him dearly to leave her there, aching and desperate in the snow, but that is a problem he will examine later. Now

Now, he will let himself be weak.

He holds the shadows viciously in check as he sweeps the map to the ground, bracing a hand against the table. Alina’s tears linger on his knuckles, drying in salty paths across his skin; his other hand still carries the rich, musky scent of her cunt. He bites back a groan, fumbling with the buckles of his kefta. Did they leave bruises on her skin, little half moons of pain to keep her awake as she huddles in her bedroll?

Saints, he wants to see them. Wants to trace them with his tongue, wants to press his fingers into them, dappled dark across the golden cream of her skin. She’d thrash a bit, writhe away, then whimper when he stopped. He takes himself in hand, shuddering at his own touch. His grip is rough, the sensation verging on pain.

How long has it been since he felt this way? Years, perhaps. Centuries. All the power and control his long life has afforded him, and the mere thought of Alina kindles something dark and furious in his veins. It will ravage him if he lets it. She will ravage him.

He bares his teeth at the thought, thrusting into his own grip. One slow stroke. Two. Arousal is a physical ache, sharpening its claws inside his skin.

Like calls to like, he told her, and it wasn’t a lie. He can feel the distant echo of her frustration, the shame and pleasure twisted up inside her. It confuses her, the way they twine together like lovers. He does not share her confusion, but he aches all the same.

Pain can be sweet, Alinochka. Desire can draw blood.

She knows so little of the world. So little of him, save the half-truths his mother twisted around her like a snare. A rabbit driven from shelter into the path of a wolf. She pictured herself so, in the darkness of that snowy wood: the only person in all the world who might stand as his equal, made helpless by her own longing.

An image swims out of the gathering darkness, a vision of Alina resplendent in gold and black, a collar of bone like a delicate shackle around her neck. Sankta Alina, bound forever to the Black Heretic.

The heat burning in his belly spreads, flaring out to lick at the base of his spine. His cock is hot, blood-heavy in his hand. Would she have cried out when he fucked into her? She would have, he knows. She would have been loud. Desperate, even. Heedless of the callow boy who left her so terribly unsatisfied.

He tightens his grip, rougher now, a vise that yet pales before the dream of Alina’s cunt. This time, he cannot bite back a groan. A saint’s cunt, he thinks, shadows curling around his forearms. And I will have it. His veins are beginning to blacken. Truly, she is as dangerous as merzost. Worth the cost? Perhaps. He has borne it before; for her, he might bear it again.

And that is the truth of the matter, isn’t it? Willing or chained, proud or broken, he will have her. No momentary weakness, but a war already lost. Want makes fools of men, and for all his powerall his fierce ambitionhe is but a man. It is a humbling thought, searing as the sun. A cold rage gnaws at him in return, but it is already too late.

Fire crawls slowly up the tinder of his spine, devouring. He aches; he burns. There is a frenzy building in his limbs, shattering the measured ruthlessness of his pace and leaving desperation in its wake. The darkness in the tent suffocates. It is a roiling, living thing that swallows him whole. His control is slipping. He cannot bring himself to care.

Instead, he lets himself imagine it: ravaging Alina as she begged him to, driving so deeply into her body that she will never again feel whole without him, spilling into the furious wet heat of her without care

Mine, he snarls to himself, and tumbles into the yawning abyss of pleasure. It sings like the Cut through the sharp winter air, cleaving through him without mercy. Her name is soundless on his lips: Alina, Alina, Alina.

When the exquisite pain of it finally recedes, the tether between them is open. Alina is wracked with sobs, biting her fist to quiet the sounds of her distress. Her thoughts are scattered; all he can parse is want, and ache, and need. It is a litany of desperation, and then, like a plea, like a secret—

For a heartbeat the feel of her waxes, powerful enough for the terrible edge of her need to wash over him. It is a sudden, violent eclipse. He shudders, cock twitching painfully, and reaches for the tattered remnants of his control. She wanes, still hungry, still aching.

As before, she leaves him with a ghost, an agonized tenderness hanging in the air, echoing in his thoughts.


As before, he pays the haunting no mind. He cleans himself up with ruthless, detached efficiency. Laces his trousers. Straightens his kefta. Fastens the seven silver buckles, and does not let himself think of bruises on pale skin.

The map is unharmed. He settles it once more across the table, dragging a finger across the smooth curve of a river, the jagged peaks of a mountain range. The vast stretch of Tsibeya’s snow-dark wilderness lies before him, ready to give up its secrets.

No stars to orient him, but the shadow of the Petrazoi was distant at his back. North, he muses. Perhaps northeast.

Somewhere in the darkness, Alina muffles her sobs, aching and aching, ready to fall at his feet and beg. She’ll kneel. Plead for him, sweet as honey, and chain herself to his will without a second thought. He can see the collar now, the smooth white of bone like some austere jewel, stark against her skin. She will wear it beautifully; the sight will devastate.

The sight will devastate, and yet: Alina will sunder the world for nothing more than his touch, and oh, she will thank him for it. A weakness repaid in kind. The thought soothes some nameless ache in his chest even as the shadows stir once more, ever hungry.

Patience, lisichka. You’ll beg for me soon enough.