They’re everywhere, and they’re touching me. Their hands and mouths and tongues are all over me. Their breath is hot at my back. It’s sickening. Fingers dig into my hips, keeping them lifted as my knees are forced apart, dragged through shards of broken glass that slice like knives.
I don’t scream. I can’t. I have no voice. And the music. It’s so loud. It pounds against my forehead, which they keep pressed to the floor as the bass vibrates through every cell of my body.
Warmth runs down the inside of my thigh. I’ve lost control of my bladder.
“Fuck. She’s pissing herself.”
Someone laughs. I taste vomit. I don’t remember throwing up, but I must have. I’m lying in it.
But something shifts in the air then. A door slams. A roar sounds like the battle cry of some wild beast. It’s louder than the music and the pounding of blood in my ears.
The fingers digging into my hips loosen just a little. The hand at the back of my head is gone. Attention diverted. A palpable rage rattles the room itself, and an instant later, their hands and their sweaty bodies and disgusting tongues are forced off me.
I should move, but I can’t. I’m too scared. Too fucking terrified. I turn my face, laying my cheek in wet, still-warm vomit. Everything hurts. Glass cuts into my knees, my chest. I should get up. Get away while they’re distracted. But I’m locked in place on my hands and knees, my face in vomit, my eyes squeezed shut. I don’t want to open them. I know I have to, but I can’t. I don’t want to see, and I can’t run.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, princess.
But no, that’s not right. He was wrong. So wrong. I’m not stronger for it. I’m not strong at all.
“How dare you?” a man roars, and I force my eyes to open. A body is flung across the room, knocking over a chair before it slams against the wall. “How dare you touch what’s ours?”
Fury. Rage. Raw and unfiltered and wholly violent.
I take in the scene.
Men are scattering, scurrying. Trying like hell to get away. Chairs are knocked over. Boots pound heavy on the concrete floor. One almost makes it to the stairs before he’s caught. I lay my body down. Glass digs into my chest, stomach, and thighs, and I wince with the pain, but I can’t look away from the chaos. From the two men pummeling the others. Two men taking on an entire room of soldiers.
This is violence like I’ve never seen before.
No, that’s not right. I’ve seen it once. Blood-splattering, bone-breaking violence. Not a single bullet is fired here, though. Bullets are too easy. Bullets are for when you’re outmanned and outmuscled. A single woman against many men. These two, though they may be outmanned, they have enough rage to fill a fucking stadium. And they use their fists. They want to feel the crunching of bone. They want to drench their hands in blood. And all I can do is watch. Just lie there and watch.
Until they finally turn their attention to me.
The dragons who came to my rescue.
One glance. One furious glance. Cold steel eyes and the burning embers of a fire, so opposite, so alike. I try to move, but I can’t. I’m cold. My body shivers. The bare concrete floor is freezing.
Footsteps like that of an army charge down the stairs. More men. You can’t trust men. I need to get up. I need to run.
I manage to climb to my hands and knees. My body is heavy like I’m dragging my limbs through the thick mud. A few feet from me, Amadeo is smashing his fist again and again into the face of a man on the floor. He’s rendered him unrecognizable. I’m transfixed as blood splatters Amadeo’s face, hair, and clothes. I wish I were strong like him. I wish I could feel the breaking of bones. Wish I could kill them all with my bare hands.
“Brother,” Bastian says, voice hoarse as he wipes the back of his arm across his face, smearing blood. He sets that hand on Amadeo’s shoulder. I watch the brothers, so curious about them—these two violent, angry men who are so devoted to one another.
Amadeo is muttering a mantra and beating the man to a pulp. He doesn’t hear Bastian. Not yet.
“Amadeo. Stop. Don’t fucking kill him. Not yet. That’s too good for him,” Bastian says.
Someone cuts off the music. The silence that follows is alive with a heart that beats. A man groans, and all around me, I smell the coppery scent of blood over that of basement and puke and piss.
“I plan to take my time,” Bastian is saying, and Amadeo stops pounding the unconscious man. His eyes meet mine, and what I see in them, it makes my heart stop. Makes my throat close up so I can’t breathe.
He stands, and they both turn their full attention to me. Something gives and a tidal wave of emotion overwhelms me. A keening like that of an animal comes from deep inside my chest, and I think I’m going to choke on it. This thing that won’t let me breathe, that’s been inside me so long it’s a part of me. It’s all of it. Everything that’s happened. Tonight. The nights before. My father’s death. The funeral. That book and what it accuses my brother of. Amadeo and Bastian.
The nightmares of another basement. Another violent night.