Night fell in Imagia, the moon shining brighter than the night before. The forest had been thinning early into the evening and the group of captors and their prisoner now sat just beyond the edges of the trees. As the sun was setting behind the trees, the shadows began to swallow up the hounds. By the time the last shreds of light from the day left, they disappeared into the trees behind them leaving Zantu as Keesa’s sole guard.
She could feel the warmth of his body as he sat near her. It made her nervous, but not in the way that she expected. Her fur, though still warm from the smoky binding, hadn’t been singed at all. But she felt as though something dark still lingered there. She kept trying to avoid looking at Zantu, but her eyes would slip in that direction frequently.
“I know why you look at me like that,” he said.
She blinked quickly and looked away but didn’t say anything.
“I have no choice but to obey my master and he wills me to find beasts for his bidding.” There was a long minute where neither said anything. Then he said, “Disobedience is rewarded with pain.”
“Rewarded?” Keesa finally spoke. “Pain isn’t a reward.” She felt the burn of the smoky ropes no longer there and wondered how much pain Zantu had suffered before he submitted to this master.