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It splattered on the back of his neck in a coil of shivers sliding down his skin. Drip. Drip. Drip. It slithered into his shirt; a snaking river of soulless hunger, chomping at his flesh to feed their endless bellies. He couldn’t fathom why hostages fought to remove blind folds in all the stories he heard. He would count it a small mercy for him to shut his eyes against all the mechanical teeth and claws dangling in slashes of silver above him, panting in hunger as the draft touched them, water sluicing off the fine edges like drool, splattering on the back of his neck. Drip. Drip. Drip. A monster with an endless hunger. But he was going to feed it anyway, like feeding leaves into the wind. Sucking, tossing, whirling in oblivion to circle the world and return for more. He didn’t think it was possible to finally reach a point when his heart stopped racing and his lungs stopped obeying his screams he was certain were pushed into the future with his volume and fervency. In these last three hours, he had done things and said things and agreed to things he wouldn’t have ever done even in an audience of his friends with pretty Miala watching with a kiss for his reward. But here water drooled on him. He could move away from it if he wanted. They had removed his chains already. But he remained, soaking his shirt, trying to figure out if his unwillingness to move was powered from a defiance that he would no longer fight his end or to prove he was no longer afraid of it. The door in front of him opened so soundlessly, it was a moment before he noticed the slice of blackness gaping and ready to swallow him. Time to feed the monster. Drip. Drip. Drip. His masked escort beckoned him, curling fingers like claws. But it wasn’t Miala with his kiss of a reward. She had screamed with him as he was dragged backward with a sack over his head. The beckoning became more fervent. The monster of knives and fire is hungry, it seemed to say. Its heart beat thrummed in his ears already; a drip drip dripping on the back of his neck. His masked escort removed the hood and the mask. A spill of liquid night slipped over her shoulders, framing the jewels of her eyes and innocent little pout of her lips. Miala didn’t have lips like that. A goddess maybe, but not Miala. Miala didn’t even have the velvety warmth of skin which this woman had brushed away his fears, caressed acceptance into the cracks of his anguish. Her eyes bore into him, and he was ashamed he fought her when she brought him here. His heat begged for forgiveness. Reminded of his acceptance, he remained undecided whether to beg to let him stay and stare at her eyes for the rest of eternity or to leap into her embrace which would smother and carry him to an endless pool of hunger. A promised kiss for his reward. The drip drip drip was no longer the drooling of knives above his head, no longer the heartbeat of the monster of death he was going to feed. It was a word. Go. Go. Go swiftly into her warmth where she would whisper promises of touches and reassure him that death was just one more step, one more blink of an eye. A reanimated heart pulsed blood back into his limbs and he dashed into her embrace. “My kiss?” A question. A plea. “Too soon.” A breath like a star’s sigh passed over his face. “Are you ready to come with me?” “Please.” He clung onto her cloak like a child to its mother, begging as he trailed her through the throat of the monster, deeper and deeper into its entrails. The thwarm of his own heart in his neck, in his brain counting down the clock his moment of life and passion would end in the same breath. What a clashing to herald him into a death throbbing with his own endless hunger, searching for a way back into his life to do it all again. The knife, the blood will bow against her lips, her warmth. Upon the crimson table he laid himself, already aching from the absence of her skin. She leaned over him, her lips hushing words against his closed eyes. “The gods must have a willing sacrifice.” “Please.” It was the only word he could choke out. He reached for her. She let him touch her this time, slid his hands across her skin, pulling her down so he could drink of her breath to give him life again in the eternity she was sending him to. The hungry monster didn’t growl or hiss. It simply slipped into his view above him with a daggered flash. He watched it arrive because he would not blink against the eternal depth of her jeweled eyes. He wished he had two hearts to offer… a thousand hearts to beat and pulse in his body in time with the dip and draw of her lips against his and remain alive long enough so she could cut out each one. But he only had one heart to offer. The hungry monster dipped a fang into his chest; a cold, sharp bite that seized his breath and arched his back. Her kisses deepened and he softened. Another bit. Another flinch of his mortal carcass. “Weak…” she murmured against his mouth. He wasn’t weak. He couldn’t be. If he died too soon he would be robbed of her fire moaning against his lips. He wished he had more hearts. The monster chomped and gnawed with ancient practice, his chest heaving up and down with every stroke. Sawing bone rumbled a hallow echo in his body as if counting down to the last sever. The pain of knowing her kiss would end outweighed any other trivial mortal ailments. His heart throbbed in her fingers as she lifted it above him, pulsing blood down her throat and chest, making him wish he had more blood to wash over her luscious skin. Crimson looked so pretty against her skin of star dust. Her jewels held his gaze until the dark wash of her hair swirled around him in a cocoon of dark eternity, his heart finally drained of blood. Drip. Drip. Drip.