Kara ran headlong from the fallen body of Charlotte, betrayed when Kara had failed to realise she was under control. She found herself in a panic throughout, but her footing was sure, her body acting correctly on autopilot alone.
This island was just too damn big. It was entirely possible to run away from your problems, but not to run to a good place. When she finally skidded around a tree trunk and pressed herself to it, hoping to hide from any possible pursuit, her blood was thundering in her ears. Her emotions had been the trap, how the Serpent got in; but now her head wasn’t swimming, nor was there pain.
What there was was guilt, and plenty of it. She’d been compelled to deliver Charlotte to him, practically gift-wrapped, two tranq darts in her system. And now that the Serpent’s attention was elsewhere, she could realise how much of their antagonism had been goading by Kara, under the Serpent’s influence, or had been an emotional push to take the Serpent’s behaviour in the worst way possible.
She found herself thinking about how her mother had betrayed her family, also under the control of another, and shivered uncomfortably. It was that easy. It had even felt good, in the moment, to follow the command, and only the fact Charlotte had saved her from the Serpent’s Kiss had stopped her feeling even better about the result.
There was a version of that confrontation where Kara had shot Charlotte down, lifted her onto her shoulders, and carried her to kneel at the Serpent’s feet and lay Charlotte down as an offering. And only the glassy eyes and slack expressions of the Serpent’s soldiers she’d seen convinced her she wouldn’t have smiled as she’d done it.
She considered running. She’d failed this so badly that someone else’s attempt to do it had been doomed. She thought about pulling out her radio and calling in Mike, running for a pickup, and getting out.
But if she did that, how could she stop the Serpent using her to claim Mike as well? He clearly had the money for equipment and to send his soldiers out on missions, but handing him a plane was a bad call. Handing him a friend, instead of just someone she could have become friends with - that was worse.
So that was not an option. She was on the Serpent’s island, and she needed to finish the job she’d come to do here before she left.
And if Charlotte came around any time soon, that was going to make it even harder.
Kara took a deep breath and steeled herself. She had to go now. She had to be ready before the Serpent was done conditioning Charlotte.
The patrol had arrived to collect Charlotte about five minutes after Kara shot her. She had by that stage crawled to the base of a tree, where she was attempting to keep herself hidden. This wasn’t as effective as she’d no doubt hoped.
They found her quickly, and while she did raise one arm to ward them away, it was lifted weakly, slowly, and without much conviction. The four women, each with their hair styled into the Serpent’s preferred cobra-hood style, took a limb apiece and carried her half-resisting body off. As long-term guards, they’d trained hard, and their fitness was probably close to Charlotte’s strict military fitness regime, if not, perhaps, Kara’s flat out obsession.
As she was carried, jostling, Charlotte fought to stay conscious, battling the huge dose in her system. She could still just about feel the dull ache of the one in her rear, though the one that had bit into her back had, she was fairly sure, jolted loose by now.
She was carried unceremoniously into the longhut and taken to a very modern double bed directly under the skylights. What surrounded the bed, however, was anything but modern. As the patrol dumped her unceremoniously onto the mattress, she bounced, the dart in her ass finally popping back out to lie underneath her. Her head lolled helplessly to one side. She could see rough-carved stones set at intervals around the bed, strange glyphs carved into them and marked out in a reddish-brown that she hoped was paint.
They took her unresisting wrists and ankles, pulling them out taut, and wrapped them into leather cuffs at the end of long leather straps, binding her to the centrepoint of the bed. And then the patrol retreated, and Charlotte lay trapped, just awake enough to contemplate what was to come.
She was still bewildered by what had happened, but eventually, as the patrol fell silent, she was able to listen closely enough to be sure that Kara Kraft wasn’t there with her. She’d made herself scarce.
Between that and how long it had taken the patrol to find her, Charlotte was pretty clear about who’d shot her. Under the dull fog of the tranquilisers, she was torn between rage, hurt betrayal, and confusion.
The girl had seemed to be smart enough to understand basic strategy. So why turn on a possible ally even if you didn’t like them?
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps echoing across the longhut floor. Boots on polished wood, clicking precisely, taking the approach slowly.
Unable to lift her head, she peered up as best she could as the Serpent walked past the bed to stand at its top, out of her sight.
She still burned with shame. Even emotionally driven as she was, though, Kara knew that if she just ran in to challenge the Serpent the only result would be that he’d have two new soldiers, not one.
So she was taking her time and preparing. She’d found a small spring, and she was taking the time to wash the venom off her skin, to bleed her bite a little, and generally cut down on the amount of toxin affecting her.
She didn’t want to be that weak again. Didn’t want to suddenly realise her actions had not been her own decision again. The last time she’d been controlled she’d at least known she was helpless, known someone else’s will overrode hers. And while, in hindsight, she’d been glad to restore her free will, there had been, at least, a kind of peace to it.
There was no peace now. Kara didn’t think she’d been this flooded with emotion since the week after her father returned, when she finally learned everything that had happened to her mother. Everything that had been done that had broken up her family. And everything that had been stolen from here.
Then, as now, the sheer quantity of rage she felt was so huge it seemed almost to cancel out, creating a pocket of cold certainty in the middle of a ball of white-hot rage.
She had to hope that would be enough to keep her will safe from the Serpent when he reached out again. That it would give her the drive she needed to stay one step ahead of her adversaries, physically.
She would have to be ready now. Her mouth set in a thin line, she looked up again, tugged her T-shirt back into place, got up, and started walking.
There had to be a way she could get the upper hand. It would take time to find, she knew, but she was determined to find it. After a couple of hundred yards she stopped and studied the tree canopy. Then she selected a tree with a thicker trunk and began to climb.
Once into the trees, Kara started moving from branch to branch. The cameras were pointed at the ground; if she could spot patrols before they spotted her, she could cover the distance without worrying about security.
The Serpent ran his hand along Charlotte’s jawline. Much as she wanted to twist her head, to snap and bite, the drug was too heavy in her system. She’d never be able to react in time to come even close.
“You have real potential,” he said, his voice low, closer to a purr with satisfaction than to a hiss. “You’ll be a fine addition to my collection.”
Charlotte wasn’t sure if she wanted to shiver or roll her eyes, but neither one was possible. It only mattered in theory.
He put his fingers to her chin again and turned her head back up to look directly at his head, silhouetted against the sun pouring down through the skylight. She wasn’t able to do much more, but she growled at the golden glints in his shadow.
He laughed. His other hand came into view for the first time, a snake coiled around the limb, black and yellow scales glittering in the light.
That wasn’t the same kind of snake she’d killed one of, but she knew they’d been raised by the same keeper. This was it.
Her breath caught. She tried to push herself out of her mind, to hide herself from… whatever this would turn out to be.
The Serpent lowered his arm and the snake, following his bidding, slithered from his arm to rest on her chest, a shocking extra weight as it coiled into one place.
“Be at peace,” the Serpent said, like a priest giving out a benevolence. “You will know purpose soon. You will know honour, too, and glory, and most of all you will know pleasure.”
Charlotte mustered the energy she had left and spat. Was adrenaline helping her to burn the tranq out of her system?
She had the satisfaction of seeing the figure raise his gloved hand to his cheek to wipe her spit away, but he was snarling at the time and his other hand came up and clenched into a fist. As it did so, she felt movement from the coil on her chest, and she just had time to think He’s controlling them directly before the snake lunged forward, jaw hinged open, to bite at her neck.
The snake’s teeth found her neck and sank in deep. She felt the venom entering immediately; it seemed to burn and bubble through her, somehow. Heat and arousal flooded out from the bite like it was a new erogenous zone, even as the toxin raced ahead through her dulled system.
The sound she made was somewhere between a growl and a groan. Definitely not a moan, she told herself firmly. She mustered her strength and tried to move, realising only when she did so that she’d been strapped down.
“Now,” the Serpent said. “Let us complete you…”
Kara watched a patrol pass directly below her, considering her options. She could drop down, take the hindmost on impact, and try to pick off the other three before they reacted to her. Even with the training they’d been compelled to take, she might be able to beat three at once.
But the stakes were high, and the absence of a patrol might alert the Serpent. She wasn’t sure how aware he was of his mental network; she was working on the assumption he was in one mind at a time, the one he was twisting, and that once someone was already a slave he left them to it. She might be right - it sounded very believable - but it was a hell of a gamble to make.
So she waited for them to pass, then turned her attention to the next tree. Raising herself back to her hands and knees, she shifted slightly. Braced her feet against the branch. Took aim.
She leaped forward, soaring across to land two-footed on the next big branch. One foot wasn’t firmly enough on the branch; it shot out from under her and she dropped abruptly. Her outflung arms managed to catch the branch, allowing her to stabilise before dropping out of the tree. She hung there for a moment, recovering her breath and her senses, and then a moment longer, waiting to see if the patrol had heard, or at least if it would investigate the sound.
After a few seconds, she relaxed somewhat. Either the patrol hadn’t heard or they’d assumed it was an animal. Either way, she was still active, still in this.
With a grunt of effort, she pulled herself up onto the branch.
If she made it through this she was going to have to change her diet somewhat. Being lean and fit was useful, but if she was going to keep taking hard impacts, she’d benefit from a little bit of padding in some sensitive areas.
The next tree was closer, and she almost skipped forward to it, then the next.
This still might not have been the best of plans, but it would have to do.
Charlotte squeezed her eyes shut, and the Serpent placed his fingers on either side of each closed eye, pressed down just a little, and pulled his fingers apart, bringing her eyes back open.
She met his golden eyes, which now shone with an inner light. It felt almost like a physical impact. His gaze poured down on her with weight. Poured into her head, into her mind. It seemed to throb, pulsing in time with the heartbeat that carried his toxin through her body. But every pulse was more powerful, and the moments where it was weaker were never as weak as the one before.
She was nothing like prepared.
He was holding her head clamped in his hands, his eyes forced open, and the force of his power poured down in his gaze. The connection formed, and seemed to lock. Abruptly, her gaze snapped to his. Her neck froze, giving up her efforts to turn for her. She felt the restraints at wrist and ankle grow taut, her body paralysed rigid now.
Charlotte felt his power, his will, his goals, his ideals, flooding into her head. She had a strange sensation like she was filling up, like her head could only hold so much.
And now a waterfall of new ideas and new self was pouring in, pushing at her own self, tearing it loose from its anchoring. She could feel her own history bubbling up to the surface, ripped free and detached, to be eventually pushed out.
She could feel the pleasure of his power coursing through her, too, her nerves alight with bliss. That euphoria pushed out from her bite, and it flowed out from the skin against his fingers; his toxin and his touch.
It was overwhelming. Locked in place as she was, she could feel the heat of her arousal rising to the point where it was hard to think at all, let alone clearly, and understood why Kara had been desperately toying with herself. It wasn’t clear if that was her reaction or if it was the reaction imposed on her by the heat of the Serpent’s will, the power of his gaze – but it also mattered less and less with every breath.
His snake was coiling around her neck, wrapping her gently but enthusiastically in its embrace. Like a living collar, she thought. It didn’t sound like the sort of thought she’d usually have.
She closed her eyes, bit her lip, and dug down deep. There had to be enough in her to fight back.
She saw it more clearly now. She was being swamped, but she was also being undermined. Both of those coming at once was impossible for her to just shrug off. But maybe…
Maybe, just maybe, she could hold off long enough for something to happen if she could fend off one of the prongs of this mental assault.
She could push out the new ideas he was pouring in. Hold on to her own. She could cling to her history, her life story, and the person it made her. She marshalled her forces mentally to hold the outside influences in check.
She was Charlotte Whitestar, born to Steven and Kelly Whitestar. She was Sergeant Charlotte Whitestar, former Army 121st Infantry, Pathfinder. She was Charlotte Whitestar, hunting guide for hire.
She was Charlotte Whitestar, born to Someone and Kelly Whitestar. She was Sergeant Charlotte Whitestar, former Army infantry. She was Charlotte Whitestar, Soldier of the Serpent.
(And her heart broke for her unnamed father, a faceless presence in memory.)
She was Charlotte Whitestar, born to Kelly Whitestar. She was Sergeant Charlotte Whitestar, Soldier of the Serpent, warrior of his will.
(She tried to remember the face of her Army friend, the woman she’d come here for. She couldn’t. She couldn’t even remember her name.)
She was Charlotte Whitestar, soldier of the Serpent, warrior of his will.
(All aspiration to achieve rank was gone. She was content to be what she was made and to follow the orders she was given.)
She was a Soldier of the Serpent, warrior of his will.
That was better. So much better.
She opened herself up to her master’s will. She let him fill her empty mind with the ideas she should have. What use would her old life have been in her new? These were just details. Details from before she had been privileged and lucky enough to receive her master’s control.
Becoming a Slave to the Serpent was the highest honour that could be bestowed. And the pleasure of being his filled her completely. It was as overwhelming as the foolish, futile struggle that was all she now remembered of her past.
She needed the release her body was restrained from giving her.
In due course, her master ceased to pour new purpose and devotion into her. His eyes, still golden, lost their insistent glow.
The Serpent smiled down on her possessively as her eyes adjusted, still fogged by the glow. She almost thought she saw a shadow flicker against the skylight, but it must have been her imagination.
He reached down and drew her knife from the sheath at her hip, holding it up for her to see. She carried a combat dagger, apparently.
With the dagger he slit open her top at the neck, two fast, careful cuts aligned with her shoulders. Another two cuts, slits running from the base of her top to her lowest ribs, and he took hold of her top by a handful of the strong, waterproof fabric just below her bust.
Then he raised his hand, pulling sharply, and the fabric seams strained and snapped against her restrained, helpless body. The front of her top now dangled from his clenched fist; the ripped remnant lay below her, already forgotten.
“You keep this sharp,” he said. “Good.” His hand went up over his shoulder; her top was flung out of the ritual circle, discarded casually, and now another thing she’d forgotten, a relic of a past her mind didn’t feel any need to retain. He reached down and casually cut her belt near the buckle
He grinned, hooking the tip of the blade into the hip of her trousers, and began to pull it down. She felt cold metal brush against her leg as he cut her trousers open, and smiled up at his grin. She felt no pain; she either hadn’t been cut or her body didn’t care.
With one side laid open, he cut the other, dropping her knife on the bed beside her. He placed one hand firmly on her crotch, but rather than take hold of her trousers he simply waited, eyes on her.
He didn’t have to wait long. Within seconds she was straining against her bonds to grind against his hand, not knowing if she was responding to the bliss she was conditioned to feel at his touch, to her own need for satisfaction, or trying to please him by showing her eagerness.
It was clearly the right reaction. His grin got wider and he half-nodded as if he was checking an item off his list. He tightened his grip just slightly and tugged, and her trousers came away from her, peeling along her thighs as he drew them off and discarded them, sweeping them behind him as he had her top. Her belt slithered out from under her with increasing speed, whipping sharply against her back before it was gone.
She lay in her restraints, being surveyed by her master, wearing only her boots, her panties, her bra, dog tags, and the snake Master had used to begin her completion, and she felt almost complete.
She watched him as he circled the bed, studying her. He made a full circuit, stopping once again at the foot of the bed, and unfastened the restraints at her ankles. Then, another half circuit, picking the knife back up along the way, and he unfastened and released her wrists.
She felt impulses enter her mind as the Serpent reached into her. Following his orders, she sat up, then turned on the bed to side before him.
The Serpent smiled. He reversed her knife, holding it out to her grip first, and she took it.
Looking up into his eyes, knowing his bidding, she reached up with her other hand and took hold of her long braid, pulling it out to hold taut. The edge of the blade went against it, an inch or so below the base of her skull, and she began to saw, her eyes still lost in the golden gleam of his own.
Her long hair, once her pride and joy, was sacrificed so that she could more swiftly shape it to the cobra hood her master demanded.
The knife hung loosely from her fingers, now unneeded, as he took her chin in his hand and lifted, guiding her abruptly to her feet. The snake around her neck shifted position slightly, which her mind interpreted as a caress. Her snake, her sister.
She stood on shaky legs, the arousal and need still thundering through her. That woman who’d been bitten in the wild had had it easier. She’d been able to pleasure herself. Master was clearly claiming that privilege for himself, and she would wait as long as it took for him to take the moment.
Following more silent instructions, she reached behind herself and released the clasp of her bra, then brought her hands forward to pull it free and discard.
The Serpent’s smile said simply I own you, as did the impulses his mind planted into her own obedient head.
His newest slave smiled back at him dizzily, head spinning, unable to act for herself without command, at least until she could be taught how she should behave. What would her duties be?
He put his hand against her chest, three fingers splayed out around her sternum. He pushed, just the slightest pressure, but her mind immediately encouraged her to simply fall backward. She landed on the bed, bounced backward slightly, legs parting.
The Serpent grinned, and her dizzy smile became a lustful grin of her own. His desire seemed to mingle with her own, already driven to new heights by her Master’s Kiss.
He hooked his fingers into her panties and she squirmed in excitement. He pulled at the elastic, stretching the material away from her body, and without thinking about it she slipped the knifepoint into the space created, slicing through elastic and cotton once, then twice, so that the final vestiges of her unapproved, non-uniform clothing could be discarded.
For all intents and purposes she was now naked for her Master, naked in front of him too. Her legs parted and she couldn’t have told you if that was her own decision, an instinct based on her arousal and proximity, or a mental command from her Master.
Nor would she have understood why any difference might be relevant.
She spread her arms wide, too, and as her hand passed the edge of the bed, the knife tumbled from her fingers. She heard it crack off the stone below, and a part of her worried about it - but not a big part. Most of her was far too caught up in what she was about to do. What she was about to receive.
Her Master’s greatest blessing.
He fumbled somewhat with his belt, his costume ornate, not designed to make movement easy or access simple but instead to appear imposing when he sent videos to the press boasting of his successes. It took a while, her anticipation rising the whole time, before he had himself free and standing proud. She could feel his irritation that it wasn’t so easy across his link, wondered if the others he’d Kissed could, too, but it didn’t matter to her. Instead she was simply delighted that it was all about to happen.
He braced against the bed with a knee, already erect, obviously ready for her, clearly pleased with her, his dick glistening and slick with his anticipation. She took the bedsheets in handfuls as she awaited.
Once he was inside her, his own heat overtook hers completely. Drowned in his mental link, overwhelmed by his psychic presence and his lust, she was reduced to a vessel, no awareness of her own, as her body instead worked solely on what made him feel best. The feedback of his own delight was all she felt - but it was more than enough.
It was fulfilment. It was desire. And it was both of those on a level she’d never felt before. He took her roughly and her body, a puppet to his pleasure, humped back, eager and desperate. She found herself happier than any whisper remaining of an old identity could have achieved.
And then, suddenly, all the lights in the longhut went out.