Something in Echo's soul crumpled as if the essence had been killed in it when she began. Blood began to leak immediately from the shallow cut, and Echo turned very white, realizing she was not using the instrument properly. She tried to manipulate the settings, for the instrument should have been sealing the capillaries and nerve endings as she cut, but still he bled, and she felt, through her own highly developed healing senses, all the pain he suffered.

Suddenly there was a commotion. Rictor burst in with his son Ashakahn, declaring that they had come to save Echo from being murdered by Static. Echo's hands began to shake as she screamed at them to get out. She had no fears that Static had designs on her life; her fear was that the interruption would cause him to demand even more of her, and there was no more she could give.

Rictor and Ashakahn, balked, spat condemnations at her, not understanding at all the terrible pressures that had brought her to this deed, and Echo's soul withered yet a little more. Rictor left in a fury; Ashakahn remained.

"This is as merciful as I get," said Static. "I will not demand further payment for that." He sneered. "Act at your leisure, Echo." Then he added, "James ... you may stand beside Vezhan ... but that's a far as it goes." James moved to stand next to Vezhan, completely unarmed.

Echo resumed where she was, the first incision made, very shallow, just skin depth, then began slicing downward, curving inward to avoid the wing, as more blood leaked from the incision. James winced, averting his gaze. Blood Demon lay beneath the scalpel with a cold calm, ignoring the pain, just waiting as time moved on and more of his skin was cut ... but Echo felt the pain as if the cuts were to her own body. She moved to the other side of the table and made a mirror incision.

Vezhan looked around and smiled to Static, watching the array of people in amusement.

Trying to control her terrible nausea, Echo switched settings on the medical instrument, knowing what had been done to Blood thus far was nothing compared to what was to come next.

With a new movement, she turned the high-tech scalpel to cut sideways, under the skin, with amazing swiftness. Blood now sheeted from beneath the skin as it was peeled back, revealing a raw red mass, shining with blood. Static wondered if Blood was even alive; at the same time, Echo wondered if Ash's words were true ... that Arthur did mean to kill her ... and wasn't sure whether she even cared anymore. Blood Demon sneered slightly as his skin ripped from his flesh, his body continusly pumping blood out onto the table, the floor, and Echo.

"Do not mess up, Echo darling ..." said Static.

The severed capillaries desperately tried to seal themselves behind the wound in response to the work of the scalpel, but still the settings were wrong, or the instrument simply was not functioning correctly, for few of the sealed blood vessels held. Echo continued cutting, working down to the small of his back.

Finally she removed one large piece of skin intact, leaving Blood's back a raw mass of uncovered muscle.

Echo, still enduring every atom of Blood's pain, and absorbing what she could of it, since this was the only method of pain-killing Static could never detect, let the dying skin fall to the floor and said faintly, "Arthur, let James have my baby now ... please ..." The tranquilizer Aelu had given her was failing quickly under the incredible strain.

Static smiled a bit, his eyes taking on a cruel, glazed look. Blood Demon turned slightly, his fleshless mouth opening into a smile at the crowd; then he twisted in the shackles and sat up, leaving his blood dripping onto the table. His voice was only a slight hollow hiss: "I hope you are all enjoying the show ..."

Aelu's head appeared at the edge of Echo's forgotten healer's pack. Static said quickly, "I did say no anaesthetics, Echo."

Echo replied, just as quickly, "There were none," and if there was a tremor of guilt in her tone, it was lost in the quaver of strain. Blood said, "Trust me ... there were none," and Echo knew her attempts to absorb the pain had not benefitted Blood very much.

Static only said, "Keep that bastard snake away from him. If I see that snake even touch him, I will make his pain legendary." Aelu, understanding his presence was a threat to his beloved partner, disappeared again.
Blood Demon, with blood still sheeting from his back, said, "Give ... her the child now ..." The slight hesitation in his words was the first sign he had given that what he had endured was taking his toll on him.

Static just said, "She's not done. Down the sides of his legs, Echo. I wear high boots."

James growled at Static, clenching his fists through his leather flight gloves. Echo closed her eyes briefly and said, in a voice that was entirely unlike her own, so hate-filled did it sound, "Damn you. May you rot in all the nine hells for all eternities."

Static, unaffected, said with a smirk, "Yes ... everyone would love that. Please continue."

"Just finish ..." said Blood. At that moment, as if to put Static's signature on the agony both Blood and Echo were enduring, Vezhan smiled and clapped his hands lightly in amusement. Static smiled and lighted petted Vezhan's head.

Knowing the scalpel was not working properly, Echo gave up trying and worked much more quickly now. In grim silence she removed a long strip of skin from the outside of Blood's left leg, using the same techniques as before, then took a similar strip from the right.

Then she dropped the scalpel on the floor and looked at Arthur. "There," she said, and fell to her knees.

Background: Pegasus On-Line
Four Blades Image: Graphics and Beyond
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