Authors: Mike Simmons
“Defeating your enemy is possible, with the proper training,” Empress Aurora would always say. “Some put up quite a fight. You have to think and use your head. You can beat them. You are only free willed if there are no men to hold you back. We will rid this world of them all,” she said, “together." Because of her laws, the only men in the kingdom were her personal bodyguards. They could only wear their bondage masks and loincloths, and were branded with demeaning names, like Princess and Flower.
Corinne walked ahead of Princess, heading down the slime-covered, stone staircase that wound towards the black depths of the dungeon. She twirled her beautiful blonde hair in her right forefinger, as her eyes darted chaotically, trying to see into the blackness surrounding her.
“This way, Corinne." Corinne did not realize she stopped as she reached the bottom of the stairs. She glanced over at Princess, and turned to follow him. If she did not, her punishment would be severely worse, even counted as treason for not doing what Empress Aurora demanded. This would be bad and she knew it.
Princess led Corinne down another dimly lit hallway, ending at a door that opened off to the left. He motioned her inwards. She entered the room, making sure not to touch any of the walls as she entered. The pungent smell of sweat and old blood sent quivers of nausea to her belly. She started crying again.
“Please, Princess, please." She begged. She knew it would not do any good, but she had to try. Thoughts of her punishment filled her with terror. Princess walked into the center of the room with casual duplication. He had done this before, many, many times. He reached his hands up to the two shackles that hung from the thick chain locked into the ceiling. With a flick of his finger, the shackles opened. He left them and moved towards the wall, where tools and other objects were scattered in chaotic order across a rickety table.
“Corinne. Shackle yourself up. Put them on your wrists and close them." His back faced her as he did something on the table that she could not see. Her fear prevented her from moving. The torches along the wall flickered and threw dancing shadows across the grim floor. A large rat skittered along the base of the wall into a small hole in the corner. His head whipped sideways and through gritted teeth, he commanded her.
“Corinne, shackle up, now!" This was not a request. Corinne heard the screams of the giant man ripping open the night, countless times before, echoing through the chambers, as Aurora punished him for things unbeknownst to her. Aurora liked to punish the Lash Lords, even when they did nothing wrong, to “keep them in check” she would say. Corinne doubted Princess would give Aurora a
reason to hurt him. His death-cold glare hit her like a ton of bricks, as his muscles rippled in a flexing fury. The rage of his voice made her jump. She scooted to the shackles and locked herself up, tears flowing from her eyes amidst whimpers of fear.
Princess turned, facing Corinne, stretching his hands as he pulled on tight, black leather gloves over his gigantic fingers. He walked over to the shackles, not looking into Corinne’s eyes, and flipped the lock closed. She would not be able to get out now. The shackles were at the top of her reach; another inch and she would need to be on her tiptoes to prevent the shackles from digging into the side of her wrists. Corinne’s lip quivered. Princess walked back over to the table, and by the sound of it, shuffled some metal objects around. As he turned around, Corinne’s eyes went wide, trying to see what he had in his hands through the darkness and shadows. The reality made her stomach lurch; bile filled the back of her throat.
“Oh no,” Corinne whimpered. “Princess, no, you can’t. Stop, this is unreal. Do whatever you need to, but no, not the scissors.” Tears erupted from her terrified eyes. “Please! No!”
Princess looked down at the scissors bouncing in his hand, and brought his eyes up to Corinne’s, glaring at her from underneath those crooked cut eyeholes in his mask. The scissors stopped cold in his clenched fist. The muscles up his arm rocked with a flex. With his left hand, Princess closed the silver zipper that covered his mouth. He looked horrible, Corinne thought, as tears ran down her cheeks with continued fear.
Without warning, Princess pounced on her, one hand ripping her head backwards with the handful of hair he clenched in his fist. Corinne choked as her head jerked back.
“If you move, I might cut you. I would suggest you keep still." His voice muffled beneath his mask.
Corinne kept her eyes shut tight while the snipping began. When Princess wanted to cut a different area of her hair, he would grab her by the back of the neck, like a bad puppy, and force her head another direction so he could continue. She wept with her eyes tightly close, trying to keep it as much to herself as possible. The cutting of her hair lasted for an eternity, when at last, he released his grip on her neck with a shove. She glanced at the long strands of hair resting on her shoulders and covering the floor. A pout erupted from her mouth at the sight of all of her beautiful hair.
Long hair indicated position within the castle. Servants and maids could not have hair reach their shoulders. The higher one’s status in the castle, the longer they could grow it. She grew her hair out with permission after she established her status as an advancing illusionist. Now, only an uneven and patchy mess remained.
Princess returned from the table, a thick leather whip dragging behind him. She followed the body of the whip down to the end of its tail, where a handful of leather strips dragged across the floor. Corinne’s eyes shot open with fear; Lash Lords fought battles with whips, although their battle whips had interlocking metal links that ended in a saw-like blade. The control and power they had over any whip unrivaled anything she had ever seen. Corinne even heard that a Lash Lord could split a blade of grass held from a man’s teeth from across the room, and never once cut his face. Her expression conveyed the raw terror she felt.
With a quick jerk of his arm, the whips tail became airborne, cracking a horrific noise as it reached its peak into the air. Corinne backed up as far as she could from him until the shackles held her tight. Princess's ice-blue eyes moved up from jagged holes and stared at her. She swore he smiled underneath that zipper. Princess was in his element. This is what he did best and he loved it. With a flash of his left hand to his side, Corinne jolted hard as the crack of the leather whip made her head flail backwards. Splitting pain blazed across her lower lip as warmth flowed down her chin. Corinne wailed out in pain.
Princess circled his trembling target, his leather whip dragging behind him. He became a predator seeking out his prey. Corinne felt vulnerable. Her sides, legs, back and stomach were completely unprotected; she wanted to protect them with her arms. The sound of a crack sent unbelievable pain to her tender left side, below her ribs. She screamed out in shock. Blood seeped into her dress where the end of the whip hit her. Before she recovered from the first hit, the whip struck her right side, in the same spot as her left. She screamed out again, this time releasing a wave of tears and cries. She could not see Princess behind her, as another blood-drawing lashing tore at her right shoulder blade. Corinne’s body reacted to the pain, stripping her of her breath. She heard the unzipping of a zipper.
“Corinne Allenmay, you have broken a law set forth by our Mother and Provider, Empress Aurora.”
Bleeding agony shot across the flat of her back. Corinne went limp from the pain, crying without restraint.
“Do you deny the accusation that you have broken the law? That you have been intimate with a man, against the orders of She who wishes to protect you?”
Corinne cried and cried, and with a sniff, she quietly said “No. I do not deny this." She knew that if she did not tell the truth or delayed her answer to Princess, she would be tortured to death for not giving herself to Empress Aurora’s will. That is how she worked.
Agony pulsed and throbbed throughout her entire body. Her body shook and quivered as it tried to cope with the pain.
It could not possibly get any worse
. As the thought crossed her mind, pain ripped across the back of her right thigh. It felt as if her leg had been torn off. She once again wailed in pain with the realization that she was mistaken.
“Empress Aurora makes these rules to protect her people. She is a kind and generous ruler. She looks out for the well-being of all her people, even the unworthy." Even though she did not look at him, she felt the heat of his eyes upon her as he put weight to the word “unworthy."
Corinne yelled at him in frustrated anguish, “Is that why you are not allowed to sleep on a bed and are treated like a pet? You do not even have a real name! You . . .”
A volley of lashings tore at Corinne’s back with accelerated madness. She could not tell where one lashing ended and the next one began. Amidst the warm wetness streaming down her legs, all went black.
Commotion arose outside as the Scarlet Brigade of the Blade Maidens returned from battle. Eleven women total, all mounted with chins up, entered the Kingdom with pride. Their burnished armor threw illuminated reflections across the buildings to either side of them as they rode. The massive Maiden polearm, resembling a long staff with a wicked scimitar blade extending from the top of it, hung on their backs, swinging as they rode in. The streets cleared ahead of them and, amidst the cheers and celebration, they headed for the towering castle in the city.
General Commander Gretchen Lomire, the most feared of the Maidens and the leader of this elite crew, had always known she wanted to defend her Empress from harm. She had been a tomboy growing up, but her long legs and beautiful hair made her stand out as more of a woman than most of her classmates. When she became old enough to talk, Gretchen’s mother took her to Cloudkeep Castle. They tested her to see which services, if any, she could provide the Empress. Successful students were given a good life in the Castle and their mothers were paid handsomely for the service of their kids. The tests determined the power level of the three spheres of the human body - mind, body, and spirit. Gretchen, a phenomenon amongst the Gifted at her testing, had more energy in the Body Sphere than anyone they had seen in many years. Through vigorous training, she humbled her classmates in strength, speed, and dexterity. Eleven years later, Gretchen earned the title of Commander General, the highest military rank of Empress Aurora’s Blade Maidens.
She rode in the lead of her fellow sisters, not looking down to the cheering and grabbing hands that reached for her. The Scarlet Brigade,
Brigade, defeated Lord Reinhold’s forces at Greylin. They slaughtered forty of his men, while only suffering minor cuts and wounds themselves. She had information to relay to Empress Aurora, and captives of war that needed delivered.
The Maidens traveled through the cobblestone streets towards the fifth and largest tower of Empress Aurora’s Castle. The streets were clean. Vendor carts loaded with spiced fish, sweet smelling fruit, and fresh pastries filled the air with mouth-watering aroma. The colored flags of the Empress flew high throughout the city. Gretchen rode through her city, glad to see its walls again.
As they neared the mammoth entrance doors, Gretchen hopped off her mare towards the inner halls, her Maiden’s Blade still hanging at an angle across her back. The two guards on either side of the door stepped inward and opened the thick barricading door before her; she did not miss a step as she entered the white marble hallway. Gretchen gave no heed to the beautiful and decorated halls, which always smelled of flowers. She walked forward, ignoring the magnificent paintings and pottery that lined both walls. She headed with purpose towards the inner bindings. As she approached, the few people in the halls made business elsewhere and left her pathway clear.
She paused for a second, and took a quick breath, before entering the intimidating throne room. With her eyes locked on Empress Aurora, Gretchen strode inside. Aurora’s eyes rose, following her as she dropped to a knee and bowed her head to the floor.
“Empress Aurora, your wish is my command. I do your bidding.”
“Ah, Commander General Lomire." Aurora’s eyes scanned and weighed her heavily. “I hope your travels bring me good news.”
Gretchen brought her stunning, grey eyes up to meet Aurora’s.
“Yes, my liege. Lord Reinhold had a battalion of troops setting station in Greylin. Judging from their equipment, I think Reinhold wishes to use Greylin as a relief point for his forces traveling into Cloudkeep Kingdom. When we arrived, we encountered approximately seventy-five men. We made our presence known. It is becoming clearer to me, Empress, that Reinhold’s troops lack sufficient discipline and training. A town Gifted caused us a little chaos, but nothing that lead us astray of our task. We slaughtered forty of his men and captured the remaining soldiers. They are being transported to the dungeon as we speak.”
“How many losses did we suffer?”
“Zero, Empress. We suffered no wounds that have not healed on our journey back here.”
Aurora appraised Gretchen for a moment. A small, evil smile cracked her lips. She drew her words out, as if savoring them.