Yvtema did not care. “The key to battle is deception,” her Master had once told her. “Never allow your foe to know what you are capable of. You must always rely on their misconceptions and bias towards your sex,” he taught her. “When they grow wary that you might be more capable than you appear, they become tougher opponents.” She absorbed every word he ever spoke to her, so long ago, and Yvtema had learned well. First the sheriff, then these two fools, she thought. Her hands were held in place behind her back but between her fingers she held the delicate substance that would mean her escape with care.
“Please no,” the man beside her groaned. The weight of his chains had already worn the elderly man to his knees. He would likely succumb to the punishment quite quickly. Sweat ran from his scalp where little wisps of pale white hair moved in the breeze. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed, “I’ll ne-never touch another boy, I swear it.”
He received a backhand across his loose jowls, the sort acquired by advanced age not hefty weight, and his head whipped to one side with the force. The old man cried out in pain but his pleading ceased. The only noise coming from beside her now was the clanging of the chains as he shook with fear.
Her fingers held the capsule precariously as she heard approaching footsteps moments later. Yvtema knew without having to look, not that she could, that this would be the sheriff come to carry out their sentences. She smirked as the men finished binding her and backed away; each gave her buttocks one last pinch. “Whore,” one said. The other named her, “Cunt,” and stroked her groin before he made room beside her for the newcomer.
A flock of swans took to the air as he approached. Their departure sent ripples across the pond. Frogs croaked from within the reeds at water’s edge and Yvtema could spot a school of tadpoles pushing through the water beside the dock.
The setting sun had grown level with her eyes now and she squinted against its glare. A storm was rolling in and the air was thick around her. Her fingertips stroked the capsule with tender love.
Yvtema felt a hand cup her backside once more. This time the touch she received was firmer, a painful squeeze and another on her breast as the sheriff rounded her. His nails dug into her cleavage and raw, thin red lines sprouted along her flesh.
“Whore,” he whispered like his underlings. Her Master’s voice echoed in her mind. “They will mock you for your sex. Wear their rebukes proudly; there will never be a finer set of armor forged. To underestimate your mortal foe is to go into battle naked. Take in the gaps in their own armor even as their words fortify yours.”
Just as handsome and charming as the girls say, she thought. The Sheriff of Giktun, Tomas Merryweather wore his golden brown hair in loose curls that stretched just past the ends of his ears. Bright blue eyes ran up and down her body, taking in her figure. A wide, gleaming smile spread above a strong chin as he took in her curves. He nodded as if agreeing that she was beautiful, as if someone had even asked him what he thought. Men, she thought, they’re all the same. The wind gusted and she could smell perfumed lilacs coming from his well-tailored clothing.
He was dressed in the red-orange tunic of his station; a bronze leaf brooch glimmered faintly in the daylight as he shifted his stance. Grey pants fell over polished black boots and on his waist a sword rested in its leather scabbard. Tomas Merryweather gave her chest another longing glance and then turned to the old man on his knees.
The Sheriff unrolled a scroll in his gloved hands. His eyes skimmed the parchment and closed it with a snap. “Pallo Seagoh, you have been tried for the crimes of molestation, rape, and fornication with a child. You were found guilty by the Justices of Giktun and are hereby sentenced to death. If you have any last words, you’d best say them now.” Disinterested eyes glanced down at the feeble man, so close to death.
The old man trembled beneath his glare. “I’m so sorry,” he mumbled. His mouth opened and closed as though he wanted to say more but he could not seem to find the words. Not that any will help him, Yvtema thought.
Tomas Merryweather laughed. “Not yet,” he said, “May whatever gods you hold dear find mercy on your pitiful soul, Pallo.” He readied a strike with his boot but something stopped him. He looked up and over Yvtema’s shoulder. The Sheriff of Giktun frowned.
We have onlookers, she thought. Witnesses. It made no matter. It was now or never and the latter was not an option for her; she must escape so that she might continue serving her Master. He would be back one day, she knew. And he’d rejoice at what his favorite disciple had become after all these years…
Pallo’s head slumped to the dock perhaps a foot away from her. Instinctively, she shuffled another step away, as best as she could manage, and then the order was given.
“Release,” Tomas said solemnly.
The two attendants wrapped their hands around a lever and gave a pull. The wood beside her slid away and the old man fell into the shallow water. He cried out as he landed with a weak splash and for a moment he submerged.
Tomas laughed as the old man struggled to stand. Most gave a valiant effort in their last moments. But in the end the weights of the chains would prove to be too much of a burden to bear, a physical representation for the guilt on their conscience. Little by little, the guilty would sink to their knees and then lower still until they drowned in two feet of pond water.
It was never a pretty sight. It was never clean. It never failed.
Until now, she thought.
Tomas looked on as the old man groaned from below. His eyes never left the sight as the water continued to splash in weak fits. “One last fuck, what do you say?” he asked her under his breath.
Yvtema’s eyes narrowed as she looked up at him. Her breasts still hurt from the unwanted groping of he and his attendants. Scars latticed across her lower back from the lashes she had received while in his cells. “Your final wish?” she responded just as softly.
His eyes left the mortal struggle and he frowned at her. “What did you say?” he asked as if he hadn’t heard. “Yours, you mean,” his voice had a bit of a tremble to it now.
“Sure,” Yvtema shifted under the weight of the chains. She was in prime physical condition and had been for several dozen decades, but nonetheless they were heavy, tiring things, these chains. She let her shoulders sag against the burden for just a moment. Yvtema saw the sheriff’s expression brighten and she let the moment stretch on longer just to toy with him.
The doubt slipped from his features quick as it came. He grinned at her. “Heavy, aren’t they?” Tomas reached out and placed two fingers under her chin. He lifted slightly and her gaze leveled with his. She saw that his blue eyes were alive with delight. This man lived for such things; Yvtema could respect that. I live for what’s about to come, she thought. “Don’t worry whore, you’ll have relief in due time. That old man will give up soon enough,” he promised.
She tried to turn her head to again look down at the mortal struggle on display, but Tomas’s grip strengthened. Yvtema glared at him but gave no voice to her complaints at his treatment. Almost time, she thought. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see sporadic flurries of movement. She heard splashing water, the old man’s whimpering coughs, and the clank of the chains; Yvtema felt the cool touch of the pond water on her ankles when Pallo’s strength nearly gave out altogether.
Tomas ran a finger down her crooked nose, pressed on its end, and then traced the fine scar across her right cheek. “You are beautiful, as whores go,” he admitted. His head tilted with admiration. “Dark hair, pale yellow eyes,” he said as a hand cupped and squeezed at her left breast, “supple breasts and a flat stomach. How’s about one last romp before death? What do you say?” he asked her again.
Yvtema stared back at him. Was he being serious? Could a man really be so conceited?
“Tell you what – if you agree to let me have a taste, I’ll give you one last night in the world. A good, hard fuck and then you can die sore and happy.” Behind him his men laughed. His fingers twisted and pried at her nipple.
She spit in his face and laughed as he punched her in that flat stomach of hers. The wind was knocked out of her, for just a moment, and Yvtema doubled over, gasping for air. But she did not fall to her knees. She would not show him such weakness. I am much stronger than that, she told herself, he’ll see.
Tomas grabbed at her hair and yanked a lock from her scalp. “That’s a no, is it?”
When he let go and she could breathe normally again, Yvtema turned to look at the crowd. The dozen or more citizens who had come to see justice carried out had now thinned considerably and two more left when they caught her eye. Mistreatment of a prisoner was sure to spoil one’s appetite these days, especially in a town where one could be arrested for the most mundane of charges based on this man’s daily whims. She was happy to see them go. Fewer witnesses, she knew, fewer people I might have to kill.
“Oh God,” Pallo cried out, “Forgive me!”
Tomas rolled his eyes. “Not bloody likely,” he said, “get on with it, old man, and die.” He looked at the setting sun as it sank below the horizon. Warm tones of red flooded the sky. “We’ve got one more before it’s time to go home. Be courteous, Pallo.”
Yvtema looked down at the old man in the water. In the fading light, it was hard to make out the details of his face. But she thought she saw tears glistening upon his cheeks. Perhaps just water from the pond, she reckoned. His eyes appeared to be red and swollen as he began to whimper.
Pallo raised his head to the sliver of sun that remained. He mumbled some prayer but his words were lost in sorrow and delirium. Then he bowed his head beneath the surface.
A curious swan returned to the water and settled not two yards from the man. Its head cocked to one side as it drifted closer. One of Tomas’s guards loosened his sword in its scabbard as the bird drew near.
“No!” she shouted at him. Her hands clenched into fists. So close now, she thought. “You let it be,” Yvtema warned him. The swan looked like half a mystical creature in this light.
He glared at her from beneath a brutish brow. The nostrils on his twisted nose flared but his hands let go of the blade’s handle. He cleared his throat and spit on Pallo as soft bubbles escaped to the surface and the old man’s life left him.
The sheriff was smirking at her. “Aren’t you the curious little cunt?” His tone was sweet, masking the poison of his words. The wind worried his golden locks. When it settled he gave a happy clap. “Your turn.” He smiled.
The two guards jumped into the pond. Together, they removed the chain that coiled around Pallo. They grunted with the effort. When that was done, they heaved the lifeless form of the old man and tossed it on the dock with a dull thud.
Tomas worked the trap door back into its place while his men pulled themselves back up out of the water. Firm, callused hands clamped around her shoulders and moved her into position. Then another mailed hand slapped her on the buttocks so hard she gasped and her vision swam for a moment as tears flooded her eyes.
The brute of a guard rounded on her. His dark eyes bespoke malice. He held up two fingers together then jabbed them at her sex. He pressed so hard that Yvtema thought he would claw his way through the thin shift they had garbed her in.
The pain was near blinding and she cried out. Yet still he pushed harder. Yvtema shifted feebly to escape his reach and nearly lost her hold on the capsule. She gasped from the shock. Get control, she urged herself.
The sheriff unrolled her sentence. “Belanna Artis, you have been tried for the crimes of aiding a fugitive, gelding a man, and murder. You were found guilty by the Justices of Giktun and are hereby sentenced to death. It’s getting late, so say what you need but be quick about it.” He snapped the scroll shut and folded his hands behind his back.
A smile crept across her lips. “Who’s Belanna?” she asked as her fingers broke the seal. Her fingers twisted away as the acid emptied onto the chains. The frogs were croaking again, cicadas added their voices to the song. “When you twist their perceptions of you, the fear will be plain to see upon their faces,” her Master told her. And so it was.
His eyes widened and she could see real fear in them. Tomas looked to his guards for affirmation, as if to ask if they had heard her too. They shrugged back. “Whore,” he said, “Do it.”
The guards pulled and the board beneath her feet fell away. Water splashed as she landed. Yvtema thought it best to put on a show so she grimaced and landed in a crouch. The swan took to the skies in a flurry of ghostly white feathers.
She shifted her shoulders and felt the weakened chains. Her wrists rolled as she worked blood back into them. They would be clumsy, useless things if she attacked now. A moment longer, she thought, that’s all I need.
Tomas was laughing now. “ ‘Who’s Belanna,’ she says.” He mocked her. “Don’t matter what your name is, whore, you’ll be dead same as him. ‘Who’s Belanna?’” His guards joined in his mirth.
It sounded to her like there was doubt behind each cackle. Good, Yvtema thought as her bare feet felt jagged rocks on the waterbed, that’ll serve. The chain was like to come apart at any moment so she went down to both knees.
Suddenly her wrists were free and the chain was winding off of her. Yvtema submerged for a moment to hide the sight from the sheriff and his guards. Her hands wrapped around two choice stones, sharp as spears and heavy. Now!
Dusk had taken hold as the chain fell from her like some fine lace bride silk on a wedding night. “Speed is the surest weapon. A soldier cannot kill that which he cannot strike,” Master said once as they trained. “Faster now, my apprentice. I said FASTER!” He screamed at her. “Are you a girl or an assassin? Faster!” Yvtema kicked with her feet and burst out of the pond. Her hands coiled into fists around the stones and she ducked into a roll along the creaking dock boards.
Centuries of training and killing took over and her every action was controlled by the instinct that coursed through her. She vaulted at the smaller guard as he struggled to loose his blade from its scabbard. Her killing order was lost to the circumstances. The world slowed to a crawl as she careened towards her victim. His eyes that had been pale green by the light of the setting sun were now wide grey orbs.
Yvtema saw again that he wore no helm so it was there that she struck first. She slammed the jagged points of her crude daggers into his temples. Blood ran down darkly stubbled cheeks as the guard grunted. Already his life was leaving him but she kicked at him and tumbled away all the same. His body hit the water with a loud splash as the sheriff and the last guard rounded on her. From the end of the dock she heard gasps.
Tomas swung a savage blow as she tumbled. Her shift gave a soft hiss as the blade sliced through it. The edge missed her back by a hair but it loosed a sleeve that slipped from a pale shoulder to expose her right breast. The wind was cool across the marks their molestation had left behind. Her bright red nipple hardened as she readied for their next attack.
“Pretty teats,” Tomas jeered. Behind him the brutish guard roared his charge. “Shame I’ll have to cut them off – Garen no!” he cried out as the big man ran past.
Garen’s bull rush was reckless and ill conceived. He ran headlong at her with his sword thrust forward like a spear. Yvtema hurled the stone in her left hand at his skull.
It struck above his broken nose. Garen yelped and pitched forward with a stumble. His own sword slid through his bowels as his body thudded along the dock. The stench of his final moments filled the night air.
“Whore!” the Sheriff screamed at her. He held his own sword across his body with both hands, shielding himself from the same attack. Before he could advance on her, Yvtema made her move.
She darted two steps to within reach of Garen’s corpse, her movements quick and sure as ever. Tomas took slow, deliberate steps towards her. Her fingers grasped the hilt of the dagger at his side. She pulled but it wouldn’t loose easily.
His swing was aimed for her head and still the dagger would not budge. Yvtema flung the second stone without looking to buy a moment more. She had decades to master the equal use of both hands.
The Sheriff had not anticipated such a skill. The stone struck him in that pretty mouth and his cut went wide as he swore. Yvtema took the chance to grip the dagger with both hands and it withdrew from the scabbard with a final heave.
Tomas spat blood and broken teeth as she rose to meet him. “Whore!” he shouted through the ruin of his mouth, that golden smile was all but gone. He spun in place and sent the sword swinging back around at her head.
Yvtema ducked the blow and quick as lightning her dagger found the vital blood vessel along one arm. His grip on the blade faltered and it slipped from useless fingers and sailed into the pond.
She stepped in closer and sent the blade through his side. Blood flowed from the wound and his tunic became more red than orange, black in the night sky. The stab had been low and the weapon was trapped in the ruins of a rib.
Tomas’s good hand closed around her throat and pulled her down on top of him as he fell to his back. His grip was strong and her breathing grew desperate.
She clawed at his face but the perfection was already ruined and the Sheriff made no move to defend against her strikes. She gasped from the pain. So strong, she thought. Her other hand fumbled along the deck searching for the stone in the dark. Had it fallen into the water?
“Die you fucking whore,” he said.
Her fingers felt a hard, cool lump. The point of the stone raked against the wood as she brought it up. No, she thought, I can’t die yet. Master hasn’t returned. She yanked the shift off to give Tomas a full look at her chest. Then she brought the stone to bear.
His nose caved in under the force of her blow. The hand at her neck lost its strength and she yanked it away as she struck him again. This time she could hear his skull split along the brow. Blood sprayed over her breasts, ran red down her arm, stung her eyes. Again she struck, shattering what few teeth were left to him.
Beneath her his legs kicked. She felt him harden as she brought another blow into what was left of his nose. Cartilage flew across the deck, faint in the darkness. Again she hit him. And again. And again. And still again.
Her torso was a red mess. Yvtema’s breasts were cloaked in the Sheriff’s viscous blood. Tomas was long dead. But still she struck again. And then once more because she felt the need. Enough, her instinct told her, time to leave.
His face was a gaping, hollow wound. Fragments of teeth and skull littered the dock. Yvtema spit into the hole that had once been a handsome face. The stone fell from her fingers as she rose.
She walked to the end of the dock and hopped lightly off. Yvtema submerged herself, and ran her hands along her body to wash away the blood. She crouched in the cold waters and found the guard’s body. After a moment, she rose and wrapped herself in his cloak.
Yvtema waded to the reeds and the shore. Around her, the night was quiet now. The wildlife had born silent witness to her prowess. She could feel the minnows against her leg as she moved, felt the suck of mud on her feet as she stepped through the reeds.
One last onlooker was left as she emerged from the pond. The man gaped at her, fear writ plain across his face. His body trembled but he made no move to run.
Yvtema put a finger to her lips as she passed him. “Shh,” she whispered as he nodded wordlessly back. It was time to find a new contract, to aid a helpless victim. She would continue on until her Master returned. She had to. She would wait for him for five more centuries if she must. But one day he would rise again. And when he did, Yvtema would serve him better than all the rest.
The frogs took up their croaking again. Cicadas followed. Somewhere among the trees an owl hooted and rose to the hunt. Yvtema smiled.