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“It is said that the Inferno of Orwen was the underlying cause of the Great War. Without Orwen, the empire was too weakened to oppose its enemies.”

 

 

***Orwen, the magical city***

***Slave***

 

“Come on. Grunt a little. I don't like it when you take it in silence. And wriggle your butt. It's as if I am doing a corpse.”

I do as ordered, figuring that it will be over faster that way. It's not like I am able to disobey his commands anyway. Nemus holds me down by my neck, pressing my face onto the cold stone table. His other hand is bending my arm back, pinning me down. His brutal attention doesn't even get me off as he slides in and out of me again and again. It just hurts. I feel the bile rising up my throat, but I hold back.

Yes! That's it.” He increases his efforts, tightening his grip. In the fits of passion, he shows his true nature and turns into nothing more than a panting, grunting animal. At last, he pushes deep inside me, releasing his vile seed. He tightens his grip to hold me still and almost dislocates my arm in doing so.

Phew! You are still the best bitch. Not even my wife can compete with you. Too bad that you are barren. I would love to have a few children with your blood. You've a huge magical talent inside you. Our children would be magnificent.” He steps away and pulls up his trousers.

I get back to my feet and push down my skirt. Tonight I'll have to drink a lot of gurza root to kill off anything that might grow inside me. I just hope that he never realizes the fact that I am always buying a lot more of that ingredient than he actually uses for his experiments.

And hopefully he'll never phrase his wish for children as an order. I touch the slave collar around my neck and shudder at the thought. Today, he came too close in doing so. I wouldn't be able to take preventive measures if he had made it a direct order.

Nemus throws a pouch with gold at me and I catch it. Then he turns to leave the room. “Go and buy everything we need for a weather ritual. The city's agricultural minister wants it to rain tonight. The drought went on for too long, and don't use the money for anything else.”

The magical chains around my mind tighten and I feel the compelling need to do as I was told.

I hold the pouch in my trembling hands and leave the room through the servant’s entrance. Once outside, I follow the narrow staircase down the wizard’s tower. On my way, I encounter one of the other slaves. It’s the redhead. I don’t have a name for her. She has been a slave since she was born.

Like me.

With empty eyes she sweeps the staircase, going through the motions like a robot. I’ve a silent suspicion that the mind behind those brown eyes is gone since a long time ago. Unlike me, she never had the advantage of an education. Or knew any other life. For her, there is only the golden slave collar around her neck and following orders. Those are the two constants she will ever know.

I highly doubt that she would be able to survive on her own, even if the slave collar is taken off.

I press past her and stop in the kitchen. Nemus ordered me to get ingredients, but he never said that I couldn’t take five minutes to treat myself. I take one of the gurza roots from my stash and throw it into a cup, then I head to the stove and pour some boiling water into the cup. The servants always keep hot water ready. Just in case that the master might need it for tea, or one of his rituals.

The cook is a fat, old man. He is also a slave, so he doesn’t oppose my infiltration of his kitchen. Nobody ever told him to keep others out.

Seeing that I used some of the water, he stops cutting vegetables and heads over to refill the keg. I step aside, so that I am not in the way. After a minute, I down the contents of the cup in one go. I have to do it while it is still hot enough to almost burn my throat. My tongue feels singed, but I've done this often enough to know that it only feels as if I’ve burned myself.

It’s better this way because it numbs my sense of taste. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to drink the bitter chemicals inside the gurza root. I’ve tried several times, but the taste caused me to vomit, making the entire exercise pointless. This way, I can at least keep it down.

Feeling a little safer, I head further down the tower until I reach the ground floor. There, I equip myself with a heavy cloak. Nemus likes his female slaves to run around topless and with pierced nipples. He even chose golden chains especially for me. But given the choice, there is no way that I would go out on the street like this.

If I could, I would also hide my head inside the hood. But the slave collar has to be visible. As much as I abhor it, it’s my best protection on the streets. Nobody would attack a slave with a golden collar. Not even the lowest of muggers. The gold is a symbol of high status. As the city’s weather-mage and a member of the city council, Nemus has enough power to send a little army after anyone who damages his property.

And that’s essentially what I am… property.

Having made sure that the collar is visible, I head out of the tower and onto the street.

Behind the high wall which surrounds the tower, I hear the delighted screams of the three little brats. They are probably torturing their nurse with their spoiled behaviour. Nemus already tried to make me the nurse of his brats. It would’ve been easier for him to have a quickie. To my luck his wife was totally against having me anywhere near her children.

I think she even wanted me executed for looking better than her. But Nemus didn’t want to lose his sexdoll, so he banished me back to the hidden passages of his servants. There, his wife wouldn’t see me and he could still order me to serve him when he felt like it.

I turn around and head down the street, towards the market. It’s just a short distance, but I already know that it’ll be late evening when I return. The vendors aren’t exactly eager to serve the slaves quickly.

Slaves have time. They’ll wait and be there, even if it takes half an hour until all the other customers are served. They will not change their minds and search for another shop.

On my way, I survey the street and notice the happy faces and playing children. This is Orwen, the city of mages. The Empire’s most powerful city. An economical wonder that’s holding the Allied Lands and the Murian Sociocracy at bay. With this city as a choke-hold to the biggest pass in the Trestian mountain range, the Empire doesn’t have to worry about its enemies on the other side of the mountains.

And all this power is built on the shoulders of those who hide themselves in grey robes, with pretty collars around their necks. We are slaves, not just of the body, but also of the mind.

When one of the free people looks my way, I quickly avert my eyes. I am just another slave. Nobody has to pay me any attention. Quickening my steps, I seek to arrive quickly at the first vendor. Once there, I step in line with a few other slaves.

None of us have something like a shopping list. We have to remember everything we want to buy, because it is a rare slave who can read. Nobody ever bothered to teach me more than I had to know. I was born and they put the collar onto me because my mother was a slave. The one who sired me didn't bother to claim me as his offspring.

Sometimes, those with magical powers are happy to have powerful heirs. I wonder how this life could have turned out if I had been claimed. Sadly, it's equally helpful to have an untrained mage as assistance. Someone who can be used as a magical battery. Who would exhaust his own power if there are others to exploit?

When it's my turn, I rattle down a list of ingredients and hand the vendor his money. Nemus has a running contract with this vendor. It saves him some coin. The young man, who is just an apprentice, heads into the store to gather the goods.

After a few minutes, the vendor returns. I've only eyes for the merchandise. A shudder of satisfaction runs down my spine when I receive the materials.

That's the other side of the slave collar. It doesn't just punish, but also rewards the wearer. This can become an addiction. I've seen slaves who were freed of their collars, but put them back on of their own accord. This is the most important argument in favour of the current system. I’ve often listened to Nemus and his political friends when they had a chat about politics.

While I don’t believe that I know everything about this world, I know more than enough about the Empire and the state of Orwen. Including their approach on slavery.

The current masters are saying that those who become addicted to the collars don't deserve freedom. They are just junkies. It doesn't matter that nobody ever wants to take a collar off after wearing one for an extensive amount of time. Not even a so called master. The collar might break everyone at one point or the other.

I want to believe that I am not addicted, that I am stronger than the spell. But I can’t be certain.

I could simply reach up and open the collar now, just to have my head blown off. It's not like the designers of the collar didn't consider that there might be some strong willed individuals who might resist the collar's temptations.

Instead of giving in to the impulse, I head on to the next vendor. Someday I'll do just that. I’ll take the collar off and end this miserable existence. But only once I lose all hope of freedom. I may do it in front of a large crowd, screaming some defiant words. Just to show them that their system isn't perfect.

It's late evening when I return to Nemus's tower. Just as I anticipated when I left. Orwen's streets are clean and well lighted by magelights, even at this hour. The basket with the ingredients became heavy after hours of waiting, so I feel glad when I return home.

Home? How sick. I have to remind myself not to think of this place as my home. It’s a prison. Otherwise I might as well give up and accept my fate.

Back at the servant's entrance, I press my hand to the door and it opens. The enchantment on it recognizes me as a member of the household. Once inside, I hurry up the staircase to the summoning chamber. Nemus is surely already waiting for me. Today there are no stars in the night sky, which means that it is clouded. Perfect weather to force a little rain.

I burst into the summoning chamber, feeling a rush of excitement over fulfilling my master's orders.

But Nemus isn't alone. Two men in black clothes are facing him and the large window is broken. Did they climb up the tower and invade through the balcony?

My hesitation and my noisy entrance cause a chain reaction of events.

The trespasser who is closer to me whirls around and his short sword flashes towards my throat. Had I not worn the collar, he would've taken my head in one, clean swipe.

The blade hits the collar with the heavy, clear sound of metal on metal. It slides off and cuts into my throat. I drop the basket and gasp in pain. The impact alone felt as if it could've broken my neck.

Stumbling backwards, I fall.

“Fuck! Just a servant!”

Nemus uses the distraction to throw a spell at the man who was facing him. Green energies surge away from my master’s hands and the assassin screams in pain when the curse hits him. The one who attacked me returns his attention to Nemus and charges, just to take a fireball straight to the chest. The miniature explosion opens him up and splatters blood all over the place. It goes without question that he dropped like a felled tree. Nobody who has his heart gouged out would keep walking.

Nemus returns his attention to the first attacker, but he isn't a threat any longer. I am not sure which curse Nemus used, but the man is a twitching and writhing mess with foam in front of his mouth. Something that attacks the nervous system.

The wizard studies the scene with disgust on his face. “Who would be stupid enough to send mundanes to assassinate me!? It's almost an insult!”

I crawl back to my knees and feel for the wound on my throat. In my panic I try to stop the flow of blood. Then I realize that the cut can't be that deep. If the big artery had been cut, I would've lost consciousness in mere seconds.

I was incredibly lucky.

Nemus notices that I am still alive, but he doesn’t even bother to look after the wound. “Get up and inform the other servants. We have to perform the ritual tonight, or the agricultural minister will whine to me all day long.”

He turns around to study the damage which the assassins caused. They trampled over the filigree runes which are embedded in the floor. Nemus always stresses not to step onto them, since he needs them to channel his mana. Without them, he would be unable to influence the weather.

Nemus didn’t reach his position through skill. He is just a skilled politician with many influential friends… And enemies, as it seems.

I stare at his back, then I look at my bloodied hand and flex my fingers to a fist. Strange. There is no compulsion to follow his command. Fingering my neck once more, I realize that the assassin’s short sword bit almost completely through my collar and bent the metal.

He somehow destroyed the collar without triggering the explosion.

Despite the pain, my grin widens and turns feral. I reach into my reservoir of power and send the energy through my body. Nothing happens. My power doesn’t get drained away or slip out of my grasp! I’ve complete control over my body! For the first time since I was born!

I reach for the assassin’s short sword and get to my feet. It’s a little heavy, but I had a harsh life as a slave. There is no reason that I can’t handle it.

Pointing the weapon at Nemus, I advance with measured steps. There is no reason to alarm him. Just five more steps. Three. Two. Noticing my approach, he turns around, but it is already too late. All I had to do was to stretch out my arm and the sword sinks into his belly. He stares at me, not believing what I just did.

My smile widens and I shove the sword deeper until the hilt stops it from sinking in further. Nemus grabs my arm and tries to cast a spell, but the pain makes it impossible for him to concentrate. Just to be sure, I send out my own power to cancel any spell he might try. By simply flooding the environment around him with my energies, I can make it harder for him to cast spells.

I’ve always been much more powerful than him. That’s why he used me for his weather magic.

I lean in closer and my beautiful voice sounds cheerful for the first time in my entire life. “I'd always imagined how it would be to do that. Do you know that belly wounds hurt the most and take the longest to cause death? I’ve seen it many times on the market when people wanted to punish their slaves.”

I twist the sword and pull it out. Nemus crumples to the ground, writhing in pain. “Y- y- you… don’t have to do this!”

But I want to!” Angling the sword, I stab it into his jewels and he howls.

On further thought… a man might hurt there more than in his belly.” I stab him a few more times. Just to make sure that he knows that his shaft will never rise again. “Ah, but it just feels like this isn’t enough. Punishing just you feels so pitiful. I’ve to take the whole picture into account. This whole city. The whole damned system! But I’ll start small. With this city. And your family will be collateral damage.”

A mad laugh escapes me. What are a few humans to me? “Eighty years. No, eighty-seven years, you sick bastard!”

He whimpers and tries to get to his feet, but I slash at his legs. Then I point the tip of the sword at his spine and stab at his neck. His legs immediately go limp. “Haaaarrgh...”

Don’t be a sissy. This is still going much too fast for you. I actually wish I had the time to heal you up and do it all over again.” I drop the sword and head over to his working table. The same table on which he raped me this morning. I don’t need much for this spell. Just three bowls to gather their blood. Three sacrifices to power the battle magic.

I hum as I work. First, I gather the blood of the two assassins, then I slit Nemus’s wrist to gather what’s left in him. He is still whimpering, barely alive. It won’t take much longer now, but I certainly won’t ease his death.

Bending down, I grab his ankle and pull him to the middle of the room. Then I arrange the other bodies at the necessary positions.

With religious zeal, I get to work and use their mixed blood to draw the necessary runes and symbols around the three men. On their skin, on the ground around them, connecting them in one large ritual. One part of the spell seeks out any power that’s within reach. Another ignites the mana in a simple ignition spell. The third keeps repeating the spell formation over and over, casting it on new, random targets, eventually overwhelming their defence.

It’s a rather simple spell. Just three sacrifices to fuel three lines of code.

When I return to Nemus he is still alive, to my utter surprise. He coughs up blood and his eyes are on the last rune. “It’s wrong. You haven’t set an ending condition. Don’t dabble in things you have no experience with. Magic is dangerous!”

I giggle and pat his forehead, smearing him with even more blood. My hands are red and there is a metallic smell in the air.

“Oh, Nemus. That’s why you never became more than a weather mage. The beautiful thing behind the Inferno spell is that it ignites someone’s mana. And then it jumps to the next person and the next… you get the idea. It’s a magical disease. And as long as there are enough people with the gift, it won’t stop! Orwen is the perfect place for it. With so many gifted people in one place, some are bound to have no defences ready. The whole thing might run out of control before anyone can stop it. This world is rather sloppy when it comes to magical defences.”

Nooo,” he wails.

But I don’t listen. I place both hands on the rune and start feeding it my mana. Let this entire place burn! Let them cry and wail in agony. And if I survive, I’ll punish the rest of the world too.

The rune ignites under my fingers, burning my skin. I don’t take my hands away. I’ve to feed everything I have to the spell. Otherwise it’ll take me too.

Slowly the fire spreads and consumes Nemus. His screams alerted someone who is now banging on the door. Then the other bodies join him. The whole room is fully ablaze when the fire turns blue and even hotter. And I still keep my hands on the rune, ignoring the sizzling of my flesh.

After a while I notice the blue, roaring flames on the other side of the window. At the edge of unconsciousness, I listen to the screams of people as they are taken by the Inferno.

My only response is to smile. “Burn, Orwen. Burn.”

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