"Soldier and the Slave Girl", excerpt from Outcast, Heathen by Karma Rose.
Minos circled us once, stopping in front of me. “Well now, what could a military cadet be doing with a slave girl, hm?”
“If you know what's good for you, Minos, you'll turn around now,” threatened Azrael, easily commanding when he had inherited his father's bulk. The dark red uniform only enhanced the image, making his eyes burn.
Minos just laughed, scathing. “Does she even know what you're wearing?”
“What do you want, Minos?” I sighed. He was such a sleezeball, he would never report me for improperly addressing a Heathen out of turn.
“Guess,” he hissed, eyeing me up and down. Az did his best to reign in his developing temper. Minos grinned. “She doesn't know, does she?”
“Know what? It's a military uniform!” I snapped, pissed at being left out of the loop. Azrael's jaw tightening, all four hands curling to fists of rage.
“Don't you dare,” he hissed, making me worried. What was I missing?
“His father requested, paid for and required that he wear the most prestigious uniform, didn't he, Azrael?” Minos turned his demented grin on me, saying each word slowly and with perfect enunciation. “Human flesh.”
It took a moment for the proper horror and disgust to sink in, but by that time Azrael was stepping between Minos and I. “GET OUT OF HERE!”
“And leave you alone with my girl?” scoffed Minos.
Azrael grabbed at Minos, lifting him a foot off the ground with ease. “Your girl? Your girl?”
Minos cackled. “Did I stutter? She's bought and paid for, as a graduation gift to me.”
“BY WHO'S APPROVAL?!” roared Az, and I stumbled back in shock. He shook the Heathen viciously, throwing him to the ground in a rage. He grabbed Minos by the shoulder, pulling back two fists, ready to hit. “You tell me now—”
“You won't like the—AGH!”
Minos had to speak through the blood in his mouth, the words somewhat garbled but unmistakable. “General Atlas.”
Azrael dropped the boy, turning away in his fury. It died quickly when he saw the stunned look on my face, unable to tear my eyes away. His expression softened, and he put a hand on my shoulder for comfort. The most he could do in public, not that it meant anything. He had just exploded at one of the leading political Heathen's children, in front of the small crowd that had gathered. I followed him though, silently leaving the park and towards my home. We stopped at the door, where he hesitated.
“Mint, I'm sorry—”
“Is what he said true?” I asked, shaken.
Azrael nodded slowly. “It's human.”
“Not the suit, Az,” I snapped tersely. He saw the terror on my face, ashamed that he hadn't realized sooner. He opened the door for me, following as quickly as he could so that he could hug me.
“I don't know, Mint,” he confessed, sounding devastated. “Knowing Minos...I guess it could be.”
I choked on the air in my lungs, horrified by the thought of being sold, to Minos of all monsters. Az's arms tightened around me, and that's when I noticed it—the tense severity of the air, the feel of daggers against my skin. Atlas sitting in the darkest corner of my home, watching from his shadowed cover.
“Oh,” choked Azrael when he realized it, releasing me and moving me behind him in the same moment. He shielded me from Atlas' view as he stood and sauntered over, even more terrifying when we were caught. After years of hiding, he had caught us.
“You abused the son of a prominent politician in the park?” demanded his father, posing a question he already knew the answer to. “While you were accompanying his future residential escort, alone.”
Azrael was timid for the briefest second before he straightened and faced his father with all of the bluster he had with Minos. “That is an illegal purchase and trade; Mint is not of age!”
“Oh, Mint,” his father sighed mockingly. “I forgot your sentiments. You should have done the same before you beat that boy in your military uniform!”
“That disgusting politic has been harassing her for years!” yelled Azrael, glaring down his father hatefully. “He should be glad I didn't tear anything off!”
Atlas brought two powerful fists across Azrael's face before he could block them. Az fell backwards onto me, pinning my legs under him. I grunted in pain, forgetting it in an instant when I saw the blood on his face. Az tried to get up but Atlas kicked him back, one heavy boot pressing down on his chest. As Atlas added his weight to my legs, I couldn't help a cry of pain. Azrael glanced back at me in horror, bracing himself against the floor and pushing back to relieve some of the pressure.
“You will learn your place!” yelled Atlas, but his threat was useless. Azrael had already earned enough leverage to get a fist into his father's knee, crippling the giant at least temporarily.
Azrael was up in an instant, shielding me from Atlas' view as he urged me outside. “Run, Mint, go!”
I limped out the door, quickly followed by Azrael. I was moving too slow for a reliable escape, and Az wasn't too far behind me in realizing this. He was about to scoop me up when Atlas burst from the door, favoring his injured leg but otherwise undeterred. He grabbed Azrael by the shoulder, stopping him short and yanking him back to the ground. Azrael fell to the pavement with a sharp crack, stopping me short.
Atlas didn't give him time to recover, though, lifting him up again and throwing him into the solid stone wall of my building. “You wanted to act freely! Here's the consequences!”
Again, he tried to get me involved in the damage, all but tossing Azrael through the air at me. Still not completely beaten, Az stopped himself short, collapsing to his hands and knees at my feet. His blood splattered to the pavement as he trembled, looking up at me through the immediate bruises and swelling on his face.
“Run, Mint,” he gasped, practically begging me.
Atlas was furious, loathing the both of us even more. His son for not injuring me, me for going near his son to begin with. I almost thought he would never move again, he was so filled with hatred. But when Az struggled to stand again, he melted back to life, stalking over to grab his son's shoulder again. Azrael couldn't help a cry of pain, and I recognized the signs of a dislocated shoulder.
“It's a public whipping for you, boy,” he snarled, then shot me a glare filled with daggers. If looks could kill, I would have been in the deepest pit of hell that Atlas could find. “And you...We'll see just what your master has in mind for you.”
That stopped me short. I didn't even have the mercy of one of our dear general's punishments. I was left to the perverted mind of Minos, with no one to speak for me or the injustice of anything that he could create. I nearly fell to my knees and begged Atlas for a whipping post by Azrael.
Atlas' words had a different effect on Azrael, however. At the mention of Minos, his strength returned, and as he stood he popped his shoulder back into place using his father's iron grip to brace against. Atlas thought this more of a petty, childish tantrum, blindsided by the forceful tackle his son provided from a dead standstill.
Propelled by Az's strength and their combined weight, Atlas was crushed against the stone wall of my home, sending a crack up to the roof. Still smaller and faster, Az got out of the mess before Atlas had time to stand. Az was at my side again, more than ready to make a getaway, but Atlas, again, ensured this would not happen. As he stood, he flared his display feathers, and while humans weren't allowed knowledge of the Heathens, everyone understood what that meant.
This was a challenge Azrael could no longer flee from. Either he submitted, or he beat Atlas. With Heathens, those were the only answers.
Startled, Az couldn't do anything for a moment, terrified by his father. I couldn't blame him. Crowned with a royal purple, Atlas could have frightened anyone. But Az, somehow, found enough of a resolve to straighten his stance and flare his smaller, less matured feathers in response. Scarlet and bright, Az at least stood somewhat of a visual chance of domination.
Atlas braced himself, catching Az's charge easily, moving to wrestle him into submission. But Azrael dug in to the pavement, determined not to go down without a hell of a fight. And he held his own for nearly three minutes, still bleeding all over his front, before Atlas threw him down again. He put a heavy boot on his son's chest again, and it was over. Azrael stayed down, accepting defeat at last. He allowed Atlas to lift him up and half-drag him down to street, where quite the crowd had gathered. I hadn't been able to notice, too focused on Azrael to see anything else.
Had no one grabbed me, I never would have moved. When a hand locked around my own, I jumped and reflexively pulled away. It wasn't Atlas, though, it was my Aunt Beatrice. Her eyes were concerned, face devoid of any other emotion. I wanted nothing more than to fall apart where I was, but her firm grip told me that we still had a long way to go if I didn't want Azrael to be punished any more than he already had coming. So I let her guide me to the main square, the Master's Quarters dominating the sky in front of us.
The title was simply a rough translation, but it was still a good one. The Quarters were the home of our ruling Heathen clan, but I suppose the olden days would have called them royalty. They were Heathen politicians who oversaw their designated planet. They kept tabs to inform the Homeworld, maintained all of our life systems, our economy, our ecology. If there was power to be had, they controlled the strings to it.
This included Atlas, to a point.
Waiting on the steps was a smug Minos, with the Judge. The Judge was the whip-master, torturer, or any other punishment necessary on our backwater Heathen colony. He wore very little, so that only his skin could be stained by blood. Beside him was the whipping post, set up for a Heathen. In this case, a Heathen is tied between two posts by all four arms, forced to stand through the entire whipping. There was no option to fall down or fall apart.
And Atlas was taking Azrael there to be slung up.
“No,” I protested quietly, but Beatrice had the sense to cover my mouth before anything else could escape. I whined, but the growing crowd was too loud to notice me anymore. They were all intent on the fact that it was a Heathen up there for once, they were all cheering on this horrible event.
Minos raised his arms for silence, acting as the Master for this event. What, was his father too busy buying off other officials to make an appearance? His revolting face appeared on several large screens, a satisfied smirk residing there.
“The Heathen Azrael as been accused of the following crimes: Unsupervised relations with a slave and assault while wearing military uniform,” declared Minos proudly, and from the resonance in his voice, it was hard to admit that he wasn't a good politician. He turned to Azrael, still being gripped by Atlas. “How do you plead?”
Az laughed and gave Minos a look that made him visibly shudder. I recognized the look from every time I had seen Atlas speak with a hidden threat that only his victim would understand. The words from Azrael's mouth were gentle, but they still made Minos step back.
“I plead guilty.”
The growing crowd roared to life, cheering Az on. Atlas helped the Judge drag Az over to the posts and begin tying him up, stretching his arms to their fullest. The surviving top half of his uniform was cut from him, leaving his back and shoulders bare for the crowd to see. His face was left on the screen, so that we could see his pain from every brutal angle.
Minos spoke over the speakers while the Judge stretched his arms, warming up before testing his whip. “The crimes committed have a combined severity of fifty lashes. Let the whipping commence.”
Before Minos even finished, the first lash was given, the sound cracking around the square. Everyone had fallen silent, staring at the screens. Enraptured by the determination on my friend's face, while I flinched at the sound of the whip. Azrael grunted in pain, the sound broadcast to us all, before we saw him brace himself for the next blow. And the next. And the next.
“Beatrice, they have to stop,” I whispered, so quietly I was surprised she heard me. Her grip tightened on my hand.
“Don't be stupid, Peppermint!” she hissed. “You'll only get him in more trouble.”
“Gyah!” The scream resounded as the whip landed on a torn, raw patch on his back. Fifteen. We weren't even halfway, and his pale back was smothered in his blood.
“I have to help him, there has to be a way I can help him!” I insisted frantically. I couldn't stand this. Every other time I had turned away to keep us both safe meant very little in the face of this, of watching him being broken down, just so that we could watch him struggle to piece himself back together later. “Let me go, I need to help him!”
Beatrice slapped me, stunning me into silence. “He's up there because of you, Mint. Don't make it mean nothing.”
Another scream, louder and more painful than the last one. Twenty-three. My own back flared at the memory, and I winced as he passed the threshold I had never even stayed conscious for. But his eyes were still open, his face still clinging to that resolve he had possessed not an hour ago. With each successive whip, I watched it break, little by little. Thirty. Why did it feel like that Judge was dragging out each lash, making it last as long as possible? Waiting for Azrael to recover just enough before pulling back and throwing his strength into that skilled wrist to crack him down again.
Another scream. Thirty-four.
Tears were streaming down my face, and my Aunt Beatrice had the wits to hide my face before the cameras flashed to see just what the instigator of these crimes had to say about this. But I was covered, turned away into the crowd so that the screens just showed Beatrice.
“AGH!” The next scream was cut off by a flinch away from pain, from the inside. Had he screamed himself raw already? How did he find the will to force his eyes open again after they closed for too long to be safe?
Forty. At long last, forty. But now the Judge was trying to put minutes between each blow. He wanted this to go on and on. And he made it go, nearly fifty minutes. By this point, Az was screaming after each hit, his back barely recognizable as such. His arms were criss-crossed with lash marks, gaze exhausted and distant but still there. Fifty lashes came and went and everyone just stared in silence.
The Judge paced back and forth, clearly not worn down at all by this brutal abuse. No, over two hours and he was just getting started with carving my friend until there was nothing left of him. He stopped behind Azrael, raising his whip to begin again when the least likely person called him to a halt.
“THAT'S FIFTY!” yelled Az with more bluster than anyone thought he had left. I watched Minos' jaw drop in shock, and the Judge stopped short. Only Atlas retained his composure, nodding slowly in response to his son's declaration. The Judge backed down, wrapping up his bloodied whip around his arm.
Fifty lashes and a beating from Atlas. How could Azrael still stare down Minos with the same hatred he had in the park?
However it was, Minos clearly was not satisfied with this punishment. The sick little bastard wanted Az broken, and anyone could see he was still far from that. I recognized the look of a sadistic scheme on Minos' face, my entire body filling with dread.
“As for the slave in question to these crimes, I think it only fair that she have her own justice in this matter. Peppermint Brown, step forward,” he commanded, the crowd splitting in an instant to reveal where I was hidden. Thankfully, my revulsion of him had covered my reactions to Az's whipping. As a result, the cameras showed my cold eyes staring at Minos in disgust. But I walked forward, stepping up onto the great platform, feeling naked.
If I had thought watching Azrael's torture on those screens was painful, seeing closer the damage to his flesh as strips barely clinging to his back dangled like loose threads was unbearable. His blood pooled at his feet, slowly moving toward a drain. He was covered with sweat, eyes only for me now.
I stopped in front of Minos, words full of venom. “How may I repent, master?”
My words gave him more glee than anyone should ever feel. “I have an offer for you. Ten lashes, and you have your freedom.”
I could have seen the string on that bait from a mile away. “Ten lashes?”
“Yes. You give that disrespectful soldier ten lashes to the front, and I will guarantee you will never be bought or sold again,” he said, with more honesty than I had ever thought possible from a worm. But then...his words sunk in, and I looked over at Az. I prayed the look on my face could have been passed for dumb shock from joy, because on the inside I was half tempted to start clawing out Minos' eyes.
I nodded slowly, meaning only to acknowledge his offer, but next I knew I was forced to stand in front of Az, a whip shoved into my hand. I wanted to drop it and run away, but I couldn't remember how. Half the planet must have been watching by now, expecting me to take this opportunity to win my indefinite freedom.
“Azrael.” I couldn't form any other words, but it didn't seem to matter. The crowd was in a rage now, demanding that I spill more of his blood. I tried to find the answer to this, searching his exhausted face for any way out but this.
He nodded shakily, no attention on him right now. The screens were on me, and no one else on this platform even acknowledged his existence. He could have said anything, and not a soul would care.
“Do it, Mint. It's okay,” he mouthed, almost begging me to do it, once he had found the energy to move. He must have recognized my refusal, even if no one else could, because then he really was begging me. “Please. It's only ten lashes, it's okay. I forgive you.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. Like telling me my own words was going to make this easier?! What I had told him when we met—when he'd whipped me—would suddenly make this okay? I couldn't. I wasn't like the people screaming at me to attack him. Ten lashes wasn't worth my freedom.
But it may have been worth whatever they would do to him if I didn't. If I didn't publicly deny a relationship, any affections or fondness. If I didn't whip him, we were both going to get something much, much worse.
Opening my eyes, I saw the relief on his face as he saw that I had pieced it all together. I nodded shakily, tightening my grip on the whip. He closed his eyes, welcoming my actions. The world was spinning, like the blood that was draining into that hole in the platform. I raised my arm, throat too thick with bile to swallow. My entire frame trembled, vision blurring. I squeezed my eyes shut. I can't cry now, not now. It's too dangerous. I forced my eyes open again, forced myself to watch as I brought my arm down, the whip reach out hungrily, as the rest of my body fell with it. Dragged down by me, the whip fell short of its target, collapsing limply at my side. I wanted to apologize, to stand and try again, but I wasn't there anymore, vision devoured by darkness.