Bring Out the GIMP (Girls in Merciless Peril)
Stories


AMAZON CAPTURE

By Kirsten Smart


Part One – The Capture

The midday sun drew a shine of perspiration across the bare skin of Queen Shana as she pushed through the grass and scrub. The muscles of her powerful limbs shifted with fluid ease. Across her back was a heavy sword in its leather scabbard. Strapped tightly to her right thigh, a sharp dagger.

Queen Shana's sandy hair clung to her muscular shoulders. Her green eyes were ever-vigilant. Behind her, two of her closest warriors pushed through the grassland also; the dusky Taai, and the archer Salesi.

At thirty-nine, Shana was old by Amazon standards, but age had simply made her more beautiful. Her body, honed by years of battle, was at its peak; muscles lean and hard, her skin tanned. Her rounded breasts had lost none of their firmness, proud and high on her ribcage. Her abdomen was shaped by solid pillows of muscle. Her arms were fiercely defined, shoulder and triceps and biceps like burnished tree-roots, tanned and gleaming. Her legs were long and athletic, lean and shapely.

When Shana had first been recruited to a small Amazon tribe at the tender age of thirteen, things had been very different. A glorious nation of united tribes who had lived with honour. But the decline of the Amazons had been swift. The once-unified tribes had fallen into discord, and the once-revered codes and traditions had been shattered under the heavy blows of woman-to-woman combat.

In years past, the only wars had been those waged against the lawless kingdoms of Men, for the purpose of recruitment. The most athletic and intelligent young girls, who would have been forced into lives of subservience under patriarchal rule, were rescued by their Amazon sisters and shown a new way of life. They were trained in combat, given independence and strength and pride, and then allowed to further their individual strengths for the greater good of the Tribe.

That was many years ago.

No longer were there Amazon armies powerful enough to overwhelm those of Men; nor was there there the time or the resources to nurture young recruits. The Amazon population was dwindling, and recruitment had become a self-consuming war of abduction and torture, induction and coercion.

As the Amazon communities lost their way, so the skills learned over many generations had been lost. Now, almost no-one tilled the land; no-one fashioned jewellery, carved art from stone or wrote of the greatness of their Queens. The graceful wooden houses once built by Amazon carpenters had fallen into disrepair, and only the great old stone temples, stained with age and swathed in vines, stood strong.

Gone, too, were the skilled tailors and tanners. When Shana had been young, the Queen of her tribe had been dressed in splendour: armour of buffed leather and white polished bone, shining jewellery and a head-dress of metal and feathers, a long skirt of the finest green gossamer. The warriors had worn armour of leather and animal-bone, carried hand-carved bows or spears, or wielded swords so sharp that they would swing noiselessly through the air.

But now, the only badge of Shana's rank as Queen was a thong of red leather bound tightly around her upper left arm, similar around her right ankle. Her only garments were a narrow strip of animal hide tied about her breasts, a simple loincloth slung from her powerful hips on a knotted bowstring.

Shana's two warriors were similarly dressed. Taai's coffee-coloured skin shone beneath the sun's heat. At thirty, she had seen a decade-and-a-half of battle, and her body was hard and powerful. Her limbs were muscular and graceful, her belly and back tempered and toned. Her breasts were large and proud, held in a strip of leopard-hide matched by the loincloth between her thighs. Her lush mass of woolly black hair tumbled down her back and over her smooth and powerful shoulders. Dark eyes and dark brows, high cheekbones; strong beauty. A broadsword rested in the scabbard across her broad back.

Salesi was the youngest, although at twenty-four still a seasoned warrior. Pale blue eyes, hair white-blonde, her eyebrows a tone darker. An archer of supreme ability, she was less powerful in build than her sisters, but lean and athletic, a human cheetah. Her breasts were large for an archer; but what had been a source of much teasing for Salesi the teenager were now the centre of the young woman's beauty. Her hair was tied back with a simple twist of leather.

It was not unusual for Shana to take to the savannahs surrounding her tribe's small forest community. An Amazon Queen needed to lead by example, and only by continuing to lead hunts and patrols could Shana stay at the peak of condition. Usually they moved by night, silently stealing through the long grass, crouching silently in wait of a wild animal to pass unwittingly.

But this had been a long trek, moving into the outer territory of another tribe, that of Queen Raeka. Rumours had been rife that Raeka's tribe was growing in power and strength, and Shana had wanted to see for herself. There was much distance to cover.

The women came to a small stream winding through the grassland, and waded barefoot across its rocky bed, scanning the heat-shimmering horizon. Where there was water, there may be people.

“That way,” Salesi said, pointing downstream. “A stand of trees.”

It took half an hour to reach the grove – a small wooded area, green and shady. But as they drew within five hundred paces, the women grew edgy, and it was the keen-eyed Salesi who spotted the body first.

“There – in that tree!”

It was a young Amazon, no more than twenty, stripped naked, her wrists bound by the slender bowstring of her loincloth, and, by them, suspended from a branch. Her feet dangled so close to the ground that she had been able to touch the grass, but not find support. Her body now drooped limp and touched with grey, dead a day or more.

Taai and Salesi kept a close watch for others while Shana carefully approached the dangling body. With a hand in the dead Amazon's hair, she lifted the head and inspected the face.

“She died of thirst,” Shana said. “She was hung here and left to die … it must have taken days.”

“Who could have done this?” Taai wanted to know.

Shana was circling the dangling body, and saw her answer on the left shoulder-blade. “Raeka. A letter 'R' is branded here.”

“Then they were a long way from their home,” Salesi noted grimly. “Their territory is expanding.”

“Then they'll find a war on their hands,” Shana growled. “Raeka is an arrogant young vixen, she knows nothing of the Ways, and her warriors are poorly trained.”

Taai glanced back over her own brown shoulder. “Why did they execute one of their own? And why leave her where she would be so easily found?”

“A warning?” Salesi suggested.

“Perhaps a warning,” Shana conceded, “but more likely it's part of a trap. They want us to pass this way.”

“So we go another way?” Taai asked.

“No. We'll continue on. We outskill them, we have nothing to fear.”

Beyond the forest, the terrain became more difficult; low, rocky hills. The three women worked their way up a low hill saddle, the heat of the savannah giving way to a welcome breeze that cooled the Amazons' sweat.

They stopped at the top of a pass, and Shana shielded her eyes against her wind-blown hair to scan the valley below. Small clumps of trees and bushes dotted the rocky landscape, a small lake in the distance.

She pointed. “There.”

A few leafy branches angled against a large rock. For all but the experienced observer, it would look like just another bush. But it was a carefully constructed hideout, from which an unwary traveller could be easily ambushed.

“If there are Amazons inside, they may have seen us,” Taai warned.

“So we pretend to turn back,” Shana decided, “then circle around, keeping below the ridge line, and come for them at sunset. We'll attack from three sides.”

It took another hour to reach a suitable point above-and-behind the hideout, and the sun had already disappeared beyond the far hills. The air grew chill, drew gooseflesh across the Amazons' bare skin, hardened nipples beneath their embrace of animal-hide; but their focus was such that none of the three noticed the cold, fanning out above the hideout down in the valley's dusky silence.

As darkness closed in, they stole down the hillside, from three different points, converging towards the one. Barefoot and all but naked, they were deathly silent in the still night. This was what Shana loved best; her heart beat quickly and every muscle in her body was tense, primed. Her senses were acute, her eyes sharp as a panther's, her ears sensitive to every sound, her bare skin noting every tiny caress of air, her feet feeling every tiny blade of grass and every stone; her thighs savouring the ethereal brushing of the loincloth that hung between them. With each breath she could smell the earth and the air.

At fifty paces from the hideout, each woman hid herself behind a rock or bush. For a time, they waited, watching, listening, until there was a slight rustle from beneath the canopy of leaves.

Shana's signal to Salesi had the latter drawing her bow and two arrows. She fitted them, drew back. The rawhide bowstring and bow creaked slowly as they stretched taut, the muscles of Salesi's gleaming arms hard like thickened vines as she held and sighted.

She released.

The arrows whistled faster than the eye could see through the hideout's covering and thudded hard into flesh. There was a small cry, more a moan than a scream, and the sound of a body falling to the earth. Even as it fell, two more arrows sliced into the hideout, again landing deep in flesh. The cry was a different voice, louder.

Quickly, Shana and Taai broke cover and bounded to the hideout, swords drawn. But even in the dark, it was obvious from five paces that the two warriors concealed within were fallen, the arrows had hit their mark.

Taai sheathed her sword and reached into the hideout with one strong arm, dragging the first of Salesi's victims out by the hair. The second was pulled out a moment later, two Amazons lying dead, the arrows embedded in their torsos.

“These are young,” Shana frowned. “Too young to be out here alone.”

“They have bows,” Taai noted, peering into the hideout, “but few arrows, and no provisions.”

“Queen Shana,” Salesi called from her lookout position.

As Shana and Taai stood, their faces registered horror. From four directions, the gleam of bare flesh, the glint of drawn swords. Perhaps twenty warriors in all. Another seven – archers – scuttled into position along the ridge, bows drawn, sillhouettes against the darkening sky. At once, but too late, Shana realised that the two girls in the hideout had been lures.

“Do we fight?” Taai asked in a whisper; and at a nod from Shana would have hurled herself at the enemy even though death was certain. But Shana shook her head.

“Lower your swords and submit to the power of Queen Raeka,” a voice called. The dusky-skinned beauty who spoke wore the yellow leather arm-thong of a Princess, a senior warrior second in rank only to her Queen. Even in the darkness, her eyes glinted with triumph, and a darker hunger that Shana could only note with wary concern.

“Do it,” Shana finally said to her warriors in a low voice.

She and Taai reluctantly threw aside their swords and knelt on the uneven hillside, clasping their hands behind their heads. Salesi, too, lowered her bow to the ground, kneeling also. A half dozen of the Amazons surrounding them drew in closer, still under the protection of their archers.

Their leader sheathed her sword and sprang lightly up the hillside, the strength of her limbs catlike and fluid. “Strip them and bind them.”

Humiliation flooded the kneeling Amazons, but they were helpless to resist as warriors, two to a captive, closed on them. Shana felt warm hands plucking at the knot of her loincloth string, loosening the strip about her breasts. Her muscled arms were pulled behind her back, her wrists crossed over, and the string was wound slowly and painfully tight around them. Once, twice, three times; then between, then around – a thorough and inescapable bond. The knots were secured at the top of the bonds, between her wrists, beyond reach of Shana's fingers.

Her sisters were bound similarly; but it did not end with the wrists. The strips of cloth that had covered their ample breasts were now passed around the Amazons' upper arms, above their elbows, and drawn tight. The effect was to force the women's elbows together until they touched; the strips of hide then knotted twice. The bondage was painful, drawing their shoulder blades together, arching their backs, raising their ribcages and breasts.

Shana had bound enough prisoners of her own to know how effective the bonds were; without somebody to untie her, she would not get free.

The rising moon shed a silvery light over the captives, and paid a gentle tribute to the captured Amazon's bodies. Shana's full and proud breasts gleamed, and in the cold air her cherry-dark nipples thrust like hard stalks into the chill. She was not ashamed to be naked; an Amazon was proud to display her body. But to be bound so helplessly, to be trussed like a slaughtered pig, was a humiliation indeed, especially for a Queen.

Alongside Shana, her sisters knelt, arms similarly twisted and bound behind their backs, heads bowed. Their breasts, too, were forced outwards by their bondage, nipples hard and ribcages coarse with goosebumps. The muscles of their straining arms were stark and defined.

With the three now inescapably restrained, Raeka's archers lowered their bows and joined their sisters, forming a large circle around the kneeling three. Leaving the group, their leader stepped towards her captives, and stopped in front of Shana.

“Well, well!” she exclaimed with delight. “Not just a warrior. The Queen herself! This is my lucky night!”

Shana glared up at her captor. “This is your last night, whore.”

“Oh, come now! Such bravado! Where was your fight a few minutes ago?”

“You will feel my wrath soon enough, and I shall take pleasure watching you die.”

“Ha!” The Princess was confident in her triumph. “What is your name, slave?”

“I am nobody's slave. I am Shana, Queen of my tribe.”

“Shana!” The Princess recognised the name, and delight filled her expression. She turned to her warriors, raising her arms high into the air. “I am Alisi, the Amazon Princess who captured Shana!”

Shrieks and ululations of victory came from the Amazons, and they shook their weapons in celebration. Alisi turned back to Shana, the white of her smile radiant in the gathering darkness. She slowly drew her sword; with a hiss, the razor-sharp blade slid from its scabbard. Alisi lowered the tip towards Shana's breasts.

“Kiss it,” she ordered.

Shana's blue eyes blazed defiance in the gloom. “I shall not submit to you.”

Alisi's left hand was at her hip, but she lifted two fingers in subtle instruction; as one, her archers raised their bows and the bowstrings creaked back, arrows drawn. Three arrows silently aimed at each of Shana's bound sisters.

“Which is more important?” Alisi asked calmly. “Your pride, or your warriors' lives? They will die here and now unless you do as I command.”

Neither Taai nor Salesi moved, arms bound behind them, heads down.

Shana's skin prickled with humiliation, but she had no choice. Slowly, she shuffled forward a few inches on her knees, and, with arms and wrists tightly bound behind her back, naked and kneeling, she dipped her face to Alisi's drawn sword and kissed the flat of the blade gently.

Another cheer of victory came up from the gathered Amazons. The archers all aimed their bows high into the air and let fly; the arrows whistled into the night. Laughing in sheer joy, Alisi put her bare foot to Shana's shoulder and shoved. Shana was tipped backwards, and without the use of her arms, fell helplessly. Laughter erupted from all around, shredding Shana's dignity even more. Taai and Salesi kept their eyes down, unable to watch the humiliation of their Queen.

Alisi had sported enough with her prized captive, and the three Amazons were ordered to their feet.

Part Two – The Journey

A long rope was brought, and three simple nooses tied at arms-length intervals along it. These were passed over the heads of the three women and tightened, so that they could be led, bound and tethered, wherever their captors wished. For one to stumble or falter would be to endanger herself and her sisters, so compliance was assured.

“We walk to the forest tonight,” Alisi told her warriors. “And there take rest.”

The route was hard, and in the dark and without use of their arms, more treacherous still for the three captured and stripped Amazons. Bound as she was, Shana was forced to endure a multitude of torments. Her wrists burned savagely from the tight bindings around them. Her shoulders ached cruelly, forced back and constantly strained by the unnatural position of her arms. Her upper back, too, was forced into contortion; and muscles soon cried out in protest.

But it was the Amazon's strength to endure without showing that she suffered, and Shana's face remained calm for the four hours that they walked; a long, strung-out chain of silently moving warriors, the prisoners halfway along.

It was midnight when they descended a gentle slope towards the treeline; the forest lay dark and forbidding beneath the high moon. The forest itself was pitch black, but the hissing of insects, the cries of night-time creatures filled the air. This was as far as they would journey, and the ends of the reign holding the three captives were fastened to two trees.

A fire was built, and from a tree nearby, a sack full of provisions was lowered on a rope. Meat and dried fruit was distributed to the hungry warriors, and a carafe of water was passed around. Having not eaten for many hours, Shana, Taai and Salesi could only watch in growing misery and feel the growing tightness in their bellies.

When all the Amazons had eaten, however, Alisi grudgingly indicated that the captives be given water at least, and the dregs of the carafe were offered to each. Shana took a mouthful without speaking, Taai did the same; but Salesi looked up pleadingly at the warrior who held the water.

“Please, can you tell me what will be done with us?”

The Amazon's voice was casual: “you will be tortured.”

Salesi's eyes showed shock, her mouth slowly dropped open, and she failed to notice that the carafe of water, briefly offered to her, was now withdrawn. As the Amazon returned to her sisters, Salesi glanced towards Shana and Taai; but both knelt silently, bound, heads down, as if in meditation.

The warriors around them finally settled down to sleep, curled together for warmth in cosy groups of two or three, bare limbs wrapped around bare torsos. Only four remained awake, vigilant sentries moving silently through the shadows, or crouching in the grass, spears and swords always ready.

Taai knelt alongside her two sisters. The air was cold, and, naked and disarmed, she shivered quietly. Worse than the cold, though, was the unbearable bondage. Her muscled arms so cruelly and tightly bound, at wrist and elbow, behind her back; the rope about her neck. She could not lie down, could not stand, but had to remain on her knees, silently enduring the cramps that tortured her arms and shoulders and legs.

After an hour or more, Salesi's whisper reached Taai beneath the insects' hiss.

“Taai?”

“Shh, keep quiet,” Taai responded.

“But … we must get away,” Salesi said.

“We are bound. We can not,” Taai said.

“But they will torture us!”

“Then we shall be tortured,” Taai told her. “We can not escape that. Best to prepare your mind for it, you can do nothing more.”

Despite her advice, Taai could hear the creaking of the bowstring that bound Salesi's wrists; the young Amazon was trying with all her strength to free herself.

“Save your energy,” Taai whispered.

“I must get free,” Salesi insisted, still struggling.

“Even if you free your wrists, your arms will still be bound,” Taai said. “And even if you free your arms and slip from the noose, you will still face the guards.”

“I could beat them,” Salesi said.

“You would be defeated.”

“Better I die fighting.”

“They would not kill you,” Taai said. “They would wound you and capture you. And believe me, whatever tortures they have planned for us, it would be far worse if you tried to escape. They would keep you alive just to torture you; turn you into a creature of agony never granted the mercy of death.”

Salesi was silent, but, glancing towards her, Taai caught the shine of tears on the young Amazon's face. “Be calm, Salesi. Face your fate with the heart of a warrior.”

“We shall die with dignity,” Salesi decided.

Taai's smile was sad. “No, we shall not. We shall die screaming and begging for mercy, we shall die in our own excrement and crying like the newborn. Be at peace with yourself now and accept the inevitable.”

There was a long silence. Taai could sense Salesi shaking, in terror of imagined horrors. But after a while, imagination led to such dread that Salesi had to ask.

“What tortures, Taai? What will they do to us?”

“I do not know, sweet one. Be quiet, now.”

But Taai did know; she merely chose to withhold the knowledge. It would have terrified Salesi beyond words. Even Taai was aware of a creeping trickle of sweat from one armpit then the other, and pinpricks of sweat across her back, at the thought of what horrors awaited.

She had seen them. Amazons whipped, beaten, flogged. Amazons staked out over the hills of red ants. Amazons burned with flaming torches or branded with hot irons. Nipples torn out with iron tongs; toes and fingers pulled off. Amazons suspended off the ground by their own breasts, then with increasing weights strung from their ankles until their breasts finally tore from their bodies. Amazons forced to straddle sharpened points, doing a macabre dance as they sank ever-deeper onto the spike. She had even known of Amazons slowly flayed alive with red-hot knives, their skinless but still-living bodies then flung into a pit of glowing embers, where they twisted and writhed for an hour or more before finally roasting to death.

As the sky lightened towards dawn, the sleeping warriors stirred and yawned. The three captives, still kneeling, still bound, had not slept at all, and faced the nearing dawn with tired faces. But there would be no mercy for them, and they were goaded to their feet with kicks and curses from their captors.

Food was handed out and the net of provisions drawn back up into the trees. Hunger had now grown to the point of pain for the bound captives, but they were not fed and had no choice but to set off with empty stomachs.

For most of the day they walked through the forest. While the Amazons around them were free to push aside branches, the three captives had to endure the constant whippings of branches and twigs. Worse, some of the warriors found delight in bending back branches and deliberately letting them fly when the captives walked past. One branch slashed across Taai's breasts with such force that a slim line of blood was drawn; the Amazon bore the pain without a sound, but the humiliation was cruel.

By mid afternoon they reached the edge of the forest, where the old farms of a once-thriving Amazon city had lain. Now the old plantations of wheat and rye were lost to the weeds. Led by the rope around their necks, Shana, Taai and Salesi walked numbly, though the sun quickly drew the shine of sweat from their naked bodies.

They walked on, through the afternoon, the prisoners' bound and back-twisted arms burning and cramping, and into the dusk. The captives were beginning to stumble, now; thirsty, weary, growing ever weaker. So it was a relief beyond words when they finally came upon a small outpost – a fortress of sharpened bamboo poles and a single lookout tower. There were a half-dozen warriors within, who silently welcomed the column. For the first time in more than a day, Shana, Taai and Salesi were offered food; a bowl of rice was placed in front of each. On their knees, denied the use of their hands, they ate like dogs, while their captors looked on in amusement.

It was not enough food, but it was all the three were given. The ends of their neck-rope were tied off to the fortress' stout bamboo, and, for the second night, the three were forced to kneel, still bound, while their captors slept.

For a second day, they walked. Endless hours, pushing through the abandoned fields. Finally, as the burning sun began its descent towards the west, the weary procession finally saw the thin columns of smoke that marked the village of Queen Raeka. In half an hour they were close enough to see the three great stone structures that dominated the settlement.

Once, the three buildings must have been adorned with banners and flags. Most awe-inspiring was the great Palace, with its tall stone columns, the statues of naked muscular Amazon warriors carved in the most intimate detail. Their upraised arms held a stone basket, which was in truth a balcony from which the Queen would once have addresssed her gathered warriors.

Two hundred paces from the palace were the Baths; where the Amazon warriors played. Here would be deep, clear pools decorated with erotic mosaics; saunas; and ornate stone benches on which the warriors would lie for the touch of the masseuse. There would be great mirrors of polished bronze in which the warriors could admire their beauty and musculature. Here, too, the Amazons would come to satisfy their sexual desires; woman on woman, as was the tradition.

On the other side of the Palace was the Arena; an oval enclosure in which Amazons had once performed athletic contests, or acted out dramas and plays. But more recently, the only entertainments were the public executions of prisoners. Black scorches marked the ground where Amazons had burned at the stake; rust-coloured blood stains where others had been slowly pulled apart by horses.

Around these great buildings were the rudimentary huts in which the Amazons now lived. Poorly thatched, made with sticks and straw; and here and there the remnants of an old house.

Word spread quickly that new prisoners had arrived, and the population quickly gathered to watch. Shana and her warriors shuffled between their proud captors, and soon there were more than a hundred onlookers, calling and jeering. Although naked, Shana still had a thong of red leather about her upper arm, another about her ankle, marking her as Queen, and it was she who received the greatest scorn.

The victorious Amazons marched their captives to the Arena. The massive wooden gates were unlocked, and groaned open with a sound like a tree falling. A dark passage was beyond, at its far end a latticed wooden gate barred the entrance to the arena's central circle. But closer, within the passageway, were heavy doors left and right, and without ceremony the three captive Amazons were released from the neck-rope and separated out.

A small door opened into a stairway that was almost pitch-black, narrow, damp. Three warriors held Shana by her tightly-bound and twisted arms and propelled her down, her bare feet finding slimy stone steps. The air grew colder by every foot they descended, Shana's nipples crinkling and swelling noticably.

Below was a long, gloomy passageway, a low arched roof. Oily torches burned in brackets, their black smoke disappearing up narrow flues in the stone. More heavy lattice doors barred cells on either side; one such door stood open, two strong-looking Amazon guards alongside. Like their sisters, they, too, wore only the loincloth and bra-strip, short-swords sheathed at their backs.

“Cool in here, whore,” one warrior hissed, pushing their captive into the black cell. The door thudded shut, was made fast with a heavy wooden beam.

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, via the faint light coming through the open lattice of the door, she saw that she was in a stone-walled room only six feet square. No furnishings, no place for waste; only an iron ring fastened to the rear wall, at a height of five feet. The walls and floor were wet and slimy, the air was stale and heavy with the odours of decay and human suffering.

Shana, exhausted from her long walk, sank slowly to the floor.

Long hours passed. The cold gnawed into her naked body. She didn't even test her bonds; she knew that freeing her arms was impossible, and that, even if she managed to do so, there were barred doors and guards to overcome; a task beyond even a seasoned warrior as herself. She was truly a prisoner.

Four hours after her imprisonment, Shana knelt shivering in the middle of her cell. Her bare skin was peppered with goosebumps. Her nipples were so hard they ached. An occasional droplet of icy water fell from the ceiling to splat on her bare flesh. Her arms hurt badly, having been strenuously and painfully bound for two days without relief.

Finally, footsteps whispered on the stone steps outside the cell. Shana lifted her head as the cell door was opened.

Three strong-looking Amazons entered the tiny enclosure.

By her bound arms, Shana was wrenched to her feet, and all but carried from the cell. They returned up the slimy stairs to the entrance tunnel. Even in the relative dimness, Shana's eyes hurt with the glare of daylight flooding through the barred doors at either end; but her glimpse was only brief, as they wrestled her through another door, and down a short flight of stairs into a cavernous room.

Below the arena itself, this was a chamber of horrors. Machines and devices of satanic design glowered in the shadows cast by fickering torches and glowing braziers. Chains hung on walls or dangled from the ceilings, ropes lay coiled on the floor. Rusty old spikes stood menacingly, stained with more unspeakable residues.

This was the torture chamber, and Shana knew, now, that her torture was about to begin. Despite her years, despite her courage, she felt her legs go weak, her bladder soften, her heart start hammering. The sweat of fear began to tickle and creep in her armpits and down her spine.

In the centre of the torture chamber, in a space cleared of all other implements, two massive machines lay in the flickering orange light. Six feet wide; nine feet long, made of solid oak beams. Heavy iron rings at one end, massive rollers at the other. Shana had never seen anything like these devices, but they sent a fresh chill over her, the hairs on the back of her neck rising.

Two figures stood between these evil machines. One was Princess Alisi. The other a muscular, chocolate-skinned beauty with touches of silver in her hair and such a severerity about her dark-featured face that Shana was shaken to her core.

“I trust you are well-rested?” Alisi said, with deliberate irony. Shana glared at her, but said nothing.

The dark, muscular Amazon who stood with Alisi now slowly approached Shana, regarding the prisoner's nude and bound body with an expression close to lust. Her almost-black eyes were shining.

“This,” Alisi said with slow relish, “is Mekala. Our most feared torturer. Before I give her free reign over your fate for the next few days, I thought we should discuss a few small matters. For example, how many warriors serve you? How many archers, how many spears-women, how many swords-women? You will tell me about your defences, and the signals you use.”

Shana met Alisi's eyes with cold defiance. “I will never betray my tribe.”

Alisi shrugged. “As you wish. Mekala, she is yours.”

Mekala's look was hunger. “Put her on the rack!”

As Shana was pulled forward, she wrenched herself free of her guards and spun a roundhouse kick high into the head of the nearest. Her foot connected face with a sound like snapping wood, and the Amazon crashed to the ground in a spray of blood. The second guard grabbed at Shana's arms, but Shana responded with a knee to the guard's solar plexus, a blow that slammed the air from the woman's lungs and sent her reeling. But an instant later, two more guards were upon Shana, catching her twisted arms, wrestling her off-balance. Then two more, grabbing her legs, Mekala with them. Bound, against five warriors, Shana had no chance.

She was lifted into the air, and, struggling and thrashing, carried to the nearest of the two wooden beds. They dropped her hard onto the solid surface, and two pinned her torso, a third holding her left ankle.

“I will not submit!” Shana shouted, thrashing with all of her strength. It was enough to make her captors grunt and strain to keep her pinned, but soon a loop of thick rope was cast about her right ankle, lashing her tightly to the heavy iron ring at the foot of the rack.

They progressed to her left leg, lashing her ankle to the ring. The bondage was shameful, her legs spread fiercely apart, exposing the hairy nest of her sex – the position of a whore-to-men. Shana cried out in rage.

Next, to her arms. While three held her, a fourth Amazon cut her arm-bonds, and for the first time in two days, she was unbound. As her muscles and joints were moved, fire seemed to explode along them. Even so, she fought, grabbing the hair of one guard and wrenching her head from side to side, but her resistance was short-lived. Quickly, they pinned her down, spreading her arms wide, looping ropes about her wrists and drawing them tight.

Finally, the Amazons stepped back, panting and sweating from their efforts.

Lying naked and widely spreadeagled, Shana felt humiliated beyond words, the cold wood beneath her back, the coarse ropes about her wrists and ankles. They were openly scrutinising her nude body; the muscularity of her arms and legs, the hard packing of her abdominals, the auburn triangle between her thighs, the proud swells of her large breasts. Her nipples were hard in the cell's chill air.

Alisi gathered her own lush black hair and spoke to the captured Queen. “Again. I want to know how many warriors you have in your village, how they are trained, and what are the movements of the guards?”

Shana, her face framed by her own armpits, fixed a look of defiance in her eyes.

“Go to hell,” she hissed.

Alisi straightened. “Mekala, she is yours for the night.”

As the beautiful torturer moved to the head of the machine, Shana realised its purpose. By turning the roller, the ropes about her wrists would be wound in, while her ankles would remain anchored to the rings. Thus, between rings and roller, her body would be stretched.

It seemed impossible that such an act might constitute torture.

Mekala grasped a stout wooden handle, and wrenched it around. With a slow, ominous creak, the heavy roller shifted about, slowly winding in rope. By the wrists, Shana's spread body was drawn fractionally across the wood, until the ropes at her ankles drew taut, creaking, the knots pulling tight.

“We captured these beautiful machines from one of the Kingdoms of Men,” Alisi said, almost nonchalantly, as Mekala turned the roller again. Shana was drawn tauter. “For two weeks they worked non-stop as we executed our man-prisoners upon them. And the women who defied us died upon them too.”

Another turn, another quarter inch, and Shana tipped her head back, watching the rounded surface of the roller as it shifted, creaking and groaning. Her arms and shoulders were lifted from the surface of the rack by the growing tension.

Another turn. Shana's whole body, drawn taut, rose from the wood, until only her calves and buttocks kissed the rack's surface. Her body was fiercely tight, strain spreading all through her limbs.

Mekala gave the roller one more shift for good measure, the ropes again groaning as the tension increased. With Shana's body now tightly stretched, the torturer locked the rack's lever, and nodded to Alisi that the preparation was done.

Alisi stood back to admire the starfished Amazon Queen.

Shana's muscles were magnificently tense, corded tendons and taut tanned skin. Her head lay back on the wood, between her outstretched arms, before she raised it up to fix Alisi with defiance.

“I will die before I betray my tribe,” she hissed.

“Oh, so very brave,” Alisi mocked. “But death is a privilege we shall only grant you once you have offered to us all the information we require. I urge you to think on that, before Mekala returns.”

Part Three – The Racking

The torture chamber lay quiet.

Alisi, Mekala, and all but two of the guards had left almost an hour ago; those guards now stood silently at the only door, far across the room.

Shana lay upon the rack, helplessly spread, stretched out. The ropes were harsh about her wrists and ankles, but it was pain Shana could bear. Her powerful muscles absorbed the strain. But as time passed, she knew, her strength would slowly fade. And once she had lost the ability to resist tension, the pain would gradually escalate.

From time to time she consciously relaxed her arm and leg muscles and let her body stretch out to its natural limit. She knew the strain was still mild – enough to lift her body from the bed of the rack, but not enough to bring true stress on her body. Even so, relaxed, she could feel the mild burning of tendons and ligaments. They were not made to bear such strain, and they would eventually make their displeasure known.

For three more hours, Shana endured with little effort. Her strength was great, her endurance was lasting. But as the fifth hour crawled by, the battle began: Shana could feel her strength finally beginning to wane.

In an effort to conserve her energy, she tried again to consciously relax, but the onset of pain made her muscles tense involuntarily. She clenched her teeth, raised her head time and again in an ongoing battle to deflect the tension from her ligaments, but as the sixth hour approached, her strength was all but gone. Mentally, she still wanted to battle against the unrelenting tug of the ropes; but physically she was beaten by it.

A groan escaped Shana's parted lips, borne on a wisp of vapour in the chill air, and her limbs extended fractionally as muscles finally gave in and the tension transferred to sinew and bone. A dull, hot pain spread along her arms, in her triceps and elbows, down her upper back, and along her calves.

No sleep came for the spreadeagled Amazon that night. Stretched between the rings and roller, drained of strength, her head lolling against the wood, she had no choice but to count the slow seconds with each slow, throbbing beat of her pulse.

It was only her ability to focus on distant places, on open grassland and fragrant woods, on running streams and cool silent lakes, that saved her from greater anguish. But her body was exhausted, and by morning she had no strength to even move within the unrelenting grip of the ropes.

So it was a grim sign indeed when she heard the heavy door of the torture chamber creaking open, and feet padding on the stone floor towards her. It was all she could do to lift her head as the arrivals drew near.

Two Amazon guards with spears accompanying a familiar figure; a muscular, beautiful woman with touches of silver in her hair. The torturer, Mekala. Shana felt an unpleasant wave of returning fear. It drew a wave of sweat over her, set her heart thumping. She tried to raise her head as Mekala slowly circled the rack upon which she was so helplessly starfished.

Mekala stopped to look over the spreadeagled Amazon Queen. After fourteen hours stretched out on the grim machine, Shana's tanned body was taut and gleaming in the flickering light of the torches.

“I trust your bed was comfortable?” Mekala finally goaded, with evident relish.

“Curse you,” Shana growled, although her voice was hoarse.

Mekala gave a laugh.

“But I see you are still in high spirits!” With the casual, hip-swaying sashay of a woman well aware of her own beauty, her loincloth caressing her bare thighs as she walked, Mekala went to an old clay urn that stood near a pillar of the chamber. Beside it lay a bare skull, that of an unfortunate Amazon who had lost her life to some hideous torture in this very chamber. Mekala used it to scoop up a measure of brackish water from the urn, returned to her victim.

She grasped Shana's hair, lifted her head above her chest. “Drink.”

Shana drank thirstily, easing the burning in her throat, the emptiness in her belly. For the first time since being stretched out on the rack, she caught a view of her own body, widely spread out; her breasts still proud and high, with nipples half an inch erect in the cell's chill; her goosefleshed ribcage, her taut and muscled belly, the aburn curls of her pubic hair between our outstretched legs.

When Shana had emptied the skull of water, Mekala let Shana's head fall back, tossing the gruesome vessel aside.

“Now, to business.” Mekala moved to the handle of the rack, grasped its smooth roundness and tensed her arms. Her powerful muscles were in glorious definition, her dusky skin gleaming in the torchlight.

“This will increase your discomfort,” Mekala promised, and gave the roller a turn, a single notch. The rope was wound in, and Shana gritted her teeth as the ropes hauled harder on her wrists, stretching both her arms and translating extra tension all along her body, spreading down her legs.

Shana released breath with bare control. Her muscles fought to absorb the extra strain, but they were already crippled with fatigue, and an ache of weariness spread through her limbs. It was the same feeling as if she had been carrying a hundred-pound weight, and her muscles barely had any strength left.

The effort began to show as tiny sparks of sweat on her brow, in the hollows of her armpits, between her proud breasts. Mekala, standing, watching, missed none of the signals. She saw the veins on Shana's spread arms, saw the quivering of her outstretched thighs.

“You will not be able to resist,” Mekala said at length. Shana gave no sign that she was listening, but the words sank into her. “The weariness will overcome you and your limbs will become helpless to the rack. Then it will hurt, more than yesterday, more than this morning; the pain will grow. So think on your situation, because it will only become worse.”

“I will never talk,” Shana managed to gasp.

“So be it,” Mekala said, and departed.

Shana's head fell back as the cell door was pulled shut and locked. Pain stabbed down her spine but she was too weak to fight it. Fatigue was an agony in itself, her muscles burning with weariness. The tension was taken fully by her tendons and ligaments and bones, and their fiery protest spread from her shoulders and hips, out along her legs and arms. Her elbows and knees began to burn as if packed with embers.

Shana fixed her eyes on the dark vaulted ceiling, but this time she could find no distraction from the pain. As five minutes dragged into fifteen, fifteen into forty-five, the pain grew and spread. Tiny beads of sweat began to cluster on Shana's bare breasts, amidst the soft sandy hair in her armpits, on her ribcage and belly. Her arms and legs shone.

Not for the first time, Shana looked, in growing desperation, to her roped wrists. A single loop of rope around each wrist, snugly braced against the heel of her hand, the knots placed carefully against the back of her hand. Even if the tension were not so great that her hands were squeezed into crimson-coloured claws, she would be helpless to reach for the knots. The bonds, simple and succinct, were enough to hold her body stretched between the rings and roller – and to keep the maddening tension on her spread limbs.

The next hour was one of true suffering. Perhaps sixteen hours, now, Shana had been stretched out on the rack, and its cruel effect was truly beginning to tell. Long hours had drained her body's strength and left her helpless to the slow stretching; now, the pain was growing steadily worse. Her hands and feet were tingling and cold, a sharp contrast to the heat of pain that seemed to glow dully along the sinews and tendons of her arms and legs. She was determined to endure, but at times it seemed the pain would drive her insane.

Three hours more she was left to suffer; then her tormentors returned.

“And there she lies,” Alisi said in amusement.

Shana fought to raise her head, and did so only with difficulty. Shadowed by the dusky Mekala, Alisi circled the rack and its stretched victim with obvious pleasure. Shana's splendid body was displayed openly and beautifully by the torture; her arms and legs drawn to their fullest extent, her muscles bold and pumped by the hours of battle, her tanned skin now glossed with an involuntary shine of sweat. Her eyes fought to focus on her tormentors, but exhaustion won and her head dropped back.

Alisi reached out to trail her fingertips over the gentle corrugations of Shana's expanded ribcage, then up over the flank of her breast, to where tautened ridges of muscle defined the deep gully of her armpit.

“Have you had enough?”

“Release me,” Shana managed to gasp. She had endured enough. They had proved their point, and her will was all but broken.

Alisi leaned her hands on the wood of the rack, leaned over her sweating victim so that they were eye to eye. “Beg,” she commanded.

It was a humiliation almost beyond endurance, but Shana quickly complied. “Please,” she whispered. “Please, I beg you, release me.”

Alisi smiled. “To me, that is music.” She straightened. “Now we will start to talk about your tribes. How many warriors serve you; your archers, your spearswomen, your swordswomen. Tell me about your defences.”

Shana groaned. “I cannot betray my people.”

“You will have no choice,” Alisi said calmly. “Pain will wrench the truth from your lips whether you wish it or not. Mekala? Stretch her again.”

“No! Please, no more!” Shana tried to raise her head, but lacked the strength even for that simple act, as Mekala, her powerful arms defined by effort, grasped the rack's handle and gave the roller a turn. Creaking, the rope was wound in, another quarter inch; Shana let out a groan of pain as hot fire exploded along her arms, white hot sparks of pain flaring deep in her armpits and hips as her starfished body suffered this new tension.

The ropes creaked. She tried to control her breathing, but the tension was great, and it was all she could do to draw shallow, panted breaths. Even as her torturers looked on, her arms and legs lengthened fractionally, the pain growing, and fresh sweat began to bead on her naked breasts and taut, flat belly.

“We will break you,” Alisi promised. “It is just a matter of when.”

The two Amazons left their victim to her torment.

Shana could no longer find escape from the pain. It burned into her limbs and body, flooded her mind. Every moment was a nightmare. Her breath came short and fast. The sweat formed streaks down her ribcage, shone on her straining arms and legs; formed droplets along her spine, before dripping to the wood beneath her. Between the rings and roller, her body was taut as an animal-skin stretched out to dry. Her muscles were drained of strength, the full strain on her tendons and joints.

It was an hour from hell. Every moment seemed as stretched as her racked body; Shana was held, her body lifted from the rack by sheer tension, helpless to the unending torment. She could find no no relief.

A lifetime passed.

Alisi and Mekala finally returned, regarding their victim with cold satisfaction. Stretched hard on the rack, Shana's muscular body shone with sweat, her head lolling limply between her spread arms, every tendon and muscle stark and straining.

There were no words; Mekala quietly went to the roller, grasped the handle, wrested another quarter-inch from the helpless Amazon. As her body stretched, Shana let out a groan, fiery pain exploding along her already-damaged tendons.

Alisi and Mekala were both well trained in torture. They knew that an Amazon with all her reserves of strength could resist almost anything. Hot irons, whips, screws; Amazons regularly branded each other as sport. But the rack was different. The rack was the most effective way to draw truth from an Amazon. The nature of its torture was to slowly drain a woman's strength, until she was too weak to resist. Then her own body was used as a mechanism of pain; the agony was internal, a product of her own rending ligaments and muscles, rather than from any hot iron or spiked metal.

The stress on Shana's limbs was not dangerous, not yet. Had she still been at full strength, she could have resisted it and eased the pain. But after the better part of a day, she was utterly vulnerable, and her suffering was plain to see. Fresh sweat sprang over her body with this new agony, her muscles and tendons drew tighter still. Her ribcage became more defined, her breaths grew shorter and faster.

They let Shana suffer for another hour, before Mekala grasped the handle again.

“No,” Shana groaned. She needed no prompting to beg this time, her pride sapped with her strength, but at the same time she knew that no amount of pleading would save her. Mekala wrenched the roller around, the ropes creaked, and Shana's body stretched further. This time, Shana could not hold back a wail as the agony flashed along her arms, spearing down the muscles of her back. Fire spread from her hips and down her legs, a heat like molten lead tearing at her abdominal muscles. A series of pops came from her extending spine. Now she was truly being stretched, and the pain was terrible. Worse, she could not do a thing about it.

Fresh sweat ran on her body; streaking her proud breasts, glossing her throat, running from her upside-down face and matting her hair. Her hollowed armpits were taut and wet, the hair matted; her thighs and calves in fierce definition. Each shallow breath was drawn at a price, stabs of pain through her abdomen and chest.

“Tell us what we want to know,” Alisi demanded. The dusky beauty glared down at her starfished victim, her dark eyes burning with a lust for torture, her ample black hair cast over one gleaming shoulder. “Tell us, and the pain stops.”

“Never,” Shana managed to gasp.

“Stretch her again, Mekala.”

“Oh god – no, no! You'll kill me!” Shana wailed.

“No, we won't,” Mekala promised.

As the roller groaned around, Shana's body stretched, and it was only by biting her own tongue that she stopped herself screaming. Rivers of liquid fire exploded along her arms. Her shoulder joints let out ominous cracking sounds as her frame was drawn to its very limit.

Shana gave another long wail of agony. The strain was far more than nature had ever intended the female body to endure, and every tearing muscle and every rending tendon bathed her in pure agony. It was fire from her wrists to her ankles, an overwhelming torment. Her bladder loosened, she peed freely, a steaming puddle spreading across the rack.

Yet she did not confess to her interrogator.

Alisi's face darkened. It had become a struggle of power; she could order the roller to be turned until Shana's dismembered body lay in gruesome shreds, but it would not be a victory until she had broken Shana's spirit with equal brutality. Alisi wanted to hear Shana tell all she knew, to offer up the secrets of her tribe to save her own body from further pain. Then her humiliation would be complete; she would become nothing more than a wretched, broken creature.

“Again!” Alisi called urgently.

Shana was helpless to top the torture's brutal escalation. Mekala hauled on the heavy roller, winding in another quarter inch of creaking rope. Shana's body stretched again, her mouth opening in the first true scream of pain as her curled fingers were wrenched further towards the roller. Her body gave more ominous sounds, the slow groans of rending tissue. She flung her head from side to side, breathless shrieks of pain, her eyes wide in agony, the sweat dripping from her body.

It got worse. With a gruesome sucking sound, her shoulder joints slowly began to separate. Shana screamed again, no longer able to hold on to her dignity; it felt as if her body was being torn assunder. The rack's unrelenting force was wrenching her ligaments from their anchorage on bone, fibre by fibre. Most victims would be telling all they knew, offering their souls, to be spared the torment. But Shana refused to break, still screaming in a sea of agony, aware of nothing but overwhelming pain.

“Stretch her more, stretch her, stretch her!” Alisi shouted. But Mekala laid a cool handon Alisi's bare shoulder.

“She will break; but we must be patient.”

As her screams died to desperate wails of agony, Shana did not hear them leave. Her whole body was a searing fire. She prayed that she might faint, that the torture might finally stop her heart and draw her into the peaceful oblivion of death; but her body refused to succumb. The fiery agony of each tearing fibre in her body sent tendrils of pure hot flame along her muscular limbs. Her joints felt as if great metal spikes had been hammered deep inside, the bones split with iron wedges. Breathing itself brought agony, every shallow shifting of her ribcage seemed to tear her spine apart.

There were moments when all Shana could do was shout in agony, her shrieks echoing from distant corners.

Four hours.

Despite her exhaustion, Shana was aware enough to still feel every savage flare of agony in her rending limbs. Her body, stretched damagingly tight, was all but torn to pieces by the unending torture. She was unable to find an escape from the pain that shrieked through her skull. She moaned in agony, tears dribbling from her eyes.

She became aware of someone standing over her, and slowly turned her head to see. Through the haze of agony, she saw a Goddess.

Slender, with a fine muscularity that was both strength and beauty. Coffee coloured skin, long, ringleted black hair adorned with white flowers. A bustier of polished leather and silver. About her hips, a girdle of silver, and tapering between her thighs, a long flowing strip of blue silk, overlaid with leather. There were silver bands about her lovely arms.

“My … my Goddess …” Shana moaned. “Please, save me …”

The Goddess gazed down on Shana, then spoke. “Give her another notch.”

Shana could do nothing as Mekala went to the wheel of the rack, grasped the handle, and pulled. She heard herself scream in agony as the roller shifted, and with a slow, sickening cracking sounds, her shoulders were wrenched from their sockets. The dislocation saw her arms lengthen by an inch, the roller shifting to take up the stretch. Still Shana screamed, as her own hips began to dislocate, and the fire of tearing nerves filled the widening gaps between bones and sockets.

She had been under torture for a night and a day; she had long since passed the point of enduring in silence. Shana's screams came loud and long, and when her voice failed, she wailed and groaned. Her body was finally being pulled apart, and the agony was a thousand times worse than anything she could have imagined when it first began.

“We are breaking her,” Mekala said with satisfaction.

Standing alongside her loyal Princess Alisi, the beautiful Queen Raeka rubbed her bare arms against the chill of the torture chamber. She gazed down, enthralled, at the distended, suffering form of Queen Shana, naked and wretched on the rack. Not an inch of Shana's naked skin remained dry; sweat ran on her, streaked her sides, dripped from her drawn body.

Raeka relished the sight of her enemy screaming and groaning on the rack. It was the wish of a lifetime. She was disappointed that Shana had not recognised her, but it had been worth it – just to see the life all but leave Shana's eyes as she heard the order for the rack to be turned again.

It was freezing in the cell, and Raeka had endured enough. To Alisi she said, “do not question her again tonight. Let her suffer until morning, then resume.”

“Yes, my Queen,” Alisi said.

The Amazons left, leaving the agonized Shana to suffer alone.

As the hours crept, with slow groans and cracks, Shana's elbows and knees began to separate, ligaments rending, cartilage tearing its moorings. In a gradual stretching, hour by hour, Shana's body lengthened by another inch.

Often the agony was so great that she wailed or screamed aloud, called out to the Goddess to take her soul from this living hell. But she remained alive, conscious, ripped between the rings and roller and stretched to within an inch of death.

Morning came, and Alisi and Mekala made their promised return. In the glimmering torchlight, Shana seemed barely alive. Her eyes were open but appeared to have no focus. Her breath was a bare wisp of frost on the chill air. Her body still shone with sweat, the agony greater by degrees than the night before.

Alisi grasped Shana's lank hair and wrenched the tortured Amazon's head upwards, gazing down into the Queen's dulled eyes.

“Tell me what I need to know, and we will free you,” she promised.

Shana's dry lips moved, although the words were barely audible. “Go … to hell.”

Alisi's face clouded. “Stretch her again.”

“We may kill her,” Mekala warned. “Her joints are broken. More turns of the rack could tear her apart.”

“So be it. Rack her again.”

Mekala obeyed, grasping the handle and wrenching the roller another notch. Though all but dead, Shana found voice to give a thin wail of agony as her body stretched visibly, joints noisily ripping from their moorings. Her hands and feet seemed ready to tear from her body, the ropes seemed ready to snap;and yet all held true.

Shana's long cry faded into a barely-discernible moan, then to silence.

“Talk, curse you! Talk!” Alisi shrieked. She stamped her foot in frustration, looked in rage at Mekala; the latter slowly shook her head.

Shana's spine creaked. The fire of agony had all but taken her sanity, now; she knew nothing but pain. Even the shouts of her tormentor were lost in its constant roar. She was barely aware of drawing breath; her ribcage immobilized by the strain, her abdominal muscles all but ripped from their anchorage.

A red-hot fog began to close around her.

“She is dying,” Mekala warned.

“Then let her die!” Alisi spat, turning away in disgust. Then, slowly, she shook her head. “No. Keep her alive. Take her from the rack. Reset her bones and have her drink the Waters of Healing. We have not finished with this one.”

Part Four – Taai and Salesi

A single candle burned in a niche in the cell wall, its sooty smoke disappearing up a flue barely as wide as a woman's hand. By the gloomy orange light, water glinted on the greenish-black stone walls.

The cell was tiny, barely six feet square, and bare of furnishings except for a single, heavy iron ring bolted to its rearmost wall, five feet above the floor.

A slow, steady trickle of underground water seeped from around one of the bolts, following the rough black curve of the iron ring, to the first link of a heavy iron chain. Downwards the water meandered, along a foot of chain, to two heavy iron manacles fastened about two slender brown wrists.

The manacles had been closed with hammered rivets a little over two weeks ago; since then, they had remained thus. Their prisoner slumped against the wall of the cell, her head down, her arms drawn high above her head, her hands drooping limply over the shackles' rims. Taai, naked, chained, had languished for two weeks in this spot, unable to lie down, unable to lower her arms. Her imprisonment was designed to be cruel, to wear down her spirit, to exhaust her reserves of strength and will.

The heavy wooden door of her cell was unbarred. Half veiled by the woolly cascade of her black hair, Taai's noble face lifted slightly to regard the newcomers. Normally there would be just one guard with water and pasty gruel, but this time there were three.

“Awake now, princess,” one of the warriors said, with more than a touch of malice. “It's your time to be tortured.”

Taai said nothing, guarding her dignity even though she knew it would soon be torn to shreds by the reality of torture. She watched as one of the Amazons put a chisel to the head of one manacle's rivet, and, with a dozen blows of an iron hammer, knocked it open. The second manacle followed, and for the first time in two weeks, Taai's arms dropped from the fetters.

Her purple-bruised wrists were rebound, behind her back, and she was pulled to her feet, walked from the cell by the three Amazon guards. Her legs were stiff after such a long time in her cell, but she managed to walk with poise up the long, dark stairway towards her grim fate.

The torture chamber, ordinarily, would have sparked Taai's fascination. But her first sight of it now brought nothing but a chill of fear, her flawless skin peppering with goosebumps, her purple-black nipples hardening in response. Awful instruments lay waiting for victims in the gloom. But it was to the first of the two great racks that they took her.

Taai recognised the proud, coffee-coloured figure of Alisi. Beside her was a dark-skinned warrior with silver in her hair and impenetrable eyes; and a beautiful, muscular blonde. Taai's fear rose as they stopped alongside the rack.

“Put her on,” Alisi said.

“I will do it,” Taai said. Her captors looked on as, despite almost paralysing fear, Taai sat herself on the edge of the rack's wide wooden bed, then shuffled back on to it. Awkward with arms bound behind her, she sat, spreading her feet apart to the rings at the rack's base.

Her cooperation was unexpected. Surprised, the Amazons went about binding her ankles with some compassion, making the bonds secure but not painful. When her wrists were unbound, Taai lay back, stretching her own arms over her head. Rather than spreading her arms as they had with Shana, they bound Taai's wrists together to the roller, her upstretched arms tightly framing her head, her curly black hair splashed out across the wood beneath.

She closed her eyes as the dark torturer took hold of the handle and cranked the roller; one notch, two, three, then four. The rope was drawn in, Taai's body shifting on the rack's bed as her ankles found their anchorage and the slack was taken up from ropes and limbs.

Mekala found resistance, and locked the roller with Taai's body drawn taut.

“Do you have purpose in torturing me?” Taai's question was as calm as she could make it, although her voice trembled, and sparks of perspiration glinted amidst the feathery hair beneath her raised arms.

“None but to cause you pain,” Alisi replied coolly.

Taai's only response was to close her eyes, her large breasts shifting gently as she sought to calm herself through slow breaths.

A moment later, the doors to the torture chamber were flung open, and commotion entered in the form of four tussling figures.

“No! No! Release me!”

The angry shrieks of Salesi echoed off stone walls, as, hands bound behind her, the struggling Amazon was wrestled by her three guards. There was a moment of silence as, with horror, the blonde Amazon saw the gruesome instruments of interrogation; then a scream of fear and rage. “NO!!!”

Still struggling, she was brought to the centre of the chamber, briefly held in the space between the two racks. Her eyes fell upon her brown-skinned sister, who lay already stretched out upon one of the racks.

“Taai!”

Taai's dark eyes opened, her head turned towards the younger woman. “Do not fight it, Salesi. They will do with you as they wish.”

“I will not submit!” Salesi shouted, and again struggled.

A moment later, Mekala was in front of Salesi, bracing a hand upon her shoulder, and though Salesi could see what was coming, she was helpless to defend against it; an iron-hard fist slammed hard up into the muscled wall of Salesi's belly. The air and dignity were both driven from Salesi's body in a single shriek of pain; she doubled over, arms twisted behind her. A second punch, then a third, adding agony to the first. Finally, Mekala nodded, and the guards bodily lifted Salesi and threw her down onto the rack.

Roughly and viciously they roped her ankles to the rings, unbound her wrists and pulled her arms over her head; while she thrashed and struggled, they bound her wrists together and attached them to the roller, then two Amazons in tandem cranked the wheel until Salesi was stretched across the wooden bed. Then, for good measure, they gave it another three notches – until Salesi gave a shout of dismay and discomfort, her body already drawn too tightly.

The Amazons all stood back and openly looked at the two prisoners; Taai's dark and powerful body, gleaming in the gloomy torture chamber, her perfect musculature and long limbs tautly drawn; and Salesi, her paler skin flushed with her efforts to escape, her panther-like muscles now defined and straining against the tension of the rack, her skin sequined with sparks of perspiration, her large breasts heaving.

Salesi tipped her head back, slowly realising that she was not going to pull her wrists free of the bonds, and that torture was inevitable. But for now, the pain had not truly started, and she was determined to fight on.

Alisi looked to her guards. “Bring the Queen.”

In a dark, airless cell of her own, Shana slumped, her arms chained high above her head, her eyes all but devoid of soul as she stared into the blackness. She heard the guards coming for her, and dread balled up like a heavy iron weight deep in her guts.

She had screamed as they released her from the rack; the agony as Mekala had shoved her joints back into place had been incredible. They had bound her wrists behind her back, bound her ankles, carried her back to this cell and laid her on the bare earth floor. Then they had wrapped her swollen joints in a cool poultice of leaves and herbs, and given her an aromatic broth five times a day.

For two days, she lay in agony; her limbs ached constantly, denying her sleep; her spine would not bend and her fingers and toes tingled as if on fire. Then, finally, the pain began to subside.

After a week, the swelling had gone and her body began to regain its strength; it was then that Mekala had come, prodded Shana's joints with careful fingers, then ordered her locked in chains. Since then, Shana had slumped against the wall of the cell, her wrists chained above her head, numbly awaiting the day she would again suffer the tortures of Raeka's Amazons.

The door to her cell was opened, and the guards entered. Shana offered no resistance as the shackles were hammered from her wrists, and her hands were bound before her body, then lashed fast about her waist so she could not move them. So restrained, she was taken again to the hellish vaults of the torture chamber.

But when they led her towards the two massive wooden beds of the racks, Shana's breath caught at the sight of the two women lying naked upon them. Taai and Salesi, secured and prepared for torture. They meant to make her witness it? Urgently, Shana looked to the familiar faces of Alisi and Mekala for some sign of what was to come; but all she saw was a blood-lust that chilled her to the bone.

They took her to a place ten feet from the racks, and there made her stand, as a long rope was lowered through a ring in the ceiling. Shana's bound wrists were secured to the rope, the binding about her waist was removed, and by four Amazons, the overhead rope was drawn in until Shana stood, arms stretched above her.

They pulled again, until she stood on the balls of her feet, most of her body's weight on her wrists. She closed her eyes. They pulled again, and Shana felt strain through her arms as her body was wrenched into the air by her wrists. They hauled her higher, then higher, until she dangled three feet off the floor, her bare toes helplessly flexing in mid-air, her body slowly swaying on the creaking rope. From her elevation, she had an unrestricted view of the horror below, her two beloved sisters lying upon the twin racks.

Alisi idled between the machines, the torchlight glinting off the curve of her hip, the muscled contours of her bare arm; her loincloth gently kissing her thighs as she moved with silent grace. With both hands, she shifted back her black mane to look up calmly at the dangling Shana. “Comfortable, I trust?”

“Say your piece and do what you will,” Shana grunted, her voice thick with the strain of being hung by her wrists.

“I intend to,” Alisi said. She put a hand to the bare thigh of Taai, caressed smooth muscled flesh. “Perhaps it was naive of us to think that you may betray your tribe, even under torture. But are you strong enough to torture your two most loyal warriors?”

It took a few moments for the meaning of Alisi's words to register; when they finally did, Shana kicked helplessly in the air, threw her head back to look in frustration and horror at the rope that held her hanging. “No! No, you cannot!”

“Mekala, Lima,” Alisi called back over her shoulder, “rack them.”

“No!” Shana cried out.

“Give them nothing,” Salesi suddenly called out, from her place on the rack. “We will not cry out; do not betray our tribe!”

But she, and Taai, were helpless to stop strong Amazon hands from taking the handles of the two racks and turning them slowly. The rollers creaked over, and, together, the two captives were slowly stretched.

Pain flared through the limbs of both; Salesi gasped aloud, Taai clenched her teeth and closed her eyes as the discomfort of being stretched quickly made itself known. Shana, like a fish on a hook, squirmed on the end of her rope, her head cast back in desperation. Now, more than ever, she had to get free; had to overpower these monsters and loose her sisters from their fate.

In a feat of strength, she tensed the powerful muscles of her arms; laterals and triceps strained and bulged as she pulled herself up. Alisi, watching calmly, signalled two of the guards, who prepared ropes.

“Your efforts are wasted,” she called to Shana. Below, the racks turned over again, drawing another measure from the warriors spread out upon them. By now, Shana had pulled herself high enough to get her mouth to the rope at her wrists; although the knots were out of reach, she began, in desperation, to bite at the rope. The hard, oily coils grated against her teeth.

A moment later, she felt hands on her feet and lower legs. She kicked out against her would-be restraint, still struggling to hold herself up; but the hands looped rope about her ankles. Shana fought, but her strength was waning fast. Two more Amazons joined the effort; her ankle ropes were passed through widely-spaced rings in the floor, and wrenched taut. Shana's strength finally gave out, and she dropped to a full hang. The jolt all but tore her shoulders from their sockets, and she gave a shriek of pain. Fire shot up her arms with crippling intensity, and sweat washed over her body. The four Amazons below heaved the ropes tight through the rings, spreading Shana's legs widely apart, then secured the ropes' ends. Stretched between ceiling and floor, Shana was helplessly suspended without hope of escape.

In her pain, Shana failed to hear the almost-musical groans of the two Amazons on the racks below, as another notch put growing strain upon their joints.

Salesi was swearing, her face twisted in the effort of fighting each turn of the roller. The muscles in her arms and legs were straining to counteract the pull of the ropes and ease the tension on her ligaments; her hands were closed into fists. But with arms stretched straight above her head, she lacked leverage, and it was an easy task for Lima, her torturer, to turn the roller again. Burning pain was spreading like molten lead through Salesi's frame.

Taai, too, was sweating; but her eyes remained closed, her muscles relaxed. She knew the pain would continue to grow until it was beyond anything she had imagined possible; but she could do nothing to prevent it. She heard the groans and grunts of Salesi, the slow clicks and creaks of the two racks, and the shrieks of Shana as the guards secured her dangling body.

Another notch, and fresh pain speared through Taai's shoulders, spreading down her ribcage and spine, hot sparks snapping deep in her hips. She heard herself give a low moan.

Shana cast her head back and glared up in frustration at her bound wrists; she was helpless, hanging in the torture chamber, being forced to watch the slow progression of torture. As the two racks turned over again, fresh groans came from the two Amazons being stretched.

“Stop! Stop it!” Shana finally called out. “Please, no more!”

Alisi stood, looking up at the dangling Shana, a shine of triumph in her eyes. “You will tell us what we need to know?”

There were tears in Shana's eyes. “Please, I cannot … but if you have a heart, you will let them be!”

“For vermin, I have no heart,” Alisi said calmly. “If you don't talk, you will see your sisters tortured without mercy and without an end, before your very eyes.”

Shana clenched her teeth. Her body already wore a shine of sweat from the strain of being suspended by her wrists; but she knew that already her warriors were suffering more greatly on their beds of torment.

She knew she could not betray her tribe. Lives would be lost; they would all be put to the torture, and executed horribly. Taai and Salesi would have to be sacrificed to safeguard the rest of the tribe. But watching the slow turning of the racks, seeing the women stretch, was more terrible to Shana than torture itself.

Two heavy rollers shifted another notch. Salesi and Taai were stretched in tandem, and Salesi, despite her efforts, finally gave voice to a wail of pain. Fire exploded down her arms and flared deep in her hips as the leverage of muscle was lost and the full force of the stretching was felt through her tendons and ligaments. Fibres anchored to bone were now distending slowly, and the pain was savage.

Taai remained silent, but the sweat was beading on her brown skin in fat droplets, clustering across her heaving breasts, streaking her ribcage. She could feel every joint in her body straining as the roller cranked in the ropes on her wrists and she was gradually stretched.

The tears spilled from Shana's eyes as the first cry from Salesi echoed off stone walls. From where she hung, Shana could see every taut muscle on the Amazons' spread and sweating bodies; she could see the pain on their faces. This was not the days-long racking to which Shana had been subjected. It was more brutal, wrenching; a notch every few minutes.

Another notch, and Salesi's fight was gone. She gave another scream of pain.

“No more!” she shrieked. “Stop, please, oh stop! I will give you anything you wish, I will tell you everything I know!”

Alisi leaned her fists on the rack, looking down into Salesi's pain-filled eyes. “Please begin, you have my attention.”

In desperate flurries of words, Salesi gave all she knew. Shana hung silently, hearing precious secrets flow, the betrayal of her tribe. There was much that Salesi left out, but the information she gave was damaging enough.

“Please, that's everything,” Salesi panted through a veil of tears of sweat. “Please, stop the pain now!”

Alisi kissed her own fingertips and touched them to Salesi's taut arm. “So naive.” To Lima at the wheel: “rack her further.”

“No!!” screeched Salesi in sheer panic. “Why? Why? Please!”

“Your pain is in the hands of your Queen,” Alisi told her with savage delight. “Only she can release you.”

Salesi's streaming eyes focused briefly on her Queen, dangling naked and disgraced from the ceiling. “Please,” she gasped, “please, tell what they want to know! Oh, I cannot bear any more, I cannot!”

Shana closed her eyes.

The torturer Lima turned the roller of Salesi's rack again. Salesi let out a terrible scream as her strained limbs were stretched further. Beside her, Taai's rack clicked over too, and Taai let out a long moan of pain, barely able to choke back her screams.

Long minutes passed, Salesi's unending screams; then, the awful sounds of rending tendons filled the torture chamber as Lima forced Salesi's rack another notch. The Amazon's shrieks were agonized, her body drawn beyond its limit. “Stop! For the Goddess' sake, stop!”

Alisi watched the tears roll down Shana's face as the Amazon Queen listened to her young warrior's agonized pleading. “Are you enjoying this? How long will you watch your warriors suffer, just because of your stubborn tongue?”

“I will not betray my tribe,” Shana sobbed.

Taai's rack creaked over another notch, and Taai gave a wail of agony. Her spine made a cracking noise, her legs and arms drawn so tight that every muscle was on fire.

More long minutes passed; then another terrible scream came from Salesi as her tanned body stretched a fraction longer. Between her up-wrenched arms, her head tipped back, her eyes wide, her screams desperate as the ropes dragged agony from every muscle fibre and tendon. “Stop! No more! Please, Shana, please, tell them, tell them everything!”

But Shana hung silently in the ropes, and said nothing.

She heard, quite clearly, the two racks turn again after several minutes; Salesi's scream was bloodcurdling, and even Taai was unable to suppress a long cry of pain. Cramps speared through Shana's suspended, spread body; but she knew it was mere whispers of the fires that engulfed her Amazon sisters on their beds of torment below.

“Stop, oh, I pray you, stop!” Salesi was shrieking. “Put her to the rack, not me! Oh, I beg you, rack her!”

Alisi turned, lifted a hand to halt the next turn of Salesi's rack. Slowly, she came to stand over the panting warrior. Salesi seemed on the verge of madness, her eyes wide with agony. Alisi asked, “do you mean what you say? You would have us rack your Queen?”

“She is not my Queen!” Salesi wailed. “She is vermin! Rack her instead of me!”

“You would turn the wheel yourself?”

“Yes!”

“You denounce her?”

“I do! She is nothing to me – the tribe is nothing to me! Oh please, stop the pain, I will serve only you, I promise!”

Alisi smiled, and lifted her dark eyes to Lima. “Rack this one no more. She is no longer bound to her Queen. … But leave her stretched until her sister is also broken.”

“No!” Salesi shrieked through her agony, as her torturer moved from the wheel. “Please! Undo it, oh, undo it now! I cannot take it! Stop the pain!” Her shouts were desperate, the panic and horror of one burning at the stake. But her cries were easily ignored, and Lima instead joined Mekala at the wheel of Taai's rack.

Alisi turned to the motionless, hanging form of Shana. The Queen's body gleamed golden in the light of the torture chamber. A trail of tears glistened on her cheeks.

“You see now, your loyalty was misplaced in Salesi,” Alisi said grandly. “You have but one loyal warrior left. Will you maintain your silence?”

“I can not betray my tribe,” Shana said faintly.

“Then the torture continues,” Alisi said.

Taai was barely aware of Salesi's betrayal under torture; her body was a seething torrent of agony, pain tearing at every nerve, roaring in her ears, drawing groans of helpless torment from her lungs. But when she saw Lima join Mekala at the wheel of the rack, she wet herself in terror. Far from mercy, she knew she was about to be put to the torture with even more savagery.

Lima and Mekala, heaving together, wrenched the roller a notch. The ropes hauled another creaking quarter-inch from Taai's taut body, and the agony ripped through her. Her scream was shrill and long, her head twisting side to side between her shining and upstretched arms. The simple actions of the rack caused such an overpowering and exquisite agony, an all-engufling torture that could only by matched by the far more damaging touch of fire.

“Watch your loyal warrior suffer!” Alisi shouted at Shana. “Only you can stop it!”

For all its power and muscularity, Taai's body was as helpless as a child against the brutal strength of the rack. This became clear as the next notch was found, and, with a loud crack like breaking saplings, both her shoulders dislocated. Taai's scream was terrible, the pain like lightning, ravaging the length of her arms, down her sides and back, a furnace of abject horror in the pits of her torn shoulders. The sweat poured from her brown naked skin.

Her hips, too, creaked; her elbows and knees gave groans that told of joints' coming failure. Her body, young and strong and perfect, was being torn assunder by the rack, and all Taai could do was lie there, bound and agonized, screaming.

Alisi's eyes rose to the limp, dangling form of Shana. Still nothing.

Another notch, the roller wrestled around by Mekala and Lima. Loud popping sounds came from the lengthening of Taai's spine, the groaning of muscles rending; then, with deep pops, her hips dislocated one after the other. A fresh scream rent the stale air of the torture chamber.

On the adjacent rack, feverish and gibbering in her ongoing pain, Salesi was barely aware of Taai's screams, half-believing them to be her own. Her lips moved, but her words were nonsensical, her mind as torn as her ligaments and tendons by the savage tension of the rack.

“What say you, Queen Shana?” Alisi called towards the once-proud Amazon. “Will you tell us all? Will you save your most loyal warrior the torments of the rack?”

There was no reply.

Another turn of the rack, and Taai gave a long scream of pain and horror as she felt her joints tearing further apart. Bones already held out of place were wrenched more from their anchorage, and the pain was tremendous.

It was too much. Taai knew her body was being ripped to pieces, and self preservation finally took over. “Shana!” she screamed. “Tell them, tell them please! Please, please, just tell them! Stop the pain! I cannot take it!”

Shana said nothing, did not react, did not move; she hung in the ropes, knowing there was no way to free herself, no way to ease Taai's suffering; only her slow tears betrayed her inner struggle.

“Shana, please!” Taai howled, then lost her words to mindless screams as Lima and Mekala together wrestled the wheel another notch. Grassy creaks came from rending fibres of muscle and sinew as Taai's perfect body was stretched again, and her knees and elbows began, noisily, to separate.

“Your Queen has forsaken you,” Alisi shouted at the shrieking Taai. “She cares nothing for your suffering! She can stop it, but refuses! Is this how a Queen thanks one who would have sacrificed all for her?”

Another turn of the roller. The pain was hell itself, beyond endurance, and Taai gave voice to scream after agonized scream. She managed to yell out, between shrieks, promises that she would confess all her tormenters wanted to hear; but Alisi's calm reply was that only Shana could provide that.

“Then rack her!” Taai shrieked.

Alisi sent a glance to Mekala; the torturers halted their work. Alisi bent over the wailing, suffering, sweat-drenched wretch on the rack. “We did rack your Queen,” Alisi said slowly. “She would not talk.”

Taai's eyes could barely focus, but her words, delivered through white clenched teeth, were clear. “Then – oh the goddess!! – let me rack her! I will make her talk!”

Alisi smiled. The second warrior's allegiance had been won.

Part Five – Preparation

They left Shana to hang alone in the torture chamber. Taai and Salesi were finally loosened from their beds of agony, their rag-doll and broken bodies lowered gently into stretchers of linen and bamboo. Groaning, the two warriors were borne from the catacombs of the Arena, to the great Palace. There, their bones were reset, drawing screams that echoed through the palace halls; but finally, they were laid upon beds of leaves and flower petals, their naked bodies gently washed, their parched throats eased with slow sips of clear spring water. Finally, they lay back to rest and recover.

That night, Shana gained no rest. Her arms burned and her shoulders screamed in hot agony as she hung, helplessly, from the ceiling of the torture chamber. Her legs were still held widely-spread by ropes, and all through the night, cramps tortured her muscles unceasingly. By morning she had barely any strength left; the only signs that she still lived were the sheen of sweat on her naked body, and the slow shifting of her proud breasts as she breathed.

Finally, after a full day hanging in the ropes, Shana was lowered to the stone floor. Too weak even to move, she was carried unbound back to her cramped and dark cell, there flung to lie on the slimy floor.

It was a great contrast to the surroundings of Taai and Salesi. The two warriors recovered quickly from their ordeals, fed on meat and fruit and fresh milk; their nude bodies gently massaged with oil until torn muscles healed. They were given the healing waters from a nearby spring.

Then came the gifts; each warrior of Raeka's tribe brought something, a necklace or bracelet, a scrap of cloth passed down through generations, an ivory-handled knife or a flint-tipped spear. Each welcomed the new warriors with an embrace or a kiss and some kind words.

Alisi, who had, only days ago, instructed the stretching-roller to be turned on Taai, now knelt alongside her. Alisi admired the dark warrior's shining, coffee-coloured skin; the tumbling cascade of her black hair, the beauty of her strong features.

“You are beautiful and brave,” Alisi said softly, touching the satin skin of Taai's bare shoulder. “You resisted so well. We are honoured to receive you into our tribe.”

Taai's eyes were distant; she still felt the anguish of her ordeal upon the rack, and her anger against Shana had not yet subsided. “I have no other to call my own. I only hope that I can serve our Queen well.”

“You will have your chance soon,” Alisi promised.

Two days later, her words proved to be true. Flanked by a half-dozen guards, a vision of beauty and splendour arrived in the convalescence chamber. The lithe and graceful muscularity of Queen Raeka; her tumbling ringlets of jet-black hair, adorned with fresh flowers. Her gleaming silver bustier, her blue-silk loin-strip. Salesi had never seen such finery on a woman, and was enthralled. Taai's eyes were lit with awe at the sight of her new Queen's beauty.

“My brave new warriors. Taai.” Raeka stepped forward, kissed her own fingertips, and touched them to Taai's brow. “And Salesi.” The same honour she gave to the latter Amazon. “I hear my people are fortunate indeed to have you both as allies instead of foe. Welcome.”

“Thank you,” Taai said with grace.

“You will each be given weapons, accommodation, and slaves to keep as you wish. Your duties will begin as tactical advisors, but after a time I will ask you to fight alongside my strongest warriors.”

“We will serve you with honour,” Salesi said.

“There is just one thing I ask of you, to seal your promises of allegiance,” Raeka added. “In another day, there will take place the execution of an old enemy; one in which you must take part.”

The faces of Taai and Salesi told of the emotions they fought to stifle. Only days ago they would have died for their former Queen; now, betrayed by her, they had switched allegiances. But facing her again, this time as enemies, would be a true test, one which neither Amazon wished to face. But new loyalties had been sworn, and the price of betraying Raeka would be terrible indeed.

“We will do it,” Taai said simply.

Preparations began the next morning. A tall stake was anchored in its deep foundation in the centre of the Arena; standing twenty feet above the earth. Out by the edge of the Amazon village, another hole was prepared, for the standing of a second pole. In both places, garlands of flowers and carpets of petals prepared; a mix of all that was feminine, and all that was savage about the Amazon tribe of Raeka.

Braziers were lit with fragrant wood and herbs and oils, the scented smoke filling the air. Messengers were sent to the various small villages and settlements of Raeka's domain, telling of the glorious celebration that was soon to begin.

In her tiny cell below the ground, Shana knew nothing of the preparations. She was given water and a little meat, nothing more; she gnawed numbly, wondering at the fate of Taai and Salesi. Had their shrieks of concession spared their lives? The fallen Queen had little doubt as to her own fate, but she prayed that her two finest warriors would, somehow,find their freedom.

Late the next morning, twelve guards assembled outside Shana's cell. The Amazon queen felt the stirring of dread in her belly as the door was opened and four of them entered. She contemplated throwing herself at them, forcing them to strike her down with their spears; it was, after all, tradition that a captive queen be tortured to death, a fate Shana had no desire to suffer. But something stopped her, and she allowed her wrists to be bound behind her body, her elbows roped together. So trussed, she was led from the prison and up the long flight of stairs.

Daylight blinded her as Shana was taken into the arena; it was the first she had seen of the sun in weeks, and it took half a minute before, squinting, she finally made out the tall stake standing in the centre of the dusty circle. Fixed halfway up the stake was a heavy iron ring; from it, on chains, dangled two fetters.

There was a strange roar in the air, like the sound of a swollen river; it took a few moments for Shana's dazed senses to pick that it was the sound of many voices. Around and above her, the arena was filled with a thousand Amazons, more than she had ever seen in one gathering; all wore garlands of flowers, bracelets and arm-bands, coloured strips of fabric. There was the aroma of food and scented oils on the air.

When the crowd realised that the captive Queen was finally before them, a great roar rose up into the heavens. Shrieks, ululations and jeers shook the stone foundations of the Arena, along with laughter. For this grubby, greasy and ragged creature, stark naked but for a grimy red leather thong about her arm and ankle, her hair tangled and matted, seemed little more than a common beggar now. Only the powerful musculature of her body betrayed her true identity; and the poise forced upon her by the ropes, arching her spine, lifting her ribcage and thrusting her large breasts outward, parodied the dignity of a once-proud Queen.

Shana was dragged to the stake. Her arms were unbound, and, by three Amazons together, her wrists lifted to the open fetters. They had been fixed too high, perhaps deliberately, and she all but hung, only the tips of her toes in contact with the ground, her breasts and belly pressed against the rough wood. The sun was hot upon her naked back and buttocks.

For an endless time, the crowd called and shrieked, hurled abuse and curses at the chained Queen. Shana half-hung. She could smell her own stale sweat, that of suffering and fear, and she felt nothing but shame in the face of such ridicule.

Finally, the roar of voices died down. Shana's eyes lifted; upon the podium of the Arena, beyond the stake to which she was chained, stood a figure she had seen only once before. The slim and athletic figure adorned with flowers and armlets of silver, a long loin-skirt of blue. Queen Raeka.

The black-haired beauty lifted her arms, and silence descended, a thousand pairs of eyes fixed upon her in awe and adoration.

“My brave Amazons, as your Queen, I ask much of you,” she began. Her voice echoed off the stone surroundings, clear in the still, humid air. “It is not often I am able to repay your loyalty and love. But today, I lay a gift at your feet, a prize we have sought for many years. I give you … Queen Shana.”

A huge cheer filled the air, and Shana closed her eyes in humiliation. A trickle of sweat crawled from one armpit, down her ribcage.

As the jubilation died down, Raeka again spoke. “Today gives us another cause for celebration … for today, I present to you our two newest warriors. As a test of their loyalty, let Amazon Taai and Amazon Salesi now take up the whip against the whore they once called Queen!”

The cheer went up again, and Shana's eyes opened to see two familiar figures step forward on the podium alongside their new Queen; the pale-blonde hair and tanned skin of the young Salesi, and the dusky, tumble-haired beauty who had for so long been Shana's dearest friend, Taai.

Their eyes met. Shana searched for recognition or some sign that there was still a bond; but Taai's expression was as cold and hard as the frost of winter.

It was Salesi who first descended from the podium. Golden skin, platinum hair, her young body lithe and muscular, drawing a murmur of delight from the spectators. She wore the black loincloth and black breast-band of Raeka's warriors. Trailing from her hand was a long, heavy bullhide whip. It looked thick and cruel, and Shana bit her lip in the knowledge that her torture was about to begin. The sun was hot across her back and shoulders and arms, but it was nothing, she knew, compared to the pain she would soon feel.

Part Six – Punishment

Salesi stood behind the woman she had once called Queen. She felt nervous; more because a thousand faced were turned towards her, keenly watching, than because of the task she was about to carry out.

With a trembling hand, she tucked Shana's blonde hair forward, between her neck and raised arm. The fallen Queen's body was still beautiful; the powerful musculature of her arms, the panther-like geometry of her back, the taper to a slender waist and powerful hips, the definition of long legs that stretched to the ground; the soles of her feet were visible, the chains forcing her on tiptoe.

Salesi drew the whip back; its knotted tip caressed a trail through the dust of the Arena floor, like the path of a snake. “This is for forsaking us,” she hissed, and slashed forward with all of her strength.

The whip whistled through the air, and cracked across Shana's bare back with a sound that echoed around the arena; Shana cried out in surprise and pain, and the crowd roared approval. A red welt marked where the bullhide had struck. A second blow crossed the first, and beads of sweat quickly sprang up across Shana's back.

A third stroke, a fourth, a fifth; Salesi was beginning to find a rhythm. Then, without warning, Shana twisted her body like an eel on a hook. Gripping the chains that bound her wrists, she pivoted, flicking her hips away from the whipping-post, and flinging one leg into a roundhouse kick that connected Salesi's jaw with a crack! like snapping wood. Salesi's head snapped to the side, her eyes glazed, and she landed heavily in a puff of dust.

There was a roar of laughter from the crowd. Two guards ran quickly to the prone Salesi, picking her up. She was still dazed, dirt all down the front of her body; the ground where she had fallen showed the imprints of breasts and abdominal muscles. The crowd howled in delight.

“I'm all right,” Salesi said in annoyance, her face burning red with humiliation. Her jaw hurt, her head still spun. One of the guards handed her back the whip. Shana, still half-twisted about in the manacles, fixed her eyes on Salesi with defiance.

“Remember to whom you owe your true allegiance,” Shana said.

Salesi shook her head. “You would have let them destroy me. I have no loyalty for you now.” With that, she drew back her arm and slashed forward with the whip. It snaked across Shana's lower back, and the fallen Queen gave a shout of pain. But when Salesi primed a second stroke, Shana again twisted and kicked; this time, it caught Salesi in the hard packing of her abdominals, flinging her to the ground with a squawk.

The crowd of Amazons cheered and laughed, loving the entertainment; but for Salesi, it was too much. She sprang to her feet and surged forward, swinging the whip with all of her strength. The blow angled across Shana's bare buttocks, and the Queen jolted and shrieked with the pain. A bright line of blood appeared where the whip had landed; and it was chased at once by a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth.

Shana's fingers spread above the manacles as the whip fell fast and hard, the lashes delivered with furious strength. Suddenly, she was twisting to avoid the savage strokes, thoughts of fighting back evporating as pain ignited up and down her bare back. The heavy bullhide sliced across her skin with brutal power, knocking the air from her lungs, sending sparks of pain before her eyes.

Sweat began to shine on Salesi's body, her muscles working with fluid grace and awesome power as she threw the whip again and again, loud cracking strokes landing with fearsome force upon Shana's naked flesh. The once-proud Queen was beyond fighting back, and instead hung in the manacles, shrieking and crying out, twisting and thrashing under the onslaught of blows.

“Forgive me! Please, I'm sorry!” Shana shrieked out as the whip struck her back for the fortieth time; but again it fell, slashing across the back of her legs, then again, then again. Still the blows came, until Shana's body jerked in the chains, a line of blood running down each arm from the iron about her wrists.

Finally, the whip slithered back, staining the dust with rusty blood; and Salesi, her skin shining with sweat, stood panting. Shana's back, from her shoulders to the backs of her knees, was a mass of cris-crossing welts and lines from the whipping. Her tanned body was wet from head to toe with sweat, rivulets streaking the muscular contours of her ribcage, her smooth hips. She was shaking visibly; her legs had lost their strength, and her toes were curled under her feet, her body at a full hang from the shackles, her head low between her upstretched arms, to one side of the whipping post.

But it was not yet over.

As Salesi saluted the gathered Amazons, a roar of appreciation again rose up, and a new figure strode across the dusty circle of the arena. The proud, muscular figure of Taai; chocolate skin gleaming in the midday sun, her black mane cascading down her broad back. The earth felt warm to the soles of her bare feet. The narrow band across her breasts did nothing to hide her buxom splendour; the loincloth slung low between her hips allowed a hint of her black pubic hair to peep out. As she passed Salesi, their hands brushed, a mutual trailing of fingers, a moment of intimacy between the two women.

Taai arrived at the whipping post, where her one-time Queen still hung dazed and glistening in the manacles. With firm hands, she turned Shana about. Shana gave a groan as her ravaged back came into contact with the post; the chains from which she hung twisted over each other, lifting her fractionally further from the ground. Now she was truly hanging, her breasts, belly and sex all presented to the ogling crowd.

“Now it is my turn,” Taai said softly, meeting Shana's weary eyes.

Shana slowly shook her head, and a tear rolled down her cheek. “Please, Taai, not like this. Not like this.”

“Now you know how it feels to beg for mercy and receive none,” Taai said. She stepped away from the suspended Shana, gathering up the whip. Its hard coils were wet with sweat and blood. Taai's eyes travelled the extended contours of Shana's body; her upstretched and muscled arms, her pale bare armpits wet with perspiration; her large and heaving breasts, the corrugated arch of her ribcage framing the hard pillows of her abdominal pack; her sleek hips and muscled thighs, her legs dangling uselessly, toes barely clearing the ground.

Shana shook her head. “Please, Taai, please …”

Taai threw the whip forward. The long, braided bullhide whistled through the air, then snapped! cleanly across Shana's rounded breasts. Shana gave a scream, a red welt instantly rising. The second stroke crossed the first; landing so hard that Shana's body was slammed back against the post. The next two blows slashed across her exposed belly, leaving red lines where the bullhide kissed flesh. Shana writhed under the manacles, but hanging as she was, she could do nothing to avoid the lashes that fell evenly and hard on her flinching skin.

An expert blow snapped askew across her breasts again, the whip's knotted tip flicking a tiny wound in Shana's armpit, and she screamed out in pain. Then another lash, and another, and another. The crowd had fallen silent, mesmerised by the rhythmic cracks of the whip, the staccato shrieks of the twisting Shana.

With each blow, a fine mist of sweat was flung into the air from Shana's helpless body. Her breasts and belly and loins, the fronts of her thighs, were quickly becoming a mass of cris-crossing red lines. Each lash seared her flesh like red-hot iron, thrown with precision and expertise by the dusky Taai.

Forty lashes; and still the whip fell. The bullhide snapped for the dozenth time across Shana's bare nipples, splitting one open like an overripe berry; a tiny splash of bright-red blood. Shana gave a long scream of pain and horror at the injury. But the next stroke of the whip slashed across her ribcage and drove the air from her lungs, ending the scream in a high-pitched yelp.

Fifty lashes, and finally the cruel whip fell silent. Taai cast it aside, her whole body heaving as she panted for air, her skin wet with sweat. She glared at her limp, bloodied victim, the once-beautiful Queen Shana now dangling whipped and defeated in manacles. “I am finished with you now,” Taai growled, and spat into the dust at her feet, then strode from the arena to a deafening surge of cheering.

Part Seven – The Crucifixion

Raeka stood again, and raised her arms for silence.

“The whore Shana has been punished. Now let her be put to death!”

The cheer again rose up, and the guards streamed forward. Shana weakly tried to shake her head 'no,' but her gesture was fruitless. Her manacles were opened and her whip-striped body collapsed into the hands of the Amazons.

They forced her to stand, with ropes once again binding her hands behind her back, then roping her elbows together. Her shoulder blades were wrenched into stark definition; her breasts hoisted by the bondage, her ribcage straining. The painful bondage tore at her wounds from the whipping, bringing gasps and groans of anguish from the tormented Amazon.

A noose was passed over her head and drawn close about her neck; then, a guard taking either end of the free rope, they dragged her from the Arena. Despite her torture, Shana still battled to walk with dignity as she was led towards the outskirts of the village, where the execution-site had been prepared. The party was accompanied by several hundred of the Amazon spectators, in anticipation of the entertainment yet to come.

On the gentle, grassy slope beyond the last few huts of Raeka's village, a twelve-foot pole had been raised. Two short wooden stakes formed a “T” near its top, below that a groove had been carved for the fitting of a crossbar.

The crossbar itself lay near the foof of the upright, ropes fixed around it, more ropes laid out alongside it, and a shimmering brazier nearby.

Shana, still dazed and weak, caught sight of the scene that awaited her, and gave a long cry of misery at the realisation of what they had planned.

“Please,” she begged of the guards leading her towards her fate. “Please have mercy, and kill me now!”

“You will suffer as our Queen orders, coward-whore,” a guard snapped back.

Shana struggled to free her arms and wrists, fruitlessly. The guards took her to the execution site; and, four of them upon her, unbound her wrists and arms. Holding her struggling body, they laid her on the ground with her shoulder blades resting upon the waiting crossbar. Then, with two guards on each side, they stretched her arms out along the wood.

Two more guards then began lashing Shana's wrists to the stout wood; double loops about each wrist, then about the crossbar. The heavy knots were fastened at the top of the crossbar, where they would remain forever beyond the reach of her desperate fingers.

Finally, the guards stood back and spread in a circle around the execution post and the secured victim; beyond them, the crowd of Amazons who had gathered to watch, excitedly chattering about the day's events.

Her arms painfully spread across the crossbar, the multiple whip-lines burning as her sweat stung the wounds, Shana lay helpless and naked in the midday sun. The heat bore down on her, drawing fresh sweat from her body. She turned her wrists feebly in the ropes, but knew that she would not get free.

She could barely keep her eyes open against the glare of the sun, and lay gasping for air with the wooden crossbar painfully under her shoulder-blades. It took a few moments for her to realise that the crowd had fallen silent, and that a figure stood over her. Blinking, Shana peered up into the eyes of Alisi.

“And this is the woman who promised to wreak vengeance upon me!”

“Have mercy upon me,” Shana begged. “Forgive me. Please, let me die with honour!”

Alisi smiled and put out her hand towards a guard; she was passed a carafe of water, and knelt alongside Shana's prone form, lowering the vessel to Shana's parched lips. Shana drank deeply, easing the pain of her thirst, until she could drink no more. Even as she did, she knew it was the wrong thing to do, and would only prolong the anguish to come.

“Hold her down,” Alisi commanded. Two guards pinioned each of Shana's legs, holding her still while Alisi went slowly to the brazier. Wrapping a cloth around its handle, she drew a branding iron from the fire; the metal shimmered yellow-orange, disturbing the air above with its fearsome heat. As Alisi brought the iron towards its waiting victim, Shana gave a low moan of dread. The end of the iron was a glowing reversed letter-R, the mark of Raeka.

Alisi knelt alongside the trembling Shana. The guards tightened their grip on her legs. Alisi called out to the crowd, “let this serve as a warning to all who opposte the might of Queen Raeka.”

She firmly brought the iron down to the whip-striped thigh of Shana, and pressed the brand to her skin. There was a hiss, a burst of steam, and Shana gave a shrill scream of pain as the metal burned into her. New sweat sprang across her body. Tiny flames burst around the glowing iron as the brand marked deeply. Finally, it was withdrawn, smoke still rising from the fresh burn in Shana's thigh.

Shana gave a groan of misery as Alisi stood aside. Releasing Shana's legs, the four guards went to the long ropes attached to the crossbar; these were thrown over the stakes near the top of the upright post; makeshift pulleys for the raising of the cross. Two more guards bent to lift the heavy bar. Together, the team of eight Amazons hauled. Shana gave a cry as, by her widely-pinioned arms, she was lifted off the ground and slammed back against the upright post.

“Heave!” The four Amazons pulled on their ropes, and the crossbar rose higher, drawing Shana upwards. “Heave!” Higher still, Shana's heels dragging through the grass, and then lifted clear. Her bare feet kicked helplessly either side of the upright post. Pain speared through her shoulders and outspread arms as they were forced to bear the full weight of her body.

“Heave!” The bar was raised higher, finally shifting into the bed carved for it near the post's top. A ladder was placed against the back of the cross, and a single guard scaled with a length of rope; with skill and strength, she lashed the crossbar firmly into place.

But there was more to be done. More ropes were presented, and lashed about Shana's dangling ankles. By these bonds, her legs were pulled back-and-up, her bare feet bound to the upright, almost level with her own buttocks. Shana groaned with the strain it placed on her thighs.

Her executioners stood aside.

Gleaming, awkwardly-bound, Shana hung from the cross by her wrists and twisted legs. Her arms were stretched widely-and-up, drawing her ribcage out, stretching the muscles of her shoulders and chest, defining the arch of her solar plexus, her legs cruelly curled up behind her. The discomfort was immediate and all-enveloping, pain through her muscles and joints, spreading down her back and her sides.

Alisi, in a cool clear voice, gave to Shana words that the fallen Queen had herself spoken upon her capture: “I shall enjoy watching you die.” And added, “may it be long and slow.”

Shana gave no response. To be bound contorted and naked, high on the cross, before a crowd of five hundred-odd onlookers, was a shame and humiliation beyond endurance. Her thighs were naturally parted by the way she hung; those below were presented an open view of the hair between them, the intimacy of her sex. Her body was marked by the savage whipping and the cruel brand on her thigh.

She wanted to preserve as much of her dignity as she could; and yet, as the pain spread along her arms and gnawed into her bound wrists, her legs automatically strained to raise her body and ease the strain. Combined with tensing the muscles of her arms, she could alleviate the pain, but she knew it would not last.

Many in the crowd noticed her macabre, writhing dance, and pointed and laughed. So Shana let herself hang limp again, a single tear trickling down one cheek.

As the first half-hour of her crucifixion passed, the sun burned down on her naked body. There was no shade, no shelter; and in the humid air of early afternoon, not even a breeze to cool the sweat that glossed her skin. Shana had no choice but to half-hang, exposed to the heat, while the crowd below her gradually dispersed, finally growing bored.

Eventually, after an hour, even the guards wandered off. To Shana, it was a final, cruel blow to her dignity. Posting a guard, at least, hinted that she might have allies looking to rescue her, or that she might be able to free herself and disappear into the night. But this was proof that nobody would come, that Shana would not get free; and despair cut deeply into her heart.

Shana's head lolled to rest on the sweaty flank of her own shoulder. Despite the pain in her body, she knew that death was a long, long way off. Her breathing remained slow and deep. She let her eyes close; the twitter of birds in nearby trees and the music of distant women's voices reminded her of summers past, when she would rest in the shade of a tree, sleepy and contented. She wished that the horrors of the past weeks would turn out to be nothing but a bad dream; but when she opened her eyes again, she saw that her body was still awkwardly bound to the cross.

The day crept on. The sun dragged across the sky, and, slowly, Shana's suffering grew. Over a matter of hours, the pain in her arms worsened. The ropes seemed to cut into her wrists, but as her muscles lost their strength, nothing she could do would ease the feeling. Her legs flexed to relieve the strain, but that only sent cramps and stabbing aches through her thighs and knees.

“Water, please!” she croaked after many hours, but there was no-one to hear her.

The sun finally sank beyond distant treetops, a dying fire of gold, the shifting light playing upon the skin of the woman hanging on her cross. A breeze sprang up, at last cooling the sweat on her naked breasts. Still her legs shifted, the ropes biting into her ankles each time she tried to raise herself; the slow, twisting dance of agony went on to no avail.

As darkness enveloped the land, the sound of drums and voices rose from the village behind Shana. Raeka's Amazons were celebrating the death of a Queen still dying. Shana smelled the smoke of their fires, the aroma of cooking meat, heard the laughter of those who had so easily defeated her.

The heat of day was finally ebbing, but the cooling air brought no relief to Shana, as time worked its terrible torture on her crucified body. The joints and tendons of her arms felt as if they burned red-hot; pain seared down through the powerful muscles of her back. Her legs felt crippled, bent up beneath her, the circulation choked, the muscles cramping and knotting painfully. Still she struggled and danced from one agony to the other, but with ever-decreasing strength.

Arm in arm, two young Amazons, amorous for each other, came by; chattering and giggling in the darkness. As they passed the cross, both looked casually up at the gleaming, restlessly-writhing figure of Shana; then, giggling, arms around each other's waists, disappeared into the night.

Shana barely noticed their passing, but groaned aloud in her misery and pain.

The night grew cooler still; and as the temperature dropped, the chill drew goosebumps across Shana's naked body, her nipples stiffening like stalks. Defenceless against the cold, strung up on the cross, she began to shiver. It sent new tendrils of agony through the joints of her shoulders and along the tendons and ligaments of her arms, crippling pain embracing her ribcage. Her legs shook, the muscles of her thighs fatigued and burning. Her feet were numb, the ropes cutting into her ankles.

By morning, however, she was all but still.

Dawn had drawn a few curious Amazons down to the execution site. Shana hung silent and still on the cross, her hands andfeet curled and crimson beyond the ropes, her body spread at the arms and back-twisted thighs, openly displayed, high off the ground. Only the slow shifting of her ribcage showed that she still lived.

The sun rose behind her, warming the air and bringing life to the day in the form of buzzing insects and chirping birds. Activity, too, stirred in the village. Focused now on their daily lives, Amazons walked the path that passed near the execution site, casual glances cast Shana's way.

As the day grew hot, Shana's torture only grew worse. Her body, unceasingly racked by the agony of crucifixion, was helpless to the burning sun; its kiss was cruel on her bare shoulders and straining arms, and drew rivulets of sweat over her breasts and down her ribcage.

She called out towards the blue sky, “oh, Goddess, let me die now!”

But there was no mercy, not from the Heavens, nor from her own body; its strength was now her greatest curse, for death was yet a long way off.

It seemed the day had no end. The torture of the cross grew worse as the hours crawled. When the sun reached its zenith, Shana was again stirring, her head rolling, her body doing its odd, twisting dance as she fought to ease the torture of her arms with her equally-agonized legs. Her voice called out in the agony of it all. Her straining ribcage heaved with the effort. Cramps speared the muscles of her back, knotted in the powerful fibre of her thighs.

Shana's struggles grew gradually weaker as the day progressed, and as the sun began its descent to the horizon, she hung almost motionless again on the cross, her body glossed with the sheen of sweat and grease, her breasts shifting in tiny, pained breaths, her feet twisted up behind her. Strands of her blonde-brown hair clung to her shining face, her eyes half-closed and unfocused.

Flies, drawn by the salt and aroma of her sweat, haunted her face, settled on her suspended body, eager to taste her even while she still lived. She barely noticed them; in addition to the agony of her arms and shoulders, hips and thighs, knees, and ankles, she suffered the cruel torment of thirst; a constant searing in her throat and belly. It drew more groans from her; parched lips parted for the salvation that would never be offered.

Dusk brought the spectre of clouds upon the horizon, the rumble of distant thunder, and a terrible humidity in the air. Still more sweat was drawn across the suffering Shana's naked body, slow rivulets streaking her expanded ribcage, while her lips and throat remained dry. But several hours after darkness had fallen, the first fat raindrops splatted onto the crossbar, the muscled contours of Shana's tortured arms, touched the bare soles of her bound and upturned feet. The rain quickened, thunder sounded, and the downpour began.

Alone, bound naked on the cross, Shana was exposed to the torrents of the heavens; rain driving down onto her bare breasts and body, rivulets coursing down her back and belly, running down the post of the cross. Droplets departed her grey and curled fingers, clustered along the underside of her outstretched arms. Weakly, she tipped her head back to catch water on her parched tongue; although she knew the life it gave would only prolong her torment.

Eventually, she gave up even that small effort, and hung loosely on the cross, chilled to the bone from the driving rain, tortured even by the water she had cried out for. The rain continued to fall as the sky lightened; and all through the morning, it continued its steady patter upon the crucified Queen. Her hair clung to her face and torn shoulders, rivulets trickled from the matted hair between her thighs, dripped from her bent knees to splat on the petal-strewn grass below.

Water had soaked through the ropes on her wrists and ankles, and, hour by hour, they tightened; cruelly strangling Shana's tortured hands and feet, sending new shards of agony along her stretched and straining arms, her cramped and twisted legs.

By midday, the rain had ceased; and hours later, the clouds began to part, the sun streaming through. Steam now rose from the wet wood of the cross. Shana, barely conscious after two days bound upon it, tipped her head back with a breathy moan, her eyelids parting slightly as if for one last look at the heavens.

But the goddess had not finished with Shana, and as the sun descended for the third time since her crucifixion, her belly continued to shift with shallow, pained breaths.

The next morning, through the haze of pain and dilerium that now drew every moment into an eternity, Shana became aware of figures on the ground below her. She fought to focus her eyes; her lips moved soundlessly as she recognised Taai and Alisi. She tried to plead for the final mercy of death; but no words would form in her burning throat, and she could only implore them with her eyes from the agony of her crucifixion.

“See, she still lives,” Taai said. “Three days, and her suffering goes on.”

“Perhaps it is time to hasten her death,” Alisi mused.

“Then let me do it,” Taai offered. Slowly, she drew her sword. Shana's eyes filled with tears; perhaps there was still a shred of love in her one-time friend? As Taai approached, Shana readied herself for the mercy of the sword.

But Taai went behind the cross, and swung her sword hard into the rope that linked Shana's ankles. Severed from their bonds, her legs dropped free. The shift of joints and muscles held immobile for two days and nights was agony, and Shana gave a long wail of pain. The strain on her arms and shoulders seemed to double, tearing agony along the ligaments and sending shards of pain down her back. Her pain-crippled legs dangled uselessly, now unable to support her.

Taai sheathed her sword and rejoined her companion. They stood a while longer, admiring the still-perfect form of the beautiful Shana, then left her to the sun and the flies and the agony of the cross.

As the sun climbed into the sky, Shana's shining body experienced torment beyond description; from the tearing pain of the shrunken ropes that left her hands dead and cold, the spearing burning of wrenched and swollen joints and tendons in her arms and shoulders, to the cramps and pains that speared her sides and back as her body now fought merely to draw breath.

The fourth night brought no relief; as darkness again fell, so the temperature dropped, and the cold penetrated down to Shana's aching bones, like the fingers of death clawing for her very marrow. Her toes turned greyish-blue, her lips paled, her face was gaunt and lifeless; and yet her heart laboured on, pumping the agony of slow execution through her tortured body.

Another day dawned. It seemed to Shana that she had been fastened on this cross for a lifetime; her arms felt all but torn from her body, her muscles knotted and exhausted, her system tortured by an endless succession of heat and cold without relief, without sustenance. She had been sentenced to one of the cruellest executions ever known, and her body had battled it for days.

Now, finally, on her fifth day hanging high on the cross, the beautiful Amazon Queen Shana barely saw the sunlight kiss the shifting leaves on distant trees; failed to register the smells and sounds of life going on around her. Her muscular and beautiful body hung limp from the crossbar, and finally, her exhausted muscles could drag no more breath. With a final shudder, her heart surrendered.

Three young Amazons passed half an hour later, as the sun climbed higher, and remarked to one another on the beauty of the woman hanging on the cross, not aware that Queen Shana was already dead.




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