She let the world fade around her as she shut her eyes. Concentrate, she thought to herself. Deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the... oh. Lanala had almost forgotten about the gag. The stifling cloth pressed tight against her lips and kept the wadded up cloth sealed within her mouth. Of course she didn't forget about the thick rope that bound her wrists behind her back. Nor did she forget the others that wound around her arms and the four that bound her legs at the ankles, knees, and thighs.

A strand of her medium length, tied back hair fell in front of her eyes. She always liked the colour but people had a hard time deciding what exactly the colour was. Fuscia? Magenta? Plain old pink? Or was it purple? Lanala herself preferred to call it strawberry because it sounded better and...

Why am I wasting time thinking about my hair colour? She thought to herself. I've got training to do.

The room she sat in was plain and empty. Four grey, stone walls and a heavy iron door that was locked at the present moment surrounded the bound and gagged woman. A large window sat to the left of the door with thick bars blocking it off from the adjacent room. Another woman stood there, arms folded, watching Lanala writhe and struggle.

The huge, hulking woman who stood and watched was the leader of their order, Artema. She stood more than a foot taller than anyone else in the order. Her massive build could fill any doorway and in this cramped training cell Artema had to duck to even enter. Artema stared at Lanala with sharp, intelligent green eyes. Her hair, tied back in a pony tail, was undoubtedly purple. Lanala could never help but notice that massive warrior woman whenever she was around. But perhaps that was because they were married.

Lanala's mind wandered when she thought on her impressive wife. While Lanala herself was not exactly small, Artema dwarfed her and made her feel safe. Her own figure was athletic and toned and Artema often remarked on it but Lanala would look upon Artema and feel positively tiny. Her own six foot frame felt like a child standing next to the gorgeous woman in white.

The thought forced Lanala to give her head a shake. Right, she thought. The training. Don't let her down.

Artema often came down particularly hard on Lanala but the other five members of the order didn't see it that way. They saw her as 'the favourite.' Well most of them did, anyway. Lanala was determined to show that Artema did not play favourites and took every admonishment from her wife in stride.

Lanala tugged her ankles a bit and felt the rope dig into her black, knee-high sandals. The thought occurred to her that she and Artema often dressed quite similarly. There were differences, sure. They wore opposing colours; Artema wore white and Lanala dressed in black. Artema's battle skirt was longer, reaching just above her knees while Lanala favoured one about half the length. She cited the climate of their tropical island home on Ikaatan but really just enjoyed the comfort. That and Artema told her once, before they were dating, that she'd liked it and Lanala decided then to wear it as often as possible.

They both also detested sleeves for the most part and kept their bare, muscular arms on display. They both wore arm guards; Lanala's were again black and Artema's were brown, like her sandals. The look went with Artema's healthy, milky white skin perfectly. Artema often told Lanala how good she looked in black and how well it went with her brown, beautifully tanned skin.

Lanala's attention was suddenly grabbed by the stern voice of her wife from the other side of the barred window.

"Five minutes, Lanala," she said.

Five minutes!? She hadn't gotten one knot loose and it had been almost an hour already? Lanala almost never escaped when Artema tied her up. Her wife's strength felt superhuman and the knots were nigh impossible to pick apart. And this was only level two of escape training. Artema could always make it worse.

Lanala didn't always enjoy being tied up, like right now for instance, but at times it felt almost liberating in a way. She liked when Artema did it and often tried it on herself when she was younger but her line of work didn't afford her to enjoy the feeling. They were the Order of Ikaatan. The seven of them were commissioned by the Queen to carry out many dangerous tasks and, unfortunately, the risk of capture was ever-present. That's why Artema started this escape training. Lanala wondered if her wife sometimes took it a bit too seriously but at least it was a realistic scenario.

Knowing she had no time to waste, Lanala struggled hard against her bonds. She kicked and flailed her bound legs in a vain attempt to loosen the tough ropes around them. She rolled onto her stomach and let out a muffled grunt. She tried picking at the knots on her bound wrists but with them crossed behind her back, she couldn't do much. She reached up as far as her bound arms would allow and got hold of the knot tying the rope around her biceps. Her toned muscles strained with the effort but she picked away at it for what felt like hours until it had started to come loose.

"Mmmmph!' she said in excitement at the prospect of escaping her bonds. The knot did indeed start to come loose. At this rate she would be free in-

"Time's up," Artema's stern voice said.

Lanala slumped to the floor and grunted into her gag. Damn it she thought. I almost had it. She listened to the sound of the iron door's heavy, sliding lock clang to one side and the hulking leader of the Order of Ikaatan crouched down low to enter the room. She could barely stand to her full height inside the training cell. Lanala managed to roll onto her back and sit up straight to look her wife in the eyes.

Artema knelt down to meet Lanala's gaze. Her hard stare felt like it bored straight through Lanala's skull.

"Were you even trying, Lanala?"

"Mmmph!" Lanala said, nodding.

"Didn't look like it to me. Looked like you were daydreaming."

"Mmm!" Lanala began in protest before hanging her head. "Mmmph.." she said in resignation. Artema was right. Artema was always right.

"You have to take this training seriously, Lanala. I know we try but all seven of us can't always be there to save each other. You got lucky that last time."

"Mmph," Lanala grunted. She didn't need a reminder. The last time she was captured was so embarrassing. She'd let that little old lady lull her into that den of bandits. She should have been able to take them but that short woman who led them was surprisingly strong and...

"You're daydreaming again, Lanala."

Artema's voice brought Lanala back to her current predicament. The hulking woman sighed and shook her head.

"Sometimes I think you're too sweet for this job. Being sweet and dreamy isn't a bad thing, granted, but you need to have a tough mind to do this. You're a capable fighter and an incredible spellcaster but I get the feeling you're just too nice, Lanala."

"Mmm-mmmph!" Lanala said. She growled under her gag and tried to scowl at her wife but she just couldn't do it.

"I'm not saying be mean," Artema said. She then lowered her voice. "I love how sweet and charming you are. It's what I've always loved about you. Just try to focus more. You've got it in you to be the best among us, maybe even lead this bloody order. But you don't have the discipline. Which means I have to teach it to you."

"Mmm?" Lanala asked.

"You know what failing an escape test means, Lanala," Artema said.

"Mmmph. Mmmph! Mmm mmmmpph!"

Lanala protested under her gag but her wife ignored her muffled cries and proceeded to tighten the knots on every one of Lanala's ropes. Artema produced more ropes and began tightly coiling them around Lanala's arms and wrists. She then hoisted the smaller woman over her shoulder.

"Failing level two gets you two hours of meditation. Off to the quiet room."

"MMMMMPH!" Lanala screamed into her gag but her wife still ignored her. She hated the quiet room. The intense boredom the place inspired made it feel like she'd go insane.

"Meditation is important too, you know," Artema said to her squirming wife. "It helps you think. You can contemplate many wonderful ideas in that utter silence. And doing so while bound and gagged helps you concentrate even more. I have the girls leave me in there all the time. It does wonders."

"Mmmmph..." Lanala groaned. Artema's mind, once set, could never be changed. So all her gagged protests and bound squirming did was tire Lanala out.

"I want you to think while you're in there. Take deep, easy breaths and just think. And when you're done thinking, focus on emptying your mind. I tell you, Lanala, the peace that comes from a quiet mind is unlike anything else."

"Hmmmmm..." Lanala moaned. She rolled her eyes. It was lucky she was gagged or else she would have said something to make Artema angry. And if Artema was angry with you and had you tied up then you were in for serious trouble.

Artema slid the wooden door open and gently placed Lanala on the padded floor. At least it was comfortable in this room. More comfortable than the training cell, at least. The room was dimly lit with soft light from beautiful, ornate lanterns and several gently flickering candles arranged in a semi-circle around the designated spot.

Lanala watched her wife produce more rope and then felt the strong woman pull her by the ankles and onto her stomach. Artema wound the rope between Lanala's ankles and wrists and attached them together. She stood back and admired the strict hogtie she had just placed her wife in.

"Can't have you squirming around and knocking over the candles."

"Mmmph!' Lanala said.

"What? They're expensive. And the floor is fireproof. You made sure of that. I just don't want you ruining this beautiful display that Mirelle set up."

"Mmmmpph..." Lanala sighed. Mirelle was another member of the order who loved the quiet room. She was such a happy young woman but her love of the quiet room irritated Lanala to no end.

"Oh, one more thing," Artema said.

She bent down and pulled a thick cloth over Lanala's eyes and the world went completely black.

"Mmmmrgh!"

"It'll help you relax," Artema said. "Just be careful with your squirming around. I wish you'd sit still but you're so damn restless."

Artema stepped out of the room.

"I'm locking this door now and I'm not coming back for two hours. Don't worry. You'll do fine. Just concentrate and, if it helps," Artema lowered her voice. "Think of me, my love. See you in two hours."

"MMMPH!" Lanala squirmed back and forth and screamed into her gag but the sound that came out was nothing more than a soft mewling sound. The sliding door clicked shut and Lanala heard Artema place the heavy wooden plank down, sealing her inside.

Lanala let out a long breath through her nose and struggled uselessly against her tight bonds. They didn't budge an inch. She laid her head onto the soft floor and tried to let her mind wander. But she just kept coming back to the tight ropes that dug into her skin, the gag that pressed tight to her lips, and the blindfold that shut the world off. She decided then to take her wife's advice. Lanala let her thoughts drift first to Artema's stoic and beautiful face. Then she thought of her thick, shapely legs and toned muscles. Artema's strong voice rang out in her head and Lanala sighed and let her muscles relax. Maybe the quiet room wasn't so bad after all.