Phoenix Arrow

by Kimra

Chapter One

Kalika surveyed the enormous camp as the men lead her in. Her guardians where pushed up a different path way, one where she could not see there destination. It sunk in her stomach more, the separation was not painful, she hardly knew them, but it put her in a situation with no support.

She walked for a long time through the camp heading towards the giant cliff face that backed it before the men released her arm's. She glanced left and right quickly, in either direction for aches where tents, armed me and creatures shuffling through there routines. The hand behind her pushed her into the tent flaps and past them.

Kalika blinked rapidly, trying to adjust to the change in light. The bright summer sun had been glaring in her face the whole walk, and now with few windows open in the tent she found it difficult to see. She sniffed quickly and was greeted with the sent of fresh oranges, she tried to smell past it and only found batches of perfume, weak scents, but not stale. A group of giggles reached her ears as she continued to fight the bright spots in her vision.

"This way." A tentative hand rested on her arm, gently drawing her further into the tent. Kalika would have fought if there had been the slightest force in the grip, but found herself following obediently instead. Kalika blinked the final spot out of her vision and found a young woman leading her onwards. The woman was younger then Kalika but had an air of purpose and control about her.

Around them, talking amongst themselves and giggling where eight other girls. Kalika noted that the girl leading her seemed maybe fourteen and the other eight ranged from thirteen to fifteen. Kalika being seventeen was older then them all. Kalika did as she always did, and rebelled. She pulled from the hand that rested on her arm, stepped away from the young woman, set her jaw and crossed her arms over her chest. It was the grey eyed man's harem she was looking at and she understood that but she refused to accept that she had been brought there to be initiated into it.

The young woman leading her did not respond automatically, instead she looked ahead to where they had been heading for some time while the other eight sat silently watching. Kalika saw there wide eyes and disgust at her actions and mentally pushed them away. The woman turned to her, sad eyes pleading.

"Please" The young woman began with a gentle voice as she looked into Kalika's expression. "Don't make this any harder on yourself." It was not a threat, more of a plea made on Kalika's behalf. Kalika wanted to ignore the pleading and hear it as a threat, otherwise she would not cope. Her father would never approve of her being initiated into a harem, she did not approve. She continued after a moments more thought. "The tent is surrounded by the Bresaur-" Kalika had to assume that was the creatures who had attacked her caravan "-Beyond them, towards the rising sun is his armies camps, towards the setting sun cliff faces. Do not think both have not been attempted." The young woman paused to let the words sink in and Kalika knew they where true, all ways but one had the army camp, the rest was a sheer cliff that had rising to the sky. Then the young woman motioned for Kalika to follow. Kalika followed, had she not seen it herself, there was something innocently truthful about this woman that made Kalika trust her. "I am Selen. I am his fifth." Kalika noted there was no pain in the girls voice as she spoke the words and wondered if the young woman where an excellent actress or if she knew nothing but what she had.

Selen showed her the tent quickly and efficiently. The bathing pool out the back was a luxury most tents did not have. It had been dug out for the benefit of the ladies Selen told her. Inside the tent there where curtain walls that separated an otherwise single room. On the left hand and right hand side of the tent where two large rooms with five matrices each. The matrices where lined next to each other, and it was explained that it was where the harem slept when they where not wanted. The grey eyed man, Seres slept on a large bed at the end of the central room. Between his bed and the door where piles of cushions surrounding a large pit, which Selen explained was where meals where cooked, although they where prepared outside near the bathing pool.

When the tour was finished Selen had begun the introductions between Kalika and the eight other girls who had not moved upon her tour. They clamoured to meet her but before any had been introduced that pleasant voice interrupted them.

"Selen." Seres' voice was a light tenor that Kalika found oddly pleasant to listen to, a thought she knew she should not have been thinking of her captor. All the girls fell to the ground resting foreheads against it and wrapping there arms over there head, a bow Kalika had seen preformed once or twice before. The only thing which separated Selen from the others was that she rose to sit back on her heals. Selen waited patiently for him to continue watching his moves with alert interest. But his eyes where not on her, they where on Kalika. Kalika stared back at him, suspecting his thoughts, unable to deny the reason for her presence when it was obvious he kept himself well stoked with women. But with a cliff face or an army to conquer she was not ready to defy him or his thoughts. She had learnt survival above all things, and survival she would guarantee.

Seres looked back to Selen who had not looked from him. Her large blue eyes where wide with the expectation of his command.

"Strip her and polish her." He glanced at Kalika then shook his head. "I have work to do." With that he turned and left. Suddenly eight girls where gossiping in volume all looking with excited eyes from Kalika to each other. Selen stood, brushing the dirt on the front of her dress. Then with stern eyes looked Kalika over.

"Rel, fetch needle and thread. Di'ark more scents. Tesh and Deril draw the bath. Togne some more fruits with dinner. Liza go with Rel get measurements first, I want something in-" There was a pause as Selen stared intently at Kalika "-green, a nice green. Yan and Pilly get the box." With that the eight girls scattered in every direction fusing about things. Two left instantly, one ran over and began to tie a piece of rope about Kalika's waist. Kalika submitted to the measuring, she had been through many before. But when two girls approached with a large wooden box she was doubtful of how far her obedience would go. Selen smiled calmly and motioned her out the back tent flap. Once there she pulled out many of the boxes items. It was every beauty utensil Kalika had ever seen and the girls seemed adapt in there use because instantly one grabbed a pair of scissors and began to cut at her hair. Kalika tried to protest but none where listening to her as they began to cut her nails and pull out hairs they thought didn't belong.

When the bath was drawn two of the girls stayed to supervise making sure she was as clean as possible, and throwing scented liquids into the hot water as she went. Kalika sat through it as she stared at the cliff face, wondering if she could climb it. With the phoenix arrow strapped to her back she would try it, she had survived things she would not believe possible because she had that arrow, at least she liked to place it as the excuse. It had become a grudge for her, without it she felt weak, with it she was in control of everything.

When she was dragged out of the bath she found another girl waiting with an indecent dress. Kalika stared at it, it covered the essentials but she had never worn anything so revealing.

"Not like your going to have it on for long anyway." One of them muttered when she turned white at the sight of it. Kalika tightened her lips as she stared at it, but she put it on, still eyeing the cliff. Seres may have been powerful but he would not throw away a phoenix feather, and Kalika knew that, she needed it back before she escaped, in the wrong hands it was too powerful a weapon to abandon.

When they went to walk her back into the tent Selen stopped them and motioned them in, in her hands she held another box, this one small and silver.

"Sit." She begged motioning to the flat stone by the bath. Selen knelt so they where eye level and drew out a pair of earrings. Kalika cringed, her ears where throbbing from the needle they have dragged through it, but she had seen others wearing earrings so she knew what it was they where doing. "Don't think about it." Selen whispered comfortingly when Kalika glanced at the cliff. Kalika looked startled at Selen and in her eyes she saw what was once a spirited girl, Selen had not gone quietly. "The sooner you accept the happier you will be. There are far worse places to be, then in my lords arms." Kalika was startled to see the misty look in Selen's eyes, and had she not been repulsed at the idea she would have admitted the look was of love. Selen smiled ever calm and drove the first of the earrings into place, then quickly the second. Kalika did not gasp at the pain although she wanted to. Then Selen pulled out a matching necklace and put it on. "My lord does not like the face paints some women wear, so do not ask for them." Selen commanded and walked her into the tent.

* * * * *

The ten women ate there food at sunset.

"Our lord orders us to, he has so often returned with the dawn that we would otherwise go hungry." Rel told Kalika when she noticed Kalika's surprised expression at them not waiting for him.

"But he will be here tonight." Tesh grinned as she stared at Kalika. "His got his new prize." Three of the other girls began to giggle at this and Selen hushed them quickly.

"Perhaps his new prize is not so happy about this as we think she should be." Selen warned them and Kalika found herself the attention of eight sets of eyes all filled with different levels of disbelief and wonder.

"But our lord is generous."

"Good." Another prompted her eyes struck with more shock then anything else.

"He will love you." Another one whispered unbelieving. Kalika tried not to snort in disgust, each one seemed wrapped in this mans affections, as if he did love them all but she doubted they understood, truly understood how little they meant to him. Kalika decided she would not enlighten them, it would only be cruel.

"He will be good to you." Selen added not looking at Kalika. Kalika was struck again, Selen seemed to be the most intelligent the most spirited but she seemed the most loyal to him.

When the meal was finished the eight youngest moved to there beds quickly, dividing, four to one side four to the other. Selen motioned Kalika to stand and lead her to the bed. She made another motion for Kalika to sit on the bed and gave her a smile.

"The others forget there first day here, that is probably good. Some did not accept as well as others." Selen smiled once more her eyes desperate to make Kalika understand something but Kalika could not understand what it was she was trying to say. She shook her head and left Kalika alone, unsure if she was capable of saying what she was thinking.

Kalika rubbed her almost bare arms through the screen like material wondering how cold night became in a tent.

That she was a part of this harem she understood, self preservation told her she had to bide her time before escape would present itself, but parts of her still rebelled against the idea.

She was not sure how long she sat there before the cold won over her shear dress. Carefully she buried herself under the thick blankets, amazed by how soft they where she didn't even notice when she drifted into sleep.

* * * * *

Kalika woke slowly, at first she was surprised by the softness that smothered her but she was always willing to accept comfort. Then the movement that had awoken her happened again. She did not think the movement was close until soft fingers stroked her check.

Shocked she rolled from her side to stare into the Seres grey eyes. He was poised above her looking directly at her face. She tried to pull away from him but the matrices would not let her retreat into it.

"Who would you have shot?" He asked softly and stroked her check again. She breathed tightly, taking in the strong smell of oranges while staring at him. She wondered why she hadn't tried to escape yet, why she had fallen asleep. But the questions only puzzled her as long as it took for her to see the arrow in the hand that had stroked her check. Seres twisted it between his fingers thoughtfully. She swallowed wondering if she could get it out of his grip and which person the feather would grant it's luck to. As if sensing her thoughts he smiled and the arrow disappeared.

"You." She gasped as realisation struck her, the perfect disguise was the one everyone wore, a warrior build and clothes. His soft smile broadened teasingly and she was surprised she did not feel instant disgust.

"Ah, but you had not even seen me." He had an arm at either side of her chest, pinning her in place. "Who?" He repeated as he lent closer, his body beginning to press against her. She had to answer, she realised to delay the inevitable, she had to answer.

"The girl." She snapped and he pulled back looking into her eyes again. There was doubt and amusement, but beyond that she could decipher nothing from his expression.

"I don't believe you." He replied, and she heard anger. He sat up leaving her to her disgust. "Tesh!" He snapped loudly and the small red head popped out from behind a curtain. His expression twisted for a moment then he sighed beckoning her forwards. With no hesitation Tesh approached him until she was in arms reach, and he drew her closer his lips fastening on hers.

Tesh was instantly appeased as her arms snaked about his waist leaning into the kiss. When it was broken he turned a mild expression to Kalika.

"Get out of my bed." He stated then turned his attention back to Tesh. As if ignoring that anyone else was present Tesh kissed him fiercely allowing him to draw her dress off her body.

Kalika stumbled out of the bed diverting her eyes until she found a hand grab her sleave. Selen tugged the sleave towards an opening in the curtain then closed it once Kalika was through.

This side of the curtain did not have the lavish gold trimmings everything he owned seemed to have. Everything was browns and creams. Three sets of eyes stared at her in shock and Selen motioned to an empty matrices. None of them had fallen asleep Kalika realised, perhaps they where always awake when he was. Kalika ignored the idea as she pulled the brown blanket over her head trying to ignore the sounds from the central room as the other four made hand motions to each other that seemed almost like a language onto itself.

Kalika refused to wonder why she had been spared from him this one night. Had he been uninterested he would not have appeared so willing to begin. He could have taken her by force easily although she had not the mind to fight him off knowing she would lose.

She forced thoughts away from her unwilling to be grateful for the miracle of his changed mind. Perhaps the other girls where used to him but she was not ready to try and adapt.

* * * * *

Kalika woke to a foreign environment. She was used to it, the times she woke up familiar with her surroundings unsettled her.

She felt warm blankets above her a thick mattress below her. By her ear she heard someone breathing. Startled she looked at her company to find a young woman, a girl really, sound asleep and oblivious to Kalika's confusion. Sitting up quickly drawing away from the girl Kalika saw three other girls asleep near by. She remembered the harem and cringed.

Listening beyond the soft breathing of her companions she could hear nothing within the tent. Outside the tent she could hear people stirring.

Careful not to wake the girl at her side Kalika disentangled herself from the blankets and stood quietly. Then tripping on cushions and blankets she made her way to the part in the curtain. Silently without looking at the bed in the middle of the room she skirted the shadows and left through the tents front entrance.

Her bare feet where cold against compressed dirt, her body just as cold as the morning winds pierced the sheer fabric she still wore. She looked about, the moon still lingered in the sky, dully lighting the camp. One or two men walked the street to preoccupied with waking up to pay attention to her. There where no guards, as Selen had said there where, that worried Kalika she trusted the girls words, which left her to wonder why the guards where not in there places. It felt like a trap. Having walked into many traps in her life she had begun to get a feel for them, and it most defiantly felt like one. Reluctantly, knowing it may be her only chance for escape before she found herself in Seres bed she re-entered the tent. As she skimmed the shadows heading for the back of the entrance she saw Tesh, asleep on the central bed, alone.

Kalika ignored all thoughts on the matter and pushed through the back entrance. She wanted to escape, but knew too little about wizards to know what they where capable of. For all she knew there was a platoon of guards around his tent, just because she couldn't see them didn't mean they where not there. She hated wizards for that, it left her weak.

At the back of the tent she stared at the red rock cliff face, it's tips already lite with the approaching light. It loomed over her, warning her against foolish plans for escape. Defiantly Kalika began towards it. The arrow would wait, she could tell the king where the Mage of the Warriors kept his army, she could find the arrow when the king attacked. If Seres didn't have it on him, of course a prize like that he was bound to keep handy.

"You see up there?" Seres's pleasant voice enquired as his hand closed over her shoulder. Kalika felt her heart leave her chest in surprise. She had been listening, she could hear the men on the road still trying to wake up, but he had made no sound.

Wizards. She growled at herself keeping her face bland. She was going to not look, little signs of defiance in captivity where rarely punished it where the more noticeable ones that where, but strangely her eyes moved up to a spot on the cliff face. He didn't point, she could see him out the corner of her eye, he was using magic against her, not giving her the chance to show defiance.

"Yes." She snapped as she tried not to pay attention to the spot. Something in her sight glinted at her, catching the rays of the rising sun. She glanced then, freely, it was maybe a fourth of the way up the rock surface. He gripped her chin and pulled her to look into his grey eyes.

"That's how far Selen got."

"Before you stopped her?" Kalika demanded, maybe there had been no guards out the tent because he had been there, he did not need guards to protect his possessions so long as he was there. He smiled amused.

"Before she fell." He replied his voice calm. Kalika looked back to the spot scared that Selen had fallen from such a height and wondering how much further she could climb. "Don't think she wasn't strong when she got here. Her people, even the women are fighters, she had only begun her training true, but that doesn't mean she was weak, just that her people expect a great deal from their warriors."

Kalika saw the problem with the story almost instantly. Not with the warrior story, her kingdom did not train women to fight, but she had travelled and she had learnt to fight. "How did she survive?" she demanded turning her eyes sharply back to meet his grey ones. He smiled and brushed her check with his long fingers, his eyes intent on her.

"I look after my possessions." His voice was calm and his fingers soft. Sharply Kalika pulled back from the touch, and his smile grew. "So I softened her fall." He continued and looked back up at the glinting spot.

"Softened?" Kalika had met men like him before, ones who claimed the right to do as they please. Most didn't have the power to do as they pleased, this man did.

"Well…" He stopped his expression slightly darker then it had been before. "She left the ordeal alive, if not a bit… broken. And out of courtesy I marked the highest point her hand reached with a diamond. For such a valiant effort I thought a diamond was in order."

"So you watched her climb?" Kalika demanded angry on Selen's behalf. His laugh was light when it came and although Kalika was surprised by it she was not scared.

"I was curious. It's not every day you see a mad woman trying to scale a cliff face." She felt eyes on her, his eyes watching her expressions with interest. Kalika forced her expression to remain placid then turned to face him once more. She felt anger boil below her skin.

"Really?" Her anger reached her voice and instantly he had her elbow in his grip and he pulled her against him, his stormy eyes stern.

"Selen was stronger then you are, and she was crazy. Being crazy gives someone an edge, an edge I can see you don't have." He lent his mouth in towards hers, his breath warm against her cold skin. All thoughts of the cliff face where suspended by her sudden predicament. He was stronger then her, she could feel that much merely in his grip on her elbows, and his magic, she couldn't begin to guess what his magic made him capable off. She forced herself to breath calmly and closed her eyes, it helped with her breathing. "Who would you have shoot?" He whispered she could feel his mouth getting closer, slowly.

"I don't know. Who will you bed instead of me this time?" Her words where heated even as she begged her mind to tell her when sanity had left her. He drew back surprised by the question but she kept her eyes closed. When he hit, she would not feel it, she refused to. But no blow came, and instead the hands on her elbows released her.

"I have work to do." He snapped and she felt him leave although she would not look. She mistrusted him more for not kissing her. When she was in his power.

It's the arrow. She realised in dismay. Perhaps, for all his power he had not yet figured it out properly, her obedience would be useful in obtaining answers. But why put her in his harem if that where all he were interested in. Confused and uncertain Kalika walked over to the cliff face, she looked up from the very bottom of it and sighed holding her tears in. She would not be trapped, her father had taught her many things, but at the moment only one stuck in her mind. There was always an escape, even if you had to wait for years an escape is always possible. She sat and curled her body up pressing her back against the cliff. She would not fight, what ever fate awaited her she would not fight it. And in a year, or two, or however long it took, she would exist and she would take the moment when it came and escape.

* * * * *

"Kalika, get up." Rel's voice was the high-pitched squeal she used when she was angry. Kalika rolled away from the voice pulling the brown blanket over her ears. They where not friends, the others had made it clear, none of them liked her. Selen tried to like her. Kalika could see it every day, Selen made a point of talking with her. She suspected in the last month Selen had actually become her friend, but it was hidden well. The others where disgusted with her. Seres had one of them in his bed each night, and they where all willing, yet she was still free from him. In the two months she had been there, he had only ventured one kiss on her check, and that had seemed more necessity then anything else. "I said get up!" Rel squealed even louder. Kalika threw the blankets off her and sat up staring straight into Rel's blue eyes. Rel didn't flinch at Kalika's expression.

"I get up when I please." Kalika responded ready to pull the blankets over herself once more when Selen appeared, she looked flustered and angry, which was rare for the young lady.

"Kalika, please get up. I have errands for you to run." Selen looked at her squarely and Kalika rose. Under the orders of Rel she would not rise, but Selen rarely gave orders and when she did Kalika was not fool enough to ignore them. Stiffly Kalika grabbed the clothes at the side of her matrices. Her muscles ached from the night before, she had snuck out of the tent after Seres and Rel (his chosen mate for the night) had fallen asleep. The others had been long asleep. And she had practiced every piece of unarmed combat skill she had ever been taught. Over the first month she had grown lax in such things, recently she had returned to practicing. Usually it was not a problem. In her old life she fought so much practice was a non-necessity.

"What errand can not wait another turn?" Kalika demanded as she pulled her clothes on. She did it quickly hiding below her night shirt to change. The others stared at her sometimes, trying to figure out why Seres left her untouched and their stares made her as uncomfortable as Seres did. She suspected he knew about her past, but wondered why she was still where she was if that where the case. To many options presented themselves when she tried to understand his motives, so she pushed thoughts of them away. As tired as she was she could not cope with moving and thinking at the same time.

In the centre room she found the other seven girls cleaning franticly. Selen was pulling the screen between the eating area and bed shut, something Kalika had not seen done yet. When Selen saw her, dressed to leave she walked over briskly her eyes not leaving the others as she surveyed there progress. The blinds separating the girls rooms pulled open, Rel and Liza began to move the matrices into Seres bed chamber.

"What's happening?" Kalika asked as Selen stoped before her. Selen made a motion to the suddenly larger room.

"My lord has invited the generals of his army to dine with us tonight. The tent must be prepared, the food must be prepared, and we must be prepared." Selen's eye brow raised as she looked Kalika over. Kalika glanced at herself trying to understand the expression. She was dressed in a pair of tattered pants, and a loose white top, sheer enough to be comfortable in the hot sun and not revealing. "You-" Selen made sure Kalika was looking up before she continued. "shall go to the dress maker. We-" Selen motioned to the franticly moving girls around her. "have clothing for such occasions. In the eyes of the generals you are his tenth, and you must dress appropriately. Just because our lord does not have you in his bed, does not mean you do not belong to him. Now go." Selen turned away quickly and returned to her work.

Kalika glanced and found no one paying attention to her. Then quickly, before anyone changed there mind or reconsidered the command Kalika dashed out onto the street. A Bresaur went to stop her then straightened and went back to his guard of the tent doors. They where smothered in magic Kalika decided as she ran down the street. Until now she had not been allowed to leave on her own.

Either they trust me or there too busy to know what there doing. She continued to run, enjoying the freedom of it. Plans of escape had not been postponed for her, she still kept an eye on everything memorizing faults in the patterns of the people who would affect her escape, but this was not the opportunity, she knew that. And to attempt an escape would only make others more cautious of her. She had been around parts of the camp already, always dragged along after one of the others who needed help to carry something or another. So she knew her way around parts of it, just not enough.

* * * * *

Kalika arrived at the dressmaker's tent quickly, she had been there many times with members of the Harem, they where constantly needing new clothes. The dress maker Elgaron was one of the few people Kalika found tolerable to speak with.

Kalika entered Elgaron's tent as loudly as she could. Elgaron tended to mutter to herself and often didn't hear her visitors enter.

Elgaron's head stuck out through a gap in the curtains separating visitors from her work station. Seeing Kalika her usually calm expression contorted with rage.

"No!" She snapped in an exasperated voice which made Kalika smile. "I don't have time! Tell those beasties of his I need more then a days notice to make a decent dress!" Elgaron saw Kalika's smile and scowled. "What's so funny?" She demanded and Kalika's smile became a grin.

"You always have a spare dress ready for them, I've seen your stores." Elgaron's scowl switched to a calm smile at Kalika's words. "Besides I'm not here on there behalf." Kalika paused and a curious Elgaron beckoned her into the workstation. There where an assortment of chests stored around the room all filled, as Kalika knew, with material and clothing.

"Then why are you here? Surely they haven't loosened your collar a bit?" Elgaron scratched her wrist eyeing Kalika with interest.

"No I need a dress." Kalika prepared to clench her eyes when the scream came, and instead saw Elgaron smiling.

"What kind of dress?" Elgaron enquired as she walked across the room to a copper lined chest. Kalika frowned, the reaction was unexpected Elgaron tended to lose her temper easily.

"I don't know, do you have anything that would be ready for tonight? Nothing fancy." She added the last as an afterthought, she was still not crawling at there commands.

Elgaron snorted. "Indeed! I heard about the company due at your lord's tent tonight. He'll be wanting to flaunt his treasures to his guests." Elgaron opened the chest and pulled out a sheer dress. It was the kind of thing the others wore, covering little with solid material while the rest was so thin it was see through.

"It's not to my taste." Kalika whispered, she would ware it if it would be ready but she liked Elgaron enough to be honest. Elgaron chuckled and lay it to the side.

"Girl, if there's one thing I know it's someone's taste. Our lord Mage would like it, so would his guests. But then what kind of rebellious concubine would you be if you wore what they wanted?" Elgaron pulled out another dress and held it up. Kalika stared at it impressed. It was a dress fashioned like those from her hometown. Solid and heavy, in the days heat it would be foolish to wear, but of a night time it would keep her warm. It was a dark green with blue embroidery, sewn into it were tiny glass beads.

"Will that fit me?" Kalika demanded in disbelief and Elgaron grinned mischiefly.

"Two months and not a stop for yourself down here. I'd think he didn't want you, the way you dress." Kalika kept her expression blank but Elgaron was not paying attention as she walked over and held the dress against Kalika's frame. "But he always wants his dressed well for these meetings, so I guessed you needed a dress sooner or latter." Elgaron pressed the dress against Kalika's waist and frowned. "But I've not taken your measurements, so it's all guess work. It will need a few adjustments before tonight. Put it on then." Elgaron shoved the dress into Kalika's hands and went across the room for her working materials.

Flabbergasted and too surprised to think on it Kalika removed pants and top and pulled the dress on. When Elgaron returned she had a frown of concentration and quickly began to pin the dress tighter to Kalika's body.

* * * * *

Kalika entered the tent as calmly as she could, only her bare feet gave evidence of her usually savage appearance. Her hair was pinned, platted and styled, her skin faintly scented vanilla, her dress clung to her body tightly. She had been forced to fend Elgaron off more alterations once she had lost the ability to breath properly.

"What's that?" One of the girls gasped in shock. Kalika suspected Togne, but did not turn to look. Instead she walked directly towards Seres her skirts sighing as she moved. He looked up from his guests before she got there and again she saw that expression in his eyes, not anger as she always expected but something else.

When she reached the cluster around him they all turned to look at her. Seres held her eyes as she considered her next move, then she smiled faintly at him.

"My lord!" She gasped in a smooth whispery voice as she fell to her knees. She completed the bow the others always used pressing her forehead against the ground. She waited.

"And this is my tenth." He announced loudly and the room looked at her. "You wish to speak to me?" He enquired pleasantly, the room still watching .

"Only to apologise my lord, for being so late." She kept the false voice steady. He was trying to provoke her by making her the centre of attention and she was amused by it.

"Have you reason?"

"I wanted to look my best for my lord and his guests." It was effort getting the words out but once there she knew she was safe. The others wouldn't have been late, but knowing them they would have offered there lives in penance, she was not about to do that.

"I doubt you have managed." He drawled then clicked his fingers. Kalika sat back onto her heals and looked directly into his grey eyes. There was a well concealed sparkle of amusement in them but she knew it, it had been her job to see such things. "General Justin here-" Seres motioned to a gruff looking man who was seated parallel to Kalika "-is trying to convince me to take his sister as my eleventh. What do you think of that?" Kalika looked at the gruff man, trying to think as the other harem would. Justin's mouth was thin, eyes small, his nose was big and expression weathered by rage.

"Surely ten is enough to satisfy my lord." Kalika whispered still staring at the General. There was nothing to him that she would consider attractive so she doubted his sister had much.

"Nine." One of the girls muttered. Kalika glanced in time to see Selen grip Rel and pull her out of the room. Several of the men seated about the room watched the two disappear, Kalika suspected they had heard. When she looked back she found Seres staring at her patiently waiting for her to continue.

"But of course, I could be no judge of her worth to my lord without seeing her first." Kalika pressed her head against the ground again, stood and went to leave when he clicked a second time. She took a deliberate breath and turned back to him. He was not done trying to provoke her. He motioned her forwards.

Although he rarely commanded her she had seen him command the others enough to have learnt the signals. When he pointed to the seat by his side she hesitated but his expression told her to ignore the command was not an option. With a quick movement she sat on the chair by his side, folded her hands in her lap and looked at her feet.

"General Justin my tenth makes a valid point. Gope fetch me the lady in question." Seres voice was pleasant but it was followed by the loud and clumsy noises Kalika had begun to recognise as a Bresaur moving. The men in the room muttered at the command looking at Seres with surprise.

"You have met my sister before Lord Seres." Justin's voice was as ruff and mismatched as his appearance.

"But my tenth, who's opinion I have asked for has not." Seres tap his finger against his knee absently watching Justin.

"Maybe you should ask one of yours that have met her. She will not be prepared for a meeting." There was a tight quality to Justin's voice that made Kalika look up. He was slightly white under his thick tan.

"Maybe you should not question my Lord Warrior Mages decisions." Kalika snapped, her body was rigid, she did not know why, but General Justin was hiding something, her every sense screamed it.

The silence that ensued from her sharp words dug into her bones like shards of ice. Many angry eyes where locked on her. Quickly she looked at her feet bitting her tongue. No matter how she tried it would forever get away from her. But why it had defended him, Seres, she did not know.

"There you have it gentlemen." Seres voice was mild but it was warning. Kalika wondered if it was warning her for her disobedience or there disrespect and decided it was probably both. "Now, back to what we were discussing before my tenths interruption." Seres voice suddenly light broke through everything and the many conversations that had been happening began again. Kalika suspected magic for the sudden change in mood, but she suspected him of casting spells when ever people reacted differently to how she would expect.

She listened in the conversations around her, memorising every number and word they spoke about. It wasn't interesting but she forced her attention to remain on it. Mostly they discussed the new recruits they had and training tactics. The other harem walked about offering drinks where they where needed.

It took half a turn before the Breuer returned, a lady dressed in lilac before it. Kalika noted the soft slippers on the girls feet and pulled her bare toes below her skirts fold. The young woman was Kalika's age, her eyes bright and body relaxed. She wore make up, thick layers of makeup to try and conceal her crooked eye and to augment her blue pupils. Kalika was unimpressed, but she credited the girl on her efforts to appear beautiful, obviously the Breuer had allowed her to prepare.

"Ah yes, Lady Pepli, come stand here." Seres pointed to a spot in the middle of the group he spoke with and she moved there with deliberate grace. "Well?" Seres question was aimed at Kalika and instantly she was scrutinizing the lady. The room fell silent, the harem supervising the drinks and food all turned to examine the new comer.

"She is…" Kalika took a deep breath, wondering how honest she should be. Then deciding perfect honesty would as much antagonise the generals as it would shield her from anything Seres could say about disobedience she continued. "She is not as pretty as most of my lords ladies, but perhaps she compensates in other areas." Her voice shrank even as she said the words and the men in the room broke into laughter. She wondered what had made her say it, it was the sort of thing she would mutter to her cousins at home never meant for anyone else's ears.

"Kiss her for me." Seres ordered Kalika. Kalika's back went straight and she snapped her sharp blue eyes onto him.

"No!" Her voice was a harsh gasp, the soft voice lost in her horror. He watched her as sharply as she watched him, his expression was well masked.

"I believe you made a point before about paying attention to me." His eyes challenged her, his voice was still calm. She went to stand but he caught her arm before she moved.

"I will do no such thing." She snapped again her voice betraying her state of mind. He would beat her, he had never done so but Selen had told her stories to make the gods aware he would not scruple to beat her. He could have had her himself, she would never have tried to fight him off, but she could not obey this command.

"I want to know if she would be, as you said, sufficient enough in other areas to render her lack of beauty meaningless."

She realised then he had provoked her as he had originally planned, and it angered her. "Then you should kiss her." Kalika growled, now he had her angry she would not back down.

"You know I don't touch things that aren't my property." He was the picture of calmness, his eyes a solid unmoving grey. Every pair of eyes in the room where locked on her, no one watched his reaction but Kalika. She went to refuse again, his grip on her arm was tight ready to prevent her retreat but it was the small smile she saw slip onto his face that made her hesitate. "Very well, if you chose not to kiss her you are dismissed for the night." His smile grew and Kalika's stomach tightened, he was not done with her yet. "Of course if you choose that, I require a kiss before you leave." Kalika's stomach gripped tighter, he was giving her a choice, between Justin's sister and himself. She watched that smile of his, he was testing her, there was no other explanation. She glared at him with the defiance she rarely showed and turned to Pepli. She would teach him to try and trap her into finding him the lesser of two evils.

Kalika felt Seres release her arm as she approached Pepli, strangely Justin wasn't complaining, and Pepli seemed accepting. Kalika knew it was the wrong behaviour to be showing, Justin should have been shouting on his sisters behalf, and Pepli should have at least turned a lighter shade of white. Though perhaps under all that makeup she is a lighter shade of white.

Kalika paused before Pepli, took a deep breath and kissed the young woman. It was not a pleasant experience, her lips locked with the strangers, but she forced herself to continue to think objectively. Forced herself to take note of the information he was going to ask her for, because as much as she doubted he was even considering taking this lady as his eleventh she knew he would make it hard for her if she did not have a response ready when the kiss finished.

Kalika drew away as quickly as she dared, too short a time and he would make her repeat the experience. She resisted the temptation to wipe the make up flavour from her mouth and instead turned to stare at Seres again. He waited, his expression still blank.

"You don't want her." Kalika snapped sharply her fists tightening. She despised the way he watched her, she despised that unreadable expression.

"Why not?" Seres asked calmly. He knew her answer, he knew exactly what she had deduced from every mention of the lady and every moment since she had entered the room, she forced the words into polite order.

"She's done that before." Was all she could manage and at the words Justin jumped at her angrily. Seres made a motion and Justin's legs gave sending him back onto his pile of cushions. Kalika, eyes wide watched the incapacitated Justin, if she had guessed about magic every other time, this time she was certain there was no sparkle of colour in the air but it had been magic.

"What would the whore know?" Justin demanded as he tried to stand, there were two sets of hands from his neighbours holding him in place, though Kalika doubted he could move if he wanted to. Seres expression was unimpressed. "One that walks about thinking herself better then her company." He motioned to her clothes his expression fierce.

"What is for my lords eyes is for no one else's." She replied tightly she felt anger towards the man for insulting the costume of her people and in response to her anger she turned back to Seres. "As for the girl. You like yours untouched before you get your hands on them. What's more, she's plain if not ugly, her left eye is slanted, she wears the face paints you so dislike, not that you want to owe anything to General Justin there." She jerked her head in the direction of the angered general, the damage was done, she didn't care if she made it worse. "Because he would only try and manipulate you if you did."

"Time to leave Kalika." Seres warned and her lips tightened to close her mouth. He knew, and what ever test he had been giving her she had completed, if she had passed or not she had no way of knowing. She hoped she had failed, she had been given worse treatment from her teachers when growing up then her captor had given her. It unnerved her, she did not know what to expect and wanted to provoke reactions she knew she could understand.

Still she went to her knees, bowed to Seres as the others always did, stood, walked past him and entered the single sleeping chamber that had been made for the nights use. She picked her blankets up and continued out the tent. She would not sleep in there that night she wanted a night without a thought to her captivity.

She curled up against the cliff face in a small notch that supported her back. It occurred to her as her eyes began to close, that he had never called her Kalika before. And that single thought prevented her from getting more then a seconds peace through the long night.

* * * * *

Kalika tried to sleep until the sun struck the notch she was curled into. She would have kept trying but the temperature quickly increased and even throwing her blanket aside did nothing to moderate the heat. Sluggishly, angry at the weather and her inability to sleep, Kalika rose picking the blanket up in the same motion.

She groaned when she straightened her back, it had probably been foolish to try and sleep in the open, curled up as she had been. But that night the tent wouldn't have been returned to it's normal state and she refused to sleep in the same room as Seres. Loose and messy hair flung itself in her eyes, having escaped from its restraints during the night. With ruff hands she pulled her hair tie out and tucked the mess behind her ears, out of her eyes.

Then she listened, the army camp seemed more subdued then usual, by the time light hit the middle of the cliff there was usually a flury of activity. No one risked staying in bed after the sun except the night watch men, the heat of the day penetrated everything, and she had noticed it was getting worse as the summer progressed.

"Having fun?" Togne taunted from the tents back entrance. She was groomed for the day already, her hair pinned up neatly and her skin a slight pink colour from scrubbing. Kalika glanced at the bathing pool to find it full and sighed.

"Yes rather." Kalika drawled as she stumbled over to it. She removed her dress and lowered herself into the freezing water. She didn't care to see Togne's reaction, so she submerged her head closing thoughts of the morning greeting out. When she came up for air there was only the morning bird's song to meet her ears. With a relaxed sigh Kalika closed her eyes. The water soothed her tense muscles allowing her more relaxation then the night had.

It took until the waters cold penetrated her bones before she surrendered the bath. Then with all the dignity of someone who had slept little and had numbed herself in a freezing bath Kalika crawled across to her dress and pulled it over her still wet body. Quickly so the water had little time to soak into the expensive material Kalika moved into the tent, located her pants and top and pulled them on.

Once done she stared, everything had been returned to it's original position. The curtains where all open but the beds where were they belonged. Togne was sprawled across the cushions in the middle of the room reading in the dulled light, she did not look up at Kalika.

"Where are the others?" Kalika glanced about again, in case she had missed them although she doubted eight people could hide in the tent if they tried. Togne sighed and flipped the book over to rest on her knee still open on her page.

"Apparently a caravan of players were taken to the slave camps. They all went to see if they could coax some entertainment out of them. I am my masters today, so I must remain here in case he returns early. And you are not allowed near the slave camps." Togne meet Kalika's surprised expression squarely.

"Where is Seres?" Kalika asked as pleasantly as she could manage. Togne was usually not this complacent. Togne's calm expression became a tight frown and Kalika was disappointed in her casual use of his name. She was stuck, she understood that, so she disliked the way the others had all become enemies. It was in her nature to become friends with everyone, if they remained friends or not was completely up to circumstance.

"I believe my lord is dealing with trouble that has erupted a little ways off. It happens, taking over countries he can sometimes be away for days, although he try's not to be." Togne sighed and stretched her arms out behind her. Kalika did not know if she should smile or frown, so instead she left the tent again. With the others gone, and Seres however far away he was she assumed she was safe to practice her unarmed combat without spectators.

As she begun a pattern dance her grandfather had taught her she thought on Togne speaking to her so casually, wondering if it was only when they where together that the harem resented her. That Seres was trying to overrun her country was not new news to her but it still upset her. She slipped in the pattern, her leg slightly off as it landed, her body disagreeing with the strange angle of her leg collapsed.

For a moment Kalika sat on the ground, watching the cliff face, then with a low growl she stood, rubbed her face and began again. She banished all thoughts on anything but the pattern and slowly she fell into the rhythm of the dance, her breathing slowing to the right pace. And as the speed increased she had no time to think on anything but the movement.

* * * * *

When a shout ensued from the tent Kalika faltered, her foot slipped again and she hit the ground harder then she had the first time. She stared at the dirt below her face in surprise for a moment, then sat up pressing her hand against her check wondering if it would bruise. She was in the process of mentally checking for any other bruises when she remembered the shout.

Slowly, reluctantly, she got to her feet, deciding she should make sure it wasn't simply Seres returned early from his war against her country and frightening Togne. As much as she did not want to walk in should Togne be entertaining Seres, Kalika could not brush the shout away.

At the tent entrance she could hear a gagging sound from within. The sound was familiar and made her stomach tighten. She entered the tent briskly, forcing her eyes to adjust to the suddenly dim environment. With all the curtains open she hardly had to look before she found the source of the noise.

Togne was pinned below Justin, franticly scratching at his face and arms. His hands where clasped around her throat slowly choking her. Kalika told herself to leave it, to forget about it, they where not her friends and it was not her worry. But she reacted on instincts she had only the morning before assumed faded.

She ran across the room, grasped one of his wrists and dug her fingers into the tendons. Later she would ask herself what she was thinking to rush in without a plan. Instead of thinking it through she clung to the only thought that she could, Togne was suffocating and she needed to breath.

When Kalika touched Justin he was surprised, when her fingers dug into his wrist he gave a shout, released Togne's throat, swung his arm back and struck Kalika. She fell back, surprised by the impact, not balanced enough to fight the momentum.

"You whore." Justin forgot about Togne and jumped at Kalika, his hands quickly locking about her throat, now pinning her to the ground. Kalika shoved the flat of her palm up against his chin with as much force as her position would allow. His head snapped back and his grip loosened. Quickly she kicked him off her and rolled to the side. Hampered by his bulk it took her a second to get to her feet.

"I think you should leave." Kalika growled as she gained balance. He stood, rubbing his jaw and glaring at her with vengeful eyes. His upper arms and face where covered in tiny scratches from Togne's feeble attempts to protect herself. Kalika's heart pounded with the combined mix of fear and excitement that all fights gave her. She scrutinised the general, he was bigger then her, more muscled then her and had probably been learning to fight since he was born. Although she knew there was hardly a chance she would win she had already entered the fight, there was no way to escape it now.

"You embarrassed me before everyone!" His shout surprised her and he was on her again, using his weight to push her to the ground. Her back slammed against hard earth and she tried to cry out against the hands the held her throat. When she went to use the same trick a second time he released her throat and caught both her hands pinning them above her head. Kalika struggled against the hold as she took a deep breath. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Togne trying to stand up, and from the way her mouth moved, trying to talk. Realisation stuck Kalika and she hated her stupidity.

"Guards!" Her voice was a scream that unbalanced Justin, she had to assume he had been drinking to be so lax for a warrior. Franticly he released her, searching his pockets for something. Kalika didn't pause as she pushed him off her and stumbled to the tent entrance. "Guards!" She shouted again wondering where everyone was. He caught her before she got to the exit yanking her arm back deeper into the tent. What ever had distracted him had only been for a moment. He gripped her tightly against his body and pressed his right hand against her throat. She tried to shout again and found her voice suddenly gone, her throat numb.

"You made a fool of me." He threw her hard to the ground. Her face hit it first and before she could move he had her back pinned with his knee. "Did you think I'd forget?" He demanded, his knee digging deep into her spine. She tried to push herself off the ground and unbalance him again but his sheer weight gave him an advantage she could not beat. "With him off at his wars, who's to protect that smart mouth of yours?" Kalika closed her eyes tight, trying to breath against his weight, wishing if nothing else she could shout insults at him.

"Let her go." Togne's extremely weak cry made Justin laugh.

"Don't worry sweet, I wont leave you out." He lent in to Kalika's ear. "I don't play favourites." When the feel of cold metal pressed against her cheek Kalika ceased her struggles. "Good girl." His voice was heated as the blade ran down her cheek and around the back of her neck. Kalika bit down into her lower lip trying to fight the tiny tears that where already escaping her control. She had grown too lax, it had only taken two months and already she couldn't think clearly in a fight. Entering the tent had been foolish, but she was so used to having her guardians around and they had never let anything happen to her.

Kalika forced her breathing to calm again, it had escaped her control. She forced her anger away, trying to focus her mind on the predicament not the cause of it. He had the blade rested against the back of her neck, his knee still pressing his weight against her spine. His mouth still close to her ear. One of his hands were holding the blade, the other unbuckling his belt. Bitting deeper into her lip Kalika pressed her face as close to the ground as possible then snapped her head back, slamming the back of her skull against his nose. She heard a cracking noise and tried to ignore the pain at the back of her head.

"Bitch." He gasped as he went to grab his suddenly bleeding nose. The blade at the back of her neck cut as he yanked his hand to his nose. She did not think on the cut as she forced her body to roll to the left, still shocked by the pain in his nose he was not prepared for the movement and he toppled. His blade sliced her arm as he fell to her side and once more she forced any recognition of pain aside. She lunged onto him grasping the hand with the dagger and pinning it to the ground, her other arm went over his throat pressing down quickly, she tried to put her weight behind her arm as much as she forced her muscles to counter the resistance in his. She pinched into his wrists tendons forcing his grip on the dagger to release.

Angry he struck her with his free hand, she fell off him onto the dagger. She could feel the flat metal pressed against her back and was glad it hadn't fallen on it's side. When he pinned her this time he paid no attention to her arms as she tried to claw at his wrist. Instead he dug his grip around her throat depriving her of vital breaths. She struck at him fiercely but with every second her strength began to fail her, the need for air taking it's toll.

She tried to get the blade from below her hip but his body pressed her so close to the ground she could not move it. Frantically she struck trying to scream when no voice sounded. She could hear Togne still trying to shout, but it was a whisper of a sound.

With the last ounce of her strength she struck at him, praying for a miracle. She didn't think about it as it happened, her mind refused to let her. Had she thought she would have hesitated, instead the shaft of wood tight in her grip was accepted. She jammed it into his throat her body fuelled by the contact she had been deprived of since her capture. The feather sung reassurance to her, nothing could harm her with it in her possession.

Blood trickled down the arrow and over her white grip dripping down onto her face. For a moment Kalika stared, the grip on her throat weakening until it was nothing, then his body slumped against hers, driving the arrow in deeper.