AJ nearly screamed. Her vagina spasmed around Thelo’s invading finger. She’d come to orgasm many times with the mechanical device she inserted as part of her holographic sexual stimulation. But this physical violation was so intense, so personal. She could feel the heat of him inside her body, the stroking of his rough fingertip against the velvet walls of her vaginal canal. To her shame, she felt lubrication begin to flow.
He removed his finger and she let out the breath she’d been holding. Thelo’s eyes bored into hers and he replaced one finger with two. His thick fingers, probing farther, slid in easily. Her treacherous body aided him, producing more and more slick fluid.
When he began massaging a spot deep inside her, AJ couldn’t stay still any longer. She let out an involuntary moan, squirming on the table. His eyes darkened. Thelo barked out a command. One of the soldiers came to the foot of the table and grabbed her left ankle, pulling it to twist her body on its side. With his other hand, he delivered a sharp smack to her bottom.
She gasped in shock. Thelo’s fingers were still inside her and he plunged them deeper as the soldier’s hand connected with her lower cheeks again. She bit off a cry, stunned at the waves of unfamiliar sensations pouring through her. The soldier began spanking her over and over. Every whack of his rough palm seared the flesh on her bottom, sending a lick of flame across her tender skin. All the while, Thelo’s long thick fingers violated her, igniting a different kind of heat deep inside. Strange. Potent.
Thelo snapped out something else and the soldier stopped spanking her as abruptly as he’d started. He twisted her body so she was laying flat again and sat her heel back on the table, this time keeping one hand locked around her ankle. But Thelo never stopped. His fingers continued their insolent invasion.
The High Priest met her eyes again and ran his tongue slowly around his lips. Then, to her horror, he bent his head and touched his wet tongue to her clitoris. She tried desperately to control her mind, but the intense, intimate physical contact was so new and unfamiliar. He licked her there, flicking his tongue back and forth as the core of her pleasure grew hard. All her mental training disappeared. To her shock, her body began responding to the savage treatment the same way it did in her planned sessions of self-gratification.
She panted heavily, fighting the surge of erotic sensations. Her bottom stinging, her vagina wet, and now the bundle of nerves between her legs throbbing and pulsing. His hot tongue kept up the onslaught until she was shaking, ready to explode.
He stopped abruptly, leaving her trembling and confused. Withdrawing his fingers, Thelo stood up again. He reached for a rose-colored crystal vial on a chain around his neck, removed the ornate silver stopper, and poured a small stream of clear liquid into the palm of his other hand. As he rubbed it over both hands, AJ caught a whiff of the scent. Spicy. Exotic.
His eyes locked onto hers once more and he reached down, fingers stroking the area around the puckered bud of her anal opening. The slick substance he’d coated his hands with felt cool at first, but as he continued, the sensation turned to warmth. He watched her face as he slid the tip of one finger into her tight bottom hole. AJ could feel her cheeks turning a bright crimson. The thought popped unbidden into her mind that her lower cheeks probably held the same crimson blush after the spanking she’d gotten.
His finger moved deeper and suddenly the warmth she felt turned into a burst of heat. AJ tensed, automatically tightening her muscles. The heat intensified. She wanted to squirm away but she knew that would only earn her another spanking. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying desperately to hold back tears. Fire tore through her and he kept delving deeper, taking the burn farther into her back passage.
This time she couldn’t control herself. She began whipping her head from side to side, crying out. “Please, stop! No more. I can’t take it!”
Thelo let out a wicked laugh and began moving his finger in and out. AJ thought she would die of shame. This barbarian was…he was…fucking her rear passage. She closed her eyes and tried to will away the powerful sensations but it was impossible. She heard the soldier at the head of the table utter a low animal grunt. Her bottom was stinging, her vagina aching for release, and the heat of whatever spices he’d infused the oil with had her bucking wildly on the table. Instead of stopping him, every gyration of her hips drew Thelo’s finger deeper.
This time when he quit, she was shaking so hard she barely noticed at first. Her body suddenly craved something big and hard inside. Her tight back passage was stinging, burning. She’d welcome physical violation right now if it would end this torment.
Thelo spoke again and AJ flushed, keeping her eyes tightly closed. She thought her humiliation couldn’t get any worse, but in the midst of the savage sensations bombarding her body, she’d forgotten the general had been right behind Thelo all along, silently observing her shameful reactions. Now he began talking.
“The High Priest has tested your responses. He says you are not fit to be given as a chaste Seraph to one of my worthy men. You are far too depraved, too brazen in your responses. You are a Harlot and you will join the other Harlots in the Lyceum, available for any man in Petra to take his pleasure with you in any way he wants.”
She lay there, still trembling, hardly able to believe what she was hearing.
“But first,” the general went on, “you must be punished for your crimes of invading our city and attempting to deceive us by disguising yourself as a male.”
His voice hardened. “At nightfall, you will be brought into the square, stripped naked in front of all the men in Petra, and receive twenty strokes from the High Priest with the Instrument of Correction. Then I will award you to a man of my selection, as my gift, to discipline you privately tonight before you are sent to the Lyceum for training.”
He turned, heading for the door. “Take her away. Send for one of the Harlots to prepare her for punishment.”
AJ sagged against the table. The guards untied her swiftly, jerking her to her feet. The djellabah fell back down around her ankles. It hardly seemed to matter anymore. They’d already witnessed her humiliation, her shameful reactions. Horrible things had been done to her body, leaving her numb. How could these primitive people desire any form of physical contact?
She felt an involuntary shiver of arousal as her legs came together. She relived the sensation of Thelo’s tongue on her core of pleasure, his thick fingers stroking her inside, making her squirm with forbidden desires. Ruthlessly, she tried to purge the images from her mind as the soldiers once again tied her wrists together in front of her. Without a word, they led her out of the room and down another hallway.
AJ tried to memorize the route they took, but her mind refused to cooperate. Finally they stopped in front of a door, one of dozens they’d passed, all looking the same. One soldier stayed behind in the hallway. The other, the one who’d spanked her, deposited her into another windowless room, this one furnished with a small wooden table and two chairs. With one last lecherous look, he backed out and locked the door behind him, leaving her alone at last.
Exhausted, she dropped onto a chair, only to jump up again in shock. AJ had never been physically disciplined, certainly not spanked. Her bottom burned from the firm hand of the soldier. She tried to put the thought of twenty strokes from some unknown Implement of Correction out of her mind and willed herself to concentrate on her current situation.
Even though she’d been unable to bend any of the men she’d met so far to her will, AJ still held out the hope that she’d be able to use her mental abilities to control whoever the general gave her to tonight. She realized now that she might have to pleasure him first in some fashion or another. Shuddering at the thought, she decided she’d practice her mental skills, targeting the woman the general dispatched to prepare her for the evening.
She was vaguely familiar with the word harlot, recalling that in ancient times it was used to describe a woman of dubious character who bestowed sexual favors on whatever man met her price. But to her surprise, when the door opened, a young female with downcast eyes and a shy demeanor entered. She wore a sheer red floor-length gown with nothing on underneath. It displayed her charms seductively, even while seeming to cover them.
The young woman carried a pitcher and bowl and a large basket covered with a black cloth. She spoke softly without making eye contact.
“It is time to prepare you for your punishment.”
“I am called AJ. What is your name?”
If she was to successfully penetrate the young woman’s mind, AJ needed to create a bond with her. “Surely you have some name other than that,” she replied, her voice gentle.
The young woman glanced around the room nervously. “Once…once this Harlot was known as Dianna.”
AJ perched gingerly on the edge of one of the hard wooden chairs, motioning for the young woman to join her.
“You say you are a Harlot. I’ve been told I am to be one as well, Dianna. Can you explain to me what that means?”
The woman stared dully at the wall, replying in a sing-song tone, as though repeating a speech she’d learned by rote. “Harlots serve at the pleasure of their masters. We have no duty but to please them, no desires but their desires, no will but what they will us to do.”
Carefully, AJ sent out her power, probing the mind of the woman in front of her. She got back an agonizing wave of hopelessness. Below it, lay only sorrow. No spark of vitality, no essence of free will, no semblance of independent thought remained in this woman. It was as though she had entered a mind that was nothing more than an empty shell.
She sighed. Nothing in her training had prepared her for this. Her mental skills were proving worthless in this culture.
“Can you tell me what they’re going to do to me tonight?”
Once again the woman replied by rote, parroting the words the general had uttered as though she’d been there in the room to hear them.
“At nightfall, this Harlot will be brought into the square, stripped naked in front of all the men in Petra, and receive twenty strokes from the High Priest with the Instrument of Correction. Then General Tok will award this Harlot to a Master for the night, as his gift, to discipline her privately before using her in any way he chooses.”
AJ wondered how many times this woman had uttered the same words to other hapless newcomers.
“What is this Instrument of Correction?”
Dianna shuddered visibly. “It is…”
“It is a thick wooden implement. The High Priest uses it on Harlots in need of discipline.”
“A paddle? So I am to be spanked?”
“Spanked is a mild word. This discipline is much more harsh. The Harlot being punished will be tied hand and foot across the bench, rendered helpless and immobile. The number of strokes will be announced and then drumbeats will keep the count.”
“Have you been punished that way?”
“All Harlots have. It is part of our initiation into the Lyceum. And later…”
Her voice died off.
“What happens later?”
“If any man comes to the Lyceum to be pleasured and is dissatisfied with our obedience to him, he can report us to the general. The next night, we are punished by the High Priest in the public square, then given back to that Master. When a Harlot remains stubborn or unwilling, this happens over and over, night after night, until her Master declares that he is now pleased.”
Dianna shuddered again.
“Why do you not leave?”
This time she looked up at AJ, startled by the question. “Where would we go? We cannot leave. Our place in this world was proclaimed by the High Priest on the day we arrived. When we become too old to please our masters as Harlots, we are appointed Sacred Sisters in the Lyceum, training the new Harlots and living a life of leisure while they tend to our needs.”
AJ didn’t miss the fact that the woman never referred to herself as I. It was as though she no longer existed as a singular entity, only as part of the group consciousness known as Harlot. AJ could only wonder what psychological torments Dianna had been subjected to that would have buried all traces of self-worth so deeply.
“And what of the women I saw in the marketplace?”
“They are Seraphs, tending to the sacred fire pits in the center of every home. A Seraph has but one Master. She dwells in his house under his protection, at his pleasure, and bears his offspring. If she displeases him, she is disciplined only by her Master, in private, as is fitting for her status. But in exchange she must do his bidding forever, with no time of leisure as her final reward.”
“How is it determined whether you become a Seraph or a Harlot?”
She glanced up from under her lashes and AJ saw the first spark of life in her eyes. “Unlike the Harlot, a potential Seraph does not respond eagerly to the ministrations of the High Priest. A Master can rest assured that his Seraph has never enjoyed physical gratification from any other male. She comes to him pure and innocent and will know only whatever pleasure he chooses to give her.”
“So Seraphs are virgins and Harlots are women who have some sexual experience?”
Dianna looked confused. “Those words are unfamiliar.” She struggled to explain. “Occasionally men who have a Seraph will still come to the Lyceum for pleasure. And sometimes Masters who have no Seraph to warm them at night are allowed to dwell with a Harlot. But it is still required that if the Harlot is in need of discipline, it is performed in public, before all the men. And when a man wants to bear offspring, he can do so only with a Seraph that is chosen for him by the general. If he has a Harlot dwelling with him, the Harlot must be sent back to the Lyceum. From then on, he may only see the Harlot there, for a few hours at a time. And only at night.”
AJ listened, horrified. Apparently this society still practiced arcane customs, with males having complete ownership of females. General Tok, like a feudal lord, held the ultimate power, bestowing the gift of a virginal bride on whoever he deemed worthy of the honor. Here, chaste Seraphs bore a man’s children, while Harlots filled his crude sexual needs. She vowed that she wouldn’t leave Petra until she found a way to liberate the females here, despite her directive to gather intelligence and immediately report back about the general’s illegal trade in rare elements.
Dianna fell silent then, as though fearful that she’d said too much. Try as she might, AJ couldn’t get her to utter another word, except for softly uttered instructions as she prepared AJ for the ritual to come.
Dianna told her to stand up and remove her dusty, torn robe. By now, nudity had become the least of her concerns. AJ wearily complied. Then the young Harlot began washing AJ from head to toe with a cloth dipped in water from the bowl. When the water became dirty, the young woman knocked at the door and handed the bowl and pitcher out to be rinsed and refilled by one of the guards.
No part of her body went untouched. AJ felt herself blushing again when she looked down and saw her nipples pucker as the young woman gently stroked the cloth over them. But she finally protested when Dianna got down on her knees and tried to make her spread her thighs apart, so she could swipe the soft cloth between her legs.
“Please,” the young girl whispered, terrified. “You must allow it. If this Harlot does not do her duty properly, she will be punished along with you tonight.”
Cringing, AJ spread her legs. Dianna reached down and pushed her feet wider apart. Then she dipped the sponge into a fresh bowl of water and began slowly cleansing AJ’s most private parts, running the wet sponge back and forth along the folds of her vaginal opening, paying special attention to the clitoral hood.
When she bade AJ lean forward and grasp the edge of the table so she could wash the area around her nether orifice, AJ forced herself to comply. By that time, she was trembling again, physically aroused once more by such indecent liberties being taken with her private parts. She gasped once, as the young woman’s fingers brushed against her tight rear opening, still tender from the vigorous intrusion of the High Priest’s large finger. Her eyes widened when she felt Dianna’s hand slide between her legs, deliberately teasing her core of pleasure into hardness.
“Do this. Later. Right before they lead you away. What is to come will be easier to bear,” she whispered. “Empty your mind and set your body free. Find the pleasure beyond the pain. This Harlot risks stern discipline for sharing the secret. But it is a way to help you endure the punishment to come on this night.”
The door flew open. One of Tok’s soldiers took in the scene. AJ naked, bent over the table, Dianna on her knees behind her.
“Enough. You know such behavior between Harlots is forbidden except under the orders of your teachers or a Master…and then only with them observing.”
The soldier stepped into the room, shut the door and leaned against it. “I am required to report your crime to the High Priest…unless for some reason, my mind becomes occupied with other things and I forget.”
He reached down, stroking a prominent bulge in his tunic. Dianna immediately crawled toward him, eyes downcast. She raised his tunic and AJ saw that he too was naked under his outer garment. Dianna reached for his already stiff phallus and cupped his testes in one hand, then wrapped the other around his girth and stroked up and down. The soldier let out a groan and grabbed her head with both hands. Dianna complied instantly, taking him in her mouth.
She continued moving her hand up and down, following it with her mouth, each time going farther down the shaft. AJ wanted to look away, but she couldn’t. She tried to tell herself it was necessary to watch, so she could be prepared if she had to perform a similar act on one of the men here. Her holographic lover never concerned himself with his own gratification, only hers.
Although she had never witnessed this form of sexual behavior, she’d heard of it. He began pumping his hips back and forth. Her brain registered the fact that, though the soldier seemed to be in control, grasping Dianna’s head firmly and holding her in place, his attention was fully absorbed by the act.
Tentatively, she sent out a mental probe. His mind lay open, devoid of all rational thought. Only feelings remained. She allowed herself to receive them. An obscene wave of lust poured through her and she bit off a startled cry. Hunger such as she’d never known—raw, virile, potent— unlike anything in her modern world. She stared openly, both fascinated and appalled. The hunger grew, raging inside him, frantic now in its need to be satisfied. The soldier threw his head back, closed his eyes and thrust his hips forward one more time. His body convulsed.
He sagged against the wall for a moment, empty. Then his eyes popped open. Her connection to his mind snapped.
He shoved Dianna roughly away and pulled the tunic down over his shrunken member.
“No more stalling. Get her dressed. Now. Or I’ll send in my partner and you’ll have to deal with him.” The soldier never looked at Dianna again, storming out without another word.
AJ held out a hand, helping Dianna to her feet. The young woman wouldn’t meet her eyes. She reached for the basket and took out the black cloth. It was a shapeless gown, like the ones worn by the women in town that Dianna called Seraphs.
She drew it over AJ’s head. The garment was meant to cover her from neck to toe, but with AJ’s height it stopped mid-calf. Dianna stared at her, horrified.
“The High Priest will not be pleased.”
Still stunned by the ferocity of the soldier’s mental and physical response to the act she’d witnessed, AJ couldn’t be concerned over something so trivial as the length of her gown. “It doesn’t matter,” she replied. “My punishment has already been determined.”
Dianna reached into her basket again, drawing out a hairbrush and comb. “Please, sit. We must finish.”
Gently, she ran the brush through AJ’s hair, pulling it back and arranging it into an intricate braid that she interwove with fine strands of gold. Dianna left long strips of gold protruding out of the braid. These she twisted into two narrow bands, wrapping one securely around AJ’s forehead and the other around her neck. AJ realized the intricate headdress also functioned as a restraint. One yank on the long braid and the bands would tighten around her forehead and neck, making resistance both painful and dangerous.
Dianna reached into the basket one more time, coming out with a pair of sandals. But these were sandals such as AJ had never worn before. The leather soles sat atop thick wooden platforms, trimmed back to narrow poles at the heel. AJ had seen similar attire in pictures of Earth women from past centuries. She’d always wondered why females would choose to hamper their freedom of movement by wearing such objects.
Dianna knelt to fasten them on AJ’s feet. Thin bronze chains threaded through loops woven into the edges of the leather soles. Dianna twined them back and forth, lacing the sandals up her legs before fastening the ends together just above her calves.
AJ looked down and noticed for the first time that Dianna wore similar sandals. But the sandals chosen for AJ had platforms easily twice as high.
Dianna gave her a fierce hug, then turned to knock on the door once again. The soldier who’d been in the room earlier opened it. Dianna gathered up the bowl and cloth, packing them into the basket along with the hairbrush. Then she slipped away.
The soldiers marched into the room. They tied her wrists together again but this time there was no long leather strap tethering her to one of them. As soon as AJ took her first few steps, she realized why they deemed it unnecessary. The height of the sandals made walking extremely difficult and running away impossible. She teetered unsteadily, finally settling for small, mincing steps.
Another series of long hallways, another empty room at the end. This one had a narrow window fitted with iron bars. The soldiers ushered her in and disappeared. She heard the thud of a wooden bar falling across the outside of the door.
The room contained another wooden table and a single chair. Once again, nothing she could use as a weapon. A clay pitcher full of water sat in the middle of the table. AJ sniffed it and then took a tiny sip. A hint of lemon. Nothing else. She gulped the water, balm for her parched throat. Amazing how delicious something as simple as a cup of water tasted when it was infused with fresh fruit.
Thirst slaked, AJ headed for the window. The last dying rays of Phalys and Zalix, Neodyma’s twin suns, poured into the room, sliced by a row of shadows from the iron bars. The room overlooked the public square below, with the city spread out in a half circle around it like an open fan.
Petra lay in a lush green valley hidden in the mountains. She spied a lake in the distance on the far end of the valley. The water deep blue, standing high above the level of the city, held back by a massive stone dam.
AJ stared out, surprised. She had no idea Petra was so large. From the entrance between the tall cliffs, the streets rose gradually toward her, so that the Citadel stood at the highest point of the city.
Phalys disappeared over the horizon, followed seconds later by Zalix. Shadows deepened as twilight fell. The torches in her room remained unlit, but it didn’t matter. Her attention was riveted on the square and the preparations taking place there. The large raised platform in the center now held a wooden bench about three feet high and equally as wide. AJ saw ropes coiled at each of the four legs. This must be the spot where she’d be tied down.
Shuddering, she tried to put the coming ordeal out of her mind and called on the military discipline that had been drilled into her. She surveyed the area, searching for weaknesses she could exploit when she completed her mission and planned her escape route.
Soldiers already ringed the perimeter of the square. Two men in civilian clothing carrying torches began lighting others all around the area. One drew close to the wall outside her room as he touched his flame to a metal brazier at the edge of the walkway. He was careful to keep his head averted from the window. She sent out a command. But it was as if the man’s mind had no receptors. Try as she might, she couldn’t get him to obey even the simplest order, like looking at her through the window.
Gradually the square began filling up, all the men of Petra gathering to witness her punishment. From the noise of the crowd, the raucous shouts, she thought they’d all have come even if their attendance wasn’t mandatory. Apparently a Correction provided great entertainment.
A long screen made up of ornate carved wooden slats stood on one side of the square. She guessed it had been set up for the Harlots to witness her punishment. Although able to see and hear everything through the openings in the screen, they’d be hidden from the men in the square, keeping everyone’s attention focused on her.
She heard the solemn beat long before she saw them. A double row of drummers marched into the square. The crowd parted automatically to make way for them. The drummers kept up the cadence as they headed toward the platform. Two by two they peeled away, arranging themselves in a row with their backs to the crowd. They created a narrow path from the base of the Citadel to the wooden steps leading up to the platform.
AJ heard the door open behind her. She took one last look at the scene below, then turned. Two new soldiers stood by the door, waiting. She took a deep breath, straightened to her full height plus the extra six inches added by the sandals, and walked with as much dignity as she could muster out the door to meet her fate.
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