hollow-eyed guard puts her hands on her hips. âYou want a lash across the face, miss?â she says. âStritches are big birds. You know what a whip can do to a little thing like you? Slice your nose right off your face, or pop an eye out of its socket.â
âIâm not little,â I say, but the guard just puts a finger in her mouth and makes a pop! sound.
The bearded guard looks askance at her. âRasus, what kind of mind do you have? Stop being creepy.â He turns to me. âThat said, miss, I will ruin your face if you donât cooperate.â
My throat tightens. Cruelty is much creepier wrapped in politeness. I edge away from the bearded guard into the shadows between candles.
âWe need you to remove that uniform, miss,â the bearded guard says. âJust the top bit is fine.â
âNo.â My hand flies to the topmost button of the slit that runs down one side of the jumpsuitâs front. I take another step back.
The hollow-eyed guard sighs and gives the other one a weary glance. âIâll give her the choker.â The bearded guard pauses, but then nods, candlelight flickering in his eyes.
The choker is not creatively named. My collar is designed with a clever spring and lever mechanism that someone so inclined can use to apply and relieve pressure to my throat. The hollow-eyed guard holds the trigger, leaning casually against the blackened stone wall as though she has better things to do.
She only has to squeeze once. The shadowy dungeon becomes a haze of painful red sparks dancing before my eyes, and I know I would rather remove the jumpsuit than get choked again.
I donât give the bearded guard the satisfaction of undoing my buttons himself. I slide my arms out of the sleeves and let the top half of the suit fall. I know I should feel shyâI know about modesty and nakednessâbut truthfully, nothing feels as shocking or invasive to me as simply being seen, acknowledged, clothes or not. Even now, with half the jumpsuit around my waist, what bothers me most is that these two guards know I exist.
âTurn around,â the bearded guard says, businesslike. Hesitantly, I turn. I feel him approach from behind, hear the stritch whip dragging on the gritty floor behind me. Then he pauses. âIs this some kind of joke?â
âI donât think so,â I say. âUnless I really donât get it.â
âWhatâs the matter?â the other guard asks. I try to turn back as she crosses to us, but the bearded guard pushes me back in place.
The hollow-eyed guard runs her hand down my back. She grabs a fat candle off the wall and brings it closer, illuminating my thousand scars. âWhat in wet hell is this?â she says.
Donât these people attend Temple? Do they know anything ?
âThese scars are old,â the bearded guard says. âLook, theyâre all healed up.â
âDamn it all.â The hollow-eyed guard traces the ridges on my back with her finger.
âThe problem with this organizationâand Iâve been saying this for yearsââ the bearded guard starts.
âI know, I know,â the hollow-eyed guard jumps in. âI know what youâre going to say.â
âA lack of communication,â the bearded guard says.
âWould it kill them, I mean would it kill them to keep track of these things?â The hollow-eyed guard sighs heavily. âI was eating my evening meal, you know.â She moves away from me, and I turn around, the heavy chain swinging awkwardly.
âI know,â the bearded guard says, then looks at me. âAll right, get dressed. Hurry now. The Onyx Staff wants to see you.â
Well, I think as I start to do up my buttons, this may have been the oddest torture session ever to take place in the Temple of Rasus.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The fearsome high priest known as the Onyx Staff is probably the last person in Caldaras City
How to Be a Scottish Mistress
Mary Downing Hahn, Diane de Groat