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Black Pearl 24


The Black Pearl of Pharazionby Cobalt Jade ( 24: The Mercy of YlangazMy story could have ended there, of course. I could have stayed a mindless statue and fueled Shezrine's evil power forever, and you in this room might be wearing her brands and mouth-pleasuring her favorites at court. Some of you might be furniture and others merchandise.But, as demonstrated by how I stand here before you, it did not.I remained in my mindless state for all the next day and part of the night. I knew I existed, but that was it. Outside of that, there was only ecstasy. It was a frightening sensation for all its pleasure because it obliterated me so much. That was its danger, like any strong drug or drink. An evil thing, really.But back to my story. Sometime during the night the rebels stormed the palace, and one particularly loud explosion caused the throne room to rock on its foundations. The motion made me swing in a wide arc on the rope that held me suspended. One of the magic crystals chinked against another, shattering it.It wasn't much; just one crystal out of hundreds. But it was the right one, for my slavehood spell was broken. Was it a divine agency that intervened on my behalf? I was soon to find out.Slowly my old personality returned to me, as if waking from a fantastic dream. I immediately saw my prospects were not good. Though no longer in Shezrine's thrall I was still a statue, and though my mind was intact no one would ever know it. In fact, the rebels might pass directly beneath me and never see me, for who would bother to look up at a distant chandelier? And even if they should look, how would they know it was me...or that the crystals I guarded were the source of Shezrine's power?I could hang here for years, ignored save for an occasional polishing or the insertion of fresh tapers. I would go mad.To make things worse the phallus was still wedged inside me. Even had I been human there was no removing it, for my bondage and the small padlocks through my labia had seen to that. But the stimulation was no longer strong enough for me to reach orgasm. I could hang here forever in a state of hopeless arousal, my frustration only feeding the crystals and making them stronger...and making Shezrine stronger, as well.The bitch, the bitch, the bitch!Yes, I would go mad, I decided. I wept then, though no tears showed on the face of the statue I was. Yes, this was exactly what I deserved, for my weakness, my failure. *Why do you weep, Jozhande Tanimury?*I started. The voice was strong yet soft, undeniably feminine, and had issued from inside my head rather than outside it. *Because I betrayed the people who trusted me. I let my fascination with the Queen's perverse games warp my judgment.**Ah, but who judges them as perverse?*A note of amusement glinted in the soft mental voice, and, annoyed, I spoke my rebuttal, even though I thought it was a symptom of my unhingement. *They are perverse when they warp others against their will.* But even as I thought it I knew I was not entirely correct. The Duke's games had been most delicious, even if he had betrayed me. Marnessa had not regretted her time as a slave and had served her masters eagerly. And I could not deny the pleasures of lovemaking with the Queen.The voice chuckled, picking up on what I had thought.*No matter,* I thought stubbornly. *I failed, and I deserve this. That's the important part. Now leave me alone.*Another soft chuckle. *Don't you know who I am?**Should I?* I thought carelessly.*Look into your heart,* the voice said gently. *Years ago, you broke a vow to me, and vowed never to break another. Hark back to your past, Jozhande. Listen, and remember.*My vision suffused with golden light. I saw again the line of mounted Akkidri warriors, the priestess at the temple of Ylangaz, the glory of the dream I experienced there. And then I saw her, Ylangaz the sun goddess, and she took my breath away. Her hair was blacker than the shadows at noon on the brightest day of the year. Her skin was a dark gold that was almost bronze, her eyes lucent stars...vibrant and beautiful enough to make Shezrine look like a stiff doll cut of white paper, and she reared before me like a mountain of light and plucked me from the ceiling. "You made a vow to me, Jozhande, to serve me as a warrior, and you broke it out of shame. You turned your back on me."Not since my childhood days had I thought Ylangaz existed, but here she was, and I dangled from her fingers like a pendant on a chain. I would pay dearly for my impiety. *My half-brother shamed me. He took my virginity, making me unfit for your ranks. I lied rather than tell my village the truth. Punish me if you wish, if what has befallen me now is not enough for you.*Ylangaz laughed, and it was crackling roar of a furnace. "Punish you? I think not. I am not one to punish unjustly. Not am I one to punish for pleasure, as your witch-queen is. I am here to grant you restitution."*I don't deserve it,* I said stubbornly."I decree that you do," Ylangaz said. "Though you did not serve me in name all these years, you served me in spirit. Fair, brave, willing to defend the helpless and serve a just cause. What is that if not the true service of an Amazon to her goddess?"*You don't care that I am dishonored? No longer virgin?*"Humans make those laws, not I," she said. "I have many different names, in many different lands, and the rites of worship differ also. It does not matter if I receive slaughtered lambs in one place and burnt corn in another. Neither do I particularly care who believes and who does not, for I see only what is in the heart. But I do care about preserving the balance and preserving justice, so ask, Amazon, a boon of me, and I will grant it."I smiled then, though the lips of the brass statue remained frozen. *Free me from this prison.*Ylangaz shook her head sadly. "I cannot. Though I am powerful, my powers do not extend to the world of wizards and sorcerers."Disappointment darkened my heart. It seemed I was to remain a statue. *Then let me warn my friends.*"That I can grant you," Ylangaz said. I felt my spirit tugged loose from the hard case of brass. Relieved and ecstatic, I buzzed like a fly around her broadly smiling face."Easy," Ylangaz said, guiding me back to face her. "I've freed your spirit for only a short length of time. Make haste now, to warn your comrades. The Queen's side is winning the war, but the battle still has time to turn." She snatched me like a ball from midair and tossed me so I went flying, breathless, away from the golden world of the sun and back into my own, where I shot from the lips of the statue like a flaming arrow. I flew across the throne room, through the very walls themselves, until I found myself hovering at the roof of the palace. With a single thought, I could travel anywhere.I looked around me. The battle raged closer to the palace than I hoped: flashes of fire and lightning, explosions, clashing weapons. The Queen's nobles kept up their games, visible through the brightly lit windows no wartime strictures had darkened. They had no loyalty to her, only to their pleasures. But even as I hovered I knew my time was running out. I had to warn Shadow and the others.No sooner had I thought it than I was traveling, to a place I *knew* where he was, as if drawn by a scent, or more properly by another sense known only in spirit form. I flew over the palace in a blur, zipping over the grounds where Shezrine was assembling her soldiers. The Wall of Thorns was no longer moving as vigorously as it had, and I saw why--the rebels were bombarding it with cannon and catapults. Battles raged in the streets around the point of beseigement; fires flickered. I saw citizens running to and fro, slaves escaping, animals running blindly; in a matter of minutes the wall would be breached and the bulk of the armies clash.I passed over the chaos in my invisible state, seeking out a building, then a door, then a room, and finally came to the spot where Shadow paced, receiving reports from his captains in the city. He had been injured in the shoulder and around the ribs, and the cotton gauze was packed tight. Food lay on the desk, but it was untouched, as was a carafe of wine. Finally he sent the last man away. I saw him look towards the window, and I knew that he was studying the horizon at the spot where Wolfmoon waited to rise...the full, rugous moon that would spell the end of his term as commander, for then he would be a wolf. Moonrise was late tonight, but even so it would spell defeat for Deneir and his army.I let myself float above the floor, inside the circle of lamplight. I was unsure if I could be seen or not. I didn't know how to get his attention, but I didn't have to; he turned and saw me first.He drew back, gasping, as if I was a ghost. "Jozhande!" He made some gesture, it might have been out of exorcism or piety."Do not be afraid," I said quickly. "You are all golden," he said in amazement. "Like a dawn-spirit..." I lifted my arm and sure enough, my spirit form was as hard, sleek and golden as my brass one, though I had more mobility. "I am no ghost," I said, lowering my hand. "But neither am I as alive as you."Shadow continued to stare, looking me up and down. I gathered I was just as nude as when I'd become a slave. "We knew you'd been captured. But we could do nothing...Shezrine's men were all over the city, hunting us like deer. A few days after Ushroez betrayed us we heard that she had...that you--" he swallowed, forcing himself to go on--"...had become her personal toy and no longer remembered your former self, and she set you to provide entertainment for her court."It took a lot for me, a warrior, to admit that kind of defeat, yet I could do nothing else. True strength comes from facing the truth, not hiding from it. "Yes, she did," I said, nodding. "And when she tired of me she used her magic to turn me into a brass statue, and at this moment my real body is dangling from the ceiling of her throne room. As her chandelier."For the second time he swallowed. I saw his jaw clench. "What happened to Karina?" He would ask that. I felt a tiny death come to me, that he would put her welfare before mine, yet how could he not? "She is safe," I said, unwilling to go into the tale of her transformation and the fact she now served as one-third of the Queen's favorite footrest. What I said was true, actually, for who would think to molest a footrest?"How is it you can travel from your body, if you have been turned into brass...""There are other beings more powerful than Shezrine," I said. I felt the magic surrounding me begin to fade. "Listen to me, we haven't got much time. When the rebels breach the Wall of Thorns you must go with all speed to the Palace, no matter what happens, no matter how many men you lose. There, fight your way to the throne room. From its ceiling hangs a shapely brass chandelier...that is I. Tiers of clear crystals hang down from my body, and hidden among them are Shezrine's magic shards, the ones that store her sorcerous power. You must smash them at whatever cost. The easiest way to do is cut the cord which suspends me.""But then you will be..." he began, his eyes wide with the implications."I know." I could be smashed into pieces as well, or severely dented when I hit the marble floor forty feet down. But there was no other way. I felt myself begin to fade. "Quickly, Shadow! Before the moon rises, and all is lost!""Jozhande!" he shouted, and ran over to me, stretching out his hand. But his fingers passed through me, and, tugged like a kite on a string, I flew back to the hanging sarcophagus that imprisoned me. All went black.When I came back to myself the sounds of the fighting had come very close. Through the windows I saw torches, beams of cold light, explosions.Yes, I thought. Fight your way to the palace, breach the golden gates! Storm this wing, this room! Break her power forever!Shouts, screams, the clashing of weapons. Faint at first, but growing louder as the rebels fought their way down the hall. There were many casualties; I could tell from the pitch of the cries. It was a second sense I had. If I had been human I might have smelled charred flesh, for the Queen was in the forefront leading her men, using her magic with desperate abandon. Not only was she defending her palace but the very source of her power, that which hung suspended from the ceiling.I imagined many fresh statues littering the halls. I prayed Shadow's was not among them.The cedarwood doors to the throne room splintered open and the fighting burst in. It raged beneath me like an angry sea and I saw violent shadows moving on the walls, though I couldn't move my neck to look down. Closer, closer, I prayed. Let them see me, let them look up! "No!" I heard Shezrine shout. "You fools, you fools! Stop him!"A flaming arrow zinged upward, swiping the heavy rope that held me suspended. It was enough to start it to burn."It is you who will burn, Shezrine!" Shadow's voice. "There, watch as your precious crystals are dashed to pieces!"The Queen screamed in rage. I felt myself tilt as the rope was consumed. Farewell Shadow, I thought. I'm sorry I failed you, I'm sorry I failed you all, but perhaps this will make up for it. I tried not to think about what it would feel like to be crumpled and dented against the floor, or break into halves. Would my soul fly free then? Or would it continue to occupy the statue, no matter how mutilated it became?The rope burned through. I fell.I plunged like a fishing weight through the air, into the milling throng of soldiers, who beat a hasty retreat; while sworn to defend their Queen, none wanted to be eviscerated by a flying piece of glass.I hit the floor with a violent, ringing, crack, the crystals splintering beneath my weight. A cobweb pattern appeared at the point of my impact. The reverberations echoed through my head. I felt oddly light and soft. For the first time I felt something, the sharp splinters of glass beneath my belly.I was turning back to flesh!The crystals had been crushed beneath me and Shezrine's magic was running out like water down a drain. I stretched my neck and moaned. It was the most wonderful sound I had ever made. Shezrine made her statues more sturdy than she knew.The rebels rushed in and lifted me above the glass, unlocking my arms and legs from the hoop, disentangling me from the fine golden chains. Shezrine's men began to retreat, sensing something had gone wrong. The Queen herself was now very pale, if anyone that pale could be said to grow paler. Her lips trembled as if forming words, a spell perhaps, but the magic did not come. The rebels stood me on my feet. On every face was amazement. "Is this the Amazon?" "Is the Queen's magic gone?""Yes, and yes," I said when my voice came back. I raised my head. "I am the Amazon Jozhande Tanimury, former *Rurani Eschai* to the Queen." Their faces became even more amazed, as I looked nothing at all like the warrior they had known, though the color of my skin gave me away. Still groggy, I pointed at the Queen. "The crystal shards held her magic, the product of murdered men and women, and now she is helpless. Take her."Shezrine spat. She clutched a pendant around her neck, a crystal, I realized belatedly, and vanished in a puff of smoke. She had kept one shard on her as a safeguard, and she was using it to enact her escape. I whipped my head around to see her sprinting up the hall."Leave her to me," I growled. I grabbed a sword from the nearest rebel and ran after her.


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