Ice Gives Way to FirebyHammerGod©
[Author's Note: This story is a short tale inspired by fantasy cartoons like Avatar: The Last Airbender and video games like Skyrim and Oblivion. I got some feedback saying that my stories should be longer, and to those who feel that is the case, I urge you to check out my multi-part stories "Spoils of War" and "Monster Girl Adventure." As to why I have so many shorter tales, I've been pretty busy as of late, so I've been posting my back-catalog of shorter stories. Hope you all like this one. Reviews are welcome, and encouraged.]
A dream, it was only an awful dream. The paranoia that afflicted her after her father's departure, before her coronation as Lady Infernum. The success of the rebels in taking her beloved nation, her beloved power, away from her. Her defeat. And yes, her father was dead, and that was a loss, but the rest was all nothing more than a horrific nightmare, a twisted vision that showed her greatest fear: failure. In truth, her father's demise was quite a strategic gain in an odd sort of way. Proponents of any cause need, in fact crave, a martyr. Of course the Harbinger of the Free States, in his infinite weakness had not bothered to finish off Lord Kynrothir, so certain, subtle arrangements had to be made, but nonetheless the Infernal Dominion had its martyr, and behind his cruelly slaughtered image the Dominion broke the rebellion and regained its slipping hold upon the known world.
But so many nights for the past ten years, Lady Infernum Azria had dreamt of failure, crushing defeat, and the conquest of the Harbinger and his lackeys. She awoke in a cold sweat, bolting upright and ready to propel a jet of searing, magical flame at her attackers. Yet as always, there were none. She lay alone, tangled in the sheets of her lavish bed inside her opulent bed chamber.
Azria rose from bed, her bare feet padding lightly across the cold stone floor. It felt cold against her skin, but a momentary discomfort was worth it for a floor that would not so easily muffle the steps of an intruder. Azria entered her bathing chamber and took hold of a small silken cord which hung by the door. With the tug of the cord a signaling bell was rung and a waiting servant hastened into the room to fill the royal bathing tub with fresh, warm water. When the task was done the servant departed, leaving Azria to slip out of her sleeping garment and into the warm embrace of the tub.
The water was hot and laced with the sweet scent of exotic oils. Azria luxuriated, stretching out her fair limbs and tilting back her head so that her long hair might soak in the fragrant bath. As she floated in the tub, she reflected on her life. Ten years ago, at the age of fourteen, she'd been made the new ruler of the Infernal Dominion. And in those ten years she'd strengthened her nation with the same merciless precision for which she'd become so widely renowned. Like pieces in a game of chess she'd spread her forces across the world after the defeat of the rebellion, reinstating the power of the Infernal Dominion with political negotiations when possible and force when necessary. Of course at least a small show of force was always necessary in such matters to remind the potentially-traitorous that they were well out-matched. Thoughts of such displays of supremacy brought a cruel smile to Azria's crimson lips and a wicked gleam to her eyes, a sharp, violent gleam like the moon glinting on the quietly deployed dagger of some rogue.
Then came the discovery, the island. Some called it "the isle at the tip of the world," for it was so isolated and seemed so desolate. Wintery shores gave way to rolling dunes of snow, great forests of frozen trees, and mountains slick with ice. Yet this barren ice desert was not so lifeless as it appeared. A strong and savage people eked out an existence amongst the bitter cold. They fished and hunted the seals and walruses that hauled out on ice flows, as did many northern-dwelling folk. But what made these newly found people of greater interest to Azria was the skill that many of their kind employed: ice conjuring. An offshoot of water conjuration, this skill allowed its users to lower the temperature of water and turn it into very solid, durable ice, which they could freeze into useful shapes. Ice spears, hammers, even functional blades, and these were only a few of their brilliant innovations.
With this unique skill, the natives had successfully repelled many expeditionary forces of the Infernal Dominion and kept the sovereignty of their island, which they called Nordhold. Some fortified Infernal Dominion outposts had been established, but they were overwhelmed by cunning raids. Survivors described the natives as having descended from the mountains, a screaming horde of blood-mad wolves of slaughter. Common amongst these reports were tales of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed man of towering height and broad build. Despite the chill winds that whipped across the land, this man fought clad only in wolf pelts, charging into battle with two broadswords made of ice. So great was his strength that he swung these massive, translucent blades like a normal man would swing a short-sword. Azria questioned the truth of these outrageous claims, but she'd ordered her troops to be on guard for this man and to bring him to her, alive if possible. He'd appeared in enough reports from her forces that she figured him to be a key member, perhaps even the leader of this native resistance. One can learn much about a structure, and do it great damage, by closely inspecting its cornerstone...
The Lady Infernum emerged from her bath and returned to her bedroom, where royal attire was awaiting her. She clothed herself in black leather boots that appeared intimidating yet were still highly functional, allowing for reasonable protection and movement. All of her wardrobe shared this theme: a clear display of authority but not at the expense of functionality. She tied her black hair up in its usual topknot, a style she'd always favored, and thus fully prepared for the day, she departed from her private chambers to see to the business of ruling her nation.
* * *
A blind man knelt on the hard stone floor of the throne room, flanked by two guards who held swords to the quivering man's back. He gazed with unseeing, cataract-damaged eyes up at Azria, who sat upon her throne, resplendent in her dark majesty like a spider perched at the center of a far-reaching web.
"You see, Your Highness," the man babbled frantically as sword points pressed into his back, "I cannot be a spy, I cannot even see!"
"The sightless aren't so piteous as one might at first believe." Azria mused in a calculating tone, her words like the metallic hiss of a sword being freed from its scabbard.
"I know nothing, there is nothing for me to spy upon." pleaded the man, tears streaming from his blighted eyes.
"He was caught wandering in a restricted military sector." one of the guards informed the Lady Infernum.
Azria was silent for a moment, but one could practically hear the fast-spinning wheels of her mind turning, whirling through an infinite number of possible actions until the most desirable choice presented itself. This was all still so much like a game of chess, and she'd found her perfect move, one which endangered none of her pieces nor left any room for future vulnerability.
"Describe this room." she ordered.
"I beg your pardon?" the man inquired.
"You heard the Lady Infernum!" snarled the second guard, sticking his sword point a bit harder into the man's back.
"Ah!" cried out the prisoner. "I uh... I feel stone beneath me, and the way the warmth of the sun feels on my back suggests there are windows behind me, higher up on the walls."
"Do go on." Azria encouraged. "I'm intrigued."
"Your words," continued the man, "echo just slightly in the room, so the walls are likely made of stone as well. And I smell the scent of aged, heavy cloth, like that of tapestries upon walls."
Azria nodded her head, impressed at his attention to detail.
"Kill him." she ordered.
"Yes, Lady Azria." both guards responded.
"What? But, but why?!" the man demanded as he was roughly dragged from the room.
"You give yourself too little credit," Azria explained, "your senses would make you an excellent spy, though who you work for remains a mystery."
"I work for no one!" pleaded the man as he was hauled to the great wooden doors of the throne room. "I became lost and wandered onto military grounds."
"Who would ever suspect a blind man?" Azria mused, watching him disappear beyond the doors. "I would."
The pleading screams of the captive resonated for quite some time. A younger Azria probably would have had the poor man tortured, but her younger self was always a bit exuberant when it came to interrogation. He had no information for her, he was merely a wandering fool. But her policies against civilian presence on military facilities had to be upheld, regardless of the circumstances. Doling out punishment was quite possibly the only thing about which Azria was an egalitarian.
The arrival of a messenger disrupted Azria's thoughts. The man, clad in Infernal Dominion light armor, looked excited. In fact, he was practically giddy waiting for Azria to acknowledge his presence.
"Speak." she commanded. "And make it quick, before you fidget yourself apart."
"We've caught him, Lady Azria!" exclaimed the messenger. "The man called Heinrich who so plagued our occupation of that damnable little island."
"Heinrich." Azria repeated the name, hiding her excitement behind her usual, measured tone and expression. "You have him, in the dungeons I take it?"
"In your personal interrogation chamber." replied the messenger. "He is ready for your questioning."
"Good." Azria rose from her throne. "Inform any other visitors that I will be occupied until further notice. Are we clear?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
Azria's boots echoed ominously on the stone floor as she strode briskly from the chamber. Briskly but not with haste, never with haste. Maintaining a commanding visage was a balancing act, constantly leveling emotions, bringing excitement and passion in line with formality. Never show too much of any emotion, least of all joy. Azria's subjects respected her calmness, feared her merciless judgment, and she would not off-balance her hand by bounding ecstatically to the interrogation of this new prisoner. Her subjects needed to see her in every respect not as reserved but as steady, confident, and unwavering in her self-control, like the slow smolder of a hearth fire. Yet she was excited, curious to see this man who'd so plagued her army's Nordhold outposts.
* * *
Darkness surrounded him like a shroud and the air was musty, smelling of earth and iron. Heavy bands of metal held his arms out from his sides, and similar shackles kept his feet spread apart and firmly planted on the floor. He was not cold, though the guards had stripped him of his boots, breeches, and even the wolf pelt of which he was so fond. He'd been beaten, but he would not show signs of weakness, he would not plead for mercy. They'd taken him from his island home, bound and blindfolded on a winged mount, which carried him at great speeds toward the main city of those foreigners who'd assailed his isolated homeland.
Their matriarch was supposed to come interrogate him. His guards had almost sounded sympathetic when they left him in this chamber. Heinrich wondered what doom would befall him herein and he cursed himself for getting captured. But what choice had he?! The invaders had taken hostages, children, and only promised their freedom if Heinrich surrendered himself. They'd not tried to end the resistance immediately with this exchange, for they knew that not all of the folk of Nordhold would so readily surrender. But Heinrich would not watch children die. Now, he paid the price for his kindness.
A guard had come in routinely to visit Heinrich, entering silently and striking Heinrich at a specific point on his body, the same spot every time, before departing. Whatever this guard had done, it stopped Heinrich from calling on his elemental conjuring. Otherwise he'd have simply frozen some of the moisture in the air into the shape of something to break these restraints. But because of the repeated strikes from the guard, his elemental power was useless to him. All he could do was stand and wait in the damp darkness.
A door opened out of sight, somewhere above and to the left of Heinrich. It shut with a resounding crash, which was followed by the sound of footsteps. Without warning, controlled jets of fire ripped through the darkness and struck several torches along the walls, bathing the room in a flickering glow. Heinrich had to marvel at the control of the fire conjurer, to light torches in the dark with such speed took remarkable accuracy. A moment later, his visitor crossed into his field of vision and he beheld her for the first time.
She wore boots of black leather and matching black armor which appeared regal, beautiful, and yet practical. Her expression radiated cruelty, there was no gentle spirit behind her wolfish gaze. Her blood-red lips curled into a mirthless sneer. She was beautiful, but darkly so; a lithe, pale body and dark hair. Even though he was the ice conjurer, Heinrich felt a chill radiate from his captress.
"Heinrich, Wolf of Nordhold." spoke the Lady Infernum, her voice matching her chilly demeanor.
"That is what my folk call me." Heinrich answered. "You are Azria, ruler of the Infernal Dominion."
"Ruler of the known world, but why split hairs on formalities." she quipped.
Azria appraised her captive. The reports did him a disservice. He was of a towering build, his muscles clearly chiseled against his white flesh. His hair was a fair blonde, his eyes a blazing blue. Even naked and shackled he radiated power. The heavy bindings looked positively small compared to the figure they bound. He showed minor bruises from her guards' treatment of him, but clearly her prey was more resilient than most.
"I won't waste your time with one-sided witty banter," Azria informed Heinrich, "I want to know what it will take to force your homeland's surrender to the Infernal Dominion."
She did not give Heinrich even a moment to speak. Her right hand extended and sparks of lightning danced on her fingertips before leaping forth in a carefully restrained lightning bolt. Not enough to kill or incapacitate, just enough power to hurt him, to make him scream. Heinrich gritted his teeth, breathing heavily, his muscles tensed and jerked in their restraints. Azria let up on the lightning burst and waited patiently for Heinrich to regain his composure. A moment before he opened his mouth to speak, she blasted him again, this time with both hands, sparks dancing across his chest. This time he screamed, more like a feral roar than a plea for mercy. Azria let herself truly smile at that. Every structure has its weakness, every person has their breaking point.
"Now you know what can and will be done if your cooperation is not forthcoming." Azria firmly stated over the sound of Heinrich's heavy breathing.
The Nordic man's chest rose and fell with his staggering breaths. Sweat trickled down his forehead. But he met Azria's gaze with his fierce eyes, his stare unwavering, unafraid.
"Break my body, you cold-hearted bitch." he snarled. "My pain will be fleeting. You will die alone and remembered only with fear and disdain. I die a hero."
"Death?!" Azria laughed, the sound a pure outpouring of malign intent. "Death is a reward for my prisoners, a release for their cooperation. You haven't earned anything near such a kindness."
This time she moved forward to stand within reach of him. Her right hand lightly moved across his skin, her fingers tracing the contours of his musculature. Heinrich shivered at her touch and Azria noticed a rather prominent change in his more sensitive regions.
"Men are so... easy to read." Azria purred. "Easy to manipulate."
"Keep your hands off me." bitterly growled Heinrich.
"I don't think you're being honest with yourself." Azria mocked. "You're body speaks more truth than your mind. Don't lie to me."
A spark of flame flickered to life on her right index finger. Heinrich, not wanting to seem cowardly, did not flinch away. He was not afraid, he would not be broken. He bit back a cry as Azria pressed the pinpoint of flame into his right inner thigh. His hands turned to fists and he longed to strike her, but could only writhe helplessly as she branded her name into the flesh of his inner thigh.
"Your body is mine to do with as I please." Azria reminded him. "Your mind is mine to shatter. You will surrender yourself to me, betray your people for me, and you will obey my every word as law."
"I will defy you at every turn." Heinrich hissed, his flesh still stinging from the branding.
"A strong spirit is so much more fun to break." Azria countered, rising and moving close to whisper in his ear. "You are mine now, wolf. I will tame you and you will sit by my feet like a dog."
"I'd do you no such honor." spat Heinrich, recoiling from the sensation of her breath on his ear.
"You will have no choice."
Heinrich could not contain the stirring in his loins. With Azria so close at hand, he could feel the firmness of her breasts pressing against his chest and her shapely thighs lightly brushing against him. Her skin and hair smelled sweet and inviting. Heinrich pulled away, shameful of his body's lack of control. Azria pressed closer, smirking deviously and breathing against Heinrich's neck.
"Give in, warrior." she quietly urged. "Fighting me is useless."
"Fighting is all I know." admitted Heinrich, some of the edge falling out of his tone.
"I will teach you... to serve me." Azria assured.
Heinrich tried to tilt his head away when her lips brushed his neck. But he'd spent so much of his life mired in bloodshed, caught in the whirlwinds of battle. He could withstand a violent blow against his blade, but a tender caress was overpowering in its own way. Her lips were soft, slightly moist against his bare flesh. They felt so warm, they melted his resolve.
"Men are so easy to break." Azria thought triumphantly.
As she moved her crimson lips to cover Heinrich's mouth, he pulled suddenly back and with a tremendous force of will, overcame his body's desires, and smashed his head into her's, knocking her back several steps with the force of the blow. It took every fiber of self-control she possessed not to slaughter him on the spot. How dare he resist her?! How dare he strike her?! That thick skull of his had caused considerable discomfort; her head throbbed rhythmically, pulsing with pain.
"Harder to break than you thought, eh?" chuckled Heinrich, as if he'd read her very thoughts.
Azria took one step forward and delivered a swift, savage kick between Heinrich's legs. Her boot connected firmly with his genitals and the large man let out a deep grunt, his face contorting with the agony. He fought down the urge to vomit, swallowing hard and breathing unsteadily.
"I will not play games with you," Azria snapped, all traces of seduction gone, "you will break, and you will be reduced to nothing more than my personal servant. Abandon your feeble pride."
"My pride is all I have left." Heinrich retorted. "Your nation will take everything else away. Leave me my pride."
"Begging for pride, how wonderfully ironic." she sneered.
"I do not beg, I command."
"No one commands me." Azria insisted.
"And no one takes my pride!" he shot back.
Azria struck him in the face, a close-fisted blow. Again and again, punching and slapping at his chest and face. She struck him over and over until her fury had cooled and he hung limp in his shackles. But still those eyes burned with spirit. Azria wanted that glow extinguished. She wanted him alive but without a will of his own. He would not resist her much longer. She would not suffer the indignity of his disobedience.