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After having been schooled in the art of submission in their luxurious palace, the women now have no choice but to learn a new art if they want to survive in the dry, dusty desert surrounded by enemies - the art of war.
Feeling weak, Elbi wants to be cared for. Feeling scared, she wants to be protected. Feeling alone, she wants to be loved. And she wants it all from one man... Malachi Lazar. But is he willing and able to provide that care, protection and love?
As a war breaks out between Lazar and Jaden, can Elbi hold on to her ability to surrender when she's forced to be stronger than ever before? With the post-apocalyptic struggle all around, is it possible to be victorious without having victims?
This is the tale of a woman who, at her weakest moment, must find it within herself to be at her strongest - not only in battle, but also when confronted with the courage it takes to submit to a man when the world is falling apart around her.
Elbi Vostok stood third in line to have her virginity stolen. General Rhys, the leader of Jaden, loomed ahead as he wiped off his sword, which was soaking in blood. The wailing cries of terrified harem girls not ready to meet with the sharp edge of a blade echoed against the backdrop of the brutal desert. They had no choice but to give up their virtue or suffer the same fate of the first girl who refused to willingly sacrifice her body to Rhys.
In the corner of her eye, Elbi caught a glimpse of her friend�limbs slack, throat slit, tossed into a pile of sand. This brave woman refused to be taken by General Rhys and lost her life because of it. Elbi wished she, too, could be undaunted by the face of death. But her shaking body and labored breath revealed her paralyzing fear. She knew her body belonged to the brothers of the Palace of Lazar� but she didn't want to die.
The Jaden soldiers barked their orders to the crying women, ordering them all to remove their clothes. No amount of sobs, pleas, or wails softened the stone-cold hearts of the soldiers. And each time a woman hesitated or tried to conceal her body, the distinct crack of a fist to flesh sounded in the sweltering desert air.
A gaunt-faced goon, slightly bemused, gave an order. "Strip for your new leader!" He walked up and down the row of women and sneered. "Where is your precious Palace of Lazar now? I don't see any of the brothers here to rescue you." An evil laugh stopped his speech before he continued. "When we are done with you all, you will be nothing but used up whores."
The soldier's depraved disregard of women reminded Elbi of her birth commune of Vostok. It had been ruthless, but nothing compared to what she was now witnessing of this Jaden army. Vostok sold their women like cattle at the age of eighteen to the highest bidder. Luckily for Elbi, she was purchased by Lazar. Her life changed that day, for the better. Being sold to the harem of Lazar, although terrifying at first, proved to be the answer to her prayers. She became safe, protected, nurtured� everything she could ask for�until the day Jaden had arrived and conquered. Now she lived in a nightmare, far worse than anything she'd endured at Vostok. The commune of Jaden possessed a thirst for power that fueled an evil she'd never known existed.
For decades the people of this planet survived off a wasteland of dried up lake beds, desiccated rivers and what little water the world still possessed. Communes formed around the few remaining water resources. No one understood what caused the massive disruption, but all suffered the consequences. Without water, civilization fell into anarchy. Droves of people combed the desert of death, seeking fertile land in the hopes of survival. Some communes thrived, while others eventually succumbed to the sun.
General Rhys, a man who wore nothing more than heavy boots and all black clothing, became the leader of the Jaden army. He spoke with such vile in his scratchy voice. "Don't worry, ladies. We promise to give you back to the brothers. But not until you are nothing but desert dirt to them." His words made the soldiers laugh and the women cry harder. "You should all be angry with your beloved men. They sent their precious harem off to the dangerous desert to fend for themselves. Did they really think you would all be safe?" He crossed his arms and studied the naked women shivering before him. "If I were you, I would blame them for your misfortune."
He was right. The brothers should have never sent the harem away. Sending them out to a barren landscape in the hope that they would find safety had always screamed of insanity to Elbi. She had cried, even begged to remain in the palace. She would rather take her chances there than be split up like the brothers dictated. After a mere two days of wandering the desert, the Jaden soldiers found them. They came out of nowhere, and in a surprise attack, snatched Elbi and the harem, holding them hostage just as the brothers had originally feared. Now their virginity would be taken to send a message to the Lazar brothers. Elbi readied her mind for the inevitable.
The next woman in line, no older than eighteen, crawled forth. Smudges of grime and sweat smeared her once porcelain skin. One of the watching soldiers lifted her to her feet to stand before General Rhys.
"Don't crawl like an animal. Stand before the general. Well� at least until he fucks you like an animal," the soldier spat.
Mad laughter echoed all around them. The woman stood fully upright, straightened her shoulders, and spat in the soldier's face. Pride and fear mixed as Elbi watched the woman stand with renewed indignant courage. "Kill me. I will never let that poor excuse of a cock enter me," she declared.
Elbi couldn't help but watch, with tears in her eyes, the proud woman face the devil in the sand. The only saving grace was that she never saw it coming�the second they slit her throat. Horrified, Elbi hooked her arm against her mouth to stifle a scream. Soon afterward, it was Elbi's turn.
Elbi didn't budge. She refused. Her body stiff, she couldn't move an inch.
A disfigured eye leaned in, inches from Elbi's sunburned cheek. "Must I repeat myself?" the man asked, raising a bushy brow. His breath smelled like rotten flesh and spittle formed in the corners of his lips.
Elbi's heart gushed blood to her face, not certain if one wrong word would be her last. Could she be brave and die with her virtue? Should she just allow Rhys to take her? It could all be over in moments. Elbi started to cry. She wasn't as strong as the other ladies.
She turned her head to search the other girls' faces for an answer. They all stared back at her, with terror in their eyes. It wasn't until she saw Mistress Tula, their assigned leader, that she knew what she had to do. Mistress Tula made eye contact and softly shook her head. Silently, she was instructing Elbi to not let the man touch her. Could she die with honor as the two other women before her had?
General Rhys nodded at his soldier. "Kill her." His command was quick and simple.
His henchman placed the knife at her neck, but his arm stopped just as it pinched Elbi's skin. The sickly looking man staggered back, gasping for air and fell to his knees.
Bewildered, Elbi craned her neck, looking straight into his once life-filled eyes.Was he dead?
She shuffled forward at a shout in the open desert. Elbi clutched her nude body, peering out through her scraggly, matted hair. Men with axes, swords, and knives rushed out from behind concrete rubble, moving in a wave across the sand.
"Goddamn, Lazar..." General Rhys cursed as he pulled his sword from his belt, ready to take a stand.
The Jaden men charged, leaving the harem girls alone in the sand. A haze of death, screams, and bloodshed blurred around them. Elbi kneeled on the ground, huddled with the other women, and wished for the best. Helpless due to the ties around their hands, the women could do nothing but watch the battle around them.
Elbi then saw a man running toward her as she sat on her knees. Briskly, he brandished his knife and ripped through her flimsy restraints. The crippling fear she felt was only an afterthought as she looked up into the man's deep brown eyes. She remembered those eyes. She had only seen them once before, but she knew them. Malachi. Malachi Lazar was here to save them. When she tried to stand, he grabbed her frail arms and pulled her to her feet.
"We need to cut them all loose," he shouted. "Get them out of here now!"
General Rhys and his Jaden army, retreated back into the desert abyss. It was hard for Elbi to believe anyone would save her�save any of them. As the other men hacked free the captured women, she pressed her hand on Malachi's sleeve. She honestly didn't know if she could remain standing. A faint darkness threatened to overcome her as a ringing buzzed in her ears.
"You saved me," she said, her voice quiet and grateful. "They were going to kill me. Kill us all."
"You look pretty damned shaken," he replied. "Did they hurt you? Are you able to walk?"
She tried to take a step and her legs buckled underneath her. In that exact moment, he reeled her in, close to his chest. The heat of being held so tight made the skin prickle on her arms and legs. Being bundled like that eased her violent trembling and allowed her to breathe at a normal cadence.
Running footsteps approached as one of Lazar's men flew up and stood before them. "Sir, it's all clear."
"How many dead?" Malachi's breath was warm against the side of her face as his embrace remained strong around her small frame.
"Two girls and seven men in battle. We killed ten of their men before they ran off like cowards."
"Help these women get dressed and covered," he ordered. "Make sure everyone is taken care of and ready to travel."
He looked down at Elbi, scanning her face and body. She couldn't help but feel self-conscious that her once long blonde hair now hung in gnarled tangles around her head, and dirt coated her entire body. "Are you going to be all right for now?" he asked.
Elbi nodded weakly, even though she wasn't sure that she would be.
Malachi unraveled his arms from around her shoulders and walked to a group of his men. As one of Malachi's men draped her in a light blanket, she glanced down at the other women being assisted by some of the men. The only woman who wasn't crying or clinging to someone for comfort was Mistress Tula. Elbi saw her sitting there in her ragged clothing, burying her feet underneath the sand. She'd pick up fistfuls and let the grains of silica sift between the gaps of her fingers. Mistress Tula didn't look relieved as much as merely introspective about the whole situation. She was a woman of few words, but something seemed off.
Elbi crouched at her side. "Are you all right?" she asked.
"I am not dead," Mistress Tula replied sharply. She pulled on her clothes, her superior dignity returning. "I am not sure I know how to be afraid anymore."
In front of them, Malachi and his militia readied their horses to leave. Mistress Tula only grabbed another handful and eyed it as it streamed down her wrist.
Elbi found her own tattered silks and wrapped them around her body. "We're safe now," she tried to reassure. She stood up and dusted off her knees. "Malachi and his men will keep us safe. We can go back to the palace." Her words trailed off when she glanced over at Malachi. Some of his men were herding the women and assisting them onto the horses.
"We are not safe. Your na�ve optimism will get you killed," she warned. "Do not think for a second that Jaden will let this end with today."
"Maybe they're scared of�"
Mistress Tula didn't even give her a chance to finish. "Elbi, everyone is scared. We would all be a fool not to be. But I assure you that Jaden is not through with us. They will return." She then finally trotted off to join the other women preparing to leave.
Elbi, overcome with fear once again, made her way toward Malachi. She had to have faith. She had to believe that Malachi and his men would keep her safe. She had to, or go mad with the darkest terror she ever knew. As she approached, Malachi lifted her onto a horse and handed the reins to her.
"I will be walking right beside you, so do not worry about how to ride," he said as he scanned the group, making sure all were secure and ready. He made eye contact with Elbi and gave a reassuring smile as he patted her leg. Then he gestured with a single wave. "Move out!"