Illuminata's Garden

Chapter 2 - I Am The Last Hope

by alectashadow

Tags: #cw:noncon #cw:sexual_assault #D/s #dom:female #f/f #pov:bottom #sub:female #clothing #drugging #fantasy #foot_fetish #foot_kissing #foot_worship #human_trafficking #humiliation #knight #mind_control #mindbreak #mindfuck

In my mind’s eye, I see Selphia’s bathhouse.

It’s a place of relaxation, safety, and warmth. I couldn’t count how many times I have let my body, sore and aching from physical practice, slide down into its steamy waters. I would always sigh in relief, as my muscles finally got to unclench and relax.

I would close my eyes, float peacefully, and let my thoughts wander.

I see it again now, and for a second, the fog of my confusion seems to morph into the water vapour, rising from the spa. I smile—it’s a happy memory, one that makes me feel good.

In the memory, I’m not alone.

Before me is Margaret. Her pointy elven ears poke out of her golden mane, and for once, there’s a genuine smile on her face. She can get a bit nosy at times, maybe downright bossy—if never unkind—but the pool can make anyone relax.

“Did you see what I did with the lute last night?” She says, in reference to her show at the eatery. “I’m really proud of how it turned out.”

“You were great!” I say, and then, stammering, “I mean, uh, the m-music was great. You were very good, is what I mean.”

God, my cheeks feel hotter than my armor does in the sun. I feel more comfortable with sword in hand than I do with small talk, sometimes.

I’m shoulders-deep in the water, with my chin dipping just beneath the surface. Margaret, conversely, sits by the pool’s edge, looking down at me.

“Safe to say you liked the show then,” she says, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “Was there anything else that you liked?”

A part of my brain—a part I can’t quite come to terms with—thinks Margaret is really, really pretty. I like how slender and long her legs look, draped one over the other, her feet bobbing up and down, splashing teasingly at the water.

She’s self-conscious about being short, but from down here, she just looks… princely, to me.

I like her subtle smile, the gentle cleverness in her eyes, which seems to suggest she knows something I don’t. Almost like she’s making fun of me, in a modest, kind-hearted way.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to deal with this playful behaviour. I am a knight. I’m at home in armour, with sword in hand. Here, in the pool, with Margaret making light fun of me, I have no idea how to behave.

Margaret extends her leg towards me, curving the ankle, so her foot is rotated in my direction, as if she’s proffering it. “If I get any better with the lute, I’ll have people kissing my feet as they beg me to play!”

My cheeks blush so strongly and so rapidly that it’s like they’re on fire. I lower myself even further into the water, as if wanting to hide my embarassment. “Get that away from my face, please,” I say, wrinkling my nose.

“Woah, okay there! Didn’t expect you’d take it so seriously,” Margaret replies, sliding into the water with a giggle, and swimming away from me.

I shake my head, confused and slightly embarassed. But then, I blink once, twice.

All of this has, of course, already happened. It’s a memory.

But if it’s a memory…

Where am I?

Slowly, groggily, my eyes pry themselves open, to a world of utter, impenetrable darkness.

And then, all of a sudden, the memories of my defeat at Illuminata’s hands return.

They flash before me in a blur—her deception in the streets, the drug-laced tea, the creepy words on human trafficking and the value of human livestock, the question that also contained a promise…

Do you want to know what it’s like to be broken, Forte?

I shake my head, rising to my knees, feeling around with my tied hands—there’s a wall nearby, and I lean against it, climbing to my feet. I’ve been stripped of sword and armour, and the rags I’m wearing are barely enough to cover my modesty. The dark will take care of that, I suppose, but that’s not my only problem. It’s cold and damp, down here, and I find myself shivering.

Every inch of my body hurts, and my head is pounding, but the worst damage is the one inflicted to my pride. I’ve suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a wisp of a girl, and I am now her prisoner. The very human trafficking ring I was meant to stop, has taken me prisoner.

I’m angry. I should have never fallen into such an amateurish trap so easily. And what does my brain do? Start reminiscing about days with Margaret in the bathhouse? I fear that a subconscious part of me is hoping for Margaret to mount a search for me. To come rescue me.

That’s humiliating.

I’m not a damsel in distress, damn it! I’m a knight, and I don’t need saving!

If I want to get myself out of here, the first thing I need to do is assess my surroundings. Illuminata referred to this place as a basement, but to me it feels more like a cave—I feel naked rock under my hand, after all. But how large is it?

Assuming it’s an enclosed room, I should be able to walk its perimeter and count my steps—if only I can find some kind of marker to make sure I don’t walk in circles…

Before I can get started, however, a fit of cough breaks out in the cavern, wide like an explosion. I stop in my tracks, staying as still as I can.

“A new one, eh?” A voice croaks from the darkness. It’s an old, ragged voice, and a familiar one. My eyes widen in shock.

“Rolf?” I say, stupefied—he’s one of the shepherds who live in the countryside around Selphia. “Is that you?”

“Forte?” He says, sounding as incredulous as I am. But then, to my surprise, more voices break out from the darkness.

“Forte? Did you say Forte?”

“Forte’s here?”

“She here to save us?”

“No she isn’t,” Rolf replies to the other prisoners—men and women, who have been here for who knows how long. “She a captive, lads. Just like us.”

His words smart. Blood rushes to my cheeks, and my hands ball into fists. “I will save you! I’m a knight, and I’ll get you out of here!”

“You got your sword with ya, lass?” Rolf asks, with equanimity. “Your armour? I can’t see a damn thing in this darkness.”

“No,” I’m forced to admit, my voice edgy and testy.

“Then, some knight you are,” he says—not even callously, just dismissively, but the words hurt so much all the same. “You can’t help us.”

“Yes, I can!” I shout, defiantly. “I’ve sworn to protect you all, as a Dragon Knight, and that is what I intend to do. We’re going to find a way out of here.”

I realise how prideful and righteous I sound. But they should rejoice that I’m here, even if I’m a fellow prisoner. Surely, if anyone can break them out of this cursed place, I can.

“People are looking for you, right?” A woman asks, from what sounds like the far corner of this chamber.

“Yes,” I say, and it’s true, “but we’ll all be out of here before anyone will even notice I’m gone. Now, help me out, so I can help you. How big is this place?”

“’Tis a big ol’ network of tunnels. Don’t wander about, you’ll just get lost.”

“There are screams,” the woman’s voice whispers, “echoing from the tunnels… I don’t think we’re the only prisoners here.”

I nod to myself, lost in thought. It fits with Illuminata’s words, if nothing else. She’s working people over—whatever that means—and then trafficking them. So perhaps this space dug into the rock is something like… a pre-processing chamber?

In spite of myself, the thought does send a cold shiver trickling down my spine. What is happening down here? What is Illuminata doing to our villagers? How could such a bubbly, happy girl conceive of such an unspeakable horror?

No matter. I can look into her reasons after I’ve delivered her to justice. Now, I need to help these people get out of here.

“Is there anything we can use to cut away at our ropes?” I ask, out loud. “Some sharp rocks, or…”

Before I can finish, loud steps resound down the hallway—and the other captives rush to shush me into silence. I shut up immediately, and hope I haven’t been overheard.

The flickering of a torch appears from what must be one of the side tunnels. I take note of its position in my mind—the entrance must be in that direction. And sure enough, in steps Illuminata, in her familiar green and gold outfit, a scarf wrapped and thrown back over her neck, flapping in the gusts of cold air that travelled down the cavern walls.

Two armored guards flank her, gauntleted fists resting menacingly on the pommel of their swords.

The firelight gives me the first proper glimpse at this rocky chamber—longer than it is wide, barely taller than me, and carved out of the naked rock. There are eight other prisoners with me—Rolf, of course, and a young man I can’t immediately recognise, while the other six are all women I don’t personally know, all of them young.

My sword-hand balls into a fist, grasping for a pommel that is simply not there. There aren’t many reasons why human traffickers would focus so heavily on young maidens, and contemplating them sends me in a cold-blooded fury.

My gaze falls on Illuminata. Her childish demeanour is gone now, and with the torch casting a crimson, flickering light over her face, she looks positively devilish. Her smile glimmers like that of a predator, while her eyes meet mine with a challenge.

“See, I told you there was nothing to worry about,” Illuminata says to the other prisoners, while keeping her eyes firmly on me. “I brought you a knight! Surely, you’re out of the woods now!”

She must think herself the most skilled jester in Selphia. Her laughter echoes across the tunnels, but it doesn’t intimidate me. I know I’m going to rescue these people, and then I’m going to crush her.

However, Illuminata turns away from me, thrusting her torch towards the other prisoners. It’s almost as if she’s inspecting them, one by one.

“Please,” many of them mutter under their breaths. “Please not me. Please not me…”

Illuminata stops before each of them in turn, and the way they flinch and shiver and inch backwards towards the wall breaks my heart. What is she doing to these people, to terrorise them so? I strain against my restraints, impotent and enraged.

At last, Illuminata stops before the young man, eyeing him, as well as the young, slender maiden sitting right next to him.

“Nice stock,” Illuminata says, pensively, to herself. “Wide hips for her. Broad shoulders for him. Both blondes, that’s always very in vogue with the most lucrative buyers.” And then, raising her voice, “your turn now, darlings.”

Horror flickers across their faces, as Illuminata deftly slides the torch into an alcove, and grabs the ropes tied to the two victims’ necks.

“Unhand them!” I shout. But she just laughs at me, and I’m surprised at the ease with which she manhandles them to their feet, keeping them on a leash like dogs. It must be a combination of the fear and the time they’ve spent down here—they look like they can barely stand. The two guards are also a factor, of course. Their presence alone would probably make resistance truly futile.

I suppress a shiver of actual fear as I watch the two youths docilely following Illuminata down one of the side tunnels, into the darkness.

* * *

In the cavern, there is no day or night. The only things to mark the passage of time are the meager meals we are offered by Illuminata and her goons—sad, watery stew served in ceramic bowls with wooden spoons. Even manipulating them is difficult, with my wrists so tightly bound.

My stomach grumbles all the time, and my muscles are numb from the constant sitting, the discomfort of the jagged rocky wall and floor, and the biting cold. Sleep and wakefulness seem to blur into one another.

There is nothing to do but sit, and think, and try to ignore the screams.

I can hear them now, too. Some near, some far. Some are screams of pure agony and torment, but others sound like shrieks of pleasure, and sometimes, both intertwine, echoing across the tunnels at once.

Every now and then, Illuminata shows up—sometimes flanked by guards, sometimes alone—and announces that a new “processing chamber” has been freed.

No matter the begging, the crying, the snivelling—or my own threats. She always takes someone away. She mutters to herself as she does so, talking about desirable traits and cross-breeding, about buyer requirements, training, serving skills.

I can barely understand any of it, but I haven’t been idle through this nightmare.

I have nothing better to do with my time than press my wrists against a particularly jagged piece of rock—discreetly—and start rubbing.

The ropes are starting to lose structural integrity, I know they are. I can feel it when I test them. I’ve always managed to stop before Illuminata or the guards come down to check on us, but I need to remain vigilant. I’m almost done. Once freed, I can find the right opportunity to strike.

As I rub and rub at the ropes, I whisper to my fellow captives. Don’t worry, I tell them. I’ll set you free, I promise.

Maybe they’re even starting to believe me.

I rub and rub and rub. I can feel the rope beginning to give way, each and every day, but the sense of urgency can only build up inside me. Every day, Illuminata sells off poor innocent souls. Every day, she breaks them further in, thanks to her processing chambers. And every day, one or two new prisoners join me in this rocky hell.

There is also the matter that, between the cold and the jagged surfaces and the food, I’m growing weaker with every passing day… but I try not to dwell on that one. I’m sure I’ll be strong when it matters.

Every second I spend with my hands tied is another second where innocents suffer, a second where I fail them.

Today must be the day. The ropes are weak now, kept together by a mere thread. Ready to break at a snap of my wrists.

And, blessedly, Illuminata is alone today. No guards. Of course, I could always have stolen a sword off one of them—I would still be one against three, but with sword in hand, I am an artist, and would cut them down without issue.

At my peak, that is. And even I have to admit that I’m nowhere near that, right now. Days spent in the cold and dark, with just enough food to keep me going, have sapped me of some of my strength.

But I still have more than enough in reserve to tackle Illuminata alone. Yes, Selphia was wrong—I was wrong—in dismissing her as hopeless, childish, and harmless. But she’s no fighter, no woman-at-arms, and certainly no knight.

I can take her.

Her steps break me out of my reverie. As usual, Illuminata reserves an evil smirk for me when she makes her grand entrance into the cavern, eyes glimmering behind the firelight of her torch.

“Wondering if it’s your turn today, Forte?” She asks with a cruel giggle. “Perhaps, perhaps. I still have to decide. Don’t go anywhere!”

With a final, parting chuckle at her own joke, Illuminata turns her back to me, thrusting the torch deeper into the cavern, ready to inspect her merchandise—her livestock—for whoever she wants to process and sell next.

Except this is the last time she gets to do this in her life. She’s not dragging anybody else down to hell.

This time, I’m ready to strike.

With a quiet, sweeping motion, I rise to my feet—my muscles ache and complain all the way, but they respond. With a fluid motion, I pull my wrists in opposite directions, tugging sharply…

And the rope snaps.

The sudden thrill that goes through my body re-energises me, and I feel like a knight again. I lunge forward, racing towards Illuminata, and my shoulder collides with her lower back, sending her careening down onto the rocky wall.

Chaos erupts around us.

The torch goes spinning into the air, casting eerie firelight over every corner of the chamber. My fellow captives climb to their feet, gasp, and shout—their tied hands pointing or rising over their heads.

The torch lands against the rocky floor with a clunk, far away enough from us that I can barely make out Illuminata’s silhouette, on the floor, right next to me.

I’m planning my next move—how I’m going to immobilise her while she’s down—but she jumps to her feet with catlike reflexes. I do the same, switching to an unarmed combat stance.

I scan my periphery—good, no one is thinking of intervening. I don’t want them to endanger themselves.

I’ve got this. I’ll keep them safe.

I lunge once again, seeking to tackle Illuminata to the floor, and neutralise her for good. But she side-steps me with grace, and it’s all I can do not to crash down onto the rocky floor.

I glare at her, but she counters with a smile.

“Oh, the big strong knight wants to hurt me?”

“Let them go!” I shout, resuming my stance, dancing around her. But Illuminata merely smirks.

“Make me.”

I advance again, and this time we make contact—Illuminata parries my blows, moving like flowing water, and her fist connects with my abdomen, striking against my clenched muscles.

It hurts, and forces me to take a step back. I hate the triumph in her eyes. I should be dispatching her with ease! She’s so petite and delicate she looks like one of her own flowers.

Whispers of fear and doubt trickle among the audience, which makes my cheek burn with reddened shame. This may not be swordfighting, but I should be holding my own a lot better than this!

“Oh, I’m going to love using your pride as my punching bag,” Illuminata says as I again strike in her direction. She traps my arms with hers, and sends me crashing to the floor with a sweep of her leg against mine.

The impact with the rock drives the breath out of my lungs. I roll away from her, but she doesn’t follow. Instead, she leers at me as I slowly make my way back to my feet.

“You’re no knight,” she says with a smirk. “You’re just a girly girl who fears ghosts and loves all things cute. It’d be adorable, if it weren’t pathetic. I’ll make you bake cupcakes after I enslave you.”

“That’s not true!” I shout, and I hate how petulant that sounds.

“Don’t worry, Forte,” she replies, gesturing for me to come closer. “I’ll break down all your walls, and get to the girly seed underneath. And then, you’ll get to bloom. Like all the people I cultivate here, in my wonderful garden.” She looks impossibly smug as she says this. “My true flowers.”

I roar in rage and frustration, and charge at her again. This time, Illuminata doesn’t send me falling—she stands her ground, deftly avoiding or parrying all of my strikes.

Her hands move faster than the wind. Her elbows and open palms strike at my stomach, my shoulders, my face, and the sting of humiliation is much worse than the pain. I can’t even break her guard. She’s not even sweating.

I retreat, dazed, confused.

How can this be happening? She seems to know where to place every defense. I haven’t even scratched her.

“How does it feel?” Illuminata asks.

I charge again, and this time, Illuminata takes a step backwards, turning so that her side is facing towards me.

And then, her foot flashes upward, into the air.

The impact with my chin is devastating. I see stars, and the room around me begins to spin, as the contact launches me backwards. My back hits the rocks so hard that I gasp for breath, my eyes welling with tears from the shock and pain.

Through dizzying double vision, I am remotely aware of Illuminata closing in, standing above me.

“Answer me,” she says, lowering herself until she’s crouching over my chest. “How does it feel? Your body, sculpted by so much training, rippling with muscles… and it’s being decimated under mine.”

I throw my hands upwards, trying to roll Illuminata over, but her own hands meet mine. We begin a tug of war, pushing in opposite directions. Of course, gravity is with her, and she has better leverage—but I should still win this easily.

Except, my hands begin to inch backwards. I grit my teeth, and roar, and snarl, but the inching soon gathers pace, becoming a rolling avalanche—and then I find my hands and wrists firmly pinned against the rocky floor.

I thrash underneath Illuminata like a pathetic girl, my legs splayed out and my body underneath hers. She controls me so easily. The earth-shattering humiliation is worse than the pain, a physical feeling so bad that I find myself shaking.

Then, the first strike comes.

This is no meagre punch. Illuminata’s hand balls into a formidable fist, and slams deep into my tummy, meeting the resistance of my taut muscles. I thrash beneath her—now she’s holding my wrists down with only one hand, and using the other to strike at me, so I should have more leverage.

Except illuminata’s next punch hits me square in the cheek.

The impact slams my head against the ground, and my vision flutters. The flames lick at the rocky walls of the cavern, Illuminata’s smirk swims above me in a sea of dizziness, and the pacing of her strikes accelerates.

She hurls everything she has at me. Her hands strike my face, my chest and boobs, my stomach. Fatigued and pained, even my abs begin to give way, and each new punch from my tormentor meets weaker and weaker resistance. Eventually, it just sinks in without real effort.

I’m still reeling from the blows, and she keeps piling more and more, keeping me off balance and under pressure, until one strike melts into the next. The fight feels more and more distant, as if I’m watching it from the outside.

Illuminata’s knees press against my throat, cutting off my air supply, as she belly-punches me into complete submission.

They drive into my stomach, as she slaps my face with her open palms, so many times that I lose count.

She spits in my face, kicks me in the belly with the heels and tips of her boots, grinds my face against the rock with her boot soles firmly planted on my cheeks, weight bearing entirely on me.

This is a true beatdown, but it’s not just my body she’s systematically dismantling. She was right, she is using my pride as my punching bag. Not only I couldn’t beat her, but she’s demolishing me without the slightest opposition. I try to summon what remaining ounce of strength I have to get my body to move, but I can’t even lift an arm.

She can’t win… I can’t be this weak… Worse of all, she can’t be right.

About herself… and about me, and my status as a knight.

At last, the flurry of blows begins to slow, but by this point I cannot take advantage. Every single muscle in my body hurts, the rock beneath me is as unforgiving as Illuminata above me, and I feel like I’ve been compressed between the two. Reduced to a thin sliver of a woman, barely coherent enough to keep thinking.

Illuminata rolls me so I’m face-up again, and I’m so motionless I might as well be a ragdoll in her hands. I have no time to take in her stature, towering above me—she looks so terrifyingly big from down here, and with a startle I realise that she actively scares me now—before she descends atop my body once again, sitting above my chest. The weight makes my breathing even more laboured.

I’m so vulnerable. So pathetic.

“Hahahaha, I can see the sole of my boot imprinted into your face!” She says, giggling. “That’s hilarious!”

I lick my lips, trying to muster enough coherence to utter a few words—maybe of protest or defiance, I don’t even know—but Illuminata slides forward, until my face is being nestled within her thighs. Her crotch lands squarely atop my nose and lips, shutting me up.

I try to bite her, but my teeth can’t gain any purchase over the taut, slippery surface of her trousers, and besides, my jaw muscles have taken so many punches that they barely respond.

Soon enough, her full body weight is squishing my face.

It hurts. My nose is bent over, my lips and teeth are bearing so much of her weight, my head is being pressed into the rock, and it’s a struggle to even breathe. With my hands immobilised and my legs useless, I’m not going anywhere.

Illuminata could kill me, I realise. That’s how thoroughly she’s beaten me. She could legitimately choke me under her thighs and crotch and ass, and I’d be unable to get free.

Actually, she’s decimated me to such a degree, that she could probably choke me with her feet alone, if she truly wanted.

With horror, I realise that I’m just as vulnerable now, as I was when she kidnapped me. Except, back then, it was the drug that did me in.

Now, my body is drug-free. Illuminata has brought me to this state with nothing but her bare hands and feet. Removed every defence, cut me down to size, and eventually asserted her utter physical superiority over me.

My cheeks burn with unspeakable, devastating humiliation. There is no doubt that this is my darkest hour as a knight, aside from the very real danger I’m in right now. What if she does decide to traffick me? And to whom?

The sound of my laboured breathing must be music to Illuminata’s ears.

“Does anyone else here still think she’s going to rescue you?” She asks out loud, and I’m dimly aware of her face above me, scanning our surroundings. “Anyone?”

Most of my sight is blocked by her crotch luxuriantly resting on my face, like my face is just a seat for her to use at her convenience, and she can confidently expect no resistance from this particular human chair. It takes all of my willpower to even twitch my fingers right now. After the beating I’ve taken, I might even be injured.

My hearing isn’t great, either, not with Illuminata’s strong, wiry thighs pressing against my ears like a vice. But through all of this, I can still hear the dreadful silence that follows her question. It’s the answer we both need: everyone here knows I’ve tried to rescue them, and failed.

Illuminata giggles sadistically ath that. For my part, I feel a crack begin to form in my own mind.

What kind of knight gets defeated like this? How can I protect others if I can’t even protect myself?

I start moaning and whimpering into Illuminata’s crotch. It feels warm, and wet. Between the exertion of the fight, the crushing physical consequences of my defeat, and Illuminata restricting my airflow, I’m truly beginning to be in trouble. My lungs burn, tears well in my eyes, and my muscles spasm with adrenaline.

Not enough to buck her off… I can’t remove her… She… has me…

“I’ll let you breathe,” Illuminata says, “provided that you’re a very good girl. Promise. On your honour as a knight.”

There… there will be time for defiance later. I must live to fight another day. So I mumble into her crotch, as she softly humps my face, marking her territory, claiming me like a dog does with a bitch.

Illuminata stands, her boot pressing down against my cheek. The other boot sneaks up, closer and closer to my face. We’re close enough to the torch now that I’m sure my fellow slaves can see everything.

“Lick my boots,” she says, and I can sense this is a defining moment for my entire life. Illuminata has outsmarted me, captured me, outfought me. At no step of her plan to traffick me have I been able to offer any meaningful opposition so far.

I should have expected her to request something like this, after the way she abused my face with her feet when I was drugged. It goes against everything I believe in, rubs even more salt into the wound of my crushing defeat… but what choice do I have?

It’s just boots, and a tongue. It’s nothing that will do real, permanent bodily harm to me. If this is what I have to do to buy myself time, and live to fight another day, isn’t it the smart thing to do? Shouldn’t I just feign compliance, and wait for my moment to strike?

But what if I lose again, and again? What if I’m just rationalising? When does compliance cease being feigned, to become way too real?

… Is it real now?

I don’t have the luxury to think this through. I need to trade submission for time. And so, humiliatingly, I scurry to obey.

The leather feels rough and uneven under my tongue, as I lap at Illuminata’s boots like an eager dog. I run it from the tip to the ankle, then up and down. In a mockery of kindness, she lifts one boot at a time, so my tongue can snake under the soles that have beaten me into the ground, and lick them good.

She’s ground me into the dirt with these boots. Pounded me into dust. Reduced and diminished me, until I was literally physically unable to oppose them. But, to my surprise, they don’t feel too bad to the tongue.

Yes, the slightly tangy aftertaste I get after each lap is unpleasant, but… this isn’t torture. Compared to the beatdown I’ve just received, this is nothing.

Unfortunately, I’d underestimated how this would make me feel.

Each lap of the tongue against Illuminata’s boots makes me feel even more like a poor parody of a knight, snivelling at the feet of a villainous criminal like I’m her lapdog. I feel tamer, meeker, more defenceless with every passing minute spent ministrating at her boots. I feel… pacified. Subdued.


I’m all too aware that my standing among the slaves is destroyed. That not only am I not going to rescue them—I’m a lesser even among them. None of them have had to stoop this low, to lick Illuminata’s boots in public. Even if we were to all get out of here in one piece, how could anyone ever take me seriously again?

This cannot be undone. I’ll forever be known as Forte the wimp, Forte the bootlicker, Forte who accepted to utterly prostrate herself before an opponent just so her life could be spared. Maybe I should have gone down fighting instead.

So why didn’t I? Why am I okay being on my knees, lapping and bathing these boots in my saliva, while my mouth is parched from days of captivity and the brutality of the fight? Do I really believe this is just a strategy to get back at Illuminata down the line?

I shake my head as I lick. There’s a major crack in my self-confidence, and what I can glimpse from the other side is… troubling.

It destroys me.

By the time Forte slips a hemp of rope around my neck, I don’t even have it in me to resist her. I docilely follow her down the tunnels, towards what I assume is into one of the processing chambers.

I don’t look behind me, at the fellow slaves I have failed. I don’t think I could bear the shame.

I don’t look at Illuminata either, this girl who has outsmarted me, outfought me, beaten me twice, and demoted to her bootlicker in the space of a handful of days.

I tell myself I can still rise from this, and fight back, I just… need some time to think this through. But for now, I have no fight left within me. And so I offer no resistance, and let Illuminata tug my leash and drag me deeper into the tunnels, and into the darkness.

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