Most days, I have no issues waking up on time, but rather the bigger problem is falling asleep and staying asleep. The moment I lie down or have nothing to do, my brain fixates on one of three things: things already going wrong, things which could go wrong, and things I have yet to realize have gone or could go wrong. Sometimes, it’s helpful and I come up with a brilliant solution to ease my worries before moving on to the next problem, but most of the time, it’s an unhealthy obsession over things I can’t control or are unlikely to happen. Lately, I’ve been particularly engrossed in imagining what would happen if bugs learned how to use Chi and turned into hive-minded monstrosities hell-bent on scouring humanity from existence.
Rename my retinue to the Roughnecks and tell everyone to aim for the nerve stem is the answer I came up with. I have no idea what any of it means or why it makes me smile, but there’s nothing I can do about the senseless memories lingering in the back of my mind.
When sheer exhaustion overcomes crippling anxiety and I finally fall asleep, then it becomes time to deal with the inevitable nightmares. Whether I’m battling the shades of my victims in the darkness of the void, or stalked by an unseen predator whom I cannot escape, or back in the slave pens with Gortan tormenting me, it always ends the same way. I come awake with a start, my mouth dry and blankets damp with cold sweat, heart pumping and chest heaving as I try to make sense of my quickly fading dreams. Usually, this boils down to about four or five hours of sleep a night, and for years, I was fine with it, but lately, I’ve been feeling more exhausted than normal. Naps and chronic masturbation weren’t helping the issue, and I’ve always been leery of taking medication to help me sleep, partially because it’s too effective and you never know when you’ll need to be alert in the middle of the night, but also because I know myself and don’t want to add ‘drug addiction’ to my long list of character flaws.
But that’s all in the past. After last night’s incredible events and my pillow-side confession, I experienced the best sleep I’ve ever had since coming to this world. Turns out, the solution to my sleeping problems was simple and effective.
I needed to get laid.
It sounds crude to say it like that, especially since there’s so much more to it than sex. It wasn’t about the physical release else trusty old lefty would’ve cured all which ails me years ago. Last night with Yan was more than merely sex. We started as two individuals yearning for one another, but as the night wore on, we tore down the barriers between us and forged a connection, one stronger than I ever believed possible. Amidst the heat of our flesh and the cadence of our moans, we made ourselves vulnerable and shared our most intimate sides, a surreal experience which made all my trips to the Golden Swan Pavilion seem empty and meaningless in comparison. I’ve had sex before, but I’ve never made love, not until yesterday.
Still deep in the throes of restful relaxation, I yawn and stretch in the warm comfort of bed, so tranquil and carefree I’m at risk of falling asleep once again. Only a constant, steady beat of water sloshing around keeps me from drifting off, as the sound fills me with a vague sense of unease for reasons I can’t explain. Chalking it up to pressing bodily needs, I put off emptying my bladder and starting the day in favour of languid idleness, hugging my pillow close to savour the lingering scent of my absent lover.
Ha. My lover, Yan. It sounds so deliciously sordid when I say it like that. Lover.
There’s a small part of my brain dying in embarrassment from my goofy and somewhat cringy thought process, but for once, I’m too happy to care because I just had sex, and it felt soooooooo good! I’m clear-headed and carefree for the first time in years and it feels right, like I’m finally who I’m supposed to be instead of pretending to be someone I’m not. There’s still so much I have to get off my chest, like Baledagh and (maybe) my questionable origins, but I’ve decided to tell her all (most?) of my secrets, and it’s liberating.
This is me, this is my life, and things are going great.
Well, let’s be realistic. Things are going okay. I mean, the sex was amazing and kicks things up a few levels, but it doesn’t change the fact that Mahakala died and I’ve incurred the Legates displeasure. Seriously, the ego on his Imperial Highness, getting his panties twisted out of shape because I’m not tripping over myself trying to kiss his royal ass. On one hand, I understand he was probably born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has come to expect the adoration of the masses, but he should learn how to deal with disappointment. Life doesn’t always work out the way you’d expect, and if Shen ZhenWu orders a killing spree every time someone doesn’t fall in line, he’s gonna have a bad time.
Or maybe not. Maybe it all works out for him because life’s not fair and he’s blessed by the Heavens, the lucky bastard…
Whatever, don’t let it spoil your mood. How easy his life is has nothing to do with you. Things are looking up, and you’ve got plenty to be happy about, so enjoy the moment while it lasts. Not long, since that stupid water noise is making you need to piss. Slosh, slosh, slosh, slosh, what the hell is making that sound? It’s not a leak because you don’t have running water, and while it kinda sounds like the rabbits are drinking, you didn’t leave anything out for them to…
No, no, no…
Not like this… Not like this.
My fears are confirmed as I open my eyes and find my bunbuns converged in an adorable mosh pit, pushing and shoving in a desperate effort to slake their ravenous morning thirst, their tongues working with reckless fury to create the ominous din which disturbed my slumber. There’s nothing wrong with them having a drink, except I didn’t leave water out for them to drink. Besides my washbasin, which sits empty atop my dresser, the only other source of water my bunbuns could drink from is Pong Pong’s poop pan.
Which is exactly what they’re doing.
“Stoooooppppp!” My wretched, high-pitched shriek does nothing to dissuade the bunbuns from their voracious, poop eating ways, and in my haste to stop them I forget my body’s current state of disrepair. Putting all my body’s weight onto the raw, tender stump of my foot, I let loose with a choked screech as I fall face first into the floor. To compound my misery, in order to break my fall, I smash the stump of my wrist against the bamboo mats and my vision goes dark as the pain overwhelms my consciousness.
Startled awake by a cold, wet nose on the back of my neck, a weak groan slips out as I push myself to my knees and offer the concerned Mafu a reassuring pat. Crawling on hand and knees, I head over to put a stop to the bunbun scat-fest, but it’s easier said than done. Having only one hand to work with makes fighting off the horde of parched bunnies a challenging feat, moving them aside one by one while avoiding their dripping wet manes and the poop-smeared bunny kisses they’ve learned to give when they want something. Having recovered from her Algae coma, Mama Bun’s front paws cling to the pan as I lift it away, her hind legs dangling off the ground as she fights for a taste that sweet, poopy goodness. Ignoring her as I fend off her filthy, affectionate babies, I fail to notice Mama Bun losing her grip on the pan until it’s too late. Freed from her considerable weight, the sudden release causes me to fling the pan up and scatter the filthy water and surprisingly large turtle turds across the room, tainting everything and everything I hold dear.
Everything. Is Covered. In Poop!
With a quiet sob, I give up and watch the bunbuns race to lap up the puddles, while also ignoring Pong Pong and the quins as they silently judge me for my disgusting habits. Zabu and Shana even gather up the pups to keep them from joining the bunbuns in their coprophagic frenzy, while Mafu utters a stream of squeaks to protest of my unsanitary actions. After a long bout with self pity, I dry myself off the best I can and put on a clean robe before shooing all the animals out of my yurt.
Standing guard outside my door are four Death Corps soldiers, all stoic and impassive as ever. Usually, they’re content to silently lurk about while I go about their business, but today, all four guards turn and fall to their knees, offering a salute with head bowed and eyes down. “Great One,” they say in perfect unison, their voices rough and grating from lack of use. “This slave has failed in their duty and begs Great One to pass judgment and present punishment.”
“Uh…” As solemn as this all is, the line of bunnies hopping down the stairs and into their enclosure sort of ruins the gravitas of the situation, and it’s all I can do to keep from giggling. “What do you mean, failed?”
After a long, silent pause, the closest soldier on my left lowers his head even further as a show of obedience before saying, “This slave begs permission to speak.”
“Well… sure, but like… I asked a question, so you don’t really need permission… Not that you ever need permission. I encourage you all to speak your mind whenever you think it’s necessary.” It’s exhausting dealing with the Death Corps, which is why I’ve been putting it off while I deal with my own shit. And now, Pong Pong’s shit too. Disgusting. Note to self, don’t leave Pong Pong’s toilet pan out where the bunbuns can reach. Also, burn everything you own and chuck that stupid turtle back into the sea.
“This one thanks Great One for his instruction. Last night, Great One dismissed us from our post, so we beg Great One to punish us for our failings. We are sworn to defend our charge and have been lax in our duties.”
“Oh.” So this demand for punishment is sort of like a minor protest, telling me they don’t like to be dismissed from Guard duty. “No, it’s fine, you didn’t fail.” Tired of talking to the back of their heads, I add, “Stop kneeling and stand up. You did nothing wrong.”
As I watch them bolt to their feet in their haste to obey, I finally realize why the Death Corps soldiers make me so uncomfortable. It’s incredible I never noticed it earlier, the clues are so obvious now that I know. Minor things like the hunch of their shoulders or how they shuffle their feet, their sweat covered brows and whitened knuckles as they trade anxious glances or steel their nerves. Taken alone, it doesn’t mean much, but put it all together and the message is clear.
They’re afraid. Afraid of me, afraid for their lives and helpless to do a thing about it.
I can’t blame them either. The Death Corps stood before me and I saw highly trained Martial Warriors, but I forgot they’re also slaves, ones trained from birth no less. They were raised and taught to serve a purpose, but since coming into my employ, they’ve been given no orders or direction, left rudderless to do as they please. Most people would be happy if left alone, but the Death Corps are slaves and possess a slave’s mindset. I know it well, for a slave without purpose might as well be a corpse, so they’ve been going through the motions day after day, training and guarding in an effort to prove their worth while I ignored them to deal with my own issues and left them languishing in uncertainty. Sure I had my reasons, but these are living, breathing people standing before me, and if I want the world to treat slaves like people, than I should start by setting an example.
For the first time since they arrived, I take a good long look at my guards, not as a cadre of elite Death Corps soldiers, but as living, breathing humans. Like most Martial Warriors, my four guards are easy on the eyes, though their black metal helmets go a long way towards obscuring their fair features. On closer inspection, I realize the four guards are not all men and count two women among their number. It makes sense Luo-Luo’s honour guard would include women soldiers, but again, I wasn’t really looking and treated them like a crowd of faceless soldiers here to bolster my ranks. Strip away the armour and the Death Corps mythos and I’m left with four shockingly young warriors whose ages range between eighteen to twenty five years young, little more than children really. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn they’re fresh out of Death Corps training and out on their first tour of duty, unsure of the ways of the world and mistaking my general lack of interest for disdain or contempt, not where you want to be with the person who literally holds your life in the palm of his hands.
Poor Death Corps soldiers… Is it strange I find them oddly adorable now? They’re like lost little orphans appearing at my doorstep, eagerly fighting to do the chores and prove their worth in hopes I’ll treat them well.
“Listen up.” In defiance of the laws of physics, the four guards somehow find it in them to straighten up even more, their eyes wide yet still averted while they await their orders. “I know I’m not what you expected, and truth be told, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with you and your comrades.”
Moving in perfect harmony, all four guards lower their heads and salute. “We live to serve, Great One.”
“Er… yea, stop bowing please.” As they look up and face me, I continue, “See, the thing is, I don’t need an honour guard around me at all times.” Well, maybe I do, but I don’t want one. It’s constraining. “Truth is, I don’t agree with slavery on general principle, so I’ve been conflicted on how to handle this. Let’s start over. What are your names?”
The four of them list off their names in succession, starting with the male guard who spoke earlier.
“This slave is designated Red One.”
“This slave is designated Green One.”
“This slave is designated Yellow One.”
“This slave is designated Orange One.”
“…Uh, okay, but what are your names?”
Blinking in confusion, the four leaders trade glances before Red One responds, “This slave has no name.”
A measure to dehumanize them, I suppose, which is both pragmatic and depressing. “The rest are named in similar fashion? Four units of ninety soldiers each?”
“Yes, Great One.”
Luo-Luo told me all this on the first day we met, but I put no thought into. The Death Corps have no officers, so I’ll have to supply ten ‘Lieutenants’ and one ‘Captain’ to complete each one-hundred man unit. At least I’ll finally have something to keep Bulat and Ravil occupied, I always feel uneasy when I see them sitting idle. As for the other two Captains… Well, I’ll figure it out later.
Running my hand through my hair reminds me I could really use a bath, so I try and hurry this along. “Well, it’s nice to meet you all. Like I said when we first met, you’re all members of my retinue, which means we’ll be fighting alongside one another soon enough. As you’ve already seen, my style of command is rather laid back, so there’s no need for any of you to be on edge. Also, I’d prefer you use my name, or if you insist on protocol, then you may refer to me as boss or by rank. For now, bring your comrades to find Bulat and Ravil and inform them they are to be your Captains and responsible for integrating the Death Corps into the retinue. I’ll provide two more officers after thinking things through.”
“Yes, Imperial Consort.”
Fuck. That wasn’t the rank I mean, but it’s so heartening to see their spirits lift from these orders, I can’t bring myself to correct them. It still bums me out to order slaves around, because like they said, they literally live to serve. Seeing as they’re still standing around, I realize they’re waiting for me to dismiss them, so I throw another request their way. “On your way over, could you also tell Alsantset, the half-tiger lady by the campfire there, that I need a bath prepared? Don’t order her to prepare one, she’s not a slave or a servant, just… kindly inform her I requested she ask someone to help draw me a bath.” This is difficult. “You know what, tell her I need to speak with her. Actually, no forget it, I’ll shout. It’s fine.”
The last thing I need is for my scary older sister to think I’m giving her orders.
Perhaps emboldened by how I’ve treated them, Red One hesitates briefly before offering yet another salute. “If it pleases Imperial Consort, this slave requests permission to draw Great One’s bath and tend to his needs. Each member of the Death Corps is well-versed in attending to whatever needs Great One has, for in times of battle, servants are often in short supply.” Well… that’s… useful. Would I be a horrible person if I accepted their help? I mean, he looks so scared and eager, it’s almost heartbreaking. As if sensing my wavering resolve, Red One leans closer and whispers, “Whatever needs.”
Oh. That’s less adorable.
Since it’d just be soldiers filling my bath regardless, I shake my head and smile. “Err, well if you don’t mind, then yes, please prepare a bath. Just the bath, mind you. A small one will do, and a screen so I’m not scrubbing down in front of the entire camp.”
“Yes Imperial Consort.”
I regret this already. Whatever, I need to wash the turtle shit out of my hair and get to Healing my foot and hand, not to mention talk to Mila and Lin about my fun times with Yan. “Dismissed.” As they march away with a spring in their step, I question if I’m doing the right thing or if I’m doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. I’d love nothing more than to free them from the chains of slavery, but even if I could, I don’t think it’d be a smart move. I need soldiers and while they may be slaves, the Death Corps rank among some of the finest soldiers in the Empire. Regardless, I can’t tell them how to live their lives, so if they’re happy with a little purpose and direction, then who am I to deny it to them? All I can do is treat them like any other soldier and try to see past their unfortunate status. They’re slaves. It sucks, but without a systemic, ideological shift in the way the people of the Empire think, there will always be slaves, and I’ll have to live with it.
A wise man once said, “Be the change you want to see, and if that doesn’t work, then nuke the shit out of everyone.”
…That doesn’t sound right, but I don’t know enough to dispute it.
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