Capture – Grassland Nomads
She made certain to appear unimpressed as she entered the temple. Twelve Emperors ruled the Empire of Sand and Stars and all sought hints of weakness from those they dealt with. They made slaves of those they thought weak, and she knew they thought they were being kind – giving purpose to that which had none, so she did not shiver.
If she betrayed herself they would take away her freedom, take away everything. Many of her people refused to deal with the Empire at all because of this, but she found the favors the Empire could bestow in turn worth the risk.
When the guards had come to her camp, she and the rest of her people listened. The guards had been polite and kept their distance, requesting only that one of her kin come into town with them for a job. The reward for services rendered, they claimed, would be great – and the Empire could be trusted to live up their word in a public setting.
And so she went and tried not to betray the sense of awe that tingled along her skin.
Long slits in the ceiling allowed starlight to fall into the temple. No other light was provided – only the painted silver of the heavens above lit her path forward, and all around her was darkness. She peered into that endless black, trying to make sense of what might be there, but all she smelled was the dust of ages long past.
She resisted the urge to hug herself, resisted the urge to look around. She would see nothing outside the light, and looking would merely make her look frightened. If the Emperor had wanted to make slaves of her small camp he would have sent his guards to catch those unable to run fast enough. This was far too elaborate a plan to catch just a single person, and in the web of the world she was not an important enough strand for this much effort.
Three flights of stairs she ascended, to the uppermost floor of the temple. Standing there, dressed in silver skylight and nothing more, stood the Emperor. Her eyes drifted to his manhood, curious, and she murmured approval and bowed her head.
“You like what you see.” The Emperor’s his golden eyes came to rest upon her. “Though you might consider Our affection reward enough once We were done with you, you will not agree to such a thing beforehand and it would ruin you for Our purpose. We know this.”
“And you want me to know that you know this,” she whispered, keeping her eyes off him, watching shadows. She could make out small shades along the floor, hints of a multitude pressing their foreheads to the ground. The people of the Empire considered themselves divine, she had heard. What did that make their Emperors?
“We wish you to understand the weight of the task that We will ask of you.” The Emperor’s hair was tied in long braids that brushed his ankles as he walked, glittering black in the starlight as he moved closer to her. Feeling self-conscious, one of her hands brushed the shorn skin along her ear, the long hair resting on her scalp hanging unadorned. He walked towards her, towered above her, but she held her ground, focusing on keeping her breathing steady.
“Going to guess you want something taken somewhere else,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant. On a whim, she tilted her head, staring up at him, meeting his gaze as her hands slipping to her hips. His silhouette towered over her, painting him black, but she could still make out his smile. A hand raised and nearly grazed her jawline before pulling back.
Before, when his hand had approached, it had been empty.
Now he held a scroll.
“You will take this to the Twilight Kingdom,” the Emperor said, holding out the scroll and stepping backward. “Find the woman Ja Dathi, and give this scroll to her. She will give you a token in turn, and once that is returned to Us you may call upon any in Our Empire for one boon.”
“These terms are acceptable,” she said, proud of the way her voice did not waver. “The Twilight Kingdom is on the other side of the world, though, so this might take some time.”
“You have two passings of the moon to get there and back again.” The Emperor turned from her, walking away. “Terms are set and met. Go now, little blade of grass, whisper Our message to those We deem fit to hear it, and let none stand in your way.”
STORY AND CONCEPT BY AARON GOLDEN. PICTURE TAKEN FROM PIXABAY, AND YOU CAN FIND IT AND A HOST OF OTHER IMAGES LIKE IT BY CLICKING HERE. CAPTURE UPDATES EVERY TUESDAY AND THURSDAY, AND YOU CAN READ THE VERY FIRST CHAPTER BY CLICKING HERE, THE NEXT CHAPTER BY CLICKING HERE, OR THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER CLICKING HERE.