instalment i, chapter i | The Embracings
I'd heard the vow so many times before, and I was so utterly sick of it. But what was I to do? Living in Llya – and as a female, nonetheless – I should have been raised in the midst of sexism and gender discrimination. The objectification of women was appalling, the way it was always being used to demoralise us, but it was how the world worked. Especially in a place that used to be America – a 'free' country. If only I knew what 'freedom' really was.
I stopped reciting the ritualistic verse and ran my eyes around the large church room of Durmchapel. It's where the Embracings happen. The Embracings – or, as they're sometimes notoriously titled, the Demise of Chastity – happen every four years. Cities – which are just about as big as the countries of Old Africa – have 'churches' where the selections are held. People, or rather, men, from all around the country go into these churches to find Domestics, Brides, Bitches, Vassals, and Proxies. Proxies and Bitches, I feel, have it the worst.
Proxies are capitalised and pimped as surrogates, only to mother children for men who already claim wives either not fit to bear kids themselves, don't want to have the children themselves, or simply can't seem to come up with anything.
Bitches are virtual slaves, though they're merely called something else. They are forced or proselytised into sex. And whether they do or don't enjoy such a thing, their blood is, more likely than not, being worked as sustenance.
Some girls plead for situations of the sort. They like being precious jewels and being regarded as nothing other than a slut for someone else's pleasure. Someone botched their rationality, leaving no room for actually thought or personality. They take on whatever selfhood their masters require of them. Or maybe they ruminated on their own and simply just remained submissive by heart and soul. Others would've given up anything to be dominated by a man so careless to her own person.
We had filed into the vacant amphitheatre in five hundred rows of fifty, of which all were split in half with the exception of the last – which is where I endured the torture of anticipation that the Embracings prompted. Millions, almost billions, of girls were doing the exact same thing all across the country – all across the world. In 2499, everything was about similarity, which is why everything had to move along perfectly smooth and solid without any complications whatsoever. If not, then there would be consequences and repercussions. And nobody wants that, right? It wouldn't be too swell, after all.
Below us, at our feet, were our belongings. There was no telling if we would or wouldn't be chosen – and would we be punished upon arrival at our new 'homes' due to our dearth in development? Moreover, we didn't want to take any chances where injury, or the moment of reprimanding, could be finessed. Rousing-floggers were not very much fun to play with, especially when it was Dashkrov lashing the electric whip at us.
Me being in the back was providential, though I wasn't in the corner like I usually was. Being in the fork of it all – and in the back, nonetheless – lavished to me the lesser prospect of any man cherry-picking me. I endeared that small percentage of probability that it gave me. One out of a million now.
Just a bit further away than usual, but that I couldn't help.
Amelia Parfrum conceived it droll to watch me gripe over it. I didn't gripe; however, I was utterly disconcerted about it. That was for sure.
The Embracings' recitations faded but by that time, I had already stopped saying mine. I prayed that – no matter how much I detested Crystal Squares, a sort of adoption centre in a grisly, noxious sense – I could stay; that I wouldn't be chosen.
On the stage at the front, a single Counsel member – Victorus Mánto – held a microphone with a copious grin on his face. Beside him, Dashkrov elevated himself, hands clasped in front of him like a gentleman. He would leave when the choosing began. He didn't want to know too soon who was buying what from him.
I craved no attention. I couldn't care less; I didn't want it. That was nothing to me.
"Warm welcome to those Old – those who've come for many times – and New – those who's first time it is," said Victorus, and all with a false grin. Wicked, it was, so wicked. But new ones wouldn't know. They wouldn't understand until much later. "As you may or may not know, the quadrennial Embracings are a symbolism of hope and faithfulness."
Beside me, Kristen Schaa, a twenty-something adult female of Irish and Old African lineage, scoffed. I glanced over at her. "Faithfulness, my ass." She returned my gaze. "Those distasteful bastards have been here for millennium. This isn't about faith."
To me, Victorus' voice evanesced. I had never quite comprehended the cogency behind such ritualistic happenings. I didn't know why they were there, and I was sure that not many other females understood it either. "What's it about, then?"
A fire flickered in her eyes as she clenched her hands at her side and whispered, "The Revolution."
" . . . and as always, King Salkamenos has his first pick of the litter."
Kristen faced forward again and drowned her façade of former emotion, just like the other Chapel girls do. Faces so full of nothing. As if she hadn't just been clearly raged by whatever this 'Revolution' had been so many years ago. I wished to know about it, yes. It just was not the time for that.
Four years ago, King Salkamenos picked three girls: Nicky, Ricci, and Dawn. I was here back then, and I remember it well. Dawn just so happened to be the most pigheaded female any one of us had ever met. She spoke every word while prancing on thin ice, practically singing for the Rousing-flogger.
No one ever lived after the King had them. After their term of service – four years – was over, they all headed for the Stockyard. But Dawn, she lived in his world as a Laçone – had her tongue cut out and now she could not speak. It was as punishment. She no longer had the choice of being 'loquacious' because she didn't have the ability to speak. Only murmur.
Dawn had to have said or done something dreadfully bad for her that to happen.
The Chapel girls snapped up in silence, hands quaking with a fear of being chosen, endeavouring to murmur not desperate prayers to the Heavens – the majority of our religious belief had been ripped apart by our disappointment and impatience; it was generally forced upon us now – but all resolve fell if he gave them more than a second of a look.
I had no fear of being chosen because I knew it wasn't going to happen. It was never going to be me.
The amphitheatre was so quiet, you could've heard a mouse scurry across the floor if there was one. I heard footsteps but I couldn't see through the thousands of girls in front of me. I didn't want to.
Fortunately, and unlike the others, he never verbally voiced his opinions of the girls. Not to say that he didn't degrade them like the rest because he did. He wasn't all that much distinctive from the power-hungry males in the Chapel.
Time nearly touched forever. It seemed like so anyhow until I saw something white move into my peripheral.
The costumes of Chapel girls', at least here, were unadorned: red, long-sleeved frocks that kiss the floor at our feet. Collars are naturally flipped up and barely allowed any neck room – unless you're like me and have a rather slender neck – besides the little 'u' cut out at the top front. With the notion that we need to sport as bantam skin as possible, we wear a black cloak over our heads. Moreover, our hair is vetoed in any down style. It's worn up, preferably in a bun.
I peered over to my left slightly. The King.
Salkamenos was titanically great at what he did – dismaying us. He never really stared at the girls for too long, but if he ever did they were in trouble, no doubt.
I couldn't tell where he stood. So, with disinterest, I twirled my head to the front though I lowered my eyes, pondering to myself what it would be like if I were him.
To have everyone on their hands and knees when I asked. To wait on me day in and day out. To have anyone that I choose; to do with them as I please. To always be first and never have to pretend or play nice with others. I could be as cruel and impatient as I wished, and no one would say a thing about it.
But to what responsibility does that come?
A scream ribboned through the silence of the room and disrupted the tenebrous, inquisitive pit that was my mind, a sharp pair of scissors cutting across paper.
I didn't look up. I didn't turn my head. I knew what happened when I heard the abhorrent outcry of a broken neck. The thump of a dead body hitting the floor. How tragic, I thought, but was so familiar with it that I barely thought anything of it. Once, it'd been the girl in front of me. That was several years in the past. I was barely twelve when I saw it. Yet even then I couldn't find it in myself to feel sympathetic.
He said nothing and moved on.
The tapping soles of his shoes grew louder. Melting into my consciousness. I barely noticed that I was holding my breath, only until I felt a little faint. But by that time, he was just three people away.
Dear God. Please don't look at me. Don't even pay me any mind, I drew my hands behind my back, fiddling with my thumbs. I'm just an average black girl with a faint dash of demonic blood running through her veins – not enough to be considered even half. Please don't look at me!
I closed my eyes and quietly let out my held breath as he stepped by. I saw his white suit, even his pants. The scent of vanilla and blackberry swept passed my nose and I couldn't help the fact that my eyes darted up. Purely sweet was the scent radiating off of him. Not flowery, but sweet. Like confectionary, perhaps. And I seemed to be the only one to notice. Luckily if he realised, he didn't show it and continued walking by.
He walked down to the end, gave the girl beside Amelia the once-over but stopped in front of her. Savanah, if I recalled correctly, was her name. He circled her tense form. He must've been nearly a foot and a half taller than her. He was quite tall, though. And she was just a little shorter than average.
"This one will do," he said, not loudly but I heard it clearly. I don't ever remember him speaking. But his voice was melodious. Strong nonetheless gentle. Soft yet authoritative. Smooth like silk, yet deep as velvet. Red velvet to be specific.
It's pretty but it doesn't taste swell.
Savanah gasped, and two Minders – guards – came up from nowhere, and dragged her away, kicking and screaming. It rarely ever came to that, but sometimes it happened.
Everyone around me gave an audible sigh of relief, glad they hadn't been chosen. I wasn't so calm yet. A feeling in my gut told me that he wasn't done yet. He wasn't finished, not until he walked away.
Salkamenos came down the line, again, making every female gasp and hold their breath. I gulped, pinching the hem of my dress. I know that I claimed to myself that I wouldn't be chosen, much less by him. But once he turned around, I couldn't help the anxiousness gnawing at my stomach. He was the only male that everyone knew killed his females after their terms were done or terminated. Although it wasn't he who spilled the facts on the matter – I'm sure other men did it too – but he made no effort to the world in concealing it. Although I suppose he felt no purpose in lying, I didn't want to be apart of that. I wouldn't mind if it happened to anyone else.
His white shoes came into my field of vision again. And stopped.
God, I bit my lip, fisting my dress now. Not me. Why me? A lost curl stepped in front of my eyes as I thought so.
My chin clapped in his left hand and lifted until I was eye-to-eye with the man – until my neck pained me. But I forgot all about that pain when I looked into his eyes. I became more afraid that he'd hurt me like he had that other girl.
Lead grey eyes with black and gold flecks narrowed straight down at me. What else was there left to fear?
"What is your name, female?" he asked with as much poison and hatred as a viper.
Only out of fear did I whisper the answer, my name, "Maven, My King." To anyone else, I would not have said as much. But nobody had ever expressed any interest after the first time I came. I didn't let my eyes stray anywhere else, so his own were the only thing I saw from maybe three inches away.
Salkamenos purred my name – my true name, "Mávena." I should've stepped back, wrinkled my lip and furrowed my nose as if I were appalled. I should've at least pretended. Instead, I shivered and shakily exhaled.
The authority that emanated from this man was disgustingly weakening. It was enough to make me fall to my knees – I couldn't fathom how anyone else had remained standing up – and kiss his shoes and beg. Beg for my life.
I blinked rapidly. But how had he known that I was Mávena and that Maven was just a shortened name? Perhaps he remembered it from my introduction some many years ago. But something told me that it wasn't, in fact, that. That he could hear everything I was thinking. And perchance, he could probe and irritate my memories like a good, solid master of such arts would do. "Tell me, Mávena: how old are you now?"
I didn't falter. "Nineteen, My King."
"When will you turn twenty?"
"The thirty-fifth of Chocolát, My King," I answered – and yes, there was a month named after chocolate. There were only seven months now, rather than twelve. Each with at least thirty-five days. Not to mention the thirteen days of the week rather than the old, typical seven.
His grip loosened as he tilted my head from side to side, baring my throat. I could only swallow the fear that was the knot in my throat, praying to whatever God there was that he would just move on and leave me be.
The King hummed in what almost sounded like appreciation, as if to say that I would do because he couldn't leave with just one girl.
I could've made a run for it between the time that he released me and two different Minders hauled my ass into the 'Aft' as all Chapel girls have called it.
There is where those who've been chosen go for what is supposed to be like a check-up. Since I'd never been selected – and was thoroughly proud of that until now – I never knew what happened in the room lest you account for the implausible stories that have been told to me by some of the now gone women.
They made up these petrifying tales of whatever the hell might happen on the other end of those soundless doors.
I was surprised that they hadn't pushed me to the floor the same way they did Savanah. The other two treated her like she was nothing. It must've just been the kind of Minders that they were.
While I was let go of, a man in a purple cloak pulled Savanah off the red tiled floor quite forcefully and took her past another set of doors before she even had the chance to object.
I, on the other hand, was taken straight to the check-up section.
It was a spacious room with white lining against beige walls and swirl patterned wood beneath my feet. To the left was a counter where a man – who probably resembled a receptionist – sat typing away on his computer whilst reading something beside the keyboard.
"Dolan," called the Minder to my left, the one with short blond hair, who'd been the one to guide me in. The receptionist guy stopped his actions and peered up, his droll expression solidifying into a smile.
He got straight to the point. "Name?"
I didn't know if he was talking to me, but he was staring right at me so I figured he had to be. "Uh...Maven," I whispered.
Dolan nodded his head, picking up a clipboard. His eyes floated down whatever it was he looked at before he gazed up. "Ah, yes, Mademoiselle Sylvie." I furrowed my eyebrows in question to the fact he had just called me by such title. "Dr. Hans should be right with you in just a moment."
Only moments after, said doctor was strolling in the room from God-knows-where in a black overcoat. And he was an Adonis, for sure with a dashingly handsome face and muscles bulging through his light grey shirt. He had long, dark blond hair wrapped in a low ponytail at the back of his neck.
He smiled down at me, taller than I but not quite as tall as the King. "Mistress Sylvie – "
"Please just call me Maven," I blurted, surprising myself. Sure, I thought things that makes would consider arrogant and unworthy. I was supposed to be but a mere female, doing no more physical activity than three walks a day.
He opened his mouth with a little surprise, but closed it once more and smiled. "Maven, it is, then."