Vengeance is Steel
Dear Gods, please, somebody help us! But Cillwyn's cries went unheeded. Not one of the men looked up, no one even cared. She was only a statue...a black cast-iron statue posed on its hands and knees, backside frozen in a saucy wriggle, pursed lips inviting a man's oral pleasure. She throbbed with shame at the picture she made. If she had been paralyzed flesh, more than likely the same workers would have been violating her, at both ends. But she was only a piece of scrap.
Noooo, she moaned. Again and again she commanded her frozen body into action. Since she no longer had a body, properly speaking, her energy was infinite, yet impotent. No amount of signaling would get it to move, even wobble a little, to fall off the awful conveyer and onto the floor. Though the commands were useless, she could not help giving them. Maybe this was all a dream, a hideous nightmare from which she would soon awaken...
Behind her she heard the clatter of more scrap being flung onto the conveyer, tossed carelessly, without regard, as they had been. The male workers who flung it were almost nude, shining with sweat from their exertions. Ordinarily Cillwyn would have thought them very interesting, had she not been trapped in an iron statue headed for the smeltery.
And neither she or her sister could do a thing about it.
Cillwyn whimpered, having exhausted her silent screams. Before her, ever so slowly, Aemil entered the furnace. Her shapely backside disappeared as if into a fog, the bright orange flames licking lasciviously at her buttocks, eating her by pieces. Last to disappear were her slim calves, the upturned soles of her feet, and, finally, her toes. Aemil had been born first, she had been the leader in most things. But Cillwyn knew she would not have wanted to be the leader in this. And she knew full well that she was next...and that she would not bear it as bravely as her twin.
No, please, almighty Gods, do something, anything!
But her silent pleas had no effect. Slowly she entered the bright hell of the furnace, the conveyer carrying her inexorably inside.
Cillwyn tried to pull back, in vain, as the dancing flames flicked over her face, and screamed. She screamed so loudly and hysterically all reason left her, becoming pure and total terror as brightly colored flames leapt all around her, licking her paralyzed limbs and torso as if they couldn't wait to liquefy them. Behind her the doors clanged shut. So this is it, she thought. She waited for death to take her, wondering if it would be a slow painful agony, or a swift cessation of feeling.
But if she was dying, it was oddly painless. A mortal girl would have been steaming ash within seconds, yet she felt only a comfortable warmth, as if she strolled in the country on a normal summer's day.
It could even be described as pleasurable.
Terror became tinged with amazement, then a warm and sensual heat. But her fateful ride was nearly over. Ahead of her she saw Aemil tip over as the conveyer ended, dumping her over the edge into an unseen abyss below. Cillwyn heard a loud CLANK as she landed, bright flames swirling up the shaft with the force of a cyclone -- the bluish purple of gas jets, brilliant oranges and golds, fulvous reds, waxy yellows. The churning, burning air was a wondrous sight, one denied to humans of flesh and blood, and it awed Cillwyn with its beauty. But then she, too, was tipped over, and fell into the cauldron with a clang next to her sister, their faces nestled together as they lay on their sides. Other scraps of elemental metal rained down upon them as processing began in earnest.
No rescue for them, no reprieve. No hope.
Cillwyn stared into Aemil's still face. a reflection of her own. So this is it, dear sister, she thought. If only we could speak, embrace! The injustice of it all suddenly seized her. What had she and Aemil done to deserve this fate? They had been no one of import, only the pampered daughters of a minor duke, slated by him to be the pampered wives of other dukes...pawns, not politicos, of the Thorzaan Empire. They didn't deserve to die like this. One day, Cillwyn swore, it would be the Iron Empress who would die, in molten metal and liquid heat...even if she and her sister had to take ten rebirths to kill her!
The cauldron heated quickly. The items at the bottom were already softening, and the statuephied bodies of the twins followed suit.
Aemil begin to glow, becoming a dull-cherry red, than a brighter red, progressing through orange and orange-yellow to white, and Cillwyn watched in horror as her sister's features began to warp in the incredible heat. Her brow melted down into her eyes, her nose became a smear. She lost her chin and her lips followed suit, both forming a puddle between her deliquescing breasts, her nipples sloughing off in an eyeblink.
Aemil, no! Cillwyn screamed. What is happening to you! But Aemil's face was dissolving rapidly. Liquid metal poured off in streams, leaving a lumpy orb, then a stump, then nothing at all, the same way her girlish arms now ended in spikes at the elbows, and her thighs in blunt hammers. Her shrinking torso shifted as it continued to melt, presenting Cillwyn with a rear view, after which, with a final spastic shudder, the misshapen lump fell back into the slag, to bob about like a cork in a puddle, then sink.
Oh Gods, no!! But Cillwyn too was melting, though she could not see it. She felt her body expanding, pulling away from her...but at the same time it was dissolving, and the feeling was very disorienting. With every second less and less of her remained. She babbled a long-forgotten prayer of her childhood as she sank further and further into her metallic bier, calling on the names of every god she knew, until, with a jar and a jostle, she collapsed into the molten whole to join her sister. A white-hot curtain drew over her eyes, and Cillwyn saw and heard no more.
Immediately she was engulfed by a great heat. It was far greater than anything she had ever imagined; yet oddly, it did not pain her. The voice of the furnace vibrated through what remained of her, a noise that was not noise, a siren song that lulled her into a passive torpor. She realized at last her mind was dissolving, her very consciousness slipping away. Howling, she tried to hold on to her thoughts, but it was impossible. There was no longer anything to hold on too...only a rapidly fading consciousness, soon to disappear forever in a cauldron of steel.
Cillwyn? came a faint mental voice.
Could it be...? Was it her sister? Stunned at the contact, Cillwyn desperately projected her thoughts. I am here, Aemil.
That evil witch melted us, Aemil said. Yet still we live, in the hot molten metal.
How is that we speak, with neither bodies nor minds?
We have become mixed together in this liquid state, Aemil said. What was me, is now in you. What was once you, is in me.
Cillwyn wailed. We are dissolving, dying slowly by the minute!
No, not at all, Aemil said. I am here, I am alive. I feel myself swirling around you. Can't you feel me, Cill?
With wonderment Cillwyn realized that she did feel her sister's presence, a rapidly circling coil of liquid metal that surrounded her, keeping her safe. At the same time, she became aware of the countless dissolving pins and pots and pans around them, the chunks of phosphorus and pieces of chromium that buzzed louder and louder as they melted. It was more vibration than noise, the death-shriek of solid objects giving up their forms, releasing the energies they held. But the sheer cacophony made her scream again.
Don't pay attention, Cill! Aemil commanded. If you lose yourself in the noise, you are lost!
We are lost now, Cillwyn said bitterly.
We are not alive, but neither are we dead, Aemil said factually. Though we may as well be dead. But at least we are together. We must stay together! That is the key to our survival now. If we can survive this, we can avenge our father's death, however we have to do it. The Iron Empress will fall. And we will be the agents of her destruction.
Yes, Cillwyn said, calming. She felt her sister's presence more strongly now. She even felt her thoughts and the form of her emotions, and even more amazingly, her memories.
We are truly together now, Aemil said. I know all about you and that stable lad.
And I know who you have your heart set on, Cillwyn said with amazement. She herself with her sister's eyes, dancing wildly at the Midsummer Masque, a silver cat's face over her own, breasts heaving in a gown of shimmering green. Wait, that's...me! And there's your favorite horse. Aemil's memories spilled before her, flipping like the pages of a book: she tasted her sister's favorite foods, received her spankings from their governess. Instead of dissolving into the rest of the metal, they were dissolving into each other.
Yet it was not unpleasant.
Other metals kissed them, tongued them with sweetness: nickel, aluminum, chromium. Cillwyn tasted the faint bitterness of phosphorus, the oil, smoky taste of carbon. It amazed her that she could do so. What she tasted, Aemil did also, for they were nearly one. Oh, yesss, Cillwyn/Aemil felt herself moaning, as she slipped further into herself/her sister. The only translation for what she felt was sexual: soft mouths and hard teeth that tugged on her nipples, tongues that explored the aching shaft of her sex. Whether the organs were hers, or another's, she could not tell. Aemil was Cillwyn, and Cillwyn was Aemil. No longer two, but a single entity keeping its shape, its particular essence, as a dot of a strong dye in a calm pool of water does, until it once again it could take form as two.
Alloying with other metals, their impurities burning off and oxidizing, Cillwyn/Aemil changed for the second and final time, orgasming in a never-ending fountain of mutual pleasure, a climax with neither mind nor bodies. Hardness came into their characters, and a resolution of purpose: REVENGE.
Coiled about each other, biding their time, they waited.
The workers were surprised when the Iron Empress came down to the workshops. They were even more surprised when she appeared without her mask and armor, in a revealing gown of gold-shot silk. And that contrary to rumor, she was beautiful.
Though surprised they acted quickly, bowing. They knew well her wrath, her addiction to protocol.
"At ease," the Empress murmured, enjoying their reactions to the snowy mounded breasts and slim thighs she exposed. Later, she planned to investigate just how thoroughly she affected men's minds and organs; a lifetime of untasted carnal desire lay before her. "I come only to see how my workshops fare."
"As you see, they are in order, Empress," the supervisor said. "The new batch of steel is almost ready, a particularly fine grade, should you care to watch the casting."
Feigning idleness, the Empress nodded, even though that was exactly what she had come to see.
Men shouted, drawing on the chains that pulled the cauldron from the furnace. The Empress felt a wave of heat blast her near-naked skin. Huge it was, incredibly heavy, and smoking. She held her breath as slowly, ever so slowly, it tipped, an anticipation that, as a metalmage, never failed to stir her blood. Her heart raced as a bead of white-hot liquid metal appeared over the edge, then poured over the spout in a thin, bright stream. The sight was brighter than the sun in this cold northern land, more precious than diamonds. The twins had been beautiful in life; in death, they were no less beautiful.
Fascination held her as the new steel streamed sensuously into the molds, becoming weapons and manacles and things of war. She never tired of it, seeing liquid metal run.
She wondered idly if the twins somehow remained themselves, preserving consciousness and life. Could two small drops of honey in a pot of tea be said to retain their individual characters, even after they were blended and stirred? Though a discerning tongue just might taste the sweetness...
The Empress shook her head. No; there was little chance of that. And it didn't matter, really. Her metalworkers would make unique artistry of the twins' remains, forging the substance of her bodies to serve their Empress instead of defying her. Their substance would suffuse dozens of items, filling a multiplicity of roles. If anything -- spiritual or physical -- remained of them after that, it would be dilute enough to be undetectable. If her enemies knew of the regeneration spell she had cast, they might have transformed the statuephied twins back to flesh, and used them against her. But no mage could recreate nothing from nothing.
Satisfied, she turned on her heel, the panels of her gown flaring behind her.
What is happening, sister? Cillwyn said. We are moving.
I don't know, Aemil said. Though she no longer had her human senses, she felt their surroundings stirring sluggishly, carrying them within it like two raisins suspended in porridge. We are alive, though. As long as we are alive, there is hope.
But for how long! Cillwyn burst out.
Aemil had no answer for her. As twins, their hearts had always been very close, and after their experience in the cauldron they had gotten closer. But Cillwyn still kept her fearful nature, as Aemil kept her stubbornness and logic. We will wait, as we waited before, she said.
But what are we!
Aemil did not know. Her experience drew a blank. They were...what? Imprisoned inside a metal ingot? Two disembodied spirits? Or something else?
With a rough cry, Aemil felt Cillwyn tear away from her, and felt herself falling.
Cillwyn! she cried. Where are you? What is happening?
Another shock came as she hit something hard and cold, flowing around it and into it. Whatever it was, it was a lot smaller than the cauldron. She felt herself trapped and restricted, and cooling rapidly. She felt naked and exposed, and terribly, terribly, alone.
Cillwyn! she continued to call. But no one answered her.
Something hit her, hard. Reeling from the blow, she barely recovered before another one came, and another...a succession of them, each penetrating her very soul. With every blow she lost more and more coherence. Then came the heat again, and sudden chilly cold, and more ringing blows that knocked her senseless, so she forgot about her twin, about vengeance on the Empress, about anything but steel...hard, cold, deadly, steel.
Master Curn lifted the newly forged sword in his burly hands. Virgin steel, rarer than gold in this depleted land, glinted in the flames. He, and he alone, had been chosen to craft this blade for Urtar Blue Lion, the Empress's greatest general, who would lead Thorzaan against the rebellious barbarian tribes of the south. The sword's twin, a bright disk-shaped shield, would be carried on his left arm. Both pieces had been cast out of the same cauldron of steel...a fine grade that had been easy to forge and easier still to shape, like a blushing young virgin on her first lay.
The Iron Empress would be well pleased.
The sword needed a sheath, of course, but that would come later. For now Curn admired the graceful curves of both, the strange iridescent flashes of color he saw in their surfaces. Both had been chased in gold with griffins and dragons, flowers and leaves, luscious naked maidens hiding in their midst. He could not say why such designs had come to him; they were unlike the abstract patterns he usually used. Yet they had, and he could give thanks to the Gods for it, as they had inspired his greatest creations. It seemed a pity the general, a gruff and battle-hardened man, would appreciate only their practical qualities.
The sword was sharp as a razor, sharp enough to cut paper. And it would take a giant's fist, or worse, to dent the deceptively dainty and delicate shield.
I pity those barbarians, Curn thought, as he wrapped both sword and shield in a soft cloth of velvet, to await their new owner.
For the first time in a long while Aemil heard her sister's voice. Where are we now, sister? Can you hear me?
I am here, Aemil said. Close by you, I think. She puzzled over the strange sensations she felt. No longer liquid and mutable, she felt solid, compact, and clear-headed, moving once again in the medium of air. Her thoughts were refined, sharpened. Though what her new form was, she could not say.
We are separate, Cillwyn said. Though I hear you, I no longer share your thoughts. Her voice was tinged with sadness.
How do you feel, Aemil asked.
Cillwyn paused. I feel....very strong, and solid. Like nothing can hurt me. I want to...fight, Aemil! Like our father did, in the rebellion. I am...oh, I can't explain it!
Aemil absorbed it with a growing trepidation. She too, felt aware of a great aggression channeled through her, making her feel like a dangerous clawed beast ready for battle. She wanted to move through the air, stabbing and slicing. One part of her gloried in the bloodlust, another was puzzled and detached. What has happened to me? she thought. She had lost her human senses when she had become steel, yet she felt a psychic tension all around her, like the shaft of a crossbow drawn tight for shooting.
I see something, Cillwyn said. As if in a dream, or a dream of a dream. I see a stony waste, with many banners arrayed before it, and tents with men and horses.
Aemil concentrated, hoping to share the vision. Instead she sensed a thunderous vibration in the air, as if many voices were raised in a collective shout. Violent motion suddenly carried her forward.
It is a battle! Cillwyn cried. Against men in leather rags, with feathers and warpaint! They wave spears at us, Aemil!
But Aemil could not reply. An awful aggression had taken her over, and she felt herself spin and twirl in a sickening dance, blow upon blow ringing upon her. Suddenly she tasted blood, and her barriers dissolved. All she knew was she had to fight, and fight hard and well, and maybe, after the battle was over, the dead piled up around them, she and her sister would at last be free, and take their vengeance on the Iron Empress...
The battle of the stony waste raged for seven days and nights. At the end of it, not a Thorzaani soldier was left alive.