I wake up in my bed. My eyes puffy and swollen from crying myself to sleep. He’s not going to let this time go.
“You’re already awake?” I hear Kalim say. “You told me to wake you, at six.”
“Yes, thank you. I have somewhere to be today. Please bring me something to wear.”
“Where are you going today?”
“Somewhere. I’ll be back tonight.” I say rubbing my eyes. My head hurts. “Will you bring me water also Kalim?” He nods and disappears. I’m still laying down when he comes back.
“Should I dress you today?” He says giving me the water filled goblet.
“Am I incapable of dressing myself?” I say between sips. He hands me my dress and walks towards the door. Before he leaves he pauses a moment.
“I hope I not need to remind you to be cautious.” He looks tired. I shake my head no. Most servants would be whipped for leaving without dismissal but Kalim is both my friend and my servant. I often wonder why our social interactions have no rules.
Before I realize it I am at the prostitutes sanction, the shadows still give me chills. I take a deep breath and enter Vel’s house.
“Ah so you were serious.” She says over her shoulder as she finishes putting on her make up.
“I told you I was.” My fear being turned into agitation. “Do I start training today?”
“What do you call this place anyways?” She smiles at my question.
“Paradise. Follow me.” Makes sense. I think to myself and follow her into the courtyard. She rings the gong and again young women come out quietly.
“We start morning exercises. No mercy.” The girls do not gripe or complain. Instead they form lines of five, all dressed in sand colored robes instead of their usual passionate red.
“Well?” Vel says shoving me into the front line. The girls are all stiff awaiting commands and suddenly I get the feeling that I’ve stepped into something much harder than I expected it to be.
“Squatting stance.” Vel’s voice is quiet. The girls and I oblige. “Today we will begin with basics for our new friend. She shoots me a fake smile. “Arms out.” Every girl balls their fists and sticks both arms straight out in front of them. I do the same.
“Good.” Vel says tying her hair up. I expect further commands but say nothing. The sun feels hot but none of the girls seem to mind, so I follow suit. After five minutes my legs begin to shake and I see Vel pick up a short staff.
“Lower.” Her quiet voice makes my stomach swirl. The girls go lower without problems. My legs refuse to move. I squeeze my eyes shut hoping to gain strength by focusing my mind elsewhere. That is nearly impossible when Vel steps in front of me.
“I said. Lower.” And without another word she brings the staff down on my thigh and I yelp in pain falling to the floor. “Get up you weakling.” She hits me again. Tears cloud my vision as the pain still surges through my thigh. I grit my teeth and somehow manage to get back to my previous stance. She lets out a scoff.
“Maybe you will make it in Paradise. Who knows?” She pats my tear soaked face and walks away from me. “Stand at attention.”. After this we went through a series of punches, kicks, and submission holds. All of which I was miserable through.
“I will now choose your sparing partners.” Vel evaluates us for a moment.
“Jepah, you and the new girl are partners.” Jepah bows her head in acknowledgement and I cringe. Jepah is a tall, slender, but quick young woman. What she lacks in strength is made up for with speed. I’m a dead woman. Vel calls out the rest of the partners while I think of the numerous places I will receives bruises.
“Use what you learned today. Only what you’ve learned today. If I see otherwise, you will be penalized. Sparing is specifically for practice as you all know. Begin.” Then she disappears into her house, probably to serve a customer and I realize what she meant by “begin”. Jepah bows her slightly to me and stands strangely still. She’s waiting for me to make the first move. I try a round house kick with all of my might only to have Jepah swat it down. I throw a left punch towards her chest, then a right punch to her stomach, both easily deflected by her quick movements. She’s still and calm, and that annoys me. I punch faster and harder without connection to my target, until I realize. She leaves her face undefended. Without another thought I punch as hard as my tired body will allow and aim for her face. I connect with my target feeling her nose shift under my blow. She stumbles and falls to the ground but then I realize…everyone is staring at me.
“Are you out of your mind?!” I see Leven kneel at Jepah’s level. Her nose is bleeding. Another girl rushes to get a rag to stop it.
“I-I was just. I was sparing.” I’m confused.
“You never target an allies face! Ever!” She says as she rushes me. I start stumbling backwards. She grabs the neckline of my robes. “We need our beauty to survive! You can’t just disfigure people’s faces to relieve stress!” She shakes my collar violently. I’m starting to feel sick. No one disagrees, they all shake their heads in agreement. This is their way of life.
“I-I’m sorry.” I barely get the two words out. I see her grit her teeth and hold out and open palm. Whack! She smacks me across the face. It stings, not because of the force from her hand, but because I have already severely offended these girls who have taken me in.
“Be glad it wasn’t something worse.” She tosses me to the ground. My eyes are jammed shut when I feel someone lift me up by my collar again and I brace myself for another blow, but then I’m set on my feet and I open my eyes. It’s Kipa, her eyes sad but understanding. That only lasts a second before she moves quickly from my sight to be replaced by Vel. A very angry Vel. This rage was not loud or out of control. That’s why it is so scary. She moves swiftly, quietly, and completely in control but still angry. My whole body tenses and I ready myself for the worst, which just so happens to be Vel shoving me back to the ground, knocking the wind out of my already tired body. She crouches over me like a viper waiting to strike. The other girls scurry away as she waves them off. Kipa and Darya hesitate until she shoots them a venomous look. She looks back at me.
“There are consequences for stupidity.” She hisses, still under control. “The other girls would be beaten for what you’ve done. Since you’re new here I’ll have mercy on you. You better learn quickly.” She huffs in disgust. “Get. Up.” And I quickly get up.
“Squat.” And I do. Then without warning she swings her staff and slams it into my thigh. I groan in response. Vel paces circles around me and I begin to tremble. Sweat is stinging my eyes and I can feel a welt forming on my leg. Without a sound she swings again, this time in a different spot on my thigh. I fall. She pulls me by my hair back into my squatting stance. I hate life. She gets close to my face, a calamity under a mask of calmness.
“What?” Her voice feels like a knife. “Do you hate me?” She shoves me down again. “Good, it’ll fuel your desire to learn.” She walks away. I let my body relax as black splotches cloud my vision and feel a tug in my stomach. I vomit next to me and lay back down, not at all concerned with the disgustingness.
“You’ll clean that up!” I hear Vel shout.
What have I gotten myself into?