Five - The Chair

Three weeks after the whipping, Solana was once again fetched by guards.

“It is time to face the torture again, girl!”

The Jailer fitted a key to her heavy fetters, unlocking her wrists, and they again tied her wrists behind her back. H er fingers trembled. She was pulled to her feet, marched from the cell. They traced a familiar route to the torture chamber: descending into its dim depths. Solana's leg s w ere weak with fear as they took her to a shallow pit, an enclosure surrounded by torches.

“Ah! You are recovered from my little introduction to the lash!”

Luisa Consuela leaned against a pillar, a hand on her hip. She wore a brief tunic of sky blue, pinned at one shoulder, leaving her arms bare. Its skirt fell high on her thighs: torchlight glinted on the muscled lines of her magnificent limbs, tiny flames reflected in those ice-blue eyes. She gave a smile, the pink tip of her tongue against her teeth. “Let me introduce you to The Judas Chair!”

Solana was brought forward.

The Chair was terrifying, everything she had imagined in an instrument of torture. Its back was a narrow wooden board, twelve inches high, four inches across, mounted on a notched wooden rail. By means of a simple ratchet handle, the board could be lowered or raised. Bolted to the back of the board, at top and bottom, were two heavy sets of fetters. Two more fetter s w ere fastened to the Chair's sturdy front legs, some six inches above the floor. A metal plate formed the base of Chair's low seat, barely one-and-a-half feet from the ground, with some manner of iron drawer beneath it.

But it was the obscenity of the ‘seat' itself that filled Solana's belly with dread: An iron spike, sharp and vicious, fourteen inches high, six inches across at the base. Its surface was rough, badly hewn, the metal stained with unspeakable residues. Solana fought to hide her horror.

“Oh, so brave,” Luisa mocked. “Put her on.”

Solana did not resist as she was marched to the Chair. The guards untied her wrists, arranged her so that she straddled the terrible spike. Solana could do nothing as her arm s w ere twisted behind the back-board, and the lower set of fetter s w ere closed and locked about her wrists, trapping them securely. Then, cruelly, her elbow s w ere forced into the upper set of fetters. Solana gasped: the restraint meant that her elbow s w ere touching behind her back, her arms and shoulders cruelly stressed. She gritted her teeth against the discomfort as the fetter s w ere locked tightly.

Next, they lifted her ankles into the lower set of fetters. This transferred her body' s w eight to her twisted and fettered arms. It hurt, but still Solana made no sound, looking to the ceiling as her ankle s w ere locked in place.

When she was fully restrained, the guards stepped away.

Luisa drew close, regarding her prisoner with pleasure. Solana's dark-nippled breasts, lifted by the severity of her restraint, heaved with her anxious breath. Torchlight gave a velvety sheen to her muscular belly, her spread thighs.

The humiliation was unbearable, locked in a sitting position above the huge spike, naked and restrained before her captors. She held on to her dignity by the slimmest thread, still the beautiful and dignified Solana Degas of Sanguesa, but very much afraid.

“You have a lovely voice,” Luisa was saying. “I look forward to hearing you scream.” Stepping behind the chair, she began to crank the ratchet. Grating and squeaking, the back-board to which Solana was secured began to descend, impelling her body down towards the spike.

At once, Solana was fighting it. The muscles of her legs grew hard with strain, her body quivering as she tried to resist the slow descent. But she was no match for the machine, and Luisa calmly cranked a few more notches, forcing her victim lower. Around the Chair, the guard s w ere arranging themselves for a view of what would soon follow.

Another inch, and Luisa stopped, leaving Solana suspended above the spike.

“What do you want from me?” Solana demanded, her voice trembling. She tried to see behind her, but the pain of her backwards-bowed shoulder s w as crippling.

“Confess that you are indeed a witch, and thi s w ill go no further,” Luisa said.

“I am not a witch,” Solana replied.

“Very well.” Luisa began to crank the handle again. Solana let out a wail as the back-board descended, despite her efforts to resist. The first trickle of sweat ran down her face. H er teeth were clenched. Cramp s w ere starting to spear through her shins and belly and buttocks. And, slowly, the back-board descended, the ratchet's soft clicks marking her descent towards the spike.

Luisa slowed her turning of the ratchet as the spike's sharp tip disappeared into the cleft of Solana's gleaming buttocks. Then, one notch further. Solana gasped as the spike's tip nosed the soft hairs around her anus. Gooseflesh erupted all over her naked body and a shudder of fear passed through her. She turned her face towards the vaulted ceiling. “Oh, God, give me strength ...” She could feel the teasing spike, poised a mere breath from the locked star of her sphincter. It was dread, anticipation, horror.

Luisa cranked the handle: the back-board descended. Solana's mouth flew open in shock as the spike jabbed her anus, cold metal investigating the taut ring of muscle. H er bowels automatically spasmed, but she could not rise. There was laughter from those around. Without pause, Luisa turned the crank again, forcing Solana further down onto the spike. It pushed an inch inside her, spreading the flower of her sphincter. Solana's jaw cracked as she clenched her teeth.

“Ah, yes, it begins to hurt,” Luisa noted, with satisfaction. “Confess to me, whore.”

Solana's eyes filled with tears. The indignity was unbearable, but she could not lie, not even under torture, so she shook her head. Luisa turned the handle again. Solana's anus sank over the spike, and she squeaked, tears squeezing from her eyes. Another turn, two more notches, until she had been forced two inches onto the spike. Solana's bowels heaved, but to no avail.

Again Luisa turned the handle. As she was forced to accommodate the third inch of rough iron, Solana's mouth opened, a long moan of pain carried on the frost of her breath. The spike was really beginning to stretch her, and the pain was growing more severe with every turn of the handle. Sweat glossed her bare breasts and shoulders. H er hair was plastered to her back.

Another notch. Solana wailed as the spike grated deeper, forcing her anus still wider. She was shaking, the pain roaring up her spine, driving fresh sweat from her pores. It was all she could do to keep from screaming at the top of her lungs. Another notch: four inches. The pain was savage, the spike a huge and obscene invader.

“Confess,” Luisa hissed, and cranked the handle two more notches. Solana was further dragged down onto the spike, and this time gave a cry of pain. It was too much! Sweat coursed from her face, lay along the ridge of her collarbone, crept between her breasts, patterned the nap of fine hairs on her muscled belly. H er shoulders cracked as she tried desperately to work her cinched elbows and wrists free of the locked fetters.

Luisa cranked the lever again. Solana wa s w renched down onto the spike: it rammed harder into her arse, and this time she screamed in pain. From the hairy nest between her glistening thighs, urine squirted, spilling onto the floor between her feet, steam crawling into the chill air.

“Where's your pride now, you filthy half-breed?” The shout of a guard was echoed by more laughter from the others. Solana's head rolled, tears streaking her face, her mouth contorted in pain as she fought to endure.

Luisa cranked the handle again. Solana let out a long scream of pain as she was pushed down onto the spike. She no longer tried to choke her cries, the pain too much to bear, now forced six inches down the spike. H er rectum, distended, stretched, was on fire, her whole pelvic floor cramping and burning. She still fought the dreadful machine, but had no strength against it, and was helpless as Luisa slowly cranked the lever another three notches.

Solana shook her head, a long scream of pain., tears and sweat rolling down her brown face. She could feel the spike deep inside her bowels, pressing on her organs: her head reeled, vomit lurching in her throat. Then, another click, another half inch. This time, she was sick, watery vomit gurgling down her chin, splashing over her breasts. She groaned.

“Confess, witch! Confess, and it ends for you!” Luisa Consuela hissed in her ear.

Tears coursed down Solana's face. Luisa turned the crank again, with slow, measured pace, impelling Solana's anus another inch down the spike. Solana gave another cry, sure that, by now, she must be splitting in two. Nine inches of iron impaled her, its girth distending her.

But there were still five terrible inches to go. H er belly spasmed. In the dungeon's chill, her wet body steamed. She had never known such humiliation, bound over this obscene spike, being forced slowly onto it. The pain was savage, but Solana was determined not to break. She let her head hang forward, panting hard, groaning in pain.

Cruelly, Luisa again cranked the handle, twice, three times, further spearing Solana onto the spike. Solana's head lifted on a scream. It felt as if she had been torn open, as if her pelvic bone had snapped, as if oil burned inside her. H er magnificent brown body, gleaming and defined, instinctively fought the torture, though she knew she could not stop it. Another notch, the pain grew worse, Solana gave another scream of pain. More bile escaped her throat, and groans reverberated from the pit of her belly, the spasms of fiery pain surging through her bowels in slow, awful waves.

Behind Solana's back, her twisted and manacled arms ached, the iron biting into muscle and bone. H er shoulder s w ere racked with pain, cramps spearing down her back: but they were minor compared to the agony of the spike. It seemed to have reached her very core, filling her abdomen with a ravaging pain that made her legs and arms ache in sympathy. Every breath hurt, but the fire's cruellest focu s w as her poor, torn sphincter, nerves stretched around the spike's obscene and rough-hewn circumference.

Luisa cranked another notch. There was a sickening crack from somewhere within her bowels, and Solana screamed. It, like the rack or thumb screws or pear, was a progressive torture. It grew steadily worse with every turn of the handle. Such a simple concept, such exquisite and unbearable torment.

“Confess,” Luisa urged, her hand on the lever. Solana said nothing, so Luisa cranked again, watching as Solana was forced down onto the spike, the rough iron tip probing thirteen inches inside her bowel, distorting and distending her innards, her anus spread six inches. H er body wa s w eak from over an hour of struggling. Sweat covered every inch of her bare coffee flesh. Luisa let her suffer for perhaps ten minutes, then cranked another notch.

Solana's scream was heart-rending, a roar of agony that echoed through the torture chamber, disturbed the anguished rest of prisoners. A bright red trickle of blood ran down a leg of the chair, groaning sounds coming from inside the tortured woman's body. H er buttocks all but kissed the chair's base, nearly all of the spike's immense length inside her, forced in by the slow insistence of the Chair.

Ten minutes. Solana's screams died to long, low whimpers of pain.

“Confess to me,” Luisa urged. “Confess, and I will let you up. I will stop the pain. Just confess, and it stops.”

Solana's head fell forward. H er back-twisted arms shone, muscles fiercely defined in their awkward confinement. Another line of blood ran from beneath her. But no confession came. Luisa tightened her grip on the lever, cranked the last notch.

The back-board descended, ramming Solana down onto the spike, and her head bucked at once, sweat spraying into the air, a desperate scream of agony breaking her throat. H er eye s w ere wide, her breasts heaving rapidly, the sweat glossing her naked body. H er forced movement on the spike, the added distension of her rectum, the fresh intrusion into her bowels combined to heighten her agony tenfold. She automatically tried to pull herself off, but the fetter s w ere secure, holding her in place.

After a minute, Solana managed to bite down on her screams, panting in high shrieks, her black hair glued to her shoulders and back, her face taut with suffering. Luisa stood by with arms folded, watching, waiting, and finally gave her offer:

“Confess to me, and I will let you up.”

Solana's head fell forward, then slowly rose again. H er dark eyes fixed on Luisa, white teeth bared in pain and defiance, her voice a quavering hiss. “Never.”

“Then get used to having that iron cock in your black arse, whore,” Luisa growled. “Get used to it. Because if I have to put you on this chair again, and again, and again just to make you confess, I will. I will break you.”

Solana was unable to reply. Through eyes that swam with pain, she saw Luisa signal that the guards remain, and strode into the depths of the chamber.

They did not take Solana from the Chair that night.

Luisa had taken her time impaling her victim upon the iron spike, making the torture last an hour and a half. Now, as the night crawled, Solana suffered. The pain was unending, her body glossed with sweat, her head lolling in anguish. H er arms, manacled together behind the back-board, had grown numb, though pain still throbbed in her strained shoulders. But it was nothing compared to the unceasing agony of the spike. Fourteen inches in her bowels, her pelvis burning. Cramps racked her colon, so savage and violent that crie s w ere torn from her throat, echoing into the chamber's vaulted depths.

From time to time, the guards standing nearby heard her muttering breathlessly, hysterically, as if in prayer or desperate pleading, imploring Death to embrace her. At other times, she swooned from the pain, and her head drooped to her chest, until another crippling spasm forced her awake.

The torches guttered and flickered, were refuelled, burned on.

Eventually, Solana's crie s w eakened, and her head sagged.

It was this to which Luisa Consuela returned, the following afternoon. She circled the Chair slowly, inspecting the barely-conscious Solana.

“Wake her.”

The icy water flung into her face and breasts shocked Solana to lucidity. H er head lifted, and the tensing of inner muscles sent a wave of agony through her skewered bowels. A long, miserable cry escaped her lips. Luisa was there at once, to fix a hand in the unfortunate woman's hair, wrenching Solana's face towards her own.

“Welcome back. H as eighteen hours been enough for you?”

Solana's mouth weakly tried to form words, her lips trembling, her eyes unable to focus on the beautiful torturer. Finally: “ ... Please ...”

“Do you confess?”

“I am innocent.”

“You are stupid,” Luisa corrected. She spat fully into Solana's face, the saliva smacking across Solana's nose and mouth. Stepping from the chair, Luisa waved towards another of her guards. “Bring the coals. We'll give her something to think on.”

At that, Solana's eye s w idened. Two guards approached, leather gloves on their hands, carrying between them a metal basket of fiercely-orange coals. Smoke trailed their approach, sparks dropping through the grating to the floor.

Solana's brows rose in panic, adrenalin flooding her veins. “No, no, no, no! Please, please, I beg you, please!” But her imploring voice echoed fruitlessly as the guards, behind the Chair, tipped an avalanche of burning coals into the drawer beneath the spike. Solana felt a moment of radiated heat on her bare back, then nothing more.

There was the sound of bellows being pumped, the whispered roar of coals fired. For an awful time, Solana remained, impaled on the spike, her heart thudding, wondering what this new torture might entail. Then, finally, realisation: heated from below, the spike itself was growing warm.

“No, oh, God, no!” Solana had never struggled with such fierce strength as now, full awareness returning. Despite cramped muscles, joints frozen from immobility, she jerked at the fetters about her elbows and wrists, throwing her head forward, wrenching against the spike in an animal urge to escape. She could feel the iron inside her growing hotter, and sweat began to bead across her brow and back. Desperate, she appealed to Luisa. “Please, let me up! Oh God, please!”

“You know what you must do.”

With a groan of dread, Solana turned her face from the torturer, closing her eyes. The heat of the spike inside her was growing rapidly, adding to the pain. The bellows puffed, the coals roared. Already the spike's very base glowed dully, heat translating along its length. Solana's breasts rose and fell rapidly. And then, from deep in her throat, the first wail of pain.

The bellows pumped.

Solana gave another cry. The muscles of her arms deepened as she again fought to free herself, reflexes driving her to test the manacles' hold. No avail: but as the heat grew, her struggles became more and more frantic. She shouted in pain, tried to lift her hips, but the locked ratchet prevented her from rising.

Another long minute, The spike in her rectum was too hot to endure, and, as sweat poured down her body, Solana's mouth opened as she began to bellow in pain. The first wisps of steam curled from between her spread thighs.

“Oh, God ... God!”

Solana threw her head from side to side, crying out endlessly. H er ribcage, stark and thrust forward by her unforgiving bondage, heaved with shallow breaths, streaked with sweat. Those close by grew aware of a hissing sound from between her legs, as sweat trickled down the hot metal.

Solana began to scream. No longer just cries of pain, but maddened animal roars of agony, as the hissing of the metal softened to a squealing sound. The bellows pumped. Slowly, the sweet smell of burning flesh drifted up on faint wisps of smoke. Solana's yell s w ere demented: she was burning from inside. She thrashed and howled, agonised, while those gathered watched.

“Confess!” Luisa shouted. Solana screamed and shrieked and howled, flinging her head about, the chair rattling and shaking to her frantic struggles. Blood ran from her fettered ankles. Scream after scream echoed through the chamber, the maddened howls of a woman in agony beyond all comprehension.

Then, for a moment, she went rigid, and her scream trailed into a long, anguished wail. H er eyes rolled back, and her head flopped. Luisa was by the chair in an instant, and slapped the unconsciou s w oman sharply. Again. No sound, but the spitting and crackling of searing flesh.

Luisa shook her head wildly. “No! You black whore! Wake, I order you!” Four slaps, with formidable strength, each blow snapping Solana's head about. But the bound woman was unresponsive, limp. Luisa frantically beckoned her guards. “Quick! Douse the coals! Remove her!”

In moments, the ratchet was loosened, the back-board raised. By her strapped arms, Solana was lifted, the steaming spike sliding endlessly from her rectum, stained with blood and filth, a burnt crust at its base. The fetters on her ankles, elbows and wrist s w ere unlocked, and her body dumped to the stone floor.

Luisa stood, regarding the sweat-oiled figure still unconscious at her feet. She levelled a finger, her face twisted with rage. “You, my sweet, I will break.”

Six - Esmerelda

The iron door to Esmerelda's tiny cell creaked open. Chains clinking, the grubby woman pulled herself a little higher in her manacles. For months, she had been restrained. H er long, straight, black hair was filthy, tangled, hanging slack about her face and shoulders. H er skin was smudged with dirt and filth. The black hair in her armpits and between her thigh s w as matted, her full, round breasts gleaming. H er wrist s w ere scored and raw from her long bondage.

H er dark eyes turned aside as the guards unlocked her fetters. H er arms fell, but she was quickly turned over, her hands bound behind her back, and hauled to her feet. The walk to the torture chamber she knew well, and made it with head lowered, hands bound behind her, hopelessness in every step.

In the torture chamber, they re-tied her hands before her body with one end of a long rope. The far end ran through a pulley twenty feet overhead, and was drawn in by three guards. Esmerelda's arm s w ere yanked over her head: another pull, and she was hauled off her feet, her toes an inch off the floor. The long rope creaked as Esmerelda's slender body hung, suspended by the wrists, taut and exposed. She tipped her head back, seeing if there was any way she could loosen the knots, knowing that it was useless to try. The guard s w ere preparing implements behind her back, out of sight, and she feared the terrible strappado again.

“It is time to reconsider your claim to innocence.” The voice belonged to Luisa: she idled into Esmerelda's view, a ragged cloth about her breasts, another about her hips, her body muscular and gleaming in the light of torches. She stood before the helplessly-hanging Esmerelda. “Lovely breasts, truly beautiful.”

That much, Esmerelda had always known. H igh, full, her breast s w ere like rounded melons, topped by light-chocolate aureole, the nipples like sweet stones, standing half an inch in the dungeon's chill. Luisa put a cool hand to cup the weighty swell of one breast. “A shame I have to ruin them.”

“I beg you, do not hurt me!” H anging by her wrists, Esmerelda was unable to do anything but plead for mercy. “I have done nothing to you! I am not a witch!”

“We shall see.” Luisa retreated to a table, upon which instruments of torture were laid. Esmerelda tipped her head back, regarding her own bound hands, and the long rope by which she hung, with despair. A tear rolled down one cheek. When Luisa returned, it wa s w ith a savage-looking pair of iron pliers, the grip cruelly studded with triangular teeth.

“No!” Esmerelda stared in horror at the awful implement. But she could do nothing, hanging by her wrists, and could only watch as Luisa closed the pliers over her erect nipple. Luisa squeezed hard, twisted. Esmerelda let out a scream of pain as blood oozed from between the pliers' mashing jaws, her nipple wrenched first one way, and then the other, stretched and torn, tender flesh savaged. The muscles of Luisa's forearm worked as she crunched the pliers hard, turned them a full circle, then twisted back in the other direction. Esmerelda's scream s w ere maddened with pain, her whole body swinging on the end of the rope with the force of the torture. Finally, Luisa released Esmerelda's nipple.

H anging, Esmerelda gasped and sobbed, tears streaming down her face, sweat beading in droplets all over her suspended body. A line of blood ran down the curve of her breast, mixed with sweat on her ribcage. H er chest heaved. H er face, framed by her upraised arms, was a picture of suffering.

“Say you are a witch,” Luisa demanded coolly.

“I am not,” Esmerelda gasped.

Luisa crunched the pliers onto the same, bloodied nipple. Esmerelda gave a terrible scream as her nipple was again twisted, pulled, crushed beneath the teeth of the awful pliers. Blood squirted from between the iron jaws, spattering her breasts. Esmerelda's bare feet pedalled desperately for some kind of leverage, her body twisting from the rope as Luisa turned and tugged on her nipple, all but tearing it from her breast.

Finally, release. The nipple was black, misshapen, bloody. Esmerelda turned her face to the high ceiling, weeping in pain, the sweat now running down her sternum and the groove of her spine. She hung limply from the creaking rope.

“I want your confession, whore!” Luisa grasped Esmerelda's jaw. “Confess!”

“I have nothing to confess,” Esmerelda wept. “Please, please, hurt me no more!”

But Luisa put the pliers to Esmerelda's unhurt breast, lightly closed the teeth over the fat stub of the helples s w oman's nipple. “Are you a witch?”

Esmerelda bit her lip, sobbing, hanging, knowing what her answer would bring.

“Are you?”

“Please,” Esmerelda wept.

Luisa squeezed hard with the pliers. Esmerelda gave a scream as her nipple was crushed between the studded jaws, then twisted savagely, one way, then another. Urine snaked down her dangling legs, her head shook, and she yelled in pain. Luisa now squeezed with both hands, crushing tender flesh, wrenching Esmerelda's nipple, twisting it around and around like the stalk of an apple. Esmerelda could only scream and beg for mercy, agonised by the torture. For a full two minutes, Luisa kept turning and tearing Esmerelda's nipple, finally releasing a swelling, bloodied knob of flesh, leaving Esmerelda gasping.

“I shall have your confession, witch,” Luisa growled, and returned to the implements. She returned with a thin cane. “Confess to me!”

“Please!” Esmerelda's brown eyes grew wide at the sight of the cane. She could do nothing as Luisa slashed down with her whole arm, the whistling cane whipping her breast with a crack! Esmerelda jolted where she hung, screaming shrilly in pain. A second blow, then a third, savage strokes over her breasts and tormented nipples, drawing lines of blood.

On and on: ten blows. Fifteen. The whistling, hissing cane landing with terrible cracks, Esmerelda twisting on the end of the rope, screaming, crying, begging for mercy as the beating continued: twenty, twenty-five. Luisa's magnificent, semi-naked body gleamed as she slashed left, right, left, right, the cane catching nipple and breast. Esmerelda's full breasts jiggled and jolted with each blow, quickly becoming striped with red marks and blood.

Thirty strokes. The final lash was harsh, across both nipples. Esmerelda gave a scream, then hung limp, her body swinging slowly like a pendulum, her head drooping between her stretched arms. Blood and sweat ran on her naked body, dripped from her dangling toes.

“Wake her,” Luisa commanded.

Guards fetched a pail of icy water, sluiced it over Esmerelda's body. The shock woke her with a gasp, the water searing the wounds on her breasts. They were swelling with bruises already, tender and doubly sensitive. But hanging as she was, Esmerelda could do nothing as the next stage of torture was prepared.

Two simple devices of iron: each a pair of studded bars, separated by turn-screws, the blunt spikes directed inwards. Closed on a limb, or hand, or foot, and tightened, the vice s w ere a most effective torture. Such was Esmerelda's condition that the mere chill of the dungeon was enough to make her wounded breasts ache, and when the first vice was fitted over her left breast, she gave a long howl of anguish.

“I beg you, no!” she shrieked, desperate to avoid the torture. But Luisa tightened the screw until Esmerelda's breast was squashed lightly between the studded bars, the vice holding itself in place. The second vice was fitted to her right breast. Luisa stood back, and waited for Esmerelda to stop thrashing. Eventually, the woman hung limply on the end of her long rope, arms stretched above her head, ribcage stark, body drawn, down-pointed toes swinging above the stone floor.

“Confess that you are a witch,” Luisa said, “and I shall not proceed.”

“I am not a witch. Please, why won't you believe me? I am innocent, I swear, I am innocent!”

“We shall see.” Luisa grasped the lever of the first vice, and gave it a turn. The toothed instrument crushed down on Esmerelda's breast, drawing a wail of pain from the woman. A second turn, and Esmerelda gave another cry, blood oozing from the wounds on her breast. Luisa then did the same to the other breast, two full turns of the screw, compressing it hard over Esmerelda's tender flesh, drawing screams from her victim.

“Oh, Mother of Jesus, it hurts, it hurts so much!” Esmerelda roared in her pain, weakly stirring her feet above the floor, helplessly hanging with her breasts tightly squeezed in the cruel clamps.

“Let her hang here,” Luisa told her guards. “We will resume in the morning.”

Seven - The Fear

Awareness returned slowly. Solana stirred, opened her eyes into blackness. H er first awarenes s w as burning pain in her rectum, though less intense than she might have thought. The spike had done no permanent damage, her burn s w ere superficial.

Gradually, Solana realised that she lay on her back, on wood: arm s w ide above her head, thick ropes about her wrists. H er leg s w ere uncomfortably spread, so wide she could feel the cool air on her labia. It was pitch dark. The air was cold, gooseflesh covering her naked skin, her nipples jutting into the blackness. Water dripped: from the lack of echo, she judged herself to be in a small cell.

She was stretched taut, spreadeagled and tightly bound: she tried to move, and managed a little leverage, hearing the ropes creak, but there was no way she could bring her wrists together and free herself, nor tug her feet from their wide confinement.

Long hours crawled by.

Lying on her back, stretched out, Solana had never felt so exposed, so vulnerable, so absolutely helpless. H er limbs, for all their strength, were useless. H er torso ached from the slow strain of muscles unused to such restraint.

After eight hours, the shuk of a bolt being drawn snapped her from her dazed state. A door swung open, the light of an oil lantern spilling inside. Solana's stomach tightened. Two figures entered: the graceful, muscular form of Luisa Consuela, and the slighter figure of Maria. The latter carried a basket in one hand, a lantern in the other.

Luisa's deep voice reverberated in the cell. “Ah. You are awake. Good.”

“Where am I?” Solana's voice wa s w eak, shaky with exhaustion and fear.

“Take a look.” By the lantern, Solana saw that she lay in a cell, twenty feet square. It was more roughly hewn than her former prison, the stones ragged. Water dripped from fissures in the walls. In a corner, by a niche in which a single unlit candle stood, was an ancient pulpit, a Bible open upon its stand.

Solana lifted her head to look along her own spreadeagled body. She saw at once that she lay upon a great wooden bed, her ankles roped to iron rings at the bed's base. Tipping her head back, she saw that the ropes from her wrists ran to a sturdy winch with a single four-handled ratchet.

Luisa Consuela was smiling. “You lie upon the rack. Thi s w ill break you. One way or another.”

Solana was terrified. From where she lay, she fixed her eyes to the beautiful torturer. “Please, have mercy – I cannot confess!”

Luisa laughed. “I love to see you so afraid! Girl, give her water.”

Maria obediently stepped forward. Solana accepted the carafe offered to her lips, drinking deeply to quench the agony of thirst. A little food followed, bread, interspersed with sips of the water. Solana's shrunken stomach could accept little though, and Maria stepped away. Luisa now idled to the wooden lever that would turn the roller.

H er hands closed around the lever, and she cranked it over. The roller turned. By her bound wrists, Solana's arm s w ere drawn an inch tauter. Strain spread down her sides, through her hips, down her legs. A second notch. Unexpectedly, pain flared. Solana tipped her head, her mouth opening as a muffled pop came from deep inside her shoulders, and the pain spread hotly, along her arms, deep in her hip-joints, down the muscles of her back. H er ribcage jutted starkly, breasts drawn flat and gleaming in the orange light, nipples stiff in defiance of her pain. Sweat began to bead on her skin, adding to the shine of her coffee skin. H er belly shifted rapidly with fearful breath.

Luisa released the lever, looked over the woman on the rack. Solana's hands, squeezed beyond the ropes, feet moored firmly; her legs long and taut, her stomach hard. “You are now prepared for torture.”

Prepared? The question was plain on Solana's face.

“When I next speak to you,” Luisa explained slowly, “it will be to ask for your confession. If you do not give it, I will begin torture. You will be stretched to the tenth turn of the rack.” There were tears, now, in Solana's eyes. H er breasts quivered with each fearful breath. Luisa went on. “I warn you, nobody has ever survived the eleventh turn: some have died even on the seventh. So think carefully.”

“I am no witch,” Solana said quietly. “You need not make me suffer so, to know it.”

Luisa reached out, put a cool hand to Solana's ear, fingers stroking through thick hair. “You are a beautiful woman. It shall be a pleasure to work on you.”

The door was slammed shut, locked and barred.

Luisa Consuela sighed. Perhaps she had been doing this for too long?

H er father had grown ill when she was just seven. An accomplished torturer for almost forty years, he had been a compassionate man outside the dungeons in which he practised his craft, and had taken pride in hi s w ork. H e rarely spilled blood, never maimed, and almost always gained confession, driven by a pious heart, and the patience of a monk. Though hi s w ife died having never borne him a son, he loved his only daughter deeply. Upon learning of his own poor health, he had started teaching her how to torture; taking her to see how the machines of the dungeon worked, how to gain the most effect with the least effort. She had exceeded all his expectations, learning quickly, growing into a strong and wise young woman. On her sixteenth birthday, he had taken her before the Inquisitor, asking that she be chosen as his replacement. Loath to break with tradition and place a woman in such a role, the Clergy had been hesitant: but upon demonstration of her skills in the torture chamber, they agreed to let her work as an apprentice.

That was twenty five years ago. For the last eighteen, she had been Torturer In Chief, and her work was second nature. She barely heard the frantic pleas of Esmerelda, as she turned the screw of first one breast-vice, then the other. The scream s w ere shrill, frantic, the woman twisting from her wrist-manacles like a fish on a hook as her blue-black breast s w ere crushed by the fierce metal teeth.

“Mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy, ohhhhhhh!”

Twenty-four hours after first being hoisted from the floor, Esmerelda still hung by her wrists in the torture chamber. H er brown skin shone, her petite toe s w ere just inches from the floor as she kicked in desperation and pain.

Luisa Consuela could not stop thinking about Solana Degas.

She had tortured many beautiful women in her time, and many strong ones. But never had she come across a prisoner with such a mix of all that was good in people. Beauty, intelligence, spirit, integrity. Solana did not try to hide her fear, nor her screams, as some did. Nor did she make desperate promises in a bid to escape the pain. She suffered as any human would, letting go of her dignity, but never doubting her own innocence.

Luisa returned to the brazier, pulled on a heavy gauntlet. With one hand, she pumped the bellows, making the coals roar. She turned the branding iron, giving it a final burst of heat. It was ready, shimmering, white hot.

Luisa returned to the twisting, moaning Esmerelda, steadied the woman with a hand on one slick hip, and pressed the white-hot tip of iron to the base of Esmerelda's spine, just above her gleaming buttocks. There was a soft popping sound, a puff of steam, the squealing and spitting of flesh burning. Esmerelda jolted violently, then roared in agony, throwing her head about, her feet thrashing.

Luisa lifted the iron away, taking burnt flesh with it. Esmerelda still screamed, steam and smoke rising from the angry red wound above her buttocks. Tears streamed down her face, the torture of her breasts forgotten in this new excruciating agony.

“Confess!” Luisa pressed the iron's fiery bar a second time to Esmerelda's flesh. The young woman bucked in her fetters, kicking her feet, screaming and screaming as her skin crawled back beneath the hot metal.

What were these feelings? Luisa wanted to break Solana, to control her - and yet, part of her hated inflicting such pain on the beautiful mulatto. Nor did she want to hear a false confession from those lips: that would only mean Solana would be taken away to the flames. She wanted to keep Solana here, in the dungeon. But even that would soon rob her of sanity, age that perfect body, wear lines of misery into her beautiful face.

Luisa returned the iron to the brazier, while Esmerelda hung, sobbing uncontrollably. H er whole body was running with sweat, drenched as if she had been submerged in water. Nearby, the scribe wrote, the Bailiff stood with arms folded. Luisa was sweating too, her tunic clinging to her wet body as she drew another smoking iron from the fire. She approached the limp Esmerelda, paused, then pressed the shimmering metal into her armpit.

Steam exploded from Esmerelda's flesh, tiny flames erupted around the brand, and Esmerelda gave a hideous scream, jerking about in the manacles. She screamed for the full fifteen seconds that the brand burned into her, and, when it was finally pulled free of her damaged flesh, her wail was full of misery.

“I confess!”

The scribe stepped forward. “Say again!”

“I confess,” Esmerelda sobbed. “I confess to witchcraft. I am a witch, please, just stop the torture, I will sign anything you want ...”

Esmerelda's tongue was finally loosened. Luisa's job was done, and the torturer returned the iron to the brazier.

Eight - The Rack

An entire day passed.

Time was a cruel torturer. Lying stretched as she was, Solana was helpless to the torments of strain and immobility. H er joints burned with slow fire, and worse, as twelve hours became eighteen, cramps speared along her long limbs like shards of hot metal being hammered into her bones. She called out into the darkness, unable to fight the pain. H er tendons, stressed already, began to ache as if broken glass had been packed into her joints. The hard ropes ground into her wrist and ankle bones, sending deep aches into her arms and legs.

Solana tried desperately to faint, to find some focus other than pain: but in darkness, feeling herself naked and spread wide on the chill wood, distraction was impossible. At times, Solana groaned: at others, she called out to the God who had deserted her.

She knew she could do nothing to prepare herself for Luisa's return. H er mind returned again and again to the rack's roller, just two feet away, but forever beyond her reach. Its power over her was overwhelming. She heard, in her mind, the winch's metal clicks, the creaking axle, imagined the growing tension in her limbs.

An eternity had passed when the cell door opened once again.

Luisa Consuela hesitated in the doorway, then advanced a step, lifting the torch towards the stretched Solana. She was flat on her back, lips slightly parted to reveal the gleam of perfect teeth, her woolly mass of jet-black hair splashed across the wooden bed.

Luisa's eyes trailed from Solana's hands, distorted by the ropes, along the gentle lines of her forearms to the elbows, the firm swell of biceps and triceps, the ridges of taut pectorals and deltoids forming the deep hollows of her armpits. The black hair beneath her arm s w as thick, naturally trim. Solana's breast s w ere drawn to almost nothing, her ribcage lifted by the tension in her body, forming a defined arch over the muscle of her belly. H er hip s w ere slender, sleek, the cradle for a tidy patch of black pubic hair. H er long legs gleamed, widely spread, thighs defined, calves strong. H er feet were perfect, slender toes, pink nails and soles.

Luisa stared. Solana was gorgeous beyond words.

Quickly placing the torch in its bracket, with a glance over her bare shoulder to check no-one looked on, Luisa drew close to the rack. Today, Luisa had dressed in a brief Greek-style chiton, open at the sides but for a rope belt at the waist. H er muscled arms and leg s w ere bare. H er black hair was loose, casually cast over one shoulder, her haughty face beautiful in the half-light.

Gently, she cupped Solana's chin in her fingers, turned the woman's face, stared deeply into her victim's suffering soul. “Confess to me, Solana Degas.”

Though it seemed, at first, that she had failed to comprehend, Solana slowly moved her dry lips, found weak voice: “I am innocent.”

Luisa nodded. “Torture, then.”

“No!” Solana cried.

But Luisa stepped back to the open cell door. “The prisoner is ready.”

Five men filed in: two armed guards, who took up positions flanking the rack, a physician, a Bailiff, and a scribe. The latter carried with him a wooden stool, and placed it in a corner of the cell, sitting, setting up his ink-well and quill in order to log the proceedings to follow. The physician, meanwhile, circled the rack slowly, putting his hand to the muscled satin of Solana's taut limbs.

“She is fit,” he pronounced. “She may be tortured.”

Solana turned her hands desperately in the ropes. “Please …” she wailed.

The Bailiff waited for the physician to leave, then ordered the door closed. Solana looked on in dread as the heavy oak slammed into place, was locked from the outside. Luisa Consuela crossed to the rack' s w indlass, took a firm grasp of its lever.

The Bailiff spoke slowly. “You may begin.”

Luisa smiled. “One.”

The roller turned, and Solana's limbs shifted visibly as she was stretched a full inch. H er body was already strained from a full day lying stretched, and this new tension, Luisa knew, was pure fire. Solana's body began to shake, beads of sweat appearing on her face and breasts. Deep popping sounds came from her joints. Most prisoner s w ould have screamed. Solana gritted her teeth, made no sound.

“Confess, and it will stop now!” Luisa whispered.

Solana turned her head, glaring past the upsweep of her own taut arm, tears already spilling down her cheeks. “Please, do not hurt me more!”

Luisa's eyes showed nothing. “Two!”

Slowly, the winch rolled over again, another notch, and the thick ropes hauled on Solana's stretched limbs. H er face screwed into an expression of agony: her teeth grated. She tried to hold back her groan, but it escaped anyway. Being so stretched felt as if her flesh had been coated in grease and set alight, fierce and terrible pain. Sweat was already pooling in the notch at the base of her throat.

Luisa waited. The key to torture on the rack was making it gradual. Solana's dark eye s w ere full with tears. The muscles of her arms and leg s w ere in spectacular definition, her entire body resisting the torque upon it. Through shallow breaths, she muttered, her voice barely under control: “God in heaven, I will be strong ... God in heaven, I will be strong ...”

Luisa knew better: “I shall now give her the third turn.”

The roller turned, the groaning rope s w renched another inch from her body, and Solana's resistance broke. She screamed, abandoning herself to the savage pain of being stretched.

As a sixteen-year-old, Luisa had allowed her father to place her upon the rack, and stretch her only a little. It had been enough: although she had not cried out, the pain had been overwhelming, like liquid fire spreading from one end of her body to the other. Often, victims fainted by this third turn, confessed by the fourth. It was rare that anyone held out beyond the seventh.

Sweat beaded on Solana's body.

The Bailiff spoke, again. “Send for me if there is any progress.”

“Aye, Sir,” Luisa said. The Bailiff tapped on the cell door, and departed. Luisa went to the pulpit, calmly lighting its candle, and began to read to herself. The dam of Solana's resistance had been broken. The pain had shattered her threshold with a turn of the winch, putting more strain on her joints and limbs than nature had ever intended.

For half an hour, Luisa read. Solana's long screams became desperate anguished pleas for mercy and release, shouts of pain. She was restless, her head turning, her fingers grasping and clutching at the ropes, tears spilling endlessly on her face, sweat running constantly on her body. The pain was unbearable. And yet, no confession of witchcraft.

Finally, Luisa returned to the windlass.

“No, NO! I beg you, oh God, I beg you!” Solana shrieked desperately.

Luisa placed her hands on the lever. “Four.”

Solana was stretched. New pain exploded through her limbs: she gave a long, animal scream of excruciated torment, her elbows and hips creaking. She threw her head about, her mouth wide, cheek s w et with tears and sweat.

Luisa waited, watched, while Solana screamed. “Oh, stop it, stop the pain!”

Each turn of the rack easily doubled the pain. Luisa stood back and let Solana suffer, her screams and shouts unceasing. H er hand s w ere purple, her feet likewise, bones all but bending under the stress of the ropes.

The scribe wrote. The guards stood silent, fists tight about their halberds.

H alf an hour after the fourth turn, Luisa again closed on the shrieking, wailing prisoner. Not an inch of Solana's brown body remained dry, sweat streaked over her ribcage, dewdrops over her belly, shining on her arms and legs. H er throat wa s w et. The hair in her armpit s w as saturated.

“Do you confess that you are a witch?” Luisa demanded over Solana's cries.

“Oh, please, please!! I am innocent!” Solana shrieked in terror. H er body was shaking. She had no strength.

“I am obliged to give the fifth turn,” Luisa said calmly, put her palms to the lever, and heaved. Solana began screaming in agony as the winch turned, and her body was subjected to new stress, fresh pain exploding through her. H er long leg s w ere wet, muscles defined. There came the nauseating cracks and groans of cartilage and bone loosening, her hips and shoulders beginning to break anchorage. A fresh dribble of urine ran from between her parted thighs.

“Confess!” Luisa shouted, over Solana's screams. “Confess now! Confess!”

Solana shrieked and bellowed, howled for mercy, but gave no confession.

Luisa turned, strode to her bible, resumed her study.

Solana's screams ebbed, became cries for mercy. H er wet face, between her raised and wet arms, showed the magnitude of her pain. Already, the damage to her body would take weeks to heal. Sprained tendons and muscles, cracked joints, strained ligaments. Every breath brought shattering agony.

Luisa listened to the sounds that were so familiar by this stage of the torture. The slow creaks of the rack, the occasional squeal of rope, the high-pitched wailing and lung-deep shouts of the victim. She eventually yawned, stepped from the pulpit. H er bare feet felt the chill earth as she returned to the rack: the flimsy hem of her tunic played at her bare thighs. Cocking her hips, she stood beside the rack with arms folded. “Well?”

Framed by upstretched arms, Solana's face was pale, her eyes restles s w ith pain. She had been under torture for two hours. “Please,” she managed to gasp. “Please, have mercy, it hurts so much!”

“I hereby pause the interrogation, and we shall resume tomorrow morning.”

“Nooooooooo!” The horror in Solana's scream chased Luisa's departure, the guards leaving with her, the cell door booming shut. To be left in such agony, where every second was an hour of unbearable suffering! She surely would not live to see the morning!

Solana lay, shaking, shouting out in pain. H er body felt torn between roller and anchoring rings. H er wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, pectorals, sides, back, abdomen, hips, buttocks, thighs front and back, knees, calves, and ankles, all burned with savagely-hot, unbearable pain. Solana could not, for a moment, find respite from the torment, nor put her mind to anything but its terrible fire. It seemed unbelievable that such tension could be inflicted, and maintained, on her body. The sweat beaded on her face and throat and breasts, glossed her arms and legs. The muscles in her limb s w ere taut, the tendon s w ere hard like cables.

She lay.

Every minute was an eternity. Every laboured thud of Solana's heart was enough to send a shockwave of pain through her taut body. Even without the roller being turned, Solana could feel her joints gradually separating as the first hour crawled by. The sweat crept and trickled on her body, oozing down intimate creases and crevices. H er taut ribcage heaved and shifted as she fought to breathe.

Two hours. It seemed obscene that simple knots at her wrists and ankles could be all that kept her from slipping free, that the ropes alone were enough to hold this awful tension on her body, tear muscles from anchorage, fill her with such constant and fierce pain.

Through the night, Solana prayed for some kind of relief, for a way to endure. It became like a nightmare, neither unconscious nor awake, but in a half-arousal of sheer, unending pain, hour after hour.

When Luisa unlocked the door to the cell and led the men inside, she wondered if Solana was still conscious. She saw the wet body, drawn out upon the rack, anchored by wrists and ankles, fiendishly tight. But as Luisa drew near, Solana's head slowly turned, her hair in disarray, her face weary between her upstretched arms.

“I trust you thought about your confession?” Luisa asked.

Though filled with pain, Solana's eyes fixed upon the torturer. H er voice wa s w eak with long hours of suffering. “Your cruelty cannot break me,” she whispered. “I am innocent, and nothing can change that.”

“On the contrary.” Luisa put a hand to the slickness of Solana's strained ribcage, inspected the sweat gathered by her palm. “This is just the beginning. You will now learn the true power of the rack, and it shall wrest the truth from you.” She turned to the scribe. “We resume the questioning.”

“No! No!! I am innocent!” Solana cried, but could do nothing as Luisa put her hands to the lever, and cranked the roller. The ropes again shifted, wrenched a fresh inch from the woman on the rack, and Solana gave a hideous scream. H er body exploded with pain. A series of wet popping and cracking sounds reverberated from her shoulders, and her arms, suddenly, seemed to lengthen as her shoulder joints dislocated. Tendons cracked, ligaments groaned, her hand s w ent limp. H er scream s w ere dreadful. Tears coursed down her upturned face. H er bare belly spasmed in her desperate efforts to breathe.

“That was the sixth turn!” Luisa shouted. “Do you wish for the seventh?”

“Mercy!” Solana shrieked, half-demented with this new and unendurable agony.

Luisa shook her head. “No mercy. Seven!”

The rack slowly stretched Solana another inch.

For a few seconds, she was unable to make a sound, her breath stolen by pain. Then came a distinct wet, fleshy tearing sound, as her left hip bone was ripped fully from its socket. A few awful seconds later, the right dislocated with a crack! To Solana, it felt as if her hips had exploded, fire flashing the length of her legs to her ankles, extreme agony spreading like molten lead through her abdomen. She screamed, the most terrible yet, her voice breaking, her head rolling as the pain seared through her spread body.

“Say that you are a witch! Say it! Say it!”

Solana could only roar in pain, the tears spilling from her eyes, the sweat running on her spreadeagled and broken body. It had been twenty hours of torture, and the pain was a thousand time s w orse than any Solana could have imagined. Luisa watched her suffering victim, wondering if indeed Solana would break, if her resistance could snap as surely as her ligaments.

A half hour. Solana, pulled between the rings and roller, her shoulders and hips dislocated, muscles torn, could do nothing but scream in agony. Sweat polished her naked body in the flickering light. Luisa turned pages, read patiently, before finally stepping to the lever once more.

“Do you wish for the eighth turn?” she shouted over Solana's unceasing cries.

Solana's voice. “No! ... oh, please, have mercy ... please ...”

“Then confess,” Luisa said, and heaved against the resistance of the winch. Solana was stretched again, and her desperate pleading became a long scream of torment as her broken body was subjected to more strain. The agony in her arms surged, became a white hot fury that caused her voice to rise in pitch. Then came the wet ripping and snapping of her elbows pulling apart. H er arms grew fractionally longer, and she all but fainted with the pain that burst along her forearms.

Luisa stopped to tie her hair in a knot, watching Solana suffer. Let the pain do it s w ork. Sweat was again running along the mulatto's tortured body: her ribs strained against the taut and droplet-wet skin, her cries frantic as she fought to breathe.

“No more!” she managed to shriek. “No more!”

“Say the word!” Luisa urged. “Say you confess, and the pain will stop!”

“Oh God! Please believe me, I am innocent! Stop the pain!”

But Luisa had no mercy, and stood back to watch. Shatela's poor hands and feet were bent quite out of shape by the strain. H er drawn limbs burned with unbearable agony, her torso all but torn assunder. H er dislocated shoulders, elbows and hips raged with pain beyond comprehension, her torn and strained muscles causing her to shriek and cry without end. Slowly, with a wet and sickening sound, her knees came apart. Luisa watched, knowing that this, besides the spine, was the most painful dislocation of all. A puddle of urine spread across the wood, and Solana's head rolled. Every joint in her body was now broken. One of the guards gave a groan, and fainted, clattering to the floor. H is comrade faltered, then tightened his jaw. The woman broken upon the rack was making sounds that barely seemed human.

After half an hour watching Solana' suffer, Luisa finally stepped close, grasped the helples s w oman's jaw in her fingers, angled Solana' s w et face towards her own. “Confess that you are a witch, and it will stop. I promise this pain will stop.”

Solana did not, or could not, reply.

“There are still two turns of the rack to go,” Luisa warned. “Your body can yet be broken further, and the pain grow worse still. Are you prepared for that?”

“Oh, I beg you, do not!” Solana begged. Sweat ran down her face, trickled the brown ravines of her belly. H er dislocated shoulders and hips, elbows and knees looked half deformed, her body extended by eight inches. H er ribcage was sharp and inflated, the skin taut. H er wet throat shifted as she fought to breathe.

“So be it, then,” Luisa said coldly. “The ninth turn.”

It did not seem possible that Solana could be stretched further, but after a minute of struggling with the lever, pushing with her shoulder against its resistance, Luisa managed to turn the roller another notch. Solana's head jerked repeatedly as she stretched. Agony came only in a panted “uh-uh-uh-uh” as her strained ribcage shifted. With a dual crack! her wrists broke, bones separating. One of the guards suddenly fell to his knees, vomiting in disgust. Solana's abdominal muscles tore, with the squeak of rending tissue. H er spine was on fire, the separating vertebrae an agony beyond all imagining: but she could no longer scream. H er disjointed body was drawn so that her diaphragm could barely function, and her breathing was rapid, shallow.

She fainted.

“Bring water,” Luisa commanded. The guard who had vomited now hurried from the cell, returning with a pail of water from the well, some of which he splashed over Solana's prone body. She woke, then, but made no sound. H er head rolled about, eyes glazed with agony, fixing to the ceiling, as sweat and tears and saliva ran from her face. H er mouth wa s w ide, but she could only make faint panting sounds in her extreme torment.

Luisa waited. This time, she did not return to her bible, but stood, hands braced against the lever, watching. Solana's ribcage shifted only slightly, such was the tension in her spreadeagled figure. Creaks came from the stressed machinery of the rack.

It had been more than twenty-one hours, now. To continue the torture much longer would be to damage Solana's body beyond all chance of repair. Already, recovery would take time, and great care, lest she be crippled. If confession did not come with this last, most painful turn of the rack, it might never be wrested from her. Luisa grasped the winch for the final time.

“Scribe, note the tenth turn.”

Solana's feet remained anchored by ropes to the rings: but her hand s w ere wrenched another inch towards the roller, and fresh fire shot down her broken arms, her taut body, her disjointed legs. A new and unbelievable agony exploded into her lower back, spreading like tearing metal barbs up her spine as her vertebrae began to separate, rending her spinal column, and filling her with the most terrible pain. She could not scream, though, and merely gave a long groan, tear s w et on her face, unable to believe that she was still awake, still aware, still suffering. Luisa waited, listening for the muffled sound of the victim's diaphragm tearing, or the more distinct cracking sound of her spine actually breaking: either would herald death, the former within minutes, the latter a few hours. But Solana's body was strong, drawn to within a hair's-breadth of death, but no further.

Luisa slowly circled the rack. In the semi-darkness, Solana's dark skin shone with sweat, steaming, her body taut. H er elbows, shoulders, hips, and knee s w ere dislocated, her wrists and ankles broken, muscles and ligaments torn, her body so stretched that she hovered on the edge of suffocation, lapsing into fitful moments of unconsciousness. H er mind knew nothing but pain - she was a being of pure suffering, without concept of past or future, life or death. Saliva wet her chin and breasts, tears streaked her face.

And yet, somehow, she had withheld confession.

Luisa looked away. “Guards, fetch the Bailiff. Scribe, let it be noted that I can do no more without causing irreparable harm to the prisoner.” As the two guards departed, and the scribe, in his relief, hastily wrote, Luisa drew close to her victim, put out a hand to Solana's face. Though the prisoner's eye s w ere partially open, there was no sign that she was aware of anything but the agony in her ravaged body. H er breathing was shallow and fast. “Just say, and I shall give you the eleventh turn,” Luisa whispered.

Solana gave no response: perhaps she was incapable of it. Luisa gave a nod. Then, she turned, and left the broken and torn Solana to her suffering.