“Once upon a time, the world was in turmoil. Warlords fought each other and mercilessly exploited the people of the land. Fertile fields were turned into wastelands. Tyrants tortured, slaughtered and destroyed men, women and children at their whim. Rivers dried up and the sun glared down on a dry, dead planet.
“The people who survived in this sere land cried out for relief from their pain. A prophecy was whispered that one day a savior would step forward and lead them to salvation. The prophecy bore a seed of hope and the poor, suffering people hoarded this hope and cherished it, awaiting the birth of their savior.
“Time passed. One day two children were born to a woman from a particularly poor village. Her husband had been killed by a warlord’s army that had taken most of the harvest, leaving the villagers with barely enough to survive the season. The woman despaired of raising her children, but the village elders, sensing that one of her children was the long-awaited savior, ordered all the villagers to pool their resources and ensure the children’s safety.
“The children did grow, and as luck would have it, the local warlords ignored the village long enough for them to recover a little. They grew food and survived. Meager though their existence was, they thrived, and the children grew and prospered. One child, the elder, was a beautiful little girl, whose eyes shone bright with joy and understanding and whose coppery locks were the envy of the other girls. Her younger brother was stouthearted and charismatic. Both were natural leaders and both skilled at any art to which they set their minds or hands. But in all things the girl was just a little better, just a little faster, just a little more able.
“Village elders saw this and they disapproved, since it was obvious that a woman could not be their savior. So they forbid the girl from studying anymore the arts of war or weaponry. And to make sure that no one would break the rule, they banned all women from touching or using weapons that were not associated with women’s work.
“The girl, naturally, resented the ban. She sought out allies in the other girls, but they seemed content to help their mothers in tending the cattle and the fields, raising their siblings and dreaming of the day that they would become wives and mothers. She asked the boys to help her, but they didn’t want to allow a “mere” girl their newly awarded privilege. At last, in tears, the girl entreated the elders, promising that she would never again be superior to her brother. But the elders knew that a person’s true nature couldn’t be suppressed, so they denied her, although they were not happy to do so.
“Undaunted, the girl smuggled a small weapon out of the village and hid it in the desert. In the middle of the night she would sneak way to practice under the cool starlight, vowing that one day she would be the one to save the village and all the stupid people within it. *She* would be the savior of the people. With this thought, she continued until her fighting skills were sharp and clear as the stars that watched her.
“One day, as the false dawn lightened the sky to gray, and the girl had just replaced her weapon in its secret place, she heard a noise. She whirled around and confronted her brother, who stood with his arms crossed in anger.
” ‘You lied,’ he accused, pointing an angry finger at her. ‘You promised that you would never again be better than I am. You’ve broken the ban. You must be punished.’
“The girl opened her mouth to reply, but before she could say anything in her defense, the men of the village appeared behind her brother. Silently, they bound her and brought her before the council of elders.
“Old men with bitter, dried faces stared down at her kneeling form with distaste. ‘You are unnatural,’ they said, and ‘You must be punished.’ So the girl was dragged away into the desert. As the sun rose over the broken land, with her own weapon they beat her, marking her on each limb, so that she would never forget the lesson they were teaching her.
“The villagers left her in the place she had used to practice, bleeding and bruised. They told her that when she had crawled back to the village they would heal her and she would be allowed to return to her studies and tasks. But the girl laughed at them.
“Blood oozing from her cuts, her mouth and nose, she laughed at them in defiance and called them fools. ‘Crawl back to your village?’ she asked in derision. ‘I will never crawl before any of you. When I return to that rotten, stinking place you call home, I’ll be at the head of an army – and then you’ll be the ones to crawl.’ And they left her, muttering that she was obviously mad. The words never uttered were that if the gods were fair, she would die out here and cease to trouble them.
“But the girl did not die. Nor did she crawl back to the village. Lying on the ground, with the sun beating down on her wounded body, she could feel the earth shaking. At length the noise and movement settled into a recognizable rhythm…an army was approaching. With tremendous effort, the girl forced herself to stand and, clutching her broken weapon in her hand, she defied the army to destroy her.
“But the army simply passed by, row after row of armored men, on and off horseback. As she shouted and screamed her anger, not a single face turned towards her – her voice simply disappeared into the wind.
“Tears of frustration ran down her face, and the girl staggered ever closer to the army, still cursing it and all people. At last the effort became too much for her and the girl simply sagged to her knees.
“As the girl kneeled there, her weapon held limply at her side, a shadow fell over her, blocking the sun. She looked up, but could see no more than a dark figure on horseback. Her vision swam and began to go black, but as she fell into unconsciousness, the girl could hear a voice commanding her to be lifted onto a horse. Her last lucid thought was that it was a woman’s voice.
“When the girl regained consciousness, she learned that she had been found by the Witch Queen’s army and that the Queen herself had rescued her. The girl was amazed – the Witch Queen was known as a ruthless and powerful warlord, one whose name left other warlords trembling and white. Why would such a fierce tyrant save a stupid village girl?
“As if in answer to her question, the Witch Queen herself appeared. Smiling with cold pleasure, the Queen told the girl that she was exactly what she needed – an heir, someone who was strong enough, angry enough and skilled enough to lead her armies to victory. The girl stood there gaping, for what the Witch Queen offered was horrible – power and death and destruction, enough to destroy planets. The girl thought of her desire to save the people of her village, and of her brother’s face smiling, of the people she loved. Then a horrible, cruel smile broke over the girl’s face and she knelt before the Witch Queen.
“Once again time passed. The girl had become a young woman, whose skills in war and magic surpassed all around her. Her copper hair, now tightly bound into many braids that were interwoven, were familiar to many as their last sight in this life.
“One day, the first time in a long time, the girl turned her sights back to her home, to her people, to her mother and brother – especially to her brother, the boy who was prophesied to be the savior of the people.”
The woman stopped speaking, her rich voice hanging in the air of the hall. She looked down from her throne upon the two figures before her. A young woman, clad in tight leggings, boots and a thin sleeveless shirt had within her embrace a young man. His face was sallow, his eyes wide.
The girl tossed her head, brushing her braided bronze locks back from her face and smiled beautifully at the young man. He whimpered slightly, as he struggled in vain to be released from her grip. She held him close, moving her body sensuously against his as she smiled. Her muscles rippled under her nearly perfect tan skin. Perfect, except for the deep scar each limb bore. She leaned her head down to look into his terrified face, and brushed his long hair out of his eyes, off his cheek, then away from his exposed neck. He made an indistinguishable sound of terror, but her grip was inescapable.
The smile still on her face, the girl looked up at the throne. In a pleasant voice she addressed the Witch Queen, who watched her with pleasure. “And that girl,” she said as she calmly and quickly sliced the throat of the man in her embrace, “is me.” She let go of the man, and watched as his body slid, lifeless, to the floor. She regarded the corpse for a moment then looked back up at the Queen. “It was nice to see you again…brother,” she said.
Smiling, the Queen rose and held out a hand. The young woman took it and together they left the throne room, while three men removed the body from the hall.