Next morning was of the awkward kind. The kind that was unable to hide the strange and sensual goings-on of the night before. The main embarrassment wasn't due to presence of the Lady's gift of a pair of shiny, new silver handcuffs, even though I made no attempt to hide them under my shirt sleeves. Those were bound to come to light in front of Glow just at the time of maximum humiliation, so I owned up and gave her the whole story instead.

What did cause maximum humiliation, but not for me for a change, was Captain Ember's reaction when the other three came up on deck at dawn. She all but leaped away from me and crouched down at the very front of the boat, her hand on top of her head as if hiding as much of her hair as she could. Glow immediately put two and two together and realized that the Captain had gone and put her fingers in the Sammy pie during the night and so decided to have a good, long laugh about it. Only then did it become obvious that the two other men were not about to fall to their knees in front of Captain Ember and pledge eternal subservience to her. That's when the Captain got up, straightened her uniform, pretended everything was normal and that she'd worn her normal, cool demeanor all along.

Soon after breakfast the magical wind that filled the sails petered out. That meant that either Jiang would have to fiddle with the sails and the thing called the boom and the ropes with funny names in order to make the ship run much slower that it had yesterday, with waves washing over us when we least expected it, or someone would have to sleep with Hurricane again. Glow took one for team and soon we were up to speed up again. Still, the two of them remained in the cabin until after lunch, having great fun by the sound of it.

We stayed on the little boat for seven more days, and soon we had created a small mini-society all of our own. This turned out to be more of a truce between two mutually hostile groups. I had no idea why the women now seemed to detest each other again. On one hand there was Glow and Hurricane, who insisted that we were a sort of nautical hippie commune, taking it easy, having fun, and celebrating brotherly love, free love, and making love. On the other hand there was Captain Ember who insisted that she was the Captain of the vessel as well as Captain in a more general sense, and that she was going to keep that ship as tight as a ship can be kept. Jiang was on her side, naturally, even though he was nice to the others and looked faintly amused at the situation when she wasn't looking.

That left me. I did my best to operate as some sort of mediator or peace negotiator, but felt that it didn't work out too well. Whenever I spoke to Glow about some issue other, she always offered me some sort of sarcastic reply about how subservient I was to Captain Ember. She could be nasty, more nasty than she had cause to be, more nasty than what I was used to from her. And she stayed close to Hurricane, spoke to Hurricane, held Hurricane, slept next to Hurricane, and made sweet love to Hurricane.

Did I talk to Hurricane? Not much. Could you pass me the salt? Good morning. That sort of thing.

Glow was absolutely right about one thing. I had become subservient to Captain Ember. Very subservient.

That first morning after the wall sit session, after I had learned as much about stem stitches, split stitches, blanket stitches, chain stitches, and the ever popular detached crossed knot double loop stitch as I felt I could handle, we had agreed that she would attempt to exercise control over me in a less intense, more long term fashion.

Oh, and we were sailing as well. The ocean was still as devoid of land as ever, and despite the attempts of the sky to dump millions of gallons of rain water on top of us, Glow's powers blew the clouds away as soon as we'd gathered enough drinking water. We were in a sunny, little eye at the center of a gray, raging tempest.

The first thing Captain Ember had Jiang and me do, were to carve her a paddle from a piece of wood. First I, the clumsy oaf, would sit naked at her feet and cut the wood into something that looked a little like a mix between a flat hairbrush, a long, wooden spatula, and a piece of abstract art. Then Jiang, the skilled craftsman, would sit naked at her feet next to me and turn my efforts into a long, slim paddle with a carved braid spiraling around the handle.

Captain Ember would test the paddle on her palm, then nod. After that she told us to face her with our legs spread and our arms behind our necks. I felt a bit apprehensive, but Jiang grinned like it was his birthday. With slow, un-rhythmical taps against our ball sacks, she told us that she would punish us this way should we be less diligent than what she required, and that she would reward good behavior by tapping our manhoods. The tapping wasn't just for show, the blows hurt. Funny, I couldn't understand how both Jiang and me became rock hard when she did it?

Glow just snorted, rolled her eyes, and decided that it was time to bring Hurricane with her into the cabin and make him beg for his orgasm so loud that it almost drowned out the Captain's words.

Oh, and we were sailing as well. After two days we saw land again, but Glow kept us well away from shore. We had provisions taken from the pirate ship, and none of us wanted to complicate the mission by interacting with people who apparently were not part of the Republic. The coasts we saw were even rougher that the one around Lamplight, and the climate seemed to be a bit drier and not so intensely hot as before.

There was not much to do on the boat when it was propelled by magic winds, and what there was had to do with cleanliness. Here, Captain Ember was unrepentant. She had brought along a selection of rough, neutrally scented soaps from the pirate ship, and she insisted that Jiang and I, as well as herself, clean ourselves every single morning and every single evening.

First, we would lower ourselves into the sea, then emerge to soap ourselves in, body and hair and all. Then we would do another dip to rinse off the suds, before we were given a bucket with a little fresh water and a piece of cloth to remove as much salt as we were able. We were to clean our teeth, our ears, and our nails as well, and upon completion she would inspect us.

To do that, she placed us in the same position: Legs spread, hands joined at the neck. She would then proceed to study every, single part of our bodies. There was nothing sensual about her at all, she was as no-nonsense and businesslike as any drill sergeant. Still, neither Jiang nor I were able to last ten seconds after her green eyes touched us before we gave her the old, special salute. After she was done with each area, she would either give an approving grunt and tap our rigid cocks with the paddle for a full ten counts, which would have made us bend our legs and writhe had she allowed us to move, or she would shake out heads and tap our balls the same number of times. She would punish any visible show of pain by ten more counts. Her blows were never gentle, so I was a quick learner.

Glow and Hurricane would choose to clean themselves at the same time, on the other side of the boat, but their cleaning included much more laughing and shouting and splashing and kissing and fondling. Hurricane might be getting a whole lot more sex out of this than me, but I sure had the cleanest nails, so who was better off, eh?

Oh, and we were sailing as well. We saw more and more islands as we went along, smaller, taller, barer, the mountains looking like they had been broken and twisted. Captain Ember was constantly checking her charts and her instruments, Jiang and me kneeling beside her, ties fastened to her belt, making sure we paid attention and learned. She had some nice fights with Glow discussing our course, discussions which formed the major part of their collected conversations.

After a few days I became kind of frustrated. No, who am I kidding? After a few hours of this treatment I became kind of frustrated. In addition to cleaning ourselves, we also maintained Captain Ember's boots and clothes, our own boots and clothes, as well as scrubbed the deck of the little boat, coiling ropes that were not already perfectly coiled, and doing everything else that probably didn't really need doing. Captain Ember didn't speak much to us, in particular she did not once show me a trace of emotion or intimacy after our night together. She did inform us that she would regularly join the Slave Squad on field exercises, and that she 'very much enjoyed' the kind of 'sexuality-based enforcement of discipline' she was now putting us through, which I guess was as far as she was willing to go. She made us do every physical exercise with the kind of vigor any personal trainer in any prisoner-of-war camp would have applauded.

Captain Ember applauded by tapping our cocks. Soon I became obsessed with it. Those brief, strange sessions of having my most precious organ stimulated, they dominated my mind. When there was nothing to do, I sat and tried to make up stuff that Captain Ember could perhaps be persuaded to order me to, just to be rewarded as she counted from one to ten. The pain from the ball tapping faded into insignificance. When she used the paddle on them, it just meant she wouldn't use it on my cock. Now I was truly ready for the wall sit exercise. Fuck the blowjob thing. I would be happy as long as she tapped my cock. I would nail my pelvis to the mast just to have her keep tapping.

I even begged her to make me do the exercise again, but she would not hear of it. In fact, she was very careful that she and me did not come too close to each other, that we did not fondle, not sleep next to each other, not even be alone for a few minutes. When she caught herself looking at me, she would make herself look just as long as Jiang. When she gave me an order, she would moderate herself and include him. When her hand would come up to grasp my green tie, almost involuntary, she also got hold of Jiang's red tie. And it seemed that she sought out my leash with every opportunity. So often in fact that she was annoyed at herself, dropping it with repressed anger. Jiang wasn't annoyed at playing second fiddle. He seemed to find it amusing. Probably knew that soon he would be fucked raw by both woman in order to gift them with his power when we arrived at this Red Tower place.

Another one that was not annoyed was Glow. Glow found my intense desperation totally hilarious. She would brush her hair in front of my face. Change her clothes. Adjust her dress over her butt, thighs, and bust. Put on her makeup. Whenever she and I passed each other by, she would seem to, quite by accident, brush against some sensitive part of me. My chest, my neck, my thighs, my butt. She would then apologize and move away, out of reach of my response. A few times during the voyage, when Captain Ember was not looking, I broke down and begged her to touch me, just to give me a lazy handshake, please, please, please. She would play coy and hand to get, driving me insane, then just when it seemed she would consent, Hurricane appeared and took her in his arms. A meaner person than myself might have thought they were doing it on purpose.

I was sure that, deep down inside, Hurricane was a nice guy. Deep, deep down inside.

Oh, and we were sailing as well. Eventually we even arrived at our destination.

The huge, orange-pink volcano was visible from our ship the day before we arrived. It was an enormous, broken thorn piercing the blue-green blanket of the sea. All around it were hundreds, if not thousands, of small, steep, rocky islands. It was as if there had once been a massive eruption sending thousands of red-hot pieces of stone up into the sky. Along with them had formed enormous clouds of hot ash. Then, the burning rocks had rained like flaming balls of hellfire into the sea and caused huge fog banks of steam to roll over the waves before the rocks cooled as they were, twisted and tortured.

The water was shallow here, and shoals of colorful fish passed under the boat. These islands had been populated by fiercely independent fishermen, Captain Ember told us, before the Sea Hag had set up shop in the volcano and stolen all the men. The Lady only knew what she'd done to all the women.

The enmity between the two camps on our boat, as well as the sexy training Captain Ember put me through, ended when we'd seen the patrol ship that same day. Both Hurricane and the two women realized that we were, literally, figuratively, actually, concretely, and for all practical purposes in the same boat. It was Hurricane who discovered the ship, and he did it by flying.

That's right. Hurricane, the bicycle repairman from Chennai in India, could fly.

Based on my limited knowledge of physics, birds, planes, and superheroes, I put together a theory that it was all due to buoyancy. That was a fancy concept with lots of vowels in funny places that I couldn't quite explain, but it basically meant that he floated in air. He could swim in air. Every second or third hour during our voyage he would put on a funny makeshift costume made from sticks and rags that made him look more like a huge, misshapen, damaged bird of prey than a man, tie a rope around his waist, and proceed to float up above the boat, looking for signs of the enemy. Glow would then use her powers to keep him directly above the mast instead of being tossed around by the wind.

When he spotted the patrol ship, he immediately dropped a few feet, then did his best to mark the size and direction they were heading. After he came down again, we made a great turn away before everyone huddled next to Captain Ember's maps.

"This was to be expected," she said. "According to what little intelligence we have, the Lair is surrounded by a trough of deep water, with a wide belt of shallows and reefs outside it. There is only one entrance for larger ships, just opposite the gates to the Lair, and it is watched continually. There is also a contingent of guards on top of the mountain. If I understand you correctly," she looked at Hurricane, "the gate guards are directed by female officers while the mountain guards consist exclusively of enslaved men?"

"As far as I know, yes," he said. "I was made to fly over the volcano when frigates from other powers would come investigate, and there seemed to be a circle of zombies standing around up there and drooling while they stared out at the sea. I'm not sure, I was kind of staring and drooling myself at the time."

"I see," Glow said, leaning over the chart. "So, what we should do is to sail our little vessel through the ring of reefs in the dead of night, then power up on Jiang and Sam, climb the volcano, free the men, take the Sea Hag and her women pirates by surprise, tie them all up, and sail them back home to face justice or something? Then, we'll get so laden down with medals we have to buy ourselves a couple of wheelbarrows, I guess?"

In another reality I might have objected to the words 'power up on' to described beautiful, intimate shared moments between people who cared deeply for each other. In this one, I nodded and felt how it was an excellent suggestion.

"I advise against it, Ma'am," Captain Ember said.

Oh, come on!

"Your plan is sound and I approve it in its entirety except for one detail, Ma'am," she went on.

Yeah, right. Brownie points to the one who could guess which detail.

"Why do you disapprove of the use of Sam?" Glow said, winning that competition with childlike innocence on her face.

"How did you know that is the part I question, Ma'am?" Captain Ember said.

"Lucky guess," Glow said and winked at me. "Are you afraid of his powers, Captain?"

"Certainly not," Captain Ember said. "I am afraid of all the lives that may be lost as a consequence of using them."

"Huh?" I said. "What do you mean? Ma'am?"

"If Ms Glow and I use you and thus force any man we encounter to be swayed to our side, we will inevitably cause conflict within the ranks of the slaves. Some of the Sea Hag's pirate women may attempt to reassert their control, and I fear the result will be carnage as men fight to death for the woman who mesmerized them. Note that the power of certain gift slaves may enable the receiving women to decimate entire regiments in a matter of minutes. Please remember that all the men we will meet are victims of the Sea Hag, and the death of any of them is, while not totally unacceptable, highly undesirable."

Ah. I hadn't thought this through, apparently.

"In order to protect the men we have come to save, Ms Glow and I must not even be tempted to resort to this option at the first sign of difficulty. We will attempt a covert operation as far possible."

"A covert operation?" Hurricane said.

"Indeed, sir," she said.

"Consisting of a newly arrived gift slave, a flying freak, a fisher woman, and two soldiers? You think that's going to be enough? Haven't anyone else tried to bring the Sea Hag down?"

"Several attempts have been made by local captains and cities," Captain Ember said. "But none have been successful. Apparently the male slaves fight with a zeal beyond any of our most elite troops. When their loyalties are undivided, that is."

"You are aware that the Lady Desire sent Sam here to help us stop the Sea Hag?" Glow said.

"Indeed, that would be a reasonable assumption," Captain Ember said.

"How else is he going to be able to help unless it's with his cock?"

"Thank you," I said, "for your faith in my abilities."

"You're welcome, honey," she said.

"Ladies and gentleman," Captain Ember said. "You do not need to worry." She looked at me, and pulled one of my sleeves up, displaying the silver moon band. "The Lady herself has blessed our venture. With private Sam with us, we will be able to take part in the Lady's gift when the right moment comes and so set the captured men free. Until then we will do what needs to be done in the shadows."

"Aw," Glow said and pouted. "And me who had planned to have the best-looking guys I found strip down and carry me around in a litter while serving me drinks. You know, instead of having to climb that mountain myself."

"We will only use private Sam in an emergency, Ma'am," Captain Ember said.

"Does tired feet count as an emergency?

During the night that followed we reached the ring of reefs that surrounded the volcano. Captain Ember and Glow managed to coax the boat through with Hurricane floating above the mast on a line, on the lookout for any dangers and the lights of more patrol ships. I wouldn't know how they managed it, for I was asleep the whole time dreaming that there would be many, many serious emergencies up ahead, emergencies that would only be solvable through the judicious use of the famous Sam's Secret Sauce.

When the new sun came blasting out on the sky in the inwards direction, I crawled out the cabin to expect to be subjected to Captain Ember's regular slave cleaning and ball tapping ritual. It soon became obvious that this was not an option today. The boat lay at anchor between two tall islets that hid it from view from the ocean. On the other side there was about fifty yards of calm water leading up to a beach of black sand.

Beyond the black sand was the wall of the volcano. I'd never been to a volcano before, but I knew that this had to be a big one. This was the Mauna Kea of this world, this was their Mount Fuji, and it began right here, by the bleak and lifeless shore. It started to turn orange and pink along a kind of steep slope that went on for a few hundred yards. Then the slope grew steeper as it rose a couple of hundred feet. Then it really got going with the steepness for another few hundred feet or so, before it topped off everything by rising straight up for as long as it would take to kill someone falling down, fifty times over. To my left there was more volcano, to my right, even more.