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VEIL OF OBEDIENCE

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"It's up to you," he declared, moving so near that our lips were on the verge of touching. "Either comply with my instructions or seek alternative employment." My heart froze as I peered into his profound, menacing eyes. In a society where women are confined to the role of staying home and appearing attractive, Elena is resolute in her struggle for independence. However, there's a significant obstacle: a formidable man obstructing her path.

A Misty Path to Equality

With mistrust imprinted on his somewhat round face, the young man's reflection scowled back at me through the shop window. He undoubtedly assumed that I was questioning if he was sufficiently manly, and I was.

Come on, I murmured dejectedly. "Matureness, mature... Please, be a man to me!"

I twisted to the side, and he followed suit, putting out his chest precisely when I did. At least that wasn't going to be an issue because it was as bland as a board and showed no signs of femininity.

However, lower down... My gaze strayed to the young man's back, where my uncle Adrian's worn-out pants protruded in a way that was decidedly unmanly. Indeed. Undoubtedly, the young man's backside was a little too flat.

No.

Not the swear word. Give it away. That was the term. It was a little too giving.

"Hell's whiskers!""

The young man at the window dutifully responded to my disrespectful gesture. Who did he think he was fooling? He wasn't a man. He was a female. Which meant that, despite my desire to act otherwise, I was also.

Without equivocation, I told my mirror, "I don't like you." It was really upset over being spoken to so rudely and frowning at me.

"You are the one at fault," I snarled back. "You would appear more credible in this outfit if you were thinner and had less of this," I said, pointing to my posterior.

I strained disgustingly at the trousers and tailcoat, which felt strange over the form-fitting corset.

It's your fault for seeming that way if we are discovered. very plump! Here, we are trying to seem masculine. Couldn't you at least manage a prominent, manly jaw or a fake beard?"

A passing pedestrian gave me a strange look.

I concluded that it was probably time to get over talking to my mirror in a store window and get on with my business if I wanted to look more manly.

I cast a final, disgruntled glance at the handsome, sun-kissed young man in the storefront window before quickly tucking my hair behind the large, bulky top hat that was a disguise I had borrowed from my uncle's clothes. My hair just reached my shoulders, so it wasn't really long enough to be a man's. But shoulder-length dark hair was a rare sight among young guys. I turned to face my objective, silently thanking my uncle for unintentionally providing such a monster of a hat.

I knew precisely where I was headed, even though it was still quite far away and hidden by the heavy mist that covered most of London's streets at this time of day. Days prior, in order to prepare for my covert operation, I had spied on the location.

Illegal, secluded, and secret.

I felt my throat drying as I proceeded down the street once more. The brief stop in front of the storefront window had been an attempt to make sure I appeared like the character I was trying to portray. It had bought me a little time, but now it was time.

Whoosh! What happens if I'm recognized? If they find out I'm a woman,? Thoughts of panic flew through my mind like bees shaken by a beast that was hungry. If they manage to seize me, who knows what they could get up to?

I told myself, "ELENA, calm down." It is your mission to serve all women. There are hundreds who will fall after you if you do.

Which meant they would tramp all over my remains, which did not exactly cheer me up.

The veil in front of me suddenly lifted, revealing the location I had come to penetrate. The place I was legally not allowed to enter. The broad classical portico, which loomed over the steps leading to the entry, was supported by white columns. The door was flanked by a guard and featured two enormous oak wings. A dark crimson banner with the words 'POLLING STATION' written in black letters hung above the door.

That, I guess, says it all. That clarifies my being here, the absurdly loose men's clothing I had pilfered from my uncle, and my intense indignation at my reflection. And that's why I felt terrified. That clarifies that my plans were unlawful. That clarifies everything.

Not at all? Does it not? Not to you, anyhow?

So consider yourself lucky. It appears that you reside in a nation where women are genuinely granted the right to vote.

I gritted my teeth in frustration and thought, "Not so the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland." Politicians in that country had given women's suffrage a great deal of thought and concluded that it should never be granted for the following reasons:

1. Logical cognition was beyond the capabilities of women's little brains. They couldn't comprehend politics because of their emotional disposition.

2. It would be disastrous if women entered politics because they would be too preoccupied to get married and start families, which would mean the extinction of the human species.

3. The horrifying state of gender equality would result from women entering politics on an equal basis with men, which would be much worse since it would eliminate the requirement for male gallantry and gentlemanly conduct.

4. The basis of all government was eventually force. Women were just not fit for politics because of their delicate temperament, which prevented them from doing that.

Would you be surprised to learn that every politician who offered an explanation for anything on that short list was a man? After considering their arguments in great detail and with great sincerity, I ultimately concluded that they were total garbage. I sincerely hoped I could see this guy in private who said women were not capable of using force. It would only take five minutes in a soundproof room with yourself and him.

I marched down the street towards the polling place, not looking left or right, and tried not to let my heart race. I thought someone would point the finger at me and start yelling, "A female!" every minute. A woman dressed as a man! Seize the repulsive monster!"

Nothing took place. Not a single person looked twice at me.

That may, however, have had something to do with the dense fog, which made visibility limited to a few yards. Beyond that, everything was simply a vague outline. The fog grew thicker as I continued, to the point that it briefly engulfed the voting place across the street.

However, there didn't seem to be much of a possibility that onlookers would know me even if there hadn't been any fog. There were only a handful of individuals on the streets, and they moved quickly by. Inside the station, I hoped it would remain the same. Here outside, the lone exception to the rule was a big group of people gathered halfway down the street. I could only make out their blurry shadows, but I could see that two of the men were deep in conversation.

"... The elder of the two spoke, "It is in perfect condition; I can tell you that." His speech was accentuated by energetic motions with his chubby hands and a wobbling double chin. "The best home I own, hands down."

Yes?The other man came out as chilly and curt. He stood with his back to me, so I couldn't see his face. All I could make out was his slender black form, as straight as an iron rod. It's intriguing that you would part with such a valuable item.

"Sir, it is from the goodness of my heart, from my goodness of heart!"The obese man reassured him. "I hate to part with Serenity Park, but I know it will be in good hands with you." Serenity Park is a gem.

The name drew my attention, even though I hadn't really listened to their discourse earlier. Park Serenity? Not Serenity Park, surely?

"Bah." The young man said it with a deprecating wave of his hand. "I don't have time for this." He lifted a hand to indicate the fat man, saying, "Landon, pay the man, and let's be done with it. However, you should remember: If you haven't told the truth, I shall be very... dissatisfied.

I could see the obese man's double chin trembling even through the fog.

"Landon?" The young man clicked his fingers, saying, "The money."

I took a few steps into the gathering and cleared my throat, and a large fellow, one of the individuals encircling the two, began forward but suddenly stopped and turned his head.

Stupid—just plain stupid— How did I get there? What did I care about a wealthy, chauvinistic man being duped and losing a few thousand pounds? Nothing. However, this could be a great chance for me to try out my disguise.

It was also a wonderful way to delay my assault on the bastion of male political power for an additional few minutes.

"Pardon me, sir.I tried to give the slender man a kind tap on the shoulder, but Landon, the behemoth, grabbed my arm before it even reached him, pulling me back and making me feel little in comparison.

"You lout, on your way!"He snarled in a thick, erratic dialect that I was unable to recognize. Eyes wide, I gazed up at him. His face was as dark as his long black beard, and he had a genuine turban on his head. Now that he was so near, I could see that he was a mountain of a guy. What kind of freak show had I stumbled upon? A head covering? in the heart of London?

I said, "On your way!"He growled and painfully twisted my arm. Felix doesn't have time for panhandlers!"

Whores? I must admit that I was a little irritated. After all, I was wearing my uncle's Sunday best. Okay, so the clothes hadn't been worn or cleaned in years and were three sizes too big for me, but still.

Felix has no time for girls who dress like guys; at least that wasn't what he'd claimed.

I shot back, saying I didn't want any money from him. I actually want to assist him in saving some!"

"Save Money?" Landon, please let him go!The young man turned to face me and gave me an order.

The large man carried out his instructions so fast that it was clear he was a very submissive servant. His master was staring at me with intense focus, but I could only see his eyes because of the fog.

"You," the man murmured, catching me with a dark look that was somewhere between green and grey and as dark as the sea. What are you talking about? Exactly how may you assist me in saving money?"

Wishing I hadn't said or done anything at all, I swallowed. By now, I could be secure inside the voting place. Rather, I was confined to this place because, once more, I was unable to avoid looking at things that didn't affect me.

I thought I should bow or shake the man's hand, but the large, dark-skinned servant moved in the way and put his hand down on his belt. I looked at the enormous sabre that hung there for the first time. Clearly, he didn't give traditional introductions, bows, or handshakes much thought. So I just started talking from where I was.

"I couldn't help but overhear a portion of your conversation with...," I said, glancing at the overweight man.

With a terse reply, "Mr. Gabriel," the man with the sea-colored eyes said.

Along with Mr. Gabriel. Do I understand correctly that you plan to buy Serenity Park, sir?"

"You are."

"If it's okay with you, sir, I would suggest not doing that."

"Why?""

"My..." Sir, my grandmother lives close to Serenity Park. I occasionally go see her and have seen glimpses of the house. It isn't attractive.

It doesn't matter to me if it is attractive or not. Does it sound right?"

The obese man cut me off with a menacing glare and said, "That it is, sir, that it is." "Don't pay attention to this young fool!"

"That's not sound," I yelled.

And you understand how?With black eyes, the man inquired.

"I've noticed stains on the walls that appear unhealthy, and half of the roof tiles are missing." I once overheard the steward lamenting in passing about the undeveloped area on the property and the rat infestation. From my coach, I observed that the road leading to the house was also in a state of severe disrepair.

And you recall all of it simply by passing by?"

Indeed?I answered tremblingly.

He nodded curtly. "I understand." It's exactly what I've been searching for.

'But I just told you the house is crumbling, and...' was the statement that kind of confused me.

With an irritated motion, the shadowy man interrupted me. It's not the house, dude. You.

I blinked, completely unprepared. "Me?""

"Yes, you." The slender figure in the mist extended a hand sloppily in the direction of the obese man. "Landon, get rid of that individual." Our commercial cooperation has come to an end. He is no longer useful to me.

Indeed, Felix.

Without even a moment's thought, this fellow Landon grabbed the dumbfounded Mr. Gabriel by the scruff of the neck and pulled him off into the mist. The man's cries of outrage were audible for two or three seconds before coming to an abrupt stop.

"To you now," the man with dark eyes murmured, not seeming to take much notice of what had happened. "I need a bright young man with a good memory and quick mind to be my secretary. I know a good man when I see one." The last one I had recently quit her job for an inexplicable reason. I believe you would be the ideal candidate for the position.

Somehow, I choked back an uncontrollable laugh. "Uh... the right person for the job? I apologize, sir, but I'm not sure I'm the one you're looking for.

Are you able to write and read?"

"Yes, but."

"Are you working somewhere?""

Once more, I had to force myself not to laugh.

"No, sir, but..."

So, the matter is resolved. On Monday morning, arrive at my office at nine a.m.

He approached me and extended his hand to hold something.

"This way."

The strands of mist parted as he got closer, allowing me to see him properly for the first time. There was a sudden, unexplained dryness in my mouth.

He appeared, for a man, acceptable enough.

Hard. That was his appearance. It was his hard, chiseled face, resembling some ancient Greek statue, that caught your attention when you first saw him. With the obvious exception that, compared to him, every stone statue I had encountered at the museum seemed far more inclined to smile at any moment,. They were composed of marble, which is actually a rather soft stone that may have the ability to change its expression. He was not a soft one, though. It appeared as though he was carved out of granite. He was bald, like the majority of the other statues in the museum. His perfectly clean-shaven face, in contrast to the prevailing style, gave it an even more sharp and angular appearance. Eventually, his eyes were visible. I had already made out his dark blue-green eyes through the mist. These were deep, dark ponds that could engulf a person and prevent them from ever coming to the surface.

Okay, so all things considered, he most likely looked a little better than "acceptable."

I distrusted him completely and right away. As a matter of principle, I detested all men, but attractive guys, particularly those with a prominent jawline and a domineering demeanor, were at the top of my list of things I would kill to improve the world. The individual standing in front of me seemed to be exactly the type of person who could have thought of the fourth item on the list.

"Hello, how are you, young man?" Do you hear what I'm saying?"

I shook my head, attempting to focus and drive away my straying thoughts. I pretended to be someone else! I had to behave like I was on a test.

"Uh... Indeed. Sure, I said, stuttering. "Sir, you just shocked me." Sincerely, I said, "I have to say that I don't get offers like that very often."

"Make sure you're not "surprised" too frequently while working for me," he remarked, his hard, angular visage remaining still. "I don't need confused fools who just stand around and stare at nothing."

Were they fools, really? His ability to be courteous seems to be matched only by his ability to make the statue smile. I was suddenly overcome with a strong desire to find out his thoughts on the fourth point. Perhaps it had been him after all.

He moved in closer once again and jerked his hand forward.

"My card," he uttered in a sharp, authoritative voice. It was then that I realized what he was holding out to me: a little cardboard rectangle. I took it and gave it a look. The words were printed in legible, accurate lettering without any embellishments:

Duke Maxwell

Empire House

Leadenhall Street, 322

Nothing more. No titles, no frills, no occupation.

I glanced back up at him. Duke, do you know? Something like what the gods of Greece used to eat for breakfast? Well, my eyes swept appreciatively up and down his slender frame, and wow, did he look good enough to devour?

Not at all! What was going through my mind? I didn't require or desire men. Thank you so much for not being the person who believed that my intellect was too tiny to comprehend politics! I was a proud suffragette who ought to have been advocating for women's rights rather than the contents of men's underwear! Did guys ever put on tights under their pants? My twin sisters would have to answer that. They would most likely have first-hand knowledge.

With his dark eyes flashing, he said, "Don't be late." Without saying anything more, he turned and disappeared into the mist, leaving his long black cloak billowing in the wake. "I don't tolerate tardiness." He seemed to be the center of their small solar system, with everyone else revolving around him as the others who were surrounding him silently trailed behind. Startled, I followed his gaze.

The man's nerve! Did he not even wait to find out if I said yes or no? He simply walked away, thinking I would follow his lead. Who was this guy? Some magnate who has amassed too much wealth for his own good? No, that didn't go with the straightforward cut and color scheme of his outfit, which was all black from head to toe. Was he really an ordinary businessman, then? However, on the other hand, with him were all those attendants. That implied a significant person.

He might have been a government employee. I snorted as I fixed my intense gaze on the card. That would fit, indeed! One of those guys who I was supposed to be hanging around here in this weird outfit anyway. I should just throw away his card and call it quits. Not that I was planning to go there on Monday.

I paused for a brief while.

I turned back to the polling place after pocketing the card.

What was causing me annoyance? I ought to be content. It had been a really good test. One of the most manly men I'd ever encountered was with me, and he didn't seem to realize I was a girl. Fantastic work!

However, I knew in my heart why I was angry. The reason for this was that I was with the most manly man I had ever encountered, and he had utterly, absolutely, entirely failed to recognize that I was a girl!

Be rational, I told myself. You were anxious about appearing overly feminine just a moment ago. You've been disproven now. Issue resolved.

Indeed.

It is definitely not a good cause to be irritated. There is not a single explanation.

Dispelling all memories of the peculiar Mr. Maxwell Duke, I once again headed in the direction of the structure at the end of the road. A police officer stood guard at the door, his silhouette menacingly visible as the fog slightly lifted. Despite the cold, sweat appeared on my brow, and for a split second, I thought he was there just to intercept young women who dared to vote against the overwhelming authority of the British Government.

Then it occurred to me that he was probably not standing up for women but rather for the millions of males who, because they were penniless, were still denied the right to vote. It's likely that women weren't even significant enough to matter. Okay, I'd prove them wrong!

The bobby gently removed his hat as I approached the front door via the steps. "Good morning, sir."

Dear God! He had raised his hat in salutation. Why hadn't this occurred to me? How should I proceed? Remove my headgear in exchange? Considering the mound of hair piled up behind it, like a haystack jammed into a shopping bag, I was unable to accomplish that. I simply nodded in silence. It's better to be perceived as impolite than to be courteous and then detained.

I hurriedly shoved past the officer and flung open the polling place door. Out of the shadows came the heavy smell of sweat and tobacco.

I stood there motionless, my hands balled into fists. Could I carry this out? Did I have enough courage? Would I be discovered? Would a furious group of men lynch me?

Before I could change my mind, I jumped into the darkness and headed toward my objective.

Defiant disguises

I stood for a while, giving my eyes time to get used to the darkness. Forms slowly began to emerge from the darkness, and at the other end of the room, I could make out a counter of sorts, manned by an official bearing a stack of thick books and several lists. In front of the counter was a group of males. They bowed to the official, made a note with a fountain pen in the books, and walked away.

Did I have to write in there too? I had no idea how this "voting" method actually operated. God, this was not something I should have tried.

Come on, I fiercely told myself. Act now! Do it for Celeste, Gwen, and all of your friends! Take action on behalf of all the abused women who are too lazy to speak up for themselves! Defend yourself against all those conceited men who think a woman's mind is too little for a tea spoon!

Unfortunately, this last thought brought up a specific image for me: With a sly smile, Mr. Maxwell Duke handed his card to his new

Heroes

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