Author: Crystalynn PM
He thought she was a pet. She thought he was a pushover. Needless to say, they were both horribly wrong, and maybe that'd be okay... if he didn't have fangs. Tags: love sexy dragons romance magic funny war teen angst oh and wolves.Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 15 - Words: 129,143 - Reviews: 845 - Favs: 191 - Follows: 148 - Updated: 01-12-13 - Published: 06-30-10 - id: 2823398
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Part 1: Pets
Length: 10k words
Warnings: Violence. Human Trafficking.
Author Notes: The dragon king is so boss, he can knock you out by accident. XD
I seriously think he's my favorite character, even despite the whole murder and rape thing. Hope you guys enjoy your first peek at him here!
The Great Nine
"We begin now, with the most important lesson of all. If you would all take your seats..." Mrs Phoenix, whose real name Heather had still yet to learn, stood at the front of the class, fingers tensed on a smooth, colorful sphere. The size of a golf ball, this sphere gently glowed where the tips of her fingers met with its sleek, colored shell. It was not filled with anything tangible, but instead seemed to hold a captured rainbow, whose bright colors twirled a peaceful, slow waltz. Heather sat with the other girls, watching as each murmured and shifted, seeming just as confused as she felt. Unlike her other lessons, this one included the whole school. Rosa stood near the back, carefully observing, Christian sat beside Heather, having been included with the girls for the very first time, and lastly the three fully trained pets filed in. She tried not to watch them too closely, still uncomfortable with the too-perfect way that they walked, but like her fellows, couldn't help but to at least take a peek. A dark-skinned girl led the pack of them, followed by Hanna, who'd mercifully traded her flowerpetals for strings of blooming pink wilspin, and then finally the blue-eyed star who had once frightened her out of her wits. Heather didn't feel too much less frightened today, now that she got the full view of it. The thing had long, platinum hair, more blonde even than Mitzi's, crystal blue eyes, and long robes looking more like moonshine than real fabric. That pet just did not look like a human at all, and as usual, the "pure" pets looked more ready for bed than for class. She imagined them fully prepared for a Valentine's night, but for some reason, could not even pin down whether she was looking at a small group of girls, or a mix of two girls and one boy. For once she wished to be a little more close to a pet, and even that its clothes were a little more see-through. Chris seemed to already be looking at that very same pet, probably thinking just what she was. "Hey Chris-"
Their instructor interrupted, drawing Heather's eyes back to the front, and she didn't even notice Christian guiltily startle. Miss Phoenix held up the rainbow ball for all to see and it seemed to react, pulsing with a life more pronounced than the beat of her heart. The phoenix started her lesson with a name for that sphere. "What you see here is known as a solquine. There are few in existence, but we've received special permission from one of the king's official spokesmen, to use this one for just one lesson. You may or may not have seen this same solquine before. It presents the welcome message at the gates of Loustre."
"Oh, it's that dragon girl?" Chris had spoken, and Heather found herself stunned. Even while distracted, it seemed he paid more attention to learning opportunities than she did…
"Indeed," Mrs. Phoenix confirmed, "only it doesn't just project a female firebreather. This solquine is able to project both the magic and the image of any shiren who everlived. This is essential for us, as tonight we wish to show you the most important shiren known: the great nine."
There was a murmur of excitement, with Mitzi actually letting out a squeal, and the girl beside Heather suddenly sat up on her knees, nearly knocking her over. "Sorry!" She'd hissed, but Heather herself hardly noticed. She suddenly found her eyes glued to that ball. Even the way Mrs. Phoenix knelt down seemed to be magic. The solquine didn't sit on the ground so much as it revolved a few inches above it, too good for the dirty wood floor. "First," Mrs. Phoenix decided, taking a careful step back as she spoke to that magical object, "if you'd show us Nefiri." All at once the solquine burst into flame, seeming to shatter. From its depths rose a wall of gold fire, blinding at first, but it fell and burst itself into nothing, revealing a bright, oversized bird. It's sleek, smooth scarlet wings spread like sunrise combing the horizon, and suddenly Heather felt her mind reel. "A red shiren!" She whispered, nudging Chris hard in the ribs, "that's the answer!" Her distracted friend finally turned back around, wincing in pain, but he caught on with ease.
"Ruby Weapon?" He whispered, eyes going wide at her nod.
"Gotta be!" But their teacher struck down that idea with her very first words. "As you all know, Nefiri, the queen of the morning star's light, disappeared long ago, and has not been seen since. She had dreamed to spread warmth, and so gave us the gifts of the sky and the stars, including the brightest, the Morningstar which wakes us each morning. Few Phoenix shiren remain nowadays, but those of us who do wish to do what she did. It is in our true nature to love, and so don't be surprised if you see a few shiren like thisat your auctions. If you are picked by a phoenix remember: speaking is key. Every bird loves a song, but most importantly, a phoenix has a powerful desire to stay with her loved ones as long as she can. Always be faithful to her and she too will be faithful to you. Now," she spoke her next words to the solquine, and it lit a bright grey, "Master Caymen."
This time the solquine spun, emitting a thick cloud of dark dust that soon swallowed the phoenix. In its place a new creature touched down. Powerful hooves shook the ground as it fell, landing solid and sure on the polished white marble, and Heather immediately recognized this oversized, regal stag. It stood twice Adam's size, with much larger antlers, and a fury built into those rippling muscles. Caymen tossed back those antlers, bellowing fiercely, and even Rosa jumped back in surprise. Heather's class winced with pain, but the purebred pets in the back failed to flinch. The elk's cry echoed terribly in a room built to amplify voice, but the creature didn't seem able to hear its own call. It tossed those horns and stomped angrily, but their teacher hurried forward to distract it. "The deer family," she called over her shoulder, keeping both hands up to keep the thing blinded, "can be prone to aggression-oops." She had to fan her wings out, distracting the furious creature with soft flaps of red, and then Rosa spoke up, smoothly taking the lead. "Master Caymen is not truly that size but much bigger, you should know, and his sons can take formidable sizes as well, but here's the catch: look at his hair." Heather absently watched, catching glances of the angry stag's hair. It looked short, much like Adam's, and she noticed this was strange even before Rosa continued. "Only the elk keep their hair short. It is in their nature to show their strength only in muscle. With other species, longer hair means more power, but with elk you can't tell. Master Caymen in particular, likes to keep his hair short, but it's he who creates the most devastating of magic made earthquakes. The entire city of Elkenfeld remains underground thanks to him, and he possesses the power to sink any other city he chooses. Should you encounter one of his many shiren sons, it is your job, as his pet, to soothe his anger, first and foremost. Elk are attracted to movement, and so dancing is key. And you may want to try-"
Her lips moved without sound, since the creature behind her reared back, letting out an ear-shattering bugle as it thrashed, kicking those heavy back legs. Ms Phoenix finally gave up, shouting down to the solquine, and the stag disappeared, rippling muscles melting back into air.
Heather wished she would never have to drop her hands from her ears for the rest of her life. The ghosts of that sound still rang out in her chest, and she caught Christian's eyes, feeling even more sorry for him. It wasn't often that he looked to be truly afraid. "You have got to be kidding," he muttered, eyes to the ground. "If something like that buys us…"
Rosa continued to lecture, speaking more normally now that the elk god was gone. "And as you all know, the god of the earth has an alliance with the king of Elysia. So the elk have done well for themselves. They are wealthy, powerful, and most importantly numerous. This being said it is more likely you will allreceive bids from an elk."
More than one of the girls let out whimpers and sounds of clear worry, but it was Heather who scoffed with disgust. "You have got to be kidding!"
"I am not. Elk are everywhere. Many work as the king's guards, patrolling towns just like this one. They're our best customers, hence, why we taught you to dance."
"What if we don't like to dance?" Heather challenged, "Or get manhandled by muscley… things?"
"You'll get used to it," Rosa assured, "and I should also remind you girls that looks can be deceiving. Elk will front, yes, it is just the way they behave, but inside they are different. Elk can be strong protectors and dedicated providers if you give them the chance. You will all learn," Rosa emphasized, looking straight at Heather, "that your master is worth your respect. You will learn to appreciate your new life if you try."
Heather didn't say anything, and tried also to keep her thoughts clear from her face, but a not on your lifemight've shown, since Miss Rosa then glared. Mrs. Phoenix didn't notice however, and went on with their class. "Show Merenteren," she called to the solquine, and then it let loose a dense cloud of pure, sparkling powder. As it swirled in the air its creation arose, looking familiar only to Heather. Merenteren appeared much more human than the shiren before him, even while standing taller than Rosa with that skin of pale green. Long, sleek maroon hair stretched right down, past his chest and opalescent, sheer wings folded out on his back. Gentle fluttering scattered more powder, and Merenteren offered a delicate bow. His clothing almost floated as it fell into place on his body, looking more like a shower of glitter than the true sheets of swirling rich silks it was made of. Merenteren's delicate limbs became covered with fabric, but his wings still remained clear as day, apparently not only translucent, but able to sink right through clothes. And he seemed to stand lighter than air, with a grace like the phoenix who'd summoned him. Far from being enraged at his summons, Merenteren offered a delicate smile, standing patiently while Mrs. Phoenix spoke up. "As you can see on this replica, the illusion known as Merenteren has always been calm and genteel. Every one of his kin," she explained, "will be flighty like he. Most are thin, like their wings, and may have pointed ears. Notice the eyes are reflective, like mirrors, and the hair's almost always a burgundy red. Their skincolor can vary, from a green to soft blue or a sort of pale yellow. They are the only shiren known to have skin like the colors of flowers, and as you see, tend to have nothing to hide. The long hair indicates strength. You won't see one with hair any longer than Meren's because he is their god, but you will need to keep their eyes in mind. Meren's kin can see more than we can, because he is the allknowing god, according to mothsong lore. They say he is everywhere yet nowhere at once: that he speaks through the trees and he hears through the bugs.""
"All moths are drawn to bright things," Rosa added, "that means nice shoes and jewels are a must if you want to attract his attention! The most important of jewels are the ones in your head-yes your eyes-so be mindful of that if you happen to get a moth for a master. Moths can be secretive, so you may not even realize if a moth has bid on you, but if you want to up your odds of getting a master like this, keep your eyeshadow dark and wear natural colors for makeup."
"Yes, yes," Mrs Phoenix concurred, "and wear plenty of perfume. Nomoth can resist a nice, sweet smelling pet! Keep all of these things in your mind on the day you must dress to be sold! Moth men tend to be romantics, the kind who will buy you nice presents and show you their world. Don't expect him to be playful, but poised and sophisticated. Moths adore flowers and light so you must be careful with your makeup and at least try to act bright. The love intelligent conversation."
She leaned down then, speaking again to the solquine then. "Very good, that's enough." At these words the Merenteren vanished, and the solquine reabsorbed everything, like a tiny black hole. Ms Phoenix made to take a bow, but Heather startled, realizing then that the class seemed to be over. "Hey wait!"
Ms Phoenix blinked, pausing before she knelt down to pick up the solquine. "What?"
"What do you mean, what? You like skipped most of the great nine! You said nine but you only showed three! What about wolves and lions and the dragons and-"
"Oh yes well" she explained, counting down on her fingers "actually these three are the only one's you'll need to know. Only royal shiren tend to be able to afford pets, and even then, only certainroyal shiren will buy them. Wolves, for instance took a vow long ago never to buy humans, lions, and any other cats for that matter, are exceptionally rare and tend to train for the catfights, rather than sitting at home with their pets, the Snowdancers only buy breeders, not pets, Haku is dead, Auren is single and prefers to remain that way and then finally the Firebreathers tend to keep to themselves. They do not leave the palace."
"Yeah, but what if they do?"
"Oh they won't," was her simple response. She swooped down then, reclaiming the solquine, and then made to duck out of the room, but of all people Rosa spoke up. "Actually…" She put one of those long, painted nails to her lips, seeming conflicted. "Maybe Heather is right." She decided. "Let the kids see their king, at least."
"What?" Ms Phoenix looked shocked, "but Firebreathers never buy pets anymore. Not since-"
"Just show them, okay?"
"Alright…" She hesitated, but returned the small ball to the ground, giving one final command, "Show the god of destruction, Lord Kuroi."
Now the solquine burst into roaring black flame. Even Mitzi jumped back, the group only drawing back in once the fires died down, and when their subject appeared, every girl let out a gasp, but not one felt the same shock as Heather. "It is him!" She caught herself too late, clapping a hand over her mouth as the figure emerged, its looks matching exactly to the man she had seen in her dreams. Blood red eyes met with hers, confirming everything she knew had been true. He was breathtaking in every way possible, to the point she could not even blink as those eyes burned their red into hers. "Wait, don't look at his eyes!" Rosa realized too late, and by the time she called out the world blanked into deep, empty black. Heather felt her own head hit the ground, and was vaguely aware of the sound of dull thuds as the girls all around her collapsed.
"You're a genius."
"Wha?" Heather mumbled, unable to even sit up. "What'd I do?"
"Making them show us the king!" Her best friend's voice insisted. "Now we know what his power is like. Even a fake version can knock out a whole room!"
Heather failed to see why this was good, though she was currently also failing to see straight. She sat up then, with Chris helping, and tried to focus her thoughts. "Rosa said," Chris was saying, "that when too much magic hits a human, their first instinct is to black out. But if you can figure out the source of the magic, like those eyes, you can dodge. Do you know what this means? We're not helpless, even without any magic! We just gotta find out the source and then dodge!"
Heather grumbled, a hand to her head. "Yeah well what if the source is a voice, like that loudass stag thing? Or if it's a big mouth breathes fire or a friggin' fast leopard with a sword?"
"You're such a downer," he chuckled. Heather wondered how he'd managed to talk his way into her bedroom, where the boys were supposedly prohibited entry. And besides that, he just looked way too happy, sitting right at her bedside, with a bruise on his forehead from where he himself had passed out. Both his own prizer and Heather's stood right at the base of the bed, barking angrily, but Chris seemed too distracted to care. "What're you so damn happy about?" Heather wondered.
"Oh!" Chris leaned in, as if telling a secret, "More of your genius of course! While you were out, I asked Rosa about that red shiren, just like you said! And-" The prizers interrupted them then, hissing angrily in unison. Males do not belong in this room! Get out, get out, get out! Finally Chris let out a sigh, and suddenly Heather found herself being dragged out of her bed and then into the hallway. "There, anyway," Chris continued, now the prizers were finally silent. "Listen to this shit-suspicious as hell- that same bird was the god of the sun, but the shiren don't use the word 'sun.' They go out of their way to say 'morning star,' just 'cause the dragon king said so!"
"Yeah, just think of how stupid that is. It's much longer, but it's printed in all of their books, and if anyone says 'sun' they get yelled at. And the shiren use "moons" and not "days," almost like they ignore anything related to sunlight! Isn't that dumb? Why would there be an actual law against words?"
Heather furrowed her eyebrows, nodding. "You're right. That is really suspicious. So the queen of the sun disappears, and then even the word 'sun' disappears?"
"Yeah, and get this: Shiren have to use these weird rocks to send messages 'cause guess what? It's illegal to write."
"It's illegal to write?"
"Yep! I asked Rosa, and she said it's a rule, to protect phoenix feathers. But that doesn't explain why they can't just use pens!"
"What dumb laws. Don't say sun and don't write?"
"And what's weird is that nobody cares! They just follow the rules. They make up little rhymes they call mothsongs to make things easy to remember without writing them down, and they send letters with rocks that they talk to."
"That's so weird… Why can't they write?"
"Or just say what they wanna? It's a pretty strange 'paradise' if you ask me."
"If the king hates the word sun that should mean something. Let's tell Leon."
"Yeah, oh gee," Christian scoffed. "Why didn't I think of that? Lemme just go writehim a letter…"
Heather sighed, rolling her eyes. "I'll just tell him myself once I find him."
"What do you mean?" Now that grin finally fell as Chris questioned, confused. "We don't have time to find Leon. We gotta get to that castle and track down your dad, right?"
"Um…" Heather hesitated, absently reaching up to prod the bruise on her head, rather than looking at Chris. "Actually, I'm not so sure this plan's gonna work anymore. I kinda skipped all my classes, so I'm pretty sure no one's gonna buy me, especially not some rich dragon. And I'm not some hot, blonde chick who knows how to dance so-"
"But you are hot!"
"No I'm not."
"Um…"Chris decided not to say anything else, but he did let his eyes wander right down her front. Heather had on a sheer golden robe of some sort, and though she'd insisted on having black silk underwear, her curves and cleavage remained highly visible. Most days, Chris found himself only able to look at her for a short time, otherwise his pants would get tight, and today was no different. He averted his gaze after only a moment, staring pointedly at his hands while the heat took its time draining out of his face.
"Nothing," He immediately dodged, "But anyway Heather. I kinda get the feeling you wouldn't even have to be a Pet for someone to- you know- wanna buy you."
"What do you mean?"
"Well unless Firebreathers are blind, they'll think you're pretty."
"Well if he thinks I'm pretty, then I definitely don't want him to buy me."
"What the hell?"
She crossed her arms, nose raised haughtily. "If there's one thing I can not stand it's shallow guys. I hate guys like that. The way they look at you like you're a piece of meat and ignore everything you say and think you're just some dumb bimbo and…" She was still speaking, or at least Chris assumed so, but he'd suddenly found himself completely distracted. At first he'd thought one of those blonde-headed girls had brushed past, but on second glance realized it was actually a silver-haired angel. It's Estelle!
Dazzling blue eyes caught his own for just the briefest of moments and the Earth itself seemed to freeze up. Chris wanted to believe Estelle was just trained to walk in slow motion, but suspected it was all in his head. That fact, however didn't speed anything up. Estelle strolled right on by: the epitome of gorgeous perfection, with nearly clear, silver robes fluttering behind just like wings. "Uh-wait! Hey!" Before Chris even knew what he was doing he'd caught up to Estelle, leaving the stunned Heather alone in the hall.
Estelle had actually stopped, and so stood just before him, with those blue eyes fixed, curiously but he did not even know what to say now he'd attracted this angel's attention. At least seventy questions occurred to him, but Chris hardly felt he had the right to ask one. Luckily, though, Rosa joined them soon after, and so Chris was spared the humiliation of utter speechlessness. "Oh so there you are, Christian." Rosa addressed him alone, even though Heather had already caught up. "I meant to find you myself but I see Estelle beat me. Are you sure about what you said earlier? Would you really prefer to be put on display?"
"Oh…" Chris cast Heather a guilt-heavy look. He'd meant to tell her, but hadn't gotten to that part yet. "Yeah, I was kinda hoping but..."
"Very well." Rosa interrupted. She clapped both hands together, adopting a smooth, business-like tone. "We can make the arrangements tonight."
"Really?!" Chris grinned ear to ear, unable to contain himself, even while Heather grimaced, looking shocked. "Chris you actually asked to be put in a cage with those mannequins?"
"Um…" Chris felt his entire body heat up under the intensity of the glare that she gave him, and he hoped she hadn't caught his eyes on Estelle. "Yes?"
"What the hell?! You mean you actually want to be locked in with zombies like this-" Heather faltered, apparently unsure of what Estelle even was, "thing?"
"Excuse you!" Rosa snapped, "but this 'thing' as you say, is none other than the perfect and extensively well-trained Estelle!" She pronounced the name with an elegant, French flourish, bragging haughtily. "Before you is an androgynous, captive bred, fully trained, purebred human Pet. You should consider yourself lucky just to have seen the likes of someone so vastly superior to yourself!"
Heather flared up at once. "What did you say?!"
Chris stepped in, hurriedly insisting Heather return to her bedroom. He practically dragged her back to the door, opened it for her, and then let himself in as well, locking Rosa out in the hallway with their again barking prizers. "What're you doing!" both women hissed, but Chris answered only Heather, with whom he was now trapped.
"Exactly what we promised Leon!" He whispered. "If we get in with the pets we get into the palace!"
"I can do this," He insisted, "Even if it kills me I'll do this, Heather. I could even find your dad for you, all by myself! You'll be happy again, promise!" Chris let himself out then, leaving Heather alone on that note. It seemed that Rosa and Estelle had already left, but he easily followed, managing his breath once he opened the door to her study. Better she didn't realize he had run there. "Where's Heather?" Was the first thing she asked, before Chris even entered the doorway. "She's pissed. But I think she'll come later, when she cools down."
"That girl," Clucked their teacher, "she's too pretty to act like she does."
Christian let himself in, closing the door behind his prizer, who sat down in silence, just watching. "She's just strong-willed," He explained. "I think-" Chris hadn't meant to freeze up, but his gaze wandered past Rosa at that point, and the sight struck him dumb. There was Estelle, sitting right in the center of everything. Those sparkling blue eyes met his own, and Chris suddenly wanted to ask all about 'androgynous' pets, but his mouth wasn't working. Rosa smiled though, apparently having expected that. "Don't be nervous," she offered, "Estelle may be a purebreed, but you two already have plenty in common. I thought meeting an already fully trained pet might inspire you."
Chris decided not to say what he'd thought. Estelle definitely inspired him, in more ways than one. He wanted to pretend he was only training out of duty to Leonevir, but something in Estelle's eyes seemed to know it was all just a farce. Somehow, Estelle seemed to be able to read his thoughts like a book. Those blue eyes could see through him, and every moment they met his seemed to whisper "you don't care about any of this, do you? You just care about me. Only. Me."
Rosa obviously hadn't realized. "Don't be shy," his clueless teacher enthused, "Go ahead and introduce yourself."
He met her eyes then, giving her an incredulous look. Don't be nervous? Infront of Estelle?How could that even be possible? One didn't just walk up to a living goddess and brazenly introduce himself! "But how can I, I mean, really…" He steadfastly stared at Rosa instead, lowering his voice. "I'm not sure what to say. I can't tell if Estelle is a boy or a girl."
"Why should that even matter?" Rosa easily shrugged, "Estelle is Estelle just like Heather is Heather. You don't learn who a person is by looking between their legs. Or is 'strong-willed' tattooed on Heather's crotch and I just didn't notice?"
Christian only blushed furiously before shaking his head. "No, it's not," he admitted.
"Exactly. Then you should know you can learn what is truly inside of a person only by getting to know them, step by step."
"I don't know…" Christian lied. Of course he knew that he wanted just what she'd suggested, even if he'd never admit. Christian dreamt of Estelle almost as often as Heather dreamt of Firebreathers. The thought almost made him feel guilty, knowing his best friend had nightmares while he daydreamed of peacefully lounging gorgeous- Oh wait, Rosa's talking again.
"-this of course means that Estelle was bred from two of our most perfect pets. A true purebred like this is the most rare type of pet. See the body? The flat chest is a must, and the flat stomach, see? Estelle keeps to a verystrict diet, and we train twice a day, until sundown of course…"
"Oh, well," Chris made a gesture, encompassing all of Estelle, "Maybe I could just pick one and go with it? Like, I could just call her 'she.'"
"Why in the world would you do that?!" Rosa had gasped as if clearly offended, so Chris backtracked, throwing his hands up. "Nevermind, sorry!"
"What did you mean by that though?" Rosa glared, casting her eyes to Estelle for a moment, "doesn't Estelle look like a purebreed? If I've done my job right, it should favor neither a male or a female. Do you think Estelle favors?"
"Uh…No." Christian wished he could admit that was exactly the problem, but his answer seemed to have calmed Rosa, even if it had sent his mind reeling. What the hell? So she doesn't want me to know?Was Estelle's original gender a secret? And if so, why was that? Would having a gender somehow ruin Estelle?
"Anyway," Rosa sighed, "I was hoping you liked my Estelle."
"Oh, I do! Don't get me wrong." He offered a bow, trying to smooth Rosa's feathers. "She-I mean, he-well… Estelle's perfect, but…."
"Exactly. Estelle's perfect," Rosa sighed. "Picture this, Chris, your perfect companion, everything you ever wanted and more. Estelle is so perfect, that the lucky shiren who makes the purchase will even get to choose Estelle's gender. Everything about Estelle can be just what you want. Fully adjustable."
"That sounds…" Chris hesitated for fear of sounding too much like Heather. "A little twisted. You mean you took Estelle's gender away on purpose?"
"No, I mean that I've left Estelle with infinite opportunity. Now Estelle could be anything without judgment, from a hair stylist to a sparring champion. Estelle could pick up dressmaking or swordfighting, who's to say he or she can't?"
"Oh, I get it."
"And in this case you get spoiled, little Chris, because Estelle has superior fashion sense, and will be helping to dress you in your new theme! Would you like that?"
Chris nodded, thinking dumbly that he'd be glad for anything Estelle everdid to him. In fact, he got the vague feeling he should be paying per minute just to be staring at the gorgeous pet just before him. Rosa didn't notice, but continued like she always was, overly eager to play around with new outfits. "Very good. If you'll sit with Estelle, we'll begin."
Chris forced himself to obey, carefully taking his seat in the center of the room, where Rosa had cleared the ground of her many shoe prototypes. His chest almost hurt, and he felt strangely stiff just from being this close to Estelle. The pet sat perfectly still, draped in attractive, shimmering silver robes, but Chris tried not to look. Estelle seemed not to mind wearing the same type of clothes Heather hated, but now Chris understood why she did hate them so. The temptation to look down was just awful, to the point he was glad Heather wouldn't go up on display. These clothes, he now realized, were more like a garnish, designed to, if anything, subtly highlight the curves of the body beneath.
Keeping this in mind and his eyes therefore off of Estelle, Chris remained still while their teacher assessed him. She held up three different shades of what he hoped was fakehair: blonde, red and brown. "What do you think?" She turned to get Estelle's opinion, holding up each one for reference, "Which is best for his Skintone? And should I make it grow longer?"
Chris didn't meet those skyblue eyes, even while knowing they must now be scrutinizing him. And Estelle didn't choose a color, but instead moved to get a closer look at Chris. Those robes slid like water over the ground, trailing behind that perfect, nearly naked body, but by the time Chris got up the strength to look up, the pretty Pet had already knelt down, only a few inches away. He caught Estelle's gaze and immediately dodged, body heating. Those shimmering pink lips quirked up into a smile, amused. "I think his hair is already perfect." And damn. This thing even soundedjust like an angel. Chris hoped he wasn't blushing already, but knew it was only a matter of time either way. His entire body seemed to heat even more as those delicate, fingers reached out to caress his black bangs. He personally loved and did not want to change anything about his black hair, but if Estelle recommended, he knew he'd be willing to sculpt it up, into a Mohawk and then dye it plush purple. Chris could guess that his current style would classify him as Emo, Scene or Punk though, and wished he could leave it that way. He loved the chunked look and didn't even mind when his bangs nearly hid his right eye. After a moment though, Estelle spoke again, voice calm yet speculative. "But this color… it's fake."
Chris startled, pulling away. Honestly, he'd expected Estelle's voice to be just this gentle and melodic, but not for those eyes to be even half as sharp as they seemed. "Yes. I dye it."
"Dye?" Rosa put down the hair samples, looking confused. "You don't use any magic
to grow it that way?"
"How could I?" was all Chris said to that. He was only human after all. Rosa smiled though, offering a word of advice. "Actually, human or not, you can learn to use magic."
"Yes, especially solidified, simple magic like that. I will show you." She stood, crossing to the other side of the room, and at first Chris just watched her sift through cabinets of what he assumed to be potions and magical artifacts, but inevitably his gaze was again seized by Estelle. Those perfect white fingers were still in his hair and Estelle stroked them downward, as if petting him. It may have just been wishful thinking, but Chris imagined Estelle was admiring more than scrutinizing. The thought made him feel lighter than air. Was it possible that Estelle liked the way that he looked? Or even better, what if Estelle actually liked him? That thought had his heart doing double-time, prompting an almost dizzying rush of excitement.
Oh, how he wished! He'd love to have those eyes always on him. He wanted to speak, if only to prompt those pretty lips into filing his head with that soft, melodic voice, but every question seemed too stupid to ask: every comment too droll. If he opened his mouth, would the nervous roiling in his stomach spill out and only humiliate further? "Um, Estelle?"
Those soft blue eyes met his, almost silver eyelashes blinking with curiosity, and Chris had to fight the urge to just sit there and stare. "H-How old are you?" The pet looked younger than Christian himself, but he couldn't be sure. With magical hair-removing potions and who knows what other spells used on that beautiful body, Estelle could have been just as old as he was. "I'm seventeen um… harvests, but, um well, my birthday's really soon so, you know. Or is it birthmoon here? Well, the moon I was born anyway."
Unfortunately though, Estelle didn't seem to follow. Those thin eyebrows only furrowed and instead Rosa responded. "Pets don't keep up with how many harvests they've seen," She said simply, and Chris instantly felt bad about asking a question his new friend could not answer. "No human does," she explained, "They are tested and judged as simply viable or not. As for Estelle, he has already reached the age of viability."
"It means competent. At that age, humans are recognized for being able to make sound decisions. Estelle may seem too quiet to you, but that's training, not nature. Purbreeds are taught not to speak without permission from their master. Don't be fooled. Most mistakenly assume adolescent humans can not make smart decisions, but I know different. Hence, why Estelle is here now, sharing advice with us." She returned to her place at their side, holding out what looked to be a thin, purple-black crystal.
"Would you like to do the honors?" Estelle nodded, accepted it, and a moment later, Chris felt those gentle fingers tracing his hair from root to tip. Rosa watched, seeming ready to offer advice, but Estelle must have performed well, because she only smiled, reclaiming the crystal after just a few moments. "Very good. Chris, your hair will grow out black from now on. And Estelle, flawless work, as usual." She placed the crystal on the ground beside her, and Chris would have noticed the full box of its variously colored counterparts, had he not been distracted by the living jewel before him. "Thank you."
Estelle pursed those pretty pink lips, seeming pleased, but the pet remained silent. Chris would have died at that moment to hear what Estelle thought. I really hope you like me! If it were possible, he'd give anythingto earn actual affection from such a reserved, graceful creature.
"So what's the verdict on clothing, Estelle? Black or silver?" Rosa's voice sounded so far away. She belonged to another world altogether. No. Another entire dimension. This one was only Estelle's. By this beautiful creature's pure mercy, or by some amazing stroke of luck, it didn't matter how, Chris knew he just had to become part of it. "Miss Rosa, after this," he knew the question was off-topic, but couldn't care, "I'll get to live with Estelle, right?"
Luckily Rosa didn't seem to mind. "I don't see why not," was her cheerful reply. "After this you will be fully trained after all. Or close enough, anyway."
He meant to say something else, but Estelle moved again, claiming a thin strip of fabric from Rosa's still open hand. This one was silver, and Estelle looked it over, but then tossed it aside, choosing the other instead. "Black looks best."
Chris agreed, beaming. "Black's my favorite."
"Then it's decided," Rosa chirped, hurrying over to the closet. She continued chattering on as she sifted through possible outfits. "Lessee! You're taller than most Pets and a bit more muscular, but that's nothing the right outfit can't pretty up. And I think maybe we'll try shades of onyx and some…" Chris wasn't listening. The angel before him had reached right up and cupped his face. He could feel those long, painted nails just below his chin and could even detect the warmth of Estelle's honey-scented breath. Was Estelle admiring his face? I hope so. Hope Estelle thinks I'm hot! This would mark the first time Christian just couldn't say what he wanted. He wished he had had enough guts, like fearless Lucas, to just blurt out 'I like you's' and spout off poetry about souls and the stars. If only those enchanting blue eyes really could read his thoughts… And he hadn't meant to, but he let his eyes wander at that point, right down Estelle's front. Those pink nipples were visible, tinted only slightly by the shimmering fabric, but lower down the silver winked back, in mostly opaque slits of color. Chris couldn't help but wonder about this. Heather's clothes were formfitting, the outer layers easy to see through, and so were Miss Rosa's. So then why weren't Estelle's? Maybe the mystery was designed to be half of the charm.
"Hey Estelle…" He wanted to be rude and ask what lay beneath those thin clothes, but he knew he would much sooner die of embarrassment. Those pretty blue eyes had remained fixed this whole time, and he searched them for answers. Do you like me?Why else did he feel like the center of attention?
"Hmm..." That was about all he got out of Estelle. And at that point, the Pet slid those featherlight fingers lower, causing a shiver to run down Christian's back. Those pale digits closed on the true object of Estelle's interest, his necklace, and he felt all at once that everything he had loved was now there on his neck. This was the very same necklace Heather had gifted him, plain black lace with a jade star dangling from it, but to Chris it was worth more than diamond.
"Do you like it?" He ventured, "It's my favorite in the whole wide world." Maybe the purebred pet was not free to do the same, but Chris wished he could talk about everything he loved with Estelle. "Hea-well, I guess you wouldn't know her, but someone I love gave this necklace to me. It's very special."
He wasn't sure why, but Estelle seemed unhappy to hear that.
"It's not black," those pink lips observed, sounding disappointed and at first, Chris was too shocked to even explain. "Well… not everything I love is black."
"You should take it off. If-" Estelle suddenly flinched, letting out a small yelp, and Chris immediately reacted, catching the much smaller pet in his arms. "What's the matter?"
Estelle pursed those pink lips but still held up those tiny, pale hands. Only then did Chris realize, but there were thin silver bracelets on each. These strange bracelets had begun spinning in circles, leaving burning red marks on the pale skin below. Christian tried to remove them, but this only set them spinning again and burned hisfingers instead. "Ouch! What the hell?"
Rosa hurried over at that point, scolding the purebreed as she reached down to deactivate the apparently magical bracelets. "What the- were you talking, Estelle? What's gotten into you?"
The bracelets finally lie still, but the pet shrank away, looking now more than ever, like a small, fragile animal.
"Estelle's used to it," Rosa interrupted, not letting the pet itself answer. She seemed angry for the first time Chris had seen. "Purebreeds are trained with those pet bangles right from the start. They learn early that bad pets will get hurt."
"But it's my fault," Chris admitted, but Miss Rosa ignored that, waving him off. "'Course it isn't," she scoffed. "Estelle knows what's expected. Every pet…" She was still talking, but Chris didn't hear most of the rest. He'd never seen anything so dreadfully sad as the look on that small, pretty face. Estelle seemed so ashamed, with those robin's egg eyes welling up with clear tears. No one else ever gets punished here. It just didn't seem fair. Perfection had such a steep cost…
"Anyway, here." Rosa interrupted, holding something out right infront of his face. "Ever seen a dark crystal?"
He had to force himself to pay attention, shaking his head. "No."
"Well this is my personal collection of them." She held up what looked like a necklace: a long string of twinkling, darkly-colored rocks. They looked a bit like ink, mixed with water and then frozen. The crystals had a charming, cloudy look to them and were very well cut, each boasting many smooth, sparkling facets.
"I'm sure that 'dark crystal' will make the best theme for you. Perfect yes? But ugh, what is this thing? It doesn't suit you at all!" With one motion, before Chris could react, Rosa flicked her wrist and his jade necklace snapped, its pieces scattering like hail on the ground. "Much better." Rosa smiled, uncaring, but Chris suddenly found himself on his knees with a pit in his stomach. "What was that for?!" he gasped, hurriedly reclaiming what remained of the sad, ruined necklace.
"It was green," was her dubious response, "nowhere near black, so it's useless."
"But nothing. Pretty pets do not wear ugly jewelry."
Christian froze, shocked by those harsh words, but at the same time he began to understand what had happened. "Estelle…" Those blue eyes met his own, still tear-filled, and he wished he had listened before. You were trying to warn me. And he meant to say apologize, feeling stupid, but Miss Rosa interrupted, hissing a warning. "Do not put that hideous necklace back on."
Chris felt torn then. Suddenly this rouse seemed so hard to keep up. He stared down at the ruined remains of the only thing he'd kept from his old life, and suddenly realized that after all of this time, maybe Heather had been right about pets. But it was too late for that, especially now he was so close to Estelle. "I... I understand, Rosa."
"Thanks anyway," He muttered, standing with a sigh of defeat. Estelle actually reached out then, and at first Chris was too stunned to do anything, but then quickly regained his composure, handing over the broken pieces of his once beloved necklace, before turning to accept the dark crystals that would make up his newidentity.
"Here we are," Rosa muttered, cleverly manipulating one of those small, jet black crystals. She only needed to lift it up close to his neck and the thing hung as if from invisible lace, securing itself with only magic. Rosa also selected a thin, onyx ring and secured this one as well before melting four more crystals into black polish for his nails. "There. That's much better, don't you think?"
Chris nodded obediently, though he couldn't have disagreed more. There was just something about that little jade star with the tatty black string. True, it hadn't matched, especially when set against his luxurious new haircolor and jewelry, but he'd still wanted it much more than them. Heather would surely have a fit when she realized it was gone. But it's not just that, either. Everything is gone.
He remembered the bedroom where he'd found that same necklace, and the many sweet nights he had spent there, hanging out with his only best friend. He remembered laying on the ground beside Heather, staring up at the ceiling as the two shared their secrets, their fears, and their laughter and sorrow... He remembered her explaining why she was terrified of being touched and how honored he'd felt when she finally let him hold her. Did she remember it too, how it felt to believe in someone who'd always be there? If Heather were the one with a special necklace, Chris would have been there to make sure she could always keep it. He'd make sure she could keep everything she was, in fact. Wasn't that what true love was about? Heather's right. I should go alone to the castle, so she doesn't have to do any of this.
"Like the new look?" Rosa had interrupted his thoughts, but Chris tried not to show it. He responded immediately: obediently, like a true, perfect pet. "Yes."
"Perfect." She turned, addressing Estelle with a stern, opposite voice. "As for you, go on back to your case. I will deal with you later."
Estelle stood to leave, offering a sincere bow before departing, and Chris waved after, feeling a bit sad, but it wasn't until Estelle had actually opened the door that Chris seriously felt his heart drop into his stomach. None other than Heather herself burst in, having apparently been waiting outside all along. She gave Estelle a look, as if grimacing at gum on her shoes, and then pushed right past, addressing Chris instead.
"Chris, this is crazy," She scoffed. "I've decided you can't be a pet." He only stared at her, dubious, and was glad when Estelle left the room either way. "What?"
"You heard me," Heather asserted. "He's my dad and I'll find him myself." She seemed to be looking over his outfit, and he was surprised when she didn't grimace at that too. "I'll do everything myself. I'll just have to be brave 'cause I don't want you to have to dress like a girl and-and all this other bullcrap." She turned to Rosa, then. "You give Chris back his happy trail. He can be a breeder or whatever they call them instead. He likes sex. All guys like sex."
"What?" Rosa seemed completely lost, but Heather responded with, "Don't pretend you didn't hear me, you bitch!"
Luckily Chris stepped in to intervene. "Wait, wait. Heather, I never said I didn't want to be a pet."
"Well you shouldn't," She scoffed. "You're a boy."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"He's already qualified anyway," Rosa added. "All that's left is to pick a new title."
"Title?" Both best friends turned to Rosa, surprised. "What do you mean?"
"A new name, of course! Something to suit his new look!"
"Like hell." Heather glowered, absolutely livid, but Rosa waved it off. "Seriously, Chris is an ugly name. Perhaps Crystal or Crystalline, something that goes with the jewelry?"
"Are you crazy?" Heather raged, "He's a man! Not some kind of- fashionista fag! You can't just give a girl's name to a man, you brainless ginger twat!"
"Hikaru!" Luckily Rosa had no idea what she'd just been called, and Chris quickly stepped up before Heather could attack any further. "Stop okay?" He whispered, "I already made up my mind. I want the pet job and I wanna stay in the display case."
"What? You mean I came all the way here just to rescue you when you'd rather be stuffed in there with mannequins?" Disbelieving, fiery brown eyes met with guilt-stricken blue, but Chris found himself just as shocked as Heather for having made such a risky confession. She must have felt betrayed, trying to mask it with anger, but the hurt still shone through. Chris knew her well enough to see that. "Heather-" She dodged, wrenching her hands away from his, even as he made to apologize. "It's not that I care about them more than y-"
"Liar." She glared at him as she spat that, distrust written all over her pretty, girlish features. He'd never seen her look like that, and it made him feel oh, so much worse. "How can you do this stuff, Chris, letting her turn you into something you're not?"
"It's just a name," Christian promised, leaning in closer to her. "Look, after all this, I'll still be Chris, alright? Underneath the new clothes I'm still me. This is just-"
"No!" Chris insisted. "Don't you get it? This is a whole different world, Heather! There's no selling out or giving in, there's just us picking a job! It's no different than trade school! Plenty of people dress up and put on shows as a career. Here they call them pets. Back home we called them models and actors. There isn't any difference!"
"Except models don't get put on display and sold off to rich, selfish men!"
"Of course they do! We call that press and paparazzi! Magazines, music videos and sex tapes! What the hell's the difference!? Those people have no privacy! They're more slaves than I'll be!"
"They have their names at least."
"Yeah? Then what's Madonna's name? Or Pink. Do you know?"
She fell silent then, still glaring hurt into his big pretty eyes. Heather may have been stubborn as the best of bulls, but even she knew when she'd been beaten. Inside she knew it was unfair to judge him, but she loved Chris too much to admit. She wanted Chris to be Chris, not Crystalline or even Madonna.
To her he was already glamorous, even without the stage name and jewels. "I don't want you to change," She finally admitted, close to tears, "You're supposed to be Chris. My Chris. Chris with facial hair and an awesome crazy love for Star Wars! Remember? You're supposed to be my best friend, not some photo-shop sex icon." "But I amChris. It's gonna be okay, Heather. We can do this." She only turned away, letting out a sigh. They weren't going to agree, and so realizing this, Heather forced out a half-hearted "whatever," and excused herself from the room.
Christian forced himself to stand there, even though he desperately wanted to call after or better yet follow her. He did not, though. He couldn't with Rosa watching. It would mean refusing her generous offer to allow him to stay with Estelle. This is my chance. He knew that, but that didn't make it hurt any less. Without even thinking, Chris reached up, fingering the spot where his favorite necklace belonged. He missed it. If Rosa hadn't broken it, that little jade star would be hanging right over his heart, exactly where he knew Heather would always belong.
By the time Chris and Rosa had agreed on his title, the newly certified pet felt both physically and mentally exhausted. There weren't any windows, owing to the fact that the pet training center was hidden underground, but he guessed the sun had set many hours ago. Vaguely he wondered what the shiren called 'hours' and how they decided what time should be bedtime. Most of the wall-lining torches had extinguished already, so wandering down the hallways sent an eerie feeling up his spine.
The glass showcase magically reacted to his rings. Chris put his hands to the surface and watched it melt into the familiar double doors, finallyallowing him into the showcase. He had dreamt of this moment, imagining the day when he'd finally get to be here with the angel known as Estelle. But now reality set in, and he found himself standing before what had always been just a sheet of cold glass. Estelle couldn't speak to him without beign punished by those magical bracelets, and either way it was too late for that. The purebred lie in that dark, water bed, with those gorgeous eyes already closed, and Chris wished he could just curse the world. "Damn it…"
Silently Chris put his hands to the showcase, watching the glass melt away. It dripped to the ground and formed a staircase, which he easily used to climb up into Estelle's bed. The wall fixed itself behind him, and Chris found himself feeling cheated. Maybe he really would be nothing more than a dog now, like Heather said, something for some rich shiren to buy and control.
Heather's words haunted him, reminding what 'real' boys were supposed to want. "Give him back his happy trail. He likes sex." She was wrong. Chris may have dated often in high school, but he hadn't done so for the physical benefits. He liked having someone to call his own, someone to hold hands with and to protect. Not even my own best friend knows me.
Without even thinking, Christian lay himself down, burying his face into the soft fabrics of the waterbed beneath. It was cold, but Chris did not move to pull the blankets over himself. He supposed he should just get used to not being too warm. In this world, there would be no more hands to hold or girls to date. That was over, and maybe he'd been foolish to expect Heather to stick around too. She was so much stronger: so independent. I'm so stupid. He pushed himself up on all fours then, stubbornly rubbing at his eyes before the tears could even escape, and he turned, meaning to find the nearest pillow and just bury his face into it, but wound up suddenly face to face with Estelle.
Chris nearly screamed for the shock. The purebred was not only wide awake, but stood now on all fours with one hand frozen in midair, as if reaching for him. Those blue eyes didn't widen, but Estelle did freeze up.
"What the hell?" Estelle didn't explain, but Chris wasn't surprised. He tried to regain his composure, speaking calmly. "Do you, uh, you need something from me?" The pet shook that pretty head, and Chris tried to shrug it off, reaching past to get the cloud-shaped pillow he wanted, but even as he settled back down, ready for bed, Estelle remained in that very same spot. Those sharp blue eyes had watched every move, but the Pet neither spoke nor attempted to move.
"What do you need?" Chris asked again, raising an eyebrow. Estelle only shook that small head, as if to say "nothing." Some of that silky, white-gold hair slid down in the way of those sharp, sky blue eyes, but Estelle didn't reach up to fix it.
"Okay…" Chris turned away from Estelle, snuggling up with his pillow, though he knew he could hardly sleep now. His mind buzzed with eerie thoughts of living mannequins. Just how long had this pet been awake? And just what was it waiting for? Chris wasn't sure, but he got the feeling Estelle wouldn't move again until he'd turned his back. Bingo.
Chris almost flinched, but held still, recognizing those same cool, delicate fingertips. And it wasn't this touch that caused it, but Chris recognized the weight on his neck and rolled back over, meeting those sky blue eyes with a smile. Suddenly that familiar rush of embarrassed admiration washed right back over him. He loved this boy or girl or whatever Estelle might have been- truly. "My necklace."
Estelle only paused nervously again, but this time Chris caught sight of the familiar jade pendant which must have been clasped in that hand all along. It was now strung on a new length of black lace, complete with silver fastenings. "You fixed it, just for me?"
Those strawberry pink lips pulled back in the sweetest little timid smile, and Estelle nodded gently before leaning in closer. Their foreheads nearly met, and Chris felt those long, golden locks fall, cool and smooth on his face. "It was gonna be a surprise?"
Estelle nodded again, and Chris rolled over onto his stomach. "Here then," he chuckled, "I'll pretend I didn't see." True to his word, he stayed perfectly still, smiling as those perfect, careful little fingers tied his necklace right back where it belonged. It only took a few seconds, and once this task was finished, Estelle made to pull back, but Chris instinctively rose, catching hold of those tiny, pale hands. "Oh wait! Um, Estelle?" He silently berated himself, feeling the blush threatening on his cheeks, but Chris forced himself to talk. "Thank you. Really."
Estelle only smiled, bright as the moon. Who needed windows after all? "Um, do you want…" Chris released his grip on those very delicate-looking, soft hands, thinking twice. He could still see the painful pink marks on those arms, from where those bracelets had punished Estelle, and did not want to do anything that might break any rules. "Never mind."
Estelle raised those eyebrows, as if urging Chris to continue, yet stayed right in that spot. Chris wished he could just melt into the floor. Everything felt somehow intense, coming from eyes like his. Estelle could not possibly be human. "It's nothing." Apparently Estelle didn't buy that, because rather than leaving, the purebred pet reclaimed a spot on the bed, laying mere inches from Christian, who stared on in awe. Maybe Estelle can read minds?
The pretty purebreed shrugged slightly, as if asking "Is this what you wanted?" and Chris wanted to say yes, but instead he just nodded. He felt bad, but still gratefully watched, admiring how Estelle truly did seem like the perfect display of pure grace. The blankets almost lowered themselves onto that small, angelic body, and Estelle held one side open, inviting.
Carefully Chris shifted, not daring to so much as touch his new, beautiful bedmate, but Estelle didn't seem worried. The pet lay comfortably on one side, forehead gently meeting with Christian's and the blanket fell neatly, covering both. At this proximity, Estelle's radiance seemed magnified to blinding intensity, and so Chris screwed his eyes shut, steadfastly pretending he wasn't so close to someone so beautiful. Even afterwards however, those long golden lashes tickled his nose, a steady reminder, and that last, delicate smile remained as if imprinted on the backs of his eyelids. He didn't even think before catching one of those pretty little hands in his own, and could consider only that it'd taken far too long for this moment to come. Finallyhe would feel Estelle's warmth. No more glass, no more rules, no more anything to separate them.
He remembered the way Heather used to squirm and giggle, even with minimal contact like this, and marveled at just how perfectly opposite Estelle acted. The purebreed snuggled closer in fact, warm and soft, and somehow, Chris just knew those pretty pink lips would again be softly smiling when he woke up to them in the morning.
"It can't be." Rosa paused, looking left and then right. Nothing seemed strange in her shoestore. Nothing seemed out of place, and yet here, on the front counter, lay an envelope, with her name clearly scrawled across the front. It was too late to dodge reading it, now she knew it was hers, but she almost shivered, just walking closer to it. "Who in the world…" She tried to identify the blood it was written in, leaning down to gingerly take a small whiff, but she already knew by the color, reddishbrown meant a wolf or a human.
Her hands shook as she lifted that light, tan-colored envelope, and she half expected slitting it open to somehow slit her own throat or at least cut her fingers, but it didn't. Instead this small envelope opened, without fighting back, and she was able to retrieve the short letter within. It was only one page, and its message, written in neat, golden print, took a very short moment to read.
"You must sell the pets before the first day of winter solstice."
Rosa couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at that. The winter solstice was already only two moons away, and she couldn't possibly just rush every pet out by tomorrow. And which pets did it mean? Only Heather and the male she so loved, or did it mean she should sell all the pets?
Rosa put down her letter, intending to rifle through her drawers for a whisper crystal to send in return, but the moment that innocent-looking sheet of white paper left her hand, a sharp stab of pain lit itself up on her fingers. "Ouch! What the hell?" Rosa seethed, holding her wrist as the words burned themselves into her left palm, as if chemically transferred with acid. Dark, purplish burns drove their point in with pain, perfectly matching the words she had only just read. Sell the pets.