A/N: Okay, rewrite of SDMT, chapter one. Most of the changes are adding a little more character to Noon, and getting rid (finally) of that dreadful run-on sentence right at the beginning. Hopefully it flows a little better, and also answers a few plot holes and inconsistencies people have pointed out to me.
Thanks to all reviewers! You're wonderful and I love you all xxx
I groaned, and waved a languid hand over my face. The heat, especially here, down at the slave markets in the Lower City, where the belching fumes of the factories on higher steppes vomited forth, was unbearable. The choking smokes turn bright noontime to a hazy dusk, and the rattling cough of the denizens sounds like Death's calling-card. I hate this part of the Lower City, and I hate the slave markets most of all. But this had to be done, and here was the only place to do it.
Well, the only half-civilised place to do it, anyway.
It's not so much the long lines of dejected people, chained together under the brutal lash of the overseers, it's not the stinking refuse that lines the streets, it's not the open, overflowing sewers or the homeless who clutch at one's servants and litter-bearers, either. Rather, it's the people who actually buy the slaves that annoy and disgust me, in the main. Lecherous old fools, purchasing the very flowers of youth and innocence for their own pleasure – it makes me nauseous just to see them, no matter that I was there to do much the same thing. But, as I have said before, it had to be done.
My older brother is seventeen in two days. He will then be of age. He's mastered politics, strategy, war and diplomacy with his usual consummate ease. He's perfect, and broken. He'll make a fine Emperor, and then a fine tyrant in a few years. There are no words to describe him. He is…Dawn.
The laughing prince turned cold and gray, all the life sucked out of him. Well, no more! I wasn't going to stand for it another moment.
I sighed and descended to the street, high white platforms holding my feet out of the reddish ooze. I had a flash of pity for my litter bearers, but it is their job, and they looked fairly prepared for the awful street. Guards piled around me, weapons at the ready as they escorted me through the winding and murky streets; rats and nameless vermin skittering away before their disciplined march, skirting the larger, more plebeian slave markets for the relatively upscale establishments.
We'd had to slip into the back streets of the Lower City – if we'd gone straight from the plateau, in ten minutes the route would be blocked by citizens wanting a glimpse of me and my guards would have been overwhelmed, hence bumping along some ghastly back alley maze before emerging, and not without relief, into somewhere reasonable.
The streets of the upmarket areas were clean, thank KiiAmat, and mercifully free of unwanted humanity. The slaves were led through warrens of tunnels under the streets themselves to their holding pens, and the actual markets were much more hygienic. You still got the perverts though, worse luck.
Hopefully, this would be my last time down here for many, many years. I'd already picked out the slave for my brother – I'd seen him, weeks ago, when I first started to look and placed a reserve bid on him, a sort of insurance. And now, I was here to place a final bid, collect him and have him bonded to my brother. If I was lucky, I could make it back to the palace in time for lunch. KiiAmat in heaven above, I hate this place.
The air inside the unpretentious – at least, unpretentious on the outside - building was heavily perfumed with a dozen conflicting scents, perfumes, eau-de-toilettes and colognes from the aristocratic patrons. Marbled pillars held up the roof of the vast auction hall, and the spaces between them were filled with men and ladies of leisure and means. The reception hall left little to the imagination. Ostentation was respected by the aforementioned, and it reflected the purpose of the building admirably. Oh, the mosaics were crushed emeralds and pink quartz and fire-opal, the mounts may have been of solid silver, the plants may have been superbly luxurious and a verdant green, and the statues of finest marble, but that didn't hide that this was a slave market and a hall of ill repute. Actually, it had a very good reputation – apparently the workers were the best in the Empire, although I'd never sampled any, of course. I could buy any worker that took my fancy outright, after all.
I was met by the proprietor of Sakar's Slave Shop – Sellers of Superb Sex Slaves to the Aristocracy, Silas Sakar himself. He prided himself on having the finest selection of exotic slaves and pets, and even the owner of the largest market of them all acknowledged Sakar's nonpareil prowess in sourcing exotics.
"Ah, Your Royal Highness!" he said softly, bowing deeply. I caught a gust of brilliant cinnamon scent as it wafted from his russet and autumn clothes. He was rather small and egg-shaped, perfectly bald and with a long hooked nose – exactly as I remembered him. Despite his rather comic exterior, he has a heart of steel and a mind like a razor. He's one of the few slavers I can tolerate, probably because he's minor nobility himself and knows his manners and which fork to use.
"Silas! It is good to see you again."
"And you, Highness. Are you here for more to add to your harem? We have a particularly fine selection of Sylvan girls and I still have a few Regarian boys left."
I was tempted, very tempted. Sylvans are the most delightful creatures, and Regarians are very good as bodyguards and in bed, but I wrenched my mind back to the task at hand.
"No, Silas, not today. I'm here for the slave I put the reserve bid on a few weeks ago. You're auctioning him today, I believe."
"Indeed, Highness. We are just about to bid on him – if you would follow me…" He rolled away and I followed with my retinue, through the perfumed halls and cedared screenways to the auction hall, where my slave was just coming up.
I groaned as soon as I saw him. Silas had dressed him up – this was very bad. Not because it made him look awful, but because the old eagle had apparently seen what I had when I met him – a god lurking behind the demure exterior - and dressed him accordingly. He was…gorgeous and somehow exquisitely vulnerable, with that naughty fire hiding just below his skin for all to see. This would be...expensive.
I sighed and settled into the royal box as the bidding began, fast and furious. A hundred imperials, two hundred, four fifty, a thousand, two five hundred, three thousand, four! This was getting truly ridiculous. Admittedly, the slave was devastatingly pretty, but really! As the bidding passed six thousand gold imperials, I began to worry. I hadn't brought an armoured transport, reasoning that his price wouldn't be massively high, but at this rate I'd end up begging the Treasury for more money. After six five hundred, people began to drop out; by seven four hundred, there were only two bidding against one another, two lechers, one in leathers and looking brutal, the other enveloped in a cloud of scents and feminine clothes. Finally, the effeminate one dropped out at nine thousand, and I called out, in my best imperious tones, "Reserve bid!" with no small sense of relief.
Silas looked up at the royal box as the leather lecher started towards me, hands clenching. "Sold to His Royal Highness Prince Noon of the Empire! Sold at ten thousand eighty!"
One of my guards appeared at the side of the leather-bound muscle maniac. "I wouldn't try contesting it," he said, softly. I love my guards. Steel glittered briefly, and the man backed off. As the auction-goers retired to the reception room for a break, Silas led my new acquisition over to me, leash jingling invitingly.
"Your Royal Highness," he said, smiling broadly. "Your new slave. If you would come with me, we can complete the bonding process. If I may ask – could you leave your guards behind? They might interfere with the procedure."
"Very well. Tal, do wait outside the door. I doubt Lord Sakar will want his best-paying customer dead, after all." My stoic guardian didn't crack a smile beneath his golden helm, pyroil projector beating a tattoo on his armoured thigh as he stood aside to wait, patiently, by the door.
The bonding room itself was a small, metal-lined cube, with just a table and three chairs set in the centre of it. Very spartan, keeping all unnecessary influences out, and a stark contrast to the lavish emporium as a whole.
Silas led my new slave over to one simple chair, and sat in another, gesturing for me to take the last. I settled gingerly onto the cold iron.
"Are you ready?" Silas asked, his eyes a-twinkle.
"Silas, I do not want the slave bonded to me," I said quickly, before he could begin. I handed him a covered container. "I want him bonded to these."
The portly slaver cracked open the marquetry box and his eyebrows arched in haughty surprise.
Inside were four small, etched vials – one each of the vital humours. I made a face at them. It had been very difficult and decidedly uncomfortable to acquire the samples, not to mention embarrassing.
"You want him bonded to all of these, Highness?"
"You do know what bonding to all four humours will do, don't you?"
"Something unbreakable? Yes, I know. That's the idea."
Silas raised his eyebrows, but nevertheless bent his power to the bonding process. The vial of blood rose from its restraints, sailed over to the slave who was encased in a white nimbus of fire, and emptied its contents over him, the red liquid cascading into the corona around him, staining it a blood-red that flared a brilliant gold for a second.
The next vial burst into the air and upended itself, silvery liquid flowing over the bloodred light before being absorbed and sending flaring bars of argent light across the red sea.
Yellowing fluid sent bars of sunlight racing through the coronal maelstrom whirling about the slave's body, followed quickly by a chocolate tide that rolled through it, a calming influence. Finally, the slave blazed in all colours of the rainbow, and then settled back into normal colours. Silas slumped in his chair, breathing heavily.
"That was…hard," he panted and took a deep draught of water. "Ahh."
I coughed. "Silas, what's his conditioning?" I'd obviously looked over the basics when I first saw him, but my duties as Prince were many, and I couldn't be expected to remember every little detail. He was surely acceptable – or else I'd never have bid for him – but I was keen to know exactly how the courtier to Lord Lust had been trained.
"He's a complete submissive, Highness. He is conditioned in all the usual arts, though he expressed a great deal of interest in the bondage scenes and has become a master in that area of the Art."
I smiled. "Perfect, Silas. Perfect. What's his name?"
"He doesn't have one. Slave one-seven-three-two is his designation."
"And his age bracket?"
"Ah." Slightly too young for my taste, but never mind that. It isn't for me, after all.
"I shall have to give him a name. Slave one-seven-three-two, look at me."
He raised his head and looked at me. KiiAmat in heaven, he was beautiful. Huge eyes, almond-shaped and a delicate shade of violet gazed at me, framed by great masses of palest blonde hair that tumbled freely down to his ankles in a delicate, diaphanous cascade, and skin as delicate as fine porcelain, with lips as red as a cherry. His fingers were long and elegant, looking like they could be snapped with the gentlest of caresses, and his fingernails, painted with exquisite silver, marked him a slave. "Oh my…" I said weakly. "He's perfect. I'll call him…Dusk. Yes, Dusk will do very nicely."
"Very good, sir," he replied, softly. His voice was rich and light.
I couldn't help it. I squealed. Silas just grinned at me. "I expect you're wishing you'd bonded him to you now," he said.
"No, no…he's the best gift ever, I think." It took a lot of effort to say that.
Silas smiled broadly. "All right, then. Your Highness, now I have to read you both the rules. Of course, later on you will need to get the recipient of your gift to sign as well. So, the rules are as follows: one, your slave is your property. You may do anything you like to it, but you are also responsible for anything it does. Two, you are not allowed to have your sex slave – which this one is – more than an hour away from you at any time. You must also keep a contact number somewhere on the slave's body where it cannot be removed at all times. Three, your slave must be collared at all times and also leashed in public. Four, if a problem arises and you cannot obey the second rule, the slave must be brought back to the market to be cared for while you are away. This is not a free service. And that's about it. Here's the hard copy, Highness, all very routine, you own enough of our slaves to know the warranty off by heart, I shouldn't wonder. And now, the unpleasant business of the payment. Ten thousand and eighty gold imperials, please."
"Silas…I don't have ten thousand eighty on me. I have six thousand. If I give you that, would you be willing to accept twinned Dulian fire-opals of the…fifth grade for the rest? If not, I can write you a credit chit for the bank."
Silas frowned. "Hmm. Make it grade three and I'll accept."
"Oh come on, Silas. Grade four."
"Grade four brilliant," he said stubbornly, folding his arms into the patented 'final offer' position.
I scowled. "Done and done." I produced the gems, glittering with brilliant sunfire and the cold blaze of the gems themselves flashing from the many facets, and the gold, handed both of them over, and waited as Silas confirmed the bond and purchase, and handed me the leash of my new slave.
Dusk stood up unsteadily and walked around the table to stand in the regulation position two steps in front of me, staring down at the floor, the chain of his leash clinking against the metal collar.
"It was good doing business with you, Your Highness," called Silas and waved a cheery goodbye. I snorted softly. He had every right to be cheery – he'd just cheated me out of a twinned pair of grade four brilliant fire-opals from the mines of Dulia, and he'd make a fat profit off them too. I shook my head and led Dusk out of the slave market and handed him into the waiting palanquin.
"Dusk," I said. He looked up, startled, eyes wide.
"Do you know who I am?"
"I am sorry…no," he cringed, and I winced. This was going to take some doing.
"I'm Noon. My brother – your Master – is Dawn."
"Like the royal family?" His eyes were wide, his tone adorably – and suitably, if I said so myself – worshipful.
I grinned. "Yes, like the royal family." Exactly like the royal family. In fact, we're one and the same.
He looked like he wanted to speak. "Do you want to say something, Dusk?"
"Are you taking me to my Master? What's he like?" All said in that same soft tone. It was beginning to grate on my nerves, which have never been that good, either.
"Yes, I'm taking you to your master, though you won't meet him for about a day or so. He's…perfect. But he's a bit cold and distant. You'll get used to him."
Again the slave looked like he wanted to speak. "Look, Dusk, I don't mind you asking questions, especially if they'll help improve your performance and suitability. Just ask them!"
"Why can't I see master now?" How sweet. It's nice to have one's orders obeyed so promptly, sometimes.
"You're a gift. It's his birthday in two days. I think he needs..." I waved my hands airily, trying desperately to think of the phrase "...taking out of himself."
"Birthday? I like birthdays."
"His will be exceptionally boring."
Dusk made a face. "Birthdays should not be boring."
"No," I agreed. "They shouldn't. So perhaps you should make it interesting for him, hmm?"
His eyes brightened. "What does he like?"
I frowned. I didn't actually know. "I'm not sure. We were never very close."
Dusk's eyes filled with tears. "That's sad," he sniffled, dabbing at his eyes.
"Perhaps it was for the best," I said softly, more to myself than to him. The palanquin drew to a stop and was set down. I hadn't even noticed us ascending the granite bluff up into the Upper City, and waited impatiently as our credentials were checked. As soon as we were through, I hurled back the curtains and stared out at the wedding-cake of marble that was the great and glorious Upper City, the palace gleaming high and golden over the lot.
Dusk's eyes were very, very wide. "Amazing…" he breathed, his eyes starry with reflected glory.
"You look like you've never seen the Upper City before," I said, amused. He must have had other owners, or he wouldn't glitter like some Christmas decoration in the sun. He had piercings everywhere, all filled with cheap imitation diamonds that shone brilliantly, even in the shade of the palanquin.
"I haven't," he replied softly. "My…previous owner…"
"I was ordered to always stay in the house and look pretty for his guests when he had them. I haven't been outside in…many years," he said, looking rather confused and dazzled by the sights and sounds outside the palanquin.
"What? That's awful!" As you may have guessed, I love the outdoors.
"It was what my master ordered."
"Well, you should ask Dawn to take you out to the parks," I said decisively.
"Oh no, I couldn't do that! I…I wouldn't want to be a burden…any more than I already am…" He looked so down, poor boy.
"Dawn will have an obligation to keep you happy and healthy. It isn't healthy to be indoors all the time."
Just then, the palanquin came to a stop with a respectful murmur from the muscular bearers. "Well, here we are," I said cheerfully, jingling the chain as I stepped out into the rose-scented air. I sighed as I looked at him, curiously childlike as he slid his form carefully downwards onto the marble. Silas had obviously had him rubbed with some oil that shone with tiny flecks of gold, perfectly setting his pale skin off, and now they leapt to beautiful fire in the sunlight.
"Is there any special way you want me to walk?" he asked shyly as his bare feet came into contact with the sizzling marble causeway that led up to the vast imperial palace. I was jerked out of my speculative reverie by the hesitant question.
"I'm not your master, Dusk," I replied, the heat burning through my boots. "Just walk like you normally do."
I swallowed a scream as he began to walk, a sensual, sexual little strut that was both provocative and submissive at the same time, the chain jingling in time with his swaying hips. "Er…Dusk," I said. It came out as a sort of whispered shriek.
"Could…you just…sort of walk…like I do?"
"Why?" He asked, and then suddenly remembered who and what he was. "Oh, of course, sir, please, don't…" He looked up at me with wide violet eyes and I grinned.
"It's okay. It's just…the guards are looking at you. They might try something."
He shrugged, the chain clinking against the heavy, bulky collar. "It's nothing new. Guards as a rule are not that good," he said, eyes down. "They're too brutish, but I don't really mind."
"You mean the guards at your old owner's house…did you?"
"And the slavers, and anyone who wanted to," he said, with no rancour. "It's what I am for. I live to give others pleasure. I don't really mind."
"Well, Dusk, I'm afraid that will be impossible here. You must promise me, here and now, that you will be faithful to your master and your master only. You will fight against any others who try to take you and if they manage to you will go immediately to the Master of the Guards and Dawn and tell them what happened. Am I clear?" He didn't answer, only looked down at his perfect, tiny feet. "Am I clear, Dusk?"
"Yes, sir," he whispered, looking dejected.
"What's wrong?" I asked as we neared the palace. The guards had long melted into the sylvan greenery, leaving just me and Dusk walking down the burning marble path.
He began to cry. I looked at him, surprised. None of my slaves had ever cried, not even when…ah, we'll just forget that, shall we? I sat him down on a bench and carefully brushed away a tear. Who would have thought it? Me, His Royal Highness Prince Noon of the Empire, comforting a slave, a piece of property, to be used and thrown away.
"What's wrong, Dusk?"
"I…I…I'm a sex slave!" he wailed. "I live to give pleasure! Master won't want me in h-his bed all the time and I'll be a-all alone!"
"You'll be fine. Dawn isn't old, you know."
"How old?" sniffed Dusk.
"Seventeen in two days."
He sucked in a breath. "That young, sir? A-are you sure I'd make a good gift?"
I sighed. "In the long run, definitely sure."
Dusk smiled. "Good! Then I am too." A strange expression crossed his face.
"What is it?"
"I'm lonely…but it's not me."
"Ah." The bond of slave and master already acting. This would be…interesting, to say the least.
"Well," I said abruptly, hauling him up by his collar. "Come on. We have to get you cleaned up."
Dusk's perfect nose wrinkled as he looked down at himself. "Yes, sir."
I set down my pen with a sigh, the last signature still sizzling on the crisp white parchment next to me. I had a pounding headache, something that all the herbal tinctures and darkened rooms couldn't get rid of. Thankfully, I'd got the land reform laws just about done before the awful headache set in. I couldn't work any more, something that registered with mild, detached annoyance in my mind. I pulled on my midnight overcoat and strode out the doors, my two guards forming up on either side of me.
"Where, to, sir?"
"My suite." No other response was required – my guards knew me, knew I liked my silence.
As the doors shut behind me, the guards on detail outside, I suddenly felt a great wave of loneliness crash over my barriers, something that had not happened ever since…I frowned blackly. Now was not the time to think of that.
I slumped down, my back against the hard, impersonal carvings etched deep into the ebony wood. Dark. Like my rooms.
Midnight trailed across the room, midnight on a cloudy, moonless night the ceiling, the endless gulf of interstellar night the floor, the bed, a great behemoth of blue and black looming like a bulking, monstrous planet out of space. Silver glittered coldly, uncaring stars and splinters of ice hurled into the wall, scattered by some uncaring Creator across the ebony panels. The fireplace was dark, black marble and soot covering it. Black coal was piled in the grate, but it was unlit. Night-lights, sucking all light into them, were stationed around the room, perpetuating the midnight darkness and chill. The room was cold, dead.
A strange room for me, especially with my namesake. Dawn. His Imperial Highness, Crown Prince Dawn of the Empire. I used to have a room that was all white and pink and gold and open to the gardens, with a rooftop balcony sheltering under a golden dome, where I would sit and watch the dawn rise over the city.
It had three magnificent ocularies, it was always bright and airy. Tall, fluted pillars, etched with delicate, innocent figures supported a sylvan ceiling, where deer played and gambolled through impossibly perfect woodlands and angels kept watch over them from above the earth. That was when my favourite colours had been snow-white and shell-pink and butter-yellow, before the…incident.
Now, the only colours I'll allow near me are silver, black and midnight blue. Cold. Distant. How everything should be. Now…that room is coated in dust and dust sheets, the ocularies splintered and boarded up, the mosaics and paintings desecrated, the gardens razed and the balcony defiled. As it should be.
"Sir." Star stepped out of the shadows, his face a pale mask beneath ebony hair and above midnight clothes. "Will you be requiring anything." His voice was a monotone, no inflection ever marred his icy countenance.
"No, thank you, Star. Just…go."
"Sir." Star melted into the shadows once more. Alone.
And then the loneliness vanished, sucked away down some unimaginable conduit and replaced with something…happiness? Confusion? Worry?
It had been so long since I felt anything other than an icy, implacable calm. My head snapped back, hurtling into the door so hard it cracked and splintered while fireworks exploded in my mind. I stood up, swaying as the world narrowed to a point and then suddenly clicked off.