Disclaimer:

Ice'is Blue does not own Digimon. She's quite content writing fanfiction for it and receiving no money for her efforts. ^_^



Author's Notes:

To put it briefly: This fic is set in a post-apocalyptic alternate future where Myotismon was never defeated. The main pairings will be Taito and Kaisuke/Daiken, but het couples will also be present. If guy/guy action isn't your thing, find something else to read. Oh... I've taken a few liberties with the alternate reality... Digimon are no longer the innocent butterballs you're used to... among other things.

All previously appearing author's notes have been deleted. If you're heart-set on reading them, they may appear on my website once it's up and running, but really, why would you want to do that anyway? Future ramblings and story-related notes can be found on my LiveJournal under ice_is_blue (livejournal[.] com / users / ice_is_blue/ ). Please be aware that I write very slowly, so if you're curious about how the next chapter's coming, take a peek at the LJ.

Reviews, questions, and constructive criticisms are greatly appreciated.



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Digimon: 222 — Dark Masquerade

by Ice'is Blue



Foreword

I've written my concluding thoughts to this story already.

All that's left for me is to write this introduction. For some reason, I've saved it for last.

It might be because I don't think I'll ever be able to put down in words what it's been like to live my life,

To live in a world consumed by corruption, despoiled by pollution, and bound by slavery.

I know that this history will be read... maybe even centuries from now.

And while I hope this old way of life, these concepts, are foreign to the reader, it makes my job harder.

There's no easy way to prepare you for the world you are about to encounter.

There is death, there is sex for the wrong reasons, there is betrayal, violence, and foul language.

And throughout the happy, the fun, the silly, the sweet times, people are also very, very sad.

If you are brave, the only thing you can do is read.

Read and listen with your heart.

Read and learn.

~

My hair is turning white.

It's a little early yet, but it's understandable considering the stress I've been through.

Still, I'm getting to be an old man. I never thought I'd live to see this day.

You can find out in most history books that the Old Era ended on December 22, 2002.

As children, you have memorized that the Dark Age ended on December 22, Year 222 of the New Era.

But people still do not know the story of how the world was changed.

They don't know our story.

They don't know my story.

You don't know your own story.

~

Flash back to January 1st, Year 223 of the New Era.

Everyone wants to hear how we twelve saved the world.'

They ask us what having a digimon partner is like.

They ask us if the mutants' are really safe.

They ask us if the children will stop dying.

But most often we are asked about our battles with Myotismon.

They ask us about the flashy part of the story — the simple side.

Myotismon — the big bad monster wrapped in a human husk.

After first being shocked that Lord Otis was anything other than a powerful Lord,

A wealthy scientist with the secret nano-technology miracle of eternal life;

People, who had heard about it from friends of friends, wondered how we ever defeated him.

As if our digimon partners had nothing to do with it.

People think our story is of battling Myotismon.

Really, we were fighting ourselves.

~

Now, twenty-five years later, our lives have settled as much as they ever will or can.

Eventually, one-by-one, I got them to tell me their side of the story.

And it's written here, so that everyone can know the truth... or at least as close to it as I can come.

I've had to recreate what I don't know, what they don't know.

I've had to recreate what they couldn't tell me, what they wouldn't tell me.

And then I've had to take all the puzzle pieces of memory and fit them together.

I offer these words to you, wondering still, what would have happened if I never ran into him.

I can only offer these words, and hope that you give them meaning.

~



Chapter 1: The Dark Masque

Click. Click. Click. The exotic high-heeled boots that Yamato was wearing to the masque echoed along the metallic black surface of the corridor. The few servants and slaves not yet finished with their tasks rushed to move out of his way as he approached. A short boy with dun-colored hair stumbled in his haste, spilling his tray of food right in front of Yamato. The wealthy blond slowed his pace, then finally stopped when his path was blocked by the slave. Common custom dictated that it would be undignified for him to alter his course for a mere slave. He looked down. The boy, Iori, as the tag about his neck read, still had not lifted so much as a finger.

Yamato was becoming impatient. The masque was starting soon and it would be equally undignified for him to be seen walking with any pace faster than a leisurely stroll.

he ordered with a growl in his voice.

The trembling lump of body shook harder and clutched its arms tighter about its head while pulling its legs up closer to shield its stomach.

He expects me to kick him out of the way, Yamato realized. Well, sorry to disappoint, but I'm not my father or the people like him.

Look at me, he ordered. His tone was in no way gentle, but it lacked the biting, casual hatred other Lords used. The slave slowly unsquinched his eyelids and stared up at him with deep green orbs. Why haven't you moved out of my way? Yamato questioned.

The slave opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

Answer me, I grow impatient.

P-please, Lord. I'm s-sorry, the boy finally squeaked. B-but I just c-can't!

Weak with hunger... probably why he tripped in the first place. Yamato suppressed the urge to sigh, focusing instead on keeping his mask of faint disdain intact. He quickly checked to make sure that they were alone, then spoke, Remember this moment, remember my face, and remember that I am called Yamato.

The boy, olive eyes widening in terror, no doubt recognized the name as belonging to High Lord Masaharu's son. He appeared unable to move, capable only of staring.

Yamato stepped over the curled body and began walking away, getting just the barest hint of satisfaction from the sound of a quiet gasp behind him. Clean this mess up then go down to the kitchens, he ordered over his shoulder. See to it that you get a decent meal. If they deny you food, tell them that it is on my command.

Yes, Lord Yamato.

Yamato nodded in acknowledgment then assumed the quickest acceptable pace and continued down the corridor. With luck, he would arrive at the masque with still a few minutes to spare.

***

Luck was not with Yamato.

According to his chronometer, the masque had officially started ten minutes ago and as heir to the hosting Lord, Yamato should have been there. He slowed to a halt, his breath heaving more from anticipation than from exertion. The guarded doors to the ballroom lay just around the corner, but as he was already tardy, Yamato took a few precious moments to steady himself and to check his appearance.

With gentle coaxing from his fingertips, Yamato's hair returned to its original state. And while the tightly-cut shirt and pants that he wore were serviceable after a quick brushing down to remove whatever particles they'd collected from his accident, there was nothing much he could do about the bruise forming on his right forearm where he'd taken the force of the fall. But he shrugged away the pain, figuring that it would be unnoticeable under his long sleeves. It would be easy to avoid touches there, anyway.

Yamato saved the inspection of his boots (and the glare he owed them) for last. After parting with the petrified slave, Yamato had made good time, even managing a run down the few empty corridors. Things were looking up, until his spike heel had caught in some metal grating. Of course the accident had happened while he was running in one of the deserted corridors, so he'd had to deal with the situation on his own. Yamato had spent precious minutes undoing the wild assortment of ties, buckles, and zippers holding the boot to his foot, then he spent several more frustrating moments trying to remove the boot from the grate.

Despite the trouble they undoubtedly were and even though they were sometimes difficult to walk in, they served him well, enhancing the sultry appearance he had cultivated for the special party tonight. Not only did their height accentuate and call attention to his slenderly muscled legs, they were also a weapon. The boots had complex fastening of many kinds and in that tangle there was a switch that exposed the spike-like blade set into the heal. A different switch would coat the blade with an extremely potent sedative that worked almost instantly. Stepping through the doors to the masqued ball would be easier knowing he had the boots and their concealed weapons with him.

In another, more perfect, world, the idea of such boots would be ridiculous, but for Yamato, they were a necessary and secret precaution. In these times, it was dangerous to be beautiful. Yamato, with his finely-spun golden hair and eyes the unusual color of sapphires, had to be very careful. Beautiful things were used until they were spoiled, then thrown away. It happened over and over again in his society — the land, the plants and animals, the people — all were raped of their value and discarded.

Although Yamato desperately wished in the depths of his heart that things were different, it was a cruel fact of the world that those with power and money could do as they desired, answering only to those more powerful. With his stunning good looks, it was all he could do to not present himself as a target, as a victim. No, Yamato had learned early on not to present himself as a weak Lord. Instead, he grew a persona to wear, one that was distant, cold, and cruel.

As his duties to his father increased, the more he had to keep the mask on his true emotions in place. When he was younger, it had been easier. He got to spend the majority of his day with his nurses and tutors. But as he got older, his father had expected him to be at his side, learning from him how a Lord should act. And the persona was kept in place for longer and longer periods of time. Over the years, an eventual blending occurred and some days, Yamato wasn't sure which was the persona and which was his true self: the cruel mask or the caring one.

To be completely honest with himself, if the incident with the slave had happened when Yamato was in a bad mood, the persona might not have disappeared. He would have kicked the boy out of his way. But the mask did drop and you didn't kick the boy, he reminded himself sternly. While your father is still the High Lord, this is the way things must be. And right now, the place you need to be is at that party, wearing your party' mask.

Effortlessly, Yamato's face lost all emotions, save boredom, and his eyes grew haughty and disdainful. Eat em alive, or they eat you, he whispered to himself. Then he stepped around the corner.

***

His father, High Lord Masaharu, stood against the wall at the very back of the wide platform that raised the two dinner tables of the High Lords and their heirs. Larger tables were arranged in a semicircle around the pit-like stage set into the floor. Lords milled around, socializing and waiting for the dinner signal. It was an important gathering with nearly five dozen lesser Lords in attendance. On the floor below, Yamato could easily spot the High Lords and their heirs as they meandered through a crowd that parted immediately for their path.

High Lord Motomiya and his two annoying offspring, Lady Jun and Lord Daisuke were present, as was High Lord Kidou and his youngest son, the sniveling Lord Jyou. The High Lord's two elder sons, Lords Shin and Shuu, appeared to be absent. Also missing was High Lord Takenouchi. But her daughter, Sora, who had also won the honor of the title of Lord,' was present and, as suggested by the arrangement of chairs around the raised tables, she would be sitting in her mother's place.

Yamato finally admitted to himself that the boots were overkill. The only man he was really worried about starting a fight was High Lord Yagami, but the masked sadist wasn't anywhere in sight. And it wasn't like his father could start anything with so many lesser Lords around. For the moment, he was safe.

The masque differed from a party in that the attendees were allowed to wear disguises or simple masks. Technically, for it to be called a true masquerade, the costumes would be required... but nobody was of a mind to be picky about such matters. He supposed it would have been possible to dress the slaves up in costumes, but there really wasn't much point in that either.

In fact, among the High Lords and their heirs, only Lord Yagami continued to don a mask, but everyone suspected that was more because of his accident than out of any desire for anonymity. Lord Yagami, Yamato noted with relief, was still not in attendance. His father caught his eye and beckoned to him. Unable to delay the inevitable any further, Yamato approached his father with caution.

The guests have all arrived. You're late, my son, Masaharu announced quietly as Yamato drew near.

Something was up. His father almost seemed pleased that he was late. The man's expression held none of the annoyance that usually affected his features when dealing with Yamato.

I'm sorry, I was delayed.

What happened? he queried.

Yamato phrased his answer very carefully. He couldn't stretch the truth too much, or his father would know. The man always seemed to be able to find out what Yamato had done (or not done), even though there were no witnesses. But he had to lie a little — he couldn't let his father know that he'd been kind to a slave again. Maybe if I tell him...

A slave spilled his tray on my boots, he said. But I dealt with it and punished the slave myself while I waited for another pair to be brought. I apologize for the delay in my arrival, but it is a small occurrence and you need not concern yourself with the matter further.

His father's smile dimmed a fraction but still remained. I am the Lord of this fortress, Yamato, and I shall concern myself with whatever I wish. Is that understood?

Yamato gulped. Maybe that last comment was a bit too much. I shouldn't have pushed him. Where's my head tonight? he wondered. he said aloud.

Father and son regarded each other silently. With Yamato's submission, Masaharu's good mood seemed to have returned and it was making the blond all the more uncomfortable. Heavy footsteps broke the silence.

Excuse me for intruding on your discussion with your son, Masaharu,

Yamato watched as his father's eyes first widened in surprise then narrowed in anger at the sight of the tall man wearing a sculpted metal mask that covered his entire face and head. The metal was dark grey, like the rest of his clothing, except for the black and glittering substance covering the eyes. Yamato wasn't sure how the man inside could see or hear, but he supposed there were sensors or cameras hooked up, for there was no hesitation in his movement or speech.

Lord Yagami, Masaharu acknowledged with neutrality.

My invitation to this little gathering seems to have been misdirected somewhere. What luck that I just happened to be passing through the area and noticed all the other High Lords arriving.

What luck, indeed, Masaharu replied in a tone that clearly stated the opposite. Now, if you'll excuse me, I was just about to call everyone to take their places for dinner. He walked off and began directing everyone to their tables.

Still distracted by his father's odd behavior, Yamato watched him go with a dark glare until Yagami's synthesized voice intruded.

You've grown. Soon you'll be strong enough to go against your father and become the High Lord of this fortress.

Yamato snorted. What, and provide a distraction so you can come in and take control? My father and I work together, end of story, he said, even though the words rang false in his ears.

All right then, the High Lord said smoothly, since you work together, you must know why I didn't receive my invitation to tonight's entertainment.

He knew why: Through his bidding habits, Yagami made whatever event he attended all the more costly. But Yamato didn't dare say this. It was true that he hated the man, but all the same, he didn't dare offend him. It was truly an honest mistake. The slave responsible will be sought out and punished accordingly.

The Lord nodded, dropping the matter, then gave a small chuckle. The clash between father and son grows as you grow. What were you two fighting over this time? he asked.

Blue eyes flashed in annoyance at the elder's tone. Listen to this, prick! I can be just as blood-thirsty as you. He molded his face into an arrogant expression, then said haughtily, It was over my punishment of a slave. For some reason, my father found my methods too severe. Perhaps I should overthrow him and you could guide my training in your areas of expertise.

I work alone, Yagami said, straightening. Besides, I have no desire to train a rival. I like my power and I intend to keep it. He caught up Yamato's right forearm in a strong grip and the blond had to struggle not to cry out at the pressure on his bruises. It was the handshake of two High Lords, of equals. But I do wish you luck. We need strong men to lead the world. I hope that you will be one of them.

Thoroughly confused and distracted by the pain in his arm, Yamato nodded and he was released. Yagami stood there for a moment and Yamato cursed the black reflective covering over the Lord's eyes. It was a tool of power. The mask made it impossible to tell what its wearer was thinking or feeling and Yamato suspected that Yagami liked it that way. They remained there watching each other for several seconds, then the man turned on his heel and strode to his seat at the table with the other High Lords.

Yamato shuddered and found himself wishing that the man had died in the same accident that had killed his son. Shakily, he took his place at the table set for four, with Lord Jyou on his right, Lord Daisuke on his left, and Lady Jun, with her large smile, sat across from him.

***

Lady Jun said perkily once the food was served, putting an end to the small talk. Why did you come in late?

Something got spilled on my boots and I had to go back to my room to change, he said, hoping she would accept the excuse.

Yamato, Yamato, Yamato, she chided. Remember who you're talking to. It's me, Jun, the one who can always tell when you're ly~ing, she said in an annoying sing-song voice. Now tell me, what's the real reason you were late?

Yamato considered appealing to Daisuke for help, but it was clear from his expression that the young Lord was just as interested as his sister.

Forcing himself not to scowl, Yamato answered her truthfully. I had some difficulty with a slave.

she commented. What was his name?

Yamato rolled his eyes.

She wagged her finger. Try another.

he spat. It was Keirou.

Try again, Jun said smiling.

Look, I don't know!

Yamato, darling, even you should know that particular line would be more believable had you not given me two other names before trying it. You obviously don't want to tell me his name, and since you didn't tell me straight out that you don't know it at all, you must know exactly who he is. She looked at him with a wicked grin. Maybe the slave's your lover and you just want to protect his identity. You do seem like the type to do that. Although, she tsked, shame on you for having sex with a slave right before a dinner party. Even Lord Jyou, here, knows enough to leave his special pet at home when attending one of these masques.

It's nothing like that, Yamato snarled quietly.

Um, Lady Jun, excuse me for intruding in the conversation, but perhaps it would be best if you let the matter drop, Lord Jyou commented, his face a gentle shade of crimson.

Um, excuse me, Lady Jun, she mimicked, but perhaps it would be best if you let the matter drop. Jun made a face. It's a wonder your father still keeps you around. If you had at least an ounce of sense that your two gorgeous older brothers have... She gave up, exasperated. The man was already cringing too hard to hear her. Just butt out! she snapped at him.

Jyou gulped and stared at his dinner plate meekly. Jun smiled sweetly.

Now, Yamato, the easy way out of this would be to tell me his name. I promise to drop the matter entirely, if you just give me that piece of information. Or, I could just keep nagging you about it the entire night. But then your father might get suspicious... you obviously didn't tell him about this, did you?

Fighting to keep his face from growing pale, Yamato looked at her skeptically. You promise? I tell you, and that's it?

She traced an X' over her heart and kissed the air. I promise.

His father's head was turned in the opposite direction, completely engrossed in a conversation about High Lord Otis' newest orders and the criminal who was calling himself the Kaizer.' No one from the older Lords' table was paying him any attention. Everyone else was too far away. Lady Jun was waiting, smiling, completely ready to make a fuss that would put him in even more trouble than he was in already. Did he really have a choice?

In defeat, Yamato leaned forward until his face was almost pressed into the arrangement of almost-extinct flowers that served as the table's centerpiece. Jun also leaned her head in closer. he said in a growled whisper.

Jun beamed. That's all I wanted to know.

Sitting back with a sigh, Yamato asked, Why did you want to know in the first place?

She shrugged. It's special information, something that only you and I know, and it might come in handy later. I never forget a name, you know, she boasted. Besides, it's so much fun wringing the truth out of you, she giggled. she trailed off mischievously, Now I can tease you about your new lover!

Before Yamato could respond with something that would only be inappropriate for their setting, Daisuke butted in. You know, Sis, I found your little game as amusing as you did, he said cracking a grin. You got the stone-man' to speak. Great job. But, you did promise you'd drop it. And besides, his eyes lit with a glee that only occurred when he was about to talk about sports, whatever affair Yamato's having isn't nearly as interesting as the tournament we were in last weekend. My team totally massacred!

Jun glared at her brother then returned her attention to her dinner with a pout. Luckily for Yamato, the boy's mouth produced sound for the rest of dinner. Apparently, even Lady Jun couldn't get him to shut up once he started talking about soccer.

***

With his head carefully turned in the opposite direction, Masaharu smiled. It seemed his precaution to plant a listening device in his dishonorable son's flower arrangement had proved useful. The bug was linked into his earpiece and now he had a name. Iori. And with that name he finally had the proof to do as he had been wanting to do for a long time. Masaharu made a note to comment to Motomiya on what a fine Lady his Jun was turning out to be. The girl's cooperation had only required an insignificant bribe.

A good half of an hour later, when everyone had finished their meal and conversations were dying down, he gave the signal. Dishes and utensils were removed. The tables were cleaned. And those of lesser rank, of insufficient funds, or not of the mood to stay on for the night's main event, slowly filed out the double doors. The Lords at the raised tables remained steady, but the lesser folk, seated among/at the dozen larger tables on the floor began to shift in anticipation.

Masaharu spared his son a brief glance. The boy was clearly uncomfortable, but was doing his best to hide it. Just as well that I'm putting my plan into action now, rather than await a further, and possibly more disastrous, mishap. He pushed back his chair and stood. All conversation ceased.

He projected his voice, brassy and confident, Welcome, my friends, to the night's main event! Hopefully the dinner has satisfied your appetite for food, now feast your eyes on these delicacies and satisfy your appetite for flesh!

The Slavemaster took control then, drawing the audience's attention to the recessed area of the floor. Masaharu gave a second look at his son... calm, cold, perhaps even bored excitement... the perfect mask. But that really was all it was. Ever since he was little, the boy had possessed a soft spot for slaves that could not be shaken, no matter the punishment. Masaharu was generous enough to allow that he was not completely blameless. He probably should have seen to it that young Yamato had been raised by people other than slaves, but he'd had other more important matters to attend to. When he was younger, Yamato had shed tears for the slaves. Those embarrassing moments soon stopped, but then the occasional confrontation would occur, their frequency increasing as Yamato grew older. Masaharu had suspected that the current peace over the slave matter was feigned and now, with tonight, he was able to confirm his suspicions. It pained him slightly that Yamato could not respect and uphold the laws that kept society functioning — especially when those laws kept the boy in a place of privilege. But he was amused by the irony that for all his son's empathy for slaves, now the boy would join them.

At least he had reliable, complacent Takeru. Natsuko was much smarter than he had anticipated. Surely, she had not imagined replacing his first son with his second, but that was why a man's mind was needed to deal with such matters. The plan was simple: dispose of Yamato, send for Takeru, and groom the boy a bit more closely than the last.

As he was pondering over the best way to raise his new heir, raised voices drew his attention back to the slave auction. Lord Yagami and a lesser Lord were standing. From the look on the man's face, Yagami had just out-bid him. On another evening, Masaharu might have been annoyed. Normally, the Lord's eclectic tastes and deep pockets were a pain, driving up the price of almost every slave shown. Indeed, some of the lesser Lords were already excusing themselves for the night. The man who had just lost, more correctly, stormed out. But tonight, Masaharu sat back and smiled.

Some of the other Lords disagreed with Yagami's actions — his passion and skill for inflicting pain, the rumors of his unusual tastes in the bedroom, and his love of strong-willed slaves and his joy for breaking their spirits. But Masaharu couldn't fault the masked man for any of his practices. Slaves were possessions and owners could do as they wished with their possessions.

Masaharu watched as Yagami purchased the next three slaves: a meek and comely serving girl (good for at least one night of pleasure), an elderly man (to everyone's shock), and a lightly scarred girl (still with fresh signs of correction). Yagami appeared to be in a buying mood. Well, that suited Masaharu's plans perfectly.

He waved a servant over.

Have the slave called Iori' questioned about his actions today... particularly about any interactions he may have had with my son today. Do not inflict any physical harm in the process, there is time for that soon enough. Once he has been questioned, send a transcript to my datapad and take this, Iori,' to one of the more elaborate torture chambers.

The man bowed low to the whispered order and left quickly.

Now, to deal with Yamato...

Masaharu took his datapad, called up the serial number for that of the Slavemaster and sent him a one-word message: Harsher.

***

Yamato watched the auction with practiced detachment, but tonight his control was slipping.

He tried not to hear as the Slavemaster described the attributes and skills of each slave shown. He denied his body permission to react when the slave's initiation time was given as birth.' In his mind, he wondered why people so used to objectifying human beings, bothered to keep track of the enslavement situation of each slave. Perhaps allowing slaves individual names and keeping track of their life-history were signs that not all was hopeless. But in the end, he supposed it was a perverted form of bookkeeping.

Minutes passed into hours as the skin (clothed and not) paraded by. Lord Yagami, the rich bastard, continued in his sick habit of buying nearly anything that breathed. Yamato wished the poor slaves luck, even though he knew certain unhappiness was in store for anyone who was purchased by the masked Lord. All he could do was sit and wait for the macabre auction to end. Watch the stage and wait for the day when you have the power to change this and put people like Yagami in the ground.

Out of the corner of his eye, Yamato saw his father call a servant over to his table, but he couldn't make out what was being said without turning his head away from the stage below. He could tell, though, that after the servant left, his father was smiling as he typed something into his data pad. Not good. Not good. Not good, his mind chanted. Sternly, Yamato fixed his entire attention on the auction, hoping childishly that what he couldn't see wouldn't harm him. He really should have closed his eyes entirely, or excused himself, but that was out of the question. Some unknown lesser Lord purchased the current slave.

The next slave that was shown was female, nude, and clearly terrified. The Slavemaster glanced at his datapad and began announcing her statistics to the waiting audience. This pretty flower is called Hana.' She was enslaved at the age of four and has spent the last twelve years as a domestic slave. He stepped behind the trembling girl, hefted one breast up and let it fall, demonstrating its ability to quickly spring back into place. As you can see, this flower has blossomed and now her previous owner has decided to sell her so that she may allow others to partake of and appreciate her beauty. He ruffled his fingers through the girl's triangle of curly hairs. See? A true redhead and rarer still, the buyer gets all of the fire with none of the heat. Her previous owner assures that the most resistance you will get from her is tears, and in the end, she always obeys. Now, who desires to purchase this thornless red rose? We shall start the bidding at 5,000 credits.

Yamato's stomach churned in suppressed anger. The Slavemaster continued to touch and fondle the suffering girl as he collected the bids. Some touching of the slave for sale was normal, but this was blatant torture. The Slavemaster was clearly enjoying his actions as well as most of the lesser Lords who hollered out encouragement or directions which the Slavemaster chose to follow or not. Despite High Lord Kidou's participation in the bidding, the only Lord at the raised tables to show any emotion was Lord Sora, in the form of mild displeasure. But the Lord said nothing, nor did she bid on the girl as she had on others that night. Yamato's frustration grew until finally, Kidou set a price no one was willing to increase and the girl was sold.

At this point, the female slave was unable to stand and was being helped off the stage by another slave. Maybe it was just that one girl, Yamato told himself hopefully, knowing that if the next slave was subjected to similar treatment it would be difficult for him to remain quiet.

The slave that followed next was a male in a loincloth. His muscled arms were bound behind his back and a short chain connected his ankles. Variously aged scars from a whip cris-crossed his body. Defiance blazed in his eyes. Yamato judged that he couldn't have been more than eighteen years old. This is one that will die young, he thought sadly.

The Slavemaster picked up a cane that was lying on the ground and gave the slave a flick across the buttocks. The slave bared his teeth and snarled, but did not move... to do so would be to invite punishment. This slave is Mamuchi, the Slavemaster began. He met with his calling in life somewhat later than most, at the age of fourteen. He's a strong lad, well suited for physical labor and foundry work in particular, but he needs correction frequently, as his previous nine masters have learned. He swatted the man across the front of his thighs, then continued to pepper blows from every angle as he spoke. Who is willing to tame the beast and claim his power for their own? We'll start the bidding at 1,000 credits.

The room was silent. No one was willing to spend money on an obviously disobedient slave. The Slavemaster delivered a particularly flesh-cracking blow and the slave went down on one knee. See? He submits! he called out.

Yamato was a step below furious. He knew that slaves were usually treated worse by their masters, but the auctions were not supposed to glorify emotional and physical torture. Yes, they sold flesh, but usually there was a businesslike clinicality to them. Still, no one had placed a bid. Yamato studied the Slavemaster as he increased the severity of his blows. The man was smiling, he was enjoying himself. He's out of control... this is getting out of hand.

Suddenly, the slave surged upwards, battering at the Slavemaster with his shoulder and the side of his body. The Slavemaster, clearly having the advantage of unfettered legs, stepped back and swept the feet out from beneath the slave. Now, the blows directed at the slave fell in much more painful areas... the face, the abdomen, the inner thighs. Cheers of encouragement for the Slavemaster came from the lesser Lords of the masque. Still, the slave tried to rise to his feet.

Yamato was already halfway out of his seat when the voice came. He quickly sat back down.

I will call the bid of one thousand credits. The slave has shown spirit. I shall enjoy crushing it.

Heads turned to see High Lord Yagami standing. Excited chatter started up among the lesser Lords and even among the High Lords, every face held some form of interested pleasure. Sickened, Yamato pulled out his datapad and started calling up the fortress' lighting controls.

I have one thousand from High Lord Yagami, The Slavemaster announced and the slave doubled his struggles at the mention of the cruel Lord's name. He received another harsh blow from the cane for his troubles. One thousand going once! Another blow. One thousand going twice! Another blow.

Yamato surged from his seat, hitting the key that would signal the room's lights to return to full illumination. He forced a smile. And that finale concludes our masque for this evening, Lords and Ladies! I hope you have enjoyed yourselves. Please journey safely to your homes.

The moment the words left his mouth, Yamato knew he had overstepped his limits. Everyone looked at him like he was crazy. The program for the evening clearly listed six more slaves after this.

Yamato saw the Slavemaster's eyes flick to Masaharu and he watched as his father smiled and nodded.

Masaharu stood. Yes, my son is correct. I regret to inform you that the final slaves listed were included in error. I hope you are satisfied with your purchases and that you travel safely.

Yamato was speechless.

His father walked over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. Well done, son. I had almost forgotten. It's a good thing you remembered, he said with a smile.

He was speechless and very, very scared. He forced another smile and nodded.

You look a bit tired, though, Masaharu said gently. Why don't you skip the socializing this evening and go get some rest.

Once again, Yamato nodded. Then he fled to his chambers, even though he knew sleep would never come. He had no friends, no allies; there was no place else to go.

***

The night was over. That's it. Let's hope you made good choices. Taichi stood to leave and paused when his datapad buzzed.

It was a message from Masaharu:

High Lord Yagami~ I've been holding back a special slave that might interest you: Male. 22 years old, beautiful, unblemished, very willful, and brand new to his position in life. A slave such as this needs your special attentions. Please follow my servant as you exit the room if you are interested in this one-of-a-kind treat.

Without hesitation, Taichi began walking. How could he refuse? The slave was obviously rare and valuable, or he would have been put up for sale at the masque. Willful,' Masaharu had written... He could be someone important, Taichi thought. Taichi tried to purchase those slaves that still possessed spirit. Freeing those already beaten into submission didn't always go well. For most cases, the body usually healed with time, but sometimes the mind never did. Posing as High Lord Yagami,' Taichi bought both weak and strong slaves to avoid suspicion, but his main goal was to purchase those who would fight to make a difference.

He spotted the servant and followed him down several corridors to a richly decorated room. Masaharu was already seated but he stood as Taichi entered.

Lord Yagami, the man greeted. I'm sorry if I seemed less than welcoming earlier. I had many important matters on my mind. Would you care for a drink?

No thank you. I would prefer to skip to the point. You said you had a slave to sell. How much?

Masaharu smiled and named a sum.

Taichi gasped, but the built-in voice changer didn't allow it to escape the mask. No slave is worth such a price.

He is when he is my son.

Yamato? Taichi tongued the switch for Evil Laugh #4' in order to buy himself some time to think. When the laughter died, he said, So you're selling your heir. What brought this about?

The boy's sympathetic to slaves and he challenges me every chance he gets. He's worth more to me as a slave than he is as an heir. Besides, his younger brother will serve well enough as a replacement.

Very wise of you to have a backup, he commented.

Masaharu gave him a cold, hard smile. My offer?

Behind the mask, Taichi glared. I'm considering it. Even for your whelp, it is a considerable sum.

Taichi paused and thought. He had the amount of credits that Masaharu had named, but the same price could easily purchase twenty slaves. It was outrageous, and they both knew it. And in the back of his mind, there was a little voice that was telling him that it could be a trick.

But Taichi ended up ignoring all logic and signing over each and every credit the bastard of a Lord had asked for. He shushed the internal voices and allowed the mask to put the proper emotion into the words he spoke. Thank you for coming to me with this unusual offer. It will be an interesting challenge. The little snot will probably be more trouble than he's worth, but I suppose that just means I get to take my pleasure in breaking him slowly.

Ah, yes. About that. The sale is not yet complete until I see a demonstration of your skill. Since all have heard how torture is an art form of yours, I wish to see an example of such in order to make sure that this slave will receive the level of reconditioning that is necessary.

Taichi's blood ran cold and as he shivered, he was thankful for the masking effect of the full-body suit that enhanced his body mass to match that of his father's. So you're saying that my purchase of the slave is conditional upon my performance tonight?

The Lord shrugged casually. Yes, it is. But I hardly think that giving a demonstration of your skill will be too troublesome for you. And I have a slave that needs a thorough punishment. He made a slight hand motion and in an instant, a uniformed man appeared. Is the slave prepared?

Yes, sir. Basement Level C, Room 4.

You may go, he said to the servant. Without looking back at Yagami, he exited the room. Follow me.

***

Taichi stepped closer to the young boy spread between ceiling and floor by chains. He tongued the switch that cancelled the voice modification and opened the mouth hatch. Leaning close, he grasped the boy painfully by the hair and pretending to examine the slave's face, Taichi whispered for only the two of them to hear, I'm sorry. Then the hatch was closed and the modifier turned back on.

Taichi lifted what was to be the first instrument of pain for the evening and put to use the horrible memories of his visits to other courts.

With Taichi's skill, it took nearly two hours for the boy to faint.

Beautiful work, Masaharu complimented. I love how you pretended to go gently at first. It served to only increase the pain of the later blows. Taichi's teeth clenched behind the mask. You really should teach classes on this, he said.

Even with the voice transformer, Taichi had to control his tone very carefully. I enjoyed it. Any chance I could get that little scrap of a slave thrown into the deal? It's nice for a change of pace to have one that doesn't scream. And his tears were lovely.

No, he's not for sale. I have plans for this one, Masaharu said darkly. Now, if you'll go to your transport, I'll send your new slave along in a few minutes.

Taichi paused. I can't keep asking for the boy. If I act too interested in him, Masaharu could get suspicious. For the sake of the others, he couldn't risk his position. Sickened by what he'd just done and saddened that he was unable help the slave boy, all Taichi could do was nod and head for the transport.

***

Yamato was alone in his chambers when he heard the outer door open.

his father's voice called. Come in here, I want to talk to you.

He'd known it was his father even before he'd spoken — anyone else would have knocked first. Quickly, Yamato ran through his options. Running was out of the question. Yamato was in his bedroom, while the only exit to the rest of the fortress was the door that his father would be standing in front of. He doubted that he could get past his father... and even if he'd tried, if his father was, as he suspected, here to start trouble, there were probably guards outside the door as well. No running, no place to hide... that left negotiating and fighting.

Talking his way out of whatever trouble he was in was the preferable route, but Yamato seriously doubted that it would work. In the back of his mind, Yamato suspected that he had at least another beating coming for his outburst. This conversation' with his father would turn physical at some point. Flashes of previous punishments passed through his mind and his skin started to tingle. Anger gripped him. He would not suffer that again.

If his father wanted a fight, Yamato would give him one. His boots were off in his closet, no help to him now. But there was time enough to snatch up the stun gun he kept concealed in his room. It was an extreme response — he was aware of that — but with how his father had been acting strangely all day, Yamato was in no mood to take chances with his own skin. The weapon rested smooth and compact in his sweating palm. One blast would disable, a second, if given too soon after the first, would kill. He opened the door.

As he'd guessed, his father stood alone in the entry room.

You were planning on using that on me? Masaharu asked in an amused tone, eyeing the gun. Who did you think I was, a thief?

Yamato tensed. He should have gotten angry at me pulling a gun on him. It depends on what you want to talk about, he managed bravely.

The older man nodded in understanding. It's nothing much. I just have some news for you. I wanted you to know that the slave that you helped... Iori, I think his name was... has received his punishment from the skilled hands of Lord Yagami. Yamato's teeth clenched in anger. The High Lord has been playing with him ever since you ended the masque so abruptly. The slave has only fainted just now. Masaharu arched an eyebrow. If you had not neglected your duties, such an extreme punishment wouldn't have been necessary. But we can't let the slaves think that their disobedience will be rewarded with tolerance. Really, Yamato, I had hoped that you would outgrow this absurd behavior, but I can see now that you never will, Masaharu said, his face showing displeasure for the first time that evening. Which is why, he continued, I ordered the slave to be executed in front of the other slaves once he awakens.

Rage boiled through Yamato. With one blast, Masaharu was lying on the floor and Yamato straddled his chest, the weapon raised for another shot.

Somehow, through the paralyzing effect of the stun, Masaharu tsked his disapproval and managed to speak. It's just as I thought, he sighed dramatically. But, I should remind you that you need me.

Yamato's pulse was racing, urging him to take action. he asked, breath trembling in barely controlled anger.

Even if you kill me and take my place as High Lord, the other Lords will eat you alive. You think you know how the system works, you dreaming child? You're so bundled up in this cozy life I've given you, you wouldn't last a week.

He raised the weapon again, but hesitated. I can't kill him, not because of what he said, but because... because I just can't. Give me another reason why I shouldn't kill you, he bluffed gruffly, now regretting he'd brought the gun with him in the first place. This can't end well. I shouldn't have shot him if I wasn't planning on finishing it. Strangely, Yamato hoped his father could provide an enticing reason for him to not make good on his threat.

Masaharu thought for a moment, then smiled. You want to know about your mother.

Ice gripped his heart. Yes, Yamato did want to know about his mother. He knew she was a slave, but that was all. Relieved, he lowered the weapon. His father wouldn't be moving anytime soon. What about my mother?

Masaharu smiled again. Your mother was a slave of exceptional beauty, Yamato. I took great pleasure from her. And when the time came for me to create an heir, she bore you for me. Yet, in all her years of her service, she never once asked me for anything for herself. Which is why, when she finally did, I relented and granted her request.

Yamato was growing tired with his father's melodramatics. That's enough. I'm leaving. Somehow, the man's hands clamped around his ankles and Yamato was prevented from getting to his feet. He clutched the stun gun with a white-knuckled grasp.

Aren't you even curious what she wanted? he asked seductively. She asked me for a son, Yamato... one that would be her very own. I took him from her when he was old enough, of course. But I kept his existence a secret. You never can tell how children will turn out these days. I see now that it was wise of me to have a spare tucked away now that you're proving to be so rebellious.

The shock of the words was overwhelming. As if in a dream, the blond felt his grip loosen. It can't be true.

It's true, his father said, reading his son's reaction correctly. Actually, he's just a few years younger than you, Yamato, and he knows his place quite well. So truthfully, I don't need you at all.

Before Yamato could wonder what that was supposed to mean, Masaharu miraculously surged free. The older man pried away the weapon and fired a blast at his son's torso. Yamato crashed to the ground, unable to move and overwhelmed by pain. Masaharu stood over him, looking down in disgust.

You're a fool to think a weapon like that would affect me. You should have known that I've had an incredibly expensive injection of nanotechs that take care of the effects of that particular weapon. If you'd studied my bodyguard details and safety procedures, you would have known that. It's just as well that I'll be getting rid of you, ignorance such as yours is a liability. And, in case you've forgotten, he mocked, You, on the other hand, have not had any such injection. The Lord raised the weapon again.

Can't... kill... me, Yamato mumbled with difficulty through unresponsive lips. His father raised a mocking eyebrow.

Oh, I can, but there are other ways of disposing of unruly brats, his father said. Yamato winced as a kick was delivered to his stomach. I've sold you, Yamato. I signed and sealed the deal even before I came in here. You should be praying right now that I've sold you to a kind master, but then again, your wishes won't make much of a difference. High Lord Yagami was most pleased to acquire you. Another kick connected with Yamato's stomach.

Yamato sucked in a gasp of pain, but whether it was from the blow or from the mention of the cruel man's name, he wasn't certain.

I do hope you enjoy your last breath of freedom, my ex-son. Masaharu removed a syringe from his pocket and Yamato felt a prick at his neck, followed by a burning coldness. The sensation spread throughout his body and for a moment, all was still.

As the seconds ticked by without incident, Yamato felt his body relax despite the tension hanging thick in the air. The stun-blast still held him paralyzed, but now the stinging pain had tapered away to a fuzzy cold tingling. How odd. It always looked more painful when I saw this done to others. From a long, long way off, Yamato felt something touch his face. By the time his mind registered the blow, he had already begun the quick spiral into unconsciousness.





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Added Foreword: 01-11-04
Added Chapter 1: 01-01-03

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