Authors: Erin M. Leaf
Evernight Publishing ®
Copyright© 2015 Erin M.
Artist: Jay Aheer
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is
No part of this book may be
used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission,
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.
all the authors who wrote about dragons. I loved them. Thank you for inspiring
Erin M. Leaf
Copyright © 2015
The scarlet awning snapped in the desert wind like a
broken sensor—incessant and impossible to ignore. Prince Ryuu looked away as
flecks of sand scoured his face. The Dragon’s Teeth Mountains loomed far to the
east of the encampment, dark and serene. He wished he were there, amongst the
peaked cliffs that formed the spine of the continent. He wished he were
anywhere else but here.
“Pay attention, my son,” his father, Emperor Midian,
said harshly. “You must choose your servant this day. My patience has run out.”
Ryuu composed his face and turned back to the slave
auction, carefully hiding his distaste. It had been four centuries since his
people had abolished slavery, yet here he stood, about to choose one for his
personal use. It had only taken a few years for his father to dismantle the old
laws of their nation and reinstitute the barbarism he enjoyed so much, though
admittedly, the market for slaves was quite small. Most of the Arethuza found
the practice distasteful. Even so, Ryuu didn’t know how much longer he could
keep up the charade of being a loyal son. Soon he would have to make his move
and break away from his father’s rule. His duty to his people was more
important than his duty to his sire.
“Yes, Father,” he said, bowing slightly to appease the
man. His gaze flicked to the mountains once more before he wrestled himself
under control. Freedom was not an option he had the luxury to indulge. “I am
merely contemplating my choices.”
The emperor grunted. “Enough. You are a grown man.
This hesitance is unbecoming.” He pointed. “Take
that female, sitting next to the pole. She is beautiful and seems healthy.” He
adjusted his polished leather armor and tucked his red cape over his shoulder.
The color of the cape clashed with the scarlet of the
awning, but Ryuu knew his father didn’t care. He liked red.
color of blood.
Ryuu wore black armor, for mourning. The color drove
his mother to tears at times, but it suited his mood, most days.
“I need heirs. It is time for you to give them to me,”
the emperor said.
Ryuu suppressed a sigh as he looked out over the
bodies arranged on the ground beneath the tattered canvas that sheltered them
from the harsh light of their sun.
No silk fabric for them
, he thought,
pretending to consider the people being bought and sold like furniture. Truth
was, he’d decided thirty minutes ago which man would be coming home with him.
His father wouldn’t like it, but it was his decision to make.
“I will take the man with the dark hair. Near the
center,” he said to the slave master. The man he chose couldn’t hear him over
the wind, but Ryuu had a feeling the slave already knew he wouldn’t be at the
auction long. As he watched, the wind whipped the man’s long, dark hair over
his face, exposing fresh lash marks decorating the skin of his back.
will either escape, or die trying,
Ryuu thought, frowning slightly. If only
he could convince the man to work with him, instead of against him. If only he
had the time…
The portly auctioneer stared at Ryuu,
looked to the emperor. Sweat ran down his round face,
but he made no move to wipe it away from his shaved head and temples. Ryuu knew
the man didn’t want to get embroiled in the midst of a royal argument. That way
Ryuu’s father scowled at his son. “You would take a
Ryuu shrugged. “It is my choice. I have no need for a
Midian glared at his son, then turned away. “I am done
with this. Choose as you like, and accept the consequences.” He shifted his
sword against his hip. “I can breed other sons. I will have heirs from another
woman, if you will not serve me in that manner.” With that extraordinary
statement, he strode away, toward the flitter that waited next to the
iron-barred goods warehouse.
Ryuu concealed a flinch. His father planned to abandon
Because of his refusal to serve as a royal
The emperor’s cruelty still surprised him, even after growing
up in the cesspool that was his father’s fortress and headquarters, the
citadel. He’d need to find his mother and warn her the moment he returned. He
pressed his lips together tightly, trying to hide his dismay.
The auctioneer bowed tentatively. “That slave is very
difficult to control. Why, just this morning he damaged one of the other males
and had to be whipped.”
Ryuu scowled, releasing his pent-up temper on the
auctioneer. “And you think that I will have trouble with a mere slave?” He
subtly fingered the row of knives that ran diagonally across his chest. He’d
carefully nurtured a reputation for savagery with them—better to scare people
with rumors than with actual blood. Many of his people believed him to be as
bloodthirsty as the emperor and that protected him somewhat from his father’s
If only the emperor understood the power
of words instead of war, but his father had never been interested in peace.
He enjoyed torture.
“No, Sire, of course not,” the man stammered, bowing
lower. “It is just that he is not very…” He paused, clearly struggling to find
words to describe a slave who still believed
to be a man, and entitled to freedom.
Ryuu didn’t care about the auctioneer’s philosophical
dilemma. He knew exactly what he was buying. “Chain him and bring him to my
flitter,” he commanded. Then he turned on his heel and strode away.
Discouraged, Drakon watched the prince leave the
buyer’s booth from the corner of his eye. If he believed in a deity, he would
be praying with all his strength that Prince Ryuu would be the one who’d
purchase him, but after seeing the man’s indifferent pose toward the slaves, he
no longer harbored such a dream. The best he could hope for was if one of the
emperor’s administrators bought him.
I’ll even end up in the citadel
, he mused, digging his fingers into the
sand beneath him
He could work from
there to sabotage Emperor Midian’s bloodthirsty war campaign. Lost in thought,
he resisted when the auctioneer suddenly strode over and tried to yank him to
his feet by the chains around his wrists. Since Drakon was at least a foot
taller and much stronger than the slave master, the pudgy man couldn’t budge
“None of that!”
The bald man slapped his quirt against Drakon’s
flank, hard enough to draw blood. “Prince Ryuu owns you now.” He frowned. “You
will go quietly and respectfully, or he will slice the rebellion out of your
skin in long strips. He’s a demon with those knives of his. They call him the
Bearer of Blades.” The auctioneer smiled cruelly.
Drakon scrambled to his feet, dazed by his good
fortune. The auctioneer, mistaking his surprise for recalcitrance, hit him
again. Drakon ground his teeth together, reminding himself yet again that he’d
chosen this course of action of his own free will.
“Do you want to be flayed?” the auctioneer demanded.
Drakon shook himself. Dust from his loincloth puffed into
the hot air. “No.” From the rumors that circulated among the slaves, his mighty
highness, Prince Ryuu, could strip most of the skin from a man’s body without
Although, I have yet to speak to anyone who has witnessed
Ryuu’s prowess with those blades. Sometimes rumors are more effective than true
as the auctioneer
pulled on his chains.
“The prince is leaving within the hour. You will obey
him in all things,” the bald man said, absently dragging Drakon through the crowds
of the market. They’d left the slave pens behind and Drakon could smell the
savory scent of roasting meat. His mouth watered. He hadn’t eaten in four days.
“There will be none of your defiance, when you are in
his custody. Is that clear?”
Drakon stared at the back of the creature’s fat head
as he was dragged toward the fenced landing site. Damned if he was going to
answer that statement. He was a man, not a child.
The auctioneer yanked on his chains viciously, nearly
tripping Drakon. The metal bit into his wrists and he knew there would be fresh
blood beneath the shackles.
“I expect a response!”
Drakon raised an eyebrow, willing the man to damage
him further. He might need to play the part of a slave for now, but he was a
free man. He deserved respect.
a small voice at the back of his mind told him.
had no respect when you were
home, in your
father’s household. Why would you think you deserve it now?
those thoughts down, refusing to give in to the despair that had dogged him all
I am a man. A warrior of my people,
he reminded himself.
passed the test of the dragon and own my true form. And I am the only one of my
generation to do so. Remember that.
The auctioneer raised his quirt again. Just as he was
about to strike Drakon across the face, a voice interrupted.
“Halt! You dare to damage my property?”
The auctioneer pivoted, then immediately went to his
knees. He pulled on Drakon’s bonds, forcing him down to the ground. Drakon
broke his fall with his elbows, but the slave master tightened his grip on the
chains, dragging him down further. He struggled to breathe as his cheek pressed
into the packed sand.
“Forgive me, Sire,” the auctioneer said, trembling.
Drakon turned his head to the side just in time to see
black armored boots stop less than a foot from his face. Swirls of dust
decorated the insteps of Prince Ryuu’s footwear, and Drakon’s eyes wandered to
a set of curious indentations in the front soles, where tiny blades no doubt
resided. He shivered, wondering what sort of man would hide so many secret
weapons on his body. Weren’t the ones on his chest harness enough?
“Give me the bonds,” Prince Ryuu said.
The auctioneer bowed lower. “Yes, Sire.” He lifted his
arms, hauling on Drakon’s chains painfully.
Prince Ryuu took them and gently tugged. “On your
feet,” he said softly.
Drakon licked his dry lips, suddenly afraid. The
prince’s low voice sent a flicker of arousal through him, against all rational
No. You can’t let your proclivities rule you, not now of all
he thought desperately. He wanted this more than anything. He’d
hoped all along for a place in the royal household, while knowing the chance
that he might be purchased by one of Emperor Midian’s family members or a royal
retainer was slim. That Prince Ryuu himself had bought him surpassed all his
Control yourself, or you will ruin everything
“Come on, then,” Prince Ryuu said, again tugging at
Drakon gathered his wits and stood up, trying to keep
his thoughts to himself. Expressionless silver eyes met his. Ryuu’s
shoulder-length blond hair had silver beads woven into the temples, breaking up
the unrelieved black of the rest of his clothing and armor. Drakon’s fingers
twitched. He would have liked to find out if the prince’s hair was as soft as
it looked, but he remembered his status before he gave himself away. He lowered
his eyes. Surprisingly, the prince was his height, unusual for the Arethuza.
The hardships of their desert life usually prevented them from growing as tall
as Drakon’s people.
“We leave now,” the prince said, pivoting abruptly and
pulling Drakon to the gleaming silver flitter that waited just beyond the
When he reached the flitter, he touched a finger to a
hidden stud. Light flashed, reading his genetic signature, and the canopy slid
back, revealing the four seats within.
“Sit in the copilot’s seat,” Prince Ryuu told him, to
wants me to sit next to him?
unusual for an owner to trust a slave with such close proximity.
Prince Ryuu glanced at Drakon’s wrists and his face
tightened before he dropped the heavy steel chains. The ends dragged in the
sand. “You must carry your own bonds, like all of us.” He laughed shortly and
climbed into the driver’s seat.
Drakon stared at the shackles,
looked into the flitter, confused. Ryuu’s behavior didn’t match the rumors of
his cruelty. He picked up his chains and swallowed, hard, as Ryuu pressed
buttons on the console, seemingly unconcerned with his new slave’s lack of
confinement. The prince didn’t even glance at Drakon.
I could flee so easily,
he thought, his gaze going to the mountains in the
distance. Of course, if he ran now, he would not be able to complete his task.
And, too, the flitter Prince Ryuu piloted could easily run a man down and fry
him into ash. Only a dragon would have any hope of escaping the clutches of the
Arethuza Empire. He sighed,
climbed into the