“Diptīkita eet kiupa diptīkita eet jerjupa mēst.”
What begins in blood must end in blood - that was the first lesson Jay’s mother taught him. As he stared up into the pitch of the night sky, he wondered if the same could be said for all things. Would what began in stars also end in stars? Was it somehow possible if he kept staring and staring, his face dampened by the dew lorn grass, he could somehow find the finale of his life intertwined with those uncountable little speckles?
It had been six years since Jay last saw the stars.
The city was known for many things - its lack of stars was just one of them. The restaurants, for example, were regarded as some of the best in the continent. The yearly auctions and their accompanying festivals were also well regarded, with hundreds of thousands of people traveling to the city for the event. And of course, the city was the largest slave-trading post in the entire southern continent.
With shackled hands and feet, body stripped of most of its clothes, Jay stood in a line behind eight other boys of similar age and body type. They were fourteen? Fifteen? And they stood in a line like cattle. To them, that’s all they were. Cattle and pigs, in no need of any clothing, so that their bodies may be better viewed and numbers replacing names. Jay used to mind more. That was before his first master, of course.
The line shifted, snapping Jay from his thoughts. Right. Moment to moment. That’s what Kai told him and she was never wrong. They were the only two left of their original clan but now… well, Jay had screwed up. The master had never really liked him that much so he should have known better than to push his luck. Kai had screamed and cried and pounded her fists against his chest before crumpling to the floor.
So much for their clan. They’d parted ways and it was unlikely they’d ever see one another again. It was so rare to see anyone from their clan these days… the fact that two of them had been with the same master was near unbelievable. Of course, he’d bought them as a ‘matching set’ since they had the matching golden hair and golden eyes. They were cousins - but didn’t look it. Many had mistaken them for twins.
But what good was a matching set when one cup was broken?
The line shifted again, more sharply this time. When had there only been two other boys in front of him? The others were already gone - sold to the highest bidder. Jay felt his teeth sink into his lips as he fought against the swell of anxiety in his stomach. He didn’t think he would have been this nervous. He’d already been sold once before - torn from his mother’s arms screaming and kicking.
But if anything he swore he was more nervous this time around. When he was eight he barely remembered the auction. He had been too worn out from crying to be nervous. Now, he hadn’t shed a single tear. Crying was a sign of weakness and Jay refused to let the master see him as weak. Maybe that was why he was here now. Kai cried all the time and because of that, the master took pity on her. He liked her a lot. She was his favorite.
The word slave had many different meanings throughout the continent. Who bought you and where they were from played a large role in how long a slave’s life would be. The master had been from the southwest, which meant he had three kinds of slaves. Those who worked in his fields, those who worked in his house, and those who worked in his bedroom. Jay and Kai had both fallen into the last category.
The master’s affinity for blonde children was something that Jay couldn’t handle to this day. He just… couldn’t. He vomited every single time. The master said he had nasty eyes. Said that when those eyes met his after Jay was done puking his guts out he wanted to kill Jay a hundred times over. He never did - most likely for Kai’s sake. Kai had tried to plead with the master, to convince him not to sell Jay or to sell them both.
She’d come back naked and with bruises all over her body.
The line shifted again and Jay felt his mind spinning faster and faster. This was it. He was next. He would walk up the groaning steps and be blinded by the same lights that blinded him as a child while other people bid upon who had the rights to his body, to his personhood - like that was something that didn’t belong to him and him alone.
Depending on who won, Jay knew he’d be placed into another role. He didn’t think he could handle the mental strain of bedroom business again. He already had a half concocted plan about running away and then a fully concocted one on how he’d kill himself if that didn’t work out. He… he couldn’t do it again. Never again. Never ever, ever again. What begins in blood must end in blood. Jay had been born in blood and… and he knew! He’d always known that he’d find himself sleeping on that bed of blood one day too.
“You’re next,” the masked man said, grabbing Jay’s arm and forcing him up the stairs. He didn’t resist so the rough gesture was almost enough to send him to the ground. It might’ve been if the same masked man hadn’t also caught him with a grunt.
Damaging the merchandise would reflect poorly on him.
As he released his grip on Jay, Jay took to the stairs. He walked carefully, keeping his eyes lowered as the other boy walked down the steps on the opposite side of the stage. He was trembling so badly Jay could see it from here. Bad luck? Most likely. It was getting later which meant that the bidders were getting bored. The preteens usually sold the worst since they weren’t cute or pretty or smart or talented or anything.
It took a real miracle to get the bidders excited when they were in this state. Jay skimmed the crowd for confirmation and found just what he expected. The auditorium was half empty and most of those there were talking among one another. The eyes of their masks caught on the lights of the stage. How many of them even spared him a glance he wondered?
“Alright folks,” the auctioneer said, his voice far too loud. It took everything in Jay’s power not to clasp his hands over his ears. “We gotta real rarity here. A member of the Rose Clan’s golden rose branch. Let’s start the bidding at twenty-thousand Notes!”
Twenty-thousand? Was that all a person was going for these days? You could buy a good milk cow or a decent horse for that amount of money. And these people bidding looked about lazily before raising their signs and indicating they’d buy. The price went up, slowly. Jay couldn’t help but have his eyes bounce around those raising their signs.
A woman - no. He didn’t want her.
Then there was a massive man with a beard. Looked northern. Jay bit his lip again. The north would kill him no problem. They worked their slaves to death up there.
Following was another woman. Then a man. Then the big man again. Then the first woman. A few others threw up their signs. Around and around, they passed Jay, taking a bite out of him like he really was a pig. This was what he didn’t remember. This emotion. The ringing in his ears. The way his hands rolled into fists. This was… this was anger. Rage. He hated them. He hated their masked faces who looked upon him and cast judgment.
Number thirteen rose. That was one Jay hadn’t noticed before. A woman in a suit and no mask, definitely eastern from the look of her. She was sitting with two other women all wearing suits of their own. Then, there had to be the master which they served as he was the only one to wear a mask. It was a rich blue and covered his entire face.
“Fifty thousand,” the woman said.
Well, now that was enough for a stallion. A good one at that. The higher the number went, the worse. No one bought someone they intended to use for farm or housework at that price. That was the price of a slave with only one purpose. Jay lifted his chin and forced himself to look at the lights. They burned his eyes. That was why they were watering up. No more. Just the stinging of the lights.
“Sold!” the auctioneer said. “For seventy-two thousand to number thirteen.”
Ah. It was over.
Jay tore his gaze from the lights and walked off the stage before they could send someone to fetch him. They’d already humiliated him enough for one day. Besides with the chains around his wrists and ankles prevented him from running. East… east… what did he know of the east? Not much. Trade was high? Yes. Drugs? That was something. They manufactured a lot of drugs in the east. But what about slaves? What did they do with their slaves?
Nothing surfaced. Jay shook his head. How silly. How utterly silly. What did it matter if he knew or not? The same things would still come to pass. Did he just want the insignificant comfort that came with being prepared? Well, if he just prepared for the worst then whatever happened would be fine, right? He groaned, shaking his head.
“Hey,” a voice said.
Jay snapped his head upwards, looking at the woman who’d approached him. She was one of the suits. She held a small golden key - one that Jay knew would only fit the chains of one slave at the auction. She approached Jay slowly, almost cautiously before she unlocked first his feet and then his hands.
He rubbed his wrists, then flexed them, testing to make certain they were still alright. They ached but there was no permanent damage.
“Do you have a name?” the woman asked.
“The name is for the master to decide, is it not?” Jay asked his lip curling with the response he’d been trained to give.
The woman smirked before she grabbed him by his long, golden hair. “Listen, boy, you might think you’re funny but when I ask you a question you respond as precisely and honestly as you can, got it?” She threw his head down. “So do you have a name?”
Jay grit his teeth. “Yes.”
“What is that name?”
“My prior master called me-”
For that, she hit him. “I did not ask what your prior master called you. You will never speak of him, whoever he was, or whatever he did to you again.” The woman grabbed his face. “You belong to the young master now and you will completely devote yourself to him in both mind and body, do you understand me?”
“Y-yes,” Jay choked out.
“I will give you one last chance,” the woman said, her nails digging into Jay’s face. “Tell me what your name is.”
“Jay!” Jay spat. “Bluejay That Cries at Dawn!”
The woman relaxed her grip. “Was that so hard?” she asked, wiping her hands on her pants leg. “Alright Jay let me explain how this is going to work and I will make certain that I use simple words as not to overload your obviously simple mind.”
Jay clenched his jaw and it was for that reason and that reason alone that he managed to say nothing.
“The young master has saved you. He is your everything now - your world, your life, your god,” the woman said, folding her arms. “The young master is sixteen as of this year and as such he requires a clockwork slave.” The woman narrowed her eyes. “You know what that means, right?”
A clockwork slave. Jay swallowed, though his throat was impossibly dry. Now he remembered what the east did with their slaves. They took the prettiest ones they could find and then… they trained them to kill. Bodyguards were what some regions called them but being a clockwork slave was a lot like being a machine. It meant no individual thought. It meant complete devotion. It meant being completely willing to give one’s life for their master in a moment. Slowly, Jay nodded his head.
“Good,” the woman said. “Now tell me, are you cut out to be one?”
Cut out to… give his life. To sacrifice himself for another person whose face he’d never even seen before. Jay felt his throat constrict. How was he supposed to answer that question? What would they do to him if he said no? Sell him? Kill him? Or would they refuse to pay and then and then and then he’d have to go back to the master?
No, no, no, no, no.
“I-” Jay choked out. “I- yes.”
The woman smirked and turned around. “You best not be lying to me. I’ll kill you if you are, understand?”
“Yeah,” Jay said.
She dropped a pile of clothes at his feet. Jay stared at the crumpled pile before he swallowed and did just as he was told, pulling on the bright blue tunic and white pants. It was in the typical eastern style so it felt odd on him. Not to mention the quality… well, it wasn’t anything he’d ever worn before.
When he was done, the woman nodded her approval before she led him away from the auction. From the sound of it, they’d gotten into the late teenagers and young adults. That was where slaves went for the highest prices. Jay supposed he should be considered lucky that he was able to escape that before it got so loud.
The grass was rough and dried beneath his feet as both Jay and the woman came to two black carriages - that somewhat resembled beetles. The woman walked up to one of the other women in a suit that Jay had seen by the one masked boy in the audience. The two women exchanged a few words before the woman who had led Jay this far clicked her tongue and returned to his side.
“The young master wishes to meet you,” she said.
“Wha-what?” Jay sputtered. He’d known that… that eventually… but so soon? This was… this was too much.
The woman nodded and led him to the second carriage, knocking on the door before she opened it for him. Jay looked to her one final time before he crawled into the carriage’s velvet interior. Across from him, there was the masked boy who now owned him. Who owned his thoughts and body and life.
Well, that wasn’t so unusual.
Long, slender fingers extended from the countless layers of fabric as the door shut them off from the rest of the world. Jay winced, but the fingers did not come closer to him. Instead, the reached the impossibly blue mask and then, with the utmost delicacy, removed it, revealing the youthful features of the person beneath.
The boy who was technically older than him was dark-skinned with hair so dark and wild it looked like it had been drawn onto his head by ink and quill. His lips were pressed in a small frown and the boy’s small nose twitched only once due to the unpleasant smell that came with having a slave like Jay so close.
Then the boy opened his eyes and Jay lost his breath. His eyes… oh his eyes were so impossibly silver they almost looked white and they were fixed on him and him alone. Jay was starring at the very thing that he had thought he’d never see again. The thing he hadn’t seen in six years already. Jay was looking at stars - because that was the only thing this boy’s eyes could be described as. Stars.
What begins in blood ends in blood - Jay’s mother got that much right. But this story began with stars and as Jay looked into this boy’s eyes he knew it would end in stars as well.