Sasori found his seat next to his grandmother. It was high up and overlooked the crowd that was still filing in. He frowned, watching as the day's selection was paraded out on to the stage. There was a quiet murmur throughout the amphitheater as everyone got into their seats for the auction. The auction started as it normally did, with the auctioneer going over the usual rules and customs for this sort of event. Without further adieu, he began with the first slave.
"Do you think you can keep this one for more than a month?" Chiyo sniffed as Sasori leaned forward to get a better look.
"Stop bidding on such weaklings and we won't have to do this monthly," he countered as he rolled his eyes. His grandmother huffed softly, shaking her head. Sasori ignored what she said next as the merchandise was announced. Most of the pieces this month were irritatingly average. The auction had barely started and he was already losing interest. He fanned himself, starting to think of the next project he wanted to work on once his grandmother let him go for the day. He doubted any of these weaklings could stand what he needed in a slave. He zoned out for the next couple of slaves that were announced, only returning back to the realm of the living when he felt his grandmother elbow him in the side to at least pay attention to the last one.
"And last, this little lady is from a far-off land," the auctioneer announced as a young woman with long black hair was brought onto the stage. "She can move like a snake and charm them too," he called out to the crowd, shoving her forward. The shackles make a soft noise as she stumbled forward. A basket was placed in front of her. "Go on," the auctioneer gave her a sharp stab in the back, "give them a dance."
She looked around at the crowd and frowned. After a couple of seconds, she heard the auctioneer threaten her quietly and then she closed her eyes with a heavy breath. She looked at the basket in front of her just as a song started to play. A king cobra started to come up, waving its body to the music. She watched it closely, mimicking its movements with her hips and waist. She created a dance on the spot, using the movements of the snake to form the choreography. She moved around the stage swiftly, keeping the dance simple and short, and finishing it off with a kiss on the snake's head.
Sasori watched intently, slowly feeling a grin pull at his lips. He could easily see she moved beautifully, despite the short display. And if she worked with snakes, it was promising to think that she knew her way around poisons.
“A belly dancer,” Chiyo hummed.
"We'll start her bidding at 3,000," the auctioneer announced.
"20,000," Sasori called out. The stadium let out a hushed gasp. He had just knocked out all of the lower-class competition.
"Sasori!" Chiyo gasped next to him.
"I want her," he hissed softly. "And I shall have her," he grinned.
"30,000," someone else called out.
"50,000," Sasori countered.
The girl sighed, picking up the snake and resting it on her shoulders as she listened to the numbers being shouted out for her. She looked at the auctioneer who smirked at her then looked back at the crowd, trying to find the faces of those who shouted their prices.
“50,000, Sasori?” Chiyo frowned.
“Hush, Grandmother,” Sasori growled. “We have the money and she will be mine.” Sasori grinned as two more people upped the price to 65,000 and then 80,000. He watched and waited for the auctioneer call the 'once...twice.' The crowd let out a hushed murmur. A few people glanced at him to see if he would speak up. He grinned, reveling in the tension before calling out once more. “100,000!” The stadium was so silent that a pin drop would have been deafening.
No one else raised the price higher. No one dared to. After a couple of seconds, the auctioneer spoke. "Sold!" they grinned. "100,000."
"Well, you got her," Chiyo sighed.
The girl gasped quietly, feeling her heart begin to race. It had just hit her that she was sold as a slave. And judging by the lack of protest against his price, she could tell this was someone no one bothered to mess with. The auctioneer turned to her and smirked which only gave her a worse feeling about the situation.
She was ushered off of the stage and immediately greeted by a young man with dark-rimmed eyes and thick red hair. “Congratulations,” he said in a raspy voice. “My cousin rarely goes so all out for slaves.” The man, who looked to be about her age, nodded in the direction he started to walk in. “Follow me. You’ll be bathed and given new clothes.” His eyes landed on the snake. He frowned at it for a moment. “Do you want to keep him?” he asked softly as they continued down the hall.
"Can I?" she asked quietly. She did not want to part ways with it. She had only just met the snake, yet she could feel it was going to be the only familiar thing to her. He led her into the room she was to be bathed in, where two women were waiting for her.
“The snake stays with her,” the man instructed the women. They bowed low at his order. He nodded then turned to her with kinder eyes. “They will take care of you until my cousin comes down to retrieve you.” He paused, looking her over with a little sadness in his eyes. He opened his mouth for a moment before turning away silently and leaving.
Up in the stadium, Sasori stretched, a wide smile pulling at his lips. “I got what I wanted,” he grinned.
“Don’t kill this one so fast,” Chiyo reminded him sternly. “You just blew your entire monthly stipend.”
Sasori rolled his eyes as he turned away. “She looks to be worth it,” he said, starting towards the exit. He wanted to see his prize.
The two women worked quickly in undressing the girl and getting her into the bath. They had placed the snake on a nearby counter while they worked on her. They scrubbed her hard enough for her to wince.
"You've already been branded?" one of the women asked quietly, noticing the tattoo of three tomoe on the back of her shoulder.
"It...is not a brand," she said softly.
The two women shared a worried look with one another.
“It...might have to come off,” the other one said, biting her lip. Removing tattoos was a painful business.
Sasori stepped into the room. Spotting the girl and overhearing this conversation, he crossed over to them and moved the woman’s hand out of the way. He placed a delicate fingertip on the black ink. “No...she can keep it,” he said, a smirk still curling his mouth. The two women sank into low bows. Sasori’s fingers followed the curve of her neck before taking her jaw and pulling her head to look at him. “A daughter of the snake,” he whispered. “I didn’t know there were any of you left.”
She tried to hide the gasp that escaped when she felt him touch her and heard him speak. The heavy pit she felt in her stomach got heavier when she looked at the man who purchased her. She had to admit that she was a little surprised that he was a young, attractive man but there was something about him that was scarier than the idea of being bought by someone older. "There are not many of us," she said quietly. "We try not to make our scarce presence known."
The two women stepped away from the tub, signifying that they were done bathing her. One of them moved to grab the clothes that were set out for her and brought them over.
“You are a rare prize indeed,” Sasori said. He leaned in close to look at her eyes. The slit, snake-like pupils were something fascinating since they were so rare. The other of the two women walked over with the towel. Sasori stepped away, allowing the girl to get out of the tub and dry off but held his hand up before they could clothe her. “Leave,” he ordered the women. “Leave the clothes, I will dress her myself.” He waited for them to do as he ordered and leave. He stepped up to her and again lightly ran his fingertips over her skin. He dragged his fingers down her chest to her navel. “You have another tattoo,” he said, spotting a larger one of a snake on her hip that moved down to her thigh, almost touching her knee. “You are very proud of your snake heritage.”
She looked down at the floor and nodded, keeping her shaky breaths quiet and trying not to shudder too much as he dragged his fingers across her skin. "I am," she answered. She looked up for a second at the snake on the counter as it moved around, making its own coil and burying its head inside the coil. Even the serpent did not like the situation they were in. "It is a major part of my identity."
"Mmm," he hummed softly. He circled her, dragging his fingers across her lower stomach and up over her bare hip. "I suppose I could let you keep that identity for now." His voice lowered as his finger continued to move over her back and up her spine. He leaned in close to the back of her neck and stopped inches from it. "Eventually, you will have to leave the den of the snakes to lay in the bed of the scorpion."
She exhaled shakily, closing her eyes. She suppressed the shiver that threatened to run down her spine. She glanced at the snake again, hearing a soft hiss coming from inside the coil. "You wish to strip me of my identity..." she said quietly, keeping her sight on the snake. There was no way she was going to ever let that happen. It was all she knew. "It will not be easy."
"Oh, but I don't want easy," he said lowly, circling back around. He gripped her jaw and forced her to look at him. "It's no fun if you're submissive," he grinned. "I won't just take your identity..." he tightened his grip on her chin, "I'm going to destroy it and piece by piece make you all mine." He pulled away. "But not right away. As I said, you make keep it for now. Have your new little pet." He picked up the fine linen that made up her clothing and slowly started to wrap her in it. Dexterous fingers brushed her skin as they fastened the cloth and gold that made up her sparse outfit.
She groaned quietly as he fastened the tighter parts of it around her body. "You are letting me keep him," she hummed. He moved her in front of a mirror so she could look at herself. She frowned, feeling uncomfortable without her usual garments on. She watched the snake in the mirror, trying to find some sense of comfort with what she found familiar while she still had it.
"I am," he smirked, running his hand up her side, "for now." He watched her gaze. "Look at me," he growled softly, digging his nails into her side. He smirked, watching her gaze flicker from the snake to his eyes. "When I speak to you," he turned her face to his again, "you are to look at me." He stared into her eyes.
She looked into his eyes, trying not to flinch at his gaze and nodded slightly. "Yes," she said. She pulled away gently to bow. "Thank you for allowing me to keep him."
"You're welcome," he grinned, holding her gaze. They stayed there for a moment before he pulled away. "Since he is your only belonging, gather him and let's go." He turned and walked to the door. "You will tell me more about yourself once we are alone." He turned to watch her pick up the snake and wrap him around her shoulders. The head of the creature rested on her head. He gave her a sultry look as he took her in. "In another life...you could have been a queen with your beauty," he smirked wickedly. "But I won't let you go to waste."
Her brow furrowed slightly as he turned to leave. She tried not to frown too hard as she started following him. She got a feel for what kind of person he was by what he told her in their short conversation. She knew she needed to watch her facial expressions around him, knowing full well he was the kind to hurt people.
As they walked down the corridor, he unraveled a long golden chain. He looked at her over his shoulder and reached back, indicating for her to put her hand in his. As soon as she did, he clasped one end of the chain to her and slipped the other over his own wrist. They continued down to a cluster of slaves, gathered around a platform. As soon as Sasori stepped into the blazing sun, they snapped to attention and kowtowed around the platform.
"Next to me," he said, tugging the chair of the platform as he sat down on it. The other slaves silently picked him up and started walking.
She stood on the side of the platform, squinting a little as her eyes adjusted to the sunlight. Once the slaves carrying the platform started moving, she followed, keeping up with it easily. The snake on her head rested lower on her shoulders. She tried not to look at the people they passed, petting the snake's head gently.
Sasori smiled at passersby, greeting them as they called out their hellos.
"Ah, Lord Sasori, congratulations on your bid!" an older woman said on the opposite side of his new purchase. Sasori gave her a fond smile but the wickedness still flashed in his eyes.
"Thank you, Koharu," he nodded. "I take it your granddaughter is doing better?"
"Oh, yes, your tonics never fail!" Koharu smiled, bowing slightly.
The girl's brow furrowed as she listened to the conversation. 'Tonics?' she thought. 'This man actually helps people?' She glanced up at him, seeing the way he smiled at this other woman. It was completely different from the way he looked at her earlier. It almost sent a chill down her spine just how easily he could switch in front of a crowd.
Sasori gave Koharu another smile and then gave the signal to continue on. He glanced down at his new slave, noticing her mild displeasure. He smirked, yanking her chain gently. "We're almost there," he said as the group of slaves started to ascend grand stairs.
She looked up at the mansion as they moved up the stairs. If she had not been brought as a slave, she might have actually appreciated the architecture. Once they reached the top, the slaves carrying Sasori lowered him, remaining in their bow as he stepped off of the platform. She looked around the mansion, taking in the fact that this was going to be her new home.
Sasori watched her reaction, a small smirk pulling at his lips. He tugged the chain slightly as he walked into the open and airy structure. "This is mine and Lady Chiyo's home," he told her as he turned the corner to walk down a corridor lined with flowing white linen.
Other slaves bowed low as Sasori passed, giving their greetings. They kept their eyes fixed to the limestone floors until he had passed. Only then did their eyes flicker up to give Sasori's newest plaything a sorrowful look. Unlike on the street, he paid them no mind, keeping his head lifted and straightforward.
"Everyone but you is owned by my grandmother," he smirked, turning once more and pulling her into a large room with a high domed ceiling. "You are entirely mine. Anything I say overrules Chiyo," his voice dropped low again and his smirk widened as he turned to push her against the wall. He tilted her chin up with his fingertip, their faces inches apart. He looked into her eyes again, dragging the pad of his thumb over her bottom lip.
Her breath hitched and her heart started to race again. Looking into his eyes made her uncomfortable and she could not back away from him since he had her pinned. The snake around her moved lower, sliding to the floor and coiling at her feet. She breathed heavily through her nose for a second before speaking. "You told me...once we are alone, I must tell you about myself...what do you want to know?"
"Glad you remembered," he smirked as he pulled away. He slid his end of their chain off first then took her hand. "Why don't we start with your name." He slipped the chain off of her hand and slowly coiled the chain back up. He walked to a desk near them, placing the chain down in its neat coil.
She breathed a little easier now that he was not so close to her. She swallowed a lump in her throat before speaking. "My name is Azumi," she answered, watching him linger by the desk for a moment.
"Azumi," he repeated softly. "What a kind name," he smirked, looking at her from the corner of his eye. He pulled open a small drawer then picked up two boxes. Without looking at her, he curled his finger towards her. "Continue," he ordered in an even tone as she walked to him. "Lift your leg," he told her.
She lifted her leg for him as she continued to speak. "I am from a village far away from here," she said. "My father is the head of that village." She knew her status where she was from meant nothing where she was now. She wished she could say she was surprised that this man wanted to know the background of his slave, as most people would not care about a slave's past. But she was not surprised at all.
He sat down and took her foot gently in his hand as he slipped a ring attached to a delicate golden chain over one of her toes and fastened it around her slim ankle. A small red-eyed scorpion sat in the middle of her foot now. He put her foot down and motioned for her to repeat the process for the other foot. "A noble daughter far from home." He pressed a kiss to the top of her foot. He stood up and looked her over again. "Never take those off unless I say so," he instructed her before turning on his foot. "I'll admit, I'm curious about how you came to be on that stage," he smirked. "But I am more interested in what you can do for me right now."
She stood in her spot, watching his back. "And what is it that you want me to do for you right now?" she asked, keeping her tone neutral. She tried not to show on her face or in her voice how scared and uncomfortable she was.
He looked back at her. "Come," he said, disappearing through another set of linen curtains. She followed him into the other room, looking around at it. "What did your family use the snakes for?" he asked her. "You seem to be quite comfortable around venomous snakes." He looked down at the king cobra that weaved between her legs. He sat down at a larger workbench. The whole room was lined with shelves that contained various bottles filled with dark liquids and plant matter. Across the room, a large distillery and various tools were set up on another workbench.
She did not think he would keep something like this so close to where he slept. It was a little sick, but it gave her a little more insight into what kind of person he was. "Other than as familiars," she started, "we used their venom for healing purposes." She looked down at the snake and then back at Sasori. "I am one of five people able to communicate with snakes."
"I knew I made the right choice," he hissed softly. Sasori's eyes flashed with excitement. "So, you've worked with poisons and medicines before?" he grinned. "Can I wager you've had plenty tested on you as well?" He did not bother to hide the delight in his tone. Again, he looked at the snake. "You must be very intelligent to have learned such a skill. Mmm," he hummed grinning, "but anyone with half a brain could tell you are smarter than most."
She resisted the urge to turn and leave when she saw how excited he was. "I have worked with them before, yes," she said. "And yes, I have had them tested on me. The skill to understand snakes is something that comes naturally to my father, brothers, and I."
Wickedness curled over Sasori's lips. "I knew you'd be perfect," he said as he stood up and pulled her close. "I want to test something now," he said excitedly, pulling out a vile as he held her forearm up. He opened the vile and made a small cut on her then dripped the liquid in it onto the thin line he made in her skin.
"Mm," she hummed uncomfortably as he cut her. Once she felt the liquid sink into the cut, she felt the painful burn and groaned. The burning sensation increased and she squeaked quietly.
Sasori nearly moaned at her reaction. "Do you know what that was?" he asked, his voice slipping low. He capped the bottle and gently dabbed the small wound to clean is and wrapped it neatly with some silk. He watched her for any more visible signs of it taking effect.
"Snake venom?" she huffed, still feeling the burn in her arm. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes as she bit her lip in pain. However, just as quickly as the pain came, it started to go away. The cobra hissed softly, wrapping around her leg.
"The deadliest one in my collection," he grinned. "And you're hardly reacting to it." He stood up, wrapping a hand around her neck. Using his pointer finger and thumb, he pushed her head back and watched her eyes dilate then constrict. "You should be dead by now," he whispered, still smiling. "And yet your body is only showing signs of mild irritation," he crooned close to her ear. "You have an immunity to snake venom."
"Yes," she panted, the sensation in her arm easing just a little bit. "Snake venom has hardly any effect on me. And depending on what the sensation is, I can usually tell what snake the venom came from."
"Fascinating," Sasori almost giggled. "Oooh, do I have plans for you," he grinned. "But before I get carried away, I suppose I should show you where you'll sleep part-time," he said, letting go of her. "When we are working on things for the shop and clients, you'll sleep here," he said, walking back into his main room. He gestured to a daybed that was pressed to the end of his large one. "In all honesty, I hardly sleep so you'll have to get used to that. When we aren't working on a major project, you can sleep down in the slaves' quarters," he told her. "You'll know which room is yours. It's the only one with a red door and a scorpion on the front."
She looked at the daybed and nodded slightly. She herself did not sleep much but if his plans for her were along the lines of what he just did to her, she was going to treasure sleep whenever she could get it. "If I may ask," she started, looking at him, "what projects do you work on?"
Sasori smirked, sitting down on the daybed and crossed his legs. "I am the proprietor of an apothecary," he told her. "The best in this whole country," he grinned. "And I also make the deadliest poisons known to man on commission."
"I see," she hummed. The cobra slithered up her body, resting on her shoulders. Her hand immediately went to the snake's head, petting it gently. "The poisons..." she started, "do you use a lot of snake venom in them?"
"I like to keep it on hand," he hummed. "Since, I have certain clients that prefer its effects." He smirked at her, leaning his head on the back of his hand. "I do favor scorpion venom as a base if they do not give me any specific criteria though."
"Scorpion venom..." she hummed. “I am not familiar enough with scorpion venom," she said quietly. "We do not use it in our remedies and medicines since it is not as potent as snake venom."
"Not as potent?" he questioned. "Oh, no, my dear, you are mistaken." He shook his head. "When milked and refined, it can be just as severe and potent as snake venom," he corrected her.
"So, it needs to be worked on to be nearly as potent as snake venom," she said, shifting her weight to one hip and folding her arms. "Why go through the work? Would it not just be easier to use snake venom?"
Sasori huffed a little. "Yes, it needs refining but it works much better." He lifted his chin, watching attitude settle into her stance. "Snake venom can work too quickly and ruin the desired effect. And if you find the right type even unrefined it can be just as catastrophic of snake venom."
"Does scorpion venom even have different varieties like snake venom?" she asked. "Or is it the same boring old composition among all scorpions?"
"Excuse me?" Sasori's eye twitched. "None of the scorpion variants are common or boring," he hissed. "They are each unique and you will learn to respect them," he said, getting up and crossing to her." In fact, tomorrow you will be testing out one on your very skin." He pulled her close and dug his nails into her hip. He dug them in deep enough to cause raised red lines to form on her skin.
Her breath hitched, feeling his nails dig into her. She figured immediately that she had struck a nerve. "I see..." she breathed, looking him in the eyes. "I apologize." She bowed slightly. "Clearly scorpions are special to you. I understand."
He looked into her eyes, the hand on her hip moved to grip her chin harshly. "I don't mind a challenge. Decent and intelligent conversation is hard to come by." He held her gaze.
She tried her hardest not to flinch under his gaze. "I was not a low commoner before this," she said. "I do not mean to challenge you, but I am able to carry such conversations."
He smirked, watching her struggle for a solid minute before finally letting her free. He sat back down and waved for her to take a seat on the day bed. "Then I expect many interesting conversations from you." He leaned his chin on his hand again. "You're one of a kind so far and I intend on figuring out every skill you can offer me."
She sat down next to him just as he wanted, trying to keep a distance between them. "I may not be of much use to you beyond the venom," she said. The cobra followed her, loosely wrapping around her leg. "I do not know what skills you are looking for."
"You don't need to know," he smirked. "Just do as you're told and you might surprise yourself, noble girl." He looked down at the cobra then back up at her. "We won't be working on anything tonight so you may sleep in your own room tonight if you wish."
She nodded and stood up. The king cobra made its way up her body, wrapping itself around her waist and rested its head on her shoulder. "I hope everything I have told you about myself was sufficient," she said. She bowed, but the snake did not bow with her, it stood straight and hissed quietly.
"It was," Sasori said evenly. “For now.” He glared at the snake for a moment before looking back to Azumi. "Make sure you get enough rest. You'll need your strength for tomorrow," he smirked as she rose from her bow. "You're dismissed."
She nodded and turned to leave, breathing easier once she was out of his room. She had no idea where the servants' quarters were but she was not going to dare ask him for directions. She walked down a corridor, hoping it would take her closer to where she needed to be. The cobra hissed quietly at her, making sure she knew exactly how he felt about the situation they were in.
Chiyo walked out of a room and passed Azumi. She looked over the girl and sighed a little. "He just sent you out here with no directions, didn't he," Chiyo said, stopping the girl in her tracks.
Azumi jumped slightly when Chiyo spoke and she quickly turned around to bow to her. "Yes, my Lady," she said. "He only told me that it was a red door with a scorpion on it. But not where it was."
Chiyo sighed. “As I thought. Follow me,” the woman said, turning around. “Tomorrow, if Sasori doesn’t keep you in his quarters, I’ll give you a tour of the house,” she told Azumi as she turned down another hall and pushed open a door that led to a long hallway lined with more doors. “He’s terrible at actually keeping servants and when he does, he never remembers his basic manners.” She clicked her tongue, shaking her head. She walked down the hall all the way towards the end and stopped in front of a door on the left. Just as Sasori had described, the door was red and a scorpion was burned into the wood.
Azumi put her hand on the door to open it but then stopped herself and bowed to Chiyo again. “Thank you, Lady Chiyo,” she said. The cobra lowered its head a little bit toward Chiyo.
Chiyo smiled kindly. "Don't let him kill you," she said softly as turned away.
Azumi furrowed her brow and frowned at the comment. 'That does not sound hopeful,' she thought as she pushed the door open and stepped inside. The cobra slithered off of her and moved about the room, trying to find a place he could feel most comfortable. He hissed quietly as she sat down on the bed. "I know I just met you, but you are the only one I can trust here. Do you have a name?" The snake hissed at her again, coiling up at the foot of her bed. "Naga?" she smiled as she lay back on the bed. "I like it.”