Vaako runs his fingers over his mask. It’s a delicate thing, made of porcelain and molded to fit the top half of his face. If he had the energy he would snarl. A Pawn , plain and rounded. The warrior in him chafes at being cast so low. But he’s a slave who fought his way into being a commander instead of being born into the role. There are other Pawns around him, male and female, with their own plain white masks. Some whisper treasonous words. Words of envy and want, but with so little strength. This dance is not for them. Merely props for the political game that the President is playing with the newly arrived Necromongers.
The music is loud, vibrating across the great hall. Pianos and violins and other instruments that Vaako cares not for. It’s meant to invite the higher castes to dance, make merry and drink. It’s meant to lift the soul and encourage peace. Or so says the President. It makes Vaako tired, makes his movements slow. Oh, how Vaako hates this music. He would rather be in the arena than here.
No one dances. They can’t, not until both Kings and Queens have a dance partner. Those are the rules and it is unthinkable to break them.
The White King with her white mask, silver veins and emerald accents swirling her eyes has chosen a Bishop. The King, the President, with her overconfident smile holds that Bishop’s hand above her head. Posed and waiting. Vaako feels for that Bishop, whoever he may be with his porcelain mask with a top like an upside-down teardrop. The Black Queen with his black mask, gold veins and sapphires splashing down his cheeks has chosen one of their Rooks. They stand like soldiers, deadly and graceful. Envy is a vile feeling but, oh, does Vaako feel it looking at them.
He closes his eyes, still standing at a perfect parade rest. Pawns are only here to fill in empty space. To continue the illusion of a chessboard. He won’t be picked, not by any of the back row and not by any of his fellow Pawns. Not that he wants to dance, it’s the principle of it that has his teeth grinding. On the battlefield, soldiers fight to catch his eye. To be added to his squadron. But this is not the battlefield and those around him follow a different set of rules.
A violin screeches, its bow carelessly dragged upon the strings. Assaulting not only the instrument but the ears of everyone around. His eyes snap open, hand going to his waist where his blaster should be. It isn't, unarmed and defenseless. That fact alone keeps the Black King from losing his face. Where a Queen’s mask is fanned like a seashell, a King’s mask comes up to three points like a trident. Vaako takes a moment to trace spirals down the points to twine around the gems studded about the eyes.
There are dead eyes staring at him through the mask. It makes the predator inside Vaako uneasy. This is not how things are done. A King should not be standing in front of a Pawn , for any reason. The Lord Marshal, Zhylaw, bows as he has been instructed to. One hand behind his back, one at his hip and left leg back and bent.
“Dance with me?”
Vaako can't say no. And it is not just because of what the President may do to him if he insulted their guest. He physically cannot say no. The word is there in his throat. Like a rock, it sits there. Blocked. His lips curl into a shy smile. The drinks. The ones that are given to the Pawns at the very beginning. That is the only reason Vaako can come up with to explain it. Forced to feel his body react without his permission, Vaako screams internally as he bows back. Legs crossed, one hand in Zhylaw’s and the other at his waist.
“It is my honor.”
The music has started again. Vigorous. He looks around to see that the White Queen has latched onto one of the black Knights.
“As the highest castes are paired, let the merrymaking begin!”
The announcement is pre-recorded and played at the President’s whims. Sometimes she does it to see who is paying attention, punishing those aren't. So there is a moment's hesitation before the others pair up.
Zhylaw is cold to the touch. And so much of him is touching Vaako. The man has him pulled flush to him. He could rip the man’s throat out with his teeth. He could, he’s done it before when an opponent underestimated his skills. The warmth of the blood that splashed across his face had him grinning for hours.
“You cannot harm me, pet. It is in your own laws. That fire is enticing but unwarranted.”
He tries to snarl but it becomes a smile instead. Kindly and sweet.
“Your resistance is futile. Just as is the resistance of your leader.”
Zhylaw spins him about before dipping him deeply. He grins at Vaako. Jagged teeth, dead eyes. A predator in his own right. Challenging Vaako when he cannot accept it. Coward , his mind whispers.
The kiss when it comes is unexpected only in the sheer forcefulness. Jagged teeth cut his lips. The taste of blood often excites Vaako, even his own, but in this instance, he wants nothing more than to smash his head into Zhylaw’s. A wormy tongue forces its way into his mouth. And at last, Vaako is able to fight back. He bites down, hard and brutal. Grinding his teeth until Zhylaw squeals like the pig he is.
They break apart. The music still plays. Loud. Exciting. The President has traded her Bishop for the Black Queen. Vaako is unarmed and loose limbed with blood smeared across his mouth. Try me , he tries to convey through that fog forced upon him.
Zhylaw takes a step forward. Ghostly image taking a step before his physical body. There are creatures on Vaako’s planet. Dead body controlled by a parasite; pale and violent. That is what Zhylaw reminds him of. The ghostly hand reaches out, grasps Vaako’s arm in a bruising grip and then it lets go.
The music still plays, even as Zhylaw falls to his knees. The Black Knight the one who was dancing with the White Queen. Vaako's looks to the President and finds her dead on the floor.
“There's gonna be changes around here,” the Black Knight says. His voice a rumbly growl. Changes. Though it can't be seen Vaako raises an eyebrow.
“If anyone wants to try and stop us,” the Knight gestures to the Queen standing where they were left, “feel free to try to. If not, act like this is the last dance of your life.”
The Knight steps forward, shined eyes glowing behind his mask, looks Vaako up and down. Undressing him .
“When you're in your right mind, I wanna spar with you.”
Not how Vaako expected this night to go.