Another Excerpt from LORD OF THE CROOKSIDE – available first on Zackerium.com June 11th

Jun 9, 2021 | fantasy, The Nine Suns

The hour of the ninth bell rang out with clockwork efficiency. Peals, gongs and clangs ran through Azelpaar. Those whose day began with the ringing awoke from the beds, while others looked forward to the end of the day’s labors. For thrs, it was merely the midpoint, those whose days were ending nodding in greeting to those who were still hard at work. Such was the nature of time here, with no rising or setting of the Sun.

The House of Splendor and Beauty, as the compound where the Nezaki ran their affairs was called, kept as much as possible to the same time followed in their homeland. The Ninth Hour marked the midpoint in the working day, and as usual they were hard at it, though for some that work merely entailed sitting at a desk by a window and watching beautiful women go through their paces.

Dezop was his name, and he’d been on Stozenvaal for nearly a year, give or take a week. Trade with Nekazi had only grown, for Lord Vikkar Haarn did a flourishing trade in izadi and revezi, using his mothers connections to ensure a continuous supply and his father’s influence to impose a monopoly on the business. The House of Splendor and Beauty, officially at least, belonged to a trading house connected to Lady Obia, but everyone knew who truly paid the bills.

Dezop cared little one way or another, so long as he was paid and comfortable. His contract was for three years, with a quarter commission on each transaction he oversaw, plus a share of the yearly profits. He would return to Nezaki as a ‘two-house man,’ owning both a residence on the land, and a ship-home in the Empyrean above. A wife would be waiting for him on his return, a freeborn woman chosen by his family, likely from another branch of his House, though there was always the possibility of alliance with another House, though Dezop considered that unlikely. The wife, whoever she was, would have been born in the Empyrean, as were all free citizens on Nezaki, including himself, for to be born on the surface was to be afflicted by the land’s strange effects. For the women, it meant being born with great beauty, for the men, bodies of muscles and sinew, and always teetering on the edge of homicidal madness. Since there was no way to tell before the child emerged from its mother, the law decreed only those untainted by landbirth be considered full citizens. The heirs of his body would be born in the grey, and the wife would likely spend most of her year on the ship-house, which by law and custom was considered her domain, though paid with his money.

The house on the ground of Nezaki was another matter – there he would run his affairs, and establish himself as a man of commerce and standing, a voice respected in the House Council, investing his coin into the business of the House and reaping the rewards. He would fill it with beautiful things…including women, as many as he desired and could afford, izadi of refined training, lovely ornaments on his arm in public and the fullfilment of every erotic desire in private. Such was the life a man of standing might expect in Nezaki, should he fulfill his contract and leave his house wealthier than when he arrived.

There would be children from these liaisons, of course, born on the landside. If female, they might be acknowledged as his legal offspring, so long as the House Council gave its blessing. Such daughters were not considered full citizens, but would be raised in his house and when they reached womanhood likely be contracted into marriages with prominent offlanders or men of importance on Nezaki…every House maintained a stable of such daughters, valuable tools for the advancement of its interests. The Lady Obia was such a woman, and by all accounts had served the interests of her House well after her marriage to the Lord Protector. So too was his newest concubine, Atiki. But sometimes the House had all the Half-Born daughters it needed, in which case they would be sold into the trade. It was a hard choice, but such was life, and the price he had to pay for his status.

As for any sons he might father, they would be taken from their mothers at birth. Landsborn males were considered the legal equivalent of animals on Nezaki, dangerous animals. Should he survive a childhood of harsh training and take to the discipline required of the revezi, he too would be sold, a valuable commodity, an unstoppable killer available to any who desired such men and could pay the price.

These days, revezi were worth their weight in gold, more than even the finest izadi. Dezop found them distasteful…and though he would never admit it, more than a little intimidating. They were savage beasts in the form of men, kegs of gunpowder with legs….whose fuses were only half a inch long, always on the verge of exploding. Barely half of them could be expected to survive the training, the failures killed in fights or culled by the trainers for their inability to take discipline, to keep the rage that was their strongest weapon even any semblance of control…

The Nezaki enclave on Stozenvaal held both in stock. The barracks holding the revezi was at full capacity, but every man in there was spoken for, the account books filled with the sort of profits that would make Dzop a wealthy man when he returned home. Izadi there as well, yet only days before word came down from Lord Vikkar to reserve all but a handful of new girls…when asked, he claimed a major sale had taken place, and backed it up with a substantial amount of coin. So it was that on this particular day, Dezop could sit at his window and look at his charges with an air of contentment. If he made no other sale from now until the day his time on this rock ended, it would not matter.

A cup of green wine filled one hand, sipping from it as he looked to the left courtyard, where the izadi went through their daily exercises, a series of stretches and graceful dances meant to keep their bodies supple and limber. He watched them hungrily, eyes fixing on two in the front row. He made a mental note to find out if either of them were virgins – that quality held no value on Nezaki, but it mattered a great deal to many offlander buyers, and so careful records were kept, noting who was unbroken and who wasn’t. Not that it mattered if they were…there were other ways they could bring pleasure, and all were trained in such techniques. And they would not refuse, would accede to every demand with a smile, no matter how degrading. Such was their training, they knew no other way to live.

A cry went up from the izadi, as the senior among them called out the dance steps. He shifted his gaze to the right, towards the other courtyard, where the revezi had their barracks. They were indoors, chained to the floor, watched over by a single overseer, as the others were given the night off. Very decent of Lord Vikkar, he thought to himself as the wine took hold. Of course, a single overseer could do little against a room full of angry revezi out for blood…but they were chained down, so there was little harm in the matter. Best think on the nights pleasures, all he had to do was decide which of the girls he liked, and what he would make them do…

There was a knock at the door. He opened his mouth to ask who it was, but then it opened. A man stood in the doorway, and it took a moment for Dezop to recognize him.

“Ozar? What are you doing here? Who’s watching the brutes?” The lone remaining overseer in the compound said nothing, his gaze blank, his jaw slack and open. Dezop began to rise, opening a drawer in his desk in which lay a loaded pistol.

Ozar dropped to the ground, dead as stone. In the shadows behind him was a revezi, looming and hulking, his massive hand letting go of the dead overseer. Dezop grabbed for the pistol, thumbing back the hammer, but the brute moved faster than his size would have suggested, reaching across and grabbing his arm. The thick sausage fingers squeezed, and Dezop screamed in pain as he felt the bones of his break. The trigger pulled back, the gun fires into the wall, bits of stone and plaster flying out.

“Let go,” Dezop gasped. “I command you…obey me…”

Then a massive fist filled his vision, and he saw nothing more.

The revezi dropped the dead man on the ground. He looked at his fist, now smeared with blood and a few flecks of bone. For a moment he stood there, lost in thought, the red rage receding from his eyes, leaving enough space for him to think. He opened a drawer and removed a ring of keys, then exited the room.

The revezi crossed the courtyard, moving past the izadi, who remained at their exercise, seemingly oblivious to the commotion. He entered the barracks, where his fellows were chained by hand, foot and neck to iron rings on the floor. They watched silently as he went down the anks, opening the heavy locks securing them, the barracks filled with the jingling and clanking of iron links calle to the ground, the revezi standing tall…and free.

It took some time to complete, in all there were over four hundred of the brutes locked in here, packing in shoulder to shoulder like animals in a pen, the air thick with the stench of sweat. They waited patiently until the last of their brothers were freed. The lead revezi raised the key ring, gripping it in both hands. His fingers flexed, and it snapped in half, the keys falling to the floor to join the chains.

The revezi left the barracks, marching across the courtyard towards the izadi courtesans and concubines, who stopped in mid dace, watching silently as the hulking killers, ravening beasts who obeyed only their rage and other desires, climbed over the low wall dividing the two sections.

They stared at the woman, the air thick with lust and worse.

Then, they knelt, placing both fists on the ground in the mark of submission.

“It is done,” the lead revezi said in a growling voice to the leader of the izadi, who looked on him without a hint of fear, for she knew they would not attack her, were completely under her control.

The leader of the concubines looked to her sisters. “You know the plan,” she said.

The revezi stood and swiftly divided into squads of ten, with an izadi command of each. The gates of the compound were opened, and they spread out into the city.

LORD OF THE CROOKSIDE (Book Seven of the Nine Suns) available June 11th on Zackerium.com!

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