Mostly that week I paid attention to the inner workings of court, since I was now allowed to attend sessions where my father was present. My overall impression of him was that he was bipolar and erratic. He switched moods as easily as he would adjust his flight on a calm day. He usually either completely ignored me or made me the center of attention. Mira avoided me, and it was refreshing. Sunshine talked little, as the action hurt her bruised neck, and I think she was still trying to come to grips with her mother, my beating, and the fact that she was a dark light. Truthfully, so was I.
I had to get her a dress for the ball. The problem was that she didn’t realize there was a ball. That was the question she missed, and I wasn’t about to clue her in. Let’s just say that trip was interesting. She’d never really worn any nice dresses, and most of the ones for humans were made for toys and showed more skin than I needed to see in order to lose my sanity. She kept trying to figure out why she needed a dress, and I danced around the subject. However, after I got her around the curiosity and into shopping mode, she found a cream dress that she was comfortable with. She didn’t let me see her in it, though.
“How can I buy a dress I haven’t seen?” I argued.
She held it out innocently, letting me see it.
I rolled my eyes. “I mean with a body in it.”
“Well, you could put it on, but I think you might look ridiculous...”
“Why don’t you want me to see?”
She beamed, the first full smile I had seen her wear since we arrived at the capital.
“Because I know I will like the look of shock on your face when I wear it to the ball tomorrow night.”
I narrowed my eyes. “How do you know about that?”
She shrugged innocently. “Listening for assassination plots on the crown prince also helps me hear gossip.”
I relented and bought it. She was taking advantage of my guilt. Maybe not on purpose, but she was. I made sure to assert my dominance in her mind and mine that night; namely, I touched her face a few times. She appropriately shivered but didn’t really back down from the more friendly stance she had taken towards me.
She wasn’t acting like my equal. She still obeyed my every word, but she did start doing her own things. She took time to work on her art. She wouldn’t let me tend to her wounds; maybe it was because most of them were on her torso, but she didn’t even let me ice her head, which lead me to believe that I hurt her more than she would admit. It took quite a bit of self-control not to force her to tell me what was wrong or make her let me help. I gave her some space and trust, and she thrived in it. I realized the trade off on the day of the ball. I gave her trust, and she gave me more respect and less fear.
I liked that. She didn’t hesitate as long to answer my questions. She asked more of her own questions and she actually became less rude to my family. What’s more, I think she liked being under my wing. She was tall enough to peek over my shoulder; she was mostly hidden from others because my wings were so big they usually lightly scraped the ground, and I think she felt safe back there. She stepped on the back of my heels a few times, but she quickly adapted to my pace. I liked having her back there. She was my secret ear. She was close to me and safe and easy to keep track of.
Though, if she wanted to, she could easily kill me from there. She still had her sword. She never did. I could relax around her. I could trust her. It was the most freeing feeling in my life, even more so than flying. That alone was worth deciding to actually trust her.
I got ready for the ball quickly, making sure I had no cowlicks, putting on my best and finest clothes, and shaving the scruff off of my chin. I smiled at my handsome self in the mirror and relinquished the bathroom to Sunshine. She took forever. I eventually just got annoyed with it and took her sketchpad from her things, flipping through the pages. The first drawing was a detailed picture of Miss Sparnage with a warm smile on her face.
The second had “Lucille” written in fancy handwriting. The third I recognized. It wasn’t very detailed, but I think that was her purpose for the event. It was the night I took her, but it was vague. Her eyes were wide, nearly half of her face, and my hand covered the other half. The orphanage around us was detailed, but she herself was more of an indistinct white mass with barely any features. I was the most defined thing on the page, a smirk on my face and my presence seemed gigantic in the tiny room. Every feature of mine was dark, but the wings were downright black. I don’t know how she did that with pencil. The wings stretched much further than I thought they should, filling most of the page.
Was this how she saw me? I was about to flip the page when it was yanked out of my hands. I looked up in surprise, about to berate Sunshine, but my objections died in my throat.
She held the sketchpad to her chest and glared at me. “That’s not meant for you!”
I held up my hands and looked her up and down. “You were taking a long time.”
She fidgeted under my gaze and put the sketchpad under her pillow. She adjusted a sleeve and tried to look straight at me.
“Would you please not look at my drawings?”
I felt my lips twitch into a smile. “As you wish. You look... Stunning.”
She blushed and smiled sweetly. I circled her, taking in every detail of the cream dress that rested daintily on her shoulders. It went down to just above her knees, not hugging her curves but accentuating them nonetheless. The top was a modest sweetheart neckline with see-through material around her shoulders and down her back. Luckily, the fabric masked her wing stubs.
Her modesty was refreshing. She would be a challenge if I were able to chase her. I had seen her shirtless, but that changed nothing in her boundaries. She kept her shirt zipped all the way up everyday. She still blushed and looked away when I took my shirt off before bed. She was sweet and refreshing.
I offered her my arm. She grinned and put hers through it.
“Thank you. You shaved.”
I felt my smooth chin and shrugged. “I think I should look at least a little formal for the declaration of my title. Though I could look like a hobo and not be ashamed because my pet makes up for any fault in me.”
I was going for that blush that crept up her neck. The bruise in the shape of my hand was barely noticeable, for that I was grateful. I studied her face for another minute before beginning to walk out. Her soft golden hair brushed against my arm as we walked, and I had to keep myself from playing with it. I had to remain professional.
“So,” she asked, “why was your title not official before?”
“Complicated traditions and paperwork.”
“When did you do the paperwork?”
“The day I left you in the cell.”
She nodded, and we walked in silence. I tried not to think too deeply about the exquisite beauty in my arm. She was my pet. This dressing up thing was hopefully a rare occurrence, for it was really messing up my mind. She was just Sunshine in the pet uniform, but in that dress... I wanted her. I wanted her a lot.
We came upon the spot I was to meet my father and she took her arm from mine, falling into place behind me. I immediately missed her touch but knew that she was right. We couldn’t appear too friendly. The king was already there, his pet standing behind him with a hand on the wall.
King Zinx walked briskly towards me, and I was still wondering what mood he was in when he swung a fist at my face. It would have hit me, too, if Sunshine had not pulled on the top of my wing, making me lose my balance backwards. I caught myself before I fell on her and reached for my sword.
“What was that for Sire?” It took every ounce of self-control not to cuss at him. Sunshine winced whenever I cussed.
“It was meant to test your reflexes but your pet messed it up. This is my pet, Dirt. He will be your pet’s escort tonight.”
I frowned and glared at him. “And why does my pet need an escort?”
“Because you have a girl to please.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’ve known me less than a week, Father, and you are already butting into my love life.”
He snarled, “Tain was a year old when I was your age, boy. Get with the program.”
Sunshine suddenly burst out laughing. I looked over my shoulder at her in annoyance, and she put her hand over her mouth to stifle the giggles.
“What?” I snapped.
“A son named Dirg and a pet named Dirt. It’s funny.”
The king huffed out an annoyed sigh. “I didn’t realize the similarity until this boy was three, and then it was too late.”
I crossed my arms and turned to my father in annoyance. “You named me after your pet?”
“Not on purpose! And it wasn’t this one, anyway. I was in the middle of peace negotiations, I’d love to see you name a kid and make peace with the lightsies.”
“Oh, I bet I could do better than Gunshine.” I retorted.
He grit his teeth and glared at Sunshine. From knowing her, I assumed she was smiling innocently at him.
“I’ve got an idea,” he said suddenly. “We should mate our pets. We could get a good price for the puppies.”
I heard Sunshine choke and had to suppress my own indignation. Instead, I went along with it and looked his pet over. Dirt shifted nervously, looking at the ground. He was deathly pale for a human, probably hadn’t seen light in years, but his face was not bad.
“I don’t know. Yours doesn’t seem to like that idea too much.”
“Oh, he would enjoy the break from his monotonous life. Right, Dirt?”
“Yes sir,” he answered quickly.
Sunshine moaned. “I think I’m going to barf...”
I grinned at my father wickedly. “Are you sure, Sire, that your pet is interested in a female mate?”
He matched my grin. “He’s interested in whatever I say he is interested in. And if that includes raping your pet...”
I felt her press in close to my wings, so I opened one slightly to let her in.
“You wouldn’t dare,” I said flatly.
His grin flat lined. “Of course I wouldn’t. But now I see how much you care about her. You better learn to care about your wife that much. Now, come. We are going to be late.”
He turned and I walked behind him. Dirt followed, keeping a hand on the wall. He was darkblind, as most humans were. His ears had no point, so he wasn’t gifted, and he had the air of one broken, not bent. Maybe that was how the king preferred his pet, but it disgusted me. I didn’t like the deadness in a broken’s eyes; I much preferred the life behind Sunshine’s bent eyes. I lifted my wing as a signal for her to step out. I didn’t look at her because I didn’t want to see the disappointment on her face.
“The king is right. You will stay with Dirt during the ball.”
“Yes sir,” she sighed.
“Good. Come to me when you are ready to go. Have a good night.”
She responded in kind and went to walk next to Dirt. I didn’t like giving her away to another man, but I knew my Sunshine. She would not let him do a thing to her, especially with how tiny he was. He looked about as tall as her, so I surmised that she could take him easily. The king gave me an approving nod, and for that second I felt elated, but then he spoke.
“Smart boy. Dirt, go in the normal entrance.”
Dirt nodded and turned. Sunshine looked to me, and I had to force my neck to nod my head. I didn’t want her leaving me. I liked it better when I could keep at least one sense pointed at her. Not that I thought she was going to do anything. It was more that I didn’t want anything done to her, and possibilities multiplied when she was not near me.
King Zinx stopped in front of the ballroom’s announcement doors and held out his hand without looking at me.
“The ring, boy.”
“Oh no you don’t. I know my rights. You can only take things from me if I give them to you.”
He frowned, still looking straight ahead. “You don’t want me to elaborately re-adorn your finger in front of everyone?”
“There’s no guarantee you’ll give it back, so no.”
He looked at me and winked, putting his hand down. “Test passed, boy.”
“How many of these little tests are you going to throw at me?”
“As many as I can between now and when you leave. Consider them my parting gift to you.”
I shook my head and kept my thoughts of how that wasn’t really a gift to myself. He shot one last smirk at me before hitting the doors full force, slamming them open. He sprinted a step and took off of the balcony with no rail, yelling at everyone to pay attention, which was pointless. They were all quieting from his explosive entrance anyway.
I stepped in, and he landed nearly on top of me, looping an arm over my shoulder.
“This is my heir, Dirg. Sorry Tain but I picked the third born, not the firstborn. If he dies, you are my alternative. So, now everyone knows that this young rascal,” he shook me aggressively, “is the one that will kill me. Does everyone understand?”
Heads around the room nodded and Tain stared at our father with an open mouth. King Zinx let go of me and grabbed my hand, holding it in the air above our heads.
“Crown Prince Dirg Oina Zinx, heir apparent of the Dark Skyrunner throne!”
Amazingly, they all bowed, bending at their hips towards my father and me. No one had bowed to me, except the once I made Sunshine do so. I knew it was coming, but to see the tops of black wings tilting towards me was an unnerving, amazing sight. It hadn’t hit me until that moment exactly what king meant. It meant being in control, yes, but it also meant having respect. Maybe not total respect of the kind Sunshine showed me, but respect nonetheless.
I felt myself grinning as I declared, “Let the celebration begin!”
From there, the night was barely controlled chaos. In the beginning, everyone was focused on me with solemn congratulations, but I could tell when the refreshments started to kick in. The dance floor opened as the classical music began and partners engaged in the darky version of traditional ballroom dance. Half of them were on the dance air, not the dance floor.
Those who couldn’t hold their whiskey were giggling within minutes and already acting tipsy. I politely declined any offer, knowing I needed all of my senses and that I was terrible at holding so much as a drop. I saw Sunshine only a bit, for people were keeping her as busy as they were me.
Mira was steadfastly avoiding me, which turned me on like no other. I grinned when I caught a glimpse of her. She wasn’t the only woman in the room, though. I didn’t miss the ladies primping their hair and revealing more of their breasts to try to get my eye. I am the definition of male attractiveness, I’ve always known that, and Sunshine’s blushes only stoked my already giant ego. I promised myself that Mira would be my first dance of the night, though she was doing great at making this difficult.
About an hour in, when most of the courtiers were drunken out of their minds, the music suddenly stopped. Several looked to the stage in annoyance, while those in the corners continued with their business. A very fit male human with all the clothing of a toy took a mike from a holder and grinned mischievously at the guests.
“This party’s great, for a bunch of stiff-necked old timers! I’m thinking its time to turn it up a notch!”
The crowd roared in agreement. The toy looked at the musicians behind him. “Care to drop the beat, boys?”
The room turned into a mosh-pit as the base dropped. I grinned, watching the others have fun. Finally, I caught full sight of Mira and made my way to her. I grabbed her from the man she was on and grinned at her consternation.
“You’re dancing with me,” I stated.
She scowled, and I could smell alcohol on her breath. “You made it pretty clear that-”
I smashed her protests with my lips. She tasted like alcohol, and it was all I could do not to gag, but I pulled back and smirked at her shock.
“That I wanted to chase you? Exactly! Dance with me.”
I pulled her with me, finalizing the brief conversation. I took the dance to the air so that it was more likely people would see me dancing dangerously with my betrothed. Hopefully, that would help people not think Sunshine was my lover.
After I have no idea how long, the music stopped again, and I looked to the stage in confusion. The male toy was back, sweating and breathing hard, a wild spark in his eyes as they met mine.
“Alright, I see y’all got some moves, but I got more. Does anyone think the man of the hour, Crown Prince Dirg, can beat me in a dance off?”
The crowd went nuts, sending me catcalls and burns. I rolled my eyes from my position holding onto a bar on the wall. I knew my strengths and dancing was not one of them.
I yelled over the crowd, “I don’t think I can!”
Every head turned to me, and the toy spread out his arms. “Oh, come now future king! Are you afraid of a little competition?”
“Hell no! But let’s make it a little fairer. Sunshine will take my place.”
“Dirg!” came her exasperated voice.
I laughed and made eye contact with her. The toy laughed too. “If you say so, Prince. Just to make things interesting, if I win, you grant my mistress a favor. If you win, she grants you whatever favor you wish.”
“Who’s your mistress?”
He smirked and bowed low in my direction. “M’lovely lady Mira.”
I looked to her and her smug expression. I grinned. “Challenge accepted. Sunshine, get up there.”
The room cheered and started shoving my annoyed pet to the stage. She rolled her eyes but let Mira’s toy haul her up to his level. I looked to my betrothed.
“You have a toy?” I asked, letting suspicion creep into my voice.
She nodded happily. “He belly dances for me and warms my bed. Just until I get you, that is.”
“I am not going to belly dance for you,” I stated.
She snickered. “Are you sure? I will have a favor in a few minutes...”
“What makes you so confident? You’ve never seen Sunshine dance.”
“No I haven’t, but have you?”
I shrugged. “Touché.”
“Wait, does that mean you have or not?”
I just winked and positioned myself comfortably for the following festivities. The toy looked Sunshine up and down, a sly smile covering his lips. I felt a pang of jealousy but drowned it quickly.
Sunshine crossed her arms and faced him, an eyebrow raised. “What type of dance?”
“Any type you wish, Sugarlips.”
Her jaw dropped and I felt the jealousy resurface all the stronger. How dare he? I didn’t growl, though. I would not give Mira the satisfaction of seeing me annoyed by her toy. I saw Sunshine glance my way and then started chuckling before she even said anything. He picked the wrong person to have an insult war with.
“Oh, I don’t really care, honeybuns. You started it, so choose your poison.”
He laughed and I noted the surprise in his face. “Ok then! Boys, would you give us some base?”
The band/orchestra complied, and the toy put the mike up, stretching and doing forms like he was going into battle, eyes locked onto my pet. The audience settled in to see the show comfortably, whispering and making bets. Sunshine sighed and cracked her neck.
The toy looked up to Mira and I saw her smile and nod. He approached Sunshine and looked her over.
“Now,” I heard him say, “for this type of dance, you’re going to need a little more room than that.”
He grabbed the hem of her skirt and ripped it up her leg to her hip. I expected her to blush and retreat into herself, but she just smiled and stretched. Several whistled at her bared leg, but some gasped. I winced slightly, for there was a large discoloration all up her thigh. I steeled my gaze as some looked up at me.
“What are the rules?” Sunshine asked.
The toy shook his limbs and stated. “Simple. I dance, you counter. You best me, I counter. When one of us is done, we gesture like so for the other to go.”
He held his palm out flat to her. She nodded.
“Makes sense. How do we win?”
He turned to the crowd. “Whoever’s master the people start chanting the loudest wins! But don’t let us off easy, you hear?”
The crowd cheered and started calling for it to begin. The toy was enjoying this. He spun to face Sunshine. “Let’s start out easy.”
He did a simple Charlie Brown and passed it to her. She hesitated before copying his and then doing a duggie. He did a duggie with a smile and then did some complicated stomach roll. She wasn’t smiling, copied it and then did some hip shake that made my jaw drop. He outright laughed and copied it. From there, things got too complex and long for me to explain. The toy smiled all the while, and Sunshine retained a saucy (sexy) face. He started adding more masculine moves that I wouldn’t be caught dead doing; she retaliated by moving her hips in a way I had never thought she was capable.
The crowd went nuts as my pet twerked in the toy’s face. I almost fell off the bar I was on in astonishment. Where did my sweet, innocent little Sunshine go? This was not something I had actually thought she was capable of. It was only when I noticed her look sheepishly up at me that I understood. She was doing this for me. I told her to, but she was putting her sexy all into it, and I loved it.
Then, Sunshine broke all the rules and pulled a female move that I knew the toy couldn’t do. His eyes widened in shock, and he stood there frozen when she passed it to him. The crowd noticed and started yelling for him to try, some starting to chant my name. Sunshine grinned and then shimmied again, again passing it to the toy. He put his hands on his hips and flexed his pecs, his grin turning mischievous. He then slid his hands over his chest and between his thighs in a move that didn’t look so great on him, but it made Sunshine turn red when he passed it to her.
The crowd started taunting her as they had been the toy a moment before when she paused and ducked her head in embarrassment. For her sake I hoped this ended quickly before he started making her strip.
She put her hands on her chest and copied him, but she did it slower, more sensually, tracing her curves in a way that made my hands burn to be doing that to her myself. The rest of the room must have been feeling the same way, for a ton of men began chanting my name, pumping their fists in the air. She then curtsied low to the crowd, flourishing her bare leg outside of her dress and letting the fabric slip slightly to reveal more of her chest than she had all night. She passed it to the toy, and he did the same with not nearly the same effect. The crowd went nuts chanting my name and jumping and eyeing my pet with appreciation. I smirked at Mira before flipping off of the bar, gliding to the stage and landing next to my pet. I crossed my arms and smirked at the toy.
He got on his knees and bowed mockingly. “You win, oh great prince! Please have mercy on me for daring to challenge your greatness and that of your pet!”
I waved my hand and was about to say something, but he continued, getting on a knee and giving me a knowing look.
“Please forgive me as I do it again, but you have to prove the win. Dance with her.”
I narrowed my eyes at him and he grinned mischievously as the crowd agreed with him.
“I can’t dance that well,” I stated.
He stood and ran off the stage, beginning to chant, “Dance with her! Dance with her!”
The crowd took it up, so I looked at Sunshine, who was blushing so hard I was sure she was going faint with all the blood in her head.
“Dance with her! Dance with her!”
She tilted her head, asking me what I wanted. I gestured for her to come to me, so she did. I turned to the band and the music silenced.
“Give me a little more classic but still upbeat.”
They were silent for a minute, but then the music started and I put my hand on Sunshine’s back in the traditional dance style. She accordingly put her hand on my shoulder and took my other hand.
I heard several whistles and my name calling, but I ignored them and started leading her in a dance. I picked up speed as she got used to my style and soon I had her twirling and jumping. I forgot about the crowd and focused on my beautiful dance partner. Luckily, Sunshine still realized we were putting on a show and helped me avoid any more sensual moves. She kept a clear head and smiled dazzlingly. We ended with a flourish, and the crowd gave us a standing ovation. Sunshine curtsied, but not nearly as low as she had before. I bowed slightly and straightened.
“Where’d the party go?” I called with a grin.
The crowd cheered and the music continued as the courtiers hit the party back into full swing. I led Sunshine back into the fray, but I pulled her to a quieter corner and gently pat her face.
“Good girl, Sunshine. I had no idea you could do that.”
She blushed and scratched the back of her neck. “Yah, I took dance lessons when I was younger and some of the older girls showed me how to do the more... dirty moves.”
I chuckled. “Well, I enjoyed it.”
She blushed even harder. “May I go to bed? I’m exhausted and everyone is going to want to dance with me.”
“Yes, go to bed. I can’t make any promises about waking you when I come in, though.”
She nodded and turned to slip into the crowd. A few women managed to wrangle me into dancing with them before I found Mira again, but I wasn’t really paying attention to their flirting or flaunting. I was trying to erase the sight of my sweet little Sunshine dancing dirty from my memory. If I looked at her and saw that, I might have trouble keeping it a master-pet relationship. I found Mira and her toy sitting next to a refreshment table, she on his lap and he kissing the skin on her neck.
She wasn’t facing him, so she immediately noticed me and stood, leaving him to pout alone. She grinned at me.
“I think you should probably officially meet my pet. His name is Fantastic, but I usually call him Fan.”
He waved at me.
“So was that all your idea or his?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“The original idea was mine, but I must say he added more than I could have hoped for. I really thought I’d get a favor from you.”
She reached up and put her hands on my chest, slowly sliding them up to my neck. I relented and pulled her in close, breathing in the fermentation that clung to her and trying not to gag.
“What favor would you have called?” I asked.
She answered pretty much exactly as I expected, her face only inches from mine, “To get in your bed.”
I nodded and scanned her highly made up face. Did she really think she needed all that makeup to look pretty?
“What are you going to use it for?”
I shrugged. “I have no idea. I’ll save it for a rainy day.”
She sighed and plopped her head on my chest. “You are so confusing, Dirg.”
“Would you like me to explain myself?”
“In what area?”
“Why I am so hesitant to bed you.”
She looked up at me with a sort of half glare. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”
She sighed. “Shoot.”
“Until today, it’s been way too easy. You see me, you kiss me, I could carry you off and you wouldn’t complain.”
She frowned. “Too easy? That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
“Well, everything else has always been a challenge for me. You are not a challenge.”
“So you want to chase me?”
“Yes. You made it pretty hard tonight.”
“Is your pet a challenge?”
“It took me a little over a week to convert her.”
“Really? Fan took me two minutes.”
“He’s a toy. All you had to do was take your shirt off. I had to bend her iron hard will to mine.”
She shrugged. “True. Well, that’s one less challenge to trouble you after tonight.”
I frowned. “Why?”
She grinned and traced my jaw line. “Let’s just say I don’t have any competition.”
I froze. “You wouldn’t.”
Suddenly, the ground quaked and I heard a muffled boom past the music. My blood ran cold and somehow I knew that something was wrong with Sunshine. I shoved Mira away and took off towards my rooms, hoping I wasn’t too late.