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Sloan's Story part 13 - Twenty-four Steps



In contrast to the plodding days of nothingness in the pen, once they stepped inside the building events proceeded at a breakneck pace. They were whisked to a large room containing some ingenious system that turned the entire thing into one huge communal shower. It was like standing in a moderate rainfall. Slaves, faces blank and impersonal, washed them off with brusque, efficient swipes of rough cloth. They were then led to another room where the chain that linked them together was removed. Three of their members were led out of a side door, for no reason that Sloan could determine. Then it was a simple matter of waiting as they were picked, one at a time, and brought through the main door of the room.


The first time this final step happened, the woman who had been linked to the man who was chosen automatically started to follow him, and the person who had been linked to her likewise started forward. When the door slammed in their faces, a small shock ran through the group. Between one blink and the next, the tenor of the room changed. It was as if their individuality had been given back to them when they hadn't realized it had been taken away in the first place. The room erupted in noise - babbling and crying and shouting created a miasma of discord which only subsided when a guard banged on the cell door and shouted for silence.


The silence was worse because it bred fear, a fear that seemed to reflect off the walls and the low ceiling and come bouncing back at them, compounding their turmoil and making the room seem smaller than before. Soon Sloan began to feel claustrophobic, as if the fear had replaced the oxygen in the room. She moved without thinking toward the barred door to the room, where she could see the guards and the narrow hallway beyond. The hallway represented everything they feared but, in that moment, that fear held far less impact than the explosive panic behind her.


Because of where she stood, she saw them coming, and so had time to steel herself. The others had, for the most part, become oblivious to everything, wrapped up as they were in their inner turmoil. Thus, when the door banged open, several people screamed. This catharsis did help relieve the pressure in the room, but it began ratcheting back up only a heartbeat later. Sloan knew she could not go through that process again without going mad, so she stepped forward, volunteering herself to go next. The guards didn't look surprised. They took her arms with stoic expressions and led her out of the cell. The door clanged shut behind her and Sloan took a deep breath. Happiness, she decided, was a relative thing. Here she was, chained and walking toward an uncertain future that very likely involved a lot of pain and misery, but after the experience in the cell she felt relieved, even buoyant. She had found a gap between two pits of despair and was able to find enjoyment and peace for that brief length of time it took to take twenty-four steps between the cell and the block.


The murmuring sound of the audience grew louder, then spilled over into the hallway when they took a turn to the left and Sloan got her first look at the auction house. it looked very much like she had expected: a single chain hanging from a support beam in the open ceiling over a small dais in front of several benches, a couple of armed guards standing at attention near the dais, wealthy-looking people seated or standing about. The room itself looked incongruously like a church or temple (which, although she didn't learn it until much later, was because the building had once been a temple of Mara).


Most of the murmuring stopped when they entered, only to pick up again immediately after as she was led to the dais. She stepped into her spot on the dais without struggling - what would be the point? - and the guards lifted her arms above her head and connected her wrist manacles to the chain above. She had worked at the Vixen for months, but this was a new kind of exposure, and she found herself trying to shy away from the voracious stares.


The bidding began, but she found she didn't want to know the outcome. It was a last little moment of hope, perhaps, or maybe it was despair. Whatever the cause, she hung her head as the bidding went on because she didn't want to see the faces of the people who were doing the bidding. To look upon them invited imagining who they might be, what they might want of her. Watching her future take shape before her eyes only started that future the sooner. At least, so her mind insisted.


She could still hear, though, so even though she had never been to an auction before, she recognized when the proceedings took an unusual turn. Something in the feel of the room changed, the tension began to increase. The ubiquitous ambient noise of people talking to each other during the bidding stopped, so that the only sounds were three voices - the auctioneer and two bidders, both of whom seemed dead set on claiming her. In a different context, she may have felt a sense of pride, but here the ongoing battle only grated on her frayed nerves until she wanted to shout.


Fortunately, the auction ended two bids later. The auctioneer slammed his gavel and pronounced her sold for what he pronounced to be a near-record-breaking nine thousand septims. The crowd sounded appreciatively impressed.


A flat female voice said, "I want her delivered bagged," and only seconds later, as one guard released her hands from the chain, another dropped a bag of some rough material over her head.


She was led, stumbling, from the dais, and guided to the left-hand side of the room. She only knew they had left the room when the sound of the audience got slammed away by the closed door. Several minutes and stubbed toes later, fresh air tickled her skin and the darkness in the bag became a little less dark.


They were outside. She had a pretty good idea where they were, but she soon lost all sense of direction as she was led through the streets of Riften, taking unexpected turns and going up and down several flights of stairs. The smell of the canal waxed and waned with no discernible pattern, and by the time she heard a door close behind her and the sounds of the city streets were cut off, she had lost all sense of place. It took some moments before she realized that the feeling of panic that was slowly clamping down on her lungs stemmed from the fact that she had not taken a breath since the door closed. She opened her mouth and sucked in air with a ragged gasp just as the hood was yanked from her head and she got her first sight of her new master.

Edited by jfraser


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