tagSci-Fi & FantasyGilded in Gold Ch. 03

Gilded in Gold Ch. 03


"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't see you there," Tibby blurted out as turned back to the balcony door and jiggled the handle. A dark, swarthy hand covered her shaking ones and stopped her jerky motions.


The low rumble of his voice reverberated from her chest to warm and tangle down her back, sending her into shivers for an altogether different reason. The stranger's arms came around her in what seemed like a hug and Tibby stiffened for a moment. She had been told by Daniel that she was under protection but this man and this place made her realize just how easily he could hurt her or worse. If his number was higher than Daniel's, then it would be so easy to hide away her screams. Pushing got her nowhere; her shaking limbs were useless and couldn't have defended against a baby. But the man just held her, still as a statue as he allowed her small, futile struggles. After a moment, she was forced to let her body slump against him and he held her against the door. Still, he did nothing but hold her and Tibby realized she was getting her first hug from anybody since her mother died.

Absurdly, that fact seemed so very sad to her and she choked out a sob. The man was murmuring some comforting words and began to stroke his warm hands up and down her bare arms, but his actions only prodded at her tears. It felt so very nice to be offered comfort from this man, a man that didn't even know her. That fact made her cry harder until her whole body was wracked with dry heaves. She couldn't cry, she had wasted all her tears eight years ago. She felt the man turn her until she was fully nestled in his arms and he tucked her head under his chin. Tibby closed her eyes for a moment and dreamed that it was her mother who was holding her and she burrowed closer to his warmth. For just a few minutes, she promised herself, she would just stay in his arms for a few minutes then quickly excuse herself and run to her room.

"Are you okay now? Did some guy give you trouble out there?"

Her minutes were up.

Putting her hands to his chest, she pushed and he let her go. Tibby thought it would be prudent to put more distance before she spoke to him.

"I'm-I'm quite sorry about that. I just-I-" Tibby didn't know how to explain her need. How did one tell a stranger that she was so overcome by the comfort in his hug, a stranger's hug that she never wanted to be let go of.

The man across from her grinned and said "How 'bout I save you the trouble of coming up with an excuse and just introduce myself. I'm Ryan Ezekiel, hugger extraordinaire, at your service." He embellished his introduction with an elaborate bow over her hand. Tibby quickly pulled it away but gave him a small polite smile.

The man was very tall, taller than Daniel by at least half a foot. He had dark brown hair that tended to curl and gave him a boyish air. His moss green eyes were fringed with thick lashes that Tibby just knew were naturally his. He was a big man, but not overly muscular like the guards Daniel always surrounded himself with. He was quite lean, looked almost starved but his broad shoulders and easy movements hinted at a healthy diet. His slight accent gave him away to be from the Black Lands, one of the worst ghettos that bordered the Red Lands. The clothes he wore didn't seem to fit him well, probably because they slightly hung off his lean frame.

"You're from the Black Lands," Tibby whispered. While she had been sheltered, she had gotten a basic education and she knew Black Land People didn't have the capacity to hobnob with the crowds that the Midnight Garden produced. The man bared his teeth in what she supposed should have been a smile and put his forefinger to his lips.

"Don't tell anyone that, princess, or I might get thrown out of here on my ass."

Tibby winced at the crude word but stayed where she was. This man -- Mr. Ezekiel- intrigued her for some odd reason. If she was within her right mind, she would be calling for the authorities straight away instead of standing out here alone with him.

Mr. Ezekiel laughed self-depreciatingly and ran a hand through his black hair.

"Do I really look that out of place?" he asked ruefully.

"Ah, um, well you don't really...um, but uh you look..." Tibby gestured towards his nice suit as she hemmed and hawed. For some reason, she didn't want to hurt his feelings.

"I'll take that as a yes. And before you run out of here, screaming your head off about a Black Lander crashing the party, I'm here on invitation. I supply for the clubs east of the lower lands."

"What do you supply?" Tibby asked with a frown. It was very uncommon for people to move about form their original homeland

"Anything the club owners want, you could just say I'm the procurer. So you wanna tell me who you are?" He asked, taking a step towards her.

Eyeing him suspiciously, she took a step back, not liking his answer. It left many fields open, he could be merely getting drinks for the club owners to scouting out clubs in the midlands for women.

"Tabitha Cross, from the Wicked Lady," she said hesitatingly, hoping the Cross name would for once do her good.

There was a glint in his eye as he grinned and nodded. "I have business with Daniel Cross. You wouldn't be his sister, would you? Or are you his wife? Or both?"

Tabitha laughed bitterly; even a stranger could tell Daniel's intensions from a mile away and yet she had to be kissed by him before she figured out what Daniel intended to do with her.

"Just his sister, for now," she added the last with more than a hint of bitterness. His eyes narrowed but he didn't say anything, thankfully.

"You wanna dance with me?"

The blunt question took Tibby by surprise and before she could agree or disagree, he grabbed her up and pulled her close to him.

"What are you doing? Let me go!"

Ignoring her, he swung her in the cramped spacing but that didn't seem to hamper him. He began humming and then the music he was humming to in his head was projected into her head. Tibby closed her eyes and gasped when she saw them dancing in the middle of the room behind them, only it was empty save them. She felt that warmth again, when she had been held in his arms, making her momentarily forget Daniel and the Wicked Lady and Melina and everything. It was just like her PACT, only, when she opened her eyes, a handsome man was grinning down at her. Feeling reckless, she smiled back at him as he swung her up in a long swinging arc. Squealing at the sudden movement, she grabbed onto his shoulder and looked down at him with laughing eyes.

"You have a beautiful laugh, Tabitha," he said, still holding her prostrate above him. Absurdly, she wondered where he got the strength.

"Tibby," she corrected automatically.

The music in her head tapered off to slowly allow the chattering of the people behind the wall to invade her senses. He slowly brought her down, and as soon as her feet touched the ground, she jerked away from him.

"I don't do this," she felt it necessary to inform him.

"Then I must be a great dancer if I got you to dance," he quipped, thankfully keeping his distance from her.

"You are," Tibby breathed, finding it difficult to gulp down air. Her palms felt sweaty and her heart was pounding. It must have been the exercise of the dance, but she didn't think she was that out of shape.

"Are you going to let me kiss you now?"

Tibby didn't know whether to be shocked or amused. Going by his grin, she decided to be amused and smiled back at him.

"Dancing to no music and then kissing a stranger seems much too close to a bad reenactment of a cliché, don't you think? How about we go off the beaten path and shake hands instead?" she asked with a teasing glint in her eyes.

"Ah, so I only get relegated to a handshake? I guess I'll take it."

Holding his eye, she extended his hand and waited for him to take it. Every instinct in her body was telling her that he was going to try something so she wasn't that surprised when he pulled her to him by her hand. She closed her eyes and tilted her head like the countless women she had seen at the club do and waited for his kiss. She would have liked to be kissed by a man other than her brother at least once in her life. But he had other ideas.

"Look at me," he whispered. Slowly, she opened her eyes to see his face only inches from her, his lips only a breath away, if even that. She felt the warm brush of his breath against her lips as he talked.

"I want a kiss, badly, but you're not ready for it. And I won't take it. You'll have to give it to me, Tibby." He held her a moment longer, and then he was gone.

She looked back at him as he went back to the ballroom with a tip of his head. The Midnight Gardens were going to be interesting at best. Tibby was reluctant to admit it, but she was looking forward to seeing Ryan Ezekiel again. He was the first man who had talked to her ever since she had secluded herself in her room. He even flirted with her. It was an odd sensation, being flirted with. She had felt flustered and rushed and she had felt very unsure of herself. She couldn't decide if she liked it or not but she did know that she would rather deal with Mr. Ezekiel's kiss than her brothers.

"Tibby, there you are. I called for you but you didn't answer." Daniel's angry voice interrupted her reverie. Tibby jerked around, her heart now pounding for an altogether different reason.

"Why didn't you respond to me, Tibby?" Daniel growled, grabbing her arm in a bruising grip. Careful not to flinch or pull away, Tibby scrambled for an excuse. She couldn't tell him that she hadn't heard him; she couldn't explain it herself. Ryan Ezekiel would have to have a higher number than Daniel for that to be possible but he was from the Black Lands, so that was impossible.

"I-I just needed to catch my breath, Daniel," she stuttered, hoping to placate him.

Daniel thrust her arm away from him and ran a hard hand down his face. Tibby gulped, feeling the muscles in her throat struggle to move. When he was in this mood, his actions were unpredictable. Glaring at her, then at her arm where he had grabbed her, he cursed.

"Come on in, I want to introduce you to my friends," he declared and pulled her along after him.

Daniel was trying to go slow with her, he truly was. Tibby was the love of his life and he wanted to stamp every symbol of his ownership onto her pearlescent skin. He couldn't get angry at her for ignoring him; he had after all kissed her for the first time today. Absurdly pleased when he felt that he was her first kiss, he had happily let her go. He should have kept her with him, explained himself better. It was just another mistake in a line of mistakes he had made trying to get her to be his.

Ever since he was a boy, he had always noticed Tibby and been drawn to her delicate yet fierce nature. His biggest mistake had been with that Melina girl but he couldn't be faulted for that. Stephen Cross, his father had urged him to do that and teach her a lesson. That day he had realized just how easily it would be for Tibby to seek asylum at the orphanage and be taken to the human camps. Nothing could ever take her away from him. He went a little bit crazy when he found out that she left his protection of her own volition. But Tibby was carrying her depression too far. He had generously taken the memory away, but on the good advice of his father, he made sure that Tibby knew what had happened. What was going to happen if she ever ran away from him or gave away something of his again.

The feel of her hand crushed in his comforted him somewhat, but he would feel easier if his mental stamp was on her. That way he would be privy to her every thought; not only that but every other man and woman would sense him when they approached her and know she belonged to him.

Brother and sister arrived at a small group of men and Daniel quickly made the introductions. They were all owners of nearby houses that he had known for years. The only one among the small group that he had met recently was Ryan Ezekiel. He was a man of all affairs, and a good man to have around when the authorities were sniffing around. Rumored to have been sent to the Black Lands, the man had killed his way out of there. Now he traveled around the different areas on a supposed Neutral Visa. Daniel was working on trying to get a visa from him so he could travel to the midlands to scout for more girls.

"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Ezekiel," Tibby said politely and Daniel proudly looked on. She was the perfect host, gracious and beautifully cool.

Ezekiel took her extended hand, but unlike the other men, he bent low over her hand and kissed it. What angered Daniel was that Tibby didn't pull away immediately; instead he noticed a hint of a smile playing around her lips. A genuine smile. These days he only got a forced smile form her, if any at all. He knew she thought she was fooling him but every time he saw it, he wanted to lash out at her. He owned her and wanted everything from her. However, this absolute stranger was poaching on his property and making her smile.

Daniel had enough and jerked Tibby's hand away from Ezekiel himself. He endured the other man's knowing smirk with clenched fists and tight lips. But Tibby's frown placated him somewhat. If he hadn't seen her distaste, no matter how belated it was, he would have had to teach her a small lesson later tonight.

"Excuse me, guys, but I think I should go take my sister out for a spin on the dance floor." Daniel smiled widely when Tabitha almost pulled him onto the middle of the dance floor. Holding her close, he twirled her into the crowd of other dancers.

"Do you know that man, Mr. Ezekiel well?"

Daniel had hoped that they could talk more about them but he supposed he should do the brotherly thing and warn her off that man.

"He's working on getting me a visa," Daniel boasted, but not too loudly lest the other revelers overhear. "He's a nobody, no one you need to concern yourself with. He's a lackey for us owners."

"Oh. That's great," Tibby said absently. She let Daniel lead her around blindly, hardly paying any attention to what she was doing. The moment she had touched Mr. Ezekiel, she felt something different in him - something darker. His touch had frightened and the mental; caress he sent out to her had felt more threatening than comforting. Before, she felt at ease with him but this time she hadn't recognized the man that stood before her. He seemed bigger, not as starved looking like before. His moves were as sinuous as a snake and she was a little mouse waiting for him to strike. Maybe adventure wasn't what she needed at the Midnight Gardens. She vowed to lay low for the duration of the event and avoid Mr. Ezekiel. Daniel was an evil she knew; Mr. Ezekiel could possibly be something worse.


Xerxes Novos made no attempt to pretend that he wasn't looking at Tabitha Cross as she danced with her brother. The other men who noticed ribbed him about gutter trash like him wanting a princess like her. If only they knew who he was. The persona of Ryan Ezekiel served him well for this mission. It would open the doors he needed and get him into places that his real name never could.

Tabitha kept glancing at him throughout her dance and as the night progressed, he kept feeling her stare on him; he would smirk back at her anytime he caught her eye, which usually sent to her scurrying in the opposite direction from him.

~You let her feel you. I felt her fear. ~

Xerxes bared his teeth in a savage grin and took a drink of the champagne. Elijah Novos was part of a small number of people whose number was above the 6.5 mark; he was also his brother. Elijah was projecting Ryan's image onto Xerxes and was hiding his Sky Land origins so he could blend in with the Red Landers.

~Then I did good. ~

Xerxes had no compunction about scaring that bitch. His younger brother's frustrated sigh reverberated through his mind.

~She expected the charming, comforting Ryan Ezekiel, not the I'll-bite-your-hand-off normal you.~

Xerxes brushed his comment away and put up a block against him. He felt a persistent knocking, but with the new program that he was working on, it merely caused him a mild headache instead of the full out brain seizure Elijah's actions should have caused. It was still in the prototype area; he wanted to perfect it so that a person wouldn't feel anything at all. It would take him some time, but it was possible and the lure of more credits would speed up the process.

It was going on to midnight and the Virgin Auctions began. The different houses began parading their women and men out into the middle of the dance floor for potential buyers to pursue. Their masters had them disrobe one by one. If a potential buyer wanted to see how hot they got, they were forced to masturbate or fellatiate them. Xerxes watched all of this with a disinterested eye, casually sipping his champagne. It tasted like horse piss and he had to put up with these second rate accommodations until he got what he came here for. He only had thirteen more days to find what he was looking for and steal it away.

"Ezekiel, I've got a job for you." Daniel Cross came up behind him and slapped him on the shoulder. Xerxes looked at him coolly until the other man took his hand away with a sly look.

"What do you want, Cross?" Ryan's persona was supposed to be charming and sly but Xerxes was getting impatient. He found being blunt in his business got him what he wanted faster.

"I like a man who gets straight to the point."

"Then get to the point." Xerxes knew what Cross wanted. It was what every one of the owners wanted when they heard he had managed to get a Neutral Visa. Those were issued only by the government and especially selected private companies. Xerxes' company hadn't been approved to distribute Neutral Visa's but that didn't mean that Xerxes didn't know how to make one. Neutral Visa's allowed their carrier to travel between the three different levels of lands, and like the name implied, their number became a neutral for the duration of their travels. They were immune to mental attacks, but it had a limit of the amount of attacks it could take before the shield cracked. And it needed constant recharging. A person could only travel to a different level for a day before going back to neutral lands for a recharge.

"I think you already know what I want. I'm willing to give you twenty million credits." Daniel didn't blink as he named the staggering amount. In this day and age, ten million was a drop in the bucket, but only for Sky Landers. However, it was almost unheard of amount for Red Landers to possess.

"Don't insult me, Cross, its worth more than twice that," Xerxes lied smoothly. That was true for genuine Visas. The one that he made came apart after a few days and was probably only worth a million, if that.

"I'll bump it up to thirty," Daniel continued doggedly.

"Fifty," Xerxes stated, his tone letting Daniel know that the other man wouldn't budge.

"How the hell do you expect to draw in customers when your asking price is that high?" Daniel asked, his eyes narrowed. He wondered where this little shit had gotten the balls to bargain with a Red Lander.

"I haven't had problems. If you can't meet my price, then I'm just wasting my time with you."

Daniel narrowed his eyes but nodded his head.

"Fine. But I want a trial run on it before I buy it."

Xerxes fought hard not to smirk gleefully; he had this bastard right where he wanted him. He would have what he wanted before Daniel needed to use the Visa.

"Good. I'll need a map of your mind before I begin, then you'll need to be there for a few sessions as I add it into your walls."

Daniel nodded and held out the keycard to Xerxes, which he took. Xerxes was very tempted to just slit his throat when the other man was sleeping but that wouldn't get him what he wanted. By the time he was done fucking with Daniel's brain, he'd be a drooling vegetable.

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