The faint glow of candlelight dimly illuminated a large room, where a group of distinguished guests were dining at fancy tables covered by silky white sheets. The hum of muted evening talk blanketed the surroundings, the tapping of metal utensils against china slowly cascading to signify the end of a meal.
Yet, the grumble of hunger still pervaded the attendees, some pulling out time-pieces to display their impatience. Others drummed their fingers upon whatever surface met their fancy, while others gnawed upon the last morsels of their dinner.
Whatever the case, a collective of giddy anticipation rose about the room, all eyes darting towards the closed curtain at the far end of the room for any minute movement. They knew that beyond that thin strip of fabric, the main course was waiting to be revealed.
Just then, the curtain rippled gently, like a wind had found its way behind it. Half of the eyes in the room immediately turned, hawks noticing their prey. The next moment, the curtains parted, and a gentleman decked out in gaudy trim waltzed out from behind, a smirk upon his face like a merchant ready to do business.
“Greetings, my good lords and ladies. I am Baron Sauvignon.” The man gave a bow. Rough, like he had only just grown accustomed to the stiff traditions of those around him. But he paid it no mind, as many others in the crowd were of similar standing. “I hope that you have enjoyed your appetizers, because we are ready to present the reason that you have come today!”
The curtains were drawn back at once and lights flooded the stage. Behind the gentleman, three young girls, the age of budding adults, stood nervously there. Dolled up and dressed in fine gowns, they instantly became the centerpiece of attention. Immediately, excited murmurs burst from the audience, eyes judging every bit that they could see from their seats.
The girls drew back in fear, instinctively feeling their gazes peeling back every bit of them. They moved closer to each other, causing a jingling of chains to echo throughout the room. They already knew their fates. At best, they could only manage to cling onto the slimmest of hope that some form of mercy would be buried along with them.
“We start the bidding for number zero-one at 1000 silvers!” Sauvignon pointed at the girl on the left, skin pale and hair brown. She was thin enough to be almost sickly but nourished sufficiently to stand on her own.
The other two girls were of the same mold, tired and hungry. Their bodies gave off far less mana than those around them, and that made it easy to keep them contained.
Sauvignon looked back and grinned as the numbers in the crowd slowly increased. The heat of an auction was the best venue for selling slaves. And there were quite a few candidates to be rounded up, ever since the Purnesian refugees found their way into the kingdom.
Citizens of Sistina, Macali, and Sanshiro were difficult to make into slaves. Ever since Queen Katalina took the throne, she made strides in abolishing such a system that exploited the impoverished. The best method of doing that was to grant every citizen identification, that which could be tracked via their mana signature. Kidnapping prey couldn’t be done when a higher power constantly kept tabs on them.
However, the influx of Purnesians into the kingdom created an exploitable void for a new noble looking to acquire wealth. Baron Sauvignon had many ties to the underworld, shifting goods where they weren’t allowed. He had been there to leak technology to the Northern Empire, granting much-needed capital to put some stakes into the ground for his business. And now, he wasn’t shy about the idea of snatching up unmarked people, mana signatures too weak to be documented on the first pass. A hand dabbling in the black market business had to be swift and unhesitant. It was all too soon that any possible gains would have the rug pulled from under them, the grip of a governing body imposing risks outweighing the costs.
The gavel in his hand smacked down on a podium as he yelled out “Sold!” to a fellow nobleman in the crowd, Viscount Dortmund. He was a fellow gent who understood the ways of the past, who embellished the might of nobility over the common man. And quite frankly, a man who would have not given Sauvignon a moment of his time until a title was attached to said name.
With the offers finalized for the first set, the girls were ushered off the stage by thuggish men, responsible for guarding the merchandise before the bills were paid in full. Others came onto the stage to replace them. This time, able-looking men, stripped of everything but their underwear, lumbered onto the stage.
Sometimes, the nobility didn’t need play toys but able workers for their hazardous ventures. For a one-time fee, a stout military man in his prime was being offered. If treated properly, such a slave would undermine the cost of a worker of similar aptitude paid by salary in no time.
A different type of gaze enveloped the room. Eyes scoured the men’s bodies, examining the limberness of their muscles. Their stances gave detail to their very characters and skills. And lastly, they checked for any signs of injuries.
Once again, the cries of numbers bounced back and forth across the room, though perhaps, with a bit less fervor this time. Just like the girls before, these men had faces downcast the entire time, the dread of their existence being converted into a mere number. With that over with as well, they were ushered away, with more replacing them.
A few more rounds of merchandise were brought forth, their numbers recorded, and then led away. Baron Sauvignon took a moment to note how much he would profit off this, mentally licking his lips. The best was still yet to be revealed.
“And now, we have our final item of the evening! Something very special indeed! A set of Purnesian twins – untouched, innocent, flawless!”
The entrance of a pair of blonds caused a noticeable silence to sweep the room. Long, golden tresses shimmered upon the spotlights as they spilled down bare shoulders and onto frilly dresses that made the two look like porcelain dolls. Their stony faces tugged the heartstrings of those who recognized obedient children when they saw them. Somehow, they could feel that these two would do absolutely anything their heart desired if they became the pair’s ‘Master’.
Even those that didn’t have an interest before were entranced. If not by their appearance, which radiated with a finer detail than the rest, then by how each twin moved completely in sync with each other.
“These two, numbers 24 and 25, are a special product! Only available as a set! Like one’s own left and right side, the separation of these two are like flowers plucked from the earth or fish out of water! See for yourself this rarity that is before you!”
Sauvignon pulled out a pair of glasses, pointing to them. Many of the guests had noticed the same ones placed upon their table, but they had no idea what to make of them until now. Beckoning the crowd to put them on, the audience was greeted with a kaleidoscope of colors before them. Only a few in the crowd knew exactly what these glasses did.
They were a recent invention that allowed for anyone to see the intensity and flow of mana around them. As the growth of magic tools rapidly increased in this world, so too came the need for methods to detect and manage them. Only a small fraction of the kingdom’s people had the ability to simply feel mana around them. Rather than undergo the extensive training to do so, a commercialized variant of the Queen’s Analysis Goggles was manufactured and put to market.
Now, just about anyone could don the spectacles and see the world of mana before their eyes. The guests looked all around, amused by the vibrant colors that their neighbors gave off. Blue, green, yellow, orange, and red – the greater the container, the hotter one’s color was.
Seeing that the crowd had become distracted in their own amusement, Sauvignon cleared his throat and bellowed out again, “Gaze at our special product, an abnormality thought to be near impossible!”
The crowd turned back toward the stage… and promptly fell silent.
A void of near black existed, front and center. Even the ambient mana in the air glowed with a hue brighter than the pair. Such a vision begged the question if they were even alive, as the cores within their bodies were essentially dead of all color. Or if they were mere illusions cast before them. But even illusions possessed a level of mana that gave them some foothold into reality.
But then, someone in the crowd pointed a finger toward them, gasping in awe. He had noticed a flicker within that void, flashes of mana that traveled back and forth between the pair. With each flash, a faint hum of color managed to barely manifest within one core before leaping towards the next. As if the two were powered by the tiniest of sparks, their existences could be snuffed out almost instantly.
Fragile, fleeting, seemingly impossible to have survived for so long – the crowd suddenly burst into a frenzy over the miracle before them. The pair was like a flower that only bloomed once in a generation, a true marvel of the rarest design.
And they could be someone’s, however they wished to display or treat them.
Before the starting bid could be announced, the shouting of numbers echoed across the room, soon joined in by more and more. Their voices grew louder and more desperate, as if trying to drown out the bid of others with sheer volume.
Despite this ruckus that bordered upon disorder, the twins on stage hardly even flinched. Unlike the previous merchandise, who cowered and lamented their fates, their stony gazes only showed the slightest movement, flicking back and forth to study the crowd. Just like the bidders, they too were picking their targets.
Baron Sauvignon nearly had a heart attack when the start of the bidding suddenly erupted. Numbers, so high that it made him dizzy, assaulted his ears. But as the host of the event, he couldn’t let himself be swooned by the instant fortune that would be placed before him. How glad he was to have stumbled upon such a diamond in the rough while making his normal rounds through the capital.
They had been merely sitting on some bench, alone. Simple, peasant dresses wrapped around their delicate bodies. The only sign that they were even alive were their intertwined fingers shifting lightly within each other’s grasp. The fact that they exuded an aura of isolation, even amongst a busy crowd, gave off the first sign that these two were special. The dullness of their presence made it clear that they came from Purnesia. By then, he was already on the lookout for easy-to-acquire slaves. But as soon as he put the mana-detecting glasses over his eyes, he knew that he had struck gold of mythical proportions.
Far from the value of satisfying simple desires or shortages of manpower, these two were finely crafted art that had somehow survived the harshness of the world. Sauvignon knew that he couldn’t let them go. He called up his associates and followed them, waiting for an opportune moment to snatch them up.
And when they strolled through a deserted alley, it was then that they struck. The pair was lifted upon burly shoulders, hardly a peep in response. It was all too easy. And now, they would earn him a fortune.
The bidding finally slowed down, stopping at an exorbitant number of digits. Sauvignon was reeling from the high of riches, but he had to bring the gavel down to finalize it.
“Going once, going twice! So-“
His voice choked back as the gavel in his hand shattered with a bang. Splinters of wood sprayed across his face as he tumbled back in panic as to what had happened. Looking out at the audience, a similar gawk of disbelief hung upon their chins. Immediately, Sauvignon turned back toward the stage, where firearms were now in the hands of the twins.
He half-expected that it was all too good to be true. But the allure of money simply couldn’t be denied.
The ruckus had drawn the attention of his mansion guards, a full hundred of them. There was no way that he would simply back down after all this. And a glance at the crowd also revealed many a noble who had their weapons drawn and ready to cast magic.
The twins may have surprised them, but surely, their lack of mana would be their down-
A sudden rush of mana rose from them, centered around their wrist. Those who trained their gaze forward noticed a single blue gem, set brilliantly upon a bracelet. Several pairs of eyes widened. That was a stone that brought much controversy in the previous war against Purnesia.
It had given the weak power, threatened the very integrity of the blessed, and nearly turned the tides of battle.
“Resonance Stones!” someone yelled from the crowd.
The glowing twins paid them no heed, placing the other hand over the glowing gem. And with the mysterious incantation of “Henshin,” the two beautiful dolls before them turned into a pair of combatants, bodies fully encased in a battle suit and ready to lay waste to their oglers.