Dylan never thought he’d see all of Adrian’s former subs gathered in the great hall again. But they were all there, every single one who’d joined him in the sewers, back when he’d had no idea about anything other than survival and escaping from the Doms that ruled them. But Dylan had found that there was something more to strive for, and up until this morning, he hadn’t been sure what his decision was going to be.
Today those who were leaving would go. The tram would take them to the city gates, where the UP was providing a shuttle to collect the former subs and take them to the new base. Dylan wasn’t quite sure what would happen to those who didn’t want to leave.
Mistress was having this broadcast throughout the district. She wanted every sub to know they could leave if they wished to. Kevin, Countess Kyra’s former sub, was on the list, although his testimony was needed before he could join the others leaving for exile - amnesty.
Lara caught his eye from where she stood at the front of the crowd. She frowned at him and tilted her head towards the other subs. Dylan felt his face heat and turned away from her knowing gaze. He should be down there with them. Instead he was kneeling to the right of his mistress.
“Thank you all for trusting me,” Mistress said, so softly Dylan wasn’t sure if the cameras picked it up. She lifted her head and addressed the district of Pasdar.
“As you know I came to repair the harm caused by former Duke Adrian. One of the darkest aspects of his legacy was the way he used the collar of the unwilling on his own subs. The consequences of that are not so easily fixed.” She spread her hands to gesture to the crowd. “Today I offer the opportunity for those subs who wish to leave Harmony and take refuge with our UP allies. Have you chosen who will go?”
Lara stepped forward. “We have. The five of us are ready to leave.” She pointed to the four other subs flanking her.
Dylan was surprised. He’d thought that there would be many more to leave with her. But perhaps the Soul Healers had helped more than he’d imagined. His own sessions had certainly done much for him.
Another sub stepped forward – an older man named Gerard. “Mistress, the rest of us will take the gray collar for now. We ask to take refuge in your household.”
Mistress breathed sharply. Dylan could see that her eyes were wet and she quickly blinked that away. “Certainly. I will always have a place for you.”
“Thank you, mistress.”
The gray collar would keep them from having a master until they were ready for one. It marked them as free as subs could be in Harmony. Now they had a place to stay until that could change. Dylan looked up at his mistress, his heart swelling.
“For those of you leaving, I’m sorry to see you go. Know that you may always return to Harmony if you so wish it.” Mistress kindly ignored the face Lara made in return to that statement. “The tram is waiting just outside the terrace. The tele will follow you so that all subs may know that you have truly left.”
The four subs beside Lara turned to go. She bit her lip and stepped forward. “Dylan?”
He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “I’m staying.” The decision hadn’t been easy, but it had been as natural as breathing. Dylan woke up that morning and knew he could not walk away from his mistress, from what they’d only begun to build.
Lara didn’t say anything, just turned and followed the other four out. Dylan swallowed and turned to the princess. “Mistress, may I speak with her in private?”
Mistress nodded, her dark eyes wet once more.
Dylan pushed himself to his feet and started after Lara, catching her in the corridor to the terrace. “Lara, please.”
She turned at the sound of his voice. “I don’t suppose you’ve changed your mind?”
“No.” Dylan grasped her by her shoulders and pulled her into an embrace. “I wanted to say goodbye.”
Lara allowed it for a moment before pulling away. “Why, Dylan? Why are you staying? There’s nothing for us here.”
He tugged at his collar. “I don’t agree. Lara, I was lucky. I found a mistress I care for. She’s not like Adrian. She’s not like anyone else.”
Lara gave him a twisted smile. “They’re all alike, Dylan. I won’t stand a collar around my neck ever again.”
There was a chasm between them now, a gap Dylan could not cross no matter how hard he tried. “Then you should go,” he told her, despite the pain in his chest. “But you will write to me. They hooked up that comm to the tele for a reason.”
“If your mistress lets you talk to me.” Lara snorted. “Yes, Dylan, I will.” She turned and followed the others through to the terrace. Lara never looked back.
Today was the day. They would be releasing the results of the election and Hank couldn’t wait to find out. He hoped it would be a good candidate chosen, if only to show he hadn’t had such a bad idea after all. The last message he’d gotten from Karl about the whole thing had gently chided him for attempting to introduce democracy into a monarchy. But Karl was the anthropologist, not Hank.
Karl was also working from the base, not naked and on his knees in the actual city. Hank would give his point of view more consideration once Karl got more exposure to Harmony. The city was bound to change once the UP settled in, no matter how careful they tried to be.
“It’s nearly time.” Ian called up the tele. He’d hardly eaten any of his breakfast, leaving his plates mostly full. Hank stopped in the act of clearing up and dropped to his knees next to Ian.
“Who do you think will win?” Hank bit his lip. He couldn’t begin to guess.
“We’ll find out soon enough. It’s pointless to wonder.”
“You’re taking all the fun out of it.”
Ian enlarged the tele screen. It was almost like being there themselves. The princess was on a little platform in the central square of the district, along with the four electoral candidates. She stood next to one of the leaders of the guard in Pasdar. The guard had run the election from start to finish, being the most neutral party in the district – not linked to a royal family, but still holding their own authority.
“…Captain Zeno, will you announce the results of the voting?” Alona was already in mid-speech. Hank was glad they could just get to the damn results without pussyfooting around it.
The guard stepped forward. “Thank you, mistress. I want all people of Pasdar and Harmony to know that the results were double checked by my staff. These numbers are absolutely accurate. To our surprise, the winner was a write in candidate.”
“Who the hell?” Hank muttered.
“The people of Pasdar have spoken, and the person we choose to lead us is the Princess Alona.”
“Well, now, I didn’t see that one coming.” Hank grinned. The smile slipped from his face as he looked up at Ian’s very serious expression. “This is going to cause problems, isn’t it?”
Ian touched something on the screen, and the display changed, providing the tally of the vote. “She won the majority, but the other candidates still have good numbers.”
“These things never end up unanimous,” Hank pointed out.
Ian switched back to the scene at the square. Alona looked shocked – she was so pale, and all but leaning on her sub Dourdan. “I want to thank everyone who cast their vote for me,” she was saying, her voice steady despite the shell-shocked look in her eyes.
“This is crucial,” Ian said. “If she doesn’t accept, she’ll undermine the entire purpose of the vote. But if she does. . .she most likely will have to abdicate her position as heir to the throne.”
“I look forward to continuing the work we’ve started here,” the princess finished saying.
Well. She’d accepted. But what did this mean for Harmony?
Hank reached up and gripped Ian’s knee. The physical contact helped, it always did. He already felt more grounded. “Ian, this is a huge fucking deal. We’re not going to be heading home anytime soon.”
“It depends on whether the princess– duchess– wants to retain us as part of her staff. Henry, I fear things only have become even more complicated.”
Hank squeezed Ian’s knee. “That’s okay. At least it won’t be boring.”
Ian laughed. The sound of his laughter made Hank happy. It was the small things, really.
Hank hadn’t known what to expect when he’d accepted Ian’s contract and left his entire life behind. Harmony had proved a difficult place, with its own challenges, even with the often magical quality to the city. Despite everything, Hank knew he would never give Ian up. He knew as long as he could remain by his master’s side, they’d weather this challenge, and any challenges the future brought them, together.