Snow fell on Aggu’s head as he ran. Where could he run? He had to tell someone, had to find someone who could do something, who could protect him from the men chasing him. He’d seen them, seen men putting boys in barrels so that they could go…somewhere. Where? Boys had been going missing and he didn’t know where they were going and…
There. There was a House of the High God there. Aggu didn’t care about the High God because he was too tall, but his priests were supposed to be generous and help their communities. So he raced up to the tall, spiralling building and burst in through the front doors. “Help,” he said.
The priest inside was a young man wearing all white who looked confused, and he blinked at Aggu. “What’s the matter, child?”
“There are…” Aggu’s chest was heaving, and he looked behind him. No sign of his pursuers. “There are men…they’re putting boys, naked boys in barrels and I think they’re selling them to…I don’t know…they were speaking Gronnde so…” The Imperials wanted to control all of them, everyone knew that. That was why they were in Yassar.
“I see.” The priest put a kind hand on Aggu’s shoulder. “Come back here with me.” He led Aggu through the circular worship hall to a small room behind the altar.
The two men who’d been chasing Aggu were there. “What…”
Something struck Aggu, and that was that.
But it wasn’t. Aggu woke up, blinking pain out of his eyes, saw the priest standing there. He wasn’t in the House anymore. “Hey!” He tried to move, and couldn’t. He was bound to two crossed beams, wrist and ankles tied tightly.
The priest gave him a smile that was nothing like the kind one from before. Aggu hadn’t asked his name. “Very clever of you to discover our little business,” he said, coming forward with a pair of shears. “And convenient.”
“What are you…what are you doing?” Aggu demanded.
The priest put a hand on his belly, carefully hooking the shears into Aggu’s shirt. “Don’t struggle, it’ll devalue you if I cut you.”
“Yes, you see. Yassarat boys are very valuable in certain parts of the empire. They think we’re exotic. The High God is true, but gods don’t build churches. Auctions do.”
“Auctions…that’s where you were taking those boys…” The blow to the head was making Aggu’s thoughts slow.
“That’s right.” The priest removed his shirt. “And you, Aggu, get to be our special auction of the month.
“But my parents…”
“Will be consoled about your tragic disappearance. No doubt you were buried in a snowdrift. Terrible business.” The priest cut away Aggu’s pants, leaving him naked. “Now, please, scream if you want. Many of our buyers like a strong voice.”
It was then that Aggu noticed that they weren’t alone in the wide room. There were a bunch of Imperials there, watching him hungrily. And the priest started calling for bids. Bids on Aggu’s body. Bids on Aggu.
And as Aggu screamed, it just drove the price up, and up, and up, until finally he couldn’t scream anymore and someone won him, paid for him, bought him. And Aggu was taken down from the beams, and he was no longer Aggu.
He was just another missing boy. Another Yassarat slave. Another commodity. Another body for the Imperials.