1. Prologue: Contraband
Why is it always so dark? Aura sat with her knees to her chest. Her hands cuffed together chained to the roof were placed limply on her knees, the chains on her ankles cutting deep into her skin. This was the third time she was being sold since they killed her family. The small crate they shoved her in was always the same - it was always dark. Never mind how cold, and never mind how hot. Those were things Aura could stand. She could not however stand the dark. She couldn't see how her already brown skin was blackened around her feet and hands with dirt and grime. She couldn't see how her hair was matting to her head, or how her ribs had begun to poke out or breasts slightly began to sag from weight-loss. However, she would hear them talk - they would talk about how she looked when they brought her out finally. They would question what she was. Her red eyes, and brown-skin that was neither more red or light to indicate which race she was. The slits behind her ears, warm body temperature, and dark long hair. She was a mutt. It wasn't the dirt she hated - it was everything else. She had been there forever it felt like... It always felt like forever. The days and nights were one, time moved in a sporadic relative fashion. Worst of all - she couldn't tell if she was sleeping all the time - or only napping for short periods in a consistent pattern.
Her body jerked forward slamming her cheek against the wood of the box. It was time - they were finally taking her off of the shelf. As she grunted and managed to push her body back she felt the thud of the crate touching the ground all throughout her body. The way her neck craned awkwardly as her head hit the board above her. The chains around her ankles cut deeper into the raw skin as her feet lifted involuntarily. The joints in her knees began anew the dull ache as a result of the unfamiliar movement from raising her feet. The cuffs on her wrists banged against her forehead as her head jerked back down. A sharp pain shot up her spine as her tailbone landed awkwardly back down. Aura winced, pulling back the moisture that started to form at the brim of her eyes. Weakness was not allowed, or she could end up dying in that box.
The front of the crate opened, forcing Aura to slam shut her eyes as the brightness of the outside world threatened to blind her. A rough hand began to remove the chains that bound her ankles to the crate. Aura cringed as the chains were yanked roughly; each link scraped across the raw skin around her ankles, she felt some skin break there and the cool touch of fresh blood falling across her skin. As the chains fell away the hand grabbed her wrists unlocking the chain. Grabbed her by the cuffs still around her wrists Aura was pulled forward and out of the crate. Cool air touched her skin. Aura's feet now wholly unfamiliar to the act of walking refused to support her; her legs caved underneath her weight and Aura fell harshly to the floor. Her hands unable to move freely failed to catch her landing and her already bruised cheek crashed against hard stone floor.
"We left her in there too long... She smells worse than any of the others. Look at her - her spine is too visible, will they still want to buy her?" A woman's voice croaked out loudly. Aura looked up, the woman had brown hair and light tan skin. Her eyes were a dark brown. She was either Nomae or Audin; she spoke clear Nomek which everyone could understand with no distinguishing accent. Her face was round, and her eyebrows were thick. "I'll take her to get washed, spray out that crate or no one else will be able to go inside without dying from the smell." The woman laughed grabbing Aura by the hair forcing her to stand on her wobbly legs. It was in that moment that Aura remembered - she was naked. She wanted to move her arms to shield her body but she didn't have the strength. The woman simply grabbed her cuffs and pulled Aura along who limped behind.
"AHHHH!" Aura couldn't help but scream at the splash of steaming hot water against her flesh. Bucket after bucket, they threw onto her. The sting began seep into her pores, and then into her bones as a harsh ache.
“Stop screaming like a child!” The woman yelled. “Look at this hair, it was so long and pretty when you got here. Most of it is matts now.” The woman smiled lifting Aura’s chin with her finger. “Looks like we’ll have to cut it off.” She smirked. Aura simply stared right back into the woman’s eyes. She would show no expression – she would not let them have any of her. The woman shoved her chin away and began to walk off. Aura let herself fall to the ground. The woman walked up the guard at the door. The room as dark, the walls were of stone and the windows were high. There was nothing distinct about this place, nothing Aura cared to observe or remember. She would simply focus on how she felt. She would never forget how this felt. The steam rising off of her skin from the near scalding water. The pain of the cuts and welts around her ankles scabbing and crusting over. The cuffs still heavy around her hands. The cold stone wall in front of her, the cool air brushing against her naked skin. Her breasts sagging and hanging in a disgusting manner. She closed her eyes as the guard came behind her and lifted a vial to her nose. The smell traveled up her nostrils and through her head enveloping her entire being. She fell asleep.
Aura kept waking up and falling back asleep. She felt the movement of a cart underneath her. She felt the soft touch of cloth against her skin and bandages around her ankles. It was pleasant, the smell of grass, the feel of the sun’s rays. She wouldn’t mind living permanently in this world – even if she could never open her eyes. However, it wasn’t too long before Aura had to wake up.
She could smell damp air, hear the dripping sounds of water from pipes. The murmurs of people all around her. She knew this place well. It was the underground slave market, she knew it well. After all, this was the third time she was being sold. There was no way someone like her would be sold through the normal channels, a mutt like her might as well be contraband.