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 I stood on the hill-top in the darkness, looking down on the sprawl of smoke and lights spread out below me. This industrial wasteland was Dragontown, the largest city still standing on our brutal planet. Since World War Three ended ten years ago, much of what had once been civilised society had descended into savagery, and most major cities had crumbled. I had spent those years drifting from place to place, scrounging just enough to eat in order to survive and doing my best to avoid the violence of the criminal gangs that roamed the streets.

 My family had left our home-town after it was almost obliterated towards the end of the war. Some time later, one of the gangs caught us sheltering in a dilapidated building, and took exception to our presence. Hidden from the criminals’ sight behind a pile of rubble, I saw my parents killed before my eyes. I was just six years old.

 With nothing but the clothes on my back and a dagger for protection, I fled for my life. I’d been running ever since, and now, a young woman of sixteen, my travels had brought me to Dragontown. Here, it was rumoured, some semblance of law and order were still in force. The city was run by a man named Alice Cooper. Known as the Master of Dragontown, the stories said that he was a ruthless but fair leader who ruled with an iron fist and kept the gangs under control. Here I hoped to settle down, to find work and somewhere to live, to belong. Here I hoped at last to find sanctuary.

 I made my way down the hillside and entered the city. I passed a group of elderly men huddled round a fire burning in an old oil-drum – they stared openly as I walked by, and I kept a wary eye on them, one hand resting on my dagger. None of them made any move towards me, however, and I pressed on unmolested towards the heart of the city.

 It wasn’t long before I heard the murmurous sound of a crowd of people from up ahead – talking, but no furious shouting, no agonised screaming. That was an improvement over most places nowadays. The flickering glow of firelight led me towards the source of the sound. Presently, I came to a huge square, lit by fires that blazed in braziers at intervals around its edges. Behind the fires, standing back against the buildings that framed the square, a crowd of people were gathered. The focus of their attention was a kind of wooden platform that had been erected in the centre of the square. Four men kneeled upon it, their heads bowed, their hands bound behind their backs.

 Cautiously, I tapped a middle-aged woman on the shoulder and asked: “What’s going on?”

 “You don’t know?” she replied in surprise.

 “No,” I said, “I’m new in town.”

 “Oh, I see,” said the woman. “Well, welcome to justice, Dragontown-style. Those men are criminals. They’re about to be executed.”

 She said it so casually that I was momentarily lost for words. Then I found my voice and asked timidly: “What did they do?”

 The woman pointed to each man in turn, stating each one’s crime as she did so: “Murder. Rape. Grievous bodily harm. Theft.”

 “Theft?” I said incredulously. “That’s a crime worthy of the death penalty here?”

 “You really are new, aren’t you?” said the woman with a grim smile. “Yes, the Master punishes all crimes with death. It’s the only way to keep order. Break the law in Dragontown and this is how you end up. That’s why this is the safest city in the world.”

 Just then, a fifth man stepped onto the makeshift stage. He had a mane of long, shaggy black hair and was dressed in a red robe embroidered with gold dragons. A sword rested in a sheath across his back. At the sight of him silence fell instantly across the entire square. I had never seen such a reaction to a single person before.

 “Is that the executioner?” I whispered to the woman.

 “That’s Alice Cooper,” she answered, “the Master of Dragontown. And yes. He performs the executions himself.”

 I stared. I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d expected the Master to look like, but it wasn’t this. His age was difficult to judge, but he must have been at least twenty years my senior, and whilst he was not conventionally handsome, I found his strong, rugged features attractive. Interested, I wormed my way to the front of the crowd as he slowly approached the criminals. I could see now that he was wearing dark trousers and a shirt under his robe, and that his eyes were an intense shade of blue. I felt drawn to him in a way I could not explain – the sight of him kindled an odd warmth in the pit of my abdomen that I’d never felt before.

 Alice came to a halt behind the kneeling men and drew his sword. It was the kind of sword a samurai warrior would use, thin and razor-sharp, the blade glimmering ominously in the firelight. “Citizens of Dragontown,” said Alice, his voice smooth and deep, “before you kneel four who have broken my law. They have been brought here so all may witness what befalls those who break the peace in my city. Behold the justice of the Master.”

 He brought the sword swiftly down on the back of the first man’s neck. It sliced cleanly and easily through flesh and bone, severing his head from his body in a single stroke. Without pause Alice moved to the next man and beheaded him, followed by the third and fourth. The crowd remained silent throughout, no doubt accustomed to the gruesome spectacle, but I could not hold back a gasp of horror. Alice’s cold blue gaze flicked in my direction, and fear gripped my heart as I realized he had heard me.

 “Guards!” called Alice, stalking from the stage as he wiped the blood from his sword with a piece of rag and returned it to its sheath. “Clear away this mess.”

 A stream of armed men poured from the darkness and swarmed over the stage, blessedly hiding the dead criminals from my view. Alice addressed the spectators. “As for the rest of you, return to your homes. There’ll be no more drama here tonight.”

 The people at once started to disperse. I had no home to go to, of course, but there would undoubtedly be an abandoned building somewhere in which I could spend the night. As I moved to follow the crowd, Alice’s eyes fixed on me again, and he jabbed a finger at me. “Not you,” he said commandingly. “You stay where you are.”

 I froze. One did not disobey the Master of Dragontown, that much was clear. As he approached me, I dropped to one knee, my eyes on his boots, hoping desperately that a show of deference would appease him.

 “Well, well, well,” drawled Alice, sounding amused. “It seems someone knows how to show her master the proper respect.”

 I gulped, saying nothing.

 “Are you alone, little one?” Alice continued. I wasn’t sure if he was calling me that because I was short, because I was young, or because I was of no consequence.

 “Yes, Master,” I forced myself to say.

 “It is dangerous for one so young to wander the streets by herself at night,” said Alice. “Where are your family?”

 “I have none,” I said quietly.

 “No? Where do you live?”

 “Nowhere, Master. I ... I’m new here,” I faltered.

 “Is that so? Then where were you planning to sleep tonight?”

 “Abandoned building, probably, Master.”

 “Oh, I think we can do a little better than that,” purred Alice. “You come along with me. After all, what kind of a host would I be if I didn’t offer hospitality to visitors to my city?”

 The Master of Dragontown was asking me to stay with him? Why? What did he want with me? I was terrified at the thought of going anywhere with him, but still more terrified to reject his offer. For all I knew, to do so might be a capital offence, and it was certainly within his power to force me to accompany him whether I wanted to or not. I decided I had better accept. “Thank you, Master,” I said, attempting to sound grateful. 

 Alice chuckled. “What’s your name, little one?” he wanted to know.

 “Suki, Master.”

 “You can get up now, Suki,” he said. “Come.”

 Still not looking at him, I rose, and followed at his heels as he strode across the square. Guards fell in around us as we left the scene of the executions. We walked a short distance to what was obviously Alice’s residence, a large, multi-storey house that practically reeked of privilege and luxury – it had electric lighting, a rare commodity these days. As we entered, the guards melted away, and Alice began barking orders at a gaggle of servants waiting in the entrance hall. They raced to do their master’s bidding.

 Alice led me up a wide staircase and through a door. I hesitated as my eyes settled on the huge double bed standing against the far wall. He had brought me to a bedroom ... The door swung shut behind me as Alice strolled further into the room and went about removing his sword and outer wear. Barefoot, he walked back over to me wearing only the leather trousers and a simple black shirt that had been under his robe. I backed away as he drew closer – I never let people get too close if I could help it, because they couldn’t be trusted – but he followed, making me continue backing up until I was pressed against the closed door. And still he moved closer ... closer ... too close!

 I slid sideways just before his body met mine and took several swift steps away from him. Alice looked partly irritated and partly amused. “Come here,” he ordered. I shook my head, not daring to speak. His expression darkened. “I said come here,” he growled. When I didn’t move, he approached me again and, before I had time to retreat, seized me in his arms and yanked me against him, his lips descending onto mine.

 It had been ten years since anyone had touched me with anything other than harmful intent. Those years had served to teach me that physical contact meant danger, and I reacted automatically in self-defence, slamming my hands into his chest and shoving him away from me as hard as I could. He staggered, obviously not expecting such violent resistance, and I leapt clear of him, drawing my dagger.

 Alice eyed me, looking somewhat surprised. I imagined he was not used to people rejecting his advances, and wondered suddenly if I had just signed my own death warrant. When he spoke, though, it was in a mild tone. “Whatever is the matter, little one?” he asked.

 “I’m … I’m not used to being touched, Master,” I mumbled.

 “Not used to being touched?” said Alice. Then understanding crossed his face. “Ah. I see. You’ve never been with a man before?”

 Blushing, I shook my head. How had I not seen this coming? I was naive in such matters, I was aware of that, but I felt I should have guessed why he’d brought me to his home. I knew about sex. That is, I was educated enough to understand the mechanics of it, but I had absolutely no personal experience. I had encountered a few men in my time who would have raped me if they could, but my dagger and fleetness of foot had kept me safe. I had never met anyone who stirred in me any sexual feelings of my own.

 Now, though ... I was scared of Alice, there was no question of that. But I did find him attractive. The thought of him touching me was not unpleasant. With a shock, I realized that a part of me wanted to let him. As I considered it I felt again the odd warmth in my lower belly that had sprung up when I first saw him. Was this what desire felt like?

 “It will be my honour to deflower you,” said Alice silkily. “I will be gentle, you have my word. Drop the dagger, now.”

 I couldn’t. This man was a killer, and how could I give up my only form of protection, the one thing – together with the ability to run faster than most of those who wanted to catch me – that had kept me alive on the streets? Alice sighed impatiently and stepped forward. Before I could move to avoid him or strike at him, he seized my right wrist in a powerful grip, squeezing so hard that I felt my bones grinding together. With a yelp of pain, I released the dagger, unable to hold onto it any longer. Alice flicked it aside with his foot, sending it skittering out of my reach. Panicking, I struggled, beating at him with my free hand until he caught hold of my left wrist as well. Then I tried to kick him.

 “Suki! Stop this!” said Alice sharply. There was ice in his voice. As if realizing on some subconscious level that to defy him was dangerous, my body obeyed, stilling in spite of my mind’s continued commands to flail and fight. “That’s better,” said Alice. “Now, if I let you go, are you going to behave?”

 I nodded stiffly, too scared to say anything. Slowly, he released his grip on my wrists. I snatched my hands back and rubbed at the red marks he’d left on my skin. I took a deep breath, trying to make myself calm down.

 “Relax,” said Alice, his voice soothing now. “You have nothing to be afraid of. I will not hurt you.”

 I silently held up my bruised wrists in contradiction.

 “I will not hurt you badly,” he amended, the corners of his mouth quirking upwards, “and not at all if you do as you’re told. I don’t wish to cause you pain. I promise you I will not hit you or wound you. But I will restrain you, if I must. I am going to take you, one way or another. It’s up to you whether you give yourself to me willingly and participate fully, or whether I tie you up and simply have my way with you.”

 I swallowed hard. There was no point in fighting him – he was too strong – and I did not want to be tied up. And, though I hated to admit it to myself, there was that attraction ... Hearing him talk about taking me did not so much frighten as excite me. Deep down, I wanted this. I wanted him.

 Alice took a step towards me. “You will like it,” he said in a low, seductive tone. “I’ll make sure you feel pleasure.”

 “I ... I’ve heard it hurts,” I muttered.

 Alice took another step, further closing the distance between us. I willed myself not to back away. “It can hurt, the first time,” he acknowledged, “but not always. Not for everyone. It depends if the hymen is intact – it can break before you have sex, despite what some people think – and if the woman is sufficiently aroused, and if the man is careful or not. I will make sure you’re aroused, and I will be careful.”

 I didn’t know what a hymen was and didn’t want to reveal my ignorance by asking, so I said nothing. Alice moved closer still. Conflicting instincts warred within me. My sense of self-preservation was screaming at me to run, but what I could only assume was lust demanded that I stay still and let him touch me. I shivered as our bodies finally met, and I wasn’t sure if it was with fear or enjoyment, or a combination of both.

 Alice placed a fingertip under my chin and tilted my head up, then bent and brushed his lips lightly across mine. I held myself rigid, not moving a muscle. Alice’s tongue stroked my lower lip and I gasped involuntarily. He pressed his lips more firmly to mine and slipped his tongue into my mouth. I found myself moving my tongue against his. The heat in my belly was increasing, a warm, tingling sensation spreading throughout my body as I gave myself up to the experience. I was unquestionably enjoying it now.

 When Alice pulled away, I was surprised to find myself eager for more. My pulse was racing and my breathing fast, but definitely not from fear. I could feel my intimate area moistening. For the first time in my life, I was feeling arousal.

 “You liked that, didn’t you?” said Alice knowingly. I nodded, and he continued: “I liked it too.” He took my hand and guided it to the large bulge at his crotch. “Feel how hard that is?” Shyly, I ran my fingers over the hardness of his erection. “It’s hard for you,” Alice went on. “You’ve got to take care of it.”

 “I don’t know how, Master,” I said in embarrassment.

 Alice unfastened his trousers and pushed them down a little way, exposing his cock. I had never seen one before and was taken aback at its size. How was that supposed to fit inside a woman? No wonder people said it hurt ...

 Alice placed my hand on it, wrapping my fingers round the shaft and showing me how to move them up and down. “That’s good, for a start,” he said, and kissed me again. He cupped my breasts briefly through my clothes, then pulled my shirt up and fondled them, gently tweaking at my nipples. I gasped with unexpected pleasure, amazed at how good it felt.

 Too soon for my liking, he stopped what he was doing. “Time to get out of these clothes,” he said, and proceeded to shed his garments while I watched. This was my first sight of a naked man. His body was hard and fit, muscular without being heavily-built, and there was a long, jagged scar on his abdomen. I wondered how he’d got it, but did not have the nerve to ask. Noticing me staring at him, Alice grinned and said: “See something you like?”

 I blushed and looked away. “Now, now, there’s no need for that,” said Alice, amused. “Look all you like. Touch me, if you wish.”

 Hesitantly, I reached out and stroked his chest. It was like stroking silk over steel, hard muscles beneath smooth skin. I let my fingers trail across his scar, imagining the wound that must have caused it. The thought of something slicing into him, ripping his flesh, made me cringe.

 “I want to see you, too,” said Alice quietly. “Take your clothes off.”

 I obeyed, feeling my cheeks heating as he watched me. I secretly hoped he would touch me as I had touched him, but he didn’t. Instead, he moved back and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Come and kneel down here,” he said, indicating a spot in front of him, between his legs. I did as I was told. “See this?” he asked, gesturing at his cock. I nodded – I could hardly take my eyes off it. “I want you to suck on it.”

 “What … what do you mean, Master?” I faltered, staring at the huge, throbbing organ. There was no way I could get all that in my mouth.

 “I mean put it in your mouth, and suck. It won’t choke you.”

 I wasn’t so sure of that, but I said: “I’ll do my best, Master.” Bending forward, I took the head of his cock in my mouth and sucked experimentally on it. Alice groaned, and grabbed the back of my neck, pushing me down. I almost gagged as he forced more of his cock into my mouth, but managed to adjust.

 “Suck harder,” he hissed, and I complied. “That’s right … now move up and down, like I showed you with your hand … that’s it … that’s good …”

 It was an odd sensation to have him in my mouth like this – a little uncomfortable, what with his size stretching my jaw wide and pressing against the back of my throat, yet enjoyable too. It was clear from the sounds he was making that I was giving him pleasure, and that aroused me.

 After a while, Alice took a handful of my hair and tugged on it, saying: “That’s enough, now.” I sat back, letting him slip from my mouth. Had I done something wrong?

 “Was I … was I doing it right, Master?” I asked tentatively.

 “Very good,” he said approvingly. “Are you sure you’ve never done that before?”

 “Never, Master,” I replied. Then, astonished at my own boldness, I added: “But I’d like to do it again.” I couldn’t believe those words had actually come out of my mouth. I’d gone from being terrified of him to wanting to touch him intimately, and have him touch me in return, in a matter of minutes.

 Alice chuckled. “Maybe later,” he said. “Right now, it’s my turn to pleasure you. Lie down on the bed.”

 I wasn’t sure what he meant by ‘pleasure you’ – what was he going to do to me? I was nervous, certainly, but also keen to find out. I climbed onto the bed and lay down on my back. Alice made himself comfortable beside me. He leaned over me, lips slightly parted, and I lifted my head in expectation of another kiss. But instead, Alice bent and sucked one of my nipples into his mouth. I moaned with unexpected pleasure. I felt a new wetness between my legs, and suddenly wanted him to touch me there.

 As if reading my mind, Alice sat up and placed his hands on my thighs. I tensed as he tried to push them apart, fear abruptly reasserting itself, urging me to close my legs even as desire urged me to spread them.

 “Relax,” said Alice softly. “This won’t hurt, I swear. I’m going to show you how good a man can make you feel. Open your legs for me.”

 Slowly, I parted my thighs, and his hand slid between them, one finger gently stroking my sex. I had never felt anything like it, and trembled at the exquisite sensation.

 “There, that’s nice, isn’t it?” said Alice.

 “Yes, Master,” I whispered.

 “How about this?” he asked, moving his finger to the little nub at the top of my slit and rubbing it. A bolt of pleasure shot through me and I gasped. I’d never even suspected my body could feel something like this. Continuing to rub me, Alice stroked my sex again. “That’s it, nice and wet,” he murmured, “I think you’re ready for a bit more.” He slowly slipped a finger inside me, moving it in and out. “How’s that?” he wanted to know. “Feel good?”

 “Oh ... oh God ... yes, Master!” I panted, struggling to think through the haze of pleasure that fogged my mind.

 “I thought you’d like it,” he said, smiling, “but I think you’re going to like this even more …” He withdrew his fingers as he spoke, and I couldn’t stop myself uttering a whimper of disappointment. Rather confused, I watched him settle himself on his chest between my spread legs. What was he going to do now?

 Without warning, Alice leaned forward and pushed his tongue between my nether lips. I cried out – it felt incredible! I squirmed with pleasure, grinding myself against his face. Then he moved to my little nub, licking it over and over again. This was a whole new level of ecstasy, pleasure on a scale I’d never dreamed possible, and I lost all control of my body, writhing, gasping, moaning.

 “Oh … Master …” I groaned, “I … I want … I want …” I trailed off, unable to articulate my desire for him.

 “I know what you want,” said Alice, sitting up and wiping my juices from his lips. “You want me inside you, don’t you?” I nodded mutely, and he positioned himself between my legs, pressing his cock against the entrance to my body. “I’m going to take you now,” he said, and eased just the head into me. The tip of one finger returned to my nub, stimulating it as he began rocking his hips, pushing himself into me little by little. “Ooh, you’re so tight,” he crooned. “You feel so good around my cock.”

 He paused once his whole length was inside me, letting me become accustomed to the way it felt. There was no pain – I felt full in a new and strange way, but it was not uncomfortable. In fact, it felt fantastic. He lowered himself on top of me, hot skin on hot skin, and started to move in and out of me with slow, careful thrusts. The pleasure immediately increased to an almost unbearable degree. My arms locked around him, my nails digging into his back.

 “Feels good, doesn’t it?” he said.

 “Oh yes!” I gasped. “But I need ... I need it faster! Please, Master …”

 “You can stop calling me that now,” purred Alice. “I want to hear you screaming my name.”

 As he spoke he sped up, his thrusts becoming harder and deeper, each one sending a burst of soul-shattering pleasure through me.

 “Alice, oh Alice!” I cried, shuddering beneath him, lost in the ecstasy. I looked up at him, seeing my own desire mirrored in his eyes, feeling the slickness of sweat mingling between our entwined bodies.

 “You are going to come for me, little one,” he breathed. I didn’t know what he meant, but I could feel a tension building in my belly, my muscles tightening as the pleasure mounted. I raised my hips to meet his thrusts. I was entirely absorbed in him. Nothing else mattered – there was nothing but him. Never in my life had I felt so close to someone, both physically and emotionally.

 Alice snaked a hand between our bodies and rubbed a fingertip over my nub. The tension immediately shot up – further, further, and then ... suddenly ... released. It felt as though I had exploded with ecstasy. My body spasmed under his, my mind empty of everything but his cock inside me.

 “Alice! Alice! Alice!” I screamed.

 Alice groaned and thrust into me deep and hard. I felt a warm wetness spurting into me and knew he was spilling his seed into me. The thought made me quiver with passion.

 And then it was over. Alice slid out of me and rolled over onto his back, one arm still around me. I nestled against him, utterly relaxed. I felt wonderful. I felt … right. Complete. Like I belonged.

 “That was amazing,” I whispered.

 “I told you you’d like it,” said Alice smugly. We lay in silence for a while, but eventually he spoke again. “Tell me, Suki,” he said, “why did you come to Dragontown?”

 “I came seeking a home,” I said. “I lost mine ten years ago, and I’ve been living rough ever since. I came here because I heard the Master of Dragontown keeps order in this city, and a person can walk the streets without fearing for her life. And it’s true – I’ve seen that. Do you think there might be somewhere I could stay?”

 There was a lengthy pause, and I started to wonder whether Alice had fallen asleep. Then, softly, he said: “You could stay here, if you like.”

 “Here?” I said in surprise. “With you?”

 “Yes. With me. This place needs a woman’s touch – and so do I.”

 Desire began to stir in me again, and I said eagerly: “You mean we could do … what we just did … again?”

 Alice laughed. “As often as you like,” he said. “What do you say?”

 “Yes,” I said. I didn’t even need to think about it. With him I felt a happiness and contentment I had not known since my earliest childhood. Here was everything I’d been searching for since I was six years old, and more.

 I had found my sanctuary.