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Wyanet and I stepped forward as Caeldrim, Kalista, and the half-orc piled into the breezeway behind us.
“The door there to the left.” our half-orc guide pointed with a meaty hand the size of my face.
We went through the door, pushing back another heavy black curtain. We stepped into a large room, illuminated by candles and a large blackened iron cauldron. Several dozen people of various races waited for us. Brass collars adorned their necks. Every man displayed a spider web tattoo on his chest. The women all bore similar tattoos on their abdomens. They all watched us in silence, moving out of our way as we walked past.
“Come and eat with us.” an ancient gnome woman sat in the centre of the room beckoned us. She wore a single piece of silk wrapped around her body. Rolen sat close by her, most of his armour removed. “Rolen has told us much about you.” the words stumbled out of her mouth with a heavy accent.
The slaves continued to move aside, shepherding us towards the woman. An Elf girl with silvery-blonde hair, covered in lean muscle, with a fresh angry-red spider web tattoo beneath her breast, sneered at us.
The gnome woman gave us a warm, grandmotherly smile, as we sat down on the floor opposite her. “Welcome,” she beamed. “Heros, be kind and fetch some food and drinks for our guests.” A minotaur, who’s horns scraped the roof, nodded and turned away from the gathering.
“Let us help you.” I jumped to my feet, and Wyanet followed suit.
“Sit, children.” The woman ordered. “We may be slaves, but this is our home, and you are our guests.” Wyanet and I sat back down. “I am sure you have figured out, I am Bibi.” She gestured around to the other slaves gathered. “And these are some of the strongest workers of the grainery.”
Heros returned with a luke-warm loaf of bread the size of a mango for each of us. He set small tin cups in front of each of us and filled them with water from a pitcher. He set a second, smaller pitcher down in front of us and rumbled, “Honey.” before he returned to the edge of the circle.
“Rolen tells us,” Bibi continued after Heros finished. “That you are searching for two children, taken from their home in the overworld. You need help finding them.”
Kalista crawled forward, took the pitcher of honey, and drizzled it over her bread.
“Every person in this room, wishes to be free.” Bibi said. “But every person here, also desires to continue to live. Life in chains, is not so bad, when the alternative is death.”
I looked around the gathered slaves. Many of them nodded in agreement with their leader. The Elf girl who had sneered at us, and a man with his whole head wrapped in a turban, I noticed, shook their heads.
“Why should we put our lives at risk, for a fanciful dream of freedom? We are safe here, and everyone knows it.”
“This is the life you choose?” Wyanet jumped to her feet. “You all choose a life of servitude to masters who care little about you? You choose to plant seeds that you will never harvest for yourselves? This does not look like a life worth living.”
“You preach to a group that has no interest in your scripture.” Bibi scolded.
Wyanet glared a withering stare at the old gnome. I got to my feet beside Wyanet. “We aren’t offering you some dream of freedom. We opened the gates ourselves. The guards are gone. You could walk out of here tonight if you wanted to.”
Murmurs rippled through the crowd.
Caeldrim clambered to his feet, his hand on the scimitar he had taken. “Why even let us up here if you weren’t interested in what we had to say?”
“You are here, because I wanted to talk you out of your foolish ideas, as I have done for many others before you. Forget these Ideas of rebellion. Forget those you have lost. Your lives, and the lives of many others are not worth the price you ask.”
“You’re wrong.” The Elf girl interjected. She pulled her collar off her neck and threw it at Bibi’s feet. “I came down here to find those kids too.”
Kalista dropped her bread and tried to melt into the crowd.
“I lost a friend in the process. I came here to help people, not to be a slave for the rest of my life.” The Elf continued.
The half-orc removed his collar and added it to the Elf’s. “I want to see the sun rise again before I die.”
Heros ripped his collar off and roared. “To smell the sea salt air again!”
“To feel the heat of my forge again.” A Dwarf bellowed.
Rolen leaned towards Bibi and whispered in her ear as more collars got thrown onto the growing pile.
Bibi shouted over the cries for freedom. “You are all fools, who will get us all killed.
“Then we’ll die for something!” Rolen shouted.
All the slaves cheered.
“Listen up!” Rolen yelled. “We have plenty of work to get to. Our enemy sleeps nearby. Every passing second is another where we could get discovered. Gather the others, this cycle is for our liberation!”
Everyone in the room jumped to action. Some sprinted up the stairs, others raided the kitchen and the store room below.
“Captain?” A male voice with an accent like Caeldrim’s asked.
Wyanet and Caeldrim turned towards a broad shouldered Elf. The Elf bowed to Caeldrim. “That is you captain.”
Caeldrim’s face lit up. “Erdan? I thought you died years ago.” Caeldrim smacked Erdan’s exposed stomach with the back of his hand. “You’ve lost weight boy.” Caeldrim embraced Erdan. “It’s good to see you, Erdan.” The two walked away together.
“What is she doing here?” The Elf girl demanded and pointed at Kalista.
“Uh… Hey, Phebes, how’s it going?” Kalista slid behind me.
“What did she do to you?” Wyanet asked.
“She abandoned me and my partner in the middle of the woods.” Phebes replied.
“You and I should have a talk.” Wyanet lead Phebes away .
“I wonder if there is any alcohol around here.” Kalista mumbled and disappeared into the crowd.
I grabbed the loaf of bread I had left on the floor and took a bite. I choked and coughed mid-chew. The man wearing the turban stood inches from me, studying me. Thick goggles covered his eyes. Tattoos of various looping patterns glowed a soft blue on the backs of his hands, the only exposed flesh on him. He grabbed my wrist. Ice cold pin pricks, similar to the ones I felt when I stepped through the plane of shadows, shot up and down my arm. I tried to break the strange man’s grip, but couldn’t.
“You have been to the plane where she lives.” He whispered. “Did she send you to find me?”
“Did who send me?” I tried to break his grip again.
He held on tighter, his goggled eyes bored into my soul. He held on for a second longer, then let go. He brushed past me without another word.
Kalista returned sucking on an opaque clay jug. “Who was that?”
“I don’t know.” I took the jug from Kalista, and drank a long pull of a disgusting, yeasty beer. “But I don’t trust him.”
The story will continue, August 1st.
Written by: Sweeney
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