Soon wasn’t as soon as I thought it would be. Eventually, though, the freaks entered. Manacles were clanked onto my hands, their chains tethered me to a long line of prisoners.
I had stumbled over the feet of the prisoners who sandwiched me. The one in front slammed his heel into my toe. I yelped but kept moving. The underground path narrowed until my back was hunched and my neck hurt from my drooping head.
The soft glow of the moon streamed down through the open hatch. The cool night air was a relief from the cramped tunnel I had been shuffling in. One after another, the pale monsters hoisted us out of cesspit of a tunnel. Wooden walls rose high. Almost as high as the tree branches that loomed over them. The chains were removed temporarily. I’m sure they would be reattached soon.
My fellow inmates spread out, stretching and relieving themselves. The pale men spread out evenly around the small fortification. Their contempt for the others and me, evident through their body language.
There was no running water through the small encampment, no spigot or well or even a river. A warm bucket of muddy water was the only source of water I found. I tried washing off the dust and dirt that covered my body. I put the bucket down in defeat. I was no cleaner than I was before.
“I need your help.” my new neighbor pleaded. I could see the desperation in his eyes, his nervous twitch.
I was cautious. I hadn’t known him that long. I didn’t even know his name but I gathered from our small time together he was a decent fellow.
“Why do you need my help? I’m new. Why won’t anyone else help you?”
“You might not have known Gavin but he was the person you watched torn to pieces. He was my closest friend. The person I relied on. We stuck to ourselves mostly. The veterans aren’t the most friendly bunch.”
“Ok, I’ll help you. What do you need me to do?” I asked.
“My daily meal was snatched from me and thrown into that crack in the wood wall. My arms are short and the bread is just out of my reach. I thought you might be able to reach it.”
“How about the pale men?”
“They won’t care. It’s obvious you won’t be able to fit through the small crack.”
“Alright.” I muttered. “Just make sure no one stabs me in the back while I’m crouched down, grabbing your bread.”
I was hesitant to stick my hand down the small jagged hole. My arm was just small enough to fit. I slowly extended it making sure not to cut myself on the sharp jagged wood. I moved my hand further but still felt nothing other than grass. I wondered how far away the bread must be. I wasn’t able to reach it.
Something grabbed my leg. I pulled away trying to free myself. I was dragged in the opposite direction.
“Trying to flee already. You won’t last long. Might even get picked next.” snarled the pale man who still held my leg in his hands. My heart was hammering.
“One of my friends lost his bread. He told me it was dropped down this whole.”
“What’s your friend’s name?” asked the pale captor.
“Uh. I don’t know.” I responded.
When I spotted my neighbor hanging with the veteran prisoners, I knew I had been betrayed. It was a setup to ensure that I was picked next so they could live another week. From what I gathered I had a week to escape.
I walked with the shuffling crowd, moving towards the supposed King’s men. It wasn’t a far walk across the small village so I could already tell the troops had not arrived yet.
My eyes roamed the crowd. They saw solemn but proud people, offering their youth to defeat an evil Duke. I saw people sacrificing their children to some unknown cause for some unknown reason.
Eventually a group of men in armour marched into view. Their long pikes bobbed up and down in synchronized fashion. Their pale skin was the only thing brighter than their polished steel armor.
“We come in the name of the King!” hollered one of the guards in a gruff tone.
“How’s the war going!” yelled one of the villagers in the sea of people. I was unable to spot who had spoken up.
“The fight is grim but not all is lost. The mad Duke has nearly reached the capital, his demons still stand strong but so do the valiant wizards. If we are to win the war, every last able bodied man must come with us.”
The crowd was now silent. Their faces held stern expressions. Ones that only came from sacrificing something they held dear. The pride, patriotism was also there. It softened the pain and grief that would surely come and was what convinced most of the remaining young to step forward. Some did it out of this pride while others did it out of pressure from their loved ones.
A small group of remaining men were collected. Some looked confused, others solemn, a few were even nervous. I found it strange that none of the soldiers had horses. They were supposedly traveling from the Capital yet they didn’t have any gear associated with travel.
“It’s time for us to leave for the capital. I’m sorry we can’t have a proper send off for your youth but times are tough. We need to hurry and reach the capital before the Duke arrives.”
The crowd cheered and waved. Tears of sadness and pride stream down the villager’s faces. They watched the troops head out into the forest, taking their young with them. I waited until the last of the troops entered the forest before following them. Their tracks were deep and easy for me to follow. I had picked a few things from working with Rayan.
I had always drawn the short straw and had to aid Rayan on his tracking missions. Rayan was perfectly fine company, maybe a little stern for some people. The long treks were what I hated. My legs were always sore after those trips, especially when I started. Overtime, however, I grew accustomed to the long treks and enjoyed the conditioning they provided.
The trees were sparser than the forests found in the south. Instead of green flora sprouting from every available opening on the ground, the ground was covered in pieces of bark and pine needles. Hard granite rocks jutted out of the dirt in some places, making the ground anything but flat.
Sometimes I caught a glance of the group in the distance. Their small armour reflected the sun making it somewhat easy for me to spot them. I made sure to hide behind foliage whenever I had a clear line of sight but I suspected they weren’t overly cautious. This wasn’t the first time they had done this.
The grouped stopped. Whether it was to take a break or deal with the group in some way, I didn’t know. I moved closer to the group. I was careful. I heard the clicking of chains being stuck on the soon to be soldiers. Clearly these people weren’t with the King. He may not be the most honest person, but I never heard rumors of the King restraining his own troops.
“Same rates as the times before. You’ll deal with where they go as usual.” I heard one of the less pale soldiers say while eavesdropping.
“We no longer need your service.” said the other soldier. In seconds, his hands grasped the first soldier’s neck. An audible crunch echoed through the forest as the body of the soldier slumped over dead.
The soldiers scramble to grab their weapons, forming two factions. The pale men snarled like animals, their hands formed razor sharp claws. The other faction pulled glowing silver swords from their scabbards, clearly preparing for a fight.
They two groups clashed. Swords impaled the beasts, claws sliced the other soldiers. I took advantage of the chaos, unleashing a storm of ice bolts overhead. For the most part they missed, One bolt impaled one of the beast-like men.
I sprinted into the fight, avoiding blows from both parties. I nearly got stabbed when I grabbed an injured silver user from the fight. He screamed as I pulled his injured torso over the rough ground and into the woods.
I hoisted him over my shoulder and ran as fast as I could. I stumbled over rocks, twigs, and roots that littered the ground. I managed to stay on my feet, pulling the injured soldier further and further away from the fight.
I was going to interrogate him.