I awake to the yelling of the guards. Just like every other day. Someone else got kicked awake today though. That’s a good start, for me at least. I looked around the grounds while I ate, reviewing what I know. Which amounts to almost nothing. Dirt and rocks everywhere, even outside the pens. A bit of shrubbery, but no trees. The back wall is the base of the mountain, solid rock. Three trashy shacks made of dirt and wood, crammed up against the rock, for the slaves to sleep in. Three wooden spike fences maybe 3.5 meters high, surround my new home, with the gate located at the front left side. Sturdy, unlike the shacks. I wonder where they got the wood from?
There’s enough space between the fence and the shacks so I can’t just use the roof to jump the fence. Plus the fence is spiky enough to discourage trying. No gaps between the fence and the mountainside for me to squeeze through. No noticeably loose boards. Moving on.
Outside the gate are six huts that ring the pen, for the guards to live in. They look well-built, made of wood and brick. They even have four walls, unlike these shitty shacks. Guess the slaves aren’t worth the brick or the effort. There’s plenty of open spaces in the guards living area, but no obvious hiding places. There’s a bend around the mountain, but it’s at least 100 meters away, and there are a few guards always standing around, watching us.
The slaves aren’t going to be any help to me. They’re a pitiful bunch, all placid and broken, no fight in them at all. When it comes to the guards that is. Slaves are fair game. They’ll sell each other out for an extra bowl of slop if they had the chance. Some are human, but most are quasi-animal, like the guards. They look mostly human, but have some animal bits, like horns, ears, eyes and tails. A few cows, rats, rabbits and goats. No pig slaves. Fucking racists. Or is it speciest?
Some of the slaves have ears I can’t identify. I mean, how many animals have triangular ears? Or round ones? What’s the difference between a fox ear and a cat ear? Or a bear ear and a raccoon ear? I have no idea. I need floating names or something. I try saying a few words, in every language I know, seeing if I can bring up an options screen or something. No good.
What if someone is half monkey? Do they get an extra set of monkey ears? Would they just go behind the human ears? Cause that would be super weird. Or would one set of ears invalidate the other? Or would they combine for super giant human/monkey ear hybrids? I don’t really care. No monkey slaves. Everyone is also male, which somehow makes things worse. Fucking sausage fest. The ages vary, from maybe 10 to maybe 30. The kids don’t last long. I intend to be the exception.
The guards count us as we file out for our walk to the mining pits. A short five-minute march, surrounded by armed guards, twenty-seven in total. I think. I have trouble telling them apart. Only the really ugly ones like Gortan stand out. The rests are just some generic sort of ugly.
I need to focus. I’m planning an escape here. There’s too much open space between the road and cover, maybe 150 meters of dirt and grass. Some of the guards carry bows, and other nasty looking weapons, and I don’t want to find out firsthand how well they use them.
Honestly, if all the slaves make a coordinated break for it and scatter, the guards couldn’t catch all of them. There are at least four slaves to every guard. Not a great idea though. Can’t guarantee I’d be one of the escapees, that the other slaves would even cooperate, or that the guards don’t just slaughter everyone. I need a better plan than ‘everyone run’.
The mining pit doesn’t show much promise either. Open pit in the ground. One platform of stairs in and out of the pit. The guards split up, with most hanging around the stairs. The others head down into the pit with the slaves. I grab a basket and bring it to one side, and start filling it with rocks. Work, work. I bring my basket to the loading area and watch the cart get lifted out on a wooden elevator. Everything is done thorough good old fashion muscle. Not even any cool, floating magic platforms. Just a pulley, some rope, and slave muscle. The larger, stronger slaves mine and lift, while the rest fill the carts. I don’t know what happens to the carts at the top, but empty carts are constantly being sent back down.
A punch from one of the guards sends me reeling. Apparently I’ve been idle for too long. Gotta get back to work.
At the end of the day, the guards do a search and count as we leave. Guess they need to make sure we’re not stealing their rocks. Because if there’s anything we need, it’s more rocks in our pen. Cant have too many rocks to sleep on, that will spoil us. Time to all march back to the pen. I’m fucking exhausted. There’s no chance of escaping on the way back. I’m too tired, and there’s no way to slack during the day to save strength.
I review everything I know while eating dinner. I can’t think of any obvious escape routes. I don’t know which direction to run in. Away from here, at the very least. I don’t even know where ‘here’ is. Fuck. I don’t know a lot. There has to be a way for me to escape. I’ll look again tomorrow. Maybe I missed something. Keep my ears open. If only those damn pigs didn’t have their own language. I lay down in the dirt, and fall asleep immediately.
A hard boot to the ribs wakes me. I will roast you on a spit and eat you, you pig bastard. No, no, don’t show anger. Hide it. Accept it. Can’t do anything about it. I could start sleeping further inside, but I learned early on that there isn’t always enough food. I get up and walk out, but something is wrong. All the slaves are just milling around. There’s no food, and all the guards are inside the pen.
“We gots ta have a talkin’ to.” Seems Gortan wants to give a speech. “Some o’ you ain’t happy about bein’ here. Now, why is that?”
No one answered. I don’t actually think the pig expects one, but who knows. I keep my head down, eyes on my feet. Just don’t answer that. Keep your mouth shut. No one likes a smart mouth.
“You gots a roof over yer heads, and food in yer bellies, and some honest work to do. An’ still summa you ain’t happy. Spittin’ on our generous hospitality.” Gortan paced in front of us. I watched his boots stop right in front of me. Shit. Is this because I was looking around? Was I too obvious about finding an escape route?
“Y’all are bought and paid for by the Canston Trading Group. That makes y’all property. They’s has put me in charge of all of you. I take care of you. I feed you. I make sure you have a place to sleep. And This. Is How. You Repay. ME?!”
I stand there. Head still down. I hear movement. Gasping. I lift my head and look. And I let go of the breath I’ve been holding.
Being held up by some of the guards are three slaves. I don’t recognize them, but their own mothers wouldn’t be able to either. Their faces are a purple and red mass of bumps, bruises, and blood. One had horns, but they were snapped off. The other two are so bloody, I can’t even tell if they have extra ears or not.
“This here properties tried to escape. They done pried out some fence boards and tried to run for it.” Gortan turns to one of the escapees. “Now when property goes a missin’, someone needs to be held responsible. That’d be me.” He punches the first slave in the groin, eliciting a collective wince from all of us. The escapee tried to make some noise, but no sound came out. He would have collapsed if he wasn’t being held up. “That means, you escapin’, is the same as. Stealing. From. My. Pocket.” Each word punctuated with a strike. “Makin’ more work, for me and my boys. So we gonna teach y’all a lesson.” The oinking bastard almost sounds happy.
I try to stop watching. To stop listening. Zone it out. But I can’t. I watch as the escapees get beaten, one at a time. I watch Gortan’s fist sink into their flesh. I hear them wheezing, their attempts to beg, their bones breaking, and their screams of pain. He rants while he beats them, while the guards laugh and egg him on, handing him weapons, calling out targets, while we watch silently, in horror. And through it all, all I can think is ‘thank God that isn’t me’.
They send us off to work without breakfast. Even if they didn’t, I don’t think I could keep it down. Just fill the basket, and unload the basket. Fill the basket, unload the basket. That’s all I do. It’s all I can do. Don’t stand out. Don’t get caught.
The day passes slowly. The guards have made it their mission to terrorize us even more. Beatings for everyone. On our way back into the pen, we’re greeted by the bodies of the 3 escapees hanging over the gate. Well, most of their bodies. Some parts seem to be missing. I tear my eyes away from the scene. A warning, I guess, not that we need another one. We eat our food, all of us crowding as far away from the bodies as possible.
I lay down in the dirt once again. Another day, a waking nightmare. I need to put escape planning on indefinite hiatus. I can’t risk it. If I try, I’ll be the one hanging on the gate. They’re fucking psychopaths. I can handle being a slave for a bit. It’s not so bad. I’ve got food and shelter. Maybe someone smarter will come along, and I can demonstrate my value. Get a promotion, as it were. I just need to do my work, keep my head down and survive. I can do it. I will demonstrate my value.
My name is Rayne. I am a slave. I pick up rocks.
I shut my eyes, and try to will myself to sleep.
It does not come easily.
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