"Teva, wake up. It's dinner time," Iolaus said and I groaned. I didn't want to wake up. I didn't really care about eating. I just hated being cold and it was warmer beneath my blanket.
"Not hungry," I muttered, curling up tighter.
"Teva..." he said in exasperation. "You have to eat." He pulled down my blanket, exposing my head to the cool air. "Come on. It's hot food at least." I grumbled, but sat up anyhow knowing he wouldn't leave me alone until I ate something. I pulled my blanket tightly around me as I shivered a bit.
"Why'd we have to head toward the cold?" I whined as I took my cup of stew and held it between my hands for a long moment, letting it warm my chilled fingers.
"Because the closest border is to the north and getting out of this country is the highest priority right now," he said sitting down next to me. He picked up his own bowl and started poking his carrots. I scooted closer to him, hoping to steal some of his warmth.
"Cold sucks," I muttered, finally starting to eat a little. "It's harder to get the plants to respond and I'm just always tired." The warm food did help a little, spreading the warmth from my core outward.
"Well, winter comes everywhere, Teva. We're just getting early because of the direction we're heading. We still would have felt the cold if we weren't going towards the mountains. We'll just have to adjust as best we can," he said biting into a piece of potato. I frowned. Mountains were harsh on plant manipulators. It was too cold and plants had more issues finding root, making them weaker.
"Yea... adjust..." I muttered. It was truly an understatement. I was only going to become more burdensome to them the further north we headed.
"It won't last forever," he reminded softly. "And if you need help keeping up ask. I've noticed you've been moving slower than before. We're not used to taking breaks, but if you need one, say something." I nodded a little, but still frowned. I was just going to slow them down and put them at more risk of being caught by the royal guards.
"I'll try harder," I murmured before shivering again. Slowing down wasn't an option as far as I was concerned, even if my body was. He scowled.
"Don't overexert yourself. We're making good time as it is. We can afford a break every once and a while. Unless, of course, you'd prefer me to carry you across the border." I felt heat rise to my cheeks as I blushed at the suggestion.
"Y-you don't need to do that," I stammered as another shiver slid down my spine. "I can walk..."
"I'm sure. But I can carry you just as easily," he said taking another spoonful of the stew. He swallowed before looking at me again. "Or I could carry some of your bags if you want. Take some of the strain off at least." I sipped slowly at the cooling broth as I thought the offer over. I wanted to pull my own weight and not be more of a burden than I already was, but I already knew I was becoming more sluggish. I didn't want to slow us down more than I had to.
"O-okay..." I murmured. "Just as long as it won't burden you more." I set my empty cup aside and curled back up on the ground, making sure there was no way for the cold air to seep under my blanket.
"I highly doubt anything you have will be a burden," he said. "Go back to sleep, Teva. We'll wake you in the morning for breakfast." It didn't take me long to fall asleep, my body shutting down to conserve my warmth. I slept deeply which made it harder to wake me in the mornings, but I was still startled when I felt myself being picked up.
"W-what's going on?" I stuttered, jerking awake and trying to free myself of my blanket that was now imprisoning me.
"Ssshh," I heard Iolaus hiss and the hold on me tightened to stop my movement. "There's people on the road and they look rather unsavoury." I immediately stilled and waited for him to set me down again. Once he did, I pulled my blanket off my head to find that dawn was barely breaking. Iolaus and Miriella were glancing around a boulder towards the road and I could hear the sound of wagon wheels on the road we'd been following.
"Who are they?" Miriella asked. "Can you tell?"
"Bandits of some kind," he guessed. "Maybe even slavers. Best not to find out." I slipped over to the other side of the boulder so that I could see as well. I squinted to try and see in the dim light of pre-dawn but was only able to make out what might have been wagons. However, my eyesight and hearing weren't so bad that I didn't fail to realize that they had stopped.
"Why'd they stop?" I whispered, pulling my blanket tight around my shoulders.
"Not sure," he replied narrowing his eyes. "I guess we'll find out in a minute." I shivered as I watched shadowy figures get down and make their way closer to where we were. Thankfully they stopped about where our camp had been, but that didn't make me feel any better.
"Get the goods out," one rough voice barked. "We need to feed them and rest the horses." Movement erupted at the order and in only a few minutes, smaller shadows climbed out of one of the wagons, the sound of rattling chains reaching my ears.
"Slavers then," Iolaus muttered angrily. I felt a shudder run down my spine and pity broke my heart for the small figures that were forced to sit on the cold ground. I wished I could do something to help them, but I couldn't risk Iolaus and Miriella getting caught up in the mess. I could only sit and watch as the sun broke the horizon and began to cast at least a warmer light on the children who sat in a semi-circle in barely anything. There were girls wearing thin dresses and boys only in shorts, all of the clothing looking as if it was nothing better than rags. What caught my attention was a boy with a cloth like mine wrapped around his upper arm. It made me wonder if he was hiding a birthmark as well.
"Well?" Miriella asked.
"We can't afford to get involved," Iolaus bit out angrily. "We'll wait until they fall asleep or move on and then go ourselves." I chewed my lip, understanding Iolaus's hesitation. It didn't make it any easier to sit there and do nothing though.
"There's one of our people in there," I murmured, though I knew it truly meant nothing at this point. It was a choice between our lives and freedom versus that one child and it pained me to feel like I was making a selfish choice.
"I know that, Teva," Iolaus snapped. "You think it's easy for me to sit here and know I'm letting one of our people have a fate worse than death?" he hissed. I flinched a bit, the movement shifting me away from him a bit more. My heel connected with a smaller rock and I fell back with a gasp of surprise.
"Who's there?!" One of the men shouted and my head whipped in the direction of the slavers. The one standing in the middle of the children didn't move, but signaled for someone else. My eyes went wide as I looked back at Iolaus and Miriella, too scared to move a muscle.
"Shit," Iolaus snapped taking a step forward with Miriella right behind him. I bit my lip and closed my eyes, using the natural vines and moss around the boulder to shield the siblings. It wouldn't do us any good for all of us to get caught. I heard a noise of protest as I instructed the moss and vines to grow across them as if they were part of the boulder. I cried out as I suddenly grabbed by the arm and jerked up from the ground. I resisted the urge to turn and look to be sure Iolaus and Miriella were still hidden, just in case I hadn't completed the masking well enough.
"Check him," one the men said and I was led over to one of the wagons.
"Strip," the man who had been holding my arm said. I hesitated, having only been naked in front of Iolaus before. A sharp backhand across my face made me stumble a couple of steps away. "I said 'strip', boy." I swallowed hard as I quickly removed my clothes. His hands and eyes moved across my body and it was everything I could do to not pull away. "He's good, boss!" he finally called as he shoved my pants back at me. I slipped them back on before jerking away as he tried to clamp a manacle over my wrist.
"Ya have a choice, witch," the man who'd been referred to as 'boss' said. "Ya either cooperate and we sell ya off as a slave or we turn ya in to them soldiers who'll burn ya at the stake. Which would ya rather, witch?" I shuddered, feeling tears collect in my eyes. I didn't like either of those options really, but surviving was my top priority right then. Slowly I raised my hands to the guy with the manacles and the heavy, rusted metal was snapped closed over my small wrists.
"Smart choice, boy," the boss said. "You alone out here, witch?"
"Yes," I replied instantly. I'd hidden them to prevent them from being caught. There was no way I'd sell them out now. "I was separated from my friends a few days ago. I've been trying to find them." A wicked smile spread across his face as he began to laugh.
"You've got some nerve for being such a small fry, don't you, boy?" he asked as more chains were fastened around my ankles. I didn't bother to answer him and just turned a glare his way. He simply laughed and turned to the man standing in the middle of the other slaves. "Hurry up and feed them brats. We need to get moving here soon." A rough, stale hunk of bread was shoved into my hands before I was instructed to get into the covered wagon.
I climbed up the steps awkwardly, not having much in the way of slack in the chain between my feet. It was only a few minutes later when the other children were ushered back inside, most of them seeming withdrawn and detached from their situation. I couldn't say that I truly didn't understand. Who knew how long they had been in this place and what they might have seen already. I didn't care to try and imagine it as I sat there with my head bowed and let the first of my tears slip free when the cart jerked to a start.
I had no idea how long we traveled before the wagon stopped. All I knew was that I was cold and had been in and out of consciousness the entire day. I could hear the men get down from the wagons before the back of ours was lowered. Slowly we all filed out and were directed to a flat patch of grass off to one side. The boy who had initially caught my attention switched places with another to sit next to me.
"You're plant sensitive, aren't you?" he whispered, keeping his head bowed so that the person watching us couldn't see his mouth move. I nodded a little and he scooted even closer. "You're colder than you should be. It's how I knew. My sister was plant sensitive too. She hated winter with a passion." I turned my head a bit to look at the younger boy. I couldn't tell if he was excited to find someone like him or just saw something in me that I didn't understand.
"Was?" I echoed softly.
"She stayed behind to disguise our escape route," he mumbled, his voice becoming thick. "She didn't make it." I nodded a little but didn't say anything. It was apparent he had been close to his sister and I had no way to really sympathize. "What's your name? I'm Ajax."
"Teva," I replied pulling my legs up to hide my bare skin some. It was too damn cold.
"Gimme your hand," Ajax whispered. I hesitated a moment before shifting my arms over, making it easier for him to get to my hand. He grabbed hold of my frozen fingers and closed his eyes. Almost immediately I began to feel a warmth spread through me. I was almost hot by the time he let go and let out a soft sigh. "That should help for awhile." I nodded slowly, still surprised by how much more normal I felt.
"Look alive, brats," our guard said and I glanced up at him. "Last meal before town and you lot go up on the auction block. So eat up and get some sleep." Once again I was handed a stale piece of bread, but this time I was also given a cup of water. I still wasn't hungry, my stomach twisted into nervous knots. I was afraid I wouldn't see Iolaus again.
"Beware, Teva," Ajax murmured. "They take one of the older kids nightly over to their camp. None of them will speak of what happens, but we can hear them scream for hours." I shuddered a bit and let my eyes wander the other faces. It was obvious that all of them near their teens had been through it. Their eyes were dead, lifeless and they seemed more withdrawn than the younger ones. I swallowed hard. I didn't need anyone to tell me what would happen tonight. I was older and I was new. I would be the one taken tonight.
It did happen. Shortly after I fell asleep I was jerked up and a hand was quickly clamped over my mouth so that I wouldn't wake anyone else. I was carried, thrashing as much as I could, over to the fire that the slavers had built. They didn't say a word, just held a knife to my throat as the manacles around my ankles were removed and my pants stripped from me. One wrist was released and my hands pinned behind my back before I was pushed to the ground.
"Get your hands off of me!" I snapped as hands pulled my hips up, rubbing my face in the dirt. I took a swift kick to the ribs, knocking the breath from me. I inhaled sharply only to scream loud enough to hurt my throat as I was suddenly violated. He didn't give my body anytime to adjust, immediately launching into a hard and fast rhythm. The hands on my hips gripped them tightly, maybe even tighter than Iolaus had. Tears were streaming down my face, turning the dirt under me into mud even as I felt the warmth of blood running down my thighs.
"Stop! Stop, please!" I cried as nothing but pain ripped through my body. He didn't stop though and someone grabbed a handful of my hair, pulling my head up with another cry of pain. My cry was cut off as one of them shoved their member into my mouth.
"Bite and we'll be using your corpse until it cools." I whimpered, but forced myself to not try to fight the intrusion into my mouth, no matter how disgusting he tasted. I choked as I tried to sob around the erection in my mouth while I was ripped apart by another man. It felt like it took forever for either of them to finish, but they did, pulling out to put their filthy release on my skin.
I had slumped to the ground, hoping that it was over, but luck wasn't on my side. I was almost immediately dragged up for it to start all over again. I tried to block it out, but the pain just wouldn't let me. I cried for hours as they ravaged my body, degrading me further by covering my skin in their seed. It finally ended and I was tossed just outside of the circle of light their fire cast. I laid there, exhausted, in pain, and sobbing in shame and disgust. I almost hoped Iolaus never found me. There'd be no way he'd ever touch me again now.
Slowly, as they stopped their taunting and laughing died off and they fell asleep, my sadness began to change into anger. I turned so that I could see them, narrowing my eyes in hatred as they slept peacefully. I rolled to my back, even though it hurt so much, but kept my head facing the camp. I didn't care if the exertion killed me, they'd never hurt anyone else. I focused, searching out the vines that liked the rocky landscape around here and drew them to me. I watched as they crept silently into the camp, moving to each of the slavers. In one swift attack, my vines wrapped around their arms and then their necks, immobilizing them as I had the plants choke them. Cold and detached, I watched as they thrashed, unable to move their arms to pull the thick green ropes from around their throats.
It wasn't until the last twitch of the last leg stopped, did I release control but the vines didn't move, remaining in place to showcase the vegeance of the plants. My eyes fell closed immediately, darkness quickly consuming me even as I realized just how much I had overexerted my already exhausted mind and body. I didn't care though and just let myself fall into unconsciousness. It didn't matter now.