The voices of the slave market surrounded him, dulled with familiarity by now. The groans, the screams, the sound of leather whistling and striking flesh, the shouts of bids at the auctioning platforms, all became a routine. He was oblivious to them. He didn't care anymore, couldn't care anymore. He had nothing left. No dignity, no hope, nothing. Nothing but his name, and even that could be taken from him at any moment.
He shifted, curling further into the corner of his metal cage, trying to find a position in which his torn back would hurt less. His cell of metal mesh, which stood in the middle of the dark building that was the compound of the famous slave market, was given a wide berth. Though confirmed broken, he was still considered dangerous. Of course, his kind could never be trusted. No work as a house slave for him, not even work at the fields. No. His dark skin, his white hair, his rich burgundy eyes marked him as murderous. A 'Black Dog', a Dark Elf.
He would have chuckled bitterly had he the strength, had he the power to care. But so many years as a slave, decades spent under the worst of the slave lords, made him indifferent. He left the Deep to flee such a fate, to avoid becoming a killer or be tortured to death in the process, but the surface had proved just as cruel. Unprepared, uneducated, he just didn't know the dangers. He paid dearly for that.
His wounds throbbed and he was finding it hard to stay awake, even knowing sleep was dangerous. His wounded back burned with heat that he feared was an infection. A dark omen for him. He sighed. Well, no matter. Maybe- maybe it would be worth it. A short period of agony, and then... nothing. Finally, nothing. Blessed darkness and the void, at last. He tried to summon the will to scold himself. He had been through all he had, survived through so much! His sisters, his teachers, the slavers themselves! Only to be a weakling now? ...but he could not summon the growl, the spite that kept him going for so long. He spent it all, and now, at last, it was all gone. He could not find the will to care, nor, for that matter, to keep the sleep at bay...
...The sun almost blinded him. He cowered, half crawling, half running on the rocky terrain of the hillside, until his leg caught something and he fell, rolling down the slope until he hit a bush and stopped with a jarring thud. His body hurt from the impact, but it was nothing compared to the horrible burning in his eyes and his exposed skin. He would be blinded! He would be blind and the creatures of this horrible land would devour him alive! He groped blindly, crawling forward, wounding himself further. Anything! Just to get out of this punishing light!
And then his hands met open air. A cool, dark space. Without even stopping to think, he stuck his head through the opening. Blessed darkness. He dared to open his eyes, blinking with sudden fright as he saw nothing. Then, some of his sight came back, but only gradually. He pushed himself inside. It was a small cavity. Not even a proper cave, just a nook. But it was good enough to hide him from the glaring ball of liquid fire. He curled inside and rested, waiting for his sight to return.
It was his luck to find that small cave to hide in until dark. He was so relieved when he discovered the ball of fire was hidden from sight, leaving only tiny blinking lights in the black above, that he almost fell to his knees in thankful prayers.
Almost. Because he knew there was no one to pray for.
He learned to move about at night, hiding himself even when the sliver of the moon was present. He fed on things he saw the night animals eat. Plants, fruit, but it wasn't enough. Never enough to fill his stomach. The animals themselves were a good source of nutrients, but they had too much room to run, and he was so inexperienced with dealing with his surroundings he failed more often than he succeeded spending more energy than he had to spare. He didn't know what else was good to eat and slowly, as the days passed, his body weakened. His weapons, already weakened under the glare of the sun, continued to regress under the moon and worst of all, his sight became blurred. There was little he could remember of these nights, half baked memories, dim flashes of sights and feelings he could not always recognize.
And then he had the misfortune to stumble upon the Slave Routes.
He didn't know who used that road. He didn't realize the danger. He found the road a few days before, and finally, realizing he had to find some civilization or he would perish, he decided to follow it. In retrospect, quite a few things should have warned him, had his senses not been dimmed by starvation, fatigue and his deteriorating sight. The gleaming metal of shackles scattered here and there on the grass; the remains of humanoid bones often close to these shackles; the stench of death. But he didn't think. It was night, and he should have been relatively safe. As it was, he was unlucky enough to share the route with a slave convoy. Their night camp wasn't far from the road, and their guards spotted him before he realized he was in danger. It didn't take them long to capture him. Weak from hunger, his weapons brittle, his sight failing, he was no real threat.
And he fell from one hell to another. The first days of his captivity floated in his delirious mind. Pain, incredible amount of pain as his captors sought to break him to their will, despite his claims of having no ill intentions. He was broken, over and over again, as the lords thought a Dark elf would be a pleasing challenge. They wanted to make a gladiator out of him. A killer, a beast of the betting games. But he was not a killer, had not the killer instinct. He wasn't a good gladiator and couldn't be trusted to be anything else, for who would let a Drow be a house slave? That he-
He woke with a start as a club rattled the bars of his cage. "Look alive, you mutt." spat his handler.
He sat up, rubbing his eyes. There was a bitter taste in his mouth. Even his dreams were bleak. He had no hope left, he had no illusions, there was no place in this world or under it where a Dark elf could live in peace.
He was being sold again. His most recent master, a man named Lord Argoth, the monster who had occupied the Dark elf's nightmares for the last seven years, had finally had enough of him. The arrogant lord liked the challenging slaves, the ones hardest to break. But the Drow had no fight left in him. A few times, he dared to hope the lord would kill him. But he was too skilled in torture. He didn't bother to be worried about the change of owners. One monster was similar to the other, the faces they wore didn't matter.
He stared blankly at the floor, trying not to think, not to feel at all, and so he wasn't ready for the sound of the cage's door creaking open. He turned around, still on his knees to face his new torturers, eyes still fixed firmly at the floor. Look timid enough, and maybe they won't feel the need to reach for their whips. Maybe they would see him for what he was, not a Drow, not a dangerous black dog, but a broken thing. He didn't see the hand reaching for him until it grabbed his chin and suddenly, against every hard lesson beaten into him, he found himself staring into a pair of chocolate and honey brown eyes. A woman, young, wearing the black leather and whip of a slave trainer. He knelt frozen, unable to blink, unable to tear his gaze from hers, though the hand that held his chin was not doing so with any force. He felt as if he was being scanned, as if she was weighting his soul, measuring its worth along with the worth of his body. And he felt new despair, because he knew, he knew that this gaze could expose all his thoughts, all his secrets at her will, there would be no place to hide from her.
Abruptly the hand released his chin and the eyes turned away. She went out of the cage without a word and stood outside, bargaining with the slave trader. And though despair weighed heavily on his thoughts, he found himself following her with his eyes, desperate to find out more about her, as if it could somehow even out the odds. Her black leather outfit clung to her shape, shining alluringly when the torchlight hit it, a shocking sight against her pale skin. She was slim, but her posture was powerful, dominant, somehow almost feline. It spoke of concealed power. Her reddish-brown hair was curled and pinned to her head, tidy, not one hair out of place.
And then the assessment time was over. The trader came in again to chain him, linking his hand and neck chains to a lead and handed the other end to the woman. Suddenly he was finding it hard to breath, dread rising to choke him and constrict his throat, but he struggled not to bring tension to the chain as he walked behind her to her trailer. It was an ugly thing, like a caravan sized wooden box. He was expecting a figure like her would have a chariot, but was relieved he would not be made to run behind it all the way to her home. She led him inside, hopping up to the front deck with ease and, thankfully, waiting for him to pull himself up as well. She moved the curtain that functioned as a screen and they entered.
Sudden disorientation hit him. This was not possible. All this space could not fit into the interior of the trailer- unless magic was involved. They crossed the main room to a row of three screens in the back and entered through the leftmost one into a small cell like room. A thick blanket was spread on the floor near the wall. His new mistress secured the chain to a ring in the wall above the blanket, then pointed at it.
"Sit." she said quietly. He was surprised at the lack of malice in her voice. It made him edgy, for reasons he knew all too well. He obeyed quickly, sinking to his knees on the blanket. She sank gracefully to the floor in front of him and he found himself pinned again by her gaze. She scanned him in complete silence for what seemed like forever, and there was intensity in her gaze he feared to question, and curiosity he didn't understand.
"I was curious." she said casually, as if seeking to fill the silence. "I've never met a Dark elf before. Elves, yes. Various other creatures. Rare ones, even. But not a Drow." she was- explaining herself? To him? Why? Why was she bothering?
"You looked worse for the wear. I don't think you would have lasted long. You're not on my usual list, but... I wanted to try." List? What list? he remained silent, the safest course of action. No other master ever felt the need to talk to him, spare the few curses they spat at his direction, but as long as it delayed the pain, he was ready to sit there and listen for days. Rest, just a bit of rest. Had he still believed in gods, he would have prayed for that. Just a respite.
She bit her lower lip, the gesture oddly torn, as if she was doubting herself. He never saw that on a master's face before. "I wanted to see if I can change you. What you are. How you think. Some say it can be done." He felt his chest pierced with icy needles of dread at her words. So, yet again, it was about breaking him. He wanted to scream, to beg, to convince her somehow that he was already broken, that he would, indeed, obey everything she ordered, without struggle, but he knew it would be for naught. His breath was coming in gasps now. She tilted his chin up, as if to look at him better, as if she could see better into his soul if the light shone directly into his eyes. "I wonder if I can teach you that your way of life, the life of a Drow, a raider, is wrong. I think I can. The others would think I should kill you, but I won't give up hope so easily. It may be a solution. There must be a solution." her eyes unfocused for a moment, and she seemed to be musing to herself, but her distraction did not last long. "But I jump ahead of the wagon. lets see what I have to work with, shall we?" she said and leaned forward. He wanted desperately to lean away, but he couldn't bring himself to move. "Take care and listen carefully," she said, her expression deathly serious as her gaze bore into his. "It would be easier for you if you don't resist. Some would say I shouldn't warn you, because you deserve it. But that would make me like THEM." she sighed. Her cryptic words only served to frighten him further, but there was nothing, NOTHING he could do. He tasted bile in his throat. "Though, I doubt you'd listen to me, anyway." she said as she placed her hand on the side of his face, spreading her fingers from his temple to his jawline, resting them in places that seemed to be predetermined.
At first he didn't understand.
He screamed, his cries piercing the silence in the room, as she sifted through his memories. He felt her touch, like ghost fingers turning the leaves of the book that was his mind, bringing forth scenes, images, things he didn't want her to see, things he refused to let himself see again. She glowed in his mind's eye like a hot coal, her true image hidden by the pain she was causing just by being there, past all his mental walls. With all his might, he tried to keep his thoughts, his past privet, but the more he tried, the more it hurt. He felt as if his head was being pierced through with red hot pokers. And he was forced to see it all again...
His birth came after an attack his house, the house of Rilynate, did on another house in the city. The attack was successful, meaning the other house was eliminated. But it cost Rilynate dearly. His brothers, the patron of the house who was also the weapons master, the best in all Cress'hrol, and all the noble blooded males were either dead or so injured the females of the house put them down for having exceeded their usefulness. He was the only male of noble blood at the time, and his mother and sisters hoped he would grow to be a new weapons' master and bring new prestige for the house. But he was born soft, without the lust for blood and killing that was nurtured in Drow children. He saw again the wrath of his matron mother and sisters when he gained only moderate achievements at the academy, because he did not heed the unwritten rules and murdered his fellow students, because he did not stab them in the back. He saw the punishments he endured when he was retrieved home. He saw the years of torture, trying to get him to toughen up, to force him to be what they wanted, only to achieve the opposite. Because he was too soft. Too WEAK. Too KIND-
The pain stopped abruptly. He lay on the blanket, not sure how he got there, panting hard, tears streaming down his face. She knows. Now she knows how weak he is, exactly how useless, how easy to break... the slave lords detested the weak. He knew it was the beginning of the worst kind of hell. A hand touched his face and he shuddered, unable to shy away. "Please..." the whisper was torn from his lips, despite him knowing it would only make things much worse.
A gentle hand brushed his hair away from his face. "Dear spirits, I am so sorry." she whispered, and there was true sadness and remorse in her voice. "I am so sorry I caused you this pain. I didn't know. I was wrong, and I hurt you for nothing." she sounded nauseated by her own actions. He listened in disbelief. This was a new trick. No master has ever apologized for hurting him. He couldn't understand what was her purpose."Gods above, what have I done." she swallowed. Why was she looking so sick? The Slave lords enjoyed pain. They thrived on it. He couldn't remember ever seeing even one who didn't. Until now. "What I was intending to teach you, you already know. You always knew it." she said, and there was wonder in her voice "Even though everyone you've met had tried to rob you of that knowledge, you held on to it. You know compassion. You know mercy." she whispered, her fingertips resting lightly on his cheek. He dared not move. "You know kindness. How can that be? How can a Drow know compassion?" she wondered.
"What is your name?" she asked suddenly. He was surprised by the question. Didn't she already know from rummaging through his mind? "T-Therazin, mistress." he stuttered, closing his eyes tight. He didn't understand what she was up to, but if a blow was to come, he preferred not to see it coming. "Don't" she said softly, and the sadness in her voice sent a pang of odd pain through his heart. "I wont hurt you again." she whispered, her hand sliding to his shoulder. She squeezed it gently, despite his shudder. "Can you get up?" she asked. He tried, and found out that he could. The mental pain was gone, only its memory remained. He sat up, and her hand found his chin again, her gaze penetrating his. "Look at me. Don't be afraid." she said, and her eyes were soft. "I will not hurt you." she whispered. He desperately wanted to believe her. It would be so easy. But the remembered pain warned him otherwise. He knew better.
"My name is Kat. Please use it. I do not need an appellation" she said, and smiled. The smile lit her face with surprising kindness. It stopped his breath. How could she transform so thoroughly? Why did she bother? "I can see the questions in your eyes." her smile held, and there was encouragement dancing in her eyes. "ask."
the room stayed silent. He didn't dare utter a sound, let alone ask anything. He didn't understand her game. She smiled, patting his knee gently and making him jump. "Alright. I'll answer anyway. I didn't know your name. I stopped reading as soon as I realized you are not a typical Drow. that you are not a killer, a raider, that you know mercy. I know how painful my touch can be. I do not use it lightly. I don't trespass someone's thoughts without reason, and my reason became invalid. But I'm still curious." she said. "What are you?" she asked, tilting her head. He stared at her, dumbfounded.
"A-a Drow?" he said hesitantly, unsure of what she wanted him to say, but knowing a lack of answer would earn him a beating. She chuckled, easing his dread "I know that, its hard not to see. I meant, how can you exist? You don't act like a Drow. You don't think like a Drow. Why is that?" she asked.
"Because I'm weak." he answered quietly, gaze sinking to the floor. There was no point in hiding it. She already knew, she already saw, and he was waiting for her to make use of that knowledge. Fearing the moment she would.
Her hand found his chin again in a gesture that was starting to be familiar. "You are not weak. You are, perhaps, the strongest creature I've ever met. Its very surprising. After all you've been though, after the markets and the lords, you are still capable of compassion. Your beliefs have not died. You held on to them harder than you held on to life. Your compassion makes you strong, because you can choose not to harm, not to kill. Where have you learned that is beyond me. Perhaps you were born with the knowledge. Are all Drow born like that? Its... a disturbing thought. But it saved your life." she whispered, he wasn't sure if to him or to herself. Her words shocked him. They were foreign, odd. Never had anyone, especially a female, called him strong. No one has ever praised him for being weak and soft. It sounded insane. So why did his heart feel warmer, why did he feel the sting of tears in the corners of his eyes, and not from pain or humiliation? She looked entirely sincere. "Thank you." the words escaped his mouth. Surprising him at first. What was he DOING? He was pushing his luck, speaking without being given permission, addressing her in a manner that could be perceived as thinking they were equals. Why did he just do that? He knew better! He knew the games played by ones such as her. But... Even if she was deceiving him, even if she was just playing with him, he found that he wanted, that he HAD to thank her for this moment. Even if it was a lie. He closed his eyes again, not wanting to see the end of that moment, not wanting to see her face change. A hand touched his shoulder.
"You are unique. If you let me, I will help you become something more. But I know its hard for you, as it was hard for others." another sigh stirred the air, sending a whiff of her unique scent in his direction. For some obscured, maybe insane reason, it soothed him. Odd. "You do not trust me." she stated. "I can understand that. You'll have to see for yourself." Again, he lost the meaning of her words. But it didn't matter.
"Now." she said, her tone suddenly business like. The hand left his shoulder and he felt the air shift as she got up and walked away. He opened his eyes to see her standing near the screen, undoing her leather armor and tossing it, part by part through the screen. Underneath the tight, black leather she wore a soft, dark gray tunic and trousers. She stretched, then proceeded to release her hair from the tight bundle it was pinned into. A long reddish brown braid fell to the length of her thighs. She shook it from side to side, causing it to look like the tail of some animal. "Finally." she muttered and turned to him. "Lie down and show me your back." her tone remained businesslike, and he noticed the whip was still tied at her hip. His heart sank, setting heavily into the pit of his stomach. It always came back to that. He felt like he was going to be sick, and he clenched his teeth tightly, suppressing it. Respite over. Fool. He swallowed convulsively.
He obeyed her request and lay down on the blanket, chains clinking as if to remind him his place. Slave. Nothing more. There could be no hope for a slave, and he was a fool to let it slither into his heart. He closed his eyes tightly, his hand, the one hidden from sight by his body, gripped the blanket tightly. He resisted opening his eyes again as her steps grew near. Don't think, don't feel, don't scream. His whole body tensed for impact, the ripple of tightening muscle making the slashes on his back flare with new pain, as if readying him for how worse it would become very soon. Something touched his back and he jumped involuntarily, gritting his teeth to choke the gasp that almost escaped him. It took him a moment to realize this was not the pain he expected to feel. Something was rubbing against the exposed flesh of the cuts in his back, but the pain was not even close to being as severe he was prepared it to be. Cautiously, he risked a peek. Mistress Kat was sitting next to him of the floor, a bowl in her lap. He didn't hear her sit down. She soaked a clean rug in the blue liquid in the bowl, then continued cleaning his torn back. He gasped, blinking in bewilderment. What was she-
"I'm sorry." she said, mistaking the sound for one of pain.
"I know it hurts, but some of these are already infected. I have to clean them before I seal them, or they won't heal right. So many scars..." her voice trailed off and he felt her fingers trace some of the lines that crisscrossed his back. "I think I can make them fade, if you wish. I can try." she shrugged and continued her work.
He rested his head back on the blanket, quite bewildered, trying to reconcile what was happening with what he knew about the world. Try as he might, it didn't fit. Surface dwellers hated Drow. For a good reason, he knew. And yet this one, which was a female, and thus, in his eyes, was supposed to be crueler, who now owned his flesh and his life and if she wanted to, his mind, was doing her best to heal him. Even offering to take care of what could only serve for esthetic purposes. She was... kind. He couldn't understand it. Why was one as powerful as she bothering to be kind? To expose that measure of weakness? Unless, like she told him, she didn't see it as weakness. Try as he might, it didn't fit. It seemed he had to admit she was something out of his experience, something entirely new. He found that he liked the thought. It rekindled a tiny spark of hope in his heart. As he lay there, muscles relaxing gradually, consciousness slowly fading under her touch as he felt the pain fade away, he found himself hoping she'll decide he was worth the trouble.
He woke up with a start, disoriented. As was his habit, he lay motionless, assessing the sounds of his surroundings before he opened his eyes. The only sound that reached his ears was quiet, even breathing. All that happened before he fell asleep rushed back to him and his eyes flew open. He tried to sit up, only to find that his hand and leg chains were fastened tightly to rings in the wooden floor. He sank back to the blanket, a moan of despair escaping his tightening throat. And here he really thought- really dared to hope-
The even breathing stopped, then became more pronounced as the clinking of his chains woke Kat who had been leaning against the wall, sleeping. "Finally, you're awake! I had a few false alarms in the last couple of days." she said. So, he slept for two days. He saw her expression change as she read the emotions on his face. Her expression softened. "No, no. calm." she got up and sat beside him. "I only chained you to the floor because you were tossing and turning too much. The salve I used on your back heals wounds very fast, but if the skin is stretched wrong, it heals wrong. It can cripple you. I had to keep you still." she said softly, her hands already on his chains, releasing them from the rings. He sat up, inclining his head deeply to thank her, as was proper. The familiar hand raised his chin. "Don't. I told you. I don't need the appellation or what comes with it. Its not who I am, not what I do." she said. His confusion flared again. Every time he thought he understood the rules she did or said something that sent him into the dark again. He just couldn't decipher her reasons, her purpose in all this.
His hand came up, as if by itself, and wrapped around hers, very gently, his fingers shaking slightly. He was more surprised at that inappropriate gesture than she was. What was he doing? Wasn't he hurt enough? And yet, it felt oddly safe to do so. Where his confidence came from, he didn't know. "I... don't understand you." he admitted, almost pleaded. She looked into his eyes in silence, as if contemplating how to answer. He saw resolve forming there. A decision. Her hand pulled out of his, both hands reaching for his throat. He didn't move. Nothing she did made any sense. He decided he'd rather wait and see who she was, what she was, before reverting to his cowering behavior. Besides, his timid manner seemed to sadden her and he found it disturbed him. He didn't look down to see what she was doing, so he was caught off guard by what happened next.
His eyes opened wide as his collar fell to his lap. No one, no one ever considered even loosening his chains. He was a Drow, and thus dangerous. No one would ever think to do what she was doing now. Another click and the shackles fell off his wrists, then his ankles. He stared at her, frozen in shock. "It is not what I am." she repeated. "I do not harm innocents. You are as innocent as any other elf I helped. I will not keep you against your will. You are free to go where you please." she said as she got up and left the room.
It took him an hour to leave the room.
At first, all he could do was sit and stare blankly at the screen, as if expecting her to come storming back and say it was all a ruse played on his part, a sick joke, and chain him again. He was so shocked, even his mind struggled, stuttering mentally. What- why- HOW? How could she so naturally unlock his chains and tell him he was free to go? How could she do that? How could she trust him? Unless- unless she meant only that he was allowed to roam unchained inside the trailer. Even that was more than he was ever offered. He lacked even this small measure of freedom for so long, that had she stayed in the room, he would have thrown himself at her feet in gratitude. Except, he had a strong feeling she wouldn't have appreciated his grovelling. He would not jeopardize what he was given by angering her. She allowed him that freedom, why, he didn't know. Maybe because she was just so powerful that a Drow didn't worry her. Maybe, just maybe, it would mean less pain for him.
He vowed to himself that he would do all in his power not to lose what little of her favor he had.
But, he was not helping that cause by sitting in this cell. He still didn't understand her, but he felt more eager to try. He got to his feet and took a deep breath, then went through the screen.
He found her sitting on the front deck, watching as the horses pulled the trailer through the forest path. As he came closer, silently and rather hesitantly, he realized the whip was missing from her hip, as was her knife. He was standing behind her and she was completely unarmed. He could kill her. It would have been so easy. He could see at least a dozen ways to end her life with his bare hands alone. Nothing prevented him from doing so. Did she truly trust him not to? Trusted him enough to release him?
And would he? He could be free of her now. He could kill her and run, and no one would ever know, as deep in the forest as they were now. Except- except that she was too relaxed. Too confident. In her self confidence, she was much like a Drowess. His mind shied from the thought, a shudder passing down his spine. One could rarely succeed in killing a Drowess. And the implications of failing would be- ah, the mere thought made him want to prostrate himself on the floor before her and beg for forgiveness for ever having the thought in his mind. Whatever punishment she would come up with for a try for her life, he knew it would take him weeks to die, and the agony would be...
he swallowed. Right now he had something. He would not risk it. He stopped a few steps from her and fell to his knees silently, siting on his ankles and bowing his head. Waiting for her to acknowledge him and give him her orders.
The horses stopped.
"There is a pile of clean clothes on the chest for you." she said quietly, not turning around. "We've stopped for the day. There is a stream in that clearing ahead. You can go and bath if you wish." she said and hopped down onto the grass, releasing the horses to graze. His head was reeling. She really meant that. She was letting him out of her sight, she was really letting him leave! He gaped after her, standing frozen for a long moment. At last, he took the clothes with him and headed for the stream.