Rest for the weary

“Right as expected came those caravans of the underlands. Myriad multitudes joined in tandem, driving their alien beasts to the sound of equally strange horns. Brightly colored robes of glistening purple, iridescent red, vibrant orange. The whole spectacle was almost payment enough. Our entire group stood in awe. It was beautiful.”
Livona the Wayfinder, -302y

He knew there were bandits. They’d all crossed the Yuralae valley and back nearly ten times. Never ran into any, but he knew they were here. He thought for sure they’d all been careful.

The welts on the back of his head still throbbed. The blunt end of a quarterstaff. Even after all this time it still hurt. Days. Weeks. Who even knew anymore? There was no sun to tell the time. No shimmering bands to light the dark nights. No stars to tell where they were headed. There was only the musty darkness, rarely pocked with a speck of that disgusting glowing mold on some distant wall – but they hadn’t even seen that in hours. Now there was only the endless rattle of the cart to keep them company as it waded through an endless rocky ocean.

His wrists were becoming calloused from the cords. Still raw. He rolled his aching shoulders for what felt like the two-hundredth time. 

Damn it all! Tarthar and Bako had to be feeling the exact same thing. He could barely even make them out under the dim blocklamp. Must there be a tarp on top of the cart? It made it even harder to see than it already was. Ugh… He sighed loudly and rolled his shoulders for the two-hundred-first time. He caught the brief glimmer in the eye of one of the two slavers sitting with them. He sensed the icy stare piercing through even the smothering blackness. 

Any attempt to pass the time with conversation led to more intimacy with the quarterstaff. The only ones allowed to speak were his captors, and even they said very little. Not like he understood what they said anyway. Mumbling gibberish. 

More hours. A frustrating blend of his mind racing and agonizing boredom. He nearly failed to notice that he could now– barely– make out his marks. The lights were slowly getting brighter. Another transfer? A city? He doubted it could be anything good.  

What did– racing– running? Running! Running!

It was a blur. A guard lost his focus, maybe a knot in his restraints slipped… a pure act of primal instinct. He bolted with all his might toward the almost-invisible slope. Running, jumping, rolling, falling… it made no difference. The blackness that he dreaded this whole time quickly became his only refuge. 

What of Tarthar and Bako? They were lost. They couldn’t– There was no way to… He would come back for… No. Any inklings of a thought were pushed away. There was no time. He raced with all he had.

The light faded slowly, imperceptibly, but eventually, completely. For ages all he felt was the ache of his legs, the sound of desperate pant after pant, and the taste of blood in his mouth. Sprinting became running. Running became jogging. His tattered right shoe finally abandoned him at that one jagged rock. Didn’t matter. Sweat stung his eyes. He closed them tight. Didn’t matter. How far must he go? Further. That was the only answer. It took every ounce of strength to put one foot in front of the other. He nearly stumbled again. Another jutting stone. Weak legs. No, come on, come on. Left. Right. Pant. Left. Right. Pant. Left. Right. Pant. Left. Right. Pant. Left. Right. Trip–

Searing pain tore him awake. His shouts of agony only escaped his mouth as pathetic whimpers. He was caught. His mind raced. Caught by… did they?– no– this was… no–

Cold, damp rock pressed against his face. Against his legs. Against both arms pinned tightly. He couldn’t even tell which way was up. He could barely breathe. His eyes grew wide as he realized his state. No light– No sound except his struggles. Nobody there– 

Every motion wedged him deeper into the crag. His gasps became terrified wheezes. Oh god. Oh god. Have to– need to– no, no, no! He roared. With all of his might he pressed against the grain to take in a desperate breath–

“Help! — Help me!”

There was no answer.

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