CHAPTER 3 by Fathiah Zarafi
“What brings you to my throne room, Aldus?”
“I am here to deliver news about the slave house, my lord,” he bowed low on the marble floor. The emperor nodded his consent and the messenger straighten.
“A slave was executed two nights ago. The woman apparently had angered their new master to the point where she was tortured till death.”
The emperor sported a look unlike that of anger. “Why in God’s name are you telling me this useless information?” he bellowed. “I have no care for some filthy slave alive or otherwise.”
The messenger cowered a little but maintained his composure. “You did not allow me to finish, my lord. The new slave master was angered because the deceased one had protected the girl.”
Silence filled the large throne room. The emperor raised a wrinkled hand to caress his white beard. “They are getting braver with that girl among them. We are running out of time,” he mused to himself, before turning back to the messenger. “Tell me, when did you dispatch the slayer?”
“Fourteen suns ago, my lord.”
The emperor smiled. “Perfect. He shall arrive soon.”
The sun was high in the clear blue sky. Its scorching heat beat down their backs as they slaved away at the winery. The women collected ripe grapes with bruised and scarred fingers, while the men extracted the juices with the stomps of their feet. Guards employed to ensure that the slaves carried out their duties were perched comfortably underneath makeshift tents, sipping alcohol from a flask. On any other day, Alis would have driven the guards up the wall with her stubbornness, refusing to bow down to them. But today was different. Berta’s death was still fresh in her memories. The image of her broken and bruised body still haunted her dreams. Too many nights have gone by where Alis was awaken from the cruel nightmare, screams tearing from her throat.
Why, Berta. What possessed you to do such a foolish thing. My life is not worth saving.
Alis’ fingers slowed down unconsciously before stopping altogether as she fell deeper into her dark thoughts. This, however did not go unnoticed by a guard positioned near her. A hideous scowl immediately fell on his face as he rose unsteadily to his feet, hand poised on the whip tied to his hip.
“Girly, whatcha think yer doin? Get back to werk!” he shouted. Alis promptly ignored him but resumed her task nonetheless.
“Ya, tha’s right!” the guard laughed obnoxiously. “Ye lousy demon! That ol lassy died like a lamb because ya put yer filthy hands on ‘er!”
Purple liquid flowed between her fingers when the grapes were crushed in her fists. The guard continued his guffaws. “That stupid woman deserved to die anyways, fraternizing with a demon. Disgusted everyone!”
“Shut up!” Alis all but shouted, causing his laughter to freeze. “You have no right to say that about her! You all are the filthy slimes here, not her!”
The next thing Alis knew, she was falling face first onto the muddy ground with a grunt. Her back was stinging from the impact of the whip lashed at her. Before she could recover, her body was kicked repeatedly and with such a force until she could hear something inside of her crack. When the beatings ceased, Alis had to stifle a sob. She clenched shut her eyes and tried to muster what little energy left in her frail body to stand up. It was not such an easy task as she was physically and mentally drained from the ordeal she was put through.
I wish to die. God, just take me away.
A sharp cry escaped her lips when her hair was tugged backwards painfully. “Who granted you the permission to rest, demon?” A guard sneered in her ear. “Return to work!” She was yanked to her feet roughly. Her knees trembled, pain shooting throughout her body and she would have collapsed if not for the strong grip on her arm.
“Please allow me to rest for just a while,” Alis muttered. The guard snorted. “Filthy slaves-no demons like you do not deserve any rests.”
Memories of Bertha flashed before her eyes. Her gentle smile, her soothing touches, her soft voice that would sing lullabies to her. They haunted her now. I truly am a demon. The guard released his hold and Alis unceremoniously collapsed to her knees. A whistling noise reached her ears followed by a burst of pain on her back. “Get back to work!”
Alis crawled on all fours to return to the plant she was picking when she was whipped again. This time, she could not muffle the painful sob. Her trembling limbs finally gave out and she once again fell onto the mud. The back of her slip felt wet; either from blood or sweat, she could not tell. The guard was shouting at her again but she was losing her hearings. Her vision swam when she was pulled to her feet again. Alis was dimly aware of the two guards dragging her forward but she was too weak to protest. Soon, she was thrown into a horse cart.
“Pathetic demon, good for nothing,” one of the guards spat as he chained her legs together. The door was then locked before the guards returned to their posts. Alis curled up on the floor. Her once vibrant blue eyes now stared at the opposite wall blankly, devoid of life.
She remained in that position until dawn arrives and slaves were ushered into the cart to return back to the house. Sitting up to allow more room for the others, Alis noticed that none of the slaves dared to even glance in her direction. Her lips pulled up into a sad smile. I am nothing but a demon.
The shackles on her feet were not removed until she arrived in front of her room. “You shall not be granted evening meal since you did not complete your work,” the guard announced from behind the thick door. Alis collapsed on her bedding, not caring about what the guard said. She had lost any remaining appetite since that dreadful night.
Her eyes shut close, ready to embrace the darkness when a familiar tingle appeared. “No, no, go away!” Alys groaned but the longer she ignore the pull, the more painful it become. With an irritated cry, Alys reached for her book and piece of charcoal next to her bedding. Her lids opened to reveal glassy blue eyes as her hand move frantically over the paper.
Red. It was all Alis saw. Red on the walls, floor, windows. Red blur disappearing down the corridor. As her vision ended, she raised blackened fingers to rub the bridge of her nose. She clenched her eyes shut briefly to rid off the throbbing pain behind her eyes that always accompany each episode. Letting out a shaky breath, Alis opened her orbs and slowly lowered them to the paper on her lap. What she saw made her blood run cold.
A man with a sharp sword was running down the corridor, dead bodies littering the ground beside him. But what terrified Alis the most was the cold, inhuman eyes staring back at her.
The paper was crumpled and thrown across the room. Why would such a man attack a slave house, Alis thought to herself. Many other questions pop into her mind. When will the attack happen? What or who is he after? Will she be killed as well? Somehow she was not really bothered by that last thought; in fact she felt oddly comforted. Perhaps this would be the end of her continuous misery. Ignoring the gnawing hunger in her stomach and throbbing pain all over her body, she let her lids droop close to succumb to sleep.
Alis bolted upright, her eyes wide and searching. Seemingly without a reason, her heart was pounding and her stomach dropped to her feet. She glanced towards the door; it was still closed. Shifting her gaze up towards the small window, everything appeared normal. The full moon illuminated the dark and heavy clouds above. What had awoken her? Running calloused hands through her hair, Alis breathed deeply to calm the erratic beatings of her heart. Slowly as to not aggravate the injuries on her back, she laid back on her bedding to resume her interrupted slumber, lulled by the sound of falling rain.
Beneath the loud rumbling of the thunders, a bloodcurdling scream pierced the silence of the night. Alis sprang to her feet, ignoring the stinging pain it caused to her body and headed towards the door. As she reached for the handle, another chilling cry shook the building. She contemplated whether or not to peek outside. Did she really dare to see what monster had caused those horrifying shrieks? After several moments of internal struggle, her curiosity finally won over fear. Inhaling deeply, Alis slowly pulled the door open. The squeaks as the heavy wood moved on its hinges were like nails scraping down a chalkboard. She poked her head through the small gap, squinting in the darkness.
Odd. Usually the candles in the corridor would be lit.
Alis hesitantly stepped a foot outside. She was immediately hit with an odd yet familiar scent. The smell was so heavy in the air, she could almost taste it on her tongue. Coppery and metallic. None other than blood. Her heart started to palpitate, cold sweat breaking on her back. She took a step forward, just as a flash of lightning illuminated the darkness. Alis jumped, clamping her mouth with fists to prevent a scream from escaping as she saw what the shadows hid.
Corpses littered the ground, pools of blood staining the floor and splattered on the walls.
Eyes wide from horror, Alis slowly backed away from the gruesome scene. She spun around, ready to retreat back into the safety of her room when yet another lightning struck. This time, she could not stop her screams. There, the man from her vision stood in front of her with a long sword by his side. His cold, merciless eyes were studying her.
Alis did the only logical thing that sprang to her mind. She ran. Her bare feet splashed against pools of crimson, leaving a trail bloody footprints. Alis cringed at the sensation but continued sprinting blindly down the corridor. She spotted more bodies lying lifeless by her feet. It took all of her willpower not to stop and expel her stomach’s contents.
Heavier sets of footsteps echoed her own. Alis knew he was right behind her, perhaps cackling with glee. She turned a corner and slipped due to her wet feet. Before Alis could even glance backwards, a heavy weight settled on her back, automatically restraining her movements.
“Get off!” she screamed, struggling to turn on her back. Her wrists were immediately grabbed and twisted behind her painfully.
“You will come with me peacefully,” smooth baritone voice breathed in her ear. Alis shivered.
“Like hell I am!” She struggled under his hold, throwing her head backwards and connecting with what she hoped was the face of the man. The grip on her arms slackened momentarily but Alis was suddenly hauled to her feet and slammed against the wall before she could even take advantage of the moment.
The man’s face was only a breaths away from hers though his features were still concealed by the dark. “Stop struggling or I will not hesitate to hurt you,” he hissed. “Come with me and I shall spare your life.”
“Like.hell.I.will,” Alis spat. She raised a knee and threw it hard against his crotch. He immediately released her, doubled over by the pain. Alis took the moment of weakness to continue her escape, running towards the back door that leads to the outside of the house. The man’s cursings trailed behind her.
The door was thrown open and Alis continued sprinting in the rain. She headed straight for the thick woods, hoping to lose him there. Torns and rocks cut her bare feet. Her steps slowed and eventually stopped as she got deeper in the forest. Alis glanced around her; nothing but trees. No insane murderer in sight. With that, she collapsed against a tree, breathing heavily.
Leaves crunched behind her. Alis shot to her feet at once, turning in the direction of the sound. She stared into the darkness; nothing was there. A breeze brushed past her. Gasping, she spun to her left. The murderer was directly in front of her.
Beneath the moonlight, Alis could now see the angry scowl on his face as he bared his teeth at her. “Do not say that I have not warned you, princess.”
He raised his fist. All the air left her body as he punched her stomach. Alis fell into his waiting arms as dark spots began filling her vision. She could feel him lifting her body but could not muster the energy to fight. As fast as the wind blows, Alis was consumed by the overwhelming darkness.
Death was more painful than I thought.
Labels: Charcoal Drawings