Pleasant was definitely not the right word to describe Sarah Sted’s journey so far. She and the other captives from Pastrino had been walking non-stop all night and day, and the only food that they had been given were scraps of stale bread which the Forukks wouldn’t eat. If it didn’t drip with blood then they wouldn’t touch it.
“Time to rest the puss bags,” ordered the lead Forukk, its voice so deep that it was hard to listen to.
“Why?” questioned one of the other officers scathingly, its voice little more than a series of angry grunts. “They can walk for days more before needing a rest.”
“Our lord wants them intact and usable when they arrive,” growled the first. “They will rest for five hours each day, then walk the rest of the day and night.”
Sarah overheard this with dread. Since the attack was in the evening most people were wearing either slippers or no footwear at all. Only a few of the captives had been prepared for travel, and even they were starting to struggle with the blisters. Those without footwear were in constant agony.
Sarah felt so helpless and alone. She had no way to fight back, no friends to talk to, and no way to know if Trey was still alive. He was alive though. She could feel it within her.
Her mind was still in turmoil though. Aside from the pain of witnessing her friends deaths and not knowing where Trey was, she also knew that the Forukks had no use for slaves. Only food. The mention of a lord set her mind racing though.
Sarah, like the other slaves, gladly welcomed the rest. But none of them could sleep. Most were terrified or brain dead. Those ones had submitted, given up hope. Tomas Aslon certainly had not.
He was the School Master and before that a Pastrinian scout. He was strong and kind, a rare combination in recent times. His bravery and will to fight back was what set him apart from the others. He was soon looked upon as the leader of the brow beaten Pastrinians. The actual lord was nothing more than a grovelling cowered in hard times.
She glanced to the side, spying out the lord amongst the rest of the dejected herd. His fine clothes were torn to rags and his hair was matted with dried blood. His eyes were void and his body shook uncontrollably. Tears stained his face and a constant low moan escaped his lips. He struggled to control his own mind, let alone a city’s population.
Sat beside the lord was an officer from the City Guard, Lieutenant Gapon. The man had several broken bones yet was still able to keep up with the rest of the captives. Sarah was amazed that he could walk at all. Despite how pitiful the lord had become, Gapon stayed at his side and watched over him. The Lieutenant deserved someone better to give his loyalty to.
Disgusted, she turned her attention back to Mr Aslon. He had gathered a crowd around him and addressed them in a confident voice. “The Forukks dislike the light,” he told them. “We outnumber them five to one. If we strike in the daylight, we may stand a chance at victory.”
As he spoke a lone dark figure moved away from the group and towards the Forukk guards.
* * *
The amber flames from a small fire the humans crowded around were nearly dead. A large group had gathered to listen to Mr Aslon’s plan.
“We have a chance of escape. Some of us will die but if we do not take the risk we could be slaves for all of our lives, or worse.” Some nods of agreement appeared as he said this but many had their distaste of the idea clear on their faces.
“We’ll all be killed if we try,” moaned someone in the crowd. Sarah suspected that it was the goldsmith, Beldon Dale.
“I would rather die free than live in chains,” replied Mr Aslon.
More of the assemblage nodded their agreement. Now the majority of the crowd were in his frame of mind. He looked across all the faces in the group, knowing full well that they looked to him to guide them to safety; he also knew he would guide many to their deaths. That was the price of freedom, but it had to be paid.
“So are we decided?” he asked to the entire gathering.
There was a brief pause as the crowd murmured amongst themselves. One arm rose into the air, closely followed by a second and third. Within seconds hundreds of arms reached out towards the sky. Some kept their arms at their side with a disdainful look on their faces. The majority rules.
“Alright. We’ll act at first light. That will give us a full day of sun to make our escape.”
“Where will we go?” asked a voice from the group.
Mr Aslon didn’t answer. In truth he didn’t know what to do or where to go. The crowd was becoming more disheartened by the second. He thought that he had lost their confidence until Sarah Sted stepped forwards to address the congregation.
“We’ll head back to Pastrino, there are weapons there.”
“What! We’re not going back to that death trap. We got massacred last time and we had more men and weren’t fatigued!” shouted Martin Seeda, a tavern landlord.
“True, but we are all awake this time and we would all be prepared. Plus we could send someone to Onlasar to tell them of the threat, maybe move everyone east just to be sure.”
From the back of the crowd a dark figure made its way to the front. It was Mr Xion.
“And who is to lead us in this uphill battle. Our old commander is dead,” he asked.
Mr Aslon stepped forwards. “I shall lead you. I’m a veteran scout who knows a thing or two about battle.”
“Thank you for that Tomas. Guards, he is your rebellion leader.” Mr Xion gave an evil smile as three Forukk guards headed for the front.
The crowd was horror struck. No one dared to move. Mr Aslon knew he stood alone. As the first one drew near he punched its ugly face with all his might, causing the beast to stagger back then fall over a log. Before he could react to the other two he was being held firmly by them in iron grips. Then the first Forukk got back onto its feet and stomped back to him. It raised its fist and was about to strike when Sarah jumped in the way, taking the full brunt of the attack. It was not meant to kill but still sent her flying back. She skidded across the floor, landing in a heap several feet away.
The beast raised its arm again, this time its clawed fingers not clenched. It lunged its talon like hand into Mr Aslon’s chest then withdrew it in a shower of blood holding his heart. Mr Aslon was still alive as he helplessly watched the Forukk eat the organ. As the Forukk took its last bite, Mr Aslon’s entire body went limp.
The Forukks unceremoniously dumped his body in their food store and went back to their duties. Mr Xion accompanied them. Coughing, Sarah struggled to her feet. Around her the crowd was disbanding with downcast eyes. The battle for the people’s will was lost. No one had the courage to fight any more. They all seemed to accept their fate. Not Sarah though. She was not about to give up. Now wasn’t the time though. She would see what her future would hold and she would stand and face it. Her journey would be terrible and her destination would be far worse but what choice did she have? This was only the road to Abyss.