Two Days later
Another day, passing by like the rest, within this shit hole.
Those thoughts passed through the slave’s minds as they lay about, used to the stench of their own fluids, used to the itching that engulfed their bodies. Barely clothed, barely fed, they filled the underground warehouse.
There were hundreds within this one dimly lit place, and although it was a vast space they all barely had any personal space to speak of.
Most of them were Dark Elves, their white hair dirtied, their golden eyes distant and grim.
But some were of other races, like the couple dozen Bestia who lay chained together.
And numbering even less, were the green-skinned creatures sticking to the warehouse’s shadows. The Goblins were terrified of the smallest movement, thinking they were next to be shipped away.
All of them lay chained up to thick metal pipes that stuck a few centimetres above the floor, built into the walls and taking from one side of the warehouse to the other. Their short shackles were closely bound too, leaving them barely a foot of movement.
One thing was constant among all of them though, their eyes.
Dead they seemed, with no ounce of hope or care as they lay there doing nothing.
But the warehouse was far from quiet, as one of the slaves rattled their chains trying to break away.
A young male Dark Elf, a child they seemed but were at least a few dozen years old, as most Elves would be by his appearance. An appearance that would have been dreadful to see, his bones visible beneath his lanky skin and scales, which lay beaten and bruised all over.
“Do not struggle young one,” said another Xilfir, an older male. “If they hear the sound, it will be more beatings for you and less food on the next shift.”
The boy huffed in annoyance, “Let them beat me, but I won’t stay chained up and be kept like less than cattle. The desert is my home and I will return to it! And if not, then I’d rather die than be sold off to some mining district or lumber field!”
The older male sighed, turning away from the boy, knowing it was a waste of breath to urge him further.
The boy continued to struggle for a few more moments, but the chains were solid iron and from the sound, he knew the metal rod that held him was made of something stronger. He grunted out in anger, slamming his hands down, the metal cuffs that lay around his wrists clanging with the rod.
“Shit,” The boy cursed as pain stung his wrists.
A sudden chuckle came from behind him, the boy turning to find its source. It came from a female Xilfir, maybe a few dozen years older than him from her otherwise late teens' appearance. She was laid back, her arms beneath her head as she rested on the floor, glancing at him with a smirk.
“Got some fight in you left eh?” The woman asked in common, “Apologies, I’m afraid I don’t speak our mother tongue.”
“Hmph, this better than sit around and do nothing.” The boy responded in broken common, as he studied her. Short-cut hair, a scarred left eye and an also slightly malnourished body. One thing though stood out to him, as it lay tattooed on her right shoulder same with most prisoners in her row.
Each of them had a mark there, one of a reptilian creature wrapping around a long blade.
“Pirate,” The boy said with disdain in his tone.
The woman chuckled in response, “Dune pirates mate, get it right. There is a significant difference between us and those sea dogs.”
“Thieves,” The boy scoffed, “Stealing while we try to…Improve, better the Xilfir standing with Humans and Bestia.”
“You do what you gotta do to survive when the rest of the world sees you as less than vermin.” The woman shrugged, “We? Huh.” The woman grinned as she glanced down the boy’s row, “So you all from one of those Veiled villages eh? Guess you weren’t as hidden as you thought you were.”
“You wouldn’t know, accursed desert mutt,” Spoke another Dark Elf in the boy’s row, an elderly Xilfir with a fairly muscled body. “We thought in time…in time we could make them accept us…” The man said with a saddened tone.
“What’d he say?” The pirate asked, not understanding him.
“Nothing that matters to you.” The boy hissed back.
She chuckled, “Oh well, I can imagine. Mercenaries probably located your village and hired a mage to disrupt your invisibility charm? Maybe they just walked in after finding the barrier’s border and enchanting themselves to not get confused by it. You were unprepared, you tried to fight and many tried to run, but they were very much prepared. They burned your homes down, killing many in the flames, and played games while capturing the rest.
The weak and sick were left behind to die, not worth the effort. The runners were hunted down and toyed with. While the ones who stood their ground and struggled were overpowered, captured and chained. They separated you by gender, the men being forced to pull the carriages like beasts of burden, while the mercenaries had their way with your women inside.”
The boy’s rage peaked as she recounted the event with uncanny accuracy, he rose from where he lay and turned to her, eyes wide and teeth grinding with fury as he struggled with his chains. Until he saw the despair in her eyes.
The woman smiled back at him, “Thought I was always a pirate? Nah, I was a kid like you once…Was lucky back then, the band raided my captor’s convoy in search of new recruits. Gave me an option, join or be left to wander the dunes with enough food and water to make it to another village…if I left into the correct direction and stuck to it.”
The boy’s rage faltered, as he fell back to his knees. “I’m sorry…” he then said.
“If you’re sorry kid, then shut your trap and let me sleep. All your whining and rattling is giving me a headache!” The woman said with a weak chuckle.
The boy settled down, biting his bottom lip in annoyance as he gazed down at his chained hands and feet. “What will happen to us?” he asked with dread in his tone.
“Normally I’d say the most obedient of us will go to the city where we’ll be trained to be servants.” Another pirate, a male Xilfir began to explain, ”While most will go to either the lumber fields, the mines or construction yards. The strongest and most unruly of us? Military camps where we’ll be beaten to half-death and enforced into becoming slave soldiers. Rarer even, those found with high magical capability will be taken elsewhere, nobody really knows where but rumours say…Something about experiments being done on our minds and bodies.”
“Normally?...” The boy repeated in question.
“Look around, this warehouse is almost full to the brim and yet none of us have been shipped out yet, it’s been like this for several weeks.” The man said as he gestured about, “They’re gathering us for something, and I’d bet my third sack that it has something to do with the Lost world beyond the sea.”
“Beyond the sea…” The boy mused out loud.
“You’ve got a third sack Jin?” the woman then asked with a chuckle.
“Wouldn’t you like to know Tania,” Jin nudged her with his foot, “And don’t get any fancy ideas kid, the lost world is nothing but dead lands. Corrupted beyond belief by the blasted demons, who knows what monstrosities lurk there.”
“Now you’re just trying to scare him.” Tania nudged back, “Nothing wrong with a little fantasy in one’s life, right kid?” she asked, “So what should we call you?”
“Kailu,” the boy replied, yet his mind seemed to have wandered elsewhere.
“Proper elven name eh?” Tania mused, “Fancy that.”
“You had one too though, didn’t you Tania?” Jin pointed out, “Like, before you joined the band.”
He regretted asking, as she turned to glare coldly at him. “You wanna die?”
“Sheesh, put your claws away. I was just askin-“ Jin began to say, when suddenly the warehouse’s doors opened. “Ah shit, what now?”
The newer rows of slaves turned to look at the two large metal doors as they slid open, curious as to what was occurring. But the older rows, which was most of them, didn’t care. They were used to it, new arrivals coming in, being beaten into submission as they were chained into place.
“Main dirtbag ahoy,” Jin whispered as the warden stepped inside.
A rough looking man, light brown skin with dyed red hair and a sadistic look about his green eyes. He was large and burly, giving a menacing impression. He wore some chain armour over hard leather as did the rest of the guards that stood behind him, but unlike their swords, he held a wicked looking whip strapped to his belt.
“Always nice to see new faces around here.” The warden said with a cold smirk, then gesturing to the guards behind him.
They began to lead in several more Dark Elves.
“Got us more bandits over here, looks like we better keep a closer eye on em boys. They might just steal the chains right off the floor!” he joked, some of the guards forcing out a chuckle in response. “Put em behind there, with their buddies.” He then gestured towards Tania and Jin’s row, “Let them feed off each other’s despair.” He said before turning away.
Glancing at the silent new additions as they walked by him, arched forwards and with their heads held low, seemingly already broken in spirit.
He grunted in annoyance, “And here I figured you’d struggle like the rest, maybe give us some entertainment. Bah!” he pushed at one, the man seemingly falling over with ease, but not a sound came from him. “Get him up, looks like another boring group today.” The disappointed warden said before leaving.
“More of ours?...” Tania asked as she rose to her knees to look.
“I…don’t think so. Do you recognise any of em? Cause I sure don’t…” Jin whispered back as the guards led the new group of thirteen Xilfir to the empty row behind them.
“Different band? Abyele corsairs maybe?” Tania guessed.
“All the way here at Ai’Sen? Why even? Abyele is a port too.” Jin argued, then going quiet as they reached them, watching silently as the new arrivals were chained into place.
When suddenly one of them rose up as a guard tried to put the metal bracelets on her, slamming her head into the man’s chin, dazing him and pushing him back. Kailu barely noticed when the next Xilfir over, used their chains the trip the guard, causing him to fall to the ground.“Restrain her!” Another guard exclaimed as five of them grabbed the dark elf woman, forcing her to her knees while another two bound her cuffs to the shackles.
“Bloody bitch!” The guard who fell swore as he rose, the others chuckling in amusement instead of helping him up. He stepped to her, “Know your place, drakon whore!” the guard exclaimed as he kicked his metal boot into her gut.
“Oi! Take it easy, don’t damage the merchandise too much!” The warden shouted from the entrance. “Like, I’ll lend you my whip if you willing to drop a few coins” he then said with a chuckle.
The guard grimaced as he gazed down at the woman, she was keeling over while holding her stomach in apparent pain. “Think I’d rather get some private time with this one, what do you say warden?” the guard asked with a cold smirk.
“Hey, pay up and she’s all yours for a glorious few minutes.” The warden responded dismissively, “For that one though? Gonna need more than just one pay son, got more meat on her bones than any other whore under here.” He then said, a glint in his eyes as he glanced at the struggling xilfir woman.
And sure enough, her entire row seemed a bit too well fed, but he didn’t think too much of it as bandits looking healthier than the common slave-born xilfir was normal.
“What meat? She’s got the melons but the rest’s all muscle! Not that I can’t keep her stick-ass down, but I think you should drop the price if she’s gonna struggle, untrained dog and all.” The guard argued.
“Hah!” The warden laughed wholeheartedly, “You haggling with me? Get the fuck outta there before I drag your ass out!” he then warned while still chuckling.
The guard grunted, still visibly annoyed but obediently walked back to the entrance with the rest.
Kailu watched as the guards left, shutting the metal doors behind them as they did.
He immediately turned to then watch the new comers, as they lay there in absolute silence.
“Hey…that’s our crest!” Tania suddenly said in realisation as she saw the same mark her and her colleagues sported, laying tattooed on the new comers.
“And in good taste it is,” spoke the women who struggled earlier, rising from her balled up state with not a single bit of the pain she showed earlier.
“Who are you?” Jin asked in confusion, as some movement went through the new comer’s entire row.
The woman smirked as the xilfir next to her handed her something after he himself shuffled around with his chains, Kailu leaned in to see that she was now holding a key, as she unlocked her handcuffs with it. The woman glanced up at him as her chains came loose, winking at him before handing the key over to the next in line.
“Woah woah…is this actually happening?” Tania asked in disbelief, yet her expression read as maniacal amusement.
“Once it reaches you, unlock your cuffs but leave them hanging around your wrists, then pass it over.” The woman said, “Those are the words going down each row with the key, trust in us and sit still for a bit.” she told them before turning to her colleagues. “Spread out.” She said in elven, and each of the Xilfir who came in with her silently rose from their position.
The newcomers spread out across the rows closer to the gate, blending in with the rest of the slaves while the woman remained where she was.
“Hey…what’s the plan here? We’re unarmed and magicless, even if you knew how to cast some shit there’s a mana-negation barrier around this entire compound!” Jin warned.
The woman chuckled, “That’s the signal.” She then said cryptically.
“Signal? What do you mean?” Kailu urged for more in elven.
“Be patient, you’ll see.” She told him with a grin, her eyes moving down each row, following the key.
Several minutes passed by, but none made a move, each dark elf laying patient and without a sound. They’ve laid like this for years, what was a few more seconds?
Even the Bestia and Goblins, although being left for last, remained in their place when the key reached them.
Seeing that the first step was complete, “Here it comes,” the woman said, as the ground suddenly began to shake.
“The fuck just…” Tania swore in surprise as the quake lasted for only a mere couple seconds.
“That was no normal quake, that was a bloody explosion!” Jin whispered with a wide grin.
“That it was, now heads down and stay out of the way.” The woman then warned, as the doors slid wide open.
“Secure them! And get me that bitch!” The warden exclaimed from the room beyond, as a dozen or so guards rushed inside with crossbows. They spread along the entrance, each aiming at a different row as one of them rushed further in.
The guard who had been tripped before, he ran over to the new comer’s row with sword in hand. His expression gaining in confusion as he only found one remaining, “What the-You! Where the fuck are they?” He exclaimed, walking up to the woman with sword ready.
Then freezing in place, as he met her cold gaze.
The woman rose up to standing, letting her cuffs and chains fall to the ground as she did.
“Th-They’re lo-” The guard was about to shout, when a bolt suddenly found its resting place inside his throat. He turned around in confusion, getting a glance of where his colleagues once stood.
In their stead there now was a dozen Xilfir, one of them lowering a crossbow which was previously pointed at him.
“You said you wanted a bit of me?” The woman asked, as she grabbed the guard’s left shoulder while suddenly appearing to stand beside him, moving in absolute silence.
He glanced over at her, as he choked on his own blood, holding his neck while it gushed out and down his chest.
Her hand suddenly blurred onto his neck, a strange energy bursting about it and pushing his own hands off as she grabbed hold of the bolt. “You’re out of luck, I’m reserved.” She coldly said, then pulling the bolt out, causing the flood of blood to quicken.
The woman dropped the bolt to the floor, leaving the guard to keel over into a puddle of his own making as she walked away. She stepped to stand before the entrance where her colleagues stood at attention, now seeming less like prisoners and more akin to trained killers.
She turned to the rest of the warehouse as they slowly rose, her previously free and unkept long hair suddenly braiding itself. With also changed each of their clothing, from their previous scraps of cloth to draconian sets of armour of differing colour and a weapon of the same make.
“We’ve unchained you, but you are not truly free. As the world remains, you are nothing but vermin to be captured or killed.” She began to say, as the Xilfir behind her began taking shots into the other room, the clear sound of combat echoing back into the warehouse. “Here, today you are given a choice. Stay where you are, in your miserable scraps. Or, take up arms against those who would enslave you.” She offered, then glancing over at Jin and Tania’s row.
“You asked me who I am? I am Makaela Xilfir, High Priestess of the main branch and Commander of the Dreadblades. And as of today, I wield the title of General, for what you might ask?” Makaela unstrapped her whip, and it elongated, alive it slithered around her as green flames engulfed it. Giving her an even more fearsome look.
“General of the reborn Dark Elf Dominion!” She exclaimed, “General to my lord, to our reborn King. He who’s returned from the dead to lead our people from where we’ve strayed.” Makaela spoke, as the screams of the dying came from behind her. “Brothers! Sisters! No more will our kind hide or struggle!” she shouted when suddenly several quakes, some weak and some strong, rattled their surroundings.
Makaela though was unaffected, instead, she opened her arms wide in gesture, “What you hear is the sound of more and more compounds like this one being taken, more of our people being freed from the clutches of Sinbeni. We fight for you, we bleed and die for you today. You who’ve been oppressed for so long, will you stay down like the dogs they think to have trained so well?” she asked, as several dozens more well-armoured xilfir entered the warehouse from behind her.
Carrying large sacks in between them, the clear reverberating sound of metal coming from within.
“Or,” Makaela continued as she gestured at her dreadblades, “Will you take up arms, and join the fight?” she asked.
The dreadblades lay down the large sacks, unwrapping the ropes that held them closed and opening them up fully to reveal several piles of weaponry. Spears, maces, shields, bows and quivers were the norm, while a few swords and staffs also lay about.
The slaves glanced in between her and the weapons, most faltering at the sight.
Most, but not all.
Without even a first thought, the Goblins rushed by the piles of weapons, grabbing whichever was closest before charging out the warehouse screaming at the top of their lungs with crazed abandon.
Behind them stepped forth the Bestia and Dune Pirates, also arming themselves.
But instead of charging out mindlessly like the greenfolk had they moved to stand with Makaela, some chuckling as they still heard the Goblins’ battle shrieks.
Yet, many still faltered.
“Let me through!” Exclaimed a young elven voice, as Kailu struggled to force his way through the gathered slaves. Finally finding his way to the front, he gave Makaela a single glance before turning to the closest pile of weapons. He walked forth, grabbing a bow and quiver before turning to the rest who now watched him.
“What? Are you going to stand there and let the bloody goblins do all the fighting?” Kailu said as he lay at the centre of attention, “I can still remember the screams!” He then cried out with a pained tone, ”And I won’t say they will stop haunting my sleep if I do this…I’ll hear their voices…see their faces every night from now on!...But at least when I face them in the next life! I can say I struggled to the very last breath!” he exclaimed, strapping on the quiver and turning around to give them his back.
Then meeting the gazes of all the others who stood ready to fight, his own going over Tania’s wide grin and Jin’s amused smirk before pausing to meet Makaela’s impressed smile. She respectfully nodded at him.
And his heart filled with warmth, as he heard the clang of metal from behind him, not needing to look back as the slaves moved to stand with him.
Each now armed with a weapon and the same resolve in their eyes he had showed them.
“We’re going to need more weapons,” Makaela mused as she saw most of the slaves were still unarmed, “No matter, many will lay about the streets soon. If you’re weaponless then stick to the back, pick some off the corpses we leave along the way!” she said, turning around and gesturing for them to follow.
The Dreadblades moved first, dissipating into the shadows and disappearing from view. All but Makaela who rushed out of the warehouse.
The rest roared out a battle cry as they charged after her, the Bestia overtaking all the Xilfir with their speed and rushing ahead past even Makaela.
Kailu tried his best to keep up, holding his shortbow in one hand and an arrow in the other as he watched ahead, seeing Makaela and the Bestia charge down the hallway where dozens of guard corpses lay sprawled about.
“Move with care! Don’t trample over each other!” Makaela shouted back, as surely the hallway was small and could only allow through half a dozen people walking side-by-side.
Kailu though charged ahead of the rest, joined by the dune pirates at the front and running right behind Makaela.
They ran past several turns, following her lead until the corridor finally opened up into another vast warehouse. Much more well-kept than their prison and with a large ramp going up the left wall, taking to a set of double doors which lay wide open, allowing them to see the moonlight shining through.
Kailu glanced around at many hundreds more slaves already rushing up the ramp and forming at its bottom, possibly from different warehouses connected to the tunnel system they had just gone through.
Excitement filled him to the brim and he rushed ahead of the rest, trying to keep up with Makaela who suddenly leapt up to the exit and disappeared to the outside.
He struggled through the mob of slaves, making little progress with each passing moment as he moved up the ramp with them.
Until at last he reached the door, rushing out with the dune pirates to find themselves within the city’s warehouse district, the area nearest to the docks. They moved further away from the door, making way for the rest of the slaves to come outside.
Kailu frantically looked around, searching for Makaela or her dreadblades, but what he saw instead was a contingent of city guard forming at the end of the vast road they stood upon. Warehouses lay in rows on either side of them, and there where alleys in between each one but the guards had also begun to form there, blocking every path.
“Lay down your weapons and surrender peacefully!” A ranking officer demanded from the wall of guards as they raised large shields before them, protecting themselves from any potential ranged attacks.
Kailu’s expression paled, there was no way through that wall of solid mithril shields and spears, and everyone around him knew it. As they all held their ground, unsure what to do next.
That is, until a certain shrieking filled the nearest side-street.
Kailu glanced down the alleyway to see Goblins leaping off the warehouse roofs and descending upon the guards, foaming at their mouths as they tore at the armoured men and women with crazed fury.
The gory sight made him swear to never piss one off.
“What are you waiting for?” bellowed a powerful voice, as it reverberated throughout the entire district.
Followed by the sudden reappearance of the dreadblades, fading out of the night’s shadow and assaulting the guards from behind.
The Ai’Sen guard numbered in the ten thousand, and the dreadblades only numbered over a thousand strong.
But their speed was unmatched, their blades of lightning flashing through the air and enveloping body after body. Slashing, electrocuting, then reappearing elsewhere. Several thousand whirlwinds of golden energy suddenly exploding amidst the guards then disappearing from sight before any of them knew what had even occurred.
“Step up, wield your weapons as you wield your anger!” The voice bellowed once more, “This is your chance at freedom! So fight!” it urged them.
And Kailu did not question those words, nocking an arrow as he took aim at the guards who now gave them their backs. He drew, and as his father had taught him years ago, he loosed.
The arrow soared through the air, whistling as it descended upon one confused guardsman. Flying beneath his helmet, it pierced through skin and then flesh as it embedded itself into his neck, squirting blood upon his now terrified colleagues.
Seeing the glorious shot, the make-shift army of slaves cried out before charging into the broken and confused wall of guards.
The two sides clashed, spears prodding past shields as maces knocked them aside, arrows raining over their allies and down upon the rallying guards.
Kailu lay in the thick of it, his small frame allowing him to tread the battlefield with ease. He ran about, loosing arrow after arrow and with each hitting its mark. He’d stalk over to his kill, recovering the arrows before loosing them upon another.
He never felt more alive, his feet moving exactly as he wanted them to, his eyes setting upon every target faster than he ever thought he was capable of.
Blades clashed, shields collided and spears rattled, men and women screamed and shouted all around him, adding onto the chaos.
As their blood rushed and they splattered their enemy's.
The sound of feet stomping, the clanging of weapons striking with one another, they filled his world as he fought. No longer was he hiding, no longer was he the trembling prey.
Kailu felt power within this bow, within his very arms. Power that wasn’t there before.
Kailu was the predator now, no longer was he the cub that needed protecting.
No, he was the wolf now.
And the roars of battle all around him were the howls of his pack.
He ran past Jin and Tania, as they also fought their hardest.
Jin waving about a massive warhammer, bashing aside shields along with the men behind them with every blow.
Tania watching his back with her spear, slashing aside swords and stabbing in-between shields, slaying enemy after enemy in quick succession with the speed of the very lightning that rushed through each of their eyes.
The battle didn’t last very long,
The guards were many and well-armed but the slaves numbered many times more.
Confused and broken as they were assaulted left and right by the well-trained dreadblades, like reapers of death appearing out of nowhere to then unleash unholy hell upon them.
The slave’s charge had destroyed what little moral the guardsmen had left, the officers and captains not even trying to hold their ground as they also turned tail.
Seeing their retreat, the slaves roared out in victory. Many even falling to their knees, breaking down into tears as the rush of adrenaline passed.
But it wasn’t over.
It was far from over.
As the sky shuddered above.
Erik watched the clash, casting enhancement spells beneath his breath, improving the speed, power, resistance and senses of some choice fighters among the mob. He lay kneeling above a warehouse’s roof, where he could see the entirety of the vast road below, as it lay enveloped with battle.
Sensing a change in the mana that permeated the air, he stood up. “They’re here.” He told the ones behind him.
“And we’re ready.” Thea said, gripping her gunblade tightly.
“Better than we’ll ever be.” Nerick said, as Ivara slithered into his left hand, morphing into a pole-blade.
“I’m not so sure I am…” Shizuka said, as she stood behind Thea, the staff she held in her hands trembling slightly.
“Steel yourself,” Makaela said as she appeared out of nowhere, tendrils of shadow still clinging to her body.
Three others also appeared beside her.
“Xilfir, Drakon!” Pyra exclaimed in elven, as a dozen Dragon Knights appeared with her, stomping their feet upon the warehouse’s roof in response.
“I’m with cat-ears on this one, I’ll…Uhh…be back there with an eagle’s eye view over the terrain.” Ascal whispered as he tried to turn about, but was stopped by Zentha as she grabbed his shoulder and turned him back around. “Or not, this is a fine leadership position too.”
Erik rolled his eyes in annoyance, “Wind School; Hover.” He chanted, then rising into the air as it shuddered all around him. Reality rippled across the sky, passing over the warehouses and battlefield, leaving behind the appearance of a new foe.
All over the opposing warehouses now stood black armour-clad feline Bestia warriors. Wielding warped and wicked weapons as they snarled in challenge of the white armoured Dreadblades. The rest of Makaela’s warriors gathering with the Dragon Knights, on the roofs opposing the new arrivals.
Amidst the Bestia stood a goliath, "Let us bathe in the blood of those who would oppose us!" Hunter roared out like a beast as he unsheathed his massive two-handed longsword.
“Finally, we meet again.” Erik hissed, looking away from the small army of Bestia and up at the sky where she hovered in place, gazing down at him.
“As enemies, just as we had left each other so long ago...” Etheria softly responded, hovering down to face him, his gleaming gold eyes meeting her blind white abyss.