A whip lashed out and hit on the back of a child aged no more than ten, the force of the blow sending the kid sprawling onto the sandy ground. Blood oozed out of where the whip had broken skin on his shirtless back. Much to the supervisor's surprise, the boy didn't even cry out in pain. He simply struggled to his feet and continued walking.
Gura narrowed his eyes. He didn't like that. He didn't like that one bit. He was the supervisor of this slave train. Twenty slaves in total. There were men, women and children among them - all of them with their hands tied in front of them with sturdy ropes and wearing little more than rags. Their feet were bound together as well, with just enough slack to let them shuffle forward without tripping. Without exception, the slaves were all human. Gura most certainly was not. The beady eyed boar-man, commonly known as an orc, was nearly two and a half metres tall and a metre wide. His ugly mug was a misshapen lump of fat and his nostrils were clearly visible on his upturned piggy nose. And like most slavers, he was a sadist. He loved to hear his slaves scream. To call him a bit free with his beloved whip would be an understatement. But now, he had used his whip but no one had screamed.
He studied the child carefully. There was nothing extraordinary about his emaciated back or small stature. That was how all children born in captivity looked. The enforced march as the slaver caravan travelled across the desert to peddle their wares coupled with the infrequent meals robbed most slave children of their chance to grow. Yet, Gura couldn't help but feel that there was a dignity to the boy's gait that hadn't been there a moment ago. A mental oppression that made his spine tingle and his hand, that had been raised to lash him again, loosen its grip on the ebony handle of his leather whip.
He nearly took a step back before he realized what he was doing and grew furious. His hand tightened on the whip and he brought it arcing down with all his strength. The whip whistled through the air and with a sharp crack that sent flesh and blood flying, it sent the child sprawling yet again. This time, the child's heart-rending scream echoed through the dry desert air. Gura didn't stop. Once, twice, three times he lashed the helpless kid with all his might leaving his back with gaping wounds. He revelled in the boy's screams; using them to assuage his injured courage. How could he - Gura, the slave master; the man with the power to decide the life and death of each and every one of these human slaves be scared of a mere slave-child. Absurd!
Gura stopped just before the wounds grew dire enough to threaten the boy's life. After all, he was merchandise and if he croaked, Garo, the leader of the caravan would cut the cost out of his pay. Pointng his whip at the healthiest looking slave in the train, he grunted out, "Carry the whelp. And if he croaks, or ye slow down, I'll lash ye to an inch of yer life." The slave immediately scrambled to shoulder the unconscious boy, stripping off the boys clothes to make a makeshift bandage to stanch his wounds. That'd last the couple of hours needed to reach Gehenna and then he could sell the boy. After that, whether he lived or died was no concern of his.
As Gura turned around to get back on his sand-surfer, he couldn't help but lick his one protruding tusk - the other snapped off in a barfight long ago - as he recalled the taste of all the meat dishes one could only find in The City of Sin. He knew where he was spending his coin that night. His belly-fat jiggled in agreement.
Sand. That was his name. It was the name the slavers gave to every child born to the humans under their thrall. Sand supposed that the name was supposed to remind them, frequently, that they were as insignificant as the endless grains that composed the Tyhr Desert. Remind them that they didn’t even have the freedom to name their own children.
Even after he became a full-blown Dungeon mage. Even after he gained the inheritance that would allow him to tread the path of a Dungeon chef and his name was whispered from one corner of the Tyhr Desert to the other. Even after his ominous reputation for using the blood of his foes as kitchen ingredients spread to the ears of the Orc Chiefs and they bayed for his blood in return.
After all that was left of his pursuers was a desert strewn with mummified corpses and all twelve Orc chieftains gathered together to hunt him down. When they found him. When they fought him. When their wounds refused to heal and dyed the sands red with their blood. Specially then. He called himself Sand. To remind them of the name they had given him. To remind them that children like him were as numerous as grains of sand. All waiting for a chance to spill their blood. In their fear, they had called him the Devil – Blood Devil, Sand.
He should have died that day. In that hopeless situation, he had used a skill. A skill he had obtained from a Time Dungeon. A single use skill that needed to be fed everything he had for it to work. His mana. His skill shards. His life. Everything. Whether it would work or not wasn’t something he could know in advance. After all, it wasn’t like he could test it. It was a gamble. And it succeeded.
Sand awoke with a jolt of pain as he was unceremoniously dumped on his back into a wooden cart. Instincts ingrained over years of battle demanded that he sober quickly, that he get into a position ready for fight or flight based on the circumstances. His young body, though, wasn’t so cooperative, flopping about weakly on the bed of the cart as his muscles weakened by blood loss and malnutrition gave out. All his flailing managed to achieve was aggravate the wounds on his flayed back, causing blood to seep out of them and dye his already bloodied loincloth that had been used as a makeshift bandage, a darker shade of red.
The grotesque mug of an orc intruded into his field of view. A scar ran across the orc’s forehead, drawing a jagged line of white in his pale pink skin. Exactly three strands of hair were lovingly combed back over his otherwise bald head in a pretension of coverage. “Oi lookie ‘ere. The freebie’s awake. Who’s putting some cash down on ‘im croakin’ by tonight, eh?” The orc’s intonation was guttural, just like every other member of his race. Their voices didn’t handle anything outside their grunting and squealing language very well. Definitely not the common tongue he was using now.
Sand’s mind groaned and clanked as all its cogs began to fall into place as he rapidly took stock of his situation through the obscuring haze of pain and exhaustion. He had used the skill he had obtained from the Time Dungeon. Without an Appraiser’s help, all he had been able to make out was the skill shard was a consumable one and that to start, it required one to feed it everything one had. As to its effect, he knew nothing. At the end of his rope, he had decided to take a gamble and activate the skill. After that, he had blanked out, unaware of what was happening to him. When he came to, he found that he had returned to the body of his younger self. No mana. No skill shards. Not even the honed body he had built up over the hundred years of his freedom. Just an emaciated boy in a slave train. As he stood frozen on his spot, trying to come to terms with his situation, the orc supervisor’s whip had fallen on his back. Just a ‘gentle reminder’ to move his legs.
What kind of existence was Sand? The Crimson Chef… The Blood Devil… The Terror of the Tyhr… Could mere physical pain cow him into submission. The Supervisor was a mere Red mage. He had been a Dungeon mage. He had killed Dungeon mages. The blood of three Orc chiefs dyed his hands. Even in his emaciated younger body, the Supervisor’s whip couldn't even elicit a grunt out of him. That was his mistake. The sheer variance in status between one moment and the next had given him no time to adjust his mentality. A mere slave-child silently bearing a whiplash and getting up and walking without a single cry of pain was an anomaly. A clear sign of rebellion. And slavers, the craven control freaks that they were, detested any sort of uncertainty. They baulked at the mere whiff of rebellion. His ‘insolence’ had earned him a lashing unto unconsciousness. If the survival instincts ingrained into his younger body over the ten years of its life as a slave hadn’t taken over and made him wail miserably – the whipping wouldn't have stopped till he joined the innumerable human corpses under the sands of Tyhr.
Another grain of Sand to join the many.
The orc reached over and roughly slapped his face a few times. “Oi oi oi. Did that Gura whip ye silly? Eh?” Pinching Sand’s face so that his lips puckered up like a fish, the orc roughly raised Sand by his face, causing his neck to creak ominously as his entire body weight hung by it. “I knew somethin’ was wrong with ye when that miserly bastard gave ye away as a freebie with ‘is other miners but he never said ye couldn't talk. Now be a nice little birdie and call me ‘Master’. Sing sweet enough and I might jest get the medic to give yer wound a little look-see? Hmm?” He shook Sand’s face a little causing his neck to creak further as his entire body swung in the air. “Hmm?”
The orc put his little finger in his floppy pig ear and jiggled it about. Taking it out and flicking the wax away, he leaned in and said, “Didn’t quite catch that.”
“The name’s Kreg. And to ye, it’s?”
Sand’s eyes were like two portals to the abyss as the words escaped his lips. “Master Kreg.”
“Ahaha. Clever little bugger, ain’t ‘e?” Kreg laughed as he rhetorically asked the other slaves arrayed behind him, eliciting murmurs of flattery and assent. “I quite like ‘im. Pity if he croaks so soon, eh? Get ‘im the medic…” Looking down, he chuckled and flicked Sand’s balls with his finger, making him go cross-eyed in pain and clamp his legs even as he hung helplessly in Kreg’s grasp. “And get ‘im some clothes to hide that little wiener… maybe he’ll live long enough to use it. Ahahaha.”
Tossing Sand back onto the wooden cart, Kreg walked away laughing raucously at his own joke as Sand lay curled up, enduring the dual waves of agony radiating off his flayed back and injured balls. That and the ache of his shattered pride. A hundred years. A hundred years he had been a slave in his last life. A hundred years of humiliation before he had the chance to break free of his shackles. Then for the next hundred years, he had wrought bloody vengeance on those who would clap him in chains once more. An entire two centuries of effort lost to the backwash of time. He had been sent back to the past. He was weak and a slave. Again.
This time though, he would free himself faster. Two hundred years of experience and fore-knowledge was the wind in his sails. Although things had changed already with his assignment to the mines instead of as a scullery boy in a restaurant in Gehenna, the major events should still occur when they were supposed to. Since life had given him a second chance, he would erase every regret he had in his past one. And the regrets had names: Garo. Gura. And now, Master Kreg.