The wilderness beyond Belinda’s walls was largely made up of marshland. The rivers that surrounded the city fed numerous streams and shallow lakes that were in turn filled with Azotou usual overgrowth.
Eloise and Delara made their way into one of those marshes with their party in tow. Eloise, Delara, and their party’s swordsman made up their group’s vanguard. The rogue was scouting ahead, while her skillset was more intended for use within a dungeon, her skills were still of use out in the field.
The mage trailed behind them, as he was fond of reminding everyone in the party, ranged ‘masters’ of the arcane arts like himself weren’t suited for fighting in the foreground.
Eloise was fine with that arrangement it meant they didn’t have too many oppurtunity to talk to each other. Which was perfect in her opinion because the Mage was the eighth, or ninth, son of some noble mucky-muck and he acted like it.
The mixture of noble superiority, and aggrievement with the world over his low-ranking within his family, made the man plainly insufferable. It didn’t help that the Mage was a Dytikan noble, with plenty to say about Eloise’ fae ancestory.
As a result, while Eloise, the Swordsman, and the Rogue, were all just politely apathetic to one another. Eloise and the mage barely tolerated each other’s existence. Which made it all the more unfortune that the mage was technically the leader of their little party.
“Lizard... Long Ears...Commoner...What’s that ahead?” said the Mage.
There was a rustling in the tall grass and bushes ahead of them. The swordsman grunted and stepped forwards. Eloise followed the swordsman while Delara hung back to safeguard their glorious leader.
Eloise and the swordsman approached the overgrowth, prepared to cut down whatever was lurking behind the greenery. Eloise tensed, her mind running through the most likely creatures for them to run into.
The marsh was home to a number of monsters. The most numerous, and most common, were the slimes, the water snakes, the killer frogs, the giant insects, and the wolf-otters.
There were other monsters that called the marsh their home, but Eloise was kind of hoping that it was one the aforementioned common monster. Most of the other species that Belinda’s marshes were known for, were all either famous for their ferocity, or the unpleasant symptoms they could inflict with their bites and scratches.
To Eloise’s surprise the thing that leapt out of bushes at her and the swordsman was a the rogue. The lithe young woman sprung from the marsh’s overgrowth like hell was on her tail.
“What’s wrong?” said the Swordsman. Quickly sheathing his blade and catching his lover in his arms.
The young woman was trembling, looking like she was on the verge of tears.
“I...I met another party back there. Old friends of ours. You remember Martin, right?”
“Yeah? How is he? What happened?”
“H-, he’s dead. Martin’s dead. A bunch of men killed him and two of his people and captured the rest and now they’re coming this way!” said the rogue. Speaking very quickly.
“Slavers? Here? This close to the city?” said the Swordsman.
For everyone in the party it was clear that the rogue had witnessed the actions of a human trafficker group. Slavery was a booming industry in Azotou and many of its neighbors.
It was a market too large to be satisfied by crime slaves, debt slaves, war slaves, and those who sold themselves and their loved ones to escape poverty.
There was also a great deal of illegal slavery, being done by brigands, bandits, and a few corrupt bands of off-duty soldiers and city guardsmen. The sad truth was that if one was far enough away from one’s hometown, even the authorities wouldn’t care how you got that collar around your neck.
Belinda being a city built on vice and greed, a large chunk of the city’s economy was tied to the actions of such groups. However for the sake of appearences, and the avoidance any conflicts with the few groups that could come down on them, the city generally avoided allowing its slaver groups to operate within its territory.
Eloise frowned. Her long pointed ears swiveled inwards and outwards as she caught the sound of many, marching, boots.
“Alright, well we need to get out of here, right bloody now.” said Eloise.
“And go where? We might still be in Belinda’s territory but the city’s miles from here.” said the Mage.
“I don’t know...Maybe we hide. Maybe not. Whatever we end up doing, we need to get out of here before those slavers catch us.” said Eloise. Narrowing her eyes at the man.
Eloise and Delara met each other’s eyes. Delara nodded and sheathed her massive blade, placing her shield on her back.
“Look they’re getting close. So we can argue about it later, yeah? Right now we need to move.” said the rogue. Sounding as if she’d gotten hold of herself.
The party immediately began to move away from the sound of slaver’s footfalls. The scout lead them on a path that lead roughly towards the city without stepping onto the more beaten, more recently cleared paths where they’d be exposed.
They put as much distance between themselves and the group that had spooked the Rogue as they could. Eloise relaxed as she found that she could no longer hear the footfalls of the slavers. Then suddenly, she found herself alarmed.
There was a new group, she heard them, before she and her party saw them.
“No fucking way…” said Eloise.
The five adventurers ended up strolling into a clearing with some, thirty to forty, rough looking, men and women all gathered inside it. There were tents and wagons, and fire pits on display. Besides the free men and women, there was a large number of captives. Some of them in chains, others in cages.
“Are you serious?” said the Mage. Glaring at the rogue.
The young woman blanched, shrinking into herself, and leaning towards her lovers.
Delara just clucked her tongue.
One of the slavers at the head of the camp simply turned around and smiled.
“See...What did I tell you? I said we’d make our quota and look. The marks walked into our camp right on their own.” said the slaver.
He then turned to the group of five. Smiling the same smile.
“Hello, ladies and gents. I’m Carlisle...the head of this little group and a master-ranked elite. One of three present in the camp at this very moment. Unless one of you happens to be a fortress-ranked elite I’d suggest you drop your weapons before someone gets hurt.”
Several hours later, Eloise would find herself in chains, with a slaver’s collar around her neck. They took her armor, they took her weapons. They’d even taken most of her clothing. Leaving the elven woman in only her small clothes.
The best she could say about her situation was that the group had been surprising polite, and professional, and she hadn’t been made to experience any of the indiginities that slavers sometimes visited upon their victims.
She and her party now knelt in a depression that had been carved in the foot of the mountain that served as Belinda’s northern wall. Naturally, they’d been taken to the back of the mountain. Taken to an area that was just out of sight.
Eloise wasn’t sure what the slaver’s intentions were. She, her party, and some five thousand others. All had been gathered togethered and placed in the massive basin. Wading in what was essentially a small lake of wine and aromatic herbs. A lake that had been heated to the level just past that of a hot bath.
Eloise didn’t know what to think of it. She wasn’t thinking much actually. The slavers had dosed them all with some kind of mind numbing, pyschoactive, flower. The captives had all been forced to ingest the drug to keep the crowd from kicking up a foss. Thus Eloise knelt, the space between her thoughts growing with each passing second, her psyche peeling apart beneath the moon light.