“You didn’t tell me you were expecting guests.” A voice sounded from the corner of the room. The old man looked up from his tea and saw a middle-aged woman standing there, holding the crystal ball in one hand and a twisted staff in the other.
He smiled. “It’s nice to see you too, Mel.”
She tossed the orb into the air and it disappeared into a cloud of glitter. “It seems like things are about to get very interesting.”
The old man reached into the air next to him and retrieved the crystal orb. “It’s been a few decades since anything exciting happened, so it was to be expected.” He put the orb back on the pedestal on the table.
Mel sat down opposite of him, a cup of tea floating towards her slowly. She let out a deep sigh.
“Any luck with the lady of the mountains?” the old man asked her.
She shook her head. “She’s still angry about what we did to her seventy-four years ago.”
“I’m surprised you remember how long ago it was.”
She shot him an exasperated look. “It’s less a case of me remembering and more a case of her reminding me every single time she sees the opportunity for it.”
The man chuckled. “Well, I’m sure she’ll agree eventually, it’s not like we’re in a hurry.”
He leaned forward. “So, what did you think?”
“The vision?” Mel thought about it for a little while. “I think I have an idea as to what is going on and how we can make this work. It’ll require some effort though.” A smile formed on her face. “I think I know where to go next.”
“And where would that be?”
Mel reached forward and moved her hand through the glass orb, turning it into a thousand marbles that rolled onto the floor. “K’tapur.”
As she walked out of the little hut, the man let out a deep sigh. “Now who’s going to have to clean up all those marbles?”
There was no answer. He stood up and looked out the window. “I guess I’ll get going as well, there’s a storm brewing.”
Lightning struck in the distance as the rickety wagon they were being transported on hobbled along the main road. The mud and gravel had gotten soaked in the past few days of rain and the already painfully uncomfortable wagon did not improve due to the weather. The planks were creaking and cracks were forming. One of the carts had already broken down two days earlier. Danae found herself bound in the back of this wagon when she woke up. Her memory was completely blank until the moment she woke in this situation. Nine days had passed since then. She realized after the first night that something horrifying must have happened, because every time she closed her eyes, she was met with the nauseating scent of blood and burnt flesh. She saw flashes of fire and metal and heard the screams of the deceased. But whenever she tried to focus and recall more specific memories, she’d wake up in a cold sweat. Sleep barely came to her at all, and the days started to blend together. She’d tried to count them, but she wasn’t sure if it’d been seven or eight or twenty-four days. All she knew was that she was captive alongside many other elves, presumably from the same place, or a different place. She wasn’t sure, their faces didn’t seem familiar to her, and no one had claimed to recognize her either. That or she’d forgotten about it. If the nightmares weren’t enough, a creeping suspicion of what might happen to them next had already entered her mind and terrified her. Lightning struck again and she could see the silhouette of the riders through the thin cloth that was used to cover up the cages. The caravan was slowly coming to a halt again. They stopped for a few hours every day, presumably for the riders to rest up. She overheard two of the riders speak.
“How much further until we get there?” one of the men asked.
“Tomorrow we’ll finally arrive in Viras,” a second voice said.
“Finally, I’m getting sick and tired of this drenched road. Couldn’t the weather be a bit more fortunate for us? I’m miserable.”
“Not as miserable as us,” Danae thought to herself.
The first man continued. “This haul should bring us a lot of money. Elves sell for a much higher price than humans. Thanks to the Empire falling, we can finally make it big.”
The Empire falling? This sounded familiar to Danae. Didn’t she hear about this before? Perhaps she overheard one of the riders talk about it before, or it was an existing memory. Her head started to hurt.
“Let’s hope it all goes well, Viras is a nasty place. Pirates and smugglers appear regularly and I’ve heard of them ruining entire markets for some profits.”
The second man laughed. “We’re camping in the local lord’s front yard, I doubt even pirates would be stupid enough to attack the mansion itself. That would be a story to tell.”
“You’re probably right.”
The conversation seemed to die down as the two men walked further away from the wagon that Danae was locked in. She sat there in silence, listening to the quiet weeping of the people around her. She was afraid to close her eyes, but sleep eventually got to her. As usual, the sleep wasn’t pleasant, but instead painful and terrifying. Screams surrounded her as her legs gave into the fire grabbing at them. The pain boiled her body alive and she lost consciousness. Then she’d wake up again in the dream and experience the same thing. She saw corpses of people she knew she loved, but did not recognize at all. Eventually after repeating this hellscape over and over again, her mind fell into darkness and got some rest. When morning came, she felt a little bit better than the day before, but not much. They’d already started moving, but at this point she was so numb that even the rickety wagon hobbling along the road couldn’t wake her up that easily. Lightning struck in the distance once more as the sound of a city started meeting them. It seemed like they’d reached their destination, for better or worse.
After almost a day of being parked on the outskirts of the city, the caravan finally started moving again. The cloth covering Danae’s cage had shifted a bit due to the disastrous weather and she could now see outside. They slowly drove around the city walls until they came to the other side of the city. Here a drawbridge was lowered that let them enter into the noble district of Viras directly. At least that’s the conclusion Danae came to when she saw the luxurious buildings in front of her. They were wheeled through a few streets and quickly went up a small hill that led to the biggest building in town. Through her crack in the covers, she didn’t see any people at all on the way. The creaking gate was just barely outside of the small field of view she had, but the sound gave away that it was there. They rode into a grassy area and parked there. They stayed like that for the rest of the evening. She could hear shouting throughout the evening and saw shadows of people moving around the complex, getting everything ready. At some point early on during the evening, a young human looked through the cloth to inspect what was in the wagons. He was dressed in fine silks and had a look of disgust on his face. After verifying whatever he was looking for, he quickly covered the wagon again. The little crack was now gone and with nothing happening, Danae eventually fell asleep again.
The next day came and the weather had not improved even a little bit. As a matter of fact, the opposite had happened and the thunder and lightning were more intense than ever before. The captives had stayed outside in their wagons the entire night and Danae’s sores had only gotten worse. Blisters were forming on her elbows and feet and her skin was turning purple in several places. She could see her ribs poking out through her skin and although she couldn’t see her own face, she was convinced the bags under her eyes were massive. Change came early in the morning when the carts were emptied and all the captives were taken out and told to line up. Danae’s legs had given up and standing upright was excruciating. Several of the young men and women couldn’t even stand up at all and they were forcefully put upright, and beaten when they didn’t comply. They were then taken in small groups and brought into the mansion itself.
Danae looked around to see if anyone looked familiar to her at all, and there were some faces that rang a bell, but she couldn’t place them. It was like the memories were still there, but a haze was covering them. They went inside through a door on the side of the building. It looked quite small and Danae assumed it was perhaps a door for the staff to go in and out through, so they didn’t have to be seen near the front of the building. That would be improper. Either way, they were brought into the dungeon and put into small cells. Each cell had a set of clean simple clothes in it, as well as a basin with cold water and a towel. There was also a loaf of stale bread lying there, half wet from the water that had spilled. Throughout the journey they had been fed enough to stay alive, but not much. Danae was instructed to wash herself and put on clean clothes. She was then left alone again for most of the day. She washed herself and put on the clean clothes, which felt very nice compared to the state she was in, and then scarfed down the stale bread. Then she waited. Eventually one of their captors – at least she assumed it was one of their captors – came back with a piece of parchment.
“State your name, age and where you grew up.”
“Excuse me?” Danae replied.
“I don’t have time for this, answer the damn questions.” The look on his face was that of pure disdain.
“I don’t know.”
He let out a deep sigh and reached for his keys. “If you’re going to make this difficult, then I’ll do the same to you, you realize that, right?”
Danae recoiled at the thought. “I’m really sorry, but I don’t remember anything except for my name.”
“Then let’s start there.”
He wrote something down on the parchment, presumably her name. Then he sized her up. “You look to be around 20, which means you can be anywhere from 20 to 90, because you damn elves live forever.”
“I think I’m only in my twenties.” Danae said. She wasn’t sure where that knowledge came from, but it felt correct.
“Twenty years old, female elf, where are you from?”
“That I don’t remember at all.”
The man sighed again. “Born in Dargarath. It doesn’t matter anyway.” He peered into her cell. “Did you eat the bread?”
“Good, we’ll pick you up shortly.” The man started to walk away.
“What’s going to happen to me?” Danae recoiled when the man stopped and turned around. She regretted asking the question. “I don’t know, we’re selling you off to some rich elf and then you’re someone else’s problem.” He looked around and stepped towards her. The disdain had been replaced by a look of sadness. “Listen, girl, if you just behave, you’ll end up as someone’s chambermaid. So I suggest you behave as timidly as possible, okay?”
Danae nodded. She wasn’t sure that was good advice, but she wasn’t going to argue against it. She sat there in silence as the man walked over to the next cell, starting the same routine of asking questions. The muffled sound of lightning strikes outside reached all the way into the basement.
A few more hours passed. As small and cramped as this little cell was, it was a lot more comfortable than sitting on the cart in the rain and mud. At the very least she could sit upright. Danae spent part of the day trying to focus on her thoughts, hopefully finding out more about herself, but she had very little success in that regard. She then shifted her attention to her surroundings. If she wasn’t going to be able to figure out how she got to this place, then it would be best to focus on how she was going to get out of this place. Escape right now clearly wasn’t an option. She’d paid some attention while being brought to this cell and security looked to be tight. She didn’t know much about these things, but people were walking everywhere with crossbows on them. On top of that, she was in what seemed to be the basement of a mansion. Where would she even go if she got out of the cell to begin with? She didn’t get all afternoon to think about it, as around dinner time she was removed from her cell and brought to a mess hall, together with a whole lot of other people. Looking at how crowded it was, she assumed everyone that was a captive was brought there together. She saw mainly younger elves, but there were a few older elves here and there. The one thing everyone had in common was that they were all elves. The guards walking around were all human.
She was ushered towards a table and food was served. It wasn’t good food by any means, but it was filling, and she was eager to get rid of the hunger that had persisted throughout the past days. A few minutes into the meal, an older man sat down next to her. No one seemed to have brought him there, but instead he sat down of his own volition. She could hear lightning strike outside.
“Not a particularly appealing meal, but it’ll have to do, I suppose.” He looked at Danae and smiled. “And what brought you here?”
At first Danae decided to ignore the man. She didn’t want to get in trouble by talking to someone, and she didn’t know the man. At least she didn’t think so. Curiosity won her over when none of the guards seemed to pay them any mind. “I’m sorry, who are you?”
He smiled. “Humor an old man for a conversation, would you?” He looked around. “It’s not like you have anything better to do.”
Danae nodded. “What do you want then?”
He crossed his legs and put his hands on the table. “You don’t see someone with your aptitude every day, I just want to know a bit about your history.”
Aptitude? Danae didn’t know what he was talking about and was starting to get a little bit worried. She might be talking to a crazy person after all. “I don’t know where I’m from and I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He glanced at her with a curious look on his face. “That’s interesting.” He rummaged through his pockets and then put his hand on Danae’s back. She felt a warm sensation where his hand was placed for just a moment and then it was gone.
“Well, good luck today, it’s a big day after all.” And with that he stood up and walked away.
Before she could comment on what just happened, the man was already gone. The most surprising thing was that none of the guards had bothered stopping him when he got up. She got up to see where he went and immediately someone came over and yelled at her to sit back down again. She did so quickly, to avoid any trouble. The strange man didn’t stay on her mind for long as soon after they were gathered up and brought outside. She could already see a stage set up. They were behind it and from the sounds of it, there was a large crowd of people on the other side. They were lined up in small groups and bound with ropes and manacles.
They were told to wait there. She could hear a man walk up onto thestage and the murmurings of the crowd went quiet. Lightning struck in the distance.
“Ladies and gentlemen and other races, welcome to the auction! Tonight we have a large haul of capable young elves for you to choose from, so I hope you all brought your savings.”
The crowd started laughing. She could hear some of the crying and sniffling of the other captives around her.
“Let’s start off with these young, capable men.” Danae watched as groups were being led onto the stage one by one and she could hear the bidding happening on the other side of the stage from where she was standing. She heard laughing and happy murmurs, while they were standing, just barely protected from the rain, awaiting their verdict. At that moment Danae’s face turned bitter. She’d been holding it in as much as she could throughout the past few days. Partly because she couldn’t remember what was before, so she was in a state of confusion, and partly in an attempt to deny what was happening to her. But the fact that people were cheerfully paying money for the lives of others made her blood boil. The group in front of her was brought onto the stage. It was soon going to be her turn. Lightning struck in the distance.
“And now, this group of young women, perfect for light work around the house, amongst other things.” Laughter erupted from the crowd once more as Danae felt a tug on the rope that bound her. Reluctantly, she walked onto the stage with the rest of the women in her group. There were eight of them in total.
The auctioneer was a fat short human with a greasy mustache. He had a grin on his face that made the hairs on the back of Danae’s neck stand up. This man exuded sleaziness in a way she didn’t think was possible.
The bidding started and the price was going up slowly. Danae looked at the crowd. There were mostly humans there, but she spotted a couple of elves and dwarves in the crowd as well. She couldn’t believe that other elves would ever participate in something as vile as what was happening here. Lightning struck in the distance.
Her eyes met those of an elven woman who had a puzzled look on her face. The young elven man standing next to her also caught her attention. His eyes were so bright blue it was almost hypnotizing. Blue eyes weren’t rare by any means, but these looked like the ocean waves. As she was looking at these two individuals, she started to feel a warm rush come over her face. Her forehead started to heat up and she could feel a headache coming up. Lightning struck closer by.
She looked around panicked and some of the people in the crowd seemed to be shifting in their place uncomfortably. Lightning struck nearby.
The woman she had locked eyes with seemed to be saying something and took a step forward. Danae started to get scared as the dull pain in her head turned into a searing, red-hot throb. Her eyes seemed to almost burn out of her skull as she grabbed her head as best she could with her bindings on. Lightning struck close by.
She looked off to the side, her vision getting blurry. She saw that the auctioneer had taken a few steps back, as if something was scaring him. The other captives around her had scared looks on their faces too. Lightning struck and everything went dark as Danae lost consciousness.