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"There is no material in the world as resilient as the human spirit."
Saint Anton carried himself with the stern air of a man who'd seen much but said little, yet his eyes were at peace - something new and unusual for the man. An athlete of Ilmater, he gave the impression that little could move him.
Unkempt greying hair covered his head, displaying signs of stress that complemented the various scars which painted an agonizing yet resilient picture regarding the events of his past.
The tattoos that stained his arms depicted provocative yet impressive cosmopolitan art pieces that mocked divinity and nobility. The ink was faded to the point where it was difficult to make sense of the imagery, worn as an ancient tapestry. Most often, they were concealed by the red cords that coiled around his arms from the armpit to the wrist.
Signs of cuts and stabs were concentrated around his arms and the brutalized hands that were little more than scar tissue and calluses. The lingering shadows of arrows and bolts dotted his shoulders and chest, whereas his back was disfigured by discolored whiplashes.
The state of his body was a shrug in the face of death, a testament to suffering, and the strength to crawl to one's broken feet after every defeat.
Last edited by Ataraxia on Sun Oct 28, 2018 6:53 am, edited 16 times in total.
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity."
- I was awoken by the cold winds biting through my soaked boots. Perhaps a little longer in slumber and I would have known amputation. Another lost soul felt my distress, and the next thing I knew, I was offered a new pair by a blind man chained by my side who had nothing else to give. Confused, I focused on one thing at a time. I took my time to lace them, eyes fixated on the warm leather that washed away everything else that was happening around me. I wanted that moment to last.
When that comfort faded I was forced to face the reality of the situation. Men and women were broken alike, bodies lulling themselves back and forth in a desolated danse macabre that marked the end of the lives they were torn away from. The aggressive cocktail of stink of dribbling bodily fluids that crowned the hopeless picture I was facing made me realize I’d slept through possibly the worst of it.
The wagon was heading up a rocky mountain trail, and through the air slits on the wall I could reach by twisting my neck, I saw the distant lands of Rashemen grow smaller with each passing moment. We were headed for Thay.
All were suffering in silence, except for the blind man by my side. He was the only one who had found comfort amidst the slaughterhouse we found ourselves in, and it made me believe that I perhaps could too.
"I turn and turn in my cell like a fly that doesn't know where to die."
- When the first man fell, we had a collective moment of silence to remind us of our civility - Somewhere, somehow, it reminded us that we were still human and that were weren't as cold as the wind that sliced through our bones.
When the second died, the others chained nearby nestled under the carcass to shield themselves from the cold. So much for decency. This tradition became second nature as the days passed.
From afar, the prison we were headed to was a monolithic fortress of dark stone sitting sternly over the mountain, uncaring of the recurrent avalanches and ice storms. And when we arrived there, about half of us had already succumbed to the hardships of mountain travels and the heart of ice that nature tortured us with. The guards screamed and overwhelmed us with clubs and crossbows raised, separated the men from the women and savagely beat us into submission. It was unnecessary; most had already given up.
The closing of the impenetrable gates behind us sealed our fate. Others murmured about faith and hope, but I knew that no god's light could shine here.
Last edited by Ataraxia on Tue Jan 19, 2016 4:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Prisons are the temples where devils learn to prey."
- The first few weeks in the camp blurred past. We had no decisions to make at all. They herded in stony cells with reinforced grates, gave each of us a single set of simple linen clothes and thin blankets, and every meal was the same porridge.
One thing that stuck was the courtyard, divided in two parts by a fence. The first half for troublemakers, the second for the others. We had an hour in the morning and one hour in the evening to wander in the limited space and socialize, though mostly to walk in circles like the aimless souls we were.
The first time we emerged into the courtyard on a morning, we were greeted by the cold wind and the rumble of the hooligans shaking the bars of their side of the fence, sneering at us like hyenas and screaming threats of violence at the top of their lungs. The symphony of their petty aggression left some quaking in their boots and motivated most to steer clear from the fence. Hooligans were known to have grabby hands.
The blind man was unfazed by them, neither saddened nor enthusiastic in the face of their simple minds. Perhaps his blindness granted him a forced innocence; he couldn't see their evil. Proposing we had a closer look, I agreed reluctantly.
An arm shot out between the bars in an attempt to grip my shoulder once we were within range. I staggered back in surprise, angry that other inmates would try to take advantage of me when we were already oppressed by the high indifference of the soldiers around us.
In silence, the blind man and I watched them struggle irrationally against the bars that separated man from animal and I focused to detach from their suffering.
It was then that I realized how thin the line was.
Last edited by Ataraxia on Tue Jan 19, 2016 4:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
“Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.”
- I was huddled in my damp sunless cell waiting for the sandman to come bless me with sleep when I heard an odd sound from the narrow slit on the wall that we sometimes called window. I sat up in my blankets and stared at the opening for what felt like excruciatingly long minutes. The scratching was heard again, and the sight of the head that poked through the window pierced my misery.
The cat hopped down onto the floor soundlessly and turned in my direction with a primal spin. All that I could perceive was the midnight silhouette and the moonlight that its wide eyes reflected onto my shriveled form. The cat crawled into my blankets and settled in my lap just as I was about to reach out toward it, and curling on itself, the animal drifted into slumber.
I smiled, comforted by the black cat's rhythmic purring. When I lied back down on the floor, I held him close to my chest and murmured a rusty introduction. And just as the cat yawned, I heard a voice that wasn't mine whisper: "Azazello".
Last edited by Ataraxia on Fri Jan 22, 2016 12:35 am, edited 2 times in total.
"Sometimes you can't fight. Sometimes, some things, you have to outlast."
- In the courtyard, we were safe from hooligans, but it wasn't the case in the Hall of Hunger, which was where we ate our porridge twice a day. During the day they were generally tame as long as you didn't directly look into their eyes, but at night they were on edge. We all were. Every day was a new ride of hopeful thinking, wishing for something to twist our fate. Every night was a new disappointment.
The blind man wasn't the same. He'd done without hope and tossed away humanity's illusions so he could look at life the way it really was. And over a bowl of stale greasy porridge, he tried to share his wisdom with me.
The hooligans had come to tolerate the blind man. Some convinced the others that they had some honor left in them and they would never harm a disabled man, others were more obviously afraid of what they did not know. Except Duval. Duval was an idiot.
Duval was a new recruit who spent time with the troublemakers. He was obnoxiously loud and I could smell trouble on his breath when his smug face stood up and strutted to our table. He wanted to prove himself to the hounds who cared not for him.
The blind man was indifferent to the prowling Duval which didn't surprise me as much as the fist that landed in my face and threw me off my seat. Stunned, I scrambled to my feet to the cries of blood of other inmates who craved a spectacle.
I looked to the blind man but he did not look back. The guards turned their eyes away. I found myself alone against a bastard who took another swing at me that I luckily ducked under before tackling him into a table. Catching my neck in an arm lock, he pounded my head with a bowl of porridge until my vision blackened.
As I drifted in and out of consciousness some time later, I found myself lying flat on the back in my cell with Azazello licking my wounds for me, or perhaps the cold porridge that covered them.
"Au milieu de l'hiver, j'apprenais enfin qu'il y avait en moi un été invincible."
- They let me rot in my cell for I'm not sure how long. No more than a few days? I later learned that it was punishment for disturbing the fragile 'peace' that reigned over the respectable inhabitants of this shit-hole. During my time-out, I lied on my back and waited for the throbbing in my head to dull and the rats gnawing at my feet to leave. Thankfully Azazello heard my wishes for the latter. All I had was time, and I used it to reflect on what had happened.
I was angry, furious. It was a fight I had no choice in. There was no backing down, no reasoning. It was forced on me, and among the fifty-some souls that shared the abyss with mine, none of them lifted a finger for me. Not even the blind man.
Maybe it's unfair. Perhaps I wouldn't have lifted a finger for any of them either. I'd like to believe otherwise. Even in the worst possible conditions, facing hunger, frostbite, hopelessness, we were still people. Right? Nothing would change that.
I didn't have much energy to drink from the poisoned fountain of anger, no wood to add to that fire. And when the guards finally let me feel the bleak sun on my skin once more, they condemned me to the other half of the courtyard, reserved for troublemakers.
The hooligans approached me as though I'd kicked a hornet's nest and they were the insects buzzing and priming themselves for a carnage. I didn't want to fight, I retreated by the fence, where the blind man was waiting for me. His presence was comforting, it inspired something in me, as did the one word he whispered through the iron bars: "Endure."
“Bitterness is a disease. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”
- There's something humbling about being beaten to a pulp on a daily basis by a group of enraged men of all ages. The blind man didn't show himself by the fence like he'd done the first time. At the beginning, I thought it was another case of abandon but as the last word he ushered played again and again in my mind, I realized that it was all that I needed to survive.
So every day I steeled myself when entering the courtyard and let it happen. It took months before I could simply accept the punishment without fighting back and screaming. The hooligans were methodical, like the beat-down had a certain purpose. The guards ignored the screaming, like they were involved in whatever was going on. It was confusing but I held on. And when the vultures found that no meat was left to pick from my stone carcass, they stopped.
One day I was sitting on my own in the hall of hunger when four of them sat at my table. Two flanking me and the other two across. They were calm, knowing that I would rather listen to what they had to say than cause trouble. They were strong, beefy unlike the other inmates. Tattoos painted their skin in a defiant orchestra that told pretty much every god in the realm to go fuck itself.
I silently agreed with that somewhat. There was no place for that nonsense here.
Laurent, the one sitting directly across from me, had medals of ink on his chest that he wore proudly like some sort of military officer, and he casually launched me an offer I couldn't refuse. I could take a beating without complaining, and I hadn't died from it yet. Inviting me to fight in a ring, I felt the rage I'd kept on a tight leash for the past months bubble in me.
Didn't need any more details. He flashed a crooked smile when he saw the fire reflect in my eyes.
Last edited by Ataraxia on Mon Feb 01, 2016 12:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
“Walking into the crowd was like sinking into a stew - you became an ingredient, you took on a certain flavor.”
- Everything had been arranged. About a week after my conversation with Laurent, a pair of guards fetched me from my cell in the quiet hours of the night to lead me through dark hallways that dug into the depths of the mountain.
The cheering of a rowdy crowd echoed through the tunnels as we emerged into a large circular pit that only had the sky for a roof. We were hundreds of meters under the mountain, yet it was so open that I felt at the top. Torches were hung to the walls all around the pit, and daunting bonfires were lit to keep the blood-lusting inmates warm.
The battering of flesh echoed even louder than the cries of the crowd, one would have thought the architect had specifically designed the arena to carry the sound of battle above all.
I was struck with awe, seeing so much life in the graveyard of dreams I had come to accept left a mark. I couldn't yet see the fighting, as I was behind the crowd, but I saw Laurent make his way out of it to welcome me personally. Arms spread wide, he caught me in a strong embrace and pushed me toward the crowd with an arm around my shoulders. The crowd parted as he came, and the cheering had stopped. Some of the prisoners carried tattoos too, but none as many as Laurent or his few underlings.
Avoiding the stares of short fused men around me, I focused on the area which was a flat stone at ground level, stained with layers of accumulated dried blood that had never been washed from it. A man stood over the other, panting heavily as he spat his victim's nose onto the ground. My heart sank when I saw the other man stand up, blood pouring from the hole in his face, only to collapse again.
What the fuck.
“Reality doesn't impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”
- I still could not believe my eyes; and as the victor was escorted out of the ring after a thundering round of applause, a guard stepped decisevely onto the ring to drive a spear into the loser's chest, hoisting him up into the air for all hungry eyes to see. The stakes were clear then, and Laurent squeezed my shoulder. The look he gave me asked for forgiveness, but the smile that accompanied it made me feel duped. Next thing I knew, I was urged onto the ring in front of an opponent that I should have expected.
My feet scrambled onto the stones still warm and slick with blood and my knees buckled. I could take a beating, sure, but this wasn't about endurance. This about overcoming the desire to live of another man, so that I might survive to see another day. Was my life really worth more than his? Duval taunted me with insults I could not comprehend, but that his friends in the crowd reacted to with laughter. He was confident, arrogant, and the sight of his smirk set fire to the anger I had grown so accustomed to suppressing. Perhaps I thought I would enjoy seeing him impaled on a spear like the last fighter.
I had to believe that, there was no way I could fight without anger. It was all that I had.
A guard signaled us to begin with the slam of a gong, and Duval hopped closer, eager to clobber me with fists. Lost, I searched for Laurent in the crowd and surely enough he stood at the front row, winking as he raised his left knee and clasped a hand over it. Before I could make sense of the gesture, a group of knuckles pummeled my jaw and sent me rocking back. I felt no pain aside of anger's poison, urging me to retaliate. When my eyes glared back at him, I saw the hesitation in his. I fed on his doubt. The kick I aimed at his abdomen did not reach him but I noticed he favored his right leg when dashing back. Laurent's silent whisper suddenly made sense. Duval was injured.
I stepped closer, the world around me fading away. No crowd, no prison, nothing. Just Duval and I. His balance was weak and I instinctively dove in his direction to topple him down onto the ground. He reached for my eyes with fingernails, struggled to push me off of him but I wrapped my hands around his throat and channeled my suffering into him. I felt relieved when the light faded from his eyes.
There was no impalement. The body was discarded like trash and the heat still burned in my fingers. Just a pat on the back from a few hooligans, along with slab of raw meat as a reward. Part of me was stunned, the other rejoiced in the power that I took, power that had been taken from me along with all liberties. I felt liberated.
But of course, every form of liberation is bound to become another form of enslavement.
Later that night, I shared the meat with Azazello, who was beginning to look almost as starved as I was.
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