Aldar's End

As my dagger clattered against the flagstones I became aware of the pain in my right hand. Feigning a collapse, I dropped to my knees and rolled towards my misplaced weapon. I got a finger to it, but Aldar's foot got to my hand first.
Pain. Funny how you can go through most of your life experiencing pain, but it takes one minor scratch to really focus your mind on the experience. Aldar's heavy boot, pressing against the cut on the back of my hand that caused me to drop my dagger, became my world, my all. And I willed it to end.
The human smiled down at me, thin lips pressed together and high cheekbones even higher. The light from the torches shining on his bald head, matched only by the light of his own malevolence peering from his eyes.
"My, my, little vulpin." The human said, pressing harder with his boot. "You are a slow learner, are you not?"
I stammered in a vain attempt to say something witty, but the pain in my hand and my throat simply killed off the creative process. My free hand reached up to touch my throat, it had begun again.
Aldar noticed this as well. "Family problems giving you pain?" He simply asked.
Again, I stammered. The roar of fury simply choked up in my throat. I felt something crack in my right hand as Aldar placed his entire weight on that foot in order to kick me in the armpit, sending me rolling across the floor and away from my pitiful dagger.
As I rolled to my knees, my gaze fell upon the weapon. Yes, it was a pitiful shiv; crudely made out of a blunt knife shaped and sharpened to a point with a strip of cloth for a handle. Yes, I would prefer a long sword to anything that I could make with my bare hands and a stone wall; but the only sword in the room was being held by the human slaver advancing on me. Yes, I really should have thought this whole messy scenario through fully before even attempting to take on a better-prepared and larger target.
However, Aldar had to die. He had to die for my people. He was a slaver, and had imprisoned us for far too long.
I barely remembered my days back on Welstar; undoubtedly I was too young for any memory to consolidate itself in my mind. It was an alien planet, and yet one I wished to return to. I had once been happy.
When Aldar and his group of slavers arrived at our village, that all changed. He had taken me and my family as well as the rest of the village to somewhere where we lived our lives in abject misery.
The men and boys were often sold as labour. Not that we vulpin are particularly strong, but those sent away had to learn how to be. A worse fate awaited the women - Sold into prostitution, often to humans with depraved tastes.
And then there were those like me. Aldar himself had taken a personal interest in us. He trained us to be fighters and thieves, cutpurses and throatslits.
My ancestry is a less than unblemished one, I admit. Years ago, one of my ancestors was one of the vilest murderers to terrorise Abarack. Leaving his pregnant mate behind one day for one final assault, whereupon he fell afoul of a particularly sadistic mage. Uncharacteristically, the mage sullied his hands by personally slitting my infamous ancestor's throat with his own knife.
Magic is an unusual thing. When that man's progeny was born, she had an unusual black mark across her throat, where the final drop of blood in her father's body had escaped. Since then, all those in my line had been born with that mark. A curse, for during times of trouble and strife, pain radiated from that mark.
It had been something I had lived with all my life. I had learned to ignore the pain it caused, I had to.
I stood, clutching my hand and seeking a new angle from which to attack.
Aldar smiled and tapped the tip of his blood-soaked blade against the floor. In combat training, that was his usual signal that he was ready. "Well then, child." He snorted. "Are you ready?"
No, I wasn't. It occurred to me that, while Aldar had taught me everything I knew about fighting, he had refrained from teaching me everything he knew. I was nowhere near his match in ability, all I had on my side was my small size and tenacity.
"This hardry seems fair." I said.
"Oh, but you've been very disobedient," He replied, his melodic voice reminding me of times when he chastised those failing in their training. "Does disobedience deserve fairness, Schrau?"
"And what of sravery?" I asked.
"It is an existence." Aldar sighed. "One that is no better nor worse than any other. You will learn that, pup."
"What if I berieve otherwise?"
"You will learn..." He intoned, before glancing down at the knife next to his boot. "You want fair?" He asked, kicking the weapon towards me. "Take your knife then. Take your blade and make the same mistake your ancestor did."
Slowly kneeling down, I scooped up my blade.
"You've been gone for a long time, Schrau." Aldar said, hinting towards my escape. "I've been waiting for you to emerge from whatever hole you hid yourself in. Waiting, but far from idle." He grinned, raising his sword. "Will you bleed as easily as the others?" He whispered, before lunging at me.
I gasped as the blade penetrated my ribs. The thin blade missed my lungs and liver, but still added to the constant pain I had experienced almost since birth. I was tired, hiding in empty rooms waiting to pluck up the courage for an attack on Aldar had taken a long time living in sheer terror. Now I wanted to sleep, to rest, but to do so I would have to dispatch the one obstacle to my freedom.
"Tell me," Aldar grunted as he twisted the sword. "Were you planning on just running, or were you actually going to come back for your people?" He laughed and withdrew the sword. "Not that it actually matters now."
I whipped my arm out in a wild, left-handed swing; catching the human on the throat without much resistance. I had expected Aldar to tumble backwards, or at least step aside while reeling from the blow, but instead he just stood there; gingerly touching the thin trickle of blood oozing from the light cut on his neck.
"Hmm," He mumbled, gazing at the blood on his fingertips. "I don't suppose the irony is lost on you."
"The irony is that I was never any good with knives!" I yelled, charging at Aldar and driving the blade deep into his shoulder. Aldar screamed, drowning out the clatter of his sword against the floor. With a shove, I pushed him down.
"You insolent..." Aldar began as he tore the dagger out of his shoulder and discarded it.
"Not the smartest thing to do, Ardar..." I whispered as I picked up his own sword, brown with the blood of my people. "Even a shiv makes a good weapon in a pinch. Not as good as a sword though..."
Aldar growled and pushed himself backwards, rolling to his feet and drawing a thin stiletto knife from his sleeve. "You have failed in your duties, pup. You should never allow a downed man to get back on his feet."
I nodded. "And you faired as werr." I said. "Who was on the froor with a boot on his hand?"
He smiled wanly. "Then we're even."
"Nowhere near so."
Again, Aldar lunged, but due to the pitiful range of his new weapon it was simple enough to dodge. I swung again, meeting naught but metal.
His dagger, like his sword, was a finely-crafted piece of weaponry. Unlike the crude shafts of metal that the rest of his outfit wielded Aldar had taken special care of his expensive weapons. The stiletto was as strong as any sword and just as capable of blocking a wild swing. As I tried to push him over and away, Aldar smiled and planted a solid fist right between my eyes.
"Pray that you do not have any offspring, child." He muttered, advancing. "For I will give you so many marks that your children will be black."
I chuckled, and this surprised me. Having been raised in a dank cell shared with my mother for the last seven years I had found little in life worthy of a chuckle. My life had been wrapped with despair, to which I responded often with cynicism. Nevertheless, I laughed. "So you mean to keep me arive?"
"You are a useful tool, Schrau." He responded. "I never dispose of anything that might be useful."
I glanced at the cracked dagger lying on the opposite end of the room. "Then we are both fairing your teachings, master Ardar."
He followed my look. "So I see."
I lunged, or rather feigned a lunge. Aldar sidestepped and parried the strike that would never be as I rolled my wrist and cocked the blade across my shoulder. Almost in panic, Aldar managed to get his blade to meet the strike that would have surely decapitated him.
He kicked me again, a simple lift-kick into my gut. Not sufficient enough to wind me, but I still found my concentration jarred. I rolled forward and, anticipating his next move, thrust the sword out behind me. I was greeted with the sensation of metal penetrating flesh and, sparing a glance backwards, saw my borrowed blade deep in his right thigh.
His face was a rictus of equal rage and agony. Aldar attempted to step back, to free his stuck leg, but I simply refused to allow him to escape so easily. I twisted the sword, feeling its sharp edges grate against thighbone, before thrusting backwards and then levering the hilt. My reward was a wet cracking noise and Aldar stumbling backwards as his one leg could no longer support him. I freed the sword from flesh too torn and frail to contain it and spun on knee and heel, slashing at the back of his left knee. Now neither leg could support the human slaver's weight and he tumbled backwards.
I stood and pressed my heel hard against his wrist, feeling bone and joint give and refusing to budge until paling fingers released the dagger.
"You are right," I told him as he looked up at me from the floor. "I am a srow rearner. But the important thing is that I actuarry rearn." I raked the tip of the sword along his throat, in the face of the protests from my own neck, and watched the blood this time flow free.
He gasped, blood filling his lungs with every breath instead of air. Aldar continued to force himself to breathe despite the fact that it was a lost cause. Even as he pressed his one good hand against his ruined throat his wheezing became more and more pitiful. Nevertheless, he managed to find enough air to gasp a few final words.
"She... Suffered..."
Leaving the miserable excuse for a human to die, I snared the keys from his belt and ran towards the cellblocks. Usually, the halls would be filled with moans of sorrow and pity, but was silent save for the crackle of torches and the steady drip of something running down the walls. Blood smeared the hall, and I observed a grim progression from the first cell at the end of the corridor where the trail was but a few drops to the cell at my right, where a streak a foot wide ended.
Unlocking the first door with trembling hands, my gag reflex was pushed to the very limits as I tried in vain to recognise the mangled carcasses huddled in the corner. We had been placed two to three in a cell, families together, and as I gazed in horror at the vile display in the corner of the cell it became crystal clear that a mother had died protecting her children.
One by one I checked each cell, hoping and praying that there would be a survivor, someone to bring out of this miserable pit. My search was in vain, and as each cell was opened my throat tightened.
I came to the last cell and hesitated. I knew that, one way or another, there would only be one person in that cell.
I knew that cell. I knew every single brick on that wall. It was my home, a home I shared with my mother. I raised the final key to the lock.
She had told me to run. Run and never look back. But how could I? Someone had to figure out a way to free these people, to kill Aldar, to make him suffer for his crimes. My escape had been hasty and ill-planned and backed by every spirit that now roamed these halls. My own people elected me to be the first one to leave here by my own bidding, and now my escape had cost them their lives.
It was a waste. One escapee was not worth the slaughter of all the slaves. Aldar could have simply moved them all elsewhere, especially since it would take me time to find out where I was and where to go to for help. That was why I remained, I knew that I couldn't get aid before Aldar moved his entire operation. No, he had not killed my people for any sane reason.
The ring of keys tumbled to the ground, even to this day I cannot recall the sound they made. For the first time in my entire life, I felt numb. I could not open that door, for I knew what lay behind it. Not the steady breathing or frail arms of my mother, but a mausoleum.
I cast aside the long sword. I would have nothing further to do with Aldar. I threw the sword and with great satisfaction I heard it shatter against the wall. True, Aldar's men still stood between myself and freedom, but I could get by with cunning and wits. Aldar was the brightest of a very dull lot, and after outwitting that fiend I felt that nothing could stand in my way.
Others had been taken from this desolate place over the years. My own people, waiting to be freed, to be found. I would look for them.
And I still am.