Everley's bed was hay, piled high in the barn. And so well did he sleep that he didn't notice the curtain of sunlight wash over him, or the stirring of creatures around him. At long length, groggy with a full nights' worth of sleep, he returned hazily to consciousness. He blinked his eyes several times, clearing his vision, then sat bolt upright in sudden fright. A pair of birds perched on the trusses above him flew noisily into the sunlight raining down from holes in the roof. A family of barn cats fled at his sudden movement. Crickets halted their songs.
Everley swung his head around at the noises, uncomprehending. Where were the other combatants sneaking upon him to steal his belongings? Where were the Slavers dressed in heavy armor come to beat him for his laziness?
They were gone—left far behind along with the city. He was in an old barn. He had to remind himself of this. It was like waking into a dream. All of it seemed surreal, made more-so by the intensity of the sun beaming down at him through the cracks in the boards so high ahead. He never recalled the sun blazing down with such light before.
A soft, helpless mewing of creatures brought Everley's attention away from the sunlight above. To his left, as he turned his head more slowly he saw the family of barn cats returning to their home in another pile of old hay not far from where he slept. Four or five little ones, utterly helpless to the world around them, ambled around aimlessly whilst the fat mother slinked back towards them, all the while mindful of their large new neighbor.
This simple exchange between the felines he watched fascinated Everley. Never before had he seen the interactions of simple creatures beyond the primitive actions shared between slaves and Slavers. Here in this barn, ignorant of the world around them, rest this family removed from turmoil, free to do their own will.
It was laziness, perhaps, that they had the luxury of lying around without having to defend themselves from predators. But as the mother was able to bear and raise children, Everley wondered which had the right of it: the strengthened brutes defending their very lives on a daily basis, honing their skills, or the pregnant bitches far removed from the world to raise young.
Everley could attack them and prove himself the better. He could show the world that living always in fear of one's life and exercising one's own abilities was better than the lax behaviors of rearing children. He was monstrously larger than them, after all.
And so Everley stood slowly, the old hay sticking to his wide, naked back and leather loincloth. He stood, stretching and taking his time in his confidence. As he did so, his stomach growled, reminding him of another purpose in proving himself the better over this fat, lazy feline those kittens called mother. It had been so very long since he tasted fresh meat.
Everley approached, step by single step, and the mother eyed him angrily. She hissed, raising her heckles and inflaming her tail. She backed away, wrathful, hissing all the while, then eventually leapt behind the hay pile, leaving her defenseless babies all alone. They were unable to flee—unable to even understand the need to flee just yet.
Everley squatted over them, leaning down low on one paw to watch their reactions. The kittens, five of them Everley saw now, ambled near blind in a tight group and simply mewed hungrily at him instead. It didn't matter that he wasn't their mother, nor even a potential enemy. They were hungry, thus they demanded sustenance from him. And who was Everley to cater to the needs of these creatures? How dare they demand any service from him! He had just left tyrants who had forcefully demanded everything upon him!
He could kill them for their insolence, he knew. Everley could lift all of them in one single paw and crush the life from each of them. The mother could do nothing but watch from her hiding place where she had fled.
But they were ignorant of this, too. Everley reached his paw down at them, and they nuzzled it and feebly tried to bite at his finger as if trying to suckle it. Perhaps they could not tell the difference between the fur of their mother and the fur of his paw. Perhaps they didn't think to even care. He was there, so they suddenly loved him for it and treated him as their mother.
Such strange creatures, these.
Deciding to leave his challenge hanging in the air, Everley arose and strode from the barn.
He crossed the derelict field, entered into a stream, stripped, and bathed. As he lay down on the river's grassy bank, the feeling of water running over his entire body was invigorating. It was chilled only enough to where he could feel his entire body respond. He dunked his head underwater, causing him to feel as alive as he did upon the arena floor, fighting for his life.
His fur was dirty and matted. Lines streaked through his fur across his body, parting it to either side like miniature canyons. These were his scars from battle, the deepest of them stretching across his chest and a few lighter ones punctuating his face. His leg bore one such gash stripped clean of fur. It had healed not so long ago when a great big oaf of a Horsekin plunged in a lucky strike of his blade. He remembered that Horsekin's name was Conall. And that he was a half-wit.
Everley lay just under the water, exposed for the world to see, while he looked up at the sun filtered through the water he lay underneath. Submerged, he thought of times not so long ago when his life was normal and he wasn't being thrown headlong into this new life, wherever it should take him.
He tested how long he could hold his breath under the water, for no better reason than he could. They had never provided him this much water in the pits under the arena where he lived. A bucketful of warm, dirty water a week was what they allotted him. And if you weren't careful, some fool of a Savage would splash the entire thing on himself before you could bath with it. Or if he were desperately parched, he might try to drink it.
Here in this stream, the water was endless. It was cool to his touch, and the sun above warm on his fur. He began to see why in a world like this, a world of freedom, a simple, pregnant cat could afford to be lazy.
He stayed in that water a great long while until his stomach eventually urged him to go wandering. He emerged, his fur soaked and dripping wet. Gone was the soil and dirt he carried from the arena; his fur seemed to actually change color in the sun—from a dirty, dark brown to a lighter, almost radiant tan. He reacquired his long loincloth, scoffing for a moment at how filthy it was compared to his body now, then set out for the woods.
The creatures of the wild, much like the cat in the barn, refused to meet his challenges. He strode between the trees of the nearby forest, roaring heartily at the air around him and waiting stoically for any prey to face him.
They never did. Any wildlife that may have been in the area fled at the noise he made. Birds scattered upon his approach. Squirrels shimmied away up trees. Nothing larger than that even appeared into his view.
He stayed in that forest until the sun was well overhead. At times he stood and waited, other times he ambled aimlessly about. Leaves and twigs cracked and snapped under hoof. He enjoyed the sensation, and the power he had to crush foliage and branches under his weight. But, similar to when he was running from the city the day before, his exploits weren't assisting him in his endeavors. Any creatures that might have been in the area heard his approach and were long gone before Everley could ever see them.
Frustrated and hungry, Everley slouched out of the woods. The forest was too terrified of him to meet his challenges, and yet he was the one who had lost for not having found and slain any food. What a strange place this was, with its own odd rules. His victory against the forest caused him to lose by not eating. Perhaps the years in the arena had skewed his view of the world.
So Everley retreated back across the tall weeds of the field to approach the small homestead next to the barn. He pushed on the door, causing the lock to snap apart under his weight. He ducked through the doorway, remaining slightly hunched over in order to fit through the house.
He found the kitchen dusty and covered in spider's webs. A quick exploration of cupboards yielded packs of flour with mice holes in them, decayed fruits, and bags of salt, sugar, and pepper dust: all untouched by time. He drew them out, opening each and sampling them on his finger. The arena had never afforded them spices on their meats. The sensation was new, and the flavors interesting. The salt was bitter by far, but the sugar and pepper dust were intriguing so he kept sampling them like a child enjoying candy.
Back out in the yard, Everley paced the borders of the farm land to find wild things he could eat. Apples and pears hung plump and in season, which Everley grabbed handfuls of. Rows of greens grew from the soil in lines, which Everley pulled up and sampled experimentally. Beets, carrots, and horseradish he found waiting for him. He wasn't concerned about washing the vegetables first: this was perhaps the first clean soil he had eaten in his life.
Later on, he found vines of grapes and strawberries growing wild.
Full of the wild things he had found to eat, Everley returned to the stream to lie underneath the water and soak in its refreshing chill.
As the sun began to once again hang low, he returned to the barn and the family of cats he found within. He stepped lighter this time, mindful of the birds above and the mice hiding in the corners. He sought to disturb the wild things less with his presence this evening, though he couldn't name his motivation for doing so. Returning to his claimed bed of hay, Everley lounged away the remaining day—the first day of his freedom. He lounged it away like the cats he watched not so far away. The mother eyed him back, but apparently didn't find him to be such a threat lately. She allowed her kittens to feed and would go out to hunt periodically.
A day like this would cause him such severe beatings in the arena. But not here. Everley looked forward to feeding off the plants and doing nothing once again tomorrow, and the day after and all the days after that. He could live like this for the rest of his days, never having to do an ounce of effort again in his life and be happy.
He slipped his eyes shut as the light failed. He drifted into blissful and dreamless sleep upon his heavenly bed of hay.
The following day, however, would prove to be much more eventful.
The day was marred even as Everley woke by the sounds of distant shouting. His eyes shot wide open in an instant as he recognized the type of creatures making that shouting: Slavers. They had come for him. After only a single day, they were coming to take him back already.
Everley would die before he left this world of streams, rivers, and endless relaxation. He shot to his hooves in an instant, paws balled into fists. He wished he had a weapon on him.
The birds themselves seemed to feel the tension growing in the air and took flight. Even the feline mother, the very one who had abandoned her kittens as this great big bullkin approached, now dragged her kittens away in her mouth, one by one. She tucked them around a distant corner and out of sight.
Nothing stirred. The wild things he had enjoyed and grown accustomed to hearing were absent. They must have known trouble was coming.
Everley strode to the entrance, peeking around the corner to judge direction and numbers. He guessed their numbers to be around six. And they approached directly from the west. They were behind the tree line yet so Everley saw nothing but the scattering of birds as they approached with their shouts and their loud armor.
They were close now—nearing the edge of the property. Everley watched intently with eyes squinted as the tree line became disturbed. The bushes lining the fields began to shake, and danced aside as they...
No. Everley leaned forward, trying to concentrate on what he saw. What emerged from the tree line was no army of Slavers seeking his head upon a stick, but a Savage. Another of his kind. And young—so very young.
She was a felinekin, her fur dark against the backdrop of weeds she ran through. Everley was shocked by what he saw. How could any other Savages have fled that city behind and made it so far? How could a Savage so young have made the journey? And how could a woman, no, a little girl have made the journey on her own?
But no, Everley saw that he was mistaken. The tree line ejected another such Savage, also felinekin, who ran just behind her. This one was taller, older, and also female. It had been a long time indeed since Everley had witness a woman, little lone two women running directly towards him. They must be after the shelter of his barn.
And behind them erupted the army of Slavers, giving a close chase and closing in quickly.
Through the fields they ran, as fast as their legs could take them. The younger ran quicker, ahead of all the rest, but with her head turned back constantly. The older ran steadily forward, turning back only occasionally—Everley guessed that her cat-like ears could tell her everything she needed to know about the proximity of her pursuers.
They had entered the derelict fields now. The girl was well ahead, and the other was running some distance behind. The six lightly armored Slavers were nearly upon her. Closer they ran on foot, closer did their spears and swords get to biting into her pelt.
Everley heard the taller one cry out, seeing the inevitable even before it happened. “Portia!” Her voice carried with it a desperation that only youth could portray. From that single exclamation, not so far from where Everley watched in hiding, he could hear her panic and despair for a loved one.
Their fur, calico grays and browns, were very similar, leading Everley to believe that they were related. But he didn't get much more opportunity to witness the older one's fur before: “Fayre! Run!” she exclaimed before the Slavers were upon her. They knocked her forward, causing her to sprawl out hard against the soil before Everley lost sight of her amongst the tall weeds.
“No! Portia!” exclaimed the younger, Fayre, as she watched in horror at what the Slavers were doing to her behind the weeds. She had stopped running, so typical really, and had turned back to watch uselessly. Three of the Slavers ran after to pursue her, and they wouldn't be long until they were upon her position. All too late she began to run again, clearing the fields and crossing the short grassy yard—directly to Everley's position.
“Gods' damn it, she's leading them directly here!” Everley exclaimed angrily before pulling away from the door. His ears told him everything he needed to hear about their approach. He could expect to have company within seconds.
He looked around in quick desperation for an impromptu weapon and found, laying half concealed beneath a pile of hay, a long metallic shaft, bent at the center. He pulled it free in a rush, disturbing the hay pile above it. It looked somewhat like an implement used in a larger farming machine but he had no time to study it further.
He turned back to the door, the thick metal rod in his head, just as this felinekin half his size rushed blindly forward into the barn and stopped dead in her tracks, staring up with stupid confusion directly into his face. The shock of seeing another of her kind in here, where she was clearly expecting to hide briefly then be taken away by the Slavers regardless, was clearly so great that she had forgotten that she was still being pursued.
She didn't forget for long. The Slavers charged through the doorway, just as blind as the young felinekin. The first one wrapped his arms around her torso, keeping her arms down behind his grip and crushing her body with his armor. She jumped up in fright and surprise, then tried to shake him off. He was much stronger, preventing her squirming from doing any good.
What they were both forgetting in that instant was that three feet in front of them stood a very pissed off nine foot tall bullkin with a large metal rod in his hands. The Slaver looked up, the felinekin securely in his grip, to stare just as stupidly into Everley's face as the felinekin had.
That was before a quick and forceful swipe of Everley's metal shaft twisted his head around. His grip loosened on the felinekin and his body fell to the ground in a clash of metal.
The other two Slavers chose that moment to charge headlong into the barn, not expecting an enormous bullkin to be charging right back at them. The echoes of metal clashing onto metal rang throughout the yard, causing the other three Slavers to look up in the direction of the barn. They called out, but received no response.
After a brief moment, Everley heard them approach the barn, bringing their prisoner with them as they came.
Everley fixed a stern look toward the young felinekin before pointing with his blood-streaked rod to the back of the barn. She stood there, fixed on him like he were some kind of mythical being, and didn't move. Irritated, Everley strode towards her and forcefully shoved her in the direction he had intended her to go. Picking up on the signal at last, she ran and hid behind the hay and pallets of lumber.
Everley could gauge the progress of the other three outside by listening to the cries of the captured felinekin.
“Fayre! Fayre, run!” she cried over and over again until the Slavers beat her into silence. They were nearby, just beyond the wall of the barn Everley reckoned. He stood just inside the doorway, back to the wall with his improvised weapon at the ready.
The first of the Slavers peeked his head cautiously into the barn to look. Everley slammed it down into the ground with a quick swipe of his rod.
Foregoing the captured felinekin, the other two charged in with swords pulled. Everley faced them off, beating aside their meager sword thrusts with three times their strength. Their swords dashed easily off of his steel rod, rendering them almost useless. They stuck down at him in unison, and Everley used the bent part of the rod to trap their blades on the ground for a moment, long enough to swipe at both of them with a hardened jab. They staggered back from his punch, their swords left in the dirt, and Everley proceeded to beat them over and over again, through their steel and leather armor, through their metal helmets and breastplates. He brought his rod down on them without mercy, beating each of them until blood spurt from beneath their armor with each blow and the dirt itself was dirtied with crimson. He beat them until their helmets were disfigured, their chest cage was shattered inward and their limbs were broken and twisted. He beat them like they had beat him, ruthlessly and without mercy, as often as they liked. He did to them a small measure of vengeance like he wished he could do to the rest of their horrible race.
The two Savages stood nearby, holding each other close as they watched in horror while Everley exacted his animalistic revenge upon these people. Everley only stopped when these was little more than a fleshy, bloody pulp inside a beaten metallic shell. Heaving great breaths, his eyes afire with rage, he dropped his gored weapon and turned to the two cowering felinekin. Where once they had feared capture at the hands of their pursuers, they now feared even more-so this raging demon covered in the blood of his enemies who had just finished beating their corpses in his rage.
And it looked like that rage was not yet subsided.
Everley strode suddenly towards them, and they reflexively took a step backward.
“Thank you for... uhh...” The older felinekin trembled as she spoke, terrified.
They were afraid of him. As well they should be. Was he not Everley, the mighty bullkin who has bested even the Slavers of Stonetide and had defied all odds in running away to his freedom? Should they not be fearful of him?
Everley looked down at them, seeing them stand before him small, defenseless, cowering at his stature. It had been so long since he had had the pleasure of even seeing a woman, so very long since he had felt a woman around him. And here two of them had walked right into his new life, bringing with them the opportunity to beat a few Slavers to death. Surely the gods were blessing him this day!
He lurched forward, casting the younger one aside. He grabbed a hold of the older felinekin's arms, pushing her back and down into a pile of hay, pinning her body down underneath his.
Even more terrified, she began to shiver in fright beneath his frame, and feeling her trembling underneath his body only fueled him all the more.
“What-what are you doing? You can't do this!” cried the felinekin in desperation.
“I can't?” raged Everley, his paws running up and down her feminine body. The dirty traveling dress she wore was thin and lifted aside easily. “I can do as I please!”
“But you saved us! Why are you doing this?”
“You ran here to me!” shouted Everley, drops of spittle flying from his bovine lips as he shouted. “You brought those Slavers here, to my home! You intruded upon me in my new life! And it has been far too long since they gave us any women to have in the pits underneath that stinking arena! Do you have any idea how long it's been for me? You ran here to me, and you shall not deny me!”
Overpowered, the bullkin had her pinned at the arms and legs with four times her weight. She could do nothing but tremble, looking down to watch as his dirty paws trailed up her thighs and his loincloth lifted itself higher than she thought possible for a man.
“What about Fayre?” cried the felinekin. Everley glanced over briefly to see the younger standing only feet away, knees bent and trembling as her hands squirmed together in front of her. She stood there, only watching, too terrified to act or speak or run away.
“She can watch!” Everley exclaimed. “I bet the bitch is raw, anyway! Needs a few lessons on how to...”
Everley laid there, his face lifting up to focus on something a hundred yards away. He stopped moving, and his sentence hung unfinished in the air. His expression turned suddenly distant as the rage and blood lust drained slowly from his face.
His mind turned itself back to a distant time, when they were all still in the pits beneath the arena. Whenever someone acted up in the prison where they kept their fellow Slavers, they would always threaten them with a visit to the Savages' pit beneath the arena where they would spend a night. This threat usually kept them in line. But sometimes it didn't, and the guards had to act on it. These were special days for the Savages. The guards would open the portcullis and throw down the offending Slaver amongst their midst for the Savages to do whatever they wished. If they were lucky, it was a woman, and they would spend their entire night filling her holes to their satisfaction. And since it was months and sometimes years going between these visits, the many Savages always had quite a lot of 'satisfaction' to get out of their system, often times repeatedly.
If the offending Slaver was a man, the Savages would either spend all night beating that man to a pulp in frustration for not being a woman, or find a hole anyway and start pretending.
It was rare for a man to live the night in their presence.
But on one night in particular, the Slavers had given them a special present: a Slaver girl, not much older than the girl standing away from him in the barn. She was young, supple, and full of spite. It was clear that she was a rebellious one, which was no doubt how she had found her way down in that pit in the first place.
She tried fighting at first, but resisting against a dozen muscular Savages three or four times her weight only served to excite them further. An energetic and youthful one, she was a special treat for all of them, and Everley was just as keen as Conall, and Ghoulbine, and every other Savage down there to have their way with her and pump her full of spunk and manmeat. Two or three at a time, they forced open holes not meant to spread that far and beat down upon her without mercy. Her shouts and her tears did nothing to slow men who had been without for so long. Nothing could have stopped them. Any of them. They filled her, drained their sacks, then left her open for the next one in line. After a little while she only lay there and took it, hoping they would finish soon and leave her to crawl slowly into a corner and die. But the thirsts of the Savage men were unquenchable, and they returned to drink several times that night, even if they had shot everything they could and had nothing more to give. They still kept on with the motions, mindful that it would be months or years before they would get another one like this.
They all had her—Everley was no exception. He had her just as hard and as fierce as the others. Who was to blame? Was that not why they threw the troublemakers down at the Savages? So she could be raped and beaten into submission to fear and obey the law?
Long into the night the abuse lasted. Eventually, everyone could no longer keep the motions up and sleep finally overtook them all. Come morning, the earliest risers went to her and found her lying against the wall of their cave. They prodded her, manmeats out and ready for a return session this morning. But when they turned her over, she was cold and dead.
They had killed her in their greed and lust. Beaten to death by men three times her size. And they had all taken part, Everley knew. He was not beyond the judgment of her death. Slaver or no, she had been so young—a beautiful creature, really, Everley realized in the light of the morning. Long blond hair flowed out from her into the dirt. And her skin was soft, silken and perfect but left bruised and beaten by their own abuse. She had been beautiful, so full of life and vigor and energy. And they all took that from her. Everley laid beside her, smelling her hair and feeling her arm where the bruising was the least. He looked at that face, a face marred and beaten and abused by him and everyone else there, and he looked upon it to remember it. He lay there for hours studying her face, her body, to remember it before the Slavers came and hauled her corpse away. He would remember what they did to her. Even if the others counted her as just another plaything to abuse, Everley would remember this.
And as they took her the night previous, as Ghoulbine started in with the abuse, his eager manmeat held inches before her then untouched flower, back when she still had the will to fight them, he had cried out:
“I bet the bitch is raw, anyway! Needs a few lessons on how to hump a man right! What do you say boys? Let's teach her how real men do it!”
Bringing Everley back to the present—to the girl lying trapped underneath him, same as the poor girl they had all humped to death back in the dank, foul pits beneath the arena. That was no way for a woman to die. And this was no way for him to act now. Doing this would make him no better than Ghoulbine, or any of the thousands of Slavers around the city that raped and abused their Savage slaves daily, maybe even hourly.
He looked down at her face and saw the face of the dead girl, with lifeless eyes staring back at him, accusing him of murdering her, just the same as the rest of the men he hated so much had also killed her.
Morose, feeling suddenly foolish, Everley's head hung low with guilt in his eyes. He backed away, releasing the girl and slumping down on the dirt nearby. The felinekin lay there a moment longer, then quickly jumped to her lower paws and ran to the younger felinekin. She grabbed her than ran for the door, stopping just long enough to deliver a surprisingly painful kick to Everley's loincloth on the way out. He grimaced, holding himself until the pain subsided. By the time he looked up, they were long gone.
Escaped Savages no different from he, Savages he had just rescued from certain capture, had just fled from him in fear and anger. Suddenly he was no longer as proud of himself in his new life here.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Everley arose. He brushed the dirt from his legs with care, then took a good look around the barn. He knew more Slavers would come seeking these six he had slain. In his head, he thanked the barn and its creatures for tolerating his existence for as long as they had. But he knew that his time here had ended. It felt like it was time to move on from this place, to continue further from the city before he was overwhelmed with Slavers come to take him back.
And so he left, taking with him memories of his first home as a free man. Gathering with him fresh-growing food, he walked slowly and methodically into the wilderness, continuing east. He walked in the footsteps of the felinekin, following them into the wild.
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