I woke up and tried to stretch. My shoulders were jammed up against the rock on one side and my legs against the other. My wounded shin was in total agony but that wasn’t what suddenly made me cry out. The crevice that I was in was filling up with water. I struggled, grazing my shoulders as the skin split against the rocks. “Help! Gloria!” I yelled, wriggling. The water was just underneath my chin by now, icy cold and numbing. I suddenly wished I could make the black rocks around me hiss and melt like Gloria’s hiccups did. I remembered the dream that I had had last night – I had seen human slaves chained away with pickaxes against dark walls in chambers with molten rock flowing in rivers below, cascading down the walls of a chamber built of diamond containing utter blackness and fear. It had recognised me and I had flown, far far away into the night, the blackness of midnight becoming the brightest white compared to the hatred in the dark harbouring it. They were getting closer, the slaves, sweating away in the heat and the darkness, they would have died long ago from the heat but for the Salinerca holding the heat at bay with their icy frozenness that a person to the deepest depths of their heart. For in that place, the Salinerca can form and are pure Salinerca, purely evil. I shuddered and took a deep breath before the water covered my nose and I couldn’t breath. I hated water - it was wet and horrible. I struggled against the rocks and my tunic tore again, pain ripping into my back from the rocks as I struggled to stand up and get my head above the water. It worked; my head rose above the water once again. I pulled myself out of the crevice and sat on the side of the rock. The water was roaring past furiously and I was now several feet from the bank, to get to it I would have to move through the seething mass of water. I felt a warm ache in my back, as well as trickles of burning liquid and removed the reamins of my tunic. Examining what was left of the back of it, I saw the jagged rips through the skin and, evidently, through my skin too. Wincing, I threw the tunic away and swung my legs round towards the bank. The water had almost covered the rock now and it was attempting to take me with it on it's journey down the hills. I carefully stepped down into the water, searching for a rock to stand on and immediately felt the current pushing my legs out from underneath me. I kept my balance but as I attempted my next step, my wounded leg fell out from under me and I was swept into the centre of the now raging river. The change in temperature was instant and i felt myself swirling around under the surface. My back was stinging, as were my legs but I managed to pull myself to the surface and take a breath before sinking below the water once again. With my eyes screwed shut, I tried to pull myself upwards but to my horror, my leg stopped moving, a tremendous force pulling on it. I came to a halt, halfway below the surface. I tried to reach down to untangle it but only succeeded in entangling my hand. I just couldn’t see and I didn’t want to open my eyes in the crystal water. I opened my eyes and looked down at my hand as I carefully untied the weed from my hand and leg. I kicked back up and my leg became tangled again. Frantically I pulled upwards, not caring if I got hurt again as I desperately tried to get to the surface and breathe. My boot came off and my foot slipped through the trousers and out. It gave me just enough distance to get to the surface and breathe but the water was still rising and my other leg was still trapped in the trousers. I dived and reached for my boot, undoing the bindings and watching it float away before pulling my leg out of the tangled trousers. I span round and round under the water, caught in the current, scraping against rocks. All I was wearing now was a cloth loincloth, which was even less protection than the tunic had been. I struggled to get to the surface before my lungs burst but to no avail. I took a breath, my lungs filling with water, before my head smacked against a rock, my last thought before blackout was a mental shout, ‘Gloria!’.
*Thump* *Thump* the thumping continued. It had been going on for quite some time now and I just wanted it to stop. I was so tired, couldn’t they just leave me alone? My body was in agony all over and I just wanted to rest, fall into the blackness and forget. The thumping stopped and then lips pressed into mine and air coursed down my throat, into my flooded lungs. ‘Jack, c’mon buddy, wake up’ a voice came down into my consciousness as the thumping started again. Then I remembered the blackness and the slaves and the Salinerca and suddenly the darkness didn’t seem so inviting. I pulled towards the voice and felt the thumping on my chest, bruising it. I rolled onto my side, suddenly coming to life as I was violently sick, throwing up all the water from my lungs. My chest hurting, I coughed and retched again, trying to breathe in. I gasped and rolled onto my back again, groaning and squinting up at the blurred person above me. A green scaly head came into view and bared its teeth in a weird grimace. “Good to have you back, Jack”. I blinked and everything was sharp again. Gloria was standing over me, as was a male human. Finally, someone to do what I wanted! Then I remembered my tunic and trousers. I was wearing only my loincloth and I was really cold. I shuddered and the man, catching my face, grinned and pulled a second tunic out of his pack. I tried to sit up but then the world span round and spat me back out onto the floor. I groaned and started to slip back into the dream world as the man helped me sit up and pull the tunic over my head and bleeding, bruised back. ‘It’s ok Jack, you’re going to be fine, I’ll look after you.’ I slipped back into unconsciousness as Gloria’s words echoed in my head. Dreams whirled around my head, dreams of torture and being worked in the fields of darkness, dreams of wolves, vampires and the undead swarming around cities made of gold, trapping a girl inside, a girl who I knew and cared about, more than I had ever cared about anyone, even Lisa. And then I had to go and rescue her, fighting through demons that didn’t die until there were no more of them left. I was running through the devastation of the city, hoping that I wasn’t too late to save her. Running, running, run… I woke up, covered in sweat. I was wearing a tunic and trousers and somehow felt much stronger than before. My chest still ached and I had cuts everywhere but I was warm. I was lying on a blanket on an earth floor underneath a hut. There were sounds outside, happiness and dogs barking, people running round and laughing. I groaned and tried to sit up. I made it onto my elbows before having to stop to let the dizziness pass. A green blur shot into the hut and landed on my chest, pushing me back down onto the ground and winding me. “Stay down, Jack, don’t go out of the hut, don’t move and whatever you do, don’t say anything!” Gloria warned, digging her claws through the tunic into my chest. She was a lot bigger and a lot heavier than before and I was struggling to draw breath. A man came inside the hut and glanced at Gloria and me. I was starting to feel light-headed from lack of breath and my chest was struggling to rise. “Gloria…” I croaked, “Why?” I blinked, struggling to keep my eyes open and thought I caught a glint of guilt from her as I slipped into darkness.
“Can’t I just let him wake up, Jacob? He saved your life! I don’t feel right hurting him” I heard Gloria whine as I came back to my senses later on. The laughter and playing had stopped and I guessed that it was now night. “I saved his life too, dragon, that makes us more than even. He’s probably brought death to more humans than saving me is worth. The fact I saved his life and am harbouring him in my hut is more than enough, he’s lucky to get that, if it wasn’t for you, I’d have left him to die, especially if he’d had red eyes like earlier. He can stay here until he can walk, then he has to go. If I was found helping Ifacle scum, no-one would be glad for my escape. Count yourself lucky” The man said, rather gruffly. I groaned and opened my eyes. Gloria was about half the height of the man, Jacob, but she was still a fearsome animal. They glared at each other for a second longer before turning towards me. Jacob scowled at me then limped to the other side of the hut. “He can stay awake for a while to get his strength up, and to have some food, but that’s it.”
“Get up, Jack” Gloria said gently as I started to ease my aching body up. “I’m sorry about your shoulder but I had to get you out of the water, it was either that or death.” I was sat up now, and found upon examining my shoulder it had bite marks going deep into my skin and down to my torso. There were fairly deep cuts all over my body, underneath various dressings but especially on my back. I was almost more scarred than a slave! It was as if I had been flogged by the water and the rocks. I was in agony and hungrier than I had ever been before. I pulled my tunic back on and tried to stand up. Jacob was by my side faster than I thought was possible for a man who was limping, helping to support me as I wobbled. My leg was causing me excruciating pain and I couldn’t put any weight on it. I leant on Jacob as he helped me hop over to the fire and sit back down. As soon as I was safe and not going to fall over, Jacob leapt away again. “I didn’t want you making any noise when you fell over, demon” he hissed at me. I ignored him, I was higher up in the sect order anyway, but I was still glad of the help. I reached out a shaky hand for the pot of food steaming above the low fire and grasped the serving stick, a long stick with a carved out pot in the bottom for scooping up food. I lifted up the scoop, full of slurry, and dumped it into a clay bowl by the fire. Having deposited the scoop back into the pot, I lifted the bowl to my lips and cautiously sipped the concoction. A warm liquid slipped into my mouth, scalding it and my throat as I gulped it down. Quickly I drank the rest of it, determined not to show pain in front of someone lower than me. I lowered the bowl and reached for more, pausing as the taste of the slurry managed to work its way through the scalded skin. It was disgusting. I was used to slurry at home, it was made up of water, scraps of Emik meat (an Emik is a strange 6-legged creature that is low to the ground and has a long snout, is very dangerous to hunt and deadly to breed in captivity.), and some dark wheat, grown in the fields. It was lovely. This slurry was disgusting, it was a sweet taste, with meat that tasted of juiciness and not sour, and there were slight seasonings in it that made it taste even worse. I pulled a face, but still took more, this time letting it cool more by pouring it slowly. I drank it, chewing on larger pieces of meat but didn’t get any more. I pushed myself up and Jacob was there to help me again. I hobbled round the hut, then shook Jacob off and tried to walk. I took one step, then put my bad leg forward and slowly put my weight on it. It screamed in pain and I couldn’t stop a small whimper escaping my lips but I put my weight on it anyway and quickly stepped forwards with my other leg as I felt it collapse. Jacob had grabbed hold of me again, supporting me. I saw a look of concern on Gloria’s face as I pushed Jacob back off and stepped forwards again. I took two steps before I collapsed. This time Jacob caught me just before I hit the floor, my arms braced for impact. I felt, rather than saw, Jacob glance at Gloria and her nod. I felt a thump on the back of my head and reeled, the world blurring, then I felt another thump and the world span but I still struggled against Jacob’s grip. There was a third thump and I sank into blackness, my last coherent thought a plead to Gloria and a feeling of deep betrayal. There were dreams again. I was using my will to heal, then to hurt, then I was a master sword master, then an archer, then I was in the middle of a battle, then I was stabbed in the back, then I burnt in a fiery hell, then I was in a dense forest with deadly creatures all around me, then I was falling, falling, flying, gliding with the air rushing past me as I flew, down, down, following the scream, falling, racing, gathering my will, then I was floating, blackness around me ‘Where am I?’ I asked as I came to my senses in the blackness, ‘What happened?’ I glanced around. I was stood up, and nothing hurt. There were no scars, I felt strong again. ‘Hello?’ The word echoed in the dark. There was a glint of colour ahead of me. I set out towards it. I got closer and the glint of colour became red then it multiplied. There were pairs of red dots around me. I was in a clearing in a forest suddenly, and all around me were pale-skinned, red eyed Ifacle, with whips and knives, splattered with blood. It was night, and I could make out bodies around me, human bodies. I saw Lisa in the silent crowd surrounding me. I was holding a blade, clean, unused. A stone whipped out of the Ifacle and hit me in the arm. It was the start of a flurry of stones, while, with a hiss, the Ifacle advanced. Down at my feet I heard a groan and looked down into someone’s face. A wave of relief swept over me, I wasn’t alone and she was still alive. The features of her face were blurred and she was obviously badly wounded. A stone whipped through the air and I looked up to see the Ifacle ever closer. I had to protect her. ‘Come any closer and you die, scum.’ I roared. The Ifacle stopped. Lisa stepped forwards. I couldn’t kill her, and she knew it. ‘You always were a little worm’, she hissed. ‘die’. Her blade raised and time slowed as I knelt to hug her. ‘I’m sorry’ I whispered as the world exploded in light.
I woke up with a gasp. It was morning and Jacob was just getting up. He had his shirt off and I saw the scars. This man had escaped. I remembered the limping man who I had let past me, just before I ran away. I remembered his face, with his expression of gratitude. Jacob. He glared round and I met his angry eyes before feeling ashamed and lowering my gaze. This man had suffered because of my sister and my people. And probably because of me too. I opened my mouth to say something, and then shut it again, feeling slightly stupid. Jacob came towards me and knelt down at my side. I shifted uncomfortably. “His name was Fahlil. He was my son, you Ifacle shit. You beat him and then he got picked for your precious ceremony because he had fresh scars, fresh bruises. He was 17. It’s your fault he died. He told me to run, to get away, so I have. He died because of you. And I have to look after you, when all I want to do is kill you.” Jacob held a knife to my throat and dug it in. I gulped. “I saved your bloody life, you murderer, for the dragon. She said she needed you, and you never disobey a dragon. I hate your filth. Don’t talk, don’t move or I will kill you.” He released the pressure and limped back to the fire, leaving me shocked to find out I was a murderer. I was laid on my back and I carefully turned my head to watch him. A word formed in my mind, a forbidden word but somehow it seemed fitting. I pushed the word out of my head and just watched as Jacob ate, his shoulders bent forwards with what I now knew was sorrow rather than humbleness. The word floated back into my mind. I had used it in the dream hadn’t I? What was wrong with it? I knew the answer, it was forbidden. But so was laughing. I had laughed. Jacob had told me not to say anything. My mouth opened, my lips forming the two words. “I…I’m sor… sorry.” I croaked, my throat hurting. Jacob froze. “I said not to talk, I meant it. Sorry doesn’t help, sorry doesn’t bring Fahlil back. Just shut up, ok?” he said, very slowly and with barely surpressed anger, “How dare you think that sorry will help!” I stayed silent and looked back up at the roof. Jacob came over and kicked me. “Get up! I’ve got to go out and you’ve got to be hidden.” I did as I was told as he frogmarched me into a smaller room. He threw the blanket on the floor and limped back out, pulling the cloth back over the entrance as he left. I stood for a while then collapsed onto the floor. I leant with my back against the wall and closed my eyes, drifting off. I woke a while later to children playing outside. I could hear feet running and animal calls as they played. Then I heard another cry “lets play Ifacle and humans!”. There was cheering about this idea. I listened as there was movement outside then I heard counting, as there were feet clattering. I heard movement inside the hut. They got closer. A shadow appeared on the cloth and got bigger. It reached out for the cloth, and I remembered Jacob’s words. If I was found… ‘Gloria’ I thought, ‘ help!’, As the cloth was drawn away I heard a second sound enter the hut. There was a girl stood in front of me, her head looking at the hut entrance. I tried to blend into the wall in case she looked back round. “What are you doing, human?” Gloria’s voice rang out. “You know Jacob doesn’t want anyone violating his space”. The girl lowered her hand and the cloth dropped back down. “Go!” Gloria snapped and there was a patter of feet as the girl ran out wordlessly. Outside there was still counting, I reckoned that the girl would manage to hide in time. Gloria stuck her head under the cloth. “ok?” she asked. I nodded sheepishly. “well done by the way, saying sorry to Jacob.” She grinned “it wasn’t the best thing to do at the time, but you’re learning!” Again I nodded. She waited. “I…I guess that I didn’t get it right. When can we leave?” I asked. Gloria looked slightly worried. “we can’t, not for a while. I have to help out more before we can go. You were out for several days, I grew a bit as you can see. Obviously I ate food, and I owe them payment for that food.” Gloria explained. “You should be able to help soon too. But only in this hut.” I nodded wearily and she smiled and touched my forehead with her scaly nose. ‘sleep’ she whispered in my head, ‘everything will be ok’.
The blackness held me. I was held in pure darkness by cold hands. I opened my eyes but there was no change. I tried to pull myself out of the grasp of the hands; again there was no change. Then it changed. A demon appeared, standing several feet tall with muscles like an ox, casting a glow, blood red, onto me. “Worthless worm” it boomed, and it stepped towards me, causing the blackness to rock and sway. “I shall rip your heart out and feed it to a thousand Emik, you are a blot on the name of Ifacle” It moved towards me. I stood spellbound as it came closer. It reached out a claw and traced around my heart. I shuddered as it drew back a hand. It thudded a fist into my face, causing my nose to start bleeding and I spat blood, suddenly panicking as I tried to wriggle free of the cold hands binding me to the spot, my trance broken. The other fist slammed into my stomach and I retched as a third fist rammed my chest then a fourth hit my eye and the left-hand side of my face. My head rolled, and I was glad of the hands that were now holding me up. The fists were each the size of my head, and they thudded back into my body, cracking ribs and any bones that they found in their way. I retched and coughed up blood, it was all down my front now, from my nose and my insides that felt like they were now spilling up out my throat. I was hit once more and lost consciousness, gaining consciousness in the real world. There was blood all down my front and I was lying flat on the floor. My whole body was in total agony and one of my eyes was swelling up. I blinked and made out a reptilian face alongside Jacob’s, both looking at me with concern. Jacob’s hand was over my mouth so I realised I must have been crying out. Looking slightly shocked, Jacob slowly removed his hand, which was by now covered in blood. I was still half in the small room and Jacob gently lifted me up and carried me through onto his wooden cot. My head rolled and none of my muscles would respond to my control. I coughed again and more blood came out. I kept my mouth open and tried to speak but all I could do was gape. I felt myself slipping back into blackness and pulled myself out with a jerk. There was a dark hole in my mind and it was growing. I wouldn’t be able to stay out of it for much longer. ‘Gloria, what’s happening?’ I asked in my mind. ‘I don’t know Jack, but I’ll help in any way I can. I think it’s magic…’ I slipped and fell into the hole. I was back in front of the demon “You can’t get out that easily” it cackled, drawing back a fist. I wriggled and to my surprise I fell free of the hands as a fist rushed over my head into the space I had occupied moments before. The demon roared as I was on my hands and knees coughing up blood. I tried to stand up but my leg still wouldn’t support me and I fell back onto the floor. I attempted to drag myself away but the demon put its foot on me and pressed down. Its foot covered the whole of my back and I could feel my bones struggling to hold my body’s shape. I tried to push up against the force of the demon’s weight. My arms struggled and I was suddenly aware of the cuts on my back in terrible pain. I cried out in agony and knew that I had tears streaming down my face. I wriggled and the demon released its weight. I realised it was playing with me but I didn’t care. I lay still and fell through the blackness back into light. There were tears on my face, something that, before I ran off, hadn’t happened for a long time. My eye was swelled beyond belief now and Jacob sat by the side of the cot, mumbling. It would appear that despite his hatred for me, he still didn’t want me to die. I felt myself falling back into the dark ‘help!’ I called to Gloria. “Oooh, help help!” mimicked the demon, “poor little baby!” I groaned and tried to move but everything hurt and I could no longer block out the pain. The demon reached down and lifted me up by the back of my neck. “now you die”, it said simply, smiling cruelly. It pulled out a claw and dug it into the flesh by my heart. It slowly increased the pressure and I could feel it cutting my skin. I had a sudden vision of the demon exploding and a word started to form in my head. “K…m…a……ki…m…ra……kiyi……me…ra……kiyi-mera…kiyimeara!” I shouted out the word, pushing all my strength into the image of the demon exploding. The demon howled and let go of me. I lost conciousness as my body bounced onto the blackness and slid through it, my last glimpse a swelling demon.