The slavers began the trek back to Trickfoot clan with their four prisoners in tow. They unnetted the shaman and tied all four of them together. They put Zyx in the lead followed by Nyx then Kevnos then Nakbor in the rear. Each was also gagged because although the goblins were not clever creatures, they knew enough about shamans to gag them lest they be cursed by their god. They had cruel, crudely crafted chains that bound their hands and legs and linked them together. The clatter and clang of the chains as they shuffled across the stone made a noise that swallowed all others and also hurt the captives’ ears and head. It was by design so that they would be easily heard should they try to flee. Besides, it tended to prevent slaves from moving too much to minimize the racket.
The slavers were behaving as though they did this sort of thing every day. In fact, they did. It was their job and they were skilled at it. Two of them, including the leader, lead the procession, the slaves were next, chained together in a line, then the final three slavers in the rear. They took turns taunting and kicking the slaves. They laughed and spat at them while they assailed them randomly. In fact, the randomness was part of the strategy. Not being able to anticipate an attack kept the slaves on edge always. They had to remain ever prepared for a beating, but that was emotionally and mentally exhausting. Whenever the slavers saw one of the captives with his guard lowered, then an attack was usually quick to follow. It often drove slaves mad with anxiety.
When their captives did not move at the pace they wished, they whipped at them. The cruel whips snapped against the boys’ flesh and the cuts stung deeper than the wound betrayed. Often times the slavers whipped at their slaves’ feet making them leap in the air to avoid the blow which usually sent the cruel goblins into a wild laughter. It was a grueling walk filled with beatings and constant attacks.
When they stopped for the night, the goblins chained the group together in a loop so that if one wanted to run they would all have to follow. In reality it would be near impossible for them to escape. The coordination necessary to get away from their slavers was not usually attainable by such creatures. So, they remained seated while the goblin slavers ate, rested and mocked their prey. They offered the slaves no food and only quick sips of water. That only added to the torment. Not only were they in chains, but their bodies were soon low on energy from lack of food. In just the first day the thoughts of the slaves devolved from escape and retribution to food and water.
When the slavers did allow their captives to drink they began with Zyx. The young goblin flinched as the slaver stretched out a hand with a water skin. When Zyx cowered, the cruel goblin laughed at him and hopped about for a moment. Zyx slowly leaned forward and the slaver pulled the rope from his mouth revealing burns at the corners of his lips. The slaver squirted some water quickly at Zyx’s face, but the water came unexpectedly so it sprayed into his nose and eyes. He coughed and squinted while he shook his head then sneezed. The slaver pulled the water skin away and rolled on the stone floor laughing with pure joy. The others too cackled at the sight. Zyx, eyes wide, frantically tried to lick whatever water he could from his face and opened his mouth wide trying to catch some. In the end, he managed only enough to wet his lips and nothing more. The slaver replaced the gag immediately.
The slaver in charge of water then moved to Nyx. He removed the gag and Nyx, although smaller than his captor, stared directly into his eyes. The slaver did not appreciate the whelp’s courage and he punched him in the stomach which doubled Nyx over. The young goblin straightened up quickly though and regained his defiant stance. This time the slaver paused a moment to consider his slave and then, with a faint feeling of respect for the whelp’s strength, held up the water skin and then began to squirt it downward. Nyx opened his mouth and swallowed the stream of water all the while, keeping his eyes locked with his captor’s. The drink completed, he replaced the rope in his mouth then moved on to the third slave.
Kevnos was neither afraid nor brave. If anything, there was a feeling of resignation. He was no stranger to the way of goblins and so he knew the routine. The slaver slapped his face then removed the rope from his mouth. He taunted him then sprayed water at him which the ranger drank up efficiently. The slaver replaced the gag then moved on to the final slave.
The moment the rope was removed from Nakbor’s mouth he began to recite a curse. The slaver was not new to the career however and he immediately head butted the shaman in the nose causing it to break and burst with blood. His eyes watered, and tears streamed down his face as he fell to his rear. The slaver pulled his whip from his hip and began whipping the shaman who could not see his attacker for the stream flooding his vision. Kicks followed the whips until Nakbor moved no longer and then the rope was replaced in his mouth.
With the slaves watered, the slavers formed a circle and enjoyed a meal together laughing and mocking while having a fantastic goblin time. Nakbor laid in a heap on the ground without moving barely awake and more of a trance than any other state. Zyx was slumped into a squat with his hands holding his knees to his chest. His mind raced, and his muscles told him to run and if for a moment his chains were unclasped he just might bolt. Nyx stared hard at Kevnos who avoided the gaze that bore into him like two daggers. Fire simmered in the young goblin’s stare looking for something, or someone, to consume.
When the slavers completed their meal, they fiddled with the equipment they recovered from their prisoners including the totems. They were a little apprehensive about the shaman tools but had enough experience to know that they would probably be ok to fool with the blood covered bones. When they picked up the smaller and fresher one, the tiny hairs on Zyx’s neck stood up. He felt a spirit within. His fear was momentarily in check and he was able to slow his thoughts. He felt a pull from the totem and so he calmed his mind and slowed his breathing until he drifted from the physical world into the spiritual.
Zyx’s spirit floated from his body and to the totem. He could feel a spirit tied to the totem, but it was obscured.
“Spirit,” Zyx called, “I no hurt you. It safe. Talk me.”
The young shaman concentrated and waited. He heard a soft sobbing and focused on the sound. The sound morphed into an image. Zyx saw a diminutive goblin woman cowering and sobbing. He hardly recognized her in her poorly defined foggy form, but intuitively, Zyx knew it was his mother.
“Mother? You here?” he asked her.
“Son? That you?” the grieved goblin mother called out to her son. “You no dead is you?”
“No, I live.”
“Why you here?”
“I feel you.”
“No sure. You spirit with bones.”
“Bones? He have bones? My bones?”
“They you? You dead?”
“He kill me.”
“Shaman. He want you and brother. He kill me when you leave. Take my bones. Blood. Spirit.”
The words, the truth, hit Zyx like a sudden gust of ice cold wind. It knocked him backwards and back into the temporal world. He screamed and tried to crawl away from the leg bone held in the slaver’s hand. They stared at him in his panic and for a moment considered whipping him into submission but somehow the tiny goblin trying to crawl away in spite of his chains struck the slavers as hilarious and they burst into laughter falling backwards and rolling all over the ground.
Nyx looked to his brother and wanted to do something about his pain and panic but could only watch. Zyx shook his head and stopped screaming. He locked eyes with his brother. “They kill mother. That her leg,” he whispered with his mind.
Nyx bit the rope in his mouth tightly and glared from the slavers, to Kevnos to Nakbor. The smoldering flame in his eyes stoked into a raging fire.