Bogleech.com's 2019 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Shakara
Ioyal strode through the dunes like a dark monolith of jet, the convoy lagging behind him.
He stood atop, scanning the horizon silently. Connie groaned as she surmounted yet another dune. They had been walking for days. She looked behind her, the others walking after her. Slaves, every last one of them. Ioyal was a slave-trader, and a horrible person through and through. He cared not for suffering, only wanting to deliver the pathetic, pallid wretches to their destination. Workers in the palace, be it cleaner, chef or concubine.
The days went like this. Ioyal would walk with inexplicable strength, and wait for the slaves to follow. Death march, Connie said under her breath, deafened by the desert wind. The sand stung her face, her thin robe doing little to stay together. Some of the others had lost their clothing entirely, their skins almost burnt to black by the uncaring sun. There were 14. There had been 32. Before that, 50.
Are we all that’s left?
Occasionally, Ioyal would allow them a rest at a rare oasis or town, and let the convoy eat. But not well. Barely enough for a human. Ioyal filled his canteens with water, hidden under his long, rolling robe. She’d seen him drink from them, the metal shining under his wide, conical hat. In the setting sun, he resembled a statue. Even as he slept, he seemed to know if one of the slave tried to escape. Fian had tried to escape. Somehow, he’d managed to work a hairpin into a lockpick, and sprinted into the desert. Of course, Ioyal wouldn’t allow that. Fian lagged at the back of the convoy, pulling back on the long chain.
Connie looked back. He was walking much lower, drooping like a wilted flower. Ioyal halted the convoy, walking back to the boy as his stave thudded into the sand.
“What’s wrong?” he asked sharply.
“I can’t walk on…” Fian moaned.
Ioyal looked to the horizon. Connie followed. There was the palace! But still a long walk away. No oases or towns. Just more sand. Connie felt she would die if she kept on walking. She slowly got to her knees, the chain pulling at her hands. She wanted to lie down, to sleep.
The robe-clad menhir of a man folded his arms. “You can’t just stop. You have to keep walking.” Fian slowly slumped to the ground.
“Please… We’ve been walking for so long!”
“Feh.” Ioyal sighed. “Hard luck. If you kept walking, we’d have water. I only have one canteen left, and I can’t share it with all of you.” In one swift movement, the metal container was brought to his shadowy face. “Now there is none. Walk if you want water.”
“But we need to drink…” Connie shuffled over to Fian’s body. He wasn’t moving. Had he fainted? He stared at nothing, his eyes heavy with fatigue.
“Well, we have no water.” Ioyal shoved her aside and unlocked Fian’s chains. He withdrew a blade from his belt and held the boy up, his eyes dazed and rolling as he woke slightly, fearful but unable to fight.
“But we do have blood.”
The noise as Fian’s throat was cut was horrible. Connie turned away, her head feeling like it would explode. She held her breath for fear that she’d start screaming. She put her hands over her ears before the sounds of the convoy slurping could reach her brain. Too late. The knowledge was in her head. Looking didn’t help. Ioyal didn’t even move, just watched the convoy drink their fill, like a group of deer gathered at a lakeside.
Her throat felt like sandpaper, stinging mercilessly. She didn't have the strength to cough.
You can’t walk to the city if you don’t drink something. She scanned her surroundings. No oases. No coconuts. No caravans, wells, towns, abandoned provisions- hell- not even a single animal. She’d gladly drink the blood of a bird or a Fennec. A scarab? A worm! A maggot! Anything but Fian. Not Fian! Please, not Fian! Please!
Xalan looked up from the ledger. Had the new shipment arrived? She watched as the silhouette strode out of the desert and through the city. Yes, it was certain. Ioyal had come.
She rushed down from the balcony and out of the tower to the plaza. There was always demand for new slaves these days, especially with the new emperor. More work to be done. Glory to be had. A future to be built.
Adjusting her scarf, she walked to the dark man and began to count her coins.
“… 13? Hadn’t there been more?” Xalan was certain that the town of Skal had offered more than that.
“They were weak. But these ones aren’t. Rest assured, though they may seem small, their spirits long for life. They’ll work for you however you want, just as long as there’s bread and water.” He slipped his hand into a hidden pocket and brought out a canteen of wine. A secret celebration.
“The Aphot Empire thanks you for your service, Ioyal.” Xalan smiled, filling his palm with gold coins.
“Hm.” He just nodded.
“And well done on getting some girls. Dancers are in demand for the festivals. Say, this one is rather nice.”
Connie stared blank-eyed into the horizon, unresponsive as the convoy were led away. The chain guided her as if she were a puppet. Xalan analysed the ruby tint of the young girl’s mouth.
“Huh. I did not expect the people of Skal to wear ochre on their lips.”