Sterk was eight when Gaedren butchered his parents and forced him into slavery. As big as children twice his age Sterk was quickly put to work as a bully/enforcer to keep the rest of Gaedren’s lambs in line. For five years he was forced to “recruit” and pressed dozens of orphans into Gaedren’s service. He quickly learned that holding back on corrections brought swift retribution upon him from Gaedren himself. He despised Gaedren and took delight in knocking the children unconscious as quickly as possible, if only to deprive him of there tortured screams.
As the years past Sterk grew attached to a few of the slaves he had been forced to punish, a pair of girls in particular, cousins he had become especially fond of. They had showed him kindness in spite of their current relationship, and he had grown to admire their strength & stability.
“You guys have been through enough” Sterk said, his emotionless expression detailed the severity of there situation. I want you two out of here before something bad happens.
“Come with us” pleaded Busa, the older of the girls “If he finds out you let us go he will punish you”.
“He can’t hurt me anymore” smiled Sterk as he brushed the dark curls from Busa’s face. He should be in bed by now, run home & don’t look back. Sterk watched as the girls made their way down the fence line & out of sight. He turned and quietly snuck back to the moldy straw cot he had slept on for the past few years and drifted off to sleep convinced he had done the right thing.
The kick to his ribs woke him from the first restful sleep he could remember in months. “We have some escapees’” sneered Gaedren get up! Sterk groggily rose to his feet
“Should I gather some lambs to go hunting” asked Sterk? Doing his best to disguise the joy in his voice.
“No need” chuckled Gaedren “We already have them” he said coldly as he enjoyed the look of shock on Sterk’s face. “I want you to disperse some punishment; we can’t let the other think you’ve grown soft”.
“Na, No” stammered young Sterk, “We are not soft”. Walking into the common area of the warehouse Sterk’s heart sank to his stomach. Busa and her cousin were beaten and stripped of all clothing; dangling precariously by their wrists over “the pit” he knew Gaedren had already gotten his answers.
Sterk had seen this form of torture before, hang the victim up and begin flogging them. The blood would flow down into the pit which housed Gaedrens large and particularly aggressive pet alligator. The alligator would go into a wild frenzy as it smelled fresh blood, and would begin thrashing around in the pit at the thought of live prey. He had seen adult men offer up their children for a chance to escape this peril, if these innocent girls were going to make it out alive he would have to save them.
“Let’s take turn’s cutting at their ropes” Gaedrens smiled pulling a rusty dagger from his belt. “If you cut through your rope first, you get to keep the girl on the end of my rope, but if mine falls first ...well we’ll get to that.
Sterk took the rusty dagger from Gaedrens hand. More of a tool than a weapon, it looked as though it have never been sharpened since the day it was forged. “I will take the raven haired beauty” Gaedren said gesturing towards Busa, the other is yours. “You may begin when you are ready”.
Sterk made a slow deliberate cut across the rope. Only a few threads gave way, but he had to figure a way to stall. After his cut he walked over and extended the rusty blade to Gaedren, “Oh, no thanks I will use my own” as he produced silver, pearl handled blade of magnificent craftsmanship. I have never lost with this baby. Slicing into the rope with expert precision Gaedren was ¾ of the way through with one slash. Frozen in horror Sterk’s mind went blank. How to save her the only way was to win, if he won he could keep her. Turning he slashed as hard as he could through the rope. With a scream the young girl fell down into the gaping maw of the alligator below. Sterk couldn’t watch, he turned to face Gaedren “I won” he said choking back tears.
“Great” Gaedren exclaimed, “first time I have ever lost”. “You must have really wanted that win. Well as promised you get to kill mine”. Steping back he gestured to what remained of the rope keeping Busa suspended above the pit.
Sterk stood confused “but you said I could keep her”?
“What? No dear boy I said you could kill mine. Why would we want to keep her, nothing but trouble this one I can tell”.
Sterk shuffled over, his eyes locked on the thin cord holding the life of the girl. Busa the only person in the last five years to show him an ounce of kindness had her life in his hands. All at once Sterk lunged forward, still clutching the rusty blade he jabed out narrowly missing Gaedren’s throat. Side stepping, apparently ready for the attack, Gaedren slid his own blade along the shoulder and down the back of his young opponent. Dropping to the ground Sterk could feel blood from the deep wound running down his back.
“No one betrays me” Gaedren screamed. Let this be a lesson to all of you pointing to a large group of children that had begun to assemble. “I own you, you will do what I tell” His statement cut short by the rusty blade biting deep into his upper thigh. Gaedren staggered back screaming out in pain.
Sterk looking to free Busa, rushed over and began working the pullys loweing her back down. All at once he was blindsided, breaking glass and fuel oil erupted as the Gaedren hurled a latern catching Sterk in the side of the head. Flames quickly began to spread as the oil coated Sterk’s face. Trying to smother the flames he wraped his cloak around his face, but that only added fuel to the fire and soon his clothes were writhed in flame. Fearing the end he took one last look Busa if only to remember her face in the afterlife. As he reached out hopeing to touch her one last time the partially cut rope now engulfed in flames gave out. Sterk watching through the flames of his burning face, never broke eye contact as Busa dropped into the darkness of the pit below. “Looks like I won” Cheered Gaedren, as he shoved the distraught Sterk into the pit after Busa.
Closeing his eyes Sterk wanted to die. The flames had severely burned the side of his head and face & the blood loss was beginning to drain his strength. As he plunged into the darkness he closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable. He slammed into the back of the alligator as was immediately deposited into the filthy water the creature inhabited. The cold water was a shock to his system, dousing the flames it jarred him back to a very serious reality. After suffering a serious knife wound, severe burns, & falling into the pit he did not want to be eaten by an alligator. He readied for the attack, however the alligator wasn’t moving. Still holding the lifeless corpse of Busa in its jaws the creature had been knocked unconscious when he landed on it. In the bottom of the pit was a large access drain. Summoning what strength he had left Sterk forced open the gate and swam out through the opening.
He floated through the storm / sewer drains for what seemed like hours. Drifting in and out of conciseness, he traversed the labyrinth of tunnels and pipes. He was snapped awake by a high pitched scream ahead. He had no idea how much time had passed hours, days he did not know. He hurt, the burns on his head and face made any movement excruciating. The gash on his back did it’s best to remind him of its presence every time he took a breath. Still something was happening & he couldn’t stay in the sewer forever. Paddling ahead he saw a crude iron rung ladder leading up to what looked like a formidable iron storm grate. He could hear sounds of battle from above as he cautiously began to climb. It took every ounce of strength he could muster to slide the reinforced grate aside and emerge from the sewers.
Staring in shock Sterk could not believe what he was seeing. A half dozen guards lay dead 15 feet away and ahead of him a Skelton advancing upon a young raven haired girl. He though his eyes had betrayed him It was Busa. Perhaps she had not died as he had thought, perhaps she had escaped, come here to look for him. No, he shook his head as if trying to erase a bad memory it couldn’t be could it? The skeleton swung a wide arc smashing the mace into girl’s ribcage. She crumpled to the ground in a heap the pain nearly unbearable. The undead raised its weapon intending to deliver the death blow.
Sterk new if he didn’t act, Busa was as good as dead. But he was unarmed, he needed a weapon fast. The fallen guards was his first thought, too far away he could never get a weapon in time he looked around for anything, anything he could use to fight off this terrible creature.
Every muscle in his body strained as he lifted the iron storm grate above his head. Calling out to Gorum for strength he brought the heavy grate down accost the head of the skeleton fracturing its skull & crushing most of its spine. He collapsed onto the pile of bones as his vision began to fade. He could barely make out the voices of reinforcements arriving on the scene. “I saved her this time” was all he could mutter before he slipped from conciseness.