Zeke stared around coldly, watching as people moved away from him, as if they were afraid of catching a contagious disease. His ribs and jaw ached from where he had been beaten, but he didn’t let it show.
“You shouldn’t have come with me,” Zeke said in an undertone.
“I like walking around in the village,” Steele replied. Zeke scoffed, his hand shooting out and catching a rock before it smashed into Steele’s face. Steele’s expression changed and it seemed as if he was about to say something.
“Let’s just get what we need and go,” Zeke said, his voice ringing out harshly. He stormed down the street as people and horses parted on either side of him. Zeke tossed the rock up and caught it, trying to bide his time before he reached his destination. He finally stopped in front of a street vendor where he was supposed to buy food. He chucked the rock away watching as it bounced off the roof of a house and clattered noisily into the gutter.
“Let me talk to him,” Steele said, shoving Zeke away from the vendor. Zeke sighed and let Steele do the talking. Steele was adored by the village, unlike Zeke. Their differences were plainly shown by what they wore. Zeke’s brown pants were faded and torn. Most of the pockets could no longer hold anything. His shirt was in similar condition. It retained its black color, but the sleeves were gone and the bottom was ripped up. Zeke had two daggers clipped onto his belt, their scabbards also worn and shabby. His only other article of clothing was a midnight black cape that nearly touched the ground. The cape was in perfect condition, without a single rip or tear. Only on special occasions did Zeke don the cape. Zeke’s hair was jet black and straight. When lying flat it covered his ears and touched his nose. Now it was messy as if he had just woken up. Steele looked completely different. He wore new clothes without a stain or tear. His pale blue pants fell down over his ankles. His torso was covered by a baggy white shirt that was stylishly oversized. Steele wore shoes that were made from a stretchy grey fabric; they had been a gift from the villagers. His hair shone an unnatural white. It was combed down and laid flat on his head. Zeke and Steele were opposites, but somehow got along. Zeke was covered in grime, and Steele had recently washed. Every villager hated Zeke from the deepest pit of their souls, but would open their arms for Steele without a second thought.
Zeke gripped the handle of his dagger and felt the familiar grooves dig into his skin. This small comfort managed to settle his nerves.
The village was small, and made out of a mixture of wood and stone. There was no organization to the buildings. The people were rather poor, but labored hard to support each other.
Steele finished purchasing the supplies and walked over to Zeke.
“Let’s go,” he said, making sure Zeke was following.
Zeke quickly caught up to his friend and matched his stride. Zeke watched as clouds drifted across the blue-grey sky. The early spring weather was warm, but the breeze brought the nip of cold. Everything was constantly wet as the seasons tried to reorient themselves. New leaves were growing on the trees whose skeletal frames were disappearing as the branches were coated in a rich green. The village ended abruptly, leaving the dirt path to cut through the trees. The trees were actually a barrier. They kept everything that happened on the farm a secret from the villagers. There was no archway as they crossed into the farm. Only a single, twisted, black, metal pole thrust into the ground. Another pole could be seen twenty feet to the right and left, they encircled the farm, preventing escape. As Zeke passed the pole the black collar around his neck shook. It was an electrical current that resonated with the poles and made escape impossible. There was a sensor that could tell if the collar crossed an invisible line. If he had received permission beforehand then he could cross, if he hadn’t then he would be electrocuted. It was a system made solely for him. No one else wore the thin strip of metal around their neck.
Zeke observed the rows of trees that would soon turn into an orchard bearing many different types of fruit. They came into the clearing where the buildings were located. Steele pressed a thin metal device into his hand. It acted exactly like a bag but it held all the items in a different dimension. There were many different variations of the item. Each could be used for different things. The most expensive was a type that could hold anything that you asked it. Even food would stay preserved. Of course it was customizable in any shape, size or color. Zeke closed his hand around the device and headed for the largest building. Steele turned and headed into one of the smaller buildings.
“State your business,” the guard said not even looking at Zeke.
“The supplies that Master wanted,” Zeke said, almost mockingly.
The guard jumped, as if startled of Zeke’s appearance and nervously nodded. Zeke opened a small compartment next to the door. Carefully he placed the device inside and closed it. “Supplies for Master,” he spoke and a little red light flickered on and it binged. The metal storage device would be teleported to the room that the Master was in. He had a different box for every room. It didn’t take long for a reply to come.
The light turned green and Zeke read the message. He was to return to the building at 21 hours, until then he had the time to himself. Zeke nodded and turned away. Free time was a luxury he and had nearly six hours to himself.
Zeke hurried into the building that he had seen Steele disappear. Inside was stuffy and dark. The dim lighting was just enough to see Steele leaning over a bed. He peered over Steele’s shoulder to see one of the other slaves panting heavily. The boy was sick, but the Master didn’t care. The boy would be exempted from work for a day or maybe two if he was lucky, and if he wasn’t back then he would be punished.
Zeke turned from the room and quickly exited into the fresh air. In a sense this place was a home, albeit unforgiving and harsh. The slaves toiled constantly and without break. Not a single person ever thought of leaving or disobeying an order. It was where they had been raised. Zeke found himself atop a hill that looked down upon part of the farm. Below kids were rushing around planting new seeds that would begin to sprout once the weather settled itself. Zeke lay on the grass feeling the uncomfortable prickling of the stalks on his arms. He turned his head to see a little flower struggling to grow in the sea of grass. Zeke reached out and ripped it from the ground. He held the yellow fluff above his face and pulled off a single petal. The destroyed dandelion was whisked away on a current of air.
“What a horrible world,” he muttered to himself. The strong devours the weak and the rest are simple tools. Zeke glanced at the grass that continued to annoy him. In a single movement he sat up and tore a handful of it out of the soil. This was his prison, the rolling hills, thick forest, and the acres of farmland. It all linked back to the magic collar that circled his neck. No one had ever told him that the collar was magic, but there was no other reasonable explanation for how it worked. Zeke had peered in through the Master’s windows and noticed little devices that helped out. Magic was the only explanation, even on a excluded farm as this one.
Zeke rolled back onto his feet trying to find an output for his anger. He trotted down the hill to where the kids were working. He was completely ignored, it made sense of course. To them it seemed as if he got the most freedom. All they ever saw him do was go down to the village and gather supplies. To them it must seem as if he was getting treated specially. “Just another curse,” he muttered.
A boy stopped and looked at him his hands holding a basket. “If you're gonna get in our way, at least help out.”
Zeke stared at him and the boy hurried away. Zeke watched as the boy disappeared into a shed. The harsh snap of a whip made Zeke’s head flick around. A man was standing above a little boy who couldn’t be older than eight. The boy’s feet were cut and bleeding from traveling across the dirt and rocks all day. It looked as if he had stumbled.
Zeke watched as the whip descended again and the boy threw up his hands to protect his face. Zeke dragged his feet across the dirt toward the boy. The guard pulled back his arm once more to whip the boy.
“Don’t,” Zeke growled.
The man looked up at Zeke and did a double take. Zeke still wore his two swords at his waist, and his glare was frightening. “Nev’r seen you ‘round, what do yuh do?”
Zeke met his eyes and let a faint smirk play across his face. “Kill people,” he whispered into the man’s ear.
The man flinched away and raised his whip at Zeke. “Do it, I dare you,” Zeke said staring straight at the whip. The man look one look at Zeke’s intimidating posture and dropped the whip. Zeke’s face flickered into a frown, at least a little fight would be fun. He drew out one of his daggers with a scraping sound. He tossed the weapon in the air and caught it so the blade traveled backwards along his arm. In a single lunge he held the weapon against the man’s neck.
Another hand flashed out and yanked Zeke’s wrist backwards before he could kill the man. Zeke spun around turning toward his second attacker. “Stop, Zeke, it’s me,” Steele said prying Zeke’s fingers from the dagger. Steele took the weapon and thrust it back into the sheathe on Zeke’s waist.
“I’m sorry for my friend,” Steele said bowing to the man. “You can report this to a guard or the Master and he will help settle the issue.”
The man only grunted and picked his whip off the ground. Zeke felt a spike of fear travel up his spine. He pressed his hand against his side. After the adrenaline rush the pain had come back, and with it was the memory.
The injuries on his ribs and jaw came from the Master and his guards. Sometimes to relieve stress the Master would allow a brawl. There were only four slaves that were trained for fights against the guards. Zeke was the strongest and no one would ever choose him, but the Master would send him into the ring with a handicap. He wasn’t allowed to even scratch the guards, while they could beat him bloody. The most recent fight had been less painful than most. The handicap was sight. He had been blindfolded, but this time they gave him his weapons and allowed him to draw blood. Being an assassin sight was not one of the senses that Zeke relied on. Zeke had beaten his enemy quite easily and instead only walked away with a few bruises. That wasn’t the only time he was beaten or hurt. If he ever tried to escape or harmed another person then he was punished horribly as well. Zeke’s only hope was that the man wouldn’t have the courage to tattle to the guards.
Zeke left Steele to the groveling and stormed off toward the forest. There were two forests inside the farmland. The small one kept the town and farm separate, and the second one was much wilder. Zeke hacked his way through the underbrush and made his way to the gurgling stream that cut through the trees. Once there he walked upstream down the familiar path. Soon he came to a thick tree its roots forming a little room below. Zeke sat in the dark and leaned against the uneven trunk. It was the sole place that belonged to Zeke alone. Not even Steele knew of this hideout.
Zeke enjoyed the shade of the tree. The darkness always calmed him. The bite of the necklace was the reminder for his submission. Although the fence posts only circled the farm, the collar was always active. At any single moment the Master could send a jolt of pain through his entire body. No matter how far he went the magic still connected. Physical pain wasn’t the only factor that kept him at the farm. Steele had complete freedom but he would never leave. He felt loyalty to the other slaves that were being forced to work. Zeke could never get far because of his friend. If Zeke didn’t return then Steele would get punished for Zeke’s mistake. The last reason was simply because this place was the only place that he had ever lived. When he was a child he had been orphaned and picked up. He was raised here and there was nowhere else for him to go.
Zeke blinked awake noticing that the light was fast disappearing. He checked the position of the sun, noting that he still had two hours left. He crawled from the alcove and slid over to the stream. He thrust his hands into the water and cupped them. He gulped down the water and stretched. He wasted the next hour staring at the little fish. They struggled against the current but were pushed back time and time again. Why didn’t they notice that their efforts were useless? The world was against them and the easiest path was to just go where the current took them.
Finally Zeke stood to go. He reached into the tree and pulled out his jet black cloak. He tied it around his neck and slipped through the trees. The night coated him and he slunk toward the Master’s house. No one noticed him as he passed only a few feet away. Steele was the only person to take notice. Even he squinted, trying to make sure that it was Zeke. Steele’s eyes focused on Zeke, but he turned away from the cloaked figure, looking ashamed.
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