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Sanguinesti Region, Penal Camp 23




         The overland trip to "The Mines", as the tithe lord had mentioned had been much longer than DiMarko had imagined. Time seemed irrelevant and the banal actions of each day passed in a blur. The throng woke as the sun rose, and trod across the cold ground, tattered rags covering their blistered feet. DiMarko noticed that the cart had only carried him to the edge of the city. He was made to walk, though, like the others. The gray army of primarily haggard-looking men and young boys staggered on until twilight, at times stopping to eat thin gruel served by a disinterested, scowling juvenate. Many were sick with the flux, and groaned, dripping the whole walk, running off into briar patches and dead scrub whenever a stop was made to relieve their inner pressure. Few dared stray from the path during the march, to do so was to invite instantaneous death from above. DiMarko saw more than a few souls, desperate to avoid a short but painful lifetime in the mines fling themselves from the column, only to be set upon by three or four Vyres, rending their flesh and reveling in the blood. When this happened he would look down at the shoes of the man in front of him, and whimper.


          Conditions continued in this manner for several days. Many had died on the way there, but at length they finally arrived to their charnel destination. The cragged spire of stone rose before them from the muck, radiating a soft blue hue of dim light. Penal Camp 24, DiMarko would later learn, was what this place was called. Horns sounded upon their approach and the flying Vyre guards fluttered down to ground level to escort the prisoners into the opening maw of the camp. DiMarko shuddered at the size of it. Hewn into the very flesh of the stone was the Camp. Hundreds of small, bar-laced holes dotted it's exterior, but no light emerged from them in the twilight. DiMarko felt numb, and cold.


         The throng entered into the massive structure, and the light of the dwindling sun left them. Many wept. DiMarko remained silent and looked straight ahead. He felt his pulse quicken as behind them large, wooden doors were closed and locked with heavy thuds. Darkness enveloped them. The senior prisoners of this hellish place would later advise them that this was their first taste of "Camp Daylight", with the thin rays of light still penetrating the honeycomb-like structure only mildly illuminating it's interior. DiMarko himself would never grow used to it. Before them, in the darkness too opaque for their still-adjusting vision to pierce, a thickly accented Vyrric voice boomed:


         The dozens, formerly-hundreds group of prisoners obeyed sheepishly. DiMarko paused to think that perhaps the intense, culling trip served to root out all the would-be escapees and reckless among them. Only fodder were left. DiMarko sat down on the dirty stone floor of the massive cavern.


           DiMarko shuddered. The speaking of Vyres had always frightened him. Their voices were too sing-song when speaking Mortanic, they seemed like hellish, other-worldly beings poorly attempting to emulate human speech. Cruel realization washed over him in the knowledge that this was exactly what they were.


          Their collective eyes began to adjust to the lighting, now, and the horrific figure of the speaking Vyre grew clearer to them. He gestured wildly to the floor.



         The group obeyed. Soon, Juvenates with polearms began to move between the lines, separating off pairs. Each was led to a staircase, and up into the upper levels of the cavern. DiMarko rightly assumed that these pairs were being led to their cells. In short order a Juvenate approached him and the man standing next to him. DiMarko moved, but the man beside him did not. A swift crack of the haft of the polearm convinced him to move. Legs aching, the pair was led up a winding staircase with no handrail, hewn into stone. Eventually they reached a platform that seemed to run along the interior of the spire, like a ring. Small, iron-barred doors were placed every few meters. The group passed a clearly wounded old man along the walkway, his leg twisted and obviously broken. As the Juvenate approached, the man heeled like a beaten dog. DiMarko felt ill. They stopped, and soon were roughly shoved into a cramped cell, perhaps the size of a small shack's interior. Four others sat languidly, in each corner and looking down. Meagre belongings dotted the floor, and the pair was forced to sit along the sheer wall. Their weak backs ached at their first taste of the unforgiving stone. In time, the bars of the door creaked shut and the Juvenate plodded off. A harsh thud and a pained whimper accompanied the patter of his feet as he passed where DiMarko remembered the old man to have been. His amazed, horrified contemplation was broken by the hoarse voice of his "partner", clearly speaking for the first time in some days, from a dry throat.

"C-can.. we talk?"

          One of the quartet in the room nodded his old, wizened-looking head knowingly. He seemed to have the largest pile of belongings.

"Yes. You can. But only when the Juves aren't about."

         DiMarko took a moment to more closely look at the speaking man. He was old, perhaps fifty or sixty years old. His beard was white, and his head bald. Beside him on the floor lay a small, stringed instrument and a short, gnarled cane. He squinted at the pair of them, gesturing.

"You two - what are your names? Where are you from?"

"DiMarko, from Meiyerditch."

"Pyotr, Meiyerditch."

"Ach," the older man scoffed. "That's all anybody is from. Except for Valmir there. He's from Burgh De Rott."

         A hirsute man in the corner raised a weakened hand. He was large, with a broad chest and shoulders. His hands, DiMarko noted, were massive and pricked with dark hair. The group fell silent as the patter of feet was heard on the walkway once more. DiMarko noticed as the door opened that there was a hole-like window in the wall, covered in straight iron bars rusting slowly in the Morytanian swelt. The sun had set, and soon the moon hung mockingly in the sky. A juvenate entered, and handed out rough-hewn wooden bowls filled half-way with modest gruel and a sopping-wet chunk of bread. No utensils were left, and the being left without a word. The group ate greedily with their hands, and by tipping the bowls. After eating, DiMarko began to feel itches and crawling from the meager straw below him. He thought at first that perhaps some of the straw had been caught in his rags, but saw with disappointment that he and the others in the cell were now beset by dozens of bed bugs. He shuddered once more.

"I'd take the time to grow used to them, lad. Rather them suck your blood than the 'vyres. One of them will."

         Some of the inhabitants of the cell laughed weakly. DiMarko, restless, rose and moved to the cell's wall with the window. He looked out and felt a strange tranquility. The moon shone gently, reflecting over the calm waters of the ocean. Freedom seemed to call to him, half-beckoning, half-mocking. Slow, saddened music from the man's string instrument called forth in their cell. The old man sang quietly to himself for a while, while the others dozed off where they sat. There were no beds. After a bit of playing, the old man rose and waddled over to DiMarko. He noticed that they were the only ones left awake, and the moon hung much higher in the sky than when DiMarko first rose. The old man walked next to him, retrieved a small beggar's pipe from his rags, and lit it. Tarromin smoke wafted out into the night air, and the old man spoke quietly to him.

"Are you afraid, boy?"

DiMarko shook his head slowly. He was not.

"You wish to escape. To be free again."

'Marko nodded. "I've got to. I'll dig and I'll sit, but one day I've got to be free. I made a promise to be."

The old man inhaled and blew the smoke out slowly, tasting his words.

"I know just what you mean, boy. We're all like that here."

Heavy silence hung in the night air.

"When I'm free, I want to kill a Vyre. To make it feel fear."

The old man looked puzzled and amazed. His gentle eyes glistened with concern in the waning moonlight.

"Kill a vyre? That's no light task, boy. I can count on one hand the ones who have, and I can't even be sure most of them exist."

"I must. I can't forgive them, ever."

DiMarko sat down against the wall below the window. The old man sat next to him, to his right, and snuffed his pipe.

"Very well, boy. If you're so certain, maybe one day we'll both escape."

The old man smiled a golden-toothed smile to him, and DiMarko smiled back weakly. They grew silent, and DiMarko hung his head, falling into sleep.

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