I was lead out of the large cavern through a barely lit tunnel in the side. It was dark yet you could could barely make out the rough shape of a figure in front of you, though it was perfectly reasonable that my eyes were playing tricks on me. The path in the tunnel was sloped into a furrow, which made it easier to follow even in the pitch black. My skin and muscles had reached a dull ache, though it was not nearly as bad as I would have expected it to be. The burning tar must have cauterized the wounds. Feeling them in the dark they felt swollen and misshapen, running my fingers over smooth skin, scar, smooth skin was a horrifying yet irresistible action. I could hardly believe it was real.
We turned a corner and stopped. There was a knock in front, a specific pattern which I made note of in my head. I heard two heavy latches unlock and a door open. The door opened to a room lit by a small fire. The warm golden glow was such a relief compared to the purplish flames of that burning tar.
In the stone room sat 4 men, a commander with crystals around his neck, and 3 men armored as I was. The commanders greeted each other,
"Ave, nihil mutatum."
The other four stood up and walked out from the door we came. They closed the door and latched it on their side. We were on the outside. I felt even worse, I wanted to at least be in that cavern. whether it was a primal instinct or not, I felt safer in that crowd of people than out here. One of the soldiers in my group had a pack, which he opened by the fire. He pulled out five fist sized pouches and handed then to each of us. The soldiers tilted up their masks, exposing crooked and missing teeth set in scruffy and unkempt beards. Only the commander was clean-shaven and he did not show his teeth as he talked. Which he did very little of anyway. They undid a knot on the top of the pouch and began to eat from them. The pouch felt smooth and organic. On the inside there seemed to be some type of thick chunky stew. The meat was tough and gamey. I came across a piece of grizzle which I pulled out of my mouth and threw away. The others looked at me, then continued eating. There were more pieces of grizzle, tough tissues and cartilage. There must have been pieces in their portions as well, but they were hungry enough to eat it anyway. I couldn't afford to be picky. Perhaps this would be my only meal today. After they were finished, they put the pouches on the stones by the fire to dry and occasionally nibbled and chewed on them. I copied them, hopefully to blend in. Then they drank from an animal skin bag which they passed around. I got it last, and wiped off the opening. One of the soldiers let out a snort. Fuck. On top of this I would be humiliated. I drank from it quickly and almost spit it up. I expected water but instead it tasted slightly alcoholic and very bitter. It had a metallic taste, almost like blood and a sulfurous aroma. They started to chuckle and laugh. The commander made no move, just stared me down, watching me as he had been this whole time. I tried to take another sip, but the animal skin was quickly grabbed from me by the soldier next to me.
I did not mind it too much, perhaps I was so thirsty the bitterness did not concern me. A short while later the animal skin ran out and the commander pointed to two men "prima vigilia" and then pointed at me and another "secunda vigilia". I looked at the other soldier he pointed at, who seemed to be covering himself with a cloak he picked up for the corner of the room and laying down by the fire. I copied him and lay down facing away from the fire. The small fire danced and flickered, casting shadows on the wall. I watched as the shapes danced on the stone, revealing things I didnt notice before. What looked like claw marks and splatters of a dark substance. On one of the larger and flatter stones a tally was scratched in... 16. I shivered and my eyelids felt heavy. Would this be over when I woke up? Would I finally just wake up at home? If this was real, death would be preferable to this existence. Maybe they would slit my throat while I slept, that way it would happen painlessly. I remembered the feeling of the crystal dragging across my throat and I felt uneasy.
My eyelids closed and my thoughts faded to a nightmarish sleep.