I’ve been enslaved for weeks of hard labor with no end in sight. Now would be a great time to jaunt but I haven’t jaunted since confronting the realm crasher. I cannot make it happen again no matter what I try. Why can I not jaunt when I need to?
Slavery is no joke. Every work day is twenty hours long, save for very quick meal breaks and rest periods. I was not fortunate enough to attain a position in Empiternal House. The House of a Thousand Slaves as it’s also known, and that is no exaggeration. Queen Armalu insists on keeping exactly one thousand slaves as her work force in the palace. When a slave dies or in the rare case is released from service they are replaced in short order to ensure the number is kept exact.
The day I was brought to Charmonde coincided with an influx of a network of thieves that had been captured. Enough of them were sent to the palace to fill vacancies there, leaving the rest of us to be relegated to duties elsewhere.
I have spent the last few days toiling in the foothills of the Black Riage. I am part of a team of over five hundred slaves who are charged with harvesting material from a nanite cleef. I’ve only read about these cleefs, biomechanical growths that gather into spires or columns, growing upright in fractal patterns that vary greatly in composition. This particular cleef was comprised solely of nanites. They were quite beautiful, glistening columns growing in patterns not unlike trees in winter, crystalline branches furcating from a main trunk like drit growing out of itself from the ground.
A team of explorers had reported the existence of the cleef to members of the Queen’s court, and the court made quick work of assembling a team of slaves to collect material from the cleef. If these nanites functioned in the same manner as tamed iron, a very rare iotum, they could be employed to build many high functioning numenera items, including installations to protect the land bordering the Cloudcrystal Skyfields.
The cleef is spread out over a few kilometers of the rising land, so it’s a bit of a hike to reach each of these growths. Accessing them is not the most difficult part of gathering pieces from them, however. As they are collections of nanites, it is not uncommon for them to awaken and follow the long corrupted commands from their ancient imperatives once separated from a column. They behave like a localized version of the iron wind. Some will race off into the distance in a small swarm or cloud. Others will begin altering the temperature or gravity of the immediate area, causing some of us to suffer burns, freezes, or zaps, or finding ourselves beginning to float upward or feeling our insides ache from a sudden increase in air pressure. I was the victim of one such effect when I thought the ground fell away from my feet, only to find I was steadily drifting upward. I thought I would be lost to the clouds as the other slaved would not take purchase of me, afraid of being afflicted in the same way themselves. An overseer was quick enough to toss a rope upward, allowing me to grab it and get pulled back down to the ground. It was only twenty minutes before I once again became reacquainted with gravity, but I found myself grabbing onto anything solid while I worked, in fear of the effect returning.
A fate worse than what I experienced is watching how the nanites go to work reassembling the molecular structure of anything they touch; the containers into which they are placed, yes, but also the flesh and bones of the slaves who are unfortunate enough to be handling them. I have watched in abject horror these microscopic machines transform a slave into a mix of stone and metal and flesh and goo that is beyond anything found in nature. The screams of those afflicted are haunting, becoming quickly distorted by their transform from human to- to something completely indescribable and should not exist. In many cases the nanites cease their chaotic directives before a person is completely overcome by the transformation. For those slaves we beg for the overseers to put them to a quick death. The sounds they make in their lingering torment will forever haunt me.
At this juncture only a few days in we’ve easily lost nearly a third of our workforce. It may seem a bit frivolous to use slaves so expendably and in such a wasteful manner to obtain this prized material. Charmonde is well known for the number of slaves the Queen and the city’s aristocrats keep in service. The slave population is acquired through the defeat of aggressors from the neighboring lands or from those born to parents of slaves. Interestingly, to the south Draolis and the Sea Kingdom of Ghan have had a steady peace with Navarene, and Thaemor is far too weak to move against the land. To the north is the inhospitable Cloudcrystal Skyfields with mostly abhumans as a threat. While there are a myriad types of people enslaved alongside me, none are abhumans. So with so few opportunities to gain captors through battles, how is it such a large number of slaves can be so expendable?
I already know the answer to this having overheard discussions between other slaves. The attainment of Navarene’s enforced labor is ill gotten. The slave population is comprised of unsuspecting individuals stolen from their lands and homes, sometimes by raiding parties masked as defense forces, as well as itinerant people with no ties to any place, such as myself. Some traders such as the likes of Conca, the one who had found me, look for easy pickings, people who are helpless, injured, lost, and confused who are easily ensnared by their deceptive offers of assistance.
This practice of supplementing their slave labor is one that would not be looked upon kindly by the Papacy or any of the rulers of the other lands, that’s for certain. They would be quite interested to learn this. Perhaps they are already aware and I’m being naive? I’m hard pressed to believe that is indeed the case.
THREE DAYS LATER
Three more days have passed and half of the slave team is decimated. Those of us who have managed to dodge the worst of the effects of the harvested nanites feel we are on borrowed time. The physical corruption and extreme mutation of the slaves who were not so lucky has burned images and sounds into my mind that I fear I will never shake. In one case the nanites functioned in a much more ordered fashion and transformed a slave into a short carapaced creature with spikes extending from its shell, dozens of hinged appendages with scythe like tips swinging back and forth. It had cut down seven slaves and an overseer before it was taken out. Another slave consumed by the nanites was altered into a humanoid assemblage of metallic bits which suddenly exploded, deploying shrapnel in a three meter radius, inflicting several degrees of injury on the surrounding slaves, myself included. Unlike many of the others injured, I was able to continue to work. I was not so fortunate as them, despite their states of health.
I am not sure whether they will continue to work us until our numbers are completely expended, or if they have a predetermined number of acceptable losses they are willing to endure, or if there is a given quantity of nanites they are required to harvest before returning to Charmonde. In none of these scenarios is my survival likely. The best I can hope for at this juncture is to be met with a quick and merciful onslaught of the nanites’ effect.