"My knees hurt..." One of the youngest and most petite prisoners after Ikaris began to sob compulsively for the umpteenth time that afternoon.
On Earth, her innocent baby face, her big round eyes reddened from crying too much and her slim waist would have probably earned her several looks. The fact that she was naked even more. But here, she only got plain indifference.
A day had never felt so drawn out to them. Forced to remain kneeling in the mud in the hot sun with no food or water, it was enough to put a strain on the toughest of characters. Not to mention those who had donated the equivalent of one pint of blood to fill a goddamn bowl before, willingly or not.
As if to taunt them, the big bowl filled to the brim with blood had been left in the same place a few meters in front of them. It had started to coagulate under the sun and a rancid, metallic smell filled their nostrils.
'I don't understand their intention.' That was what could be read on all of their faces.
At the sight of the young woman weeping, who was barely of age, the two burly men, Thomas and Anton, gave her an annoyed look. It wasn't the first time she had started bawling her eyes out.
"Will you shut up please?!" Thomas snapped harshly at the crybaby, giving her an exasperated scowl.
Because of the special attention he had received from the young beauty leading these aboriginals, he had recovered his backbone. Even after having lost so much blood he was able to show some serenity.
Thomas had seen the gaunt and withered physique of these malnourished villagers and he was certain that a leader with some brains would understand his value and treat him right.
Before coming here, the 28 year old was a truck driver with a passion for bodybuilding and his steroid therapy had given him an impressive musculature. Standing almost 2m tall, he was sure that these primitive and malnourished barbarians had never seen anyone as strong and imposing as he was. Logically, they could only be struck with awe and admiration in front of him.
Gradually, a grotesque smile coupled with a tinge of desire in his eyes crept over his unshaven face, and for a few minutes he fantasized about seducing the young leader, or at least sleeping with her. His disillusionment and renewed hope had made him overlook the fact that so far the way they had been treated by these aborigines did not bode well.
Thomas was not the only man to harbor such optimism. Anton and four other physically fit men were thirsty and discomfited, but they were hopeful that their situation would improve once their "hazing" was over.
The remaining three men were old men, but they were tall and vigorous. The village chief had not singled them out for blood donation, but she had not disrespected them either. They were mature and clear-headed enough not to expect much, but they too wanted to believe that their lives would not be so pointlessly sacrificed.
The two women prisoners, including the one who spent her time complaining and sobbing, were obviously much less optimistic. Whereas they were confident of their chances of survival, they were terrified of what would happen next. The lustful leers of some of these aborigines had given them the chills...
The inaudible sigh came from none other than Ikaris. The puny boy, who was by far the worst off, had not flinched once, maintaining the same inexpressive facade since his arrival in this world. His alert eyes darted all around, as if he was trying to etch every detail of this village into his memory.
How could he not guess what these prisoners were thinking? He was not a talker, but reading the body language of these mentally fragile men and women was second nature to him. Since childhood, he had always been abnormally observant and this was just one of the characteristics that had caused his downfall. This time, he had every intention of hiding what he was capable of.
'These two women are smarter than that Thomas and the other beefy guys.' Ikaris observed calmly. 'They know what fate awaits them. As for us men, we only have to look at the villagers of this place to understand what a miserable life awaits us too.'
Thomas, Anton and some of the other prisoners had prematurely concluded that these barbarians were emaciated because of malnutrition, but what if they were also required to contribute blood regularly? If it was once every two or three months, that was still reasonable, but what if it was every week or every three days?
Ikaris preferred not to think about it, but he had to assume the worst.
While the other prisoners hoped or despaired about their uncertain future, his mind was fixated on something else.
'When I close my eyes I see it, when I open my eyes I see it too. Even when I try to ignore it, my attention always returns to it like a magnet.'
At first it was just curiosity, but as he closed his eyes Ikaris tried to relax with deep exhales like he used to do when he was nervous or needed to reflect and without realizing it the whole afternoon elapsed staring at that light dot before he came out of his trance.
During this time, his only recurring thought and desire had been to mute the head-wrenching pain inflicted on him by his untreated wounds. He felt a sense of inexplicable urgency, as if, if he didn't heal very soon, it would be too late.
The baby-faced prisoner's tear-stained outburst had pulled him out of his introspection, but the teenager was quite taken aback when he noticed that the orange sun was about to drop behind the skyline.
It was also the moment his body chose to betray him. Ikaris felt an indescribable weakness creep over him, as well as a ravenous hunger as if he hadn't eaten in several days. His vision blurred, then blacked out for a moment before he woke up gasping for air, amazed that he was still alive.
Initially he panicked, realizing that he would be unable to walk, let alone run, if things went wrong tonight. But when he noticed that his wounds were almost painless, he felt a surge of joy that almost brought tears to his eyes.
Remembering what had happened when he had passed out before his capture, a flicker of realization dawned on his face. Having calmed down, he took a deep breath and silently repeated to himself,
'That Spark, I have to be careful when I look at it. It's okay to sneak a peek now and then, but the consequences could quickly become unpredictable if I'm not careful.'
In order not to faint again, he imposed himself to observe his surroundings assiduously as he had been doing since he woke up, and after a few minutes the dreadful feeling of weakness subsided a little, replaced by a throbbing headache.
'Hmm? Are the villagers going back to their tents?'
Ikaris was not the only one to notice the change in mood. After the ritual, the old shaman and the stunning leader had retired to their cottage for the rest of the day, but the other aboriginals had gone about their business, fully disregarding their existence except for the few warriors assigned to watch them. Tuari, one of the barbarians who had captured him, was among those guards.
Now that they could understand each other, several of the prisoners had tried to strike up a conversation, but the barbarians had remained stone cold and tongue-tied, watching them with the same apathy that a farmer watches his hens in a chicken coop.
And yet, as soon as the sun gave way to the moon, or rather the two moons, these arrogant guards abandoned them without looking back, returning to their own dingy tents like the others. This detail in itself was already startling, but what was even more surreal was that they actually removed their bonds.
"Stay here or leave. The choice is yours." The barbarian Tuari declared ominously before he too scurried off to his own tent.
"What the fuck is happening here?" Ikaris' eyes narrowed with suspicion as he witnessed this curious scene.
Once the village square was deserted and silent, one of the men cautiously looked around, then without a word of warning sprinted for the jungle outskirts enclosing the village. Soon after, two of the older men and the other woman ran off after him.
Against all odds, the other prisoners remained motionless, including the sniveling woman who had only been sobbing and complaining until now. Somehow, she felt that there was something wrong with all of this. Why tie them up all day if it was only to untie them later? A little too retarded for a simple admission test.
Then night fell.
Huff... Huff... Huff...
Ikaris and the other prisoners were plunged into darkness, hearing only the breathing of their neighbors and the over-excited beating of their own hearts. There was no sound from the tents.
The two silver moons were only thin crescents, insufficient to support a clear vision. The prisoners could hardly make out the figures of their neighbors, much less the tents and thatched cottage several meters away.
"I-I'm scared!" The only remaining female prisoner stammered in a soft whisper.
"Give me your hand." Thomas gallantly offered like a worthy gentleman.
Not completely naive, the young woman hesitated for an instant, remembering his gorilla-like appearance, but her fear overcame her reluctance.
"Feel like talking about something to pass the time?" Thomas chucked aloud to lighten the mood. "What did you do for a living before you got stuck here?"
Anton was the first to answer.
"I'm a police officer in New York. I was working traffic when I was struck by some kind of... lightning?"
"Me too!" Cried the young woman. "I was in my college restroom on break when all of a sudden there was a power outage. The next thing I knew I was here. Oh by the way, I'm from Stockholm."
That explained her fair skin and blond hair.
Joining in the fun, the others told where they were from and what they were doing before they were brought here.
"Canberra, I was smoking a cigarette downstairs." The remaining old man replied succinctly. He seemed to want to add something but finally held back.
In the end, it was the brave Thomas who dared to say out loud what the old man refused to admit,
"I was attacked by something. I was finishing my delivery in Budapest when I was blinded by a flash of multicolored light. When I opened my eyes again, my truck had crashed into a tree on the roadside. I tried to get out of my vehicle to call for help, but I heard people screaming outside. Then I saw... I don't know, let's just say it was the most terrifying thing I've ever seen. This thing saw me and it started to crawl towards me. Out of fear, I closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them again I was in this fucking jungle..."
The group fell into a stunned silence.
Meanwhile, Ikaris who was paying close attention to their conversation was struggling to find a weapon to defend himself. The story of the monster had shaken him too, but it was not their biggest concern at the moment.
Somehow, he had trudged to the altar and without any qualms about this "sacred" place, he had picked up one of the stones at the top of the heap. Just as he was about to turn his attention to the wooden stele, the crybaby suddenly asked a question that made his blood run cold.
ραndαsΝοvεl ƈοm"Uh, Thomas are you crying?"
"Hmm, no why?" The trucker replied in a vexed voice.
"Then what's this hot liquid I feel running down my shoulder?"
" ... "
At that very moment, Ikaris inadvertently bumped the bowl under the altar with his foot, but neither his feet nor his legs were sprayed with blood. Quickly thinking of something, he dipped his finger into the bowl, but was taken aback when he only touched the solid bottom of the bowl.
'The bowl is empty!'
"AAAAAARRRGGH!" The freaked-out scream of the old Australian man resounded right after. The scream lasted for a short second, then a neck breaking sound followed by that of liquid flowing put an end to their indecision.
" Holy shit!"
The sound of footsteps scuttling in all directions was immediately heard, proving that in the face of death the budding friendship of these prisoners was not worth much. Even Thomas let go of the student's hand with zero remorse.
"Thomas! Where are you?" She began to sob out in a shivering voice in the dark.
No one answered her.
"Pl-please... Don't leave me alone..."
There was no one left.
"AARRRGH! The fuck is that thing! It ate my arm!" Thomas' howl pierced the silence from the jungle's outskirts.
The young woman froze, scared shitless. Even if someone paid her right now to speak she would remain silent as a grave!
Ikaris had witnessed, or rather heard the whole scene, from his hiding place. Crouching under the altar, he was motionless, his stone in hand, ready to strike with it at anyone or anything that dared to approach him.
'If only I could see a little better...'
As the thought occurred to him, his gaze drifted unintentionally to the Spark, but remembering what had happened the two times before he bit his tongue hard and resisted his urge.
Sparks flashed in the darkness, followed by the clash of blades and claws. He thought he heard a muffled groan, as well as a collapsing tent. Then silence returned.
Suddenly, Ikaris felt something moving towards him. The footsteps were muffled, but not enough to fool him. Slowly he raised his arm holding the stone, ready to smash the enemy with it, even if it was the last action he would take before he died.
Just as he was about to strike pre-emptively with all the explosiveness his exhausted body could muster, his wrist was grabbed by a cold, smooth hand, and two familiar orange eyes gleamed fleetingly in the darkness, before their glow turned a dim red.
The female figure with those glowing eyes slowly approached him, until he was able to guess her identity.
A red flame flared out of nowhere in front of him, momentarily dazzling him and shedding light on the altar and its surroundings. An unforgettable scene of carnage was revealed before him.
All the prisoners who had spent the day kneeling with him were dead, their corpses separated into many pieces, but never whole. He also saw many pools of blue blood, but never the corpse of the creature it belonged to.
Finally, he noticed the eerie beauty in front of him, covered in blood from head to toe. With her free arm, she effortlessly carried the sleeping body of the weeping woman, the latter having simply fainted out of terror. With a glint of surprise in her eyes, the beautiful aborigine declared in a tired voice,
"Well done for surviving. You are one of us now."