Drip…. drip, drip.
The constant sound of water droplets could be heard, that rippling note repeating itself every few seconds from a leak in the ceiling. For a while, it was the only sound produced amidst the stygian black, lit only marginally by the torches along the walls.
But that solitude was soon broken, as the shrill noise of some rusty old door yawning open filled the murkiness with new, unwelcome life. The denizens below these cimmerian shades began to pick up the presence of a group of people climbing down the stairs.
Behind the rows of underground cells, were individuals who had committed various crimes of varying degrees. Although they had a certain unruly nature as criminals of this city, the new arrivals didn’t seem to edge them on as much as one would think. Their eyes were bleak, filled with certain emptiness.
Within one of these cells laid a young man with a similarly unkempt appearance. His features were dishevelled, unshaven. He had been the newest addition amongst the inmates, and it was obvious that living within this hell-hole had taken a considerable toll on him, after all; Fingernails were filled with dirt, and his feet had a layer of grease over it. Under his once clear eyes, were now wrinkly dead skin as thick as eyeshadows.
But the thing that appeared most conspicuous about the young man, was a collar chained on his neck; the word “White” was inscribed onto the metallic surface with cleanly-written characters.
The torches lit with dungeon cores flickered as the figures approached. In the silent hallway, the sound of high heels magnified and echoed along the walls.
...How long had passed since White had heard someone in this god-forsaken ditch? White scratched the itch on his head with an unpleasant frown.
“...” Even if it was just another rich merchant trying their luck with their routine appraisal for healthy slave candidates, the young man wouldn’t give him a second look unless he was forced to. Or rather, he was conditioned not to draw attention to himself. Barking away near the bars while screaming for someone to let him out had gotten him several beatings for the first day. It was then, that he finally had to succumb to the authority of violence that pervaded and fueled his hopelessness.
Between the spiteful soldier who would bring him obligatory meals filled with spit and barely edible chum ‘soup’, or the sadistic warden who would take the time to play with his new boy-toy, White preferred neither, but he could do nothing but endure.
At times like these, he savored the silence and time he had to rest his mind, lest his spirit crumbles from fatigue for the second time, it would be difficult to crawl back up again from that pit of despair. That’s right, it was the second time. After all, White hadn’t given up yet.
The young man’s dark hazel eyes remain transfixed at the ceiling as his head rested on the cold hard floor, brooding over something with a thoughtful look on his face. There was no bed, obviously. The living conditions of his cell were extremely unsanitary as he had discovered on day one. There were signs of mice, evident from the clawed remains on his uneaten chum, and even some worms crawling along the corners of his cell. Living alone in this dingy den apart from his fellow inmates was a nightmare at first, an environment that would surely turn a grown man insane within weeks. But White had learnt to adapt, as usual. He grew used to this kind of treatment as time passed. In some ways, it even reminded White of that dirty apartment he had back on Earth, and it truly served as a much needed reality check.
He had lost everything. Trust, along with all the connections he had made with people living in this city these past few months. Because everything crumbled down so easily, White began to doubt himself, and everyone else around him if what he had was even real.
For the first few days, he wallowed in despair, closing off and building even more walls in his heart. Had it not been for that insistent voice that urged him to stay strong, White would’ve already succumbed to despair a long time ago.
But it was not over yet. It shouldn’t be, White insisted begrudgingly. Even if everything had ended, he still needed to do something about it. This, unbridled anger he was struggling to contain within him ever since waking up to that nightmare. It must have changed something in him, as he found his mind being filled with very specific thoughts. Most of them connected to Ruru, the slave-girl he had once saved.
It was somewhat refreshing, the fact that he could express such a strong emotion like anger for someone made him feel almost giddy. He felt… involved.
...Perhaps the torture on his mental state had indeed gotten to him to some extent. He didn’t even know why he was thinking that way. From time to time, the bedraggled young chap would reveal a deranged smile on his face, spacing out like some kind of drug junkie.
… … …
—The clottering grew fiercer with each step, long purposeful strides along with the sound of soldiers in armor accompanying from the flanks. Until soon, White’s ears picked up the clear, jingling of metal outside his cell. This time, he was unable to ignore it, as a gravelly voice soon shouted at him,
“Inmate number 22. Wake up!”
White remained still, uncaring of the voice. He could tell that it wasn’t the warden, but one of the soldiers around that he had grown to despise. These guys would abandon their posts, and rape the women imprisoned in the other cells. There were no cries for help, but the loud grunting and sounds of meat-slapping made it hard to ignore their beastly acts.
Yes, there were no cries for help. That was why White grew even more furious. The women here had long given up all hope, and surrendered their bodies to these men for their pleasure. It had reminded him of Ruru, who had been shunned and discarded by the world in a similar way. He was angry at the women, who hadn’t fought back to protect their dignity.
And most important of all, he was angry at himself, for being such an incorrigible hypocrite.
“Oi! Bastard, I’m talking to you!” The soldier yelled out a second time, this time the trace of violence could be heard in his gruff tone.
White scoffed condescendingly. Although he no longer had the strength to resist, he could only resort to such petty actions to display his displeasure. What are you going to do to me anyway? I’ve already experienced everything that you can possibly do to me.
When he saw that White had remained unflinched, the soldier’s face turned even redder, “Y-You dare give me an attitude?! I’ll—”
His hands were about to reach for the sword on his waist—
“—Enough.” When the cool-cut voice of a woman interrupted in between. White slowly turned his head towards his visitors outside, and narrowed his eyes. And who is this?
The soldier had grown silent almost immediately, his hands returning to his side obediently. From the grimace on the soldier’s face which looked as if he had eaten shit, it was clear that she was someone he couldn’t offend.
In other words, this woman’s some kind of big-shot? White snorted in derision. So it was another of those slave merchants, although, he found it peculiar that there was actually a woman who held such a slimy profession.
“Give me the keys,” She snapped, of which one of the soldiers promptly complied. As she took the ring of keys, the woman inched towards the rusty metal bars with neat steps, her features becoming clearer as she drew closer.
White’s eyes flashed with a glint. Something deep within him almost seemed to be telling him that he knew this person. It was then that his interest was piqued. But before he could shake away that strange feeling in his mind, the woman… suddenly bowed her head, “Good evening, Mister Kuro.”
White felt slightly astonished by that gesture of hers, although he tried not to show it on his face. He had been prepared to be bought, or toyed with, just like the others before him, but… what was this turn of events? Even the soldiers were somewhat startled at the treatment this woman was giving him.
...Mister Kuro? In addition to the strange name she addressed him by in her unexpectedly humble greeting, White was left even more confused from the woman’s next statement,
“This, Filly Marcelle, has come to pick you up from the instructions of the master.”
Filly appeared to be a woman in her late 20s. Her frilly, dirty-blonde locks cascaded down loosely to her shoulders where she had worn a primly-tied ribbon, part of what seemed to be a very intricately-woven set of clothes; a black and white ensemble which alternated between the style of a court dress and a butler’s attire. The outfit brought out an undeniably distinguished aura around her. Adding to that expensive-looking dress, the woman’s poise and mannerisms all indicated that she belonged to some sort of rich culture that he had already seen a few times before.
“Mister Kuro, are we… meddling too much?” Filly suddenly spoke out concernedly.
We? White received another piece of information from this woman. From the way she was speaking, and the constant on her facial expression, White determined that she wasn’t lying.
Is she mistaking me… for someone else? Yeah right, what are the odds of that happening? But what if…?
White held his poker face as he shook his head languidly. No amount of sweetness in her voice could move him anymore, he wouldn’t lose control of his emotions as easily as before, even if there was the slightest chance of breaking out of this hell hanging before him. No, it was precisely so that White remained cautiously optimistic.
The young man got up sluggishly and staggered back up on his feet, the chains fettered around his arms rattled soundly on the ground as he did so. For some reason, pangs of anger returned to him again, but he quickly calmed down through a set of routine breathing. His movements were slow, clear that White was only moving with his remnants of strength he'd saved up for opportunities like this.
It was only after White had brought himself against the wall for support, before he was able to bring himself up completely.
"Ah, Mister Kuro, please don't overexert yourself-"
White narrowed her eyes at Filly when she tried to approach the metal bars, and she clearly flinched backwards from his open hostility. Even the guards appeared visibly startled. They had never seen a convict like this before, not when they'd stayed in here for long enough.
White's eyes seemed to be transfixed onto everything before him, as if they were demanding the highest form of alert; Even though the young man was in a weakened state, his demeanor exuded an undeniably stifling pressure to his visitors. White found it rather interesting, that he could even make out the faint tremor in the woman’s eyes in that moment.
...Now, White had never met this Filly person before, thus there all the more reason not to trust her blindly. But how would he go about doing this? Maybe he was lucky. Maybe the goddesses had finally given him something to work with here. His plans for escape continued to swirl around his head. Part of him wanted to take advantage of this seemingly convenient misunderstanding before him, but the other was compelled with a deep sense of paranoia long ingrained into his consciousness.
In the end, White decided. He just couldn’t let go of this single thread of opportunity. Although it was risky, although he didn’t know what this woman was actually planning, at the very least, he wanted to ascertain something before he went along with this farce.
When his eyes finally met with Filly’s, White thought he’d seen her body tremble for a moment. But he couldn’t care less about it. White did a double take on this woman, as if to appraise some crucial piece of the puzzle. His best chance to finally get out of this place.
The past White would have slipped up by now and allowed the woman to take the lead in the conversation. ...But the young man had changed from the unhealthily long stay in this dark prison. Because he was untrusting, White became more silent, calculating and perceived something he called the nuances of an invisible power hierarchy.
Picking up the cues of the residents in this underground prison, he began to learn how to classify a person’s strength within a certain, enclosed environment. Of course, strength did not necessarily need to mean physical capabilities alone. Another potent quality that one possessed, was the superiority of one’s mentality.
And now… White began to perceive gradually, from the cues Filly was giving him, he began to look even deeper… deeper into her eyes.
How strong are you? ...And... am I stronger than you?
Then he felt it. Fear… no, admiration? Filly respected this Mister Kuro. Incomprehensible, but even so, White no longer hesitated after learning that fact.
The young man had never spoken a single word for days, so he had to wet his chapped lips with the remaining moisture in his mouth.
And with a momentary silence, White took in a small breath. Picturing Vincent in his mind, he recalled that smoky, guttural tone and finally answered in return,
“...Not at all. But you sure took your time, huh. Madame.”
It was clear that this was the right approach, as Filly recoiled from the harshness of his voice. If anything, only the faint blush spreading on her face seemed weird to him.
When she was about to say something in response, White held out a hand promptly, as if expecting it in advance. Eyeing the soldiers who were already looking at each other with uneasy eyes, White knew he had to finish quickly before the misunderstanding was resolved. With an uncharacteristic smirk slowly emerging on his face, he continued putting on that cool facade,
“...Spare me the pleasantries, Filly.”
“Y-Yes, as you wish.”
Rotating his wrists as if to indicate the soreness on his arms, White added, strongly this time,
“For starters, get me out of these chains. And then we can talk.”