Sample Chapters: "Slave Revolt" Pax Humana, Book Two
Greppa Ulo sat in his mobile office, a tent erected nightly by his slaves as they moved along the trade route from the northern coast of Capothiga. It was a flimsy structure that provided little protection from the heat. He was surrounded by the humidity of thousands of men sweating under the yoke. Greppa was the master of the largest slave train on the continent.
Once a year, tribute came in from the other continents, and it all arrived at the same port, Pallo din Mubias, Capothiga’s northernmost city. It was a brutal town infested with crime and municipal corruption. It was the only place Greppa had ever felt at home.
The spices and the herbs were collected by one man, Hil Jun, a prosien noble whose family had held the contract for that particular taxation for generations. Greppa himself had succeeded his former boss into his current position, as part of a company of mercenaries that had been tasked by the god king to take temporary command of the slave train during a time of rebellion. The actuality of the situation, whether the mercenaries had kept their jobs by force after the war, or the god king had rewarded them for their service, no one remembers anymore.
Grain and rice went all over the continent, doled out to various store houses and military bases. This required a great team of turuk-drawn carts and wagons, and the road of the grain contract was long and dusty, but lucrative. It was acknowledged that on the journey some sacks would “fall off the cart,” and sometimes whole wagons full of grain seem to disappear. There was a bustling business built up around the route, needy villages that had things to trade, merchants who would buy wholesale then undersell their local competitors, several ways a crafty person could make a profit. But you had to work for it. That contract this year went to Frayjr Hewollon, an up and coming court functionary from a minor house. He was a do-gooder and Greppa didn’t like him. They would only see each other at the port, however. Greppa would go straight to the capitol and Frayjr would be busy all year, visiting every major city in the kingdom. Then, if he did well, he we pick up the contract again and set right off for another year. Greppa would be in Pallo din Mubias for months waiting for the next shipment, enjoying the fruits of his labor.
The other main fields of tribute were controlled by a revolving network of nobodies, minor nobles seeking to impress the royal family. Jefari enjoyed trading out contractors to these fields. It was his way of keeping the middle echelon busy, vying with each other instead of plotting against him.
A warm rush of desert breeze lifted a corner of the tent. ‘Useless scum. Didn’t tie the flaps down properly again.’ He shouted, an inarticulate bark, and a household slave came jogging in. The slave, a young prosien male, was conspicuously subservient to his human master. “Send in two beksha to fix that.” He pointed up at the open flap. Beksha was the industry term for a slave of more than one year. “Then have them whipped. Three each.” He made a gesture of dismissal with his fingers, the slave dipped his head and scurried from the room. It didn’t matter that the ones who were whipped were not the ones who fouled up. It was a group punishment, and it worked.
Greppa, though grossly overweight, stupid, and paranoid, was seen as naturally superior by the natives. He stood head and shoulder taller than the largest man among them. His muscles grew twice as big; an unspoken intimidation factor employed countless times by humans to subjugate the smaller proto sapien species. He possessed a quicker way of thinking, for even the dullest human could outwit a smart prosien. More importantly, humans always seemed to have connections. Even when destitute or criminally irresponsible, they would fall back on some patron from the government, who often stepped forward anonymously. Humans took care of each other.
So it was this sense of indelible security and the religious propaganda instituted by the ruling class that held the caste people in a state of deference. Carved into stone around the empire were scenes of battles, the prosperity of agriculture, demonstrations of divine technology by ritual sacrifice, all overseen by the same figure. A god king today was the same as one a thousand years ago, judging by the depictions hewn into rock. They were all made to look alike. So when a native looked at a human, he or she could not help but see a god. Humans like Jefari and Nitanda were shining examples of this perfection. They were beautiful beyond the ability of a prosien to be. They were the best hunters, warriors, weavers of cloth, singers, courtesans. They had weapons that could perform feats of such power as to keep a barbarian populace in fear. This power had been ritualized into a sustained terror. An elite class of human priests controlled the weapons and preserved them as sacred relics from the ancient past. These priests remained sequestered in their temples most of the time, and were rarely seen in public, but they held the power of death over any native citizen. There were stories of a prosien being dragged away in the street, an angry crowd forming, a human identifying himself as a priest, the mob withering under his authority. Humans like Greppa were seen as a lower order of the ruling race, but still to be obeyed.
The beksha entered sheepishly and began fixing the ropes. While they were working, his head house slave came in, noticeably not prostrating himself as much as he might have. Greppa allowed this one some familiarity; it helped control the rest of his household. This one had something to lord over the rest. It was enough to keep him loyal.
“Boln.” Greppa was always growly and irate when behind his desk. It was his “business manner,” and he had cultivated it carefully over the years. “What do I have today.”
Boln referred to the wood framed wax tablet he held cradled in one arm. “Ten new selections from the girls.” His eyes flicked over the figures. “Two from Rnirok, five from Klek’tan, two from Ba-Gaung Itlan, one from Murda.” The slaves finished their work and tried to leave the tent invisibly. Boln followed them with his eyes, then returned his attention to his boss.
“Bring me the ones from Rnirok.” Greppa liked light-skinned native girls. They would be blonde, too, more than likely. It was such a luxury among the natives of this world: barbarian females that almost looked human. They would be fighters, though, depending on how young they were. The clans of Rnirok were a hardy people who trained even their children to combat at an early age. It was one of the reasons they comprised such a large part of the slave allotment. The god kings prized them as shock troops. Veterans from the legions often became highly paid mercenaries, gladiators, or personal bodyguards to members of the royal family. The girls became handmaidens to nobleman’s wives, and in special cases they were allowed to continue developing their martial skills with spear and shield. There were ladies of the court who traveled with a retinue of such warriors, only trusting women to serve as their closest guards.
“What else?” Greppa was getting impatient now, thinking of the girls. Boln consulted his tablet. From outside came the sound of whips cracking on flesh, and the moans of men suffering for a mistake someone else had made. He made a show of concentrating on the wax. “Well, we are on schedule, we should reach the capitol in two more days…” He glanced up, saw Greppa giving him the look that meant “I know, I know,” kept going, “…there was a minor escape attempt last night. One of the Murdan males tried to break out of his pen. He started bashing through the fence, then encouraged others in the pen to press their weight on the breach. Guards went in and killed him and subdued several others. A few of these are crippled and will go behind with the baggage. The Murdans have been divided up so only half their previous number are in a pen together now. This seems to have worked.” Greppa nodded, one of his signs that meant “good job.” Boln continued. “Some fistfights have broken out over those little statues of the god king we always take off of them.” Greppa didn’t even look up. “I don’t care.” Boln hesitated, drawing out a moment’s silence. “Eh…” Now he had got Greppa’s attention. “This is what I give you position for in my camp, Boln. To take care of things like this. A few fistfights among five thousand men? A trivial distraction hardly worth my notice.”
“Yes, master Greppa.” Boln hesitated. Greppa looked at him. “What.” Boln spoke cautiously, choosing his words with extreme care. “Master, perhaps the new slaves should be allowed to keep their idols.” Greppa responded automatically. “No personal property.” It was the words of the law. Citizens were not allowed to own personal property, except the idols of the god king. But these were made by priests and were believed to be formed directly from his flesh, so they were not considered to be owned by anybody. They were a required household item, given out freely by the temples. Slaves were deprived of even this right when they were first set in chains.
“Master.” Boln was pursuing something here. “I think it would help with the assimilation of new stock. Give them something to cling on to.”
“That is what we are trying to stop them from doing.” Greppa was getting upset now. “Clinging on to their past. We need to teach them that all that is gone, that they are not a person anymore. Taking away their possessions is the first step in doing that. It’s been proven.” Greppa stared at the little house slave, his gaze weighted by years of dominating men such as he.
“Master.” Boln had one more thing to say. It was the absolutely the last time he could speak back to his master, and he knew it. He had gauged this interaction like a rodent trying to hypnotize a serpent. “With idol in hand, they are worshiping the one who made them a slave. You say they must break in their minds before they can accept their fate. Let it start there. The idols do the work for us.”
Greppa sat with his eyes upon Boln for a moment. “I will consider it,” he said gruffly. Then he dismissed the man with a wave of his hand, calling after him: “And hurry with the girls!”
Greppa did not have to wait long for his girls. He had been sitting at his desk, fidgeting, nervously anticipating the one real pleasure he got from this business. Slavery kept him in a style to which few could ever become accustomed, on Geshiah under the Peace of the god kings. He owned a huge house in Pallo din Mubias, where he entertained the scum of the underworld at table with prominent members of society. It was a place of sanctuary where he could execute his perversions privately. The trade road was too public, too exposed, but there was the boon of fresh meat. Greppa’s fingers twiddled with glee.
The clanking of metal armor outside made him salivate and set his loins to tingling. It meant a squad of guards was coming with the girls from the pens. He could almost hear the swish of their little bare feet in the soft sand.
“Master Greppa!” came the shout from outside. “Yes!” he responded. The tent flaps parted and two young girls were led in by his guards. One was blonde and the other had black hair. They both looked to be about twelve years old. Greppa sat there eyeballing them for a moment, relishing the way they squirmed nervously. “The blonde one,” he finally said. The girl raised her eyes to him in a moment of juvenile defiance. “Oh, she’s got some fight in her,” Greppa said, in a mocking tone. He heaved a flabby sigh. “I don’t feel like fighting today. Send her through my rape crew. All three of them. That’ll knock the spark out of her.” He addressed a guard directly. “Tell them I said once each, and one of you wait around and watch and make sure they don’t go again. Then clean her up and send her to me. I want her ready before dinner.” The guards did their bent-neck soldier’s bow and left, dragging the girls along with them.
Night fell at the camp in a series of activities. First dinner in the late afternoon as shadows stretched out from the wagons, then that hour or so of relaxation under the deep blue horizon of sunset, then the full dark where grim faced guards were posted and every sound was accounted for.
Greppa stood outside the tent that served as his living quarters, breathing in the night’s air. He drew slowly on a clay pipe filled with narcotic lulca leaves. The sweet smoke wafted about his face and rose up into the sky. The girl had been a nice distraction. His rape crew had done their job well. A quivering lip had been the only resistance she had offered as he climbed into bed next to her. He licked his lips, savoring the taste of her. That was one good thing about interspecies sex. No possibility of pregnancy. He wouldn’t have to worry about the girl being sent back months from now because she was with child and could not perform her duties. The rape of a slave. A victimless crime. The glow of the cinders in his pipe illuminated his obscene jowls as he puffed. A feeling of deep satisfaction was warming his body. Two days til the capitol. All was right with the world.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The slave train was a mile long, made up of some five thousand pathetic souls, weakened and chained in close bondage. The children went first, their smaller legs setting the pace for the rest of the grim procession. Then came the adolescents, boys and girls eight and nine years old, at the beginning of the prosien puberty cycle. Adults followed last, theirs chains holding them ten feet apart from each other to prevent any of them teaming up and breaking free. The men were going to the mines, or the fields, or the fighting pits, or some royal building project such as the perpetual construction around the palace. The women could look forward to a lifetime of servitude in a human’s house doing the cooking and the cleaning and caring for the human children. The beautiful among them would be selected out for use as gifts to other prosien nobles. The children were all being sent straight to the brothels. There were no ugly children in the sex slave trade. After ten years of this they would grow into the same roles as the adults, and before they died they would have long forgotten any experience of freedom.
Every hundred feet a human soldier walked alongside the column, about one guard for every ten prisoners. They were bored and half drunk and used their whips too much. Far enough ahead to keep a distance from the smell, Greppa Ulo rode with his caravan.
For nine days they had traveled south from Pallo din Mubias, and they were now well away from any sign of civilization. Scrub brush dotted lumpy fields. The slave road ran parallel to the palace road from the port city, but was so far that any traffic could not be seen. They had two months left in their journey.
Hours passed and the horizon barely changed, the sun sank slowly down into the west and the prisoners starved for their daily meal. At a certain point Greppa’s caravan turned off the road. The slave train followed, went off a ways into the wilderness, and set up camp. The baggage wagons were pulled up in a semicircle, the soldiers got to work, and pens were erected. Thick wooden screens, ten feet high, with tall poles on either side. The poles were sharpened at the bottom, and metal spikes had been driven into them at intervals so that they could be hammered into the ground. The slaves were detached from each other in sections and doled out to various holding areas, the same pattern every night. From the pens the slaves could look out and see Greppa’s tents, off a ways but visible enough to be fascinating to the simple folk captured from the caves of Murda. Bonfires flickered there, and the smell of roasting meats made the stomachs of the prisoners grumble as they scraped fingersfull of barley mush from wooden bowls. Shadows moved around the fires, the activity of Greppa’s business and pleasure.
One of the Murdan males, a tall hunter named Ret, licked the last glob of mush from his bowl and looked around at his fellow captives. The last full Tandor moon had seen him running through the primeval forest, chasing game with his spear in his hand. Some of his tribesman were in the pen with him. Ret saw three faces he recognized. He tossed the bowl on the ground and flexed his hand, feeling the drained sensation that accompanies malnutrition. He knew their captors intended to keep them in a state of suspended exhaustion, until they got to where they were going. They would get weaker as they went along. They had to fight now, while they still had some strength.
But how. The soldiers had swords, and wore metal armor over their chests and on their arms and legs. They had tall spears and whips. But, there was only one guard to each pen of ten prisoners. They needed to make a coordinated attack, several groups breaking through the walls at the same time, outnumbering the guards. Then maybe they could overrun the master’s camp.
His body’s desperate need for sleep threatened to betray his wavering resolve. It would be so easy to just lie down and rest, accept his fate and be thankful that he was at least alive. Ret sensed that dangerous surrender. It seduced him into drowsiness with a siren song from his own subconscious mind. He started to doze off, then snapped awake. It was the reflex shared by all former primates, ingrained in our deepest mind by sleeping in trees for millions of years. Roll off a branch and get hurt. Don’t fall asleep in a dangerous position. He checked his companions. They too were resisting slumber. Good. He crawled across the pen, pressed his face up against the wall, and peered out between the slats.
Each pen had its own guard, and each guard his own little fire to keep him warm through the night. Fifty feet apart, over five hundred fires made up the great slave encampment. Their guard was ten feet away, as were the others from theirs. He had taken off his helmet and lay down his spear at his side, reclining by the fire, propping up his head with his hand on his chin. Occasionally he would take a pull off a wineskin, murmur something dreamily into the cinders, and sink a little lower. Then the guard at the next fire over began to sing. It was a lilting tune in a foreign language that he had picked up somewhere in his travels. He sat with his back turned, still facing his pen but not their own. Ret’s eyes moved back and forth from the one man to the other, fascinated with this activity. He had seen them do this seven times now. The first two days out from the city all the soldiers had displayed more of an overt discipline, but that had soon slackened into this routine. They had done exactly the same thing every night. Ret smiled. He felt comfortable now, familiar with the behavior of his prey. He crawled back to the far side of the pen and began to dig.
One by one they had slithered out through the hole, careful not to touch the sides and make a noise. This was old hand to these hunters of Murda, stealth and surprise attack. Some of the men knew each other intimately after long years stalking animals together. They could move in a tight formation, maneuvering like a flock of birds onto a target. They could communicate with a hand signal or a glance. Act as one in a kill.
Ten of these men now stood outside the walls of their cage, hiding between it and their guard. Slowly they crept toward him. The man who was singing paused in between verses. The hunters paused with him. He picked up the song again; they moved forward. Their guard was now asleep with his hands folded behind his head. He woke up with a rough palm pressing down hard over his mouth. His arms and legs were secured with the full weight of a person on each. He couldn’t move, his armor didn’t even clank against the ground. His breath came out in angry bursts through his nostrils. The singing man kept singing. The guard’s muted scream stopped abruptly as Ret stabbed him in the throat with the bronze point of his own spear. The men sitting on his body held him down until the spasms ceased. Ret’s eyes were locked onto the singing guard. He hefted the spear, feeling its weight and balance. He knelt into a throwing stance. The guard’s song again broke for a moment. He threw the spear. Ret the Murdan tribesman could hit the heart of a running beast with a spearpoint he had chiseled from stone. This stationary human stood no chance against his practiced skill. Immediately he raced after it, followed closely by his fellow hunters. The spear struck the man in the upper left torso, punching through muscle tissue, separating ribs, destroying the heart. The man slumped over, instantly dead. Ret and the others caught his body and eased him down gently onto the grass. They took his weapons and moved on. Behind them, prisoners were helping each other over the walls of their pen.
The guard at the next fire was alert. He had seen his friend get killed. He called out a warning just as he was being attacked. Two spears came flying at him from the group of prosien men; there were at least fifteen of them now, surging toward him. He dodged one of the spears but the other caught his leg, scraping off the bronze plate and cutting him. ‘Good shot,’ he thought coolly, admiringly, in the face of his death. ‘That was a good shot.’ He took a strong posture with his spear held out before him. He stood and watched the cluster of escaped prisoners running at him. They began leaping around the spear tip as he pulled back and jabbed them in the stomach and legs, working furiously with his weapon, giving ground as he heard other soldiers coming up behind him. Ten feet away, his prisoners were dropping over the walls of their cage. The two Murdans with the stolen swords reached him and he was hacked to death as others held the shaft of his spear down, its point stuck into the ground. Ret looked up at the long line of guard fires marching off into the distance. A few soldiers were responding to the threat, but others stayed at their posts, now standing and guarding their pens properly. Far down the line, many of them hadn’t yet noticed the activity. The escapees buckled on sword belts and strapped armor onto their bodies. They now included men from Klek’tan, their deep black skin shining with sweat in the firelight. Thirty escaped prisoners moved on the next fire.
A horn was blowing. Somewhere close by in the camp, someone was sounding the alarm. Ret ran past bodies and broken pens and scattered campfires. This one had held children; the guard here had killed seven of them who were trying to escape, all with his spear, it seemed, before the adults got to him. Ret kept running. He knew there were hundreds more soldiers in the master’s camp. If they all responded at once, the revolt would be crushed as it began. But most likely some of them would stay to guard the master. If enough could be freed and armed in the time it took the other soldiers to arrive, they had a chance. The soldiers would still be outnumbered by at least three to one. There were five hundred spears out there, five hundred swords. All they had to do was kill five hundred guards to get them.
Greppa Ulo woke up in the darkness of his tent. He had left an oil lamp burning when he went to sleep, so he knew it must be very late. He lay there, wondering what had woken him; a vague sleepy memory of a noise, some commotion from outside. A thought occurred to him and he groped in the bed next to him, found a body there. ‘Damn it,’ he thought, cursing himself, ‘you fell asleep with the girl.’ It looked bad, a member of the ruling race letting his guard down over a female. ‘Try not to let the slaves see a human sleeping or dying.’ His father’s words, admonishing him from the grave. His senses were returning to the world and he began to pick up the sounds of the fighting: a distant clash of weapons, cries of triumph and agony. Then a horn blew, its strong, clear note resounding out over the expanse between the camps. Greppa jerked his flabby body upright, pushed himself out of bed. He moved quickly and heavily across the room, turned up the wick on the lamp. A golden glow grew around him, revealing the face of the slave girl in his bed, her terrified eyes peeking out from under the covers. The words “tax paid” were tattooed on her forehead. He made an irritated dismissing gesture and she fled, pulling on her clothes and tripping over herself in her haste. He bellowed for his attendants to come dress him. Instead of a clutch of servants, however, his guard captain entered just as the girl was leaving. He held the tent flap open for her, his eyes flicking back to Greppa in poorly concealed disapproval. The captain stood and saluted. “Master. Some slaves have escaped, they’ve killed some guards. I need you to stay in here until–” He was cut off by Greppa’s sudden motion. The immense fat man bulled past his captain, sweeping the soldier aside rudely with one arm as he passed. He stepped outside his tent into the warm night air. Soldiers were already gathering in the space between the tents, geared up and ready to go. Taking in the scene before him, his eyes slowly grew wider, and his mouth slowly opened as his jaw went slack in amazement.
Twenty seven hundred feet across the plain, chaos was birthing. A great swath of the slave camp was alive with motion, where no motion should have been. The neat order of the pens was in obvious disarray, their attendant fires spreading haphazardly between the guard posts. Individual humans and groups of prosien slaves ran willy-nilly throughout the wreckage. The whole scene exuded the sense of slipping over into complete disorder. Greppa had never seen a revolt this large, this destructive. “How did this happen!” he shouted, his voice rising in volume, his fury prevalent above the din of the mustering soldiers. He brandished a master’s blaming glare. “Get this under control. Now. Or it’s your head!” The captain nodded nervously, turned and called out to his troops. “Two hundred men, with me!” He raised his spear and they set off at a dead run. Greppa stood and watched them go.
Ret killed a man from a hundred feet away with the best throw of his life. The man had been running from one guard post to another, sword drawn, to help his comrade who was being dragged down by several escapees. Ret’s spear hit him just under left armpit, exactly at the moment his arm was raised, right behind the bronze plate of his chest armor. The spear burrowed deep into the man’s body and he pitched forward, his open mouth gouging up turf as he slid. Ret sprinted forward and retrieved his spear.
He stopped and looked around, panting, catching his breath. He had never felt so alive. This was not merely the thrill of chasing down or confronting some wild animal. This was battle; this was war. They were killing humans. Ret had never seen a dead human; never even heard of one dying. Not that he had seen many in his life. A tax collector, a traveling lord, then the slave master with his small army. Of course there was always the immortal god king, distant and revered atop his mountain palace. Even the lowliest human was untouchable, invulnerable, powerful. Killing them now made Ret feel as if he had pulled the sun from the sky.
The horn blew again; another answered it from the master’s camp. A mass of soldiers was moving fast toward them, all ordered, in a solid block. It was over, unless they could concentrate their strength and meet them head on as one force. He called out to his tribesman. They found each other amidst the fray. One by one and in two’s and three’s the Murdans gathered together. Soon enough some hundreds were there, plus stragglers coming in like a trickle feeding a pool. He pictured a way that his congregation could plow through the rest of the pens holding the adults, organizing themselves before the soldiers reached the boundary of the slave encampment. It would hinge upon a series of moments. He raised his voice like a chieftain goading his tribe into danger.
Boln was strapping pieces of armor onto his master’s body. The shaped bronze plates fitted tightly over Greppa’s fat forearms. He knelt and buckled the greaves, smelling the night’s sex and sweat emanating from the human’s crotch. He controlled his wince and barely turned away. Standing, taking a breath, he picked the chest plate up off its stand and pressed it in place with one hand while reaching around the back and grabbing both straps with the other. The length of the straps fell short. Greppa had grown so fat since his armor was made that it would no longer fit. Wincing openly now, for his master’s back was turned, Boln gripped one strap in each hand and pulled, forcing them together. He managed to get the buckle fastened to the first hole, barely clinging on, threatening to burst. Immediately he went for the lower one, and was relieved when Greppa sucked in his gut a little. Of course he could never ask his master to do this. It would be embarrassing to the man, and that would raise a whipping. Never mind that they were both likely to die within the next ten minutes. Old lessons died hard, beaten into the flesh. Boln squeezed the straps together and made it work a second time. He moved around to face his master. Greppa looked ridiculous, a grown man wearing a child’s toy suit of armor. Prepared for war in a sandbox. He knew it, too, and did not look his slave in the eye. “My sword.” He stood nervously twitching, listening to the sounds of the distant battle growing closer. His iron bladed sword was placed into his hand. It felt assuringly heavy. Greppa was about to say something when they both snapped their heads up, hearing quick footsteps just outside. First a few; then many. The walls and roof of the tent started to tremble. Greppa turned to Boln. “Go see what’s going on.” He pointed with his free hand toward the tent flap. Boln stared up at him for a moment, knowing this was the last time he would see the his master, knowing this was the end of his life, because of a human’s fear. He nodded compulsorily, turned with downcast eyes, and walked away. The flap closed behind him and he was gone. A faint skirmish outside was the only sign of his passage. Greppa stood trembling, alone, fist flexing around his sword. ‘I’ll take five of them down with me,’ he thought, feeling fierce against all reason. ‘At least–’ the tent roof collapsed as the ropes that held it up were cut. The heavy canvas folded down upon him, and he staggered under it’s weight, roared and rose, fell. He slashed with his sword in a desperate attempt to cut his way free, but that weapon was now useless. Breathing great snuffles of stifled air, Greppa began to suffocate. He could smell the wind-washed scent of the canvas. He scrambled like a beached sea creature toward the wall he had been facing. He heard voices above him. Something hit him hard on the back. He shouted, both in pain and impotent rage. He was trapped under the layers of canvas, helpless to fight back. Another one struck him in his blind panic. Blows began raining down, pummeling his body, beating him into crippled submission. The tent around him was lifted, and he was dragged out into the night. Greppa was barely conscious enough to appreciate the fresh air. Multiple sets of prosien hands pulled him across the ground a ways onto one of the campfires. Large logs were stacked atop his body, pinning him down into the coals. His armor began to heat. Slowly through his numb shock came the burning sensation of agony. The fire, stoked by kindling, rose about his flailing arms and legs. A terrifying scream started up from somewhere, blotting out the world. He thought that if that screaming would just stop for a moment, he could figure a way out of this. Then he realized the scream was coming from his own mouth.