Iris and Lily sat leisurely within the cage, feeling every bump in the road as the carriage continued to move. Mistaking their relaxed state of mind as a silent resignation, the other women in the cage regarded them with pity.
Most of the women in the cage were tagged with a <<Slave Collar>>, with Lily herself having earned one to keep her quiet after she continued hurling insults at her captors.
The collars discharged a magically-induced burst of pain, as she had discovered when she had been subjected to it. The pain was not negligible – she believed that it would be unbearable for most – but she had the experience of having a leg being grinded through and bitten off by a large dragon. The pain was barely enough to make her grimace. Iris, having the ability to cut off sensations of pain, was immune to the effects of the collar as well.
Naturally, the other women were not aware of this, and some had started openly crying when Lily had been collared.
At the third rest stop of the journey, the slavers instructed the other women to clean Lily and Iris up and make them presentable for sale, leaving a bucket of water in the cage for this purpose. Without complaint, the other slaves started to use the water to wash down the two girls, leaving them clean, then one of the collared women, about thirty years of age with flaming red hair, began braiding Lily’s hair.
As she worked, the woman spoke to both Lily and Iris.
“It’s… such a shame that two girls as young as you are going to end up as slaves… you could have had a great future.”
Iris and Lily glanced at each other. Then Lily spoke up, affecting a tone of fear.
“Wh-what do you think is going to happen to us, ma’am? I mean, look at me. Surely nobody will buy a slave with no arms or legs?”
The woman shook her head slowly and sadly.
“That’s a mistake. It is, in fact, for you that I fear the most. Your sister will be bought easily, she has a pretty face, and she is young and cute. Many people will want her. You, however, will be bought by a very specific type of client.”
Her hands never ceased as she talked, diligently and meticulously carrying out her task.
“You, my dear, will be bought by some sick noble and used as a flesh doll. You’ll be kept in private for him to use, or perhaps displayed in public for the enjoyment of his guests. You’ll become no more than a piece of furniture, a decorative trophy piece. You’ll no longer be human.”
With that statement, the woman tied off the end of the braid and stood back to evaluate her work. This time, Iris spoke up.
“E-excuse me, ma’am… but you seem rather knowledgable about slavery and such… is there a reason why?”
The woman barked out a laugh.
“It’s because I’ve been a slave all my life, that’s how. Slavers caught me when I was ten, been passed around and bought and sold many times since. I’ve been to more slave auctions than I can count, and I’ve seen the type of people who buy slaves like you. I’ve lived a slave, and I’ll die a slave. The only thing I can hope for is for a kind master.”
Lily watched the woman’s silent resignation to fate, and felt an undercurrent of angry resentment.
“Have you ever tried…escaping?”
The woman burst out laughing at Lily’s suggestion.
“I did. Once. Then they stuck this,” she pointed at her <<Slave Collar>>, “on my neck. It’s programmed to activate whenever you even have thoughts about escaping slavery. And you’ve felt how much it hurts. Eventually I just accepted my fate and stopped thinking about escape. The collar hasn’t hurt me since. And if you don’t want it to hurt you, you’ll do the same; unfortunate fate notwithstanding. Besides, after your first sale, you’ll be branded. You’ll never be able live normally again. Everyone will know you’ve been a slave before. And without the official stamp of release across it, everyone will know you’re illegally escaped.”
“Oi! Keep quiet! We’re entering the city!”
The woman fell silent as one of the slavers shouted at the cage, as did Lily. Lily was rather annoyed with how the woman had given up on her own freedom so easily, just out of fear of pain and stigma.
As she sat back, Lily gave one last remark.
“Pain can be conquered.”
After entering the city, the slavers set up their cage near the side of the business district, preparing for the auction in the morning. Tossing food to the slaves, they set four men on watch and left the women to their own devices. Various onlookers came by to stop and look inside the cage, perhaps to do some window-shopping and catch a preliminary glimpse of the merchandise. As the day ended and night drew near, they, too, began to thin out.
As they looked around, Lily and Iris observed the women around them. Some were bowing their heads in prayer. Some were sobbing, some were consoling others. Some were quietly staring into space. Yet all of them bore on their faces a look of resignation and melancholy.
Lily glanced outside. The four guards were rotating duties, with two guards standing watch and two guards patrolling. It would be a simple matter to knock them out.
As the women around them slowly fell asleep, Lily exchanged glances with Iris, signalling with her eyebrow. Iris turned around and presented her back, the back panels opening up, revealing Lily’s prosthetics. Iris took hold of the arms and held them to Lily’s side, allowing Lily to reconnect them, then Lily did the same with her legs.
The sudden soft sound of metal touching metal as Lily stood up in the cage woke some of the women sleeping closer by, who stared at her in surprise. Moving quickly, she placed one finger over her lips, causing them to nod and stay quiet. Looking around, Lily saw the red-haired woman who had spoken to them earlier. She tapped the woman on the shoulder, waking her up. As her eyes widened at Lily’s prosthetic limbs, Lily held a finger to her mouth and whispered.
“Pain can be conquered.”
Slowly, deliberately, for the women around them to see, Lily reached up to the collar around her neck. Touching it caused a surge of pain to arc through her, but she ignored it and carried on. With a single motion, she grabbed the collar and snapped it into two halves, freeing her neck. Next to her, Iris did the same. Placing the halves on the floor, Lily looked to the place where the two guards – who were by now drifting to sleep – stood watch. Using her probes to find their general direction, she fired the wires within her fingers at them.
The wires wrapped around the guards’ mouths, throats and noses, cutting off their muffled screams and slowly restricting their air supply. After a few seconds, the guards slumped backwards, unconscious.
Lily nodded at Iris, who walked up to the bars of the cage and grabbed them in her petite hands, bending them apart easily and quickly, creating a large hole through which Lily and Iris stepped through. Behind them, a number of the women looked at the hole for a while, before falling to their knees, clutching their heads in pain from the collars.
Lily did not look back. She had done all she was willing for those women. The window for escape was there, if they were willing to endure the pain and seize it.
Moving swiftly, before the patrolling guards could finish their rounds, Lily and Iris searched the guards, stripping them down, taking their coinpurses, then swiftly retreating into the darkness of the alleyways. They would have to create as much distance from the area as possible. Keeping to the safe darkness of alleyways and rooftops, they ran.