You don’t have names. Actually, you might, but if you do, you no longer remember them. They take care of that when they bring you here. Processing, they call it. They scour your memories and excise anything that they deem unnecessary. You remember how to count, how to read, how to speak, and things of that nature. You just don’t remember anything about your life before you came here. After they process you, they assess you for ability and put you to work.
Welcome to life in the Cauldron.
Names are a reminder of a life that no longer exists, and thus does not matter. All that matters is the work. There is no leaving the Cauldron alive. In fact, even the bodies of the dead never leave. They are tossed into the lake of fire. Face it. There’s no escape, no life beyond these walls, so why bother with something as wholesome and hopeful as a name?
Instead, you have numbers. You all have them. They are all that sets you apart…
You. The Elemn Smith. You are Eleven-Eleven. Your innate abilities as an Elemn, a Blue Elf, allow you to harness elemental power and manifest it in different parts of your body. So, you can be quite strong by making your arms change into a massive stone-form. You would think that would land you in the Pits, carting debris from the Mines to Railtown. That’s where they send all the brutes. However, during processing, they noticed you had training in smithing light metals. So, that’s how you wound up in the Forge.
Its a hard life in the Forge. The heat is oppressive, the work is relentless, and for many Smiths, the rigors of the job weren’t bearable for more than a few months. Suicides are common, though that could be said of any jobsite within the Cauldron. You’ve been here over a year, at least to your recollection. It’s possible you’ve been here a lot longer than that. See, if you act up in any way, they have the choice of executing you, changing your job title, or sending you for reprocessing. You’ve met many Smiths more than once over the past year, recognized them, but they did not remember you. They acted as if it was their first day on the job. That’s what reprocessing does. It gives the taskmaster a new shot at making the slave work out. It gives the slave another chance to live through this hellish existence.
Then again, this is Hell.
Eleven-Eleven, you’ve been managing for over a year, which is a rare trait in the Cauldron. You’ve been getting by through judicious application of alcohol. Hardstuff, they call it. It’s wretched, but very, very effective. You spend your chits every week on the ‘stuff, making the trip out of the Forge, across the Chasmway to Railtown, where what passes for a market within the Cauldron resides. Everyone in the Cauldron earns chits. You have to work to eat, to drink, and to arm yourself against attacks from other slaves. The guards don’t protect you from one another. They simply pay attention to the ones acting suspiciously, like they might be contemplating escape, and fire arrows through them from their sniper towers. You’ve seen it happen. A lot.
Your story begins in Railtown, where you stand in a long line of other slaves, not sure what awaited you at the end of the line. That was how the markets worked here. Someone would scrounge up something from the Mines, find out the taskmasters had no interest in it, and brought it to Railtown anyway to try to sell to the other slaves and make their own lives more comfortable in the process. Opportunists, they call themselves. Scum-profiteers is more like it. But, these are the slaves one procures Hardstuff from. As you reach down and pull a small flask from your belt, you swish the fluids around, realizing there are maybe two decent swallows of Hardstuff left. The line ahead seems even longer, now.
A few spaces ahead of you in line, you hear the sounds of a hushed conversation. The word hush is ill used. They are whispering too loud for the whispers to accomplish their intended goal. Everyone can hear them. Luckily, for them, nobody seems to care what they have to say. However, your attention is piqued when a particular word is uttered by one of the whispering slaves.
Sylvres? Here? In the Cauldron?
You never talk about it, but you have been having this recurring dream literally as far back as you can remember. In this dream, you see a great hero, the Sylvres, which is the Pylean word for “savior.” This Sylvres is called by many the “Stranger in a Strange Land, Who Went To Fight For Us In Gods’ Country.” Your dream is always the same. You hear utterances of a savior, catch a glimpse of unnatural, glorious light, and are freed from this life of submission and servitude. The Sylvres saves Infernia. That is your dream. You are a Dreamer.
Apparently, the two slaves up ahead of you believe that the Sylvres was seen being brought into the Cauldron the night before, in chains, along with several warriors wearing strange garb. You leaned in to hear more, as there was a disturbance back before your place in the line. You strained to hear, but the commotion behind you drags your attention back to see what is happening.
The line behind you goes back to the farthest shadows on the horizon. Apparently, you got on line just in time. About fifteen places behind you, a young Krim girl is being accosted by a pair of Rhak slaves. The Krim looks like she can’t be more than twelve or thirteen. The Rhak are being incredibly inappropriate with the girl. However, you know better than to get involved. The only heroes in the Cauldron are the ones they toss into the damn lake of fire. You shake your head and are about to turn your attention away when you see a Kao passing by, dropping the load from his shoulder and running to the aid of the little Krim girl.
The Kao pulls one of the Rhak off the girl and tossed him aside, then stood between the Krim and the other Rhak. Suddenly, the little Krim girl spits on the Kao, kicking him, screaming at him to know his place. The line is moving. You’ve seen enough anyway, so you turn your attention back to the front of the line, where the two slaves up ahead are still speaking in hushed shouts about the Sylvres. One of them leaves the line, saying that another slave, Seventeen-Seventy, saw the Sylvres being brought through the Acquisitions Processing building. They are vacating their places in line. Up ahead, you can see a sign. Hardstuff. You feel the soft, empty flask in your hand. You are now fifth in line. Almost there. The two slaves, the ones investigating reports about the Sylvres, are disappearing to the south. You look back at them, forth to the vendors selling precious, nerve deadening Hardstuff.
You spit a curse and abandon the line, tracking after the two slaves, after these rumors, after your dream. Along the way, you pass by the area where the Krim girl was being accosted by the two Rhak. On the ground, off to the side of the vendor line, you see the naked, broken bodies of both the Krim girl and the Kao who dared to try to be a hero and save her. Kao are the lowest form of life in Infernia. That’s what everyone else seems to think, at any rate. Hell, your flask is made of Kaoskin, so you should talk. But that? That was horrible. That Kao made a poor judgment call by thinking it was his place to save the life of a little Krim girl. Now, both the Kao and the Krim lay dead, and two Rhak are out there enjoying themselves with whatever meager scraps they pulled from the bodies of both victims.
Yup. That’s the Cauldron. Hell. That’s Infernia.
Let’s move on, shall we? You. The Aer with the tool grease on your cheek. No, a little to the left. Got it. You are Eighty-eight Fifteen. Unlike Eleven-Eleven, you weren’t fortunate enough to possess any creative talents like smithing or carpentry. No, before you came here, you didn’t learn a trade, and rather than teach you one, they sent you to the mines. That’s where you’ve been for the past eight months, and it is the hardest life you can imagine. Not that you complain. You know plenty of poor saps who have a lot more to complain about than you do, after all.
You remember a few months back one of the mines collapsed and killed a few dozen Spelunkers. Being a Spelunker yourself, you were none to pleased with your next day’s task, which was digging a new mine. The taskmasters didn’t care about finding survivors, or even the corpses of the dead miners. No, if you came across one of their bodies, the orders were to just dig right through them, and keep digging until you start to hit the Usefuls. In this case, Usefuls are anything that could be smelted in the Cauldron to be made into weapons and armors in the Forge.
The Legion of Asmous swept across Infernia and scavenged everything in sight from every settlement they came across. All that salvage, all that junk, came here. It got dumped into massive mountainous landfills along the outer wall. There were over two hundred such junkpiles spread out along the perimeter of the Cauldron, each one hundreds of feet deep, if not thousands. Your job, as a Spelunker, was to dig through the junkpiles, erect working mines within the trash heaps, and find Usefuls. Instead, mostly, what you found simply haunted you to tears.
You mostly found memories.
The first time you came across a child’s doll, you collapsed in the mine and could not stop crying. Everywhere you look down there is a reminder of what life must have been like for the poor fools whose only crime was being in the path of the Legion of Asmous. You used to have a small collection of trinkets from the mines. Old crumpled pieces of a torn dress. A half-missing book about planting Ebonberries, that doll… but eventually, they took them. They take everything here. They take everything but the pain, fear, and sadness. They leave you that. In fact, they do whatever they can to heap more on you.
Like when they sent you to dig for through old friends, such as they were, just to get a few shreds of scrap metal so some high-and-mighty Archdemon somewhere can have a new soup spoon at his gala banquets, sipping Kaoblood from goblets made out of smelted metal from what was once some gardener’s trowel for planting Ebonberries. These thoughts kept you down. Very down. Many Spelunkers killed themselves to escape these thoughts, but not you. No. You hold on. Despite all that you see, all that you feel as you claw past the halved bodies of old Spelunkers, all that you know your works are contributing to… you hold on.
Because you have a dream…
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Chapter 1: The Dreamers in… Hellbound
Chapter 2: The Dreamers in… Life In The Cauldron
Chapter 3: The Dreamers in… The Waking Nightmare
Chapter 4: The Dreamers
Chapter 5: The Dreamers in… Escaping The Cauldron