Chapter 1: Bonds of freedom
Daylight cascaded down, glinting through the millions of tiny crystals that misted out steadily from the waterfall, kissing the gold metal of paradise, light fell upon shackles that bound a girl's limbs, and stifled her neck. Chains brought brilliant by amber, shone out as she stood, gazing up at the dewy morning sky. Standing namelessly and alone, barefooted on the cold dark crystal-stone floor of what some would happily call a “terrace”. But for her, it was the most beautiful prison she had ever seen, it was also all the child had ever seen and known since birth. Her sparkling blue eyes gazed out across the cloud tops that licked the bottom terrace and the peak of the mountain it held onto.
The wind was strong, carrying the girl’s long matted hair about as she stood shallow but firm. The child's daily mental jaunt was cut shorter than usual by a shrill roar from within the arched building that loomed behind her. The hate-laced cry whipped her head around, as it emanated from within the beautifully ornate building. For anyone else this construct, (and the hundreds like it all scattered across each sprawling terrace) would be an awe-inspiring view to see. Laced ornate curves of rose metallic sheen interwoven across like a large basket or perhaps a spider's web, all holding the gallant slates of deep purple and crimson crystal-stone slabs. A site to behold truly; one would think that these buildings were formed from the very earth itself, not created by the generous hands of man. However, the ornate domes with their high doorways and windows, which let in cascades light were really all created out of pure necessity. Their beauty was an after effect of material, and sheer vivid location. To anyone else they could be considered homely and beautiful but to a slave, no beauty could ever truly be grasped without the freedom of one's own heart.
The girl's chains dragged along the finely carved floor, she hurriedly made her way into the shaded building, and across its expanse. Weaving past tables and chairs all neatly set, their construction resembling that of the very domes which housed them. With ornate metalwork intertwined with gallant plush cushions of royal violet. Even the stitching was done with strands of rose gold, flayed to be as thin as the finest silks. Like the flowing thread, the girl hurried, head down, sewing through. Bare feet contacting hard stone with shuddering blows. She scurried full of fear, full of worry, making it across the cafe’s rather large seating area, trekking to the back, where everything was prepared. As the large muted doors came into view, the child picked up her ragged dress hurrying faster, chains beginning to clank. Like a mouse she ran her hands up the smooth metal seam of the double-wide doors, peeking her head in, holding the side like a shield, using it as a barrier between her small body and the inner workings of the sweltering kitchen.
The kitchen was a checkerboard of filigree encrusted cooking devices of all different kinds, the overall area was not large but the copious amounts of equipment stuffed into such a space made it seem like they would be cooking for armies. The ceiling was low, slightly arched to a point, and was made of the same deep purple crystal stone that comprised the tiled floor, and the inset walls. While the cafe sparkled with light from the translucent nature of the colorful materials, the kitchen was dim, lit by white glowing orbs that hung all across the ceiling, giving the whole space a cave-like appeal. The girl stood at the doubled doored mouth of the cave peering in.
A sudden chittering sound, of organic material, whipped her head around into the heart of the cafe, but only for a moment. She slunk behind the door, peering out in the morning-illuminated dining room, but no source of sound could be found. Just as she was about to re-surmount the mouth of the cave, a sharp crack, followed by a sudden metallic slam at the door, made the child jump, biting her tongue bloody in a finely practiced attempt to keep from screaming. The door swung open violently, striking her down, as she tumbled onto her back, bare hands and feet wetly slapping against the cold stone, leaving light speckled trails.
The dividers creaked and stayed open, a new slash present on the inside, joining the hundreds that littered the inside of the crystal doors. Tears streamed down the little one’s face, cutting lines in dirt long settled. Somehow the loudest sound out of the whole ordeal was drawn from the clacking and slashing of the short metal chains latched to the child's wrist and ankles. They had been there since the day she was born, and as far as the child could tell, she was practically made with them on. The girl reeled on the floor dazed by shocking pain, witnessing the black-link tail slink back over one of the cooking tables with the heavy thudding of metal on metal. It was the master’s prized weapon and her favorite form of not-so corporal punishment. The scars snaking the door almost directly mirrored the ones that were etched into the child's creamy skin. She had been collecting them every week since the day she was born, no doubt she would still be collecting them till the day she died.
As the whip stampeded over the countertop with vivid malice, the large silhouette of the master rose over the nearest slatetop, ceiling orbs flowing behind her, casting most of her body in a deep shadow, as the hulking form ascended. Even as the kitchen doors swung back and forth from the combined force of fear and punishment, the child could clearly see the master’s pure black eyes locked onto her, followed by a cold and calculating hate. The pitch-black seams along the woman’s aging face creased as her visage furrowed with a generalized and brutal anger. The old woman's hair, pure white, stayed long and tied up in a large ponytail that cascaded down her back, catching on rippled muscles and joint-based seams. She rose to her full height, over 6ft of rock-like, servo enhanced tissue, bone, and machine.
Despite her age and scar-riddled body, the monster could crush an adult male’s skull with her bare hands. The woman’s eyes burned into the child with laser focus, rapidly spinning in their sockets as they scanned her and the surrounding area constantly. The master’s name was Konnie, the child had only picked it up while cleaning under one of the active grills, where in she was able to steal the sounds of a conversation between one of the warriors (the girl had seen prancing around) and the master herself. The warrior referred to her as Konnie, and the master referred to him as “Upper Echelon Gray” but the child had no clue what that could mean, besides a rather unusual name.
The furrowed face’s flesh brimmed around its seams as the master's features contorted, a growl rolling up from the depths of her metal-tainted form.
“Child!” Konnie roared, full of ferocity, her body not conveying any of it, as she stood still as iron.
“Start the preparations for today’s events” the woman turned, tapping her black nails on various crystal apparatuses that jutted from ornate statues placed elegantly around the metal.
“Clean the patio, and the floor every hour” picking up a large amethyst bottle, she poured a thick blue liquid into an artfully engraved pot, simmering on top of a heated pile of red shards.
“Empty the trash, scrub the under traps, and uhhhh…” She paused examining a scratch on the filagree located at the edge of a deep blue countertop “if it’s cleaner than yesterday, I'll reduce your lashes by half”. Stone-faced the woman turned back to the child, who had now slunk safely into the dim kitchen, past the brilliant doors.
Konnie tracked her with
still spinning eyes and waited for the sullen nod of confirmation before she
fell back into her robotic cooking routine, and the child returned to the
dining area, about to start her tragic day. The child thought to herself silently, that Konnie was a stark monochrome shape compared to the beautiful and baffling
rainbow mess that was the shining cafe.
Thus, the routine started, the routine that the child had come to know since her very grasp on sentience. All-day, cleaning the room every hour on the hour, working past guests and tables, sweeping crystal tiles and luxurious rugs. Scrubbing spills, cleaning dripping kitchen equipment. The child had come to internalize the pain, if she made a sound or a shriek she would be screaming even louder later or at the hands of some untrained guest, best to hurt inside than more lashes. Years of grease had cascaded scars down her arms and feet, the bottom of her soles were burned and torn from manual labor.
The girl’s nails were chipped-bloody, and her hair was long and matted. The only things that stood unharmed on her small frame were those piercing blue eyes, and the curious light-blue geometric pattern of symbols that stretched across her left collar bone, slightly up her neck, and slightly across her shoulder and chest. Those markings were why she was here, after all, why she had been here since birth, and the reason why she knew nothing but the heat and red that had torn her to shreds all while begging her to revel in it. A mere child every day worked till her fingers bled, till her skin tore, she carried boxes that weighed more than herself, and picked glass with her hands. This was all she knew, it still hurt, and she often found herself on the terrace, peering over the side at the beautiful waterfall, and the mist-filled mountainsides. She hated looking down though, at the sheer clouded cliffs below.
Those little moments were her only
respite in a hell too cruel. The girl
still found herself crying as they tied her up every night. Day in and day out all she did was work and obey,
she knew very little language and had no concept of her own age, however the
child guessed she had to be 10 or 11, close to the amount of fingers on her
hands, but she had no real way of knowing. Every waning night she curled into a
crumpled ball on the soot-covered pallet in the backroom that was her bed, she
did not shed a tear, the shivering was far better than the pain they could
knew the blue mark was why the denizens of this haven hated her, why they
despised her as an object and never a human being, why they wished her dead and
tried to work her to make that sentiment a reality. But she accepted it, what
else was there, but a paradise where pain and suffering were her captors, where
the wind blew and the trees rustled, yet the terraces still stood firm. All this
plight lodged into the mountain top like a series of ascending discs dotted
with hundreds of domed buildings, soaring high above the clouds.