The Emperor's Eyes

August 5, 2010
In a dark cavern, hidden many feet underground, a man cried in agony as he was lashed with a leather whip repeatedly.

Who was he? He was not sure himself. He was eight when the ruthless mercenaries with golden eyes had pillaged his hometown of Gayle and enslaved all of the children fit for hard labor. Ten years of hard work and cruel punishments forced him to forget his childhood and focus on the tasks that were given to him. He did not even know his own name; the overseers had labeled him as “Slave Number 68”.

Number 68 was extremely tall and skinny, giving him a lanky appearance. Muscle barely covered his body, but he made up for it with his agility and flexibility. He had a round face covered in dirt and grime. His clothes consisted of ripped, dirty leggings and a grey shirt that used to be white.

“That’s for slacking, slave. And this is for being so pathetic!” the overseer said as he lashed the slave once more. Number 68 glared angrily, but did not dare retaliate.

He and his fellow slaves barely continued to live. There was only one exit out of the dark, small cavern and that was a staircase that was always guarded by an overseer. There were no comfortable beds, sheets, or pillows. Slaves were forced to sleep in bunches along the jagged rock walls and stalagmites.

A few years back, a rebellious slave gathered seven slaves besides him to fight back. He was a tall and muscular young man. He was also handsome, even in his dirty attire. He and his group charged towards the staircase, ready and determined. They were able to incapacitate the guard, but not without making a great deal of noise. The overseers on the platform above were able to hear the fighting and let loose a giant boulder down the steps as the slaves were climbing upwards. Only three men out of the group were able to dodge the boulder, and the rest were painfully crushed. The survivors were quickly apprehended and beaten. The leader of the group was one of the men who survived, but Number 68 never saw the same amount of determination and hope in his eyes again.
He limped past the overseer, grabbing the heavy bag of stones he had been ordered to carry and heaving it over his shoulder.

The overseer spat in front of him, shaking his head with disgust.

“You would think those fools that the Emperor hired would have left you for dead for being so scrawny, but no. They brought as many as possible just to get a few more coins.”

Number 68 paused at the overseer’s words and turned around, tilting his head.

“Why do you follow the man who hires fools to carry out such an important task?” said Number 68 politely, trying to avoid another beating.

“Why? What a question! To get rid of the mistaken wretches who are trying to revive something that never existed: magic. Those people are trying to misguide others to gain power over them, and the Emperor is here to prevent that horrible crime,” the overseer grinned, lashing his whip in front of Number 68, “Now go! The statue needs to be completed by dawn.”
Number 68 winced at the loud crack the whip made and quickly walked to the cavern’s entrance. He climbed up the long set of stone stairs to the outside world and gasped at the first sight he saw. In front of him, the vast statue of the Emperor was almost complete. It was expertly crafted in different ores and stones to represent colors and textures of the Emperor’s clothing. In the Emperor’s hand was a long scepter, adorned with a golden orb on the top. Number 68 placed his bag down next to the others and stared in awe at the sight.
A fellow slave blinked at Number 68 and ran towards him, a nervous countenance displayed on his face.
“Hey, Sixty-eight. What are you doing? If the overseers see you lingering about, it’s another beating for you!” said the slave, looking around nervously.
“Relax, Forty-three. I was just inspecting the statue. I mean, it’s so well crafted, and all because of us slaves! Unfortunately, once it’s finished and people start to visit it, all of the credit will go to the Emperor’s lackeys…I hate it!” said Number 68, violently kicking a loose stone down the steps to the cavern.
“Well, does it matter who really gets the credit? I hear we’re all going to be dead once the damn stature is finished. All that’s left is the facial features,” said Number 43 sadly.
Number 68 was about to comfort his friend when a loud cry was heard. It was soon followed by the cracks of whips and laughter. The two slaves looked at each other and quickly ran over to the other side of the statue. They both gasped when they saw the giant, cut rock crushing the young woman and the overseers lashing her for laughs.
“Get up, girl! You’re wasting time and if this statue isn’t finished by dawn, you’re all in for it,” said an overseer. He smirked as he lashed the woman’s cheek. She cried in agony at both the lashings and the stone crushing her legs.
Almost instinctively, Number 68 picked up a heavy stone and chucked it at the overseer. The stone hit his head directly and made him fall to the ground, unconscious. The other two overseers charged at Number 68, but he was far too fast. He ducked, swept his leg from under him, and tripped both of the overseers. He then picked up two stones and slammed them against their heads, knocking them out.
The other slaves stared in awe at Number 68, waiting for the imminent punishment. Ignoring their gazes, Number 68 ran over to the girl and tried to push the stone off her, but to no avail.
“Forty-three, get over here! I need your help.”
“Uh, um, I don’t think that’s a good idea, Sixty-eight,” said Number 43 hesitantly.
Number 68 turned his head around and glared hard at his friend. “Are you insane? This stone is crushing her, help me!”
Number 43 sighed heavily as he ran towards the crying young woman. They mustered all of their strength, and together, they managed to move the stone off of her. Number 68 inspected her legs and winced.
“This is not good…we need to fix her up, but I don’t have the supplies,” said Number 68.
“Well, if you manage to find any, save some for us, okay? Here come the overseers,” said Number 43.
Both slaves and the surrounding crowd turned their heads to the three men walking out of the hole that led to the cavern. Two of the men looked like normal overseers, but the one in the middle was dressed in rich clothing and wielded a beautiful rapier. Number 68 knew this man…the chancellor of the Emperor. He walked into the crowd, which seemed to open for him immediately.
“I see we have some slaves that dare go against the authority of this area, “ said the chancellor. He looked at where the unconscious overseers were and sighed. “You do realize your punishment for this treason, correct? Execution, that is.”
Number 43 gulped nervously and repeatedly looked between the chancellor and Number 68, wondering what to do. Number 68 merely nodded at him, and stepped forward. He kneeled towards the chancellor and lowered his head.
“I’m sorry for the act I’ve committed, sir. I just heard that young lady in pain and felt that I had to help. Your minion was preventing me from doing that.”
The chancellor raised his eyebrows for a moment, and then glared at Number 68. “Your apology is not accepted, filthy wretch. Men! Take these fools to the prison hold, I’ll be there shortly.”
The two overseers at his side walked forward towards the two slaves. Number 68 turned his head around to Number 43 and winked before he grabbed the whip of the fallen overseer and lashed it forward. The overseer was caught by surprise and his face got caught in the path of the whip. He stumbled backward, and then tripped on a stone, hitting the back of his head hard on the ground.
Number 43’s jaw dropped at the complete act of rebellion that his friend had done. He then looked back at the woman lying on the floor, still in pain. He remembered Number 68’s wink and wondered whether or not he wanted him to carry her to safety. He made up his mind and carefully lifted her into his arms.
The other overseer was busy dealing with Number 68 to notice. They circled around each other, ready for any move. Number 68 smirked, and faked a lash to the overseer’s arm. The overseer was fooled and caught by surprise by the following lash to his crotch. He fell to the floor in pain, his eyes slightly tearing.
“Forty-three, go! Now!” shouted Number 68.
Number 43 nodded nervously and ran through the crowd carrying the woman. He jumped off the platform the statue was being built on and sprinted through the grass in a random direction. Number 68 smiled as his comrade left, then turned to face his next opponent. The chancellor unsheathed his rapier and positioned himself into a fighting stance.
“You’re not defeating me with a piece of leather, boy,” said the chancellor, a wide grin on his face. A small flash of gold appeared in his eyes before fading away.
Number 68 looked around him and picked up a rock with his left hand. He knew he still could not beat the chancellor as long as he had his sword. He tried to think of a plan, but was interrupted by the incoming danger. The chancellor charged full speed at him and attempted to thrust his rapier forward, but Number 68 sidestepped quickly, and then smashed the rock against the chancellor’s unprotected fist.
The chancellor screamed and dropped his rapier. Number 68 rapidly picked it up from the ground, but instead of remaining to fight, he ran off in the same direction Number 43 had gone.
The chancellor glared angrily and yelled at the top of his lungs. “Go ahead and run, wretch! I don’t need to follow you, you’ll be dead the moment you step into a town!”
Number 68 ignored the yelling and continued running at top speed, constantly searching for Number 43. He eventually started following a trail of blood on the grass he had found. After a couple of minutes, he saw something that resembled a slave’s shirt wrapping up something. He moved behind the boulder and saw that the shirt was ripped in two in order to cover both of the woman’s legs. He smiled slightly as he saw the woman he had saved, and a shirtless Number 43 right next to her.
“Sixty-eight! You’re alive!” said Number 43 as he jumped to his feet and hugged his fellow, free slave.
Number 68 dropped the Chancellor’s rapier and returned the hug, then looked down at the woman. He smiled gently at her, and then looked towards the distance. There was a small town on top of a nearby hill. Behind the hill was a long mountain range that prevented Number 68 from seeing anything else. Clouds gathered directly above the town, threatening to send rain down at any moment.
“We need to get her medical help. Think you can carry her over to that town?” asked Number 68.
“Are you that foolish? Look at our clothing! We’ll be branded as slaves in no time.”
“So what? We do nothing? This woman will never be able to walk again unless we treat her injuries. If you won’t do it, then I will.”
“Wait…please, I don’t want your blood on my hands. Your friend is right, you’ll be handed over to the Emperor immediately,” the woman said. Her voice was barely a whisper.
Number 68 sighed heavily, then suddenly turned around and sprinted towards the distant town. Number 43 and the woman watched him run until he was out of sight. Number 43 started to tear up…he knew he would never see his friend again.
Number 68 panted heavily as he walked through the town gate, looking for a doctor. The townspeople froze when they saw him and fear began to show in their faces. They did not answer his questions regarding a medic, but they did not prevent him from searching either. They were not sure what to do. Suddenly, a town guard walked in front of Number 68 and broke the silence. He wore a full suit of rusted armor and a tall, pointed helm on his head. His countenance displayed anxiety before his green eyes shone gold.
“Halt. You are not permitted to walk these grounds, return to your masters immediately and you will not have to be harmed,” he said.
“No! I need a doctor for my friend, show him to me!” demanded Number 68.
The town guard peered at the slave for a moment before removing the lance from his back and piercing his chest with it. Number 68’s eyes widened as he fell to the floor and died within seconds. A crowd suddenly surrounded the guard and the slave’s corpse.
“Wasn’t that one of the slaves from Gayle? I heard they were trying to bring back the dead arts of magic. The Emperor had them captured to prevent them from controlling us!” said an elderly woman.
“These kind of people make me sick. Once other villages heard about this magic nonsense, they tried to revive it too. Now countless rebellions are forming against the good Emperor who is only trying to protect his country,” said a young man.
The various townspeople nodded in agreement and left to do their daily routine, leaving the corpse of Number 68 and the guard behind. The guard looked at the corpse then at the roof of a nearby building. A man in a black robe crouched on the roof, holding a glowing, golden orb in his right hand. He also wore a tabard that bore the insignia of the empire. He lifted the orb above his head as it shined brightly. The eyes of the guard shone gold for a moment before reverting back to their natural color. The guard nodded his head and bent over in order to heave Number 68’s body over his shoulder. He turned towards the town gates and proceeded to walk towards them. The man on the roof chuckled quietly, shaking his head.
“Ignorant fools. The Emperor is controlling all of you like pathetic sheep and you don’t even know it.” He lifted up the golden orb and smirked.
“And he’s doing it all through magic.” The man’s grin never faded as he vanished into thin air, leaving only specks of golden dust behind.

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