A/N: I think it should be said where my head canon for Kratos started developing. A long while ago I read a fanfiction called "Kharlan Chronicles" by HeroR. I don't think they know they served as such a huge inspiration for this (or that they'll ever know, really) but I figure I should give credit where credit is due. Anyway, here's chapter 2! A special thanks to Kazen for reviewing and thanks to those of you who read chapter one!
Chapter Two: The Harvest
Linked to several other people, the train of humans continued their long march towards the capital of Tethe'alla. The glowing capital, which hugged the horizon closely, glimmered in the decaying sunlight and gave everyone a feeling of unease.
Kratos had always wanted to see the capital of Tethe'alla, having been born in Sylvarant. Even with the continued war between the two nations and his feelings of hatred for the enemy country, Meltokio was said to be a sight to see and he'd promised himself he'd see it one day.
This wasn't exactly how he'd planned to see it, however.
When they stopped for a break, several of the herders surrounding them to watch them with trained eyes, Kratos seated himself like the others did. The chains were heavy, bruising his wrists and ankles even more so than the binds he'd worn for nearly three years prior had. Or, at least, he thought it was around three years. If it had been as long as he'd suspected, he'd be somewhere around the age of nineteen.
The teen years were almost behind him, it seemed. He'd wasted the better part of his life, the part where most people were focusing on dating and relationships, school and parties. He'd wasted it being trapped and tortured in a prison.
Prison. That was a good word for it.
The officially coined term that people used was an 'Arasesr Encampment', but that was because anyone who hadn't been to one of these 'encampments' didn't understand the hell that was waiting for those who had. Kratos knew it couldn't be helped, the people would stay ignorant.
"Get up, we're moving out!"
Shuffling back to his feet, Kratos and the others hurried towards Meltokio in silence, neither daring to speak a word to anyone.
The wind came rushing over them as they crossed the plains, reminding Kratos of his now crudely chopped hair. It was shorter than he'd had it in years, the Arasesr cropping it so the branding on the back of the neck could be seen. Looking forward, he could see the other people's brands, the mark that brought them to where they were now. People were branded before being sold. It was like putting your signature on artwork. Kratos quickly hushed his thinking, unpleasant memories washing forward.
The night passed and it wasn't until the middle of the next day that they'd finally reached the golden town, outer walls gleaming under the heavy battle armor that'd been placed after the previous bombing of the city. Sylvarant had bombarded the walls of the ocean-side city in hopes that they could crumble its defenses. It turned out to be a failure and Meltokio rebuilt itself bigger and stronger than ever.
Entering through a back exit, which was protected by members of the King's royal guard, the slaves and their escorts travelled through wooden passages in the massive wall to reach a safe house that was attached directly to the wall on the inner part of the city. It was dank, dirty and musty, making Kratos gag as they entered. Sawdust spiraled through the air, landing helplessly on the ground. He watched it go, falling and landing so perfectly dead on the wooden floors.
"Line up," an Arasesr shouted, the mass of slaves huddling into a line. Their chains were then locked to the floor with bolts that'd been hammered into the wood, trapping them in place for the time being. The Arasesr captain, whose cropped dark green hair sat like a nest on his head, scanned the group of slaves before turning to one of the royal knight.
"House opens at six, sharp. It'll close at midnight, no exceptions. You tell your people that." The royal guard nodded before hurrying away, leaving the Arasesr and their prisoners to themselves.
Kratos looked around the room, eyes taking in the scene. The room was bare, nothing hanging on the walls, the only opening a doorway which was covered by a thick blanket. A single bulb, fueled by volt's lightning, hung from the ceiling. Several of the Arasesr stood with their backs against the walls, eyes watching the humans closely. They were waiting for them to make a move, for them to attempt escape from the situation but Kratos knew no one would. Why attempt freedom now? The branding made it harder for someone to seek help, sane people casting aside those with the mark to avoid being targeted by the Arasesr.
Unless they knew someone personally in Meltokio, their chances of fleeing successfully were rather low. No one would help the lost souls the Arasesr had taken possession of. No one.
Hours passed, the group forced to stand the entire time. Occasionally, a guard or two would pester one of the humans, usually a woman, but no one said anything to stop it. It was ignored by everyone, including Kratos, each content in trying to savor their last moments of 'freedom'. The time finally came when dozens of rich folk, dressed in their lowest degree of clothing, which Kratos still judged as upper class, gathered inside the dusty room after paying what he figured was a rather hefty entry fee.
They spoke to one another in muted tones, pointing with their fingers or their eyes at ones that interested them. Not being allowed to get very close at the moment, the front of the room became packed to the brim with eager shoppers, all of them loaded with money for their upcoming purchase.
Kratos could feel a rapid pounding in his chest, the group of slaves shifting back a little as more poured in to stare. The voice of the commanding officer startled him and he shifted his head to see the man more clearly, "welcome ladies and gentlemen to today's Harvest."
There was a small bit of clapping; some of the younger ladies ooh-ing and awe-ing, indicating it was their first time being at a slave auction. When the noise died down, the commander smiled at them, though hate hid just beneath the surface of those eyes, "the rules for the Harvest are as follows," pulling out a sheet of paper from an inner armor pocket, he began to read, "each slave will be presented to the group, if no one chooses to put a bid on it, it will be locked up and you can no longer bid on it. So, it's important to bid on it if you want it."
More whispers broke out amongst the gathered crowd and Kratos couldn't help but feel sick to his stomach. Treating them like animals, selling them off to the highest bidder, it wasn't fair and it made him hate half-elves far more than he already did.
If anyone standing in the room was some kind of 'animal' it was the sellers and the buyers, willingly ignoring the humanity in front of them for cheap labor. Were all people really that disgusting deep down? If he had the money and the means, would he be where those in fancy clothes stood?
"The slave will go to the highest bidder, no exceptions. If a fight breaks out, the Harvest will end and we'll be on our way. Finally, it's important to remember that the location of the Harvests is of the utmost secrecy. Disclosing this information is a crime that is punishable by the Arasesr." Rolling up the paper and shoving it back into his pocket, he glanced around at all of them before smiling his shallow smile, "that's it for the rules. Shall we get this Harvest underway?"
There was some more clapping, more gawking sounds, more excitement. It was a party for them, some kind of game that was beginning soon, and every single one of them was pleased with where it was going.
One of the low ranking Arasesr walked towards the slaves, heading for the one standing to the far left. The woman was unhitched from her binds and pulled forward. Black hair, which had long since been cropped short, and terrified blue eyes. What Kratos knew about the Harvest was very little but he did understand one thing, the women had it much worse than men. Men were sold mostly for labor while women were mainly sold for sex. From the look on her face, she knew that, too.
She was handed to the head commander, "The starting bid for her is 40,000 Gald. She's 5'5'', weighs 130 pounds and is 20 years old. Any takers?" Hands shot in the air, fingers pointing and close palmed. There were several shouts, their voices raising the very temperature of the room. Numbers were being called left and right,
Faster and faster, their lips flew until finally the bid was going once, going twice, sold to the highest bidder with 87,000 Gald.
Kratos hadn't even seen that much money in his life time and yet, some rich human was dropping that money on a woman for the sole purpose of using her. Worst yet, it wasn't even a young man. Instead, it was old money, gray hair shying away from the top of his head. He had a snarl on his face that disturbed Kratos, his crooked teeth glowing yellow as he grinned at her.
Taking her and paying his due, they quickly left the room, not even interested in staying around for the rest of the Harvest. He exited out the covered doorway, her cries being muffled by the sounds of the anxious crowd.
And without another thought to the woman who'd just lost her freedom, the Arasesr continued their business, selling off human after human in a tizzy of excitement. Some of the more fortunate ones weren't bidded on, not appealing to the crowd, and they were locked up again, ready to be transported to the next town.
The man before Kratos had been accepted by one of the youngest auctioneers, her bright yellow sun hat and chubby cheek face showing her extreme youth, most likely no older than fifteen. She'd taken the man and Kratos could hear her speak eagerly about how she wanted some more, even though her parents had already bought her five.
The novice Arasesr unshackled Kratos, a toothy grin greeting him. He felt his heart begin to pound against his ribcage and, had it been silent in the room, he was sure everyone would have heard it too. The commander grabbed him roughly by the arm, speaking out to the crowd like he'd done so many times before, "the bid starts at 10,000,000 Gald. He's 6'1, weighs 147 pounds and is 19 years old. This one's special, broken into compliance by the head of the Arasesr himself. He won't disobey you and if he does, send him back for a little 'fix'," the crowd laughed and Kratos simply lowered his head. It hurt to listen to them sneer at him, call him names. He was one of them, wasn't he? A human. And yet, he was treated no better than the scum that sold him off.
The bidding began and he cringed as the numbers got higher, breaking the 20,000,000 Gald range and dancing clear up through there. Were they really going to buy him for so much money? It was ironic that someone who possessed so little value actually ended up selling for such a large price. Trying to make it a complement, however, was proving to be difficult and with each increase, his heart slammed against his ribs just a little harder.
The commander's voice carried louder than the others, "going once, going twice…Sold to the highest bidder at 65,865,000 Gald!" His heart stopped, the number appearing in his mind's eye. That number couldn't be right, the half-elf mispronouncing it. 65 million Gald for him?
Looking through the crowd, he watched as it parted, revealing a tall man. His muscles were evident under his clothing, the powerful body he housed daring anyone to tangle with him. The small eyes that sat upon his tan face glared down at the teenager, making him back away in fear. Kratos couldn't look into those eyes, they scared him, reminded him of things he'd rather forget.
The commander bowed humbly, pushing the slave forward, "it was an honor selling to you tonight, Grand General Steele." The man said nothing as he made his payment, taking Kratos roughly by the shoulder and pushing him to the back of the room. Being pushed against the wall, he was forced to stay there for the remainder of the Harvest, a powerful grip threatening to break his shoulder.
When the Harvest was over, the rich and powerful began to leave, some taking home the slaves they'd just purchased. The Grand General waited for everyone else to filter out, making Kratos nervous. He wanted to get out of the small room, which had heated to an uncomfortably high level since the start of the Harvest inside. He also wanted to be free of the Arasesr who continued to stare him down like prey. If they could have their way, they'd toy with him like Sigheart had, leaving him feeling even less alive than he already felt. And, honestly, he would allow them to have their way anyway, counting living was something he wasn't fancying.
Then again, maybe he wouldn't be alive for much longer anyway. What someone was going to do with a 65 million Gald slave was anyone's guess. He didn't suppose he could brag about his purchase price to anyone else, could he?
The half-elf commander gave the General a sour look, "good day, Grand General." The intimidating man nodded, dragging his only slave out the door.
The cold air attacked Kratos' face but, nonetheless, he was grateful for it. Looking towards the blackened sky, he was disappointed that the smog of the massive city covered up the shining specks that he could so clearly see back home. Listening, instead, he could hear no whispers or scurries, everyone having tucked themselves away for the evening, the Grand General and himself the only spectators of the night.
As they reached the end of the poor district that the Harvest had been housed in, the crashing of waves came to Kratos. Looking to his left, he could see a small section of docks, each with tiny vessels tied, tickling the top of the water while drifting along on the waves. He could smell the salt, feel it brush against his skin and awaken his sense.
How long had it been since he'd seen the ocean? Probably four or five years, as he'd moved to Balacraf around that time. It'd been at the docks of Luraina, where his family's voyage finally reached the fabled docks of the 'City of Water' and they would begin their trek towards the land locked city.
The smell of the ocean breeze brought everything back to him. He could feel the warmth of his mother's embrace, feel the way his father would tussle his hair, hear his little brother's laughter. Everything was okay and he was safe, no longer in danger, no longer dead inside.
It was taken from him suddenly, the Grand General jerking him forwards. Stumbling from the spot he hadn't been aware he'd stopped on, he tripped and landed on the ground, barely catching himself.
"Get up," his voice was demanding and a strong arm came down and dragged Kratos to his feet.
"Please," he hadn't realized he was speaking before it was too late, "please, let me see the ocean."
The man paused, Kratos immediately regretting his words. Hadn't the commander warned of such things? If Kratos rebelled, to send him back and have him 'fixed'? "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Apologies were swarming out of his mouth but the bigger man wasn't listening.
Yanking his shirt collar, the man brought Kratos to his eye level, "what did you ask me?"
"Nothing. Sir, I'm sorry, it was a mistake. I didn't mean-"
"What did you ask?"
Keeping eyes low, Kratos chocked out the words, forcing back his fears, "can I see the ocean?" It was a mumble but the Grand General seemed to hear it. The giant man took a deep breath and Kratos squeezed his eyes shut, knowing the worst was going to come. He'd just gotten out of Sigheart's grasp and now he was about to be returned to it. Terror was storming down his spine, ripping apart every nerve in his body. He wanted so desperately to die, to finally have peace, to go back to where his mind had taken him not so long ago. He wanted to be back at the docks with his family, to hear the roar of his father's ship as it ported, to hug his father close as his entire family welcomed the tired man home. He wanted to go back there, to his home, his parents, and his brother.
His feet suddenly became cold, something squishing its way between his toes. Opening his eyes, he could see the caress of blue tickling at his ankles. The iron grip on his collar loosened up, allowing him to sink into the wetted sand below.
Blinking, he looked back at the man who stood just beyond the water's reach, "w…why?"
Nothing but the gentle swish of the waves against the coarse sand could be heard for several moments, the strong man looking past Kratos and into the darkened distance before him. "Because you asked."
His knees weakened but he didn't fall, instead, his eyes were locked on the other man's. Hot stings caught Kratos' attention but he decided to ignore them, not caring what he looked like anymore. Nothing, there was nothing he could say to express his thanks. He could only show it by turning to stare at the deep sapphire waves as the night slowly became day.