Chapter 48:


From Nowhere to Sender

Guell had never once feared for his life. He'd taken life for the first time in that small apartment and watched it be taken almost every day during his time hauling the chain across the plateau. A majority fell to the combination of heat and fatigue, while the rest quite literally fell from the edge of the plateau and plummeted to their deaths. Being placed towards the front of the chain often had that effect, especially whenever the chain experienced a kickback. The cause of these mysterious kickbacks was a popular topic around the camp, with one worker even suggesting that the gods had their own slaves pulling on the chain from the other end. Thus it was ensured that no noteworthy progress would ever be made and their position would remain unthreatened. A never ending game of tug of war.

Needless to say many of the workers didn't take kindly to the idea that all their effort was for naught and the worker who suggested the theory coincidentally fell from the plateau the next day. It was easy enough carrying out such acts, even with only minimal support. The victim's cries for help easily being muffled by the contraptions fastened to their faces along with the calls of the pace setters. And guards never did care enough to look into the circumstances surrounding any of the deaths. All they kept track of was the overall number of deaths so they knew how many new workers to put in a request for.

But since it took at least two weeks to purchase and transport new workers, this often left the remaining workforce without the necessary manpower to meet the weekly distance quota. They'd be punished all the same, things such as fewer breaks and smaller meal portions. Naturally these punishments weakened the group, making quotas even harder to meet. A vicious cycle that drove many to end it for themselves whenever it seemed there was no rest in sight.

Guell was not one of those people. He'd even developed a unique fondness for his work after so many months of work. The heat of the chain as it seared his palms and finger pads, the odor of rusted metal intermingling with sweat. Even the heat that cooked them from both above and below simultaneously felt like it grounded him in his task. He'd also developed the habit of observing the workers around him any given day.

He found moderate enjoyment in observing their various strategies for making it to each break. This included tactics for conserving energy, but doing so in a way that wasn't obvious to those around you. Slackers often receiving a beatdown if not an earful upon returning to camp. Even still everyone did it to varying degrees. Guell had once been accused of slacking off in an effort by the accuser to draw attention away from his own shortcomings. It had failed miserably. Turns out many workers shared the same hobby as him and therefore knew who was and wasn't actually carrying their weight.

They'd asked Guell personally if he wanted retribution for the false accusation, an offer to position the man at the front of the chain, but he'd refused with a silent nod. His accuser consequently died from fatigue three days later, the threat of being thrown from the plateau enough to make him work himself into an early grave.

But the workers weren't the only bunch that passed time observing others. Members of the aristocracy would often pay unannounced visits to the plateau via a type of flying ship. Granted the main reason for their visits was to see the chain in person. They payed little heed to the mass of workers spread across the length of the forgotten artifact.

Only on a handful of occasions did any of these aristocrats so much as step foot on the plateau itself, citing the unbearable heat and stench of the workers. But it was during one of these rare occasions that Guell was granted an unexpected reunion. They'd been far off to the side of everything, exchanging pleasantries with one of the project supervisors. He couldn't say what possessed him to look over at their visitors that day. Meeting the gaze of the guards, supervisors and especially the aristocrats was seen as a great offense that carried a broad range of punishments. It amazed him how little that all seemed to matter in the moment.

Before Guell knew it his legs had already started following his gaze towards the opposite end of the plateau. The subject of his gaze took notice and after a moment of hesitation, began to tug on the arm of the man beside her frantically. Guell felt his walk transforming into a jog, heard the sounds of multiple voices calling out to him, but none of reached him quite like the panicked voice of the women he hadn't seen for nearly two years.

In contrast to his own actions, Guell's long unaccounted for foster mother began retreating towards the flying ship. Urging the man with her to come along quickly. This was no good, perhaps she couldn't recognize him with this contraption obstructing his face. At this rate he'd miss his opportunity. How could he possibly identify himself to her?

"You have such a lovely'd be a shame if it faded away from neglect."

So Guell called out to her, again and again. It took several attempts for his voice to reach a volume capable of covering the distance between them, but once it did something of a sob seemed to wrack the body of his mother. She looked away as if horrified, burying her face in the chest of the man beside her who began to usher her away. No longer the subject of her attention, Guell's calls became more frantic.

It was at this point he could feel the sensation of a warm and thick liquid beginning to flow through the gaps of the metal apparatus onto his torso. The smell that accompanied the liquid was familiar, but his attention was suddenly swallowed by a wall of resistance in the form of several guards. They attempted to push him back the way he'd come but failed to so much as to slow him down.

Up ahead to Guell's relief, his mother pushed off the man escorting her and instead moved off to the side of the ramp. Thinking she'd finally realized his identity and sought to speak he sped up once more, or tried to at least. But something struck him from behind, bringing him to a halt. It was as if all the air had suddenly fallen out of him all at once. Now stationary several guards moved in and tackled him from behind, causing him to fall forward onto his chin. The collision with the ground causing the spikes to embed themselves deeper into his face. More of the liquid he at last recognized as blood spewing forth.

No longer able to articulate himself, Guell could only watch as the woman who raised him ignored the pleas of the aristocrat and his staff, and stepped to the very edge of the plateau.

Guell's mind assaulted him with images from the past two years, of workers falling to their gruesome deaths and he attempted to call out to his mother in warning. But with no air and the pool of blood forming around his mouth, how could he do more than sputter.

Upon reaching the edge of the plateau, Guell's mother turned around a final time and met his gaze. The words "I'm sorry" played out over her lips before a guard's hand abruptly slammed his forehead down into the dirt, severing their gaze.

Through sheer force of will Guell raised his head again. Accessing whatever strength remained in his body, which grew colder by the second, to reestablish his connection. But it was no use, the space his mother had occupied was no longer filled by her warm presence.

And so his gaze traveled through that emptiness and out over the horizon, all while wishing a small portion of that warmth would settle into his body. Guell's prayers were answered in the form of tears that sprang from both eyes, just before a growing heaviness forced them shut.