Chapter 2: Carved in stone

As his eyes adjust to the darkness, he realises that the loud snarls and growls are coming from something demonic. A slaughter had taken place right in front of him. Dozens of corpses are spread across the cave floor as monstrously large hounds feed on their remains. It is a gruelling sight even for Stride, who is no stranger to violence.

They must have come here a couple of days before me. I could have been one of the poor souls. Why have these people not come for me outside of this cave…? Were they also forced to hide in here without a way to return outside? Is this place meant for people to fall victim to these hounds?

Turning back is not a possibility, so where should I go? They cannot just live inside of these caves; there must be some tunnel system to get outside.

Stride examines the area and sees a body lying close by an opening in the cave walls; that must be his escape. 

He almost made it as well. But how can I get there? 

I have to find a way to get past them… Should I wait for them to leave and make a run for it? Or for them to fall asleep? No, my condition is getting worse by the second. I have to think of something I can do.

Stay focused. How can I slip past these beasts without ending up like-them?

As Stride looked around the cave, he tried to come up with a plan to get past these monsters.

Just think of something like you used to. If I wanted to steal something back when I roamed the streets looking for food, I would always divert their attention by creating some form of commotion. However, if I mess up now, it’s life or death, rather than a harsh beating.

His eyes met with something lying on the ground.

That might work…

He lies in wait for the perfect moment to move, unnoticed. If they would just look away. After a few minutes of toying around with their food, the hounds decide to rest and lie down. This is the only opportunity he has.

Stride manages to crawl out of his tunnel as he keeps going along the edge of their resting grounds. By hiding behind rocks, he can observe their movement.

Not only does he have to keep quiet, but the horrid smell of the decomposing bodies makes him want to vomit in disgust. He approaches a body that appears to have been lying there for some time.

He uses the broken chain on his wrist to sever a hand. Despite the horrifying odour, he persists. The rotten flesh is weak, so the hand comes off quickly.

I cannot be scared.

He takes the hand and moves as close as he can to the hounds, who seem to fully ignore him. He hides behind a large boulder, and as he peeks over, he sees the lumbering giants unaware of his presence.

If I throw it from here, it should only alert them to where the noise came from. I have to make it count…

He throws it!

The hounds are still lying there as he sits in wait.


The hounds immediately jump into action. He cannot believe how fast they are running in the direction of the bait.

If these creatures notice me, I will be unable to outrun them. I have to trust that this distraction will keep them occupied for long enough.

Stride looks over as he sees the two canines fight over his bait. Patiently, he moves through the cave, making sure he does not make a sound or give even the slightest reason for them to turn around. The entrance is in sight; he’s almost there. 

Again, he looks over, and they are still gnawing at each other. The instant the bait was thrown, their camaraderie with one another disappeared. When it comes to their meal, there are no alliances to be made here.

As he moves around the corner, Stride starts to question his sanity. 

Why do I hear breathing so close by?

A third one lies there right beside him, still fast asleep. It did not run towards the commotion, unfortunately for him.

It is in this moment that Stride has to make a choice.

Will I run or keep walking?

For a split second he stops to look at the third beast then cautiously moves forward. As long as he does not make too much noise, it should not wake up.


A loud growl of the two fighting hounds echoes through the cave.

Its eyes slowly open, still hazy from its afternoon nap. Stride is greeted with rows of gigantic, razor-sharp teeth, as the beast smiles right at him.

This cannot be happening… I have to run.


Without any time to waste, Stride screams at the top of his lungs. If he has learned anything in the short time he has spent with these beasts, this is his only chance to survive. He makes a break for it towards the cave entrance. There is no chance to look back anymore, these beasts are too fast.

And just as he had feared, he felt its presence right behind him. Even after slumber, it could easily outrun Stride, who is now so close to his escape.


He vocalises his struggle, as he is imagines that this is the end

This is it. I am going to die!

And right in that moment the other two hounds come running back frothing at the mouth to catch him. Nothing beats live prey. Stride catches his step and is meters away from salvation.

These beasts would rather let me go than let one of the others catch me.

The opening! He hears the loud barking and growling of the dogs right behind him as they fight over who gets to devour him first. Their unwillingness to cooperate is his only chance for salvation.

He makes a final leap of faith. As he looks behind him, he sees them jump as well, going right for him.

“I made it… again.”

The hounds crash head-first into the wall as they bark and growl at him, slamming their heads against the cave walls over and over.

Until suddenly, they simmer down. As he stands there and recuperates from his nosedive towards the tunnel, they sit there calmly, grinning in silence. Like a dog whose owner corrected them. They keep their eyes on him. Drooling at the sight of him, not moving an inch. Again, there is no way back.

As he looks behind the hounds, he sees the fallen men and he weeps for them. How they must have suffered during their last moments of terror. He feels lightheaded by his tears and realises he cannot even afford to mourn for the fallen.

Fortunately for Stride, the crevice  leads further down to a more open area. After having slid through the cracks, he enters a large, open cave system. His walking and movement slow down as his body and eyes all start to feel heavy. The toll on his body is undeniable.

Must stay awake.

The caves go deep and he tries to stay vigilant as he explores each new section of the cave. But eventually, even he is too tired to care. Staying on his feet is too demanding for him to be concerned with anything else.

The darkness can play tricks on our minds, leading us to believe in things that do not exist. When he finds himself in a tunnel, he notices something strange around him.

Wherever he looks, he starts seeing the shapes of faces on the cave walls and ceilings.

“Am I going insane?”

Unable to discern who they are, he looks all around him.

“Who are these people?”

Then, as he turns to his left, he sees someone he recognises—the old man who always sat beside him on the ship.

“You have saved me countless times back then, old man, only for me to die here. But thank you.”

They used to tell me stories about how a slave’s hair gets cut the day they board the ship, and from then on, they will never cut it again. To show the new inmates that this was their final destination. However, our captors thought that long hair could be seen as a source of pride. Therefore, each year, all slaves were shaven.

And there was no one longer on this ship other than you. You did not deserve this life, old man. 

Suddenly, all the faces become recognisable. There are no strangers around him; they are all fellow prisoners. All the people who were also captured by Byzma and had to suffer under his rule. To row on his ship for the remainder of their lives.

A familiar face stops Stride dead in his tracks.

She too was a slave-rower, seated in the front rows of the ship. A girl whose name or identity is unknown to him. It’s the idea that the girl represents that he cherishes. Whenever she would cast a glance in his direction, he would find the strength to carry on. Her presence pushed him to survive.

“I know it is selfish to think that another person’s imprisonment made my life less miserable. Yet it di-…” 

He collapses. Exhaustion, hunger and thirst take over his body and mind. Using all of his strength, he remains on his knees. He feels the presence of everyone around him grow stronger.

Are these the deceased waiting to meet me?

Is this how I go out? After I survived so much.

A single person’s presence overwhelms his body. Someone he had forgotten in all his misery.

It cannot be,

Though he recognises the person right away, he still finds it hard to believe. He looks up with all his might, seeing the shape of a familiar face taking shape in the shadows.


“I am sorry”

For all I have done and for all I put you through. You are… I-

“Why now?”

You took me in with nothing to gain and everything to lose. A mere runaway, nothing more than a lowlife thief. You saved my life, and what did I do to you? I am the reason… You know it…

“Why are you still smiling at me?”

I mean, how can you?

His father grins at him with sympathy. As if he is trying to tell him that it is not Stride’s fault. He’s still proud of the man Stride has become. It is a look that Stride cannot seem to grasp. Why should he be forgiven for what he did?

Without uttering a word, his father’s eyes move. Instinctually, Stride follows his eyes.


A few seconds go by……


It felt as though the mountains experienced all of his pent-up grief and wept for him.

*Splash*, *Splash*, *Splash*, *Splash*

Without wasting a breath, he gathers himself and crawls towards the water source. Here he drinks as much as he can, and manages to restore somewhat.

He rolls over onto the cold, hard, stony floor. He experiences an odd sense of peace.

“Thank you, father,” he mumbles as he descends into a deep slumber.

At long last he is able to rest, unaware of the horrors yet to come.

End of chapter 2.