This chapter gets a bit dark, so just a heads up for those reading.
That was only the start of Ludmila’s nightmare.
As she woke up in a daze, her eyes vacantly looked around while things slowly came into focus. The sounds of screaming and crying suddenly entered her ears, causing her to lift her head up and force herself back to full consciousness.
But instantly, she regretted being awake. The sight of an unfamiliar area surrounded her. At a glance, it seemed like the modern dwellings that Master had told her about, but they were still surrounded by forest. Apparently, the poachers had taken them to their base in some remote location.
Turning her eyes to the ground, she saw the bodies of people sprawled out and unmoving. Her eyes widened as she recognized some of them as fellow villagers. However, that was only from what she could tell of their faces. Dark crimson dyed the rest of their bodies, while stained bones protruded from within the mess.
The corpses that lay on the ground appeared to have been butchered, the flesh pulled back and the insides thoroughly rummaged through. Like the prey after a hunt, these people had their innards carved out, leaving only their skin and bones. Her family had now been turned into spoils by the victors.
Ludmila fought the urge to vomit as she turned her eyes elsewhere, only to find women held down and handled mercilessly by the poachers that she saw in the forest. She instinctively turned away to avoid what the vile men were obviously doing to them. Seeing such a scene made her question how anyone could consider them ‘civilized’.
Still, wails of sorrow tore through the hearts of everyone else who looked down in silent agony as they huddled inside a large cage. They knew that they would only make themselves the next target if they resisted.
They had apparently ambushed the village while she was unconscious, imprisoning her entire family with little difficulty before transporting them to some unknown location. But rather than fighting to the last person, the ones that were left appeared to have resigned themselves to fate. Hope could not be seen in their eyes.
Ludmila could not decide what was worse to look at – her elder sisters and mothers being used as toys for pleasure, her elder brothers and fathers lying on the ground like butchered prey, or the rest who occasionally peeked around while covering their ears in fear.
They were broken. They were now prey confined in cages, watching in terror as the poachers reaped the spoils from the bodies of the fallen, placing their organs delicately into boxes before taking them to a wheeled vehicle that rumbled and growled as it sped away.
These vile men were not doing this to survive, but to line their pockets with what they called ‘money’. She overheard them talk about returning to the city to spend it all on lavish things.
Anger and despair filled her mind as tears ran down her cheeks. To her, this was hell itself. What did they do to deserve this? Tortured and toyed with by those with not the slightest respect for life.
Two tall forms walked up to her, their shoes stomping threateningly with each step. They looked down with sinister smiles at the shivering girl that had just awoken into tragedy.
“That’s some surprise. Not even a peep after seeing all this.” The man bent down and eyed her carefully. “Too scared to scream, or just too broken to react? I wonder which it is?”
The other man smacked him lightly on the shoulder. “Regardless, a bet’s a bet. I won. Five full minutes and no screams of agony, so pay up.”
“Tch, you would think that she’d make some kind of ruckus.” Reaching into his pocket, the first man dug out some bills and smacked them onto the other person’s chest. “Especially after I hacked off those speedy little limbs of hers…”
“Hey, I was going to call foul on you until you raised the payout, but they were done for anyway. But still, did you have to make them even? It bothered you that much?”
Their words registered in Ludmila’s mind, but confusion took over her already fragile thoughts. The scene before her had made such an impact that she disregarded the pain that radiated from her own body, particularly her lower half.
Looking down, she saw bloody nubs where her legs should have been, crudely cauterized at the ends to seal the wounds. Instantly, a wave of panic overtook her, as she reached out and felt all around to find where they could have gone. All that remained was a bandaged end, oozing with blood through the wrappings. Since she had been propped against a wall, her flailing caused her body to tip over.
Still, her hands moved all around the stubs, confirming that there was nothing below her thighs. Her swiftness, her pride of the family, had been robbed. Just like that, she was no longer the fastest person in her village. Now, she was a broken body who couldn’t even walk for herself.
Ludmila gripped the sides of her head and let out a howl.
“Master! Master! Where did you go?! Why did this…”
Ludmila was abruptly lifted up into the air as a cloth was wrapped around her mouth to muffle her voice. She felt it tighten around her head, blocking her screams from escaping.
“Oy brat. A bit late for that. Don’t go screaming for help cause the strong ones of this village are all dead. They simply wouldn’t back down unless we shot ‘em up. A bit of a waste if you ask me as the goods will just rot before we can sell ‘em.”
Ludmila’s eyes widened in shock.
‘Master Urkan couldn’t have died. He is invincible. He is…’
All hope disappearing from her thoughts, her cries died down into labored whimpers, lacking any real energy. Ludmila curled into a little ball, lamenting that she hadn’t been able to warn them in time.
“Be glad that my buddy here didn’t cave into that little fetish of his. You have me to thank for your arms being attached still.”
“Not too late for that. I’m feeling like it after I just lost a full day’s wage to you.”
“If you reach for that saw, I’m gonna shoot your ass. It’s fun and games to you, but that means extra work for me. We have to keep this runt alive, and not having her able to do jack shit is annoying.”
“Tch. Don’t come crying to me if she fights back.”
“Hardly. Just look at her. I know someone that’s lost all will when I see it.”
Truly, if they couldn’t be stopped by Master Urkan, then no one else could save them. Ludmila clawed at the dirt in frustration as tears continued to leak from her eyes. With no legs, she couldn’t be of help to anyone. She couldn’t even die with grace. That was the reason the poachers didn’t bother to tie her up. She was a useless body, waiting to be carved up and her organs harvested.
Yet, days passed, and still, it was not her turn.
They had enough parts from the fallen hunters to fulfill the initial demand, so those who were locked up were simply left caged. Periodically, someone would be pulled out and toyed with, a sadistic act of passing the time when there were no requests to fulfill.
The poachers bickered about meaningless things that Ludmila couldn’t understand, satisfied their loins with the women, and entertained themselves by inflicting injuries upon those who could barely fight back.
All this time, Ludmila stared vacantly, still harboring some hope that someone had survived and was lying in wait to find the right time to save those left. Patience was a hunter’s strongest trait, and waiting to strike with the highest possibility to succeed meant enduring the urge to charge hastily.
But then, the requests began again. The roar of the mechanical beast rolled into the camp, and as it stopped, a person dressed unlike the other poachers stepped out. He looked much cleaner and wore fancy ‘civilized’ clothing. Quickly, he was ushered into the nearby building.
Not long after, one of the oldest members of the village was dragged out of the cage. He was thrown to the ground before one of the poachers stepped on his back to pin him in place. Pulling out a long, barreled weapon, one poacher drew a quick arc along the ground before a loud bang sounded.
Instantly, a sense of dread grew from all those imprisoned. The old man on the ground died instantly as his struggling stopped in that instant. And with the soft whimpering of those who knew him in the background, the poachers set to work carving out the organ that was needed for the operation. In full view, everyone could see the very act of one of their own being butchered, taking only what was immediately needed and discarding the rest. They trampled upon the life of a person for such small parts.
A few days later, the racket of the metal beast rolled into camp, this time bringing several people who had paid for an organ transplant. They looked younger than the one before, but they had pale expressions like a sickness had plagued them. Their fancy attire hid how fragile their bodies were.
“Looks like we’ll need two to fulfill this.” The man pointed toward the cages as others opened them and dragged out a mother, along with her daughter, who was a bit older than Ludmila. They had avoided most of the ‘special treatment’ thus far due to the plumpness of their bodies. Since the poachers had no preference for the pair, the ‘healthiness’ of their bodies seemed to appease the buyers of their organs. It was like selecting fish from a tank.
But to Ludmila, the pair had deep connections with her. The mother made the most delicious preserved meat, making sure to give her extra before a hunt. And the daughter had served as a dear playmate before she became old enough to become an adult who carried responsibilities. She loved weaving and sewing furs that were passed on to others. Ludmila reached down to her skirt and tightly gripped the hem of it, one such article given to her.
As the memories raced through her mind, they were interrupted by the piercing bang of a gun firing twice. Her bond with them shattered as two bodies dropped to the ground. Tears dripped down Ludmila’s face as she fought the urge to scream through her gag. Once again, she had lost more loved ones.
As more days passed by, Ludmila continued to watch as others were dragged out one by one and slaughtered for their organs. And with each time, a flash of memories involving the victim bitterly stabbed at her heart before shattering. Her muffled sobs could barely register the pain that developed within her.
With each shot of the gun, her fate taunted her by mercilessly carving away more of herself, forged by the family that she lived with.
And while others choked out sobs of sorrow, all Ludmila could hear was:
“Your ‘family’ is now gone.”
“Your ‘family’ is now gone.”
“Your ‘family’ is now gone.”
“All because you failed…”
If she had not hesitated as she had, she would have escaped in time to warn the others. If she had not looked back and stood frozen in fear of the poachers, they would still be alive.
Finally, she could no longer bear the guilt of seeing so many dead because she was afraid. The next time she was ungagged to be force-fed, she cried out to that person as she crawled forward. “Kill me next… please!”
But then, another poacher walked up to her. He stared down at her with menacing eyes that seemed to glow. Not a speck of mercy came from them. Ludmila, delirious now from the mental torture, looked up to see a shadowy demon whose gaze pierced her soul.
“Now, now. It’s not your turn. We must keep you healthy… for you are my precious…***”
The man’s words garbled in Ludmila’s mind. This man had a special purpose for her. The other poachers chimed in, mocking her wish to be the next prey. They had a good reason not to use her yet. As she was still a child, there was little demand for her smaller organs. But her time would come eventually. When a rich person’s child befell misfortune, Ludmila’s body would fetch a price many times greater than any of the others.
But until then, she continued to suffer as the people in the cages dwindled. The cries numbered less and less as everyone gave into despair. Ludmila herself had no words to speak. Nothing she could say mattered anymore. The passage of time purely went by from the ones that she could count remaining.
The bang of the rifle brought about the only emotion that jolted her awake, causing her to twitch each time with the slightest bit of life. But then, she heard something that shook her heart awake.
“Geez, this bitch had a brat inside of her.”
Ludmila lifted her head up in surprise. Between the bodies of the poachers working about, she saw the lifeless eyes of Kudecha, her mother. She had been the latest victim.
Ludmila’s lip quivered as her closest loved one was now lost forever. She caught sight of a small chunk of flesh tossed carelessly aside. It landed around ten feet in front of her with a bloody plop. As the sight of barely formed appendages registered in her mind, Ludmila gagged and fell forward.
Her face hit the ground, but seeming to have lost all reason, she began to crawl over to it. Nothing else mattered but for her to reach out and grab it. She pulled the crimson, messy blob to her chest that was barely larger than her hands, cradling it with tears in her eyes.
That blob she was holding was her unborn sibling, ripped from her mother’s body and carelessly thrown away like trash. There was a time when she dreamt of all the things that she would teach the child, but all she could do now was hold onto the last remaining warmth that came from it.
The demonic man with piercing eyes once again towered over her, a wicked smile upon his face. Even now, an utter lack of sympathy came from it. Rather, he was thrilled.
How could he take pleasure in such cruelty? How could such a hell exist? And how much longer would she have to suffer through this agony?
The man gave her no answers to any of this, simply continuing to haunt her with the dreaded gun shouldered on his back. He reached down and lifted her up with one massive arm. With the other hand, he traced her cheek and lightly rubbed away her tears.
His actions were like delicately caring for a broken doll, but Ludmila knew that it was just more sadistic teasing to crush her soul. Still, there was no longer anything left for him to take. The girl named Ludmila was merely an empty shell. Another body that they would continue to toy with until it was her turn to be split open.
She mouthed the last few words that she would ever say in this life.
“Ludmila is… nothing.”
“Nothing… without Master…”