This chapter contains imagery that may be troubling to some readers. Please continue with discretion.Arophi found herself deafened by the squealing of pigs. It was dark, but Aorphi felt the warm, wriggling bodies of what she assumed were the hogs pressed against her on all sides. The putrid, acrid stench of sweat and shit was overpowering; Arophi felt she might suffocate within the cloud. Why was she there? Had she, a Centaur, been somehow confused with livestock? She didn’t put it past the cold and callous Humans to do so. Suddenly, a light sliced through the thick brown haze. Sure enough, she was surrounded by swine. Their fat bellies brushed against her sides as they charged forward toward the light, squealing and screaming all the way. Snouts and shoulders shoved her from behind. Try as she might to fight being pushed toward that glow, the pigs outnumbered her by the hundreds. By the thousands, perhaps. As soon as she pushed past one, ten more came to take its place. Heart pounding, muscles aching, Arophi grasped at the beasts steadily shoving her forward. At last, however, the swine won, shoving her back into the light. Blinking, Arophi turned. All she could see at first was the sky. Oh, the sky. It was the color of a lashed and sweat-laden back, stained a bloody pink. The sky must have somehow resonated the screams and wails of the pigs, as they still seemed to echo despite there being nothing around them but the stone floor and the sky. Arophi managed to gain her footing enough to hold herself still despite the swine pouring out around her. Though she was outside, the sky seemed oppressively close. It was as if it were a blanket hanging just out of reach; it threatened to fall and crush them. Ears flicked. There was another sound fighting the hogs for her attention. Rhythmic, like a drum being strangled. What was it? She lost her footing then, and again found herself being pushed forward. That’s when she saw it. Row upon row stretching as far as the eye could see: Humans at blood-soaked tables. They faced away from her, but Arophi saw they wielded butcher’s cleavers, chopping limbs from still-kicking pigs. How they shrieked. Their cloven hooves tore at the air, desperate for purchase to escape their fate. Entrails covered the floor in a slippery layer of filth. The smell of blood and freshly chopped meat nearly drove her to vomiting, but she pushed on. Her eyes met that of a pig’s, filled with pain and terror as its belly was emptied of its organs. Its limbs had already been removed, and it no longer had a way to fight apart from weakly squirming on the table upon which it lay. Arophi wanted nothing else than to leave this cursed place, but she gave in to her better judgement. “Stop it!” she cried to the Humans as they butchered these animals alive. Her words fell only to the pigs. Cold and silent as ever to her plight, the Humans continued. They didn’t seem to hear her at all. “Listen to me.” She reached for the Human’s shoulder and tried to turn them to face her. It was like gripping a statue: cold, and unmoving. She stepped to his front. A face – if one could even call it that – was devoid of all features. Instead, it was a blank wall of flesh. No eyes, no mouth. Just a head driving its arm to cut mechanically into the pig lying before it. Terror like an icy cold hand seized Arophi by the throat. She stumbled back as the Human, for lack of a better word, pushed the still-living body of the pig to the floor. It was guided forward by some unseen force. Without pause, the faceless being reached down, seized another hog by the back leg, and pulled it up to the table to repeat the horrible process again. Arophi ran. Like a flock of birds avoiding a tree, the pigs she passed avoided her heavy hoof falls. Her attention was elsewhere. She passed dozens of identical faceless creatures working at dozens of bloody tables. No matter how far she ran, the tables continued to stretch forward to eternity. Her hooves fell into a thick patch of blood and intestines and she slipped into the mess. Innards squelched into her fur and clothing. Before she could right herself, the torso of a hog fell screaming beside her. It, too, began to creep forward. That’s when she felt a hand firmly grasp her back hoof. Somehow, with the aid of some deep and evil magic, the Human hauled her to the table. Kicking and fighting served little purpose and did nothing to slow the monster’s work. Unhesitating, it drove its cleaver into the brand on her shoulder. Fire shot up her shoulder. She shrieked, her cries falling only to the panicked swine, who jumped as they ran, still flowing forth from the room of smog. A renewed sense of terror gave her the strength to claw herself to the edge of the table and pull herself back to the floor. As she stood, she saw the blank, featureless faces of all the Human creatures snap in unison to face her. Again she ran, overtaking pig after pig. They were no longer a swarm. No, too many had been stolen by the things manning the tables. Each hog she passed caught her eye. Their scars, their spots, their expressions as they passed more and more butchered bodies or were pulled up to a table. Blood poured freely from her shoulder, mingling with the pig’s blood already covering every inch of the floor. With every step, a fresh wave of flame pierced through her wound. Soon, the only bodies around her were the ones that had already been butchered. The last of the pigs had been snatched up, cut apart, and dumped back to the floor. There! There, before her, the end of the tables, the end of those monsters. She saw too late that the carcasses spilled over an unseen edge. She, too, plunged down. Down, down towards a field of corpses. They caught her fall like a lesion-laden bed. Arophi afforded herself a moment to stand and catch her breath. The almost sweet smell of decay and rot assaulted her. As she looked around, she realized she was not surrounded by the butchered corpses of pigs. No. That wasn’t right. Hogs. Cattle. Horses, the cursed things. Their bloated, distended bellies with limbs stretched to four vastly different directions. The ones that still had their limbs, anyway. No, that wasn’t right, either. Not horses. Centaurs, though it was nearly impossible to tell. Vomit erupted into the back of her mouth. Her heartbeat drowned out the sound of squelching against rotted carcasses as she again began to run. The further she went into that field of bodies, the floor dipped deeper, deeper down. Soon, it was less of a run and more of a series of hurdles just to continue to move forward. Her hooves slipped down bloated bellies, caught on limbs and bones, but still she bounded onward. The smell changed from freshly rotting meat to the older, more oppressive stench of corpses that were too old even for maggots. Some of the bodies were little more than skeletons with thin strips of stubborn flesh still managing to cling to the bones. Every breath now was accompanied by a splash of some unspeakable, rotting fluid. She couldn’t stop. She had to escape. She landed squarely into a large rib cage and she swore it closed in around her. Try as she might she could not escape its grasp. “Arophi…” “Who is there?” Desperately, she searched the field of carcasses for the voice. That’s when she saw them. At the top of the pile, she saw Nikane with her belly hollowed out, and her brother Tybion, who had been folded in half like a broken twig. “Arophi,” they wailed again. “No! Let me go!” She fought. She fought harder than she had ever fought before, but still she could not gain purchase from the rib cage that held her so firmly. Between the rapid beats of her heart, she heard something new. A wave of sound so loud she was shocked she hadn’t noticed it sooner. She looked to Nikane and Tybion who lay just a few feet away. Past them, a group of those faceless Human monsters moved from carcass to carcass, devouring any meat left to be found. They were drawing near. Those things descended upon Tybion first. Dozens of them. A low rumbling sound threatened to shatter her ears as something beneath their fleshy faces began to contort and stretched. Slowly at first, the skin began to tear, and the basic forms of mouths began to form. From one side to the other, a bleeding and jagged tear cut through each one of their faces. With their new mouths, they began to devour her brother alive. He did not scream, but his face betrayed the pain he felt as he was consumed. Tears flowed from Arophi’s eyes, washing her cheeks of the blood with which they had been stained. “Leave him!” she shrieked. The creatures ignored her, only looking up from their meal when Tybion had been reduced to nothing but bones. They turned to Nikane next. Nikane was pulled apart as the greedy things devoured her in moments. Pieces of her body were scattered throughout the field as the creatures discarded the bits they had skeletonized and clambered for their next bite of flesh from her body. There was nothing to do but watch, horrified, as they finished with her as well. “Arophi.” Their blank faces with gaping mouths turned to her next.
This scene takes place after Arophi discovers the abolitionist text The Meals of Nephemir’s Wealthy (and Other Uses for the Poor) written by a close ally. The discovery caused Arophi to relive past trauma in a new way, culminating in the nightmare detailed above.