Sorry about the chapter being late. I actually forgot what day it was this time.
There are a very limited number of places where light does not even provide the smallest amount of illumination. On a cloudy night it may be too dark to make out any shapes at all and your typical diurnal creatures won’t even be able to see their hand in front of their face, but the small amount of light from the moon and stars that seeps through the clouds is enough for the creatures of the night to see well enough they can navigate and hunt.
However, deep under the ground, you have one such place where there is a true absolute absence of all light. Even those nocturnal creatures with excellent night vision would be unable to see in this place where zero light exists. Those who call this underground world their home often laugh at the humans they bring down here. There is an interesting phenomenon in this total darkness, it makes humans go crazy, they actually hallucinate and think that they can see. This is not real dark vision though, their minds merely create an illusion of what they think might be in front of them. It is always proven wrong though when they slam right into a rock moments later.
In this land of total darkness, the demons blessed with dark vision were the ones who truly ruled and thrived. They held absolute control. It was not merely a matter of strength, the simple advantage of having the ability to see while your enemy couldn’t also gave them a powerful advantage. There was no hope for a surface dweller who found their way down into the deep darkness.
Some time ago, nobody was certain how long because the darkness made it impossible to keep track of the days that had passed, a large part of the underworld was introduced to the light of the surface. This day had been prophesised generations past, and it was a day of glory for those who lived in the underworld. It was the day that marked the defeat of an ancient foe that had plagued the underworld, the day that marked the descent of a new god who’s arrival heralded in a new age, and most importantly it was a day that brought them the one thing all denizens of the underworld craved the most. War.
It was time at last to fight a true war with the denizens of the surface. They knew it would not be long before the blue dragons made their move, so they had worked fast to collect the materials from the corpse of their ancient foe. From the shell on its back, they could craft weapons of the highest quality. They absolutely had to collect it before the dragons used the great fissure that connected the underworld to the world above to come and invade their territory. For some time, the denizens of the underworld prepared their weapons, crafting the materials from the terrible creature’s shell and also rallying together all of the dragon and fairy class demons who lived in this part of the underworld in preparation.
When the day finally came, the overworlders brought a weapon beyond any of their imagining. They had been prepared to deal with dragons, but these dragons brought a large tree with them. This tree reached its roots down into the underworld. They moved like snakes and ripped to shreds anyone who approached the great pit that connected the underworld to the world above. It had become clear they were going to need to find another way.
A stout but emaciated young dwarven man fell to his knees, fumbling a large and thick rectangular slab of stone about the size of his torso. In a panic, he struggled to right himself in order to get back to his task. If the overseers caught sight of him, he would surely be beaten. In his fear, he fumbled the stone again. This was bad, the overseers were everywhere today.
There was a sound of rushing feet coming up to him. He closed his eyes and braced his hands on the very rock slab he was struggling with. This was it. He would definitely receive the whip any moment. But, instead of a strike, a hand was firmly placed on his shoulder. Another hand, definitely from someone his own height, was placed on his chest as well. “Stand up, hurry!” A gruff voice urged him.
He looked up slightly dumbfounded as he saw the taskmaster of their unit, a dwarven man like him who had been assigned the duty of watching over the other slaves, bending down to lift the very rock he had been struggling with. A moment later, it was firmly thrust into his chest, making it easy for him to take a firm grip on it without having to lift it up from the ground.
“Honestly, ya’d think that gnome could make these things smaller! Ya have magic that can shape stone into anything ya like and ya make them this stinkin’ big! I swear, that gnome must like seeing us suffer as much as the overseers do! Those gnomes are just as bad as them, I tell ya!” The taskmaster gripped. “What ya standing around listening to me for!? Get moving before they see ya standing still and then we both get in trouble!!!”
The taskmaster gave him a swat to the lower back, almost sending him stumbling again, but he managed to right himself this time. Given the circumstances, he could do nothing more than to keep walking and be grateful it was this taskmaster, 1E, who had seen him first and none of the overseers were close enough to see what was going on.
The taskmaster continued to grumble something about gnomes while the dwarf man, 3E, silently walked away. 1E was not known for being a particularly kind taskmaster, but whenever the overseers were not looking he would often overlook minor things like what had just happened, and he was known to grumble a lot about the conditions they were forced to work under. No, it is really more like he was just rambling constantly. 3E had learned a lot over the years about how their overseers operated just from hearing 1E’s constant ramblings and complaining.
“Honestly!” 1E continued to ramble, “They are not like we are at all! They may have a human parent like we do, but they ain’t raised by ‘em! I hear they have some kind of infernal ritual that makes them absolute monsters too! Those gnomes just ain’t the same creatures at all, I tell ya!”
Of course they are not the same! They are gnomes, we are dwarves! Those things even look like small versions of their overseers. If he didn’t know better, he could mistake that gnome for the child of an overseer!
3E often wanted to retort something like this to the often ridiculous directions 1E’s ravings went off on, but he knew very well he would only get himself in trouble doing something like that. Taskmasters, those who are numbered 1 in the unit, are the most favored among the slaves. Since he was not a 1, any act of stopping to talk or argue could only bring bad things for him. It was far better to simply keep his head down and work.
There were several other dwarves like him passing back the way he had come, slogging down the tunnel with tired expressions on their faces and their arms down at their sides. It was not just dwarves from his unit either. 3E was grinning with a slight sense of perverse satisfaction to see members of D unit walking right along side those in E unit. D unit was usually the ones who mined the stone, and it was always the D unit dwarves who were yelling at the E unit to quickly clear the rubble they had dug out. Now, they were in the same place. Their position had been taken by that gnome who was brought in to make the digging go faster. It seemed their overseers put some particular importance on having this tunnel finished quickly.
Well, those gnomes with their earth magic really did work quickly. It was so quick that their 2 units were barely able to keep up. And, as satisfying as it was to see D unit having to experience the same things that they do, there were other things that made this much much worse than just doing things the normal way. The biggest issue was that F unit was not able to keep up with the gnome and the two units. If F unit was falling behind, that meant that the distance they would have to carry the rubble was just that much farther.
Seriously, this tunnel was lengthening so fast. The trip back to where F unit was working seemed to get so much farther every time. But, at long last, he saw the crouched over forms of the women of F unit and it was a welcome sight to see the mine cart directly behind them as they laid the tracks for it to go down.
“Heeeey!” There was a voice from behind him. He looked back to see it was none other than 1E. What was he doing running all this way? Wasn’t this leaving his post!? What was going on!? “Roots!” He yelled. 3E was not sure what this was all about, but whatever he had just said seemed to get the attention of the overseer who was watching F unit, he immediately turned his head and kicked off the wall. 3E cringed, this was it if he saw 1E now. What was going to happen to him!?
3E could do nothing but stare dumbfounded as 1E ran right past him. The overseer was walking straight toward them, his towering form that was twice that of a dwarf and very imposing. “What did you just say!?” He asked. 3E couldn’t stand to watch. He shut his eyes tight and hid behind his slab of stone so he didn’t have to see what was about to happen.
*huf* “At the back of the tunnel!” *huf* *huf* “we’ve hit roots!”
“Alright, keep working!” The overseer barked. 3E was surprised that was all that happened, causing him to look up to see what was going on. What he saw was something that seemed ridiculous. The overseer was climbing into the mine cart. He then grabbed one of the nearby dwarf women of F unit and dragged her into the cart. “Get this thing moving!” He yelled. “This has to be reported as fast as possible!”
“R-right!” She squealed in terror and then reached her hand down the side and moved a lever attached to the cart.
“Ahh… get the cart moving!” 1F cried in a fluster. The women working on extending the tracks, or rather that is what they would have been doing if they were not too caught up in watching the spectical unfolding, immediately jumped into action and gave the mine cart a firm push before the downward incline of the upward tunnel they were digging took the overseer and the mine cart down at an increasing pace the farther it went.
As the mine cart sped away, 3E could do nothing but stare after it with a forlorn expression on his face as he still held this heavy slab of rock in his hands.
“Ahh…” He groaned with a hesitant expression. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
1F turned to look at him. “Ahh, just leave it there on the side of the tunnel, just any other time the mine cart is out.” She advised him.
Of course. 3E sighed as he bent down to place the heavy slab on the side of the tunnel, thankful to be relieved of the heavy burden for at least the duration of his trip back. And he knew he did need to get back to it. He wasted no time at all turning back for his slog back up the tunnel, but this time he would have a companion walking with him in the form of 1E.
“Hey.” 3E said, and then quickly thought better of it as he turned back to look at the ground as he continued his walk back to the back of the tunnel.
“What is it?” 1E asks him.
3E breathed a sigh as he felt his body ease. 1E had acknowledged him, this meant he had full permission to speak now. “What… what was that word you said? Ruts? Routs? What is it anyway?”
“I don’t know” 1E responds, confirming for 3E that it is not information dwarves are meant to know. “All I know is the overseer that was with the gnome came running up the tunnel yelling about hitting roots, and then the overseer over our unit ordered me to come down here and tell them about this so I ran here. I’m guessing it’s some kind of special ore vein. That must be the reason they had us digging this way, they must have somehow known it was here. Well, if that is the case then heads up. We are probably going to be the ones hauling it back up the tunnel all day now.”
3E nodded in response. That seemed like an entirely reasonable thing to think. Well, it really made no real difference to any of them. But, just maybe the amounts they have to carry each trip would get smaller and lighter now. That would certainly be a blessing.
When 3E got back down the tunnel, he was able to see this “roots” ore for himself. It was a rather strange looking ore. It did not shine at all. In fact, it looked quite dull. 3E was no expert on ores, but just to look at it he thought it wouldn’t weigh a whole lot.
It was strange though. The gnome did not seem to be removing any of this “roots” stuff. In fact, he seemed to be working at avoiding all of the roots veins, leaving some dangling from the celing like some kind of strange stalactites. This was when 3E noticed a very strange property of this ore. Each vein that was freed from the rock seemed to taper to an exceedingly fine point that was almost like hair. So much like hair in fact that it actually swayed when it was brushed against by anything. It truly was strange. This was an ore that was flexible like hair. It certainly did not seem like any metal or crystal he had ever seen before.
“Hah! There we go! Loose soil. It won’t be that much longer now.” The arrogantly confident voice of the gnome said. “I can’t handle that the same, I’m going to need a place here to put it” He said, and then promptly gestured toward the side of the tunnel wall. Lights traced a rectangular pattern into the stone, and with a gesture the stone slab floated from the wall to hover right in front of the gnome. Then, with another gesture, he pointed toward 3E and the slab came floating toward him. “There, just keep hauling those away.”
Well, it was the gnome’s orders. The overseer smirking next to him never said anything about this attitude. The way the overseers acted around the gnome was weird, it was almost as if he was being treated as above them. Well, the gnome’s earth magic was pretty powerful. Maybe 3E had it wrong all along when he had assumed the gnome was also a slave like them. Perhaps gnomes really did have more power than he thought among the overseers.
3E really did not know what to think about any of this, but then he didn’t really need to think about any of it either. All he had to do was haul the stone, just as he had been doing throughout the day already. Thankfully, it did not seem like the tunnel had extended that much farther since the last time he was at the back of it, which meant that if you figure in the progress F unit would have made then maybe the trip back will actually be shorter for once.
However, when he got back to F unit, there was no mine cart waiting for him. Somehow, it had actually not made its way back up. What WAS there however were more overseers than he had ever seen in one place, and all of them were dressed strangely in clothing made from metal. 3E had heard about this before. These metal clothes called armor had something to do with fighting someone.
The overseers were marching in a 2 wide line as they made their way down the tunnel, and 3E could do nothing but stand to the side. The column of overseers seemed to just keep stretching on forever, and none of them even spared 3E a glance as they continued on their way.
This continued for a long time. 3E could not continue carrying his load with all of these overseers, but thankfully none of them seemed concerned about him. With nothing else to do, he simply stood there with his back against the side of the tunnel with his stone slab infront of him covering his face and body. The slab was certainly heavy, but in this situation it made him feel safer to have it between himself and the overseers.
Suddenly, a number of overlapping screams echoed down from the end of the tunnel where all the overseers were going. Judging by the distance, it seemed to be coming from the very back of the tunnel 3E had just left moments ago.
“The roots are in the way! We need a commander!” A man’s voice cried back.
“Move it you useless sack of meat!” This one was a woman’s voice. 3E had rarely seen an overseer woman, all of the overseers he ever saw were men. He had heard from 1E though that this seems to be because the women among the overseers are all superior in rank to most of the men. That meant, to hear the voice of an overseer woman, it made 3E cringe and attempt to make himself vanish into the wall.
“What’s going on up ahead!?” 3E’s eyes flew open in terror when he heard another overseer woman’s voice very close to him.
“I.. I don’t know mam!” The overseer who responded to him had fear in his own voice as well, the woman made a sound that seemed to show she was irritated with him.
“Move out of the way!” The woman’s voice growled. “Move, move!” 3E dared to peek from the side of his stone slab and watched as the woman shoved male overseers to the side of the tunnel wall in order to make them open the path for her.
The overseers were agitated. 3E had no idea what was going on, but it would do him no good to be noticed in a situation like this. He could not afford to move. All he could do was to keep his breathing slow and silent, hide behind his slab of stone, and hope not to be noticed.
“Hey, MOVE! Make way!” The commanding voice of yet another overseer woman came from the other direction this time, she was doing the same as the woman before her, pushing male overseers aside so that she could make her way down the tunnel. “Does anyone here know what is going on ahead!?”
There was a sound of crashing rocks from behind, and now there were screams coming from the opposite direction. “The tunnel just collapsed back here!”
“What!? That’s impossible! Gnome tunnels NEVER collapse! What is that useless gnome doing!?”
“Oh, don’t blame the gnome. It was I who collapsed the tunnel.” A soft female voice entered the tunnel, and then the area became bright like the human areas down in the slave houses of 3E’s childhood. His breath caught as seeing this light reminded him of his human mother. From what he could see in the corner of his vision around the slab though, the overseers where having a very different reaction. They shielded their eyes and recoiled from the light as they tried to protect their vision.
“Oh, you blocked them off?” Another female voice appeared. “That’s a shame, I doubt these foolishly aggressive dark elves would have retreated even as we devoured one of them after another.”
“I wouldn’t be so certain. They are not so foolish, their aggressive ‘courage’ is compelled through a threat of death to cowards. That sort of thing cannot last past the point where they realize their situation is hopeless.”
“Who are you sows!?” The overseer woman’s harsh voice barks at the other two women.
“Oh, this one has quite the mouth on her. I’m going to enjoy this one.”
“What are you!? Get her!!!”
“Our swords pass right through! We can’t touch them!!!”
“Useless! Alright then!” A blast of flame erupted down the tunnel. 3E felt his hands and legs burning in the fire and he finally let out his first cry of pain in all that was happening. There were other screams around him, but he was in no position to pay attention.
His hands were no longer in a shape where he could hold onto his stone slab. It dropped to the ground in the middle of the tunnel. His legs were still burning with the flames and he patted at them in order to try to put the fire out.
“Oh? That’s not going to work either I’m afraid.” The strange woman’s voice spoke again without concern. 3E looked up in his state of pain. “Just look at what you’ve done, all you managed to do was burn up all my food. I suppose I will have to deal with you first before you can cause any more damage.
“Monster! What are you!?” The overseer woman yelled.
“Hmm… how woefully uninformed you are. I am one of the true rulers of the surface.” The woman made of light said. 3E looked up. The overseer woman had tripped over and was laying on her back, and she was backing away from the light woman in fear. “Oh, there there. This will all be over shortly.” The light woman reached out a hand. The overseer woman tried to fight her off, but her arms passed right through the light woman. The light woman’s hand began glowing with a brighter light, and she used that hand to touch the overseer woman’s cheek. The overseer woman then started screaming out in pain.
“Noooo!!!! STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” Her cry was suddenly cut off. Right before 3E’s eyes, her body vanished, leaving only the clothing she had been wearing. He had been so fascinated and terrified by the sight that he did not even notice the other woman of light approaching until she was standing directly over him.
“Oh, poor dear. It looks like we have another member of their slave race here. He was caught up in that flame attack from a moment ago.”
The other light woman sighed. “I suppose we played around too much. Should have finished the mage woman off sooner.”
“He’s lucky though, he’s still alive. It looks like he shielded himself with this slab of stone. It’s only his hands and legs that are burned.”
“Well, in that case, once we are done with the rest of them we ought to be able to have his brethren carry him up to the surface. We might be able to get him some help once he reaches one of our bodies.”
3E did not know what they were talking about, but it seemed like he was not going to die. With the relief he was feeling, he was able to simply drift into unconsciousness.
Subscribers' comments of the chapter
"Now which Dryad was it? Was it the great tree or Aerien's Dryad? Or both???"
"The dryads, they feel too mature to be Isanil, it's probably Eirlathion's Dryad."