Tunnels (episode 10)

The first sliver of the moon emerged over the horizon as Milak found the airshaft where Andra had fallen.  Surrounded by trees, the hole was just this side of the Evernall; it rose out of the ground about a foot, with rocks piled around it.  He leaned over the edge, peering into the dark passage; in the distance, he saw a diffused light, presumably the mining tunnel.  “I do not see anyone; we can scale down before the moon reveals our presence.”  He tied a rope around a nearby tree and then around his waist; Nuala and Elandria followed his example.

Nuala said, “I will lead.”  She slipped over the edge and climbed down into the inky black passage.

“Finally, someone who wants to lead people into a dank, dark hole in the ground; my replacement has arrived,” chuckled Milak as he followed her into the dark.

He glanced up and saw Elandria following him into the vent.  He followed Nuala down the airshaft, their decent made easier by the numerous hand- and foot-holds found in the hastily constructed shaft.  Nuala motioned for him to wait as she peeked into the tunnel checking for guards roaming the tunnels.  Seeing no one, she dropped quietly into the passageway, followed by himself, and then Elandria.

The main tunnel extended in both directions for some distance before curving out of sight with several branches leading off to the north and south.  The rock had a hexagonal shape to it, similar to that of the topexx, almost as if the crystalline deposits had influenced the rock shape.  Off to one side, a mechanical contraption that stood about waist-high illuminated sections of the tunnel.  The machine’s irregular spacing made judging distances difficult due to large patches of shadows punctured by brief spots of light.  He watched as Elandria crouched down to examine something at the edge of the light.

“I found a feather covered in blood, we must hurry,” pleaded Elandria.

The lamp-machines confirmed the Kelrand’s presence well enough after they recovered Andra, they would come back for a lamp as proof.  He signaled his readiness to Nuala; she snuck eastward through the mine, sticking close to the wall shrouded in darkness.  They investigated several side branches.  Each of the southbound branches went for a few hundred feet and ended in barren rock.  However, the northbound ones dead-ended revealing an expansive deposit of topexx jutting out of the cave wall.  The topexx cast a purplish hue as the light reflected off it.  Someone had all around the cavern wall to expose as much topexx as they could.  In some places, the topexx ended a few feet above the floor, and in others, it rose twenty feet above the ceiling.  The same was true for the floor; the excavation sometimes went as deep as thirty feet, all in an attempt to find the true extent of the topexx lode.  He speculated this mine was the most extensive he had heard of; his people needed to preserve and protect this gift of Nature.  This was not for the Kelrand to pillage.

He followed Nuala and Elandria eastward, as they continued the search for Andra.  He saw concern etched on Elandria’s face as no one had discovered further evidence of Andra, either alive or dead.  As he rounded a corner, he recognized the rumbling of water falling upon rocks, as if they were close to an underground Evernall.  They had traveled over a mile east of their starting point, not counting all the side treks scouting out the branching tunnels.  He noticed the other two had halted in a cavern of some sort.  They stood transfixed, caught as if a deer staring at a bright light.  He moved up to them to see what had so captured them so completely and saw the most majestic waterfall he had ever seen.  The Evernall had an unknown tributary that fed this underground river for eons.  He stood slightly slack-jawed at the beauty of the water cascading down over a hundred feet from a crack in the roof of the cavern.  There were multiple bridges, with this one being the widest of them.  The water-carved cavern was massive, with a wide river flowing through the bottom of it, heading south, following its above ground brother as it moved through the land.  Perhaps it too flowed into the lake at the end of the line.  He could at least thank the Kelrand for providing him the opportunity to see such splendor, now only if he could trust them not to ruin it.


Elandria recovered first, and tapped his shoulder, “I need to find Andra.”  He shook himself free from his daze and followed her across the bridge and into Kelrand territory; Nuala followed them both.  On the Kelrand side of the river, the activity in the mine increased.  Some miners carried heavy gear between various tunnels, while other pushed carts filled with topexx, along tracks in the floor.  Guards walked up and down the tracks, inspecting the miners as well as the carts.  It seemed that Grimtok did not trust his miners any more than he trusted anyone else.  The group snuck through the passages dodging miners and guards alike, often times barely hiding in time as someone passed right by them.

However, their luck did not hold forever.  A six-man work crew carried a bulky mechanical device with lengthy arms attached to a jumble of gears jutting out from the base; each arm held a pickaxe.  The crew had four armed guards surrounding them, two in front, and two behind.  The Kelrand party headed straight for them.  Nuala and he broke left to hide in a nearby tunnel, as Elandria went right.  The guards, holding portable lanterns ahead of them, headed straight for Nuala and him, forcing them to escape down the tunnel ahead of the light, and further separating them from Elandria.  From behind them, they heard a shout from the guards.  He turned to discover the guards had seen them and was giving chase.  Nuala and he dashed through different tunnels, some left, some right, racing to avoid the guards.  They caught a bit of break, as they entered tunnels less populated than before; they hoped to lose them in a quiet, dark corner.  They paused in their flight, no longer hearing the sounds of pursuit.

“We need to find Elandria,” whispered Milak.  He followed Nuala through a maze of dimly lit and empty tunnels.  In their rushed escape they had not noticed that some tunnels were wide enough to fit twenty people abreast, each with their arms outstretched, and some tunnels barely allowed the two of them to squeeze through sideways.  In the far off distance, he heard the constant clanking of pickaxe striking rock.

Nuala led them down a side passage off a main broad tunnel; the passage opened out into another wide cavern.  They crept up to where the passage intersected with an enormous cavern, easily several times larger than the waterfall room.  The cavern spanned five-hundred feet from floor to ceiling and even with the lamp-machines scattered about, and he could not see the far end.  The size of the cavern did not faze him as much as the huge ziggurat in the distance, surrounded by what looked like a small town.  The structure stood over one-hundred and fifty feet tall and easily four-hundred feet wide on a side, with four distinct levels.  The first level was the tallest with each successive level being shorter, with the top-level still towering as high as twice the height of a man.  The top of each level had room for people to walk around on grand patios before the next structure rose out of the building.  He could see two stairways run up the side of the first floor to its roof.  A huge domed entrance sat atop the stairways, from his angle he could just make out a second stairway leading from the back of the entryway to the roof of the second level and on up to the roof of the third level.  The stairs ended at the apex of the ziggurat, a fifty-foot on the side enclosure.  He scanned the cavern and everything looked intact, from his vantage point he saw only a little damage to the structures; it was as if the earth swallowed the entire town intact and preserved it for who knows how long.

From behind he heard, “Impressive, isn’t it?  I hope you enjoyed the grand tour, but you missed our premiere attraction, the holding pens.”

Milak turned and saw a squad of twenty armed guards lead by a tall, beautiful, red-headed woman with a headband around her forehead it contained a large topexx.  Covering her right arm were various gears, gadgets, tubes, all connected to a tank that in turn connected to a circular device on her hand.  He recognized the purplish glow of topexxes mixed in with the gears.  From personal experience, he knew the device blasted topexx-augmented fire from her hand, engulfing her victims in seconds, and leaving them burnt to a cinder not long after.  He had seen it used on his own people too many times.  “Hello, Amzi.  I did not think this place was hot enough to be Hell, yet here you are.”

“Speaking of Hell, how’s your daughter doing?  Oh, that’s right she’s dead, because of you.  Bind them and take them to the holding area.”  She turned her back to him and sauntered back down the tunnel.

Angered raged through him.  The only thing stopping him from charging her was Nuala’s hand on his shoulder, and the armed guards coming to put him in shackles.

Aj here, and I’m way behind on my writing schedule. The other day I sat down to figure out what to write for episode 12. I had something planned but it really didn’t sound good so I scrapped it. A few weeks back I had written down several “one-liners” (short descriptions about what to write for an episode) for about half the episodes left in season 1. I wanted something to fit in with the rest of the story as conceived so far. I opened the spreadsheet and laughed to myself (ok, fine I laughed AT myself), I had like 5 one liners done out of the 19 episodes left. Sigh. Well, this whole pantster thing isn’t working for me anyway, so I spent some time figuring out the one-liners for the rest of the season, and soon enough I had a full story going. I mean, characters stories are intertwining and everything. Hey, ma I think I figured this one out! I still need lots of studying (and more than a little bit of help) to tell a good story, but at least I’ve taken a step forward here. Thanks for reading.

Tell me about a picturesque scene that has taken your breath away.

Stay shiny –Aj

PS – Before I forget, Jenn and I are going on a cruise to see the New England fall colors.  It’s going to be amazing.  Don’t worry, we worked in advance to have episodes 11 and 12 all setup and ready to go, we even bought Internet time on the cruise ship (damn that’s expensive!) so we can post it while we’re gone.  If for some reason we can’t post it according to the schedule below, please know that we’ll fix it as soon as we can.  Thanks for supporting us!

Next Episode:  TrespassFinal release September 20, 2016 (first draft on Sept 13, second draft on Sept 16, and rough color on Sept 18)

Previous Episode:  Scrutiny

First Episode:  Rainfall

This episode was originally posted on the Space Monkeys Down Patreon as Beating the Drums of War:  Tunnels.

Beating the Drums of War: Tunnels
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