"Finally! Finally he shut up!" One guard rejoiced. "If I had to hear another of songs I was going to stab my ears out.
"You always say that everyday." Another remarked.
"But this time I really meant it as true. This kid was something. His spirit never broke."
"Yeah, but his body sure as hell did."
The two men were carrying, or rather dragging, a weak looking young man from under the shoulders. He was half starved and filthy. He was worked to death and they were assigned to disposing of the body. Unfortunately for the boy, or perhaps fortunately he was not yet dead. At the end of a dark tunnel was a small rocky hill leading out of the caves. It overlooked the water below and here was where they disposed of those that died. With a single heave they tossed Ephraim forward and watched him tumble.
The pain was excruciating; not only did he hunger but the battering of the rocks sliced his skin leaving him a mess. When his body finally stopped rolling he was at the bottom. The waves were distant but still moving in. It was low tide and soon it would be high grabbing his body and drowning him in the sea. Maybe it would not be so bad. It would be the end and he would be free at last.
No! No! No! He could not give in yet. He was not ready to die! He had to find that girl! Nora. He had to learn the truth of things. He had to... He had to see the crew one more time. How he longed to sail the seas one more time. Just to flirt with a pretty lady and hunt for treasure, why did he have to take such a foolish quest. This was his punishment for sin.
The sea roared, and the Pupil once more wondered how exactly she had gotten herself into this mess. One minute, she was commandeering a boat down the Lycian coast, heading for a mine she had visited before. The goal was simple: steal more ore, do more experiments, and become a great scientific mind. What they failed to tell her was that a squall was brewing. And so as the winds had picked up and the boat began to rock, she was helpless, unable to do much more besides brace as she felt her craft careening out of control until it smashed into the rocks, sending her in a bruised heap at the bottom of a tall, rocky hill near the shore. She had half crawled and half dragged herself to the shade of a rock outcropping and had passed out from exhaustion, her (stolen) boat completely destroyed and her body battered.
When she awoke, the tide was beginning to come in, and she had company. There was a man, laying on the rocks, who appeared to have been thoroughly smashed by the storm as well. Wearily, Lydia pulled herself upright. No broken bones, but many cuts, bruises, and scrapes. She stumbled over to the man, who looked nearly dead. This was rough. Two shipwrecked souls, in a barren and inhospitable environment. It couldn't get much worse.
"Hey, are you alive? Were you thrown here by the storm too? And more importantly, do you know exactly where we are? I'm lost, but I have a bit of water and some apple if you want to share."
Indeed, her waterproof bag with food and tome had washed up with her. It was her most prized possession, her bag, since it contained her tome and experiment notebook.
"Hey," the word came to Ephraim like the sweetest melody. It was so strange. He'd heard that word daily for so long now but never so gently or... Was this a woman's voice? It was slow at first but he squinted his eyes shut and slowly opened them weakly to look upon a young woman kneeling over him. Are you alive? Was he, he wondered himself. Was this hell? No hell could never have an angel so beautiful.
He clenched at the rocks below him, his fingers scrapping against the wet cool stones. His callouses left him numb to their sharpness but he was certainly alive. It hurt too much to be otherwise. With a greater deal of effort than he would care to, or ever admit he sat up. "We are in Lycia. This is... A mining... Facility." He rolled the word around a moment before deciding on facility. If he said it was a prison he would likely lose her in an instant.
"The storm crashed you here?" Was this? Was this the moment he had been waiting for? Had the gods finally sent him a savior? He had no idea but he silently thanked the oceans and the skies for their deeds. "Please, I have not eaten or drinken in some time now." He took an apple and a large share of the water. His strength was returning a little with his spirits soaring now. "I'd been waiting a long time for a chance like this. Now that you are here and I was discarded I think I have it." He laughed weakly yet wildly. Once he was free of this prison he would return to raid it and destroy those in charge.
"If you want to get to land we have to climb and go back inside." He looked the girl over again. Had he seen her before? "Have I?" He trailed off deciding not to pursue the question. "I am Ephraim, and if you help me get out of here I will make it worth your time, I swear it."
Lycia, yes, she knew that. Mining facility? So she was near the mine! That was good news. The bad news was this was most definitely not where she had swiped her supplies before. This was some other part of the operation, a part that looked to be a scrap heap, or a rock refuse pile. Not a good start. The man voraciously ate the apple and swigged down a large portion of the water she had left. That was supposed to be shared... oh well. Who was this guy, some chain-gang escapee? And what he was saying made almost no sense. A chance? Discarded? Was he mad? Lydia was a little confused now, and more than a little concerned.
Thoroughly confused and now definitely wary, Lydia backed up a bit. Offering to make things worth her time sounded a bit disgusting, and pretty creepy too. She slowly opened her hands, beginning to will her power into being.
"Okay, Ephraim. I'm not going to beat around the bush. I'm more than a little creeped out by you right now. You sound pretty nuts, and I'm a young woman alone with you at the bottom of a rock hill. It doesn't look too promising for me."
Finishing the summon, Lydia brought a ball of Flux into being, holding her arm out with the inky glob of darkness at the end of her stiff arm and open palm, spacing herself out from the man.
"But I am more than able to defend myself, so I would like to ask you to explain what you're talking about a little more clearly for me. Right now I feel threatened and uneasy, and when I get this way I usually default to defending myself first and then questioning motives once the problem is taken care of."
Ephraim had stared down far too many death threats to show fear. In fact normally he'd have a dozen contingencies for this moment, but as he was now he was very concerned. Would this scared little girl blow him apart just because he sounded creepy? Ah Hell, this was divine judgement was it not? Killed by the thing he loved most, women. "If you are going to kill me just do it. I am a dead man without your help here anyway. Might as well let me see a pretty face as I go." He tried to give her one of his award winning smiles but it came as little more than a grimace.
When she feels threatened and uneasy huh? If she was so calm she had to merely WANT to blast someone and made this excuse. She reminded him of Bonnie in that regard actually. "I am far too weak to be a problem right now, I think anyway." He narrowed his eyes at her. "And besides, your body is far too underdeveloped for my tastes." Insulting her was, foolish he would readily admit, but it would be a relatively assured way to guarantee she would change her perspective if she thought he did not want her.
He held one arm out with open palm as though it would catch the flux should it be thrown his way and began, "when I said make it worth your time I meant with money and jewels. Hell, I see you're a shaman, I have a good friend that is a Druid. Doesn't talk much but his skills are top notch. We call him first mate." He lowered his arm, "first mate as in a ship. Also, if there is something you want from these mines I know the place pretty damned well at this point and could guide you through it." He needed to make himself valuable, especially for how weak and useless he must appear now. "Plus... I snagged one of these." He revealed a light rune. "Pretty useful for escapes and heavens know we will need it." He leaned back. "So, help me up if you say yes... Or just kill me before I am made to drown if you say no. But the tide is coming fast and the guards inside are none too friendly." He addressed a large bruised and swollen eye. "Got that for singing a song."
Lydia snickered. Pretty face? The guy was a riot. And he was speaking the truth - even if he came at her, she doubted in his state that he'd get in more than a blow before she rent his soul into little tiny pieces and fed him to the fish. As for underdeveloped? The Pupil laughed out loud, her eyes squinting slightly in mirth and a smile covering her face. She wasn't going to argue that one at all. At least he was an honest half-dead guy.
"Well, Ephraim, it looks like you've won me over. You are not, in fact, some creepy guy waiting here to ambush young women. However, given your state, it doesn't look like you're much more than an escaped - or discarded - mine slave. But you've called it true. I do have a want for money and... not jewels, really, but ores, and maybe some uncut stones. I'm more of a scientist than a lady, and I need all the coin and experiment materials I can get. Monster parts ain't cheap."
Then he showed her the light rune. Those were indeed interesting magical trinkets. She had heard that they possessed the power to block small openings... Like cave tunnels. Perhaps this could work. Her brain began to churn, and Lydia absentmindedly extended her hand, braced herself, and pulled the guy up.
"OK, Ephraim. I've got an idea. If you know the layout and can guide me through, we've got an advantage there. And you probably also know when shifts change, or which areas are less well-guarded. Unarmed you wouldn't stand a chance, but with me... You might just make it out.
And in return, let's get some good chunks of ore and crystal on the way. You know where to find that, too. Once you're in the clear, if you have gold, I guess I wouldn't mind some, but don't worry about that until we get out."
She was laughing? Ephraim looked genuinely surprised. He had expected anger or annoyance not happy laughter. For the first time in a long time he found himself laughing along with her. "It's not that funny." Discarded mine slave huh? That obvious was it? His eyes narrowed at the title and he looked at the rocks below him. "Yeah, yeah that's me alright."
A scientist before a lady? Monster parts? Just what kind of savior did he get entangled with? Before he could really contemplate the idea that he may be better off drowning he found himself pulled back to his feet. He gave what he could in order to help her help him but he found his body crumpling forward into the girl. With his chin resting on her shoulder he apologized. "I'm sorry, just give me a moment." Sure enough a moment later he was standing without her aid or support.
"I can lead us through but we will have to be very careful, no tunnels are ever without risk of being seen. When a tunnel has used up all its value it gets collapsed so we will have to stay vigilant. Lucky for us, the shifts change with the tides. As you see, it is coming in, so, we will have our window very soon. As for your ore, we can easily snag some along the way, but if you want some of the best bits then we will have to pay the warden a visit." It was a dangerous idea and one that he announced out of a vengeful desire but it was not a lie either."
He began to climb the slippery stones as carefully as he could, only looking back to ensure Lydia was following him. "Oh, and what was that about me hanging out down there to pray on unsuspecting maidens? What kind of people have you been meeting?"
The two enjoyed their laugh for a moment before the man looked downward, maybe...ashamed? Unhappy? The Pupil gave him a reassuring slap on the back.
"Not anymore you aren't. Together, we're going to get through that mine and out into the rest of the world. I'm pretty good at staying hidden, what with my black cloak and all of that, so I think if we stay cautious and aware we should make it. Constant vigilance, you know? And worst comes to worst, we have your rune and my Elder magic to secure our escape."
The warden, huh? It made sense that the head honcho would have access to the best materials. She could bear the weight of stealing from the mine, and so if she was going to nab ore for her experiments, she might as well have the best pieces. There wouldn't be too much extra risk in visiting him, as long as they were stealthy. And with Ephraim's inside knowledge, stealth was made a whole lot simpler. No wandering aimlessly.
"Very well, then. We will move as the tide comes in and the shifts change, and we will stop by the warden to collect a sampling of the mine's best materials. Then we will get as far away as we can, as fast as we can."
When the man asked about her concern, Lydia gave another brief chuckle.
"You never know what lone men are up to. I've had lots of people try lots of shady things, but I guess that's what squatting on the Isles and living on the streets gets you. I'm used to it now, and I can fend off the common lewd harassment without batting an eyelid. But now and then you get real bad apples, and that's when I have to use my magic. They never do mess with me after I'm done ripping their soul apart from within them with the power of a formless void. That tends to end days on a bad note, you know?
Her little exposition done, Lydia turned to business.
"All right, Ephraim. Let's descend back into the darkness so that we can emerge into the light. Ready?"
His one, single rune and her magic huh? The thought caught him grinning. Yeah right, that would not be enough, they needed all the luck in the world and he was certain he had expended what little remained having her get crashed where he was. "So, your cloak, did you want to hide under it together?" Normally he would ask a question like this just to get close to a woman, but now it was a legitimate concern, he may have only been 5ft 6 but two people under one cloak is still a lot of people.
So she was up to seeing the warden? A wicked seed in Ephraim began to sprout, the elation he felt was bothersome but he nurtured it. His hatred of the warden shone through. He thought of all the ways to kill that bastard but he knew what he wanted to do in the end. He would get his blades back and tear his stomach or throat out. "I say we pick everything he has clean and leave him to rot. No one will know it was us and the commotion it causes will be fantastic." Ephraim reached the hilltop and held out a hand to pull Lydia up to his level. Peering over the last bits of rock he pointed at the cave mouth.
"The left path is where the soldiers will come from, the right is where we will go. To reach the warden we will need to go up. Easier than you'd think. There are towers and doors that we can enter once we are further in."
He thought about her words and how others no longer messed with her, "I think they are all dead, the men that tried to harm you."
After a moderate amount of waiting the guards came around the corner to greet each other for change over. It was time, and as they parted ways, the off going and oncoming, Ephraim scrambled out to begin the sneaking.
The scramble up the cliffs took some work and some doing, but once they got to the top, they hid, waiting for the change of the guards. As they laid low, biding their time and preparing for their move, Ephraim still spoke. Lydia had no problems with him talking, which was unusual. Most people she secretly wished would shut up, but Ephraim had a vibe about him that calmed her. Maybe it was the impending danger, or the way that he seemed to take the challenge in stride. Perhaps it was the way that he seemed so comfortable, even though he had been through so much.
Mad props to that guy.
So when he asked about hiding under the cloak, Lydia laughed and took it in stride.
"I wear dark clothes overall, so I'll be fine in the tunnels without the cloak. You can use it when we're sneaking around to lower your profile. But for now, I guess if you want to keep warm, I don't much mind. Here."
She offered the cloak, unfastening it and then lifting a side and then dropping it over the guy, closing the clip around his neck instead and sliding closer to keep him warm. Who knew how long it would be until the guards changed, and she sure as heck didn't want her guide dropping off due to some sort of cold or illness if she was going to get out of the mine complex. While they waited, now silent and still, she reviewed the words he had spoken to her. Left path is where they come from, right is the target. Then going upward to the warden, through towers and doors.
She did answer his statement, one quiet and simple word.
No indeed. All of those who had brought her pain were not dead. Some demons still haunted her - somewhere, out there, there were still people who had brought upon her the heavy mantle she bore. Somewhere, her brother waited. One day, a confrontation would happen... She promised herself that much. Until then, it was her weight to bear - alone.
The guards swapped, and the two broke into motion, Lydia in her more form-fitting black blouse and combat pants and Ephraim in her cloak. It was a bit short, but it did the job.
As Lydia threw the cloak around the both of them he was surprised by just how surprised he was. As the two stood so close he could not help himself but to admire the gir's face. Perhaps he was just starved for a feminine touch but he thought she was rather pretty, but who's standard would not drop after months with a bunch of ugly men with sores and bad breath he reminded himself... And she smelled nice.
Under the cloak was warm, so warm he would have pulled it tightly around himself if not for Lydia placing her small frame against his. She pressed right against one of his bruises but he did not care. He knew nothing about her down to her name but it was so comforting he wanted to stay like this forever. He shut his eyes with a relaxed sigh. Thank you was all he could think. He would never take kindness for granted again he told himself.
At his comment at the men being dead he had said it with a slight snark but her one word was so... So solemn it made his throat clench. He offered her no words, no advice and no condolences. He knew not what she had endured and simply placed a comforting hand on her far shoulder pulling her tighter. It hurt his bruise even more.
With a cloak befitting of a thief the two continued down the winding halls with stealthy but quick steps. The hallways glittered with gold and silver ores, it would have been beautiful had he not worked it so long. The two passed other miners who seemed to not notice them, or perhaps they caught on and ignores their presence. When the two came across a soldier Ephraim grabbed Lydia by the wrist throwing the two of them against a wall and pulling her close with a finger to his lip.
"I hate this place! You slaves deserve worse than this! I can't believe we even feed you worthless pigs." He held a whip with one hand but carried a sword by his side. A driver as Ephraim had taken to calling them. Their job was to keep order officially. But they were the second most abusive of everyone. Only second to the warden himself. As Ephraim stared at the man his grip on Lydia tightened. It was surprisingly strong.
To their good fortune one of the other slaves noticed the two hiding and with a subtle nod he took action. Turning to the soldier he stood tall. He was skinny and thin but with muscles that his his true strength. "Hey! I'm tired. Taking a break!"
"What did you say to me!? What the **** did you say you filth!?" The soldier was quick to round on him and crack the whip. The bonds and good humor Ephraim held with the others was paying off. He had his opening to keep going but he hesitated.
Lydia moved with Ephraim as they slunk into the complex and moved through tunnels with ore shining like miniature lanterns in the torchlight. She hesitated briefly, suddenly, when they first encountered other miners, all of whom were working the veins, but shook her head and moved with the man. Ephraim was leading, after all. She would follow.
And so it continued until they came to a position where a soldier was guarding. The man yanked her arm, pulling her wrist and signaling to an alcove. They slipped into it, flat against the wall, as the guard passed. Her breathing was soft and shallow, and her eyes followed the man as he began to berate the men working the mine. A whip and a sword. Truly, he appeared to be a brutal man.
When he turned on the prisoner who had spoken up, Lydia felt Ephraim move and then stop, clearly hesitating, on the brink of going or staying. Lydia looked at the guard, who with back turned was assaulting the defenseless miner. Slowly, she stepped forward, mumbling to herself almost noiselessly as the whip cracked down and her own arm rose up, the fingers clenching as if on an invisible ball, and a haze coalescing between the clenched fingers to form a ball of dark power the size of a grapefruit. And then, as the whip rose once more, she made her move, kicking her foot upward and snapping it out into the man’s groin from behind.
The effect of the rising kick was instantaneous, as the guard groaned, and then turned, fire in his eyes and death in his stare as Lydia hurled herself on top of the man, forcing him back into the wall and jamming the dark orb into his face. Tendrils of darkness erupted from the glob, worming their way into eyes, ears, and mouth as it almost melted onto the driver’s face.
Lydia slumped, tired. She couldn’t draw such potent power without feeling the toll on herself. She would be fine, soon, but needed to rest for a moment. It was up to Ephraim to finish the job.
Lydia had... By the powers that be, by the ones that guide the oceans, skies, and the shifting of the soil, Lydia had assaulted the guard. Ephraim wanted to take action and help the prisoner but never had he thought to actually do it. This meant death. Death for either them or for all the prisoners here, both if they were caught. "Lydia..." Her name was the only thing he could bring himself to utter. It was the first time he'd said it and it was in shock, awe, and creeping despair. "What have you done?"
Ephraim slowly approached the guard who's face had been completely mauled by the nether. The flesh was cleanly gone and so too was any organic tissue. Only a hollowed out skull remained with a fleshy neck letting out the blood. Ephraim was stunned a moment but managed to bring himself to support Lydia.
The slave whom she saved from punishment looked at them both solemnly. "We thought you were dead pirate boy."
"I almost was."
"She part of your crew?"
"No, she just happened to get stranded where I was left."
"That is... Convenient fortune." The slave mused over the thought before addressing the body. "The way I see it we have two choices. We can all leave together, and either be free or die trying, or... I will take the blame for this. They will believe my word and... No one is waiting for me out there. I killed three men in cold blood..."
Ephraim was stunned. He was suggesting... "A riot?"
The man grinned and nodded. "That is one possibility yes." He grabbed the sword off the guard and thrust it flatly against Ephraim's chest. "Take it." He himself claimed the whip and began to search him over for anything else valuable. "With no eyes on us..." He addressed the chains binding the men's feet and keeping them all together. "Break them." The other slaves began to use their picks and hammers to break them.
"This... This is foolish..." Ephraim muttered strapping the blade to his waist. "Lydia, this has nothing to do with you so... You make the call, we can still sneak out of here..."
What had she done indeed… As she fought for breath, keeping down the heart that seemed to be hammering its way through her ribs, something else rose within her, bubbling to the surface in a burst of emotion, a concentrated burst of rage that was uncharacteristic for the scientific and reserved Pupil. There was an unusual glint in her eyes, a shine that made her seem sickly and wraithlike in the tunnel lighting. This dank tunnel, these men chained together, toiling under the lash in this pit of hopelessness and deep despair... It struck her, in her core.
Slowly standing, still holding on to Ephraim, Lydia spoke, her voice quiet but solid as it echoed out over the metal on metal breaking the chains and cuffs binding the men.
"We will not be held. I will not let you stay in the darkness. There is a light. There is hope. It awaits you. You are human beings, you are men, men of promise and men of possibility. This is Hell, and none of you have yet been claimed by Death. No, I will not stand by…
Ephraim. I came here not to free slaves, not to give men liberation…but now I shall. This ends now. Rise up, all of you. I know not how many are here or where they are… Ephraim, you must make the plans. But let me be your tie to the Void, your gateway to the infinite Nether. I will bring this power to bear on all who oppose us. And together we are strong. We will emerge from this darkness. We will see the light once more! Together we shall fight. Stand with me…Live!"
If not for the need of stealth the men would have cheered. They looked to each other and to the two that came to save them. The young pirate boy that sang shanties daily and continuously plotted their escape, who 'died' and still held to his promise returning, and this girl, the shaman that came from nowhere and yet would be their savior.
"Lydia..." Ephraim looked at her with clear amazement before smiling. He had the love of his fellow prisoners after all this time and their loyalty, but it was Lydia that deserved the praise. No, if she were given the credit for this she would be hunted. It would be better if this was on his shoulders. "You may wield the darkness in my favor, but I will carry the burden born of your doing so..."
"So, how do we proceed?" The man with the whip spoke up.
"Ah! Yes!" Ephraim began with a point to the man. "Here is the plan. We free who we can, when we can. Haste is going to be key. I am not saying to abandon the others, but there is a key target." There was a look of understanding among all of the men gathered, there was little need to address the plan now, they had devised hundreds over their time together.
"We capture the warden."
"Bingo!" The warden was a known coward, but his soldiers were loyal to him due to his rank. The warden feared death far too much to ignore any demands they made if caught, even to release the prisoners. Dead if he did not, and at the mercy of his nation if he did. He was the type to take the latter chance.
"What about his guards?"
"What about them? We have tools that break apart mountains! There are more of us! and... we have hope now. That is something they fear from us. We will make them regret treating us the way they have." Ephraim glanced at Lydia to see how she was feeling in regards to his words.
"Once we are free what then?"
"Be free! Do what you want! Just be careful or you'll be hunted." He began to suddenly walk down the man made tunnels and the men followed. He was weak but something inside made him feel strong, it made all the men feel stronger. Drawing his new sword he pointed it ahead, "Let's raise hell!"
The prisoners began to scatter down various tunnels. Each of the groups of prisoners had a soldier watching them, and there were the others on patrol. If they could maintain the element of surprise for a while they could exponentially improve their numbers.
Calmly he walked with Lydia by his side. "Don't worry, I'll get you your ores." He smiled at her again. He felt like he was Bonnie back with First Mate. She was a sword toting pirate and he a druid, perhaps she would be his First Mate, and he her Bonnie? He thought about the wording of his thought and brushed it off, they weren't lovers, and he doubted his ability to return to the sea anytime soon, but he was curious to know just where this girl would go.
"I intend to let the warden live," he confessed to Lydia. His voice carried a bitterness as he said so. "I will make him carry word of how I incited and led the uprising and keep you out of this. You don't need men after your head."