Chapter 64:

The Mines 1

The Nonpareil of Resh (Act 1)

Harlan pulled the other two through a network of mazes for what seemed a very long time until Gwyn finally broke his arm free. He stopped running and Harlan, with Fiona in tow, stopped to turn back to him.

Gwyn was looking back from where they had come. He considered running back, but they had taken several turns, and he no longer knew the way. He took a deep breath as he tried to calm down. It occurred to him that he would not be any match for the trio anyway, but he didn’t let that occurrence stop him from speaking.

“Why did you make us run?” he asked Harlan with a tone that the shy Zenotote was not prepared to respond to. Fiona broke free from her hand and walked closer to Gwyn.

“We had no chance of winning that encounter,” Harlan replied calmly,” And if I may be so inclined to say. I believe you had no desire to engage in any combat when we left, she added with a slight sting in her usual calm tone. It went unnoticed by Fiona, but Gwyn felt her words at his core. He gritted his teeth.

“We… we could have done something… we can’t just let them get captured!” he spat out a rebuttal as best he could. His words were minced, and his face prevented him from hiding any sense that his thoughts were coherent.

Harlan shook her head.

“We would be best inclined to make a tactical retreat. Even if we bested those three, we have no idea what waits for us after. We are still far away from reaching our true destination at this point.”

“Surely you don’t think we should leave them here and continue to Nun?” Fiona asked with a worried tone.

Harlan thought to herself a moment before replying.

“It would be best if we left this town, and we contacted support as we got to the next. A proper army could retake this village, and we can continue without worry,” she replied.

Gwyn turned away from Harlan and began to walk down the mine shaft. Fiona sighed and followed after Gwyn. Harlan stood in silence for a moment, contemplating where the flaw in her logic was before she ran down to catch up with the other two. She stayed several paces behind them with her head down as Gwyn aimlessly led the way.

I’d hate to agree with her, partner, but she does make a point. We have no idea what we are facing here; Mem echoed in Gwyn’s mind. Gwyn shook his head as if to shake the thoughts off.

It would be a couple days hike to the next town; then, we could contact the soldiers living there. I’m sure they have no idea the village's state right now.

Gwyn ignored the Needaimus and turned a corner. He stopped at the edge of what looked like a giant, open cavern. At the bottom, lights and tools were laid out. Minecart-like vehakuls were full of rocks that glowed with a sparkling light even in the dim lights of the cavern.

“We’re lost,” Fiona said with a sigh. Harlan silently nodded but didn’t speak up to say anything.

Gwyn grunted as he rubbed the back of his head and looked around. He let out a sigh and knelt close to the ground as if he was trying to get a better look below. Gwyn ran his hand through his golden-red hair in an agitated manner before stopping and relaxing his posture. His heart was racing less, and he could begin to think.

“Let’s get out of these mines first, then we can work on contacting support,” he said.

“We’re going to leave them?” Fiona asked in a shocked voice.

“I… I don’t know,” Gwyn said as he stood back up and took a step back.

Before anyone else could say anything, a rumbling began to fill the cavern. It started small at first but quickly grew more intense. The rock where the trio stood began to shake as well, and they began to stumble from the vibrations. It was not enough to start a rockslide, but just enough for the three of them to lose balance and fall toward the edge.

Gwyn reacted quickly, liquefying the ground under his feet and then solidifying it again to catch his feet in before he could go over the edge. He reached out for Fiona and Harlan, grabbing each by the arm with one hand. Fiona in his right, Harlan in his left. Unfortunately, the scaly Zenotote scientist quickly slipped out of Gwyn’s bad hand and kept moving to the edge. She went over but barely caught herself on the rocks at the last minute.

The vibrations stopped as a large vehakul settled at the cavern's bottom. Many Aqueenians of different bright colors stepped out. They wore what was best described as mining clothes and wielded pickaxes. Their movements were slow, their heads hung low, but they still got right to work just the same.

Fiona reached out to Harlan and pulled her back up to the ledge where they stood. Gwyn freed his feet from the makeshift catch by liquefying the stone again.

They watched as the miners began to break up the stone. The echoes of pickaxes filled the caverns as the miners silently worked.

“What are they doing?” Gwyn asked.

“Mining Gwyn,” Fiona answered.

“I… I know that… why are they here right now? I thought those guys from before controlled the town.”

“I suspect they are being forced to mine against their will. There are several children and elderly included in that bunch,” Harlan said just loud enough for the other two to hear.

One of the elderly Aqueenians suddenly dropped to his knees as if on cue. He was trying to catch his breath for a moment. Some of the other miners stopped what they were doing to support the elder.

From the large vehakul, the front door opened. A new Aqueenian face stepped out. He had a pacific opal complexion and well-groomed hair. The clothes did not reflect that of the miners but instead looked like the dark soldier-like fashion of the group that had attacked the team only moments prior. He stood with a posture that suggested he was in charge.

The new Aqueenian walked up to the elder and said a couple of words that none of the trio could hear. After a moment of talking, the one in charge slapped the elder. The old miner fell to the ground from the force of the hit. None of the workers did anything and simply got back to work. The elder quickly stood up and rejoined them.

Harlan watched the scene with indifference, but neither Fiona nor Gwyn could shake away their frustration as the old man struggled to continue.

“How could he!” Fiona said with shock. She immediately locked in on the leader.

“Wait,” Harlan hissed. She tried to reach out and grab Fiona, but the princess had already disappeared in a flash.

Gwyn, at the same time, stood straight up.

“Mem, I’m going to try something,” he quickly said as he moved to the edge of the ledge. He slid his hand over the ridge and liquified it so that the section he was on broke free. As the rock he slid on made contact with the cavern wall, he liquidized the path under it so that it would slide down like a water slide. He did not realize it, but he could make his makeshift slide without having to touch the rock. Mem would later explain that his compatibility had gone up to nearly 35%.