Chapter 65:

The Mines 2

The Nonpareil of Resh (Act 1)

The small Aqueenian village was an unnamed mining town. It housed a population of around 300, the majority of which worked in the mines. The rest of the population would tend to the town itself. They would manage the buildings, prepare meals, manage the work, and help ship off the minerals in weekly timeframes. The bulk of the people in the town was young and healthy.

There was little room for the elderly, save for the few old miners that sought to rest their old bones in their final years. Likewise, there was little room for children, with the few exceptions of those born by the people within the town. The town was closed off, and the outside did not give much attention so long as the minimum goods still flowed out on schedule. There were hardly any people that entered and very few that left.

In the small town, there was a lone Aqueenian that was thought to be best ignored. He had a reputation for being a slimy man, a reputation he had carefully built over his many years in the town. His name was Vidkun, and when an odd group of bandits strolled into town one day, he was the first to offer a hand.

The town was quickly forced to produce more; many that did not mine were forced into them to meet an increasingly impossible quota, their safety a passing thought. Vidkun was placed as the liaison between the invaders and the townsfolk. He donned new clothes and exerted new power over the town, and he reveled in it.

It was on a day like any other that the Aqueenian liaison was once again enjoying his power. He picked on a formerly retired miner known as Gus. Old Gus, as he was called, was struggling from two days of work without rest, but that did not stop Vidkun from forcing him back to work. As the old miner stood up and continued to break stone apart, the liaison made a self-satisfied smile.

The smile did not last; however, Vidkun had turned his back to the hard at work miners and begun walking away. In one moment, he gleefully thought to himself what he would do later that day; in the next moment, he received a quick but forceful punch to the stomach.

He looked straight forward to a light sapphire blue Aqueenian. She was much younger than him, a minute into adulthood as Aqueenians liked to say, with a yellow jacket and equally yellow Needaimus. Her eyes, ordinarily purple, appeared closer to a crimson red in the dim cavern light; and they stared like daggers at him.

Vidkun did not have much time to contemplate the image before him. The pain took most of his attention, he was a delicate person, and a shout from a distance grasped the rest of his focus.

Everyone within the cavern turned to look at the yelling. What greeted them was a Netzian with an orange cloak and blue Needaimus surfing a stone done the side of the cavern. No one said anything as the Netzian hit the bottom of the cavern and lost his balance. He fell to the side, but the stone kept flying directly at Vidkun.

It didn’t hit him directly; instead, it struck at just the right angle to slide past but delivered enough force to knock his face down on the ground. He was left with a rather large gash, but nothing that couldn’t be walked off. The Aqueenian that had just stood before Vidkun disappeared in a flash and reappeared next to the fallen Netzian.

“Gwyn, are you okay!” she shouted.

“Fine… don’t let me do that again,” the Netzian said with a grunt as he sat up and shook his head.

The miners looked back and forth between the now unconscious Vidkun and the odd duo that had knocked him out.

Old Gus was the one who stepped forward and cleared his throat.

“What brings you youngins around here?” he asked in a polite but firm voice. His pickaxe was held firm in his hand as he greeted them.

They looked at each other and back to the old Aqueenian.

“I’m Fiona, and this is Gwyn… and we were just passing through,” Fiona said, introducing herself.

Gwyn stood up from the ground and began to brush himself off. He looked around the cavern and then back up the ledge. Old Gus looked up and squinted his grey eyes when he saw a Zenotote standing at the top.

“Quite an interestin bunch you have,” he said slowly.

Fiona chuckled, and Gwyn couldn’t help but join in.

“It probably does look strange, doesn’t it?” she said as it occurred to her how the miners might see them. Old Gus was not as amused.

“Anyway, come on down Harlan, I’m sure these miners will be able to help us out!” Gwyn shouted up to the Zenotote.

Harlan sighed and slid down the rockface. It was much like Gwyn had attempted, but she slid on the solid stone, and her landing was more graceful.

She cautiously looked to Old Gus, who took turns eyeing each of them, one after the other. Of the trio, she was the only one who suspected the old Aqueenian was not keen on seeing them, but she kept quiet and let the others do the talking.

“What’s going on in this town anyway!” Gwyn said, “We were just driving in and ended up being attacked!”

Old Gus thought for a moment before replying:

“That’s what we’d like to know. We were just mindin our own business and ended up gettin taken over by some bandits.”

“How was it taken over? Surely there have been inspections by the capitol!” Fiona asked in shock. Her shock was genuine and sincere, and Old Gus’s posture loosened slightly.

“Inspectors don’t stop up here less there’s trouble. They’ve been careful not to let shipments stop to avoid that. Not to mention that one will act as the public face for any outside interaction,” he explained while gesturing to the unconscious Vidkun.

“Don’t worry; we will go out and get help!” Gwyn said. Fiona gave him a glaring look as he said it, but it went unnoticed by the orange-clad nonpareil.

Old Gus shook his head. He eased his grip on his pickaxe some as he got the feeling Fiona and Gwyn weren’t trying to be deceitful.

“A bunch of kids like you won’t get any help from nobody; they’ll think it’s just a tall tale.”

Fiona ground her teeth together but said nothing.

“Gus!” someone shouted from the crowd. An Aqueenian lady stepped forward. She had long silver hair braided to one side of her head and yellow eyes. Her complexion was a green chalcedony. She was known to be well informed within the town and was one of the few who left the small village in her lifetime. The lady put her hands on her hips as she walked up to the older man and gestured to him to lean in close.

He was a bit taller than her and had to squat slightly so that the lady could whisper in his ear. It only took a moment, but the old Aqueenian’s eyes grew wide, and his pickaxe fell to the floor. It made a loud clang as he knelt.

“Apologies for my rudeness, Princess,” the old man said to Fiona. Fiona looked behind her; she half expected her sister Hermina to be somewhere in the cavern with them. When it dawned on her that she was being addressed, she made a fake cough into her hand and spoke:

“No need… to bow… raise your… head?” Her sentence ended as a question, but the older man did as she said.

The miners were beginning to mutter to themselves.

“Mamie, are you sure she’s a princess!” one yelled from the crowd.

The green Aqueenian known as Mamie turned back to the crowd with her hands confidently on her hips.

“Indeed, and she’s come to save this town!”

Fiona squirmed at the green Aqueenians words as she looked around to see the eager faces of miners. She wanted to protest but couldn’t bring herself to raise her voice.

Mamie’s words were enough for the miners, and they let out a collective cheer that seemed to shake the cavern more than the vehakul had done.

“Shush, you!” Mamie shouted to quiet the crowd. “Now bind up that traitor and hit your quota for today; I’m going to go back with this lot and inform them of our counteroffensive.

“Yes, ma’am!” the miners happily shouted.

Mamie left Old Gus to supervise the others, but he didn’t have to do any work. The young miners happily surpassed their quota quickly after the group had left. The excitement of breaking free that day motivated them to mine just enough minerals to keep the bandits from suspecting anything would happen. They spent the rest of their time resting in the mines in case they were needed in the upcoming offensive.