A cold draft blew down the corridor, carrying with it an unidentifiable stench. It seemed almost like the smell of rotting fruit, though older, and with a hint of dust thrown in. None of the four paid much mind to it though, as it had not seemed to indicate anything particularly ominous. In fact, much to their surprise by the stories they had heard of the Valaeyn’s workings, they had not encountered anything particularly dangerous at all.
After leaving the light barrier, they had found themselves in a large chamber, barely lit by crystals similar to those in the glow pits, but much smaller. The walls were finely worked, and were constructed of some metal that none of them had seen before. It was dark, possibly black, though with color nearly disappearing in the dim light, it was hard to tell. They had followed the walls out until they found a selection of corridors heading off in different directions. Deciding which one to take had been fairly easy. They took the one with the draft. Air flow increased the chances of finding a way out.
Only one true enemy had found them. Hunger. They had been walking for nearly eight hours by In’s reckoning, and In was often right where his internal clock was involved. They had not encountered anything but metal walls, and though the draft had gotten stronger, the corridor seemed to only be leading them downward.
Dak had taken the lead, with In watching the rear as Joden followed closely behind Dak, leaving Daeni protected in the middle. They were still being cautious, despite the lack of seen danger, but their mood had relaxed some, and the group had gotten to know each other better. Neither In nor Dak let slip any of the details of their former life among the nobility, but they spoke candidly about their adventures on the streets, even about their lawlessness. To their great comfort, Joden, though of an order of very strict law-abiding monks, seemed to respect their survival capabilities, and never once gave them a judging remark. Daeni also seemed to have little problem with their lifestyle, simply mentioning often that they reminded her of her own boys, of which she had several, though she explained with sadness that she had not seen them in quite some time, as they had been separated when the Valaeyn had rounded them up.
Joden was the only one who remained silent about his past, though he did often interject with his feelings of concern about Daeni’s life or with some sage comment about what one of them had said. He had a strange sense of strength that the others admired as he glided through the corridor, and neither In nor Dak would have thought he was the same person they had seen in Shadhaven. Hope did strange things to a man.
At length the corridor finally began to widen, so that they could walk two abreast instead of single file. It continued in this manner until suddenly the corridor widened to a large chamber. The stench was stronger here, though a direct source could still not be established. They could make out little of what was in the chamber, but they could see faint glowing points in the distance that they assumed were the crystals embedded in the walls of the room, allowing them to gauge that the chamber was approximately the same size as the chamber Shadhaven had been in.
The thing that made this chamber truly different though, was that there were other people here, huddled around glowpits near the corridor’s entrance to the chamber. The nearest ones looked up as they saw the group and stood. Seven people, four men and three women, stood up and began walking toward them.
“Perhaps this is one of the other havens they spoke of? It seemed fairly easy to reach this point,” Dak remarked as he cautiously laid his hand on his dagger and stopped his advance to wait for the people to reach them.
“I don’t know, it’s not like the survivors like speaking about this place much. Most of them are half mad, if not all the way mad. We opened a makeshift hospital for survivors just a year ago in Noven City. None of them really spoke much of what the havens were like, only Shadhaven,” Joden replied, as he stopped at Dak’s right.
“I’s be thinkin’ that they be the friendly sort Dak, I thinkin’ you can’a rest yourself easy,” Daeni interjected as she popped up on Dak’s left and eyed his hand on his dagger.
“He’s always like that Daeni,” In said as he came up on her other side, “Don’t mind him, he’s only being cautious, not suspicious. If he wasn’t that way we would have died a long time ago. I certainly wouldn’t have kept us alive with that mentality. He always says I am too trusting.”
“You are too trusting, but don’t worry, I am sure we will find out out what they want soon enough,” Dak replied, a slight smile crossing his face as he eyed his younger friend. In smiled back and rolled his eyes.
The seven finally reached them and stopped fifteen feet away, where the man in the middle, and older gentleman from what they could make out of his features in the low-light, spoke up almost as soon as they had stopped.
“Are you fresh here from the Valaeyn then?”
Dak nodded and replied, “Yes. We left Shadhaven a number of hours ago. I am Dak from Ivinsgard. Are you the leader here?”
The old man chuckled, though it was clearly without mirth as he replied, “I suppose I lead a few of us, though we haven’t much of a true organization here. We eat and we survive, and we drag the dead out into the tunnels to be devoured by Scavis. My name is Kobix, originally from Nathu.”
“Nathu? Wasn’t that one of the first nations to be invaded by the Valaeyn? How long have you been here?” In asked incredulously. Nathu had been invaded over fifty years prior.
Again the dry and mirthless chuckle passed the old man’s lips as he replied, “I have been here since the fall of Taer Nathu Magra. I was one of the last defenders captured. I was a young man then, not much older than you I’d bet. Then they brought us to this complex, and I have been here ever since. I have seen many people come here over the years, but most of us die.”
“But didn’t the Valaeyn say we could fight our way out of here and gain our freedom?” In replied, not understanding what the man was getting at, but feeling like he was being treated as a child from how the older man was speaking.
“Are you always so willing to trust your captors that invaded your lands and stole your homes from you? This is a prison. You thought you left from Shadhaven? This is Shadhaven. This is the place the Valaeyn spoke of where you are fed, where you either rot, or venture into the dark. That place you left where the people sat huddled around their glowpits? Those people will all die. They will not be fed, and they will die the slow death of starvation, locked in that room with nothing but their fellow man. You think you have begun some sort of adventure, that you have escaped their tortures? No. You have simply walked to the outer boundaries of the prison. Only the Scavis have freedom, and they certainly seem to enjoy doing what they are good at, and that’s killing us.”
“But what about the survivors? The ones who escaped?” I have met dozens who have managed to escaped this place!” Joden exclaimed with a great deal more emotion than they had seen from him since he had joined them. Dak and In shared a worried glance as they noticed a definite change in his posture. He was slipping back into hopelessness.
“An’a what t’bout my sons? Are they here?” Daeni asked, finally bringing her voice into the conversation.
Kobix looked sadly between the two and shook his head, then began to explain, “I don’t know about your sons, many come here, of differing ages. They could be here, but they also may not be. They could have died in the antechamber for all I know, or they may have not even been brought here yet. They won’t start a new group off until they have made sure the last one is dead. As for the survivors. . . I don’t know. I don’t believe anyone could make it out of the tunnels with the Scavis in their way, but maybe their is a way that I haven’t seen. I do know that the Valaeyn occasionally abduct one of us from here, and they are never returned. Perhaps those are your survivors? All we know down here is that death awaits us, whether from sickness or Scavi. I know this probably won’t mean much, but you are welcome to join us as we try to survive together. We always need more people who can help farm the fungus that grows down here. It’s what we survive off of. That’s how we are ‘fed’.”
“No! This can’t be the end! Why have you forsaken us Kalthos!” Joden screamed as he sank to his knees. Dak gave him his space and simply looked Kobix in the eye, hoping his determination would show through, and that his message would get across.
Again, like they knew each others thoughts, In spoke the words that Dak’s eyes could not as he said to the old man, “while we appreciate your offer, we are not quite ready to give up hope yet, however, I am willing to lend a hand when I can, and I am sure Dak is as well, if you are willing to share in your substance in exchange for that work.”
Kobix nodded slowly, though his gaze never left Dak’s face as he replied to In, “Yes. If you work, you will share in our subsistence, and for now we will simply feed you. We know that you have already worked today to get here. Though I find your hope foolish, I also find it expected, and I will not try to dissuade you further from your attempts, though do not expect any here to lend you a hand in attempting to escape either. Most of us have accepted our fate.”
“I thank you for that, and you have my word that we will earn our place among you. You have said something to brighten this conversation though, and I am feeling more hopeful now than before,” In said with a smile, a rare sight to Kobix’s eyes and one that finally brought his stare to In’s eyes instead.
“And what, what could I have possibly said to have given you that impression?”
“You said most of you have accepted your fate. That means that there are some that haven’t. That means that there are still some people here who remember what it is to be human.”