The darkness was soothing and the gentle drip of water hitting the ground was the only noise that entered Liam’s ears. He ran his fingers along the damp rock wall as he walked deeper into the mine. The whole effect was ruined in his opinion by the torches that bathed the tunnels with flickering amber light.
He had found out about the mine while he was searching through the fortress’ blueprints that he had found within the castle’s near vacant library. He had a knack for being in plain sight without being noticed. He had easily snuck inside and stole any documents that had looked useful. Other than a sole librarian, the vast book archives were devoid of life. He had travelled with Zak at first but once inside the castle their paths lay in different directions.
By the looks of it, it was a coal mine. Coal to fuel the Lanstiro war effort.
From around the corner came voices. Human voices. Liam sighed, “So much for a rest,” he muttered as he edged towards the turn.
He peered around the corner but it was just another deserted tunnel. The dynamics of the mine must cause sound to become deceptive, he guessed. He would just have to keep walking forward until he bumped into someone if he could not use his hearing.
Minutes passed by without any contact. The talking continued, keeping the same volume whichever direction Liam turned. Then a new sound began. Faintly at first then growing in volume. Tap, tap, tap. The steady rhythm was really starting to bug him. He picked up his pace figuring the quicker he found the miners, the quicker they would shut up.
He had been walking for over half an hour and had not found a single living creature. No guards, no miners, nothing. He was about to turn around and leave when a transport cart rolled into view, full to the top with coal. It squeaked along the dusty metal tracks past Liam with seemingly no way to propel itself forwards.
After it had squeaked out of view, Liam changed direction and followed the tunnel that the cart had come from. This tunnel was just a long straight line, no corners, no curves and no pathways leading from it. Just the same craggy walls all around him with the occasional torch spreading light through the darkness.
Without warning the tunnel opened up into a small chamber where two men stood talking while tapping away at the rocks with bulky pickaxes. There were no other tunnels leading out of the chamber. The two miners did not seem to notice the new arrival. Strangely, the section of wall where they worked was stone with carved patterns decorating its surface. Traces of the natural rock still covered the slab in places. Liam stepped into the chamber and the miners finally acknowledged his presence. Their talking stopped and their pickaxes were lowered to their sides.
“G’day mate,” greeted the miner to the right in a strange accent.
“Are you here to rescue us?” asked the second man in a high pitched voice.
“Sure,” said Liam. “Are there any other slaves down here?”
“Naa, just us two.”
Liam shrugged. “Fine. Follow me,” he sighed. As he turned to leave, one of the large boulders next to the exit exploded. When the dust cleared a Forukk stood in the place where the rock had been moments before. There were several crashes behind him closely followed by a storm of dust. Liam looked around to see himself and the two miners surrounded by ten Forukks.
“A trap. How unexpected,” said Liam dryly.
The miner with the foreign accent stepped forwards and a green glaze began working its way up his body. His footwear changed from tattered work boots to fine shoes, his baggy and torn trousers into shining greaves. This change from rags to grandeur took mere seconds until the glaze reached his head. The man’s short untidy hair shrank into his head until he had no hair remaining. Pale skin tanned in an instant. Mr Xion stood before Liam with a complacent grin on his face. Liam did not know this but even so, he got the idea that he was facing a very unpleasant man.
“Where are the miners?” asked Liam, not sounding surprised or intimidated by the fact he was surrounded.
“They are well protected so don’t you worry,” said Xion in mock kindness. “I moved them as soon as I knew you were coming. Two warriors banging on our door looking for a fight for no reason seems like a good distraction tactic to me,” he laughed. “I feared that others might have honed into this location too but apparently I was wrong.”
“Are you going to kill me or just stand there talking all day?” asked Liam in a bored tone.
“I’m not going to kill you. It’s far more fun to slowly torture you until you lose your mind. I do so hate children after all. Call it venting if you will.”
“Yippee,” said Liam without a hint of emotion.