trekked across his neighborhood. He looked around to distract himself from his
negative emotions. I shouldn’t be feeling
annoyed with them. They’re depressed about Halfried, I should know better than
to argue, and I should be focusing on just helping . . . but this situation
feels completely useless. I just don’t see anything good coming our way.
He looked around to see most of the households near the border that were close to the outside wilderness either ransacked, abandoned, or both. It was the same story nearly everywhere in his village; the small town shops throughout the entire village had foreclosed, some of them had broken doors and missing windows, many of the scant few shops were heavily fortified with demands of extraordinary rates for all the remaining food, people could be seen sleeping on the dirt streets, and people seemed to ignore each other more instead of greeting each other with friendly hellos back when Emery had been a small child. A once proud and thriving agricultural village was now in complete ruin.
Everything began changing for the worse slowly, thought Emery as he looked around, but nobody wanted to acknowledge the slow decay of our society. The shops and schools began closing down since I was young but it was slow. I wished that the government would finally find a way to ameliorate the problem . . . but I guess it was too extensive of an issue for even them. There are just too many problems to fix now and it all broke down after the most recent refugee crisis.
Emery sighed quietly to himself as he walked into the herb garden of a prominent agricultural businessman who had since fled after the violence erupted during Masasura’s closing of the borders. A feeling of revulsion overtook him briefly. To think I’ve been reduced to a petty thief for the sake of my family’s survival . . . I have my reasons but that still doesn’t change the fact that I’m doing this.
Emery walked over to the shed where he hid a spare basket to collect herbs in case he forgot the one at home. He had learned that it was always good to have a spare after forgetting the basket once. He had felt so ashamed of himself since it had taken him an extra two hours to collect the needed ingredients while his father writhed in pain on that particular day. After grabbing it, he walked out of the shed and looked around for any good herbs on the far outskirts of the village. He had walked to the edge in hopes of avoiding any of the scornful gazes of the other villagers or being scolded by his younger sister in case she decided to follow him. She had done it once before but hadn’t told their parents about where he got the herbs from. He was grateful that she had the tact to keep silent about his thievery.
Emery looked around the desolate garden of the abandoned farmhouse. Months ago, I never thought I’d be doing any of this but I suppose desperation really can change a person . . . Everything I knew about people here, even my closest friends, changed in the blink of an eye. Have we humans always been this needy and desperate? I never realized just how domesticated we were and how we need so much from organizations outside of our control. To think that we use to whine about high taxes and now we realize just how good our lives were because of those taxes.
Emery couldn’t help but feel profound disgust as he pulled out the herbs that he needed. The place was abandoned, there were no medicinal vendors in sight at a reasonable price, and that wasn’t even mentioning the food shortage. The most that his family could attain for free was water a few miles from their home and that was because the water facilities had shut down. Now, he was reduced to petty larceny just to keep his family alive and he couldn’t stop feeling disgusted with his actions. If his family had enough money to pay the nigh-extortionist rates of the venders or if he had enough money to pay for admission into Luminomia then he wouldn’t be in this mess.
After an hour of looking through the remains of the garden, Emery began to move deeper into the forestation. He hoped better herbs would be available there. He scoured through large parts of the forest finding some raw medicinal herbs and idly noticed that the ground felt softer than usual from other parts of the forest.
“Wait, what the –?!” gasped Emery as he suddenly lost footing and began to fall over.
He gasped as he realized that the ground beneath him had given out. Emery tried desperately to latch onto something with his free hand as he fell into a dark pit into the unknown. He let out a loud yelp as he fell to his doom.
Why do terrible things keep happening to me? thought Emery before losing consciousness. If only there was a way out of this madness . . .
Groggily, Emery awoke from his slumber. He hissed in pain as he slowly arose from the ground. He looked around to see a large circular styled cavern with torches lined around the sides of the caves. He looked up to see the sun beaming down from where he had fallen and looked back around the cave. He noticed the large oval shaped tunnels in front and to the back of him were spacious enough to fit an army of men. The garden was planted above an underground bunker? What is going on here? This is too strange . . .
Emery gingerly rubbed his head in hopes of the pain subsiding. His entire body hurt and the ceiling of the underground tunnel was too far to get back up. Emery noticed several bruises on his arm and hissed as he began walking. He assumed there were some bruises upon his back too. Rubbing his head to relieve some of his pain, he decided to look around the strange cavern more closely. Emery examined the cavern markings and noticed elf seals around certain portions of the tunnel. Who would build something like this and for what purpose? Elf magic has been an obscure art since the 1900s and only experts in the military truly know their capabilities. Why would someone use elf seals to build a tunnel? Assuming the government knows about this, why didn’t the government use these tunnels to help us? This could have been useful in the raids that we conducted.
There were too many questions and Emery wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answers. Seeing no alternative, he began walking forward to find a way out of the mysterious tunnel.
The tunnel is built well. Whoever has been using it must have done so for years, thought Emery as he trekked quietly through the dank cavern. He took note of the moisture on the walls and surmised that the tunnels had to be connected to a water source further inside. He quietly observed elf seals that he vaguely recognized from his own recreational attempts at elf magic. He didn’t dare use his magic because he was unaware of how the seals would react. His body relaxed as he felt a nice cool breeze during his walk. Well, maybe I should just enjoy the scenery. I can look at this and feel terrified or I can see this as an opportunity to observe something mysterious. It’s all in how I perceive my predicament. Besides, at least this is a nice distraction.
Emery enjoyed the refreshing walk around the strange maze-like cavern. It curved around certain areas at random points. Emery couldn’t find a well-defined reason for why the cavern was built this way. There was only one long and curvy path so far and he decided that he shouldn’t feel bothered by the unknown prospects of where he was. It’s not as if I have anything better to do anyway.
Emery began rounding another curved area of the tunnel but paused. He heard people speaking from up ahead. He stood awkwardly not knowing what to do. This could be dangerous for me . . . on the other hand if I’m caught and haven’t made contact first then they could view me with more suspicion. Besides which, I don’t know the way out of here . . .
“Hello!” bellowed Emery making a decision. The voices on the other side grew quiet. “I didn’t mean to barge into your . . . proceedings. I just fell down here and got lost. Could one of you please help me to get out of here?”
The silence stretched for several seconds. Emery began to fidget. Relax, just remember your training. If they try to hurt me then I can defend myself. I can use this cavern to my advantage. Hopefully, the elf seals aren’t too dangerous.
Three pairs of footfalls seemed to march towards his location. Emery checked his surroundings briefly before relaxing and waiting for the people to come. If nothing else, today was more exciting than usual . . .
“Hello there,” spoke a strong feminine voice, “would you kindly tell us your name and how you managed to arrive here?”
Emery’s jaw dropped as he observed the Dark Sorceress Anann and what looked to be two guards by her side. Blessed Night, I don’t want to die today . . .
The Dark Sorceress had a dark olive skin tone, piercing brown eyes, and long dark hair. She wore a dark purple corset with a fishnet around the belly area. It had draped sleeves and black trimmings. Emery noticed that she had a black knee-length skirt and dark brown boots. The two guards had more military-styled garb. Emery noted that it was similar to Zurkin military garb and presumed they had purchased it from one of the two sides fighting in the civil war. They held sharp spears customary of the Zurkin militaries and militias. Zurkin had formed quick ways of recruiting soldiers that didn’t have time for in-depth military training on the more powerful fighting arts. Marasura’s Khaoshan took several years to master for most people and Luminomia held their military training under strict government control. Emery was aware that the Archonvilet, the terrorist group that Dark Sorceress Anann and Dark Lord Mithustra had formed, were training Zurkin soldiers in exchange for military equipment and money from the reports that he had read during his time at Fort Ananke.
“Hello, I . . . fell while gathering herbs for my sick father,” said Emery in haste, he hoped sympathy would let him go. One of the soldiers snorted in derision. Emery felt a strange wave of detachment because of how surreal his predicament was. After all, what were the chances of running into a terrorist and having your life put at stake? “it’s the truth, I can show you the giant hole.”
The Dark Sorceress signaled the other soldier to go forward. Emery flinched in preparation for the worst. The soldier walked past him and walked down the curved corridor. The Dark Sorceress answered his question before he spoke. “He will be checking to confirm that your story is true by examining the possible routes that you came through. In the mean time, please stand right there where we can see you, my friend here is going to search you. If you make any threatening moves then I will be forced to kill you. Do you understand?”
Emery nodded mutely. The other guard came over, put his spear on the side of the wall, and began a search of his person. The guard seemed to feel something under his shirt and quickly yanked out the folded piece of paper. Emery felt a shiver through his spine as the guard handed the piece of paper to the Dark Sorceress while still facing him. The Dark Sorceress quickly took the flyer and began to read it. The minutes ticked by silently until the other guard returned. “There is a giant hole near the top of the enclave. This guy seems to be telling the truth and I didn’t find any seals used to enter in here. It appears to be a genuine collapse. It seems we need to be quicker with moving our base of operations elsewhere. The government seemed to have valid reasons for abandoning these underground caverns, after all.”
“I see . . .” said the Dark Sorceress as she raised her head to stare at Emery. Emery remained quiet as the other guard chose to stand behind him. Emery didn’t dare move. The Dark Sorceress gave him a contemplative gaze. “Tell me, do you intend to leave for Luminomia? The hole was near the border and you surely must be tired from the lack of government response to the current crisis. You seem bereft of any belongings though.”
“I . . . have been thinking about it,” said Emery cautiously, “but the reason I was in the forest was that it was the only location that seemed to have herbs. I need them to help my father because he was injured during the massive riots after the borders were closed.”
The Dark Sorceress hummed quietly to herself as she began walking to the side corridor. “Follow me, please.”
Emery followed them through the curved corridor once the guards motioned him. As soon as he passed the curved area, his eyes widened and his jaw became slack as he observed the large piles of gold around the tiny room. It seemed the rumors of the terrorists gaining large stockpiles of gold to trade with the Kisla isles were true.
If I’m allowed to see this then they probably don’t have any intention of letting me go, thought Emery sullenly, I guess I’ll be dying with my regrets. Funny how my biggest regret is choosing not to leave and do more with my life; I wonder if that makes me a bad person?
It troubled him to think about how he could have done more . . . so much more . . . if only he had lived in a country that actually provided opportunities and kept their promises. Images of his family flashed through his mind and he knew that he could never bring himself to abandon them. Not until he felt secure in their survival over the present crisis. At least I made the right choice?
The Dark Sorceress walked over to a mound of gold and picked up a small sack. She walked over to Emery and handed him the small sack along with the flyer. Emery stared in confusion and shock at her generosity. She smiled kindly in return. “I don’t like killing unnecessarily; you may return to your home for the night and inform your family that you will be leaving for Luminomia. I warn you, I have paid a few people within your village to be lookouts and enforcers for me to ensure my operations here were left alone. They came to me willingly and begged me to help feed their families. If you do not leave by the morning then I’ll be forced to assume that you are a spy for either the government or the Dark Lord and I will have one of my contacts dispose of you. I am sorry, but I must take these precautions. I’m giving you a chance so please don’t disappoint me.”
Emery looked disgruntled by that pronouncement. “I’m sorry but I can’t accept that agreement.”
The Dark Sorceress’s visage hardened. He could hear a shifting behind him and saw that the guard to his left had begun raising his weapon in preparation. The Dark Sorceress spoke icily. “And why is that? Do you have a death wish? I am not bluffing about my threat. Do not mistake generosity for compassion.”
“I have a family in the village that needs vital assistance and I can’t just abandon them. I wasn’t lying about my sick father but it’s more than just him at risk.” said Emery demurely, the Dark Sorceress stared in obvious surprise. “I’ve tried looking for jobs and I’ve tried scavenging for food. My father is sick and injured, my mother is stressed to the bone, and my sister is losing all hope and I’m afraid of what she might do. I can’t just leave them to suffer. I have to get them food and medical supplies or they’ll starve to death. I’ll have to immediately use this money to get food from the vendors nearby my home and they charge at terribly high prices.”
There was a pause. Dark Sorceress Anann shook her head and scowled. She looked infuriated. Well, this is what I get for opening my mouth . . .
“Very well,” said the Dark Sorceress, she walked back over to the piles of gold and took another bag from the large pile. She turned back around and regarded him with a serious expression. “I don’t have enough to accommodate an entire village of refugees, but I have enough to ensure that your family gets a full year’s worth of treatment and food. On the far edges of Maya village, I have trade contacts with several Zurkin merchants who export food and medical supplies to my militia in exchange for learning Khaoshan. I can assign one of the village operatives to discreetly deliver food and medical supplies to their doorstep so long as your family has the money to pay. The rates should be near normal levels of a functioning economy. The money that your family sends will be going to support one of the major military factions in Zurkin – one that I have several beneficial dealings with. I won’t lie, the people who will be receiving the money are killers and rapists but they can trade with your family by sending food and medical supplies for a year and they’re open to any patrons that’ll support their war campaign against their home enemies in Zurkin. The money goes to paying workers within their weapons manufacturing departments which are then used by their militias to raid civilian homes. You can be assured that they’ll abide by the deal quietly. They’ll keep their word in accommodating your family so long as they get their money supply and your family will only have contact with them through my proxies. I can assure that no harm comes to them.”
Emery cogitated over what he had just been told. It’s either take this deal or my family starves to death within a few months . . . is there even a right choice in this matter?
Dark Sorceress Anann continued. “I understand this is a tough choice but I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to make a decision now. I can’t afford to allow you to stay in your village so long as you remain a possible threat as a spy. I can’t allow the Dark Lord or the government to learn of my whereabouts. Either take the deal for your family or don’t. You will have to leave by tomorrow morning or I will have you neutralized. This is non-negotiable.”
“I’ll take the deal. I don’t feel as if I really have a choice in the matter . . . no, that’s not true. What I’m doing probably has abhorrent consequences for people I’ll never meet. I suppose I should . . . thank you. I am curious about something though, what makes you think that I could be a spy for the Dark Lord? I thought both of you worked together?” asked Emery in confusion.
“I don’t mind answering that. I actually wish I could set the record straight officially. I was never really allied with that idiot; I took pity on the poor fool because he seemed so naïve. Early on, I thought the man to be inspirational in his sermons to give people hope during harrowing times.” said Dark Sorceress Anann, she held a visage of disgust. “As the years went on, he began to change for the worse. He became angry, violent, and fanatical. He spoke of revenge against Luminomia; of his dark purpose to kill all the Lumins and declared himself a Dark Lord after leading the people that we amassed into attacking Marasura and Zurkin traders and soldiers. The people that listened to his sermons had become his religious fanatics. His declaration of being a Dark Lord after one of his more successful attacks on both Luminomia and Marasura caused the government to put us on their hit list. I became known as his Dark Sorceress because of our association and I have to deal with being perceived as a crazed terrorist because of him. I broke away from him a year ago after his mental condition seemed to worsen. He won’t stop his attacks on trade routes or his attempted explosive strikes upon Marasura and Luminomia cities. If I knew where the idiot was then I would have passed the information to the government or Luminomia. I doubt either side would accept me even if I tried bribery though.”
“That’s a surprise. You’re not quite what I expected you to be.” said Emery, the Dark Sorceress perked up at his remark. “From the information on the newspapers, they made you sound like a deluded religious fanatic. I thought you were after revenge just like him.”
The Dark Sorceress snorted in disdain. “Of course you thought that, it’s all because of that bastard. I’m not associated with his idiotic plans for revenge against Marasura and Luminomia but no one will ever believe that. I got myself involved with his idiotic baggage and I’m the one that has to suffer. I don’t know what he’s thinking but it is clear that madness has consumed him. When we broke our arrangement, he kept the majority of the people that we led and I think he’s only gained more followers since then. I was just happy to finally be rid of him. I want nothing to do with him anymore. Before all this crap, I was an efficient trader, I could spend my free time learning elf seals, and I was a decent militia leader. I just wanted to make enough money to find a decent home somewhere safe. I’m no different from anyone else.”
“Well, thank you for helping my family, I . . . don’t really know if there is any validity to it,” said Emery, the Dark Sorceress raised an eyebrow at his audacious remark. Emery didn’t care; his family’s safety came first. “but I’m in no position to request any verification.”
“No, you’re not,” she snapped, “you can be assured that aid will be given to your family. I’m a woman of my word.”
“I feel that it’s necessary to ask, why help me at all?” asked Emery daringly, “You could have just killed me, if you wanted.”
The Dark Sorceress gazed at him in that same pensive visage before smirking. “I’m giving you aid because I’m a capitalist. It is what a true capitalist does.”
Emery found that remark to be rather bizarre. Aren’t the fundamental principles of capitalism centered on self-interest?
The Dark Sorceress grinned in triumph. “I won’t be entertaining anymore questions, please follow the bodyguard behind you to get back to where you fell from. Assuming you’re a person of faith, pray that we never meet again. If you are found anywhere within these tunnels again, and I have found my kindness exploited for nefarious ends, then it will be the beginning of unimaginable anguish for you. This is the only warning that you shall receive from me.”
“Duly noted,” said Emery in a monotone voice.
Dark Sorceress Anann tossed the second sack of gold in his direction and Emery caught it easily. He held the two sacks of gold in each arm after tucking the flyer under his shirt. Emery followed the rear bodyguard as he led him back to the giant hole that he fell through. Emery stood at the center of the huge whole and briefly gazed at the broken basket of herbs that he had meant to bring back to his family. He had forgotten all about due to falling into the pit. Well, too late for that . . . at least I finally found a way to truly help them though.
Emery was mildly surprised by the bodyguard’s prowess as the ground under his feet began to lift and he was hoisted upward. He looked around to see a large circular dais moving up to the sunlight.
“Thank you for everything!” hollered Emery just before his head went above the broken top of the tunnel. The ground stopped moving as it slammed onto the dirt ground of Chiyou village.
Emery took a moment to regain his bearings. I can’t believe that just happened . . .
Emery smiled as he began his journey back home. For the first time in months, excitement bubbled within him at the prospects of his future.
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