Chapter 7: Richmond
Tink, tink, tink. That was the sound of Richmond’s life now. He had been in the quarry prison for almost three years and the only constant here was the tink, tink, tink of pickaxe on rock. The quarry was huge. The southeastern section was a massive hole in the planet, with many layers and many different types of ores and minerals to be found. The further northwest you went, though, the worse the conditions became. The Coil was much higher in the sky at that end and there was much less protection from it.
Where Richmond had been assigned to work was not so bad. He was closer to the southwestern section which he was thankful for. There were many shelters strewn about on the different layers within the quarry, as well as larger buildings on the outskirts used for feeding and lodging the prisoners. He had been sent to quadrant F, the faronite veins. Faronite was extremely hard to mine. It looked much like the surrounding bedrock, the main difference being the hardness. If you hit rock with your pickaxe it would crumble away, but the faronite would absorb the shock and send it back through the shaft and into your hands. Richmond’s hands tingled and ached most days as a result. Since he was well-built and strong they had thought him best suited for this task.
Tink, tink, tink. All day every day the sound accompanied him. It was his wake up call in the mornings and his lullaby at night. It served as the not so pleasant ambience during meals. Even his dreams had been invaded by this unwelcome sound. He would sometimes dream of Berna, standing there during the Ascension Ceremony watching him being dragged away. She would stare at him and with every footfall he made he would here tink, tink, tink. The sound had become a comfort and a curse.
He had a hard time thinking about Berna. For the last two years Richmond had tried to decide if she had betrayed him or not. The look on her face seemed like genuine surprise when Sanda pulled out his vorilium crystals. He didn’t want to think that Berna would do that to him after all the time they spent together, but it was hard not to. How else would Sanda have gotten his crystals? He supposed Sanda could have snuck into his room that night while he slept, but there was no way to be sure. One thing he was sure about though, when he got out of here he would be paying both of them a visit to get some answers.
Richmond picked away at the rocks around him, waiting for the unpleasant vibrations in his arms that signaled faronite. There were a few others around him. Destro was about the same size as Richmond, though some years older. Rash was even older and claimed to be the longest tenured prisoner in the quarry. He actually seemed quite proud of it. Nobody knew what his real name was. Everyone just called him Rash due to the red spots all over his face. They say if you spend too much time in the northern section of quarry the Coil starts to permanently mar your skin. That’s what had happened to Rash. He claimed he had spent ten years in the northern reaches of the quarry. Richmond couldn’t even imagine what that must have been like. He didn’t want to.
Tink, tink, tink. Tink, tink, tink. Richmond stood to take a rest. His back screamed at him from the strain of standing up straight, but it quickly turned to a sigh of relief once he made it up. “The idea of being here for another eight years is depressing,” Richmond said to no one in particular. “Does anyone ever get out early?”
“Yeah, some do. A few years back someone found a nice vorilium vein in here. The Magisters here rewarded him with his freedom, and he was sent to the Capital to receive the Archon’s blessing and thanks. And by Archon’s I mean the Magisters that attend them. I heard they even gave him a piece of vorilium to keep.” Richmond liked Destro, but his words angered him just then. “Wait a minute. So a prisoner in here finds some vorilium, is released from prison, and gets to keep some of the vorilium he found. I find some vorilium laying around in a ruin, get caught with it, and I have to spend ten years in this rotten, forsaken place?”
Destro stood and looked at Richmond. “Well, yeah, I guess.” He wiped his brow and leaned on his pickaxe. “Try not to think of it like that. To be fair you did plan to keep that vorilium which is a crime any way you look at it. The Archons laid claim to all of it so they can do what they want.”
Destro had no love for the Archons. His father had been a Magister once. He rose high and was chosen as one of the few who attended the Archons directly. Over the last few hundred years it had become a kind of honorary position, as the Archons didn’t need much attending these days, but before that it had been an esteemed and coveted position. Destro’s father was a loyal servant to the Archons. He devoted his life to their service. One day, one of the other Magisters accused him of conspiring to kill the Archons. His father denied it, of course, as he loved the Archons as much as he loved his family. There had been a vote to determine his guilt. The vote was very close, but in the end they voted in favor of execution. His father pleaded with the Archons, begged them to save him. All it would have taken was for one of them to raise a hand, say a word, anything. Instead, just like for the last few hundred years, they just sat there, watching. When Destro found out he rushed to the Capital in defense of his father, but he was too late. When he learned of his father’s execution he ran through to the ascension chamber where the Archons sat and threw a small dagger at one of them. It had missed, but Destro had been here ever since. The Magisters claimed afterwards that they were justified in executing his father, as even his son was in on the conspiracy. They voted against executing Destro, sending him instead to the quarry where he would be of some value to the Archons.
Rash came up beside the two others. “Say, do you guys have the bag of pick heads over here? Mine just broke off.” Destro pointed over at the large bag of supplies they had with them. “Ah, thank you. Listen, Rich. If you do your work here like they want and don’t cause any trouble they might let you out a couple of years early. I’ve seen it happen a few times.” Rash had been here a long time, longer than anyone to hear him tell it. “You might make it out of here, Rich. You seem like a good lad. Have I ever told you what brought me here?”
Richmond thought for a minute. He hadn’t heard the story but had always been curious. “No, you’ve never told me, Rash.”
“Well I think it’s about time you heard it, then. It was nearly thirty years ago now, or near enough to make no matter. I was a young lad back then. I had just finished my Walk of Wisdom and had been sent to a village to the east, in the forest by the mountains. When I got there the villagers pleaded with me to find one of the children who had run off. They told me he ran into the mountains the previous night and had not returned. So off I went in search of this child.”
“I made it through the forest and started into the mountains. After a few days search I found the child, but I was just a little too late. The child had claw marks across his face and belly. One of his arms had been chewed almost right off. It must have just happened because the wounds were still fresh. I looked around and saw…..something. To this day I’m still not sure what it was. It looked like one of them Ravagers, but there were some differences. The thing ran off and I chased after it. I didn’t stand much of a chance, this thing moved quicker than anything I’ve ever seen. I ended up on a tall peak, looking around to see if I could spot it. Instead I spotted just a hint of an island off to the east. It looked like there was a tower on the island, but it was too far away to be sure. I didn’t find the creature in the end, but something in my gut told me that I needed to check out that island.”
“I returned to the Capital, and when it was my turn to speak I asked for leave to take a small ship and a few of the other mages to the island. It was put to a vote and it seemed to be going in my favor. At least until the Archons spoke. All four of them raised a hand and said “no”. I was in shock. It was the first time in hundreds of years that they had spoken, and it was at me! To reject my proposal!” Rash turned his head and spat. “After that they all pointed at me at the same time and said “Quarry.” I’ve been here ever since.”
Richmond stood agape, puzzling out the story he had just heard. “That’s incredible…”
“That’s bullshit, Rash.” Destro moved towards them. “Everyone knows that the Archons haven’t done or said anything in hundreds of years. There are records kept. Why did no one ever hear about this happening, Rash?”
“Because they covered it up. They brainwashed all the Magisters that were there in the chamber that day.”
“Right, brainwashed. Did you see that happen, too? Or had they carried your crazy ass away already?” Destro was always skeptical about the things people told him. “Leave Richmond be, Rash.”
Richmond stood there listening to the exchange. He enjoyed Rash’s story, at least, but he wasn’t sure if he should believe it. It seemed unlikely that the Archons would have sent him here for the rest of his life just because he wanted to explore an island.
“Hey, you three! Get back to work!” The guard up top yelled at them, his Savior’s cannon pointed at them.
Rash returned the way he came and Destro and Richmond resumed their digging.
“Hey Destro,” Richmond started. “Was Rash telling the truth? Do you think the Archons actually spoke?” Richmond thought the Archons had been dormant for hundreds of years. It would be a tremendous occasion if they came back all of a sudden. It would be something that would be talked about all over the continent.
“I doubt it. Rash has just been here for too long. The Coil fried his brain while he was up north, that’s all. I wouldn’t think too much about it if I were you. I’d focus on getting this faronite out of the ground.”
Tink, tink, tink. The chorus resumed. Richmond couldn’t help but postulate on Rash’s story. Why would the Archons send him here over an island? Were there parts he left out of his story? If it’s true, what’s on that island that the Archons don’t want found? If Rash’s story was fabricated then it wouldn’t be a big deal. But if he was telling the truth…
Tink, tink, tink. It was almost the end of Richmond’s shift. He started to pack up his things so he could head back up the lift and get some food. Once in the dining hall he would find Rash and ask him some questions about his story. The lift stopped with a shudder at the top and Richmond, Destro, and a few others got off. The dining hall was not so far away to the east, so they trudged in that direction. Richmond’s body ached, as it did every day. His arms felt like they rattled constantly, like the bones themselves were vibrating.
His legs carried him into the dining hall. He would grab a plate of food and sit for a while and try to relax. He would find Rash after he ate, when the prisoners were allowed to mingle for a while before they were sent to their cells. He got his plate and sat down to eat. This was one of the best parts about being here. The food might be terrible, but after a day of swinging a pickaxe inside a large hole it tasted like euphoria. He savored every bite, chewing slowly to soak up every last bit of flavor he could. He didn’t even mind his arm making his fork shake so much that it was a struggle not to stab himself in the face with it as he tried to eat.
Once he was done he stood and began his search for Rash. He moseyed through the room, looking for the man’s scarred face in the crowds. Over near the corner he spotted him, leaning against the wall, talking to a few other prisoners that Richmond didn’t know. He walked over to Rash and gave him a curt nod. Rash returned one of his own and straightened up from the wall.
“Rich, come here, lad. I want you to meet my friends here. This is Watt, Baxter, and Grieva.” Richmond looked at all three and gave an awkward wave. “Guys, this is Richmond. He’s a good lad. I told him my story earlier. I think I’ve intrigued him by the look of it. Let the two of us have a little chat, would ya?”
The other three nodded and said they’d catch up with Rash later. “So, Rich. I’m guessing you have some questions for me.” Richmond looked at Rash’s face and trembled slightly. The thought of being out in the Coil’s grasp long enough to do that gave him chills.
“Yes, I do. How much of your story did you leave out? Why would the Archons condemn your life over an island?” Richmond had more questions but he figured those two were a good place to start.
“Well, my boy, those are two very good questions. But this is not the place to be giving those answers. Follow me.” Rash turned and headed for the door, Richmond in tow. They left the dining hall and walked around behind the building. Rash scanned his surroundings to ensure no one else was around, and then continued. “I did leave some things out. I did it on purpose to see if you would come to me with these questions.” Rash turned his head and spat. “Truth is that the Archons never spoke to me. I just said that to get a reaction. And now that I’m satisfied with your reaction, I’ll tell you what really happened.”
Richmond, his interest piqued, leaned back against the wall and waited to hear Rash’s real story.
“I was always a willful mage, coming and going as I pleased, doing whatever I wanted. One day during my adventures I noticed some old ruins down in a valley. They weren’t part of the large ruin complex south of Raxid. These ruins were to the north of Raxid. I found a way to get down there and started looking around. In what I guessed used to be the centre of town I came across a collapsed tower. I went inside and found it was incredibly well intact, aside from the top of it which had caved in who knows how long ago. Inside I found a strangely decorated chest. It was small, only the size of a fist, and the lock on it was broken, maybe from the impact of the tower’s collapse. I opened it up and found a gem, if you could call it that. The thing looked like a lump of coal sitting on the nice red velvet that lined the interior of the chest. I was about to toss the chest away and keep looking around when I got a sudden urge to hold the gem. I dropped it out of the chest into my hand and all of a sudden it lit up the whole tower. Just like that it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.”
“That’s when I started to hear a voice. I didn’t know where it was coming from but it was…unhappy to say the least. It kept screaming something about a host and that I was inadequate for its needs. I ignored it at first but it was bloody persistent. The last thing I remember was the voice saying something about not resisting and that I wouldn’t feel anything.
The first thing I remember is waking up in the middle of a field. When I stood up I could see the ruins, the big ruins south of Raxid, to the east. I didn’t really know what to do so I started walking towards Raxid. A short while later I came upon a group of farmers carrying pitchforks and scythes. They said that I would pay for murdering their kin and that I should come quietly. Some of them said they saw me kill their loved ones with their own eyes. I didn’t know what to say or do so I ran as fast as I could into the ruins.”
“I went in deep, deeper than I ever went during my training. Eventually I found an entrance to the tunnels beneath the ruins. I found a narrow passage with a lot of big rocks laying around. I hid behind some of them and hoped they wouldn’t find me. I took off my robes to make it easier to hide and the gem fell out of the inside pocket. I had completely forgotten about it until then.”
“I picked it up, stared at it, and then heard a voice. Just the faintest of sounds, but I could make out the words it said. “I killed those people. Which means you killed those people.” It said. “You are not a suitable vessel. Leave me or face the consequences.” I didn’t move. I couldn’t. Then my head was filled with a high-pitched ringing. It was like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I freaked and threw the stone and ran out of the tunnels right into the teeth of the patrol that had been looking for me. That’s how I really got here.”
Richmond was once again speechless. He had no more questions in his head that needed asking. Rash’s story was so inconceivable that it must be true. He gathered his wits and said, “So what exactly is this gem? This voice you heard?”
“I don’t know,” Rash admitted. “What I do know is what happened when they dragged me to the Capital before the Archons for sentencing. I told my story to the Archons. The whole story. They just sat there, like they always do, staring off straight ahead oblivious to the world around them. Until I mentioned the gem. When I said that I had found a small, ornate chest with a gem inside all four of them looked at me. Let me tell you, I’ve never felt a chill like that in my life. The Magisters claimed that I must be mad to expect them to believe that an angry gem made me kill people and then wiped my memory of it. Since I could not produce the gem, they sent me here.”
Richmond took it all in. “Now that you mention it, the Archons looked at me both times I saw them. The first time was when I started my walk of wisdom and last when I finished my walk and was appointed magister.” Richmond had always been unsettled by the way they looked at him. He had always heard that they just stared straight ahead, paying no mind to what was going on in their presence.
“Is that so?” Rash pondered. He leaned in close to Richmond. “Do you want answers to these questions?” He whispered. “If so, join us.”
Richmond took a step back. “Join who?”
“The people who want answers. The people who think there’s more to this world than what we are allowed to know. The people who think that the Archons aren’t what they seem.”
Richmond took another step back. This was a lot to take in. “Does Destro know about any of this?”
Richmond considered that. “I’ll join you. But I want you to tell Destro. I know you two don’t get along, but I’ll bet that will change once he knows the truth about you.”
“Aye, if you say so. You can fill him in on the details though. Come to me when he has his answer.” Rash patted Richmond’s shoulder as he brushed past.
Richmond was stricken. He had just suffered from information overload and couldn’t really think straight. He needed to get to his room and sleep on all he had learned today. Things were starting to get weird. What the hell is that gem? All he could think about was the strange gem that Rash had found in the crumbling tower.
Sleep did not come easily for Richmond that night. He couldn’t stop repeating the words in his head, now mixing with the usual sounds, creating a horrific harmony. Tink, tink, tink, “I killed those people.” Tink, tink, tink, “Which means you killed those people.” Tink, tink, tink. “You are not a suitable vessel.” Tink, tink, tink. “Leave me or face the consequences.”