Into the Mines
Everything had happened so fast. They hadn’t been told much but they knew there wasn’t a moment to spare. There was no time for details and even less time to try and ask questions. They were told, in as few words as possible, what they needed to know; she had been captured and taken underground - she had been taken prisoner.
They ran as fast as their legs would carry them to the site of the kidnapping and in no time at all they found themselves at the foot of a mountain. There was a gaping hole in the ground staring at them as they tried to think of what they could do. The idea that she was being held captive by those vile beasts didn’t sit well with any of them. They knew without a second thought that they had to take action, they had to do something to try and save her. You didn’t - you couldn’t - abandon a friend in such a dire time of need. This was clearly one of those times. With nothing else to do, they descended through the hole and into the abyss.
Charging in head first, they found themselves at the bottom of the hole in no time at all. They took a quick account of their surroundings and discovered they were standing in a small dark tunnel leading in just one direction. It didn’t help much.
Staring at the hole from above, it’s inky-blackness seemed terrifying. Now standing at the bottom of it, they felt eerily calm. The stillness of the place washed over them. The humidity of the tunnel was unexpected and stifling. Though everything was calm, they couldn’t help but feel uneasy.
The initial shock having worn off, they soldiered on, following the tunnel as it dipped and took them even deeper underground. The tunnel only grew darker as they ventured further and further away from the hole. Every shadow suddenly concealed a secret and every crack, every stone, was suddenly given new life as some unseen enemy. Even as their fears grew, they knew there was no turning back. They couldn’t have left no matter how much they wanted to.
The tunnel began to change as they kept walking , it’s features reassuring the group and boosting their confidence. It widened substantially so that they could walk shoulder to shoulder without a problem. Compared to walking single file, they felt new strength in their insubstantial numbers. They knew that any kind of struggle wouldn’t end in their favour. They could feel it in the air that they were sorely outnumbered. They hoped to avoid one at all costs. Still, they had each other and that was more than enough to keep them going.
They soon found themselves in a cavernous chamber filled with light. Oil lamps lined the walls and their light was reflected in every direction by exposed clusters of gems in the surrounding rock. Under any other circumstances they would have stopped to admire the sight; the way the light was reflected onto the walls was truly beautiful. That day, they didn’t have the time or the energy.
Just looking at the gems filled them with a whole host of conflicting emotions: anger, sadness, regret, worry, and longing. Everything they were going through hardly seemed worth a few gems. The gems repulsed them. It had all been caused by greed - a lust for gems. They would have given up all the gems in the world to make things as they were before.
That kind of thinking didn’t help matters, and they had to stay positive. They had a job to do - that was why they had come. Clearing their minds of the unnecessary thoughts and feelings they continued on through the chamber and a series of other tunnels in total silence. They would find her eventually. They had come to save her and wouldn’t settle for anything less. There was no turning back and no contingency plans. If things didn’t go well, they might as well resign themselves to a life in the mines or a cell of their own. Steeling themselves, they went deeper still - there was no other choice.
There had been a multitude of different tunnels to choose from in that first chamber, each seeming to go off in a different direction. It would have been far too easy to get lost in that mine. It had a labyrinthine quality to it. It might have been designed that way as a safety measure. The complexity would certainly keep unwanted visitors out. It could also keep workers in.
If you didn’t know your way around, odds were you’d be lost for quite a while. Fresh tunnels were dug on a regular basis and it could take days, or even weeks, for an old tunnel to be used for gem transport or swept by roving guard dogs. Without food or water, it’d most likely be too late by the time you were found.
They knew where they were going, following the gems that were glittering in the walls. The tunnels that they were looking for happened to be dug out with more care and precision compared to the others. It wasn’t particularly well lit either. There were very few lamps along the way. The abundance of gems helped make up for the shortfall as they helped stretch out what little light there was. Without getting lost even once, the group finally found the place they had been looking for: the cells.
To describe the space as a prison would be giving it too much credit. It was a cramped and haphazard collection of about a half-dozed or so completed cells outfitted with rusted iron doors and the barest of furnishings. The place was clearly expanding as new cells were being dug out. The fist few completed cells had been roughly and hurriedly hewn from the surrounding rock. They seemed like an unexpected addition when compared to the handiwork of the rest of the complex.
It didn’t take more than a minute to find the single occupied cell. Making sure that they weren’t being watched, they stealthily approached it. It was time to get to work, and they needed to work as quickly and quietly as possible. They had snuck in unnoticed, and they wanted to leave the same way.
Breaking down the door would’ve been quick, but loud. They couldn’t afford the risk of attracting attention and instead opted to take the safer route. Pulling the pins out of the hinges, they carefully lifted the heavy iron door up and out of its frame. That had been the hardest part of the plan as far as they were concerned. As the others took their lookout positions, one entered the cell to wake their sleeping friend.
He placed his paw over her mouth in case she’d scream at the sudden shock. She woke up with a start, her eyes wide and bulging as her hero came into view. He began to whisper to her, hurriedly and coarsely:
“We’re leaving right now, get whatever you have and let’s go.”
“What are you doing here!?” she mumbled between his fingers. She seemed both shocked and angry to see him - it was written all over her face.
“We came for you, we’re leaving together” he replied, almost hurt. “We’ll escape now and head straight for the capital to get help - reinforcements, supplies, soldiers - whatever we can. The dragons are working our people to the bone. We can’t keep up with demand - they’re eating through our reserves faster than we can mine new gems! We can’t survive down here for long, we have to leave. NOW.”
“He’s right” chimed in the others keeping lookout.
“I’m not leaving without the others” she retorted, having sat up in her bunk. “All of them. I can’t abandon them - I’d be dooming them to a short life of slave labour in these damned mines! You shouldn’t even be here in the first place! If you’d have been - If you are caught... Have you already forgotten what it took to get you out of here the first time? Have you forgotten the families put at risk, the lives sacrificed, all to try and get you outside? Are you trying to disgrace them?
If you’re caught you’ll be publicly executed to send a message to everyone. The dragons are even smarter than we’d like to admit. Besides....” she added in a much quieter, more reserved and almost coy tone, “I couldn’t stand the thought of losing you.”
He knew in that instant that she loved him back. The weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. Some day, he thought, they would start a family together.
There was no time for daydreams like those. He had to focus on where they were and where they needed to go. “I can't leave without you. There's no telling how long it would take us to get back with any kind of support. I know the mines, we won’t be able to support the dragons for much more than a few weeks once they’ve gone through our stash. If we can’t please them, then we’ve got to run. We’ve got to go somewhere they can’t find us.”
She shook her head, looking defeated. “We'll never make it. At this point they know the tunnels better than any one of us and everyone’s scared. They’ll send search parties and they won’t stop until they find us. You weren't there when they quelled the first uprisings - it was a rain of fire. They’re vicious...and they’re scared.”
She began to explain....
“It might seem crazy, but they’re scared of us - maybe more so than we are of them. As big and powerful as they are, we have them outnumbered at least two-hundred to one. They can’t mine the gems by themselves down here - that’s why they need us. They’re just keeping us in our place - myself especially. They know I’m valuable - you are too. I tried to reason with them, and when that failed, I spoke out against them. They want me out of their scales so I can’t inspire everyone.
They’re forcing us to work against each other - we’ve become dependent on them down here. Our best chances at freedom lie with you - you have to go to the capital.” she said, placing a paw against his chest. “I can't leave here - I can’t go with you and you know that. I’ll still be here when you get back.”
The two looked deeply and longingly into each others’ eyes. They knew they wouldn’t see each other again for a long time. She was the first to break the silence.
“Take this with you so you don't forget us....” she whispered as she removed her collar, placing it around his neck. The large yellow gem glistened like the sun despite the dimness of the cell. She gave him a kiss on the cheek and pushed him backwards towards the door of the cell.
Every fibre of his being was crying out at the though of leaving her behind, but he knew that it was all he could do for the moment. She was always right about these kinds of things - it was one of the things he loved about her. He turned to leave, tears streaming down his face as she walked back to take a seat on the low stone bench in her cell. He quickly whistled for the others who helped him replace the iron door as quickly as they had taken it off. Replacing the pins, it looked just as they had found it.
The other two said their farewells, each receiving a warm hug through the barred door, before catching up with their leader as we walked towards the entrance to the tunnel they had come through.
It was up to the three of them now. He had to find a way to save everyone, no matter the cost. He began to run, and the others followed in kind.
As their shapes started to disappear into the shadows, looking on from her cell, she began to cry and whispered to no one in particular: “Be safe...my Diamond Dogs.”
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Having found a safe path back to the surface, the dogs prepared themselves for the journey that lay ahead. They were physically and emotionally drained, but felt invigorated by the experience. They started off in the direction of the capital dog city, only stopping when they heard some strange voices in the distance. That, and the sound of digging.