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Chapter 3: Cruelty Darkness & Discovery

The next morning it’s announced after a sparse gruel breakfast that we’re going to be working with our oldies for the first couple of hours today. We are all going to run errands throughout the mines. The oldies job is to make sure that no one gets lost. I wonder briefly how this will work for the oldies who have two or more newbies, then I dismiss that thought. It doesn’t really matter to me, and I have enough on my plate as it is. There are things that I need to ask Vol today, Golik might try to push me down nearby mineshafts, and I need to remember where everything is. 

Our first assignment is to deliver a request for supplies to one of the storage rooms. Later someone on the carts will fulfill it and bring the delivery back to the necessary area. But there are so many demands that they can’t waste carts toting messages to and fro, so we have to run them around. 

Vol and I are mainly silent as we begin our run, I guess he isn’t really a morning person. After around half an hour of delivering orders though I get bored of waiting for him to break the silence and speak up first.

“So Vol,” I say, “why did you choose me? You seem to hate Elves, but you volunteered to tutor me. Why? I honestly thought no one would want me, even with Bakken’s praise.”

Vol looks at me, his beard and mustache covering his mouth enough that I can’t read his facial expression. I don’t know what he is thinking. We keep running in silence until I think that he will just ignore my question, but eventually he does answer it. 

“You’re interesting.” He says, and for a moment I think he will leave it at that. Then he adds, “You are lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to have survived this long. You seem clever, I’d guess you are the type to always be plotting something. I appreciate the fact that you are willing to speak up if you notice something wrong. You are also an accomplished liar, distracting the others with the obvious falsehood so they don’t pay attention to the other lies. Based on all this, I thought that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have you in my debt.”

“That was very…” I hesitate, hoping he won’t take this wrong, “straightforward.”

“It’s a trait that I appreciate myself and desire in my acquaintances.” Vol shrugs. “You’re rather straightforward too, you know. Why else would you start up a conversation with a question like that?”

I glance at Vol, and then quickly turn my gaze back to the path ahead of us as I nearly trip on some loose stones. I never thought of myself as straightforward before. But I suppose I am when he puts it like that. I’m not sure I ever was at the palace though, perhaps it is something that I have picked up during my years in captivity. Most Dwarves that I have met don’t like beating about the bush after all. 

“Which way do we go now?” Vol says. I hesitate, realizing that we have come to a fork. “Which way?” Vol repeats impatiently, wiping the sweat off his forehead. I hurriedly scan through memories of our travels yesterday and mentally pull up a map.

“Left?” I hazard, glancing at Vol to see if I’m right. He just sighs.

“Left? Left? Well, which is it, Faladel? You are supposed to answer me, not ask me.”

“Left.” I say, this time trying to sound more sure of my answer. 

“Correct, now let’s continue. We don’t want to be late.”

The next day, muscles aching, I run without Vol. That one day of training was all I got. With Vol I was mainly ignored, the people we needed to interact with just talked to him. But now that I’m alone the ones who ignored my existence gather around me like flies, buzzing insults in my ears; and the ones who would only talk to Vol, now sneer and wrinkle their noses as they are forced to interact with an Elf.

It gets so bad that four days after I arrived, when I’m running in between mine shafts delivering yet another report, I’m not that surprised when five Dwarves pop up from a nearby cave. They begin following me, and quickly catch up, surrounding me. Normally I could have outrun them, but they’re obviously fresh and I’ve already been running for hours. So, instead of trying, I stop.

“What are you doing here?” I ask them.

“What are you doing here?” One of them echoes in a whiny high pitched voice. His buddies encircle me. I try to keep a wary eye on them, but I can’t watch all of them at once.

“If it is just making fun of me, would you mind leaving? I have work to do.” I step forward, but the Dwarves don’t budge.

“I have work to do.” The group choruses, and then they burst out in derisive laughter. They begin circling me, a pack of hyenas on their prey. I try to keep an eye on as many as possible, a sick feeling in my stomach. I don’t know what is happening, but whatever it is it isn’t good. Most of the time the Dwarves just jeer at me, they’ve never prevented me from continuing my work. I don’t even recognise this group of jerks from all the ones that torment me. I try to walk out of the circle they’ve made around me, but their leader just shoves me back. 

“Don’t leave yet, Elf, we were just getting started.” He snarls.

“You might have been, but I’m finished, and I have work to do. So, if you’ll excuse me…” I say, starting to move forward again, determined to continue my delivery. Hopefully they will let me leave. I feel a surge of relief as their circle opens up before me, and I let out a breath. I can’t believe they let me go.

Suddenly, something blocks my foot, and I trip and fall, hard. My chin knocks one of the rocks on the ground and I feel dazed. What had I tripped over? I glance back and see one of the Dwarves, a nasty smirk on his face, has his foot out right where I had been walking. Did he just trip me?

“Did you see that lads? This nasty little upstart elf kicked my foot!” He says grinning. “He assaulted me!”

“What?” I splutter, but the other Dwarves hurry to agree with him. 

“Nasty Elf!”

“Doesn’t know his place!”

“Someone should teach him!”

“Kicking the boss’s foot like that!”

The Dwarf whose foot I ‘kicked’ smiles. “I agree, we should teach him a lesson of what happens to Elves who don’t know their place. Take him to the pits!” 

My thoughts race. This isn’t good, there are five of them and only one of me. I’m on the ground and slightly dazed. I’m weak after being in prison for all those years. Once I might have been able to take them on, especially if they are untrained, but now if I try I will probably get seriously injured while doing so. Then again, they might injure me even if I don’t fight back. I don’t know what to do. What are these pits? Can’t be anything good. My mind rushes to calculate everything.

But my thoughts take too long, before I can decide if I want to try to defend myself, a boot crashes into my side. I try to get up, but feel a heavy weight land on my back and someone restrains my arms. A Dwarf ties my wrists together behind my back, another one gags me with a dirty cloth. Then they force me to my feet, and begin to lead me somewhere. 

I don’t know where they are taking me, they backtrack along my route for a while, one of them grabbing a torch, before they lead me off into a side cave that I don’t know. They drag me down a tunnel, some shoving me occasionally for laughs. Eventually the path that we are on starts sloping down sharply, and a horrendous stench fills the air. Bile climbs up my throat, but the gag forces it back down. 

“The stench gets me everytime.” one of the Dwarves mutters. 

“Don’t be a sissy.” the ‘boss’ says. “It’s just a bit of dung.”

Dung? Wait, they didn’t mean the refuse caverns by ‘pits’ did they?

The tunnel ends sharply, and the stench gets worse as we enter a cavern. We are quite above the floor level if one can call it the floor. Layers of manure, rotten food, and other filth -all somewhat solidified- cover whatever used to be the ground far below us. 

The Dwarves move me to the edge, and I turn to look at them. 

“Hey, think of it this way,” The ‘boss’ says to me. “Elves are creatures of earth right? Well all this disgusting stuff will one day be prime soil won’t it? So we’re just returning you to your natural habitat!” All his cronies laugh at his joke, I just glare. Death by drowning in dung was never at the top of my list of favorite ways to die.

 I can swim of course, but only for so long, not to mention it’s hard to swim with your hands tied behind your back. Also, I don’t know how to get out of here, as far as I know there are no outlets at ‘ground level’. And once I fall down there, if there are no outlets it will be pitch dark.

The ‘boss’ Dwarf glares at me. “You didn’t laugh at my joke!” He accuses me. “How rude of you!” I resist the urge to roll my eyes. He knows why I didn’t laugh, besides the fact that it isn’t funny, I’m gagged. I physically can’t laugh. I don’t know why he is bringing it up. 

“I’ll have to teach you a lesson then, Elf.” He says grinning and rolling up his sleeves. He throws a ridiculously slow punch at my jaw. I dodge it easily, but end up with my back to the edge of the cliff that leads into the cavern. The Dwarves gather up behind their leader edging closer to me, cutting my dodging space to half of what it was. 

“Two of you, untie him and hold him still!” shouts the leader. I can’t do anything as they converge on me, untie my wrists, take out my gag, and position me for their leader to punch. I give him a withering glare as he sets up his next punch carefully. When he swings, I jerk my head to the side, avoiding a direct hit, but the Dwarves holding me suddenly let go. I stumble backwards from surprise and the force of the glancing blow, and trip over another foot. 

Too late, I realize how close to the edge they had maneuvered me. 

As I fall through the air I hear the Dwarves’ leader say. “What a bunch of heroic patriots we are, taking on a dangerous elf, even though we’re just civilians. The army should give us a medal or something!” The Dwarves’ laughter echoes through the cavern as I land with a splat in the dung.

Thankfully I did find an exit, although it wasn’t fun diving into the muck to swim through the entrance. Eventually I make it back to the dens. I’m covered in all sorts of things that I don’t want to think about and I probably smell like a rotting corpse, but I’m alive. When I enter the cavern that holds all our huts though, something is going on. Through the flickering torch light I see a large group of Dwarves that have gathered near the center hut. I hesitate for a minute weighing the pros and cons of going to join them. 

Bakken might be there, in which case I can ask for permission to wash and directions to said washing area. There must be one, afterall, everyone would stink to high heaven if there wasn’t any, and as far as I’ve noticed, I’m the only one who stinks like that.  However, since it is a crowd, practically everyone will realize quickly that I was dumped in the ‘pits’ adding to my humiliation. Washing up takes precedence over pride though, so I go up and join the crowd. More than a few noticeably step away from me.

To my surprise, the Dwarves here aren’t gathered around Bakken, instead they are gathered around someone I don’t know. His clothes are even better than Bakken’s, and his beard is actually combed. He isn’t wearing a guards uniform, just plain old clothes like the rest of us, but his doesn’t have any holes. As I watch, Bakken and some of the other supervisors come out of the central hut, and a murmur runs through the crowd. The strange Dwarf runs his gaze over us, and it halts at me. Great. 

I glance around hopefully, perhaps he is looking at someone else? But the space around me is practically empty because of my smell, and the Dwarves nearby shuffle away nervously at the strange Dwarf’s stare. I’ve already been dumped in dung today, and now a strange Dwarf is staring -nope, make that glaring- at me.

“What is an Elf doing here!?” The Dwarf demands in a deep voice, turning his gaze from me to glare at the supervisors.

Bakken steps forward, a strange look on his face that I can’t define. “He was assigned to me, Sir.” 

Sir? So this Dwarf is definitely above Bakken. Is he an Overseer then?

“Okay, but that doesn’t explain why you let him live, nor why he appears before me in such a disrespectful getup. Nevermind that, it actually suits one of his kind. Filth covered in more filth.” The Dwarf says with a sneer. He shoots a quick glance at me to see my reaction. I just glare right back defiantly. I’m fed up with being insulted and belittled because of my species. If I just continue to take it, they’ll continue to give it, so the best option is to stand up for myself and show I’m not a pushover. This Dwarf’s opinions mean nothing to me. We are both prisoners now, but back home I am a prince and he is nothing.

“Look at that uppity little snot. I’ve a mind to put him in his place.” The Overseer snarls, cracking one of his knuckles. “Some of you guys in the crowd hold him down for me.” 

I only have half a second to prepare as a pile of Dwarves tackle me from all sides, grappling and straining to do as the Overseer says. I fight my hardest, but there are simply too many and soon I am face down with my arms and legs immobilized. I hear heavy footsteps come closer.

“Yuck what’s that smell?” the Overseer’s voice says. “Turn him over boys, I want to see his pride break as I beat him.”

The Dwarves around me roughly twist me into the Overseer’s desired position. I narrow my eyes at him. Suddenly though, my eyes widen then water from a sudden jolt of pain in my side. Another follows it, and then another in my leg. This is far worse than the earlier beating I recieved. At least then, I could mostly avoid some of the abuse. But now every blow hits exactly where it is supposed to. The Overseer’s grin broadens as he kicks me. Side, stomach, arms and legs. He even kicks me in the head. And I can’t stop it. The nearby Dwarves all hold me still, forcing me to accept the buffeting. Blow follows blow turning into a rain of pain that swallows me up, but I won’t scream. I won’t give him the satisfaction. I won’t give them the satisfaction. 

Eventually the strikes begin to slow, and then it halts, and the world blurs into focus again. The Overseer stands above me, panting with exertion.

“Thravic, Sir, we do need to get back to work.” Bakken says, taking the opportunity to break in now that the Overseer has paused.

“Huh! How dare you call me by my first name underling!” The Overseer, Thravic, spits. “Maybe I’m too lenient with you, and that’s why you allow transgressions such as this to happen in your crew. Is that it?” He pauses sucking in a deep breath. “I mean, you have the audacity to allow an Elf to live!? That is unacceptable and brings down the integrity of your whole crew!” 

Thravic continues but I tune him out, focusing instead on Bakken’s expression. His head is down, but from my position I have no trouble seeing his face. Angry, resentful, perhaps with a touch of rebellion. As Thravic finishes he quickly hides all that though, and it returns to the same expression as earlier, subservient and blank. But in his eyes there is still a hint of anger that he can’t hide. Thravic leaves, and I feel the Dwarves who were restraining me leave as well. I lay on the ground, resting for just a bit so my body can process all the new wounds. “Why did you have to look at him?” Bakken growls under his breath at me as he leaves, kicking me as he goes by. I glare after him as he goes, then pick myself up from the ground. Anger at my entire situation wells up in me, but I don’t have anything to do with it. I wish I actually did some mining instead of just running. Then I would have an excuse to hit something. Hard.

My whole body aches as I make my way to our hut. Cuts, scrapes, and bruises on bruises on bruises. I will probably hurt like hell tomorrow, but for now I need to wash off and make sure my wounds won’t get infected. Maybe I can find someone in the hut who can point me in the direction of whatever water we are supposed to wash in. Someone is probably in there taking their lunch break, it is that time of day after all.

When I enter the hut, grimy and badly bruised, Vol is the only one there. He is sitting on the edge of his bed eating some of the gruel that we all get for lunch. When I come in he looks up at me, stares for about three seconds, and then says, “You can have my shower slot for this week. You certainly need it, you stink. Exit this cavern, take a left, go straight for about thirty meters and it will be on your right.” Then he glances down at his gruel again and takes another bite. I stare at him befuddled. Did he somehow read my mind? I glance down at my sorry state and realize that he could have just probably guessed it. 

“What are you waiting for, Faladel. Go on! Shoo!” Vol waves his spoon at me. I grab my blanket from my bunk and hurry out.

The shower turns out to be a small underground stream. It comes out a hole in a tiny cave’s ceiling, and falls down onto a floor of porous rock which sucks it up. I stand under it for a full hour before feeling like the grime has washed off me, but I still don’t feel clean even though the muck is gone. The futility of it all, the humiliation, the distinct injustice of them picking on me simply because I’m there to pick on. It stains me, and the water can’t wash it out. It only helps fade it, leaving a deep seated resentment, and a strong desire for revenge. 

Eventually the cold seeps into my bones and I get out of the shower, shivering. I dry off carefully with my blanket, making sure to avoid my open wounds with the dirty cloth. I try to consider what to do next. My mind starts busily working again. I don’t want to go back to work, but I can’t go back to the dens either. Lunch is over, I could return briefly to drop off my blanket, but then someone would send me back to work. Perhaps I could just wander for a bit. I could always say I got lost, and wandering would give me time to explore my surroundings, learn the passageways that aren’t on the map. 

I leave the small shower cave and start meandering around. I’m not going in any particular direction, nor do I have a pattern. Eventually, I start trying to keep track of my turns. Left right, through a passage that looked like a crack, three more lefts and then a right. My torch that I had grabbed from the shower room when I started, flickers in the stale warm air. I still have over half of it left though, so I keep moving.

Today’s events have left me weary, both mentally and physically. I’m not sure I should have gone out this far. I hope I can get back, all these tunnels and caves look alike. I haven’t found anything at any rate. Perhaps I’ve just wasted my time here. Well not wasted exactly, I muse, I mean I did mentally map out more of the mines, places that aren’t on the maps. But I haven’t found anything interesting, nor have I come up with any plans to repay Thravic and that gang of five for their blows.

The path I’m following suddenly comes to a fork, the left road goes back upwards, and the right goes deeper down. I stop and survey them. Which one to follow? I hold my torch high, trying to see down them as far as possible. I don’t have any clue where either of them lead, to me right now one of them is just as good as the other. I spot something glinting in the one going down, and head down after it. The one leading up can wait. 

I go down the trail chasing after the elusive glint. Eventually I find it. A shiny stone set into the wall. A surge of disappointment rises in me. Is this it? Nothing useful, just a shiny stone in a mine. I notice that the passage ends soon, so I follow it down the rest of the way and enter into a whole cavern made of this stone. A couple lie on the ground, as if they have broken off. The shiny stone reflects my torch and my cut, bruised face. Wherever I look I see this beat up version of myself distorted in the curves and imprecise angles on the stone. In one corner though, my reflection doesn’t stare back at me with dark eyes. There is something blocking it. I stroll over to get a better look.

There, abandoned in the corner, is a small pile of mining tools, an old jacket, and a bucketful of the stones. Apparently someone else has been here before. I take a closer look at the tools and the jackets, but I can’t tell how long ago the person was here. Apparently they saw some sort of worth in these stones though. I pick one up and study it in the yellow light of my torch. It sparkles mysteriously. It’s kinda pretty, but I don’t understand why someone would travel all the way here for shiny stones. This certainly isn’t part of the official mines which means whoever brought the tools here probably stole them. 

I settle down against the wall, putting the jacket behind me and draping my blanket around my legs, placing the torch in a holder that is among the tools. I stick one of the stones in my pocket and glance around the cave. There are no exits except the one I came through, and I have traveled a long way. Perhaps this would be a good spot to stop before heading back? My torch is getting low after all. I sigh and lean my head back against the wall closing my eyes. I don’t want to head back yet. I don’t want to go back to all those jerks right now, it would feel too much like surrender if I went back with no plan. Not to mention my muscles are screaming in protest at the idea of going all the way back right now. Perhaps I could take a quick rest. I breathe in and out, relaxing in the soothing background rumble of far off explosions..

I blink rubbing my eyes, unsure of how much time has passed. Did I fall asleep? I glance around me. The torchlight has dimmed to nearly nothing. I try to get up and groan. Yep, my muscles definitely have set. And they hate me. I hobble over as quickly as I can to check on my torch. There is only a little bit left, I have definitely been sleeping. Thank goodness I didn’t sleep any longer or it might have gone out. Then I would never get back. 

I look at the torch again, estimating my time left. I might not make it back as it is! I quickly rustle through the tools, but I don’t find any spare torches. Great.

I grab the ratty jacket and wrap it around my hand, then pick up the stub of the torch. The heat is still uncomfortable, but it’s better than not having the jacket. I grab my blanket as well, and then hurry out of the cave. 

I rush through endless passageways, sometimes backtracking if I don’t recognise anything, all the while conscious of my limited time. Was it left, right, left, left, right? Or was it right, right, left, left, right? And did I count that side passage? I wish I had paid more attention when I was first exploring instead of letting my mind wander so much. The torch stub keeps getting closer and closer to the fabric protecting my fingers. The heat becomes so much that I switch hands regularly, using one to protect the fragile flame as the other holds it steady. As it gets closer and closer, I start to worry about the fabric catching fire. But then I see something, a tiny passage, barely large enough to even be called a passage at all really. But it looks familiar. Wasn’t this about where I started? I had come through a passage such as this when I was originally going off the main trail hadn’t I? I hurry closer to get a better look, but then trip. My torch, now no more than a burning lump of wood really, goes flying.

“No! Don’t you dare!!” I shout. It hits the ground and defiantly goes out, leaving only a few embers that quickly die on the cold hard stone. “Damn it!” I whisper, alone, stranded in darkness. 

I don’t know how much time I sit there, stunned. I was so close. If only I had made it a little farther I was sure I could have made it back, but now… My mind trails off still struggling with the facts. Even if I was close earlier, I would never know it. I could make it through the passage ahead of me, but what then? I wouldn’t have anything that could help me find where to go next. I wouldn’t even know if the passage beyond goes left, right, or straight. I’d have to guess and hope.

I begin groping around in the dark to find the wall, thinking maybe if I can find the wall, I can follow it to the next passage at least. My fingers quickly brush the smooth stone, and I climb to my feet and continue on in the dark. I squeeze through the crack, and then concentrate as I feel it get wider. Should I hug the left wall or the right? I guess my life could depend on this, guessing right with a fifty-fifty chance of success. I was trying so hard earlier, and now it’s basically down to mentally flipping a coin. I chuckle at the dark irony, and then start as I hear an answering chuckle. I freeze, barely breathing, but I don’t hear anything else.

“Hello? Is someone there?” I call out into the dark.

A slightly warped version of my own voice replies. “Hello? Is someone there?”

“Echo!” I call out, “Echo!” my echo responds, and I breathe a sigh. I’m not sure if it’s of relief or not, but the tension from earlier is certainly gone.  Why is it that all my other senses seem to be on high alert now that I can’t see? I never noticed an echo of my actions before. 

I go left, because, why not? There’s no reason to not go left. I keep one hand on the wall and proceed slowly so I won’t trip. Eventually after what feels like ages the wall turns and I continue following it. 

At some point I see a small stone in my way, and kick it farther ahead. I watch as it goes further down the passage leaving a shadow behind it. As I stare at it, my brain registers that something’s changed. The stone has a shadow. I can see the stone. That means that somewhere up ahead there is a light source. A light source means a person, or the main path. 

I hear my footsteps, earlier slow and careful, speed up until I’m running to the light source. As I reach the lightsource, a torch in the wall, I slow down and come to a stop. The torch is placed in a small holder, right above a map. I take the torch down and stare at the map, quickly locating the ‘you are here’ arrow. Surprisingly, I’m not far from the showers. The dens are right nearby. I also notice that the tiny tunnel I came out of isn’t even listed on here. 

I take the torch with me as I make my way back to the dens, it is much easier to travel now that I have a source of light. I quickly arrive at the main entrance to the den and douse my torch, adding it to the rack of spares nearby. I glance around and see people moving around inside and getting breakfast. I look at myself, I’m about as dirty as I was before I was thrown in dung yesterday, which is presentable I suppose. I head on in to join the Dwarves hurrying to the breakfast line, hoping there will still be some gruel when I get back.

I join the group with Vol and the others after I get my meal. A couple of Dwarves, including Golik, cast me curious glances as I sit next to Vol. Apparently news that I got beat up yesterday spread fast. I guess that, plus me not coming back to the dens last night, stirred up some intrigue. So much for not drawing any attention to myself. I smirk at my failure and lift a spoonful of gruel to my mouth.

“So where were you?” Vol asks. “Last night I mean.”

“It’s a bit embarrassing, but I got lost. I was lucky to make it back here alive.” I admit, shifting my position. Something keeps digging into the seat of my pants, I can’t get comfortable. I suddenly remember the shiny stone in my pocket that I had stuck in there last night. I take it out and survey it, that dark and quiet of the tiny cavern seem so far away now that I’m surrounded by noisy hungry Dwarves. 

As soon as I think that though, I realize all the ones around me have gone silent. I look up, and they are all staring at me. I glance at Vol confusedly, but he, like the rest of them, is frozen, staring at the shiny stone in my hand.

“Murdenblum?” Vol whispers, the spoon that was halfway to his mouth drops back into the bowl with a tiny plop. The other Dwarves nearby quickly realize that everyone here has gone silent, and it spreads like a wave over the whole table, and then people from the other tables begin coming over to see what’s wrong. Even Bakken comes over to take a look. 

“What have we here?” He says, Vol points at the stone in my hand wordlessly. 

“Murdenblum.” Bakken whispers the unfamiliar term almost reverently as he plucks it from my hand holding it up to the torchlight. I’m too confused to protest. 

“Where did you get this Faladel?” The anger from yesterday is completely gone when he looks at me. In his eyes there is only greed. 

“I found it on the ground.” I say

“Where? Were there any more like this?”

“I don’t know.” I say lying instinctively. “I was a little lost, and I saw this shiny stone on the ground and thought it looked rather pretty. There weren’t any others. It looked almost like someone had dropped it there.” 

“You have a good taste in stones, for an elf. Not only that, you don’t even know how lucky you were to find something like this. I’ll need to report it to Thravic, and make sure he doesn’t try to take all the credit for it. This will definitely get me back in his good graces.” He murmurs, almost like he is speaking to himself. Then he looks at me and says, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you get your just reward for such a find.” The stone quickly disappears into one of his pockets, I can’t tell which, and he leaves us. 

Dwarves crowd around me for the rest of breakfast, asking again and again where I found it. I keep with my lie. I don’t even rightly know what that stone was, but no way am I telling them all about the cave. The Dwarves keep bugging me while I’m running messages, and news spreads fast about my find, how lucky I am, not just to survive so far, but to also find a chunk of Murdenblum that keeps getting bigger every time I hear the story. Me being the only elf only makes me more recognisable as the one everyone is talking about. I earn a lot of jealous glares, but no one dares hurt me because apparently I’ve pleased the higher ups. 

When lunchtime comes around I head back to the dens, with a crowd of Dwarves following me. I suppose they hope the past will repeat itself and I’ll get lost again and find more of this strange Murdenblum. The table I normally sit at gets so stuffed that I go into the den I share with the others in my group to eat. Luckily nobody follows me. I find Vol there, who has apparently also fled from the swarms of Dwarves.

“What exactly is Murdenblum? I keep hearing you guys repeating it in reference to that shiny stone. Why is it such a big deal?”

“First of all, don’t group me in with that crazy lot out there, and secondly, you claim to have been in Dwarven territory for twenty years, and yet you’ve never heard of Murdenblum?”

“I’ve been in prison.” I protest.

“Doesn’t matter, you still should have heard of it. It’s like this miracle metal. In it’s unrefined form it makes for amazing jewelry, all the rich ladies love it. But when you refine it and mix it with other metals it makes them ridiculously strong. I’m no mechanic, but even I know that practically everything works better with even a little murdenblum mixed in. It’s also really rare, and the government takes most of it for their labs during the war effort, so nobles will pay ludicrous amounts for that pebble you’ve found. It shows up in caches, a whole lot of it all in one place, which is why Bakken asked if you found any more of it.” Here Vol snorts. “You probably won’t get a fraction of it’s worth down here. I once had a dude who would bring that sort of stuff to me on a regular occasion. Never could get its true worth, and completely flooded the market. He was an idiot. I hope you’re smarter than him, you certainly caught on out there right fast.”

“What happened to him?” I ask curiously, ignoring Vol’s comment. He is suspicious of me, but that’s nothing new. Could the Dwarf he is talking about be the mysterious person who found the cave before me?

“Well, the news got out about the Murdenblum and we got raided one meeting. All of it was confiscated, and he never saw a penny. Couple days later the big collapse happened and he died with all the others.”

“Thanks for explaining.” I say, putting my spoon in my bowl as I finish my serving of gruel. I hop off my bunk and start heading out the door. When I reach the doorway, a spark of inspiration hits me and I turn back to Vol who glances at me. “I think I might have something of value to barter for after all!” I call back to him. 

He grins at me in response. “I thought you might!”

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