“Are you okay?!” Golik shouts, rushing over to me.
“I’m fine,” I say, ignoring his proffered hand I get up and brush myself off. “What the heck was that?”
“I don’t know, but we probably shouldn’t stick around here. This whole area could destabilize after all that shaking.” Golik glances around us, a worried look on his face. “Can you walk?”
“I’m fine.” I say again. My thoughts are confused. I don’t want to stick around this Dwarf, mainly because he was plotting to kill me a week ago, but the first thing he did when I fell was rush over to help me. That doesn’t seem like something someone who was trying to kill me would do. However, no matter what I might think, right now all that matters is survival, and my gut says I should trust this Dwarf. I guess I’ll follow his suggestions for now. “Where should we go though? Another outpost? The Dens?” I say, hoping to spark an idea in him. When his eyes light up, I know I’ve succeeded.
“I think I remember my mentor saying something about this. We should go to The Dens, that’s where everyone should be gathering. We can get more information there and instructions on what to do. We might even have to evacuate.”
“You think this is that bad?” I say, and then an explosion of similar size racks the cavern. “Nevermind.” I say, “I’ll just trust you on this one. What happens if we need to evacuate?”
Golik starts jogging back towards the habitation section of the mines. I follow, keeping pace pretty easily. “From what I’ve heard we all head above ground and stay there till things die down a bit.” He gasps out. “Now could we please stop talking and focus on running?” The tunnels behind us rumble ominously, and I don’t ask the rest of the questions flooding through my brain as we speed up a bit.
We quickly reach one of the main outposts, and see a flood of Dwarves dashing out of one of the mining sectors. As the last one leaves the tunnel a rumble sounds behind him, and a cloud of dust and tiny rock particles fall from the ceiling. Golik and I exchange worried looks and sprint off behind them.
As we get closer and closer to the main sectors the tunnels become more and more crowded, until we can’t run anymore and the noise of the frightened Dwarves makes it almost impossible to be heard. All our bodies are pressed together, and the horde of terrified Dwarves carries us right past the exit to the dens.
“We’ve missed the exit!” I shout to Golik over the crowd.
“We can’t possibly make it back in this jam, we’ll just have to go wherever these guys are going!” Golik shouts back.
“Where do you think that is?”
“Probably the lifts! My guess is we’re evacuating!”
Golik is right, and as we finally get close enough to see the lifts going up and down the crowd’s movement halts completely. As many Dwarves squeeze onto the platform as possible as it rises above the crowd going up to safety. I watch horrified as one of the Dwarves falls off, screaming, but most of the Dwarves both above and below him don’t pay him any attention as he falls down the long shaft for the lift.
The lift comes down again eventually. It feels like ages have passed, but the ominous rumbling and shaking is still happening every so often, as if to remind all of us that it isn’t safe to stay. But Golik and I don’t get onto that lift. Or the next one. Or the next one.
Occasionally we see other lifts going further down that are empty, or lifts heading up that are already full. Someone always tries to jump on, and on the ones going down they usually make it. But on the ones going up, they are pushed back by the desperate Dwarves already on there. Amidst their panic it is every man for himself it seems.
It takes ten lifts, packed to the brim with panicked Dwarfs, to clear out the Dwarves in front of us. The waiting for the next one now that we are at the front is worse than the waiting for all of the others combined. We have to push against the crowd to stay at a safe distance so we don’t fall down the lift shaft, but also keep near the front so that we will be able to get on the next one.
When the next lift stops at our cavern, even though I’m at the front with Golik, I nearly don’t make it on. The speed of the Dwarves trying to escape the death trap behind them leaves me in the dust. By the time I get on the lift, it is already almost full, and before I know it we are heading upwards and into the light.
I am temporarily blinded as we make our way upwards, and can’t even see as our platform stops above ground.
“Everyone off! I need to go back down for another batch!” The Dwarf guard manning the platform shouts to our bewildered group. “If any of you are still on by the time I count to five, you’re heading back down with me!” That certainly speeds up our haste to disembark. As we stumble off the platform, blinking in the bright afternoon sun, we gradually move to join a larger group of Dwarves, who are being separated by Overseer and supervisor. I quickly find Golik again, we’re on the same platform. Then Bakken takes roll, calling us by our numbers first, and then our names if no one responds. I’m glad I remembered mine. After roll call is done, I happily notice that Vol also is alive, and begin making my way over to him. But before I can get to him through the crowd, Bakken pulls him over to one side and hurriedly begins giving him instructions. Then Golik pulls me over instead, and begins chattering away.
“Wasn’t that scary? What do you think caused it? I’m so glad we made it out, for a little I didn’t think we would make it. Especially when like the other Dwarves had all exited that tunnel, and then it collapsed behind them, I thought to myself ‘that’s it, we’re surely done for’ but here we are! Alive! And not just alive, above ground too! You know, I think we could probably all escape if we, like, could convince everyone to run at the guards and rush them and the fence. The security here isn’t really meant to handle that. But I don’t know how we could convince everyone-”
“That’s nice and all.” I say interrupting Golik. I’m slightly frustrated with his rambling, and more distracted and eager to stop as much background noise as possible so I can think. “But I’m not really interested in talking about–” My brain freezes as it goes over his topics, “Wait- what were you saying?”
“The collapse or the bad design of this compound?”
“The compound part.” I say.
“Ah…” Golik looks nervous. “See, I shouldn’t have told you that, kinda treasonous of me, but I tend to blabber a bit when I get nervous. I was basically criticizing the way the evacuation is set up. Nothing really.” He smiles weakly at me. I give him a blank look.
“Why are you so nervous? It’s not like I’ll tell anyone. I just wasn’t expecting anyone to offer up escape plans so openly. It caught me off guard.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t planning on offering them up either.” Golik mutters.
We stay silent for a while after that. The sun starts to move towards the west horizon, but below us we can still hear the earth’s grumblings as the ground settles down. After what feels like hours, the sun starts to set and the guards start herding us back to the lifts in small groups. I say goodbye to Golik and head off to find Vol. He will probably know the details of what happened if anyone does.
After searching around for a bit, I see him making his way out of one of the huts. He moves cautiously, as if he doesn’t want to be seen. By the time he has slipped back into the crowd I’m already there waiting for him.
“What was that explosion about?” I ask him. “What happened?”
“There was a bad misfire right near one of the storage areas. Could have been sabotaged. It caused a giant cave in. The rest you probably saw for yourself.” He says gruffly, waving his arm at all the Dwarves around us. “Everyone panicked. Not all of them made it out because of that. All the newbies had no clue of what to do, and the oldies thought it would be as bad as the last one and so were fighting to get out. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the one a couple of months ago, but because of everyone’s idiocy we lost a lot more Dwarves than we would have otherwise. Anyway, I think it’s our turn to go down now.” He points out a Dwarf who is shouting at our group to get on the lift.
As we head back down into the remains of the mines, my brain starts working through everything and processing what just happened. An explosion, sabotage, chaos, and Vol seems to think that this is all perfectly normal and that people were way too panicked. But I remember very acutely the fear I felt as my entire world had begun to shake to the point that I couldn’t even stand up properly. Everyone fleeing for their lives was too panicked? Then when should we flee for our lives? When should we panic? I ask Vol these questions as we dismount the lift.
“Hmm… Well, I suppose you have a point. It is a rather thin line. But as a Dwarf, you have to know when things underground get serious. You’re an Elf so I wouldn’t expect you to understand, but those quakes were just the mines playing with us, like a cat batting around a ball without using its claws. That could happen literally any time. It could happen again now. But when it starts to get serious then you run. When the very rocks that hold up the ceiling start to fall, when all the tunnels collapse, then you run. Very few tunnels collapsed in this quake, but everyone overreacted.”
We arrive at the dens and it is announced that due to today’s chaos, we won’t be working for the rest of the day and we will have an early supper. As we eat the official death toll is calculated and announced. 37 Dwarves died, and another 81 were injured, mostly cuts and bruises, but quite a few broken bones due to being shoved repeatedly into walls or trampled. I remember something Vol told me at the beginning, how the injured don’t survive for long unless they have friends. I wonder how many more of those 81 will die over the next month. I wonder when the next event like this will happen. Vol said they could happen anytime, all these people could die at any time.
These thoughts circle through my head like sharks, effectively killing my mood and any other thoughts that try to pop up. They stay in my head when supper ends and when I climb in bed early. I can’t get to sleep because of them. As I toss and turn, I realize something.
I want to live through this. I want to get home. What happened to my determination to come up with an escape plan? If I had escaped earlier, I wouldn’t have had to go through all this. I might not have had to go through the bullying that led to my eagerness for revenge.
But what if there was a way to escape and get revenge at the same time? Wouldn’t that be the best option of all?
My hatchling plan for revenge included blowing up a section of the mine controlled by Thravic and that Skain Gang group. Could I use that somehow to help me escape? Golik had mentioned something about everyone rushing the barriers allowing all of us to escape. But I can’t stir a crowd of scared Dwarves into stampeding. No, my best option would be to escape in the ensuing chaos of such an explosion. It really helps that they’re so quick to label people who don’t show up for roll call as dead.
Now If I could find a passage that leads outside the compound, that would work beautifully. After all, all the guard Dwarves would be focused on the giant panicked mob in their midst that might try to run at any moment. No one would be looking outside. But I don’t know of any such passage, and anyone I talk to would automatically become suspicious of me when I start asking about one. This whole plan relies on no one paying too close attention to me. If anyone is paying too much attention, then I won’t be able to lay the explosives, much less escape in the chaos.
So what should I do?
Eventually I fall asleep without a clear answer in my head. Perhaps sleeping on it will help me come up with something.