Chapter 4: Into The Mines

Before today, I’ve only heard stories of cloaked men like the one that just took Jonas – vague remembrances of older miners telling of those who tried to organize rebellions being dragged off and never heard from again.  Just minutes ago, they were catalogued somewhere between fantasies and other things I didn’t need to worry about, yet here they are, suddenly pummeling their way to the forefront of my thoughts.

By all accounts, I should be happy.  Jonas, the man who’s caused Krista and me so much pain and humiliation, is gone.  If there’s any truth to the stories I’ve heard, he’s gone for good at that.  Still, something just doesn’t seem right about the way things happened.

Why, after months of the same behavior, does the Overseer suddenly care about the way Jonas treats us?  We have no rights – we’re slaves to be used as our captors see fit – so what’s this business about them being an example for some new era?  Just yesterday, Jonas did the same thing he tried to do today.  The only difference is, today I stopped him.  Why is today’s offense so grievous as to warrant his immediate removal?  I replay the events in my head, trying to make sense of them, until I finally give up and grunt in exasperation.

“Gray, what is it?” Krista whispers.

“Nothing.”  I pause for a second, trying to stave off the questions that swirl around my mind, but it’s no use – maybe talking it out will help.  “It’s just…don’t you think what happened just now with Jonas is a little odd?  Every day for months, he’s done the same thing, but today, all of a sudden, the Overseer decides to give a damn?  It doesn’t make sense.”

“Yes, it does seem odd, but…” she hesitates a moment, as if considering whether to continue then resumes “Gray, do you remember how I’ve told you sometimes I remember things from my life before here?”

“Yeah, why?

“I don’t know what this could mean, but I remembered something the other day…about a big corporation.”

“What’s a corporation?”  I say the last word in syllables.  It feels foreign on my tongue.

“Think of a shop where people go to buy things – food, clothes, whatever.  Now imagine that shop being so big that thousands and thousands of people all got what they needed there.  Understand?”

“I guess so.  You know I don’t remember much from before I was brought here, but I don’t think we had anything like a corporation.  I think where I’m from, it’s much smaller, like a village.  At least, that’s the feeling I get from my dreams…anyway, go on.”

“OK, so the other day, I remembered my brother saying something about a big corporation that he thought was up to no good.  I didn’t think anything of it, but when I saw the emblem on the Dimmer’s chest just now, it came back in my mind.  Gray, I remember seeing it before.  I think it’s the insignia of the corporation my brother talked about!”

“Are you sure?”

“As sure as a girl who’s had her memories wiped can be.  What do you think it means?”

I think on this for a moment.  What does it mean, indeed?  If the emblem on the Dimmer’s chest is the same as this corporation Krista remembers, they must be involved with the mines in some way.  This still doesn’t explain the sudden change in behavior, but it feels important, nonetheless.  I open my mouth to share my thoughts with Krista, but Ethan comes up behind me and starts in before I can.

“There’s an old saying where I’m from: curiosity killed the cat.”

“What’s a cat?” I interject.

“They really did a number on you when they brought you in here, didn’t they?”  He leans aside to Krista and adds “it’s a wonder you two can have a conversation.”

Krista rolls her eyes at him and I retort, “At least I haven’t forgotten my manners, Pop.”  Ethan scowls at the reference as Krista chokes back a giggle.  “I’m assuming there’s a reason for your interruption, so let’s have it.”

Ethan puts a hand around each of us, pulls us in slightly, and speaks in a low whisper, “Look, I know what you two are talking about and you’re on the right track.  You can’t discuss it here, though!  The Centurions might be dumb as rocks, but the Dimmers aren’t to be trifled with.”

“But it’s long gone!” I shoot back in a frustrated tone.

“It doesn’t matter!” he rasps back.  “If you think it’s just because Jonas beats the miners that the Dimmer came today, you’re wrong.  They have ways of sensing things.”

“Ethan, what do you mean, sensing things?  What things?” chimes Krista.  I look over and see a few Centurions glance in our direction.

“Keep your voice down!” Ethan strains back at her but then he takes a breath and regains his composure.  “Look, you and Gray are in this together – that much is clear – so you might was well know this now.  Gray and I aren’t like you and the other people here.  We’re from…a different place.”

This is news to me.  “A different place?  Ethan, what’s going on?”

“Shhhh!  Quiet down!  Just look, I’ll try to tell you more later, but suffice it to say that what you did today was no accident.  Our kind have certain abilities…yours appear to be awakening now.”

“The people responsible for putting us down here fear our kind.  They thought they had eliminated us long ago, but a few of us managed to escape, suppressing our gift and blending into normal society.  You and I were eventually captured as part of their ‘recruitment’ to support the mines, but they don’t know what we are.”

“When you came, I knew you were like me – your translucent gray eyes are a common characteristic of our people – so I kept watch over you.  Before today, the gift seemed dormant, but now, I fear the Dimmers may suspect what you are.”

Krista casts a fearful glance in my direction.

“Not to worry” whispers Ethan reassuringly.  “The Dimmer gave me a scare when it came over to Gray.  The fact that it left him alone makes me believe they aren’t yet sure.  Gray didn’t realize what he was doing, but he managed to suppress his power enough to avoid detection.”

“My power?  What power?”

“Well, you didn’t manage to knock Jonas off his feet with just physical strength!  That man is the size of a small elephant!”

“What’s an elephant?

“Oh, for God’s sake, Gray, can we focus here?”

“Sorry!”

“Yes, you have power.  You use it without being in control of it, but you have it, just the same.  There are two sides to all power – light and dark.  If we represent the side of light, the Dimmers are part of the dark.  The power is familiar to them.  They can sense it, even from a great distance, which is why you must control yourself.  Early signs of the gift tend to surface with strong emotions.  Fear, rage, sadness – all of these can trigger your power if you aren’t careful, and now, your life may depend upon it.”

“That must be why your eyes were glowing earlier…” Krista mused to herself.  “Ethan, could Gray’s power make his eyes change color?”

“Well, yes.  How do you think I keep my eyes brown instead of gray?”

“So they were gray earlier!” I interject.

“Yes, they were.  I keep them brown to avoid suspicion, but…”

“Quiet!” Krista hisses suddenly as she points toward the entrance to the hub.

“Looks like the Purplecoats have brought in reinforcements” offers Ethan dryly.

A cascade of silence sweeps over the crowd as a group of eleven purple armor-clad enforcers draw near – one at the head and two lines of five following close behind.  My eyes quickly scan the new arrivals and I realize I’ve never seen any of them before.  The one at the head is very tall and sturdily built.  He isn’t as big as Jonas but imposing just the same.  His jaw is pronounced and rigid, fine silver hair flows over his shoulders, and icy blue eyes are set into his chiseled face.

We move to fall in line at a cart station on the far left of the cavern, while the last few miners hurry through the equipment depot, retreating at the advance of this new threat.  The group of eleven finally comes to a halt just past the depot, the man at the lead standing with perfect posture and a superior look on his face.

He clears his throat, silencing the last murmurs from among our number and begins.  “Attention, colleagues.  I am Soren, your new Captain.  We are all of a single purpose.  Miner and Centurion alike are in the gracious employ of our Overseer.  Though you are here as a result of crimes you have committed in your past, you, too, are allowed to serve a greater good.  In addition to powering this facility, the Revilium we harvest here gives sustainable energy to the world above and, more importantly, hope to mankind.”

“My predecessor, Jonas, has lost sight of your importance to our cause and has, thus, been removed.  On behalf of our Overseer, I apologize for the treatment you have suffered at his hand and make clear now that any Centurion engaging in similar behavior will be dealt with in the same manner as their former leader.  That said, we expect you all to dedicate yourselves to the tasks you are given and obey our orders without question.  Anyone who fails to comply will be met with swift punishment.  Is this understood?”  We all collectively murmur our assent.

Soren pauses for a moment, clearly irritated, then continues in a slightly sterner tone.  “Henceforth, you will address me as ‘Captain’.  When responding to my inquiries, you will follow your response with my proper title. ‘Yes, Captain!’  No, Captain!’  ‘I would very much enjoy working an extra two hours today, Captain!’  Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Captain” we all respond slightly out of sync.

Soren motions to a few of our number who were a little too late in their response and Centurions rush over to jab them with batons.  The strikes are brief but they elicit agonized yelps of pain nonetheless.

“I think we can do better than that.  Again,” Soren commands.

“Yes, Captain!”  A few more are out of sync and are punished swiftly.  Wide eyes dart to their comrades in fear, anticipating the next round.

“Again!” Soren demands.

“Yes, Captain!”  More screams of punishment.

“Again!”

“Yes, Captain!”  Children cry behind me this time.

“Louder!”

“YES, CAPTAIN!”  A raspy wail erupts beside me – Ethan – but I don’t dare look to him.

“Louder!”

“YES, CAPTAIN!”  Our voices strain in unison to be heard and avoid joining the chorus of agony that underpins every wave.

“LOUDER!”

“YES, CAPTAIN!!!”

All is silent but the groans of those who responded too Late to Soren’s calls.  Soren paces back and forth, considering us for a moment, then stops.

“To maintain peak efficiency, we must operate as a finely tuned machine.  As the gears and belts around you now, so we shall be.  But to be this, we must first learn order.  Consider this your first lesson – it will not be the last.”  Soren pauses, letting his words sink in, then looks off in the distance and adds, “You may help your comrades now if you so desire.”

Krista and I each take one of Ethan’s arms over our shoulder and help him up.

“Ethan, are you OK?” I whisper.

He winces and lets out a long pained breath, “I’ve had worse.”

“Now then, if you will all line up, ten per cart station, we will get our work under way.  That is all for now.”  Soren motions again and Centurions rush to organize the lines.

One comes in behind Krista and nudges her forward.  I hear him address her in a sadistic tone, “Don’t think you’re off the hook because Jonas is gone, sweetie!  Old Soren can’t keep his eyes on you forever!”

Krista looks at me, her eyes full of the fear and shame I’ve seen in them too many times before.  My anger begins to flare up inside of me.  I shove myself between her and the Centurion and pierce his gaze with a cold stare.

“Listen to me, Purplecoat.  If you ever touch her again, it will be the last thing you do!”  I growl at him.  I feel a tingling sensation start to come forth from within as my anger rises.  It begins searing through my veins like molten steel, pumping swiftly from my heart and through my extremities.  I watch as the Centurion’s disgusting leer withers into a look of dread.  For a moment, I almost feel that I can focus the sensation into the palms of my hands, but then Ethan touches me gently on the shoulder.

Gray, now is not the time.  Let it go.”  I hear his voice as a gentle rasp in my head.  My anger dulls and the sensation ebbs slowly back from whence it came.  I hold the Centurion’s gaze firmly, but I am in control again and my fury is gone.  He abruptly backs away several paces, nearly stumbling over his feet, and eyes me cautiously.

I assume a sideways stance so I can keep a watchful eye on the Centurion.  The line slowly moves forward as the other miners load into the cart.  I look to my right and silently marvel at the order that has already fallen over the crowd.  After Soren’s definitive display of authority, no one dares to fall out of formation or even speak.

Despite Soren’s apology over Jonas’ behavior, it seems to me the only thing that’s really changed is the interpretation of what qualifies as abuse.  I am relieved that Krista no longer faces such an ongoing and immediate threat, but it’s clear I still have many from the old regime to contend with.  I cast another withering glare in the Centurion’s direction as I step into the cart and sit next to Krista.

In another moment, we’re all secured in the cart and the now-pale faced Centurion is throwing the switch to send us into the tunnel ahead.  We start off slowly down the tracks and I resume my internal dialogue.  There’s something about Soren.  He’s clearly cut from a different cloth than the Centurions we’re used to, but there’s something else.  I’m positive I’ve never seen him before in my life, but there’s something strangely familiar about him.  As the station slides out of view, I look up and see him staring at me intently, his icy blue eyes piercing through the growing distance.

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Chapter 3: Shadow of the Past

Whether I really intend to go and listen to Ethan tell faerie tales tonight or not, he’s definitely gotten my attention.  What the hell is going on here?  I’ve seen Ethan every day since I can remember and I swear his eyes are brown.  My eyes quickly shoot back to Ethan’s, uncertain of what I saw, and they’re…they’re brown.  Not a trace of the pale gray shimmer I just witnessed remains.  Am I going crazy?

Let’s see: hearing voices in my head that no one else can hear, check.  Imagining things that aren’t really there, check.

Krista’s voice suddenly breaks through, “Gray, is everything alright?”

“Ahhhh!!!”  I jump back, startled by her interruption.

Paranoia, CHECK.

“Sorry, Krista!  I just thought I saw something strange, but…” I pause momentarily to convince myself.  “…it’s nothing.”

Pull it together, Gray. 

I steady myself and look back over at Ethan.  His expression is mixed, seeming both unsurprised and genuinely amused at my little episode.

Well, I’m glad SOMEONE finds this entertaining!  I glare at him with the most irritated look I can muster, but this proves to only amuse him further.  I grunt to myself and begin a mental tirade of my frustration, forgetting that he can probably hear everything I’m thinking.  I abruptly turn away, choosing to ignore him, but I swear I hear restrained laughter in my head.

Whatever’s going on, it isn’t normal, but I shrug it off as best I can and return to the present.  I scan the cavern anxiously, wary of the strange behavior exhibited by the Centurions.  More than once since we’ve arrived at the Hub, I’ve seen them hurry back and forth, speaking in hushed voices and glancing in my direction.

The atmosphere seems to gradually thicken around me and then I observe two Centurions running headlong toward Jonas back at the Hub entrance.  They look out of breath and nervous as they relay what I can only assume is very urgent news.

Jonas’ eyes widen as he listens to their report, his face draining of what little color it has left.  His head turns slowly to face me, eyes filled with a look of dawning comprehension.  “Krista, check out Jonas”, I whisper as I turn aside to face her.  “He looks like he’s just seen a ghost.”

Krista looks over to the mouth of the cavern then grabs my hand so hard it hurts.  I follow the line of her arm all the way up to her face – her body is rigid and there is genuine fear in her eyes.  I hear a low chorus of gasps rush through the crowd as heads turn one by one to face the Hub entrance. I turn my head to follow suit and Krista barely chokes out, “looks like you may not be far off…”

A willowy cloaked figure emerges at the mouth of the cavern.  On sight, my pulse quickens and I draw Krista in close.  The figure glides across the room with unsettling ease, his robes, black as the deepest recess of the mines, billowing behind him ominously.  I glimpse a peculiar emblem emblazoned across his chest – a large black flame outlined in purple.  The shape seems vaguely familiar to me, but its hue is unmistakable – Darkstone.

The figure casts a deliberate glance in my direction and I see his face: cold black eyes set into a mask of pale stone.  He glows with a dull purple aura, slightly blurring the edges around him.

My muscles tense instinctively like a wild animal sensing a nearby predator, and before I can even process the change, I’m writhing.  Thoughts of bitter hatred flood my mind, but I have no idea why.  I focus all my energy on resisting the growing urge to lunge at the figure and tear him to pieces.

As he draws nearer, everything around me seems to fade.  The rustling of feet against the dirt floor, the clicking of the machinery, the urgent murmurs of the crowd, all becomes silent but the low rushing of wind that seems to accompany the shadow as it sweeps past.  My gaze fixes on his dead eyes, demanding explanation for the impulses surging through my veins, but none comes.

“What is that thing?” Krista whispers cautiously.

I just stare in silence, rooting myself to the spot, as he moves across the cavern.

That is a Dimmer, an agent of the Overseer.”  Ethan’s voice once again disturbs my thoughts.

“Dammit, Ethan, can’t you knock or something?”  I think back at him.

Honestly, Gray, what do you suggest I do?  Come over and bang on your head?  There’s no time for this.”

“Fine.  Sorry.  Why did I tense up the second I saw it?  When it passed by, it was all I could do not to reach out and strangle it.”

“Yes, they can wipe the mind, but the body always remembers.  In time, your mind will remember again, but you are not ready.”

“What?  You mean I’ve seen one before?”

“More than one.  I dare not say more now.”

“Why?  Can it hear us?”

“Not yet, but it can sense when people near it are communicating in this manner.  We all share certain…traits.”

“Wait.  What?!  How is that even possible?  Ethan, you’d better start explaining!”

“Gray, you must calm yourself now or it will know for certain what, for now, it only suspects.”

“Ethan!  What the hell are you talking about?!  I want answers NOW!”

In that moment, I hear a violent whoosh of air as the Dimmer suddenly turns about to stare straight at me.  Where, before, black eyes lay dead in their sockets were now piercing globes of intense purple.  A chill shot up my spine that froze me in place.

“Gray, remain absolutely still and do not speak to me again until the Dimmer leaves.  Our lives depend upon it.”

All at once, fear washes over me like a black wave.  The Dimmer begins slowly gliding back to me and my heart begins to race, pounding harder and harder as the gap between us shrinks.  The sound of my heart echoes so loudly in my eardrums, I swear the Dimmer can hear it, can feel my quickening pulse resounding through the cavern.

“Gray, stay calm.  Take control of your breath and slow it down.  Relax your eyes and clear the emotion from your mind.  You can do this.”

I visualize my breath as a speeding ball of light and catch it, halting its erratic movements, bending it to my will.  Gradually, my heart slows and I envision my breath expanding until everything is covered in brilliant white.  I refocus my eyes on the Dimmer and allow calm to flow over my countenance.  My muscles relax, my brows soften, and, by the time the Dimmer stands no more than a foot away, my body and face are void of expression.

The closeness of the Dimmer chills me to the bone, as if cold emanates from it the way warmth does from normal men.  It moves all about me, leaning in close as if searching for evidence of the conversation Ethan and I had.  My body shivers involuntarily, but I hold on to the vision of the white light in my mind.  I transform the light to a shield around me and change its color from white to pale blue.

I don’t know how long the Dimmer persists.  I just hold on to the vision of the pale blue shield with all my strength until, eventually, it pauses a moment, turns and begins its previous course anew.  At last, I release the image of the shield and audibly exhale.

Something is tugging on my arm.  I ignore it, still fixated on the Dimmer as it moves eerily along, but it starts tugging harder.  I look down to my right and see a small hand joined in mine and pulling downward.  I follow the line of the arm up and see Krista’s face.  Her lips are moving but I still hear nothing but the ominous sound of the Dimmer moving through the thick cavern air.  I narrow my eyes at her, showing my lack of comprehension, until finally she reaches her other hand up and caresses my cheek.

Warmth spreads from her fingertips through my face and out to my whole body, coaxing me from my catatonic state.  I look down at the hand against my cheek and take it in my own, joining it to the other.  I study Krista’s hands – pale and scarred like mine, but somehow still delicate and gentle.  I look back up at her face and am stricken by her beauty as if seeing her for the first time again.  My heart flutters, snapping me to my senses.  What am I doing?  I abruptly let go of her hands, allowing my own to fall limply at my sides.

“Gray, are you alright?” says Krista quietly.

I consider her question a moment.  No, I am not alright.  I’m stuck as a slave in these mines for crimes I can’t remember.  According to Ethan, I just narrowly escaped death because I was overcome with anger at the mere sight of something called a Dimmer.  I have no hope of ever escaping and yet here I am allowing myself to feel things for Krista that can only bring me pain.  I am a fool.

“Yeah, I’m OK”, I lie back to her.

“I was so scared that thing was going to take you.  When it passed by, you got really tense.  I looked over and your eyes were almost red…what happened?”

“My eyes were what?”

“They looked like they were glowing red…come to think of it, they did that earlier when you attacked Jonas too.”

Great.  So now I’m a freak.

“Maybe it has something to do with when you feel really strong emotions”, Krista muses.  Her candor pulls me up short.

“You say that like it’s no big deal.  Doesn’t it scare you?”

“Gray, we’re in a subterranean prison with weird purple rocks that make you go crazy and scary ghostlike things that move without walking.  Glowing eyes are the least of my worries,” she says with a slight smile.

“Hmmm…?”  Krista never ceases to amaze me.  I start to question but then just let it go.  “Well, OK then,” I smile back.

“So what do you think that thing is?” Krista turns around and follows the figure with her eyes.

“It’s called a Dimmer.”  The words come out before I even realize what I’m saying.  I see Ethan shoot a pained look in my direction out of the corner of my eye.

“It’s a what?” she replies, incredulous.

Crap.  I guess I might as well go along with it.  I’ll already be getting an earful from Ethan later.  “A Dimmer,” I repeat.  “One of the Overseer’s agents.”

“How do you know that?”

“Ethan told me about them before…so I would know to watch out if I ever saw one.”  Nice save.

“I would have thought you’d tell me so I can watch out for them too.”

Almost a nice save.

“Sorry Krista.  I just figured I would watch out for you and didn’t want to worry you about them.”

She looks down at the floor, considering this a moment.  “Yeah, I guess that does sound like you.”

And the recovery!

“Just…no more secrets, OK?” she says, piercing into me with her brilliant green eyes.

Crap.  This isn’t going to be easy.

“OK.  No more secrets.”

Thoughts of everything I know already and so much more I’ve yet to find out race through my mind.  What is OK to tell her and what isn’t?  Knowing too much could put her at risk.  Knowing too little could have the same effect.  I resolve to discuss it with Ethan later when guttural yelling from across the Hub grabs my attention – Jonas.

“GET YOUR BONY ‘ANDS OFF ME!  I AIN’T DONE NUFFIN’ WRONG!” bellows Jonas as the Dimmer pulls him along with surprising strength.

“What’s he doing?!” says Krista as she turns urgently to me.

Can this really be happening?  The Overseer threatened Jonas with punishment earlier, but I never thought he’d make good on it…especially this quickly.

The Dimmer was dragging Jonas by the arm across the ground now, leaving a trail of gravel and cracked earth behind them.  I hardly believe it possible to pull a man as large as Jonas so effortlessly and yet it’s happening before my eyes.  A grim smile widens across my face.

“The Overseer has grown weary of your disobedience.”  The sinister voice of the Dimmer hisses, echoing frighteningly through the cavern.

“IT’S NO’ ME, IT’S THAT FREAK!” Jonas spits the words in my direction, contempt written plainly on his face.

I lean over to Krista’s ear so she can hear me above the clamor.  “Remember when the Overseer came on the intercom this morning and stopped Jonas after I took him down?  He said he’d be punished later…I think he’s making good on his promise.”

“FREAK!  FREAK!!!  I’LL GE’ YOU FOR THIS, I SWEAR!!!”  Jonas screams at the top of his lungs in fury.  Both Centurions and miners alike watch, awestruck, as the beast of a man we all fear is dragged off as if he were a misbehaving child.  Before long, Jonas’ massive purple boots are clanking on the landing, across the bridge and out of sight, his increasingly desperate cries fading away into the darkness.