Author Topic: Chapter 11  (Read 5501 times)

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Online Daen

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Chapter 11
« on: April 08, 2022, 02:02:02 AM »
Chapter 11

Something hard poked into her shoulder, “Time ta get up, lass.”

Jaas slowly came out of possibly the deepest sleep she’d ever had, and moaned in pain. Her entire body hurt; every muscle screamed in protest at even the slightest move. “Get up, now!” The voice gained a hard edge, but the poking stopped.

Her brief moment of respite was interrupted as her cot rattled and then lifted up underneath her. She let out a yelp as she was rolled unceremoniously onto the ground, blanket and all. Glaring down at her in the torchlight, Otrul reached for his water skin.

“I’m up! I’m up!” She hurriedly exclaimed, scrambling to her feet. The last thing she needed was another skin of cold water poured on her head like yesterday. She’d only known her dwarven trainer for a day or so, but he’d never made a threat he didn’t follow up on. Otrul grabbed her by the shoulder and practically threw her out the door.

A dense fog hung in the air of whatever patch she’d been brought to, and her nightclothes clung to her back in the chill. She felt nauseous at first but didn’t have time to stop, as Otrul prodded her into a jogging pace. It was criminal! He hadn’t even let her put on shoes!

Thankfully she wasn’t running on paving stones here, or even grass, but packed dirt under her feet. Wherever this jogging track was, it was deep underground. Probably a place where dwarves themselves trained from time to time. There was definitely an opening far up above her, because she could faintly see the sky from all the way down here, but not enough to make do. Apparently it was just before dawn, as the starlight was starting to fade.

All dwarves could see in the dark without difficulty, but Otrul had apparently lit and positioned several torches around the track so Jaas could see where she was going. Well, at least she was out of the way of prying eyes. There was no way her would-be captors could see her all the way down here.

As she got some momentum going, Jaas’ mind flashed back to her long conversation with the Hauld. A lot of things about Arico and Alzhi and their work here made much more sense now. Jaas had been too tired to write it down the night before, but she resolved to do so tonight before she went to bed. If she survived today’s training sessions.

Apparently, she’d stumbled into a city-wide insurgency. Arico and Alzhi—and most likely other humans as well—looked like they were intent on overthrowing this city’s current government, using dwarven support. That was why she was here, safe in the dwarven Enclave and out of reach of the Sustained. Jaas couldn’t blame them, really. From what little she knew about the Sustained Council and their Lord Ascendant, it seemed this city was basically being held in a choke-collar. Still, there was no such thing as a bloodless revolution. Freedom fighters and loyalists alike were usually killed in droves, along with the innocent. Jaas felt a pit in her stomach that had nothing to do with continuing to jog through the mist.

That reminded her. There was no rain in Patchwork, but apparently fog still showed up from time to time. Enough to filter its way all the way underground down to her. Were the particles of mist just small enough to make it through the threads, or did they form inside each patch individually? She hadn’t seen any mist before, so she resolved to pay attention. And to take notes when she could again. Based on her initial observations, the barriers surrounding the city prevented storm clouds from forming in a wide radius around it.

Otrul stopped prodding her mercilessly as she kept up the jog. She was a good head taller than him but somehow he was always able to keep up right behind her. As they passed the torch that marked the ‘start’ of the track, Jaas had a sinking feeling. If yesterday had been any indication, they were both in for a long run. Strangely, the persistent ache faded as she kept running.

Out of nowhere, a barefoot Arico came into pace right beside her. He too was dressed in nightclothes, and his hair was a mess. He gave her a sidelong glance and a minuscule smile she could barely make out in the darkness. Otrul looked surprised for a moment, but didn’t do anything to stop it.

They ran for what seemed like hours, but was probably closer to ten minutes, before Otrul relented and they came to a stop. Jaas gasped for air, leaning down on her knees. With a mixture of gratitude and hatred she accepted the water skin he offered, and gulped down as much as she could handle. She still felt like she was about to throw up.

“Sorry I wasn’t here yesterday,” Arico murmured at her, after taking a swig himself. “I had some business in another patch.”

She only nodded at him, unwilling to trust her voice just now. Suddenly she realized she must look a complete mess, but didn’t have the time to feel embarrassed. At least it was too dark for Arico to see her clearly. And their dwarven slave-master was already pushing them to start running again. Jaas had been raised the daughter of a clerk and a teacher. She’d been able to read almost before she could walk. By the time she was five, she was already helping her mother with historical research. She wasn’t built for this kind of exertion!

Otrul seemed determined to push her to the breaking point and keep her there. After the run would be other tests of endurance and strength. Lifting weights, pushing and pulling them. Taking a punch, which he thankfully delivered at only a fraction of his strength. Throwing punches too, not that she’d been any good at it. He’d even mentioned weapon training eventually. It was all the basic combat training that young dwarves received here, or so she’d been told.

Today was a little different, though. Arico insisted on handling the unarmed combat himself, and silenced Otrul when he objected. That was interesting. She’d known Arico had a position of some authority here in the Enclave, but dwarves rarely took orders from anyone not of their own kin. She’d had a chance to look over some of the written history recorded here in the Enclave. It was just one side’s perspective of course, but it gave her a lot of insight into just how much hatred existed between dwarves and humans here in Patchwork. That made Arico’s position here even more unique.

He was just as hard on her as the dwarf, knocking her down on the dirt again and again. At least he was encouraging though. When she felt like she couldn’t get up again, he didn’t shout at her. All he did was kneel down next to her and calmly talk to her until she tried again.

Intellectually, she knew they were toughening her up. It made sense, given her history. The worst challenges she’d faced so far had been linguistic, historical, and magical. They were making sure she could handle the physical as well. It didn’t stop her from hating them, though. Both of them.

She was grateful that Arico was there with her. Contradictory feelings again. He was trying to let her know that she didn’t have to go through this alone. Some hours later, Otrul finally said she could go, and she wearily made her way up the long stairs to one of the other underground dwellings they’d made available for her. Limping through the door, she started stripping off sweat-stained clothing as she headed to the shower outside the back door.

Though her body was in a sorry state, her mind was still active. For some reason the dwarves had water for a shower. Given that the river was in Sustained territory, it had to be from a well dug nearby. She hadn’t seen one yesterday after speaking with the Hauld, but she had seen a bricked-off area right on the edge of the patch where the threads came together, with a single closed door. Jaas would have bet anything that the river, or at least its edge, could be found on the other side of that wall. Part of her was tempted to go back and see if she could get a peek through that door to be sure, but she had to admit she’d rather fall through all nine hells than go without a shower right now.

There were two half-full barrels of water outside, each suspended over a perforated bucket. Crude, but better than nothing. At the Academy, she had used a spell to create water in an even pattern over herself while showering. This was a barely acceptable substitute.

She pulled one of the ropes attached to a barrel, and winced as cold water cascaded over her, washing away the grime and sweat. The shock of it wore off quickly though. As she washed, she mentally recited what she was going to put down in her notes. It always helped her keep them short and concise, but detailed at the same time. It took her a minute to realize that the other barrel and bucket were now in use as well. By Arico.

She shrieked and backed away, trying to cover herself. “What are you doing? Turn around!”

Arico jumped in surprise and hastily complied, looking around. “What? What’s going on?”

The fog had mostly lifted by now, and there was torchlight from just around the corner. He’d no doubt gotten a very good look. Hurriedly grabbing a towel and wrapping herself up, she scurried inside the dwelling. He was still outside, looking around as if for danger.

“What were you thinking?” She demanded from inside.

“I… was thinking I wanted a shower!” He sounded bewildered. “Jaas, what’s the matter?”

She took a deep breath, trying to stay calm. It must be a cultural trait, she told herself. That must be it. “Do you often shower with… other women?” She asked tentatively through the door.

“Sometimes,” he responded slowly. “The stra’tchi work together, eat together, shower together. In winter we often sleep together for warmth. So do the dwarves, sometimes. What’s wrong?” Of course. It was a survival thing. Jaas tried to slow her breathing and calm herself.

It made sense that in extreme circumstances, modesty would be the first thing to go. No doubt they’d had to shed a lot of cultural civilities over the centuries. She exhaled, at least a little relieved. “Nothing’s wrong,” she assured him. “I was just a little surprised, that’s all. And I don’t want to shower with anyone else, is that clear?”

“I understand.” He sounded as if he didn’t. “Wait, I think Durhu taught me about this; about how the Sustained House ladies behave. I didn’t think you’d be like them, though.” She could hear a note of scorn in his voice.

“Like them, how?” She asked suspiciously.

There was a moment of hesitation. “You know, trading gossip with each other. Pandering and simpering for the men around them. Obsessed with appearance, and mostly unable to do things for themselves?”

Jaas felt a flash of indignation, “I’m not like that!”

“Are you ashamed of your body, then? You shouldn’t be. You’re well formed.”

“Don’t say that!” She felt as if she could die from humiliation. “Just don’t talk about how I look, all right?”

“Very well,” he said quietly. “I didn’t mean any offense. I’ll leave you alone now.” He grabbed a pile of clean clothing from the bench and took off back up the tunnel, dressing as he went.

Jaas leaned against the wall, fighting the urge to laugh at how ridiculous all of this had been. Of all the things that had happened to her in the past few days, it was just too strange!

He wasn't too badly formed himself.


For some reason, Otrul had only a few hours of combat training for her in the afternoon, giving her some free time to herself. Perhaps the slave-master was developing a conscience, but Jaas seriously doubted it. Another dwarf had showed up just as she was freed, though. One who looked a little familiar.

“Lady Senneco?” The dwarf asked tentatively, extending a hand in greeting. Strangely, his Vasrah was not accented at all.

“Please, just call me Jaas,” she responded, shaking it.

He smiled. “I’m Chanul, the Hauld-Issuant. Please, come with me.” He gestured towards the long staircase leading up to the surface, and then led the way himself. He grabbed one of the lit torches from the track first, though.

Jaas examined this newcomer with interest. Now she knew why he looked familiar. She’d seen him the other day in the Hauld’s audience chamber. And his title, that meant- “You’re Recco’s oldest son?”

“His only son, actually,” Chanul said easily, and chuckled slightly. “I don’t often hear people call him by his first name, though. Especially humans. It’s good to hear.”

“Forgive my saying this,” Jaas began slowly, “but you don’t exactly sound like the rest of your people.”

“You mean my accent, of course,” he confirmed casually. “You’re right, I don’t, but I think you’ll find that’s more of an age thing. Older dwarves like my father and Otrul have their own way of speaking, but I was raised around both dwarves and humans. I can speak my ancestral tongue,” he said, abruptly shifting to dwarven for a moment, “but Vasrah is more comfortable to me.”

Jaas smiled in response. He certainly did seem more like the ‘personable youth’ type not usually associated with dwarves. But other humans? Aside from Alzhi and Arico, she hadn’t seen anyone here who wasn’t a dwarf. Of course, it had been quite late when she was brought down here to the underground… cottage of sorts. There was a lot of this place she hadn’t seen.

Chanul seemed to sense her question, so he continued his explanation. “Last night you stayed in an empty dwelling down here because your new quarters weren’t quite available yet. Your things have already been moved up to the new place. All that’s left is to introduce you to your neighbors. Arico ran off on business—again-” he added in a sarcastic tone, “leaving me to handle it.”

Jaas suddenly realized they were still climbing the long staircase, instead of taking one of the tunnels off to the side. “We aren’t going to a different patch, then?”

Chanul shook his head in the torchlight. “Not this time. This patch was pretty much completely set aside for our human friends. What few of them there are,” he added in a dark tone.

“So I don’t get to see what animal you become when you enter the threads?” Jaas asked, trying to lighten the mood a little.

Apparently it worked. Chanul gave her a sidelong glance as they climbed, with a hint of a smile. “Animals are a human thing. Dwarves are all clan first and self second,” he responded. “All dwarven navigators are represented by our clan symbol—the same one you saw on my father’s breastplate the other day.”

The stairwell ended abruptly, but not at the surface like Jaas expected. Instead she could see sunlight streaming in off to the right, from what looked like another underground structure. “Welcome to the Fishbowl,” Chanul said softly.

It did indeed look like a fishbowl, at least in its general shape. The opening above them was circular, and smaller than the base of this open-air structure. However, tunnels branched off in multiple directions, not just from the base but from higher levels as well. Earthen stairs connected the various levels, and Jaas could see another underground track beneath them. Above were more underground structures on each level. And people.

There were about a dozen of them there already, all humans, gathering at the base of the Bowl and looking at her with smiles on their faces. More were approaching from the nearby tunnels. Jaas looked at Chanul, who nodded encouragingly. “Go introduce yourself. They won’t mind.”

A tall man stepped out to meet her as she approached. He was wearing simple work clothes, and his hands had been stained with some kind of blue-green dye. “Lady Senneco.” He gave an abbreviated bow, much to Jaas’ discomfort, and the others around him did the same. “I’m Nemith Taylor. Welcome to the Fishbowl, my lady.”

“Please, just call me Jaas,” she said almost by habit by now, and extended a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

There was some hesitancy at first, but they seemed to overcome it quickly as they shook her hand one by one, and she was soon surrounded by friendly faces. Jaas dimly noticed Chanul disappearing back down the tunnel. She hoped he was merely busy, and not uncomfortable around these people.

Taylor introduced his young son Tarith, and his wife Ansanah. Other names came at her too fast to keep track of, and Jaas yet again wished for her recording sphere. At least that way she could take down their names later on. The introductions cut off briefly, however, as a shorter man with dark skin and calloused hands approached carrying an engraved metal box.

“Codi Farrier,” he introduced himself in a deep voice. “This, I suppose, is now yours.” He handed it to her. It was a cube in shape, barely longer on a side than one of her hands. It looked like it was made entirely of metal, but was surprisingly light. Carved into multiple squares on each side was a different symbol. Jaas lifted it to take a look at the other sides and found a similar pattern on each one.

“Thank you,” she said hesitantly. “What is it?”

There was a rustle of amusement from the group. “It’s a puzzle box,” Codi explained with a smile. “You will see you can shift the squares around on each side. If you find the right combination, the box opens and you can claim what’s inside. If not,” he shrugged, “then the next person tries, I guess.”

Nemith demonstrated for her by rotating one side of the box so that the shape remained a cube, but with different symbols on four of the sides. “This gift is traditionally given to the newest member of our community. It’s theirs until someone else shows up, at which point you’ll be expected to pass it along. Codi has been here for several months now. There was a wager going as to when he’d have to give it up.” He looked around at the others. “I was way off. Did anyone guess the right day?”

“I was the closest one,” Ansanah spoke up modestly. “But I was still four days off.”

The group of them laughed about that, and soon broke up into smaller conversations under the sunlight coming into the Fishbowl. Jaas had accepted the box with as much grace as she could muster, but her mind was still spinning. She lived here now? These people seemed friendly enough, but Jaas hadn’t expected to suddenly have them as neighbors. She hoped that the Hauld and Arico knew what they were doing. For now though, it seemed all she could do was play along.

Codi and a few others stayed near her, explaining more about this community of theirs. Apparently people had been coming to the Fishbowl steadily for years now, while a few of them had left. Jaas didn’t ask how they did so without getting in trouble, but she did remind herself to ask Arico for more details later on. If he was still willing to speak to her, that was. Jaas found herself wondering if the earlier incident was why she was here in the Fishbowl, and why Chanul had been the one to bring her here.

“My niece Alya wanted to be here,” Codi said apologetically, “but she’s handling one of the forges on the other side of the Enclave right now. I think you’ll like her when you get the chance to meet her. She also has a passion for traveling and seeing new things. Sometimes it’s all I can do to keep up with her.”

“I’m sure I’ll enjoy her company,” Jaas said diplomatically.

Apparently, his niece lived with him here in the Fishbowl, but he'd arrived two days after she did, meaning he’d ended up with the puzzle box. He went on talking about her for some time, before little Tarith eventually volunteered to show Jaas to her new dwelling. He was very enthusiastic, as Jaas had come to expect from children his age. She allowed herself to be led around by the hand, to see the various tunnels, each leading to dwellings on the various levels of the Fishbowl. His mother went along with them; Jaas suspected as a means of keeping Tarith in check.

Come to think of it, none of them had asked her anything about the outside world. Clearly, they had no idea she wasn’t from around here. It seemed Arico had arranged for her to live here, and Chanul had overheard her discussion with his father, so he knew. Why were neither of them sharing that information? Was it dangerous? Jaas tried to put that out of her mind as the tour continued. She would consider it later.

The ‘house’ was much like the other dwarven dwellings she’d seen—carved out of earth and stone. As such it was small but cozy. The fireplace was near the door, with a special vent that apparently led out to the Fishbowl itself, so as not to smoke up the place. After giving her a brief tour, Ansanah and Tarith bid her farewell and headed back up the tunnel to the others. Nemith had probably given instructions for them not to overwhelm her. He seemed like the man in charge, at least down here. Jaas briefly wondered what it had taken for him to be put in charge. Did the Hauld have final say on the humans living here?

Jaas turned the puzzle box over and over in her hands, and then noticed her things sitting in a corner. At least they’d brought her parchment here with the rest of her belongings. Her neighbors seemed the considerate sort. Smiling slightly, Jaas spread out one of the parchments and reached for her quill and inkwell. It seemed this was her home now. She’d have to get used to it.
« Last Edit: April 08, 2022, 03:43:18 AM by Daen »