The Beginning After the End (Vol. 8.5): Amongst the Fallen
Indentured in Darv (Part 1)
Indentured in Darv (Part 1)
Dec 16, 2021
The metallic ringing of my door's bolt being thrown shocked me out of my morning doze. I'd woke up so many times throughout the night that it was hard to tell whether I was asleep or awake, but the moment Oleander Brone pushed my door open on its squawking hinges, I was as wide awake as if someone had thrown a bucket of electrified ice water on me.
A shiver ran through my body when I rolled over to find the Alacryan Instiller, Oleander Brone, staring down at me. Instinctively, my hands grabbed at the top of the thin blanket—my only source of warmth in the cool tunnels of Vildorial—and pulled it up to my chin. This caused it to uncover my bare feet, exposing them to the chill air, and was almost entirely pointless anyway since I was still wearing my clothes from the day before.
Brone sneered. His thin, pointed face made him look like a rat wearing a black toupee. My cheek twitched as I suppressed a smile at the image, causing Brone's eyes to narrow.
One of his thin, clawlike hands reached out and tore the blanket away. He threw it on the ground and turned back to the door. "Get up, girl. It's time to see to the day's work. If you seek escape, or work against our efforts in any way, you will be—"
Tried for high crimes and executed, I echoed in my head.
In a higher, thinner voice, almost a whisper, he said to himself, "Why that madman Gideon continues to insist upon this child's usefulness, I will never understand. By the Vritra…"
Groaning, I rolled out of my bed and set my bare feet on the cold stone floor. My head ached from the lack of sleep and my body creaked like I was a hundred years old, likely from weeks of sleeping on the crummy little bed they'd given me.
Brone waited impatiently outside my room while I slipped into my thin turnshoes. They hadn't given me socks, and there was a two-inch gap between the top of the shoes and where my rough cloth pants ended, allowing the cold air to bite at my ankles.
I don't think I'll ever be warm again, I grumbled internally as I made unnecessary motions around my tiny room, pretending to be looking for something. Really, I was just delaying the inevitable start of another day spent studying fire salts with Gideon while Brone followed us around, sneering and talking to himself.
Eventually, though, the impatient Instiller huffed and I was forced to follow him out of my room and down the carved halls of the Earthborn Institute toward Gideon's lab. My stomach growled on the way, but I knew we wouldn't get anything to eat for a few hours.
Gas-burning torches lined the halls, so I walked close enough to the wall to enjoy the intermittent bursts of warmth they provided, but it was only a short walk to the laboratory. Still, I found my eyelids growing heavy before we got there, despite the cold and hunger.
I rubbed my knuckles into my bleary eyes as Brone jerked open the lab door to the sound of an explosion that caused him to jump back and me to accidentally punch myself in the eye. A cloud of black, acrid smoke puffed out of the doorway, obscuring the Instiller and causing my eyes to burn even more.
"In the name of the High Sovereign…what is that foul stench?" Brone snarled, wheezing for breath.
"Oleander, is that you?" Gideon shouted excitedly from somewhere inside. "Come in then. I hope you've brought my assistant with you."
Pressing one hand to the side of my face, which was throbbing painfully, I held my breath and ducked past Brone into the lab, squinting against the burning haze and the tears streaming down my cheeks. A moment later, the smoke rushed past me as a gust of wind pushed it out of the door and into the hallway, and Brone, now caught again in the middle of the cloud, stumbled into the lab and slammed the door behind him.
Brone tried to choke out a few threats, but couldn't manage it through a fit of coughing.
Gideon's wrinkled face was smudged with soot, and his frizzy hair had been darkened around the tips. The heavy bags under his eyes had only grown more prominent during our time as indentured servants to the Alacryans, though his eyebrows hadn't managed to grow back. This morning he was wide-eyed and awake, and was grinning madly, staring at the choking Brone.
"I don't think it'll be much good against the asuras, but these fire salts make a heck of a smoke bomb, eh?" Gideon winked at me.
"More like a stink bomb," I groaned.
A disorganized mess of tools had been scattered around on the workbench to either side of a salt-tray—just a thick slab of metal, really, that was bent up around the edges. A single glowing ember of fire salt rested in the middle of the tray. Occasionally, a little spark would jump off the ember.
Movement from the corner of the room drew my eye to a scowling Alacryan mage. The man's bright blond hair was stained dark from the toxic cloud that had just been sent out to choke the dwarven halls. I didn't recognize this one, but there was always a mage with a fire- or wind-attribute mark or crest to help us with our experimentation.
Gideon's gaze followed mine, and he shook his head. "Useless! I swear, these Alacryans are just torturing me. I don't think they even care about the fire salts. Otherwise, why would they send me their worst? It's a wonder, really, they ever managed to recreate my Dicatheous."
The mage glowered at Gideon, but the old inventor was unfazed, as always.
The war between Dicathen and Alacrya is over and Arthur Leywin has vanished. In the uncertain aftermath of this decisive loss, a few familiar faces navigate peril both political and moral as they are now forced to make a difficult choice: accept life under Vritra rule or keep fighting despite impossible odds? As Dicathen falls, Mica Earthborn, Lilia Helstea, Emily Watsken, and Jasmine Flamesworth must each answer this question for themselves.
NOTE ABOUT READING ORDER: to get the best reading experience, Amongst the Fallen should be read after volume 8 of The Beginning After the End (make sure you've read up to episode 868).