Exile: Escape from the Pit
Before entering the Portal, a thousand thoughts run through your mind. What will Exile be like? Will I ever see the sun again? How could this happen to me? How? Why? What? The thoughts aren't so different for anyone.
But eventually, the brief eternity before the Portal ends, and you are thrown through into the painful vortex of crimson storm, shot through with gold bolts of lightning. A terrible scream ran your ears. Then, suddenly, the painful journey was over, and you lurched forward into the cavern that would be your home.
It's terribly dark, but surprisingly, not cold, but rather hot and humid. As your eyes adjust to the dim light, you realize you are in a roughly-hewn fort, hacked out of stone. It's crude, but a lot better than you were expecting. The portal roars behind you, then retreats into the stone. As you take stock of your surroundings, you notice the prevalence of mushrooms on the earth, every spare patch within the fort seems to be coated in mushrooms. It doesn't take you long to decide not to wonder how they managed to grow this many mushrooms. The ceiling is covered in some kind of glowing fungi, emitting enough light to create a twilight under the Earth.
Questions run through your mind. What do they eat down here? What do they drink? How have they lived this long?
The answers will have to wait until later. A man yells from a few meters away, "Four more from the surface...right."
The man approaches. He's ghostly pale and quite thin, almost emaciated. He does his best to put on a reassuring smile, but it's rather obvious that it is insincere.
"Welcome, newcomers, to Exile."
He seemed to trail off for a moment, unsure what to say. Then he slaps his forehead and pulls out a thin iron key and steps forward, unlocking their manacles one by one.
"For the foreseeable future, and probably for the rest of all our lives, this will be your home. The rest of the caves aren't very welcoming, so we can at least give you a proper welcome here. I'm sure you have a lot of questions. Fortunately, the Empire, typically courteous, threw you down just in time for dinner."
He pointed towards a small, rectangular structure. "That's the mess hall. I've got to go tell the cook to get extra mushrooms for the meal."
Before anyone could say anything, the man had walked off. Very quickly.
"How ironic, I speak out against Exiling, and I get Exiled myself." Finduilos said, looking at her surroundings. "The forseeable future? I've never heard of anyone coming back. The Empire threw me down here to keep me from gathering followers, but I doubt they acted soon enough."
" Nicely done A, simply fantastically done. When the empire finaly manage to exile a guilty person, you manage to get picked, fantastic." Akkarin looked around to see where he was expecting to stay till his body became wormfood. "Well, might as well make the best of the situation, though I'm begining to think commiting suicide when they caught me would have been the best way to do that."
Kadis took a long look. He was somewhat surprised. There was nearly no knowledge of Exile on the surface, other than that it was many miles underneath the surface. But he had been expecting an empty, dead land, with a handful of feral humans eking out existences on what food they could find.
For a moment, Kadis was pleasantly surprised. Then he realized how very small the world seemed to be. An intense claustrophobia clawed at him. Subtle noises, amplified by the general quiet around him, prickled at him from all sides.
My god, what have I done? I sent people down here...
Exile had been touted as the Great Answer, the solution to the problem of 'Soft' crime. Crimes that were considered grave, like theft, murder, conspiracy, generally were quick and merciless, a quick trip up the gallows. Exile was used for grave crimes that did not warrant death by the 'kind hearts' in the Imperial Aristocracy. In the underworld, they would die far out of sight of their tender sensibilities.
The fear and the guilt slowly began to die down to a quiet voice in the back of his mind. Standing here and moping here about the horror of his fate wouldn't help him at all. He became aware of a painful hunger in his gut, one that had probably been present for hours, but shifted aside from his fear and anger. Not particularly surprising, the Empire had kept him on starvation rations for the duration of the journey to the Capital and his trial. He headed toward the building the pale man had mentioned. Any food would be better than starving. Right?
"Food sounds good after what we've been through." Finduilos commented. "Look at it this way: at least they're friendly down here." She added, trying to cheer up her fellow Exilees.
"Friendly? For all we know we may end up being used as slave labour. I'm not going to judge ayone untill I see how things work down here. As for feeding us, even the empire did that."
The mess hall was pleasant enough, for a place that had been built in the underworld. A wood table of an odd, mustard-yellow collor was the center of the room, with chairs of the same wood lining it. About fifty chairs total, and given that this was the only apparent mess hall, it must be a rather undermanned fort.
A man was already seated at the front of the table. He nodded at them as they entered the room. He was rather short and sturdy, with short-trimmed hair and a thin beard, and his skin was incredibly pale, like he had never seen the sun in his life. Maybe he hasn't.
"I'm Captain Darien, commander of Fort Exile. Welcome."
He doesn't seem all that pleased to meet you, although the reasons are difficult to tell.
"The food and the first watch should be here soon. Have a seat, and don't expect much. Can't grow a lot down here in Exile, and the meat isn't good stock, or so I'm told."
Kadis took a seat alongside the Captain, as the Captain had indicated. A few minutes later, thirty troopers, just off watch, entered, and the food was brought out. Rather meager portions of mushrooms were on one side, with an unidentifiable kind of bread and a small chunk of green-tinged meat. Kadis tucked in, trying to ignore the taste as much as possible.
Kadis swallowed his bite of the odd meat. "What?"
"Lizard meat. That's where we get it. The only portion of that meal that nobody had to magically alter to make it edible. There are huge numbers of giant lizards all over exile, about the size of horses. We've trained some of them. No horses down here, you see. We eat the rest."
If Kadis hadn't been so hungry, he would have pushed the food away at this point. Instead, he gave the Captain a thin-lipped smile and gnawed on the peculiar bread, hoping Darien wouldn't tell him what in the hell it was made out of.
"Not to pry or anything, but why all the soldiers? As far as I know the empire dosen't have a quarrel with you, is there something nasty down here, or is it merely a "just in case" army?" Trying to be polite to a man who fed him lizzie meat was hard.
The room suddenly went silent, and the Captain leaned back, looking very uncomfortable.
"The answer is yes. A lot of very nasty things. We usually wait to tell the newcomers these things, but there's no point in lying now."
Darien sighed. "There are two other intelligent races in Exile, as far as we know. You may have heard of the Nephilim."
Kadis had. They were an intelligent race of felines. The Empire had subjugated them and started enslaving them or sending them to Exile. They tended to be tough opponents, but poorly-organized.
"There's a large clan of them to the north. They're not technically in an open state of war with the Kingdom, but Nephilim raiders have hit the city of Formello and Silvar almost since their founding. But they aren't Exile's biggest problem."
He pushed his plate back and swigged his water.
"Along the river that bisects our section of Exile and far to the north, there's a race of intelligent lizard-people. Big critters, about eight feet tall on average and tending to be as strong as they are tall. They're called the Slithzerakai. Don't ask what it means, it's their name. They were friendly to us until about twenty years ago, when a new leader came into power, by the name of Siss-Thiss."
At his name, everyone in the mess hall tapped the table three times.
"About a year ago, he launched an all-out assault on Exile, burning Fort Saffron to the ground and laying siege to Formello. Most of the troops manning Fort Exile were sent north, to Fort Duvno to amass for a counter-attack."
Kadis interrupted. "Fort Duvno? Formello? You got a map or something?"
"Yes, actually." The Captain nodded at one of the troops, who ran out the door. He came back a moment later with a parchment map. The Captain laid it out on the table so that they could see it.
"Anyway, that's when things started going really badly. We've either got someone with a lot of information feeding information to the lizards, or Siss-Thiss is a strategic genius. Any attempt at breaking the siege on Formello has been defeated, and any strikes into Slithzerakai territory to draw his forces off have been halted before we even get close. Right now, we're trying to enlist the aid of the Nephilim, but most of them don't want to talk and the ones who do are afraid of bringing down the wrath of the Slithzerakai."
The captain started to continue with his litany of bad to worse, when the door slammed open, a heavily-breathing man standing in the doorway.
The Captain jumped out of his chair. "Formello?"
"No, sir. Duvno's been hit, the lizards overran them. They're on their way here now."
If it were possible, the Captain got even paler. "Sound the alarm. Get every man on the walls and prepare for battle. You, newcomers."
Kadis stood. "I can fight."
Darien shook his head. "No. Somebody needs to make their way to Silvar and get reinforcements, or Siss-Thiss is going to be in control of the Portal." Darien tossed Kadis the map. "We're not going to win this fight without reinforcements! Go! The gate guard will open it up to let you out, but you have to be quick before we get encircled!"
Kadis nodded. "Come on, you three, before we get our heads on pikes!"
"Your fantastic timing strikes again A, how you manage to get into situations to prove your "bravery" is simply astonishing,." "Oy there captain, since it seems that you and your mens lives depend on us getting some help, would you care to give us some weapons?" "I don't know about the rest, but I'm no butterknife specialist" Akkarin held up the barley sharp knife he had grabbed from the table for emphasis.
"Oh, and where should we get aid?, And are they so naive that they will send troops based on information they recieved from total strangers?" Too blunt Akkarin thought, but he didn't have time for niceties, he wanted steel in his hand and as many miles betwen him and the earlier mentioned pikes as possible.
Darien nodded. "You're right. There's an armory against the near wall. What's in there is yours to take. It's not much, but it's something. And..."
He pulled a ring off his finger. The ring had a sun symbol on it, with a red door in the center.
"That should get the governor of Silvar's attention, just show it to him, he'll know it's from me."
Kadis grabbed the ring and slipped it onto his finger. Darien looked uncomfortable with that, but didn't say anything, and left, headed for the far wall. The sound of preparations went up, and then the noise of drums in the distance.
"I think that's our cue to leave."
Finduilos took a moment to grab a claymore from the armory, getting a feeling she might need it later. She then followed Kadis out. "I'm Finduilos, by the way, but most people just call me Fin. I was one of the other people Exiled with you, remember?" She said to him.
"Kadis Voerman. I saw." He wasn't really in the mood to make friends right now, not with a horde of overgrown lizards waving pikes were breathing down their neck. "I'd love to get to know you better, but frankly, we've got no time."
The armory was poorly stocked, even for what was rather obviously an undermanned fort. A handful of swords, primarily made of crudely-wrought iron, some even made of stone. Kadis grabbed a short, broad-bladed sword and strapped it on, then grabbed a short, thick spear with a leaf-shaped blade. It was well made, the cavewood had a nice feel to it, but the spearhead was, although well-wrought, not a very high-quality iron.
The sounds of battle erupted towards the far wall with the sound of the Exiles loosing arrows at the advancing Slithzerakai army, replied with a hail of javelins, accompanied by the screams of the injured and slain, Human and Slithzerakai alike.
Kadis was getting jumpy just grabbing gear, as the two other men grabbed weapons. "Go! Run!"
The gate guard threw himself on the winch as they approached, pushing with all his strength to lift the portcullis off the ground. It was normally a job for two, as evidenced by the pair of grips, but the portcullis raised, marginally. Kadis ran under the gap, the other three behind him. The door dropped behind them.
Kadis looked at the map, trying to figure out in what direction they were looking. There had to be a way to find their way. Then, he spun around, staring at the river behind them. "There. Follow it, it'll lead us to Silvar, hopefully. The idiot cartographers didn't think to mark THIS fort. Still, I think we're here..." He pointed at a spot against the river, south of Duvno. "Hopefully."
"Maybe butterknives wouldn't have been such a bad idea after all" Akkarin thought. Not waiting for the others, he grabbed the slimmest and longest shortsword he had ever seen, along with every knife he could find before running out. Borrowing a sharpening stone from a soldier he passed.
"Now, I hope you guys know how to fight, 'cause all my experiece and skill is moot when even a spittball can break my bones."
"And while following the river is nice and all, I seem to remember the cap'n saying the lizzies enjoy swimming. Better to keep the river in sight while stayng far away from it"
"Actually, I was planning on surveying the local wildlife, maybe see if one of those lizards can get us a guided tour." As they passed the fort, Kadis turned his head, getting his first sight of a Slithzerakai.
A lot of Slithzerakai, hundreds, maybe thousands. They were everything the captain had described, and more. Huge, rippling with muscle, and standing well above even the tallest and broadest man, each one holding javelins or two-tined spears. They looked somewhat like huge salamanders that stood on their back legs, with skin that varied greatly, although all were some shade of green.
One caught his eye, with vibrant, blue-green scales and piercing yellow eyes, standing head and shoulders above even the largest of the rest of the army that stared at the Fort, holding a huge two-tined spear in his right hand. He could tell the huge Slithzerakai was saying something, but it was too distant for them to hear.
A group of six Slithzerakai had been moving around the fort, probing for weak points, when they spotted the four standing outside the fort's walls. They raised spears and charged.
"Oh, hell. Run."
Tig looked at the group of lizard-like men and bit back a laugh. They looked almost stupid too him, for some strange reason.
They also looked very dangerous as they started running straight toward him. "Er...." He looked at the others.
"Oh, hell. Run."
Don't have to tell me twice, he thought.
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