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SotA Community First Series entry: Hans goes beneath Neath
SotA Community First Series entry: Hans goes beneath Neath
Hans often stopped and knelt at the Pool of Reflection as he went about his duties in the town of Neath. It wasn’t tiredness from shlepping the bundle of torches and relighting those that had burned out. He was not weary from the bending and lifting to remove the debris and rocks that had tumbled onto the pathways. He just liked to look at himself in the mirror of the pool. Sometimes his features were highlighted by the glow of the phosphorescent moss around the rim. Sometimes there was a pearly flash off the scales of one of the cavern’s blind carp. When the alignment was just right, daylight or a strong moon’s glow bounced off the cave’s crystals and reached the pool’s surface. If he leaned forward his reflection would be silhouetted by a crown of brilliant shafts of vari-coloured light.
Hans hoped that the folks who were coming to live in Neath would arrive soon. It would be exciting to show them all the fantastic nooks and crannies of the caverns. They would marvel at the odd and interesting creatures and plants he had discovered. He was quite content to be Neath’s caretaker. He felt thankful that Sir had found him and his mother and allowed them to live here. Still, it was a bit quiet down here. Each time his rounds took him up to the cave entrance at the surface of Novia, he scanned the horizon to see if anything was traveling in this direction. Well, he did at nightime anyway. He flinched a bit during the full day. The fierce light of the sun above brought back frightening memories of fire and flashes in the sky and rippling waves of pain. His mother, Bertha, didn’t like bright light either. She always said, “Candlelight is all a woman needs.” Thinking of how much she had to say on any subject, Hans admitted to himself that it wasn’t actually so quiet down here.
One morning when his round was done, he knelt and mused about the dragon bone monument that straddled the pool. Had it been set there by some dwellers in the far past? Or was it the dragon itself who had chosen this spot to remain for eternity?
The leviathan’s long neck and head thrust upwards as if gazing forevermore through the opening to the skies above. Its tail was oddly straight, pointing the way to the darkest part of the cavern. Hans shouldered his heap of fresh torches and patted his tunic pocket to be sure that the small box of fire beetles was there. They were tiny but voracious. Placing one on a torch meant snatching his hand away fast as they spit sparks into the pitch – making it flowing and edible for them as it burned.
Walking around the pool and hearing his mother’s mutters from up the road in their hut, Hans did not climb the pathway towards home. He headed along the bones of the dragon’s tail where the floor of the cavern declined ever more steeply. He felt a faint, warm breeze coming towards him. It had the sour smell of some chemical. No insects or plants were to be seen in this area. It was very dark. Usually he didn't need much to see his way. The glow from a mushroom, slime or moss. The reflection off the crystals. The sudden flash from a startled bug. To be sure of his footing, Hans lit a fresh torch.
Sir had asked him to search for possible crevices, not only to place warning signs, but because they might lead to a way down to the lava flows in the depths of Novia. These could be tapped to provide warmth for Neath and energy for the kilns, ovens and forges. As he reached the tip of the beast’s tail such a crevice became visible in the torch’s light. It was just possible to enter the split between the huge stones. Should he descend and investigate? He remembered his father, Bart, telling him witty stories of adventure and how he’d been taken along on the travels of many intrepid explorers. Yes, he would go down.
A wisp of a tale from olden days made him think he had better leave some marker for himself to find the way back. He grabbed his packet of bark bread and chewed a bit. Would a trail of crumbs do? Well, bark bread was dark and hard to see in the torchlight. Suddenly he remembered the salve the Doctor had given him for his bruises, made partly from the luminescent caterpillars in the cave. He pulled the phial out of his pocket and smeared a bit of the salve on the rock at head height. When he looked back he could see it glimmering, so he kept doing that at each turn as he carefully picked his way down. Narrow paths branched off but the main channel headed deeper below the town. The sound of water burbled here and the air grew warmer and more humid. He continued on so far beneath Neath, that he could no longer hear his mother’s incessant chatter.
He smelled something acrid rising with the draft from below. Sulfurous ash, he decided. After a sharp turn, surprise brought him to a halt. One wall fell away and he stood on a shelf of rock, staring into the dark, empty space in front of him. Hans lit a fresh torch and held both torches in extended arms as he carefully shuffled to the edge and peered over it. What did he see gleaming down there? It was not the glow from fluid lava. The torches showed rainbow-like sparkles from gems or crystals and flashes of reflected flame off strange, metallic shapes. Was it the dragon’s horde, or the remainders of an even deeper settlement than Neath, one long forgotten?