As a general rule, those who wander into the slums of Westgate do not carry personal items, even if they're worthless. Everyone has hopes of displaying the most junk. Although, some are fortunate enough to find artifacts. If they're plastic, they're worth more. I had found such an item, clawing at the ground around a stuck entrance to an underground cave.
The slums become dangerous to my kind. Flatlander. Pasted on my forehead like a curse. I had no shame though. I couldn't afford it. We are known the forsaken world over, as root farmers. Rumors that we wail at the sky for the rains to come, flood people's minds like the yearly deluge. I walked past the vendors as they scoffed at my appearance. Looking at my state, they surmised that I had nothing of even little value.
I just laughed and continued to look for my item of choice. Finally, I arrived at one vendor in particular that was displaying the very item.
He was tall, and big, having been well fed. His eyes were sharp, suggesting intelligence. A scar lay across his forehead.
"What do you want, flatlander?", He said, acknowledging my eager look. "I want the shovel.", I said, knowing I struck curiosity in the fat creature.
"Well, you're gunna have to come up with some hefty items and a better attitude, this item's hard to come by these days, particularly for the building projects due to population growth." I laughed, while other vendors began to notice. "What growth? You inbred mountain hogs couldn't grow if it brought tons of meat to your coffers." The vendor raised a well worn pipe from behind his counter. "Did you want to trade, or be put in a coffin?" Realizing I struck a discovered nerve, I proceeded with the trade. "I have two pounds of desert berries and an artifact.", I whispered, minding the area. "Artifact? Well, young fella, now we're gettin' somewhere. What area is it from?"
Angry, I glared at him, holding back the desire to cause permanent brain damage. "I'm no child to be played with. You know just as well as I that as soon as that information left my mouth, you would send a team to split the rest of it with you." The vendor chuckled. "What do we have here? An intelligent flatlander? Where is a scribe to document this encounter? Fine. What type, era, and material?"
Cautiously, I whispered,"Eating Utensil, Golden Era, Plastic." An odd look fell over the vendor's face. Another man came up next to us.
He looked suspicious. The astonishment on his face suggested that he heard of the trade, and disapproved of it. I waited impatiently.
The vendor scratched his chin, "Deal. But I don't ever want to see you at my booth again, you understand?" Smiling, I said, "Gladly." I handed him the items and left.
The man walked up to the booth. "Phion, that was a terrible trade! I will not live on the streets again, you hear?"
"On the contrary, Duron, I have made the deal of the cycle. Follow him. If he finds more, kill him."
The man left with a terrible smile on his face.
The land. A nightmare composed by the Devil himself, without water or sorrow from the sky. That was the general definition given to anyone who hasn't lived the past 60 years on this forsaken earth.
And for once in my miserable existence something under the dust finds it's way into my hands. I shouted at the desert, not for rain, but to be a wealthy man. I longed for the inner-city life. Rumors of working electronics still whirring in the distance. How calculating they were. How much effort had gone into the very technologies that caused our hell?
Even if the slums were a festering wound, the inner-city still had some dignity. Dignity a flatlander could never have without a price.
As I pondered my life, walking, I saw a flicker among the sands. Like a beacon, it pulsated in the desert. It's light clawed at my eyes at each pass.
Then, a voice. "You won't find it there, young man!" It was shrill, but somehow carried in the distance. Again the voice echoed, "You hold moisture well. All good for lack of water."
Angered, I screamed back, "I have no need for reminders in what I lack! Must you mock me!" I could now see a figure in the distance. An old man, sitting on a rock with a piece of metal. "You would do well to leave an old hermit to his humor, it is all I have. Why travel this direction?" Something was odd about this hermit. Why was he here? "You must be from a nearby town, old man. I am looking for a cave for shelter. It's entrance is made of ground stone and sand, and it's door is of a fragile, brown vegetation."
"I know this cave. And I warn you never to return there. There are some things that should never be unearthed. Besides, there is nothing down there of value." I was now standing in front of the hermit. He had worn shirt and pants, with a long white beard. His skin baked in the sun. He had a knife and it was well used. "Out hunting?" The man, with a grin, said, "Not for animals, but for the true beasts. What are you searching for, young man?" I then said, "Dignity."
With a smile, he said, "You will certainly find it there. The cave is eight rocks behind me. May the machine perish."
And that was all he said. He turned away and started sharpening his blade.
A long walk later, I reached the eighth rock. I had finally found the entrance, just where the hermit said it was, but this time, the door wasn't stuck. I walked in, looking everywhere for more artifacts.
The cave kept going down. Man-made steps of metal continued to wind me down, lower and lower, in the lit cave.There were no artifacts, but the cave intrigued me. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.Finally I stumbled upon another entrance. This time, the door was metal. I heard shouting from a woman, and metal clanging.
Suddenly the door swung open and light poured out. There was a figure standing in the doorway. I heard a soft thud and started fading in and out of consciousness. I heard whispers. "...guarding the entrance?" "...too old to use a kn..." "He's dead, broken ne..." "...others are coming."