Flamer1 is the only being that Gil can call a friend in Silvera Mines...
|A sharp elbow jostled Gil in the ribs, shaking him from his stupor. “Hey 7406, snap out from your goddamn coma will you!!” yelled the voice of miner 5272 “we’re almost there!!!” Gil snorted; the only reason 5272 would alarm him was to save his own ass.|
“Yeah um… right,” he began. The miners frowned, especially 2968 and 3172. It deeply distressed Gil whenever they did that; really, they weren't such bad guys.
Gil raised his head up, “Um…sorry about what happened back there” he uttered.
The miners turned their heads and snorted. Nobody felt like arguing however at this point. The Lowsector platform was rapidly approaching, and the guards were quick to shoot at the first sign of disorder, real or imagined.
Instead, Gil shifted his gaze toward the brown, desolate walls enclosed the Lowsector mines. The impending clinks of pickaxes chipping away at rocks and the heavy grunts of laborious effort above the predictable drone of the clambering mine cart only worsened his already angry mood.
The approach to Lowsector never failed to win that hallowed reward of being the worst part of Giljaras’ day. He always felt, as if he were being helplessly sucked into an overly filthy vacuum cleaner, where he’d become just another hopeless molecule of grime, in which there was no escape. And inside a vacuum cleaner, nobody from outside could possibly hear your voice. One was only ‘miner’ note in the symphony of blood and sweat. Would they ever get a chance to get out? What had they done to deserve this, except being at the wrong place at the wrong time?
Gil's thoughts were interrupted by the screeching whines of the cart's automatic brakes. The cart clambered into the station and hissed to a stop. It had barely halted when the door swung downwards from its locked position and clanged onto the concrete. Two guards rushed to either side of the opening and began coercing Gil and the miners out.
“Move it wheepols!! Out!! Out!! Out!!” ordered the guard. Jolted to alertness, Gil squeezed his way out of the cart between the soot-covered bodies, scampering off the station platform. From there, the miners separated into their designated work stations that lined the perimeter of the otherwise endless black pit that abruptly started right where the check in booth ended.
Being the flamertongue, Gil mined in the enclave on the far side of the cavern, only reachable by the minerdrag. Gil never felt as lucky as he felt he should have been, having this distinguished post and the ability to speak with dragons.
“Number and your lasso enclave” grunted the warden from the check-in-booth. Gil bobbed his head in frustration. “You should know me by now, I’m 7406, you know…the Flamertongue?” Gil replied, gesturing to himself. The warden thumped his elbow on the counter and shook his head.
“Lasso enclave 7406?” he repeated, his features tensing. “You know where I work, the opposite side of the cavern that’s only reachable by Flamer1” retorted Gil.
“LASSO ENCLAVE!!” the warden repeated once more, eyes bulging.
Gil felt someone poke him in the spine. “Just get on with it 7406!!” hissed 3172. There was a slight pause.
“All right" Gil relented, "I am underground worker 7406, attached to Lowsector enclave 521-1006. Out of your good will, I kindly ask permission for you to open the hatch so the minerdrag can transport us to our work station.”
The warder flashed a nasty little smile, "Identified, so you be careful..." he said. Yes, be very careful... wheepol
He reached across the cabin with a wiry arm and pulling the switch. No matter how much Gil despised having to stoop down to submissiveness, he liked the idea of a bullet in his face less. Trying to repress such thoughts from his mind, he shifted his gaze toward the floor-bound metal doors. With a nasty screeching sound, the doors separated and an elevator lifted an old, emaciated looking creature.
At first glance, one would have thought Flamer1 some sort of rusty machine. The way his gray, wrinkled hide sagged gave him appearance not unlike that of a dilapidated biplane. A rounded, metallic noose was chained to his face, allowing him only enough jaw movement to either breathe or eat, while his back was burdened by a long, box-like transport carriage fastened with heavy chains and leather along Flamer1’s spine. It had been built to carry five miners and supplies for two daylong shifts.
Nevertheless, despite Flamer1's emaciated appearance, Gil couldn't help but crack out a smile to see his only true friend and guardian.
“Good morning 7406!!” Flamer1 greeted enthusiastically with his deep mental voice, putting on his best smile.
“Morning Flamer1!!” Gil called back. He walked over to Flamer1’s side and patted him on his flank. Growling contently, Flamer1 closed his eyes and smiled; he always liked it whenever somebody rubbed him there. Yet the old minerdrag only lets me do it, Gil thought with no modesty. The miners gave sympathetic looks; 7406 was only muttering stuff to the air again. Maybe they simply felt sorry for the poor kid; whose childhood had been shattered by war and the mines.
“Hey!! Aren’t you gonna tell that senile old animal to bend downwards so we can get to work!!” the voice of 2968 interrupted. They weren't necessarily unkind, but there was work to do and delays would have a corresponding negative effect on their life expectancy. Snorting, Flamer1 lowered to his stomach and let them on. Gil pushed himself to his customary spot in the front, where Flamer1’s wings and neck met.
Flamer1 arched his neck sideways to face Gil, “You know 7406, I’ve just realized I’ve been saying good morning to you for exactly five years now”. Gil smiled back and patted him affectionately, “And I couldn’t have made it five days without you old wyrm.”
Gil was almost beginning to lose himself in joy of Flamer1’s appreciative rumbles when he overheard the not-so-appreciative whines of the miners. “7406!! Tell that wretched lizard to take us up already? Or would you much rather hug with him now so that the guards can plug you with a forty-five caliber later?” blurted 3716.
Flamer1 turned his head and growled at the offender, “7406, tell that bigot that I’ll ‘accidentally’ smash him against the wall if he doesn’t show respect to dragon kind” Gil gladly did, and snickered when 3716’s thin face burned into a deep red. No matter how much the Mylandians might have degraded him, Flamer1 still had that draconic pride and arrogance.
“He’s just kidding 3716, he’d never harm a human unless he or she has done something really bad to him” he replied. Flamer1 humming in agreement, though keeping his large eye fastened to 3716 the entire time. 3716 lowered his head and and settled back into his seat.
“Hey 7406? You ready to take off?” called Flamer1, angling his neck so he faced Gil. Bubbling with anticipation, the smile that lined Gil’s face grew even wider.
“Hell yeah!!” he replied, pumping his fist. The miners flashed disintrested looks; they thought it ludicrous that a flamertongue, even one as young and naive as 7406, could sense thrill with such tedious transport. It was all just another drudgery they had to endure.
Gil glared at the miners. What did they know anyways? Nothing. Anticipation surged into his chest as old gray minerdrag squared his feet to launch.
Without another moment to spare, Flamer1 reared back and surged headlong into the cavernous air.
A wave of elation swept into Gil as Flamer1 extended his great wings. Feeling the wind sweep across his face, he closed his eyes, escaping the cold world of Silvera, and entering the beautiful realm of imagination. His blissful conscience lost awareness of the shrill warnings of the hominids, the clinking of picks, and the bickering miners who sat behind.
For that one glorious minute, it was just he and Flamer1, soaring hundreds of feet above the ground, shooting through endless blue sky. For that one, glorious minute, he had ceased to be merely 7406, but spread his wings to become who he really was, Giljaras Drejeanier of Rowheigh.
How splendid Giljaras felt; soaring above the hopelessness of Lowsector, riding the back of a great, magnificent beast. He felt like he could take on anything; escape from the mines, fly off to Geok Tepe, slay the evil Corporate Chairman Kauserman and save the human race. For that moment, all was good with the world…
“7406!! Tell that useless minerdrag to set us down!!” shrilled the voice of 2968. At the parched sound of his voice, Gil’s eyes opened, and the splendid little world shattered like glass. Gil whined with dismay as he found himself staring into an amorphous stretch of wall instead of soaring through the clear blue sky. Disappointed, he dipped his head and let out a weary breath. The sad reality of Silvera had returned, and Giljaras Drejeanier of Rowheigh once again reverted to 7406 the miner.
He grabbed his steel pick, jumped off Flamer1 and attached himself to a section of wall. The other miners got off in a similar manner and began chipping away to the side. Freed of his bickering passengers, Flamer1 strode to a section of wall adjacent to Gil and smashed his claws against the rock.
Gil winced and ducked as the impact sent debris flying everywhere; on the miner’s helmets, against the ceiling, and ricocheting into the abyss below.
“Watch it Flamer1!!” he cried in slight annoyance. The dragon turned and let out a snickering grunt.
“Sorry” he responded, only half-sincere. Gil glared back, incredulous. Flamer1 had his episodes of crankiness every now and again, and he had to admit that the old dragon had become semi-senile as of late. The thought stuck in his mind as he chipped away at the endless wall. He'd only found ten pieces of ore this morning, and was becoming increasingly frustrated about it.
“Why are we given the furthest, most isolated and the shittiest workstations in all of Lowsector!!” complained Gil out of the blue to Flamer1.
That seemed to amuse Flamer1, “Well, for one, our station is reserved for the most efficient miners due to the fact it contains the most valuable ores and minerals. I’d also think the reason we’d be positioned so far off, is because the Mylandians saw us as ‘most likely to cause disorder,’” explained Flamer1 with his typical draconic sagacity. "Funny, where do you think they get that idea?" said Gil smirked back as he chipped another piece of ore out. He rather liked the idea of Silvera in disorder.
He looked down on the other miners working together on the ledges below, “Yeah but why, after all this time, have we never worked with the other miners in the ledges below? I’m getting sick and tired of 2968 and 3172 and the same old bastards!! You’d think they’d get transferred once in five years!!” exclaimed Gil, disgruntled.
Flamer1 made a face before answering, “Think of whom we are, you’re a young Flamertongue, I’m a dragon, even if I am old and somewhat senile.” Gil had to smirk at that, at least Flamer1 admitted it. He paused to stare at the other miners before going on, “What you must understand is that these men working beside you had once been the finest soldiers of your homeland. You don't believe they wouldn't want to get out as much as we do? Unfortunately the hominids are not fools, as much as we wish they were. They understand that anyone who has been through war and has nothing else to lose is a dangerous opponent, so that's why they keep us separated.”
“So that's why they keep like a platoon of men and heavy weapons at all times.” replied Gil.
Flamer1 grunted in a dragon’s version of ironic laughter, “That's one way to put it” He knotted his face, gesturing as if to remove the noose so he could flame them. Gil rubbed Flamer1’s eye ridge sympathetically while he stared at the laboring prisoners below, grunting and sweating.
“Man, if only all these dangerous miners could get organized. If only they had somebody to unite them; so the Mylandians would get what they deserve…” uttered Gil longingly. Someday they’ll get it… Pretending to be something he was not always sparked Gil’s militarism. Pausing from his work, Giljaras once again imagined himself leading these soldiers into combat riding Flamer1…
“Why did you stop working? Something bothering you 7406?” Flamer1 inquired, confused by Gil’s stupor.
“No nothing” he replied quickly, and resumed his work. Flamer1 growled and crossed his eyes. That snarl combined with the intimidating flattened metal of the mask, made even Gil, one who did not feel the chilling effects of Dragonfear, wince with distress.
“Don’t try to play fool with me 7406, I have learned over the years that whenever a human says nothing’s wrong, it means the complete opposite. Don’t be scared, you can tell me,” Flamer1 replied with his usual draconic sagacity.
Gil knew he had no other choice. Whenever Flamer1 said, ‘you can tell me,’ it actually meant, ‘it’d be a bad idea not to tell me.’ Nobody was dumb enough to protest against a dragon alone, not when dragons outweighed humans by more than a kiloton. Especially when dragons outweighed humans by a kiloton.
“You know” Gil started nervously, “I’ve just been having these weird dreams recently; that I’m flying into battle; on dragonback.”
Flamer1 lowered his gaze and let out a rumble that was the equivalent of an old man saying, ‘hmmmm’.
“And do you know what’s strange, it’s always you I’m flying on Flamer1, only that you’re younger, back during the Scouring of Vinothemic.”
Flamer1 twisted his neck and stared at the cavernous ceiling, as if sorting through memories. Gil gave him a skeptical gaze as he waited for the dragon’s answer. Flamer1 took a long penetrating look at Gil before switching his gaze back to the wall.
“Yes…just like in Scouring” Gil heard Flamer1 utter to himself both sad and resentful. Gil jerked backwards, he had never heard such desperation in the dragons voice before. Usually, he’d rave on about the glory days, but once in a while he’d remember that Draconia ultimately lost that war.
What Gil knew of the ancient kingdom of Vinothemec from his schooling and from what Flamer1 had told him, was that it had been the so-called ‘spiritual realm’ of the elves that they had retreated to live in peace when they became aware of the encroaching Mylandian threat. Unfortunately, Vinothemec was not as unreachable as the elves had claimed because the Mylandians, magic-less but technologically astute, had found a way to invade anyhow; as they always did. Fulfilling their commitments Draconia had sent riders to help. Over time the people turned against the war, and left. Facing the invaders alone, it was only a matter of time before the hominids went on to completely exterminate their evolutionary ancestors from Tribitua. Now, the island of Vinothemec was a chemical infested wasteland, literally, a dead land.
So much for the ‘land of peace’...
Angrily, as if remembering that fact too, Flamer1 swept his paw back and slammed it against the rock. The miners let out cries of protest as they stumbled and fell from the reverberating shake. “What the hell? Is that senile old minerdrag’s dementia acting up again?” cursed 3172, shaking his pick in the air.
Flamer1 unfurled his wings, jerked his head forward and hissed at the miner; 3172 quickly shut up, flinched backwards and resumed his work.
Gil screwed his eyes shut and stiffened his shoulders; yes the war had been terrible, many of his kind had died, yet he could tell that Flamer1 had lost something still greater during the conflict. Concerned, Gil leaned over sideways and pressed his face against Flamer1’s muzzle. The old, weary dragon gave only a dim murmur of acknowledgement.
“Look, what's happened, happened, and you can't dwell on it.” asked Gil with a genuine concern that didn’t reflect in his tone. Flamer1 let out a staggered heave from his nostrils, “Y-yes, I think you're right 7406, I just, have been thinking a bit too much of late” he replied, for the first time sounding his age. Taking Flamer1’s words to heart, Gil slowly turned away and resumed his work, as did Flamer1.
During next few hours of the shift, Flamer1 said not a single word, nor sound. This really worried Gil, normally he’d be raving on about Draconia or meandering on about the various dragon-lore he had gained over the years.
Yet if Flamer1 didn’t talk, he’d certainly picked up a nervous twitch that Gil found quite irritating and unnerving. The minerdrag would constantly shift his gaze from him, then go back to his work, and then switched his stare back toward Gil again, often doing a double take. Even the miners became disillusioned at Flamer1’s strange, silent behavior, and were pestering Gil on what he’d done to piss him off this time. Was the dream he had told him about bothering him too?
By the time the first shift was nearly over, Flamer1’s silence had become too much for Gil to take. Laying down his tools, Gil walked over and rubbed Flamer1 across the hide. “Hey Flamer1? Are you feeling okay? If it was something I said that bothered you, I didn’t mean it.” said Gil solemnly. Flamer1 growled gently as he closed his eyes.
“No, it wasn’t anything you said 7406. Besides the war is long past…” replied Flamer1. Yet by the way Flamer1 hung his large caged head, however, Gil figured it might have ended just yesterday.
Flamer1 heaved heavily and leaned his head against the wall. “And, not only the war been lost, but so too is my good friend…” Gasping, Gil’s eyes jerked open at the aging dragon’s confession. He’d never told him anything about a friend he once had!!
“And so is who?” asked Gil, bursting forward. Flamer1’s claw began to twitch uncontrollably, his green-gray eyes growing sick with a hungry yearning. He tensed his neck muscles as he squeezed his wings against his back like a lost hatchling looking for its mother.
"N-nobody, I was muttering to myself again, you must forgive this old senile dragon." he replied.
Gil quickly figured that this ‘who’ must have been someone Flamer1 had really cared about. It wasn’t just a casual friendship, but someone he had given and devoted his entire soul to.
“Um, can you explain?” said Gil, even if though he sensed that Flamer1 might not be in the best most to talk right now. After moping for a second, old Flamer1 was able to calm down enough to explain his sad tale.
With a great effort, he began, “During the war, and for many countless years before, I had a rider. B-but now, obviously…he is d-d-deeaadddd…”
Torn with anguish, Flamer1 roared and smashed his claw into the rock as if to collapse the cavern. The miners jumped and cursed, shouting epithets. Looking ashamed, Flamer1 dipped his head and covered them with his wings. Gil only stood and watched in terror as a tear fell from between the metal bars of the noose.
A gripping, almost strangling realization reached Gil. Flamer1 had once been linked mind and soul to a human; he shouldn't have found it surprising, but he did nonetheless. Even a kid whose education had been cut short by war knew full well that whenever human and dragon bonded with one another, they became inseparable till death did them part. A dragoner must have ridden on Flamer1, Gil realized, and for him to die, must have been a staggering loss for Flamer1. He almost wanted to cry himself, for he’d never thought a powerful creature like a dragon could ever feel weak and vulnerable.
“Geez, I’m sorry Flamer1,” he apologized, though he figured it would probably do nothing to ease his pain. But Gil believed that he at least had to try, if one possessed any kind of heart.
Flamer1 slouched with fatigue. “You do not understand how much I miss him 7406, nor could you ever understand. I’d do absolutely anything…even die…so I could be with him again”
Gil’s mouth shivered and gaped with confusion. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this before? Who was this man? When did he die?” he wondered, though he maybe should have used discretion asking him such painful questions. Panting as if about to suffer a stroke, Flamer1 faced Giljaras straight in the eyes.
Yet Flamer1 was trembling too violently now to go on. Gil solemnly decided he should leave off further anguish, “Never mind, forget I asked, first shift is about to end soon so we’d better get all the ore in before the sirens beep” said Gil, doing his futile best to shake himself off the dragoner subject.
No doubt trying to do the same as he, Flamer1 tilted his head down to count the ore that he, Gil and the other miners had collected. He let out a guttural sigh when the quantity was lower than it had been.
“Don’t feel bad, nobody’s excavating their necessary quotas on a consistent basis anymore. It’s not that we were slackening off or anything,” said Gil calmly as he placed the ore into a sac.
“No, I believe it is because Silvera has been in service for many years; longer than I have been alive. Eventually, the once great dwarven mines will run dry of ore, along with all its workers” explained Flamer1, more or less back to his normal self. Disappointingly, Gil lifted the sack into one of the folding compartments of Flamer1’s transport mount.
“I know what you mean Flamer1, I’ve heard rumors from the guards that Lowsector would be closed down in the near future. I just pray it wouldn’t be today, but if it is, then…then something was going to happen, something that’ll crumble down this entire goddamn mountain” said Gil fiercely. Flamer1 let out a growl of acknowledgement, then turned around to be boarded by the miners. Right on cue, the buzzer sounded.
“All miners report by number to the platform at once!! No questions asked!!” announced an authoritative voice from the speaker. With an eerie silence, Flamer1 flew Gil and the other miners back to the loading platform. This time, that feeling of exhilaration was absent, only a foreboding fear.
Once Gil had stepped off the cabin, a squad of soldiers hounded Flamer1 and coerced him back into his cage with huge cattle prods. Gil winced at the sight; it was always highly painful for his psyche to witness Flamer1 being imprisoned so maliciously.
Yet Flamer1 still seemed far too saddened by the reminder of his lost friend to resist the guards’ efforts this time. So he laid down submissively on the metal surface and let himself be chained up. Wishing to ease his mind off the pain, he began storming away from the awful sight.
He didn’t get very far when Flamer1 contacted his mind and called, “See you later, and best of luck young 7406.” Gil turned and nodded back, holding back the shame he felt at Flamer1 being violated so. Yet he managed to force his lips into a soothing smile, “You too Flamer1, just remember, you always hold those you love in your heart, no matter how far, or how long they’ve been gone.”
Flamer1 nodded, and Gil could almost see a tear drop from his eye, “Thank you 7406, it is truly heartening that you would remind me of that”
With that statement, Gil turned around and trudged slowly toward the count-off area. A second later, he heard the industrial screech of the platform lowering, and all too quickly, the hatch closed. He lowered his gaze and sighed, Flamer1 was gone...
Shaking himself, he trudged away from the hatch and headed for the count-off area.