Not all adventures turn out the way we plan, and not all partnerships are profitable. But sometimes when things go wrong, the only person we have to blame is ourselves. In today’s tale of the Underworld, Vandigeth weaves a story of adventure and betrayal while illustrating the danger of losing sight of Virtue in “The Cavern”.
She stood on the rocky precipice looking out upon the dense rock that filled this cavern. The sound of water filled the air before her; its smell gave what little freshness there was to be had in this dank place. A humid mist permeated the air and diffused the light across the cavern.
Jumping down from her precipice, she rejoined her companions across a small wooden bridge over the sheltered river. The stalagmites and other cavernous formations spoke to the absolute timelessness of this place. To her left was a modest waterfall, an obvious inlet of moisture from the surface far above this place.
The tread of one’s shoe was important here unless great care were taken. Moisture put off by the river both beautified the cavern but acted as a deadly host to her earnest companions. A simple mistake with one’s footing could result in a fall into the river below, or gravity between the rock and one’s head. However, she had much more experience moving through these so-called ‘catacombs’ than any of her companions.
Finally, she caught up to the companions. Two of them, both male, were a wealthier sort from the cities. Flush with cash and equipment, they hired her to guide them across the continent on a pilgrimage to a famous shrine of Honor. Both were showing their inexperience now as they began to question her about the caves to which she had become so familiar.
“Yintara, does this place have a name? It is simply incredible in its size and scope.” The one man stated with his academic urban tone. “Come now, speak girl.”
She shook her head, “Nah, ‘tis but a dank old cavern. We should move along.” The lie was to guard the secrets of the cavern. Of course it had a name, but it would do them no good.
The other man spoke up, “Think of it Jinta, we could name it after ourselves at the college back home.” A sparkle of ambition and pride filled his eyes that dwarfed the sparkling jewelry with which he adorned himself.
“A marvelous mark of discovery on our record it would be Klint.” Jinta nodded in agreement in awe of the underworld before him.
Yintara kicked some stones across the cavern floor into the river below to kill some time while the gentlemen stroked their egos and waxed intellectual about their geological knowledge. She watched as the river flowed by with a slight roar that echoed throughout the cavern. She casually listened to Klint and Jinta.
Jinta turned to Klint, “Yes, the formation over there came from the droplets of water of ceiling depositing calcium over centuries or more…” he trailed off into a diatribe of geological knowledge for a time. Klint didn’t back down, and showed his knowledgeable side too and they engaged in speculations that would challenge the Virtue of Humility itself. All the sorts of creatures that may or may not exist living in these caverns and the ecosystems they might participate in.
Klint walked over to his right to a stalagmite. It was thick, at least the width of a man, but at the base of the formation was a strange batch of white growths. They disguised themselves well as rocks, but it was a living organism down here beneath the surface. All part of an ever growing underworld taking shape beneath the feet of civilization.
“Yintara, any idea what these are?” Klint poked at one with a beautiful jeweled knife in his hand that had inlaid gemstones in the shape of an ankh. He attempted to lift one from the ground with the tip of his blade.
“I wouldn’t do that if I was you.” She stated frankly without even looking at what he was doing.
Klint stopped and looked over at her. “Why not? And you didn’t answer my question.” He looked over at Jinta for some support in what could be a confrontation.
“Ya didn’t hire me to give you the grand tour, just to get ya across these caverns.” She stated as she chewed a leaf of some kind in her mouth. “Just don’t mess with it.”
Klint took some offense to her words and marched over to Jinta. “Who exactly does she think she is? She works for us, and…” Jinta cut him off before he could finish his statement.
“Don’t let it bother you. What is to be expected of folks from outside the cities but poor manners and lack of thirst for knowledge.” He said with a condescending tone, “We must remind ourselves that we are on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Honor, and it is Honor we will bring to ourselves and our home city and even mankind!” His grandiose speech seemed to effect Klint’s mood, but Yintara remained unbothered now spitting at the river below.
Klint nodded and returned to the small organism on the rock floor. “We are here for the advancement of all mankind and bring Honor!” He boasted loudly over the roar of the river throughout the cavern. Returning with his knife, he once again began prodding the little white thing on the floor.
With a sigh, Yintara turned to face her employers and watched as they observed the specimen. She looked up at the ceiling of this cavern and noted the well-known curtain shaped formations along it. The wide arches always impressed her in this place, even for as often as she sees them.
“Ya realize I’m paid by the hour, aye?” She shouted over to them in hopes to move them along.
“Shush girl, we are studying and well aware of your payment as we arranged it for you.” Jinta stated with authority as if she were a servant girl inside his island castle off the coast of his property. The jingle of coin in his purse was an alluring sound as they jabbed the strange thing.
Yintara rolled her eyes and kicked her feet as she attempted to kill more time, but slowly began making her way back to the wooden bridge. She was all too familiar with this place. Her family was from a town beneath the surface where they traded with passers-by on the highways of the underworld. A sort of black market, one could say. Her childhood was spent combing these caves and learning all their secrets. Finding employment on the surface as a guide brought extra money in for her family back home since business could rise and fall depending on all sorts of circumstances.
Her parents had taught her about the Virtues, but in her hometown none was more celebrated than the Virtue of Humility; however, in turn mostly forsaking the remaining Virtues. She surmised that perhaps the most forsaken Virtue of their town was Honesty, but that was a debate left to wiser men she thought. These companions she was guiding were committing a hubris of great scale for her and her culture, an offense not taken well by denizens of these caverns. Humility was respect. Humility was everything.
“Come, girl, we have a task for you.” Jinta stated plainly now acting as though he could simply control her as he saw fit. He hadn’t even bothered to look up at her to bark his order.
She approached a few feet but maintained a distance. “What is it?” She asked with restraint. It was all she could do to not call him ‘boy’ in return, but that would endanger her own sense of Humility.
“We want you to lift this thing off the ground for us. You must know how.” He continued to not even look at her. “Come now girl, we haven’t got all day.”
“No.” She simply stated and walked away.
“Listen here, we have hired you to work with us along our journey and…” He now spoke to her as if he were a father or some authority figure.
“No, you listen here. I’ll leave you to wander lost in these caverns for the rest of your days if you don’t watch yourself.” With that, she turned and walked some distance away to restrain the fury building inside her.
“Think of the Honor we will bring civilization with this discovery!” He pleaded to her sense of the Virtues, “Have you no Virtue, girl?!” He turned back to the specimen with disgust. “We will figure it out ourselves and you will wait for us then.”
It had become a matter of pride now for the two, she thought. They wouldn’t easily let this one go until she complied with their wishes or they figured it out for themselves. A smirk streaked across her face as she realized that things had become all too easy for this venture.
Jinta held in his hand a flat blade, jewel encrusted as well, with the mark of a chalice on it. He was now shoving it underneath the white organism disguised as a rock. He was focused on getting this thing detached from the floor now to save his pride.
Klint stood up and looked out around the cavern. Very light purple specks floated around the cavern that he hadn’t noticed before. They were few and perhaps he had easily missed them. He shook his head as he wiped some sweat from his brow after fooling with this specimen for easily fifteen minute now. Very rarely had he engaged in such hard work in his time, and watched Jinta forcefully remove this specimen from the floor.
“Pchffffffffffft.” The specimen broke off and burst open releasing a cloud of the purple spores. Jinta and Klint immediately began coughing as their lungs filled with the foreign agents. In less than a minute the cloud had dispersed and they looked around for Yintara. She had vanished into the darkness of the caverns around them.
They tried to talk or yell for her but the coating of spores in their lungs and larynx had deadened their ability to speak. Quickly the two men got to their knees and pulled out their fine leather canteens and attempted to drink and wash away the spores. The water was rejected as they spit it out onto the floor of the cavern, and dizziness began to sweep over them.
“Your hubris to the Virtue of Humility has swept upon you. Feel your punishment.” Yintara’s voice could be heard echoing throughout the chasm now. The echoes obscured her exact position from them.
Jinta pulled from under his shirt a prized golden, emerald studded miniature chalice on a gold chain around his neck. He grasped both hands around the chalice and began rocking back and forth as the weakness began to spread throughout his body.
Klint had regurgitated onto the floor and rose to desperately search for Yintara’s location. He stumbled across the bridge and around a column, searching for who he believed had all the answers and could have prevented this. Finally fatigue began to overcome him as the spores took full effect inside his body. Looking at Jinta, he finally understood and fell to his knees again. From under his shirt he removed a jewel encrusted ankh of a considerably heavy metal.
He grasped it with both hands began to mouth some kind of words or prayer. Perhaps hoping for the compassion of some deity, or the compassion of Yintara to finally descend from the shadows and end this nightmare. As they both knelt there praying the spores progressively reduced their consciousness. Soon they would be overcome by the spores, and they believed death surely awaited them.
Slowly they both fell flat onto the floor of the caverns and slipped into a deep sleep. Klint blinked his eyes a few last times and noticed a pair of shoes quickly approaching them. Hopefully Yintara had heard his plea for Compassion, he thought as he finally slipped away.
A dream began in his mind, and it seemed as though Jinta had joined him in a conscious state, both joined together somehow in this dream. A voice spoke to them from a white light surrounded by blue and then darkness. It tried to teach them of Humility to bring about some change in them. Walking them through clichéd examples of how their actions had affected others, and what they could do to help reestablish their Virtue of Humility.
Meanwhile, Yintara had found the men after they had fallen unconscious and the spores had dissipated into the stale atmosphere of the caverns with a large sack slung across her shoulder now. Her lungs and Virtue had long adapted to the spores, barely affecting her anymore, but it was always important to respect nature. Slowly but surely she methodically unbuckled, unlatched, and removed all the belongings from Klint as though she had done this a hundred times before.
She stuffed his jeweled ankh into the sack with his fine leather canteen. The fine Baron’s clothes would make a wonderful addition to her father’s shop back home. The coin purse held in excess of five hundred gold, a worthy sum for any journey. She questioned how they could be so stupid as to not have a hired an escort accompany them into the caverns, but they were not alone in this stupidity. Perhaps they trusted too much in people’s Honor, she thought.
After stripping Klint clean of valuables she moved into Jinta. Jinta’s equipment reflected a very sincere devotion to Honor and forsaken all other virtues. Almost everything, including his belt buckle, had an Honor chalice engraved upon it. His clothes had the markings of a Duke upon them, and they would fetch a fine price at the markets. Searching his coin purse, he carried with him in excess of seven hundred gold. She had really struck it rich on this venture.
Sorting through the coin purse she found a note deep inside. Unraveling it, she found written upon it “Jinta, should the girl prove invaluable I deem that we should double her pay upon completion of services rendered. It is both the Honorable, and Compassionate, thing to do. –Klint” A slight pang of remorse swept over her for a moment. To mock this note would break her own notions of Humility. The thought of leaving these two gentlemen, no matter how hoity and condescending they may be, now left her feeling sour about the situation.
She sat back and thought about it for a moment. Perhaps overcome with the sense of Compassion that Klint had, she decided that they weren’t going to get there stuff back but she wouldn’t leave them completely helpless. Reaching back into her sack she removed each of their blades and left it by their sides for when they awoke some hours later. Taking the note she found, and a piece of charcoal from Jinta’s coin purse, she drew a shoddy map to return them the way they came and left it under Jinta’s knife.
Finally feeling as though her duty to Compassion and Humility had been served, she hoisted the sack over her shoulder and fled into the darkness of the deep caverns once again. The sound of her footsteps echoed softer as the cavern became completely still. Only the roar of the river now remained in this cavern.
Klint began blinking as he awoke. He went to grab his necklace to thank Compassion for bringing them back but realized it was gone. Not only was it gone, but everything was gone except his undergarments and his knife beside him. He shook his head and slammed his fist into the rock floor realizing now that they had been robbed. He had to wonder if she had been planning it this whole time.
Looking over at Jinta, he saw that he had already awoken and was sitting on a rock nearby looking at a parchment with his knife in hand. He walked closer to Jinta and asked, “I’m guessing the spore acted as some kind of sleep-inducing hallucinogen. It was like we were in the same dream.” Klint sat down next to Jinta.
Jinta simply nodded as he stared at the paper.
“What’s that?” Klint asked trying to get something out of him.
“It looks like a map. I’m guessing Yintara didn’t want to leave us to die down here.” Jinta stated with a resigned voice. “I dreamt of Humility too; I think those spores joined us in a dream somehow. They connected us in some way.”
Klint looked around the cavern. “Well, I suppose we had better get moving. We’ve got no food or water and we won’t last long down here.” He stood up and began moving toward the small wooden bridge.
Jinta sighed and looked at Klint. “Aye, you’re right. We’d best be going.” He walked over to the organism that had sprayed them earlier. “We may as well take it for study and get something out of this trip besides a moral lesson.”
Klint laughed, “Grab it and let’s move.”
Picking up the dead organism, Jinta joined Klint by his side and they both looked down the dark tunnel from where they had come sometime earlier. “Do you think anything is down there?”
Klint shrugged, “I don’t know, there wasn’t when we came this way.”
The two began moving toward their destination with blades drawn and a wary walk. It was nearly a day’s journey to the surface from here, and that was with a guide. As they passed the threshold from the cavern into the tunnels ahead, a large shadow skittered through the darkness beside them. Unaware of the dark red eyes watching as the two passed into the dense interconnected tunnels of the system known on the surface as the ‘catacombs’. As they disappeared into the distance so did the red eyes in tow. Soon all that remained was the roar of the river in the ancient cavern known as Rogue’s Rest.