A fantasy-western serial
Episode 13: "Mines of Misery"
"You see, that's what happens to heroes around here, Mr. Reed," Reinheart said, almost apologetically, "They get shot."
Reinheart's next shot missed him as Reed leapt from the chair. He barely dodged it, snapping his torso into an arc so the bullet passed under. He swung down his fist as Reinheart came at him. Reed had never felt full of such emotion before, it filled him with a fire that seemed to burn only stronger, regardless of the pain in his gunshot wounds. Reinheart caught Reed's fist. Reed struggled to pry the gun from Reinheart's fingers but Reinheart shoved him up against the wall, banging Reed's injured shoulder into the displayed weapons, knocking some of them free from the wall to the floor. With a jerk he kicked the open wound at Reed's knee and jammed his gun barrel hard against his pale green jaw.
"Too bad. Gunslingers don't win on guts alone," Reinheart said and then grinned as he pulled the trigger. A hollow click sounded. A growl rumbled in Reinheart's throat as his eyes darted back and forth between his gun and Reed's face. Reed only radiated more raw emotion, his teeth clenched in rage and pain.
Reinheart regarded him a few moments more before whistling sharply. In a few seconds his men returned from the hallway. They grabbed him, pulling him back from Reinheart.
"Please escort Mr. Reed to the bottom of the pit with the other troublemakers," he called over his shoulder as he brushed himself off. Then he turned back to Reed, walking towards him, whispering, "You're no different from any of the others who came here before you. I'll break you too, one way," he pocketed his gun, "or another."
Again Reinheart smiled as they hauled him away. He sat down behind his desk, sitting tall in his chair, watching him with curious interest. Every limping step reminded Reed how much he wanted to punch that smile off his face. He would, even if it killed him. He was certain it would, but it would be worth it.
~ * ~
The thug's hand dug into his injured shoulder and every step was torment. Reed didn't have much strength left, forcing the wounds to close so he wouldn't lose any more precious moisture from his body. He knew the bullets would have to come out at some point but now was not the time to worry about such things. That was if he lived through any of this. Right now he had to focus on where he was and how to escape, if he could.
The journey down to the mines took what seemed like hours, having to tromp out of the Tower and down through one of the Iron Windmills, down a spiralling metal staircase, the same ones he had seen the children ascending and descending. Many of them paused briefly in their work to watch this strange creature being taken into the depths. But a stern whipcrack from the overseer sent them scrambling back to work with the baskets of blue crystals.
The further they descended the more older the prisoners became until there were mostly young men, all covered in the same blue dust. At first the crystals where simply jutting out between rocks but as they went further down it opened up into a wide cavern.
The crystals here were as tall as buildings. Reed's breath caught in his throat. He felt as if he had shrunk to the size of an ant and had wandered into a geode. The men steady hacked away at the structures, dumping the fragments into carts that the oldest pushed along tracks leading up towards the windmillls. Reed counted seven similiar tunnels as he peered up and around. Each one must lead directly under a windmill. But what was this substance and why did Reinheart want it? And why crush the crystals? He had so many questions and not nearly enough answers. They traveled down to the center, which had already been cleared of crystal, leaving behind a hard, gray rock face.
At last the thugs, stopped, one of them holding him still as the other chained his ankle to a large ring sunk in the middle of the solid ground, which already had two long chains coming off of it. His eyes followed the chains until he saw the faces of the prisoners bound to them.
One man, he did not know, but he admired the hard look in his eyes. There was a spirit there that had not been broken, no matter what Reinheart had said. He knew who it was though, because he had an arm around a young lady next to him, who ran to him, arms open wide, the chains rattling loudly.
"Reed! You're alive!" Anna caught him in a hug, Reed wincing sharply before she pulled away. "What did he do to you?"
He couldn't look her in the eye. This was not how he had intended to end up. Some gunslinger he turned out to be, and after all that training with Troy.
"This that Xylem you were telling me about, hon?" The man said.
"You must be Sheriff Daniels," Reed said, tipping his hat to the man who came up behind her slowly, favoring one leg, leaning on a tall pick axe as a makeshift cane.
He tipped his own, "That's right, though I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, stranger."
"Reed," he shook his hand, the man offering a tight grip, "Though we're both disadvantaged at the moment," Reed said, peering around.
"Too true. Though maybe a pair of younger hands can help us."
"Are you hurt?"
"That son of a snake damn near broke my back when he caught me trying to dig us out with this rusty old thing, but I'm afraid all it's good for now is an old man's cane."
"Dig? Is there soil under all this rock?"
Daniels shrugged. "Dunno. Didn't get far enough to find out. Maybe you'll have better luck though. Or a better idea for that matter."
"Can I borrow your pick axe?"
"Give me a hand down to sit and I'll let you have it," he said. Reed and Anna gently lowered him to the floor.
"Why don't you lie down, Daddy?" She said, taking off her coat and folding it into a pillow for him. He sighed but did so, wincing a bit but settling at last. He handed up the pick axe to Anna who passed it to Reed.
Daniels looked at him a moment more. "There's something familiar about you, son." He took of his own hat and scratched his head. Then he looked at the hat. He stared at Reed. "Wait a gal-darned minute! Is that my good hat?"
Anna laughed. Daniels glared at her at first, but after a moment, he broke into laughter as well. "Shucks, she outfitted you with my whole dang wardrobe, didn't she? Well, you can keep all of it. Hat looks better on you actually," he admitted with a smile.
Reed grinned. It was good to hear laughter, to find any kind of hope in this place of misery.
Continue to Part 14?