59 The Jerrica Mines*
The morning after his lesson, Rassa glimpsed the Jerrica Mines for the first time. They were not somewhere he was eager to stay in.
Jerrica itself was built like a military fort, only there was no fort, just a tall and menacing wall that seemed to swallow everything around it with its dark aura. When the carriage pulled up at the gates, Rassa would have told them to turn around if not for the mask secured to his face.
What made it worse was that despite never seeing their expressions, Rassa knew his captors were nervous as well. Clearly, every scary story he'd ever heard about the Jerrica Mines were absolutely true.
The Guards at the gate looked shady. Like they would take bribes at the drop of a hat and frame an innocent just for the fun of it. They leered at Rassa through the bars, and despite the cool expression he'd learned to adopt since leaving Cordon, he was terrified inside.
The Guards waved them through, and the gates opened slowly. The gates themselves were huge, at least eight metres in height, and wide enough to allow three carriages to pass through at the same time. Rassa watched as they entered, registering the clicking of wheel cogs as someone winched the gates open. As soon as the carriage passed through, the gates began to close once more behind them, but Rassa was no longer focused on that. He was focused on what lay beyond.
In a word, desolate.
There was nothing but a vast, dry field between the gates and what seemed to be the main entrance to the mines. Seeing it, Rassa couldn't help but wonder what they hoped to achieve by having so much space free. Perhaps the original builders had intended to use it as space to build a village, or use as a sorting area for what was mined. But now? Nothing but space. Not even a tree in sight and mountain cliffs at each side.
Jerrica was a prison mine...so was the space used to deal with prisoners that attempted to escape?
That didn't bode well.
At the far end of the space sat the mine entrance. It was rather large for an entrance, and had clearly been built that way for a reason. But what was more intriguing to Rassa was the fact that it seemed the residences, no doubt for the officials and not the prisoners, were built into the side of the mountain above the entrance. It looked like a castle had been half swallowed by the mountain. If it did not appear so dark and intimidating, Rassa might have called it beautiful. But now, it was terrifying.
The carriage crossed the great expanse before it was stopped right at the entrance by more Guards.
Behind the Guards stood a man in a long beige coat with a prideful look on his aging face. He had a grey beard that was short and scraggly, and on top of his head sat a pair of eye glasses that looked homemade to say the least.
Despite his lack of weapons or intimidating stature, Rassa was immediately unnerved by the man.
The leader of his captors stepped forward to address the man, but the latter spoke first.
"It was done as requested?"
"Of course, not a trace left behind," the leader replied, a small tinge of annoyance at being underestimated.
The man in the coat stepped forward and approached the carriage, peering in to look at Rassa like he was a something to be picked apart. Rassa thought he'd disliked the looks of disgust and fear more than anything else. He was wrong, he hated this more.
"When was the last time it fed?"
Surprisingly, Aegin was the one to reply.
"He," Aegin corrected, "HE fed two nights ago".
"I see," the man stated, looking at Aegin with curiosity, "You seem to have formed some kind of attachment to this creature".
"Creature?" asked Aegin, his eyes narrowing, "Rassa's different, he's not an exotic animal".
The leader hushed Aegin, but the man just looked at Aegin with a form of a amusement.
Aegin clearly took that as an insult.
The man then turned and pointed at the carriage as he addressed the Guards.
"Take it down to the dungeon cells. Secure it where I told you earlier, remove the chains but not the mask. We don't want any accidents".
The carriage was wheeled forward without delay into the darkness beyond, Rassa turned back as they took him inside, glimpsing Aegin as he watched after the carriage, then the sunlight and all that stood within it was swallowed by the shadows.
Rassa's vision was better in the darkness of the mines, but that didn't mean he was relieved to be able to see. It was quite the opposite in fact. Rassa wished he couldn't see the prisoners, chained and as thin as skeletons. He wished he couldn't see the whips or the desperation on the faces of those who worked tirelessly in the darkness. Their only light source were the dull torches burning with flickering and changing intensity. Rassa wished he couldn't smell it too. The rank, damp corners that were filled with years, perhaps even decades or centuries of hardship and turmoil.
And the screams. They were not so obvious in the first few tunnels, but the deeper they went the more pronounced they became.
And they went deep.
Rassa was sure they walked for hours down the tunnels. At first in the carriage, and then dragging him by his chains as he stumbled occaisionly in his efforts to keep up. Finally, after what was perhaps an eternity, they reached the end of a long, skinny tunnel that opened up to four cells. Three of them were only about a couple of metres wide and long each, but the last was larger, about four or five times as larger.
And Rassa stopped in his tracks as soon as he saw the bars. Judging by the earth around them, they'd been newly built and placed there. That didn't bode well. Not when they were Anthrite.
They'd been expecting Rassa, and they'd built a prison cell specifically for him.
"Move, boy!" snapped one of the guards. He tugged hard enough on Rassa's chains that Rassa stumbled and fell face first onto the ground. It sucked not having his superior strength. The guard would not have been able to move him if he'd had it. Another tug, and Rassa was dragged across the small observation section and into the cell.
He flipped over, trying to stand, but the guards pushed him back down again. Holding him as he tried to throw them off and get out. He did not want to be stuck in here. It was out of the question.
They took his arms, unlocking the cuffs and dropping the Anthrite chains onto the ground outside the cage. As instructed, they left the mask on, then they threw Rassa a few more metres into the cell and retreated to close the gate behind them. Rassa ignored it as the hard rock cut into his skin. Without his power, his skin was cut easily and the healing occured much slower than normal. As blood dripped down from the cuts, Rassa threw himself at the closing gate.
It closed and Rassa stopped just centimetres before hitting it. He glared at the metal, at the guards beyond who laughed at his predicament. He felt the wounds begin to close, slowly but surely, and the clear surprise on the guards faces as they did so. It might have been dark, but it was light enough for them to see the visibly healing wounds they'd inflicted.
Rassa glared until they retreated, then he took a glance at the cell he'd been given.
He hadn't noticed it before, but the rock walls had veins of Anthrite running through them. They'd built his cell in the right spot, that was for sure.
The only furniture in the room, if it could be called that, was a wooden cot with some straw on top of it, and a bucket in the corner, no doubt meant for his excrement.
Rassa turned back to the gate, and to the dark tunnel beyond. When he'd told his father to use Anthrite if he got out of hand, he never thought it would lead to this.