The Fire Within: Part Four
They set out on foot that evening, or at least Yardly thought it was evening - time seemed harder to judge in the caverns with no sun, moon, or stars to follow. Aside from a mechanical contraption in Luthor’s shack, there were no clocks in the Font either.
“Those in Moltara City like Luthor use such devices, yes,” Andesite explained as they left the Font. “Though we in the caverns use the Nabdanar... the rough translation I suppose would be the heart beat of the planet. Magma is slightly tidal in its movements, and we can sense this - it gives us a concept of time. An internal clock, you might say.”
“They guess, in other words,” Luthor supplied with a deep chuckle. “Don't listen to him, Yardly, I’ve been living here for a good few years now, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned its that their lava magic mumbo jumbo is exactly that. I’ve not seen any of them do anything remotely magical - just a load of meditating and sour faces.”
Andesite kept respectful silence. Yardly doubted that he was so quiet inside.
“You don’t view Neopets submerging themselves in magma without any adverse effects magical?” Yardly asked.
Luthor dismissed that with a wave of his hand and a crinkled face.
“Maraquan Neopets can breathe in water,” he said. “And Faerie ones can fly. That ain’t magic, not proper magic in any case. Certainly not enough magic to warrant the backwards lifestyle they all have. If the Mayor of Moltara would send in the 1st Steam Battalion we could clear the tunnels of all of these primitives in a week. Marbelle could be wiped off the map and we’d be free to mine all the diamonds we like, and plenty more besides. Should have done it the moment we found out they were living down here, if you ask me.”
No one, thankfully, had asked Luthor.
“Why did you decide to take the position of Sheriff here, Mr. Cogingham?” Yardly asked. “It seems like you might be happier in Moltara City.”
On this, Luthor was more silent.
“...I have my reasons,” was all he offered by way of explanation.
It certainly seemed to kill the anti-magma rhetoric he had been spouting. Until he called them to stop for the night and set up a camp, he remained silent.
Luthor was fast asleep before long, snoring loudly. It left Andesite and Yardly free to talk.
“He was kicked out of Moltara City,” Andesite explained, answering Yardly’s earlier question. “Something to do with embezzling funds, I think. He doesn't like to talk about it - as much as he claims the Mayor put him here as a position of honour, it was a punishment. The Mayor knows his... Views... On people like me. He knew this was the last place on Neopia that Luthor wanted to be posted.”
“But he’s the main contact people in the caverns have with those from Moltara City,” Yardly pointed out. “Can’t the Mayor see that he's not the most positive ambassador for the city? It must be easy for Marbelle to sway young magma Neopets into thinking that everyone from the city and the surface thinks like him.”
“Probably, if she needed to,” Andesite said. “But for now, everyone thinks of Luthor as a bit of a joke. Marbelle's got far stronger recruitment drives in hatred against Third Cog. The Shining Chasm... it would be like attempting to bulldoze Fyora's Castle, or Coltzan's Shrine.”
“Then why are Third Cog doing it?” Yardly asked.
“Simply put, to offend Marbelle so much that they draw her out,” Andesite said. “Then the situation is sorted forever, one way or another. It is a big gamble.”
“You don’t seem a fan,” Yardly said. “Why not join Marbelle?”
Andesite gave a grim laugh.
“If I was a teenager who had no memory of how this all began, I might already be with her,” he admitted. “But I am old enough to remember how all this started. Marbelle is very much the party that threw the first punch. Third Cog was mining coal in an area we call Blackmire Gorge. It is a desolate area, with no magma tubes nearby. Trust me when I say that no magma Neopets have lived there in centuries. Literally nothing there but coal and darkness. It was a legitimate mining site that no one in the Font had complaint with - fires, Third Cog had even consulted with Igneot to check that they weren't offending anyone.”
“The Blackmire incident,” Yardly said. “I read about it while I was researching. It was a cave in, wasn’t it?”
“Twenty miners were trapped in an air pocket with no way out,” Andesite said. “The explosives were set by Marbelle. Thankfully Third Cog got a rescue party to them in time, but that was how it started, with Marbelle picking on innocents. Since then, she’s picked on every new mining operation from each of the companies. She's been pushing them, and now they have had enough. If they are going to get attacked no matter what they do, they might as well mine the most profitable veins in Moltara, right?”
“She has a lot of support amongst younger magma Neopets then?” Yardly asked.
“It’s at a tipping point,” Andesite said. “Which is why the move has come at such a bad time - mining the Shining Chasm now might be enough to give Marbelle more support than Igneot. And then... Well, then Marbelle will be able to claim the Font and effective leadership of the caverns.”
“Which she can then seal off completely,” Yardly said.
“Exactly,” Andesite agreed.
They stared into the dying embers of the fire for a while.
“What about you, Mr. Yardly?” Andesite asked. “What is your opinion on all this?”
“I’m not paid to have an opinion,” Yardly said. “I have my employer and I have my task, that’s all. The morality doesn't come into it.”
“I didn’t ask if it would affect your work,” Andesite said. “I asked for your opinion.”
“Alright,” Yardly conceded. “It seems fairly clear that Third Cog are in the wrong, but Marbelle's not exactly clean either. Seems like Igneot’s the only side with any real merit.”
“Why do you do this?” Andesite asked. “Your job, working for people you don’t agree with.”
“Why do you?” Yardly countered.
“I am an exile,” Andesite said. “I need money. That is all there is to it. You do not. You charge enough that you must have made enough to retire by now.”
“People like me don’t retire,” Yardly said. “Our talents mean we have to keep working. A quiet life simply isn't for me. You say you are an exile... as I understand it, exile only happens when someone leaves the caverns. It is something chosen.”
“That I did,” Andesite said. “I wanted to see the surface. Longed for it. I had such dreams of what it must be like. A new world. But I didn't understand what I was losing when I left. If I had been wiser, I would have stayed. The surface offers nothing when compared with the magma. No offense meant, of course, Mr. Yardly.”
“I think you can call me Alex, Andesite,” Yardly said.
“That would be difficult,” Andesite said with a smile. “It is the magma way to address someone by their full name. You noticed it with Igneot, yes? He called you Alex Yardly, nothing else. To shorten a name is to shorten your view of the person. I have... Adapted this formality with my years in Moltara City. But Mr. Yardly is the best I can manage. Alex, in my mind, would sound like an insult.”
“Well, I wouldn't want that,” Yardly said with a smile. “We’d better get some sleep, we’ll have a long walk tomorrow, as far as I understand.”
The morning, or what passed for it underneath the surface, came all too quickly. Luthor getting to sleep quickly suddenly seemed quite sensible, as Yardly didn’t realise just how tired he was until he had to wake. The heat and the smoke seemed to be tiring him out more than usual.
“We call that Depth Fever,” Luthor said with a guffaw when he noticed Yardly was suffering. “Surfacers get it when they descend too deep too fast. Should pass after a few days, normally.”
“How far until the Shining Chasm?” Yardly asked.
“We should reach the gateway by evening,” Luthor said. “There, I’ll have to leave you.”
“Why?” Yardly asked, not entirely sad to part company with him.
“The locals don't like giving access to people who don't come from the caverns,” Luthor said. “You say that Igneot has given you special permission, well that won't apply to me.”
“If Igneot stops access, how are Third Cog going to mine there?” Yardly asked.
“They are planning on mining on a deeper level of the caverns,” Andesite explained. “Chipping away at the diamond from behind, rather than from the Chasm proper. You’ll see when we get there why that’s still a problem for magma Neopets.”
“Everything will be a problem for the locals,” Luthor said dismissively. “Progress doesn't wait for any man.”
To be continued…