Chapter Three

The midday meal (more meat) was silent. During the day, Utgar, Runa, and the other prisoners were forced to work in mines, chipping away at strange yellow rocks and carting them back up to the guards. They never asked why. The only reply they would get was a whip across their backs.

The Volcarren, despite being full of nothing but rock and volcanoes, was not hot. It was warm, but the constant clouds kept most of the sun’s warmth at bay, and when it rained (which it did frequently), the ground was almost cool.

As the prisoners sat eating in the large entrance to the mine, it began to rain, the unending wind whipping the drops sideways, although for once, away from the prisoners.

Everyone had been subdued since the beating in the morning. It was common enough, but it usually happened at the end of the day, instead of out in the open, in front of everyone. Utgar glanced at Runa. She was silent, but the angry tears were still in her eyes, and she tore at her meat with fingers which shook slightly.

“Put it from your mind,” Utgar said quietly.

Runa glanced at him briefly, but then turned back to her food.

“I can’t,” she said. “I hate the guards. I hate the way they strut around, saying they’re better than us, more powerful than us. Just because they can’t die.”

“They aren’t,” Utgar said. “I know what they say. They prey on our fear of them. Some even call them gods, immortal beings. But they aren’t.”

Runa was silent for a space. “I know,” she finally said, letting out a shaky sigh. “It’s just…” She gazed out into the rain, at the unending Volcarren, “… what’s the point? Why resist? They are immortal.”

Utgar put his food down. That was something his daughter could not say.

“Because there is more,” he said.

Runa glanced at him, and Utgar saw her clearly in the watery light: her skin, just as raw and scarred as his; her wings, ruined and blackened; how thin she was; and the dryness of her lips. Her eyes were drawn in her gaunt face as she watched Utgar.

“Because there is more,” he repeated firmly. “Your mother believed in it too.”

Runa turned back. “Why did she leave?” she asked after a moment.

Utgar turned back also, watching the rain. “Because she had to,” he said quietly. “She couldn’t live here, like this, any longer. She’s out there, Runa,” he added. “She’s waiting for us. One day, we’ll join her.”

Runa’s wings shivered. “I hardly remember her,” she whispered, still watching the rain. “It was so long ago…” She turned to Utgar. “Do you really think she’s out there?”

“I’m sure of it,” Utgar said firmly. “Your mother was not one to let anything stand in her way. One day, we’ll see her again.”

“And I’ll fly,” Runa said. “I’ll fly away from here, and find out how the sky can be deep.” Her wings shivered again, as if eager to feel the wind racing through them.

For a time they were silent. Runa began to eat her third and final strip of meat. The rain began to come down harder. “Why did Mallidon have to create the wellsprings?” Runa finally asked.  

Utgar didn’t reply for a long time. He had asked himself that same question countless times, for without the wellsprings, they wouldn’t be here, prisoners of the Valhallian Empire, doomed to existence in the Volcarren Wastleand. But he knew the answer. He had known it ever since Runa was born.

“Because of love,” he said, watching the rain continue to fall,

Runa looked at him.

“He loved his daughter,” Utgar said, glancing at her. “He didn’t want her to die. If I were in his place and you in hers, and I possessed the knowledge he did, I would have done the same thing.”

“Even knowing what would happen?” Runa asked. “Knowing how many would die fighting over the wellsprings? Even knowing that our ancestors would be sentenced to die here when they failed to claim them?”

“Love can blind us, Runa,” Utgar said.

They were both silent, but Utgar thought on what he had said. Runa might not understand, but he did. Love had blinded Mallidon, and it had blinded him as well. Utgar’s love for Runa had been his greatest downfall.

Vara, Runa’s mother, had begged Utgar to come with her, to escape, to run away from the Volcarren and the guards and their whips. But Utgar had been afraid. He had grown up listening to the soldiers, and he didn’t think they could escape. They would be found and beaten. He had been sure of it. And he couldn’t sentence Runa to that. He had forced Vara to leave alone, without her daughter, and without him.

It was a mistake Utgar had sworn to himself to correct.

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