I mentioned prior to NaNo that I would post my dwarf story. Of the new world building stories, I think this one might have a good chance at being my favorite. Definitely a challenge to Elfling, in any respect.
I hope both my readers like it.
“I’m not a princess,” Penett Vallendrow exclaimed as she backed away from the guard slowly. “I was just… exploring.”
“You touched me. You tried to bend my mind.” Even for a dwarf, this guard seemed particularly gruff.
“I tapped your shoulder to get your attention. And I was talking to you, nothing more.”
His eyes glazed over, then cleared. “Queen Serritch says you are to wait here.”
Not likely. Any female thought to possess the ability to become a queen was executed.
The rough-walled passageway she’d followed down from the main hive area meandered past the guard into an unknown cavern. Penett had no idea if there was a way out down there or not.
More guards would certainly be coming for her from behind. Thanks to the queen’s mental link to every male in the hive, there was no way she could run back and try to disappear into the crowd.
Penett hung her head and stepped toward the guard. He pointed his sword at her. “Stay back. No touching.”
“I told you, I’m not a princess. I can’t take control of your mind.” She held her hands out to her sides, waving one at a spot just past him in the hallway. “Can I at least sit down on that rock there?”
His eyes narrowed, but he didn’t answer. Penett pressed against the wall and slid past him. She bent to sit, but when the sword tip dropped she bolted into the darkness.
The guard shouted at her, but she ignored him. The passage twisted and turned as she ran. Phosphorescent moss glowed faintly along the walls, but even her large, dwarven eyes had a hard time seeing down here. She’d originally hoped to explore the tunnels, see what was down in the oldest portions of the hive. Now she barreled through the tunnels unable to stop and see anything.
Her ragged breaths tore at her throat. Footfalls hammered the ground behind her. There was definitely more than one pursuer.
Penett slipped into one of the side passages and ducked down, pressing herself against the wall. As the group drew near, she held her breath. Keep running. Keep running. She chanted in her head repeatedly.
Five guards passed the entrance. Hope blossomed for a moment, but the group slowed after only going a few feet further. None of them spoke. There was no need. The queen could see through their eyes, hear through their ears, and speak directly into their minds. She didn’t dare look around the corner. Instead, she tiptoed deeper into the narrow side tunnel.
After picking her way down the corridor, Penett found herself in a large chamber. The blue-green glow of the moss emanated from sporadic patches that grew randomly about the room. Water trickled down one of the walls and gurgled through a crack in the floor. To her left, pick-axe and shovel heads lay strewn across the floor, the wooden handles long since rotted away.
She decided this must have been one of the earliest chambers of the hive. All of the disintegrating tools were hand tools for one dwarf. None of the current, team driven machines would even fit down the tunnel.
Fascinated, she momentarily forgot she was being chased. She crouched and touched the curved steel of a rusted pick-axe. One end was worn down to a round tip, while the other had cracked and chipped. Next to it was one that appeared to have never been used. How long ago, she wondered, had dwarves been down here, swinging these tools and carving out the lowest levels of a new hive? Forging, from nothing but the solid ground, a new home for the families that would live here?
She scanned the room. Something deep in the cavern caught her eye. She made her way across, grimacing when she stepped into the cold water pooling on the floor. On the far side of the water stood a small weapon rack. Excited, she nearly splashed her way across before remembering that she was being hunted.
Her mood dampened even more than her soggy feet, she crossed the water to investigate. Leather scabbards had long since crumbled and the few swords on the rack were rusted and dull. Still, some of them had nicks and gouges in the blades. She ran her fingers along one of the edges, imagining the battle that might have led to the damage.
She stood and something bumped her foot. Bending, she retrieved a small stone box that had been tucked behind the weapon rack. She lifted the lid and her breath caught. A dagger lay inside, undamaged by time and the elements. A ruby adorned the end of the hilt, and the bright blade extended six inches past the guard. Rather than two straight bars, it curled toward the blades tip on both sides, forming a wide, U-shape guard at the top of the hilt.
“Beautiful,” she whispered. Eying the chambers entrance, she slipped the blade into her belt. Not that she would kill anyone, she told herself. But one could never be too prepared.
She made her way back toward the tunnel. With a bit of luck, the guards would have continued down the main corridor. He stomach knotted. Even if she got out of here, what was she going to do? She had to leave the hive. If she stayed she’d be hunted, caught, and executed. But how? And where would she go? No other hive would take her in.
Her eyes stung. Why did the queen not want anyone to come down here? This was part of the hive’s history, the queen’s history. She should be proud of it. All Penett had wanted to do was learn more, to see the early areas and places in her home. Now her curiosity had cost her that home.
Back at the top of the side tunnel, she braced herself before peering around the corner. Nobody was in sight. Penett turned toward the inhabited areas and ran.
* * * * *
Night had fallen and most of the other dwarves were sleeping. Penett slipped out of her hiding place in the closet and into the female’s bathing room. Since the queen had a link to every male, this was the only place she could think of where she wouldn’t be apprehended right away. She couldn’t stay though. With death or exile her only options, she chose to live.
She stripped down to her underclothes and balled her pants and shirt up around her shoes. Grabbing a towel from the closet, she wrapped it around herself. Another went around her hair, hopefully bundling her long brown hair up in the towel would make her harder to recognize. One more towel went around her neck like a scarf, obscuring part of her face.
This was ridiculous. If only there was some way to let Queen Serritch know she wasn’t a threat. Serritch had always been worried about being overthrown by a princess; a female dwarf that showed the rare ability to link to the minds of male dwarves.
But that was the problem. Penett was not a threat to her at all. All she’d wanted to do was explore, to learn, to study the history of their society. It wasn’t fair. If she could explain to the queen, make her see that there was nothing to be worried about. But Penett knew that idea was futile.
She’d never seen the queen. Few of the females ever did. The queen didn’t see anyone, technically. Not even the males when they were presented for her to touch and bind their minds to hers. Once a gifted female bound herself to a group of males, she lost her own ability to see, hear or smell. She relied on others to care for her physically, and all of her senses came through the bound minds.
Penett ducked her head, pulled the towels around her, and slipped out the door. A guard stood watch in the hallway, but didn’t acknowledge her as she walked past. She had to force herself to not break into a run. Her heart pounded as she made her way toward the living area that also happened to be near an exit tunnel.
Once inside the tunnel she dropped the towels and dressed as quickly as she could. She tucked the dagger into her belt again and tried to think of a way to get past the guards at the entrance. Part of her hadn’t expected to make it this far alive. She peeked into the guard alcoves as she passed, half surprised to find them empty.
She came around the final corner and froze. Voices drifted from ahead, and they were getting closer. She scurried back to one of the alcoves and ducked inside, curling up at the bottom and hoping to remain unseen one more time.
“…appreciate the help carrying this in. It was a lot heavier than we expected.”
“No problem. I don’t mind a break guarding the entrance from twig leapers and tree worms.” The guard laughed.
“Yeah, but we don’t think she’s come up from the lower levels yet.”
Penett smiled. Her escape to the baths had apparently been a complete success. After the three passed, carrying a large tree trunk between them, she slid out of the alcove and hustled to the entrance.
She had never actually been outside before. As she left the tunnel and walked out into the air, panic swelled in her chest. There was nothing above her, no protective embrace of the tunnels and rock to keep her safe. Everything was so large, so open.
Her feet tangled and she stumbled forward. If she was standing here gawking when the guard returned, it would all be for nothing. She turned toward the trees and ran.
Right into another pair of workers. Their eyes widened with recognition. “You! Don’t move. The guards have been alerted and are on their way.”
Queen’s blistered butt! She’d been caught. The workers circled around her, trying to contain her but not get too close. The guards would be here within seconds, and would probably execute her on the spot.
It was over. Penett fell to her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks. She’d never see another artifact. Never enjoy the touch of relics, of history in her hands. She inhaled deeply, relishing the scent of the rich soil for the last time.
The workers must have seen her collapse as surrender and stepped closer to prevent any escape attempts. Penett knew better than to try to outrun or fight them.
She waited until both stood in front of her. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Lashing out she grabbed a wrist with each hand. She’d never wanted this.
She locked eyes with the first one. Her fingers tightened, nails digging into his flesh. Her mind swept over his, engulfing it. Serritch’s connection was light and easily broken. Penett had touched minds before, subtly nuancing their actions. This was different, though. When the queen’s link broke, his mind trembled. He needed the connection, welcomed her mental touch, and greedily latched onto the tendril of her mind she offered.
Her eyes widened as she mentally assaulted the second worker. Even as she probed with her mind, her gaze darted around, taking in their last images. He’d had a moment to try to resist, but it proved futile for him as well.
A ringing filled her ears as her eyes clouded over. Her body went numb as her mind disconnected. She had a moment to wonder if she’d done it wrong, if she had somehow killed herself instead. She felt as if she were floating, as if sleep were overtaking her and no matter what her terrified mind did, she couldn’t wake.
But then she saw herself, standing, wavering slightly on her feet. Two images of herself, one from each of her two males. Her own, brand new hive. They took her hands, and led her silently into the trees, vanishing into the night.