Inbetween: Chapter Forty Nine

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Of all the things Willow tried to mentally prepare herself for in this world, Alenna giving her heavy leather boots and gloves and informing her that she would be the only member of their group to join her on a tour of the mines was not one of them. She had come to terms with the fact that Alenna seemed to enjoy singling her out and getting on her nerves. She assumed it was nothing more than a game for her. Taking her instead of Yuri or even Asa left her second guessing Alenna’s motivations.

Yuri had been keen to go on this trip to gather more news about the outside world, but this mining village was about as isolated as a place could be. He never expressed his disappointment in words, but he didn’t need to. The look on his face when he first saw where they had landed said it all for him.

She sympathized with him. None of this was what she had expected and the longer she was here, the further events deviated from her expectations. She assumed she would learn what to expect as she adjusted to living in this world, but she felt as though she was not learning or adjusting. Alenna was just one item on a long list of things she could not fully comprehend in this place. More and more she found herself just going along with things without questioning why she should do things this way.

She wondered where her will to fight had gone. She used to have opinions and stand her ground when people tried to force her to do things she didn’t want to do. Granted, she only had limited success when she was facing down her own family and their desire to have her be a part of the family business. Part of that was because her family probably had the same stubborn streak as her, but part of it was also just her will to survive to see another day overruling her desire to forge her own path.

There was nothing left but her will to survive here. She knew she could fight, but she was terrified of trying. Ever since Yuri pressured her to use her powers and she hurt him, she was afraid of losing control and hurting someone. At first, it was only Yuri she felt she had to worry about since her powers seemed to have no effect whatsoever on other people in her world. Most of them could not see or feel anything. The only exceptions to the rule she knew of for sure where her own family and none of them had ever been able to use their abilities on each other. In this place, she felt as though she was a terrifying liability.

No one treated her that way. Yuri knew first hand what she was capable of doing and Asa had heard all about it from both Yuri and herself. Neither of them seemed to worry about her power getting away from her and harming them or others. She also felt that Alenna suspected something of her, but she never went as far as to question Willow about the nature of her abilities. That did not change the fact that there was something unspoken between them. Willow was afraid that Alenna would uncover certain secrets she wanted to keep as far under wraps as possible.

She had a funny feeling about this trip. Any activity that took her so far into the unknown without the people that she had learned to think of as her back up in this world made her uneasy. She resigned herself to going along with Alenna’s plan but hoped she could at least minimize any potential damage by going prepared.

The boots were a bit too big, but she remedied that with an extra pair of thick socks. She knew she would not regret having the option to layer up on their clothes. As chilly as things had been in Alenna’s home built into the side of a mountain, it was far colder up here. The air was so cold and dry that even without snow on the ground, her footfalls caused an icy crunch.

She was bundled up to the point that she felt awkward and cumbersome following Alenna through the town. They were both bundled up in so many layers that it was hard for her to get a read on body language. She hoped her own body language was equally obscured so no one would be able to tell just how on edge she was now that she realized they were heading toward the mines.

It seemed as though everyone was taking the day as some sort of holiday. Whether this was because of Alenna’s arrival or merely because their loved ones were home for a visit, Willow could not begin to guess. She assumed it was some combination of both. Surely, Alenna’s visit was a good enough excuse for taking a day off and spending time with friends and family that were living and working so far away most of the time.

This meant that the mines were empty today, which made it even stranger in Willow’s opinion that they would be going there now. She tried to keep herself from frowning at she followed Alenna. It was better for her to keep an open mind or at least the appearance of an open mind for the time being.

Alenna’s silence did put her a bit on edge. While she was not known for constantly chatting away about nothing, she often seemed to take pleasure in a few volleys back and forth when she wanted to glean some extra information or knock someone off their guard. Then again, her demeanor since arriving in this mining village was vastly different from anything Willow had seen before. She seemed more ordinary. As soon as they arrived, she took on the role of a member of the household. Even though she had to be as exhausted as the rest of them after their travels, she stepped in and worked alongside her husband cooking and cleaning to prepare to offer Willow, Asa and Yuri hospitality. The teasing superiority that seemed to make up so much of her demeanor disappeared in the presence of her husband and son. If Willow did not already consider her to be a force to be reckoned with, she might even find Alenna to be welcoming while under the influence of her family.

The old Alenna was back as soon as she announced this trip to Willow. It was not an offer, but it wasn’t an order either. Her knack for commanding without demanding was not diminished by her brief stint as wife and mother. A part of Willow wanted to defy her just to prove she still had it in her to do it, but she realized there was no benefit for her if she managed to succeed.

She tried to think positively about this. She had never been in a mine before. It might be interesting. Unfortunately, everything she knew about mines told her it would be dark and damp, neither of which would do much to improve her mood.

Inside the mine, she was pleasantly surprised to discover it was not as bitterly cold as it was outside. Being out of the wind helped a bit, but she no longer felt the bitter cold of the icy winter air stealing away any heat she could produce, but rather the air felt cool. Compared to the wind and cold that had drained her spirit and her energy over the last few days, the temperatures in here were a pleasant surprise. Contrary to her own expectations, she found herself feeling a bit better here than she had over the last few days.

That all changed when Alenna took a lantern off the wall and activated what looked suspiciously like an old, crudely built elevator. She glanced back over her shoulder at Willow.

“Well,” she said after walking all this way in near complete silence. “Shall we?”

The light from the lantern threw sinister shadows on Alenna’s face. Willow found it difficult to trust her while she looked like that.

“I’m not a fan of elevators,” she said while taking a hesitant step backward.

Alenna sighed. “It’s perfectly safe. They load this thing up with men and carts loaded with ore day in and day out. It’s not going to bat an eye at taking the two of us down.”

“It looks decrepit,” Willow complained. She leaned forward a bit to get a better look at just how bad the machinery looked.

“There’s nothing decrepit about this machinery. Not only do the people working these mines trust it with their lives, but they’re proud to present it to me while I tour the mines. Now come on. There’s something I want to show you down below.”

Arguing seemed pointless and as much as Willow hated to admit it even to herself, her interest was piqued. Her protest to the elevator still stood. At the best of times, she was not particularly thrilled about elevators and no matter what sort of assurances might be given to their safety. She wanted to keep the peace and that would not happen if she decided to make this the hill she would die on.

Against her better judgment and with a great deal of trepidation, she boarded the elevator. She knew that watching the exposed mechanisms as the platform descended further into the mountain. She knew she would feel as though she were falling too fast if she observed their descent, but she realized she could not resist the temptation. The elevator was built for maximum efficiency and did not offer such luxuries as safety railings. Since she had nothing to hold on to, she stood in the center of the platform, hoping that it would protect her from injury if she lost her balance.

She did not realize she had been holding her breath until their descent halted and she gasped for air. Without so much as a glance back over her shoulder at her, Alenna stepped off the platform and into the mine. Still a bit lightheaded from lack of oxygen, Willow had no choice but to hurry after her.

Soon enough she was breathing normally again and doing her best to stay close to Alenna. Down in this mineshaft, while no one was working, there was no light other than Alenna’s lantern. If Willow did not keep up she would be left in the dark now that she had left behind the elevator she had so despised before this moment.

She was stuck now. Turning back now would surely cause her to stumble or fall in the complete darkness. She followed just behind Alenna and peered over her shoulder, straining her eyes to see what was at the outer reaches of the lamp’s circle of light.

Focusing on the light provided by the lamp, prevented her from seeing the gradual appearance of ambient light from the walls.when she finally did notice, the light had nearly made the lamp redundant. She looked around when she finally realized the more complete, steady light was coming from the mineshaft itself. The walls and ceiling for as far as she could see in both directions glowed in strips and patches of blue-white light.

They stopped walking. A hundred questions fought for supremacy in her mind. None won as she slowly turned to look at the designs in the ore marbled into the walls.

“It’s rather pretty, isn’t it?” Alenna asked.

“Yeah,” she responded absently.

“It’s always a pleasant surprise to find something useful that is also attractive. You know what this is, don’t you?”

The question jarred Willow back to full attention. She was expected to answer a question and she was barely articulate at the moment.

“No,” she admitted. “What is it?”

“This is the raw ore we use to make our airships fly.”

“Oh,” she responded lamely. She realized now just how obvious it had been. If she had bothered to actually think about it, she felt sure that she would have been able to guess.

“Let’s keep going. I was told there were some pieces mined and ready to be moved to the surface a bit further down the shaft.”

She nodded.

They walked on. The glow from the ore made the lantern all but obsolete now, but Alenna continued to hold the lantern out as though it was still illuminating their way.

Finally, the mineshaft opened up into a larger cavern and a cart piled with pieces of ore sat just past the opening of the cavern. Alenna picked up one of the pieces of ore in her free hand. Her fingers shifted to more firmly grip the ore which glowed only faintly.

“Catch!” she called out as she tossed the chunk of ore at Willow.

Reflexively, she reached out and clasped the rock between both her hands. She gasped. A surge of energy jolted through her and the ore in her hands glowed with blinding brightness now.

Once her eyes adjusted to the dazzling new light, she looked up and noticed a suspiciously sly grin on Alenna’s face.

“Well, I think that answers a few questions of mine with no words needed.”

Willow dropped the ore finally. She had an unnerving feeling that she had been tricked and she did not even understand what the scheme had been.

“I think I have some questions of my own.” She was trying her hardest to remain civil, but underneath it all, she felt her temper rising to a boil. She hated feeling like she had been used and she hated the smug way Alenna went about it. She was going make sure she knew what was going on here. Once she had the full picture she would decide if she was satisfied or if her temper still needed to run its course.

“I’ll be happy to answer them while we head back up.”

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