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SJORIA: Book One|"The Silence Before The Song"|Scroll Down to Begin...

Chapter Twelve: Into The Depths

here was a red glow in the distance, like fire.
Nya had seen it first an hour back down the road. Every step drew him closer towards it, and gradually the glow began to take shape. There were at least fifteen rows of little red lights; with fewer at the top row and more on the next on down to the bottom. He could not imagine what it could be, but the course of the Red Road remained unaltered, and every step forward was a step nearer this riddle of lights.
It was not long after that Nya became aware of noises in the distance, presumably originating with the lights. There was a great clattering and clanging of metal—rhythmic and unbroken, Clang-twang! Boom! Clang-ker-twang! Twang! Boom! Clang-twang! Boom! Clang-clang-ker-twang! Boom! Too, he began to be able to make out the form of the structure—for it was a building of sorts. The rows of lights he had seen were windows, constructed in a spiralling pattern down the length of what appeared to Nya to be a gigantic kiln. But indeed, for its size and the windows, he knew that the structure could not serve the same purpose as a kiln. There seemed to be a great hole in the top of the domed structure, out of which poured billowing clouds of smoke, their underbellies dyed red by the light of fires below.
Clang-kang! Boom! Clang-ker-kang! Kang! Boom! Clang-kang! Boom!
The noise was louder now. Nya saw ahead that the length of the Red Road turned just before the structure, giving a breadth of about ten feet before its entrance. The great domed entrance shone fiery red, four storeys tall and wide enough for at least fifty men to cross through abreast. Even for this, the entrance had seemed only a small light to compare to the ultimate girth and height of the entire structure from a distance. Following Shadowshifter and the others, Nya passed the great threshold into what felt like a heavy wall of heat—and found himself immediately surrounded by pure chaos!
At the first, it was almost too much to take in. The noise of falling anvils and heavy machinery was deafening. The place was huge and busy as a horde of komerados. Looking up, Nya saw pulleys and vats transporting molten metal to higher and lower levels; the inside of the dome had a system of ramps alongside the walls, in a spiralling pattern as the windows had indicated from outside. Conveyor belts zigzagged across the centre of the dome between ramps, carrying chunks of unrefined materials to and fro. Nya walked forward to the edge of the ramp the entrance had opened upon. He gripped the edge of the metal barrier and looked down to behold more of the same; more ramps spiralling down, more conveyor belts, more pulleys, on down into the great centre of the “kiln”, where he could see the light of a great boiling furnace far below. And everywhere he saw hundreds of workers, none of them much older than himself and many younger; powering the belts, sorting the unrefined materials, filling what looked like weapon or machine casts, pounding crude red-hot tools, and more.
The Shadowshifter’s cold iron hand gripped Nya’s shoulder suddenly and pulled him back. “This is the Sekivres-Vorcipet-Helcid!” he shouted over the noise. “You will all report here for work each morning unless otherwise directed! Shadowsmasher!”
The last word had been shouted louder, to gain the attention of a large, burly man already approaching them. He stopped a few feet away and saluted the giant. “Yes, Shadowshifter, sir!”
“These are the new Kiy-äné, I trust you know where they are to go?”
“Yes sir!” shouted the man, wiping sweat from his brow with the back of his wrist. “The ones from Novangärd, eh?”
“That’s right,” Shadowshifter affirmed. He eyes wandered up from the man to the vast chambers above. His expression darkened as they returned to Nya. Then he looked at Shadowsmasher. “I’ll leave you to your work.” He spun on his heel, his dark cape swirling in his wake, and he departed the way he had come, leaving Nya, his friends, and the Moon Dracoens with Shadowsmasher.
“A’right,” Shadowsmasher shouted, “You heard the man! There’s work to be done, come along with me now!”
Nya glanced anxiously at his friends. Their faces were expressionless, their eyes dark. Perhaps as Shifter had said, they could not hear him. How then did they know the will of the Black Shard before them, that they followed him without question on up to a higher ramp? Nya followed after them wordlessly, his chest tight with dread. Would they always be like this?
On the next level up, there were rows and rows of workers before conveyor belts. “Your first shift will be here; you’re sorters on this line!” shouted Shadowsmasher, “Check the scrap, let the metal move on up, and remove debris—wooden handles and the like! Cast that lot over the belt and into the fires below! If you find something else, like a bit o’ precious stone, take it off the belt and drop it into one o’ those chutes on your other side there, next to your station! Oy! Shadowsong!”
One of the workers turned; a girl who looked to be about thirteen or fourteen. She was La’Karnian; pale skinned with pointed ears and narrow eyes. She had some sort of black makeup swirling down from the corners of her eyes in a strange web-like pattern over her cheeks. Her hair was very short, almost the same cut as servant boys back home—it was the blackest Nya had ever seen, like pitch, with only the red glint of the fires’ light to give it form. She looked at Shadowsmasher for only a second before her green eyes met Nya’s, and a something of a smile tugged at the corners of her lips.
“What’re you daydreamin’ at, girl?” Shadowsmasher barked, snapping her attention back towards him.
“Nothing, sir!” she answered quickly, looking up at him and straightening her back and shoulders.

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