“Heave!” Came the cry, and the little object wobbled in the loose, wet mud.
The excavation team had not anticipated rain. Most of them had never been to the surface before and those that had only a scarce few times. The surface was unpredictable - why bother? Sometimes it was cold, sometimes it was hot, especially when it was bright. The brightness was the thing they really couldn’t bear. After centuries adapting to life underground they had come to revel in the gloom; growing enormous eyes that could pick out detail in next to no light. What light they did have came from carefully drilled holes up to the surface, the holes bent and skewed on their way down so that the light shifted and bounced and never caused hot little pools to form on the floors. It also meant that when the surface water happened, it trickled in tiny drips rather than racing straight in and flooding an unsuspecting person’s home.
Today was the culmination of months of planning for the excavation team. Searches had been ongoing since before half of them had been born - scanning the surface with various tools and technologies to search for anything that could be what they were looking for. Deep down in the treasury cavern there were huge piles of items that had been discovered but which weren’t right. Milk bottle tops, lost rings, empty cans, inexplicable items like the gem with a stick attached. No one knew what that was for but everyone knew it was pretty. Especially if you twirled it by the stick under one of the light shafts. When you did that it twinkled and shone. Perhaps there were some bonuses to the surface light after all, even if it did stings your eyes.
Marine certainly thought there was a good side to the surface light. She had joined the Search Force 4 cold seasons ago in the hope that her work would take her topside more and more. This was her first experience of it though. It was everything she’d hoped. She’d heard her elders discuss wind but had found it hard to understand.
“So the air moves?” She’d asked Pappy Gloat, incredulously.
“Yep.” Said Pappy Gloat, revelling in being the centre of attention.
“Can you see it?” Marine had no idea what the air moving could mean. You couldn’t see air, so how would you know it was moving?
“No, but you can see things being moved by it.”
“Like a puppet?” Marine thought of the marionette shows they watched after the nut harvest once the nuts had been eaten and the shells were available for auction for building materials and creating other knick-knacks.
“I suppose so,” mused Gloat, “I’d never thought of it like that before though. You can mainly feel the wind.”
“Feel it? What does it feel like?” Marine thought about the feel of the cool earth in the tunnels as she trailed a hand along it, or how a trickle of water felt if she plunged her fingers in up to her wrist and let it flow past. “Like water?”
“I suppose like water… but it’s tricksy and less forceful. It changes direction and tickles different parts of you and sometimes lies very still with just the lightest touch and sometimes blows so hard you have to hold on to stay on the ground.”
Marine just could not imagine this sensation. No matter how hard she tried, stood there in the still, stale tunnels she couldn’t picture the air swirling about her. She blew onto her hands and tried to imagine that sensation multiplied but she just didn’t feel it could be anything near right.
“What makes the wind?” Her mind’s eye conjured images of a hundred sleeping creatures all lying in hiding places and blowing the air around to confound the humans and the surface creatures.
“We don’t know. There are various theories.” Marine could tell Pappy Gloat was losing interest now he no longer knew the answers. “Some people say it’s the size of everything up there - things are so big they can’t help but move the air around. Some people say it’s about the heat but that all seems pretty far fetched to me.”
Now that she was up here on the surface, she realised she didn’t care at all what made the wind. She just loved the feel of it. It tickled her and made her sneeze. The sneeze earned her a heavy frown from the leader of the expedition. Ezria was a stern, experienced and severe woman who had been to the surface more times than anyone else Marine had heard of below. Of course, this didn’t make her popular with everyone. Most of the people Marine knew from her home town would rather not visit the surface - it was terrifying and unpredictable. They wanted security and solidarity and the tunnels and caves that had been dug out and made homes, towns and cities over the centuries were just enough thank you very much.
Marine had absolutely never felt like that. She’d always felt a yearning to be up top. She heard the stories told of Ezria and the other Captains avoiding the snuffling noses of dogs - dogs were enormous four legged creatures that would lick or nibble you if you weren’t speedy enough on your feet. She’d always felt that these adventures were where she belonged but it hadn’t been easy…
- Have to care for her siblings
- Come from a very poor family
- Have a secret ability
- Have Royal blood
Marine squinted in the brightness and tried to focus on what Ezria was saying. The scanners were telling them that the object they were seeking was close and the right density to be the Lost Stone. Marine could feel her stomach fluttering and leaping and she prayed that nothing strange would happen while they were on the mission. One failure in front of Ezria was enough to have her below ground for the rest of her life on some menial task. Now that she’d been up top and seen the sky Marine didn’t think she’d be able to survive only ever seeing the top of a canyon for the rest of her life.
Her stomach was in knots and she could feel a whining growing in her ears. She tried to squash down the panic building as to what this meant. Is was an all too familiar feeling with Marine and it never spelled good things on the horizon.
Marine, Ezria and the rest of the search team were part of a race called Tingions. A tiny people who stood barely two inches high and had lived under ground for centuries. Tingions were famous within the subterranean world for wanting a simple life. It was why they had gone underground in the first place: they wanted to remove complications. Complications like magic.
Before they had gone underground Tingions had all been magic. They’d co-existed with all the topside creatures, including humans, playing tricks and making things exciting and adventurous with their magic. But then the humans had got greedy - using the Tingions for entertainment and putting them to use powering mechanics and other things that made their lives easier. Humans began rounding up Tingions, trying to farm and breed them to be more powerful and more magical. They would put huge bounties on the heads of the most powerful Tingions and cage them up in circuses and on display. There was no chance of the Tingions fighting in an all out war. Their magic was for crafts and lights, beauty and entertainment - they were far too small to be of any military power against a race as inventive and cunning as the humans.
The Tingions had retreated and resisted the humans, gradually moving further and further out of reach. Over 200 hundred years they tried negotiating to be left alone and protest their independence, and there had been several groups of humans who protested the treatment of Tingion people but overall it wasn’t enough. Eventually the entire tiny race moved completely underground to forget their harassment and live away from their tormenters. Over time and generations, the humans came to forget the Tingions. They told folk stories and sang songs and tales but the name of the race left their tongues and each new set of grandchildren came to assume more and more that all stories of fairies had always been nonsense.
Below ground things were changing too… the longer the Tingions stayed away from the humans the more they adored and savoured the peace and tranquility of being left alone. Tales of captivity, enslavement and torture were drummed into children as they sat around the dinner circles each night. It was drummed into the continuation of the DNA that they needed to be out of sight and out of mind of the humans in order to survive and stay happy.
Tingions had always been gentle and cautious, but they had enjoyed the sparks of magic and mischievous delight that they could cause. Now they despised it. Any form of magic or attention seeking was chastised and squashed and they learned to fear. Gradually the magic died out until no one could do it and no one wanted to.
No one except Marine.
Marine had been barely 3 cold seasons old when she had sneezed and sent red sparks shooting out of her toes. The sparks had tingled in the damp, darkness of their burrow and as the tiny Marine giggled at them they had fizzed and danced around the room to the pattern of her laughter. Her parents had been shocked and terrified and had ignored it - doing all they could keep Marine wrapped up and out of sight in public in case it should happen again. They had never mentioned it between them. None of their older children had ever done anything remotely like this. It hadn’t happened again and so eventually they relaxed: chalking it up to an accident that wouldn’t be repeated and wouldn’t lose them their place in society.
Marine though, had reached 14 and felt the magic tingling inside her more and more. She had never conjured sparks again but she knew something was different about her. When she got excited or too happy, or daydreamed too freely she would feel her stomach flutter and her eyes shine and then things would start to go wrong around her. Things would fall, was it falling if they went up first before crashing down? Beetles would arrive and always head straight for marine. Mud would crack or water would trickle. She felt like the air and the earth couldn’t always control itself around her and she didn’t know how or why - but she knew it was her fault.
As she stood above ground in her commando gear, trying to concentrate on Ezria’s instructions, she thought about all the times her strange tingling power had caused her to stumble and fail during her training, and she prayed that it wouldn’t mess up her first mission above ground.
What complicates the mission:
- A cat
- A human
- Another Tingion