Chapter Two

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The Upper Levels of the caverns were mostly devoted to seventeen floors of living quarters. Up higher there were more caves and caverns and tunnels, and they had been charted and mapped, and at times, when the population of Walemont had surged, many sections had even been occupied.

At present though they stood empty, as the heavy hand of the oppressive regime above ground seemed to hold the entire world in its icy, life rending grip, causing more and more families to doubt the wisdom in bringing children into a world where they would never safely see the light of day. Oh surely, there would be fleeting moments stolen in the light for some, but that was hardly a way to live, it was said more and more often. In that way Quara's family was even more of an oddity, for their small quarters seemed to be perpetually filled with the sound of laughter and music and as often as not, loud unruly voices. They were an oddity to be sure.

At the bottom of the long staircase along the edge of the chasm, coming up to the edge of the dark pit, was a large open area, of a breadth and width that they could host a dinner for giants, if those fearsome creatures ever came that far south. This area, called The Heart of the Mountain, was a vast open space lined with a few shops, a common eating area, a pub, a bank and a handful of small vendors with carts out in the open air. The common area in the middle was where holidays were celebrated and where the largest of the public city meetings convened.

A thick gold line, made from many thousands of tiny gold chains crafted from ore brought forth on heaping carts pulled out of the furthest depths of the mountain, was suspended high above the tiny businesses, running from one side of the cavern to the other. Hanging from the cable, above the middle of the Heart, and sharing it's name, was the huge stone light source. It was the color of amber and long ago it had been set in the middle of at least ten thousand diamonds. It burned from within brightly and over millennia it had never dimmed of flickered.

The stories of old said that it was formed of dragon fire that would burn for tens of thousands of years, and true to the legend it still shone steadily. It did not need fuel and it did not devour the limited air supply that circulated through the mountain.

Set within the walls, and glowing warmly in the light of the Heart, ran hundreds of thin golden veins, curling and coiling across the stone surface. The enchanting patterns couldn't have possibly been made by the natural progression of gold veins within the volcano, which had raised the massive granite crags from the bottom of the sea, back in the days when waters still lay over this part of the world. The knowledge of how the designs had come to be, like the knowledge of the production of the Heart, had slipped away so that not even the legend of its creation remained in human hands, if it had ever been known. The designs were so beautiful and the mines below so plentiful that no one dared suggest removing the gold to melt it and shape it and craft it into more useful objects.

Quara's eyes took in the familiar sight of the businesses lining the edge of the Heart's courtyard. There wasn't really a need for businesses in this little city but an economy of sorts had survived, through an act of will under taken by the entire community, generation after generation.

Items that were not strictly necessities were generally distributed through a barter system where people traded the goods that they had for what they desired. There was a currency that had survived, made of gold coins minted from a small amount of the gold that was brought up out of the ground. Everyone knew that the coins were created simply to keep the bank in business, because no one wanted to see the enormous building shuttered and because most still hoped that someday their currency would be sent out into the world again and that trade would begin to flow in and out of the mountain. The bank had once done a bustling business back before the Caverns had cut themselves off from the rest of the world and sealed off the largest entrance, entirely severing the little city from the strife and wars that raged on beyond their massive gates.

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