Both Felnen and Solum stared blankly at Votara after he’d made his pronouncement. There was no way for Votara to tell what either one of them was thinking. He wondered if he should back out now, tell them he was just kidding. It wasn’t too late. He hadn’t gone too far yet. He could still live out his days peacefully on Yebifar. But then Solum spoke.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” he said, “What in the world are you talking about?” Votara barely held in a sigh of relief. And then he saw Felnen continuing to stare at him, a small frown on his face, and decided it was too soon to be relieved.
“I am talking about laying the foundations for a movement that will sweep away this corrupt, old Empire, and replace it with something lasting and solid,” he said, “I am talking about establishing the last bastion of strength and justice in an Empire that is weak, soft, and rotten.”
“You’re talking about betrayal,” Felnen interrupted flatly. Votara looked at him, slightly surprised.
“Betrayal, Mek?” he said, “You of all people owe no loyalty to the Empire. Didn’t Imperial soldiers kill your parents?” Felnen flushed slightly and looked down.
“They did,” he said quietly, “But that wouldn’t have happened if the Nether hadn’t started the war in the first place. If my parents had been allowed to farm their land peacefully, instead of being dragged off to a One-forsaken colony by the Nether, they would never have ended up on a battlefield in the first place, and they would still be alive today!” As he spoke, his voice grew louder and stronger, and the last words ended up as an angry shout.
“So, you would invoke the name of the One,” Votara said sadly, “That old, useless god whose light is destined to be extinguished by the Great Darkness? You disappoint me, Mek.”
“If the Dark Presence is so great, then how come the Nether lost the war?” Felnen asked with a sneer.
“I’ve thought about this a great deal, and I believe I have come to a satisfactory answer,” Votara said pensively, “You see, the Presence allowed us to lose because our faith was insufficient. We doubted the power and justice of the Presence, and so the Presence punished us with the guns and warships of the Empire. We must purify ourselves, and restore our faith in the greatness of the Presence, and then we will be blessed with victory!” Felnen continued to look skeptical.
“Well, I’m interested,” Solum said suddenly, “I certainly have no love for the Empire, and the One has never done me any favors. Maybe I would be better off with the Dark Presence.”
“I’m glad to see one of you has some sense,” Votara said. Felnen snorted.
“You two are the ones without any sense,” Felnen scoffed, “Well, I’m not going to do anything to stop you. Go ahead and throw your lot in with the Dark Lord. I don’t care. Just know that the Empire will find out what you’re doing. I can guarantee that.”
“Is that a threat, Mek?” Votara asked quietly. Felnen shook his head.
“Not at all,” he said, “I may think that what you’re doing is foolish, but you are my friend, and I won’t betray you. All I’m saying is that the Empire is watching everything we’re doing, and somebody is going to figure out what you’re up to.”
“No, they won’t,” Votara said firmly, “I have the power and the blessings of the Presence on my side. I will be victorious.” Felnen just shook his head again. Before he could say anything, they heard a noise coming from up above them.
“Hey down there!” a voice yelled, “Is everyone alright?”
“We’re fine!” Votara called back, “Just a little shaken up, is all.”
“Okay,” the voice yelled down, “We’re gonna send down some float packs so you guys can get out of there!” Float packs were small devices that allowed a person to levitate. They generally weren’t standard gear for miners because there usually wasn’t much reason to levitate in a mine. But some were kept on hand for situations like this.
The arrival of the rescue crew put an end to talk of the Dark Presence. But Votara was fairly pleased about the way things had gone. He would have been more pleased if Felnen had been on board with him. But at least now he knew where Felnen stood. And he’d gained a new ally in Solum. Unless of course Solum was an Imperial agent. But that was a risk that he had to take.
A few hours later Votara and Felnen were back in their apartment. They had been given the rest of the day off in order to rest up from their accident. Immediately, Votara could tell that things were going to be awkward between them from now on. Normally, he and Felnen would chat about their day, or about the latest amusing animal video one of them had seen on the internet, or whatever. But now, things were different. Felnen hadn’t said a word to him since they had gotten out of the hole, and as soon as they reached the apartment, Felnen went straight into the bedroom and shut the door. After about an hour or so, Votara knocked on the door and called to Felnen, but he received no answer.
Felnen’s attitude disturbed Votara. He had thought for sure that Felnen would jump at the chance to strike back at the Empire. If his parents had been killed by Imperial soldiers, he certainly wouldn’t have wanted to give his loyalty to the Empire. Of course, he didn’t want to give his loyalty to the Empire anyway, but that was beside the point. He needed to look into moving in with Solum instead. Solum’s apartment might not be bugged, for one. He still wasn’t sure whether his was or not, but he didn’t dare take a chance. In any case, he worried that Felnen would turn him in. The less Felnen knew about his plans, the better.
To be continued…