In the southwestern corner of the Empire of Eden stands the town of Palen. It sits on the only road connecting humanity to the wasteland that was once the home of demons. The people there live humble lives, raising livestock and crops, gathering for sermons twice a week, and teaching their children their craft. It’s a peaceful town, all thanks to the Heroes for ending the threat of demonic invasion those decades ago.
The town’s main export, at least according to the tax collector’s report, is iron. It isn’t produced in the town, or even worked there. No, it just happens that a rich vein of ore was found in the nearby mountains and Palen, as the nearest township, laid claim to the space. And rather than make its upright citizens toil in the underground, Palen requested a portion of the enslaved criminals be made to dig the mine.
These criminals were, of course, those same demons from the other side of the mountain, enslaved after the war. And their children, and their childrens’ children.
“That’s what you kids are: free labor! Well, not exactly free; the Emperor receives a portion of the ore at no cost as compensation. But you aren’t getting paid for it! I’m not getting paid for it!” the old kobold grumbled. The small children gathered around him giggled. One of them dared to raise a paw.
“You don’t dig up any of the iron anyway, mister Draconhouser!”
“Pah! Taking care of you lot is three times more work than swinging a little pickaxe around all day! And don’t go callin’ me a mister; I don’t need no human title. I’m Draconhouser the thirteenth, thirteenth-in-line for assistant to the regent of the Brazen Burrow!”
That made all the kids break out in fits of laughter. The Brazen Burrow was one of his best stories–a secret home the Demon Lord would visit just a few times a year. The kobold insisted he was near the top of the line for inheriting an honorable position of service. Even still too young to be put to work digging, these kids all knew how to count to thirteen; there were a whole fifteen of them being looked after. Thirteenth in line was practically last place.
An older demon, a young lady just blooming into adulthood, smiled as she heard the laughter. It was only a few years ago she’d been among those kids, though it felt half a lifetime. Now she was a miner. Her pink skin was perpetually caked with dust and her white hair was smothered until it looked light brown. The part of her she kept cleanest were the horns atop her head, the dirt never finding purchase.
Dressed in her working outfit for the day–a pair of half-pants that let her hooves swing freely and a big, baggy shirt that had been sized for a gnoll originally and hung clear down to her thighs–she stopped to greet the old caretaker.
“Draconhouser the thirteenth! What are you teaching the young ones? They pay us in food!”
“Pah!” he snorted again. “Talia sin Meritia, food isn’t pay. Pay is money! Gold! Something you can take and have, or spend to get something else you want to have!”
“Hmm… But I think I’d rather have the food. What would I do with gold?”
“What would you-!? Pah! PAH! You would polish it so it shone and shape it into statues and use it to frame portraits! Why, when I was a boy working in the scullery at the Brazen Burrow-!”
A loud shout for roll call interrupted the kobold before he could once more enthrall her with tales of the grandeur of his childhood workplace. Talia frowned, but quickly said her farewells to him and the kids, then hurried out to the square.
All the workers were gathering–the miners in the center, the carters to the right, the packagers on the left. At the front of their assembly stood Overseer Timms, Headman Adams’s right hand man. Timms was a stern fellow, but a reasonable master. So long as the workers met quota, he didn’t care what they were doing with their spare time. He’d even appointed a captain for each group from among the workers themselves. Head of the miners was Virgil Stonespeak, a short, green-skinned demon with wiry limbs that could heave a rock half as big as he was. If all goblins were like him, Talia mused, those human adventure stories would all end in the first chapter.
Virgil ran a quick sweep of his people before turning back to Overseer Timms. “All present for mining duty!” he reported with a lazy salute. The other leaders likewise reported all heads accounted for.
“Good. No news today!” the overseer shouted over the crowd. “Daily quota is still one cart per head! One hundred eighty-two total. Dismissed.”
As Timms walked off, the captains began hustling their people into the tunnels. A few of the carters rushed ahead, anxious to get to the bottom and start breaking the next wall before the miners came close. Packagers turned off toward the warehouse, making ready the week’s offering for pickup next Moonday.
Talia moved along with the flow of traffic, her head darting left and right as she sought out a friendly face. Not an easy task when everyone around her was six feet tall. Even if her horns stood half a foot higher than them, that didn’t help her eye-level from being five nine.
'If Gnash would stand up straight, I'd never miss her,' she silently mused, a light smile on her lips.