Behind the third turn was... more of the same long stone corridor. Stumbling with every step, Hadjar regretted losing his things, such as the spatial ring and the sword. He’d already forgotten the last time he’d spent so long without his blade. He’d had no idea how much he had grown used to the weight on his belt and how comforting the scabbard bouncing against his thigh while he walked had become.
He would be able to get back everything he’d lost if he had a good sword in his hands and the wind in his hair. However, he currently had neither. So, his plan was to remove the slave collar around his neck and get a hold of any blade. The rest would just be a matter of time and effort.
A mere half an hour later, the darkness of the corridors was replaced by the light of a wide hall. It was semicircular and illuminated by the same green cracks in the ceiling and white torches.
Hadjar paused to stare at this miracle and was struck in the side by a club. He almost didn’t feel the pain, as it was blocked out by another, sharper one: all this time, they had been walking barefoot across the stones. By the end of their ‘journey’, their feet had been almost ground down to the bone. Then Hadjar noticed a group of about seventy people in plain white cloaks. It dawned on him that the clothes the servants now wore had been the same as these robes, long ago.
In front of the group stood a woman who resembled a watchdog. She was as taut with tension as the bowstring of a bow. She wasn’t beautiful, but sharp and ferocious. She had the same aura that the paunchy man and Serra had. She was clearly a witch as well.
“Karissa,” Salif bowed.
“You’re late, Salif.” She held a thick book bound in iron. The old, yellowed pages glittered slightly in the light of the torches, fastened to the book with chains. “Why is the material damaged? You and your people don’t look good either...”
“We had some problems along the way, Karissa, but it was nothing serious.”
Her expression made it clear that she didn’t want to hear any excuses. Karissa pointed at an empty spot at the side of the crowd. Salif bowed again and nodded to the servants. They dragged the strangers to the indicated spot and turned the handles of the rods.
Hadjar and Einen tensed reflexively, but instead of pain, they heard mechanical clicks. The rods separated from the collars in some strange way. However, this alone didn’t give them any false hope or delusions of escape being possible. They were still prisoners and attempting to escape would be absolutely pointless.
“Well.” Karissa gave the audience an appreciative look. Hadjar, accustomed to it after years of traveling with the freak show, wasn’t insulted. However, Einen gritted his teeth. “All of you ended up here by the will of the Evening Stars. Some by accident, while others have been looking for our city for many decades to find out if there is any truth behind the myth, or to look for treasures and secret Techniques, or to beg for a grain of the Sage’s wisdom.”
The crowd kept silent. Hadjar also had nothing to say, as he didn’t understand what was happening. The crowd gathered here was very ragtag: there were men and women both, young and old. Bronze-skinned desert dwellers, swarthy southerners, tanned northerners. Everything from strong practitioners in slave collars to those who were considered so harmless that they’d never even been collared.
“You all went through a month and a half of acclimatization,” the witch continued. Einen and Hadjar looked at each other. So that was what their imprisonment was called — ‘acclimatization’. “The atmosphere in our city is harmful to those who come from the surface. The same principle applies in reverse as well. We couldn’t let you into our city until everything you brought with you was destroyed.”
The people nodded, listening to the witch attentively. Hadjar couldn’t stop examining the surrounding area. Against his will, his mind continued to search for escape routes. It failed repeatedly, but didn’t give up and kept trying.
“We might not be the most hospitable hosts in the world, but the laws of cordiality aren’t alien to us either.” Karissa looked at the crowd like an appraiser looked at goods in a warehouse. “We didn’t invite you, but you are still here, and we must do something with you. We can’t just let you go. Each of you has seen the entrance to Underworld City, and this alone is enough for many of my fellow citizens to want to send you to meet your forefathers.”
A wave of whispers passed through the crowd, but as soon as the chains on the witch’s book rattled, it immediately stopped.
“So, we will give you all a choice.” Karissa waved her hand and various amulets flew out of her caftan and hovered in the air. There were three types of them. “Each of you will voluntarily come up here and choose an amulet. Red ones will make you servants. You will wear energy-limiting collars. After working for Underworld City for 35 years, you’ll become a full citizen...”
The witch wasn’t even finished speaking before several dozen people took a step forward. Each of them received a red amulet and an order to follow one of the servants (there were still several other ‘head servants’ there, in addition to Salif). The people who’d elected to wait watched them with contempt, especially the ones who wore slave collars.
What was 35 years at the very beginning of one’s path of cultivation? It was like a whole lifetime. Those who voluntarily sacrificed this period, even if they received unique resources and knowledge later, would probably never be able to catch up. They would have no strong inner core that would allow them to reach the higher levels of cultivation.
“The next amulets are the black ones. After receiving these, all restrictions will be removed and you’ll be sent to the lower levels of the city. There, under strict surveillance, you’ll mine Blue Stone Ore. You’ll serve for five years. After that, you’ll also receive the status of a citizen.”
This time, only seven or nine people stepped forward. All of them had collars. They were also given the same judgmental looks, full of contempt and condemnation. Not for their choice, but for their hastiness. After all, if they’d done the same after listening to all the options, then no one would’ve said a word about it. Indeed, in addition to cultivating, one had to survive, and to do so, you had to assess your opportunities soberly and with great care.
“And the last color is blue. After you take these, all your restrictions will also be removed and you’ll even get your property back. In exchange for your citizenship and freedom, you’ll be at the disposal of the Research Chamber for a period of one year. I’ll warn you right now: nine out of ten servants receive citizenship; four out of ten miners earn their freedom; but only one out of ten that choose the Research Chamber do the same. You’ll have an hour to think it over. I’ll assign amulets at my discretion to anyone who refuses to make a choice by the time your deadline is up.”
As soon as the witch finished speaking, two men separated from the group: the tall and broad-shouldered northerner, whose bald head glistened ridiculously with pinkish-white skin, and the islander, easily recognizable thanks to his people’s characteristic eyes. They both simultaneously chose a blue amulet.
My name is Kirill Klevanski. I was born in Russia, in St. Petersburg, and English isn’t my native language.
I have always been fond of fantasy worlds and magic creatures, and so I found myself writing a fantasy novel one day.
My career as an author began when I was eighteen. I got my first contract with a publishing agency easily. I wrote 4 books for that series and then I got bored. The publisher didn’t like that.
At the age of twenty, I suddenly found myself among the most popular Russian fanfic authors. My fanfic of ‘Harry Potter’ got over 1.000.000 reads in under seven months.
At the age of 22 I was a “real author” with my own printed book series. Blah, blah, blah…
Had I achieved any real success?
Come on now! It would’ve been just one more boring and hardly believable story if I’d had!
All the top publishing houses in Russia had banned me from literary events and wouldn’t work with me.
...I was only twenty-three, however, my literary career had collapsed and been buried...
“Ha-ha! Go cry to your mommy”, someone said.
No, thanks. His Mom was my #1 fan.
The internet has given us freedom. And so, thanks to the internet, I continued writing and self-published my works on many book sites.
More and more, book by book, I used each free minute I had to create new fantasy worlds. Some of my books became rather popular, while others were… just a tad awful.
At one time, I stopped writing.
I wasn’t having as much success as I’d dreamed about. Instead, I got my diploma and went on to work as a History teacher.
“Ha-ha again! An even better ending for the story of such a cocky man!”
Yeah… I stopped writing, but I never stopped reading. One day, I came across two genres—LitRPG and Wuxia. The idea for an epic saga came to my mind in an instant!
The "Dragon Heart” saga has become one of the most read fantasy series in Russia. Over 10,000,000 reads in just one and a half years.
The series “Dragon Heart” has 12 books and over 1100 chapters out already, as well as its own fan club. The whole story is planned out (I won’t get bored of this one, promise) and will have over 2000 chapters and 20 books.
Nowadays, this story is popular all over the world.
That’s why I came here to tell you my story.