The Memory Mines
The Mines were deep.
Tiverius knew that, and he knew his name, and on some nights retaining that knowledge was a desperate struggle. The Mines were deep, and he had to work in them. For hours he would scratch away at the walls to reveal gemstones that cast a fluorescent glow in the cavern.
The Swallowerians owned the mines, wraithlike creatures. He remembered his name because they said it so often: “Tiverius, Tiverius, the Mines are deep, and you have lost so much…”
Then they would cackle only pausing to suck on the gemstones with their purse-like mouths, their white eyes rolling back into their heads in pleasure. Feeding.
He stumbled about in the darkness, grit beneath his fingernails, and his shirt bonded with the skin of his back, like a reptile—What?—sticky with sweat, his lips salty. When the cold winds swept down the Mines, mingling with the stale air of the caverns, Tiverius would curl up to rest.
He was the only mortal in the cavern who knew his name. Every night before he went to sleep, he would grind his teeth and repeat his name over and over, a mantra. Tiverius. Tiverius.
He awoke, aching, and lapped water from a puddle on the ground, like a dog—What was that?—and when he couldn’t remember, he vision blurred. He picked up his pickax and with a furious swing, he hacked at the rocks, watching the glow expand, wanting to just be swallowed up forever, and suddenly a gemstone rolled out of the wall.
Chest heaving, he dropped the pickaxe. Then he closed his eyes, trying to relax, and found his mantra missing.
He couldn’t be the same. He had always been different. How had he been different?
He dropped to his knees and pressed his face against the wall, as if he will his memories back from the rock. With a frown, he realized the hole from the gemstone was quite deep. He stuck his head in the crack, and he saw the cavern below, the next level in the Mines.
He heard the crack of the whip below, saw dumb, cow-like faces frantically fumbling against the rocks. The Swallowerians did not even speak to them, and he realized with horror that those below had lost even their words.
He concluded the further down, the less you knew, the more of you was swallowed by the rocks, memories buried alive. He knew that he had been bad several times. Mischievous. Rebellious. Gazing upwards, he listened to the chamber above.
They spoke. He heard words that weren’t words—names.
He gritted his teeth and glanced back at the others. Hurrying, he squirmed into the hole, shredding his skin of clothing, leaving him naked. He reached up into the crack leading upwards, following the sound. As his hand grasped a crag, his name rushed back… and something else entirely.
Tiverius. Crown prince.
Tears burned his eyes—the Mines were deep.
Tiverius continued to climb.