Children of the Desert.

All Anuru had ever known was a strict, regimented life, obeying the harsh rules of Aronath. Trapped by the high walls of the citadel, her life was ruled by exams and regulations. That was until she met Lalia.

New to the city, Lalia befriends shy Anuru and opens her eyes to life beyond the strict laws of Aronath. With Anuru's quiet logic and Lalia's free spirit can they escape to the freedom of the desert beyond.

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5. The mouth of the ground.

Anuru walked with Lalia and Naveed, they looked quite funny in their matching orange suits and hardhats. But they didn't see the humour. They walked towards the city gates with the other miners, all marching in unison. They pale grey of Aronath faded into the burnt orange haze of the desert. The other miners stopped. Anuru stood on her tiptoes trying to get a veiw of what was in front. The three friends looked at eachother nervously. Suddenly a low male voice boomed over the crowd.

"I heard I'd be getting some new people joining our little parade," he shouted, as a nervous laugh trickled through crowd, "well to those of you who are new to mining, I'm the Head Overseer. You are to refer to me as 'Sir'. I have two jobs here, number one: to see that we make a handsome profit, number two: to keep you alive. I'm afraid this is close to impossible. The mines are dangerous, as some of our more experienced friends here know well," Anuru looked round to see miners missing legs, arms, ears, some with frightening burns carved into their faces, "you'll be lucky if you last the year in one peice. You have to keep alert, awake and most importantly follow your orders."

The longer he talked the more Anuru grew to hate him. She couldn't see his face over the sea of hardhats, but she imagined this faceless authority as twisted and ugly as the city he worked for. Fear and anticipation mounted within the group of newcomers. Even Erotha wasn't looking as tough as usual. Anuru began to mentally prepare herself, telling herself it was only the first day, father was there, she could survive eight hours. But as they walked through the dust of the desert towards the gaping hole in the Earth, Anuru doubted that she'd ever get out again. Looking down the mineshaft Anuru's stomach turned.

The collousal hole in the ground with a rusting old lift suspended over the middle. Anuru looked round to Lalia and Naveed, the both looked as ill as she felt. She managed a weak smile before the overseer spoke again.

"Newbies first."he laughed sarcastically. Anuru looked round in panic at the other miners. They just stared blankly ahead, choosing not to see what was going on before them. Anuru felt herself being pushed towards the lift. The whole group was herded into the lift with a senior miner who shut the gate so it made an agonising creek. The descent into the Earth below was painfully slow, Naveed was shivering the whole way down, paranoid that the lift cables would snap, plunging them to the darkness below.

As the lifted creeked its way to the bottom, Anuru glanced round the shaft. It was unimaginable in scale, Anuru was as insignificant as a speck of desert dust to the giant mouth in the ground. She noticed little tunnels leading from main shaft, like arms branching further into the ground. As the darkness got denser and denser Anuru sensed she was at the bottom of the shaft. The rusty gate creeked open and the group hesistantly stepped out of the lift. A light suddenly flared up, illuminating the shrivelled face of the senior miner.

"That tunnel there." he said in a withered, rasping voice, "Keep going till the end, ask for Janu. Good luck." The man handed the lamp to Lalia before going back up in the lift. The looked around the dark dusty pit, the light of the lamp bouncing up the walls, creating a frightening effect. Anuru walked towards the entrace of the tunnel, it was a small circular hole carved into the wall leading on for miles, Anuru guessed.

"Shall we go in?" said Naveed timidly.

"Don't think we have a choice." said an uncertain Lalia.

"We better go before the lift gets back." said another from the group.

The small group of miners set off down the tunnel, Lalia leading, lighting the tunnel ahead. There was six of them all together, Anuru, Naveed, Lalia and Erotha, as well as two others Anuru recognized from the meeting. The tunnel was dark and dry, dust from the floor swirled up as their feet dislodged it. Parts of the tunnel were so small they found themselves crawling. After what seemed like a year they reached the end of tunnel to find a small, dimly lit chamber full of miners hacking away the dirt with pickaxes. As they entered the room everyone turned to face them.

"We were told to ask for Janu." Naveed said, trying his best to sound confident.

"Thats me." said a voice from the back. A small man from the back stepped forwards. His face was covered in dust but his eyes glared back in the light of the lamp. He seemed a lot kinder than the first overseer, but Anuru wouldn't let herself feel relief. "I see your new here, poor souls. I don't agree with you being allowed down here, but it's not like any of us get a choice. Find yourself a pickaxe and try to stay out of trouble." he said very bluntly.

Anuru wondered what he meant, but she didn't have time to think on it. She was handed a pickaxe and got to work, longing to return home. She hacked and hacked at the orange rock, the smell of sulphur and metal filling the air.

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