They finally were on the surface. Ashen wasteland consisting of the black substance and nothing more, curled and twisted into various shapes. Nevertheless, there was something that caught the boy's attention. A tall spire rising towards the unbound emptiness above in the skies.
Despite the void reaching out to him and subtly gnawing at his thoughts, he managed to ignore it completely. The same didn't apply to the man, however, as he was quite anxious, biting his lower lip rather violently.
"What is this thing?" the boy wondered as he pointed to the tower. It's odd and unusual contours amazed him although it wasn't anything as bizarre as the oblivion itself. There were spires curling and joining, there were pillars formed from the old roots flowing upwards and there were overgrown thorns with impaled corpses on them.
He approached it with caution, but he was also propelled by curiosity. The miner followed him, having been silent up until now. "This is the abode of our slaver," he spoke with his breath held.
"But how to get there?" the boy contemplated aloud. He didn't know why, but he simply had to confront the boss around here. His senses were seeding his mind with the idea that it might have been Lord Garrigard, but whether it was really true remained to be seen.
"I recall something," the miner replied as he walked forward.
They arrived at one of the upward streams surrounded by mutilated cadavers that were so twisted that they were hardly recognizable.
"I think I remember this place," the man said. "But what... what is this? I can't seem to remember."
He went forth, disappearing within. The boy was hesitant at first, yet he followed the example. It was foolish to do so, he reprimanded himself deep in his mind as darkness surrounded him.
However, he didn't die and no harm befell him. He emerged into a room where boundaries consisted of a sulphuric cloud, even the floor that he threaded and the ceiling as well.
Strangely, the miner was nowhere to be found. Instead, there was an individual sitting in the air, wrapped clothing made purely of the old roots. It resembled its earthly counterparts, only that it was flowing like water and pulsating like veins.
He glanced at the person that was looking back at him with a suspecting glare, noticing an eye open on the dark linens, followed by a whole bunch of them. They were blinking, they were gazing. At him.
"Am I right to assume that you have freed one of my workers?" he spoke in a pungent voice as evil oozed out of his every word. He pointed to the side and the boy spotted the miner being decomposed, reduced to nothing but the haze itself.
"Never mind," the devil continued without waiting for an answer.
"Are you Lord Garrigard?" the boy was rash, but it was the only possibility of ensuring. The youngster didn't recognize him, but that didn't mean the vile noble's demonic nature was incapable of changing faces and appearances.
"Lord Garrigard," the man seemed amused. "I'm amazed to hear this tale survives to this... particular day. Strange. I overestimated you. A person capable of tampering with the dark ore yet still a child. What an irony of fate."
"Why should I wish to tamper with the dark ore? Something that almost unmade this world?!"
"It matters little," the devilish individual dodged the topic, choosing to continue with the mockery. "You must be here for a reason. Seeking Lord Garrigard, you say? An arch-villain from a bedtime story. The kidnapper of princesses. It is kind of funny to idealize this world and imagine there was a simple lord behind the state that most survivors call absolute darkness."
"This is no jest, he is clearly responsible," the boy spoke with conviction. It wasn't his idea that Garrigard was the enemy. Perhaps it wasn't his true name, perhaps it was merely a nickname, or simply an embodiment, but it still was someone and he had sighted him. He had even killed him or so he had believed.
"No man is responsible for the coming of the dark ore. It was always here, slumbering deep within the land."
"But there must be a way to put an end to it! Can't you see your madness? You are actually making it stronger, feeding its power in blindness and allowing it to spread in its conquest of the world!" the boy was angered by the unshakable greed of the person in front of him.
"Put an end to it?" he was amused and laughed aloud. "Oh yes. After so many years... your words are so naive. Do you realize it? You don't know a thing about the dark ore. Nothing at all.
Why fight? Why struggle against something that we can't beat? And who says we have to fight it? Who started the notion of this dark ore being evil and intent on swallowing our civilization? It's actually a boon! The power it wields, the possibilities it opens! You are proof to that! You alone know best what it is capable of! It granted you its strength! It is an undeniable part of you!"
"Yes, I know what it is capable of! And that is exactly why I believe it must be stopped before it is too late!"
"Never mind," the man seemed disappointed with the boy's answer. "Look about you. Do you think it isn't too late? Who can stop it now? Armies have tried. So many bombs were dropped. Bombs and guns that signify the greatest extent of man's destructivity. Yet the dark ore remains adamantly defiant of humanity's attempts.
Still, you wish to put an end to something that is unstoppable?"
"I don't want to see the world die."
"Who says it will die? No. It will merely be reborn as it was before. Yes. We are not the first ones to stand on the edge of a razor. I don't know your origin, but I am a man. I am mortal. And I am aware that I will die long before the dark ore has succeeded with its mission. At that time, I won't care."
"Selfish words," the boy uttered in contempt.
"Hmm, maybe you're not as childish as your supposed age hints. I was mistaken about you. You certainly show maturity. A burden of having to grow up fast due to circumstances."
"Yet you show nothing but greed," the boy replied more calmly than before, but nowhere near placidly.
The man sighed prior to resuming to his baleful tone. "What do you want from me? That I give up the marvels I command now and live piously until the dark ore consumes me? No. You know, there are two kinds of people in the world. Those opposing it and those for it. As you can see, I live in prosperity, but those who struggled are bloody and broken. Isn't the choice obvious?
You. You are going to fail if you continue to question me. Not me. You are going to regret not siding with the dark ore despite having been granted the power to do so. And don't deny that. Only a person skilled in its use could free a miner from his bonds. Besides, your visage can tell you from miles away.
Yet let me go even further. What about the others? The world you so eagerly defend. About its inhabitants. Do they welcome you with open arms? Tell me, do they greet you? Or is persecution more appropriate a word for the treatment they give you?
Honestly, I don't understand your motivation. If I were you, I'd embrace the gifts given to me instead of trying to hide them and being a practice dummy for narrow-minded fools who fear anything not of their own."
"It's not about people. It's not about hospitability. It's about survival. People like you, blinded in greed are what truly helps the dark ore to gain strength. You exploit its power and it feeds on your meddling. Each tampering makes it increasingly more powerful. At the expense of so many lives that you can't even count. If there weren't the likes of you, perhaps there would have been a chance."
"Chance?!" the man burst in laughter. "You speak of chance? Oh my, you must be completely ignorant to the truth! I... never mind. Words won't convince you. Only the bitter, raw truth."
The boy wanted to object, but before he could voice his thoughts, the person just waved his hand and the fog became a large screen.