Firebough had nothing to prove to the neighboring town of Ustler. They had already surpassed them in agriculture by implementing automatic harvesting of crops, technology with the first working lighthouse in the world and trade by establishing the underground trade route with Hwoerk Plantation. But the people of Firebough were rarely satisfied for long and demanded frequent advancement of their status in the world. Feeling obligated to pacify his citizens, the Mayor signed a contract to begin construction on the largest Nether portal in the area. Months passed as the workers built the portal and the surrounding platform until finally the work was completed. Having boasted the first original portal and the surrounding structure, Firebough thought it was only appropriate that they had also built the largest one in the area. However, the town chose to forgo the surrounding building this time so that everyone in the area would marvel at their achievement.
The day of the opening ceremony arrived and everyone came out to marvel at the accomplishments of Firebough. The people of Hwoerk Plantation, the Town of Ustler and even the guests staying at the Modern Resort stopped by for the festivities. The obsidian blocks glistened, reflecting the brilliant sunshine of the day, as if they were winking at each individual citizen, complimenting them on their vision. There were fireworks bursting in the air and a feast that could have fed hundreds more was laid out on tables. Roasted chicken, braised pork chops, grilled beef were all selections at the feast, along with freshly baked bread and steamed vegetables harvested from the neighboring gardens. The Mayor gave a speech filled with fantastic ideas and there was even mentions of eventually moving buildings through the portal to establish a commonwealth in the Nether. After the speech was finished and everyone had had their fill of the feast, the Mayor silenced the audience for the inaugural lighting of the Portal.
Lighter in hand, he stepped forward and held it up for all to see. He touched the lighter to the Portal and, with a rush of flame, purple particles floated down from the activated portal onto the heads of the people. Cheers arose from the crowd and the workers and architects who planned the portal grinned and shook each others hands, their egos swollen with pride. Then, the hum from the Portal drowned out the cheers from the crowd and an eerie silence followed as the crowd dropped their clapping hands and peered intently at the noise. Suddenly, fireballs burst from the Portal and hundreds of Blaze poured from the opening. Behind the Blaze, a lone zombie pigman wandered from the Portal aperture onto the platform and, in his haste to escape the insanity that was brewing, the Mayor smacked it away from him. Thousands of zombie pigmen surged through the Portal opening and converged upon the Mayor. His screams lasted for mere moments. The crowds were running everywhere to get away from the panic. Then, a high pitched shriek came from the Portal, shortly followed by a huge fireball. A Ghast floated from the Portal, quickly followed by another, and then another.
“Get to the mines!” someone shouted above the din and a mass of people turned in the direction of the iron doors covering the mine entrance. Ghast shrieks and fireballs hurtled through the air at the running people. People who tripped or ran slower than the group were consumed by the flames. No one was sure who got to the doors first but the iron parted to let the rushing group in. A few hundred people flooded the stairs of the mine when the next fireball sounded. A chunk of mountain exploded and the lever holding the doors open blew off into the flames outside. The iron doors slammed shut, preventing any more people from entering but also trapping the people inside the mines. The ceiling of the mountain shook ferociously and the group of people that had made it inside shrank down the stairs away from the entrance.
“We’re trapped!” someone shouted in the crowd. “We have to get out!” People started shouting amongst themselves, a small riot beginning underground. The fear in the cavernous mine was palpable.
“No. We don’t.” A well-known villager from the town of Ustler named Scott, or to close friends, Murfnbear, stepped forward. His quiet, calm manner was strange in the midst of panic. People shuffled nervously but listened. “The mines are meant to be self-sustaining in case anyone was ever trapped down here. There are fresh sources of water in the crevices and a small farm underground. We can wait until it is safe to go outside.”
“You mean until everyone else is dead!” The comment gave way to wails of terror from the crowd. “We can’t survive down here!” “My family!” “We’ll starve!” A tremor of the mine ceiling silenced everyone immediately.
“We have no other choice.” stated Scott, his gaze solid and strong as he surveyed the crowd. “Now, bring the wounded to the right side of the mines! Are there any farmers here?” His authority shocked people into action. The few farmers that had made it stepped forward and the rest of the crowd began scurrying around to gather the most severely wounded of the group.
Two weeks passed underground but it felt like a lifetime for some. It was very apparent that some more than others were comfortable in the mines. The hunt for supplies began immediately using the reserve tools that were strewn around the mines. Sects emerged from the group based on people’s strengths. Some were miners, others farmers, even others were crafters. Amazingly, people functioned well underground but there was always the hope that they would return to the grassy fields of Firebough. Then the day came when the mines stopped shaking. It was time to survey the damage that had occurred.
When the crafters finally created a redstone circuit to open the iron doors, the sight that met their eyes crushed whatever hope had been left in the underground survivors. The world was charred beyond recognition. A lava lake replaced the brilliant blue water that glistened the day of the opening ceremony that seemed so long ago. Soul sand replaced the dirt of the farms and netherrack was as prevalent as grass. There was no sign that there had ever been life in the town of Firebough at all- except for the giant Nether Portal erected in the lake of lava. As the group all stared in disbelief at the landscape, a familiar high pitched shriek pierced the air.
“Get back inside!” shouted Scott. “Break the circuit!”
“But-” one of the crafters protested.
“Break it NOW!” An iron sword came down on the redstone, severing the connection and slamming the iron doors shut.
Scott turned to look back at the people surrounding him. The tears on their faces was heart-wrenching.
“We will return to the surface. But not today. Not next month. Maybe not next year. But we will return. Now let’s get started on a plan.”
Years passed by as the group of survivors created a new life and existence underground. The people succeeded under a new set of rules that allowed them to function in their sorrow and loss. The vacancy left by the loss of their families, friends and town was slowly being filled by the small community under the charred surface. Some might have seen the new schedules and regulations as restrictive, but they were necessary with the initially limited resources. Scott was voted unanimously as the leader of the group and from there each sect had their own overseer emerge to monitor production and efficiency. There were bad times, like when the spelunking team stumbled onto a skeleton dungeon. Only 3 of the 10 survived. But then there were good times. The first discovery of iron allowed a breakthrough in farming and for automated harvesting again. A small pool where Nether monsters could be farmed for potion making was found in the second month. Fire resistance potions were so valuable for the resource collection teams that only one per group was issued every week. But no one forgot about life before the destruction.
There was another group, separate from the everyday work sections, that met daily after dinner. Scott was often seen speaking with them before his shift in the farm fields. These people were the “scientists”, the redstone creators and circuit crafters. They had seen the behavior of lava and water in the ravines and had taken spelunking groups out for days to study the airflow through abandoned mine shafts. More recently, they had been meeting for extended periods of time and been excused from daily work shifts. One day, when the gossip and chatter about fairness of the scientists missing work and shirking duties had reached a boiling point, Scott called a meeting for the survivors. After apologizing for keeping everyone in the dark regarding these secret meetings, he explained an elaborate plan that had started three years ago, when the destruction of Firebough first happened. The scientists had been researching weaponry options and the ability to create armor. Additionally, they had been researching the stability of a hydro-based system and air circulation hovering.
“So wait a minute- secret meetings, new weapons, hydro-hovering? What does this all mean?”
Scott paused and looked around the room as he said, “We’re going to war.”
The three years of research in the ravines allowed the scientists to discover a hydro-propulsion system that would allow a platform to hover above ground. The propulsion system was a network of iron tubes sustained by a constant flow of water and air allowing the platform to hover above the ground at a predetermined height depending on the speed of the water flowing through the tube network. While the propulsion system was being developed, the spelunking teams had discovered plants deep in the depths of the caverns. Spores had washed from the surface and flourished in the underground waterways where they were safe from the destruction above. The plants were spliced with fire resistance potions until they would be able to root in the scarred earth on the surface. Pollen was introduced into the propulsion system so it would spray out onto the ground below the platform upon the initial upstart of the system. With all the research put in place, the surface should become inhabitable again. All that was left was to get the six platforms that had been created into the air.
The plan consisted of three parts- the scientists to upstart the propulsion system and lift the group remaining on the platforms to safety, the warriors, armed with diamond weaponry and armor to distract and eliminate the Nether creatures, and finally, the team to dismantle the Nether portal so the world could rebuild itself. The morning of the battle, everyone was nervous and no one was eating breakfast. All the fields had been harvested and moved to the new grounds to be lifted into the air. The few animals that had been discovered in the caverns were led to the platforms; the farmers administered slow potions to the them so they didn’t throw themselves off the platforms in fright. Small stone homes were constructed for shelter from the initial battle but everyone was nervous as to whether they would hold in the long run.
When the time came for the group of survivors to head into battle, the warriors looked to Scott for encouragement. He was in the group set to dismantle the portal. He took his fire resistance potion in hand and raised it to the crowd, who raised their potions and swords in the air in return.
“To community, to promises, to finally going home.” He swallowed the potion and yelled a battle cry into the mines. The crowd in front of him responded in turn, an electricity flowing through the air. "To arms!" Everyone rushed to their positions for battle. The infirm and children were inside the makeshift houses but everyone else was armed and ready. Even the researchers had weapons of iron.
"Mark!" Everyone tensed as they prepared to leave their makeshift home to fight for their world. "Set!" To fight for the people who were taken from them, the scorched land that was once theirs, the freedom to rule the ground above the mines once more. "Fire!" Preset redstone circuits flew to life as a switch was flipped. Immediately chaos ensued. All at once, the iron doors flew open, and the lead group rushed forward into the sulphurous air. Immediately, fireballs flew at the front lines- Blaze were surrounding the entrance and took any chance to hit the group. But they were prepared for the attack. The fireballs were blocked and deflected back toward the group of Blaze, exploding one they reached their targets. Flames rained as the first attackers were destroyed. Cheers filled the air but died at as the warriors vision adjusted to the horizon. Hundreds of monsters spanned across their line of sight. "For our home!" Others took up the cry and raced forward into the monster strewn landscape.
A small group broke off and headed toward the lava lake and toward the Nether Portal. They were running full stride when a high pitched shriek pierced the air. “GHAST!” someone shouted, trying to be heard above the cacophony. It was all but drowned out by the blast to their left, a fireball striking the ground only meters from them. A few people at the back were crushed by flying debris but no one stopped to help There was no time. An army of Magma and Blaze were surrounding the lakeshore and they had only minutes to get to the portal before the fire resistance wore off. Scott got to the lava first and started swimming to the platform. Suddenly, a huge whirring noise came from the mines and the ground started to shake. The monsters quickly turned, alerted by the noises and more people interlocked in battle. The whirring turned to a metallic whining and then a ripping sound came from the ground above the mines. An enormous 150 block wide stone platform floated into the air. Another ripping sound and then another. Platforms were rising from the mines, trailing clouds of dust and debris that crushed monsters in their wake. Arrows flew through the air as the archers took aim at the Ghast that were swarming towards the noise. An inhuman scream resounded as a single Ghast fell from the sky. But more were emerging from the Portal. Scott was almost there when a gigantic explosion rocked the surrounding area. The black skeleton heads of a Wither drifted through the Portal and spewed miniature skulls at the people swimming in the lava lake. A blast caught Scott offguard and nicked him on the leg. He made it to the Portal platform before the poison hit him. He fell to his knees, arrows flying behind him at the Wither. The explosions seemed to be in slow motion and the sounds were dull as if cotton was stuffed in his ears. He crawled on his hands and knees toward the purple portal. He had a vague memory of the particles falling from the sky and the cheers and applause of the crowd at the opening ceremony seemed such a far off memory. He leaned back on his knees and tried to lift his sword but the diamond seems so heavy. What he wouldn’t have traded for a wooden one in this moment. He tried again to lift it but he did not have enough energy. Scott collapsed on his back and stared at the sky. It turned as red as the roses of Firebough as the Wither floated into his view. He tried to back towards the portal when he heard the crushing of glass. He must have had a potion in his pocket and broken the bottle in his efforts to get closer to the portal. Suddenly a rush of energy flooded through his body. The potions… “Throw the potions!” he screamed. Glass tinkled through the air as it shattered on the Wither. It roared as the healing potions seeped through its armor. You can’t heal something that is already dead. Scott raced as fast as his broken body would carry him and raised his sword through the purple particles. The diamond came down and shattered the obsidian block and, in one movement, the Portal was extinguished. A screeching erupted from the Wither as a last healing potion smashed into it. It exploded into a cloud of dust and orbs of light fell from the sky where it had been. Scott looked around at the few members of his group that were left. Their eyes met and their gazes all turned to look at the six platforms hovering in the distant horizon.
“We did it!” Cheers came from across the land. They hurried through the lava to the shoreline. The warriors had far extended the length of time of the fire resistance potions and there were mere moments left of its strength. They got to the bank with varying degrees of burns and lacerations with the other survivors running to meet them. With the most wounded supported by their community, the crowd from the Portal stood to survey the land. Their land. Scott stood as tall as possible, while being supported by another villager. His eyes misted over, his voice as soft and warm as he said the words he had promised his friends over three years ago.
“Let’s go home.”
Decades passed as the original group of survivors grew older and new generations of villagers were born. The land was different, changed by the trauma it had undergone. New biomes appeared in the world, and new flora, fauna and even animals had adapted to the changes in environment. The platforms flourished, building skyscrapers and towers taller than even the original Firebough City Hall. As an homage to the survivors, only resources from the mines were allowed to be used in the original platform buildings. It seemed fitting when the earth was charred and broken but now they seemed almost sterile and cold against the thriving ecosystem. And as the world around them changed and evolved, so did the people. The original sense of community seemed to grow apart as the survivors aged, the togetherness wrought from escaping turmoil as a group was lost on the younger crowd. The two housing platforms, though joined by a bridge, had become two different social networks. A new ruler, who people called the Executor, replaced Scott as he aged, and with his ideals of closely knit camaraderie no longer in a place of power, the tension between people grew. A small group of people wanted change and progression in a different direction than most- a more organic style of living, less schedules, less governmental control. The schedules and work shifts had remained intact in platform life. It made life less complicated and easy to provide for the growing number of people on the platforms. Less choices, less thought, less mess. But what if you didn’t think like everyone else? Riots began and work production shrank to a minimum.
One day, during a particularly aggressive riot, the bridge connecting the two platforms shuddered. The riot stalled for a moment as the pipe system under the streets groaned in protest. The hydro-propulsion pipe system was a circuit of redstone, water and air that allowed for the platforms to remain hovering above the ground. However, the redstone powering the movement was only located under one platform- if the connection was severed, the hover system for one of the platforms would fail. So when one of the platforms plummeted to the ground that afternoon, there was nothing that could be done. There was no safety valve for the forty year old propulsion system. Some people watched in horror as the platform crashed into the ground and split in half. Others left the scene with a mind consumed by their own schedules and life. The wreckage smoldered for days, black smoke billowing into the air.
A lone person went to the Legacy Building to beg the Executor for search parties for survivors. When Scott entered the Building, he was met by a stunning interior of quartz and crystal. He had watched the construction of Legacy Leasing from his apartment window on the platform. It was a thing of beauty, the miniature version of the Tower that it was. But deep down, he was unnerved by his visit. The Legacy Building was the epitome of luxury, something Scott had not had in Firebough and it threw him off to be surrounded by so much of it.
The pretty receptionist didn’t look up at him when she first spoke but after a quick glance at who she was speaking to, her demeanor changed. “He has been expecting you. You are right on time. Please take the elevator to the second floor. Swipe this key to exit the elevator car.”
The second level of the Legacy building housed none of the warmth of the third floor. The third floor was reserved for new leases, when you are finally old enough and deemed enough of a contributor to the platforms to warrant your own living space. Sometimes, depending on promotions or pay increases, people moved to different buildings on the residential platform, although it wasn’t often. Most people spent their entire lives in the same apartment, decorating the space they were born into. The waiting room was a barren, cold quartz with not so much as a chair to sit in. Scott stood for at least ten minutes, eyeing the second receptionist, who seemed to be the only other person on this floor with him. After an eternity of waiting, the girl stated, “He will see you now.” and the only door on the floor swung open. As soon as he stepped into the office, the iron door shut swiftly behind Scott. Apparently, you would only be allowed to leave once dismissed, seeing as there was no handle on this side of the door. Scott’s eyes trailed around the room noticing the cold feeling of the room. There were no pictures of family or friends, no warmth emanating from the figure behind the executive desk carved out of Netherrack. Netherrack? Here? After the trauma of the platforms beginnings? The harsh purple tones clashed with the clinical look of the quartz lending the entire surroundings a sense of foreboding. Even the fireplace offered no relief from the oppressive unfriendliness. And then there was the man seated behind the desk, dressed in a luxurious suit and completely ignoring the figure who just walked into his office. Behind him, the Tower filled the massive picture window, making Scott feel even more insignificant than he already did. The office walls swelled with The Executor’s power and self-importance. He appeared so ingrained in his paperwork and computer notations that Scott was unsure if he had even heard him enter. He waited for a few moments, the silence pressing down on him.
"I am Scott, from the Firebough tower. I have requested a meeting with you to put together a rescue party for the survivors from the platform accident. I believe that there must have been at least a few people who have survived the fall.”
“Oh, you do?” The Executor turned to face Scott, icy eyes meeting Scott’s older ones.
“Yes, I do.” Scott replied firmly. “I know there must have been people in their homes and even out on the streets. The people of this town are resilient. It has been a few days but based on the amount of food people are allowed in their homes, and the supplies that are rationed, there should be survivors. I have seen people survive far worse than a fall.”
“There has been a fail in the platform system before? A fallen platform that some other community has rescued survivors from, cleaned up debris and kept out of the line of sight of the towns?” The quiet that followed the question seemed to answer itself. “I know who you are and what you want. There is no reason to send people down to the platform. It was a tragic occurrence but we, as a community, are better off for it. The riots were disrupting the schedule. We can’t have everyone...thinking, now can we? There would be so much disorder and people would become lazy if they could choose whatever they wanted to do in their “free time”. Time is never free. You borrow it from something else you should be doing, steal it from others who cover your work or lose it to mindlessness and confusion. What do I eat? What do I wear? Should I work in the fields today or let someone else take over my shift for me? Why should I work? Can you hear the unravelling of the threads? It was for the good of the community. You should know more about community than anyone, shouldn’t you?
“What happened on that platform?” Scott whispered.
“Scott,” The Executor smiled, though it did not reach his eyes. The tone of his next words confirmed what Scott had already known in his heart, that the incident on the platform was not an accident, these people in the Tower had more power than he had chosen to believe and that he had already asked too many unwanted questions.
“Scott, do you know the meaning of the word “Exile”?”