Well, here we go. I was very uncertain about this chapter. Once again I was unable to delve into the characters backgrounds... Too much stuff going on. Not easy being a slave. Really there is no other choice. Let me know what you guys think if you read it. I am unsure how I feel about the chapter personally.
Roy lowered his head into a face-palm and Erin expelled a hefty sigh.

"Hm? Something wrong?" Valentine asked as he spooned more gruel into his mouth.

"No, just... Look, it's great to want to escape, but our jailers have weapons and hold all the keys," Roy replied.

"And they have magic," Erin said.

"Not 'they', as far as we know only the Captain has magic. We don't know about the rest of these tin-men. What we have is a lack of knowledge. Now, try to remember as best you can: have you ever seen any of these guards hold a bow?"

"No, I don't think so... " Roy answered. Erin shook her head.

"That's because the guards down here don't need them. They monitor our work. For that all they need are whips and swords," Valentine said.

"You're thinking the guards on the upper levels have bows?" Roy asked.

"Possibly. Remember what the Captain said? There are supposed to be monsters in these mines, although I haven't seen any yet. They wouldn't risk fighting real monsters in close combat in a dark area. They'd either use ranged weapons or magic. Most importantly, if any of us tried to escape, projectiles would be more useful in stopping us. The guards need some way of ranged combat. So it's a bit weird to think that they wouldn't have a way."

"Where are you going with this?" Erin asked in an expressionless way.

"As I said, what we have is a lack of knowledge. From what I can tell this world seems similar to how Earth was centuries ago. The guards even have swords and plate armor. What we really need to know is what magic is here, how it works, and - most importantly - who can use it."

"I get it," Roy finally clued in. "If none of the guards on the upper levels use projectile weapons either, then magic is something any of them can use. On the other hand, if the guards do have ranged weapons, then only a few can use magic."

Valentine nodded. "That's how we find out how common magic is here. It's possible that only the Captain has magic. Or that all of them do."

"I remembered something," Erin said. "I was near the front when the Captain was speaking. When he used those blue flames, his gauntlet lit up a bit."

"It did?"

"Yes. It looked like... There were markings on it. The markings lit up."

"Markings..." Valentine pondered the matter.

"Do you have any ideas?" Erin asked.

"Sort of. In fantasy or magical movies you often see wizards or witches either chant a spell or use some sort of magic circle. I wonder if those markings work like magic circles do in movies. If true, that should make it easier to spot a magic user. They'd be the ones with those markings."

"So, all we need to do is sneak up to the upper levels, find out how to get out of here, and see how many guards there are and what weapons they have?" Roy said. "That seems awfully dangerous."

"That's why I'll do it." Valentine said.

"You? Are you sure?" Roy sounded surprised.

"Yeah. I mean, it's my fault you're even here. Also, I can't make Erin put her life in danger for me when we just met. This was my idea anyway."

"I'm a soldier. I'm better trained and can defend myself."

"Against magic? It's too unpredictable. Not to mention, you're quite a bit bigger than me. I can hide better."

"Hide? Didn't you just say that magic is too unpredictable? You sure you can hide from them?"

"I'm a master 'hide-and-seek' player."

"That doesn't put me at ease."

"Look, you're the only one of us trained to fight. We might need that for the actual escape. There's no point sacrificing our strongest piece so early in the game."

"You have a point. But, are we really doing this? Are we really going to try to escape?" Roy said, his voice brimming with both concern and hope.

Valentine smiled. "Of course."

"Just us three?" Erin asked.

"...Yeah. Just us," Valentine said, shifting his legs awkwardly as he sat.

"What? What do you mean! There's hundreds of us!" Roy almost knocked over his bowl of gruel as he shot up.

"Shh! Keep your voice down! The more people know about it, the more likely we'll be found out."

"Even so, we can't leave everyone else behind..." Roy protested.

"We can't bring them with us. These guards are clearly the soldiers of some country. It's likely that we are in a country where slavery is legal. Three runaway slaves are harder to track down than three hundred."

"I agree with Valentine," Erin said. "We can't even protect ourselves. How could you protect everyone?"

Roy lowered his head and didn't say a word. He understood. He clearly understood that they were right. In their situation, they would be lucky to escape just by themselves. But at the same time, a large part of him was torn at knowing he had to leave everyone else behind.

"... Let's talk more about this next time. Keep your eyes open for anything that might help," Valentine said as he finished his watery gruel.

That night was cold and dark, like all the others. Valentine waited until it was late in the night before he got up. In order to formulate an escape plan, he needed to perform a little reconnaissance first. The common room's entrance consisted of a simple prison door of metal bars. Valentine neared the door as quietly as he could, taking light steps as to not wake everyone. He walked carefully, weaving his way through the sleeping figures on the ground. He reached the door and tried opening it. To his surprise, the door wasn't locked. Or rather, the door had no lock. He opened the door slowly to avoid making a sound, but the door still made a low metallic screech as it opened. He hoped he didn't wake anyone, but in that darkness he had no way of knowing.

He walked out into the corridor. Valentine looked to the right, down the path to the working areas of the mines. He already familiarized himself with that route. To the left the path went uphill. He knew that the exit had to be to the left. Making small, quiet steps he went left making sure to stay close to the wall as he walked uphill in the dark rocky corridor. He ascended about twenty meters before he saw a barred gate. On the other side of the gate a gatekeeper stood on duty, illuminated by torchlight. Valentine couldn't check to see if the gate was locked or not, although he had no doubt it was.

If we're going to escape, we'll need a way through this gate... He added one obstacle to his imaginary check list of problems. Is there any other way up...? He sneaked back down the path as he considered other avenues of escape. What else is there... Another way up... He knew that the mines only went deeper into the ground. The only area of the mines that didn't was... The hoist...! That might work. He had seen the hoist on a daily basis when he went down into the mines to work. The hoist connected the depths of the mines to a higher level. If there was another way up, he knew this was it.

He didn't need to worry about stealth once he descended further into the mines. The guards didn't patrol the mines at night. According to the Captain there are monsters deep in the mines, which might be why the guards stay away at night. If there were monsters in those mines, the only thing protecting Valentine and the rest of the slaves is a door with no lock...

Valentine shuddered as he contemplated this. Those guards really didn't value the lives of the slaves at all. What if the monsters in the mines made their way up? Suddenly, he felt like he didn't want to sleep at night. He regretted allowing his mind to wander like that. Regardless, he continued down the into the mines. His heart beat harder with each step. Are there monsters here? Could they be nocturnal? Would they attack if they see me alone? He couldn't help but worry about such things. After many uncertain steps he reached the depths, the mining area. He peered his head around a corner just to make sure there weren't any monsters waiting to eat him. It didn't help alleviate his worries. Darkness filled his sight. The few torches they had during the day were already snuffed out. He could vaguely make out the layout of the corridors, somehow. Despite the near total darkness, the floor, ceiling, and walls seemed to be discernible with enough effort. Valentine figured it might be a residual effect of the all the tearstone veins running through the ground, as if their glowing magic spilled into their surroundings, causing even normal rocks to be barely visible.

He continued down the corridor with caution, and soon found a fork in the path. The right path and the path straight ahead led down to more mining areas. To his left was the large entryway to the hoist room. He slowly entered the room, but he couldn't really see too much of it at night. He had briefly seen it before during the day, so he knew what it was like. Whenever slaves filled their carts with tearstones, they'd bring them here and get new carts.

He strained his eyes to look at the hoist. He could make out the outline of the hoist against the rocky background. The structure towered far above him, he figured to about forty meters above the ground. The central shaft of the structure was attached to gears and wheels, and thick cables looped around the wheels in an elongated oval. During the day that cable would transfer carts of tearstones up the depths of the mine, making transporting them out of the mines easier and faster. At the base of the hoist he could see a huge, wheel-like mechanism laying on it's side. It seemed like it might have once been something like a grain mill but had been outfitted to rotate the large shaft of the hoist which in turn turned the gears spinning the wheels.

He neared the elongated cable near the bottom of the hoist. Large hooks protruded out of the cable. Normally the carts would be fastened to the hooks and brought up the shaft. I can climb this... Valentine grabbed the cable with both arms and stepped on the flat of the hook and started climbing up the cable. Fortunately the cable didn't swerve too much since it was tightly strung to the hoist's wheels. Even so, he couldn't help but feel a jolt of fear as he climbed higher and higher up the cable in the darkness of the mine. He rested his feet on the hooks whenever he passed by one, but the more he climbed the more tired he became. Minutes passed but seemed like hours as he dangled up the length of the hoist. After what felt like forever he reached the top of the hoist. The vertical tunnel he just climbed had an opening at the top with a platform extending to the hoist. That's probably where the carts were taken off the hoist to be taken elsewhere. He grabbed on to the hook above him and traversed it's length, inching across it with his hands as he hung in the air. Once he reached the end of the hook he let go and dropped down to the platform just beneath him.

He made it to the upper level. He knew that the real challenge waited just ahead. From now on, he needed to sneak around the upper levels of the mines and find a way out. An unknown number of guards patrolled the area ahead. They were, without a doubt, armed and trained to kill. Valentine had nothing but his rags. He couldn't afford to get caught, but he knew how this would most likely end. If they found him, dying would be the least of his worries.

His body didn't want to continue. His legs trembled in one place, not wanting to move forward. His mind told him it wasn't too late to go back down. But it wasn't just for his sake that he needed to go. There were people depending on him. He couldn't accomplish anything if he stayed a slave. He wouldn't allow himself to die in a place like that. He took a deep breath and stepped out into the unknown labyrinth ahead of him.