The pair moved through the mineshaft slowly, Oskar leading the way and checking the floor with each couple of steps. This part of the stone had been picked clean of any ore for years now. But the gift had kept on giving, and whenever a vein dried up, the diggers found a fresh one deeper. The mine had grown steadily over the years, deep into the mountain.
And then it had stopped. Oskar had come up to Glonsclim expecting to find a worker strike, or that a shaft had crumbled and blocked the fresh parts of the mine. But it hadn’t been that. There was a different reason why the men weren’t willing to work.
They were afraid.
No, not that. That wasn’t the whole story.
They were scared out of their breeches.
And the reason for that, well, he was going to find out for himself, now.
“Ye okay back there, Bran?”
“I’m fine, lad. I’m not as easily spooked, and besides, you’re in front, anything happens, you get the losing hand.”
“Well, that’s heartening, ol’ man.”
“I lived ta be an’ old man, didn’t I? Not an accident, that.”
The pair kept descending deeper into the mountain. Every now and then, Brandon would tell Oskar to turn this or that way, and the younger man would diligently mark the corner with glow-paint. A losing hand can be outran with a good enough sense of where to go and a healthy pair of legs. He always said, he much preferred a losing hand to a losing leg.
“Right, lad. This is as far as I dare take ye. Up ahead is no good… This is where we started finding bodies… And odd stuff went happenin’.”
Oskar stopped at Brandon’s words and raised his lantern. It was a corridor just like the dozens they’re passed through – a rather newly excavated one, at that. Seams of copper still ran through the walls here and there. It was wide, and it looked like it kept widening ahead, with a few side-passages splintering off.
“So ye found bodies here, alright, and ye did it proper for them and got them back up under the sun and buried them an’ all. But did ye clean up down here? Because me eyes don’t show me any signs of anyone dying’ here.”
“Aye lad. We cleaned nothing up. There was nothing crashed, no signs of struggle, no blood. Just lifeless men, and with a look of them who’ve seen the devil frozen onto their faces.”
“So ye dragged me here cos’ ye told me I had ta see with me own eyes why the men were working no more, and now ye tell me there ain’t a thing to be seen?”
“Place yer lantern down, lad, and take this up.” Brandon produced a fresh candle from his pocket, and opened the top of his lantern to light it up, then handed it to Oskar.
“Now ye take five steps ahead in yonder direction, and for your health no more than five, ye hear lad? Hold the candle in front of ye and pay attention.”
Oskar took the candle and nodded, then turned and took a step, then another, then another. At the fifth, the candle’s flame went out.
“So there’s a draft here. You think whodunnit was coming from a hidden passage?”
“Did ye look at the flame properly?”
“What do ye mean?”
“Try again. An’ look at it this time, attentive-like.”
Oskar did like the old man bid. He rekindled the candle with his lantern, placed the lantern back on the stone floor, and then took the five steps, eyes trained on the flame. On the fifth, it went out.
“I didn’t feel any draft, an’ I dinna see the flame move for even a split second. Strange…”
Oskar walked up to one of the tunnel walls, and touched it, trying to feel for a draft. Not feeling anything, he touched his ear to the wall. Brandon nodded in approval.
“What in… Bran, there’s someone down here! An’ hurt – I can hear cryin’!”
“So could I… An’ the lads. Every day for a week, making four months ago, now. And any who went to find the source, them showed up lifeless right hereabouts. Until people started hearing it ever closer and were drawn away from the mine. Whatever is doin’ this cryin’ … It can’t be helped, not by us, at least. An’ light, no matter how strong, won’t survive to the bend in the distance.”
“I see.” Said Oskar. He felt very, very cold, all of a sudden.
This text is an excerpt from my next book. This is still the first draft; no revisions have been made for spelling, formatting or even basic Q&A.
Painting by Alexlinde