Jaws of the Deep

The Jaws of the Deep

by Elizabeth Carlyon


     The sound of clicks and scrapes echoed in the deep; metal tools and axes chipping away into oblivion. Cold and damp was the air, forcing the miners into sporadic coughing fits, their lungs worn raw from rock dust. The darkness was everywhere, the only light source being dim lanterns that hung every twenty or so metres along the tunnel’s length. It was not enough to see full detail but provided satisfactory illumination for an eye used to spending the daylight hours underground to make out the shapes in the rocks. There must have been fifty men in this tunnel alone, and it was one of dozens that spiralled in an intricate network underground. If a man, or sometimes even woman, could make do with cramped living conditions, never seeing the sun for most of the year, and living off the sparsest rations, they would have a job for life. The money was decent, but it was not a path chosen lightly. Those who had worked in the mines long enough were said to develop the vision of a bat, able to navigate purely by the traces of daylight that filtered from the surface, normally unseen to the average eye. Those who had actually put in the time usually retorted that bats are blind, and fifty years of eye strain and a bad headache is nothing to be proud of.

     Falling prey to the dull ache of fatigue, one of the workers leaned back against the rocks. Sheens of sweat littered his leather-beaten skin, tangling in the bristles of his broad chin. His frame was thick and muscular, as was that of all the hardy miners. His work clothes were torn and dust-covered, but not much more could be expected when one set of dungarees and two shirts were to last you the year. Small scars littered his forearms, many clearly from small nicks and scrapes whilst working. There was one however, on his left arm, which was a little larger, and more jagged than the rest. Lot didn’t like to think about that particular scar too much.

Lot sighed deeply as he opened his soot-ridden eyes. A man could not rest for too long down here lest the chill begin to seep into your bones. The cold makes you sleepy and sluggish. You don’t work as fast and don’t earn as much pay.

Muscles groaning in protest, Lot raised his chisel to the sickly-yellowed rock face once more. He supposed his job could have been worse. Those poor souls who were forced to squeeze along narrow gullies and minuscule holes to access the ore were far worse off than he. Every day, Lot counted his blessings that his shoulders bulked out too far to fit in the smaller gaps. No, his present location would do, chipping away at his own precious patch of Green. Even now Lot wasnt sure what was so special about it, but he mined it as he was told. Of course, Green was not its official name, which was something big and impressive like key-fanan or something, but to he, the frozen bubbles were simply green. It made sense to call them what they were.

Slowly, the man chipped away another fragment. As he turned to cast it into the pail, something on its mottled surface caught the light. Holding the piece closer to the flame, Lot hunched over to examine it further. There, on the surface of the ore, he caught a glimmer of something different. Something he had not seen before. Streaked across the dark, solid green was a sheen of black; slick, like treacle. Pressing his fingertips to the substance, he felt a chill of dampness that left cold, darkened circles on the pads. An odd smell permeated the air also, sweet, like blackberries. Raising his hand to his nostrils, Lot ascertained that it was the substance. It reminded him of his childhood, and the tarts his mother would make from the berries he and his brother collected from the forest in the summer.

ow curious, thought Lot, turning back toward the passage wall. Sure enough, more of the sticky substance glistened upon the Green, trickling down onto the source rock beneath. It seemed to run in rivulets down the rock face, yet as far as Lot could tell there was no source; no holes or fissures could he find. It was if the rock itself was weeping blackened tears.

ow very curious indeed, he thought again. This was far beyond his knowledge.

‘Oi!’ came a call from a worker further up the passage, ‘You done wastin’ time yet? I ain’t sufferin’ the wrath of Gotterly coz’ of the likes of you!’

Gotterly was the name of the warden. A pleasant chap… as long as you didn’t have to speak to him more than once a week. He wasn’t a fan of workers taking breaks. Why, there’d been rumours that he’d caught Little Tarry fallen asleep amidst a pile of rubble the other week. No one had heard from Little Tarry since.

‘You seen this stuff Jeddy?’ Lot replied to the darkened shape of his coworker, ‘All black and gooey-like. It’s comin’ out of the wall!’

Yer, grunted Jeddy in return, Found some o that stuff a couple days back, jus dig round it. Dont seem to be anything monstrous.

You sure? I was brought up on Wissnane an’ over there they always listenin’ to sign of nature. Never know when a storm is gonna whip up and steel your slippers. Lot eyed the substance again. It was strange. He didn’t know what to make of it.

More sure that it ain’t worth gettin’ docked pay for, which you’re gonna get in a minute if you keep standin’ there like a turp.

Lot scratched his chin thoughtfully. If Jeddy had ignored it, things would probably be okay, but still…

Ah think ahm gonna question ole warden bout it anyhow, he decided affirmatively. Procedure was procedure after all, and protocol said that they needed to report any unusual happenings to the warden immediately. As far as Lot was concerned, this was a mighty unusual happening indeed. Besides, he hadn’t been in Gotterly’s bad books too much lately…

Suit yourself, shrugged Jeddy, then slipped back into the steady silence of hammering at the rock face.

Decision made, Lot laid down his tools, then began to make his way up the winding passage toward the main cavern. His fellow miners eyed him with a judging curiosity as he passed, but Lot did not dally to tell them his purpose. His mind was made up now.

Eventually the passage came to an end, widening out into a larger cavern where Green was sorted into barrels to be hoisted to the surface. The sound of the cavern reached Lots ears long before he could see it, and the sight was as impressive as the noise. Natural light filtered down through a small opening many feet above his head. Heavy ropes snaked down through that hole, made for carrying materials quickly and efficiently out to the surface. Thankfully the humans took a slightly easier route, albeit longer. The walls of the cavern were banded with different shades of rock. Holes dotted the different layers, entrances to tunnels that had long since been stripped bare and abandoned. A visual history of man’s exploitation of the area. Long had it been since the miners had hammered away at the top, and it would be longer still until they stood on the true bedrock beneath. Layers of Green still lay dormant beneath their feet.

Lot cast his gaze around the men hauling buckets of green to and fro into the barrels. The warden should be somewhere in middle, barking commands to speed up the slow goers. No sooner had he began his search when he spotted the man, clad in his traditional oversized suit, studded with large rusted bronze buttons along the opening of the blazer. Once upon a time, the suit had probably been a prized purchase, but years of surrounding himself with grime and dust had worn it rugged, with patches and fraying fabric along the seams. Even so, it was still better than anything Lot had ever owned.

Lot walked up to great the warden, suddenly unsure if he had made the right decision. The warden was a short man, but his bite could be brutal, and no one could say he hadn’t earned his right to it.

‘Mr Gotterly, sir…’ Lot said hesitantly. The short man spun, then fixed him with beady narrow eyes. He glanced at the dirty red tie around Lot’s neck that marked him as a worker of the seventh tunnel, then fixed him hard in the eyes.

Whaddya think yer doin ere? Ge back down yer ole afore ah come n make yer!

Beggin yuh p-pardon sir, Lot stammered, adding in a slight bow of curtesy, But some intrestin stuffs just come to me attention down below. Lot held out the blackened Green for the warden to examine, You always been a-sayin’ ‘at we should report t’ you if we spot ‘nythin’ perculiar.

Violently, the warden snatched the Green from his hand and scowled closely. He turned the rock over, held it up to his eyes, then turned it over again, before throwing it into a nearby pail.

This stuffs been poppin up all over the place pas few days. Nohin teh concern yerself with. Jus dig round it, grunted the warden, before turning to storm toward a pair of young boys attempting to get a pully rope attached to a newly filled barrel… and failing. Gotterly’s angry barks took their place once more, blending with the sea of work tools and heaving.

Huh, Lot thought to himself as he turned to trudge back to his work spot. He really had thought he was doing a right thing, bringing the Green to Gotterly’s attention but… If neither Jeddy nor the warden were worried about the black substance, then it really must be nothing at all.

Even as the words passed through his mind, a rumble emanated from deep with the tunnel ahead. Lot paused, then stared. A second rumble, followed by the startled shouts of workers. All sounds of work within the cavern stilled.

Cave in! came an urgent cry from over his shoulder, echoed by the frantic screams of workers within the tunnel. Clouds of dust billowed out of the entrance way, followed by several loud booms. People nearby dropped their tools, then began to flee. Workers raced out of the tunnel.

All right! Calm yerselves’! The danger’s in th’ seven, not ‘ere! howled Gotterly over the din, but his words did not seem too successful. Cave-ins were like the boogieman to a miner, and struck the same amount of terror. The warden was right though, Lot ascertained. Despite the chaos and shudders sweeping through the cavern, the ceiling above them seemed to be secure. Beams and bolts built and reinforced over the decades saw to that. No, the danger was only to those pour souls trapped at the bottom of tunnel number seven.

Jeddy! Lot thought with a start. He had left him alone down there. It was a miner’s unspoken responsibility to take care of your neighbour. Ain’t nobody else gonna look out for you. What if he was stuck? Lot had to get to him.

Lot plunged forward toward the tunnel entrance as the last of the workers filed out. Jeddy’s face was not among them. He kept going, down into the tunnel depth.

Visibility in the tunnel was zero. Whatever light the lanterns had given was blocked out by a thick haze, if any of them were even still lit and not lying broken on the floor. The air also felt hot and heavy, as if he was walking into a dense soup. With every breath, the air slid down his throat, smothering and tightening around his lungs until it was difficult to breath. Lot clutched at his chest as he felt pain constrict around his ribcage. He wheezed heavily, then coughed. It felt like agony, but he had to keep going.

Closing his eyes to protect them from the dust, he slowly moved forward, arms feeling forward for the rock walls ahead of him. Every step felt like ten.

Gradually, a light began to form behind Lot’s eyelids. There must be a lantern still lit somewhere, he assumed. With the light, the air became hotter and thicker, more like syrup than soup. It choked him, forcing his limbs to a halt. He couldn’t go on… but he had to. He had to save Jeddy.

Lot’s eyes flickered open briefly, then was taken by surprise. The light was not a from a lantern, for it was sickly pale green in colour and much too bright to be the produce of a single measly flame. His ears also began to pick up a slow rhythmic sound. A pulse, steady and constant, growing louder, almost like… footsteps.

Lot gagged once more, though this time from fear. Nothing human could make a footstep that sounded like that. It was too large… to weighty…

Adrenaline burst through his system, Lot managed to spark some last dregs of strength to life. Enough to turn and flee from the cave and whatever beast might be coming up from its depths. Jeddy would have to fend for himself.

Lot burst back out into the main cavern, then collapsed onto all fours, dry heaving as semi-breathable air flooded back into his lungs. His vision swam before his eyes but was slowly reforming.

When he could manage, Lot turned to look at the tunnel entrance. He almost wished he hadn’t. The light was burning now, as if the fires of the very sun had been captured underground. It hurt Lot’s eyes. He scrambled backwards, almost knocking into the feet of a young worker boy who too, was enraptured by the strange light pouring out of the tunnel. In fact, everyone in the cavern who remained was deathly still and silent. Even Gotterly, who was normally not fazed by anything, had been rendered into a statue-like stance. Whatever was happening, they were all in this together.

All of a sudden, the light disappeared as an emerald leg stepped from the shadows, a sturdy, slender figure. Bands of moss, emerald and ivy swirled across its skin in a hypnotic storm, spiralling upwards and upwards to meet a mane of swishing vines. It was a woman, but not. Her face held no nose, no eyebrows, no cheekbones, only smooth contours, broken only by a slit-like mouth and two deep, onyx eyes. It seemed as if she had been carved from the rock to ultimate perfection. With the sight of her, Lot almost forgot his terror. She was a living embodiment of Green.  For the first time, he was casting his eyes upon a specimen that deserved not the lowly, practical name.

Kiavernan, he greeted humbly, swiftly dropping into a low bow. He thought he was beginning to understand who she might be, and why she was here. There were tales from Wissnane that told of gods, once clouds of energy, who had grown tired of an immortal life of roaming. Having seen everything there was to see, they settled down an unclaimed part of the world, as forests, lakes, or… rock. Suddenly Lot began to wonder where exactly the Green that they mined came from. The thought made him feel sick.

Rise, foolish mortal, snapped the figure. Immediately Lot rose to his feet, feeling rather bashful. If this was a god, how was one supposed to act? He was just a simple man, with a simple life, he wanted nothing to do with gods or mystics.

Ahm sorry, maam, he mumbled.

Whaddya want?! a frantic miner cried from somewhere. Lot did not turn to see who had dared to be so forthright in the presence of such a being. Fiercely the stone-womans gaze locked to one side, burning into the insolent miners soul.

Puny mortals, she spat, You have no idea what you have awoken from below. We had a bargain. You would dig no further than the silver bed, and you would heed any signs to stop. You have not listened. For your insolence you dig toward your doom.

And wha signs would these be? grumbled the warden as he pushed his way in front of Lot. Yer all very intimidatin an all, but whassa bunch a rocks gonna do to us? The ground seemed to groan as the stone-woman slid her eyes toward the warden. In her presence he seemed less like a tyrant, and more like a crumpled old man that would disintegrate with one flick. It made Lot shiver to think that he must seem the same.

Things live in these rocks, Mister Gotterly, she hissed, but her breath was that of wind whistling through fractures in the walls. Things older and more powerful than picks, spades and a cruel tongue. They’ve torn the world apart once before and they are just waiting for the opportunity to do it again. Do you wish to cause an apocalypse, Mister Gotterly? I order you to leave, withdraw your tools and flee, before it is too late.

The warden bit his tongue, watching resentfully as the stone-woman stepped backward and melted into the rock. Her words rang emptily throughout the cavern, even long after the sound of them had ceased. The men stood alone, cold and shivering. Not a soul dared to say a word. Instead, their eyes stared balefully at the rocks which, to their minds, whispered and cackled like conspiring demons. All trembled to meet their gnashing teeth.

A figure stumbled forth from the darkened tunnel, grasping clumsily against the wall for support. Trails of blood streaked from his hands, forming a thick soup with the dirt and grime of his skin. His clothes were torn and tattered.

Jeddy! Lot cried once more, rushing forward to give his fellow minor support. Thank Dae youre alive!

The cavern seemed to tremble at Lots use of the word Dae, but he ignored it. His friend was more important.

With a tremendous sigh of relief, Jeddy pushed his weight onto Lots shoulder. Close up, Lot could just about make out the signs of an angry black bruise brewing above his left eye.

Thank Dae indeed, grumbled Jeddy, a hint of spite in his tone. Later on that day he would tell Lot of how he raced to escape the falling boulders, only to be slammed viciously to one side by a strange, green woman, but for now he simply rested.

Alrigh! barked the warden suddenly, clapping his hands. Thas enough dallyin! Ge back teh werk yer pathetic slackers!

Many miners jostled at the command, jumping over one another to reach their weapons of shovels and picks. Yet their minds were confused. Some, upon collecting their tools paused, staring uncertainly at the ore veins. Others simply cast their eyes to the ground. The wardens face crumpled in bitter irritation.

Well? he snarled, voice echoing in the empty space, Whaddya waitin for?

Lot bridled at the hidden imperative.

You erd what the lady said, he reminded the warden bravely. What remaining eyes that were still staring turned away. Jeddy tensed at his side. The warden snarled like an animal as he spun to face Lot, shoulders bunched in warning.

Am not goin teh let some stoopid bit a rock destroy me career. If she comes at us agen, Ill smelt the bitch. The tendons in the wardens neck strained bright red. It wouldnt be long before things erupted. Lot held his ground. Mr Gotterly had been scary earlier, but the green woman was scarier on all accounts.

Nay disrespect sir, but ah grew up on Wissnane. Theres some mighty strange things goin on that island, ah tell you, but we learnt to always listen to the warnins from Dae-creatures. Dae-creatures know far better than man what goes on in t world.

Dae-creatures, the warden spat, I don give a flyin monkeys about where you grew up. This is our world and am not lettin some freaky beings tell me wha to do.

Now, yehre gonna take Jedresh ere back up above so someone can tend to im. Then yehre gonna get yehr backside back down ere and carry on minin, you ear me Lothien?

Lot nodded sombrely but was firmly unfazed by the wardens threats.

Loud n clear boss, he assured the warden. Ahll take Jeddy up top right n proper, but ah wont be acomin back down. Ah know when t heed a warnin.

The wardens greedy mouth gawped like a goldfish as he processed Lots words. Never had he heard such insolence spewing from an inferiors mouth. The fury of it turned his beady face ten shades darker until it bore more similarities to a char-grilled beetroot than human skin.

Taking no notice of the little mans wrath, Lot began to waltz toward the exit… or at least he would have had his partner not been such a deadweight. Instead, Lots pace was reduced to a confident shuffle. Jeddy was in a shocked state of stupor, his legs only moving by instinct. He was positive that one of these days Lots impetuousness would be the end of him.


     For three whole days, Lot remained above ground. He was supposed to be preparing for the trek back across the island to the northern farming towns. Since he refused to dig any further in Kiamore, ole Gotterly had revoked his rights as a miner, leaving him with neither a job nor lodging in the miners village. Lot was only barely bothered. Sure, he had just lost his livelihood, but he was certain there would be a little cottage in the north with a flock of sheep waiting for him. Who knows, maybe someday he would even get back to Wissnane. Folk were certainly kinder there. Darn him for deciding to leave and see the world in the first place!

     Truth be told, he had wanted to start his trek the very day he left the mine, but it had been late, and he had needed time to pack. There was also Jeddy. What the doctor had thought was a broken rib in the beginning had turned into something much graver. A black rash, tracing the pattern of his veins, had broken out on his right hand, spreading slowly upward toward his shoulder. It grew worse every day, and no one knew the cause of it. The doctor had tried herbal compresses, bleeding and some odd tablets that Lot could not pronounce the name of, but nothing helped. It seemed the disease was beyond any of the resources kept on Nithos, perhaps even in the whole of Nicheitah. Lot didn’t know what was going to become of Jeddy, but he felt it was only right he be there to say goodbye, if it was to be so. Jeddy had worked by his side for four of the five years that Lot had been in the mines. He owed him that much.

     Lot decided to make use of himself to the nurses, whilst he was still there. He fetched water from the well and served food to the patients that were conscious. He even added his own touch of freshly picked wild mushrooms to the otherwise tasteless standard-issue broth, much to the delight of the nurses. They asked him where he had found them, but admitted straight out that they would never have the time to hike out to the mountain grove themselves. When he was not needed, he sat by Jeddy’s side, keeping an eye open to the world outside.

     No one had heeded the warnings of Kiavernan. The following day, Lot watched as a group of men ran screaming out of the mine. Their clothes were dripping with sweat and vicious boils had bubbled like angry mites across their skin. The nurses tried to ease their pain, but the men writhed deep into the night, shrieking that there was fire in their brains, begging for it to be put out.  One man, Elyan, was one of the few who seemed to keep his wits about him. Lot had spoken to him to ask what had happened. He told him that they had been digging in the far reaches of the third tunnel when the very air had turned against them. Hot as a furnace it had grown, Elyan said, and scalded their skin. The few who made it out were not the only ones that had been affected. Elyan had watched his neighbour stumble down a low slope, only to find himself unable to stand again as his skin melted and fused to the rock. The wailing cries of dying men in agony would haunt him for the rest of time.

     At the crack of dawn, one of the overseers marched into the sickbay. He relayed a report from Gotterly that the temperatures had returned back to normal in the tunnel. Those that were able to stand and make use of their arms were expected back to work come morning rounds. The nurses protested, saying that the men needed more time to recover, that sending them down too early would only guarantee their return to the sick ward in an even worse condition, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. It was all they could do to provide the men with extra bandages for their sores, then send them on their way.

     That night, as Lot slumbered by Jeddy’s bedside, he was awoken by the light clanging of something metallic. It creaked and clunked, almost like the sound his pail used to make as he carried it back and forth through the mines. Lot blinked his eyes open, then straightened a little on his stool. It was not completely dark inside the sick ward for, although there was no moonlight and precious few windows, one of the nurses had left a lantern burning close to the doorway. Lot let his eyes adjust to the dim orange light, then looked groggily about the room. He reached his hand instinctively to the back of his neck, for it hurt something fierce after sleeping in an unusual position, then froze. Not five feet away from him, at the foot of what had been Elyan’s bed, stood a tall, pale figure, it’s clothing ragged and torn, as if it had been shredded by the talons of some dreadful beast. The figure swayed a little, back and forth and, as it did, it caused something in his hand to sway. A miner’s bucket, just as Lot had thought he heard.

     Lot cleared his throat.

     ‘Scuz’ me? He asked, If you be lookin’ fer nurses, ahm, you can wait by t’ office.

     The figure did not move. In fact, it did not show any signs that it had even knew it had been spoken to. It just stood there. The metal bucket creaked.

     Unsettled, Lot dragged himself to his feet. He wondered what more had happened down in the mine during the day. Was this another victim of tunnel three? Whoever it was, they were probably in a state of shock and surely were in need of help.

     It wasn’t until Lot was almost next to the figure, when he was close enough to reach out and touch, that he noticed that the air was thick with the sickly-sweet smell of blackberries.

     A bead of cold sweat rolled down Lot’s spine. He peered closely at the tears in the man’s clothing, for he was determined to not think of the figure as anything but a man now, then shivered at what he saw. It appeared that this man, just like the workers of tunnel three, had suffered extreme burns, but instead of red scars, his skin boiled with a black, weeping substance that shimmered when it caught the light. Most of his hair had been scorched right off his head and, here too, he was covered in oozing pustules of the vile fluid. Lot was certain that this was the same substance he had found on the Green down in the mines. He remembered Kiavernan’s warning. What if this was the great evil she had been talking about? Maybe it had already broken through and had taken the form of one of the workers? He had to know more.

     Moving with cautious footsteps, for he was now afraid of what would happen should he wake this creature from its stupor, Lot tried to get into a better position to take a look at the thing’s face. Despite intensive scarring and rivulets of Black that ran down his face, it was still possible to make out the identifiable features of an individual. Lot himself perhaps stood greater chance of recognising the man more than anyone, for he had seen him after his most recent scarring and spotted familiarity immediately in the forced downward twisting of the left side of his mouth. However, the last time Lot had seen him, Elyan had been still full of life, and character, despite his suffering. This man’s eyes were cold, glazed and white, as if Lot were staring at a risen corpse.

     Lot staggered back in shock.

     The Elyan-creature cast its stone-white glare upon him. The crumpled skin of its lips cracked as it attempted to form words. Black puss s seeped out.

     Gotterly must be stopped, or this sickness will spread. The voice that came out was harsh and raspy, as if even the vocal cords had been scorched and shrivelled. The sound grated like nails against slate.

     I dun know how t’ do tha’! cried Lot, but the creature did not care. Message delivered, its skin began to bubble ferociously. Flesh peeled away from sinew, revealing nothing but the black liquid that writhed and reeled inside its human host. The fluid twisted and overflowed, consuming all that remained of Elyan, until there was nothing left but a pile of sticky, sodden rags, and a large viscous pool of shimmering black.

     Lot jumped up onto the nearest bed which, thankfully, was empty. The pool was spreading, and he did not want to know what would happen should the black substance touch him. It had not harmed him down in the mine, but that had only been a small amount and had not looked so… alive. The fluid gurgled and bubbled away on the floor of the ward.

     As the hours passed, the substance gradually began to seep away, disappearing into the cement. By the time the nurse returned to do her routine check on the patients, there was nothing left beside rags, and a rather worked up Lot who had not yet dared to clamber down from his perch of safety.

     The morning brought more reports of possessed men, or ‘ghouls’ as the workers were calling them, for the horrible affliction seemed to only occur to men who seemed certain to die. The workers said that terrible spirits were possessing the bodies of fallen men and forcing them to walk once more. In some cases, the ghouls went wild and attacked the workers, causing a disruption to the work in the tunnels. Others said the ghouls simply stood there, staring into the depths of the mine, babbling in an incoherent tongue.

     Lot was terrified, but a course of action did not strike him until mid-afternoon. The sick ward was full again, with injuries ranging from burns, to broken bones and pick-axe wounds. But there was one bed that had suddenly become vacant.

     Jeddy had passed away.

     Lot did not see when it happened, he had been out collecting wildflowers to help sweeten the stench of the sick men. He had not expected it to happen quite so quickly, and neither had the nurses. When he returned, they informed him that he had suddenly burst into a fit of convulsions, and no form of sedative they knew had been able to help. When the tremors finally subsided, and Jeddy lay still once more, his heart had stopped beating.

     Lot stared at the motionless corpse of his colleague, his friend. The black rash had spread across his entire face and chest, which lay exposed now after the nurses last minute efforts to save him. He supposed that he should feel sorrow. This man had worked alongside him for years. They had shared light and food and water. He was almost like a brother. But Lot did not feel sorrow. Actually, he felt relieved. Jeddy had been the last thing tying him to this place. Now that he was gone, Lot could go too. A niggling thought at the back of his head also warned him to leave as fast as he could before Jeddy decided to come back.

     Free from his burden, Lot marched back to his barracks, picked up his small sack, collected some provisions from the canteen, then made his way toward the edge of the mining village. Lot had two routes he could take. One was a long route, winding around the eastern shoreline until he reached the port of Nithwae. From there he could either try to take a boat to Krokith, or continue his hike northward to Kiawae, where he would stand a better chance of finding a boat headed directly to Wissnane. He had now decided that it would be good to see if it was possible to get home first, before settling anywhere too close to the mine. His other option would take him up through the mountains. The path was reputedly well-marked, but the weather was cold, the trails were narrow, and rain could make for slippery footing. If all went well he could maybe save two or three days and head straight for Kiawae… but a delay could cost him a week of slow trudging in treacherous conditions.

     As Lot left the last of the houses behind him, he fixed his eye on the distant rocky shoreline. Through the clouds he thought he could see traces of a faint sun attempting to peak through, as if illuminating the way. Aside from leaving the mines behind him, Lot was in no real hurry. Taking a leisurely pace along the coast would be affordable, and perhaps even enjoyable.

     Decision made, Lot began to climb the path that would take him up above the far reaches of the mine, then descend down toward the sea. It felt so good to get away. He supposed he should be a little worried about how he was going to provide for himself in the future, but he wasn’t. His mind was already back in Wissnane, remembering the lush green forests that spanned for miles, rich with all kinds of wildlife. Beside the odd copse of trees, the land here was dry and bare. Occasionally, one could catch a glimpse of an eagle, soaring around the mountain tops above the mine, but other than that the place felt lifeless. Even the very name of the area ‘Nithos’, meant ‘barren’ in the language of the Dae.

     Thinking about nature made Lot remember that it was already early spring. If he were lucky, maybe he would even be able to make it back to Wissnane in time for the festival of the Sun. The thought brought warmth to his heart. It was one of the biggest festivals in the country. Children would make flutes out of willow branches, loved ones would sing songs together and there would be dancing and ceremonies around the running streams. Lot thought of his mother and wondered how she would feel to see him again. She had approved of his decision to travel south, to try to make a life on the mainland, but he knew she must miss him dearly. She used to send him parcels of dried fruits and treats once a month and, in return, he posted her drawings once a month, to keep in touch and let her know he was fine. If he’d known how to write he would have sent words instead, but the images felt like a good substitute. That was until his paper ran out. He’d tried to order new, but for some reason it never arrived. With that his communications slowed to a halt. The parcels of treats continued to arrive for several months but, after a while, they too stopped coming. He wondered if his mother thought something had happened to him. It would be good to be able to let her know in person that he never stopped caring.

     A slight tremor rumbled up from the earth below. Lot paused mid-footstep, then looked at the ground. The small pieces of dirt and stone scattered along the path were dancing in a light, jittery, jig. Lot placed his foot fully down. He glanced backward toward the village.

     At first, all sounded normal, just the occasional communicative shout, or the heave of machinery; then the tremors grew stronger; then screams began.

     Soon, Lot could not focus on the miners anymore, for his own situation was growing gravely perilous. The ground was shuddering so violently that it was impossible to move in s straight line and very difficult to keep himself from tumbling down. It was as if the earth itself was having a seizure which, in a way, it was. Lot carried on forward as best as he could. The only thing he could do was try to get as far away from the mine as possible, only then could he be safe.

     A rock shifted underneath Lot’s foot, sending him crashing to the ground at an awkward angle. The rough surface grated his shoulder upon impact. Lot cried out in pain, as he tried to right himself. Fortunately, it seemed it was just a scratch, for he was still in control of all his limbs, but that didn’t stop it from smarting something fierce.

     The sounds of panic continued in the distance.

     A large crack sounded from somewhere above Lot’s head.

     Lot looked up. A carriage-load of debris had become dislodged on the mountain side and was now tumbling at break-neck speed toward him.

     No time to stand, Lot flung himself into a frantic sideways roll in the hopes he would avoid the worst of the impact. A small stone scuffed his upper thigh, adding to the scrapes, but other than that, he was unharmed.

     Lot peeked up from between his hands. The landslide had finished, but there would undoubtedly be more. He wondered if there was a safer place for him to hide. Should he try to outrun the quake and get further around the shore? Should he head back to town? One glance back in that direction told him that several of the buildings seemed to be suffering from various degrees of collapse. None of the structures were built to withstand an earthquake of this magnitude.

     As Lot was mulling his choices over in his head, he spotted something that made his blood run cold. A crack was forming in the ground, directly underneath where he was now lying. It was small, barely visible underneath the dust of the dry road, but it was undeniably present. It was also getting wider.

     Stumbling frantically to his feet, Lot broke into a staggered sprint up the path. It was not easy, for the tremors confused his sense of balance and caused him to misplace his footing, but he managed to stay, for the most part, upright. However, when he glanced behind him, he saw that the crack had widened to the width of a small branch, and it was heading right towards him.

     Lot put on a burst of speed. He could hear the ground tearing apart now and it sounded like all the demons of the underworld were waking up. Pain and fatigue seared through his limbs as the path took an upward turn, but he would not let that slow him. Adrenaline fuelled him to push on.

     Suddenly, he felt the rock beneath his right foot shift so that it was several centimetres lower than the left. In a blind panic, he veered off from the path, not daring to look at what was following him. Maybe the crack was to catch people trying to escape by the obvious route out of the village. In that case the path was doomed.

     The ground to the side was more treacherous, formed from uneven outcrops of granite and boulders that sloped down towards the sea. It was a frantic scramble for Lot to keep up a faster pace and he was not sure what would happen if he reached the cliffs only to find the crack was still chasing him. He would throw himself into the water if he had to. Anything to save himself from falling back down into the darkness that he had already sacrificed so much of his life to.          

     Lot glanced over his shoulder. His heart sank with the bitter tang of desperation as he saw his fears confirmed true. The crack had changed direction and it traced a perfect line from the path, across all of the boulders he had scrambled across. It was following him, charging forward with full speed. It was as if the very jaws of the deep were widening, preparing to swallow him whole.

     Lot gulped. The cliffs were coming up fast and, now he was close, they felt a Lot higher than he had imagined. The roar of the sea crashing against the jagged rocks below made an impressive sound. The hiss of the foam joined the rumble of the quake in a natural symphony of horror. Twenty paces and he would reach the edge. Fifteen. Ten… nine… eight… Lot felt his legs began to slow. Seven… six… he had learned how to swim as a boy, but he had not practised in years, what if his body simply sunk like lead to the bottom of the ocean? Or what if he diced himself against the rocks? Five… four… three… 

     His feet came to a halt less than two steps from the edge. He could not do it. He could not voluntarily throw himself forward. Closing his eyes, he spread his arms out wide and waited for the crack to catch up behind him.

     The ground grew silent. Wind whipped through Lot’s clothes. Sea spray from the waves below splashed his face. His heart pounded in his chest and… nothing happened. No tremor shook him over the edge. The rocks beneath his feet stayed firm and undivided. The earth was still.

     Several moments passed as Lot breathed in the moment, not quite sure to make of it all. He should, be several means, be dead, but he was not. Why?

     Opening his eyes, Lot appreciated once more the feeling of the weak sun on his face. The light through the clouds was mottled and, almost mystical. He imagined that the eyes of a thousand gods were staring down at them, watching events unfold. Perhaps one of them had saved his life.

     Slowly, Lot turned around, then all of his thoughts of salvation vanished. The crack had stopped spreading… at a grand distance of less than two feet away from Lot’s own. In fact, if he looked closely, he thought he could make out a small hairline fracture running from the edge of the opening and finishing directly underneath him. The chasm it had opened up before him was huge; an open, black wound in the landscape. Come down, it said, come back into the dark. Limbs shaking, Lot gingerly began to tiptoe around the edge of the crevice, hoping to make it to safer ground, when up from the depths rose a sound that stopped him in his tracks.

     Dear miner…

     The voice was soft, deep and laced with strong will. It did not belong to any human that he knew, however he had heard it once before. It was the voice of the Green Lady. She was talking to him.

     Once again, Lot stared at the crevice in horror. Had the Dae-woman been the cause of this? And had she really been hunting him? He wanted nothing to do with this. It was not his fault that Gotterly had gone too far. Could the Green Lady not allow even a single soul to escape?

     ‘Ah stopped when you told us to! he shouted down into the darkness. His voice echoed from the rock face. Please lemme go!

     No one answered.

     Well, he thought to himself, supposing that was that. After long years of toil, he’d finally cracked the bucket. Perhaps this whole damn charade had been in his head from the beginning? Maybe there had been no green woman, or strange disease, or ghoul, just one barmy old badger who was better being cast off to live as a hermit than relying on as a worker. It would certainly explain other people’s irritation.

     Even as he thought this, his eyes picked out something peculiar within the crack. There was a staircase. Not a regular staircase, as one might find in a manor house or castle, but a sloping, fragmented array of outcrops and boulders that zigzagged from side to side until it vanished into the darkness. It certainly didn’t look like the sheer divide that he would have expected a quake to result in, and he was unsure as to the meaning.

     Come… beckoned the voice from somewhere down below, eradicating any doubts in his mind that he had misheard it the first time.

     Lot bridled. Ah, no, a bit of earth shakin’ an’ spooky voices, ain’t persuadin’ me t’ go down there! Ahm leavin’, now!

     In response to his words, a soft green light began to glow in the depths. Lot’s heart sunk. He wanted to believe that he was crazy, but deep in his heart he knew that his senses were telling the truth. If he didn’t go down, then she, it, was going to come up here. It was she who had caused the rupture in the ground and maybe even her who had sent the ghoul to him. The green lady would follow him wherever he went, for the rest of his life, until he answered her call. People here might not respect the creatures of the Dae, but Lot’s upbringing had taught him better. It was figures like the Green Lady that had helped to shape the world as it was today. They had fought wars before mankind ever evolved on this plane, all to shape the way for some future that only that knew the end of. They played a hand in creating the trees, the flowers, the animals, the streams… and they could tear it all down again, should they desire. For some reason, he, Lothien of Wissnane, had caught the attention of one of these beings. He was duty bound to find out why. Heart leaping into his mouth with every thud, Lot began to descend.

     The climb itself was relatively simple. The rocks were the perfect size to step between and, if he came across any trouble or larger gaps, something would miraculously shift to make up the space. The glow faded when he was part way down, but he did not need it. He was used to working in extreme conditions and the light that filtered down from the sky above was more than enough. What made it difficult however, was the unnatural heat that swarmed up from the base of the crevice. It made the rocks toward the surface warm to the touch, which, pleasant at first, caused increasing discomfort the further down he went. He needed his hands to help steady him, but if he lingered too long in any one place he felt the heat from the earth would char even his thickened flesh.

     Eventually, he reached the canyon floor. The very air here seemed to shimmer, the same as at the height of summer in the southern isles, but this time there was no sun to warm the air. Ahead of him lay the arch of a low tunnel, trailing away underground. It looked like one of the older mining tunnels that had reached the limits of the ore, then been abandoned. A faint hue of pale, effervescent light filtered up from its depths.

     Lot braced himself. Every fibre of his being wanted to turn back, to climb up to safety and run far away, but he knew that he could not. He had to find out what the green lady wanted from him. He entered the tunnel.

     Within the tunnel, the conditions felt even more unbearable. The further Lot progressed, the deader his footsteps became. It was as if the very air was guzzling up the sound. It would be rather greedy of it were that the case, for already the air seemed to hang with a bloated thickness that made his head ring. Beads of sweat began to pool on his brow and trickle along his spine. His breath came slow and jagged. How very tempting it was just to lean back against the rocks and sleep, yet the rocks themselves bore no comfort. Through the soles of Lots shoes, he could feel their unnatural warmth, pervading the leather. Ole Gotterly was barmy to try and work in this.

     Gradually, the tunnel began to widen, and, with a shock, Lot realised he was in the main cavern of the mine. There were no people around, but abandoned pails and barrels of ore lay scattered about, up heaved and broken during the quake. Piles of boulders lay in haphazard disarrays around the working tunnels. Stalactites that had once stood proud on the ceiling now lay in smithereens on the floor. The pully system that had once transported goods to the surface, lay in a sad pile in the centre of the cavern, shaken free from their restraints that had held for decades. It seemed the tremors had attacked the mine in full force.

     The sight that chilled Lot the most however, was not the fallen stones and work tools for, they could always be moved and recovered, but the sight of a large crack about three centimetres wide that cut a jagged divide from the roof of the cavern, down the walls, and across the centre of the floor. Whilst the divide that had followed Lot had terrified him, there was something about this crack that just felt wrong. It seemed to him as if some dark, malevolent presence was trying to force its way up from deep underground. It made him shudder to think what that was.

     Do you see the true risk of human greed?

     Lot flicked his gaze from the crack to the far side of the cavern. He had not noticed the Green Lady’s presence until now. Without her supernatural shine, the Lady’s skin blended almost perfectly with the rock face. He eyed her carefully, then noticed that from her dark eyes ran faint black trails. The darkened streaks seemed to glisten. Were these tears?

     Beggin’ yer pardon miss, but ah think yer takin’ things too far, Lot began, a mumble at first but, when she did not cut him off, he grew bolder, Most of the chaps who work ‘ere are desperate. Money gives ‘eir families food, some’ere to lay ‘eir ‘eads. It’s Gottertly who should suffer, not ’em… mah Lady.

     These rocks are my home. I understand the needs of humans and welcomed them with open arms. Had I known the damage you would wreak… I would not have bothered. Resentment rang from her words like a bell.

Humbly, Lot bowed his head. You did ne want this to appen, he stated grimly, Ah understand your problem n all, but Gotterly wont stop. Maybe it’s best t’ just pack up ‘n move.

The Lady fixed him with a fierce stare. I am not mortal, she spat, I have lived in these rocks since they first formed. It is not within my ability to relocate, for I am bound to the place as surely as the mountain is bound to the land. When I agreed to let you mine, I offered you part of my soul. You violated it.

Sorrow struck Lots heart. He should have said more to Gotterly. Ahm truly sorry, he apologised, We did ne know. Gotterly never told us nought. Ah wouldve done more if ahd known. Why did ne you stop us?

The Green Lady whipped her head back with a ferocious snarl, but her gaze caught on something in Lots face. Sincerity. This man was different from the others. Defeatedly, she allowed her anger to drop.

I wish now that I had, she sighed, her voice hollow, But I havent the strength anymore. The mines run too deep. I fear for us all when the beasts beneath gain free reign.

Maam, beggin’ yer pardon but, why did you bring me ‘ere? Ahm certain a fine Lady such as yerself could find more important folks ‘a be speakin’ to, queried Lot. For someone so depleted of strength, she had gone to considerable effort to track him down. He doubted she just wanted someone to chitchat the way into armageddon with.

Kiavernan eyed him up and down with an assessing gaze. Her emotion Lot could not quite place. There was sorrow, of that much he was sure, but it was mixed with something else that was more conflicted, as if she was still debating the reasoning herself.

I grew up with the Derandera mi’lady, ‘ah know ‘at you Dae creatures don’t do nothin’ withou’ purpose. I ain’t afraid. Tell me. Lot was afraid. He was very afraid, but it felt like the right thing to say. Kiavernan could probably see straight through him. She pursed her lips.

These mines need not to be emptied, but to be destroyed. The destruction needs to be big enough to ensure that no one, ever again will try to mine here. At the same time, the collapse will seal away the things that lurk below.

Lot thought about the words. He could not disagree with her, for he was not a mystical being and knew nothing about their behaviour. He did however know Gotterly, and men like him. Maybe after these events the mine would close for a week, maybe even a month, but eventually a new wave of workers would be sent down. The old wounds would be opened, the curses would start afresh and whatever waited in the depths would be awoken and released. That could not be allowed to happen. A heavy realisation began to settle in Lot’s heart as he began to suspect what it was the Lady wanted from him.

You said yer powers ar’ depleted ma’am? Lot questioned carefully, not really desiring to hear where this conversation would lead.

That is correct, she affirmed.

So, you don’t ‘ave the strength t’ shut down the mine? The Green Lady’s gaze told him that the statement was true. Lot breathed deeply, forcing himself to continue, Ah ‘eard once that a man’s soul is concentra’ed power. ‘At is what gives ‘im breath, ‘n’ thought.

More or less, she said, her eyes now fixed intently on his. He knew his fears were true.

Then bloody go on ‘n take it, Lot said, flinging his pack to the floor. The realisation that he probably was not making it out of these caves alive had brought his attention back to the fact that he still had it about his shoulders, and it felt impossibly heavy. ‘At’s what ye’ want, isn’ it?

Kiavernan nodded with one long, slow bow of her head.

Yes, she answered.

With that, Kiavernan closed the gap between them with footsteps so smooth and gracious that Lot could distinguish one stride from the next. The closer she came, the more overwhelmed by awe he felt. She was immense, at least three feet taller than he, and beautiful in a way that made him think of, well, statues. She was also terrifying.

Carefully, she placed a hand against Lot’s cheek. The stone was cooling to Lot’s skin, and it felt strong. He was certain that with just a slight flick of her wrist, the Lady would be able to crush his skull to smithereens. He hoped that wouldn’t be how this would end.

Suddenly, the Lady’s stone lips were pressed against his. An icy chill spread through his body. He tried to recoil but found himself locked in place, completely unable to move even if he wanted to. A cold nausea pelted through his stomach. It was as if something cool and slick was being wrenched upward from his gut. His throat gagged reflexively to pull it back down, but naught could be done. Slowly, Lots skin began to shrivel, his reddened skin clinging madly to the bone. Sweat turned to leather as his form set. Eyeballs tore from their sockets, fingernails seemed to grow, hair shrivelled black and dry. The muscles in Lots torso bucked in agony as the spectral chord was pulled from his mouth. Only the Green Ladys stern grasp held him in place.

With an agonising heave, Lot was wrenched back to reality. He collapsed to the floor, blood pumping ferociously in his veins. Frantically, he touched his face, his arms, his legs. His skin was whole and unharmed. He looked up at the Lady, the memories of pain still searing his flesh. As he watched her patient gaze, he understood. She was giving him a final choice, showing him what his destiny would be if he offered his help. He was not sure if he would have been better off not knowing.

A fella’s got t’ go sometime, he joked, but his voice was hoarse. As far as he saw it, he had no family reliant on him, no children, and no long-term debts. He was the best man for the job. He found it bitterly ironic the same factors that had made him able to escape the mine would also bind him to it.

There is no changing your mind once the process begins, she informed him.

Steeling his emotions, Lot dragged himself to his feet.

Ahm aware ‘f that milady.

Kiavernan placed her hand back against Lot’s cheek. A bolt of panic rose in his chest, but he fought it back.

What is your name, brave miner? the Lady asked in admiration.

Lot maam, he answered immediately, Short for Lothien, born in Rekkentara on Wissnane.

A glimmer of a smile danced about the Ladys lips, You are a valiant man, Sir Lothien of Wissnane. It is an act that will not quickly be forgotten, she vowed. Her words sent a thrill to Lots trembling heart.

Valiant, he mused, ‘Sir’, aint nobody ever called me tha afore.

The Green Lady smiled as she took one final look at Lots face, then pressed her lips to his once more.


The chaos above ground was immense. The ground shook and crumbled in a way that made the previous quake feel like nothing but a stomach grumble. Men scattered in all directions. Some tried to hide. Others ran. For those on the outskirts of the village, some hope lay in running for the coastal paths. They would need to avoid landslides and keep a wide berth of the crumbling cliffs, but maybe they would be able to race to safety. Those that were closer to the mine entrance had no chance of escape.

The collapse started above the central cavern, then spread quickly outwards. It appeared that the land was cannibalising itself. Heavy rockfalls shook free from the nearby mountain, debris filling up the crater at the same time as it was created.

Gotterly ran back and forth amidst the chaos, gathering what traces of polished green he could find from the remains of the crumbling storehouses.

Get back ‘ere! he shrieked at some of the workers, fleeing for their lives.

He would not be defeated, not now. There was too much pressure. They had to reach their quota set by the Weskain Merchant House lest their trade permit be revoked. It was just an earthquake, like all the others. The land would quiet soon, and they would be back in business come nightfall.

Anyone who abandon’s ‘is post loses three weeks pay! he yelled, picking up another piece of green. That would teach them.

The remains of a stone wall gave way, crumbling in Gotterly’s direction. He looked up, then twisted violently out of the way. His arm hit heavily against an old metal casket. The bone cracked and he fell to the floor, causing him to drop the green he was carrying. Pain seered up and down his arm. He tried to move it, but it screamed in agony. The bone was protruding from the flesh.

Help! he yelled, looking up, but there was no one around. Everyone had fled.

The earth shook.

Gotterly sobbed, then attempted to prop himself up. When he saw what lay in front of him, he wished he had not.

The village was being destroyed. The crater was expanding outwards and outwards. Rock, dirt and tools roiled together like waves on the sea, moving closer and closer to the warehouse where Gotterly was sitting.

He did not move. He could not. His entire livelihood was collapsing upon itself. Even if he stood a chance of getting away, there was nothing left for him. In the end, there would be nothing left but a crater where the mine had once been, filled with rubble and debris that would take decades of digging to clear. Such an expenditure of resources and time would prove too costly. The mine would close and Gotterly would lose everything. Better to end it here, than as a society cast-out with no status. He waited to embrace his fate with open arms. The jaws of the deep had won.