Evil awakens in the heart of the mountain.
“It’s the deepest mine that any dwarf’s ever dug,” Daro said. “We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Tell me why you needed a sorceress,” Kaiya replied. It was time for some answers.
Shifting in his seat, the foreman said, “You know about the avalanches. We’ve had a lot of men hurt, and the mining company is losing money.”
“An avalanche or two is to be expected,” Kaiya stated.
“Naturally,” Daro replied. “But something isn’t right in there. I’m no mage, but I’ve had an interest in magical enchantments since I was young. It’s a feeling I get down in those tunnels.” Looking away, he added, “I suppose it sounds silly.”
“Not at all,” the sorceress replied. “Even those without magic can sometimes sense its presence.”
The foreman swiveled his head back toward her. “You mean that?”
“I do,” she said. “There is magic here. I can feel it too.”
A sigh of relief escaped the dwarf’s lips. “That already makes me feel better. I was afraid I might be overreacting.”
“I don’t think you’ll feel better for long,” she replied. “What I sense is malice, an evil heart bent on destruction. Even now, it echoes in my chest.” As they moved closer to the mine, Kaiya’s fingers shook, a tingling sensation buzzing through them. Something was testing her, a tug at her magical stores confirmed it. Each breath came faster as she forced herself to remain seated, fighting the instinct to run toward the mine. Or was it the urge to flee? Grinding her teeth, she did her best to steady her mind.
“Are my men safe in there?” Daro asked, leaning toward her.
“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “I have to go down there to find out.”
Stopping near the mine entrance, the driver set the brake and waited for his passenger to disembark. Daro assisted Kaiya as she stepped down before sending the driver away. Kaiya paused outside the mine, her eyes staring intently into the darkness. The color drained from her face.
“You all right?” Daro asked, laying a hand on her shoulder. Her pale visage unnerved him, her silence alarming.
Kaiya gave no answer, her hand reaching for a lantern as she stepped inside the mine. Daro followed closely behind, grabbing a lantern of his own. Upon entry, the path descended. Kaiya immediately made note of the lack of fresh air. The ventilation system required for such a massive pit would have to be extensive, but it provided no wind. Miners were not able to stay down as long as usual, forcing the work to be done in four shifts rather than the standard three.
Stillness cut through Kaiya, panic running along her spine. With much effort, she forced herself to remain calm. Here, more than any other place, she was vulnerable.
Dim lanterns lined the walls, a system of movable platforms descending to and from the depths. Stepping onto the platform, she waited for Daro to pull the lever.
“Down we go,” he said.
They sank into the darkness, the music of mining picks serenading them along the way. Dots of green light illuminated the walls, a gift of the glowworms that inhabited the mines. Without these creatures, the miners digging at the lowest depths would be forced to work in complete darkness, the lanterns barely able to draw enough oxygen to remain lit. The flame in Kaiya’s hand flickered, reducing itself to the size of a pea. More an item of comfort than of practicality, the lanterns were nearly useless.
A buzzing entered Kaiya’s muscles, radiating throughout her body as they arrived at the first plateau. Stepping off the platform, Kaiya stumbled, righting herself before Daro could notice. To her relief, a system of mirrors stood at various angles, catching light from above and projecting it along the pathway to the lifts. Taking courage from the light, she drove the buzzing away without the use of magic.
“How many levels are there?” she asked, peering over the ledge.
“Three,” Daro replied. “There aren’t any workers at the bottom. I assume that’s where you want to go?”
“Yes,” she replied, though she wanted to say no. A low voice called from the depths, urging her ever downward. Though she’d come here to confront it, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. The stillness raged around her, and should she require the use of her magic, her stores could quickly become depleted. Lacking the element required for replenishment put her at great risk.
Her eyes finally adjusted to the darkness, Kaiya followed Daro as he led the way down to the second plateau and made his way across the expansive deep. The third platform, the one that led down to the deepest level, lay just ahead.
“I’ll go alone from here,” she announced as they reached the platform.
“You sure?” Daro asked. “The light barely reaches down there, and it’s easy to get lost.”
“I need complete concentration,” she replied. “I’m afraid your presence could distract me.” Even the quietest dwarves were typically noisy, and she would need complete silence. “Can you order your men to stop hammering until I return?”
“Aye,” he replied. “I’ll do that and come right back to this spot. You can shout when you’re ready for me to bring you back up.”
The sorceress agreed out of politeness. She was quite capable of pulling herself back up, her arms not lacking for strength. But Daro was unused to women inside his mine, so he treated her with as great a care as he would any lady.
Steadying herself on the platform, she waited patiently as Daro lowered her into the darkness. The light faded to a dull gray, the pinpoint lights of the glowworms outshining that which was brought down by the mirrors. Here the world was entirely still, her lungs working overtime to find fresh air. Once again the buzzing returned, traveling up her spine and settling in the back of her head. Her ears puffed, and she swallowed hard to drive the feeling away.
Setting aside her now-useless lantern, she tuned her ears to the stillness. A voice called out, a low rumbling tone. More curiosity than anger, whoever it was wanted to know her better.
Where are you? she projected with her mind.
There was no change to the voice. It held the same steady tone, beckoning her toward it. Keeping one hand against the wall, she kept herself in check. With a ceiling that stretched up to eternity, and the darkness surrounding her, it would be all too easy to lose her bearings.
Twisting along the wide path, she followed the rumbling sound. Above her all fell silent, no hammers echoing throughout the mine. The pounding of her heart replaced the hammers, but she found her courage and steadied her breathing, forcing her legs to keep moving.
Rounding a bend, the path became unsteady, small rocks sliding beneath her feet. The way narrowed into a single passageway, wide enough for only two men at a time. Still moving forward, the rumbling grew louder, but a wall blocked her way. Taking in what she could make out in the black, she believed this to be the end of the mine. A pile of rubble had been placed to one side, awaiting its transport outside. The tunnel was too small for a large team of miners, meaning it must still be under excavation.
Placing her hand flat against the uneven floor, she searched for the owner of the voice. Her mind penetrated the rock, scanning the undiscovered depths. Passing deposits of iron and painite, she pressed on, searching for her quarry.
There, in the depths, she saw it, a vision through the stone. Massive, far taller than an elf, far stouter than a dwarf. It lifted its mighty head, its mouth open wide to reveal the fire within. A roar of anger shook the walls, debris raining down upon her. Still she held her concentration, her mind examining every feature of this monster. Magic radiated from it, a long-dormant master of earth, fed by the rock surrounding it.
The Wrathful Mountains will be available in ebook and Paperback in 2016. Sign up for my mailing list to be notified when it’s released.