Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shaper of Souls

In high Summer many live in tailored fantasies, interred in pleasure palaces and lofty towers.  Elu lives apart, soaking in the radiations of the floating world, exploring the strange small things which spill from that place of wonder.  In his wanderings he discovers a device which takes him to Winter, but it is a mutated version of the icy wastes and he soon becomes caught up in a struggle against powers which wish to mold him like clay.

Shaper of Souls takes place in the same setting as Winter's Riddle but follows the adventures of a Summer inhabitant rather than the Fencer and the Trumpeter.  I've always envisioned the setting as being a place for many characters and narratives and here is a first offering of saturated magic.  It also represents a departure from my usual system of publishing blog posts first, making this only available in an ebook format, for now, which can be purchased here.  As a bonus the book will be available for free all through Saturday and Sunday, June 2nd to 3rd, as part of a KDP Select promotion.  All I ask is that you spread the news, you have my gratitude.  

A big thanks goes to Justin Lewis, creator of Eye-Eighty and Outpost Zeta, a good friend, who designed the cover art.  More pulp fantasy stuff coming soon. 


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Glimpse of Summer

As some know my goal is to publish an ebook each month this year.  So far all my offerings have been collected tales drawn from this storyblog.  That is about to change.  In a day or so I will have "Shaper of Souls" up for sale on the Kindle store, a completely original story about a wandering mage from Summer who becomes trapped in a dream, not be found anywhere on this blog (boo, hiss!).

In addition I've been making a few changes around here over the past month.  There is a new G+ button which essentially treats Winter's Riddle as an entity which can be added to circles, followed and given a +1 in general.  There are links to my Amazon books and selected links to friendly sites.  If you wish to be added please let me know.  Also there is a shameful donation button.

Anyhow, the project continues on into Summer, both figuratively and literally, and with it I hope to offer up dreams worth your consideration.  Comments and feedback is appreciated as always.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pale Blank Skin XIV.

            In another time he was a different man in the same place.  His dreams were of an enormous room of grey stone.  In this cube the entirety of his life was contained.  The cube was empty.  On the floor was a loose piece of stone which wasn’t there a lifetime ago.  He pried this up because he was curious.  Peeking down, crouched and hungry for knowledge, he spied a city miles below, fair and spindly, pin-point tower and green garden.  A place where energy lived and the living tried to be otherwise.  A pyramid of black metal lay outlined as a square, massive to the point of incredulity, it sat near one edge of the island.  And this was an island, and clouds were the sea.
            “I don’t trust you,” said the raw voice uncertain of her words.
            “Apart from the two outlanders I don’t think anyone here trusts each other,” said another female voice in response.
            “The book man trusts,” said the first to the sound of hollow tapping.
            “He should trust to his books and not others’ foolishness,” retorted the second. 
            Sleep became pale light and Lumnos realized two women were talking about him.  Belleneix and Laxa went quiet and thoughtful as he roused, the Fencer and the Trumpeter still slept with that easy way of travelers.  Something clattered out of his hands as he sat up.  He had been holding the Phyox sword and for some reason this made him think of that dream, that grey room, that city on the clouds.
            “A funny thing about trust coming from a woman who attacked her kin,” he said to Laxa, gathering his bearings.  He was in a lost catacomb in search of a necromancer because, well, because he had made the mistake being burglarized.
            “They’ll have no cause for argument when I’m Hegemon,” shrugged the Theb, speaking of her eventual rise to the highest position in her tribe.
            Mutual distrust had kept the two guards attentive that night, mostly in regards to watching each other.  Laxa had here weapons spread out before her and was quietly sharpening them, which, considering the sheer number, had probably occupied her all night.  Belleneix had engaged in more grisly activities. 
            All around the dead lay in careful piles, stacked in alcoves and sorted into nooks.  Blessed scripts were plastered to each shroud, telling of a religious age.   One of these had been disturbed, shroud torn open, bones scattered across the ground.  That hollow sound to which he had awoken was Belleneix tapping a rib bone against her teeth.  Around her lay a few other pieces, a skull, and a femur, while the others slept she had been scrounging.
            “I’m hungry,” she complained. 
            This was the defining comment that morning.  Each was feeling the strains of the past day.  Between Laxa and the travelers they had enough salted and dried fare, but water was in short supply.  There was talk of drinking Clea’s potions, but the Fencer grew cold at this suggestion and the group bickered after other plans.
            At last Belleneix declared she had the solution, even though only a few seconds before she had been complaining about how they were all doomed now that they were underground and near the great evil full of shadow.  Following the faint lights of the crypt, ancient reservoirs of something like phosphorous glowing forever for the dead, they came to a sealed door.  The Theb guards above must’ve been liars, this vault lay untouched and forgotten, with no means in for doad or marrowmere.  
            Breaking the seal, they opened the door to the sound of grinding stone.  Outside a half collapsed corridor reached into darkness.  A stolen goblet full of the white, glowing powder lit their way as guided by the cannibal girl. 
            “Harder finds now that our bodies are stolen,” she commented in the same fashion as one might remark on the weather.  She kept one hand on the stone wall as she moved.
            “I just can’t follow your meaning,” said Lumnos with honest curiosity.  He had never met a Rottie with so much to say.
            “We used to have so much,” Belleneix said wistfully of the Rot and the corpses therein, ignoring Laxa’s laugh.  “But then darkness and the bodies began to move.  They took their own, stole from us.  Careful things, only us Rotties saw.  Then they came for our lives, all dripping stuff that was not blood.  I climbed up to the terrible city, to ribbon people and money-takers and those steel Magpies.”
            Despite her broken words this explained much, the source of the raw materials for the marrowmere and the doad, the displacement of the Rotties and the chaos which had set fire to Ruin’s ready tempers.  All those palace-tribes and ribbon braves had fallen into such a complacent cycle of life amongst the crumbling towers that the addition of roving bands of cannibal children and random undead ignited hidden tensions into a blaze of chaos.  In a way this reminded him of the Uplifting.
            Something freakish trembled along his left side and he looked and saw the Phyox flex, growing a few more hexagonal scales on the guard, a zigzag pattern suddenly running down the flat of the blade.  For a brief second he could sense its plastic mind and those feelings it held in its ceramic flesh.  It went still quickly, leaving him with the impression that his thoughts weren’t all his own anymore.  Perhaps his dreams as well, though he dismissed this as paranoia; he was reading too much into things.
            They passed from the ancient halls into a sewer which had been dry for many centuries.  Belleneix led them downwards, her hand on the walls.  At last they came to another sealed portal, this one loosely and hastily bricked up. 
            Cutting through the barrier exposed a great darkness, a void of without sides or bottom.  Laxa and Belleneix fought with each other in order to be the first one down as the Trumpeter unwound a long rope, fastened it, and let it fall into the infinite black.  The voices of the two women found no echo in the dark.  They descended.
            Their pale light illuminated a theatre of some sort.  Remnants of cushions and a stage revealed themselves, as well as glimpses of friezes and reliefs depicting nudes.  Lingering pigments on the walls spoke of frescos where bodies cavorted at the whims of a very decadent mind.  Many were the secrets hidden and lost, forgotten by the world, their makers destroyed. 
            From this private auditorium Belleneix took them at a quick pace, eagerly, without saying why.  Secret chambers turned to dry aqueducts, where a passage down presented itself she led on.  At last she brought her hand off the wall, and, after gauging whatever it was she felt there, moved quicker into the dark, the rest racing to keep up.
            Lumnos felt the mysteries of the Black beyond each door not taken, each arch left in shadow.  So many were the hidden things beneath Ruin!  Layer upon layer, like the rings of a tree, secret and history, story, horror and drama, all from the past, the forgotten past.  It made him almost sad, like the sorrow of a tragedy, but really the feeling was more nuanced, a nameless agitation.  It wasn’t like him to be all sentimental.  No, once again he felt that he had been compromised in some way. 
            The Rottie found them a cistern full of fresh snowmelt.  There were many of the kind, she explained, fed by cunning traps from up above, run through filters, stored and forgotten.  She had been testing the walls for condensation, realized the wordseller. 
            They rested and filled their flasks, drank until sated and wondered aloud about the dark.  Each had a reason to be there, flawed and selfish as they might be.  This close, Lumnos could sense their motives.  Laxa’s ambition, Belleneix’s hunger, the Fencer’s nuanced determination and the Trumpeter’s curiosity, these all seemed as open books. 
            He examined the Phyox, yet he could not read the alien weapon.  All he knew was that it could shift and change, though maybe not to his desires. 

            Floor after floor, down ramp and tunnel, stair and shaft, they hunted the lower depths.  Of bodies they found many, the underworld was populated by them.  Some moved, some lay still. 
            The first doad band they encountered carried a great number of corpses, more dead from the Rot to be put to the Necromancer’s use.  The Fencer cut one down and the others paid no mind as they shifted their burden to carry these new pieces.  He destroyed the rest then, but it left him unsatisfied.  Not a one fought back. 
            Now they traveled in silence, fearful to hear what may wait in the dark.  The tunnels themselves had shifted, this Belleneix was sure of.  Tracks on the ground spoke of great movements of the dead, and these increased as they entered the mines.
            The most ancient carven tunnels gave way to the coarse-hewn rock of exploitation.  Here was the honeypot which had brought all those ancient magi from the far corners of Winter to build the city which would come to be known as Ruin.  Like worms they bored through the earth, using human beings as labor because magic and the technologies of magic were costlier than lives. 
            Cold black grew in some corners and passages, devouring light, spreading patches of foulness.  Just looking into those depths dragged the will down.  The travelers sought other avenues. 
            Bodies, preserved and inanimate, stood posed as sculpture in various rooms and along some halls.  The Phyox trembled at these still-life communities.  There was some sorcery at work here, some occult significance to the ordering and placement. 
            Behind them snuffling sounds made it clear they were being followed.  Doad most probably, though it was never clear where a marrowmere might be drifting about, in search of whatever quality it sought in the living.  They kept moving, seeing the strange wonders of the underworld, fearful at what such mysteries might portend for the mind of the creature they hunted.  With some haste they moved down whatever passages they could find.
            Noise erupted on the third level, great clattering symphonies.  They fled, but echoes followed.  Their light might give them away, but the thought of stumbling through the utter black was enough to risk the danger of discovery. 
            Ahead, a great whirring erupted just around the bend of a tunnel.  It started off as a whine, but grew and grew, becoming a hum and then a scream.  Backtracking, the sound of something huge ground against the rock walls and grew closer.  So blocked, the Fencer grimaced and laughed, and pushed ahead, towards the whining monstrosity in the unknown place before them.
            It was a huge machine, one of the engines used by the miners to grind and crush rock.  Silenced when the magics were taken in the uplifting, it now ran on darker fare.
            The thing was the size of a mammoth and it stood on four metal legs trembling with the strain of its shrieking heart.  On its back was a giant hopper where coarse stones might be dumped from the steel walkway above.  Stone would then cycle through its innards, with the refined ore tumbling from a chute in its front.  It was a cunning work of machine precision, showing the ingenuity of the ancient masters.  It lurched and lived, something black jostling in the hopper, and that salty, metallic smell they had first tasted in these depths returned.
            It moved towards them with obvious hostility and the Fencer met its charge, the steel limbs moving in a parody of life, terrible shrieks of pain coming from each joint and bolt. 
            Dhala cleaved what accounted for its face which emitted a spray of sparks and spattering black blood.  Laxa and Belleneix joined him, striking at the legs and joints, their ordinary weapons doing little against the shuddering beast.
            It struck back.  Flailing with its legs it caught Laxa on the side of the head and she fell senseless, blood streaming.  But its main target was the Fencer, which is sought with a broken steel tongue used to lap up wayward stones.  Terrible weeping stuff, spattered out over him and he flinched to keep from being blinded, then it reared up, intending to bring the whirring madness of its guts down on the man.  If the crushing weight didn’t kill the swordsman then the spinning gears certainly would.
            Lumnos went to his companion’s defense.  He lunged into the exposed underbelly and the Phyox was wrenched from his hands by the spinning engine.  That little needle of white stone most certainly would break under such gnashing metal.  Instead the gears jammed and the thing tore itself apart. 
            The engine exploded.  Yellow sparks showered, gears flew into the stone walls and sunk in, sending out sprays of rock.  A gritty, black fluid spattered all present.  The machine monstrosity’s pieces went still.  Amongst the remains the Phyox gleamed, unhurt.
            They were all well enough for the encounter, except Laxa who had a nasty gash along her scalp and complained out of pride as the Trumpeter saw to her wound.  They had only a minute before the following thing reminded them of its presence.
            It trundled out long steel nose first, its body that of some sort of bench along which a sheet-like tongue rotated slowly lengthwise, stained with more of that black inky fluid.  It looked at the destroyed machine and whined, spinning the rotating sheet faster, eager to suck in more bodies for its unwholesome process.
            Belleneix took that moment to leap upon it, hacking at the metal workings.  Her blades cut the long rotating tongue which shredded itself apart to reveal cunning metal rotors spaces like teeth along the body, some five meters in length.  Then it began to thrash.
            The travelers scrambled to get away from the bucking, shrieking metal beast.  The Rottie girl laughed as she sent sparks flying with the blade she held in one hand, the other holding on for the life for which she apparently had little concern.  The machine reached up with its many free legs and tore at her, cutting deep with its narrow hooves.  Still she laughed, laughed like she had seen the Fencer do back in the corridor before charging into danger.
            A particularly terrible twist of its metal flesh shook Belleneix loose and she tumbled into a corner, crying.  The swordsman ended the struggle with a single sweep of his nightmare sword.  Choosing his moment carefully he leaped in and split its tiny engine in two, more of that black stuff sputtering out.  It died, twisting, shuddering.
            Its death was great and the strength lent it by the unwholesome sorceries of the underground realm stove deeply into the wall, which buckled, causing the ceiling fell. 
            A flash of brilliance erupted from the murky sea of black pooling upon the stone floor.  All present flinched useless against the hundreds of tons of rock crushing down, and didn’t see the mutable white flood the wrecked machinery with thousands of fastidious tentacles, moving in a blur.  They only uncovered their eyes when death failed to come.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pale Blank Skin XIII.

            Some texts describe the early creation, before Winter and the Riddle, as undifferentiated substance.  This substance waited like clay for the hand of some luminal force to align it into cascading sequences of structure, which then reached out into a new and visible cosmos as matter.  It had always seemed a fairytale to Lumnos, but he thought of it now as the Phyox, having offered up its dying master, collapsed into a ball of pale grey and waited for another hand to wield its protean flesh.
            There were other narratives, he realized as he approached the maimed sorcerer.  In such a state Loce failed the stereotype.  Sure, he had the silver hair and eyes, those fantastic attributes of a magician, but he was decidedly middle-aged, gaunt, with ashen skin etched with scars and a long, unwelcoming face full of strange thoughts.  He wore only a wrapped undergarment of linen and he shivered in the cold.
            The wounded stump where his hand once joined his wrist nearly glowed with a strange, purplish infection.  Fever raged through the magus’s body and he seemed to stare off at events transpiring on an unseen horizon.
            Other thaumaturges noted that strange matter, that primal material from the beginning of time, was a purely alchemical creation and that it only existed through the magics of the creator boiling down a mountain or sifting out choice atoms from a desert.  Still others credited an entity from beyond Winter with the arrival of magician’s clay.
            If anything this merely proved the variability of stories, of information, of facts and the contexts which bound them like knots.  There was so much which Loce could tell of these things, but he wore as a second skin, a second self to obscure his words, these were just masks, a series of useful fictions.  Now his wisdom suffocated under a delirium.  Fiction was too imprecise a word, yet there was no more time to ponder as Lumnos tried to aid the sorcerer from high Summer.
            “They’ve died,” rasped Belleneix, staring down the ruined geometries inside the tower, still flowing with dust, obscuring her dead Rottie companions below.  She wore a mix of confusion and whimsy which the Fencer didn’t care to answer.
            “Hush,” commented Lumnos as he tried to get the sorcerer’s attention.
            “The marrowmere and the doad will be out soon and so should we,” reasoned the Trumpeter, straining to get a first glimpse of the horrors spilling from the Rot’s unsealed mouth.  He wanted to be the first in terror.
            “Can I have a moment of help?” Lumnos asked his companions, who each was in a separate place.
            “Can’t you just kill them all?” asked Laxa, trying to get the Fencer’s attention, but he was elsewhere, a place of grim anger, judging from the look on his face.  “You’re the one with the evil sword.”
            Laughter cut through the chaos and each focus found the trembling mage, his chuckles coughing out with each shiver, his smile from the sky.  His voice had the power to bind demons and in this moment he bound each of them.
            “There is no such thing as victory,” said Loce once the laughter had gone.  “I thought to seal that hole for all eternity.  I failed.  It brought the darkness upon me, but in turn the Black lost the reigns of the depths.  Now it coils up its powers, which have run far away, down old tunnel and lost dungeon.  We have some time before its face is in order.”
            “His brain is gone,” pronounced Belleneix.
            “No, it’s this damn fever,” said Lumnos, eyeing the Fencer’s weapon.  “It would take an idiot savage to bring my life into contact with a cursed sword.  If it weren’t for that…”
            “It only means that what I have done to him I can do to the thing waiting for us below.”  The Fencer’s cold reasoning was irrefutable.
            “You mean we aren’t fleeing from our certain death and are, instead, running full tilt at it like a child down a hill?” said the Trumpeter, laughter at the corners of his eyes.  He was in on a joke nobody else thought was funny.
            “If our criminal swordsman doesn’t take this necromancer’s head then I certainly will,” puffed Laxa, as grim and determined as the Fencer with whom she competed.
            “All light and I won’t know it,” mumbled Loce, who then shot strait up.  “She will find me here!  Get off my chest, I can’t breathe, and if I had a sword of legend I could cut through this fate and all others.”
            Another’s rage shot through the wounded magician like a lightning bolt.  Then he became enamored of his putrescent arm and fell back to the stones breathing quick and shallow.
            “So we are to continue with our plan to descend into the mines and defeat the Necromancer?” asked Lumnos in a manner which was both exacting and timorous.
            “Not our plan,” smirked the Fencer.  “Yours.  You kept me here, after all.”
            “What about the Alabaster Palimpsest?”
            The Fencer gave no response because he was busy plotting a way down the ruined interior of the tower.
            “What about Loce then?”
            The Trumpeter replied by struggling with his coat pockets, and this got the Fencer’s attention.
            “You would waste Clea’s legacy?”  The swordsman looked almost hurt as he asked.
            “Always more memories,” muttered the musician, who produced an array of luminescent vials.  He chose one, seeming at random, and crouched down next to the sorcerer, who was a million miles away.  “Besides, this cure worked on you as well.”
            “Those were the Emerald Alchemist’s?”  It was a rare thing for Lumnos to see true magic, each one a thing of mystery.
            “Yes, and also yes,” noted the Trumpeter as he poured the liquid crystal down Loce’s throat.  The man thrashed, eyes fluttering, and around them the air sang with lighted motes, half-formed warding seals, staccato bursts of magic from the sorcerer’s fevered mind.  Coils and threads, as of writing, script luminous, jotted and coursed, flickered and vanished. 
            Laxa was struck, having crept close to witness the forbidden potion.  A brand of white hot characters seared across her torso, from her shoulder to the opposite hip, where it coiled down here leg like a thunderbolt seeking ground.  For only a moment did the glimmering prose flare up, then it darkened and vanished.
            She fell with a cry which was more alarm than pain, but most eyes were on the magician. 
            “He will be well now?” asked Lumnos.
            “After a time,” nodded the Trumpeter.  Dhala’s poison is pernicious and even magic seems reluctant to engage the stuff.  Still, in some hours he’ll again be able to argue with the Fencer.
            “No, I won’t,” rasped Loce.
            “A speedy recovery,” mentioned Lumnos.
            “I have no more arguments, your violence has won,” the magician continued.  “I’m now tied to the play of grey, all shade and formlessness.”
            He drifted, exhausted on his own words, still half-mad with the dream poison. 
            “We should leave,” said the Fencer, taking no relish in his philosophical victory.  He had tried to help Laxa to her feet, but she waved him off.
            “I suppose you are right,” said Lumnos.  “He will be as safe here as anything, and he has his…thing to protect him.”
            “Take it,” gasped the sorcerer as he shuddered again.  The sphere of matte white drifted to the wordseller, where it transformed into a strange, double-edge sword.  It kept the same color and up close it seemed all made from hexagonal plates or scales, giving it an artificial, geometric design.   “I have no need of protection up here.”
            “Another magic sword,” clucked the Trumpeter.
            Then, summoning the last of his strength, Loce focused his eyes on the group and said, “It should be noted that the raw meaning of the term entails the gaining of wisdom from the dead.”
            A puzzling statement, to be sure.  The gathered rabble, readers and lessers, took in the words, but not the meaning.  Before they could ask for some meaning from the pale mage he had drifted on like a passing cloud, towards dreams hopefully more peaceful than the ones inspired by the dark blade’s wound.  Urgency pressed them to note that one of their number was missing.
            “Our Rottie has left us,” laughed Laxa, but she was cut off by another.
            “I’ve found a way down!” shouted Belleneix, who had slipped off while the Abjurist had been given his cure.
            Whether she had attempted to escape her bargain yet again they would never be sure, but she had found that a rough and dangerous course lay at staggered intervals down the interior of the tower.  Lumnos’s ankles ached just following the series of jumps proposed by the girl.
            When all were prepared they proceeded down, though the Trumpeter was the last.  At first the wordseller thought he brooded over the horrors presumably spilling out from the Rot, but no, his eyes were aimed upwards.  No stars or sky were visible, thanks to smoke and cloud, but still he searched.
            When pressed, and Lumnos’s curiosity couldn’t help but ask, the Trumpeter murmured something about watching the weather.  A coarse lie, yet there was no reason to press the man.  Down they went, hopping from stone to stone, descending a tower strangely left untouched by the Uplifting.  The world was full of exceptions.

            An argument broke out amongst the dark morning streets.  There would be no sun for some time, and the sky seemed to be that utter black, that thing mentioned by Loce and which swelled in the belly of the marrowmere.  It was an abyss which walked or glided, glistened and absorbed, and the mortals were eager to avoid thinking of what lay below them, even at the end of their quest to find the Necromancer and the things he had taken.
            Going the way of the Rot was unthinkable, even though the Abjurist claimed to have defended that point successfully.  There were rumor of other cellar entrances, but finding one unsealed would take time and an irrational urgency pressed them, the notion that the dawn was being held hostage by the dark should they not make haste.  Desperate, they followed Laxa.
            She took the band into the streets of her home of Theb.  Many were the ruins, both recent and of the Uplifting, but many more tower blocks showed flickering lights in the cross-shaped windows and varied patrols of palace-tribe braves wandered, keeping the peace and muttering about the dead which float. 
            From these they hid, her own people, though the girl wouldn’t elaborate a reason.  She set a path through hidden byways rarely traveled, towards a tall and imposing structure.
            This was the center of the Theb district, the old manse of that great and missing magus whose named still reverberated through the history of Winter.  Statues depicted the man; a tall and imposing figure with a regal, ageless bearing, a pair of sleek horns protruding from his long hair, rising above like a strange halo. 
            His central palace now served as home to hundreds of the most honored Thebs, led by the tribesman with the most prestige and name-ribbons.  It was a large and rambling affair of marble colonnades, classical arches, porticoes and open rooms.  Into this place the travelers flooded, like insects on honey.
            The Fencer sheared the weapons from the nervous guards at the side gate, who ran off shrieking.  Inside the halls, once the model for much of the city’s grandeur, they were met with households tucked into sitting rooms and gathered around fires built in seating pits and dried reflecting pools and dozens of terrified people, some running, some approaching, arms drawn. 
            The invaders were careful with their violence, disarming those who faced up to their weird assault and scaring off more with blasts of noise and outlandish behavior. 
            Laxa took them down the first stairs she found, a trap door propped open in the kitchen where at least a dozen Thebs made their homes, children peeking out from the disused, hut-sized ovens.  Cries from behind spoke of a redoubled effort by the defenders, their fear melted by the passion for triumph; whoever bested the strangers would be great indeed.
            In the depths few people waited, mostly pale outcasts, the old and destitute, those who could not, or would not, play the games of their palace fellows.  These offered no resistance, only stares of wonder, and occasional smirks at the chaos befalling their betters.  Several floors down the invaders found their means.
            Two guards watched over a capped well, bored by their low-fame duty, and shocked by sudden opportunity.  One threw his spear at the offenders but Belleneix nimbly caught the thing, and smiled her livid smile despite where the blade had cut her.  The other lunged for the Fencer, who sidestepped his opponent and placed the flat of the blade against the man’s back.  He shrieked and collapsed shuddering. 
            “Why are you doing this?” babbled the first guard under the scrutiny of Laxa’s sword point.  “Those things are down there, I hear them sing in stolen voices and at times a raw shadow licks up between the seams on the cap.  It’s suicide to open it.”
            “Prestige,” she answered, full of pride.  “Next time you see me I’ll be at the top of this palace.”
            Despite the dangers the motely struggled to remove the heavy well cap.  Up from the depths a gust of stagnate air gasped, but they threw a torch into the dark and it revealed only dry stone.
            Lumnos was the last down and worried that the remaining man would try to stop them, or worse cut the rope which they hung down the pipe.  Yet still he risked joining the group below.  The things he’d do for knowledge. 
            The bottom of the well broke out into an older structure, a catacomb from another, more ancient strata.  The well had never been used for its purpose, sealed since it had first been sunk in search of water.  
            From here the band could make their second foray into the mines, presuming that all such labyrinths down here were linked.  But their day’s travel finally fell upon them like a watching cloud of gloomy crows.  Behind came the noise of the cap being put in place once more and several heavy weights clunking down on top.  All they had now was gloom.
            Here they took a rest, though it was sleep which did the taking.  Belleneix and Laxa took watch, being the least exhausted and most agitated.  It was a surprise to Lumnos that he could slumber against their piping quarrels, as each tried to outdo the other in terms of accomplishment, most probably imagined.  Yet he did fall, down, into the dark place of dreams.