Posted by Meg
It’s really awesome to see all kinds of folks putting pen to paper (or, fingers to keyboard as the case may be) and writing fan fiction and getting really creative with it! Here is a short story entry from Keith.
My entry for the competition is a short story introducing a new Coreling: The Mine Demon.
With a 3,159 word count it is still short for a short story, but I hope not be too long compared to the majority of the entires, which seem to be no more than a few paragraphs and quite often with some really good artwork (not a skill I have been blessed with unfortunately for me).
It is also my first ever fan-fiction and fiction of any kind for 6 and a half years since I put my writing hobby aside to study part-time for a degree.
I apologies for any spelling or grammatical mistakes I have missed and I hope you like it.
Many Thanks for the inspiration and opportunity to get the attention a personal hero of mine (Peter Brett),
The Calling of the Core
Pytra’s lungs burned from holding an involuntary breath too long, listening. He could faintly hear the men up top trying to dig them out but it now seemed like a life time ago that the mouth of the mine had collapsed.
Once the dust had settled, it didn’t take long for the realisation to kick in that the mirrors were now blocked, and the plague of panic that came with the impenetrable dark quickly spread through those not lucky enough to be killed by the cave-in. With the limited light from the candle, Pytra had quickly organised the three others with him to arrange the fallen warded supports into a rough circle around them. It was only done for the men, however the wards would not line up and none of them were skilled in the ways required to get them through this; it was a miracle the Corelings hadn’t come already. Down in the mines where the sun brought no warmth or illuminated embrace, there were always Corelings.
As if smothered by the same blanket, they all fell silent together. The sweat soaked skin on their backs prickled painfully with a cold that seeped into their bones and laboured their hearts. Where the reach of the weak candlelight was engulfed in the darkness, they could feel the mists creeping out of thousands of the rich metal veins running through miles of carved mine-shafts.
From the depths of the gloom, an almost inaudibly delicate, gentle and unnatural clicking against the cold uncaring stone pierced the silence.
“Creator protect us.”
“Quiet,” Pytra whispered back at his men.
The unstructured cacophony of metallic clicking increased in frequency yet remained unnervingly distant.
“What in night is that?”
“Cud be water, the collapse might have ruptured a spring in the moun’ain.”
“That ain’t no water you dullun!”
“Keep ya voices down”
“Oh Deliverer spare us, it’s getting louder”
“I don’ know dam it. I can’t see a Corespawned thin in this hell.”
Pytra’s voice echoed off the damp walls and instantly the alien sound was replaced with an oppressive silence that smothered their lungs like smoke. They all stared into the blackness in frozen silence.
The weak voice was distant and sounded strained. Pytra couldn’t see them properly but he knew the men were looking toward each other.
“Was that Mathas?” One of them whispered, “Sounded like Mathas”.
Pytra’s mind raced with the fear of someone else trapped down there.
“Can’t be, I thought he was caught under the cave-in.”
“Does it matter who it is? Someone’s down there. Pytra, what do we do?”
The three men turned to look at him, their eyes drawn large with fear and the strain for light. The candle flickered from an unfelt eddy of air snapping him out of paralysed thoughts.
They looked up to him, expected him to get them out of this, to escape the impossible, the calling of the Core.
“Ok. Look, I have an idea but it’s not likely to work.” No one escapes the calling of the Core, every miner knows that. “Ok the main chamber has both a proper warding circle, right? And a ventilation shaft, if we…”
“WHAT? You want to leave, we can’t leave, they’re digging us out. We have ta stay here what in the Core’s wrong with you?”
Kyne was the youngest of the group and not even a miner, just a kid paid to keep the reflectors clear and clean. Even in the dim light Pytra could see the boy was shaking.
Jimmy, the veteran of the group took hold of his shoulder. “We‘all ready as good as Cored if we stay here boy, and there’re men down there, we have to…”
Silence stole the old man’s words as the candle blew out, drenching them in the blackness of the cave’s unloving maw.
Pytra swore and began groping in the dark for the spark stones, bumping into the others as they all bent over or crawled on the ground, all desperately fumbling to restore the light. His hands, growing numb from cold and fear, finally gripped around the familiar rocks as he heard the clicking return, more rapid than before and growing steadily louder. Resting the candle on the floor he unrolled the package and balanced some kindling on his knees. His hands began to shake as he struck the stones against each other causing blinding sparks to burn white shadows into his vision, but the delicate strands wouldn’t take.
The unnatural clicking seemed impossibly close, and the men all pressed blindly together, seeking any kind of reassurance. Pytra’s hand began to ache as he verbally willed the flame to life.
Come on! Come ON! Pleeease. “COME ON!”
The flame burst into life, and he quickly crawled over to the candle. As the wick eagerly accepted it, the dim light drove back the gloom revealing the men to be all standing over him. One of them audibly grunted an outward breath, and Pytra stared mesmerized at the candle which gave a small sense of relief that allowed his muscles to relax.
In the renewed silence, he became aware that his arm was wet, but in the poor light he saw only a black stain on top of his dirty cotton sleeve. He glanced around for a puddle or other explanation then felt a droplet hit his hand. He glanced up, expecting to see water dripping out of the black cave roof beyond the reach of the candle but stopped searching when he saw the old man staring wild eyed ahead, a strange pained expression on his face slowing growing in intensity. The other two were looking at him transfixed.
Pytra carefully stood up to watch a small bubble of blood growing out the corner of the old-man’s mouth before popping against his grubby beard. The veteran’s lips trembled apart as he tried to say something, but only a rasping intermittent breath was heard. Pytra slowly edged forward and raised his hand to touch a dark stain that was slowing creeping through the worn cotton of the old man’s shirt.
“Rhu… Rhu… nnn”
With violent force and speed the old man was hoisted high into the air, throwing Pytra back down to the unyielding stone floor. The old man hung twitching limply in the air at the edge of the shadows, his eyes wild with panic and pain. His chest and stomach suddenly exploded outwards filling the air with blood that rained down on them as his body was ripped in two. The lower half was cast aside and hit the ground with a damp thud. Pytra’s petrified gaze flicked back up to see the old man’s torso disappear in the darkness above and engulfed in sickening sounds of crunching bones and tearing flesh.
Abruptly the cave was flooded with the deafening sound of Kyne screaming. Pytra could only watch from the ground as the two men sprinted off into the darkness leaving him alone. When the screams had faded into an echoed distance his eyes darted around. He jolted back at the realisation he was covered in the old man’s blood and flesh. The movement kick started something inside his mind and he frantically began shuffling backwards. Then the clicking returned from above him but slower and more deliberate. With his ears, he tracked the movement as it travelled down the wall. It stopped on the floor but remained just outside the reach of the candle. Spots and lines of light reflected off what looked like tarnished metal glinting out of the dark like a perversion of the night sky. With more vigor, he resumed his backwards shuffling until his back hit the base of the rubble that blocked the mine’s entrance.
He froze in horror and watched as a long spindle-like limb arched slowly and deliberately into the light. More than two metres long and no thicker than a human arm, it was covered in metal scales stained in the old man’s blood. At its end, the articulated limb split into a star of many barbed metallic hooks, all facing different directions. Pytra’s hand tightened around a section of a support beam that had shattered in the collapse as he watched the metal-like branch gracefully finish its arc, landing on the candle to once again plunge his world back into darkness.
A blind smothering silence choked Pytra as he waited for what he knew was his death. Then he heard the tell-tale sound of the clicking as the Coreling approached, and he knew he didn’t want to die crouched on the floor. A primitive roar of rage and fear erupted from the pit of his stomach as he jumped up and began swinging the wood wildly in the dark. He moved randomly trying to become a harder target, all the while roaring louder and louder, swinging ever more desperately. He knew this was his time to die, but he was determined to make the foul abomination work for his death.
Pain flared across his left shoulder as he felt a barbed hook tear though his flesh, but his mind stayed sharp, and he used the twist to swing with everything he could draw on at his first sure target. Pytra felt the wood connect with a satisfying force and light flashed through the passage as a barrier ward etched on the shard knocked the beast’s limb to the wall.
The end of the stick shone with a thick green light showing where a circle of interlocking glow-wards still remained. Suddenly the Coreling twisted toward him bringing its head within arm’s length of Pytra and screamed a high pitched wail that stabbed painfully inside his ears. The wards glowed brighter as they absorbed the demon’s power illuminating rows of hundreds of shining teeth reaching far back into a jaw, stretched open wide enough to fit around a man whole. At each side two pairs of barbed mandibles were pulled back and vibrating in resonance with the scream. Many eyes set deep behind overlapping metal scales glared back at him, defying the wards.
A will to survive overtook Pytra’s terror, and he stabbed the make-shift weapon into the mouth causing the creature to stop screaming and recoil backwards. He swung again, and again, and again, knowing the barrier ward was doing no damage but relishing the fight back. As each swing connected, light flashed brightly off the beast’s scaled armour. It was at least half as tall again as a man and with its dozen legs outstretched and attempting to scramble away from the frantic onslaught it was wide enough to almost fill the roughly carved passage.
Pytra missed with a swing, stepping forward to keep his balance and the Mine Demon took the advantage and reared up to stab two legs forward at him with lightening speed. Adrenaline commanded Pytra to use his off-balance forward momentum, and he bent his knee to fall forward under the demon, dodging its strike.
Regaining his stance, he poised to dodge again and looked up at the underside of the beast as it coiled back up and around him to regain sight of its pray. As it did so, he saw the scales part slightly revealing softer flesh underneath.
His shoulder was bleeding freely and stung painfully with every movement, and exhaustion was flooding lead into every muscle, but the adrenalin enabled him to ignore it, and he coiled himself and waited. Once again the demon lashed forward with powerful and quick limbs that he only just managed to step around, but this time he was ready, and he swung the weapon at two legs braced together. The wards flared on impact, forcing the demon to move backwards for balance as they gave way and Pytra stepped with it to keep directly underneath. As the demon started to twist around, Pytra chose his moment and stabbed the stick between the scales as they moved apart.
The Coreling’s screams filled the cavern and it writhed, nearly crushing Pytra. The warded wood shone bright as day from its wedged position between the under-belly scales. The demon lashed wildly from side to side, crashing into the supports, setting off more barrier wards in blinding strobe flashes that staged its tormented struggle in a terrible vision of shattered time.
Renewed fear flooded into Pytra as one of the supports gave way. Deafening sounds filled the mine like thunder as more of the ceiling began crashing down on the demon in front of him. It screamed again as the entire side of the wall buckled and crushed, its back leg spraying out black ichor. Realising his chance, Pytra ran.
At first, his progress was slow as he relied on his hands to guide his way, but he had spent years down these mines and knew where he was heading to. However, once he passed a few bends, and the cacophony of noise grew distant, the passages became brighter with the faint green light from more glow-wards etched into the stone and supports. He froze realising he would be able to move faster now with the light but that he was moving towards more Corelings. From behind, he heard the mine demon scream in rage and his choice was forced; he broke into a run.
Approaching the main chamber, the green glow grew brighter, and he ducked behind a tracked cart as he caught movement in the distance. Reflected sunlight was shining down through curtains of dust into the centre of the room over the large warding circle showing Kyne huddled in the centre, rocking slightly as he hugged his knees, next to him another massive reflector lay face down. The light was dim with an orange hue indicating the sun must be setting and that the digging would have stopped as the men retreated to the safety of their warded village.
As his eyes adjusted with the remnants of the natural light, Pytra could just make out the silhouette of another mine demon ripping into the remains of a body; the sight of it brought the pain in his arm fresh into his awareness and it grew suddenly heavy with the thought. He could hear the clicking of the approaching demon in the distance behind him, and he forced himself to focus on the warding circle. If he could just make it inside, he could survive the night.
As quietly as he was able, he released the mechanical break of the cart he was hiding behind. He held his breath as it gave a loud crack, but the Mine Demon in the main chamber didn’t react. Summoning his strength, he pushed the cart for a few steps then pressed himself against a recess in the wall and watched it roll forward. It rolled down the slight decline into the chamber, slowly picking up speed as it went. After what felt like a life-time the demon turned towards it and began running around the far wall to reach it while avoiding the light.
Looking over his shoulder, he saw the other Coreling turn the corner and pick up speed as it scurried toward him. Against the panic in his lungs, the agony of his arm still bleeding and the weight of his tired muscles, Pytra sprinted for the circle and stopped only when the faint sunlight shone through his closed eye-lids. He collapsed in a heap on the ground, only faintly aware of the Coreling recoiling against the wards somewhere behind him.
Some time passed before his breath returned and he dared look around. Kyne was next to him and like him, soaked in grime and blood. He was sobbing into his knees. Pytra looked up into the reflector angled high above and squinted into the light. He moved toward the other reflector at his feet but couldn’t even move it.
Holding his agonising arm that hung limply at his side, he slowly stood up and looked around. Both demons were circling them. One had a bloody stump for a leg and seemed to be smoking slightly from entering the light. As they made eye contact, the demon stopped and stared at him, lowering itself to the ground as it did so. Inexplicably, Pytra started laughing, quietly at first, but as the reality kicked in, it grew louder and more confident. Before long, he was laughing loud enough that the main chambers echoes laughed with him, and the demon screamed in rage at the mockery.
Finally, Pytra ran out of gusto and wiped his eyes to find that the only light left was the fading green hue from the glow-wards and the demons were nowhere to be seen. His eyes tried to pierce the night but found nothing. He turned to Kyne.
“You’re all right now kid. We’ll make it out of this”. Kyne gave no indication he was even aware he wasn’t alone and Pytra was about to reach for him when he heard another voice close by.
His blood ran cold and he scanned the room again, but still found nothing.
He turned in the direction of the man’s body he had seen before.
“Night! He’s still alive.” He approached the edge of the circle willing his vision to see further. “Can you move at all?”
After only silence answered him he swallowed a breath and took a small step out of the circle, ready to spring back with any noise or movement, but nothing changed.
He instinctively crouched low to the ground and kept his voice as quiet as possible.
“I’m coming, hang on. Can you move to me at all?”
Only a low rasp answered.
Fighting off shaking muscles, he slowly edged forward in the darkness until he reached the man. The smell of blood filled his nose as he crawled up next to him. As soon as he touched him he knew something was wrong. The skin was cold and blood was everywhere, far too much. Leaning in close, he realised that he was dead. And had been for some time. Then he heard the metallic tapping behind him. As he spun around, his stomach was punctured straight through by the demon’s front leg even as it finished gracefully lowering itself to the ground. Blood flooded into his mouth, stopping him screaming as he was lifted off the ground and brought closer to the Coreling’s head. Slowly, it opened its mouth and produced a new sound.
Pytra’s eyes grew wild with the realisation that the Coreling had lured him out from the wards.
The demon closed his mouth again and brought him even closer to stare directly at Pytra in a way that Pytra thought resembled a faint grin.
Pytra’s closed his eyes in submission as the pain and exhaustion overwhelmed him. His last thought was the mantra all miners were taught. No one escapes the calling of the Core!
Wow. An intense and detailed story from Keith. Truly terrifying. I would not like to be a mine in a world full of corelings. Thank you to Keith for sending us his entry!