One of the best parts about being an editor is getting in on the ground floor when an author is working on something truly, absolutely groundbreaking. It’s so exhilarating to be part of something someone so talented has created.
A few months ago, Graham asked me if I’d be interested in editing his book, Faithless. I jumped on it. I’ve read some of his work, and I really enjoy his talent and the unique perspective he adds to all of his writing. Faithless seemed like an interesting premise and I was excited to get in on it and see what it was all about.
I’m so very glad I did.
Faithless is a book I truly believe in. It is one-of-a-kind with excellent pacing, a unique premise, interesting characters, and a fascinating world. Graham produced something incredible here. This is a book I really, 100% believe in. This is also a book I really want to go far, which is why I am thrilled to be part of the cover art reveal. And, to top it all off, the cover art is just as fantastic as the book itself.
AND you can officially preorder the book (links below the cover).
Today is basically going to be Graham’s day. In this post you’ll get the cover art reveal and an excerpt from the book. In about thirty minutes, I’ll regale you with an interview with the author where I ask him about some aspects of this wonderful book, and some questions about self-publishing in general. I hope you stick around for both posts, and help spread the word.
Without further ado, here you go…
Preorder the book
About the book
The temples of the Forgefather have fallen. The clerics and defenders that could once be found across the nine lands are no more. Priests huddle in the great temple, clinging to the echoes of their lost religion. But the Father has fallen silent. There are none who still hear his voice.
The mines of Aspiration lie far below the temple’s marble halls. Slaves toil in the blackness, striving to earn their way into the church and the light. Wynn has been sold into this fate, traded for a handful of silver. In the depths of the mines, where none dare carry flame, he must meet his tally or die. But there are things that lurk in that darkness, and still darker things within the hearts of men.
When the souls bound to the great forge are released in a failed ritual, one novice flees down into the darkness of the mines. The soulwraiths know only hunger, the risen know only hate. In the blackest depths Kharios must seek a light to combat the darkness which descends.
Robes hissed over marble. Soft cloth kissed the cold stone and whispered secrets that were punctuated by the faint slap of sandals as the old acolyte led them on through the halls. Wynn looked around at the friezes, the torches burning in their sconces, anywhere but at the other man with him who shot him furtive glances as they followed the acolyte. The man who called himself his father. Betrayal and guilt were like old lovers, reaching for each other in the silence.
A trek through a maze of smaller hallways ended with a wait at a dark oaken door. Their guide stepped inside leaving them in the hall. The thick wood of the door turned words into muffled whispers. And then the old man returned, waving them into the opulent study with a blank expression that looked carved into his face.
Wynn followed his father into the room, looking past the red-haired man to the priest waiting in his thick, dark robes. His face was deeply lined, and the hooked nose would have made him look severe were it not for the kindly eyes.
The rug was deep underfoot and the book-lined walls seemed to throw back the heat from the fireplace. He gaped around at the leather-bound books that ran from floor to ceiling. The air was stale, with the smell of parchment and wax. He ignored the two men as they spoke, dimly aware that the acolyte had left, and refusing to hear the clinking sound the coins made as they fell into his father’s hand. Hearing would make it real.
“Is he simple?” The priest’s words cut through the fog just before his father’s hand cuffed at his head.
“No, beggin’ your pardon, your honour.” Wynn flinched away from the hard eyes as his father glanced at him. “He’s not simple, your holiness. Just lacking in manners.”
The priest looked at Wynn, running his gaze over him until Wynn stepped back a pace. The man saw too much, looked too deeply. “And are you ready to enter the service of the Forgefather, lad?”
“No,” Wynn told him, trying hard not to stare at the symbol of a hammer that had been branded into the priest’s forehead. “I just want to go home.”
“Little bastard!” Wynn’s father hissed. Wynn flinched away from the furious hands that reached for him.
“It is no matter,” the old priest said, raising a placating hand as he stood and made his way to the door. “Many who come here do not truly appreciate what it is they are being offered. I’ll send for someone to take the lad in hand.”
The wait was not long but Wynn squeezed every moment from it. He glared at this stranger who’d fathered him and who, even now, would not even meet his gaze. Within minutes another robed servant came for him.
The musty study was gone in moments and Wynn was escorted through marble halls with stylised statues and polished anvils too inlaid with gold and runes to serve any practical purpose. The grandeur receded as they passed into smaller, more functional corridors. They made their way down a long flight of stone steps before Wynn’s escort spoke.
“It won’t be as bad as you’ll think it is in the next few months,” he told him in a low voice.
“I’m sorry?” Wynn looked over at the man. His face was pale and heavily lined and his short beard was grey, but it was a face that had been aged by hard work rather than years.
“Just a bit of advice is all,” his guide grunted. “Accept what’s coming and it’ll be easier for you in the end.”
Wynn frowned at that. “What do you mean, ‘what’s coming?’” he asked, but the old servant just shook his head and waved him onward.
The stairs were tired and worn giving way to a smaller set of corridors fashioned from plain stones that had none of the opulence of the upper temple. The hall stretched on, reaching out until the darkness swallowed it.
“How far do these passages go?” he muttered.
“We’re far beyond the temple walls now,” the servant told him without turning. “Closer to the mountain. This passage goes to the mines, though there may be others. The temple is vast. I doubt there’s anyone who knows all her secrets.”
Wynn paused, slowing his steps. “Mines? I thought I was to serve the temple?”
“There are many ways to serve,” the servant replied. “It will become clear in time.” He fell silent, ignoring Wynn’s questions until the boy gave up and they approached the door. It was a heavy oak creation, reinforced with thick beams and iron bars. Two robed men watched their approach, and nodded a greeting to Wynn’s guide before fumbling with keys and lifting the crossbar to let them through.
Another gate lay a short walk beyond them, its odd construction half-hidden in the low light. Wynn’s guide reached for his arm as the door slammed shut behind them. He gave a bow of greeting to the shadowed figures manning the gate.
“To you I give this boy, into your charge,” he said, the words oddly formulaic.
“May the Father take him and shape him,” a leather-clad man replied with a polite bow. Wynn stared openly at the second figure and the bandage bound tight around his eyes. He suppressed a shudder as the man turned his head, appearing to look back at him despite the dark cloth. The man’s gaze passed over him like a cold oil, clinging to his flesh.
“I’ll be leaving you here,” Wynn’s guide said in a neutral voice. “One of these two will lead you down to Garl’s man.”
Wynn glanced at the men, dark leather, and robes that might have been woven from shadow. When he looked back, his guide had already turned to leave. Wynn watched him walk away for a moment and as the man in leather took his arm he realised he’d never even asked his guide’s name.
The locks clanked tight behind them, leaving the bandaged priest alone with just the door for company. The air beyond the gate felt damp and the darkness deeper, split by odd, bowl-shaped lamps that sent a pale green light to fight a pointless battle against the black. Wynn peered at the lamps as they passed, trying to see the source of the glow.
“Chemiks,” the man in leather grunted, following his gaze. “There aren’t many torches or lamps down here. They don’t last long enough and down in the mines themselves any flame can bring on the Father’s Wrath.”
Wynn turned away from the lamp. “The what?”
“Later.” The man gave him a long look, scratching at one stubbled cheek and then shook his head. “It’s not my place. It’ll all be explained in time.”
“What’s your name?” Wynn asked suddenly.
The man paused, frowning. “Liam,” he grunted. “Now come on.”
Wynn frowned after him and then hurried to keep up. The stone corridors led them down yet more stairs, steps worn low with the passage of feet, and caked in dust and chips of stone. The distant sounds of life made Wynn realise just how quiet it had been. The murmur of voices combined with their steady footsteps, the sound of metal on metal, and a thousand other noises that grew louder as the passage led them out onto a pathway overlooking a massive cavern.
Flat-roofed buildings were clustered tight over the floor of the cavern, and formed up into streets and squares. Large lamps sat on one corner of each building’s roof casting the same chemik-light glow out over the streets. The buildings stretched farther than he could make out, eventually being claimed by darkness as the chemlamps failed to banish the gloom.
A huge fissure split the high ceiling, letting a thin band of sunlight illuminate a section of the settlement. Wynn gaped out at the city below and then hurried after his guide. It seemed a stupid thing to think of it as a city, but there was simply nothing else to call something that vast and sprawling.
It was the smell that struck him next. Whilst the temple had smelled like a combination of incense and scorched metal, and the tunnels and corridors leading to the cavern had been damp and musty, this place had the smell of life. Sweat, mixed with the smell of baking bread, and coal smoke, with a metallic undertone that he couldn’t quite place.
“What is this?” he breathed as they passed the first of the buildings.
“This is Aspiration. This is where you begin your training.”
Wynn followed Liam through streets and districts, passing collections of shacks that huddled in ragged circles around fire-pits where men cooked with large pots. These gave way to long, low, huts surrounded by storage shacks crammed with picks and crates which, in turn, gave way to elaborate, marble-fronted structures surrounded by high walls and fences.
“There are fifty or more mining crews down here,” Liam told him. “I forget how many, exactly. Garl’s man will decide which is yours.”
Wynn turned to see Liam had stopped outside a wrought-iron gate and was muttering something to the guard stood within. The gate swung inward as the guard eyed Wynn, fingering the iron-bound club as if he were any kind of threat and not a lost fifteen-year-old boy.
A thick door gave way to an opulent hallway crafted from the same marble as the temple far above them. Wynn and his guide were passed through three sets of guards, and searched twice, before they were waved into a large study.
“And just who the fuck are you?” a voice growled out as Wynn blinked against the bright lamps.
“He’s with me, Derint,” Liam said as he followed Wynn through the door. “Another gift from Father Sorn.”
“Another one?” The chair scraped back against the polished floorboards as the dark-haired man hauled himself to his feet and moved out from behind the desk. “Bit old for a priest’s taste wouldn’t you say?”
“I wouldn’t say. I know enough not to comment.”
“That’s right, wouldn’t want to stain the marble floors up there with a bit of truth now would we?” Derint hawked and spat, shaking his head. “Go on then, piss off.”
Derint waited until the door had closed behind the man before looking back at Wynn. “And how much have they told you?”
“Nothing really.” Wynn shrugged, wringing his fingers behind his back. “Just that I am to serve in the temple.”
“Serve!” Derint snorted a laugh and then narrowed his eyes as he looked Wynn over. “Show me your hands, boy.”
Wynn held them out, trying to keep them from shaking as Derint inspected them.
“You’re no stranger to work at least,” he grunted. “Farmer’s boy?”
“Drought hit you?”
“Not as bad as it hit some others,” Wynn told him. And that was the heart of it, wasn’t it? He clenched his fists without thinking.
Derint narrowed his eyes and grunted. “But your Da sent you anyway, didn’t he? Sold you for a couple of coins.”
Wynn shook his head at that. “It’s just for a year…”
“He’ll be back as soon as the harvest turns around?” Derint offered. “I’ve heard that one too. It’s time you grew a little, son. I’ve got no time for snivelling rats down here. You’ll know the truth and deal with it. You’re here to work, plain and simple.”
“I thought I was to serve in the temple,” Wynn blurted.
The cuff caught him solidly on the side of his head and Wynn staggered, clutching at his ear.
Derint pointed one stubby finger at him. “That’s the only warning I’ll give you. Interrupt me again, boy, and you’ll get what’s coming to you.” He sighed, shaking his head. “Listen this time and try to get it through that skull of yours. You’re here to ‘serve the temple’,” he mimicked, clasping his hands and looking up at the ceiling. “That’s shit. You’re an aspirant. There’s nothing below you because you’re as low as things get. In time, if you prove yourself, learn your lessons, and if luck dribbles out of your fucking arse, you might scratch your way up to novice and maybe onwards. For now, you belong to Garl. And for as long as you belong to Garl, you’ll dig.”
“Dig?” Wynn asked, knowing it for a stupid question.
Another sigh, followed by another disbelieving shake of the head. “What name were you given, boy?”
“Wynn, this is the temple of the Forgefather,” Derint told him. “You must have passed the forges and anvils in the temple. Where do you think all the iron and gold the priests are forging comes from? This is a mine, boy. The priests might claim you’re searching for your faith or some such bollocks, but the truth is that you’re supplying them with the gold and iron they pound away at. That’s how you’ll serve the temple.”
He pointed at a plain wooden chair set in one corner of the office. “Sit your arse there and don’t touch anything. I’ll fetch someone to babysit you.”
Wynn sat. In the space of three short hours, his life had been torn to pieces. He’d known about the Father’s Gift of course. Everyone did. But being sent to serve in the temple for a year or two was one thing, being condemned to a life of sweating away in the darkness was something quite different.
Where was his father now? Probably way past Berentford. The road to the temple was a rough one and his journey would only get easier as he went on. Somehow Wynn doubted he’d be able to say the same. He sat and gnawed on his lip, staring unseeing at the hands in his lap until the door opened.
The man Derint returned with was lean in every sense of the word. His face was impassive, his eyes as grey as his hair. He looked as if there was not enough substance about him to form into a full man and so, stretched thin and gaunt, this was the end result. “Temple’s latest aspirant,” Derint told him, nodding at Wynn. “Take him and show him the basics, he can go onto Terrik’s gang in the morning.
“This is Skerth,” Derint said, turning back to Wynn. “He’ll show you around. Terrik will find someone else to hold your hand until he judges you competent enough to wipe your own arse.”
Wynn gave the man a small smile of greeting. Skerth, for his part, looked him up and down, shaking his head gently as he reached for the door.
“Keep close,” Skerth told him as Wynn emerged from Derint’s office. “I don’t like babysitting, and I don’t like saying stuff more than once. Pay attention, and keep up.” He set off without looking back to see if Wynn was following, and led him at a pace out of the building. He took Wynn on a winding path through the town, along narrow streets that passed between the long buildings and warehouses, and eventually past the shacks as they made their way towards the farthest end of the cavern.
“You’ll sleep in this one,” the grey man told him eventually, pointing at a long building. “This is Terrik’s crew. He’s hard but life is hard down here. You might as well get used to it. Work well and you’ll have no problems with him. His crew doesn’t do as well as some, but it does better than others.” He shrugged. “It’s not a bad place to find your feet.”
Wynn opened his mouth to ask about the priests again but thought better of it. Skerth went to a storage shack and rummaged around inside as Wynn looked around. It was a long way from the fields of home. Once you moved out of the light from the fissure the darkness pressed in, oppressive and smothering. The chemlamps glowing from the roofs of the huts didn’t pierce far into the murk and the ceiling of the cavern was lost in the black.
“Put this on,” Skerth told him, handing him an odd helmet as he emerged from the storage shack. “I’ll give you a taste of it.”
Wynn took the helmet curiously, turning it over in his hands and peering at the odd contraption on the front.
“Chemlamp,” Skerth told him, tapping on the glass face of the light. He pointed at the cylinders on either side of the glass. “Red in this one, white in this one. They trickle down and combine here inside the lamp. Pull that switch out towards you to start it.”
“What is it?” Wynn asked, peering at the sandy substance.
“Do I look like a chemiker?” Skerth asked. “Turn the damned thing on and get it on your head. Don’t touch it,” he added as an afterthought. “They get hot.”
Wynn pulled the metal hook towards him and watched as the glass began to glow with a faint greenish light. “It’s not very bright.”
“It’s bright enough, boy,” Skerth told him. “It’s as dark as a sinner’s soul in there and that’s not even the worst of it. Always check your lamp before heading in. There’s enough chems in there to last two or three days but you don’t want it failing on you. I don’t imagine you’d ever find your way out without one. Now get it on.”
The narrow streets opened up as they moved closer to the end of the cavern, giving way to broad avenues that were littered with chips of loose rock. The smell of smoke grew steadily stronger, an acrid stench that had Wynn coughing and covering his mouth.
“You get used to it,” Skerth told him with a wry half-smile at his discomfort. “The smelt works is down that way. Outside of cooking it’s the only real fire you’ll see down here. Now, are you ready?”
“Ready?” Wynn repeated, cursing himself for the stupid question as Skerth nodded at the dark passage sloping down in front of them. Twin tracks ran along the floor of the tunnel, emerging from the darkness of the passage and extending out towards the smelt works.
Skerth sighed. “Let’s go. Keep close.” He stopped, looking down at Wynn’s feet as though he were seeing them for the first time. “Are they really the only boots you’ve got?”
“They won’t last you two days down here, and your feet won’t last three,” Skerth told him. “See that Terrik sorts you out with some hard-boots first thing.”
The passage sloped down gently and then levelled out for short stretches at regular intervals. “For the carts,” Skerth told him, answering Wynn’s question without him needing to voice it. “We pull them up by hand, the flat sections are where you’ll catch your breath.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to use ponies or something?” Wynn asked.
“Would it?” Skerth scratched his head. “Might be it would. But then you’ve got a hundred ponies or donkeys down here, shitting all over the place, needing their own food and water. That all needs hands to deal with, creates as much work as it saves probably. Besides,” he fixed Wynn with a serious look, “animals won’t go near the mines or any of the Carnath stones. They go crazy as soon as they get close. They tried with ponies and mules, all sorts, way before my time. Everything bolts or goes wild. I don’t think anyone even thinks about it anymore.”
Wynn took a chance on Skerth’s temper, risking the question. “What are Carnath stones?”
“All of it really. They call this place the Mines of Carnath but some parts are a bit odd.” He shrugged. “You’ll see soon enough.”
The passage continued on and the sounds of the smelt works and the cavern they’d left behind soon faded, swallowed by a darkness that pressed in on them. The chemlamps strung on the wall grew further apart and new noises drifted out of the darkness. These new sounds were woven from the hints of whispers. They were little more than the remnants of echoes, but they tugged at Wynn’s ears as they gave voice to the gloom.
Skerth led him on, turning into side passages, and walking through a series of narrow tunnels until they reached a wide, rock-hewn staircase turning in a lazy spiral as it descended ever deeper.
Wynn looked from the stairs to Skerth and back again. The stone was set with an intricate pattern worked into the surface which threw back the light from his helmet. He knelt to trace his fingers over the stone. It felt too warm to his touch and faintly slick, though it held no trace of moisture. He stood with a faint grimace, wiping his fingers on his clothes. The stone put him in mind of flesh for some reason.
“What…” he began and gave up, not finding the words.
“Carnath stone,” Skerth told him with a shrug. “These tunnels are rich in gold and iron, that’s why the mines were started here.” He started down the steps again, glancing back to be sure Wynn followed. “We weren’t the first ones here though. Places like this are all through the tunnels and the mine itself. They’re old, much older than the new temple and maybe even older than the one that stood before. Nobody knows who built them or why, or where they went once they had disappeared. You can pass through three miles of natural caves and tunnels and then suddenly reach stairs like these, or one of the bridges further down.”
The stairs took them down through the darkness until Wynn’s legs ached. No chemlamps were strung on the walls here and they travelled purely by the light of the small lamps on their helmets. It was a weak light that shook with each step and Wynn found himself reaching for the wall with one hand to steady himself. Skerth didn’t slow and finally led them out to a plain tunnel and then to a broader passage set with cart tracks.
“We stay out of here as much as we can,” he told Wynn, waving him back against a wall that curved away from the tracks. “This is a hauling shaft. The job’s hard enough as it is without men in the way, but it’ll do you good to see how it works.” A faint grinding and clattering sound grew steadily louder as they waited, punctuated by grunts and curses as it approached.
Skerth pulled him to one side as the carts came into sight, loaded high with large chunks of rock shot through with quartz. Four men strained in the harnesses that were attached to the front of the train of eight carts. Wynn pressed back against the wall, giving extra room to the men as they moved closer, each step in time with the others. Two more men worked in their harnesses on either side of the train, with another four heaving at a broad beam attached to the rearmost cart.
“It’s one thing to tell you,” Skerth said. “It’s another to see it. You’ll be on a crew like that soon enough and know what it feels like. You don’t want fools in your way when you’re hauling. We don’t ever walk the hauling shaft unless we really have to.”
Wynn nodded, still watching the carts as they headed up the shaft.
“Come on,” Skerth said, slapping Wynn’s back hard enough to make him stagger. “Let’s see those young arms get some work done.” He set off back into the side passage, winding his way through the rocks.
“Most of the time we do pick work,” Skerth told him, stopping beside a pitted rock face. “You look here.” He pointed. “You can see the edges of the quartz.” He tapped the milky stone in the scarred wall. “This would have had a vein of gold in it at some point. It’s been picked clean and carted out. You see here?” He tapped at the rocks close to the low ceiling. “This reddish stuff is the beginnings of iron. They’d have had that out too if they could.”
“Why couldn’t they?” Wynn asked, leaning closer to see where Skerth was pointing.
“Probably the roof,” Skerth grunted. “Sometimes it’s worth bracing a tunnel. We shore up the walls and roof with thick beams when we have to. You can only take so much out before you risk bringing the roof down on you. Most times it’s not worth it. They’d have had a Listener in here to see.”
What was a Listener? Wynn wondered about that for half a second until Skerth’s words sunk in. “The roof?” Wynn said in a strained tone as he looked up.
“You better pull your head out of your arse, boy,” Skerth said, prodding him in the chest. “There’s been crews down here for ten lifetimes or more taking gold and iron out. Think how much stone that is coming down. How much these walls have been shaken. There are collapsed tunnels all over the mine. Most of the time a Listener gets to it first.” He shrugged. “Sometimes they don’t.”
Wynn was quiet for a moment. “A Listener?”
“Forgefather’s hairy balls! Do you ever stop with the damned questions?”
“Sorry I…” Wynn stopped as Skerth waved him to silence with a sigh.
“Don’t worry at it, lad. I’d rather you were asking questions and learning than staying silent and stupid. I’ll let Terrik explain that one though.” He reached for his flask and gave it an experimental slosh. “Let’s get some water, all this talking has dried me out.”
Wynn followed the lean man through the narrow tunnels and then out through the first of three broad galleries set with large chemlamps. The ever-present echoes of pick striking stone grew louder and more distinct as they went, turning from a distant whisper to something akin to birdsong.
“We’ll take the ladders down,” Skerth told him. “It’ll be faster.”
Wynn nodded, though he had no idea what the man was talking about.
The ladders proved to be exactly what they sounded like. Long stretches of wooden ladder, held in place by rusty brackets that had been driven into the rocks. Wynn peered down over the edge as Skerth adjusted his pack. The chemlamp was too weak to show the bottom of the shaft and the ladder extended down until the black swallowed it.
“I wouldn’t,” Skerth warned him.
Wynn gave him a confused look.
“Looking down there isn’t going to make it any less of a drop,” the older man said. “You don’t want to know how far down it actually is, trust me. Just focus on the rungs under your hands and feet, I’ll be right behind you.”
“Behind me?” Wynn blurted. “You mean I’m going first?”
“I’ve done this a thousand times and then some,” Skerth laughed. “I know I’m not going to fall. You think I’m going to go underneath you, as you piss yourself and tremble your way down the ladder? You’re crazy.”
“I…” Wynn shook his head.
“First rule down here, Wynn,” Skerth told him with a serious look. “Keep yourself in one piece. Terrik will order you around, the others in your crew’ll probably ride you for a bit too. You’ve got a brain in that skull. Learn to use it and you’ve got a better chance of keeping it on the inside of your head.”
He walked Wynn to the edge. “Just go slow. There’s no rush, not so long as your arms hold out, anyway.” He grinned at Wynn’s expression and looked pointedly at the ladder.
Wynn sighed in defeat. Heights had never bothered him but the way the ladder trailed off into darkness affected him more than he wanted to admit. The ladder extended well past the lip of the shaft, allowing Wynn to climb onto the rungs without having to lower himself over the edge. He clung to the smooth wood for a long moment while Skerth watched him with one raised eyebrow. The breath left him in a long, shuddering sigh, and he reached down with one questing foot.
For the first few seconds it wasn’t too bad. He found the rungs easily and set himself a slow pace. Then he felt Skerth begin his own climb above him and his footsteps rocked the ladder, shaking it against the brackets set into the rock.
“It’s shaking!” he called up in a panic.
“It does that,” Skerth told him in a dry voice. “Speed up a bit, I’ll slow down, a bit more distance between us won’t hurt.”
Wynn tried to move faster, focusing hard on the wall in front of him. Now that they had left the ledge behind them, the air felt colder, somehow wetter, and he fancied he could feel a cold breeze reaching out from the darkness behind him.
The climb seemed endless. Without looking down there was no judging how much farther there was to go, and looking up showed nothing but Skerth’s figure far above him. Temptation fought with common sense and sent it scurrying. Wynn glanced down into the darkness.
The light from the chemlamp was blocked by his own legs and he cursed, leaning awkwardly to one side on the ladder to try and get a better view. The light shone down along the rock face making it look slick with moisture. Moss caked the stone in places and a white fungus sprouted here and there, bulging out of the cracks as if the stones themselves were leaking.
He traced the light further down the rocks, following the line of the ladder and then froze. The light from the lamp was weak but it still reached farther down than he would have thought. There seemed to be no end to the drop. The ladder extended down into the dark, into a blackness so total it seemed almost tangible. The fear took him so quickly that it stole his breath and he froze in place, holding tight to the rungs of the ladder as his legs trembled hard enough to shake him.
“You made it further than most,” the voice called down to him. “Don’t worry at it, lad. Everyone freezes on their first time down here. You fill your smalls?”
“What? No!” Wynn glared up at the man’s feet, outrage eclipsing his fear.
Skerth grunted. “Better’n most then,” he admitted. “Keep going, it’s only another four or five minutes.”
Wynn glanced down and then looked up into the glow of Skerth’s chemlamp, his face carrying the question.
“You can’t trust your eyes right here, boy,” Skerth told him. “Just keep going, you can’t hang here all day. Aside from anything else, I’m going to need a piss before too long. You really want to be underneath me then?”
Wynn reached down with a foot, feeling for the rung he knew must be there. It seemed so much further than it ought to be and his mind was filled with visions of him somehow missing the next step and slipping off, his body tumbling over and over as it fell into the darkness that yawned beneath him. Rather than terrify him the idea was somehow comforting. Why not just end it all? Let go? It would be so easy to just let the black embrace him.
“Almost there, lad, just another inch.” The words fought their way through the dark thoughts and then Wynn felt the wood of the rung under his foot. He closed his eyes as relief flooded him and he moved on. In minutes his foot touched rock and he opened his eyes as he looked around him in confusion. The bottom of the cavern spread out around him, loose rock chips littering the ground in the light of the large chemlamps on the wall. Where moments ago the cavern floor had been nowhere in sight, now he stood upon it. As he took in the sight, the sounds rushed in at him, echoes of conversation, the distant noise of picks striking stone. Wynn looked around himself in utter bewilderment. “What in the hells?”
Stay tuned for an interview with the author.