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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Writing 'Colonies' Part XXI: Taking Canceron in a Different Direction

If you saw last update, I abandoned my initial start of Canceron just as I finished the first pass on those chapters.  (They were just too thin or slight compared to everything else.)  So I've pushed ahead with my planned second part of the book.  As of now, it will be the only part of Book Six, but I may go back to the first part and redo things if I get inspired.

Telling the stories of empires conquering worlds and such sounds exciting (and it is), but as I did chapter after chapter, I found myself ... repeating myself.  Castle intrigue and the like.  I pared back what I could of such repetition (and I likely have more to do), but I've been working to find new ways to tell the stories of these worlds.  Sometimes that means new genres.

If you'd like a taste of what I mean, you can read one of the early chapters of Canceron after the JUMP.

1,474 Years After Colonization

Shaft Nineteen was only about two meters tall and four meters wide.  Two people worked in each small section of the new shaft at a time until an assessment could be made of what ores, if any, were available.  Lights were strung along the ceiling and an iron cart sat on a single track, ready to be pushed or pulled back up to the surface with whatever these first miners found.  The pair of compeers worked the stony walls at the end of the lights.  Nearby, there stood the wall that marked the end of the shaft, but something else remained beneath the mountain, beyond the wall.  There was a crack in it, about ten centimeters wide and three meters long.  A vast, dark chasm was on the other side, but management didn't want to break through into an unknown area of the mountain without knowing what was in the shaft that got them there first.  The Company was nothing if not practical.

Rutwa stood at the end of the tunnel under the last of the lamps.  He held his pickaxe against the rock wall and listened.  His stained helmet sat cockeyed on his head and sweat-streaked grime coated his face.  He tensed his muscles and prepared to rear back for another strike when he heard the groan of stone again.

He looked up and the brown-gray ledge of rock jutted toward him.  He stumbled away from the wall and it seemed like it all buckled and began to close in.  Rivulets of dust drifted to the ground in the faint light.

"Did you see that?!" he yelled.

His partner, Cat Dalee, looked back from her position about five meters away.  "What?"

"The wall!"  He raised his pickaxe and pointed.  "It's gonna collapse!"

The older woman walked toward him and ran her fingers along the damp, cool surface.  "Looks fine to me."  She pointed up at the strand of lamps.  "We still got light.  The lines are still bolted into the rock."  She bent over and tugged on the fabric of this work overalls.  "Get up."

It took another second or two, but Maugier did.  She slapped him on the back once, sending a spray of dust into the air.  She turned the warm flame on her head lamp away and went back to her place along the wall. 

"We just need a few more pieces to take up for the washers and burners."  She hammered the wall a few times until a dull gray and nearly blue rock fell.  "Come on, Ru.  We don't have much time left in the day."

He nodded and stepped back toward the wall, his boots squishing in the muck with an unpleasant noise.  He raked his fingers along the rock again and found the edge of the vein.  A cool breeze blew from his right and he looked.  The crack in the wall began to grow.

His eyes widened and the lights went out.

Maugier had been in the blackness of a mine before.  That alone was not enough to instill panic.  But a cold air crept along the floor.  Its talons reached up under the cuffs of his muddy pantlegs and gripped his shins.  It climbed outside his overalls and up his sleeves and around his neck where it squeezed and began to choke him.  Wind blew from the crevice like a single, distant breath and it sounded as though the very breeze had a larynx to modulate the whispers of the draft.

"Come to us."

What few parts of his skin hadn't been chilled by the gust or the creeping cold were now touched and his hairs were all standing on end.  He leaned onto the rock wall to steady himself in the darkness.  His breathing quickened and his chest ached with each draw.  Silence fell and the atmosphere felt heavier.  Echoing in the chasm on the other side of the wall, he heard skittering, clambering things.  The echoes threw him, but soon he recognized the sound of fingers and fingernails on solid rock.  The digging of feet into damp clay.  There were many and they drew closer. 

He slammed his eyes shut as hard as he could and he curled into a ball against the side of the shaft, kneeling on the floor.  The echoes died as the things came nearer.  Nails scraped on stone and they entered the shaft.  He felt his pickaxe jostle and a tug on his clothes.  In terror, he grunted as he focused all his will on keeping his mouth shut.  He felt a light breath on his ear lobe and then he heard a whisper, "Come to us."

He opened his eyes.

The shaft was dark, but he beheld a multitude of glowing eyes.  Shattered, broken orbs that glowed white, yellow, and red.  They hung from the walls and ceiling, they came from the floor of the shaft and stretched into the black abyss of the chasm beyond.  They turned as the heads of the horde faced him.  They shone brighter when the specters moved toward him and the dark void belched forth with a green flame.

"Ru!"  Now lying on his back and holding onto his pickaxe for dear life, he quaked and stared up at Dalee.  "What the frak is the matter with you?!"

Panting and shaking, Maugier began to sit up.  "The …" he looked around in the dull glow and swallowed hard, "the lights went out."

"They just flickered a second.  Switchin' generators or somethin'."  With the wooden end of her axe, she tapped the top of his metal helmet.  "'sides, your lamp's still burnin'."

He reached up and felt the searing heat from the flame of his helmet lantern, jerking his hand away.  But I just saw black.  Pitch black.  And the eyes …

She put her hand on his shoulder and said, "You ready to leave?"  He nodded rapidly.  "Alright.  Start pushing the truck.  I'm right behind you."

After two deep breaths, he tossed his pick into the metal cart, which was little more than half full with samples of ore from their section.  He immediately felt guilty knowing that it should be completely full and that his episodes had led to their dereliction.

Cat managed to pry away three more good-sized chunks from the wall and throw them inside before he built up the momentum to get the cart moving.  "That'll do."  She braced her shoulder against one side and began to push it.

"It's not full.  That's on me."

"Eh."  She huffed and puffed as the track inclined and they were going uphill.  "If anyone asks, I'll tell 'em we found some prime pieces and that we didn't need a full cart to see what we had."  He smiled, grateful for her kindness. 

A minute later, the cart entered the previous section of the shaft and they met up with the next pair of compeers.  They were still chiseling at the wall when Dalee began to chat with them.  Rutwa tried to listen, but his attention kept drifting back down, toward the crevice and the chasm.

A whistle blew from the mouth of the shaft, many meters away.  The shift was over.  Once their cart was linked up with the next cart, the four of them pushed onward to the next section and the next pair of miners.  Soon, theirs was a full-blown train and the carts emerged from the newest shaft under Garvald Mountain in the glare of the mid-afternoon.  A crew of sorters emptied them and the washers pulled the contents toward the large sluice channels to wash away the dirt.

As a burner crew lit their fires for the initial processing and identification, Maugier stood and watched.  His eyes glazed over and did not blink.  Dalee saw this and she stared at him in worry.  After a moment, she walked toward him and punched his arm.  "Ru."

Slowly, he faced her.  "Yeah?"

"What is it?"

He shook his head.  "I don't know what you mean."

She angrily huffed.  "Look here.  If you're in the hole with someone, both of them need to be good.  Both of them need to be awake.  Both of them need to be on the stick."

Ashamed, he lowered his head.  "I know."

"Now, are you my compeer or not?"

"I am."

She took a step closer and asked softly, "Are you holesick?"

"No, no."

"You sure?  I seen holesick and today, you were lookin' holesick."

"No."  He raised his chin and stared at her firmly.  "I'm good."

Unconvinced, she watched him.  Finally, she backed away and nodded.  "Alright.  We got tomorrow off, so rest."

He smiled.  "I will."

"Hug your wife and kiss your babies for me."

"I will."  He watched Cat walk away and he stood there in the loading zone for a few more minutes.  His eyes drifted to the mouth of Shaft Nineteen and he tried to peer into the darkness.

After a quick, cold shower in the communal area outside the mines, Rutwa dressed and walked to the foreman's office.  The line of miners from the first shift was long but it moved briskly.  Soon, he found himself at the tables where workers were distributing the week's pay to everyone.  When he found himself before an older man, he said his name.

The man only had one arm.  He turned the pages in a ledger with his right hand while Maugier stared at what remained of his left.  He looked at the man's rugged face and knew he was once a miner.  He took a paper job only after some accident.

"Here you go."  The man slid an envelope over the tabletop.

Unlike the others who opened it only after they walked away, Rutwa looked inside immediately.  There he saw slips of colored paper.  He sighed and said, "Scrip?  Again?"  The man nodded, knowingly.  "You know how long it's been since I've seen a single artha?"

"You ain't alone."  The man's tone told Maugier it wasn't worth arguing about here or with him.  He just nodded and ambled off. 

A kilometer distant from the loud sounds of the machinery that broke apart the rock and the tall plumes of smoke from the burners and incinerators, away from the busy tracks and roads that carried tons of ore away from the mountains,  row after row of Company-built houses lined the streets and formed a neighborhood.  The homes were all the same and what little personality they conveyed came only because someone dared to spend hard-earned money or store credit to paint their exteriors.  They were pressed against each other with a body's breadth of space between them and they all had bare dirt for their small front and back yards.

Rutwa's was the third one on the left on the third street away from the main road.  He walked through his front door and saw his son sitting on the floor playing with a simple wooden vehicle.

"Daddy!"  The three-year-old jumped up and immediately attached himself to the father's leg.

"Rexxy."  He leaned down and hugged the boy tightly.  "How are you?"

"Fine.  Are you tired today?"

Maugier smiled and brushed the child's hair away from his face.  "I am, but we can play in a bit.  I promise."

"Thank you, Daddy."  He hugged his father again and immediately flopped down where he pushed his wooden toy over the bumpy ridges of the floor's planks.

Rutwa stood and walked into the kitchen.  He didn't see his wife, so he turned into the bedroom.  There he saw blankets and pillows forming a bank on one side of the mattress.  An infant kicked her legs and stretched her arms within the makeshift corral. 

He grinned and sat on the edge of the bed.  He leaned over and the girl's chubby face lit up.  He scooped her up and hugged her tightly against his chest.  His large fingers cradled the child's head.

"You're home."  His wife inhaled sharply and sat up from her nap.  "What time is it?"

"Not late."  He bounced his arms and cooed at Anes.  She giggled in reply.

"You get paid?"  He sighed and she knew what that meant.  "Scrip again?"


"Frak."  She kicked the sheet off her legs and stood up from the bed.  "Can't save scrip.  Can't buy your way out of here with it."

He agreed with her, of course, but he was tired of repeatedly having this conversation.  "I know."

"Sesseville gave you money, at least."  Elfi brushed her black hair with her fingers and pulled it back behind her head.  With a small tie, she bound it there. 

"There's talk that Garvald may pay out.  If the Company makes money, maybe they'll pay money."

She grunted.  "'Maybe.'"  She flattened a few wrinkles in her dress and walked toward the door.  "Can you watch Anes and Rex?  I meant to start supper an hour ago."


When Elfi left the room, Rutwa put the infant back on the bed, slightly propped up against one of the pillows.  He tickled her and made noises as he played with her.  Anes laughed and then she gurgled and a stream of spittle and vomit came from her lips.

"Ooh."  He reached across the bed for a towel and used it to wipe her mouth, chin, and the front of her shirt.  The child seemed unfazed and continued to stretch her arms and make happy noises.

When he finished cleaning her, he smiled and saw something on her eye.  It was a single line that came down across the white from under the eyelid.  He stared at it and the line extended in two directions.  One arm bisected the iris and the other reached toward the girl's nose, where it met another line.  His mouth fell open and he watched her eye shatter and crack before it began to glow.  With a pulsing yellow light, the baby's eyes became like that of the horde and she laughed at the funny face he made.

Thanks for reading.

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