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Mat
April 29th, 2013, 12:40 PM
Kerrick frowned, leaned forward over the wooden rail. It creaked under the big man's weight, but he took no notice, screwing up his face, listening intently to an almost inaudible shrieking noise riding the stale breeze from half a mile below. He grunted, and straightened up, a smile playing around his cracked lips as the pallid sun warmed his face. It hadn't stopped raining for two weeks.

The rain mingled with the white dust rising constantly from Argor Pit to form a glutinous mud, everything in Argor and the mine on the town’s northern edge was slick with grey slime that clung to the white houses and ran down the dirt streets. The same downpour had flooded two shafts of the Pit, water welling up so fast that two blasting crews, eight men, were swallowed in its black depths. Kerrick assumed they were dead.

Some of the other men down there claimed to have seen creatures chasing them, all white and gangly, scuttling up the rock like lizards, but Kerrick dismissed them. People saw monsters and demons down there all too often. That was two days ago, and no-one had ventured into the Pit since.

Then just that morning, a young lad whose name he couldn't recall had claimed to hear a screaming emanating from the hole, and eighty men clamoured round its edge attempting to hear. They had made so much noise that Kerrick ordered everyone into the white stone mess hall and so now stood alone at the mine's edge. The sound reminded him of the steel-wheeled carts that squeaked and squealed their way along the dark winding tunnels carrying the precious Pillar metal that Argor was famous for, lit only by blue-green gas lamps that snaked their way from the surface. He had never entirely trusted those carts-anything that could move under its own power without any form of propulsion seemed alien, somehow wrong. Felt like it was stealing, motion without effort.

He knew it wasn't those. No-one was down there; at least, no-one alive was down there.

His heart gave a lurch at the thought of trapped men, slipping in the pale slime that was blue in the lamp light, cursing at the blind Hellsnakes as they dropped from the white rock above them, in a desperate effort to escape.

That made up his mind. He turned, marched away from the Pit and the three gaunt cranes that stood sentry at its edge and towards a mess of wooden shacks sprawled randomly about the north side of the yard. Behind the shacks was a white building, grand in contrast to its shabby neighbours, and Kerrick headed directly for it. He passed the mess hall, could hear voices, even saw a face or two pressed surreptitiously against the filthy windows.

He strode up the white steps, edges still crisp and square for all their decades of use, and opened the dark wooden door without knocking. Nor did he bother to wipe his mud encrusted boots as he turned a sharp right. He halted at another door, not quite closed, and then hesitantly knocked.

'Come in, Kerrick.' A deep voice with a strong southern accent greeted him. Kerrick walked carefully in, suddenly mindful of his filthy feet.

'Garoule. How did you know it was me?'

The white haired, dark skinned man was wrapped in a heavy fur coat, sat in a throne-like chair in front of a roaring fire. The room was bare, save for a dark wooden desk strewn with papers and a broken Grandfather clock in one corner. He was tall, with sea-grey eyes and a hooked nose, wearing a slight smile at the sight of his wet, dishevelled and mildly sweaty foreman.

'I don't need the Farsight to see through the window.' He replied genially. His smile grew wider to emphasise the joke, but his eyes remained icy. Garoule shivered. 'It is always so damn cold in the East. How in seven hells do you people put up with it?'

'By not going to the West. Then we have nothing to compare it to.' Kerrick grinned, swallowing the nervousness he always felt around the Mines owner. Garoule gave a snort of laughter, then abruptly fell silent, clasped his long fingers and fixed Kerrick with a piercing stare.

'So how can I help?'

It felt like he already knew what Kerrick had come for. 'As you know, we lost eight men yesterday.'

'Yes.'

'There are noises. Below, I mean. Sounds like the carts...'

Garoule sighed. 'You want to go down there.'

Kerrick wasn't sure if that was a question or a statement, but he answered anyway. 'Yes. Just my crew, tomorrow, providing the weather stays off.'

Garoule frowned, bushy eyebrows drawn close, peering out of the window, at the yard now bathed in a pathetic yellow-tinged sunlight. 'No...' Kerrick started to protest, but was waved into silence. '... Go today. Now. The sooner we get them out the better. Alive or dead.'

Kerrick smiled gratefully. 'Thank you.' He spun on his heel and left, swinging the door not quite shut.

'And Kerrick? Send one of the maids to clean up in here. This floor is filthy.'

Kerrick swung open the door to the mess hall and hit a wall of warmth from a huge fire set in stone in the centre of the room. He felt the eyes of eighty men, some old, some just twelve or thirteen, fall on him from all directions as he stood in front of the dancing flames. The men (and one particularly strong woman) were sat neatly at tables, or sprawled on benches. Devan, just eleven and the youngest boy, perched atop a huge pillar of stone stood on its end in one corner. Someone had carved "Devans Chare" into it, presumably in a moment of good humour, but there was none of that in here today. All eyes fixed on Kerrick were wide with anticipation. That, or fear.

Kerrick saw a lad of about sixteen sat staring sullenly at the dirt floor, and felt a wash of pity surge through his stomach. The boy’s father was one of the missing eight. Kerrick cleared his throat noisily, more out of habit than the need to quiet the room- the silence was broken only by the spitting of damp wood on the fire- and shoved calloused hands into his pockets.

'Me and my crew are going down the Pit. Johan was right about that noise; I'm hoping that the lads down there are using the carts to haul wounded to the man cage. I'm not promising anything,' he added hurriedly, 'but I won't be able to sleep tonight until we've found out.'

A sudden clamour of voices and scraping of chairs filled the hall. Kerrick struggled to pick out what individual people were saying, then with a quick rush of affection realised that everyone was volunteering themselves for the task. Eventually one man shouted the others down, and for good reason; he was massive. Black haired; with a wiry beard streaked with white, he stood seven feet tall, shoulders broad enough for little Devan to lay across without his feet hanging off and hands like shovels.

He growled down at Kerrick.'I'll go. Tain't for the foreman to mess around down there with us sittin' on our arses.'

Kerrick nodded appreciatively. 'Thanks, Moss. You and your team, then. I'll go down with you, stay with the cage.' Moss dipped his huge head in assent. Kerrick turned to address the sea of expectant faces. 'Everyone stay here. Garoule wanted you clearing the yard, but I'd rather have you all in one place for this afternoon.'

****

Moss lurched heavily into the man cage, which in turn swung and creaked alarmingly, clattering against the white sheer wall of the Pit. Kerrick followed him in, followed by Moss' pick team. Silent, limping Chase, with a terrible scar across his neck where a thug had tried to slit his throat years ago. Chase couldn't talk about it, but the story was that the man had got his blade stuck and Chase had smashed his head against a wall until it was soft, then pulled the knife out himself and robbed the dead man for good measure. Moss often wondered if it were true, but didn't like to ask.

Chase was helped in by a stocky man with a heavy brow and dark scowl that everyone called Shifty, though no-one knew why. Last in, somewhat tentatively, was a pale-faced boy of sixteen with a shock of red hair. He swung the cage gate closed with a rusty squeak, glancing nervously at Moss as he leant gingerly against it.

'Alright Raille?' Moss queried gently. 'How’s that sister of mine?'

'Ma's alright. Dads away in Setura, so she's only got me till next month.' He puffed his chest unconsciously.

Moss smiled. 'Reckon she'll be alright then.' Raille looked bashfully at his feet, then jerked his head up, alarmed, as the cage lurched downwards. Moss turned to Kerrick.

'You reckon you know where to look?' Kerrick ran a grubby hand through his grey hair. There were still some flecks of blond in there, but not many. Moss tried to remember when his old friend had started turning grey. Too far back.

Kerrick frowned, drew a signal flare from his pocket, absentmindedly twirled it in his fingers. 'Start by searching the Vault. Then work your way down each mine shaft, following the cart tracks. Chances are, if they are alive, they'll be by the carts.'

Moss grimaced. 'Think they will be?'

'The only thing that can make that noise is the carts.' As if in reply, a wailing started up from beneath them. Kerrick was right, it did sound like steel cart wheels, although Moss didn't remember there being that many.

The cage clattered to the ground in darkness, the only light coming from the blue-green lamps that snaked their way down the Pit wall, circling the small space that housed the cage before running down the single passageway towards a huge cavern called the Vault. Moss gestured for Raille to open the cage gate and followed his team out onto the damp floor. Kerrick leant against the cage.
'Anyone gets in trouble or finds someone, alive or dead, holler and I'll come find you.' Moss nodded, and turned abruptly to stomp down the narrow corridor of stone that was just low enough for him to have to stoop. He could hear his team following noisily behind; Chase's rasping breath in his ruined throat, Shifty swearing as he splashed into a puddle that soaked his leg, Raille gasping as Shifty laid a heavy hand on his shoulder as he flailed for balance. Boy is too damn jumpy. What happened to nippers like him? I must be getting old...

The tunnel ended abruptly, the narrow walls and low ceiling giving way to blue emptiness as rock careered up around the men. The roof of the Vault was shrouded in black, the small lamps not strong enough to penetrate the darkness, but what could be seen showed the room to be at least a hundred feet high. It was a natural cavern, and the walls were not sheer and smooth like the Pit, but craggy and rough, speckled here and there with green as some hardy lichen clung to the wet face near the lights.

A hiss came from above, Raille gasped as a hellsnake hurled itself off the rock to land near his feet. He jerked away instinctively, and then looked around, embarrassed.

'Ain't nothing to worry about, boy,' Moss reassured him, 'hellsnakes won't hurt you.'

'I know that,' the boy watched the snake wriggle away, hands clenching, 'just startled me was all. They aren't usually this high up.'

Moss agreed. 'Probably the water driving 'em up here, along with the rats.'

Shifty made a disgusted noise. 'I hate rats. Nasty little...'

He tailed off as a metallic squeal reverberated around the cavern, coming from all directions at once. Moss stopped where he was in the centre of the room, straining to hear which exit sounded loudest. None of them. He waited until the noise stopped, and the barest hint of an echo threw itself from wall to wall, before sighing.

'Chase, Shifty, take the north and west tunnels. Raille have a look down the south one, I'll go east. If you find them, shout the tunnel you're in so we'll know where to go.'
Chase looked put out and made a rasping noise that could have been a pointed cough. Moss immediately felt guilty- he should have remembered that. He fished in a pocket of his heavy trench coat and produced a brass whistle. 'Sorry,' he said ashamedly, 'two blasts.' Chase smiled, took the whistle and walked across the cavern.

Moss watched his back, until he reached the north tunnel entrance and was swallowed in black and only his rattling lungs and boots on wet stone could be heard. Moss turned away, and found Shifty gone. Damn, he walks too quiet.

Raille was still there; worry written plain across his young face. 'Yell if I find them, right?' Raille knew that, he was just hoping for some kind words to settle his nerves. He had never been down here on his own, and sixteen wasn't old enough for a lad to have lost the vivid imagination and irrational fears of childhood.
'You won't find anything, boy,' Moss soothed, 'I'm pretty sure they're down the north or east. You'll have an easy walk, just watch your feet. Don't want to have to carry you out.'

The lad grinned; Moss hoped it was genuine, although suspected otherwise.

****

The north tunnel dropped sharply downhill, water running back and forth across the white rock under his feet. Chase picked his way carefully over the uneven ground, squinting at the floor where it was dark between the blue-green gas lamps, and tried to swallow a feeling of unease rising in his throat. It reminded him of a dark alley, a cold night and a man hired to kill him.

He had heard the story floating around that it was a thief, the knife had got stuck, and so on, but he knew it wasn't true. He had been drunk behind a tavern, lured there by a local whore, who had promptly disappeared the moment he had reached the alley. He had had the feeling of eyes upon his back, and turned wildly about. No one there. Chase remembered leaning silently against a damp stone wall, trying to shake a prickling up the back of his neck when a man had dropped from the roof of the tavern, plunged a blade into his throat and left him for dead.

Nothing like the story, he reflected bitterly, and silently cursed that same prickling up his back as he followed the water downwards. A hiss made him start, and inwardly berate himself for his nervousness as he looked for the hellsnake sliding its way between his feet. Nothing. Must have missed it, or the sound was echoing on the rock from around the sharp bend ahead of him. He heard it again, definitely ahead of him, and concentrated on the floor so as not to tread on it. They weren't poisonous, but had vicious teeth that would easily slice through boot and skin alike.

He turned the corner staring at the ground, and almost missed the gaping black mouth until it closed on his face.

****


Raille didn't feel much happier after Moss attempted to soothe his fraying nerves. He stepped carefully, not wanting to disturb any hidden hellsnake or trip over the decaying wooden rails, cursing the lights that lit the immediate area around them magnificently, but left large gaps of gloom that seemed even darker to his lamp-dazzled eyes.

His tunnel was fairly even; so the water that ran down the walls pooled glittering on the ground either side of the track. He caught sight of his reflection in one pool before his boot splashed down, scattering the shock of red hair. He looked scared. He stopped walking, straightened his back and pushed his thin chest out, assumed a stern expression and marched forward. A rat scurried past him, but he was ready for rats.

He started to whistle tunelessly, but thought better of it, remembering the whistle that Moss had given Chase, and hummed softly to himself instead. The screeching started up again, from a long way back, and Raille suppressed a shudder running up his spine, although consoled himself with the fact that the noise meant the lost men were alive, or at least some of them, and Raille was all the less likely to find someone dead. His sixteen-year-old mind conjured up unbidden images of men floating face up, sightless eyes, distended bellies straining against sodden leather jerkins, and Raille found himself breathing heavily, and shook his head to try and clear his head.

'You're a man,' he told himself, 'mans work, mans wage, you're a man. Stop behavin' like a child.'

He plunged onwards, ignorant of his mind shrilling at him to stop. The tunnel widened after roughly quarter of a mile into a low-ceilinged, wide space where the track split into three and three identical sets of carts sat lifelessly against three buffers. Raille had often marvelled at how the carts moved themselves, and had pleaded with Kerrick to ask Garoule how. Kerrick always refused, saying 'it ain't our business to know.' Raille thought Kerrick was scared of Garoule, and scared that he could make carts move on their own, but never said anything. He had mentioned it at home once; his Father gave him seven hells of a beating, telling him he was too young for his own opinions and maybe if he spent more time working instead of bitching, Garoule may show him himself.

Raille slowed to a stop, and ran a grubby finger along one of the wooden carts. It came away smeared grey. Don't clean themselves then. A skittering noise from the middle row of carts caught his attention, but only for a moment. Probably a rat. Or seven.

He turned to face the narrow tunnel leading out, but the skittering noise turned into a scratching, then a low, guttural purring. Raille frowned, and reached for a shovel leant against a buffer, before creeping over to the middle row of carts. He kept low, planning on surprising the rat before it could leap out the cart at him. They could get nasty when cornered.

He crouched at the base of the end cart, shovel at the ready, and began to raise his head towards the edge. His eyes met the wooden lip, and then met a pair of pitch black eyes staring malevolently back at him, just inches away. They belonged to a deathly pale, almost cream, bald head rising with Railles as he slowly stood. Raille drew a sharp intake of breath as the nose appeared, just two holes in its face, then a veritable sea of inch-long, jet black teeth jutting out randomly from a mouth held slightly open. It purred again, and Raille screamed. Like a child. Then the face screamed back, the noise like steel scraping on steel, and Railles eardrums burst, the noise ripping through his brain like wildfire, but then he heard nothing, found himself on the floor, the face suddenly above him and attached to long white arms, torso and legs that ended in claw like feet. The teeth grew closer, the black mouth gaped, and its breath was so very hot.

****

Kerrick shifted uncomfortably. ‘Grow up.’ He muttered, unconsciously cracking his knuckles. At home he would have been told off for that. Aela said it was bad for the joints. Kerrick had tried telling his stepdaughter that his joints were well past the point of no return, but the girl was adamant. He grinned at the thought of her, tried to wonder what she was doing now. Hopefully dinner.

Two screams ripped through the darkness, loud enough to make Kerrick wince and start against the side of the cage, making it rattle. He hadn't heard anyone yell, or Chase’s whistle, but that didn't stop him making his way towards the Vault. Just in case.

Kerrick fingered the flare in his pocket as he reached the maw of the Vault. There were no screams now, just a wet rustling that was probably a rat, or water running down the jagged walls. He stopped, unsure of what to do next, and turned back the way he had come until movement caught the corner of his eye alongside one wall. Kerrick took a step towards it, peering through the gloom.

It was white. Big. Too big for a rat, or a Hellsnake. Kerricks heart stopped in his chest as his eyes adjusted. It was a person, crouched on their toes, hunched over something dark on the floor.

‘Hello?’ Kerrick stood still as stone. No reply. He couldn't be sure, but he thought the man’s head was moving, close to the dark mass under him. ‘Hello!’ Nothing. Kerrick didn't know what, but something made him keep from approaching the man. He fished for the flare.

The vault was instantaneously bathed in a reddish, flickering glow that cast shadows across the rocks, and disturbed the horrific creature feeding on Shifty’s ruined corpse. Its head snapped towards the flare burning in the centre of the room where Kerrick had thrown it, mercifully ignoring him as he froze in abject terror.

All white and gangly, scuttling like lizards...

Ragged screams tore out from the eastern tunnel, accompanied by rapid footsteps. Moss came careering into the vault, panic written across his broad face. The beast in front of Kerrick remained still, only its head moving as it followed Moss stumble and fall with a crunch.

Kerrick sprinted to Moss, lying prone on the wet rock, tried to drag him up. He was too big. ‘Get up! UP!’ Kerrick roared at him.

Moss was crying, his big hands scrabbling uselessly at the ground. ‘I can’t! I can’t feel anything! Please Kerrick...please...’

Kerrick didn’t listen. The beast had moved, and he didn’t know where. A malevolent purring echoed around the vault, the sound everywhere at once. He jerked his head toward the eastern tunnel. White limbs, white faces, black eyes, black mouths were spilling out of it, on the floor, walls, roof. They screamed.

Sounds like cart wheels, Kerrick reflected dumbly as his hand dropped Moss’s and his legs turned for the vault exit. He ignored Moss’s screams as he ran, cast a brief look over his shoulder to see Moss gazing helplessly after him, before he was swallowed in the maelstrom of claws and teeth. He kept running.

Gargh
April 29th, 2013, 01:51 PM
I'm finding this difficult to read without a properly spaced out format. I know it's difficult to keep formatting sometimes in forums but if you can try and emulate it a bit at least - especially separating out the dialogue - I think you're more likely to get more feedback.

Personally, although you have some good narrative and tension, the density of adjectives trips it up. Thin some out by thinking about what the nouns say for themselves.

Is this an excerpt?

Mat
April 29th, 2013, 05:05 PM
Is this an excerpt?

No, it's just a first draft really. Looking at it, I can see what you mean about the format; far too dense! As for the abundance of adjectives, I think it's probably a fear of not getting the picture in my head across, but I can see that too many redundant ones will just clog it up. I'll go through it later, thank you for the advice! Mat

ISDAMan
April 29th, 2013, 05:27 PM
I like what you have done. It is true, however, that there is an excess of descriptors. I'm also finding it difficult to understand how, in the beginning, it could be so dusty and so wet at the same time. Also, you might want to make a break in the rain at the time that he is listening over the rail because of the noise rain makes.

NathanBrazil
April 29th, 2013, 05:50 PM
This setup was well done, and kept me reading through to the end.

All of these comments are IMHO. Please feel free to disregard.

There are spots where the wordiness stuck out. I've marked those in red. I also marked one NIT. I'll give a more thorough crit when I have more time.

Please add line breaks. It makes it much easier to read. Once you paste your piece, go back and add the line breaks. I've tried my best to determine where the breaks might go. And you really need something to delineate the scenes. I've added them where I felt they were appropriate.

The biggest problem for me is the ending. This feels very much like a part of a bigger piece. That may not be the case, but there is the mystery of the cart and this beast at the end and of course the rest of the crew. Assuming that it is chapter one and therefore more to follow, the introduction of the beast feels rushed. Of course something got those men, but that's a whole lot of setup for bang your dead. I wanted some hint of this creature in the preceding chapters. And if this is the first chapter, please put an explanation at the top.


Overall, very enjoyable. Thanks for sharing.

ETA:
- How do you smile without your eyes is a repeat of what has gone before. I would consider dropping that.
-The missing mans sons face This is a mouthful and I think it can be reworked to make it smoother.
- the once hushed room doesn't really add much to the line. The words "sudden clamour" imply that the room was hushed.
- Chase's rasping breath in his ruined throat, Shifty swearing as he splashed into a puddle that soaked his leg, Raille gasping as Shifty laid a heavy hand on his shoulder as he flailed for balance. Here this felt like a bit too much. For me, you've already established the characters. I realize that the following line is "Boy is too damn jumpy" but I don't think you need any additional character setup for that line.
- It was a feeling he had only had once before, and he didn't appreciate its resurgence. This line doesn't help the tension. In fact I believe it detracts from it. I would definitely consider dropping this line. As noted by Folcro, when words or phrases don't add value, they can be cut.
- attempts This is a NIT. I think should be "attempted".
- almost ceremoniously This again feels like too much. I would consider dropping this bit.
- fear-laden to me the shrilling of his mind implies "fear-laden". I would consider dropping this.

Now, most importantly. I want to re-iterate, this is only my opinion. These are the parts that stuck out to me and took me out of the story for a bit. I'm not going to be in total agreement with other critiques but that's fine. At the end of the day, it's your story. You'll have to pick and choose the comments that fit for you.



Kerrick frowned, and leaned forward over the wooden rail. It creaked under the big man's weight, but he took no notice as he screwed up his face, listening intently to an almost inaudible shrieking noise riding the stale breeze from half a mile below him. He grunted in frustration, and straightened up, a smile playing around his cracked lips as the pallid eastern sun warmed his weather-beaten face. It hadn't stopped raining for a solid two weeks.

The rain mingled with the white dust rising constantly from Argor Pit to form a pale glutinous mud, and everything in Argor and the mine on the town’s northern edge was slick with grey slime that clung to the white houses and ran down the dirt streets. The same downpour had flooded two shafts of the Pit, water welling up so fast that two blasting crews, eight men, were swallowed in its black depths. Kerrick assumed they were dead.

That was two days ago, and no-one had ventured into the Pit since. Then just that morning, a young lad whose name he couldn't recall had claimed to hear a screaming emanating from the hole, and eighty men clamoured round its edge attempting to hear. They had made so much noise that Kerrick ordered everyone into the white stone mess hall and so now stood alone at the mine's edge.

The sound reminded him of the steel-wheeled carts that squeaked and squealed their way along the dark winding tunnels carrying the precious Pillar metal that Argor was famous for, lit only by blue-green gas lamps that sprouted from a corroded copper line snaking its way from the surface. He had never entirely trusted those carts-anything that could move under its own power without any form of propulsion seemed alien, and somehow wrong. Felt like it was stealing, motion without effort. He knew it wasn't those.

No-one was down there; at least, no-one alive was down there. His heart gave a lurch at the thought of trapped men, slipping in the pale slime that was blue in the lamp light, cursing at the blind Hellsnakes as they dropped from the white rock above them, in a desperate effort to escape. That made up his mind.

He turned and marched away from the Pit and the three gaunt cranes that stood sentry at its edge and towards a mess of wooden shacks sprawled randomly about the north side of the yard. Behind the shacks was a white building, grand in contrast to its shabby neighbours, and Kerrick headed directly for it.

He passed the mess hall, could hear voices and even saw a face or two pressed surreptitiously against the filthy windows. He strode up the white steps, edges still crisp and square for all their decades of use, and opened the dark wooden door without knocking. Nor did he bother to wipe his mud encrusted boots as he turned a sharp right.

He halted at another door, not quite closed, and then hesitantly knocked. 'Come in, Kerrick.' A deep voice with a strong southern accent greeted him. Kerrick walked carefully in, suddenly mindful of his filthy feet.

'Garoule. How did you know it was me?'

The white haired, dark skinned man was wrapped in a heavy fur coat, sat in a throne-like chair in front of a roaring fire. The room was bare, save for a dark wooden desk strewn with papers and a broken Grandfather clock in one corner. He was tall, with sea-grey eyes and a hooked nose, wearing a slight smile at the sight of his wet, disheveled and mildly sweaty foreman.

'I don't need the Farsight to see through the window.' He replied genially. His smile grew wider to emphasise the joke, but his eyes remained icy. How do you smile without your eyes? Garoule shivered. 'It is always so damn cold in the East. How in seven hells do you people put up with it?'
'By not going to the West. Then we have nothing to compare it to.' Kerrick grinned, swallowing the nervousness he always felt around the Mines owner. Garoule gave a snort of laughter, then abruptly fell silent, clasped his long fingers and fixed Kerrick with a piercing stare. 'So how can I help?'

It felt like he already knew what Kerrick had come for. 'As you know, we lost eight men yesterday.'

'Yes.'

'There are noises. Below, I mean. Sounds like the carts...'

Garoule sighed. 'You want to go down there.'

Kerrick wasn't sure if that was a question or a statement, but he answered anyway. 'Yes. Just my crew, tomorrow, providing the weather stays off.'

Garoule frowned, bushy white eyebrows drawn close, and peered out of the window, at the yard now bathed in a pathetic yellow-tinged sunlight. 'No...' Kerrick started to protest, but was waved into silence. '... Go today. Now. The sooner we get them out the better. Alive or dead.'
Kerrick smiled gratefully. 'Thank you.' He spun on his heel and left, swinging the door not quite shut. 'And Kerrick?' A deep voice behind him. 'Send one of the maids to clean up in here. This floor is filthy.'

Kerrick swung open the door to the mess hall and hit a wall of warmth from a huge fire set in stone in the centre of the room. He felt the eyes of eighty men, some old, some just twelve or thirteen, fall on him from all directions as he stood in front of the crackling, dancing flames. The men (and one particularly strong woman) were sat neatly at tables, or sprawled on benches.

Devan, just eleven and the youngest boy, perched atop a huge pillar of stone stood on its end in one corner. Someone had carved "Devans Chare" into it, presumably in a moment of good humour, but there was none of that in here today. All eyes fixed on Kerrick were wide with anticipation. That, or fear.

Kerrick saw a lad of about sixteen sat staring sullenly at the dirt floor, and felt a wash of pity surge through his stomach. The boy’s father was one of the missing eight. Kerrick cleared his throat noisily, more out of habit than the need to quiet the room- the silence was broken only by the spitting of damp wood on the fire- and shoved calloused hands into his pockets.

'Me and my crew are going down the Pit. Johan was right about that noise; I'm hoping that the lads down there are using the carts to haul wounded to the man cage. I'm not promising anything,' he added hurriedly as a look of delight and relief struck the missing mans sons face. Why can't I remember his name? 'but I won't be able to sleep tonight until we've found out.'

A sudden clamour of voices and scraping of chairs filled the once hushed room. Kerrick struggled to pick out what individual people were saying, then with a quick rush of affection realised that everyone was volunteering themselves for the task. Eventually one man shouted the others down, and for good reason; he was massive. Black haired; with a wiry black beard streaked with white, he stood seven feet tall, shoulders broad enough for little Devan to lay across without his feet hanging off and hands like shovels. He growled down at Kerrick.

'I'll go. Tain't for the foreman to mess around down there with us sittin' on our arses.' Kerrick nodded appreciatively.

'Thanks, Moss. You and your team, then. I'll go down with you, stay with the cage.' Moss dipped his huge head in assent. Kerrick turned to address the sea of expectant faces. 'Everyone stay here. Garoule wanted you clearing the yard, but I'd rather have you all in one place for this afternoon.'

***

Moss lurched heavily into the man cage, which in turn swung and creaked alarmingly, clattering against the white sheer wall of the Pit. Kerrick followed him in, followed by Moss' pick team. Silent, limping Chase, with a terrible scar across his neck where a thug had tried to slit his throat years ago. Chase couldn't talk about it, but the story was that the man had got his blade stuck and Chase had smashed his head against a wall until it was soft, then pulled the knife out himself and robbed the dead man for good measure.

Moss often wondered if it were true, but didn't like to ask. Chase was helped in by a short, stocky man with a heavy brow and dark scowl that everyone called Shifty, though no-one knew why. Last in, somewhat tentatively, was a boy of sixteen with a pale face and a shock of red hair. He swung the cage gate closed with a squeak and a clang, glancing nervously at Moss as he leant gingerly against it.

'Alright Raille?' Moss queried gently. 'How’s that sister of mine?'

'Ma's alright. Dads away in Setura, so she's only got me till next month.' He puffed his chest unconsciously.

Moss smiled. 'Reckon she'll be alright then.' Raille looked bashfully at his feet, then jerked his head up, alarmed, as the cage lurched downwards.

Moss turned to Kerrick. 'You reckon you know where to look?' Kerrick ran a grubby hand through his grey hair. There were still some flecks of blond in there, but not many. Moss tried to remember when his old friend had started turning grey. Too far back. Kerrick frowned. 'Start by searching the Vault. Then work your way down each mine shaft, following the cart tracks. Chances are, if they are alive, they'll be by the carts.'

Moss grimaced. 'Think they will be?'

'The only thing that can make that noise is the carts.' As if in reply, a wailing started up from beneath them. Kerrick was right, it did sound like steel cart wheels, although Moss didn't remember there being that many.

The cage clattered to the ground in twilight darkness, the only light coming from the blue-green lamps that snaked their way down the Pit wall, circling the small space that housed the cage before running down the single passageway towards a huge cavern called the Vault. Moss gestured for Raille to open the cage gate and followed his team out onto the damp white floor.

Kerrick leant against the cage. 'Anyone gets in trouble or finds someone, alive or dead, holler and I'll come find you.' Moss nodded, and turned abruptly to stomp down the narrow corridor of stone that was just low enough for him to have to stoop. He could hear his team following noisily behind; Chase's rasping breath in his ruined throat, Shifty swearing as he splashed into a puddle that soaked his leg, Raille gasping as Shifty laid a heavy hand on his shoulder as he flailed for balance.

Boy is too damn jumpy. What happened to nippers like him? I must be getting old... The tunnel ended abruptly, the narrow walls and low ceiling giving way to blue emptiness as rock careered up around the men. The roof of the Vault was shrouded in black, the small gas lights not strong enough to penetrate the absolute darkness, but what could be seen showed the room to be at least a hundred feet high. It was a natural cavern, and the walls were not sheer and smooth like the Pit, but craggy and rough, speckled here and there with green as some hardy lichen clung to the wet face near the lights. A hiss came from above, Raille gasped as a hellsnake hurled itself off the rock to land near his feet. He jerked away instinctively, and then looked around, embarrassed.

'Ain't nothing to worry about, boy,' Moss reassured him, 'hellsnakes won't hurt you.'


'I know that,' replied the lad, rather sullenly, 'just startled me was all. They aren't usually this high up.'


Moss agreed. 'Probably the water driving 'em up here, along with the rats.'

Shifty made a disgusted noise. 'I hate rats. Nasty little...'


He tailed off as a metallic squeal reverberated around the cavern, coming from all directions at once. Moss stopped where he was in the centre of the room, straining to hear which exit sounded loudest. None of them. He waited until the noise stopped, and the barest hint of an echo threw itself from wall to wall, before sighing. 'Chase, Shifty, take the north and west tunnels. Raille have a look down the south one, I'll go east. If you find them, shout the tunnel you're in so we'll know where to go.'

Chase looked put out and made a rasping noise that could have been a pointed cough. Moss immediately felt guilty- he should have remembered that. He fished in a pocket of his heavy leather trench coat and produced a brass whistle. 'Sorry,' he said ashamedly, 'two blasts.' Chase smiled, took the whistle and walked across the cavern. Moss watched his back, until he reached the north tunnel entrance and was swallowed in black and only his rattling lungs and boots on wet stone could be heard.

Moss turned away, and found Shifty gone. Damn, he walks too quiet. Raille was still there; worry written plain across his young face. 'Yell if I find them, right?' Raille knew that, he was just hoping for some kind words to settle his nerves. He had never been down here on his own, and sixteen wasn't old enough for a lad to have lost the vivid imagination and irrational fears of childhood.

'You won't find anything, boy,' Moss soothed, 'I'm pretty sure they're down the north or east. You'll have an easy walk, just watch your feet. Don't want to have to carry you out.' The lad grinned; Moss hoped it was genuine, although suspected otherwise.

***

The north tunnel dropped sharply downhill, water running in rivulets zigzagging back and forth across the white rock under his feet. Chase picked his way carefully over the uneven ground, squinting at the floor where it was dark between the blue-green gas lamps, and tried to swallow a feeling of unease rising in his throat. It was a feeling he had only had once before, and he didn't appreciate its resurgence. It reminded him of a dark alley, a cold night and a man hired to kill him.

He had heard the story floating around that it was a thief, the knife had got stuck, and so on, but he knew it wasn't true. He had been drunk behind a tavern, lured there by a local whore, who had promptly disappeared the moment he had entered the alleyway. He had had the feeling of eyes upon his back, and turned wildly about. No one there. Chase remembered leaning silently against a damp stone wall, trying to shake a prickling up the back of his neck when a man had dropped from the roof of the tavern, plunged a blade into his throat and left him for dead.

Nothing like the story, he reflected bitterly, and silently cursed that same prickling up his back that had brought the memory from the rearmost recesses of his mind as he followed the water downwards. A hiss made him start, and inwardly berate himself for his nervousness as he looked for the hellsnake sliding its way between his feet. Nothing. Must have missed it, or the sound was echoing on the rock from around the sharp bend ahead of him. He heard it again, definitely ahead of him, and concentrated on the floor so as not to tread on it. They weren't poisonous, but had vicious teeth that would easily slice through boot and skin alike. He turned the corner staring at the ground, and almost missed the gaping black mouth until it closed on his face.

***

Raille didn't feel much happier after Moss' attempts to soothe his fraying nerves. He stepped carefully, not wanting to disturb any hidden hellsnake or trip over the decaying wooden rails, cursing the lights that bathed everything in blue. They lit the immediate area around them magnificently, but left large gaps of gloom that seemed even darker to his lamp-dazzled eyes. His tunnel was fairly even; so the water that ran down the walls pooled glittering on the ground either side of the track.

He caught sight of his reflection in one pool before his boot splashed down, scattering the shock of red hair. He looked scared. He stopped walking, straightened his back and pushed his thin chest out, assumed a stern expression and marched almost ceremoniously forward. A rat scurried past him, but he was ready for rats. He started to whistle tunelessly, but thought better of it, remembering the whistle that Moss had given Chase, and hummed softly to himself instead.

The screeching started up again, from a long way back, and Raille suppressed a shudder running up his spine, although consoled himself with the fact that the noise meant the lost men were alive, or at least some of them, and Raille was all the less likely to find someone dead. His sixteen-year-old mind conjured up unbidden images of men floating face up, sightless eyes, distended bellies straining against sodden leather jerkins, and Raille found himself breathing heavily, and shook his head to try and clear his head.

'You're a man,' he told himself, 'mans work, mans wage, you're a man. Stop behavin' like a child.' He plunged onwards, ignorant of the fear-laden shrilling of his mind, telling him to stop. The tunnel widened after roughly quarter of a mile into a low-ceilinged, wide space where the track split into three and three identical sets of carts sat lifelessly against three buffers. Raille had often marvelled at how the carts moved themselves, and had pleaded with Kerrick to ask Garoule how.

Kerrick always refused, saying 'it ain't our business to know.' Raille thought Kerrick was scared of Garoule, and scared that he could make carts move on their own, but never said anything.

He had mentioned it at home once; his Father gave him seven hells of a beating, telling him he was too young for his own opinions and maybe if he spent more time working instead of bitching, Garoule may show him himself. Raille slowed to a stop, and ran a grubby finger along one of the wooden carts. It came away smeared grey. Don't clean themselves then. A skittering noise from the middle row of carts caught his attention, but only for a moment. Probably a rat. Or seven.

He turned to face the narrow tunnel leading out, but the skittering noise turned into a scratching, then a low, guttural purring. Raille frowned, and reached for a shovel leant against a buffer, before creeping over to the middle row of carts. He kept low, planning on surprising the rat before it could leap out the cart at him. They could get nasty when cornered. He crouched at the base of the end cart, shovel at the ready, and began to raise his head towards the edge. His eyes met the wooden lip, and then met a pair of pitch black eyes staring malevolently back at him, just inches away.

They belonged to a deathly pale, almost cream, bald head rising with Railles as he slowly stood. Raille drew a sharp intake of breath as the nose appeared, just two holes in its face, then a veritable sea of inch-long, jet black teeth jutting out randomly from a mouth held slightly open. It purred again, and Raille screamed. Like a child. Then the face screamed back, the noise like steel scraping on steel, and Railles eardrums burst, the noise ripping through his brain like wildfire, but then he heard nothing, found himself on the floor, the face suddenly above him and attached to long white arms, torso and legs that ended in claw like feet. The teeth grew closer, the black mouth gaped, and its breath was so very hot.

Mat
April 29th, 2013, 08:15 PM
What a brilliant critique, thank you! It was planned as the first chapter of a much larger piece, wherein the beast is not always the biggest problem. Looking at the bits you have highlighted, I agree, they are somewhat clumsy. The piece being rushed was my main worry, and something I picked up on with every read- any ideas on how to thin the adjectives and slow the pace down?

NathanBrazil
April 29th, 2013, 08:45 PM
Other than the parts that I've highlighted, I was fine with the pace of the writing.

Alien is a classic example of how to unravel the mystery of a monster. You might stay with Kerrick's POV and have Raille be your first victim, but Kerrick may just hear Raille's screams in conjunction with the screech (not quite like the screech of the cart). Then have the rest go topside to regroup. The idea that Garoule may have some knowledge of what's down there, yet still sent them is of interest to me.

Folcro
April 29th, 2013, 09:20 PM
Good stuff. Massive potential for reasons I'll get to in a bit. First let's get the nasties out of the way. I'll start by sputtering some of what I thought about the opening lines...

"Kerrick frowned, and leaned..." There should be no "and" here. Watch out for your "and"s in general. (Hit ctrl+f and have an "and" witch hunt. It'll be fun)

"Stale breeze from half a mile below him." (No "him." You have us centered on Kerrick already. We know what to compare "below" to).

"He took no notice as he screwed up his face"--- is this all the same "he"? Screwed up his face? What's going on?

Moving on to your adjectives...

Adjectives are like people. Most of them are decent enough. But many of them are liars and evil and need to be destroyed before they destroy you. They whisper to the other adjectives, trying to turn them evil as well. Stop them!

"a smile playing around his cracked lips as the pallid eastern sun warmed his weather-beaten face"--- Pick the most important adjective here and send the rest to God.

"It hadn't stopped raining for a solid two weeks." Don't let him fool you--- "Solid" is not the adjective he claims to be--- cut him!

"He grunted in frustration."--- why else would someone grunt?

"To form a pale, Glutinous mud."--- This one isn't so bad, but I don't know. I don't trust those two together. I think they're plotting against you. I would get rid of one.

There are many further examples of the above throughout your story. If you agree with my advice, I'm sure you'll find them.

Visualization...

Definitely some good visuals here. I liked the scene with Garoule and his bony fingers. Good use of the word "roasting." (It may seem benign, but a single, well-placed word is like a sniper's bullet).

Here's a formatting issue I had...

Each character should have his or her own paragraph, regardless of from whose perspective the scene is taking place. (More on perspective in a bit)...

One person speaks, describe what they are doing.

The next person speaks. And all description regarding that next person goes right here. His own little island.

This is a general rule, but important to adhere to at least most of the time.

Some general issues along the way...

"'And Kerrick?' A deep voice behind him."--- We should already know how Garoule's voice sounds. Unless it's getting deeper?

"Stood in front of the crackling, dancing flames."--- I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but "crackling" gave me the evil eye.

"The man cage"--- sounds kinkayy!

"Shoulders broad enough for little Devan to lay across without his feet hanging off and hands like shovels."--- How bout "Hands like shovels. Devan's legs dangled like string around his massive shoulders." Try to take the opportunity as often as you can to show instead of tell.

Characters incoming!

These guys are coming in pretty fast. Take some time throughout the story to remind us of each one. For example, the paragraph toward the end that begins "Moss watched his back" (which ends up being about Raille, going back to what I said earlier). This was good--- you're bringing Raille back in. Keeping him in (maybe a little too much in, as I'll get to next). The others, I'm forgetting them fast. Especially the main character.

PERSPECTIVE...

Keep in mind from whose perspective this is taking place. Kerrick, right? Then why are you taking me into Raille's mind. Did the perspective change? When exactly? It is very important that a scene take place from one character's point of view. This is probably your biggest problem right now.

He said, she said...

I notice you try to avoid this. You replace it with "He murmured, assured, soothed, replied..."

Instead of doing all that, why don't you show me what they are doing while they speak. Try this: "I know that," the lad turned his vision over the jagged walls surrounding him. "Just startled me was all."

Being a miner sucks...

This is something you start well. Amp it up. Convey to me how miserable this occupation is. Make me feel sorry for these poor bastards. Make me grateful to be a middle-class, unemployed 23 year-old living off his parents.

Okay, I'm done...

I think you really have something here. Definitely a visionary for the visual. You have the talent to put me in this cave and drag me up and down the rocks with these unfortunate people. Tighten it up. Put every sentence, every word to the test. Even your characters. Everything you don't need must go. I'd love to read this after you have revised it some. And, of course, to see where you take me from here.

lowprofile300
April 30th, 2013, 01:45 AM
He crouched at the base of the end cart, shovel at the ready, and began to raise his head towards the edge. His eyes met the wooden lip, and then met a pair of pitch black eyes staring malevolently back at him, just inches away. They belonged to a deathly pale, almost cream, bald head rising with Railles as he slowly stood. Raille drew a sharp intake of breath as the nose appeared, just two holes in its face, then a veritable sea of inch-long, jet black teeth jutting out randomly from a mouth held slightly open. It purred again, and Raille screamed. Like a child. Then the face screamed back, the noise like steel scraping on steel, and Railles eardrums burst, the noise ripping through his brain like wildfire, but then he heard nothing, found himself on the floor, the face suddenly above him and attached to long white arms, torso and legs that ended in claw like feet. The teeth grew closer, the black mouth gaped, and its breath was so very hot.

@Mat, I like the ending, reminds me of the movie 'Aliens' the part where the heroine comes face to face with the alien, and it drools on her. Nice:) So is this where the story ends or this is just the beginning?

Mat
April 30th, 2013, 07:58 AM
Folcro, thank you for taking the time to help with this! I'm definitely going to go through and have an 'adjective purge'! It changes perspective so often because essentially the part where each character except Kerrick is down the mine on his own is his only part and I felt that to get the tension across it would be clearer coming from their eyes, although I may need to make it more defined as to that being the case.

Lowprofile, in theory this is the end for that particular character but the beginning for Kerrick- he stays with the cage, and abandons the others to escape. Thanks for reading!

Mat
May 4th, 2013, 09:09 AM
Had a bit of an edit according to Folcro and NathanBrazil's suggestions, and added a little more. Be brutal!

NathanBrazil
May 4th, 2013, 04:07 PM
Mat- It's a good idea to keep the original and submit the edit as a new post. That way we have can compare to the original. I think I've got your original post in one of my replies, so I can use that. I'll try and get to this later today.

Folcro
May 5th, 2013, 05:22 AM
I'm really liking this "Garoule" feller. I find I gravitate to him while scanning your revisions. Is he a villain? He certainly smells like one. I really can't wait to see more of him. I hope he falls in your plans.

Mat
May 5th, 2013, 06:51 AM
I definitely do have a plan for him, although I was going to leave him for a fair while and bring him back much farther down the line. I'm in a bit of a dilemma; Kerrick was going to be one of three main characters across a much larger setting. Now I can't decide whether to follow that through or adapt it to centre round the pit?

NathanBrazil
May 5th, 2013, 07:33 AM
Mat- The edit is much cleaner. You've incorporated some but not all of the suggestions, which is good. It's your story.

I imagine they are all nervous, in their own way. I realize you've got some character building you want to add in Kerrick's new scene, but I believe the screams would warrant immediate action. If they were muffled screams, something that he couldn't identify as a scream, then maybe not.

As far as which direction to go - my gut tells me that it's best to keep writing. Write the scenes you've already got someone fleshed out in your mind. Then come back to the pit and determine how you want to handle the connecting scenes.

ETA: I didn't get it right on the first read. I still think he would investigate these sounds immediately. Maybe some other sound might work better.

Neither of those sounded like cart wheels, in fact the first could have been a child.

Mat
May 6th, 2013, 12:02 PM
Good point. I've edited that, added what is hopefully the ending for that chapter. I didn't re-post it as there isn't much more, hope you like it!

NathanBrazil
May 6th, 2013, 04:15 PM
It's a solid ending to the chapter. I'd like to suggest a minor change at the beginning of Kerrick's new scene. Have him 'shift nervously'. It works better with the 'grow up' in the following sentence.

I'm not sure what the policy for posting separate chapters - either a brand new thread or a brand new post. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long for the next installment. :)

Mat
May 6th, 2013, 07:46 PM
I'd agree with that change. Thanks for all your advice, I'll get cracking on the next bit!

Folcro
May 6th, 2013, 07:58 PM
I definitely do have a plan for him, although I was going to leave him for a fair while and bring him back much farther down the line. I'm in a bit of a dilemma; Kerrick was going to be one of three main characters across a much larger setting. Now I can't decide whether to follow that through or adapt it to centre round the pit?

I felt the same with my most recent novel. If you do plan on going out with several main characters, you have some major work in store (as I'm sure you already know). Make sure the struggle and frustrations of the main characters (if there are to be several) make some sort of connection, even if the characters themselves never meet (which I would recommend they do). I just finished a novel that featured three main characters. Whew. I'm ready to go back to one for now.

One more suggestion... How about one of your main characters be the villain? (I did that in my book, thought it worked out excellently).

Mat
May 6th, 2013, 08:56 PM
Exactly my thoughts! The main characters will meet, I have a vague plan as to how but am fairly sure it could be improved. So far I have three villains; the beasts from the pit, Garoule, and my favourite who will be coming up next. I'm pretty sure this sounds too complicated to be promising, but I'm going to have a go anyway! Thanks!

Folcro
May 6th, 2013, 09:26 PM
Exactly my thoughts! The main characters will meet, I have a vague plan as to how but am fairly sure it could be improved. So far I have three villains; the beasts from the pit, Garoule, and my favourite who will be coming up next. I'm pretty sure this sounds too complicated to be promising, but I'm going to have a go anyway! Thanks!

Complexity is usually the best motivator for constant writing, and no practice beats constant writing. Three villains is great--- the more the merrier when it comes to the baddies. How bout subtle aspects of villainy existing in your heroes? As a great writer once said: "Good fiction is people misbehaving."

Mat
May 6th, 2013, 09:36 PM
Definitely. Nothing better than a horrible hero!