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Of Visions & Tears & Vengeance.jpg

Excerpt from Lodestone: Book 3

Aurelius sat under some boulders over which a layer of moss and lichen had grown. They offered shelter from the spray of a nearby waterfall and the patter of droplets that fell from some indeterminate height above in the subterranean dark.

The cavern’s flowers, lichens, mosses, and fungi began to show sparks of life. Colourful petals unfurled and glowing filaments spread their tiny, shimmering arms to welcome the night.

At the distance of perhaps a hundred or so paces, the river of magical light glowed brighter by degrees. This ethereal river ran its current onwards through the air with a shimmering display of star-like motes and cosmic streaks.

From their roosts, crows shuffled and chattered, frogs made throaty trills, and insects took to the air on humming wings. Fish broke the surface of an underground stream with a plop, and wriggled against its current which sent ripples along its surface.

Next to where Aurelius sheltered was an oval pool where each end formed a point. No water fed into this pool, but instead the water flowed from one side in a ceaseless rivulet that in time had worn a crease in the rock and left crystals on its edges.

The pool itself was a lightless black. None of the cavern’s wildlife would go near it; not even a single fly, worm, or beetle. Aurelius regarded the pool with the unwavering scrutiny of his glass eyes. It must have headed straight downwards with no bottom in sight, although how it came to be was a mystery.

What led Aurelius here in the first place was an old path that meandered from the river of light which at some point had been worn into the gravel and undergrowth of the caves. Having had nothing to do while the other miners slept, he had hopped and strode along the winding trail and played a tune with his voice-box until he came to this place.

Even with his metal skin, and the only means to sense the world around him being through mechanical instruments, Aurelius could sense foreboding in this place. Despite how scenic he perceived the area to be, he could sense that something was out of the ordinary, even for these caverns.

Around him, various discarded items lay rusting and decaying. A lantern began to swing on the length of twine it hung from. A glass bottle rolled, and an empty sack twitched where it lay on a rock.

To an ordinary onlooker, it may have appeared as if the items had moved on their own. Aurelius, however, observed how a grimy woman in miner’s overalls crawled about on her hands and knees. She picked and prodded at the items as though she searched for something.

The woman’s lips moved back and forth over her blackened teeth as she muttered inaudible words. Her dark, deep eyes roved over the rocks and undergrowth. She had a silent coughing fit and sat to wring her hands and seemed to plead for something.

The woman paid no attention to Aurelius, who continued to regard the scene without motion.

Aurelius’ voice box made a couple of clicking noises.

‘What are you looking for?’ Aurelius asked. His voice made soft humming and harmonising notes as he chose the gentlest tones available to him.

The woman turned his way. She scowled, but then continued to rummage, wring, and mutter.

Aurelius stood, then set off back in the direction of the chapel, and gave the woman a wide berth.

On his journey back, Aurelius passed a stubby little man who wore a tunic and breeches the colour of pine needles.

‘Ghost, ghost, ghostie-ghost! Lost spirit trapped in a shell!’ The little man jeered in a spiteful voice. ‘You used to be a lovely boy, but now look! You’re their wind-up toy!’

A nearby gathering of crows snickered and clacked their beaks.

Aurelius turned his head and walked quicker as the pixie cackled, but gave no response.

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