Arcanum 1780: A New World
Tales - Digging too Deep
Digging too Deep
“I’m just not doing it, Jaime. It’s too dangerous. There was already a collapse in that part of the mine three years ago. We lost twelve miners. We scarred the earth chasing that vein – I’ve never seen a shaft collapse so badly that it brought sunlight down into the mines. There are trees in the tunnel, blocking the way. Trees, Jaime! Some of them even fell in recently! I’m not going. No amount of gold is worth the death we’ll meet down there. Find someone else.” Alfredo was shaking with fear and anger, rattling his lantern as he stood up to his foreman.
“You’ll go, Alfredo, and you’ll sing while you work. Do not mistake my previous kindnesses for complacency. I have treated you well, because you are one of my best miners, but you forget your place. You work these mines because you made a choice. You abandoned your country and deserted your fellow soldiers. Until you have served the entirety of your sentence, you do not get to choose. It is my hope that your ability to make the correct choices will be greatly improved by the experience of the correct choices being them made for you until such time as you have earned your release, but if not, you will inevitably return to my care.”
Alfredo hated Jaime’s smile the most – both caring and condescending at once. He hated even more that Jaime was right – he was prone to making horrible choices.
He first made the choice to join the Army, to escape some particularly unwise decisions he had made which put him afoul of several local laws. Then, he chose to desert when he found the army not to be to his liking. Worse still, his conscious ate away at him until he turned himself in, thinking it would make things better. It hadn’t. Last month, he could have joined a group of convicts who had a plan to escape the mine, to find a better life. Seeing an opportunity to curry favor with his foreman, Alfredo chose to reveal the entire plan. Those men were all dead now, died with the curse of his name on their lips.
If he had joined them, he would have either escaped or died. Instead, Alfredo stood deep in the mine-shaft, lit from overhead by the bright noontime sun, a rope tied tightly around his waist. He resolved then to make better choices moving forward, even though it seemed too late to have choices about anything. The only choice left to him now was likely if he wanted to die slowly or quickly.
He hung his head low, saying his own last rites before signalling to the belaying crew behind him that he was ready to descend. The walls of the old shaft were coated in dirt and plant matter from the old collapse. He began his downward journey by stepping onto the branches of an old elm. The tree shifted precariously as his weight settled onto i and he held his breath until the swaying had stilled.
The climb down was slow, as he had to both navigate through the debris, but also backtrack frequently when his guide rope got tangled around a branch or boulder. He slithered his way through the rocks and trees to the tunnel floor below, where his lantern barely threw off enough light to let him see past the rock slide that concealed the bodies of the men who had died down here during the collapse.
There was just enough space between the ceiling and the rock detritus for him to wedge his way through, but only after he tied off the guide rope and sent his lantern and bag through ahead of his inept clambering. Once he forced himself through the small gap, he tumbled down the pile on the far side, landing on his hands and knees.
Rather than feeling the familiar and expected cold stone of the cavern floor, Alfredo found his hands mired in a tangle of coarse fur. Where he expected his knees to ache from their impact with a well worn stone, instead he found the blow softened by something cold, soft, and wet. A slow feeling of revulsion took hold in his gut as he forced himself to stand, almost tumbling to the ground again as he found the ground slick underneath his feet.
As his eyes reluctantly tracked downward, he breathed a short sigh of relief. Just a deer. Must have fallen down in the collapse. He tried to shake off the disgust he felt at climbing out of the deer’s entrails, but the feeling stuck with him. The floor was still glistening with blood, forcing Alfonso to constantly check his footing. Odd. The blood should have dried a long time ago. The cave must be keeping it quite moist. Maybe that means there’s some sort of water down .ere
He swept up his lantern, looking back to whence he came, nodding in satisfaction. Looks like I knocked more than a few stones loose on my way in. At least getting out will be easy, now. He struck off down the tunnel, eyes glued to the tunnel walls, searching for the telltale glitter of gold. It was only a few minutes of walking before he came across the first of the miners – he was leaned up against a support beam, face dried out and pale. Alfonso shivered, reflexively holding his hands across his stomach. Before this poor man died, something had torn his abdomen open. But what, and why? It must have been one of the other miners. Such a cruel way to kill a man. He must have done something to deserve it.
He pressed onward, and soon came to a branch off the main line. Already, he was picking up trace flakes of gold on the floor. Must have been a bit of a vein this way. It wasn’t long until he came across the heart of the old vein, along with all the remaining miners. They were all bloody and torn, their old, leathery skin occasionally shredded. Despite the carnage he was confronted with, his eyes were drawn to the walls they had died near. It appeared there had been some sort of small collapse in the middle of the wall, as one of the man was half-buried in the mile of gold-flecked rocks, looking as though he were trying to crawl out from the cave-in even as it had happened. The sudden force of the rock-slide seemed to have broken one of the shaft supports with such precision that it almost appeared as though it had been sawed in half. To either side of the collapse, the walls were lined with gold, and the concentration seemed to increase the further past the rocks he looked. Must have killed each other over this find – this is the wealth of kings, here! Alfonso smiled to himself as he hefted a nearby pickax and began setting at the rock-slide. Each swing revealed more flecks of royal metal, concentrated deeper and deeper. He kept catching glimpses of a pure golden nugget buried in the midst of the rubble. If he could pocket that, he would be set for the rest of his life when he got back to the surface. Slowly, the rocks began to slip and shift as he hacked at their base, revealing more golden glimmers as a passage at the top of the stone blockade became increasingly accessible. The gold was finally in reach, and Alfonso set the pick down, clawing at the rocks to go after the fist-sized nugget. It wasn’t until his hand closed around the golden rock that he became aware of a gleeful roaring from beyond the rock-slide. He panicked and began to run, dropping the rock to the floor, but by then it was too late. His final choice had already been made.
- Rase Cidraen