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art by Stephen James Kiniry

Wider and Deeper

Carma has been reading and writing science fiction and fantasy for (mumble, mumble) years. Much of her time is spent hunched over a computer keyboard for the inevitable day job as well as for creative work, with breaks for ballet class. She wants to thank her writing group for their advice and support.

The sorcerer was young, still with a downy beard, his power small and flickering. He set his mind to obtaining greater strength, and after much study he decided to lure the creature of living darkness, whose energies he could then tap. The creature would need a pit, deeper than the lowest basement of his castle, deeper than the copper mines of the Frostshadow Mountain, deeper than the Everquiet Caves. Because blood and fear would stoke the creature's life force and swell its energies, supplying it with victims would give him even greater power.
His mouth stretched in a smile as a plan struck him, and he congratulated himself on his cleverness.
The first step was to capture a quiet, modest animal that snuffled among the leaves on the forest floor. He carved its incisors to chisel the earth, widened its paws to shovel the loosened dirt, and thickened its shoulders with muscle. He modified as many of the animals as he could trap, and set them to work.
They dented the earth, eating tree roots as they went. The sorcerer forced them to go deeper, and hunger led them to eat beetles and worms and other crawling things. Deeper, below the organic layer. Many starved and died until some were born that could subsist on moist, crumbling dirt. They even came to like it; each layer touched the tongue with its own mineral tang. They gnawed stones, each of which had a texture smooth or grainy, a taste sweet or salt.
Wider, deeper. They learned to work together to dig into the earth and to haul the clumps away. Squeaks and grunts shaded into utterances with complexities of sound and meaning.
The pit dived so deep that no light fingered the bottom, and the living darkness prowled in. The sorcerer felt the dark's power rise within him, and his mouth stretched into a grimacing smile, his teeth black and rotting, his beard scraping his collarbones.
The living darkness hunted the diggers, melted their flesh, and slurped their blood, breaking bones to lick up the marrow. It gorged and grew. Fear entered the tales the diggers told before sleeping. The sorcerer's power flared within him, and he rejoiced in it, smiting one land after another with lightning and fire, bringing them under his fist.
Eventually, he returned to the pit and ordered the digging to stop. But digging was what the diggers were made for--diggers dig, each generation told the next--and they continued their delving into the earth. No matter, he thought. What harm could it do him?
They learned that the bits of glowing stone they found in the earth made the creature cringe before them. At first they merely warded it away, but as they grew bolder they hunted it until it became shy and slunk through old, abandoned tunnels, whimpering.
The sorcerer's power roiled within his stomach and burnt his bones; his skin felt eaten by acid. All of his remedies failed, and he didn't know why.
Deeper and wider. The pit--now an abyss--ate away at the mountain on which the sorcerer's castle was perched, and from time to time the castle quivered, with a clinking of glass phials and a tinkling of delicate brass instruments.
At last the castle tilted, tilted and slid and fell over the edge of the abyss. Tumbling end over end, glass breaking, ancient tapestries streaming out the windows, chairs and tables of rare and fragrant woods battering against the walls, and the sorcerer tumbling in his bed. He clung to the headboard, vomiting clots of blood that clung to his robes and skin and matted his hair. As the castle neared the bottom of the pit, the diggers fled from the screaming of its passage.
It smashed. Walls crashed down. Chunks of broken stone rolled and came to a stop. Then silence. In time, a few brave diggers came back and began exploring the ruins. They edged into the sorcerer's bedroom and found a body sprawled on the bed, misshapen, with long, skinny legs and arms and on its face a mass of something that felt like tree roots. A digger nibbled on the beard, but it tasted bad, and she spat it out. The hideous figure never moved.
They left it and went on to other rooms of the castle, enjoying the tastes and textures of the smoky stone and spicy wood splinters, rolling in silk and wool tatters. One began to sing a hymn of praise and gratitude, and the others joined in.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Author Comments

I was doing some writing as I drifted into sleep (a good way to evade the Internal Censor). When I read it the next day an image grabbed me of slaves digging a trench to give darkness a place to prowl. Once I had this seed idea the actual writing flowed quickly, even enjoyably.

- Carma Lynn Park
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