Garret pounded his hammer against the rock wall of the mine. The low ring of the metal on the rock was like a lullaby to him. His father was a miner, his grandfather was a miner and likely his great-grandfather was one as well. The mine was not only started by his family, it was like it was part of his family. He had never known a time when he was not at home within the darkened confines of the mine.
Of course the longer his family worked the mine, the deeper into the mountain he had to go. The needs for raw ore in Nexus had not alleviated much, which meant that he would need to dig further into the mountain to meet those needs. Hopefully he would not run into the underground borders of the Shield that was rumored to protect the town from below as well as above.
He continued with his pick on the wall, breaking the stone away from the veins of precious ore that would mean more tools and a better life for the people of Nexus. The song of pick and hammer rang out and echoed back at him through the walls of the tunnel. He listened to the sound of it as the tone and tempo of the song changed.
No longer was he hearing the gentle rhythmic tone of the hammer strikes. Under the rings of their tools, he heard an undertone of a dangerous sort working into their song. The cracks expanded faster than he could call out to his coworkers until the walls began to crumble around the ones working the entrance to the shaft they had dug out from the main one that month.
He watched as over half of his friends in the tunnel were buried beneath stone, wooden supports and the ore they worked and risked their lives for. The sounds of their screams were buried along with their broken bodies beneath the tons of rock that feel down on them from above.
The darkness and weight of miles of stone and ore pressed in on them from all sides. Dust and rock and smoke surrounded them and choked in their mouths and noses. As the sounds of the rumbling earth and stone calmed, he could hear the sounds of coughs and choking coming from around him. Not everyone else had been buried. That meant that there would be help in finding any survivors and working their way through the cave in to get back to base camp – back to safety.
As the team foreman, Garret quickly took stock of who was missing. Of the twenty men on his team, only eight remained. That left him eleven men missing under the debris – as he was the ninth surviving man on the team. They checked out the edges of the cave in and looked for any men who were injured, but not completely covered or passed on.
Under a support beam, one of his legs horribly broken, Garret found Willem – a childhood friend of his. Their families had grown up together, and they had played as children in the entrance tunnels of the very mine they were now buried in. Without even calling for help, Garret began to toss rocks aside so that he could get his hands around the support beam that lay across Willem’s chest.
He was already pulling the beam out of the rubble when the others found him. With their help, he was able to extract Willem from the debris without dealing any further damage to his badly broken leg. The truth of the situation was apparent, but still one of his other men felt the need to explain it.
“We gots to get Wil to the church,” he said with a somber look on his face, “And fast. Else Pelor himself will not be able to do nuthin’.”
Garret pushed him towards the cave in. He silently motioned for the rest of them to follow. His orders were clear to them. Start clearing him a path.
Garret looked down at his unconscious friend. He knew that he was his only hope now. He was the last person he had left to protect him. It was up to him to get his friend out of the tunnel and to the healers at the Church so that he could live.
“Keep them safe,” he heard the words of his father reach out to him through time and space, “Keep them safe. It is the way of our family. We keep them safe and keep the mine providing for the town. They are your men now.”
The oppressiveness of it now weighed upon Garret’s chest more than the tons of rock and earth the rest of his men were digging through. More than the twisted bodies of his men he had failed to protect under the rock his team was digging through. This was not just another of his men, but this was his best friend. He would not fail to protect him. Not that day.
“Call us to you,” he heard in the back of his mind.
Garret looked around. His men were all busily moving rocks and piles from the sliding wall of debris. None of them where whispering anything. They were following his lead and silently working.
“Call us to you,” he heard again, this time definitely from deeper within than his ear, “Call us to you and we can help you protect them.”
His father had warned him how cave ins had been known to entice madness out of men. Especially in the case of a cave in where a man lost his brother or father. He began to wonder if this was what his father had warned him of as a young boy. Was the madness beginning to take him?
“We are of earth and sky, rock and thunder. We have the strength to grant you freedom. We have the power to grant you the strength Garret. Call us to you and protect your men. Call us to you and save your friend.”
Garret stood and stared at the cave in. He became aware of all of the life over down that tunnel. He could sense that the rest of the men that had been working the front of the tunnel were dead, crushed by the rock they worked.
He also could feel the strength of the stone that now stood in their way. The amount of rock that they would have to dig and work through was too great. Much more than Willem, there was no way this team could dig through that pile before them without running out of the stale air that now filled the tunnel. His entire team would die down here, and the last of them would die fighting for their lives and digging their fingers to the bone.
“Stop your digging!” he called out to them. His voice sounded like thunder bouncing off the rock walls and ending in a ringing hum.
He motioned them all back with his hands. His rough, calloused hands that had never really known a day without work now motioned them with gentle resolve to get behind him. Motioned for them to go back and stand with the injured Willem.
After the last of them worked their way back, Garret stood before the rockslide and felt for that presence he had felt before. He could feel it within him, just out of reach. At the heart of it, he knew they were there though.
“You have worked your whole life with us,” he heard the voices within him speaking in harmony, “Now call us to you.”
Garret reached out and picked up a hammer in one hand and a pick in the other. He held one out in each hand and went down to a single knee as if he were in the church getting ready to pray.
“I call you to me spirits of the stone and thunder!”
The ringing of his voice was drowned out as he struck both pick and hammer to the ground, rolling thunder flowing from both of them causing the workers to steady themselves from falling. When they looked again, Garret stood before them, but not the same Garret they had entered the tunnels with that morning.
This man was a creature of stone and earth. He stood nearly a head taller than he once had, and the strength in him was frightening as he approached the cave in and swung both weapons over his head to strike at the rock before him.
A flash of lightning and the stone of splitting stone was greater than the initial cave in that started that day. What was left was an open tunnel. The sides of the walls seemed to be composed of glass, the tools and helmets of the workers lost displayed for all to see. Thankfully none of the bodies were visible in the glassy rock left behind.
“Get a cot ready,” the restore Garret said to them from the tunnel entrance, “We need to get Willem to the church. Now.”