Posted by GnomeSplosion
Dampness and dust swirled in the air, the smell of earth permeated everything. Cornelius Drake grabbed the charge powder and vials and hung them from his belts. He picked up the shovel and pickaxe and made his way farther into the tunnels with his supplies. Drake paused and sniffed the air, it smelled wrong, felt wrong, more damp than usual and there was something else that he couldn’t put his finger on.
Shrugging his burden higher he began his trek again deeper into the tunnels. He passed a few other miners headed down the split path, and they were carrying on as normal. He joined the other group of men who quieted around him and headed down his branch as he handed out the vials. The other men took them, kept their distance and began making their way down ahead of Cornelius.
There it was again, that smell, the feel, dampness down to the bone and a blur of something in his path causing him to pause. Something was wrong here, something was going to happen but he couldn’t figure out what. The blur was dust, swirling down from the roof of the tunnel making him squint through his light. “Men,” Cornelius stated loudly, causing the men ahead of him to pause. They turned and all heard it.
The rumble started slow, distant. From the way they came, a shout of “Man down! Man do-“ cut short by a louder rumble and surprised screams. The other men with him, wide eyed, bolted. They pushed past Cornelius and intent on saving themselves began to flee the mines for fear of further ominous rumbles. Cornelius Artemis Drake did not flee, however; instead he rushed to the other path and followed it to the cave in.
Only a couple of men had come this way and they were trying to move the rocks and rubble from the path. The others weren’t as strong as Cornelius and he pushed through and began lifting and handing boulders out of the way, clearing the way. It wasn’t long before Cornelius found himself alone moving rocks as fast as possible. He hefted a larger boulder and heard a wheeze and gasp upon lifting. Drake practically threw the stone away and knelt down to look at the man at his feet. It was Tamlin Grace, he knew his face, one of the better men down in the mines.
Tamlin had two daughters and had helped watch Cornelius’s back while in the mines. He was one of the men who had come to the house when they found Cyril Drake burned to death in the mine. Tamlin had checked in on Cornelius a few times. He was one of the few to take an interest in his well-being, and there he lay before Cornelius, broken and bleeding.
Drake grabbed hold of the boulder pinning Tamlin and hefted, lifting and straining, and it wouldn’t budge. He grunted and strained, lifting with all his might, and still it wouldn’t move. “Stop,” Tamlin coughed. “Please stop… It’s no use, Drake.” The older man’s words were strained.
Cornelius slowed, caught his breath, and lifted again gaining just a sliver of movement before settling again. “Cornelius. Stop son.” The words were choked, and Drake knelt down to listen to the man as he wheezed.
“I’m done boy,” he whispered. “I’m not long for it. Just listen.” Cornelius felt his head get dizzy. He didn’t know how to feel. Panic swelled as Mr. Grace spoke. “You’re a good man Drake. Despite what happened, you’re a good man. Do me a favor.” Cornelius sat quietly while Tamlin sucked in breath. “Keep an eye on my little ones. Watch over ‘em and tell ‘em that I love them.” With that Tamlin Grace released is final, painful breath.
Cornelius panicked and began lifting again. He didn’t know what else to do but move rocks. He moved boulders for an eternity, pulling broken men out until his hands were purple and bleeding, his fingernails broken and gone, his blood on the rocks along with the other men’s. Then, when he couldn’t move boulders any more, and other men came along, they began blasting debris out. Cornelius worked for hours, fire, rocks, concussion blasts opening the path and finally the release of the few men trapped behind the wall of stone, a monumental victory to the survivors, but only a token one to Cornelius.
He walked after that, carrying the burden of the incident with him, to the Grace house to break the news to Tamlin’s wife and two girls. He found his way to the rundown house and stood at the door staring at his broken hands, bleeding through the bandages. He hesitated for a long while before knocking. The sound was hollow in his head. He thought about fleeing, but before he could make a move the door opened and he stood staring at the girl before him. Constance stood with a look of bewilderment in her eyes before she invited him in.
The rest of the visit was a blur to Cornelius, he didn’t know what words came from his mouth, but he saw the tears, both girls broke down, Liberty dropped to the floor, Constance limp in her chair and Cornelius powerless to help them. He felt helpless and defeated and wanted to scream and felt a hand on his face. “-ake up,” the blurry face of Constance said. Cornelius didn’t understand “Corny… -ake up.” She said again. “Wake up Drake.” And Cornelius sat up sharply.
He reached around searching for something, grabbed the bottle of liquor he had left next to his chair and tried frantically to drain it, only to find it empty already. Drake searched frantically for something to make him forget, and his bleary eyes cleared and focused on Constance. He was in the lobby of the Midnight Salute, it was late and he had managed to drunkenly fall asleep in his usual chair.
“C’mon Drake, you were having a nightmare.” He looked to her and grunted acknowledgment. “C’mon, come stay with me tonight, it’s died down. I don’t have any immediate clients and it sounds like you need the company.” Cornelius stood, grabbing his things and let her lead him away. “You want to tell me what you were dreaming?” she asked politely.
“You don’t want to know,” Cornelius grumbled quietly, shutting her out. He fished the flask from his work clothes and pulled the last dregs from the bottom. Constance turned from him to head up the stairs to her abode, holding back tears. She had heard him talking in his sleep. It was the same things he said every night.