A taste of my newest idea for some short stories. Just wanted to show folks I haven’t forgotten!
Hunger in the Dark
They had always said this cave was haunted. Goblins, Trolls, grumpkins, and worse. Things that were likely to eat you in the pitch black if you weren’t careful. Or worse.
Tales abounded among the miners of things so fantastical that even he didn’t believe them, and he was a superstitious sort. Small things that gurgled and looked like they were made of snot, rats that walked like men, all manner of beasties.
Then there were the mundane threats; miasmic air, lung rot, and cave-ins.
Gregorovich fingered his Ranald pendant absently as he marched further into the mine. Three others were with him, going to fetch some equipment the idiots had forgotten. Things went missing quite a lot. Others thought it was sticky fingers of miners who wanted to sell it on the side for booze money. He figured it was the Goblins.
Ranald was a foreign god to him, since he hailed from Kislev. But since he was in the Empire, it made sense to worship their gods. And a god of Luck was just what he needed.
The lanterns of the man ahead and behind threw strange shadows across the area. He hated this area; he could swear the darkness in here was supernatural, it was so heavy.
There was a scrabbling sound in the darkness and he froze. Lorenz with the lantern behind him crashed into him.
“Watch yourself, oaf-!” the man snapped in annoyance.
“Did you hear that?” Gregorovich said nervously.
“It’s scree sliding into the mine,” the older miner, Peter said. “Sometimes falls through the winzes.”
Gregorovich felt a swelling of anger and insult, though Peter’s voice had been calm He had been mining here for a few years now, he knew what scree sounded like! And that wasn’t scree sliding into a hole in the mountain-side.
He touched the pendant of Ranald again, to keep his luck going. He’d made it this far, when many others he’d known had dropped along the way. All he needed was a good strike for the mine. He could liberate enough to set himself up well in some place that was in a more hospitable clime. Maybe Tilea or Estalia.
He just knew he hated this mountain and this cursed mine.
They were moving again, and Lorenz was coughing. The dampf had been particularly bad lately, and the lung rot had been correspondingly worse, with a lot of the miners nursing a lingering cough. A lot of them couldn’t afford to stop working, even to just shake off the cough, so they just kept at it.
He was about to tell Lorenz to stop coughing on his back when a dull roar echoed through the caverns.
Each man froze, fearful that the sound was that of a cave-in. But no, the sound was different . . .
“What the hell was that?” Gregorovich asked. “That wasn’t scree!”
The men hesitated. Peter spoke first. “I’ve heard a sound like that before. Troll.”
Everyone looked to Gregorovich. He dimly recalled bragging about having gone into Troll Country back home to hunt with his father and uncles. Hadn’t he said he had taken three heads on his first hunt?
He paled, though in the orange lamplight the only sign of his terror was his wide eyes.
In truth, he’d never seen a living Troll. Only the heads that others - brave boyars and boyarinas - had bought with blood. Those had been ghastly enough . . .
The men around him realized the hollowness of his claims, and looked to each other.
“We head back,” Peter said. “If anyone is down here to steal equipment, Sigmar save him.”
No one argued, and the party quickly turned around.
It had been years since Trolls had been sighted near the mines, though there were always rumours that they lived in the deepest parts of the mine. Darker rumors even claimed there to be some kind of altar to them.
But it was far from impossible to think some could have come back. People went into the mountains to hunt them, mostly Imperial nobles, foolish hero-types, and mad Bretonnian knights on their quests.
The miners wasted no time, moving fast, panic and caution keeping them to a swift stride. These shafts were old, the wooden supports rotted through. There were numerous paths to avoid - the weight of men or a mine cart would collapse the wood.
They came to a bridge over a ravine that cut down so far they couldn’t see the bottom.
“Stop!” Peter said. He knelt to examine it. “The wood is rotted through.”
All the men were silent a moment.
“Impossible!” Lorenz said. “We came in this way, it wasn’t even shakey.”
“You think I lie? Look yourself!” Lorenz went up front, and knelt next to him, taking his lantern. The shaft behind them grew unclear, the darkness encroaching like a monster. Gregorovich stepped closer to the two lanterns.
“This does look rotted,” Lorenz admitted. “But nothing could rot this away so quickly. You felt as well as I how sturdy it felt! I helped install these not six months ago.”
“Nevertheless . . .” Peter said. “The wood rot has taken its strength.”
A roar came again. Unmistakable in its source. It was a hunting call, Gregorovich recalled, having heard the sound in his youth when the Trolls did leave the country and invade the borderlands.
“We must go!” Gregorovitch said, nearly panicked.
“The bridge will collapse if we try!” Peter said.
“We will be eaten by a troll if we don’t,” he snapped back. He went to the edge of the bridge, taking a deep breath.
He was lifting a foot to step out, when the roar came again - from above.
All four men looked up and saw their terror, the Troll, leaning over and looking down from a shaft above.
It studied them with vile, clouded eyes. It didn’t look like any Troll Gregorovitch had seen. The big nose had entirely rotten away, and its flesh was lumpy, hard, covered in boils and tumorous growths. Growths and spines jutted from it where normally there would be smoother skin, and its limbs were ganglier than normal, its main trunk bloated. Pus and other horrible things oozed from a dozen wounds.
This was no normal Troll. It was a thing cursed by Chaos.
In its hand, it held the body of something pink and somehow equally awful. Mostly just scraps of filthy green cloth, the body looked like a rat, but was covered in pustules and boils. Most of its upper body was gone, chewed off.
“By Sigmar!” Lorenz said in horror, shaking. Coughing wildly, the sick miner shoved past him and ran out onto the bridge.
For a moment, it seemed he would make it. Then the wood split all at once, the middle of the bridge collapsing. Gregorovitch imagined he could see Lorenz look back at him, imploringly.
Then he was just gone. No scream escaped him, he fell in silence, only the sound of wood and metal crashing. Even the troll was silent as the spectacle occurred.
He should have done something, Gregorovitch realized. Should have reached out his hand to catch the man. He had just stood still and watched.
“It can’t get to us!” Peter said, relief flooding his voice. “We have to find another way across, we can still make it if Sigmar guides us.”
The Troll seemed to recoil in horror at the suggestion, making a strange sound. It rung a memory in Gregorovitch’s memory, something he knew about Trolls that was obvious. But his mind, in its panic, couldn’t come up with it.
Then it heaved and vomited. Ah, that was it.
The bile splattered over him, and he screamed as it seared every nerve in his body. It was the worst pain he had ever felt, and as he screamed it got in his mouth and down his throat.
He stumbled, his limbs giving up as they were eaten away, and fell, hitting something hard. Through his burned ears, he heard the sound of breaking wood. He had fallen on the end of the bridge, and it, too, was breaking away.
Then he was just falling, and he could only hope Ranald would let him hit the bottom soon.