Argan is still in his office when he begins to hear the chaos outside, going over charts with a magnifying glass to help his weary eyes. For a long moment he ignores it, assuming the guards are arresting someone, then the door to his office bursts open. He recognises the miner, as much because of the fine, dark dust which marks them all out as the red birthmark this one has across one side of his face. It’s distinctive enough to be memorable, even despite the constant coming and going of workers these days.
“What? The shuck chasing you, boy?” he snarls.
The young man takes a moment to collect himself, glances nervously back at the guards framing the dwarf’s office doors.
“It’s the mine. It’s been rumbling since this morning, sir, and I know we get a rumble now and then but it started getting more frequent, sir, and all the miners they’re leaving and say they won’t go back in. They’re sure it’s waking up, sir, and that the whole place will collapse. One of the deep passages, they say they found a hollow section and they’re sure that’s what’s causing it.”
For a moment Argan says nothing, scratches at his beard in thought. The mine has had plenty of scares like this over the years, so compared to the young man’s quivering nervousness he’s excessively cool.
“All right,” he allows finally, “show me.”
The path into the mines is deep.
Most of the miners by now have fled, but two guards still stay on either side of the entrance — uneasy sentries who would clearly rather be elsewhere. The tremors have slowed again, which does not surprise Argan, but he knows better than to dismiss it all out of hand.
He taps a small stone and sets it into a lantern, and it begins to glow softly as they descend deeper into the mine — throwing long shadows and helping in sections where torches have fallen from the wall or burnt out.
“It was this path,” his young guide is say, “everyone else was running but someone said a couple went back in deeper to see. Might be dead.”
His voice is soft, filled with dread, and Argan just huffs like it’s a joke.
“From what? Rock fall? Maybe. You scared of the dark, boy? If that dragon was awake we’d all be dead already.”
In the low light of the lantern shadows seem to skitter, the soft rumble that comes sends curtains of dust falling between struts.
Inwardly, Argan thinks anyone not afraid of the dark in this place is probably the person to keep an eye on.
They head deeper, re-lighting torches along the way and checking dislodged piles of rocks. A mine cart stands emptied, rocks piled beside it, and eventually they reach a partially uneven section where the young miner stops.
“It was here,” he says, and hesitantly reaches out to rest a hand on the wall. The section of mine is now solid. “It was here, I’m telling you it was here! Handen was here, and he was trying to break through a section of Blood Granite, and the walls was rumbling and then it began to collapse, but we could see behind it was hollow! Hollow and deep, and he was trying to see when the quakes came again, more than before, and everyone started to pack up, and —”
Argan reaches out to rest a hand on the boy’s shoulder. He looks a little ill, likely sleep deprived. Working long hours gets to plenty of miners, the dim light, the dusty air.
“We’ll get a shaper down here tomorrow, lad. You get some rest. If there’s anything down there, it’s being awful quiet right now.”
He casts another nervous glance around, then settles his gaze on Argan.
“I’m not lying,” he says finally. “I know plenty of people think this place is haunted by it, but I aint never seen a ghost. I did see this. We’ve been mining for years, sir. We gotta be getting close.”
It’s true. Something about the desperation in the boy’s eyes makes Argan uneasy for a moment. Yet he frowns and pushes it aside, swaps his lantern to the other hand and rests a hand on the miner’s back to steer him back up.
“We might be,” he agrees, “not this minute, though. The dragon can wait one more night.”