- I don't usually write prologues. This one is intended to invoke questions, not answer them.
- Rotating 3rd limited, this prologue using Patrick as the POV character.
“Another centimeter in, one meter by one meter,” Patrick instructed.
Dead shaft, my ass, he thought.
The pearlescent silver cermet digger did not reply. As long as Patrick could remember, only one of the cube-shaped machines could still speak and the council certainly wasn’t going to waste it on a shaft that had been pronounced dead long ago, but Patrick heard and felt the call from inside the warm sandstone. It vibrated whenever he stroked it, thrumming under his fingertips, alive. No one else felt it.
The cube floated to within a hand's breadth of the sandstone and potch wall, the air beneath it shimmering and distorted. The cutter-light deployed and the wall crumbled in neat lines. The digger skimmed the wall for a meter, dropped a few centimeters, then moved back the other way. Patrick went to work clearing the overburden from the floor of the mineshaft. None of it looked remotely promising. Milky grey potch and sandstone the color of a summer sunset. He shoveled it into a wheelbarrow, rolled it to a wide spot in the shaft and dumped it. The cube returned to its original position and waited. A second and third pass increased to two meters square revealed the same dead stone.
On the fourth pass, two rows down, an iridescent glint of deep blue and green glimmered high on the wall. Black opal.
“Stop,” Patrick commanded.
The digger’s light dimmed and it moved away from the wall.
Patrick reached up to the eldritch glimmer and was knocked back onto his ass, a powerful jolt running up his arm to the elbow, leaving half his fingers numb.
“Fuck me,” whispered Patrick, picking himself up from the floor and swatting the dust from his trousers. “Re-center on active find. Half a centimeter deeper and two centimeters out from each side of the color band,” he instructed the digger. “Go slow,” he added.
He’d expected a good zap but nothing like the blow he’d received. The opal in the wall had to be big.
The sandstone fell way in a fine, dusty cascade. The band of color was now a good four centimeters wide and two centimeters high at its thickest point.
“One millimeter expanding concentric rings. Very slow.” Patrick palmed the leather sack at his neck that concealed his own fire opal throbbing in irritation at the intrusion from the raw, unaligned brute in the wall.
“Easy, boy,” Patrick whispered. “No one’s taking your place.”
His fire opal projected a swirling red glyph of doubt in the air before him.
“Don’t be so cantankerous. That bruiser’s a brain scrambler. Couldn’t pair with that if I tried.” He watched as the digger light went meticulously around and around the stone.
Patrick’s stone had led him here, had told him there was a living seam, but a mass of unshielded black opal as big as what the digger was revealing from the wall should have had half the town in distress, but not a peep from anyone. That was the part that defied explanation.
No point in playing detective right now. The size of the stone had increased to almost five centimeters wide and half as high. The cutter light ripped shifting reflections and color play from the stone, blazing in deep niobium shades of blue, green, and purple so dark it was almost black.
“What a beauty,” said Patrick.
The glyph his stone projected said it was unimpressed.
“We’ve all got our talents, buddy,” Patrick reassured. “And finding what don’t wanna’ be found is clearly one of yours.”
A pulse of satisfaction resonated from the leather sack at Patrick’s neck, out through his bones. His stone could be a jealous little bugger, though it had little reason to be. There were only two others in the Ridge paired with fire opals and Patrick’s was the largest of the three, though common parlance said size was of no matter.
“That’s always what little guys say,” mumbled Patrick.
The digger flipped out its support plate and carefully slid it under the piece of opal extruding itself from the wall. It had the typical flattened dome shape, though it was rough and the back end was still shrouded in matrix. Diggers are not lapidaries and the beast would still need work. When the stone was freed and fell onto the plate, Patrick produced a heavy leather bag and the digger dutifully tipped the glowing stone inside.
“Right. Let's get you back. Should be a memorable reception.”