Introducing a New Free Serial
Breaking Ground is a Darkeningstone novella – it's a standalone book: a bonus story. I'm presenting it here in weekly parts. Each part on this site is tagged ‘breaking ground' so you can find all the published episodes easily. I'll add a link at the end of this episode. I hope you enjoy it.
Cleofan closed his eyes and walked across the ledge until the edge was only a heartbeat away. Still, he did not hesitate. He stepped forward, feeling the change in the air, sensing the void beyond the brink. There.
He stood still, his toes curling to grip the edge. The soft, weatherworn stone crumbled beneath his feet, sending a shower of grit and gravel rattling and bouncing down the rock face. He tilted his head, listening until the last echoes faded away. The silence was almost perfect.
Cleofan opened his eyes and turned his head, scanning the pit below. His gaze flitted from shadow to shadow, lingering on the twisted trunk of a fallen tree, the cool darkness behind a boulder. Hiding places.
He waited. The breeze caught his long, straggly hair, whipping it in front of his face. He took a deep breath, and sighed. “I'm alone,” he whispered. “Alone.”
For a moment, he remembered his first time in the pit, ten long years ago. He hadn't wanted to come. “Go and help the men fetch stone,” his wife had said, “you must be good for something.” He'd trailed along behind the other men, trying to ignore their backward glances, their smirks. But he'd noticed how the men had changed as they'd neared the pit. Their jokes and jibes had faded away to low muttering, and they'd stopped gawping at Cleofan. Instead, they'd glanced nervously from side to side, watching the shadows. They'd trudged across the pit in silence, their heads twitching at every sound.
Everyone in the village knew the pit belonged to the Shades. In the daylight, they dared to take the Shades' stone to build their homes. But they always worked as quickly as they could, loading up their wooden litters and dragging their heavy harvest away before the sun dipped too low. Only a fool would stay in the pit as darkness fell.
Cleofan shuddered at the memory of that day. In grim silence the men had ripped chunks of stone from the rock face with their clumsy tools of wood and sharpened horn, glaring at Cleofan's ham-fisted efforts to help. At least they hadn't noticed when he'd slipped away. And when he'd re-joined them later, no one had bothered to ask Cleofan where he'd been.
Now he smiled, remembering the impulse to explore, the thrill of climbing the rock face, his astonishment at finding the ledge – his ledge. The Shades had brought him here. They had shown him so much. And in return, he'd kept their secret. He'd never told anyone about the ledge, never hinted at what it held. No one, not even his wife, knew where he went when he walked out alone. Cleofan frowned and set his jaw. She complained each time he came home empty handed, but he knew the truth. He did not bring home dead meat, but something more valuable than she could ever understand. You foolish woman, he thought. You're just like the others.
The whole village was no better than a bunch of infants: frightened of the dark, afraid of the unknown, the unseen. They built their little huts with stone plundered from this sacred place and dreamed of nothing more than a full belly and a warm fire.
They could never see the pit as he saw it. To Cleofan it was a place of peace and strength, a place of power. There was nothing to fear here for those who would listen to the Shades – for those who understood. He had treated the Shades with respect, and they had shown him their greatest secret.
Cleofan turned away from the pit and looked toward the Darkeningstone. It called to him, whispered in his thoughts. And suddenly he knew: the time was coming. The time for change.
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