art by Stephen James Kiniry
Wider and Deeper
by Carma Lynn Park
The sorcerer was young, still with a downy beard, his power small and flickering. He set his mind to obtaining greater strength, and after much study he decided to lure the creature of living darkness, whose energies he could then tap. The creature would need a pit, deeper than the lowest basement of his castle, deeper than the copper mines of the Frostshadow Mountain, deeper than the Everquiet Caves. Because blood and fear would stoke the creature's life force and swell its energies, supplying it with victims would give him even greater power.
His mouth stretched in a smile as a plan struck him, and he congratulated himself on his cleverness.
The first step was to capture a quiet, modest animal that snuffled among the leaves on the forest floor. He carved its incisors to chisel the earth, widened its paws to shovel the loosened dirt, and thickened its shoulders with muscle. He modified as many of the animals as he could trap, and set them to work.
They dented the earth, eating tree roots as they went. The sorcerer forced them to go deeper, and hunger led them to eat beetles and worms and other crawling things. Deeper, below the organic layer. Many starved and died until some were born that could subsist on moist, crumbling dirt. They even came to like it; each layer touched the tongue with its own mineral tang. They gnawed stones, each of which had a texture smooth or grainy, a taste sweet or salt.
Wider, deeper. They learned to work together to dig into the earth and to haul the clumps away. Squeaks and grunts shaded into utterances with complexities of sound and meaning.
The pit dived so deep that no light fingered the bottom, and the living darkness prowled in. The sorcerer felt the dark's power rise within him, and his mouth stretched into a grimacing smile, his teeth black and rotting, his beard scraping his collarbones.
The living darkness hunted the diggers, melted their flesh, and slurped their blood, breaking bones to lick up the marrow. It gorged and grew. Fear entered the tales the diggers told before sleeping. The sorcerer's power flared within him, and he rejoiced in it, smiting one land after another with lightning and fire, bringing them under his fist.
Eventually, he returned to the pit and ordered the digging to stop. But digging was what the diggers were made for--diggers dig, each generation told the next--and they continued their delving into the earth. No matter, he thought. What harm could it do him?