Nocturnes – 02

There was a rapid knock on the door. The noise rattled through the room with such intensity that it jolted the foreman awake from his boredom-induced—and alcohol assisted—stupor. But before he could rise to his feet, Ignatius was already at the door.

“Do you have the results?” He asked before he even had the door fully open.

A burly figure named Balla stood on the other side. Balla was a frighteningly large man—even compared to the other well-built and stocky miners of Anchorhead—with shoulders that spanned the width of the door frame, and with callus hardened hands that were of a size that they could easily wrap around a person’s face; and he stood at a height that forced him to crouch slightly while stepping into the room as to not hit his head.

His leather apron, which was big enough to fit two adults, dripped soot and grime onto the floor as he quickly addressed both men, before responding to Ignatius.

“The excavation unit has only just arrived,” Balla said with urgency, his deep and powerful voice cracking as he spoke.

“Go on,” Ignatius responded, standing impatiently near his desk.

“And the moment I saw what they uncovered; I came here to tell you in person.”

“Yes, yes, and…”

“…And at first, I couldn’t believe it. I was certain there must have been some mistake—”

“—Out with it, man! Do you have the results or not?”

Balla fell silent. He began to fidget with something in his hand, and he looked down at it with wide and wild eyes, seemingly hesitant to open his palm. But, after a deep breath, he eventually revealed what he held so tightly.

Clamped between his meaty fingers was a small glass vial; and within the vial swirled a silver, metallic-like liquid that glistened on its own accord; and it moved in such a way that it appeared to be phobic of any surface, skimming against the glass surface like ice upon the ice.

The foreman slowly rose to his feet and cautiously moved towards the vial, examining it with eyes of disbelief.

“Is that…” he began to ask.

“Azoth,” Ignatius answered. “Quick, give it here,” and he snatched the glass vial out of Balla’s grasp; clasping it with such intensity that the foreman worried it might shatter. Ignatius was immediately engrossed with the viscous liquid, and he glared at it with a perverse fascination; twisting and turning the vial between his fingertips, studying every facet of its movements while it slid greasily within the glass—never parting, always remaining as one cohesive blob of silver.

“Such purity,” Ignatius eventually muttered, “This is Azoth in its most veritable form. It’s…exquisite…I can barely stand to let go of it.”

“But it’s already liquid,” the foreman chimed in, equally enamoured with the glass vial and the contents within, “How is that possible?”

“Azoth, as you know it, is…old,” Ignatius replied, “Much older than you and I, or perhaps even us as a species. It settles into the ground, degrades and solidifies over time into its crystalline form that we typically excavate. No, this—this is fresh from the source, and at its most potent.” He began pacing back and forth with feverish excitement, “Do you know what this means? If we can find this source, we will return to Roanoke city as men among men and they will herald our names for generations to come!” He stopped and faced Balla who, unlike the foreman, did not share in Ignatius’s excitement.

“What is the matter with you?” Ignatius asked, “Do you not understand the significance of this? If we are successful—you will never again have to work a day in your life. Nor will your children, or your children’s children, and so forth.”

“This is extraordinary, do not get me wrong,” Balla replied, still speaking with an anxious urgency. He reached deep into the pouch on his leather apron and pulled out a series of parchments, “But when we first surveyed these lands,” he continued, “There was no evidence of any heavy substance, of any kind, at these depths.”

“Perhaps the calculations were incorrect,” the foreman said dismissively.

“Impossible,” Ignatius retorted, “For they are my calculations. Let me see those papers,” and he, as before, snatched them out of Balla’s hands, and settled himself back at his desk—where he then began to intensely scrutinize each and every parchment.

“These gas veins, for the last five years, have been empty,” Balla said, “That is, up until three weeks ago when we first detected something. As you can see, it was a minuscule change—too small to notice… But it is there.” He reached into his pouch once more and took out a small shred of parchment, which he then handed to Ignatius. “Here are today’s results.”

Ignatius studied the parchment—quickly scribbled his own calculations—read the parchment again, and then leaned deep into his chair and uttered, “The Azoth is rising. Exponentially so.”

Silence befell the room, as did the realisation that danger was crawling up from beneath them. And, at that moment, no man in the room felt safe on the ground they stood upon.

He turned to the foreman and asked, “What is the status of the blowback preventer?”

“It was never installed, sir,” the foreman replied, “You said it was not needed and that you did not want to… Waste time, unnecessarily.”

“Then halt all mining and get the rig offline. Ensure that we dig no further towards the gas vein.”

“Considering the length of time it will take to safely shut down the drill without blowing the whole place, we will have already pierced the gas vein.”

“I see.”

A strange calmness overcame Ignatius, and he began to meticulously collect his parchments off from the desk. Then, without acting in a way that would bring any cause for concern, he rose to his feet and made his way to a narrow wardrobe where he then took out from within a series of furs and leather overalls, which he quickly draped over his body.

“Where are you going?” The foreman asked, “What are we going to do?”

“I’m leaving,” Ignatius replied, “And if you wish to live, then it will be in your best interest to do so as well.”