Knock Knock

Join Sister Ruth as she and her squad descend into Gladill’s Mine 4 to kill the Beast that has caused the death of several Miners.  Written in 17 A.S.




It was a crisp winter morning when we approached Mine 4, the richest and deepest coal mine in Gladill’s history. Our squad consisted of myself, Brother Samuel, Sister Anna, Brother Thomas, and Sister Beatrice, our leader. All of us wore the standard coarse padded jacket and trousers with helmet and cuirass, but – eschewing our usual firearms and sabres – we were armed with small axes, large daggers, and crossbows.


For the sake of our Hunt, Mine 4 had been ordered vacant. To their credit, the Miners obeyed, but they did not entirely vacate the premises, instead gathering near the mine’s entrance to watch. Some of them wished us luck or even bid us retreat as we passed, warning us about the cunning of the so-called Knockers. None of them intervened, however, when we entered the sturdy wooden building sat atop the mine.


Inside, we found Master Willis, the local Miner overseeing the exploitation of Mine 4. He was a burly fellow, with shovel-like hands covered in scars and calluses showing he learnt the way of the mine down in its depths. He firmly shook Beatrice’s hand, acknowledged the rest of us with a nod, and beckoned us towards the elevator. Several strong souls stood ready to guide us down in a two-tiered cage using a system of ropes and pulleys.


In a gruff and grating voice, Master Willis explained briefly how we would be lowered into the mine, as well as its general layout – despite no doubt being the one who had provided Beatrice with the schematics she had made us memorise. I won’t relay his description here, if for no other reason than that the man used so much specialised jargon that it would undoubtedly cause severe confusion. Suffice to say that he went beyond the call of duty to impress upon us that the mine was a stifling network of interconnected shafts of wildly varying temperature, each of them liable to shift, spew noxious gases, or outright collapse. It was not a reassuring description, but I appreciated his sense of duty nonetheless.


More to the point, Master Willis provided us each with a safety lamp capable of burning in air laden with flammable gases without putting its flame to it. He also took time to confirm that we had no firearms on us, emphasising that even if we could be certain there was no gas, the echo could still harm our ears. Beatrice assured him that we had not a cartridge of gunpowder between us, nor even a sabre that could spark on a rock in its curving swing. With that, Master Willis was satisfied his part was fulfilled, let us into the cage, and gave his people the sign to begin to lower us.


The ropes creaked as we were lowered into the earth, the air chilling as we sank. Beatrice bid us check our armour, which we all swiftly did. She then ordered us to load our crossbows, and we each placed our levers, hauled back, and placed a bolt. The Starsteel tips glittered in the light of the safety lamps. Finally, she told us to ensure we had one melee weapon at the ready, keeping the other secured.


As we went deeper, I became aware of the sense that the earth was bearing down on me, encroaching upon me until my existence had shrunk to the cage I stood in and the shaft I travelled through. I believe the others felt it too, as silence descended upon us as we ourselves descended. Even Thomas – usually ready with some alleviating quip as we venture into the maw of a Beast – was silent, eyeing the dark expanse of soil slipping past us fraught with tension.


Thankfully, when we reached the bottom of the shaft, Beatrice took a moment to aim our minds at the work ahead by reiterating our plan. The sounds of which the Miners spoke had begun as the mine had reached beyond its second layer, the first collapses had occurred beyond the third, and the first victims had fallen down here, in the first tunnel beyond the fourth. Moreover, Master Willis had informed her that some Miners had chanced upon existing cavities in the earth, increasing in frequency as they dug deeper. This led Beatrice to the conclusion that whatever we were hunting had not snuck into the mine, but had always been there, hidden beneath the earth by the Dark Ones to wait for Humanity to reach down to it. Thus, rather than scour the mine in hopes of tracking down the Beast, we would let it come to us by doing the one thing it apparently refused to let us: dig deeper.


Beatrice hauled open the cage and ushered us out, pointedly leaving open the door. In case anything went wrong, she said, we were to retreat to the cage and ring its bell thrice. This would tell Master Willis’s crew they were to hoist us back up.


We nodded our understanding and proceeded into the sole tunnel this deep into the mine: the one where the Miners died. Thomas and I went up front, crossbows propped up on our off-arms so that we could continue to hold our lamps. Beatrice went close behind, raising her lamp to cast its light as deeply into the tunnel as possible, her crossbow aimed away from us. Samuel and Anna formed up the rear, crossbows aimed down the way we came. We moved in silence, venturing deeper and deeper into the dark, feeling the temperature rise as we removed ourselves from the entry shaft. Then we heard it, putting us all to an immediate stop. It was a knocking sound, not unlike the groaning of strained timber. Samuel suggested it had been exactly that, but Beatrice was unconvinced, bidding us proceed more slowly.


However, it wasn’t long until we reached the former cave-in. The ceiling was once again supported, but the site had clearly been left in a hurry, the Miners leaving behind pickaxes, shovels, and even lamps – by now off course well burnt-out. Amongst the Miners’ detritus lay the remains of those who had perished with the collapse, their gnawed and broken bones jutting out at awful angles, the ripe smell of their remaining flesh clawing at the air.


Under Beatrice’s instruction, Thomas and I disarmed our crossbows, set down our lamps, and picked up the Miners’ tools. With grim determination, we set to work, hewing at the earth as if we were trying to expand the tunnel. We chipped, chipped, chipped away, beading sweat running down my back in the stifling heat. Then we heard that sound again. Knocking, groaning, rumbling. Samuel remarked that it definitely did not come from the timber that time.


Then the ceiling cracked.


I whipped around, tossing my pickaxe in exchange for my Starsteel axe. The crack ran across from where Samuel was standing. He staggered. Anna reached for him just as the earth gave, bearing down on Samuel as she tried to pull him away. The entire tunnel rumbled, and I was frozen in place. Thunderous noise washed over us, buffeting me against the rockface I had been hacking at while I instinctively protected my face.


When I looked up, I saw that we were trapped, the tunnel turned into a cave without entrance. Anna coughed and hacked and called out to Samuel. I didn’t see him. Horror settled in my gut as Anna began to claw at the crumpled earth, calling out again and again for Samuel. Thomas rushed over with a Miner’s shovel. I shook myself, was about to rise, and then there was another series of knocks. We stalled, even Thomas and Anna. Beatrice shouted for us to scatter and – ingrained by our training – we did. This time, however, there was no cracking collapse. Instead, there were many sudden expulsions of rock, coal, and earth, and from them crawled not one but half a dozen Beasts.


They were stout things, like badgers grown three times their size, moving close to the ground. Their legs were splayed to the side, with broad, almost hand-like paws sporting thick, cracked, curling claws. They had no eyes, but I felt they knew exactly where we all were, their snouts aiming at us with wriggling, almost tentacle-like appendages.


The Knockers.


One of them dropped in from the ceiling, its stonelike weight bearing down on me and forcing me to my knees. It opened its maw, showing an uneven row of slablike teeth and clamping down on my helmet. I swung into it with my axe – the Starsteel biting down and eliciting a screech – but its jaws did not unlatch and I felt its claws ripping and tearing through the sleeves of my jacket. I dropped the axe, unlatching and unsheathing my dagger instead, and began to stab. I came at it from all angles, thrusting and gutting and tearing. The Knocker struggled and shifted until finally its maw unhinged and it dropped sluggishly away.


My helmet was completely bent, blocking my sight. I tore at the strap, pulling it away and feeling a sudden release of pressure as the deformed metal lifted from my scalp. Warm wetness trickled down to my jaw, but I had worse concerns. Samuel’s lamp had been lost under the collapse, and Beatrice’s, Anna’s and mine had been pushed over and crushed in the attack. By Thomas’s light alone did I see my Siblings’ struggle.


One Knocker lay dead across from Beatrice, an expertly shot bolt embedded in its head. Beatrice herself sat propped up against the tunnel wall, struggling to remove the maw of a second dead Beast – her axe in its ravaged back – from around her battered shin.


Thomas, his crossbow discarded next to mine from when we began to dig, had apparently hurled his own axe into a third Knocker’s side. Panicking, it had tried to retreat, wrenching the weapon through its flank as it entered a crack in the wall and gutting itself in its flight. Now, Thomas was in a stand-off with the fourth and fifth Beasts, the three of them taking swipes at each other from the edges of their reaches.


I wondered why Anna wasn’t helping Thomas and I looked over to where I last saw her. She lay on the tunnel floor, her shoulder a pulped ruin. Blood was soaking through her jacket and leaking out in a dark and filthy puddle.


Calling on my years of training, I managed to stop the wave of sorrow flowing through my chest and quickly snatched up my axe. I bounded through the twilit cavern, leaping and striking down on one of the Knockers Thomas was fighting. It screeched as the blade plunged into its back, writhing around and snapping its maw at me, which I but barely dodged. The other Beast turned, startled, giving Thomas the opening he needed. He rushed it, driving his dagger at it, but it twisted and bit down on his forearm as he thrust into its shoulder. Thomas groaned, and began punching the Knocker with his off hand to no avail. I knew I had to help him and wrenched my axe out of the Knocker I was still fighting, kicking it away as best I could and lunging for the Beast that was biting Thomas, striking it in the head. The Knocker spasmed and became still, releasing Thomas’s arm, but no sooner was he free then I felt a powerful maw clamp down on my ankle. I yelped, but Thomas didn’t hesitate, jumping over me and crashing onto the final Knocker. He rammed his dagger down, stabbing the Beast through its spine. With a shudder, it let go of my leg.


The Beasts were dead.