Haunted Mines of Frozen Time

In the western hills, below the growing height of the volcano Tupol, ancient quarries etch the slopes and lay bare the stone beneath. Near their bases, where erosion paints runnels through the scarce remaining dirt and channels the upslope waterfalls into a well-fed river, tunnels gape like burst cysts in the quarries’ walls. These tunnels eat into the hillsides, following the thick sheet of soft, mottled blue-green glass which miners first sought ever deeper under the old, cold lava flows which buried it.

The trees which grow on the abandoned mines’ tailings twist in odd shapes, their forms uncannily human. The forests below, fed by the river which leaches those tailings, echo those uncanny forms over and over again. The forests are well-known for being haunted.

The glass those long-dead miners sought still lingers in the hills, precious and coveted by archaeologists, alchemists, and artificers. It shivers in the cold, and shimmers with a light from within that waxes with the dying of the moon. In the deepest dark of the new moon, the glass is even said to whisper, growing louder and louder as it is drawn closer to a person’s heart.

The glass burns in a hot coal fire, and it screams as it does.

There are, at times, small inclusions in the glass; some seem to be air bubbles, others appear to be other unknown minerals, but all are distressingly evocative shapes. The best known is called The Baby’s Head, and is of appropriate size, held and displayed in the collection of Gigihoet the Generous. Most are smaller, more suggestive of teeth, or toes, or perhaps a small grasping hand.

There are places, in the mines, where the followed veins flow around obstacles. Sometimes those obstacles are recognizable: a brick pillar here, a glass-covered stretch of masonry there… sometimes even odd structures of metal that must have been wrought by intelligent hands. The glass spreads ever thinner the further into the hills one goes, like some great wave washed through and froze solid, in one instant, as a puddle of broken memories.

The people who have settled on the volcanic slopes above those quarries have long tried to dissuade others from venturing into the hills. They say that going below-ground there is heinous, and that taking the glass from the earth will bring about a new catastrophe. Their stories suggest floods, or fires, or perhaps even that Tupol will stand up from its place and stride across the land dripping lava as tears from its face.

Lovers of history have long treasured the glass for its odd inclusions, and the mines for their bizarre obstacles. Some have tried mapping the deposits of inclusions which have been recovered, or the locations of the obstacles which shaped the glass’ flow. None have been able to reconstruct things in their entirety, as too many of the original artifacts (inclusions and obstacles alike) have been removed and lost.

Some of those same historians warn that the local people living above the mines are correct. Some of them have very loudly proclaimed that the glass contains a doom which must not be brought to the surface. Still others contend that the glass was caused by a past cataclysm, and that failing to study it dooms everyone to repeating that terrible fate.

The towns which had grown up around the quarries are dead now. They have disintegrated with disuse, grown over by the same woods which many now avoid. Those settlements around the edges of those haunted woods further down into the valleys all require people to seal their houses tightly at night, and to check their shutters and doors regularly to ensure that they can close quickly. This is especially important when mists rise from the river and fill the valleys with oddly echoing fog.

Strange noises come from the woods at night, strongest around the new moon, and the beasts within often show a pronounced lack of fear around people. Some say that they will follow a person, or mob lone travelers and pull them deeper beneath the trees. Lone travelers are looked on with suspicion, and there are signs which the locals say mark someone as being Ridden—the result of being dragged into the woods and given over to the spirits which reside within.

Despite all this, many there still welcome the idea of digging in the hills. The common thinking is that, if all the glass were gone, the strange spirits would go with it. They do not, however, volunteer to do the mining themselves. Instead, they’re happy to sell the small chunks of glass which can still be found in the soil of the valley or which wash up on the banks of the broad river. This, they say, is the better part of valor.

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