Time passed swiftly in the mines. Darkness filled the tunnels, broken only by the faint light thrown off by his team's lantern. It offered them just enough light to work by and little more. The passage of time was marked only by the whistles of the work bells. They echoed faintly through the tunnels, barely audible this deep, but he always recognized them. His entire life seemed to be defined by whistles.
The rumbling started seconds after the midday whistle. At first he thought it was just his stomach, but then it grew louder.
One of his fellow miners, Tomas, looked up toward the ceiling as loose stones clattered to the floor. First just one or two, and then more, falling like rain around them.
Someone shouted. The men dropped their pickaxes.
A falling stone knocked the lantern over. It flared once, brightly, before going out, enough to illuminate the cracks crawling up the tunnel walls.
Screams echoed through the mine. More and more voices rose to join the chorus, but not Eli's. He was too afraid to scream.
Darkness engulfed them. He knew, logically, that he should move. He should be running, like the others, toward the surface, toward air and safety, but his feet wouldn't move. His head hurt. There was a buzzing in his head, like a thousand bees. It drowned out the sound of the earth trembling around them.
The tunnels were crumbling. Every miner dreaded the day it would happen to them, but Eli had been fortunate enough that it'd never happened in the five years he'd been working the mines. Until now. Men would die.
Eli was going to die in the mines, just like his father had, and then his family would be left alone with no one to look out for them. His mother wouldn't take it well. There was a good chance the shock would kill her.
He couldn't let that happen. He couldn't die.
A voice whispered in the darkness, too low to make out, but strangely familiar. The stranger's words from that morning echoed through his head. Eli was tempted to try calling Eramus' name, but he hesitated. It was a stupid idea. It wouldn't work.
There was commotion all around him. Someone bumped into him, knocking him to his knees. Eli hit the ground hard.
He had no other choice.
"Eramus." He whispered the name like a prayer.
Darkness enveloped him like a thick wool blanket. He gasped and breathed in a substance that wasn't quite air. It was too thick, too acrid. It tasted like ash and sulfur. He could feel it inside of him, spreading out from his lungs like he was burning from the inside out. It coiled in his stomach, settling like a lead weight there while his limbs turned numb. Something shifted deep within him. He couldn't breathe, couldn't move, couldn't think. He felt weak and nauseous and dizzy.
Eli fell forward. His own weight pressed his palms flat against the stone. It was cool to the touch, soothing compared to the heat burning in his core. His head spun.
His awareness expanded, spreading out beyond his self through the darkness. He felt the people moving around him, felt their panic and their terror. He felt the air on his skin, thin this far down.
Most of all, he felt the earth. It was angry, violently angry. The darkness lifted, but he was only distantly aware of it. Green light filled the corners of his vision. He knew that should bother him, but it was only a distant concern.
The earth was moving and it should not. There was a presence inside his head, something not him, and it showed him how to look deep into the earth, how to feel the rock as if it were an extension of his body. The tunnels were just hollows inside of him, empty spaces, some of which had collapsed, and he felt the panic of the miners trapped there like it was part of him.
Calm, the familiar voice said, not in his ears but in his head. He shivered. Breathe. Be calm. Focus.