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       Eldnium, p.32

           Enoch Pyle, Jr

  Landon followed the compass north of the castle, its little red needle pointing the way with small twitches of certainty. But after several hours of walking, he found night on the edge of the horizon, and he was yet to feel the air growing any colder. Follow the cold,I Ah’ni had said. But Landon found the air quite pleasant. The trees, however, seemed to be growing denser, and he was having a rough time keeping the quiver slung over his shoulder, as it was crafted to fit a grown man in full armor, not a fourteen-year old boy from the Sandlands of the planet Pana.

  Eventually, he reached a small clearing, where the trees opened up a bit and the ground flattened. Landon felt a bit of a chill, and noticed that the water in the compass had started to crystalize. Still, however, Landon didn’t feel colder, and the strange circumplex Ah’ni had described wasn’t in sight.

  Landon continued to follow the needle, noticing that it twitched ever stronger in the compass, though the water continued to crystalize in its case. As he neared the center of the clearing, he watched as the compass completely froze over, its outside becoming covered in frost, and the needle ceasing to twitch.

  He took a few more steps and lost his footing. He shouted as he fell, dropping the compass and barely grabbing the vegetation around him before slipping down into the pit that caught his feet. With effort, he pulled himself out, grunting and groaning. As he stood up, he found that he’d lost his compass and all but three of his arrows to the pit.

  “Great,” he said, frustrated. And then he realized that the clearing was more than a clearing, and he got on his hands and knees and started pulling the weeds and vines away from the mouth of the pit. Piece after piece he tossed over his shoulder, and he soon discovered that the pit was not just a pit. It was the mouth of a well, just like the one which birthed the Oracle, but this one had been constructed entirely of eldnium.

  “There you are,” he whispered to the well. “Now…are you alive or dead?”

  He didn’t feel good about jumping blindly into the well. The Oracle had made him feel comfortable back at The Fountains, but this well was cold and lifeless. He remembered Ah’ni saying something about a sacrifice being required, but Landon certainly couldn’t bring himself to kill something.

  And that’s when the metal began to grind against itself, different parts twisting in circles like clockwork, chunks moving upward and downward like hydraulics in some large machine. Landon backed off, moving to the edge of the circumplex, watching as the whole thing unfolded before him, blossoming like a massive, mechanical flower.

  “Not a sacrifice,” Landon whispered to himself. “Liquid. The compass must have cracked open at the bottom, melted, and activated the entrance.” Suddenly, Landon knew that he’d never find Ah’ni’s brother. The liquid powering the machine that day hadn’t been water—

  On that day, the machine had been powered by blood.

  Within minutes, the circumplex had transformed into a grand opening with stairs spiraling down its rim, leading into the dark. The entire thing was made of eldnium, which Landon found comforting because eldnium gave him an invulnerability unrivaled even by Tommy. What Landon wouldn’t realize until later, however, was that this well had been constructed by someone…or some thing. And that meant that what lay inside had already mastered manipulating eldnium.

  Unaware that the darkness beyond the surface would not be as welcoming as The Fountains, Landon secured the quiver of arrows, adjusted the bow on his shoulders, and started down the dark metal steps.

  Beneath the Dark

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