Just finished another very short story (701 words) in the same world I’ve been writing in. It’s fun, and always surprisingly difficult. MOBI (Kindle) version here.
Kyle drove the pickaxe into the wall. It tossed up a few sparks and jarred his arms. He was tired, but he was determined to earn his silver piece for the day. Two more cartloads of rock and he was done. Just two more.
He lifted the axe high and sent it into the rock. It thudded this time instead of sparking, and he grinned. A soft spot. He shrugged off the pain and exhaustion, raised the axe and began raining down blows upon the stone. Chips flew and a moment later a large chunk tumbled from the rock wall and rolled to a stop at his feet.
Kyle tossed the pickaxe to one side and bent to lift the boulder into his cart. As he did, he caught a glint in the torchlight. His eyes narrowed and he shuffled over to the light with the stone.
It was a ruby.
Kyle felt his blood pounding in his ears. He looked around quickly, although he knew there was no one nearby. He was one of the deepest miners in the Company, and the handful of other men down here were in their own, distant tunnels.
Carefully, he lowered the rock to the floor of the tunnel and grabbed the torch. He passed it back and forth over the surface of the stone, trying to decide how large the ruby was. He decided it might be a couple of centimetres across, but it was hard to tell.
He reached across and retrieved his pickaxe. Sitting next to the boulder he started to tap away at the grey rock surrounding the gem, trying to uncover it further. As he chipped away the dull stone, he decided that the ruby was bigger than he had originally thought, perhaps four centimetres along its length and three centimetres across. There was no way to know how deep into the rock it burrowed in the dim light.
He spent an hour or more carving the prize from the stone, careful not to damage it in any way. The edges were rough, but rubies were among the most prized gems for their ability to Warm when Infused, and even a chip that came from cutting the ruby would be worth more than his daily silver.
It wasn’t until he had broken away all he dared that he realized the problem. The ruby was far too large. There was no way he would be able to smuggle a gem of this size out of the mine; the Company searched all of their employees thoroughly as they left each day. He had hidden gems to get them past the Company before, but they were just tiny pebbles. This rock was massive. If he could get it safely out of the mine and find a buyer, he wouldn’t have to work again for years, perhaps ever.
Kyle frowned, thinking hard. He knew he should have come out with a cartload of rock already; the Company was almost certainly getting concerned already. Or suspicious, more likely. He had to move quickly, or someone would come looking for him.
He made up his mind. He dropped down at the end of his tunnel and wedged the priceless ruby into a cleft in the rock. Shaking his head in disbelief, he stood, raised his pickaxe again and brought it down hard in the very centre of the gem.
It shattered, tiny fragments showering the miner, the walls, the floor. Kyle dropped the ax and fell to his knees, gathering up the smallest pieces of the red stone and putting them in his mouth. He swallowed hard, forcing them down with water from his small waterskin, wincing as the sharp edges scraped past his throat. He smashed the largest of the remaining pieces again, and swallowed the smaller treasures that resulted. Again and again he repeated this, until his mouth was raw and bleeding, and he could find no more rubies on the floor.
He gathered up all of the worthless rocks he could find to cover the treasure in the cart, rinsed his mouth out with the last of his water, and whistled tunelessly as he pushed the heavy load back up the tunnel.