Shadows Tour Stop!

 

Everypeople, welcome to my tour stop for Shadows, also known as  book two of the Ashes Trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick!

If you have ever been to my blog before, you know that I was a fan of Ashes. No, a superfan. A fangirl extraordinaire. It gives me total Muppet arms to a degree that is almost sad. My review is here.

So naturally when I was asked if I wanted to participate in the tour for Shadows I was like GIVE ME THE BOOK. Only somewhat more politely, I hope.

Confession time, though: I’m in the middle of reading the book. I’ve had some personal issues over the past month, and while I could have just rushed through reading it I wanted to take my time with it.  If that sounds creepy I’m totally ok with it. I can tell you right now that I am enjoying the heck out of it. I’ve regulated myself to only reading it while I’m on the stationary bike or treadmill in order to force myself to exercise and IT’S WORKING. Obvs you don’t know me personally, but I can assure you that’s a book I’m enjoying.

HOWEVER. I am not going to let you all walk away empty handed. No way. And so I am very proud to present an excerpt from Shadows (and it’s a good one!).

 “Hold up,” Weller hissed. Hooking an arm through the ladder,

he dug out another rock and let it fall into the yawning darkness

below.

 

Tom counted off the seconds. This time, the splash came when

he got to six. “About two hundred feet.”

 

“Yeah.” Weller’s beam cut across the concrete below. Twenty

feet down, a grated metal platform and set of stairs leapt into view.

The platform fed into a wide bore, and Tom saw a glint of metal

track at the lip. In case there was any doubt, h l and 540 were

stenciled above the bore in dull yellow spray-paint, indicating that

the haul level was five hundred and forty feet from the surface.

“This is where we get off.”

 

“I thought you said it didn’t access the mine until further down.”

 

“Guess I was mistaken. Been a while and the map’s rough.”

 

Terrific. “Weller, we have to make it almost two hundred feet

deeper, then work our way west to get under that big rock room.

Can we do that from here?”

 

“Think so. Only we got another problem.”

  

Tom didn’t like the sound of that either. As they’d gotten deeper,

the shaft’s condition had worsened, with concrete chunked off and

bolts so loose they rattled. The shaft wasn’t uniformly smooth;

lengths of corroding iron, thick insulated wires, and pipes ran along

the sides. The rotting hulk of the original hoist’s support structure

jutted here and there in broken metal fangs. Dark heaps of what

looked like rat droppings but which Weller said was bat guano

pilled from the struts and around the metal collars that supported

the pipes at regular intervals. The air had changed, too, growing a

little warmer and so moist Tom felt its fingers drag over his face.

 

The air also smelled, and not just of stagnant water. The stink

was more like a rank, intermittent, very faint exhalation, as if the

mine had a terminal case of morning breath.

 

Luke’s light speared down from three rungs above Tom’s head.

“What is that? It’s like . . . rotten eggs.”

 

“Hydrogen sulfide. Swamp gas.” Weller paused, and when he

spoke again, Tom heard the first hint of worry. “I shoulda thought

of this. All this bat shit—it’s the perfect food. We’re only getting

a little whiff now and then, but the gas is heavier than air. The

further down we go, the more concentrated it’ll get. Then again,

maybe not. Might just be isolated pockets here and there.”

 

“Will it hurt us?” Tom asked.

 

“Gets too thick? Oh yeah. Kill ya like cyanide.”

 

Great. “What else?”

 

“It, ah, explodes. Like soda under pressure? Only it also catches

fire real easy. If a chamber breaks open when those charges go . . .”

 

We’ll be flash-fried. Fireballs traveled fast, eating oxygen and

 crisping everything in their path. If they had to shoot, the muzzle

flash might spark an explosion, too. Tom chewed at his lower lip.

“Will we know it if we get into trouble with the gas?”

 

He could hear Weller thinking about it. “Eyes and nose should

burn, and the smell will get worse, and then it’ll change, get almost

sweet. Other than that, I don’t know.”

 

“Do we go back?” Luke said.

 

Another long pause. “Look, I can’t guarantee, but . . . Luke, you

want out, there’s no shame in that.”

 

“No,” Luke said, a little unsteadily and too quickly. “I’ll be okay.

Besides, if there are three of us, it’ll go faster.”

 

“Well, remember I said we have another problem? I wasn’t talking

about the gas. Look down at the ladder.”

 

They all did, and in the bright ball of their combined light, Tom

saw what Weller meant.

 

Decades of corrosion had done their damage. The ladder

simply ended, broken off like the peg of a rotten tooth. Between

the break and the platform, there was a gap easily twenty feet wide,

and it wasn’t a straight drop either. The platform was secured in a

bolted bracket to the concrete and stuck out in a tongue, ending

ten feet to the left of the break.

 

“Oh boy,” Luke breathed.

 

“Way I see it,” Weller said, pulling off his coil of two-inch rope,

“one of us shimmies down, then swings over and ties off for the

other two.”

 

Tom glanced up at Luke. “When was the last time you hung

around a jungle gym?”

 

“How does ‘so long ago I don’t remember’ sound?” Luke said.

“I just hope I don’t piss myself.”

 

“Remind me to tell you about swinging across a gap of fifty

feet, thirty feet off the ground.”

 

“They make you do that in the Army?”

 

“Oh yeah. Then the smart guys figured out how to make a rope

bridge.” He looked down to see Weller already tying off rope to

several rungs above his head. “I can go first.”

 

“Better let me.” Weller gave the rope a final tug, then furled the

coil to which he’d tied off another, thinner rope. “One less old fart

to worry about if I don’t make it.”

 

“What’s the other rope for?” Luke asked.

 

“Watch and learn, boy.” Wrapping his hands around the rope,

Weller got a good footlock, trapping the rope under his right boot

and looping it over his left before easing off the ladder. The rope

let out a squeal as the knot tightened with the added weight, and

the iron squalled. There was the bounce and ping of rock against

rock and then a distant splash as the dislodged concrete found the

water. “Don’t come down until I’m across.”

 

Don’t worry about that. Tom’s breath hung in his chest as Weller

inched down, but the old man clearly knew what he was doing.

Getting up or down a rope wasn’t about arm strength; the legs

did most of the work. Five feet before his rope played out, Weller

tucked so his feet were nearly at the level of his chest.

 

“What’s he doing?” Luke asked.

 

“Grabbing the other rope.” Tom watched as Weller made a

one-handed snatch. Then, still hanging by his free hand, Weller

 used his weight as a pendulum, folding at the hips and bucking.

The rope complained: cree-cree, CREE-cree . . . The rope’s swing

widened, and then Weller was sweeping over the platform: once,

twice. On the third swing, he let go. His arc was perfect; the second

rope unspooled behind, and he landed on bent knees with a dull

bong, fell to his knees, then staggered to his feet.

 

“No sweat,” he said, but he sounded winded. “Hang on.” 

Weller unreeled the second rope, walked backward, then tied off

the end to a platform support.

 

“Whoa.” Luke made an impressed sound. “He made a bridge.”

 

“Use your hands and feet,” Weller said. His voice echoed in

the shaft. “It’s got enough give for a good lock. Just don’t look

down.”

 

Easier said than done. Tom was sweating by the time he was

midway, hugging the rope to his chest, nearly bent at the waist,

feet firmly locked around the rope. He did exactly the wrong thing

then, thinking about the water below and the drop—and felt cold

sweat lather his face. His arms trembled, and he thought, I’m going

to slip, and then I’ll fall—

 

“Tom,” Weller said, sharply. “Keep moving! Come on!”

 

That snapped him back. “Right,” he breathed, swallowing back

a ball of fear. He kept his eyes focused on the rope, tried not to

think how much further he had to go. He heard Weller scuffing

over metal, and then the old man was moving alongside, bracing

him up as Tom dropped onto the platform. “Thanks,” he said,

gulping back air that tasted, very faintly, of scrambled eggs. “I

froze.”

 

Weller clapped a hand to Tom’s shoulder. “Everyone freezes

once in a while.”

 

“Why are we going uphill?” Luke whispered as they moved in a

single file through the tunnel. “Don’t we need to go down?”

 

“Opening’s actually a little lower than the level you’ll be working,” 

Weller muttered. “But it’s easier to move skips—these big

metal buckets—down instead of up.”

 

“But we’ll still end up below the Chuckies, right?” Tom asked.

The tunnel was much smaller and tighter than he’d imagined.

He’d had visions of expansive, soaring ceilings; instead, a network

of wires and hoses ran only three feet overhead. He felt the weight

of all that rock and earth pressing down.

 

He noticed something else. They weren’t walking on dry earth

but splashing through puddles on the tracked floor. The air was

very moist, almost humid, and he could feel and hear the dull patter

of water as the ceiling wept onto their heads and shoulders. We’re

below the water table, but there must be enough air pressure to keep the

water from rising any further. Or this might only be an isolated pocket

and there was water all around them. Not a comforting thought.

Break through the wrong wall and they’d be caught in a flash flood.

 

Moving out of the tunnel, they hooked right. Tom immediately

felt the change, how the tunnel was higher and wider. Bits

and pieces of machinery were scattered here and there: a square

metal bin, lengths of metal protruding from rock, frayed nets

strung along the stone. His light caught a flash and sparkle, and he

heard Luke: “Whoa, is that gold?”

 

“No, that’s fool’s gold: pyrite. Real gold’s a little dull, and you

find it with a lot of quartz.” Weller trailed his light over the rock

and then pointed to a thick, milky-white buckle. “Right there’s a

bit. That kind of dirty orange stuff.”

 

“That’s it?” Luke sounded disappointed.

 

“People have died for less,” Weller said.

 

Tom opened his mouth to say something, but then he heard a

scratchy buzz. Not footsteps. This was like a hive of bees. Then,

from somewhere very far away came an airy scream.

 

Luke gasped. “What is that?”

 

“Voices,” Tom murmured. He felt the hairs rise on his neck.

 

“Chuckies don’t talk.”

 

“I don’t think they’re Chuckies.” Tom turned, straining to hear

above the thump of his heart and the crack and pop of damp rock

under his boots..

 

“You mean, normal people?”

 

“Yeah.” Protruding from the rock was the mouth of a yellow

metal duct. It reminded Tom of a ventilation system, but this opening

was very wide. Through it came a fitful, intermittent buzz: a

distant ebb and flow like the susurrant whisper of the sea stirring

stone. People talking. “What is this?”

 

“Ore chute. Coming from pretty far above us.” Weller paused,

then said, grimly, “Sounds like those little bastards got a fair

number of prisoners.”

 

“We need to do something.” Luke’s eyes were liquid. “Can’t we

help them?”

 

“We’re going to.” Weller jerked his head. “Come on.”

 

They found what they were looking for twelve minutes later,

which, Tom thought, was cutting it pretty close. Any further and

they could kiss any chance of getting out in time good-bye. Weller

had led them down a flight of gated stairs—first one level and then

another—and then they’d moved fast, ducking through corridors,

Luke stopping to chalk Xs to mark the turns.

 

The first room was smaller than he thought it would be, and

the pillars weren’t exactly uniform either, but mushroom-shaped,

dropping from the ceiling in a taper before spreading out in a

wide, rocky footprint. The layout reminded Tom a little of a very

large, very low-ceilinged basement held up with two-by-fours and

jackstraws. “This is it?”

 

“No. Worst stope’s further west and not exactly on the same

level. We just got to find it,” Weller said.

 

“I thought you knew where it was,” Tom said.

 

“It’s been a while.”

 

“You keep saying that.”

 

“We’ll find it.”

 

“Well, let’s do something.” Luke was unhooking his pack.

“Where do we start?”

 

Tom pointed. “Two charges right there next to that big pillar

just off center. Put ’em behind the main entrance here, out of

sight. That way, if anyone does smell something or come by—”

 

“They won’t see.” Luke nodded and moved off. “I’m on it.”

 

“I’m going to scout ahead,” Weller said.

 

“You should wait.” Tom had dropped to a knee and opened

 his bag, but now he stopped and looked up. “One of us should be

with you.”

 

Weller shook his head, then glanced over his shoulder and lowered

his voice. “This is taking too long. You see that kid’s eyes?

How they’re getting a little red? I think that’s the gas. You’re starting

to look like you need to sleep off a bender.”

 

“What?” Only when Weller mentioned it did Tom feel the

slight burn and tingle. “The smell isn’t worse.”

 

“It may not have to be, or maybe it kills your sense of smell

after a while,” Weller muttered. “How’s your breathing?”

 

“Fine, until you mentioned it.”

 

“Yeah, I’m getting tight, too.” Weller flicked a look at his watch.

“How much time you need?”

 

“No more than five minutes.”

 

“See you soon,” Weller said.

 

He’d already prepared the blasting caps, carefully crimping each

shell onto time fuses with SOG needle-nose pliers and then using

the C4 punch to core a hole for the detonators. He’d timed the

burn rate—forty-five seconds a foot—and under more normal

circumstances, this wasn’t necessarily a problem: just pull the

igniter and run like hell. But they didn’t exactly have a lot of open

space in a mine. For more elaborate preps, there was remote detonation.

But Tom’s only option had been to rig a time device.

 

“Done.” Luke dropped beside him.

 

“Okay, give me another couple seconds here.” He glanced at his

watch. Almost five minutes gone. “Here, hold this one straight out.

 

The rock’s pretty uneven.”  He waited until Luke got his hand around

the charge, then unspooled a few lengths of duct tape around the

legs, securing them to the stone. Uncoiling the time fuse, he used

tiny strips of duct tape to keep the waterproof cord from curling

on itself. “Let’s go.”

 

“Where’s Weller?” Luke asked at the entrance. He squatted and

scratched two large Xs in white chalk.

 

“Scouting ahead for that room he’s hot to blow.” Tom glanced

at his watch again. Seven minutes gone. “How many charges you

got left?”

 

“Eight.”

 

He had eleven, plus two blocks of C4 and time fuses, because

you just never knew. “Come on. If he’s marking the way, we can

catch up. Better than just waiting here.”

 

“Okay,” Luke said, then coughed. His nose was red as Rudolph’s,

and he looked as if he’d just staggered back from a serious bar-

crawl. “Chest feels funny.”

 

“You’re doing great. We’ll be done soon.” Tom trotted down

the tunnel with Luke on his heels. His lungs burned with the effort,

and he coughed, and thought, Maybe ten, fifteen more minutes; then

we got to get out no matter what. To his right, he spotted stairs, an

X chalked low on the wall, and a down arrow. The stairs sounded

too loud, their footfalls ringing and echoing against the rock. At

the bottom, Weller had chalked a small, left-facing arrow. We’re

moving either west or south. Tom pictured the terrain overhead. This

would put them closer to the decline ramp and further from the

first set of charges. They would have ten minutes max before the

 first charges went off. By then, they had to be well on their way

toward the shaft. Just hope we have ti—

 

“Whoa, whoa,” Luke hissed, and then slowed down. “You hear

that?”

 

Tom had been so focused he hadn’t noticed, but now he did

hear: a grunt and then a harsh gasp, the scrabble of feet over rock.

 

Weller.

 

He darted down the hall, running on the balls of his feet, then

grabbed Luke before the boy could spurt ahead. Together, they

flattened against a rock wall just left of another X—

 

In time to hear Weller groan.

 

Guys, do yourselves a big favor and pick up this book immediately!

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