Written: 01/06/2015
Revised: 10/03/2019
Prompt: There are no stars, no sun in the sky. Fire invisibly produces heat. Light is a very rare element which can be found buried in the earth. The ancient art of extraction is perilous and almost lost. You are one of the last of the lightminers.

I anchored myself to the cliff face and leaned back into the void. Reaching for my sonic whistle, I turned my head to the emptiness behind me and gave a soft blow. The sound echoed off the sheer rock walls of the cylindrical chasm surrounding me, and from its echo I could ‘see’ where I was. There seemed to be solid ground not too far below, so I loosened my anchor and rappelled the remaining few meters.

My boots kicked up a small cloud of dust as I landed. I hammered another anchor into the ground, tied off my rope, and loosened my harness a bit before blowing into my whistle. A large, empty, cavernous expanse extended all around me, littered here and there by piles of stone and enormous stalactites. I felt my way along the uneven floor, careful not to disturb any loose structures. I cornered a wide stalagmite and came across an opening in the cavern wall. Beyond, I could hear drops of water splash into a shallow pool.

When I entered the side passage, my eyes suddenly burned beneath my eyelids and a bolt of piercing energy seemed to strike the very center of my mind. I shielded my face, turned away, and blew my whistle.

Dangling from the low ceiling of this small alcove were thousands upon thousands of tiny wriggling worm-like creatures tangled in a massive network of fine webbing. They were coated in small bubbles of fluid that slowly accumulated, fell, and landed in a pool on the ground. As I slowly lowered my arm, I noticed the darkness I had grown so accustomed to gradually vanish, replaced by a bright and luminous blue glow. I slowly opened my eyes to a blur of light, dancing and throbbing in front of me.

As my eyes adjusted, I stood amazed at the sight before me. The alcove was painted in a deep blue glow given off by the countless worms dangling from the ceiling. Each creature held pearls of white light that squirmed up and down their bodies like millions of moving stars. As each creature moved, so too did its bio-luminescence, creating a shimmering wall of light across the roof of the cavern. Each drop of water caused light to ripple and bounce across the surface of the pool and spread to the far reaches of the alcove.

The tangled web created a contrast of sharp white lines against the dark stone behind it. I took off my glove, held out my hand and saw for the first time the intricate patterns of skin under pure light. I noticed the pits and callouses that I was so accustomed to feeling from years of climbing, while the complexion stood out as an almost translucent paleness. My body, which looked so odd in the glow of natural light, was a tangle of shades and colors, from the black bands of the harness to the brown bundle of rope dangling off my backpack. The fabric of my clothes created oceanic waves beneath the stark tightness of the harness’ bands, while my arms and legs seemed almost luminescent in comparison.

After spending some time in admiration, I started collecting. I bundled as many of the worms as I could in jars, but left most of them behind. I’ll admit I made this decision not out of respect or to maintain their population, but because I wanted to keep the beauty of this place intact. This was going to become my own personal retreat whenever I grew weary of darkness.

I stepped out of the alcove back into the main cavern and raised the jar above my head. Waves of light washed over the stone, bringing the sharp edges and sheer walls to life. Metals and minerals embedded in the stone gleamed as I passed by as if winking at me before sparking out of existence. I stumbled through this strange and alien landscape for some time before getting the idea to blow my whistle. The bland, wavy echoes were nothing in comparison to the sharp, vivid illusions that met my eyes, and so I left the whistle behind. It was eagerly swallowed by the darkness.

I affixed myself to the rope and began the long trip back up. With the worms lighting the way, it promised to be a hell of an ascent.