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Stuck between a rock and… more rocks


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Prologue

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Chapter 1: The Search Party

Monday, 24 July 2023, around 9:30PM

Bottom of the Chernyye Kholmy Mine, 4.3 km (2.67 mi) below the surface

Daniil Tarasov is the search party leader. All he knew was they now had to save a delusional billionaire. He’s been with the Mountain & Caving Rescue Corps for almost fifteen years. Never did he expect to be back in the old tunnels of this mine.

Daniil began to address the search party crew, “Alright, listen up, everyone! We've got an urgent mission here. Noel Smuk, the billionaire, is trapped in the tunnels at the bottom of the mine. Now, I've been informed that he's been going on about some hollow Eurth theories. Frankly, it's concerning, and he might not be in the best state of mind.”

Ivan Petrov, a crew member, “Hollow Eurth? Seriously? This guy sounds delusional.”

Yulia Ivanova, another crew member, “Seriously, how does a guy like him get caught up in all this?”

“I have no idea, but we've got a job to do. Let's focus on the rescue mission. Noel's state of mind might not be the best, so we need to handle this with care.” Daniil said while nodding.

The new member spoke up, his name was Patya Kulikov “Do we have all the right equipment for this?” 

Daniil smiled “We’re Mountain & Caving Rescue Corps, folks! We've got the skills and some tools. It's not going to be easy, but we'll make it work.”

Anastasia seemed concerned, “How should we approach this, Daniil?”

Daniil Tarasov “First, we need to get down there and assess the situation. Safety comes first, alright? We'll secure the area before making any moves.”

Ivan made a sarcastic remark, “So, how exactly did our billionaire friend end up in this mess?”

“Beats me! We'll find out soon enough. But right now, let's get ready for the descent. Stay sharp, and watch out for each other.” Daniil responded while shrugging.

“You know, these old tunnels down here have been abandoned since 2016. It's been a while since anyone came down this deep.” Nikolai, yet another member of the group.

“Really? So, what are the odds of finding him down there?” Yulia said surprised. 

Daniil, in a serious tone, “Hard to say. But our priority is to locate and rescue him as safely and efficiently as possible. Let's not waste any time. Get your gear, and let's get moving!”

As the team gathered their equipment and descended into the depths of the mine, the atmosphere was tense yet determined. The abandoned tunnels held their secrets, and they were about to uncover a new one – the fate of Noel Smuk, the delusional billionaire.

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Informational poster of the Chernyye Kholmu Mine

Chernyye Kholmu Mine

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Chapter 2: The Control Room

Tuesday, 25 July 2023 at 10:30 AM

Within the tunnels, 4.5 km (2.8 mi) below the surface

The party had entered a large room, presumably a control room. Daniil was close to calling in someone who actually worked here. The room had five different shot-offs and three large elevators. The team had set up a temporary camp, floodlights filled the once pitch black room with light. But this didn’t make the room any less eerie. Abandoned equipment lay on the ground, the air was still and not a sound was heard from deeper in the mine.

Daniil began to address the group, “Alright, folks, let's huddle up and talk this through. No need for formalities here. We've got ourselves a real head-scratcher. Ivan, any signs of Mr. Smuk's whereabouts, I did tell you to scout ahead.”

Ivan Petrov (crew member) scratched his head, looking a bit uneasy. “Uh, well, you see, Daniil, I did scout around, but it's like the darkness swallowed him up. Ain't found a trace of Smuk yet.”

(Daniil) “Damn, we can't lose him down here. But we ain't giving up. We have got to find Smuk, and we have to find him fast. Let's split into teams and cover each of them exits. Not yet, though, I have a man coming in who used to be the director of these tunnels.”

As he spoke, a roughly older man entered the room with two people. It looked like he was in his early 50s. And another person…

Daniil, acknowledging the newcomer, “Ah, speak of the devil. Everyone, meet Alexei Yermolov. He's a seasoned veteran down here, and he's going to help us navigate these twists and turns. Alexei, this is Ivan Petrov, our scout, and the rest of the party.”

Daniil then recognized the third person, “Who are you?”

“My name is Bron Urgundy, and I am an important reporter.” the man said.

The old man have a wave in greeting. “Hey folks. Viktor and Nikolai have been with me down here for years, and we've handled some tough situations. Bron asked to come along, I said he could. Now, Daniil, you said you got two elevators and three large shot-offs, right?”

(Daniil) “That's correct. We have to cover all of them, and it's a lot to manage. But I know we're in good hands with you three here, Alexei.”

(Alexei) “Hah! Well, ain't nothin' we haven't seen before. Let's divide the teams and get to work.”

(Daniil) “Okay, you guys know your teams, Alexei, you come with me; we'll check the east shot-offs. Nikolai, you're with Yulia. Yulia take your team and go west. Ivan, you're with Ivan, you guys are taking the center passage. Keep those radios on; we need to stay connected. We clear out this level, then we take the elevators.”

Daniil looked at Bron, “Uh, you go with Yulia. Yulia, keep an eye on Bron.”

The new guy, Patya, seemed nervous, “Wait, just how many layers are there?”

“Well, there are about three layers.” Alexie responded.

Ivan, seizing the opportunity to tease Patya, chimed in with a chuckle, “Don't worry, Patya. You're just afraid you'll get lost down here and never find your way back to the surface!”

Patya blushed, feeling a bit embarrassed, but he couldn't help but smile. “Alright, alright, you got me,” he admitted, trying to brush off the nerves. “But I'll be sure to stick close to you, Alexei. I trust your navigation skills.”

Alexei clapped Patya on the back, reassuringly. “Don't worry, kid. We've got each other's backs down here. We'll find Smuk and get back to the surface in no time.”

With the jokes exchanged, the team split into their respective groups, ready to comb through the abandoned tunnels in search of Noel Smuk. But with Alexei, Viktor, Nikolai, and the support of their fellow crew members, they felt a sense of unity and strength.

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Chernyye Kholmy Facts:

The Chernyye Kholmy Mine is an open-faced mine for 4.3 km (2.67 mi) before transitioning to the abandoned tunnels for another 0.5 km (0.31 mi). So the true depth of the mine is 4.8 km (2.98 mi deep).

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Point of view: Bron Urgundy

“Right, here we go,” Bron thinks to himself, as he stands on the precipice of the mine's entrance, his heart pounding like a drum, “Live on air, in front of millions, about to take the plunge. How did I get myself into this?”

A sudden flashback to a few hours ago. There he was, broadcasting live, casually suggesting he'd join the rescue team, like it was a stroll in San Cristobal Park. The bright idea that somehow volunteering himself for this dangerous expedition would boost ratings, make him seem brave, perhaps even earn him the key to a city or maybe even a knighthood.

“I mean, how hard could it be? It’s just a hole in the ground, right?” he muses. But now, staring into the inky black abyss, reality crashes in like a cold wave. He gulps audibly. “What on Eurth was I thinking?”

The rescue team, all burly miners and seasoned experts, are getting into their gear, their faces carved with determination and grit. They help him into his suit – heavy, clumsy, full of various gadgets he has no clue about.

“Feels like I've just strapped an alien onto my back,” he grimaces inwardly. The helmet, equipped with a headlamp, is an awkward weight on his head. It's so much more than he had bargained for. “I can't tell a carbide lamp from a Canary!”

Bron-Urgundy-in-the-Chernyye-Kholmu-Mine.jpg

The dark, yawning mouth of the mine lies before them. The rescue team leader is talking through the operation, using jargon that might as well be ancient Memopotamian to Bron. He's frantically nodding, putting up a show of understanding. But inside, he's quaking, “If they ask me anything technical, I'm done for.”

His heart hammers in his chest as they hook up to the lift system, a mechanical beast meant to carry them into the bowels of the Eurth. “Goodness, I could have been having a pint at The White Hart right now. But no, I had to play the hero.”

As they begin their descent, the dark consumes them. Every passing second, every metre descended, amplifies the profound silence of the mine. “This is not the silence of the broadcast studio,” he realises, “It's eerie… foreboding.”

His nerves are frayed, anxiety gnawing at him. “Am I broadcasting fear instead of courage? Is it obvious I'm out of my depth?” The rescue workers around him are rock-solid, stalwarts of their field. “What if they realise I'm as useful here as a chocolate teapot?”

But the descent continues, relentlessly. The flickering beam from his helmet light does little to quell his growing unease. “God save the Empress,” he thinks, trying to draw strength from anywhere he can, “And while you're at it, save Bron Urgundy too.”

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Chapter 3: Unearthing Secrets

Tuesday, 25 July 2023 at 12:00 PM

Within the tunnels, 4.5 km (2.8 mi) below the surface

As Daniil's group delved deeper into the labyrinthine tunnels, the sense of history surrounded them. The once bustling mine now lay abandoned. As they pressed on, Alexei led the way, his knowledge of the tunnels guiding them through the darkness. As they continued their journey, the group encountered more remnants of the mine's past. Rusty equipment, discarded tools, and old signage were scattered throughout the tunnels, reminding them of the bustling activity that once took place here.

(Daniil) "So, Alexei, can you shed some light on why these tunnels were shut down in the first place? Structural issues, right?"

(Alexei) "That's right, Daniil. Back in 2016, the mine was shut down due to concerns about its stability. There were reports of structural issues and the potential for a catastrophic collapse. The owners couldn't take the risk anymore, so they closed it down for good."

One of the group members, Rostislav, chimed in with a teasing grin, "So, Patya, feeling the nerves yet?"

Patya's nervous demeanor was apparent, and he nervously replied, "Well, it's just... you know, with all the layers and structural issues, I can't help but imagine the roof caving in on us or something!"

Alexei laughed heartily, patting Patya on the back, "No need to worry, lad. We've been through tougher situations than this. Just stick close, and I'll keep you safe. Besides, it's the excitement that keeps this job interesting!"

Daniil had been down here before, when he first joined the Corps, there was a small cave in around here somewhere. As if he spoke it into existence, a wall of rubble with a nearly blocked the entire tunnel, leaving a small enough hole for someone to crawl under. As the group encountered the rubble blocking their path, Daniil's memories of a past cave-in flooded back. He took a moment to assess the situation, carefully studying the debris that almost blocked the entire tunnel.

Alexei: “Well, here’s the old cave in, no need going farther, there’s nothing past this pint but rumble.” 

Daniil: “Yeah, I remember this. My first rescue was this. Though nobody was on the other side.”

Rostislav chimed in, sounding suppressed, “Wait, Daniil, this ain’t your first time down here?”

After the revelation that Daniil had been in the tunnels before, the atmosphere among the group became more curious and intrigued. Rostislav's question lingered in the air, and others turned their attention to Daniil, waiting for an explanation.

Daniil took a moment to collect his thoughts before responding, "Yeah, Rostislav, I've been down here before. When I first joined the Corps, this was one of my early assignments. There was a minor cave-in around here, but luckily, no one was trapped on the other side."

Patya, still feeling a bit nervous, looked at Daniil with newfound admiration mixed with curiosity. "You've been in these tunnels before, and you managed to get through a cave-in? That's incredible!"

Daniil smiled warmly, appreciating the young man's admiration. “Well, it's all part of the job, Patya. We're trained to handle tough situations and adapt to whatever comes our way. But enough about me. Let's focus on finding Mr. Smuk.”

Daniil, picked up his radio, “Yulia, this is Daniil. We've hit a dead end here. It seems like this tunnel is completely blocked. How's your progress?”

(Yulia's voice, coming through the radio) "We've encountered some rough patches as well, Daniil. Lots of unstable sections and debris, but we're pushing forward. Keep us posted on your findings."

(Ivan, speaking into the radio from his group) "Hey, Daniil, this is Ivan. We've faced a similar situation down our end. It looks like this mine's structural issues are worse than we thought. Be careful, everyone. It's like walking through a maze of danger."

(Daniil) "Copy that, Ivan. Thanks for the heads-up. Let's all be extra cautious. Ivan, let’s meet up at base. Yulia, stay where you are, we’re on are way to you. Stay safe, over."

An unrecognized voice comes through the radio, it’s Bron “Hey, is it me or are there two sets of footprints on the ground?”

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Chernyye Kholmy Facts: 

After the Chernyye Kholmy Mine closed, the Novokamensk Mine became the main mine in the region.

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Point of view: Kandy Rash

Hey, Krushers, it's your girl, Kandy Rash here. Y'all know how I always keep it real, and today isn't going to be any different. I have something on my mind, and I thought I should like share it with you.

Kandy Rash on her phone

So, y'all know Noel Smuk, right? My billionaire boyfriend since like 2021, and quite the like adventurer and stuff. As much as I like love him and admire his like adventurous spirit, there's something about him that just gets like under my skin. It's about Pinstagram, my Krushers. Yes, you heard that right!

Now, you guys know how much like effort I put into creating like each and every post. The perfect shot, the right lighting, the most flattering angles. It's like a lot of work, and all I expect is like a little appreciation, ya know? And by appreciation, I mean like likes, especially from those people who are near and dear to me.

Noel, yes, I'm talking about you, baby. You’ve been like MIA on my last three posts. No likes, no comments, nothing. Now, I know, he's currently like lost in the Chernyye Kholmy Mine and all that. But like come on, it doesn’t take much to double-tap, does it?

Like I just… I don't know, I feel a little hurt, you know? Like I mean, I've been there for him, supporting his like adventures, and all I ask for is like a little online love. Is that like too much to like ask? I guess it's just another one of my many issues.

Anyway, that's all for now. Stay tuned for more Kandyland updates, Krushers! Love ya!

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Chapter 4: Ghost stories

Wednesday, 26 July 2023 at 7:30 AM

Within the tunnels, 4.65 km (2.88 mi) below the surface

The group had followed the two pairs of footprints since yesterday. The rescue party found another split. This time, there were two different directions. The footprints had disappeared as well… The rescue party stood at the fork in the tunnel, the dim glow of their headlamps casting eerie shadows on the walls.

Daniil: “Alexei, what your map say?”

Alexei looked at the map, “Well, left goes to a small room, right dose down for .15 kilometers. The bottom of the mine.”

Daniil thought for a second, “Well, let’s check this room, then we head down to the bottom.”

The group decided to explore the small room first before heading down to the bottom of the mine. They were cautious yet determined, knowing that each step they took could bring them closer to the truth and, hopefully, to Noel Smuk's location.

As they made their way towards the small room, the atmosphere grew more oppressive. The air felt heavy, and the silence was deafening. It was as if the tunnel itself held its breath, anticipating their every move.

Upon reaching the small room, they found it to be a cramped space with abandoned equipment. But the far fall looked like it was made of rubble…

Alexei stepped forward, “Ah, so this isn’t a room, it’s a collapsed tunnel.”

Daniil examined the collapsed tunnel, realizing that Alexei was right. It seemed that the small room marked on the map was, in fact, a tunnel that had caved in long ago. The rescue party's hopes of finding more clues in this direction were shattered as they faced the reality of a dead end.

(Daniil) "Well, that's unfortunate. It looks like this tunnel is completely blocked, and there's no way through."

Rostislav chimed in, "So, we're back to square one? What do we do now?"

Daniil pondered for a moment, considering their options. "We still have the other path to explore—the one that leads down to the bottom of the mine. Maybe we'll find something there. Let's proceed with caution."

The group retraced their steps back to the fork in the tunnel. The shadows seemed to grow darker, and an unshakable feeling of being watched hung in the air. They knew they were delving deeper into the unknown, and the mystery of the disappearing footprints only added to their unease.

As they ventured down the right path, the tunnels seemed to stretch on forever, as if leading them into the depths of the Eurth itself. The air became colder, and the sound of dripping water echoed through the passages.

Alexei broke the silence, “You know, they always said these mines were haunted. Would you like me to tell the tale?”

“Sure.” Daniil responded.

Patya interrupted “Why does it feel like we’re being watched?”, but nobody seemed to hear him.

Alexei spoke, “So, back in the day, far before I was born, the west wall of the mine collapsed. Called it a freak accident. They say around a hundred died. They were all buried at Ugolny Ruchey, a small village near the mine, now abandoned today. Not only that, but they say that after that, things got strange, equipment would go missing and people would say they saw a ghost. When the started digging these tunnels, they unearthed an old pagan ritual site up on the surface by mistake, they destroyed it.”

As Alexei began recounting the ghost stories associated with the mine, the group couldn't help but feel a chill run down their spines. The surrounding atmosphere seemed to shift, and even the most skeptical among them couldn't deny the eerie feeling that surrounded them.

Alexei continued, in a voice slightly hushed, “By the time the tunnels were sustainable and actually ‘tunnels’, even weirder things occurred. A whole crew of men went missing. The people in the town called the mine ‘Dyra d'yavola’…”

Bron interrupted, “What does that mean?”

Alexei, slightly agitated, “Hush boy, it means ‘The Devil’s Hole’. Now back to my story. They say that you can hear strange whispers echoing through the tunnels. Some even claim to have seen shadowy figures darting between the walls, disappearing into thin air. Miners who spent nights alone within the mine would tell tales of mysterious sounds, like distant drums or faint chanting.”

Rostislav, trying to break the tension, chimed in, "Come on, Alexei. You don't actually believe in ghosts, do you?"

Alexei chuckled nervously, "Well, I can't say for sure, but I've had my fair share of unexplained encounters down here. Makes you sometimes wonder."

The group listened to Alexei's unsettling tales, their nerves already on edge from the oppressive atmosphere of the mine. Even those who were skeptical couldn't help but feel a sense of unease, especially with the knowledge of the mine's tragic history.

Daniil, ever the pragmatic leader, decided it was time to focus on their mission once again. "All right, enough ghost stories for now. We need to keep moving and find Noel. We can't let superstitions get in the way."

The group nodded in agreement, and they continued their descent into the depths of the mine. The further they went, the more eerie the surroundings became, and the feeling of being watched only intensified.

As they progressed, the mine seemed to take on a life of its own. The walls seemed to whisper, and strange echoes filled the tunnels. Each step was taken with caution, as if disturbing the silence too much might awaken the spirits of the past.

After what felt like an eternity of navigating through the maze-like tunnels, they reached the bottom of the mine. They were now 4.8 km (2.98 mi) from the surface.

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Chernyye Kholmy Facts: 

The Chernyye Kholmy Mine earned its ominous nickname, "Dyra d'yavola," due to the mysterious disappearances of an entire crew of miners in the past. Locals believe that the mine is cursed and that malevolent forces inhabit its depths. Over the years, numerous sightings of shadowy figures and inexplicable sounds have perpetuated the legends of supernatural occurrences within the mine.

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Point of view: Bron Urgundy

Well, I've landed myself in a right pickle, haven't I? Me, Bron Urgundy, swapping my posh newsroom for this stuffy old pit called the Devil’s Hole. A rum do indeed, all for the love of the headline.

This isn't just some puff piece, mind you. This is the tale of Noel Smuk, the dauntless daredevil I've grown quite fond of, much to my surprise. His misfortune has landed him somewhere in this accursed labyrinth, and I've been roped into playing hero with the task of finding him.

It's a sobering moment, isn't it? Here I am, surrounded by a cadre of rugged rescue professionals who have weathered many a storm, while I'm armed with nothing more threatening than a notepad, a pencil, and my trusty microphone. A sight for sore eyes, no doubt.

The tales that haunt this place do nothing to bolster my spirits. Stories of vanished miners, spectral figures in the gloom, uncanny noises bouncing off the ancient walls. Spine-chilling legends that have turned this into a place of dread and wonder.

But as I step foot into the cold reality of it all, it's clear these aren't just fanciful tales. People have vanished into thin air. The silence itself seems to hold its breath. Even the bravest among us appear to be tiptoeing on the edge of their nerves. The question lingers: could there be a smidgen of truth to these ominous myths?

With each step deeper, I'm acutely aware of the burden of history, the litany of lives consumed by these relentless tunnels. The shadows seem to whisper old secrets, each echo a desperate plea from the past. The air is heavy with foreboding, with the unrelenting sensation that unseen eyes are upon me.

But underneath the surface-level terror, there's a current of anticipation. A frisson of excitement, maybe. This is the scoop of a lifetime, one that could define my career, or leave it in tatters.

But the story isn't just about me, is it? It's about Noel Smuk, about his survival, his journey back to the surface. At the end of the day, that's the only thing that counts.

I've been in hot waters before, though never as literal as this, but I've always managed to wiggle my way out. I've gone toe-to-toe with prime ministers, the high society, and a fair share of swindlers, so how much harder can a few rescuers be?

Daniil, isn't it?” I attempt, extending a hand to the burly, grizzled man at the forefront. “Bron Urgundy, from Big Story News. Any chance you've got a crash course on not becoming a ghost in a haunted mine?” My laugh, however, only serves to deepen his scowl.

Alexei, the elder with the worn-out map, seems a bit more approachable. “I couldn't help but overhear your spook stories, Alexei. Got quite the flair for drama, haven't you?” Even as he grins, there's a guardedness that suggests a few too many encounters with the uncanny in these tunnels.

I spy Patya, a greenhorn like me, looking as comfortable as a cat in a dog show. I give him a quick nod, an unspoken ‘we're in this together, mate.’

“You scared, lad?” My attempt at breaking the tension only earns a fleeting glance before he looks away, the quick bob of his Adam's apple revealing his answer.

And, of course, Rostislav, the group's designated clown. “Rostislav, if I manage to crawl out of here, I'll book you a seat on my show. You could give the best comedians a run for their money,” I quip, coaxing a hearty laugh out of him.

So, here I am, Bron Urgundy, more out of place than an Argic bear in the Paran Desert, making merry with miners and rescue workers. Despite our disparate paths, we're all in this together, united by a common purpose. A comforting thought amidst the encroaching darkness.

It's time to show them what you're made of, Bron. They might have their pickaxes and helmets, but you've got your wit and your voice, a connection with people that could prove just as valuable.

So, as we trudge into the belly of the beast, you keep prodding, keep questioning, keep recounting. You're Bron Urgundy, sensationalist reporter turned laughable rescuer, ready to take on the Devil’s Hole's secrets. You're on a mission to uncover the truth, to shed light on the darkness. And, who knows, maybe even send a ghost or two packing.

Point of view: Smuk's fellow investors

“Bloody hell,” spluttered Harold Bingham, head of the investment group at the Wiser International, the minority shareholder in Wittier. His pudgy fingers tightened around the handle of his mug, sloshing some of the coffee on the polished mahogany conference table.

“Is this for real? Noel Smuk lost in a mine?” he scoffed, his pale, slightly sweaty face looking from one concerned executive to the next. The atmosphere was a tangled mess of tension and uncertainty, as uneasy as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

“Seems so, Harold,” came the weary reply from Fiona Delacourt, the crisply efficient CEO of Future Focus Capital, the main investment group in TubeHub. Her usually vibrant auburn hair seemed dull today, mirroring the concern in her emerald green eyes.

“What's next, then? Who's in charge of operations now that Smuk is MIA?” Harold asked, the levity draining from his voice. His brusque manner was a thinly veiled cover for the rising worry gnawing at him. Smuk's genius, his reckless innovation, was the golden goose for many of their investments.

“Interim leadership is being arranged as we speak. Victor Jennings, Smuk's right-hand man, is stepping up at Wittier. As for TubeHub, Mei Ling, their CTO, is assuming the helm,” Fiona responded, cool as a cucumber in a freezer. She was a seasoned veteran, having weathered several high-profile corporate crises in her career. However, she had never dealt with a situation quite as peculiar as this.

“And Bincoin?” Harold arched a brow, turning his gaze to the third person at the table. Jack Rigby, the confident and charismatic head of the financial powerhouse CryptoPulse, was usually the picture of joviality. Today, he looked like he'd bitten into a particularly sour apple.

Paula O'Neil, Bincoin's CFO, will keep the ship steady for now. She's got a good head on her shoulders,” Jack replied, managing a stiff smile. “As for the long term…if Smuk is…,” he paused, swallowing hard before forcing the words out, “…if he's not coming back, we need to think about succession plans.”

The room fell silent, each lost in their thoughts. The next steps were crucial. They needed to reassure jittery markets, keep operations running smoothly, and prepare for a future potentially without Smuk, their tech maverick.

“Listen, we have a responsibility to our shareholders, and right now, they're scared. Let's not sugar coat it. They invested in Smuk's vision, in his genius,” Fiona began, leaning forward, her gaze steely. “Our job is to prove to them that these companies are more than just one man. We need to show them that we can continue to thrive.”

“Right,” Harold murmured, looking less ruffled now. “We've weathered storms before. We'll handle this one, too. Let's get in touch with our respective companies, and let's start drafting those press releases.”

As they wrapped up, there was a shared understanding, a common resolve, to face the challenges head-on. For now, the ship would sail on, and they, as the captains, would ensure it didn't falter. With or without Noel Smuk, the voyage continued.

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Chapter 5: The Lake (Part 1)

Wednesday, 26 July 2023 at 4:15PM

Within the tunnels, 4.8 km (2.98 mi) below the surface

As the rescue party ventured deeper into the mine, they eventually reached a large, cavernous room deep below the surface. The room was dimly lit by their headlamps, and the walls were adorned with remnants of old mining equipment and tools.

(Daniil) "Keep your guard up, everyone. We don't know when she might cave in."

The group cautiously explored the room, their footsteps echoing in the silence. Among the old equipment and tools, they noticed a dilapidated metal sign, barely readable, which seemed to indicate that this room once served as a rest area for miners.

Alexei looked around in wonder, “It's incredible how time can turn a bustling mine into a forgotten relic.”

As they reached the end of the room, they discovered another tunnel leading further into the depths. There, amidst the detritus of industry, lay a broken rope. Its frayed end seemed to tell a story of its own, raising questions about what might have happened here.

Bron, the journalist among them, couldn't resist the intrigue. Holding up the frayed rope, he shared his observations with the group, "Daniil, Alexei, You might want to take a look at this. It's broken, and it doesn't look like it happened naturally."

Daniil, Alexei, and the others gathered around, their faces a mix of concern and curiosity. The rope's presence in this abandoned room puzzled them. Patya, the quiet member of the team, offered a tentative suggestion, "Could it be that Noel went into the lake?"

Bron, taken aback by the mention of a lake, echoed the question, "Lake? What lake?"

Alexei exchanged a knowing glance with Daniil, his voice somber as he explained, “It's a part of the old mining lore. There's said to be an underground lake in these depths, hidden away from the wurld above. The stories say it's both beautiful and treacherous.”

Alexei chimed in, his tone carrying a mix of fascination and caution, “They say that the ceiling of the lake is adorned with bioluminescent algae, casting an otherwurldly glow. And the waters themselves are said to teem with eyeless fish, living in total darkness. Some even whisper that valuable gems like diamonds might be found within its depths.”

The group absorbed this newfound knowledge, the allure of a mythical underground lake intertwining with the mystery of the broken rope. As they stood on the threshold of the unknown, the shadowy depths of the tunnel leading to the lake beckoned, promising answers and perhaps even more mysteries to unravel.

* * *

Chernyye Kholmy Facts:

Along with the rumors and folk lore with the lake (see above), there is also another piece of folklore with the lake that only few miners know/believe. That the lake is the portal to the underwurld.

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Chapter 5: The Lake (Part 2)

Wednesday, 26 July 2023 at 5:10 PM

Within the tunnels, 4.8 km (2.98 mi) below the surface

The group had begun to follow a cluster of wires stretched on the ceiling. Alexei said that this was the way to the old generator room. The dim glow of their headlamps cast eerie shadows on the tunnel walls as they pressed forward. The air seemed to grow cooler and more oppressive the further they ventured. Every footstep echoed, a constant reminder of the depths they had descended into. The walls, still marked with the scars of past mining endeavors, seemed to close in around them.

Alexei's voice cut through the quiet, his tone a mix of nostalgia and caution. "We're getting close now. The old generator room should be just ahead."

Bron, the journalist, couldn't help but feel a blend of excitement and unease. The subterranean journey was a story in itself, one that he was eager to put into a story. The weight of time pressed upon them, a reminder of the layers of stories that lay buried beneath the Eurth.

After what felt like an eternity of winding tunnels, they finally arrived at a heavy metal door, partly off its hinges. Beyond it, the old generator room awaited, a relic frozen in time. The room was filled with rusted machinery, cables hanging like forgotten cobwebs, and the faint scent of oil and decay lingering in the air.

Daniil, the leader of the group, turned to Alexei. "Lead the way, Alexei. Show us what we've come all this way to see."

Alexei nodded, his gaze fixed on the room ahead. With cautious steps, he entered the generator room, the others following closely behind. The play of light and shadow revealed the history etched into the room's walls—decades of use and abandonment.

However, their exploration was abruptly interrupted by a faint hissing sound. Almost simultaneously, a Carbon Monoxide Detector carried by Daniil began to beep urgently.

“GAS! PUT ON YOUR MASKS!” Daniil's voice echoed through the room, urgency coloring every syllable.

All but Bron seemed to be getting their mask. “I DON’T HAVE A MASK!” He screamed, his panic evident.

The group frantically got their masks on. Just as fear started to grip Bron, he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. It was Daniil, who had swiftly moved beside him. With a quick motion, Daniil handed his spare mask to Bron, his eyes conveying a mix of urgency and reassurance.

"Put this on," Daniil instructed, his voice surprisingly steady despite the situation. "Take deep breaths through the mask. We're going to get out of here. Stay close to me."

As Bron hurriedly secured the mask, he found himself focusing on the rhythm of his breath, the filter of the mask providing a precious lifeline in the midst of danger. The group, now all masked, huddled together, their headlamps casting feeble beams of light into the gas-filled air. 

The group quickly exited the room. As Daniil looked up, Alexei seemed to be running farther into the room with a mask on. “Alexei! What are you doing!?!” He yelled.

“Turning the generator on, damn it!” Alexei yelled back, with a slight hint of anxiety mixed with annoyance.

“Turing it on will turn on the Air Filter!” He yelled with a grunt.

Daniil's voice carried a commanding edge as he shouted, “We are going to help Alexei turn on the generators! Come on!”

The whole group, including Bron, ran into the room to try to get the generators started, Bron, who was looking for a mask earlier, had found a gas tank with fuel still in it. The group began to pour fuel into the generators while Alexei tried to turn them on. With a final push of a lever, the generators roared to life, filling the room with a low hum that drowned out the sound of hissing gas.

Daniil wiped sweat from his forehead, casting a glance around the room. "The air filter should start cycling now," he said, his voice projecting both relief and authority. "Stay close to the entrance until the gas clears."

In turn of the generators being turned on, the light system in the mine turned on. “Well, I guess we don’t need our head lamps any more.” Bron said.

With the generators roaring to life and the air filter beginning to cycle, the tension in the room starts to ease. The group members exchange glances, their faces illuminated by the newfound light. The chamber that was once shrouded in darkness is now illuminated, revealing its forgotten secrets.

As the gas gradually clears and the air becomes breathable, the group takes a collective breath of relief. They move away from the entrance, giving the air filter time to do its job, and find themselves standing in the midst of the generator room once more. The room seems to come alive with the hum of machinery and the gentle glow of the lights.

Bron's heart still races from the recent panic, but he can't help but feel a renewed sense of curiosity and wonder. He turns to Daniil, his voice tinged with gratitude, "Thank you for helping me with the mask, Daniil. I'm not sure what I would have done without it."

Daniil offers a nod and a small smile. "We're a team down here, Bron. We look out for each other."

In the distance, there's a sudden sound of machinery buckling and collapsing into the wall. Dust and debris fill the air for a moment, and as it clears, the group decides to go check if they were now trapped inside the mine. Lo and behold, they weren’t. 

But as the group look on at the collapsed machinery, they saw a previously hidden cave entrance. A sense of excitement and curiosity filled the air as they cautiously approach the entrance, their footsteps echoing in the newfound space.

However, what truly captures their attention is the soft, enchanting glow emanating from the depths of the cave. A gentle, ethereal blue light suffuses the chamber, casting dancing reflections on the walls. The light seems to pulsate with a rhythm of its own, creating an almost magical ambiance in the underground chamber.

"Look at that," Alexei murmurs, his voice tinged with awe. "Could it be…?"

As they moved closer, the glow becomes more intense, and it becomes clear that the source of this phenomenon is a breathtaking sight—a lake, hidden deep within the heart of the Eurth. The water's surface is adorned with a tapestry of bioluminescent algae and bacteria, their glow casting an iridescent shimmer across the water's surface.

Gasps of astonishment escape the group as they take in the mesmerizing sight. The folklore of the mythical underground lake suddenly becomes tangible before their eyes. The realization sets in that this hidden wurld, untouched by human eyes for possibly centuries, holds a natural wonder that defies imagination.

Bron’s fingers tighten around his camera, his journalist instincts kicking in. This discovery is beyond what he could have ever anticipated, and he's already considering the impact it will have on the wurld above. But for now, he lets himself be lost in the beauty of the moment, the glow of the lake reflecting in his wide eyes.

The group's initial fear and panic have transformed into a sense of awe and reverence. They stand at the threshold of a discovery that could rewrite the history of their wurld, deep within the belly of the Eurth. And as the bioluminescent lake casts its enchanting light upon them, they can't help but feel like explorers of a new realm, drawn into a story that only they will be able to tell.

Alexei, Viktor and Nikolai, all miners who had worked down here gave a little chuckle. Almost at the same time, they said the same thing. “The stories are true.”

Yulia was the one to speak up and break the silence, “Well, we still need to find Smuk. With the lights one we will be able to possibly find him easier.”

Rostislav, seeing the perfect opportunity, “Hopefully he didn’t wither away from the lights turning on.”

With that, Daniil finally came out of his daze. “Okay, Alexei, mark this on your map. This is the discovery of a lifetime. But we still need to find Noel. Let’s go team.”

With that, the team went on to find Noel. Their determination and newfound sense of unity carried them through the twisting passages and echoing chambers of the underground labyrinth.

* * *

Chernyye Kholmy Facts: 

There are multiple generator sectors. In total, there are 30 throughout the entire mine.

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Chapter 6: The Tragic End

The following text is an old newspaper clipping.

Official Statement – Tragic Discovery in Chernyy Kholmy Mine

Sunday, 15 April 1956

Earlier this morning, a heart-wrenching incident occurred as three miners were discovered lifeless and brutally mangled within the depths of the Chernyy Kholmy Mine.

Local authorities, along with mining experts, launched an extensive investigation into the disturbing event.

Preliminary findings indicated an inexplicable cause of death, shrouded in mystery.

The mining company and authorities expressed their deepest condolences to the victims' families.

Efforts to ensure the safety and security of miners continue, as the dark incident will surely have a long-lasting impact on the families of the victims.

Thursday, 27 July 2023 at 9:13 AM

Within the tunnels, 4.8 km (2.98 mi) below the surface

The group had begun to go down the final tunnels within the mines. Despite the lights being on, the oppressive atmosphere was greater than ever. As the group continued their journey through the labyrinthine tunnels, a sense of unease hung in the air. The mine seemed to whisper its secrets, and the legends of its haunted past became more than just stories. The air was heavy with the weight of history, and each step they took seemed to lead deeper into the heart of the unknown.

Daniil was the one to break the silence. “Alexei, how much of the tunnels are left?”Daniil's words hung in the air, carrying a hint of both determination and urgency.

Alexei's response was soft, his voice a mere whisper in the gloom. "Well, we should come across one larger room with two split-offs that are dead ends soon."

The anticipation was palpable as the group carried on, their footsteps echoing in the narrow passages. Every twist and turn seemed to bring them closer to an unknown fate. The legends of the mine's haunted history intertwined with the reality they faced, creating a surreal atmosphere that sent shivers down their spines.

For what seems like the first time, one of the older members of the party spoke up. Apostol, a seasoned member nearing retirement at 56, finally broke the silence with a voice that carried the weight of his years of experience. "I've ventured into countless mines over the years, but there's something distinctly different about this place."

Sevantian, a solid presence beside Apostol, nodded thoughtfully. His eyes, although watchful, held a glimmer of curiosity. "I'm with you, Apostol. There's an air of history here, stories written in the very rock and passages that surround us. We might be strangers to this mine, but it's almost as if it's trying to tell us something."

“Well, you’re both right. Something feels off. Stay on guard.” Daniil replied.

The group continued through the tunnels, the weight of their thoughts becoming heavier with each step. The air seemed to grow colder, carrying a chilling unease that set their nerves on edge. The larger chamber Alexei had mentioned came into view, its expanse illuminated by floodlights.

As they cautiously entered the chamber, their eyes fell upon a sight that would forever be etched into their memories. In the corner of the room, partially illuminated by the glow of their lights, lay the lifeless body of Noel. His form was contorted in an unnatural position, and the pallor of his skin spoke of the cold grip of death. His eyes, once vibrant and full of life, were now vacant, staring into the abyss.

A gasp escaped one of the members, the shock and horror of the scene before them sending waves of disbelief through the group. Apostol's experienced gaze scanned the scene, his years in the mines allowing him to piece together the grim reality. "Gas inhalation, and those injuries…" he muttered, his voice heavy with sorrow and realization.

Daniil walked towards the corpses and touched its hand. Danill shook his head. “Not warm. We’re late by at least a couple of hours.”

Brons's brows furrowed, his curiosity giving way to concern. "Gas inhalation explains the cause of death, but these injuries… they're inexplicable, almost as if…"

Before he could finish his sentence, a heavy silence descended upon the chamber, interrupted only by the soft hum of the generators and the distant drip of water. The group stood around Noel's lifeless body, each lost in their thoughts, grappling with the tragedy that had unfolded before them.

Daniil's voice broke through the silence, his words carrying a somber weight. "We need to inform the authorities, document everything, and ensure that Noel's family is notified." His tone held a mixture of shock and determination as he looked at his companions.

As the reality of the situation sank in, the legends of the haunted mine seemed to take on a new depth. The mine had claimed another victim, its history of mystery and tragedy woven into the fabric of its very walls. The group stood united in their solemn task, knowing that their journey had taken an unexpected turn into the heart of darkness that the mine held.

* * *

Chernyye Kholmy Facts:

It is estimated that around 1,113 people have died within the Chernyye Kholmy Mine since it began operations.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Epilogue

Thursday, 27 July 2023 at 12:30 PM

Boris, wrapped up in his outdoor coat, stood against a backdrop of a cloudy skyline, “…and as you can see, there will be a downpour by evening, so you'd best keep those umbrellas at hand. And that's the weather. Now, back to you in the studio, Raisa and Igor.”

The camera cut to a sleek, modern studio, where Raisa and Igor sat poised, papers in hand. They exchanged a brief smile, acknowledging Boris's report.

Raisa: “Thanks for that update, Boris. It seems like we're in for another wet spell.” She chuckled softly, about to transition to another topic when a production assistant rushed over, handing her a piece of paper. Her face shifted from mirth to seriousness. “Hold on a second, folks…” she said, scanning the text hurriedly. “…what? Is this confirmed?”

She looked up, visibly shaken, “… This just in: the eccentric billionaire, the man who's been making headlines for the past few days, Noel Smuk, has tragically been found deceased in the Chernyye Kholmy Mine after being missing for three days.”

Igor's stern face mirrored Raisa's concern. “It's a grave development. The officials and members of the search party who have been tirelessly working to locate Mr. Smuk have shed light on the circumstances of his passing. According to initial reports, he fell victim to gas inhalation – a silent killer in many mines. But that's not all,” he paused, swallowing hard, “His injuries… they're described as highly unusual. Gruesomely, parts of his body were mangled, unlike anything that's typically seen in mining accidents.”

Raisa shuddered, taking a moment to gather herself. “These chilling discoveries only intensify the enigma of what might have transpired in those dark, winding tunnels. The sparse details we have in hand seem to spawn more queries than they lay to rest.”

Igor, adjusting his tie with a somber face, said, “This tragic incident has left not only Garindina but the entire wurld in shock. We will continue to follow this story closely, keeping you updated on all developments. We urge our viewers to stay tuned and extend our heartfelt condolences to Mr. Smuk's family.”

The screen faded to a commercial break, giving the hosts a moment to reflect on the weight of the news they had just shared.

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