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It's a Long Way Down · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Under the Forest Rise the Stairs
“Shaviel!” he cried, leaping to catch his little sister as she ran too close to the brink of the rocky hole.

Then, they were both falling past twisted plants and turf and into darkness.

Turven had got hold of her tunic sleeve, and now, as the circle of daylit forest receded above them, he pulled Shaviel into his arms and shouted a charm that would slow their fall. He felt it forming around them instantly, a gentle upward breeze that quickly grew stronger. At eight years old, he was not powerful enough to impose a charm of full flight–often, by the time you were strong enough of mind to do it, you’d grown so big that it still couldn’t fully support you. But for now, he was at least sure that the fall itself would not kill them. They sank through the darkness together, and Turven counted his heartbeats as he watched as well he could in the fading light for other dangers. Several times he reached out to push against the walls, to fend them away from a sharp branch or jagged rock.

He reached a count of twenty-two before he felt his toes start to touch ground–it felt like loose stone–and his feet slid from under him as he fell back, trying to keep Shaviel atop him. His back and head struck into the rocks with a smarting blow and a horrid-sounding crunch and his breath was thrust out of his belly by her weight. He lay stunned, unable to move, as Shaviel started to cry and call his name in the darkness.

Turven’s whole body was numb, and fear beset him, for he felt as remote and powerless as if he was already a ghost. It seemed as if he would never breathe again. He was aware of Shaviel weeping and calling up charms of healing which she pressed into his chest over and over. At five years of age, her charms could do little more than staunch a bleeding scratch, but he felt the warmth flowing into his skin and it helped to keep him from total despair.

Still, he suffered through a long age of panic before he was able to draw a ragged gasp of air. It was cool and sour with the smell of deep tunnels and root cellars, and his fear receded with each gasp as tingling life returned to his limbs. Shaviel collapsed over him with relief and exhaustion, for the charms had drained her power. Panting for breath, she hugged him as she recovered her strength.

Turven hugged her back, and sat up slowly, feeling his way back into his body. Stones rattled around him as he shifted his weight. Some part of him knew already that he was not seriously hurt, but still he took his time, feeling for broken bones and skin. The cuts he had received from the rocks were minor and Shaviel’s charms had already stopped their bleeding.

Turven could see just enough from the dim light of the hole above to know that they could not easily or safely climb out that way. Should they wait to be rescued? They’d been heading through the Samberse forest trail on the way to Gorsden market when he’d gotten distracted by a patch of flowers with various alchemical uses, and Shaviel had started chasing silver swift-flies, and–no, this wasn’t the time to cast blame; he had to think clearly. It would be hours before their absence was noticed and a search party was formed, and it would be much longer before anyone was likely to hear their calls arising from the earth or be in range to sense a distress charm. He cast one upon the rocks above anyway, now that he’d gotten some of his power back.

Light was the next thing. He felt in his side pouch and took out a pair of dried mushroom caps, one blue and one white, tied together bottom to bottom and separated by a waxy leaf. He pulled the leaf from between them, then shook them rapidly to mix their spores together. He bit away a small piece of the rim and blew gently into the hole. The caps grew warm in his hand, then a reddish light spread out from them. Turven stretched out his hand, and he and Shaviel looked around them at a scene of wonder.

The cavern was vast, and its upper reaches were mostly hidden in deep purple gloom, but glints of gold sparkled in the walls. This was a place rich in the material residue of magic, which collected sometimes on deep rocks like drops of amber on a pine tree. The walls of this cave were of natural stone, carved perhaps by an underground river in years past, and bands of minerals spread in reddish-brown and white through them. Dripping water had formed colorful stalagmites, to which drops of magical residue had added a golden sheen. It was all very pretty, but of little use for escape.

But before them was a sight that gladdened Turven at first glance, then chilled his heart as he looked at it. It was a stairway leading up into the gloom, rudely formed but undeniably a work of intention and not nature. Mere wild magic could not make such a thing, and the Fae never built things so large or so roughly. Who or what had wrought this thing, and where did it lead?

Turven thought things over as he looked at Shaviel, who seemed none the worse for the fall. He was afraid that she’d go dashing up the stairs, and was ready to snatch her back if she tried it, but she seemed to be regarding it with as much respect as he was.

As he watched, a silvery shimmer detached from her hair and fluttered around them. He bit back a yelp of surprise; it was only a silver swift-fly, perhaps the very one she’d been chasing when they’d fallen. It circled and landed back in her hair, its wings gleaming with faint iridescence in the mushroom-light. Turven had long outgrown his fascination with swift-flies, but Shaviel was still delighted by it, and she sang a small charm of flower-scenting to entice it to stay by her. It folded its wings again and settled onto the back of her head like a hairclasp.

Turven made up his mind. “Shaviel,” he said, “We’re not going to be rescued from here quickly. It could take days. I think we should see if these stairs lead to a way out, but I don’t fully trust them. I want you to follow me close and not run off. If we get into any trouble, we’ll run back down here and cast distress charms and wait for rescue. Do you understand?”

She frowned. “Those are creepy stairs. They look like bones.”

They did indeed look something like the rib bones of an ancient giant. He tried to hold back a shudder. “They look strange, but even if they were really bones, they couldn’t hurt us. That just happens in spooky tales. If there were ghosts down here that could move bones, we’d probably have seen them by now. Just stay with me–take my hand and we’ll go slowly.”

Slowly they went, taking quiet steps and listening carefully for danger. The stairs were firm as stone below their feet, but still felt like bones. Shaviel was chanting a little song under her breath, which Turven recognized as a counting rhyme, often done on one’s fingers. For his part, he kept careful watch, blowing occasionally into his mushroom light to freshen it. This one would last for about an hour, and he had just one more in his pouch. He hoped the lights would last until they found a way out.

Within minutes, they reached a circular landing, rimmed by stalagmites shimmering with a golden sheen, and as they set foot on it a low long moan ran through the cavern. Both children froze in terror. Turven held Shaviel’s hand tightly, listening as the sound rose around them, then faded into a murmuring echo and died out entirely. The sounds of their beating hearts was suddenly very, very loud.

“Was that a ghost now?” whispered Shaviel.

Turven had seen a ghost once, in the attic of Great-Aunt Chuncie’s house, and it was a Great-Great-relation of hers. He remembered that pale gathering of light and shadow that only looked human from one angle, and the rushy whispers as it tried to move the air precisely enough to speak. “I don’t think it’s a ghost,” he said. “Ghosts usually don’t spend their energy on groaning; it’s hard enough for them to talk as it is. They don’t make noises without having to think about making them.”

“So what was it, then? Bearfolk?”

“I don’t know.” Bearfolk were scary, but one could at least try to talk to them, and as dim as they were, they generally understood that there were consequences to harming human cubs. “This doesn’t look like a Bearfolk cave, though I suppose one could have fallen down here just as we did.”

Turven took a step forward on the landing, but Shaviel didn’t budge. “I don’t want to go up there anymore,” she said.

Turven knelt and hugged her. “You know what? Neither do I. But there isn’t a way out back down there, not for a long time at any rate. How would you feel later if that sound was just wind in a tunnel, and we were sitting in the dark for days just because we were scared of it? Come on. We’re of strong stock, you and I! You’re named for Great-Great-Grandmother Shaviel, who defeated a bandit twice her size with magic and cunning! Let’s show her that we can be brave, too.”

Even more slowly than before, they went up the next length of stairs. The darkness grew thicker around them as they climbed, only held at bay in a small sphere of Turven’s light, and every echo seemed to multiply in the moist air. The stone steps here were of worse quality; chalky and crumbly under the soles of their feet, and the next spot which could be called a landing was a mere rough ledge of stone, once part of the cavern wall. As they crossed it, they heard the noise again. And this time, it was clearly a human voice, and they would surely have fled then, Great-Great-Grandmother Shaviel’s name or no, had they not heard a word in it.

It was a long low groaning noise, but it clearly said “Help.”

“That’s not wind in a tunnel,” said Shaviel.

“No,” said Turven. “Not wind.”

“But it’s someone who needs help.”

“True,” said Turven. “Or it’s someone who claims to need help.” He’d heard tales of children being deceived by strangers who called for aid.

“How do we tell?”

“We go on, but we keep our eyes open and hold tight to our wits.”

They continued to climb, but further on, the stairs were definitely not stone anymore. They were old spongy bones, without doubt. The children climbed them like a ladder of ribs until even these receded, leaving a column of vertebrae stretching up into the dark. They stopped here, and Turven discarded his weakened light and started up the last one. He hung it around his neck by a string, then they removed their boots, and thenceforth they climbed like monkeys in a tree, using their toes for better grip.

And the higher they went, the louder came the call for help. But the vertebrae grew smaller and weaker, and before long Turven put his hand up and found no more upon which to climb. He took his mushroom up in one hand and raised it over his head. The ceiling of the cavern was in sight, with gold-specked stalactites descending to nearly within reach, and directly above was a gap in the rock that was filled with smooth bone, and in that bone was a small hole just wide enough to enter.

Turven climbed atop the last vertebra, helped Shaviel up to stand beside him, and considered the situation.

“I could maybe jump up there,” he said, “But I don’t think you could. And I don’t have any rope to draw you after.”

“I could hold to your back,” she said.

And so she wrapped her arms around his chest by the collarbone, and Turven invoked the charm of safe falling once again, both to protect them if they failed and to give him an extra force upward. And he jumped once, grasped a stalactite, and jumped again, his fingers finding the lip of the bony hole. As the column of vertebrae collapsed beneath them, he strained his arms and climbed through.

They emerged in a room that was very like the inside of a skull, though twisted and compressed, and–oh, blessed sign!–there was a hint of the smell of fresh breeze and forest air and the scent of wildflowers. But they could see no exit. The swift-fly rose humming from Shaviel’s hair, and flew to a part of the wall, a part that looked uncomfortably like teeth, grown close together in horrid profusion. It buzzed against the wall, finding no exit, but a single small gleam of light from outside made it sparkle as it flitted about. It eventually returned to her head.

“Hello?” called Turven. “We’re here to help if we can. Where are you?”

“I… am. I am…here, nearby,” buzzed a dry voice. “Please excuse… me. It is… hard to remember how to… talk. Thank you for coming to my aid.”

“You’re not talking like a ghost. But we can’t see you.”

“No. It is best that you do not look for me. I am not likely to be a pretty sight to you. Let me remain hidden for the present.”

“Who are you?” asked Shaviel.

“I… I was… I am Akistere. I am a stoneshaper, and I came bearing wares from Foelstam to sell in the famous marketplace at Gorsden.”

“Foelstam?” said Shaviel. “I’ve not heard of such a town.”

But Turven had a memory from talking to Great-Aunt Chuncie. “Foelstam over the mountains? That… that town was lost. There was an avalanche over two hundred years ago. It was destroyed and never rebuilt.”

“Lost, you say?” The voice fell silent for a long minute. “That is bitter news indeed. For a very long while, I hoped I might escape while those who knew me still lived, then as the years rolled by I abandoned such hope. But to hear of their definite end reawakens my grief for my kin and friends, a grief that I thought to be lessened by time. So great grand Foelstam, with its strong towers reflected in the azure lake, is but a memory now? Such am I myself, I suppose.”

“I’ve not heard of any who can live over a century and a half, even with magical aid,” said Turven. “Are you sure you’re not a ghost?”

“I do not think I am, though I cannot truly call my present state life. I lost my way in these woods, and tumbled into this cavern, and as I fell I was stricken badly before I could cast a charm. No one knew where to look for me, so I expected no help. But, trapped at the bottom in utter darkness, I had only the thought that I must escape before I perished. Among the wares I bore with me were charms for impressing shapes with which to build houses, and I did have one that could be used to create a stairway. And so I began my work to try to ascend this cavern. There was plenty of magic available in the cavern, as you doubtless have seen. But I had but one stairway charm, with no means to create another, and this charm alone would not suffice to reach anywhere near the upper ceiling of the cavern.”

Akistere sighed with a bitter whistling sound. “Children, I then did a thing very foolish indeed. I will not speak deeply of the technique I used, for it is dangerous even when used by those who fully know what they are doing. But so desperate was my need that I set this spell in motion to augment my stair charm, and gave it no limiting condition save that it must not end until I had stepped free into the world above.

“The spell could draw abundant power from that in the cavern, and it used that freely, but it also used the power and then the matter of my body to guide it, and so caught up was I in the casting that I did not notice until it was too late. Blinded by my panic to escape, I had put too much of myself into the casting of this charm, and it used all of what I had, and it made my very self a part of it…

“Until at last, I beheld daylight, and I wanted to step forth into it and could not. I was not anything that could step forth anymore, only a thing to be trodden upon. I had become the way out, and could no longer tread upon it to escape. So now you see why I cannot reveal myself to you; you have already seen me. Indeed, you stand upon me and are inside me at present. The bones you climbed to get here were mine, and you stand now in what the spell made of my skull.”

Shaviel’s face was shrouded with horrified pity. “Oh, you poor man,” she whispered.

“I thank you for your concern, child; your compassion speaks well of you. But to continue: not very long ago, I became aware that another hole to the outside had naturally opened elsewhere in the cavern. I could not take direct advantage of it, but I could still feel at the base of the stairs that are now my body that it was so. Thus that I became aware that you had fallen into that hole and unwittingly joined me in my plight, but it took some time for me to remember how to talk at all, so long has it been since I had last done so. And so you now are here to aid me. But what are we to do?”

“We have distress charms we can use to call for help,” said Turven. “There are scholars of magic in our town who may assist you–”

“Ah, child, I fear that may not be enough. I have had a long time to think upon this. The spell holds me trapped in its structure, wrapped in the prison it constructed from my body, until it is complete. But it cannot be complete unless I step free, and I cannot step free without a corpus, and in this horrible paradox I have suffered for centuries. And you are now trapped here with me unless we can reach some sort of understanding, for the spell, with all the power of this cavern behind it, cannot readily be broken by force.

“And yet, I need so very little to end the spell. I was almost, almost free, so close that there is even a sliver of daylight available through this mess it has made of my skull. If I can give the spell more living flesh to use, a living eye to perceive that light and a fleshly foot with which I can step towards it, it will be accomplished. I beg you to consider, if one of you would offer yourself, if you would undertake to join with me, merge with me in flesh and mind, I believe that would do it.”

Turven was speechless for a moment. “This is a very odd request you make of an innocent child, sir,” he said, fighting down his fear.

Akistere gave a dry laugh. “I know it does sound odd, but hear me out. The spell now holds you prisoner as well as it holds me, and the chances are not good that you will survive to be rescued, with little food and no magical sustenance such as that which now supports me. But if you accept my offer, one of you may walk free right now, and the other shall only be slightly inconvenienced by my presence, and in point of fact will gain a considerable body of experience in stoneshaping without having to undergo twelve years of apprenticeship, which shall prove to be a great advantage in life–”

“We sorrow for your plight,” said Turven, “but I cannot permit either myself or my sister to take this burden. Still, there is another living being here.”

And Turven reached behind his sister’s head and brought forth a thing like a silvery hairclasp, that fluttered and shimmered on his hand.

“A silver swift-fly?” cried Akistere. “Their life span is measured in days!”

“That is true, sir. But as I said earlier, child though I am, my excellent and learned teachers have told me there are no magics that can prolong life beyond two hundred years. You may not survive the collapse of your accidental spell at all. But I promise you we will undertake to bring you to these same scholars, so that if there is a way to preserve your already extended existence, they may find it for you. If they do not, you may rest easy knowing that your passage to better and higher spheres shall not be impeded by any attempt to unduly subvert the minds of innocent children.”

Akistere pondered this. “One hundred and twenty-seven years, two months and thirty days ago,” he said, “a beetle squirmed its way through that most miniscule of gaps and buzzed around the room. I could not entice it to me and soon it died, not one foot away, as I cursed at it bitterly. And forty-one years, nine months and eight days ago, a miserable little ant did much the same. Given that I was willing to accept escape under those conditions, I suppose that I am bound to accept the one you now offer. But I believe that any being that sets me free must show at least a spark of volition. Can this be said of the swift-fly?”

“I can make it want to join you,” said Shaviel, and she cast her charm of the flower scent upon the mess of bone and magic that was Akistere, and she set the swift-fly aloft, and it settled upon him. Akistere sighed a great long whistling sigh, and the spell seized upon this last bit of living matter and magic and combined its force with his, and the swift-fly cast its eyes upon that tiny gleam of light and draft of sweet air. At that moment, around them all, a parody of bone propped up by magic was robbed of its conditional support, and the spell ended, and the great skull that filled the exit cavern crumbled to dust and smoke.

As the sunlight and fresh air streamed in, Turven and Shaviel leapt out into the green woods, dancing and laughing, but even their lightened spirits could not have soared as high as the silver swift-fly, which rose above them, sparkling and shimmering, as if it meant to fly bodily into the heavens right then and there.
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#1 ·
· · >>Fenton
So, first story of the round for me, and it's off to a great start, because this is excellent! The writing and narration is exceedingly competent, very controlled and engaging. That's the thing I really like about this.

The setting for the story is interesting, very subtle and fairy-tale-like, with the mentions of Fae and Bearfolk and all sorts. I think what I like the most is that, like the writing itself, the author manages to give across the tone and some intriguing pieces of information that give the world a sense of scale in a very controlled manner. I really like the YA fiction kind of tone for the setting, and it ties into the art piece very well. Also, the texture of the imagery of the bone stairs and the skull – really neat.

Honestly, the story is so simple and straightforward in what it sets out to accomplish that I can't really think of anything I can point to that I really dislike about it. Although, actually, I kind of dislike Akistere, mostly because he blathers a lot about what's going on and what happened in the past, and then the whole conflict is resolved super quickly and easily. I would have really loved this story if the plot had been developed into something more intricate – maybe Akistere is only barely capable of talking when they find him, as it was established that ghosts don't say much because it's difficult for them, and the main characters work out what happened to him mostly by themselves, through the skeleton they're exploring and some more worldbuild-y moments?

Or, alternatively, the story could be more dark and intense, in a kinda fitting fairy-tale way, if the author had taken the implication that Akistere was trying to Stranger Danger the kids and made him into a straight-up antagonist, and the environment itself would maybe take on an even more sinister vibe. I think there's potential in a longer story with that kind of premise. It would certainly lead to a more... deserved conclusion? A more satisfactory one.

As a small, nitpicky note, I'm really not a fan of the first line? It doesn't hook me like it should, it feels very weak.

Overall, though, I really liked what the author managed to do with this story in such a neat, concise manner through some very professional writing, but I do think that as a story it doesn't have a super solid, engaging conflict that interests me. I think there was potential for something much more engaging, and as it stands I don't think there was anything that really changed for the characters from the beginning to the end, and that's not a good thing for something that's intended to be a functional short story and not just a vignette.
#2 · 2
OK, let's do this. First one of the round and already stalled me for a while on writing comments, so forgive the disjoint as I want to just get it out there.

I think this entry can be viewed in two different ways: a single story, or two stories concatenated (the kids, and the mage.) Either way, I can see some ideas expressed, but there are also some weaknesses in characterization and lack of hooks.

The first half of the story leans on simply presenting a fantasy setting. That's fine for readers who are already fans of YA-style fantasy settings, but not much of a hook by itself. Unfortunately, "Here is my original fantasy setting, let me tell you all about it!" is a dime a dozen in Writeoff entries (even in pony rounds!) so I'm looking for more than mere existence. What's the story in this setting, where are the characters, why do these details matter? Halfway through the piece, I knew a great deal about these kids' Feather Fall charms and mushroom pendant thingies, but I had no idea who the characters actually were - they're very bland Protective Brother and Little Sister figures walking around in some cave, and don't pick up any distinct characterization until the very end.

Then Akistere's half of the story hits, and we take a minute and sit right there and listen to how he became the Fresh Prince of Bel Stair. (In West Foelstam born and raised, in the stoneshaping pits he spent most of his days, etc etc etc.) This part hits some pretty interesting story beats! The magic system stuff starts to matter, we see costs and consequences, and can imagine some vivid imagery... but this time it has to be imagined, because it's all in one giant backstory dump, and the narrator is cagey on the details.

So - opposite problems in these two halves. The first part goes into too much description of inconsequential detail, while the second part holds an interesting story, but it's told too vaguely and too far removed to get into. The halves feel like almost completely different stories. While they do finally intersect, the ending is pretty clearly rushed and doesn't feel like it meshes with either part of what came before. "Shall we resolve this and all get out?" "Token objection, but yes, let's." And then they did, the end.

Let's make a comparison here. If you strip it down to the essentials, this is the same story told in act 1 of Disney's Aladdin: a pair of youths end up trapped in a cave, find a powerful but trapped magical being, and negotiate to join forces so they can all escape. Except here, the children lack the character of Aladdin's quick wit or Abu's comical greed. They fall in at random, instead of entering for a reason or being tricked by a Jafar figure. The cave is mysterious, but doesn't actually contain much in the way of wonders or adventure. Akistere - well, there's no shame in not living up to Genie, but clearly more could be done with his character than a flat backstory dump and "I am sad and bored down here." And the final negotiations simply happen with no fanfare or new sparks (unless you count mind control solving consent issues, which makes me squint a little...)

The prose feels pretty clunky to me. Some example lines:
"Come on. We’re of strong stock, you and I! You’re named for Great-Great-Grandmother Shaviel, who defeated a bandit twice her size with magic and cunning! Let’s show her that we can be brave, too.”

“I… I was… I am Akistere. I am a stoneshaper, and I came bearing wares from Foelstam to sell in the famous marketplace at Gorsden.”

He took his mushroom up in one hand and raised it over his head.

Nothing technically wrong, but oof. It doesn't read naturally, and there are too many proper nouns and "As you know, Bob..." exposition.scattered around. I hate to harp on this aspect, because I can't get too in depth about prose without devoting an excessive amount of time to critique for a single piece, but hm. Try reading your sentences out loud and thinking about characters' personalities and how they would speak to each other. (For a single example, why would Akistere call that marketplace famous?)

Yeah, I'm struggling to come up with a good way to wrap this all together. I suppose that itself is emblematic of the piece: it doesn't come together well, and never delivers clear answers to the questions of what the reader should care about and why. I don't forsee it doing very well on my slate, and would say it's in need of a complete overhaul to reach its potential.

Make no mistake, though, it DOES have potential. Akistere's story, in particular, did capture my interest. I have to wonder if this might be a case where the author had Akistere in mind beforehand, as an idea they wanted to write, and then found themselves bogged down trying to write this elaborate frame story around it in order to fit the art prompt, and come up with a conflict with the kids and so forth. No way to tell if that was actually the case until author retrospective, but it does leap out at me when I try to put myself in the author's shoes and think about how this was written. Anyway, thanks for writing!
#3 ·
Very intriguing story.
Like >>Pearple_Prose said, this is very engaging. And starting with a cataphora , top-notch, I love that.
I wish I would be able to talk about the writing style because I can see it is elaborate.

However, there are a few things that felt a bit off to me.
The way the kids talk doesn't really fit their age. I had trouble to accept that fact at first. I was expecting them to talk, well, like normal kids would do.
There is the fact that Akistere has trouble speaking at first, but then, it completely disappear. He delivers pretty big speech with pretty fancy words without sweating.
As for the resolution, it sure comes out pretty quick.

That's still a solid piece of work, a very strong mid-tier for me. Thanks for sharing.
#4 ·
So I want to say that the defining problem for this story is that it lacks mood. The prose is solid enough and you create decent imagery, but there is no real sense of wonder or horror in the story. The kids, to me, sound calm the whole way through. The mage, to me, sounds calm the whole way through. You portray as routine something that should be extraordinary, a once in a lifetime sight unlike any other.

I think that's what's holding this back from being a really good short. There is really no emotional hook. You spend too much time and too many words on setting the scene. You spend so much time explaining things that could be glossed over, I think.

So yeah, focus more on the heart of the story. As a reader, how am I supposed to feel while reading this? Then jam that emotion into the story.
#5 ·
It gets off to a strong start with immersive worldbuilding, with charms an integral part of life and ghosts not of particular concern. Descriptions generally worked although there are some parts that feel drawn out. Kudos for fitting to the prompt picture so well, though.

Grammar and mechanics are largely good, and I like how you were able to convey bits of character through their smaller actions, like handling the silver fly.

The dialog is a bit of a mix. On the one hand it's anachronistic - deliberately so, I assume, which adds to the feel of place. But on the other, as some others have pointed out, there are places (particularly later on) where it doesn't come across as particularly childlike.

Akistere is surprisingly longwinded and articulate, considering his situation. Although he does have a lot of information to impart, you might want to try having it be more back and forth.

The talk about him wanting flesh I initially parsed as someone having to cut off a limb.

Others have parsed the plot more thoroughly; I don't really have a strong opinion here. I felt that it worked, but it didn't blow me away. Still, it was enjoyable overall.
#6 ·
Possibly a nitpick, but it's awkward to begin a story with the name of someone other than your viewpoint character.

The prose, too, is awkward in places: “But before them was a sight that gladdened Turven at first glance, then chilled his heart as he looked at it.” It's already evident that he's looking at it. And later: “As the column of vertebrae collapsed beneath them, he strained his arms and climbed through.” The column collapsing seems important enough to warrant more than a subordinate clause.

For your first half, you're doing pretty well in building the tension, though the prose could stand to be a bit more atmospheric. Then halfway through, it mutates into something else. That's fine, as a midway twist – the spooky noises are actually coming from something quite benign (except maybe this friendly voice isn't quite so friendly).

And it's effectively creepy idea. But it's let down in multiple ways.

First, the lack of atmosphere really starts to bite around this part. They're inside a magically-mutated skull. But as atmosphere goes, the conversation could've been conducted in my living room.

Then, the bulk of this section is a long chat about the conditions of a magic system that's barely explained and clearly taken from the cutting room floor.

Finally, though we do start to build some tension near the end, the story seems to lose its nerve halfway through. We escape with a copout which dissolves all the tension built up so far. It comes from nowhere, goes nowhere, and leaves us with an anticlimax.

There's no real characterisation here, either. It seems to me that you could get rid of Shaviel entirely without really affecting the story.