“The national library wasn’t seen as anything extraordinary until an anonymous author donated a book which would change the world.”
I stare at the mountain... the remains of a mountain. It was hollowed out like a fruit with a hard shell. The remains of a large mining industry are still visible, even if everything looks like it has been abandoned for a long time. There is an actual wall around the mountain which is frequently interrupted by the crumbled ruins of watchtowers. Everything is covered by a thick blanket of plants.
The entire complex is enormous. There must’ve been thousands of workers and guards while the place was in use. An environmentalist would have all sorts of issues over this. To think that they caused this massive scar in the earth without technology. They only had their magic and basic tools. Maybe a few artefacts or other magical devices.
There is only one problem. How do I find what I need? It is a mess down there.
“It would help to know why we are here,” Brian comments on the situation. He is watching the scene beneath us with scepticism in his eyes. My whole core team is present, since I kept quiet about our next location. Of course they kept pestering me, but I held my mouth shut. I didn't want the word to get out that we are loitering around at an old power stone mine.
I sigh and lean myself onto the balustrade. “This is an abandoned power stone mine. I need some materials.”
They explode! Fae is first, then Tristen and Kiara. Brian also doesn't waste time. “Power Stones!” “You know that there is a death sentence on illegally mined power stones!?” “They will send the military after us!” “We are doomed!”
Wilhelm doesn't seem to understand the Problem. Klein looks like he is worried, but he says nothing.
I roll my eyes. “Don't jump to conclusions before I have explained everything. We aren't here for the power stones. We want the whitish ore which is found together with the stones. You can throw every piece of power stone away, if you choose to do so. We have no interest in them.”
Tristen still sounds suspicious. “Why don't we just buy the stuff from a mine? I am not aware of any restrictions on white ore.”
“That would raise all kinds of alarms and I don't want that,” I answer. “I hoped that I would only have to show up and take what I need. But it seems like this place was so thoroughly razed to the ground that we will have to create our own mining operation in order to find something.”
Klein points at the remains of the mountain. “I don't claim that I am an expert at mining, but it's always good to know at least a little about the materials I work with. Knowledge about the process helps to determine whether I pay too much for the materials I use. If the miners crushed the mountain to search the rubble for power stones, then they must've taken the searched debris to the side. Otherwise the useless material would get in the way. If I were you, I would take a look at all those little hills in the area. With luck, they sorted the minerals by type to be as efficient as possible.”
He clears his throat. “At least modern mining operations are doing that. I have no idea how they operated when this mine was in use. It must have been a long time ago.”
I survey the area with new eyes. The thick blanket of plants camouflaged it well, but once it has been pointed out it's obvious that the area is riddled with elongated hills. They are all perfectly aligned and of equal size. There are no peaks and they almost touch each other, which reminds me of gentle waves in the ground. I remember seeing something similar in a large iron mine, but that was in another life.
It isn't surprising. They had to put the remains of the mountain somewhere. I groan. “But that means that the ore-rich parts could be anywhere! It could even be that they mashed everything together without care.”
Brian is the only one who doesn't seem to understand the problem. “I guess the only way to solve this, is to go down there and take a look.” He touches his ring and floats upwards, then down into the mining area.
I scowl and sigh. “Is this area safe, or do we have to expect monsters?”
Kiara shrugs after using her ring to take a look at my virtual map. “I haven't heard of anything especially dangerous in this region, but abandoned areas always hold the chance to encounter a random monster. The world is full of things which are happy to eat people.”
“There goes my idea to send out the herd of children to gather pretty white rocks,” I mumble. Their appalled expressions tell me everything I need to know. So children’s work is fine, but sending them into danger is not. “I'll be down there. Just use the communication crystal if there is a problem.” I put on my mask and jump over the balustrade.
I land inside the fenced area and decide to start my search by walking in a straight line over all the hills. There are some paths inside the overgrowth of plants, which presumely belong to animals. While I walk, I kick random rocks and inspect them for traces of bertrandite. Maybe I can enchant the mask to detect certain types of elements? Gamma radiation would be the way to do it, and I wouldn't need much of it. I modify the mask, but no matter what I do, my range stays very limited. It doesn’t give me any distinct advantages in my search.
Three whole days of searching doesn't get me anywhere. It doesn't matter much, but it's frustrating. Klein used the time to organize the island's workers. He presented me with plans to create a large building which can double as an academy and a castle. Arranged around it are living areas and parks. He was intrigued with the island's ability to create spacial pockets and decided to include that into his design. They already started the construction of the central facility on the aft of the island, which means that we'll have to move the crew quarters sooner or later.
Wilhelm started his project with the sails which we will use to gather water. He decided on triangular sails which fan out on each side of the island. The water will be gathered in large tanks beneath the bow.
I spend the days with the same monotone routine. In the morning, I train my two apprentices in the art of magic and physics. In the evening, I search the mine. The children are the only thing which keeps me sane. I know that it sounds strange, but it's a tragic fact. They don't eye me with suspicion or question my teachings like some of the adults do. They simply take my words as fact and ask questions because they don't understand, not because they don't believe me.
After two weeks without results, I am almost ready to give up. That’s when Brian returns to the island with a single stone. It's already late evening and I am surprised that he was out so late. He finds me in my kitchen with Tristen, Kiara and Fae. “I have it! That's what you were searching for, right?” He places the stone on the kitchen table in front of me.
I study the brown rock which is criss-crossed with white veins of a crystalline substance. “That's it!” I stand up and hug the stupid fool, then I notice that he stinks like a mule. His hair is wet and he is sweaty all over. “What happened to you?”
He blushes and stands frozen for several seconds. “Y- Y- Yeah. There is just a small problem with the place where I found that.”
Everyone waits for him to elaborate.
After a few moments he decides to fill us in. “I found it close to the remains of the mountain. There is a facility with several ruins. The debris next to it is full of that white stuff, but the ruins are infested with huge bug-like insects. I barely made it out alive when they swarmed me. They have long, brown bodies with hundreds of legs and their red fangs are huge.”
“Oh, no. Zubis! I hate those bugs,” Kiara complains.
I turn to look at her. “Please explain.”
“They often infest old buildings in order to hide from the sun. They are big, ugly, ghastly creatures who spit a paralysing acid if they get close enough to a victim. First they suck out most of your blood and then they feed the rest to their larvae, preferably while you are still alive. When they are done with you there is nothing left but bones.” She shudders.
“A nest contains up to a hundred adults if there is enough space for them to hide. Strong light is pretty much their only weakness because of their huge, faceted eyes. On top of everything, they can't be tamed. They are simply too stupid!” Kiara crosses her arms in front of her. “That's it. We need a little army to get your ore.”
“Why?” I ask.
Tristen shakes his head. “I have heard of those things. They'll swarm all over us if they sense food.”
I smile. “Did you forget that I am a mage? Give me time to prepare, we can wipe them out without setting a single foot onto the ground.”
***Ocean, Northern Coast of the Murian Sociocrathy***
“Are those all the slaves on the ship?” I ask the second mate and eye the dirty people who are stuffed like animals into the bow of the vessel. It took us four days to catch up to the ship of the slave traders, but in the end we were the faster ones. Their ship is a trading vessel with a broad hull, while mine is an old Murian frigate from the war. Sadly, I won’t have it for much longer.
The second mate nods. “That’s everyone who wasn’t killed when we boarded the ship. You have to tell your source of information that this tip was total bullshit! It doesn’t pay to rob slave vessels.”
I glare at him. “Not every tip is perfectly accurate. Though, am I wrong that you got more than enough money from stripping the slavers?”
He grumbles and nods his chin towards the slaves. “What will you do with them?”
My eyes narrow. He needs to think that I am going to kill them. “What can I do? We can’t allow them to tell anyone that we attacked a slave ship of the Empire. Especially not that we did so in Murian waters. Both countries will be after us.” I wait for a few moments to allow his slow brain to do its work. “Go back to our ship and take the others with you. I want us to be gone in ten minutes.”
I wait until I see him disappear through the bulkhead and turn back to the slaves. I reach into my jacket and pull out a stack with documents. “Is there anyone among you who can read?”
An elderly man raises his hand.
“Good.” I throw the documents onto the deck in front of him. “Listen well, all of you, because this is going to be complicated.” Well, at least it will be complicated for slaves.