Moving closer to investigate, Sage realized there was far too many of these beetles for him to go undiscovered by them. Best to see how hostile they were before moving into the more densely packed area. Walking closer some of the beatles twisted towards him, their antenna twitching as he neared. Standing in the center of the path he appeared to be quite safe, some of the beetles even walking right past his feet. Curious about the glowing moss he stepped off the center of the path and moved towards the walls, getting a closer look. He stopped though as the beetles working on the moss started to make a hissing noise at him. Seems they were only hostile if he messed with their moss farm.
Stepping back towards the center of the path he moved further into the mines, passing more and more of the beetles farming moss. Trying to remember if he’d ever read about such a thing in the books back at the Clan house, he eventually gave up. Instead he just tried to memorize all the beetle’s traits and the appearance of the moss in order to look it up later. Exploring further it was more and more of the same. Green beetles farming moss. After heading down tunnels for an hour he turned around and decided to end the mission for the day. Walking back, he was pleased to find that the beetles hadn’t messed up the stone markers he’d left behind for himself. He didn’t need them today but it was good to know about when he delved further into the mines. Getting lost down here was the last thing he wanted.
Retracing his steps, he was able to make it back to his home, Uncle Zhang’s house, without a problem. Hopping the wall once the coast was clear he snuck into his room and went to sleep. Following the usual routine the next day he spent his study time searching for information about the moss and the beetles. When he was about to end for the day he finally found mention of something that matched.
Spirit Jade Beetle: A beetle that is known to cultivate Azure Moss. They consume special minerals and then refine them into their jade carapace. They’re usually found in areas where jade mines exist and their bodies are very valuable. There are as many varieties of Spirit Jade Beetle as there are jade with the same unique variables that form the jade affecting the beetles in the same way. Spirit Jade Beetles can be used in all the same ways that Spirit Jade can be, and is even more valuable. Spirit Jade when used as a focus will slowly have its inner essence drained away over time until it loses its luster and has to be replaced. A Spirit Jade Beetle can be used as a focus while still living and can actually recover its essence over time.
Azure Moss: An uncommon natural treasure, grown by Spirit Jade Beetles. The beetles consume it in order to increase their inner essence. It gave them remarkably powerful souls for an insect and over time it refined their jade bodies to become equivalent to higher quality spirit jade.
It seems that the Back Mines are amazingly valuable! Did they close them off to hide this from everyone?
Sage made a decent guess about why the mines had been shut-down. He thought it was simply because it was a wealth too great that if anyone knew about it their clan would be in danger. He didn’t realize they also wished to use it as a proving grounds as he hadn’t yet explored into the dangerous areas. Nor did he know that the Clan was letting the area mature and also preparing powerful protective arrays to secure the area. Without a care in the world, Sage was even more excited to head back into the caves again tonight. Gathering up more rope, torches and even some Insect Cages.
The Insect Cages were not just normal wooden cages normally used for bug catching. They were formed from lacquered bamboo and inscribed with symbols. The cages were actually storage treasures, utilizing a shrinking magic. They were much cheaper than space bending storage treasures but more expensive than simple weight reducing storage treasures. Sage, as a fourteen year old with no status, had nowhere near enough money to afford such things, but since they were a branch of the Chong Clan, it was possible. The Chong Clan and all its branches did its main business selling insects, arachnids and other creepy creatures as well as the poisons they produced. As such there were countless Insect Cages in service by the clan so with such high quantity the value to the clan was lower than to others.
With his supplies restocked, Sage worked through the rest of the day. Careful to try and act normal around Uncle Zhang he took off after dinner just like the previous day. The trip being much quicker than the previous one, he didn’t have to find the mines, nor did he have to spend time scouting the way inside. He was shimmying down the chute into the mine in less than an hour after dinner and following the path he’d left behind yesterday. Deeper and deeper he traveled into the mines, reaching the previous place he’d explored to and delving further. Continuing to be cautious, aware both of what was ahead of him as well as the path behind. As he followed the seemingly endless mine paths the path ahead suddenly opened wide.
The narrow tunnel walls suddenly seeming to disappear he moved to the side to investigate, finding that they expanded outwards on either side, the light from the torch unable to light up the new cavern he had entered. Winding forwards, the path turned to the right and followed along the cave wall. Slowly walking, the area to his left continued on for at least a hundred feet and the area below dropped even deeper. Unable to help himself, Sage took out another torch and lit it from the one he was holding, giving it a toss into the darkness off the side of the path. Seeming to move in slow motion it fell downwards, spinning slowly as he leaned over the edge to watch.
A wisp of something ignited into flame as the torch passed by, bumping into something else springy before the torch stopped. It was a giant web! Just as Sage was wondering how large the spider that built the web was, the torch burned through the web and kept falling. The process repeating a few more times before the layers of web obscured the light too much and it faded from view. It was a huge vertical tunnel that dropped down at least a few hundred feet. It was no wonder it was so dark in this cavern, those spiders must prey upon the Jade Spirit Beetles so there’s no Azure Moss in here.
Sage didn’t really want to head down to where the spiders were, but he also needed to get a good look at one to try and identify it. With that thought in mind he backtracked to the entrance of the cavern and moved to where the path first curved to follow the right wall down into the darkness. He drew out the half-dozen torches that were still in his pack and started taking them apart. Cutting the torch in half and then unraveling the fuel soaked end, wrapping it around the new shorter stick. He saved two of them, one for the trip back and one for safety but basically turned the four others into eight smaller weaker torches. They wouldn’t last as long or shine as brightly since he’d sliced up the carefully wrapped and soaked torch heads… but he didn’t really need them to.
Enacting his plan, he lit a small torch and tossed it off the edge. Watching the torch as it fell and looking for large flat outcroppings or tunnel entrances. His eyes scanning the rocky walls as the torch fell. Grinning, he noticed just the sort of thing he was hoping to find. It looked like a path pressed up against the cave wall, sloping downwards. Sage had guessed the path followed the wall and spiraled all the way down this massive vertical tunnel so theoretically he should be able to toss something down to the lower spirals of the path. Lighting more of the short torches he threw them down to the left to land on the bit of path he’d seen before. Then he threw another towards the center of the cavern with all his considerable strength.
The torch whipped through the air, nearly sputtering out before it finally cracked against a rock wall and bounced off. He’d thrown it far too hard! Having no idea how far the cavern was, he couldn’t gauge the distance. Now that he knew the cavern was about three hundred yards across, he tried to land the torch near the wall so it’d fall down to the lower level pathway. With five more short torches he was able to land two more of the torches onto the pathway down below. With three successes, Sage waited patiently, watching the areas around the torches. His hope was that one of the spiders became curious about the noise or light and then moved in to investigate.
If this was a frequently traveled place, surely the spiders would be cautious of light and familiar with the habits of people and how to avoid, or hunt, them. With the Back Mine having been sealed off for years now, and already out of service for many years, there was a good chance the spiders here weren’t as cautious. These butchered torches probably only had a remaining burn time of fifteen or twenty minutes rather than the normal full hour. As such he didn’t have long to search, but he waited patiently anyways. Sage guessed that when the lights began to fade, one of the spiders would be visible. Crossing his fingers, Sage waited till the moment of truth. The light dying down as he finally saw a flicker of movement.
Quickly, he called forth his Mantis and had her fly a bit closer. He was worried that the spiders would catch the Mantis if he sent her down after them but now he wanted to simply use her better eyesight without putting her in danger. As luck would have it, he was successful. Now, to head back and research the spider breed for tomorrow! Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as he planned. The whole mine seeming to shudder, the ground starting to quake. The rumble only seemed to last a few moments but there were definite repercussions. Rocks falling around him as the mines shifted about.
What the hell just happened?