“Thirty minutes,” Lavarro said, then walked to the side of the chamber and sat against a wall to wait for the others to recover. Mahria looked pale, slumped against her slowly melting wall of ice.


“You ok?” Rain asked, slightly concerned. She really didn't look good.


“Fine. Used too much mana. Stop yelling.”


Rather than replying that he wasn't, in fact, yelling, Rain left her alone, respecting that she probably had a headache from the mana use. Huh, it doesn't seem to hurt me that badly when I am empty. Maybe it hurts more if you have more mana? Well, my winter aura should help her, at least.


Seeing Carten limping over to join them, Rain hurriedly activated purify. The man was absolutely coated in the black, sticky blood of the beasts. The dark blood seemed to resist his purification aura, but slowly the mess evaporated, steam rising from the piles of corpses on the ground as they too started to dry out. His aura reached far enough now to catch the entire chamber, but progress was slow in dissolving the corpses of the dark hounds.


By the time he had run out of mana, the blood was gone and the corpses looked like they were partially mummified. They were starting to turn gray and losing their dark, matted hair. Carten had removed one of his greaves and was bandaging his leg. Jamus had taken a seat next to Mahria, also looking a bit worse for wear. He was leaning his head against the ice wall, having removed his hat. Wow, yeah, that looks like it is way worse than it gets for me. Wait, I don't have a headache right now, but my mana is empty. Huh.


Rain sat, watching the others as his mana rapidly regenerated under the combined effect of Lavarro's potion and his own natural regeneration. He had switched back to winter, but the effect for the others was probably too small for them to notice. I need to level this up pronto. I don't think I could have helped in that fight, even if I had one of those tier 1 offense auras. I feel so useless, I can't even help them recover. I wonder how much mana they used?


“Jamus,” Rain whispered, causing the man to groan and lift his head off the ice to look at him.


“How much mana you use?” he asked.


“Too much,” he replied, and let his head fall back with a wet thump.


Mahria kicked Rain lightly in the knee, causing him to look at her. She was looking a bit better than Jamus, despite seeming worse at first. “Don’t ask questions like that,” she said.




“It is <something>.”


“<Something>?” Rain asked. She kicked him again by way of reply.


Carten walked over, looking none the worse for wear after Rain’s cleaning and having replaced his grieve. “Level, class, health, mana, skills. People do not like questions,” he supplied.


“Oh. Sorry,” Rain apologized. I guess it is taboo or something. I guess I can see that, like asking someone their weight. Kinda rude. Explains why nobody in the guild answered me when I asked before. I thought they just didn’t understand me.


Idly, Rain wondered what level his companions were as he scrolled through his notifications. He had barely gotten any experience for the kills, his contribution consistently listed as <1%. The dark hounds had been between level 3 and 6, and there were more of them listed in his log than he cared to count. Carten and Jamus had handled them without too much trouble. Even Mahria's ice bolts had done significant damage to them despite her being much younger than the others. Rain was feeling a bit inferior at the moment.


Oh, and Lavarro is on a totally different level. I really don't want to piss her off. That was insane. She didn't even move. What the hell was that spell? It just snapped their necks like it was nothing.


Rain shivered and settled back to wait for the others to recover.





“Up,” Lavarro commanded, rising from her spot against the wall and collecting her downed torch, using it to light a fresh one. Carten gave the groaning Jamus a hand up, then turned towards one of the smaller tunnels leading from the hall, walking over to it and waiting for the others.


The team proceeded to reclaim a few more miner’s picks from the side tunnels, bringing them back up to the main chamber and dumping them near the ice wall rather than bringing them all the way up to the surface. Soon, only the main tunnel that most of the hounds had come from was left, so Lavarro sent Carten and Mahria up to the surface to drop the collected picks off before they moved further into the mine. By Rain's count, they were up to nine out of the fifteen picks that they were supposed to find.


Rain's mana was full again, so while he waited for Carten and Mahria to return he activated purify, further stripping away at the piles of corpses. By the time he finished, most of them were merely grayish-black lumps of dust, having lost most of their shape, even the bones dissolving. This went for the corpses of the miners as well, their clothes lying in the piles of ash that their corpses had become.


Rain was trying not to think about it.


As he ran out of mana and switched back to winter, he noticed Jamus giving him a curious look. The man didn't say anything, though, simply grunting and climbing laboriously back to his feet as the others returned.


What was that about? Man, he still looks like death. Is his regeneration really that bad? Oh, wait, yeah, it probably is. If he doesn't have intrinsic clarity... hell, even if he does, he still probably isn't a dynamo. That seems pretty unlikely for anyone other than an idiot like me. I guess he noticed how much mana I have been using. I haven't exactly been hiding it.


Seeing that the others weren't waiting for him to finish his internal monologue, Rain hustled to rejoin the group as they started down the steeply sloping tunnel. After fifteen minutes of cautious walking without so much as a side passage, the circle of torchlight revealed a pile of uncleared rubble and more dead miners. Instead of blocking the tunnel, however, the rubble was strewn around a hole into another dark, open space. Lavarro held up a hand, halting the group. She then tossed her torch into the hole, revealing that the miners had broken through into some sort of underground ruin.


On the other side of the hole was a tunnel of dark, square stones mortared together to form a hallway leading off into the darkness. Carten had taken up station near the gap and was peering into the tunnel warily.


This must be where the hounds came from. The miners broke through and the hounds came out and killed them all. What the hell is a ruin like this doing down here? And how was there anything alive in it?


Rain inspected the scene more closely, then corrected his assessment. The miners hadn't broken through into the ruin, the hounds had broken into the mine. The rubble was strewn on this side of the hole, as if something had smashed its way through, causing the wall to collapse into the tunnel. He saw a hand sticking out of the rubble, the unfortunate miner having been killed by the collapsing stone.


He saw a few picks lying around and started moving to pick them up, collecting five of them into a pile a little way up the tunnel. On a hunch, Rain pictured a miner's pick and activated his new detection aura, extending it to cover as much area as he could. In addition to the fuzzy signals coming from the pile behind him, he also felt one coming from the corner of the tunnel where the rocks were piled the deepest. He couldn't get a fix on it, so he tried applying amplify to the detection aura. It seemed to help a bit in resolving the feeling of the pick. He walked over to where he felt it to be and started digging.


Luckily, it wasn't buried very deep. Rain triumphantly held it aloft as he deactivated his detection aura. Mahria, who had been digging at the rubble on the other side of the tunnel, huffed at him. She said a word he didn't know, then straightened, brushing at her knees.


“Jamus, what is this place?” Mahria asked the man as she stepped next to Carten peering into the tunnel.


He waved her away, holding his head. “Dangerous. Let’s go back.”


The group carried the picks back up the tunnel, moving a bit more quickly now that they had explored the passage before them. Rain was panting from the grade of the tunnel and the weight of the three picks he was carrying by the time they reached the room where the battle had taken place. The ice wall was still largely unmelted and Lavarro charitably allowed him a short rest.


Looking around the room, Rain decided that the others could think what they wanted about his mana use, and let off another blast of purification. He hated to see a job left half done and it looked like one more round would take care of the remains of the dark hounds completely. As the piles dissolved, Rain noticed a glint of light shining in the wavering torchlight. Stooping, he brushed aside the last of the ash from one of the piles, inhaling sharply as he saw that there were three Tel shining at the bottom of the pile.


Excitedly, he scooped them up and started scrounging around from pile to pile, sifting through the ashes and pulling out the shining crystals. The last of the ash disappeared before he finished collecting them, so he switched to detection, using the skill to guide him to the largest concentrations of the small crystals. He found that the signals seemed to merge into a single fuzzy ball when there were a bunch of Tel together. His companions’ packs, for example, shone like the sun compared to the tiny pile of Tel he was building up in his hand.


He grabbed the last of them as his mana ran out, then looked up to see his companions watching him with amusement on their faces. Rain blushed a bit, then stood, having been crawling along the floor for the past few minutes. Lavarro walked up to him and extended her hand, palm open. Rain stepped back, closing his hand over his prize, but Lavarro stopped him with a glare.


“Give it,” she said.


Shit. She said I could come, but I wouldn't get any of the reward. I’d be fine sharing, but that’s not a sharing face she’s making. This fucking sucks.


Not willing to make an issue of it with a woman who could probably crush his spine with a thought, Rain reluctantly handed over the small pile of Tel to her. Lavarro roughly divided the pile and gave each of the others a share, not including Rain.


Asshole. I worked hard for that. Maybe I can't fight these things, but you wouldn't have even found those Tel without me. You weren’t about to go digging through all those corpses.


Carten gave him an apologetic look but didn't argue on his behalf. He picked up his shields and started towards the tunnel to the higher chamber. Lavarro cut off any further discussion by moving to follow the big man up the tunnel.


I know I agreed to not getting a share, but come on, way to make me feel like a part of the team, guys.


They made it back to the top of the mine without incident, loading up the cart with the picks and securing the door to the mine with the heavy drop bar. Though it was dark, Lavarro had them travel for a few hours down the path before calling a halt for the night. Rain didn’t offer to help set up camp. He just curled up in the cart next to the pile of picks, once again feeling very alone.


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