“Dungeon Crawl? What’s that?”
With sparkling eyes, staring into the abyss, I can’t help but channel the joy every kid feels when playing their first game.
“A maze of corridors and passageways; teeming with traps, monsters, and treasure!”
“Kid, I don’t know what cave you’ve ever been in, but this is just a mine.”
“But aren’t there monsters?”
“Of course.” Finally, I thought a part of me was about to die. “All caves have bugs and animals you have to look out for.”
“That’s not what I mean, Del! I’m talking about a place of adventure, where people challenge themselves or hunt for treasure, places like that!”
“Well… I guess a bandit lair fits those criteria, or maybe an old ruin somewhere. Heck if I know! A cave is just a cave.”
So, no dungeons... I hang my head in defeat. Even with the game elements, this world isn’t a game. People live simple lives, and, as Del put it: a cave is just a cave.
Looking left, Del doesn’t seem to care about my dead childhood, while he’s preparing for our mining trip.
“If you're finished daydreaming come over here. We need to cover a lot of things before we head in.” Walking over, I immediately start paying attention. It’s rare to see Del so focused and serious, he deserves the same from me.
“First, let me show you the gear. Your pickaxe is self-explanatory, but I’ll show you the proper form when we reach our mining spot. This is a light-hat.” Taking off his hat he starts pointing out its functions. “Usually a Stone Kin knows a simple light spell, so when I left my city I learned about these light-hats from human miners; they’re semi-magical items.”
Pulling one of the small black rocks that he kept in his house out of a pocket, Master Del holds the stone up for me to see. “This is magicite, also known as magic coal. Magicite can be found in the ground around even the smallest of mana veins. The clearer the stone, the more mana is contained within. There is a small mana vein at the bottom of the mine that I’ll show you later. You take the magicite and place it in this compartment on top of the helmet.”
Del clicks a little latch and the square box on top of the hard hat opens up. Inside are a bunch of orangish lines crisscrossing around. “You could fill the box up with magicite if you wanted to but a stone of this size is enough for the rest of our day.” Closing the box, and latching it again, a small yellow flame sprouts out of the little metal nub on the front of the box.
After I stare at the light-hat a while longer, Master Del takes the rock out and hands it to me. “Don’t put it in yet, wait till we are about to enter the mine.”
Reaching into another one of his pockets, he pulls out the clear stone I saw earlier. “This is a wind stone, one of the few things I took with me from my old home. Magic stones, not to be confused with magic gems, are rocks that take on an aspect of nature when exposed to certain types of mana for long periods of time. Wind stones are a miner’s best friend, the stone clouds over the dirtier the air becomes. When there is too much dust in the air or any harmful gases, the stone becomes muddled with different colored streaks.”
Wow, Stanley had a little machine for the same purpose, and I know they used to use birds back in the day, but it’s nice finally seeing something so magical used to solve a problem.
“Now that the equipment is covered, let us move on to the dangers inside a mine. Always watch where the ground is. The main tunnel through the mine is cleared for my cart but all the side tunnels are uneven and if you’re not careful, falling is almost guaranteed. I haven’t hit any pockets of water yet, but all water underground should be considered dangerous. Some metals can turn a pool of water into acid and you never know how deep the water really is.”
“I already told you about the air and gases. If the wind stone starts changing color we back off and move to the previous shaft. If any rock comes loose, I want you to remain still while I dig us out.”
“The last thing we need to watch out for is the wildlife. Rarely a karhu or farkas gets caught down in the mine, and sometimes I’ve found packs of goblins nesting in here for the winter moons. We also have to look out for shadow bats, venomous snakes, and large purple spiders. The most common vermin we need to look out for are gem snails. They secrete a mucus that acts as an acid, they use the mucus to melt stone and eat it. Gem snails aren’t aggressive but you want to find any that have a shell bigger than three inches. Their shells are as hard as stone but if you can smash it, they die rather quickly. The shell fragments can be processed to improve certain metals, so always keep an eye out for the bigger ones.”
“So, nothing too dangerous. Ready to do some mining?”
What does this stupid grandpa mean “nothing too dangerous”! He just named like a million things to watch out for! Stanley told me he knew what he was doing so I never questioned his uncle about the gold mine. If I heard even half of this from Stanley earlier, I never would have gone into the old mine.
Well, there was gold and Stanley definitely wouldn’t let me back out. At least I have a super-dwarf with me this time.
Pulling my light-hat off and placing the magicite inside, I make sure the flame flickers on before I put it back on. I watch Del do the same, before he starts pushing the cart into the dark tunnel.
Following closely behind Master Del, the fear in my stomach settles, and the excitement for my next adventure squashes my fear completely.
Silently, we creep through the cavern listening to the screech of metal rubbing up against itself, the cart sounds so loud now that we’re in an enclosed space. The small yellow lights from our helmets illuminate only ten feet In front of us. The air Is humid and slowly climbs in temperature as we go down the dark tunnel.
Del must be able to see farther than me, because he steers the cart perfectly through the winding tunnels. Every few feet, we come across some wooden rafters held together by metal plates. Passing by one, I try touching the wood. The red wood feels solid to the point my nails don’t even leave a mark. I notice the light around me become brighter, so I turn to see Del watching me.
“See, nothing to worry about. I had your dad chop down and bring me the hardest wood he could find, and fashioned them into the supports. I won’t have to replace any beams for 200 years.”
“You're right, Master, it does make me feel better. I didn’t ask because I thought we weren’t supposed to talk.”
“Why wouldn’t we be able to talk? I thought you were just amazed at the mine.”
“You were concentrating so hard on the path, so I thought you needed it quiet.”
“What, no! I thought you wanted it quiet.”
So, both of us were being too considerate for the other. Well, if we have time to kill, I should ask some questions.
“How long till we reach our mining spot? How deep is this mine, anyways?” Depending on how long we have to reach our destination, I have a lot to ask.
“The deepest part is half a mile below the surface, the main shaft stops right on top of the magicite and mana vein. I’ve dug out nearly nine miles of tunnels leading to different beds of ores. Salus takes the good slabs of stone I bring up and uses them as building materials.”
That’s amazing, one man can move that much stone by himself. The foundations for the whole village are thanks to Del.
Let’s see if I can get some magic answers from him next. “What is a mana vein, Master Del?”
“Mana veins are the natural flow of dense magic in the world. It’s unknown how exactly they form, but they mostly appear in undisturbed patches of nature. Earth mana veins are the easiest to come by. If you dig enough, you’ll find a small one like I did. I’ll show you what they look like when we reach the deepest part of the mine.”
“Mana veins don’t have to be in the ground either, the sky is full of mana veins that we can’t see. I learned from my elders that there are rare mana veins that can form as well. You can get rare fire mana veins around volcanos; or opposite, water mana veins can form in the sea or within waterways. These areas produce the rarest of mana-touched materials, which all craftsmen look for.”
“All mana veins are unique, coming in all shapes and sizes. Mana veins can be hard to measure, but are classified as small, medium, and large. As a mana vein grows in size the mana inside the vein grows more powerful, making larger veins incredibly rare. 90% of mana veins are small with 9.99% being in the medium category, and finally only 0.01% of mana veins can be considered the large variant. The large mana veins contain so much magic, that if non-mages or low leveled creatures get near them, they die instantly. Kingdoms have been built on the riches of a single larger class mana vein, or have been destroyed for one.”
I should try meditating by the mana vein when we reach it. I wonder what the surrounding mana looks like next to such a rich source of magic.
“Master Del, how does someone die from too much mana?” If Master Del can answer that, I won’t have to try any animal testing.
“Different creatures handle mana differently; some are born in mana rich environments and naturally can handle it, but others after absorbing multiple times their mana pool…simply, poof.”
“Ya, poof. The mana burns them from the inside out, if their bodies can’t take it. A person with a weak body can only stand maybe seven times their own mana pool. People usually feel it long before it gets that bad though, and just leave the area.”
I pumped 250 mana straight into each of those little goblins over a few seconds, no wonder they disintegrated. Mana doesn’t even need to be channeled into a spell; if you have enough, you could just melt someone with it.
Walking past our first side tunnels, moving deeper; another important question, that I wasn’t sure I should ask my parents, pops into my head. “Master Del, why do skills give different amounts of experience? Also, how many tiers of skills are there?”
“Your parents never taught you this? No matter, what is the most amount of experience you’ve ever gotten for a new skill?
“150”, I reply. Well, I have three of them;, but let’s not say that yet.
“No wonder your level is so high! You already have a tier three skill at your age, that’s impressive. Skills are rated between one and five… I mean six, but no one admits to having a tier six skill. Tier one to three are considered normal skills. Your average villager will have two or three third tier skills if they work hard enough.”
“It’s the fourth, fifth and six tiers that define how gifted someone really is. Forth tier starts at 250xp, then fifth at 500xp, and sixth is rumored to give 1,000xp for the first level. Your average villager never gets a tier four skill, and even among the longer-lived races tier four skills are hard to obtain. People with fifth tier skills are the best of the best, they’re celebrated anywhere they go and usually hold the most power.”
“The higher the grade the skill is, the more concentrated its benefits are. For example: Axe Skills is a tier one skill, while Axe Arts is tier two; then you might get a tier three skill like Double Chop, Perfect Cut, Quick Swing, and skills like that. When you get to tier four skills, they start to be personalized to an individual.”
So, I’m already at the same level as your average villager, with three tier three skills.
“Master Del, you said people with high tier skills are always sought-after; are you one of those people?”
“I wish! There’re plenty of more accomplished human blacksmiths in the capitol of Akavile. Remember I’m a magic-less Stone Kin. There’re plenty of humans who know how to craft with magic, we Stone Kin are just known as the best.”
“You said the capital city of Akavile. My parents always call it the kingdom, what’s our kingdom's name?”
“We are in a part of the Kingdom of Olebert, ruled by the Zalis royal family. Olebert Zalis claimed this land 700 years ago during the warring period of Masora.”
“Masora is the name of the continent we live on; your parents haven’t taught you any of this?”
“I was more interested in easy skills I could learn, and stuff like that. I know how to read, write, and do math if it makes you feel better.”
Master Del stops at the largest branch tunnel we’ve passed so far. “Down there is the biggest iron bed I’ve uncovered so far; we’ll be mining down there later. And no, I’m not impressed! All Stone Kin children are required to have those skills, it is you humans that like to limit each other’s knowledge."
Continuing deeper down the tunnel for another quarter mile, the hair on the back of my neck stands up, it feels like the air is becoming heavier.
“You feel that lass?” Del looks over his shoulder to me. The flame on his light-hat is a little bigger than when we started.
“Ya, I can feel it. It’s like I have warm cobwebs clinging to my body.”
“That’s the magic in the air, you’re feeling.”
As we reach the bottom of the tunnel, we come to an open oval room. I can tell Del has been mining here for a while. The room is easily 2500 square feet, with a ceiling almost 20 ft in places. The walls have spots of magicite sticking out of the exposed rock. By now, the webs have turned into ropes around me, The magic is dense enough that little flecks of brown light are oozing from the rock and float about before falling and melding into the ground.
“I don’t want to keep you down here for too long for your first time. I want you to watch me, and try to get used to the feeling of this much ambient magic.”
Master Del turns the cart around, so he can push it back up the tunnel later. Once the cart is positioned, he takes his stance facing one of the walls.
With one swing of his pickaxe, he sends a small explosion into the rock. The rocks, surrounding the area where he struck, fracture and tumble to the ground. In one swing, he ripped out hundreds of pounds of rock.
“Did you see my stance?” Master turns to see if I’m paying attention.
I start coughing, because my mouth was wide open after his swing, so I got some dirt in it. Nodding my head rapidly, Del returns to his work, with a smile on his face.
We won’t be here long so while Master Del is mining, I sink into some quick meditation. Feeling my mana stream, I notice minute brown strands slowly mixing with my mana stream. Turning away from an inward perspective I check my surroundings. I almost startle myself awake, I’m in a sea of brown. Instead of the many colors I normally see around my house, I can only see different shades of brown flowing through the air. The mana is so thick I can’t even see the mana in the walls around me.
Deactivating my Meditation skill, I walk across the room and stand next to a wall; lets see what a mana vein looks like.
Focusing on my meditation again, with one hand on the wall, I try to feel the mana vein.
I fell on my backside. I can’t breathe, and I’m sweating more than I should be in this hot cave.
“You ok?” Del appeared over me. He bends over and easily lifts me up.
“Yeah, just tripped over a loose rock.”
“Ok, be careful. I’m loading up what I need now and then we'll go mine some iron.”
Watching him sort the rocks, I wipe the sweat from my face. Looking back at the wall, I discard any idea of trying that again. The force I felt in the wall was massive. The only thing I could compare it to is if a person tried to watch a nuclear explosion without glasses… and they were holding the bomb.
Trying to get a hold of myself I walk over to the cart. Del is loading chunks of pure magicite into the cart. It looks like the waste material fell off completely.
After the cart is loaded, we make our way back up the mine shaft. Once the mana starts to weaken, I feel good enough to ask Del about the magicite.
“Is that a skill you used to mine the magicite so perfectly?”
Pushing the cart like it weighs nothing, Del answers. “No, magicite is just like that. After you break through the stone around it, it separates naturally. The stone around magicite requires at least a strength of 100 to chip away at it; but once you break it, gathering it is easy.”
We arrive back at the iron tunnel Del told me about earlier. Looking down the tunnel I see a smaller wheelbarrow waiting on the side of the tunnel entrance that I missed the first time.
“Grab the wheel locks out of the little wheelbarrow.”
Looking inside the little wheelbarrow there are two metal triangles. Picking them up, they must each weight around twenty pounds. Even with my strength, it’s hard to pin them under the large cart's front wheel.
“Good job, now throw your pickaxe in the little wheelbarrow and push it down the shaft.”
“Don’t look at me like that, you need to work on your muscles and practice pushing the cart when it is empty.”
Reluctantly, I push the smaller metal cart down the rocky path. It's only the size of a regular wheelbarrow from Earth but it’s made from thick metal and without a rubber wheel in front, pushing it while empty is still a chore.
Trying to distract myself, I ask Dal something that has been bugging me; “Where’s all the bugs, Del?”
“You might want to improve your Senses, we’ve past loads of bugs and animals coming down. Most of them stay away from people, so unless you look for them in the dark, they’re really hard to see.”
“What about the gem snails I’m supposed to be looking for?”
Laughing, Del walks up to me while I’m trying to get the cart unstuck from a rocky divot.
“I told you they look like rocks; so, look at the rocks.”
Reaching past my head, he grabs a small pebble from the wall. Holding the pebble up to my eye, I watch as a snail pops out of the bottom. The gem snail is black and dripping yellow mucus underneath it. After holding it for a minute, Del places the small snail back against the rock. Instead of moving off, it retracts back into its shell and blends so well into the wall, that after I blink, I can’t find it again.
I wonder if I could keep one as a pet? Can their acid eat through glass? Maybe I can get Del to teach me how to work with glass.
With Del's help, I managed to get the cart moving again. After a few twists and turns we reach another dead end.
Looking around, this room is shaped like a triangle. The walls are made from a black stone that absorbed the light of our helmets making the cavern even harder to see.
“We're finally here. See this black stone, that’s what we're here for!”
“Master Del, I thought iron ore was red in color?”
“It is, usually. This is called “Lovers” iron ore. This ore naturally draws other metals to it like an expert lover, he-he. When it's melted down, it produces some of the richest iron you can get.”
Bending over, Del picks up a small chunk of ore from the ground and tosses it to me. Examining the rock closely reminds me that I’ve seen this before in Stanley’s collection. This is called…what was it?…Magnetite, that’s what it was! It was one of the most common iron ores back on Earth.
Holding the chunk of metal over the cart, it jumps out of my hand and slams into the carts railing. It shouldn’t be that magnetic.
“Master Del, why is it sticking so much?”
“I told you, it loves other metals; the more mana in the ore, the stronger it reacts. Don’t worry about it right now, come take a few swings at the wall.”
I watched his swing earlier and I already know how to swing a pickaxe from my past life. Lining up next to a fissure already in the wall, I place one leg behind me, keep my back straight, and let my arms guide my swing so that gravity can do its thing.
By a lot.
“This time, do it again; but this time, actually try.”
I was trying, you monster dwarf!
“Let me show you again.”
Del takes his stance and brings his pickaxe down right where I was previously aiming.
Another explosion of dust, and this time the section cleared is three times larger than the hole he created in the magicite.
“Do it like that, ok?”
Looking at his smiling face really pisses me off.
“How am I supposed to copy your swing when you move too fast?”
“Just keep trying and remember, with feeling.”
You are so getting water-boarded again tomorrow!
Maybe I won’t water-board him.
Right now, I’m sitting on the back of the large cart, I can’t move right now, I’m too tired. I spent hours listening to Del criticize my swing, posture, stamina, you name it. Then, we had to load the ore into the small wheelbarrow and take it to the large one.
Swinging the pickaxe; up and down, up and down.
Hauling stone; side to side, side to side.
I can barely hold on to the side of the cart. Master Del, the nicest, sweetest, most generous man ever, told me to ride on the cart for the trip back. Even now, Master Del is pulling the whole cart up the mine shaft. And I thought dad was strong, hauling thousands of pounds of stone makes Del a true monster. That’s what happens when you invest so heavily in physical skills, I want to be that strong one day.
Opening my eyes, I feel groggy. Did I fall asleep on the wheelbarrow?
Why am I staring at the ground?
Why am I staring at the ground and at a dwarf’s ass?
Looking over my shoulder, I realize Del is carrying me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.
Before I can say anything, I hear the familiar crack of a door.
Now the ground has turned to a stone floor and a familiar door shuts in front of me.
“Orry late’s, ell aseep out da mie.” (Sorry she’s late, she fell asleep on our way out of the mine.)
Before I can proclaim my innocence, I feel weightless. In one motion, Del flings me over his head and catches me in a princess carry.
Looking around my house, I see mother and father looking dumfounded at me. Richard is on the floor laughing and looks like he is going to die soon.
Trying to hide behind my hands, I know my whole face is red right now. Richard is laughing even harder.
Before the door closes again I hear Master Del say “g-nite”(good night) before leaving me alone with my family.
I take back my “take back” from earlier.
The village will hear tomorrow, about how a dwarf drowned in his sleep.