“Aye, guess its morning already.” He muttered to himself as he dragged his body of his tent cot. Leaving the comfort of his nightly rest, he reached down to his chest and took out his work clothes. With a head of brown hair and a full beard, the man did not look his 25 years, but instead gave off the visage of someone far older and more experienced. After adjusting his rope belt, he picked up his lantern and pick and left his tent.
“Morning Johan!” A voice came over from his left. Johan turned and grinned at his close neighbor Hamish, who was similarly dressed as he was.
“Morning to you to Hamish,” He returned the greeting, “How are you this fine day?”
Hamish smiled and patted his stomach, “Quite hungry if truth be told. I figure it be about time for de taverns to be open so we can eat before work. Care to join me?”
“Of course you old sack of bones, just point me toward the smell.” Johan chortled.
Hamish smacked Johan’s back as the two began walking together, “Oy, just because I’ve been doing this sort of work for 20 years doesn’t mean I’m old ya know. Not all us miners are strapping young folk like you.”
Johan scratched his beard and smiled ruefully, “I sure don’t look it anymore; I remember arriving her clean-shaven.”
Hamish nodded as they passed an another group of miners, “Aye, that be the way of life of a miner. Why do ya think dwarves are famed for their beards?”
“Calling me a dwarf are ya?” Johan teased him.
Hamish guffawed, “If ye be a dwarf, I be a pretty elf lad with long flowing hair.” He pretended to preen himself before the two began to laugh uncontrollably. The two finally made it to the local area tavern, ‘Hilda’s Bar’, and took a seat on one of the open tables.
“Lass, a pint of ale and a small miners meal if ya don’t mind.” Hamish called on one of the working girls. Dressed in the tavern’s uniform of a long skirt and revealing neckline, the lass smiled and nodded as she left to put in the order. Johan looked at her shapely backside before returning his gaze to Hamish. The older man was smiling at him.
“Lass caught your eye has she?” Hamish’s grin grew from ear to ear.
Johan shook his head, “As a man, it is important to appreciate beauty, but beyond that you know I have no interest.” A hard, yet sad, glint appeared in his eye, warning the other man to drop it.
Hamish, not indicating that he had noticed, changed the topic, “Ya hear the news on the dungeon? They say the whole thing’s changed overnight.”
Johan raised his eyebrow, but the two stopped as the serving girl returned with two ales and two plates of potatoes and lamb. The two men passed over a few copper each and dug into their meals.
Between bites of lamb, Johan asked, “Did the dungeon wake up? Is that what they are saying?”
Hamish took a swig of ale and wiped his beard of crumbs, “Aye, apparently the dungeon awoke yesterday and made all sorts of changes. Truth be told, I can’t tell ya everything because rumors are flying around everywhere. But,” He leaned over as his voice got lower, “They say the dungeon finished eating that damned demon who attacked the princess. My buddies over at construction told me they’ve been paid to work on two new quarters; one for the elves and one for the church. What do ya think about that?”
Johan frowned, “The elves are welcome, but I don’t want no church folk near the dungeon. Much as I praise the gods, I don’t want them hurting my meal pay.”
Hamish nodded, “Aye, that’s the general feeling going around the area. All us miners, builders, shop keeps, and adventurers need the dungeon.; and ya know what they say about what the church does to dungeons.”
Johan shook his head, “Well, we’ll have to wait and see how they act. Now, enough of the unpleasant news, you hear anything else you hear about the dungeon changes?”
Hamish shrugged, “It grew, but that’s about the limit of what I know. Some say another floor, some say 100 more floors. Hard to judge the truth until the adventurer guild releases more information.”
Johan poked his potatoes in a solemn silence, “Ya think it did grow to 100 floors? That sounds kind of dangerous to me.”
Hamish looked over at the younger man’s unease and clapped his back, “Hey now boy, don’t be getting nervous over rumors. The mines should be just fine, so don’t ye worry more about it. Let the adventurers deal with that kind of situation. Come on, let’s finish up and head out. I have a good feeling about today.”
Johan snorted, “You have a good feeling everyday ya old coot.”
Hamish nodded, “You’re right; it’s a good feeling because I’m still alive.”
The two made their way over to the dungeon entrance after they finished eating their meal. Tent quarter, or ‘city’ as it was nicknamed, was the farthest part of the dungeon town compared to the dungeon, and thus required them a good 30 minutes to walk through the rest of the tents, pass the check-point into Iron City, walk through Iron City, and exit the town through the palisade checkpoint. There were about 100 or so miners who lived in tents, but it was also home to the other laborers of the town so it was the largest part of the town.
Johan rolled his eyes as they neared the dungeon, “Oh great, look at that crowd. It’ll take forever to get into the dungeon.”
Hamish sighed and nodded, “Aye, most of them adventurers are too chicken to go in. Least they could do was move about if the way. Oh, there are the guards now.”
A group of guards from the town made their way and began to move the crowd off the path into the dungeon, clearing a space for those brave enough to enter. The two men nodded their thanks to the guards as they passed into the dungeon.
Hamish perked up as he caught sight of a friend leaving the dungeon, “Oy, Henry, that you man? What, you work the early morning and didn’t invite me?”
Henry was a large black man with a shaved head and a large grin. He laughed and clapped his hand on Hamish’s back, sending the smaller man tumbling into the wall, “You would have never gotten up even if I did invite you. Anyway, I was just going back because my pick broke again.” He held up the after-mentioned pieces of his broken pick-axe.
Hamish wiped off his shirt in an ironic sort of manner as he grinned up at the bigger guy, “As it happens, I brought an extra that you can buy at 20% of what you mine today.”
Henry groaned and clutched his stomach in apparent pain, “Hamish, you must wish to kill this old man. I can only afford 5 or I won’t be able to pay for my poor kid’s dinner.”
Hamish and Johan stared at Henry, “You have kids?”
Henry stopped faking and frowned at the two as the three began to walk into the dungeon, “What, is that such an impossible idea?”
Johan scratched his head awkwardly, but Hamish merely grinned and said, “10%.”
“Done deal.” Henry grinned as he took the pick-axe from Hamish, “Hey, you boys hear about the changes yet?”
Seeing them shake their head, Henry continued, “Well, the mines got more interesting. Some of the old passages disappeared, and more interesting things have been found in the walls now. I hear a fellow got lucky and hit a gold vein.”
“Get out, a gold vein! The luck of that fellow must be high.” Hamish exclaimed and wiped his forehead theatrically, “Let’s go help ourselves then.”
Henry shook his head, “The guy hired some muscle and claimed the entire wall. Bit of an ass really, goes by Carver.”
Hamish frowned, “I was jesting before, but I really can’t stand that fellow. I do feel like staking a claim now.”
“It’s not worth it Hamish, let’s just find our own spot.” Johan spoke up, patting his friend’s arm. Hamish grumbled for a bit, but ended up agreeing. The three made it to the center room and took the north tunnel into the mines. They passed a few miner and made their way down a newer passage on their left.
“This a good area? I don’t think I’ve mined in the north tunnel before.” Johan asked his fellows.
Henry shrugged, “Mining doesn’t really change with the tunnels; just depends if you luck or not. I started mining over this way earlier today, so we can start a new tunnel.” He led them down a small alcove into a small, rounded room.
“Good a place to start as any I guess. Here, I’ll start on the left here.” Hamish took a spot and began to swing with his pick, quickly falling into a rhythm of 1,2. Henry went into the middle and began a pace of 1,2,3.
Hamish looked over, “Kinda fast pace ye got their Henry. You sure you’ll be able to keep it? Rather, you sure your pick will be able to keep it?”
Henry frowned and nodded, slowing down to match Henry’s pace. Johan began on the right, and soon the three of them were hammering away in a perfect rhythm on all three walls. Bits of stone fell down and began to litter the floor, creating an uneven surface. However, after a while the stones melted into the floor, leaving it as smooth as when they entered.
“See, this is what I love about mining in a dungeon; ya don’t have to worry about the clean up.” Hamish declared happily, “The other mines I worked at, ya had to stop and put all ya stone into a mine cart and send it up the tracks to be melted. Here, all the dungeon stone disappears and leaves ya with a nice shiny rock to sell. Ah, looks like we got a winner.” He bent down and picked up a small shiny stone. He gave it a polish and inspected it with his eye.
“Bit of iron here, must be near a deposit. Good eye Henry. Give me a hand here lads.” Henry and Johan moved over and began to mine on the wall with Hamish. After a few minutes, they began to reveal a vein of iron in the wall. As they knocked the iron down, large and small chunks of the metal began to litter the floor. The three stopped and began to store the iron away in their sacks.
Unlike adventurers, the miners did not have magic bags that could hold a large amount of material and be light. Instead, they had to make periodic stops back to the center room, where merchants gathered to buy the ore and crystals found in the dungeon. The prices inside the dungeon were lower than back in town, but few miners were willing to make the time to travel back to town and risk losing their spot.
“I’m full up, how about you two?” Johan announced.
Henry nodded, “Same here.”
Hamish nodded his head in agreement, “Alright, time to make a trip then.” The three picked up their picks and made their way out of the room, packs full of iron ore. They made their way back to the center room and over to one of the merchants stalls.
“Hey boys, what did you bring me today?” The portly merchant grinned as he rubbed his hand together.
“Got you some quality ore right here sir, take a look.” Henry handed over a small piece of iron and watched as the merchant chanted some spells over it and gave it a good look. The merchant nodded his head in approval and smiled at the three.
“You’re in luck, iron is in high demand with the new building orders. I’ll even match the price from town for you three.” The merchant announced.
Hamish raised an eyebrow, “You sure? I thought merchants were all about making a profit?”
The merchant chuckled and patted his belly, “I’ll still make a profit; so it’s better to make repeat customers in such a case.”
Happy and light hearted, the three men handed over their bags to the merchant, who weighed them and double-checked their contents before handing them back the now empty bags and a few silvers.
Henry was ecstatic as the trio made their way back into the north cave, “This is the best payday I’ve ever seen! I think I’ll go to the iron quarter and get a hot bath today and a real high-quality meal. Maybe even some nice clothes and a good wench to warm my bed.”
Hamish laughed, “Well then . . .” He paused, and Johan looked over his shoulder.
Two adventurers were standing outside the alcove that led to their mining spot. The two glanced at the trio and fingered their sheathed weapons.
Johan frowned and stepped forward, “Excuse me, we’re on our way back to our spot.”
One of the adventurers grinned and looked over at his partner, “Say, did this area have someone’s name on it?”
The other shook his head, “Nope, I didn’t see anything in particular like that.”
Johan nodded, “Okay then, well I’ll just go . . .” The two took their swords out and pointed them at Johan.
“Sorry their old man, but this area is claimed by Carver. You’ll have to run that by him if you want to mine here.”
Now Hamish was frowning as he fingered his pick-axe, “Didn’t Carver have a gold vein to mine? Why is he here in the north tunnel?”
“Gold ran dry quick, and then he struck it again here with iron.”
“That thief must have seen us leaving and stole our spot.” Henry hissed under his breath, “Damnation, I bet he did the same with that gold vein. By the 9 hells I won’t let this thief take our spot.”
The adventurers must have sensed the change in mood, as they frowned and took a ready position with their swords. The trio of miners began to slap their pick-axes against their palms in rhythm, the universal signal in the mining world for violence. A few other miners began to appear, and they soon joined in with the wordless chant as the adventurers soon found their paths of escape blocked.
However, before anyone could do anything a horrifying scream came from within the alcove. Everyone froze and turned to see a human-like figure run out of the alcove. He was screaming and clutching at his face as he tried to take what looked like a viscous goop off of his face. He stumbled and fell to the floor and began roll around.
“HELP ME, SOMEONE HELP ME!” He cried out.
“Shit, that’s Carver!” Hamish cried out in alarm, dropping his pick axe, “Get it off him!”
A few miners ran forward and tried to pry the goop off of the struggling man, but their picks merely went through whatever it was. In a few moments, Carver stopped struggling and fell limp as the thing devoured his head and neck.
“What in the 9 Hells is that thing!” A miner cried out in fear as he moved backwards. One of the adventurers muttered something under his breath, causing his sword to burst aflame. He sliced down and cut the goop in half. It jiggled and vibrated as it burned, and disappeared. A piece of iron dropped in its place.
“Whatever it is, it is a dungeon monster. My guess is that it’s some kind of lesser slime; an ooze of some sort.”
“Ooze works just fine.” Henry muttered as he bent down and inspected the iron, “Where did it come from though?”
Hamish poked his head into the alcove and took a look around. “There’s a hole in the wall, my guess is that it came from there. Poor bastard must have opened the hole by accident and had the thing drop on him from above.”
“That begs the question,” Johan began, “What else changed in the mines while the dungeon was improving itself.”
The miners began to look nervously at each other as they contemplated the answer to that.
One of the adventurers shook his head and sighed, “There goes our employer. Well, guess we have back to diving the dungeon then.”
“It seems . . .” The other adventurer paused as he cocked his head and placed his hand on the tunnel wall, “Why is the tunnel vibrating?”
“What are you talking about? I can’t feel nothing going on here.” One of the miners frowned at the adventurer.
The two locked eyes and nodded, quickly making their way around the bend back toward the center room. The miners scoffed and muttered to themselves about superstition and adventurers being overly arrogant.
“What a tool.” Hamish muttered as he licked up Carver’s bag and looked inside, “Ah, looks like ole buddy Carver hadn’t turned in his gold yet. What luck for us indeed lads!”
Johan frowned and shook his head, “I think we should leave the mines fellas. I don’t feel right about this.”
Henry laughed and clapped Johan on the back, “You scared youngling? Don’t be listening to no superstitious adventurers about that nonsense. Let’s get back to mining in our room.”
Johan shook his head, “No, let’s just be safe about this and leave. We already had so much good luck today, perhaps it would be better to call it quits.”
Henry and Hamish sighed, but decided the younger man was right. It was better to stop when ahead than when behind. The trio began to make their way back toward the center room, when they began to feel the floor rumbling.
“Run.” Henry cried out in alarm, and the three began running toward the exit. As they neared it, they began to hear cries of fear and prayers behind them, and turned to see what was happening. Around the corner, a large blob appeared, looking like the ooze from earlier, and began to rapidly cover the flow like a flood. A few miners were running from it, and one tripped. He cried out for help, but the ooze monster appeared and quickly covered his body. The trio watched as the one arm above the monster turned into a skeleton before sinking and disappearing.
They dived into the center room, and watched a few other miners reach them before the monster reached the exit. It gave a soft gurgle noise, and dissolved into the ground before their very eyes, leaving nothing behind.
Henry, pale faces and gasping, turned to Johan and nodded. “Remind me to never gamble against you.”