The next morning, Jothal and Vos snuck out of the shop before most of Mainstay was even awake. Jothal carried a small pack filled with the essentials on her back, but Vos traveled as he always did, his utility belt filled with trinkets and his hands free to help him maneuver about. Jothal led the man towards the mines they had been near the other day. She checked the area and saw very few miners scattered here and there.
“This is good.” Jothal noted. “I guess since there’s been no ore to mine, none of the miners showed up.” The two snuck along the perimeter of the grounds surrounding the mine’s entrance, hiding behind abandoned equipment, rocks, and outposts whenever one of the few remaining workers moseyed by. Eventually, they reached a decline in the ground, which funneled towards a metal double door. They slid down the loose earth to the door only to find that it had been locked shut with a heavy looking padlock.
“Damn.” Jothal muttered. “I suppose we will have to find a key. They must keep a spare in one of the outposts.” She turned to Vos, who had been rummaging around in one of his belt’s pouches absentmindedly. “Vos, do you think you can sneak back into an outpost and find the key?”
“I’ve got something better.” Vos removed a ring of thin, oddly shaped pieces of metal and what looked like a whittling knife. He then took the padlock in his hand and began to fiddle with it, inserting many of the metal pieces into it and wiggling them about. Suddenly, the padlock clicked open and was removed from the door. Jothal could see a smug grin on Vos’s face, but there was little time for accolades. She cracked the door open just enough so that she and Vos could slip through. Once inside, Jothal took two headlamps out of her pack and handed one to Vos. When they had their lamps situated, Jothal shut the mine door and they were plunged into near darkness.
The headlamps had shiny metal dishes that were fitted with Raon stones, converting and increasing their orange light into a beam. Jothal could see only the beginnings of what she knew to be a twisting maze of a mine. She removed a folded piece of paper before donning her pack once more.
“This map will help us to not get lost while we’re down here… Just stay close by. These mines were known to be pretty dangerous even before the disappearances.” Vos nodded, making his own light beam jump.
Jothal led Vos into the darkness. Each footstep echoed slightly as they progressed deeper and deeper into the mines. Jothal pointed her orange beam around her as she walked through the narrow tunnel. Vos, because of the naturally smaller stature of Ithoans, was having more difficulty keeping up a good pace under the low ceilings. However, after a few hundred steps or more, the tunnel opened up into a large cavern. The orange beams of the headlamps were swallowed by the blackness of the cavern, occasionally bouncing off of stone bridges, stalactites and stalagmites, and wooden platforms used to support miners as they chipped away at iron in the rocky walls. One of these platforms had toppled over. Some abandoned tools lay where their owners had left them as they fled from the mine.
“This way.” Jothal’s voice bounced off of the dank cave walls. She pointed her headlamp to the right of where the two had entered the cavern. Another tunnel led off into the unknown. Vos was searching around an abandoned workstation, but returned to Jothal’s side as they headed towards some other part of the mine system.
“Something must have startled the miners. Maybe that’s why they left in such a hurry?” Jothal wondered aloud. As they walked through the new tunnel, they could clearly see more evidence of abandoned work disrupted order. “Perhaps the missing miners just got lost in the confusion?”
“I doubt it. Miners would know their way around the caves… I mean, they work here every day. I’m sure there are evacuation procedures and all that.” Vos pointed out. “Besides, look here.” Vos directed his light to the wall of the tunnel. There were circular soot marks and dents in the stone in seemingly random locations. These were accompanied by long, thin scars in the rock. “This isn’t natural, and I doubt that the workers would do this for fun or by accident.”
The two kept walking down the tunnel until they reached a small, carved out room. There was a desk pushed towards one wall and two more tunnels branching off. Papers had spilled from the disheveled desk and onto the floor next to a bucket of spare tools.
“Look here.” Vos said, approaching the desk. His beam was fixed on a red, leather bound notebook. He flipped through its pages to see if it could be of any use. “This seems to be the foreman’s work log. Maybe it can give us a clue as to what happened.”
Just as Vos tucked the notebook safely in one of his belt’s pouches, a low rumbling sound came from within one of the branching tunnels. Jothal looked into the darkness and saw a small dot of light.
“I think someone else may be here…” Jothal whispered to Vos, but as they watched down the tunnel, the light only got larger and the sound only got louder. As the light grew, Jothal recognized it and pushed Vos out of the way of the tunnel’s mouth.
“Fire!” She yelled, as the flaming orb hit the wall behind them with a crash. “Run!”