Mines of Ithoa: Chapter 6.1

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            Entering the mines proved to be more difficult for Jothal this time. She was unable to pick the lock and had to steal a spare key from one of the outposts. Additionally, it seemed that more workers had been put on watch after discovering evidence of her prior trip. Still, Jothal was determined to avenge Vos and destroy whatever it was that had attacked them. This time, Jothal had come prepared to face it. She had brought Rankein and a small shield that would have no trouble protecting her from fire.

            Jothal snuck up to one of the first outposts that she encountered after entering the mining grounds. There was a gently slumbering worker slumped up against a back wall and a quiet murmur of voices in the basement. Her eyes scanned the room for a key rack or a cabinet in which she might find a spare key. She stepped gingerly around the small room, investigating every corner. When she reached the slumbering man, she noticed that he had a key ring fastened to a belt around his waist.

            How typical. Jothal sighed. Why must everyone fall asleep with every  valuable thing they own with them? She reached for the key ring, but then hesitated. She might wake this man up if she wasn’t careful. She briefly thought about making a copy of the key, but then pushed the thought from her mind. She didn’t have much time or patience, and she didn’t want Master Hebak to catch her in the act of pouring iron into a mold. Jothal surveyed belt loops, the key ring, and the fastener that held the two together. Carefully, she slid the fastener open and slipped it out of the worker’s belt loop. Jothal nearly jumped in celebration, but a jingling of the keys and a sleepy rustling of the worker reminded her that the job was not yet over. She rifled through the many keys on the ring until she found one that was labeled “Mine Key.” It was almost too easy. After replacing the key ring and sliding her prize into a pocket, Jothal slinked out of the outpost and towards the mine’s entrance.

            After evading a few more workers, Jothal arrived at the entrance to the mine. After a click of the key, the lock fell to the floor. Jothal winced and looked around to see if anyone had heard, but it appeared that they had not, so she pushed it open a crack and slipped inside. Donning her headlamp, she proceeded down the same route that she had traveled with Vos the other day. First down the long tunnel into the large cavern. The cavern had not changed from the last time that she had been there. However, one of the wooden supports was blackened at one of its corners. It must have been in the fire’s path, she reasoned, and after some inspection, she confirmed the hypothesis. It had definitely been burned.

            Turning to the right, she entered the tunnel that she hoped led to the small office room. She was delighted to see that it did, but her happy disposition fell when she saw that the entire room was smothered in char, ash, and smoke. She picked up a blackened book that promptly crumbled in her hand. She threw down the ash in frustration. Any further clues to solving the disappearances were destroyed.

            “Looks like I’m just going to have to find this ‘vug’…” Jothal muttered to herself. She looked down the dark tunnel that had spat fire at her previously. It looked peaceful, but she was cautious as she entered, holding her small shield in front of her as a precaution. This tunnel had many scorch marks on the walls and floor. She shivered, but continued down the tunnel with determination.

            After what seemed likes miles to Jothal, she reached the end of the blackened tunnel. The end wall was smooth, much smoother than a pickaxe could carve a wall. She held out her hand and touched the even stone. It was like a finely polished black opal, and as she shone her orange headlamp light on the wall, it seemed almost translucent. No other paths branched off, but she knew that this could not be a dead end. Jothal looked round her. The thick soot made it difficult for her to see anything that might have been of use, however, a glimmer coming from inside of a small crevice in the wall caught her eye.

            “A vug! Of course!” She approached the crevice, which had an opening no larger than her fist, with her sword drawn and her shield poised. Not knowing what to expect, she peered inside of the opening.

            Inside, the vug opened up into a larger bowl of gem-covered rock. She marveled at the geode’s brilliance as her orange light bounced off of purple stone, illuminating the whole crevice, and then refocused her efforts on searching the area for a clue. In the center of the geode was a small pouch, neatly tied with a string. Jothal thought it was too simple. There must be some kind of trap. However, though she looked around the vug the best she could, she saw no evidence of any trickery going on. So, slowly, she reached her hand into the crevice. It was a tight fit, and after a certain point, her hand blocked any light from guiding her hand towards her target. Still, she fumbled about until she felt the velvet bag brush against her hand, and she seized it.

She quickly withdrew her hand from the crevice, but as it was passing through the opening, she felt a prick of what she thought must have been a sharp edge of stone. Jothal jumped at the prick, and shone her light on her hand to check for any injury. Nothing seemed to have been harmed, but Jothal reminded herself not to get careless even in small tasks such as this.

She looked back to the small bag in her grasp. Its knot was easy to untie. Jothal peered inside, but the poor lighting made it difficult to see what was contained. From what Jothal could tell, the bag held a pile of white-ish powder and a flint box. Maybe this was an alcove for some spare mining supplies in case a worker can out of headlamp fuel. It must be pretty old if that’s the case. Jothal thought. Any kind of fire-based lighting has not been used in the mines for years now. Raon stones have replaced the need for that. Maybe it was a form of explosive, stored here in case of a cave in, or perhaps it was some form of drug used for smoking. Whatever the case, the foreman had mentioned this vug and its contents for a reason. She had to know what this powder did, even if it was a dead end. She removed the flint and steel from the box. She had to test a small amount of this powder to see its effects. She picked out a few granules and placed them on the stony floor. Taking the flint and steel in both of her hands, she struck the two together and sent sparks flying towards the substance. As soon as it caught on fire, a brilliant red flame illuminated the cavern. Jothal nearly fell backwards.

“Well then…” she murmured. “I suppose it was an emergency source of light after all. Perhaps a warning system?” She looked back towards the place where the powder had burned. Maybe if she tried the same thing with a large sample of the powder… Jothal took a pinch of powder from the bag and placed in on the ground. As the sparks from the flint and steel fell onto the pile, the brilliant red light again engulfed the entire length of the sooty tunnel. She looked at her surroundings and gasped. Where the smooth wall had once stood impenetrably, she could see a faint door outlines in thin red lines. She tucked the bag and its contents into her pack and walked towards the doorway. Remembering to not be careless, she held up her shield, reached for the door’s handle, and turned it.

The End

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