Resting just beyond the edge of lands owned by Madiswil and Grendhoven nobility, the mining town of Adele was a contested location that had sprung up in recent months due to a newly discovered vein of magic stones. Magic power coursed through the earth in the form of veins, converting the exposed ore over time into mediums of mana storage. Since the town had been established on neutral territory, no particular lordship had exclusive mining rights. Instead, the kingdom of Sistina had decreed that the privileges would be shared by both neighboring lordships, and its regulation would be managed by the kingdom and its agents.
For this reason, any potential conflicts would first have to be reported to the capital to request for a formal investigation and possible aid. The agents of the guild, magic knights, along with the King’s army could be deployed depending on the situation. Both groups were sworn to neutrality and to work solely for the benefit of the kingdom as a whole. While this naturally caused delays, it had been a necessary step to limit the influence of competing lordships, mitigating the potential for conflicts of interest or power grabs.
As such, the guild had no issue approving Eryn’s deployment for this task, as she had no connections to either lord. We had set off the following morning and arrived in Adele by the time the stars had barely started shimmering in the sky. The blue moon gradually got brighter among the darkening sky as our cart rolled into town.
At this point, autumn was in full swing, so the evenings were getting chilly. We quickly found an inn to stay at. After Eryn and I retired to our respective rooms, I had pulled out a bag and dumped the contents onto the floor, a collection of various nuts found during today’s trip.
We had stopped along a stream for lunch. Seeing the copious amount of fish swimming, we tried to catch some. However, I was utterly inept at catching fish, as I had never been an outdoors person. Eryn, on the other hand, just pulled out a stick which had been sharpened to a point. With fluid movements, she skewered the swimming fish and gathered them in one spot. That had me clapping as it was like something from a martial arts movie. Seeing no other reason to be there, I went around foraging for other food.
Before long, I had gathered a bunch of edible nuts. I encountered an unexpected problem. Even with the hammer, I had difficulty cracking the shells. On the occasion that I hit an apparent weak point, the nut essentially disintegrated into a powder. The system of this world was rather ridiculous at times.
Giving up, I just took the resulting nut flour and used it as breading for the fish meat. Eryn’s first experience with Fish Fry was a success. However, she complained to me later that she would have to work it off. After Eryn had gained weight from eating too much fried food, I had to explain the concept of calories to her. She turned up to the sky and cursed at the sin of consuming tasty food.
My thoughts returning to the current moment, I had pulled out the leftover nuts and my hammer, experimenting with it once again. This time, I wouldn’t have to worry about embarrassing myself in front of anyone. After nearly an hour of practice, I had discovered two things. One, I could neatly break the shell without damaging the inside if it already had a crack in it. Two, if there wasn’t already a crack, one way to create one was to drop it from a given height. Throwing it forcefully at the ground was actually less effective, likely due to it registering as an attack. Since my Atk stat was near zero, that took priority. It was weird how any forceful interference by me would trigger this kind of effect. Well, at least I was no longer destroying the nuts, so I rolled into bed for the night.
The next morning, Eryn and I questioned the villagers about the current situation.
“Some unruly men have been squatting in the mines since last week.”
“We all have families to feed, so some of us tried to chase them away. Got hurt by some traps that were set up. Now, no one is willing to get close.”
The majority of the townspeople were miners and their families. A situation like this had severely hampered their livelihood. A giant man with an impressive beard stepped forward. He was apparently the leader of this town.
“I’m really hoping you two can help us out. We’ll give you as much support as we can.” The town lead spread out a map of the mines.
Drawing a few symbols, he indicated how far his men had traversed into the mines and the traps encountered. Most of the traps seemed to be magical in nature, launching magic spells at the intruder when a trigger had been stepped on. Finally, he drew two circles indicating two possible locations that the thieves would be most active. Since the thieves appeared to be smuggling the magic ore, the two locations were the main veins that the miners had been working at.
About to wrap up, the sound of a horse-drawn carriage grew louder as it rolled into the town. After stopping, the door opened, and a familiar self-centered magic knight jumped out, with a few guards climbing out afterwards.
“It is fine now! Why? Because I am here!” Stark showboated his confidence.
I choked on air. The image of him saying that clashed with my expectation of an almighty anime ‘Hero.’
Finally noticing Eryn and I among the crowd of miners, his face turned into a scowl.
“What are YOU doing here?”
“What do you mean? The guild assigned us to help this town.”
“W-Well, w-what a coincidence. I too was assigned to help.” Stark’s demeanor changed instantly.
Eryn’s eyes narrowed. “Ehh…wouldn’t having the son of Madiswil help be a conflict of interest?” She was rather skeptical of this coincidence.
“There is no problem! I am an agent of the kingdom. My familial ties are of no concern!” Stark objected.
Leaving no room for any further argument, he proceeded to drill the miners on what had already been explained to us. Content after only a brief explanation, he immediately pointed to the circled area on the right portion of the map.
“My team will take this side! Men, let’s move out!” Stark speedily walked away, but not before turning to give me a brief glare. He was living up to my nickname of him, Stark Mad.
However, there was something off about this situation, but we had no time to waste. Eryn grabbed my hand, and we hurried along.
Approaching the entrance to the mine, we did not hear anyone around. The ground in front of the mine showed signs of a scuffle, with the sight of the earth having been unnaturally manipulated.
“Looks like Madiswil went through here. Those are signs of his magic.” Eryn pointed.
Stark supposedly had a proficiency in Fire and Earth magic.
“Stark Mad, Destroyer of Nature,” I joked in a deep voice.
“Oh shush, you.” Eryn objected at my mockery, but her hand was covering a smile. We advanced forward.
As I looked around at the unnatural juts of rock protruding from the ground, I noticed broken weapons and armor strewn about, but no corpses.
Since the coast was clear, we glanced at the map to verify our path forward. While it was no maze, it wouldn’t do to get lost inside. Being leery of any re-activated traps, Eryn walked in front with her sword drawn and a wind barrier cast around her. Fortunately, it did not look like the thieves had time to reset them. Traces of the activated traps could be seen occasionally, as seen by leftover mounds of rock and debris that looked out of place among the dimly lit tunnel. This helped to confirm our current location as we compared with the notes the town lead had drawn on the map.
Traversing past the area the miners had reached before, Eryn finally stepped on a trap. A magic circle briefly flashed as she was then pelted with large stones. However, the stones shattered upon impacting the wind barrier, leaving Eryn untouched. Standing a bit behind her, I, unfortunately, got sprayed with the scattered debris. After the rock shower ended, Eryn turned around and made a sign of apology as I was now grumpy and covered in dust.
“Thanks,” I mumbled sarcastically.
Eryn cast another spell, the wind blowing away most of the dust before we continued.
We encountered several more traps – swirling quicksand, random pits, more rock projectiles, exploding bombs. Each time, Eryn used her magic to disarm them. She could displace the earth with her wind magic to bury the traps or shield us from incoming attacks. It was quite handy what magic could do.
I was half expecting a large boulder to come rolling down towards us, but that would be too cliché. Eryn comforted me that she could either blow it away or melt it down if it came to that.
As we got closer to the circled location on the map, the walls started giving off a faint glow. As we walked on, that glow began to get brighter as little specks of light dotted the walls. These were apparently tiny shards that had been exposed to the magic vein but were too small to be of any use. The tunnel became bright enough that artificial lighting wasn’t necessary to move forward.
Strangely, we had not seen a single sign of the current inhabitants.
Upon reaching the circled area, the tunnel expanded into a wide room. My breath froze and my eyes widened at the sight of a room sparkling bright like a night sky full of stars. The magic stones embedded around the surfaces of the room glowed with a slow, rhythmic pulse, showering the rooming with purple light cycling in intensity. The two of us paused for nearly a minute staring at this view.
“I-It looks like there’s no sign of anyone here. Let’s go back and try the other site.” Eryn finally spoke up.
I nodded and turned back at the entrance…or what I thought was the entrance…
I started looking left and right, but sure enough, I did not see the tunnel where we came from!
“Where did we come in?” I started panicking.
Having noticed this detail, Eryn too looked around in surprise. Running along the circumference of the room, neither one of us saw an obvious opening.
“A trap? Did one of us trigger something?”
The both of us had been so distracted by the eye-catching view that neither of us had noticed anything. Carefully tracing the walls this time, Eryn located one section that seemed suspicious. To her, the flow of mana appeared to have been disrupted compared to the rest of the wall, but I couldn’t tell that from looking, but this pretty much confirmed our suspicion.
“Stand back.” Eryn started chanting a spell. “Gale of Wind, compress into a blade and cut a path before me!”
Creating large blades of wind, she aimed them at the fake section of wall. However, the result was different than before. The spell suddenly grew weaker as it approached the wall, only creating a dull impact. The magic stones embedded in the wall shone brightly for a while before returning to its previous state.
“Darn. I was hoping that wouldn’t happen.” Eryn bit her thumb. “The stones absorbed the mana from my spell.”
Eryn tried a few more spells but each time, the stones had absorbed enough mana to greatly reduce the effects. Spells that would normally melt rock only heated up the wall, and air blades that normally cut through rock didn’t make much of a dent. Solely encountering traps before that were easily disarmed with magic, we had let our guard down. This trap was particularly effective against magicians.
Starting to grow desperate, Eryn took out her sword and did a few swings, but the wall shrugged off her attacks. It seemed pointless for her to continue throwing magic and attacks at the tough surface. I took out my hammer and pounded on the wall, but it was ineffective no matter where I tried. With no options remaining, I sat down and tried to think of something, anything that could get us out.
“If only I could find a weak point…”
Grimm had made it easy to tell where to hit by leaving cracks. My guess was that my Crit stat allowed for existing cracks to propagate through the rock but only if I could hit a weak spot. I had observed the same phenomenon when trying to crack the nuts. This meant that I would need another way to create a starting point…
“Hey Eryn, are you able to conjure water from magic?”
“I can make a little bit, but if you’re thirsty, I have my water flask on me.” Eryn looked at me strangely.
“Oh… Well, are you able to cool that water to almost freezing?”
“That little amount I can do, but not much more. I don’t have the talent for ice magic like Cornelius does.”
“I have an idea. Can you help me with a little demonstration?”
Plucking a palm-sized stone from the ground, I set it down and hit it with the hammer to confirm its hardiness. Following my instructions, Eryn chilled the water in her flask and handed it to me. Then, she engulfed the stone within a small flame pillar until it started glowing red. Holding my hand up to signal Eryn to end the spell, I immediately uncapped the flask and poured a small amount onto the stone. The stone sizzled as the water evaporated, leaving a single split across the surface. Hammering it once again, this time the rock split into many pieces.
“Yes, this might work!” I pumped my arm slightly.
This process of heating and rapid cooling called ‘quenching’ would be our ticket to escape. Seemingly understanding what to do, Eryn drew her dagger and focused her magic onto the dagger’s tip. As her dagger glowed bright red, she stabbed it into the surface of the wall, where there was the least amount of magic stones. Focusing her fire magic onto a single point through a medium would help concentrate the mana flow. It would be less likely that stray mana would be syphoned from the spell in this case, but given how many magic stones were around, a significant portion of mana was still being absorbed by them. Despite this, the area where the wall was stabbed started gradually glowing red, the glow spreading with time.
After the red glow enlarged to the size of our heads, Eryn stopped the spell and jumped back. This was my cue to dump the remaining water onto the area. The water turned into steam upon impact as the wall lost its red glow. A few fractures had developed on the surface.
Grabbing my hammer, I hit one of the lines as hard as I could. With a dull thud, the fracture propagated further up and down the wall, but nothing else happened.
“Huh? That’s it? What should we do-” A kick impacting the wall interrupted me.
The right section of the wall slid backwards and tipped over, falling into the tunnel behind it. Eryn looked at me with a triumphant pose. Oh? Looks like the wall was actually not very thick.
With our exit secure, the two of us headed for the other mining site.