Elsewhere in the mines, a band of men were in the midst of cleaning up their gear and removing all traces of them ever being there. A particularly large man with an eyepatch walked around hurrying others along. This man was Zeick, who was currently the boss of this ragtag group of thieves.
A few weeks ago, a disguised person had approached him with a proposition. The man was willing to pay a hefty sum for a shipment of magic ore and to disrupt the operations in a nearby village. Since the man was disguised, Zeick was naturally cautious of this deal. The payment was suspiciously high. While the amount of magic ore asked for was certainly large, it was not unobtainable with enough money and proper connections. That would mean that this person wanted to inconvenience the mining town for some reason.
Yet, Zeick had been running low on funds as of late. The lordship of Grendhoven had ramped up security recently, and this had hindered his group’s normal operations, which included poaching and smuggling. He was in desperate need of a good job.
Zeick beckoned the man to continue while listening for any red flags in the request. The job was explained as followed:
A group of men would inhabit the mines near Adele and drive out the miners. To prevent them from taking it back, the disguised man would set up traps. In the meantime, Zeick’s men would mine the requested amount of magic ore and transport it to a pickup point.
“What do ya plan to do with all that ore?” Zeick asked the man.
“My plan is to flood the market here, in order to tip the current balance between this nation and its neighbor.”
Zeick could almost feel the smile hidden behind that man’s words. He was obviously up to something, but if it concerned a nation’s politics, then he could care less. Zeick had dealt with much shadier requests in the past.
Reaching out for a handshake, Zeich offered his hand to seal the deal.
Everything had gone smoothly since then. The miners had been kicked out, and they had harvested the requested amount of ore. Aside from a few noises near the entrance, his men didn’t report anything else. Earlier that day, their benefactor had stopped by to check that the amount was sufficient. Casting some earth magic, he encased the entire shipment of ore in a large ball of earth for them to roll away. How convenient.
Now, all that was left to do was erase his crew’s traces and transport the ball of ore to the meeting point.
“Get yer asses moving! If ya want yer share of beer tonight, then we gotta drop this off by sundown!” Zeick yelled out to motivate his crew.
“AH!” His members called back.
Just then, a man appeared from one of the tunnels, running up to Zeick.
“Jericho! Did ya find out what that racket was earlier?”
“I went close to the other mining site but didn’t find anything along the way. We were told not to poke around there, so I came back after I got close.”
The crew’s benefactor had requested them not to trod around the other site. Said that he had laid traps for meddlesome people. Zeick paused for a moment to contemplate before returning his attention to the task.
“Alright. Let’s getta move on just in case someone’s managed to get on our tracks.”
Zeick’s men got behind the earth ball and started rolling it down the tunnel towards the entrance. As the last man left the open area, Zeick took one last look before extinguishing the lamps in the area. Darkness flooded the room as light receded down the tunnel where only the sound of grunting and rolling echoed.
After a few moments passed, a single flame lit up down a different tunnel, casting two shadows along the wall.
After we had escaped from the locked room, Eryn and I traversed the tunnels connecting to the other mining site.
Soon, the sound of heavy footsteps echoed ahead of us. Eryn pulled me down a side tunnel.
“Burning Flame, sear the earth and create a haze to shroud us, Mirage.” Eryn chanted in a small voice.
The air in front of us started to become hazy. The surroundings in front of the haze started to warp as light bent. When the spell finished, we were looking at a tunnel shaped differently than what it had been before. Walking up to it, a distorted figure suddenly reflected off it. Looking closer, I noticed that it was just my reflection, but as if it had been distorted with a funhouse mirror.
“Amazing. You can bend light with that spell?” I looked around, and it seemed like the tunnel behind me had been reflected in that haze.
Eryn was about to answer but quickly stopped when the footsteps approached the fork we had just ran away from.
Someone paused for a moment as if to check the tunnel.
“Nope. Dead end here.” The footsteps continued on.
“Yes. I reflected the tunnel wall in order to hide us,” Eryn finally responded.
Making sure no one followed us, we made our way through the tunnels. Luckily, we didn’t run into anyone else. As we approached the other mining site, the noise of activity grew louder.
As tidbits of conversation got clearer, Eryn once again chanted her Mirage spell. We hid behind the haze and assessed the situation.
A man came running back to the mining site, presumably the one that we passed by earlier.
“Jericho! Did ya find out what that racket was earlier?”
Looks like we had not been found out yet. Oh, there was a rolling boulder in this mine after all. Just as I was thinking that, the men got behind it and started rolling it out of the room.
Soon afterwards, the rest of the men vacated the area. The lights went out as they left, leaving us sitting in the darkness.
“Ok, let’s go.” Eryn ignited a flame in her palm to light the way.
We followed the men as close as we could without alerting them of our presence. Although I knew it wouldn’t help our situation at all, I had the strange urge to bring along a cardboard box.
Before long, we could see a light at the end of the tunnel, indicating the entrance to the mine. As we stepped out into the fresh air, the group of men were standing around the entrance seemingly awaiting our arrival.
“Shit!” I exclaimed as I grabbed the chef knife from my holder.
“Well, well. I thought someone may have been following us. My nose picked up a faint smell of something burning in the tunnel. Kinda strange when none of us had any lighters on us.” Zeick gave us a wicked grin as he sized us up.
There were at least 10 men from a quick glance. While I could see that they were lower level than us, the number of enemies would still make it difficult. Having only fought monsters before, my grip suddenly loosened as it dawned on me that I had no way of fighting human enemies. If I happened to do a critical hit on a human being, that would not end up good. I didn’t have the will to follow through with that currently. With that out of the question, my lack of offensive ability would only burden Eryn, forcing her to take them all down.
Eryn charged forward before I could recover from my hesitation.
I had to think of another way. This was not the time to be stalled.
Switching my knife to my left hand, I intercepted one guy who approached me with a swing of the sword. Easily blocking it, I danced around him, but a few others were about to join the fray. Glancing over at Eryn, it seemed like she had no issue taking down a guy or two, but the others were starting to step in.
I needed to keep as many of them off her as I could!
Calling up a portal over my left wrist, I reached in and grabbed a small knife. Good thing I had packed the box full of them. As one guy started approaching Eryn from behind, I hurled the knife at him. Seeing the projectile heading towards him, the guy stopped and dove out of the way.
Yes! Since he didn’t know that it wouldn’t hurt, he had no choice but to avoid it. That distraction had bought Eryn a few precious seconds to take down yet another guy.
Quickly, I grabbed another knife and hurled it at another person who had stepped towards me. As I continued to blow through my supply of knives, I kept dodging and blocking blows as they approached me, drawing them farther away from Eryn.
However, I knew that I could only fool them for so long. As if on cue, a large guy with an eyepatch stepped in the path of one of my throws. The knife bounced off his chest as if it had been a toy.
“Boss Zeick!” One of his men cried, only to be surprised by the outcome.
“Figures something was up with ya. This one can’t harm a fly,” Zeick roared to his men.
With my bluff finally exposed, the men around me charged without fear. I tried throwing a few more knives, but they bounced off like before. They were no longer cautious of what couldn’t hurt them. Running away from them became harder as they relentlessly swung their weapons at me.
“Dammit,” I cursed with a slightly ragged breath. All that running was starting to wear me down.
I had one more trick up my sleeve, but it was a gamble. Grabbing a handful of knives from the portal, this time I chucked them straight up into the air as I backed away. Thinking that it would be the same, they continued their charge.
However, this time was different.
“AHHH!!!” One of the men screamed as a knife sunk into his shoulder.
Another knife had fallen with the blade lodged into a man’s forearm. Yet another knife had scratched a man’s face, leaving a trickle of blood running down his face.
“What the hell! Were ya messing with us before?” The men were frozen due to their apparent carelessness. Confusion spread through the crowd.
My gambit had paid off. I had wondered why I could crack the shell of a nut if it was casually dropped, yet it failed to do the same when I hurled it at the ground. However, by tossing it straight up in the air, the shells also cracked. Since gravity was applying the force, that meant I was no longer actively interfering with the object and thus my Atk stat was not considered. In this case, a knife had essentially ‘dropped’ on someone rather than being thrown.
Although the battle had not been won yet, I couldn’t help but smile in satisfaction.
“Ugh!” Zeick cried out. He toppled over in pain.
While the men were distracted, Eryn had finished her side and launched a surprise attack on the boss. Looks like all the downed men were only knocked out as Eryn had been using the flat of her blade.
Having downed the boss, Eryn stared at the remaining men. “Now…Are you going to come along nicely, or do I have to do something drastic?”
A fireball was swirling around her hand, waiting to be launched. The men shook their heads and dropped their weapons. Eryn flicked the fireball at the large earth ball, cracking the surface on impact. I walked over to the cracked ball and smacked it once with a hammer. Magic ore spilled out of the side like a broken piñata.
“Yup. Operation success.” I nodded in satisfaction.
Unknown to us, a cloaked figure and a group of guards were observing from a distance. Cursing the outcome, the man turned around and stomped off.
As Eryn stood guard, I ran back to town to let the miners know about the good news. Seeing me run up, the town lead called out to me.
“Hey, you were with that lady knight, right? Thought you would’ve been back a while ago. Was starting to get worried.”
“What do you mean?” Looking at the sky, it was showing a faint tint of orange, but not late enough to be any concern.
“That other magic knight came by about an hour or two ago and told us that he already rid the mines of the thieves. Apologized that he didn’t manage to round them up though. Looks like they made off with our ore.”
“That’s strange…we just caught them and found the ore…” Something didn’t add up in my mind.
However, I couldn’t continue my next thought as the town lead slapped my shoulders with his hands.
“What! Really?” He shouted right into my face.
“Yes, really. I came back here because we needed help with the cleanup.”
The town lead hurriedly gathered as many men as he could find, and we made our way back. Eryn was sitting on a rock with her arm up as if readying a spell. Some of the thieves had woken up but were huddled together seemingly too scared to move. Facing Eryn, I pointed my thumb at them in question.
“Oh, them? I placed a fire trap on the ground. If any of them step outside the circle…” Eryn tossed a large rock towards the group. Upon impacting the ground, a jet of flame shot upwards and scorched the rock until it turned red. “That will happen.”
I felt a shiver run down my spine. I was glad that Eryn wasn’t the type to fire magic in anger like some tsundere heroines.
Afterwards, the town took charge of the thieves and ore recovery. We purchased some magic stones for Grimm and headed home the next day. Eryn reported the result to the guild, while I took the stones to Grimm and requested for that upgrade. After Grimm finished, it didn’t look any different other than a stone embedded at the base of the blade. Grimm shattered the blade in front of me and took another piece of metal, holding it up to the stone. A flash of light covered the objects. When the light faded, the blade had returned to normal, and the metal piece was gone.
Well, that’s one less thing to worry about. Now…I needed to work on another issue that came up.