Chapter Nine: Eerily Luminous

By the time Patience and Forbearance returned to the Mine's main cavern, the glow-gem miners had already been through, the area easily ten times brighter than it had been before. Patience beamed up at Forbearance. "It's nicer in here, with all the gems around."

He smiled a little, offering her a nod. "Yeah. I guess it is."

The pinkette giggled and looked around again, her emerald orbs falling upon another tunnel entrance. "That must be the tunnel that miner mentioned."

Her companion nodded again. "We should get going, then."

Patience nodded back, starting towards the ore mining area with a skip in her step. "Yeah! Lets' go!"

Forbearance followed beside her, a small grin appearing on his face. Her happiness sure is… contagious.

The tunnel they entered into was bustling with activity, now that glow-gems had been distributed amongst the miners. Patience and Forbearance were careful not to get in anyone's way, weaving quickly through the lot of them. At the end of the passage, they met up with an adult male Tribal, who was scribbling something down on a paper.

He looked up from his paperwork. "May I help you?"

Patience dipped her head respectfully. "Sorry to bother you, sir. Could you tell us where we need to go, to get to this strange rock layer we've been told about?"

He paused, eyeing them. "Why would a couple of kids like you want to know that?"

Patience explained about her quest from Elder Taharus, then told him that Elder Flaaris asked them to help out at the Mine, if they could. "So, here we are," she said.

He hummed, tapping his writing utensil against his chin. After a short moment, he gave a nod. "Very well, then." He gestured to a contraption next to them. "You can take this elevator down to the bottom of the mining area. That's where the impenetrable layer is."

The Fire Tribal dipped her head again. "Thank you, sir!"

He gave another nod, looking back down at his paperwork. "Be careful."

"We will!" she responded, hopping onto the elevator with Forbearance. She grabbed onto a lever with both hands, pulling it down, and the elevator began descending.

It took several moments, before the elevator came to a stop, and, thankfully, the ride was mostly uneventful. Patience had enjoyed it, but Forbearance seemed a little uncomfortable, hopping off the contraption as soon as it halted.

The Magician-in-Training craned his neck back, looking at where they'd just come. "This Mine is… really big."

Patience hopped down from the elevator also, grinning. "Isn't it amazing? I've never been underground like this, before! It's so… so fascinating!"

Forbearance found himself laughing softly. "I guess that's one way to look at it."

Giggling lightly, the pinkette headed in a seemingly random direction, approaching another Earth Tribal that must've been around their age. He was crouched down, his gaze apparently fixated with something on the ground. He glanced up, as she stepped over, Forbearance following after her.

Patience crouched down beside him. "Elder Flaaris asked us to help out around the Mine. So, we wanted to see if we could figure out what this weird layer is." She turned her gaze to what the miner had been staring at before. "What's this?"

He shrugged. "It has astrological symbols, so I'm guessing it's a sundial of sorts. Why a sundial would be in the Mine is beyond me, though."

The Fire Tribal hummed, tilting her head. If it was a sundial, it was easily the fanciest one she'd ever seen. "What's this weird symbol over here?" she questioned, pointing to an image that only appeared in one of the sundial's sections.

He gave another shrug. "I wouldn't know. If I knew an Astrologer, maybe I could ask them, but I'm at a loss here."

"I know where I can talk to an Astrologer," Patience said. "There's one in Liqua. I met his daughter the other day."

"Really?" he asked, his eyes lighting up a bit. "That's great news!" He handed her a rolled up piece of paper. "Here. I've already sketched out the sundial. Could you bring it to him, please? Perhaps he can figure out if it means anything important."

She nodded, accepting the message and standing back up to her full height. "We sure can!"

He gave a grateful nod back. "Thank you! I look forward to your return!"

Patience turned, grasping Forbearance's hand with her free one and darting away, as she called over her shoulder, "We'll be back, as soon as we can!"

. . .

When Patience and Forbearance exited the Mine's main entrance, they were surprised to see Etrin standing there, leaning back against the outside of the Mine. He waved, smiling. "Hey, there. Flaaris told me she would cover my duties for a little while, so I could assist you, if you needed anything."

"What a coincidence!" Patience said with a light laugh. "We were actually just thinking that we should go find you." She showed him the letter. "One of the miners asked us to deliver this to the Astrologer in Liqua. Would you be willing to take us there?"

Etrin grinned, nodding and stepping away from the Mine. "Sure thing! I don't mind. A little trip to Liqua sounds like a nice break from chasing Corrupted around all day."

A small smile etched itself on Forbearance's features. Etrin really was nice to talk to. Forbearance appreciated his friendly and up-beat attitude.

The Earth Tana placed a hand on each of their shoulders. "Next stop, Liqua~!" And, in an instant, they appeared at the gate to the Village of Water. "Here we are!"

Patience smiled up at him. "Thanks, Etrin! We won't take too long!"

He waved it off with a hand. "There's no rush. Take your time."

She grinned, grabbing Forbearance's hand once more and running through the gate. Elder Yulara glanced away from some work she was surveying, and waved them over with a bright smile. "Hello, again, young Patience!" she greeted. "What brings you back to the Land of Water?"

The pinkette beamed up at her, showing her the message. "We need to take this to the Astrologer! Could you show us where he lives?"

"Certainly!" She gestured to their right. "He lives just over there." She paused for a moment, glancing at Forbearance. "You must be Jhing's new apprentice – Forbearance. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

He dipped his head respectfully. "Same to you, Elder of Water."

Patience smiled, turning towards the Astrologer's hut. "Let's go, Forbes!"

Forbearance smiled, stepping after her. "I'm coming."

With a giggle, the Fire Tribal knocked on the door, receiving a, "You may enter," from within. So, she slid the door open, Forbearance following her, and they both removed their boots.

A man, the Astrologer, presumably, looked up from a scatter of papers and astrological maps spread across his table. "May I help you, young ones?"

Patience smiled. "You are the Astrologer, right?"

He gave a single nod. "Indeed. I'm Nayara, Liqua's Astrologer."

She stepped over to him, offering the message. "A miner in Strona asked me to deliver this to you. It's a sketch of something he found in the Mine."

Nayara accepted it, removing the string from around it and unrolling the paper. He raised an eyebrow, a look of both intrigue and confusion crossing his features. "This is the sketch of a sundial. Though, it's not any kind of sundial I've ever seen."

Patience nodded. "It was found really far down in the Mine, too. Do you have any idea what it might be for?"

He hummed, shaking his head. "I can't say that I do." His eyes scanned over the page again, his eyebrow raising further. "I've never seen a marking like this before."

"That one weird symbol?" the pinkette questioned.

He gave another single nod. "Perhaps something was supposed to happen at that time of day…" He brought a hand to his chin. "But, if it's in the Mine, sunlight will never reach it, for us to know. Unless there's a way to make artificial sunlight in there… Perhaps a Light Tribal could help?"

Patience hummed, thoughtfully, but it was Forbearance who suggested, "What about a glow-gem? Wouldn't that work?"

The Astrologer glanced back at him, smiling a little. "It just might." He studied the sketch once more. "The sundial appears to be missing a gnomon, though. Without that, having a light source would be useless."

Patience blinked. "A gnomon?"

Nayara offered her another small smile. "The object that goes in the middle of a sundial, so, when sunlight it cast upon it, it shows what time of the day it is."

She smiled back, giggling softly. "Oh. That."

"Do you happen to know where we could find one?" Forbearance asked.

"But of course," was the Astrologer's answer. He dug around in a bag he had beside his chair. "I actually found one sometime ago, and had been searching for the sundial it goes to. Perhaps this is the one I've been looking for – it's no wonder I wasn't able to find it." He handed the object to Patience.

She accepted it, examining it for a brief moment, before placing it in her shoulder pack. "Thank you very much, sir." She gave him a respectful bow. "We really appreciate the help."

He nodded. "It's a pleasure."

Patience paused for a moment. "Um… sir? You're the one who had Tranquility inform me of the trouble going on in Strona. Do you… have any idea where we should go, after all this is taken care of?"

Nayara smiled brightly. "It's good to see you taking this quest of yours so seriously, young one." He looked down at one of the astrological maps on his table, tracing a finger over something. "I think, perhaps, you should go to Windia, next. Aside from Strona, that village seems to have the darkest future, as of now."

The pinkette bowed again. "Thank you! We'll head there tomorrow, then!"

He nodded once more. "I wish you the best of luck! And be careful in your travels."

She and Forbearance both waved, Patience thanking him again, slipped their boots on, and left, stepping back out into the Village of Water. Yulara waved to them again, as they walked over to her. "I take it you accomplished your task?"

Patience grinned. "Almost! We've got what we need to finish it now! We've just got to head back to Strona."

The Water Elder smiled back. "That's wonderful to hear. Good luck."

The Fire Tribal nodded happily. "Thank you, Elder!" She glanced around, finally seeming to realize, "It looks like Liqua's almost completely back to normal. That's good!"

Yulara nodded back. "Indeed, and I can't thank you enough for assisting us as much as you did."

"It was the least I could do," Patience said. "Peace is one of my best friends. I couldn't tell her no, when she asked for help."

The Elder nodded again. "Putting others before yourself is a very noble thing, young Patience." She patted her head. "Off with you now~ I'm sure you still have plenty to do, and I do not wish to detain you."

"Thanks, Elder! See you later!"

. . .

Etrin was still standing outside the gate to the village, when Patience and Forbearance exited it. "That was fast," he said, smiling. "Got everything you need?"

Both of them nodded, Patience returning, "We sure did! Now we can go back to Strona!"

He chuckled lightly. "Well, alright, then. You need to go to the Mine again, right?"

"Yep!" the Tribal confirmed.

He placed a hand on either of their shoulders. "Off we go, then!"

. . .

Etrin had opted to stay with Patience and Forbearance, when they re-entered the Mine. And that ended up being a very good idea. When they were on the elevator, heading down to the bottom of the Mine, raised voices could be heard emanating from below them.

Patience squinted, trying to identify the voices. One was definitely the miner she had spoken to earlier, and the other…

"… Tell me what this is, and I'll let you live~!"

Patience's eyes went wide with horror. She glanced up at Etrin, seeing a look of realization dawn on his features as well. "Etrin? Is… is that…?"

The Earth Tana nodded, a frown creasing his mouth. He stepped toward the edge of the elevator, estimating the distance between where they were and the ground down below. With a nod, he dove out, flipping gracefully in the air, and landed expertly on his feet.

Patience watched in amazement, as the elevator still descended. "Wow… I wish I could do that…"

Forbearance hummed, looking a lot like he was wishing the same thing, too, or maybe even considering giving it a try. He really didn't seem to like elevators. Patience gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder, before turning and watching Etrin jog over to two figures.

Danzai was standing over the young miner, gazing at him wildly. "Didn't you hear me~? If you don't tell me what this is, you're dead!"

"I-I've already told you everything I kn-know!" the miner returned, frantically. "And all I know is i-it's a s-sundial!"

Danzai leaned towards him further, his uncovered acid green eye blazing crazily, a grin on his face. "And I've already told you that that's not good enough~! Haven't I?" He grabbed the miner by the front of the shirt, lifting him off the ground.

"Put the boy down, Danzai!" Etrin yelled, stepping up behind the Chaos Kana.

Danzai's grin widened, as he dropped the miner, turning to face the taller Tana. "Well, hello, there~! It's so nice to see you again!"

Etrin glowered down at him. "If you don't get out of here, this instant, I'm going to—"

"Going to what?" Danzai interrupted. "Bury me in a cavern again? That worked soooo well, last time~!"

"Curse it, Danzai; I'm not in the mood for you today!"

The Chaos Kana laughed wildly, clutching at his stomach. "Not in the mood~? You act as if I care what mood you're in!"

Etrin grabbed him by the collar of his armor. When he spoke, his voice was soft, but cut through the air like a knife through soft butter, "You're going to care, if you don't get out of my sight. Now."

Danzai's grin faded a little. "You know, you're not as fun as you used to be. When'd you start getting so serious?"

"When people like you started trying to kill the people I swore to protect," was the Earth Tana's none-too-happy response. He shoved Danzai away. "Get out of here, before I lose my temper."

The Inducer of Chaos huffed, crossing his arms and turning away. "Fine. I'll go. I will be back, though. And, when I do, you'd better be ready to feel the wrath of my Corruption."

Patience and Forbearance ran up to Etrin, just as Danzai disappeared into a random tunnel. Forbearance looked up at the Tana, his brow furrowed with concern and confusion. "What was one of the Kana doing here?"

Etrin sighed, shrugging. "Just trying to cause trouble." He glanced down at the miner, offering him a hand. "Are you alright?"

The miner nodded, taking his hand and standing up. "Y-yeah… Th-thank you, Tana Etrin." He dusted himself off. "I'm glad you showed up, when you did."

The Earth Tana smiled, patting his shoulder. "I'm glad, too. Sorry for not getting here sooner."

He gave a sigh of relief, appearing to relax a bit. "It's perfectly alright." He turned his attention to Patience. "Do you have any news from the Astrologer?"

Patience nodded, digging the gnomon out of her bag. "He gave us this. We're supposed to use a glow-gem on it to make the sundial indicate the time where that weird symbol is."

The miner's eyes lit up. "Let's try it, then!"

The pinkette giggled. "Okay!" She crouched down next to the sundial, placing the gnomon in the center, then grabbed her glow-gem. "Let's see…"

It took her a moment, but she eventually managed to hold the gem at just the right angle, so that the gnomon's shadow fell on the correct place. At first, nothing happened, but, just when Patience was about to open her mouth to say something, the sundial began glowing a bright white.

She scrambled back to her feet. "What the…?"

Forbearance, Etrin, and the miner were all equally as amazed. A muffled clunk was heard from the ground, as the sundial's face slid away, revealing the entrance to a spiral staircase below it.

"By Shalua…," Etrin muttered, leaning forward and peering into the newly-made hole.

The other three stepped up beside him, the miner asking, "What's a secret passageway doing in the Mine…?"

Etrin shrugged. "I wouldn't know. I suppose I should go check it out, though." He moved towards the steps, starting to descend.

"I'm coming with you!" Patience said.

He glanced back at her, stopping mid-step. "Something's telling me you're going to, whether I tell you no or not."

She nodded, moving to head down with him. "Yep."

Etrin shook his head, smirking a little. "Just like Léo. Alright, you can come, but make sure you stay behind me. I don't know what might be down here."

The pinkette gave him a salute. "Yes, sir, Etrin~!" She waved to Forbearance. "I'll be back up in a moment!"

Forbearance smiled and nodded back. "I'll be waiting."

Etrin stepped slowly and cautiously down the stairs, Patience following him and peeking around his muscular frame. By the time they reached the bottom, nothing had jumped out and tried to kill them, so that was a good sign.

Patience glanced around. The area they'd just entered was completely white – floor, walls, stairs – and everything seemed to have an eerie glow. That's when she looked up at Etrin. His gaze was focused intently on something. Her emerald orbs followed his sky blue ones, falling on a golden mask – not unlike the Tanas' and Elders' silver ones – that appeared to be floating across the room.

"What's that?" she wondered.

The Protector of Earth hummed, approaching it carefully and reaching towards it. When he went to touch it, though, his hand passed right through it. He blinked a few times, trying again. "A hologram… Huh."

Patience tilted her head. "A hologram? Why would a hologram of a mask be here?"

Etrin shrugged. "That's a good question. Unfortunately… I don't have a clue." He moved to check the wall behind and around it, Patience joining him. After a few moments, he stepped back, crossing his arms and shaking his head. "Nothing… Just a hologram."

Patience gave a light hum. She got the feeling that this room was really important somehow, but she wasn't sure why. She shook her head. It must have just been her imagination playing tricks on her.

Etrin gave the room another quick look around, before sighing. "Darn. I was hoping we would find something interesting down here." He shrugged again. "Oh, well. Let's head back up, alright?"

The pinkette nodded. "Okay." And she fell in step behind him, as they trekked back up the stairs.

When they reached the top, Forbearance and the young miner gazed at them expectantly. Etrin gave them a palms-up. "Sorry, guys. It's just a giant, empty room."

Forbearance raised an eyebrow, but the miner seemed thoroughly bummed out. "Aw… and here I was hoping we'd stumbled upon something amazing."

Etrin chuckled. "Yeah. Me, too." He hummed softly, glancing around. "Everything seems fine here. I should probably get back to my duties. I know Flaaris can handle them plenty well, but I don't want to burden her, when she has her own things to take care of."

"I wanted to ask something about that, actually," Forbearance said. "I thought you Tana were the only ones on Shalua qualified to fight off Corrupted the way you do. Is that not the case?"

Patience and the miner gazed at him, appearing highly confused at his question, but the Earth Tana simply smiled. "Technically, you aren't wrong. Tana are the only ones who are qualified for the job, but that's just the thing – the Elders were the Tana before we were. In fact, they're still mentoring us. Being an Elder just means you've learned all you can – the Elders are the strongest warriors in each of our lands, save for Léo. He's somehow managed to exceed everyone. Not that I'm complaining, though."

Forbearance nodded. "I see. Thank you for clarifying."

Etrin nodded back. "No problem." He turned to leave, before remembering, "Oh, yeah, it should be starting to get dark by now, do you want me to take you back to Centra and Flamera?"

Patience shook her head, grinning. "Thanks for the offer, but we need to go talk to someone, before we head out."

"Alright," he returned, offering a grin of his own. "I'll see you around, then."

"U-um," Forbearance started, "c-could you take us back to the Mine's main cavern, at least?"

Etrin blinked a few times. "Sure, I guess. Why the request?"

The Magician-in-Training shifted uncomfortably where he stood, and Patience smiled, answering, "He doesn't like riding on the elevator. It makes him nervous."

Forbearance gave a small, awkward nod, and Etrin grinned again, chuckling softly. "I understand." He stepped over to them, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. "Let's go, then~!"

. . .

Patience and Forbearance waved to Etrin, as he ran toward the Mine's exit. The both of them walked a little ways up the path as well, coming to a stop at Captain Zavrin's building. They peered inside, making sure he wasn't as busy as when they'd first stopped by. And, much to their surprise, he seemed to be completely alone, working at a desk quietly.

Patience knocked tentatively at the side of the doorway. The Mining Captain turned towards them, a small smile appearing on his face. "You may come in," he said, kindly. Once they did, he gave them a quick once over. "You two wouldn't happen to be the adventurers I've been hearing about all day, would you?"

The pinkette grinned up at him. "Well, unless there're a couple other kids traveling around Shalua… then probably."

Zavrin chuckled softly. "Very true." He nodded. "If that's the case, I want to thank you for all you've done for us. As much as I enjoy helping out my fellow Stronans, I was beginning to fear they'd never leave me alone… I can't thank you enough for your assistance."

Patience bowed respectfully, Forbearance following her example. "It was our pleasure, sir!" She stood up straight again. "Sorry for not talking to you, before we started going all over the Mine, though…"

The Captain dismissed it with a wave, chuckling softly again. "I honestly don't blame you. I wouldn't have wanted to get in the middle of that conversation earlier, either."

Forbearance offered him a smile. "I hope everything starts going better around here again."

Zavrin nodded, smiling back. "I'm certain it will. From what I hear, just about everything has been solved now. All that remains is finishing the passageway to Windia, and, since we have a steady supply of glow-gems once again, it shouldn't be long before that's done as well."

Patience beamed up at him brightly. "That's great!" She turned to her companion. "Looks like our work here is done, Forbes!"

The young Magician nodded, laughing lightly. "I guess so."

Zavrin chuckled once more, shaking his head. "Thank you, both, again. Be careful on your way home; I'm sure the sun's gone down by now."

Both of them nodded. "We will!" Patience assured him.

He gave another nod. "I hope to see the two of you again, sometime. Good luck on your future adventures."

"We wish you luck on your work, too," Patience said, dipping her head respectfully. She turned to leave, Forbearance falling in step beside her, then waved. "See you, Captain Zavrin!"

Zavrin waved back, watching them go. He heard Patience call, "Hurry up, Forbes! You're taller than me, shouldn't you walk faster?" and chuckled to himself, before turning back to his work.

Important Character(s) Introduced: (none)
Side Character(s) Introduced: Astrologer Nayara