Raising Dream Chapter 1: Stanthon Mines
This is it, said Effort to himself. This is an adventure. It wasn't perfect, but he had a party and they'd been given a task. When they found the missing scepter in the abandoned dwarf mines, they would be rewarded with coin, renown, and favour. Things were definitely looking up. His mother would be proud.
Then his ear twitched. He gave a warning stamp, and peered into the shadows. There it was. A black form, not larger than a fat hairy goat, in the darkest corner of a chamber full of sacks. It was a spider sliding down from the high ceiling. Its intentions were obvious. Effort was ready for his first fight. He licked his hand, drew his small sword and bounded forward.
Brambles! A blast of hot fire from Praise slammed into the spider and it was twitching into a ball before Effort had reached it. That was fine, there was another. It reared its legs and spit vile chemicals toward him, but he was already leaping sideways.
Effort kicked himself off the wall, drew his sword arm back, and bore himself down upon the arachnal beast, sliding his blade to the hilt in the narrow space between the legs and abdomen.
The spider tried to turn, to rake him with her legs, to grab and bite, to spray her clinging silk at him, and perhaps she would have posed a threat to Effort, had it not been for the summoned wolf.
Disapprove had summoned the beast against the spider even as Effort had been charging forward. It was not clear who'd reached the spider first or who to credit with the kill. What was clear was that Effort had shown a remarkable waste of valour in his charge. The wolf had no defensive instincts, and the spider didn't a chance. The wolf had grabbed the spider tight around the middle, and thrashed the giant bug. Effort was spattered with the fragrant guts and gobs of sticky web.
"Brambling brambles!" he cussed to himself, looking for a way to get the stuff off himself.
"Oh, gross," said Praise, stepping between the bits of scattered gut. The light from her staff cascaded over Effort, and he felt ashamed of the sticky gobs of green and grey that marred his clean white fur.
"You're welcome, Effort," Disapprove said, dismissing her wolf with a twisting gesture of two fingers.
Effort tried his best to smile at her, and took off his tunic to wipe himself clean as best he could.
"That was an amazing summon Disapprove!" Praise set her staff to float above the spiders and bent to retrieve the fangs and venom sacks with a small, sharp knife.
"Thanks Praise. You had a pretty good shot there as well," Disapprove conceded. "I think it went right between Effort's ears!"
The sisters laughed, and Effort took a deep breath. They were not perfect traveling companions, but they were better than nothing. Perhaps when he had proved himself, things would get better. They both had a proper tight handshake, and they were, of course, quite beautiful.
They were stout, elvish spell casters. Each had dark hair, high cheekbones and bright blue eyes. Then there were the vivacious curves that were hard to not look at. Effort liked strong women, and these ladies were as strong as dwarfs. When they smiled, they smiled big, with big lips and big, sexy teeth. Effort lived to make them smile.
Disapprove was some sort of nature caster. She talked to plants, summoned animals, and had a pet snake that made Effort very very nervous. Her raw, I-think-you're-shit, beauty made him sweat to impress her.
Praise didn't speak very often, but what she lacked in words, she more than made up for in mesmerizing body language. She was more of a straight up caster type, favouring fire, which accentuated her thick black hair and her bright red lips in a not so subtle metaphoric display of I'm-so-hot-it-burns-and-I-know-that-you-know-it.
"Are you ready?" Disapprove asked, and Effort nodded with a sigh.
Having cleaned himself up as best he could with his purple tunic, Effort balled the tunic up and shoved it in his pack. He wasn't going to pout, but that was his best tunic. He had wanted to look his best for his first real adventure, and now he was covered in smears of bright green slime which clashed terribly with his olive-green pants. Things had been going so very well.
Stanthon mines weren't quite abandoned, not exactly. They were storage mines. Dwarfs were the ultimate hoarders, and they collected so much stuff that they had entire libraries dedicated to inventories. This stuff hadn't been touched in generations. Anything that wouldn't spoil was collected in vast over-supply. Dwarfs liked to dig, and they liked to own things, and their clans were very rich. Effort poked his head in on an entire chamber full of barrels of iron filings.
The scepter was supposed to be pretty easy to find. Despare, their patron, had said it would be in an area that had seen some recent action, though it was difficult to imagine any kind of action in this place being recent. A steady stream of water on the floor negated the possibility of tracks, but it didn't look like anybody had been down here in centuries.
The cracks were all full of glowing fungus spilling across the ancient stone tiles and colonizing the tops of crates and barrels. Stalactites and stalagmites were hanging from the ceiling and jutting from the floor. Some chambers were decorated with little towers of petrified slime mold!
"This place is gross," said Disapprove as they came out at the bottom of a long narrow elevator shaft. The temperature and humidity had risen quite drastically. Effort was glad to have his tunic off.
"There are smells I don't recognize," he said, rubbing his face with both hands.
"Don't do that," Disapprove said.
"Don't do what?" He asked, sniffing around.
"Don't start rubbing your face," Disapprove insisted.
"Why?!" Effort asked. "Of all the things to get annoyed about?"
"First you rub your face, then you start putting your fingers in your mouth. It's disgusting."
"We can barely breath the sultry air," Effort gasped. "You're worried about my manners? Really?"
"I thought you'd want to know you were being disgusting," she apologized. "With all the time you spend preening, I thought you might care. Which way do you think?"
They'd come to fork, and Effort studied each direction. Neither way showed any sign of recent passage, and both disappeared into the darkness beyond. Finally, he rubbed his face in consternation, held up a finger to preempt Disapprove's chastisement, and said "this way."
"Why this way?" Disapprove narrowed her eyes.
"Because this way has a very faint smell of blood," Effort said, and Praise blew out her cheeks.
"Okay," Disapprove said. "We'll follow the Lagomorph's nose."
"I'm a Lapin," Effort said, resuming the lead into the blood scented mineshaft.
"What's the difference?" Disapprove asked, and it was clear she wasn't really interested.
"It's not a difference," Effort explained anyways. "Lapin are Lagomorphs, but Lapin is more specific."
"Then Lagomorph isn't wrong, is it?" Disapprove huffed. "Don't be pedantic."
"I'm not pedantic," Effort said, though he wasn't sure what the word meant. "Dwarf rabbits and snowshoe hares are also Lagomorphs. It's a demeaning term, one that shows disregard for my people. Would you want to be called an ape?"
"I wouldn't care what you called me," she quipped. "Don't be so sensitive Effort."
But he felt sensitive. He didn't want to be disregarded by his party. His mother had spoken highly of her party, and it was clear that they thought the world of her. Effort just wanted the kind of success his mother had enjoyed. Was that too much to ask?
Then he stopped and gave a thump of warning. Something was wrong. The slime was corrosive. He could already feel the itch between his toes. There were too many strange smells. There was sulfur, dwarf powder, stale air and scat, but there were other smells as well. Unnatural smells.
"I think I smell magic," he said and Disapprove sighed.
"Magic has a smell?"
"Not exactly," explained. "but there are things created by magic that can't be found in the natural world. I think I smell something unnatural. I'm guessing that means,"
"You're guessing that because you don't know a smell, it must be magic?" Disapproved hissed.
"It's an instinct thing. If something doesn't smell right, then it probably doesn't belong to nature. If something doesn't belong to nature, then magic is the most likely explanation."
"Nature has magic too, Effort."
"Well, I'm not talking about that kind of magic then, am I?" Effort rubbed his face and glared at her. "Brambles! Just keep your eyes peeled, okay?"
"I thought that was your job?"
"In case I miss something," he said, and he almost did. No sooner had he spoken than he nearly stepped on a loose looking stone.
"Now, this has been recently moved," he said shifting the stone aside with great care. Sure enough, beneath it was a pressure plate leading to an empty canister.
"It's already been set off," he said. "But there could be more."
There were more. There were a lot. The corridor was downright littered with traps, almost all of them were set off.
The spider goo, it turned out, had been a pretty silly thing to get upset about. There was not water on the floor down here. Instead, it was a heavy green slime, probably produced by the traps. It spotting the traps a lot more difficult, and being a hurry didn't help.
Each time he did spot a trap, he stopped to investigate it. Each time he stopped, Disapprove sighed with impatience.
"Do you want to just walk through? I've seen about a dozen traps so far. There's sure to be one that haven't been set off, but if you want to march through, then by all means, lead the way!"
Then he heard a click.
"Get back," he said as a cloud of acid spray burst out of a hidden canister right into his face and open mouth. "Brambles," he choked and spat, and cried. He couldn't see. He could barely breath. His mouth was soon so full of blisters that he couldn't speak. He rubbed his face, and bloody fur came off in his hands.
Blind eyes wide, he looked toward Disapprove and heard her step away. Then her snake slid between them. Was it protecting her? From him? He tried to speak, but only managed to gasp.
"Can't you heal him?" Praise asked, and Effort sagged with relief and gratitude.
"I guess I could," Disapprove said, putting a cool hand on Effort's ruined cheek. "I wish you'd be more careful though, Effort. I can only cast so many spells you know?"
Effort was so relieved by the soothing power of Disapprove's heal spell that he didn't point out that she had summoned a wolf to deal with a spider than Effort could have handled.
"That was a very expensive trap," Effort said.
"Because it bested you?" Disapprove scoffed.
"You saw what it did," Effort said.
"I saw what it did to you." Disapprove was smirking, and Effort wanted to bite her.
"Think about it," he insisted. "There must be dozens of these down here. Probably tens of thousands of gold worth. Most of them set off. What does that mean?"
"It means we're lucky they were set off," Praise piped up.
"Whoever set them off seems to have survived. I wouldn't have survived the one if you hadn't healed me."
"You're welcome," Disapprove interrupted.
"Thank you, thank you," Effort flicked his foot. "That's not what I'm getting at though. Somebody set off trap after trap and survived. Somebody else set all these expensive traps. Despare made a point of asking if I was any good with traps."
"You're great with traps," Praise recalled.
"You find all the traps," Disapprove reminded him.
"I know what I said," Effort said. "A little hyperbole to get the job. Do you think he might have known what we were heading into? These traps are way beyond our pay grade."
"Is that all of them?"
"I think so," Effort looked around and sniffed the air. There was still the faint smell of blood and a much stronger smell of death in the air. Death but not death.
"Good," she said and strode forward.
"Wait," he cried, too late. There was a click, and a loud CRACK!
Effort dove forward, grabbed Disapprove by the collar and threw her tumbling backward through the slime just as the ceiling exploded above them.