We went ahead and took a short lunch before continuing, so Bruna could have more time to recover. Throughout that time, I kept nervously checking her condition. The bracelet seemed to be doing its job, thankfully.
Finally, I felt confident to allow us to continue. It was well-timed, since as we gathered our things and prepared to head deeper into the mines, the creatures in the area who had been intimidated by the noise of my enchanted bolt began to filter back.
I have a faint ability to feel monsters, through my fairy senses, but thanks to the fact that I am sensing their miasma, lesser monsters don’t stand out much. It was the higher level threats, intelligent monsters like myself, who registered clearly. But thanks to that sense, I could generally tell the more animal-like typical mine denizens were getting closer.
Adventurers have no interest in those. Things like giant rats only have value in the way they feed the larger monsters, which actually do yield useful materials. If we were on a normal expedition, we might try to take a few giant rats and harvest their tails for the bounty (It’s left ear, left front paw, horn or tail, depending on the species) but we wouldn’t be stopping to try to actually take bounties this time. We would only do so for a high-value monster that yielded salable materials.
So we just forged ahead and blasted through each time we ran into rats, bats or bugs. In this section, there were known to be black wolves (eyes, fangs, fur and claws), and rumors of at least one mad bear (same, but mad bears were also known to develop brain stones that were big enough to be useful to craftsmen, just like goblin stones, and mad bear liver and pancreas have a bunch of medicinal applications.) I could sense these in advance though, and managed to convince the other two of it. We could hurry with relative confidence.
We did indeed run into more monsters at the giant rat level (venomous moles, batsnakes, rock roaches, dust bunnies (which sound ridiculous but are seriously bad news), craysharks…) The only thing that really would have given us trouble was the hive spiders we ran into in one gallery, but fortunately Ceria knew an area-of-effect flame spell. I didn’t have any objection to this particular dive being on the boring side, but for this reason, I’m not going to detail the process. Suffice it to say, we were at least six hundred paces below the surface, and my locator stone was still directing us further down, when we stopped for another rest.
Six hundred paces is similar to a thousand meters or three thousand feet. It is seriously deep. We had long since run past the last working foxfire lantern, and were working on light from my circlet and Ceria’s staff. Bruna had a magic lamp, but those are bright and run short on light faster, so we told her to keep it off. Dim light allowed eyes to stay more adjusted to the dark.
I squeezed water out of my rock for all of us, then we got our provisions out. They both kept looking at my dried fruit snacks, since all they had brought was hardtack and jerky. In addition to the fruit, I had hardtack, sausage and cheese. Eventually, I gave in and shared.
“Must be nice to be able to afford chow like this,” Bruna commented, as she munched on some of her handful.
“Sweets have a healthy effect on your body when you’e been working,” I answered. “It’s a worthwhile investment.”
Ceria grimaced. “Maybe that’s true, when you have the money to burn. It’s not like that for your normal adventurer, Lady. Just like the way you wasted that enchanted bolt on a rat, earlier. It was just a rat, and in that situation you would never get the bolt back. It’s fine, if you don’t mind it, but we have to spend less money than we make, so we have something to live on.”
I remembered her sister saying, You’re just a rich little missy playin’ adventurer, right?
With a scowl on my face, I began cutting slices of sausage. The kind of sausage that adventurers use for provisions isn’t the kind you need to cook. It’s hard stuff similar to salami, with chunks of fat and cooked veg and bits of peppercorn mixed in. It was typical supplies for Tiana, and I followed the standard procedure for knights and soldiers in Orestania that she learned, packing along a thin paddle to slice meat and cheese on, that multitasked as a plate.
“Sausage, too,” Ceria said, shaking her head. That irked me even more. Yes, pound for pound cured sausage cost more than dried meat, but the nutrition mix is more balanced in hard sausages. Robert had known very little about nutrition, although his manager training had given him a slightly better education than the average person. But Tiana’s royal knight training had included instruction on taking care of troops, and that included how to provision them on the march. “An army marches on its stomach” and all that.
“Dried meat is great for chewing as you walk, and you can make a great stew if you have a pot, a fire and some root vegetables to add,” I lectured, “but living only on hardtack and jerky will deprive you two of the nutrition you need to fend off fatigue. At least add some cheese next time. It is worth the investment. And Ceria, you’re misunderstanding several things about me.”
“Oh?” Ceria asked. The smirk was returning to her face. Well, she was older than Tiana, and certainly she wasn’t wrong about me being wealthy, but… no, she still misunderstood.
“First, I suspect you two didn’t see the king rat I shot, if you think I only used that bolt on ordinary giant rats. It was three to four times larger. Did you not see it as we ran past it?”
Ceria scowled. “I saw something lying just to one side. I thought it was some bigger monster that rat pack had already brought down.”
Bruna’s eyes bulged. “That was a rat? It was bigger than me!”
I had long-jumped over it, but as I suspected, they had run around it. Switching to the block of cheese, I continued. “Second, that wasn’t the sort of reusable enchanted bolt that you’re thinking of. It was good for one shot only. And I didn’t spend money on it; a friend of mine just enchanted some of my normal bolts to help me out a little on this expedition.”
Bruna asked, “Wow. You’ve got a friend who’ll just make you magic items?”
“He made that bracelet you’re wearing, too,” I told her. “He has an interest in seeing me succeed here, because the people that are missing are his friends. He’s recovering from some bad wounds, or he would be here with me now.”
I began tucking the remaining provisions back into their bag for later. “And third, I didn’t ‘waste it on a rat’, I spent it to get Bruna out of there as soon as possible. I didn’t judge a rat worth the bolt. I judged her worth it.”
I put the provisions bag back in my bag, leaned against the wall and began my meal by snapping a piece of hardtack in two and dipping one half into my water mug. The stuff is almost impossible to chew if you don’t add moisture.
The two warrior girls didn’t have anything to say back. They both concentrated on their meals as well.
When we were finished eating, Ceria said, “This spot is fine for a quick meal, but if we’re spending the night, this is the wrong place. We need to go farther.”
Bruna was letting out some groans as we gathered our stuff and got going. You can’t see the time of day in the mines, but I knew from the time spent that we had just eaten our evening meal. It was noise I had expected to hear out of Ceria. She was less athletic than her sister, normal for a magic user, and it was close to sundown. Ceria was right, though, Without a good alcove to defend, we didn’t have a proper spot to bed down here. We had to move on.
After a short distance, Ceria said, “I can smell a park.”
I frowned and sniffed the air. Nope, nothing.
“Are you sure?”
Bruna chuckled and said, “Never argue with a beast-kin’s nose, Lady.”