I made my way across the large chamber, heading for the small passage indicated by the miner. Not surprisingly, none of the other miners paid me any attention as I walked past them and into the tunnel.
This passage was quite a bit tighter than the previous one, and it sloped slightly downward, though not as much as the main passage. I crept forward slowly, a bit uncomfortable in the closer confines of this tunnel. If another worm popped up here, I might not have enough room for my staff.
The passage twisted and split off to the right, but I kept following the left-hand wall as the miner had indicated. It led me past a passage sealed off by a cave-in, and eventually to a T-juction. I was about to continue along the left wall, when light and the sound of voices from the other passage made me change my mind.
I rounded the corner slowly, letting my eyes get used to the gradually increasing light. As I entered into the slightly wider tunnel, I saw a Galka and Hume miner digging at the edge of the tunnel, and a blond Hume woman shouting directions.
"Harder, Ormr," she shouted encouragingly to the Hume. "This is where Subodh saw that vein of darksteel! We pull that out of here, we all get bonuses!" She turned her head to the Galka, adding, "Where there's one vein, we might find two!Keep pounding, Gildge!"
In all the noise and confusion, nobody noticed my entrance.
"Excuse me?" I said loudly, edging toward the woman. I could see she had a short blade sheathed at her hip, and had no desire to be on the receiving end of that.
"I'm looking for Makarim," I added, even a bit louder than before. "I'm supposed to collect a report from Overseer Makarim."
The blond turned to me, sizing me up at a glance. "You must be the new courier. I wonder if Rashid is getting a little desperate for help these days." She laughed, and I felt a familiar rush of color rise to my cheeks.
"Anyways," she continued, pulling a sealed envelope from her pouch, "I just finished up recently. It's not what I'd want call leisurely reading, but-" she trailed off, ending with a small shrug of her shoulders, and handed me the letter. "Why don't you take this to Musketeer Naji for me. He's posted up near the President's office, above the Metalworks."
"Thank you," I said, trying to be courteous. "I'll be on my way, then." I nodded my head, and turned to leave the cave. "Good luck with the darksteel," I called back over my shoulder.
I had only gone a few steps when I felt a hand descend on my shoulder. I turned around to see the face of Makarim, only now with a threatening look directed at me.
"If I were you," she offered in a low, dark voice, "I'd likely forget everything I heard down here today. This darksteel is considered valuable, but the Republic needs it for their defenses more than you need a quick payday. Understand?" She flashed me a smile that was suddenly too full of teeth.
"Of course," I said with a quick nod. "I was just going to deliver this letter, like the mission says." I turned again, walking just a little faster for the mouth of the mine.
"Good plan," her voiced trailed after me as I walked. "And...be careful out there."
I somehow knew she was laughing at me.
I was walking up a long slope, and must have made a wrong turn, because I was suddenly in a passage I didn't recall. There was a lot of rubble scattered across the entry way, and a couple of mine wheelbarrows abandoned in the corner. The air felt stale and heavy, and I wanted out.
I turned around to leave, when suddenly I heard a liquid squelching sound from behind me. It was drawing closer, and I turned to see what else could go wrong today.
Slowly crossing the uneven rubble towards me was a horrible black amoeba. Its pseudopods were waving in front of it as it moved, probably seeking me. I knew these things couldn't see, but sensed by sound, and their touch was acidic enough to ruin anyone's day.
I turned and started to run, thinking I could get away from the slow thing if I just kept moving. The plan worked out all right at first, but soon I was wandering in a small delta of caverns. The squelching noise of the amoeba echoed off the walls, making it seem like it was coming from everywhere. I knew I would have to fight.
I waited for it to draw into view, and summoned up all my will. At first, nothing happened, but I felt a mysterious power rising in me. I focused on that surge, trying to block out everything else around me.
From the edges of the tunnel, I heard clattering sounds as small stones began to rise into the air, attracted by the force of my will. When I figured I had enough, I circled them around me until there was a small wall of loose rock between me and the approaching amoeba.
When the amoeba was no more than a dozen steps away, I pushed outward with all my mental energy, shooting all the accumulated rock directly into the approaching blob. I saw the black gel get shredded by the stone bullets, the liquid innards spraying out behind it in a grotesque fan.
Yet onward it came, leaving a horrible trail of black slime behind it. I could tell it was hurt, but was still determined to digest me. To make things worse, I had expended my mental energy for the moment, and couldn't rely on any more spells until I got some rest.
The only thing I could do was try to beat it with my staff. I dropped into a basic defensive position, gritting my teeth. I was resolute not to let this thing get it's pseudopods on me.
The amoeba stopped a couple of steps away, obviously aware of where I was standing. Almost faster than I could follow, it shot out a pseudopod toward me, which I luckily deflected with my staff. I stepped forward, bringing my staff down as hard as I could across its center.
A gout of the same black slime show out of its wounds, and the whole mass began to sag, spreading slowly out over the cavern floor. As it did, I noticed a couple of undissolved items, which must have been trapped inside its gelatinous form.
I waited until all that was left was a thin puddle of noxious slime, and then began rinsing the floor off with my waterskin, looking for anything valuable. I found a couple of old small bones, a small silvery rock, and a crystal that glowed with a greenish-blue light.
"That must be a water crystal," I said to myself as I collected it. "Not sure if it's useful for what I do, but I'll ask." I turned around, and began searching for a way out of the mines.