Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Canary in the Salt Mine

Voices in the Dark

The Adventurers could barely see by the light of Star of Justice’s mystical ‘Aura of Retribution’. There was a dark narrow corridor on their left while ahead of them the metal tracks lead to a soft gold light that came from a rectangular opening along the side of the corridor.

“No! I need an A5312!” a gravely cantankerous voice could be heard echoing from where the light was reflecting along the corridor walls, some sixty feet ahead. Korfu leading Ibis, and Praymar leading Lanna began moving toward the light. The rest remained behind to see what would happen and be ready to move forward in case of trouble.

As they stood there Hermel, squatting at the opening of the side corridor, heard the sounds of voices very faintly coming to him from deep in the darkness.

“I think someone is to down this side corridor,” whispered Hermel to Star. He quietly drew his sword, and with shield raised, stepped in the direction of the voices, very carefully inching his way forward. Star kept his hand to his ear and listened after Hermel. He also could hear the voices. Hermel went very slowly and carefully about what he thought was thirty feet or so when his toes came to a sudden drop off. The sound of the voices continued, and by the intonation it sounded as though there was a tense conversation going on, perhaps an argument brewing, but he could not make out the words. They sounded as though they were very far away. He backed away from the edge, and called out, “Is there anyone down there?”

His voice echoed through the corridor. The voices stopped. After waiting a few moments in the black silence Hermel decided it would be wise to head back to where the group was gathered in the main corridor.

“I called out to the voices and they stopped talking. I suspect they are up to no good therefore, so I came back,” said Hermel to Star. From there they could see the light further down the corridor and so they decided to head to where the main group was. It was slow going due to the darkness as they crossed over the rubble. They came to Praymar and Korfu who joined them in their approach toward the light.

Ibis, once he had gotten to the point where he could see well enough by the light to walk on his own, commanded Korfu to remain where he was, and proceeded ahead without him. Lanna also walked toward the light next to him. Ibis came to the opening gap in the wall, and found a stone chamber with many crates piled high. A flickering golden light was emanating from a brass birdcage set on top of a stand in one corner.

An old gray haired man in grease-covered workman’s cloths was hunched over a box, and shouted “No no no! Hurry up! I need the A5312!” to another younger looking man with brown hair who was digging through a crate throwing straw in the air behind him. Neither of them noticed the intruders.

“Can I be of assistance to you, sir?” asked Ibis.

Both men turned their heads around and the older one said, “Do you know anything about vacuum tube thermionic emissions?”

“Um… no,” said Ibis, a bit bewildered by the question.

“Well, you’re useless then!” said the grizzled workman gruffly and went back to peering inside the contraption he was working on and then demanded the A5312 again. His assistant went back to plowing through straw in a crate.

Arik, who had easily come forward through the darkness due to his superior Dwarven Low-Light Vision, said, “Oh is he as useless as that guy there, then?” with a laugh.

“Hey, who are you calling useless?” asked the assistant, holding up a vacuum tube to the light while scrutinizing the lettering along its bronze colored base.

“Well from the sound of your conversation, it doesn’t sound like you’re being all that useful yourself!’ said Arik with his eyebrows wiggling.

“Oh, and you know the difference between an A5312 and an A5315, eh?”

“Do you?” asked Arik pointing his finger at the fellow.

“Well yes I do,” he answered.

“Well, then why don’t you hand it to the nice man?” demanded Arik jovially.

“I’m working on it!” said the assistant, clearly annoyed, as he went back to plundering the contents of the crate. Straw began flying in the air again.

“What you folks doing down here? Are you with the Rescue Team?” asked the assistant.

“We’re a rescue team, yes,” said Ibis.

“Ok, well good then,” said the older man.

“Are the miners ok?” asked Lanna, unable to bear the useless banter any longer.

“I think so, ma’am. We can’t communicate with them at the present, but I’m working on that now. I should have this fixed in a few minutes, if you folks will just step aside and let us get our work done. Don’t worry ma’am. We’ve almost got this fixed,” said the old workman.

Hermel walked up and said, “What’s going on? How are the miners doing?”

“Who are you?” asked the old man.

“I’m Hermel Dreadton,” said Hermel.

“With the rescue team, I take it?” asked the old man while turning back to the device he’d been tooling with. It was a square box with dials and little meters, and lights, much like some of those that Hermel had seen in the Dunn Street Bridge in Doctor Lobe’s Tower.

“Yes, I suppose. Anyway, I was down by the corridor back there and I heard some voices in the dark. When I called out they went silent. Do you know who those people are?”

“Those, friend, are the rescuers!” barked the old man with a harsh laugh.

“But why did they not answer then?” asked Hermel, confused.

“Because,” the old man said angrily, “the people who need rescuing are not that way, they’re trapped down in the mine over there!” he said pointing in the opposite direction further up the mine tunnel to a dark hole in the ground with a great metal cage protruding from it.

“I don’t get it. What are they doing over there then?” asked Hermel, even more confused than before.

“Well, when the explosion happened, those dimwits and their boss decided it was a far better thing to go and investigate a newly opened corridor than to help rescue the miners! That’s what!”

“Is there a shaft that drops off down that corridor?” asked Hermel.

“I have no idea. I didn’t go down there. We, unlike those guys, are actually trying our best to rescue the miners!” shouted the old man while pointing to his young assistant.

“Have you seen my father?” asked Praymar.

“Who’s your father?”

“Ben, Ben Rursala,” said Praymar.

“I’m sorry son, but I don’t know. There was an explosion down there, and I’m not sure how the men are doing. I’m working on finding out. Don’t worry, we’ll find out soon. But I got to get back to work, or we’ll never find out. So if you people don’t mind, I’m busy! And where’s that A5312?!”

Hermel walked a little ways into the room and looked around. There was another doorway, open, that lead into a dark room on the side, on one wall of which he could see a series of large bronze valves sticking out of a number of metal pipes that were linked to larger pipes that vanished into the stone floor. He looked over at the birdcage in which a canary sitting on a swing. He noticed that the light from the cage was not coming from a candle as he originally assumed (though that would have probably blown the mine sky high if it had been since there was gas in the air), but rather, he thought that the light was coming from the canary itself. He wandered over to take a closer look. It was hard to tell where the light came from. The canary whistled a little tune.

“Mind if I have a feather from your canary?” asked Hermel.

“What?! No! You can’t have a feather from my canary!” yelled the old man. “Don’t worry Carolyna, I won’t let anyone take any of your pretty little feathers!”

The canary whistled a sweet sounding tune and rocked back and forth on her perch.

Troubles in the Mine Shaft

Ibis asked the man, “How deep is the shaft to get to the miners?”

“One hundred feet,” said the old man looking up.

“We have enough rope to get down there,” replied Ibis.

“There’s two problems,” said the old man. “One, the elevator dropped down after the explosion and is broken, and two, large debris has fallen down the emergency shaft and is blocking the mine tunnel entrance. I can’t get down there – I already tried.”

“If someone could get down there could the debris be removed and open the mine?” asked Star.

“There are large boulders down there,” answered the man.

“I can move boulder,” said Bantum.

“I believe you, son,” said the old man looking up at Bantum, the chickens on his bandoleer fluttering and clucking proudly.

“I found it!’ said the young assistant holding up a small glass ball with four small prongs sticking out of a brass bottom.

“The A5312. Finally!” shouted the old man and took the tube over to a box and hunching over it for a few seconds sat back and said, “There!”

He flipped a switch and several lights on the front, one green, one red, and one yellow began to glow. He turned a knob, and then another. Static sounds emanated from the box.

“Herman, come in Herman,” said the old man into a small round object he picked up on his right hand. The lights on the front panel glowed brightly when he spoke.

“Joe!? Joe! QSL. This is Herman. Over”, and then there was more static.

“Herman! QSO! What’s the condition down there?”

“Gas leak. Tinderbox. Cave in. We have injured, and several casualties. Situation critical,” said Herman, and then they heard coughing.

Korfu, who had begun to have an anxiety attack, sat down and went into a fetal ball. Ibis quickly went to him, and using his mystic power of Emotional Influence, calmed him down.

“What is this?” asked Hermel pointing to the shaft down which the miners where trapped. In particular he was pointing to the cage and gear that operated the elevator.

“That, son, is an elevator,” said the Joe.

“What does it do?” asked Hermel.

“It hauls miners, equipment and salt up and down.”

“How does it work? Is it magic?”

“Well, you might say that,” said Joe thoughtfully. “It works using something called a motor.”

“Well instead of using ropes to haul us down, can we use the motor?” asked Hermel hopefully.

“I would do that, but … the motor was destroyed in the accident,” replied Joe.

“I see,” said Hermel disappointed. That meant they would have to climb down, and that looked unusually perilous. They began to plan out how they were going to get down 100 feet by rope and who would do the hauling and the dangerous work of removing the debris. At first Arik suggested he might be able to fly down, but that seemed so improbable under the circumstances that they gave up on that plan immediately. Flying was a mystic power that gave it’s recipient the ability to fly like a bird, not levitate a three hundred pound Dwarve down a damaged mineshaft. While the party made their plan, Joe and his young assistant, John, went back to fixing the equipment.

The party happened to have three hundred feet of rope. They tied it together, and Hermel volunteered to let Bantum lower him down. It was then realized that Hermel could not see in the dark. They thought of sending Star, who could make himself glow with Aura of Retribution for a short while and could identify the conditions down there, but this idea seemed somewhat flawed. Praymar suggested that he go down as he had mystical Night Vision, and was also strong enough to move debris. The party began to quibble.

“I could cast a lightning bolt – that would light everything up!” said Arik, who was growing frustrated with the decision making process.

“Bad idea in a place filled with gas,” said Ibis.

“Yes, yes, I know!” replied Arik looking around the tunnel with his eyes bulging.

Star of Justice Descends

Finally it was decided to lower Star of Justice down the shaft so that he could take a look. They tied the ropes around his waist, and threw them over the large metal axel that held the motor, and Arik and Bantum began lowering him. He was half way down to the tunnel entrance when there was loud rumbling and the entire corridor began to shake. The tremor caused Arik and Bantum to loose their grip on the rope, and Star fell some fifteen feet, banging himself badly against the side of the elevator cage. They managed to stay his fall, both of them getting rope burn in the process. Hermel called down to find out if Star was ok.

“I’ve been better, frankly,” yelled Star from below. “I think I’m about half way there. We should keep going, I’m ok.”

They continued to lower him until he stood on a wooden beam that had fallen diagonally across the shaft. There was a strong smell of gas. Not asphyxiating, but definitely notable. He called upon the power of Eldrik, Elkron of the Sun to once again “Attack the Darkness and so shine forth the Aura of Retribution” which caused him to glow with a faint blue light. It was weaker than before, and he had the feeling that maybe Eldrik did not especially like him abusing the wondrous Aura of Retribution in this fashion. However, it was just enough of a glow for him to see by. The cage of the elevator was bent from a large bolder that had smashed into it and landed cross the mouth of the mine tunnel. There was a lot of heavy rubble as well as wooden pilings crisscrossing out from the rocks.

Star called up and explained what he saw. He thought there was little point in his trying to dig out the boulders from the rubble, as a large number of the boulders were far to heavy for him to move, and one in particular was enormous, the main obstacle blocking the mine tunnel. He looked around more and found that there was a ladder going up the side of the cage, but toward the top of the shaft it had broken off and was dangling hazardously.

Then there was a low rumbling sound coming from deep down below within the shaft. The walls began to shake, there was a sudden gust of hot air, and dust and dirt fell, and then rocks and several pilings came loose. Star fell about ten feet before Arik and Bantum could secure the ropes again, and a heavy boulder hit him on his left shoulder hard. Star gave out a loud groan. He was badly hurt this time. Topside the axel over which the rope had been thrown had come loose from the wall and fallen three feet before wedging itself against a corner of the stonework.

The party began debating about the best way to get Star back up, whether to throw the rope over another beam, or using the edge of the shaft. Lanna looked at Bantum and asked if he could simply pull Star up. He gave a big grin and hauled him up hand over hand until Star landed safely at the top.  Hermel tended to his wound, calling upon the power of Minvar to channel her might through his healing stone, which she did, and Star soon felt far better.  He moved his shoulder around and it seemed to him to be good as new.

Joe had been in the other room cursing, grumbling, griping and dashing about the valve room trying his best to stabilize the situation. Star, feeling much better now and thinking it a good idea, went over to him explained how it was down at the bottom of the mineshaft as Joe turned a large valve slowly clockwise, watching a meter carefully.

“Things just go from bad to worse, don’t they?” said Joe gruffly when he heard about the gas. “Well we’ll have to make due as best we can. At least you could get down there. That’s better than I could do! Did you see any hole though into the mine?”

“No I didn’t have time to really explore that much, but I don’t think there was,” replied Star.

While they were having that conversation Hermel had taken Ibis aside.

“When we rescue the miners, we should wrap Lanna’s husband up in a sheet and declare that he died. Then we can hustle him out and no one will be the wiser.”

They conferred this plan with the others quietly, and everyone agreed it was a good idea.

There was another minor tremor. Dust fell from the ceiling. Arik felt that these tremors were due to secondary explosions down in the lower levels of the mine.

“My father!” cried Praymar when Arik explained his sense of things to the party.

“He could be blown into a thousand pieces by now,” exclaimed Arik with his usual jovial zest.

“Mother!” cried Praymar to Lanna and ran to her.

“I’m sorry kid, but it’s true,” said Arik, feeling a bit guilty for alarming the poor lad.

Hermel seated himself on a crate in the machine room, planning to catch a few winks while they waited for Joe to fix the motor.

“We could go up and get some rest at the Inn, perhaps,” said Hermel.

“Why not help out down here?” asked Joe heatedly.

“Help how?” asked Hermel.

“Well we need to haul those stones and beams out from the entrance of the mine shaft,” said Joe looking at Bantum appraisingly.

“I will help,” said Bantum.

“Maybe we should send Arik instead. He’s plenty strong, and in case of emergency he can fly out,” said Hermel from the corner, but this also seemed about as improbable as him flying down, so that idea was left hanging without further comment.

At that point Ibis decided to bring Korfu with him out of the mine to get additional men to help from the Prancing Unicorn Inn. He intended for Korfu to then go to the Inn and sleep, as he said that Korfu was fairly well exhausted, and feeling feverish. Praymar offered to go up with them, too, and help get men to return into the mine. This was agreed upon and the three men went down the corridor and climbed the ladder into the barn. There were still embers burning and smoke filled the air.

Those who remained in the mine thought twice about whether or not it was a good idea for both of the characters who had ‘Night Vision’ to leave together, but Arik pointed out that the canary emitted enough light for them to see by while they waited. He was perfectly fine with staying underground, actually.

“What if the canary should die?” asked Lanna.

Dr. Chickenhiemer Gets the Info

“Maybe my chicken can speak canary!” said Bantum.

“Do you really think chickens can talk canary?” asked Arik with a laugh.

But in fact Dr. Chickenhiemer was perfectly well versed in the intricacies of the canary language. He clucked. The canary whistled. They had a long and fruitful conversation for about five minutes, during which Dr. Chickenhiemer learned some rather interesting facts and rumors about the mine, its history, and denizens.

Our youthful heroes imagined that Dr. Chickenhiemer had been slicking his hair back and doing the shimmy-shimmy to get the canary to fall for him, and everyone had a big laugh about it. Chickenhiemer ignored the ridiculous humans and went on gathering information. In the end, he concluded that the mine was not worth its salt, and thought it would be best to seal it, burn down the Inn, mind-wipe everyone who had any knowledge of it, and seal the valley permanently. But then again, he’s just a big chicken. So what does he know of adventure? In any case he did not mention his thoughts to the canary, but kept them to himself.

Bantum and Arik went back to the mineshaft, and began tying the rope around Arik’s wide girth. Joe, seeing as they were about t lower Arik down, suggested that they fix the beam that held the motor first. That way they could loop the rope over the beam and so provide a safer arrangement for lowering the Dwarve down. Arik had a natural inclination toward this kind of work, and with a massive crowbar, careful leveraging, and a lot of heaving he and Bantum managed to re-link the beam to its slot in the stone.

Meanwhile Hermel laid down on his bedroll and watched Dr. Chickenhiemer clucking away with the canary. He began talking in a low tone to Dr. Chickenhiemer, with whom he decided he wanted to start a relationship. He crossed his hands behind his head, and figured Dr. Chickenhiemer might make a good therapist.

“You know, my life has been a good one so far, but lately I feel I’ve lost control, and I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I make big plans, but I’m always getting side tracked to help other people, and I don’t know what I’m doing here. I should be focusing on saving my own village. I’m not complaining or anything, but I wish I felt like I was in control of my life, rather than being cast about by the whims of fate…” he rambled.

Dr. Chickenhiemer turned to look at him. He blinked a few times and then clucked a couple of times. There were few in the world who understood this particular sentiment as well as Dr. Chickenhiemer, who was never not being carried off by others against his will.

“I should be helping my village, and here I am doing nothing, because I can’t really help here. So I am to rescue people I don’t know, who wanted to be here to begin with digging around in the dark, digging up bizarre ancient evil artifacts and salt… Meanwhile I’m sacrificing my own goals… for what?”

Strangely Hermel thought he could hear Ischandar’s voice in his mind, somehow, saying “Go to the bar, go to the bar…” but he shook it off.

The canary began to sing a little song and fluttered around in her cage. Hermel turned to Dr. Chickenhiemer. “Can this canary talk too? I’m starting to feel really guilty about now. How many animals can talk?”

Dr. Chickenhiemer clucked.

“Ok, two clucks for ‘a lot’, and one cluck for ‘not too many’”, said Hermel, suddenly quite curious about this question.

Chickenhiemer clucked once.

“Oh, but the canary can …”

“Cluck,” said Dr. Chickenhiemer looking up at the canary as she sang a little song.

“Hey! Do you know Doctor Lobe?” asked Hermel.

Dr. Chickenhiemer clucked once.

“Did he make you the way you are, or are you naturally this way?”

Dr. Chickenhiemer clucked once.

“Wait… one cluck for yes, two clucks for no,” said Hermel trying to figure out what Chickenhiemer was saying. “So did Dr. Lobe make you intelligent?”

“Cluck! Cluck!” said Dr. Chickenhiemer deeply insulted.

“But you know Doctor Lobe?”

“Cluuuuuuck,” said Dr. Chickenhiemer in a low tone.

“Is he a bad guy?” asked Hermel.

“Cluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck…” replied Dr. Chickenhiemer.

“I didn’t get a good feeling about him,” said Hermel.

“Cluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck…” said Dr. Chickenhiemer.

Out of the corner of his eye Hermel caught a brief glimpse of the canary sitting on her swing, and it seemed to him that what he saw was a girl with gossamer wings and blond hair in a green and yellow dress smiling at him. But when he turned his head to see her more clearly she was only a canary sitting there after all. She sang a little melody and swung on her perch happily.

Hermel stood up. He looked around. No one was paying any attention to him. He went to the cage and whispered, “Do you want out of here? … Two whistles for yes, and one whistle for no.”

“Twwwwwweeeeeeeeeeeeet, Twwwwwweeeeeeeeeeeeet,” she said.

“I’ve been doing it wrong all along,” Hermel said to himself, “I’ve been hanging out with people.”

A Few Good Men

Upstairs, Ibis, Korfu and Praymar had exited the hole in the ground and were looking for stout men to bring back down into the mine with them. Ibis, covering his eyes with one arm from the smoke and embers, looked around and saw Tom, the guard he had played cards with a few days before.
“Tom!” shouted Ibis.

“Oh hey, it’s you! Ibis, right? How are ya?”

“Good, good. I just came up from the mine. Joe is down there. He sent us up to get some good strong men to bring back so we can clear the mine passage,” explained Ibis.

“Did you see the Boss down there though?” asked Tom, not really seeming very interested in Ibis’ request at all.

“We found Joe… the …” Ibis was saying when Tom cut him off.

“No, no, no – the Boss! Did you see the Boss down there?” insisted Tom.

“The elevator shaft is trashed, there’s rubble on it and …” Ibis was saying.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I don’t care about that! Did you see the Boss down there?” Tom insisted again.

“No. Only Joe. And a guy helping him,” said Ibis.

“Aghhh,” replied Tom disappointed. “Who was with him?”

“A kid. He was helping Joe.”

“Oh, helping Joe? No, that’s not him. Aghhh… that’s too bad,” said Tom.

“Who is the Boss?” asked Praymar. Tom looked at the young albino. He did a double look. A triple look. Praymar’s white hair, white skin, and red eyes made him step away.

“What the hell is that?” asked Tom of Ibis.

“I’m standing right here!” cried Praymar, deeply offended.

“Look, there are people in trouble down there and we need to send help right now. If you’re not going to do it then I’m going to have to find someone else,” stated Ibis.

“Well the Boss told us to wait up here until he came back or sent word. So that’s what I’m gonna do,” answered Tom firmly.

“I saw the Boss,” said Praymar, “and he said you should come down right away! And he’s with my father Ben.”

Tom, not a particularly trusting soul to begin with, decided the white haired kid was lying to him, and so he ignored him completely.

“Don’t ignore me!” yelled Praymar and pushed Tom. Praymar, though a youth, and not very tall or powerful looking, was in fact quite strong. Ibis tried his best to grab Praymar to stop him. Tom, for his part, was a hefty man wearing chain mail armor, but agile, and stepped aside, causing Praymar to miss him, and staggered forward.

“Don’t ignore me! Come with me!” yelled Praymar while regaining his footing.

“Listen kid, or whatever you are,” said Tom angrily, “I’ve got my orders and I’m staying put, see?”

“You’re stupid!” yelled Praymar.

Tom cocked back to punch the youth. Ibis tried to get between the two of them. Praymar was faster than either of them, and reached out with his right hand and touched Tom with two fingers on his forehead. Suddenly the brawny guard felt drained of energy, became dizzy, a bit queasy and staggered backwards a few steps. “Hell’s whiskers,” he said under his breath to himself as he brought both hands to his head.

“Sorry about that!” yelled Praymar after him as Tom staggered off.

“It is not the time for this!” said Ibis to Praymar.

“I’m sorry but he made me angry!” answered Praymar. “No one ever listens to me!”

“Well, I’m listening to you now,” answered Ibis, “and you have to calm down and help to find some sturdy men.”

“Ok,” said Praymar. “How about him?” he said pointing to another man who was stomping on some embers at the edge of the burned out structure that was once a barn.

“Hey! We need men to help down in the mine. We have trapped miners down there! Can you help us?” yelled Ibis to the man. His name was Erik and he agreed to help.

“Praymar, I need to take Korfu to the Inn to rest. Please find more stout men and if I’m not back soon take them down to the mine and bring them to Joe. Ok?”

“I’ll do my best!” said Praymar, and Ibis took Korfu to the Inn. He found the Innkeeper, and explained that he was sending some men down into the mine to help the miners, slapped some money down on the counter for the room, and then took Korfu upstairs. Korfu, weary, went to the bed, flopped down and fell asleep. Ibis left him and went back downstairs to help Praymar collect the men. In the end they found four stout men who were willing to brave the dangers of the mine to help the miners escape. They grabbed torches and began heading down the ladder.

“No, No! There’s a gas leak!” yelled Ibis before they went down. The men stood back. One of them, looking at Praymar’s unusual appearance, and thinking about gas explosions, cut out and so they had three men still willing. They made the descent down the ladder into the darkness, guided by Praymar who lead the way with his Night Vision.

Meanwhile, down in the mine Joe was running back and forth between turning the enormous valves and checking a series of dials on a wall in the far room. They had the impression that he was not quite sure exactly how the valves should be calibrated, as he was cursing loudly the whole time.

“Stop distracting me! Those explosions can rip this mine apart - the gas needs to be shut off in sector 32! But which valves, which valves?”

Hermel Attempts a Rescue

The canary was twittering nervously as he did so, as Dr. Chickenhimer clucked and fluttered about on the floor next to Hermel, and eventually Joe turned the last valve just so, checked several dials again, and then with great relief settled down. Hermel thought to himself that he could take the opportunity to flee the mine with his new animal friends, but realized that if he took the cage the light would go with him, and everyone would immediately notice. He examined the cage. It had a small brass door that had a small latch, which kept the door closed.

“They’re not like us,” said Hermel to the canary and Dr. Chickenhiemer, who rolled his chicken eyes. “When I have a chance I’m going to open the cage, and put an illusion over the cage door that will make it seem as though the cage is closed. This way you can escape when you have a chance,” said Hermel quietly through the cage bars.

As he was doing this, Bantum, Lanna and Star were getting ready to lower Arik down the mineshaft by two ropes slung over the metal elevator axel. Hermel was about to unlatch the the door when suddenly Joe came in and grabbed the cage off of the stand, and took it out to where the party had gathered around the mineshaft. With the cage Joe illuminated down into the darkness and everyone peered the hundred feet to the rubble below. It looked rather more dangerous than they expected.

“Are you one of them there talking birds,” asked Arik of the canary as he checked the tightness of the rope. She tweeted politely.

“Hey, you be careful with that cage!” yelled Hermel after Joe. “You be careful with her!” he shouted poking his head through the opening of the machine room.

Hermel laid down on his sleeping roll and watched as they lowered Arik down. The youthful Dwarve was stacked with crowbars and hammers and iron spikes in his belt. He looked rather absurd Hermel thought, dangling there in mid air with tools sticking out of his belt at crazy angles like some sort of fat metallic porcupine. But lower him down they did, and as he got toward the bottom he was pleased to find that the light from the canary cage was indeed enough for his good Dwarven vision to see by.

Arik Breaks Through

“One hundred feet down is the mine tunnel entrance. You’ll see a ledge with metal tracks. The elevator shaft does not stop there. We have not explored further down. The shaft was blocked another thirty feet down. Be careful not to dislodge the bottom beams! Otherwise everything will fall,” yelled Joe down the mine.

Arik gulped. He got good footing on a wooden beam that had fallen across the shaft. He made his way gingerly as possible over the beam and wedged the large crow bar beneath the huge boulder lodged in the mouth of mineshaft. That was the key boulder obstructing the shaft, along with crisscrossing beams and tons of rubble. He gave a huge shove on the crowbar, using another large rock as a lever. It was enough. The boulder slid off the ledge and a half ton of loose rock and boulders began shifting in the tunnel entrance and falling down the hole… and then things turned south badly. The boulder smashed into the cage with a thunderous noise, dislodging it from the wall sending the entire edifice creaking precariously forward. Loose rocks, dirt and beams began sliding wildly. Arik lost his footing and fell down the shaft. Caught by surprise Bantum, Lanna and Star barely managed to maintain their hold when the weight of Arik’s falling body suddenly yanked the rope. As the giant boulder fell it bounced against the shaft wall smashing into Arik’s right hip, and landed with a huge thud onto the cross beams that were precariously holding elevator cage in place. There was a momentary pause as everyone held their breath. The wooden beams creaked. Then there was a low rumbling noise, and suddenly the entire cross section of beams fell through, careening and clattering riotously into the darkness below with the boulder glancing off the sides of the walls along with an avalanche of large rocks, wooden beams and metal girding following behind. The elevator dropped another twenty feet with a horrible screeching sound, and then wedged itself against the wall diagonally. Arik was dangling in the air over a yawning black abyss. He was very seriously wounded.

“Owwww!” yelled Arik.

Somehow Arik managed throughout it all to hold on to the crowbar.

“On the plus side,” yelled Arik upward, “I did manage to clear the shaft!”

As they slowly hauled him upward he could see that a gap had opened up in the mouth of the mineshaft where all of the rubble had fallen away. But he was too wounded to work further on it. They pulled Arik up to the top of the mineshaft and settled him gingerly as they could on the ground.

“You’re a brave Dwarve,” said Joe, “The men in the mine are going to appreciate it, if we ever manage to get them out.”

“I’m going to take care of my hip, but I intend to head back down and finish the job,” said Arik.

Star preformed medical healing on Arik, taking care to bandage the braised parts of his lower body, provide an herbal remedy that calmed the nerves and strengthen the wounded muscles and ligaments. It was sufficient to improve Arik’s lot considerably. Star then took the opportunity to heal himself. That too was successful, and he felt entirely restored.

At this point Ibis and Praymar showed up with the men.

“Joe,” said Ibis, “when I tried to get one of the guards named Tom to come down and help out, he said he couldn’t because he was waiting for orders from ‘the Boss’… could you come up and help round up him and his men and get them to come down here?”

“No, that guy won’t listen to me. I’m not his boss,” said Joe. He went on to explain that the Boss was the leader of the guards who had come down originally with a few men, but when they discovered a new corridor had opened at the time of the explosion they went down there to explore it instead of helping with the miners.

“With friends like that, who needs enemies,” said Ibis.

“They’re not MY friends,” said Joe brusquely.

“Well, who are they to you then?” asked Ibis.

“I run mine maintenance. The machinery, and such,” said Joe. “Those guys are hired hands who are supposed to be guarding the mine from intruders.”

“The last time I came down here,” said Arik, “there was a Dwarve who was running operations. Where is he?”

“He,” said Joe, “is the Mine Operations Officer, and he calls the shots in the mine proper. I work for him.”

“Is he down…” asked Arik.

“Yes, he’s down there trapped with the miners,” said Joe finishing Arik’s thought.

“I see,” said Arik thoughtfully.

Bantum and the Birdie

“Can I play with the little birdie?” asked Bantum, and he reached over to open the cage, which was right next to him, in order to take her out and play with her.

Joe quickly put his hand on Bantum’s arm, saying, “Don’t open that cage or that nice golden light will go out! We’ll all be in pitch black darkness!”

“Ohhhh… ok,” said Bantum and took his hand away.

“Well lets go rescue the other rescue team,” suggested Hermel.

“What makes you think they need rescuing? Of course we may be able to convince them they’d be better use here, but on the other hand, what makes you think they’ll have any desire to help the miners out?” asked Arik.

“Well, because the entire mining operation has been stopped and they can’t get their product out? How about that?” said Hermel with conviction.

“You’re depending on ‘the Boss’ to be reasonable?” asked Star. “I would think that if he were reasonable he would already be here helping.”

“No that guy is a bandit,” said Joe, “They’re tough and so they got hired as guards when the mine was discovered,” said Joe, “but they don’t care about the mine one bit. They’re outlaws, and bad men. Loose cannons. Half crazy. They’re only in it for whatever they can get out of it.”

“Like honey badgers,” said Hermel to himself thinking of life back home in Yellow Clay Village. Everyone stared.

“Yes… um… like honey badgers,” agreed Arik.

They went back to the mineshaft and looked down. They thought about who should go down the shaft to clear the passageway into the tunnel.

Praymar to the Rescue

Praymar suggested, a second time, that he could go down. He was strong, and could see in the darkness. But everyone thought he would not survive if anything went wrong. They thought Hermel might go down as he was particularly tough, but they decided against him as well since he was low on energy. After more discussion they finally settled on sending down Praymar. Lanna stood behind Arik’s shoulder watching with anxiety as her son was lowered down.

He was lowered down. He landed lightly on the ledge, and called up, “I’m down safely!”

“Good for you, Skippy!” yelled Arik.

Praymar could see that on the ledge were two metal tracks. He realized that this is where the metal wagons would enter the elevator. He could hear on the other side of the rubble tapping sounds.

“I hear tapping!” yelled Praymar.

“They’re alive!” exclaimed Lanna with relief.

Praymar began clearing away the rubble and after three hours he’d cleared a hole into the mine tunnel. He immediately smelled a waft of gas. With his mystic Night Vision he could see down the tunnel, and saw the heads of men moving about.

“Hello!” yelled Praymar.

“Hello!” came the answer from the mine tunnel. The voice was that of Herman who was at the head of the collapsed section of the mine entrance digging with several others. In a little while enough space had been made for men to start crawling though the tunnel to the elevator shaft.

First through the hole was Ben, who was greeted with exceeding joy by his albino son. They embraced warmly, and with great affection. Praymar then tied the rope around his father and they hauled him up. One by one all the men were hauled up, including Herman, the Mine Manager, and lastly Thorvain the Dwarven Mine Operator who took three people to haul. There were thirty-four men in total, and of those eight were badly injured, three overcome with fumes, and four had died of injuries. Even so there was great rejoicing among the survivors who were lead out of the mine and taken to the Inn for medical treatment and rest.

Hermel vs Joe

Hermel stayed behind as the other heroes followed the miners out of the mine. Arik, of course, had much to converse about with Thorvain, and so they walked together, Bantum following Arik’s shoulder as they went.

Another tremor shook the mine and everyone stopped. Joe ran back into the valve room and began working the valves. As he was occupied, Hermel took the opportunity to go to the canary cage, open the latch in order to leave the door just every so slightly ajar so that she could escape. The canary for a moment looked like a little girl sitting on her perch smiling brightly at him. However, as soon as he opened the latch the light went out and everyone was plunged into darkness.

“What the hell!” screamed Joe from the valve room. Hermel tried fumbling in the dark to put the latch back but he couldn’t manage it, and the light did not turn on.

Joe game staggering through the darkness yelling, “Leave the cage alone! Leave it alone! For the sake of Minvar – leave the cage alone!”

He made his way to the cage following the sound of the canaries song, and feeling around managed to close the latch and so the golden light began to glow again. With that Bantum came back with Arik and Thorvain along with the others to find out what had happened.

“Can I have the birdie?” asked Bantum.

“No!” yelled Joe roughly.

“I like the birdie! I want the birdie!” yelled Bantum.

“No!” said Joe fiercely. “It’s my bird, and my cage, and no one can have her!”

“Where did you get her?” asked Hermel deeply curious.

“She’s mine I say! I won her!”

“Who did you win the bird from?” asked Star.

Joe did not answer, but instead scowled at everyone with a menacing gaze.

“We need the bird to light the way out of the mine,” said Ibis.

“Can I carry the cage?” asked Bantum.

“No!” yelled Joe hotly.

“Why?” asked Bantum, confused.

“She’s my bird! That’s why!”

“I won’t take it,” offered Bantum.

“No! She’s my bird, you can’t have her!” yelled Joe.

“You’re mean,” said Bantum.

“Come on, just take the bird and lets go,” said Hermel to Bantum.

“Ok,” said Bantum and reached for the cage.

“No!!” yelled Joe fiercely, with an edge in his voice that sounded like he’d have been willing to start fighting with them over the bird. His voice was so edged that everyone was convinced that were a fight to break out that there would be blood.

“No, don’t take my bird!” yelled Joe.

“But we have to go anyway! There’s nothing left to do here,” said Ibis.

“What do you mean!? There’s a ton of work to do! Don’t you see that the mine is in shambles and needs ten tons of repairs! I need the bird so I can see, you dumb bells!” shrieked Joe, angry as a hive of wasps.

The party members tried to argue Joe out of staying in the mine. He insisted on staying. They suggested that his business there was tainted by the fact that there were thugs working as guards, but Joe took no responsibility for them. He had a job to do, and he intended to continue doing it.

“Well,” said Ibis, “are you aware that they tricked the miners into working down here and that those contracts were signed under the influence of a drug?”

“That’s not my business,” said Joe.

“Yes it is,” said Ibis. “It’s everybody’s business.”

“You make it your business if you want, but it’s not mine. I work on the machines and that’s my job. I’m no criminal, I’m a working man!” stated Joe angrily.

“Come on, take the bird and lets go,” said Ibis.

“Don’t take my bird!” yelled Joe.

“Birdie, is he mean to you?” asked Bamtum of the canary. She fluttered around in her cage tweeting.

“He’s mean to birdie,” said Bantum.

“She’s my bird!’ yelled Joe.

“I will arm wrestle you for the birdie,” offered Bantum. Joe stared up at him.

“No! I don’t need to arm wrestle for my own damn bird!” yelled Joe. “Listen, you fellas have been great up till now. You came down here, risked your lives to rescue the miners, and everyone is thinking you’re all heroes. Now why not just leave an old man to do his job and get on with it? And please, for heaven’s sake, leave me my canary!”

“I’m taking my chicken, then!” said Bantum picking up Dr. Chickenhiemer.

“Ok!” said Joe with great relief.

And with that, everyone turned and left the mine, except for Hermel who briefly considered shoving Joe down the mineshaft and taking the bird. Instead, he sat down and began talking with Joe.

“Ay, can you pass me that wrench?” asked Joe of Hermel. He took the wrench from the top of a crate and handed it to Joe, who was hunched over one of the boxes on the work bench. His assistant having gone up to the Inn with the others, Joe deputized Hermel as his temporary assistant.

“You know how to read?” asked Joe as he worked on the device.

“No,” answered Hermel. “It’s stupid.”

Joe looked behind him at Hermel, and then turned back around with a shrug and went back to working on the box.

“This is one of the most amazing devices I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Joe appreciatively, half to himself. He flipped a switch, turned two knobs and three lights on the box lit up with red, green, and yellow lights. He turned a dial and static began crackling out of the box.

“With this box I can talk people anywhere in the world!” he said with a laugh.

“You can work that box, but you can’t fix the light in the cage?” asked Hermel.

“The cage I won in a bet from some odd little fellows who we found living in the mine. The box I found in some of these rooms back here. Now the box I can figure out because it’s based largely on things I can understand and experiment with. The cage, on the other hand is, well, it’s magic, and I have no idea how it works, see?” answered Joe. “I won the bird, and the bird came in the cage. I don’t even know if the bird is the light or the cage is the light. And frankly, I don’t much care. I like the bird. She’s kinda cute, and she sings real pretty, too,” explained Joe as he turned a dial and listened carefully. “Besides, you need a canary in a mine.”

“How much for the bird?” asked Hermel.

“No thanks. I’m not selling.”

“A thousand?” asked Hermel.

“No thanks. Not for sale,” said Joe.

“Five thousand iron,” offered Hermel.

“Not selling. Her name is Carolyna,” said Joe.

“Five thousand iron and I’ll replace her,” said Hermel.

“No thanks! Sing Carolyna! Sing!’ ordered Joe, and the bird began to sing a beautiful little tune.

“Hey, you want a job?” asked Joe of Hermel suddenly.

“No. I don’t want to be a slave in the mine,” he answered.

“We pay! We pay good money. Tell you what I’ll hire you myself. I’ll give you a hundred iron a month!’

“No thanks,” repeated Hermel stubbornly.

“A hundred a month is good money!” said Joe.

Hermel thought about it. That was a lot of money.

“I’ll teach you how to fix things. And Thorvain knows lots about mining, and I’m sure he’d teach you, too, if you want to learn that. As for me, well, not too many people know the kinds of things I do, though. Why not even Thorvain knows how to fix this box. But I do,” said Joe proudly.

“Well, so? What’s the big deal about the box. Don’t seem all that special. So what you can talk with people down in the mine. There’s no one there now anyway,” said Hermel.

“Oh? Well then, listen to this,” said Joe as he began turning knobs and dials. The lights flickered and suddenly music came out of the box. This impressed Hermel.

“I don’t know what country that music is coming from, frankly, but it sure ain’t from anywhere around here!” cackled Joe, delightedly. Hermel would not have known if that music was from the next village over, or from someplace ten worlds away, as he was not well versed music anyway. But Carolyn knew where the music came from, and it was somewhere very far away, and very long ago.

Joe turned the dial again and there was more crackling noise. A voice came through the speaker, in a language that neither of them understood. In fact it did not sound at all like a human voice. It rather sounded like the voice of something very large, and very ponderous, with echoing within it, and the sound of large bells ringing. It was a language, but nothing like any they’d ever heard before. In fact, it gave them both the chills something aweful.

“I don’t think I’ll try keying up to that one,” said Joe in a whisper, and turned the device off.

“Ok, well, I have things to do, people to save,” said Hermel standing up.

“Two hundred!” said Joe.

“No thanks,” said Hermel.

“Ok I’ll tell you what. If we strike a real vein then I’ll make sure you get a share, if you’ll be foreman in the lower level. I can get that job for you, easy, once we open up that part of the mine,” offered Joe.

“A ‘real’ vein?” asked Hermel.

“Oh sure. You don’t think a Dwarve like Thorvain would be down here mining merely for SALT, to you?”

“No, I didn’t think so. I know what you folks are digging for.”

“Oh you do, do you?” asked Joe with a raised eyebrow. “What are we here for?”

“Old stuff,” said Hermel.

“Oh? What kind of old stuff?”

“Real old stuff. The kind that makes people nervous,” answered Hermel coolly.

“Yup. You’re right about that. Join the team, buddy. We’re gonna make it big,” answered Joe in a low voice. “You want to make real money? This is the mine!”

“I don’t think so,” said Hermel.

“Think about it! Look around. Do you suppose we built this equipment? The valve system, the piping, the elevator?”

“No, I’m sure you didn’t. I’ve seen this kind of thing before in Hobbington,” answered Hermel.

“Oh so you know about that too then,” said Joe narrowing his eyes. “Yeah, we’re down here for the old stuff. Sure the Mayor and his friends want to invest in salt, sure. That’s all they know about, and it’ll make good money for them all, no doubt about that. But we have another deal, and Thorvain is hunting for some big fish, see?”

Hermel nodded.

“They don’t know about the old stuff. Thorvain is keeping a lid on it. But you know. And that bastard digging around back there in that new tunnel, he’s on to it now, too, I suppose… damn it! Nobody supposed to know about that stuff.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” said Hermel.

“Keep it in mind?” asked Joe pensively.

“Yeah, sure, I’ll keep it in mind. I’m sorry I couldn’t make a deal with you right now, as I have my sister and village to save, but you’ll see me later maybe,” he said as he turned and walked down into the darkness of the tunnel … alone.

“Good luuuuuck,” called Joe after him.


Previous Episode: The Great Salt Mine Disaster of 151 NK
Next Episode: Interlude: The Unexpected Rendezvous

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