Locke and Els (4)
The Calisto Hills was situated at the borders of the Falik Plains and was connected to the Tedanini Mountains. It was also in the area between the Dwarven Kingdom and the Forde Trade Union. According to the old legends, the remaining magi at the end times of the magic civilization opened a dimensional portal and sent the other sentient beings on the Grindia Continent to different worlds to ensure that the humans would survive the oncoming tribulations and wouldn't have to compete with the other races. For some reason, however, they missed out the dwarves who had been living around the Tedanini Mountains and slowly, with the passing of two thousand or so years, they had built up their very own kingdom.
Currently, this was the only other sentient being on the Grindia Continent apart from the humans. Given the tendency for the dwarves to reside within mountain ranges, however, they rarely had any conflict with the humans and was even on trading terms.
While the Calisto Mountains was technically in the territory of the Forde Trade Union, the union didn't hold much governing power in the area. Given the nature of the battle-crazed mountain folk, the trade union treaded carefully and was careful not to offend them in the slightest, lest a large scale conflict erupts. At the moment, the council was considering splitting the Calisto Mountains into several districts in the future and letting those who had contributed to the union govern it.
After three days and two nights of travel, Lorist and gang finally arrived at their destination, Baca Village. The middle-aged village chief who was also the requestor and the owner of the mines, Bam, welcomed them.
Bam was also one of Lorist's senior students in the academy. With his father having enlisted in the trade union army to fend off the Krissen Empire's invasion, he retired to the village due to his injuries and resolved himself to make the village prosper after seeing all the progress that is being made at the outside world and barely managed to send Bam to the Dawn Academy. Bam took up two additional professional courses, namely, resource foraging and mine management. However, given that those courses were rather unpopular and the quality of the lecturers were subpar, he only managed to learn those things in theory and never got any practical experience. The academy subsequently discontinued those courses.
After returning to the village, Bam spent five to six years cultivating the skills he had learned and managed to discover several veins of silver and tin ore at a hill near the village. While the excavation amount wasn't humongous, it was enough to support the livelihood of six other villages around it. The discovery of the mines wiped out poverty and famine from the surrounding villages. Additionally, Bam also used a part of the profit from the ore mines to fund several talented youngsters to go to Morante City for further studies.
The whole gang felt that Senior Bam was pretty impressive for his willingness to forsake the possibility of a grand lifestyle in Morante City for the sake of developing his village and community. Yuriy and Lorist were most impressed with how he used the extra money to sponsor the village youths as they understood that the costs of studying at Morante City wasn't cheap.
Very frankly, Bam told them about how he first encountered traces of Metal-eater Rats within the vicinity of the mines. Being an Iron ranked swordsman, he formed a group to go take care of the pests. It was not until a while later that they discovered that the infestation wasn't as simple as they had thought and over the past year, they had killed more than ten of those rats on multiple occasions already. Just two months ago, an attack by a swarm of Metal-eater Rats had killed three and injured five of the miners. That was when he finally decided to end it once and for all and summoned all the villagers who had Battle Force to go on an extermination mission down the mines; including Bam, there were three Iron ranked fighters and eleven Bronze ranked fighters in total.
However, the extermination did not succeed as the swarm of rats numbered more than a hundred and the party of 14 were hard-pressed and not one of them escaped unscathed. Even though they managed to wipe out 30 or so rats, they had struggled to retreat under the relentless attacks of the rat swarm and nine of them ended up with rather severe injuries.
Since that failed attempt, Bam understood the magnitude of the problem and had no choice but to seek aid from mercenaries. After treating all of those who had been injured, the village was only left with less than 30 gold coins and their dire financial straits was further exacerbated by the temporary closing of the mines. Being only able to offer ten or so gold coins as a mission reward, and given the referral fee of five gold coins charged by the mercenary guild, most mercenaries were hesitant on taking the mission up.
Recalling that the students of the Dawn Academy often went on mercenary missions, he reached out to the villagers who were studying there and managed to get in contact with Charade.
Having listened to Bam's description of the situation, the party was convinced that this mission had relatively low risk asBam was a rather credible person. Charade went on to brief the rest of them about the situation: there was an estimated amount of two to three hundred Metal-eater Rats. With their forces of three Silver ranks and two Iron ranks, even if they couldn't wipe out all of the rats, it shouldn't be a problem for them to take out the rat queen and cause the rats to leave the mines.
While a reward of 18 gold coins for the rat extermination was a little lacking, it was already rather favorable for Charade's party as Bam would also be bringing along two other Bronze Swordsmen to guide them in the mines as well as manage their equipment for no extra charge. The most lucrative point of the mission was that any loot or gains obtained during it belonged solely to the party. There might be a possibility of finding gold nuggets and other rare metals in the rat nests which could be sold for quite a sum. The party decided to rest up for the day before setting out tomorrow.
"While the meat of the Metal-eater Rat is a little sour, it is undoubtedly safe to consume and would taste even better if they were made into jerky. The organs and blood of the rat, however, had to be removed completely as high concentrations of toxic minerals resided within them. The rats' most threatening feature are their front teeth which are really durable and can be sold for one small silver each on the market. Their pelt however was worthless as it had a distinct foul smell that attracted insects which couldn't be removed no matter how it was treated, so they are normally discarded."
Within the mines, Els was assigned the role of the scout and vanguard while Charade, Yuriy and Terman were positioned in the middle and Lorist, Bam and the other two swordsmen constituted the rearguard. At the moment, Lorist was telling Bam what he had learned about the rats from the magical beast biology lessons.
"The Metal-eater Rats hate the smell of pine trees, especially that of their roots. The concoction we sprayed around the entrance was to limit the range of activity of the rats and prevent them from running all over the place.
"This was the result of the research that was completed last year by Professor Snade Borg of our magical beast biology department. He was even rewarded 20000 gold Fordes for this. As long as you apply this pesticide on a regular basis at the mine entrance, you would be free from Metal-eater Rat infestations.
"To top that off, it's not that expensive at all. A large bucket of it only costs about 3 gold Fordes and can last for as long as a month. After using this for a year or two, a natural pine smell will form around the mines and you won't have to use it any longer. Senior Bam, please consider this quickly as we have a limited supply. You can only get these from academy insiders so please feel free to make your order with us."
Lorist was really enthusiastic about promoting the pesticide as he stood to gain one gold Forde for every bucket sold. If he managed to sell 12 buckets per year, that would mean an extra 12 gold Fordes of income for him annually without breaking a sweat.
As they descended further into the mines, they wiped out two waves of rats along the way, which numbered up to more or less 200 of them. The performance and efficacy of the team greatly impressed Bam and the Bronze Swordsmen that followed along.
With Charade, Els and Terman standing at three points around him with him in the middle, Yuriy proved to be quite capable at supporting the team and allowed the rest to slaughter the rats without worry. Lorist himself was even more amazing; he moved separately from the rest of them and easily took care of as many rats as those in the formation himself without getting even a single bloodstain on him.
Senior Bam and his attendants were embarrassed at the fact that nine out of their group of fourteen had incurred severe injuries on their previous extermination attempt after seeing how Lorist's group killed the rats easily and effortlessly, as if it were just a common training exercise.
After killing off the remaining rats in the second wave, the party decided to rest for a while as they removed the valuable parts of the rat that could be sold for money. Yuriy took out a large plier and used it to pluck the front teeth of all the rats. Having been told by Lorist that the meat of the rats was edible, Bam requested the group to give the meat to them to help alleviate the food shortage problem in their village.
Having rested up and eaten some dry rations, Charade instructed the group to split up and led Terman and Yuriy into the left cavern while Lorist and Els headed for the right one. Given that most of the rats had been exterminated, all that was left was to take care of the rat queen.
Slinging the bag filled with rat teeth on his back, Lorist casually smeared some of the pesticide on the walls of the cavern as he walked along the path.
"What are you up to?" Els asked.
Lorist responded by telling Els about the effects of the pesticide half-heartedly given that Els would not be interested in purchasing any of it from him anyway. Els doubted the efficacy of the pesticide however and they broke into an argument.
Having walked for quite some time and reaching the end of the road, they didn't discover anymore rats. Els said, "Let's go back. There's no point in remaining here."
Just as he finished his words, the rock wall in front of him suddenly jolted and cracked open with a loud sound. A head of a large beast emerged from the hole in the wall, sniffed the air around it and leaped in Lorist and Els's direction.
"What is that!?" exclaimed Lorist in shock as he dropped the torch in his hand. "Isn't this fellow a little too big? The head itself has a diameter of two meters!"
"Better run!" said Els loudly as he grabbed Lorist's arm and turned to run the other direction.
"Sol, I knew that bringing you along was a bad call! The last two times were bad enough. For the whole of this mission, I've been worried that something terrible would happen. I can finally stop guessing, now that this critter has shown up in the middle of the rat extermination mission..." called Lorist as he ran behind Els.
"You haven't even thanked me for saving you yet! If I were a little bit late, you would've been swallowed whole by now! You even dropped our torch!" replied Els.
"I was suddenly reminded of the Single-horned Rock Python that was said to live in the mines. That thing back there definitely had a long body and a really large head! If that isn't the python, I don't know what is!" said Lorist, slightly embarrassed at the fact that he had indeed been saved by Els's quick thinking.
Els turned his head to the back before saying, "It doesn't look like a Single-horned Rock Python to me. It has a round head and doesn't seem to have any scales or eyes. Its speed isn't that fast either."
"How can you see in this darkness? Do I look like a child that would fall for your lies? And hey, don't run so quickly! What if we run straight into a wall!?" shouted Lorist.
"Haha," Els laughed lightly. "You know that I train in a darkness attribute Battle Force, right? I bet you didn't know that people who trained in that type of Battle Force had night vision. I can see just as good in the darkness as I do in broad daylight! That's my special ability! How is it? Are you envious? I can still see so well even without the torch you dropped."
"Good Sol, I have enough money to buy all the torches I need. I don't need that stinking ability!" Feeling rather envious, Lorist thought, This guy's ability of being able to see in the dark is not at all inferior to my own dynamic vision... And it's extremely helpful in poorly-lit environments...
"Then I bet you were enjoying the sights in the bath on that day. Even though the lighting is pretty bad in there, I bet you could see all of them with perfect clarity given your ability," said Lorist as he panted heavily.
"Can you please not bring that up again? I was facing the wall at that time and couldn't see even one of them..." Just as Lorist reminded him of that incident, Els recalled the cruel and demeaning remark by that girl that deeply wounded his pride and tripped on a piece of rock as he lost focus.
Lorist swiftly helped Els to his feet. "Eh? Locke, are you hurt? Why're your clothes wet?"
Stunned, Lorist felt his body up and said, "Oh, that's not blood. The waterskin holding the pesticide burst and released all of its contents on my body. That fall didn't hurt you badly, right? We better hurry, I'm starting to hear that thing closing in."
"I'm fine. Let's go."
In a short while, they went back to their previous resting place where Charade and the rest were waiting. Seeing Lorist and Els's haggard looks, they broke into a stream of laughter until they heard the rumbling coming from the tunnel behind them and started running towards the cavern exit for their lives.
Despite having a stocky build, Charade was the fastest of them all and escaped the caverns and was followed by Yuriy, Terman, Bam and one of the Bronze Swordsmen with Lorist and Els trailing along at the end. The other Bronze ranked helper who was packing the rat carcasses onto the cart outside the mines looked at their panicked expressions with wonder. What had happened in the mines while he was away?
Charade screamed, "Get out of the way! A magical beast is coming out from the entrance!"
That instantly set the rest of the group into panic. Fortunately, the beast retreated into the mines as if it was afraid of the strong sunlight.
Letting out a relieved breath, Charade asked Lorist and Els what happened. "What was that? How did you end up encountering it? And, what's that smell on you, Locke? Did your bladder go loose?"
Lorist explained, "No, the pesticide got splashed all over my body. It's the one developed by professor Snade Borg. I brought some over cause I heard that we would be eradicating Metal-eater Rats."
"Good Sol! Let me take a look at that pesticide! I think I know what that monster back there is!" said Charade as he walked towards Lorist angrily, seemingly wanting to give him a punch or two.
"Wait, what's wrong? Wasn't it a good idea to bring along the pesticide for the Metal-eater Rats?" asked Lorist as he dodged the fatty's punches.
"Good idea my ass! While that concoction can indeed repel Metal-eater Rats, it would also attract Ground Wyrms! That thing back there was a Ground Wyrm that had been lured over by the smell of that pesticide!
"Do you even know how serious that was? Ground Wyrms are magically mutated versions of common earthworms and they are attracted to the smell of pine tree roots! If you don't believe me, try digging out the roots of a pine tree and see if you find a nest of earthworms there! There are even people in the academy who are using that 'pesticide' of yours as Ground Wyrm lure!
"That professor even lost the 20000 gold Fordes that had been awarded to him after they found out about the unintended effect and caused lots of leftover pesticide to be stocked up at the academy, didn't you know? Sol, only an idiot like you would fall for his schemes!" screamed Charade with all his breath.
Good Sol, no wonder that professor said that he would give me one gold coin for every bucket sold! So, it was a defective product! Holding his head and curling up on the ground, Lorist merely said, "All of you guys, please hit me to your hearts' content. I deserve this."
But nobody went over to beat him up and merely calmed down to figure out how they would solve the problem at hand. Relative to other magical beasts, the Ground Wyrm wasn't too hard to take care of. They decided to lure it out with a large hook and rope after some discussion.
The Ground Wyrm was essentially an oversized earthworm; it was aversive to sunlight and water and was considered relatively harmless to most other magical beasts. It didn't pose that much of a threat to small, agile targets given its large, imposing body and slow speed. Charade and his party spent six whole days with the cooperation of the Baca villagers to put together a hundred meter long rope with a large hook at its end and sent Lorist down the mine with the hook to atone for his grave mistake.
Before he left, Els walked over from the crowd. Lorist asked, "Are you gonna do it for me?"
"I'm going to accompany you down there. If Yuriy and Terman wasn't assigned to hold the rope by Charade, they would've accompanied you as well. After all, we're friends, aren't we?"
It was at that moment when Lorist was moved to tears.
They put the hook down after walking a certain distance into the mines and wrapped it with a bundle of cloth that was soaked in the 'pesticide'. Without much delay, a rumbling sound could be heard from the depths of the caverns and the both of them ran out of it at full speed.
On their way to the exit, the rope snapped upward tightly. Lorist said cheerfully, "It got hooked!"
Outside the mines, Charade was directing the villagers to pull on the rope with all their force. Even after busting their backs for the whole afternoon, the Ground Wyrm simply refused to come out. After a final heave, the people present witnessed blood splatter out of the entrance of the mines as the internals of the Ground Wyrm were pulled out of its carcass.
Looking at the scene with a hint of satisfaction, Charade said, "Not bad, given how its internals were pulled out, that Ground Wyrm's dead for sure. We'll go harvest its skin tomorrow."
Given the amazing regenerative capabilities of Ground Wyrms, the only viable method of getting rid of it was to use a hook to pull the internals out. While the rest of the beast wasn't worth much, its skin could be boiled to extract a strong adhesive which could be mixed with sand to form sturdy building material.
To further make up for Lorist's error, Charade gave the skin to Bam, much to his delight, as he would be able to make new houses for his villagers with the skin of the Ground Wyrm.
After spending another three days clearing out the mines of any remaining Metal-eater Rats, the party put one of the small cages they brought around the entrance of the mines and with a rat corpse inside it. The decaying corpse would serve as an effective repellant for other Metal-eater Rats and keep them away from the mines.
Having wrapped up the whole affair, the gang bade farewell to Senior Bam and started their journey back to the city.