"W-what can ... with GOLD?!?" Kuuz was having problems forming a coherent sentence. "Everything!" he bellowed out, trembling with excitement. I let him hold the gold nugget while I scoured the passage for similar rocks with shiny streaks of 'Fool's gold.' Kuuz examined the walls for the source and found it as a layer in the wall, a 'vein.' He rambled off a bunch of uses for gold like he was listing off ways of cooking shrimp. It turned out that gold wasn't valuable just because it was rare, but because it had tremendous magical properties with many varied uses.
Used to make jewelry that could be [Enchanted]
Gilded armor is more resistant to magical effects
Increases resistance to acid attacks
Applied to weapons, it can hold and amplify enchantments
Could be alloyed with silver to make Electrum
Makes armor look impressive and stately
I quickly realized that mana would be the limiting factor. Extracting gold took three times as much time and mana as it took to extract impurities from iron. This had to do with the gold's density.
Mana: Channeled, 5 mana / second
Extract a substance at the rate of [Intelligence]/10 grams per minute (proportional to the density of the material; denser substances take longer to extract.) [Average: 0.167 grams / second, w/ 100 int, normal density]
Extract Substance upgrades:
[t1] Lower mana cost (-10%)
I had a feeling that I would be using this spell on a daily basis. So before extracting any more, I upgraded the spell three times to lower the mana cost by 30%. This left me with just 440 Essence in the tank. This upgrade was further compounded with the [Life Bond] aspect of [Better than one] perk. It helped in reducing my mana consumption by another 32% by taking that portion from Estra's mana pool. Thanks, Estra! She didn't mind, her previously sour mood had turned to gold fever.
I was able to extract 26 more grams before I was out of mana, giving me over a dozen of the little nuggets. After that, it would take four hours to regenerate my mana to full. Kuuz was able to extract a few grams as well before running out of mana. It wasn't the chrome that I was looking for, but this was even better. We only got to explore a small portion of the mining tunnels, but it was worth the trip. With our rucksack filled with 'Fool's gold' ore, we headed back.
Once we got back, Kuuz organized a mining party, showed them what I had in my rucksack and they rushed off to retrieve more. It was a gold rush! I had planned to start work on the water-wheel, but that got postponed because guests had arrived at our chief's quarters.
Two kobold chiefs came by to talk, and while we were exchanging greetings, two more turned up. They didn't come for a pleasant conversation and a cup of tea and biscuits, which sadly we had neither. Having heard about what happened to the two northern clans and their chiefs, they appeared to be on the edge. The previous top orc chief Bogakh didn't care much for planning or caution. He felt that he could just slice his way through all the problems. This situation, however, called for a delicate hand, such that strategy would be necessary. Yet, nobody had any good ideas.
"More humans were spotted around the mountain towards the northern side, and in larger numbers." One chief said.
"They are building up settlements and entrenching themselves with fortifications." Another added. It was all bad news. There was talk of running. Relocating somewhere further south, away from the humans.
"I'm not running," I told them.
Our five remaining kobold tribes had a combined force of 304, including my 131. With exception of a few dragonborn, a demon and a single two-headed ogre, this sizeable force consisted of cowardly kobolds as strong as teenagers. A head-on fight with the humans would be bad for us. The problem wasn't the numbers, it was the serious lack of courage. One stern look from a human and they'd run.
I wrote, 'Courage potion?' on the slate board. Bansari considered it for a minute, and wrote back, 'Bloodlust potion.' I haven't heard of that one, but it sounded like what we needed. According to her, it increased courage, numbed the pain, and gave strength. Perfect. The effect, however, was short-lived, 30 minutes at best, and had some side effects. She listed the ingredients on the board, and I wasn't too thrilled about the last one.
"Alright, I know where to get the last two, but what's the first one?" I asked Estra and tapped on the first one for Bansari's sake. Estra shook her head, but Bansari wrote, 'Orcs make it.' Lovely.
"Anyone have any Burned Water?" I asked but nobody answered. "Great, who wants to go see some orcs?" And again, nobody. I tabled the idea for now. Them orcs were the sort I didn't want to have a conversation with. But I did recall Zoey saying that we traded with them for charcoal. I'd need to speak with her later. Globba came back with a satisfied stomach, slumped down at her spot and started snoring lightly, right in the middle of our meeting. The four chiefs eyed her warily and then got back to arguing with each other.
"Mark my words, we got a few days at best, and they will attack again. We best leave."
"No, we have to be strong and be ready when they come."
"We should be sneaky. We can lure them into traps and ambushes. I don't think we should fight them in the open field when we have the advantage of the tunnels we know."
"For that to work, we need to be disciplined. We need to work together." Estra interjected into their discussion.
"They know we lay traps, they can see them. The humans can detect traps and smell ambushes from a mile away."
"They may know about your traps and ambushes, but I they might not recognize mine," I said, but at the same time, I couldn't think of any traps off the top of my head. I needed time to think it over. I had a small sampling of modern knowledge and a few spells that they didn't. I felt confident that I would figure something out.
"Intelligence is what's needed. We have to get our best scouts out there, day and night." I said, and everyone seemed to be on board with at least that. They further agreed to daily briefings in the evenings to share and discuss the gathered intelligence. It was a good start.
"Besides that, my solution is to use the Slime Dungeon. Go in, get Essence, get good items, and use that to fight back when humans attack. Today I have five dragonborn." I raised and showed five fingers, "Tomorrow I'll have ten." Estra raised her hand. The impromptu meeting ended shortly after, but only agreeing on scouting.
While I sent for Zoey, I gave a thought to what lay beyond this fight. Kobolds didn't lack for living space, there was plenty to go around. The mountain was enormous and the tunnels were many and vast. It was food that was essential. The area could only support so many Kobolds. We would need to find new sources of food in order to thrive and grow. Also Essence. If I had tons of food and plenty of Essence, we'd have a formidable army.
"Burned water. I'm told orcs make it, can we trade for it?" I asked Zoey as soon as she arrived. She appeared to be in a happy mood and nodded in response.
"Great! How much of this stuff do we need?" I asked Estra.
'Burned water per potion?' Estra wrote on the board. 'All but five drops of ogre blood and a pinch of steel powder.' Bansari wrote back.
Ugh. That's going to be a lot. "We'd need a barrel worth. Is that a lot? And what would they want in trade for that much?"
While discussing what to trade, I added 'What is burned water?' to the board.
'Fire drink.' Bansari wrote. Oh. OH! "How about two barrels then? We're gonna need a lot of courage." I said with a wide grin. Now I understood what this 'bloodlust' potion was and its side effects.
They have been trading finished wrought iron items including weapons and armor. But now we had high-quality steel and gold! We'd be able to get an excellent trade for such a selection. As long as we didn't get robbed. A strong trading party would be needed. Estra, Globba, and Lan's dragonborn crew would need to come along, and I was still afraid that it wouldn't be enough. Just how valuable was steel compared to what they traded? As if reading my mind, Lan arrived, but with questions about tomorrow's Slime Dungeon run.
"No, we're doing a trade run tomorrow morning instead. With orcs." I said, and his mood visibly plummeted. We turned the discussion to the value of steel weapons and armor. Kuuz had to be brought in to get a better idea.
"I'm not trading away gilded steel to those filthy ... animals!" Kuuz spat, almost frothing.
Alright, next topic. "How are we doing for food?" I asked Zoey as an aside, while Lan and Kuuz grumbled about what to trade.
She shook her head. "Not good, chief. Few weeks." It sounded just like the answer she gave me last time.
"I need a more exact answer. How many days?" I asked, but she just shrugged her shoulders. A more exact estimate required more math that these kobolds probably knew.
"Alright. Go talk to the cooks, check our stores and get back to me with a better answer, please."
She was just about to leave when she turned back around. "Oh. I found mammoth!" She said happily. Globba woke with a start as if she was paying attention all along.
"Mammoth?!" Globba blurted out and was up on her feet with a jump.
"Many mammoths." Zoey smiled, raising her arms in excitement. We still had time in the day for a hunt
"Kuuz, get me items to trade, and I'll make you water-powered billows." I left him standing considering that bargain, while I formed up a party and we took off running to get me some mammoths. I was excited, I imagined that it would be like in those cave drawings, spears and all. A savage man versus beast fight for the ages. I have never been more disappointed.
I couldn't see them. Zoey kept pointing up at the trees for some odd reason. Finally, I saw something, a blob of flesh peeled off a tree trunk and glided over to another.
"Oh Jesus! Look at that giant- ... moth." Oh no. No! Argh. "Mammoth?" I pointed at the moths, reluctantly.
"Yeah!" Zoey bobbed her head back at me excitedly. Fuck! More insect meat.
These manatee-like creatures were well off the ground hugging tree trunks like hippies, but with wings and ... and all their creepy insect antenna thingies and mandibles. Ugh. I didn't want to be on this planet anymore! I wanted a cow steak and a strong drink. God. I'd even settle for a beer.
Their bark textured and similarly colored torsos blended in with the pines near perfectly. The four wings flowed out like branches, green and full of similarly shaped pine needles. Their blobby bodies made the trees in the area look like they had cancerous growths.
For creatures of their size, it was a wonder they survived long enough to get that big. They were dumb as fuck. Oblivious really. We merrily walked around under the trees they were at only spooking a few. Instead of taking off, they'd just swap from one tree to another, or fly up a few branches higher. How were they not extinct? Nobody knew.
Killing them was more a matter of time rather than skill. We kept throwing javelins up until we managed to hit one somewhere vital. It wasn't easy though, the javelins needed to be thrown high up with sufficient strength without getting deflected by the branches. It was alright if we missed, the dumb things just moved over a branch, or flew over to another nearby tree. At worst they'd go up a branch or two.
The dangerous part was not getting impaled by a javelin on its way down after a miss. That and dodging any that we managed to bring down. They'd come wailing and screeching down every branch to the ground. Even still, the rest just looked on like everything was perfectly peachy in the neighborhood. In the end, we managed to down three of them. Each weighed several hundred pounds. Globba hacked off the wings, made carriers and we headed back home with the sun setting in the sky behind us. Everyone else was anxious for an amazing dinner. I had doubts.
We made it home just before dark. The cooks fired up the cooking fire, brought out cooking grills and got to work preparing today's haul. I watched with disgust as they masterfully carved up the blobby creatures into cuts of meat. While on the outside the mammoths were a hundred percent insect, on the inside they like wagu. My doubts were slowly melting away much like the juicy fat on the outside of the grilled steak cuts. A wonderful aroma filled the area.
I could see why Globba was so thrilled about mammoths. They were absolutely delicious. It wasn't so much the meat, but the layers of marbleized fat in between. Lack of spices and salt didn't discourage me from eating my fill. The three were hungrily devoured well before the night was through.