The Stathmore Mines

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Last November I took a month long break from my novel to try my hand at National Novel Writing Month. This has gone poorly for me every time I’ve tried it in the past, so far as getting anything useful out of it other than the experience. Managed to crawl halfway to the wordcount this year working on a LitRPG. I had a rough outline but it was very hastily assembled and I was letting the characters wander quite a bit.

I was happy with how the following section came out, so I’ll package that as a short story. I may revisit that novel draft in the future and give it some real time and attention, but for now I’m going to be happy with the ten percent of it I’m willing to put my name next to.

The path leveled off at the top, opening up to a large grassy area with three simple log buildings, including one with a fenced-in pasture. The mine entrance was a hive of activity with Halfings loading up open topped carts with unprocessed ore while others held the reigns of the ponies the carts were attached to. I made a beeline for the bustling mass of tiny folk, trying to determine which of them looked most important. They were all covered in dirt and grime from the mine and none of them seemed to be sticking around any longer than was required for them to unload and head back in. When I got within twenty feet of the mine entrance one of the Haflings tapped another on the shoulder and pointed at me. The little guy who got the tap on the shoulder made his way our direction, picking up a pickax designed for a human sized user on the way over.

“Do you have business here or did you just get lost?” the Hafling asked, his expression impassive. He let the head of the pickax swing to the ground and leaned his weight on the bottom of the shaft. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to intimidating or casual, but I was finding it comical either way.

“Here on business, I’m looking for Foreman Quickhand.” I said, suppressing my amusement and trying to put on a serious expression. After a couple seconds of awkward silence I extended my hand. The small man looking me up and down but didn’t return my greeting, instead sighing heavily and hefting up his pickax. He reluctantly turned and began walking in the direction of the smaller building near the mine entrance. I ran my still outstretched hand up through my hair before glancing over at Amelie.

“I guess we’re following him. You want to try talking to him instead? You seem to talk a lot so I figure you must be good at it.”

Amelie stuck her tongue out at me before jogging ahead a few steps to walk even with our escort.

“Hey there, I didn’t catch your name.” She said, smiling all the way to her eyes and leaning down a little to match the miner’s height.

“Uh huh.” He said, looking over at her for only a moment.

“And your name is?” Amelie asked, moving her hands in a rolling motion while trying to maintain her smile.

“I’m Tack.”

“Nice to meet you Tack, this is a lovely operation you all run here.”

“You’re gonna want to save all of that,” he gestured at Amelie’s smile, circling it with his finger, “for the boss.”

“What do you mean?” Amelie asked, her chipper attitude seemingly unchanged.

The little man let out a short laugh and shook his head. About ten feet away from the building he pointed to the door, then turned and beat a hasty retreat back to the mine entrance.

“That was weird.” I said, watching him run.

“It actually makes me a little worried about what we’ll find inside.” Amelie said, giving me an expression that seemed to be legitimately fearful.

“Oh relax, he’s just afraid of his boss.” I said, closing the last bit of distance and opening the door as confidently as I could.

The smell of cigarette smoke and musty papers may as well have been a physical wall, stopping me dead in my tracks as soon as I pulled the door fully open. I stepped back and made a grand gesture of holding the door for Amelie, looking down to get my eyes to stop watering as I worked up the mental fortitude to step inside myself. She gave a quick nod and went on through as I focused on breathing through my mouth and followed.

“If you’re here to tell me that you broke another piece of equipment I swear to any god that’s listening I will kill you, hire a witchdoctor to magic your corpse back into functionality, and replace the equipment with your slowly decaying body!” A gravely high pitched voice said from behind a stack boxes at the far end of the room. The interior of the structure was lined with scroll tubes, wooden crates, and an assortment of large machine components that wouldn’t fit in boxes. Immediately next to the door was a drill bit that stood on end up to my armpit, large enough that I wondered how they got it through the door.

“Foreman Quickhand? I have a package from Errol.” I said, ducking as I made my way through the mess so that I wouldn’t hit my head on the low rafters. The structure had been built to be comfortable to smaller creatures with a minor nod to accessibility for the bigger races. That being said, it was clear that they weren’t overly concerned. Accessible sure as hell doesn’t mean convenient.

“Finally, some good news. Bring it over here.” The voice said, losing the shrill edge without softening in the least. A small set of hands appeared on top of the box and a wild-haired Hafling woman’s face joining them a second later, the red hair streaked with dirt and grease in places giving it the appearance of a smoking fire. I thought the small tendril of smoke rising up from her position was just my imagination until she reached down and pulled into view a large hand-rolled cigarette jabbed into the end of a complex looking metal filter contraption. Within a moment the woman was sitting on her heels on top of the crate, holding the cigarette in one hand and motioning me over with her other.

Still adjusting to the smoky room, I rubbed my eye a little before moving forward. When I reached her I pulled the parcel out of my inventory and held it out for inspection.

“We offered to take it up here since we’d heard you were also looking for adventurers to help out with some work around the mine.” Amelie said, making very pointed eye contact with me, “Isn’t that right, Deacon?”

“Uh, yeah. What she said.” I handed the package across to Foreman Quickhands since she didn’t seem to be actively reaching for it. I was rewarded with a notification.

  • Quest Completed: An Honest Day’s Work
  • Objective:
    • Listen to Errol’s job offer 1/1
    • Take the job 1/1
    • Deliver Errols’ package to Foreman Quickhand 1/1
  • Reward:
    • 150 Experience Points
  • Quest Completed: Money on my Mine
  • Objective:
    • Inquire with Foreman Qucikhand about a job 1/1
    • (Optional) Bring a friend 1/?
  • Reward:
    • 50 Experience Points
    • New Quests Available at Stathmore Mines

Glad to see those quests close out successfully, though it seemed like a small amount of XP for the time invested. And it was a bit annoying that the NPC didn’t take any active part in the quest completion for my delivery quest until I initiated it. I’d need to ask Amelie later whether this was a problem with the NPCs limited AI, or if haflings were just intentionally rude in this world. Actually, now that I thought about it I had some further questions.

“How did your group end up as miners anyway?” I asked, genuinely curious. “Normally I hear about Goblins, Dwarves, and Gnomes running mines. Haflings, that’s a bit unorthodox for this type of work.”

As soon as I said it I winced and saw Amelie subtly step out of view next to a stack of boxes. Good move on her part. If I could get away with it I would have done the same, even though I asked the question in the first place.

“Everybody wants Dwarven armor or Gnomish contraptions.” The haflings woman spat on the ground. “What are the Haflings known for, eh?”

I opened my mouth to respond but she cut me off immediately.

“Shut up, that was rhetorical. The answer is pipeweed and laziness at best or thievery at worst.” She answered, standing up on the stack of crates and leaning forward with her hands on her hips. “Is it so strange for us to be trying to do an honest job and change that perception, human?”

She spat the last word with significant disdain, somehow turning it into an insult. I held my hands up in the universal signal of defeat, trying to de-escalate the situation with the only quest-giver I had a lead on.

“I apologize.” I said with complete honesty. “My question wasn’t well thought out, I was just curious. No offense intended.”

After a moment of harsh glaring the foreman seemed mollified and nodded curtly, jumping down in front of me without warning. I stumbled back a step or two to get out of the way and the small woman shoved her shoulder into my leg as she roughly passed by in the direction of a desk set into the wall. Amelie gave a silent mock laugh at me when I looked her direction, falling in behind me as I turned to see what the foreman was doing.

“I don’t trust you two to return to Stathmore with the payment for the Innkeeper.” She said, rummaging through a drawer full of curling papers. “But I don’t have to trust you at all in order to benefit from your work, do I?”

My initial thought was that, yes you would have to trust us at least somewhat, but I bit back the response. Having learned from her previous display of unprovoked aggression I stayed silent, waiting for something useful to latch onto in the Hafling’s words. I had known her for less than three minutes and already hated talking with her, I could not imagine having her as a boss. Tack’s demeanor seemed a little more justified now.

“Here.” She said, pulling out two small metal bangles with intricate designs etched into them. “Put these on and I’ll get you attuned to the wards if you’re interested in doing some work.”

She threw the metal bracelets over her shoulder toward us, surprisingly accurate for a blind throw. I inspected the item closely and flinched back when a tooltip popped up with details.

  • Item: Stathmore Miner’s Bangle
  • Type: Jewelry (Quest Item)
  • Effect: Allows you access to the Stathmore mines and aids in navigation when within them.

I placed it on my wrist and checked my equipment tab. The wrist slot stilled showed as empty, but a new section underneath showed the bracelet. Looking closer at the entry summoned another tooltip informing me that mundane quest items would not displace gear if they offered no overlapping effects. Filing that away for later I brought my attention back to the moment. Foreman Quickhand pulled a large book from a shelf on the desk and opened to a place held by a built in strip of cloth.

“One of my boneheaded miners managed to drill too far along one of our richest silver veins and hit a colony of mountain locusts. Nasty buggers, size of a small dog with a fiery bite. Literally, they spit fire. I need someone to go in and clear the colony out, or at least reclaim a section of that shaft before they eat all the silver. Most of the mine is just tin now and our margins have been thin, if this silver vein gets eaten by bugs I may as well close the mine now!”

At some point during her explanation she had shifted to the fury I’d witnessed earlier. So apparently it didn’t matter whether or not I spoke, she seemed to be able to work herself up all by herself. Not that I could blame her, I couldn’t imagine the stress of having to worry about giant bugs literally eating my money.

“Is this something we’re capable of?” Amelie asked, earning a glare from the foreman, “I mean, do you know if this is beyond our current level? Do we need to go gather a group of adventurers?”

“My workers could probably clear them out on their own given a week or two, if I dedicated all of them to that task. Oh and if I didn’t mind letting about a quarter of them die or suffer crippling injuries. You two are adventurers right? I’m much more willing to throw your lives on the line for this sort of thing.”

“That really gives me the confidence I need to get the job done.” I said, the words dripping with sarcasm.

“Really? I’m offering you a job worth 250 gold and you’re going to give me attitude?” She asked, fishing another cigarette out a pouch on her hip. “I’m just being realistic. Go gather a group if you want, split the money however. It’s 250 gold total, which is very generous if I do say so myself, and it’s something you’re almost probably capable of handling. If you’re interested sign in the book and it’ll activate your access. It will also temporarily anchor your soul to the Stathmore Mines when you’re inside, so that if you die you’ll come back in the common hall here at the mines. It won’t change your current anchor location if you die outside. You in?”

A prompt appeared in the corner of my vision with the quest details, and I could tell from the far away look on her face Amelie was reading over the same data.

  • New Quest: Pest Control
  • Summary: Foreman Quickhand is unwilling to risk her workers to clear out a plague of Mountain Locusts along a silver vein. Destroy the locusts and their queen and Foreman Quickhand will provide 250 gold in compensation. You may add members to your quest be signing them in with the Foreman. Return the bangle to decline the quest at any time.
  • Objective:
    • Sign the book to start the quest 0/1
    • Kill Mountain Locust Drone 0/25
    • Kill Mountain Locust Queen 0/1
  • Reward:
    • 250 Gold
    • Experience
    • ???

A pretty straightforward quest, though I wasn’t sure the value of gold yet in the world it seemed like a lot for such a low level quest. And the hidden reward was also a bit suspicious. It was annoying that the game hadn’t told us the recommended party size for the quest so we were going to have to just hope for the best.

“You’ve got a deal.” I said, grabbing the quill inset on the desk and signing my character name. It took me a moment to invent a signature for this new name, but I decided a jagged print of the letters would suffice. Amelie took the quill from my hand and signed with a flourish of looping cursive, clearly playing up the Elven angle of her character.

“Alright, now get the hells out of my office and don’t come back unless the job is done or you are.” She said, pointing at the door and disappearing back behind her wall of crates.