Kelvin Stonetapper ran his hand across the rough-hewn rock of the lower tunnel. His father and his father’s father had helped cut the tunnel long before Kelvin had even grown his first chin whiskers. Kelvin was more than happy to continue the family legacy.
The Mining Council of Khalen-Dun had given up on the lower tunnels, said there wasn’t anything down that low worth mining. The Stonetapper Clan thought differently. Kelvin remembered his father talking about smelling gold down there.
Kelvin sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose. It didn’t smell like gold. The air was heavy with the stink of mold, and something else he couldn’t quite identify. However, he wasn’t going to let that stop him. If he could just open a new tunnel, he’d find that gold his father obsessed about before he had died of the fuzzy lung. Then the Stonetappers would have their day.
Kelvin came to the final turn in the tunnel system. At this point, he was quite a ways from the main mining system and the clink and clank of picks on stone had faded away. He expected to find a wall. What he found stopped him in his tracks.
A large crack ran up the length of the tunnel’s wall. It was big enough that he could fit through. The ground was wet as if a giant snail or something had crawled out.
Kelvin put his pick down and drew a hand axe from his belt. He took a few steps forward and then gagged as an acrid stench hit his nose. “Dumathoin’s beard!”
He covered his mouth and nose with his arm and moved closer to the crack. As he neared, he stepped into the liquid. It was viscous and stuck to the bottom of his boots. It made his movements sluggish.
Kelvin had to inform the Mining Council. This wasn’t natural and they would want to investigate, perhaps even send a small contingent of the elite Ironbeards to clear out the dangers. Kelvin was about to run back to the main levels when the slightest whisper tickled his ears.
He stopped and listened. It had to have been the wind, or a trick of the tunnels.
Kelvin’s heart dropped to his shins. “Father?”
There knock of stone against stone echoed from the other side of the crack. Then, a rush of wind blew past him, carrying with it the stench of death.
The smell changed, and there it was! Gold!
His ancestors be praised, they were right! There was gold down there.
Without proof, the Mining Council would never approve official exploration. Kelvin pushed his fears aside and climbed through the crack.
Grunin Copperside leaned against the wall. His shift was almost over and the replacement guard should be arriving at any moment. He stroked his beard and dreamed about the mug of ale and turkey leg he was going to eat at the Pick and Hammer Tavern.
The sound of footsteps echoed up the tunnel. At first, he thought it was his replacement, but they were coming from the other direction. It was probably one of the miners coming back early. Perhaps they had found a new vein.
“Ho there! Who ye be?”
Grunin’s voice bounced off the walls, but the newcomer didn’t reply. Grunin grabbed his great axe and stood straight. It was only a few breaths later that the dwarf in question came into view.
“Oy, Kelvin! Did ye find that gold yet?”
Grunin chuckled and resumed holding the wall up with his body. Kelvin had gone out into his family’s tunnel in search of lost gold for years now.
Kelvin continued to come closer, but there was something about the way he walked, an almost stumbling shuffle, that didn’t sit right with Grunin.
“Are ye okay, m’boy?”
Kelvin didn’t answer. As he neared, Grunin saw the boy was soaking wet, his boots sloshing with each step.
“What’s wrong with ye? Did an umber hulk take a piss on ye?”
Grunin chuckled again, but this time it was more out of nervousness than joviality. Grunin wanted to run. Something wasn’t right and the small primal part of his brain screamed at him to get far away from the boy. Yet, he couldn’t do that. If the Captain found out he had high-tailed it because the Stonetapper boy scared him, they’d make Grunin shave his beard.
Grunin grabbed his axe and took a step back.
“How about ye stop right there then?”
Kelvin shambled forward, his head hung low. The way the boy smelled made Grunin think his joke about the umber hulk probably wasn’t too far off.
“I’m serious, now ye better stop or else!”
Kelvin stopped and looked up. The boy’s eyes were the color of dirty aventurine gems. Kelvin opened his mouth and a gooey liquid oozed out and covered the boy’s small beard. Grunin turned to run, but it was too late.