The walls danced a deep red in the torchlight from the veins of gemstone. This stream of mana crystal was among the richest ever found and the orders were to strip the mine within another fourteen months. The operation owners in the north were strict with deadlines but they paid exceptionally well.
Foreman Shen walked deeper into the cave, inspecting each digger as they used their skill to chip the crystal with as little waste as possible. He stopped to make a note on his ledger, pushing his thin framed glasses higher up his sweating nose.
A noise came in at the edges of his hearing. A bell? A ringing bell meant something of great interest was found or someone was injured. Replacing a miner was expensive and time consuming and this operation was already running behind schedule. A cave-in last month, a shipment of bad grain two before then. What now.
He walked faster down the twisting, roughly circular shaft. Stopping at a fork, he tilted his head, listening for the bell again before going left. As he walked, the bell became clearer. A dirty faced, sloped shouldered miner ran from around the next bend, almost colliding with Shen.
The miner grabbed his arm, “Foreman Shen! Sir, you have to see this! Quickly!” His eyes were wide with excitement.
Shen snapped his arm out of the man’s grasp and increased his pace to follow him, smoothing his shirt sleeve as he went. That was the excitement of a man that found something, not of a man that has three crewmates trapped under boulders ahead. Shen’s mood improved.
Turning another bend revealed a group of four miners huddled around a fifth. The man sitting crossed legged in the middle held up a chunk of mana crystal about the size of his fist. He pointed to the small, dark blue blemish in the crystal that seemed to reflect shadows rather than light in the glow of the torches. The crowd echoed the foreman’s thoughts, what is it? In his thirty years of working precious gems he had never come across such an odd-looking substance. Especially not in mana crystal. By its very nature, mana crystal kept itself pure of contaminants within its own structure.
Shen adjusted his glasses and looked closer, squinting through the murky red. His eyes could not quite focus on the dark spot.
“Cut it out,” he ordered and at once the worker dropped the chunk into this lap and began cutting with finer tools. “The rest of you, back to work!” He pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and dabbed at the sweat on his brow and nose.
The miner worked quickly and carefully. He finally chipped the inclusion away from the mana crystal, revealing a dark blue chip of rock about one inch long. Once the mana crystal was cleared from around it, the gem easily pulled free. The worker held it up, offering it to his boss.
Shen reached to take the chip from that outstretched hand but again there was something at the edge of hearing. Then a blast of wind and a deafening crack of air pressure. Shen squeezed his eyes shut as his glasses shattered and something hot and wet splashed against his face and hands. The world was just a dazzle of lights from the reflective crystals. Dust choked his lungs. All he could hear was a high whine and far away shouts.
A torch lay on the ground, illuminating the area. Shen coughed and wiped his eyes. Wincing, he carefully pulled a piece of glass from his lenses out of his cheek. He looked down at the mess that used to be the skilled miner. He was flattened to a mass of bone and gore-soaked clothes. The beautiful blue chip lay innocently within it.
Shen’s mind whirled. This will ruin the mine. This will ruin me. This gem will be worth a fortune. A man is dead. Did he have a family? What was his name? Will I have to pay out insurance? No one can know about this. Where are the other miners that were just here?
He turned to stagger back toward the surface, ears still ringing, lungs still choking. He would close this route of the mine and quietly call for help from Hrinbor. Someone there would surely know how to deal with this.
A fabulously dressed man in a full-length yellow robe with black trimmings passed him. The wizard, for he was surely a wizard, no one else would dress like that, bent to pick up the chip with a scrap of cloth. He folded the cloth carefully and pushed it into a leather pouch at his hip. Walking back past Shen, the wizard paused, nodding and touching the brim of his wide hat, as if this were the most normal of events. Perhaps, for such a well-dressed wizard, it was. His eyes were impossibly green, almost glowing in the scattered torch light and reflections of the crystals. His gray beard was braided tight and laced with gems and colored string, almost reaching his belt laden with many different sized pouches. He continued around the bend and out of Shen’s sight.