The sound of shattering glass howled in the surroundings, the barrier broke.
[Thanks!] A Dwarf said followed by a light ground shake after a giant tail smashed the ground, crushing the nearby stones.
[Cut it!] Garfin shouted. Following his command, the Dwarfs swung their axes on the colorless tail of the Rikea, a salamander.
Lopping of its tail, the Rikea squealed in pain. It trashed around smashing the blue crystals. While it repeatedly ravaged the surroundings, the Dwarfs moved away with their shields raised at front.
“I’ll try to hold it down,” I said behind the Dwarfs. For a few seconds, I waited for a chance before manifesting two earthen spikes that pierced its torso. “Now!”
It’s bad to use earth magic excessively, but I guess this much is fine...
After my command, the Dwarfs moved forward and brought down their hammers and axes on its limbs, crushing its bones and disabling it in the process. After disabling it, one Dwarf approached its head and, “Take this!” swung his hammer down, denting the skull then crushing its head, felling the Rikea.
[Check it for minerals!] Garfin ordered.
After arriving at the Sapphire Domain, we kept on proceeding downwards, but before that, the Dwarfs recovered their weapons from a sack beside the entrance. Also, from the baggage they brought, they took out balls made of wing membranes filled with air, a support to reduce the difficulty in swimming. They then left them in place of the weapons to increase the capacity of their sacks.
Afterward, we followed the Dasbalite covered path, the blue colored crystals. After an hour or so, the Dwarfs, experts in exploring the caves, halted their advance wary of the surroundings. Locating the anomaly, they prepared their shields along with their hammers or axes. They then threw a shard with an incomplete basic magic circle to wake the Rikea, camouflaging itself among the limestone with its colorless skin filled with Dasbalite jutting out. It then immediately shifted into a battle.
“Do you mean those crystals at its back are minerals?” I asked, standing beside Garfin, watching the Dwarfs climb the 4-feet tall and 8-feet long Rikea.
Garfin shook his head. [No,] He answered, [not the crystals, those are ordinary Dasbalite, but there’s a chance that sapphire would be mixed in it, rarely mithril too.]
“But how could it grow minerals on its back?” I asked. “Aren’t minerals too different from living creatures?”
[Hrmm...] For a while, Garfin thought for an answer. [The Rikeas are different. They probably adapted by using the Dasbalites as another source of energy. Rather than growing it, it's more like they placed it at their backs.]
“Why is that?”
[You see,] He approached the nearest Dasbalite, large enough to tower over him, then pressed his hand on its surface. Not too long after, the intensity of the glow it emitted increased. [These Dasbalites here absorbs mana in the air, so if you pour mana into it, its intensity would increase.] Then he removed his hand from the Dasbalite.
“Mana in the air huh.” To confirm it, I coated my finger with mana and moved it around repeatedly. “This place is definitely teeming with mana, but the amount is not that heavy.”
It’s like touching dust, but instead, it’s scattered in the air…
[Yes, and the Rikeas uses them to maintain themselves.] He continued. [And they probably ate gems and ores mixed with the Dasbalites, which is why there are cases that some minerals are mixed up.]
“They literally eat those?”
[Yes,] He nodded. [But they store them in a separate sac beneath its throat. Look at that.] He said. [There’s a small bulge under its throat right? That’s where they store them before moving it to its back after attaching some nerves.]
Soon enough, A dwarf brought a pole, lifted the Rikea by the jaw, then fitted the pole beneath it before letting it rest. The dwarf then moved to its throat, slit its neck open, and dragged out a sac from inside. Letting the sac hang on its throat, The Dwarf took out a bowl of mesh and placed it underneath before cutting the sac open from below.
Quickly after the sac was slit open, a liquid oozed out with a hiss as it struck the ground. One by one, different sizes of minerals and crystals dropped from the sac and was caught by the mesh.
Watching the dwarfs inspecting the Rikea’s back, “Garfin,” I called. “Why haven’t you took most of the Dasbalites in here?”
[There are things that we shouldn’t grab vehemently.] He answered. [These Dasbalites act like plants on the surface. They produce air in place of mana. So if we remove them, we won’t be able to mine peacefully.]
“But have you used them for something else?”
[Yes, other than using them as lamps as we get deeper underground,] He answered. [we also brought some above, but the glow they emitted is not as good the dim glow these already have. Other than that, we haven’t used it for anything else.]
“Then you wouldn’t mind if I take some?” I asked.
[Feel free to do so, getting a small amount isn’t that detrimental to this place.]
“Thanks, grandpa Fin.” I smiled. Gathering enough materials to work with Dasbalites, I placed them in an extra sack I borrowed from a Dwarf. I also asked if they could give me some nerves attached at the Dasbalites from the Rikea’s back.
Absorbing mana huh, I have a lot of ideas for that. Mischievously, I giggled. But I wonder how am I supposed to study the nerves. I’m not even well versed in studying the very specifics of animals and beasts...
After taking some minerals from the dead Rikea, they dragged it to the side and use the earth to cover its body. After that, we continued our journey deeper into the Sapphire Domain.
Now and then, we encountered animals unique only to caves such as millipedes, centipedes, large spiders, and more. One surprising trait common among them is that every single one of them is blind and colorless, but despite that, they are sensitive to sound and movement, and most of them have antennas for navigation.
Apparently, the places filled with Dasbalites are few, and the rest of the holes and passages we passed through is filled with nothing but darkness. Some even lead to the nests of the beasts or animals living in this caves.
“Garfin,” I called while I slowly placed one foot after another on the rocks. “How did you prepare the weapons you placed at the entrance of the Sapphire Domain?”
[Oh, that.] He replied. [There’s another entrance to the Sapphire Domain, but it’ll take two days before we reach the entrance of that cave. We brought the weapons from there and placed them here, a shortcut.]
“I see,” I answered. “But why do you have to rush in and help Arkand and Dresbon? What were they mining anyway?”
[Arkand and Dresbon were supposed to return yesterday, but what returned was another Dwarf asking for help. Badly enough, it seemed that their supply ran low while the return path was filled with beasts for an unknown reason. Guessing the reason, I think it's because of the earth drakes climbing into the cave system, forcing the beasts to escape and end up clogging the passages.]
I guess that’s the only logical explanation other than a breeding season. But do they even have a breeding season here underneath the earth?
“Then the vein?”
[Orichalcum,] He grinned. [We finally found an Orichalcum vein.]
Surprised, I asked. “Y-you mean that mythical metal?”
[Yes, but the vein is only enough for half an ingot.] Nevertheless, he wore a fearless smile. [But it’s fine, we can mix it with other metals to make an alloy of it. I can’t wait.]
“...” Silently, I gazed at his intrepid demeanor.
That’s a true blacksmith for you.
Moving forward, we took our time to rest based on the Dwarfs judgment of the time. To them, it seems like six hours has already passed since we entered the cave. Contrary to that, I already lost track of the time for being too dependent on the sun’s position in the sky.
We all sat in a circle while they passed pieces of dried jerky around along with a wooden cup and filled it with water using a shard. Quietly on the side, I watched the Dwarf’s banter with each other as I listened for any form of trivial information. Most of what they talked about pertained to smithing, a topic I’m not well versed in. Nevertheless, I enjoy the extra information which gave me more knowledge on the subject.
Resting for an hour, we restarted our journey, but this time we were faced with a problem.
[So this is why they weren’t able to return?] Garfin said, combing his beard, looking down at another hole large enough for one Dwarf to pass through. As opposed to the previous holes, it was slanted and filled with the echoes of footsteps coming from below.
“What are those?” I muttered, peeking at the hole, looking at the dark figures shadowed by the dim glow the Dasbalites emitted. Trying to make out their silhouette, I found out that they were standing on two legs.
[Those are the main inhabitants of this domain,] Garfin answered. [They’re humanoid Rikeas. They almost look like a race, but they’re still beasts.]
From time to time, they emitted a short squeaking voice while they moved their reddish gill-like ears, imitating a bat's echolocation. Unlike the previous Rikea, the humanoid ones were smaller but stood at 6-feet tall. In addition, they had sharp talons on their webbed arms and legs. Overall, they’re similar to the ordinary Rikeas, bearing minerals at their backs with the same pigment less skin.
“How do we deal with them?” I asked.
This hole is enough to fit one person at a time, but that’ll leave the first one to go down to be vulnerable from attacks. And from this height, it’ll be necessary to redirect the force by rolling. It’ll be good if we can drop above and crush them, but that wouldn’t be possible for all nine of us. Thinking for a solution, I thought.
Besides, light and dark magic is useless here, for water, there’s barely any water around to work with the mana consumption efficiently, for earth, it’s too dangerous to use them excessively, it’s also dangerous to use fire since there’s too much air build up here, the best bet is wind but…
[We’ll use this.] Then Garfin brought out a shard.
“Ah,” I exclaimed. “We’ll startle them with sound, right?”
[Yes, I’ll be using ones with a basic magic circle, using an intermediate or advance might make a part of this cave collapse.] Then he reached a shard for each one of us. [Throw this in different directions when I give the signal. After that drop one by one and start the hunt.]
We all nodded in agreement. “I’ll provide more light once we get down,” I said before we executed the plan.
After preparing ourselves, we threw our shards into the hole. Following momentarily, numerous small explosions reverberated in the surroundings at small intervals, startling the Rikeas to a halt. Without wasting a second, Garfin slid himself into the hole followed by the Dwarfs who immediately sprang from their feet upon landing. Following them, I slid down the hole holding a shard on my left. Upon landing, I bent my knees and rolled. I then quickly drew my rapier while pouring mana into the shard to produce a large ball of light to illuminate the battlefield.
The Dwarfs, given the proper sight in the darkness, started hacking and smashing the startled Rikeas. On the other hand, I started sprinting to the nearest Rikea and stabbed it in the chest.
Slitting them on their throat or beheading them is dangerous.
Knowing about their acidic sacs, I avoided slashing at the heads of the tall Rikeas.
After a short while, the Rikeas started to increase the frequency of the sound they emitted while bobbing their heads from side to side, figuring out the situation. Unfortunately, they were not given the chance to peacefully assess the situation as one by one, their fellow Rikeas fell.
I moved from one Rikea to another cutting their arms or stabbing at their chests while the Dwarfs slashed with their axes while the hammer-wielding Dwarfs crushed the Rikea’s chests.
Soon enough, the Rikeas noticed that they were being attacked and started their retaliation. Even though a number of them had fallen, more than half of them remained standing.
Dodging a tail swung at me, I jumped backward, placing my back against the Dwarfs forming a circle facing different directions.
[The party is getting started.] A Dwarf grinned, holding his axe above his shield.
“Seems like it.” I returned a reply.
[Thanks for the light.] Another dwarf muttered. [This will be a lot easier.]
[Get ready!] Garfin shouted as the Rikeas surrounded us in every direction. [Now!] He shouted as he swung down his free arm.