Chapter Thirteen: Task
"Ah, so yer Ma was a healer," Jade said with interest. "We ain't got any healers in our villages. Mostly because dwarves are hardy things so we don't really need them most of the time, ye know?"
"Oh, so then why did you send for help from the King himself?" Seon asked.
Jade sighed and crossed her arms. "That's the problem with havin' no healers, when one dwarf gets sick, we all get sick. My cousin, Ruby, caught somethin' in a mine and now most of Gemfire is bedridden."
"That so... Do we have to worry about catching it?"
Jade slapped a hand on his back with a hearty laugh. "Ye don't have to worry about a thing, Seon Smokebait! While an elf are easier to kill off and reliant on something unreliable as magic, yer folk make up for it by having nigh impenetrable immune system!"
"What about me?" a bitter voice piped up from the back.
Jade and Seon turned around for a minute. Reese had fallen behind a while ago. He was purposely stomping his feet and dragging his heels. He still had the same foul scowl on his face.
"What 'bout ye, Sulky?" Jade asked.
"Am I immune to this illness that has even dwarves bedridden?" Reese asked.
"Nah, yer just as vulnerable as we are, lad," Jade stated.
"Great..." Reese huffed.
"Still sulking, lad?" Jade teased.
"Quit calling me 'lad!'" Reese demanded. "I'm twenty-two years old!"
"That's still a lad's age!" Jade claimed. "If ye not a lad then... What were yer words? 'Then fucking act like it'?"
Seon cackled at this. He attempted to muffle his laughter but Jade forced his hands down.
"Laugh if ye want, there's no harm in it!"
This only made Reese scowl harder and not open his mouth for the rest of the walk.
They reached the end of the tunnel. A great cave opened up before them. A series of tunnels dotted the walls. Dwarven men and women were busily rushing about.
"Wow..." Seon gasped in amazement.
"It ain't as nice as, say, a forest full of apple trees," Jade said, "but it's manageable."
Jade casually walked along the ledges that lead one tunnel to another. Seon and Reese, however, nearly crawled against the walls.
"Hurry up!" Jade said. "Do ye keep yer ruler waitin' too?"
"Wait, we're seeing your ruler?" Reese asked.
"'Course! We don't want to waste his time! We're in the middle of an epidemic!"
Jade led them through winding tunnels that was nearly impossible to keep track of until they were before a simple double door. She gently pushed the door open.
Rather than a throne room like the boys expected, it was a bedroom that was just as simple as the door. Laying on the bed was an old man with a long grey beard. His skin was covered in sickly green gems, disgusting pus was oozing out of the skin surrounding them. The only indicator for them that he had any higher status than Jade was the jewel-encrusted choker around the man's neck.
"Chief," Jade said. "I brought the missing two."
Surrounding the bed were the rest of the knights that were in their party. They all let out a sigh of relief upon seeing Reese and Seon.
"Ye can 'ave yer reunion later," the Chief said weakly. "We 'ave to 'urry... Did ye bring medicine?"
"Yes, sir," said their doctor, an elf. "But I've never seen a case like this before."
"Just give me the medicine," the Chief ordered. "If it doesn't work, then I'll take the responsibility for lettin' my village down."
The doctor gave the dwarven chief a bottle of the medicine. The Chief pulled himself into a sitting position as if his very life depended on it. He quickly yanked the cork out of the bottle and gulped the contents down.
However, the medicine didn't have any effect. The chief slouched back into his bed. His breathing was heavy and sweat was beating down his forehead.
"Shit..." one of the knights sighed under his breath.
"What do we do?" Brady asked the other dwarf.
Jade shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know! We don't know anythin' 'bout medicine!"
"Do we know the cause?" a voice spoke up.
Everyone turned around to face Seon. The elf had a serious look on his face.
"What?" the Chief asked.
"Do we know the cause?" Seon asked again. His voice was firm. "Often when one knows the origins of an illness, you can also discover a means of a cure. Now, where did it start?"
"It happened in one of the mines," Jade explained. "Ruby said she found a new type of gem in one of the mines were had just recently dug out. She tried to pull it out, but it was stuck in the wall. By the time that she came back for equipment, she was covered in gems and collapsed on the floor."
"We'll need to examine that new gem," Seon concluded.
Jade stood at the front with a drill in her hands. Seon, Reese, and the doctor, Winston, followed closely behind her. Each of them were given helmets with a glowing gem.
"Ye need to be careful..." Jade said in a hushed voice. "We just made these particular mines, so the support beams and such ain't here yet."
"That's dangerous, isn't it?" Winston asked.
"Aye, but we didn't have to put them in before this messed started."
Jade held out an arm and halted them. Before them was a mountain of rubble that blocked the rest of the mine. Jade sighed and got her drill at ready.
"See? Normally we wouldn't let a thin' like this stay there!"
Jade made her way drilling at the rubble. Seon was watching closely at her muscled arm twist the drill's handle. He vaguely felt jealous. Dwarves were certainly bred to work hard.
Within half an hour, Jade carved out a hole large enough for them to squeeze through. Jade hurriedly waved them over from the other side.
"One at a time! Come on! Smokebait, then the Doc, then the lad!"
Reese once again protested to being a lad with some very colorful vocabulary that Winston tried to block out when Seon crawled into the hole. Jade had made the hole large enough for herself, so Seon very quickly slipped through. Winston and Reese followed after with no trouble at all.
"Now that the lad's through," Jade said. "Let's hurry."
Reese clenched his teeth. "For the last time!" Reese barked. "I'M NOT A LAD!"
The walls started shaking. Rocks started raining from the ceiling. Reese quickly clapped a hand over his mouth.
Jade opened her mouth to snap at Reese, but her eyes darted upward then widened with horror. She dropped her drill and charged forward with her arms out. Winston was shoved aside by Jade as a small boulder dropped down. It stuck the back of her helmet with enough force to dent it. Her motionless body landed on her side.
The three crowded around her body. Winston quickly put a finger to her throat, and sighed in relief upon feeling a pulse.
"You dumbass," Seon hissed. "Look what you did!"
Before Reese could protest, Winston coolly smacked both of them upside the head. "Please don't yell. That's what got us into this mess."
"Is she alright?"
"She'll have a concussion. I'll stay here and administer first aid. You two go forward."
Seon and Reese looked at each other uncertainly. Reese scooped up the drill in his arms. They both nodded at Winston before running forward.
As they were running, they could see more rocks pouring down. Pebbles were bouncing off their faces. The mines were passing by them in a blur of grey that was occasionally interrupted by dozens of colorful sparkles. Whenever this happened, they examined the gems in the walls before concluding that it still wasn't the gem they were looking for.
They reached a dead end. They looked around for any sign of a twinkle on the walls. However, they couldn't see anything besides the stone walls that surrounded them.
"Shit! Did we miss them?" Reese swore.
"No, the last ones were emeralds," Seon said uncertainly. "I-I think..."
"We can't guess with this! Lives are on the line for this brilliant idea of yours, so you can't just guess which gem it is!"
"Shut up!" Seon hissed. "Your yelling is the reason why our only way of knowing for sure which gem is which is knocked out!"
Reese looked off to the side, being unable to protest. His eyes widened and he bent down. "Oy, Smokebait, come see this."
Seon bent down to see what Reese was talking about. He saw that just barely poking out of the rock was a corner of a gem. Even with the light flashing directly onto it, didn't give off a brilliant sheen like the other gems they had seen. It seemed to only shine about as much as the rock surrounding it. There were small scrap marks around the edges of it, showing that this was in fact the gem that was just discovered.
"So this little thing is causing all this trouble?" Reese asked.
"Yeah... Hard to believe, isn't it?" Seon chuckled.
"Okay, let's do less marveling at it and just grab it!"
Reese positioned the drill right above the gem. He slowly turned the drill until it fell out. Reese picked it up, smirking at the dull jewel. It was only half the size of his palm.
"Well, that should do it-"
Reese doubled over and clutched his stomach. The gem fell to the floor. Seon could see sickly green gems erupt onto his skin.
Seon looked up to the wall. His eyes widened as he saw a message appear on the wall.
Beware of our treasure, unworthy settler.
For it paves the path of malice and wrath.
Seon picked up the gem. Instead of the dull luster, it began to glow in his hand. It was bright purple. The message disappeared and more gems began to poke out of the wall. He felt a heat pulsate from the glowing gem. He could feel a numb shock run up the hand holding the gem as if he were using magic.
Now the message on the wall had changed. Juxtaposed amongst the gems were the letters that took Seon a minute to make out.
STONE OF LIFE
"Wow..." Seon gasped.
"S-Smoke...bait..." Reese wheezed.
Reese was breathing heavily on the ground. The gems disappeared from his skin but it left him shaking. He sat up and looked up to Seon.
"Y-You cured them?" Reese asked.
"I guess I did," Seon said with a shaky shrug. "The mine was warning 'unworthy settlers,' I guess that was for the dwarves and you."
"Why not you?"
Seon didn't get to finish. The ground and the walls started shaking. More rocks rained down. However, the tremors were more violent than before.
Reese was about to push himself to his feet, but then the ceiling above him cracked. A waterfall of stones descended upon him. He let out a cry of pain as he was trapped in a stone prison.
"Reese!" Seon cried out.
Seon rushed forward and tried to haul a boulder off. The boulder didn't budge. A hand emerged from a crack between the rocks and grabbed his arm. Seon let out a shriek and stumbled back.
"Get me out!" Reese choked out.
"I'm trying! I'm not strong enough!" Seon said. His voice cracked and he wasn't making an effort to hide his obvious panic.
"Well then, I'm fucked!" Reese shouted. "One of these is on my chest! If I try to move, I feel like it'll fall on me!"
"What do I do then?!"
"Do whatever you can, dammit, just get me out of here!"
Seon considered running back for help until he remembered something.
He could use magic.
"Reese," Seon said. He tried to even out his voice to sound more serious.
"I... I know a way to help, so... so promise not to tell anyone, alright?"
"As if I'll tell anyone that you saved me!"
Seon took a deep breath. He started muttering the spell and focused. Not on the situation at hand, not on the rocks falling, but the spell. His hands held the soft glow of the strength spell. The gem in his hand began to glow brighter.
Seon heaved the boulder up, but he underestimated his strength. The boulder flew off of Reese and did several flips in the air before landing several feet away.
The boulder he moved uncovered Reese's face. He stared up at Seon in wide-eyed shock that seemed to reflect his own.
"I don't know. We can question it once I get you out of there."
Seon flung the rest of the boulders off of Reese's body. Reese attempted to sit up, but hissed out in pain. He laid back down on the ground and clutched his ribs.
Seon bent down beside him. The strength spell in his hands faded.
"Reese... You alright?"
"Fantastic," Reese groaned. "My ribs are broken."
"I can fix that."
Seon closed his eyes and muttered a healing spell. A spell to mend broken bones. His hands started glowing with a soft green light and a warmth spread throughout his body. He brought his hands closer to Reese, who jerked away into a defensive stance in alarm.
"It's a healing spell," Seon explained. "It'll fix your ribs. Hold still."
Reese eyed him warily before lowering his guard. Seon held his hands just above Reese's chest.
"Fair warning, I've never done this on a live person before," Seon said quickly.
"Wait, what?!" Reese croaked.
Seon pressed his hands against Reese's body. The bones beneath his hands began shifting and combining together until they were back in their original place before the fall. Reese groaned out in pain, his whole body seized up. Seon had to ignore the groans, the tenseness, and Reese's weak attempts at grabbing his arms either to stop him or for solace.
In a strange way, Seon felt really close to his mother at this moment. Reese reminded him of the many patients he had seen her tend to. He wondered if he looked like her. Was the expression on his face similar to hers? Was it the way that his hair fell in his eyes?
When he was sure he was done, he removed his hands and sat back. Reese sat up and ran his hands along his torso. He let out little yelps of confusion upon seeing that his ribs were completely healed.
"What the hell..." Reese gasped. "How... How did you do that?"
Seon sighed and held his hands up for dramatic effect. "Magic," he said in a faux-important whisper.
"M-Magic?" Reese gasped out. He glanced down to his chest as if he were expecting it to burst at any moment.
"This is your first time seeing magic, isn't it?" Seon asked.
"Y-Yeah..." he said in wonder.
It was then that Seon actually felt three times older than Reese. The look of amazement on his face reminded Seon of Leon. He quickly shook it off because he didn't want to associate Leon with any part of Reese.
"Wait..." Realization clicked in his head. He scooted away from Seon. "Magic is forbidden."
He put a hand on the knight's shoulder. "You said you wouldn't tell anyone," he stated in a manner-of-fact tone.
"Wait a minute!"
"'Do whatever you can,'" he quoted.
"Smokeba- Seon, I'm a goddamn knight. You want me to keep a secret from the king?" he asked incredulously.
"I just saved your life," Seon stated with a smirk.
"So?" The look of dread on his face, however, showed that he knew exactly what that meant.
"So you owe me, Reese."
"So you're going to keep me quiet about the fact that you," he emphasized as if it would be utterly impossible for the elf to do so, "know magic by hanging the fact that you push a few rocks off of me over my head."
"Basically," Seon said smugly.
"You little shit," Reese said teasingly.
"Save the insults for later, Reese." He held up the brightly glowing gemstone in his hand. "Right now, we have to show the others this."
The Chief of Gemfire examined the violet gem in his hand closer.
It seemed that the moment that Seon have retrieved the gem from the mine, every person who was afflicted with the illness was cured at once. After discussing amongst themselves for a while, they concluded that the gemstone was meant for an elf to find. Seon was the first elf to touch it and after he had, it was harmless.
"Bah, magic," the Chief huffed. "Unreliable and reckless stuff, that is. If ye're goin' to set up a trap with it, then why make it a sickness? If ye didn't want anyone to talk 'bout it, it would be easier to just kill off whoever touched it. Ye wouldn't get innocents dragged into it now."
The human knights just glanced at each other in horror while the elves, and a recovering Jade on the Chief's bed, nodded in agreement.
"Well, Seon Smokebait..." Seon didn't think he could object to the name anymore since Jade had presented him the Chief as such despite his protests. "Seem ye did us a favor by just bein' an elf. So, we owe ye one favor. Name whatever ye want. Be it now or in a year's time-"
"This stone!" Seon blurted out with a radiant smile on his face. Upon seeing the other knights raise their eyebrows in amusement and Reese stifle a laugh, Seon cleared his throat. "I-I mean... That stone... Please."