Roland held out his hand in front of a bundle of sticks that were gathered in one place. He was a mage without elemental affinities but he could still learn this spell. It used friction instead of fire to ignite. The sticks went up in flames and Roland’s new half-gnome companion tossed a few more in.
The expedition had stopped for the night and they decided to camp out in the wilderness. They would make it to their destination in half a day's time tomorrow. The leader had decided that it was too dangerous to wander during the night. Making a camp and having people take turns watching would be the best option.
Roland and Helci were voted to be the first ones with guard duty. The girl was selected because she was a scout and also a newbie, Roland was also forced here due to his young age. He was now sitting opposite to the short girl with orange hair.
“Did you cut your hair?”
Roland asked while tossing some more wood into the pile. It was quite chilly here and even while wearing this long robe he was feeling cold.
The girl nodded, she did have longer hair when Roland had saved her that fateful day. After she gained some experience she decided to cut it short as it was a liability during fights.
Roland felt like the two got off on the wrong foot the first time they met. He also felt like that as the adult here he should offer her the olive branch. The problem was that he didn’t really know how to talk to sixteen-year-old girls, even fewer ones that were from this word and a gnome.
“You know… for saving me…”
The girl finally managed to gather up her courage to apologize. She had her head turned the other side while twiddling her thumbs. Her voice faint and quiet as Roland barely heard it. After going through the adventurer’s lifestyle the half-gnome did have a lot of time to think about her past actions.
“Sure, no problem. Also sorry for shouting at you back then.”
“No it’s fine… you were right I was unprepared…”
The two somehow managed to bury the hatchet so Roland moved on from this uncomfortable topic and shifted it to another. The two started talking about the adventurer life, Hilci also wanted to know how Roland was able to get his adventurer rank at such a young age. He just lied and told her that he was lucky enough to get a mage class which let him join adventurer parties at a dungeon.
The night went by slowly, there wasn’t much to do but talk so they slowly got to know each other. Hilci told him about what she was up to after she got rescued and Roland gave her a recap of his adventurer life back in Carwen.
“Come to think of it, it would probably be better for you to go to a city with a dungeon than to stay here if you want to level up.”
“I also had trouble working by myself back then, I was lucky enough to find a good party…”
He gave her his opinion, if she really wanted to level up going to a city with a dungeon would probably be faster. Still, going on simple escort missions was probably safer as you never knew what could appear in a dungeon. Sometimes some rare monster variants appeared on the top levels that could easily kill the low-level adventurers. In contrast, bandits and the surface level monsters were a lot easier to handle.
“You think so?”
The small girl crossed her arms together and moved her head down. She started thinking about something and went quiet. Roland went on with more advice hoping that it would be at least somewhat helpful.
“You could also try finding some bronze adventurers there and practice on the easier levels.”
“You sound really knowledgeable for your age… are you really a human kid or just a large halfling in disguise?”
The girl narrowed her eyes while looking at Roland that wasn’t behaving for his age. She even expected him to act more bashful with such beauty as herself. But there he was talking normally and just acting like some kind of mentor figure. He never even tried to sneak a peek at her figure like all the other male adventurers. He looked to be thirteen so he should have been at that age, this was a hit to her femininity.
“Halflings are only a meter tall…”
“Then a giant Halfling! You might be really old!”
“Stop talking nonsense. How would a giant and halfling even copulate?”
There was an actual giant race in this world but they were various types ranging from 3-4 meters all the way up to a staggering number.
“See that! That’s not how a brat talks!”
“Oh? Would brat act more like you then?”
“Yes more like m... hey!”
Roland laughed a bit while the half gnome girl stared him down. She even threw one of the smaller sticks at him which he caught with his hand and just threw back at her. Before a stick fight could break out another person walked over. This was someone from the other teams to switch them out.
Roland didn’t remain there for long and headed back to the tent that the rest of their party members were sleeping in. This was probably the worst part of this journey, sleeping in a small tent with four other people.
“Ugh… that’s why dwarves are…”
Helci complained as even before they could enter the tent they could hear loud snoring. The dwarf being a dwarf had drunk himself to sleep. This also caused him to snore like a bear, the half gnome girl never liked sleeping next to guys for this reason. At least in her old party, there was another girl and she sometimes got to sleep in a tent with her without the other companions.
“I’m surprised that those other two are managing…”
Roland commented as Orson and Selanar were fast asleep. Though the Elf had an awkward sitting up straight position and looked to be awake. The human on the other hand was similarly snoring as Dalrak the dwarf. They probably both drunk themselves to sleep while the elf might have used some sleeping aids.
The two walked in, they only had some crude blankets and hard pillows provided by the people from the expedition. Helci curled up to the side far away from the other three males and tried to sleep but the snoring was just too loud. She then noticed someone wiggling over towards her which was Roland wrapped up in a blanket.
“Hey! What are you doing? Go back you pervert!”
The half gnome was surprised that the youth that didn’t show interest in her looks had come over. Was he actually keeping it in but was in reality a wolf in sheep's clothing.
“Pervert? The hell? Just be quiet.”
He started murmuring something to himself and after a while a little flash of light occurred. Surprisingly Helci couldn’t hear the snoring of the two other men now. She glanced at Roland that had an unimpressed judgy expression on his face.
“Hush spell, it places a small dome that keeps sounds outside, best used against snoring drunkards.”
“Now go to sleep, it will only last thirty minutes.”
The youth then rolled over to the side so that Helci could only see the back of his head. She realized that he only came over here because the spell had a limited range. There were some lesser spells like this that Roland could practice even without an elemental affinity. The thirty minutes should be enough for the two to fall asleep while already asleep they should be okay with the snoring.
The next morning when Roland woke up he felt that something was off. He felt something heavy on top of him, it was a person and he or she was right on top of him. He opened his eyes and to his dismay it was Dalrak. He even got a nice whiff of his breath as the dwarf opened up his mouth while yawning.
“Get off me!”
Roland began pushing and pushing but the man on top of him was quite heavy. He was already level 45 and somehow managed to do it even with his meager strength stat. The others were awoken to Roland’s grunts and could see him rolling the sleeping dwarf to the side while panting.
“Hey, what are you looking at?”
Orson and Selanar looked at each other while slowly backing away. Helci was also looking at the strange display while mumbling to herself.
“Now it all makes sense…”
Roland raised his brow and just got up. He wanted to give Dalrak’s rear end a good kick but decided otherwise. He just left the tent while the other party members continued looking at the sleeping dwarf that was about to wake up.
After the rowdy night, everyone packed up their belongings and the tents and placed them back into the carriages as they continued with their journey. Roland somehow managed to explain himself while Dalrak just laughed about the whole misunderstanding. He even mentioned that Roland was far too skinny for his tastes and that he only liked the robust dwarven women. Then for the rest of the trip, he started explaining the beauty of wide women and how they were superior to what he called ‘twigs’.
“Aye, that's whit a real wifie is.”
“This damn dwarf makes a lot of sense…”
Orson replied with a surprising contemplative look on his face as if he was deliberating on switching over. The elf remained silent just as Roland, the half-gnome girl had her eyes narrowed throughout the whole conversation.
The carriages soon arrived at the Grotto and everything came to a stop. Dalrak’s spirited discussion would have to wait until this was over. The leader’s shouts soon could be heard as he barked out some orders.
“Everyone, gather up!”
It took a couple of minutes for everyone to reach the meeting place. The parties stood next to each other while looking over their weapons. There was a large wide river by which the grotto was located.
The natural entrance to the grotto had its base part submerged in water. The opening was close to the river which caused it to be in the water, behind it a large mountain. The people started out by using the natural opening at first but afterward they had created a separate entrance for easier access that was located closer to land. They had also sealed off part of the old mine shaft that connected to the natural grotto as it kept flooding the pathways.
The mine was dug into the mountain going up and down in several spots. The miners made sure to dig in the opposite direction of the river. This did save them from flooding but didn’t protect them from the monster invasion.
“There are several openings to the mine, we will split up here.”
Wells started explaining the battle plan. Due to the sheer amount of mineshafts that spread in the mountain like spider webs they were going to split up. Everyone was given a map with the marked mineshaft opening that they would be going through. The miners escaped quickly so the exact location of the breach wasn’t marked down.
Roland already saw a big problem with this strategy. They didn’t have any sort of communication device with them. Things like that existed in this world but they were items that cost a lot of money and used up a lot of mana. Even if they found the source of the monsters they wouldn’t be able to call for help.
The plan was for the teams to locate this location and then retreat so that the main party that was composed of tier 2 fighters could move in and do the heavy lifting. They could also try to do it on their own if they were confident, this would increase the monetary rewards that they would be getting.
Roland wasn’t sure about the level of these monsters so he wasn’t sure if he would be doing any deep diving. The important priest that had come along would also leave with the expedition leader’s team which made things even more dangerous.
“Everyone got their assignments, there is enough time so move out.”
“We will meet back here at nightfall.”
It was about 1 pm at the moment. They still have some time to do a sweep of the tunnels before nightfall. If the monsters were active during the day was unknown so they had to expect resistance on the inside.
They weren’t the only people here. There was a whole enclosed camp with some guards and miners. They had some wooden buildings that consisted of the miners' dining quarters and storage areas. There was also a nearby village from which most of the workers came from.
Each party was guided to the mineshaft opening by some of the workers. Once Roland’s party got there the miners started removing some of the rocks that they placed to block the mineshaft. Guards were placed in front of the entrance as protection. There were no signs of battle so the monsters probably hadn’t escaped the mine just yet.
“So what do you think?”
“About dwarf women?”
“What? No… about this mission…”
The man just shrugged while taking out his long two-handed sword. It looked thick and heavy and hard to swing. Roland was slightly worried that this large weapon could be hard to use inside a tight mineshaft.
“I don’t care, just here to kill some monsters.”
Orson performed a practice swing and the sword gave out a nice swishing sound. Roland spotted a shorted sword strapped to the man's side, this made him slightly less worried as he had enough sense to have a sidearm.
“Tis juist some bugs, ye warry awfy much laddie” ( It's just some bugs, you worry too much, boy. )
Dalrak just laughed while getting his shield and halberd out. The Sun elf wasn’t looking too happy about having to get himself into a mine shaft. The half gnome girl was just looking over her dagger and short bow. The fighting ability of those two might be hampered if the corridors got too narrow. They wouldn’t really be able to use their ranged weapons, though if their aim was good they could probably shoot without hitting their own allies.
Roland was a bit perplexed about his new party members. They were awfully lax and didn’t seem to be taking this expedition seriously. He was wondering if he was being overly cautious about it or not. He decided to check his own gear over, to the side he had his makeshift spellbook. It wasn’t the only one as he had attached four of them to his belt with a stack of 10 spell scrolls in each. He had far more firepower than last time, fire arrows weren’t the only spell that he could cast anymore.
He also had a larger stack of the lesser runic mana arrow and mana bolt spell scrolls with him. He would be using these most of the time to level his skill up. There were other various spells that he had hidden in his storage bag as he couldn’t just carry all of them on him. He hoped that his bad feelings about this mission would go away, having a whole team of tier 2s to back them up was also a reassurance.
While thinking he heard a cracking sound followed by the noise of falling rocks. The miners had broken through the barricade and were now slowly moving the rocks away. The guards examined the entrance and deemed it safe for the workers to continue. Roland's party also moved closer as a monster could pop out at any moment.
‘Maybe I’m just being paranoid, let’s get this over with.’
He moved to the back of the party. Dalrak and Selanar moved to the forefront, the dwarf was the main tank and the elf was responsible for spotting monsters. Even in a cave, he would probably be able to somehow feel out the enemies if they were close thanks to his class and skills. Orson remained in the back with Helci to protect the party from sneak attacks from the rear and Roland as the mage was right in the middle.
After the miners broke through the opening the party ventured forward. Instead of torches, Roland produced one of the easiest light spells a mana sphere that lit the way. This was a lot better than having to hold on to torches that also brought smoke into the equation. Everyone steeled their resolve as they moved forward, going in slowly into the unknown. The real expedition had finally started.