Forte walked over to the wooden cage and extended his palm. Water dripped onto him from the ceiling of the cave.
The captives looked elated at the prospect of keeping sixty percent of their earnings, but little did they know, Forte was merely buying their loyalty. Sixty was expensive, he thought, but he knew that their gratitude and loyalty would pay off in the long run. It was also a fail proof way of preventing them from stealing ores—it made no logical sense for the miners to jeopardize their lucrative jobs for a small short term gain. And finally, this was a lawless land outside of the human domain. Were they to riot, Forte could easily kill them all with his dragon and confiscate their belongings.
“Infernus,” he muttered. The bars of the wooden cage began smoldering, turning into ashes before the captives’ eyes.
“It’s a miracle,” one of the captives gasped.
Forte smirked and shook his head in disagreement. “Magic.”
“You’re a mage!” a young captive shouted. “A real mage!”
The captives spilled out of the cage, looking bewildered at their newfound freedom.
Frank spoke up first. “Many thanks to you. What is your name, savior?”
“My name is Forte Mott. And yours?” Forte responded.
“Frank Strongarm, at your service.” The man stretched his arms into the air, having been freed at last.
Forte gestured towards his ghastly pirate as he addressed the captives. “Listen, folks. Having accepted the offer, you are now residents of Avalon. Please follow my ghost friend, Jack, here to the outpost. He will fill you in on the details about your new jobs.”
“Aye, you heard the lord. Let’s head out,” Jack said. The haphazard group followed Jack out the cave, while Forte and Nightmare stayed to investigate the dark magic aura.
The source of the aura was sitting on a desk, a few feet away from the cages. It was a tome titled Practicum in the Dark Arts. Forte recognized the title immediately—one of Fabian Sinclair’s works. He opened the tome, and coughed hard. The tome was pitch black and covered in soot, and the words were all but illegible. It looked like the previous owner had tampered with dark magic, destroying the tome and leaving a lingering aura. Forte cursed, realizing that all their hard work culminated in finding the remnants of a magical accident in a tome. At least he gained eleven new residents for Avalon, he thought.
The duo left the cave, and Forte mounted his dragon. They took off from the clearing, soaring above the trees, as Forte watched the world unfold below him like a map. They reached the outpost before sunset, and Forte smiled as he heard the sound of clinking pickaxes. The miners had started working, and it seemed like Jack had filled them in on what they needed to know. Forte conjured Blackbeard, then ordered him to summon Frank Strongarm. Frank came out of the mines with a slight limp.
“Listen carefully, Frank. Tell the miners always stay alert, and to always travel with a weapon nearby. This area has raptors occasionally. I haven’t seen a wyvern yet, but they could be a possibility as well. If you see anything, yell. The pirates and my dragon will help you fend off any trouble,” Forte stated.
“Yes sir,” Frank replied.
“You are dismissed.” Forte waved away Frank, who walked back into the mines.
As Frank departed, Forte decided that he would go hunting for dinner. He called Nightmare, and then rode the dragon. They flew over the grassy plains looking for a herd of slogs. Before long, they spotted the herd, and Nightmare dove down and burned two with his fire. The burnt slogs stumbled, and Forte jumped down from Nightmare and finished the job with a few strokes of his gravitite greatsword. Nightmare carried the carcasses back to Avalon, and once they were there, Forte prepared a spit.
He spit roasted the slogs, turning them routinely and soaking them in their own juices. Then he called out the miners to come eat. The eleven miners looked famished when they reached the campfire.
Forte distributed bowls and generous cuts of meat and vegetable rations to all the miners.
“Boy does that look good. I could never afford slog meat back in my hometown,” a miner chimed.
“Eat up.” Forte said. He raised his cup. “Long live Avalon!”
The content miners raised their cups and echoed him. “Long live Avalon!”
Forte noticed that his miners had the strong steel pickaxes he purchased from Adith equipped, but their weapons were taken from the kobold’s pile. They were old, rusty, and most were dysfunctional.
Forte cleared his throat to gather the attention of the miners. “Are any of you blacksmiths?”
A miner named Horton Chestgrove raised his hand. “I’m a fair hand at the anvil, if I’d say so myself. Forged a good sword or two back in my day.” Horton flexed his arms, showing his muscle.
“Good, good. I’m putting you in charge of crafting eleven sets of steel swords and iron chest plates for your pals.” Forte said.
Horton smiled. “I’ll do a damn good job of it. Starting on the swords right now. You have a pair of fire proof gloves, don’t you? So I can work the furnace?”
Forte took off his wyvern gauntlets and handed them to Horton. “There you go.”
Horton took them with a look of appreciation. “Thanks, Forte. I’ll put them to good use.”
As dinner wrapped up, the miners headed back to the mines for a few more hours work under torchlight. Horton put on the wyvern gauntlets and headed towards the blast furnace, hauling his own mined iron and coal to smelt into steel.
Forte walked up to the miners and pulled aside five of younger miners who had not quite reached adulthood. “Listen up. Here are some vegetable seeds I have from my rations. I need you to start planting, since we can’t survive on hunting alone. Meat builds muscle, but vegetables keep you healthy and strong. Start planting by tomorrow. You can mine after you finish planting. You get to keep ninety percent of the profits from your crops, and are free to sell them to the other miners.”
The young miners beamed. “Yes, sir!”
Forte reviewed the progress. The mines were a shallowly excavated cave with veins of different metals. Each miner mined on average 12 silvers worth of iron and coal a day, an output that varied widely depending on the circumstances in the mine. Production was slow because the miners were inexperienced and still shaky from their year long confinement. In addition, the orichalcum was extraordinarily hard, harder than any metal the miners had ever laid eyes upon. Because of the difficulty of mining it, all the miners except Horton Chestgrove had given up mining it. Horton worked on the orichalcum between smelting sessions.
With the addition of the eleven miners, Avalon was beginning to look like a real mining outpost. Five young workers planted fields of vegetables during the day and mined during the night, while Horace was still smelting steel to make swords with, and in his free time he mined the orichalcum vein.
Forte and Nightmare were hunting slogs on the grassy plains in the heat of mid-day, tracking down a herd that we, when a thought crossed Forte’s mind. What if he could domesticate the slogs, he thought. He saw that the dwarves had a tamed slog, but currently none of the miners had experience with animal husbandry. He decided to let go of the idea for the time being.
The miners were happy with the exceptionally generous profit sharing of Forte. Most slave owners would work their miners without any pay at all, while here Forte was granting them sixty percent of the profits! As they were content with their generous share, the miners worked harder.
Just as Forte and Nightmare arrived back from their hunting trip, a loud roar reverberated across the valley. The miners panicked.
“It’s a wyvern! Hide in your houses, everyone! Go!” Frank Strongarm direct, as the miners fled in haphazardly towards their houses, where they would be safe.
The wyvern appeared out of the forest. It was a female, a large one, and it looked furious. In front of the wyvern, running at top speed, was a dwarf holding a wyvern egg.
“Ye have to save me! Help!” the dwarf shouted. Forte stayed his hand. He didn’t want trouble.
The mother wyvern lunged forwards with its powerful hind legs and bit down at the dwarf, who dropped the egg immediately. It sank its teeth into the dwarf and threw him into the air.
“Ahhhhhhh!!” screamed the dwarf.
The dwarf fell to the ground with a loud thud, and the wyvern tore off his arm with a clean stroke. Inside their ston houses, the miners watched in awe and fear, while Forte and Nightmare stood their ground on the plains. With a snap of its jaw, the mother wyvern tore the dwarf in half and swallowed the half whole. It walked forward to take its egg, and then locked eyes with a black dragon.
The mother wyvern straightened up and let loose a terrifying roar, and then began charging at Nightmare. It was nearly twice the size of Nightmare, but he and Forte stood firm. Forte rolled up his sleeve and began casting magic.
“Ariz infernus.” He chanted, as a large fireball gathered on top of his palm and his amulet grew hot. With a flick of his wrist, he sent the fireball hurtling towards the wyvern, hitting the wyvern in the head. The wyvern recoiled, but the bloodlust in its eyes made it clear that it would not back down without a fight. Nightmare levitated into the air and flew at the wyvern, clawing at its face and breathing a steady stream of fire. Forte unsheathed his sword and charged.
The miners watched on with looks of horror mixed with awe at the battle. None of them had thought that the young man and his not-quite-grown dragon could take on an adult wyvern.
The wyvern shrieked into the air as Nightmare’s claws struck its eye. Forte ran up and smashed the wyvern’s leg, toppling the beast. Nightmare took advantage of the wyvern’s momentary weakness, and closed his jaws around the wyvern’s throat. The dragon tore at the wyvern’s neck as it struggled feebly. After what seemed like an eternity of struggle, the wyvern’s body went limp.
A weary Forte walked up to the slain wyvern’s egg, but to his horror it was already cracked. Yolk oozed from the broken egg. Forte sheathed his sword as the wind howled.
Well fought, Forte.
Forte froze. A voice was speaking directly inside his head. He looked around, confirming that there was no one else with them.
“Who are you?” Forte shouted into the air.
The voice cackled. Kekekekekeke….
At that moment, Forte realized. Nightmare was speaking with him.
“Oh, it’s you.” Forte laughed.
It is I.
“You can talk!”
Of course I can talk. I merely chose not to.
"So why choose to talk now?"
We shall speak later.
Nightmare closed his eyes, and Forte realized that the miners had emerged from their homes and were cheering for him.