3 – 10
She could feel her fingertips submerged in cold water.
Had she landed on her back? A dull pain ached through her spine. Even when she opened up her eyes a crack, her surroundings were so dark it was as if they were still closed. But, she could still feel the dense miasma on her skin.
Camilla lay still, blinking in the darkness. Then, suddenly, she jerked herself upright vigorously.
– Just where am I…!?
Her feet were cold and numb. The back of her dress felt wet now that she had raised herself up as well. Actually, she could feel that her entire body was soaked through. But, it wasn’t actually water. What she had fallen into was something closer to a swamp… And it hurt merely to touch it. It was like a marsh filled with liquified miasma.
Miasma was usually released as a sort of gas, travelling on the air. But when the miasma has reached a very high level of density, it liquifies instead. When this liquification solidifies into pure magical power, that’s how a manastone is created.
In other words, this was a manastone vein, a place from which both miasma and manastones sprang forth into life.
– It wasn’t a complete lie to say that it had withered somewhat.
Even if the manastones had dried up, this place was still rich with miasma. If it was left alone for another length of time, the miasma would become even more dense and begin to naturally form manastones again. If manastones began to be formed here once more, that would also be accompanied by violent natural reactions.
– So I was right, after all.
She wasn’t wrong when she said that everyone should have escaped into the forest. As she thought that, Camilla felt a sense of self-satisfaction. On that note, what had happened to the others? There had been so many people on that street.
“Nicole! Anyone!? Is anyone there!?”
Crawling through the miasma that nipped at her skin painfully, Camilla cried out into the dark. Instead of hearing anyone calling back out to her, the only thing she could hear was another rumbling in the distance. The explosions from the manastone vein must not have stopped yet.
It was so dark that she could barely make out her hands in front of her. Camilla scrabbled around in that abyss, sweeping her arms out in front of her as if reaching for something.
As her finger tips touched something soft, Camilla raised her voice. It felt like she touched a person. As she kept touching it, she felt a quiet moan from underneath her fingers. Was she touching someone’s face? She gave what she assumed was the person’s cheek a slight smack to try and wake them up, but when whoever it was beneath her woke up she slapped that hand away.
“Stop that… Where is this…?”
Camilla frowned when she heard that voice. She had heard it before, but the person in front of her spoke with a sharper tone than Nicole did. Her voice was quite low for a woman’s as well.
“That was what I wanted to ask you.”
Camilla had fallen deep underground when the ground had collapsed. There were pools of liquified miasma all over the place, as well as what seemed like tunnels leading out from the cavern they found themselves in.
She couldn’t see where they had fallen from. Since they had fallen from the surface, she thought that she would at least be able to see some trace of light, but there was no hint of the sky above. Either they fell much deeper than she imagined or the miasma overhead was so thick that it blotted out the town above.
Around her were people who had fallen through the earth in the exact same way. Although some had light injuries, there was no one who had been killed or even injured so badly they couldn’t move.
That had to be due to the dense pools of miasma. Even if they didn’t seem particularly deep, they must have mitigated the impact of the fall quite a bit.
Since there were quite a few people still collapsed on the ground, Camilla and the woman she had woken up split up to help others. Nicole had also been caught up in the collapse. When Nicole had woken up in a pool of miasma, she had panicked and her magical energies ran wild, but she managed to calm down after a while. Terrified that she would lose control again, she was sitting quietly in a corner of the cavern, hugging her knees.
On the other hand, this other girl wasn’t being quiet at all.
“If you had just let go of my hand, this wouldn’t have happened!”
The maid who had tried to escape to the square was still blaming Camilla. In fact, she was the girl that Camilla had woken up before. They’d held off whilst they were helping everyone else that had fallen, but now that everyone had been accounted for, that obligation was gone.
Truth be told, what the girl said wasn’t entirely wrong.
“Because you wouldn’t let me go, I couldn’t escape! It’s because of you that I’m stuck in a place like this!”
As she screamed angrily, there was another echoing explosion. The sensation of the sounds growing ever closer filled the maid with a sense of dread as she yelped.
The people around the two of them were also looking more and more frightened. If the explosions continued like this, what would become of them? Especially because of how strong the miasma was around them.
“How are you going to take responsibility for this!? At this rate, we’ll all be buried alive!!”
Spreading her hands out, she indicated the panicking townsfolk all around her. Camilla looked at the faces of the people who had fallen underground.
Her eyes had grown accustomed to the dark, so she could see the vague outlines of the townspeople around her. Most of them were women, children or the elderly. There were both towns people and some of the maids that worked at the manor. Not to mention Martha and her two manservants.
“…We have no choice but to wait for a rescue party from the surface.”
One of the servants said that with an almost hopeless voice.
“We wouldn’t be able to break any manastones to release their magical power either. As you can see, these veins have withered, there aren’t any manastones anywhere.”
It was a classic way of signaling distress that miners had used in the past. By releasing a large amount of magical energy, a magic user on the surface could pinpoint their position. Usually, miners would cause this by breaking open a manastone.
Another way, of course, was through a person’s own magical energy. Although if they didn’t have enough magical power to alert someone all the way on the surface, it would be meaningless.
The servant looked around at everyone as he continued.
“Someone with enough magical power that someone on the surface could sense it, is there anyone like that here?”
“Of course not.”
A middle-aged townswoman responded straight away. Even in the darkness, you could tell that the small outlines by her side were crying children.
“Everyone with strong magical power is working up at the mines. There wouldn’t be anyone with strength like that idling about during the day. It’s the same for all the menfolk, too.”
The woman spoke as if that was only natural. But, there was something strange about that.
“But, Lord Alois told me that he called for a stop to the mining operations?”
As the miasma became stronger and stronger, Alois said that he had called for an immediate halt at the mines in both Grenze and Einst as a safety precaution.
There was something she hadn’t realized yet though, and Camilla could only frown when she finally did think of it.
Grenze and Einst, both cities that owed their prosperity to mining. If one town stopped production, it presented an opportunity for the other to get a leg-up on the competition. So, that’s what Einst had done.
“This town relies on mining. How could we possibly just stop?”
It was Martha, crouched down low in the dark, who answered her quietly. A disaster like this must have taken its toll on her old bones and she looked exhausted.
“Unlike Grenze, mining is all this town has. Asking us to stop is the same as asking us to stop living. Just how long were we expected to stop? The miasma has always been thick around these parts. Yet, he wanted us to stop until the miasma had completely cleared away?”
“Lord Alois ordered you to stop because the miasma was out of the ordinary!”
“How could someone who spends all his life in the capital know what is or isn’t out of the ordinary here? We are the ones who live in this town. So, we are the ones who know better.”
“How can you say you know better in such a sorry state like this!?”
“Say whatever you please. We have always lived in this town. So if we were wrong, then we shall just die.”
With that, Martha turned her gaze away from Camilla. As if to say that was her last word on the matter.
– She’s lived a long time… So she thinks she can just say whatever she likes!? In fact, wasn’t Lord Alois absolutely right from the start!?
However, whoever was in the right or the wrong didn’t matter. An outsider’s words were meaningless, only history and tradition held value here.
– Utterly stupid!
Whether the main driving factor was their dislike of Alois or their rivalry with Grenze, the fact remained that they had put themselves in extraordinary danger. Every time the explosions rumbled they sounded ever closer, matched by the ever louder cries of children and nervous whispers. Beside her, she heard someone whisper ‘I don’t want to die’.
Although she tried to keep that strong voice of hers taught, fear had begun to quiver the speech of the maid who had fought with Camilla earlier. Perhaps, even Martha was the same. Was she crouching down low to hide her face, so that others wouldn’t see the fear?
– So they do have feelings, after all.
Even if they acted like toy soldiers, even if their faces were like porcelain masks, they still desperately wanted to cling to life in a situation like this. They wanted to be saved. They were still people full of feelings and life.
But, not one of them could move. It was as if they were all entangled in their upbringing, waiting for someone to take charge and give them a command.
As Camilla curled her hands into fists, she heard yet another rumbling explosion.
It sounded ever closer. The walls shook, with some of the rock coming loose. Before the sound of the crumbling rocks had even ended, she heard another explosion, even closer still.
“…Mistress, I think… We have to go.”
Nicole, who was sitting by herself in the corner when she last checked on her, quietly whispered in Camilla’s ear. She was as frightened as anyone.
“It’s not just the miasma, it’s the magical energy itself… I can feel it getting closer. This place isn’t safe.”
“…Nicole, you understand things like that, right?”
As Camilla asked her that, Nicole nodded without much conviction.
With strong magical powers such as hers, she was sensitive to fluctuations of the miasma in the air. She could also feel things that Camilla and others without much magical power couldn’t feel or comprehend.
“All right, then.”
Camilla gave her a quick answer, and then inhaled as much air as she could into her slender body.
Without someone giving any orders, it was as if these people couldn’t move at all. Martha, who would usually play that role, seems resigned to death.
Since that’s the case, there was only one solution.
It was Camilla’s time to shine.
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