We arrived at the old mine workings late afternoon, with the ever-present cloud and mist hugging the mountainside.
I'd seen facilities like this before; small scale or exploratory operations designed to exploit a local concentration of ore, or provide larger operations with additional access points to the precious minerals below ground.
Like the installation at Monazite Creek, decaying houses and sheds filled the valley bottom. Rail tracks and conveyor belts criss-crossed the area, joining shallow pits and processing sheds to the main hub hiding in the trees.
The labyrinth of buildings and equipment became an instant playground for my hunting party, and I had to remind them again that wild animals used old buildings and workings as lairs. They would pick up bits of rock and show them to me excitedly, only to learn that it was some worthless quartz or feldspar.
I was happy to let them explore for a while, so I wandered around the ruins myself, eventually finding the open mouth of the mine entrance. The rusty rails disappeared into the gloom, and I tried to imagine the bustle of engineers and screech of wagons serving robotic drills and diggers in the depths below.
As I turned back to the light, a glint in the track ballast caught my eye. Pushing the loose stones away, I found a rounded blue pebble that fitted easily in the hand. It felt cool and metallic to the touch, yet peering at its surface gave the impression of glass, a glass that carried not a single scratch or imperfection of any kind. I thought it was some discarded fragment of spoil, but its perfect symmetry spoke of something old and alien.
I brought it out into the light as my hunting party rejoined me, and we passed it to each other trying to discern the faint lines embedded in its surface. After a short time, it joined the pile of other rocks and quartz gathered by the party, while we sat down by the mine entrance to eat. Imagine our surprise when later in the evening, a ball of light erupted from the blue pebble. It swirled around for a moment before showing what appeared to be a map of the area. Small lights sat in a cluster near the centre, and I realised that the lights were our party. Ghostly shadows marked the buildings and trees, with faint whispers showing the contours of the ground around us.
For a moment we were lost in wonder, fascinated by the spectacle. That changed when we saw other points of light at the edge of the ball, and I could see that it was a group of people approaching us. Something wasn't right, and the lives of my party would depend on what I did next.
Putting the blue stone in my pocket, I called the party together, and sent them into the mine entrance. The look on my face must have convinced them, and in a few minutes we were out of sight. I peered out with my binoculars for almost an hour, till I eventually caught sight of the other party. My heart leaped as I saw that they were bandits, crazy people living outside civilisation, and rumoured to be mutated by the dust. They moved with purpose, and I realised that they knew exactly where we were.
We barely made it down the tunnel when the first of the grenades exploded. As the second deafening bang filled our ears, the supports gave away and the ceiling collapsed with a dull roar. In an instant the light had gone, and we were trapped inside with barely a day of food and water between us.
-- Mona Asuridanavan, in the Candor wilderness
V3 figure with Shadow Dancer outfit and custom textures. Warehouse District buildings by Stonemason.
Scene assembly and final rendering in Vue 6 Pro Studio. Post processed in Photoshop CS2