70°F

To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Short story: ‘The Mountain’s Heart, Pt. 2’

Odgruck stared down into the darkness at the bottom of the cavern, where Mossgran had fallen, a little crease of concern on his brow. Stupid, stupid boy.

He sighed. It was the kind of foolishness that came with youth, and honestly, something he should have predicted. He was a good lad, but far too young to be out here on his own. That was why he had volunteered to accompany him, after all.

Odgruck grunted, beginning to lay out his own climbing equipment and preparing for the descent. He was once more thankful they were both dwarves, and not humans or elves—only a dwarf would be able to survive such a fall unharmed. Well, relatively unharmed. Mossgran would undoubtedly be a big lump of bruises when he found him, but such was the price paid by hasty spelunkers. He had suffered it himself more than once.

With a shake of his head, Odgruck fastened his rope to a sturdy looking spot in the surrounding stone, and began the long climb downwards.

~

Mossgran woke up with a groan, feeling like a lump of dough worked over by an overenthusiastic baker. What had happened? He remembered the chamber, the ruby, and…

Oh. Now he remembered what happened. That … had been a bit stupid, hadn’t it. He sighed, heaving himself up on the—surprisingly soft—cavern floor, rubbing his aching shoulders. And back. And everywhere, actually—he really shouldn’t have done that. He shook his head, looking around to be greeted by mushrooms. Lots of mushrooms. Small ones, big ones, tree sized ones. Most of them were glowing faintly—the reason he could see anything at all, given how his lantern had smashed on the moss covered ground.

Looking up, he could still see the crystals glimmering faintly above him, and he realized with a start that they probably weren’t actually glowing. Most likely, they were just reflecting the light from down here.

Sighing, he shook his head, and hauled himself over to one of the nearby tree-shrooms to rest. What a disaster. He was going to have to climb all the way back up, and then what? He didn’t want to try scaling the roof again, and he couldn’t exactly ask the old man to help, he was three times his age! But he absolutely wasn’t going back empty-handed. Nobody would ever take him seriously again!

He shook his head, and started casting his eyes around for the ledge he and Odgruck had stood on. First things first, he needed to reunite with the old man. Unfortunately, the tall mushrooms surrounding him made getting a clear look at the cavern walls impossible—he would have to just wander until he found something.

… Or he could try climbing one of the mushrooms. But they were tall, had no branches like a true tree and his body felt like one big bruise. No, better not. Grunting in frustration, Mossgran set out at a stumbling pace, wandering among the mushrooms. It was boring. It was cold and quiet. The lack of sunlight or birdsong didn’t bother him much – really, it reminded him of home—but there was something unnerving about being so totally alone in a foreign place. At times, he imagined eyes on the back of his neck, or that the cold gusts of wind ghosting along his back were the breaths of some great beast.

He was only shaken out of his reverie when—to his surprise—Odgruck found him.

“Mossgran! Mossgran! Where are you, boy!”

Mossgran’s head jerked up at the sound, and his eyes beheld the warm light of Odgruck’s lantern filtering through the trees.

“Over here!”

“Mossgran! There you are, boy.”

Odgruck emerged from the between two mushrooms, lantern held to ward off the darkness, Face lined with a worry Mossgran had never seen in him.

“Let’s get back to camp.”

He didn’t have the heart to argue.

~

Mossgran fidgeted as they walked up the winding tunnel Odgruck insisted would take them back to the surface. He had said something about airflow and water in a cavern this deep underground, but Mossgran had been too lost in his thoughts to truly listen.

“We should go back. To get that gem.” Mossgran finally broke the silence.

Odgruck sighed. “No, lad. No we should not.”

“But—”

“But nothing.” Odgruck paused for a moment, mouth working as if chewing on his thoughts. “Even if you weren’t a pile of bruises. Even if that gem wasn’t suspended over a massive drop. Even if I was spry enough to climb up and get it. How do you think we would carry something like that back home? On our backs?” He snorted. “Hell, I don’t even think we could even fit it back through the cave.”

Mossgran hung his head.

“I didn’t think …”

“Yes.” Odgruck nodded. “You didn’t think.”

They walked in silence for a few more minutes, only the jangling of metal and the soft sounds of leather boots on stone to accompany them.

“Oh, quit your moping, boy!” Odgruck finally interjected. “Where’s all that energy you came in here with?”

“All my energy?” Mossgran crossed his arms over his chest. “I just fell what must’ve been 150 meters. And we didn’t even get the damn gem!”

“So?”

“So! So! Nobody but you believed me when I talked about the heart of the mountain, Odgruck. And now we’re just going to go back? Just like that? With nothing? It’s … ” He rubbed his eyes in frustration. “… Nobody’ll ever take me seriously again.”

Silence stretched between the two of them for a few moments.

“Lad … ” Odgruck began. “… This sort of thing happens all the time.”

“What?”

“Listen. A prospector goes off in chase of riches. Climbs into some distant mountain, makes some dumb mistakes and comes back looking like one big bruise. A tale as old as time.” Odgruck chuckled, falling back to walk beside Mossgran, rather than leading the way. “Course, you don’t see that cause nobody talks about their failures. People like to clothe themselves in victory. But truth be told?” He grinned at Mossgran. “I think they all learned far more from the failures than the successes. I know I did.” He clapped Mossgran on the back, and moved forward again to once more lead the way. “So don’t let it get you down too much! Once we get back, I’ll vouch for you, and within the month we’ll be back here with a whole team of dwarves ready to get mining! How’s that sound, eh?”

Mossgran sighed, feeling … drained.

“Well, I suppose that’s not too bad.”

Get Our Stories Sent To Your Inbox

Skip to content