The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 8

After some time picking their way through the woods once more, they arrived at the head of the valley. Hills rose to either side of them, steep and rocky in places, while the forest was thinner. A faint animal trail wound its way down toward the valley floor, though they couldn’t see that far as the trees grew thicker further down.

“These hills look like they could be susceptible to landslides,” Altman commented, eyeing the slopes. He found his eyes drawn to low areas where many piles of rocks had accumulated, most overgrown but still possible to make out even to his eye.
Kaylene glanced at him with a raised eyebrow. “A city boy like you is suddenly an expert on landslides?”
“My specialty at the Academy was in the geosciences. I may never have done any fieldwork myself, but I’ve been well trained in what to expect, and what to look for.” His earnest, serious expression was too much for her, and peals of laughter rang out. “I don’t see what’s so funny,” he complained.
“No no, I didn’t mean that! So Mr. Learned Man, what else can you tell me about these hills?” she managed to say coherently after a few moments to compose herself.
He dismounted, Deman and Kaylene following suit. “Yes, Alt, show us what more you know of rocks and stones and metals!” Deman glanced over at Kaylene and winked. “All through our time at the Academy, I never was able to distract him from his work long enough to get a good idea of what exactly it was he was learning.”
Altman started toward the southern hills, scanning exposed rock surfaces and inspecting foliage. There was a lot of low-laying ground cover so the pace was slow. “And what did you study there, Deman?”
“I,” he said with a certain self-importance, “was learning administration. SOMEONE has to keep these science types in check, wouldn’t you say? One day you’ll be reporting to me, Altman!” he called ahead. Altman, still engrossed in the rocks, made some sort of vague affirmation. “Probably didn’t hear a word I said, the poor guy. Where would he be without me?”
“You’re a good friend to take such an interest in him,” she said with a cool smile. He was about to reply when Altman’s voice rang out.
“Ah-hah!”
Deman looked over his way, then back at Kaylene. “He’s probably already forgotten us. We’d better go collect him.” She just shook her head and followed after.
“Here, you see? These greenish spots. There aren’t many, but that’s copper.” He didn’t even look up as they arrived, just traced his fingers over the rock, inspecting it closely.
“Looks like moss to me, are you sure?” Deman demanded, bending in close to look.
“Of course I’m sure, Dem. This is what I’ve been trained for! And here … There’s even less of it in this area, but these reddish brown streaks. There’s iron in these hills.”
“Impressive, city boy, you do know what you’re talking about at least.” Kaylene watched the two with one hand on her hip, the other holding her spear.
“Of course, of course …” Altman worked his way across the exposed rock absently. Deman straightened up.
“You almost sound like you know what he’s talking about yourself,” he observed.
“Me? Only a little. I help ‘ol Mr. Tremaine out once in a while and he’s talked about his work. Can’t say I understand most of it but I know he’s talked about iron and copper in the area before.”
“Huh, well I’ll be,” Deman said, considering. “But not much of either, then?”
“That I couldn’t tell you,” she said with a disinterested frown.
“… and here … here … what have we here? It can’t be …” Altman had reached the edge of the exposed rock face and was examining not the rock, but a small dark patch of foliage at the bordering edge.
“Well I’ll be,” Altman said, stunned.
“What is it, Alt?” Deman closed the distance and stood looking at the scene uncomprehendingly. “All I see is some dying grass.” Kaylene came up beside him, the hood of her cloak passing into the beams of sunlight shining down and casting the patch into shade.
“Kaylene, you’re …” Altman started to protest. “You’re … in the perfect spot. Don’t move, please!” He leaned in a little closer, then drew back. “Do you see it? Tell me you can see it.” There was definitely a small—tiny, really—mineral patch within the rock that was casting the faintest blue glow, barely visible in Kaylene’s shadow.
“I … think so. It’s glowing isn’t it?” she asked uncertainly.
“By the Council, I think you’re right,” Deman said. “But what does it mean? That’s no iron or copper I’ve ever heard of.”
“Unless I’m very mistaken, I think this is electrite.” Altman’s voice was hushed, almost awed. “It’s electrite ore!”


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