Deep into a cave system beneath the planet’s surface of Dolor, two individuals wandered by the soft, flickering, orange light of their lanterns. It cast shadows across the walls of the caves; they shifted as they moved between the tall stalagmites, ancient and strong with time. The pale stone was grey, layered, and woven with variations of the same color. The two figures were heavily robed, wrapped from head to toe; their eyes were even protected by strange goggles.
“Derio, don’t you think this is far enough?” One asked as they stopped walking.
Derio looked around at the stone next to him, running his hand across the grain and breathing the air in with intention. With a long exhale, he answered.
“Not yet, but we are so close, patience Tein.”
Derio continued walking while Tein stood back, staring into space; shaking her head, she snapped out of it and chased Derio.
“Excuse me, sir, but I don’t understand what we are waiting for?”
“Too much light would be bad for us, especially if we want to stay alive.”
Tein frowned as she looked at the light being cast from the lanterns.
“But if light is the issue, wouldn’t these lanterns act as beacons to us? I mean, we are the only source of light down here.”
“Currently, we are, yes. The reason we are covered in these grey robes is so if anything were to look our way, it would appear as if there were two floating lights, nothing more.”
“Surely things down here are not that dumb, but also why wouldn’t they question two floating lights?”
Derio stopped and sighed again, turning to Tein.
“Listen, if you live in a dark cave with no lights, any form of light is blinding; it is not a question of intelligence; their eyes will not be used to lantern light. Secondly, if you paid attention in your classes, you would know that these caves are where some species of wisp wander through, and wisps are?”
“Floating balls of light….” Tein said sheepishly.
“Right, now they don’t come through often enough to give the creatures good light vision, so we are safe as long as we appear as a creature that nothing down here wants to eat.”
“But why would casting the large light be bad if everything down here has bad light vision?”
Derio continued walking with Tein in tow.
“Tell me, if you go somewhere, say a cave. In that cave, there is a massive orb of light cast by a nearby mage, then he leaves without warning, and the light disappears. How do you find your way out?”
Tein thought for a short moment, using a hand to brush past a large protruding rock formation; she paused for a second, then answered.
“I would use my hands to feel my way to familiar objects, then try and trace my way to the exit, providing I have that much information on hand.”
“Precisely, now imagine you had finished your basic magic training with me; how would you do it then?”
Tein paused for a long time and thought heavily.
“This is not a trick question; you are not a master mage, just out of basic training.”
“I guess I would cast a small light of my own. I am sorry, sir, I don’t understand how this answers my question.” Tein said nervously, trying not to upset her teacher.
“Be careful coming through here; it gets a little tight.” Derio said as he turned side-face to pass through the next section of the cave. “Tell me.” He continued. “What domain have you studied for your bestial module?”
“I studied forest as the broad environment; my focus has been the mystic woods since there is one not far from your home.”
“Perfect, locational awareness is good. Speaking of which.”
Derio raised his lantern to a high point on a stone wall; there were three long and deep claw marks.
“We can talk still, but no more than a whisper, so please stay close.”
Tein huddled near Derio, standing ear to ear where the winding cave passage would allow her.
“Have you read about…. Psychic spiders?”
“How about the Goblin subspecies, the Hasheened?”
“I did not realize that was a species on its own. I thought that was a single tribe that had been cursed by the Hasheen deities.”
“Clearly not them either. Hmm, surely you have studied the wanderers?”
“Yes, sir, of course.”
“What do you know?”
“Well, their origin is unknown; we have done little studies on them as there are not many people who would willing to fight one. They, um, appear as a hooded figure in the woods; they request a gold coin; if you don’t, you are attacked, and if you do, they walk past.”
“Okay, that is folklore knowledge, though; everyone knows that; give me history.”
“Umm, I don’t…” Tein was interrupted before she could finish her thought.
“I did not ask for specifics, just any history, you know.”
“Okay, well, at their earliest mention, they were the bogeymen in the woods; they were known as guardians of the woods; we later discovered they only appear in the environments we call the mystic woods. They were then confirmed to be from the strange forest, in-fact they are technically a mutated plant.”
“Allegedly.” Derio added. “As much as there was ‘confirmed’ sightings of them emerging from large seed pods, there have only been few sightings, and never documented officially. Please keep fact and theory separate.”
“yes, sir, sorry.”
Derio stopped and turned to Tein again.
“Tell me, biology, how do they see?”
“With eyes, but they have many more than us.”
“Exactly, are all those eyes working at once?”
“No, some have the ability for low light, while others do daylight, some see scent, and I believe the last set see heat?”
“Correct, so why shouldn’t we cast a big ball of light?”
“Because… I mean, I would say there might be something with the ability to see in different ways, but wouldn’t our hand lanterns cause them to switch?”
“No, because Wisps come through here, they will see no need to give up ninety percent of their vision just to make sure we are wisps. But if we do bathe the whole cave in light, they would gain much more from switching vision styles.”
“Right, sir. Um, can I ask you a question about your teaching, sir?”
Derio relaxed a little and shrugged. “Sure.”
“Why do you always teach me with long stories?”
Derio chuckled a little.
“You have been comparing my teaching style with others, you know?”
“I, well, yes, sir, I hope you don’t mind. But the others just get told the answers to things, and I feel like they know so much more than me because they have so much more knowledge being given to them.”
Although Tein could not tell, Derio was smiling behind his grey face wraps.
“Listen here, if you want to sit down in a classroom and have me lecture you all day, take notes, then spend your home time revising information, I can do that. However, being a mage means you have to be able to explore in the world. Do the others get taken on excursions like you?”
“And why is that?”
“They get told that it is too dangerous.”
“Now, why do you get taken on excursions?”
“We don’t go on dangerous trips?”
“Think harder; we are in an area where we have to be hush, or we will be carved like a Sunday roast; this is not a picnic.”
“Because, I, I am not sure. Isn’t the teaching style more about what you decide, not about me?”
“Would I have taken you on this trip if you had a broken leg?”
“Would I have taken you if you were incapable of being quiet?”
“I could go on, so why do you think I can take you along on these journeys?”
Tein thought hard about what Derio said and let out a small laugh under her breath.
“Your teaching style makes me think.”
“Correct; I will continue to explain something as much as I need until you get it. But I do my best to let you piece as much of it together as I can. It means that if anything goes wrong, I can feel safe knowing you will be able to think and not just act as another obstacle for me.”
“Thank you, sir; I will do my best.”
“I know you will, another reason why I chose to take you along on these journeys. Now come.”
The two of them disappeared through a narrow cut in the rock; they had to roll their shoulders and force their way through the gap. Derio grunted as he cut his arms on the sharp rocks. Tein managed to be smaller enough that she only got slight scratches where she could see the fresh blood of Derio dripping off the stone. Once they were out the other side, Derio patted himself down and dabbed the blood off of his arms with a rag he kept on his belt. He went to pass the rag to Tein and noticed that she was virtually untouched.
“Once you are smarter, I am going to send you to do this chore; no point in adding any more scars to me if you can do it yourself.”
Tein laughed and let out a little echo; she immediately covered her mouth and looked up at Derio with fear in her eyes. Derio took a deep breath in and screamed at the top of his lungs for as long as he could. Tein stood afraid as Derio laughed to himself.
“Drop your hands; we are safe on this side.”
Derio cast his spell and threw a small egg-sized stone into the air; it started to glow, getting brighter, until it illuminated the whole cavern. On the far side of the crack, they crawled through, they could hear scratching and low growls.
“Is that something that we need to be concerned about?”
Derio looked back to crack and smiled.
“No, we will not be going back out that way, and they are too big to get through, so it should be fine.”
Tein scrunched up her face and looked around the cavern they were in.
“I don’t see another way out. Is that supposed to be a joke?”
Derio smiled knowingly at Tein and walked away without answering. Tein rolled her eyes, and she smiled as she watched where she was stepping.
“Is it safe to assume this is the final leg of the journey?”
“It would be a safe assumption.”
“Is it the correct one?”
“Ah, a much better question. But yes, this is the last stop before we go home.”
“So what resource are we gathering from here?”
Derio bent over and looked back to Tein. “These.” He said, holding up a small round stone, roughly the size of an egg.
“Is that what you used to cast the light spell?”
“It is; this is where we find them; they are very precious, do you know why?”
“They hold a natural pool of magic in them, so mages can cast spells without using their own energy. But they only hold enough for small spells, like light.” Tein paused as she furrowed her brow. “Oh, and they make some minor spells more effective. Usually, your light spell would be barely brighter than our lanterns.”
“Yes, so we shall be collecting as many as we can, you can usually find them in little piles.”
The two of them moved around the cavern, searching for the stones, and filling their pouches; they eventually met in the middle of the cavern.
“Sir, I have a question.”
“You come down here often to collect these stones?”
“Since being here, I feel as if we have cleared this area out of them. Do you go anywhere else?”
“No, just this cavern.”
“So, how do the stones keep appearing?”
“That is a very good question.