A series of setbacks in the Harmony Hill Mine has resulted in the halt of all operations. The coal mine has been active for almost two years, but has only recently begun to harvest the ore, which makes the halt in production even more devastating to the mine’s owner, Subterranean Logistics Corporation.
In some ways the mining operations seems to have been cursed from the start. The mine is located in the southernmost quadrant of the Allied Nations. It is close to the borders of both Narodnaya Strana and Yod-Zok. This proximity was the cause of the initial problems. The Communist Koreans as well as the Iclavian aliens filed suit through the INSL to stop the mining operation. Both nations believed the mining would infringe on their boundaries.
After dragging through the court system for nearly five years, Subterranean Logistics won the suit and mining could finally begin, or so Jacob Heltergast, CEO of Subterranean Logistics, believed. “The next problem,” Mr. Heltergast explained in a telephone interview, “was how remote the area was. While we started building the road we suffered multiple attacks from eco-terrorists and other foes of progress.”
These attacks came mainly by way of sabotage. Trees earmarked for clearing were spiked with iron rods. Sugar poured into the gas tanks of heavy machinery proved troublesome and expensive. Cyber-attacks were used to infiltrate and destroy company records. The most common weapon, however, was arson, which cost 2.8 Million V-bills worth of damage over a six month period. Arson, however, quickly fell out of favor with the eco-terrorists when a fire raged out of control and burned nearly 100,000 acres of pristine wilderness.
Attacks also came through the court system. The suits ranged from disputes over private property to invocation of Environmental Protection clauses. Foremost among the latter was the now famous “Scupper vs Subterranean Logistics Corporation” which contended that the road would disrupt the only known family of Sasquatch on the Western Continent.
“The Bigfoot suit was probably the biggest obstacle,” Jacob Heltergast claimed. “Fortunately the tree-huggers baked their own bacon in that one. When their act of arson went out of control it burned down the very section of forest that the thing called home. No forest, no Bigfoot, no lawsuit!”
“Once production finally started things went well for the better part of a year. Most of it was preliminary work, a lot of blasting and structural work while we tried to get to the lode.” Mr. Heltergast pauses as if to work up to what came next. “The real problems occurred when we found the network of tunnels. We saw it first on our seismic scanners and thought it was the remains of an underground river. We hoped we would be able to use it to extract the ore. If not then we needed to know if it could compromise the mine’s foundation.”
Once the team reached the tunnel, however, they quickly realized that it was designed by sentient beings and not the work of erosion. They found support columns and strange statuary, many of which resembled bald cats. The images seemed both alien and mythic, but were like nothing any of them had seen before. As the explorers investigated the tunnel, they stumbled upon the first trap.
A worker triggered it when he stepped on a pressure plate which released several three ton slabs of sandstone. One worker was crushed outright by this while five others were cut off from the surface. Moments after the stone slabs fell, coal dust began to flood the room. Within minutes the entire team became asphyxiated by the choking dust.
“At first we thought it was a cave-in. After we got experts in there and they saw what happened, we knew that there was something else at work.”
As the reconnaissance of the tunnels resumed, the explorers were much more careful. Over the next few months they found swinging traps, deadfall traps, pit-traps, and imprisonment traps. Though many of these traps were disarmed before they could do any harm, dozens of lives were still lost.
While this was going on the company started to suffer breakdowns in their machinery. Workers also began to unexpectedly fall sick. It turned out that the food was being poisoned with e-coli, though nobody could trace the root of the contamination. Security measures were doubled yet the mine continued to face disasters both below and above ground. Miners began quitting at a precipitous rate.
It wasn’t until about eight months after the tunnels were uncovered that they discovered the identity of their new enemy. Mr. Heltergast showed me the video of the encounter. The grainy footage is from the helmet camera of one of the miners as he swept the area for more booby-traps. On the far side of the corridor the viewer is able to see movement. It is so slight that it appears to simply be a shadow moving from the worker’s headlamps.
The miners become aware of it only a moment later when the question “what’s that?” can be heard off-camera. A slow pan of the area reveals a small, dark figure lurking in the shadows behind one of the strange cat-like statues. The miners draw closer to investigate then hesitate as the figure scurries deeper into the shadows.
“Don’t let it escape!” the same voice yells and there is a flurry of activity as the miners attempt to capture it. The figure appears quite small; no larger than a medium sized dog or a small child. Though it clearly stands on two feet, it moves slightly hunched over and has an oversized head.
When the team draws closer and cuts off its retreat the figure attacks. In less than a second the three foot tall creature grows to a monstrous height of over ten feet as it lurches forward!
Playing back the footage in slow motion and manipulated with the finest optical enhancers Megalopolis has to offer, one can finally see the details behind the hideous gray face, its wide serpentine eyes, and a set of sharp needle-like teeth.
In the next instant the camera falls to the ground as frightened cries of the miners can be heard in the background. The camera remains facing away from the creature as human feet flee the area. For a moment there is quiet then a raspy laugh, which sounds something like a mix between torn silk and an asthmatic’s wheeze, can be heard . . . then silence.
Finally having solid information of what lurked in the caverns, Subterranean Logistics sent the footage to Ada-Kar University where the esteemed Professor of Xenomorphology, Yazarah Harroz was able to view it. “It didn’t take me long to figure out what we were looking at,” Professor Harroz explains. “Creatures similar to this have been found in small, isolated areas throughout Valhalla. Most often they are found in woodlands and grasslands, particularly in Xa’cor dy Yelpheet, and the Kingdoms. These creatures are known as spriggans. The interesting thing about those found in the Harmony Hill Mine is that they are the first ever known species of subterranean spriggan.”
“The thing that really gave it away,” notes Professor Harroz, “is how the creature grew to an immense size when it was threatened. This is the last defense of a trapped spriggan. In reality the creature didn’t grow at all, but rather used a powerful illusion to make it appear to be giant size. While everyone was distracted, the real spriggan hid until the coast was clear.”
While the company began to make plans on how to overcome the new roadblock, certain members of the security team hired through the Adventurers Guild went into the tunnels with four canisters of cyanide gas. The results were as devastating as they were unexpected. Once the gas was released the guards fled the area. They made it safely to the surface and waited to see what would happen. It is unknown how many spriggans were killed in the attack, but there must have been enough left to spring their last trap.
The creatures ignited a fire which spread rapidly when it caught the coal dust wafting through the air. The flash fire managed to ignite the load of ore, but the sudden removal of oxygen guaranteed it would not burn too hot or long. Instead it simmered with a low heat in an oxygen-poor atmosphere emitting dark plumes of acrid smoke from the mine’s entrance. By the time fire fighters could be called to the area it was too late, the coal burned with a low, but constant intensity which refused all attempts to extinguish it. The firefighters quickly realized that any attempt to access the mine would bring in fresh oxygen which could cause the coal to flash-burn uncontrollably. The fire was fed with enough oxygen from below, however, to guarantee that it would not suffocate.
“All that coal, all that money, burning away for nothing!” Mr. Heltergast laments. “The geologists say that the fire will slowly eat the coal for the next thousand years. The only solace I have is that they killed themselves while doing it.”
“Oh I doubt they are dead,” Professor Harroz replies when asked about their demise. “Spriggans are survivors. They are smart and tricky. If they set the fire they had a plan to get out of it.”
Whatever befell the spriggans, the Harmony Hill Mine is no more. Rusting machinery and abandoned buildings may still surround the mine’s opening, but all the mine emits now is a dark cloud of noxious smoke that wafts through the hollows and mountaintops. The haze can be seen for miles. On still days when air becomes stagnant, the black fog has been known to kill flora and fauna alike, stifling it in the corrupt miasma of soot and ash.
In this sad case nobody can claim victory. Subterranean Logistics Corporation has declared bankruptcy. The environmentalists who hoped to stop the mine no longer have a pristine wilderness, but rather one coated in a lung-choking fog that will last generations. Even the spriggans cannot be thought winners in this. Even if they survived the presence of the burning coal so close to their homes will have undoubtedly caused unforeseen problems. Instead all parties involved can only look at the Harmony Hills Mine as a lesson in the hubris of man and Valhalla’s innate unpredictability.