Hamid doesn’t know what it is, exactly. Maybe it’s the crisp fall air blowing in that’s caused him to take leave of his senses, or maybe the leaves turning a burnished red and gold on the trees and making Hamid dream of grand adventure.
Maybe it’s because Grizzop called him a coward at dinner last week when he talked about the weird moving thing in the shop (which he still doesn’t know the cause of), and Hamid immediately felt the need to prove him wrong on a grand scale.
(It’s definitely that.)
Hamid finds himself, as he seems to every day he has an afternoon free, in the passenger seat of Zolf’s truck, windows down. It’s begun to cool down outside, and the leaves on the trees are beginning to change. Zolf’s been bringing different crops by the shop recently; no more tomatoes or melons, not until he can get the funds together to build the greenhouse he’s been after for a few years now. Hamid’s been trying to help; the wages of the shop have been plentiful over the summer, but getting the materials Zolf needs from the city when the bus is still broken down means that it’s a little bit more expensive than it would be otherwise, even though Zolf is planning to do it on his own.
It won’t matter soon, anyway; it’s almost winter, and the snow would make construction of the greenhouse impossible (or, at the very least, incredibly difficult), so according to Zolf, he’s content to wait until the springtime.
Hamid is knocked out of his thoughts by Zolf’s hand on his shoulder as the truck judders to a stop outside a store that Hamid’s only ever walked past before.
The Harlequins Guild, it reads across the shop front. For any and all adventurers! reads smaller text in the window.
Hamid might just be starting to second guess this entire venture. But Zolf had sounded so excited, really, when Hamid said that he wanted to explore the mines, even if there had been that hint of confusion underlying it. Plus, as Zolf had pointed out, his older brother is easily the most experienced out of anyone in the town when it came to adventuring, so Hamid would be in good hands.
He hasn’t met Feryn before, although Zolf has talked about him enough that Hamid thinks he has a relatively good idea of the man. There’s a weird knot in his stomach, for some reason, when he thinks about making a good impression.
And it’s too late to back out now, anyway. He can’t let Grizzop be right, not again.
“After you,” Zolf says, pushing the door open as Hamid steps through. There’s no one in the shop, although it’s nearly one in the afternoon. It’s cozy, almost, and looks like part lounge, part shop. There’s a fireplace in the corner with mismatched chairs all around it, and stacks of bandages and other first aid gear on the table in the middle, with a little “Use Me! :)” sticker on the box. Hamid can see maps splayed across the back wall, of what he assumes is different levels of the mine. The other half of the shop has swords and daggers laid out across tables, hung up on the wall. There’s even a bone sword there, and Hamid grimaces as he walks by it.
Zolf heads over to the counter while Hamid waits by the fireplace, half-sitting on one of the arms of a chair closer to the counter than not.
“Oi! Feryn!” Zolf yells, cupping his hands around his mouth. His voice echoes through the relatively small store, and his fingers drum on the counter as there’s a small crashing noise from the back of the store.
“Zolf? That you?” A tall man stumbles into the main room from a back hallway, face lighting up as he catches sight of Zolf. “Well, what brings you over here on this fine Saturday afternoon?”
“Late night?” Zolf asks, and Feryn flicks him in the side of the head before hopping up on the counter, rolling his shoulders.
“Oh, fuck off, I’m not a morning person.”
“It’s past noon, Feryn, you just said so yourself,” Zolf says, and flicks him back.
Feryn and Zolf look nothing alike. They both have the blonde hair, and there’s something familiar around the eyes, but that’s where the similarities end. Feryn has longer and wavier hair than Zolf’s, and no facial hair. He must be nearly six foot tall, and had more lean, corded muscles to Zolf’s bulk. And Zolf has freckles, yes, but Feryn’s seem to have taken over his face.
“Feryn, this is Hamid. Hamid, meet my older brother, Feryn.”
“Ah, so this is the famous Hamid,” Feryn says, hopping off of the counter and grinning widely at him. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Oh! Ah, likewise,” Hamid says, sticking out a hand. Feryn grabs it and shakes, before turning back to Zolf.
“Don’t believe anything he tells you, unless it’s good. Anyway, I run the adventurer’s guild around here, although it’s really only myself, Zolf, and a few of the locals who brave the mines around here. Once in a blue moon, we get an out-of-towner who wants a challenge, but it’s a pretty insular group by this point. And, as I’m sure Zolf’s told you, since I’m his incredibly cool older brother, I also run the blacksmith down by the library.”
“He knows, Feryn, I already told him,” Zolf says.
“Aw, I was just chatting with my baby brother’s best friend,” Feryn teases, wrapping an arm around Zolf’s shoulders that quickly turns into a headlock as Zolf tries to struggle away, prosthetic leg keeping him balanced as he attempts to pull away from Feryn. Feryn laughs and gives Zolf a noogie, finally letting him go as Zolf grumbles.
It reminds Hamid of how Saleh used to be, back when they were both children. Before the alcoholism and the gambling, before university, back when everything was simpler.
“God, you’re ridiculous,” Zolf says, rolling his eyes, but he can’t keep the hint of the smile off of his face.
“So, taking him down into the mines, you said?” Feryn leads Hamid over to the shop side. “You’re all set, obviously, Zolf, but Hamid here is going to need to be kitted out. What are we thinking? Sword, dagger, bombs?”
“He’s not Sasha,” Zolf says.
Hamid watches the two of them bickering about why you shouldn’t be able to use bombs in a mine, for God’s sake Feryn, for a moment and then heads over to a narrow sword on the wall that is nicely decorated and doesn’t look too heavy. He clears his throat, politely, and points at the sword when both of them have turned toward him.
“Would this work?”
Feryn’s eyes light up. “A good choice, that. Nice balance, sharp blade, not too tough to handle. Fancy giving it a go?”
“Actually, Zolf, I’m not sure -“ Hamid tries, awkwardly holding the sword out in front of him. “This might not be the best idea after all?”
Zolf immediately drops his own sword - not something from the store, his own actual real-life sword, and turns to Hamid with a concerned expression.
“We don’t have to go, if you’re not comfortable,” he says, and Hamid gives him a faint smile. “Just say the word.”
“No, I -“ Grizzop’s laughing face superimposes over his vision for a moment and Hamid grits his teeth. “I want to? I just don’t know…” he trails off, glancing down at the sword in his hand.
“Well, you’re not doing terribly,” Zolf reassures him, brow furrowed as he evaluates Hamid’s stance.
“Try… this.” Zolf steps behind Hamid and his arms wrap around him, slightly adjusting his grip on the sword. His fingers are warm, gently but insistently pushing at Hamid’s hands, moving his arms a bit as he attempts to fix Hamid’s grip.
Hamid feels himself blushing, probably from the cold breeze, and follows Zolf’s instructions. His voice is quiet in his ear, a gentle rumble as he moved Hamid’s hands and arms and explains why this grip is better.
“Doing alright?” Feryn yells from the fence where he’s watching the two of them practice, grin stretching across his face. Zolf immediately steps back from Hamid, muttering something under his breath that sounds like a curse on Feryn’s fortune, and then he’s back in front of Hamid, eyeing him critically up and down. He almost looks like he’s blushing, but - no, he couldn’t be, Hamid is projecting, and. It’s fine. Everything is fine.
“That’s better,” Zolf says, slight rosy tint to his cheeks that Hamid can barely see behind the beard, and motions for Hamid to attack the straw dummy right in front of him.
Now, Hamid isn’t a particularly athletic type, but he has been starting to get a bit stronger, what with the helping Zolf carry in boxes of fruit and monster bits into the store from time to time. He’s also posh, which means that his parents had expected him to take up some sort of dignified sport to brag to their friends about, and his sport of choice had been fencing.
So, he’s a bit offended at how surprised and excited Zolf gets when he actually lands a solid hit on the dummy. Zolf covers it up quickly with a smile, coming over and clapping him on the shoulder. “Well done, Hamid, few more of those and the monsters won’t know what hit them.”
Hamid slides the sword into the sheath that Feryn had given him, and turns back to face Zolf.
“Do I need one of those?” Hamid asks, pointing to the pickaxe strapped across Zolf’s back.
Zolf just shakes his head and hands Hamid his sword back, newly sharpened and ready for a foray down into the deep, dark... dangerous… spooky caves. “This is just for finding gems and the ladders down into the next floor of the mines. You focus on the bugs or the slimes if any get near us, alright?”
Hamid gulps, a familiar feeling of nausea rising up as his stomach flips over itself. “R -right!” he stammers out, giving Zolf a weak smile. It’ll all be fine, he’ll be fine, it’s fine.
“Hamid, you don’t have to do this, you know,” Zolf says, once again. Hamid shakes his head.
“I’m alright, Zolf. I want to do this.”
“Well, if it makes you feel better, we won’t be going that deep. Just a few floors down, this first time. When you hit the bottom, that’s where you’ll find all the skeletons and ghosts.”
The mines are up in the northern part of the town. Feryn has another small shop up there, but Zolf explains it’s mostly first aid and a space for someone going down into the mines to relax before they head in, or a place to rest at night. They stop in, quickly; Zolf has a key, and grabs some of the first aid supplies off of the table.
“Feryn owes me for dinner the other night,” he explains, stuffing them into his pack along with some energy and healing potions. “It all evens out.”
Things actually start off pretty well; there are only a few slimes on the upper levels, and no bats yet. Hamid even kills one of the slimes, and Zolf scoops up the remains it leaves behind with a satisfied grin.
“Well done, Hamid,” he says, and Hamid grins back at him. It’s… well, fun, actually, finding gems in the mines with Zolf. He looks more comfortable down here, like he does when he’s on his farm. The smile is more natural, even in the dim torchlight of the caves.
And then, because this is Hamid’s life, everything goes extremely downhill very quickly without so much as a by-your-leave. The first thing that happens is Zolf stilling at his side, in the middle of picking up an emerald that he’s found in a rock. “Hamid,” he says, voice low. “Walk back to the ladder. Quickly, but quietly.”
The second thing that happens is that the room gets… hazy. Almost like there’s a faint green mist slowly rolling toward them, filling in every crack and crevice in the spacious cavern. Hamid swears he sees shadows in the mist and follows Zolf’s directions, gripping the sword tightly in one hand as his other reaches out to hold onto Zolf’s arm, worried that the mist will separate them.
The third thing that happens, which is decidedly the worst, is the awful screeching noise that comes from the mist, echoing off of the walls.
“Hamid, run!” Zolf yells, pointing back toward the ladder, and Hamid reacts instinctively. His shoes pound against the floor as he runs back down the corridor; of course this was one of the levels of the mind that was twisting tunnels stretching out from the ladder instead of it just being a large room. He trips on something, probably a rock by how much his foot hurts, and stumbles forward.
The sword is knocked out of his hands by one of the flying bugs and Hamid swears, profusely, backing up as quickly as he scrambles away from the bugs. Somewhere along the way, he’s lost sight of Zolf, and scans the tunnel for something, anything he can use to get away.
Something moving knocks into the side of his head and Hamid hits the ground, landing on all fours as the bugs get closer. His head is throbbing, and he’s looking around for the sword so he can at least attempt to fight back, but it’s nowhere near him, at least nowhere that he can see.
“Get away, get away!” Hamid yells as the bugs all scurry toward him, and he thinks he sees a faint shadowy creature in their midst as he closes his eyes, squeezing them shut as he backs up against the wall of the cavern.
There’s a moment of absolute stillness as Hamid breathes in, once, and then his eyes flash open. A concussive wall of fire pulses from his body, expanding outward from where he kneels on the floor. The bugs caught in the blast shriek in pain and there’s a blast of light as they disintegrate, leaving piles of dust on the floor. Hamid sways, where he’s kneeling on the floor and there’s a panicked voice in his ear calling his name as his vision slips away and everything fades to black.
He wakes up to the sound of scurrying around him. It smells sterile, and he opens his eyes to see that he’s in a room of the medical clinic in town. There’s a short man in scrubs standing next to him with his back turned, messing with something on a small surgical tray.
“G - Grizzop?” Hamid stammers, blinking as he tries to get his vision to focus. “Where - how did I get here?”
Grizzop, in the middle of sliding on a latex glove, pauses to turn back to him. “Oh, good, you’re awake. Had us all a little worried there, eh, Hamid?”
Hamid blinks, again. “What happened? I was - I was in the mines - wait, is Zolf okay? Where is he? Is he alright?”
“He’s fine, Zolf carried you back, all the way from the mines. Must have been real worried about you,” Grizzop says, and there’s a knowing glint in his eyes that Hamid chooses to ignore for the time being.
Azu sticks her head around the corner and beams. “Good morning, Hamid! Glad to see you’re feeling better -“
“Wait, it’s morning?” Hamid exclaims, turning an accusatory eye on Grizzop. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Grizzop shrugs. “Didn’t ask, mate. And go on, Azu, let the man in already.” He leans in to Hamid to add, in a stage whisper, “He’s been pacing around all night.”
Hamid doesn’t know how to respond to that, but he’s saved from saying anything by the hurried sound of boots in the corridor as Zolf turns the corner and spots Hamid.
“I’m… so sorry, Hamid, I should have been paying better attention, I -“ Zolf trails off, looking worried. “Are you alright? I found you collapsed, but there were barely any cuts or bruises on you. Figured you hit your head?”
Zolf reaches out and brushes a hand against Hamid’s hair, before immediately pulling it back to his side. “Sorry, ah, just wanted to be sure you were okay.”
“I’m fine, Zolf, thank you,” Hamid says, and smiles up at him. “And thank you for bringing me here, as well. It was fun, but. Maybe… maybe I’ll just stay above ground, for now? Leave the caves to the professionals like you and Feryn,” Hamid laughs, and Zolf manages a tiny smile.
“Speaking of, he wanted me to wish you the best,” Zolf said. “He helped me get you out of the mines, had some potions on hand to keep you from getting worse, and all.”
“Please tell him thanks as well, then,” Hamid says. He’ll have to apologize to Feryn for the trouble the next time he sees him.
“Do you… remember what happened?” Zolf asks, and there’s an inquisitive look in his eyes as he glances over at Hamid. “Before you passed out, I mean.”
Hamid shakes his head. “No, no, I don’t… think so? I’d run back down the corridor, and -“ He remembers the bugs coming at him, the fear, and then a white-hot something that had pulsed through the cavern, setting it alight and turning all the bugs to ash. “Did - did you have a secret flamethrower on you or something?”
“What, me? Hamid, no, that - well, I guess it makes sense you don’t remember, actually, but uh. Hamid, that was you.”
“Me?!” Hamid exclaims. “You must be mistaken, Zolf, I’m not magic? No one in my family is, we’re all just normal humans, we don’t -“ his words die off as he flashes back to that moment in the cavern. It had felt like fire had run through his blood, and then there was the concussive force in his head and no one else was in the cavern...
His face blanches. “Oh, dear.”