Sévérine Bélanger was one of the mine bosses present at the Mine Office meeting on Level 1 of Torgaro Mine #12
when the Cataclysm hit. She was one of the few who survived the initial blast and worked with Rens Torgaro
to make survival plans for the remaining miners.
Sévérine was the Logistics Boss for Torgaro #12 and was intimately familiar with the layout and structure of the mine and the storage spaces' contents. While there were supplies set aside in case of mine collapses, these supplies were only designed to last a month at most for a few dozen miners. The stores were only sufficient for a week or two (at most) for the number of miners that survived.
Sévérine was tasked with the seemingly impossible task of finding supplies to help the survivors last for however long it would take to make it through. She worked closely with Rens to define living quarters, take stock of what they had available in supplies, and move all stores up to the mine's top three levels. This included finding ways to heat the cave, light it, and distribute food.
The 30-Year Winter
came on quickly. Still, there was enough time just after the initial blast to scavenge for whatever good they could through the rubble and wreckage outside. And yet, there was nothing to be found. The blast and the following winds had scoured the surface outside clean. Trees, vegetation, buildings were gone, either vaporized or uprooted. All that remained outside the mine entrance was a barren wasteland of destruction.
Sévérine had one last-ditch idea. She asked for a private meeting with Rens. They had recently dug down to Level 21 to prepare for geosurveys. She volunteered to go down to this level as she believed there might be a way to access an escape route and additional supplies. This would require a lengthy trip down into the mine, with nothing but oil lamps and candles for light. It was also unknown what the air quality at that depth would be, given the continued seismic activity since the blast and the lack of ventilation.
But Rens knew of one other reason to go, one which only he and Sévérine had knowledge: Level 21 also had an access point
that led to the sewers and tunnels under Urshalin City
. Through this access point, gemstones were taken straight to city vaults without ever going through the mine entrance. Some of these vaults were also used to keep heirloom seeds, grains, and other non-perishable food supplies. If they could reach the access point, they might be able to get to the vaults. Also, there might be other supplies that could help them survive. Temperatures outside were dropping, with the sun being blocked by a thick layer of dust that encompassed everything. They would need to find a way to seal the cave entrance against the elements, find ways to get light inside the mine, and plan for feeding individuals beyond the mine's supplies.
Rens hand-picked a team of three miners to go with Sévérine, who he knew could keep the access point secret. Along with Sévérine, they would travel down to the access point, determine if it was passable, and if it was, begin to retrieve what they could.
The party of four departed and headed down to Level 21. As they first began the descent, they came across the bodies of miners killed by the massive gust of wind, many broken and mangled in unimaginable ways. The blast of wind blew many off their feet and into the reinforced walls, hurling them like ragdolls to their deaths. The winds had also desiccated their bodies, leaving them as twisted, misshapen mummies along the mine walls. Eventually, those bodies would be moved to Levels 3 and 4, as storage spaces were converted to makeshift mausoleums.
They continued down. It took more than a day of travel to get down to Level 21. While the distance was not impressive, the mine air was fouled. Without ventilation, Sévérine believed it would be safer to go more slowly rather than exert themselves excessively and take in too much of the thick air.
Upon reaching Level 21, they were astonished to find that the access point, 2000 ft. below the mine entrance, seemed to be mostly intact. The thick steel doors were shut, with mine rails disappearing beneath them as designed. But there was a problem. They couldn't get the doors to open. The large locks, which Sévérine could unlock, seemed to work fine. The doors, however, would not budge.
One of the miners had worked in the engineering division. He examined the door and found the problem - the frame of the door had shifted, bending slightly, jamming the doors.
The team considered their options. They did not have tools that would allow them to bend the door back into shape. Sévérine knew there should be explosives nearby, but they were unsure about the surrounding rock's soundness. Something had been strong enough to deform the door frame. They tried prying the door apart from the frame, but that was useless.
The air was thick. Insufficient oxygen was present, and the party was beginning to feel it. Headaches, lethargy - they needed to figure out a way through. They did not have the means to climb back up to the areas of the mine where oxygen was more available.
Another miner thought of a possible solution: Magnesium.
Many of the tools used in the mine were made of metals alloyed with magnesium. This lightened the tools while giving them strength. Magnesium would be added into the molten metals as items were being forged. It also burned very hotly in its powdered form. It made for quick work of softening some of the metals used in the mine in a pinch.
There were likely small containers somewhere on the level, kept here for engineers to do quick repairs or forgings of small items.
The plan was to place a pile of shavings at each hinge, ignite it, and throw water on it when it glowed hot. The hope was that it would cause the metal to lose its temper, and then banging on it could shatter the hinge. But this had a significant drawback: the magnesium would use up oxygen.
Nevertheless, Sévérine made the decision that they needed to go ahead. They began a search for containers of the gray-white powder. At the far end of Level 21, they came upon a workbench with magnesium and welding torches. Using the torches in this environment would be too dangerous. But they provided something else: Igniters.
Magnesium and igniters in hand, they made their way back to the massive door. Using a bit of water to help hold the powder together, they coated a hinge with magnesium. While the others turned their backs, one miner fitted a short explosive fuse to the hinge and used the igniter to light the fuse. He turned away, and they all knew the magnesium had ignited when the interior of the tunnel became lit brighter than day.
The powder burned away, and when the light level had reduced, they turned to see a glowing red hinge. Sévérine quickly doused it with water. Steam rose, and after a few seconds, there was a distinct "ping." The metal had become brittle from the shock of the water. After two or three smacks with a hammer (obtained at the workbench), the hinge shattered. One down, two to go.
The second went as the first. The door shifted. The only hinge remaining was the lowest. The party suddenly felt the temperature drop and a difference in the air. Running a hand along the door frame, they could sense airflow coming from the top of the door!
But now came a difficulty. With the door hinges at the top and middle gone, the door was held by weight and the bottom hinge. Releasing that hinge could cause the door to suddenly fall. It was far too heavy to hold up.
The crew found nearby rocks and metal shafts to wedge into the cracks around the door. They then tied a rope around the drawbars at the top of the door. Finally, they applied the magnesium powder to the hinge, lit the fuse, and backed away.
The rope had been unnecessary. As the metal got hotter, it began to flex, and the door's weight became too much. It crashed down onto the mine floor, the shaking and wind gust knocking everyone off their feet. But the first thing they noticed was the air. Oxygenated air!
They relit their torches and saw they were burning brighter. The tunnel ahead appeared to be intact. At this level, it was slightly above the height of Urshalin City but had a gentle slope downward. The sewers and tunnels under the city began 100' below the city and could go as much as 300' below.
The group had been gone from the rest of the miners for nearly 36 hours. They were tired, weary, and needed rest. They had reached their first goal.
Sévérine woke to a sharp sting on her arm. She looked just in time to see a bat fly off. They were uncommon on the mine, so this one likely came from the tunnel. It wasn't a severe bite. She rubbed at it for a moment and began to have something to eat from her pack. The crew had grabbed survival rations before leaving the upper mine.
The rest of the crew awoke similarly, and before long, they began their trek into the tunnel. Sévérine was the only one besides Rens Torgaro who had been in this tunnel section from the mine side. The two had planned this tunnel for some time with Torgaro Industries
engineers. What neither the engineers nor the miners knew was that the connection had been made. Miners dug tunnels approximately one mile past the door. They were told the door was added because the geologic team had deemed the area unsafe.
The engineers designed a tunnel to come to the end of the mine tunnel. When their team arrived at the location connecting the tunnels, they were still a 1/2 mile from the metal door. They were also told the door was installed because of unsafe conditions beyond it. Given that the information came from Rens himself, they had no reason to doubt it. The two sections now had access to each other. Sévérine knew of this. Her responsibility was to have gemstones and precious metal ores transferred to the underground vaults under Urshalin City. These would be the first vaults they encountered, about three miles from the metal door. They began the trek down the tunnel, amazed that it had not appeared to have suffered much damage. Then again, these sections of the tunnel had been reinforced and were much less susceptible to seismic damage.
After about two hours of hiking down the tunnel, they came across an intersection. Here, the rails embedded in the floor made a turn down the left side tunnel. Sévérine steered the team down that tunnel. A short distance down, they came upon a series of doors down each side of the tunnel. Sévérine ignored the first three on either side. She knew they contained uncut and cut gems, gold, silver, and platinum bars. Those would be of little use. But the fourth led to the preservation vault. That was their destination.
Once inside the preservation vault, the team could see their reward - rows and rows of shelves with sealed containers of seeds. There were also boxes of tubers that lay dormant, waiting to be packed in soil.
While she and one miner began hauling containers of goods to the tunnel, she instructed the other two to go back to the mine and bring back an ore cart. It would be a challenge to get it back up the tunnel laden with goods, but it would not be too terrible with the four of them.
Over the next few hours, the group made three trips back and forth between the vault and the mine, unloading away from the access point. In this way, others could be sent down to pick up the goods without compromising the vaults' existence. If they could survive this catastrophe, the contents of those vaults would likely be necessary to rebuild their civilization.
Over the next few days, Sévérine's crew made their way with a small load up to the mine entrance. She spoke with Rens and explained that there was plenty to be brought up, but it would require much more help. Keeping it quiet would take a great deal of care. She and Rens put a plan in place. The original crew, plus 4 more, would be responsible for bringing items from the vault to the mine drop-off location. They would also work to fashion a new set of doors to replace the door that had been destroyed. They would need to cut apart and use pieces of the previous entry to fashion the new ones, but there were enough tools in the mine to do so. The plan was to create a mine collapse's appearance to keep prying eyes from wandering down the tunnel.
Meanwhile, a small space would be carved out of the rock just a few feet away and described as a storage space. This space would have an iron door beyond which a small passage led back to the existing tunnel. Only Sévérine, Rens, and the eight miners assigned to Sévérine's team would be able to open this door. Anyone asking about the door would be told it was a secure room to store dangerous items like explosives.
Goods brought up from the vaults would be placed in the new room, ostensibly found in other parts of the mine. They would then be moved by ore carts up the mine by teams of four to 8 individuals. With no power and no beasts to help, the trip up usually happened in three parts, with two rest periods in between. A round trip for a minecart could be as much as four days.
This worked well in Sévérine's plans. Teams from "up top" would arrive approximately every two days. In between those arrivals, the group filled the "storage room." They were never seen by the other teams, allowing them to keep anonymity. They had lodging materials brought down from the upper storage areas and found storage
spaces in the vaults to act as makeshift bunkrooms.
Over time, the team brought up medical supplies, non-perishable food items, water, and various other items from the vaults' storage rooms. For some, these came too late. Without sunlight, depression set in with many of the mine inhabitants. And while the medical supplies were helpful, there were only two mine personnel with more than a rudimentary knowledge of medicine. Sévérine knew the supplies were not endless. She planned for underground "farms," initially using just torchlight as a lighting source. Rens and a team of engineers fashioned a shaft with mirrors (obtained from the vaults and from restrooms in the mine) to redirect the little outside light into the "farm." This lessened the use of torches. Sévérine made sure supplies were steadily replenished and made plans for the distribution of foodstuffs and medicine.
As the survivors entered the second year of life underground, Sévérine's health began to decline. It started as what seemed like a cold. Sniffling, a cough, an occasional fever, but just slightly under the weather. She was often plagued with headaches. At first, these symptoms were rare, but over time, they became more frequent.
Perhaps it was the pain or some other underlying condition, but by the third year, Sévérine had begun acting strangely. She would be working away, then suddenly be confused and seemingly unaware of where she was. She would act as if the Cataclysm had not yet happened, asking where the shipments from Lohcrin were. These would last a few minutes, and then all was back to normal.
She became prone to angry outbursts, which was very unusual for the calm and collected woman. The fevers increased, as did the headaches. Her physical state was deteriorating.
By the fourth year, Sévérine had become delusional. Many feared that she had become a danger to herself and others. Much as he wished otherwise, Rens had her moved to a smaller storage room on the second level and had her closed in. As much as possible, they furnished the room with anything she needed and more. They wanted her as comfortable as possible. Her delusions were growing, to the point of fearing the cups of water they brought her with meals. She would slap the cups off the trays, cursing the bearer and accusing them of trying to kill her. But these rants seemed to drain Sévérine of energy.
Before long, Sévérine was unable to even make her way out of bed. Still delusional, still irrational, she had not the energy to set foot on the floor. Sévérine died 4 years and 3 months after the Cataclysm. Despite her later years, she was still considered a hero for her stewardship during the crisis.