Almendra, a Beautiful Psionic Wasteland

Fifty-Second Day on the Surface

DAY FIFTY TWO

So many things happened today I don’t know where to begin. I was jolted awake by my head smacking the bed frame. I rubbed the dull pain from my pounding forehead. The bed posts rattled angrily beneath me. The entire inn shook. Off in the distance came heavy foot falls.

My antennae perked up. Could it be?

I hastily got my armor on looked out my window. Half the city of Nefir gathered on the outskirts of town. With them was Ishitari. Cogline too, who looked just as young as he did yesterday. Two bloodied illithid heads dangled from his belt. Oddest of all, Malazhar walked beside them both. I sprinted down the stairs and went outside.

Ishitari smiled when she saw me. “They’ve agreed to come with us! Luckily nothing got in yet.”

“I’m just glad you’re all okay.” I replied, a bit out of breath.

“Good to see you, Malazhar.” I heard Sandstorm say from behind me. I smelled Ari, Ith and Cinna nearby. Many of the villagers too. Everyone must’ve woken up from the quakes.

“It’s good to be back.” Malazhar grinned, “Seems like you had a crazy night last night.”

“A little bit.” Sandstorm said slyly. “You guys were a little loud. People marching isn’t good for a hangover.”

I left my companions behind and melted into the crowds of my own kind, glad to be among them once again. I searched frantically for members of my Life Bond. “Dwali? Ealdi? Lika? Eona? Where are you?” I gently pushed past dromite after dromite. Many cradled their Life Crystals in their palms and rubbed them gently. Soft mutterings floated to my ears. I wondered if this was the first time many have ever talked to their Life Crystals. A number of others clapped me on the back, apologizing profusely for not believing me. I smiled.

The Life Crystals were talking back.

It took awhile and a lot of asking around, but with some help I found them. My heart filled with joy. Happy tears stung the corners of my eyes. I wrapped my arms around them all and held them close, never wanting to let them go again. It’s only been two months, but it’s felt like years since I last saw them. Talked to them. Touched them. We embraced for a good long time.

Only one member was conspicuously absent. “Where’s Lika?”

“Dre’s with the other miners.” Ealdi assured me, drer hand on my shoulder. “We’re bringing up as many of the Life Crystals as we can. It’s a long story, but you might’ve heard of it. Some of us are reluctant to give up our Life Crystals, but we want to unlock their potential.”

“So now you finally believe me?” I asked, my tone grave.

“Yeah. It’s a weird concept though. I mean, these things have been inanimate for our whole lives…very odd to think about. In just a day everything’s changed.”

Thraenor floated nearby, gawking at the scene around us. “Well, this is interesting.”

We talked for awhile longer, but Ishitari found me and led me back to the other surface dwellers. “We’re still bringing people out but we’re going to camp just South of of Aimi for now. Do you guys know where we should bring the dromites?”

“I would figure that Kal’wor would be our best bet.” I suggested. “It’s the only city that I know of in Almendra that’s at least partially underground. At least the Queen, the Consort and the hatchlings should got there, I think.”

“We should let them decide, but they can camp out over by Kal’wor first. We’ll see how Veseeld takes, what, fourteen hundred dromites walking through their city?”

“I don’t think they’ll take it very well, but they’ll have to.” Ari interjected.

“They don’t really have to do anything.” Ishitari reasoned, “They could refuse entrance through the bridge…but we can make one on our own just down river. Everything should be alright.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the dromite we met last night. He looked almost apprehensive to go up to the others of his kind. He stood and gawked at the dromites scurrying past him. (Who also gave him weird looks for staring.)

“Who’s controlling all these people?” He said, in complete awe. “Why are they all moving like this?”

I smiled slightly. “None of them are controlled. They all have their own free will. Come, I’ll show you around.” I took him to see my Life Bond first. As we walked amongst them a few dromites fearfully touched the many scars on his body. (And some of the burn scars on my own.) The scars. Living proof of what horrors the surface can inflict on us. But he did not avoid their curious touch. If anything, he seemed proud showing off his battle wounds.

Ishtari found me once again awhile later, while Mirath spun a crazy story to my parents. (Dawli looked like dre was about to pass out!) She led me aside. “You wanted to know the word, right?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“The word meant ‘safety’ in Dromidic.” She patted me on the shoulder and left. Said she couldn’t stay long as she needed to discuss some matters with the District Representatives.

My people set up camp in the nearest clearing large enough to contain all fourteen hundred of them. I helped my Life Bond and some others set up camp. As the sun descended into the evening one of the Queen’s Guards approached me. “Come, the Queen summons you.”

I nodded and followed drer obediently. No one refuses the Queen, after all. My heart pounded. I wondered what the Queen wanted me for. Was it about my banishment? The guard led me to a large and elaborate wooden dinner table. The homey and enticing aromas of potato and blind fish stew, of mole cheese with jellied muzaru fruit, and cold grishnag floated to my antennae.

The guard approached Queen Nera seated at the very end. The Consort’s chair beside her, oddly, was vacant. Three of the four District Representatives sat quietly in their respective seats. The guard bowed deeply. “Your majesty, Vilu Kethech is here as by your request.”

“Very good. You are dismissed.” She waved the guard away and rose out of her chair. “Vilu Kethech.”

I bowed my head, “Yes, my Queen?”

“We’ve gravely wronged you.” She began, “We all made a grave mistake by not believing you. Thraenor is not an abomination. But how were we supposed to know? Thorumak helped us realize what you had seen all along. Hopefully we can restore Thraenor to drer’s true form some day.”

“T-true form?”

“Yes. The form Thraenor is now is not drer true form. Thorumak, when he spoke to us, taught us how to free our Life Crystals. I wish to apologize for how I and the whole city wrongfully banished you.”

“Does…does this mean my banishment is over?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The Queen. Personally apologizing. To me?

She nodded. “Yes. Your people wish to welcome you back…if you can forgive us.”

“Of course my Queen. I bear no ill will towards any of you.” I smiled weakly. I fought off some tears. “Thank you.”

“No Vilu,” Nera corrected, “Thank you. Come, sit and have dinner with us.” She gestured to an empty seat beside Representative Adion.

I bowed again, trying to hide my smile. “It would be my honor, Queen Nera.”

I was going to have dinner with the Queen! I curtly sat down in my chair and began to eat. Hungry from the long day, I devoured every morsel. The mole steak was perfectly cooked, the cheese wondrously aged and flavorful, the grisnag refreshing. It makes my mouth water thinking about it again!

Representative Athero arrived shortly after we began eating, sitting on the other side of Adion. Consort Voltun didn’t join us until nearly everyone was done eating. He ran up to the Queen and bowed his head. “I’m sorry my lady.” He apologized. “Gathering recruits took longer than expected. The people are nervous about us gathering up our military.”

“It’s fine. Now sit and eat.” She chastised.

“Of course my lady.” He sat down and ate his meal quickly. He finished about the same time the rest of us did and left as hurriedly as he arrived. After I finished my meal I bid farewell to the Queen and the Representatives before returning to my Life Bond. Not long after I returned to them a Diamond Knight approached us. “The Head of the Detective Branch of the Diamond Knights wants to see you.”

My brow ridge furrowed. “Alright, but what does the Head of the Detective Branch want with me?”

“He will tell you once we get there. Please, follow me.”

Members of my Life Bond gave me terrified looks, intimidated by the maenad towering over them. “It’s alright,” I assured them in Dromidic. “I shouldn’t be gone long.” I turned back to the Knight and said in Common, “Okay, I’ll go.”

I followed the Diamond Knight to a large tent bustling with other Knights. Inside were all the other members of my group. Even Mirath was there, who stood beside a defeated-looking Ari. Sitting in a chair near the back was a maenad with curly, cropped orange hair. He smiled when I walked in. “Ah, now that you’re all here,” The maenad began, rising from his seat. “Hello and welcome. I am Jonap the Inquisitor. I’ll be taking you to Veseeld here shortly.”

“Wait, what is going on here?” Malazhar demanded.

“She,” The maenad vaguely gestured to Ari, “Has stabbed two people and burned down an inn, almost killing two xeph nobles. She also burned down parts of the slums in Pollt and killed about six people out in some country homes near Kal’Wor. We already know why, and that’s because she’s from the mountain where the demons are.”

“In addition to being a pain in my ass?” Malazhar sneered. “Why don’t you just take her away now? What do you need me for?”

Jonap gave him a hard look. “We have to question everybody she’s been traveling with.”

Malazhar sighed. “Alright.”

The maenad nodded and continued. “From what we can tell, someone in your group has been harboring her, but we don’t know who exactly.”

Awkward silence fell over the group. Harboring her? Who in the Abyss would harbor someone who’s killed nearly ten innocent people? To my horror Sandstorm stepped forward, head down. “That would be me.”

“So, you’ve been harboring her?”

“Yeah, I thought she’d be more use alive than dead.” The half giant argued.

“Well, we’re probably not going to kill her.”

“She’s useful in the party, and when we’re all fighting illithids…” Sandstorm fell silent. He couldn’t hold his gaze with the Inquisitor for very long.

Jonap crossed his arms over his chest. “Who says she won’t still be fighting illithids?”

“I just thought I’d deal with it.”

“Then again, we probably won’t have her fighting illithids.” The Inquisitor continued, almost ignoring what Sandstorm just said. “Would be too risky for men out in the field.”

“She’s kind of a pain in the ass. Get used to that.” Sandstorm smirked. Ari grinned devilishly and let out a hearty but blood chilling laugh.

“Well, so is her brother. He wouldn’t even stay in custody to wait for his own sister.”

“Sounds like a dick.” Sandstorm muttered under his breath.

Ari froze, her attention now completely on the maenad before her. “Do you know where he went?”

“We lost him during the night. We didn’t have any kind of way to keep him chained up because we were just questioning him. He must’ve gotten scared and ran off.”

Ari lowered her head, but I saw a small smile tug at her lips. “I figured he would.”

The Inquisitor motioned to one of his guards. The guard nodded and opened up a nearby chest sitting on a table. As his hand rummaged through it heavy metal chains clanked together. Ari’s eyes opened wide. The guard removed a peculiar set of hand cuffs and approached the rogue. Suddenly Ari grabbed both her swords and pulled them out. Before any of us or the guards could stop her, she carved her belly open with her long sword, followed by the swift severing of her jugular at the hand of her short sword. Next thing I knew Ari’s mangled corpse collapsed to the ground. I heard the frightened screams of a few dromites just outside the tent. Warm, red liquid splashed my face and chest. The metallic stench of blood drenched my antennae.

Mostly everyone inside the tent had at least a little bit of Ari’s blood on them. Most of it ended up on me, my group mates, and Mirath, being in closest proximity to her. With out the slightest bit of emotion, the Inquisitor wiped away the blood on his cheek with the back of his hand. He sighed. “That’s the third time this year.”

Sandstorm chuckled. I was disgusted and horrified, briskly wiping the blood from my face. Is this really what surface dwellers do? Kill each other and themselves with no regard for anything? To make it worse some of my people witnessed this. I shook angrily. I wish I’d known. Maybe there was something, anything I could have done to stop this. But I remembered Sandstorm lying to me a few weeks ago. If he’d kept this a secret all this time there really was nothing I could have done.

To my own disdain I was actually relieved Ari was dead. She caused a lot trouble for us right from the beginning. Stabbing Malazhar back in Melest, watching her torture those githyanki, and now all this? How much time would’ve passed before she killed a party member too?

I never thought I’d live to see the day where I was happy about someone’s death.

Out of the corner of my eye Mirath made a disgruntled face. He gestured at the tent flaps behind us. “Who’s that guy?”

Seemingly out of no where Pe Ell rushed up to us, his body beaten and broken. Stab wounds covered his arms and chest, with a few nasty cuts on his face. He cradled his shattered left arm in his right hand. It was bad. His arm bent almost completely the wrong way. Small bone fragments jutted out of his bloodied armor. Pe Ell gave Mirath a confused look. “How did that thing see me? I see they killed my apprentice.”

Apprentice? Since when was Ari his apprentice? My group mates looked about as confused as I felt. The Diamond Knights, oddly, didn’t seem to care a badly hurt drow dashed into their tent for no apparent reason. Some shrugged but most ignored he was there.

Pe Ell sighed. “Oh well, she wasn’t doing what I wanted her to do anyways.”

Cinna shot him a horrified look. Sandstorm and Malazhar bent down and searched Ari’s pockets for her valuables.

“Hold on,” Jonap halted them. He got on his knees and picked up one of her swords. “We have the rights to her gold, but you can have the rest.”

“Um,” Cinna walked up to the maenad nervously. “Can I have five hundred of her gold? My parents and I had to pay for her burning down the slums.”

“We can compensate you for a bit of that, but not all. I’m sorry.”

Cinna nodded understandingly. “That’s alright.”

The others, however, rummaged through her belongings like moles looking for scraps. I shook my head. “Surface dwellers…”

“Hey, that’s racist to surface dwellers you little thri-kreen!”

I glared at Sandstorm. “I’m not a thri-kreen.”

“Whatever,” Sandstorm rolled his eyes and continued looting Ari’s body with Malazhar and Ith.

“Hey, what’s this?” Ith held up a tiny green key he pulled from Ari’s pockets.

“That’s to the treasury vaults of the Diamond Knights!” The Inquisitor snatched it from Ith’s fingers. “Where’d she get this?”

Sandstorm put his palms out. “I honestly have no idea.”

“Says the half giant who harbored a wanted fugitive.” Malazhar grumbled.

“Hey, she was useful to us! Let’s blame everything on the half giant!”

“No offense,” The Inquisitor interrupted, “But at this rate we’re going to at least drop you from being a favored member.”

“That’s alright,” Sandstorm replied, surprisingly not all too upset. “But you should talk to Ishitari if you haven’t already. She’s the thri-kreen.”

“We definitely will. But first I wish to question you all a little more.” He turned to Cinna. “I’ve always wondered…what’s it like being a synad? You have the three minds, right? Aldoraen talks about it sometimes. Although he only has two.”

“Um, not much different I guess? Don’t know how to explain it really.”

“Fair enough.” The Inquisitor shrugged. He moved on to questioning some of the others, but Cinna’s and my own attention was brought back to Pe Ell sitting painfully in a corner.

“Do you need some help?” Cinna offered.

Pe Ell looked away. “I couldn’t destroy the Cult. They actually succeeded in controlling a neolithid.”

“Aw fuck!” Sandstorm cursed.

“Now they have control over the whole fucking mountain.” Pe Ell hissed. “I can kill one demon from there, I did that once. There’s ten more like that one they now have control over. That’s why I’m kind of fucked up.”

“If you want, we can help heal you up a bit.” Malazhar walked over to us. “Your arm looks pretty bad.”

“I’m afraid there’s not much you can do. It’s been set like this too long.”

“We could re-break and set it.” Malazhar offered.

Pe Ell hesitated for awhile before answering. “Fine. But only if you or the synad does it.”

“Can I wash this blood off me first?” Cinna asked.

“Yeah, I want to do that too.” I added. The smell was making me nauseous.

Malazhar nodded. “Go ahead, I’ll prep him for it.”

With the help of some Diamond Knights Cinna and I wiped away most of Ari’s blood out of our clothes and armor. I don’t know if she could still smell it, but the strong copper odor lingered. We returned to Malazhar and Pe Ell and finished patching him up. He took the re-breaking astonishingly well. He winced and gritted his teeth but no outright yells or screams. After it was done Malazhar and Cinna gently wrapped his arm in a splint.

I returned to my Life Bond’s tent not long after. By then the sun had set, the sky black and twinkling with stars. My Life Bond sat around a fire just outside their tent, cooking dinner. My parents rose to greet me. Lika remained seated, absent minded. Lika’s attention was too locked on the Life Crystal in drers open palm. My elder wasn’t with them, probably inside the tent organizing it. The offered me a seat next to Lika on a mossy log.

“The surface has gotten you good, eh?” Dwali gestured to the burn scars on my arms after a few minutes of uncomfortable silence. Dre had been stealing glances at them since earlier today.

“It hasn’t been all horrible,” I replied, tracing one of the scars with my fingertips. “But the surface for the most part is as bad as everyone feared it to be.”

“Oh Vilu,” Dwali walked over to me, placed drer hand on my shoulder, and slowly sat down beside me. “I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with all of this. And the way I treated you the day you left for the surface…” Dre sighed and shook drer head. “It wasn’t right of me to treat my child that way. Can you forgive me?”

“It’s alright, I forgive you.” I leaned over and hugged Dwali tightly for a moment. “Besides, my banishment is over now. Queen Nera absolved me of my crimes and welcomed me back to our city.”

Really? Oh, praise the Queen!” Dwali broke the hug, leaning away. Drer antennae wavered and brow ridge furrowed. “Um, are you going to wash that blood off some more, or…?”

Dwali!” Ealdi chastised over drer shoulder. Dre rose from drer spot by the fire where dre was cooking and smacked the back of Dwali’s head. “Don’t be rude.”

“What? I can smell it all over Vilu and it stinks!”

“It’s alright, it’s alright.” I assured them.

“No, it’s not.” Ealdi snapped, “Something happened back there with those knights.”

I sighed deeply, my antennae laying flat against my brow ridge. “One of the surface dwellers that I’d been traveling around with since I came up here. She…” I looked down at my feet. “I found out tonight she killed a fellow Diamond Knight and nine other people. Burned down an inn and a couple slums too. They finally caught her and wanted to interrogate me and everyone else who’d been traveling with her. I had no idea she’d done such a thing. Would’ve never traveled with such a person if I knew! But when they tried to put some shackles on her she…killed herself. Right in front of everyone. Me. My companions. The knights…everyone.”

“Vilu.” Ealdi gingerly grabbed for my arm, but I batted drer away.

“To make it worse some of our people saw her do it.” I gritted my teeth, “Most of the surface dwellers didn’t even care! Looted her body like a bunch of starving animals.” My hands balled into fists in my lap. So tight I felt my fingernails dig into my palms. Angry tears stung the corners of my eyes.

“Let’s get you cleaned up some more.” Ealdi suggested, unphased by my attempts to push drer away. “That might help you feel better.”

I exhaled sharply and slowly unballed my fists. “You’re right. The smell is giving me a headache anyway.”

Ealdi led me to a water basin where I finished washing away that horrible stench. Once done I returned to my spot next to my older sibling on the log. I watched Lika massage the crystalline surface of drer Life Crystal, almost drawing the energy out of it. Lightening crackled at Lika’s touch.

“The Queen told me that Thorumak taught you all the way to free our Life Crystals.” I said to my sibling, looking at drer Life Crystal a little closer. “Did he really talk to all of you?”

“Yeah, he did. Just before the Queen’s Guard was going to kill that thri-kreen. I think she said her name was Ishitari? And then this githyanki appeared out of no where right next to her! It was incredible.”

“That githyanki would be Malazhar. He tends to disappear and reappear a lot.” I chuckled. “I would know. He’s one of my traveling companions.”

“Ah, I see.” Lika laughed with me. “He seemed friendly enough. Enjoyed the grishnag we offered at least.”

“So, what else did Thorumak tell you?”

“Thorumak confirmed what the miners have always believed. What you’ve always believed. Something was inside our Life Crystals. We miners had an inkling something was up. We deal with the Life Crystals every day after all. Well, you know.”

“And? What are they?”

Lika looked me straight in the eye. “Elementals.”

“I had a feeling for awhile they might be.” I replied, “That explains a lot of things.”

“Yeah. Still strange though, having something living inside our Life Crystals this whole time.”

“I’m just glad we can free them. By the Queen, it better be easier than what I had to do!” I broke into laughter again.

“You can be assured that it is.” Lika smiled widely, resisting the urge to laugh, but ultimately dre joined in along with me.

Eona emerged from the tent about ten minutes later. I rose and greeted her. She smiled, gently enveloping me in her arms. “My little Vilu I’m so glad you’re safe. We were so worried. The last dromite to go to the surface never returned.”

“Speaking of Goru the Infinite,” I began meekly, “Since coming up here I learned what became of him.”

“Really now? So what happened?”

“Well, it all started when my traveling companions and I found his armor beside a gravestone. Oddly the grave wasn’t his own, but for a human named Cogline. Cogline was one of Goru’s friends he made up here on the surface. They fought alongside each other in battle. I still don’t know all the details, but he died protecting Almendra and Nefir.” My antennae drooped again. “His body disintegrated in the process, leaving only his armor. As it turns out that old man who rescued me as a child was a descendent of Cogline. Has his same name too, which was a bit odd. Cogline and his descendants are the ones who both made and protect that door to Nefir. Although as of late I’m beginning to think the Cogline I knew as a child and the one who knew Goru are one in the same.”

“How can that be?” Eona’s brow ridge furrowed thoughtfully. “He’s not an elan is he? Humans don’t usually live over a hundred years.”

“No, he’s definitely human. It’s weird, really. When I first got here he appeared just as old as the last time I saw him. But yesterday he suddenly looked a whole lot younger. Like forty human years younger. I have no clear idea how he managed to live for so long, but he must be powerful. And he seems extremely upset whenever Goru’s brought up. Those emotions are too strong for a descent of someone who knew him…” I shook my head. “But enough of that. How’s the move to the surface been going for everyone?”

“Decently well for the little time we had. We were able to bring some of the books from the library with us, including this.” She handed me a small book that been hidden in the folds of her robe.

I recognized it instantly. It was Adventure into the Portals, one of my favorite childhood books Eona read to me many times while growing up. I smiled, fighting back a few tears. The tale of my ancestor’s passage through the portals all those centuries ago is partly what inspired me to investigate the nature of the Life Crytals. I accepted it gratefully, rifling through the well-worn pages before putting it safely away inside my knapsack.

“I figured you could use something to cheer you up.” She winked.

I smelt the Diamond Knight before I saw him. “Little one,” He said gruffly, taking a step towards the fire. “The funeral will begin in half an hour, if you wish to attend.”

“Thank you. I probably will.” I replied. The knight bowed his head curtly and vanished into the night with out another word.

“So you’re going then?” Dwali asked, “Bidding farewell to that traveling companion of yours?”

I sighed. “Might as well. She might’ve been terrible but even she deserves to have someone at her funeral. I don’t know if I’ll return to camp tonight, but if I don’t you all sleep well alright?”

“We will.” Ealdi piped in. “Take care, child.”

Besides Thraenor and Socks at my side, I walked the path back to Aimi by myself. The closest clearing large enough to fit all of Nefir comfortably was two miles South down the road. It took the whole half hour to get back there. On the outskirts of town I found a small crowd huddled around an open grave marked with a simple tombstone that said Ari and nothing more. Ishitari, Cinna, and Mirath were there, but beyond them there was no one else I recognized. Not even Pe Ell or Jonap were present. That is, until I saw Ith dashing for the War Chef’s inn.

“You’re not going Ith?” I asked him, surprised.

“No. I didn’t attend the funerals of the other evil creatures I’ve killed over the years, so why should I go to hers? She was a horrible person.”

“Well, even Ari deserves some respect in death. I mean, yes she was awful but I’d feel terrible if I didn’t go.”

“Suit yourself.” He shrugged. “I’ll see you later. Malazhar and Sandstorm are waiting for me inside.”

I nodded and let him go. Even if he didn’t attend at least I wouldn’t be the only one. I sulked over to the burial site, my head hung low. A half dozen knights accompanied Cinna, Ishitari, Mirath and I. A short while later a squat balding human man in formal black clothing approached. Behind him two more Diamond Knights carried a simple wooden coffin on their shoulders.

The priest cleared his throat, opening up a book with such a well-used spine it barely kept it in one piece. “Tonight we sent another soul into The Mausoleum of Light. We sorrow at her loss, but rejoice that she find some peace in the afterlife.”

“It was something she probably never have had in life, that’s for damn sure.” One of the knights grumbled under his breath.

“I knew her naught, she was not one of the locals here.” The priest continued, ignoring the knight’s snide comment. “Even so, her remains are safe here on these grounds. May the woman Ari embrace the warm light of the Mausoleum.” He nodded to the two knights. “You may begin lowering her now.”

With the help of a few others, the two knights gradually lowered her coffin down into the grave. The hole was dug pretty deep. Six feet at least. As they put her in the ground I saw Cinna watching it all, reserved and somber with a hint of horror in her eyes. Ishitari bowed her head once when her coffin reached the bottom. I couldn’t say what Mirath did. He stood away and out of sight. The knights clambered out the hole and began filling it in. I felt numb the whole time. My mind was in such a fog I couldn’t help but gawk at the scene before me.

“Well, that should do it.” One knight sighed when they were done, wiping away the sweat from his brow. “Thanks for being here on such a short notice.”

“Of course.” The priest smiled as he walked away. “This is my job after all.”

The crowd dissipated in a few short minutes. Even after the burial was said and done, and most of the others had returned to the inn, I still stood there beside Ari’s grave. I couldn’t will myself to move. My haunted look must’ve caught the attention of Mirath because he tapped me on the shoulder. “You alright? You look like you’ve never been to a burial before.”

“I have. One of my elders died a couple years ago. But I’ve…I’ve never seen anyone outright kill themselves like that. Suicide is uncommon in Nefir.”

“Well, that one seemed a bit uncommon if you ask me.”

I laughed bitterly. “She was a bit uncommon to begin with.”

“Yeah, scary that this world could create something like that.” He stood beside me then, looking down at the grave. “But there is worse. More structured evil with the illithids.”

“Indeed. Then again I’ve only been up here for a month or so, so I’m unsure how common this is for surface dwellers.”

“Well, suicide isn’t too common, but death certainly seems to be.” His gaze shifted to me. “I hope that is different here in Almendra.”

“Like I said I’ve only been here a little while, so I don’t have the full scope of what this place is like. But from what I’ve seen, I’ve had to do a bit of killing just to survive and…” I turned away, unable to look him in the eye. “And I hate it.”

Mirath sighed. “It’s not something I fancy myself, but sometimes it has to be done.”

“Still wish I didn’t have to.” I whispered, my voice wavering.

“Me too,” He whispered back, gently wrapping his arm around me. “Me too.”

At that point I lost it. I buried my head in his shoulder, my whole body shaking from my sobs. “I hate the surface!” I cried angrily.

“Hey, the surface isn’t so bad!” He assured me, squeezing me a little tighter. “The trees and the animals here are beautiful, and the people can be just and do good. Look at that woman who fearlessly went down into Nefir to save your people, or the Diamond Knights who fight for justice through out world.”

“I know, I know." I sighed, swallowing some of my anger. "But most of what I’ve seen up here is death and hatred, and I’m scared for my people.”

“Your people will be fine with the dwarves. They will take care of fellow cave dwellers.”

“I sure hope so.”

“I know it. They are good people.”

“The War Chef, Malgo and the dwarves at the Lodge have been nice enough to me.”

“The dwarves seem nice enough to me too.”

I broke our embrace and took a few steps back, wiping away my tears. “Yeah, I’m sure my people will be fine down in Kal’wor. Today’s just been horrible.”

“Yeah, I know. But it will get better, I’m sure. We should head back to the inn soon though, it’s getting pretty late.”

“Yeah.” I replied sheepishly. “And thank you.” Mirath smiled and walked with me to the inn. I didn’t bother with any drinks and ordered my room straight away. Mirath must’ve felt the same since I heard him climb the stairs to a room shortly after I retired here for the night. Tomorrow morning my people begin their trek for Kal’wor. I can only hope Mirath was right and that the dwarves welcome my people into their city.

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Vilu_Kethech

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