|Fantasy Fiction posted March 28, 2021||Chapters:||...15 16 -17- 18...|
After Lagarra, Tali abandons fear.
A chapter in the book The Gemcutters Daughter
by K. Olsen
In the escape from Lagarra, Tali learned that not all of the forsaken serve the demons and their twisted creations. Now she hopes to find a way to save their city as well as her own.
“Are you alright, Tali?” Jarek asked, easing himself down onto a crystal ledge beside the young dwarf. Here in the maze of crystals, the hidden camp that surrounded the six small ponds and adjoining streams was bustling.
After weeks of only having her companions for company, the sudden noise of forty people clamoring through the forest of crystalline growths was almost deafening to Tali, even if they were moving furtively and talking in low tones. She sat with her hands in motion, turning a rough lump of quartz from the floor over in her fingers like she was examining it before trying to polish it to a fine luster. Her sense of touch was so finely honed that she could map even the tiniest imperfections in the stone’s surface in her mind, each pad finding differences in the shape and texture that a human’s eye could discern in full daylight.
Tali almost dropped her little worry-stone at the sudden shock of the question. Now that everyone was safe, it was so easy to retreat into her thoughts. “I don’t know,” she admitted quietly. “I didn’t think…” The words trailed off and she pulled in a deep breath before rallying her thoughts. “There aren’t really stories of the Deep. It’s a place where dwarves don’t go, but…”
The lanky skyborn man nodded thoughtfully at that. “Not what you expected?”
“I don’t know what I was expecting,” Tali said quietly, still frowning as she resumed turning the stone over in her hands. It was hard to explain her doubts or her sudden awareness of her own lack of knowledge. She had been floundering since she reached the Deep, but the torment that was Lagarra brought her struggling into sharp focus. She hadn't the faintest clue how she would solve a problem so large and fraught.
“Having second thoughts?”
Tali shook her head vehemently at that. “I promised my artifice that I would go into the Deep. I don’t regret it,” the young dwarf said firmly. “I don’t regret what I said in Lagarra, either. I just don’t know how to shape things.”
Jarek quirked his lips, forming a wry smile. “Shape things? A very dwarven turn of phrase. Could you elaborate for your resident human?”
“I’m a gemcutter, not a warrior. How am I supposed to break anyone’s chains?” Tali said quietly. She gestured towards the forsaken warriors gathering in the middle of the crystal forest’s main clearing. Somewhere, deep in conference with Iolur and his other kin, Lekt was explaining everything that had happened. “I’m not that strong.”
The mage rubbed along his jaw, scratching at his stubbled jaw. Prideep had made him a bone razor to shave with. It had positively delighted Jarek, to the point where their necromancer had picked up the goblin and spun him around like a beloved child. Tali didn’t know why it made a difference when they were all plunged into perpetual darkness. It seemed like a benefit to have warmth on one’s face in the cold of cavern systems, but Jarek had insisted that he felt better than he had in a long time with ‘the dratted beard off’.
After a long moment, Jarek leaned back and stretched, releasing some of the tension he’d been carrying in his neck with a soft crack. “Didn’t you mention something about cutting the gemstones to Prideep, when he shook that broken whatsit of his around?”
“They’re called voruhm,” Tali murmured, tucking her worry-stone away into an inner pocket of her shirt. “A special variety of diamond bound with sigils, reagents, and steel to create light on command.”
Jarek cleared his throat slightly. “Not the point. I seem to recall you explaining to our charming little goblin that dwarves use blades made of water to facet stone, created by incredible pressures. Do you not?”
Tali cocked her head slightly, listening with intent now that he had some line of logic. “We do.”
“What is softer than water?” the necromancer asked mildly. “Diamonds are stones that can scratch steel, yet they are undone by dwarven ingenuity and humble liquid. You broke Rhesis from her confinement and me from my own, twice over. I’d say you have the most experience in freeing anyone of our little band. Prideep certainly did most of the fighting against Maruk, but he wouldn’t have come to Lagarra after us without you telling him that was the plan.”
“I don’t know how to be hard, Jarek,” Tali said.
His hand settled on her shoulder, giving it a quick squeeze. “So be focused,” he advised.
Tali sighed, relaxing slightly at that. “Humans are clever.”
“Not half so clever as dwarves, my friend,” Jarek said with warmth. “Never in a thousand years would I have thought to put my faith in those around me the way you do, and yet it has made all the difference.”
The sudden arrival of Rhesis to their little area silenced Tali’s immediate attempt to brush off his comment. “Are you alright?” she asked instead, worry creasing her features as she tilted her head to listen to their siren. Clearly the wound that Rhesis had taken was still causing her great pain, her breathing still ragged and tortured as she felt at the bandages where her arm had been.
“I am fortunate you came when you did, little dwarf,” Rhesis murmured, slumping against the stone beside Tali. “I practically owe Maruk a debt as well. Who knew it was so easy to remove manacles?”
“You still have the one,” Jarek pointed out, gesturing to the ancient wrought steel encircling the siren’s remaining wrist. “Might I dissuade you from attempting to remove that one the same way?”
“I attempted nothing,” the siren said dryly. Beneath the note of her sharp words was a brief echo of fondness, however. Whatever horrors they had endured together in Lagarra seemed to endear the necromancer to her, probably at least in part because he had saved her life by healing her wound closed, even if the phantom pain of her lost limb was hurting her still.
“I don’t think I can remove it,” Tali admitted, reaching over. Her fingers traced across the glyphs on the metal band. “These are words of power like I’ve never even heard of.”
“I would not advise the effort,” Rhesis agreed. “They are designed to kill any who would tamper with them.” She turned her head towards the little conclave at the center. “For being a goblin supposedly wary of being eaten, Prideep is doing a very fine job of making himself a part of everyone’s business.”
Tali smiled despite all her worries at that comment. Prideep was practically dangling off Lekt at the moment, his feather-light amphibian body barely felt by the stout forsaken who was his perch. Occasionally long, double-jointed fingers poked at various warriors, examining them by touch while Prideep gawked at all of them with a fascinated gaze that only a goblin could muster, moistening his frog-like eyes with his tongue when he decided he didn’t want to blink. Tali found the whole display of curiosity heartwarming, particularly since the forsaken here clearly meant him no harm.
“They were comparing muscles earlier,” Jarek commented with a chuckle. “Yari in particular was very impressed when she heard he’d bested Maruk, even with the element of surprise on his side.”
“Regrettable, that Maruk still lives,” Rhesis muttered darkly. “I wish that fiendish little bone spear of Prideep’s had found his eye instead of his leg.”
“Still, it is rather gratifying that it was our tiny, whirling dervish of a frog-man who crippled him,” the necromancer said, grinning a little at the thought. “How humiliating it must be for him to be bested by a goblin.”
“The world’s bravest goblin,” Tali said fondly.
As if he could sense that they were speaking of him, Prideep turned on his perch on Lekt’s shoulder and waved at them, his webbed fingers spreading wide.
Tali caught the wave as a disruption in the echoes of her constant clicking, a movement far more visible in echolocation than an expression was. “I think he wants us to come over.”
“Do we give the creature everything he wants now?” Rhesis asked despairingly.
“Only mostly,” Jarek said, getting to his feet. He offered the siren a hand and made a pleased chuckle when she actually accepted it. “Come, let us see what they think of you now that they’ve heard everything, Hero Gem Dwarf.”
“Not you too,” Tali muttered. “It’s bad enough Prideep calls me that all the time.”
“Friends, gather!” Prideep squeaked from his perch, now practically dancing on Lekt’s shoulders. As soon as Lekt growled with annoyance, he launched himself off their forsaken friend in a leap, landing on Eiv’s shoulders instead. The stone golem had infinite patience for his antics.
“We hear and obey, o most magnificent of goblin longshanks,” Jarek said cheerfully.
Rhesis bumped her shoulder against the mage’s, infusing her tone with every bit of withering sarcasm she could muster. “Yes, do feed the little tyrant’s insufferable pride. That will be most beneficial.”
Prideep cocked his head, intensely focused on the siren now. “Food?” he chirped.
Tali couldn’t help laughing, even though they were approaching warriors who could easily crush her with just their claws, let alone their iron spears and blades. She smiled wider when she realized that she wasn’t the only one amused: some of the forsaken warriors were chuckling, their clawed hands covering their mouths to try and catch the sound.
They seemed almost afraid of their own laughter, as if it had earned them only beatings, but the relief in their posture when they were met with no harsh words and no sting made Tali immensely glad.
Iolur emerged out of the crowd with arms full of a giant cavefish. Several other dwarf-like creatures followed with bags full of edible fungus and scraps of dried lizard meat. “Yes, food,” he said, carrying himself with the authority of a Forge-Tender.
Prideep’s squeal of joy was ear-piercing.
“Apparently we haven’t been feeding him enough,” Jarek said with a grin, a spring returning to his step as they approached. “Tali, would you be a wonderful Hero Gem Dwarf and get us a fire going?”
Several of the forsaken flinched away from him, their laughter dying a sudden death.
“What’s wrong?” Tali asked with concern softening her tone.
“The Maker’s Chosen torture with flame,” Yari explained for their benefit, setting down an edible mushroom’s cap. “Forsaken...cannot not use it.”
“It does not have to be evil,” Jarek said, resting his hand on Tali’s shoulder again. “I promise you that cooked food is better than raw food.”
Tali hesitated, clicking thoughtfully as she fished out her flint and steel from the pouch that she wore around her neck. Now she could hear Yari’s people as they really were. The only thing that set them apart from her own kind were their bestial features, their sharp claws and wicked fangs, the twists to their flesh and bone from abuse. How were they different from her, really, except for the evils of the slavery they had endured for at least centuries, if not longer?
“Forsaken cannot not use,” Yari said again, a hint of shame coloring her voice.
In that moment, all the hesitation and fear seeped out of Tali’s body, leaving a rock-solid determination behind. “Forsaken can’t,” Tali said, offering the flint and steel to Yari. “But dwarves do.”
Everyone stopped at those words, rooted in place by the absolute certainty in Tali’s voice. She was no skyborn moving through a chaotic world without an anchor. She was as fixed in her intent as gravity itself, as the pull of magnetic north that she sensed without thought.
“But the Maker says…” someone whispered back in the ranks.
Tali held out the flint and steel. “I don’t care what the demons say,” she said fiercely. “You are dwarves.”
“We are in their image, but we—” Yari started to almost stammer the words out.
“You are dwarves,” Tali said. This felt right, and the more she said it, the more certain she was of this particular fact. “Everything about the way you hurt in Lagarra is wrong. This isn’t. You are clever, you are strong, you are free, you are dwarves.”
Silence enveloped them again after she had spoken, but Tali refused to feel foolish even though self-consciousness was creeping in with so many eyes on her. Then, abruptly, Yari moved forward, closing her clawed hand around Tali’s smooth one. “Show me how,” the female forsaken said with trembling confidence.
Tali beamed so widely it made her face ache as Yari’s kin sudden clustered forward, crowding around her. “We’ll need some dry lichen and some space. We’ll do it together,” she said.
Yari clicked in confirmation and knelt down beside Tali, observing her every movement as the young dwarf explained how to start a fire with flint and steel. For once, Tali’s hands weren’t shaking although warriors with lethal blades and stabbing spears surrounded her. It felt very surreal, but she was also more certain than she had ever been in her life that she was doing something worth doing.
Tali only barely caught Rhesis’s comment to Jarek out of the edge of her hearing with all the eager clicking of her newfound friends.
“To think I thought dwarves incapable of magic,” Rhesis whispered faintly, leaning into Jarek’s side.
Prideep Wraaka - goblin warrior joining her on her mission.
Eiv - a stone golem guardian from Tali's home city.
Rhesis - a siren freed from imprisonment far beneath the surface of the earth by Tali.
Jarek Vrana - a human mage rescued from the hands of the forsaken.
Lekt - a twisted forsaken who has been befriended by Tali and company.
Yari - another forsaken met in the escape from Lagarra.
© Copyright 2021. K. Olsen All rights reserved.
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