The non-human woman was the only source of light in the hall. Her skin illuminated the marble walls, throwing the odd designs on them in relief. Mijung and Yutrin curiously tried to look closer at the pictures, but the non-human woman was moving too fast. The most they could see were images of a woman shooting several girls with arrows, a man stealing a girl away to the underground, and a big man eating newborn babies with a crying woman watching. (Both Yutrin and Mijung jerked away with a gagging sound from that.)
Mijung frowned, jogging a little to keep up with the non-human woman, questions bubbling and jumping to the tip of her tongue. “You know Common, then?”
“Well, it is not so common a language if I do not speak it.” The non-human woman glanced at the walls wistfully, her mouth turned up in a melancholy smile. “I do not speak your language and you do not speak mine. It is by virtue of my cousin that we can communicate.”
“She cast a spell or something?” Kraagor asked, gravelly voice grinding against Yutrin’s sensitive eardrums.
“You can say that.”
Mijung frowned, looking back at where they had come from, unable to see through the darkness. It shifted as though it were alive, tentacles eating away at the walls and floor, and the woman instinctively flinched towards Yutrin, a motion he imitated. “Who are you? Where are we?”
The non-human woman kept walking, pace never faltering, and it felt as though they were going down a hallway that lasted for a hundred years. Yutrin’s and Mijung’s ears both perked a little, eager to hear the answers to the questions they had been asking themselves since they woke from their fevers, but Kraagor didn’t seem too interested. He kept on fingering his ax and looking around with almost paranoid frequency to see if something was about to leap out of the dark and eat them alive. “Who am I? I am many things. I am your home. I am your hearth. I am your hope. I am your inner fire and strength.” The woman slowly came to a dark doorway, smiling. “As for where we are… we are still attempting to define it.”
She smiled, turning to face them, her illumination not going past the doorway. “It was once the first world, the old world. Now? It is the death of freedom and the graveyard of the gods.”
She was still smiling, but her skin was losing light and becoming increasingly ashen. Yutrin made a motion to touch her and see what was wrong, but she shrugged him off. “In fear, the home dies soon after wisdom and order. It dies with hope.”
Yutrin frowned in confusion. “You’re not making sense. Listen, I’m a cleric, I think I can—”
The non-human woman turned away. “Your god is young. New. I feel his power settled in your veins, yet I have never known him before.” She slowly reached into the doorway, her hand disappearing in the darkness as if eaten. “Even if he himself were here, he is not strong enough to help us.” She stepped inside, turning her head just enough so that they could see her eyes, fire burning in the sockets. “At the same time, he is not strong enough to hinder us.”
She dissolved in the darkness.
Yutrin blinked in confusion, backing away slowly from the door, eyes wide. He swallowed hard, an instinctive sense of overwhelming fear closing his throat, and he murmured a few prayers to the Dark One in Goblin to calm himself down. “Where…” He glanced back. “Mijung, I don’t think we should go in there.”
Kraagor warily took out his ax, keeping his grip tight, and Yutrin flinched away, eyeing the blade with fear. Mijung crossed her arms, absently rubbing her stomach and staring at the door. “Kraagor, don’t draw weapons. If anyone here wanted to hurt us, they would have already done it.”
Her words had more meaning than she led on. Yutrin edged towards her gratefully, still staring at Kraagor’s ax.
Kraagor looked down at his weapon, then at Yutrin and Mijung. With a huff, he glared at them both darkly, provoking a frown of confusion from Mijung, and he put his ax away. “Goblin, you go through the door first—make sure it’s safe.”
Yutrin shrunk a little, glancing at the dark door fearfully. Mijung puffed up, preparing to deliver a cold response to the dwarf, but the goblin nodded nervously, making a small gesture for her to stop. “Someone has to go in, Mijung.”
She looked at him, scowling, and her pupils dilated to accommodate the lack of light. “Not you. You’re a healer. You can’t fight if there’s something dangerous in there.”
“Well you don’t have any spell books here, so you can’t protect yourself.” Yutrin held out his hands, letting his claws speak for themselves for a moment. “I can leave some damage if I need to. And if anyone’s going to go, Kraagor needs to stay to protect the remaining spell caster. I’ll be back soon, okay?”
He edged towards the door, fear attempted to be hidden in his eyes. Mijung started forward.
“Yutrin, wait, stop! We don’t know—”
The goblin was already through the doorway.
Darkness swallowed him up.
Mijung stopped short, eyes wide, hands loose at her sides. She waited for Yutrin to come back out like he told her he would.
Five minutes passed.
He didn’t come back out.
Mijung went forward slowly, touching the edge of the doorway. Her muscles tensed. She looked back at Kraagor, her dark eyes furious and her fists clenched. “He might be dead, Kraagor.”
Kraagor crossed his arms. “He died with honor and bravery. I’m sure he’ll be happy in his god’s afterlife.” He looked back down the dark hall. “Maybe there is another way out back there…”
Mijung’s mouth fell open. Kraagor looked at her horrified expression, then gave an irritated sigh.
“For my leader’s sake, I’m keeping his wife safe. If that requires sacrificing a goblin, so be it.” Kraagor came forward slowly, frowning at the darkness. “If he’s dead, then we need to find a way out of here. If we are inside the Snarl, then no one knows what’s happened to us. It looks like we’re on our own.”
Mijung stared at him in shock.
“Mijung, we need to hurry and search for a way out.”
The dwarf looked up at her, frowning impatiently but unwilling to be blatantly rude to a lady.
Mijung slowly crossed her arms, thrusting her hips out. “I don’t know how you and my husband relate to each other. I know for a fact that he does not treat his comrades as he treats me, so I wouldn’t know what he does in battle.” Mijung lifted her chin, eyes blazing. “But, regardless of what Soon has permitted or not in his party, I should tell you something about myself: I will never accept the sacrifice of an innocent life to save my own. Yutrin hasn’t done anything wrong by either of us and may be trapped or hurt. Do what you want—I’m going after him.”
But she had already zipped into the darkness.
Kraagor stayed stiff in shock for a moment, then looked up at the ceiling. “I see why you of all people would like her so much, Soon.” He sighed and then ran through the doorway himself.
Mijung was on the ground in a fetal position. Cold dripped on her skin like liquid, rippling, and it was almost as if tiny hands inside of her were reaching out, pulling her hair until she was falling into the floor and the world was a whirlpool around her.
The woman curled up tighter, scrunching her face against the dizziness, her back and abdomen aching worse than usual, her breath coming in short gasps. She waited for a while.
She sat up, rubbing her head, and looked around, clinging to the floor to keep the odd drugged feeling away. “Yutrin?”
“Mijung?” There was a soft scrabbling sound. “Mijung!”
The scrabbling came closer. Mijung could feel the familiar yet unknown presence settling besides her, close enough for breath to tickle against her neck. “Mijung…” There was a hesitation, then a clawed hand tentatively touched her shoulder. “Mijung, are you hurt?”
“No, I’m fine.” Mijung stifled the urge to flinch away from the goblin’s touch. A part of her was terrified and wanted to slap him for making her feel that way. Another part of her wanted to curl up against him, if only to remind herself that this crushing darkness wasn’t without company. “What about you?”
The darkness swelled and dissolved.
They were suddenly sitting on carved marble. Light came from the stones themselves, but it was a flickering and uneven light, as though it were fire. The doorway of nothing was in front of them, and in its mouth, Kraagor stood with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. Both Yutrin and Mijung found themselves with the feeling of doing something wrong. Only Yutrin knew what it was.
The goblin jerked his hand away from the human’s shoulder, looking down.
“Get up. Both of you.”
They mutely did as he said, backing away from each other for Kraagor to stand between them.
Yutrin rubbed his arm gently, sneaking a small embarrassed glance at Mijung before looking away shame-faced. Mijung didn’t notice. She coughed, smoothing out her clothes before looking at Kraagor, a small scowl on her face. “So you came.”
“I told you. I owe it to Soon to keep his wife safe.” Kraagor arched an eyebrow, frowning, and Mijung got the vague feeling that he was implying something deeper than he was saying.
She shrugged it off, still scowling. “Well, I’m not a child. I can handle myself.”
Kraagor gave a terse nod, looking disdainfully at Yutrin before looking around. “Where is that woman who took us here?”
The marble around them trembled, then started to break apart. The blocks under them fell away to darkness. Kraagor tried to jump away, but he swiftly fell. Mijung shrieked and started to fall, but Yutrin backed to the last of the solid floor and grabbed her hand, shrieking in incomprehensible Goblin. For a moment, Mijung clung to his hand.
The floor under Yutrin crumbled.