Konal dragged the unconscious man away from the monolith, into the scattered remains of what looked like a camp. It was a large, messy area, with tools and all sorts of goods lying about. From the amount of strewn items, it was easy to assume that more than one person lived here.
He stopped and looked for a comfortable place to rest the man. Not too far away, he found a pile of robes, spilled from a shattered, wooden chest. They were damp, some almost wet, but it would be far better than placing the man on the hard ground. He laid the still body on the garments, noticing that most were for practical wear, but a few were richly woven and lined with soft fur. Lavish forscavengers, he thought, but at least its softer than the sand.
Konal peeled back the bloody wrappings from the man’s leg. It was broken, a whitish piece of bone pierced upward through torn skin. The wound was partially sealed by thick clumps of clotted blood. A sheen of fresh red moisture coated the leg where the clots had ripped open.
As Konal worked on the leg, he caught himself thanking Jorgan for what he had taught him about the human body. For instance, Konal knew that one suffering wounds should be checked for breathing and heartbeat. It was a simple thing, but something that could be easily overlooked under pressure. The man was breathing and Konal could see blood seeping from around the open wound, a clear sign that life was still within the body. He reasoned the bone must have pinched the man’s artery, at least enough to stop him from bleeding to death. The leg would certainly have to be set.
“I hope you appreciate this,” he said, taking a moment to look for what he needed. Scavenging closely about, Konal found a myriad of tools, some recognizable, some not so. He selected two picks and a strange looking saw. Using the saw, he cut off the pick heads, then tore strips from a heavy cloak and tied the handles to either side of the broken leg.
After positioning himself at the man’s feet, Konal took a deep breath. “Don’t wake up yet.” Knowing what to do and actually doing it were two very different things. Much like walking in storms,Uncle.
He grabbed the man’s ankle firmly above and below. With an even pressure, he began to pull the foot toward him. Slowly, the sliver of bone slipped under the skin. The man screamed, trying to pull his leg from Konal’s grip. He thrashed a few times, moaning, then collapsed back into unconsciousness.
Releasing his grip from underneath, Konal placed a hand on the wound, applying some pressure. He waited a time for fear of more bleeding. Finally satisfied, he fully bandaged the leg and tightened the strips on the wooden braces. It will have to do. If the fevertakes you any more than it has, friend, at least you won’t be puttingso much punishment on that leg. He looked at the scattered tools and broken crates, while brushing the sand from his knees. Youmust have had quite a rant, even with all that blood loss. I don’tknow how—or why . . . maybe thieves raided your camp, or maybefriends betrayed you?
He stepped away, turning his full attention back to the camp.
He stopped short, taken by the immediate landscape. The ground was uneven, broken open in places. It looked much like his first home after the deep waters had come. The base of the nearby monolith was split by a large gaping crevice. The crates and other strewn objects made a serpentine path to the silent opening. Something like a wash-bed of loose gravel told Konal that the waters from yesterday had rushed into that hole. Suddenly, a grim picture of a darker truth took hold of his thoughts.
He cautiously moved closer to the opening in the rock. It was huge, twice as tall as he, and four times as wide. “You must have lived here,” Konal whispered, while peering into the darkness. A thick haze hung there, obscuring what lay beyond. He entered it slowly, letting his eyes adjust to the misted light.
“Hello?” he called gently, sensing the height and depth of the room from the faint echo. The floor was covered with fine grit. Wiping it away with his foot, he found stone tile beneath, well worn and smooth. Jorgan had said that many of the caves in the Dries were not naturally made. Many were the remains of ancient dwellings said to have been constructed in the rock before the Dries had become a wasteland. “This must have been one of them.”
He moved farther in, and stumbled against a large slabstone table, inwardly cursing at having nothing on his feet. An assortment of broken items sat on the table, mixed with loose sandy gravel, similar to what was outside and on the floor. He shivered, realizing that rushing water unmistakably did the damage done to this dwelling. He shivered again, thinking about how high and forceful it must have been to deposit the sandy gravel on the table. At the other end of the table, he found a stoppered oil jug and a hand lamp, its metal surface dented somewhat. After inspecting the lamp and discovering it all but empty, he poured some oil into the lamp’s reservoir. The wick was old and Konal used a cloth strip as a substitute. It only took a few moments to light, using the lamp’s own striking mechanism—another extravagance.
The immediate light gave a better view of the surroundings. The cave was much larger than he expected, appearing to him like an airy gathering hall. It was a shambles with wooden boxes and chairs piled against the back wall. Along with these were the remains of wooden barrows and carts, most of them shattered like the rest of the wreckage. One cart still stood upright, filled with rocks that glistened with a wet sheen. He was sure the cargo’s weight had anchored it against the deluge. Some sort of mining camp. But forwhat? It just looks like wet stone to me.
He turned away, moving to the back of the cave. There, he found an exit that opened deeper into the rock. He followed it in, discovering four more exits leading off in different directions. The one to the right opened into a sizable stores chamber, filled with food stuffs. The flood waters had damaged much of it, but several crates of dried goods, fruit and meal, were stacked in the back, high above the floor. Several racks of dried and salted meat hung from crevices above. There was enough food to feed Konal and his uncle for months.
His stomach grumbled a warning about how long it had been since his last meal. He ignored it and moved out of the room, down another corridor. It ended quickly at the mouth of a large chamber. Inside, he found a large hearth with several metal cauldrons and iron tools. To the rear of the hearth, he found a chimney that he reasoned had been hand hewn up through the rock. Konal guessed it was a forge. It was a marvel to him that such time and effort had been spent for such a metal works that might just as well have been constructed outside. In a small alcove off the forge chamber, there were neat stacks of water-soaked firewood and piles of blackstone.
He picked up one of the stones, astonished by its light weight. It was the strange burning stone used to create very hot fires. Konal was certain the wood had been brought in from outside the Dries, but wondered about the source of the fire-stone. He was unaware of any such stone being mined in his part of the Dries.
His stomach grumbled again and this time it was accompanied by a sense of lightheadedness. His thoughts wandered back to the stored food, but he decided to wait until his charge woke before pillaging the pantry. He headed back to the main chamber instead, searching through the wreckage. It didn’t take long to find what he wanted. Near the entrance at the back of the main chamber, on the floor, was a small stone bowl. It looked relatively clean. He placed the bowl and the flickering lamp on the table. He then peered around the chamber, sensing it with far more than his eyes. Every bit of moisture in the room, including the mist and the wet sheen on the rocks in the barrow, called back to him. He concentrated a moment and watched with pleasure as the moisture changed and swirled into a spinning funnel of liquid; an arms reach from his face. Anything that was not part of the water fell away to the floor, leaving the swirling mass pure and untainted. He willed the water into the bowl, repeating the same cleaning action, extracting any impurities. After a few moments he let the clear, pure, liquid settle and then took a sip. It was enough to make the grumbling stop and clear his head.
He looked around the room and saw it fully for the first time, now that there wasn’t any mist obscuring the light, and wondered why he hadn’t done this to begin with.
“Bastards!” a voice screamed from outside. “Listen to me . . . come up, come up now! Why don’t you come up?”
Konal ran from the table to the entrance of the chamber and looked outside. The man with the broken leg lay thrashing on his makeshift bed, kicking stones and sand about. His head twisted from side to side. Konal felt like a fool for leaving him out under the hot sun.
He reached the man’s side and dropped to his knees. The man’s arms flailed about, while his feet continued to kick at nothing.
“Damn, Dagida!” the man cried. He stared wild-eyed at Konal. “Damn him, damn them all!”
“You’re injured,” Konal said, while trying to hold the man down. “Stop! You’ll start bleeding again.”
“Leave it! Drop it, or you will die!” the man continued. His face was pale. “No time, water coming, no . . . time . . . no . . .”
Konal touched his forehead and found it burning and dry The man moaned and wrangled about, but his efforts soon trailed off to a few quiet sobs.
“I need to get you out of this sun,” Konal said, quietly. He gingerly wrapped the man’s body in the robes and dragged him into the cave entrance. It took awhile and the man had a few more ranting spells, but Konal managed.
He made a soft bed, using all the garments he could find, and then placed damp cloths on the man’s forehead. I hope it’s enoughto keep you alive. It’s all I know.
Konal moved away to the cave entrance and dropped back against the curve of the stone. He watched the remaining daylight fade into sunset. “Well, Jorgan,” he said with a sigh, “it may be a while before I go home.”
He forgot about his hunger, or personal safety, as a heavy fatigue washed over him under the cool of the coming night. He thought only about the storm and the damage it caused, trying to weigh his pleasure in the tempest against this man and his shattered home. The storm and the other Stormwalker no longer seemed real to him. Perhaps he truly had called the storm alone through his dreams. If so, he certainly was responsible for this man’s misfortune, and maybe more.
His last thoughts were a garbled dream of Jorgan, alone with a broken leg. He was buried within the shattered remains of their home. Konal wanted to help his uncle, but found he could do nothing, but sleep.
Konal woke with a start, unnerved by his peculiar surroundings. Suddenly, events from the past few days rushed back into his thoughts like the deep waters that broke this place. He groaned, not only from the memories, but from the ache in his bones. His clothes did little to cushion him against the hard stones he’d been sleeping on.
The mouth of the cave was an arch of bright daylight, heating him where he lay. He rubbed his eyes and looked over at the crude bed made for the man with the broken leg. It was empty.
Konal jumped up and stumbled over to the pile of robes. He looked toward the back of the chamber and wondered if the man had gone farther in. SKREECH KLINK. The sound of steel on stone met his ears, coming from outdoors. He ran back to the entrance.
“I suppose you expect some thanks,” the man with the broken leg said from the middle of the camp. He was leaning on a staff and peering into a large metal basin.
“How is your leg?” Konal asked, surprised that the man was standing at all. He tried to see if the bandages were stained, but the sunlight turned the man into a shadow.
“It’s on fire, but I’m sure you’ll tell me it’s the healing doing that.” The man sat heavily down on a large un-opened crate. “Actually, I feel terrible.”
“I’m sure you do. You have a fever. I should take another look at the wound.”
“Feel free,” the man said, cheerily. “With any luck, it will be festering with rot and I’ll be dead well away and soon enough.”
Konal approached slowly, fully mindful that this was the same man that held a knife to his throat the day before.
“Don’t worry,” the man said, “I’ll not threaten the healer again.”
Konal kneeled by the leg and opened the wraps, gently. Even so, the man winced. “It’s not bleeding,” Konal said, with a hint of hopefulness.
“Thanks to you.”
Konal ignored him while making his way down the exposed leg. Finally, the tear appeared in the skin, sealed, without any sign of infection. Pleased, Konal said, “This should be washed and given fresh wraps. I’ll get what we’ll need.” He stood and as an afterthought said, “Don’t move.”
“I obey,” the man said with a chuckle.
Konal found what he needed and returned. The man was good to his word.
“Who are you?” Konal asked, unsure if he should risk such a conversation before he knew more. He took a moment to look up at the man.
“I’m the heir to all of this,” he said, with a flourishing wave of his arm. “I am now the sole owner of this secret and holy place.”
“Holy place?” Konal asked. The man winced under the cold, wet cloth Konal had placed on his leg.
“Oh yes, my new friend. Very holy indeed!” The man snapped his teeth shut and nearly kicked Konal in the face.
“You must hold still. I’m almost finished.” Konal stopped wiping the wound, afraid the bleeding would start again. He began wrapping the leg. “What is your name? I am Konal.”
“Hello Konal,” the man said, “I fear that I am nameless now. But you may call me Rock or Stone, perhaps Cave will do.”
Konal scowled up at the man.
“Ha! What need do I have for a name now?” The man made a fist and punched his good thigh. “I was once an unknown, and Good Dagida has chosen to make me so again.” He laughed with a bitter exhale of his breath. The man’s eyes filled with tears and he looked out at the Dries. “Or maybe you should call me Rain.”
Konal swallowed hard and finished his work. He stood up and tried to muster his voice. “I would rather call you by your given name. What clan do you come from?”
The man looked long at Konal, silent, his eyes squinting back the sunlight. “I have no clan,” he answered, finally. “That is why I am here.”
Konal shook his head and turned away. He felt for the man, even more so, since Konal was probably part of the cause for his distress. But he’d never find out the truth if he had to play this silly game. He hardened himself and tried a sterner approach. “Well then, Nameless One, choose your name and be done with it. My talents are only given to those who have enough self respect to carry a name.” He turned back and found the man glaring at him.
The man leaned forward and felt his wraps. He looked up and smiled. “Maybe I owe you a name after all. It is Qualageer.”
“Qualageer?” Konal asked.
“That’s what I’ve been told. If you want the rest of my story, you will have to earn it by fetching us some food.” Qualageer smiled and gained his feet before Konal could help him. He placed his weight on the staff and hobbled toward the cave.
Inside, Qualageer wrestled a chair over to the table and sat down. He pulled the dented lamp closer to him and lit it. Konal went to the stores room and retrieved some meat and dried fruit. When he returned, Qualageer was giving him an odd stare.
“So, Konal of the Dries, I see you have been here before?”
Konal set the food on the table and shrugged. “I’m sorry. I took a look around before sleeping last night.” He stopped and looked at the food. “I assure you, this is the first time I touched it!”
“You’re more honorable than I would have been. No matter, really,” Qualageer said. “You are welcome to anything that remains. You earned it, I suppose.” Without another word, Qualageer stuffed his mouth with a piece of dried fruit. Konal did the same, relishing his first taste of food in days. Perhaps, he thought, it was Qualageer’s too.
The two finished the meal in silence. It was Konal who spoke first. “What is this place?”
Qualageer smiled. “This is the place where Dagida chooses to talk to his workers.” Qualageer brushed some crumbs and gravel onto the floor. “And what a voice he has had of late.”
Konal was not unfamiliar with Dagida, the god of the earth and its buried secrets. He was one of the Silent Five; one of the Gree.
“You are one of his workers then?” he asked.
“No. I was a servant—apprentice—to his workers. But that’s all over now.”
Konal brushed a pile of sand into the center of the table. “What happened here?”
“Can’t you tell? Weren’t you in that storm? It flooded us out!”
Konal knew the truth. He had been hoping that some other truth of the matter would have revealed itself, that some other reason would be given for the wreckage about them. The accusing truth pointed toward him again and Konal felt his stomach twist. He remembered the storm and the heady feeling it gave him. He stopped from remembering further, intent that he should learn more from this Qualageer and avoid the memories; avoid the accusing thoughts. “Where are the others?”
Qualageer’s face darkened, his eyes hiding under a furrowing brow. His hands clenched into fists, as though fighting some memory of his own. Suddenly, he slammed a fist down on the table, sending bits of fruit skittering to the floor. “They’re dead! At the bottom of the mine . . . all dead!”
Konal’s mouth dropped open, but no words came. He watched as Qualageer threw his hand flat over the surface of the stone table, sending gravel and dust flying into the air.
“I’m sorry,” Konal said, finally, trying keep his voice even, trying desperately to hide from the truth and not betray any guilt. “What happened?”
Qualageer’s eyes narrowed. “You ask so many questions, healer, so let me ask some of my own. What are you doing out here in the Dries? You’re no scavenger, that’s for certain. Unless you’re hiding gear, I don’t believe that you’re a trader either. A hunter? But where are your weapons?” Qualageer paused for a moment, studying Konal further. “If you’re a hunter, you make a poor one.”
“I am not a hunter,” Konal returned. “I’m a servant of sorts, not unlike you. A student—on a journey—sent out by my master.”
Qualageer smiled. “And I thought I held all the secrets. What sort of journey?”
Konal’s thoughts raced as he felt the sting of his lies. He hated doing this, but didn’t see any choice in the matter. Guilt was having its way with his mind, but he determined to control his words. “A failed one now. The storm finished it. My master will not be pleased.”
“At least he is still alive,” Qualageer said.
Konal shook his head. “I don’t really know, the same may have happened to him. We lived northeast from here. Perhaps—“ He couldn’t finish his words.
Qualageer nodded. “Then you may be as ruined as I. It would seem our fortunes have crossed and the Gree are behind it. Good or no, it would seem the way of it.”
“You really think so?” Konal asked, surprised at his own willingness to consider that supposition.
“Indeed I do. They have shattered me, and perhaps you as well. For certain, I have no more good use for them. Are you as angry with them as I, Konal? Tell me your story.” Konal’s heart raced. What else could he say? “But first,” Qualageer continued. “you will find a few casks and some tankards on that shelf by the tools. Retrieve them and we’ll start the stories with something to keep the voice happy.”
Konal walked to the spot and lifted a cask with two tankards from the debris. He then returned to the table. Qualageer punched the stopper into the cask with his fist and poured an amber fluid into the tankards. He handed one off to Konal and gave him a salute with his own. “To the Gree and their foul sport!” he said.
“To the Gree,” Konal echoed, following with a sip. The drink was a warming fluid that settled his stomach. He had never tasted such a thing, enjoying the strange sensation, even though the situation he was in was not the best. Konal also found himself enjoying Qualageer’s company, despite the fact that he could very well be the reason for the man’s undoing. He guessed Qualageer was close to his own age and for the first time in his life, felt he might have another person besides Jorgan to talk with. Suddenly the fact of having to lace his words with lies, shamed him.
“Now Konal, tell me your story.”
Konal nodded, trying to pull his thoughts together. It seemed even more difficult than he had anticipated. “I am an unknown,” he began, “like you, without a clan, like you, living in this waste.” He paused taking another sip. “There really isn’t much more to tell beyond that.”
Qualageer set his mug down. “But what about this journey? Who is your master? A tradesman, hunter, an Eld?”
Konal caught himself nodding to the last, before he could reason out what he was doing.
“An Eld?” Qualageer asked again. “Then you are more like me than we thought. You must be familiar with the Dagidan then.”
Konal nodded again. His head was feeling rather light. “Yes—yes,” he said. “You are studying to be a Dagidan Eld then?” Suddenly he understood about the mine. “You seek the black ore!”
Qualageer’s face split with an ear to ear grin. “You have discovered the secret, brother.” He quickly frowned. “But not me, the others did the seeking, I did much of the digging.” He jostled himself to a standing position. “Come, brother Konal, I will take you closer to the secret and tell you a story as we go.”
“But your leg!” Konal said. “You can’t walk on that.”
“Believe me, the walk is not long. I’ve been walking on it so far, and besides, this drink has hidden most of the pain.” Qualageer began to move away from the table, using the staff like a crutch.
Konal followed, relieved that the conversation had taken a turn in his favor.
“I believe I was born in Thadd,” Qualageer began. “Of my childhood, I can only remember having many mothers, or so I thought. Years later I would come to understand that I was the bastard child of the kind of woman that sold herself. I can pick out one of their faces as my mother, but I never knew her name . . . or anything else about her.
“I grew up in the back room of a trader’s house. That situation also became clear to me as time went on. I myself had been bought, stolen or traded. When I was old enough I carried wood for fires and water for everyone. I was a chainless slave.”
“But slavery is not allowed in Kelidon.” Konal said, amazed.
“Tell that to Barkon Keer, my owner. He was a small man with little use for unproductive people in his house. My pay was the box in the back that I lined with whatever I could find from my errands. Master Keer is what he liked to be called, as though his dingy hovel of a shop was a place of fair dealing. He was not a kind man and I would have killed him if it weren’t for the Dagidan.”
They followed the central hall past the four exits through a door that Konal had never seen before. On his earlier inspection, he had mistaken it for a wall. He thought on the mysterious Dagidan and their secretive craft of hunting the hidden treasures of the deep earth and wondered about what else he had missed.
“They came every month or so to the shop. They traded gems and gold for what they needed. Keer played the reverent merchant with words, while charging them exorbitant prices. Half of his wares were the stuff of stolen goods taken in trade through the back door near my bed. I knew better than to say anything to the Dagidan. I would have been beaten within an inch of my life.”
“What did the Dagidan want?”
“All manner of goods; food, cloth and salt, tools for the mine. It never made much sense to me that they would keep returning for more when they must have surely known that they were being over charged. But on one visit, Keer was in the back pulling bolts of thick cloth from the stores and one of the Dagidan spoke to me. He asked my name, and I gave him the one Keer had given me. The Dagidan smiled down at me and placed his hand on my shoulder. Do you know what Qualageer means? he asked. I said that I didn’t, that I thought it was nothing more than my name. Inthe tongue of the Wellish in southern Kelidon, it means the DeepSecret. I was charmed on the spot. Just as I was about to ask who the Wellish were, Keer returned and saw me with the Dagidan. He yelled at me demanding I stop bothering him and get back to my work, which I did.
“Later that night, Keer was drunk as he counted his take for the day. When I came with a fresh cask, he grabbed my arm and demanded I tell him what the Dagidan was talking to me about. I could have told him the truth, but I didn’t. I remained defiant, in silence, and Master Keer beat me with a piece of firewood, until I crouched myself in my box. I believe the drink saved me for he tired quickly and staggered away to his own room.”
“Did you leave?” Konal asked.
“Leave?” Qualageer laughed, “Where would I go? Where to? Thadd is a border town to the Dries and doesn’t have much to offer a street child. I guess I was around twelve years old at the time and the box in the back was better than the thieves in the street. I stayed, all right, and after that, Keer was crueler than ever. With every visit of the Dagidan, he kept his eye on me like a hungry falcon ready to pounce. Through the months that followed, I kept to my work and looked forward to the Dagidan visiting the shop. They would smile at me, and it became something of a game between us. Keer was drinking more and becoming more bark than bite. After all, I was a growing boy and I think he was getting scared of me. On one of their last visits, while I was there, one of the Dagidan, Korlett, slipped me a book. It was a picture book with pages of thick parchment. I had no idea what it said, and it took me a long time to figure it out. It was a book that taught me how to read!”
“He gave you a learning book?” Konal asked, astonished at the priceless gift.
“He did indeed,” Qualageer said, smiling. His mouth was lost within a set of dancing shadows. The tunnel they traveled was dark except for the light of the flickering hand lamp that Konal carried. “It was some months before they came back to the shop, and it was strange for only the day before, I had finished the book and was able to read signs and writing everywhere in Thadd.”
“What did Keer think about it?”
“Keer? The bastard never knew. He didn’t know along with the writing, I had learned my numbers by the firebox light as well. Every night, I studied that book until it made sense. And I began to see that Keer was more of a cheat than I thought. His ledger scripts were lies and he paid little of the due to Clan Fedden he truly owed.”
“Did you say anything?”
“I hadn’t decided to say anything when the Dagidan returned. They entered the shop, the four of them, and Korlett walked right up to Keer. He told him he wanted to buy me! Imagine! Keer said he could do no such thing, that he didn’t own the boy! He told them I was an orphan he had taken in. Keer noticed that I had stopped my work to watch and bellowed for me to go and clean the stores room. Instead, I went to the back, got the book and my cloak and returned.
“Keer was livid and came at me. I stood my ground and he stopped. I looked at Korlett and spoke the bravest words I’ve ever uttered! I said, I am going with you and you need not pay this manfor me. You should also know that he has been cheating you formany years now.
“Keer screamed that I wasn’t going anywhere, that I owed him work for his years of care. You know what I did then?”
“What?” Konal asked.
“I laughed in his face and pushed him out of the way. I waited for the Dagidan outside and when they came out, I could hear Keer inside, weeping and cursing them.” Qualageer stopped for a moment and took a breath. Konal was afraid he was in terrible pain. “It was the greatest day of my life.”
“And you came here?” Konal asked.
“Yes. We left Thadd that very moment and we walked the entire way.” Qualageer paused for a bit, as though remembering them. “They were so very kind, you know. They fed me and clothed me, never asking for a thing in return. It wasn’t long before I was helping with the journey. It was a great thing for me to do that.”
Konal was puzzled, “Why do you say that?”
Qualageer smiled. “I was working because I chose to, not because I was told to.”
“And you came here?”
“Yes, and I’ve been with them ever since.”
“And they were miners.”
“They were Dagidan!” Qualageer answered with a loud voice. He tapped the walls with his staff and then struggled on. Konal watched him as he walked to one of the larger archways in the passage. “Bring that lamp and follow me.”
Konal complied, following Qualageer into the archway and through another hall on the far side of the chamber. The hall descended in a spiral for several strides then opened into another large cave. Konal was sure Qualageer would fall, but he didn’t, refusing any help.
The room was filled with water and the cold steps beneath his feet disappeared into a liquid, black depth. Around him, the stone of the cave had a strange darkness that swallowed the light.
“What is this?” Konal asked.
“This is where Dagida’s secret is kept.” Qualageer touched the wall near him with his hand, “This is black ore.”
“The dark steel!” Konal exclaimed, feeling stupid in the same instant. The Dagidan were revered and well paid for the rare and powerful black steel they were masters at producing.
“Yes. Only the Dagida know how it is made, and I was learning how. I have been with them for eight years, now. Korlett, Jerrig, Gunn and Sathid. They were my fathers, I guess.” Qualageer pointed to the far side of the cave, “They are all in the mine, dead; drowned in the flood that came with that damned storm.”
Again, the memory of the storm crashed in on Konal’s thoughts. It seemed horrible that he could have so wanted to release its power. Perhaps the Gree were moving after all. Perhaps they were teaching him a hard and cruel lesson. He felt ill.
“Why didn’t they get out when it started?” he asked.
“They had found a large stone of the black ore. It was huge! I had seen it myself! It was almost pure ore and a great find from the very hand of Dagida. They had been working on it for months and were about ready to bring it up. I was preparing a meal when the storm hit. I was so stunned by its appearance, I just stood in the entrance not thinking to tell them. When I finally did, the mine walls were already beginning to seep water. I begged them to come up, but they told me to get out, that they weren’t going to abandon the ore. I went back up into the chamber above and saw the water coming into the cave. It came so quickly! I went back down, screaming at them. I could see the walls were weakening with gushes of mud from the crevices. I was screaming for them when the walls fell in. I barely got up the shaft and to the hall, here. The flood slipped my footing out from under me, and my leg snapped. I crawled through the rising water the rest of the way. When I got to the main chamber, the water was flooding the cave, racing in from everywhere.”
“This cave must be a low spot in the Dries.”
“It is. That’s why they were here, to get closer to the Deeper, as they used to say.” Qualageer’s eyes were on the water, “Why didn’t they come up? Why was that stone so important to them? It makes no sense, even for Dagidan.”
Konal held the flickering lamp and stared into the black pool, only a step beneath his feet. The water filled the cavernous opening, calling to his senses, as all water did. He slowly knelt down at the edge of the step, watching the lamp light dance across the pool’s still surface. He spread out his fingers and placed his hand palm down on the chilling liquid. An explosion of emotion slapped his senses at once, mixed with the sickly sweet sense of rot and decay. He felt sorrow, regret, determination and terror. The determination of the Dagidan was strong, coursing through the water as though the dead from below were screaming it at him with their last lungs of air. Konal felt his head reel, his balance waver. Another sensation crashed into him through the water—a revulsion at what had been mixed within the water: death.
He vomited into the pool. The jarring spasm knocked him gasping into the cold, fetid water, drowning out the lamp. Like the sensation in his dream, the water enveloped him like a second skin. It was a black and vile thing that tried to become a part of him. He screamed, while thrashing his way from the pool.
Qualageer reached his side at the top step. He was laughing hysterically, and Konal couldn’t reason out why. He helped Konal to a step above the water and then motioned for him to set a moment. Konal did so, shivering with terror.
“You don’t drink much do you?” Qualageer asked.
“No!” Konal leaned against the cold wall, silently willing the water back into the pool. He was sure Qualageer wouldn’t notice.