My chest heaved with exhaustion as I stumbled back from the giant grub’s lifeless corpse. Farkuz’s clawed hand held me upright as Stalk licked my grub juice covered hand affectionately. A nausea budded in the pit of my stomach and I fought the urge to retch. It was partly due to the exhaustion, but mostly because I was covered in juicy bits of grub flesh that dripped down my face. I looked to Farkuz and saw he looked no better. I could even see a grub’s severed feeler twitching in his mane. I looked away in disgust.
‘You’re no flower yourself, sprout,’ Farkuz growled.
‘My people,’ Matrik’s voice squeaked and Farkuz and I looked down at him. ‘You saved skritt! Skritt can come back to village now. Thank you!’
I merely nodded, but Farkuz spoke up.
‘How come you’re so much smarter than the rest?’ Farkuz asked, gesturing to the other skritt who were poking curiously at the dead grubs littered around them. ‘I doubt they know which way is up right now.’
‘Separation not matter so much to me. That why I’m leader!’ Matrik said lifting his chest with pride. ‘Safe now so skritt return. Skritt soon smart again.’
He was right. As we started to inspect the collapsed tunnel all of the skritt had picked up their swords again and were chattering to Matrik and his son Kratt’ok.
‘The cave-in looks superficial. The bomb wasn’t big enough to properly seal us in. We could probably dig ourselves out in a day. Lucky really. It could have been a lot worse,’ he said, running his hand through his mane. ‘If I had of set the bomb it’d take you months to get through.’
‘Well let’s be thankful that you did not,’ I said.
‘Let skritt tunnel,’ Matrik said stepping forward. ‘Skritt know how to tunnel better than plant or cat.’
Farkuz chuckled and stepped aside, letting the mischief of skritt pass by.
‘If you think you can tunnel faster, then go ahead.’
The skritt proved to be efficient tunnelers. In a few short hours they had broken through the cave-in and emerged back into the skritt caverns, received by a torrent of happy chittering. Elated skritt soon surrounded us, and after a few moments of happy squeaking Matrik turned to Farkuz and I.
‘You saved our village. Skritt owe you a great debt. Skritt will give you what you want in return.’
‘Well, you can show us the way to the surface so we can find our friends again,’ Farkuz said. ‘But first, we need some water. I want to wipe this slop off.’
‘We show you to better place,’ Matrik chirped, gesturing to two skritt who began pulling at our clothes. They lead us through increasingly narrow tunnels until we squeezed into another cavern. Like the cavern the skritt village was nestled in it had a large window at the top exposing bright blue sky, laced by thick greenery. In the center of the underground chamber was a spring of water, but oddly this one steamed like a pot of broth on a warm fire.
‘By forge’s fire!’ Farkuz whispered. ‘It’s a hot spring! I haven’t seen one since the warband’s winter training in the Wayfarer Foothills.’
He strode over to the spring and dunked his hand into the water.
‘Just perfect,’ he almost purred.
I copied him and put my hand into the water. It was pleasantly warm, like I was dunking my hand into a warm summer’s day.
‘Do we bathe in this?’ I asked. I had only ever bathed in cool water. The notion of bathing in warm water seemed peculiar.
‘Well if you don’t want to, you’re more than welcome to start picking bits of grub flesh out of your leaves, but a tribune himself wont keep me from having a bath.’
He stripped off his clothes and without hesitation dove into the spring. Stalk barked playfully and bound in after him. Farkuz chucked deeply as Stalk paddled towards him.
Hesitantly, I took off my clothes. I remembered Han’s reaction to seeing my scars. I didn’t want to cause Farkuz the same sort of discomfort, but still I ached for a bath. The grub juice was starting to dry on my clothes and the stench was unbearable. I bit my lip and undressed.
As I slid into the pool Farkuz didn’t react, he barely glanced at me. I breathed a sigh of relief and sunk deep, letting the water rise past my shoulders. It was exceptionably comfortable. Bits of grub flesh lifted from my flesh and drifted away with the current, but it took more effort to get it out of my hair. I had to scrub each of my leaves individually. However, Farkuz was having a much tougher time untangling dried grub from his mane and I was suddenly glad I didn’t have fur like him.
‘Hey!’ Farkuz yelled, breaking me from my lazy haze. I snapped upright and saw he was staring at two skritt who had approached our pile of clothes.
‘We clean for plant and cat, yes?’ one chittered.
‘Not likely!’ Farkuz growled, wading out of the water. He grabbed our clothes and the skritt scampered off. ‘Little blighters wouldn’t return half of them, and Flame Shaman’s arse I’m returning to the surface missing my pants!’
He began to scrub our clothes in the water and I waded over to watch him curiously.
‘You stare as if you’ve never seen clothes washed before,’ Farkuz growled.
I watched him wordlessly then took one of my shirts and imitated his actions. Farkuz chuckled.
‘Like a cub you are,’ he muttered under his breath.
We finished cleaning our clothes and hung them on a jutting tree root to dry. We relaxed in the water for some time but when our clothes were dry Farkuz seemed eager to return to the skritt village. Kratt’ok greeted and lead us to the village center. The skritt were surrounding the primitive stone podium in which Matrik was standing on. Kratt’ok ushered us up the steps and the skritt placed a necklace of smoothed, colored pebbled around our necks.
‘Village wants to say thank you,’ Matrik said, and the encircling skritt chittered in unified agreement. ‘We have present, to say thank you. For the golem fixer,’ he gestured to Farkuz and a nearby skritt gave him a small bag. He pulled it open and exclaimed.
‘These are just the rest of the tools you stole from me!’
Matrik ignored him and turned to me.
‘Plant, you killed mummy grub, you will be known as grub slayer amoung skritt. Take this sword, you killed grub with sword, it be skritt’s gift to grub slayer.’
He passed the ornate sword to me. It had been cleaned and resharpened, so the blade’s edge glimmered with the shiny beads and pebbles. Even though the craftsmanship was not masterful, in a way it was exceedingly beautiful.
‘Thank you,’ I said softly.
‘You wish to return to the surface, yes?’ Matrik asked.
‘Yes, as soon as possible,’ Farkuz answered and Matrik nodded.
‘I will take you myself,’ he squeaked.
We were lead through the winding tunnels again but as we saw the seeping rays of sunlight peer through the hole to the surface I couldn’t help but let out a long sigh.
‘Grub slayer and golem fixer,’ Matrik said, distracting us momentarily. ‘The camp above is asura home. Asura sometimes not nice. She take skritt, and they not return. Skritt ask you do not tell mean asura of our village.’
‘Sure,’ Farkuz said with an impatient shrug and I nodded.
‘Bye bye now,’ Matrik said nodding deeply. ‘Always be a friend to skritt you will.’ Farkus nodded in reply and started climbing up the steep dirt incline.
‘Goodbye,’ I said quietly and followed him up. When I reached the apex I turned but the skritt had already disappeared.
‘Don’t look so sad sprout,’ Farkuz said putting his large paw on my shoulder. Stalk shoved his cool snout into my hands and I smiled at him. I could sense he felt the same as I.
As we treaded through the jungles I felt relief flush through me. So many days being surrounded by rock and dirt cavern walls had drained my senses and now it felt like the jungle was exploding with color. It made my heart sing and I couldn’t resist taking off my boots to let my toes sink into the moist earth. It occurred to me that the last time I had seen the forest I had viewed it with distrust, yet now I greeted it like an old friend.
We wandered a short distance and I could see Farkuz was fast becoming agitated, but as we trudged through strange moss covered ruins we soon heard voices.
‘I told you, Lurk! I haven’t seen a sylvari or a charr. I don’t know of any underground tunnels, especially in the area you describe. They’re probably dead. Just leave them…’
‘Listen here you troll-faced ninny,’ snapped a familiar asuran voice.
We turned the corner and saw a small asura camp surrounded by hovering gizmos that glowed and whirled. In the center was the two asuras arguing and a human and charr standing over them. Next to me Farkuz let out a almighty roar and the group turned to us in shock. Kilgar and Farkuz bound towards each other and embraced in a rough hug.
Hans grabbed me by the shoulders.
‘What- how- when?’ he stuttered.
‘See I told you they would be fine,’ Lurk said smugly.
‘What happened to you two? You were gone for so long. After we saw the collapsed ground we didn’t know what to do. Kilgar even started digging!’
‘We got trapped underground,’ I said, aware the strange asura was listing to our words. ‘We only just found our way out.’
Hans regarded me with a cocked eyebrow, and I knew he didn’t believe me. However, thankfully he didn’t press it.
‘I’m glad you’re safe,’ he said embracing me. It felt warm in his arms, and I didn’t resist.
After that we promptly returned to the road. Lurk didn’t even bother saying goodbye to the other asura.
‘I don’t know why I bothered coming to ask her. She’s useless. Why else would they ship her off to this skritt infested nest?’
Han’s eyes fell on the new sword hanging from my belt.
‘What is this?’ he asked curiously. Lurk leaned around and regarded it as well.
‘Looks like skritt design. Poor and shoddy, that’s how you know it’s skritt.’
I glared at Lurk and he shrunk back.
‘It was a gift,’ I said simply.
‘Made some new friends did we?’ Hans smiled, looking to Farkuz now.
‘Let’s just say you can start calling the sprout grub slayer now,’ Farkuz said with a roaring laugh.
Enjoyed this update? Azalea’s story will continue 15th May 2013.