The funeral service was a simple affair. It seemed that a fair number of the villagers were in attendance, though perhaps most were family members. Sari-Avi introduced the fallen as Kenesh and Nahi then handed the ceremony over to Dabar with a word about two having been taken from Densem and one having returned. Dabar spoke a good word over them. When he finished, Hagmed lit the biers, and the dancing flames snared my attention. This world may not be the place I had expected to find when I left the enclave, but even here death still reigns.
I don’t know how long I was lost in those thoughts, but as the flames were growing smaller, Gann approached me and offered his house as a place where we could reside. He said that he has room to spare having lost his family and Alwain has not seen fit to expand it again. It saddened me that even such an act of kindness could not escape the painful touch of death. In hindsight, it was fitting that such dark thoughts crowded my mind considering where I was, but it is not like me to dwell on such matters.
I found Dabar and Arina in conversation and asked Dabar what his thoughts were on Gann’s offer. He saw no ill-will or danger in it, so Arina, Toara, and I went there while Dabar went to find Malek.
Gann’s house was a quaint place, and one I easily imagined having once been filled with the love and laughter that comes with a strong family. Instead, we slept quietly on the simple mats. Strangers, yet again, filling the space, serving as a reminder of what had been lost though hopefully providing a measure of comfort as well.
We awoke early the next morning and my gloomy thoughts had been slept away. Hagmed had brought us some dried fish and after eating ravenously, I felt whole again, thanks to Dabar once again praying to Alwain on my behalf. As an added blessing, Gann’s family had experience in the wood we were headed into, and he provided us with some direction on where to go.
Dabar led us quickly from Densem. I don’t know what his hurry was, but he kept looking around and ducking when he saw someone. I don’t know what his problem was – either he had an altercation while he looked for Malek last night or his eulogy had not been well received. Maybe that mystery will be solved upon our return. We left the village without incident and were soon in the woods.
Malek keeps calling himself a bear and named his wolf Cousin, and until now I thought he was just crazy. But considering the way he led us along the Wuma Amwa, I’m starting to wonder if he might be telling the truth. His keen eyes had us find the pile of stones Gann had told us about, and I saw him catch a fish right out of the air as it jumped! Despite all my Hulathi training, I don’t know if even I could have performed such a feat.
Turning South, he led us deeper into the woods, which grew denser and darker. Our progress continued to slow, and we began discussing when to stop for the night. We decided to press on just a little bit further when Malek suddenly halted at the top of a ravine. Dabar loudly called out to him, and before we knew it, a pair of tiger beetles were upon us!
Despite their size and speed, we made relatively quick work of them, though not before they had mortally wounded Dabar. Arina had pulled him from the jaws of one even as Malek slew it, but there’s a hole where his eye had been, and were it not for the acacia resin and Arina’s skills, he may have entered into Alwain’s eternal embrace.
Having slain the beetles, Malek and I dug through one of the mounds in the glen, finding a beastman’s hand (still wearing two rings). The glen bore evidence that we were not the only ones to have fought tiger beetles, yet despite that, Malek spotted tiny deer tracks heading South. Could it be an ayal? Also in that direction, though more southeasternly, was a very clear trail of mushrooms heading into the forest.
I don’t know which direction we’ll take, but I should get back to Arina and Dabar. He was such an aid to me after our last battle, that I feel I ought to do what I can to help him in return. And we really do need to set up camp somewhere…..