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11.4 Chrysanthemum

# 2350 12 - 16 mins. 9

We made our way to the base of the hill where the Dwarves were gathered around. Their tents were cleared from the area since they moved their encampment underground. Instead, the clearing had several pillars built around it. The pillars were short, only reaching about the height of my stomach. They had sharp angular lines on and looked free of all of the wear and tear I had seen on other Dwarven construction that had been taken over by the Humans. It was newly made, probably for the ceremony.

The Dwarves stood huddled around the pillars. There were some tightly knit clusters in the crowd, likely around the loved ones of the deceased. We entered near the back, closer to the Human encampment and we made our way forward where we could see. The group was thin enough and the Dwarves were able to easily see me and the rest of my group since all but one of us were taller than them. They let us through, trying their best to avoid being disturbed by us.

Then I heard the voice. In the middle of the group of Dwarves, at the center of the circle of columns, was a small stone platform with a series of coffins around its base. On it, stood the Dwarven representative, I think his name was Tibil. His eyebrows were creased as he addressed the crowd.

"It's a sad day when any Dwarf dies. We are the stone of the earth, the bedrock that it rests on. The Dwarves can raise mountains or tear them down. And to see one of our own fall is like losing a piece of the world. Their story is ended. Their potential has peaked. But that does not mean that they are gone. Like the earth, a Dwarf never truly dies. They live on in our minds. The deeds they have done, the legacy they have built, and the loved ones they leave behind are how they continue.

"And although it is a sad day, we must look forward. We must set our eyes to the future, the legacies we will build for our descendants. We must continue on to make a better life for our own. But as we move forward, we will remember what got us to where we are now.

"So, we will keep the image of those that we lost with us. We will look back to them for guidance, and we will look forward knowing that they came before us, showing us how to move forward." Tibil eyed the crowd. They were quiet aside from the stray sniffle from suppressed tears. I looked around, trying not to be too obvious, and saw Cairn nearby. She had lost her husband in the fight, and now she was mourning with the rest of them.

The sun was setting, and torches around the event were beginning to provide more light than the sun was. The light danced, unmatching to the mood of the gathering. The Dwarves had lost their loved ones, due to those Gnomes, or whatever they were. But they also lost them in part due to me. I wished I weren't so much taller than them, sticking out above the crowd. I'm sure some still held resentment.

I found Dunnel's face in the crowd. He held a stern look, like someone who was out of tears for the ones he had lost. I could understand it. I was there for a long time in Brighton. There were many times I had even thought of giving up. I just wanted to be my with my parents again and wondered if giving up would give me that result. And maybe it would have. But that's when I found Chipry. He gave me hope when I had nothing to hope for. He was like me, a foreigner in an unknown land, a person without a people. And he was what got me through the hard times.

Maybe I could do the same for these people. Maybe I could be their beacon of hope—their sprout in the desert. I didn't know how I would do that, but I wasn't going to let them take a beating from the rest of the world without doing my part. I had to find the monsters that were stealing people and brainwashing them. I had to stop them. I had to find a way for us to all move forward.

"So now, we encase the bodies of the ones we lost in stone," Tibil continued. "And for those that we could not recover, we still represent with earth. They are no longer with us in flesh and blood, but they will always remain in our minds, in our hearts, in our magic."

The crowd remained silent. "First, we have Galen. He was brought back to the colony but did not survive from his injuries in the cave-in. Would anyone like to speak for him?"

A male Dwarf stepped forward toward the coffin closest to him. The Dwarf that spoke had blonde hair that was long and braided down his back. His beard ran just about as long, so light that it almost looked white in the torchlight.

"Galen was a strong fighter," said the blonde Dwarf. "He was brave and though he lost his health near the end of our enslavement, he always remained hopeful that we would escape. He knew despite the circumstances that we would get to someplace better. It was his braveness that allowed me to escape, and I owe him everything for it."

The Dwarf choked on his words as his eyes welled up with tears, but he didn't stop there. Instead, he stepped forward and raised his hands with his palms facing the sky. Tibil stepped down from the platform to help him. Rock pulled out of the earth beneath the coffin. Then a ripple of stone ran through the ground, making the coffin glide over to a resting place on top of one of the short columns. The blonde Dwarf stepped closer to the column where the coffin now stood upright, and the stones that raised the coffin up now sunk back into the earth. A bronze glow lit the coffin as the blonde Dwarf began to tear pieces from it. The chunks fell to the ground and the other nearby Dwarves pulled them back into the earth. The blonde Dwarf continued to tear at the coffin until it began resembling a Dwarf. He worked on it for another few minutes while the crowd watched and helped in silence. When he was done, on top of the pillar stood a larger than life statue of a Dwarf I assumed to be Galen.

The blonde Dwarf took a few more moments to stare at the statue, and then went back into the crowd.

Tibil climbed back onto the stone platform to address the crowd. "Next we have Flint," he indicated another coffin with his hand. "Who would speak for him?"

I heard a small voice off to my right, "I will." Cairn stepped out from the crowd. I knew that her husband hadn't made it out of the cave, so that coffin must have been empty. Still, I was glad that she was not forgotten in this ceremony. They all suffered and they all deserved to mourn their losses.

"I won't say much," said Cairn. "I've never been much of a talker, and I don't know what I'd say. But Flint was my everything. He was the only one who understood me. He was so kind, and patient, even in his death." A tear rolled down Cairn's cheek. She wiped it away on her arm and continued. "He was brave. He was ambitious. He didn't deserve to die like this." Cairn shook her head. It was terrible, what they were all going through. It was terrible what this war did to all of us.

Cairn broke down crying and began moving the coffin with her magic. She was disheveled with wavy hair falling loose in front of her face. She looked pathetic. Not that it was a bad thing. She had every right to look like that. I just wished I could have helped.

With the help of other Dwarves around her, the coffin was placed on top of another stout pillar. She began tearing at the coffin and shaping it into the image of Flint. When she was finished her face was wet with tears. The statue was of a thinner looking Dwarf. He had a shaved face and carried in his arms an instrument of some kind. It looked like hit had strings running across it.

Cairn backed into the crowd where other Dwarves huddled around her and offered their condolences. Tibil continued. "Next, we have Talia. Marv, would you like to speak for her?"

I didn't know if I could handle this. I looked around at the others in my group. Zef had the advantage of being about the same height as the Dwarves, but Tigala, Lolan, and I stood well above them. I didn't want to be on display for this. I turned to get to the back of the crowd to try and get to a less noticeable position. That's when I saw a dark figure in the camp behind us.

The figure disappeared behind a tent and was heading in the direction of the Dwarven tunnel at the base of the hill. This is not good. It was not the time for this. Couldn't they just wait until after the Dwarves say goodbye to their loved ones?

I started to walk away from the group and felt a furry paw grab my arm. "What are you doing?" whispered Tigala.

"I'm just going to make sure nothing's going on," I said. "I'll be right back."

Tigala scowled at me. "You should stay."

"I know. I'm just going to watch from over there." I gestured in the direction of the entrance to the underground Dwarven encampment. Tigala let go, but she didn't look happy.

Meanwhile, Marv had stepped into the middle of the circle. As I walked, I kept an eye out for the figure, but also searched the crowd for Abigail. I found her near where Marv had emerged from the crowd. She was hanging back with her arms folded in a sweater that was much too big for her. Her face was red and damp with tears. I hated to see her like that.

I walked slowly around the crowd, hoping I wouldn't stick out as much in the dark and fog. Fog? I thought. I had hardly noticed that with the darkness a fog rolled into the valley of tents. The Elves must still be going forward with their plan!

I walked a little faster and reached the end of the gathering of Dwarves as Marv spoke. I kept looking for the figure but didn't see them. Where had they gone? Were they already inside? And what did they want? I tried to listen to Marv, but I was too paranoid that something horrible was about to happen. I was terrified of whatever horrible plan they might be enacting.

I heard the shifting of stone behind me. I knew this was important. This was the moment that Marv and Abigail got to say goodbye in front of everyone else and honor the one they lost. I didn't want this stupid plot by the Arcus to ruin that though. So I kept glancing back and forth from the scene to the entrance of the Dwarven tunnels. The fog was growing in thickness and I was nervous that soon I wouldn't be able to tell if the Elves did do something.

The stone sculpture that was Talia's coffin was chipped away, bit by bit. It began to resemble the shape of her.

I looked back to the entrance and saw the shadow again. It was closer. Working its way along the base of the hill toward the opening. But it was harder to see now—a blur behind the haze.

I didn't know what to do. They were definitely up to something. They were going to do something. But should I charge in and try to stop them myself? Would they just kill me on the spot?

I glanced at Marv again. The sculpture was almost finished. Marv was a mess.

Back at the entrance, I could no longer see the shadow. Did they already get inside? I walked closer to the opening, away from the group. Then I saw them. They were heading into the tunnel, supposedly unaware of my approach.

I used my magic to coil the person as tightly as I could, wrapping their arms and legs in vines to avoid any attacks. I was quick, and I caught them off guard. It had to be enough.

I heard a scream. Then another. I had her trapped.

I stepped forward and found the culprit bound in vines. But she was much smaller than I expected.

"Get off of me!" she screamed. A murmur developed in the crowd and the Dwarves looked in our direction. "Let go of me!" The voice sounded raw—broken.

I stepped forward, close enough that I could see who I had caught, and found Abigail struggling against the vines.

The other Dwarves gathered around and Marv pushed his way to the front of the crowd.

"What—what are you doing?" he asked with a tear-soaked face. The hurt and betrayal shone through his expression

"I—" I didn't know what to say. I looked back and forth between her and Marv. "The Elves, they were..." I couldn't even finish the sentence. I couldn't believe what I had done.

I used my magic to unwrap Abigail from the vines. The look she gave me burned into my mind. She was so lost and hurt and here I was tangling her in vines. Making a fool out of her after she had just said goodbye to her mother. And it was all because I couldn't listen to my friends. When it mattered most, I ruined her mother's funeral.

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