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11.5 Chrysanthemum

# 1897 9 - 13 mins. 7

As soon as Abigail was free of the vines she darted off into the tunnel behind her, free of all of the looks from the other Dwarves. The Dwarves that had gathered around now looked at me with anger.

"What were you doing?" asked Marv again. He didn't sound angry with me, just extremely disappointed. I had interrupted them saying goodbye to Talia. He had every right to be mad at me.

"I'm sorry," I said. "The E—I thought something bad was about to happen. It looks like I was wrong. I was just trying to protect all of you."

Marv's lips were a thing a line. He ignored my response. "You need to make this right," he said as he looked into the tunnel where Abigail disappeared.

"I will," I said nodding. "I'll fix this. I'm so sorry."

Marv only nodded in response as he turned back to the ceremony with the other Dwarves. Dunnel was among the ones who had approached near the entrance to their tunnel, and he was one of the last to leave, giving me a wary look before joining the rest of the group.

I turned around to find my group standing behind me. I looked up to make eye contact with Tigala. She shrugged. She was right. I should have stayed and we could have dealt with the aftermath. Going into the Dwarven camp while no Dwarves were in it couldn't be that dangerous after all. But still, I couldn't let those slave masters get another win.

"I thought they were going through with it too," said Lolan. He was standing off to the side, like he had approached from the other end of the Dwarven crowd. "I'm sorry. You did what you had to."

"Thanks," I said. I should have listened to you guys though. Now look at what I've done."

"We'll figure it out," said Zef. "There was still probably something strange going on here. It's not every night a fog like this rolls in. Maybe they were trying to get you to out yourself. Maybe they did this as a ruse."

"Yeah," I said. "Whatever it was, it worked."

Zef nodded.

"You should go back to the funeral. I'm going to go see if Abigail will let me apologize," I said.

The group nodded. "Good luck," said Zef before they turned and walked away.

I waited a moment, looked into the dark cave, and took a deep breath. I let it out and walked in.

The cave was short, barely tall enough for me to fit through. I had to duck my head just slightly to keep it from scraping on the lower parts of the smooth tunnel ceiling. I walked in, passed a door, and turned a slight corner leading me deeper into the cave.

It wasn't so dark after all. Bluish mushrooms sprung from small mounds of dirt along the main corridor. They were interesting, something I had never seen before. I was nervous about what I had to do after making such a big mess out of this, so I stooped down to study the plant. I reached for it with my magic to get a sense of its structure, the nutrients it needed and it's ideal conditions. I tried growing another in the dirt next to it, and it came out pale and dim. I studied the original once more and gave another attempt. This one came out nearly identical to the others, with its blue glow adding to the light in the tunnel.

That's a good trick, I thought. I heard a sob down the hallway, like someone trying to stop crying but having trouble. I looked from where I was kneeling on the ground and stood up. I dusted myself off and gathered the courage to walk further down that corridor.

The tunnel was extensive. It went on much further than I would have thought possible in that small hill where the town square sat. There were a few doors in the walls, but other passages were just a door like indent in the wall, covered by stone instead of an actual door. I guess that's one way to keep non-Dwarves out of your home.

I heard Abigail's sniffles down a side tunnel and turned after her. As I approached, I found a closed door where I could hear Abigail on the other side. I took another deep breath. I wasn't sure I was ready for this. Then again, Abigail wasn't ready for me to interrupt her mom's funeral on a stupid hunch either.

I knocked on the door.

Abigail's sniffling slowed. "Who is it?" she asked.

I swallowed. "It's me, Kaia."

"Go away. Haven't you ruined enough already?" she said. Her voice was raw, angry. Her words were like a punch to the gut. She was right. What was I supposed to do for her anyway? I would probably just screw it up, like everything else.

I thought of when I had lost my parents. I thought of hiding in the woods for days, only eating the berries that I knew how to grow and catching rain off of leaves. I thought of how alone I felt waiting for my parents, and how much more alone I felt when I finally worked up the courage to return to our campsite and look for them. I was so disappointed that they weren't there. I was so confused. So lost. I grew mad at them, hating them for not looking for me. I was too confused to know what they had done. That they had sacrificed themselves so that I could live. They had done everything in their power to give me a better life, even if it was a lonely one for a very long time.

Talia had done the same thing. She had helped her get out and put herself in danger for it.

"I'm sorry," I said. I wasn't sure what to say. What would I want to hear when I was in that situation?

"She loved you a lot, you know," I said.

"Stop it," Abigail screamed from behind the wood door. The raw emotion was audible in the cracks of her voice. "Just go away."

"She did. She told me in that tunnel. We thought we were all going to die and she said she was proud of you."

Abigail didn't respond this time. I heard her crying instead. I didn't want to make this worse, but if she was anything like me, then she would want to know.

"I told her about you, how you had changed, how you had helped us get to the mountain and free her. She was proud," I said. I waited. I let her think about what I was saying. They weren't easy words, for me or her, but I wanted her to know. Talia would have wanted her to know.

After a few moments of silence broken only occasionally by muted sobs, I heard the latch at the door next to me. It swung open partway and there was Abigail with wet cheeks and a red nose. "Did she really say that?" she asked.

I nodded and spoke slowly. "She loved you very much."

Abigail's face contorted with sadness and then she burst into tears. She hugged my leg. I reached down and rubbed her back as she cried, letting her cry as long as she needed too. Eventually, I kneeled on the stone pathway to get on her level.

"I lost my parents too," I said. "I'm really sorry. I know it hurts."

Abigail sniffled and sat down next to me on the stone. "But didn't your parents do something awful? Didn't they deserve it?"

I flinched. It was hard to hear that sort of talk come out of anyone, but especially a child. I tried to brush it off as best I could. "No. They had nothing to do with all of that. But people thought they had the right to hurt them, to hurt me, because we were Treeks."

"Oh," said Abigail.

"She's gone, and it's going to be really tough for a while. You're always going to miss her, and second-guess how things went. But there's nothing you can do about it now. All that we can do now is make them proud. We can only try to live up to the person they wanted us to be."

Abigail didn't respond. She just sat there looking down.

"And you're allowed to be sad. You're allowed to miss her and wish she was here. But you're not in this alone. Okay?" I said. I ducked my head lower to try and catch her eyes.

She looked back at me and gave a quick nod before looking away again.

"I know your dad isn't the greatest talker. He has issues too, but he loves you very much. It might be a little tough, but I'm sure he would love to talk to you. He misses her just like you do and he'll need help through this too. Don't push him away. You can help each other through this."

Abigail nodded again and sniffled. "Yeah," she said.

"And if you need to talk to someone else, I'm here too," I said. "Another motherless kid here on Daegal." She gave me a funny look, probably because I called myself a kid. But it was fitting. I still could feel all of those thoughts, fears, and emotions when I was a kid with no parents, and she needed allies.

"So if you're dad is bumbling over his words, or making things worse by how he's acting, try and work it out with him. But if you just need someone to talk to, stop by my tree. The others in my group are all misfits too. We get it."

Abigail nodded. "Deal," she said.

I smiled at her. "Can I give you a hug?" I asked.

She scooted over next to me and hugged me around the waist. I hugged her back and she began crying again. We stayed like that for a long time until she eventually fell asleep leaning against me.

I had tears running down my own face for most of that time as well. It was so sad to see her like that. She was just a young girl, trying to make sense of how cruel this world is. Trying to understand what kind of hatred would lead people to rip mothers from their daughters—to cause tragedies like this so readily.

When she had finally fallen asleep, I reached down and picked her up in my arms. I shoved the door open with my foot and found a small earthen dwelling. It wasn't anything special, but it did have a small fireplace along with a couple of raised stone portions that had some simple bedding on them. I laid Abigail down on the smaller platform and covered her in a blanket. Then I walked out and looked for the rest of the group.

When I emerged from the tunnel the funeral was just wrapping up. The crowd of Dwarves dispersed and I saw Tigala and Lolan sticking out above the crowd. I joined them.

"How'd it go?" asked Lolan.

I shrugged. "It could have gone worse, I guess."

"You okay?"

I took a deep breath and looked back at the Dwarven tunnel. "Yeah, I think so."

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