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Their move to the Everwatch tribe’s township, as unexpected as it had come, was a sudden and jarring thing. Sylaxxa was an impatient woman despite her wizened age and had mustered a small force of goblins with surprising speed who she immediately set to task transferring all of Myr’s belongings to their new home.

If the looks he spied on the goblin’s faces were of any indication, they were about as confused and startled by what was happening as he was. Still, they obeyed the whims of their elder, and so it was with no small amount of trepidation that Ash found himself with Calixxa by his side, her small hand wrapped tightly around his, and a deep hood shadowing her face. Sylaxxa had decreed such a measure necessary in order to hide her eyes from the rest of the town-folk.

People talked and the elder didn’t want them knowing of her... condition... before she was ready, and Ash agreed with that assessment at least.

The duo waked beside both Myr and Sylaxxa at the head of a small contingent of goblins as they neared the familiar gates of the tribe.

Unlike before, their way forward had been kept open long before their arrival, which Ash took to mean that their coming was at least known to the tribe’s higher-ups, and not some unplanned decision by Sylaxxa alone. The thought nearly brought him short, for he’d believed the solution she’d presented to have been a spur of the moment thing. Had Sylaxxa predicted that Calixxa’s fears would drive him and Myr to live in the village somehow?

He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.

Their reception was a mixture of apprehension and weariness directed in his and Myr’s direction, and respect towards their elderly patron. Or at least he felt it was so. It was hard to say when every goblin he saw was on their knees. It felt strange to stride forward through streets and streets of beings brought low in a show of genuflection, and it worried him that he almost liked it, even if it wasn’t meant for him.

Ash shook off the odd thought and instead focused on his new and unseen surroundings. The streets they walked were different to the usual, unwavering path they took to Wixxack’s store, and Ash found himself quietly impressed by the show of architectural prowess and planning that was paraded before him. He'd already known that the goblins obviously liked their use of bright colours very much, considering how brightly painted their maze of streets and alleyways were, but those had been an eclectic mixture of many colours and even more patterns, sometimes to a point that it dizzied him to comprehend.

Their philosophy for their more specialized zones, however, seemed far more focused. The Everwatch had sectioned off entire areas of their town using colours as an indicator of purpose, as he came to learn. Ash spied a sprawling agricultural district filled with both tended and fallow fields of diverse crops in which every visible building was painted in shades of green or green-yellow, along with a lesser splattering of complimentary tones.

Their residential district was, in contrast, ablaze with fiery reds and oranges and yellows, whilst their marketplaces came in shades of purples and pinks. It felt to him like walking through a literal rainbow made real, and it was an incredible vision to behold.

He almost found himself slowly growing more expectant of his stay, his earlier nervousness melting away in the face of each new sight.

The trip down the township’s main thoroughfare took a little over a half hour at the sedate pace that they’d set, and eventually they broke from the hustle and bustle of the village proper and entered into a quieter, more solemn district. It wasn’t walled off or even separated from the rest of the town in any way, but there was still an undeniable barrier between the two that became obvious the moment they stepped through.

The buildings grew more and more scarce until the land was a large open area with scarcely a sight to see. The ground underfoot was paved stone rather than the packed dirt of the town proper, and pillars engraved with simple murals with a glowing ball of orange-yellow light affixed on top were the only real structures that broke from the emptiness of the zone.

The sole few buildings in the distract sat near its outer edge, and from what he saw, its sole occupants were a steady stream of goblins that seemed to be travelling to and fro from the solemn district and the town proper. Unlike the rest of the goblins he’d seen so far, they wore no bright colours or extravagant ornamentation.

Indeed, a stark severeness seemed to be the theme of the district as whole, and it almost felt like he’d stepped into some entirely new world as his eyes spied little more than sombre greys and muted whites decorating the plain buildings that loomed ahead.

And yet, it didn't dip so far that it felt depressing or oppressive. If anything, it felt quite the opposite. He felt calmer than he had in what felt like months, and a comforting sense of safety settled onto his shoulders.

Calixxa too seemed to agree. He glanced at the girl and though he couldn’t see her expression, shadowed as her face was by her hood, he could all but feel her excitement as she inspected everything around her with open curiosity. Myr, on the other hand, maintained a carefully neutral expression that failed to fully hide the tension that coiled through her.

He sighed and returned to studying the area.

He supposed that the atmosphere made sense, considering its purpose. Even as ignorant as he was, Ash could still manage to divine where he was.

It was undoubtedly their spiritual district, and he didn’t doubt that the individuals he saw passing them by clad in their dull robes were priests or monks of some kind. They gave Sylaxxa a bow of recognition and respect, though they didn’t fall to outright kneels like all the others.

Sylaxxa answered with prompt nods of her own and they continued on their way until they stood before the building that was their destination. It was the largest building of the few in the district, though still small nonetheless, and just as undecorated as all the rest.

A large door loomed before them, though it was only so by goblin standards. To him and especially Myr, it was simply a larger than average door, and it opened to a barren hall. They strode inside and a few minutes later, Ash came to understand just why the district was so barren. The majority of it laid underground.

Really underground.

Down and down they went down a massive spiral staircase, and despite his earlier assertation of calmness, he found himself growing tenser with each step they took. He didn’t like going underground. It felt all too much like they were being led to some decrepit dungeon.

Fortunately, their destination wasn’t at the bottom-most level of the winding stairs, and looked more welcoming than he’d feared.

“This will be your room.” said Sylaxxa as she gestured at the warmly lit hallway that ended with two rooms on either wall. “And the other one is human Myr’s.”

“What about Calixxa?” he asked.

“She will stay in a room close to mine in one of the lower levels. Do not fret, she may visit you as she pleases whenever she is not busy with me.”

The little girl didn’t seem all too pleased with that, but a comforting squeeze of his hand seemed to give her some strength at least.

“Does she need to go with you right away or...”

The elder stared at him in that way she did without even opening her eyes and he felt a twinge of nervousness flutter in his gut. “Yes. We must begin work on suppressing her fate immediately, lest something worse happen in the meanwhile. Still, she’ll have time to visit in a few hours.”

He took comfort from that, and so did Calixxa. She still was reluctant to part and so was he, but eventually, they did. Ash watched as the little girl disappeared around the edge of the hallway with the goblins in tow, leaving him, Myr and four warriors standing at attention near their doors. Whether they were there to guard them or make sure they didn’t leave, he wasn’t sure.

“Get some rest for a while, kid.” said Myr. “I’ll brief you on how the trade run’ll go after.”

He nodded and the woman soon left into her room. He did the same.

Ash was pleasantly surprised to note that the space, unlike the outside, was rather well-decorated with all manner of wooden furniture and decorations tastefully littering the space. And it was all human-sized as well! The bed even looked like a real bed from back home, and not just a rickety leather-covered cot like the one Myr used.

He idly wondered how they’d managed to get all this ready so quickly, but then again, magic was a wonderful thing. All the furniture did seem to have that same naturally grown look as the tribe’s outer wall did after all.

Ash walked up to the bed and laid a hand on its plush, welcoming warmth, and felt the temptation to just lie down and nap take hold. It would likely be good for him, as Myr had said, but he felt an even greater need take hold and so pried himself away.

Ash instead found a comfortable position on the lustrous red rug near the centre of the room and slowly sank into the depths of his meditation.

He’d been held back by circumstance long enough. It was about time he enter the second tier. He suspected that he would need it for the coming trade run.

The forging of his second nexus was, as expected, harder than the first had been. The astral walls of his inner self proved tougher than he remembered, and his efforts met far more resistance with every inch he carved. He suspected that the added difficult was also a result of his lack of affinity for an agility nexus. Still, he wasn’t perturbed and steadily carved his way into the next level.

◆◆◆◆◆

Ash didn’t break through in the following few hours, not that he’d expected to. His first tier had taken nearly two days to establish, and he doubted that the second would be done any quicker. Instead, he’d met again with Calixxa and heard all that the girl had to say of her experience with Sylaxxa so far.

It hadn’t been what he’d expected. Simply put, all the elder had required the girl to do was to seat herself within a large pit of fine sand and endure a few hours of quiet chanting. It wasn’t what he’d expected when he’d heard the goblin speak of suppressing fate with such severity.

The fact that there had been no great ritual, no arcane magic or grand display of power almost disappointed him, though he supposed that the simplicity of the experience had made it a less nerve-racking time for Calixxa, though likely far more boring as a consequence.

The little girl had also regaled him everything else the elder had told her of what would happen during her stay there. She was to be tutored by a goblin of all the things that she needed to know of how her people lived, and everything else that may be simple common sense to their kind. The classes, as they were, along with the mandatory few hours she needed to spend atop the sand every day would consume a good chunk of her day, she lamented, leaving her with little time to either visit him or play with her toys.

The complaint brought a smile to his face, and he felt then that it was nice to see her worrying about things that a child should, rather than the burdens of her fate.

It was only a little while later that an escort came to take the girl away to the first of her classes, and she parted ways with him with great reluctance. With her gone, Ash found the time to approach Myr and discuss with her the details of their coming trade-run. It proved simpler than he’d assumed.

They would be given an inventory of goblin-made products by a tribal representative which they were then to carry to a human town to sell. The proceeds earned by the sale would be used to purchase raw materials and products that the goblins themselves did not have or produced little of.

He was warned to speak little during the trip and essentially act as Myr’s mule, carrying what she could not with her wounded shoulder, and otherwise keeping his mouth to himself. He was especially warned to never mention the fact that their goods were of goblin make, or that they’d even known any goblin outside of deathly combat. He readily agreed, and with that done, there only a remained a few smaller matters to discuss before everything was wrapped up and he returned to his room.

Though, Ash did note with a grimace that their interactions then had been... somewhat awkward. The consequence of their near confrontation, no doubt. He would have to talk it out with her at some point. Likely soon, but he found himself dithering on that front.

Instead, Ash returned to his mediations, determined to break through as quickly as possible.

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Dev Pain

Bio: I write and I write and I write and then I write some more.

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