As daybreak washed over Yew, the old cabin creaked slightly in warmth of the morning sun. Behind the place, the fence that had once stood firmly was now sinking into muck, making the wood look like the uneven backbone of some long dead monster. The cabin itself had sunk evenly down into the swampy marsh, giving it the appearance of being a larger home for some smaller creature. Vines crawled up the walls like long, bony fingers, greedily pulling the cabin further down into the vile waters.
Dawn stared silently at what had been her home for most of her life. She was too young to remember her parents passing away, but she could remember the sadness of losing them. She could remember this place seeming new to her, warm and comfortable in the confusion. Her grandfather would build huge fires and tell her of the adventures he had been through while serving the king. The cabin roof never leaked, even in the worst storms. The sheep in the yard would frighten away all the orcs, or so her Grandfather had told her.
She had planned on returning here and continuing with her normal life after the battle against the Juka was finished. Now she doubted the cabin could even be repaired.
“I am sorry. I understand this was your home.” Dasha said, approaching from behind.
“Yes.” Dawn’s voice was quiet. She did not move. Her eyes seemed to stare beyond the cabin. Dasha stood beside her and surveyed the old home.
“I also lost my home.” Dasha said. “For Adranath and the other Meer, our home was destroyed eons ago. They have all lived in dreams during the Great Sleep; they have had centuries upon centuries to accept that their home is gone and that a new one would be found.” She crouched and examined a small mound of mushrooms. “I was brought here with the Juka; time ignored us. Unlike the rest of the Meer… in my mind our home was lost only weeks ago.”
Dasha stood and began to pace in the sunlight. “Before the Juka destroyed it, our forest was a sight unlike any in your world now; an endless sea of treetops… during sunrise I would stand in the highest branches and let the morning winds sooth me. The leaves would seem to glow in the light, like gold, while the breeze sung through the forest; it was as if the ancients were blessing the world anew with their power. Nothing in all my experiences compares with how moved I felt at that sight, how much it assured me that my world was infallible.”
Dawn smiled sadly as she stared at her former home. “It makes my loss feel small… I only lost a small, simple building in the end.”
“Perhaps,” Dasha said examining the cabin. “It is a rather small building, a speck compared to the size of the great forest. And it is simple, as you said. A structure such as this could take no more than a few days to build. You could easily get another one.” She turned and looked at Dawn. “But this place to you was as meaningful as my forest was to me, is that not so?”
Dawn turned her gaze away from the cabin for the first time and looked at Dasha. “It… it was all I knew. It was home.”
“Then your loss is great indeed. We have both lost our worlds.”
“Dawn!” Adranath called out as he approached. “My apologies for keeping you and Dasha waiting; I wished to examine one of the trees again now that they have been cured.”
“We have not waited long, Master Adranath.” Dawn reached into her pack and removed a small bag. “These are the plant samples Clainin asked me to bring you.”
“Ah, give him my thanks. How goes Clainin’s flora research?”
“One can hardly move through his laboratory with all the plants he has in there now.” Dawn said. “He has been so busy studying them that the guards have to remind him to eat.”
“I can only hope some good comes out of this,” Adranath said sadly as he surveyed the landscape. “There was no way of knowing that the Decay spell could ever have this effect. This world has felt the impact of so much evil and strife within it throughout the ages that nature itself has changed into something capable of all this. All Meer will have to relearn our nature magics again, if it can be done. We can never allow such damage to be done by our hand again.”
“You tried to stop the Juka. You were trying to save Yew, Master Adranath.” Dawn said. “No one can blame you for that. We will always be allies.”
The ancient mage smiled. “The Meer are proud to have loyal and honorable allies such as you. Now if you will excuse me I have... wait, what was-did either of you feel that slight tremor?”
Dawn and Dasha both exchanged glances and shook their heads.
“What sort of tremor?” Dawn asked.
“It was as if the ground beneath me rumbled very faintly.” Adranath looked down. “I suppose the ground is settling a bit from the effects of the decay. In any case, I have duties to attend to. You have my thanks, Dawn.”
“And you have mine, Master Adranath,” she replied.
“Dasha, shall we depart?” Adranath asked the lovely Meer.
“I will be with you in a moment, Master. I wish to speak with Dawn once more before I leave.” Dasha said.
“Very well. Farewell Dawn.” Adranath smiled and began walking towards the moongate.
“Farewell,” Dawn called back.
Dasha paced slowly in the morning sun. “Your people acted very quickly to stop the decay. I found myself impressed by their resolve.”
“We band together quickly in a crisis.” Dawn said.
“That you do. As I said before, we have both lost our worlds. I will never see mine again; I know that. But, after seeing your people work to save this land and cure the decay, I believe I can find a new world for myself here. You shall too.”
Dawn smiled at the Meer warrior and the two locked hands in what Dawn was starting to think of as the “Meer handshake”. They exchanged goodbyes and walked their separate ways, both more confident of their futures.
* * *
Blackthorn’s voice echoed throughout the chamber, almost seeming to shake the walls. He had nearly screamed himself hoarse, trying to summon Exodus’ attention. Upon discovering the retreat of the Juka and Dragoons he had immediately come to demand an explanation from Exodus, but his mysterious cohort would not manifest.
The great doors to the chamber were pushed open and Kabur strode in calmly. Blackthorn spun and pointed at the massive Juka with his great claw hand. “Where have you been? Explain the withdrawal to me at once, you lowborn beast! Where is Exodus? Why does he not answer?”
“I do not know, Lord Blackthorn. I… have only followed orders.” Kabur’s stone face hid his amusement at Blackthorn’s distress.
“Followed orders? Did Exodus give you these orders? Surely you must have questioned them. I demand an explanation from you, Kabur!” Blackthorn’s inhuman eye glowed with a savage fury.
Kabur visibly stiffened. “I have merely followed the orders given to me.”
“Do not try my patience you animal!” Blackthorn swung his great claw arm above his head and brought it crashing down into one of the massive planning tables in the room, shattering it in a hail of dust and splinters. At once his rage stopped and he froze.
Kabur tried to read Blackthorn’s face, but he had difficulty reading human expressions. Blackthorn’s altered face made things even more difficult. It could have been confusion or possibly fear, he hoped. Something had surprised the half-human out of his anger.
“Leave me. Now!” Blackthorn growled.
Kabur turned and pulled the chamber doors behind him as he left quietly. As soon as they shut he allowed a sneer to play across his face.
From the Britannia News Network - The Journal of Ultima Online, May 30th, 2002.