Serafina Anduril, Sani Nodin, Rondal, Cadimus, and Naiora stood at the entrance to the Duggubahalla’s cave. Cadimus agreed to remain there and wait for children to be sent up. The others descended.
They trudged down almost a thousand feet of steep, damp, narrow tunnel. Serafina slipped and fell down a side tunnel, falling thirty feet into water. She set the surface on fire as she felt eels (or something) slither around here and try to pull her under. Sani was quick to think and asked the Heart Tree above them for its roots to pull Serafina up.
Further down they discovered a pit-trap and Serafina lodged a fireball into it, burning something below. Eventually, they found the eleven children (one more had been captured the night before when they were returning from visiting the Dy’Voth encampment and speaking with General Gorgos). Three were dead. One could not be woken. Serafina burnt them out of their webbed encasing. Slowly and carefully they made their way back to the mouth of the tunnel. Cadimus treated the sick one.
Everyone heard the whimper of a small child. Serafina could hear through it, as if the voice were hollow. She told the others that it was the Duggubahalla and to ignore the pleas. She sent Rondal, Naiora, and Cadimus back to the village with the children. Sani and Serafina placed the three dead Lluaran children near the heart tree. As the others began to walk away, one little girl turned to them and warned them to leave and let her have her meal. Serafina hurried the others away and told Sani to ignore it. The girl had been controlled by the monster.
As soon as the others left, they heard a buzzing sound. It sounded as if every bug in the forest was swarming toward them. Then, they saw the dark wall of insects. Serafina and Sani took that as their invitation back into the tunnels.
Each time they passed a smaller side tunnel, Serafina threw a fireball down it, just for good measure. Sani communed with the spirit of the heart tree above to receive knowledge about the Duggubahalla. The fallen hero said that it was unkillable and that it took near their entire village to keep it contained. He fell in a fight and kept it trapped all these years.
Once they were at a small clearing with some space to move around, they waited. The Duggubahalla was an awful and hideous creature with the torso and head of a haggard woman and the body and legs of a giant arachnid. It moved quickly but not as quickly as Serafina’s fireballs. It had been hit twice on its passes through Sani, whom it paralyzed and ripped open. Serafina hastily dispatched of the monster, burning it to ashes, before running to Sani’s aid. She was able to stop his bleeding and over several hours, drag him back to the village. Knowing he was paralyzed and probably fearing for his life, she cheered him up with stories along the way.
Back at the village, Cadimus treated Sani to the best of his abilities and Serafina asked Jayla where the most fertile soil was. She then tucked Sani in and she and Rondal stood watch over him until they fell asleep. Sani grew roots that night that were thicker and deeper than any he had ever grown.
The next day the village threw them a celebration at sunset. The monster that had haunted them was dead and 8 of the children had survived. Jayla wrote and sang an epic song of Sani and Serafina’s heroism.
The following morning Milana returned. Gorgos would accept the cease-fire and leave the Lluaran forest. However, she would not release the prisoners unless Serafina and Sani spoke with her. Milana had no inclination as to what Gorgos would want from them in exchange. They took Rondal and Naiora and left Cadimus in the village.
General Gorgos said she would release the prisoners if they brought back three fugitives before the full moon. They were Dy’Voth, two men and one woman, their names were Deltin, Reckard, and Marine. Serafina noticed Milana flinch ever-so-faintly at the last name. They were to capture if they could, but kill if they must. If they killed any of the three, they were to return with proof.
Before Serafina, Sani, and Rondal set off to the task, they asked Milana if there was any other information about this seemingly innocuous task that the General could have sent her own men on. Milana said that it was a coming-of-age trial to survive in enemy territory on your own for thirty days. If you were returned alive by captives, you would become their slaves. Serafina prodded about her reaction to the final name. Marine was Milana’s daughter, whom she had not seen in years.
The second day of the hunt they found fake tracks. Sani and Naiora hid in the trees while Serafina and Rondal acted as bait and followed the tracks. They noticed a trap up ahead and two Dy’Voth hidden in the trees. Serafina began to yell the things she was saying at Rondal, who caught on and helped in warning Sani about what lay ahead. He spotted the two Dy’Voth and tangled one in vines. Serafina yelled, “FETCH!” and pointed to the other Dy’Voth for Naiora to pin down. Within moments both Dy’Voth were snared, disarmed, identified as Deltin and Reckard, pulled down from their trees, and tied up.
Three arrows hit them in succession but no one was hurt. Sani ghosted to pursue the archer in the trees. Rondal ran directly toward the archer. Serafina lit the archer’s quiver on fire and remained to watch over the two prisoners.
Chasing the archer through the forest, Rondal fell into a punji pit. Sani, however, caught the archer in one of her own traps and dragged her back to Rondal. Marine soon joined the other two captives.
That night they took watch two at a time. On first watch Serafina noticed Marine asking for a lot of water but not getting much in her mouth. Rondal was instructed not to give her any more water. Marine talked all night but had the worst of it during the third watch when Sani and Serafina discussed her mother. That seemed to hit a nerve.
The next morning Sani noticed that while she hadn’t escaped, Marine had loosened her bindings just enough to wiggle. Any more water from Rondal and she probably would have made it. On the return, Deltin attempted to jump into a punji pit and Reckard made a failed escape attempt. Marine had been the most successful, but still managed not to get loose. To top it off, Rondal was tired of her squirming and gave her new restraints, tying her to a piece of driftwood.
Serafina attempted to tell them that sparing their lives would be better than the alternative and hinted that they would not be slaves in Voltierra. Nevertheless, they were humiliated upon return to the camp.
Serafina, Sani, and Rondal were asked to stay the night and for a celebration the following evening. They were given a tent of their own and treated as honored guests. The prisoners were taken away. Gorgos said that strength should be respected and that they would celebrate not being foolish enough to bring weakness into their ranks.
Privately, Milana asked about Marine. Sani was honest and Serafina said that she thought the damage to their relationship could be repaired with time. While they were gone, Marine had taken care of the Lluaran prisoners, treating them and washing them. Sani went to the Lluaran tent where they were cramped and chained. He freed them and sent them to the village.
That night before sleeping, the three discussed how to handle having slaves. This was not the custom of either of their races. No one was happy but playing along was the only chance to get the three youthful Dy’Voth out safely.
After Serafina and Rondal sparred the next morning Milana asked the three what their sigils were so the blacksmith could make brands for the evening’s ceremony. This affected Sani the most and he was in a grim mood for the rest of the day. He and Rondal both chose the crests of their fathers. Serafina, not having one from her family in the old world, made one up. She chose the human symbol for life, thinking that after Marine was freed, it could become a tattoo or remembrance of the gift of life instead of a sign of servitude.
The ceremony began with a short speech from General Gorgos. She then instructed the two humans and seedling to, “take your mark and claim your prize.” With heavy hearts and hands, they each grasped their prods and branded Marine, Deltin, and Reckard. The crowd immediately cheered and the party kicked off. Deltin passed out and Marine silently cried. The three were taken to the tent where Sani and the others were quick to use a salve and treat the Dy’Voth’s burns. Serafina whispered to Marine, “I’m sorry. For more than the physical pain. All of this. Please trust that your life will get better.”
When asked what custom demanded, Milana said that they should partake in the celebration and parade the new slaves around. Rondal looked downtrodden and Sani was distraught. Serafina said she was drawing a line and that they would not humiliate them further.
To numb the events, Serafina had a few drinks. She briefly spoke with Gorgos, who stated that she had much respect for Serafina. Rondal drank and had a good, forgetful evening. Sani learned more about the Dy’Voth, what they had done, and where they had been. He found their life stories very interesting. Sani stayed up late to watch Rondal while Serafina returned to the tent early. She gave Marine extra salve to use when needed and attempted to talk to her and make her feel a little better. When asked what she would want to do in the human city with the rest of her life, Marine said whatever would make Serafina happy. Serafina changed the question to, “what did you want to be when you were little?” Marine opened up and said that she had wanted to be a dress designer. This gave Serafina an idea and some hope.
The next morning they cleaned and ate. Serafina and Marine took a walk around the camp so Marine could take one last look at the life that she had considered home. They said formal goodbyes to the General and left for the village. Milana would remain one more day in the camp and meet them on the coast. Only Sani entered. He made sure the Lluaran had returned safely, set up a message to go to the Great Heart Tree, said goodbye to Jayla, and took Cadimus.
Ten days later they found the shore. A very large ship was anchored in the distance and had dropped a row boat. Serafina began to run toward the ship until the figurehead and name came into clear view. A fifteen-foot carving of her likeness with flames rolling off of her was on the bow and the name had been changed to Serafina. This slowed her to a dumbfounded walk. The rowboat brought a familiar face and Serafina once again ran to embrace Braeden Brightburn in an engulfing hug.
Everyone was introduced and Sani informed Braeden that they were waiting on one more. Braeden said, “of course, where is Stangil?” Serafina, Sani, and Rondal instantly changed disposition. Someone muttered, “he isn’t coming.” An awkward silence fell until Braeden said they would talk about it later.
He changed the subject to getting them all on the ship. He had dresses waiting for Serafina. They all had rooms to settle in.
Milana eventually arrived and boarded. After being introduced, Braeden turned to Serafina and asked, “would you like to do the honors?”
And with that, “ANCHORS UP! TAKE US HOME!” They set sail for home.