“Word n the salt pans is the pole has been deformed, perhaps with the same purpose?” it was Lilly’s turn to shrink, the Sphinx had been working with Leif and the bane, transforming the pole, but she had kept her motifs to herself. “So there are more?” Fathala tried not to sound as she felt. Instead of a reply the floral waved them to follow him. Not far behind the position where he had stood a crevice cleft in the rocks, giving way to a cave. After several meters light grew scarce, Fathala made her Naga light appear. In front of her the Floral man made a squirming sound. “I’m sorry if my light hurt your eyes.” immediately she sought forgiveness. If thw Dorei should prove to be a dead end to her intentions to get back home, he and his people might be an important stop along her way back to the sweetwater sea.

“I should’ve thought of that,” he replied, “you have not adapted to this sort of darkness.”

After a few minutes the cavern had gotten eveb hotter, basins of salty sludge softly bubbled beside their path. Vapor rose from them, collected at the ceiling above and subsequently condensed, trickled down on the sides into small shallow trenches, designed to carry the water off.

Alhough they can make their own water, they won’t share it freely. After about an hour more they reached a large dome in the cave. Several dozen people wandered about. All florals, most looked malnourished, most eere far younger than the man who had found them. “We die young mostly.” he had caught Fathala’s slightly terrified look as she had glimpsed a girl of about thirteen years, carrying a seedling. “Yes, it is her own, not her little sibling.” he sounded as sad as Fathala felt terrified. “Florals in my world have a seedling patch to nurse their unborn.”

“For now. Maybe that will change, the Chimera who is responsible for all this,” he pointed around, “has returned to there, and with her countless others like her.” he eyed Lilly carefully, still uncertain whether she wasn’t the Chimera.

Soft daylight streamed through the large dome, where it touched the ground the florals stood in tightly packed groups, drinking it in, their feet dug into the ground. On firat glance it.looked like regular soil, free from salt.

No food. They can go without it. Not very well though. “We scout the desert, over time we had learned how to conceal ourselves.” he sighed. When he removed his cloak his skin turned out to be as hardened as bark, other florals avoided him. “It’s the curse of age.” thoughtfully he examined his hands, stiffened fingers, his joints made cracking sounds when he wiggled his fingers. “Some believe it to be contagious, but I know it is just age. And the conditions we live in.” he lowered his hand and waved them to follow him.