For what felt like a day they followed narrow tunnels, most natural caves, south east. In the beginning of theor journey these tunnels had been filled with the soft noise of the boiling sludge, after an hour or two the pools vanished, and their journey was accompanied by complete silence.

Pale blue light signaled an opening, a narrow crevice in some rocks, once far below the waves of the ocean. As the water had spilled out into the abyss through the broken rim, it left salty earth, below a certain level, too low to drain, it evaporated, leaving behind a salt desert. Outside the crack was deep canyon below, steep, almost vertical, walls above. Narrow steos had been hewn out of the rock, both leading up and down from the opening to the tunnels. On the other side of the canyon similar steps led from the depths brlow upwards. “This rift lies only three weeks away from Dorei, when the Chimera’s return, please kill yourselves before you give away our secrets.”

Lilly smiled kindly, from beneath her cloak she produced a her waterskin and the cup, poured some water in it and emptied it above Beecha.

Stunned by her waste of water the man stared at her wide eyed. “What?” he felt the cool touch of her finger on hus lips. “I gave you hope. And time. Close this portal to your place, it is important.” she turned, letting Fathala see what was happening to the Floral. His bark skin turned softer, and softer by the minute, until only his normal skin remained.

Baffled he stared after her as she already descended the steps, their destination was beyond the other side of the canyon. Amazed Fathala bowed before him, then turned to follow the shrinking figure in brown-grey cloth.

 

Tears burned hot in Fathala’s eyes, refusing to believe the cruelty of what she saw. Mummified by salt, Naga and Naga eggs littered the ground of the canyon. Hot air vents from underground volcanoes heated the deep, like most breeding grounds the saltwater Naga had. After the water had drained from the oceans above the canyon was filled with water for long times, but both the heat from above and the heat from below dried it out. Subsequently turning the shrinking ocean into a dead salty lagoon, then into sludge, finally into completed dry salt.

For as long as they could the Naga came to lay their eggs, until none escaped, none returned, none lived. For all she knew, she might be the only Naga on that world.

Amongst all her dead people she felt their despair. Hopes of having a healthy brood, of surviving the hardships of the salty deeps, all crushed. Mummified with the ines who hoped and the unborn hoped for.

“They can be avenged.” Lilly put a hand on Fathala’s shoulder. The florals, or who ever built the steps, had also raised a bridge between the two sides of the canyon. Rope and wood perfectly preserved in the dry heat. “By slaying the one who caused this?” she couldn’t turn her face away from the dead.

“By preventing others to suffer the same.” it was her ghostly vision of her dead spouse who spoke. Still he looked like a Naga man ought to look, if there were any. “Or by preventing the Naga of my world to die like this?” she repeated his words to Lilly.

“Your world’s Naga would suffer a different fate, keep in mind that the Dragons want your world for their own. They have minions in the deep who will cleanse the oceans for them. But yes, by preventing them to be wiped from the face of the world.” unlike before, tears flowed from Fathala’s eyes as she turned her head round to look at Lilly. “Minions in the deep?” with a sigh Lilly turned away and continued her way across the bridge. “Your kind has encountered them in ages past. Tentacles, hungry mouths and the powers of the eel.” a chill ran down Fathala’s spine. The doom that haunted my people from the seas into the sweetwater sea! They were minions of the Sphinxes. I should’ve known.

“The dragon that held me left that knowledge in my mind.” she explained calmly. None of it happened here, so there are no sweetwater Naga. While ascending at the other side of the canyon Fathala regained her composure.

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