Episode 16 — Far Beneath the Ground

The refugees set up a temporary camp deep in the caves, and NeVaga and Aquilegia go scout ahead after Aquilegia gives her word to Lord Randall that they will return. After a while NeVaga hears something following them in the dark; she signals Aquilegia to stay quiet and circles in the dark, sneaking up upon a beast larger and taller than a man, bipedal with front limbs ending in claws and with rock-like skin — a rock troll. The Ukar manages to scare off the beast but does not severely wound it.

Unable to find a way out, they return to camp and warn the refugees about the rock trolls; Lord Randall has organized a watch and camp. Aquilegia sees to the wounded, making sure everyone is ambulatory, then they get some rest. In the night, Aquilegia hears something during her watch — a group of rock trolls attack! The refugees manage to repel the attack and Aquilegia kills off one of the rock trolls. Upon examining the body, she notices something that looks like an Ukari glyph on the creature's forehead. She shows this to NeVaga, who detects faint traces of a psychic power having been used on the rock troll within the last day or so.

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In the morning, NeVaga and Aquilegia continue their explorations in a different direction. Aquilegia eventually spots Ukari markings in a corridor wall, which NeVaga partly deciphers as indicating the direction of a shelter or community. They leave their own markings in case Lord Randall and the refugees come looking for them, then follow the glyph's direction.

After a while, they get the sense that they are getting close. Aquilegia advances alone, acting as a distraction while NeVaga hides. Aquilegia is soon surrounded by a group of Ukar and wounded before NeVaga can appear and stop them. The Ukar want to kill Aquilegia, so NeVaga has to fight them to convince them to let the human live. They are taken to the Ukari "village" where perhaps one hundred of them live, and put in a small cave to wait. They bandage Aquilegia's wounds.

Some time later, one of the Ukar comes to visit. He ignores the human altogether and uses powerful psychic abilities to read NeVaga's mind, including the details of the human camp. He turns to leave; she asks him what he plans to do about the humans. He indicates that they will all be killed. She points out that if the Ukar let their prisoners go and allow the humans to find an exit tunnel, they can continue to remain ignored here. But the Ukar indicates that she and "it" (Aquilegia) will know, and their minds can be read by psychics.

After some arguing, he agrees to ignore the human encampment but NeVaga and Aquilegia must stay. If the humans stumble upon the Ukar tribe, they will be killed; otherwise, they are welcome to grope in the dark for an exit. NeVaga and Aquilegia's minds will be wiped. During her brief time here NeVaga has noticed that every single Ukar she has met is a powerful psychic, so she has no trouble believing that they can do this.

That night after they go to sleep NeVaga has a dream. She dreams that she is having an argument with herself about what to do about the humans in general and Aquilegia in particular. The interior debade becomes more and more heated until literally she splits down the middle into two people — the original NeVaga and another NeVaga. The new NeVaga immediately stabs the original NeVaga in the chest with a Kraxi knife. As the original NeVaga lies on the ground, dying, the new NeVaga bends over Aquilegia, preparing to slit her throat. That's when NeVaga wakes up.


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