Aailaine knelt on the cool earth, weaving her hand into the soil so she could grip the weed by the roots. Ripping it away, she tossed it into the pile of weeds she had already uprooted. Once the pile stood large enough, she would dump it over the edge of the narrow cliff she knelt on, the expanse of the mountains visible beyond. She looked over to that serene edge, where the grass ended and became smooth stone. Soon that ended as well, and the empty expanse of sky filled the space. She looked up to see the cloudy blue tinged with slight pinks and oranges and she knew the sun was setting on the other side of the mountains. She briefly considered waiting until after the sun set to return to the mountains, but she knew Hvidr would question her absence. It had been quite some time since Aailaine had been lucky enough to see the night sky and she longed to see the sky filled with stars again.
As soon as the pile allowed, she walked over to the edge as she tossed the weeds. As she watched the plants plummet down the side of the mountain, she envied their plummet through down the drop. It seemed a cruel twist of fate; the weeds, which didn’t wish to leave their mountain home, would safely tumble to the ground far below, no worse off than they had been. However, if she, who desperately wanted to leave, took the same journey, she would be lucky if it did not claim her life.
Sighing deeply, Aailaine turned to resume the tedious task of tending to the plot. As none of the vegetables were ready to be picked, Aailaine quickly watered the plants before gathering her things and making her way to the path that would take her back into her mountain prison. Before stepping into the dimly lit passage, she turned to look over the darkening sky one last time and fancied that she saw a white bird soaring in the distance. The bird flew majestically and seemed to tease Aailaine with its freedom, gaily weaving a path between the mountain peaks. Aailaine slowly turned her eyes away and returned into the cold embrace of the stone.
Aailaine made her way back to the room where Hvidr waited patiently for her, the dwarf still silently tending her papers. The dwarf accepted the girl’s empty basket and paper without a word, quickly turning to another of her many piles. Aailaine waited to see if she would be dismissed for the day, but Hvidr remained silent, filing papers and making marks here and there. She coughed softly to catch the dwarf’s attention and Hvidr only paused for a moment to look up at her.
“You may go. You’re gardening again tomorrow, so be sure to be on time.” Aailaine nodded and headed for the door. “Aailaine.”
“Tomorrow you get paid, so bring your own bag to receive it.” The dwarf eyed her carefully. “We don’t want an incident like last time.”
“Oiihead, Hvidr.” Aailaine nodded her acknowledgment and walked out into the cavern, the door sealing behind her. The cavern was nearly empty now and only a few dwarves moved within its walls. Aailaine looked over the expanse for a moment, sitting on the edge of the ledge. The public buildings with their glittering purple veins running through the stone and their high walkways filled the expanse of the cavern. From their tall archways dangled colorful gems, like drops of water on a spider’s web and even from where she sat, she could make out some of the symbols that labeled the buildings. The symbols glowed slightly in the stone, pulsing as if they were alive and the crevices in the floor and walls of the cavern glowed softly with the light of the Elddess lamps.
She watched as some beings crawled out of their neighborhood crevices and others returned to theirs, which reminded her she needed to get home as well. Aailaine carefully climbed down the side of the wall and landed safely on the stone floor. As she turned to head home, she noticed that some warriors of the Nivim clan were making their way to her.
“Uodoushe, Aailaine.” Their leader hailed her, and she bowed her head as they approached, marching in rhythm with each other. Their training was reflected in their movements; the perfect march, their weapons held at the ready and their eyes ever gazing around for trouble.
“Fa okad ang, Yovuik.” The young dwarven lord stopped his troupe in front of her and the warriors clanged their weapons against their shields, as was custom. Yovuik removed his helm and shook his dark brown braids free from their confines. His beard was short and trimmed and he stroked it with his free hand as he spoke.
“I have new warriors with me that will soon brave the Dark Tunnels. They wished to meet the human who braved the Tunnels with me.” Aailaine blushed softly as the young dwarves encircled her to examine her stature. She herself had gotten lost in the Tunnels underneath Yoltnir after an earthquake separated her from her hunting party and she ran into the young lord on his way out. Yovuik had challenged her to a hunting game and promised to show her the way out if she won. She quickly proved herself quite a match and he declared her victor from exhaustion.
“If it had not been for you, Yovuik, I would still remain in those Tunnels.” Aailaine bowed her head again. “But I’m afraid I must leave. Rfkr waits for me and I should return to him.”
“Rfkr?” One of the warriors squeaked and the rest seemed excited. “The Rfkr?”
“Is he truly four meters tall?”
“Oiihead, that Rfkr. And ika, what a ridiculous question.” Yovuik shook his head at their questions. “We will not keep her from him any longer. Goad Sheeideong, Aailaine.”
The lord replaced his helm and lead his party off, heading for their faraway city of Yoltnir. Aailaine, after watching them go, quickly returned to her own crevice in Mathydar. Unlike most home crevices in the city, her home with Rfkr was the only dwelling and it allowed them the utmost privacy. She slid down into their hole and let herself in to find Rfkr asleep on his chair. Rfkr’s stained blue tunic had been changed to a cleaner green one, and in his hand, he held an empty bottle of smibi, the rice wine he occasionally brewed.
Aailaine carefully lifted the bottle from his hands and left it outside their door for the night crew to retrieve. She considered waking him, but decided against it, content to sit on her stool and eat more of the food. She had to pick large areas of mold off the remaining bread and the cheese basket sat empty. The meats seemed the safest choice to eat, so Aailaine stuck to those.
As she drank and ate, her eyes fell upon the gleaming armor that stood in the corner of the main room. The colors and emblem of the Nivim clan embraced the metal and even in the still room, the scarf seemed to billow in some unknown wind. In his youth, Rfkr was a decorated warrior who had traveled outside the Tolsan, gaining recognition in every corner of the land for his acts against the Shadows. When he returned to the mountains, the Nivim buried him with honors and it was said that his space in the stone was sung by some of the best Hongekako in the Tolsan. Some said he even travelled to Exla and met Orassul, which he always vehemently denied. One of his companions had been Aailaine’s mother, although Rfkr claimed he didn’t remember her well. Most of the time when Aailaine asked about her, Rfkr would grunt and complain about how Kleia dumped her child on him.
“Kleia,” Aailaine whispered, lifting her amulet from beneath her shirt and looking it over. The old dwarf had mentioned that Kleia was not her full or real name, but it was the only name she had to call her mother by, as even Rfkr claimed to not know her real name. From what Rfkr had described in one of his better moods, her mother was a fierce woman, able to wield any weapon put in her hands as if it belonged there. She was a Teieimoko and was more determined than most to drive the Shadows from A’sthy. No one really knew what drove her, but it was obvious that she was a force that could not be stopped. It seemed nothing could tear her down, and it came as a great shock when Rfkr found her dying on his doorstep, the young girl in her arms.
Rfkr groaned, sitting up in his chair slightly and looking for the bottle that had been in his hand. He glanced up at Aailaine, who nodded her head toward the door.
“Finished a fresh batch,” he groaned, standing from his chair. He gathered the old food and set the baskets on their doorstep along with another empty bottle. “The Viwl are celebrating some event or other and want some wine. I’ll be gone all day tomorrow so make sure you wake up on time. I made extra for you, alright?”
“Nao Fei, Rfkr.” Aailaine accepted his explanation and quickly finished her food. Rfkr grunted and limped his way to their small storage area and checked the cupboards there. Pulling out some more of the smibi and bread, he made his way to his room and decidedly shut his door. Aailaine picked herself up from her stool and placed it in the corner next to Rfkr’s old armor. She grabbed a bottle of smibi and began undressing as she made her way to her room, placing the dirty garments in a basket filled with soiled wear. From a clean basket she pulled a fresh blue gown and made her bed ready for sleep, placing the wine on the floor next to her bed to drink in the morning. As she lay down to sleep under the soft glow of the Elddess lamp, she watched the reflections off her hair dance across the stone ceiling and let the colorful shapes lull her into a deep sleep.
 Same to you
 Go swiftly.