WARNING! The following page contains spoilers for the lore of Worlds Adrift
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At the point of no return, I saw a dim but spectral glow. It was faint and eerie turquoise. With renewed hope, I scuffled on a found the source of the light was closer than I thought. I reached for the blob, and it extinguished. There was something soft in my fist. I opened it, and saw a pudgy little worm there. It glowed much fainter, perhaps to play dead. I put it on the ground, and Una sniffed it. When we walked away, it effervesced brightly again. A grotto opened out beyond. There were thousands more of the worms ahead, whole constellations of them. The grotto floor grew pointed teeth like jaws, and the walls oozed sulphur.
A subterranean river met us. Una and I walked alongside, watching it twinkle slow and tranquil. Then Una leapt in, and realising how cold it was, leapt out again, shaking off the water. We followed it until it drained away through a hole, which echoed as if the water has a long way to fall.
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"Hello?" I said, into the dark.
It was something off to my left, and getting closer. I thought about ducking under the water, but it was too shallow. Una growled and looked to me for guidance.
"Screeeeee!" it said, stepping into the light.
Beneath a chandelier of glow-jars to my left was a thing. It was hairless, pink, and scaboid. Perhaps half my height, its oval face was dominated by a huge pair of front teeth. Its red eyelids were sealed shut, and its body was a stooping column of creased and freckled skin. Curved spurs protruded from its feet and hands, and a wispy black garmnt draped from its breast.
"Screeeeee!" I said, hoping it would understand. It tilted its head quizzically, sniffing at Una, before advancing towards me purposefully.
I was so transfixed, that I remained completely still until the buck-tooth monster was at my side. It pulled my arm as if to lead me somewhere. Dazed, I followed. Reluctantly, Una came too, protesting my lack of resistance with a snarl.
I looked at the hand that gripped. The Envoy's skin was translucent. We were led along a passage dotted with jelly lamps until we reached a pleasing and homely burrow.
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The Envoy stood on his back legs, and with one outstretched paw, presented me with a black tabard like the one it wore. At the center of the tabard, the material was darker, and shaped like a plait. The Envoy tried to fit one on Una too, but she barked and frightened him away.
The Envoy joined its friends, who were huddled on one side of the burrow, while Una and I remained on the other. It was cold, but I couldn't make a fire what with the thought of the smoke, and not knowing if they would tolerate it. I thought the least I could do was don the tabard, at which there was a delighted chattering of teeth. The creatures faced me for a moment, before bundling up again. They were uncommonly ugly. Una and I closed up and tried to sleep.
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I dreamed of my brother Azrudin, and the Palace of the Old Kings falling into the void.
I woke abruptly to violent screeching. There was a nauseating smell. I was freezing, there was no light at all, and I couldn't feel Una.
"Screeeeee!" "Nehhhhhhh!," "Screeeeee!" "Nehhhhhhh!."
I scrambled to my feet, and followed the screeching. It seemed to grow further away at first, and then louder. Then I saw a pale light and followed it. It turned out to be an abandoned jar, glass cracked, and its worm wriggling away. I picked up the worm and held it between my fingers, so that I could see the outline of the passage ahead. As I walked, a chilling wing blew back my hair. The screeching grew lounder, and was joined by a swishing sound.
Finally, round a corner, a great cavern opened up the size of a city. A fingernail of moonlight flood in from above, bathing a battlefield in blue, where thousands of the ratfolk clashed. There were the black tabards of the Envoy's faction, but at their throats, others who wore silver crowns cast in the shape of the plait. They swung thick throny banches ferociously at each other - that swishing sound. Then I saw Una, who was wearing one of the black tabards, gnawing the leg of a silver hat while he flogged her with a thorny cudgel.
Section 8 MISSING
Several days after the battle, I had given up on trying to get the tabards, or Una, to find me a way out of the caves, and in hunger had been forced to eat a worm. It tasted ok. These invertebrates were so important to the ratfold, that I was convinced it must be what they were fighting over. Then there was the cold, and the constant darkness.
All things considered, I didn't want to spend the remainder of my life underground, and without Una to comfort me, regretted the moment I first stepped into the cave.
Not wishing to dwell on the gloominess of it all, I took a handful of worms, and navigated my way back to the battlefield where I'd seen the moonlight streaming in. I looked longingly up at the oval of blue sky, wondering if the walls could be scaled. They couldn't. After some fruitless wanderings in the caves beyond, I trudged, exhausted, back to the burrow.
The burrow was deserted. I pottered on through ante-chambers, low-ceilinged vaults filled with glow jars and earthen pots, seeing no-one. Finally, at the far side, I came upon a room with a furnace, and I chimney leading to the surface. At least if I was stuck here, I'd have somewhere to keep warm, I thought. The furnace was part of a machine that manufactured all of the little jars to hold the worms. One of the tabards was next to it, sifting sand between here paws into a silver funnel.
I heard a bark, and found Una and some of the tabards in the room beyond. They were digging a watery pit for worms. I tried to help out, but my blunt fingernails were poorly-suited to the task. We struck a layer of yellow clay, and tired of digging, I began to model it in my fingers. It turned into an old-fashioned boat, but the sails I made were too heavy and drooped off their masts.
Then I made a plait shape, just like the ones on the tabards. I lifted it up to the glow-worm lamp to admire my efforts. All of a sudden, I became aware of an expectant silence, the scrabbling had stopped, and the tabards were gathered around me, noses twitching. In spite of their poor eyesight, they must have been able to see the silhouette of the clay against the light, and were admiring it.
"Screeeeee!" the envoy cried.
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