Note: Yeah, it's been a while. School sucks like that. So anyway, in the game there's a girl who seems to live with Larikush, so I'm assuming she's his niece or something, since her being his daughter would be somewhat problematic. Unless he just has a really young-looking wife. Maybe she's his assistant, but I'm just going to assume that she's a relative in some way. Also, I've gone back and edited some of the earlier chapters, mostly for language. I'm going to England in two days, so I won't have time to update this again for a little while, assuming I don't finish the next chapter between today and tomorrow.

When Kalas arrived that evening at the gates of Cebalrai, he found Larikush waiting for him just beyond the entrance. The doctor's eyes lay fixed on the path, staring deep into some grave thought. He and Kalas stood nearly toe-to-toe before he noticed the young man.

"Kalas!" He barked as he shook himself free of his reverie. "I'm glad you are safe. It sounded like trouble was brewing over by the forest."

"Uh yeah, about that..." Kalas began.

Larikush cut him off. "Here, come talk with the village headman. Everyone's gathered at his place." He started toward a large hut near the village center, leaving Kalas to catch up.

You think we pissed someone off?

"I dunno." Kalas murmured. The streets were indeed empty, save for the children who jostled impatiently beneath the window of the hut. Kalas spotted Cedr among them. The boy shot him a stern look characteristic of certain adults as he and Larikush passed through the door.

The air inside the hut was stifling between the number of bodies packed against its walls and the blazing fire in the hearth, which cast the strange faces in sinister chiaroscuro. The low buzz of voices died at the sight of Kalas. All at once, the village elders were staring him down as he stood awkwardly at the threshold.

Yeah, they're pissed. Let's get the hell outta here while we still have the chance.

"You're the one Meemai brought in this morning." The man who had spoken, the village mayor by the look of his more elaborate attire, stayed Kalas's feet with his statement.

"Was that a question?" Kalas said, meeting the mayor's eyes.

"You'd think one accident would be enough to keep you away from that forest, boy," the mayor continued, "Now tell us what happened. What have you done to make such a...shall we say ruckus, in our lands?"

"I didn't do anything! I'm not even sure what the heck it was. A strange monster came up from the spring in the forest. It was saying something about 'Malpercio' and..."

The mayor gaped at him, blood vessels filling his weathered cheeks with red. Two of the eldest villagers muttered darkly while the rest of the congregation looked on in confusion and unexplained dread.

"What was that? Did you say Malpercio?" The mayor gasped, fury building in his sunken eyes. "I knew something like this would happen! I thought we told you to stay away from that forest!"

"But, wait..." Kalas inched closer to the door, away from the suspicious glares bearing down on him.

"No more buts, young man!" the mayor growled, turning away from him. "You and your lot have unleashed a great evil! Ignorant fools...Now begone! You may stay the night...if anyone here is willing to offer you shelter...but by morning I want you out of here, understand?"

Kalas glanced at Larikush. Calm-faced, the doctor nodded at him in assurance.

"I believe the other travelers, a young girl among them, also entered the forest." Larikush said to the mayor. "Any news of them?"

Well, at least you have someone on your side. You could've mentioned Xelha in the first place and gotten a lot of this off your shoulders...

"Oh yeah...that girl, Xelha...she was with me too." Kalas replied, "We were attacked by soldiers in a big battleship...she was captured. Seems she was up to something..."

The mayor grunted, his back still on him.

"Hmm...unfavorable circumstances to say the least..." Larikush said in the mayor's stead. An odd expression flickered across his face. Kalas caught sight of it.

"Doc, do you know anything about that ship? I have to track it down.

Larikush paused a beat. "No, I'm afraid not," he said finally.

A woman near Kalas spoke. Kalas recognized her as Cedr's mother. "If you're talking about that huge, strange ship, I saw it fly towards the city."

"The city? That must be it. Thanks so much." Kalas smiled, doing his best to seem polite.

"Be careful Kalas," said Larikush. "Powerful entities seem to be at work...Stay alert, boy."

Kalas nodded. "Thanks doc, I will." Under his breath, he muttered"Alright, Horatio, let's go get 'em. You're mine, Giacomo."

"Oh, and Kalas," Larikush cut in. "You're welcome to stay the night at my home. I'll have my niece make up a cot for you to sleep in."

"Alright. Thanks again, doc."

The mayor glanced between Kalas and the doctor and scowled. "Don't worry," the doctor said to him, "I'll have him on his way by breakfast. If you don't mind my saying, he's only a boy—there's no need to be so harsh with him"

"Well if this 'boy' knew what he's done..." The mayor waved a dismissive hand at them. "Just get out of here, and try not to cause us any more trouble. This is a peaceful village, and I aim to keep it that way."

"Sure thing, sir," Kalas replied with an involuntary hint of irony. The doctor must have caught the faint sarcasm, for he snorted softly in amusement. Without another word, Kalas followed Larikush out the door.

Outside, dusk had all but fallen, casting the village in a bruised purple light. The shadowy vegetation writhed with winds from an incoming storm. Kalas felt his lungs tighten as they breathed the humid air that settled on his skin like warm oil, mixing with his sweat.

That could've gone worse. Horatio piped up as Larikush led the way back to his home.

"Yeah, well it could've gone better, too," Kalas muttered. "Hey Doc," he said in a louder voice, "How far's Pherkad from here?"

"Hmm...I'd say about a two-hour walk, if you can get through Nunki Valley. Otherwise, the alternate route through the forest might take up to three days or so, not to mention all the monsters you would have to deal with." said Larikush, "Right now, the Valley's been blocked off by a rockslide, but I have something that might help you with that problem."

"Like what?" Kalas asked. He quickened his pace to walk side by side with the old doctor. Larikush seemed much smaller now that he stood close enough to have a sense of his own height by comparison."You'd need Imperial explosives or something for that."

Of course," Larikush smiled slightly.

Kalas's eyebrows rose. "What? How'd you get ahold of those in a backwoods town like this?"

"That's not what's important right now...What's important is the impassable route to Pherkad."

"Oh, so this is a favor, huh?"

Larikush met his eyes for a moment with a look of amusement so paternal Kalas wasn't sure whether he should feel calmed or disconcerted by him. "If the rubble in Nunki Valley is not cleared away, the people of this village will continue inconvenienced." he pointed out firmly, but with the ghost of humor in his tone. "You're going to the capital anyway, so why not take care of that for your benefit and ours?"

"Besides you and a greythorne, I don't think I owe anyone here any favors, especially now." Kalas grumbled.

"Fair enough. Then do it for me. It'll be harder for me to obtain medical supplies while the Valley is in its present state."

"All right, doc. You saved my hide back there, anyway.

They had reached the doctor's hut, which lay at the back of the village, touching the border where the houses met untamed wilderness, eventually dropping off the edge of the island. A woman's face appeared in the candlelit window and watched them as they approached.

"Hello there," Larikush's niece said once the pair had stepped inside the hut. "You must be Kalas, the young man Uncle fixed up yesterday."

"Yeah." Kalas lacked the energy to force a smile, but something about the girl's pleasant face comforted him. She looked like his old friend Trill, he realized with a small jolt, except for her brown hair and the freckles that dotted her cheeks.

He waited for her to offer her name, but instead she asked, "How long have you been traveling on your own? I imagine it's an exciting thing to do. I wish I could."

Kalas blinked. "Two years," he replied without thinking.

The girl gave him an incredulous look. "Two years? Isn't your family worried sick about you?"

Larikush cleared his throat suddenly. "Now then, it's not polite to bombard our guest with questions."

But the look on Kalas's unguarded face gave the girl her answer. Her expression melted into a look of sadness and understanding that made Kalas's throat tighten. Without speaking, she rose and poured him a cup of tea from a pot on the stove while Larikush wandered over to his workbench and Kalas took a seat on one of the chairs. When she came back, she handed the steaming drink to him with a long look.

"Mine are gone too," she whispered, glancing over to make sure her uncle hadn't heard. "They died of the sickness that showed up in Mira long ago. Uncle took me with him when he decided to move here. He's all I have now."

"I don't have anyone," Kalas rasped. His own voice sounded alien to him, as if it came from the mouth of a worn grave rather than a human being. "They're all gone."

The girl offered him a sad smile, folding her hand over his in a gesture that belied her young age. "I'm so sorry to hear that, but you know, you need to keep your eyes open. I know there's someone in this world, someone who is waiting for you."

"How do you know? You've only just met me."

"I can tell. Sometimes I just know things, ever since I survived the sickness. There's someone who needs you, and you will come to need them too. That someone, somewhere in this world, is living day by day just as you are. Neither of you know how important you are to each other. Yet, in time you will come to know..."

Kalas looked grim. "It don't think that will happen to me. I don't want it to happen to me. No one ever lasts."

The girl's smile faded. "And that's why we cherish our loved ones even more—because they do not last. That which death can touch is more precious to us than that which it cannot, because death is something we all must face."

Kalas felt a spasm of pain in his gut. He wrenched his gaze away from hers to hide the expression of turmoil on his face. He waited until she left him before muttering, "I don't care what she says. It's not worth it." For some reason, his mind settled on the memory Xelha's bleeding face, staring at him with pain and desperation. It seemed too familiar...Too familiar...

Kal?

"What?"

...Nevermind... You should get some sleep.

Kalas nodded and shuffled over to the spare bed. When dreams finally came upon him, he felt as though he were being swallowed by a heavy darkness.