Derry led them through the patchwork houses and to a slightly larger one.
“The elder lives here,” she stated. “Come on.” She opened the door and led them inside.
“No guards,” Bonnie muttered.
“What’s a guard?” Derry asked, over-hearing the remark/
“It refers to a person charged with protecting somewhere or someone,” Twila explained.
“I don’t really get it,” Derry said. “What are they protecting it from?”
“Don’t you guys have monsters around here?” Lysara inquired. “I mean, we fought a big monster thing with a venomous tail on the way down here and we were told to expect golems too.”
“Oh, those,” Derry said. “They never come this far. The only time we have to worry about them is when we go to the ruins to do the releasing melody.”
“So, why did you go alone?” Lysara asked.
Derry looked at her blankly and then slapped her own forehead. “I forgot to take protection! This sucks, I’m gonna get scolded again.”
“I can’t figure out whether she’s kind of flaky or just faking it,” Axra whispered.
“Be nice,” Twila whispered back. “We don’t know for sure that she’s an enemy yet and we don’t want to screw up the chance for diplomacy.”
“Great Great grandma!” Derry called. “I’m back!”
A wrinkled dark elf with the same gray flesh appeared. Although hers was considerably duller than Derry’s highly luminescent tone. Axra wondered whether it was an age thing or it was something that varied. Axra also noted that the old woman’s eyes were clenched shut.
The old woman hit Derry on the forehead with her walking stick.
“Call me elder around visitors, Elder!”
“Sorry,” Derry stated, rubbing her forehead. “I forgot.”
“So, who are your friends?” the elder asked. “Not that Goldie girl you’re always around… Six of them… No, seven. One’s knocked out. Kindly explain.”
“They came from the surface, Grandma!” Derry cried. “And one of them is a surface dark elf!”
“The surface?” the old woman asked. Her eyes opened. They were a milky white colour. She leaned close to Lilly, squinting. “Yes… she does look very strange.” She closed her eyes again. “Which one of you is the surface dark elf?”
“That would be me,” Axra answered.
The old woman walked up to her, her eyes opening again. “Yes, you are different than us, but so similar too.” Her eyes closed again. “Pardon me, my old eyes don’t work so well anymore. I can’t keep them open for very long. You’ve done well, Derry, bringing them to me.” The old woman made her way to a chair and sat down. “Tell me two things, Surface Dwellers, how did you get down here and why did you come?”
“We came looking for the Zerstörelicht,” Twila answered. “We got here by phasing through some stones and climbing the great staircase.”
“What’s a great staircase?” Derry asked.
“They’re in scorpitoid territory,” the old woman explained. “I saw them once when I was a young woman.” Her head faced their direction. “This phasing that got you through to the top of the stairs, could you do it again?”
“I can,” Twila answered.
“Then I have a request,” she said. “I want you to take our young people, including Derry, up the stairs and to the surface.”
“What are you talking about, Grandma?” Derry inquired, her voice becoming suddenly loud. “Why do you want us to leave?”
“Because we aren’t doing well down here,” she answered. “We’re surviving, barely. But we have to strictly control our population and stay confined to this small area. It’s no life for you or anyone. But some of us… we’re too old to make the journey. You youngsters, though, you can make it. And you can build a new life with our darker cousins.” The old woman reached out and squeezed Derry’s hand. “Please, Child, let me do this for you.”
“I understand,” Derry whimpered, her eyes clouding with tears. “If it’ll make you happy, I’ll go.”
“I’m sorry,” Twila stated. “But I don’t know if we can take them. The dark elf counsel might not allow them to immigrate into their city.”
The old woman glanced at Twila, eyes slightly open. “You’ll work something out, I’m sure.”
“And who are you to give us orders anyway?” Axra asked.
“I’m someone who knows where to find what you seek,” she answered. “If you do this task for me, then I’ll tell you where to find the Zerstörelicht. If you refuse, then you can spend your lives searching for it. It is, after all, not easy to find.”
“So, it’s blackmail,” Bonnie stated.
The old woman hit Bonnie with her walking stick. “Not blackmail, Youngster. An exchange. I have knowledge you need. You have skills I need. I’ll exchange the knowledge for you using those skills to our benefit.”
“How many youngsters do you have?” Twila asked.
“A couple thousand,” the elder answered.
“It’s not a decision that I can make,” Twila said. “Is it okay if I contact the dark elf Matriarch and discuss this with her?”
The elder nodded. “Just don’t take too long to decide. I don’t have that much time left, you know.”
“I understand,” Twila said. “Just wait here, I’ll go outside and cast the sending spell.” She hurriedly left the house.
“Is… is it all going to be okay?” Lilly wondered.
“Well, if she can’t get the dark elves to take them in I can find them a home in Nervius,” Axra said.
“That would be ill-advised,” Bonnie said. “Their eyes have clearly adapted for this kind of environment. They could thrive just fine underground with the dark elves or the dwarves… but they’d almost certainly go blind on the surface. Although I’m more concerned about how to get that many people up the stairs.”
“It won’t be easy,” the elder agreed. “I suspect some won’t make it. The scorpitoids will leave you alone, probably. They shy away from large groups, you know. But the psyrens… they won’t let you go without a fight.”