The darkness that bounded them completely shortly after entering the cave, however frightening, surrounded them comfortably, isolating them from the Agojawan. After advancing considerably Khyro dropped her hand and Layla heard a whispered shhh somewhere in the darkness. She saw a fire-stone in Khyro's hands, and then a torch illuminating the darkness around them. They continued in silence, until the silence itself became deafening. They began to hear noises, initially spaced between them, but then closer and closer.
The tunnel grew narrower and narrower until they reached a fork. They looked at each other under the torch light, and Khyro took the front, turning to the right. What happened next was too fast, the walls came alive and Layla was pulled, fought with all her forces, being left with a bleeding hand when she tried to punch whatever it was that grabbed her. She could catch a glimpse of Khyro struggling with the sword, which seemed to be hitting the rock formations that surrounded them erroneously. Layla was pushed and trapped between two walls that seemed to be closing.
She started banging against the walls and trying to hold them, shouting a desperate cry as panic swept over her. Khyro continued to invest boldly, Layla saw him dodging a punch that seemed to come from the middle of nowhere and holding a stone when she realized that two points of light were shining on that stone. She felt a blow to the head and then she felt nothing else.
“hum…”Layla narrowed her eyes, with great difficulty as she seemed to have an indistinct number of Agojawan riding on her head. She tried to take her hands to her forehead and only then realized that her hands were pinned. She let her eyes get used to the darkness to and only then she realized, horrified, that she was trapped in the stone, totally immobilized, she could only move her head slightly. She sensed a movement somewhere in the room, and saw an inert form in the darkness, with an uneven breath. She made an effort to try to understand the words the figure was murmuring.
- Khyro? Khyro! Layla murmured with relief. Khyro must have been attacked from behind, just like her. She just could not tell if he was stuck on the wall or not.
How had things come to this? She panicked when she felt tiny creatures strolling down her face. All she could do was blow and flick her face slightly, the most as her position would allow. She saw a shadow beside her and suppressed a cry when she saw that it was Khyro, who ran his hand gently over her face, resolutely pushing away the small creatures. He was very wounded and moved as if he were full of pain, it was visible that he made an effort only to stand by her side.
-I never thought the pinamons were made of stone.- Layla said. - I can’t move, I can’t even touch my fingers.
-We’re never getting out of here, are we?- Said Layla, breaking the silence between them.
- Yes, we are. -Khyro said with a comforting certainty in his voice. His voice was as sure as ever. Layla didn’t know how they were going to do it, and didn’t why but she believed him. She wanted to believe him. The mask of self-control fell briefly.
- Why are you helping me? Why did you help me escape? Why do you get so involved in my journey? Your help is welcome, but I do not understand your intentions ...
Layla felt Khyro's gaze in the darkness.
- I'm looking for answers, too.
Before they had an opportunity to deepen their conversation, they heard noises similar to those in the tunnel, as if they were dragging anything. Khyro was no longer close to her but huddled in the position where he had been left, when three or four misshapen figures entered the room dragging what was left of the same number of creatures.
A fragment of Khyro's sword jumped to the floor at his feet, while those things spoke in a language that only they understood, which sounded like a set of snarling noises to their ears. She realized, horrified, as those horrifying beings surrounded her, they were going to use the remains she saw in order to entrap her better. When Khyro shifted loudly, they seemed to change their minds and approached him, lifting him into the air.
Although her eyes were already accustomed to the darkness, Layla could not understand what they were doing to Khyro, imagining that they were also walling him. She tried to draw attention to herself, it was necessary for at least one of them to be free. She cleared her throat several times, coughed, made all the noises that his limited position allowed her. She heard a dull thud as all the noise ceased, and sensed some movement in the direction of what he thought was the exit.
She waited a few seconds and then called for Khyro timidly, until reality overwhelmed her with an almost unbearable weight, they had taken Khyro. She tried to free herself until her neck was in blood, without the stone surrounding it giving way a millimeter, when she finally gave up. She had no idea how much time had passed, she was tired and snoozed now and then, despite the uncomfortable position she was in.
"Layla ... Layla ..." She woke immediately to the sound of this soft voice, which seemed to call her from far away.
- Layla ... Layla ...
It was the voice of a woman who called her, and she listened clearly without noticing where she came from.
"Use your strength, my dear ..."
- Go Layla ...
- Use what?
- Go my dear ....
- Who are you? - This time there was no answer, and she thought about it for a moment. She heard a noise and waited anxiously to hear that voice again, but what she heard were the creatures' grunts. They had Khyro, whom they had laid down unceremoniously on the floor and left again. Layla called for him impatiently until at last she got a grunt in response.
- Are you hurt? Where did they take you? -She whispered, wishing she could see better the severity of his injuries.
-I'm alive. - Khyro replied. -I was in a sort of chamber where they took turns fighting me. When they had had enough, they gave me a blow to the head and brought me back.
That's why they didn’t walled him, he must have been the first one to defeat the creatures, and they wanted to test him. Layla told him of the strange voice she heard and of her words telling Layla to use her strength. The young man did not question what she was telling him, though he asked her carefully if she was sure that it was not the noise of the cave she had heard and had misinterpreted it. He was slowly approaching her. Khyro was in very bad shape, his face looked like a black stain and his robes were covered in blood. In spite of this, he spoke as if they were having a normal conversation in the woods, in the shade of an oak. Layla admired his strength as they continued to talk.
-What is your strength? What can we use here?
Layla did not answer looking around. They had not realized that the division was becoming clearer, but as she realized Khyro's bad state, more aware she become. Khyro made the same movement, seemed to have noticed the same, looking around at the infiltrating division. He suddenly stopped and met Layla's eyes. They knew immediately what her strength was. Water!
- But I do not know what to do ...
-How did you make the watermark?
-I don’t know, it seemed natural to me at the time. Khyro, increasing the infiltrations and forcing the force of the water can lead to a collapse ... In addition, I only used this strength once, that I didn’t even knew I had, I might add ... - She did not add that she was feeling weak and that she didn’t know if she could handle it long enough.
-It's our best chance.
Layla nodded in agreement.
Layla concentrated on the infiltrations she felt at her hands, and although she could not move, she tried to force them. A few minutes passed and then some more. Nothing. Layla opened her eyes and Khyro nodded encouragingly. She concentrated as much as she could, but still she couldn’t get anything. She was trying to remember what she had done when she created the watermark, when it occurred to her that at the time she had not thought of anything specific, simply transmitted energy to the water and became part of it, gaining some control over it. She was preparing to do so when the creatures came in again, obviously preparing to take Khyro one more time. The division had lost the clarity that had become accentuated when the beings entered the room, and the sudden change did not allow them to adapt as immediately to darkness as was desirable. She heard Khyro's voice like a light in the darkness.
- Carry on Layla.
“I am water. I am water. I am water. She repeated to himself, feeling that the small infiltration that passed through her hands was increasing. She heard a distant noise and opened her eyes as she continued to repeat inwardly the phrase that gave her strength and saw a figure walking towards her. She felt a tremendous energy growing within and everything around her began to tremble. It was Khyro approaching at an uneven pace, the creatures had let him go. Layla continued, and felt the stones that held her were coming loose with the force of the water. As they fell, she realized that it was not a stone that held her, but something slightly more fragile. Khyro also tried to move the loosening stones and Layla felt herself falling into his arms, completely soaked, when the last stones that held her fell off.
She was powerless, she could not stand, and she fell into a state of almost unconsciousness as Khyro half carried her, half dragged her out, as much as his strength would allow him. They went down a tunnel and hurried to a new room where Khyro pushed Layla to the wall. He brushed the hair from her eyes very gently, which seemed almost insane when they should be running as fast as possible outside.
-I'm weaker than I thought ...
-I also get weak after using my ... abilities.
- But everything is still shaking!! I can’t control my strength and you can’t stop the water. She was still trembling, but less than before, though she did not realize it. Layla continued to be helped by Khyro and they were walking straight ahead in the tunnel – going back was no option, having no idea where they were going, with the only certainty that they were getting deeper and deeper in that labyrinth.
Layla began to regain her strength and only when the tunnel began to get brighter and she looked at Khyro did she realize the effort he was making to help her walk, his face was absolutely livid and it seemed that all his blood was scattered in his clothes. They both thought they were coming to an exit, and they dropped to the floor under the weight of discouragement as they reached a dead-end.
Khyro seemed at the edge of his strength and Layla made up her mind.
-I'll get help.
Khyro didn’t answer and Layla approached him, placing her hand on his chest and drawing her ear closer to his mouth to see if he was breathing or not.
-I'm still here,- whispered Khyro, in an almost inaudible tone that Layla only deciphered with much effort. Suddenly her hand brushed something under Khyro's shirt, and she restrained herself from ripping his shirt to get the watermark. It was in front of her all along. Khyro opened his eyes quizzically and Layla explained what she was going to do.
-You have a watermark, I'm going to use it, you're very weak and your body is full of wounds.
When she opened his shirt she was terrified, he was much worse than she thought, it was amazing how he still breathed at all, and astounding how he had helped her up there. She placed the watermark on his chest next to a wound that looked very bad, and said a small prayer. Layla felt pressure and withdrew her hand, closing his shirt. She sat down beside Khyro and fell asleep without realizing it. She dreamed with what they had been through. Without Khyro she might not have gotten there, and in spite of the storms, the wounds, the pains, the danger that lurked at every corner, she was grateful to have someone she began to trust at her side. She woke up, leaning against Khyro, who breathed normally and showed signs of awakening. She opened his shirt and in spite of the blood that still accumulated, the wounds had disappeared.
-Layla ..." Khyro's voice made her jump in her seat as he looked at her with a half-smile. - We have to continue.
Khyro was better, but he was still regaining his strength. It was clear that he needed more time to fully recover. However, Layla knew he was right, they had already lost too much time there.
She nodded and tried to get up but had a dizziness and dropped to the ground, being supported by Khyro that prevented her from crashing. The two of them rose, and with Khyro to support her, they went their way.
All the tunnels seemed the same, whenever they came to a fork, they chose in the expectation of finding something different and almost despaired when they saw that they were facing more of the same. They had no idea of the distance they had traveled, much less how long they had been walking. The creatures seemed already a distant reminder, though very much alive, and the Agojawan and the forest a lot more.
Layla dragged Khyro as she slipped and plunged into a deep hole that had slipped past them, partially hidden and filled with water. Layla tried desperately to get out of there, but every time she tried to climb out, she ended up with a handful of stones in her hand, feeling the hole gradually increase. She felt Khyro also around there, who positioned himself somewhere behind her. He grabbed her arm and made her look around, forcing Layla to realize, bewildered, she was trying to get out of the hole in the direction they had come. They had to go on, otherwise they would be trapped. With a last effort, almost over human given the conditions in which they were, she managed to hoist herself and helped Khyro up. They leaned against the wall gasping, resuming their walk after a brief rest. They both knew that they could not afford to rest for long periods of time.
Layla suspected something that Khyro confirmed when they stopped to rest.
-We're getting deeper in the ground, aren’t we?
When Khyro nodded, Layla tried not to show her concern, which turned out to be an unfruitful task, Khyro had shown on other occasions that he could read her face and realize her thoughts. He laid a hand on her shoulder and tried to convey her confidence with the gesture, but Layla’s didn’t feel much better.
They began to walk again, and soon they heard noises similar to those they had heard before the creatures attacked. This time they were not to be caught unaware, Layla provided with two or three sharp stones she had found, and Khyro drew his sword, continuing to advance very slowly and with as little noise as possible through the tunnel.
They stopped when they realized that the noise was not the same. In fact it was similar but very different, and they continued even more cautiously. They saw a strange faint glow and continued toward them, and what they encountered left them perplexed. They were at the entrance of a very large division, which continued to lose its sight, and where several beings, who seemed to be men without in fact being men, were busy performing various tasks. They also seemed to be made of rock but they didn’t look so rude, they moved much more elegantly, and the dialect itself was not so unpleasant.
When they saw a creature pointing at them, they tried to retreat but found themselves trapped by more creatures behind them. The creatures did not seem to want to hurt them, pointing forward for them to walk. Khyro held his sword drawn next to him, but Layla dropped the stones with a gesture. If that space seemed enormous from the opening where they were, when they advanced to it they realized the huge space where they were in.
They continued to walk being the target of curiosity of the creatures they passed by, they were being directed to what seemed to them to be an irregularly shaped structure where many creatures were. They stepped inside the structure where they were pointed to a ledge where they sat, leaving them alone with one of the creatures that had a very bright blue stone on its chest.
- Who are you?
Layla and Khyro were taken by surprise when they were intercepted in a perceptible way but were able to conceal it, Khyro responding to the creature after a nod of agreement from Layla.
-We are lost travelers.
-Hum ... travelers? And why did you enter the caves?
- We were lost.
-I thought a fonneshia warrior was never lost.
They kept silent for a while until he called them back.
- I am Volcanik, high advisor of the Pinamom. I know that you defended yourself with bravery from the exiles, in a way that only the fonneshia would be able to. But you're in better shape than my informants told me.
Of course, the watermark had cured Khyro's wounds and the pit where they had fallen the water had eradicated from the clothing (which was now a rag) some marks of the unequal struggle they had faced.
-If they knew we were trapped and needed help, why didn’t they help us? - Layla could not stop herself and interrupted Volcanik as he spoke.
- We do not interfere. But we were puzzled when we felt an energy as great as we had not felt in the cave for generations.
Intrigued? Layla was sorry she'd dropped the stones when they were forced to move into that division, that thing indifferent attitude to the suffering they'd gone through until then had made her angry.
Volcanik mumbled something in an unknown language and one of the creatures advanced to them, indicating that they should move along into that structure.
- Where are they taking us?
-We cannot let you lose in these tunnels, fonneshia, no matter how many turns you’ll make, you will always return here, to the heart of the forest. I had food prepared for our "travelers," the kind that you surface beings eat and a place to rest. I'll talk to you again when you're more communicative. - He headed for the exit as he uttered the last words, and they had no opportunity to question him, only to follow the other creature.
The structure was very complicated and it seemed to them that they were turning around until they came to a room where there were two blankets, a basket with fruit and a canteen with water. They waited until they were alone to discuss in hushed language about what they would do.
-Do you think it's safe to eat and drink what they give us? I see no other way…
- You're at the limit of your strength, Layla. Strange as they might be, I don’t think they want to harm us.
They ate the fruit and the water quietly. To Layla it seemed she had never tasted anything so tasty in her life, possibly because she had been so hungry. They ate without great haste and in small quantity, both knew that after so much time without eating it was not advisable to eat large quantities of food.
Laying on the blankets on the stone, Layla smiled and spooked, stopping Khyro before he even had the change to utter a word.
-I'm taking the first shift.
Khyro half smiled but did not speak, settling down and falling asleep almost immediately.
Layla let her thoughts fly and she was almost in a state of drowsiness when she heard the laughing voice calling her name again.
- Layla ... Layla ...
- Who are you? - Layla asked the question but the voice was fading and there was no answer, leaving Layla only time to say a "Thank you" and hope for the voice to have heard it. Her words roused Khyro who told her to sleep while he would do the next shift. Despite the questions that bubbled up in her head, Layla was asleep before her head touched the floor.
She woke up with Khyro shaking her, not quite knowing where she was, and taking on an alert posture as she remembered where she was and why. The creature had returned and at his indication, they followed it, or him, they weren’t sure what to call the stone creatures, through the confusing maze of corridors of that structure. Volcanik was waiting for them in a division they did not know, where other Pinamons were watching them with curiosity, staring at each other in silence for a few minutes.
-Who are you, fonneshia?- Volcanik's voice echoed in the room like a crash, and he was surprised when neither Layla nor Khyro wavered.
-We are travelers seeking refuge in the caves after the windstorm. We lost ourselves and were eventually captured by ... beings in all similar to yourselves, from whom we fled. Khyro and Layla had already spoken in hushed tones of their answer before they arrived, and Layla returned to silence, though all eyes were fixed upon her.
-Hum, there was a gale, I think some ... how those on the surface say ... days ago, I'm told. - The tall adviser mumbled after hearing what some of the creatures said.
Layla stared at Khyro astonished, while he kept an emotionless, serene face that did not deceive her. A few days ago? Have they been in there for days? Events had been precipitated and happened at an amazing speed, and despite their fatigue, both physical and psychological, they had not imagined that they had already been trapped in there for a few days.
- The beings you saw are exiled, were condemned to protect the entrances of the caves by our ancestors. In fact, they have one function only and they failed it very rarely. He waited for a few minutes in the expectation of some comment that was not provided, both Layla and Khyro remained silent. He mumbled something to one of the creatures and informed them that they would find a function for them.
-Thank you for the hospitality, but… - Khyro was interrupted by Volcanik who made it clear they would not leave.
-We allowed you to enter the heart of the forest, any attempt to escape will be fruitless, you will always return here. Others have tried.
They were sent by a creature to the outside where they joined a group of pinamom who broke stone with their hands and then with strange instruments until the same stone was almost dust. They explained to them with gestures what they should do, returning to their task accompanied by Layla and Khyro, who did not see, at the moment, alternative, except to do what they were told.
It was a time consuming and exhausting task, they had to apply extreme force to reduce the size of the stones. After a few hours, they realized that the Pinamons did not sleep or rest, only alternating tasks. As no one else seemed to understand them, they exchanged a few words in mute, surrounded by the grunts of the unknown language of the Pinamom.
-Do you think it is really impossible to escape, that all the paths lead back here?
-There are many entrances and exits to the caves, probably the real message is that we would be caught by the" exiles "if we tried to escape.
- Both are correct.- One of the creatures, who introduced himself as Zix, astonished them both by the statement and by the fact of perceiving them. Layla looked around, and he realized what worried her, resting them then.
-There are only three pinamons that speak the surface language, and one of them is me. I learned the language with others of the surface that were here before you.
-What did you mean when you said we were both right? - Layla wanted to clarify what the pinamom meant, all the information was useful to help them out. Zix, however, went elsewhere, starting another task, before they could ask anything.
Layla and Khyro were separated and had no more opportunities to speak until they were sent to a large, smooth stone in a hidden alcove where two blankets and fruit were. As they ate they discussed the options they had, and Khyro seemed to have new information.
-I found Zix during the day, or rather he found me, and told me that Volcanik opens passages to the caves when he meets the exiles, it's the only time the heart of the forest is open.
-And when does that happen?
- I intend to find out.
-We have to face those creatures in the entryway again if we want to get out of here.- Layla could not hide the worry in her voice, fearing the consequences of a new confrontation. She broke the silence that had settled between them with an issue that caused her some discomfort.
-We are treated like prisoners, and the Pinamom were not receptive to letting us out. However this Zix insists in talking to us and makes sure to inform us of the passages.
Khyro nodded to this statement, he too was intrigued.
- I also reflected on this situation, I will take a different approach to Zix when we meet it.
Layla questioned the origin of the fruit, which seemed to come from the surface. Khyro told her that he had seen in the distance a small subterranean pond surrounded by two or three trees. Any hypothesis they had pondered about the existence of a connection to the surface to fetch fruit had been scratched. They slept in shifts, even with the remote possibility of being surprised, security remained one of their priorities.
When they came to fetch them they looked rather tired, the activities and tasks of the pinamom did not cease while they rested, and the constant noise made it difficult to fall asleep completely.
They walked for a long time, traveled a considerable distance until arriving at the place that had been destined to them, having the pinamom that accompanied them followed route. Another pinamom appeared to put in Khyro's hands some very heavy stones and disappearing with him to another way, while Layla was forced to follow a group of creatures that walked hastily. Suddenly she stopped, being shivered with terror. She was in a place where the pinamons were forging swords. Yet these were not any swords, Layla had distinctly seen one of them pierce her father's body many years ago.
She did not want to continue, she wanted to look for Khyro and escape from there. To run away, no, she wanted first to destroy the heart of the forest and to bury that place, to prevent them from continuing to produce those swords. These thoughts were quickly replaced by more serious ones, if they discovered their identity, who was chasing them, they could deliver them to the Agojawan.
She was awakened from these thoughts by the pinamom that surrounded her and walked further ahead, where she began to beat the stone furiously, while watching the way they created the sword. It seemed to be quite ordinary, in a process that took longer than usual, producing only two swords during that period. She was absorbed in the observation of this process when she was surprised by Zix.
-These swords are amazing, are they not?
It was not exactly the word she had in mind. Layla said in an unspeakable murmur.
-What happens to the swords?
- They are delivered to Volcanik who takes them when he goes to the exiles.
-And when do these passages open? How soon will the next one open?
- Time? We do not have this concept of time as the surface beings.
-Volcanik said that the gale was a few days ago, you can use this event as a measure of time, when will be the next passage.
Zix seemed to meditate a little on the subject but the response was not at all encouraging.
-It's still a long time to go. Volcanik understands your time, is the only pinamom that can be able to answer that question.
Zix's responses increased Layla's frustration, she wanted to keep insisting when the pinamom was taken away. She destroyed the stone with increasing fury until her hands were bleeding. The swords breathed death and awakened in Layla very painful memories of her father that she had pushed into a receding corner of her mind.
She continued to unleash her fury in the stones until she could no longer feel her hands, when she was stopped and sent to the place where the previous day – have it been a day or a few hours, she wandered - she had rested with Khyro. She was cutting the blanket into strips to cover the wounds in her hands when Khyro appeared shirtless, explaining that it was so degraded that at the slightest effort it ripped in pieces without resistance, so he disengaged it. Layla absentminded herself of the thoughts that worried her just seconds before, looking for Khyro longer than she would have liked, who silently helped her to wrap her hands in the improvised blanket strips after carefully washing Layla's hands with fresh water from the canteen that the Pinamom provided.
After the painful task was over, Khyro questioned her with his eyes, but Layla stared into the void, trying to get her thoughts in order. She told him what she had seen, trying to omit the disturbance she had felt when she looked at the swords and realized what they were made of. Unsuccessful task, as Khyro's gaze crossed right through her eyes, full of empathy and understanding.
-I can’t understand how they measure time, it's a concept that is completely unknown to them. We can’t tell when the next passage will be opened. But I had an idea.
Khyro listened carefully, and together they outlined a plan that would allow them to get out of there. It was risky, no doubt, but it gave them a chance. And they were putting it into practice on the next day (they wondered if it would indeed be day or not).
They woke them up and took them back to where they had been the day before. Layla discharged all her fury on the stone, when she was signaled, by gestures, that she should move with a bucket along a path that seemed to go around a sort of cliff in the distance. The bucket was heavy and her hands ached terribly, but she followed the rest of the pinamon with her head held high, a path that seemed endless, taking almost twice as long as it would normally have taken her.
When she got there they took the bucket out of her hands and deposited another. Despite the pain, Layla barely noticed, as an object in the room had caught her attention. This area was quite similar to the rest, and only one thing stood out: there was a sword that seemed to spring from a stone to a corner. Except for being stuck in the stone, the sword did not look anything special, it was quite dirty, and the handle showed only slight signs of a blue color underneath.
What had caught Layla's attention was the fact that she had already seen that sword when she was trapped in her vision. She laid down the bucket and strode resolutely towards it, as if she was trapped in a dream she could not get out of, away from the rest when she was barred by two indifferent pinamon. She tried to explain herself but the only thing she managed to do was to attract Zix, who walked around, and discreetly beckoned her to move away.
She grabbed the bucket and came to him, who accompanied her along the way back, while her frustration increased as she told Zix that those brutes would not let her pass when she just wanted to ... go and look at that area.
-Well, there's nothing special about that place, there's Adangi, but you cannot get it off the rock. They will not let you through because Volcanik is coming to get the swords to be guarded until the next opening - Layla had not heard much after the word adangi.
- Adangi? What does it mean?
- I have no idea. No one knows who placed it there or why. We only know that it is called Adangi. Volcanik says that when it is taken it is the beginning of the end, whatever that may be.
Layla would have continued to ask questions, but when she looked up from the bucket that threatened to fall from her hands to talk to Zix, he had disappeared again. She had no choice but to continue the painful task of carrying the heavy bucket. After delivering it to the hands of the Pinamom, and finding that they no longer had any task for her, she seized the moment to indicate that he needed to change the improvised bandages on her hands. They were indifferent both to the pain she felt and to her gestures, but they pointed to where she and Khyro slept. She went there and treated his hands as quickly as possible, although the task was done with some slowness because of the precarious state of his hands.
She went returned quickly to her "place of work," but discreetly reversed the march when she realized that her absence was unnoticed, going to the place where he saw Khyro breaking stones earlier, he shouldn’t be farther away. He was bare-chested and had an ugly wound that looked deep in his back, but he did not stop breaking the stone when Layla appeared and merely looked at her.
Layla gave her a very brief account of what had happened, from the moment she'd seen the adangi until Zix disappeared halfway through the conversation. Khyro was about to make an intervention, but he stopped trying to conceal a sound of pain that did not go unnoticed by Layla.
-How did you get that wound?
-A stone shipment that did not go very well. We'll talk when we're alone. - Layla did not realize the need to be alone, since no one except Zix and Volcanik realized what they were saying, but it was time to go back and she did not question Khyro.
Layla continued to break stone, and though her hands were bleeding again after a short time, and the frequent murmurs of pain, to which the Pinamom were indifferent, they did not allow her to clean her hands again, continuing to do their tasks without giving it importance.
When they finally led her to the nook she shared with Khyro, she didn’t feel her hands, which seemed to have grown alarmingly big. She stumbled the rest of the path with Khyro's help, whom she had found shortly after the pinamon left her.