Following the beacon of daylight issuing from Esbeth’s pendant, you scrabble and scrape along the stone incline propelled by the urgency of knowing the surface is near. You do not understand how you know, only that you do. Around you, the Windcliff families that you have saved breathe heavily with the exertion to keep pace with you. But when they falter or stumble, your hand is always upon their arm. Lifting them up. Guiding them forward. You have sacrificed too much to allow them to fall behind now. They have sacrificed too much.
Unbidden, tears stream down your cheeks. Your repaired mind, for the first time, able to comprehend the horrors you have seen: the slaughter and enslavement of Windcliff, your home; the slave pens of Velknyvelve; the unceasing pursuit of the drow; the hideous spiders of the Silken Path; the mad giant fighting to make sense of his insanity through sublime creation; the fratricide and madness in Sloopbudoop, the almost inconceivable rise of Demigorgon; the brutal city of Gracklstugh; the gruesome garden of Zuggtomy….
Eldeth and Turvy. While all the losses of your companions on this bloodsoaked road have been painful, they were perhaps the worst. Companions and confidants for months, your tragedies and triumphs had been their own. And while they were not a part of your Windcliff family, they had—in a way—become much more.
You choke back the tears of their memory. It was through their sacrifice that you survived the Garden, saw Stool returned to his people, and made it to Blingdenstone; the first place that did not seem so harsh and alien as those before.
But even Blingdenstone was not safe, beset by the horrors of Jubilex. But here the doughty gnomes would not give way. They would not surrender their home to the madness. Like you, they seemed to have wills tempered of steel, and they had rallied around you. Trusted you to lead them. To reclaim their home. And you had. There. At least there. You won. Securing a home for the deep gnomes.
You barely breathe the word. Almost as if the mere act of saying it will make it vanish like smoke.
Your features harden, not everyone will make it home. Behind you, your drow pursuers lay dead, but Seraphine, brave Seraphine, refused to join you. Instead trusting Jorlan’s promise to guide her to Yoseph. That you could not join her leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, but she spoke wisdom in her parting. The people of Windcliff must find their way safely home, and none can guarantee that better than you. At least Ront had chosen to go with her. Who could have imagined that an orc could become a trusted companion?
Gasps from the villagers break your reverie, and on instinct you draw your weapons, the beginning words of an incantation on your lips. You whirl around to look for the threat. You will not be denied now. NOT NOW.
The gasps give way to laughter, and around you, everyone breaks into a run. Their exhaustion suddenly absent. Only then do you notice the air has lost its dry and dusty temper, and the pendant’s light has given way to a brighter light. The glory of the sun. For the first time in six months you feel its warm rays upon your face. You lift your head, facing it, embracing the warmth. Your scowl gives way to laughter as you race into the light.
You’ve made it.