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Sentinel was the only person in the village who showed signs of what the adults called “age”. He had very dark brown skin with some even darker spots, and his skin had deep wrinkles where they were not prevented by gnarled scars similar to those of my father. His hair was long and gray, and his eyes were green, and brighter than those of anyone else who had been in the dungeon. He dressed his muscular body in clothing not very different from the rest of us, though he often wore a shawl over his shoulders, and very rarely needed a facemask as he almost never left the village.
When Rune, Storm, and I got upstairs, he greeted us in his kitchen, taking out four cups and his teapot.
“I’m glad to see that you all look healthy,” Sentinel said as he poured water into the teapot and set it on the stove, preparing a small bag of blackberry leaves to put in it. “I’ve been hearing that some dust has gotten into the village- not enough for concern, but any at all is not good. Luckily, nobody has gotten sick within the village- your mother’s remedy for the dust sickness seems to be working well.”
“Of course it does,” I said, as the four of us walked to Sentinel’s table and sat down. Sentinel leaned back in his seat with a slight smile.
“How is your mother doing? And all of your siblings?”
“Mom’s doing alright, and our siblings are energetic as ever, of course,” Storm said. “Gray helped mom give Silk some baby food before we fell asleep earlier. She seemed to like it.”
“That’s good,” Sentinel said. “I’m sure it’ll be a relief to your mom when other people can feed Silk in her place. But enough small talk. I’m sure that you all came here with something in mind that you’d like to speak to me about.”
“That’s correct,” I said, turning to Rune. He flattened his ears at me, looking a little intimidated. “Go on, Rune. This is your idea.”
Rune turned to Sentinel, his ear flicking a little bit in anxiety. “Well… I’d like to do some research. Research outside of the village, focused on… the dust.”
Sentinel blinked, and nodded slowly. “Go on.”
“Well, I mean, it’s a big problem. You already know that, though. And we already know that it’s… I mean, blackberry leaf tea can make it better. Sometimes, at least. If it’s not too severe. What if I, or really anyone, figured out if there’s a way to get rid of the dust? What if there were a way to cure it when it gets more severe, in animals, in people, in… anything, really. I mean… at some point there was no dust, if the books are right.”
“You’re right about that,” Sentinel said with a smile. “Lots of us who weren’t born in the dungeon remember what it was like when there was no dust.”
“Right! So… isn’t that something that we need to try to aim for? It would make things a lot easier, at least, I think it would…”
“It would,” Sentinel confirmed. “We’d have more food, for one, and we’d be able to expand a little more easily. Getting rid of the dust altogether is clearly the best outcome, but have you thought about that not being possible?”
“Well, we don’t know if it’s possible if nobody tries!”
“But think about it. Even if the dust remains present, what if you or someone else discover a way to save someone from dying from more severe illnesses related to the dust? And what if you find a way to protect animals, and plants that have been contaminated from the dust?”
“Well, that would be nice too,” Rune said, flattening his ears again, “But none of that would be necessary if the dust were just gone.”
“I’m trying to keep your goals grounded in reason,” Sentinel said, standing up. We watched as he poured out the blackberry leaf tea for us. Then, he looked up and smiled. “I’m not telling you that you can’t do this. In fact, I think you have some good ideas. I just don’t want you to feel like you’ve failed if you can’t do it.”
“I won’t,” Rune whined, his ear flicking in irritation as Sentinel handed him a mug of the tea. Rune held it up to his nose and pulled his legs up onto his chair so that his paw-like feet were resting on it. “I want to know if it’s possible, and if it’s not, then I’ll work on those.”
“I see what you mean, but what will you do if the only way to get rid of the dust is to do something that will take years, or decades?”
Rune closed his eyes, his slightly open mouth revealing his fangs as he thought. “Then… I’ll work on it still but we’ll need ways to deal with it better in the meantime…”
Sentinel nodded, setting down mugs in front of Storm and I, and pouring one for himself. “Exactly. I’m not discouraging you. I think you have amazing intentions and even if it’s ambitious, I think that you’re among the best equipped people in the village to follow through with plans like this. I encourage you to start working on it, and keep other potentials in mind as well, but I also would like to encourage you to be careful.”
“Yeah, I learned my lesson when it comes to working with dust yesterday,” Rune growled.
“I’m not only talking about the dust, to be honest,” Sentinel said, sitting down. He gave me and Storm a somewhat hard look, and I suddenly felt very ill at ease. “In order to do this type of research, you’ll need to leave the village. This does not only open you up to getting sick, or even infected. It also means that, if you go towards the mountains, you may find… what remains of the dungeon.”
“We’re going closer to the ocean,” I said quickly. “The ocean was nowhere near the dungeon.”
“Good,” Sentinel said. “But still be careful. The mountains have a lot of dust in them, and the coast is brutal when there’s a dust storm, even if it’s normally safer than the rest of the area. Be prepared at all times. Find or make shelter when you get there before you do anything else. And if you find the dungeon, leave it alone.”
“What if we need to enter it to learn something?” Rune asked. I felt an immediate surge of anger, stemming from anxiety more than anything else.
“Have you forgotten everything before our escape, Rune?” I snapped. Sentinel looked at me and held his hand up as Rune pinned his ears at me and glared.
“I don’t think that anyone can forget it, Gray,” Sentinel said. Something in his voice told me that it would be best for me to remain silent, so I forced my muscles to relax and leaned back, glancing at Storm. He gave me a sympathetic smile, before looking back at Rune as Sentinel spoke to him again. “And Rune, it is best by far to stay away from the dungeon. I can not stress that enough. Going there will cause a lot of stress for Storm and Gray, and also for yourself, even if you may feel like it wouldn’t affect you too badly. If you are led to something that makes you believe that you do need to enter it in order to learn more, I can not stop you, however. I will say that if that happens, you need to come back to the village and tell me, and I will gather some of the hunters to go with you to protect you in case Storm and Gray don’t want to go back.”
“Thank you, Sentinel,” Storm said before Rune or I could say anything. He sighed. “Rune, please try to avoid the dungeon… I still have nightmares about some of the things that happened there.”
Rune looked away. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I… still get nightmares too, to be honest…”
“I’d be shocked if someone who was old enough to remember before the escape didn’t have nightmares,” Sentinel said.
I closed my eyes, but all I could see behind my eyelids was the covered faces of humans as they strapped me to a table and gagged me with a rag soaked in chemicals that made my throat burn and my head feel too light to do anything to defend myself.
The humans were long dead. Many of the walls had fallen, but there would be remnants.
Remnants that I was not interested in seeing again.
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