It wasn't a proud moment for Karolina. Her parents, in particular, did not like crying. They could certainly be rigid at times. Something about showing weakness, particularly for 'no reason'. And associating with Xibalbans like this? Nothing about what was going on or what she had been thinking would have been approved by her parents whatsoever. But then again... it wasn't their time to have a say in things right now either. For the shovel witch, it felt good to get out some pent up emotions, even if she didn't really understand them.
At some point, nudged against Bali's shoulder, she must have nodded off despite having just woken up. She felt a soft shaking on her shoulder and heard herself snoring slightly. Startling, she blinked her sore eyes and found herself sitting Bali-la. "You okay there?" the Death Clan woman asked with a smile. "You kind of passed out on me, it seems."
"Oh. Oh! S-sorry!" Karolina stammered out, embarrassed. She slid a few inches away from Bali to give her space. "I didn't mean to!"
"It's alright. No harm done. Feeling any better?"
Karolina took a deep breath and an accounting of herself before answering. "Yes, actually. How long was I out?"
"A couple hours."
"A COUPLE HOURS?!" Karolina was red faced. How did so much time pass? "You didn't wake me?"
"You looked rather peaceful there. And I guess you still needed to recover from yesterday. We were very busy, after all."
"Oh... true, I suppose. Sorry about that, Bali. Just... you know, everything..."
Bali grinned cutely. "No worries, Kara, no worries. As long as you feel better now."
"I do. So, ah, where's Saiya?"
A familiar more formal voice arose on the other side of Bali. Saiya sat up, stretching. "I'm still here, Karolina. Don't worry- I made good use of your nap. It gave me the time to work off some of Bali's venom."
"Are you okay?" inquired the shovel witch.
"Yes, I'm fine. Thank you. Things have come back into focus a bit more now. Your friend's poison is... potent. But not harmful, it seems. I have no lingering aches or pains. Still, I doubt I would have done much moving around before. I was in my own little world for most of that. Intoxicating is certainly the word for it, Bali-la."
The spider took pride in hearing that. "Thank you!"
"So everything is alright between you two? Or...?"
"Yes," stated Bali. "As you might say, everything is peachy."
"Why wouldn't it be?" asked Saiya, curiously.
"Oh, uh..." Karolina glanced off to the side. "Just new to this, miss Saiya. Ritualized Xibalban behavior is new to me."
"Ah yes, I see," nodded Saiya with a small smile. "Bali was catching me up on your association together. Well, don't worry. What you saw was an exchange of sorts. A bit of resources, a bit of power- nothing serious. She was within her rights and she was generally quite merciful about it." Saiya cast a long glance at Bali.
Bali pretended to cough. "I said I was sorry about the binding. It's just what I do- all second nature to me. But you have to admit it was a sensible security precaution. You could say you're surrendering, but one never really knows."
"Fair enough. But know this, Bali. My word is honor," Saiya stated as-matter-of-factually. "If words have no meaning, then there is no point in sharing them."
"I get what you're saying. Of course, my people might just as soon say, the entire point of those words could have been built around deception. Still. I will at least know that when you say it, you mean exactly that. Is that fair?"
"I accept that," smiled Saiya. It seemed that personal honor and her word meant a good deal to her. "So, shall we go?"
Karolina blinked. "We're going somewhere together?"
Bali nodded. "We talked about it- we need to get back to the Longtooths to rescue Siouxsie and Saiya here needs to leave here some other way. We're going to go out together and then when we're back on the surface, you and I will head back to the crocs while Saiya returns to her people."
"Ohh, okay. Sounds good."
"Saiya knows of a 'hub' location down the creek. That means it's a fixed location once someone discovers it- the shadows won't shift it around like a regular passage. It's worth mentioning that if we visit the hub and we're ever separated down here, we can make our way back to the hub even if all the other passages along the way don't seem familiar, so long as that's our destination."
"Really? That's pretty strange!" Kara remarked. "Useful, but odd. You just keep it in mind?"
"Yes. I figured you should know in case it happens somewhere else. Underground navigation is funny like that. But keep in mind one can't come back here from some other cave. Unless they're supposed to link in the first place."
Kara's head boggled. "I'll take you at your word. So, we can get back to the surface from this hub?"
"Yes," noted Saiya. "But it will involve ultimately going underwater in rough salty surf. And there's geists along the way now. Your friend tells me you have a spell to deal with the latter. But can you swim?"
Karolina took it in. This did not sound like an easy way out at all. "I can swim... not great. But I can more or less do it. As for geists, yeah... if they're spaced out, I can repel them. Can you swim too, Bali?"
Bali grinned widely, showing no lack of confidence. "I LOVE swimming, Kara. Absolutely."
Saiya nodded, happily. "Outstanding. I didn't like my chances earlier, so that's when I retreated and stumbled into Bali's trap. But with the three of us? I think we can manage this. I'll navigate and you two will help protect me. And don't worry, I'm not helpless by any means."
"Sounds like a plan. Shall we go?" asked Bali, rising.
After several moments, the trio rose to their feet and descended into the shallow winding creek as it flowed downstream. Karolina wasn't sure how going lower in elevation would get them out of here, but she had to trust the judgement of the other two. Splashing as they trotted towards the hub, Karolina smiled. She felt like one of the gang, noticing Saiya's golden torq around her wrist. Bali had trusted her with the responsibility while she slept. And she would not let her down.
A colored page! What do you think, folks? Should AG2 continue in color like this or should it remain gray? Let me know!