Rather than head back home, he decided to go ahead and continue on to visit Grosh. Having taken the route that led up to Grosh’s residence countless times since learning that his father was alive and well and living not too far away, Solonn knew nearly all of its features by heart; things rarely changed along that path, and when they did, they were only minor changes.
Therefore it was quite a surprise, to say the very least, to find his usual path blocked by a most unusual obstacle just as he was approaching the passageway out of the border-cavern—one that literally just appeared right out of thin air in front of him with a brilliant flash. Given virtually no time to react to it and momentarily blinded by its accompanying burst of light, Solonn collided face-first with the thing with a dull whumpf
, causing whatever it was to be knocked backward; it emitted a strange groaning noise as it went tumbling awkwardly away.
Solonn reclaimed his wits and his vision fairly quickly after the unexpected collision. As he cast his gaze off to the left, following the source of the odd sound, his eyes met something that greatly surprised him: uttering a long string of rattling speech to itself, a claydol pitched and wobbled there in an ungainly fashion as it tried to stabilize itself in midair.
“…Oth?” Solonn said, barely able to believe his eyes.
The claydol finally managed to right itself; once it did, it turned to face Solonn, having long ago taken on that habit of creatures who only have eyes in the front. <Oh, hello, Solonn,> it said, confirming his guess. <I am glad to have found you so quickly; I doubt that I could have tracked you down any more successfully than I had done the times before. My apologies for my rather… awkward arrival,> Oth added.
“No harm done,” Solonn assured it. “…The times before, did you say?” he then asked as the implications of what Oth had said hit him with a delay.
Oth gave one of its pseudo-nods. <I have returned to this cavern many times since our parting. However, you were not in this vicinity on any of those occasions, and I regrettably had to terminate my search each of those times before I could find you… It shames me somewhat to admit this, but I did so because I was unable to tolerate the cold of these caverns for very long.>
“There’s no need to apologize for that; it’s not exactly something you can help, after all. Anyway, since I’m here, I can try to keep the cold from you,” Solonn said.
<There is no need for you to try,> Oth said. <You are actually doing quite a good job of keeping the effects of this environment upon me at bay even as we speak.>
Solonn was momentarily surprised by this finding, but quickly realized that he must certainly have employed this type of control over his element subconsciously on many occasions for the simple purpose of keeping the coldness of his own body from having an adverse effect on anything around him. But even knowing that it was unnecessary to make a conscious effort to protect the claydol in his company, he suspected that he would still catch himself feeling compelled from time to time to make deliberately certain that Oth was adequately guarded against the local environment.
“So, then. How have you been?” Solonn asked amiably. “And what of the others?”
<We have fared well, relatively speaking,> Oth replied, <though largely, we have done so apart.>
“Oh?” Solonn frowned slightly, wondering what might have separated the old friends. “What happened?”
<Ultimately, we all simply had our own paths to take,> Oth said. <Many of those in Lilycove wished to return to where they had lived prior to being acquired by humans, and Brett was among them. Aaron met another of his kind and chose to go with her to her home in the southwest. Only Raze chose to stay in Lilycove—I doubt that she could ever bear to leave that place,> it said, its voice lowering on that statement.
Understanding shone through Solonn’s eyes at this; he figured that Lilycove was surely a place of tremendous sentimental importance to the skarmory. She had been born there, after all, and it had since been the birthplace of countless memories that she’d forged with the human with whom she’d grown up there. In her eyes, he reckoned, that city and those memories were certainly all that she had left to hold on to of Morgan and of the past.
<Brett, Aaron and Raze have all dedicated themselves to founding and raising families since you and I last spoke,> Oth went on. <Aaron and his mate Rhasth have had a young son together, Brett and Fiela have had two litters, and Raze and Eisen are awaiting the hatching of their first clutch of eggs.>
The thought of his old friends with children was one at which Solonn could not help but chuckle. He was glad to know that some kind of joy had befallen their lives since the sorrow that had hung over his last moments with them.
<As for Sei and I,> Oth said, <we were part of a team that served the effort to help people rebuild their lives after the day when the humans were stricken. We freed those trapped in capture and storage devices, relocated those who had need of such, helped those who knew not how to live without humans to fend for themselves capably and peacefully, and did what we could to dispel the chaos wherever they failed.
<Our work continued for quite a long time after the human tragedy, too. It was not only our part of the world that was affected, but every part. Even to the best of our hopes and efforts to find otherwise… the unfortunate truth is that nothing remains of the human species. Nothing at all.>
There was a prolonged, heavy silence in the wake of Oth’s pronouncement of the fate of humanity. Solonn was almost at a loss for thought—he, like many, had feared that the human tragedy might have been enormous and perhaps even global in its scope, but to actually hear it aloud, confirmed… “Did you or anyone else ever find out what really happened to them all?” he managed at length. “Do you know what caused it?”
<Sadly, no,> Oth replied. <Though many have tried, none have succeeded in determining the origin of the Extinction.>
Another somber pause hung over the two before Oth resumed its account of what it, Sei, and the rest of their team had done over these past years. <Eventually, as things began to stabilize in much of the world, most of us finally went back to our own lives, but Sei… She is still out there, doing anything and everything she can for whomever appears to have need of her. I think she may never consider her work to be done.>
“Hmm,” was all Solonn could say to that, nodding. Knowing Sei as he did, he was not surprised to hear such about her. “And what have you been doing since your work was finished?”
<Not much. In addition to trying to contact you, I have been checking in on the others from time to time, making sure that they were doing well and usually staying with them for a short time before moving on. Other than that… largely, I have simply roamed during these years. I have no single place to stay now, really…>
Oth fell silent, and a strange, faraway look entered its many eyes. The claydol seemed to have arrived at a difficult subject, and Solonn found himself sorry for anything that he might have said to lead it there, averting his gaze self-consciously. Oth seemed to recognize the awkwardness that had fallen over the situation then and moved to remedy it at once. <So, what has been going on in your life?> it asked, changing the subject.
“Well, truth be told, I’ve not really been up to anything of interest,” Solonn admitted lightheartedly. “I also haven’t got any kids of my own yet… but my mother found a new mate, and they’ve had a son together.”
<Oh? How fortunate for them!> Oth said.
Solonn smiled. “Indeed. And also… you might find this hard to believe, but… my father returned.”
All of the claydol’s eyes blinked in unison. <Your father?> it said incredulously. <I did not know that he still lived!>
“Neither did I, for a while,” Solonn said. “But he is indeed very much alive. As a matter of fact, I was on my way to visit him when you arrived.”
A series of peculiar little clicking sounds issued from the claydol, a sound that Solonn had long known to be its form of laughter. <Well, I am certainly glad to learn that he is alive and well,> Oth said warmly. <I wonder…> it then added, <do you suppose that I could accompany you? I am rather interested in meeting your family, and now that I have a chance to spend some time with you after so long, I am… not exactly eager to bid you farewell anytime soon…> There was something in its tone that suggested a bit of embarrassment on its part, as if it were worried that it might be imposing itself on Solonn.
But Solonn had no problem whatsoever with letting Oth come along with him. He was equally interested in prolonging such a long-due reunion, and he certainly didn’t want to leave Oth behind with no other option in the cold caverns but to go back from whence it had come. “Sure, of course you may,” he said.
<Thank you,> Oth said gratefully.
“No problem,” Solonn responded as he set off once again, with the claydol following close behind. “Now, I don’t want you to be too shocked when you see him…”
<Of course, but why would I be?> Oth asked.
“Well, you see…”
* * *