We reach the village on feet sore and heavy. Past the old woman, the stone houses carved out of the cavern’s sides are mercifully revealed, the stairs among them percolating from floor to ceiling. All is illuminated by some obscure species of slime or moss.
The guardian at the cavern's mouth bids no greeting. Black-draped and headscarved, she fixes upon us eyes that have known subsistence and cruelty. We request food and board, for the tunnels have drained us, and safe passage once awoken. Payment is a strange polyhedron from the belly of a slain troglodyte that seems to glow from the inside.
She doesn't make any inquiries or even inspect the barter. Come, she says, come. Most of the houses are empty. She gives us drip-water and sausages that restore our weary nature, and we sleep dreamlessly.
It's only after we have strapped our packs and paid that the thought creeps on us, that we've seen no livestock, no grass or produce to sustain it. We make our way and she bids no farewell, her gaze constant upon us as we press on and her frame diminishes, as the tunnel stretches between us and her village in the bowels of the earth with all its empty houses.