Tabris, Dokurokol, and the Life Gem, pt. 1

A quick story exploring some side characters and events in my larger narrative about Veiadokuur. I loved writing about Tabris and Dokurokol’s interactions with each other. Figuring out how immortal characters navigate the world around them is also a lot of fun, especially if there’s some sort of trick to the reason why they cannot die.

Read part two here.

Word Count: ~4000 (out of ~7200 total)
Rating: G
Warnings: None

It took Tabris a moment to open his eyes. Even if he heard Dokurokol’s shout and felt her heavy footsteps coming down his staircase, he chose not to react. Half of his mind still felt the fern’s thin leaves curling up around and right through that part of his conscious. The brown, dry tips of the fern changed as wet greenness seeped back into it. What was dead lived once again. A gruff hand pestered his shoulder.

“Tabris, get up. Get out of that plant and listen to me, yeah?” Dokurokol spoke to him in Dwarvish, her native tongue. Still blinded, Tabris waved his fingertips over his plant. He latched onto his mind and reeled himself back from the fern, no that he’d completed healing it. Finally, he opened his eyes and looked up at Dokurokol. She faded into his vision first, then his concentration room, the deepest part of his home, appeared. Its smooth, stone walls without corners, low ceiling, and lack of windows made for a perfect isolation chamber. Somewhere he could move his soul around almost freely. He sat at his table, a long, narrow thing big enough for Thunderjaw orcs to lie down on. He healed them here, using his magic to take care of whatever ailed them. And most times, it could. When it couldn’t, he brewed medicine and catalysts for that.

“What is it now, Dok?” Tabris said when his vision returned to normal. Dokurokol stood squat in front of him, with only the fern to protect Tabris from her enthusiasm. She grinned past her thick, curly beard and mustache and held up a fat book in her square hands. The tome looked like her—short, dense, and bulky. All it needed was a shock of thinning orange hair and a beard to match, and a bulbous nose to top it off. Its creased cover even matched Dokurokol’s wrinkles. Unlike Tabris, she regularly left the Thunderjaw’s island, and aged because of it. She’d always been bitter about the “immortal with a catch” thing, and traveled to faraway places in the mainland against her better judgment.

“I’ve found proof,” she said, eyes sparkling like cut gemstones. And she waited, as if she expected Tabris to read her mind. He said nothing. Though he naturally meshed with magic and emotion, being able to sift through someone’s thoughts was beyond his capabilities. Beyond anyone’s skills, for that matter. Really, she expected too much from him.

“Of what?” he said, raising a dark eyebrow. She grinned and dropped her hands to her sides.

“Of the Life Gem, Tabi! What else?” she said. Tabris rolled his eyes. He looked far younger than she did—like a teenager, while she appeared nearly fifty—and even though they were the same age exactly, he knew he was far more mature. The Life Gem she obsessed over proved that.

“It’s a tale,” he said. “A rumor started during the Long War to distract dwarves from what their enemies plotted.” He got up and hefted his fern in its big pot. Its leaves towered over his head and even the tips of his ears, and its bulky pot—nearly the same size as his small torso—made walking a chore. But he persisted with caution to get it back upstairs to its proper home.

“That’s a lie,” Dokurokol snapped and followed him up the winding wooden staircase carved from the massive tree’s trunk. Roots with glowing shelf fungus provided soft, orange and blue light for the stairway into his library.

“You know, despite not being a real dwarf, you still carry their arrogance,” Tabris said. She narrowed her eyes at him and her clutch on the book bent its cover.

“I’m a real dwarf as much as you’re a real elf,” she said.

“So, not at all.” He grinned at her and stopped in front of the little oval table in the center of the room. He set the fern down. Its big, red clay pot clonked against the cool stone surface and spilled some dirt onto it. He brushed the mess away. Meanwhile, Dokurokol held her tongue and made a fist with her free hand.

“You may not be a ‘real elf,’ if that’s how you still think after all these years, but you still have their awful sarcasm, and lack of humor,” she said. Tabris rolled his eyes and took decorative stones from a hollow in the table and arranged them in the pot. He tried to pick out similar colors.

“What’s this proof you’ve got, anyway?” he said. “Some crazed scout’s journal again?”

“Not a crazed scout,” she said and stood across from him at the far end of the table. She opened the book up and pushed it across to him. Tabris set aside his stones for a moment and glanced down his nose at the pages. Like most books in Dokurokol’s collection, it was written in Dwarvish, and retrieved from a massive underground cavern on the shore of the mainland. Dokurokol explored it as often as she could, but never got far before she became too ill or exhausted to continue. She always returned to their rocky island home in a sorry, pathetic state. And even when she needed to rest and heal, she spent her time researching the artifacts she found in those dusty, old, dwarven tunnels.

He bent over the book and looked at it.

“A mage,” Tabris said, noting the sigils for spells written on the page she turned to. It looked like a summoner’s line.

“More legitimate than a crazed scout, to be certain,” Dokurokol said. She crossed her arms.

“As if mages can’t go mad.” Tabris set the rocks in a pattern in the soil. “Remember Syltul’s journal, where she scrawled circle after circle after circle once she successfully created that demon? If that wasn’t insanity, what was?” She thumped the table with her fist and scowled.

“This is different!” she said. “I’m certain of that. Tabris, just give it a read—I know you’ll see exactly what I mean if you just look at it like I have!” He rolled his eyes and picked it up to flip through. Like he gathered from his initial inspection, the mage—named Sotoldri—studied angel and demon conjuration. Much of it reminded him of the research journals filled with records of his and Dokurokol’s conception and birth. Sotoldri wrote his journal towards the end of the Long War, when, for whatever reason, the angels and demon summoned were weak disappointments with hardly any power to speak of. He took advantage of this and summoned a lazy, submissive little thing—“Imp,” he nicknamed it—and observed its behavior in different environments and varying circumstances. The notes actually caught Tabris’ attention.

“This was in the caverns?” he said.

“it’s an old dwarven fort—this was among their archived work and literature,” Dokurokol said. “Here—read the first passage on page fifty-something. No, a little further—there. That one.” She pointed at a paragraph with that same, excited look. Tabris noted the air around her changing, glowing light, warm yellow. She was far better at suppressing herself and rarely got uncomfortable looks for her uncanny aura, like he did, but when something riled her up, the effects displayed clearly. Butterflies that did not exist fluttered around her and lighted her hair. Ants climbed the folds of her leather trousers. The insects disappeared as soon as Tabris looked right at her.

“You’re happy,” he said, smiling.

“I am!” she said. “Tabris, if what this mage wrote is true, we can find that gem and come and go from this place as we please!” She grinned and the butterflies became shimmering birds. “Aren’t you glad about that?”

“I’ll read this first before a flock starts fluttering around my head, or before I sprout blossoms from my hair,” he said. She blinked, laughed, and the birds shrunk away to gnats before whisking away entirely. Tabris looked back at the passage.

Date: 28 Jath, Year of Emerald

I have noticed a change in Imp’s appearance and behavior since leaving the land of his summoning. My observation that his small stature and rather helpless state were innate to his being was incorrect and shortsighted. Rather, the case seems to be that he was merely an infant all this time. Imp has nearly doubled in size since our move, and is far more independent. His teeth fell out to be replaced by new ones. Even his nubs have developed into true horns, and when he bumps his head against me for attention, they are sharp enough to leave shallow, bloody scratches. I may have been foolish to summon such a being, for I am unsure how large and strong he will become—especially at the rate he grows. When this experiment began, he was the size of a small cave bat. Now, he weighs as much as a greater shovel-clawed mole. He hardly fits in my lap, and he has claimed a spot on my bed all for himself. Getting sufficient sleep is difficult with the heat he gives off. This growth spurt occurred over a span of six months, when he stayed infant-sized for three years. With his horns still growing, I can at least measure how his relative “age” has changed by counting the rings on them.

Tabris blinked and looked back at Dokurokol. She wore her proudest expression, bordering on smugness.

“That sounds—”

“Exactly like our situation, yes,” she said. “What did I tell you, Tabi? It gets even better, too. Check page seventy-three—I bookmarked it.” Tabris flipped to the entry and read it, transfixed.

Date: 17 Tel, Year of Emerald

My fear of Imp passing due to alarmingly fast aging no longer concerns me since discovering that light green gem in the dirt of that blighted place. Even though weeks have passed, it still gives off that warmth and glow. Imp is quite attached to the thing. He spends time curled around it for around two hours, sometimes more, sometimes less, and leaves it energetically. Its presence appears to have halted his aging process entirely. I would hesitate to say that Imp actually is younger—the number of horns has not decreased, and he still has problems typically of an old animal—but he does behave far closer to how he did when he was “younger.” Some days, after he spends nearly four hours sleeping around the gem, he runs around our home like he used to, just after he first began aging. I feel relieved to know that his death is no longer a day away as it felt for so long. I have, clearly, grown attached to the tricky little fellow.

Now it was Tabris’ turn to light up. And indeed, Dokurokol saw crocuses of light purple with shimmering pollen curl out of his hair and surround the crown of his head. Like the insects on her, they vanished when she looked at them. She smiled again as he turned through the journal once more.

“The descriptions are too thorough for it to be a fake,” Tabris said, his breath and heartbeat speeding up. “And the sketches, as well—Dok, you may be right about the Life Gem after all.” She grinned past her whiskers.

“What’d I tell you?” she said. “And now we know that it’s a glittering, green, perfectly round thing with no facets. And that it’s warm, too.”

“But how do we find it?” Tabris said. “The final entry—and the rest before it—have nothing about its location or anything to hint at that. It’s been years since Sotoldri wrote this, too. It could be anywhere!” Dokurokol’s grin broadened and she crossed her arms again.

“This wasn’t the only journal from old Sotoldri that I picked up,” she said. “Come—there are many, many more to search through for clues!”

Leaving—and forgetting—the potted fern, Tabris followed her to her squat, stone house near his own. It laid closer to the Thunderjaw village, however. Dokurokol always gleamed in company, while Tabris preferred the quiet. They passed a few orcs gathering herbs in the undergrowth, who saw them as two flocks of distinct species of moths, traveling quickly along the trail. They started, saw only Tabris and Dokurokol appear where the swarms were, and returned to work—shaken, but unsurprised.

Like traditional dwarven homes and buildings erected aboveground, Dokurokol’s first floor provided only enough space to house a grand, expanding staircase into the ground. It was wide enough for four people to walk side-by-side, and declined at a steady angle. After going several feet into the depths, they reached the hearth of Dokurokol’s home. She needed only three rooms—one very large one for communal cooking, eating, and lounging, with comfortable stone furniture covered with padded furs, and a short, square table for meals. Benches lined all four of its sides, though these were carved from wood. In the middle of it all, a lowered space specifically for laying back against big, fluffy pillows and blankets—perfect for after a massive, dwarven meal, or a long night of drinking. Dokurokol once mentioned to Tabris that the lowered part of her living room was found only in dwarven taverns and pubs, but that she wanted one, anyway. Of course, the cooking space stole all her guests’ attention first. Dwarves preferred to cook together as a family or with company, rather than leave the task to one or two people. To ease the problem of too many cooks in the kitchen, there were two stoves, and the main preparation surface was an island, rather than counters against the wall. Tools hung from above on black metal racks, and baskets and stone drawers used for storage lined the walls around the island. The other two rooms—far smaller—were Dokurokol’s bedroom and bathroom.

For now, wooden boxes and chests filled the tiered sitting space, rather than anything soft. Dokurokol neglected building her library, choosing instead to fill part of Tabris’ archive room with her collection. He provided the storage, and she brought its contents. It annoyed him at first, until he grew interested in preserving the works she found. At the very least, what she passed onto him required little space for now. Most of his library was empty, but he anticipated needing to expand it in the future.

“You brought a lot back from this run,” he said and they sat along the edge to dig through boxes of books, artifacts, broken instruments and weapons, and so on.

“Indeed,” she said, not without a bit of pride. “I found a room full of all this—a vault, locked away and sealed. It was pure, skill, Tabi. It takes a trained eye to notice the signs hinting at its existence, and they kept it quite secret.” She tapped her temple with a self-satisfied smile.

“Or you stumbled and fell into it on accident,” Tabris said. “But whether it was luck or skill—this is an excellent find.” She ignored his remark and tugged open a chest.

“That chest there—the one with the brass lock—that one has more books. Haven’t looked through them as much. You get started there.” She tossed him the key, kept on a chain around her neck, and he deftly caught it.

“We ought to start by cataloguing these,” he said. “Get them organized so we know where to start.” As he picked through the books, he saw no order or arrangement to them. Dokurokol must have tossed them in as they fit or as she found them.

“Waste of time!” she said, opening a book, skimming a couple pages, fanning through the rest, and tossing it aside. Tabris winced. “We can always sort them later. Use your intuition! You might look like a child, but I know you’ve got as much common sense as any two-hundred-seventy-year-old.” He sighed.

“If you insist.” They scoured through the books and searched for anything at all about the Life Gem, or Sotoldri’s experiment on Imp. Finally, Tabris found a second journal written in his hand. The final entry, dated more than a full two years after the last one in the previous journal, recounted Imp’s death.

Date: 7 Bak, Year of Bismuth

I write with an ache in my chest. Regrettably, Imp has passed. More accurately, he was killed by an invading troop of hobgoblins. Though he remained lively despite having such an elderly body, with bowed legs and sagging wrinkles, he could not outrun them. I wish I had stayed behind to better protect my strange companion, but I fear those beasts would have overwhelmed me with their savagery. Thank god, however, that I saw nothing of his death. To even imagine the little one in pain makes me weep bitter tears. The gem that kept him alive, too, is gone forever. Fashioning it into a collar made it more convenient for him to go where he pleased and feel energetic, but I had not considered the possibility of it getting lost or stolen in this manner. No matter about the gem, however—I care far less of that thing. My mind torments me with the three-hundred and seventy ways those savage, bloodthirsty, bastard creatures could have ended his life. I must go now. All in all, a tragic, awful, no-good, worthless week.

Tabris read the entry aloud to Dokurokol. His voice grew quieter as he reached the end, and she closed her eyes and shook her head.

“So it may be gone after all,” Tabris said, slumping and sighing. “Destroyed, likely.”

“Or not,” Dokurokol said and punched the floor with her fist. “Yes, chances are that the hobgoblins broke the Life Gem in the fray—but what if they didn’t? What if they saw Imp, an obviously magical creature, with an enchanted object around his neck, and took him? Or even just the Gem itself—it was valuable!” Tabris scoffed and rolled his eyes.

“You can’t really believe that they saw a monster and kept it alive,” he said. She narrowed her eyes at him.

“Not a monster, Tabris—a creature, a lazy creature, an elderly creature, the size of a working dog,” she said. “It was the Long War—people on all sides wanted information on the other, for every edge the could get. Imp, and the Life Gem, were a path to that advantage.”

Tabris rubbed his chin and the tips of his long ears lowered in thought. Out of the corner of her sight, Dokurokol saw sand spilling from his ears. She deliberately averted her eyes, and he was replaced by a sandstone plateau that weathered away at high-speed. Then, he changed back.

“I suppose you’re right,” he said, always with that tone of sarcasm he used with her. But she smiled. She witnessed his eureka moment. He was being sincere, even if he tried to cover it with a little snark. “So, we need to find records from hobgoblin strongholds around that fortress, probably.” She stood and went to her pantry, where she pulled out a heavy crate full of even more books. This time, they were at least organized—everything in it represented hobgoblin history.

“Well, let’s start with what we’ve got, then!” she said, waving her hand at it with a grin.

“I’ll check those other documents you gave me to hang onto,” he said and snapped his fingers. “If we work separately, we’ll cover more ground.”

“Yes—I’ll go through these, and check the rest of that haul for anything written in Goblin,” she said and hunkered down to work.

“I’ll be back later.” Tabris scurried to the stairway and halted. He looked back at her. “Focus your search on anything from during or after the 7th of Bak in the year of Bismuth! That should be about, what, 2135 pre-war?”

“Closer to 2138 or ’39, but yes, of course!”

“Good!” he rushed up and out, back to his archival room with hope in his heart.

For days, Tabris and Dokurokol scoured through texts with scratchy, difficult-to-read handwriting. Whenever Tabris found parchment with smudged or illegible writing, he brought it to Dokurokol. She possessed an eye for detail—he assumed it came from her dwarven molding—and more often than not, she figured out what the text originally said or depicted. Dokurokol brought destroyed documents to Tabris for repair when she came across them, or was too rough with the materials. It broke his heart to see such old works made by anthropoid hands in disrepair or poor condition, but restoring them gave him a proper break from research.

By the time they finished reading through the stack of hobgoblin texts, they found only one reference to a gently glowing, green sphere of indeterminate material, listed in an incomplete inventory. They followed the path it showed them, and saw it lead to a journal in the same handwriting, which referenced a vault maintained by the owner of a stretch of underground caverns in the mainland. As soon as they reasoned out its location at Tabris’ long table, Dokurokol stood from her seat and left to pack her necessities.

“Now, hold on!” Tabris said, doing his best to hold her back though he had the strength of a child and had no hope of stopping her adult-sized body. “We don’t even know for certain that it’s there, Dok. We’d—we’d be gone from the island for three or four months! Maybe even five if the trip goes poorly—that’s longer than you’ve ever been out!” She turned and looked him straight in the eye.

“So?” she said. He stared, mouth agape.

“You could—you could die.” His voice emptied itself of tone. All that remained was a slight quiver, a frightened shake. Dokurokol’s lips tightened under her bright red mustache. She lowered her eyes. They glinted as they scanned the floor. In the edge of her vision, she saw Tabris appear as if a hole bore through his stomach—from his front to his back, allowing Dokurokol to see right through him.

She looked back at him. The hole disappeared, but the expression in his eyes stayed the same.

“Tabi,” she said in her low, gruff voice, “I can’t live trapped in this place.”

“We have everything we need here!” he said, throwing his arms open. “The Thunderjaws are a good people, and they accept us despite our—our oddities! What more do you need?”

“It’s not a need,” she said, voice rising. “It’s a want. I want to travel freely, I want to see more than just this island! I want to meet all kinds of people. I want to eat foods from all corners of the region!” Her eyes glimmered. “I want to visit the cities and the towns of Veiadokuur and learn more about its people. I want to do more than heal people and bless the farmlands for a healthy crop—I want to do what I want with the life I have!”

Tabris went pale.

“That’s worth death to you?” he said.

“Immortality be damned—Tabris, everyone else dies. It’s part of being alive—it’s what living things do.”

“But you have the choice—Dokurokol, staying here means living forever. We could witness everything that happens ten years from now, a hundred years from now! Aren’t you at all curious about the future?” She narrowed her eyes. Her crow’s feet made her look harsher than she intended, and Tabris shrunk a step away.

“The only future I care about is my own,” she said. She turned away and put her weight on one of his bookshelves, leaning against it. “If I can’t die as I please, I was never truly alive, anyway.” She muttered it, as if the words preferred to stay in her throat. She shook her head, sighed, glanced over her shoulder at Tabris. “You do as you please. But I’m going to find the Life Gem in those hobgoblin ruins, and I’m going to explore the world until I’m sick of it. It’s worth the risk. It’s worth death.”

With that said, she left Tabris and returned to her home. He watched the staircase for a while, unblinking, before he sat at his table, bent over, and hid his face in his folded arms.

Continue to part 2 here.

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