Tusk was glaring at Naeris. “What happened to the plan?” she asked forcefully.
The two of them had finally managed to find a moment’s peace to catch up, and she was almost giddy with joy and simultaneously filled with a storm of rage. “Why are we letting them all live? The plan-”
“Plans change, Tusk,” Naeris interjected. “You know that. I’m still getting you out of here. That hasn’t changed.”
“And you just expect us to what, not fight?” Tusk felt slightly betrayed. “They treated us like slaves! They ATE us! We should be ripping them all apart for what they’ve done, not saving them.” She spat. “You’ve changed, Turnip. You would have slipped in and taken out the guards and then we’d be rioting through the streets right now. Like we should be!”
“Believe it or not,” Naeris said with a weary look on their face, “I was ready to do exactly that. We all were. I was ready to tear this city apart one stone at a time, even before I knew they were eating people.”
“So why aren’t you?” It was an accusation. You don’t really care.
“Tusk, please,” Naeris begged. “It was all I could do to not do that. But I have a good reason, I swear.”
“By what?” Tusk growled. “You’ve always been quick to swear, with your sweet words and lies. Swear by something important, so I can take it from you if you’re full of shit.”
“That’s fair,” Naeris said wryly. “Fine. Tusk, I swear by the love you once held for me. May the Traveller turn your heart and mind against me if you find me wanting. Now will you just shut up and listen, instead of yelling at me?”
Tusk gave Naeris a long, appraising look, which lingered on the rune-marked bones around their neck. “Fine. But now I have even more questions.”
“The plan changed,” Naeris said, “because we didn’t have all the information. You ask me why I’m not doing it anyway. I mean, fuck, these people probably deserve it right? They’re cruel slavers, and they eat their prisoners. That’s outright evil in anyone’s book, right?
“But turn it around for a bit, Tusk. You know what life was like on the surface. What we grew up in. The life of cruel oppression that moulded and shaped us into the kinds of people who think that murdering an entire city is a just and fair thing to do. How fucked is that? Would you have done the same to our city? Everyone there was just as culpable for the same atrocities as these people down here. You, me, the merchants and others we stole from, the guards who enforced the Divine Regents twisted justice. Any one of us could have taken a stand. Realised that things weren’t right. But we didn’t. We told ourselves that was how the world worked, that of course society is like this; how else could it be? So we stole, we murdered, we did what we had to do to survive. And fuck, Tusk, we thrived. How many people do you think died so we could live?”
Tusk was slightly taken aback. There was a ferocity in Naeris’ words that she had never heard before. But she was also angry. “How dare you,” she spat, “we’re nothing like these rot-worshipping cannibals.”
“Aren’t we?” Naeris asked quietly. “We paid tribute to the same god, after all.”
Tusk hesitated, confused. “What?”
“You remember the churches; the offerings. The occasional whispers about sacrifice,” Naeris shuddered. “It was the same goddess. Would you blame us all for that? Or would you blame the one who sold us the lie? Who corrupted our society, and reshaped it to suit his designs?”
“But that’s different! We didn’t know! The Divine Regent-”
“Was a monster, yes. But these people… their entire existence is a lie. They think the world ended. They don’t know about the surface. The ‘larval god’ they worship is an aboleth that has been magically dominating their entire populace for thousands of years. Would you deny them the truth? Would you deny them their freedom? You might as well tell me to put the Divine Regent back on the throne and submit to his rule. Yes, they are cruel and have done evil things,” Naeris finished softly, “But so have we. If you want to punish these people for being raised in an unjust society built on lies, then be my guest. But you should start with me.”
Tusk shook her head in disbelief. “I take it back,” she snorted. “You haven’t changed at all. I bet you still give most of your food to the other orphans, too.”
Naeris blushed slightly. “Actually, I opened an orphanage,” they mumbled.
“I still don’t like it. It feels like you’re letting them off too easy.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Naeris said, “Tomorrow we’re going to kill something they consider a divine being and expose their entire history to be what basically amounts to a shitty practical joke. That’s almost worse than killing them, but at least this way they’ll get a choice.”
“I guess,” Tusk sighed. “It is good to see you again, by the way. I’ve missed you.”
Naeris threw themself at Tusk and grabbed her tightly. “I thought you were dead,” they said. “Or worse.”
Tusk tensed at the sudden contact, suddenly unsure of how to handle the situation. Gradually, she softened into their embrace. “I’m here now,” she said softly.