Lith kept his hand open, letting her palm touch his, in the only form of contact they could share.
"You know what? You are right. I think I wouldn't feel so bad if I had asked Jirni to have them immediately executed. It's just that even though Fallmug is a scumbag, I attended to their marriage. I even spent some time with him when Zinya was giving birth.
"He's still someone I know, not just a faceless criminal with a record I have to study." Kamila said.
"I also think you have yet to recover from the attempted murder." Lith said. "The first time is always shocking."
The memory of Fallmug's attack, with all its possible implications, made Kamila shiver and seek the comfort of a heavy blanket.
"When will you be back?" She asked. "I miss you so bad that it hurts."
"Wish I know, but soon." Lith sighed. "Once I return, I promise you that we'll spend a lot of time together and that I'll cook you all of your favorite dishes. We need to get some meat back on those bones."
"Thanks. Your words mean the world to me." Kamila said.
Their conversation continued for a while, but before passing the amulet to Phloria, Lith spoke a bit with Jirni.
"You promised me that she would have been safe." He didn't mean to sound aggressive, but between gritting his teeth and pulverizing rocks with his bare hands to vent his stress, any other person would have found him terrifying.
"And I kept my word. She was never alone, not for a single moment. I gave Fallmug only enough rope so that I could build an airtight case against him." As a married woman, Jirni could understand his distress.
If Orion ever ended up looking like Kamila, she would demand an explanation, and an excellent one at that.
"Then why didn't you kill him on the spot? You know how soft Kamila is, and killing someone in self-defense is much different from doing it in cold blood. The guilt is eating at her alive." Lith rebuked.
"I hoped to make her harder, stronger. In our line of work, what Fallmug did is barely a practical joke. I can only tell you that compared to some of the criminals I arrested, the Odi were amateurs." Jirni said.
"Please, have Fallmug killed as soon as you can and then bring Kamila to my home. The kind of help she needs is something that only her sister and my family can provide to her. No offense." Lith knew that Jirni was right, but also that demanding from Kamila to react like they would was going too far.
"None taken. Any preference on the execution method?"
"I prefer not knowing." Lith replied with a cruel smile. That way, if Kamila asked him anything about how gruesome Fallmug's death had been, Lith wouldn't be forced to lie to her.
The next morning, Lith heard words that he had always believed to be just a myth.
"We have great news." Professor Gaakhu said, handing and abridged version of their findings to all the members of the expedition.
"No bad news? At all?" Phloria spit her breakfast in surprise.
"Nope. Not even good news, only great ones." Ellkas replied with a warm smile.
"The documents we have found in the commander's office were the most recent reports and updates about all the experiments conducted in Kulah. Needless to say, most of them were a complete failure.
"Archmage Ernas was right in his estimates. Both Forgemastering living beings and the attempts to create artificial adamant proved to be impossible."
"You said most were failures." Yondra pointed out. "What about their successful experiments?"
"I was getting to that." Gaakhu said. "According to the reports, the Life Merging, Mana Reactor, and Flesh Golem projects were brought to fruition. In the upper part of Kulah, the Odi continued to work on their failed experiments whereas they moved the three successful projects in the lower levels of the city.
"There is an underground facility even better equipped than the one right under our feet. We have all the data we need in our hands, so as soon as we collect the evidence from the under-underground lab, we can finally leave this place."
Gaakhu's words were greeted by a round of applause, yet neither Lith nor Phloria took part in it.
'That's why so much world energy is being siphoned. The Odi must have focused on improving the technologies that actually worked, giving to the other projects just the necessary scraps to keep the base operational.
'Life Merging, Mana Reactor, and Flesh Golem. I have a faint idea of what each one of them does and I like none of them.' Lith thought.
"What about their 'Meat Factories'?" Phloria asked. "Shouldn't we give those poor creatures relief from their life of torment?"
"They'll die once we cut off the power lines to the complex." Ellkas replied.
"No, that's just what you hope for. What if the modification they underwent allow them to survive? What if after a lifetime in slavery, we leave them for dead while they slowly die of hunger? Even worse, what if by doing so we set them free to roam the Griffon Kingdom?" Phloria's words made sense.
The Odi were crazy enough to unleash the horrors they had created against the 'lesser races' in revenge. After all, they were as dead as a doornail, whatever happened wasn't their problem anymore.
"We'll move to the underground floor only once we make sure that not a soul stays trapped in this nightmare a second longer than necessary." Phloria was pretty sure that without their life support systems, the creatures would die. Pain was the only variable.
She hadn't forgotten about the Teks and her failure to locate them. The image of the Tek younglings eating each other still haunted her dreams. After such a terrible parody of life, she wanted to grant them at least a merciful death.
"That shouldn't take long." Ellkas nodded. "We have a list of the facilities and based on the buildings we already explored, we now know which is which."
There weren't many labs left were live specimens had been used, so before moving to their last stop, the group explored them. They made sure that no creature like the pathogen-Abomination hybrid was still alive.
Yet no matter where they looked, they only found either empty buildings or mass graves.
"This really doesn't make sense." Lith said. "Why some places have been cleaned while the rest appears as if the Odi just left, leaving their guinea pigs to starve? It's like a sudden crisis forced them to run away."
His words pictured in everyone's head the image of the Odi still alive in the safety of their underground lab, waiting for them like predators stalking their prey.
"It's worse than that." Phloria said after checking their maps. "Why are the meat factories empty? These rooms are nothing like the one Lith and I witnessed."
The buildings where the creatures that had assaulted Morok's first group on multiple occasions were supposed to be, turned out to be just warehouses filled with junk. There was no trace of dimensional runes, working arrays, or even defensive systems.
"I think I know the answer." Neshal said.