I sat there in shock, staring at the body. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I gripped the staff tightly in my hands.

“I… I n-need time,” I mumbled to nobody in particular.

“I will be nearby,” Carves-the-Foundation rumbled. I heard quiet footsteps, then the sound of the door being shut.

I wanted to cry. I wanted the tears to flow. I wanted the pain to overwhelm me. But I sat there, just staring at the body. Mhorik’s last words repeating in my mind.

“…always made me proud.”

Maybe I was cried out already. Maybe I had found some strength I didn’t know I had. I don’t know, but while I still missed Mhork, I realized that sitting around wanting to cry would not help.

Distant memories came to me from long ago, lessons from Mhorik about how to deal with death.

“The most important thing is that you should not cast spells on the corpse.” Magic had a tendency to do unpredictable things.

I braced myself against the staff and stood up. The staff felt natural in my hands.

I went to the door and found it slight ajar. “Could you get me some hot water?” I asked.

“Right away.” I heard the footsteps echoing down the hallway.

I went to our packs and drew a deep breath. I opened Mhork’s pack, laying out the contents. I needed something to steep in the water to preserve the body.

Then I realized I might have a problem. Looking over at the body, I shifted my perception. Just as I feared, the spell was still in the body, still slowly consuming it. I would need to purge that spell as well lest it have some terrible effect.

I took a steadying breath, and then sorted through the herbs and supplies. I picked out a mint that would be good as a preservative, but what would eradicate the spell? Then I saw the pouch of powder.

It was a dangerous thing, a potent reagent. Harmful to the touch and deadly in large doses, it disrupts the flow of magic in one’s body. But, I didn’t have to worry about the deadly properties affecting Mhorik anymore.

The door creaked open behind me, and Carves-the-Foundation walked in carrying a large stone basin of water. It must have been very heavy, but he moved with a grace that made it seem like nothing.

The basin was too small to submerge Mhork into. But, I had a thought. “One moment,” I called before Carves-the-Foundation could leave. “I need your help.”

He turned back toward me. “What would you need of me? Just ask.”

“I need to purge a spell still lingering in his body. But, this powder is a deadly to me. Perhaps your stone body…,” I trailed off.

“Would not be affected by such a poison. I understand.”

“But, I do not know for sure.”

“In the short time we have known each other, I feel a certain kinship to you, Dorua. I will take the risk.”

I let out a small sigh of relief.

“Plus,” he continued with a low grinding noise that was probably laughter, “You have already failed to kill me once.”

I laughed despite myself. Then I focused entirely on my task at hand. I crushed some of the mint between my hands and dropped it in the water. I mixed it thoughtfully, using a stick and no magic. Then, I sprinkled the powder carefully into the basin.

“Let that settle, while we prepare the body.”

I went over to Mhorik’s body and carefully removed his clothing. He looked thin, mere skin stretched over bones. I moved him to a spot on the stone floor, and placed him in a ritual position.

I went to the pack and got out a scrap of cloth. “Take this, dip it into the basin then use the water in the basin to wash the body.”

Carves-the-Foundation took the cloth and dipped it into the basin as I instructed. I held my breath, but nothing seemed to happen. Carves-the-Foundation turned to Mhorik and worked quickly and efficiently, wiping the body down.

I shifted my perception to see what was happening. As I expected, the reagent disrupted the spell. It moved away from the areas wiped down, until it was finally snuffed out with the final wipe of the cloth.

Carves-the-Foundation made a low rumbling noise, and then a noise that sounded like rocks tumbling down a hill. From outside, Shakes-the-Walls came in and took the basin of water out.

“Be careful…” I said.

“I told him.”

That rumbling must have been their speech. But, I turned my mind back to the ritual.

I took some of the furs and draped them over Mhorik. I rolled him over, and wrapped the furs around him. With some rope, I secured the furs tightly around the body.

“That should keep the body safe, but I need to perform another ritual later and burn the body. I need to be outside for that. I also need some herbs I don’t have.”

“There is a village outside the mountain. The place where I learned your language. We could go there.”

My brow furrowed. “We?”

“I would carry the body. Or did you intend to carry it yourself?”

I took a deep breath. I had not thought that far ahead.

“I would appreciate the help,” I said quietly.

“Oh,” he said abruptly, and I looked back to see a stone hand held up between us. Flakes of rock fell from the hand, slowly at first but gaining speed as cracks spread along the arm. “That powder had…” he started, but didn’t finish.

His body turned to dust within the space between one word and the next.

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