Chapter 20: el'Thaen'im

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Of course, there were the rebels. Now, I ask for them the blessings of God, the same God I said hadn't existed a week ago. They know of our crimes. And if the banner of the Eightfold Star is raised again, I pray that those behind it learned from the rebels. Not us.

***

"Well, thank you for helping out here," Rhea said, before kneeling down on the floor. A bucket of soapy water and a washboard sat next to her, ready to be used. Across the large fold-out partition, there was some quiet splashing, along with Thaen humming an aimless tune.

"Any time," Laidu said. He looked at pile of clothes that sat between them. When they had gotten Thaen's clothing and gear from the guards, they had probably been a little smelly when they were locked in. But after a hundred-or-so days to ferment and age, the stench was noxious. "Though really, Thaen, I think you should just burn them," Laidu said.

"No, Laidu." There was a splashing sound, and Laidu saw Thaen's head poke from outside the partition. Laidu chuckled at his friend's face, the fur on it soaking wet, soap suds dripping down. "We don't burn clothes. Everything can be redeemed, no matter how wretched -or how stinky- it is. Besides," he said, shrugging, exposing a bare, wet shoulder, "it's wasteful." There was another splash as Thaen climbed back into the bathtub.

"Alright. But you should pay Rhea for touching them," Laidu shot back. "They stink," he said quieter.

"I've smelled worse," Rhea said, before grabbing a pair of simple black pants from the pile and shoved them into the soapy washwater. "Once, Tom had decided to conduct a little 'experiment.' He wanted to see how long it would take for his dirty shirt to stink up the great hall if he left them on the rafters." She pulled the now soaked trousers out and began to scrub up and down the corrugated washboard. "Took a few weeks, but he managed it."

Laidu winced. "That couldn't have been good for business.

"It wasn't," she said. After a bit of silence, she took out the soaked pants. "Laidu, dear, could you pass me the basket? I'll take these out to wash."

Laidu didn't do that. "Let me see it," he said. "Actually, hold on." He took off his shirt, tossed it onto the basket in question, and gestured for the pants. "Let me see them."

Rhea frowned, but she handed Laidu the soaked pants. Holding the heavy mass of wet fabric out away from him, he folded them into quarters. Then, he pushed them on his bare chest, holding them close, and ignited his Fever Blood.

As he stoked the flames inside, he heard the water sizzle. Good. Soon, steady clouds of steam drifted from the wet fabric. As the flow of steam began to wane, Laidu let the trousers unfold and fall open. "There," he said. "Perfectly dry."

Rhea handed him a pair of short pants, probably Thaen's undergarments. Laidu pushed them onto his blazing chest, and the steam burst vigorously out of them.

"Hey, Laidu, you using that hot blood of yours again?" Thaen asked.

"Yeah, why?" Laidu asked, before handing the undergarments back to Rhea.

"I can't feel it anymore." He chuckled. "I was that hungry, I've even used up all the traces."

"Traces?" Rhea asked.

"When we were kids, he drank a bit of my blood," Laidu explained. He checked his left arm, and pointed to a spot on it. There, two tiny bumps were all that was left of when Thaen had fed on him. "And then I learned that my Fever Blood will burn. Even outside my body."

There was another splash, and Thaen poked his head out from behind the partition. He wiped his mouth, moving the fur from it. "See? I still have the scars from it!" He sighed. "I had to spit it back out. Burned on the way up. I couldn't talk for weeks." Laidu chuckled. Thaen loved to talk.

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