Chapter 51: A New Friend

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The Eight dvided us. Where was our camaraderie? Our brotherhood? The very existence of the Eight had stripped that away from us! Family was set against family, and brother against brother. When we have died out, the future generations must regain these fractured virtues. Family and brotherhood must be revived.

***

Three Years Ago

***

Raddas grunted, gulped, and dove back into the cave.

The toxic gasses stung his eyes. He kept moving through the cramped tunnel, his lungs screaming for fresh air. His nose burnt. Every motion made his muscles ache, a deep ache, the kind only achieved by straining muscles over and over and over, without rest.

He reached another pocket of clear air. His mouth opened as he sucked in air. It was tainted with the rank stench of brimstone, but unlike the toxic gas, this was bearable.

He stared ahead. In the dim light, provided by holes in the tunnel above, he could see the next obstacle. A hole in the ground, too long to jump over, but the thin metal bars provided a possible way through the pit. If one kept running and used that momentum to throw themselves forwards, and not fall and lose their balance, or break stride, that is.

"Laidu," Raddas said, breathing heavily, trying to get some good air in, "are you ready for this one?" He waited for a moment, ready to charge forward with his partner. He waited for his big, scaly Changed friend's answer.

No answer came.

There was no laboring breath, no heavy footsteps. The only thing Raddas heard was the hiss of escaping toxic gas as the cracks in the tunnel walls. "Laidu?" He turned around. There was no answer. "LAIDU!" he screamed. Nothing.

Fear began to build in his heart. Where was his friend? Where had he lost him? Dimly, he remembered where they worked together. Laidu had boosted Raddas up at the Falling Wall, and Raddas had helped pull Laidu over the edge. The dragon Changed trainee was with him too at the Dancing Crosses. And the Swing Punch. It was just here that Raddas must have lost him. In the Choke Tunnels.

Raddas swallowed another lungful of air, and dove back into the hot gases.

They stung and burnt his eyes, but Raddas kept going. His lungs screamed from the lack of life-giving breath, but he kept going. He ignored the other pains, the hundreds of tiny wounds that burned from the toxic gas.

A few seconds later, he had found Laidu.

The young man -he had grown up, and Raddas couldn't call him 'boy' like he had in the salt pits- was sprawled upon the ground. Raddas couldn't make out the scales, or any detail except for horns through the choking, obfuscating miasma, but no normal man was that big. Laidu wasn't moving, except for the shallow breaths that caused his chest to rise and fall ever so slightly.

Raddas made a mistake. He breathed. The fumes reeked of overpowering brimstone, like eggs gone rotten, all of that shoved into his throat. He gagged, but leaned down, and began to drag his partner closer to fresh air.

Light above, Laidu was heavy! Raddas kept moving, and, after maybe fifteen feet, had to take in another gulp of sulfurous fumes. His head was spinning, his limbs weak. He needed to move his friend before the volcanic gasses choked the life out of them, but he didn't have the strength.

"Drybrain! What do you think you're doing?" Raddas heard a voice shout.

"They need help!" That voice was closer. Deeper.

"That gas is toxic!"

"I know it is," the second voice said, coughing.

"Fine. Go rot away in the dry pits for all I care!"

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