Chapter 70: Amidst The Ruins

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As she thought of these more and more, the images became concrete, their grim predictions became absolute certainties. Her breath quickened, her heart beat faster, and her head throbbed. She wanted him, wanted Laidu by her side, if only to know that he was safe, but she feared, she feared so much she knew that he wouldn't be there.

Thaen sat up, ramrod stiff. "I...I smell something. A person." He rose, adjusted the cloak, and stepped past KYra. Her heart began to beat faster, panic. What was it? There was something stirring in her heart, something small, but powerful. A faint glimmer, faint, of hope. Who was it? Could it be Laidu? It had to be! 

But what if it was a stranger? Another traveler? What if he came, bearing terrible news? She could picture it now, the ragged man talking about the strange, scaled corpse he found. Or worse, what if he mistook Laidu for a monster? What if he accidentally killed Laidu?

She rose to follow him, and her hands were shaking as she trailed Thaen. They traveled down the stairs, through a dark passageway, walking through what might have once been a cloister before mud and earth filled through the arches. Thaen turned into a more open room, where weathered statues kept a silent, solitary vigil. He stopped, and Kyra saw them.

There, stepping out of the rain, stood two creatures. Mud and filth dripped off of their forms, pooling at their indistinct feet. One was big, the other an inch below Kyra's height, and they advanced, almost menacingly. 

"Gah, I'm never going to get all the mud out of my hair!" the smaller one said in Indra's voice. It spat and uttered a string of curses. "Got some of this in my mouth!"

The towering one began to shift and warp, the mud bubbling and hissing. It dried, hardened, cracked, and claws ripped it off. "Don't open your mouth, then," Laidu said with a chuckle as he peeled dirt off of his frame. 

At the sight of him, dirty but alive, Kyra exhaled, and her heart slowed. The images in her head evaporated, and relief crashed over her like the thunder crashed over the mountain. He was alive. And she remembered what she was going to do. A big hug. But that could wait until he was clean. "Hello, Kyra, Thaen," he said, before some of the unhardened mud over his horn dripped over his eye. "Hold on. I'll help get Indra clean, and then we can talk, alright?" She nodded hollowly, still reeling from the shock of seeing him. 

"Oh, how are you going to do that?" Indra asked. She had managed to smear most of the mud off her face. "I don't see a bath anywhere near here."

"It's deeper in. But since there's no furnace, I'll heat the water for you." He put a mud-covered hand on Indra's arm, and led her down another door.

Thaen paused, and then he turned. "Your heart was beating madly until he spoke." He looked up into Kyra's eyes. "You care about him as much as I do." Her heart flipped. Did he know? Did he guess about her feelings? What would Thaen think? He was a good friend, but he might not continue to be a friend if he found out. After all, it was strange and bizarre for her to like someone like Laidu, right? "I know, he's a good brother, isn't he?"

Kyra breathed a sigh of relief. "Yeah, yeah he is." Thankfully, Thaen was clueless. Well-intentioned, but clueless.

They walked back to the camp. "So?" Skaria asked. Karik'ar looked up, breathing heavy. Apparently, they had just been sparring.

"Mud monsters," Kyra said, "which turned out to be Indra and Laidu."

"Indra got dirty," Skaria said with a chuckle. "I would have paid to see that."

"Ever seen a housecat get wet?" Kyra asked. "Same miserable, nigh-murderous expression on her face. Apparently Laidu's heating up a bath for her."

"Oh, is he now?" Skaria asked. "Probably not all he's heating up for her."

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