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Water and Ashes

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Singing a happy tune to a nearby bird, Kiwi was having the time of his life.

Miriam gave him an amused look. "Kiwi, I get you're friends with the birds, but we gotta focus on what we were sent to do."

Kiwi gives a friendly chuckle. "Whoops! My bad, sorry Miriam!" He then bounds over in her direction, and settles with walking right by her side.

"Well, there were reported sightings of a 'monster.'" She made air quotes at this. "In this forest. Seems pretty dumb to me, but it’s not like we have anything better to do."

"A monster?" Kiwi pondered for a moment then broke into a singing voice. "Do you think we can tame them with a song?" And continuing his lilted tune, "Or perhaps with a dance?"

He danced in a circle before tripping on a rock and falling on his butt. Landing with an, "Oomph!" He chuckled and stood to his feet. "I guess I've gotta be more careful!"

Miriam shrugged. "Eh, might just be the locals mistaking a bear or something for some big scary monster. Even assuming it's not a bear, it probably won't be THAT bad."

He brushes the dust off himself, and admires the scenery. "I bet it's a momma bear then! They do get awfully protective of their cubs!" Continuing to walk beside Miriam with a skip in his step, he begins singing to lighten the mood.

"Yeah, probably," Miriam agreed with them as they walked further into the forest.

A while passes, and a few songs later, the forest around them looks burned. The trees are blackened and crumbling, the leaves are burnt to ashes and scattered on the path. Something is clearly wrong.

“Geez, this place sure is something.” The bard paused his tune, taking an opportunity to fully take in his surroundings. “I wonder what happened here?”

He shivers in the unnatural cold of the forest, and looks up to an inky sky. The sky was covered by dark smokey clouds, and only a sliver of the sun provided light.

Miriam tried not to show it, but she was actually VERY unsettled by the decimated forest. “Just what the heck happened to this place?”

"Maaaaybe the bear... was an arsonist?" Kiwi's voice has a tiny bit of confusion as well as fear, but he keeps his optimistic disposition steady.

“Or maybe the people tried to burn whatever it was out of this place.” Miriam said with an annoyed huff. “They should have known better than to cause this.”

He walks a little closer to Miriam for safety, and looks into the undergrowth for any signs of life. The birds and other friendly animals are long gone, with not even a trace of their presence.

A blackened bush rustled nearby, and Miriam jumped around to stare it head on, already instinctively charging a ball of magic in her fist.

"Eep!" Kiwi was startled by Miriam's reaction. He cleared his throat in case he needed to sing to alleviate any of the 'bear's' anger.

A small soot covered rabbit popped out of the bush. Miriam lowered her hands, the magic dissipating in her confusion

The reprieve was short, however, as a large claw came to crash down upon the rabbit.

A large reptilian beast lumbered out of the shadows. A dragon. Thick crimson scales covered its muscular body, and it was littered with scars both new and old; they were remnants of previous skirmishes with others of its kind.

Kiwi leapt back as it emerged from its scorched sylvan shelter. “Looks like the locals were right, it really IS a monster!” he yelped in fear.

“It's a dragon, Kiwi!” Miriam stammered with alarm as she took a step back, starting to charge a ball of magic in her palm.

Kiwi gulped, then began to sing a harmonious melody to the towering beast. Before he had the chance to form his first note, the dragon roared. It was a deafening sound, and if the pair hadn’t been used to facing large or dangerous ordeals, they’d have been cowering in fear before the gargantuan reptile.

Miriam grabbed Kiwi’s arm and ran right as the smokey maw full of razor sharp teeth clamped down where he used to be.

"We're running! No objections!" She managed to huff out as they ran quickly through the forest.

"Oh gosh!" Kiwi runs next to Miriam, glad she pulled him away from the dragon, saving him.

Miriam quickly got her broom out, hopped on it, and dragged Kiwi on it with her. All while maintaining their momentum.

They flew deeper into the forest at top speed for what seemed to be forever, but was more likely a few minutes at most. The dragon galloped in fast pursuit, huffing smoke as it chased them.

They were flying near a large lake, when she looked behind her and oh Eya did that thing just grow wings-

A large claw whipped itself at Kiwi and Miriam, snapping the broom in half as they were launched into the lake below.

Kiwi yelps as they're both flung into the lake.

The two of them land with a splash, and begin sinking below the murky depths.

Kiwi opens his eyes and sees Miriam struggling to make her way to the surface, so he musters up his remaining leg strength and pushes himself through the water towards her.

They've sunk deep, and Kiwi knows he doesn't have enough breath to swim to the top seeing as he had no warning before the sudden icy plunge.

He swims beneath Miriam, the two of them within arms distance of the lake's bottom. Kiwi grabs onto her feet and uses all his remaining strength to push her up towards the surface.

Miriam uses her extra momentum to reach the air. She manages to grab onto a broken piece of her broom, clinging on as she gasps for breath.

Then realization hits her.

"Wait- KIWI!"

Miriam takes a deep breath, and dives back in. She frantically swims towards the submerged and now unconscious Kiwi.

She manages to reach him, just barely having enough strength to pull them both back up to the surface and to the edge of the lake.

She gasps and sputters a few times, then looks at Kiwi’s limp form laid down next to her.

"Oh Eya- Kiwi!" She stumbles over to him, shaking his shoulders.

"Kiwi, c'mon, wake up..."

Shakily, she presses an ear to Kiwi's chest, thankful that there's a heartbeat, but it's weak.

She starts compressions on his chest, trying to get him to cough up any water he swallowed.

After a minute goes by, Kiwi groans. He rolls to his side, hacking up the water he had inhaled. "Eya almighty-" He began, before another bout of coughing wracked his body.

Miriam stared at her friend, who had just nearly drowned, unable to bring herself to do much, her heart still racing in her chest from fear of losing Kiwi.

"What happened?" He asked bleary eyed. "It tastes like I swallowed mud."

He coughs, more water leaving his body. "I think I just saw Eyala again-"

Miriam almost tackles Kiwi, wrapping her arms around him in a fierce hug. "Eya's sweet chords- I thought I lost you-"

She was shaking so much she was sure Kiwi could feel it.

Nearly shouting, she lectured him. “Don't you EVER try to pull some stunt like that again! You nearly got yourself killed!”

He returns her hug, thankful to have her initiate one for the first time. "Hey, I'm alright Miriam! Sorry to scare ya like that!"

Miriam pulled away from the hug. "'Sorry to scare me? Sorry to scare me?’ Kiwi, you almost DIED! I was TERRIFIED!"

Kiwi bashfully wrung out his hat. "I uh..." He was going to apologize again, but decided against it since he didn't want to upset Miriam any more than her current state. "At least I'm okay?"

His memories come back to him in a flash. "The dragon!" He exclaims and leaps to his feet.

"Where did it go? It was here just a moment ago! Wh-" His words are cut short with a deep and raspy cough.

Miriam winced. "Well, you don't look okay to me. As for that horrid thing, I'm not sure where it went."

"I'm sure I'm fine, really!" He goes to sing a few notes before the stress on his breathing causes him to cough.

She sighed, rubbing her temple. "I think you inhaled too much water or something. We should probably head home."

She looks around.

"Uh."

The forest looked identical from every direction. Each tree was equally singed to a charred frame. Miriam had no idea where they had entered from.

"I probably just inhaled a little water, I'll be fine in a few minutes!" He adds a strained tune to his words to ensure to Miriam that he was okay.

"Is something wrong?"

Miriam quietly swore under her breath and rubbed her temples with agitation.

"We're lost."

"Oh Eya save us now." He looked down at the ground and contemplated what they'd do to get out of the nightmarish forest.

"Well," She huffed. "We may as well find shelter or something so we don't die of the cold." Miriam's eyes landed on a cave a little ways around the side of the lake. She pointed to it. "That looks like a pretty good spot."

Kiwi looked to where she pointed. "That sounds like a great idea!" He exclaims, causing a raspy wheeze to escape his throat.

Miriam gave him a sympathetic look, then began walking towards the cave, gathering some sticks and a few dead leaves on the way.

"I know you're worried, but we'll both be perfectly fine!" He followed after her with a light skip in his step. It was something he could do without causing another bout of hacking.

By the time they got to the cave, somehow it managed to be even darker outside, as if it wasn't even night before.

Miriam dropped the sticks she'd collected into a pile about halfway into the cave. She sets the broken pieces of broom she salvaged next to the entrance.

Kiwi decides to walk into the cave to make sure it’s safe. It was dark inside and fairly small at the entrance, but it opened up wider towards the back, leading into the earth. Kiwi saw nothing along the wall's edges except moss and stone.

"It seems alright in here! We can stay here for the night before we g-" His breath was once again cut short.

He finds a comfortable spot on the floor of the cave, as comfortable as stone could be anyways, and sits.

Miriam takes the gathered sticks and arranges them into a small campfire. She then charges a small ball of magic in her hand, and fires it at the sticks. It creates a small flame.

She sits down next to Kiwi, the fire in front of them both.

Kiwi's coughing fits subside after a while, and his eyes grow droopier as they get deeper into the night.

With a yawn, he says, “Miriam? Why do you think the dragon burnt the forest down?”

“Hm. I’m not really sure. Dragons are a rare sight, and no one really gets close to them, ya know? Not as if they'd want to, considering those big stinking lizards are nothing but trouble.” She shrugs, a scowl on her face as she remembers their earlier plight.

He nodded, and looked outside. The ashen sky just seemed to grow darker and darker with each passing minute. The sun had long since dropped below the horizon, and left a red smear where it used to be. "Should we go to sleep now?" He asked tiredly. He didn't think the dragon would come back for them that night, or at least he hoped not.

Miriam stretched for a moment. "Probably."

"Goodnight!" Kiwi said with a tired yet cheerful tone. He lay down facing their small yet effective fire, letting its heat warm him.

"G'night." She laid down as well.

They laid there for quite some time, but Kiwi eventually grew uncomfortable. The fire heated his face and caused him to sweat slightly.

He rolls over to give his face a break, and sees Miriam laying awake. She was staring at the ceiling with her arms beneath her head. He scooted a little closer to her. Wanting to rest his head on something other than the stone floor of the cave, he placed his head on her stomach.

Miriam noticed him, and slowly slid her arm around his back.

Kiwi's ear was pressed to her lower torso. In the silence of the cave he could hear it gurgling.

With a soft musical chuckle, he whispered. "I can hear your tummy making noises."

She huffed. “You know there are better places on the body to listen to right? Like your heart or something.”

Miriam sneered and sighed internally. Kiwi’s cheesiness was rubbing off on her...

"Hm?" Kiwi gave her a bemused look. "Oh! Alrighty then!" Kiwi took her words literally and rested his head over her heart, nuzzling into her so he could hear it better. Her rhythmic heartbeat was quick, but very pleasant to listen to. Kiwi snuggled closer to her and closed his eyes so he was surrounded by her soothing rhythm.

Miriam felt her cheeks heat up, then sighed. She was already getting attached to the pressure Kiwi was applying to her chest. She closed her eyes, arm still wrapped around Kiwi.

Kiwi brought his left arm and leg over top of her, and hooked his leg with hers. He nuzzled closer to Miriam, enjoying their close proximity.

Thoroughly loving the moment, he hums a low tune, in sync with her heartbeat.

"Your heart sounds really nice, Miriam." Kiwi mumbles lightly. "It must be because it's so big."

Kiwi’s words touched her, and her chest swelled with emotion, causing her heart rate to quicken.

He listens for a moment more. "Miriam?"

Miriam makes a quiet noise of acknowledgment, giving a small, soft smile as she looks at the ceiling, still holding Kiwi close. Right now, she's just happy to be here with him.

"I think you're my best friend." He smiles softly and continues. "I know I have a lot of friends, and meet new ones everywhere I go... but you matter the most to me." He lets his words fill the cave's silence, the only other noise is Miriam's heart in his ear.

Miriam holds Kiwi tighter. "I think you're my best friend, too."

When hearing her say this, Kiwi's eyes fill with tears of joy, and he bites his quivering bottom lip to keep himself from blubbering in front of her. "Thank you, Miriam!" He excitedly whispers as he nuzzles yet closer to her.

The two of them drift off to sleep, and stay like that the whole night, holding each other in a sweet embrace.