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Water and Ashes

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Kiwi wakes up first, and notices a small amount of light creeping into the cave from a medium grey sky overhead. He doesn't raise his head, because he's afraid he'll wake Miriam. He closes his eyes again, just happy to be wrapped in her arms.

Kiwi notices that as they slept, both of Miriam's arms had found themselves around him, and his head had shifted to rest on her sternum.

The fire had gone out during the middle of the night, so Kiwi was glad Miriam's embrace was warm. He subconsciously nuzzled into her, craving a closeness he didn't get anywhere else.

Miriam's eyes softly fluttered open, feeling something snuggling into her. Her eyes landed on Kiwi, eyes still closed, presumably asleep.

Miriam let a small smile worm its way onto her lips, then she sighed.

Kiwi hears her sigh, but thinking it's in her sleep, doesn't open his eyes to check. Rather, he continues laying there comfortably.

"Okay," Miriam starts to say to herself, unaware Kiwi is awake. "This has been. Actually really nice." She huffed. "Past me would never have thought that I, of all people, would enjoy... cuddles." She muttered the last bit.

"And yet, here I am." Miriam quietly chuckled, one of her hands absentmindedly starting to pet Kiwi's head.

Kiwi feels a warmth spread through him, and before he can stop himself, he gives a pleasured smile. He feels as if he's melting into a puddle of joy on the spot. Listening closely, he waits with bated breath to see if Miriam speaks again.

"Mmh. I should probably wake Kiwi up." Miriam muttered.

"But... I don't really wanna move," She stated at last.

He continues smiling serenely, eyes still closed, and pressures his head into Miriam's palm. Kiwi lets out a contented sigh of his own, in the hopes that it'll convince Miriam to let them stay the way they are for just a little longer.

Miriam smiles softly down at Kiwi. She can't be bothered to move quite yet, so she lets herself melt back into the embrace.

"Yeah." He murmurs slightly. "I don't want to move either..."

He forgets that he was pretending to be asleep, but his eyes were still closed.

Miriam pauses. After a moment, she looks at Kiwi. "Were you really awake this whole time?"

Kiwi's eyes shoot open. "Uhh...." He thinks for a moment. "What would you do if I said yes?"

"Mmmm." Miriam strikes a thinking pose for a moment. "I’d think that you're a big, dorky sap and I honestly don't mind."

"Well uhm... Yeah, I woke up before you." He looks up at her, head still resting on her chest, and smiles goofily.

Kiwi gives a softer smile as he makes eye contact with her.

Miriam gives him a small smile back.

"Mmm. As nice as this is, we should probably find a way out of here."

"I guess you're right about that." He says sheepishly. "At least it's light outside now!" Removing himself from her, he feels the chill of the air on the warm spots where their bodies were connected and shivers. "It's definitely chilly, but much better than yesterday!"

Miriam shivered a bit as well, having been used to the warmth emitting from Kiwi's body.

Standing up, he offers her his hand. "Should we get going then?"

Miriam takes his hand. "Yeah."

As they stand and finally take a look at their surroundings, they notice the windy chill is coming from the back of the cave. They can't see into it, as it turns to the right and downwards into darkness, the sunlight not reaching its depths.

“I wonder what's over there!” Kiwi says as he approaches the section of the cave they hadn't seen in the dark of last night. “Should we check it out?”

Miriam sighs. "Alright, we can check it out."

Kiwi walks up to the wide stone cavern, and ignoring its ominous darkness, he walks inside.

Miriam followed in after Kiwi, the drafty tunnel putting her on edge.

Slightly unsettled once they get inside, but singing to alleviate their nerves, he lets out a harmonious tune.

Miriam found herself humming quietly along to the music. She would have argued it was to help calm her nerves, but... it was just nice.

He notices her humming along to his tune, and casts a gleeful glance her way. Continuing his song, they descend deeper into the cavern.

As they lose sight of the entrance, Kiwi's song dies sharply in his throat. The ground beneath them turns sharply downwards, and a slippery film of condensation coats the floor. The group loses their footing, and fall, sliding, down into the depths of the cavern below.

Kiwi lands with a thud on the stone floor below. He looks around blindly, but he sees nothing in the darkness.

Miriam follows shortly after, landing on top of Kiwi.

"Uuf!" He wheezes as she lands on top of him. "Aw gee, Miriam, are you alright?" He says with concern.

Miriam laid there for a moment, stunned, before realizing she landed on Kiwi. She rolled off him, feeling for his hand in the dark.

Kiwi groans. Feeling her hand in his, he grabs it and allows her to help him to his feet.

Raising the hand she isn't holding Kiwi's with, Miriam lights a small ball of magic in her palm to illuminate the area around them.

A horrific scene stands before them. Dark red stains smear the walls and floor with distinct feathering features, indicating that something bloody was dragged through. The wall on the far side of the room was crumbled and a thick layer of rubble lay around it.

Backing away from a particularly large stain, Kiwi's back bumps into something soft and fleshy. He jumps with a yelp. "Eep!" Turning around swiftly, he looks at what he ran into. A large motionless form lay before him. He whimpers, and runs back to Miriam's side, hugging her arm.

Miriam turns to it. In the vague lighting, they can see the silhouette of a dragon laying on its side

Despite regretting it later, she slowly raises the small ball of magic into the air. She points it to the limp creature to see it better and- "OH EYA'S SWEET CHORDS!"

Kiwi shudders as they leap back, stricken by what they've seen. He shuts his eyes tight and buries his face in Miriam's shoulder

"Oh Eya almighty... this... this isn't right..." Kiwi was too afraid to continue looking at the visceral horror before them.

The dragon’s skin was bubbled and burned. Its once cerulean scales littered the floor along with clumps of melted flesh. A deep gouge, indication of a massive claw swipe, scored deep on the head. Shattered skull bits hung together with remnants of scorched muscle tissue and fat.

If that wasn't bad enough, the dragon’s stomach was a gaping hole. The contents had been spilled onto the floor, and were now dry and forming crust. It appeared as if something equally as massive had been eating it.

Miriam peers closer at what used to be the magnificent head of a great water dragon. "Oh Eya- is that an EYE?!"

His curiosity getting the better of him, Kiwi decides to peer at the scene before him, instantly regretting it. His hand raises to his mouth, and he thinks he's going to be sick.

The deceased dragon smelled very strongly of rotten flesh, a disgusting smell that sickened them both to their core.

Kiwi tugs on Miriam's sleeve. "We... we probably shouldn't be here...Lets get going?"

Miriam grabbed Kiwi's arm, and brought him back the way they came.

His eyes watering slightly, he follows suit.

The two of them swiftly turn to leave the horrors behind them, instead looking back the way they came. The pathway up to where they were before was too steep to climb, and since Miriam’s broom was broken they had no way back to the surface.

"Mirriiaaaaaaam!" Kiwi's voice takes on a high note and quivers with fear. "What do we do?"

"I..." Miriam stammers. "I don't know."

"Do you think we can climb up?" Kiwi tests out his idea, but slips on the smooth wall slick with water. It's rough landing causes him to cough.

"Doesn't look like it." Miriam says, looking at Kiwi.

Kiwi groans as he stands, rubbing his back. He had fallen into a shallow puddle so his back and capelet were now wet. A faint gust of wind blows through the cave from behind and causes him to shiver. "Aw gee, it's cold in here.”

Miriam wraps her arms around Kiwi in an attempt to warm him. "Yeah, there is a breeze in here… Wait. There's a breeze. It must open up somewhere else then."

Kiwi appreciates her hug, then a wide smile breaks out onto his face as he realizes what she said. "You're right!" He hugs her back with glee.

The two of them release their hug slowly and look around the cave, keeping an aversion to the dragon corpse on the other side of the room. Miriam raises her hand into the air and it crackles with magic energy, casting a light on the room. What they thought was a closed off cavern turned out to be much more. A cave on the room's distant side breathed a faint breeze into the small cavern, staving off some of the rotting stench.

Miriam walked further into the depths of the cave, grabbing Kiwi by the hand and taking him with her. The magic in her other hand only illuminated so much around her, so it was hard to see how big the cave really was.

They had not yet lost sight of the cave when they heard something large hit the ground behind them. Miriam's nerves were still on edge, as were Kiwi's. Frightened, she launched her ball of magic at the noise. Before it hit, it illuminated a massive crimson figure. It was the dragon that had broken her broom, launched them into the lake, and nearly got Kiwi drowned. The sudden attack startled it, and it yelped in both surprise and pain.

Kiwi gasped when its form was illuminated, and without hesitating, he broke into a run, making sure to bring Miriam with him. They ran deeper into the tunnel, Miriam lighting their way with a new ball of magic.

A small crevice came into sight, and the two quickly darted towards it. Miriam noticed the dragon was gaining on them, a bright light of fire charging in its maw, and pushed Kiwi into the crevice before she leapt in herself. However, she didn't escape unscathed.

Miriam cursed loudly as her foot got caught by the fiery breath of the dragon, burning it.

In response to Miriam’s yelling, the dragon shoots another burst of fire through the crevice. Prepared this time, Kiwi drags Miriam out of the flame’s way.

Miriam’s hand tightens in Kiwi’s, thanking him for helping her. She then continues her angry spiel, practically screaming at the dragon from a safe place behind a stalagmite structure inside the crevice. “YOU STUPID OVERGROWN LIZARD I SWEAR I’M GOING TO-“

In irritation of both losing its prey and the angry yelling witch, the dragon gives a deep earth-shaking roar.

Kiwi's body stiffens when he hears the dragon’s bellowing roar, and shuts his eyes. The dragon paces back and forth outside the crevice for nearly an hour, growling and snuffling in annoyance. With a final low huff, it stomps away.

Miriam anxiously peeks out the crevice in the wall and whispers, "I think it's gone."

Kiwi turns his head to face the crack, and the dragon’s lingering scent sickens him to his stomach. The breath of the dragon that chased them smelled similar to the corpse of the water dragon. He lowers his level, one hand to his stomach and the other to his mouth. His usual smile was long gone, now replaced with an expression of fear and disgust.

"We have to get out of here." He says after a while. "I just want to go home."

His bottom lip quivers and tears threaten to spill from his eyes.

Miriam wraps her arms around Kiwi. "Shhh. It's gonna be okay." She whispers.

"We'll get out of here. I promise."

Squinting his eyes closed, Kiwi leans on Miriam's shoulder, silently praying that the monster would not come back.

Not trusting himself to reply without blubbering, he merely nods his head.

Kiwi tried his best to calm his nerves. His arms were wrapped around himself, clutching his shoulders. His rapid breathing slowed after a while.

Finally able to speak, he whispers. "What do we do now?"

"I don't know, but... we'll just have to keep going." Miriam answers.

Kiwi sniffles before speaking again. "Alrighty then."

"Hey, uh... thanks for saving me from getting cooked alive, Kiwi." Miriam pat his head. "You really are a hero.”

Kiwi wipes his eyes before looking up at her and giving a watery smile. "Thank you, Miriam!" He gives her a tight hug, his cheek pressed against hers. "It really means a lot!"

Miriam let a smile creep onto her lips, hugging Kiwi back. They stayed there for a few minutes, just enjoying being near each other, before Miriam pulled away, embarrassed that she'd been so touchy-feely with Kiwi lately.

Miriam goes to stand up, putting pressure on her injured foot, then falls because of it.

Kiwi catches her as she falls. "Oh no! Miriam, are you alright? What's wrong?" He holds her steady, concerned that she might fall again.

Miriam winced. "It's my foot. That dumb dragon burned it. I can still stand on my own-" She then proceeds to eat her words when she pushes away from Kiwi, immediately falling over again.

Kiwi catches her again, and has her lean on his chest. "Oh, oh gosh!" He exclaims, worry crossing his brow. "Don't strain it too much! Here, let me uh... see if we can find something to help it?"

Miriam responds by taking a deep breath, then angrily shooting a cluster of stalagmites on the other side of the room with a blast of magic. She yells in frustration as they crumble.

Kiwi jumps, startled. "H-hey! Miriam! Everything is going to be okay!" Kiwi approaches her and places a hand on her shoulder. His voice stutters slightly and he gives her what he hopes is an encouraging smile. "We won't be here forever, we're going to get out!"

"I hope so." Miriam is on the verge of tears, just barely able to hold them back. "Eya, I hope so."

Something peeked out from the rubble of the stone Miriam had blasted.

His eyes opened wide, and he stepped in front of Miriam, shielding her with his body. "Eep! Miriam, don't move, I see something!"

Miriam looked very tempted to just blast it and be done with it.

The creature let out a surprised squeak, hiding beneath a piece of rubble before they were able to catch a decent glimpse of it.

"Wait, Miriam don't hurt it!" He pleaded.

Its head just barely peeked out from behind the rubble.

"Why not?" Miriam growled.

"Erm... maybe whatever it is... is friendly?" He sheepishly shrugged. "Let me try something." He cleared his throat, and softly sang a few harmonious notes in hope to tame the small and meek creature.

The small creature moved out of the rubble a bit more, curious. After a moment, they realize it's a miniature dragon.

Kiwi moves back cautiously, bumping into Miriam. His tune falters slightly but he keeps his soft melody in the air. His singing calms his nerves, and he hopes it calm’s Miriam’s too, lest she decide to shoot the small thing.

Miriam’s eyes widen at the dog sized dragon, heavily wary of it.

The dragon slowly leaves its shelter of rubble. It's easier to see its shape now. Somewhat long, with several plates of armor along its back and a fin on its tail. Most of the armor plates are cracked, some even broken entirely. One of its wings is pressed against the floor, making up for the lack of support from a missing leg. It has a long scratch across its left side, starting at its left eye which is squinted shut, scraping across its gills and stopping where its missing leg is.

"Man, there seems to be a lot of dragons here." Miriam commented wryly.

"Heheh, I guess so?" He responds. Then he kneels and opens his arms to receive the creature in a hug.

The baby dragon wagged its tail, then leapt into Kiwi's arms.

It nuzzled into Kiwi. Miriam leaned forward to investigate it, and it hissed at her, lashing its finned tail in fear, then scrambled out of Kiwi's arms.

Kiwi flinches, startled by the sudden hiss. "I uh... don't think it likes you, Miriam." He eyes the lizard-like being questioningly.

Miriam gives it a weird look. It just stares at both of them, tail slowly sliding back and forth across the floor.

"Should I sing again?" He asks her, looking for a response from Miriam. "They seemed to like it!"

The small dragon stands up, its head bobbing up and down and its tail wagging in excitement.

Miriam rolls her eyes before looking at the dragon again. "That's probably a yes."

Kiwi nods slowly, wondering if there's more to these creatures than what meets the eye. "Alright then, here goes!" He sits on the floor, and begins to sing again, a little louder than last time. His calming and melodic voice fills the room, exciting their new companion.

As he uses his breath more, he begins coughing again. A look of concern crosses his face when his song is cut short. "Oh gosh, sorry about that." He covers his mouth with an elbow and continues coughing. He had strained his lungs too far after nearly drowning.

Miriam looks at Kiwi with concern. The dragon looked at Kiwi, concerned as well. "You okay?" Miriam asked.

"Yeah, Im fine!" He gives a wide smile to assure her that everything was alright. "Really, I am!" He notices her look of concern.

Miriam gave him a disbelieving look, concern still etched on her face. The dragon rubbed against Kiwi's leg to comfort him.

Miriam grabbed his hand. "Kiwi, I KNOW you're not okay! You have pneumonia or something, you probably still have water in your lungs, and you need to take it easy." She presses her mouth into a thin worried line.

"I-" He begins to protest before deciding it was useless. Sighing, he gives a shrug before speaking again. "I guess you're right."

The dragon looked at Miriam's burned foot, and warbled with concern.

Kiwi looks as well "Hey Miriam, what do you think we should do about that? I don't think you should walk on it. He stops petting the dragon and examines her burn.

Miriam winced. "Yeah, it... hurts pretty bad." She admitted.

"Hmm..." Kiwi's glad to have moved the attention off him. "Well we probably need to keep going since the large dragon’s gone. Would it be alright if I carried you?" Giving her a comforting smile, he stands up, still holding her hand.

Miriam huffs, then softly mutters a "Yes."

"Alright! First things first." He looks out the way they came, making sure the massive crimson dragon really was gone. Seeing nothing, he continues. "Lets move you outside of the crevice."

He lifts Miriam, and slowly helps her out into the breezy cave. The dragon follows suit. "Alright Miriam, I'm going to need you to get on my back now!" Kiwi says with a warm smile.

He kneels down, back facing Miriam, and looks over his shoulder so he can help her onto his back.

Miriam reluctantly climbed on, embarrassed to be needing help. Her arms wrapped around him, and she held the light out in front.

Kiwi stands and keeps his arms under her legs so she doesn't slide down or drop. "Let's get going then!" He exclaims cheerfully, and follows the cool draft of air through the cave. The baby dragon follows a little ways behind them, not wanting to be left alone but not wanting to stay too close.

They walk for a while, and they feel the breeze getting stronger as they traverse the long winding tunnel.

"Hey, uh..." Miriam starts. "Thanks for helping me, Kiwi." She pauses for a moment. "And I don't just mean now. Thanks for helping me. In general. Like, when we were saving the world and stuff."

He looks over his shoulder and gives her a friendly smile. "Thanks for helping me too! I wouldn't have been able to get so far without you. You really are the most amazing person I know!" He squeezes her legs slightly; a subtle hug.

Miriam lightly blushes, holding onto Kiwi just a bit tighter. She smiles.

They walk without speaking for a little while more, the small dragon following them at a distance. To fill the silence, Kiwi softly hums a tune.

"Hey, didn't I tell you to take it easy?" Miriam chides him.

"But Miriaaaaaaam," He complains. "It's just a light tune, nothing stressful, I'm sure!"

"You PROMISE?" Miriam gave Kiwi a hard stare from behind his back.

"Mmmmmm... I dunno..." Not wanting to directly promise, he makes the same sound Miriam tends to do.

"MMMMmmmmmmmmmmm." Miriam continues to glare at him.

"It's just a light humming, Miriam! Nothing straining!" He looks over his shoulder to meet her eyes.

Miriam's gaze softens, and she lowers her head, wrapping her arms tighter around Kiwi.

He smiles, and his cheeks gain a slight pink tinge before he looks back ahead of them. He continues the soft humming, and switches to a slow calming tune so he wouldn't worry Miram too much.

Miriam absentmindedly thinks about how relaxing the tune is. She yawned quietly, snuggling into Kiwi and closing her eyes.

Before she really knew it, Miriam had fallen asleep.

Her hand dropped from its outward position, and the light faded. Kiwi pauses so he doesn't run into anything in the dark. After a moment he realizes that the cave still had some mild light. On the ceiling there was the faint glow of the occasional glowworm. Kiwi felt like he could continue just fine by the light of the small bugs.

He continues to hum as he walks slowly through the cave. The small dragon continues behind him, clearly enjoying his tune.

Kiwi notices Miriam resting her head on his shoulder. He wants to reach back and hug her but he knows he can't, so he settles for lightly squeezing her legs again. She murmurs something in her sleep that Kiwi can’t fully hear.