“This doesn’t look very good, eh?” Paign said flatly. He stood staring at an enormous pile of rubble scattered all down the long stairs. “It’s still hard to believe there was ever a Temple back up the steps behind us. Also hard to believe that anyone made it through the devastation that took place on that Temple floor above! Were those…uh, what was left…you know, Vannveps? Looked like it. Mostly.”
No one answered him. The gargoyles were either closely watching the opening into the long, stepped passage they’d already come about halfway down or were searching for enemies in the tunnel below. The other humans were relieved to have survived their desperate race across the Temple’s floor just moments earlier.
Freida was still shaken from her encounter with the bloodthirsty Strohrnahq, only minutes before. She couldn’t get any words out of her parched mouth and shrugged without any enthusiasm. She clutched a fistful of Tiny’s scruff. The dependable dog was happy to oblige his master’s need for support, physical and otherwise.
Johann strode wildly down the stairs into the gloom below, sometimes jumping over the considerable rock debris in his way. Occasionally, he’d swing a leg over a boulder and then slide down the back of the stone, almost vanishing from sight. Often, he dislodged a minor avalanche of loose fragments.
Heidi followed along behind him but at a more leisurely pace. Now that Freida had been rescued, Heidi found it much harder to concentrate. She struggled to articulate her thoughts and felt a little dizzy. Like a metronome, her staff swung back and forth, helping her maintain balance on the exceedingly uneven remaining surface of the steps. Her mind’s eye kept replaying, over and over, the vision of Strohrnahq’s head being impacted by her staff. She vaguely wondered how her friends were, but the emotions about their well-being were distant, even remote, as if they belonged to someone else.
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