Paign guessed that they sat in the surging dust for about twenty minutes before Ercen reappeared a few steps below.
“It is time,” she said, without any enthusiasm.
“What is wrong, Ercen?” Freida asked.
The debris on the remaining steps was largely untouched, but at the base of the stone steps, and to either side, the floor of the tunnel was now nearly completely cleared. Freida thought it strange that there was one dark boulder still lying prominently near the—
“Oh, no!” Freida cried out. She’d drawn close enough to see that it was the body of Recknab she’d taken to be a boulder. She gasped, horrified by the terrible damage wreaked upon the massive gargoyle, and quickly turned away. Struggling with her emotions, Freida was only vaguely aware of the sounds that Rutahn and Gustlab made retrieving the body of their friend. A moment later, a strong arm wrapped around her shoulders and she turned into her father’s embrace and buried her face in his chest, sobbing.
Paign stood nearby, angrily kicking loose debris across the steps. He wished there had been more time to get to know Recknab better. Even though he was a gargoyle, Paign felt they had a similar sense of humor and way of looking at things. His sense of loss was similar to what he experienced when he’d been told about his father’s death. He kicked more debris and stomped down the corridor.
Debris skittered and a dust cloud blew up when Gustlab and Rutahn parted back into the tunnel. They’d taken Recknab to where Lohmong, Stenring and Urchzahv continued to stand guard. No one asked where they had gone or what they had done with the body of their friend. Ercen hadn’t moved.
“Come.” Ercen’s voice sounded odd to Paign. It was forceful but strained at the same time. “We still have the collapsed doorway to get through. If the others are safe—and are on the other side—then they should be able to help in clearing the way. You,” she said, looking at the humans, “please stay away from this area.”
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