They landed at a rocky beach, where the forest grew almost up to the water. Maya carried Ling and Nya while Ray and Krux dragged the boat into the brush. Krux helped hide it to the best of his ability, then straightened up and looked around. "Where are we?" he asked.
"Close to our destination," Maya said. "We're going to have to split up."
"Maya's right," Ray said. "At the least, Maya and I will have to go separately. We can't keep our children together."
Right–Ling and Nya looked so alike, if someone saw them together, they'd be instantly recognized as twins. Krux nodded and said nothing.
"Libber lives near the outskirts of town," Maya said. "Ray, how should we…?"
Ray frowned. "Krux, you come with me. Maya… will you be alright on your own?"
She smiled. "Of course I will. You know I can handle myself."
"And you know I worry. Which one of us should go first?"
They decided Maya would go to Libber's house first, with one of the children, while Ray and Krux would take the other and leave after a decent chunk of time. Maya took Ling and kissed Ray before walking into the forest. Krux sat down on a relatively flat rock and sighed.
"You don't have any money, do you?" he said.
"No," Ray responded. "We didn't have time to prepare."
"I would've thought you had a year, almost. You should've known this was going to happen."
Ray glared at him. "I don't want to hear anything from the man who saw nothing wrong with murdering my wife and children."
Krux bristled. "I had my orders. What was I supposed to do? Refuse, and be executed for it?"
"Isn't that what you did? Refuse?" Ray cracked a smile. "We'll all be executed if we're caught."
Krux opened his mouth, but Ray spoke before he could.
"I don't trust you," he said. "I don't doubt you'd give us up in a heartbeat if it suited you. So you can expect the same from me. If ratting you out would earn my wife and my children a few more days of safety, I'd do it."
"Fine," Krux snapped, and he turned away. The next moment, a particularly large wave splashed the edge of the rock he sat on, spraying his clothes with saltwater. He swore and jumped up while Ray laughed.
"Careful, Master of Time," he said. Nya, wrapped up in his arms, let out a happy screech.
Eventually, it was time to move.
The town was quiet, with only a few people walking around. Ray and Krux walked through rows of empty stalls in the closed-down marketplace; it would open again in the morning, but Krux was hoping they'd be gone by then. He took a deep breath and forced down his rising unease. No one paid them much attention, even as Nya giggled and put her hands on Ray's face.
"The house should be over here," Ray said, pointing with his free hand. "Have you met Libber before? She's the Master of Lightning."
"Was she at the execution?" Krux asked.
Ray turned and glared at him. "No. You may have noticed a lot of elemental masters were missing. I'm surprised Wu and Garmadon made an appearance, but…"
"Hm. Do you know them well?"
"We were acquaintances, at most. All I know is that they're much older than they look." Ray turned away. "They say they're the Masters of Creation and Destruction, but no one knows their parents, or where they came from. The Emperor and Empress must know, because he would have never let them join the elemental masters without having some idea of their lineage."
Krux grunted and let the conversation end.
He could see the house Ray was aiming for, on the outskirts of town. It was surrounded by a modest vegetable garden and a large, dead tree that had clearly been struck by lightning. Krux wondered if it was natural or if Libber had practiced her powers on it. The gate was easily unlatched, and Ray walked up to the steps and knocked.
Maya answered, holding Ling. As she leaned in to kiss her husband, Krux caught her whisper in his ear: "Say nothing about the baby."
"What?" Ray said. "Do you mean Ling and–"
"Maya, is that him?" a cheerful voice said. "Come in! Come in!"
Maya stepped back to let Ray and Krux inside. "There's two of us, actually," Ray said. "I'm sorry for imposing on you like this, Libber. This is Krux, have you, uh…"
Libber beamed at them. She was a short woman with blonde curls and a face dotted with freckles, and she carried a baby on her hip. "I've heard of you, Master of Time," she said while the baby drooled on her shirt. "Nice to meet you. I'm glad you're helping my friends and their adorable babies, oh my God, look at them!"
She waved at Ling and Nya. Ling gurgled and smiled back, while Nya was looking in the wrong direction. "Did you want something to eat?" Libber said. "Maya was just about to help me with dinner! Ray, Krux, you can set the table."
She turned and walked off, adjusting her grip on the baby as she did so. Maya handed Ling to Ray and was about to follow Libber before Krux put a hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong with the baby?" he asked. "It looks perfectly fine to me."
Maya shook her head. "I'll explain later," she whispered. "Not where she can hear. Don't mention the baby in front of her."
She pulled away and went through the door Libber had passed through. Krux looked at Ray, but the other man looked just as confused as he was. Krux decided it was best to obey Maya's instructions for now, so he shrugged and went into the next room. "Where are the dishes?" he asked, while Maya stirred a pot.
Libber pointed with her free hand at a cabinet. "We're having soup, so get the bowls. I don't care about etiquette, so don't bother with that. Just bowls and spoons. Maybe some of the little plates, too, I got some bread yesterday, and it'll go stale if no one eats it."
He found four mismatched bowls, but couldn't find the plates. Krux decided not to go looking for them. The table was barely big enough for two people, let alone four adults and three babies; the plates would only take up more room. He placed each bowl with a spoon and stood there awkwardly, waiting for his next instructions.
"Krux," Maya said, "could you check on Ray for me?"
Krux glanced through the doorway. "He's fine," he said, spotting him on the couch with the twins.
"I said, could you go check on him for me?"
Krux decided to go check on Ray.
When he saw Krux walk in, Ray put Ling and Nya on his lap and patted the pillow beside him. Krux sat, unsure of what else to do. "What's going on?" he asked.
"Honestly?" said Ray. "I'm not sure myself. But I have an idea. It's been over a year since I last saw Libber, but apparently she's had a child during that time."
Krux snorted. "Clearly."
"You don't know Libber. She told Maya and I that she would never have a child. She hated the idea of losing her elemental power, and emperor's mandate be damned, the lightning line would end with her." Ray stopped Ling from crawling off the couch and glanced at the door. "There's still the possibility that the child isn't hers… but it looks as if she's been breastfeeding."
"How can you tell?"
"Well, having a wife who's breastfeeding helps you to recognize the signs."
"So you're an expert," Krux said. "What does this mean?"
"We'll have to ask Maya to be sure," Ray said, "but from the looks of it, Libber had a baby that she did not want."
"How does that effect us?"
Ray shrugged. "Again, we'll have to ask Maya. For now, I think it's best we do as we're told. Libber might be an old friend, but after so many changes…" He shook his head. "We're guests in her house. Let's not upset her."
Maya called from the kitchen. "Ray, Krux, it's ready!"
Krux stood up while Ray gathered Ling and Nya, and they went to sit down and eat. Midway through the meal, Libber's baby started fussing, and she stood up and excused herself. When she came back, she didn't have the baby. None of them said a word.
After dinner, it was time to figure out who was sleeping where. "I don't have a guest room," Libber said, "and the couch can only fit one person. Maya, what are you going to do about your kids?"
Maya sighed. "I don't know. If you have some baskets and blankets, maybe we can put something together…"
"I might have something. Let me check my room."
Libber walked a few steps, then paused. "Oh, right," she said. "Ray, Krux, you weren't here for this, but my room is off limits. I don't care if it's an emergency, you knock on the door and wait for me to come out."
"I understand," Ray said.
"I doubt it." Libber snorted. "Just as long as you don't go in."
She walked out. Krux heard a door open and close. "Where were you planning on sleeping?" he said to Ray and Maya. "The couch won't fit both of you."
"You can take the couch," Ray said. "Maya and I will sleep on the floor. I can guarantee you none of us are going to get much sleep with Ling and Nya here."
"They don't sleep through the night?" Krux said.
Maya laughed. "You clearly don't have any experience with babies."
Krux thought that much was obvious. He rolled his eyes and turned away.
Eventually, Libber returned with two baskets that looked like they were designed for babies, as well as an armful of blankets. Maya stood up and grabbed the baskets from her before she could drop them. "Thanks," Libber said. "Can you get settled by yourself? I have something I need to take care of, and I'm very tired."
"Of course," Maya said. "Have a good night, Libber."
Libber put down the blankets and hugged her. "You too, Maya. It's so good to see you again – and your children, of course!"
"What, not me?" Ray said. Libber just laughed.
Once she was gone, Krux picked out a blanket and took some of the cushions off the couch. Even with the extra room, it wasn't very big, and Krux suspected that he would have a hard time getting to sleep under normal circumstances.
"Should I put the girls to sleep?" Ray asked.
"How is Libber going to help me find my twin?" Krux asked.
Both Ray and Maya glanced at him for an instant before turning to each other. "We didn't even have the chance to tell Libber you are a twin yet," Maya said. "This was… unplanned."
"You said she'd have help for all of us," Krux said. "Did you lie?"
Maya snorted. "Nothing so malicious," she said. "I'm certain Libber can help you and us both, but we need to be careful. Our children will be killed if we're discovered."
Not to mention Krux himself. He wordlessly pulled the blanket over him and lay down.
Ray chuckled. "Like it or not, you're stuck with us," he said. "You could try to enjoy it."
"Tomorrow," Maya said. "We'll ask Libber what she knows. You'll be able to start searching then."
"Alright," Krux said. "Then I'll see you in the morning."
On cue, Nya began to fuss. When she heard her sister, Ling stirred as well, and before long, both of them were crying. Krux covered his head with the pillow and waited to fall asleep.
After a restless night, Krux woke up when the morning sunlight streamed in through the window. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. Maya and Ray were asleep on the floor, their twins settled in their baskets. Krux stood and carefully navigated out of the room without waking anybody up.
No one was in the kitchen. Krux poked around the cabinets, but found nothing in the way of coffee. He sighed, closed the last cabinet he had opened, and turned around to see Libber staring at him.
Krux yelped, then slapped a hand over his mouth. Libber chuckled. "Didn't expect to see me?" she said. "It's my house. Did you find anything good?"
She didn't have the baby with her. Krux didn't comment, remembering Maya's warning. "You don't have coffee, do you?" he said. "I looked, but…"
Libber shook her head. "Nope. And for future reference, ask before going through my stuff."
"Don't do it again. Move over."
Krux stepped to the side and let Libber into the cabinet. She took out a tall glass and filled it with tapwater. "God," she muttered. "I wish I could drink again. You drink at all, Krux?"
"Not often." Krux thought back to the few times he drank with the other elemental masters. He wasn't quite an angry drunk, but he did shout enough for them to stop inviting him back.
Libber drank from the glass. "My ex said I was an alcoholic," she said, "and he wasn't totally wrong, but, y'know, I quit when I had to. Forced to, more like."
"Really," said Krux, his eyes flicking to the door.
"Really! I thought the marriage would be great, and the wedding was the best day of my life, but…" She sighed. "I told him I didn't want kids, and apparently that was too much to ask. Haven't officially divorced yet, though. Too much paperwork. We're separate, that's for sure."
This was way too much information about someone Krux had barely met. "Uh huh," he said, and he took a step towards the exit. "I'd love to hear more, but…"
Muffled crying cut through the air. Libber jerked her head towards her room. "Goddammit," she said, and she dumped the rest of her water in the sink. "Goddammit!" she repeated, louder this time.
Krux stood there awkwardly as Libber stormed off. Her bedroom door open and slammed. When Krux moved back to the living room, the noise had woken up Maya and Ray. "Krux?" Maya said blearily. "What was that?"
He shrugged. "Had a talk with Libber. I'm not sure what happened afterwards."
"You didn't mention…"
"No, I did not."
Ray sat up and stretched before checking on Ling and Nya. "Now's as good as any time to start the day," he said. "Let's discuss our next steps."