Elysion, the Garden of the World, the City of God, has been laid to waste, and it is the fault of none but us. We are the criminals, we are the destroyers, we are the betrayers. We are the wretched, and it is our fate.
"This should be good," Laidu said. He dismounted his horse, handed Skaria the reins. He surveyed the spot. Nestled between an overhanging boulder and three trees, it looked like they could all fit under the rock and stay dry, if it rained. And it looked like it was about to.
The rock was huge, easily the size of a small house. It sloped up at the front, perfect for channeling smoke out of the cave. Laidu's stomach grumbled. He wanted a fire. He wanted food.
"Skaria, can you tie up the horses?" he asked. Skaria nodded and took the reins from him. He went to survey the camp. All of them wore medallions, designed to mask their presence from revenants and Day Specters.
"Tie!" he heard her say. Crap. She had the gift. Laidu could feel it in her words, a strange power that defied description. And that meant the price had to be paid. She made the universe do something, but the universe had to keep balance. She could tie something. But something else would be untied.
He felt the waistband of his trousers looses, and he hurriedly grabbed them. He saw Karik'ar do the same for his trousers, eyes wide. Indra grabbed the bodice of her dress, holding it up. Kyra tripped as her boot laces untied and she grabbed her tunic to prevent it from falling off.
"Oops." Skaria looked back. Karik'ar was tying his pants back, Laidu doing the same for his trousers. Kyra tied her tunic up. However, Indra struggled to reach her corset. The horses, safe under the rock, whinnied, as if laughing at Indra.
"Hold still," Kyra said. She grabbed the strings of Indra's corset and tied them back up. "What just happened?"
"My magic," Skaria said. The horses snorted, under the shadow of the boulder, and Skaria looked around. "I can tell the world what to do. I say something, and it happens." She looked at Laidu, who had finished double-knotting his waist strings. "But the opposite happens too."
"To balance it," Kyra said, understanding. "Something ties, so something unties." She nodded. "Makes sense." She grabbed her bedroll out of her saddle pack and unrolled it near the back. "It looks like it's going to rain."
Laidu nodded. "I can set up a camp fire quick enough, but I don't think we'd have enough dry rations to last us for another town."
Skaria chuckled. "I'll get some food." She moved over to her horse, and searched her saddle bags. She pulled out a crossbow. "I'll be back."
"Be careful," Laidu said. "Make sure you're not attacked by Day Specters."
Skaria nodded. "Actually, before I go, let me do this." She put down her crossbow, and began to undo the buckles of her sheathes. She set down the bandolier, her blades, and the quiver full of crossbow bolts. She reached behind her neck, fumbled with something, and began to disrobe.
First, the neck guard came off, then the breastplate. Then the shoulder armor, and greaves and all the different parts of her armor. Soon, all she wore was a sweaty sleeveless tunic. She kept her boots and picked up a branch. "Clean," she ordered her clothes, and focused. The branch began to get slick and stained with dirt. She dropped the filth-encrusted branch, and looked at her now relatively clean tunic. Skaria grabbed the quiver and the crossbow. "Karik'ar, can you oil that up for me?" she asked.
"Of course," Karik'ar said. Skaria nodded, slung the quiver on her shoulder, and stalked out. Karik'ar shrugged his massive shoulders. "Good luck hunting," he called after her. She seemed to ignore him.
Karik'ar sighed. He searched the saddlepacks on his behemoth of a horse, before finally pulling out a bottle and a rag. He wet the rag with some foul-smelling oil and began to wet down the armor. Laidu frowned. From his experience of Kai'Draen, they never took orders sitting down. A Kai'Draen's pride would move mountains, it was said. Either Karik'ar was a humble Kai'Draen, or Skaria had managed to earn his respect. Either way, they were a very odd team.
Laidu began to set up the campfire, digging out a small pit and ringing it with stones. "Kyra," he said. "Can you come help me get some firewood?" He paused for a moment.
"Sure," Kyra said. Laidu rose from off his haunches and smiled at her. They walked out from under the boulder. "Looks like it's going to rain," Kyra said after a minute or so of walking.
Laidu shrugged. "That it does," he remarked. Then, he paused. "Kyra, are you alright?" he asked.
Kyra looked at him, confused. "Of course I am. Why are you worried?"
"Kyra, you were kidnapped just a few days ago." Laidu said. "Now, you seem fine. Too fine." He looked at her arm, still covered in a bandage. "They hurt you. It's alright to be a little shaken up by it."
Kyra nodded, eyes distant. "I don't know why, but some small part of me was waiting for some gallant young prince to come in and save me." She looked at Laidu. "I guess you did come. Just not in a way I was expecting."
Laidu chuckled, but grew serious again. "Kyra, still, are you okay?"
She nodded, but then her head bowed and he heard her cry. Great, he made her cry. Laidu moved closer and put an arm around her, drawing her close. "Sorry," Kyra said. "I guess...well, I just don't know what to do. Why am I like this?" she asked. "I'm not in any danger anymore."
"You're traumatized," Laidu said. Kyra looked at him with red eyes. "You'll get over it eventually. It will take some time."
Kyra nodded, and hugged him, her head right under his. "Thanks," she whispered. "You know," she said, "I feel safer with you than I did at home."
Laidu smiled and returned a hug. "I'm a King's Ranger. And I won't let anything bad happen to you." He patted her back. "That's a promise."
"Thanks," Kyra said, her tears finally stopping. "Now, why don't we get some firewood?"
The stew had been amazing. Laidu sighed, leaning back on his bedroll. Skaria had come back with two rabbits, had field dressed them, and had put that into a lovely stew. And just in time. The heavens had opened up. Rain poured steadily down, while the horses and the party remained nice and toasty dry.
Laidu stretched idly in the fading light of the coals. Next to him, Kyra turned in her bedroll. She was half-asleep, but he wasn't.
Karik'ar sat next to the fire, watching everything, eyes searching the dark rain. Laidu rose off his bedroll and stalked over to the Kai'Draen. The warrior was staring off, didn't even notice him. He looked so strange, his muscular back marred by dozens of geometrical scars. The dark braid of his hair reached down to the small of his back.
"I don't want to alarm you," Laidu said. Karik'ar started. "I felt something earlier.
"You...felt something?" Karik'ar asked, raising an eyebrow. His eyebrows, Laidu noticed, had a few bronze rings in them, along with a steel one in his nose. There was some sort of code with them. The metals meant different things.
"I felt something. Like I was being...watched." Laidu looked out. "Several times." He looked out into the pouring rain. "Just be careful."
"I will," Karik'ar said. "Will you take next watch?" he asked. Laidu nodded. "Good. Then go to bed." Laidu rose. "Good night.
"Thank you." Laidu walked back to his bedroll and slipped in. He lay there, staring at the rock above him and the shadows cast by the dying fire. Suddenly, he felt a pressure by his side. Laidu turned his head. "Kyra, what are you doing?" he asked.
"Sorry," she said, moving away a bit. "I was just cold."
"It's alright," Laidu said. Kyra took a deep breath. He wrapped an arm around her and heated it ever so slightly. "Is that better?" he asked. Kyra nodded. She rested there. She had been through so much. Terror and hope, despair and surprise. She needed to rest.
Laidu let her fall asleep, warmed by the fever blood inside him. She snuggled up against him, tired and scared. He watched the flickering shadows, listened to the rain, and fell asleep.
YOU ARE READING
When Laidu, a half-human, half-dragon Ranger, rescues a mysterious girl from slavers, he doesn't know it but he's in for a world of trouble. Teaming up with an insane scholar, a chatty assassin, and two mercenaries, they go to take the girl -Kyra- h...