Chapter 8: Karik'ar's Secret

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"I...don't like the sound of that," Kyra said, backing away from Indra, closer to Skaria and Laidu.

"It's actually not that bad," Laidu said. "I had someone in Ranger training use aether currents to relax cramped muscles. He'd poke us with two wires tied to a plate and tap it. And the muscle relaxes. Felt a bit warm, kinda nice-feeling actually." He shifted his shoulder, absentmindedly stretching. "Of course, it remained that way. Know how hard it is to walk when you can't tense up your calves?"

"Very difficult, I'd imagine," Skaria said dryly. "Now, maybe we should stop talking about experimenting on our charge and instead figure out how to get out of this bloody forest?" She looked at Laidu and Indra pointedly. "I think that might be a bit of a more productive conversation." She leaned back, pulling her three slim braids over her shoulder.

Laidu sighed. "I'm going to check the saddlebags for a map," he said, rising to his feet. "And no experimenting on Kyra," he said, glaring at Indra. She narrowed her eyes at him, but gave the slightest of nods.

Laidu went over to his horse, Plow. "Alright, you dumb animal, hold still." He reached into the saddlebag, searching for the parchment. There. His claws brushed against the rough paper, before he pulled it out. And then, he noticed the strips of hide and the belt laid out on Karik'ar's massive warhorse. Well, that wouldn't be good.

"Hey Skaria, can I talk to you for a moment?" Laidu asked. Skaria rose and walked over to him, a confused expression on her face. "Yeah, um, we might have a problem."

"With Indra and Kyra?" Skaria asked. "I doubt that."

"No, not them," Laidu assured, "though they may become a problem." He paused. "You see, I've spent a bit of time with the Kai'Draen, and I know they can be a bit...unpolished." He looked around, nervous. "And you know how the Caeldari people can be. Kinda...prudish."

"Among other things," Skaria said. "Why are you bringing this up?" She looked at him. "You're not worried about Karik'ar, are you?"

"I kinda am," Laidu said. "You see..."

"Don't be," Skaria assured. "I've worked with Karik'ar. He's a gentle soul when not on the job. Honest. He won't hurt you, or Kyra, or Indra." She sighed. "Really. He's just-"

"No, it's not that," Laidu said. "Kai'Draeni cultures don't have...you know, certain taboos that others do. Like, all others."

Skaria blinked. "Huh?"

"What's on his horse over there?" Laidu asked.

Skaria studied it. "His weaponry, and his supplies...oh. And his clothing. Great."

Laidu heard a twig snap. "That was a bit chilly," Karik'ar said, walking back into the campsite. Liadu groaned, and Skaria sighed. He walked back, and he wasn't wearing a stitch. Great. Just wonderful.

Kyra and Indra looked up. Kyra gave a slight gasp and whipped her head around, staring at the ground, her cheeks flushing red with embarrassment. Indra, distracted from her book, simply said, "Huh," and returned back to reading.

"Karik, put some clothes back on!" Skaria ordered. Karik'ar sighed, nodded, and grabbed a pair of trousers out of his saddle bags.

Laidu watched him, studying Karik'ar's reddish skin. There was something about those scars that wasn't right, something too exact. Then, after Karik'ar put on the trousers, he recognized some of the symbols.

"Karik'ar, you didn't just inherit a shaman's mind, did you?" Laidu asked.

Karik'ar, who was pulling a loose shirt on, stopped. "What did you say?" he asked.

"You inherited more than just the shaman's intelligence from your shaman parent, didn't you?" Laidu asked.

"Never repeat that," Karik'ar said. "Or I will kill you," he said, looking back. But he wasn't angry. No, he was deathly afraid.

"You have the power, don't you?" Laidu asked.

Karik'ar paused. "Tell anyone, and it could mean my death. You hear that?" he asked, raising his voice so all could hear. "No one say anything about it, alright?"

Indra looked up. "I won't say a word." Kyra nodded.

Laidu looked Karik'ar in the eye. "Of course. One outcast to another."

However, inside, the voice spoke. Don't trust him, it warned. He'll kill you, seize the girl. You could have had her. But no, now you're going to lose her forever. Laidu frowned. Karik'ar wouldn't do that. Would he?

Karik'ar slid into the shirt. "Yes. The scars help me use my power. But if my tribe finds out, they'll have me killed." He sat down under the rock, on his bedroll. "It's better no one sees my scars."

Laidu nodded. "Alright. We'll break camp soon enough. A little rest could help us relax," he reasoned. After all, if he was tired, the others had to be. And Skaria wasn't entirely all there. Laidu wanted her vigilant as possible.

It would be a long journey to Saefel Caeld.

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