Chapter 14: Drawing Down the Storm

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We took Thaumaturgy, and turned the power of the principles of the air and earth into weapons. We could have saved lies, but in our arrogance, we counted ourselves greater than the rest of humanity. Their death, to us, was our right.

***

"Are you sure he's alright?" Kyra asked.

Skaria frowned. "Relax, he's a King's Ranger. He knows how to handle himself."

Kyra didn't look comforted. "I don't know. I have a very bad feeling about this," she said. The two of them stood by the horses, waiting for Laidu's return. Indra sat on her still horse, eyes wide, her headscarf around her neck. She couldn't believe what she had just done. It was unthinkable.

"Don't. Laidu's fine. He's probably just getting some answers out of the bandits. You don't want to see that." Skaria sighed. Bloody impatient girl. Sure, she may have had her Moon Years, and may be mature in the body, but she was still a girl.

"What do you mean?" Kyra asked. She paused. "You don't mean... torture?" she asked, incredulous. "Laidu protects people. He rescued me. He wouldn't do something like that!" It was almost childlike the way she said it

Skaria gave her a flat stare. Laidu saved her, and it was only natural that she'd see him as infallible. But she needed to see the truth. "Kyra, you have to realize something. Laidu is a great man... dragon... thing. He's a good person. An honorable one." Skaria's eyes hardened. "But make no mistake, he's a killer."

"What?" Kyra asked in disbelief. "What are you saying?"

" Laidu protects you. I truly think he cares for you. But he isn't the rosy image of him you have in your head. He's not some handsome prince with a curse you can break with a kiss who'll sweep you off your feet. The dragon is in him. So is the killer." She wasn't gentle, but not cruel.

"You're calling him a criminal?" Kyra stared at Skaria.

"He's a killer. Not a murderer." Skaria looked around. "Laidu is a warrior. He was a slave, and he is a Ranger. He has killed. He will kill. But he is not one to murder."

"To kill is to murder," Kyra said simply.

"Then you are a murderer as well," Skaria said. She kicked the body of the bandit that Kyra had slain.

Kyra's eyes went wide. "But... that's different. It's self defense."

"Not according to you," Skaria said. "What did you say? 'To kill is to murder?' Seems like 'murder' to me." Kyra stared numbly at the body. "You didn't murder. You did what you had to for your own survival." Skaria looked around. "We're all killers here. You, Indra, Karik'ar, Laidu."

Kyra nodded. "Wait, what about you?" she asked.

Skaria narrowed her eyes. "I'm not a killer. I'm a murderer."

There was a deep laugh. "Really, Skaria, you're going to do this again?" Karik'ar asked. He walked back from the small copse of trees. His shirt was off, the sleeves tied around his waist. In the sunlight, his reddish brown skin glistened over bullish muscle with a patina of dirt and sweat, broken only by the scars he had carved into his chest. His chest rose and fell, growing and shrinking with every breath.

In other words, he had been doing something physically exhausting for a normal man, if not downright lethal. The Kai'Draeni castes had two castes that excelled in strength. They had their laborers, the Stone-born, for their day-to-day work. Then, there were their warriors, the Steel-born. Both were dumber than rocks, but each was strong. Very strong.

Steel-borns could output a lot of strength in a short period of time, perfectly suited for raids and battle. Stone-born, however, could use slightly less strength continuously. One was fast brute force, the other was tireless strength. At least, that was what Karik'ar had explained.

Karik'ar dusted some of the dirt off his chest. "All but she have been buried," he said, indicating the one Kyra had killed. "I'm gonna rest for a moment before I get that one." He sat down, his bare back leaning against the rough tree bark. The scars moved with him, the markings of his curse.

He had put in his piercings again, and Kyra tried her best not to stare. Unfortunately, she failed. Skaria laughed inwardly. The piercings did look odd, but she was used to it. His nipples and a few folds of skin by his ribs made his chest glint with gold and bronze. It made him look foreign and savage. Essentially, he was himself.

"Hey, Karik," Skaria said. "Why did you have your shirt off at the town?"

"False trail," he said. "I paid off a bunch of merchants to say they saw me at Keriston. And then, they'll spread the rumor to Brennes, and Gableford." She smiled. Karik'ar looked like a giant brute. But he was sharp.

"Gableford is near Val Bentis," Indra mused. "A border town. They'll be thinking you're leaving for Castillera, or Saefel Vacuos."

"Leading them out of the country," Karik'ar said. "Better for everyone's sake." Skaria had to agree with that. A band of roving Kai'Draen were bad news.

Skaria frowned. "Wait. To cover up your scars, you'd be wearing shirts." Karik'ar nodded. "Won't that attract attention?"

"Not past Baton's Mill," Karik'ar said. "Once past there, it gets too cold. And when it comes to the cold, practicality overrules pride. It's normal for northern Kai'Draeni tribes to wear more." He shrugged. "It won't draw any more attention than I already draw."

Skaria was about to say something before the explosion knocked her breath out of her lungs. A pressurized wave of intense heat slammed into all of them. And then Skaria saw the fire.

Burning through the trees, the fire spread. Fast. "Laidu's in there!" Kyra said, eyes wide. "We have to get him!"

"Not you!" Skaria said. "Stay back!"

"No! I'm coming in there!" Kyra had that same look Laidu had had when he ordered them to take him.

"Fine," Skaria said, frowning. "Just don't get yourself killed. Alright? Your father didn't hire us to bring back your body!"

Kyra nodded. "Alright. Let's go!"

"Indra, the second we come out, or the second the fire dies away, bring the horses, alright?" Skaria ordered. Indra nodded.

They rushed into the flames, Kyra shielding her face from the flames. The roar of the forest fire was deafening. Skaria crouched down, her blade at the ready. She highly doubted that anything could survive that furnace flame. But she didn't take chances. That's what kept her alive.

She turned, hearing a loud crack. "Karik'ar!" she shouted. He turned, looking up as a giant tree grumbled. It fell, down towards the Kai'Draen.

Karik'ar's eyes did something odd. They glistened purple for a second. Light traced itself around his scars for a second. And then, something that appeared to be made of smoke appeared around him, before defining itself. Armor made of mist.

The tree slammed on his back and shattered into a hundred smoldering pieces. "Ugh," he said, the armor evaporating. "Do something."

Skaria nodded. "Come forth ye wind of howling beast! Come forth ye scourge of the sky east!" An old rhyme. But now her power gave it life.

"Come forth ye shaking thunder bright. Come down, rains of endless night!" Skaria shouted over the blaze. "Come down the flood of heaven's tears! Remind us of our deepest fears!"

There was another sound she heard, a sound that echoed above her. Thunder. Crap. The cost of the power would be too much for her.

It hit her like a hammer, slamming into her, forcing her from consciousness. As she drifted into the black, she felt it. Rain.

It was too bloody hot. Someone had to cool it down.

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