Chapter 15: of Ripped Pants and Farm Hicks

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What is the price for our sins. I know. It is total annihilation, God wiping us from the face of the earth for our arrogance. Many might call this extreme. But the crimes we celebrated must be punished.

***

Kyra heard the crash of thunder as Skaria crumpled to the ground. "SKARIA!" she heard Karik'ar shout, the anguish in his voice palpable. He sprinted over to her, picking her up gently and cradling her against his chest. Kyra never thought that the brutish Kai'Draen could hold someone tenderly, but he did.

"She's alright," the muscular mercenary said, relief obvious in his voice. "Just exhausted, that's all."

"You care for her a lot, don't you?" Kyra asked. She felt a drop of warm rain. And then another. And another. Soon, her hair was plastered to her skull. The rain roared down on top of them. It soaked Kyra's clothing, and glistened off Karik'ar's muscle and scars. It was a hurricane.

"It's not what you think," Karik'ar said. "She's like a sister to me. When I had been forced out of my tribe, she found me. She sort of took me under her wing." He sighed. "I guess I'm going to have to return the favor."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Kyra said. She ignored the deluge. Her father had forbidden her from going out in a storm. Naturally, the forbidden feel of rain on her skin was something she relished. But now, the wonderful feeling of rain was overshadowed by worry. Worry for Laidu.

"For Kai'Draen, it is." He shrugged. "I guess it's an honor-shame thing. I'm shamed if my gift can be equalled. Makes me look stingy, makes the other look petty." He held Skaria close. "Let's go find Laidu, milady."

"No." Kyra frowned. "Don't call me that. I don't want him to know." They began to jog through the forest.

"You don't want him to know?" Karik'ar asked, Skaria's head bouncing against his scarred pectoral. "He will find out eventually. Better sooner than later, in my mind."

"You don't understand." Kyra kept up. And then she stopped. "I hear horses." She wheeled around.

"Relax, it's just me," Indra said through her headscarf, her hands holding all the reins of the horses. Plow and Salahad tossed their heads, but the other three -including the one Indra had mounted- were calm. She had pulled it up over her face, and the tiny eye slit was covered by her large goggles. And, oddly, the goggles weren't wet. Must be an alchemy trick. "And what don't we understand?"

Kyra sighed. "I've grown up a noble lady. If I asked anyone to do anything, they'd do it. But for the wrong reasons." She moved away slightly. "If i ask a boy to do something, they'd do it in hopes my father would marry me to them. They want the money my family name offers. Not for me. Anyone else I knew was a servant. They had to obey me! They were forced to. Even you. You came after me for money. Not me.

"Laidu is different. He saved me and cared for me and comforted me. He didn't know who I was. He didn't know I was rich. He was, no, he is kind to me." She paused. Wow, now she was spilling her heart out to total strangers. "Besides, he's a Changed. You know how my father would feel about that."

Indra gave a short laugh. "The only way you could piss him off more is if you married Laidu." She looked at Skaria. "Tie her to the horse, I don't want to spend any more time in the storm."

Karik'ar looked hurt. "No! I'll carry her." He looked back. "Let's find Laidu first." Kyra and Indra nodded.

They hadn't moved four meters before Karik'ar noticed something. "The trees!" he said. Kyra looked up. The rain was heavy, but Kyra looked up and saw. They were all bent and cracked.

They found him, lying in a crater, covered in ash. Kyra's heart stopped for a moment when she saw his bruised, scarred, and broken body. Dark liquid surrounded him as rain and ash mingled.

"Karik'ar! Can you make a stretcher?" Kyra asked. He nodded. "Indra, come help me get him up!"

"I most certainly will not!" Indra said. "This dress is expensive! That ash will stain it!"

"I don't bloody care about the ash! I can buy you a new one!" Kyra's voice was sharp. Indra, however, didn't move. "COME DOWN HERE AND GET HIM OUT!

Indra slid off her horse."Fine." She walked over to the puddle but didn't step in. "You're going to pay for this," she said. At this point, Kyra didn't care. And then, finally, Indra stepped in. "This will ruin my dress, you know." She reached down towards the unconscious Ranger.

Kyra reached down under his muscular arm for a grip. "Come on," she said to Indra. "Give me some bloody help!" The two of them pulled Laidu out of the ash water, before something caught her eye.

"What the heck happened to his pants?" Indra asked over the road of the rain. Kyra stared. While they still covered him modestly, about a third of the way down the thighs, they were torn to shreds. Not cut. Torn.

Indra leaned down. "Now that is downright curious," she said, staring at the inner thigh. "Kyra, feel this." She poked a hole.

Kyra glared at Indra. "What are you doing? Have you no decency?" A woman -especially one like Indra- shouldn't feel another man! It was just barbaric! And lewd.

"No. Seriously." Indra grabbed Kyra's hand and shoved it into the hole.

"Huh," Kyra said. "It feels like wax. But cloth." The rain forgotten, she stared at the cloth. The water didn't really soak into it. It beaded on the surface.

"The alchemical treating," Indra said. "It's a film that makes it fireproof. Settled on the outside." She lifted Laidu up. "It's still intact, but the fabric underneath has ripped."

"So you're saying it ripped from the inside?" Kyra asked. "How would that happen?"

"Inflation," Indra said. "Or growth." She looked at Laidu. "Apparently he can do more than he's letting on." She helped Kyra yank him out of the pit. "He looks fine. Just...exhausted."

Kyra nodded, the roar of the rain drowning out her voice. She turned back. Karik'ar had made a stretcher, and had laid out the blankets on a little litter. One that was designed to drag behind the horse. Karik'ar walked down to the edge of the pool. "His pants are ripped. That doesn't happen in a fight."

"WE KNOW!" Indra and Kyra said.

Karik'ar sighed. "Okay then. I'll take it from here," he said, lifting Laidu's unconscious form and wrapping it in the blankets. "The rain is not going to be healthy for him. He should be warm, if he's going to sleep this off." He mounted the horse with the litter. "If we hurry, we can make it to Baton's Mill." He flicked the reins, sending the powerful warhorse off, Laidu's litter rattling against the ground.

Kyra quickly mounted the horse and began to follow Karik'ar. Indra followed suit, keeping the reins of Laidu's and Skaria's horses tight in her hands. They rode.

But Kyra couldn't keep her eyes off Laidu. He didn't seem to be hurt. But he didn't awaken. It was odd. Very odd.

She looked up. There, being held steady by Karik'ar, was Skaria. Neither did she move. She just lied there.

There! Kyra looked up. There, through the storm, was a great wall, made out of logs. The gate was open. Apparently someone was waiting for them. Or they left it open.

And then Kyra saw why. Hunters. They were walking in, fighting the rain. They had to hurry.

As they were a while away, they saw it. The gates began to close. "No, no no no!" Kyra shouted. But the thunder drowned out her shouts. They were close! They could make it! But, then, with a harsh finality, the gates slammed shut.

"No!" Indra shouted. "They don't open them!"

"What?"

"It's the law!" Indra shouted back ."The gates shoudn't be opened in a storm!" She sighed. "There! There's a stable!"

The rode onward, away from the gate, towards the little house. "Hello?" Kyra shouted. She dismounted her horse, and, as the rain poured down, she marched over to the tiny little door. "Hey! Please! Is there anyone there?" she asked, banging on the door. She shivered. It was cold. And she was soaked through. "Please, open up!"

And, amazingly, it did.

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