Chapter 28: Skinstealer

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We called our society great. But great society wouldn't produce the likes of the Eight. They had ways, they said, of cheating death. Ways, they claimed, of transcending mortality. Dragons could do it, and theoretically, the Sidhe could. But humans? Calixa? Tethyd? The thought was unheard of!

***

"I grow tired of this chase, Agyar Prince." Why was he calling Laidu that? Agyar prince? Laidu wasn't Agyar. At least, he didn't remember being an Agyar. It was possible, he reasoned. He didn't remember anything in his real early childhood. But how would Kazalibad know?

"The boy has such beautiful skin." Immediately, Laidu's blood froze. Skaria and Karik'ar looked stunned. 

Indra closed her eyes. "It's him. It's Kazalibad." Kyra closed her eyes, hopelessness painted on her face. Skaria, Thaen, and Karik'ar looked confused.

"I know," Laidu said. "But why did he talk about Tom's skin? He's not going to...?"

"No, not violate the boy," Indra said. "He's called Kazalibad the Corrupt, Kazalibad the Avaricious. He's also called 'Skinstealer.' He rips off the skin of his victims, and wears it. Lets him appear as his victims. A giant monster is kind of conspicuous."

"Disgusting," Laidu spat, rage building in his stomach. 

Let me rip him apart! Let me paint the world and stain the seas red with his blood! Let me take that eye of his and show him his dead corpse! Kasran was raving again. But Laidu let him. Kasran would give him ideas. 

Laidu stormed out of the building. "Hold this," he said to Kyra, handing her his shirt and boots. His boots weren't fireproof, and he didn't want to give Kazalibad anything else to grab on to. He needed every advantage in this fight.

He walked out to the quarry edge. There, under a small tree, the Erinyan shopkeeper Laidu had bought the sword from waited. Tom was sprawled on the ground, hands tied behind his back. "Ah, you came. I was wondering if you would show." It was odd, the Erinyan suddenly having Kazalibad's voice.

"Let him go," Laidu said. Rhaem, Kasran, the depressed voice, and the paradox voice babbled, but all of them told him to kill the thing in front of him. 

"Of course." The Erinyan's arm split open, and a long, slobber-covered pink tongue wrapped around Tom's waist, before tossing him towards Laidu. Laidu froze, Tom's limp body soaring through the air.

Karik'ar stepped in, and in one motion, caught the unconscious child. Tom didn't look harmed. He was actually snoring a little bit. "He's fine," the Kai'Draen assured. "I'll take him and the others away. I have a feeling that this might get... messy."

"Right." Laidu closed his eyes, then looked at Karik'ar. "Protect them. Keep Kyra safe."

"On my life," Karik'ar promised.

Laidu turned and faced Kazalibad. "Look, drop the charade." He was maybe a hundred and fifty meters away. Pretty far, but Laidu was loud enough so that the monster could hear him. "Why wear another's skin?"

"True," Kazalibad said. "This skin smells like charcoal anyway." The Erinyan man's chest jerked, and the head began to swell. A large tear ripped across the face, and the entire skin rippled.

Like a caterpillar shedding its cocoon, the giant grey monster emerged from the widening tears in the Erinyan's skin. First the faceless head, then the claws, and then the arms and top of the chest. Finally, the thing stepped out of the skin. "Much better." Kazalibad's eye opened. "You know, I have been looking at the others in your group."

"That Vesperati has a fine pelt, a fine pelt indeed." Laidu began to walk forward. "Though I am not too fond of furs and pelts. The Kai'Draen's skin is tougher. Leathery, almost. Protective, maybe, but not nice. Same with the female mercenary. Too calloused." Laidu frowned. "Your scales, however, are beautiful. Like little diamonds." That's surprising. Laidu frowned and ignited the Fever Blood.

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