Chapter 34: Footsteps in the Dark

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Their powers had aroused cravings within the Eight, cravings that could be satisfied by blood and blood alone. But it is the nature of cravings to be insatiable. For soon, when they required a life before, now, their hunger meant the city must be stained red with the lifeblood of the innocent.

***

Skaria awoke to someone prodding her in the face.

"Skaria! Skaria!" Indra said, hushed. "Wake up!"

"Bloody... whatever you woke me up for must be bloody important." Skaria had taken a risk, telling Indra she was taking first watch. But the bloody scholar had to begin pulling her own weight. She had ordered Indra to wake her up if she had found something.

"I think I heard something." Skaria sat up in her bedroll. Karik'ar slept a few feet away, and Skaria could hear him breathe. The dim light of the sleeping embers made a few of the piercings on Karik'ar's chest glint.

"What did you hear?" Skaria asked. She grabbed her scabbard and swung it on. Across the cave, Thaen muttered, Kyra shifted in her sleep, and Laidu's chest rose and fell at a slow and even. That Ranger reminded her of someone. And, though she didn't say it, she was worried about him. He seemed a little depressed ever since Tom had yelled at him.

"Sounded like footsteps." Skaria rolled her eyes. It probably was just a rabbit, or a small animal. She got up anyways. Better to be safe.

Skaria moved through the cave's narrow entrance, leaving the warmth of the smoldering fire and entering the cold night's air. Straining her ears,Skaria listened, listened for anything that was out of place.

Crickets filled the night with their sounds, and Skaria could hear the wind howling and whistling through the stones. No footsteps. But something was off. Something wasn't right, and Skaria could feel it. It was downright unsettling, the air. She felt something that had always made her anxious.

She was being watched.

Skaria knew that feeling well. It had been her unwanted companion in Saefel Scelion. It had also saved her life on many an occasion. Her instincts were what had saved her then. From the hundreds of times she had relied on them, only once had they let her down.

She reached behind her head, for the sword handle. There. Her fingers touched old, worn leather. The best kind, in Skaria's mind. The kind that was used, that had nicks and scratches in it, the kind of leather that offered a sure grip and time-tested faithfulness.

Slowly, she drew the sword, letting the night air echo with the rasp of steel as Skaria withdrew the blade from its scabbard. She waited, and listened closely.

There was the snap of a branch being stepped on, the rustle of shuffling feet. Footsteps. Well, that was bloody fantastic. Skaria walked back towards the cave, slipped in, and looked at Indra.

"You heard it?" she whispered. Skaria nodded. "What should we do?"

"Wake up Thaen," Skaria ordered. Indra tiptoed past Karik'ar, and began to jab Thaen awake.

"Oi, getoffme!" the Vesperati slurred as he sat up. He glared at them all. "Why am I up?" he asked. Indra glared at him and made a shushing motion at him. Laidu murmured something softly, and turned over, onto his side. "Sorry," he said much more quietly.

"I heard someone outside," Skaria said. "I don't want to watch the camp alone, and I'd rather have someone who can see in the dark." Thaen nodded. "Get a shirt on and join me outside." With that, Skaria stepped out the cave and sat down on a rock.

A few minutes later, Thaen joined her, wiping his mouth, this time wearing a vest, left open at the front. "Sorry. I was low on blood. Indra offered up again." He sat down and began to tie the b

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