Chapter 34: Footsteps in the Dark

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"Next time," Skaria said, "take from either me or Karik'ar. We can take it better." Thaen made a face, as if the mere thought of drinking their blood was disgusting. "And why are you making a face?"

"Both of your blood is probably filthy," Thaen said. Skaria frowned. Filthy? "Probably tastes sour," he said.

"Sour?" Skaria asked.

Thaen shrugged. "Blood tastes different. Some are sweeter, some are more... bitter, I guess you could say. I've drank Kai'Draeni blood, and it is bitter and sour.
Yours might not be much better. You seem like you're always in a foul mood," Thaen said. True, Skaria often was angry and irate.

"So what kind of blood tastes... sweetest, would it be? Most flavorful?" Skaria asked.

"Hmm," Thaen mulled the question over in his mind. "Well, supposedly, virgin blood, unsullied by negative emotion, is supposed to be the sweetest. But that's an ideal. I don't think anyone has that kind of blood." He paused. "The second sweetest thing I ever sank my fangs into was a farm lass who took me in one night. She had been fed on before." He shrugged, noticing Skaria's slightly horrified expression. "It's much more common than you think. It barely hurts them, and usually the Vesperati pay." He smiled. "She was nice. And knew how to make a good poultice."

Skaria narrowed her eyes, listening to Thaen and the area around them. They were on watch, after all. "What was the first sweetest thing you ever had?"

"A lemon cream tart" Thaen said, "baked in a certain special bakery in Saefel Aedhin." He smiled at the memory. "Hey, do you hear that?" he asked.

Skaria listened. The crickets weren't chirping, and instinctively, Skaria drew her sword. She let the sound ring out again and fill the air. The viper blade sounded off, steel humming like a bell that had just been struck. It was a distinct sound. Skaria could tell all her blades apart from how they rang out when unsheathed.

There was the snap of a twig broken underfoot, and that was enough for Thaen. He leaped off his boulder and sprinted into the dark. Skaria barely had a chance to look at him before he vanished into the forest, but in that split second, she recognized the look on hia face. The look of a hunter on the trail. The look of absolute focus.

Skaria didn't want to be in his way. So she waited, feeling useless. It wasn't a feeling she liked. The helplessness, unable to intervene when a friend was in danger, made her feel sick.

The last time she was useless, Amshara died.

There was a horrendous screech from the forest. Skaria looked up in alarm. There was another. It sounded like a scream. Thaen! Without hesitation, Skaria charged in.

The wall of darkness and brambles snagged on her clothing, but Skaria forced her way through. Her sword swung, flashed in the moonlight, and cut through the thorns like they were paper. The alchemically-tempered blade was sharp, and it kept an edge like nothing she'd ever seen. Eventually, she'd have to sharpen it. Eventually.

Something small slammed into her stomach, sending her tumbling onto the stone and dirt. "Skaria? Why did you follow me?" Thaen asked, pushing off her. "I could have killed you!"

"I heard screams. I thought they were from you."

Thaen sighed. "Yes, they were. And yes, I'm fine. No, no one hurt me to cause them, yes, I did them myself, and as to why I did it," he said, as if he had recited it a hundred times before, "it was supposed to let me stun our would be robber. But he ducked out of the way and vanished. Does that cover everything?"

Skaria nodded. "Good. Now, anything else?" he asked, pulling her up with surprising strength. Seeing as the Vesperati was barely five feet tall and probably just barely weighed a hundred twenty pounds soaking wet.

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