Chapter 35: War Paint

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We had the power to stop them. But instead, we fed them. We embraced their desires, their perversions and cravings. We should have fought to save them, to undo the consequences of their actions. Instead, we nurtured the darkness inside their heart. We nurtured and coddled rabid dogs, and we were shocked and caught off guard when they decided to bite.

***

There was a quiet in the camp, an anxious sort of noiselessness that hung around the cave like a death shroud. Laidu had felt that same tenseness in the air, heard that same silence in a war camp. He had seen looks in those soldiers' faces. The resigned depression of a man who knew he was going to die.

He didn't see that here. Instead, he saw a look of grim resolution on the faces of Skaria and Karik'ar as he sharpened his blades and she adjusted her armor. Thaen had gone off to "meditate and prepare," in his own words. He had changed. Before, when Laidu had known him as a kid, Thaen had been timid, almost cowardly.

Now, he was confident, almost dangerously so. He showed concern for others, sure, but not himself. Thaen had gotten stronger, Laidu had to admit. But that wasn't what worried the Ranger. Strength wasn't enough to survive. Discipline was needed as well, and discipline had been something Thaen tended to have a short supply on. Laidu didn't know if Thaen had gained it in the time away.

Karik'ar set the blade down. "Did your sword get the hundred strokes?" he asked Skaria. The female mercenary eyed her partner, giving him the glare Laidu had gotten from his own mother when he said something exceptionally stupid or repeated something rather obscene. "Well then," Karik'ar said. "I guess I'll take that as a yes."

"Hundred strokes?" Laidu asked.

Skaria drew her viper blade. "I give my blade a hundred strokes on a special whetstone. A hundred gives it a good edge, and that's usually about the time the alchemical oil on the blade runs out." She sheathed the blade. "Normal whetstones don't work with this, so I need special ceramic ones." She frowned. "Bloody expensive, though." 

"Ah," Laidu said. "Anything else you need?"

"Yeah." Skaria frowned. "Where is the annoying one?" she asked. "I don't like the fact that we're relying on him to get in the castle. I mean, swords can do only so much. And he'll be an easy target for archers."

Laidu was about to respond before there was a small snap. Immediately, all three of the warrior's heads swiveled over to the source of the sound. "What was that?" Skaria asked, her voice barely above a whisper. 

"I don't know," Karik'ar said. He sat up and lifted the sword up, assuming a guard stance. Skaria reached for a knife, her blade short, ready to slice whatever came her way. Laidu exhaled and let the Fever Blood ignite in his veins. 

Give it to me! Kasran shouted in his mind. Laidu felt him reach -though felt wasn't quite the right word, more of a perception, the rational side of him realized- towards the burning force. He was trying to seize the power! It is my birthright! MY inheritance! Not yours! Stop sullying it! You filthy whoreson! You leper!  He surged forward, a renewed push of will, a physical force Laidu felt inside his head. He was close to the control of the Blood.

Calm down, the Warden ordered. The dull roar of the voice began to mute itself, but it was fighting that muffling force with mental tooth and claw. It hurt Laidu, and it scared him. It scared him more than the unknown who lurked out of sight. It scared him more than any bloodthirsty bandit with a battleaxe or a homicidal maniac with sword.

If they killed him, he'd be dead, but so would they. If he lost control, they'd be dead. And anyone else who was near him. That power was deadly, and Laidu had spent years honing his control over it. To have to fight for control was terrifying, and it would have made his blood run cold if it wasn't burning. The damage he could wreak. The blood he could spill. The death he could sow if he let go of control.

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