Chapter 38: Mind Games

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They became monsters that looked like heroes. Beautiful in appearance at first, they reveled in their immortality, and then they showed their true colors. Their true forms were horrendous, but they wore masks, masks of flesh and skin. Soon, they shall meet their end, the heroes that wear the guise of monsters. This, I have seen.

***

Kyra shifted in her bedroll. Next to her, Laidu snored softly. She could feel the heat radiating off his body, the idle movement as he shifted in his sleep.

On the other side of her smoldering fire, Thaen sat, his war paint washed out, and eyelids heavy. Indra was asleep next to him, the shapeless mass of her bedroll rising and falling.

Torvan was still asleep, tied to a tree. Thaen had been sedating him with a "tried and true Vesperati method," he had said. Mainly, licking his claws and swabbing them in Torvan's mouth.

Gross, yes, but it worked. Thaen yawned, showing off small white fangs. He looked over, around the camp, around Torvan, and his gaze lingered on her. Then he moved on.

Kyra lay down, but her thoughts were not quiet. She didn't know what to think anymore. This world was so much stranger and more dangerous than Saefel Caeld. But... she liked that. And that fact was what scared her.

She was supposed to be the good and proper Caeldari daughter. Kyra was supposed to loathe the outdoors, what the Caeldari high society considered backwoods, populated by hicks. The people who she was travelling with -a chatty Vesperati assassin, a scholar, two mercenaries, and a Changed- were supposed to be rogues and thugs, a few steps away from barbarians. Karik'ar was supposed to be an actual barbarian.

There probably was some truth behind the stereotypes, sure. However, these five people were the closest thing she ever had to friends.

There was Thaen, crazy, the kind of guy who could make Kyra laugh, just with his wild antics. He was supposed to be little more than an animal, as most of the nobles had said. Her father had said that quite a bit as well, though he saved most of his more colorful oaths for the Changed. Thaen was kind, caring, and a bit naive. He was... cute.

There was Skaria. Gruff, tough, and no nonsense, she was a breath of fresh air from the sycophantic court of Caeldar. Skaria was smart, too, which wasn't supposed to be. She was a female mercenary, a woman doing a man's job. And that meant she wasn't proper. Skaria knew this, and she didn't care. Kyra wished she had a little bit of that attitude.

Next was Karik'ar. A hulking, musclebound giant who was paid to kill and slay. He was supposed to be a savage, and the piercings added to that effect. The lack of shame when it came to nudity was also a bit off-putting. But he was gentle, he was smart. He helped Kyra for no price. Like some of the others, he was an outcast.

Indra was odd. She was seemingly cold and distant, yet after a bit, she did open up. She knew things, and used her abilities to help. And he had saved the life of Laidu. Though, while she couldn't fight, she tried, and that she had no lack of courage.

And then there was Laidu.

He was a Changed. And an Alberic immigrant. He was a Ranger. That meant, if one took the Caeldari stereotypes to heart, that he was terrible. The state of his Changedness meant that he was more of a beast than a man. The Vesperati had a few beastly traits, it was assumed, but they were mostly civilized. The Changed were beasts. He was Alberic, which meant he was an uncivilized boor, a southern barbarian, a wild hick. He was a Ranger, which meant he was cruel and cold, ruthless. Not like the Caeldari Guard, of course.

Laidu was the kindest person she knew. She remembered meeting him. There was a feeling of movement, and she dimly remembered her head leaning against his chest, the cold wakening her. His warmth had wrapped around her. She had drifted off to sleep again, before waking up in the cave. His appearance had scared her at first. But the more she had looked on his features, the more used to it she got. In his own way, he was nice-looking. He was gentle, caring, and sacrificial.

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