Chapter 48: A Message From Skinstealer

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Of course, the Eight hid the signs. Calcifrax's pyroclastic tendencies, Ishta'ana's lechery, and Kazalibad's greed were too great to conceal. The fact that they tried to hide it meant that they weren't wholly depraved. Their transformation had not robbed them of that.

***

They found Torvan on the path to the city.

Laidu trudged alongside Kyra. Thaen trailed behind, next to Indra, and in front of Laidu and Kyra, Skaria and Karik'ar trudged in front.

The path forward was one of the few in Alberion that was paved. The cobblestones were drowning in moss and grass, and those stones that weren't were being slowly strangled into the forest by creeper vines. Still, it was more defined than the rough dirt paths that the group had previously traversed.

"I meant to ask you," Kyra said to Laidu. "You've been sticking closer to me." She paused, obviously choosing and mulling over her words. "It seems," she began, "like you're making a concerted effort to be around me. I don't want to be rude, but is there a reason?" She seemed apprehensive.

Laidu stalled. What was he going to say? That he liked spending time with her? That it was more than a simple preference, this like? How could he explain the times he missed her presence? She'd flip out.

Was he...no, that was ridiculous. He couldn't be attracted to her. But why not? Why wouldn't he? She was attractive enough -more than enough, really- and nice too. Dear Light above, he was falling for her. And how would he explain that without her recoiling in disgust?

So he fumbled for an explanation while his mind fired off at hundreds of leagues a second, reaching for anything to act as an explanation. "Well, um, remember Baton's Mill?" he stammered.

Kyra shuddered. "I wish I couldn't." Right. Baton's Mill probably didn't have too many good memories. Laidu wanted to put his arm around her and draw her close to him. But seeing as she had just asked about him being too close to him, it would be a bit proving of her point.

"Well, I was able to fight off Kazalibad. I know I can. After all," Laidu said with a shrug and a smile, "I have experience."

Ooh, Rhaem said. That's a good one!

"And from what I've garnered, that big grey brute is after you. So," Laidu said, "it's best you have a brute of your own. Just for protection."

"I see," Kyra said with a small smile. "But I don't really see you as a brute. Karik'ar, maybe. If he wasn't so smart." Karik'ar chuckled at that, but kept walking.

"Yeah," Laidu said. Inwardly, he breathed a sigh of relief. "That's why," he said.

"Okay." The six of them kept walking, and Laidu breathed calmly now. Kyra still walked next to him, but she seemed...reserved. As if she was wary of Laidu. Was it his response? Did she guess what he was thinking?

No, of course not. Kyra had seen what he had tried not to. The monster. After all, how could she not? He had scales, horns, a snout. Sure, she was pretty, but he was an abomination. She was like all the others, and the scales were all she could see.

"I can't wait to get to Sapharama," Skaria said, jolting Laidu out of his melancholy.. "A nice bed, preferably one without bedbugs, and a warm blanket."

"And a tailor shop," Indra said.

"A tailor shop?" Skaria asked in disbelief. "Really?"

"Yes." Indra patted her dress. "I plan on using some of my funds to get something more practical." She lifted the dress ever so slightly, showing off a pair of old, but well-made, boots. "Dresses are not the most practical of outfits for this trek."

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