Chapter 55: Soul and Blood

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I have seen the blade that shall pierce the heart of the Eight. Brotherhood, love, unity, and faith. Brotherhood, to repair the schisms they have made; love, to soothe the hatred and callousness they had infected us with; unity, to bring together those divided; and faith, to shine and support the noble ones who face them down. These words were given to me for your comfort.

***

Thaen's expression was as stormy as the outside of the seedy tavern he sat in.

He had given Karik'ar the letter, slipped it under the sleeping thing's head, and slipped away before the Kai'Draen had awoken. He hated it, hated having to do it. But it was the right thing.

That was almost impossible. From everything he had seen of the Kai'Draen, they valued war for war's sake. Violent for no reason. Abhorring families. Savagery, distilled by terrible conditions.

But the Vesperati had taken their terrible situation and built the holds. They had established outposts of civilization in a sea of barbarism. The Kai'Draeni tribes, however, were the opposite of cultured.

Karik'ar, fortunately, wasn't that savage. He didn't dance around in a loincloth babbling like an imbecile. He seemed civilized, but there was something about him that bothered Thaen. There was something that made the Vesperati warrior uneasy.

The dirty, boisterous inn quieted immediately when someone walked in, bringing in the sounds of a storm and rainwater. That someone carried a presence with them, a presence that filled the room. That was the air of a man who was used to fighting to get his own way.

Karik'ar.

The barkeep tilted his head towards Thaen's table, and the Kai'Draen moved over. The crowd parted for the bulky figure to move through. All but one.

That man spat on the floor. Ugh. Civilized lands had their regressives, and this man was the local one. "What are you doing here?" he snapped.

"Walking through," he said calmly.

"Well, get out," the regressive idiot said. He rose to his full height, barely coming up past Karik'ar's chest. So Karik'ar did something, that, when Thaen saw it, was smart. He stepped forward.

The man had been drinking, and was probably already drunk, but the sight of an eight and a half foot tall musclebound Kai'Draen was enough to make anyone pause. Karik'ar put a hand on the drunk's shoulder, and moved him aside. "Good. Sit down," he said, "and don't bother me again." The drunk nodded, realizing he had just been a few seconds away from death. Or permanent injury.

He sat down, across from Thaen, having to crowd himself into the corner his chair was in. "I got your note," he said. "Odd way to say you wanted to talk to me."

"Yeah," Thaen said, looking at his drink. He had gotten ale for the Kai'Draen, and a weak cider for himself. The words seemed to vanish. The vitriol he had kept bound in his throat, the venom his tongue would lash out with... all the acidic words he had practiced vanished from his mind.

"So, uh, why did you want me here?" Karik'ar asked.

"I needed to tell you something," Thaen said.

"And you couldn't tell me back there? At our inn?"

Thaen stopped. What was he going to say? That he was afraid of others noticing? That he was embarrassed of what he needed to do? "I have my reasons," Thaen said cryptically.

"Fine," Karik'ar said, taking a sip of his drink. "So, what do you want to tell me?"

Thaen looked around, making sure no one was looking or listening too closely. No one did. "Remember back in the barrow? Where Skaria found that sword?"

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