Chapter 65: Reflections of Caeldar

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There were some societies that took the great aspects of masculinity -courage, strength- and twisted them into brutality and warmongering. But equally terrible were the societies that saw the first perversion of masculinity, and tried to purge man of the pure form.

-il'Kavran Madashra, Chronicles of the Timeless.

***

Unlike many, Kyra awoke peacefully from nightmares.

She opened her eyes. The cold mountain air had soaked through her bedroll, and she shivered. Wrapping the wool around her, she tried to keep whatever warmth she had in. But that didn't work. When every breath made her colder, it was almost impossible to keep warm.

The dream still ran through her head. Laidu had rescued her. And, in return, she had started to seduce him. She remembered that much. The kiss she had planted on his lips, the frantic shimmying to get out of her dress. 

But mostly, she remembered the way her family looked when they saw a half-naked Changed on top of her. The look of horror on her father's face was seared into her mind.

She saw Thaen keeping watch, and was stunned. He sat, shirtless, in front of a dying fire. Shirtless, in this cold? How was he able to sit there?

He walked over to Karik'ar, nudged him, and leaned down next to the Kai'Draen. Karik'ar shifted, before rising slightly. Thaen whispered something in the large figure's ear, before moving over to the empty bedroll next to Kyra.

"How do you keep warm?" Kyra asked.

"A trance..." Thaen said, and his voice trailed off. He inhaled, and spoke again. "Trance of... the Fireflesh" He shuddered. "It won't ...last long," he said, before falling to his knees and beginning to shiver so violently it looked as if he was convulsing. "So brightin' cold," he said.

Kyra opened up her sleeping roll, ignoring the chill. "I heard this works," she said. "Get in, use my body heat to warm yourself up." She chuckled. A few weeks ago, she would have scoffed at the idea that she'd have a Vesperati curl up next to her, but now she was ordering him to. It wasn't like anything was going to happen out of it.

Thaen obeyed, and she felt him crawl in and wrap the wool around both of them, curling up against her. She could feel the cold that still clung to his fur, clung like a wintry shroud. She could feel him shudder as he tried to warm himself up.

He was an odd one, Thaen. A trained killer, yet surprisingly cheerful, and not in a way that made him seem insane or disturbed. As his shivering died down, and he began to breathe easier, she thought of someone else.

Laidu.

Why in the world was she attracted to him? The scales, the horns, they were all the marks of the Changed. And while she didn't believe some of the philosophers -as her father did- that the Changed were degenerate humans whose bestial natures let them bind with beasts, they weren't normal. The signs weren't supposed to be pretty. She had seen the Changed before.

But Laidu wasn't like them. He had an ordered body, a form that, unlike the piece-part Changed, seemed whole. Where the Change had altered some with grafts of animal limbs, it had graced Laidu with a completely new body. But still, he was Changed. He was, as her high-society friends would put it, unfit to be a member of their ranks. He wouldn't be a man, in their eyes. He didn't follow the Codes. He behaved like a plebeian, one of the uncivilized masses, an uncultured swine. He was supposedly brutish, clinging to a bygone, antiquated notion of masculinity.

Yet somehow he was more masculine than most of the men she could think of. For them, their idea of masculinity was...small. It was a disaffection for the world, an elitist scorn. The men she knew, her father not included (if he didn't have time for her, he surely didn't have time for social theories) openly mocked the poets and artists. The artists and poets wanted things, they expressed their desires, her friends would say scornfully. To express desire was to reveal desire. And desire was for the plebeian masses. To care was to act like a maid or a worker, fretting about some job or another project. It was beneath the elite. For the noblesse, desire was synonymous with banality and crudeness.

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