Chapter 68: The Path and the Walker

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A fool is one who treads on a path
Seeking only the destination.

-Qin Proverb


The storm carried on into the next day, but it wasn't enough to drown out the clash of blades as Skaria and Karik'ar dueled.

Kyra watched, entranced, as the two warriors' blades flashed and clanged as the two mercenaries danced through the covered parts of the ruin. A thrust of Karik'ar's greatsword would have run Skaria through had she not turned to the side, using her blade to deflect herself off it. She followed up with a blow from a parrying dagger, swinging a blow towards Karik'ar. The Kai'Draen stumbled back, still controlled, and managed to parry the blow, yanking the massive steel sword up to block. 

Skaria turned, backing away, allowing Karik'ar to advance. An overhand blow opened him up, and Skaria took the chance, running towards him. Her dagger flipped over, and she slid up Karik'ar's blade as it fell like an executioner's stroke. She got closer to him, and her viper blade was at his throat. "You're dead," she said, panting.

"That overhead swing might work on slower targets. A Nolstrom berserker or a Glamwellish bear-chieftan, maybe. Or a Kai'Draen," Thaen said, leaning against a pillar, shouting over the rain. "Smaller fighters, like a Vesperati, or faster combatants like Skaria can get closer. Once they pass the hilt, you're dead. She retreated, and you should have kept her retreating. Quick jabs, maybe." Thaen paused. "You don't want to open yourself up.

Karik'ar nodded. "Right." He sat down. "You want to have a go at Skaria?"

"Why not?" Thaen asked. He stretched his neck, went over to his pack, and yanked a blade out. Or a knife. It was a foot and a half long, straight except for a faint curve at the end. It was still straight enough to be sheathed.

Kyra had fenced before, but her instructor had demanded she wear a wire mask and what felt like a quilt wrapped around her arms, chest, and legs to protect her. When she had used the piercing foil and the parrying cane, or the saber, they had been blunted. Her fencing instructor would have had a fit of apoplexy here, seeing two people duel with naked, sharp, deadly blades.

Karik'ar sat down on a fallen pillar and yanked his shirt off. "Kyra, there's a salve in my pack. You mind grabbing it for me? I need to change this bandage." Kyra, however, couldn't take her eyes off of his skin. Under the sheen of sweat, only half his body was covered in scars. "Can you hurry up? It's rather chilly out here."

"The scars...where did they go?"

Karik'ar sighed. "Grab the ointment." Kyra turned and moved over to his pack, her mind racing. One couldn't remove scars, especially not scars as deep and severe as those, could one? She found the ointment, a clay jar marked with a scrawled note. She handed it to the massive Kai'Draen, who began to unwind a bandage around his upper shoulder. 

She saw how he was removing the scars. There was a pattern of scabbed-over cuts, those same lines and circles traced in now-healing skin. "You're...cutting them out?" she asked.

"Yes. Iron flecks inside the scars caused them. I'm pulling them out, one section at a time." Karik'ar said. His massive fingers, each the size of either two or three of hers, scooped into the jar and slathered the paste over the cuts.

"With what?" Kyra asked. 

"Indra gave us a lodestone." Karik'ar said.

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