Chapter 69: City of Cold

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Caeldar the province is riddled with caves and mountains, where the Vesperati fled the cold, cruel autumns and burrowed into the heart of the earth, wrapping themselves with cloaks of stone and sod, keeping entire cities warm. And when humans arrived and built Saefel Caeld, many Vesperati holds joined them upon the surface.

-Torvir Falascotti, History of the Albic Cultures


Nine Years Ago


The ship rocked steadily in the water, and Skaria shivered in her cabin. "Too... bloody cold," she managed to hiss out through chattering teeth. Karik'ar shivered on the bed across from her in the small room, and the cold had done the impossible. He had willingly worn a shirt.

Skaria wrapped the warm cloak around herself, and underneath the fur, she heard the clink of chain mail as it shifted, muted by the layers of leather that sandwiched it. Her armor had cost a fortune to make. A leather worker and a tailor had taken her measure, quilted the gambeson that had been sewn into the torso section of her longcoat of armor. Caedak and Karik'ar had made the chain mail. It was heavy, about fifty pounds, but when she belted the longcoat on, it was easy enough to move in. It would have cost a thousand gold Castilleran crowns. A hundred and twenty Aberic crowns. Five hundred Leyonsian florels.

And she had gotten it for free.

The second she had recovered from her sickness, she had demanded armor, promised she would pay for it. Caedak laughed at that, said she'd get armor, but not for payment. Skaria was a guest, a friend, and it wouldn't be proper for a friend to pay another. Skaria, not being especially prideful, didn't argue. She knew others who would see it as an offense on their earning abilities, as if the charity offered was a backhand insult. Idiots. Skaria had walked away with fine armor and a full coinpurse. Or, rather, a not-severely-depleted coinpurse. She was by no means rich, but now she wasn't a thousand crowns poorer.

"So, who are we staying with?"

"Maria's adopted sister." Skaria frowned, before checking the scrap of parchment she kept pinned under a gauntlet. The address, somewhere in Caeld, would be their safe haven while they hunted down the rest of the Corpus Veritorum. The ones who had killed Amshara.

And then, she didn't know what she'd do.

The ship had stopped long ago, and now they waited in the dock, the great ship floating and bobbing in ice-cold waters, waiting for some papers to be approved by some other official. Bureaucracy at its finest.

Skaria rose off her bed. Hopefully, movement would quicken the life in her limbs, kindle the heat in her shivering bones. Besides, the cabin was rather stuffy. A bit of fresh, northern air would not be amiss. "I'll be back." Karik'ar nodded, before shivering even more violently. It was still hard to comprehend that her battle-hardened warrior accomplice was still only sixteen.

She rose, closed the door, and maneuvered her way through the cramped passageway. With her height, Skaria had to duck under some rib-like support beams, though not nearly as bad as some of the taller Caeldari passengers, who had to remain in a perpetual stooped state in order to get around. Had to hurt their backs, she thought. 

She ascended the stairs, each step of her hobnailed boots squeezing an agonizingly loud creak out of the brine-soaked planks. The ship she had hired was an old ship, but a cheap one. And that's all she cared for.

The two of them had a cabin in the lower deck of the ship, and as Skaria rose to the upper deck, the passageways opened up, allowing her to breathe. The other passageway below had been choked with shadow, every one of the five passageway lanterns bolted into a bulkhead, and each one cast a small pool of sooty light that did little to alleviate the shadows. But the passageway above had more regular lighting, and seemed freer. 

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