Chapter 119: The Scholar's Quest

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They had discounted the heroics of the past, mocking the very idea that man can rise from his base nature and, by clinging to virtue, and through the graces of heaven, strive to help and serve fellow man, by way of the word, the sword, or the arts, ennoble himself and others. They had laughed at the idea of elevating themselves and others, and before Elysion fell, the culture of decadence and cynicism meant they were in good company. But sneering at heroes and glorifying filth pales in comparison with the light of heroics and the sublime glory of heavenly things.

***

A Few Months Ago

***

She saw the trouble from across the street.

Skaria wrapped her fur cloak around her armor more, and pulled the hood over her face. A chill wind had arisen, running its way across the dark green-blue sea, stirring up frothy brine the way warhorse hooves drove up a cloud of dust on the battlefield. The wind rushed through the buildings, freezing all it touched, biting at Skaria's exposed cheeks. In most countries, spring meant flowering and blooming, the slow return of warm weather. In Caeldar, it meant that the icy winds nipped instead of bit.

Karik'ar followed her, like her shadow, a small bit of his braid hanging out of the hood. Despite the crowded marketplace, people gave them a wide berth. It was, Skaria suspected, a combination of her venomous gaze and his massive bulk. "Well, hopefully this grindstone is good," Karik'ar said, studying the stone in his hand.

"The last one was about as useful as crusted-up scat, right?" Skaria asked.

"Yep." Karik'ar sighed. "The alchemists of the University can make some novel inventions. I only wish they didn't feel the need to reinvent the wheel with every other invention."

"They probably have some reasoning for it," Skaria said, before someone jostled into her. She glared at them, and the man backed up, stunned. "Stay out of our way," she snarled. The man gave her a look, one part fear, the other part disapproval, and walked past them.

"You know, you're not required to be that rude to everyone you meet," Karik'ar said.

"He should have watched where he was going." She kept going on. "Besides, shouldn't you be more... thuggish and impatient? Isn't that the charade you're playing?"

"When people are around, I pretend to be a dumb savage," he muttered under his breath. "Only when people talk to me, though. Not really a way to show that to everyone here."

"There is, probably," Skaria said. "Presentation and all that."

"Apart from the braid, not really," Karik'ar said. "If I wanted to dress the part, I would be walking around in naught but war paint and a loincloth. And that's not terribly appropriate for this weather." He sighed. "I may have prodigious strength, but muscles are completely useless against the enemy named frostbite."

"I'm sure," Skaria said. She was about to respond with something pithy, but the words died in her mouth as she saw something unfold in the distance. "Great, a scholar has gotten herself in trouble." The woman was backed up against the wall, with a rather suspicious-looking man advancing on her.

"Do I need to act dumb?" Karik'ar asked.

"Just grunt, do what I tell you," Skaria said.

"Just curious about one thing. We Kai'Draen are supposed to be headstrong and proud. Why would I be working for you and listening?"

"I saved your life or some sentimental story like that," Skaria said. "That's the alibi." She reached for her viper blade, but stopped. An armored gauntlet, even in a woman's arm, would still do enough damage if she swung it right. Hopefully, it wouldn't come down to that. Maiming a criminal was still a lot of paperwork, even if Saefel Caeld's self-defense laws would end in her favor. Defending Hasaema from criminals had buried her and the guild under a mountain of forms.

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