Interlude III

Interlude III

Birth of a Sea Lord

Weeks had gone by without those ‘consequences’ happening, and I was sure Delar was honestly waiting word about my ‘Tia-dear getting anywhere near his land. I bet he felt like a fool once my response got to him. I wonder when he’ll realize that he couldn’t carry out his threats? In fact, he was probably going to be even more irritated to know that only half of those ‘tidal waves’ that have been hitting Rynrir as of late were actually from ‘Tia-dear.

The rest were from me sent directly to the few coastal territories I knew he owned. I wanted nothing more than to face him and settle the score once and for all, but I had to consider my mate and ensure she wouldn’t be attacked in my absence. For all I knew, the prat could be trying to lure me away so she would be unguarded. So far, however, it seemed that he underestimated both ‘Tia and me, so even if that were true, it wouldn’t be anything she couldn’t handle. …I just didn’t want to risk Rutan or the others to get hurt in the process.

Then, of course, there was the matter that he was trying to summon me, as if I was made to serve him- it was disrespectful, considering that it was he who wanted something from me. By all rights, he should visit me wherever I choose to meet him, though I suppose that was difficult since I spent most of my days at sea. Still his messengers should be requesting me to set up a meeting place, not expecting me to submissively agree to wherever he had the advantage!

If we were going to meet, then it needed to be closer to the sea, so that it would be fair to the both of us should we fight. Until then, I planned to ignore him and revel in his frustration that there was nothing he could do about it. Heh, heh.

I resumed my routine visits to the island, though I didn’t stay long enough to get involved anymore. Cegil’s home was coming along nicely. He and I cleared an area deep in the forest so that it wouldn’t be easily accessible to unwanted visitors. I planned for my home to be closer to the shore, where ‘Tia and I could overlook the beach and the small settlement I wanted to build.

I had already started spreading word to other pirates and invited them to find bartenders or merchants that wanted to relocate to my settlement. I was even offering to pay for the construction of their businesses and homes as long as they were serious about coming. …Though I foresaw that getting supplies would be a problem; no merchants or trade ships would be able to come here without risking a hungry dragon’s attention.

I might have to extend some responsibility to pirates- have them bring trade goods in exchange for a safe haven. And as for the alcohol, I knew a few earth dragons who specialized in brewing who might be willing to sell. Perhaps I could even convince Cyirlie to have her dragon clan stop hunting to the west of my island- then merchants could come in from that angle, though they’d have to take a long arc out to avoid the dragons and resume their course.

I had many ideas, and, thankfully, experience in improving economies of distant, secluded places. I just had to make sure that I didn’t spend too much time away from home. I didn’t want ‘Tia to be in that situation again. She may have been able to handle it and chase off the enemy, but I didn’t like that panicked and worried look on her face when she was checking her men. She shouldn’t be subjected to such vulnerability, and it bothered me that it could happen.

That’s why I couldn’t stay away for long- I wanted to be there for her, so she could have someone to rely on when everyone else was indisposed. I knew how it felt to be alone, though I never had to take care of many slumbering people at once. But I knew just being by her side would comfort her, even if she truly didn’t need me for protection.

But, alas, I still had one more chore to do before I could go home. I had to go to the enclave to meet with the pirates and talk to them about trading. With Cyirlie, I only had to see her once to explain myself. She had nodded me off immediately, wanting nothing more to do with me. That was fine with me.

So when she approached me that day, I was very surprised.

She came to me in her human form, her icy blue eyes narrowed in distaste – as always when it came to me – and she had her fangs bared in a snarl, eyes narrowed in abhorrence. She held out a parchment of paper in her clawed hand, letting the top curl over so that I could see some of the writing upside down.

“Why do the falucite believe we’re mated?” she asked in annoyance, her tone low.

Every pirate knew the nature of the relationship I had with ‘Tia, but all falucite and dragons didn’t know that I never publicly called it off with Cyirlie. So my parading around as the dragon’s mate must have came as a surprise to her.

“It’s to protect the Lord of the Sea,” I replied, though it came out sounding more like a question. “Where did you hear that we’re mates?”

She lightly shook the paper, making the curled part bounce up and gently float back to its position. “A man by the name o’ Delar asks fer permission ta come unto sacred ground an’ meet wit’ us. He makes mention that we’re somehow ‘mates’ an’ wishes to discuss tradin’ off one o’ our ‘pets’ fer somethin’ o’ value he has on his end.”

I felt a cold dread sink down to my stomach at the realization that Delar was finally trying to go over my head. If Cyirlie had replied to that letter and revealed the truth…

“Did you say anything back to him?” I inquired, hoping that she hadn’t bothered to write back, or that perhaps she may have only received the letter not too long ago.

“Aye, ah did- ah told him ah don’t deal wit’ young falucite, an’ that ah will only see elders. As fer the rest o’ the nonsense, ah remained silent. Ah figured ye had a good reason fer the farce,” the raven haired beauty said, her look of disdain not fading. “He sent the letter today- said he was comin’ anyway ta at least meet wit’ ye, an’ requested me ta spare a ship bearin’ the flags o’ Dael.” She scoffed. “As if ah would know one human flag from the other!”

An idea came to me. “Yes, my fellow falucite in the Fodaren clan are becoming rather rude as of late- perhaps you should make an example of Delar and eat him with a side of moaghos,” I responded cheekily, not minding if it came true. I couldn’t possibly be blamed for a dragon eating an uninvited intruder- even if they believed she was my mate. And with Delar gone, so would all the problems he tried to stir.

My guard was unusually low today, as I found her claws gripping my shirt and she lifted me high enough so that we were face to face. With her taller than me, my feet must’ve been hovering at least a foot off the ground.

“If ah’m goin’ ta start eatin’ falucite, ah’m goin’ ta start wit’ ye!” Cyirlie yelled before she tossed me to the ground. I had honestly forgotten we were at odds with one another. With our cordial interaction, it was easy to forget she didn’t value my input and wouldn’t want to hear any suggestions from me.

And yet after that rough treatment, I still didn’t feel any loathing towards her. It was like I had finally accepted her and her ways- almost like I had somehow forgiven her for trying to kill me back then. It was very strange to feel this way. By all rights, I should feel intense rage and a desire to somehow get back at her, but no- if I felt any anger now, it was reserved for Delar.

…Though I didn’t exactly appreciate being thrown. Maybe I didn’t hate her anymore, but that didn’t mean I liked her abuse either.

“Wot’s goin’ ta happen is that yer goin’ ta see him an’ stop him from comin’,” she continued as she turned away from me. “Ye have three days before he sets sail, an’ if ye don’t stop him, ah’ll take o’er yer island an’ keep ye from livin’ on it.”

I wanted to shout that she couldn’t do that, but… she could, unfortunately. Damn it- Cyirlie knew how to make the right threat to get me going. It was hard enough to find an island as perfect as that one- and Cegil was already in the process of building his house. We couldn’t afford to lose it. All I could do was grimace and stare at the stone floor. I refuse to give her the satisfaction of a meek and obedient answer.

She didn’t mind the silence- she knew she already won. She began walking away from me, but then stopped, turning her head slightly to regard me from over her shoulder. “Ah want nothin’ ta do wit’ this blunder, but ah’m curious. Wot was he referrin’ ta when he wanted ta discuss a ‘pet’?” she inquired in a gentler tone.

“The Lord of the Sea,” I replied matter-of-factly.

Her eyes narrowed instantly into tiny slits, showing only a sliver of her ice blue eyes. “Wot?” she growled. With Cyirlie angry about the idea of Tia being treated as a pet, I could get her on my side; she could easily destroy the opposition. Hmph, no, she would just send me to do it in her place.

But I found myself explaining the situation anyway- if only because she was capable of torturing it out of me. “Delar’s pet human king desires ‘Tia for his bride, so the idiot is trying to force a union between them. I’ve said no, but he’s not satisfied with that unless I give a very good reason for it. I would rather not give one at all, and I shouldn’t have to.”

“Ne’er mind the fact that yer already mates, there be many reasons why the union can’t be made. The Hels Meyuun is a servant o’ the sea goddess an’ can’t couple wit’ a lowly earth creature- ta do so would force her ta declare loyalty ta the residin’ earth goddess o’ the husband. The other gods already don’t like the Lord o’ the Sea, an’ so will reject an’ destroy her,” Cyirlie told me, holding up a finger to demonstrate her point.

I didn’t know that- it would’ve been a damn good excuse to give without having to reveal my reasons. Unfortunately it was too late to use it- I had told Delar that he would have to die if he learned the truth. If I told him that, and let him live, he would wonder why I made such a fuss in the first place.

“Second, even if the other gods forgive an’ spare her, she would be a poor match because she’s barren. Ah assume this Delar would want heirs produced, and both male an’ female Hels Meyuun would be unable ta provide that.”

It took a second for those words to sink in. “What?” I asked numbly. If I didn’t know any better, it almost sounded as if she’d just told me that ‘Tia couldn’t have children.

The dragon huffed before she crossed her arms. “Wot did ye expect? In all me life, ah’ve ne’er seen either one officially pair wit’ another an’ produce offspring, an’ we both know one o’ them ain’t secretive ’bout their conquests. Think o’ it as a trade off fer immortality. If the goddess let them breed e’ery life, they would overrun the world,” she responded, her voice regaining annoyance.

I felt as though someone punched me in the gut as my eyes widened in shock. I reached for my hat to hide my expression from Cyirlie, as I couldn’t afford to show weakness in front of her. Never once did I think ‘Tia would be unable to have falcie with me. Even after learning of her role, the thought never occurred to me.

It made sense, yes, but I’d hoped to have a family with her; to be able to live as normally as possible despite her duties to the goddess. She sacrificed a lot to be able to stay with me, and yet this was all she could get from Elati!? I thought she wanted children, too, and yet she was robbed of the ability because the goddess wanted a champion. This was so damned unfair!

And yet… even knowing this, I couldn’t be angry at her. This wasn’t her fault- she must have been born barren, rather than it being a consequence of becoming Lord of the Sea. Despite everything, I still loved ‘Tia, and I wanted to spend my life with her. Nothing could change how I felt about her.

So it didn’t matter if we couldn’t have falcie- Rutan was enough, even if he was only mine for the first twenty years.

My new resolve didn’t ease the crushing pain I felt in my chest though. ‘Tia will have to know of this soon, and I was sure she was going to feel the same way. I couldn’t keep something like this from her for long- at least I shouldn’t wait until she was ready to try for a baby. I didn’t like the thought of her being in a similar pain over the news, but maybe we could comfort each other and get through it together.

I jolted in surprise when I heard a disgusted sigh. I thought Cyirlie had left. My eyes darted to her face before I could stop myself, and I thought I caught the look of pity in her eyes before her face shifted to her usual angry expression.

How sad- the first sincere expression I’d ever witness on her and it was pity. Having her pity me was almost an insult.

“Let me correct meself,” she muttered, a tiny hint of regret hidden in her tone, “She is barren to other humans an’ demons. If ye can get a dragon pregnant, then ye shall have no trouble conceiving offspring wit’ her.”

“Are you…playing a cruel joke on me?” I inquired, pushing my hat back up. There was no way she was trying to cheer me up- I couldn’t allow myself to hope so easily after hearing something that depressing. Cyirlie would be the type to harm me further by raising my hopes and dash them in the next second.

“No… Truth is, the goddess ne’er took away their ability ta reproduce, she merely made it impossible for others ta reproduce wit’ them. Howe’er, falucite can mix wit’ almost any species, an’ ’til now, they weren’t a foreseeable threat, as they tend to stay away from the sea…”

I didn’t really understand what she was trying to tell me, other than it was possible for my kind to mix with ‘Tia and Rutan. And if Elati was trying isolate them from the breeding pool, then I could see why she would overlook my kind as long as they stayed in the sea. But, Elati made to where I was born a seafarer- she obviously didn’t intend for me to get anywhere near my sirsa, considering she tried to pair me with her priestess. Wait…

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked suspiciously as a sickening thought came to me. This earned me an evil grin from the priestess.

“Surely Elati is aware that the two o’ ye could procreate, but are ye sure she’d allow it? Mebbe ye might need ta see her an’ get her blessin’s on the matter,” she told me.

She was trying to lure me into making a permanent contract with Elati. Though having me officially join the little ‘Fatesbane’ army was the last thing she’d want, Cyirlie still had to do her job as Elati’s priestess and try to guide me into that eternal trap.

“It’s not worth it,” I replied instantly, my gaze hardening. “I am glad to hear that ‘Tia and I could still have a family, but until Elati truly does come between us, I will live my life as I please.”

After all, I wasn’t supposed to meet and end up mating with ‘Tia- I was sure she couldn’t stop us from having a child if I didn’t bring the matter up with her. She may have ‘Tia and her father’s souls in her hands, but she granted them free reign over their lives.

“Every creature wants a progeny at some point in life- ye would give that up jus’ ’cause ye don’t want ta feel like a slave?” she asked incredulously, “Yer more daft than ah thought.”

“How so?” I countered, feeling more offended than I should. Of course I wanted a child or two with the woman I loved, but I wasn’t about to obtain it for a price. ‘Tia wouldn’t want me to do such a thing.

“Yer already makin’ enemies, an’ acting as Elati wants- why not take the power that goes wit’ it, too? It’ll help ye accomplish yer goals, an’ ye’ll be able ta protect yer mate,” she told me, trying to sound tempting- which was scary coming from her. I was suddenly starting to see a new side to her. For the first time in my life, Cyirlie explaining my options as if she was actually concerned about me.

But that didn’t make sense. Did she have a hidden agenda behind her act? It wouldn’t surprise me if she was trying to guide me to my downfall, hoping that I would get killed in the process. Well, I didn’t detest her anymore, but I certainly couldn’t trust her either.

“You’re hilarious, Cyirlie,” I said in a dry tone. “As if you’d care about me or what I do.”

Her expression quickly turned sour. “Ye know wot’s also funny? Me destroyin’ that island in three days if ye don’t get rid o’ yer little friend,” she snapped, finally turning on her heel to storm off.

Hmph. She was just mad that I wouldn’t fall for her trick… Then again, she was always mad. Watching her force herself to be nice – and I could tell she was definitely forcing it – was just unnatural. Everything she told me was tempting; it offered me a balm to the insecurities I had about living as a seafarer and my ability to protect my sirsa. If I was more powerful, I wouldn’t even have to worry about angering clans or risking the lives of innocents in a stupid political war.

But to what end would it serve me to devote the rest of my life, and many lives after, to that kind of work? What benefit could I possibly get from doing such a thing over and over again? That’s why becoming a third Lord of the Sea wasn’t worth it- there was nothing Elati could offer me that I desired. I already had everything I wanted, and I didn’t need more than that.

I let out a sigh and walked off to another part of the enclave to think. I was going to have to face Delar now, but at least it would be by my terms. If I wrote back to protest his coming to the enclave, he might think it would be because I didn’t want him to go there- to which I didn’t, but Cyirlie seemed to be on my side about protecting the Lord of the Sea. As long as the ‘threat’ of his coming here seemed greater than the idea of him getting closer to ‘Tia, he would focus less on her for the time being.

Perhaps I could finally have that confrontation with him without worrying about an army of Tau being sent to capture her. And if we could work our way up to a fight, then maybe I could beat him into submission and force him to forget about the matchmaking.

Instead of waiting up to three days, I decided to do it now, and teleported to the city limits of Dael. I knew he wouldn’t be there, but it was a common place we both knew to meet up in. I walked in the direction of the city entrance and found a nice shady place to sit on the side of the road.

It was not yet spring. Despite the sun trying to do its best to warm up the chilly air, it was still dreadful to me. This wouldn’t be the best weather to converse in, but I was already anticipating a fight- that would warm us up in no time.

With another sigh – and a quick glance around to ensure I was alone – I summoned up paper, a pen, and a small wood block to write on and composed a message to the prat. When I was done, I threw the letter to the wind and commanded it to take it to him. It would likely go to the elders first, so I kept it respectful for their eyes, but I also expressed urgency so it would get to the recipient immediately.

About an hour later, I detected a sheet of paper in the wind and held out my hand to beckon it over. I was expecting Delar, not a written reply. Rage slowly filled me as I read through the contents. Instead of meeting me here, he insisted on either his homestead or Bardam’s palace. I wasn’t sure if he was seeking security, or had plans to trap or weaken me.

No, he was going to face me where I wanted to meet. Though – I glanced back at the city – maybe not right here close to the humans. When I thought about it calmly, Delar might’ve been trying for a place where we wouldn’t have human interference. I wasn’t sure how Bardam’s palace would meet that requirement, though I’d imagine there were a lot of wings or secret passages that only falucite could access.

In my next message I made a compromise. I asked him to meet me at the old crossroads about twenty miles away. It was further from the sea than what I was comfortable with, but close enough where I could take a small pocket of it with me just in case. I shouldn’t have any trouble subduing him with that much if we do end up fighting.

After I sent the letter, I teleported to the beach beside the city to gather water to take with me to my next destination. The crossroads had been abandoned for about thirty years since the fall of a major town to the southeast of Dael. Now it was nothing more than a country road that lost travelers, explorers, or hermits might walk on.

It was located on the edge of a forest, with only the west side leading out to open plains. Using the surrounding trees, I scattered the water out to cling to the leaves like dew so that it would be hidden and accessible to me. I then found a boulder to sit on as I waited for either my reply or the prat’s appearance, if he agreed to my change.

I only had to wait a half hour before familiar blue tresses appeared before me. Good- he agreed to my terms. I smirked before he turned, trying to exude confidence. Before, I felt intense rage at the sight of his face and that damned smile of his, but now… I still hated it, but I only felt a quiet irritation with him.

My explosive feelings from before must have been due to my hormones. When it came to puberty, we lost all sense of compassion when challenged, so it was no wonder I had felt those urges before. I didn’t actually want to kill him – no matter how much I disliked him – but I still wanted to hurt him badly.

“So, Satel, have you finally come to your senses and changed your mind about your pet?” he asked coyly as he pushed his glasses up in his nose.

I shifted my weight to one leg and stared at him with an upturned nose. “Not at all- I’m merely here to save your life. Cyirlie refused to acknowledge your request and said she wouldn’t know the difference between human flags anyway. Pity though, if she hadn’t sent me to stop you, you would’ve likely been killed and eaten,” I told him smugly, shrugging in an ‘oh well’ fashion.

For a brief second, his eye twitched as he resisted the urge to sneer before he shook his head and resumed his pleasant look. “Well, no matter- it’s you who I want to speak to, and here you are. I give you one last chance- tell me why you cannot spare one of your pets or I will take her by force,” he demanded, his voice becoming strained and hostile toward the end.

“You cannot take her by force. That’s a violation of owner’s rights,” I countered, trying to sound bored with his presence.

“Well, yes, that would be true if you were bound by falucite law,” he replied as he paced a few steps to the left. Then he stopped and looked at me in a side glance, “You said before that you were bound by seafarer law now, so apparently our rules do not apply to you, thus you have no right to a pet or a territory.”

“I said nothing of the kind. What I informed your elders was that you and I couldn’t stop the Lord of the Sea if we wanted to, and that I was merely a bridge to help our people better understand what is happening.”

He didn’t seem to be really listening, as there was a calculating look in his violet eyes. Instead he was working ways to twist my words into something he wanted to hear.

“So then you really are a seafaring falucite,” he mused, his eyes crinkling in amusement. I stared at him with a raised brow, wondering if he was a moron. Did that thought just now occur to him? I’ve been saying that for a long time. He must’ve been dense or hard of hearing.

“My, this could be a good sign- if it took you that long to figure it out, then all I need to do is wait a little longer before you finally agree to give up on your endeavor,” I quipped, deliberately trying to get a rise out of him.

He didn’t take the bait. He approached me slowly, pushing his glasses back up. “You’re just a lone falucite on the sea- no clan, no elders, and no branch members at your side,” he pointed out, a terrifying grin on his face, “So there will be no one to rebuke me if I simply killed you now and take what I want.”

I glared as I took my stance for a fight. Maybe I was the only falucite in the kingdom of Elit, but I wasn’t alone. I immediately summoned some water to me to create armor and said, “There will be plenty to rebuke you, but that’s only if you can kill me.”

Though I wouldn’t want her to, ‘Tia-dear would definitely come for Delar’s blood if I were to fall- just as how she went into a rage when the last Rutan died. So, I just had to make sure I didn’t die.

Delar’s first move was to uproot a few trees and fling them at me. I stood my ground and used air to cut through the one that was directly in my path, making it split around me. Since his aim was perfect, I was able to cut directly in the middle, but it didn’t pass by me all the way. I had to push the air stream further out to finish the cut so that I’d have a clear path in front of me.

No sooner than when I accomplished that, I realized that he’d set the wood around me on fire so that I was standing in the middle of a crude bonfire. Thankfully, the water I had hidden there prevented it from spreading fast enough to damage me, giving me time to use more water to distinguish the flames. Damn, I already used up half of my resources…

From my periphery I saw a boulder headed in my direction. There was no time for a counter attack. In the last second, I summoned a gust of wind to toss me into the air just as the boulder shot through where I’d just been standing. When I landed I looked around wildly to see where the glasses-wearing idiot went. He wasn’t standing where he’d started.

“So it seems that the rumors are true,” the prat called from above. I whipped my head up to a tree branch where he sat enjoying the show of my dodging his attacks. I wasn’t sure if the bastard teleported, or used other magicks to get there. If the former, then he was toying with me- one shouldn’t have the time to teleport if they were fighting seriously.

“What rumors?” I asked, barely able to keep the fury out of my tone.

“That you have control over water, but not earth or fire,” Delar responded smugly. “Granted, the water doesn’t heed me at all, but then it is a weak element compared to the sturdy earth or explosive flame.”

Water wasn’t a weak element! I glared. Even if the flow of power fluctuated like the waves, it still could trump earth and flame if used properly. …Unfortunately, with my limited supply, I couldn’t prove that. Instead, I had to resort to the Maker’s element, the only other one I could properly wield.

I used pressurized air to cut the branch that prat was sitting on and launched a series of arcing wind blades around him as he fell. Delar had the choice of guarding against my attack, or creating a safe landing for himself, but not both. I was satisfied to see cuts on his face and his frock coat shredded as he used wind to cushion his descent.

He didn’t look pleased as he numbly raised a hand to his cheek and smeared some of his blood. But I felt better to have finally gotten a hit- though in hindsight, I should’ve launched my next attack immediately after instead of gloating.

His expression turned dark as he regarded me with disdain. “You dare hurt me, weakling!?”

Before I could even take offense to the weakling remark, he sent his own wind blades towards me. I thought my water armor would be enough to protect me, but I was stunned to discover that the blade cut through them as if it were paper. I quickly blasted the attack away from me with a bubble of wind. I was relieved and dismayed to find that the cuts I sustained could have been worse without the armor.

Could he be more powerful than me? How could that be? He was about my age, so he shouldn’t have the mental strength of an elder. In a panic, I threw a pressurized wind lance towards him, but he was easily able to deflect it by raising a sheet of earth from the ground before him.

Delar didn’t even need to see me in order to slam something hard into my back, likely cracking a few of my ribs in the process. After that, I felt a gust of wind toss me over the object and to the ground several feet away. By some miracle, I was able to twist and land on my knees and hands instead of collapse flat on the ground.

Unfortunately, that put me in the perfect position for him to summon up an earth column to punch me in the stomach. I could taste blood in my mouth and felt a trail leaking from the corner of my mouth. My vision started to blur as I detected Delar’s movements- he was running towards me with a sword out.

Despite feeling weak, I managed to summon my sword, hoping that I could still at least beat him physically if not magickally, but the tip was already pointed at my nose before I could draw.

I gritted my teeth as I raised my head to look at him. My eyes were still a little blurred, but I could see the look in his eyes clearly. He was smiling down at me, that glint in his eyes showed no remorse or compassion. He was really going to kill me… For the first time in a long while, I felt afraid for my life.

I wanted to say something to distract him or even plead for my life – as humiliating as that was to think – but I couldn’t get a sound out. I was literally frozen, short of shaking before my approaching demise. Delar’s smirk became more cruel as he lowered the tip of his sword down to my throat and pressed gently against the skin.

“Don’t worry, I will take good care of your pet. And if she proves to be a problem, I will torture her and break her spirit until she does become cooperative. She will never see the sea again,” he promised darkly.

Suddenly, my thoughts turned to ‘Tia- just imagining her chained to the wall, beaten, miserable, and weakened from being away from the sea was enough to ignite fury. My fear of death waned and my need to protect my sirsa rose.

In a last resort move, I summoned up all the water I had, froze them into sharp daggers, and rained them down on the prat. Since he didn’t expect my retaliation, he was caught off guard as the icicles stabbed into his skin, covering his right side. I should have done that sooner- I underestimated the prat so much, that my best move came too late to end the battle with me as the victor.

It was only enough to severely harm him, not kill. If I had known he was honestly seeking to end my life, I would have entered this battle with the same resolve.

“YOU LITTLE FALCIE!” he roared indignantly, swinging his sword at me. Since my move forced him and his blade back, I was able to move away from his swing. But I wasn’t fast enough; I felt a searing pain around my left eye, and darkness filled half my vision.

I couldn’t even think about my eye, as I felt the air leave my lungs- he was trying to asphyxiate me…

“Die now,” he commanded as I lifted a hand to my throat.

But, miraculously, a roar resounded in the area, startling Delar enough to release his magicks. I was barely able to let in a gasp of breath before something hit me from the side. When I partially regained my senses, I first noticed that I was being carried across the open plains very quickly. The next thing I registered was the intense pain in my chest and back.

The wind was whipping around my hair, making it hard for me to see, but I managed to catch a glimpse of white scales around the muzzle of a sharp fanged beast. Most of my arm and torso was in its mouth while the rest of me dangled. There was no impact of feet hitting ground, so we must’ve been gliding over the ground- water dragons did that.

…But the only white scaled water dragon I knew was Cyirlie- it couldn’t have been her! She would never rescue me.

I was feeling weaker by the minute; my good eye drooped as I came closer to passing out. But the grassy plains soon gave way to white sands, and the smell of the ocean invaded my senses. The dragon landed… then proceeded to shake me side to side in its mouth, like a dog with a toy. Okay, this had to be Cyirlie.

The horrid and painful experience lasted only three seconds before the dragon spat me on the ground. I landed harshly on my back, groaning loudly on impact. My blind side was facing the dragon, so I weakly turned my head in time to see it change into its humanoid form. The beast transformed into the beautiful priestess with long black hair and ice blue eyes.

I still couldn’t believe that she saved me… in her own violent way. But why? Did Elati send her?

“Too bad, ye were so close ta death. Ah bet ye wish ah left ye there so ye wouldn’t be sufferin’ now,” she commented sadistically. Though blurred, I could see a lot of red around her lips. It was more likely my blood than lipstick.

“Why are you here? Why did you save me?” I inquired, not interested in her taunting. She was the one who ordered me to see Delar, so why was she even here?

Surely she didn’t follow me in the off chance that this would happen? Or could she have deliberately set this up, knowing that it would happen? Both indicated that I was placed in a precarious trap, and that my learning the truth was about to change everything.

“Did Elati send you?” I continued, mustering up some anger when she wouldn’t answer. “Because I doubt you’re here for my sake!”

“In a way, she did send me, but ah’m actually here o’ me own volition,” Cyirlie admitted, glancing away from me. “Ye see now that yer too weak ta do wot ye want. As a seafarer, yer blessed wit’ water, but Elati couldn’t let ye run around wit’ too much power unless yer loyal ta her.”

I grimaced some as one of my wounds came into contact with the sand. “So you’re here to convince me to enter a contract with her again,” I accused.

“Me answer is the same as before- yes an’ no,” she replied, taking a few steps closer to me. She then squatted down, her arms supported by her knees and her head resting in her claws. In that moment, she looked so harmless, and …not angry. I must’ve been delirious.

“Ah’m here ’cause ah owe ye- an’ ah also want ta secure me own future,” she added mysteriously.

“What in five hells is that supposed to mean?” I growled in exasperation. She ‘owed’ me? Since when? If she were truly indebted to me, then she could’ve treated me a lot more gently or something.

“When a priestess dies, the next hatching takes her place. So ah merely had the luck o’ the draw- from birth ah had to serve Elati an’ carry out her will whether ah liked it or not. Most times ah didn’t like it,” she admitted, eerily frank. Why was she telling me this like I was her confidant? Maybe she believed I was going to die soon, so she was unloading her troubles on someone who couldn’t pass it on. Cyirlie frightened me further when she let out a defeated laugh and said, “Sometimes it was hard ta follow her orders ’cause once in a while, she’d lend her voice ta the female Hels Meyuun so she wouldn’t have ta sing her dedications ta her father.”

If this were any other setting with any other person, I’d find that amusing. Who knew the rebellious Elati was also lazy?

“Ah was taught ta follow the orders o’ me goddess first, then the Fates second. If me goddess tells me ta go ‘gainst the Fates, then ah have ta do so an’ face the consequences on me own.” Her expression darkened. “So when yer birth came ’bout, ah had ta agree ta become yer mate, even though it’s not in a dragon’s nature ta devote oneself ta only one. Ah was goin’ ta be forced ta carry only yer brats, an’ ne’er be wit’ others o’ me own kind, an’ ah hated ye fer it- enough ta want ta kill ye.”

Now I understood why she had always treated me so coldly. It also explained why she was more than willing to kill me that one time, but…

“So then why were you so angry when I first told you that I found another woman to mate with?” I inquired, struggling to stay awake. My body was in pain and weak, but I couldn’t close my eye yet- I had to hear this, I wanted to know.

“Because ye were always all talk- ye could’ve been lyin’ ta me fer all ah knew. An’ even if ye did find a mate, there was no guarantee Elati would honor it. Had the woman not have been the Hels Meyuun, she prob’ly would’ve killed the woman an’ forced the union between us,” she answered honestly, her tone void of its usual hostility. “But now that she stuck that bargain wit’ Elati, ah’m truly free- at least in regards ta matin’.”

That made sense- she must have had the impression that I would say anything to save my own life. So at the time, my death was her only path to freedom, and when she had full permission to do it, she carried it out without hesitation.

“Okay. So that’s why you owe me- us,” I corrected, wanting to give due credit to ‘Tia. “So then how does my joining Elati secure your future? Is she threatening to kill you if I don’t?”

Cyirlie huffed. “No, but when ye explained why ye didn’t choose me ta Elati, ye proved that her efforts weren’t wasted. If ye don’t enter a contract wit’ her before ye die, she’ll jus’ find another falucite couple ta give her a new babe an’ start all o’er. Though ah have no proof, she might end up offerin’ me again.”

“I see… so one of us has to suffer, and you want it to be me. There’s the cruel Cyirlie I know,” I muttered between heavy breaths. It was getting harder to breathe…

“Oh? Ye’d suffer if ye were bound ta that lass fer all eternity?” Her question shocked me. What did she mean by that? “Ah ain’t goin’ ta force ye- ah’ve fulfilled me obligations ta ye by bringin’ ye here. If ah leave ye here, that man will surely come ta finish the job, but at least ye’ll die by the sea.

“An’ wit’ ye gone, that lass will grow as normal an’ die, then the original cycle will begin anew as if ye ne’er were here. She won’t remember ye, an’ ye’ll forget ’bout her when yer soul is finally reborn in a few hundred years. Rutan may remember ye, but ye’ll only be a small presence amidst the four thousand years o’ memories,” the dragon told me, sounding more smug than sympathetic. “Mebbe it won’t be so bad- if ah act nice ta that lass, mebbe she’ll seduce yer replacement fer me an’ end up bein’ his mate.”

I frowned a little- ‘Tia wouldn’t do that! …Though who’s to say her future incarnations wouldn’t? They wouldn’t remember me so long as she had no knowledge of her past lives. But despite her losing her memories, she was still going to be reborn to live the same life over and over again, as daughter to the Lord of the Sea and a pirate of The Cruel Whore.

Just then, I recalled the words she had told me some time ago, “Yer precious ta me… if ye die, that’s it- ah’ll ne’er see ye again.”

I didn’t like that one bit- when my time comes, I’ll be born into a new body in a new clan as an earth dweller. I’ll have no memories of my old life either- no memories of her. Maybe it was selfish and weak of me, but I didn’t want to forget her, and I wanted some part of me to stay in her memories forever.

But… if Elati could change that, then maybe it would be worth becoming a third Lord of the Sea. As long as I could have the mere chance to meet and fall in love with her all over again, then for that alone I would gladly live the same life for all eternity.

“Well, ye lived a good life,” she told me in that chillingly cheerful tone. “He should be here any moment now, so ah’ll take me leave. After the deed is done, ah’ll go back an’ eat him fer ye- he’s troublesome ‘nough fer wantin’ the Lord o’ the Sea anyway.”

“Wait!” I rasped out before she could transform and glide away. She paused and waited for me to speak with a smile on her face- a smile that said she’d won. “Take me to Elati, please,” I requested in a defeated tone. I wasn’t completely sure about this, but if I had the choice to talk to the goddess or wait here and die, then it wasn’t that hard to choose.

But Cyirlie did bring on a good point. Living forever might link me to ‘Tia so that I could be there for her in future lives. Maybe it wouldn’t work the way I thought it would, and we both wouldn’t know each other in the future, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask Elati about it. But maybe my sudden interest in wanting to talk to Elati came from Cyirlie’s taunt about ‘Tia meeting another man. I may admit to being driven by some jealousy at the thought of another man taking my place in her next life.

But, more importantly, I couldn’t stand the thought of her crying over me. I knew she could survive just fine without me, but my dying might crush her. I had to do whatever I could to survive for her sake.

Cyirlie’s response to that was to change back into her dragon form. I winced as she surged forward and collected me in her mouth again- intentionally. She could’ve carried me in her claws if she wanted to be merciful. I did everything in my ability to stay conscious, so that I may be able to negotiate the terms of my future servitude.

I wasn’t doing this because I was afraid to die, nor was I petty enough to want the power to destroy Delar and any who would dare threaten my precious treasure. I was doing this solely for the woman with the will of steel that I so admired- the one who had captured my heart the moment our eyes first met.

After all, she was the reason the original Lord of the Sea chose his path. She’d already been worth it for more than four thousand years, and if I could have her for eternity- that alone would be worth it to me.

To the Next Chapter

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