I glared into the long rectangular mirror that hung over a wide sink that was apparently designed for couples. I noticed that if I turned my head ever so slightly, my bangs fell enough to expose some of my hairline. When that happened, the darkened patches of skin would appear and remind me of the sickness that I probably still had.
It still wasn’t spreading and I hadn’t had another fever since that day, but the fact that they weren’t fading even a little put me on edge. All it told me was that I was still infected regardless of the enhanced body I had. The only way to get rid of all physical reminders was to return to the coast and live by the sea. …And that was not going to happen if I could help it.
Garroe had visited earlier and brought some toiletries on request, so Satel and I headed over to the bathroom to clean up for the day. Thankfully, Cyirlie hadn’t ransacked out room- I was worried there would be nothing to come back to, but it seems that my fears were unfounded.
Satel’s brother decided to wait for us in the lobby until we were presentable. Last night, I only went as far as sleeping in my camisole and pettipants, and while Garroe had knocked and waited for permission to come in, I still found myself trying to hide under the covers in embarrassment.
I was now wearing trousers over my magickally cleaned underwear, while Satel stood beside me wearing only pants. He had just finished cleaning his teeth with his bristle brush made of hard bone and the spines of a kaskikilo, a type of monster that resembled a porcupine. He needed something far…stronger… than the boar hairs I used in my brush. Falucite teeth had the strength to chew through stones and some metals, after all.
“There’s nothing to look for- you’re beautiful,” he soon said after wiping his mouth with a washcloth. He had quickly caught on to what I was staring at in the mirror and sought to reassure me that my appearance wouldn’t change his opinion of me.
“That’s not what I’m concerned about- the presence of the dark skin still implies that there’s something in me,” I muttered lowly, trying to make myself clear as to what I was feeling. I wasn’t lamenting over the scars- I was upset that something still had a hold on me and I couldn’t get rid of it. But it was sweet of him to say what he did.
My mate moved fast- before I knew it he turned my body around to face him and held me close. One hand was at my jaw to guide it upwards while the other was wrapped firmly around the small of my back to press my lower body flush against his.
“You don’t need to worry about that. I will make sure it doesn’t get any worse,” Satel promised before his lips descended unto mine.
I assumed that he was referring to mating and that he was giving me a heavy hint that we could do it now if I were willing. It was hard, even for me, not to pick up that cue when his hand began drifting to my rump to give a firm squeeze. I wanted to push him away and say that this wasn’t an appropriate time, but…
I just couldn’t resist him when he was half-naked and had his long hair loose. He was probably trying to make up for the fact that I was too nervous to do anything with him last night, but then I suppose he didn’t really need a time or reason to ravish me if I didn’t stop him.
I found myself opening up to him immediately and I tasted mint on his tongue from the powder we’d both used to clean our teeth with. I let out a moan in his mouth as I felt his warm skin rub against my hands and bare arms when he pulled me even closer to him.
Before I knew it he twisted us around so that the edge of the sink was pressed against my lower back and I heard our hairbrushes and the jar of tooth powder clatter to the ground. I inwardly hoped that our toothbrushes weren’t among the items that he had moved aside- I would be very disgusted to find the object that I placed in my mouth every morning on the floor where dirty feet roamed.
But that quickly became unimportant when he lifted me so that I could sit on the countertop next to the sink. The entire basin area was marble on top of two thick and sturdy stone columns that was somehow fixated to the wall with some kind of mortar-based material. It easily supported our weight as he settled himself between my thighs and continued to kiss me deeply.
As my hands threaded through his hair, I took a moment to wonder when, how, and why a conversation of my skin scars turned into a heated moment on the countertop. Was Satel still trying to prove to me that I didn’t need to worry about my appearance? Or was he just seeking a distraction from the current problems?
Then again, for all I knew, I probably did something to turn him on without knowing it. Lioa may have taught me to understand how some of my actions could lead to this, but I still didn’t catch everything I did. Besides, did the motive really matter? I still wasn’t trying to dissuade him.
My heart pounded in my chest and I could feel my cheeks heating when he reached up and grabbed one of my hands. He then pulled away enough to guide my fingers slowly down his chest.
We had only mated once after his recovery and I didn’t dare try again to take charge in fear of messing up so badly that I’d ruin the mood. He didn’t push me, but he did do a similar act of guiding me in hopes that I would give it another attempt. I let him, since he was showing me what he liked, though I was still somewhat nervous when he’d lead me to rather dangerous places and let go, encouraging me to continue on my own.
But before he could get that far, he moved down to kiss my neck and I felt something… off about him.
“Satel?” I called out as I pulled my hand out of his grasp and pushed him back slightly.
“Yes dearest?” he replied sweetly, hiding his frustration behind his curiosity as to why I was stopping him.
I squinted my eyes some as I took a very good look at him. I then brought my hands up to his jaw to run my fingers along his chin. My suspicions were soon confirmed when I felt hardened little hairs against his normally smooth skin. In truth, I kind of noticed it before but they weren’t as pronounced and coarse as they were now.
“Heh, looks like you’re finally becoming a man,” I commented with a grin as I took a closer look at his new facial hair. They were only a few shades darker than the white-blond on his head, but they were still pale and finer in comparison to human men. There was even some fuzz beginning to form above his lip, too. “I was taught that one doesn’t become a man until some facial hair starts growing.”
At first Satel was confused with my words until he batted my hands away and felt for himself. It wasn’t as if he had a lot- there was still enough skin showing to make them seem invisible from afar. I watched as he expressed concern and rushed over to the mirror to see the shadow of a beard.
“No… this can’t be happening…” he moaned, sounding almost panicked.
“What’s wrong? I don’t mind beards- I bet you’d look pretty good with one,” I commented, thinking his remarks were because he didn’t think he would look good with facial hair. Just about all of the men in my early life had beards that it seemed natural to me. Of course, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blond man with one before, so I was kind of curious to see what it would look like if Satel let it grow out.
My mate let out a sigh as he let his hand fall from his face. “You don’t understand- it’s not natural for falucite to have hair anywhere other than on the top of the head.”
Really? I didn’t know that. I suppose that explains why Cegil and the other falucite men didn’t have facial hair. But Satel was implying that he shouldn’t have any other body hairs save for on his head, but…
“How is that so? You have hair on you chest and other places- I’ve seen it,” I pointed out incredulously, wondering if he was taking me for some blind idiot. Granted, his body hair was very fine and unnoticeable compared to mine, but I’ve been intimate with him enough to know it was there.
Suddenly, he let out a sigh and a groan similar to what I would make when I was embarrassed. After I detected a shade of pink on his cheeks, I realized that this was something he didn’t want out in the open. I think this was the first time I had ever seen him so self-conscious.
“Honestly… I was hoping to never have this conversation with you. Since you’ve obviously never seen another falucite in the nude and you are used to the idea of seeing body hair on your fellow humans, I thought I could hide what I have and live a relatively normal life without you knowing how…different I am,” he admitted slowly, choosing his words carefully so that he wouldn’t upset me.
The fact that he had been keeping something so insignificant from me for so long would’ve been enough to piss me off, but the fact that he was clearly embarrassed held me back. I just didn’t understand why he would consider himself different like he was freak- he’d just admitted that he knew I was too used to body hair to think it was disgusting. …Though I kind of once believed that I was ‘filthy’ because I had more of it than he did.
“I …don’t think you can be anymore different than what I already perceive you as. I mean, you’re a falucite and I’m a human, what do I care if you’re not like the others? I’m not mating them,” I said, hoping to cheer him up a little. I certainly wasn’t going to reject him all of a sudden, and it’s not like I’d stop loving him just because of a small detail that I didn’t know before- it still didn’t change who he was.
“But I…” he trailed off before he changed his mind, “Thanks ‘Tia, your acceptance means a lot to me.”
I quickly caught on to the fact that he was about to lecture me as to why my opinion wasn’t the problem and I couldn’t help but think how he was sweet for taking my word anyway. He didn’t want to sound like he was dismissing my feelings.
“…But why do you think your family – or anyone else – would care? You’re not the only one who’s… unique,” I pointed out, not wanting to use the word ‘different’. Different implied negative annotations while I didn’t think there was anything wrong with him. So what if he had hair and others didn’t? He could still teleport and kill people without touching them, just like a true falucite.
“If you’re referring to Cegil and Maetira, then you’re right- I’m not the only one. For some reason Garroe is the perfect one of our little branch… while the rest of us have rare mutations. But when you have mutations, others tend to believe it’s because the Fates are punishing you,” he explained while trying to hold back a tone of anger and frustration. “I can hide what’s on my body, but it will be difficult to hide the hair on my face.”
Hmph… I could easily guess who would pretend a biological difference would imply ‘punishment from the Fates’. Maybe that was the real reason the Daedeleth clan seemed insistent on attacking Cegil- but the problem with that logic was that the giant man grew to his radically tall height long before he questioned the Fates. At least that was what Cegil had told me once.
Also, I was told that Maetira was born blind- what did she do to ‘deserve’ that? Actually, I suppose it was rather strange that three out of four falcie had some kind of rare condition. The Daedeleth, or anyone else, might’ve had good reason to be suspicious.
“You could always shave,” I suggested as a solution to his predicament before I asked, “Why is it that you, Cegil, and Maetira have unusual features and yet Garroe is considered normal? That can’t be a coincidence, can it?”
For a moment, Satel rubbed his chin and actually contemplated my idea before he finally answered my question. “There are a few theories from Didra. One is the thought that our mother could’ve had one-sixteenth human blood in her from a half-falucite ancestor. It would explain why we’re still considered pure bloods despite the possible human influence.”
Satel had explained to me before that when mixed couples produced a daughter, they must send her to the father’s clan to find another falucite to mate with. After a few generations of nothing but falucite genes, the bloodline could return to being what they would call ‘pure’, but the presence of human genetics would always sit under the falucite ones.
“What’s the other theory?” I prodded after he gave me time to process the first.
“Well, you know how we’re compatible through my instincts and your pheromones? There are some rare cases of mates who are not compatible physically- the only example Didra gave at the time was by comparing the phenomenon to humans and their blood types. Apparently your kind has different blood types and some can’t mix very well. They say such couples can produce one child, but any after is not likely to survive and could potentially destroy the mother.”
Which if that was applied to falucite, then obviously there were no life-threatening complications, simply genetic mutations. It did make sense with the way Garroe was normal and everyone else was different. I was kind of curious of what kind of disorders could come from half greater demon children. Or did they have any at all? In fact, I had to wonder if humans were the only ones with illnesses and disorders- well, no, I do recall some animals getting sick, so maybe it was something that affected races in the lowest tier of the Natural Order.
“For all we know, both theories could be correct,” he continued, sounding a little more like himself. It seemed explaining all of this to me was enough to remind him that his condition wasn’t his fault and that he didn’t need to be that embarrassed. “Though I’m still concerned about this- why is the hair showing up now of all times?”
“Maybe it’s a result of surviving Cyirlie?” I guessed, thinking back to how I sort of noticed more ‘fuzz’ growing on his chin just a day after it happened.
“That could be it- my body suffered through a lot of shock and it could’ve awakened any latent growth,” he replied, still not that happy with the idea. He then changed the subject, knowing there was no point in lingering on something he couldn’t do anything about. “Say ‘Tia, do you know how to shave? It’s not exactly something taught around the clan.”
I wanted to immediately snap a scathing retort asking him if it looked like I needed to shave, but I quickly stopped myself. His was an earnest question, and he really did know nothing about shaving since he’s the only one in his family to need it. He probably didn’t know that women had no use for it (save for the precious few who could grow beards).
“I’m sorry to say that I don’t- the pirates loved their beards and I’ve only seen them trim on occasion.” Actually, thinking back on it, I believe there was a common pirate saying that ‘yer a lassie o’ man if ye shave yer beard’. With that in mind, it was safe to assume that almost all pirates kept their facial hair.
“Then I suppose I’ll have to shadow a human male and see what he does. Until then, it’s not that noticeable, right?” he asked me as he faced me and raised his chin.
“Visibly, no- I only notice up close and when touching you,” I replied before I finally slid off the countertop. I then approached him and placed my hands on either side of his chin.
I believe it was safe to say that the moment was ruined and he was in no mood to resume what we were doing, but I was still satisfied with the intimate gesture. Even if he didn’t want to talk about his so-called mutation, he still told me everything when it was revealed and trusted that I wouldn’t turn him away.
“Someday, when we’re away from the clan and other falucite, do you think you could grow it out for me- just once?” I requested, still curious to see him with some facial hair. Maybe it was my humanity or my early upbringing, but I couldn’t dismiss the idea that he would look really attractive with it. But at the same time, I didn’t want to force him to be uncomfortable around others with it.
For a second, he seemed shocked that I would even ask for such a thing. It seemed recognizing my origins wasn’t enough for him to really believe that I accepted it. “…You really aren’t repulsed by it?”
“Nope!” I told him with a smile. “I like beards on men- it shows maturity sometimes.”
…Not that all bearded men were ‘mature’- it was just that most men I knew didn’t show anything until their late twenties and that was far from being a child.
“Maturity, huh?” he mused, interested in the idea. Since others like Maetira liked to tease him for being young and immature, I had a feeling he wouldn’t mind feigning an older appearance. “…Alright, I’ll try it someday when we’re settled somewhere far away. I’ll do it only for you, my sirsa.”
We could’ve had another chance to build up a heated moment, but someone chose to knock on the bathroom door. I quickly jerked out of my mate’s grasp, worried that his brother would catch us in the act. Satel hid his amused smirk while I held a hand to my chest and let out a sigh. One of these days, I’m going to train myself not to react- I needed to remind myself that I had nothing to be ashamed of…
Besides, we were in a private area- whoever was on the other side of the door had no business barging in.
“What is it? We not presentable yet,” Satel called out.
“It is me,” Garroe announced, his voice muffled by the wood. “I am sorry to interrupt, but something urgent has made itself known. We need to speak as soon as possible.”
We then heard footsteps as my brother-in-law moved away from the door and wandered to the other end of the room. It seemed that he wasn’t going to leave this time. I glanced over to my mate and noticed that he appeared just as confused as I felt. Whatever was going on, it sounded serious.
Satel and I finished up quickly before he ventured out first to retrieve my clothes. He wasn’t that concerned with Garroe seeing him shirtless, but I had my reservations of showing off my underwear to him. Even though he was my brother through Satel, we weren’t on the same close level as I was with Cegil, and even then I tried not to be underdressed in front of the giant man either.
Once I was done, I joined the men and sat down next to Satel on the edge of the bed. The blond was already dressed in his shirt and vest and was in the process of brushing his hair while Garroe talked. The cobalt-eyed man was pacing slightly near the door, appearing rather worried.
“…Considering where he was going to, we cannot simply send Maetira to find him- it is too dangerous,” Garroe said as I was settling down, and I had no clue what he was talking about. Either his message was too urgent to wait for me, or I wasn’t supposed to be involved. But since he didn’t stop himself when I entered the room, it probably wasn’t the latter.
“What’s going on?” I asked when I had the opportunity to interject.
Satel didn’t seem to be as worried as he casually finished brushing his hair. “It seems Cegil hasn’t reported in to anyone for a long while and he’s being declared missing. Though, I think everyone is overreacting- he could just be avoiding Cyirlie. Or perhaps he is in the middle of something important and doesn’t have the time to check in.”
Despite his nonchalant tone, the words ‘Cegil’ and ‘missing’ made my body tense and a pulse of panic rush through me. I didn’t see anything comforting about his theories because the last time I checked, Cegil was going off to the coasts of other continents to find out more information about my involvement in the mess. Why didn’t anyone know where he was? It was dangerous not to let at least one person know where he was going!
“How would he have known about Cyirlie when he did not check in last night to hear of it? I will admit that we might be declaring him missing a little too soon, but given the circumstances, and the fact that he left no clue of his whereabouts, we have the grounds to be concerned,” Garroe replied before he launched into a brief explanation of the agreement they had worked out.
Since there was always a threat of Daedeleth clan members visiting, Cegil and Garroe agreed to meet up somewhere away from the homestead so the giant man could know if it was safe to come home or not. My former guardian also agreed to tell at least one person he trusted of his planned whereabouts so that in case of an emergency, the clan could find him.
“Ordinarily, he would inform me, but since he began investigating the coast, he has been silent. I was hoping to hear that he might have told one of you,” Garroe said, looked at us one at a time in hopes that we might have a clue for him to go by.
“Sorry- Cegil told me to butt out of his mission,” Satel replied with a shake of his head before he passed off the hairbrush to me.
I apologetically informed Garroe that I had no clue either. I had a feeling Cegil didn’t tell us anything to prevent the chance that we’d end up following him against his wishes. With the way things were, it was still too dangerous for me to go anywhere near the sea until I knew exactly what Elati wanted. Unfortunately, we couldn’t tell Garroe that much- it was best to let him and the elders think that I was just connected because I was a seafarer.
“I suppose I should not be so surprised. Even before Cyirlie’s visit, Cegil has mentioned his fear that Tia could have some connection to the pirates involved- not that anyone believes you have an involvement with the search,” the lavender haired man reassured me quickly as he glanced over to me. “I can see why he would withhold information to us- he does not want either of you to seek him out, and he probably worried that I would unwittingly reveal his whereabouts to you.”
“So then there must be someone else that he trusts to keep his secrets,” Satel began to say, but didn’t elaborate. While he had a good theory, even he wasn’t sure who that person might be.
“What about Lioa?” I asked, wondering if my mate was that oblivious. A few days ago, Cegil made it known that he was interested in Satel’s servant and officially announced to the elders that they were courting for now. They weren’t mates yet, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that they were close. If Satel were willing to confide so much in me before we mated, then one would think Cegil would do the same for Lioa.
“I have admittedly thought about her, but she seemed apprehensive to say anything to me. I do hope it is because she is currently certain of his safety,” Garroe replied, reminding me that Cegil hadn’t been gone long enough to be panicked about it.
…But if Lioa knew anything, then she could be holding back information because she was also now in on the secret we were keeping.
“But now that you mention it, she did have a letter for you that she wanted me to deliver,” Satel’s brother added as he reached for the folded paper from within his dark grey frock coat. He then held it out to me and made a speculation. “If she does know anything, perhaps she will tell you in this.”
I nervously reached for the letter and unfolded it. With Garroe desperate for any sign of his brother’s safety, he was willing to wait for me to read and tell him anything I could share. …But, I couldn’t read with both pairs of eyes on me. What was she thinking putting me in this situation!?
What’s worse was the fact that I couldn’t read very fast and I needed Cegil with me to tell me if I was reading it correctly. I couldn’t skim through the letter and give Garroe an answer- not without revealing the fact that I still couldn’t read properly at my age. Even with the excuse that I was dyslexic, I still couldn’t bring myself to tell Satel that- kind of like how he didn’t want me to know about his mutation.
But thankfully, after a minute of getting through the first line, I discovered that Lioa was being considerate. She wrote clearly on the top ‘Give this letter to Satel’.
“Um, the rest is for you…” I muttered as I did as I was told. The dear woman figured out how to spare me by making it seem like a secretive exchange. I wasn’t sure what the rest of it said, but it did almost seem like a cover up. Lioa wouldn’t have a reason to write to Satel even though he is her master (at least until she is mated with Cegil), but many knew that we were good friends.
Of course, I was sure she did it that way to help me keep my own secret from the others.
I watched on almost enviously as Satel read through the contents faster that what I could dream to accomplish. When he was done, there was a slight frown on his thin lips before he neatly folded the piece of parchment and tucked it into his vest.
“He is on the northern coasts of Rynrir,” my mate announced in a tone that didn’t sound very pleased. “He informed Lioa that he is tracking down a particular group of pirates and that he expects his excursion to take about two to three days. He also told her that if he isn’t heard from by the end of three days, then assume the worst.”
“Then it is too soon to act. I assume she will reveal more should he not appear, but for now I am satisfied with a general location and a time estimate,” Garroe replied with a nod. It was interesting to see how fast his demeanor changed with that little bit of information.
I suppose he trusted Cegil to be able to take care of himself and decided not to worry until it was time to, but I couldn’t do that. I knew he could handle pirates and most greater demons out there, but some part of me will always worry about him getting hurt or something. He’s still my father figure after all…
“Very well, I will visit you and Maetira around noon every day until Cyirlie is satisfied and leaves. Bear in mind, Tia, that the elders would like to speak with you once that time arrives,” my brother-in-law finished, letting me know to prepare. Now that they know that Cyirlie is after me, I wasn’t surprised that they’d want more information…
Satel and I agreed to Garroe’s order and then promised that we would stay in Creskaela for as long as Maetira would tolerate us. It wasn’t until after he left when Satel sighed and lowered his head.
“It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I didn’t tell Garroe everything in that letter,” he muttered as he glared down at the floor.
“Really? What else did Lioa say?” I inquired, a little stunned that he was actually hiding something from his eldest brother. Satel was very loyal to the clan- to the point of being completely open when it came to matters that affected them. The fact that he was holding back meant that there was something else that must’ve been regarding the secret we were keeping.
“Cegil went into much more detail about his targets- it’s only a rumor, but apparently there are some pirates out there that seek you for purposes other than to appease their dragon masters. Whoever they are, they seem to want to protect you, and Cegil is searching for them for the chance to gain allies.”
My eyes widened in surprise to hear that- there were some pirates wanting to protect me? Why? What reason would they have to do so and who would they be?
“That must be just a rumor- it doesn’t make sense,” I argued as I shook my head. I had to wonder who would tell Cegil such a bogus story and if he was being set up for a trap. Considering that seafarers in Rynrir didn’t know Cegil as a kind falucite, they might be trying to trick him in order to make him leave or lower his guard.
“…I don’t know- Cegil wouldn’t look into it if there wasn’t something credible about it. We’re talking about pirates that sail Elati’s waters. What if it’s your old crew?” Satel pointed out, not knowing how very off his suggestion was.
“…Not likely.” I snorted in a very unladylike way at the thought of them caring about me. They threw me off the ship just because I wouldn’t turn against the Wise Man- why would they change their minds now? If anything, they should think I was dead!
“Well whoever they are, we could sure use some allies. They could be our only chance of getting inside information,” he continued, unfazed by my doubt. I couldn’t argue there- if these pirates really existed, then they would know what Cyirlie and Elati might do to me or why I was needed at all.
“But what if it is just a rumor that someone made up to lure Cegil into a trap?” I had to ask, still skeptical about the idea. There were a few things that didn’t add up to me, and I still couldn’t imagine any pirate wanting to defy their dragon masters- it was suicidal to do such an act.
“I’d like to think that Cegil would know better than to fall into a trap. He doesn’t exactly blindly trust everyone…” he answered, reminding me that my former guardian was no one particularly naïve. But then a concerned look came across his features before he stared me in the eye. “Though do you think it’s more likely a trap than legitimate information?”
“All I know is that not many pirates would risk their lives to defy a dragon- and I can’t imagine who would tell Cegil about these so-called ‘good pirates’. It doesn’t sound like something that any pirate crew would boast out loud- not if they want to live, that is,” I explained before adding, “And if it’s seafarers spreading the rumor, why would they have reason to say something positive about pirates who likely raided them? I would sooner believe that they identified Cegil as a falucite and tried to get rid of him.”
He pieced together my facts and decided that I had a good reason to doubt everything. I watched on as a smirk graced his features and a mischievous glimmer shone in his eyes. “You do have a point- want to go there and personally make sure he’s okay?
“…You mean go find him? Can we? Cegil said it would be too dangerous for me to be seen around the coast- and where would we look exactly? There are a lot of towns and cities up north in Rynrir,” I said anxiously. I personally didn’t mind going, but I didn’t want to upset Cegil, nor did I want to be a burden to Satel by being some kind of liability.
“He did mention a city to Lioa- one that I’ve been to before actually. We could go there and pick up clues as to where he went from there. As for your safety, just stay away from the ocean and stay by my side at all times. I’ll cast an illusion on you so you would appear invisible to humans- that should keep you safe,” he replied, his smile still present. “So? What do you want to do?”
I knew it was risky and that I wanted nothing to do with seafarers and pirates, but I was more worried about Cegil than I was about myself. I really did believe that Satel could keep me out of sight and trouble, and I had no intention of getting very close to any beaches to tempt anyone.
“If it helps…” Satel added to aid me in my decision, “…he is planning to have us see him if he does find our probable allies. We might as well be nearby and at least confirm for ourselves that these people can be trusted, right?”
“Sure… but you know he’s not going to be happy seeing us before he thinks it’s safe,” I reminded him so that he wouldn’t make a reckless choice. It was clear he wanted to go, but he wanted to make sure I wanted to as well. It would be safer to leave me here, though I would just end up going crazy with worry.
“He needs to learn that we’re almost adults and we have to make our own mistakes. Besides, I agreed not to do any investigations- he can’t be mad at me if I continue to perform my job of protecting you. I plan to focus on you, while you try to pick up his trail,” Satel insisted as he wrapped his arms around my shoulders.
I had a feeling that this had nothing to do with ‘becoming adults’. Something in me figured that Satel was just acting out this way because he was inwardly bitter from Cegil ordering him around. Or maybe he just wanted to prove himself to the tall man in hopes that it would prove that he was responsible.
“Well…okay, but let’s not get reckless about it,” I said, not really able to argue with him. I was sure my reasons were different from his, but I did want to go. I just didn’t see any danger for myself as long as I was with my mate, but at the same time, I didn’t want to lower my guard. Cegil had long since taught me that doing so was foolish.
“Are you feeling well, ‘Tia-dear? I was under the impression that ‘reckless’ was your maiden name.”
I glared at him as he grinned from his little joke. I wasn’t reckless at all… I just didn’t think very well under pressure. My anger gets the best of me and I end up using violence as my way to solve problems. In retaliation for the remark, I punched him in the arm and shouted, “Shut up!”
Though at the time, I didn’t worry for my safety because I didn’t clearly understand how serious the situation was. And- I didn’t really think I would ever face him again. It seemed the Maker still had some mystical influence on the world after all…
Since we were behind by a day, Satel and I were not expecting to find Cegil in the town he told Lioa he would visit. If he was searching for a rumor, then he likely left a long time ago. However, we weren’t expecting the wreckage that met us when Satel had teleported us to the coastal city of Dael.
Of course, when I say ‘wreckage’, it wasn’t as bad as it sounded- there were a few scorched buildings and all windows were shattered, but nothing was completely demolished. I managed to glance inside a building and noted that it was picked clean of all possessions- it was most likely the work of pirates.
It seemed Dael had been ransacked and yet there didn’t seem to be any blood or bodies left behind. The dirt and hay on the cobble stone streets seemed to indicate heavy traffic, but it also appeared that nothing had been disturbed for a long time.
Dael was arranged with the town center located at the docks near the beach. The streets arrayed out from that center and ended in a rounded city line. From above, the town would appear like a semi-circle.
The buildings far from the waters were tall, three story brick structures with wood lined doors and windows while the homes and businesses closer to the docks were shorter. Some residential homes sat upon what appeared to be wooden stilts so that floodwaters couldn’t reach them. I remembered that there were some merchants who owned buildings that held the business on the first floor and had a residential floor above it.
…That’s right- I was here before. I didn’t remember the name, but I remembered the buildings. At the time, I thought they were the tallest and strongest structures I had ever seen. The Wise Man loved this town for some reason- and there was a talented tattoo artist close to the beach.
But, this town was friendly to pirates- I thought Dael would be one of the few places immune to the raids. But… if a dragon ordered for it to be destroyed, then they would have had no choice but to do so.
“Remember ‘Tia-dear, you’re invisible. Don’t speak if there are others around and make sure you hold on to my arm at all times,” Satel whispered lowly, using his magicks to make his voice only audible to me.
I took another glance at our surroundings. There was no one here- not even voices in the distance. It felt as though the entire city was empty and the unsettling combination of a cloudy sky and foggy surroundings couldn’t make the atmosphere any less dower and chilling.
We chose a main street and began to head down it. At the end of the road were the docks, but Satel decided that we shouldn’t need to go that far. All we needed was to find one person who had seen a tall man with long lavender hair and hope that they knew where he went.
But the deeper we went into the city, the more I felt that we were alone. Even though there was a strong sea breeze, everything was very quiet and still. I unconsciously tightened my grip on Satel’s arm as the strangeness got to me. Where was everyone? Did they evacuate or were they all taken away?
“I don’t think anyone is here,” I whispered to the über hat man after our boots crunched on some fallen glass.
“No- I hear some signs of life further on, but I fear they are near the docks,” he murmured in reply.
“Pirates?” I guessed. This did have the feel of an average pirate raid, but with a lack of dead bodies. So, if anyone living were left, it would have to be the pirates.
“Maybe… I can smell Cegil’s presence I think… or it could be Garroe or someone else from the clan trying to track us down.”
So he was able to pick up someone with the clan smell… I couldn’t imagine anyone else knowing we were gone already, since Garroe promised to meet us again tomorrow. Only Maetira might notice something amiss, but she can’t report us until tomorrow either. That must mean Cegil was still in Dael- though I had to wonder why. Surely his search for our so-called allies didn’t end here?
“So we’ll have to go to the docks anyway… I guess we should walk as far away from the water as possible to be safe,” I suggested, feeling strange that we had to take such careful measures. I never thought in my life I would ever be cautious of seawater.
The docks were positioned about nine feet above the beach and connected to the town by a long planked boardwalk. As long as I didn’t have to go down to the beach, I shouldn’t have to worry about touching water. The real concern was if there were any sea creatures laying in wait- any mermaids or other greater demons present could report my presence and alert the goddess.
“Not quite,” Satel said in a contemplative tone. “We have no proof Cegil is there- we’re still too far for me to make out any voices. For all we know, he could be hiding in the shadows. …Don’t worry, I’ll think of something if we do have to get that close.”
I suppose the plan to keep me invisible could still work since greater demons were also susceptible to falucite illusions, but Satel could only do so much at one time. It was actually difficult for him to move around while maintaining the illusion, but it was possible as long as I didn’t get too far from his range. However, it would take even more effort on his part to trick a demon- they were more powerful than humans, after all.
We continued on at a slow pace to both help Satel maintain his illusion, and because we didn’t want to accidentally run into anyone that could cause trouble to us. My mate had to use his sensitive hearing to locate the people still left in the area and he was soon able to confirm that Cegil’s voice was among them. I was assured that it sounded like he was having a calm conversation, rather than a tense questioning.
When we reached the docks, I found that it was empty and silent, save for the mix of seagulls and their horrid lesser cousins, the koukirks. Damn things- they were worse because they attacked people if they saw anything that looked like food, whereas the regular gulls waited until edible treats were tossed. Their beaks were sharper and they had long clawed talons while their feathers were colored a dark shade of grey.
At least the area seemed safe enough, and I didn’t feel like we were being watched. It was just as eerie here though as it was in the empty streets.
“This way,” the blond muttered as he gestured the direction with his head. He then gave me a slight grin. “And if you’re feeling scared, feel free to hold on tighter.”
“I’m not scared!” I hissed as quietly possible as I managed to glare at him. My actions only made him smirk wider. True, the setting had me on edge, but I wasn’t some frightened woman ready to run at the first sight of a beastie.
“It wouldn’t kill you to pretend- I wouldn’t mind feeling you pressed against me,” the über hat man teased, revealing his real reason for bringing it up. I let out a quiet growl and shook my head. This was hardly the time to joke around and act like a pervert…
“Come now, ‘Tia-dear, this is the perfect time to smile a little. This place is too depressing for its own good,” he added when he noticed that my glare wasn’t easing up.
Actually, he had a point- getting all worked up over just the appearance of the docks wasn’t doing me any good. I could still keep my guard up while staying in a fair mood.
“If you want to feel my breasts that badly, then what’s stopping you?” I retorted dryly while suppressing my own smile.
“Heh, I’ll wait for a more opportune time, when we’re close to a bed,” he replied back before he paused and sniffed the air. “I’m starting to smell alcohol- they must be in a bar.”
“Pirates in a bar? Unheard of!” I said while feigning a shocked and offended voice. Though my sarcastic jest might end up being inappropriate if there were no pirates there. We still hadn’t proven who these people were…
The only sounds besides our boots knocking on wood was the cry of those blasted sea birds and the crashing of the waves on the beach below. But soon, I heard another, very quiet sound of wood groaning. I stopped and looked past Satel to see that we had reached a long pier that led to a ship, one that likely belonged to the group that was here.
I could’ve dismissed it and continued walking, but I caught sight of a familiar wooden carving of a wench dressed in chains. She was placed just under the bowsprit with her hands extended out and had real chains wrapped around her arms. She wasn’t supposed to be the representation of a slave, but a sadist seductress.
In a daze, I let go of Satel’s arm and numbly walked down the pier to get a better look.
“…‘Tia?” my mate called after me, noticing my strange behavior instantly.
I didn’t say a word as I slowly walked alongside the ship, staring at the carving, then at the starboard side. I could hear Satel running after me when he realized that I was getting closer to the sea. I felt his hand at my arm and a gentle yank back, but it wasn’t enough to pull me out of my stunned thoughts.
“Do you know this ship?” the über hat man inquired as he also looked up. “Hmm… her name is ‘The Cruel Whore’. Interesting name for a ship.”
“…The captain had a sense of humor,” I choked out emotionally even though I wasn’t at the point of crying yet. I’ve heard that comment dozens of times when people asked of the origin of the name. The ‘captain’ being mentioned was, of course, the first one who commanded her crew.
This was it- The Cruel Whore was where I had spent the first ten years of my life. If I had been in my right mind, I would’ve run away and not looked back- but instead, I began to climb up the long, crude set of wooden stairs that had been left connected to the ship. Knowing them, they were confident that no one would try to steal her.
The Cruel Whore was designed for at least five people to man, meaning that any thief would have to get some buddies in order to pull it off. Though with the flag of Erudian pirates flying just above the top mainsail, I doubt any self-respecting burglar would target them. Honor among fellow thieves and all…
“You shouldn’t go up there,” Satel warned me, though he did nothing to stop me. He could easily subdue me if he wanted to, but I had a feeling he already put the clues together and wanted to see the place of my origins. He followed close behind me and also thoroughly examined all she had to offer.
She was a large vessel, made to shelter up to fifty men- and unless they’ve recruited, they were currently down to forty-eight members with the Wise Man and I gone. She had two masts with sails currently folded, save for the jibs and stay sail. The main deck was surrounded with only two feet of wood and the rest was a decorative railing that reached up to my waist. The railing curved upwards towards both the quarterdeck above the captain’s cabin and up towards the forecastle deck up at the bow.
Her wood was apparently ageless, as it was still as shiny and new as I remembered it in my childhood. I glanced up and noted that the folded sails were still off-white without a single hint of wear and tear. The Wise Man once told me that she was more than three thousand years old, though at the time I didn’t believe him. But now as I see her, I suppose she could be an immortal vessel- I didn’t know how though.
All at once memories flooded me and, surprisingly, I didn’t shut down. I could see the crew working about and the Wise Man up at the quarterdeck staring down at us while manning the helm. I found myself heading towards stairs that led up to the forecastle deck and I had to use Satel to support me since I had long lost my sea legs. Elati’s waters were gentle for now, and it hadn’t dawned on me yet how dangerously close I was to being discovered.
The longhaired man seemed to adapt faster than I could on the sea and was glancing around the vessel with a look of wonder on his features. He once told me that he had been around seafarers before, but with the way he was looking, it was like this was his first time on a ship.
When we reached the top of the stairs, Satel paused and tensed a little. “Is there a tradition among pirates involving human skulls near the bowsprit?”
I glanced at him in confusion before I allowed my eyes to wander over to said area. Just as he noted, there was a sun-washed skull speared on two posts that were tied to the bowsprit. There was no such tradition or reason to do such a thing… the only thing I could think of was…
I ran over to the display and knelt down before the skull before I hesitantly reached out to touch the cheekbone. There was no trace of hair or organic matter left, but I could see the distinguishing shape of the face to know deep in my soul who this was. For a brief second, I thought I saw the brown hair, tanned skin, and the distinct goatee.
“It can’t be…” I whispered as I felt my eyes burn from the fresh course of pain. It was the Wise Man… he beheaded him and shamelessly placed his head there as decoration! What did he ever do to deserve this shame!? He was a good man to his crew! The mutiny should’ve never happened!
My captain, who did this to you? I wondered, though I knew the answer. There was only one man who had everything to gain by this heinous crime- he the one who I saw commit the act. His name was already on my lips as my grief turned to fury. “S…S-S…”
My voice was in a harsh hiss and my shoulders were shaking in rage. I could hear Satel approach me and I was sure he was about to ask what was wrong, but I jumped up and shouted to the cloudy sky in rage. “SEIKREM!!!”
It was all his fault! Seikram was the one who killed the Wise Man so he could be captain! He was the one who ordered for me to be thrown off the ship during a raging storm! It must’ve been his decision to have the Wise Man stripped of all pride and dignity by wrongfully displaying his head as a trophy. I just couldn’t… I couldn’t let it stay like this! The man responsible must pay for his crimes!
“Tia, what’s gotten into you?” Satel shouted as I reached for my sword. I was suddenly glad that Garroe thought to give it to me when he retrieved my belongings.
The man I hated the most was near, and I couldn’t let him live a day longer. He took everything from me and left me to die! I was so angry that barely noticed Satel’s presence as I rushed down to the main deck. Thankfully, I hadn’t hurt him- I only managed to roughly shove him away.
“Where are ye, ye rat bastard!? Ah’m gonna have me revenge and kill ye where ye stand!” I vowed to the foggy air around me.
“Tia!” Satel yelled as he tried to catch up with me. I didn’t care that I was being too loud and bringing attention to myself. I wanted to be seen and heard this time- anything to bring the bilge rat before me.
But my mate went unheeded when my mind worked out that I wasn’t going to find Seikram on The Cruel Whore- he had to be at the bar with the rest of the crew. I immediately rushed off to disembark and jumped to the pier halfway down.
My path was clear as I let out a war cry and ran towards the docks. I then sharply turned towards the area where the bar was. Before I knew it, Satel had had enough and teleported in my path to stop me. He disarmed me with his magicks and wrapped his arms around my torso to keep me from continuing on.
“Let me go!” I cried out in a shrill tone as I scratched at his shoulders and tried to kick him to free myself. I was so distraught that I couldn’t even pull my usual escape artist tricks.
“Not until you tell me what’s going on. Who’s Seikram?” he demanded as he fought to keep me in his arms. He was probably too worried about my behavior to let me do as I pleased- or he wanted to help me get my revenge, but needed as much information as possible.
“Ah’ll tell ye later! Let me go!” I shouted frantically as the tears began flowing freely down my face. I needed to face Seikram and avenge my captain- it was the only way to restore his honor!
I wasn’t sure what Satel did to me, but soon I felt myself getting weak and my eyelids became heavy. I soon slumped against him before I finally muttered. “He murdered him… he murdered me Pappy…and left his head on the pikes.”
…That’s right- the Wise Man was my father, and up until now I didn’t want to speak his name or relation in fear of the grief and anger I held for his death. The pain I still feel for losing my precious captain was enough to tear me apart, and I loathed Seikram for what he had done. But at the same time, I feared the anger that welled up inside me. Somewhere deep down I knew this rage was waiting to be unleashed- it would turn me into an uncontrollable monster.
The last thing I remembered seeing was Satel’s stunned visage before darkness consumed my vision and I passed out in his arms.