17. The Liberation

Chapter 17

The Liberation

            A few days later and I still didn’t have an answer.

Even though I hadn’t thought about it since first leaving, I was beginning to understand why I had felt so strange back when I helped Satel put his former pet on the throne. The more I worked on The Cruel Whore, the more responsible I felt for the crew. It may have been Pappy’s blood in me, but I didn’t want to leave them without someone to lead them.

I had never stepped up in the leadership role before, despite my lineage- but clearly I still had strong feelings about it. Back when I was in that kingdom, I was worried about the citizens that brat would rule- the leader in me wanted them to be safe and prosperous even though they were all strangers to me. Hell, I shouldn’t have cared about them at all considering they were Humans of Kajros.

And now that feeling was coming back to me again the closer we were to Cyirlie’s enclave. Sooner or later, I was going to kill Seikram- I had to. …But I couldn’t leave the others to fend for themselves in the aftermath. I would have to stay behind until someone just as worthy came to take my place.

But I… I couldn’t do that to Satel. Staying on The Cruel Whore would mean living here- and that would also mean we would be apart. Sure, we went our separate ways during the day, but we eventually saw each other around the end to spend all night together. But Satel had his own room in the homestead, and territories to look after. He might not have the time to spend with me on the ship, and I wouldn’t be able to leave, even for a few hours, to be with him.

The only solution I could see was if I could convince my mate to become a pirate and abandon his clan missions and territories. But asking that would be so cruel. He might’ve been one of the few falucite who’d adapted to sea life, but he was born and raised by his clan. He was accustomed to the life of serving the family and overseeing the political influence of humans. He was comfortable with his life as a badass… just as how I was comfortable with being a pirate.

To make matters worse, I had long since told Satel that I would go home with him when everything was over. He had no idea of my conflicted revelation- I was too scared to tell him and have him think that I might end up leaving him after all. It was easy to hide my unease from him, as he was more focused on my reawakening as a pirate. He couldn’t get enough of me now that I was more confident in myself.

I didn’t hide in the background anymore- I was there and in charge. I knew who to order around and what needed to be done on the ship. I was once again that tough girl he loved so much, and he often had to sneak me off the ship so he could fully enjoy my company.

Even though I had many loopholes for the Code of Conduct, I was still a strict follower of article six, despite my being technically exempt from it by being a woman. The reason behind ‘no women’ (outside of the rare female crewmember) was to prevent sexual encounters on the ship. Anyone who did mess with a woman, captive or crew, was severely punished for it. A pirate should focus on being a pirate while out on sea- if he wants to fool around, then he’d best to go to one of the working wenches in the port towns. In respect of that, I refused to mate with Satel unless he teleported me off the ship for it.

Luckily for him, we had the entire night to ourselves. It seemed singing after dark did prevent the sleepwalking, so I could stay up as late as I wanted- and he certainly put that time to good use. And with my newly regained pirate boldness, I also managed to learn a few new tricks with his guidance.

But for every bonding moment with Satel, I would also discover a new fondness for the sea and the crew. I could never forgive Seikram, but I couldn’t deny that he took care of things, and he wasn’t a jerk about what he had done. Every morning, he made everyone gather on the forecastle deck to pay respects to Pappy. And they all still called him ‘capt’n’ even though he was no longer with us.

Furthermore, I couldn’t deny that I loved being a seafarer far more than a landlubber- even if I was living in high society with Satel. Sure, it was nice being a proper lady once in a while, but I had nothing to do other than my lessons with Cegil, helping out Lioa, and going on a few low-key missions for the clan. Once again, Cegil was right- I wasn’t happy pretending to be some princess in a castle. The Cruel Whore was where I really belonged.

…But again, there was no point in my staying without Satel. I just couldn’t win in my thinking- I couldn’t have both. …There was going to have to be a sacrifice, but I wasn’t sure what.

On the first night at sea, Cegil had returned to the homestead to give a full report to the elders and ensure that Cyirlie knew where I was. Since the dragon and goddess were connected, all Seikram had to do was tell the sea that I was found and being taken to the enclave. When he came back, he confirmed that the dragon priestess was long gone and would be waiting for me when we arrived. While dragons didn’t have the same teleportation magicks as falucite, they could travel very fast in their elements. We would be ‘stalling’ though but taking the route by ship- we could’ve easily teleported straight to her, but we definitely needed the time to mentally prepare.

Even though she was halfway across the world not long ago, she probably arrived home in less than a day or two. I decided that it was better to focus on her for now. Until I could guarantee that Satel and I would get out of this with all our parts intact, the future of where I could end up didn’t really matter.

I still needed some training to destroy Seikram anyway, so the crew didn’t need anyone right now- and some part of me was hoping that if I returned to the homestead I would find that I could still be a happy and spirited pirate within their walls. Or maybe everything I was feeling was just a temporary phase and that I could go back to wanting to cut ties with the sea later…

Either way, none of it mattered if Cyirlie or the goddess had some plan of keeping me or killing Satel. I should be more worried about that. Not only that, but there was also the matter of finding the truth about ourselves. What if I did have to take over my father’s legacy? What if Satel was somehow bound to the sea like I was?

The crew really must’ve been affecting my intelligence- all this ‘what if’ thinking was giving me a headache! I let out a frustrated yell before I tossed my netting repair tools onto the main deck. I had been sitting on the top step of the quarterdeck, trying to repair a few holes in one of our fishing nets. The tool I had thrown was just a simple piece of wood that I wrapped some of the rope around to help me untangle it and separate the strands.

Someone down below yelled back when the long block made contact with their head. Obviously I had to hit one of the few who didn’t have a thick skull…

“Sorry!” I called out, only half meaning it. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, but I was too distracted to really care.

“Yer aim is impeccable as always,” Seikram complimented from the wheel, having witnessed my actions. He sounded genuine, but I believed there was some sarcasm laced in his tone. I had terrible aim and everyone knew it.

“Go ta hell, ye dickless wonder,” I retorted even though he wasn’t trying to pick a fight with me.

“Hah! If anyone’s the ‘dickless wonder’ it’d be ye,” the snake replied, more amused than insulted. He was apparently getting too used to my hostility to react anymore. “So wot be on yer mind? Yer bein’ too quiet.”

“Like hell ah’d tell ye,” I mumbled before I glanced back to find that we were the only ones on the quarterdeck. Cegil and Satel seemed to have left the area without telling me- though I was surprised that the blond didn’t appear after my shout. I guess he knew the difference between my being distressed and simply frustrated.

“Where are they?” I asked, knowing that he knew who I was looking for. I didn’t like being alone with Seikram, even though I had been exhibiting rather good control on my emotions in the last few days. I still wasn’t ready to kill him, but just about anything could set me off and remind me why I hated him so.

“Them falucite?” he confirmed with a light sneer before he gestured over to the bow of the ship. “O’er at the fo’c’sle deck.”

Though the mast was in the way, I was indeed able to see a hint of long lavender strands floating in the wind up at the forecastle deck. I had to assume Satel was with Cegil and they were having a private conversation. I could respect that, but why didn’t either of them warn me? I would’ve moved down to the main deck and took my chances of the net getting tramped on, just so that I wouldn’t be alone with Seikram.

I soon began to wonder what they were talking about. Was it about me or the situation? Or was Cegil warning Satel of my conflicted feelings? It had been four days since my former guardian brought it up, and he probably knew I hadn’t said a word to my mate about it. …If he was telling Satel, then I suppose that was fine. He could explain things so much better than I, so maybe Satel would understand my dilemma and not react rashly.

Of course I didn’t think he was that dramatic, but that confession of his was pretty serious. If Satel knew how confused I was, he might just make a decision for me- either one wasn’t so favorable. I didn’t want The Cruel Whore to sink, nor did I want him to give me up.

“Hey Elati, ah’ve been meaning ta ask fer some time but… wot are those two ta ye?” Seikram suddenly inquired after some silence. He’d said ‘those two’, but I was pretty sure he only wanted to know about Satel. He had done nothing but glare at the blond falucite ever since he came aboard.

“They’re family,” I replied, not going into detail of what kind of family they were. With Cegil, it was a little complicated since he was at first my second father, then my brother-in-law. Some part of me was tempted to rub in Seikram’s face that Satel and I were considered married by human terms, but I didn’t want to cause waves.

I still wasn’t sure what it was to the snake that he would care about my relationships, but I have yet to hear of a married pirate. Sure, there were a few men who were separated and joined ships, but it wasn’t easy for a man to devote his time to piracy and maintain a conventional family. Usually it was considered ‘retirement’ if a pirate wanted to marry.

Seikram probably had a suspicion though that there was something more going on between Satel and I, and wanted to remind me that I didn’t have time for lovers. He was still under the delusion that I was going to stay… Or was it a delusion? Damn it… Even if I did stay, I would always have time for Satel. We were together long before this and I wasn’t going to let him go.

…And Satel felt the same way, didn’t he? I am such an idiot- as long as we both wanted to stay together, then it didn’t matter what happened. We’d defied the Fates to be together and we could do it again if need be. That small revelation perked me up some and I felt a small grin on my lips. I didn’t know if it was from my father’s wisdom or Cegil’s teachings, but I finally figured out something on my own.

“Ye lost it lass. They ain’t seafarers- they ain’t even human,” Seikram muttered, glaring at my tiny look of relief and happiness.

“No, but they were there fer me when seafarers an’ landlubbers cast me aside. They fed me, clothed me, protected me… an’ they gave me a better life than wot I could’ve lived. Hell, ah might’ve died at fifteen if they weren’t there.”

Had Cegil not arrived in Port Sibest when he did, I would’ve gone to some kind of slave trader. Who knows how long I would’ve survived under those conditions. It was a little ironic though- if my real reading was true, and if Pappy really were intending to follow through with it, I would’ve been dead at that age anyway.

“Ye would’ve been safe here if ye bothered ta come back. Ah wasn’t tryin’ ta hurt ya, so ah would’ve protected ye,” he replied defensively, hoping that I would believe that he was somehow looking out for me.

“Oh? How in five hells would ah have done that? Ah drifted ta the shores o’ a continent halfway ‘cross the world- not ta mention ah had good reason not ta trust ye. Why was that again? Oh- ‘cause ye killed me pappy!” I snapped in irritation. I was actually a little proud that I managed to keep calm after that. Any mention of my father or Seikram’s mutiny still hurt enough to provoke me.

“Aww, when are you gonna stop frettin’ o’er the past? That was a long time ago- ah learned me lesson,” that idiotic man said with a twinge of humor. Did he think this was some joke? We were talking about the untimely end of my own father. Also, to someone who had been trying to forget the past, it wasn’t that long ago! For me, my memories of that day were just as fresh and raw in my mind as the moment I had experienced it.

I let out a growl as I stood up and kicked the net out of my way. I just needed one more thoughtless remark from the man- just one more and I was going to-

“Land ho!” the man on lookout declared in the distance. I turned my head in time to see hints of crags out in the sea. We were still far yet, but it was the first sign of land in days.

“This ain’t o’er,” I muttered darkly before I climbed down the stairs while minding the netting. The distraction saved him this time– or was it more appropriate to say that it saved me? I was ready to attack him, but I’ll never be able to finish it until I was ready to kill.

I quickly rushed over to the forecastle deck so I could both watch the landmass and be with my closest companions to discuss the near future. The wait was over- it was time to find the truth.

********************

The typical sea dragon enclave was basically several tiny landmasses that dotted around a giant hollow mountain-like structure. Cyirlie’s home wasn’t quite a ‘mountain’ though- it was more like a circle of rocky peaks with the entrance being the tallest point. The crags were for the dragons and some demons, as there was no place for humans to even stand. In the center of the enclaves was a lake-sized pool where dragon priestesses could communicate with their patron goddess. They considered it holy water.

Only the entrance had flat enough land for a multitude of people to gather on, and it was the place where pirates from all over the Sea of Elati docked to deliver their treasure. We had to sail into the giant opening and find a space to dock at. There were many other ships with different style flags, but they all had the traditional sign of the pirate in the center of it.

The inside of the entrance crag was surprisingly spacious- some pirates managed to build a few bars so they could talk to other crews before heading back out. The sides were lined with rock shelves for the sea dragons to nap on, much like the design in earth dragon towns.

It was fairly dim inside, as the only light came from the two openings that sat across from each other. Down the center of the entire place was a small shallow river that connected the pool to the sea outside, everything else was slippery grey rock.

There were many dragons in their true forms either napping away on their perches, or watching over their mounds of gold as the pirates carried it over to them. It seemed a sea dragon’s favorite food was gold and silver, so they demanded it of their human pets instead of laying siege to earth cities to get it.

Though considering their ‘rich’ diets, a sea dragon’s waste was sought after by adventurers and heroes alike so they could bring it back to the nobility. Apparently digested metals could be made into clothes or be recast into statuettes. I guess in a very gross way, they get their treasures back eventually…

It was mostly pirates moving around in the enclosure as they carried treasure or socialized with members of other ships. Cyirlie was present too- it was hard to miss her as she chose to stand practically in the center on a stone bridge above the waterway. She was in her humanoid form, looking as cold and serious as ever.

As we disembarked The Cruel Whore, I made sure to stay between Satel and Cegil. I knew a lot about how pirates served dragons and how they visited enclaves to receive the order of their masters, but this was the first time I’d ever come to one. With the captain being Lord of the Sea, it was something I’d never had to experience before.

In fact, I never really understood the life of a regular pirate because I was so privileged. As a child, I didn’t know what it meant to fear a failed raid or being unable to fulfill a dragon’s request. Since Pappy never listened to them, I once thought they were all foolish for worrying about such things. It never occurred to me that his title protected us, though I had spent most of my life questioning if said title was real.

Seikram and the rest of the crew eventually followed after me, the former already grumbling how I didn’t need to be flanked by falucite. It was his opinion that a seafarer should be protected by her seafaring family. But no one brought up the argument- I just glared if Seikram so much as opened his mouth before I clung tighter to Satel’s arm.

Slowly, one by one, the activity ceased as everyone noticed me and stared. It was blatantly clear that I was just an average human, but it was rare for them to see a human woman walking freely, as any others were likely part of the merchandise being traded or offered to dragons. I had a feeling that I wasn’t the only lady pirate in existence, but I was just as common as a female falucite.

A path was cleared before me, leading straight to the dragon priestess. Being Satel’s mate, I was used to similar treatment if we happened to be in the company of high society. Because of that, I was already reacting by feigning my ‘regal’ look. I straightened my posture as much as I could and kept my head up, eyes trained on Cyirlie.

When we finally reached her, I let go of Satel’s arm and made sure to place myself between him and her. My mate may have promised he would behave himself, but I didn’t want to take chances. She might be the one attacking.

Cyirlie had been watching me ever since I had disembarked and her icy blue eyes narrowed when she finally got a closer look at me.

“…If ah had known ye would cause so much trouble, ah would have eaten ye when ye were just a babe,” she muttered, still seething with anger. It took me a second to realize that she was talking to me and not Satel. It seemed she finally remembered who I was… but when did we ever meet?

“Sorry? Wot do ye mean by that? Ah still don’t know ye,” I replied, wanting to hear more. How did she know me exactly- and what did she know about me?

“Ah was the one who delivered ye ta yer pappy when ye were born- it was me mission at the time,” the dragon answered with cross features. She truly is perpetually angry…

But soon her words registered in my mind and so many new and unexpected questions arose. She knew me as an infant, so did that mean she knew who my mother was? Who was the woman that gave me life and why did she give me up? And how did she know Cyirlie in order to pass me along to Pappy?

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the time to learn about that side of my family tree- before I could even voice a single question, her eyes lifted a little to stare at the blond man behind me. I quickly picked up the tension and knew Satel was glaring back at her. Just staring alone could start a fight.

“Don’t even think ‘bout hurtin’ him- ah won’t cooperate if ye do,” I warned as I raised my arms to shield him.

Cyirlie forced air through her nose in an irritated fashion, her hot breath caused steam in the chilly air that surrounded us.

“No need ta worry ‘bout that- ah don’t know how the runt survived, but he is now fergiven o’ his crimes against the goddess. Surely even he has learned his lesson,” the tall and slender lady replied, surprising me.

As anyone would know, a death sentence was a punishment for a crime (obviously). And while it was exceedingly rare for one to actually survive it, there was no point to administer it again if the crime wasn’t repeated. In other words, Satel now had a clean slate with the goddess… but what did that mean in regards to Cyirlie? Obviously they weren’t going to mate, so is she done with him?

“I can’t learn a lesson when I don’t know what I did wrong,” my mate growled behind me. “I understand how my refusing you might displease the Fates, but what did I do against your goddess?”

It was very eerie, but Cyirlie gave a dark smirk upon hearing that. “If that is how ye wish ta act, then ah’ll leave ye ta guess. If ah’m lucky, ye’ll do it again an’ ah’ll get permission ta destroy ye once more.”

“Cold as always, I see,” Satel muttered in discontent. He told me he already knew why Elati targeted him through his near-death vision, but he didn’t understand the details. By asking Cyirlie, he was hoping that she would fill in the information he was lacking.

“Howe’re,” she continued, ignoring his comment, “given the circumstances, ye may have done us all a favor. Lord Rutan is gone an’ the lass is all we have left.”

Before I knew it, she surged forward with her claw outstretched. In one heart-stopping moment, her talons were wrapped around my wrist and I thought she had poisoned me. Thankfully she hadn’t cut my skin- I was safe… for now. Both Satel and Cegil reacted to the move but couldn’t do anything without risking the dragon’s further ire. Her claws were so big that my wrist was nothing more than a tiny stick to her. All she needed to do was apply pressure and she could break my bones.

“‘Cause yer all that’s left, not only do ye need to go through the Liberation, but ye also need ta go through the Blessin’ o’ Knowledge. We need ye ta stay alive until the next Lord o’ the Sea is born,” she added, revealing more than I was expecting. Unfortunately, she was acting as if I knew what she was talking about, leaving me more confused than ever.

Was she saying that I needed to be alive just to bear the next heir to the title? But how was that going to work if the Lord of the Sea was always Erudian? Would it be okay if the next heir were half-falucite? I wasn’t having babies with anyone other than Satel (once we were both old enough and ready to have them), and I sure as hell wasn’t going to sleep with anyone that some goddess may have picked for me.

“Not so fast,” Satel called out as Cyirlie began to yank me. Then in a move that was bold, even for him, he clenched the dragon’s wrist to prevent her from moving another step. “Tia isn’t going anywhere with you until you explain what the Liberation and the Blessing of Knowledge is. What will happen to her if she does go through with it?”

“Ah don’t have ta tell ye anythin’,” the raven-haired woman growled while she focused on his hand, probably hoping her stare could somehow melt it off. For a moment, I was worried that my mate was about to be poisoned again now that he was in her striking range, but another hand shot out to capture her other wrist, temporarily disarming her.

“Maybe you have nothing to say to us, but you do owe Tia an explanation. She has no intention of cooperating with you unless you do,” Cegil said with a look that almost mirrored hers. It had been a long time since I had last seen him genuinely mad. “If you do not, I cannot promise that this will end favorably for you.”

I was completely stunned at his threat- was he really suggesting that he would fight Cyirlie? No, not just him- Satel would likely join him to increase the odds of winning. As long as they can keep their distance, their combined magicks should prove to be an issue for her, but it wasn’t a guaranteed win.

Her ice blue eyes practically glowed in fury as she gauged the lavender-haired man, then Satel, before she contemplated her chances. I wasn’t sure who would win in such a fight, and I prayed that I wouldn’t have to find out. Thankfully, she seemed to be in too much of a hurry to entertain the idea of a battle.

“Ah have little time fer this foolishness! This needs ta be done ta appease Elati an’ the Fates!” she declared as she tried to at least free the hand that Cegil was holding captive. She didn’t seem to want to risk moving the other one around my wrist with Satel gripping it so tightly.

No one moved, nor did their determined looks wane. I soon stared up at her features and silently demanded the answers I was waiting for. We stayed like this for another exceedingly long second before she forced out a frustrated sigh and sent more steam into the air.

“Fine. The Liberation is a ceremony where the child o’ the Lord o’ the Sea returns wot Elati had granted. This is performed only when the Lord o’ the Sea chooses not ta follow the readin’ an’ turns ta the goddess ta spare the child from death by hellfire.”

Which meant that I really did have a reading that prophesized my death- but if what she said was correct, then I didn’t have to die. If Pappy knew I could be spared, then he would’ve gone that route… but how would he have known? Would it have been revealed to him if he simply refused to kill me?

What’s more, what exactly did I have to give back that was granted to me? I had a sneaking suspicion that I knew what it was, but I wasn’t sure how the process of returning it was going to happen. Regardless, I was obviously not the first one to have gone through with this.

Cyirlie was indicating that all Lords of the Sea had a child at some point, which pointed back to the alleged importance that I bear one eventually. Didn’t Seikram mention that my father was never romantically interested in others? Could my birth been the result of divine intervention just because he had to have a kid?

“But if she goes through with the Liberation, then would it not contradict what the Fates wanted?” Cegil inquired, curious to hear what the devout follower would say about that. I wasn’t even thinking of or caring about the Fates at that point… and some part of me was surprised that he thought it was important to bring up. I guess he was always quick to pick up on contradictions that would prove his belief that the Fates were useless.

“The readin’ is ta simply return wot was granted- the methods ta do so are optional. The goddess petitions the Fates ta tell Oracles o’ the worst-case scenario. In the end, the readin’ is always fulfilled in some way,” she replied impatiently before she glared at the two again. “Ye satisfied?”

“Almost, now explain the Blessing of Knowledge,” Satel demanded, expressing almost no fear despite being so close to someone who nearly killed him. I could feel him rest his free arm around my waist- threatening Cyirlie with the possibility of teleporting away with me.

“Yer lucky ah don’t have time ta destroy ye,” she growled before launching into another explanation. “Tis a rite o’ passage fer the heir ta become Lord o’ the Sea, but in her case, it’s jus’ ta receive Elati’s blessin’. The girl never takes the title, but we need ta keep her alive an’ protected ‘till the next heir comes o’age.”

“An’ wot else? Wot will happen ta me if ah do go through wit’ it? Wot will be expected o’ me?” I asked, finding the future the most important thing to worry about right now. So far, everything is sounding like what Seikram was guessing- but Cyirlie doesn’t seem to think I’ll take over my father’s work. I also inwardly wondered what she had meant when she chose the words ‘the girl’ when talking about succession of titles? I get that women were never Lords, but she seemed to be talking as if there was only one.

“Don’t know- that as far as ah know. The rest ye’ll learn on yer own through the goddess. The other part o’ the ritual is that the new Lord o’ the Sea gains knowledge an’ it’ll likely be the same fer ye.” There was a smug tone in her voice that time, as if she was proud of her lack of knowledge. Then again, it might’ve been out of spite for the interrogation. It was surprising enough that Cegil and Satel were getting any information out of her at all.

“So then she is to replace her father, if only temporarily?” Cegil confirmed just to make sure.

“Don’t know. This has ne’er happened before, so even ah have no clue. Lord Rutan’s daughter was ne’er meant to go through anythin’ other than the Liberation. We had no use fer her otherwise,” Cyirlie replied before she turned her head and spat a line of acid towards Seikram and the crew. They easily managed to get out the way, letting it land on the stone where it sizzled before it was absorbed.

…Jeez, she had projectile acid, too? It must’ve not been as strong as her venom, otherwise she would’ve used it on Satel and Cegil already.

“We ne’er expected Lord Rutan’s death anyway- it was ne’er supposed ta happen,” she finished with a leveling glare towards Seikram. At least she knew who was at fault for that… but then why was he still alive? Satel didn’t do much in comparison and yet he was sentenced to death. Either Satel did something much worse than we expected, or Seikram was given a lighter sentence because he was a seafarer who was loyal to Elit. No matter the truth, it wasn’t fair.

“Why is it that I’m having a hard time believing that? For someone who claims she doesn’t even know what a Hels Meyuun is, you seem to know an awful lot about ‘Tia. How do we know you’re not just telling a story to throw us off?” Satel accused with a furrowed brow.

Come to think of it, didn’t this all start from Cyirlie claiming that she was looking for ‘something’ called that? She came off as if she was looking for an object, but it wasn’t until Cegil picked up information from the pirates that it was something inside a living creature. She could’ve been trying to protect my identity from those she couldn’t trust, but would she have any reason to do the same now while I was here in her grasp?

…Or was Satel worried that she could’ve been lying to lull me into a false sense of security? She was making it sound as if I was very important and that I wouldn’t be harmed, but the reality might be that I could be hurt or worse in this process. She could be making up stories so that I would consent without knowing the truth.

“Ah haven’t lied yet,” she responded, surprisingly cool despite the situation. “Ah really do not know the meanin’ of Hels Meyuun, but ah do know that it’s somethin’ inherited from father ta daughter an’ mother ta son. Lass, yer part o’ a long cycle that’s supposed ta keep this legend alive- that’s why ye must live ta continue the cycle.”

A cycle? Wait, did that mean the Lord of the Sea always had a daughter and then she grows up to have a son, the heir? …And if that was right, then I really was part of a long succession of pirate captains- all the former Lords were truly my ancestors. I had doubts before because I thought any Erudian who could get a blessing could become one. I didn’t think it was strictly generational to one bloodline.

“Wait… the pact of immortality?” Satel muttered so quietly that I barely heard him. I whipped my head over to face him, unsure if that was really what I had heard. His rust colored eyes were wide and he looked very shocked for a moment before shook his head.

“What is ‘Tia to the goddess!? How is her father tied to her?” he was yelling now, expressing some panic in whatever revelation he’d just had. He was trembling so bad that I could feel him shaking her wrist. His reaction was scaring me- what was he not telling us? What did he mean by immortality?

“Runt, I be only two-thousand three-hundred twenty-four years old- the Hels Meyuun existed long before ah was born an’ ah only know wot little me predecessor told me. Ye want ta know so badly, then let her go through wit’ the ritual- or allow me ta send ye ta the land o’ the dead so ye can see fer yerself,” the tall, opalescent skinned woman replied with a smirk, daring him to pick the latter suggestion.

“Satel, wot’s goin’ on?” I inquired in a tone that was too timid for my liking. If he was going to act like that, then I felt I had good reason to be concerned.

“I’m not entirely sure- I’ve heard those words before, but you can’t possibly be related to that. It’s something that happened four thousand years ago,” my mate replied as he shook his head again. He then tightened his arm around me and added, “I don’t think you should go through with this until she tells more. I still don’t believe she’s telling us everything.”

It was at that same moment when her grip on me tightened, as if sensing that Satel was about to teleport away. But her eyes were cast to the ceiling, so I didn’t think her reaction was related to him. It was slow, but there was a noticeable change in the atmosphere that she was responding to. The breeze that was coming in through the openings became warmer and it was gradually getting humid.

Suddenly all dragons perked up and raised their snouts to the sky as a sign that something was coming.

“She’s here,” Cyirlie muttered before a very loud boom echoed in the cavern.

It came so abruptly that it stunned the falucite and had all humans present ducking down. A split second later, I realized that it was just thunder and that lightning must’ve struck close by. But that wasn’t possible- it was too cold for a violent storm to develop…

But then, when dealing with the goddess of storms, I suppose anything was possible.

“It’s time!” the dragon priestess shouted out as she used the momentary distraction to act. Ordinarily, I would be the one trying to slip out of a sticky situation, but I was currently locked down with an ironclad grip laced with venomous talons.

Apparently, sea dragons could transform faster than earth ones because her tail suddenly appeared from under her robes to swipe Cegil aside. The giant man flew across the space and landed halfway in the shallow river, almost close to the far entrance. With her claw now free, she tried to swing at Satel, but he backed away at the last second, fearing her poison.

He had meant to teleport away, but everything was too chaotic for him to focus and be able to take me along with him. When facing other creatures, he would normally not have such trouble, but with dragons, it was different. They were higher in the Natural Order than falucite, and Satel’s own emotions were compromised because he was currently facing the woman who had tried to kill him.

I couldn’t even imagine what was going through his mind right then. Not only was he concerned about me, he was also fighting his grudge against her and struggling to stay one step ahead of her. If he slipped even a little, he could be fighting for his life once again.

Satel was only one foot away from me, not willing to escape and leave me alone with her. Just as Cyirlie completely transformed into her true body, he surged forward again with the intent to grab me and flee, but her serpentine tail managed to knock him away as well.

I wanted to call out to both my mate and his brother out of worry, but I had my own problems. My feet were no longer on the ground- I was tossed into the air and then neatly draped across a long slithery body that was no wider than a horse’s back. The move winded me since it was my belly that made contact with the soft, scaly surface. The next thing I could make out in the blur of the moment was my hands dangling across from my feet.

I was barely able to try and lift my body to see what was going on when I was suddenly thrown off. I let out a startled cry as I fell feet first towards a body of water and then somehow landed on the surface. All I could hear was my heart hammering in my ears as I wildly glanced around to get my surroundings. It didn’t really dawn on me that I was standing on the water until I managed to glance down.

We were in the pool at the center of the enclave, and inside it was quiet and calm. The water was glassy and smooth, almost like it was a solid surface, but that wasn’t the reason why I was able to stand without sinking. There was a colony of merfolk holding me up, magicks gathered in their hands to support my weight. To anyone outside of my vantage point, it appeared as if I was somehow walking on water.

Behind me was the opening to the cave I was just in and I could see Satel and Cegil trying to get to me. There was some kind of… barrier blocking them, and it was moving like it was made of liquid. Dragons could use a stronger form of magicks based on the element they were born to, so it wasn’t impossible to believe that it was probably made from the sea- or even the holy water of the giant pond.

Cegil was pounding against it but the strength of that shield seemed to be stronger than steel. Satel was the only who seemed to be making some minimal progress by using his magicks to disrupt it, but all I could see was the water bulging out some before smoothing back into place when the blond had to stop for a short break. Both appeared to be shouting, but I couldn’t hear them.

I tried running over to them, hoping I could possibly go through the barrier from the outside, but a long white sea dragon blocked my path. This was actually my first time seeing Cyirlie in her dragon form, but I did have a nightmare of a dragon exactly identical to her. For a moment, the memory of that dream flashed before my eyes and I briefly thought she was going to eat me.

“Ta the center- go,” she ordered, her voice still the same despite her mouth being larger and filled with more sharp teeth.

“Wot if ah don’t want ta? Ah didn’t agree ta anythin’!” I shouted stubbornly, knowing that I had no way of fighting her.

Some part of me wasn’t surprised that it came to this- she was a dragon and had enough knowledge to force me to do whatever she wanted. I was hoping that Cyirlie would at least be considerate enough to properly inform me of what was going on and give me the chance to think about it, but, no, she didn’t care about us lowly creatures. I wasn’t her equal.

But if I hadn’t come, she would’ve hunted me down eventually. It was better to face this now than to drag it out, I suppose.

“Oh, would ye rather have me eat the Runt instead? Would that get ye ta agree?” she asked crossly, thinking threats would work on me- it usually worked on other pirates…

“Go ahead an’ try- ye think he would jus’ let ye eat him?” I countered to prove that she wasn’t scaring me.

Maybe she was more powerful, but Satel wasn’t that weak. He would have to be unconscious in order for her to even catch him. Cyirlie was going to have to try harder if she was going to convince me of anything.

“…Alright- granted that ah cannot kill him unless he stands still,” she replied, almost too calmly, “but ah still can separate ye fer the rest o’ yer lives. Yer in me territory now, an’ he cannot reach ye here. Ah can trap ye here as long as it takes- an’ if he insists on stayin’, then ah’ll get him fer tresspassin’.”

Okay, that would do it- I hadn’t thought of that angle. I was currently trapped in a place where even Cegil couldn’t get to me and Cyirlie could hold onto me as a prisoner for the rest of our lives, if need be. Furthermore, if I learned from history, then being in this situation could destroy my mate.

Cegil nearly lost his own life in trying to save Oria, and it only resulted in him losing her forever. I could expect that Satel would fight to his last breath in trying to rescue me. That wasn’t something I was willing to risk.

I wanted to retort somehow- at least not make myself appear as if I was only agreeing because I was worried about Satel, but I couldn’t think of anything. All I could do was glare at her before I carefully turned on my heel and did as I was told. I didn’t think about the merfolk as I stomped the first few steps, but then I remembered their presence and treaded more softly. Their magicks made me feel as if I was walking on solid ground and it was easy for me to forget that I was on water.

Cyirlie began gliding over the water in a circle formation, chanting in another language as I cautiously approached the center of the half-mile wide pool. Glancing up, I noticed the sudden appearance of dark clouds, which were nowhere in sight when the ship had first sailed in.

At what seemed to be the center, there was a bulky mass lowering down and the bottom of it was beginning to rotate- a sign of a wind funnel about to develop. Usually such storms would be moving across fairly quickly, but this one was oddly stationary. They say goddesses had two forms- their true bodies, which are in the embodiment of their element, and their nature’s form, which is their body in the form of whatever they control. In Elati’s case, her face was likely to appear in the clouds.

Despite this being the holy waters of an enclave, it was rare for the goddess to actually appear in her true form. Cyirlie could only speak with her when she took her nature’s form.

Once I arrived at where I was supposed to be, I craned my head up to watch as the funnel began to form and felt a light swirling wind surrounding me. It played with my loose hair and made the tail of the trench coat I was wearing flutter out wildly. Usually, if there were a wind funnel on land or sea, I’d be running for cover, but I had nowhere to run- and a dragon that would just force me back here anyway. I reminded myself that it was just the goddess coming and tried to relax.

Though what normal person could relax knowing that?

Cyirlie’s chanting eventually turned into a language I could understand and all I could hear was vague poetic vows and contracts regarding Elit and seafarers. Most of it seemed to describe nature of the Lord of the Sea, though I guessed that it had nothing to do with me- Cyirlie admitted that my taking the ritual had never happened before, and she probably didn’t have time to think of a change that would be appropriate for the situation.

Ancient Hels Meyuun encased in flesh o’ old

Receive the Knowledge an’ remember thy Contract

Champion o’ The Lady o’ Storms

The sea is thy home and thy throne

Awaken! O’ Eternal King o’ Eruda!

             I felt shock course through me as I whipped my head around to stare at the dragon. Did she say ‘King of Eruda’? How in five hells was Pappy related to a king, let alone be one? And not that I knew my current events all that well, but isn’t there already a ruling family?

But in that instant, there was a sharp pain in my head and something entered my mind. In a mere flash, I saw something that felt like a memory, but it was nothing I ever recalled doing in my past. I was in the arms of some man who was begging for me to come back. It was dark, and I couldn’t see the face, but I could tell he was grieving.

By the time I was back to my usual self, the water around me flew up as the winds strengthened. The funnel was complete and I was given the rare view of the inside- had this been an ordinary twister, I probably would’ve been lifted and tossed a long time ago. But instead the water connected with the cloud base and I could feel a strange mix of humid and cool air around me.

At the top, I could see blue sky with a few fluffy white clouds towering over in the back. It took me a while to realize that my view was getting bigger and that the winds were gently lifting me up towards that hole. There was one cloud mass up there that was still a light grey and the lumpy sides were rising to the top.

Gradually, the shape changed and I was able to detect distinguishable features that resembled a face. It was definitely that of a female, and it was of average human size. For a goddess, I was expecting something more… grand. I thought her beauty would easily surpass Cyirlie’s or that she was appear larger than life, with her eyeball alone matching the size of my head. But then, there was no telling what she might look like in her true form. She was using her powers to mold the clouds, so that didn’t quite mean that I was seeing her face.

When I was finally hovering before her, two wisps of clouds extended towards me, forming into arms and hands, and cupped the sides of my face. I wanted to somehow knock them away, but I found that my limbs were unresponsive. It was like I was under some kind of magick spell.

I was face to face with a goddess and I still had no clue what was going on. Cyirlie said this ritual would explain more to me, but so far I was getting nothing other than that weird vision. I was so confused that I didn’t know if I was actually calm or panicking, and I couldn’t keep my thoughts in order.

All I could do was stare before me wide eyed as the face drew closer. …What was she doing!?

I instantly felt sick to my stomach when the area that represented her lips was pressed against mine. All I felt was a cool mass of air before something forced my mouth open. It was bad enough when Satel had first tricked me into a kiss, but now it was a woman- and I couldn’t fight back.

I wasn’t sure if I was uncomfortable solely because it was a female, or if because I didn’t like her in the same way I liked Satel. It was likely because I wasn’t interested women- at least I can’t be accused of cheating since I really didn’t want this. What did this even have to do with the ceremony? Did Elati also kiss Pappy when he went through with it!? Gross!

I wasn’t sure if it was luck or bad news when it felt like my lungs were being filled with water. I couldn’t breathe and my vision was beginning to darken. It was something to distract me from the unwanted attention, but I wasn’t sure what was happening to me. Was I somehow drowning?

In that moment, more visions began to fill my mind. In many of them, I saw my father… and at the same time, it wasn’t him. There was something not quite right with the appearance, and I didn’t recognize some of the clothes he was wearing. But everything seemed to take place on The Cruel Whore, in the middle of the sea.

…Then at the end of it all, I saw what appeared to be a castle made of reef and stone. I had no clue whose castle that was or how to get there. Though for some reason, I felt as if I had to go there- I didn’t know why, but it felt important.

I wasn’t sure how long it all lasted, but darkness soon completely engulfed me and I began to feel very cold. The next thing I remember was seeing Satel above me, all drenched like he had been swimming. He was breathing heavily and had the look of horror on his face. Once he realized I was awake, his expression changed to intense relief before he gathered the upper half of my body and nearly crushed me in a tight hug.

I was still too stunned to react, but little by little, my awareness returned and I could see that I was somehow back in the cave. I also discovered that I was soaking wet and freezing. I must’ve fell into the water when the goddess released me and Satel had saved me from drowning. But how did he get past that barrier? Did Cyirlie let him through?

What even happened? I still didn’t understand what was the point in all of this. Wasn’t I supposed to receive knowledge and learn the truth? After all that, I was no wiser than when I had first arrived- and I ended up experiencing what I hoped was my last kiss with the fairer sex. Ugh, I had never felt so violated- even when compared to after Satel when he had first kissed me.

Cegil was kneeling beside us on the ground, looking just as relieved as his brother. He didn’t say a word as he shrugged off both his coats and draped it over us to keep us warm.

“I’m so sorry ‘Tia,” the blond whispered almost harshly in my ear, sounding close to tears. “I should have said something sooner.”

I wanted to ask what he was talking about and why exactly he felt the need to apologize, but I couldn’t form the words. If there was anyone who owed me one, it was Cyirlie. Stupid dragon lied to me- she could have warned me that Elati was going to come onto me. Ugh- why won’t that disturbing memory leave me!?

“I didn’t want to believe that it was your voice I heard back then, but it was- and now you…” Satel was so upset that he couldn’t even finish his sentence. I still wasn’t sure what he was trying to tell me, but I believed that he was just troubled because he thought he was going to lose me.

I pushed him back a little and placed my hand on his cheek as a sign that I was okay and that I wasn’t mad at him- not that I saw any reason to be upset with him. He wasn’t crying, but I don’t think I had ever seen his eyes appear so sad.

‘Satel…’ It was then when I noticed something very wrong. I was trying to say his name, but no sound was coming out of my mouth. My lips formed the sound, but there was no rumbling in my throat to bring out my voice.

“I knew Cyirlie was hiding something- damn her! And damn me for not realizing this sooner!” he growled, continuing to berate himself.

Why was it that Satel always took blame when things went wrong? Everything was done by Cyirlie… she’s the reason this all happened as it did. And even then, it seemed everything was planned out a long time ago, so it couldn’t have been his fault.

For twenty-five years the goddess had been waiting for what she’d been owed. She’d willingly existed without a voice, and now, it’d been returned to her. I still had no idea what the other ritual was for, but the Liberation, at least, was complete.

I was now mute.

To the Next Chapter

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