25. Bargaining With the Lady of Storms

Chapter 25

Bargaining With the Lady of Storms

            I couldn’t even run far- I had nowhere to run to. I stopped short of the archway, and collapsed to my knees. I then moved my body to lean against the coral wall as I willed my heart to calm down and silence my thoughts. Some part of me knew that if I had ran out there in the open, the men could probably see me being weak from the ship. …Though I had no clue why I even cared at this point.

I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard from the goddess- that the body I was in was truly a…a copy of my father’s. It was beginning to make sense, although it wasn’t exactly comforting. Now I knew why those mermaids thought I was ‘Rutan’- it’s because I really am him, right down to his exact blood scent. …But at the same time I wasn’t him because I didn’t have his soul.

It was a little confusing when I tried to think deeply about it. I didn’t understand how a male form could be made female, nor how a human could be born outside of a womb. …That meant I truly had no mother…unless Elati counted. The knowledge supplied a little biology to me, telling me that the human body was made mostly of water, and since I had the Blessing of Elit, Elati could mould me as she wished.

I numbly raised my hands to look at them, and then at the hints of veins near my wrists. Though this body was created from the flesh and blood of a man, it still looked very feminine. In fact, I functioned like a real woman before Satel claimed me as his mate- I used to have periods, and I went into heat. Perhaps Elati really could make a real human out of a small sample, but…

            My eyes narrowed at my hands- just knowing that I wasn’t ‘born’ by normal means didn’t make me feel any better. I had no memories of these other lives, but it was disturbing to know that my flesh and blood had just been pieces cut off from the ‘Pappy’ before me, and that it’s been happening for the past four thousand years. This is what it means to be a ‘living legend’, a Hels Meyuun. I was currently the oldest human in existence- older than Makhis’ra himself.

I felt sick… but I wasn’t sure with that- worry? Disgust? From utter loathing of all existence? I alone was made to defy the laws of the Natural Order just to be some tool of the goddess- I never asked for this!

It was then when the knowledge filled my head with one truth- it was like it was trying to comfort me as well as apologize for the pain I was feeling. It reminded me that my existence was the product of a father’s love for his daughter.

All at once I felt ashamed for my selfish self-loathing- this mess wasn’t about me at all. The whole reason for the cycle was because my father didn’t want me to die-and Elati took advantage of that. He sacrificed his own soul so that I wouldn’t be torn from him so soon, and for every lifetime when I turned fifteen, he had the choice to end it all by sending me to my death.

…He always knew he had that choice, and he never took it. Pappy must’ve been so tired of fighting for the goddess, but he could never bring himself to kill me, even if it were out of mercy. I wasn’t sure if that would justify my reason to hate Elati, though. Even though she was clearly using him for her own gain, she did give him everything he’d wanted.

The Pappy that I remembered loved being Lord of the Sea. I don’t recall him ever being truly unhappy when he led his crew or raised me, and he was always so energetic and lively. Maybe he wasn’t tired of doing what the goddess wanted- so long as I was alive and well, he was more than happy to play a villain, wasn’t he? And he’d had no intention of throwing me into the fires of Rael…or did he?

That answer died with him, and Elati never got to hear it. I couldn’t imagine he would, but there was always that chance of him wanting to give up. I just couldn’t fathom a man wanting to do the same thing every time for four-thousand years- and I couldn’t fault him for it if he did think that way.

But why was Elati assuming that she knew the answer? She was trying to continue the cycle through me because I was still alive, but she didn’t know if that was what Pappy wanted. Why couldn’t she ask me and let me speak for him?

I knew why, and it was the source of my problem with her- I was just the prize for my father to continue his work. I wasn’t important to Elati other than to supply the samples for the next Rutan. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she had plans to kill me once the next heir came of age to take over- that was the only way she could repair the cycle.

With my life extended, I would easily outlive the next Rutan, and I couldn’t be reborn to be his daughter again until I die. And if I can’t be reborn, then he can’t give his answer to Elati. All this talk of dying didn’t bother me anymore now that I knew I could just be brought back so quickly, but… what about Satel?

I couldn’t just let Elati break our bond- assuming that was really what she was planning. I wasn’t really sure how matings worked, but Satel could just start over with the new me once I grew up again, but then the problem would just manifest itself all over again. Not only that, but he would be devastated over my death, and I would have no memories of him in my new life.

I could sense the man in my thoughts lurking behind me with his brother. They both kept their distance so that I could think, but Satel couldn’t stay back for long. I could hear him slowly approach me before he gave up the hesitation and ran the rest of the way. I felt a breeze hit me once he leaned down to my level and rested a hand on the wall behind me.

“It doesn’t matter to me what you are- you’re still my mate and I’ll defy her to keep it that way,” the platinum blond declared, thinking that was my main problem.

I was disturbed about what I was, but strangely I wasn’t worried about what he’d think about it. I guess all of his love declarations before kind of stuck with me to the point where I didn’t think it was possible that he’d love me any less. Hell, now that I think of it, I couldn’t ward him off with my worst behavior before we’d mated.

Though now I wonder… if females were the only ones that gave off pheromones for falucite to pick up, would he have been attracted to my other incarnations? Could he still fall for my future ones and treat them like me? It probably wouldn’t be the same for him, though- he fell in love with who I am, and there was no guarantee that I would be the same in another life.

“Look at me ‘Tia-dear,” he commanded as his free hand curled under my chin to twist my head and face him. It was then when I could see the pure worry in his rust colored eyes as he tried to comfort me. Given the subject matter, he had every right to panic over what I could be thinking- my mind might be leading to suicide, and it did go there briefly.

But I love him too much to do that to him, so I didn’t want it to be an option. All because my life didn’t mean anything to Elati, didn’t imply that I had no meaning to others. I love Pappy too, of course, but apparently I’ll always have him as long as the cycle continues- I’ll see him again eventually.

…But as for Satel- and Cegil- I only had so long to be with them. Once they reached the end of their lives, that was it, and I’ll probably never cross paths with them again, or even remember them. I think under that circumstance, I would rather choose them over Pappy, and with that decision, I had to survive no matter what.

My silence wasn’t really helping, though there wasn’t much I could do to convince Satel that I wasn’t thinking the worst. He just continued to add more to his confession to further prove how serious he was about me. For a moment, I thought he was going to beg or say something sweet to me, but he shocked me when he decided on something more aggressive.

“I gave you your chance to run, but you agreed to be mine, so I’m never letting you go, understand?” he told me followed by a smile that was almost shy. He was deliberately pushing me in hopes that it would get me back to my usual self. I had to admit that it was for the best- his former tactic of comforting me was nice, but I didn’t want to get addicted to it to the point of being weak again.

Relief flooded his eyes when I managed to smirk back at him. It wasn’t easy to smile with what that was going on, but I felt an overwhelming need to reassure him that I would be fine. In the last few moments of my serious thinking, I figured out what was most important to me, and why I couldn’t just selfishly give up for my own respite. Pappy had done the same thing for four thousand years, so I could too.

“I mean it though,” he pressed on, wanting to make his intentions very clear to me. “I will take you far away from here and make it to where she’ll never see you again. Just give me a sign and we’ll leave now.”

I quickly shook my head to tell him ‘no’. While the heated expression he made when giving the offer excited me a little, I knew it would be foolish to run away now. The only place we could go to where Elati would have no power would be the center of the continents- I would imagine he had Cec’re or some other town in the Wastelands in mind.

But even if she couldn’t find me there, I’d get the Seafarer’s Madness again, and Satel would probably lose his powers. Cyirlie would come for us eventually, if she could survive the heat of the Wastelands. It was too much of a risk- if we get caught, then Satel would surely be killed this time around.

“I’m not afraid of what they might do- I made you mine and I’ll be damned if I let Elati have you. ‘Tia, my dreams have no meaning if you’re not going to be with me- that’s why I…” he trailed off, not so sure if he wanted to finish what he was going to tell me. He hesitated as I peered up at him and waited patiently. “…That’s why I’ll gladly devote my life to you to ensure that you stay by my side.”

And while he really meant that, I could tell that wasn’t what he originally wanted to say to me. There was something he was holding back, something he was apparently too scared to tell me about. I had to wonder what it was, but I couldn’t press him for details without some paper and a pen with me. All I could tell was that it had something to do with his dreams, perhaps a decision he had come to that would affect me in some way.

Cegil was trying his best to give us privacy, but he couldn’t really stay far enough away to not hear us. He soon gave up on the notion and approached us as he decided to figure out once and for all what our next action should be.

“Do not be so hasty in making plans when you do not know what Tia has in mind. Your rash actions may end up separating you both permanently,” Cegil warned, proving that he’d heard every word of Satel’s rebellious statements.

“But you heard how it works- ‘Tia is part of an agreement that’s beyond my claim on her. Elati doesn’t have to honor our choice to be together once she gets what she wants. She said she’ll accept and adapt- meaning that she’ll find a way to get back what she had,” Satel growled, proving that he was picking up the same vibes as I was.

Elati never did say that she would do as I was fearing, but there was that heavy hint that she was going to work around the problems that had occurred since my father’s unintended death. …Though on another, rather unrelated, note, Satel was damn lucky I wasn’t taking offense to his constant claims that I was something like his property. It’s a pity I didn’t have the means to lighten the mood and teasingly remind him that he was actually mine.

“But she can be bargained with if you do not mind the price. How willing are you to play the role of a heretic before the Daedeleth? Elati might just be waiting for you to make such an offer, and I am sure she will be more willing to leave Tia be,” the tall man suggested before admitting, “If she would accept me, I would not mind making the deal.”

There was a lot of irony that was happening here- for one, of all women Satel could’ve to picked for a mate, he had to choose the one woman who happened to be forbidden to him. The other irony was that Elati wanted the wrong falucite for her mission- Cegil was the one who wanted what she was offering, while Satel wanted the good standing his brother had with the clan. It was clear that she was hoping Satel would end up like Cegil, but it seemed the Maker usurped the Fates with plans of his own.

“Heh, you just want me to take the place of their ire so you can catch a break, don’t you?” the über hat man inquired wryly before his light smirk turned into a frown. “But what about Maetira? In a choice between her and ‘Tia, my mate wins, but shouldn’t I also do something about my sister? I kind of am responsible for her losing her powers.”

I was admittedly surprised to hear him say that after so long of him practically dismissing her. He never once sounded guilty over the fact that Maetira could no longer hear the Fates, though he did agree that it was more his parents’ fault that the arrangement fell apart when it did. Though I suppose he will always be thinking of his family deep down- it’s just the he doesn’t want to admit that he cares about the meaner ones like Didra and Maetira.

“It is for the best that she no longer possesses those abilities. She had long since learned to cope without her sight, and being an Oracle would only interfere with her life. She is an adult with a need to have a mate, how can she find one if she is forced to remain at the beck and call of our elders?” the lavender haired man pointed out with a rather valid argument.

With Maetira being female, she would have to join the clan of her future mate, should she ever find him. If she still had her importance to the elders, then it would be hard for them to let her go and have another clan make use of her abilities. She might miss her role, but she can’t have a future with it- not when it makes her nothing more than an important tool, rather than an individual.

“Are we sure that’ll make her happy? Did you ask her?” Satel inquired, knowing well ‘what’s best’ for someone didn’t necessarily mean happiness.

“I have yet to see a falucite who does not seek companionship- even our sister becomes lonely, hence why she clung to her role as an Oracle and remained in the company of our elders,” his brother answered.

I couldn’t help but think back on the time Maetira invited us to stay with her in her territory. Satel saw through her act of not caring where we went and was able to identify her loneliness. She liked to make others think she didn’t need us, but when she wanted to talk, she would do anything in her power to keep us around to listen to her. Just as how Satel needed me, she needed her mate to satisfy her needs of companionship.

“I see. Well in that case, it just makes me feel less guilty about my decision- I have my own mate to think about. If Elati still has use for me, then I’ll be her Lord of the Sea in exchange for ‘Tia’s freedom-”

I quickly grabbed his shoulders and shook my head to show that I didn’t like his idea. I was an important part of the cycle where Pappy was concerned, so Elati is unlikely to just let me go. And- if Satel allowed himself to become completely bound to the sea, then he wouldn’t be able to become an elder, or be able to work for his family anymore. Maybe he might like a role as Lord of the Sea, but I didn’t want him making that choice on my account. I wanted him to stay free.

“Don’t worry about it, my sirsa- I’m resolved to do whatever it takes for you. If she doesn’t agree to my terms, then I will carry out my threat of taking you away. I’m sorry if I sound selfish, but you’re what’s most important to me and I refuse to let you go after all that’s happened,” he confessed, giving me a side look that had my heart fluttering and a blush rise to my cheeks.

            Now he was being sweet on me, but even so, I couldn’t let him do this. He sacrificed enough for me and now it should be my turn. He was important to me, too, and I knew from both the knowledge and in my heart that this was one situation he had no advantage in.

I stubbornly shook my head again, earning a look of frustration from him. I was feeling the same emotion just because I had no way of explaining myself or why his plan would fail. Damn it, that paper Cegil had in his pocket was probably soaked and ruined since that swim we’d had.

“Tia, do you have a plan?” Cegil asked, causing me to pause. Did I have plan that would work?

I soon slowly nodded as my mind worked out something. None of us could really negotiate with the goddess (not in a way that solves all our problems), but I could get away with a hard demand or two- at least I think she would be hesitant to destroy me for my insolence at this point. I don’t think she has her samples from me yet, so I might be safe until she does get them.

I had to do this- if not just to live my life with Satel, then to make my voice heard… well figuratively. Elati’s dismissed me as a tool and it was time for her to see that I was just as worthy as my father. I could be the Lord of the Sea too- I already am a pirate and I’m used to being hated. Becoming a known villain was just a new way for me to understand my mate better, since this was kind of his hobby. Though…

There might be consequences with my decision- while Elati seems to want to save lives, I might have to kill some people in order to accomplish her goals. Satel didn’t seem to have to kill his pets, but the knowledge warned me that I would be performing on a different scale- one where my enemies would send others- perhaps innocents- to destroy me. If I’m lucky, maybe they’ll be indirect kills- ones I wouldn’t have to see. But… I was going to have to accept that I needed to get used to it, no matter how much I didn’t like the idea.

At that point, I felt it would be worth it- anything to stay by my mate’s side. I wanted to make the sacrifice this time, and I wanted to return the sentiment that he had given me moments before. Satel wanted to keep me by his side, and I wanted to be the one to fight for it.

My hands were still on his shoulders and I tried to use him as leverage to stand, but he grabbed my waist and pulled me back down.

“No,” Satel insisted sternly with a scowl. “Whatever you’re up to, just… no!”

What a brilliant argument from someone who was usually more articulate than I. I wasn’t sure what had him so worried, since it was obvious my death wasn’t imminent, though I could understand that he was equally worried of me being separated from him after all. If anyone should be worried, it should be me- I felt as though death meant nothing to me, but I knew I didn’t want to see Satel or Cegil die. That’s why it seemed so logical for me to be the one to sacrifice myself in a way- the fact that I didn’t believe she would kill me yet only bolstered my sudden bravery.

I glanced up to Cegil and found him frowning slightly, also seeming to disapprove of the thought of me rushing off without so much an explanation of what I was going to do. They both had no clue what I was thinking right then, but they knew well of my history of being somewhat reckless.

I looked around frantically for anything I could use to communicate before I noticed that the ground was just soft sand. I pulled Satel’s hands away from my waist long enough to lean over and smooth out the footsteps we had left on the sand. They both watched me as I used my finger to write a message.

Pleze let me doo this. Its my turn too fieght for my fuetur. Im doing it for you.

 Satel’s frown didn’t lessen any, but Cegil’s expression softened before he nodded knowingly and accepted my decision. I also noticed that his massive hands were twitching, likely fighting the urge to correct my misspellings. At least I had someone on my side.

I quickly got up and practically jumped over my mate’s arm while he was mildly distracted before I tried to pass my brother-in-law. But Satel was still faster than I was, and managed to grab my arm before I could get far.

“Let her go, Satel,” Cegil said softly as he rested his hand on his brother’s forearm. “Who are we to decide her path? We have been protecting and fighting for her this entire time. Should she not have the opportunity to do the same for us- or do you not trust that she is capable?”

Low blow Cegil… If Satel answered that, then he could potentially piss me off. Sure, I understood that I wasn’t as strong as he is, but I had as good a chance as he in facing Elati- she could easily destroy both of us if she wanted to.

“Of course I trust her, but I- she shouldn’t have to do this!” the blond argued, almost hissing in anger and frustration. He then lowered his head before bring up a subject even more underhanded. “Answer me this: if you knew Oria was going off to face her maiden clan then wouldn’t you have stopped her?”

My gaze shifted rapidly from Satel to the taller man as I hoped the question didn’t hurt him. Satel wasn’t really trying to make a point- he really wanted to know Cegil’s answer in this as it would affect his next choice. Though I really wished he hadn’t brought up his late love like that- Cegil was supposed to be moving on from his past, not reliving his regrets.

The lavender haired man was hesitant to reply at first, but soon his brows furrowed and he closed his eyes briefly. “It is true that she could very well be alive today if I had had that chance, but if she insisted, then I would have let her go… But I would not have let her go alone- I would have followed her and stayed by her side.”

It was the first time I had seen such a passionate expression on his face. He once loved his mate so much that he was devoted and determined to be with her at all costs. And Satel felt the same way for me- that’s why he was so adamant about not letting me go off alone.

He still didn’t let go of me, but he did rise from his crouching position and placed his free hand on my elbow to further ensure that I wouldn’t escape.

“Very well,” he murmured as the hand at my wrist slid down to my hand. He then threaded his fingers through mine and gripped me tightly. “Go do what you must, but I’m not letting go of you. I’ll follow you though all five hells if I must.”

I smiled at his sweet gesture and nodded in agreement. I actually appreciated the sentiment- even though I could probably face down Elati by myself. Just having his support and a reminder that he wanted to stay with me only made me more determined in what I was about to demand of the goddess.

Actually, some part of Satel’s behavior was a little childish, like he was trying to win in some way. I bet deep down he did want to be my hero and to somehow save me from Elati so we could have some sort of happy ending… Or maybe that was just my own lingering, childish imagination thinking it. Who knows?

Cegil seemed amused by it, though his grin was sobered by the nature of the situation. If Elati refuses my offer and requests, then the future that Satel and I want will never come.

“I hope you do not mind my coming with you, though I do not feel the need to hold your hand,” the giant man quipped, earning a glare and an embarrassed blush from Satel- something that was very rare to accomplish. “I suppose I have no real reason to be here, other than to offer advice and see how this will end.”

He said he had no reason, but really he didn’t need one. Cegil has always been willing to support me ever since the time he adopted me, even after he’d become something of a third wheel since I’d mated his brother. I used to fear getting into relationships for that reason, but somehow it wasn’t awkward to have him around.

I led the way back to Elati, with Satel’s fingers securely laced with mine and Cegil following behind us.

Though little did I know that Satel had other reasons as to why he wanted to fight for me so badly. There was something he was keeping secret from me- something that changed his life. It would be many years before I learned what it was, but he had good reason to keep it from me, as he knew that it would make me feel guilty.

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

As we returned to the main chamber, we found Elati was still sitting regally on her fishbone throne. Her brows were furrowed and there was a displeased glint in her eyes. In that moment, I felt a sharp sting in my left arm, just above my elbow. I automatically wanted to grab it, but Satel had a firm hold of my other hand. All I could do was arch my back before my head whipped down to see what got me.

At first glance there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with my arm- the tail coat was still whole and intact.

“Tia?” Satel called to me questioningly as the black material began darkening rapidly. When he noticed, he reached around me with his free hand to examine me. I opened my mouth as pain shot through me once again- I was bleeding and it felt like I had lost a chunk of my arm.

Cegil quickly figured out what happened and took control of the situation by removing his puff tie and tied it around my arm firmly enough to help staunch the bleeding. Until I removed the layers of clothing, there was no telling how much damage I had sustained from that phantom attack. Did Elati do that?

I soon had my answer when I glanced up at the goddess. She had her hand held out before her and it was clenched as if it was holding something- floating in her translucent skin was a darkened mass about the size of a large marble ball. She must’ve just taken the sample needed to create the next in line, though did she have to be so rough about it? The knowledge just informed that it wasn’t supposed to be this painful.

“I have sensed thy rebellious thoughts. Go. Run if thou feel thou must, but the cycle will continue on no matter how thou struggle to live,” she said, ending with a venomous hiss.

It was then when I realized that she must’ve overheard the conversation- she probably even read my thoughts. But who exactly was she talking to? Me or Satel?

My mate glanced over his shoulder at her and opened his mouth to speak, but I quickly got his attention and shook my head to silence him. I then moved around him, careful not to disturb the strong link of our fingers, lest he grip me tighter.

If she could read thoughts, then she could hear my mind- at least that’s what I was hoping as I addressed her.

“I’m not going to run, but I also refuse to play my role under the current agreement. I will not argue that this body I’m in is yours, but I don’t recall ever offering you my soul. I understand that you need me to reward my father for his service, but what right do you have to continuously take my soul along with his? I’m an individual, not an object!”

Elati’s eyes narrowed as she lowered her hand and expressed pure fury. …I think she understood me just fine.

“Thou hast become insolent since first parting with the sea. Never before hast thy eyes shown such defiance and strength- thy previous lives were subservient and dependant. What has changed?” Elati mused in a heated tone, leaving me to wonder if she was replying to me in some fashion, or if she was just merely talking to herself.

I soon had a sobering outlook on my current life and the ones I didn’t even know of. I had always been a meek girl? When I think about it, it did apply to me very well. When I was torn from my pappy and the ship, I clung to Cegil when he showed me kindness and followed him devotedly. It wasn’t until I had met Satel and after he showed his contempt of my dependency on his brother when I started taking more control of my life.

I knew what changed- I wasn’t chained to my father since his death. When he was gone, I looked to Cegil as another father and then eventually fell in love with Satel. Elit above… did that mean I never formed deep relationships with anyone other than my father before? Was it indeed Satel and Cegil’s influence that made me strong and confident of myself?

No, there was more to it- that period before Cegil rescued me hardened me in the ways of survival and cold reason. My old hatred of Seikram and the deep seated anger over losing my father drove me to keep living. And it was later Satel who taught me to work for my own future, breaking the final bonds that Elati had over me. No wonder she was pissed at him- he freed me from her control.

“Interesting…” the goddess drawled as her ire slowly faded. She was apparently following my train of thought and ended up staring down at me with renewed interest. “I had thought that thou merely kept thy father in check, but it appears it was the other way ‘round. I seem to have underestimated the child of Rutan.”

In other words, she never thought I was capable of being more than just an obedient girl who cared for her father. I didn’t want to feel angry over what Pappy had done in the past because I knew he loved me, but perhaps being in his shadow had been suppressing me all this time.

“Very well, what is thy offer? I might just consider it,” Elati inquired, now interested in giving me a chance. Huh, all it took to impress her was to just stand for myself- clearly I hadn’t done so before, else I might’ve been in her favor lifetimes ago.

“You said the cycle will continue no matter what, but how can that be accomplished when I’m mated to a falucite and can outlive humans? Despite accepting  my union to Satel, you still intend to destroy me eventually so the cycle will continue, right?” I asked, wanting to confirm my own suspicions first before making my offer.

When I first walked into the room, I thought I would be instantly demanding her to cave into my demands, like a person trapped in a corner with nothing left to lose, but her sudden and quick acceptance caught me off guard. I wonder if I should be worried of a trap springing up?

I really shouldn’t be thinking at all, since the goddess was obviously listening to everything that was running through my mind, including the musings. The smile that appeared on her face was warm, but there was a clear glint of malice in her eye that cautioned me further.

“Thou art correct. I do not mind thee living as thou please, but Rutan must give me an answer either by sending thee to thy death or performing the Liberation. Once he is reborn and old enough to bear the title Lord of the Sea, thy life must start over,” she informed me, her tone taking an edge of steel as if to scold me for being so nosey.

…Or maybe she was expecting me to protest and was threatening me preemptively. Strangely enough, I wasn’t scared. Perhaps learning what I was and how easily it would be to repeat my life in the same form disillusioned death for me, but…

I still had Satel to think about- though the adrenaline was humming through my veins, I could still feel his tight grip on my hand, warning me that he wasn’t giving me up for anything.

“Then why can’t I give an answer? I offer myself as Lord of the Sea for the full duration of my life with my mate- and in exchange I will care for and raise every succession of my father. I will protect and train him to also be Lord of the Sea for every lifetime until I reach a natural end.”

I might’ve been utterly mad then, but I knew I had to be of some use to Elati in order for her to take me seriously. I wasn’t sure if she would even like the idea of having two Lord of the Seas existing at one time, but it would be double the power, wouldn’t it? Hell, at least with my being mated to a falucite, I could probably help Satel deal with the Daedeleth clan, provided he wanted anything to do with that.

Even she appeared shocked with what I said. I noticed her eyes widen ever so slightly before they narrowed again.

“Child, dost thou know what thou art offering? To live thy full life and care for each incarnation of Rutan would also mean that thou will witness every death. Art thou prepared to live out such anguish?”

“But he’ll come back soon after, right? I might be sad depending on how he dies, but the knowledge he’ll be brought back will be enough,” I replied, believing it to be true. Sure, he’d be brought back as a baby with no direct memories of his last life (I think), but he won’t really ‘die’.

It might’ve been naïve of me to think that way, but I honestly believed I could handle it. And if nothing else, then I was sure Satel and Cegil would be at my side to help me cope.

“And thou will swear loyalty to me and mete out my cause for as long as thou shall live?” she questioned, wanting to make sure of my resolve.

At this Satel tensed beside me as he finally realized what I had been telling her this whole time. Both he and Cegil had been listening to only half of the conversation and had no idea that I was making a binding deal with her.

I didn’t look at him as he harshly turned his head to look at me and hissed at me in both worry and a little fright on my behalf. “‘Tia!”

I ignored him as I closed my eyes and bowed my head. I didn’t think he was going to like this, but it was better than having him sacrifice everything over something he probably didn’t know everything about. All he knew know was his involvement in Elati’s plans- he didn’t know too much of the details between my father and I. He might not have even known that Elati was previously planning to kill me.

I was doing this for him, as well as for myself.

“Yes, I will,” I answered her and then added as an afterthought, “But it would be challenging to perform without my voice. I would like to have it back.”

Because my voice was the whole reason I was here. It would’ve been maddening to have come here, made all these deals I didn’t think I would be making, only to have forgotten about it. If my silence wasn’t corrected soon, I really would start getting too used to it.

“Unfortunately, I cannot acquiesce thy request. This voice was never thine own to begin with, and I also have need of it.”

Damn… so I was to be silent forever. I still didn’t understand how it was possible for me to possess her voice all of my life or why only one of us can have it. But I soon discovered that not all was lost for me when the goddess gave a small grin.

“I cannot give thee my voice, but it is not beyond my ability to craft thee a new one,” she added, pulling me away from my depressed thoughts. So there was some hope- it’s just that I could get back the sound I was used to. Well, a voice was better that no voice.

“As long as you don’t give me a man’s voice or something too weak for others to hear, then I’ll take it,” I replied, not feeling that picky to argue. Some part of me did like the tone I used to have, but I had long since realized that it didn’t define who I was- it was just something that allowed me to communicate with others. I just wanted to be able to talk to my mate again…

“Then we have a deal,” Elati stated, her eyes flashing in satisfaction. In that one look, I felt as though I had signed away my soul… oh wait, I just did. I continued to stare up at her, even as her body began to separate and return to formless water.

“Damn it, she sealed my powers!” Satel growled as he drew me into his arms. I hadn’t realized that there was a tension in the air so thick that it had my mate panicked. He must’ve been trying to teleport me away- perhaps he had been struggling to do so since he heard what I was dealing with the goddess.

“Tia, did you anger Elati?” Cegil asked warily as the room began to flood again.

For some reason I felt numb, as if I were in a trance- I couldn’t even begin to nod or shake my head to answer him. I didn’t even know where he had gotten the idea until violent waves crashed against me suddenly. Before I knew it, I was attacked again and again until I realized that Elati was trying to get Satel to let go of me.

“My powers are not sealed!” Cegil shouted over the roaring water as the waves began pushing him away as well. He then held out his hand, trying to reach for us as he fought against the waters. “Grab my hand, I will teleport you out!”

“Let’s go, ‘Tia!” Satel shouted in my ear as he wrapped himself around me and tried to shove me closer to his brother. But no matter how hard he pushed, I wouldn’t move.

My legs were bound in place by the sea and I felt as if I was as stiff as a statue.

“‘Tia!” he yelled out when I wouldn’t respond to him. In that short moment, his guard was lowered out of concern for me.

“Satel! Watch out!” the tall man warned before a wave consumed the blond and began dragging him away. The only contact left between us was the hand that was still entwined in mine.

I finally began to feel pain as our wrists twisted uncomfortably and our fingers were being pulled. Something snapped inside me, pulling me out of the strange trance I had been in. Pure fear filled me and I was finally fully aware of what was happening. Elati was about to do something to me, and Satel was dangerously close to getting in her way.

“Don’t hurt him!” I screamed in my mind, hoping my plea would allow her to forgive him. In that moment, the water that had been pulling at my mate trailed up our arms and quickly engulfed my entire body.

I opened my mouth as pain wracked my body and water filled my lungs. Perhaps Elati had pulled me into a trance just so I wouldn’t be feeling this. I wasn’t sure why she didn’t numb me again- maybe I was taking Satel’s place for his punishment.

I was being lifted up in the air with Satel still desperately trying to keep his grip on my hand. Our fingers were beginning to slip and soon I would be too high for him to reach me. It wasn’t long before Cegil tried to get me down, his height allowing him to grab my ankle, but it was no use.

I felt a sense of deja-vu as I recalled the last time I was being pulled away from those I love. It was that tidal wave in Port Sibest, and Cegil was trying to reach out for me with the exact same worried expression he was giving now. And like the last time, my vision darkened as the lack of air made me pass out.

Strangely enough, I wasn’t afraid anymore.

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

I wasn’t sure how long it had taken me to regain my awareness, but I eventually felt my eyes open, only to see nothing but darkness before me. It was odd, but I felt as though I were standing on something solid, yet I couldn’t see anything like a floor or walls near me. All I could see was myself.

I had no clue where I was, and I barely remembered how I got here. Wasn’t I making a deal with Elati? Where did Satel and Cegil go- were they okay!?

Suddenly, I sensed something behind me- a gentle light. I glanced over my shoulder and found that there was someone standing with his back turned to me in the inky darkness. I slowly turned and felt my eyes widen. I knew that person.

Just as I moved, the man looked at me from over his shoulder, showing his face and further confirming what I was thinking.

“Pappy!” I shouted as I ran towards him. I barely noticed that I was speaking again or that somehow my dead father was standing before me. I just instinctually ran towards him, feeling unbridled joy.

He looked just the same as I remembered- his storm grey eyes the same shade as mine, his shoulder length light brown hair with a few strands of gold… He always wore that scraggly goatee, letting the chin hair grow to only his mid neck and his mustache connected with the beard. The sides of his jaw were always smooth, but I had no idea if he had actually shaved to keep it that way, or if the goatee was natural for him.

He was still wearing that large trench coat and an informal look of an off white shirt and plain brown trousers. For a man that liked his treasures, he didn’t always dress up to flaunt it.

Pappy recognized me immediately, first expressing shock, then happiness.

“Elati…” he murmured before he eagerly raised his arms to catch me for a hug. …But just as I reached him, I passed through his body. I quickly skidded to a halt and sharply turn to see what happened. Pappy seemed frozen in place, his arms still held out until his lowered them slightly in sadness.

“Ah see… yer not dead yet, thank Elit,” he muttered in relief.

…Dead? Oh… was this what it was? A near-death experience like what Satel had witnessed. I should’ve been shocked to hear it, but… some part of me expected it for some reason. The way Elati grabbed for me did seem as though she was trying to force the life out of me, if only temporarily. Maybe I had to be in a near-death state for her to make me a voice?

“Look at ye… all grown up,” Pappy continued in a defeated, but proud tone as he faced me again. I could see in his eyes that he was torn inside- his expression a mix of regret and relief. He was clearly happy to see me alive and well, but it also seemed that he was worried about something. “How’s life been treatin’ ye since ah’ve left?”

At first I didn’t know what to say. Should I tell him I lived through all five hells just to survive? Speak of Cegil, the man who took over his role as father? Explain how I hated Seikram for fifteen years before finally forgiving him and sparing him from the vengeance my pappy deserved?

No… what father would want to hear that? This was my only chance to make peace with the most important man in my life. Here he was before me- I thought I would never see him again. There were so many emotions swirling through my mind, but most of all I was so happy to see him again. Damn it, I missed him so much!

“…It’s been hard but… ah pulled through, an’ ah’m happy,” I replied, being honest with him.

“Good, good…” More relief flooded his eyes, glad to hear that I was doing okay in the long run. But soon a rough hand went to his shaggy locks and he hesitated for a moment before asking another question.

“Wot ‘bout The Cruel Whore an’ her crew? …Do ye know ‘bout them?”

My eyes narrowed for a brief moment as I pondered that question. Did he know that I was thrown off the ship? How? He was dead before it had happened.

“Ah’ve been away fer fifteen years, but ah came back an’ became capt’n in yer place. They’re doin’ fine- some seem ta have left, includin’ the quartermaster.” I paused as I wondered if I should even mention the man who killed him, but I decided to go ahead so that I would know his feelings about it. “Seikram is now the quartermaster, an’ ah have no first officer yet.”

Even now I didn’t know if Pappy wanted vengeance, but I had to know if I had done the right thing in sparing him. Thankfully, no anger seemed to pass him, but he did flinch a little.

“Yer not… married ta him, are ye?”

“Ugh! No!” I shouted in disgust before I snorted at the thought. I didn’t mean to overreact like that, but I still couldn’t get used to the idea that the sea snake harbored those kind of feelings for me.

“Thank Elit…” he muttered again, his muscles relaxing after having tensed at waiting for my answer. So that’s what he was worried about- Seikram had killed him for the purpose of eventually marrying me. He wanted to know if his murderer had succeeded in his goal.

“Pappy… he told me wot happened- ‘bout why he did it,” I admitted, wanting to let him know.

There was a defeated smile on his face as he lowered his chin and glanced at me through half-lidded eyes. “Is that so? Ah’m sorry ye had ta go through that. Ah bear no ill will ta that maggot- ah wasn’t even angry when he asked fer ye hand. Hell, ah was impressed when he got me. Didn’t think he was a threat, nor did ah believe he would take me words seriously. Seikram was simply just… unworthy o’ ye.”

I felt better hearing it- it had been nagging me in the back of my mind that I didn’t know what my own father would think of my decisions. He didn’t care either way if Seikram lived or died- he just didn’t want him to win.

“But Elati, there’s somethin’ ye should know ‘bout yer pappy,” he continued, his face becoming grim as he looked at me fully. “Ah be a selfish man, an’ ah’ll fight beyond me death fer me shinies. Lass, yer my most precious treasure- my kingdom, my legacy. Ah refuse ta let just any lad have ye. The man ta claim yer heart would have ta prove ta me that he can defend ye from anythin’ an’ everythin’- an’ he has ta make ye happy.”

“High standards, huh?” I mused, knowing that no human man would ever be able to meet his expectations. I couldn’t say for sure if he would approve of Satel, but… the fact that he is falucite should help him some.

“There be more to it than that- the day ah died, ah just couldn’t let Seikram win. Wit’ the last ‘o me strength an’ power, ah pushed ye off the ship an’ sent ye as far away as ah could. Ah didn’t want ye ta remain there an’ be forced ta be wit’ him, no matter how gentle he promised ta be wit’ ye,” Pappy growled as he remembered his final hour.

I held in a gasp as I learned the final mystery of that day. It was Pappy who pushed me into the water- those hands I felt must’ve been his power. But did he really send me halfway across the world on his last breath? His power must’ve been incredible.

“He cheated, so ah couldn’t let him have ye. But… even now ah wonder if ah did the right thing?” he inquired softly as he titled his head back and stared up blankly. “Ye ne’er got the chance ta speak yer mind- an’ there’s no tellin’ where ye ended up. Ah’ve been sittin’ here in the darkness jus’ wonderin’ wot happened ta ye, an’ if ye were safe.

“It must’ve been scary fer ye ta be all alone- ye could’ve fallen among a bad lot, or been treated badly cause o’ yer origins. Ah wasn’t there ta protect ye, an’ ah had no idea if the goddess cared ‘bout ye enough ta keep ye secure.”

Now I flinched when I realized what was going on… Pappy died with regrets. He had no idea what happened to me or that he was the one who had sent me to hell in Port Sibest. I knew he didn’t intend to, and I could never hate him for trying to protect me. I didn’t want to admit it was all Pappy’s fault to begin with, but I had been blaming the wrong person for all these years. …No, I suppose everyone had a part in the blame- Seikram was at fault for acting out of blind passion, and Pappy was at fault for just being his usual asshole self.

“Ah was scared at first,” I admitted slowly, watching his expression carefully. “…But it was an experience that made me stronger- an’ ah wasn’t alone fer long. Ah found good people who helped an’ cared fer me. It’s because o’ them that ah managed ta stand on me own feet. Ah…needed that push, even if ah didn’t like it at first so… ye did the right thing, an’ ah thank ye fer it.”

There was no lying to him- it wouldn’t put his soul at ease if I attempted to hide the past I’d had since leaving the ship. I didn’t need to go into detail as it was simple- I suffered, I recovered, and I became a stronger person for it. I was arguably better off now that what I could’ve been had I become Seikram’s forced bride or something. I didn’t like the pain I’d went through, but I did like what I had become and who I was with now.

A rueful smile soon worked its way to his lips before he began to speak softly. “O’ course yer stronger fer it. Yer me tough little corsair.”

“Pappy…” I found myself muttering softly as he took a few steps closer to me. He tried to place his hands on my shoulders, forgetting that he couldn’t touch me. When his hands passed through me, he compensated by just hovering them over me to make it look like we were touching.

“Ah’m so glad ta have the chance ta see ye, lass. No matter wot any man might tell ye, ah love ye somethin’ fierce. Ah jus’ want ye ta live a full life wit’ no regrets an’ don’t let anyone get in yer way.”

This was getting a little mushy for his standards, and I was a little surprised he was letting himself get this emotional. But, I suppose being trapped in a void while worrying about those left behind might’ve torn away his need to be a ‘man’ and just focus on whatever it took to ease his soul. Also, it was just him and me in this darkness- he didn’t care if I saw him at his weakest moment, I was his precious daughter.

“Ah love ye too, Pappy, an’ ah’ll make ye proud,” I promised as I felt some warm tears escape my eyes. I hadn’t realized that I was getting emotional, too.

“No tears, me lass, ye don’t need them,” Pappy said fondly as he backed away. “Now that ah know ye’ll be fine, ah can get out o’ this cursed darkness an’ move on. Don’t worry though- ye’ll see me again soon enough… ah might be a wee pain in the ass at first, but ah’ll mellow out in time… a little.”

I soon realized that he was talking about his rebirth. He knew he was coming back, though he probably wouldn’t be remembering any of this once he was in a body.

Pappy soon gave me a mischievous look before he added, “O’ course, ye were sometimes such a brat, so mebbe it’ll be yer jus’ desserts.”

“Pappy!” I shouted in an admonishing tone. I wasn’t that bad, was I?

“Elati… did ye ever find a man that wanted ta be wit’ ye- fer more than jus’ love?” he asked, his face and tone getting serious again.  He seemed more curious than worried- probably knew he couldn’t do much about it if I had. It was always his philosophy that love should always be the lowest priority when it came to finding a companion- he was always worried I would make the wrong choice on my own, fearing that I would end up with the first boy that caught my eye.

“Ah did- he’s a falucite named Satel. We’re…mated,” I told him, feeling a little shy in telling him how far I’d gone with him. He did seem surprised, even a bit pleased to hear what Satel is. Though he didn’t know that my mate was still a falcie and that he probably could take him on in a fight…

“A falucite, huh? That’s somethin’ that would give me a run fer me shinies- ah don’t have ta worry ‘bout yer protection or his fidelity… but… Does he make ye happy? Be honest.”

“Very,” I responded instantly- I didn’t need to think it over for a second.

“Does he treat ye like a princess?” he continued, wanting to make extra sure that I was in the right hands. Didn’t matter that he was once one of the most cutthroat pirates out there- he was also a father who would always worry about his little girl in some way.

“He did once,” I said with a smirk of my own before I held my hands behind my back coyly, “but ah punched him fer it an’ he ne’er did it ‘gain.”

I was thinking of the time shortly after Satel and I had mated, when we’d had that argument in Lioa’s kitchen. He said he wanted me to be treated like a princess and I showed him what I thought of that idea. Though… I was also upset over other things, but he still learned his lesson.

“That’s me lass!” Pappy proclaimed with a joyous laugh. He was definitely satisfied now and had no doubts that I was going to be okay from here on out.

Pappy continued to chuckle, looking much happier than from before. Even I felt a smile on my face- at least until I noticed him starting to fade away. When he realized it too, he turned away from me and began walking away.

“Looks like our time up- ah need ta move on an’ ye need ta go back,” he announced, no sign of remorse or hesitation in his tone. I felt a little sad though, it was the first time in fifteen years I get to see him, and he had to leave me again. But… I had to remember that he is coming back.

“Elati, do something fer me when ye wake up,” Pappy suddenly requested as he stopped and glanced at me from over his shoulder. I was then able to see a dark smirk on his lips. “Punch him.”

“Wot?” I inquired, confused as to who he was talking about. Did he want me to hit Seikram for him?

“The man who conquered me kingdom- punch him as hard as ye can fer me… then tell him ‘welcome ta the family’,” he explained before he continued on into the void with a cackle.

A second later, I figured out he was referring to Satel. He wanted me to punch my mate since he could not. I guess it was his way of accepting my choice.

“Long live the Eternal King!” Pappy bellowed loudly as he raised his hands, just before he vanished.

Pride swelled within me as I watched him go, and I found myself repeating his words as my vision faded on me. “Long live the Eternal King!”

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

Long live the Eternal King…

 I felt like I had fallen to the ground when I came to, and at first all I could hear was that voice echoing that phrase. After a while, I felt hands on me, then frantic murmurings until they became louder. I soon realized that someone was calling my name.

My eyes snapped open then, my vision blurry at first. Once they focused, I found both Satel and Cegil looking down at me. They appeared to have been drenched again, like they had before when coming out of the ocean, and their faces were torn between confusion, relief, and concern.

“Tia!” Satel called out first as his hand cupped the side of my face. As more of my awareness returned to me, I found out that he was cradling me to his body. With a twinge of humor, I noted that he had finally let go of my hand, but the fact that he was still touching me still made his vow count.

“Satel… Cegil…” I rasped out, finally speaking for real for the first time in ages. I could tell immediately that it wasn’t the voice I was used to- it was much lighter and softer than what I remembered. However, my tone was probably soft because I hadn’t used my throat in so long. I’m sure a few days of screaming at my men will take care of that.

“Your voice,” Cegil muttered, noting my new ‘noise’ with surprise.

“Like it?” I inquired, already feeling some strain developing. “She had ta make me a new one… Said ah couldn’t have hers.”

“But why did you sell your soul to her, ‘Tia-dear? She wanted me, so I could’ve set you free from your obligations,” Satel asked, still upset that I went out of my way to place myself in servitude without getting his opinion first.

“She already owned my soul- there’s nothing ye could’ve done ta save me from it. We’re unrelated ta one another in her eyes, an’ yer offer would’ve only been interference ta wot she already had.” I stopped for a second to let my throat relax a little. “Ah had ta make meself useful ta her, an’ now ah can grow old wit’ ye wit’out breakin’ the cycle.”

“So in other words, you came to a peaceful end that works out for everyone,” Cegil surmised, earning a nod from me. Satel still didn’t look too happy about it though, and I had a feeling I knew why.

I raised my hand to touch his cheek and gave him a slight smile. “Sorry fer stealing yer thunder. Ah know ye wanted ta do this fer me, but sometimes ah have ta stand up fer meself. Mebbe next time?”

It was more of a taunt than comfort, though I didn’t intend it to be, but my mate eventually returned my grin, though it was a little weak. “…As long as you’re happy, I have no complaints.”

My voice was frail, but it seemed that the rest of my body was not. I was easily able to get up with a little (unneeded) help from Satel. I took the chance to glance around the room and realized that Elati was gone- even all of the water was no longer inside the massive room. There was a strange lonely silence that settled in, as if the room missed its’ master.

I felt that it was for the best that the goddess had left. No need for Satel to have the chance to speak his mind- at least not until he was sure if he wanted to join the ranks of her ‘evil’ army, as I’ll jokingly call it. I didn’t really want to say it out loud, but… I wanted my mate to remain free. He didn’t have any reason to sell his soul, and I couldn’t imagine there was anything out there he would be willing to trade for an eternity of servitude for. He honestly got off lucky here.

“Before we go, there’s something ah need ta do,” I announced as I remembered my promise. I watched as the two glanced over at me, waiting intently to hear what I had to say. “Ah think ah died fer a little while ‘cause ah saw Pappy an’ he gave me a message.”

“Oh? You had a near-death experience?” Cegil prodded, curious to hear what I might’ve learned from beyond the grave. Only Satel seemed to flinch upon learning what happened to me, while his brother seemed to brush it off. What was the point in getting upset now that I was clearly alive and well?

I nodded once to confirm Cegil’s answer before I stared straight at Satel with a sunny smile. With the force of an overprotective father’s love for his daughter, I struck him in the jaw hard enough to crack the bone in my knuckles. My blow was so strong that Satel had actually gone numb for a second and fell backwards like a dead weight.

I cradled my sore hand as Cegil stared down at his brother, then at me with an expression of clear shock. When the über hat man finally recovered, he sat up and gave me a hurt look before he tenderly cradled his jaw. I could already see his skin reddening, though his injury was going to heal faster than mine.

“What was that for!?” he asked incredulously as I continued to smile down at him.

“That was from Pappy- he says ‘welcome ta the family’,” I explained, still grinning like a madman. Hell, I just couldn’t stop smiling- I guess I was really glad to have my voice back, or maybe I was delighted to know that Pappy accepted Satel… in his own ruthless way.

Satel was still incredulous over what happened, but he allowed another smirk to grace his features as he got back up and figured out the meaning of my message. He then touched his sore area again with a wince before he let out a short laugh.

“Why am I not surprised? I can’t even stay mad at you when you smile at me like that,” he mused, trying to keep the humor in his pained voice. “Ugh, this hurts…”

“Same here,” I commented as I showed him my reddening hand. Maybe it was because we were both hurting that I wasn’t feeling guilty over my actions. Satel shook his head disapprovingly over the fact that I was in pain, as he gently took my hand in his. In just that moment, he acted like he had forgotten how my knuckles had gotten cracked.

“Oh ‘Tia-dear, what am I to do with you? You know I hate it when you hurt yourself,” the blond teased before he carefully brought my hand to his lips, making us both wince as our wounds ached.

Cegil simply stood off to the side as he tiredly rubbed his temple and regarded us with a tone of mix resignation and amusement. “I… have no idea what to say in such a situation.”

I laughed along with Satel before I took one last glance at Elati’s throne room. This was it- the start of my reign as Lord of the Sea.

“No point in stayin’ here- let’s get back ta the ship,” I suggested while I gently touched my mate’s jaw with my injured hand.

They both nodded in agreement before deciding to teleport directly to the ship, where I was immediately greeted by my relieved crew.

            I knew I was going to have a long, hard road ahead of me, and I knew most of my life wasn’t going to be easy, but… I had no regrets. I wasn’t alone in my struggles, and I had a reason to keep on living. I vowed that day that nothing was going to stop me.

To the Next Chapter

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