13. A Dogged Apology

Chapter 13

A Dogged Apology

            I had many reasons to be angry at this point. Satel used me and ultimately forced Cegil to do something he didn’t want to. Even though he’d tried to make things up to us with that card game, it didn’t change the fact that he’d wagered my hand in Phidus. I was still a little ticked about that, truthfully. But Cegil bore no ill will towards Satel- after losing the game- he even forgave him for the turn of events. He believed that Satel’s desire to have him come home had nothing to do with politics or the ceremony.

Even though he now had to go for my sake, Cegil willingly agreed to come home for his brother’s as well. However, that didn’t make things right for me- I couldn’t even pinpoint as to why I was furious with the über hat falucite, but I knew it was a grudge that I wasn’t going to let go of any time soon. Even if Cegil would have agreed to go without my involvement, I couldn’t forgive Satel for what he’d done.

I knew that Satel was cheating against the dragons and that I was in no real danger, but it was the principle of the matter. I gave him a gift (serious or not)- I trusted him and yet he threw it all away by using me as a pawn. What if I gave him something else that was dear to me? Would he use it in the same manner? Maybe I should sell that fancy sword he gave me and see how he likes it. I could easily buy a new, cheaper sword and gear with that much money…

But I had to admit, though Satel was the main focus of my ire, I was also a little upset with Cegil. I had tried to inquire what that secret conversation was about, but he wouldn’t tell me. Well, actually he said it wasn’t his business to say- Satel was the one who I had to ask since it involved something personal. I had to wonder what was so personal that my name had to be said in every damn sentence?

But at least I could forgive Cegil- he had a point, after all. He didn’t start the conversation and he didn’t want to keep secrets from me. All he was doing was protecting his brother’s privacy. But this was only a minor issue that bled into my main ire for Satel- I had already forgotten all grievances with my guardian soon after confronting him.

There were two more things that made me upset, but it was more of a personal problem that merely amplified my feelings- one of them simply being the call of nature. I was beginning to feel the cramps that warned me my bleeding cycle was coming soon and the occasional pangs just made my frown more prominent. The other annoyance I had was in my state of attire and cleanliness.

Satel told Cegil that he wanted him home within five days- the sooner, the better. It took us about two weeks to reach Cec’re (though our deliberate side trip to the north added on a few extra days), so it was nearly impossible to expect a powerless falucite and a human to be able to cross the most oppressive half of the Wastelands in such a short time.

But thankfully (…I suppose), Lukon had connections with some fire dragons and offered to take us to one. Flying over the mountain range would drastically cut down the time. I was given a second rare chance to see a dragon turn into its true form after Lukon led us to the back of the cavern and started to grow in size.

At first he just seemed to grow taller before he hunched over and began supporting himself on four bowed legs. His brown skin darkened more and started to appear rock-like while his head morphed into something similar to a lizard’s, but with a ‘crown’ of jagged spikes at the back of his head and between his ears. Finally, hundreds of curved earthen plates began to form like spines on his back and the outer area of his legs.

Cegil and I had to ride under one of the spines as he used the giant tunnel in the back to ‘slide’ to the next town. Earth dragons used mud to get around quickly by running as fast as their weight could allow and then using the momentum to slide on their hardened bellies. They used their tails to control their direction and to stop themselves by dragging them against the walls. The tunnel we were in was part of an intricate ‘highway’ that connected several underground dragon cities within the Wastelands.

I ended up collecting a lot of fresh dirt in my hair and clothing from the ride- but that didn’t compare to when I landed in thigh-deep mud upon dismount. My boots, trousers, hem of my dress, and even the end of my sword sheath was covered in a thick layer of brown-grey sludge. Even more irksome was how Cegil landed in the same mess, but walked out with only a few splatters of mud in his long hair. There must have been magicks in those fancy clothes of his…

By the time Lukon managed to negotiate a fee of some kind to a good friend of his, the mud had dried and chipped off. But there was still a lingering odor that I couldn’t ignore easily. Before I knew it, I was climbing on to the back of a fiery red beast with yellowish wings and was then waving goodbye to Lukon. The fire dragon climbed up a steep incline that was similar to the tunnel that connected Cec’re to the topside.

I was momentarily blinded by the sunlight when we surfaced and I felt the temperatures change rapidly from blazing hot to freezing cold as the dragon quickly gained altitude. Sadly, Cegil had had to hold onto me for the entire hour-long ride, since the air was thin and I had become dizzy. He was right to be so concerned- I likely would’ve fell to my death sooner or later.

From east to west, the mountains were more than seventeen thousand yards wide. Instead of attempting to clear over the tops of them, we flew through the crags and snowy weather. When we reached the other side, the dragon began descending, allowing me to breathe in more air and thaw off from the frigid temperatures.

It was much greener on this side of the range and before we got too low I was able to see a hint of the sea in the far off distance. The area near the base and up along the mountains’ sides was heavily forested and beyond the trees was grassy plains and dirt roads. The fire dragon only went as far as the edge of the forest before he landed and told us to get off in the kindest tone he could muster. He made a show to sound like he was annoyed with the chore, but he knew he was getting a good deal- Lukon had promised him a week’s worth of some dish that was specially made at his restaurant.

After the dragon flew away and disappeared over the trees, I examined our surroundings. Behind me was the forest, tall needle trees all around. Before me was an expansive grassland. I had seen a road while up above, but I wasn’t sure how far away it was from our position. I wasn’t even sure where we should be heading now- North? South? Or perhaps we needed to continue West?

“Where are we? And how much further before we get to the next town?” I finally inquired when Cegil started gazing out to the grassy plains.

“I believe we are close to two hours away from the nearest town- if my memory of this terrain is correct-”

“Two hours!” I exclaimed loudly in frustration as I roughly scratched at my dirty and greasy hair. “I can’t wait two hours for a bath!”

I was fairly certain my childish bout of impatience was brought on by my premenstrual symptoms. I didn’t particularly care what other humans would think if I walked into town in this state, but I couldn’t stand the smell of mud a moment longer. Not only that, but my scalp was getting itchy and my skin felt clammy. Even the smallest things were getting on my nerves…

Cegil didn’t take any offense to the fact that I had interrupted him and even quirked a brow before appearing somewhat amused. “I smell some water nearby- perhaps from a pond. I believe we have time for a short break, if you do not mind bathing in the open.”

“Water? Where?” I instantly replied as I faced the tree line, my mood subdued for the time being. I wasn’t even sure if the water was in the forest or somewhere nearby in the grasslands, but at the moment I didn’t care- I needed a bath!

“I spied a clearing within the forest in that direction. There may be a pond or something of the kind,” the giant falucite replied as he pointed in the area I was facing.

“Good enough for me- I’ll be back in a half-hour,” I announced before I began walking briskly toward the brush and trees.

“I will remain nearby. Do not hesitate to call for me should anything happen,” he informed me as he headed for a stump to sit on. I raised my hand and casually waved back as a sign that I had heard him.

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

I didn’t have to go far to find it- the pond was small and the area was thickly enclosed with bushes and trees. It would have to be assumed that not many people explore the forests near the mountains since there didn’t seem to be any trace of human interference on the plant life. I had nothing to be concerned about- Cegil was nearby so I did not have to be wary of wild animals or hapless humans coming to intrude on me.

I decided that it would be best to clean myself before tending to my clothes. While disrobing, I wholeheartedly thanked any entity listening to my thoughts that mud hadn’t gotten in to my boots. After I laid out the soiled garments on the grass, I hurriedly fished out clean ones to wear for when I was done.

After testing the water with my toe, I stepped in and gleefully found that it was deep enough for me to swim in it. The pond seemed to be a result of heavy rains instead of thawed snow from the mountains- the waters were just the right temperature.

I dived in and stayed under for nearly a minute before my lungs craved air and forced me to surface. I crested with a loud splash and a gasp for air before reaching up to brush back my hair back. I was still at a certain depth to where my feet reached the bottom, giving me the opportunity to use my arms to clean instead of having to support myself above the surface. I let my fingers scrub at the scalp for a few seconds to loosen any stubborn dirt and then rinsed again.

When my head re-emerged from the water, my hand next went to my arm to wash the skin there. I soon slowed in my progress when I felt it– I was sensing that familiar presence as I did yesterday in Lukon’s restaurant. I slowly turned to look over my shoulder and found (to my complete and utter mortification) that Satel was sitting on the shore.

There was a predatory glint in his eyes and a small smirk on his thin lips as he sat there beside my pile of clothes. His lace up leather shoes was sitting before my dirty laundry and his black trousers were rolled up mid-calf so that he could dip his feet in the water. For a moment I wished I was imagining him, but I knew that was unlikely.

I simply stared at him, too stunned to say a word or express anything. After a while, I became annoyed at my lack of a reaction. Considering how hormonal I was and how I was still angry with him, I would’ve thought I’d have attempted to murder him already. In fact, I actually had a pre-planned strategy when it came to peeping toms in open bathing areas. I figured I could scare any man off and if they didn’t leave, I would then sacrifice my modesty long enough to retrieve my sword and threaten to kill them.

I never had to implement said plan before and it seemed it was doomed to fail if staring at the pervert was the best I could manage. Of course there were already a number of problems that attributed to the failure. For one, Satel was in the way of my clothing and my sword. Second, he wasn’t exactly a stranger that I could intimidate..

It wasn’t long after that before I finally came to my senses and belatedly crossed my arms over my chest. The water was covering most of my breasts from his eyes, but I didn’t want to take chances. Turning to face him, I sneered and hissed, “What are you doing here?”

Logically, I should’ve screamed and called for Cegil’s aid, but some part of me was itching for a fight with him. I wanted Satel to be very clear as to how upset I was.

“Can’t I admire the beauty and grace of a lovely water creature such as yourself?” he questioned back in a smooth tone. My scowl deepened as his smile grew wider. Did he think he could just drop in on me and win my favor with a few pretty compliments?

“There’s no water creatures lovely or otherwise here- get lost,” I growled warningly as he casually reached for the rapier-sword he had given me and pulled it from the sheath.

He seemed to ignore me for a moment as he examined the blade and then slid it back into its cover. “The sheath is filthy, but you seem to be taking good care of the sword.”

“Of course- unlike some people I could name, I respect the gifts I receive from others,” I muttered in distain, hinting to one of my grievances with him. Of course, the only other gifts I had ever received were from Cegil. While I would never dare cast any type of gift aside, I wasn’t sure what I’d do with gifts from others. Satel was really the first casual acquaintance to give me anything.

“Hmm? What was that?” he inquired sweetly as he peered at me with half-lidded eyes. I had a feeling he had heard exactly what I’d said, so I didn’t bother to repeat myself. All he wanted was a good laugh at my expense- of that I was certain. Instead I just narrowed my eyes menacingly.

“Will you leave already?” I shouted crossly as I dug my fingernails into my skin. “Can’t you see that I’m bathing? I don’t want your company!”

“Clearly,” the platinum blonde quipped jovially as he tipped his über hat further up on his head by the brim. “Incidentally, is three all you have?”

“Huh? Th-three what?” I numbly inquired, momentarily stunned by the abrupt and rather strange question.

“Tattoos. The one on your ankle and the two on each arm make three- unless there’s something on your back that I couldn’t see through your hair.”

Back then it seemed appropriate to everyone to give me matching tattoos in the shape of endless waves. I couldn’t remember the reasoning exactly- it had something to do with the fact that I had been living on the sea since I was born. Had I stayed on that ship, I would’ve received a new tattoo every year, but…

It only dawned on me slowly just what he was insinuating. Either Satel was bluffing or he managed to see everything. Just how long was he here? I let out a squeak of indignation before I submerged myself further into the water to where my chin was barely touching the surface. I remembered that he once saw the symbol of the storm goddess on my ankle before- and the armband tattoos had been over the surface of the water, which would explain why he knew about them now. But how did he know that was all of them?

“How long were you here?” I demanded as I tried to glare at him as darkly as possible.

The smug bastard only lightly shrugged as he decided to torment me more. “I don’t know- maybe I arrived when you were already in the water. …Or maybe I was here when you were disrobing. It’s awfully hard to say.”

I gritted my teeth and sharply turned around so that my back was facing him. He was teasing me! But what made it so much worse was the fact that he could’ve very well been hiding somewhere to watch me undress- and he was practically admitting it!

“But if you must know the reason for my visit…” he drawled out in what almost sounded like a bored tone, “…I wanted to tell you something- away from Cegil.”

“And how do you know he’s not nearby to hear?” I retorted, knowing that my guardian could’ve heard my furious shouting earlier. Actually, I was surprised that he hadn’t already come out to investigate. Was I not loud enough? Or did Satel use his magicks to prevent my voice from carrying out so far?

“In all honesty, I don’t know. He can be quite silent if he wants to be, but I think he would’ve appeared already if he knew I was here,” the falucite replied casually, acting as if he truly didn’t care.

But what he said was true- if anything, Cegil was listening in on us and waiting for an explicit cry of help from me. But- I also couldn’t imagine him staying away knowing that Satel was in my presence while I was vulnerable. It did scare me a little to know there was a possibility that he wasn’t nearby.

“Fine, if I listen to what you have to say, will you go away and let me bathe in peace?” I inquired sharply, hoping to negotiate with him this time. After what had happened the other morning, I wasn’t as inclined to fight him in my undressed state.

“Maaaybe,” he answered in a near singsong voice.

My eye twitched a little before I sharply faced him again. The water around me swished as I did so. “Satel!”

He let out a chuckle before he finally relented. “Fine, if that’s what you want, then I’ll leave.”

“Then hurry up- I’m starting to prune,” I urged him sourly.

He did just the opposite by letting out a deep breath and allowed his expression to mellow into something more serious. I grew more annoyed the longer he stalled. “I’ve come to apologize for yesterday.”

That was unexpected- I didn’t think he was capable of sincere apologies. Then again, I wasn’t too sold on the idea that it was actually earnest. This might’ve been an act so he could regain my trust and betray me again. I paused briefly when I realized that I wasn’t sure what he was saying sorry for. Was it for betting my hand? Or what happened that morning when he had near ravished me?

“If you want to apologize, then go to Cegil- he’s the one who deserves one,” I eventually replied, choosing to dismiss him altogether. I wasn’t in the forgiving mood and I highly doubted he would understand why I was so upset. I barely understood why I was upset…

“This isn’t about Cegil- it’s about you. I don’t regret for a moment what I’ve done to him, but I do feel terrible about using your hand. I didn’t want to use you in any way-”

“But you did!” I snapped, not letting him finish. My anger came back in full force when I discovered the reason for the apology. Satel simply came at a bad time if he wanted to calmly discuss something with me- and he was crazy if he thought an ‘I’m sorry’ would fix anything.

“I didn’t want to,” he reminded me with an edge to his tone.

“Don’t matter,” I argued with a shake of my head. “Ye still used me and if ye REALLY didn’t want to, then ye wouldn’t! Don’t give me some crap that ye ‘had no choice’ or that ye’d ‘never do it again’!”

I was using a mocking voice to represent him when I quoted what could’ve been his next two excuses. Since I slipped back into my natural dialect, I didn’t sound as insulting as I wanted to. Satel was desperately trying to control his features, but he couldn’t stop the frustration from leaking into his tone. “Stop being so unreasonable!”

“Stop bein’ so-!” I froze when I couldn’t think of a good retort. I wasn’t very articulate and I still had no clue what was the main cause of my rage. I then threw a fit and tried to splash him. “Go ta hell!”

Unfortunately, I was too far to do any damage- the best I could do was get a few droplets on his legs and trousers. Satel had his eyes closed and his fingers gripped his knees hard as he tried to calm down. It seemed that he had a short fuse as well, but he was doing everything he could to hold back. When he was done with his short meditation, he locked his red-brown eyes upon me.

“Will you let me explain?” he requested in a near strained voice. “My clan was depending on me and I had to find a way to get Cegil to return home. I did everything I could to ensure your safety and tried to get you out of that mess-”

“Ah don’t care,” I interrupted him again. “Ah gave ye a gift an’ ye used it against Cegil. If ye didn’t want me involved then ye shouldn’t have used me! Ye didn’t even need ta play those games if ye really mean what yer sayin’.”

“But I…” the über hat man stumbled over his words before he let out a growl of frustration. He then sighed and continued in a defeated tone. “Yes, fine- I didn’t know what to do and I wasn’t expecting things to turn out like this. What I ended up doing was a compromise and I hoped that you would forgive me later.”

Hearing him admit to his faults didn’t help either. ‘Hoping’ that I would forgive him still implied that he expected me to like some gullible idiot. I’ve heard this before- back in Port Sibest, couples often argued because of broken promises to earn someone’s forgiveness.

“An’ then what? Use me again?” I inquired sardonically before he stood up in defense.

“Of course not! Maybe that’s how humans work, ‘Tia-dear, but I’m no human. I have no intention of using or harming you ever again and I mean that. And you would do well to remember it,” he told me haughtily as he stared down at me sternly. I scoffed and presented him my back again. It didn’t occur to me until then that I was treating him like a human. I knew he was falucite and that he rarely lied to others for his own gain, but I was too hurt to just forget everything.

To me, this was a pain similar to what I had felt back at the station a few days ago, when that seafaring wench turned against me. I knew it wasn’t the same situation, but somehow it felt much worse. I couldn’t really explain it or understand why I was feeling that way- and it made me feel even more agitated and unforgiving.

My refusal to respond or accept his words earned me a sigh of exasperation from him. “What must I do in order to earn your trust again?”

“Call off the wager an’ let Cegil go,” I responded instantly. There was really nothing I wanted for myself, so naturally I thought about him instead. Though I was afraid that I really only suggested it so that I could have the satisfaction of taking away Satel’s victory. In all honesty, the act wouldn’t really make me forgive him, but it would’ve been a start.

“Enough about him- I want to know what you want,” Satel insisted with a light tone of annoyance. “Cegil has nothing to do with us and where we stand.”

For some reason, I felt my heart flutter when he emphasized ‘us’- he was making it sound as if I was important to him. Why was he being so persistent?

“What Cegil wants is-” This time he interjected by hissing ‘Stop’ at me.

“Don’t say that his happiness is your happiness- what he wants won’t always make you happy. …I would know since I’ve done a few things for my elders with nothing to show for it.”

How could he compare my life to his? Did he possess the same love for his elders as I did for Cegil? I was being silly- of course he did; otherwise he wouldn’t serve them so devotedly. It was a little strange how hearing that calmed me down somewhat. For a moment, I felt like Satel understood me more than I thought he did, but I couldn’t completely relent. After what happened with the seafarer lady, I didn’t want to take that chance.

“You know,” he continued, his voice suddenly sounding closer, “I may have won the game yesterday, but I lost you in exchange. I want you back- even if I have to start over.”

And that caught me off-guard. Just as how I initially thought I was seeing things when he had appeared, I began to think I was hearing things as well. Did he really mean that? Or was it just another case of him teasing me? But I knew it couldn’t be the latter- he sounded far too serious to be joking around.

It was then that I picked up the sounds of water swishing and realized that something wasn’t right. I slowly turned my head to find that Satel was heading towards me with a determined look on his face. He didn’t seem to care that his clothes or hair was getting wet. His long braid followed behind him like a snake swimming on the surface while the brim of his über hat shaded his eyes from the sun and made him appear possessive.

“W-wot are ye doin’?” I stammered as my heart began racing. This was going too far and I was quickly reminded of yesterday morning when he had lost control. I felt a shiver run down my spine as I tightened my arms over my chest and pressed my knees together under the water.

“Ah’ll prove to ye that I be repentant, me sirsa,” he drawled out in his mock seafarer accent as he took two more slow steps towards me. “Ah won’t stop ‘till ah have yer fergiveness.”

What in five hells is a sirsa? I wondered confusedly in the back of mind before panic took over. I hastily turned to face him and backed away as fast as I could. This was too much and it was scaring me more than I wanted to admit.

“BACK OFF!” I yelled in fright before screaming Cegil’s name. Satel’s eyes widened before he glanced over his shoulder to the brush beyond the clearing.

Before I knew it, he was back at the shore in a blink to retrieve his shoes and then disappeared just before my guardian arrived. He quickly took in the fact that I was alone and naked in the pond before he turned around to respect my privacy. I took a few shaky breaths to calm down as he finished his assessment of the area.

“Are you alright, Dantia? Did he harm you?” he inquired, proving that he knew of Satel’s presence.

“…I’m fine,” I eventually replied as I held a hand over my chest. That was a close call… It took a minute before I really registered what he had said. “Wait- you knew Satel was here? Why didn’t you come drag him away?”

“When I was close enough, it sounded as if the two of you were having a conversation and I chose to keep my distance until you called for me,” he answered, bringing mixed feelings to me.

To be honest, I knew Ihad that coming from the moment I questioned Satel instead of screaming at him. I couldn’t blame my guardian for thinking he needed to stay out of my affairs, but I did need him for support. I trusted being around him in the nude a lot more than I did Satel.

But at the same time, I was secretly glad he didn’t listen in on us- I wasn’t sure what to make of the latter part of the conversation and was a little afraid that he would know what was going on. I was also relieved, because I didn’t want Cegil to see just how much his brother affected me. Even though I had called for help, there was still a part of me that wanted to see what the white-blonde ‘monster’ would do next.

“Should I leave you to your bath now?” the giant falucite wondered after a moment of silence from me.

“No!” I said rather quickly before I calmed down again, “I’m getting out, so please stay just in case he comes back.”

“Alright.”

Cegil continued to keep his back to me as I scrambled to get out of the water and dry off. I knew he would warn me if Satel was in the area again, so I wasn’t worried about being exposed. When I was done, I only cleaned the sword sheath and my boots from the dried mud before packing up everything else for washing later. I then told my guardian that I was ready to go and we set off to find the nearest road that would lead into town.

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

“Cegil, does Satel think I’m some kind of plaything?” I asked aloud as we followed the dirt road in a southerly direction. We were almost to our next destination and I had plenty of time to sort out some of my feelings and come to a conclusion as to why I was so upset. We had been traveling in silence until I had finally found a question I wasn’t so afraid of voicing.

“I will not lie- he probably did view you as some object at first, but he does not feel that way now,” Cegil reassured me. Hearing that gave me reason to believe why I was feeling this way- I had come to the conclusion that the reason why I was so hurt by Satel’s betrayal was because I had begun to view him as something more than just a stranger. With the way we had been so friendly towards each other, it was easy to forget that he was falucite and that I was just a human. Naturally, I had forgotten how I was nowhere near his equal.

“Right, that makes sense,” I mumbled sadly as I watched my feet sink into the fine stones and brown dirt that made up the road. I had always had use to Satel as a tool and nothing more. Perhaps he was even trying to seduce me so that I would fall for him and do whatever he wanted willingly.

Of course, I was wallowing in so much pity that I had completely missed the last thing Cegil had said. Thankfully, he continued to elaborate on what he knew about his brother’s feelings. “He holds you in high regard now and he truly was upset to have involved you in yesterday’s conflict.”

“I don’t believe that for a second! If he was really upset, then why did he still do it?” I inquired with some anger laced in my tone. I couldn’t believe Cegil was buying that crap, but then he did know more about his own brother than I did.

My guardian gave a very small smile as he glanced at me for a second. “Well, he is still a falcie and prone to make mistakes- or do you honestly believe that all falucite are perfect?”

I balked at him at first before I really reflected on it- usually one would hear that it was ‘human’ to make mistakes. It didn’t really occur to me that it was true to everyone else, though some part of me knew deep down that it was. With all the problems happening to Cegil and all this talk of sacrifices, it was obvious someone messed up somewhere- and it couldn’t possibly be the fault of humans.

…So then Satel might’ve really wanted to make amends. I still didn’t feel too bad with how I had treated him- he showed up at a bad time and had to make things uncomfortable. But I might just be able to forgive him now that I (sort of) understood where he was coming from.

“Hmph… You’d think at his age, he would know better,” I muttered after scoffing. I began to wonder what he was trying to accomplish earlier when he got in the water with me. Was it his way of proving that he was sorry? I suppose getting his nice clothes wet was a humbling thing for an arrogant guy like him, but why did he have to sound and act so seductive? …Or did I imagine all that because I wanted to think that he was after me in that way?

“Chronologically he may seem very old, but he is actually about the same age as you in maturity- maybe just a tad bit older. Do not deny it- you have done things you didn’t want and you have hurt others without meaning to,” my guardian pointed out with that damned hint of a smirk on his lips. When he put it that way, I pretty much had to forgive the bastard. Though I didn’t appreciate being compared to Satel or hear that I was more immature than he was.

“Since when did I become so important that he actually cares what I think about him?” I wondered out loud to Cegil. “He’s been acting kind of funny lately, too. Could that be related?”

I was actually afraid to ask that much in fear that my guardian would ask for more information about what I would consider ‘funny’. I wasn’t really sure how describe it without going into too much detail as to what he had been doing.

“I am not sure what he is thinking. He still seems determined to proceed with the ceremony, but he is beginning to doubt himself. I fear that he may make a decision that he will regret for the rest of his life. I do not understand why you have come to be so precious to him, yet he still chooses the destiny planned out for him.”

“Huh?” I glanced up at the tall falucite and found that his cinnamon colored eyes were unfocused. He was more or less thinking to himself rather than answering my question. I wasn’t sure what he had meant when he mentioned that Satel doubted himself. Did that mean he was having second thoughts about the ceremony? And was Cegil trying to imply that I was bringing out those doubts?

“Um, are you sure he doesn’t just like me as a friend?” I inquired nervously after I got his attention. It wasn’t as if I was completely against the idea, but at the same time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted it. If Satel was really that determined to end up with a dragon, then what was the point in trying?

And besides- if I was going to enter a romantic relationship with anyone, then I wanted more time to think about it. Everything that happened between Satel and I was too much and too fast. But then that could’ve just been the typical characteristic of a short-term relationship.

“I cannot speak for him in the matters of the heart, but if he really did want you for a mate, then he would have said so already. He may just be questioning his choices- or perhaps there is something I am not aware of.” He was theorizing to himself again and I soon realized that he was talking about his little talk with Satel yesterday- the very one I couldn’t understand because it was in another language.

Come to think of it, I heard a lot of inflections that sounded like a bunch of questions being asked. Oh great, did that mean I was the subject of a hypothetical question? My name must’ve been mentioned in the context of a ‘what if?’. Ugh…

Cegil was obviously perplexed over his younger brothers’s motives, while I was just feeling apprehensive. There had to be a reason behind Satel’s recent behavior- maybe he was just trying to be defiant for a while, or perhaps he was simply blundering around like a child that didn’t know what to do. There was no way he wanted me to be his mate- after all, he was destined to be with a dragon while I was supposed to end up with a monster. Both readings couldn’t be right if Satel was that ‘monster’, right?

So why did I feel a little disappointed with that bit of reassurance?

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

Every town lining the western coast possessed steam engines and electricity to power their resources. Si’anduxki was no exception. We approached the town just as the sun went down and one by one the electric lamps lit up without anyone needing to light a single torch.

Despite their advances, it was still a fairly small town compared to the likes of Osel. Also, unlike the cities of the desert, they didn’t have a fountain or anything to showcase their water like it was some treasure. Here, they had more than enough and prioritized in other things.

Almost everything was made with red brick from the sidewalks to the buildings- only the homes in the outer reaches were different colors and built with more wood or stone. The theme of red seemed to be limited to the center of town and was apparently some kind of gimmick for tourists. If I hadn’t known any better, I would almost swear that this was a town built in dedication for the fire god, Harishul.

“It was actually a joke from my uncle back when he was a falcie,” Cegil explained as we traveled down the sparsely crowded street to find an inn. “He founded this town solely for the purpose to see if the humans would uphold a false legend that he invented.”

Apparently, Cegil’s uncle convinced many that the shades of red was a lucky color and that so long as they continued to have their town bear it, then they would be lucky and safe from harm. The word ‘si’anduxki’ literally meant ‘red town’ in the ancient language.

“Wow, so you do have a few tricksters in your family other than Satel,” I commented in an amused tone, even though I didn’t really get the ‘joke’. I assumed that it was something that was only funny to falucite- perhaps a mockery of human folly that only they could appreciate.

“My uncle’s trickery was more of an educational study that yielded humorous results, but it is true that there are those more like Satel. I was once much less serious than I am today,” he replied, earning a raised brow from me. Cegil, Mr. Stiff and Formal, used to be a funny guy? Well- I did see some cases of his sense of humor, but I’ve never seen him act like Satel. I kind of wanted to see that side of him…

Si’anduxki actually had two inns, a rarity for such a small town- one was an elegant high class one for the rich and the other was a cheap, not quite run down, establishment for casual travelers. We were naturally heading for the lower cost one, but there was some stuffy man in a well-pressed suit that stood before the fancy inn entrance and blocked our path when we tried to pass by.

“Pardon me, but might you be Cegil and Tia?” he asked in a pinched voice as he gazed up at my lavender haired giant. …Then again, he could’ve been attempting to stare down at us with a snooty upturned nose, but Cegil’s height made that impossible for him.

“I am Cegil, but do we know you?”

“No, I was given instructions to reserve the best room at our inn for a very tall man and an exceedingly lovely young woman. All expenses have been paid and the room is ready for you. Follow me,” the possibly snooty man announced before he turned on his heel and headed back to the inn.

Cegil and I glanced at each other briefly before we decided to check it out. We had a fairly good clue as to who was behind this- after all, there was only one man who referred to me as ‘Tia. But what was that ‘exceedingly lovely young woman’ thing about? Did that come from Satel’s mouth, or was that man just brown nosing us in hopes of receiving a tip?

Personally, I had my suspicions about the whole thing- why would Satel go out of his way to rent us an expensive room? True, he did seem to like to giving me expensive things, but he couldn’t be bothered to teleport Cegil anywhere or do anything nice for him. Another part of me wondered if Satel was really behind it- it had been a while since we had last heard from the Daedeleth agents and I doubt they’ve given up on us.

But, if that were the case, why stop us now when we were so close to reaching the homestead?

The fancy inn was three stories high with a grand balcony on top while the cheap one just across from it was a simple one story that appeared like a long house. Inside the dark pink building were several employees waiting to take care of us. Since we didn’t have any luggage or use for any of the services other than laundry, everyone was pretty much useless.

The inn was updated with some of the newer inventions, like an elevator. It was a pretty much a small room surrounded by thin walls of artisan cut red wood, which moved up and down floors by strong braided cables of metal and a steam powered pulley. It cut the time to reach the third floor significantly and was easier on the legs as opposed to taking the stairs. I hid my fascination over the device and simply remarked that I wasn’t too old or lazy enough to need such a device when the man bragged about their unique commodities.

My sass shut him up instantly and earned me a scowl. He probably didn’t deserve that, but I was still in a somewhat foul mood. The only thing worse than people who bragged about their greatness and couldn’t prove it, were perverted drunks. Cegil said nothing the entire way up and almost appeared grateful when the man went silent- though he did spare a short glance to warn me not to be so rude.

The top floor was exclusively for the important or very rich people and only housed two grand suites. The elevated opened to show a wide hallway decorated with (of course) red hued walls, carpets, and other furnishings. The only things that were of another color were the potted plants that lined the walls and the occasional opulent painting. In the center of the hall were two doors positioned across from each other. Both possessed artistic carvings that probably sent the affluent and art connoisseurs into little fits of joy.

There was another man who pushed a small cart that carried some lacy cloth, a bucket containing a wine bottle and ice, and a small vase with a red carnation placed delicately in it. The man who was leading us stopped at the room on my left and gave Cegil the key to it. He then gestured to the cart and pulled out the wine bottle.

“And here is your complementary bottle of our finest si’ansirsa- our house specialty. Enjoy your stay.”

Si’ansirsa… It sounded similar to the town’s name. I wondered if there was some connection or similar meaning to it. I then mentally kicked myself when I realized that that was where I first heard ‘sirsa’. Whatever Satel called me was also part of the name of a wine. Once the bottle was in my hands, both he and the cart pusher headed for the elevator and left us alone.

“Cegil? What does sirsa mean?” I asked before he could open the door.

“It’s the ancient name of a flower- an ixia to be precise,” he replied as his eyes briefly darted to the wine bottle. He probably thought I picked up the word from it. So Satel was calling me a flower? Why?

I was soon distracted when my guardian opened the door and went inside to check out the room- I followed after him in a daze. It was by far the largest space I had ever seen- well, at least in the terms of inn rooms. The wall across from us was mostly glass and translucent red curtains and it had grand double doors that led to a balcony.

The beds were king sized with wine colored sheets so soft that I couldn’t tell if they were silk or finely spun cotton. The mattresses felt so divine that I thought I was lying on a cloud. The bed frames had four tall posters so that curtains could drape down to give additional privacy.

Even the furnishings were top class- ranging from a table large enough to eat meal to two mid-sized wardrobes for clothing. Since the suite encompassed half of the top floor, the bedroom was only a quarter of that space- the rest was reserved for the bathroom where an in ground bath was held. I could almost swear that it was the size of a swimming pond, but that could’ve been just because of my awkward position lying over the bed.

But despite all this luxury, I knew that if we didn’t leave by tomorrow, I was going to be officially sick of the color red- it was everywhere. I think I was starting to see the sick humor behind Cegil’s uncle’s little ‘joke’- no one could possibly tolerate so much of one color and not go crazy. Especially one so ‘violent’ as this- I was probably going to have nightmares of bloody streets tonight.

“So is your clan rich or something? I thought human currency meant nothing to your kind.” I inquired as I sat up on the wonderful bed I was testing out.

“I suppose we do have a substantial amount of human currency from the clan pet, but no one is supposed to abuse the funds in this manner. I hope Satel isn’t stealing from the coffers,” he muttered as he explored the room.

From what I understood, the king of each country is actually a ‘family pet’ for the falucite clans. It’s a heavily guarded secret, but the falucite protect the king and his family- all while being the true masters of the land. I guess that’s why Satel always had so much money to flash around- it belonged to the kingdom’s treasury.

“Dantia,” Cegil called out, pulling me from my thoughts. I straightened up to look at him and noticed that he was holding a bouquet of red roses in one hand and a moagho in the other. “I believe Satel has left you more gifts.”

I snorted as I narrowed my eyes. Was he still trying to apologize to me? Did he really think he could buy me off with gifts? “You eat flowers, right? You can have them.”

“But these are addressed to you. Are you certain you wish to give them to me?”

“By all means- I can do with them as I please.” My voice came out a little harsher than I intended, but I was still a little sore about yesterday. I wasn’t as angry as I was before, but I wasn’t quite ready to let it go yet. I didn’t want to give Satel the impression that it was easy for me to forgive anyone.

Cegil raised an eyebrow and shrugged a little. “I am surprised you are holding on to that grudge for this long- though this is your first lover’s spat. What he does against you may feel like it hurts more, so you feel the need to hurt him back.”

“I’m not in love with him,” I muttered flatly as I turned to my side on the bed. Though it did sort of fit with what I was feeling. The betrayal bothered me more than usual and it could’ve been because Satel had gotten close to me.

Still- he was going out of his way to apologize to me. I really couldn’t stay mad knowing that. …But I also couldn’t help but fear that there maybe more to those gifts than a simple apology. Should I be feeling scared? Or was I simply imagining things?

Of course I didn’t understand then that the ‘fear’ I had been feeling was actually inhibition. I was about to discover just how much I truly do enjoy Satel’s company.

To the Next Chapter

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