15. Stabbed in the Heart

Chapter 15

Stabbed in the Heart

            I awoke to a slight headache, but it was nothing severe. I’d have thought hangovers would hurt more, but then I just assumed that I had managed to sleep most of it off. Usually Cegil would wake me up, so I figured it was still early and kept my eyes closed.

But soon I had to wonder why I had believed my headache was a hangover in the first place- at least not until bits and pieces of last night returned to me. It was too late for me to repent over the stupid things I had said and done while I was under the influence. All I could say was that I was never getting drunk again. Well, naturally I would still drink, but nothing over my limit. And, from now on, I’m definitely not accepting drinks from others, free or not.

Then a crucial memory came to me- Satel. I couldn’t remember all of it very vividly, but I did remember that he had saved me from being arrested and tried to help me get back to the inn. But we were…sidetracked. Suddenly I vaguely started to recall what we had done in that alley, and panic shook me down to my bones. But soon a little bit of anger mixed with my worry. Just what happened after that? Had I only passed out in his arms? What the hell did he do next?!

I quickly opened my eyes, only to shut them again as sharp pain came like a sledgehammer to the head. Ah, so that’s how it worked- it was activated by light. I steeled myself to open them again. I had to know if he had taken me back to Cegil, or somewhere more sinister.

I never thought I would be so relieved to see those annoying red walls- I was back at the inn and laying in my bed. I soon noticed that that my guardian was standing at the end of my bed with his arms crossed. He wore an impassive face, but I could tell he was ready to scold me for my stupid actions last night. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Satel had ratted me out about getting drunk…

…I just wished I knew what he did to me after I had blacked out. Did he take me back to the inn immediately? Or did he do… other things… to me before doing so? I sat up and found that I was still in my clothes from last night- sans boots. Everything that had been unbuttoned was now restored, and appeared as if they had never had been tampered with. The only thing off was the fact that my hair band was around my wrist. Did I put it there? I couldn’t remember…

Cegil didn’t have to say a word- I was already repenting for what I had done and blurted out my apology. “I’m so sorry, Cegil! I didn’t mean to break my promise, but I got drunk and probably did some damage-”

I stopped after he gestured for me to listen to him. “I am aware of what had happened- Satel told me everything.”

“He…he did?” I said numbly as my mind reeled. What exactly did he tell Cegil? Everything everything? Or just before the alley everything?

“He took full responsibility and admitted that he had given you a strong beverage that you were unaccustomed to. You became drunk as a result and he personally made sure that you were returned to me safe and sound,” he explained before he appeared almost concerned. “I know it is not in his nature to lie, but was that true? Or did he curry the truth to protect you?”

“No- that sounds about right,” I admitted as I rubbed the back of my head. I couldn’t believe Satel did that- he could’ve just dumped me in bed and left it up to Cegil’s imagination as to what had happened. But was that really all he’d said?

“Did he mention anything else?” I inquired, both curious and worried with the answer. Would Satel brag to his brother about his conquests? On second thought, that answer was obvious- of course not. He wasn’t stupid enough to mention violating me to his brother’s face. He would know that Cegil would fight him over that. Even without his powers, he could probably still thrash him soundly.

“No. We did talk for a while about other matters, and then he mentioned that we would see each other again at the homestead,” my guardian replied before he tilted his head and considered my question. “Why? Did something happen?”

“…I don’t know. I passed out,” I mumbled as I stared down at the soft red sheets on my bed. Could I have dreamed some of last night? Maybe the incident in the alley didn’t really happen and I had just lost consciousness on the way back to the inn.

“Do not worry- I am sure Satel did not let anything bad happen to you. If you are still concerned, you could always ask him yourself when we reach the homestead.”

“Yeah…” I responded quietly. I was pretty much lost in my thoughts- torn between feelings of anxiety and disappointment. But overall, I was scared of what might’ve happened last night. Things between Satel and I had become very intense- and I had a hard time believing that he would simply give up after I fell asleep. Of course, this is assuming that it had even happened in the first place…

Cegil noticed my far off look and decided to give me some space. “I have contacted my cousin and he will take us as close as he is allowed to. We still have a long distance ahead of us, so please be ready soon.”

I barely registered his request and only noticed his departure once the door closed. I couldn’t get Satel out of my mind- did we have sex? Or did I just wish that we did? It wouldn’t be the first time my mind supplied a realistic dream- though it was rare for me to remember them. There was also no obvious proof that he didn’t do something to me after the scene was over.

…But if he really had taken advantage of me while asleep, then what did that mean for me? Could I become pregnant? Did that make me his mate now? I would think he would come out and say it if that were true. I didn’t even think I had the courage to come out and ask him about last night- it would be too humiliating for him to think that I have explicit dreams about him. Elit, I didn’t think about it, but did Cegil smell me earlier? He hadn’t said anything…

But still, I had to know the truth- this was far too serious a matter to dismiss as mere fantasy.

I climbed out of bed and went about my morning routine. I soon discovered that my monthly bleeding had finally begun and scrambled to prevent the blood from becoming a mess. It must’ve just started and I was lucky to have noticed in time.

Wait, if I was bleeding… then that meant I couldn’t be pregnant, right? Unfortunately, I knew nothing about the intricate details of menstruating, so I couldn’t be certain. This was actually something I would ask Cegil since he knew a lot of interesting facts, but I feared that he would wonder why I would ask. It wouldn’t take much for him to associate my passing out last night with inquiries of pregnancy.

I put on extra perfume to both cover whatever bodily scents I’d accumulated from yesterday and the smell of my blood. Falucite liked the smell of a female in heat, but it was just the opposite when we started menstruating. It was apparently such a repulsive scent that they would go the distance to avoid said woman. But, this seemed only true of humans- greater demons and fellow falucite women didn’t have such a heavy or disgusting smell.

Even Cegil couldn’t stand it, but he was far too polite to say anything out loud. As long as I put on a strong coating of perfume, he was able to tolerate me for the duration of the period…

Suddenly an idea came to me- I could use this to my advantage when I next see Satel. After all, I was a sadist when bleeding and I was already craving to make someone suffer.

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

Even with the help of a teleportation spell, we still had a full day of walking to do. I still had our travels in the Wastelands fresh in my mind, so I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the warm, pleasant weather on this side of the mountain range. It was refreshing to see so much green again, as well as the numerous trees.

I had to think back on how many days it had been since I’d last seen a calendar. It was late spring when we had first reached the desolate land, so summer must be around the corner by now. I couldn’t believe how cool this area was compared to the coastal regions around this time of the year.

The town we were just at was still close to the mountain range, where all the cold air came from. But now, thanks to Cegil’s cousin, we were close to the western edge of the continent. We are near the ocean now, and I wasn’t sure why it was so unseasonably cool.

Most of the western coast was comprised of high cliffs, making it nearly impossible for ships to dock and trade goods. I heard that there were two or three towns desperate enough to hire stone carvers to create caves in the cliffs. This was so that the middle towns could get the supplies it needed without having to rely on the northern and southern areas and receive extra taxes.

Of course, there were also some rumors that falucite might’ve been behind the special caves, but Cegil wouldn’t admit that to me. The closer we got to the homestead, the more we would run into towns that had secret alliances with falucite. It wasn’t very clear what role Cegil’s people held for humans, but regardless if they were kind or just simply arrogant, it seemed that humans held the more negative perceptions.

I’m sure there was a reason as to why falucite had to be viewed as generally evil and why only a few select people could know otherwise, but it was pretty much beyond me and I didn’t really care to know. I believed that it was good to have some fears- and it wasn’t like they were doing any real harm after all.

It was mid afternoon when we crested a hill and I was given my first view of the sea after my long absence from it. The Sea of Loerati was as blue as the other waters, stretching all the way to the horizon and met with the sky in a near perfect line. Off to the left of my vision was a city perched beside the cliff’s edge. Beyond that, I caught a misty glimpse of a lone mountain in the distance.

Cegil mentioned that his home was inside a mountain that was next to a large lake. The waters of said lake also flowed into a moat that surrounded the entire expanse of stone, giving it protection from any smaller threats like demons or marauding humans.

We were close- perhaps close enough to reach that mountain and come back before nightfall, but Cegil hesitated.

“We should stay the night here and go in the morning. I fear that I need some time to think about what I want to say to them,” Cegil said in a quiet tone as he refused to look me in the eye. He didn’t need to physically express anything for me to recognize guilt and nervousness. This was his first time home in a long time and he was about to face people who had betrayed him- or whom he had betrayed, I suppose.

“I understand. Take as long as you need,” I replied with a nod of encouragement. I was actually lying then, as I had no clue what he was going through. I didn’t have a family to return home to, nor would I ever get the chance to talk to the Wise Man again. But I did know what it was like to face something I didn’t want to, and I couldn’t blame him for wanting to stall a little longer.

Besides, even if we head out in the morning, we would still arrive well within Satel’s time limit. There wasn’t any real rush right then.

We headed for Sodola, the city nearby, and I learned that it was also known as the city of oppression. Many knew that it was close to a falucite homestead and it was assumed that the people there lived in constant fear and torture. Of course, that was the rumor. To be honest, I’ve never seen a happier town- and the people therein were both lively and healthy considering they were constantly ‘mauled’ by the monstrous falucite.

But even though they were pretty much left alone by their neighbors, it did have some drawbacks. They had to go out and get supplies on their own because most traders and merchants were afraid to visit them. However, the roads were safe from stray lesser demons the closer one was to a homestead, so they had no trouble going out to get what they needed.

Just outside of the limits were several well-maintained fields, filled with many greens and vegetables to feed the town. In addition, they also had well-built paths to go down to the sea and fish for seafood if they so desired. Sodola had all that it needed to survive the seclusion it suffered.

Looking at the city, I certainly couldn’t tell that there was any kind of distress from either race. There was quite a lot of people living here, justifying the need for a city as large as it was. Despite the horrible rumors, or maybe they’d just had enough money to persuade some of the greedier people, they’d managed to get engineers and inventors to set up electric lights and steam engines to power everything. Everything else was made of stone or brick- from the cobblestone streets to the buildings.

Surprisingly, they weren’t lacking in business- adventurers from all over came to ‘free them from oppression’ and ended up buying enough to support a rebel army. Apparently after that, the disillusioned adventurer either came to his senses and gave up on the uprising idea, or ended up failing and returned home in disgrace.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the stories I’d heard- what was really happening here was just the opposite. They had plenty of tourists, perhaps people wanting to see ‘depression’ up close or watch an epic battle between man and falucite. Their square was considerably wide enough for small souvenir stands and still fit in a crowd of more than one hundred. If I didn’t know any better, I would think Sodola was profiting from the popular falucite fear.

But at the moment, I didn’t care- I was caught up in a breathtaking site of the ocean past a decorative marble railing. It was much closer than where I was before, allowing me to see more endless ocean and less land. The inn happened to be close to this area- a good idea for attracting visitors with aesthetic tastes. I’m sure the sunsets from there were stunning… but I didn’t want to take the time to see that. It would bring back memories that I didn’t want.

It didn’t really occur to me until we began to head inside that it had been a really long time since I had last touched the ocean. Even after so long traveling with Cegil, I was still able to recognize that distinct smell of salt in the air. I felt a little depressed after realizing that- maybe I did miss my old life. But there was nothing I could do about it even so- the die had been cast and there was no going back for me.

Hell, I doubt they would even remember me- it’s been so long.

I said nothing as Cegil rented a room for the night. He seemed to hesitate again and briefly wondered aloud if he should rent for two nights. At that point he wasn’t certain of the future. There was a chance that he would be forced to stay home. But then maybe we would be let go and free to travel again- but we also had to factor in how long he wanted to stall…

“No, I suppose just one night for now,” my guardian eventually replied to the innkeeper. “I will know tomorrow if we need another day.”

With that decided, we were given a room key and we headed there straightway. It was the typical set up- two beds, a table, two chairs, a small wardrobe, and a mid-sized window that faced the East. I noted that the thin white drapes were not thick enough to block out the morning sun, so it was going to be difficult for me to sleep in.

The light blue walls and dark green carpeting was a nice change from the luxurious room we had in Si’anduxki, but I already missed the feel of that soft bed. The one here was firm and a little lumpy.

Cegil was already staring out the window with a far-off look in his eyes. I knew that was a sign that he wanted to be alone, but I wasn’t in the mood to go out- not after last night. I had already planned out in my mind how I was going to face Satel, and it wasn’t going to be at a tavern. So it was best that I not even risk it.

I rolled over to my side and faced the wall. Trying to find out how to give Cegil his privacy, I contemplated on what I could to do until nightfall. It was too late to take a nap and too early to go to bed. I also wasn’t sure if I wanted to take a bath in my condition- I felt dirty enough to need one, but with the bleeding and everything… ugh!

Come to think of it, my perfume should be wearing off by now. I need to replenish it so that I wouldn’t disturb Cegil’s sensitive nose. I sat up and reached for my travel bag. But before I could find the bottle I sought, I came across something that was wrapped up in an off-white material. Curious, I exposed the hard object within and found a gun.

“Hmm?” It took me a moment to remember where I had gotten it- it was the gun I had pilfered from that eneavra back when I was kidnapped. I had completely forgotten about it not long after packing it in there. I had meant to sell it somewhere, but I wasn’t sure if it was worth anything.

I had pulled the trigger before while away from Cegil’s presence, but nothing came out. I figured that made it useless even though guns were still considered fairly new technology. Of course, I knew absolutely nothing about them or how to use one. I probably did something wrong and that was why it wasn’t working.

“Where did you acquire that?”

I looked up and found that Cegil was facing me with a slightly shocked expression. I quickly explained that it was a spoil from the kidnapping and what my plans were for it.

“I see,” he replied as he lowered his head and thought some more. “It must not have any ammunition if you had been carrying it amongst your possessions this entire time. It would have surely set off by now. Even so, it could prove useful in these rapidly changing times. You should keep it.”

…I didn’t think of that- had I known the trigger was that sensitive, I wouldn’t have packed it in my bag as I did. Thank Elit it wasn’t loaded! I suppose he did have a point though- guns were becoming popular and someday someone was going to make an invention to mass produce them efficiently. Chances are high that swords will become a thing of the past and we will have to adapt.

“I don’t know how to use a gun… do you?” I inquired, even though I knew he didn’t. As old as he was, he probably witnessed the creation of the first cannon, but there was no way he could’ve picked up a gun before now.

My words seemed to spark an idea and his eyes almost seemed to light up for a second. “It is still early. Perhaps we can seek the advice of a weapon merchant and purchase whatever we need to maintain it.”

“We could…” I responded slowly with a blanch, “…but I don’t think we have enough money.”

It had been a really long time since we had done a bounty hunt or any kind of work. In fact, it was thanks to Satel and his bits of charity that we hadn’t completely run out of money by now. The way things stood, we may have enough for a few more nights at some run-down inns. It was about time for me to stop going to the tavern altogether- at least until we’ve recovered enough funds to live comfortably.

“It has been awhile,” Cegil agreed as he held a hand to his chin. “After tomorrow, we should look up any bounties and begin saving up again. It is high time we move on from this and resume our lives.”

“Sounds great! I’ve had just about enough of this little ‘vacation’ anyway,” I said as I busied myself with spraying on more perfume. Sometimes I wondered if Cegil was just getting used to the stench- he hadn’t mentioned anything about my bleeding cycle yet. Then again, he had other things to worry about at the moment.

It was actually nice talking about the future, even though we didn’t know how things were going to turn out tomorrow. I never expected things to be so complicated with Cegil’s family, nor did I ever imagine that I would catch his younger brother’s attention. I began longing for the much less hectic days before all this, where we made just enough of a living to get by and I didn’t have to worry about romantic interests and whatnot.

Though, I had to admit that there were some good things to come out of this. I have gotten to know more about Cegil and I believed that we have grown more closer than ever. He has been telling about his past and seemed to trust me more with sensitive information. I think…that’s worth all the trouble we’ve gone through.

I was deep in my thoughts when my tall guardian approached the side of my bed and bent over to pick something up. Several strands of his long lavender hair fell over his shoulders as he did so.

“When was the last time you have cleaned and oiled your sword?” he asked me as he straightened up and pulled the blade from the sheath. I tried not to appear guilty as I glanced up at him.

“Um…a few days ago?” I guessed. Actually, not even that- I only had the sword for a little more than a week and I never had the opportunity to use it yet. Though I suppose that’s no excuse not to oil it every now and then. Crap- I hadn’t oiled the small knife yet either. It was such a boring chore and I had other things that I would rather do…

“You should be more responsible with your weapons. A well maintained sword will serve you well on the battlefield,” he reminded me, reciting a similar lesson he would always give me when I forget to care for my possessions.

“Okay…” I grumbled as I held out my hand to retrieve my sword. I knew why I should take better care of my things, but it didn’t make it any less boring. Still, it was better than doing nothing.

I moved to sit on the edge of my bed as I gathered up some polishing cloth and oil. Soon Cegil sat beside me with his blade out.

“I have been neglecting my sword as well, so I will join you,” he added with a small grin.

We then held a conversation about future work as we cared for our equipment. While it did help pass the time, I knew the real reason behind it- Cegil just wanted a distraction so he could forget about his family for a while.

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

The next morning, we were up bright and early- well, okay, Cegil was up. Even with the annoyance of the sun in my face, I was damned determined to sleep longer, but he wouldn’t let me get away with it. Now that he’d had time to think, he was ready to get the meeting over with.

Once I was finally ready to go, we headed off for the mountain in the distance. It was almost a three-hour walk and I was miserable by the time got there. My bleeding was very heavy and I seemed to be at the peak of the period. It was uncomfortable to walk and I could almost swear that I could smell myself, but I trudged on anyway. I was on a mission of my own that day- and it involved smelling as terrible as possible.

The humans called it Xanaturi Peak- most likely after the name of the clan that lived there. Then again, perhaps the falucite had named themselves after the mountain. It was fairly tall, especially up close, but nowhere near the heights of the mountain range to the West of the Wastelands. There was no evidence of snow at its peak- and it probably wasn’t high enough to reach thin air.

The lake was on the other side from where we were, but there was a river- no, a moat, that separated the ground we stood on from the grey stone that served as Cegil’s home. There was a long bridge that connected the land to a sizable doorway carved into the stone base. It allowed for visitors without powers and half-cocked ‘justice-seekers’ to cross over and enter.

The bridge reminded me of what one would see at a castle town. It was made of grey stone that was perfectly cut into decent sized cubes and it had wooden posts at every supporting leg of the bridge. It seemed Cegil’s family didn’t have electricity yet, as the posts had glass containers for torch flames. Of course, they didn’t have to rely on human inventions- they had magicks to make their lives easier. I bet they were just using a quick spell, and most likely their flames were also a higher quality than regular fires.

Cegil paused at the entrance of the bridge and drew in a deep breath before he let it out and took the first step. I followed him about five paces behind and gradually slowed my trek so that I wasn’t so close. I was well aware of my stench and some part of me worried about embarrassing him in front of his elders. I couldn’t back down on my plan now, so I hoped to keep a good enough distance and feign ignorance should another member of his clan notice me.

I distracted myself by noticing how Cegil was as tall as the lamps and wondered if there was anyone else in the family that possessed his giant stature. I was getting the impression that he was the only one, though I’ve only met two of his siblings and one cousin. I didn’t count Faxus since he was only half-falucite and possessed greater demon genes.

I must’ve glanced out at the waters for only a second before I realized that someone appeared in the middle of the bridge. My heart skipped a beat until I realized that it wasn’t Satel. At first glance, he appeared a lot like Cegil with the same long lavender hair, but his eyes were a light cobalt-grey mix.

The man also seemed to have the same wrinkles on the forehead and near the corners of his mouth like Cegil, but they were much more prominent and some of his skin was sagging near the jaw. His hair was also somewhat brittle, proving that he was an elder- or at least some really old clan member.

Cegil’s fists clenched as we approached the man and I could practically feel the anger rolling off him. Even though I couldn’t see his face at the moment, I had a feeling that he wasn’t trying to suppress his frown. The man didn’t seem to notice, or perhaps he was trying to play ignorant, as he gently smiled at my guardian, with thin lips similar to Satel’s, and raised his arms in a welcoming gesture.

“Welcome home, Cegil,” he greeted in a deep sagely voice.

Cegil stopped abruptly and shook his head furiously. “Dispense with the pleasantries, Cujol- I have no desire to bandy words with you.”

I almost jumped in surprise at the venom in his tone. I recalled in the back of my mind that Cujol was Cegil and his siblings’ grandfather, and that he was the sole one responsible for stripping Cegil of his powers.

In hindsight, my guardian’s reaction was probably appropriate, but I wasn’t sure how much bad blood was really between them. Sure, taking away one’s power was something to hold a grudge for, but Cegil had been fine living without them. I couldn’t imagine that that was the only reason for his ire.

Cujol lowered his hands and let his smile wane a little. He didn’t express any remorse or indignation as he continued, “But I have much to say to you and I simply wish for you to listen.”

“And if I do not like what I hear?” Cegil queried with an edge to his tone, indicating that he wasn’t in an agreeable mood.

“I believe you will- but if not, then you are free to leave afterwards. We will provide for safe travels until the ordeal with the ceremony is over,” Cujol replied with a confident look.

Huh. I kind of knew Satel and Maetira were pretty arrogant, but I didn’t think the elders would be as well. I guess it ran in the family. But who or what caused Cegil to be so humble? Was that just in his nature? Or were there others like him in the clan?

“If you speak the truth, then I will hear you out,” my guardian muttered, not sounding very convinced. “Though it is not as if I have much of a choice. Satel saw to that.”

For a moment, there was a look of pride on the elder man’s face at the mention of Satel. I wasn’t sure if it was pride for the blonde or for the fact that said falucite had managed to get Cegil to come home. But he didn’t explain himself as he suddenly wrinkled his nose and finally noticed me lurking in the back.

“Cegil, who is your…guest?” he inquired, trying to sound as polite as he could muster.

Since Cegil didn’t seem to like him very much, I felt it was okay for me to sass him and say I could speak on my own behalf… but I couldn’t get the words out. Cujol didn’t appear very threatening, but I couldn’t muster the courage to say a word to him. Maybe Cegil’s long-winded speeches about respecting my elders were finally getting to me…yeah, I’m sure that was it.

“This is Dantia, my charge,” he replied without hesitation. Had he not been so upset, he probably would’ve announced it more proudly. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt myself grow warm from that. Cegil wasn’t ashamed of me even though I was (literally) a stinking human.

A frown finally appeared on the elder’s face as he glanced from me then back to the taller man. “Dantia? Cegil, you should know very well that that is not your daughter.”

“She is my second daughter- and I am well aware that she is human,” Cegil retorted in a voice that was clearly challenging his grandfather. For a brief second, Cujol seemed taken aback, then appeared sympathetic.

“I see… you wish to adopt her. Unfortunately, you cannot adopt unless you currently have living falcie-”

“I do not recall coming here for your approval!” Cegil snapped in ire. There was definitely bad blood between them- I had never seen my guardian this quick to anger before. It kind of felt like I was witnessing a younger, more rebellious Cegil- perhaps Cujol brought out the side of him from his days before his exile.

I was saddened to hear the rules for adoption. It seemed that even if Cegil could make amends with his family, I could never officially be his daughter. I suppose it made sense if falucite had a similar inheritance system as humans did. It was only natural to pass on legacies or certain treasures to blood relatives and not loved ones brought in from the outside. Oh well, it didn’t really matter- I wasn’t by his side because I wanted some silly inheritance.

The older falucite stepped around Cegil and approached me. He hesitated for a moment, then pulled out a pure white handkerchief to hold over his nose. “Young one, do you go by another name?”

It seemed that he didn’t like the idea of using the name of a fallen falucite girl either- not that I could blame him. Some part of me wondered how Cegil didn’t mind, but I guessed it was a fatherly thing- or his way to remember his other child.

“Well, I know a jackass who calls me ‘Tia,” I responded while crossing my arms. It didn’t occur to me that I should watch my language, but I couldn’t resist calling Satel that when he wasn’t around to hear it.

“Tia?” the elder titled his head as some thought came to his mind. “Where have I heard that name before? No matter- Miss Tia, I mean no offense, but you bear a malodorous presence and I must ask you to wait here.”

I could’ve retorted with ‘why, I never!’, ‘you wound me, sir’, or any other crude response I would usually come up with at taverns, but Cegil beat me to the outrage.

“CUJOL!” he roared as he whirled around to glare at his grandfather more. Of course, I wasn’t really that upset since I kind of brought this upon myself. But I didn’t feel any less embarrassed either.

The elder raised his free hand in a gesture of peace. “Again, I mean no offense as I understand that this is a natural process for all females. However, we cannot allow her near Maetira or Didra as they are extremely sensitive.”

Didra. Haven’t met or heard of her yet. Was she blind, too? Or was there something else wrong with her? Then again, maybe female falucite just can’t be near menstruating girls of other species.

“But if you do intend to stay with us, we can attempt to accommodate her during the span of her phase.” There was a hopeful look in his eye, as if he thought that accepting me would change Cegil’s mind.

“I assure you that it would not be necessary,” my tall guardian answered before he shook his head. “You might as well speak with me here- I will not leave my charge here alone.”

Cujol was quick to walk away from me so that he could stop holding his nose. He nodded once in understanding before he revealed his fix for this problem.

“I understand your concern- I will not leave her unprotected, of course,” he reassured Cegil before he bellowed in a loud tone, “Satel, come before me!”

It must’ve been some sort of magick that allowed the one being called to hear the command because the über hat man appeared almost instantly. He blinked into existence right next to the elder, but something about him seemed to be …off. He kept his head lowered so that the brim of the über hat covered most of his features and his hands were clasped tightly behind him.

Was this how he always acted before his authority figures? Cegil also seemed to notice the strange behavior as he gave his brother a look of concern.

“You summoned me?” Satel inquired, sounding rather professional.

“Please watch over Miss Tia while Cegil and I discuss the situation in private,” Cujol ordered before he briefly glanced back at me, “I will try not to take too long.”

Satel then placed a hand over his chest and bowed before he responded, “Yes, grandfather.”

It was kind of unnerving to see him like this. I was waiting to see some kind of mischievous smirk hidden in the shadows of his hat, but his face was as stone cold as Cegil normally appeared. Cujol then began to walk towards the mountain- Cegil glanced back at me first to give a reassuring look before he followed after him. Satel turned to watch them go while I waited for him to start grinning and make some kind of comment about being alone with me.

But nothing changed in his demeanor, even long after the two falucite disappeared into the shadows beyond the doorway. He kept his back to me and stood guard obediently, leaving me to wonder if there was something wrong. I couldn’t imagine him being this compliant at the homestead. With the way he was out in the Wastelands, I thought he would still maintain his cocky attitude, even at home.

Well- too bad! I had business with him and he was going to have to snap out of it whether he wanted to or not. I was ready to lash out at him, but I stopped myself at the last second and tried to go for a passive aggressive route. Instead of storming over to him, I sauntered and made sure to lean against him flirtatiously. As I expected, he quickly backed away because of my odor and tried to maintain a certain distance from me.

I was expecting that, but I still couldn’t help but feel there was something else wrong. I put on a pouting expression and turned to find that he stationed himself near the wall of the bridge. “What’s wrong? You’re the one who usually takes advantage of being alone with me.”

“This is not the time for games. Please just sit down and maintain silence,” he replied, like some soldier on duty. He spoke through gritted teeth, and I assumed that his demeanor really was because of my stench. He must’ve been trying hard not to hurt my feelings or something.

“I see… you don’t like me anymore,” I muttered as I faked a saddened look and stared at the stone beneath me. I wasn’t sure if I could really send him on a guilt trip, but I was going to try anything I could to make him feel terrible and trap him in a corner.

“I didn’t say that,” he insisted as he refused to look me in the eye. Once again, I got the feeling that his mind was elsewhere. The Wise Man once told me that when a man couldn’t look a woman in the eye, he had a guilty conscious. If that were true, then perhaps my suspicion that he did something to me in my sleep might not be so far off. He could be feeling guilt over what he’d done and didn’t want me to know about it.

Hence why I had to keep going until I had the truth out of him. I strolled over to him and leaned forward enough to attempt to see his eyes from under the über hat’s brim. He instantly turned his head away and tried hard not to acknowledge me.

“Hmm? Why won’t you look at me? Are you…hiding anything from me?” I asked, deliberately emphasizing the word to get his attention.

“Just what are you accusing me of? I have nothing to hide from you,” he replied before he brushed past me and headed to the other side of the bridge.

“Is that so?” I retorted coolly as I watched him over my shoulder. He couldn’t even admit that there was something wrong. It was clear that his issue was with me, otherwise he would’ve said more by now- or at least inform me that his troubles were none of my business. I followed after him, then held out my arms. “Then will you at least give me a hug?”

He groaned my name in frustration before he bit down on his lip and tried to look away from me. I took that as evidence that he was avoiding me, but I wasn’t as satisfied as I thought I would be.

I deliberately came to the homestead without perfume on to torture him into telling me what happened the other night. I knew he wouldn’t want to get close to me while I stank this bad and I figured I could trap him and force him to endure it. I figured this way, he would get straight to the point instead of talking in circles to stall or annoy me.

Everything was going as planned so far, but I still had that feeling that there was something else wrong. Still, it was too late to back down, so I tilted my head and tried to look and sound cute. “Pretty please?”

Satel closed his eyes and clenched his jaw like he was trying to hold back on something. I watched as his entire body tensed before he seemed to come to a decision and relaxed. “…Very well. One hug.”

I was stunned at how fast he moved to envelope me in his arms. He was acting like he wanted to do it for a while, but finally lost his resolve to hold back. He was holding me so tightly that I could barely move my arms, but thankfully, I managed to get my hands to his back so I could dig my fingers into his frock coat. Now he was my captive.

But the platinum blonde hadn’t noticed that fact yet as he leaned down to bury his nose in my hair. It was then that he shocked me again when his breath caught in his throat and he straightened up.

“Have you started to bleed?” he inquired, proving to me that things were not as they seemed.

My eyes widened before I whipped my head up to stare at his face. “Wait- you just noticed now?”

So why in five hells was he avoiding me before if not for my stench?

“I see… you’re trying to torture me. So that’s why you were being so forward,” he commented to himself, instantly figuring out my plans. I was a little upset at how he made my intentions seem so transparent, but I was more disturbed with how he had been acting beforehand. He voluntarily distanced himself from me without my help. I began to glare when he asked in a bored tone, “What are your demands?”

I was suddenly reminded of time back in Cec’re when he used me as a bet in Phidus. He played it out as if I was insignificant, then turned against me not long after. Was he setting me up for another ploy?

“Forget it!” I snarled as I placed my hands on his chest and roughly pushed him away. “You’re not worth my time anymore.”

There was little point in continuing my torture when he had the upper hand. Even though he’d had a late reaction, he didn’t seem really that bothered by my smell like Cujol was. Plus, I didn’t want to fall into any trap that he might have. I made it a point not to fall for the same trick twice.

Satel went back to his brooding as I plopped down on the ground to dig through my travel bag and retrieve my bottle of perfume. I sprayed on enough to hopefully cover up the smell of menstrual blood and sweat. Damn- I wished I knew beforehand that my plan would fail as it did. If he hadn’t been in his weird mood, I might’ve succeeded, but all I ended up doing was embarrass myself in front of his and Cegil’s grandfather.

“Do you really hate me that much, ‘Tia?”

The voice was so quiet and the question was so unexpected that for a moment I had thought I imagined it. When I glanced over to Satel, I found that he wasn’t facing me- he was more interested in some spot on the opposite wall.

“Why do you think that?” I began carefully, wondering what he was getting at.

“Your earlier actions were clearly designed to hurt me in some way. I suspect you wanted to lash out at me for the other night. Are you still angry with me for getting you drunk? Or did I not live up to your expectations when you ‘took advantage’ of me?”

My first reaction was to blush because he confirmed that I wasn’t dreaming that night. But what did he mean by living up to my ‘expectations’? I was drunk when I said those things- and it wasn’t as if I really knew what I had wanted from him. I also didn’t know what to expect either, since I had never experienced anything like it before.

“I’m worried about what you might’ve done to me after I passed out,” I replied, not wanting to stall any longer by mincing words. “After what you pulled off in Cec’re, how could I trust you not to do anything else to me?”

In truth, I had forgiven him for Cec’re, but I wanted to give him a good reason as to why I was this way. After all, why should he expect me to just forget everything so soon? I assumed he would understand that, but…

From under the shade of his hat, I clearly saw his eyes widen a little before they narrowed. He snarled a little as he countered in a cold tone. “You wound me, Dantia. I already apologized for that and I would never violate you in your sleep. My people mate for life and if we had done anything, then I wouldn’t have returned you to Cegil’s side. You would’ve awakened in my bed that morning.”

How was it that at one moment I could be righteously furious with the guy, and at the next be disarmed of my suspicions? I didn’t even think about that- Satel would never let me travel with his brother if he had taken me for his mate. But then what was all of that about? Why did he…touch me? Was he really just doing as I unwittingly requested?

And- why did I feel bad for making the accusation now? He had it coming for being a shady bastard, right? No, I think now I know why I was wrong- I was treating him like a human again and assumed that he would do lowly human acts. For all I knew, what I was accusing him of was quite an insult to him. It must’ve been- because he rarely ever called me by my full name.

Furthermore, I brought up the incident in Cec’re like I was still sore about it. He did apologize before when I was bathing at the pond, even though it really had nothing to do with the matter at hand. Still, all I had done was make him sound like some villain when he hadn’t even done anything. I was no better than the people of Port Sibest…

“S-sorry,” I muttered as I drew up my knees and rested my arms on them. “I didn’t mean to offend you, but it’s hard for me to trust others. So far in my life, only two people never betrayed me- and it hurts when I lower my guard for someone else. I have nothing against you personally- nor do I hate you, but I can’t risk you hurting me again, you know?”

The second person I could fully trust was Cegil and the first… well he probably would’ve betrayed me if he had lived long enough. But that was just me being rational. This time, I wasn’t looking at Satel, so I didn’t know how he reacted to my words- if at all.

“I see… I wish to make amends for that, but you won’t you let me. I don’t understand why are you’re still so angry with me! I’m not aiming to hurt you again,” he told me in a determined tone.

“Well how the hell should I know that? No one else ever tried to make things up with me before- in fact I’ve never been courted before in my life! I don’t know what to do or feel- or if this kwiad-rue of a relationship is supposed to be this way!” I yelled as I whipped my head to glare at him. ‘Kwiad-rue’ was the seafarer equivalent of ‘horse shit’ and it was basically an ink-like substance that kwiads, a lesser demon that’s a cousin to the squid, excretes. I wasn’t really certain if Satel knew that, but I figured the message was clear enough for him.

I found that he was staring directly at me, wearing the same frustrated expression that I was. It was rather strange- I couldn’t tell if we were having an argument or if we were just getting our grievances out in the open. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was hoping to accomplish at this point now that I knew he didn’t violate me in my sleep. Damn… I should’ve been relieved to know this, but now I was too upset and worried about his reaction.

We glared at each other for a long while, not daring to say a word, before he finally stabbed me with a scathing, “Why couldn’t you have just kept your mouth shut? It would’ve been better if you had hated me…”

He then sharply turned around and refused to acknowledge me. What in five hells did I do? I didn’t understand what his problem was or if it was my fault he was this way. I almost wanted to call out to him and try to pry an explanation out of him, but I knew a dismissal when I saw one.

If Satel wanted me to hate him, then fine- I won’t waste my breath on him a moment longer. I focused on the stone wall across from me and tried not to think about him or how we had gotten to this point. It seemed our so-called relationship was over now and I was free to ignore him all I want.

I felt my breath hitch a little and was stunned to feel something warm trail down my face. I numbly raised my hand to my cheek and found that it was wet. Now I was crying? Why? I should be happy that it was over! Then again, I knew my hormones were out of order and I hadn’t been acting like myself lately. Perhaps this was just a result of my cycle and I would be back to normal once it was over. I refused to believe I was actually upset over him– or that I would miss him or something!

I quickly wiped away the tears from my face before Satel could notice. I knew he would be able to smell them if I didn’t do anything. The last thing I wanted was for him to see me like this. I briefly glanced over at his back to make sure he didn’t notice anything and found that his head was bowed forward and his hands were shaking in livid fury.

Oh great, was he mad at me now? Was my insinuation that offensive that he couldn’t get over it? Or maybe he was aiming to get revenge since I refused to forgive him? I suppose all this talk of hate meant that he hated me now…

But how wrong I was. I didn’t know at the time that his aim was to sever ties with me- and he did it because he loved me. Satel was suffering with me as he wholly regretted the choice he had made.

To the Next Chapter

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