17. Buying Time

Chapter 17

Buying Time

            We held our position for a few seconds before the smile faded from Satel’s face and was replaced with concern. Despite the rapid beating of my heart, I was a little curious as to what was happening. I had thought he was going to teleport us away, so why were we still laying in a wet street?

“My powers… what happened?” he muttered, eyes widening in shock, before he glanced up at something. In the blink of an eye, his weight flew off me and the rain once again pelted my face. I automatically sat up again and quickly discovered that I had been freed from the spell.

“Are you alright, Dantia?” My head whipped to look over my shoulder and I found, to my intense relief, that Cegil was here. I quickly glanced back to find that Satel had been about tossed five feet away from me, most likely due to a sharp kick at an angle.

I eagerly took Cegil’s hand when it was offered and pulled myself up so I could hide behind him. The action surprised even me, as I had never hid behind anyone before. I suppose this ordeal has really shaken me.

“What?” the blonde man muttered in confusion as he slowly recovered. When he noticed Cegil, he expressed shock, then anger. “What did you do to me? Why can’t I use my powers?”

“It is a skill parents learn to control their disobedient falcie- something you will one day learn when you have falcie of your own,” the giant replied calmly. Apparently it was a ‘skill’ that he could do even without powers. Though I suppose if it was a disruption of another’s ability, then it made sense. It seemed to me that it was a case of Cegil knowing how the magick worked and how to inhibit it.

Even though he had just attacked his own brother, he didn’t seem to be very upset. I wasn’t even sure why my guardian was here, but it felt like his presence was merely damage control rather than a rescue. I couldn’t explain it exactly, but he should be at least a little angry at the situation. Or maybe it was just me- I was dealing with customs that were beyond me so it was possible that I was the only one who was reacting strangely. Still- I thought men were the ones afraid of commitment!

But was Cegil outside the entire time? Or did he really hear me cry out to him all that way? No, it couldn’t be the latter- he arrived awfully fast considering the distance. He must’ve come out looking for me after a while- it was dangerous to be out in the middle of this storm.

The rain finally began to wane some as Satel pushed himself to his feet and glared at his much taller brother.

“I see- so why did you do it? I thought you said you wouldn’t interfere. Or did you simply want to have a few final words with ‘Tia before we go?” Satel inquired, sounding very annoyed with what had happened.

I found myself staring at the back of Cegil’s head as I figured out what that meant. He knew this was going to happen? Why didn’t he at least warn me? Of course, considering that not too long ago I was moping over a fight I had had with Satel, he probably didn’t want to bring my hopes up or upset me with the information. Er- wait, I wasn’t moping– I was simply bothered!

“I said that I would only support this if she would still have you. Dantia does not wish to go with you and I will not let you force her,” Cegil replied, bringing some relief to me. That sounded like something he would do- when it came to things that applied directly to me, Cegil always allowed me to choose what to do. I think that was the main reason why I wanted to run from Satel- the blonde was eliminating my right to choose.

“You can’t do that!” Satel growled as he approached us. My hand gripped Cegil’s sleeve more tightly and I felt myself tense in preparation to use my guardian as a shield if need be. “It’s against the law to separate mates and you have no right keeping ‘Tia away from me.”

“You are not mated yet- and I am not keeping her away. I am simply giving her a fighting chance. It may not show on her face, but she is frightened of you at the moment. Dantia is not the type to be intimidated, as you well know, so the fact that she is should mean something to you,” my tall meat shield pointed out, causing the younger falucite to pause and really look at me.

I was still peering around Cegil to stare at him and I wasn’t sure what he was looking for in the dim lighting and occasional lightning strikes, but something made his features soften before he shook his head and frowned at little. “Nonsense- she’s not afraid of me. She’s merely nervous of her first time.”

Satel’s answer, while exceedingly immature, was surprisingly accurate. I was shocked at how both right and wrong he was. I wasn’t afraid of him, but at the same time, it wasn’t the idea of having sex with him that sent me into this state of fear. It was the confusion and everything being forced on me all at once- it made me feel like I was suffocating.

“Be that as it may, Dantia still does not wish to go with you, and you should respect that. You should allow her a few days to think about what you are offering. Perhaps then, she would be more willing.”

A few days would be nice, but I wanted more time than that. What I wanted to know was if I really could love Satel and spend the rest of my life with him. That was certainly not something I could decide in that short a time. But with the way things are now, would I ever know without spending more time with him? If only we could date more- I’d be able to know then, but it seems Satel had his heart completely set on having me as a mate.

“What is there to think about?” the über hat man inquired in genuine confusion before he addressed me directly. “You should know that I love you, ‘Tia. I wouldn’t choose you for a mate if I didn’t.”

That wasn’t the problem either, though I still couldn’t fathom how he was so sure that he loved me.

“That’s not enough! I don’t know my feelings for you,” I told him before I buried my face against Cegil’s sleeve like some shy child. I was about ready to ask someone to knock me out so I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore- I was so frazzled that I thought my head was going to explode.

“That’s it?” he responded after stifling a chuckle. “You will know soon enough. In fact you already feel something for me, otherwise you would’ve never responded to me before.”

How could he assume that I would love him back? I couldn’t even begin to understand my bodily urges, let alone know if my being responsive to him was a sign of love or simply desire. But I had nothing to retort with to prove my point- I was just done. I wanted to go to bed and forget about it for a while.

Satel wondered why I wasn’t replying and called out my name in worry. I remained silent, no longer in the mood to talk. I wasn’t angry, afraid, or anything emotional- I was just …tired.

“Leave her be,” Cegil ordered in a gentle tone. “She is still human, though she is unlike most. All because you are eager in love does not mean she will respond in kind. She is a cautious creature for valid reasons- and needs to retain some time to herself to process the information given to her.”

It wasn’t often Cegil spoke for me- at least not when I was the one addressed. But it also wasn’t commonplace for me to be this broken and unable to function. Satel figuratively knocked me off my feet and started dragging me, leaving me unable to get up and regain my bearings.

Thankfully, it finally seemed to sink in Satel’s mind that his declaration of love and desire to mate with me wasn’t bringing me any comfort. He decided to relent, but only a little. “…I don’t want her to suffer over something so trivial. If she needs time, then so be it.”

Trivial? How were my concerns trivial? I didn’t perceive love as something that could come so easily- even my familial love for Cegil took some time. But I suppose I couldn’t complain about his view too much- at least he was finally backing off.

“My ceremony is in two days. I had hoped that ‘Tia would play the role of my surrogate dragon bride, but I can make do without her. I have no shortage of willing actresses who can dress as a sea dragon and put on a fake performance,” Satel added after a resigned sigh. “In fact, it’s probably for the best- I do detest the very existence of that ritual and it would only make a mockery of how I really feel about ‘Tia.”

So he wanted me to play in his farce of a ceremony? Was that the main reason he came after me now? No- while I didn’t know much of what it was about, I was fairly certain intimacy wasn’t a requirement between the couple going through with it. I was probably a ‘perk’ in his scheme. Still, what did that admission have to do with what was happening now?

I could somehow sense him approach even though I couldn’t see anything through Cegil’s arm. I ended up clenching the material of my guardian’s frock coat in fear that his brother was going to grab me and run. But instead, I felt something cold pressed against the back of my hand. I slowly turned my head and found that it was the hilt of the rapier-blade. My eyes soon followed it to the hands that were carefully handling the sharp metal, then to Satel’s eyes.

“No matter what happens between us, this blade is yours now. I have no intention of taking it back,” he told me with a composed expression. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered where he had been keeping the sword. I didn’t recall seeing it on his person earlier- …though my mind was kind of elsewhere at the time. I wouldn’t be that surprised to discover that he had originally teleported it to his room, thinking that he could give it back to me there.

Without really thinking, my hand slowly wrapped around the hilt and accepted the sword. Satel then backed away to show that he had no further business.

“Know this ‘Tia- two days is all that I am willing to wait on. Once the ceremony is over, I will come for you again and prove that you will be happy by my side,” he finished with a façade that clearly told me that he was trying to hold in his frustration. All that meant to me was that this was going to happen again, but now I had a warning and time to prepare for it. He seemed to be lost in his own little world- to hell with my feelings!

I probably should’ve said that out loud- just make it known to him how upset and unsure I was about him, but my mouth wouldn’t work. It was almost like I was in shock, but I was aware of my surroundings.

When I remained silent, Satel’s shoulders sagged a little before he said his farewell. “Keep her safe in my stead, brother. Sleep well, my love.”

Cegil had been content to fade into the background of the conversation, since he likely believed that he had no place in it unless I needed him. But once Satel disappeared, he finally moved and comforted me by placing his massive hand on my shoulder.

“Come Dantia, you will become ill if you remain out in this weather,” he informed me as he carefully guided me back to the inn.

I didn’t argue and numbly did as I was told. One of my hands was gripping the parted material over my chest to protect my modesty while the other clenched at the sword. I didn’t once think about sheathing it. Instead, I ended up nearly dragging it against the cobblestones as we made our way back to our room.

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

A few hours later, I was in my nightgown and surrounded with as many towels as I could find in the bathroom. My clothing had been drenched all the way to the ‘bottom layer’ and I’d had to wring them all out before hanging them in various places to dry. My hair was still a little damp from the ordeal, but most of it was okay.

Cegil seemed to have had the same problem- the magicks in his clothes apparently didn’t cover water and had to dry like mine. He luckily had a set of pajamas that were tailored to fit his form, but he usually slept in his daily wear. To humans, that was a disgusting trait, but since he was falucite and his clothes were so meticulously self-cleaning, I hadn’t thought anything of it. I really shouldn’t have been surprised that he had some other clothing though.

His nightwear was a cotton two-piece in a wine color that blended with his eyes. The shirt itself seemed like a tent to me when not worn, but it did bring out a casual side in Cegil that I didn’t think possible.

After we were dried off and I’d had a moment to clear my head, I immediately asked him what he was doing out and what his involvement was in Satel’s ‘mating plans’.

“Even though I was aware of his intentions, I was still worried about you. I ventured out to see if you were still indeed within the city limits- …because I was not so sure if he was going to follow through,” my guardian admitted before revealing some of the things he had discussed with his brother.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one having doubts- for some reason, Satel had hesitated before coming to me. I wasn’t sure what made him doubt me before, but I had a feeling it had something to do with that break up he’d attempted a few days ago. I was stunned to learn that Satel had been, in fact, standing out side the inn around sunset for the past two days. Cegil wasn’t certain if he was waiting for me to come out, or if it was hesitation on his part.

“But why didn’t you tell me anything? Knowing this beforehand would’ve probably reduced the stress I went through,” I said, sounding a little hurt. I didn’t want to accuse Cegil of anything since he did rescue me in the end, but I was getting the impression that he might’ve wanted me to be mated to his brother.

“I agree- however, it is not my place to meddle in the affairs of lovers. In fact, I should not have intervened earlier, but I could not ignore your cry for help.”

It was then that I realized Cegil had broken some falucite law to save me. The fact that he chose my safety over some esoteric rules proved that he loved me and wasn’t trying to force me to be with Satel. All at once, I felt relieved over the revelation and a little bad that I had doubted him.

“I didn’t think falucite supported coerced matings with humans- I would think we’re too below your standards to waste the time,” I muttered, choosing instead to have bitter feelings over Satel and the clan law he was raised by. Though I wasn’t completely upset over that thought- I simply didn’t believe that falucite often took human mates when they could choose greater demons or their own women instead. There had to have been something wrong with Satel if he had to choose me over anything else…

“I fear I must defend my brother’s position- he did not seek to force you. He merely didn’t think through his actions or your feelings in the matter. It is highly unusual for someone of my kind to instinctually choose an incompatible mate, so thus he wasn’t expecting your refusal- I had not expected it either,” the lavender haired man admitted, shocking me yet again.

He honestly thought I would’ve gone off with Satel? Suddenly all those talks of finding happiness with another came to mind and I wondered if he was worried about that again. Even though my feelings had been thrown for a loop, I was still adamant about staying with Cegil. I felt that I wouldn’t get to see him again if I end up devoting my life to Satel and his supposed love for me.

“Why would you think that? I told you before that I don’t need a mate or a husband. I’m content traveling with you!” I insisted, hoping to put an end to his concerns. I’ve seen relationships and marriages falter and come to and end. Romantic love never really seem to last for humans and while I recognize that falucite were completely different, I was still human.

In fact, that could be the root of my fear- I didn’t want to go through an endless cycle of falling in and out of love, nor did I want to wake up one day and decide that I didn’t like Satel anymore. If I became his mate, I would no longer have that freedom to leave- and it wouldn’t be fair to him to love one day and hate the next. But with fathers and father figures, I knew my feelings for Cegil would never change. Children never stop loving their parents, even after huge fights or disasters.

After all is said and done, I want to turn to someone that I can trust to be there for me. How could I be so sure that Satel was as reliable as Cegil if I knew almost nothing about him?

“Dantia, it is not about what you need- it is about what you want. Can you honestly tell me that you possess no feelings for Satel? Can you not see yourself being happy with him? There is no shame in returning his feelings if you share the sentiment. And- you will not lose me in the process. I will still be there for you, no matter what path you choose,” Cegil said, making me pause.

“…Really?” My voice was quiet, showing my surprise. I learned at an early age that girls had to leave the family and join her spouse’s. …I then mentally kicked myself- duh! Being with Satel will mean that I will join his and Cegil’s family. The only difference is that I would become his sister rather than be officially adopted as his daughter.

But… Cegil didn’t want anything to do with the clan. If I agreed to become Satel’s mate, would he come back for my sake? I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put him through that.

“Was that your only concern? Did you think you would never see me again if you mated?” he inquired, appearing almost amused at the thought.

“Well, yes…” I replied with a slight blush. I was a bit embarrassed that I had forgotten that little detail and that my worries of losing him were unfounded, but it still wasn’t enough to help me decide. I soon shook my head and added, “But that’s not my only concern! Everything is happening too fast- I met your brother only a month ago and all of a sudden he wants me to spend a lifetime with him? I can’t even answer your earlier question- I don’t know much about Satel or if I could love him. Two days is nowhere near enough time for me to find the answer, either.”

“So you want more time… I can see your reasoning then. Satel is young and impatient, so he cannot fathom the idea of waiting for something he believes will inevitably happen. It will not please him, but I can buy you enough time so you can think it over.”

Something that will inevitably happen? I was afraid to ask him if that was solely Satel’s belief or if he thought that I would fall in love just like that. But my mind kept going back to the prophecy- was I doomed to live through something that was decided for me? I didn’t understand why it seemed my reading was coming true even though the Fates messed up on others. Not only that- Satel had his own reading to fulfill and he discarded it. Surely the Fates didn’t plan this, too?

“Can you stop him?” I inquired while staring at the end of my bed.

“It would be difficult, but it is possible,” he replied, reassuring me some. But if it were truly inevitable, then I would at least like to choose when to go through with it.

…But even so, Cegil wanted me to be happy. I still doubted that I could be if I was forced into everything.

“What if I think about it and decide that I want to refuse him? He won’t let me go even then, will he?” I trailed off in a sad tone, feeling somewhat dejected.

“He will do everything in his power to convince you otherwise. But if you truly do not wish to be his mate, then I will do everything in my power to keep you away from him,” my guardian responded with confidence. He seemed to have an idea of how to accomplish that and I knew I could trust him to follow through with it, so I felt a bit better.

I was sure it would place an even greater strain between Cegil and his clan if he continued to interfere with Satel’s love life, but at the time, I wanted the comfort of having alternatives. It was wrong of me to use my beloved father figure this way- I knew that, but I was too scared of the idea of not having any control over my life. In a way, I was doing Cegil’s work by trying to defy my destiny for as long as possible. I just wish it didn’t come at the cost of burdening him.

I was feeling a little more reassured having Cegil’s support. I was nowhere near close to having an answer ready and I didn’t want to be pressured into it. I honestly didn’t know what I felt for Satel and there was a decent chance that I might consider being his mate in the end. Then again, there was also a chance that I might not. I had to choose carefully, otherwise I might regret it.

“I can see you are still uncertain. Try not to decide anything right now- go to sleep, and inform me what you want to do in the morning,” he suggested, reminding me that it was getting late.

Satel said he wasn’t coming after me again until after the ceremony. That meant I could sleep soundly tonight without worrying about him kidnapping me in my sleep. I nodded to my tall guardian and lay back in my bed. Even if he wasn’t coming, I doubt I would be able to sleep. I was far too troubled to relax.

…But somehow my eyes began to droop and I fell asleep within minutes. Sometime during the night, I had that reoccurring dream of swimming in the sea and staring at the moon. It seemed the more stressed I was, the more likely I would remember my dreams.

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

The next morning, Cegil’s older brother, Garroe, came to visit. We initially thought that Satel told on Cegil and that Garroe was sent to reprimand my guardian, but we ended up having nothing to worry about. It seemed the young platinum blonde decided not to say a word for now, so that Cegil wouldn’t have to get in trouble. I wasn’t sure if he truly did that for his brother’s benefit or if he was just trying not to upset me. Either way, we were both very relieved.

As it turned out, the cart was almost done and Garroe was simply reporting that to us. It was my first time meeting him and I soon realized that I now knew all of Cegil’s siblings. Garroe possessed the same color hair as Cegil and it was in the same length, but it seemed he was the only one of the generation to inherit the blue-grey eyes that his grandfather had.

With that observation, I decided that the hair and cobalt eyes must’ve come from the father while the blonde and red-brown mix probably came from the mother. But unless one of the parents was a giant, I believed Cegil was born with one of those gene mutations. Garroe was of an average height for a male, but he was also considerably dwarfed by his younger brother.

However, none of that had any bearing to the current conversation. Garroe paid me no mind, so I was shoved to the back of the conversation and was forced to find ways to amuse myself. I had told Cegil earlier that I wanted to try and decide for myself if I wanted to be with his younger brother, and he agreed to do what it took to prevent him from kidnapping me in the meantime. I wasn’t sure how he could accomplish such a thing, but he told me not to worry about it.

I soon found out why when my guardian made a sudden request to Garroe. “I apologize for the abruptness, but I need to return to the homestead and speak with the elders. Is it possible for you to take us there?”

“What?” There was a pregnant pause after we came to the realization that both Garroe and I had made the exclamation at the same time. Cegil only glanced back at me with a nod to tell me to wait for an explanation before he gave his brother an expectant look.

“I am not certain what is going through your head, brother, but now is not a wise time. Satel’s ceremony is tomorrow and some members of the Daedeleth clan have begun to arrive,” he replied, sounding both concerned and a little flustered.

“I have business of the utmost urgency with Cujol. If you cannot take me to the homestead, then can you at least bring him to me?” The giant man pressed, not wanting to be deterred from his goal.

I stared at his long lavender hair as I tried to figure out what he was planning. Was he planning to inform his grandfather about Satel and try to negotiate with him? I was under the impression that the elders wouldn’t stop a mating from occurring, but there was much I didn’t know or understand in this area of falucite law. Maybe a father had a right to postpone- or he was going to insist that I had a right to refuse.

Garroe hesitated as he thought over his answer. “…I will see what I can do. The elders are quite busy, as you are well aware, so there is no guarantee that Cujol will be available to speak with you until after the ceremony is over.”

“Unfortunately, my business with him must be done before then. Simply tell him that I have reconsidered his offer. I am sure he will come to me straight way,” Cegil replied, causing the other man to express shock.

“Reconsider? You don’t mean…” he trailed off, sounding rather hopeful.

Cegil quickly shook his head and dispelled whatever thought Garroe was thinking. “I make no promises of accepting, but I am more willing to negotiate now that the circumstances have changed.”

But even as he said that, it still didn’t make Garroe any less hopeful. All of a sudden, he was much more eager to help out. I wasn’t sure what was going on or what reconsideration Cegil was talking about, but apparently it was something the entire clan wanted. For a moment, I worried that Cegil was going to take Satel’s place in the ceremony, but I dismissed that rather quickly. It wouldn’t fix the current situation at all- and it didn’t make a lot of sense.

“Give me a moment- I will seek out Cujol immediately,” Garroe informed us before disappearing through teleportation magicks.

“Cegil… What’s going on?” I finally inquired after a moment’s hesitation. I was almost scared to ask, but since this somehow involved me, I had to know.

“While I have no desire to rejoin the clan, the elders mentioned that they wanted to make amends with me. I am certain they will restore my powers if I ask, but I will have to ensure that they do not entrap me into staying in exchange.”

“Wait,” I called out before he could say more, “You want your powers back? I’m not against the idea if that’s what you really want, but I thought you didn’t want them if they had no real intention of apologizing to you.”

“It is true- I still carry some resentment and they do not seem to understand the nature of my ire. However, if I am to properly defend you from Satel, then I will have to stand against him on even ground.” I stared at him as he gave his reasoning and immediately felt bad that I ended up driving him back to the elders with his tail between his legs.

When he said he would protect me, I didn’t think he would do so at the cost of his pride. I sure hoped Satel was happy- no… I couldn’t blame him for this. This was completely on me. I was making him become involved in matters that had nothing to do with him. But I had no chance in facing Satel on my own- I needed help.

“Thank you…” I muttered, choosing to show my gratitude as soon as possible. But my guardian shook his head again and told me it wasn’t necessary.

“I simply want you to be happy with your life. You bear my daughter’s name and I think of you as a second falcie. I must give you the chance to truly live the way you wish- as I would’ve wanted for my other daughter,” he replied. I felt the urge to get up and hug him, but I restrained myself and simply thanked him again.

I swore then that I would forever be in his debt. I had to somehow find a way to make it up to him when it was over… if it would ever be over. It was a little terrible, but I couldn’t envision a future after tomorrow. With Satel announcing that he would chase after me again, I know that will mean I will constantly be on the run. And if I choose to be with him… what exactly would that entail? The whole idea of settling down really did make me nervous.

“But, be aware that my plan comes with risks. I am certain the elders will want to see me at the homestead. I would not be surprised if Satel learns of this and attempts to take advantage,” he warned me before adding, “If I leave you, he could come in my absence- hence why I believe it would be best if you come with me. He may try to see you there, but at least he will not be able to take you while you are under the protection of someone else.”

“I have no problem with seeing him again- just as long as he keeps his hands to himself,” I answered while crossing my arms. After all, I wasn’t afraid of Satel himself- only what he was offering. If Cegil wasn’t going to watch over me, then I wondered who would. I wasn’t sure who in his clan would dare ‘come between mates’.

“I am not sure what he is planning, but I hope he does not inform any of the elders of what is really happening. It would only make things…difficult,” he finished, bringing on a good point.

Cegil had explained to me how the third born sons had special privileges to counter the fact that they were forbidden to take a falucite mate. With a limited number of females born, only the first and occasionally second sons were allowed to procreate with their own kind. With Satel being a fourth born, he probably had the backing of the entire elder council if he let it known that he had chosen me.

Ideally, falucite should have a mate only once they’ve reached adulthood, but those who must look to other races usually don’t have the luxury of waiting. If they find a compatible mate, then there was no guarantee she would still be alive by the time the male reached full maturity.

In a way, the aging difference almost justified Satel’s actions last night- though it really wouldn’t kill him (or rather me) to wait a year or two. What I was fighting against was an impatient young male who wanted to play the role of a mature adult and had no concept of restraint. …Though I should talk- according to Cegil, I was more immature than he was.

But still, Satel could easily win if he involved his clan- why hadn’t he said a word to the others? Was he protecting Cegil? Or was he really trying to allow me some time?

As Cegil suspected, Cujol appeared at our door in less than a half-hour. The elder appeared very eager to confirm if what he had heard was true.

“I see… I know not what changed your heart, but I am grateful that you will not be cutting ties with us,” the grandfather said, expressing relief after Cegil repeated his request. “I will have an emergency council set up in secret- away from the few Daedeleth members already present within our walls. Be patient- I will return for you shortly.”

From what I had learned long ago from my guardian’s initial lessons of falucite culture, any decision must be made and agreed upon by all members of the elder council. Cujol couldn’t decide anything by himself, even if he personally wanted Cegil to come back. I didn’t want to defend the old geezer, but I was sure he wanted to apologize to his grandson. Of course, that meant almost nothing if the rest of the clan didn’t feel that one was necessary.

“Wait.” Cegil reached out to touch his grandfather on the shoulder. “My decision is largely in part for the protection of my charge. I request that someone is made available to watch over her while we discuss.”

The old man glanced back at me before he bowed his head in thought. “Hmm… I would hate to trouble Satel at this hour. He is in the middle of preparing for his ceremony…”

“That is fine, I do not wish for his presence anyway. I would like Didra to watch over her,” the giant replied as he mustered a look of superiority. He must’ve been trying to hide the look of satisfaction when the elder practically jumped in shock and stared back at his kin with disbelieving eyes.

“Didra?” Cujol echoed before shaking his head. “Absolutely not! She is with falcie!”

“I have heard she is only nine months along. She should still be more than capable of watching a human girl. It is not as if I expect a life threatening situation to manifest,” Cegil responded with a hint of amusement to his voice.

It took a lot of will power for me not to react to that. Only nine months?! For a human, that was when a woman was most vulnerable! However, I did recall Satel mentioning that new blood wasn’t coming into the family for another two years- perhaps that was how long it took for a falcie to form. In comparison to that, nine months was practically nothing!

“While that may be true, I fear she may not tolerate your human for very long. I do not know why, but something about her reminds me of Satel- and you know very well how they act towards one another,” Cujol warned as Cegil began to smirk.

It was probably one of the rarest sights I had ever seen- I didn’t think my guardian was capable of such an evil appearance. Coupled with that warning, I had good reason to fear for my life. Perhaps my eternal gratitude was premature and Cegil was going to let me suffer a little as he helped maintain my freedom from his brother.

Or, maybe he was remembering something from the past that was funny. Somehow I felt that was unlikely. But if he was trying to make me suffer a little, I’ll take it. I probably won’t feel any better for using him as a shield, but it could help a little…

“Dantia will be fine- while she does possess similar traits to Satel, she knows when to silence herself and stay out of the way. Her eyes may seem defiant, but she rarely acts out upon it,” Cegil told him before I tilted my head slightly in confusion. My eyes were defiant?

Annoyed, I had to wonder exactly what was it about me that made falucite think that I was like Satel. Cujol was actually the third to say so- Maetira compared me to his arrogance and Cegil had once said that I reminded him of ‘one of his brothers’. Since I had met Garroe, it was fairly obvious that he was talking about Satel. But I didn’t look a thing like the man- my hair was much too dark and my eyes too light. And my feminine curves were not similar to his more masculine figure.

Could it be a smell thing? Or maybe it was because we were both perceived to be young. Actually that made some sense- we were both ‘falcie aged’ and we wanted to be treated as if we were older. …Well, I wanted to look my age while Satel wanted to be treated like an adult. But how could they tell that by just looking (or sensing in Maetira’s case) at us? It only took Cujol two meetings to come to that conclusion.

“…At least she no longer possesses that stench of menstrual blood. Perhaps Didra can control herself long enough,” the elder muttered, turning Cegil’s smirk into a frown. That old guy sure did like to bring that up. He must’ve really hated the smell- though that didn’t necessarily mean that he hated me.

Apparently Cegil didn’t mind it anymore. He recently told me that he had been around humans long enough to have simply gotten used to it, whereas Cujol had been within the safety of his homestead for the past few hundred years. I suppose the elder had also forgotten his manners, but I could forgive his rudeness since I was generally no better. Come to think of it, perhaps exposure to humans was what kept Satel from reacting to me a few days ago, too.

The elder soon left with the promise to arrange everything. We were once again alone in our room, allowing me to ask about Didra. “Who’s Didra? Some bloodthirsty assassin?”

Cegil’s smile returned, but it was more fond than evil. “She’s Garroe’s mate and a biologist versed in medical arts. Satel was a devious falcie in his early youth and had earned her undying ire. One day, she scolded him and he had feared her ever since. She is the one person he will never cross.”

Oh boy. I could just see it now, of Satel plastering himself against a wall with wide eyes in an attempt to stay out of this Didra’s path. But apparently Satel wasn’t the only one afraid of her- Cujol’s concerns didn’t seem to be out of respect for her. That made me wonder just how intimidating she really was- and if I could learn something from her…

“…Am I really going to be okay with her?” I still don’t know what it was about me that reminded others of Satel, but I didn’t like the idea of being around someone who was a scary doctor or something. Didn’t medical biologists cut up people to explore their insides? I resisted the urge to shudder in fear and revulsion.

“You will be fine. She will seem annoyed with you, but she will not actually harm you- however, Satel is not aware of that and will keep his distance,” he reassured me. He must’ve been speaking from experience and I once again couldn’t stop the amusing images of Satel cowering in fear before her.

I just had to tell myself that everything will be okay. Cegil knew what was going on and what he was doing- I should just focus on my feelings and figure out what I wanted for my life.

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

The meeting was set up and ready to be conducted within a matter of minutes. Cujol returned to teleport us inside the homestead and the first place we appeared was in a large three-floor library. I remembered that Cegil’s clan lived inside a mountain, so I wasn’t sure how high up we were or if we were on the ground floor.

The place was massive- the walls were lined with bookshelves and they were densely packed with books of every size and color. I was certain that not all of them were of the same language- and there was a decent chance that most of them were ancient. The ceiling must’ve been at least twenty feet above the topmost floor, and it possessed a single chandelier of gold and crystal.

Between each bookshelf was a wooden post painted in a hunter green color and they bore a gold candleholder midway between the top and bottom. It was likely that the thick white candles on them were enhanced with magicks, though I had no way of telling if that were true.

There were also at least four tall and thin arches in what appeared to be the outer stone wall, and within them was glass so crystal clear that I initially thought they were bare. From where I stood, all I could see was blue sky and a few clouds rolling past the giant windows. If I weren’t so nervous, I would’ve went over to see what was out there.

In the center of the bottom floor was a large, long table made of shiny wood that bore a purplish hue amidst the rich brown. It stretched out for a good twelve feet and had plush velvet chairs flanking the sides. At the end of the table was a considerable stack of books and beyond those was a person reading quietly.

She was a delicate looking creature with long curly hair that was in the similar shade of a misty pink rose. Her eyes were a light green and they really stood out amongst her other features. She was about my size- small body structure and of an average height for seafaring women. I wasn’t sure why, but just one look at her made the hair on the back of my neck rise. Perhaps I was conditioned by all of the warnings I had received prior. Or maybe she just had an overbearing presence that even I could pick up with my dull human instincts.

“Didra,” Cujol called out to her, keeping a good distance away from her even as he began to gently guide me towards her. “Here is Cegil’s human. Please watch over her for the time being- and do not let anyone take her away from this room.”

Hmph. Did the old man already forget my name? Or was he like Satel and didn’t want to breathe the name of a fallen person? Didra sharply glanced up and evaluated me with her piercing gaze before her eyes flew back to the words on the page she was reading. Nervous, I looked over my shoulder to Cegil for reassurance, but I found he was already gone. Cujol must’ve ran for it as soon as he could, leaving Cegil no choice by to follow immediately.

“Sit.” The command was short and stern as the pink haired lady pointed to a plush chair on her right. She didn’t bother to look up from her book again as I cautiously drew near and pulled back the chair.

There was a still quietness about the room and I ended up disturbing it for a moment as the wooden legs of the chair scraped against the floor. I winced at the suddenly loud sound, but relaxed upon finding that it didn’t seem to disturb Didra.

The chair was as soft and comfortable as it looked. The cushions were a dark blue color and there was additional padding on the armrests. My hands gripped the ends of the armrests as my eyes drifted to the reading falucite. I was certain I was experiencing the same phenomenon as the others were when they compared me to Satel. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but that woman somehow reminded me of the Wise Man.

She certainly didn’t look like him, but I felt that she was just as wise and stern as he was. Just watching her brought back a certain memory from the Wise Man where he mentioned the term ‘kindred spirits’ to me. He told me that kindred spirits were people who possessed souls that were similar to one another. These people, when meeting, tended to understand the other without having to know them for long. Yet they were in no way related and they didn’t necessarily possess the same personality or outlook on life. Something told me that the Wise Man could probably get along with her just fine if he were still alive.

“What?” she snapped when she caught me staring at her for too long. I jumped at the nasty tone and quickly glanced away.

“N-nothing…” I muttered as I kept my eyes trained on the smooth table surface.

“If you have a question, speak it now. I do not wish to be distracted from my studies a third time,” she prodded, her tone softening only a little. As Cegil had warned, she sounded rather annoyed and I hadn’t done much. Was she always this temperamental? Or was this a symptom of falucite pregnancy? I suppose if I had to gestate a baby for two and a half years, I would be irritable too.

“Um…” I didn’t usually hesitate like this, but I felt as though she would bite my head off if I didn’t think of something. “…I was curious about this ceremony that Satel is going through. Exactly what is it to your people?”

That seemed to have caught her off guard- she was probably expecting me to say something stupid or meekly back down and promise not to bother her again. But now that it was out, I was kind of curious. All I understood about the ceremony so far was that it was a punishment and it was something intended for human mates. I was getting the impression that it was a lot like human marriages- in fact, they are a form of entrapment, and it certaintly fits with the comparison…

“Hmm… Cegil didn’t teach you much, did he? Ordinarily, our kind recognizes a union between a fertile male and female through a mating, but there has been clashes between human and greater demon cultures where the women demands for something more… public. So we invented the concept of the ceremony to appease them,” she answered as she glanced down at her book.

She acted as if she went back to reading, but she did continue to add that there were two kinds of ceremonies. There was one that catered to greater demons where the mates mark each other before family and make a vow of love. The other was designed after human weddings. Most falucite, Satel included, didn’t see the significance in holding one since it wasn’t part of their customs.

“But in the end, it’s the choice of the brother who simply wishes for the happiness of his mate. Who are we to deny that?” she finished with a shrug. She might’ve acknowledged that fact, but she probably didn’t really understand that since she’d never had to deal with a human mate. She was with another falucite and didn’t need to understand.

“If that’s what it is, then why is everyone saying the one tomorrow is a punishment?” I inquired as the thought came to me. From the very start, all I heard was that it was a sacrifice to go through with it and that no one would be happy in the end. What woman would want that?

“Yes, as of late, it has been treated as such. Forcing relationships was never necessary before, but now we need public spectacles to prove that something is happening,” Didra replied after an annoyed sigh. This time it wasn’t directed at me. “In our case, the neighboring clan to the North acquired an Oracle and only wish to fulfill the prophecy of the Fates. They torment us only because we have experienced the most deaths in our clan.”

“Why is it their business? In fact, how come they’re not off torturing themselves? They do a pretty good job of it, I hear,” I muttered sardonically, earning an amused grin from her for just a brief second. That was a good thing…right?

“They say it’s for the good of both clans, but they only wish to destroy Cegil. They cannot stand the thought of someone against the Fates, but they have no grounds to undermine him themselves. They had hoped that if he joined with one of their own, they could lure him into their grasp- though I have no proof of that. It’s merely what I personally believe,” she admitted with what appeared to be an uncaring attitude before she went back to her studies.

Jeez, the Daedeleth could sure hold a grudge… And to think, Satel actually spared his brother by ‘offering himself’ to the Fates. As devoted as those jerks were, they couldn’t complain about someone else fulfilling their prophecy and had to abandon their hope for revenge for another time.

…But even with the past Cegil had had with his family, at least they cared enough to protect him from the Daedeleth. That was one thing I could recognize about them.

It fell silent again and I made sure not to let my eyes wander back to her as I tried to think of something to do. So far, I had somehow managed not to piss her off, and I didn’t want to risk bothering her again. But, I was an illiterate pirate in the middle of a library- what in five hells could I do?

My head shot up when I thought I heard noise and my eyes flew to the library entrance. There, at the doorway was an out of breath Satel and he was staring straight at me with a look that said he couldn’t believe that I was here. It was soon followed by a look of genuine happiness, proving to me that he hadn’t noticed Didra yet. I cursed and quickly stood from my seat.

Satel was a distraction I could certainly do without

To the Next Chapter

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