18. Doubts and Uncertainty

Chapter 18

Doubts and Uncertainty

            “‘Tia, you’re here,” Satel called out in both joy and disbelief. “Does this mean you’ve changed your mind?”

My heart began pounding as I edged closer to Didra and stood behind her chair. It was clear that he wasn’t informed of what’s going on and I had no clue how to answer him. I most certainly wasn’t here for him, but that happy look on his face made me feel a little guilty. Ordinarily, I liked bursting people’s bubbles, so I should’ve been more than eager to reply and tell him off… but for some reason, I just couldn’t do that to him.

The platinum blonde didn’t think anything of my silence and tried to cross the room, but he soon stopped short when he heard a frustrated growl. The pink haired menace slammed her book shut and glared at the younger falucite venomously.

What are you doing here, Satel? You should be practicing for the ceremony,” she snapped in a tone that was much harsher than the one she’d used on me.

The man instantly flinched and backed up a few steps. Just as Cegil had said, he seemed frightened of her- but I couldn’t blame him much. Satel nervously toyed with the brim of his über hat before he replied. “I heard whispers of an emergency meeting and I was merely trying to ascertain the reason-”

“He’s the reason why you have to baby-sit me!” I suddenly shouted, seeking to infuriate Didra and have her chase him off. It was a low blow considering that he hadn’t done anything to me yet, but I couldn’t stop myself once the idea came up. I could tell she was bothered by the fact that she had to watch me and directing her frustrations elsewhere could be for my benefit.

It became deathly quiet once again and I could see Satel swallow as Didra’s hands clenched her closed book.

“Is that so?” she commented in a very frosty voice. “And why is it, little brother, that you see it fit to cause trouble and have me waste precious time with issues that should not concern me?”

…Okay, it wasn’t as if Satel deliberately tried to involve Didra in this, though I didn’t have the courage to speak up and defend him there. Still, it wasn’t that bad to watch over me, was it? I was trying to be on my best behavior and it wasn’t as if I was intentionally disturbing her reading or whatever. It was getting pretty obvious that Didra had bad blood with her mate’s younger brother and I had to wonder what Satel did to her in the past to invoke this undying ire.

“Don’t get upset with me, Didra-dear, this is Cegil’s doing. That woman behind you is my soon-to-be mate and Cegil thinks it fit to separate us for a few days,” Satel quickly replied, shifting blame to save his own skin. At this, the woman twisted in her seat to stare at me with stunned eyes.

“Her? This is your intended mate?”

Was that disgust I heard in her voice? Ah, well, I personally did think it was insane for creatures like them to willingly want a human for a mate, so I wasn’t that offended with her reaction. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that most falucite felt the same way as she did. Perhaps this is proof why I shouldn’t be with Satel…

“I know! Tell him he’s crazy and to find someone else!” I commented back to her, trying hard to sound like I completely agreed with her. Even as I said that, I still couldn’t help but feel a little saddened. But what’s the point in liking Satel if his family didn’t feel that I would be worthy enough? I didn’t want to be caught up in some kind of trial to prove myself to them.

Didra blinked, then raised an eyebrow at me. I couldn’t tell what that meant, but I did catch a glimpse of Satel shaking his head while smiling. …Did I say something wrong?

“…I’m impressed,” the evil shrew-woman muttered as she turned back to the blonde. “I had thought you would seek a girl that would cater to your every whim, but this one is a good match for you. Perhaps you are maturing after all.”

…Huh? She approved of me? Now I was confused- I thought she didn’t like me at all. Satel let out a short chuckle as he stared at me with a knowing look. …And the Wise Man said that human women were confusing…

“You act as though I would select the first woman I’d meet, but I’m glad you of all people support my decision,” he replied as he briefly turned his gaze back to her.

I hoped that there was something I had missed from the exchange- otherwise I would have to believe that I was only accepted because I was unwilling. I took a second to think on what Didra mentioned- she said she had expected Satel to find someone who would do anything for him. I guess with the way I acted, I proved her wrong. But how did that show that he was maturing? Wouldn’t the fact that I was so reluctant mean we would fight often?

“Hmph. I still believe you are too young for this, however, a spirited girl like her should mellow you out into a more responsible member of the clan. I suppose from now on, whatever you may do to irritate me I will bring to her attention,” the woman responded before giving me an evil smirk. In other words, she will torment me instead of Satel for every screw up he manages to commit. Oh Elit…

“Please don’t,” he requested jovially as I intensified my glare towards him. “She’s already angry with me for something trivial- no need to make things worse.”

“Then learn to think through your actions beforehand, little falcie,” Didra warned with what I could swear was an evil glint in her eye. He should also learn to think before he speaks, too- it didn’t improve my mood any to be hear him proclaim again that my concerns were ‘trivial’.

“So, ‘Tia, you never did answer me,” the blonde continued after clearing his throat to cover some embarrassment from whatever his sister-in-law mentioned. “Why are you here if you still insist to resist me?”

“Coming here wasn’t my idea!” I shouted in frustration as I shook my head. I was a little upset to find I had almost no support in this disagreement I had with Satel. It truly was Cegil and I against an entire clan- and if more people find out that Satel wanted me, what would happen to Cegil? Would he get in serious trouble in trying to defend me?

“Cegil brought her here. It seems he has business with the elders and that is why there is an emergency meeting happing at this time,” Didra answered in my place.

Satel crossed his arms and appeared confused for a second. “Business? What for? Out with it ‘Tia- what is he planning?”

“Like hell I’d tell you,” I muttered as I mimicked his pose. It was best not to let him know that Cegil was planning to get his powers back just to protect me from him. With Satel this close and Didra not against the idea of me becoming part of the family, anything could happen that would compromise my guardian’s strategy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the blonde bastard were to attempt to kidnap me right now if he knew.

“Now don’t be that way, sirsa. You shouldn’t keep secrets from your mate,” he replied in voice that was both cloyingly sweet and dark. I could tell he wanted to get closer to me, but he maintained a reasonable distance from Didra. Suddenly, the part of me that hated to be intimidated finally made its return, and I held my head high.

It wasn’t the evil falucite’s presence that made me bold- I was just getting tired of acting like some scared little girl. The way I saw it, Satel was threatening Cegil in his desire to learn the truth, so thus, I had to defend him. I wasn’t sure how long my bravado would last, but it felt good to be my stubborn self again.

“Ah ain’t yer mate and ah’ll ne’er tell ye anythin’- even if ye torture me.”

All that earned me was a wild grin and a darkened look to his cinnamon colored eyes. I’m sure I had really tempted him with that torture bit, though I was actually scared of what kind he might use. Didra simply sat there and observed the conversation with an inquisitive face after my announcement that I wasn’t Satel’s mate.

“Keep it up, woman- I just want you all the more,” he almost growled, not caring about the company present to hear him. And just like that, my inner resolve crumbled and I felt a blush come to my face. How was it he could disarm me with just a few words?

Of course, that didn’t mean I was going to tell him anything- I just couldn’t ignore his seductive ways.

“Lord Satel! There you are,” a sophisticated elderly voice called out, ending the tense standoff between the bastard and me. Everyone glanced to the entrance and found an old man in a fancy black suit meant for butlers. I wasn’t very surprised that a rich clan like theirs had a few servants, but I was stunned to find that he was human- or rather, I didn’t see any indication that he was anything other than one. “You suddenly disappeared right in the middle of the practice performance. Everyone is waiting to continue.”

I recalled the excuse Satel had given when he first appeared- that he had heard about the secret meeting and wanted to know more about it. I was beginning to think that wasn’t the whole story. Somehow he either knew the meeting involved Cegil or sensed that I was here and immediately sought me out. But it slowly dawned on me that he had dropped what he was doing just to see me again. I didn’t know why, but I was touched that he would do that for me.

“Typical.” Didra sneered at Satel and shook her head in disappointment. “Irresponsible little-!”

“Oh don’t flatter me,” the blonde interrupted before he turned back to the servant. “Send everyone my apologies and inform them I will return in a moment’s time. I had sudden business to attend to and I am almost finished.”

“Very good, sir,” the butler replied with a bow before he left.

Red-brown eyes locked with mine again and I recoiled from behind Didra’s chair. Satel raised his arms and gave a gentle smile. “I must go now, but before I do, may I at least have a hug from you?”

“A hug?” I echoed incredulously before my mind went back to what happened a few days ago. Did his request have anything to do with that time I tried to trap him while on my menstrual bleeding?

“Just do it so he will go away,” Didra muttered in resignation. “I do not know what is going on between the two of you, but I am honor-bound to keep you in this room until Cegil returns. Satel cannot run off with you, if that’s what you’re worried about. He knows what I will do to him if he so much as attempts it.”

Satel struggled to keep that grin on his face after the threat and I knew then that she wasn’t bluffing. I glanced back at him and pondered if I should really do it. I could just say no, but then he might insist- and it probably won’t take much before Didra would decide to intervene.

Still, I couldn’t really back down, now could I? I still had some pride left in me that refused to do so. But I could at least try to make him back down…

“…If you want a hug, then come here,” I replied as I stepped around the chair and remained close to Didra’s side. I was challenging him to face his fear in order to get what he wanted. I was a little curious to see if he would do that for me, but I wasn’t sure what I’d do about it if he did. It wasn’t as if I’d fall in love with him for that act alone.

The female falucite huffed at my proposal before she opened her book and began reading again. I suppose she was trying to stay out of it and appear harmless, but it wasn’t enough to reassure Satel. He blanched a little before he rubbed the back of his neck and suggested, “Let’s make a compromise and meet half-way.”

In the end I wanted him to attempt to get closer to Didra while he wanted me away from her. In calling for the compromise, we would both have to move and accept the fact that I would still be close enough to Didra for discomfort on his part and far enough to cause some worry to me. As much as the pink haired lady put me on guard, I was reluctant to wander even a foot away from her.

I reluctantly nodded in agreement, only because I knew we would get nowhere if I refused. We both took careful steps towards each other, but we were not slow about it. I wanted to get it over with- and he seemed almost too eager to touch me again. The damn cheat ended up reaching out to me at the last second and pulled me against him before we could reach our deemed ‘half-way point’. I was more on his side, but there was no point in getting upset about it.

His arms were wrapped tightly around my form, but he made sure that he didn’t suffocate me in the process. In a late reaction, I slowly placed my hands behind his back to return the hug since I couldn’t move my arms much. Oddly enough, I still felt cozy like this- it was like I fit well against him no matter how we held each other.

I wasn’t sure what prompted me, but I ended up resting my forehead against the crook of his neck and relaxed a little. I knew I shouldn’t have lowered my guard at all, but I was willing to trust that Didra would keep her promise to Cegil. Plus, I had no reason to believe Satel’s reaction to her was just an act. He truly was cautious of her and most likely wouldn’t dream of crossing her again.

I couldn’t see his face from where I was, but I could feel him bend his neck before his warm breath was at my ear.

“Why can’t you see that you belong here in my arms?” he inquired in a whisper. I pursed my lips against the material of his dark grey vest before I turned my head away from him and rested my cheek against his shoulder. It was only then when I really noticed that he wasn’t wearing his usual frock coat. I had been so worried when I saw him, that there wasn’t much else I’d paid attention to.

I could admit that this felt nice- in fact, I liked how I could rest my head on his shoulder, unlike with Cegil. But I failed to see how this meant that I ‘belonged’ there. Of course, this could’ve been romantic nonsense that I didn’t understand. …Kind of like those sweet mutterings he whispered into my ear when he… ah, ‘touched me’, back in Si’anduxki.

A shiver of delight crawled up my spine when one of his hands began to move. His fingers traced a lazy path up my side that instantly caused a warming effect on me. I knew then that I was treading on dangerous ground and that I had to retreat as soon as possible. Despite my uncertain feelings for him, I clearly liked his touch a little too much and I didn’t want it to cloud my judgment.

I wedged my hands between our bodies and began to push away as a signal to end it, but one of his hands found my jaw and his lips nearly collided with mine. He wasn’t gentle this time- instead of his usual easing into it, he attacked me so passionately that I almost melted in his embrace. I wasn’t sure if this was his way of showing how much he loved me or another attempt to ‘prove’ to me that we should be together.

All I was concerned about was the fact that he was kissing me in front of his sister-in-law. I was still new to the whole concept of lovers, but I had to draw the line at public displays of affection. It made me uncomfortable to see other couples do it and it made me downright nervous to wonder what Didra could be thinking at this moment.

I was a little calmed at hearing the sound of a page being turned- she must’ve still been reading, but surely the silence would eventually make her look up. I was afraid to struggle or make any sound, lest it might catch her attention. I wanted to get out of this with my dignity intact.

“SATEL!” We both jumped at the angry tone. “Don’t you dare cloak yourself from me!”

I probably turned a bright crimson as a sheepish look came to his face. I quickly picked up that he had used his illusion magicks to hide himself from Didra and had made her mad. So, she probably wasn’t aware of what we just had been doing, but it was probably suspicious enough to easily figure out.

“Very well,” he eventually said after a satisfied sigh. He then bowed to us in a gentlemanly way and headed for the entrance. He stopped to stare at me one more time before he raised his hand in a second farewell gesture. “I suppose I will see you tomorrow night, when I come to claim you.”

Not if I have anything to say about it, I thought darkly to myself before I noticed something odd about his wrist. On the cuff of his light grey dress shirt were two bands- one was my burgundy hair tie that he had taken last night…and the other was the sky blue band I had used this morning. I numbly reached behind me and found that my hair was unraveling from the braid due to nothing tying it off. That bastard had just stolen another hair band! Damn it, I only have one more left…

He disappeared from my sight before I could yell at him and demand for the return of my property.

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

I must’ve sat there for an hour with my head resting on the table before Cegil finally returned- this time Garroe accompanied him. Didra’s cold green eyes suddenly softened at the sight of her mate and she eagerly stood to greet him. It was a total change from evil shrew she was before.

I glanced away as Garroe took her hand and gave her a brief kiss. It seems falucite are affectionate creatures, and they don’t care who might see it. At least those two were being brief with theirs.

“We do not have much time,” he told her before turning to me. “Come here, human, we need to return to Cahoa immediately.”

I assumed that I would be filled in on the result of the meeting later, once we were out of the homestead. The reason for the rush was because the few Daedeleth guests that were here could only be distracted for so long- and more of their relatives were expected to arrive soon.

“Very well, but I have a few words for Cegil before you go,” Didra replied before she gazed up at the taller man. “I know not what you are thinking- nor do I care, but it would be in your best interests not to cater to the whims of a contrary and indecisive girl. You will only run yourself ragged in trying to defy a natural calling such as this.”

I wasn’t quite sure what that meant- I could tell she was talking about me and that she figured out that Cegil was interfering. But why did she believe that I was ‘contrary and indecisive’? Well, okay, I understood the indecisive part, since I didn’t know what to choose- but that’s why I needed the time to make one!

I was also disturbed by how she referred to the issue I had with Satel as a ‘nature’s calling’. I knew demons could barely contain themselves when mating season came around, but I thought falucite had more restraint than that.

“I appreciate that you are not aiming to stop me. I will heed your council, but I do not mind ‘playing by her whims’ as you so call it,” Cegil told her smoothly before he gestured to her barely rounded belly. “When your falcie reaches the age of maturity, you may find that you are unable to suppress concerns about mating.”

“I doubt that- I trust in the instincts given to us by the Maker, and so I will trust whatever decision my unborn will someday make. However, humans lack that awareness we possess, so it is understandable why she is in a state of confusion. Still, it will be less stressful for you to simply stand aside and let it happen.”

Just let it happen? So, I really had no choice in the end? What was the point in all this, then? But, why would Cegil even try if there was truly no way out of it? There must’ve been something he knew about. …Or maybe I was just clinging to a false hope.

“I promised to lend my sword whenever she needs my help. The trials ahead do not concern me- and since I am still not a member of the clan, I have time to devote to my adopted charge,” Cegil replied with confidence. Didra could only sigh and shrug before muttering that she had warned him.

Garroe seemed to be lost in the conversation, but decided not to ask for an explanation. Instead, he ushered my guardian and I close to him and teleported us back to our room at the inn. I felt like I could breathe a sigh of relief upon seeing the surroundings I had grown familiar with in the past few days.

I almost wanted to fall back into my bed and sleep for a while, but something told me that we were moving out soon. This was proven when Garroe headed for the door and informed us, “Gather your things and meet me at the balcony over the sea when you are ready.”

He didn’t wait for a reply and was out the door before I knew it.

“So…what’s going on?” I finally asked once we were alone.

“As usual, I must prove myself in order to receive my powers. They have arranged what they deem a ‘simple task’ for me to perform, and when that is accomplished, I must head for the prearranged rendezvous point where an elder will give me back my powers,” my guardian explained while heading over to his side of the room to pack his things.

“Unfortunately,” he continued before I could say anything, “this task will take place tomorrow- and we might not finish before Satel comes for you. You will likely have to stay close to my side when that time comes.”

Right- that was because Satel can’t teleport with Cegil’s ability to stop him. I was a little disappointed that the elders had to send him on a task at all. Since they were in the wrong in the first place, shouldn’t they just give them back as an apology?

“What’s the point in all this? Why send you on some errand like you’re their servant?” This was beginning to feel like it’s more trouble than it was worth and it was then when Didra’s last words to Cegil started sinking in. I was the cause of all this trouble…

“In truth, they are taking advantage of me, but in a good way. There is a village that has received a prophecy that it will be attacked by lesser demons and no one else from the clan will be able to defend them due to the ceremony taking place at the same time. Furthermore, the ritual to receive my powers might take a little time, and it would be best if done away from the eyes and ears of the Daedeleth clan,” Cegil replied with no trace of bitterness to his tone- then again, for all I knew, he could’ve gone back to his stoic habits in response to this mess.

Again with the prophecies… If the clan was trying to break away from the Fates, then why were they getting involved? Of course, perhaps they were actually trying to undermine the readings rather than let them happen. They were already doing so with the ceremony and I suppose saving a village was better than allowing them to fall.

Some part of me wanted to know more about this so-called prophecy and why the villagers couldn’t defend themselves, but I was more concerned about Cegil. Would he really be exhausting himself in protecting me? If I really was going to end up with Satel no matter what, then wasn’t I simply wasting his time?

“Dantia, what is the matter? You need to gather your things so we can leave,” the giant man prodded me when he noticed that I was just sitting at the end of my bed.

“From what Didra had said, I’m just going to end up with Satel no matter what I do, right? So all I’m doing is being a burden to you. Maybe I should just …surrender and get it over with,” I muttered while glancing down at the floor. I still didn’t understand much from a falucite’s point of view, but it sounded like I would eventually learn to love him… perhaps, if we were lucky, even stay in love.

I didn’t really think about it until now, but I will change a little after mating. I would still be a powerless human, but I would age slowly- and there are probably other benefits that would come with it. Maybe one of them was eliminating the disgusting habits of infidelity that we were all prone to.

“If that is what you want, you are free to do so, however…” Cegil trailed off. Before I knew it, he was standing before me. He then placed his massive hand on my head, like he used to do when I was younger- it always comforted me for some reason. “No matter what anyone informs you, you have the right to decide when you are ready. Perhaps someday you may come to realize your love for my brother, but you do not have to force yourself now. There is no shame in waiting for the day when you feel truly ready. In doing so, you can devote yourself to him without regrets.”

So it wasn’t about the inevitable- it was a question of when I was ready to settle down. With Satel being so determined to have me for his mate right then, it was hard for me to just accept that and be happy. In the end, it would be better for me to come to him of my own free will, rather than be spirited away to his bed and tossed right into the act.

“…But what about you, Cegil? Do you really want to devote your time to helping me keep that freedom?” I inquired, making sure that he was okay with it. I mean, I was asking for a lot- and I was certain Satel wasn’t going to be happy when he finds out what we were planning. He could end up fighting his brother over me and I wasn’t sure if I could live with that kind of guilt.

“It is not as if I have pressing matters elsewhere- and you know I only wish for your happiness. Furthermore, having Satel chase after us will allow me to stay in contact with my siblings,” he answered with a wry grin. It took me a moment to realize that he found the idea of tormenting Satel amusing and I was suddenly reminded of how some human brothers would act towards one another.

But, Cegil didn’t have to say it- while he had no interest in the elders, he didn’t want to cut all ties with his clan. He still loved his brothers and sisters, and Satel’s future badgering us will allow him to maintain a rather odd relationship with them. If he really didn’t mind the idea of protecting me and going against his brother’s wishes, then I didn’t feel as bad for involving him.

Though…when the day I am ready comes (even though I still couldn’t see such a day), what would he do after that? Would he return to the clan? Or would he continue to wander the continent alone? I wanted to ask, but I decided that it was something best left for when we got to that point. First we had to focus on the mission at hand and then I needed to do some serious thinking about Satel.

“Well… alright. I don’t really want to give up yet- and I know I’m nowhere near ready to stick with Satel for the rest of my life,” I replied as I gave him a half-hearted smile.

“Very well- I am glad that you have sorted that out. Now, we should prepare to leave. This mission actually does have me concerned and I would like to see first hand as to what exactly is going on,” he admitted, proving that the task wasn’t a complete burden on him.

“Okay,” I said as I finally stood up and headed over to my travel bag.

Now that I wasn’t as bothered by Didra’s parting words and less guilt-ridden over Cegil, I was starting to feel curious about the mission as well. It actually wasn’t often the Fates would reveal a prophecy of doom- or rather the Oracles rarely ever reveal such readings to people. If the Fates felt the need to kill off several humans, it was best not to warn them so that they wouldn’t try to change their destiny. After all, not everyone was as devoted as the likes of the Daedeleth clan.

Of course, as I thought about it, Maetira probably foresaw it and, since she’s not an average Oracle, she revealed it to her elders. Maybe the village we were going to have no idea what was about to happen and it was up to us to save them without revealing the truth. …But was this an average human village? Or was it one of those places where the humans were like pets to the falucite? I suppose it had to have been the latter- otherwise why bother to save it?

I made sure that I had everything I owned back in my traveling bag before I stopped to brush my hair and re-braid it. Once we were ready to go, I approached Cegil by the door and nodded to him.

“So, where are we going anyway? And what is this prophecy exactly about?” I asked as we headed out the inn.

Cegil hesitated at first and I knew then it wasn’t going to be good news. “I am sure you will not appreciate this, but we are… to save Port Sibest.”

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

I was not happy. Around seven years ago, I had sworn that I would never set foot in that Elit-forsaken village ever again. Why should I help save a village full of cold-blooded snakes? All they had ever done for me was call me names, make me live on the streets, and treat me like some monster. They barely deserved to live.

When we met with Garroe, he teleported us to a familiar place. I quickly realized that we were in another town that was North of Sibest. The coastal regions where I had met Cegil were on the southern tip, and Port Sibest was located on the eastern portion of it. This place was called Esbee, and it didn’t seem to have changed one bit.

Even here, some people had treated me poorly, but only because I appeared to be some delinquent beggar coming to cause trouble. Very few knew of the monster stories the people of Port Sibest made up. I only visited Esbee once in a while to escape the incessant glares and having fish bones thrown at me, but I knew I couldn’t stay.

Since this place wasn’t that far from Sibest, most of the villagers came here to shop and trade. If they had known that I moved here, they would’ve spread their rumors in an attempt to chase me out of another town. I didn’t want them to think that was possible, and I wanted to keep my place of rest, so I kept coming back to the port town when I was ready.

Like with most coastal towns, the homes were made of wood and the buildings in town were made of seashell and stone mix that was designed to withstand the high winds and torrential rain. The roofs were simple flat wood types with shingles and stones to protect them.

The streets were simply packed dirt, but some well-traveled ones that led out of town were made of gravel. Other than the inn, no merchant or business had their own building- they were all set up within wooden stands against sturdy buildings or in traveling carts.

…Speaking of carts, I wondered what was going to happen to the one Cegil’s family was making us? If my guardian can get his powers back and Satel doesn’t kidnap me, then I suppose we wouldn’t have a use for it- we could just teleport instead. What a waste…

Garroe glanced around as if he was making sure it was safe around us before he turned back to us with a nod. “This town shall be the rendezvous point. When you have finished your task and ensured the safety of as many townspeople as you can, one of the elders shall be waiting for you by the inn. Be safe, my brother- and good luck.”

So not only did we have to defend them, but we also had to make sure they would be safe? This mission was killing me… But at least they weren’t giving an impossible goal of saving every single life. ‘As many as we can’ was a reasonable goal, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a few particular villagers being swept away by the sea. Maybe they can wash up on a foreign shore and be treated like monsters- then they’ll know how I felt.

“I thank you for bringing us this far. When you return home, please do not inform Satel of his matter, if possible. I do not wish to distract him from his ceremony,” Cegil requested as I glanced around the town. Nice lie- but it was a vital one. We needed as much time as we can get and the less urged Satel was, the better.

We were currently in the outskirts of Esbee, where there weren’t as many people out or paying attention. I suppose it would’ve been strange for us to suddenly appear in the middle of town, so I could see the reasoning. Not many out here viewed falucite in a favorable light- only Cegil was accepted because he was known to aid others rather than torment.

Garroe rubbed the back of his neck in a gesture that told me that he was uncertain. “Well… I will try, but once the ceremony is over, I am certain your possible return will be all we will discuss. You do realize that we miss you, and we want nothing more than for you to return home.”

“I am aware- and I do apologize that I cannot assure that I will come back, but I will always keep you and the others in my thoughts,” Cegil replied formally, though I knew he really meant every word. His elder brother accepted it with a nod.

“And you in ours,” he said before he teleported away.

I glanced up at the sky while Cegil composed himself and noted that there were low, darkened clouds in the direction of the port town. Fitting, considering that I viewed the place as a gloomy haven for rats. I didn’t want to go there, but I had no choice- I wanted to help Cegil since he was going out of his way to protect me. Plus, I needed to stay by him in case we couldn’t finish before Satel decided to end his waiting.

I wondered how long it would be before he would find out everything? I was sure he wasn’t going to be happy- he might even panic. Hopefully the blonde bastard wouldn’t change his mind and come after me earlier than he said he would. Satel had plenty of time from now to the middle of tomorrow to attack and kidnap me before his ceremony. I heard it was to take place on the thirteenth hour and it could last up to three hours depending on how long it would take to get rid of the guests.

“Come, we must get to Port Sibest before nightfall,” Cegil ordered in a quiet tone.

It was getting rather late in the day and while we could easily reach the next town before sunset, I was kind of hoping that we wouldn’t. “Couldn’t we go tomorrow?”

“I understand your reluctance, but they need to know we are here and that we intend to help them,” he answered, showing some sympathy in his eyes.

“…That’s if they’ll even take our help. They might refuse you on my account,” I grumbled, knowing first hand how powerful their prejudice was.

“Even so, they cannot turn us away. We will fight regardless of their feelings- but they are entitled to at least know that much.”

Entitled? Hah! People like them shouldn’t be entitled to anything but a good ass kicking. Still, I couldn’t argue with Cegil and forced myself to follow after him as he went down that same gravel path that I used to walk every week. Damn it! Why did it have to be Port Sibest of all places? I was almost petty enough to simply call it off and submit myself to Satel, just to see them suffer!

But, I knew Cegil would still help them, even if he didn’t have to- that’s the kind of man he is. Come to think of it, he once told me that most of the coastal regions used to be his territory, so I guess it would make sense that he would still feel the need to protect them.

As we walked, I pondered the meaning of the prophecy and why it was important that someone stepped in to save the jerks. From what I was informed, about thirty years ago, the people of Port Sibest were told that someday they would be attacked by a swarm of lesser sea monsters and that a girl named after a goddess would save them. She would do so by sacrificing herself to the sea, or whatever drivel the Oracle made up.

The irony didn’t escape me- before they found out I was from a pirate ship, they wanted to name me after the sea goddess, Anatil. I wondered if they were hoping that I would be the heroine foretold in the reading? But if the maid ends up sacrificing herself, then why did they change their minds later and name me after a monster? I would think that they would be delighted that I could lose my life on their behalf. Or maybe it was an honor thing where they had to appreciate the one who saved them. No need to give honor to a pirate…

I knew I had nothing to worry about- only I knew my own name and there was no way in five hells I was ever going to forfeit my life for the likes of them.

All Cegil’s clan needed to hear was the word ‘sacrifice’ and they were ready to stop the prophecy at all costs. After losing so many innocents in the name of sacrifice, they sought for other ways to save the village and spare the maiden. But the Fates and the Oracles never did specify who it was or which goddess the little sucker was named after. In fact, they didn’t really say which kind of goddess either- a Shalowira or a Jadari could suddenly show up to Port Sibest and not be aware of what’s to come.

Still, due to the vagueness of the reading, the Xanaturis began kidnapping, in secret, any girl on Orja’s continent that bore a goddess’ name. Now all they needed was someone to fight off the monsters on the specified day. I was concerned if fighting them off would truly be enough, but I’m sure that the forces that were arranging this stupid attack weren’t expecting this change.

The closer we got to Port Sibest, the darker the skies became. I noted that the clouds didn’t appear to be moving, nor where they producing any rain or lightning. Was this the work of Elati? Could she be behind tomorrow’s prophecy? Nah… couldn’t be- this wasn’t her style.

Though I couldn’t imagine Anatil or the other sea goddesses sending creatures to attack a town. This was more likely the work of a greater demon. I wouldn’t be surprised if the maiden’s sacrifice would end with her being eaten by said greater. Still, the presence of those clouds meant something- and I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable with that. Of course, this unease could’ve come from the fact that I was returning to a town that had treated me so poorly, then cast me aside.

What would those disgusting humans think of me now? I was probably still Evora to them, but I was still in a much better position than what they had wanted. I could almost speculate that I was better off than they were, but I couldn’t say that every day of my life was a lucky one. Well, that- and I doubt having a criminal record and an overall hatred of humanity was a good thing.

It took almost half an hour before we began to reach the sickly-green-colored dune grass of the coast. The ground by the roadside gradually became softer and sandier as we approached the end of the road. Most of Port Sibest was perched on a rocky incline over the beach and it only had three major docks for ships. Each one was thirty feet long and spaced far enough apart so that two sea vessels could dock almost side by side.

The rest of the community was either further inland or situated on the beach below. Despite the grand name, it was still a small fishing town with modest stone and wood housing. They brought in enough seafood everyday to feed the people and had some extra to trade off in neighboring villages like Esbee.

It wasn’t a popular or scenic enough place to attract any tourists, but some people from surrounding areas might visit for the chance to claim a popular or rare catch before they hit the market. Other times they might see visitors who simply loved to fish as a hobby.

Port Sibest was by no means a impoverish place- when I was last here, there were at least two wealthy families and one Duke that lived in giant white stone mansions on nearby cliff sides, high above the water’s surface. The common folk lived in well-maintained homes that were of decent sizes and could hold families up to ten members.

There were a few rundown shacks on the beach, but they weren’t meant for living in. The beach was prone to flooding and it was common for them to be hit with one of Elati’s strong hurricanes. The buildings were supposed to be used for fishing gear or preparing seafood, but I heard some would spend their days in one just to escape the family for a while.

As I laid my eyes on the unchanged town, I realized that I had missed it some. I had nothing against Port Sibest herself- I just hated the people therein. The path split three ways at the city square- two led down either side of the short cliff to the beach below while the middle took travelers straight to the long piers. Even from where we stood, I could hear the ocean waves crashing into the sand in the distance.

It really had been a long time, but I didn’t expect myself to feel nostalgic. Even with all the hardships, hearing the sea always cheered me up. Perhaps that was why I couldn’t find the reason to run away from this hellhole of a town until I met Cegil. I didn’t want to stray far from the ocean before- and I had no clue how far away the next port town was back then.

“Will you be okay, Dantia?” Cegil inquired beside me as we stopped at the post that announced the limits of the town.

I didn’t answer immediately. I took a deep breath and let the salt air greet me. We only had to stay for one night and most of the day, right? I think I could handle that. I’d suffered these people for five years, surely I could ignore them for another day. And besides, Cegil was here to support me if they decided to be cruel.

“I think I will…” I finally replied before adding, “I’m stronger now than I was back then.”

…And if I was still vulnerable to the emotional pain, I was also strong enough to physically hurt them if I wanted to. But I’m sure Cegil wouldn’t appreciate that, so I’ll have to try hard not to succumb to the urge. Very hard.

We headed into town to find whoever was in charge and inform them that we were there to help them. I still wasn’t positive that they’d appreciate it, but we were here and we had to do it.

But little did I know that the next day was going to bring an unexpected reminder of my past, and of the beloved Wise Man I had lost. Satel wasn’t going to be my only concern…

To the Next Chapter

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