23. Redemption

Chapter 23

Redemption

            I drifted between reality and sleep for a while, not really falling into a deep enough rest. I didn’t know how long I stayed in that chair, but I was eventually stirred when it felt like I was moving. At first I could’ve sworn I felt arms around me, but then it felt as if I were floating…

My body wasn’t completely responsive, and I wasn’t sure if it was real, but I didn’t react when it felt like my clothes were being removed and replaced with something soft and cool. After that, my back came into contact with a comfortable surface and my head landed on an equally supple support. I finally gained enough control of my body to open my eyes after said surface shook a little and my body was then covered with a heavy, but warm blanket.

The first thought that came to mind was the fact that I wasn’t in the library anymore. I was in a dark room, and, as more of my awareness came back to me, I was in a bed. I put the limited clues together and figured out that I was somehow back in the bedchamber I was supposed to share with Satel. Well, I assumed so anyway, since I kind of doubted anyone else would tuck me into their bed- except for Cegil, but he wasn’t here, as far as I knew.

I slowly sat up and absentmindedly rubbed at my arm. I was then stunned to realize that I wasn’t wearing the maid’s outfit anymore. The material felt like silk, and it only covered the top half of my body. It gradually dawned on me that I was in Satel’s nightshirt from this morning- I definitely had to be back in his chambers.

It was still too dark to really see anything, but I could hear breathing nearby. I glanced to my right and found a shadowy mass laying on the opposite side of the bed. The curtains were still open, allowing enough moonlight to enter and let my eyes adjust.

…Even after all that, Satel still came back for me so I could sleep in his bed. Did that mean he had already forgiven me? Or was it a show that he wasn’t that heartless? He could hold a grudge and still be civil towards me. Now that he was near, I wasn’t so sleepy anymore and was determined to at least apologize for punching him. It probably wouldn’t make anything better, but it still needed to be said.

“Satel?” I called out, my voice sounding small and unsure. The dark lump in the bed didn’t acknowledge me- it was almost like a repeat of this morning, except he was being silent to me this time.

He couldn’t possibly be asleep already- I awakened almost immediately after he climbed in… I think. I decided that he was just being immature and copying my actions before I continued with my apology. All because he was being stubborn didn’t mean he wasn’t listening.

“I’m…I’m sorry for hitting you earlier. I was just upset and confused…and I didn’t know how to handle myself.”

…Still no answer- was it not enough?

“But I know I went too far with some of the things I’ve said and done to you. I hope we can still talk it over and get over this. …I’m willing to give you a chance now,” I added to prove that my earlier statement wasn’t some empty words.

He still had nothing to say. Maybe I’ve offended him now? I suppose ‘giving him a chance’ was a little arrogant of me to say. After how I treated him, I shouldn’t need to ‘give’ him anything. We were kind of even and simply needed to start over.

“I want to try again and I promise to be more agreeable. I want to understand why you chose me for a mate and see if I can live the way you want me to,” I said as I drew my knees to my chest and wrapped an arm around them.

I wrinkled my nose a little when he continued to ignore me. What the hell? Was he that angry with me? Jeez! …But soon I began to doubt that he was awake. Maybe I didn’t get up as quickly as I’d thought.

I let out a frustrated sigh before I began to glare at him. “I’m going to be so pissed if I find you’ve been asleep this entire time”

It was hard enough to get what I had said out the first time- how in five hells was I going to do it again?

Suddenly, Satel let out a sigh of his own and muttered in relief, “Thank the Maker, you’re still you- for a moment I thought our fight had broken you.”

What?” I grated out sharply. That’s why he didn’t say anything before now? I reached behind me to hit him with one of the pillows to vent my frustration. Why did he have to make me feel like an idiot by saying all that stuff? I thought he was extremely mad at me!

The blonde bastard began to laugh under the cushiony pillow, finding my reaction and humiliation hilarious. In hindsight, my first response shouldn’t have been to hit him, even with a soft object. I was supposed to be reigning in my anger and controlling myself, but old habits died hard. At least I didn’t hurt him this time…

I let out a growl before I fell back into the cushions and rolled over, facing away from him. That jerk- I was trying to make amends and he had to…ugh!

I could hear him let out another chuckle before he moved so he could wrap an arm around me and pull by body closer to his.

“I didn’t mean to upset you my sirsa- it’s just that I never thought you would apologize for anything. It doesn’t seem like something you would do,” he explained near my ear before he nuzzled into my hair.

…Okay, he had a good point. I seldom have ever said sorry for punching someone and actually meant it. I always felt justified in my actions, but this time was not the case- hurting him brought me no joy and it didn’t solve my problems.

“…And here I was thinking you were furious with me- I heard you slaughtered a village after you left here,” I muttered before I winced. Perhaps that wasn’t the best way to say it. It could be taken as an accusation- and I was exaggerating a little.

“I didn’t kill anyone. I merely destroyed a few homes,” he replied almost defensively, “And it wasn’t you I was mad at- I was angry at myself for making you miserable. I recognize my actions caused you undue stress and there was nothing I could do to make you feel better. I felt utterly powerless.”

It was obvious from this morning that he didn’t know what to say to me, but I didn’t think it would bother him so much. I was under the assumption that he only cared about himself and believed that I would just ‘get over it’ on my own. I’d apparently misjudged him and caused him some worry as well.

“…I was so eager to share my life with you that I feared what would happen if I acted too late. I knew I couldn’t hesitate- otherwise I could potentially lose you forever to age, death, other lovers, or…other things,” he continued, not going into any detail of what he meant by the ‘other things’. “It was never my intention to take away your freedom to choose- it was just that we connected so well that I didn’t see any point in prolonging the wait. I could tell you felt the same way I do-”

“But I didn’t like the pace we were going- it was too fast,” I interrupted him. I got the gist of what he was telling me and I understood it, but now I wanted him to understand where I was coming from. “Sure, I probably wouldn’t refuse you in the end, but I just wanted time to get used to it and everything. I wasn’t asking for much.”

“I suppose not,” he agreed before adding, “but I still don’t understand why you can’t use the time now to ‘get used to it’. …No, I understand now, after I think about it- you barely know anything of my culture, just as I know very little about yours.”

…Actually, he was right- the biggest issue was due to our vast differences. Falucite didn’t need much to fall in love and stay with their mates faithfully for the rest of their lives. I still wasn’t sure what made Satel see me as a worthy match, but apparently their judgment was rarely off. However, that nearly flawless system was a naïve fantasy to humans- it was rare for first loves to be the true love and my kind tended to think with their hearts or private areas over rational thinking.

I remembered what Didra had said about instincts- Satel was driven by his, but mine were too weak to guide me. Even though I didn’t completely get it, I was able to partially see through his situation and understand why it was strange for someone to be reluctant to mate. I hated to admit it, but from his view, my worries were silly- though it still didn’t excuse how he chose to mate with me.

“It’s not just the pace, you know. I can barely fathom how you fell in love with me in less than a month. I’m still trying to accept the fact that I like and am attracted to you. …What if I don’t fall in love with you?” I inquired, bringing up another of my worries.

Satel actually hesitated before replying- the idea must’ve never crossed his mind. “…I already swore that I would devote the rest of my life to make you happy, so I will also work hard to earn your love. It’s not as if you have other suitors in mind, after all. Cegil told me how you had no interest in finding a human mate.”

I felt a blush coming- ugh! Why was Cegil telling him all that? I hoped he wasn’t divulging embarrassing moments as well! But still… it was true- I didn’t want to end up with a human and I never garnered anything more than a brief attraction to any man. I thought I would change as I aged, but I still felt the same way. Satel was the first man I was interested in- and he was likely my last.

Of course, I noticed that he didn’t address what would happen if I just didn’t feel anything. Perhaps even he didn’t know what to do in that event. It was just going to have to be something we’ll deal with if it ever comes to that.

“It’s getting late,” he told me as he rested his chin against the back of my shoulder, “let’s continue the discussion in the morning.”

But there was more I wanted to ask- I was tempted to insist that I was still wide awake, but a yawn escaped me and my body felt weary. Damn it, why couldn’t I stay up late?

“Fine,” I begrudgingly agreed after a sigh. My sleeping habits were getting annoying…

Satel let out one more chuckle before he made one last statement, “I felt that last night was necessary and now that we do have the luxury of time, I’ll wait until you want to mate again. I’ll try hard to restrain myself until that time comes.”

I almost thought I heard sarcasm in there, but he was really being serious. It didn’t really take away the fact that he did force me, but it also proved that he wasn’t trying to dictate my life. I had the choice of when to continue our intimacy- and that did mean a lot to me.

“Good night, ‘Tia. I love you,” he finished before settling his head down on the same pillow I was using.

I couldn’t respond to that- not yet, anyway. All I could admit was that I didn’t hate him, and that wasn’t exactly a nice thing to say.

…But, I did turn in his arms so that I was facing him and then wrapped my arms around him in a loose hug. I was just testing to see if I would be uncomfortable with that kind of contact and I found that I didn’t mind it. I kind of liked the feel of his body beside mine- we seemed to fit comfortably against one another. I fell asleep with the bridge of my nose pressed against his chest while his chin rested on the top of my head.

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

The next morning was much like the last. My eyes opened to see the ceiling above me and I found that Satel was lying partially on top of me with his face snuggled into my neck. How did we end up in this position again? The only difference was that this time we were clothed. The nightshirt I was wearing was still covering most of my body, while Satel…

It was then I realized that he’d slept in his clothes- well, he did take off his über hat and outer formalwear. He must’ve come back home fairly late and didn’t bother to dress for bed after retrieving me. He only managed to unbutton his shirt, exposing some of his chest to me. His hair was loose from the usual braid and I soon found myself playing with a few platinum blonde strands.

I couldn’t fathom how hair so thick could also feel as fine as thin hair. My fingers soon drifted down to the exposed areas of his chest to gently rub the skin there. I already knew how his body felt, but I couldn’t resist experiencing more of it. If doing so felt good to me, then why shouldn’t I take advantage of the moment? He is, after all, my …mate.

“Do I deserve this attention?” Satel asked in amusement, his lips moving against my neck.

I was so distracted that I didn’t notice he was awake- or perhaps my actions had awakened him. But he’d asked a good question. Wasn’t I mad at him? Why give him this special treatment?

“I don’t know,” I replied as I went back to threading my fingers through his hair. “I guess it depends on how you answer my questions.”

“Ah, yes. I promised to set your worries at ease, didn’t I? Ask away- I won’t hide anything from you,” he told me in a sweet tone before he shifted to hover over me a little. There was a small grin on his lips and his eyes were joyful. He seemed to be more than happy to talk to me if it meant that we could patch up our grievances and move on.

I waited until he was sitting up and then moved to do the same. I looked him straight in the eye and thought up what I wanted to know first. “For starters, I want to know why you think you’re in love with me and what do you expect me to do as your mate.”

Okay- those weren’t ‘questions’, but I did need the answers he’d promised to give.

“I don’t ‘think’ I love you- I know it. You’re everything I want and need. You’re brave, witty, and you have a will that I can’t bend- even if I wanted to. You challenge me and understand me in ways that others don’t.”

I was somehow getting warm with his declaration- was this really how he felt about me? I didn’t hear a single mention of my looks or how I would benefit from being with him. He simply focused on how he needed me and how I could help him. He made me feel…important.

And he was right- he may be able to manipulate me, but he never could force me to love or devote my life to him. He had to work for it, and the fact that he wanted to was proof of how serious he was.

“I don’t expect anything from you. All I want is to live my life with you and help you find your purpose. I’m not going to force you into a role. I want you to stay the same defiant spitfire that I love so much,” he finished, rendering me speechless.

So there it was- I couldn’t argue with his thinking, only his methods. I wasn’t quite sure what to do about his feelings, though- or mine for that matter. I just knew that I didn’t want to hurt him anymore. I suppose all I could do now was wait and see if he really can convince me to love him back.

“Is that all?” he prodded, waiting for more.

“I don’t know…” I mumbled as I stared down at the quilt and blankets. I suppose deep down I didn’t have any doubts that he really liked me, but I didn’t think his feelings were that deep. He really was sure of himself and of the future he envisioned. I know he said he didn’t want me to play a role, but what could I do if I had no clue what the future held? “I don’t know what to do or how to be a mate.”

“It’s a learning experience for me as well, but it’s something we can figure out together. But if you want to know what we can do for today- I guess we can start by going to the seamstress and requesting clothing more suitable to your tastes,” he suggested as he placed his hand over mine. It took me a moment to remember the harsh words about how I hated the clothes he picked out for me.

I shook my head. “No, it’s fine. I’m sorry for tossing out the walking suit. I only said that I hated the dress to start a fight…”

In truth, I would rather have trousers to wear again, but I could live with what he picked out. They weren’t bad at all- I was just upset that I never had the chance to steal them like a true pirate.

“If that’s the case, then we should get dressed and go see the elders so you can be properly introduced. And don’t worry about the walking suit- the maid you pilfered from returned it to me when I was looking for you yesterday,” he replied with no trace of bitterness to his tone. Maybe he’s forgiven me for that already- or perhaps I was the only one who carried a long grudge.

“…Oh. She’ll probably want her uniform back, huh? I guess I should do that- or did you already return it?” I inquired, thinking about the interesting tricks his magicks could do.

“Already taken care of,” he reassured me as he patted the side of my thigh and then began to climb out of bed. “Want me to warm the bathwater for you?”

My initial thought was that he was implying that I stank, but then I realized that he was just trying to be nice. He’d never complained about my human stench before, and I couldn’t see a reason why he would start now. Especially considering that another change that was happening to my body was the fact that my skin was gradually producing less oil, therefore eliminating my need to bathe as often. I would also begin to sweat less, but most of that wouldn’t happen for a few weeks. I was still functioning as a full human at the moment.

“…Are you planning to bathe with me?” I inquired, worried about his response. I wasn’t sure if I could handle another exposure of intimacy so soon after recovering from the last one.

“Only if you want me to. I can’t get in water too often or else I’ll dry up,” he replied before I hid a sigh of relief and confirmed that I wanted a bath. He didn’t seem upset that I didn’t invite him, and I was relieved by that. Since we were starting over, I wanted to attempt not to have an argument for a long while.

Satel soon entered the bathroom to take care of his needs and use his magicks on the water in the in ground bath. I pushed back the quilt and stared blankly at the walls until he was done. I didn’t feel as confused or upset as I was yesterday- I was simply empty, but it was in a good way. I didn’t have any more negative emotions plaguing me. So all I needed to do was try to live positively- like how Lioa taught me.

Lioa… I should visit her sometime and thank her. If she hadn’t stepped in and helped me organize my thoughts, I don’t know how I would be feeling now. I’m sure Cegil could’ve done the same for me, but it probably would’ve been too late by the time I could see him again.

The longer I stayed in that state of distress, the more likely I could’ve taught myself to resent Satel- and maybe even have some lingering anger towards my beloved guardian. I knew very well it wasn’t Cegil’s fault that he wasn’t here, but that made little difference to emotions I couldn’t control. Of course, I didn’t want to feel that way towards Cegil, so I was doubly glad that Lioa helped me out.

I barely registered the fact that Satel had returned to the main room and was shocked when he suddenly reached out for me and instantly teleported us to the bathroom. I let out a shout as he used his magicks to unbutton the nightshirt and then twirl me into the bath. I landed on my feet at the bottom and quickly glared up at his smirking features.

“I could trip and fall if you keep this up!” I yelled in indignation. Somehow I still wasn’t that concerned about him seeing me completely naked. I guess I really was desensitized now, rather than just being too depressed to care- or maybe I just trusted him enough. He did demonstrate the ability to control himself when we’d bathed the last time.

In rebuttal, he raised his hand and summoned the water ribbons. “I won’t let you get hurt on my watch.”

I shivered a little as he directed the ribbons to seductively caress my thighs and torso. I could see that darkened look in his eye and knew he was deliberately flirting with me. I quickly slapped one of the ribbons that was hovering around me and was a little satisfied to see it splash out and soak some of his trousers.

“Knock it off! I’m not in the mood!” I growled in warning. Though really, I didn’t mind the idea of letting it continue, but I wanted to see if he really was going to let me have some control over the situation. I know he gave his word that our next time would be my choice, but he could’ve said that just to make me feel better last night.

Of course, the fact that he had taken off his shirt and had his chest bared wasn’t helping me in the least. Damn it, I already had the ‘goods’. Why must I want more?!

The blonde bastard made a lighthearted humming sound behind that smirk before he turned his hand and made a sweeping motion. The water immediately lost its shape and fell back into the bath. He then turned and headed for the basin, allowing me to wash up in peace. I was grateful to see that he was keeping his word… and a tiny bit frustrated with myself for stopping him so soon.

I slowly seated myself on the bottom step and watched him as he put on the nightshirt I was previously wearing. He then procured a toothbrush and began cleaning his teeth. I was pleasantly stunned to find that he needed to do that. I thought falucite didn’t get bad breath- since I never got up early enough, I never caught Cegil in the act to know that.

It was a little awkward to have him there while I cleaned my body. In a way this was another part of intimacy, one that didn’t involve physical interaction. He trusted me to see him in a less than perfect light and I trusted him not to attack and ravage me while I was in a state of undress. I soon quickly snapped into action when I noticed that I was staring at him when I should’ve been bathing.

Even despite the fact that I discouraged him earlier, he was ready to help me out of the bath and dry me off. At least he wrapped a towel around me first, but it didn’t make me feel any less heated when he kissed me while working his magicks in my hair.

I had my hands on his chest, ready to push him away, but then I relented and tried to respond back a little. Kissing didn’t necessarily lead to mating, and I did tell myself that I wanted to give the relationship a try. …Oh who was I kidding? I still liked his kisses.

He was probably finished a long time ago, but we continued to hold on to each other as our tongues dueled. After a while, we finally broke away for air and his lips drifted down my jaw and eventually trailed to one of my armband tattoos.

“What would you think if I got a tattoo?” he asked suddenly, pulling me out of my temporary daze. Satel with a tattoo? Why not? It worked for me.

“What kind of tattoo?” I responded, curious with what he had in mind.

“Don’t know yet, but I really do like the ones you have,” he commented before planting more kisses on the black waves that marked my skin. I briefly imagined him with Erudian-style armbands- and I liked what I saw. But then real life and my imagination were two very conflicting differences.

“I used to know a place where the crew got theirs done… can’t remember for the life of me what the town was called though. I just remember it was on the continent of Rynrir,” I recalled fondly before I realized what I was saying. I didn’t want to be remembering things like that…

I finally found the motive to push him away and headed for the basin to brush my teeth. Satel took the hint and left the bathroom to get dressed. He had a dejected look on his face as he walked away, but I think he knew that I wasn’t shoving him away.

I needed to forget the bad things of my past and only remember the good… but how could I do that if even the good ones hurt me? I missed being a pirate and sailing the five seas- and I missed the Wise Man. Hell, I even missed most of the crew, despite the fact that they’d cast me aside. The only one I didn’t miss was the scurvy bastard who murdered… No! I refuse to think of it!

Satel was already gone by the time I was out, but he reappeared soon after and revealed that he retrieved one of my new trousers. It was black and made of soft, but sturdy materials. I put them on as soon as I attained some underwear and was amazed to find that they were a perfect fit. Then again, he mentioned that the seamstress had to have my old pair as a model, so it shouldn’t have been that much of a shock.

I reached out to the wardrobe to pick out a dress to wear, but Satel stopped me for a brief second and whispered heatedly in my ear. “If you want to get my attention, wear something red.”

I suppose that meant red was his favorite color. It explained the ascot he always wore. I glanced through my selection and was disappointed to find that there were no button-down dresses. However, there were many button-down skirts that should work in the same way as my old dresses did. I picked out a white blouse and a crimson colored skirt. I chose it not to please Satel in particular, but because I was a little overwhelmed with my choices.

Since I was supposed to meet the elders soon, I decided to close the skirt all the way to the hem and then restyle it later. I didn’t know if the falucite had a dress code for meeting elders, but Cegil did teach me to be respectful to them. I only knew that most old geezers didn’t understand the fashion of youth and I was sometimes ridiculed for being a loose woman. Feh- at least they couldn’t see my ankles. What about the women that have started to wear their skirts to their mid-calf? That was more scandalous than my attire.

After that, Satel and I negotiated other things, like my right to wear my hair in a braid. He was only going to relent if I agreed to push back my bangs and expose my face a little more. Since I was among falucite who didn’t care one way about a particular kind of human, I didn’t need to hide my seafaring features anymore. But I also warned him that I might go back on my word if we were ever to go out in the company of other humans.

“Hmph, why care what they think? You are now in a station far above that of a human king. If anyone calls you ignorant, they’ll have to deal with me,” he vowed, his eyes taking on a confident look.

I was a little flattered that he was willing to stand up for me, but I was also awestruck at the fact that I was considered ‘above’ the average human. I was now in a position where I could do almost anything I wanted to humans without retribution or worry about what they believed. …But at the same time, I would be the embodiment of everything I already resented about my kind. I already hated myself enough- why add on more?

“If I took advantage of that, then I would be no better than the greedy nobles that take advantage of the average folk. They make me sick,” I muttered as I slowly shook my head.

“That’s fine- you don’t have to do anything to them. I’m simply promising that I won’t hold back if I hear a single bad remark about you,” the platinum blonde reaffirmed with a dark smirk. I couldn’t stop a similar smirk of my own. Well, I couldn’t completely control him, could I?

“You don’t have to,” I added, not wanting him to think his actions would make me happy. I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of him catering to me- he didn’t want me to be a servant, so I felt the same way about him.

Satel raised his hand and cupped my cheek before he moved closer to give me another brief kiss. “I want to.”

I couldn’t stop myself from backing away some and keeping a short distance from him. This was starting to get a tiny bit too much for me- I was already blushing from his vows and romantic gestures. I just needed some space to process and get used to it all. Thankfully, he seemed to understand that and backed off so I could finish getting ready.

So, he really wasn’t forcing me- and that brought such a great relief to me. I was free to respond to him when I was fully ready. …But just as I was putting on my other pair of boots, a shiny black set, I remembered something else I’d been meaning to ask.

I didn’t have any reason to believe that he would trap me into a relationship with him anymore, but I was still curious about that medicine he gave me. Did he knowingly put my life at risk just in case I might refuse him? Or was he completely ignorant of it all and was just doing what he thought was right for me?

In the end, I didn’t die and it wasn’t the factor that resulted in me being mated to him. I could just let it go and simply trust that he was helping me… but then I would always wonder. I had to ask now- just one last test to see if I could trust and cooperate with him.

“Satel?” I called out in a careful tone. I didn’t want to accuse him of anything this time, so I didn’t want to sound anything more than curious.

“Hmm?” He acknowledged me as he reached for his über hat and buttoned up his frock coat with his magicks.

“About that medicine you gave me the other night… Did you know it was poisonous to humans?”

If I had any doubt before, it was certainly gone now- that look on his face, when he instantly whirled around to face me, was priceless. His cinnamon eyes were wide with worry as he quickly rushed over to me, acting as if I was going to pass out at any second.

What?” he asked for clarification as he stopped himself at the last second and gripped my shoulders instead of drawing me fully into his arms.

“N-no, don’t worry about it- I’m fine now that we’ve mated,” I quickly explained to calm him down. “I talked with Didra last night and she told me how that beetle blood was poisonous to ordinary humans. She said she wouldn’t have given it to you if we weren’t mating and… I was just wondering if you knew that.”

“Not at all- she never once used the word ‘poisonous’ to me. She just told me that there might be complications. Had I known this, I would never have given it to you.”

“I’m not upset about it,” I told him, just to clarify my position on the matter. “Just be careful next time and make sure you know more about what humans can have before giving me medicine. I’d hate to see you of all people panicking if I get sick.”

I was intending that to be a joke since I couldn’t imagine him getting worried about me at all… but after how he reacted, I wasn’t so sure of that anymore. He seemed to care about me just as much as Cegil did.

Satel didn’t want to take it as a jest and pulled me up for a tight, but comfortable, hug. “I have a secret that I must confess, ‘Tia-dear. I actually hate how much I’ve come to care about you. You bring out a side of me that I want to keep hidden from others, but… I’m glad I found you. I know you won’t judge me for being weak on occasion- and I want someone I can tell all my secrets to. I will do everything in my power to protect you so that I may keep you by my side.”

For a moment, I thought he was implying that it was weak to care about others, but he was simply talking about a weakness he had. Falucite needed to be calm and collected at all times so that enemies couldn’t discover a way to break their defenses. But Satel had moments where he couldn’t control himself and let his true emotions out in the open.

This was probably because he was still young- or maybe he needed a confidant to be his outlet. …But if that was the case, then what was Lioa to him? I thought he was telling her everything? I decided that was a question that could wait for another day- after all, I planned to see Lioa sometime. …And no, I wasn’t jealous! She’s too old for him anyway …in falucite years.

“I’m not…exactly the best choice in humans and I’m still having trouble grasping why you chose me, but I can at least keep your secrets,” I said as I slowly brought my arms up to wrap around his back. I probably should’ve told him one of my secrets since he was unexpectedly opening up to me, but most of them involved my past and I wasn’t comfortable with going there. If I can’t even tell Cegil about my past, how could I ever tell him?

“As I told you before, you’re all I’ll ever need,” he said after a kiss to my forehead. He then reached out behind me and procured a coat the same red color as my skirt. “Now, let’s go meet the elders and then try to spend the day together, hmm?”

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

I was somewhat nervous as we headed for the place where the elders conducted their daily meetings. It wasn’t as if I wanted to impress them or anything- I just wasn’t sure what to expect. Do I just shake their hands and lie about how it’s a pleasure to meet them? Do I really have to be on my best behavior? Or could I let a little of my sarcastic remarks escape without worry?

I was under the impression that the meeting wouldn’t take very long since Satel vowed that we would go out and spend the day together afterwards. He suggested that we do things we liked together and get to know each other better- things we should’ve done while dating. I could’ve taken the time to argue that point, but it was too late to bring it up- and doing so could potentially start a fight. If I was going to give this commitment a chance, then I had to give him a chance.

Still… it seemed to be completely natural for some falucite to know almost nothing about their mate’s past and hobbies and still hold a long lasting love for each other. This could be another cultural clash that I simply didn’t understand.

We walked down the same hall as yesterday and approached the same door. Maetira, or anyone else, didn’t show up again to stop us as Satel used his magicks to open the giant set of doors. Inside was a grand room with stone floors and decorative wooden fixtures on the walls to appear like an old style courtroom.

At the opposite end of the rather long room was a semi circle table big enough to seat up to forty people at the circular end. The straight portion had a little alcove notch with a chair inside it, making it possible for one person to sit there- perhaps it was for someone who had business with the council or anyone that was being questioned.

Behind the elders were two normal sized doors that apparently led to a back room where they congregated for private discussions …or whatever else elders had to do. On one side of the room were two box panels filled with a staircase of seats. The first one rested on the floor while the other hovered above it on study columns. The lower floor was apparently where the clan sat during trials or family meetings while the top portion was for guests and the like.

The other side only contained a short wooden wall that was to serve as a barrier for the single line of chairs placed there. I guessed that it was for any ‘opposition’ that came to their halls to argue a case. But despite the lack of presence on that side, it possessed the only windows in the room and they stretched from the floor and all the way to the ceiling- almost fifteen feet above.

I hadn’t expected that it would resemble a court, but I suppose it made sense. Even falucite had to discuss law and order somewhere, and it was surprising to know that human courts were loosely based on theirs. For humans, they had to see their reigning monarch and be judged by the nobles and lawyers of the country, but for Satel’s clan, it seemed to be all in the family.

The room was currently empty, save for the gathering of elders at the end of the considerably large space. For reasons I will probably never understand, Satel and I had to walk all the way over to them instead of him teleporting us over. I had to guess that it was a sign of respect to approach without powers- or maybe it was to respect other races that might not have the same abilities.

I personally felt like I had been walking for hours just to reach them, but I knew that that was impossible. It had to have been my nerves playing with my mind. Satel was as cool as ever as he led me towards them, having me hold onto his arm as we walked.

The elders were about as old and wrinkly as I imagined, though there were some, perhaps from Cujol’s generation, that appeared like they were just entering the stages of maturity. I was once again stunned when I discovered that not all of the elder council were falucite- it seemed even non-falucite mates were allowed to join. I could see dark, but graying, hair colors mixed in with the pastel colors famous among their kind.

“Satel. Did you have an appointment with us?” the man in the center seat inquired once we were close enough. He was the oldest of them all with hair whiter than snow and skin that was so baggy that it reminded me of sagging breasts on an old woman. His voice was also well aged, but it didn’t sound as if he was weak or close to his deathbed. I wondered how old he was? With falucite living up to one thousand years, he could very well be in his eight or nine hundreds.

“I did yesterday, but it was cancelled due to rude guests,” the über hat man quipped testily. What? Did he need to make an appointment every time he wanted to see them? My eyes darted around the room one last time to confirm that it was void of other people. Yeah- they needed appointments because they were sure damn busy.

“But we have not discussed a new appointment time- no matter,” he sighed before gesturing to the room with a near skeletal hand. “We seem to have little to do this day and your visit is a joyous one.”

…I wasn’t sure what to think about that. Satel’s reply to them gave me reason to believe that not all of them were an agreeable lot, but the oldest geezer seemed to own up to the fact that they had nothing better to do. But was my introduction really ‘joyous’?

“May it please my elders to introduce my lifelong mate, ‘Tia- or, as she is otherwise known, Dantia the second,” Satel said proudly as he gazed at me fondly and pulled me closer to him.

I suppose calling me the second Dantia was appropriate considering that most of the elders seemed to know of Cegil’s only daughter. I noticed most of their eyes widened when they heard it and they stared at me carefully. It was also then when Cujol snapped up from what appeared to be a light daydreaming.

“Wait… you are the same girl Cegil wished to adopt,” he muttered when it finally clicked in his mind.

“…Took you long enough to make the connection,” I replied flatly, forgetting my manners. I was half expecting them to either glare at me or make superior looks and act as if I were some primitive beast, but they instead let out tiny smiles and short chuckles. Even Cujol accepted that with a sigh and a smirk.

“Cujol, do you know this girl?” the oldest fart inquired as he turned his hazel eyes to the lavender haired man to the far right of the table.

Cujol stood up and nodded. “Yes, this is- or was Cegil’s charge. But if she is now part of the clan as Satel’s mate, then I would like to rescind my proposal about the amendment to the adoption law, or move it back to a later time.”

“What do you mean ‘adoption law’?” I asked before I could stop myself. From how he was talking, I could’ve sworn that he was… trying to help.

Cegil and Satel’s grandfather nodded towards me once before he sat back down. “I have lost too many of my descendants and I would not like to lose more. If you made Cegil happy, then I was willing to bend the rules for him so that he may officially adopt you.”

I was dumbstruck- Cujol was trying to bend the ‘all important’ rules for his grandson? After everything he had done, and hadn’t done, to Cegil, I didn’t expect that he would use his position to help him. But was it genuine? He said himself that he wanted Cegil happy, so maybe it was just a ‘present’ to convince him to come back to the clan. But then, thought I didn’t know him very well, he seemed truly repentant for what he had once done, and this was his way to make amends.

Still… what would’ve happened if Cujol was successful and Cegil took him up on the offer? I could’ve become Cegil’s official daughter and Satel’s niece, making it impossible for me to become his younger brother’s mate. This could’ve been the best way to stop Satel in his tracks, but… it was just as permanent a choice as becoming a mate. What if that had happened instead, but I had grown to love Satel anyway?

In the end, this was the best outcome- being Cegil’s sister allowed me to still be related to him in some way and gave me the freedom to decide about Satel. Frankly, I didn’t care what I was officially- I just didn’t want to lose Cegil in my life.

“So, if you’re willing to do that much for him, then why can’t you guys give him back his powers? Why does he have to prove himself when you’re the ones who made the mistake?” I nearly shouted, finally asking something I was sure others were afraid to point out.

I could’ve been pushing it and potentially earning the ire of the elders (which couldn’t have been a good thing), but I didn’t understand how someone could coldly send two people to their deaths, take away the powers of one of their own who had lost everything, and then treat him like garbage after realizing they were wrong.

Satel didn’t seem worried about my outburst and did nothing to silence me. It gave me some courage and told me that I wasn’t overstepping my bounds yet- or perhaps he silently agreed with me.

“We understand that you are close to Cegil, but you know nothing of our decisions or why we made them. We have our reasons why we chose to spare his life and why we are offering him the chance to return. Both sides made a grievous error, so both sides must make amends,” the apparent leader of the elders stated, his tone a careful line between condescending and defensive. But his expression softened some as he decided to reassure me. “However, we do agree that he has earn the right to his powers, despite not finishing his mission. He will be receiving them later today.”

He didn’t have to tell me anything, so I appreciated it when he did anyway. I knew what they did or decided was none of my business, and they didn’t have to prove anything to me. But I guess since I was now part of the family, I was granted a few rights to know of the current situation. So Cegil would have his powers today… Does that mean I would get to see him again soon?

“Of course, we understand, Makhis’ra,” Satel intervened to end the conversation and prevent another heated question from slipping out. “I believe I can speak on the behalf of my siblings that we all are concerned about Cegil and only wish for his safe return- ‘Tia is no exception.”

…So his name was Makhis’ra. What an old name- it must’ve been testament to how ancient he was.

“As do we,” he responded before adding, “However, Cegil is his own man and it is his choice alone to return. You must all be prepared to let him go yet again if he so chooses to remain rogue.”

Prepare to let him go… As much as I didn’t want to think of it, I may have to do that. I still didn’t feel ready to, but I had to let him live his own life- even if it had to be without me.

“Regardless,” a female falucite (located almost directly in the middle between the left side and the leader) quipped with a kind smile to her moderately wrinkled face. “We are happy to have you join our clan, Tia. May you and Satel be blessed with daughters.”

It was a common saying for newly mated couples, though it rarely worked. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Didra reassured me that I was physically too immature to produce young, that ‘blessing’ would’ve made me sick to my stomach. It wasn’t that I didn’t want daughters- I just didn’t want to think of falcie for a long time.

Satel placed a hand at my upper back and made me bow in respect with him before he excused us. We then left the way we came, with the mutterings of the elders following after us.

It wasn’t until we were passed the doors when Satel let out a sigh and commented, “That went better than I thought it would.”

“Why? Did you expect me to start a fight with them?” I inquired curiously. He didn’t seem nervous at all to introduce me, but surely he would’ve known I had some issues with seeing them. If I hadn’t known any better, I would say that he almost wanted me to start something…

“Not at all. I know Cegil taught you better than that- I just thought you would be harsher with your questions. I have no clue what Cegil has told you about our elders, but I had a feeling that you didn’t have a nice outlook on them,” he explained, proving to me that he did have some idea of my feelings in the matter.

When I thought about it, it was natural for Cegil and Satel to have differing views of the elders. Outside of what I have heard from Cegil, I knew almost nothing about them other than the fact that they led the clan and dictated their laws. Were they really bad people? Or was I just assuming they were because of Cegil’s negative view of them?

I suppose like with Satel, I had to give them a chance before treating them like the bastards that’d wronged my former guardian. After all, Makhis’ra had a point- I didn’t know everything about events that had happened long before I was born. Huh, Lioa’s advice about how to initially perceive others was easier than I thought it would be. Maybe I could change myself someday soon.

“Well, shall we?” Satel prodded as he gave me an excited look.

“Shall we what?” I intoned, wondering what he was up to. I knew he wanted to spend time with me, but he didn’t specify how or where.

“Go somewhere to have breakfast- anywhere you want. I can take you there. We can also discuss the future over whatever you want to eat,” he told me, his eyes gleaming with both mischief and joy.

With that, I was filled with both curiosity and wariness. I learned quickly enough that when the blonde bastard made that look, I ended up getting in trouble somehow. …But now that I was his mate, where, or who, was that mischief going to be directed at?

I suppose there was only one way to find out. I first unbuttoned my skirt up to the top three buttons and then wrapped my arms around his shoulders as I pulled my body closer to him. “I’ll leave the where up to you.”

“Excellent,” he replied before giving me an extremely pleased smirk. He then wrapped his arms around me and allowed his magicks to take us.

To the Final Chapter

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