3. Trapped

Chapter 3

Trapped

            Osel was paradise in the Wastelands. I wasn’t saying that because they had water and buildings made of materials that kept the heat out. I wasn’t really sure why, but it was one of the advanced cities on the continent. Inventors from all over came to test their inventions and prove that they could make life easier. Many newfangled gadgets could be found here- like steam engines, iceboxes, and other marvels I had never seen before.

In fact, there were many new inventions that were becoming popular around the world. Before I met Cegil, I never knew the comfort of having running water within dwellings. Those ‘pipes’ made it possible to fill bathtubs without having to go outside and haul the water in manually. Things like that were unheard of on the coast. Coastal dwellers preferred to keep things simple and we weren’t lazy enough to allow some device do all of the work for us.

I had to admit there were some things invented that were useful, but there were also others that were unnecessary. All because they could do the work faster didn’t mean that they could do them well. Those odd ‘sewing machines’ were a good example. I understood it could take days for one dress to be made by hand while the machines reduced it to a few hours, but the last dress I owned fell apart in a month. The stitches weren’t strong enough. This made me have mixed feelings for technology altogether.

I let out a yawn as I stretched on the bed. The room we had gotten was much smaller than the one in Ranosia. It only had enough room for two single sized beds and two chairs that sat in the corners on either side of the window. The window was also small- two pane and about three feet tall. It was just big enough for Cegil to look out, should he want to. The beds were almost next to each other, only allowing enough space for legs. This allowed enough breathing space for the chairs on that side of the room and for the bathroom door that was adjacent to my bed.

The bathroom wasn’t too bad- spacious enough to move around, but the bathtub was too small for Cegil. It contained all of the necessities, like a working sink and an indoor toilet- both were commodities that couldn’t be found on the coast. Of all inventions, I liked water and sewage drains the best. As a traveler, I didn’t have the extra time to haul up water for my own use and the toilets eliminated the need to rush off to an outhouse.

I finally got to take my bath, and changed in to clean clothes. We had arrived almost five hours ago and looked around town before coming here to rent a room. I headed for the bath as soon as I could and by the time I was done, Cegil was gone. For once, I wasn’t really that sleepy, but my body did feel weary. I laid down to only rest for a while, but it wasn’t long before I started to wonder about my guardian. He would usually tell me if he was going somewhere and give an estimate of how long he would be gone.

Usually, I wouldn’t be so worried about his disappearance, but with Satel and this so-called ‘mysterious informer’, I had reason to be concerned. I sat up when I realized that I couldn’t relax. Either I was going to have to wait for him to return or go out there myself and find him. I didn’t want to make him think that I was trying to pry into his business by looking for him, but I couldn’t just sit and wait either. I glanced out the window to find that the sun had set and the street lamps were lit.

It should be much cooler outside for me to wander around. If anything else, I could just go under the guise of seeking a place to get a drink. Since I had already eaten, my excuse for finding food was already gone, but I didn’t need much of a reason to leave the room. Cegil knew I liked to wander around so he shouldn’t find it suspicious if I happened to cross paths with him.

Deciding that that was a good plan, I got up and picked up my empty leather purse, which was nothing more than a small scrap tied up with a sturdy hemp cord. Then, I searched through Cegil’s things to dig up enough crijok for a drink and headed out. As a rule, I only carried enough to sustain me. If I happened to carry more than that and I ended up in jail, then the authorities would take all of my money along with the bail. Greedy bastards.

Cegil and I earned the crijok from the many bounty hunts we would go on during our travels. The money was supposed to be reserved for the both of us, but I was the one who ended up spending most of it. He barely needed anything outside of a place to sleep- and my antics sometimes got a little costly, so it was more my money than his. But we agreed that he should hang on to most of it when I went out to places.

Even at night the city was bustling. It had an entirely different feel than Ranosia. The streets were paved with cobblestones and they had numerous lamps to light the way. The town was in a circular structure, and in the very center was a grand fountain that was decorated with stone depictions of the five earth goddesses. Between each figure was a stone mermaid where water shot out of their mouths and into the pool below. In the middle of the fountain was a tall flowered column that sprayed even more fluid in the air and rained down on the stone figures.

It was strange to have mermaids and earth goddesses mingle together, but it would’ve been weirder for water to come out of earth creatures. Something told me that the ‘endless spitting’ the mermaids were doing was more of a jest.

People milled about to socialize or get a bite to eat- and they came in droves. It was hard to navigate through the sea of bodies and I could barely make out where I was or where I was heading. Within the town square were dozens of stores and eateries- all were contained within large brick buildings. I assumed that every public place was just as overcrowded as the streets, so I chose to remain outside.

I was just starting to feel claustrophobic after being pushed about by the flow of bodies when I somehow broke free and found myself at the fountain. For some reason, it was left alone by the masses- perhaps no one wanted to stand close in fear of getting wet. I walked closer to it so that I could take advantage of the solitude and take a moment to gather myself.

If Cegil was somewhere out there, then it was certain that I wasn’t going to find him. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to find a tavern if the crowds were going to be that dense. I was starting to feel a little disoriented from the chaos, so I rested my hand on the fountain wall to help me balance. The wall was nearly half my height, cresting just at my hips. I nearly jumped when I felt another hand land on top of mine.

“Come here often?” a familiar voice inquired playfully against my ear.

Son of a bitch! I yelled in my mind in shock as I turned my head to find Satel grinning down at me playfully. He was sitting on the fountain wall with one knee drawn up to his chest. He was actually the last person I wanted to find in this overcrowded hellhole- though I shouldn’t have been surprised that he would be here. I tore my hand away from his and glared at him for a moment.

“I’m not much of a city girl. I’d prefer less crowded places,” I replied in answer to his question. I knew he was only joking with me, but I felt that it would only make things awkward if I just glared at him the entire time. He wasn’t exactly my enemy (though he was quickly getting there), so I had no right to treat him coldly until I was sure we had bad blood.

He didn’t seem to care about my answer- he just jumped down and stood next to me before he briefly touched his über hat. It seemed to be a habit of his to make sure it was cocked just right on his head. I wondered if it was because he wanted to look good at all times, or maybe was worried about it falling off? Hmm. He glanced around the crowds curiously before he faced me again. “Where’s Cegil? I can smell him here, but I can’t find him.”

Another power falucites have is special sense of smell. It enables them to tell when another of their kind is nearby, and if that someone is a member of their clan. But it wasn’t like they were bloodhounds or anything- they couldn’t track anyone down with it. It was pretty weak in that aspect, not much more useful than a human’s.

“Your guess is as good as mine. I came out here to look for him,” I admitted as my eyes flitted back to the crowds. If Satel could still smell him, then he must’ve still been in town. But where exactly?

“Oh well,” he sighed before he gave a nonchalant shrug, “I haven’t picked up any other falucite’s scent, so he should be fine on his own. I’ll talk to him in the morning.”

I barely registered his dismissal of Cegil because at that moment, he grabbed my hand and placed it on his arm. He then kept his hand over mine so that I couldn’t pull away.

“Let’s go,” he announced as he began pulling me. I dug my heels to the ground before he could get far.

“Go where?” I asked incredulously, wondering when I consented to do anything with him. He let out a laugh before he jerked me to walk with him. Since my hand was his captive, I had no choice but to follow.

“We’re going to play a little game. I heard that you’re quite the troublemaker and I want to see what you can do,” he replied as we were immersed into the sea of people. I wasn’t sure if I liked where this was heading. From whom did he hear that? I didn’t think Cegil would mention anything about me to his brother. I also wanted to know what kind of game he had in mind- if it was anything like what happened in Ranosia, I wanted no part of it.

But there was a more important question on my mind: why did I have to hold on to him like this? I almost wanted to fight for my freedom, but I didn’t have much room thanks to crowd around us.

“Why are you so interested in me? It’s not like I can haunt people with illusions or make them shit their trousers.” I had to yell so he could hear me. Because of the mass of people, their combined voices were rather loud. Some nearby managed to hear my colorful language and glanced at me in shock or disgust- this amused Satel greatly.

It annoyed me to no end how he didn’t need to raise his voice. He could whisper and I would be able to hear him through his magicks. “Precisely. I want to see what a small human like you could accomplish. …I’ll buy you a drink in exchange for the amusement.”

He had me at the ‘free drink’. It would be nice to get something without being badgered about my age- and I wouldn’t have to pay for it. I could easily ignore the fact that he was ‘buying’ me off with it, so, for the time being, I willingly followed him as he led me to some tavern. I figured that I could just rile up some man, make him feel bad about himself, and then enjoy a cold drink. I was certain Satel wasn’t expecting much out of me so I wasn’t going to try hard.

I was pleased to find that the tavern he had chosen wasn’t as crowded as the streets. It was a quaint little place with walls painted in power blue and soft lighting that seemed to give a calm air. But for some reason, it was rather hushed inside as if no one wanted to make loud noises. That wasn’t a good sign to someone who wanted to get drunk- quiet, sober people tend to show that the tavern either didn’t sell anything worth drinking.

Then again, I was beginning to doubt that it was a typical bar. It seemed to be more of a fancy private club, but I was under the impression that it wasn’t exclusive to rich people. Not only that- there were many tables set out for crowds, proving that they didn’t cater to a small few. Oddly enough, for a place with nice walls and ambient lighting, their furnishings were not that upscale. The square wooden tables were unfinished and still rough while the chairs were equally as plain.

It was almost as if the tavern had just gotten the furnishings since the bar itself seemed rather classy. It had shiny, finished wood of a rich dark brown while bottom part seemed to be made of an exotic red wood.

There were several groups of men already occupying most of the tables, but the counter was empty. Satel and I headed for it and sat side by side on the tall leather cushioned stools. I was facing the bar while he was turned outward towards the other people. He had his elbow resting against the polished wood as he turned back to one of the bartenders and summoned him over.

“Si’ansirsa for the lady and I, chilled,” he ordered in a bored tone. I had to balk at him for a second. I thought he was going to buy me ale- not fancy red wine. Did he think we were dating or something? A man didn’t buy expensive wines for women for no reason. The man behind the counter glanced over to me for a brief moment before he shook his head.

“I apologize, sir, but I cannot give alcohol to minors.”

Satel’s eyes wandered over to me before he looked me up and down. “How old are you? Twenty-four?”

“Twenty-two,” I sneered at him with a glare. Though I was actually flattered he thought I was older than that. I was far too used to being viewed as ‘too young’.

“I didn’t think you were a minor,” he replied before he casually glanced back at the barkeep, “She’s fine.”

“But, sir!” he protested incredulously, “You can’t believe the words of a child-”

“I said…” the falucite interrupted him with a cold stare as he emphasized each word forcefully, “she’s fine.”

Satel continued to stare at the man, daring him to contradict him. But the man soon stuttered and backed off. “V-very well.”

…Wish I could do that. The only way men would ever take me seriously was if I pulled my sword on them and threatened to cut off limbs. My glares had no power like his did- and I could never pull off an intimidating tone like his. Some part of me was actually jealous.

It wasn’t until much later when I discovered why he stood up for me then. Satel was the youngest of the clan, so he knew what it was like to be underestimated because of age. But to a human, he looked old enough to do anything he wanted so he didn’t really understand me completely. His issues were with his family, not strangers in general. Whatever his reason, I appreciated it. Sometimes I had to go without a drink if I couldn’t convince a tavern owner without being violent.

It didn’t take long for the bartender to return with the wine. It was served in a generous sized wineglass and the liquid was a little fizzy. I took a sip and found that the flavor wasn’t too strong, nor was it very sweet. I liked it a lot.

“Good, isn’t it?” the falucite inquired smoothly as he swirled the wine in his glass.

I couldn’t argue- I’ve always liked the taste of wine, but I couldn’t afford even the cheapest brand they carried. I quickly discovered that the si’ansirsa was one of the most expensive wines out there when Satel placed down two square coins of gold cedit. Cedit was far more valuable than crijok and I had to wonder where he got his money. I was under the impression that falucite had no use for currency unless they were in a position similar to Cegil’s.

“Wine is much better for you than that mead you choose to drink,” he commented after a while when I refused to talk. The small bit of liquid I was drinking nearly went down the wrong pipe when I figured out what he was insinuating. He was calling me out on the fact that I drank the rest of his ale last night. He wouldn’t know what I’d drink otherwise.

“It’s not like I carry around a lot of money- and sometimes I’m lucky enough to convince someone to let me have a drink,” I replied, trying hard not to acknowledge his hidden accusation.

“Is that so?” he muttered coolly as he glanced out at the other patrons. “Well, if you can give a good show tonight, maybe I’ll buy you more.”

That was a tempting offer, but I wasn’t sure how to go about ‘entertaining’ him. Trouble usually came to me- not the other way around. I didn’t think it would be that hard to rile up someone to the point of starting a fight, but it actually went against my personal code to start something without reason. Usually the fights I end up in only happen because some clueless idiot thought he could take advantage of me.

I shook my head as I turned to face outward. “Do I really look like someone who can be bought?”

“It’s worked so far,” he responded with a grin as he glanced at me from the corner of his eyes. “And being a ‘working girl’ is a small rung up from being a pet.”

“You’re a real jackass,” I commented snidely before I sipped more of my wine. I wasn’t really that offended since I wasn’t being ‘paid’ to sleep with him. However, the words we’ve been using did little to suggest otherwise to anyone that might be listening in.

“Why thank you, my dear.”

I took my first real look at the other patrons and quickly discovered that I was the only female present. That was rather unusual since harlots or dancing girls would be around at this hour. It was strange no one had approached me yet- I was usually a target if there were only a few girls to flirt with. Then again, maybe they were all staying away because they saw me enter with Satel. They might’ve thought I was with him or something.

But there was something else that was bothering me- it was disturbingly orderly in here. From my experience, if there were a room full of men with access to all manner of alcohol, they would be rowdy and acting a fool. I examined most of them and found they were all quiet types, either the kind one wouldn’t want to approach or the ‘depressed because of life issues’ kind. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Satel had just dragged me into a place that was currently reserved for some rough gang.

“…I’m not sure where to start. This isn’t the kind of atmosphere I work with,” I told him, hoping that he might relent and save our little game for another day. …Though I had a feeling he deliberately put me in this situation. What exactly was his angle, anyway? Was he seeking to get me killed? Or perhaps this was still a ruse to scare me since he couldn’t do it yesterday?

I let out a quiet grunt when he suddenly slid closer to me and wrapped his arm around my shoulders. He seemed to like making close contact with his victims. I wondered if it was supposed to be an intimidation tactic. His fingers soon snaked under my chin and forced me to glance over at the corner of the room where a man dressed in a red velvet frock was sitting. He was surrounded by several tough looking men and had piles of gold and precious stones on the only well-crafted table in the tavern. It was easy to tell that this man was someone important.

“How about you start with him?” Satel suggested in a cloyingly sweet tone.

I stared at the man in question for a long while. “Do you know him?”

“Not really. I’ve seen him from time to time using his lackeys to take ‘protection money’ from others. I figured he could use a good tongue lashing,” he replied as he finally moved away from me, “…But if you don’t think you can do it… I suppose the drink can be on the house, this time.”

I knew a challenge when I heard one. I really should’ve backed down, but I couldn’t stand the smug look on his face or the ‘charity’ he was offering. I gave a slight snort before I jumped down from my stool and headed for where the man was sitting at. Satel probably did know the guy and was hoping that I would be too scared to approach him.

I thought that I would be in no danger if I went, but the closer I got to the table, the less confident I was. Before I could reach my destination, three bulky men stood up and moved to stand beside and behind the man. They crossed their arms and tried to look like they would beat me up for the fun of it. It might’ve been because I carried a sword that they were being so cautious about me. Otherwise, I couldn’t imagine why they thought that they had to stand guard against a woman.

The smartly dressed gentleman only spared me a short glance before he dismissed me altogether and went back to counting his money. But once he realized that I wasn’t going to leave, he let out an annoyed sigh. “What do you want? I do not recall asking for a harlot this evening.”

I frowned slightly at that. It was different being called a floozy by Satel- he was clearly joking. This man made an assumption and I hadn’t even provoked him yet. I didn’t like being judged before giving an actual first impression. I held my head high before I pulled back an empty seat and boldly sat down.

“I’m surprised a harlot would even bed with you, but then I suppose that’s the perk of having so much money. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that,” I retorted as I swirled the wine in my glass like Satel did. My words were a little harsh considering the fact that the guy wasn’t really that ugly. He was actually just…mature. His angular nose, high cheekbones, and thinning hair were features that older women appreciated. But he didn’t really deserve any kindness unless he gave some.

I earned a rather nasty glare from him after that. “Hmph. The wine must have gone to your head. Or perhaps you are too dimwitted to understand that you’re in the presence of someone who could destroy you with a single thought.”

“Oh? Which god are you, then? I don’t recall there being a god that would waste their time among us humans. Or perhaps you are the dimwitted one who forgot his place in the Natural Order,” I taunted casually. The Natural Order, of course, was the status of all living beings in order of power and intelligence.

At the very top tier was the Maker, the creator of our world, followed by the Fates, and then the gods and goddesses. Dragons, falucite, and greater monsters were in the second level and then there were the humans sharing the bottom with the animals and lesser monsters. The higher up the race was, the longer they lived and the fewer members there were. But the top rank was the only one that held the undying immortals.

I now had the man’s full attention and he didn’t appear one bit pleased. He didn’t seem to be the type to get easily offended seeing as how he kept his cool the entire time, but like with all men who had large egos, he couldn’t stand the thought of someone who didn’t pay proper respect towards him. It was then that I began to wonder what I was doing here. He had enough men on his side to really cause damage to me. I could boast my skills with a sword all I wanted to, but even I couldn’t take on several foes at once.

I wanted to glance back at the bar to see if Satel was still there, but I couldn’t break eye contact with the man. Doing so was a sign of weakness and I was fairly certain he was the type who would take advantage of the weak. All I could hope was that the falucite was going to back me up and maintained my calm demeanor before him. I still couldn’t stop from cursing in my mind about how foolish I was for going through with this. Why in five hells did I let Satel bait me? Was I really that determined to prove to him that I wasn’t scared?

“I may not be a god, but I am far more important than an insignificant worm like you. I have little time to deal with trash, so I will be generous and allow you the chance to leave unscathed,” he sneered at me with a haughty look. This would’ve been a good time for me to insert my foot into my mouth and do as he said, but I never claimed to be that smart of a human. I didn’t take well to threats and it wasn’t in my nature to be intimidated.

“Hmm… whatever,” I drawled in a bored tone as I sat back further into my seat. “At least I’ll admit that I’m insignificant. You, however, live in a delusion that people actually care about you and would do anything you say. I’d say that makes me the bigger person in this case.”

Oh how that pissed him off- epically. His response was to summon all of the guards he had on his side, which happened to be the entire tavern. I didn’t bother glancing around as I heard chairs scrape across the floor, signaling that everyone getting up. The man had a disgusting look of superiority plastered on his features before he gestured for the men around him to approach me.

“I think you the delusional one, you stupid girl. Can you not see that I command every man here? I shall enjoy watching you writhe in pain at the hands of my men.”

“Feh. Do you honestly believe they’re doing what you say because they like you or something? It’s the money they’re after,” I replied as I sat up. I glanced up at the nearest man and asked, “Do you really give a rat’s ass about this man? Or do you just like the shine of the crijok you get for beating others up for him?”

He didn’t answer me, but the rueful smirk on his face was enough to prove my point. The man had no real power- it was his riches that were influential. Of course, my being right wasn’t going to spare me from the beating I was going to get. I didn’t have the money to convince them to back off. I leaned to the side and jumped up to stand as someone from behind tried to lunge at me. The move made my attacker end up on the table and scattered the cedit and crijok to the floor.

I placed a hand at the hilt of my sword and drew it once another man tried to attack me. I heard metal ringing in reply and found that a fair amount had swords on them as well. As best as I could, I parried most sword swings and dodged other hits while trying to cause as much damage as I could to my enemies. I cut many of them to the point of severely injuring them, but there was still too many for me to take on.

I struggled to keep my breathing even and my heart calm as I focused on surviving and prayed that Cegil was nearby to save me. I sustained a few scratches and cuts from close calls, but overall I was in a far better condition than most of the men that ended up getting too close to my blade. But it was all over when I felt something cold pressed against my forehead. I stopped instantly and the others followed suit.

As of late, there had been a new weapon developed that was basically a miniature, portable cannon. They called it a ‘gun’ and I was just granted my first up close view of such a device. They could only fire one bullet and it took too long to reload and fire again. They weren’t much use outside of assassinations or hunting- and if one could be lucky enough to dodge a bullet, then the gun user was as good as dead. But with the barrel pressed against my forehead, I couldn’t imagine that I would be able to survive.

All I could think about was that this was the end for me and that I didn’t want to die in a place like this. I didn’t say a word to the men around me or let my face show how scared I actually was. Suddenly, I heard a grunt of surprise before the gun wielder slowly fell to his knees. Upon further inspection, I realized that blood was coming out of his mouth and that his fingers had been broken around the gun.

A split second later, everyone else collapsed almost simultaneously. I glanced around in surprise before my eyes fell on the man I had been baiting. His face also displayed shock, but it wasn’t because of his guards. There was now a sword sticking out of his chest and Satel stood behind him with a sinister grin.

“She is right, you know,” the falucite muttered into the dying man’s ear, “True power is within us- not in some object. Even with all your riches and enough greedy humans at your disposal, nothing was able to save you from the wrath of the Xanaturi clan.”

He then stepped away, pulling his bloody sword from the man’s back as he did so. The arrogant human slumped forward and landed on the table, where he died in a pool of his own blood. I wondered why Satel bothered with using a sword at all. It seemed his magicks were more than enough to take care of humans.

“Did you kill everyone?” I found myself inquiring once I was sure it was over. I felt bad that it came to this- I didn’t want anyone to die and my guilt-ridden conscious was berating me. Even though the falucite was the one who did the deed, I was still responsible for the loss of life. I felt my body begin to numb and I desperately tried to fight it- I didn’t want to have a break down here, in front of Satel. The blonde falucite inclined his head towards me and regarded me with an interested stare.

“A fair amount, yes. There will be some who might survive, but this man is no more. He thought that owning the rights to making guns would make him the most powerful being alive. My clan couldn’t allow such arrogance in our area, so I had to destroy him and set an example to his followers.”

It was then I realized that he had sent me to bait one of his targets and that I was only a distraction to make his work easier. In other words- I was used. He played me like a fool, damn it. I couldn’t muster the anger to yell at him for it because my body finally caught up with my emotions. Now that the danger was past, my heart was hammering against my chest and my limbs were shaking.

I was already shaken up from the bloodbath, but knowledge that I could’ve died took its toll on me. I couldn’t get the ‘what if’ out of my mind- that man could’ve pulled the trigger before Satel intervened. Normally such a close brush with death wouldn’t affect me quite so badly, but this time it was different because my head was the target. After witnessing that beheading many years ago, I was very sensitive to the subject. I didn’t like being aimed there and I couldn’t for the life of me inflict a serious wound to an adversary to that region (though punches to the jaw was fair game).

Satel chuckled as he slowly sauntered over to me and flicked his blade so that specks of blood would land on my dress and trousers. “You have nerves of steel, woman. You didn’t even flinch in the face of imminent doom.”

He sounded very impressed, but I wasn’t in the mind to pay attention to him. I was desperately trying to calm myself down while berating myself for being so stupid. I wasn’t even sure where he got the idea that I had ‘nerves of steel’. All because I didn’t visibly react didn’t mean I wasn’t scared. Elit, why did I go through with this? He was soon in my line of vision and I found that he was staring at me intensely with an even wider smirk on his face. I could barely register the fact that his face was awfully close to mine.

Though nothing more was said between us as I heard several people enter the tavern. I glanced away from Satel and discovered that the bartender had rushed off to get the authorities the moment the fight had started. Several lawmen were looking at the scene with shock and dismay before all eyes fell on me.

“Did you do this?” one of them demanded, appearing very furious. I realized then that Satel had disappeared, leaving me to take full blame for the murders. Forget jackass- he was a downright bastard!

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

He was an Earl. Satel’s target was member of the human nobility and I was officially named his murderer. They didn’t question me much since I couldn’t provide information they would believe. They claimed that Osel had no falucite problems and that they would know if one was terrorizing their city. It didn’t help my case that I was holding a bloody sword when I was caught and had blood on my clothing thanks to that little gesture Satel did before disappearing. Damn him to five hells…

But as I was being taken to my cell, I overheard sniplets of conversation from others that told me the Earl was expecting an assassin of some kind. Apparently he had been threatened weeks before and he hired all those men to protect him. Now, the man wasn’t very loved, but he did bribe his way into the favor of many organizations- including the sheriffs and deputies. He ‘donated’ guns to them to help keep the peace so they were honor bound to catch and persecute the one responsible for his death.

My typical visits to the local prison were always about the same- get interrogated, tossed in a cell, and then sleep in the lumpy bunk until Cegil paid my bail in the morning. I didn’t need to go to trial for the minor crimes of disturbing the peace, but this time I was in a real tight situation. My crime wasn’t minor and if I didn’t get out of jail and leave town as soon as possible, I would most likely be found guilty in a trial and hanged for murder.

This was bad. My bail was way too high- over one hundred cedit. Cegil and I didn’t have that kind of money and there was no way I was getting out before my trial- not unless I found some way to break out. Or perhaps Cegil can force Satel to turn himself in and admit to being the one responsible. It wasn’t as if he would be punished since I doubted there was anyone in the city who could apprehend and force him to stand trial.

I was pacing around in my minuscule cell as I thought about my options. There wasn’t much I could do other than continue to claim my innocence. I soon stopped before the bars of my cell and examined my surroundings. There wasn’t much of a weakness I could exploit to slip out.

My holding was pretty much three walls of stone and a sturdy set of bars that connected from the ceiling to the floor. There was also a cot shoved to one side that helped reduce the amount of space to pace in. The hinges to the door probably could come loose if I tinkered with it, but I wasn’t sure if I could get far before a guard came to check on me.

“My, my. What a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into.”

I whirled around to glare venomously at the owner of that voice. Satel had appeared inside my cell and was leaning against a corner. His über hat was tilted down some to obscure his eyes from my view. I clenched my fists and resisted the urge to attack him. Even though I really wanted to hurt him, I knew that I couldn’t. He would possibly kill me before I could even try.

The platinum blonde falucite raised his head some and smirked at me before he taunted in a childish tone. “Oh, what’s the matter? Are you mad at me?”

“O’ course ah’m mad! Ye left me ta take the blame fer a crime ah didn’t commit!” I growled, unable to control my accent. I was somewhat surprised my outburst didn’t alert the guards, but then I figured that Satel had something to do with that. His eyes widened for a moment before he started to chuckle.

“Oh, that’s precious!” He chortled between words. “Is that a real seafarer’s accent or are you faking it?”

“Ah’m from the sea, ye filthy barnacle!” I glowered more when his laughter increased. There wasn’t anything funny about my accent! I waited until he was finally quiet before I added, “And quit changin’ the subject! Ah should strangle ye where ye stand!”

“You’re welcome to try, my dearest, but I fear you might not like the outcome,” he replied with a gleam to his eyes. That was a clear threat and I knew better than to push my already rotten luck. Instead I backed away to lean against the bars and practiced my breathing exercises to calm down. He was obviously not going to take me seriously until I was able to control my dialect.

Satel let out what sounded like a content sigh before he pushed himself away from the corner and adjusted his über hat. It was then I realized how tiny the space was when he moved closer to me. There wasn’t any room for me to side step and avoid him if I needed to. I was pretty much trapped between him and the bars should he decide to close the small amount of distance left between us.

“Even though I found it amusing when you were arrested, I’m not really that heartless. I’ll get you out of here- for a small price,” he offered in a mischievous tone, proving that he was up to something.

“For a price?” I yelled shrilly, successfully resisting my natural accent. “Why should I owe you anything? You put me in this mess!”

“Don’t drop your accent on my account- I rather like it,” he commented with a slight pout.

“Satel!” I shouted to remind him to focus. I was more than happy not to oblige him on his request. I was certain he was one of the many who viewed seafarers as ignorant buffoons to laugh at and I wasn’t about to entertain him a moment longer.

There was a smile on his face as he gently shook his head. “I’m not to blame for your imprisonment. If you recall, I didn’t force you to get involved- you approached the filth even after I said you didn’t have to.”

“But that doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t kill the Earl,” I argued, not willing to let a technicality allow him to go free. I may have willingly (albeit stupidly) participated in his dangerous game, but that didn’t give him any right to abandon me.

“That’s none of my concern. Why should I be held responsible for humans who judge without questioning? You told them the truth so it’s no fault of mine that they didn’t believe you.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. That son of a bitch was right- he wasn’t obligated to stay with me or take the blame. The only legal contract we had was that I get wine in exchange for entertaining him and that was already fulfilled. Come to think of it, he didn’t have to save me either. I suppose the only reason he did so was because he didn’t want to anger Cegil.

“Okay, fine,” I sneered in disgust as I tried to ignore that damned smirk of his. “What’s your price?”

I didn’t want to rely on him, but I wasn’t in the position to be picky. I had little options left and if I didn’t do anything, I could end up dead. Satel leaned closer to me and for once I wanted to back away. There was something about that look on his face that made me feel a little funny. Unfortunately, the bars behind me prevented me from getting very far.

“I ask for nothing grandiose- I only wish for a kiss,” he responded as his eyes trailed down to stare at my lips.

“Wot?” I exclaimed, shocked back into my native dialect. I could feel the blood rush to my face as I tried to register what he just asked for. “Why in five hells would ye want somethin’ like that?”

“Why, indeed,” he echoed, sounding very serious. I felt like I could breathe better when he finally decided to back away and contemplate a better answer to give me. “I suppose I’m just curious. I never kissed a human before and it shouldn’t mean anything.”

Why did he have to stress ‘shouldn’t’ like he wasn’t sure about it? I wasn’t sure what he was trying to get at. Perhaps he was only setting me up for yet another one of his pranks. He seemed to like getting under my skin and then ‘change his mind’ at the last second. But I was having trouble discerning the point when I really should back away and ignore him. This is one case I wanted to ignore him… but unfortunately, I couldn’t

“Is that really all you want?” I inquired to make sure there weren’t any hidden motives like before. “Just a kiss and that’s it? No conditions tied to it?”

The shady bastard had the audacity to act mildly offended at my line of questioning. “Honestly! What do you take me for? Some brute who would send a lady to pick a fight with an arrogant noble?”

I gave him a deadpan stare. Was that supposed to be a joke? Satel chuckled over it before he took off his über hat and bowed before me like a real gentleman. “Fine, I swear on my honor that I have no hidden tricks. I will get you out of here in exchange for one kiss.”

“One kiss?” I confirmed, earning a nod. I then sighed and prayed that this wouldn’t end up badly. “Fine. Get me out of here.”

Satel straightened up as he put his hat back on. The grin never left his face as he took two steps and then reached out to me. I nervously glanced up at him as he pulled me against him. One arm was wrapped around me and rested at my lower back while his other hand was at my shoulder. My hands instinctually landed on his chest.

“Get me out first,” I insisted as his head lowered close to mine.

“Of course,” he murmured without looking away from me. Suddenly I felt a light breeze on my face and glanced around to find that we were outside.

I’ve never experienced a teleport spell before- I didn’t think it would be so seamless. I didn’t even feel a difference until that breeze came up. We were now in front of the inn Cegil and I was staying at and the streets were practically empty. There was a street lamp nearby that lit Satel’s features and gave me a good view of that unnerving glint in his red-brown eyes.

“Satisfied?” he wondered in a bemused tone before he added, “Now close your eyes.”

I grimaced some before I did as he commanded. “Ugh, you’re going to turn into some beastie at the last second and try to scare me, aren’t you?”

“Heh, just for that, open your mouth, too,” he replied, acting as if he was penalizing me for my sass- though I had a suspicion he was going to order it anyway.

Now I knew what he was going to do- he was going to put something in my mouth and make me think he’s kissing me. He’s immature enough to do it- I just hoped it wasn’t anything gross. I felt like an idiot standing there with my eyes closed and my mouth opened slightly, but I waited for the inevitable patiently.

I could feel his breath on my face as he drew closer, but I didn’t think anything of it. I was certain he was trying to trick and distract me so he could conjure up something demeaning to shove in my face. I then felt a light pressure on my lips before something rather soft pressed against me. My brows furrowed some- whatever it was, it was too warm to be some lifeless object…

Suddenly, something warm, wet, and alive slid past my teeth and started rubbing against my tongue. My eyes flew open and I discovered that Satel was indeed kissing me. His eyes were partially open to watch my reactions and I could feel his lips tug into another smirk. I began to panic and tried to pull away, but his hand slid to the back of my head to keep me in place and his arm tightened around me. He quickly deepened the kiss and made sure to explore every area of my mouth before he finally let me go.

I sprang back and immediately wiped my lips with the back of my sleeve. I could only watch on, stunned, as he slowly licked his lips with a satisfied expression.

“You still taste like wine,” he muttered in a very pleased purr.

I was speechless- I hadn’t expected him to actually kiss me. …Well, I knew something was going to happen, but not that. I had never been kissed before- any guy that tried before was promptly discouraged with a fist to the face. How in five hells did Satel manage to get away with it? The bastard was too manipulative and cunning for his own good.

I was rooted in place as he laughed into the air and then took a step closer to me. He leaned towards me and for a moment I thought he was going to kiss me again, but instead he rested his palm on my cheek and looked me in the eyes.

“I guess I was wrong. It did mean something,” he told me before he vanished. I still wasn’t sure what he meant by that.

I stayed in that shocked state for a while before I urged my body to move again. I wasn’t thinking straight as I headed in the inn and mindlessly entered the room I shared with Cegil. It was as if my body was moving on its own as my mind struggled to form a thought of any kind.

It wasn’t until I was in my nightclothes and flopped on my bed that I realized that Cegil still hadn’t returned…

To the Next Chapter

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