5. Alliances

Chapter 5

Alliances

            I believe my only solace was the fact that it wasn’t that late in the day yet. The sun didn’t really start to bake everything under it until after noon and I still had a good hour or so before that time came. But it wasn’t exactly pleasant at the moment and the fact that I was running didn’t help much either. It must’ve been at least a good fifteen-minute run before we reached the valley of a canyon pass.

The canyon was part of a large divide that separated the northern area of the Wastelands from the rest of the desert. The canyon was only about thirteen feet deep and had a small river that carried the melted snow from the mountains to the west. The northernmost mountains were a little shorter than the rest of the range, allowing for some clouds to escape and provide some rain to the area, which also helped sustained the river. Cegil once taught me that canyons were created from running water slowly eroding the land and that it would continue to grow over time.

The pass ahead of us trekked through the canyon in a serpentine line and had a bridge to help cross the river. At first, Satel and I had to run down the steep incline into the valley before we slowly came to a stop at the ground level. We had only gone a little ways in when the falucite raised his arm to bar me from going further. The demons had stopped running and we were out in the open.

We were actually within a corridor enclosure where two walls of reddish stone flanked the path. It widened out significantly up ahead where the demons were, allowing room for more boulders and sparse vegetation to decorate the view. Thankfully, none of the demons seemed to have heard our approach and they weren’t facing our direction. We both carefully backed away to hide behind a tall rock structure. I was breathing heavily as I slowly slid down the stone to sit and rest for a bit. Satel took a moment to examine the monsters before he followed suit and sat next to me.

“Looks like their leader isn’t with them- and they seem to be waiting for something.” He mused before he glanced over at me. “You look terrible.”

“Gee, thanks,” I growled out in a sneer. I was flushed and sweaty from all that running and I knew my body was going to pay for it tomorrow. I tried very hard not to acknowledge the fact that he still looked cool and presentable while I looked ragged and exhausted. He was breathing a little heavier than usual, but that was the only indication that he had been running as well.

I took out my water canteen and drank in a little more than I should have. I needed to conserve as much water as possible, but I couldn’t restrain myself. Satel then surprised me again with another act of kindness by pulling out a dark red handkerchief and then collected some water from my canteen in the center of it. He then used his magicks to freeze the liquid and wrapped it up before he pressed it against my forehead.

“Thanks,” I muttered, enjoying the feeling of something cold against my heated skin. I reached up to take the cloth, but he insisted on gently running it across my forehead and down my neck himself.

“Hmm… You humans are such fragile creatures- easily vulnerable to the elements,” he said in a purr as he ran the covered ice along the hem of my high collar dress. Some part of me wished I could unbutton my dress a little so I could allow body heat to escape better, but I wasn’t about to expose myself to Satel. His nearness was already making me uncomfortable and I didn’t want to give him any ideas.

While the ice was a refreshing welcome, I didn’t like where this was heading when he leaned closer to me and ran the tip of his tongue along my jaw line. I ended up resisting a very strong urge to shiver in pleasure and inwardly realized that some part of me was enjoying this. I wasn’t sure what his game was this time, but I wasn’t in the mood to sate his ego. I sneered as I pushed him back a little. “Don’t you need to figure out what those monsters are up to?”

“They’re just standing around and talking about their latest kill,” he replied wryly before he snaked an arm around me. “They’re obviously biding their time as they wait- so why not do the same?”

For a moment I had forgotten about the fact that he could hear further than I could and was able to pick up what the creatures were discussing. The fact that they were waiting for something didn’t bode well to me. Were they expecting another pack to meet with them? Or were they waiting for Cegil?

But I couldn’t completely focus my thoughts and ponder the issue more as Satel pulled himself even closer to me and nuzzled my hair. “Mmm… you smell so alluring today. You must be reaching the peak of your cycle.”

I ignored the pounding of my heart and tried very hard not to strike him. I knew what he was talking about and was somewhat offended that he had to discuss his thoughts out loud with me. I must’ve been entering the fertile stage of my monthly cycle and was releasing enough pheromones to catch the attention of males. Humans didn’t have a strong sense of smell so men rarely notice the scent of a female ready to conceive. But still, there had to be something that made us women seem more attractive because I tend to garner more attention during times like this.

Of course, when it came to monsters (both lesser and greater), I had to be more careful. They weren’t as easy to scare off and sometimes I had to stick close to Cegil in order to make sure that I wouldn’t be attacked by a strong demon. Though I had thought that falucite were immune to it since Cegil never seemed to be affected. Perhaps it had something to do with age and Satel was too young to control himself- it did explain his rather amorous behavior. But I still couldn’t believe he thought I smelled good after all that running. Perhaps my hormones covered the scent of sweat? Unlikely- he was probably just pulling my leg.

“Back off!” I hissed anyway, being careful not to make enough noise for the monsters to notice. I then wedged my arm against his chest to try to push him away.

“Don’t worry, I won’t do anything naughty. I just want to enjoy your scent,” he reassured me with a devilish smirk before he lowered his head to my neck. I almost snorted- I’m sure he probably wanted to do more than just smell me, but I had a feeling he was telling the truth. Not even Satel was stupid enough to fool around in a situation like this.

I still didn’t like the close proximity though and tried with all my might to get him off. It irked me to no end to find that he chose to pull away when I was finally successful. I could see that associating with him was going to be a serious problem in the next twelve or so days. As much as I wanted to maintain my untouched reputation to Cegil, I was going to have to fess up and inform him of what had been happening. If Cegil knew about this, then surely he could talk to his brother and tell him to stay away. And if not that, then telling him would make him think twice about leaving me alone with the platinum blonde.

“He’s here,” Satel whispered in a quieter voice before he signaled for me to be silent. I leaned over to glance around the edge of the rock as he stood and peered over it.

The path ahead dipped down from where we were, allowing me a great view of the scene despite the fact that I was low to the ground. There were two greater demons and around sixteen lessers- easy enough to defeat if it were just Cegil and I. I just had to watch out for one of the greater demons, but I could easily kill off their little minions.

The greater versions were in the same brown and white spotted color as their counterparts, but they had more of a humanoid shape to them. They could stand on two legs and had shoulders more like a human’s. But their faces were elongated to that of a canine structure and they had hair all over their body. Their lessers had fur and more of a dog-like body structure.

I felt like my heart had stopped when I caught a glimpse of Cegil rounding a bend. Almost immediately, the monsters stopped socializing and stood at attention as they waited for him to approach. I was initially relived that they appeared like they weren’t going to attack, but I couldn’t trust if it was going to stay like that. Just about anything could set off a fight and I wasn’t sure if Cegil could handle all of them on his own without getting hurt. I was certain that he could get out of a fight with them alive, though.

I watched with bated breath as my guardian narrowed his eyes and started talking with the pack. I was frustrated that I couldn’t hear a word of it- I was too far away. Satel didn’t seem to be having the same problem as he listened in with a glare on his face. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but the pack seemed to be tormenting Cegil with whatever taunts their feeble minds could come up with. They were all laughing while he continued to stare stoically at them.

But soon his eyes widened from something a greater demon boasted out and I could see his body tense. Satel let out a curse before he grabbed at me and hissed for me to get up. I was confused as I was pulled up and pressed against the rock before him. My head crested over the stone just enough where I could see over it.

“What are you doing?” I whispered when I felt something blowing against the back of my neck. I glanced back in time to see that he was the culprit. His lips were still puckered in the act and I was about to believe that he was trying to annoy me again.

“I’m letting Cegil know you’re here by sending your scent,” he explained before he pulled me back down and guided me to squat next to him. I was able to figure out that he was using his magicks to alert Cegil for a good reason- the demons must’ve either told him about Vildine or explicitly told him that I was killed. He needed to know that I was safe.

But even with Satel’s magicks guiding the smell, wouldn’t the monsters also pick it up, too? As if to answer my question, I could hear the sound of one or two lesser monsters coming over to investigate. Satel teleported us to another stone formation on Cegil’s side before they could find us. The falucite then pressed the tip of his gloved finger against my lips as a sign to keep quiet.

We were much closer now- to the point where I could hear them talk. The greater demons didn’t seem to think anything was amiss and continued to speak with Cegil. Their voices were deeper and rougher than a human (or falucite’s) voice, almost as if they were constantly growling with each word.

“You have been warned falucite. If you deviate from the path again, the mistress will destroy more human lives.”

Cegil said nothing in reply- he just let them laugh again before the other greater demon barked an order to leave. Soon the creatures began running back the way they came. The lesser versions barked and howled joyously as they followed their pack leaders. Those demons sure had a lot of gall…

Falucite were more powerful than greater demons and could easily destroy them if they wanted to. Hearing them make fun of and threaten Cegil made me angry. They must’ve somehow known he was powerless and thought they had the right to act superior. Oh how I wanted to treat them like worthless humans and deck them all!

Once they seemed to have completely left the area, Satel stood up and glared at his brother. I took it as a cue that I could approach my guardian and quickly ran up to him without a second thought. “Cegil!”

“Dantia…” he muttered out with an undertone of relief. The feeling was mutual and I couldn’t stop myself from crashing into him and wrapping my arms tightly around him. I knew he could take care of himself, but I still worried about him anyway. I didn’t like losing people who were precious to me and that made me somewhat over protective of him. I didn’t know what I would do if something bad ever happened to him.

Cegil slowly brought one of his large hands up and rested it on my upper back in response to my fierce hug. After a while, he pushed me back a little to ask, “Are you hurt?”

“I got out of town before they could notice me,” I replied after confirming that I was fine. Some part of me felt that I should give some credit to Satel, but I didn’t really want to. I could’ve gotten out on my own if I had to… but I probably wouldn’t have been able to survive running across the Wastelands to outrun the monsters or reach Cegil. Oh what the hell… “It’s thanks to Satel that I’m safe.”

“I see,” he responded before he glanced up to the other falucite, “I thank you for rescuing her.”

I grimaced a little from that- He didn’t rescue me- he just helped me a little. But it wasn’t that important to correct him at that moment since Satel had a grievance to make known.

“I can’t believe you’re working with the Daedeleth clan after all they’ve done to you- to us.” He sneered at his brother. “Or are you not aware that your ‘informers’ are their agents?”

“…What gives you the impression? I have no love for the Daedeleth clan, nor do I wish to help them in any way,” Cegil replied as he narrowed his eyes at Satel.

“Then are you telling me that you don’t know whose territory you’re entering or who that pack of eneavra belong to?” Satel exclaimed incredulously as his arm swung outward in an angry gesture- his braid gently swinging out in motion with his body. It startled me a bit when I realized that he had said the name of my new enemies. They had mentioned it before, I think- I really should have figured it out sooner. “I heard everything. You sounded awfully chummy with them until they mentioned ‘Tia. Why would they know she would be there and why would they think she would be important to you?”

I wasn’t too sure what was going on, but after getting confirmation from him that the attack on Vildine was indeed because of me, I knew for certain that Cegil wasn’t expecting it. He wouldn’t knowingly send me to a town where I could be at risk for an attack. But how did they even know I would be there, instead of traveling with them? Did they know about Satel too? I could feel my guardian tense some as he thought about what his brother was accusing him of. I knew he was feeling guilty over it all, even though his face didn’t show it.

“Leave him alone!” I found myself shouting as I whirled around to face Satel. I wasn’t really sure what I was hoping to accomplish, since I couldn’t prove anything on Cegil’s behalf. But I couldn’t just stand there and listen to the younger falucite act as if he was some traitor.

“Calm yourself, Dantia. I know I am to blame for placing you in danger.” I turned back and tried to reassure him that I didn’t blame him at all, but he gestured for me to move as he approached Satel. “I was well aware that I was heading into their territory, but I did not know that they were expecting me- nor did I know that they would go to such extremes to keep me away. As far as I know, my informers are not agents of that clan.”

Satel stared at him for a long while. “But surely you can concede that someone must have told them. Officially our elders and the Daedeleth clan are on good terms with each other, but if you insist on poking around close to their borders, you might start something. Thankfully, no one noticed me in Vildine so they shouldn’t think that I’m working with you.”

So it wasn’t that Satel wasn’t welcomed in Vildine- he was just trying to keep from causing a friction between two clans. I could gather that Cegil had some bad blood with the Daedeleth and it made sense that Satel wouldn’t want to be openly considered his ally.

“Who would have informed them of my arrival? Are you insinuating that my informers are at fault?”

“It’s a possibility. Who’s to say some members of the Daedeleth aren’t trying to push you into this mess? When you think about it, it’s the perfect revenge against you,” Satel stated as his features softened some. He seemed to be a little less mad and hoping that Cegil wasn’t working with the enemy clan. …But I didn’t really understand- if Satel’s clan and this Daedeleth were allies, then why was it bad if Cegil was really working with them?

“Perhaps so…” the giant agreed as he stared at the ground. “But then that would also mean that you and our elders want me back for the same reason. It contradicts with your earlier words that I was forgiven.”

“No it doesn’t! We’re not-” Satel stopped himself with a frustrated growl. He then shook his head furiously. “I can’t tell you much but what I have said is true- you are forgiven and the rumors you’ve been hearing are correct- if not too exaggerated. It’s narrowed down to either me or you- and it doesn’t have to be you.”

At this point, I was reduced to fade in the background as some spectator and sat down on a small nearby boulder as I tried to make sense of what I was hearing. I was getting really confused, but it seemed to me that Satel was being genuine. Why didn’t Cegil want to believe him? Or maybe his distrust wasn’t in his brother, but in the elders of the clan.

Cegil seemed very stunned to hear the last bit he mentioned, but then I could sense him trying hard to contain his rage. All that showed on his face was a frown, but even that little bit was more than he would normally express. I didn’t think I had ever seen him like this before…

Everything felt tense as the larger falucite calmly walked up to his brother and stared down at him. Satel held his gaze with features that were both proud and determined.

“You would sacrifice yourself on the altar of peace?” Cegil inquired tersely before his voice raised some. “Are you saying that you are ready to face the future that the Fates decided for you?”

“If I need to, yes. I’m prepared to do what it takes to shut up the Daedeleth clan and satisfy the Fates,” he replied, sounding very confident.

Sacrifice? The Fates? I nearly snorted- I knew the falucite religiously followed the Fates, too, but why were they acting as if a stupid prediction was something to take that seriously? All the Fates did was guide others on the path they should take- while being very vague about it. What in five hells did Satel (or Cegil for that matter) have to do that would require them to lose something important? I wasn’t sure what needed to be ‘sacrificed’ but apparently Cegil didn’t like the thought of either one having to make it.

“Is that what you want or what the elders want? No one should have to go through with it just because the Fates dictate it. If I were you, young falcie, I wouldn’t place too much trust in elders who care more about their own image with other clans than their own flesh and blood,” Cegil warned before he added, “It is clear that they seek to use us as pawns- why else would they welcome me back after how I’ve disgraced them?”

This was one of the reasons why I loved Cegil to pieces- he hated the Fates more than how I hated humans. I personally had nothing against the immortal naggers since all they did was tell people what to do and did nothing to enforce it. It was incredibly easy to just ignore them altogether. I wasn’t sure what happened that made Cegil turn against everything the Fates stood for, but I appreciated the fact that he didn’t try to encourage me to follow my reading and even offered his sword to help me escape it.

“You’re wrong!” Satel shouted as he glared at his brother and fisted his hands at his sides. “That’s not how it is! Things aren’t as they seem and you would know that if you would just come home and speak with Elder Cujol-”

Cegil had turned his back on the younger falucite and was about to walk away, but that name set him off and he let out a sudden roar, “You would have me speak with the very falucite who stripped me of my powers?”

I jumped at his tone while Satel flinched and nervously toyed with the brim of his über hat. “…Okay, I know that sounds bad but…”

“Satel! I will only forgive you because you are still too young to know how to make your own decisions. The elders have most likely poisoned your thinking,” my guardian grumbled as his features calmed into that usual stoic façade.

Satel’s eyes widened for a moment before he tilted his head down and pushed his hat to obscure his eyes. I could see his top lip curl into a snarl before be growled out, “I may still be a falcie, but I do have my own thoughts. There are things your informers can’t tell you and if you refuse to get the whole story from the source, then you should butt out altogether.”

“If I go, then I will be forced to take your place- and if I stay out of it, you will be forced to play a role in a cruel game of the Fates. I do not like either outcome,” Cegil replied, continuing to keep his back to Satel.

“Then what do you propose to do? Are you going to convince me to leave the clan? Or perhaps you intend to destroy the Daedeleth’s?”

“I will find a way to solve this- I just need time,” Cegil insisted as he closed his eyes and slowly shook his head.

Satel finally raised his head and shrugged. “Fine, you have a little more than a month to try. But know that I’m far from done with you.”

The über hat falucite then glanced at me for a moment before he let a smirk appear on his features once again. “I’ve been putting this off, but I will have to report to the elders that you’re here- it wouldn’t do to have them find out from the other clan. But when I get back, I’m honor bound to tell you something- if ‘Tia doesn’t mind the delay.”

I perked up when I realized that Satel was asking for permission to hold off a little on the deal we had made. He seemed to want to tell Cegil in private and there wasn’t really anywhere safe that I could go to at the moment. As long as he was planning to fulfill it, I had no objections. “It’s fine with me.”

Cegil cast me a near curious look as he wondered what that little exchange between Satel and I meant. I decided that it was probably better not to mention that I had traded a kiss for information. I glared as Satel puckered his lips in a mock kiss at me before he disappeared with his magicks. Smug bastard.

Now that we were alone, I wanted to ask what that argument was about, but something held me back. I was admittedly scared to find out what was wrong. Whatever was happening, it sounded like it had something to do with Cegil’s past and I didn’t want to pry in that area. Ever since I’ve started traveling with him, we had an understanding that we didn’t need to know each other’s past- it was clear that his background was just as painful as mine was.

It was better to let Cegil decide if he wanted to tell me. He probably would tell me something if I inquired, but I didn’t want to force it. If I did, then we wouldn’t be even and I would have to reveal something from my past to make up for it. But until that happened, there were other just as important questions to ask, like… “So where to now? Vildine is no more and Osel thinks I’m a murderer.”

“As much as I would rather leave, we shall stay within the Xanaturi borders and find another village to the west. It should be an hour’s travel- do you think you can make it?” he wondered as his eyes reflected how grateful he was that I didn’t ask what he was anticipating.

Xanaturi? Come to think of it, Satel mentioned that name before. I guess that was the name of their clan- shame I didn’t know it until then. “Yeah, I can survive an hour… oh, hey!”

I was surprised to discover that I still had Satel’s handkerchief and that the ice inside hadn’t melted. Cegil glanced over to me after I made the exclamation and noticed the small stone of ice sitting in my hand.

“An ice charm… Did Satel give that to you?” he asked, sounding rather surprised. Apparently Satel’s magicks created something that wasn’t quite ice, but felt like it. The charm couldn’t melt and it had the ability to cool down a human if kept wrapped up and placed near the skin.

I tilted my head some as I thought back to when he made it and then shook my head. “I don’t think he meant to leave it- I’m sure he’ll want his handkerchief back at least.”

“He does seem to have the intent to visit us again. No matter- keep it wrapped around your neck until we reach the next destination. It should protect you from overheating, though you will still need to keep hydrated,” he ordered before he began heading back the direction he came. “We should leave now- it is not safe here.”

I quickly jumped up and followed after my guardian as I twisted the cloth into a line that I could tie around my throat like a choker. I kept the charm in the center so it could rest at the hollow of my throat (the only part of my lower neck that was exposed). Almost instantly, the dry heat felt like a warm spring and I had to ponder if this was how Cegil felt in this weather.

I knew there was still much to discuss and other questions I had to ask, but I decided to save it for when we reached the next town. I instead used the silence to think through what I wanted to ask so I could make sure I didn’t push the conversation to something uncomfortable to my guardian- and I needed to plan how I was going to tell him that Satel was seemingly flirting with me without having to make myself sound like a loose woman.

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

I wasn’t sure if Cegil knew where he was going or if we were just lucky, but after we got out of the canyon and started heading west, we did come across a small town that was nestled next to the line of tall plateaus.

This town was a bit larger than Vildine, but just as cozy and quiet. I couldn’t help but feel a tiny lurch when I remembered that the citizens of Vildine were gone. It wasn’t that I cared for them in particular, but I still didn’t like to see innocent people slaughtered for no reason. I took a brief glance around the town to distract myself as we walked. The streets were covered in cobblestones and the homes were made with wood and stone. On the other side of town, nestled in a small pit, I could see a fountain. I made a mental note to explore more of the place later.

Eventually I learned that the town was called Anoav and that it was actually a town that was once founded by a small clan of falucite. Usually, by tradition, any town started by a mixed couple was named after the bride. Anoav must’ve been the name of the woman who mated with an ancestor from Cegil’s clan- and if I wasn’t mistaken, Vildine had to have been the name of the eneavra ‘mistress’ those monsters mentioned.

I was quiet as I paid for the rooms. Some part of me was upset that our money was wasted on a room we didn’t use, but I couldn’t really stay mad knowing that the innkeeper in Vildine was most likely dead. It was a bit selfish of me to lament over lost crijok, but Cegil and I couldn’t afford accidents like that. Especially since the rates in Anoav were slightly higher than in the small village.

It was still unbearably silent once we had settled in our room- a spacious two-bed room with blue walls, wood floor, and one window. Cegil did his usual habit of staring out the window but I was able to pick up that he was thinking about something. I couldn’t help but feel like he was still brooding over the fight with Satel- or perhaps he was still feeling guilty over sending me to Vildine. I decided to give him some time alone to contemplate as I announced that I was going to bathe in the adjoining room.

Thanks to Satel’s ice charm, I didn’t really feel all that grungy, but I did work up a sweat earlier when I had had to run. I needed to wash up before any odor started to manifest on me. I also went the extra length to spray a little of my perfume on my dress just to be safe. I washed quickly and only took time on my hair since it had been a day or two since I had last used soaps on it (I preferred a quick rinse usually).

When I was done, I dressed and emerged from the bathroom while drying my long hair with a towel. I paused when I found that Cegil was staring at me with soulful eyes, the rest of his face impassive. I locked eyes with him for a long while before he finally decided to say something.

“Dantia, I am afraid I have something I must confess to you,” he said as I picked up a trace of a grave tone from his voice.

I sat down on the edge of my bed and gave him my full attention. “What is it?”

It took him a while to get started, but he soon gathered up his words after a long sigh. “Please do not think ill of me, but I was fully aware that the eneavra were going to appear today. My informer warned me in Ranosia that there was a pack following our movements from a distance. I had thought that if we separated and headed towards the village where their pack leader lived, then I could encounter them on my own. But I did not anticipate them knowing about you or attacking the town instead.”

I sat there with a bewildered expression as that sunk into my mind. So Cegil had lied to Satel about his ignorance in the matter. It seemed Satel and I were both right to some extent about the larger falucite’s plan- but it wasn’t as if he was doing anything wrong… right? There was still too much that I didn’t know.

“…Do you know why they were following us? Or did they not tell you anything when you met with them?” I asked to get a better idea of where we stood with them. He said that he tried to ‘encounter’ them, but that didn’t necessarily mean that he wanted to fight them.

“The demons are merely messengers from Vildine herself- her mate wants me to return home as well and they were ensuring that I wouldn’t stray from the path. If I err again, they will destroy more human lives. Your death was supposed to set an example and show me that I cannot defy them.”

“Well, so much for that,” I muttered after a snort. “But wait- can they destroy more villages if we stay in this territory?”

“That’s the tricky thing about greater demon mates- one cannot prove if a pack of marauding lesser demons belong to her. They could just as easily be from a clan residing in our territory,” he replied as his eyes trailed back over to the window.

“Oh…” I let in a deep breath as I tried to think over our options. It seemed that both sides wanted Cegil to return home, but that was the exact thing he didn’t want to do. But now we were in so deep that we had to do something lest we would be responsible for more lives. “So what can we do? We could always have Satel tell your elders what tricks the Daedeleth are using and then run to the east and get out of here. Surely they can’t get away with their plan and maintain a peaceful relationship.”

Cegil shook his head. “They won’t listen to him. If I do not think he is mature enough to form his own opinions, imagine what the elders would think. They would only dismiss his words as a nonsensical trickery.”

Man, it was tough being the youngest in a generation… For once I was actually feeling bad for the guy. I knew how frustrating it was being denied a drink just because I looked too young to be taken seriously, but Satel had a real problem with trust in his own family.

“Do not worry over this, little falcie. I will think of something,” Cegil announced as he stood up. He then faced me with a nod, “And this time I will reveal it to you beforehand- at this point, Satel is most likely the only one I can trust, so I do not mind if you accidentally tell him anything.”

“Huh? But what about your informer? Do you think he is an agent of the Daedeleth clan after all?” I wondered as I thought back on that argument earlier. Cegil seemed to have placed a lot of trust into his other information source until now.

“Definitely not. I am simply under the impression that everyone, save for Satel, is trying to lead me to one place based on their own motives. Satel is merely trying to do what he thinks is right.”

I guessed that made sense. He was the only one I’ve heard so far that told Cegil that he could ‘butt out’, meaning that he didn’t care if his brother decided not to go home. Funny how the shadiest bastard I had ever met turned out to be the trustworthiest. Just what was this world coming to?

“Oh, speaking of that jackass, there’s something I need to tell you, too,” I began as I decided to get what I’ve been holding in over with. “I’ve started that darn monthly smell again-”

“You mean you are in heat,” Cegil corrected me, acting as if it were no big deal. …Well, it probably wasn’t to him. So long as we weren’t surrounded by monsters, there was nothing to worry about.

“Yeah, that…” I flushed a little as I tried not to think about it. I knew the whole ‘where babies came from’ and the mechanics behind it- and I could even joke about it with no trouble, but when the subject was about me, I easily got uncomfortable. “Try not to leave me alone with Satel in your next plan. I don’t want him to get any funny ideas.”

Cegil’s eyebrow raised a little as he turned to look at me. “You should not have to worry about him. We falucite only have one mate in our lifetime and we are unaffected by the smell of a female in heat.”

“Er- he was sniffing on me before, does that mean…” I trailed off, suddenly nervous about the answer.

“We like the smell, but we do not act on it,” he explained, bringing some relief to me. “Though I am surprised to hear how little restraint he is exhibiting. He should know by now to respect one’s space.”

So then he was most likely trying to stoke his own ego or just trying to annoy me. There was nothing behind those touches and kisses- at least nothing serious. The fact that Cegil said that his kind ‘chose carefully’ made me believe that Satel wasn’t trying to view me as a potential mate. I knew it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility, but I doubted that someone like Satel would suddenly choose me after knowing me for only a few days.

I felt a little better knowing that- I didn’t like the thought of becoming intimate with someone I barely knew. Actually, I didn’t want to be that friendly with anyone, but that stemmed from my fear of somehow fulfilling the reading that idiot Oracle gave me in Port Sibest. Though it hadn’t really been a problem so far- I really wasn’t interested in the men this world had to offer and despite my early upbringing, I still didn’t understand the appeal in women.

Cegil soon headed into the bathroom to take a bath himself. Even falucite needed to clean themselves every now and then- they didn’t stink like humans after a while, but they did gather up oils and grime like any other living creature. After I dried my hair, I closed my eyes and started brushing the tangles out of my hair. It was a long and annoying process, but it still wasn’t enough to convince me to chop most of it off. The falucite took pride in long hair and I suppose I wanted to keep it so I could try to look like one.

I put down the brush when I was done and flicked back my hair with both hands. It was then when I sensed something unusual around me. I slowly opened my eyes and saw black before me. A split second later, I realized I was staring straight at someone’s crotch and raised my head to view Satel’s smug face.

“Huh? Hey!” I shouted as he leaned down and placed his hands on my shoulders. The next thing I knew, I was sitting outside on some bench that overlooked the fountain down below. The blonde bastard disappeared promptly after that.

“The hell?” I found myself muttering out as I examined my surroundings. What in five hells was going on? If this was some prank, it wasn’t that funny. I stood up and discovered, to my relief, that I was still in the same town.

It took me a moment to gain my bearings, but I soon remembered that the fountain was on the other side of town from the inn. I couldn’t even begin to figure out why Satel put me here or if he was even coming back. I ended up shaking my head some and decided to walk back to our room. Hopefully he was there so I could get some answers.

My hair was still down and most of the dry strands were floating in the breeze behind me as I stormed back to my destination at a brisk pace. For some reason a lot of people were staring at me and some merchants were trying very hard to get my attention. I wasn’t really sure why until a little girl waddled in my path and looked up at me with her nauseatingly large and innocent eyes.

“You’re pretty!” she called out, thinking that it was an appropriate way to give a compliment. I had to admit- that was a first. Not often I had children come up to me and say such things. I couldn’t really believe that I appeared any different with my hair down than with it up in a braid. Then again, I heard once that human females somehow appear more attractive during the fertile part of their cycle, so that could’ve been a factor. Still… I didn’t think it would color a child’s opinion.

“Maybe on the outside, kid, but on the inside, I’m really a monster,” I told her as I strode past her.

“Hee, hee! I wanna be a monster too! Rawr!”

…Okay, that was cute. I couldn’t help but feel a little dark pride when her friends (both boys and girls) started to roar and act like lesser monsters with her. Now I’ve caused an epidemic for the mothers of this town to deal with. It was actually better than disturbing the peace and was much more aggravating. The fact that I couldn’t get arrested for it was a bonus.

My good cheer was instantly dashed when I heard some catcalls from a group of young men. I growled under my breath and fisted my hands as I tried very hard to ignore them. Most women would’ve actually felt flattered over the attention, but I hated it intensely. I actually couldn’t wait for the bleeding to start so that the maddening pheromones would go away. Ironically, I was probably the only woman in existence that appreciated the monthly bleeding. I was admittedly crabbier during those times and I liked to take it out on the men in taverns.

Before I could reach the inn, I found out that the other reason I was suddenly approachable was because I didn’t have my sword with me. Nothing said ‘back off’ more than a sharp piece of steel at one’s side. Thankfully, this minor problem didn’t prevent me from throwing some hapless moron into a stack of crates after he thought it was a good idea to grope me and invite me to go with him to some private area. I was pleased when it resulted in getting the other womanizers to shut up and scatter.

I wasn’t very happy by the time I was climbing the stairs and heading back to my room. Satel better have had a good reason for forcing me out. But I soon found out that he was fulfilling the end of his bargain by telling Cegil what his own motives were and I ended up catching the tail end of it since the walls were rather thin.

“…I will make sure first. It kind of bothers me that I don’t even know her name.”

I was somewhat curious as to what Satel was talking about, but I didn’t reflect too much on it as I quickly headed to the door to give him a piece of my mind. I was too pissed to be courteous enough to let him finish his conversation and I didn’t care that it could potentially breech our agreement. But just as my hand touched the doorknob, it twisted and opened before Satel tried to walk out.

“It’s not nice to eavesdrop, ‘Tia,” he said in a singsong tone as he gently pushed me back in the hallway and closed the door behind him. He seemed to be finished with his business.

“Who’s eavesdroppin’? Ah jus’ got ‘ere!” I yelled, my accent uncontrollable for the moment, “If ye wanted me ta leave the room, ye could’ve jus’ asked!”

“You are so adorable when angry,” he commented with a chuckle as he tried to tuck some of my hair behind my ear. I flinched and turned away from him so he couldn’t.

“Ye done talkin’?” I inquired, trying to hasten his exit so I wouldn’t have to deal with him for too long.

“Yes, I told him everything that I was up to. I hope you’re happy,” he replied casually as he shrugged and headed over to the stairs.

“Ah’m ne’er happy,” I muttered as I glowered at his back. At least, that’s what most good-natured people say about me after seeing me in action with Cegil. I was generally happy with my life, but it didn’t really show in my outward appearance… not unless I was beating some man senseless anyway.

Satel paused in his step and glanced at me from over his shoulder. “Is that so? I guess we’ll need to change that, won’t we?”

I couldn’t imagine how he could change anything and the whole ‘we’ thing was making me nervous. I ended up being blindsided when he pushed back his über hat so he could lean down and kiss me on the cheek. I reacted quickly by backing away and rubbed at the spot where is lips made contact. It felt like my stomach plopped down to my lower bowels when his eyes darkened and his tone lowered a few octaves.

“Ah’ll be at the tavern t’night, me bonne lass. Come by if ye want a drink.” He then laughed as he turned on his heel and headed down the stairs. Did…he just use a seafarer’s accent? It was a rather good for a landlubber.

When I recovered from my shock I growled and stormed over to the top of the stairs. “Don’t mock me, ye bilge-!”

Damn. He was already gone.

To the Next Chapter

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