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The silver siren, p.10
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       The Silver Siren, p.10

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  “Regrettably, Kael, I don’t think you should have a monster for a lifemate.”

  “But it’s so much more than just lifemate. I feel it here,” he touched his heart. “You’re my soul mate. Only death will part us.”

  “That remains to be seen.” I challenged, glaring at him. I still wanted a way to break the bond without killing us. Soul mate meant bond or no bond, our lives would always be tied together. Arguing with him over this was futile—especially when I didn’t understand it all. I wanted the freedom to choose Kael on my own, and now I wasn’t sure if I would ever have it. I turned over to face the wall and pulled the blanket up over my shoulders.

  Kael settled in on top of the blankets, close but not touching.

  Chapter 14

  I awoke the next morning to something warm wrapped around me. I peeked out of my blankets to see Kael’s body spooning me. Somehow during the night, the pillow had disappeared. My head lay on Kael’s arm. I was comfortable and cozy with his left arm lightly draped over my waist. I turned to look at him but his eyes were closed. I tried to move away without disturbing him, but he pulled me closer in protest.

  “Mmm, warm,” was all he said before his head dipped and he snuggled into the back of my neck.

  “What are you doing?” I asked.

  “You got cold last night. You started to shiver and you said my name. I’m obligated to protect you, even if it’s from an evil draft.”

  “I did not. I had the blanket, and I was fine,” I argued quietly, hoping Joss or Hemi didn’t appear at my door any minute.

  “Okay fine, maybe it was me that was shivering and cold last night. But it was the least you could do, since you wouldn’t share your blanket.”

  In a final fit, I wrenched the blanket off of me and threw it over the Kael, and I crawled out of bed.

  “For a SwordBrother, you sure are a big baby,” I hissed out and kept looking around the room for a decent place to change.

  “If I remember right…” Kael pulled the blanket off and stood up to stretch out his long limbs, “…it was always you who couldn’t sleep unless I was near. I think it now goes both ways. I can’t sleep unless I’m warm and close to you.” He smiled at me, and a tingling sensation ran through my whole body.

  Just then a loud knock came on my door. Oh no! If Hemi saw Kael in here, I had no doubt he would do some serious physical damage. I ran across the room and opened up the window shutter and frantically pointed for Kael to leave through the window.

  He frowned and shook his head.

  “Oh, why can you climb in the window at night, but you can’t climb out it during the day?” I taunted out at him. “Are you scared of daylight?”

  Kael straightened his shirt and gave me a stern look. “I’m not ashamed to be with you.” He walked over to the door and opened it to a shocked Joss. Joss looked handsome in brown breeches and light blue shirt and vest. He even had a plate of cheese and bread.

  I watched Joss survey the room and frown disapprovingly at Kael. He entered to place the tray of food on the one small dresser. Joss stepped forward and reached out to touch my cheek, and I couldn’t help but pull away before he touched me. My rejection caught him by surprise, and I could see the hurt flash across his face.

  I didn’t know how to act around him. If what Kael said was true, then Joss and I could never be more than just friends.

  Joss dropped his hands to my shoulders and studied me closely. His posture stiffened and he glared at Kael. “You told her didn’t you?” Joss asked, frustration making his voice quiver in anger.

  “That she’s mine. Yes, I did.” Kael came and stood next to me protectively, glaring at Joss’s hands. “I had a right to tell her. I gave her time, like I promised her father.”

  “But you didn’t wait long enough.” Joss yelled. “I didn’t get a chance to prove myself.”

  “I would ask that you remove your hands from her before you lose them,” Kael commanded through clenched teeth.

  “You knew about this, Joss? How long have you known when I didn’t?” I demanded.

  Joss hung his head. “Since our first day on the road to Skyfell. Kael confronted me and told me to back off, but he also told me that you didn’t know yet and Bearen asked him to wait to tell you.”

  “Why Kael?” I pleaded. “Why wait so long and pretend to not care when the whole time my feelings for Joss were growing?”

  Kael’s fists clenched angrily by his side. “I was honoring your father’s wishes. He wanted me to try and win your heart before I told you about becoming my lifemate. So you wouldn’t resent me and the loss of your freedom, even though you agreed to the terms of the Kragh Aru.”

  Stepping around me, Kael confronted Joss and pushed him hard in the chest. “But this one—knowing the oath I made to your father—took advantage and tried to steal you from me before I even had a chance.”

  “Is this true, Joss?” I whispered, the gut-wrenching feeling made the words hard to speak.

  Joss’s face turned red and he nodded. “Don’t be fooled, Thalia. I’ve always had feelings for you. It was you who kept me at a distance. If I had known, I would have entered the contest to win your hand in marriage. I would have won the Kragh Aru.”

  “Doubt it,” Kael growled out. “You wouldn’t have beaten me.”

  “I might have.”

  “You would have died trying.” Kael smirked.

  “Now we’ll never know, will we? It was only by chance that I showed up too late. I feel like I’m always too late,” Joss answered.

  “You would never have been allowed to enter Joss,” I said. “My father would never have allowed a Denai to participate in the Kragh Aru.”

  Joss shook his head in disagreement. “There’s still time Thalia. You can still choose me.”

  “I can’t betray my clan. I would be exiled.”

  “You don’t know that for certain. You’re the clan leader’s daughter. And if you loved me it wouldn’t matter. Choose me and live in Skyfell,” Joss argued.

  How could I be so torn between them? They’d both made terrible decisions, and now I had to live with the consequences. I had started to fall in love with Joss, while Kael stood by and let me. I couldn’t simply take those feelings back.

  But at the same time my love for Kael had always been there—buried deep and ignored on both of our parts. Slowly, a bit at a time, he’d been working to dig them up.

  I felt like I couldn’t breathe and took a step away from both of them. Both Kael and Joss stepped forward, reaching out a hand to steady me. Shaking my head, I held up my hands and continued to back away.

  Joss and Kael kept their hands outstretched, as if asking me to choose one.

  I couldn’t.

  “Both of you, leave now.” I pointed to the door, surprised when they obeyed. The door shut behind them and I sat on the bed, crying in silence.

  It was midmorning before we left the Ginger Dragon Inn and headed to Haven. Joss rode Anthem. How had I not recognized his horse in the stable yesterday?

  Hemi didn’t seem at all startled or shocked by Kael’s sudden appearance. In fact, he seemed to relax a bit more in his presence. I hadn’t noticed it before, but Hemi seemed to have more respect for Kael than Joss. I only could guess that Hemi also knew of the arrangement with Bearen.

  Because of our late start, we were entering the city of Haven after dark. It seemed surreal. The last time I had left the city of Haven, I was being escorted by a retinue of my father’s men and going home to Valdyrstal. There had been little chance in my mind that I would ever return to see the city again or to enter the school.

  We came to the valley and there it was. Haven.

  Once again I was struck by its beauty, even at night with a thousand flickering lights of fireplaces and lanterns. If it had been daylight, I would actually have seen the houses and streets painted in a variety of brightly colored paints, signifying their districts.

  On a hill overlooking the city of Haven was Queen Lilyana’s ca
stle. Though a beautiful castle, it looked cold and uninviting. I wondered briefly what it would be like to live in a castle and be queen. How lonely was it? My eyes quickly sought out the Citadel to the east of the castle, the Denai training school. My heart jumped with joy. I had missed this place—Lorna and Pax and even Donn. I had been forced to leave without saying goodbye. Now, I felt like I was back home.

  The Citadel’s training arena was covered with a large glass dome. At night, the dome was alit from within, creating a soothing nightlight effect across the city. It reminded me of a glass ball I had once seen in a shop. The globe had been filled with water and held a miniature figurine of a small girl. It was a Denai toy and very expensive.

  We entered the city.

  The night was silent except for the sound of water running off of a slate roof and the occasional sound of a dog barking in the distance. A few men could be seen hobbling home in the wee hours. By the smell of them, I guessed they’d spent the night drinking and gambling. After a few minutes, we heard a soft rumble, the sound of approaching horses filling the air.

  Kael met my eyes, a worried frown on his face. He directed our horses down a dark alley between two shops. We both slid off of Faraway and waited. A few seconds later, a large number of troops wearing Calandry’s colors paraded down the street. Four of the troops broke off and headed toward the drunken men, while the others continued down a side road.

  Loud voices erupted between the guards and the men. The largest of the inebriated men turned and tried to take a swing at the closet guard. He missed and landed in a puddle. In quick succession the men were rounded up. Their hands were tied and roped to the horses, and the group departed in the direction of the palace.

  “Something must have happened since we left. It seems like there is a curfew in effect. Those were not the normal guards,” Kael warned.

  Joss was tense and on alert the whole way as well—even up to the white stone guard towers on either side of the silver gate of the Citadel.

  Kael sat stiff in the saddle and kept a blade hidden by his leg while the guard at the gate questioned us.

  The astonished guard called out. “What are you doing out? It’s past curfew! If you’re caught, you could end up in prison.”

  “Well then, open the gate and so we can avoid the cold cells. I for one would like a warm place to sleep tonight,” Kael answered back. “You can tell the adepts that SwordBrother Kael has returned.

  The guard rushed over and immediately began to unlock the gate.

  “Wait!” he called to him. “Are you daft enough to open the gate because you recognize a name? Did you even bring over a light to verify my identity, to check or to ask who else is with me? For all you know, I’m being held at knifepoint and the young woman here is an assassin using me to get into the school.”

  I chuckled silently at that thought.

  Even though Kael was no longer training the Citadel’s guard he still felt it necessary to drill in the ideas he had tried to teach them. Apparently they hadn’t sunk in yet.

  “Uh, no, sir. I mean, yes sir.” And the young guard brought over a lantern and inspected our whole party thoroughly before demanding our names.

  “Thalia Valdyrstal.” I spoke up proudly, grinning when the young guard did a double take and eyed me again.

  “Well, I’ll be. It is you?” He sat there, wide eyed and kept looking back and forth between us.

  He went over and spent quite a few minutes looking over Hemi. I could tell he didn’t really trust the size and brute strength of my clansman, but he relaxed again when he saw Joss.

  “So are you going to let us in now?” I asked impatiently.

  The guard looked to Kael for approval and Kael nodded, giving him permission to open the gate. I dropped my head and had to snicker softly into Kael’s back. I was glad that I had decided to switch and ride behind him. I was getting too many looks affectionate looks from him throughout the day, making my cheeks burn in embarrassment. This way I couldn’t see what he was thinking.

  “It’s not funny!” Kael growled. “It’s as if they’ve forgotten everything I’ve taught them within a few months. I could have walked right in and killed them all. The fool. I’m going to have to speak with the Commander on this one.”

  “Aw, Kael, take it easy on him. Obviously your reputation still has an effect on people.” I laughed again.

  Stable Master Grese greeted us warmly and took Faraway into the stable, promising him plenty of his favorite cookies.

  Once Faraway was settled, we turned to look at the Citadel’s towers. I scanned the various parapets looking for the flags that signaled which members of the Adept Council were in residence. Even though it was still dark, I could make out five flags twisting in the breeze. All of the adepts were here.

  Where do I go? What do I do first? I didn’t know whether to summon the adepts in the middle of the night or to retire to my old room. I also needed to inquire whether Darren and Fanny had returned yet.

  My thoughts were spinning and heading nowhere of consequence. Kael took my elbow and led me to the main hall doors. I hadn’t even realized I had stopped walking in the middle of the courtyard.

  A few months ago, Kael—in the guise of a student—had entered through these same doors during a training exercise and had fake-assassinated half of the students and guard. That same night, one of the Septori had genuinely tried to kill me. My mind was dwelling on that horrible thought when someone stepped out of the shadows of the darkened main hall right in front of me.

  “EEEeeep!” I jumped. A moment later, I recognized the dark skin and shaved head of the fiercest of the Adept Council, the five who ran the Citadel—Pax Baton. His black uniform and skin helped him blend into the shadows with the ease and ability of a SwordBrother. He had one gold stud in his ear, his only show of decoration.

  “Did Darren and Fanny return?” I spoke up, searching the main hall for any sign of them.

  “I’m sorry, Thalia. They haven’t arrived yet.” Adept Pax looked at me sadly.

  “Then how did you know we were coming? How did you know to meet us here?” I challenged.

  “I saw the four of you.” Adept Pax touched his forehead. “Here. And I have heavy news to bear. A lot has happened in the last few weeks.”

  “We saw that there are troops patrolling the city for curfew.” Kael said.

  “Haven’t you heard?” Pax asked and gestured to Joss. “Hasn’t he told you yet?”

  “No, we’ve been traveling. We just found each other last night,” I gave out a lame excuse to cover for Joss.

  “More Denai have gone missing, this time in the city. And now they’ve taken them from our own school.”

  “What?” Kael shouted. “When? How?” Kael was immediately in protective mode, his mind spinning and strategizing.

  “They disappeared in the middle of the night. Their beds were slept in, and all of their belongings were still in their room. But the students are just gone,” Pax said in a forlorn voice.

  “Show me the rooms of the missing students,” Kael demanded.

  “We’ve already searched them for clues. We found no foul play. The windows, doors and locks weren’t tampered with,” Pax added.

  “Then that leaves us with one alternative,” Kael’s eyes turned dark. “It seems that our enemy walks among us.”

  “You’re thinking an inside job? Impossible. All our staff are loyal to both school and crown.”

  “Oh they may be loyal, but loyal to a heavy pocket of gold. Don’t worry, Pax, this doesn’t have to go any farther than our group. But I do need a list of everyone who was on duty, on staff, and present at the Citadel when the students went missing.”

  Pax nodded. “This way. I started gathering the information already.” He motioned for Kael to follow him, but paused to address Joss, Hemi and me. “Thalia, your room is still available for you if you want to rest. Joss will see that your friend gets situated, won’t you Joss?”

  “Of course, Adept Pax,” J
oss said before turning to me and giving me a small smile. “It might take a bit of waking servants and poor Tearsa and Forrest to try and accommodate Hemi. I fear we may have to actually push some beds together.”

  “Why you little…” Hemi made a fake grab for Joss’s head as if to box his ears.

  I tried to smile, but it felt hollow. Was I in danger? Would they come back for me? I looked over to Kael and felt a little bit of relief. He wouldn’t let them take me. But I couldn’t stop imagining the students in the same predicament that I was in, and the thought made me sick. “I’ll meet up with you both for breakfast,” I called out to their disappearing backs as they turned to head down the hall. The catch in my throat was evidence that I was coming to breaking down and crying.

  So I turned and swiftly walked back into the main hall. Not sure where I was heading, I kept walking. I wandered wherever my feet led me and ended up heading toward Adept Kambel’s office.

  “So the sewer rat has returned.” A haughty feminine voice interrupted my thoughts.

  It didn’t take a genius to recognize Syrani, the most powerful, or should I say most popular, student within the school. She was in her sleeping robes, her hair braided down her back. Her eyes looked wild and I could see a few dark circles under her eyes.

  “Why are you wandering around late at night?” I asked.

  “I live here. I have every right to come and go as I please. What of you? Did your dirty clansmen bring you back because they no longer wanted you?”

  At one time, Syrani may have made me feel self-conscious or pitiful and nervous but not anymore. Now she only grated on my nerves. I let the anger rise to the surface and felt wind blow my hair even though there weren’t any open windows near. I let my skin crackle with power, and I showed her what really lay beneath the surface.

  Syrani stepped back and almost toppled over in fear when she saw the difference in my eyes.

 
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