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The steele wolf, p.13
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       The Steele Wolf, p.13

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  The bird, if you could call it a bird, was a deep red with blue plumes and a long powerful beak. The talons alone marked him for the predator he was, along with his close set eyes.

  Darren laughed at us and reached into a bucket that was behind him on the floor and pulled out what looked to be a rabbit carcass. Darren tossed the carcass out the side of the cage high into the air and the bird dove after it and ate it in two bites. Screeching in what I could only presume was happiness, the dorabill flew back up to the top of the cage and grabbed onto a long extended railing with his talons. The bird flapped his giant wings and began to pull us back up the line.

  The jostling of the cage to the beat of the wings made me sit down in the corner and grasp onto the sides. The up and down motion was making me dizzy and one look at Kael’s strong face turning pale made me realize that I wasn’t the only one with a fear of heights and falling. Darren grinned at me and told me to look over the edge.

  “Are you CRAZY! I’m not doing that,” I yelled at him over the beat of the dorabill’s wings and the rush of the waterfalls.

  Darren just laughed and pointed. “If you think this is bad, you could have taken the skite.”

  I stood up enough to look over my shoulder at what I presumed was a skite and I about fainted. Joss was flying next to us on a crazy contraption built with poles and tarps. He was using the updrafts created by the waterfalls to fly what looked to be a toy that could fall apart any minute into the mists.

  “Joss, don’t!” I yelled as he waved and then caught an updraft and disappeared into the mists. That was it. I thought, he’s going to kill himself. My heart raced with fear and I forgot all about my fear of heights as my fear for Joss’ life took precedence. But I didn’t have to wait long to find out what happened to him because the next moment we entered the densest part of the mist.

  I thought we would be assailed with water that would surely bring down the dorabill and send all of us crashing to our dooms. In reality, we parted through a silvering veil and the mist vanished. We came face to face with the most awe-inspiring view I had ever seen in my life; more beautiful than the city of Haven and the Citadel itself. I was looking upon a floating city suspended in midair. There were brightly colored houses, towers, windmills, and flags flew freely in the air. I could see that along the bottom of the floating city were various plants, crops and flowers growing in the crevices and people were dangling above the mists, harvesting the plants using a variety of ropes and pulley systems.

  A few waved at us as the dorabill flew higher and brought us level to the city. The line the cage was attached to led to a tall watchtower and the bird flew straight to the tower and gently deposited us on the ground. Another man in the tower came out and gave the dorabill another dead animal for a treat. I grimaced as I heard the crunch of the bones. I could see the beautiful perot sitting on a perch by the watchtower. I much preferred the smaller, less intimidating perot to the powerful dorabill. When Darren opened the cage, I rushed out and firmly planted my feet on the solid ground, and Kael was right behind me.

  Joss had already landed his skite and was hanging it up in the tower. He came over to me, his hands open wide, his face a triumphant grin of achievement. He was expecting me to congratulate him or admire his flying abilities. I did the opposite. I punched him.

  “What were you thinking; you? You could have been killed!” I screeched in a very high-pitched voice. I wasn’t expecting it myself and I startled the dorabill, who shrieked in answer to my yelling. I jumped backwards in response.

  Joss pulled his hands up to defend himself against my onslaught, which had ceased as soon as the dorabill startled me. “Thalia, don’t be mad; I’ve been flying a skite since I was eight. You will find that many people of Skyfell prefer it as a mode of transportation instead of the skycage and the dorabill.” At the mention of his name the giant bird squawked again and cocked his head to the side as if looking for another dead animal treat. I just gave the bird an ugly glare.

  “You should have warned me about that.” I pointed at the giant red bird who was now also giving me a funny look back.

  Joss laughed again. “And miss seeing the scared look on your face, not a chance.” When he settled down he gave me a sad look and motioned for us to follow him. “Come on, it’s time to meet my family.”

  Kael, Hemi and I followed Joss through the floating city. Darren had disappeared among the mass of brightly dressed people. Hemi surprised me with his continuous slew of questions regarding the city and Denai. I had forgotten that this was his first experience in a Denai city other than his one trip to Citadel.

  “How does it stay up in the sky?” he asked as he looked over the stone fence that surrounded the city.

  “It’s what’s under the city. It is a certain mineral that the earliest Denai, or as we call them the great ones, stumbled on hundreds of years ago. They experimented with it and came across a huge deposit here at the bottom of the waterfalls. Using their gifts, they were able to pull the rock out of the ground and set it to floating in the air. I’m not sure exactly what the mineral is, but I can tell you that there isn’t another deposit this big anywhere in Calandry.” Joss was bursting with tidbits of information and continued to fill us in.

  “The first Denai were strong enough to send whole objects and people from place to place instantaneously. So it wasn’t anything for them to make a giant rock float in the air. Today there isn’t a single Denai alive in Skyfell that is powerful enough to do what the first ones did. We’ve adapted our lifestyle since then and many of us can only mimic what the old ones used to do. But we have since added and control the misty veil that hides our home from outsiders.”

  Joss words weighed upon my heart. He had saved me by grabbing me as I went over the waterfall and sending me back to the top using his Denai power. But the effort left him drained and sick. It was too much for even a descendent of the great ones. That has been a problem throughout every clan in Calandry. The Denai were slowly becoming extinct. There were fewer and fewer people born each year with the Denai gifts.

  I remembered what Adept Lorna said about Joss and his first day at the Citadel. How Joss had great potential and could reach High Adept, as long as I discouraged his advances. I was a distraction to his studies. I felt a hint of shame that I was seeing Joss and possibly ruining his future. After all, I wasn’t a pureblood.

  “And that’s how our clan got our name.” Joss interrupted my melancholy thoughts and I snapped back to attention to catch the last bit of information. “Those that weren’t Denai thought that a piece of the sky fell from the heavens and that’s why it floats. So we’ve adapted the name: Skyfell.”

  The streets and houses were on many levels, built into the towering pieces of light rock and towers. We were walking down the street and stopped in front of a banner that waved softly in front of a flight of spiral steps. Joss cleared his throat nervously and sadness shadowed his face. “Ahem, we’re here.”

  I followed behind Joss as we followed the winding steps upward. Some parts of the stairs were open to the view of the city and then we would turn and wind through a tower. Finally the steps ended inside an enormous round room with a mosaic domed glass ceiling. The room was spacious and airy, with wide windows that overlooked the city and the veil of mists which muted the thunderous waterfalls. There were stools and couches with brightly colored pillows on the floor and scattered throughout the whole room.

  A silent girl came in with a tray of drinks and offered us refreshments. I took the drink and sniffed it thoughtfully before tasting the most heavenly concoction. The drink was served warm, with a hint of cocoa and milk and cinnamon. Hemi took a sip and then chugged the rest of the drink down greedily, milky foam covering his beard and upper lip. He held out his cup to the girl who smiled softly and offered him a refill. Kael refused the drink and stood on the outskirts of the room in a relaxed position facing all the entrances and exits. I knew that even though he looked at ease he was ready to do battle at a moment
’s notice.

  With no one else in the room to greet us, I took the chance to observe the girl. She was about my age, with brown hair and hazel eyes. A small beauty mark was present above her lip. She looked exotic like the drink she served.

  “Mona.” Joss asked quietly when she brought him a drink. “How’s my mother?” She looked away sadly before answering.

  “Not well, Joss. She was on the mend and then your sister disappeared and it seems she has taken it badly.”

  Joss nodded and then went to a window and waited. Mona picked up her tray and left as silently as she appeared. It was only a moment before a large blonde haired man came down the steps and entered the room.

  “Joss! I’m glad you came home,” The blonde man said and walked over to embrace Joss in a hug. The resemblance between the two was obvious; the man was a relative. “We are at our wits’ end and are no closer to finding Tenya than we were a few weeks ago. Your mother has fallen into despair. Her illness isn’t getting better and this is only affecting her worse. I wish we had news to give her; any news at all.”

  Joss grasped the man’s arms and shook his head. “I know. That’s why I have come home and I’ve brought help.” Joss gestured to Kael, Hemi and me. “This is Thalia, Hemi and Kael. They have come to help locate Tenya. And this,” Joss pointed to the blonde man next to him. “This is my father, Nero Jesai. Lord of Skyfell.”

  Chapter 19

  I never knew Joss’ full name and had never asked. He was Joss Jesai, the future Lord of Skyfell. When Darren introduced him to me, he was always known only as “Joss.” I never thought anything of it because I was only known as Thalia, until I rediscovered my family. There were many well-known families at the Citadel and it was obviously the school’s attempt to create equality by hiding some of the heritage of the students. I thought sarcastically of Syrani and her boastful bragging about her bloodlines and how well that worked.

  After the Banished Kings War and the Denai reestablished Avellgard into Calandry with a Council instead of a king, a few human traditions still remained in the small clans; the human titles. Few were reluctant to give up their title of Lords or Barons, while other clans were more than willing to follow in the example of the Denai. Our clan chose to release all titles of a kingly hierarchy whatsoever to preserve our way of life. So we have a clan leader instead of a Lord. Obviously Skyfell kept their titles.

  What worried me the most was that made Joss’ Denai bloodline even that much more important. He would need a powerful Denai heir to lead after him. All of a sudden, everything made sense; Joss’ reluctance to speak about the changes that were happening to me. He would get uncomfortable whenever I brought up the experiments and my un-Denai like powers. He would have to marry and lead Skyfell and I would have to marry and lead the Valdyrstal’s. My heart dropped into the pit of my stomach like a cold stone.

  My lips drew into a frozen, uncomfortable smile as I grasped Nero’s hand in greeting. Kael refused to shake hands, just nod. Nero froze when he came face to face with my giant clansmen Hemi. My people came in very large packages, well, except for me, I looked like a small child standing next to Hemi. Hemi was also intimidating looking when he pulled off his sack of weapons he carried everywhere with him. He was a walking arsenal.

  “How are they going to help?” Nero asked puzzled. “What can they find that Denai haven’t?”

  “Because, Father, we believe that Tenya was kidnapped for a reason and may still be alive. There are others from all over Calandry that are being kidnapped.” Joss conveniently left out the ‘tortured and experimented on’ bit when confronting his father. “Thalia and Kael escaped from those who we believed took Tenya. They may know how she was taken and find clues that the other Denai missed.”

  Nero looked at us incredibly. “So there is still hope. My daughter may escape just like these two. She may be able to make it home to us. This may just be the news that my wife needs to hear, to aid in her recovery.”

  Kael took this moment to speak up and I almost wished he hadn’t. “It is very unlikely that she would be able to escape without help. They keep most of the prisoners drugged. It would take a very strong Denai and a determined will to escape the Septori.”

  Nero’s hopeful face dropped in discouragement. “She is neither. Our Tenya is sweet natured and delicate like her mother, never coming into her gifts. You are right; she wouldn’t be able to escape without help.”

  Kael strode right up to Nero and confronted him. “You had better pray that she becomes strong. Because where she is, the weak don’t survive.”

  Nero paled and grasped for a chair behind him and sat down heavily. He placed his face in his hands and took a few moments to collect his thoughts. Looking up at us, I saw the love and desperation he had for his daughter.

  He turned to Kael. “Please, please find her and save her. I will give you anything you wish; just bring her back alive.” In this moment the Lord of Skyfell looked broken and tired. “I don’t think I could survive the loss of my wife and daughter.”

  “What’s wrong with your wife?” I asked as politely as I could. “Is she ill? Can your healers do nothing for her?”

  “We are at a loss. There is nothing physically wrong with her body but she is wasting away. We have tried healing her, and have even ordered a watch by her side around the clock to try and extend her life and find the answer, but nothing. She is young and still in the prime of her life. We don’t know the reason for her illness.” Nero shrugged dejectedly. “We don’t know where else to turn.”

  The silence that befell created a general feeling of discomfort, and no one had any answers to give him. Finally, Nero stood and straightened his shoulders. “Come, I will show you to your rooms. Then I will leave you to yourselves so you can get acquainted with Skyfell and see if you can find out what happened to my daughter.”

  Nero led us down a corridor and then up another flight of stairs to the guest wing. The rooms were spread around another circular pattern with the stairs in the middle of the hall. Each room had an expansive view of Skyfell. My room was right between Hemi and Kael’s while Joss would be sleeping in his own suite on another floor. We were given an hour to freshen up and then dinner would be served. I crawled onto the round bed lined with silk and looked around the light and breezy room. The wind blew on the silk curtains and created an eye-catching spectacle of color. I wondered if Faraway was enjoying the lower regions of the land-based Skydown. I opened my mind to him and got nothing. Sitting up in bed, I tried to reach him with my thoughts but all I heard in my head was a fuzzy drone sound.

  I jumped from my bed and flew out of my room and pounded on Kael’s door. He answered my frantic knock with his hand on his vest, keeping his knives within reach.

  “Thalia, what’s wrong?” he asked. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” This was one of those rare moments when Kael actually seemed normal.

  “I can’t reach Faraway! I can’t hear him or speak to him. Something is wrong.” I felt lost as if an important piece of my soul was missing; I had begun to rely on him so much lately that I felt numb without his connection.

  “Come on!” We took off running down the halls and ran into Nero and Joss.

  “Joss!” I yelled. “Something’s wrong; I can’t reach Faraway down below.” Joss looked at my panicked face and let out a sigh of relief.

  “Oh, I wondered about that.” He actually seemed calm. “I wasn’t sure if the mists would hinder your abilities to mindspeak. Many of our abilities are lessened because of the mists.”

  Nero walked over to me and tried to calm my fears. “No one can mindspeak outside the veil of mists; they act as a protective barrier. Just think of it as trying to have a conversation standing at the bottom of a waterfall; with all of the noise, it would be hard to hear the other person speaking. It’s the same with the veil, just amplified. In many ways our greatest protection is our liability, because it also lessons our ability to use our own gifts.” He put his hand on my shoulder and led me to a g
iant window in the foyer; this side of the building overlooked the mists and the edge of the city. “If you are that worried, I can send someone to check for you.”

  “Thalia, I’ll go.” Kael spoke. I craned my neck to look at Kael in disbelief; had I heard right?

  “Ha! No way, Sword Boy! You wouldn’t be able to keep up,” Joss taunted and I saw Kael’s brow furrow in challenge at being called Sword boy. Even though Kael acted old and responsible, in reality he couldn’t be but more than five years older than Joss.

  “Keep up or I will bury you, puppy!” Kael was rising to the bait and willing to dish out his own insults. Joss was the only one who got under Kael’s skin and made him act irrationally.

  Kael started to turn towards the door to exit when Joss hollered out. “Oi, this way.” Joss stepped out of the giant window in the foyer and onto a terrace. I followed after him and had to pull myself back against the building in fear. There was nothing over the side of the terrace. I peeked over and all I saw was mists, and a whole lot of nothing. We were on the cliff side of the city and Joss was reaching behind him to bring down another skite.

  “You have got to be kidding me.” I looked at Joss in surprise. “You aren’t really going to jump off and fly down there with that?”

  Joss grinned his adorable dimpled smile at me. “Of course, this is the fastest way to get to the Skydown. You want me to check on Faraway, right?” He pulled up a skite and handed one to Kael. He went over the harness with him and the instructions for steering. I could see by the clench of Kael’s jaw that he was scared but too stubborn to let Joss outdo him.

 
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