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The steele wolf, p.14
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       The Steele Wolf, p.14

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  I grabbed Kael’s elbow and yanked him back inside the room. “What are you doing? You don’t have to do this! Please don’t do it?”

  Kael looked at me with surprise and I saw his blue eyes soften for a second before they hardened with determination. “You did say that you wished to never see me again. Why would you care what I do?”

  I was at a momentary loss for words; he had caught me off guard. “I don’t want to see you get hurt.” I really didn’t. The skite terrified me, even though I knew Joss knew what he was doing. But Kael had never operated one and I was scared that he wouldn’t survive the jump. Obviously my word choice was not what Kael wanted to hear. He abruptly pulled his arm from my grasp.

  “You think I can’t do it?” He turned his back on me, shoulders stiff and determined.

  “What? No! I didn’t say that.” And I hadn’t. Where was he coming up with this?

  Kael whirled on me in anger. “I can do anything he can do,” he spat.

  “No, you can’t! You’ve never flown one of those death machines, what if you make a mistake and die?” I was getting angry; I reached for his shirt and held on.

  “Then the bond between us will be broken. You can be free to live your life without a pet SwordBrother following you around.” He snarled in challenge. “You can then live your life with the Denai.”

  I dropped my hand limply to my side and stepped back. His words had hurt me; they were true, but they hurt all the same. This time I turned my back on him and waved him off. “Fine, go, jump and rid yourself of me. I see how it is; you prefer death than being bonded to me.” I didn’t mean it; I said it to hurt him back, if it was even possible to hurt him. I felt Kael draw closer to me but then he stepped away as Joss jumped down from the ledge and came inside.

  They were going to dive off of one of the city launching points. The launching points were marked around the city by various colored flags that marked the distance from the ledge of the city to the ground. These were deemed safe distances to dive with a Dorabill or a skite. The Jesai family had a launching point from their own veranda.

  “You ready? I’ll race you down.” Joss was in his element; he wanted Kael to do it and he wanted him to lose. Kael was his sword teacher at the Citadel and was stronger and a better fighter. Joss had challenged Kael to try and impress me, but it had backfired. Now Joss was enacting a bit of revenge. I knew it, but did Kael?

  “Let’s go.” Kael said stiffly, and they both turned and left out the window. I waited a minute before following. They were both harnessed into the skites and were standing on the ledge. Joss counted off and they both jumped. I raced to the edge and looked over to see Joss’ skite fly smoothly in a wide circle before disappearing into the mists. Kael’s skite didn’t glide like Joss’; it shook and dropped straight down into the mists, falling like a stone.

  I clutched the veranda wall, my fingers digging into the warm stone. I heard myself scream Kael’s name as my world spun.

  Chapter 20

  He was dead. Kael was dead, I knew it. Warm hands pressed against my forehead and leaned me forward. Opening my eyes I stared into the worried green eyes of Joss. No, wait; the eyes seemed older as if they carried years of worry. It was Nero.

  “Don’t sit up too fast,” Nero warned. “Take a deep breath.”

  “Is he okay? Did he make it?” I held Nero’s arm in a death grip, refusing to let go until he told me that Kael was all right.

  “I don’t know. Would you like me to go after them?” He stood up as if to get another skite.

  “Yes! No! I don’t know? I don’t want to be left alone up here and not be able to know what’s going on.”

  Nero’s eyes hardened when he looked over the ledge. “I shouldn’t have let him try it. We don’t usually allow newcomers to try a skite without more practice. When you and Kael went inside, I tried to dissuade my son. Joss assured me that Kael could handle it.”

  “WHAT!” Now I was angry. Joss knew that this was dangerous and his father was against it and he challenged Kael, knowing he wouldn’t say no. I was so angry I could spit. But I was also nervous.

  Nero ran out of the room and I leaned over the ledge and yelled Kael’s name, but the mists swallowed up my cry. Nero came back in with his wooden flute and played a familiar sound of notes. The hair on the back of my neck rose in anticipation as a loud screech filled the air and another dorabill flew and landed on the veranda. This one was smaller than the last.

  “Come, get on.” Nero nimbly leapt onto the back of the giant bird and held his hand out to me. I tentatively gave him my hand and with one quick pull I was sitting in front of him grasping the horrible bird around the neck. Nero whistled and I felt the bird lift off and dive down into the mists. I was too scared to scream as the jump took my breath away.

  My eyes were squeezed shut and I clenched my teeth and held on for dear life as the bird screeched again. I opened my eyes at the last minute to see the ground rushing towards us at intense speeds; just when I thought we would crash, the dorabill spread his wings and our dive came to an abrupt halt as the bird leveled out. A few heartbeats later we landed and I refused to let go of the terrifying bird, I was so scared.

  Nero slid off and reached for me and pried my fingers from around the dorabill’s neck. My fingers were stiff from adrenaline and I had problems getting them to cooperate. When I finally tried to slide off the bird, my legs refused to work and I crashed to the ground in a heap.

  Loud laughter reached my ears, and I looked up into the smiling laughing faces of none other than Kael and Joss. I was too shocked to see him alive and in one piece to even berate them for laughing.

  “You made it? But I saw you fall!” I finally got my legs to move and I stood up and put my hands on my hips.

  “I did fall and was falling fast, but once I entered the mists the updrafts from the waterfalls caught me and made it easier to glide down.”

  “You scared me. I thought you died,” I yelled at him.

  Kael just looked at me in the oddest way and I swear I saw his normal dark aura lighten. “I know. I heard you scream my name.” His intense eyes met mine and there was a moment of hidden question behind them. He looked at me longer than was necessary and I felt my cheeks go red. A rush of uncertain feelings assailed me.

  “No, I didn’t,” I defended poorly. “I just would rather have you not die today.”

  “Nice to know you care,” he said.

  “UGGHH, no I don’t!” I replied sarcastically. “Remember, you told me to.” I was frustrated that he could tie me up in knots.

  His demeanor quickly changed and then the smiling face disappeared behind his stony SwordBrother face. I instantly regretted the words; even said in angry fun, they were strong and powerful words. Kael started to walk away but paused when Nero broke the silence.

  Nero smirked. “She fainted.”

  Kael stopped and turned to look at me his eyebrow rose questioningly.

  “I did not. I…I.” I looked at Kael’s blank face and saw a quick twitch of his upper lip as he held back a smirk. He’d better not smile, I thought. “Oh bother.” I turned and headed towards what I thought was the direction of the stables. It wasn’t. Turning back towards the men again I came face to face with Joss.

  “And you! Don’t get me started on what you did. You had no right to get him on that paper contraption. You are going to get an earful later.” I jabbed my finger into his chest and he grabbed it playfully.

  “I knew he could handle it and he did,” he teased. He leaned into me and pressed his mouth to my ear. “I saw him fall and I dropped quickly; once I cleared out of the mists I was able to control the wind to catch him. It took a lot out of me. But I wouldn’t have let anything happen to him,” Joss whispered.

  I forgot that Joss’s talent was air and he could control the winds enough to save Kael. My heart instantly forgave him, because he was hiding that fact. He was giving Kael back some dignity.

  I pressed my hand against his chest and gave
Joss a warm stare. “You’ve been flying since you were eight, remember. And why in the world didn’t you fly the big ol’ rooster down like your father?”

  Joss shrugged his shoulders playfully. “That particular dorabill, Cecili, only plays nice with my father. She can be a biter.” I could only roll my eyes at him.

  We had to walk around the round lake created by the waterfalls and cross a wooden bridge before we hit the outskirts of Skydown. I could see that it was a smaller village, less flamboyant than SkyFell. There were various birds, perot, dorabills, and smaller, less intimidating monkey-like creatures. I could see a large field where hundreds of horses grazed peacefully.

  I can always cause a raucous and make it less peaceful. A whisper touched my mind.

  FARAWAY! You’re all right? I thought something might have happened to you. Where are you? I squinted my eyes against the sun and tried to find my white horse in the field amongst hundreds of others. It wasn’t hard to spot him when he rose on his hindquarters in a majestic display of vanity. So it looked like we knew the limit of our bond was less than a mile.

  I’m fine. When I lost contact with you all I could do was hope that the SwordBrother and Joss would protect you.

  Yeah, it’s the veil of mists; it dampens the Denai gifts and apparently our mindspeech.

  Good to know.

  It seems I had stopped in my tracks when I was speaking to Faraway and the rest of my group stopped and waited. When I was done communicating with Faraway, I turned around to head up the hill.

  “What? All of that panic and worry and you aren’t even going to walk over there?” Kael stated incredulously.

  “No need. He said he was fine and that we should get back to start trying to track the ones who took your sister. So I’m doing what he said.” The rest followed after me and when we got to the hill I opted to walk the path up the cliff and take the skycage over riding the big red bird bareback again; Joss and Kael accompanied me. My second trip in the skycage fared better than the first, but not by much.

  After dinner Nero asked us how we thought we were going to find Tenya when no one else had any luck.

  I wasn’t sure myself. I only came because Joss insisted I might be able to help find her, but I wasn’t a skilled hunter or tracker. Secretly, I was relieved when Kael spoke up.

  “How long has it been since she disappeared?” He leaned back in his chair casually and studied all of the dinner guests. Once again Kael had positioned himself with his back to the wall facing all of the exits. He scrutinized each person in turn and I felt his eyes linger on me before moving on to the rest. Tonight’s dinner included our small traveling party, Nero, Mona, Talbot, Xiven, Darren and a few other friends.

  Talbot was Mona’s and Xiven’s father, a short, balding mild mannered man. Xiven was an older, masculine version of Mona. Neither looked like their father so they must have gotten their exotic looks from their mother.

  “It’s been over six weeks now.” Nero sighed and rubbed his eyes dejectedly. “I went to her room one morning and her bed hadn’t been slept in and nothing was taken.”

  “Why does that make you think she had been kidnapped?” Kael countered, his feelings hidden behind a steely face as he crossed his arms over his chest.

  “Are you implying that he’s lying? You low level son of a pig. I wouldn’t have brought you here if I’d known you were going to insult us.” Joss’ fist pounded the table hard.

  Kael didn’t blink an eye. “You think I don’t understand the female kind? I do. It’s the quiet and innocent ones that you have to watch out for. They are the ones most likely to run at the first chance of adventure or when something better comes along.”

  “You don’t know her,” Joss snarled.

  “I probably know her kind better than you think. Let me guess; she didn’t leave the house much, did she? A perfect example of an obedient daughter. Never asked for anything, always seemed content.”

  Joss and Nero’s mouth dropped slightly, as they sat speechless.

  Kael leaned forward and finished his tale, directing the rest of his tirade to Nero. “But over the last few weeks she started to change. She became more restless, absentminded, needing to run out at the last minute to buy something she’d forgotten. You probably found her daydreaming more than normal.”

  Nero closed his mouth and nodded sadly.

  Kael’s eye lit with contempt. “They are the obvious signs you can’t ignore. She was secretly seeing someone. Knowing you wouldn’t approve, she more than likely ran away with him. There is nothing for us to do, no need for you to go out looking for a young lovesick woman.”

  “How do you know? How can you possibly know for sure?” Nero asked, his face a mask of brokenness.

  “Because I had once chosen a young girl, Gwen, to be my lifemate. We went before the leaders and received their blessing to begin our courtship and the closer we came to our Union day, the more hesitant she became.” The shadow that I could sometimes see around Kael was back and becoming darker with his bitterness.

  “These were the signs she showed before running off with another.” Kael finished; a look of hatred swept his face as he glanced at me. I wasn’t sure whether the look was directed at me or about the girl in his story. I usually received many hateful looks from Kael.

  Hemi, who had up until that point had been a quiet observer, eating and drinking without missing a beat, had started choking at Kael’s announcement. Hemi sputtered and coughed until he received a hard pat on his back from Darren, to clear his airways.

  Nero cleared his throat and waved his hand in the air, conceding to Kael. “That may very well be the case in point. She was exhibiting all of those signs.” Nero sighed loudly. “It hurts me dearly to say this, but I agree with you, all the signs point to her running away.”

  The silence that filled the dining room was so intense that it was almost unbearable. I was afraid to bite down on a celery stick for fear of drawing unwanted attention. But I definitely wanted to pull Kael aside and give him a piece of my mind. What was he thinking? How could he possibly believe she ran away? How could his viewpoint change within a few hours?

  After dinner was finished I was trying to catch Kael’s eye when I was approached by Xiven and Mona.

  “Are you close friends with the Jesai family?” I asked the exotic looking siblings. Both were dressed in the colorful and flowing outfits that many of the people of Skyfell wore.

  “We’re like family,” Xiven answered and then bit on his bottom lip as if he was debating on how much to tell me. “Our father is an old friend of Nero’s.

  “Our father, Talbot, is a merchant and spends more time away from home than home. When our mother passed way, Nero invited us to live here, so we wouldn’t be alone when our father was traveling.” Mona spoke up sadly. I felt my heart go out for her because I knew the feeling of losing a mother. I tried to uplift her spirits.

  “That explains that delicious drink you gave us. Was that one of the spices that your father found? It was wonderful.” I complimented Mona and her face turned pink.

  “Yes, it’s called chai. I learned it from my mother; she loved to cook and would experiment with whatever Father would bring home.” Mona replied.

  “So are you a Denai?” Xiven asked. His brown hair flowed over his eyes in a rakish way.

  “Um, sort of. I go to the same school as Joss, or at least I did.” I replied casually.

  “How are you only sort of a Denai?” Mona replied her petite lips pursed in thought. “You either are or you’re not.” Her eyes were filled with doubt.

  “I bet she is, and a strong one. Otherwise Joss wouldn’t have brought her home,” Xiven spoke up, looking at me thoughtfully before finishing. “You know how particular Gloria is about marrying into strong Denai families.” I didn’t even get to respond before Mona turned toward me, her eyes wide.

  “Is that why you’ve come? You’re going to marry Joss?” Mona gasped.

  “No! We’ve only known each other a few m
onths. I’m not ready to be married.” I rebutted trying to keep the peace and not ruffle any of Mona’s feathers. She seemed to be one that was easily excitable.

  “Doesn’t matter. I’ve seen the way he looks at you.” She brought her hand up to her neck and played with a small gold charm she wore. “Just be forewarned. The Jesai family is very strict about purebloods and you had better figure out what a “sort of” Denai is, because Gloria, his mother, is the one you have to win approval from.”

  “What do you mean?” I asked. My mind whirled with questions. I didn’t understand. Why was Joss not able to choose who he wanted to marry? But then, I felt I already knew the answer.

  “The whole household revolves around Gloria, and with her being so ill, I can’t see it in the near future for Joss to do anything to upset his mother. Especially since Tenya ran away.”

  Any hopes I may have about a future with Joss teetered on a small, precarious and ill mother, who I’d yet to meet. I was not lying when I said I wasn’t ready to take get married, but with no foreseeable future with Joss should I break all ties with him now to save ourselves more heartbreak? I tried to keep the pleasant conversation going with the only other people in the room my own age, but I felt as if I had a rock in the bottom of my stomach. I moved to sit by myself on a lone chair and ponder the implications. Talbot came over and sat by me.

  “Ah, I see you have met my children. They are very opinionated, just like their father.” Talbot chuckled softly.

  “They are very nice and your daughter makes the most delicious chai I have ever tasted.”

  “That’s because she is just like her mother.” Talbot’s smile grew wider and his eyes had a faraway look to them. “Every day she becomes more and more like her, but she never came into her gifts, unlike her mother. Sometimes she can be hard to live with because she was the only one in our family to not develop the Denai power. Her brother’s strengths keep growing and it has been a difficult journey for her. So please overlook her bitterness and look at the girl underneath who desperately wants to fit in, to have friends.” Talbot sighed and stood up, turning to me. “I hope that you can be that for her.” Walking away, he went to fill his drink.

 
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