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The steele wolf, p.15
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       The Steele Wolf, p.15

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  I took this chance to hunt down Kael who was standing in a dark corner with an unapproachable scowl on his face. I had seen this look so often I didn’t even blink an eye anymore. Storming over to Kael I placed my hands on my hips and violently hissed at him. “You can’t possibly think that she ran away. What happened to your promise to find her from just a few hours ago?”

  Kael’s hand reached out and covered my mouth and before I could even blink an eye he had spirited me out onto the veranda. The night air was chilly and there was only the light from inside to cast a faint glow on the stone steps. Kael pulled me far from the window and backed me into the wall, still covering my mouth with his hand. When his hand didn’t immediately let go I did the most childish thing I could think of. I licked it.

  Startled, Kael pulled his hand back off of my mouth and gave me a curious look before wiping his wet palm on his pants. “What in the world made you do that?” he whispered.

  “Because I keep finding myself in the same situation, with your hand over my mouth.” I answered.

  “Have you ever thought that it is because you talk too much? Most men like their women quiet.” Kael spoke quietly; his eyes alight like burning ember.

  “Ha! Then I’m glad Joss isn’t most men,” I challenged, purposely trying to erase the emotion from his eyes. This new side of Kael was making it very hard for me to dislike him and was stirring up a plethora of mixed feelings. “He likes open honesty and doesn’t hide things from me. I know the real Joss; unlike you. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know anything about you. I want to know the real Kael.”

  It worked. Kael’s eyes turned dark with frustration, his breathing deepened and I could see an inner battle erupt. “I’m not hiding things from you. It’s just that there are things best left unspoken, for everyone.” His hand reached up to lean against the wall, which brought him closer to me. “I’m trying to show you the real me. I’m not very good at it; it’s not warrior-like.”

  “I see you, I just don’t know if I believe it.” I ducked under his arm to move away from him, giving him space. There were so many questions I wanted to ask him but I chose the safer course, the ones that didn’t include me. “How can you change your mind so fast? Earlier we were in agreement to help find Tenya and now you’re saying she ran away? How could you give up that fast?”

  “I didn’t give up. I don’t believe she ran away.” Kael turned to face me.

  “Then why the lie?” I asked confused. “Why besmirch a young girl’s name with lies?”

  “It was all a show. I convinced Nero and Joss that we needed to make everyone believe that she ran away. That it would allow us to do some digging and hunting without raising the alarm to the Septori. Have you seen this place? There is no way an outsider would have been able to get in here and kidnap a girl and get out without help. A stranger wouldn’t be able to control the dorabills or work the skycage without help. Nero said Tenya hardly ever left Skyfell, so that means the Septori were already on Skyfell or were working with someone here.”

  My mouth opened and closed like a fish; in awe at the obvious ease that Kael was able to come to this conclusion. This meant that we were closer than I had first thought to finding the Septori.

  “We needed to ease the suspicion of why we are here and plant the rumor of Tenya running away with a young man.”

  “Why the fake story about your lifemate running off with someone?”

  Kael looked into the darkness and the mists that looked like molten silver at night before looking at me again. “And what makes you think that my story was a lie?”

  I barely stammered out an answer because I was so in shock. “It just didn’t s-sound like something you, er I-I didn’t think that you could…I d-don’t know.” I pathetically shrugged my shoulders in final answer.

  “You didn’t think I was capable of love, did you?” Kael looked sadly at me. “Well, you are wrong…and right. I was at one time capable of it and in the same instance betrayed by it. So I will never let that happen again; I am no longer capable of loving, nor do I wish to be ever again.” His strong jaw clenched in resentment. Quietly, we stayed like that before his earlier comment brought forth another question.

  “So if we are not here to find Tenya, what are we supposed to be telling people we are here for?” I asked blankly, my brows furrowed in confusion. It was the middle of the school year for Joss and I couldn’t see an answer to why we were here without raising suspicions.

  Kael looked at me and his jaw clenched in anger; he opened his mouth to answer when a voice from behind answered for him.

  “We are here to announce our intentions for marriage.” Joss stepped out onto the veranda and came over to me placing his hand gently on my arm.

  “JESAI!” Kael growled Joss’ last name like a curse. He was tense, like a loaded spring ready to go off.

  “What are you talking about?” I looked back and forth from Joss’ smiling face to the scowl on Kael’s. “Is this some kind of joke, because it’s not funny.” I swallowed the lump that formed in my throat and felt my mouth go dry.

  “Kael and I spoke with my father and came to an agreement this afternoon on what we would do. We thought it would be the best cover story.” Joss grinned at me.

  “No you thought it would be the best story. I hated it from the start,” Kael grunted out.

  “Okay, my father and I thought it would be the best reason for me to come home so soon: to announce our engagement. We will stay for the congratulatory feasts and everyone from Skyfell will attend. It will be our chance to question everyone and hopefully by then we will have a lead on where to go next.” Joss seemed genuinely pleased by the plan.

  “But we are just pretending, right? This is all just show?” My heart raced with panic and confusion.

  “Thalia, this is all show, for now.” Joss eye’s twinkled with mischief. “But who knows what the future will hold?” Joss came over to me and gently pinched my chin with his fingers before pulling a blue aquamarine necklace out of his pocket. The necklace was beautiful and surrounded by an intricate silver knot. Joss walked behind me and undid the clasp before putting the necklace around my neck. I was now wearing two necklaces, Joss’ and my father’s ring, which fell below my neckline. “This is my engagement gift to you; it was my grandmother’s. Proudly wear it.”

  I couldn’t breathe; this is what every girl wanted, right? To be engaged to the most sought after and handsome boy in Calandry. I really liked Joss and had deep feelings for him, and I could see a possible future but there were so many unanswered questions and I was overwhelmed with all of the pretending and lies. “No one will believe us.” I desperately tried to get Joss to understand. “We are too young.”

  “No, we’re not. You were about to give yourself away and marry the winner of a Kragh Aru a few weeks ago. That is what gave me the perfect idea for this plan. So you can blame yourself.” Joss came over to me and looked deeply into my worried eyes. “Thalia, what’s wrong? I thought you would be happy. Remember it’s just for show; we are doing this for my sister.”

  “It’s just that a lot is happening really fast and I’m feeling overwhelmed.” I reached up to touch the aquamarine stone that felt like a manacle around my neck. “What if all of the stress of pretending ruins our friendship?”

  Joss reached for my hands and clasped them gently. “What if it doesn’t? What if it brings us closer together? Will you do it for my sister? Will you pretend?”

  The lump in my throat just got larger and my eyes drifted for an instant to Kael and I instantly wished I hadn’t. Kael was stiff as a board, face frozen, devoid of emotion. All I could do was nod to Joss and I watched as Kael turned his back on me and walked back inside. Joss ignored Kael and turned my face up to his and gave me a quick kiss. “You won’t regret this.”

  Joss took my hand and led me back into the room and nodded to his father.

  Nero stood up and made an imposing figure and he cleared his throat to make an announcement. “Friend
s, we’ve all been saddened by the choices my daughter Tenya has made and we wish for her to come home soon. But at last, we do have good news. My son Joss has chosen his future wife, Thalia.” Loud clapping could be heard and whistles from Darren Hamden, Xiven and a few others. Kael stared at the floor, refusing to acknowledge the announcement. Hemi looked up at me in surprise and I tried to make eye contact and nod to him that we would speak later. Mona was also one of the ones not clapping, she looked hurt and confused. Probably because not even an hour ago I told her I had no desire to get married. I squeezed my eyes closed and tried hard to take a deep breath. When I opened them again I felt that maybe just maybe I could continue with this farce, but I was going to need extra strength. The roar of congratulations, handshakes, laughter and introductions, continued throughout the evening and when I finally had a chance to escape I took it and retired to my room.

  I couldn’t believe everything that had happened in one day. It was a complete disaster and I was a nervous wreck. In my soul I felt as if I was crumbling, falling apart. I opened my sight and tried to see what a real Denai would see. Nothing. I was taught at the Citadel that Denai could use their sight to see all of the energies in the world in brilliant colors and they could tap into them, control them and use them.

  When I tried to use it, I never saw brilliant colors of gold or blues like Joss and others did. All I ever saw was faint greys and blacks that would sometimes surround people like Kael, very depressing and somber. It was as if my sight was broken. The worst realization I had was when I could see a bright white actually pulsing in rhythm and coming from the center of each Denai. It was their life essence I was seeing and I could actually steal it and use it for my own power. The thought of ever doing that to someone on purpose actually made me sick to my stomach. But I turned my sight inward to see if I could see any of the white glow that I saw in other Denai in me. There was nothing, just a faint pulsing blackness, which had started showing up when my nightmares began. Every night the blackness became darker and more substantial; and every night I would pray, to try and bind the darkness.

  Curling up in my bed, I wrapped my arms around my knees and tried to sleep. I couldn’t contact Faraway because of the mists and the distance and once again I felt truly alone and scared. I grabbed a pillow and tried to snuggle my body around it but it didn’t work; I was too scared to sleep because of the nightmares so I lay awake in bed until the sun came up.

  Chapter 21

  Someone was pounding on my door. I could hear whispered voices in the hall and then rattling at my lock. At first I couldn’t understand what the commotion was all about until I realized that I had locked the door last night.

  I had finally fallen asleep and wished I hadn’t, for what little sleep I had was once again plagued by nightmares of being tortured and abused. I rubbed my eyes to feel that they were crusty from the salt of my tears. I must have been crying. The pounding on the door became louder and I could hear Joss’ voice calling my name along with a softer feminine voice that must have belonged to Mona.

  “I’m fine,” I tried to croak out, but my voice didn’t work. Clearing my throat, I tried a second time. “Joss, I’m awake, and I’m fine. So you can quit with the pounding.”

  “Thalia are you sure, you weren’t answering,” His concerned voice reached me through the door.

  “I’m sorry, I was just more tired than I had thought.”

  “Well you’ve missed breakfast. Do you want something sent up? Also, I want to introduce you to my mother this afternoon.”

  At his announcement I flopped back in bed and dragged a pillow over my head in despair at the reminder of what we were trying to accomplish with our lie. When I didn’t respond right away Joss pounded on the door again.

  “Thalia?” He pounded. My stomach did a familiar clenching at the reminder of food. For some reason nerves and food didn’t mesh well with me. I sat up in bed and pulled the pillow off.

  “No breakfast, I will be down shortly.” I listened for the retreating of steps and when I heard two pairs walk away I crumpled back onto the bed and pulled the pillow back over my head. A split second later the pillow came flying off of my face and I looked into the serious face of Kael.

  “What are you doing in my room?” I hissed at him. I glanced around to see how in the world he had gotten in and my eyes immediately went to the open window. Of course that was his specialty, climbing in windows.

  “You locked the door and weren’t answering so I decided to take the roof and see if you were alive.” He looked me over carefully as if searching for signs of a life.

  “I’m fine. Obviously you heard me talking to Joss, so why don’t you go back out the way you came in and leave me alone.” I gripped the pillow that he held in his hands and yanked it back.

  “No,” He replied casually and came and sat down on my bed. I immediately jumped out of my bed on the other side. “At least I didn’t put my hand over your mouth,” He teased.

  “Kael, please leave,” I whispered quietly.

  “Not until I have a word with you.” He looked out the window as if to gather his thoughts before speaking. “You don’t have to do this.”

  “Do what?” I asked.

  “Pretend to be engaged to Joss. We can find another way.” He turned to study my face and he noted the dark circles under my eyes. “I can tell that you are bothered by it. You didn’t sleep last night, did you? Another nightmare?”

  “It’s a little late now,” I grumbled. “It’s already been announced. And yes, more nightmares.”

  “I’ll find them, Thalia. I’ll find the Septori and the Raven and break this bond and then the nightmares will stop.” He looked at me and I could see the determination written in his face. But his words that should have reassured me gave me pause for doubt; because once he did free us, he would be gone. And even though he irritated me and was short tempered I was getting used to him being around to depend on him.

  My shoulders dropped in sadness at the thought of him leaving me, but Kael took it to mean something else. I saw him stiffen and jump from the bed.

  “You doubt me?” He was irate. “You don’t think I can find them and—” This time it was me who walked over to him and put my hand over his mouth. Kael paused, his eyes widening.

  “Don’t you think you talk too much?” I quipped lightly at him repeating the same words he had said to me last night. “Most girls like their men silent.” I looked into his eyes and saw the anger fade and his eyes lighten. “Kael,” I whispered his name. “If anyone is able to find the Septori and free us it would be you. I will never doubt that or your abilities. What you saw was my sadness at the thought of our bond being broken and you leaving me.” Kael froze every muscle in his body, afraid to move, listening to what I had to say. “Because even though you’ve at one time thought killing me would break the bond, I know you won’t. Instead, you have been my protector on numerous counts and even though you try to annoy me to the high heavens. There are times I actually think of you as a friend and the thought of you leaving makes me sad.”

  Kael reached up and grasped my hand and pulled it away from his mouth, but he didn’t immediately let go of it. “Thalia, I need to speak with you about something important.” But before he could say another word I heard a key turn in my lock and I spun around to tell Kael to leave but he had already disappeared. The door opened and Mona peaked inside carrying a tray of her chai.

  “I know you said no to breakfast but I thought some bread and my special drink will help tide you over till lunch.” Mona looked nice wearing loose fitting pants that fell just below the knee and a short sleeve red and gold top. Her hair fell in a long braid over one shoulder. She placed the tray on my bed and sat on it with me while she handed me my drink. I hesitantly took the drink and was only going to take a sip but as soon as the fragrant aroma reached my nose I took a greedy gulp.

  “Mona, I have to apologize about last night. I had no idea that Joss was so serious about our relationship that
he wanted to be married.” I looked at her and saw her stiffen.

  “Please, don’t pretend. How could you not know what his intentions were, when he brought you here to meet his parents? It is obvious. Let’s just pretend we never had that other conversation, shall we?” Mona gave me a wan smile and poured herself a cup of the drink and sipped it daintily before going on. “Well, it will all depend now on Gloria. After you meet her, the engagement might not stand.” Stiffly, she stood up and left the tray. “Believe me, you will want to eat lunch; you will need your strength.”

  I stared wide-eyed at Mona’s departing back. I turned and looked out the window to see if Kael had overheard or would return but he didn’t reappear. Briefly I wondered what Mona meant and also what could Kael possibly have to talk about.

  ***

  I think I was mentally preparing myself to do battle with a venerable dragon. Instead I saw an angel incarnate, lying on a bed in a dimly lit room. She looked like a child in a giant sized bed. The curtains had been opened and a small table was next to the bed with a familiar tray of drinks on it. Gloria was the epitome of her name. She was beautiful, angelic with long blonde hair that spilled down her shoulders and back. Her eyes were closed when we went into her room and her eyelids were so translucent I could see the blue veins. I thought that maybe she was dead but I could barely see the rise and fall of her chest with her short breaths.

  Nero went and kneeled by her bed and grasped her hand, pressing his lips to her knuckles. I saw Gloria’s eyes flutter and then gently open. She gazed lovingly upon her husband and he leaned in to kiss her forehead. Joss stepped forward and kissed his mother’s brow as well. I watched as Gloria smiled and reached up to touch Joss’ face. Too nervous to do anything, I hung back out of sight.

 
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