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The steele wolf, p.16
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       The Steele Wolf, p.16

           Chanda Hahn
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  “How are you feeling, Mother?” Joss asked.

  “Better, Joss, now that you’re here.” Gloria’s voice was barely above a whisper and I had to strain to hear her. I could tell that talking drained her. Joss reached out his hand and laid it upon his mother’s chest and I could see his concentration as he tried to use his power to heal his mother. But because we were inside the mists it was harder to use. Sweat beaded across his forehead and I was shocked at how hard it was for him. Joss was one of the strongest healers I knew and. While, using gifts takes its’ toll physically on the Denai, I’d never seen Joss get drained this fast. A faint glow surrounded Joss’ hand and I could see that Gloria regained some color in her cheeks.

  “Joss, it’s alright. You don’t have to waste your energy on me. It’s my fault for being so weak. If only I were a stronger Denai, then maybe this wouldn’t have happened.” The little bit of power that Joss gave Gloria it seemed to have brought back some of her old spirit.

  “Mother, I have some wonderful news.” Joss intoned quietly while he reached behind him for my hand. Grasping my cold and clammy palms, Joss pulled me close to Gloria’s bedside so she could have a look at me. “I want you to meet Thalia. I have asked her to be my wife.”

  Gloria’s eyes opened wide and flew to me in shock. Her grey eyes seemed to pierce into my soul as if she were looking for flaws. Her eyes traveled from black hair to my blue eyes down to my feet. I was very glad that I had chosen my blue short sleeved top and knee length skirt. Gloria looked me over carefully before speaking. “What family is she from? Is she from a Denai family?”

  “I am the daughter of Bearen, from the Valdyrstal clan.” I spoke proudly, raising my chin up in the air a fraction of an inch.

  “The Valdyrstal’s?” Gloria sucked in her breath as if she were holding it. “Joss, how could you? They are nothing more than barbarians, and they hate everything Denai. Your children won’t carry our bloodline.” Her small hand fluttered to her chest as if she was clutching her heart.

  I clenched my teeth and bit my tongue to keep myself from spouting out at her. My family was not barbarians. And even though my clan hated the Denai, I didn’t think it was very proper for her to insult my family with me standing right there. But then I had a minute to digest what she was saying and it sounded very similar to my own father’s complaints about Joss. So if Joss was able to sit through my own father’s harsh words about him, I would do the same for Gloria. What I was pondering the most was Nero’s and Joss’ reasons for not telling Gloria the truth. Why did she have to be told the lie?

  “Mother, I did meet Thalia at the Citadel.” Joss tried to calm Gloria’s fears.

  “What? How? Everyone knows that clan doesn’t have any Denai blood. What, was she a servant?” Gloria wasn’t stupid and I had to catch myself to keep from sputtering and laughing, because she had nailed it on the head.

  “No, ma’am. I actually met Joss on the road before I ever attended as a student. I am unique and unlike any Valdyrstal before me.” It was the closest I could come to the truth, without divesting my horrible past and scaring her about what her own daughter could be going through.

  “Oh,” was the only thing that Gloria spoke before turning her head once more to Nero. “Please, try and convince him to wait on this decision. Think of the grandchildren; I don’t want any weak Denai in the family. Maybe if Tenya had been stronger she could have, she might have…” Gloria couldn’t go on as she was overcome with grief over her missing daughter. Nero leaned forward and held her and nodded a silent message to Joss who quietly grabbed my elbow and led me out of her room.

  Chapter 22

  The days wore on and even though I looked for him I didn’t see Kael. Joss said he was going to be scarce over the next few days since he was searching for leads on Tenya’s disappearance. I wished that I could be doing something as well to help look. But I had no idea on where to start or even begin. Joss gave Hemi and me a tour through the city but the more I saw the more trapped I felt. We walked for miles and came to the edge of the city and the stone wall and another tower. I looked over the wall to see the levers and pulleys that the farmers used to grow the helios flowers and other plants and vegetables. Just leaning over the wall made me feel dizzy and I had to step away and sit down on the ground. I was not a girl for heights, flying or the skycages, so to me it felt like another prison. Skyfell was beautiful and ethereal but it really was a gilded cage suspended in midair. I asked Joss to take me back to his home.

  After another day the same as before with no news, I felt more restless inside. I was soon pacing the main room like a tiger in a cage. The more I paced the more my anger grew at being useless. Hemi was sitting in an overstuffed chair with dainty pillows and the huge clansmen looked out of place while his eyes were half closed in sleep. I worried about stopping the Raven, finding Tenya, and Joss’ sick mother. At every sound I heard, my eyes would fly to the stairs to see if Kael had returned with news of where to begin. I was wound tighter than a bowstring about to be loosed and I had to find a release for my pent up energy and nerves. I saw Hemi’s eyes flick back and forward watching me. An idea hit me.

  I marched over to Hemi and held my hand out to him. “All right, hand one over.” I demanded angrily.

  “I do not know what you mean, Thalia. What am I to be handing over?” He spoke slowly, as if he had no idea what I was talking about, but his eyes knowingly twinkled in mischief. After all, I was my father’s daughter.

  “A weapon, you big lug. What do you think? And don’t even pretend that you don’t have one hiding on your body. Just because you don’t have your giant pack and axe does not mean you aren’t armed. Otherwise my father would never have sent you with me.” By this time my foot was tapping impatiently and Hemi’s grin grew wide in merriment. He slowly reached inside his large leather vest and pulled out a small silver spoon and handed it to me.

  “What is this? Hemi, what am I supposed to do with a spoon?” I stuttered at what he handed me. “Do you want me to feed my enemies?” Why in the world are you carrying this in your vest?” My eyes widened in shock.

  “I keep it to use for the cinnamon drink the girl brings me daily. I like to eat the topping with a spoon.” Hemi turned red and in an instant a picture of the giant bearded man scooping off the cream topping of the drink and eating it with a dainty spoon made me chuckle out loud. As I recalled his first day drinking it he ended up with the topping all over his beard.

  “What do you want me to do with a spoon, Hemi? Be reasonable. Hand me over a weapon NOW or I’m going to go find the biggest mallet and bash your head in.” I wouldn’t really and he knew it but Hemi loved to tease me as if I was still a small child. Slowly, he stood up and walked into another room. After a few very long minutes he returned with a wicked glint in his eye and two large broom handles. I could tell by the stray pieces of straw clinging to his pants that he had shucked the brooms like they were corn to make two makeshift staves

  “Hemi!” I admonished. “The Jesai family is going to be angry with you!” Hemi continued to walk over to me and handed me the broom.

  “Nonsense, I gave one of the servants some money to run to the market and buy two new brooms. They should be back before anyone notices.” He smiled at me.

  “Why not give me the knife that I know you have hidden or a different weapon?” I challenged him as I weighed the broom in my hand experimentally before spinning it in the air.

  “Because, my clan leader’s daughter, I have to make sure that you don’t get injured,” He joked before moving a side table out of the way. “Even if you did almost win the Kragh Aru and fought in a battle at the pass, I still need to make sure you don’t injure yourself.” I glared at Hemi until he looked down at the floor and then back up at me. “or me.” He made a motion with his hand around his neck. “I like my head where it is.”

  I made a playful swipe at Hemi’s head and he ducked. Even though I had started out the exercise frustrated and needed the physical exertio
n to blow off steam, Hemi’s well thought out playful banter helped alleviate most of my anger. I realized how much like my father I really was.

  Hemi met each of my strikes but wouldn’t return them full force. “Come on Hemi, if you don’t engage me in battle how will I ever defend myself?” I shouted as I rolled on the ground around him and swept the staff at the back of his knees. Hemi missed defending himself and fell backwards over the staff. The wooden floor rumbled as his giant frame kissed the wood. I leaned over his prone form and taunted him as best as I could. “Come on, Hemi; don’t let a girl walk all over you. Show me what you’ve got. Fight me like you would my father. That’s an order.”

  Hemi looked at me wide-eyed from the floor and grinned at me. Like a flash he swung out his own stick and sent me flying to the ground behind him. Now both of us were on our backs looking at the ceiling and before I could even blink I saw his staff come flying down towards my head. Rolling to safety I dodged the downward strike. Hemi was already on his feet and this time he was taking me to task.

  Jumping to my feet, I grasped the wooden broom handle between both hands. I was put on the defensive as Hemi used the broom like an axe, chopping away using all of his strength. My fingers rang with each impact and I heard the wood split in two from his last strike. Stunned I looked at two halves of the broom in my hands and opened my eyes wide as he swung the broom straight at my head. I leaned backwards and felt the wind from the swing brush my face.

  My heart raced with adrenaline and I crossed both sticks over my head to block a downward head strike. I tried to twist them and follow through by bringing Hemi’s staff to the ground and spun my body into his arm to break his hold. It worked.

  Hemi smiled at me, his face beaming with pride. “This calls for some refreshments. I think I’m going to go find us some more of those nice drinks.”

  I laughed as Hemi lumbered down the stairs toward the kitchen.

  “Nicely done, I’m impressed!” My face turned to the voice and I saw Xiven leaning against a wall, his dark hair covering his eyes as he studied me. “Now, can you do it again against someone younger and faster?” Xiven picked up Hemi’s staff that had rolled over to his boot. He kicked it up in the air, caught it with one hand and broke it over his knee into two even pieces in one fluid movement. I swallowed in nervousness.

  “Um, I’m not that good, I just got lucky. I just needed to exercise and now I’m done.” I turned to put the pieces away.

  “Come on, Thalia. I’ve finally found someone to spar with and you won’t even give me a chance. No one else will. Mona hates anything physical and I’ve been bored. What do you say?” he pleaded. I looked over Xiven and saw a familiar look of anxiousness and something else. It was similar to how I felt earlier when I was about to explode.

  “Fine, but just one round.” I shook my braid over my shoulder and squared my feet, adjusting my hands around both sticks. Xiven was a ball of pent up energy and he danced around on the balls of his toes and did a few feints before engaging. He was fast and I was constantly trying to keep him in sight. I would swing towards his arm but then he was gone. I aimed for his head but I was two seconds too late. I was hit in the back by Xiven and a verbal taunt that I was slow.

  I shook my head and tried to clear my sight to focus on him but it seemed as if I were trying to fight through mud. Again I barely brought up my arm to block an overhead hit, but then his other arm shot out and jabbed me in the solar plexus. Gasping, I bent over and tried to regain my breath; I saw stars. Biting my lip to hold back my anger, I stood up and was knocked clean on my rear. Once again I was staring at a spinning ceiling. What was going on? How come I couldn’t even touch him? Rolling over I crouched, sticks up in a defensive stance, and this time I concentrated on Xiven.

  Xiven was slightly strained. I could tell by the sweat beading on his forehead. And then it hit me; Xiven was cheating. I couldn’t see the flow of Denai power he was using on me but I could see the effects on his physical body. He was hampering my fighting. I instantly reached for Faraway but hit a wall. Those stupid mists were blocking me from using Faraway’s strength. I had no way to counter any of his attacks; I was on my own.

  Gritting my teeth, I focused my sight and tried to see what he was doing but once again I was blind to the energy he was using. Xiven came forward and swung at my face and I brought up the stick to block and countered. I tried to move offensively and keep him moving while I thought of a plan of attack. Pushing him around the room, I desperately tried to think of a way to hinder him.

  But because of the veil, there was no power, no energy for me to grab except for what I saw pulsing deep within his body. I hesitated and felt sick at the thought. But Xiven swept at my arm with the broken end of the stick. I gasped as a long cut ran down my arm and blood started to pour out of it. I looked at Xiven’s face and was disgusted by the look in his eyes. I thought to see sorrow or sympathy in his deep brown eyes but instead I saw excitement. He enjoyed making me feel pain. Unable to control the rage, I mentally reached out and grabbed at the white pulsing light in the center of Xiven’s body and watched as his eyes widened in shock. I took enough power to push Xiven hard away from me; he sailed backwards and used his power to stop himself short from hitting the wall. The fuzziness in my mind and mental block I felt I was fighting through disappeared when I attacked him, proving that I was right.

  “Finally, a worthy opponent. You’re my perfect match.” His eyes were black and his chest was heaving from the physical exertion. He looked wild and feral; his grin was crazy as if he were enjoying this too much.

  I hesitated a moment too long as he rushed me and when he punched me there was extra power behind it. This time I flew into the wall and dropped to my knees. Xiven’s face was pale and I knew he was struggling as much as I was to gain control of power. Because of the mists it was harder for him to use it, but I didn’t know his limits.

  “Xiven! Stop! This isn’t right; we shouldn’t be fighting like this.” I yelled at him, trying to keep my distance.

  “Why not, Thalia? You are the only one that has even made this interesting for me. You need to prove you’re a powerful Denai to Gloria and this is one way to do it. Beat me and I will personally vouch for you to marry Joss.”

  “That’s not the point,” I tried to reason with him. But he interrupted me.

  “What was it that you did to me? I never even saw you use power.”

  “It’s hard to explain.” I needed to talk Xiven out of this fight because the only way to defend myself against him would ultimately hurt him in the end.

  “Doesn’t matter, because you won’t get to do it again.” Xiven moved and rushed me and I grabbed at his energy again and used it to push him to the side so he missed me with his charge. His face was becoming pale; he was tiring and I could see the exertion of keeping Hemi immobile was wearing on him. I was feeling sick to my stomach from the use of power. It affected me worse than it does a normal Denai.

  “Xiven, you have to stop, NOW! I don’t want to hurt you.” Xiven ignored my scream and gathered together all four broken broom handles in his hands, point sides down. They looked like stakes that floated menacingly above his hands. What had started as a physical exercise turned into a duel between Denai. The only problem was I couldn’t fight fair. Xiven looked up at me and what I saw terrified me. He was serious. Xiven was in this too far, and it was no longer a game. It was war and he wasn’t going to lose. Just trying to access as much power as he did in such a short time was unsettling his mind. He was drunk on power and maybe a little mad. I could see it in his eyes.

  I could feel the blood drain from my face as I saw all four stakes fly towards me. Desperately I tried to deflect it like I they had taught in the arena, but it didn’t work. In a last ditch effort I tried to drain everything I could from Xiven to make him pass out or give up but it was too late. I barely was able to throw up a wall between the flying stakes and me. Three of them hit barrier and disintegrated and I watched in horror as Xiven p
aled and collapsed to his knees. I screamed his name and ran to him.

  Xiven was limp like a child and I grasped his head in my lap. He looked up at me and he smiled weakly; blood trickled slowly out of the corner of his mouth. “Well played, Thalia. I had never met my match before. I’ve never seen anyone do what you did.” He gazed adoringly at me. Hemi came and kneeled by both of us. I gave him a look that told him to be silent.

  “Xiven, are you crazy? Why would you try and use so much power in Skyfell? You could have burnt yourself out or worse, died.” My gut clenched in pain at the thought of him dying because of me. I didn’t want to tell him he was in this state because I stole his life energy.

  “I had to know,” he whispered weakly. “If you were worthy.”

  I felt sick; I had no idea what he was talking about but the use of all of that power was making me feel dizzy and now that the adrenaline had worn off, pain was making it hard for me to speak.

  “Thalia, I would be honored to be considered your friend.” Xiven grinned at me and I could see a little bit of color come back into his face. I was secretly relieved that the damage I had done to him wasn’t permanent. My stomach was cramping again in pain but I ignored it as I reached for Xiven’s hand and noticed it was covered it blood. My eyes searched Xiven for other injuries but found none.

  Xiven started to choke and I looked at him. His eyes were filled with tears and his lips were whispering a phrase over and over again. “I’m so sorry...I’m so sorry…I’m sorry.” I was having problems concentrating as I followed his gaze. Xiven wasn’t bleeding, I was. I had blocked only three of the stakes. The fourth had imbedded itself into my stomach and the adrenaline and shock had kept me from feeling the pain. Xiven had seen the injury and had tried to heal it and couldn’t, which was why he was apologizing. He couldn’t because I had drained him of power, he was weakened from the mists and I wasn’t able to heal myself.

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