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The steele wolf, p.17
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       The Steele Wolf, p.17

           Chanda Hahn
 
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“OH!” I said and felt full force of the injury as if my mind had been waiting for my consciousness to fully acknowledge it before assaulting me. All I could do was stare at the stake and the blood pouring out around it and I felt a moment of relief as I realized my blood was still bright red.

  Chapter 23

  “Son of Light, save us,” Hemi howled. The drinks he had carried up the stairs fell from his hands, clattering and spilling their contents on the floor. He unceremoniously knocked Xiven’s hands away and picked me up. Turning, he ran towards the stairs yelling as loud as he could. “JESAI! Help!” Silence followed, no answering call came. The house was unusually quiet except for the sounds of Xiven apologizing. Joss must have left shortly after bringing me home. Otherwise he would have heard the fighting and would have come to investigate like Xiven did. Swearing under his breath, Hemi carefully hauled me down the winding steps and into the streets. Once there he picked up his pace and ran yelling for a healer, for anyone to come and help.

  Despite the horrific display that Hemi portrayed, a giant man covered in furs, bruises and my blood carrying a small girl, someone was brave enough to approach him. A small copper haired woman called out to Hemi and he turned gratefully towards her as she motioned for him to follow her. The woman walked swiftly and Hemi had no problem keeping up with her short legs. Skirts didn’t hinder her because she wore a tan split dress with a brown apron and a leather tool belt around her waist. Turning abruptly down a side alley, she headed for a side door and entered into what appeared to be a workshop. Bee-lining into a back room, the woman stopped before a short wall. Pulling a drab tapestry to the side, she revealed a copper fitted door. Opening it, she motioned for Hemi to enter.

  “Quickly, I can do nothing for her unless she is inside.” Hemi stared into the darkness through the open door and I felt his muscles tense. It was either fear or wariness, but the stoic warrior wasn’t about to bring his leader’s daughter into a trap.

  “Oh, you big baby, it’s fine, honestly.” The little woman quickly grabbed a candle from a pocket in her belt and lit it. She went into the room first where she knelt on the wooden floor and pulled a solid ring handle to open up another hidden door in the floor. A quick glance downward revealed a flight of stone steps leading into more pitch-black nothingness. When Hemi didn’t budge, the petite copper-haired woman who barely came up to his elbow turned on him angrily. “Are you coming or not? I thought you were looking for a healer. If you are, then I have to get her properly shielded from the mists so I can use my power. If you don’t care a lick about her welfare, then you are just wasting my time and can leave.” Her brown eyes sparked with anger and I could see that she had spirit.

  By this time, I was becoming more lightheaded and dizzy and I unconsciously clutched at Hemi’s vest. Looking down at me, his eyes widened in concern and he practically jumped into the small room after the woman. She stepped down the stone stairs first with the candle and led the way. Hemi followed close behind.

  “Wait. I have to shut the door.” She pressed against the wall and walked back up the stairs and closed the copper door with a thud, encasing us in darkness except for the glow of her small candle. Sliding back in front, she led the way down another flight of stairs. The light caused our shadows to stretch and dance across the walls, mimicking our movement.

  My eyes were getting heavy and I watched as the walls of the stairwell turned from dirt into the blackest stone similar to obsidian. The whole passageway was chiseled out of the rock. This must be the mineral that kept the city floating in the air and we were traveling down, deep into the heart of it, I thought.

  “Quickly.” The woman opened another door. This time Hemi didn’t hesitate but plunged himself deep into the darkness. The woman followed behind and lit a few more candles. “Put her on the table,” she ordered. Hemi obliged and I froze in terror as I felt my body lowered onto a familiar cold steel table.

  “NO!” I cried out. Feeling faint and weak, I reached for Hemi’s arm and saw him covered with my blood.

  More lights were lit to reveal a small workroom with shelves, beakers, tubes and various odors. Metal instruments and measuring devices lined the table.

  “Hold her down,” The woman commanded and stepped into my line of vision. Her brows were furrowed and her lips were lined in determination. She leaned forward to grasp the piece of the stake that was miraculously still embedded in my stomach and was the only thing keeping me from bleeding out. But when she leaned forward, the light revealed an ominous instrument on the wall that her body had previously shielded from me. I screamed in terror at the exact same time she pulled stake from my stomach. My screams were swallowed by pain as she pressed her hands into my wound to staunch the flow of blood. Desperately I tried to move my arms, but Hemi was pinning me down onto the table watching the woman and not paying attention to me. My mouth gaped open from the pain and I stuttered and shook, unable to speak as I gazed in horror at the wall. At the metal apparatus that glinted ominously in the candle light. At the familiar form of the iron butterfly.

  “That’s better. Keep holding her down. For some reason she is trying get off of the table and I can’t for the life of me fathom why.” The small women wiped her forehead with the back of her hand in exhaustion. She looked me over with concern and then smiled in triumph as she examined my now nonexistent wound. “You know many laughed at Ol’ Fanny when I told them about my idea of trying to heal people deep underground within an earthen shield. They thought I was crazy. But I showed them.” She chuckled softly and slapped her thigh. She let out a long tired sigh, before sitting down on the nearest stool.

  By this time, my terror had abated as soon as I realized that the woman wasn’t trying to murder me but was in fact helping me. But I still wasn’t comfortable lying on the table and was trying to wriggle out from under Hemi’s firm grasp. Hemi wasn’t budging so I turned my head and bit his hand. He yelped and pulled back from me and I rolled over and off of the table landing in a heap on the floor. Scooting backwards on my hands and feet like a crab. I put as much distance as I could between the device and myself.

  “Why do you have that?” I asked her angrily, pointing at the iron butterfly. “Why is that here?”

  Fanny looked up in the direction I was pointing and studied the iron contraption before answering me in disbelief. “You mean the lightning catcher?”

  “The machine that looks like a butterfly. Yes.” I replied snidely. “And what do you mean a lightning catcher? Why do you have it here?”

  Fanny furrowed her eyes in confusion and looked at me. “I don’t understand why you would be interested in it. It was created to harvest lightning during storms as another way of creating an energy source for those that live in the thunder regions. But why do you even care?”

  “Because I’ve seen it before, but it wasn’t used in the way you described. It was used for experiments on children.” I watched Fanny closely to see her reaction looking for telltale signs that she was lying. She was shocked.

  “I’m sorry, you must be mistaken.” Fanny looked visibly shaken and upset.

  “I’m not mistaken.” My voice shook with anger. “I know the thing that tortured me night after night and that is it.” I pointed again at the machine, my voice rising in volume. “You are wrong!” I challenged her ruthlessly as I found the courage to stand up. Reaching out blindly, I found that Hemi had come to stand by me. He was even now pulling me behind him so he could guard me from this new threat, a threat that a moment ago had saved my life.

  Fanny turned deathly white and her hands trembled as she grasped the fabric of her shirt over her heart. “That can’t be. What you’re saying is impossible.”

  “Why?” I asked. Even standing behind Hemi, the sight of the iron butterfly still made me tremble in fear, but I had to know the answer. “Why would it be impossible?”

  “Because the inventor of this machine only built the one and it was never created with the intention to harm others,” she answered. Her eyes droppe
d to the floor in quiet submission.

  “How do you know?” My heart was beating so hard in my chest I felt as if it were going to explode. This could be the answer to everything. “Who was the one who built it? Do you have their name?”

  “Yes.” Fanny looked up from the floor and her brown eyes were filled with quiet unshed tears. “I invented it.”

  “I don’t understand. How can that be?” My knees became weak and I clutched onto Hemi’s arm, digging my fingernails into his muscular bicep. Hemi, bless him, didn’t even flinch at the pain I was undeniably causing him in my distress.

  Fanny answered me but made sure she kept distance between us as Hemi still loomed over her menacingly. “I’m an inventor. It’s what I do. What I live for. I try and better the world through my inventions.”

  My anger was rising to an almost equal level as my fear, which was intense. “THAT THING- you created in no way betters the world. Why would you invent it to begin with?”

  Fanny looked exhausted and slumped on a stool as she slowly explained. “I was approached by a man who lives in Thunder Valley about creating an invention that harvests the lightning from within the valley. The valley’s rocks and grounds hold a constant charge, which draws unusual amounts of lightning storms and thunder. If I could create a machine that could draw the charges and lightning strikes from the sky to the machine then it would make it safe for the area to be settled by people year round instead of just the fall and winter. And at the same time the people would be able to use the lightning as a renewable energy source to power the village. I was to create the plans for one for the gentleman and create a small version to be used as a test subject. What you see behind me is the test version I created.” Fanny motioned behind her.

  Pulling Hemi with me, we approached and I took a closer look at the device and saw that it was indeed smaller and there were slight differences in her machine than the one used to torture me. It was missing the bands with the needles that pressed into the pressure points and along the arms of the victim. My fingers unconsciously traced the slight scars on the underside of my arm. My body shivered uncontrollably as I recalled Raven discussing using the machine to activate something in my blood. Tears burned at the corner of my eyes as I grabbed a hammer from a table and began to beat at the contraption. I released all of my pent up anger, hurt, fear, and frustration on it.

  With each metallic ring that echoed from the hammer strike, the guilt over not being able to save Cammie melted away. Tym’s death, his brother Sal, Kael, Tenya; I let the hammer be the therapy my mind needed in order to heal completely from the past. Finally exhausted, I realized I wasn’t doing enough damage other than dent it. I picked up a pickaxe and tried prying it apart. Fanny watched me silently, eyes wide in confusion. She never spoke or tried to stop me.

  Hemi let me vent my frustration but after a few minutes decided to help me. The giant clansmen reached up with his massive hands to yank at what I called the wings and Fanny told us was the lightning catcher. Bringing it down from the wall, it rang with a dull thud as it landed on the earthen floor. He gripped the metal bands on the wings and began to pull with all of his strength against the rivets holding it together. Hemi grunted and sweat started to form on his forehead as the bands creaked and resisted his strength. Finally they snapped apart and rattled to the floor in a heap. Reaching for another piece he started to do the same. Somewhere deep inside I knew I wasn’t leaving until I had torn the machine apart.

  A shadow to my left made me turn in surprise. I saw Fanny with her apron donned and a determined look on her face. She grabbed a tool and started prying at the rivets, helping us to dismantle her own invention. We worked for what seemed like days but really could only have been an hour in silence. When the iron butterfly-lightning catcher was completely dissembled and no longer resembling anything other than a pile of garbage, Fanny finally found her breath to speak up.

  “You do realize that what we took apart wasn’t the one that tortured you, right?” Her eyes showed only compassion as she held out her hand to take the hammer I had dropped on the floor and began put it away.

  “Yes, I know,” I replied meekly, wiping my sweat-covered hands on my pants. “The one used on me was different, bigger.” I explained the differences and the way in which the larger one had been altered to hold a person in the middle and lock them into it, with pressure bands that pierced the arms. Fanny looked sick to her stomach.

  “I usually hate destroying my inventions, but this one obviously should never have been created.” Fanny walked over to a cupboard and pulled out some ointment and strips of bandages and waited patiently in front of Hemi. When he didn’t move she tapped her foot angrily and demanded. “Hands.”

  Hemi looked startled and held up two cut and bloody hands face up to her. Fanny cleaned the wounds and applied a salve to them before wrapping them in bandages.

  “Why don’t you do that thing you do and heal them?” Hemi asked surprised.

  “Because I only use my gifts for emergencies. Not for little cuts that can heal on their own and acts of stupidity like yours,” Fanny shot back with a hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth.

  Hemi stared back at the woman, and growled an ungrateful response under his breath about women knowing their place and belonging in the kitchens baking pies instead of building torture machines. Fanny’s response was to tie the bandage tighter around his palm until Hemi flinched in pain. Her eyes twinkled in challenge.

  Even though I would have loved to watch the rest of the interchange between them I needed to find out more information from her. “Fanny, do you remember who asked you to build the machine for you?”

  Fanny turned to me and pondered my question for a moment. “No, I don’t. I’m sure I have his name written down with his order somewhere in my home. I can find it for you. It was commissioned almost two years ago and he wasn’t happy with the final product during its test run.”

  “Did it work?” Hemi asked.

  “Of course, it worked perfectly,” Fanny harrumphed haughtily. “It did everything it was supposed to. He kept finding fault with it and in the end refused to buy, quoting that he wouldn’t invest in a lightning catcher made by a woman until he had inspected the blueprints for mechanical faults. Needless to say, that night my blueprints disappeared and so did the man.” Fanny sighed in frustration. “He spoke with an accent and I’m sure any name he gave me was probably false. If he had plans to do something illegal with my invention, he probably covered his tracks. But either way I’m sure with some digging I can find his name. I can swing by your home as soon as I find it.”

  We reluctantly agreed and told Fanny where we were staying. She showed us out of her shielded chamber and took us back down the streets we had come down earlier and pointed us in the direction of the Jasai family home. Mixed emotions rolled off of me in waves as one moment I was excited that we had stumbled across the creator of the Iron Butterfly, or lightning catcher, but the next moment I was disappointed that we hadn’t found out who the leader of the Septori was. I was traveling at a fast and determined pace and had accidentally walked past the stairwell to Joss’ home. Hemi had already gone up the steps when I was immediately pinned from behind and pulled into an alley.

  Strong fingers painfully dug into my arms and heated breath breathed down my neck. I tried to struggle but a furious voice spat at me. “DON’T.” Immediately my body froze as I recognized the angry voice of Kael. Not wishing to anger him more, I did as he said. He pulled me down another street and up a set of smaller stone steps until we were on a small balcony overlooking the drop off. Silently, I followed him and recognized that we were still on the Jesai property. When we were alone, he spun on me. “Where were you?” he growled, eyes flashing dangerously.

  “I was injured and Hemi took me to find help. As you can see, I am fine now.” I twirled sarcastically with my hands up in the air showing off to him that I was uninjured. Kael grabbed my wrist to keep me from spinning and looked me over carefully fro
m head to toe. His eyes that never missed anything stared at the bloody hole in my shirt. Kael moved his hand over my stomach to where I was previously injured and moved the cloth aside so assess the damage. Obviously there was none.

  “No! Where were you?” He asked again. His chest was heaving and I could see that he hadn’t caught his breath from whatever previous activity he had been doing. “One moment I could feel our bond strong and as annoying as ever. Then the next moment it disappeared, vanished. I couldn’t feel you anymore.” Kael’s blue eyes searched mine and I could see the worry and panic that he, for once, was unable to hide from me. The SwordBrother exterior was gone and replaced by a normal, unsure young man. My eyes softened in response and I reached up to cup his face.

  “I’m fine,” I tried to reassure him. “Hemi found someone to heal me; we entered a shielded chamber deep within the city so she could heal me without being hindered by the mists.” I was about to say more but Kael still held a death grip on my wrist and in one smooth motion he pulled me into him and wrapped his arms around me and buried his face into my hair.

  Shocked, I stood absolutely still and felt the wild beating of his heart and the deep breaths he was taking to try and calm down. Sure signs I thought caused by suffering the after effects of being out of boundaries of our bond. Gently I placed my cheek against his chest and rested my hand against his beating heart, taking in his familiar scent. It was the same scent that had chased away my nightmares at the way station. A wall that I had built up against Kael crumbled in that moment and I felt a stirring of attraction. I turned my face up to look along Kael’s strong jaw and he pulled back to stare deeply into my eyes.

  We stood like that for a moment and then Kael, realizing what he was doing, stumbled back from me awkwardly. It was one of the few times in which I had known Kael that he had appeared ungraceful. I pressed my lips together to try and hide a smile.

  This time it was my turn to look over Kael. “Are you all right? Did you suffer this time from the bond?”

 
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