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The steele wolf, p.21
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       The Steele Wolf, p.21

           Chanda Hahn
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  Here was all the proof we needed against her; she was a member of the Septori. “Joss, she’s one of them.”

  “Make her stop,” he yelled angrily at her. “Make her release my mother.”

  His heated words made me pause in wonder. Only a few hours before, I had seen the two of them in a warm embrace, kissing. The betrayal and turmoil of emotions had sent me running. Was I mistaken in what I saw; had I judged Joss too soon? Here he was acting completely different.

  “I don’t know how.” I whispered back.

  The look Joss gave me was one of complete helplessness. How could we get her to release control of Gloria without harming her? I was at my limit; my skin was still burning to the touch and I was emotionally and physically exhausted. The run-in with Talbot had drained me and stirred up a plethora of mixed emotions, ones that felt like chains were being slowing drawn around me.

  “Please, Thalia,” Joss begged. “If anyone can, it’s you.” The words spoken in complete honesty were meant to encourage me but instead felt like a weight had been added to the chains around me and was now dragging me into an abyss of hopelessness.

  I nodded to Darren and he pulled off her gag so that we could speak to her.

  “Mona, please release Gloria,” I pleaded softly. “I know you must secretly care about her. Otherwise you would have let her die weeks ago.” It was a gamble. I had seen Mona hovering protectively over Gloria. So I was gambling on the fact that, since Mona lost her mother, she may have secretly seen Gloria as a substitute mother figure.

  Mona’s eyes started to tear up, and I should have stopped speaking then but I didn’t. “If your father forced you in any way to do his bidding, we understand. You don’t have to be part of the Septori; you can leave them and help us. We’ll help you.”

  “You have no idea what you are talking about.” Mona started to laugh hysterically. “No one forced me to do anything; I chose to become a member of the Septori. You have no idea the rush that absolute power gives.” Mona glared at the Jesai family and spit in their direction. “You said you gave us a home. You probably thought you were extending that invitation out of the goodness of your heart. Well, I have a word for you. You didn’t. I made you think you did. You didn’t know us or Talbot, but a few hours and I made you think you had known us for years.” Mona started laughing joyfully, kicking her feet in exultation.

  Nero’s face paled and his hands started to shake. “No, that can’t be, I remember….”

  “NO! You only think you remember. I altered your memories and it will take years for you to filter through them and find the truth. That’s what being a member of the Septori allowed me to do. I controlled and ruled the leaders of the Skyfell family within the misty veil. And when I had proven myself, then I would be allowed an even greater task.” Mona looked crazy, blind with greed and power.

  “Is that why Xiven was so strong within the veils?” I asked. “Is he Septori too?”

  “Xiven was here to make sure I did my job;, that is all. He was assigned because we looked alike. He was my watchdog and look how good of one he turned out to be. He’s probably long gone by now, off licking his wounds.” Mona’s lip curled in distaste. “Thanks to you.”

  My mind whirled as I tried to process all of the information that was coming at me. Mona was put here to control the leaders of SkyFell. She was able to easily with the concentrated chai they all drank greedily until Joss had left to train in Haven. How could she control the future leader if he was gone?

  “You would have gotten away with it too, until Joss left. That’s why you kidnapped Joss’ sister. It was so that he would come back.”

  Mona nodded. “Catch on quick, don’t you? I got in trouble when he left. I actually think Gloria knew something was up and orchestrated him leaving for school when I left for a few days and the drugs started to leave her system. When I had returned, he was gone. But that’s alright. I know how to bide my time. He was promised to me as a reward, once I had proven myself to Talbot.”

  “When Joss finally came home, I was shocked to find out that he brought home a lost puppy and even more shocked when he announced his intentions to become your lifemate. I would have killed you, Thalia, believe me I would have; but Talbot recognized you and made me wait and watch you.” Mona shifted her feet uncomfortably and looked me over from head to toe as if realizing something for the first time. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?”

  “One of what?” saying the words made them feel like gravel in my throat.

  “His experiments.”

  Since Mona obviously didn’t know off hand, it she wasn’t as important to the Septori as she thought. She wasn’t apprised of all of their doings or her father’s. But the way she was speaking about Talbot led me to believe that he wasn’t even her father, just a ruse to allow him into the Jesai’s home. Her attitude sparked something deep inside, a cache of hidden determination and will. The stubbornness that helped keep me alive in the prison began to rise to the surface.

  “Apparently one of the better ones,” I challenged, pretending pride. Obviously Mona wanted power and I stood for what she secretly wanted. Mona’s eyes grew dark with jealousy. I decided to push her further with a lie. “And you’re one of his!”

  “What do you mean?” Uncertainty filled her eyes.

  “Do you honestly think he never spoke of you, of his disappointment in you? I spent many hours in his presence, and I’ve overheard many things spoken when they thought I was unconscious.” I stood up straight and threw my own look of contempt on my face. “How you are one of the failed ones.” It was another gamble but I saw that it had a ring of truth to it, because Mona’s face turned ashen white and she slumped lower to the ground dejectedly.

  “You lie,” she whispered unconvincingly as if she were trying to persuade herself.

  “Even in the alley a few hours ago, he spoke of your incompetence. Of your inability to make a young girl drink a drugged beverage.” Finally piecing together the facts,, I was starting to make sense of everything. After all, knowledge was power.

  “You’re wrong. I will prove myself to him. I will.” With a final scream of desperation, Mona pulled on the thread of power and I saw Gloria on the bed gasp for breath and struggle.

  “Stop her!” Joss and Nero yelled.

  Without thinking, I too grabbed a thread of life, Mona’s, and squeezed. Mona struggled and refused to release her hold on Gloria, but she was no longer trying to kill her. Panting, she fell to the floor trembling but the thread linking her to Gloria was still there.

  “What should we do?” Nero spoke as he had grabbed his wife and brushed her blonde hair with his hands in an attempt to comfort her, though she was still unconscious. “How can we break her control over her? I don’t know if she can survive another attack like that. It’s not something I can heal. She made Gloria stop breathing.”

  “Kill her,” Hemi spoke up gruffly for the first time. “If you can't do it, I will.” To him it was a simple choice and not one that he would ever lose sleep over.

  “What? No! We need her to find my sister,” Joss argued.

  “Then get rid of her,” Hemi snapped.

  “Where can we bring her that she won’t be able to hurt anyone else?”

  “I know where.” And I did.

  I gave instructions to Hemi and Darren and they re-gagged Mona and walked her out. They were taking her to Fanny’s to place her deep within her underground shield, but first they were going to drug Mona using the same techniques she used on us. She would be drugged and unable to reach any power within the shield, but the shield would also block her from reaching those outside of it.

  A few minutes later later I saw the dark thread of power that was linked to Gloria vanish instantly, a sign that they had entered Fanny’s underground workroom. Gloria’s color returned and her breathing became more even. Now all we had to do was wait for the drug to work its way out of her system and the others that were in the main room.

  Slowly, one by one
, they regained control and every one of the guests affected wanted answers to what had happened. I promised Berry and Avina answers later and I left Joss and Nero to explain what they felt was appropriate to share to tell to the affronted guests.

  Blindly, I made my way to my bedroom and crawled into bed and felt my eyes, heavy with fatigue, close as the first rays of morning sunshine entered my room. I was falling deep into sleep when a stray thought floated into my head before disappearing with the morning rays. Kael hadn’t returned.

  Chapter 27

  “Well, he has to be somewhere,” I yelled, cutting Joss short. It had been hours since I had last seen Kael.

  “Thalia, he’ll come back. He’s probably following Talbot, er, uh, the Raven back to his stronghold. He’s a SwordBrother. He will be fine.

  “No, he won’t. Joss, he needs me.” Joss’ beautiful face scowled in disagreement. We hadn’t had the chance to talk alone about what had happened between him and Mona or the fact that we could officially drop the charade of our engagement.

  “I highly doubt that he needs you,” Joss grumbled.

  “No, he does. It’s something they did to him, to us. It’s really complicated. But believe me when I say that if we can’t find him soon, he could die.”

  Joss’ head jerked up in surprise. “And when were you going to tell me about this?” he asked accusingly.

  “Hopefully never.” It was the truth. We had hoped to find a cure or fix for the bond. “But if you won’t help me find him, then I will go on my own.” I grabbed my pack and set off down the stairs to start my own search party for Kael. Joss grabbed my arm and turned me to look at him.

  “Does he mean that much to you that you would go back onto the street where Talbot and Xiven are running free and try to find him? When you could end up captured or even killed?” Joss searched deeply into my hurt blue eyes.

  I stared at Joss and raised my chin in defiance, showing him that I wasn’t afraid. “He would do the same for me.” I shook off Joss’ arm and ran down the steps out onto the street. Louder thuds behind me attested to the fact that Joss was following me.

  We took to the north tower and checked with the skycage operator to see if anyone matching Kael or Talbot’s description had left any time last night or early morning. He hadn’t. Joss led me at a fast pace as we followed a less worn path and cut through the city using back alleys to the skitesmith.

  Skyfell’s skitesmith was very much like Haven’s blacksmith. Since there weren’t any horses or tack on Skyfell, his main line of work was repairing the city’s skycages and skites.

  Bartus looked to be in his eighties, with wiry limbs, long scraggly white hair on his head and bottle-lens spectacles covered his eyes, giving him a bug-like appearance.

  “Why, Joss. Bless my soul. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” Bartus chuckled while standing to give Joss a warm hug. He was so thin that I thought for sure he would break if a strong wind blew in.

  “I’m sad to say this isn’t a pleasure visit, Bartus. We are looking for a friend who went missing late last night.” Joss was about to say more when I cleared my throat and held up two fingers. “Well actually, one young man and an older went missing and I’m wondering if they made it off of Skyfell without using the skycages.”

  Bartus stared at Joss as if he were reading his lips and then shook his head in silent understanding. “Well, now, I didn’t hear anything but one of the skites I was to repair for the Quints family went missing sometime last night. The tarp’s stitching needed repair so I feel sorry for the poor fool who took it for a joy ride. Most people are smart and know not to mess with them if they are hanging outside my shop, because those are the ones waiting to be fixed.”

  Visions of Kael falling through the misty veils the first time flew through my head and I felt myself go weak. I grasped Joss’s arm to steady me. The first time Kael had been saved by Joss since he controlled the wind to catch him.

  “Joss, I think I’m going to be sick,” I whispered and ran outside of Bartus’ skitesmith shop.

  A few moments later Joss followed me and came to give me a reassuring hug. “It will be okay. We know that someone left Skyfell with a broken skite. Now we can send out search parties along Skydown and the riverbeds.”

  “Joss, if the skite malfunctioned, what are the odds of someone surviving the fall?”

  “Not good. Only a Denai could possibly survive the fall, which is why we offer the skycages.”

  I covered my mouth and concentrated on deep breathing so I wouldn’t dwell on the possibility that Kael could very well be dead.

  We ran as fast as we could back to Joss’ home and told Nero what we had learned. Gloria had recovered and was sitting up in bed, her eyes wet with tears. Berry and Avina were keeping her company, telling her stories of living in the Citadel. I saw that Berry’s hands were filled with what looked to be the makings of a lovely dress for Joss’s mother. They were doing their best to keep her spirits uplifted and to keep at bay the probable guilt that was assailing her.

  Nero told us to take the dorabills and search the riverbeds and the ravine along the skite launching points. Joss nodded and ran to the veranda and pulled out his flute. He played a short tune and I saw a red speck fly through the mists and grow in circumference until Nero’s Cecili landed in front of us. The same Cecili that Joss had said “Is a biter.”

  “Get on,” Joss commanded.

  Too nervous to disobey, I scrambled behind him and held on tight as the dorabill alit into the air with the mad pumping of her powerful wings. It was a short flight as I saw that Joss was aiming for the southern Skycage tower. We landed in a cloud of dust and Joss hopped off to run in and notify the operator of a need for a search party. A bell began to ring out from the tower and within moments people began to gather together to help with the search.

  It was a different operator who came out of the tower and he pulled a map out of his pocket and circled the different areas underneath Skyfell that we were to search. From the operator’s cool demeanor, I guessed that this wasn’t the first time someone had gone missing or fallen and a search and rescue mission had been ordered. In our case, we had little hope of it being a success; it was more of a recovery mission.

  Joss and I crawled onto Cecili and we dove off of the launching point by the tower after three other dorabills and their riders. The jump was very much like my first dive with Joss’s fathers—scary. This time I was able to open my eyes as we dove through the silvery mists. Once we cleared the mists, I saw exactly how far down the earth was from the city. The distance was incredible and nothing could survive the fall, which. All this made me wonder why people were crazy enough to live in SkyFell to begin with. Skydown was becoming much more desirable property by the minute.

  I watched as Joss, with subtle touches and by leaning his own weight, directed Cecili. She was one of the larger dorabills and I was able watch her wings in awe as she rode the currents so effortlessly. Joss turned Cecili and we spiraled lower and took to flying along the riverbank that we were assigned to.

  Back and forth we flew and I scanned the river itself, its banks and the surrounding foliage looking for the black of Kael’s clothing. Nothing. I tried calling his name but the wind just whipped it back at me and I found it hard to breathe. I saw another dorabill in the distance scouring the ravine.

  I had about given up hope when a whisper touched my mind and I almost jumped. It had been so long since I’d felt his touch I almost cried with happiness.

  Faraway? Oh, I’ve missed you.

  I’ve missed you too, my lady.

  Faraway, we can’t find Kael.

  Have you searched for him?

  What do you mean, have I searched for him? I’ve been looking for him all morning.

  Faraway chuckled at me as if I were a child that needed chiding. Have you searched for him since you’ve cleared the mists?

  “What? Oh!” and that’s when I realized what my omniscient horse meant. Clearing my mind, I str
etched out my consciousness and realized how easy the power flowed to me once I was out of the mists. It was as if a powerful ocean was flowing back to its bed. The power came so willingly that my senses were almost overwhelmed. Never before had it been like this; I was usually borrowing energy from Faraway but, once I was out of the mists, it seemed to come from the very earth itself.

  Closing my eyes, I searched the banks and river with my mind. Only this time with my mind was searching for him, I was able to cover more ground than three dorabill’s together could fly.

  No, Thalia. Don’t search with your mind.” Faraway corrected. Search with your heart.

  How, Faraway?

  In my mind, my fears began to take control and I sounded like a little girl who was lost.

  Think of Kael, remember Kael and your heart will find him.

  Taking a deep breath, I released my fears and concentrated on Kael, his stony demeanor that he always showed people. I thought of him in his favorite unapproachable position, leaning against a wall, with arms crossed. Of his incomparable fighting skills and how he was unmatched in battle. How honor was everything to him. I tried to remember every SwordBrother detail about him and I got nothing.

  No Thalia. Not Kael the SwordBrother, Kael the man.

  It was then that I let the floodgates open. I thought of Kael and all of the feelings I had tried to keep hidden burst forth. Kael, who comforted me and held me through the storm, keeping my nightmares at bay. Kael holding his hand playfully over my mouth; Kael watching over me, making sure I was eating and sneaking me bits of mint leaf. I thought of the way Kael embraced me outside of the Jesai home, and how worried he was for my safety. How he fought off a pack of wild dogs to save me and how he liked to tease me to get me mad. Kael, who was my protector and friend.

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