Iced, p.13

Iced, page 13

 part  #10 of  Valos of Sonhadra Series

 

Iced
 


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  Kira’s feet shuffled in the hallway, heading for the hygiene room. I turned on the heating plate and started cooking thinly sliced strips of orzarix meat, which Lydia claimed tasted like smoked baykon, whatever that meant. I also seared some spiced fish steaks and cubes of tolan roots which apparently tasted like something called potaytoes.

  The kitchen door slid open as I plated the warm meal.

  “Something smells good in h—” Kira stopped dead in her tracks as she took in what I had prepared for her.

  Eyes wide, lips parted in shock, she slowly walked into the room. Her fingertips reached for the polished dark wood of the table, tracing the carved pattern along the edges.

  “Wow...” she whispered under her breath while caressing the similar pattern carved at the top of the backrest of the chairs.

  My heartstone burned in my chest, the awe on Kira’s face sending it into emotional overload. As her gaze roamed over the large variety of foods spread on the table, my fingers itched with the need to scratch my navel. I put the plate down on the table as Kira circled around it to approach me. Her eyes, shining more than usual, sought mine. The intensity of the emotions within struck me like a fist in the gut.

  “Oh Duke,” she said, tears brimming in her eyes.

  Horrified, I caught her as she threw herself into my arms, and buried her face in my neck, sniffling. Holding her close, my mind raced, wondering where I had gone so terribly wrong. She had seemed happy at first, amazed even.

  The food. It has to be the food.

  That had made her expression shift from wonder to sorrow.

  “My Kira, I am sorry for upsetting you. I thought this would make you happy. Tell me what offends you and I will fix it. Please do not be sad.”

  Kira emitted a short laugh through her tears, confusing me further. Slightly pulling away from me, she lifted her face to look at me. Nonplussed, I stared at my female who beamed at me with an expression akin to love, through glistening eyes and cheeks covered in tears.

  She cupped my face in her hands. “My beautiful Duke, I’m not sad. I’m crying with joy. You are so amazing. It’s been so long since anyone has genuinely cared about me or taken care of me like you do. I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but I’m very happy. YOU make me very happy.”

  Dazed by this unexpected reaction, I dismissed the strangeness of crying when happy. It didn’t make sense, but I didn’t care; I had made my female happy.

  “My Kira,” I said before our lips met.

  I would never tire of the taste of her. Valos didn’t kiss, or rather didn’t use to kiss before Lydia’s arrival. The odd behavior had quickly become common practice among valo couples. Now, I couldn’t imagine going a single day without kissing my Kira. While my desire for her still burned bright, I only poured into it the tender emotion she stirred deep within me, and she responded in kind.

  “My female,” I whispered when parted.

  Her eyes sparkled and she smiled. “If I’m your female, does that make you my male?”

  “Yes,” I said forcefully. “I am yours, my Kira.”

  My chest tightened with trepidation. Would she understand my meaning? Would she reciprocate, or would she reject an exclusive relationship with me?

  “Good,” she said with a toothy grin. “Because I refuse to share you with anyone. You are mine, Duke.” Her hands roamed down from my face to my chest, her thumbs flicking my nipples. “All this perfection is mine,” she added, as if to herself.

  Blood rushed to my groin and I repressed a moan. My hunger for her was returned with a vengeance, but I forced it back down.

  “Do not tempt me, my Kira. I must feed you before your meal gets too cold,” I said, the words scorching my lips while my rod throbbed beneath my loincloth.

  She turned back to the table, licking her lips in anticipation.

  “There’s so much food! I can’t eat all that!”

  “I know,” I said, “but I wanted to make you a brush so that you could sample everything.”

  She cocked her head, perplexed for a moment, then her eyes brightened with understanding. “You mean a brunch?”

  I winced. “Right, brontch.”

  She smiled and pulled out a chair with obvious delight. “That table is so amazingly beautiful! There’s no way you built this last night!”

  I preened under the compliment. “I did. We only have stone tables here. Wood is lighter, so I thought it would be easier for you.”

  “It totally is! Those damn stone chairs were heavier than me. Thank you!”

  Taking a seat, I presented her with the cooked food—which she devoured in seconds—then proceeded to tell her about the different fruits, vegetables, and juices my people used to consume for morning meals before the change. Halfway through the meal, I pulled her onto my lap, needing to feel her closer. She didn’t mind and leaned into me, allowing me to feed her some pieces from time to time.

  When she finally gave up, unable to swallow another bite, I put away the leftovers.

  “We can practice your frost ability for a little bit, and then I can give you a tour of the lower city,” I offered.

  “That would be great!”

  “First, I must check on the furnace to see if some of the stones need to be replaced.”

  Her face fell upon hearing my words. She frowned, a guilty expression descending upon her delicate features. “How is that coming along? Any success?” she asked.

  It was my turn to frown. “It’s not going well at all, my Kira. Poor Qae has made at least three dozen casings, none of them are even remotely close to being usable. We had to force him to stop because the skin of his arms and chest have begun to blister from the heat.”

  Her hand flew to her chest, shock and horror plain to see on her face. “Oh God, is he okay?”

  “Do not worry. Valos heal quickly. In Qae’s case, he heals even faster because his mate passed on to him some of her accelerated healing traits from the experiment.”

  Kira exhaled loudly, her shoulders drooping with relief.

  “I do not believe we will succeed in crafting this ourselves, at least not for months if not years to come,” I said, pain creeping into my voice. “So, cultivating a relationship of trust with the Fire Valos might be the only hope for our lost tribes. But it will take months before our people as a whole agree to put the lives of our kin into the hands of strangers.”

  “But at least there’s hope,” Kira said softly, her hand covering mine in a comforting gesture.

  “Yes, but I miss my mother.”

  Kira’s eyes snapped up to mine, shocked. “Your mother?” Her voice oozed with tension.

  “My mother is among the sleepers, in one of the backrooms. I was so eager to hear her voice again, even if she would scold me. I haven’t spoken with her since the day the Strangers imprisoned us. Until you showed us that cave, I believed she had died along with my father.”

  My heartstone throbbed and burned as it did every time I thought of her. At least she wasn’t in pain and would linger safely until we found a solution.

  Looking crestfallen, Kira pulled away from me and stormed out of the kitchen. Stunned, it took me a second to snap out of my temporary paralysis and chase after her. She stood in the living area, looking outside the large window onto the plaza, and hugged herself as if under the effects of a terrible chill.

  What just happened?

  I walked up to her, standing a hair’s breadth from her back. Sensing my presence, she leaned against me. I wrapped my arms around her, waiting to hear what had triggered her strange reaction.

  “I miss my mother, too,” Kira said. “We used to be very close back on Earth.” She shivered, and I tightened my embrace. “I’ll never see mine again or even be able to tell her that I’m okay, that I found a good man and kind people to live with. I’ll never get the chance to tell her that I love her and regret all the pain I’ve put her through.”

  The suffering in her voice tore at me. Suddenly, I felt petty for wallowing in self
-pity when she had lost so much more that she could never get back.

  “I’m sorry, my Kira. I didn’t mean to be so selfish.”

  “No! You don’t understand...” She turned around to face me, her eyes flicking between mine. Pain, guilt, and soul-deep sorrow twisted her delicate features. “In your shoes, I would do anything to save my mother, too; even move mountains if I had to.” Looking off over my shoulder, her eyes lost their focus. “I have suffered so much during these past couple of years... In my last days in Caldera, I had been contemplating, daily, just throwing myself into the lava to end it.”

  My stomach lurched, dread stiffening my spine.

  “No, my Kira! You must not have such horrible thoughts!”

  “I don’t. Not anymore. Not now that I’ve found you,” she said, her eyes remaining distant, and her thumb absentmindedly caressing my clavicle. “But there, it was pure Hell. Some humans believe that, when they die, evil people go to Hell, a horrible place where they burn in flames for eternity. I’ve been in Hell since the day I set foot on Sonhadra. At least we crashed in late fall, so the plateau’s temperatures weren’t so bad, but by the time we left to come here, spring had arrived and, with it, even greater heat.” Her eyes took on a haunted look before connecting with mine. “I didn’t believe I would survive the trip here. When not hunted by everything that wanted to kill us, I was burning alive. And now that I’m finally here, I never want to leave again. I don’t want to go out there. I can’t bear the thought... the pain...”

  She buried her face in my neck and wept. I held her tight, confused by what could have triggered such distress, but failing to find a connection.

  “You never have to leave, my Kira. This is your home now, with me, with the Northern Valos. Heat will never torment you again.”

  I stroked her hair, softer than a baby sekubu’s fur. She trembled against me and I racked my brain trying to make sense of what was going on.

  “I can help you save her,” she whispered against my neck. “I can help you save them all.”

  WHAT?!

  I pulled away from her enough to be able to see her face. Guilt, fear, and shame warred on her face.

  “What?” I asked, disbelieving.

  “If... If I go back out there, I can help them.”

  Through bouts of tears, Kira told me about her threedee preentur device that could make perfect replicas of any object, in various materials of our choice. But they were inside the wreckage of the Concord. My spirit soared and my heartstone thrummed with excitement. Kira feared days of marching in the heat at the mercy of countless vicious monsters, but it wouldn’t take us that long. We had safer routes.

  “My Kira, there is no need for fear. It took you five days with the Fire Valos to reach the E’Lek Valley, but they are not attuned to ice and water,” I said, feeling smug. “I can get you to the wreckage in a few hours, without ever setting foot inside the forest.”

  She stared at me, stunned, fear and hope shining in her beautiful multi-colored eyes.

  My smile broadened.

  WITHIN TWO HOURS, WITH the morning sun still low on the horizon, we were ready to set out on our expedition with Zak and Millia accompanying us. The female hunter had insisted on tagging along as her twin brother was among the iced valos.

  All of E’Lek buzzed with renewed hope, except for my Kira. While she trusted me to keep her safe and keep the trip short, the thought of leaving our icy plains still terrified her. Lydia eventually intervened, telling me to give her a moment with Kira so that she could talk her off a ledge. In light of my ignorance, Lydia explained the origin of the expression.

  It did nothing to appease me.

  As we summoned our ice boards to slide to the cliff, Kira asked my sister Jaankeln to look for Amber and the Fire Valos if they didn’t reach the city by night fall. Jaan promised.

  Under the farewells and well-wishes from the tribe, we set off for the cliff. Kira melted in to me, her face hidden in my neck while we raced forward, the soft curves of her body aligning perfectly with mine. The wind blew her long hair across my face and shoulders, its flowery fragrance taking me back to the previous night as she slept, wrapped around me. I had hated leaving her in the middle of the night, but her reaction to the table and morning meal had made it all worthwhile.

  The roar of the waterfall increased as we approached our destination and, with it, the tension in Kira’s frail shoulders. Her fear ate away at me like acid and made me admire her all the more that she would do this for us... for me. After the initial shock of her confession, I realized that Kira had been aware of this potential solution for some time but refused to contemplate it for fear of what it would mean for her. Had Qae succeeded, she could have kept her secret. In truth, even with his failure, she could have kept silent. That she did not, and consented to come, revealed the depth of her love for her mother and, I hoped, of her feelings for me.

  I stopped us at the foot of the cliff and unraveled the ice board. Kira threw a confused look around us. With no visible staircase or path upward she would naturally wonder how we intended to reach the plateau.

  “Come, my Kira,” I said, taking her hand and leading her right next to the stony façade of the cliff. She followed with the timidity of prey sensing a predator nearby. “I hope you’re not afraid of heights?”

  She shook her head. “Heights are fine, within reason and depending under what conditions. It’s speed and creepy crawlers I can’t stand.”

  “Cree... what?” I asked, befuddled.

  “Bugs, insects, worms, anything slimy, not for me,” she said, making a disgusted face.

  I pressed my lips together to keep them from stretching into a smile. Except for the rare venomous insects, everything else she listed would be far more scared of her. She could squish them with little effort.

  Slipping an arm around her waist, I drew Kira to me. She gave me an inquisitive look.

  “I will lift us to the plateau,” I said, smiling at her dubious expression.

  Zak and Millia joined us, and stood on each side of me. Pushing my frost into the packed snow at our feet, I created a platform that slowly began its ascent along the face of the cliff, carrying us up. Kira squealed, clinging to me with both hands.

  “H... How?” she asked, bewildered.

  “The same way you freeze or unravel things,” I explained patiently. “When you unravel, you drain the cold from the outside going in. When you are moving a platform, you unravel at the bottom but create more at the top. It is one of the many things I will teach you how to do on your own.”

  Her eyes sparkled as she peered at the tiny silhouette of E’Lek fading into the distance.

  “Can Lydia do that?” Kira asked.

  “No, her abilities aren’t like ours.”

  “That is so cool!”

  Why cool translated as amazing to humans still made no sense to me, but we had all accepted that humans were strange creatures. All that mattered to me was that this provided Kira with enough distraction to keep her mind off her fears.

  The instant we stepped onto the plateau, they came back to the fore. Fortunately, this close to E’Lek Valley, the temperatures remained cold with little vegetation allowing for brisk winds to keep us cool. We walked a short distance alongside the river, until we reached a large rock formation in the water. It sat close enough to the bank to prevent the vessel we would build from getting carried away by the current.

  Eyes round, lips parted, Kira looked in wonder as Zak, Millia and I combined our frost to give shape to our ice boat which rose in record time over the water. For a moment, I feared the strength of the current would shatter it. Without my companions’ help, it probably would have. As they finished shaping the vessel, I adjusted its weight distribution, shape, and balance to ensure it would float and offer the least resistance as we tried to navigate upriver.

  With our task completed, I built an ice ramp and covered it with a layer of snow to avoid slippery footing, then unraveled it once we were all on boa
rd. With the current opposing us, it proved to be a bit arduous to gain enough momentum pushing our frost behind the boat like we did with our ice boards. Our combined efforts eventually prevailed, and we began to sail towards the mainland. The farther we got from the waterfall, the less its pull slowed us. Soon, we all but flew over the water.

  This time, speed didn’t seem to bother Kira; quite the contrary. Dangerous water creatures lurked beneath us but we were moving too fast for them to bother with us. Also being out of reach from anything menacing from the shore or surrounding forests further alleviated her concerns. I seized the opportunity to point out to Kira the various plants and creatures we encountered. Filled with wonder, her eyes flicked this way and that, taking in the scenery.

  As we sailed deeper into the mainland, the heat steadily increased. With only a weak current to counter, I left the task of propelling us forward to Zak and Millia while I focused my efforts on maintaining the integrity of the boat, and keeping the air within the vessel to comfortably cold levels. Despite the hot sun glaring down on us, Kira showed no signs of distress or discomfort. I would have to take her on more such sailing trips. We could invite Qae and Lydia who had never sailed that way either.

  Time flew as we gave a sail-by view of Sonhadra to Kira, punctuated with various hunting anecdotes from both before and after the change. Soon, the thick forest thinned, the trees giving way to a vast clearing that stretched as far as the eye could see. Zak and Millia slowed our speed when the first signs of wreckage appeared.

 
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