Iced, p.19

Iced, page 19

 part  #10 of  Valos of Sonhadra Series



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  Reassured that all was well, we gave Coelvek his heartstone back. His emotion returned in one massive wave. It didn’t trigger any screaming or pain this time, only extreme joy at the absence of agony from infection. Although the casing felt slightly heavier, he felt whole again, and above all, healthy and very hungry.

  The same shock could be read on all of our faces, even Kira’s. Coelvek then explained that it wasn’t just the heartstone casings that the Creators had improved when they built us, but also our basic functions. This first generation of valos still needed to eat though in lesser quantities than before the change, and they also needed to sleep at least five hours every two or three days. Rather than disheartening us, it made the Hunters all the happier that they now had well over a hundred mouths to feed on a daily basis. They would no longer grow idle and bored.

  Two more tribemates received their new casings and heartstones with the same positive result. Using all the space available, leaving just enough room to circulate, we took out all of the most infected, including my mother, and removed their old casings to begin the slow healing process. For fear of their holes collapsing, despite them having frozen their edges, we placed cylinders made of ice inside their chests to keep the shape right for the days and weeks they would take to recover.

  Speaking to my mother tugged at my heartstone. She recognized Jaan and me but her eyes remained void of any affection. If nothing else, it gave us an opportunity to tell all of the awakened tribemates about Kira and the other humans who had joined us so there would be no panic or hysterical reactions. The days my mate spent caring for them as well helped reinforce the notion that she represented no threat, and was in fact a friend.

  Since she wanted to remain near the recovering valos, I had used part of the cave outside the hidden lab to build a private bedroom for Kira so she didn’t have to make the long trip back and forth to E’Lek every day. It took four weeks for all of them to be sufficiently healed to receive their casings. During that time, whenever Kira wasn’t busy tending to them, we would train her frost abilities or I would take her out on some exploration excursions to discover the beauty of her new home.

  We needed that bonding time. The beginnings of our relationship had been such an all-consuming whirlwind that our physical bond had overshadowed our spiritual one. If we were to be lifemates, our minds needed to be in harmony as much as, if not even more than, our bodies. And there could be no doubt that our bodies sang in unison.

  On the third week, when my mother awakened and pulled my mate into her arms, calling her daughter, Kira did that silly human thing again of crying to express joy. My poor mother thought she had somehow offended or hurt my female and required much explanation before she felt reassured that all was well. The visible affection blossoming between the three most important females in my life—my mother, sister Jaan, and Kira—warmed my heartstone. And although it could never replace the loss of her own, having a mother figure in her life soothed a deep pain in Kira’s soul.

  Towards the end of the fourth week, with most of the healed tribemates back in E’Lek and helping to build new housing, Piena dropped a major bomm like Kira said—whatever bomm meant. After reuniting with her heartstone, she wept profusely at all the deaths and losses. She had been among the first to be changed and witnessed far too many of the failed experiments. When she finally regained control of her emotions, she asked if the children had heavily suffered from the trauma of hibernation.

  “There are no children left, Piena,” I said, my chest hurting. “Tarakheen did away with them.”

  “She killed them because she couldn’t have any of her own, spiteful female that she is,” Jaankeln hissed with barely repressed rage. “She tore out our heartstones because Riaxan and Toerkel manage to conceive a son even after the change.”

  “You are wrong, my sister,” Piena said in a pressing tone, jumping to her feet. She wavered for a second, needing a moment to regain her bearings after a millennia in hibernation. “Tarakheen wouldn’t kill children because she so desperately wanted her own. She simply couldn’t bear the sight of ours, a reminder of her own inability to conceive.”

  “What makes you so sure?” Lorvek asked, shaken as we all were by Piena’s apparent certainty.

  “I know because I was among those tasked to build the room where they would be put into hibernation. It was right through this door, on the other side of the hallway,” she said, pointing at the backdoor.

  Kira and I exchanged a look, hope and fear warring within mine. Turning on her heels, Piena headed straight for the door, opening it with a wave of her hand in front of the motion detector.

  “No,” Piena whispered, distraught at discovering the collapsed tunnel. “We need to dig them out,” she said as if speaking to herself. Then she turned to face us, grim determination etched on her face. “Get the others. We need to get our children out.”

  She didn’t have to say it twice. Zak flew back to the city to ask for aid. While Kira continued to tend to the handful of recovering valos, Jaan, Lorvek, Piena, Traxian, and I dug with relentless frenzy. By the time Zak returned with reinforcements, we had filled four of the connecting tunnels with the ice and snow we had removed. Half of our people had shown up, every surviving parent obviously present. We couldn’t fit everyone in the cave so we gave precedence to the Miners, who were more skilled in digging, while asking everyone else to wait in the main lab.

  Another half-hour went by before we touched the ornate wall that served as a hidden door to that other room. A victorious roar rumbled through my chest but I swallowed it back. We were making enough noise as was without unnecessarily adding to it. If our children lay within, the last thing we needed were predators showing up.

  Another, endless thirty-minutes later, we finally cleared the door enough to open it. A smaller room, similar to the larger one with the iced valos, greeted us. Within, sixty-four alcoves and seven cradles, all filled with cryogenic ice, contained our children from newborn infants to pre-adult youths. All of them unchanged, their little chests devoid of heartstones or gaping holes. This time, we didn’t silence our joy, the closed hidden door thankfully muting our shouts to the outside world.



  Overnight, E’Lek had gone from a quiet little village to a city bustling with life and activity. A week after the last of the iced valos had been reunited with his heartstone, the city was hardly recognizable. Housing had exploded with a new dwelling going up every day. Children laughed, ran around, and learned how to make Frosties and snow angels. Hunters went out every day to feed almost two hundred mouths daily which usually resulted in giant barbecue cook outs on the plaza. Crafters didn’t know where to start between trying to provide the human tribemates and the children with everything they needed.

  While life settled back into a normal routine, the first couple of days had been a bit of a shock for everyone. The children had been disoriented and confused, asking to see their parents while complaining of both thirst and hunger. Realizing their parents had been changed frightened the older children. The youngest, not fully comprehending what was happening, had merely been intrigued by the adults’ glowing eyes and heartstones. Both realizing they had hibernated for a thousand years and meeting humans left the older children reeling. While they observed everything with a degree of caution, seeing so many familiar faces with their personalities still similar to the ones they had known went a long way towards reassuring them.

  The hard part had been dealing with the children whose parents had died during, or as a consequence of, the change. Over the following weeks, I finally understood what Duke and Lydia had meant about children being the responsibility of the entire tribe. No parent worried about any child’s whereabouts because there were always adult eyes making sure they stayed out of trouble. If a child fell and got hurt, whoever was the closest would pick him up and care for the wound or console him. If she was hungry, the closest adult would see her fed. Soiled diaper? Same thing. The parents neede
d to go hunting, gathering, or wished for some quiet time? They would simply bring the child to the plaza with the others and inform nearby adults that they’d be away for a while.

  It went a long way toward alleviating my fears of being overwhelmed by motherhood. Three months after my arrival here in E’Lek, my period finally didn’t show. It had been a long time coming seeing how Duke and I went at it like rabbits. Lydia was days away from popping. She had gone from a sexy little thing to a waddling tubby overnight. If I had any money, I’d bet it all she had twins baking in there.

  Lydia had been baffled that Duke hadn’t claimed me as his mate yet. I confessed I was the one holding back. Despite the strength of my feelings for him, the human in me couldn’t reconcile making a lifetime commitment after such a short time. In my book, you dated for a couple of years, and were engaged for almost as long before even considering exchanging vows. Duke wasn’t pressuring me in any way, but my reluctance hurt him. No matter how much I tried to explain, he would say “Yes, my Kira” then avert his eyes, so that I couldn’t see that he didn’t believe I loved him, and how deeply it wounded him.

  It wasn’t until Millia approached me that I finally decided to bite the bullet. In the weeks that followed their awakening, many among the lost tribes expressed the wish to resume their nomadic lifestyles. Visits to E’Lek were the best opportunity for the young tribe members to meet other valos and form relationships. In Duke’s case, he had been very popular among the females of his tribe, and as they would be heading back out in the upcoming days on their three-month roaming, potential couples needed to form now to decide who left their tribe to stay in E’Lek or who left E’Lek to join the nomadic tribe.

  Before our trip to Utopia, Millia had never paid much attention to Duke. But now, he had caught her interest. She wanted him to join the nomad tribe as her paired companion and, hopefully, as her mate by the time they returned to the city. It took everything for me not to lose my shit when she openly approached me about it. But she was so sweet and polite, I didn’t know how to handle it.

  “I understand that you and Duekeln are paired but that you do not wish to mate with him,” Millia said. “I believe he would make a wonderful lifemate for me. Therefore, I was wondering if you would accept to release him from his bond so that I may approach him with my interest.”

  I gaped at her, floored by such boldness. “No! I don’t want to release him from our bond.”

  “Oh,” Millia said, disappointment etched on her pretty face. “Are the rumors wrong, then? You do wish to mate with him?”

  “Yes, I do, but not now!” I exclaimed, feeling a little aggravated about people meddling in my business.

  “Why not now?” she asked, clearly confused.

  “Because these things take time. We need to get to know each other and make sure we’re the right fit.”

  “Ah!” she said, understanding dawning on her, “You’re uncertain of his feelings for you.”

  “No, I know he loves me,” I said with conviction. Duke’s every interaction with me broadcast his feelings for me. I had no doubt about the sincerity or depth of his affection.

  “Ah! You doubt your own feelings,” she said with a sympathetic look.

  “No, I don’t. I love him. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me!”

  I meant it, too. No man had ever gone out of his way to make me happy the way Duke did. He accepted me with all my strange human customs and strove to help me achieve whatever dream or goal I’d set for myself. His support and pride in me meant everything. He’d taught me to pull that stick out of my ass and learn to enjoy the simple things of life. Yep, my man was one of a kind.

  “So... why do you want to wait, then?” Millia asked, beyond confused.

  I blinked, unsure how to respond. She blinked back, and the most awkward silence took a seat right between us. I could almost picture it whipping out a bag of popcorn to see how this one would go down.

  “I’m pregnant.”

  The words no sooner left my lips than I kicked myself. I hadn’t meant to blurt that out. I’m not sure what reaction I had expected from Millia, but certainly not for her to beam at me, visibly thrilled by the news.

  “That is wonderful! Duekeln will make an amazing father! If you release him, our tribe will make sure to return before you deliver. For the first two years after the birth, Duekeln and I could stay fishing near E’Lek so that he can be present in the baby’s life. And then, maybe you and the child can join us when we roam!”

  Too speechless to respond, I remained quiet even when the object of our discussion walked up to us, and Millia stated both her interest and ‘brilliant’ plan.

  “You wish to release me?” Duke asked.

  The hurt and disbelief in his voice and facial expression snapped me out of my stupor. Everything that had seemed so complicated before suddenly just fell into place.

  “No, Duke, I do not wish to release you.” I faced Millia. “Thank you for helping me put things into perspective. I appreciate that you inquired first if you could pursue him, but my answer is no. I can’t release him because I love him and want him as my lifemate...” I turned to Duke, “...if he would have me.”

  Duke’s face melted into an expression of pure adoration that had me weak in the knees. Any lingering doubt melted away. He pulled me into his embrace, where I belonged.

  “Yes, my Kira, my mate. A thousand times, yes.”

  He crushed my lips in a searing kiss, and I willingly surrendered to it.

  A discrete chuckle reminded me we had a witness, and guilt had me giving Millia a sheepish smile. I hadn’t meant to flaunt or rub it in her face. Yet, after casting a longing glance at Duke, the smile she gave me felt genuine.

  “While disappointed for myself, I am glad to have helped you clarify your feelings, and for both your happiness. When next our tribe returns, I’ll look forward to meeting your offspring.”

  Duke’s head jerked towards Millia, staring at her wide-eyed and slack-jawed. She chuckled and touched two fingers to her heartstone before walking away. Duke’s head snapped back towards me, the question plain to see on his face.

  Feeling self-conscious, I tucked my hair behind my ear. “No more bleeding for me for the next few months,” I said, almost kicking myself at this most unromantic way of telling my man we had a bun in the oven.

  Duke had freaked out so badly the first time I had my period that I still giggled thinking about it. Even after I explained the biology behind it all, he couldn’t comprehend that anything could bleed for five days and not die. I’ve had it twice since my arrival in E’Lek, and both times he’d been beside himself, going so far as to ask Lydia and Scarlet for confirmation. The silly man feared I was lying to shelter him from the knowledge of my impending death.

  “You are with child? You’re bearing my child?”

  I nodded, a silly grin plastered on my face. Duke whisked me up. I squealed and hung on to his shoulders for fear of falling—even though I knew he’d never drop me. My mate roared and spun around in place. I had to beg him to stop, laughing through the dizziness.

  The other valos and humans on the plaza watched us with amusement which quickly faded when seconds later, Ky came rushing out of his house screaming for help. Lydia was in labor. Riaxan—little Teo’s mother—Lorvek, and I rushed to her aid. Traxian, the semi-official tribe healer offered to assist, but Ky didn’t seem too keen on having some other dude looking at his woman’s privates.

  Northern Valos had an eight-month gestation period, and hybrids appeared to want to follow that route. No woman would complain about one less month of getting her bladder kicked to hell and back. In that instant, I couldn’t have been more grateful for my medical training. And from the relieved look in Lydia’s eyes, she clearly felt the same. Fleeting thoughts of Lucie made me realize she had to be freaked out with her own delivery imminent. As much as I dreaded the thought of returning to the excruciating heat of Caldera, I still felt like I owed Lucie for finding us a home i
n those terrible early days. Too few humans had survived the crash. We had to look after each other. At least knowing she had Joi, the Fire Valos healer, gave me a modicum of peace.

  As far as deliveries went, by human standards, it had been smooth sailing. The valos didn’t agree one bit. According to them, three hours to deliver a baby clearly indicated that something had gone wrong. When I told Ky that I’d tortured my mother for sixteen hours before finally agreeing to come out, he nearly fainted, and then said he felt sorry for Duke when our own baby would come.

  As I’d predicated, Lydia gave birth to a beautiful pair of fraternal twins, a boy and girl set. Like little Teo, they possessed a heartstone sheltered by a thin layer of skin that leaned closer to a blueish green than their father’s dusky blue. Their facial features didn’t have the sharp lines of the valos but the smooth curves of the humans, with crystalline eyebrows and a mess of dark, curly hair common to bi-racial babies. Although, like their father, they lacked a nose bridge, the tiny bump of their nose tips resembled more those of humans, and both their lips were plump and full like their mother’s. Their almond-shaped eyes, as large as their father’s, had a slight glow and an almost Asian slant to them, with the same gorgeous ice-blue irises as their mother.

  To my surprise, neither baby screamed or cried, although they were clearly conscious and well. They also didn’t appear to breathe, like the other valos.

  Lorvek and I presented the babies to the proud parents.

  “Lydia, Ky, meet your twins,” I said proudly, extending the girl to Lydia while Lorvek gave the boy to Ky.

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