Iced, page 6part #10 of Valos of Sonhadra Series
“And what of you?” Kira asked.
“For now, I still have a purpose as far as building is concerned. E’Lek is split into lower and upper cities. While the Creator and the Strangers were here, they lived in the upper city while we remained underground. Since Lydia awakened us, we’ve moved back to the upper city but we are readapting it to our own needs and preferences. And now that we’ve found the lost tribes, the housing needs will likely increase.”
Kira frowned and her gaze dropped to my heartstone.
“The lost tribes? Do you mean the iced valos in the main room?” she asked.
“Yes. I should have been among them, too.”
She recoiled. “How come?”
“I am not originally from E’Lek,” I explained. “The Northern Valos are divided into five tribes. The E’Lek tribe lives in the city named after it. It is our home, the core that holds the five tribes together. The four other tribes are nomadic. We each traveled in a different direction to trade with other valos cities, to hunt, or gather resources and goods that couldn’t be found near E’Lek. We would be gone for up to three months at a time.”
My hand found its way to my heartstone and absentmindedly stroked it. I could almost remember the time when only flesh covered the center of my chest.
“I belonged to the A’Zuk tribe, as indicated by the last part of my name, Duekeln’vir Uur A’Zuk. We specialized in fishing and would sail far up the Meirik River for rare fishes with glittering scales for the crafters, some that produced ink, or colorful shell-fishes.”
I sighed heavily, my heartstone throbbing as I reminisced on that time long past that would never return.
“The Strangers had arrived a few weeks prior, pretending to be here as explorers and only wanting to gather information about Sonhadra and our people to report later the wonders of our world to their own people.” I snorted in derision thinking how gullible we had been. “We opened our homes to them while they studied us, never imagining the horrible plans they had in mind. We had set off on a fishing expedition the day our lives got turned upside down.”
Kira leaned forward and rested her forearm on the table, her gaze intent on me. For some reason, having her as my captive audience made retelling this painful story more bearable.
“We had pulled our boats up to the bank for the night when two of the Strangers walked into our camp. I couldn’t recall meeting them before. Tarakheen, our Creator, interacted the most with us. They asked if they could join us for the evening meal, saying they had brought a delicacy from their homeworld as a contribution. Having no reason to suspect foul play, we agreed. My people were very careful with mind-altering drinks and herbs, but as courtesy demanded, we accepted their offering and each had a cup.”
“Ugh, let me guess,” Kira said. “The drink was druhgd?”
“I don’t know the word druhgd, but I believe it holds the right meaning,” I said. “Within minutes of drinking it, we all felt a need to sleep too powerful to resist. We woke up in this cave, trapped inside these alcoves. Back then, we weren’t iced like they are now. A wall of energy kept us from escaping. I can still hear the screams of my people while they experimented on us, and see the life draining from my father’s eyes as he died on one of those tables.”
Kira’s eyes misted, and she pressed a hand to her chest. The compassion on her face made my own chest tighten.
“A lot of our people died.” My voice had gone deeper from repressed pain. “They used us to refine their experiments. I only remember pain when my turn came, and then I woke up in E’Lek, the way I am today. Until you revealed that secret entrance yesterday, I had wondered if I had imagined my time in this place.”
“They are like me,” Kira whispered.
My eyes locked with her. “What do you mean?”
“They are the failed experiments,” she said. “I can’t stay in warm environments too long without suffering. They can’t function with their heart very long without it poisoning them.”
“Heartstone,” I corrected instinctively. “What do you mean by it poisoning them?”
Kira shifted on her seat and licked her lips in what I could only interpret as nervousness.
“Well, I can’t swear to it, because I’m not familiar with valo biology, but the swelling around the heart casing... err I mean the heartstone casing, the discoloration, and the blisters on the valos in the back rooms, those are all symptoms humans have when their body is rejecting an implant. I could be wrong, but I think the tribes are having an allergic reaction to the metal casing and it’s poisoning their bodies.”
I had to concur; it did look like a spreading infection.
“How did humans go about healing that?” I asked.
“Well, first, you need to remove the cause of the allergic reaction. In this instance, we would have to remove their casings. Second, we would need to thoroughly clean out the infection and let the wound heal. And last, we would need to replace the implant with one that doesn’t contain any material that the patient is allergic to.”
She frowned and rubbed her nape, lost in deep thoughts.
“The thing is, I’m not sure if your casing is the same as theirs. You and Zak both look healthy, and I saw no signs of infection around your heartstones. The question is whether or not it’s a problem of the casing or if they gave you a different type of medication when they changed you, which allowed you to tolerate the casing.”
Both valid assumptions. I didn’t know metals enough to confirm whether or not the casings where made of the same material, but I suspected they weren’t. Once the others arrived tomorrow—or the day after tomorrow—they would be able to confirm it.
“Hmm.... Either case will prove difficult to solve, but if it is the things they injected us with, then I’m afraid we will never know what ingredients they used,” I said, musing out loud. “And if it is the casings, making new ones might be complicated. Metal molding requires intense fire which, as you can imagine, doesn’t mesh well with us.”
“I thought Lydia could handle fire?”
The snarky edge to her voice made me frown. I narrowed my eyes at her and hoped I was misinterpreting her tone. As much as I found her attractive, the tribe came first, and Lydia was valo.
“Lydia is four moon cycles into her pregnancy. Hers will be the first human-valo child in our tribe. We will not put either of them at any kind of risk. If she becomes indisposed by the heat, we will not be able to rescue her. We also don’t know how heat might affect her offspring. If it comes to that, we will wait for her to have delivered her child and fully recovered before we ask it of her.”
Even if any of us would have wanted to ask, her mate would have gone feral on us—with good reason. But I was aching for my tribe to be revived and to be reunited with my remaining family, especially my mother. She was among those displaying blisters. I could only hope that once we removed the casing, she would be able to quickly heal, like all of us valos could since the change.
We would find out soon enough.
While Kira slept that night, I continued treating the rikshu’s pelt. It would make a nice throw for her bed or couch. She would need a room of her own. I had already narrowed down a few rooms in the lower city that could suit her. Until she had earned the trust of the tribe, they wouldn’t let her stay in the upper city, especially not with Riaxan and Toerkel’s baby, Teo, running around. Not to mention the other four couples—on top of Lydia and Qaezul—that were expecting. The artisans would be happy to make her clothes, footwear, and accessories, and the Gatherers would be pleased to have more than just Lydia and little Teo to feed.
It was exciting to have a purpose. After our initial awakening, reclaiming our city had kept us busy for a few weeks. All that had remained then had been the hunt for the lost tribes and catering to the very limited needs of Lydia and Teo. Once healed, our brethren would need new accommodations and replacements for all their tools and other necessities. This promised wonderful times ahead.
The next day offer
We went outside into the natural cave, as the underground tunnels could prove too dangerous depending on what lurked below. Kira looked stunning standing near the entrance of the cave, her long, white hair whipped around her by the blowing winds. She took off her short boots and wiggled her toes in the little pile of snow that tapered off a short distance into the cave. Dropping the boots next to her, she spread her arms wide as snowflakes swirled around her. She needed one of Tarakheen’s shimmering white tunics to replace that dreadful outfit the Fire Valos had given her. Then, she’d truly embody the spirit of the north.
Welcome home, Kira.
She turned to look at me, her face flushed with pleasure. I smiled while trying to ignore the heat blossoming deep inside. Without me noticing, my feet led me away from the door and within reach of the vision of beauty that had me enthralled. Her eyes widened as I stopped a hair’s breadth from her. They contained no fear, but something akin to anxious anticipation. We stood silently, eyes locked, surrounded by the howling winds. They blew her hair over my chest and shoulders, its gentle caress fanning the embers ignited in the pit of my stomach.
My hand brushed her hair from her face. It caressed my skin, softer than a baby sekubu’s fur. She didn’t pull away from my touch, but her breathing accelerated, and her pupils dilated. I wanted to lean in and kiss her, to bury my fingers in her hair, and to hold her body tightly against mine. But it felt too bold, too soon. The first time we kissed—and I felt sure we would—it wouldn’t be dictated by instincts during a mesmerizing moment but a conscious decision we both made because we both wanted it, and it felt right.
I only allowed myself the pleasure of caressing her cheek with my thumb before releasing her and taking a step back. I didn’t miss the slight disappointment on her face and repressed a triumphant smile.
Oh yes, we would kiss soon.
I picked up her boots which the wind threatened to carry off. She may not need them for warmth, but humans didn’t have padded soles like we did. Walking barefoot on the uneven ground with ice, rocks, and packed snow would hurt her tender feet.
Exhilarated and in full courting mode, I tried to further earn her favor by proposing to pass time doing something I had seen Lydia do before. Thinking to please her with my knowledge of human customs, I suggested we build a Frosty.
Her reaction couldn’t have been further from my expectations.
She blinked and looked at me as if I’d grown an extra arm on top of my head.
“Are you keyding me?” she asked.
“Keyding?” I asked, confused by the foreign term.
“Pulling my leg?”
She huffed in self-annoyance as soon as she spoke those words, no doubt realizing they’d confuse me even more. What could pulling her leg possibly have to do with building a Frosty, anyway?
“Are you making fun of me?” she clarified. “Is this a joke?”
I stood speechless for a moment, unsure how to answer.
“I would never mock you, Kira,” I said cautiously. “Is it not a common outdoors activity for humans during winter?”
“Well...” Her mouth worked for a moment, words failing her.
Her apparent confusion only increased mine further.
“Technically speaking, yes, it is a common outdoors activity for humans,” she conceded, “but it’s something children normally do.”
“Children? Adults never do it for entertainment?” I asked.
She frowned at me as if I’d asked a trick question. Kira’s straight, blunt, white teeth chewed her bottom lip and her gaze dropped to my crotch. I realized then I’d been scratching my stomach again, right below my navel. I couldn’t believe I’d gone back to that wretched habit I used to have whenever my parents scolded me for doing something I wasn’t supposed to—which happened often. I fisted my hand at my side to keep it from roaming again.
“Fine, yes, I guess adults also do it, but honestly it’s rare unless they are doing it with their children,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “From my experience, the only other times grownups do it is if they are goofing around or a couple in the early stages of their blossoming romance, to do something sweet and safe together.”
I blinked at her. The word goofing didn’t mean much to me, but the rest of her explanation felt exactly right. She blinked back, and her face took on a lovely pink shade. Kira bit her bottom lip again, her eyes giving me a not-so-discreet examination from head to toe. The urge to scratch my belly returned with a vengeance, but I held it in check.
“Oh, what the heck,” she mumbled. Looking me straight in the eyes, she gave me a smile I couldn’t quite interpret. “Let’s build that damn Frosty.”
What started off as an awkward activity turned out to be a lot of fun. While I rolled the large balls of snow to build the Frosty, Kira made the pieces that would serve as its decorative elements. The snow, being too powdery, refused to stick so I had to infuse some of my frost abilities to help it along. It would have been easier for me to simply create the ball onsite by manipulating the moisture in the air. But that wasn’t the human way. When I brought in the base and positioned it where Kira wanted, I stole a peek at how she used her own ability.
Sitting on the floor cross-legged, she appeared to be making a long, icy stick that would likely serve as one arm. She placed some snow across her palm in a straight line and closed her hand around it to freeze it until it turned to ice. She then fused it with the other lengths of ice she’d previously made. Kira’s efforts were clumsy, reminding me of baby Teo. She either hadn’t had much practice using her power or no one ever taught her how to do so properly. Considering the way in which she had come by them, I suspected it was a bit of both.
As I crouched beside her, she peered up at me with a questioning look.
“I can show you a more efficient method,” I said. Her eyes sparked with interest, making me smile. I sat down next to her, crossing my legs the same way she had. “Do you see or feel the moisture in the air?”
Kira shook her head.
“Have you ever looked for it?” I asked.
She paused, pondered, but then shrugged, giving me an uncertain look. “To be honest, I wouldn’t even know where to start,” she said.
“All right,” I said, “we can work on that later and see how far your ability goes.” My voice betrayed how much I looked forward to training her. “For now, a simpler way to achieve what you want is to lay out the arm the way you want it on the ground.”
Putting her ice stick on the ground, she gathered some snow in front of her and shaped it into what I assumed to be a thin tree branch.
“Okay,” she said, appearing satisfied with her work.
“Do you need to touch to freeze items?” I asked.
She shrugged again. “I think so.”
“Let’s try first without touching it,” I said.
She placed her hand right above the snow pile and focused. I could see the moisture in the air being drawn to her fingers and slowly morphing to a frozen state. It pleased me that she could manipulate it. However, she clearly couldn’t see it. Instead of pushing the frost into the branch-shaped snow, she was freezing the moisture in the air around her fingers. As expected, ice blocks suddenly formed around her fingertips.
Kira yelped, almost hurting herself by trying to shake them off. I caught her hand.
“Calm, Kira. Let’s take them off carefully,” I said in a soothing voice. She reached with her other hand to try to pluck them off, but I stopped her. “Don’t break it like that, you could hurt yo
“How?” she asked, giving me again that ‘are you crazy’ look.
“Draw it into you,” I said. “Feel the cold in the ice at the tips of your fingers. How much colder it is than your own flesh. Will that cold to infuse you instead.”
At first, Kira lowered the temperature of her own fingers but eventually realized what she was doing and stopped. I smiled and whispered words of encouragement as she continued to focus. And then she got it.
The problem was that she should have unraveled from the outside going in. She started with the ice in direct contact with her fingers. As a result she successfully unraveled the first half of the ice blocks, and the back halves fell off.
She squealed in delight. “I did it! Did you see that? I freaking did it!” she beamed at me, her cheeks flushed.
My heartstone heated, and I once more fought the urge to lean forward and kiss her.
“You did very well, Kira,” I said, proud of my controlled voice. “Now touch the snow and try to turn only a small section to ice. Pay attention to how it feels, pushing the frost out into the snow rather than at the air like you previously did. That’s why you got ice on your fingers instead.”
She looked at me, rapt with attention as I gave her those basic instructions. Licking her lips in a nervous gesture, she shifted into a more comfortable position, then proceeded. Within seconds, she’d turned a section the length of her index finger into ice. Kira lifted her hand and peered at me, seeking my approval.
“Yes, that’s enough. Did you get a good feel for how you push the frost out?” I asked.
“Hmm...” She gave me an uncertain look. “I think so, but I can’t swear to it.”
“Try on another section of about the same length.”
“Okay,” Kira said. She froze another section then raised her hands slightly, breaking contact with the snow. Squaring her shoulders, she took in a deep breath. “Here goes nothing.”
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