“Did you let me do that?” Gwen demanded, glaring down at the female splayed out on the mat at her feet.
“We’ve been fighting for weeks. Have I not thrown you down enough for you to know I would never willing let you best me?” Ania demanded back, reaching up a hand. “Stop glaring and help me up.”
Gwen snorted, still unable to believe she’d truly put the new and now more robust version of Ania down on the mat. She yanked the female to her feet, barely exerting any effort. Getting stronger was just one of many changes she had discovered happening to her body since the mating cord to Dorian had been completed.
“You and I both know damn well I’m not that good yet. So if you didn’t let me toss your ass, how the hell did it happen then?” Gwen demanded. Her promise to talk more respectfully to her trainer, teacher, and friend was temporarily forgotten in her struggle to understand her new skills.
“I’m not quite sure,” Ania replied calmly, retrieving her fighting stick and leaning on it. “You went into some kind of fighting zone that I couldn’t penetrate. It was much like the way Dorian fights. Perhaps he gave his skill to you with your mating. Sirens share all they are with their chosen mates, though I have never seen it take this form.”
Gwen shrugged. “It was like I saw everything you were going to do in my head. One minute I was contemplating whether or not to trust what I was seeing, and the next—you were on the mat. Hell, I didn’t even know I had moved until I saw you at my feet.”
“What you did in besting me was most impressive for a Khalsa warrior with your limited training,” Ania praised, bowing her head. “Do you think your intuition is growing as well?”
“Yes. It’s just one more thing you were right about I guess. Though it’s more like I’m reading minds than predicting the future like Zade and Synar do,” Gwen said, seeing Jurek walk through the door and give Ania an assessing look, which Ania missed with her back turned.
“I still don’t see the benefit of intuition. For example, I certainly don’t need to read my old trainer’s mind to know Jurek has a crush on you. And frankly, I’d just as soon not see what form he wishes that admiration could take. Sheesh—he needs a female,” Gwen said, tossing her fighting stick from hand to hand for something to do. She had a hard time being still lately and was reading minds a lot more than she was comfortable admitting.
Ania laughed, unaffected by the passing desires of other males for her. Jurek was a fine male, but there was only one in her life that counted, a fact she was grateful for, because he was enough of a distraction. Synar had been talking about having children for the last two days, and she couldn’t get him to cease his dreaming of her carrying his child. He had already made her confess that she had dreamed of their children years ago when they were still new to each other.
Synar was so absolutely committed to having a family that she hadn’t yet figured out how to tell her mate that her dreams of children had died completely after Malachi had informed her they would be demon babies too. It was bad enough she shared a demon’s fate. The last thing she wanted was to force it on innocent children.
“Odd that you are able to read Jurek so well. I would say that in addition to your enhanced fighting skills, you have also acquired Dorian’s ability to read personal energy. Combined with what you already biologically inherited from your Thelorian father, your intuitive skills should be more than equal to Synar’s now,” Ania said, nodding in approval. “Of course, learning to control those abilities and exercise sound judgment on what they provide will still prove a great challenge for the irrational Earthling you mostly still are.”
Gwen settled for a glare. Ignoring Ania’s teasing to focus on the bigger picture was becoming second nature. Her Khalsa trainer was teaching her to keep her mind calm even when her emotions got out of control. It was more than being calm under pressure. It was the ability to calm herself when she wanted to be calm—something she’d thought she’d mastered until she took on a Siren and ended up bound to him.
“This mating deal with Zade just keeps getting worse,” Gwen complained. “I got married to an invisible groom who made me perceptive to other people’s sexual needs when I’m personally unable to do anything except wish for him. Not a very good wedding gift if you ask me. I like being physically stronger, but Zade could have kept the voyeurism stuff to himself.”
“The Creators sometimes use circumstances like your unusual mating to bestow what they wish a being to have as gifts. I doubt Dorian had that much control over what you received,” Ania said with a shrug, not needing to be schooled in Earth mating customs to hear the disappointment in Gwen’s voice.
“Are you telling me you believe your deities are partly responsible for the Klageldon dung I’m going through?” Gwen asked, rolling her eyes at how ridiculous it sounded to her. “Why? Do they hate me?”
“It took Dorian three years of training to put me on the mat. You managed to do it less than a week after your Siren mating cord was completed. Doesn’t that make you feel better about some of your new skills?”
Gwen laughed but finally nodded. “Yes. I suppose being capable of putting a real Khalsa warrior on the mat makes up for the rest of it a little.”
“Good to hear. Of course I was a lot younger when I trained Dorian. Maybe after several hundred years I’ve slowed down enough to be bested by an Earthling,” Ania said, grinning at the flash of irritation in Gwen’s eyes. “Perhaps I should even be ashamed.”
Ania saw the punch in the arm coming but figured she deserved it when it landed harder than she’d anticipated. Laughing, she danced away from Gwen to rub the mock wound. The young warrior definitely was getting stronger. She hit like a male lately.
“You just had to ruin the moment for me, didn’t you?” Gwen demanded.
“You make it too easy wearing your mixed feelings for Dorian all over your attitude that way. Why don’t we try meditating again? I know you say you can’t quiet your mind enough, but I think we should practice each day regardless,” Ania said. “Visions come during meditation much like they do through dreams.”
“If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have said no yesterday. Let’s go then,” Gwen said, jogging off the mat and putting the fighting stick back on the wall. “I haven’t seen him in my head in several days. I’m ready to send Malachi to try again. Anything is better than waiting for something to happen.”
Ania shook her head. “No. Malachi said it would do no good because there’s an energy block on Dorian’s end of the cord. Malachi can’t break through it without harming him. He said Dorian probably blocked it off to keep his captors from knowing it was there. When the demon has nothing to personally gain from being less than truthful about the situation, I find I can believe him completely.”
Gwen sighed, hoping whatever Zade was doing wasn’t hurting him. She didn’t need more worry. She was already worrying enough. In fact, worrying about him and Sarinnea seemed like all she did when she wasn’t working or training.
Ania hung up her fighting stick and went to retrieve her shoes, stalling while Gwen mentally wrestled with her concerns. She was all too aware of the turmoil in her pupil and friend but had said little about it. She didn’t want to throw Gwen into a depression. So far Gwen had managed to hold up best when she managed to push away the worry on her own.
“Have you seen Dorian’s meditation room?” Ania asked at last, not questioning Gwen’s quiet frown or the single shake of her head the question brought. “It’s very comforting. A lot of his energy is there. I think you’ll like it. We’ll try that today instead of his quarters.”
“If it makes me cry, I’ll put you on your ass again. All I do is worry and cry. Both are nothing but a waste of energy and time,” Gwen said.
“Do not be so prideful. Besides—if you cry, who will see or care?” Ania said with shrug. “Your tears are not a sign of weakness, but rather evidence of the depth of your feelings for your mate. They break down your physical and mental walls. They might even make the meditation easier for you.”
Gwen sighed as they headed out the door and down the hall to the room she’d purposely never visited. Even just walking by the closed door, she could tell the male’s energy was there. But he wasn’t, and she knew it would only make her miss Zade more to expose herself to it. Being already full up on the torture of missing her mate, she had intentionally stayed away.
When Ania held the door wide, Gwen took a deep breath and reluctantly stepped across the threshold. Inside were blessed peace and the same calm Dorian exuded. Unable to stop them, Gwen let the tears roll unchecked down her face. She had never fully appreciated the calming effect he had on her until he was gone. Now it was one of the things she missed the most.
“Here—wear this,” Ania said, holding a robe up for Gwen as they both slipped off their shoes. She was pleased when Gwen just slipped her arms into it without debate. “Use the sleeves to dry the tears you shed for him. Dorian would hate that. He’s very particular about his clothes.”
Gwen snickered at Ania’s teasing even as she sniffed. “It almost feels like he’s here,” she said. “I expect him any moment to come through the door frowning and complaining.”
Ania nodded and smiled. “Yes. Dorian has embedded his energy into everything in this space. It stands in defiance of any energy coming through the door that might disrupt the peace. No holy place has ever been guarded better. Dorian is more than just strong in body. His spirit is immense.”
“I don’t know how I stayed away from him for as long as I did. I also can’t let myself believe that it ends like this—with him abducted and us not able to find him,” Gwen said.
She lifted her arms and saw the long sleeves hanging over her fingertips. She was tall enough to handle the length of the robe, but having been made to fit a tall Siren male, the arms were too long for her. It was like wearing a boyfriend’s sweater in school, she supposed. And why did Zade always make her think of the sentimental aspects of her mother’s culture?
“I swear Zade has turned me into some damn wimpy Earth female. All I want to do is wrap myself in this robe, lie down, and cry myself to sleep. Only sheer willpower, and the knowledge of how stupid that would be, keeps me from doing it,” Gwen confessed.
“I can feel your distress, but I do not think it is necessarily a negative. It validates how close in spirit you are with your missing mate. Kneel down on the pillow over there,” Ania said, pointing to the braided rug and pillow that Dorian brought from Rylen.
“Must I do the kneeling thing?” Gwen asked, hating that she sounded like a child begging its mother not to have to do a chore. She was a commander—damn it. Where was her pride?
“Yes, you must do as I ask. Kneeling grounds you to the ship. It is not as good as grounding to planetary soil, but out here it is all we can do. While you kneel, allow yourself to experience your weaknesses for your mate and try making peace with your feelings. I assure you doing so will only make you fiercer as a warrior. Vulnerability is the other side of great strength in battle,” Ania instructed.
“But what if I fail? What if nothing I do helps us find him?” Gwen asked, all the questions and concerns a swirl of pain inside her.
“Gwen Shenu Jet, you made your mate proud the moment you stepped into this room where so much of his energy and power is invested. Now do as I request,” Ania ordered, turning her pupil to face where she wanted her to go, before stepping back.
Gwen sighed and walked to the pillow, doing as Ania asked as she knelt. She pulled Dorian’s robe tighter around her body, reveling in the scent of him that still clung to it. It was tempting to take it back to his quarters where she had been sleeping every night he’d been gone.
As she took a deep breath, the pain of not spending those last nights with him when she could have, filled her heart.
Then suddenly her mind went back to the day they had gone to rescue Ania. She had been so resentful of Zade that day and had acted hatefully when he offered her comfort, as was typical of her usual interaction with him. Zade had sent calming vibrations into her despite her bad attitude and her insistence of not needing his help.
As she brought that moment to mind, she could actually feel his calming vibrations settle over her again. Maybe they had been stored in the robe and she was draining them off. Maybe none of his energy would be left in the robe afterwards and this moment was the last time she was ever going to feel his energy again. The pain of that possibility was nearly unbearable to her, and she had to bite her lip to keep from saying it out loud.
Hot tears ran unchecked down her face as Gwen wished for nothing more than to wrap her arms around Dorian again and tell him how much she appreciated all that he was. She might never be an easy female to live with, but she for sure would not be so cold and hateful to him when he came back. Instead, she would thank him for caring for her.
Ania padded silently across the back of the room in bare feet, careful to not disrupt the energy Gwen was calling into herself. It was as if the very room and all the objects in it were trying to comfort Dorian’s mate in his absence. Energy was seeping from things and going into Gwen. She had not seen anything like it happen before and feared disrupting it before it had become all that it was meant to be. Her trust in the Creators allowed her to see that they were working through Gwen to set them all on the right path.
While Ania paced and waited, she chanted the names of the Creators under her breath, hoping they would hear her prayer and aid them. Feeling the resonation of her chant inside her gut, her head whipped toward Gwen, who suddenly groaned and fell forward.
Ania ran across the floor and rug to the now unconscious female, positioning her carefully with the pillow under her head. Gwen was tangled in Dorian’s meditation robe, but Ania only tucked it more tightly around her.
Then, knowing that vision trances were unpredictable in length, Ania found a comfortable position on the floor where she could best guard Gwen’s body until her spirit returned from wherever it had gone to look for Dorian.
When Gwen finally became aware of herself and her surroundings, she feared the worst. Looking down at her clothes had her swearing because she was just as sparsely clothed as she had been in the first vision she’d ever had about where Zade was being held.
Again she had no weapon and no shoes as she crept along the sides of buildings and across rough ground that hurt her bare feet. Relieved to see an end to the torture, Gwen finally saw the larger building she recalled contained Zade, but this time she made herself look around before rushing inside.
Finding it hard to turn her head as easily as she wished, Gwen raised hands to her neck. She was wearing a collar. Even without a mirror to check, she would bet a year’s wages it was the same type she had seen on Zade before.
Dropping her hands, Gwen looked around, finally noticing a single female wearing a collar who was working in what appeared to be a small garden outside one of the residences. Walking within hearing distance, Gwen stopped far enough away not to alarm her.
“Are you here to free me?” the female asked.
Gwen noted her tone was hopeful even though she never raised her head from her task to even look at who she addressed. She pondered briefly whether or not a lie would serve her goals best, but in the end opted for bald truth. “I’m not sure what I’m here to do other than find my abducted mate.”
“If you are not here to save me, then I cannot help you,” the female said, turning away.
“Look, I’m Commander Gwen Jet. I work on a Peace Alliance rescue ship. If you help me, I’ll make sure the Peace Alliance knows you’re being held here as a slave against your will. That’s all I can do.”
Gwen waited, but the female just continued to ignore her.
“Shades of Kellnor—I’m here only because I’m having a vision. They don’t seem to last long so please tell me what the name of this planet is before I wake up,” she demanded, running a restless hand through her short hair. She noticed the female had short hair as well. What did their captors have against long hair?
“I cannot be a slave,” the female said firmly.
“I know. No one is meant to be a slave,” Gwen agreed. “Now please—I’m begging you. Tell me where I am—where you are.”
The female finally stopped working and looked Gwen full in the face. Startled awareness grew in Gwen as she recognized her, but she said nothing because the female seemed finally ready to talk.
“My name is Sarinnea. This is the planet Terris Rein. I cannot become a bonding slave again. You must rescue me,” she demanded.
Gwen nodded. “Yes, I see that now. When I come to get Dorian Zade, I will rescue you as well. You have my word.”
“Dorian Zade? You’re coming for Dorian? Hurry then because his owner is very unhappy with him,” Sarinnea said, beginning to cry. “He—he is damaged and cannot perform his duties to his mistress. I fear she will tire of trying to fix him. I hear talk of his mistress selling him to someone else.”
“Would this matter to you?” Gwen asked, testing the female and her vision.
The female sniffled and nodded, going back to her tasks. “Dorian is my child. Of course I would care.”
“Sarinnea,” Gwen said, reaching out only to see her hand was transparent. “The vision is ending, but we’re on our way. I swear it. We’re coming to get you both.”
“What can you do, Gwen Jet? You’re just another slave,” Sarinnea said sadly, sniffling as she went back to her work.
“Trust me,” Gwen said fiercely, her voice fading. “I’m not a slave.”
“When you wear the collar, you have to be a slave,” Sarinnea said. “Dorian has been rendered unconscious by his several times, yet he still resists his fate.”
“We’re coming, Sarinnea. Tell him we’re coming. This is not just a dream,” Gwen said.
Then the world she’d been in receded and Gwen heard herself moaning with a headache far worse than any she’d ever known.
“Raging fires of Helios—having visions hurts,” she said, bringing both hands to her head. “I can’t keep doing this shit.”
Yet ironically, as badly as she hurt, Gwen was still wishing she’d been able to control the vision long enough to check on Zade again. Instead, she’d spent too long talking to Zade’s mother, but at least she knew where they were now.
Trying to fight her way out of the darkness, Gwen wanted to ask Ania for help, but the words seemed to be frozen on her tongue. Or her tongue seemed to be frozen and unable to form the words. It was hard to tell the difference, but whatever was happening, was only making her madder.
Meanwhile, her mind continued to churn with what needed to be done.