Thirty minutes later, after finding first aid supplies to bandage his wounds and teaching Sarhea the basics of the bike’s operation, they were moving steadily along the old river bank with Sarhea at the controls. She’d been an eager and quick learner. He found it humorous how she always preferred to be in control of moving vehicles she was normally fearful of, but if it made her more comfortable, then he was glad to oblige her. He actually found it rather refreshing to let someone else be in control.
“Be careful up here. There’s a slight drop around that bend, but nothing this bike can’t handle. Just remember what I taught you,” he reported into his helmet when he noticed a familiar landmark ahead.
Sarhea only nodded her understanding but as they made the bend, the drop caught her by surprise. Instead of letting off the power, she abruptly increased it, causing a gain in enough speed to send them slightly airborne over the drop. His arms flew around her waist as instant panic set in. In her own panic, Sarhea let off the power as they descended and the bike made a much harder landing at the bottom than it should have. It spun a sharp half circle before coming to a stop.
“You were worried there, weren’t you? Think I was going to throw you off?” came her voice through his headset.
Raith tried to force his frazzled nerves into submission. “I trust you. It’s just…I learned today it is much easier to get into trouble on these things than I ever thought possible. You handled that fairly well,” he replied.
Sarhea’s helmeted head turned slightly to the side. “I know you’re lying…at least partially. You can quit squeezing me so tight already.”
Raith’s eyes widened as he quickly released his hold on her and leaned back on his seat. He heard her chuckle through the headset.
"Hey, what's that over there?"
His embarrassment quickly faded as he glanced in the direction she appeared to be looking. Up ahead, he spotted a sizable plateau nestled against the larger plateau that Keylar sat atop. All around its perimeter, he could just barely make out the remnants of what looked like pillars.
“Well, what do you know? I didn’t know that made it through the attacks. Can you take us over there?”
“What is it?”
“Just go-I’ll show you.”
He felt her hesitation and her questions, but after a quick prodding nudge, she finally turned and got the bike moving. They came as close to the base of the plateau as they could before pieces of debris forced them to stop. Raith quickly slid from his seat and removed his helmet. He cast Sarhea a quick, excited glance before he silently turned and began making his way through the maze of dirt covered chunks of stone to where he hoped he would find an intact stairway leading up. He was pleasantly surprised to find it mostly in one piece. Crumbled pieces of the fine stone railing and larger pieces from the structure up top littered the stairway, but it was not enough to prevent their passage. He sensed Sarhea’s presence arrive beside him and he turned to her with an excited grin.
“Come on!” he called as he sprang into motion and began a quick ascent.
“Raith! Wait!” Sarhea’s concerned voice called out after him as he scurried up the stairway, but his excitement could not be quelled.
It took considerable effort to keep from slipping in the fine red dust that covered the stairs or tripping over the many pieces of debris. When he finally made it to the top, all he could do was stand panting, his gaze scanning the surroundings in amazement. Sarhea arrived shortly behind him and he could hear her grumbling under her breath. The grumbling stopped as she joined him in taking in the view.
An enormous platform, easily the size of Refuge City’s largest dining hall, stretched out before them. It completely covered the top of the smaller plateau, the edges abruptly dropping in steep inclines to the river bottoms below. A few remnants of the protective stone railing remained, while the bulk of it lay broken and scattered around the flat surface and down the sides of the incline. The same was true of the grand pillars that had once stood tall around the entire perimeter.
Raith slowly walked further out onto the surface. When he found a place free of debris, he swiped a boot through the layer of red dirt covering the surface. A fond smile played at his lips when he uncovered fine white marble.
“What is this place?” Sarhea whispered from behind him.
Without responding, he quickly reached back and took her hand, leading her out toward the center of the platform.
“This…this was an amazing, wonderful place. Remember that dance under the stars that I mentioned? This is where it was held. Picture this,” he started as he released her hand and gestured out over the view. “Those pillars stood at even spacing all around the perimeter and a waist high stone railing closed in the spaces between them. They were of beautiful white stone, almost the same stone as the ones from my home. Strings of tiny lights were draped between them, like how it was at the Winter Solstice Ball. See this stone here at my feet? The entire surface is covered with it, and it was kept polished to a high shine. And best of all, the only ceiling was the night sky. With the stars and aurora reflecting off this surface at night, there was quite the magical atmosphere,” he replied fondly.
Raith glanced over to see the energy dancing in Sarhea’s eyes. There was a look of wonder in her gaze that told him she was envisioning it-at least her version of it. They stood in silence as they took in the surroundings, and as they did, Raith’s own imagination began to come alive. He smiled warmly at her as his mind began to picture what it would have been like to be standing with her here, back on one of those dance nights. How he would have loved to have seen her in that dress she wore to the ball, here on that polished marble floor with the starlight and aurora reflecting around her…It would have been perfect…
Raith felt Sarhea turn to him, felt the warmth of her energy as she took his arm in hers once more. His breath nearly caught when he finally glanced over at her. There was nothing unusual about the warm smile she gave him-it was the same friendly, approving smile she always gave him. It was what he felt in the energy around them that would not allow him to takes his eyes off her. It drew him toward her like a magnet, set ablaze that now familiar ache in his heart. This time, he didn’t try to suppress it. His own words from earlier began to echo in his mind…He’d been too afraid to reveal his feelings to Angaleece; he’d hesitated, and in his hesitation, he’d lost her. He was allowing history to repeat itself. Raith’s heart began to race.
“Raith? Is everything alright?”
Raith swallowed hard as a wave of confused feelings flooded over him. Excitement, fear, anticipation, uncertainty…they all collided and threatened to expose him. He had to get control of himself before Sarhea caught onto him. A quick idea abruptly broke through the confusion and without hesitation, he acted on it. He turned to her with a toothy grin.
“May I have this dance?”
He expected the scowl that wiped the smile from her lips.
“What? This is a dance floor, and you seemed to enjoy dancing at the ball.”
Her scowl deepened. “There was music at the ball…There was also not dirt everywhere and large obstacles to dodge,” she spat in protest.
He simply raised a hand, waiting patiently to receive hers.
“Use your imagination. I know you can, you did it earlier. Just do it again.”
“Raith, I’m not sure…”
“Come on now. You’re always complaining about how I’m so uptight and reserved in public, that I need to relax and be myself. Well, here’s a rare opportunity to see that. Best take the chance before this part of me vanishes again.”
Her gaze darkened and he felt a flare of frustration from her, but she eventually placed a timid hand in his, grumbling under her breath the entire time. He grinned at her as he quickly closed his hand around hers and stepped toward the largest area free of crumbled debris. He turned and pulled her playfully into his arms. The mischievous nature of his actions finally drew a reserved smile from her. How he loved her smile, and even more so the coy smirk that smile now transformed to.
Their combined energies began to entwine their imaginations as Raith led Sarhea in a fast paced dance across the dirt covered surface. Before long, neither of them were in their dirt and blood stained field gear. Instead, Raith allowed his memories from the Winter Solstice Ball to merge with his memories of this stage in the height of its glory. He was back in his stiff dress uniform and Sarhea was back in that beautiful gown Aleena had forced her to wear. They were moving across the polished marble floors, the tall white pillars standing as silent sentries at the edges. Beyond, the lands were once again green and teaming with life.
The energy connection between them intensified, drawing his attention back to the woman in his arms. She moved with all the grace and beauty of the high born ladies he’d once watched from the sidelines. He’d always told himself that one day, it would be him out there with the pretty girl. Now here he was with the woman of his dreams, his Damiri princess…the woman that he loved…Yes, he loved her-loved her more than life itself. One part of him knew it was foolish, knew how she felt about relationships, but the other part of him, his heart, could no longer be held back. He could not wait, could not risk losing her as he had Angaleece. Yes, he knew how she claimed to feel, but what he felt in the energy betrayed her words. There was such a strong unity between them in almost every way. It could only mean one thing-she had to love him too.
The energy of the dance began to slow as their physical energy began to wane. Raith smiled softly as he subtly drew her in closer, into his arms. He could feel the strong rhythm of her heart beating in perfect sync with his.
“Are you sure you Damiri did not dance? You are very good at it,” he whispered as she smiled up at him.
“We danced,” she started before glancing down. “Just not like this…in public anyway.”
He felt her pulse quicken, sensed a brief flush wash over her. She kept her gaze diverted before laying her head on his shoulder. He smiled fondly as a sudden memory came flooding back. Sarhea had been completely baffled by the slow dancing couples at the club Aleena had drug them too. He’d fought so hard to keep from snickering in embarrassed humor at Aleena’s awkward attempt at explaining to the horrified Sarhea that the couples were not preforming mating dances in public.
An abrupt thought instantly struck at his core, causing him to hesitate. Part of her still considered this type of dancing a mating dance…And she was dancing with him…Raith swallowed hard as he turned his gaze to the sky. The thought of her as his mate was more than his senses could handle. A wave of near paralyzing trembling washed over him and for a moment, he felt as though his legs would completely give out on him. It was all he could do to keep himself together.
Sarhea’s head lifted off his shoulder and he felt her questioning gaze.
He finally regained enough composure to glance back at her. There was something in her intense blue eyes that abruptly wiped away all his fears. There was a moment of clarity, a moment during which all his doubts, all his hesitant questions, faded away. He felt nothing but perfect peace and perfect love, and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this, the pair of them, what he felt for her, was meant to be. He’d never been more certain of anything in his life. He poured every ounce of the emotions he felt into the smile he gave her. A hint of confusion and apprehension flashed in her eyes; it was a look he’d seen before. He brought his hand gently to the side of her face and willed very shard of peace he could muster to her.
“Sarhea…” came his barely audible whisper.
Ok...couldn't stand it, couldn't wait to post this and finish this series...
BEAUTIFUL cover artwork by the extremely talented You can see a detail shot that she uploaded here: http://www.furaffinity.net/view/15610352/
Now on to the finale of this little story xD!
Art © lapres
Raith, Sarhea, and CotL © ME