I felt asleep quickly after we arrived to the horses, the only thing I could remember is being with Leo on his horse, my body resting on his chest and my head on his shoulder.
I woke up the next day, and all my injuries had disappeared without any trace or scar left on my skin. The ad remedium was amazing, and even though the guys told me it didn’t have any sort of magic, it was very hard to believe.
No other inconvenient bothered us on the way out of the forest, and even though I knew this was the best thing to do, I couldn’t help feeling guilt pressing over my chest as we got out of the forest.
Tybalt seemed to notice this and gave me an encouraging smile, and I knew him enough already to know that his eyes were saying “Stop overthinking, you are doing what’s right.”
The vextalons were a warning; Ascanius was not playing games. He was watching everything we did and that disturbed me to my very core. It meant that every time we took one step towards him, he would be a hundred steps ahead of us. It wasn’t fair that he had all that advantage, and that just gave me more uncertainty of when would I have Cassius back in my arms. But I didn’t let myself lose hope, that would never happen. When you lose hope, you lose the key thing that drives you to your goal. The mere thought of giving up on finding Cassius gave me stratospheric levels of anxiety and fear.
Instead of having negative thoughts, an important question began to grow in my head that was almost driving me to insanity.
“What the hell is wrong with me every time I’m close to Leo?”
During the journey, I kept stealing glances towards Leo, my mind trying to figure a sane reason as to why I feel spark-like things on my skin and huge amounts of attraction every time I’m close to him. I mean, that’s the kind of thing you read in super cheesy romance novels where the girl meets the love of her life, and let’s just say Leo didn’t fall in that category. I had to give it to him though, he was really handsome. He looked like the teenage dream of every average girl with his blonde hair, sky blue eyes, muscles to die for, and that bad-boy look that seemed to be innate. But, I barely knew him. Liking him was out of the picture. Besides, I still thought he was an asshole.
If I compared him to Cassius, you could truly see they were brothers with the similarity in their personalities, but at the same time, they were very different. Cassius was very passionate; if there was a problem, you could see it straight away with just one look at his face. He wasn’t afraid to show emotions and that included being open when he was bothered by something. And on the other hand, Leo is a closet with secrets; he had mastered the poker face. I don’t think even the other knights (which I had concluded at that point that they were his best friends) could read through the expressions on his face. He was closed off and distant, but also very balanced when it came to emotions. Yes, he got angry quite often, but he kept most of that anger to himself. However, I didn’t know him well enough, so what I thought about him was mostly a result of observation (creepy, I know).
To add, I knew there was something fishy between him and Tybalt. I wasn’t stupid; I knew he didn’t like Tybalt and me talking to each other because he thought I was flirting with him and in the end, I would ruin the reputation of the group and the relations within it. Or something dramatic along the lines of that.
To summarize everything, I didn’t know Leo well enough to develop feelings for him or any kind of “likeness” that would induce such feelings. But there I was, more confused than a dog in the middle of the street.
It took us three days to get back to Lux Novum and the moment we arrived we had an audience on the throne room with the King and Queen. And a lot of questions I had got answered and at the same time, a lot more questions were raised in my mind.
The King and Queen read the letter and they were quite confused as to my connection to Ascanius, and I had to explain that I didn’t know anything myself, that I was just as confused as them. Leo told them the story of the vextalons, confusing me when he didn’t tell them the part where I had escaped thus occasioning the attack. The King actually eyed me with some respect in his eyes when Leo told him that I saved everyone, but I knew better to even feel worthy of that respect.
After that, the decisions were taken quickly; letters were to send off immediately to the other kingdoms to notify them of the upcoming war and we had to stand by until a new plan was made. This caused another wave of anxiety, rattling my thoughts and emotions. Every passing day without doing something to rescue Cassius was hurting me like a bitch, but at that point, we necessarily needed a plan of action to keep going. We couldn’t risk getting hurt or killed with Ascanius watching our every move. And I certainly knew I was going to do something about it.
The Queen, as if reading my thoughts, gave me a sympathetic look and then kept her gaze concentrated on what the royal councilor was saying about the military disposal they had at the moment to face any threat. I didn’t understand squat of what the hell the guy was saying and just pretended to understand by keeping my mouth shut.
As the reunion ended and the doors of the throne room opened, everyone started to leave and the guys and I decided to go out that night for some drinks. Leo didn’t say anything, but I considered him in the plan anyway.
Peyton was waiting for us outside the doors with an excited look on his face. He looked at his brother as to say something, but Leo just patted his shoulder quickly and left through the hallways. I kind of knew their relationship was distant, and that just confirmed it. Leo was definitely an asshole. Peyton’s look of disappointment broke my heart and I stepped in quickly to greet him.
“Hey buddy! How are you?” I messed his hair with my hand as he smiled at me and the other knights.
“I’m good, kind of bored without any of you around. How did it go? Do you know where Cassius is?”
He gazed at us with high hopes in his eyes and the silence delivered was enough of an answer for him to know that our search was fruitless.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find him. We are doing our best to locate him. Before you even know it you’ll have him in front of you.” Tybalt said confidently, bringing back a little of that hope that was before in Peyton’s eyes.
He recovered quickly from the hard news and started to ask us questions about our adventure, more excited than a five-year-old on Christmas.
“You did not just swallow the whole thing?!”
I was disgusted and awed at how inhumanly fast had Quinn swallowed his whole pin of beer. The other guys clapped at him loudly as they patted him in the back. The monstrous burp that came after had me laughing so hard that my stomach hurt.
Like we had planned, we went to a bar at night in the city. The whole purpose of this was to get drunk and forget the failure of our mission. And at that moment, we were on the right track to that goal. Everyone was there, even Leo had me surprised by his presence. The guys were already on their fifth beer, and I was barely starting my second one. This beer wasn’t that bad like the one I tried on the Weeping Willow bar, but it still sucked. So meanwhile I was going slow and keeping my mind on point, the guys had lost it. They were way past the point of no return.
Tybalt put his arm my shoulders and hugged me tightly against him.
“Jeez dude, you are going to break me.” I laughed and tried to pry him off me.
“Common’ Lib, you are breaking my heart.”
I looked up to his face to see a pout on his lips and sad puppy eyes.
“Ugh, don’t tell me you are all sentimental now?” I asked rolling my eyes as a teasing smile made its way to my face. Leo’s face appeared on the corner of my eye as he glared daggers into Tybalt, not even making an effort to conceal it.
“Let’s all join the hug!” Quinn exclaimed suddenly and in less than a second, all of them were crushing me in their embraces.
I let out muffled sound of despair as I couldn’t even breath and they just laughed. When they finally got off me I glared at them and gave them the middle finger.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Gerardus said amused as he sipped his beer. He probably remembered when I did it to him back in the forest.
“It means fuck off.” I sipped my beer as they laughed.
“Sometimes is so humorous how you talk and express yourself. I barely can understand you sometimes.” Althalos said, the alcohol loosening him and making him step away from the usually shy and quiet boy.
I giggled and shrugged. “Then I’m not the only one. You give me headaches sometimes trying to figure out the terms you use.”
We started to laugh at the accents and gestures I used, making me blush multiple times in embarrassment. When I finished the second beer and realized I was tipsy enough, I decided it was time to go home.
I stood up a little wobbly and said my goodbyes. They started to ‘boo’ me, saying that I should stay longer, that the fun had barely started, and more drunk gibberish. I rejected their ideas and started walking to the exit.
Before I could open the door a hand behind me was faster and opened it for me. I turned around to say thanks and came face to face with Leo.
The tingling sensation came with full force and I was quick to make some space between us and stepped out of the bar.
“Uhm, what are you doing here?” I asked, the tone of y voice revealing my surprise.
“I’ll escort you back to the castle, the city at night is not very safe.” He said looking all serious, as if I had no idea how to defend myself.
I looked at him like ’seriously?’. “May I need to remind you I’m not a poor and defenseless damsel in distress? I’m a big girl, I can take care of myself.” I turned around and started walking down the dark streets, Leo taking less than a second to catch up with me.
“You are drunk.”
“I’m not! You are the drunk one.”
“Lib, you almost fell when you stood up.” he laughed and I blushed. Let’s hope the darkness was enough to cover my face.
“You are exaggerating,” I grumbled, crossing my arms in front of me like a 5-year-old.
We kept walking in silence, but t didn’t take long for my voice to interrupt.
“Thank you for helping me in the forest, it was very nice of you. And also for forgiving me. I... I still feel like I don’t deserve it but I promise I’ll make it up to all of you.” My fingers started to fumble together when he didn’t say anything.
A moment of silence passed before he answered. “You don’t need to thank me, I’ll always have your back.”
His words took me by surprise, and a smile covered my face almost instantly.
“You are like fresh air Liberty, and the Black Knights need that. I need that. The routine is tiring and boring, and since you came here, there hasn’t been a dull moment.”
I chuckled as I blushed for the millionth time that day, and bowed to him. “Glad to be of service, Your Majesty.”
He laughed and through the dark I could see him shaking his head at my silliness.
“May I ask you something?” I was unsure if the question would be considered breaking into his private life, but I was worried
“What is it with you and Peyton’s relation?”
He didn’t say anything once again and this time I was sure I had messed up but he actually answered.
“He is just a child, and I have too many responsibilities and things to do to attend him. I care a lot about him, but I can’t be the brother he wants me to be. He puts me on a pedestal and thinks I’m perfect, but I’m far from that. He needs to realize that.”
“He adores you because you are his brother, not because he thinks you are perfect. You are, in a way, his only brother, and of course, he would look up to you.”
“Well, he shouldn’t.” His angry voice was my cue to shut up. Maybe I did go a little too far.
But he spoke again and I listened quietly.
“I... I just don’t want to disappoint him. Cassius and I were quite close before he disappeared, and it left me broken for so many years. And I don’t want to get close to Peyton because someday maybe I’m not going to be able to come back home alive. And I know how it feels that your big brother will never come back.”
I took his words in, the image in my mind of the careless older brother transforming into one of a younger brother who just knows better. Maybe I had judged him too terribly... but that just left more questions. Who was Leo Montforde really?
I grabbed his arm so he would face me, coming to a halt in the middle of the empty street.
“Try to give him a chance, please. It would mean the world to him for you to spend some time with him. I know it.”
He sighed. “Fine Lib. You win.”
I hugged him not really thinking about my actions, and the tingles engulfed my whole body in such a pleasant sensation I didn’t want to let go. He slowly responded to the hug, and for some reason, everything felt so right at that moment.
He was the one who took a step back from the hug, and we started walking in silence once again.
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