9. The Girl Who Shed Flames
“P-Passed away?” My mind reeled over the words the man before me had spoken, trying to comprehend their meaning. But it was as if they were foreign to me. In some way, I couldn`t process what was happening, feeling like I was in an unshakeable trance. One word managed to spin around in my head, tugging at the small part of my brain that was trying to make sense in all of this. Just one word.
The man whom I had as my only family is gone. The man who had clothed, fed, raised, and trained me is no longer in this world. Yes, he had left me alone with no one else left to rely on. But there was still that part of me that hoped—despite my bitter feelings—he would someday come back. Even if the realistic half of me repeated that he would never bother to return, I always had a tiny fraction of faith.
But now that all shattered away into infinite pieces that by no means would glue together ever again.
As I stood there in my detached state, I could feel everyone’s eyes all over me. There was no mistaken Gerard`s sad, blue eyes that lingered on every detail on my face, nor the pitied look Princess Lis threw at me coupled with dry tears staining her face. Even the King’s cold, unreadable gaze that drifted to the ground was noticeable.
I wanted to scratch at my skin or sprint forward to my room, for I felt extremely uncomfortable at how I was being beheld like a poor, beaten-up orphan child.
“Miss Voltaire,” Gerard broke through the insufferable silence, advancing towards me as he reached for his chest pocket and pulled a cream-colored envelope. “I knew Lucius as if he was my own brother. He and I were life-long friends. He was an honourable man. Not to mention, a brave and powerful wizard.”
He smoothed the envelope he had in his hands with his fingers, and resumed, “I can assure you he shall have a funeral worthy of a man such as himself.”
King Gabriel stepped in, his face only harbouring hardness. “Lucius was one of the ranked wizards that fought for Imarnia, and he was a good friend to my father. He shall be buried here, in the Garden of The Nobly Remembered.”
Gerard gave him a sharp nod, The King reciprocated by turning to his sister and saying, “Lis, inform the servants of the situation, have them prepare for a funeral two days from now.”
He gave her shoulder a squeeze, causing her to tense for a second. The King seemed to notice his sister`s reaction, but said nothing of it as she moved my way and locked her arms around my stiff shoulders. “I`m so sorry, Lydia. I can`t imagine what this must feel for you.”
I must have looked like a rock statue, for I had said nothing and done nothing, choosing to remain completely solid. Though it wasn`t her fault, I just wasn`t able to function any part of my body for the moment. Instead, I only watched her as she turned around and made her way pass the two men to the inside of the palace.
Gerard cleared his throat, and I blinked at his direction. Although my focus wasn`t really on him, just at a random spot on his broad shoulders. “Once again, Miss Lydia, I’m deeply sorry for your loss. But there is one more thing that I wish to tell you of.”
I wasn`t sure if I was even listening, the only thing I could manage to bring to my head were images of how Grandpa died. How his body looked, where they found him. Just constant fragments of imagination that were doing everything except help my tired mind.
I had to force myself to pay attention to what Gerard was saying. “…He planned on travelling Ignolia once more. And he handed me a letter addressed to you. His instructions were to give it to you in case if something happens to him during his travels. He also wrote a will, but that can be discussed another time.”
He presented me the small cream envelope. “I believe he wanted you to have this.”
My hand slowly reached for it, although my arm felt as if it was made of stone. Nevertheless, my limps cooperated. My fingers roamed over the soft paper, then across the untidy handwriting. I recognized it immediately. It was indeed my grandpa`s.
I didn`t know if I should laugh or cry. I`ve told him numerous times to fix his handwriting. No one managed to be as old yet have shitty handwriting quite as he did.
But the pleasant memory came and went as quick as a waft, and I wished with all my being I was back in our small house making fun of him and watching him drink himself to oblivion.
My lips felt dry, struggling to find something to say. But only one emotion allowed me to think, and I whispered weakly, “I don’t understand.”
I wasn`t sure if anyone heard it. My voice was so quite that for a moment I thought I only uttered the words in my head. I was so confused, had so many questions, and felt a various range of emotions that I couldn`t even settle for one.
I sensed a comforting hand squeezing my right shoulder, and I looked up from my dazed expression to see a pair of twinkling sky-blue eyes softly gazing down at me. “I’m so sorry, Lydia. But if it’s in any consolation, I know just how much Lucius loved you.”
I didn`t know whether I believed him, grandpa wasn`t exactly the most expressive person. His words the other day convinced me I was nothing more than a task he was entrusted with and he was more than happy to finally be rid of me.
I found myself looking at Gerard`s eyes, particularly at how there seemed to be something hidden within them. I couldn`t shake that feeling. The feeling that there was something more. Something he wasn’t telling me about. But perhaps that was just the last hopeful part of me that wished this was all just a huge, sick joke.
It seemed that Gerard Vastia had realized he was gazing into my eyes far longer than he had intended, for he took his comforting hand off my shoulder and his sky-blue eyes drifted away from my flaming ones.
He took a step back, distancing himself while clearing his throat. “Well then,” he straightened his back, his demeanour turning into a more formal one. I remember Grandpa naming that posture ‘the erecting dick’. Quite innaporpitae for an 8 year old to learn, but it stuck with me whenever I saw officials doing that pose. “Take care of yourself, Miss Lydia. I hope to see you at the funeral.”
And with that, the Head Officer of Defense turned his back and walked away to the inside of the palace. Soon, he was out of my sight and I hadn’t realized that the King and I were standing a few feet away from each other, with no one but the servants behind me to keep us company.
I could feel his grey eyes travelling all over my face, making me slightly shiver at the memories those eyes brought of last night. I felt uncomfortable under his shadowy gaze, so I held the envelop close to my chest and turned my back.
I could still detect his piercing stare as he watched me walk further and further away from the garden and into the forest pathway. I tried to cast him off, to cast everything off, and just continue to focus on the grass beneath my feet.
I didn`t know where I was heading, but I didn`t care. I just wanted to be alone. Away from everyone and everything. I was trying to make sense, to find something logical. But none of this seemed real to me.
My grandpa was dead, but why? Why was he dead in the first place? How could he die? He was strong, the strongest wizard in our small town. He had Energy Magic, and although I never witnessed it or knew much of it, he wasn`t a ranked wizard for no reason. Ranked wizards are next in line after the four rulers when it comes to power and magic. No wonder most of them worked for the Congress.
So then, why?
Why did he choose to fight with nothing but a small blade? Why did he not use magic? Those werewolves, surely for someone of his status, were nothing more than pests. Did he hate magic that much that he wouldn`t even use it to save his own life?
Did he know? Did he know that he had no chance of surviving in this world without using magic? Gerard told me that my grandpa planned to travel Ignolia, so how the hell would he be able to do that without using one single drop of his magic?
It made me angry. It pissed me off that he was so willing to throw his life just like that. I wanted to scream and hit the ground for my anger rose inside me. How could he be so stupid!? That idiotic old man!
I suddenly stopped in my tracks, for my temper was preventing me from going any further, realizing that I had walked all the way deep into the forest without paying attention. It was silent, only the sound of buzzing day-time insects was audible. Gentle wind tickled my hair, but I paid no mind to the pleasant rush between my black-flamed locks.
I was too busy glaring at the clean grass below me, clenching the small paper in my hands tightly, that for a minute I thought it would shred to pieces.
My eyes misted with unshed tears, and I was actually surprised that I was able to form tears after what I had cried for this day. I breathed in, somehow hoping that the cool air would turn off the fire within me. My fingers, which seemed to grow paler by the minute, travelled over the edges of the envelop.
Part of me wanted to know what was written in that piece of paper, but another one was scared. What if what`s inside caused more damage? What if it was a letter stating how much of a burden I was to him?
Well, I couldn`t just toss it aside and forget it. I knew that if I did that, it would forever haunt me. I looked down at the letters of my name scribbled in dark blue ink, my trembling fingers moving on their own to unfold the letter.
It was hard for me to read with a blurry vision, but my breath hitched as I skimmed over the first sentence.
To my dearest;
Lydia, when you open this letter know that I have left this world and never to return. But do not worry, my dear, for I have not left you. Yes, it is true that I would no longer be with you in presence. However, I am with you in your heart.
For days now, I have been thinking of what to write to you in case if anything unpleasant happens to me, and I decided to write to you what I wanted to say for years. I know that you are angry with me for leaving you and Luxus all by yourself, but trust me, I have thought twice of not to abandon you. Alas, I would always come to a result that it is of most importance to do so.
Over these past eighteen years, I have been preventing myself to not get attached to you. But unfortunately, the heart of a man who had lost his family won. I have come to love you as my own daughter, even though I tried so hard not to make you aware of that, and I know how selfish that is.
Maybe I was afraid to lose you like I had once lost my most treasured loved ones. Maybe I was afraid that one day you would go to achieve your own destiny and leave an old man to live his eternity by himself.
I still remember, my dear, the promise you made me make when you were just a child who has not yet learned of hardships, pain, and misfortunes. You wanted to travel our world with both myself and Luxus by your side. You wanted to have unforgettable adventures and learn about this world that we live in.
I can still recall the gleam in your lovely eyes as you spoke those words with the most innocent yet enthusiastic look upon your beautiful face. I remember the cheerful smile you had when I said the words ‘I promise’ to you.
However, my lovely Lydia, I would not be able to make that promise. But I pray to all my gods that you continue on dreaming it. I pray, that you have that thrilled expression upon your face as you march from one journey to another.
And I hope that when you do, you would possess that ultimate magic you trained days and nights for.
Think of this as my will to you, for there’s nothing more that I want from you than to achieve your dream of becoming who you are.
Lydia, I may have mistreated you into thinking that you don’t mean anything to me. I may have hurt you because of my departure. I may have lead you into believing that you were a burden on me, but know that even though I had to harden my heart, I never resented you.
Just remember that I will, and always will love you, for I have never stopped.
Lucius Albert Voltaire.
I watched with clouded eyes as my tears dropped on the shaking letter in my grasp, as my quaking hands clenched the piece of paper. I read the last few sentences over and over again as if to make sure they were really there and it wasn’t just my fatigued mind that was imagining them.
The angry flames within me faded but instead they were replaced with a dull feeling deep in my chest. My lips quivered and my eyes were shut in hope of making the tears that poured down my face stop, but they somehow increased.
My voice betrayed me, letting loose the cry of agony that arose from my cold, hollow being. My knees weakened and buckled, sending my shuddering body to the grass beneath me as the letter I had in my hold slipped from my frail and shaky fingers, landing near my hands which were now clutching the grass, feeling my nails as they dug deep into my skin.
I wept, for there was nothing I could do. My sobs were getting louder as the words the letter contained repeated constantly in my mind. My tears covered my face, and I had become completely blind by the blurriness which invaded my vision.
I bit my lip in order to restrain myself from my bitter cries, but my voice refused to hold back the sobs of grief and had broken the wall that prevented them. I felt cold in my entire body. In fact, there was no inch of warmth in me left.
Agony after agony, pilling up on top of my back sending me to the cold, solid ground whenever I try to arise. My arms and legs had no strength left, and my flames were vanishing little by little. And no matter what, there was nothing I could do to make it all better.
Through the sound of my anguish cries, there was another sound that approached from behind me, and it was the sound of heavy, slow, footsteps. Dread crept up from my being, making my eyes shot wide open, and my shoulders have immediately become stiff as a rock.
I quieted down my voice by placing my palm on my mouth, yet I could not stop the pouring tears streaming down my damp, now-pale cheeks. It was like a shadow, creeping up from behind.
I could only see his boots as they passed by me. I dared not to look upon him for I did not wish for him to see my pathetic state. They stopped besides me, and my eyes travelled up his legs as he crouched down to the grass and picked up the letter. The King of Imarnia stood tall as he read Grandpa`s words for me, seeming to give no reaction what so ever. I wanted to scream at him to leave me alone, but I found no voice in me.
I was sobbing quietly for the tears had stopped, but the void in my chest still burned a hole. I wiped my tears and my entire face with my arms, yet my eyes were still pinned down to the grass. Small insects gathered before me, carrying bits of what I presumed was food on their backs. They dropped it repeatedly, but still went back and picked it off no matter how many times it fell.
As the King was still reading the letter, I had come to a decision to face whatever lies ahead. Yes, I was terrified, but there was one thing I could do to set myself free from all of this. I had to endure everything unfortunate which may come to me.
And in order to do that, in order to escape this hell, I have to let myself burn in its flames.
“Your Majesty,” my voice was barely there, and I couldn`t help but cringe at how raspy it sounded. Nevertheless, it got the King`s attention. I raised my head, and picked myself up from the ground, despite the heaviness of my legs. “I want to become powerful. It is my wish, and my grandpa`s last one.”
I stood before him. My small, stiff, shaken frame before his large, dauntless one. I didn`t want to look at him directly, but I needed to force myself to do this. I tried to raise my tone, to seem confident, unyielding. “I will stop at nothing to achieve that. So, all I ask of you is…”
I paused for a moment, hesitation taken hold of me. I can`t let myself cower away, not at something I steeled my mind on. I needed to be free, and I was the only one who could give that to myself. And if that means I had to crush whatever dignity I had left, then so be it.
I took a step towards him, and did something I had refused to do in all my time in his presence. I threw my head down, and bowed to the King of Imarnia. “Please make me stronger.”