The Flames That Bind Us

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10. Last Farewell


“Today, we attend the funeral of an astonishing man, and an extraordinary wizard; Lucius Albert Voltaire….” King Gabriel’s voice boomed over the silent crowd, their solemn faces fixed on him as he stood on the podium behind the closed silver casket. A powerful aura of both authority and darkness surrounded his proud-self.

His grey, stormy-eyes that resembled the sky above us, travelled over the seated masses that were barely seen to my eyes because of the umbrellas hovering over their heads, protecting them from the violent rain that poured over us.

The atmosphere that fell upon us was rather low-spirited. Well, it was a funeral after all, I highly doubt there would be any screaming and cheering. Not unless Grandpa was a much hated individual. And from the looks of the group before me, there didn`t seem to be any kind of hidden negative feelings.

They either had their attention on the King or the closed coffin. I focused my now red-eyes—from having to cry myself to sleep for two nights—to settle upon something but those.

I tried to recognize any of the people who had attended my grandpa’s burial, sitting on the ornamented black benches and dabbing their tears away. But no matter how hard I squinted my eyes, I couldn’t see anything due to the heavy rain and the black umbrellas that seemed to be attached to their heads.

Regardless, I never thought Grandpa knew that many people. Given, they weren`t the biggest crowd, but they all seemed to grieve him sincerely. I never imagined he affected that many people, due to the fact that he gave up on magic and I assumed that would result into people rejecting him like they did in Vera. I wasn`t even aware that Gerard Vastia was such a close friend to him. Grandpa never spoke of him. He never spoke of anyone.

I let the rain soak up my entire being, the droplets sliding through the collar of a plain white dress I borrowed from the fancy wardrobe the Princess gave me. I didn`t have one that had no prints or colourful patterns on it, so I resulted to wearing this. Luckily, the fabric was thick enough that it didn`t cling to my skin. The wide sleeves, however, did feel heavier as water absorbed into them. But that was the least of my concerns.

I saw Luxus`s fur shiver, his little body twitching as he moved to shield himself with my frame. I gathered the skirt of my dress and knelt down beside him, stroking his fur with my warmed-up palm and adjusting the white ribbon around his neck.

He leaned into my touch, closing his eyes at the much needed warmth. When I told Luxus of what happened, he locked himself in the bathroom for an hour. Hearing his little whimpers through the door broke my heart bit by bit. But there was nothing I could do except wait for him to come out. I could barely manage to comfort myself as it is.

“Lucius Voltaire fought courageously alongside Imarnia against terrible forces. His heroic acts during the war will never be forgotten, and it seems that even death favoured him as a hero,” said the King, his tone unwavering.

Heroic acts? I couldn`t imagine it. Not when I`ve spent eighteen years of my life witnessing his drunken half-naked displays. I wonder if the people here were aware of that.

A few seconds of silence invaded the place, and it seemed like everyone was holding their breaths—including me. With a resolute stance, the King declared, “Hence; his memory will be eternal as he will be buried in the Garden of The Nobly Remembered. He will be joining remarkable men and women who have served their kingdom—and our beloved world—graciously.”

His voice was like drums to my ears, loud, confident, and firm. But I couldn`t bring myself to look at him, not when what I asked of him two days ago was still blaring into my mind. I wasn`t even sure I wanted to show my face to him ever again, for he had said nothing regarding my request and just walked by me without a single word.

Did he reject me? He was the one who made a deal in the first place, and wanted to consummate it as soon as possible. I don`t know how am I going to live up to my decision when I couldn`t even look at him in the face. I knew sooner or later I would have to deal with it when the time comes, that is if the time did come. Gods know what plans he has for me, and deep down I didn’t really want to know.

My eyes caught the sight of the Princess, also dressed in all white and sitting on separated benches placed alongside the podium with the rest of the highly-ranked members of society—including the Congress, King Morrison and Ayana, and Gerard Vastia. All whom were covered with white from head to toe.

She looked up at her brother with misty eyes, wiping a single tear that slid down her pale cheek with her gloved hand. I felt the corner of my mouth twitching, conjuring a little smile at how sensitive she was. I don`t know if she even knew Grandpa that well. I think by the time he fought in the war, she was still a child. Nevertheless, it honestly amazed me how she was able to form such compassion to others.

I just couldn’t understand how her brother turned out to be such a d—

“And now, to say a few words about the departed, and to continue our tradition, I ask a member of the deceased’s family to please step forward,” King Gabriel’s words snapped me out of my thoughts, forcing me to look at him as my eyes slightly widened at his statement.

The first thing I noticed that he too was dressed in all white, his tunic, his pants, and all the way to his draped cloak. I shouldn`t be surprised, the traditional colour to wear in funerals is white after all—at least in Imarnia. But it looked different on him, like it didn`t suit his demeanour.

But that had nothing to do with the forming panic settling in my gut. I was Grandpa`s only remaining family—or what resembled something like that. I didn’t know that I had to say something. I think I vaguely remember the Princess mentioning something like that when she told me about the burial arrangements. Damn, Lydia, you really need to start paying attention to what people are telling you.

I didn’t prepare a speech, I barely prepared myself. I had no idea what to say. My flame-coloured eyes locked with the King’s hard stormy-grey ones. He had no expression on his face whatsoever and his lips were in a tight, thin line as if he was waiting for me to step forward to where he was standing. And as he did, so did everyone.

The sudden ball of nervousness swirled in my stomach, for I had to speak meaningful words regarding my grandpa in front of all these strangers who I knew nothing of. I started playing with my juddering fingers, swallowing the lump that moulded at the back of my throat.

It wasn’t until I caught the hint of impatient in the King`s eyes that I forced my feet to move. There was no escaping this.

I walked as slow as conveniently possible, avoiding the hushed chatters and the curious looks of the people who eyed me up and down. Damn, I forgot about my controversial appearance, and the fact that I was somehow related to Lucius Voltaire and those people who knew him had no idea I even existed.

The minute I stepped at the podium, I wanted to release a relieved breath that at least I didn`t manage to trip down in front of all those high-classed individuals. The King had turned his back to me and moved to sit next to his sister, the scrawny-looking servant who held his umbrella—and had his own small one taped to his head—hurriedly walking behind his King so he could keep up with him.

I cleared my throat as my eyes casted over the still, wondering faces before me. “Um…hello,” I croaked, wincing at my tone. I attempted to dig up for something else to say other than that. I gnawed on my lower lip, as a killer-silence filled the aura around us and anticipating eyes blinked at me.

I moved my head to the left to see the royal members. Princess Lis and Ayana gave me a sad smile, while Gerard Vastia explored my face intently, making my cheeks heat for some reason. This man stares a lot. The King had a nonchalant look on his face, but I didn`t bother to spare him any further glance.

A few members from the Congress of Magic were looking at me with questioning regards, though I had a feeling they were more startled than just curious. They didn’t look young like Gerard, rather they seemed to stop their aging process at an old age. Like everyone else, their robes were entirely white, but sewn on their sashes was the silver emblem of the Congress.

I brought my attention back at the waiting people, trying to string together a bunch of words that won`t add to my further embarrassment. “So…um…my name is Lydia Voltaire. And…well…I—“

Oh, for the love of Ignoila! Just say anything!

“You probably don’t know me. Actually,” cracked laughter escaped my lips, “I don’t know most of you.” My eyes diverted from the crowd, helplessly trying to avoid their penetrating gazes.

Somehow, though I tried so hard to escape it, my eyes managed to land on the silver coffin next to a pit about the same size. I could feel my face softening, cascading over the golden un-lit candles that were placed over the casket.

They were arranged so they could form the outline of the Congress’s crest; The Silver Peony. It was the first flower to ever cease to exist in our world, and it symbolizes peace and harmony. There’s also a whole story behind it, about the Earth God; Cassius.

The fact that my grandpa was laying in there finally registered in me. Not even did it hit me when I saw his mangled body resting inside the casket. I couldn`t stand one minute watching that sight before I hurried back to my room. It caused all kinds of emotion to resurface, but I tried desperately to stifle them back even if my eyes burned with brimming tears. I`ve already shown my weakness in front of a man I loathed, I didn`t need to add a bunch of strangers to that list.

“I…I never knew Lucius, though he was the man who raised me,” I spoke without looking at anyone, drifting into my thoughts as I fixated solely on the silver-painted metal tomb. “He was always so secretive, he never allowed me to get closer and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know a thing about him. I didn’t know how his life was before he took me in. I didn’t know the reason he gave up magic for, and I didn’t know any single one of his friends—in fact I always thought he didn`t have any.”

My breath hitched in my lungs, and I swallowed roughly. I could feel a tear trying to escape my lashes, but I held into whatever mental strings I had and composed myself. A mocking laughter whipped out of me. “Hell! I didn’t even know what he liked except for booze.”

I could see some of the people`s amused smiles at that, almost like they too knew how attached Grandpa was to his alcohol. It brought some sense of calm in me, and I stopped fidgeting in my place and gripped the edges of the dais.

With a voice I hoped was seemingly poised, I finally said, “Even though my knowledge of Lucius Voltaire was very small, he was a good man, and I will miss him, for as long as I live.”

My words were met with nothing but silence, excluding the fainted sounds of low sobs coming from the crowd somewhere, and from my left the sound of Princess Lis’s sniffs. My chest fell, the large knot in my stomach diminishing.

King Gabriel rose from his seat—that poor servant scurrying along—and strode towards a middle-aged woman with brightening white hair that complemented her dark brown complexion. She sat in the middle of the members of the Congress, but unlike them she wore a simple silver circlet atop her head.

Though she looked like she was in her late forties, the woman was absolutely beautiful. I knew her immediately, even if I hadn`t actually met her. But I did spend the entirety of my middle-school years studying about her. She was Agatha Alastair; the founder of the Congress and the woman behind the tale of The Silver Peony.

I had no idea that Grandpa was so important that even Agatha Alastair herself attended his funeral. I knew he was once a famous and accomplished wizard, I just didn`t know how much.

She murmured something to the King, and I nearly had my jaw dislocate when she literally patted him on the cheek, before handing him a burning white candle. He blinked at her several times, clearing his throat before turning to the crowd.

“And now, the remaining member of the deceased’s family will light The Parting Candles to honour the demise,” he announced, making his way towards me and extending the tall candle to me. I looked at it strangely, something at the back of my mind egging me that this wasn`t right.

I knew it was tradition, but Grandpa deserves something more. No, his flames shouldn`t be ignited this way.

I ignored the burning candle by walking pass it and the now irritated-slightly-shocked King of Imarnia. I stepped down the podium, moving pass the hushed gasps of the ranting people, earning a few dirty and open-mouthed looks from some of them.

I had no idea what came over me, but I didn’t want to honour my grandpa’s soul like this. I had something better in my mind, even if it meant breaking tradition, or exposing myself to those strangers.

I stopped near the coffin and knelt beside it on the wet grass, my hand gently caressing the silver-painted steel. I placed my face over the surface and whispered, “You’re not going like this, you old fucker. This is my last farewell, thank you for everything.”

I summoned my magic from within me, extending my fist to the air then unclutching it to reveal flickering, golden flames dancing between my fingers. I didn’t bother with the gasped voices of the people around me, or their now loud chatter.

But my wide eyes were marvelled at the bouncing flames in my hand, warming my face with their glow. There was something…different about them. Their colour was in some way darker, yet more vibrant at the core. They weren`t as see-through as before, but instead their force pulsed deep in every nerve. Then it’s true after all, sleeping with the King does increase my magic. I didn`t know if I should be thrilled or disappointed at that.

I brought my hand closer to the main candle, which was the only one with the black colour, for it had a magic that allowed the other candles to be lit as well whenever it’s ignited. They also had a spell woven into them which allows the fire to keep burning, even if amidst the pouring rain.

I blew the fire in my hand gently, and it flew to the black candle, a flickering golden flame swaying above it. What emerged out were silvery fire, sparking one candle after the other until they all illuminated the shape of the Congress`s insignia.

Gerard Vastia approached the coffin, and I was astonished when he crouched down and lifted it swiftly with ease. The casket was made of metal, there was no way only one person can manage it. Does his magic have to do with strength? I couldn`t help the awe expression as he effortlessly placed the coffin in the deep pit, then emerged out as other officers started shovelling dirt.

People shuffled in their places, their animated chatter growing louder the more the earth covered my grandpa`s lifeless body resting in a steel box. I stayed for a few minutes, watching him disappear deeper into the ground, and letting one tear or two escape my drained eyes.

“Ayana, can I have a word with you?” I placed my hand on Ayana’s arm, earning a startled gasp out of her. I spent almost fifteen minutes receiving consolations from people I didn’t know, asking all kind of question ranging from who I was and how come I lived with Lucius Voltaire. I answered them with the best half-truths my mind could come up with.

The two Kings were busy talking to the head of the Magic Congress, and Princess Lis busied herself chattering away to with her fiancé and a group of lively-looking women. The rain had thankfully cleared out, so the poor servants didn`t have to stand too close to their rich employers with their arms extended over their heads. The large, bronzed man with braided hair and the small, pink-haired woman I often see with the King took a secluded spot and were speaking.

Needless to say, everyone was talking to one another. So, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to ask Ayana what I wanted to know.

When it settled on her that it was me, her face lit up. Although, like everyone else here—except possibly the King—her eyes crossed with pity. She placed her hand on my elbow, edging closer to me. Somehow, I didn`t mind the sudden familiarity. She kind of reminded me of the Princess. “Yes, of course. Oh, and I’m so sorry about your foster father. Morrison told me so much about him when he heard of the news.”

I nodded in appreciation, not knowing what to say. I ignored the people behind her who gave not just me, but Ayana as well, nosy glances as if they intended to make us feel uncomfortable. Ugh! Will people mind their business just once in their lives?

“Actually, there’s something that I wanted to ask you…” I began.

“It’s about me and Morrison, isn’t it?” she stated, giving me a knowing smile. She tilted her head at me, and I bit my lip, not wanting her to think that I was imploring into something that wasn`t of my concern.

“Yeah…”

She raised her chin, her large sea-eyes rounding. Now that I could see them in the daylight, they were no doubt mystical. “Yes, it`s quite puzzling. But I’ll have to ask you the same regarding you and King Gabriel.”

“Is it that obvious?” I asked. I thought the King and I were so hostile towards each other that no one would think of associating us together.

The corner of her mouth turned up. “It’s only natural for me to question it as well, since you are the first I have seen of our kind,” she looked around for a second, lowering her voice as she explained, “You see, I turned eighteen about three months ago, so the first thing I woke up to the day of my birthday was the sound of Morrison’s guards banging on my foster mother’s door.”

“And did you know something like that was going to happen?”

“Well, you could say that I always knew the reason I came into this world. But, finding the guards of the King of Freyr on your doorsteps asking your mother if she could hand me over so they could deliver me to King Morrison is kind of overwhelming,” she smiled sweetly, as if recalling the memory.

I licked my lips as I tried to think of another question. “So…did your foster mother tell you about the Fate Watchers, and the whole ‘your body is supposed to belong to the King’ thing?”

Awkwardness slipped over us, and I switched from one leg to the other for I didn`t know how to rephrase that part.

A blush, identical to mine, found its way towards her creamy cheeks. “Um…yes, she told me everything and that too.”

So, my intuitions were right. Ayana was with King Morrison for the same reason I was with that dickhead of a King. But what does it mean? And why? Were there others like us? And if there were, who would they be with?

Is it possible? Four Slifers for four rulers? But then again, why?

“At first, I was a bit frightened, I didn’t know how the King would treat me, especially since he has a fiancée,” she mused.

My head darted at her when I heard those words, blinking at her face one too many times. “What!?” I blurted, a bit too loudly that some heads whipped towards us.

She giggled faintly at my reaction. “Oh yes, Morrison has a fiancée. Her name is Wiona, she`s a wonderful person, and she has been so supportive of this.”

“She has?” I couldn`t help my blatant tone, nor the gaping of my mouth. I mean, I wasn`t exactly sure what I would feel if my husband-to be was sleeping with another woman, and me being fully knowledgeable of it. Was she really okay with that?

Ayana pouted her lips, sweeping her hands over her arms. “I didn’t say it wasn’t hard on her, it was, on both of them actually. But she supported him because she believed something terrible would happen to him if the merge between us didn’t happen. You see, she has this magic that permits bad things that would eventually occur to manifest in her dreams.”

“You mean like a Seer?” I heard this type of magic originally comes from the Fate Watchers. But whoever has it is extremely rare.

“Mhmm, kind of. She once explained to me that the things she sees aren`t always clear or detailed, just that they would happen one day.”

I see. I guess her and the Princess were on the same boat. Princess Lis did mention that she`s always had this feeling that something horrible would happen to her brother. Perhaps this Wiona lady is the same. That also explains why she didn`t accompany them on this journey.

“I figured you two were together, honestly,” I said, scratching the back of my head.

Those eyes of her widened again that for a moment I was afraid they would pop out of their sockets, her crimson face didn`t help either. She shook her head violently, wisps of her blue-blonde hair hitting my face. “Oh no! Never! Morrison is deeply in love with his fiancée. It’s very beautiful actually, sometimes it makes me feel bad that they have to go through this. But Morrison is extremely gentle and kind towards me, he doesn’t make me feel like I’m a burden to him or treats me badly.”

I let out a snort hoping that she didn`t catch it. I know a King who is defiantly NOT gentle or kind. Well, at least he`s not married—or about to be. I wouldn`t know what to do if I had to deal with a worrying spouse. I kinda feel bad for Ayana`s situation. She seemed to really admire King Morrison, but something stuck at the back of my mind.

“Wait, you call King Morrison by his first name?” I felt like I was suffocating her with all the questions I asked her, but she didn’t seem to mind answering, not even the slightest bit.

The smile returned on her features. “Oh, Morrison insisted on calling him that. He’s a very humble man—despite what others might perceive him as. He doesn’t like being treated so formally all the time. Does your King ask the same of you?”

I held back another snort when I heard her address that asshole as ‘my King’, for I didn’t want her to notice this time. I do admit I found it a bit hard to imagine King Morrison as what she described. When I met him, he seemed like the kind of guy who liked being the centre of attention. But he did give off that feeling that he was indeed kind—or at least decent.

I also had to hold back the urge to ask her whether she wanted to trade Kings. But then that soft, innocent girl would be stuck with that brut dickhead.

I mentally thanked the Gods when King Morrison called for Ayana, then I wouldn’t have to answer her previous question. She politely bid me farewell, hurrying back to her King’s side.

Luxus sauntered at my feet, looking over the people around us. His tail rested neatly on the damp grass, and I saw his little chest rise up and down. “All these people here, and we never knew any single one of them,”

“Lux,” I sighed, picking him up and cradling him in my arms. “We barely even knew him.”

I stood there for a few seconds, until I felt someone`s hand on my shoulder. I turned to see Princess Lis, with that gentle smile forever latched into her lips. She was taller than me, so she brought my frame to lean on her side. She was warm, and smelled just like the flowers she loved to grow. “Let’s take you inside, Lydia. It`s been a long day.” Her voice was soothing, as she led me outside the cemetery gates, back to the lonesome walls of Imarina`s castle.

★★★ End★★★


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