The Flames That Bind Us

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22. The One to Bind Them All


After lunch, we sat around the fireplace, trading stories and tales of whatever we fought or encountered. I didn’t say anything, neither did Ayana or Redmond. Mostly, it was either King Morrison or Queen Adria who spoke. I just sat there listening, enjoying my warm cup of herbal tea and mint chocolate cookies. I don’t know how many hours passed, but it was evening when some of the guests started departing. The King was the first to excuse himself, though during the time he spent with us he only pitched in a word or two. He was like a silent shadow, only observing. And sometimes, I would feel those silver eyes lingering on me, on every part of me. And I would shift uncomfortably and try my best not to pay attention. Needless to say, I was glad that he left.

Next, the room started clearing out bit by bit. Lis wanted to write letters to her fiancé ensuring his safe return. She told me he had left this morning to Eirware—his hometown—for last minute checks before he officially settled in Imarnia and they started planning the wedding. Queen Adria and her wife went to the market for some shopping, and King Morrison retreated to his chambers. Lysa and Aero snuck off together, saying that they had some things to do. I had a feeling that whatever they were doing, it wasn’t separately. Even Luxus said he wanted to take a nap, so I let him be.

Eventually, it was only me and my fellow Slifers left.

Ayana stretched her slender legs on the dark red carpet. For some reason, the three of us sat in a circle on the floor, facing each other. It was Redmond who spoke first, breaking a piece of butter biscuit in half. “Do you guys miss your hometown?”

We both looked at him, and there was a shadow of longing on his face. I sat abruptly, folding my legs underneath me. “Do you?” I asked.

He shrugged a slim shoulder. “I liked working in my guardian’s shop. She was really nice to me, and the people in my town—Isra—didn’t think of me as some kind of enigma.”

“The people in Vera bullied me endlessly, especially the kids at my school. But I think it had to do with being associated with Lucius Voltaire rather than being a Slifer,” I said.

He munched slowly on his treat. “I’m sorry.”

I just shrugged. Though, a part of me wanted to see the look on their faces when I would come back as a full Slifer. Not that I would keep living there, but the thought of seeing Warren’s ugly face twisted in shock and fear wasn’t bad at all.

“Do you miss it? Vera?” he asked me.

“No. Not really. Everything that I had left there is gone.”

Vera wasn’t really my home. I never felt like I belonged there, and for what it’s worth Grandpa wasn’t exactly attached to it in the first place. But it was a little scary, the thought of not having a home to go to. Imarnia certainly wasn’t that, nor will it ever be, despite my growing affection to its inhabitants—save the King.

Redmond didn’t say anything regarding my last statement, knowing that he’ll probably just apologize again. He turned to Ayana. “What about you?”

Her shoulders tensed a bit, but a small smile tugged on her lips. “Blueisle is very beautiful, it’s surrounded by many banks of sparkling water. My guardian, Shella, was very protective of me. She,” a deep breath came out of her, “takes it a little too much sometimes.”

I remembered when King Morrison said that she was very sheltered the first time we met, that’s why she was so alarmed at almost everything. Her guardian was probably too overbearing when it came to protecting her.

“So you enjoy the freedom,” I told her.

Her smile spread a bit, though she kept it closed. “You can say that. Shella loved me, but she feared for me too much, to the point I rarely got out of the house.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

She shook her head, the few strands of blue-blonde hair on her face moving along. “It’s alright. I still keep contact with her, and it did take me a lot of time and courage to tell her I wasn’t going to come back to her once all of this is over.”

“I’m guessing she didn’t take that so well,” Redmond said, pouring the pitcher of water to his glass.

“She was sad for a while, but I told her I had to make my own life, and that she’ll always be a part of it.”

“What do you want to do?” I asked them both, “When whatever this is over?”

Ayana grinned at that, and her ocean eyes glowed. “I want to travel. To see more of Ignolia. I used to read these stories about adventurers who would go to places where the seas were every colour. They were black, gold, or silver, and there were so many creatures swimming about.”

“Then maybe we can go together,” I offered, smiling at her excitement. “Because that’s exactly what I want to do. To travel around Ignolia, seeking for adventure.”

I understood the clarity in her eyes, the way her face lit as if she was about to head to those magical places right now. Given, I wasn’t sheltered like her, but I saw next to nothing of our world.

“For me,” Remond joined, “I think I want to do something that has to do with my powers.”

“Like start a flower shop?” I questioned.

“Mhmm, no, not like that. But something bigger, I guess. Something that would make people marvel at its beauty.”

“Perhaps you can create a forest?” Ayana suggested, smiling sweetly.

He laughed, soft and throaty. “I don’t think I’m there yet.”

Minutes went by swiftly, turning to hours. And we talked about everything we could, everything we wanted to share. Redmond talked about how his guardian, Lyria, escorted him to the footsteps of the castle of Vallas, where he was greeted by General Malla herself. Ayana mentioned King Morrison’s guards coming at her doorsteps the day of her 18th birthday, and how Shella had refused to let her go alone, then their parting moments which took about half an hour. I also discovered that they were older than me in months, Ayana was born on the 17th of July, Redmond on the 3rd of September. As for my story on how I came to be with the King, I told them the best half-truths I could come up with. I didn’t lie, I just kept some things unsaid. Like the little beating I took at the forest.

We also talked about school. Ayana took her studies at home, Redmond went to school and mostly kept to himself until his 18th birthday were he finished it under a tutor assigned to him by Queen Adria. As for myself, I told them I was dropping. School has never interested me, I only kept myself there so I wouldn’t be stuck in the house with Grandpa doing nothing. Now that I’ve had other things in mind, I just don’t see myself finishing it. Perhaps one day in my long life I would go back, when I’m done seeing the world that is.

We also mentioned the books given to us by our guardians, and indeed Redmond confirmed he had The Book of Cassius; the Stone-hand God. Though, he admitted that he only understood so little of it, and Ayana agreed she felt the same as well. So I told them about Aramis, and they asked if they could see him too in hopes he teaches them how to use it properly.

I didn’t realize it was past eight, as Ayana and Redmond excused themselves and headed to their rooms. I was tempted to do the same, but I wasn’t particularly tired since I woke up late today. Not to mention there would be nothing to do while I’m there. I’ve already finished the book I bought from the fair, maybe with the job the Princess offered me I could afford to buy more.

I decided I would explore the castle a bit, something that I didn’t feel like doing when I first got here and mostly kept to my room and the garden. But where would I go? I’ve already seen the ballroom, the gardens, and the dining room in which I was currently in. The only other room I’ve been in was the King’s study, and I would never even consider going to the throne room. I know he probably won’t be there, but I couldn’t risk it. Although, I was a little curious on how it would look like. I’ve never been in a throne room before.

Then all that’s left was the library. Surely a castle as huge as this would have it, trouble was I didn’t know where. I can search on books about Slifers—if there were any—or even about the Gods themselves. I told myself I would do that last night when I tried to distract myself from the King’s certain arrival.

I exited from the dining room, a wide empty corridor greeting me. When I made a turn, a maid was carrying a trolley filled with piled sheets, and I asked her where I could find the library. She told me there were two; one that held modern-day books that were from both our world and the mortal one, and one that contained only old books of this world. I told her to direct me to the latter. She was nice enough to lead me there, and I noted that it was on the east wing of the castle, the path leading to it seemed dark, drifty, and abandoned, as if no one went there anymore.

The maid—whom I’ve learned her name was Nila—told me that sometimes the Princess, and on rare occasions The King himself were the only one who visited this library. Ever since the days of King James and his queen Isobel, the quest for ancient knowledge hasn’t been the same, she had said.

We went up a spiral staircase, the smell of stone and the mold forming on the walls filling my nose. This part of the castle wasn’t rehabilitated as the rest, but rather left to its ancient existence. When we arrived at the top, she pointed to the right corner of a narrow hallway and instructed me to take that turn and that’s where I would find the doors to the library. I thanked her, and she smiled at me, at my hair and eyes, then descended down the stairway.

True to her words, the doors of the library were made of wood, unlike the steel ones from the rest of the palace. There were some carvings on it, seeming to be a language I did not know, or probably couldn’t make out thanks to how old the door was. It opened with a loud groan that I was sure could be heard throughout the castle, or even Imarnia itself.

The first thing I saw were rows and rows of high wooden bookshelves stacked next to each other, filling the space of the vast room. The bookshelves went deeper, to dark corners I couldn’t even see properly. There were a few round tables and chairs around the reception desk, but more between and around the towering shelves. Glass windows engraved into the stone walls were closed shut, and although the library was large and seemed cold, it was rather warm due to the candle-lights coming from here and there.

I took a couple of steps, feeling lost on where to start. I almost jumped in my place when someone cleared their throat, and I turned to look at the small reception desk. I didn’t realize there was a person there, the piles and piles of old ledgers and papers crowned the chipped wooden surface. A short woman with pale blue eyes peered at me through her large squared glasses, she looked to be both old and young at the same time. “May I help you, miss?”

“Uh, yeah...” I stalked towards her, standing on my tip toes so I could see her better behind the mountain of books. She sat on a stool, a large book with foreign words scribbled on it laid across her lap.

Her almond shaped eyes widened a little at my appearance, and I had no doubt she probably knew what I was. “I’m called Dastine,” she announced, “How could I be of use to you?”

“I’m Lydia. I was wondering if you could help me find some books,” I said.

The corner of her thin mouth twitched, as if she was telling me she wasn’t obviously sitting here for decoration. “Of course. But what books do you require?”

“Um...” I considered. I had no clue what I was really looking for, so I just settled with, “Anything about old legends, myths, and all that.”

Her eyes raked over me, amusement tugging on her hard features. “Doing a little self-searching?”

My shrug was the confirmation to her question. She pointed a long brown finger to her right. “Over there, by the fifth row, is where you’ll find all the books about myths and legends.”

I thanked her and she inclined her head, going back to her book.

Walking between the layered bookshelves was like walking through a maze, I had no idea where to start. There were books about the history of elves, sirens, fairies, and ones about the tales of accomplished wizards. But there was none about Slifers. Where would I find a book like that to begin with?

I found myself heading further and further into the path before me, where the darkness lay. Dastine was far out of my sight, feeling as if I was completely alone in the library. I traced my fingers over the titles of the stacked books, some were even in a language I didn’t understand. In fact, there were very few written in the common tongue.

Perhaps coming here was a waste after all?

I was about to head back when I caught a shadow moving from the corner of my eyes, and I froze when I registered who it belonged to. You’ve got to be kidding me! Of all the places he would be at, he fucking chose this one!

King Gabriel was busy inspecting the books before him to notice me standing there, fixed in my spot and unable to decide whether I should just turn away and go or stay. His handsome face was fixed in concentration, as he propped himself on a wooden ladder, his knee bent before him, and his other foot wedged between the steps.

He seemed to find what he was looking for, picking a book and cradling it under his arm. He proceeded to climb down the ladder, and it caught my attention that he hadn’t changed out of his clothes this afternoon. Was he here all day? It took him a couple of seconds to recognize the other presence cloaked in the darkness; me.

The book almost slipped from his hand, and I could swear I heard a faint gasp coming from him as his back hit the wooden ladder. I pursed my lips, trying not to smile at the rather inelegant action. His eyes, although it was dark in here, seemed to glow amidst it. But they still contained the same hardness as ever.

“What are you doing here, Slifer?” I appreciate that he didn’t yell the words, but they were still spoken in cold calmness.

I raised an eyebrow, although he couldn’t see it. “I could ask you the same thing. I never took you for a history person,” I remembered to add, “Your Majesty.”

Whether he thought anything of it, he didn’t show.

He swept pass me, and I told myself that I should just leave. But a part of me, a wretched damned one, trailed after him. And despite my inner protest, I asked, “What are you reading?” I cursed my unyielding curiosity repeatedly, but I couldn’t help but wonder what he was looking for in this late hour.

“I’m doing a little research,” he answered, surprising me. Then he shot a questioning look at me from his shoulders. “What brings you here?”

I could choose not to answer him, but saw no point in lying. “Same.”

I didn’t know why I was following him, but perhaps he could help me a bit since he seemed to know where to look. The thought of asking him for help left a bitter feeling in my chest, and I didn’t really know how to approach him in the first place. There’s no guarantee he’ll help me anyway.

He stopped at a single round table with three chairs, nestled between the dusty high shelves. My mouth dropped when I beheld the loads of papers, books, and records scattered all over it. Wow! This certainly was no light reading. I wonder what he was looking for, if he had the table looking like this. It’s certainly confirmed that he had been here for hours, maybe after he had left the dining room.

He pulled a chair, the groaning sound of wood gliding echoing through the walls, and seated himself. I could barely see what books he was reading thanks to the dimming light of the candle-opera, and he seemed to be searching for a match underneath the stacked papers. I stepped to his side and used the tip of my index finger to increase the tiny swaying fires. He noted my gesture, but said nothing of it.

It didn’t take a genius to know that he clearly didn’t want me near him, but something in me was delighted that I was annoying him or making him feel uncomfortable. So I stuck around, daring to take a seat across of him. His grey eyes snapped towards me, a hint of disbelief—or maybe irritation—mixed within them before he focused back on the pages under his nose.

I dared to open my mouth and say, “Do you know where I could find books here that centres on Slifers?”

“You’re looking at it,” he stated, without so much as a glance at me.

My eyes flew wide open. “What?”

He didn’t humour me with an answer, so I looked down at what he was reading. I didn’t recognize any of the words written, and I felt stupid at not knowing them, especially that he didn’t seem to have any difficulty with them. Though I guess it wasn’t a surprise that a man of his age and status knew several other languages.

“What language is that?” I had to ask, leaning my body forward to get a better look.

He still didn’t look at me. “The tongue of old Ignolia.”

Well, that explains it. “Do you have anything here that’s in the common language?”

His eyes peered at me through the rim of the pages, and they narrowed. “What do you want, Slifer?”

My jaw twitched at the name, but I didn’t want to start a scene right here right now. Though my tone was anything but sweet as I said, “Obviously the same thing as you. And might I ask why is it that you’re suddenly interested in Slifers?”

He bared his white teeth at me. “I don’t have to answer you.”

“Then I guess the same thing goes for me.” I folded my arms over my chest, an eyebrow raised.

For a couple of seconds, we just stared down at each other, both shadow and fire tensing and stilling in the room. Both of us refused to back down, and I don’t know how long it passed before the King huffed and went back to his reading. I resisted the urge to smirk, but I somehow felt like he would see that despite his eyes being pinned on the pages.

There was nothing for me to do, not when he was so keen on not saying anything. So, I took matters into my own hands, sorting through books that weren’t written in the common language. I set the ones I didn’t understand aside, and found a couple that contained some facts about the Gods. It spoke about how they came to create nature, and how The One God; Azareth divided magic into the hands of minor gods and goddesses.

Some talked about The Sea-haired Goddess and her journey of forming the seas and oceans, painting them in every colour. She was the first to be created within the four elemental gods, then Atticus came after her, creating winds and storms that shook and swayed the blue waters. After that, Cassius had been born, and brought along the lands and mountains and tinted them with endless greens. Lastly, Decimus was created, and he moulded the scorching flames beneath the earth.

And others, were of their children; the Slifers. But it was nothing that I’ve already not learned. Mostly it was about their powers, and how they differed in appearance from other wizards. It was kind of strange reading about yourself, and knowing that you were the legends spoken about in those books.

I even took a look at the old records that showed the sighting of ancient beings, like wyverns, wyrms, drakes, and amphitheres. There was one about a Water Slifer, sighted centuries before, but in different timelines with the Earth Slifer. Another record showed that an Air Slifer appeared when this world was first established, but there was no mention of the fire one. Was I the first? Or were there others before me that missed the eyes of wizards?

There was a journal wrapped in fine brown leather underneath the old yellow-paged records, and it had the symbol of Imarina—the silver phoenix—stamped on the front. I went to pick it up, but it was quickly snatched out of my reach by the King.

“Hey! I was looking at that!”

“That’s none of your concern.” His lips drew back in a snarl, and I had to fight back the temptation to do the same.

“What is it anyway?” I inquired, but he ignored me. A huff came out of my lips, and I tried to lift my upper body and take it from his hand, but he pulled it further out of my reach.

“I told you it’s none of your concern,” he snapped.

“Is it yours?” Somehow I had a hard time imagining the King having a secret diary. He leered, and went back to pretending I didn’t exist.

I wanted to stump my foot on the ground, the annoyance creeping up to me, but I didn’t want to seem childish in front of him. I decided to try easing him up a bit, although I think I would die trying before actually achieving that. “Look,” I started, “I’m here because I’m looking for anything that has to do with my kind, things that I don’t already know. And by the looks of it, you’re doing just the same.”

Nothing. No reaction.

I swallowed up my impatience. “If you help me find what I’m looking for, I can help you too.”

That earned me a once-over from him, and I watched as he leaned back in his chair and tilted his head, the shadows coming from the candles casting on his face. “What possibly could you help me with if you don’t know?”

“I don’t,” I countered, “but Aramis does.”

Interest sparked in his eyes, and I knew I had said the right thing. Though I wasn’t sure how much Aramis knew, but I wasn’t going to tell him that.

“Aramis? The man who claims he’s a messenger of the Gods?”

I nodded. “Yup, and he doesn’t claim. He is. And he would answer whatever question you want.” I wasn’t sure about that either.

He seemed to deeply consider my offer, his eyes going from me to the journal in his long pale fingers. The hesitation in his face was clear, as if he was having a silent conversation with himself. I honestly expected him to reject it, but it had caught me off guard when he slowly extended his arm and handed me the ledger. “This belonged to my father,” he explained, “In it, you’ll find that he wrote down his encounter with the Earth Slifer.”

I had to stop myself from grinning, taking the diary from his hands, and deeply trying to dismiss the lingering zap of sparks from the way our fingertips touched. It spread all the way to my arm, leaving a prickly sensation. I cleared my throat in attempt to hide the gasp, and to my disbelief, he seemed to do the same.

So this was his father’s? It was very thick, though the pages were turning yellow at some corners. I flipped through it, noticing that the last several pages were empty. He never got to finish it. The King directed me to the page in which the encounter was documented. “It happened when Uzier’s forces were getting stronger, and Father was headed to Trinivan to meet with Calix’s host. I stayed behind to guard Imarnia’s defences, so I was not there,” the King clarified.

I nodded, reading the fine cursive hand-writing. Indeed King James was headed with his army to Trinivan, and that’s when they encountered a nameless man with the brightest green eyes he had ever seen. His Majesty went on describing his unusual, ethereal appearance, from his eyes to his long green-brown hair. It wasn’t until two paragraphs later that the man revealed himself to only the King.

It said here that the man was born and later sent by Cassius to shield the borders of Trinivan against Uzier’s forces. Uzier wanted to march to Trinivan first, but failed to reach the borders due to the path being blocked when the Slifer turned himself into a giant willow that towered over other smaller pack of trees that he created.

“So the Slifer turned himself into a tree? Then what?” I asked the King.

“Scholars think he didn’t simply turn himself, but went back to his original state, as being part of the earth.”

“So he’s dead?”

A feint nod. “Yes and no. His powers and spirit still resides in that forest surrounding Trinivan, but his body is long gone.”

“Didn’t the soldiers try to breach the forest by foot?” I felt like such a kid, asking for things that happened a long time ago.

But he didn’t seem to mind answering, which set me off a bit. I was so used to him shouting and grunting his objections that this cooperate side of him fazed me. He flipped another page from his book. “Father said that the branches were so sharp that they cut almost every solider that tried to enter. The Slifer created a live fortress, one that with some special magic recognized enemy from foe, and allowed those who were friends with Trinivan to enter through harmlessly.”

I put a hand on my cheek, resting my elbow on the wooden surface. “I wonder why Cassius did that, sending that Slifer and all.”

The King gave me a nonchalant shrug. “Some say that the Gods wanted the battle to be diverted to Imarnia—which it did. But no one really knows why.”

I thought about it for a couple of seconds. So that Earth Slifer was indeed created for a purpose, and after completing it he turned back to his essence, claimed by the earth; a solider of the Gods indeed. Would it be the same for me? Or Ayana? Or Redmond? Would whatever the Gods assigned us to result in us transforming back to our essence? The thought left me momentarily shivering, and I banished it out of my mind.

“What about you?” I asked the King. “What did you discover?”

“Nothing so far...” he sighed, his eyes scanning what was written in front of him. “Just the usual, things we already know.”

I gave a nod, gnawing on my bottom lip. I considered whether or not I should ask him why he was so keen on knowing about Slifers, and my curiosity won again. “I thought you said this was all just a bunch of fairy tales for you. Why the sudden change?”

His eyes darted up at me. “It’s not for me. It’s for my sister. Perhaps finding something here that could hint at the imaginary threat against my life could ease her worry a bit.”

“That’s thoughtful of you.”

He didn’t miss my mocking tone and shot me a silent glare. Though it should make me squirm in my seat, I found myself biting the inside of my cheek to prevent from smiling. Teasing him was just so easy. I dared say I found some joy in it, some kind of feeling were I wasn’t afraid or disgusted by him. And in a way, perhaps I stopped being scared, or never really was in the first place. I didn’t know if it should have assured or alarmed me.

I noticed he stopped on a particular page, his fingers tracing the letters scribbled. “Slifer,” he called for my attention. “This one is about you.”

“What?” I got off my seat, my palms placed on the table as I leaned forward.

“It says it here,” he pointed out, to a page that had the emblem signed on my body. “Isn’t that your mark?” I nodded, unable to take my eyes off the burning insignia, and blushing a little when recalling how he knew that.

"Lacrossé kul madoria,” he read, and I ignored how the ancient words rolled out of his tongue so smoothly, and the fact it heated my face a bit. “It means ‘the one to bind them all’. They mean you; the Fire Slifer.”

“What else does it say?” I had to remind myself to sit down so my legs won’t buckle from anticipation.

He recited the words in the common tongue. “Basically, it says that a Fire Slifer has never been born before. But legend has it that the fire one is always the youngest, and although they’re equal in powers with the others, the fire wielder binds them all.”

The King stopped for a second to take note of my expression, the one filled with hunger for more. He then resumed, “Fire is the deadliest element in nature, so the one who wields it has enormous powers within them. It can cause seas to be no more than steam, the earth to burn up from inside and underneath, and build flames so strong that not even the wind can pierce them. The non-creation of the last one is known, for when they do come, war will be upon us.”

Something in my gut was churning, and my throat felt as if I had swallowed a pile of ash. The King closed the book with a soft thud, still processing what he just read. Though I’m pretty sure he wasn’t feeling as nauseated as I did. The one to bind them all? Was such power really residing within me? Dry seas, burn the earth, and bake the air? All of this...

“I don’t think I wanted to know that...” I admitted. I had to ask Aramis, had to know if all of this was true.

“They’re just legends, Slifer. They may not be true.”

I looked at him, at the way he studied every reaction I made. “Or they might. Either way, it’s probably Aramis who knows best.”

He better. Or else what good he is if he actually was a messenger of the Gods?

“Speaking of Aramis,” the King said, “How much does he know?”

“He gave me a book,” I told him, “he said it was The Book of Decimus, and that I could learn how to use fire magic properly from it. I’m not the only one, because Ayana and Redmond also have the books of their god-parent.”

“When do I get to meet him?”

“He said not to come back to him for another week, we’re already in the middle of that week.”

“Why?” he lifted an eyebrow.

Without thinking, I answered, “He told me I shouldn’t go back to him unless—”

I realized what I was about to say, and clamped my mouth shut. But he didn’t miss it, and his eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Unless what?”

Ah, shit! Should I lie to him? Well, what good could possibly come from that? Aramis did tell me not to go back until I’ve gotten the King in my bed again. It happened yesterday, and I didn’t get to test my powers to know if it was enough. Though I had a feeling it wasn’t. Not if I wanted to train accordingly. I mean, I had to tell him sometime, tell him that I needed more. I wanted to cover my face in my hands, at how embarrassing I must have looked sitting here and contemplating whether or not I should tell him.

How long am I going to avoid it? To deliberately prevent myself from getting stronger because I was either too damn proud or ashamed? I already told myself I would endure every second of it.

He was still waiting for me to speak, that black thick eyebrow still raised. And I threw any self-caution and bashfulness to the window, along with my self-made doubts and obstacles. To hell with it! If I’m going to be a full Slifer, if I was really going to burn the ground from its core, then I better own up to it.

“Aramis told me I should...bond with you more, to increase my power level so I could come back and he would train me.”

I was struggling with keeping a straight face, from stopping the rushing blood to my cheeks. I wish my face would explode, to relieve me from the misery of having to meet those silver eyes that seemed to pierce through my naked soul. Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut?

He leaned back in his chair, so slow as if he had all the time in the world. His hands were rested on the chair’s arms, that elegant white finger of his tapping the wood lightly. And I couldn’t mistake the shift in his eyes, at the way they darkened and were filled with intensity. That look made me squirm in my seat, and I wished repeatedly for the ground to open up and devour me whole.

“I see,” the way he said it was so soft, like he was considering something in that mind of his. Then he tilted his head. “Should we do as he says?”

Dear Ignolia! What have I gotten myself into?

“W-wait...What?” I stammered, cursing myself for it. My face was probably a glowing beacon of red.

“I don’t see why not,” he shrugged a broad shoulder, then added, “If you want to that is.”

I tried to say something, to explain that now was not what I was thinking of. “I...I haven’t taken my contraceptive draught yet.”

I had planned to do it at lunch, but since I was invited to dine with the royal court, I couldn’t possibly drink it in front of them all.

“I took mine this morning, so no need to worry about that,” he affirmed.

Well, that’s good to know—no wait! I shouldn’t be saying that! Quick, Lydia, think of something else. But what? I could just say no, easy as that. And he did say he wasn’t going to touch me without my consent, which he was obviously waiting for. But right now? I wasn’t sure if I was ready. Then again, it’s not like I ever was. What did I really want? Not this, that’s for sure. But I did need it. I did need to become stronger. And I had to stop holding myself back. Eventually, it will happen, so why was I always delaying the inevitable?

“Alright.” I wasn’t sure if he had heard me, but he apparently did for he got off his chair and strode around the table towards me.

I refused to keep my head down, nor did I look directly at him, I just focused on some spot between the dusty bookshelves. He grabbed my arm and hauled me to my feet, though not roughly. “Your room then,” he said, and was about to teleport us there when I remembered and tugged on his sleeve.

“No, not my room! Luxus is there.”

“Here?” he suggested.

My eyebrows shot high. “Are you kidding? We’re in the library, and Dastine might hear us.”

“Then I recommend keeping your voice down,” he said, and before I knew it his hands wrapped around my waist and with one swift movement he picked me up from the floor like I was nothing but a small child. I yelped when he laid me on the table, getting himself between my legs.

His musky scent overwhelmed me, and my body heated at the sudden closeness and the fact that his frame was pressed to mine. I could feel my stupid heart drumming loudly, wanting to yank it out of my chest and throw it across the room.

“Final words, Slifer,” I tried not to hiss when his fingertips traced my thighs, the heat of his breath fanning my ears. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

He was looking at me now, awaiting my confirmation. The fact that he asked again unnerved me, mainly because I didn’t want to say it out loud. And I knew he wouldn’t take a nod as my answer. I gritted my teeth, the words coming out of me in a growl mixed with a plea—and I absolutely hated myself for it. “Yes.”

That was all he needed to know, before his face dipped to kiss my neck. I fought back the gasp, the feeling of his lips on my skin cloaking me. He nuzzled the skin at first, inhaling my sweet perfume, then trailed a feather-like path towards my jaw. As always, he left a tingling sensation whenever any part of him touched me. I could feel his hot breath as he blew it in my ear, making me shiver. But what made me squeal was when he bit the back of my ear, tugging it gently.

“Your voice, Slifer,” he warned, feeling the softness of his lips on the sensitive skin.

I didn’t know what came over me when I lightly punched his shoulder. “Then don’t bite me!” I hissed.

For a moment, I could swear I heard him chuckle, the vibration of his chest against my own. But whatever it was didn’t last, for I felt his hands clutching at the hem of my shirt, slipping it off me in a quick motion. Hunger swam in his eyes, and he ducked his head down again to ravish the exposed skin. I had to bite my lip so I wouldn’t whimper, as he kissed and nibbled at my collar-bones, the tip of my breasts, and my neck. I was sure he was going to leave bright red marks, but that was the least of my concern right now.

His hands explored my waist, back, and legs, hovering over the bra clasp and unfastening the piece of black lace. He slid the straps off, and my breasts were in full view before him. I didn’t have time to feel coy, for he angled my head to the side and buried his face at the crook of my neck. His teeth and lips grazing my jaw and cheek, then went down to capture one of my tightened nipples in his warm mouth.

A moan quivered from my throat, and a growl from his, as he dipped his head lower and sucked on the lumps of flesh kneed in his large hands. Everywhere he touched felt like fire bursting, like we were engulfed in blazing flames. And I didn’t have a clue whether I wanted to run away from it or completely burn in the scorching embers.

My breasts felt raw in his mouth, and I found myself pressing my front further into him, wanting him to have more, or better yet all of me. The heat between my legs begged to be sated, and his own hardened member was evident as well.

He went lower and lower, and I didn’t know whether to focus on his hands or his lips, to pay attention to the way his fingers rubbed my thighs, or the way he was immersed with worshipping my breasts, stomach, and waist. Either way, it left my breath coming out in short pants, left my heart beating widely, and left my body aching to be satisfied.

It definitely didn’t help when he hoisted up my skirt to pool around my waist, nor when he glided down my stockings followed by my panties. “What are you doing?” My own voice was raspy and thick. He knelt down, parting my legs so he had a better accesses.

My face flushed at the fact that he was completely facing my sex, and how he ran his tongue over his lower lip as lust clouded his eyes. With a husked groan, he said, “Bite down on your shirt.”

I did as I was told, grabbing and twisting my shirt in my fist and biting the wool fabric. I hated how my body shook in excitement, at how my blood rushed at the thought of pleasure. Damn him! Damn all of this!

But no matter how many times I’ve damned him, nothing could prepare me when his tongue darted out and he started licking my inner right thigh. My back arched off the table, feeling the tingling coursing down my spine. Fuck! He didn’t just settle with my thighs, his tongue moved along the lips of my throbbing sex, sucking every inch of the tender flesh. Then, it lightly swept over my clit, as if testing it out, and I braced myself when he started devouring me.

I wanted to scream, so badly, to the point my lungs burned out. I didn’t even care if Dastine heard, but I had to remind myself to keep biting, to hold in my threatening moans. He was doing the same, but was using my innermost part to block the sounds emanating from his throat. His nails dug deep into my skin, as he bit, nipped, slurped, and licked every inch of me, my dripping wetness coating his lips. At first he went slowly, then fast, then slowly again, as if he wanted to drive me insane.

And in some way, he did. I couldn’t resist grasping his soft hair between my fingers, couldn’t resist pulling his head further, to have more of me, all of me. I even wanted to scream at him to stop, but only because the unbearable lump forming within me was intoxicating. I wanted release, and I wanted it now.

“No!” I almost yelled when he suddenly stopped, getting back to his feet. “Don’t stop!” I could damn myself for all eternity later, but now I wanted—needed—this.

There was a smirk clinging to those lips of his at my reaction, and I either wanted to slap it off or kiss him until we both forgot how to breathe. I made a mental note to myself to soak in freezing water after this.

“Who said I was stopping?” he purred, and unzipped his trousers.

His cock sprung out, and I swallowed and looked away. He adjusted himself between me, sliding his hands under my knees and wrapping my legs around his hips. I could feel him at my entrance, and my sex only pulsed in eagerness, in welcome. Luckily he didn’t make me wait any longer before he filled me up in one swift thrust. My back climbed off the thin air, and I threw my arms around his shoulders and buried my face at his neck to stifle my voice.

He seeped in and out of me, growling at my tightness and I hummed in approval at the way he buried his entire length inside me, feeling him moving and hitting whatever walls he could reach. The table under us creaked, but we paid no heed to it as he increased his speed and starting pumping his shaft.

My wetness enveloped around his hardness, and I think I lost track of time and sense when he slammed into me, all the while tugging on my hair and heatedly assaulting my upper body with both teeth and lips. I moaned into his skin, my hips rolling, meeting his every thrust and he rewarded me by putting a hand between us and stroking my wetness.

I was pretty sure I was flying off the table right now, fighting every ounce of common sense to not scream his name in a mindless moment of pleasure. My fingers twisted in his hair, his own in mine, and the erotic sounds coming from our joining the only thing we’re able to hear. His hand went to grab my wrist, pinning me under him as my back flattened on the table. The other one he used to clamp it over my mouth, so that Dastine wouldn’t rush in here and interrupt us.

There was nothing to say here but that he fucked me, pounding fast and hard until my body convulsed in ways I didn’t know were even possible. My breasts felt heavy as they bounced before him, and he didn’t waste a moment to kiss, and caress, and suck them. He fucked me until every part of my body was in a blazing heat, until I could feel nothing but the excruciating tension in my stomach begging to be free, until my mind went numb and I could only think of him being inside me.

It was at that sweet moment that release came, and I had to bite his hand to keep from shouting in ecstasy. He grunted, silencing himself at the crook of my neck, but didn’t seem to mind the bit of pain I inflected on him. My orgasm was spilling out of me like a flowing river, and his own shot over my stomach and breasts. He was on top of me, regaining his frantic breath.

And again, I kept reminding myself to soak into a bath of freezing water, until my fingers and toes wrinkled, until I lay there shivering, until I could feel nothing but the cold and emptiness.

★★★ End★★★

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