Ch. 23 The Girl of Storm and Wind
Soaking in freezing water didn’t help. One because I couldn’t actually feel the bite of coldness, and second because no matter how long I stayed in the tub I could still feel him inside me, see him on top of me, and hear the sounds we both made. But I had tried to shut all that out, to remind myself I was one step closer to achieving my full powers—even if that step felt as small as I did right now.
I dragged my tired body all the way to my bed, seeing the small lump of blackness that was Luxus curled up on the pillows. I turned everything off, turned myself off, as I sank into the soft sheets and buried myself underneath piles and piles of blankets. When my head hit the pillow and my eyes fluttered close only darkness was in my presence.
The breezing light of the morning felt like an angry glare being directed at my face, making me groan and flip over to the other side of the bed. I heard a door being opened, someone shuffling in and placing something on the table before emerging out of the door. Small tapping sounds filled the room and I knew it was Luxus rushing to the breakfast tray.
Even the smell of eggs and bacon didn’t tempt me to get up, and instead it only made me curl into myself and grumble in annoyance. But a striking pain jabbed in my stomach, and I could feel something sticky between my thighs. In alarm, my body jolted awake and I ripped the covers off me.
“Shit!” I cursed, staring at the pool of blood against the clean white sheets. Another sting of pain, and I covered my face with my fingers. Fucking shit! I completely forgot my cycle was approaching—well it’s already here.
Luxus noted the bloody mess I was currently sitting above. “Well, at least you’re not pregnant.”
I threw a pillow at him but he dodged it with a shrike, then kicked off the tangled blankets and hissed, the pain stinging my lower half, and stalked slowly to the bathroom. Luckily I didn’t forget to bring the necessary supplies when I came here, so I grabbed one of the pads the mortals invented, cleaned myself with hot water, and proceeded to put it on.
The hot water soothed my stomach a little, but I still felt nauseated, and more pissed-off than usual. I was supposed to start my work today, and I couldn’t think of a better activity than blazing out garden gremlins when I’m on my monthly cycle.
After dressing in a simple brown tunic and black pants and nipping at two pieces of bacon—I wouldn’t even touch the eggs because of the smell—I gathered the dirty linens and sheets and threw them into a maid’s cart as I left the room. Luxus went strolling about, and I headed for the garden to start my work.
I needed something to take my mind off last night, and allow me to focus the irritation currently receding within me—either from my session with the King in the library or the bloody cramps—somewhere else. I just hope the King doesn’t suddenly take to gardening.
To my fortune, there was only Lis and Redmond inhabiting the garden. The Princess didn’t notice me at first, instead marvelling at Redmond’s ability to grow irises from the soiled earth. Those two would get along very well.
“Good morning,” I greeted, though not sounding as cheerful as those two looked.
Bright smiles welcomed me, and I almost wanted to hiss at them that it wasn’t fair they were in a merry mood and I was biologically suffering. I knew this bitterness would go away in a few days, Grandpa knew to stay the hell away from it whenever my time came, and so did Luxus.
“Lydia, come join us. Redmond is helping me regrow the damaged flowers,” Lis offered, turning her attention to the blossoming petals, and a small smile painted my lips at the amazement and wonder in her eyes. “It’s truly magnificent how they are able to flourish in a second when it takes months for me to grow them.”
“In a way,” Redmond said, gently caressing the dark green vines, “I think it’s wonderful that I’m able to create life,” he blushed a little at that. “But I don’t mean to say it in a condescending way. It’s just that...”
He was lost for words, so I just continued for him. “You’re proud of your powers.”
Those brown-flecked green eyes lit, and he nodded eagerly. “Yes.”
Lis pouted. “I wish I was a Slifer.”
Redmond grinned at that, but I avoided looking at her as last night’s discoveries came rushing back. The one to bind them all? Was it true? I had to remember to ask Aramis about that. Lis got off the grass, dusting her dress and fixing her large yellow hat. She angled her head at me. “You’re going to start work now?”
“Yeah. Is there any place you want me to start with first?”
I could tell she felt awkward that she had to ask this of me, but still pointed at a spot behind me that was nestled with bushes. “They usually gather in places like that, so it would be a good point to start.”
“Is the garden fire-proofed?”
“Yes. We use charms so the plants and the flowers won’t be affected when cleaning out the gremlins.”
I nodded, dismissed myself, and headed to do my bidding.
Catching garden gremlins wasn’t easy. It was challenging back in Vera, and with the royal garden being thrice the size than the small pathetic excuse of a garden we had, it was almost impossible to spot the cheeky bastards. The garden gremlins were very small, almost the size of a child’s palms, and they had slimy dark grey skin, their bodies resembling rodents only they didn’t have tails and whiskers. Their mouths took up half the space of their face, and they had a set of very small but needle-like teeth that would prick you whenever they had the opportunity.
I completely lost myself in the chase, unmindful to Lis and Redmond’s far-away stares and the glances I got from passing servants. I delved into the bushes, using a warm flicker of flames to draw them out. Usually, gremlins appeared at the end of spring, preferring the cold and hating everything that has to do with heat, so coal and torches were used to snuff them out.
And thanks to the Princess confirming that the garden was charmed against fire, I unleashed hell upon the little bastards. They scattered away like mice, screeching and searching for any source to lower the heat. Some of them were on fire, quickly turning to a puff of smoke, but the others I had to run after.
I had to admit it felt relieving as I caught one after one with my bare hands, wincing at the tiny bites they managed to leave on my skin, then enwrapped them with a ball of flame.
Some took refuge under the shadow of tall flowers, but I quickly snatched them before they could devour it and set them aflame. I don’t know how long I kept going, but I knew I was covered with dirt and bits of leaves hanging from my hair, my face smeared with soil and clothes drenched with dust. I didn’t take one moment of rest, not even when the Princess ordered the servants to bring in a table and refreshments and offered me a cold glass of strawberry lemonade.
I politely declined and went back to my hunting. There was so many of them, and I was honestly glad for that, glad for the time flying. Lis had commented that the people she hired before had only been able to catch four or three gremlins a day due to the little creatures being so fast and impossible to spot. But my gift of fire allowed me to lure them out, to send them to me, and burn them until they were nothing but tendrils of smoke.
By mid-afternoon, Lis yet again asked me to join her and the rest of the royals for lunch, and I refused. But this time, she had put her foot down, saying that I had done plenty of work and I could continue tomorrow. I still refused, and it wasn’t until the Princess said I could resume after lunch—and the fact that I started feeling a little light-headed due to the lack of food and nourishments—that I had finally accepted.
I didn’t even think that the King would be there.
So I quickly rushed to my room, washed my hands and face and scrubbed them from the dirt, but still left my clothes and my tangled bird-nest-like hair as it is. I think Lysa almost had a heart attack when she beheld my state, and I knew she was about to drag me back to my room and force me into something proper to wear, but I avoided her and only focused on my food.
Unlike yesterday, the dining room was a bit lackey of conversations, and it was crystal clear that the neatly-dressed guests tried not to stare at the shabby-looking girl who had her face buried in her plate.
Queen Adria was the one who pointed it out first, a fork with a perfectly cut chunk of meat halfway to her mouth. “I see that you’re working quite hard, Lydia.”
“Yeah.” The words were said with a mouthful of glazed boar.
Her lips twitched in amusement, then she turned her head to King Gabriel. “Make sure to pay her handsomely.”
The King cleared his throat, but my attention was only on filling my stomach. After more chewing and swallowing, and feeling like I’ve gained my energy back, I gulped down the goblet of pomegranate wine then set it down on the table. “Thank you for the meal, it was delicious,” I said—even though I’ve only ate two courses—and scurried off the chair.
With a small bow to the royals before me I dashed to the doors, but not before hearing King Morrison say, “Well, she’s a busy girl.”
I went back to the awaiting gremlins, falling into a rhyme as I thrashed, burned, and chased after the little pests, until sweat dripped down every inch of me, until my clothes looked ruined and the dirt was a second layer, until every visible part of my skin was covered with girth and a bit of blood from the bites and scratches of the gremlins.
Half of the castle stood transfixed at the girl engulfed with flames dancing on her hands and earth coating her hair and face. I paid no mind to them, to the people lodging about, their curious and somewhat startled glimpses aimed at me. I ignored the hushed whispers, the wonder-filled eyes, the amusement in some of them, and the grey-eyed gaze I knew and felt within every inch of my bones.
By the time no gremlin came to my sight, it was already pass nine, now only the clouded moon and I left in the garden. So with exhaustion coursing through every joint, I decided to retire to my room. Going all the way back the massive stairway felt like I was crawling against the floor with my legs cut off, every muscle groaned and complained. And it was needless to say that I smelled like shit.
By some miracle, I arrived in my room, spoke to Luxus a bit, and then shut the bathroom door. After emerging out clean and gleaming, patting Luxus’s head as he nibbled on the chicken stew for dinner which I had no energy to even take a whiff from, I waddled to the bed and plummeted into the welcoming comfort.
A boom resounded in my ears, one that felt like it shook the room along with it. My eyes flew open, and I could just imagine the bloodshed and the forming dark circles. Luxus stirred and jolted, his tail sticking up at the thundering noise vibrating in every corner. My face was half-buried in the lush pillow, but I could still see the streams of light illuminating my laid form, and still hear the loud howling that rattled the glass windows and sent the curtains flying.
My eyes drifted to the clock hung on the wall above the door and it struck eight in the morning.
What. The. Fuck. Is. That?
A growl came out of me as I pushed the covers away and propped myself on my elbows. It sounded like a small hurricane had hit the walls of the castle, specifically the garden underneath. It didn’t help simmer down the bubbling fire within me. I was tired, so fucking tired that I needed the fucking rest so I could wake up to do my fucking work!
“What is that noise!?” Luxus complained, tucking in his ears as his tail waved back and forth.
I had no idea, but I was about to find out. And whatever or whoever they were, they were about to be very sorry.
I cursed and grumbled, got up and slipped on my slippers, then stomped to the doors and hurled them open. I was aware I was fuming, and I didn’t miss the steam coming off my head as I passed the mirrors hung over tables in the corridor.
Every step shot pain in my stomach and my limbs, and it only fuelled the fire threatening to burst. My back was killing me from both menstrual contractions and the fact I spent almost all of yesterday sprawled on the grass, crawling and bending over to grasp one of those little assholes in my fingers.
The maids emerged out of some of the rooms to see what was going on, but one look at the scowl engraved on my face and the whole of my body rippling off steam sent them back to their daily tasks.
When I was finally at the top of the staircase and on my way down to the garden, two shapes strode out of the opposite hallway. They belonged to the King and his sister. Lis was in a cream-coloured modest nightgown, her short hair splayed in every direction, and a sleeping mask dangled over her forehead.
“Lydia, what is going on?” Alarm dawned on her brown eyes.
The King shared the same expression as I did, and despite the situation my eyes trailed to the black satin pajama bottoms hanging low over his hips and the matching long robe that revealed the strong naked chest underneath. I swallowed twice so my mouth wouldn’t go dry, and desperately did not note his messy bedroom hair.
“It’s coming from the garden,” said the King with a flash of his teeth. Like a shadow he was quickly descending down and we followed after him.
Servants actually hurried inside, reaching to the safety of the indoors even if the chandeliers and windows rattled with every step. The King barked his orders to stay inside, and they were more than happy to oblige. Though when he directed that order to his sister, she simply went pass him as if he was nothing more than an extension of the wall.
Reaching the garden was like going through a room with a small tornado swirling at the centre of it. Everything around us flew. My hair flapped in every direction, Lis struggled to keep the skirt of her nightgown around her legs, and the King’s long robe jerked backwards and actually hit my face.
But we managed to go through the thick sphere of wind, and the first thing I heard was the sound of a female laugh. My eyes blinked back tears thanks to the wind whipping my face, but somehow I could see three figures before me. One standing, and two others sprawled on the grass.
“You’ve got to be kidding me?” the female voice said, “Is that really all you’ve got?”
It was the King who spoke next—well more like bellowed. “What on Ignolia is going on here!?”
The wind stilled, and the thickness melted away until the three figures were crystal clear. It was Ayana and Redmond, one on her back and the other on his stomach as they laid over the ground panting and attempting to support themselves.
I did not recognize the woman—girl—standing above them, back straightened and hands steady on her hips. But something told me I already knew who she was. She turned to the King, and as she did I couldn’t help but gawk at her white-grey hair, the way her shoulder-length tresses seemed to mix with the air at the end, looking almost transparent.
Her eyes were the same as her hair, and it seemed to have a permanent glow. She bowed to the noble man before, a little smirk playing at her lips. “Your Majesty, I apologize for any inconvenience I caused, I was simply just teaching my fellow peers a lesson.”
I still kept my eyes on her as I moved to Redmond and Ayana, and didn’t miss the grin she gave me when passing. I knelt to place my arm around Ayana’s shoulders and helped her sit up, noticing the tiny bruises along her creamy arm. “Are you guys ok? What happened?” I asked, but they only grunted their replies.
King Gabriel snarled at the bowing girl. “And who, might I ask, do you think you are?”
The girl actually had the nerves to look delighted that he asked. “Forgive me, I have not introduced myself. My name is Elsie Maron, and I come with his majesty King Calix.”
So I was right after all. But weren’t they supposed to arrive tomorrow?
“You’re a Slifer,” Lis breathed, her eyes noting the other girl’s hair and unique appearance.
“Indeed I am.” She smiled.
Redmond nudged me by the arm, inclining his head towards her. “She came out of nowhere, I was tending the garden, and Ayana was at the stream,” he explained.
“I came as soon as I heard the ruckus,” said Ayana, swiping her blue-blonde hair away from her face, “and not soon after she announced herself and told us she was testing our powers.”
I looked around, at the torn and shredded roots and plants and flowers, and felt fire sizzling inside me. “Hey, you!” I called out, despite Ayana’s firm warning tug on my hand, and the girl called Elsie casted her grey-white eyes at me.
Her grin widened. “Ah, the Fire Slifer! I was hoping to meet the one to bind us all.”
I ignored how she knew that. “Who the hell do you think you are? Disturbing the castle and demolishing the princess’s garden?”
At my words it seemed like only now Lis noticed the ruined state of her garden, and her lovely face paled. The King gritted his teeth, but said nothing. Elsie on the other hand looked to her surroundings, and her dark brown face darkened a bit, but she still shrugged. “I’ll make amends for that later.”
That only drove the fire, and I bit back, “You’ll make amends for it now.”
Again, that smirk appeared, and she shifted her posture as her shoulders straightened. “Perhaps I will, but first...” she tilted her head, assessing me. “I think I’ll play with you first.”
I didn’t even have time to blink before an invisible blast of wind burst out of her and slammed into me. It sent me tumbling backwards as my body jerked back and landed roughly on the ground. Lis screamed to stop, and Redmond and Ayana shouted my name. But that wall of pure, raw ancient power knocked the air out of my lungs.
My back stung, and a fit of coughs surged out of my chest as I struggled to get off my ass.
“Bitch!” I hissed at her, flame now encasing my hand. She only showed me her white teeth.
I threw a fireball at her, but like the wind she swiftly moved to the left and dodged it. That made her laugh. “And here I thought you would be a match for me,” she scanned the three of us, her eyes turning cold. “And you dare call yourself Slifers? You dare call yourself children and soldiers of the Gods?”
Ayana shot a twirl of water at her, but it was brushed away by another lash of wind, which she rebounded back by knocking the whip against Ayana’s head, sending her to the grass once again. “Pathetic!” she spit out, shaking her head.
I braced myself on my elbows, launching a second fireball at her, but she dismissed it with a fleeting gust. She clicked her tongue, raising a grey eyebrow. “It’s a disgrace to see how low your magic is,” another fireball, and another barrier, “Perhaps you should learn to spread your legs more?”
My nostrils flared, and the embers only flickered widely. “Perhaps you should learn to keep your mouth shut!”
A low chuckle, but the pressure of her wind kept pressing us down, and not I or my two fellow Slifers were able to break free.
“That’s enough now,” the King warned, lethal but calm.
She had the grace to stop looking at us like we were nothing but ants under her boots, but the fire inside me was still boiling and simmering. So I used the brief distraction of her listening to the King and kicked my body off the ground, rushing towards her and throwing my whole weight at her as I tackled her.
She resisted and kicked underneath me, but I held both of her hands in a tight grip. In a split second, she could send me flying back again, so I screamed, “Redmond, bind her!”
Luckily he didn’t need to be told twice and brought his hand upon the earth, making thick vines sprout out and tie her wrists to the ground. She still resisted, and howled out a laugh. “You actually think those pathetic plants can stop me?”
“No,” I huffed, “but this will.” And my fist collided with her jaw.
Blood splashed from her nose, trickling down her chin and teeth, but she finally stilled nonetheless.
I got off her, kicked her once, and then without a word walked back to the castle, dragging my feet up the stairs and to my room. I kicked open the door, ignored Luxus’s questions, almost crawled to the bed and met face first with the pillows and went back to sleep.