The Flames That Bind Us

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28. To Be Whole


*

Warm

The hand on my shoulder was warm, but I couldn’t see it. I could only feel it, just like I felt the scorching heat around me, within me. The hand had a different presence, as if the heat from it was separate than the one that seems to eat me up. And it was comforting, soothing.

I was back in that dream. But I had found myself amidst glowing flames rather than the freezing forest. I was yet again dressed in dark red leather, the tendrils of fire swaying at my feet crawling their way up my legs, as if intended to devour me.

I felt my bones still --fear, or confusion I didn’t know. Fire couldn’t harm me, I knew that as much as I did my own name.

But this one --it seemed to suffocate me, slithering its way inside and sweeping the air out of my lungs.

Yet the hand held, and did not waver. Not for one second.

I wanted to turn around, to look at the one whose comfort fought the smothering embers. But my body refused to yield. It stood ground, my limbs frozen and my feet pinned to the heating earth.

Again, those figures appeared, and as usual they looked as if they were made from pure shadows. They were four of them, and each time they grew closer. But they did nothing, only stood motionless like some forgotten ancient trees.

Three other figures appeared on my side, but my head did not shift to have a clear view of them. It never did.

Meanwhile, the flames burned around us, higher and higher.

And the whole scene felt like a picture being painted at this very moment, with the edges being slowly burned off.

And through it all, the hand never left my shoulder.

*

My eyes fluttered open, and I immediately groaned, pulled the covers over my head, and flipped to the other side at the glaring sunlight seeping through the window. Sleep still resided within me, but that dream prevented me from ever drifting back there. But judging by the sound of chirping birds and the bright streams of the sun stripped over the wall, it was probably close to eight o’clock anyway. Which means I had to get up to get ready for work.

I heaved a breath, snuggling close to the other unused pillow, only for the smell of musk to overwhelm my senses, mixed with the very faint scent of sex.

I debated burning it, only because it held his smell, along with the sheets as well.

The king had come to me last night, just as he did two nights before. It already had been a week and a half since I started working in the garden, and about half a week since my cycle ended. Coincidently that day, the king had knocked on my door when I had exited out of the bath. It was awkward to find him there, standing proud with a simple tunic and pants unlike the fine ones he wore during the day.

He didn’t need to explain the reason he had come, and I only stepped aside to let him in. Almost immediately, Luxus had excused himself. Just like he did last night, which explains why he wasn’t sleeping soundly on the other side of the bed.

The king never slept --well, not beside me at least, and not that I wanted him to. As soon as we were done, he washed in the bathroom then left, leaving me breathless and naked.

And to my bitter shame, completely sated.

I banished those thoughts away, kicking off the covers, and headed to the bathroom.

Looking at my reflection in the mirror, I couldn’t help but grimace at my disheveled hair and the very obvious red marks the king had imprinted on my body. It was getting harder to hide them from view, but with the weather getting colder my clothes consisted of more layers.

I washed the sleepiness from my eyes, the cold water cool against my skin as my eyes trailed the sliding drops splatter in the basin. That dream --it keeps coming to me.

Almost every day, the same scenario unfolded. Eight figures facing one another, and a hand that warmed my very bones pressed tightly on my shoulder. It didn’t take much to realize that the eight figures were most likely the four rulers and the Slifers. But why did they have no form other than a still shadow?

Perhaps I was wrong, or perhaps it was just a meaningless dream? Did Ayana or Redmond have the same dream, or was it just me?

I haven’t told anyone to begin with. Not even Luxus.

After I had dressed in a grey sweater and pants, I ate some of the steaming porridge --and made sure to leave some for Luxus whenever he decided to reappear --before heading to work.

The large glass windows indicated that the weather outside was cloudy, and most likely it would rain, which means that the gremlins are thrice the numbers they were yesterday. They’re probably wreaking havoc on the royal garden right now, so I hurried in my steps, greeting whichever servant that walked pass me.

When I came to the top of the carpeted stairway, the princess and her brother walked out of the opposite side, and they seemed to be in a heated argument.

“I told you, Gabriel, it’s way too soon to even decide that,” Lis said, trying to keep up with her brother’s long strides.

“And that’s why it’s best that we plan now.” He didn’t really look at her as he stuffed his hands in his pockets.

But Lis edged up to him, her forehead furrowed. “My birthday isn’t until two months. And who says I even want to celebrate it?”

The king halted and turned around to speak, but Lis noticed me and her lips peeled back in a smile as she slipped pass him. “Lydia, good morning!”

“Good morning,” I said pleasantly.

King Gabriel only gave me a nod of acknowledgment, which was a far better improvement than a scowl. But still, seeing him, I couldn’t help the images of last night from flashing in my mind, feeling my neck heating underneath the thick wool fabric. The bastard had pushed me against the wall, then moved to the bed and flipped me over to lay on my stomach.

And I had enjoyed every single second of it!

Damn him!

Damn my own self!

“The weather today isn’t on our side. By now, the gremlins must have their bellies full,” the princess pointed out, a pout curving on her lips.

I smiled at her, noting her usual yellow hat and the big white gloves, along with the basket containing gardening tools held between the crook of her arm. “I see that doesn’t slow you down either way.”

Her brown eyes brightened, and she fixed the lacy ribbon that decorated her hat. “Not one bit!”

“It’s good to see that your enthusiasm is intact, Sister,” the king implored, “but our conversation isn’t over.”

Lis turned to the hulking mass that was her brother, an annoyed expression on her face. “You’re still going on about that? I told you I don’t need a birthday party! Honestly, it’s so unlike you to even consider that. Usually, it’s Lysa whose always on my back.”

“A birthday party?” I asked, though I felt like it was none of my business.

“My birthday is in two months, at the end of the year,” Lis explained to me, then shot a narrow-eyed look at the king. “And my brother is strangely insisting on throwing a celebration, even though I told him I didn’t need one, nor did I want it.”

“It’s not strange for me to see you happy.” He raised an eyebrow, folding his arms over his chest.

Lis imitated him. “A party is not going to make me happy.”

“I know that, Lis,” he sighed, moving his hand to scratch the back of his neck, and I desperately ignored how his muscles flexed beneath the thick tunic. “But you’ve been through a lot this year, and you already said that you’re going to delay your wedding until after The Honoring Day. You deserve a little break.”

“The same thing could be said about you,†she placed a hand on her hip, but something softened in her eyes. “You wouldn’t even allow us to bake a cake for your when your birthday came.”

His mouth tightened. “That was different, and you know why.”

Something silent went between the two siblings, and I’ve never felt more like one of the vases nearby than I did at this moment. This didn’t concern me, so why was I still standing here?

“Look,” he took one gloved hand in his, the gesture surprisingly gentle, “it doesn’t even have to be a big celebration. We can have a small gathering, I’ll inform Lysa on what can be done. David wants to help too. All you need to do is show up.”

She looked like she was thinking it over, but still wasn’t quite sure.

To my shock, the king looked straight at me and added, “Lydia would be there as well, if she wishes.”

At that, the princess’s eyes slid towards me. “Will you?”

“Um...” I wasn’t sure what to say. I wasn’t even sure I would still be in Imarnia when the princess’s birthday comes. But to be invited directly from the king himself...that’s definitely unexpected. “If I’m still in Imarnia by then, I won’t miss it for the world.”

A faint smile tugged on her lips, then she looked at her awaiting brother and sighed. “I’ll think about it.”

The king’s lips twitched, but the way his stormy eyes lit for a second gave away his delight. Hmm, looks like he isn’t that stone faced after all. Well, that makes him in a way normal, which is something unthinkable to be associated with a man like him.

“Well then,” he gave her shoulder a squeeze, “I better head to my study.”

She stopped him before he could turn around. “Wait. Why don’t you join us in the garden?”

He raised a black eyebrow at that. “Gardening isn’t really to my taste.”

Lis rolled her eyes, smacking his arm, and said, “Of course not. I only meant that you could keep Calix company. He comes out every morning to paint, you know.”

“I know that. I can see you all through my window.”

A shiver went down my spine when recalling how his silver gaze never left me as I worked. He certainly thought I wouldn’t notice, or maybe he knew I did. Either way, his attention never left my presence.

“It’s not like you’re drowning in work,” Lis placed a white-gloved hand on his elbow, a slight smirk on her mouth, “and you do need a break.”

This time, he was the one to roll his eyes at his own words being thrown back in his face. But for a mere second, those eyes drifted to my silent form, roaming every inch, before he slid them back to his sister.

With a defeated sag of his shoulders, he nodded once.

***

King Calix’ smile was brighter than the white fur-coated jacket he wore when his electric blue eyes landed on us. Though his front was protected with a plain apron that was splashed with blue, grey, and black, he didn’t seem to mind that he was wearing such an expensive looking coat while painting.

“Good morning to you all. Gabriel, you’ve decided to join us?” he greeted, placing the brushes and palette on the refreshment table beside him.

King Gabriel took a seat on one of the silver chairs, gust of white wisps coming out of his lips as he sucked in a breath. He obviously didn’t enjoy the coldness of early morning. “Just for a little while. I’m not interested in either painting or gardening.”

King Calix chuckled softly at that, lowering to sit beside him. “Then, let’s warm you up with some tea.”

The two kings sat drinking and chatting, while the princess met up with Redmond and Ayana, and for my part I went to do my business.

Just like I expected, the side of the garden where the plants and bushes were huddled together had twice the number of gremlins as yesterday. I found a horde of them feeding off from the irises Redmond had grown three days ago, and when their tiny eyes took a hold of me they all scattered about.

I rolled up my sleeves and bounced off after them.

Thanks to my training with Aramis, and for the long nights I spent organizing my flames, I can now shape them in an orderly form. So, instead of just catching gremlins with my bare hands and setting them on fire, I can summon fire to trail after them.

It streaked in a curved line, slithering through the bushes like a snake searching for its target, and I willed it to seize any gremlin and burn it off. The sound of small screeches was audible as the insects ran for their short-lived lives, the fiery snake hunting its prey.

I wasn’t able to fully construct it in the shape of a snake, to shape the details and create the outlines. But my will allowed it to have almost the same nature, as if it had its own mind. It took me three nights to make that happen.

I had almost completely given up on making my flames into a perfect circle, but instead opened the Book of Decimus and looked for another approach. I didn’t find one that could help me, so I took little pieces of information from other pages to combine them into a different method.

It worked --in a way.

The fire still faltered at times, and like I said before I couldn’t master the details, but this was more than I thought I could do. The most important thing is that I could bend my magic however I wanted to, even if it cost me sleepless nights.

And with this, it was easier to find the little pests and destroy them without having to go after each single one.

“That’s really impressive,” Redmond noted as he approached me, his multi-shaded green eyes watching the whip of fire sliding between the plants. “It’s just like when I first started creating vines --the movements I mean.”

I couldn’t mask the glee that befell me from his praise. “Thanks. It wasn’t easy though, got a lot of bags under my eyes because of it.”

“Were you able to show Aramis yet?” he asked me.

“No,” I said, “I’ve been waiting until I could master it. I’ll probably show it to him today.”

“I bet he’ll be impressed you learned so fast.”

I scratched my ear, trying to picture Aramis’ face once he sees this, and a snort came out of me. “Not likely. I’ve still got plenty of things I needed to learn. I’m not even close to you guys.”

Those eyes softened. “Don’t say that. At first, I didn’t know what I was doing. I could barely make a flower bloom. And I’m sure Ayana has been through the same.”

But these two were at a far higher level than mine. The Wind Slifer as well.

“Redmond,” I edged closer to him, feeling my throat tighten up. How do I approach this without overstepping a line? “Can I ask you something...personal?”

His blink was the confirmation to my question.

I inhaled a breath, as if the cool air would lower the heating of my cheeks. “When did your magic start to grow? I mean...when did it start to become noticeable that you grew stronger?”

His mouth parted as if he was in thought, and I waited patiently for him to remember. When I heard him clearing his throat, he said, “About two weeks since I arrived in Queen Adria’s palace.”

My eyes shot wide open at that, and without thinking I blurted, “What!? Only two weeks! How many times did you two--”

I quickly clamped my mouth shut when realizing my voice was loud and Redmond’s face resembled very much the tomatoes growing in one of the bushes nearby. He looked like he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him, and I was inclined to join.

Shit!

“I’m sorry,” I hissed in his ear, my crimson face matching his own. “I didn’t mean to --that was --I’m sorry!”

“That’s alright,” he swallowed roughly, blinking way too many times, “you just caught me off guard.”

Some heads --including the king --whipped towards us when I nearly shouted at Redmond’s face, but they quickly went back to whatever they were doing. Although, that silver gaze lingered at me longer than the others.

“Queen Adria was very kind with me,” Redmond continued in a low voice, although his cheeks were still blushing. “Even though she preferred women, and was married, she still did not make me feel unwanted.”

“That’s very thoughtful of her,” I said, not quite masking the heaviness of my words. I was definitely not in the same situation as he. The princess might have made me feel welcomed, but the king certainly did not.

“I couldn’t hope for any better.” He smiled, then his eyes went round as he added, “But I don’t have that kind of attachment towards her. I know it sounds strange, but I kind of consider her like my older sister.”

I made a face at that. “A sister you occasionally sleep with.”

That bright redness was back on his face, but instead of stammering in embarrassment he laughed softly, and I found myself joining him.

“What are you two laughing about?” Lis came heaving a large hamper of ripped-out vegetable roots and half-ruined flowers, Ayana carrying the same behind her.

Redmond and I smiled at each other and said, “Nothing.”

He went to help the princess with the heavy basket, and I went back to work.

But as my eyes watched carefully for any gremlin about to burst out and attack, I kept thinking about what Redmond had said. He started growing stronger only after two weeks of being with Queen Adria. Only two weeks. Perhaps Ayana was the same, and I made a mental note to ask her about it later.

It’s been nearly a month and a half since I came to Imarnia --since the king and I first joined. But my magic was barely evolving. Given, him and I had not been together as many times as Redmond probably had with Queen Adria. But I thought by now my powers would be getting somewhere.

So far, the only things noticeable about my flames were that they were no longer transparent, and they could inflict some damage --but in a small range. Meanwhile, Redmond and Ayana, even that girl Elsie, their magic was higher than mine.

I looked at my hand, at the tendrils of fire curling between my fingers. Why was my magic only a tad stronger? Perhaps if I asked Aramis, he would know.

A gremlin zipped pass me like a lightning rod, slipping between my feet towards the table in which the two kings sat at. Its little screeches seemed to taunt me as I sprinted after it, cursing underneath my breath, “You little fucker!”

The creature leaped on the table, cutting off the men’s conversation as its long tail swiped and knocked the two half-empty tea cups. The clean white cloth table was soon soaked with tea, and the gremlin shirked in victory.

“Oh, dear!” laughed King Calix, moving his art tools from the gremlin’s tiny claws. King Gabriel only raised a seemingly offended eyebrow at it.

“Sorry about that,” I told the two, my form a looming shadow over the little grey bastard. It tried to leap off the table, but my hand swiftly snatched it. In less than a second, its struggling form was reduced to ashes as my fire devoured it.

King Calix whistled softly. “Those are some pretty flames.”

“He doesn’t think so.” I lifted my empty, blackened hand, earning a little chuckle from the ebony-skinned king.

“Try not to have those creatures come at us the next time, Lydia,” said King Gabriel, clearly displeased.

I didn’t know what had come over me when I smirked at him and said, “You’re not afraid of them, now. Are you, Your Majesty?”

I swear those silver eyes widened for a second, but the hardened look he gave me spoke enough. He probably wished I was that gremlin I just burnt off.

King Calix though, erupted into laughter, obviously directed at the other man’s irritated expression. “Oh, I like her, Gabriel.”

My cheeks blushed at that, and I gave the two royal men a small courteous bow before attending my business.

***

I almost spit out my pumpkin and potato soup when Aramis’ unusual form emerged out of the dining room’ doors. Everyone seated snapped their heads towards the stranger who suddenly barged in on their meal, some of them blinking the surprise away at his uncommon appearance. Princess Lis gently patted my back when the soup wouldn’t go all the way down my throat, and I was stuck in a coughing fit for what seemed like eternity.

“Good day to you all!” he merrily exclaimed, all sets of his white teeth showing. He winked at me, then inclined his head towards the other guests, before marching toward the table.

No one said a gods-damned word as Aramis stood between mine and Lysa’ chairs, smiling brightly at Lysa’s blinking face and wiggling his short fingers at her. “Would you mind scooching over, darling?”

She pointed a spoon at herself. “Me?”

“Yes, darling, who else. Now, scooch.” Those fingers still wiggled at her, and she looked like she would happily rip each one of them off. Someone snorted from my right, as if barely able to contain their laughter, and I didn’t need to look to know that it was Aero. Neither did Lysa.

To my surprise, she didn’t pick Aramis off and throw him across the room like I expected her to, but instead moved her chair to the other side to create some space. Aramis gave her a grin at that, moving to grab one of the unused chairs and dragging that thing all the way to my side.

The sound of the chair’s legs scrapping against the floor made every muscle in my body cringe, and I covered my bloody red face with my hands to hide my never ending embarrassment.

After Aramis was finally seated next to me, he blew out a breath and said, “Well, I’m starving! What are we having?”

No one said a thing, except for the princess’ gentle voice. “The next course will be served shortly, if you can wait until then.”

He beamed, slapping his belly. “Perfect!”

If any god can hear me right now, this would be a great time to exit through a hurricane.

My eyes went to the princess, casting her an apologetic glance, but she looked amused, and brushed me away with a simple pat on the shoulder.

I turned to Aramis, hoping my head didn’t bounce off steam. “What are you doing here?”

He opened his mouth to answer, but it was King Gabriel who spoke, “I invited him.”

My head whirled at him too quickly, surprise and confusion dawned on my face.

What!?

“I caught up to him last night after your lesson, and I invited him to have lunch with us,” he said, his eyes drifting to the beaming man beside me. When I looked at Aramis, he nodded in confirmation.

Well, that was certainly unexpected.

“I apologize for my lateness, Your Majesty. I had some things to take care of,” said Aramis, bowing his head slightly. The king waved him off with a hand.

“Gabriel, care to introduce us?” Queen Adria wiped the corner of her mouth with her napkin, her eyes never leaving the curiosity that was Aramis.

After introductions were made, I sat there eating the second course --which was a perfectly cooked stake with lemon and herbs --while the rest pondered over Aramis, asking him questions after questions about being a messenger of the gods. Although, they were a little skeptical about him at first, King Morrison demanding him to prove that he was really a messenger.

Aramis simply answered that messengers had no magic, so there was no way to prove anything, only that they had the books of their masters to keep safe. Ayana and Redmond even asked him about their own messengers, and why had they not come as well. Aramis had said that unlike him, they chose to return to their masters, for contacting the Slifers wasn’t of need for the messengers.

Needless to say, Aramis was asked a lot of things, some even about the supposed war coming. His answer was the same as the one he told the king and I, and for a moment unease settled into the room, and I did not miss the princess’s shiver beside me. Her fiancé, who was fascinated with everything Aramis said, was quick to comfort her.

I was the only one who didn’t really speak, only nodded along, and that didn’t seem to go unnoticed by the dark king watching my every breath.

***

“Aramis, can I ask you something?”

He only hummed to indicate that he was listening, his eyes trained on the book splayed on his lap as he was contemplating on what to teach me next. My joints still ached from catching gremlins, for I didn’t have time to bathe and change my clothes, but my body was thrilled for what’s yet to be taught. I had shown him the semi-snake made of fire, and was pretty content when he expressed his approval.

“I was wondering, the other Slifers all have higher magic than mine, and I talked to Redmond about it and he said that he started getting stronger after only two weeks of being with his queen,” I said, clenching and unclenching my fingers. “The same goes for Ayana too.â€

I had asked her about it after lunch, and she had confirmed it with a crimson face.

Aramis’ keen eyes snapped to me, almost like he knew what I was about to ask.

“But as for myself, I’m barely getting by. Do you think it’s because we --the king and I--don’t...you know..join together as much.”

It might be just that. I mean, both Ayana and Redmond mentioned that their king and queen were kind and thoughtful to them, which made them more relaxed. As for the king and I, we didn’t start off exactly the same, and our coupling happens less. If the answer to reaching their level was to increase the joining, then...

“No,†Aramis sighed, “it’s quite not that.”

I resisted the urge to smile in relief. “What then?”

He closed the book with a soft thud, a strange calm seeming to wrap around him. “Fire...is complicated. It is a magic that relies on emotion. Fire erupts, it springs higher and higher, like a spring that finally breaks into the surface of the earth.”

When I didn’t say anything regarding that, he asked, “Do you remember a moment when your magic was slightly stronger, when you felt a strong need of release?”

I looked at him, puzzled, trying to dig in for anything similar to that. But nothing came out. I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”

He stroked his bushy stubble with two fingers, humming to himself. “Let’s see. How about a moment where your magic’ force was strong, perhaps surprising even you?”

A memory clicked at that, the images rushing into my head like a wild river. Somehow, a kind of bitterness swept over me at the first memory. “Yes, now that you mentioned it. There were two actually, and it happened on the same day. I remember my entire arm getting caught in flames when I slammed a wizard hunter who tried to attack the king’s back to a tree. And the second was when I melted the sword of a hunter who attempted to stab the princess.”

Aramis’ lips peeled back into a knowing smile as he snapped his fingers. “That’s it! Those moments, your magic has a mind of its own, it senses the danger and it lashes out. You must have felt a terrible need to protect them, so it drove you.”

Protect them?

The princess, I was sure of.

But the king?

“So, in these situations, my magic’ force becomes stronger,” I repeated.

Aramis nodded. “Yes. And that is also how your full power can be unleashed, unlike the other Slifers who only evolve. They don’t need a trigger to achieve their full potential.”

To become a full Slifer.

“But what about the king?”

If a burst of power can allow me to become a full Slifer, then why did I need the king?

Aramis got off the ground, dusting his pants, before he grabbed his brown bag. He pulled out a notebook and a pen, ripped out a page, then sat crossed legged before me. He uncapped the pen and said, “Think of your full powers as a dam,” he started drawing a structure that somehow resembled a dam, “and the river is the magic inside of you. When the force of the river breaks the dam, everything around it crumbles and gets washed away.”

I nodded, though I wasn’t completely understanding his point.

“For example,” he went on, drawing circles in the middle of the dam, “let’s pretend these are small holes, and the river water is slowly going through but with very small amount. When the dam breaks, the water won’t rush widely because only some of it is left, while the rest has already gone through the barrier.”

“So, if I understand correctly, the process of slowing down the water is a metaphor for sleeping with the king?”

“Exactly,” he put down the paper and pen, “joining with the king, using his magic, is slowly building up your own. So when the time comes for your magic to erupt, you won’t wreck yourself and everything around you.”

“But, how do I know when will I become a full Slifer? You said I was the only one who had to go through that, unlike Redmond and the rest.”

Aramis’s eyes focused, the green in them seeming to deepen. At first I thought he wouldn’t tell me, or didn’t know, but he sucked in a breath and said, “I told you. Fire magic depends on emotion, so the unleashing of a great emotion might be the way for you to become a full Slifer.”

I thought about it. I certainly had times when I felt great rage or sadness, but perhaps none of those was strong enough. Or perhaps fire magic preferred positive emotions.

Another question came to mind. “Aramis, how did the other Slifers before us achieve their full potential? Were they told to merge with powerful kings and queens as well?”

He shook his head, picking up the Book of Decimus again. “The other Slifers did not exist within the same time frame. They were a little different than you, they already had their full powers when they were created.”

My eyes widened at that. “So then why...”

“Those Slifers were created to use their magic once only, like the Earth Slifer who turned himself into a barren forest to protect Trinivan’s borders. But you...the prophecy mentioned a war. And in a war you cannot use your magic once.”

“So why not have us be powerful from the start?” I asked.

It didn’t make any sense that we were practically forced to go through this ‘merging’ when the gods could have simply made us have our full magic from the beginning.

That knowing smile, almost secretive, made its way again on Aramis’ lips. And for once, something like wisdom glimmered in those jade eyes. “Because the gods have seen everything, and they have bestowed that knowledge upon the Fate Watchers. And it has been decided that things would not unfold as they should if they gave you the full potential.”

I couldn’t help but snort. “Sounds to me like they were too lazy to.”

He gave me a lopsided grin. “Perhaps they were. Nobody knows what really goes on in their minds. Not even us messengers.”

We were quite for a moment, before Aramis decided to cut the silence short by slamming the giant book as loud as possibly. “Now, enough chit chat! Time for your new lesson; defense.”

Aramis made me attempt to form a shield of fire for almost three hours. On the first couple of tries, I could barely manage not to burn my clothes, although the sleeves of my sweater were completely ruined. I needed to desperately buy a new wardrobe for this one was soon to be all burnt out.

But within an hour, a clear shield of faint embers started to construct, but it was useless against the small pebbles that Aramis threw at me. My mind would fail to keep the shield intact and would create gaps for the tiny stones to go through. I’m pretty sure my face resembled a bruised peach by now.

And I didn’t particularly care, not for the burnt sleeves or the multi-sized bruises on my faces which I knew wouldn’t go away for days. I was reaching for something, and every failure and misstep, every success and improvement, they all brought me closer to who I am.

So when I was finally done with my lesson for the day --though I hadn’t completely mastered it --I went back to my room, bathed until every inch of me was squeaky clean and ate my dinner with Luxus.

I was about to go to bed when a knock interrupted my unspoken thoughts, and I didn’t even need to open the door to know that he was standing behind it, his presence like a whirlpool of still shadows. And for the first time, my heart didn’t skip a beat or filled with dread, but tightened in excitement. Not for him, I told myself, but for what he offered; the power, the well of fire in which I was slowly drinking from, my hands outstretched to get to the final flame.

Luxus rolled his eyes at my hitching breath, the need to slow down my racing heartbeat. He quickly sprinted out when I opened the door to find the king of shadows simply waiting, his beauty an ethereal magnet.

A tool...he was just a tool for me to get what I want, to be what I am.

My mind knew that, but my body was a little conflicted when he pleasured it, drawing the ecstasy out like a musician would play his melody. And when that final peak came, my mind would sit back and allow my body to take over.

When he was done, leaving me a panting mess, I did not feel disgusted with myself like I normally did. My eyes resonated, blinking away the blurriness of lust as I propped myself up and crawled out of bed. I looked at the crumbled sheets. I needed to change them again tomorrow morning.

After I washed, I slid into bed, naked and still aching, and snuggled close to my pillow. The scent of musk again overwhelmed my senses, but I did not shy away from it. And instead of wanting to burn it, I tucked it under my head.

He was the key to everything I ever wanted, and there was no use in wishing otherwise. I will use him as he uses me, and when it is over, when I finally explode; I will be fire.

***END***

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