The Flames That Bind Us

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37. The Honoring Day

His grave was so small, with vines of flowers I`ve never seen before enwrapped around the tombstone.

I guessed it was Redmond that made them, since they looked like they wouldn`t have grown in such a short period. They were beautiful, and when I grazed my fingers against the petals, their color would fade to a different shade each time.

But I didn`t have it in me to stop and admire the beauty only a Slifer was able to conjure.

It had taken Gabriel nearly all of his willpower to convince me to go out of my room. He had given up on trying to make me attend the celebration, and when I finally decided I would go and visit Luxus, he wasn`t here to witness the change.

In fact, half of the palace was empty in last minute preparations for The Honoring Day. Neither Lis or Gabriel came to visit me this morning, having been whisked away to the town`s square for the parade.

I had planned on saying my goodbyes to them and everyone else today, but seeing they were all occupied with the festival, leaving the palace halls empty with not so much as a whisper, I had decided to slip by unnoticed.

It was possibly cowardly of me to purposely avoid bidding farewell to the people I`ve grown attached to, but I can scold myself and drown in self-isolation later.

The truth was I didn`t even know how to say goodbye, not when it might pull me to stay longer.

For now, I banished these thoughts away, and knelt on the freshly cut grass as I swiped the white, lace veil on my face and pinned it to the side.

The words ‘Luxus Voltaire’ were carved on the stone, and I traced each letter with my fingers. My eyes were dry, so I couldn`t shed a tear for the life of me. But that hollowness in my chest deepened further the longer I stared at the earth he was surely under.

It seemed as the days went by, Luxus` absence resided more in my heart. Even when I found myself sometimes searching for a shadow of a cat on the walls, or trying to desperately hear a small tapping of feet on the ground.

But each time I didn`t find any of these, I would curl into the bed with an unbearable heaviness.

So that`s why when I woke up this morning, I decided to finally leave.

“I wish we had made it out, Lux,” I spoke to the grave, realizing how null my voice was. “I wish you had the chance to see the world.”

Of course, there was no response to my words, but I kept going, “I think I`ll go to The Kaleidoscope Sea King Calix talked about. Or perhaps to Ellesmere. I don`t know, I haven`t exactly decided yet.”

It was pointless to speak of my unresolved plans to someone who would never answer back, but it helped clear my head a little.

I knew I wanted to avoid the major cities and travel as far away as possible from Imarnia. Last night, I had briefly skipped over the pages of the book I had borrowed from the library to see where else was interesting to go.

There were mountains near the boarders of Trinivan, where only snow stretched for miles and miles. Though I did read that ice serpents hoarded the place, and it would be difficult to get pass them without using magic.

That`s the other thing; I wanted to go to a place where I could only use as little of magic as possible.

It still angered me to see them, so bright and powerful and perfect. But with each flicker I only wished it never was given to me.

The sound of thudding footsteps snapped me from my resentful thoughts, and I was quickly back on my feet when Grandpa came creeping behind me, his back hunched and surprisingly sober.

Without a word, I made to walk pass him, but his chest blocked my face as his hand went to grab my arm.

“You have one second to get that hand off me,” I told him with as much control I could muster, “before I melt it completely.”

Luckily, he heeded my warning and his hand dropped to his side.

But he still stood like a boulder, parrying me from the cemetery`s gate.

“Lydia, I need to talk to you,” he said with a desperate tone.

I rolled my eyes and folded my arms against my chest to try to put as much distance between us. “Yes, yes. You`re here because you`re sorry and all that. Save it, Lucius. I don`t want to hear any of your bullshit today, and I don`t have to anymore.”

He flinched at the heat in my tone, and sighed when taking off the white hat on his head. I noticed he was wearing all white, and somehow it was the cleanest I had ever seen him.

“I know you`re mad at me, and you have every right to,” I snorted at the obvious statement. “But if you could just listen to me, I would be very grateful.”

“And what?” I snapped. “So you could tell me more of your ridiculous excuses.”

“They`re not ridiculous! I was trying to protect you.”

I had lost count of the amount of times my eyes rolled back in their sockets.

“And yet wizard hunters still attacked us,” I argued, feeling the sleeping fire simmering within me. “They took Lis` magic, almost killed me, and Luxus is dead because of them!”

I was yelling at this point, nothing but a silent Lucius and an empty cemetery taking the fire slipping from me. But I heaved a breath, as if slowly pulling back the flames. “So tell me, is that what you were trying to prevent? Because you`ve done shit for it.”

I know it was unfair to take it all on him, but if he had been here from the beginning things might have turned out differently.

Luxus might have lived if someone else was protecting him.

But he didn`t.

And I couldn`t help him. Not at the right time at least.

“Why are you even still here?” I made a face of distaste. “Go ahead and leave. Go to your good friend Gerard. I`m sure you two will have quite a laugh on how you managed to fool everyone. How did you do it anyway?”

There was a body, mangled and broken and resembled only a little of Lucius. But it was identified as him.

He swallowed, something like shame crossing his features. “The body was a doll, glamoured by Gerard`s friend in the Congress to present a corpse. The glamour would wear off as soon as the body was buried.”

A glamour, that explains it.

“Well, that`s smart, I presume,” I shrugged, my voice laced with sarcasm. “I bet you`re so proud of yourself.”

A muscle in his jaw pulsed, and he grinded his teeth in frustration. “I wasn`t trying to deceive you. I have many enemies, many of whom would do anything to get to me. And I couldn`t risk it with you, so I had to disappear.”

“Disappear!?” I was appalled at the word. “You faked your death. You had everyone believe you were lying under piles and piles of dirt!”

The sheer audacity of him believing he wasn`t in the wrong here made me want to bang my head against a tree.

“And I did that to keep you from harm!” he almost shouted in my face, and I took a step back. Lucius noticed my reaction, and allowed himself to inhale through his nose. “Look,” he said softly, “I have lost my family because of my own carelessness. I had a wife, and a daughter three years younger than you, who held the same name.”

Shock registered in my body, but I didn`t allow it to show.

Not once have I heard him speak of that, nor did any of the people who knew him. A wife and a daughter…there was no sign of them in the house, no pictures, no indications that someone beside him and I lived there.

It was like he had erased every trace of them.

I wanted to keep quiet, but instead I asked, “How did they die?”

Lucius ran a hand through the locks of hair that fell over his eyes and reached his chin. It`s now that I`ve came to notice that he had let it and his beard grow longer than I`ve last seen him.

“In the last war,” he answered, those jade-colored eyes turning weary. “I had been ordered to unleash an energy blast on a field where the soldiers of Uzier` were. But what we failed to know was that some survivors of our forces were there too, and my wife and daughter were helping them.”

He killed them…without knowing, without meaning to –he killed them.

I had no words, no reaction to give. Once again, I felt like I was standing in a cold, dark corner, oblivious to everything.

“I`m sorry for your family. I wish I knew them.” Perhaps I might have had a sister, or a mother. But what irked me was that I had no clue they even existed, that he never bothered to tell me and now that he did he expects me to suddenly understand and forgive him.

That fire inside me was sizzling, and I could feel my fists quivering at my sides. “You`re unbelievable,” I shook my head. “You honestly think I would forgive you just because you told me that? I`m not letting you manipulate me for a shred of sympathy.”

“That`s not what I`m trying to do,” he said it so surely.

“Then what?” I spat, stomping my foot on the ground. “Why else would you say it now? You had eighteen years to sit down and tell me, to share the pain. But no! Here you are again, trying to soften me with your endless excuses.”

“What do you want me to do!?”

“Own the fuck up!” An exasperated growl tore out of my lips, and the breath in my lungs was starting to feel short. But I willed myself for control. Lucius blinked at me, clamping his mouth shut. “Enough excuses, enough trying to justify your actions. Just admit you fucked up.”

I didn`t wait for his answer, but used whatever strength I had left to shove him to the side and walked off angrily.

Even when he called after me, I didn`t hear it, didn`t allow myself to. I just hurried my pace, reaching the gate as fast as my legs could carry me.

Let him dwell on it for as long as he wants. I might consider sparing him another conversation in a hundred years or so.

I had plenty of time, and I wasn`t going to waste it thinking about him.

***

I was leaving today, but I had no idea what to bring with me.

After lunch was brought into my room, I ate what I could and resumed to taking a bath and changing out of the memorial clothes. A comfortable black pants and a golden-brown tunic with flat-heeled boots were the perfect choice for travelling.

There were so many things on the dresser, perfumes and accessories and all. But I couldn’t possibly take all of them, so I shoved a small bottle of perfume and a couple other things I found necessary.

I comped my hair and tied it back in my usual high pony-tail, then proceeded to pack.

I had remembered to take only the most important items for I was carrying one bag. A change of clothes, a coin purse, some cheese and bread and dried meat for the way until I figure out where exactly to go, and the book I had taken from the library to guide me to my next adventure.

Long ago, I had dreamt of this moment, imagining the enthusiasm on my face as I filled my bag and felt my heart escalating with excitement.

But what I felt now differed entirely from what I had pictured.

It was almost as if I was dragging myself from one point of my room to the other, only thinking of being as far away from this kingdom as possible.

Some parts of the room I avoided completely, like the drawer that had Luxus` colored ribbons and tiny jackets that he hated to wear.

When I was done, strapping the bag on my shoulder, I fastened on a black cloak and tucked my face under the hood.

I didn`t even take a final glance at the room as I slammed the door behind me.

***

Imarnia was alive with the bright colors and the laughter that descended over the kingdom.

Despite the massacre, despite the many lives taken, and the depressing gloom that followed after, the people were trying to breed light from the darkness, casting it on every corner of the streets.

Their faces were painted with silver, gold, and blue, some choosing to have the traditional phoenix drawn over their cheeks or their entire face. Children ran around giddily with fake charms of phoenix wings sprout from their backs, and adults were dressed in their finest costumes and ornaments.

Even the streets were cleared to make room for the many stalls of food arranged one after the other in rows that went far beyond my sight. Swift but soft music was played in the air, though I did not know where it generated from. And above our heads, pixies flew around shrieking in laughter as they shone with every color.

I promised myself I would leave immediately and not stop by for the festival, but something had pulled me towards it, and I thought it wouldn`t harm anyone if I just stuck around for the lighting of the torch.

But I wasn`t going to let anyone see me, so I headed towards one of the stalls that sold chocolate-covered treats, and bought myself a milk and white chocolate truffle.

I stayed lingering by the stall, enjoying my sweet, and watching people around me celebrate.

Though my trained eyes couldn`t help but notice the faces of Imarnia`s guards mixing with the crowd, wearing fine clothes to blend them with the common masses. They`ve increased the number of security, and there was no doubt Gabriel had commanded to enhance the protective enchantments as well.

But come to think of it, those wizard hunters were able to get pass them in the garden, and no doubt they were able to leave temporary gaps in Trinivan`s live fortress.

I wonder if this will be enough to stop them if they attack again.

“Looks like you`re trying to slip pass without notice,” I tried not to groan as I turned around to meet Elsie`s knowing smirk. She cocked her head to the side, silver-white eyes almost glimmering in the light of the setting sun. “Eager to go on to your endless adventures?”

“Listen,” I told her, not having the energy for this. “I don`t want any trouble, so back off.”

She rolled her eyes at me, placing her hands on her hips. She didn`t look as glamorous as the rest of the people here, but chose to dress in a simple black wool jacket and grey pants. “I`m not here for trouble. On the contrary, I`m here to wish you well on your journey.”

I squinted my eyes at her. “Why?”

That didn`t sound suspicious at all.

She laughed at my obvious distrust, but there was something genuine in the way she regarded me. “The price you had to pay for your powers…I wouldn`t wish it on anyone. But that being said, I`ll be waiting patiently for the day you return, when you`ve horned your magic to perfection. And on that day, we shall have a match.”

I snickered. “And who says I`ll be returning? I might not come back for a hundred years –a century maybe.”

Her teeth parted in that cat-like grin. “Then I`ll be waiting. And if you decide not to return, I`ll find you.”

“I can`t decide if this is a threat or a promise,” I said, my lips pursed in amusement despite myself.

She tossed her silver tresses from her shoulders. “Consider it both.”

“Fine, then. I guess this is your way of saying goodbye.”

A corner of her mouth lifted, but then she looked up towards the sun lowering behind the tall trees. “The final ceremony is about to begin, I better head off to Calix,” she turned to me. “Are you coming?”

I shook my head. I`ll be watching from a distance, and hoping none of them would catch the sight of me. I had seen them all one last time yesterday, as my own way of saying farewell.

Well, except for Aramis. He still didn`t show up, and a part of me was both saddened and angry that he didn`t come to visit me.

Elsie gave me one final nod before departing between the crowds to wherever King Calix was, and I had walked to an open space and leaned on the brick wall, my eyes trained towards the large parade at the center of the town`s square.

From my understanding, it`s where the four royals were meant to light the honoring torch in thanks to the gods. But it was empty for now, and I took my time in admiring the effort made into the decorations.

The stage stood at a high platform, carpeted with a dark red rug threaded with swirls of gold and silver. A statue of a silver painted phoenix with glittering dust all over its wings stood erect upon the float, its wings folded over the edges and its head cranked upwards to the sky.

Right before it, down to its chest, was placed a high pedestal made of what seemed to be black marble. I figured this is where they would put the torch, and it would stay here for three days.

I spotted the princess sitting next to her fiancé and general Malla below the stage to the right, probably waiting for her brother and the three other rulers to ascend up. Lysa had fashioned her a simple gown of pastel blue, and she wore a gold circlet woven between her hair.

Though she plastered on a smile and talked to her fiancé, the stillness in her eyes gave her away.

Right next to them, on a different table with only a single decorated chair sat Agatha Alastair; the founder of the Congress. Her white hair was spilled on her chest, cascading down and hidden beneath her robes. Around her, stood officers from the Congress itself, and I recognized Gerard`s blond hair and blue eyes standing on guard behind her.

I drifted my gaze from him and directed it towards my fellow Slifers. Ayana and Redmond were below to the left side of the stage, also dressed in simple attire. But they appeared vigilant, glancing whichever way for any sign of danger. Elsie seemed to be doing the same, but was circling the skies with her wind sphere.

Nothing out of the ordinary –so far.

A moment later, the sound of thudding drums was heard and the crowd quieted down in a hush. People stopped what they were doing, and headed to the stage with eager and thrilled faces.

When the drums died down, four figures came up the middle of the stage, and something in my heart constricted.

Gabriel was dressed in all silver for the first time, a crown of bent wings atop his head, and something about him seemed to shine. Perhaps the jeweled stones sewn over the fabric of his shoulders. Though, as brightly as he was dressed, that handsome face of his contorted into seriousness, his mouth set in a straight line.

Beside him, Queen Adria was beaming at the crowds, her dress and gown so blinding that I couldn`t really see the details. Both King Morrison and King Calix waved at the cheering people, the first winking and blowing kisses.

I caught Ayana shaking her head amusingly at him.

Nonetheless, my eyes were quickly back at Gabriel, as he regarded the crowd with respect.

He was the most confusing of them all. He was the one I wanted to savor every last minute with, but at the same time I found myself avoiding him, not knowing how to say goodbye, how to leave without feeling like I`ve left something behind.

Last night, he had come to my room again to sleep. That was all. We only slept, and sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night with his arms tangled around me.

And I would feel a warmth I`ve never felt before –a warmth that was different from my fire.

A couple of times I had considered to ask if I could touch him intimately like I once did, or even present him the opportunity to have me instead. But I always backed out at the last minute, reminding myself that I didn`t really need to sleep with him anymore.

I`m a full Slifer now, so there was no reason to continue.

Even if I did still crave him.

“People of Ignolia,” Gabriel`s booming voice sounded over the crowd, and everyone went silent. “Today, we give thanks to the gods whom have bestowed us with the wonders of our world, in hope we would earn their gratitude. For we are all sons and daughters of The One God, and to him we will return.”

Loud cheers met his words, and it was King Calix who spoke next. “It was the gods who gave me and my fellow rulers the magic to serve and protect the world they had built, and today this magic will burn for them.”

He took one step closer, and the air around us seemed to turn colder than before. When he brought his hands together, I swear almost half the people shivered.

My magic sang with his, and I realized that my level now allowed me to detect the true force of their powers.

King Calix`s ebony hands transformed into ice, the veins clearly pulsing with some kind of light even from this distance. And before I could even blink, he was holding a torch made completely of frost, the three spikes on the top hardening and twisting together.

“Once, it was said that not just our world but many others as well were born from the snow-crusted earth,” he ambled towards the pedestal, and wedged the bottom of the torch in the middle. “And when this world and many others fade, it is to the snow it shall return.”

A round of applause followed him, and the king humbly bowed to his people.

Gabriel placed Queen Adria`s hand under his as the pair walked gracefully to the pedestal and each one stood at each side.

“From the light, darkness can emerge. And from the darkness, the light can shine brighter,” he recited as he intertwined his fingers with Queen Adria`s.

As they touched, the space around us rumbled, and I felt my breath hitch in my lungs.

“We are one, born from the same chalice,” Queen Adria declaimed. “One spill from me, and one from you, and neither of us shall ever be empty.”

When they finished, an orb of light and darkness was placed inside the torch, one side an inky swirl of blackness and the other a brilliant glow of gold. They bowed together then stepped aside.

The cheers only went higher and higher, and my ears threatened to burst when it was king Morrison`s turn as he sauntered with an easy smile and a wink at every direction.

“And finally,” he announced, tiny sparks at the tips of his fingers, “we ask the gods to keep this world as powerful as when thunder strikes, and as brilliant when it paints the skies.”

King Morrison`s lightning had turned into flashes of gold that spiraled like vines around the torch, casting a vivid hue that exploded as the people went wild. I wondered how the ice wasn’t affected by the lightning, and if there was a special charm used there. He lowered his back with a wide grin across his lips, and I swear I heard some girls next to me sigh in awe.

People clung their glasses together, drank and danced around. They praised the rulers and their lands, and drank to their health and the prosperity of our world.

Every inch of this place filled with glee, and I wished I had felt the same.

I might have drunk wine and ate sweet delights with the princess, might have worn a beautiful dress made by Lysa, or danced with Gabriel all through the night.

But it was hopeless to cling to something that will never happen.

I tucked the hood closer to my head, and secured the cloak around my shoulders. I have nothing left here anymore. I should go.

As I squeezed my way through the celebrating people, I tried to shut my mind off the ones I was leaving behind. As much as I hated being in that room, remembering Luxus in every corner, I also knew I would miss my time here.

I never cared to admit it before, but Imarnia had been my home for a while now.

Back in Vera, I never really belonged, never felt that it was the right place for me. And when I first came here, I wanted nothing but to leave.

And now I am. But it was a lot harder than I expected.

Something in my legs froze, like a coldness that was spreading through me and preventing me from going further. I stopped walking, feeling warm and cold in my stomach all at once. The sensation was uncomfortable, and even my shoulders felt heavier.

But it was nothing compared to the sudden thickness growing around me, as if the air had turned humid and was suffocating the space.

I could sense it in my chest, something dark slithering, trying to shake me.

Something`s wrong…

I glanced at each side, trying to locate anyone or anything dangerous. I even centered my magic to perceive another one –with a much wicked intend.

Though nothing came out, and I was left wondering if I had imagined it.

The answer was no, I did not.

Panicked whispers and confused shouts barked from behind me, and I didn`t waste any second in turning around and witnessing what suddenly made the guards around me and my fellow Slifers rush towards the stage.

My legs carried me along, to the cloud of white smoke that fogged the entire float, preventing me catching any sign of Gabriel and the other rulers.

The denser it got, the quicker my heart would beat furiously against my ribcage to the point I couldn`t breathe properly anymore.

Around me, everything seemed to happen all at once.

Lis was screaming –screaming as loud as she could as she ran frantically to her brother, only to be restrained by her fiancé and the guards. General Malla pulled a sword from the strap on her hip, and charged towards the stage. But no matter how many times she tried to slice through the fog, even with Aero`s metal skin by her side, it never allowed them to move ahead.

Elsie was the first to reach the top, her sphere allowing her the swift speed of wind. As she tried to dive into the smoke, it rebounded her and sent her flying back.

I was wedging myself between the screaming people trying to get away from another possible attack, all the while focused on the spreading fog keeping me from him.

And with each step closer, my hands desperately sought out for anything. As if he was standing right there and I only had to grab his hand so he wouldn`t disappear.

Ayana and Redmond were trying to get through as ripples of water and robes of vines twisted only to be barricaded and shattered. As if the fog was some kind of shield that blocked us from reaching the royals.

And it was proven true, because no matter how many times someone sent a blow or a shot of magic, it would mirror back or disintegrate.

And when I had reached the stage, the fog finally lifting bit by bit, it revealed nothing. As if no one was standing there just a couple of minutes ago, like they had vanished into thin air.

They were…gone.

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