The Flames That Bind Us

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3. The Darkness of His Heart

“It’s been a long time, King Gabriel.”

The words of my grandpa kept repeating itself in my mind as I was standing there, trying to figure out what they meant. Have I gone deaf? Or did he really say King Gabriel? Obviously, there was nothing wrong with my hearing and the person standing in front of me was indeed the King of Imarnia.

So, this was the man whose fate was to be intertwined with mine. The very man I grew up hearing stories about, and visualizing the day in which he comes for me was only a few feet away. I couldn’t help but think that the women in my town were right, his beauty is something to admire. I could guess that he stopped his aging process at his middle-to late twenties.

I couldn’t deny to myself and say that he wasn’t the most good-looking man I’ve ever seen, maybe ‘good-looking’ isn’t exactly the right word for it. And from the way some of the men and women around me were looking at him, I would say they shared the same opinion as me.

But there was something off, something dark and hidden behind his perfectly-structured face. I knew he possessed Shadow Magic, and maybe this was something to add to his exterior, but nonetheless I felt somehow...uneasy.

“Lydia, that’s him?” Luxus whispered to my left, wrapping his tail around my ankle. I slowly nodded, finding it hard to take my eyes off him. I never imagined that our first meeting would be like this, and quite frankly I wished there would be no meeting at all.

I just wanted to live a normal wizard life. Practice my magic, become a full Slifer, join the Congress of Magic and become a ranked wizard, possibly fall in love and start a family. But most of all, I wanted to travel across Ignolia with Luxus and Grandpa. I wanted to live a normal life with them. Or more like an adventurous life rather than normal.

But how can I? When the person who is taking all of this away from me is standing right there.

“Lucius, it’s been quite a while since I have seen you. It’s been two centuries already,” King Gabriel greeted, his blank expression never leaving his face. Somewhat, his voice was just like I had imagined; deep with a sharp yet quite tone.

When the King spoke, I drifted my eyes to the people around us. I noticed that some of them stood still in their places, gazing at him through his guards with a respectful expression, and some with adoration and admiration.

The people of this town really did respect and loved their King? Even the children were looking at him with twinkling eyes and wide smiles. I focused my eyes back at the two in front of me after scanning some of the people around me, realizing that some had their curious gazes pinned on me, which made me uncomfortable.

My grandpa gave a twitch of his lips. “Well, I have been busy, Your Majesty. But I believe that you already know the reason of why I am here.”

He extended his arm to me and I took small steps to reach him, sticking my body as close as possible by Grandpa’s side. All the while, the King’s eyes were trailed on me, and I could not, for the life of me, have any sort of insight on what he was thinking.

Grandpa placed his hand on my shoulder. “My King, this is Lydia, my adoptive daughter.” A small smile tugged on my lips when hearing the word ‘daughter’ coming from Grandpa. Usually, he introduces me as ‘the kid I’m taking care of’.

The King’s stormy eyes trailed up and down, and I think I had caught a tiny glimpse of wonder but it was replaced with a hint of irritation, almost like he found something he didn’t approve of. For a second I was confused, but then I thought that like Grandpa and the crowd around us, I should have bowed to him.

Instead, I did an odd shrug of my shoulders and a head nod to pass as an appropriate royal greeting.

“I am aware of why you’re here, Lucius. However, you should know that I have no intentions of claiming the girl,” said the King, his tone was so cold and dismissive that it made me slightly shudder.

But his words rang over my head a couple of times before they registered properly. For a moment I thought I was imagining it, but the words did indeed come out of his lips. He has no intentions of taking me!?

“Really!?” I couldn’t help it, my eyes were wide with hope that I didn’t care if I seemed disrespectful. He didn’t answer me, but his slightly narrowed eyes and his total unregard of me told me he was being serious.

I looked down at Luxus and he looked back, both of us surprised. If he doesn’t want me, then I would be able to come back to my old life, and this would have never happened. But what about the Gods? What would they think? Weren’t they the ones that planned all of this? And what would the Fate Watchers do when they learn that things didn’t go as instructed?

I was forcing myself to contain my joy. I honestly felt like clapping my hands together and doing fifty back flips in a row. I never thought that the King wouldn’t want me, kinda hurts my pride as a woman but I’m sure he has his reasons as I have mine.

“I don’t understand, Your Majesty. This isn’t how the Gods planned it.” Grandpa let go of my shoulder, confusion mirroring his face.

“I know. But I believe the Gods have made a mistake. You see, I do not have any need for the girl.”

A sharp intake of breath erupted from my grandpa, and he seemed quite distressed. “With all due respect, My King. The word of the Gods is absolute,” he protested.

“Grandpa, he said it was okay,” I said to him, tugging on the sleeve of his brown trench-coat. I was getting a bit pissed off that he was so keen on changing the King’s mind.

He ignored me. “Surely, Your Grace, you would at least reconsider?”

What is he doing!?

“You would question the word of the King, Lucius?” The King raised a dark, thick eyebrow. I turned to Grandpa, waiting for him to bid the King farewell so we could leave. But he seemed determined.

“No, never, My King. However, I came here to deliver my task by the orders of the Fates. My mission is over.”

Hearing those words, I felt like I have been slapped fifty times in a row on the same cheek. I felt like I have been pushed into a freezing lake. Truly, his words shocked me, and I couldn’t do anything but stand there. My eyes flew wide, and my lips parted a slight gasp, feeling as if my heart had a tight grip on it.

Task...

Is this true? A task? Is that what I am to my Grandpa?

Has the years he spend raising me been nothing but a misery to him? Was it just his job? He never wanted me, didn’t he? I have been nothing but a burden to him, just a...just a task. Luxus wrapped his tail around my ankle more firmly, his small body pressing against my leg in attempt to comfort me.

My watery eyes were focused on the ground beneath me, my fist clenched tightly as I felt the stinging pain behind my eyes. This is just so stupid of me. All my life, I have spent it training my ass off, injuring myself every single time. And sometimes, my injuries lasted days to recover. But not once have I cried. Yet, these strings of words managed to make me want to ball my eyes out.

I should have known, I should have known that I am nothing to him. He trained me for one reason, to get rid of me as fast as he could and get back to being his usual isolated self. All these years he thought of me as a pain in his back, a mission to get done and over with. He never really cared about me...

I looked at the bracelet on my wrist that my Grandpa gave me earlier this day, and what once made me happy by just looking at it turned into flames of anger. Suddenly, I had this urge to tear it off my skin as fast as possible. So my fingers clamped around my wrist, trying to unclasp the silver but my vision turned blurry.

I could feel my tears threatening to pour out, and my breath becoming ragged, but all I was thinking about is getting this bracelet off even if I had to rip my hand. My nails scratched my skin, struggling to take hold of the small, silver hook.

“Lydia, what are you doing? Stop!” Luxus hissed, but I was too focused on the damned piece of jewellery to pay attention to him.

Finally, it came undone, and I pulled it away and threw it as hard as I could at the back of Grandpa’s head. It slapped his hair and tumbled down, but it was enough to turn him towards me. His eyebrows creased as he bent down and picked up the bracelet, then his emerald eyes were on me.

They dawned with realization as I lifted Luxus from the ground and cradled him in my arms. He opened his mouth to speak, but without thinking for another second, I closed my eyes, using my fire to form a circle beneath my feet.

Gasps were audible around me, but I focused my mind on where I needed to go. All I knew, is that I wanted to be as far away from him as possible. With that in mind, I turned myself into a ball of flames and teleported myself out of here. The last thing I heard was my Grandpa calling my name.

**

My foot landed on the soft grass, slightly stumbling backwards, but thankfully I did not manage to fall. I didn’t need to open my eyes to know that I was somewhere with lots of grass and trees, surely the smell of dirt and leafs gave that away. And truly, when I peeled my eyes open, I found myself in the middle of a forest.

I wasn’t really thinking of a particular place when I teleported myself out of the Kingdom, but I was definitely thinking of somewhere far and remote where no one would find me and I would be alone. I placed Luxus down and started pacing around, trying to figure out where exactly are we.

“Where did you take us?” asked Luxus.

“Hmm,” I was inspecting the giant trees and the bunch of exotic flowers that grew near some bushes. “Well, judging from this type of trees I would say we’re somewhere in the forest surrounding Imarina”.

“So we’re either really far or really close?”

I nodded. “I would say it’s likely that we’re pretty far. We’re somewhere between the forest-path of Imarina and Vera.”

“Lydia, I don’t know about this. Let’s just go back to Lucius, he’ll be worried sick,” said Luxus.

“Worried? Did you not here him, Lux? He doesn’t care about us!”

“That’s not true...”

I sighed and knelt down. “Yes, it is,” I ran my fingers across his fur. “From now on, it’s just me and you.”

He didn’t say anything else, allowing me some time to clear my mind. I needed to think of some kind of plan now that my eyes are all dried up. I walked and sat underneath a large tree, bringing my legs together and resting my chin on my knees. Luxus followed me and curled his body near mine.

I know fully well I can’t go back to Imarina, because if Grandpa finds me, he would do anything to hand me over to the King. Wait...why am I still saying Grandpa? He made sure to inform me I was no family to him, so why should I refer to him as one?

Anyway, where do I go? I have no money left since I gave it to that poor man, which I’m now starting to think I should have saved some of it for me instead of giving it all. But I think that I’ll be able to take some things from our house back in Vera, though I need to be careful so Gran—I mean Lucius won’t see me.

Maybe Luxus and I would finally be able to travel across Igonlia? Perhaps we should start by going to another kingdom? Maybe Vallas? I’ve always wanted to go to Vallas. I heard they called it The Kingdom of Thousand Lights. Well of course it is; their Queen holds the magic of light.

Where else? How about the other kingdoms; Freyr and Trinivan? It would be amazing to see the crystal waters of Freyr, or the white, cold lands of Trinivan?

“Luxus, where would you like to go?”

“Honestly, I wouldn’t like to go anywhere”, he said while licking his paws. “I still think this is a mistake and you’re overreacting.”

My eyes shot wide. “I’m not overreacting! You heard what he said!” Honestly, how can he think that this wasn’t justified? I mean I know I might have not thought it through in terms of what to do next, but being angry and hurt wasn’t me overreacting!

“He says these things all the time, doesn’t means that he actually believes them.” He stopped licking his paw and turned his attention to me.

“He does mean them, Lux. He—” I sighed heavily, “he doesn’t want us anymore, don’t you get it? He’s always thought of me as something temporary. You heard him telling the King. His mission is over.”

Luxus was quite for a while before he said, “I don’t believe that. Lucius won’t just throw us away.”

That earned a bitter laugh out of me. “He would, and he did.”

I don’t know how long we sat there, drifting into our own thoughts, but night had fallen and the moon above us reflected the shadows of the small, woodland creatures hiding in the bushes. The night brought along the cold breeze that every now and then Luxus would shiver and curl his body into an even smaller ball to obtain some warmth.

Although I can’t actually feel cold, for my nature doesn’t allow it, I had transferred some heat into my hand and stroked Luxus’s body, making him purr and snuggle his face closer to my palm.

It made me think of my magic, and what on Ignolia am I going to do with it now? I just assumed that after Lucius hands me to the King he was going to continue training me. But now that’s off the table, and I had no idea what to do with myself.

I thought of going to Ellesmere; the city in which the Congress of Magic is held. Not to mention, it has the largest library in Ignolia, containing all books of history and magic. Maybe if I go there, I could learn something about Slifers. I could read on how their magic is used, or the legends surrounding them, or how can one be a full Slifer?

What if I could apply to the Congress? What would they say if a Slifer were to march to their doorsteps and learn how to become a ranked wizard?

Out of nowhere, I heard the sound of a twig snapping coming from behind me, cutting me out of my trail of thoughts. Luxus’s head snapped up, his tail following, and he looked at me. “What was that?” he asked, his voice giving a squeak at the end.

“I’m sure it’ no—” I froze, another twig snapped, then came the third, then another.

“Maybe it’s just an animal?” I whispered, but Luxus didn’t seem convinced.

“I heard these woods are dangerous,” his voice started to sound panicky. “I told you this was a mistake!”

“Shhh!” I was trying to hear something else, but it was all quite for a sudden. It felt like few minutes, but another sound replaced the previous, and it was the heavy thudding of footsteps. I swallowed, there was someone, or something, behind us.

Relax Lydia, it’s probably just someone who was lost, or maybe a deer, or some kind of a friendly animal. Yes, it’s probably nothing that you need to worry about.

That thought soon disappeared from my mind when a growl cut through the air. Horrified, I looked at Luxus who had the same expression as I am. Shit! That growl defiantly didn’t belong to a dog.

I swallowed again, willing myself to look behind me to get any kind of clarification on what that thing was.

Slowly, I switched my body to the side and peeked my head from the tree’s trunk. It took less than a second for my face to go completely bewildered.

Holly shit!

A dark grey werewolf stood on its two legs with its claws sharpened and its pointy, yellow canine teeth bared at me. The saliva was falling down all the way from its jaw to its big, furry chest. Two red slits of eyes pierced into me with a savage look, as if it was imagining tearing mine and Luxus’s body limp from limp.

I can see the blood stains that covered most of its body, and my eyes did not fail to notice the mutilated animal between its claws dripping blood all over the grass. And from the werewolf’s look, it looks like it found a new and better prey to feed on.

Werewolves are different than what mortals know off. They weren’t humans turned into a wolf when the moon is full. No, humanity was no part of them, well at least not anymore. It was a beast that gains its energy from the full moon so it could survive and hunt. That type of magic was strictly prohibited to use, but apparently some people still prefer monster to man.

The creature growled again, crouching slowly towards us as it threw away the poor animal it was feasting on earlier. Then, it stood and roared loudly, enough for the birds around us to fly off, and for the adrenaline to finally pump in my veins.

“Luxus, run!” The two of us kicked off the grass and spurted away as the werewolf pounced and chased after us. It launched at my direction, its long legs trailing after me as I ran as fast as my feet could carry me. The beast was catching up, and no matter how hard I tried to stretch my legs or wish I was faster, I still could heard the unmistakable sound of the earth pounding behind me.

“Lydia, look out!” Luxus shouted, and I looked over my shoulder to see the beast was about to jump at me. Fuck! What do I do?

Wait...I have to use what I know in my magic.

I inhaled a breath, transforming some of my magic from my body to my arm. Flames circled around my hand and settled at the center of it. I stopped running, turned around and threw the fire ball in my palm at the beast.

The beast waved its claw to push away the ball of fire.

Shit! Not enough force.

I inhaled once again, transforming more energy to create a stronger fire ball. I launched it towards the beast but it blocked it again. I took a step back, terrified. What the hell is this thing? My magic won’t work on it.

I am a Slifter for god’s sake! I’m stronger than this thing!

Without even seeing it, the beast used its claw to grab my waist. “Let me go!” I screamed, using my flaming fist to punch his arm. But it didn’t budge, and there was no scratch what so ever. The beast growled, forcefully throwing me through the air.

A loud shrike burst from my throat as my body met the hard ground. I felt my head being slammed into a hard surface which made another scream explode. “Lydia!” Luxus’s shout rang in my head as I tried my best to get up. From the corner of my eye, I saw the beast strutting towards me with his fangs bared.

Finally, I managed to stand up. Groaning, I placed my hand on my aching head. It’s then I felt something warm slide down. I placed two fingers on my forehead and brought them back to see blood on my fingers.

Shit! I’m bleeding.

Suddenly, the werewolf shoved its claw forward and took hold of my entire face. “Lydia, no!” screamed Luxus, running towards the beast and leaping on the its’ shoulders, using his teeth to bite the skin.

The monster looked at Luxus, and brought its other claw to push Luxus off its shoulders, sending his small body towards the air. I watched in horror as Luxus slammed into a tree and landed on the grass.

“LUXUS!” My voice came out as a muffled scream.

I tried to shout or make any sound but the werewolf’s claw was blocking my face. The beast lifted me off the grass, its eyes were penetrating me in a murderous, flesh eating scowl, as I watched the reflection of my horrified expression through the monster’s eyes.

I pitied myself for making such an expression knowing what I am, and how easily I would have killed this beast if I was strong enough. But the girl who stared back at me through the beast’s eyes wasn’t the girl I wanted to be. No, she was a weak little girl who wasn’t able to protect her only friend and herself.

My heart was beating furiously as I watched the beast lifting its other claw, ready to slice my head off, and seeing those sharp long black nails made my heart go faster.

Shit! Anyone, please, help!

♛♛♛ Gabriel James Imarnia♛♛♛

“Gabriel, do you have any idea where the girl could have gone to?” My sister asked for about the fifth time since I returned to the palace. The moment I stepped foot in the castle she practically cornered two of my guards and started throwing question about what happened in the town. Apparently, the word of a Slifer’s appearance and disappearance managed to reach the palace on such short notice.

“No, Sister, I don’t. So, would you please stop and leave me alone?” I responded with slight irritation, but that didn’t seem to waver my Sister, who was trailing behind me through the palace halls.

“But, Brother, she might be in danger!” I could hear the concerned tone in her voice. It’s amazing how my sister cares about someone who she hasn’t even met.

“And that’s my problem because?” She stopped for a second to narrow her eyes at me, but then quickened her pace to stride beside me.

“This isn’t a joke, Gabriel!” I rolled my eyes at her and continued walking.

Suddenly, two figures, one large while the other small, appeared from my right and blocked my way. They belonged to none other than Lysa and Aero. “We heard!” they both said in sync. I sighed. Great, another round of pondering questions.

“Is it true?” asked Aero.

“Was it really her?” Lysa joined him.

“Yes.” I snapped, moving pass them as they kept following me around. I could already feel my headache forming at the series of questions I was about to receive.

“How was she like?” Lysa was the first to go.

“I already asked him that, he wouldn’t answer,” Lis stated, and I could just imagine her disapproved gaze penetrating the back of my head.

“Did you see her use her powers?” Came Aero’s booming voice.

“I heard she was chasing after a thief,” Lysa added.

That bit was true. The guards that surrounded the town informed me that she ran after a thief for stealing a woman’s purse, and that she used her magic to block his way. I never saw what happened, but when I noticed that my people walled around someone, and whispered about what happened I had to make sure of what had accorded in my kingdom.

A part of me wanted to witness the use of Fire Magic. I’ve never seen a Slifer in my life, and from what I’ve heard from my Father is that their powers were extraordinary.

“Was she at least beautiful?” Lysa interrupted my thoughts. I wanted to dismiss her question, but I found myself nodding as the picture of that girl appeared on my mind.

She wasn’t beautiful. No, that word underestimates her beauty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone like her, whether they be a wizard or any other race. She matched the beauty of the fairies, and in my personal opinion I thought she was more beautiful than any fairy I’ve ever seen.

She even outmatched a woman I’ve once thought to be truly beautiful, and that somehow irked me.

Everything about her was, in a way, mesmerizing. Her hair colour was so strange, yet I found it hard to take my eyes off it. It was a mixture of black and the bright, vibrate colours of fire. The shades blended well together to make it seem as if live flames were dancing in her hair. In that moment, I could feel my hand itching just to grasp a lock and run my finger all through the length of her hair.

Her eyes were no different either, and although I only caught a glimpse of them, I could spot her fire-coloured eyes from miles. I had to force myself not to linger too much on her body, and a part of me, just a small one, wanted to know what it’s like to make love to her?

“Do you have any idea of why she left?” Aero’s question brought me back from my drifting thoughts, which, to say, were becoming dangerous.

I turned on my heel and glared at the three anticipating faces. “How many times do I have to say that I have no idea of why or where she left? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some important work to do.”

Honestly, do they think that I have been talking to the girl for hours? I know nothing about her except her name; Lydia, a name that suits her quite well, but I had a feeling that I have heard that name somewhere.

I had reached the throne room, where my silver throne sat at the top of a three-stepped platform. A sliver phoenix was carved at the back, its wings spread out. A long, black carpet with golden threads was swept all the way from the silver-coated double door to the steps of the throne.

Three large iron chandeliers decked with black and silver stones glided down the painted ceiling. And six, long, centuries-old tapestries hung on the wall, each had the previous kings and queens sewn on them, along with their families.

Mine was not put up yet, for I still had no queen and fathered no children. And quite honestly, much to my sister’s dismay, I don’t think I’ll ever will.

“Are you three going to stick around or will you leave me to do my job?” I said as I took my seat on the throne.

“Oh relax, the members of the Royal Council won’t be here for another hour.” Lis waved her hand as if dismissing something.

“Then perhaps you should leave me to my thoughts?”

She inhaled a breath and walked up the steps to stand before me, her eyes were hard with determination. “The only thing you should concern your thoughts with is how are we going to bring the girl back?”

“Bring her back?” I raised an eyebrow.

Obviously, she didn’t like that. “Yes. Now, I suggest we send some guards to look for her. Aero could personally lead the search party.” The amount of confidence she had while saying these words honestly impressed me, and even Aero was nodding to her suggestion.

But every single thing she said only hit my nerves, triggering the headache I knew was coming up, and making me pinch the bridge of my nose as I tried to sustain my annoyances.

I closed my eyes for a second and breathed in, then shot her a piercing look that I hoped was enough for her to seize her attempts. But my sister stared me down, only slightly flinching.

“You honestly think—” I paused when I felt something inside my chest tightened. At first, it felt like something within me burst, clenching my insides. Then, it seeped and moved its way up to my head, as if it was trying to connect with something.

For a moment I stopped breathing, and my eyes flew wide as suddenly, I began seeing strange things inside my mind. They were like flashes of a memory or a vision, and they were all about that girl; Lydia.

It seemed like she was in a forest, surrounded by trees that looked like the ones in the forest leading to Imarina. Everything was dark, but the moonlight had illuminated a scene in which a werewolf was grabbing her entire face with its claw. She looked terrified as that black cat tried to help her, but it was slammed into a tree by the beast.

The vision froze, lasting for a second until it faded and disappeared entirely. My breathing returned, and I felt like I haven’t had air in my lungs for quite some time as my chest heaved up and down. Confused and alarmed faces appeared to me instead of the girl’s fearful one.

What in hell was that!? Why did I suddenly see all of this? How did that even happen!? Was it real?

“Gabriel, are you okay?” Lis’s worried tone sounded numb in my ears, for all I could hear was my thumping heart and all I could see was the girl and the werewolf. I could feel some kind of fear inside me, but it wasn’t mine, it was hers.

Somehow, I have this knowledge of where to go. But should I help her? I mean, why would I? She’s nothing to me. But I cannot just let her die. I am a king, and she’s one of my subject, and it is my duty to protect my people. Also, she apparently means a lot to Lucius, who is still searching for her right now.

Lucius has always helped during the war that accorded in Imarina centuries ago. He fought alongside with me and my Father. He was actually a good friend to him. Helping his adoptive Daughter might be a way to return back the favour.

I sighed. I can’t believe I am doing this...

Lis was about to open her mouth to say something, but before she could I quickly turned into a lump of darkness and teleported myself to the place my mind was leading me to.

~

My feet met the grass as my eyes landed on the view ahead of me. It was exactly what I saw in my mind. The beast was indeed grabbing the girl’s face, lifting her off the ground as it lifted its other claw ready to rip the girl’s head apart.

These beast were easy to kill, I don’t understand why the girl couldn’t kill it. Wasn’t she a Slifer?

I placed my hand in front of me, making my palm face the ground. Everything around me became ever darker, as I generated my magic and floating, black energy circled around my body, then my arm, and all the way to the centre of my hand. The energy oozed out and spilled downward, making a spinning black hole in the grass.

“Rise,” I commanded.

I clenched my hand into a fist, as the screaming black shadows emerged from the black hole. The shadows enclosed around me, waiting for my order. “Kill the beast.” And with that, the shadows launched towards the werewolf, their shrieks echoing through the entire forest.

I watched as the beast dropped the girl on the ground, growling at the hovering, black shades. They wrapped themselves around the creature’s body, as it tried to break free by using its claw to rip the shadows. But each time it ripped one, the shadow grows back. They bonded its every limp, constricting its movement and imprisoning the monster. Soon, they had covered the beast’s bulking form, dipping it with pure darkness.

They screeched, slowly swallowing the creature bit by bit, until it had been absorbed completely, and soon faded into nothing.

“Good boys.” I smirked, and with a wave of my hand the shadows returned back to the black hole, then both of them were gone.

“Lydia!” I heard a sound coming from my left, and I turned my head to see that black cat running towards the girl. It could talk? That is something I have not seen in my 339 years of living in this world. I watched as the girl quickly lifted the cat as soon as it reached her and brought him to her chest, both embracing one another.

“Are you okay? Gods, Lydia! I was so scared,” said the cat as soon as they pulled back.

“I’m fine, Luxus. Are you hurt?” She was inspecting its body for any sign of injury. The cat winced when she touched its side, and immediately I could see her flaming eyes getting teary.

“You’ll be fine,” she whispered, her lips slightly trembling as she buried her nose in the cat’s fur. “I’ll take you to a healer.”

The cat nodded then both of them turned their heads to look at me, surprise and confusion clearly written on their faces. I cleared my throat, not knowing what to say. I noticed that, just like the first time, she didn’t bother bowing to me or giving any sign of respect. It hit a nerve, but I decided to let it slide.

“I’ll take you back to Imarina. Come,” I spoke, extending my hand to help her up.

She slightly glared at it, then ignored it completely as she got off the grass. “Thank you for helping me, but I won’t go back.”

What? I better have heard that wrong.

“What did you say?” I was daring her to say that again, my nerves starting to tick. She raised one, black thin eyebrow at me, as if she wasn’t expecting to repeat herself. In a way, that action sparked another image in my head, a rather identical one.

“Didn’t you hear me? I’m not going back.” She crossed her arms over her chest, a determinate look on her face.

Another tick. “And may I ask why not?”

She seemed slightly offended. “I have my own reasons.”

Is that so? “Well, I don’t care for your reasoning. Your father is looking for you and I’m here to do him a favor.”

Her beautiful face turned into a scowl. “He’s not my father!” I don’t know what it was, the fact that she just raised her voice at her King, or that her burning eyes reminded me so desperately of someone? But either way, it made my surfacing anger even harder to redeem.

How dare she have this kind of attitude when speaking to a king?

“May I remind you that you’re in the presence of the King of Imarina?” My voice came out seething, but her shoulders slightly twitched. Other than that, she kept her hard stare pinned at me.

“May I remind you that you have no right in meddling with my business?” Her tone was sharp, that even for a moment she surprised herself, but my anger was boiling, and her saying that was just adding coal to my fire. I’m starting to think I shouldn’t have saved her damn life in the first place.

“Are you defying me, Slifer?” I threatened, allowing her this one chance to apologize and act respectfully.

A thick silence passed between us, both refusing to back down. I could see her gulp visibly, but she wasn’t shaking. Her eyes still held mine, but a hint of a blush rose on her olive cheeks. For a second, I lost focus on her eyes and drifted to her pursed lips, feeling something hot form in my chest that wasn’t anger.

“You will come with me, whether you like it or not.” I was about to grab her when she slipped out of my reach and backed away.

“S-stay away!” She viciously glared at me, as a small fire burst from between her fingers and settled in her palm. The fire was weak, barely able to make a sound and was highly transparent. Not at all what you would expect from a Slifer.

But that didn’t matter. Because all I could feel was the sizzling rage that was ten times stronger than that pathetic excuse of fire in her hand.

“You dare threaten your King?” The words were coming out of my teeth in a low growl, taking a step towards her. She instantly took a step back, and finally, I could see a small hint of fear in her eyes.

“N-no! You can’t make me go back to him. He doesn’t want me, he never did. And why are you so keen on bringing me back?”

Her attitude, her hard tone, and those eyes that held a glare so resembling of a one that held a hidden hatred, made an image of her cross over my mind. My whole body tensed and burned with rage, feeling my darkness overwhelm it.

“I was thinking it would be a nice curtsy to Lucius. But now, I don’t give a fuck if I bring you back in one piece or not!”

Her eyes shot wide, now fear clearly visible. Oh, I liked that. “I told you to stay away!” It was in a split second that she threw the flames at me, aiming for my face. But she missed, the flames whipped pass my cheek and faded into mid-air.

That made whatever loose string of control break in half. I was planning on scaring her off. But now that she’s dared to attack her King, I will have to teach her a few lessons on respect.

A wave of darkness exploded out of me, revealing a powerful force that sent the Slifer backwards as her body was thrown out and spiralled towards a tree. A sharp scream escaped her lips when her back slammed on the hard wood, gliding down then hitting the grass with a loud thud.

“NO!” cried the cat, spurting towards her.

I had used the least amount of power possible, as to not damage her permanently. Hopefully, this will earn her a lesson on how to behave properly around her King.

She gasped, a fit of coughs escaping her chest as she tried to get off. Her raging eyes turned to me, her teeth gritted and her fist clutched around her shoulder. She groaned, hissing at the pain then attempted to straighten her pose.

“You son of a bitch!” I will let that slide.

But she better not—

And she was back to throwing another fire ball at me. This time, it didn’t even reach me, it just disappeared mid-way. Damn it! Will she not learn? Perhaps this will finally put her down?

I focused my magic on her shadow, stretching my hand and taking hold of it. She tried to move, but her body was frozen. She looked down at her legs and arms, but they were tied and unable to move an inch. She tried summoning another fire ball, but it kept glued on her hand for she wasn’t able to move her fingers and throw it. Panic registered in her face. “What is this!?”

I lifted my palm once again, making her body rise on its own accord. She was hanging in mid-air, her eyes rapidly moving from her to me. “What are you doing!? Let me go!” she demanded, struggling to free herself.

Now, what could I possibly do?

I waved my hand to the right, and her body followed along while she screamed. I made her back hit another tree and she yelped, this time I had more control of my strength so that she won’t break her back. I wanted to teach the girl, not disfigure her.

Then, I turned matters to the left, where I made her make contact with another tree. “Stop! Stop!” the cat begged. She was out of breath, her hair falling over her face in a crumbled mess, but through her tresses, I saw one fiery eye glowering down at me.

And suddenly, I decided I’ve had enough.

“Gabriel! What the fuck are you doing!?” I heard Aero shout from behind me. I whipped my head to see his eyes bulging as he set them on the floating girl. How on Ignolia did he find me?

I looked at my wrist, where a dark blue, curved line was drawn around it, and Aero had the same line on his wrist. This link is made between any ruler and their captain of the guards, it’s to tell where the other is in case of any emergences, which also allows for teleportation. We haven’t used that in years.

“Gabriel, let her go right now,” he said, this time in a more calm tone. I swear if he wasn’t my friend I would have done the same thing I’m doing right now to her for commanding me.

“Well, I was about to.” I lowered her body closer to the ground, then allowed her to softly land on the grass. Aero immediately rushed to her and picked her body up. Her breath came in short huffs, and she seemed like she was about to faint.

“I can’t believe you!” Aero glared, bringing the girl’s head to rest on his chest.

I rolled my eyes. “It’s not what you think. She attacked me.”

His eyes narrowed. “Well, from what I saw it looked like the other way around.”

“Lydia!” The cat ran towards Aero, his eyes wide and fearful. Aero eyed the cat strangely, then he turned to me with a questioning look on his face. I just shrugged and turned my head sideway.

“Uh-don’t worry, little kitten. We’ll take care of her.” Aero smiled down, trying to reassure the animal but it came out as awkward as he surely felt. The cat sniffed, not taking its eyes off the girl’s small body cradled between Aero’s large arms.

“We have to get her to the palace.” He turned his wide frame towards me.

“She’s not entering my palace!” I snarled. Does he honestly think I would allow her to set foot in my home after what she’s said and done?

“This isn’t the time for this, Gabriel. She needs help!”

“You’ll bring her to the palace no matter what I say, won’t you?” His face hardened and he tugged the girl closer to him.

“And if I did? Will you do the same thing to me as you did to her?” My jaw tensed, but my body wasn’t as rigged as before. The thought of hurting my life-long best friend didn’t quite settle with me. I mean, yes, sometimes I would like to punch him in the face, but to deliberately hurt him?

“You know I won’t.”

For a moment his eyes softened, but as he settled them on me, he didn’t look quite convinced. “I’m not so sure of that...”

I tried to not pay any mind to the pang in my chest, so I looked away to the surroundings. “Listen, I’ll take her to Lis so she could heal her, and after that she leaves.”

I knew he wouldn’t drop it, so I gave him his answer by turning around and teleporting myself out of this place.lf out of this place.

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