The Flames That Bind Us

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4. A Deal with The King

♛♛♛ Gabriel James Imarnia♛♛♛

“I cannot believe this, Gabriel! How could you do such a terrible thing?” Lis declared as she stormed behind me through the palace halls. I silently cursed, my attempts of evading her thrown out of the window. The moment she caught the sight of me her eyes turned into slits and her lips formed the thinnest line, as if she was preventing herself from screaming at me.

Her determined steps were still clear in my ears as I opened the door to my study room. I tried to quickly slam it behind me but she already had her grip on the handle.

“I will not be ignored, Brother.” She walked into the room, her hard eyes fixed on me.

“I’m not ignoring you, Lis. I just have a lot on my mind right now.” I heard her huff in frustration, and I’m pretty sure that she was chewing her lip for this was a habit she always did whenever she’s annoyed or upset.

I turned to face her, and she had her arms firmly crossed over her chest. “Are one of the things that are occupying your mind happens to be concern over the girl’s well-being?”

It was my turn to huff. “She’s not dead, isn’t she?”

That earned me the infamous one-eyebrow raise, which I’ve believed to be a family trait. “Is that really what you think? That it’s alright as long as she’s not dead?”

I ran my hand through my hair, breathing in a very-needed breath. “What do you want from me, Lis?”

“Only for you to at least apologize to the girl.”

My eyes grew wide, looking for a sign that indicated she was joking. But she was dead serious, and she looked at me as if she didn’t like the way I found her words absolutely ridiculous, “Are you mad!?”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, please, Gabriel! This is the least you could do.”

The least I could do!? I don’t have to do anything! Does my sister not realize what she’s asking me to do? “You do know that she was the one who attacked me in the first place? She disrespected her King and showed no redeemable action.”

“So your answer was to beat her up!?”

This was the first time in years that my sister had raised her voice at me, her eyes shining with distaste and a hint of unrecognition, like part of her didn’t believe the man who stood before her.

I would be honest and say that it made my insides flinch, that my only sister was looking at me as if she was seeing a stranger. The look was soon gone from her eyes, and she released a breath as her expression softened.

She shook her head slowly, almost as if she was denying something in her mind. “How long will you let it take control of you, Brother?” her hand reached up to touch my arm.

“Lis, please...” I sucked in a breath, closing my eyes for a second before meeting her searching ones.

She moved closer, this time having a more firm grip on my upper-arm, “It’s been centuries already. You used to be kind, warm, always had a smile upon your lips. Will I ever see that man again?”

There was a bit of hopefulness in her tender voice, her brown eyes searching mine for any kind of answer. Part of me wanted to reassure her, but another one, the more logical one, knew that I couldn’t even confirm that to myself, nonetheless to her.

“That man is long dead, Sister”. I placed my hand over hers, removing it gently as I backed away and created some space.

I heard her defeated sigh, her shoulders sinking and her eyes dropping to the ground. “I see,” she whispered. “Either way, it won’t change the fact that the girl is staying here.”

Her soft expression twisted into a challenging one, her lips pressed together as she raised her chin up. Everything about the way she stood told me that she was daring me to say no, and that made my body shake.

If my sister thinks I’m going to let that rude girl take residence in my palace then she’s greatly mistaken. I honestly think that I would murder that girl for her behaviour if she stayed here.

My eyes reflected a challenge of their own. “There’s no way in hell that’s happening. Honestly, Sister, I don’t know what has gotten into you? Letting a strange girl into my palace?”

“Don’t forget that it is my palace too, and I would let in whoever I want. The girl is staying in the room she’s resting in now. I’ll inform the servants to bring clothes and whatever is necessary for her.” Her steel expression implied that she had her mind set on this decision, and that there’s no way she’ll ever back down.

I tugged on the back of my hair, struggling to subdue my boiling temper. But, in a loose moment, I angrily slammed my hand on my study table. “She’s not staying here!!” I shouted, loud enough to make my sister flinch.

But she confidently stood still, the challenge in her never wavering. “I only want the best for you, Gab—”

“I decide what is best for me!”

It happened in less than a second, the tears forming in my sister’s brown eyes vanished all the anger I had built up. For what seemed like hours, I froze in my spot, watching her sob as her tears streamed down her cheeks. If there was one thing that I truly hated, is seeing my little sister cry.

Even when we were younger, I always did almost everything to prevent her from crying. And now, seeing her like that, made me helpless. Me, the King of Imarnia, helpless to see his sister’s tears.

“Why...why are you crying?” I took a step towards her.

“I-I don’t want to lose you. We only have each other, Gabriel.” She sniffed, her head bent low as she hugged herself. My hand stretched in front of me, touching her arm.

“Don’t cry. You won’t lose me.” I tried to comfort her, but comforting a woman is something that I haven’t done in many, many years.

She lifted her head so my eyes could meet her teary ones. “Don’t you know that these past eighteen years have been a torture for me? Having to worry about you for each second of each day. I know how strong and powerful you are, but why would the Gods send someone to protect you if what’s threatening you is something above you?”

I used my thump to wipe her tears, but more was pouring out. Her lower lip trembled and her white face had gone red. She tried to compose herself by inhaling as much air as possible. “Have you ever thought of that? Well, I did. Brother, please, keep the girl. If she’s gone then I don’t know what will happen to me, or you. I know you’re stubborn, but think about Imarina. Whatever is threatening you is threatening your Kingdom as well, our Kingdom. If Father was here, he would say the same. So please, I beg of you, don’t let her go.”

Seeing my sister plead as she buried her face in my shoulders, wrapping her arms around my neck tightly like I would vanish at any moment, made me rethink of everything she has said. Was she right about this?

But it’s absurd. I can’t rely on a girl to save my life. Perhaps the Gods were wrong about this? What is more powerful than the four strongest wizards in Ignolia? I just don’t understand any of this.

“Lis, that girl can’t even protect herself from a werewolf. How do you expect her to protect me?” I was right after all, she can’t even fight a werewolf, and she’s a Slifer. How can a weak girl like her protect a king that holds the magic of darkness?

As I said, this was absurd.

Lis pulled away, wiping her tears with her hands. She bit her lip, seeming a bit hesitant at first, but her flushed face hardened. “Then make her stronger.”

Both she and I stared into each other, a knowing silence falling over the room. Lis seemed to acknowledge completely what she said, not finding any indication that meant otherwise. Make her stronger? That means....

“Sister...“.

“I know how, Brother. You told me. If you made her stronger by that, then she would be able to protect you. And if there really wasn’t something that was threatening you, the girl would leave and you would be back to your normal life. She’s beautiful, so I don’t think that you will be having a problem with...um...you know.”

I was very surprised hearing this coming from my sister. She squeezed my hand, with hope in her eyes and a slight blush on her now-pale cheeks. Truthfully, I didn’t know what to say, but I think that in a way she had a point. If I did what she suggested, then both I and that girl would gain benefits.

By time, the girl would be stronger, and when I prove to my sister that there’s nothing to worry about, the girl would leave. Besides, she is indeed beautiful, maybe that’s another benefit.

I needed to think about this. Perhaps, I shouldn’t listen to Lis and do what I want. But that would anger her. She would be upset, and she would be living in worry. And even if I said no, my Sister would do anything to keep the girl.

But what about the girl? What would she think about this?

A knock coming from the door interrupted our unspoken thoughts. “Come in,” I said. A guard opened the door and stepped in.

He bowed to me and Lis. “My apologize, Your Majesty, Your Grace, but there’s a man who wishes to have a word with you. Shall I enter him?”

“Who is it?”

“He said his name was Lucius Voltaire, My King.”

≼≼ Lydia Voltaire ≽≽≽

The rush of cold air made my long black-flamed hair fly all over my face and shoulders, allowing me to feel faint warmth in this freezing wind. I hugged my arms to my chest, trying to warm myself as I walked barefoot through a dark, empty forest. My breaths were coming in white gusts, and I wondered how was I able to feel cold even though I was immune to it?

Scanning around me, I had no clue of where I was going. The sky above me has lost its beautiful blue colour and it was now grey with smoky clouds. The trees on my left and right were lifeless, and a black crow stood on each thick branch.

The ground beneath me was full of small stones and twigs that scratched my numb feet, which were now pale. My entire skin has lost its olive colour and I had noticed that I wasn’t wearing anything.

Just where the hell am I? Why does everything look so dead?

I kept walking, no idea where I was heading. There was no sign of life expect for the black crows which I was convinced were watching me with every step I took.

How did I even get here? Was this some kind of a dream?

Well, obviously it was, because suddenly everything around me started to burn. It left a trail of golden fire stretched around me, covering everything that my sight could reach. The crows cawed, flying away in alarm as the crackling flames burst higher and higher.

The trees burned in an instant, and even the ground seemed to be painted with red and orange sparks. And within all this fire, I still felt as if I’ve been dipped into icy water.

All I could do was close my eyes, for I couldn’t hear anything but the sound of flames devouring all that stood before it. It kept ringing in my head, until I was sure I had been sucked in as well.

But I didn’t feel any pain, or smelled any burning of skin. It took a few seconds for things to quiet down, and I no longer could hear anything but utter soundlessness.

I peeled my eyes open to see myself standing in a patch of darkness. Puzzled, I looked around me to see what looked like three, shadowy figures, standing beside me. Two were at my far left, and one was at my right.

I looked down and saw that I had been dressed in something that looked like it was made of red leather and mixed with gold. Then, I lifted my head to see four figures standing ahead of me at a far distance, but like the ones beside me I couldn’t see who they were.

Who are those people? What’s happening?

Before I could comprehend anything, a bright light emanated from behind the shadowy figures in front of me, it spread through the entire darkness until it covered it all. I closed my eyes for the light rushed towards me. But before anything else unfolded, I could sense that there was someone behind me, with their hand on my shoulder.

Then, I felt like I was falling down as the brightness took over me.

“Lydia, Lydia! Wake up.” Luxus’s familiar voice made me snap my eyes open as a faint gasp erupted from my lips. My eyes met Luxus’s large, red ones, which were staring at me in confusion and concern. It’s then that I noticed that he was standing on top of my chest.

“Finally, you’re awake! You have been sleeping for more than five hours,” he said as he got off me while I propped myself on my elbows, feeling my head spinning. My mind was all over that dream. Why was I in that scary forest? And who were those shadowy figures?

I looked around me to see that I was in a wide, magnificent room that I’ve never seen before. I was sitting on a large, four-poster bed made out of fine wood. It had dark blue, velvet curtains dangling from the rails. And I was surrounded by similar-coloured velvet pillows, cushions, and sheets, which all had unique silver embroidery designs.

This was definitely not my bed! If it was, I would never leave it.

I noticed that my previous clothes were missing, and I was wearing a wide, beige dressing gown that clearly was made of nice materials that I most certainly couldn’t afford. There was a large balcony at my right where I could see the tall trees from the bed.

A large, white double door was ahead of me. And to my left there was a beautiful vanity sitting at a corner. This room was truly amazing, but it wasn’t mine that’s for sure. Where am I?

Then, it all came rushing to my head. First; me escaping Lucius after hearing his hurtful words, then teleporting to the forest. Next, a werewolf appeared. I remember trying to defend myself using my magic but it didn’t work.

After that...he came!

He rescued us from the werewolf but he also gave me a hell of a beating with his stupid magic. I remember trying to move but he had the control of my shadow. That bastard used his magic on me just because I defied him.

He insisted on taking me back, and I wouldn’t allow it. I don’t know what his deal was? He could have just let me go. But he kept blabbering about bullshit things like doing Lucius a favour.

I do admit, maybe I was a bit hasty when I attacked the King of Imarina. No person in their right mind would dare to assault one of the strongest wizards in Ignolia. But all I could think about in that moment was how much I didn’t want to return to Lucius, to go back to someone who didn’t give a damn about me. I should have known I stood no chance against the King and it would surely backfire. But still, that was no excuse of what he did!

But oddly enough, I only felt a slight ache in my back and my head. I had thought that I wouldn’t be able to stand up for at least days thanks to him slamming me into trees, but there was no pain whatsoever.

“Oh, you’re finally awake.” I heard a sweet voice coming from the double door and I snapped my head to see a beautiful young woman emerge from the opening.

She glided gracefully towards me, her long, sparkly platinum dress catching light due to the crystal chandelier hung above. She was tall and had ivory skin, wide brown eyes, a long nose, and short chestnut hair. I would say she would be in her early twenties.

Although she was certainly a lovely sight, I still had no idea who she was, so I cradled Luxus in my arms and swept off the comfortable bed.

“It’s OK,” Luxus assured me, but I kept my eyes settled on her.

My action seemed to make her smile, all set of her white teeth showing. “There’s no need to be afraid, Lydia. My name is Lis, and I’m the one that healed your wounds.”

Instantly, I knew that I was standing in front of Lis James Imarnia; the Princess of Imarnia, and the King’s younger sister. I’ve heard about her from the people in my town. She holds the magic of healing, and she was said to be the epitome of elegance. Obviously, I could see that.

“She helped you recover and even healed my back,” Luxus informed me.

“Thank you, err...Your Highness.” I bowed my head, not knowing what to do for I’ve never met someone royal before. Well, except for the King, which didn’t exactly end well.

“Anything I could do to help.” She placed a hand on my shoulder, and something about the way she smiled made me feel like I was someone whom she had been searching for. I didn’t know how to respond so I said and did nothing.

“That was very brave of you,” she said, cutting the almost-awkward silence.

“Huh?”

“Fighting that werewolf.” Oh, that...

“Well, I didn’t exactly win.” Your brother came in, killed it, and then beat the crap out of me. But I wasn’t going to say that, though from the look on her face she seemed to know what I was thinking.

“Sister...” Another voice, familiar and deeper, and which I didn’t want to hear came from the door. King Gabriel entered the room, his stormy grey eyes set on his sister as she turned around to meet him.

“Brother, what are you doing here?” She looked worried, but he didn’t answer her, and instead let out a long sigh. Then, his eyes switched to me, and the moment his eyes landed on me I felt that strange feeling in my body like the first time we met.

What am I still doing here? I should leave this place this instant.

“You, Slifer, may I have a word with you in my study?” I had to admit, his question surprised both me and Luxus, and the Princess as well. His eyes lingered at Luxus before he added, “Bring the cat if you want.”

He turned his back to me and started walking away to the door, expecting me to follow him. But I stood still, not moving from my spot.

I was curious to know what the King would want from me. However, I was reluctant to follow him for I wasn’t sure what he would say, or do to me. For all I know, he might just want to give me another beating. And like hell I would allow for that to happen again, but something tells me it wasn’t that.

Sighing, I decided that I didn’t really have a choice here so I went after him.

**

I sat on the seat facing the wooden desk, while King Gabriel was leaning on the frame with his arms folded in front of his wide chest. I had Luxus settled on my lap with both my arms wrapped around his body. The two of us were trying to hide the amazement as we eyed what I presumed was the study room.

It was bigger than the room I was in before. The furniture seemed to be carved out of the finest wood. High bookshelves containing stacks of books on each side. The walls were decorated with many portraits, tapestries, and paintings. A fire-place sat underneath the biggest portrait of the King, his parents, and his sister.

Comfortable chairs with large, black and silver cushions were scattered conveniently. A small, glass table with refreshments was to my left. And a high, marble statue of a phoenix folding its wings was placed behind the King’s study.

What drew my attention more was the wide, glass window on the left side that had the view of the Kingdom of Imarnia. It was nightfall, so the view looked as if a thousand diamonds were shining. I wondered what it would be like when it’s day time?

However, this wasn’t why I was here.

“So, what do you want?” I asked, immediately clamping my mouth shut at the rather rude tone that came out. The King glared at me, a hint of annoyance creeping up his features. I could tell that he doesn’t really want me here. He probably doesn’t want to talk to me either.

So why ask to see me?

“I would really appreciate it if you would lower your tone in front of your King.” He clearly was trying hard not to lash at my face, but I should probably stop being rude before I end up being asleep for another five hours. I just want to hurry up with this so I could get the hell out of here.

He sighed, rubbing his broad forehead, making me notice how long and clean his fingers were. Which, to my utter disapproval, made a thought appear on my mind and I immediately shook my head to remove it. What am I doing? Focus, Lydia.

“I summoned you here to offer you a deal,” he said, the expressionless look returning to his face. Deal? What kind of deal? Something tells me I wouldn’t like where this is going...

“What do you mean?”

“Do you wish to be stronger?” My eyes slightly went wide at the way he was looking down at me as if he had the answers to everything I’ve ever wanted to have. Stronger? I’ve been working on that my entire life.

I’ve trained, days and night of each day to be strong. If I was a mortal, I would die of the amount of injuries I had from training. Yes, I was an immortal wizard, but a wizard is capable of dying. We may not age. But if our heads were ripped off, they would not stich back.

Yet, not once have I given up, because I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be strong, powerful. I wanted to protect the people that I love and be able to defend myself. So, of course I wish to be stronger.

“Yes.”

“Then, I can make that happen.” I looked at him, forgetting for a second what he did to me in the forest. How would the King of Imarina do that? And more importantly, why? Luxus and I exchanged looks.

“I do not know if Lucius told you about this, but I’m sure that you are well aware that your body is supposed to belong to me?” He tilted his head, as if waiting for me to confirm what he said.

My cheeks heated, but I nodded nevertheless.

“And I suppose that you don’t know exactly why that is?” I shook my head, feeling a bit idiotic. But it wasn’t my fault that stupid drunken wouldn’t tell me everything.

The King looked faintly puzzled by this, but went on explaining, “Well, you would know, that in order for your magic to develop, I’ll have to bond with you. And by time, your magic power will increase. If my magic and yours is combined, it will result in you being a full Slifer.”

I was surprised. No, shocked by this. Lucius didn’t tell me any of that. I’ve asked him a lot of times of why would the King claim me but he didn’t say anything. Why wouldn’t he tell me about this? I guess that there are a lot of things that he hasn’t told me.

The King noticed my lack of response. “Were you really unaware of this?”

I swallowed, staring down at my fingers that were slowly stroking Luxus’s fur. “Yes. Gran—Lucius didn’t tell me why it was absolutely necessary for me to...join with you.”

So that means all of my training was for nothing. And he knew, he knew that without the King it would be of no use. The King’s powers were absolutely crucial for me to become a full Slifer.

“But I still don’t understand what you’re offering? I thought you didn’t want me?”

He stared down at me. “I don’t. But it is my sister who does. Trust me, if it weren’t for her, I would have kicked you out the moment you awoke.”

“So why keep me until now?” I couldn’t help but raise my eyebrow.

He moved my way, getting closer to where I sat that each step he took made me still in my place. Leaning his back, he placed each hand on my chair’s arm rest, causing me to retreat further into the soft cushion.

His piercing eyes held mine, and I could feel my heart quickening and my face becoming hotter at the sudden closeness. He seemed to enjoy my body stiffening and the fact that I looked uncomfortable as hell while his handsome face was only inches from mine.

“Let me set one thing straight, I have no interest in you whatsoever. If you don’t want this, suit yourself, I do not care. You can stay a girl who can just throw fire balls for your entire immortal life.” A slight smirk played on the corner of his lips.

“Then your reason for this offer?” I tried to match his hard eyes, but his nearness only made me edgy, especially with my nose picking up his musky scent.

For a second though, I could swear he seemed to be distracted as well.

“My sister. She has this thought that there’s something that’s really threatening me and the Kingdom. If I can just prove to her that this is all absurd, we will both go on our separate ways. You can be a full Slifter, and I can assure my Sister that there’s nothing to worry about. So, what do you say, Slifer, deal?”

I was speechless, finding it hard to swallow the forming lump in my throat. Was this really the only way? It wasn’t fair. The Gods weren’t fair. How could this be? If I had known...then what? Would I give it all up? I’ve always wanted to be able to fight. It wasn’t because of eagerness or vanity, or even glory. I just wanted to be what I am; a Slifer.

I wanted to be what the Gods created me to be; an ancient wizard who has the magic to control and create one of the four elements of nature. I just wanted to surpass my own self. I wanted to be proud of myself, of my magic, of who I was. But is this really the only way?

If I agreed to this, then that means I would have to sleep with the man before me. It means that I would let him touch me, see every part of me, have me in whatever way he wants. Maybe if he wasn’t such an asshole, I wouldn’t be so uncertain.

Do I really have to give myself, to be what I am?

"...Deal."

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