The Flames That Bind Us

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5. An Encounter in The Woods

The cold breeze of Imarnia’s chilly night made the bright flames coming from my spread palms dance around, sending warmth to my cold face. I could feel their heat on my face and my hands yet my entire body felt like I was freezing and it wasn’t because of the chilly weather.

The moonlight above me made the shade of my flames look livelier, and it was a mixture of gold and the colour of the dawn. I have always loved seeing that colour. It made me feel as if the flames had magic of their own, and it always managed to make me smile at its beauty. However, I was in no mood to even move my lips an inch.

It was already in the middle of the night, both Luxus and I weren’t able to sleep at all, so I stepped outside into the balcony in my room where I could see the dark woods and the tall trees.

I could never be able to erase my thoughts of what happened today. Whenever I try not to think about it, it all comes back to me. I also haven’t spoken to anyone expect Luxus ever since I left the King’s study room, not to mention that I don’t have anyone I could talk to.

The flames in my hands were so faint that I can barely sense the magic force coming from it. I could see the emptiness through them, and that only intensified the shame I felt. They would be completely useless if a werewolf or another supernatural creature attacked me. I would be killed right here and there. My magic is not powerful enough for fighting or even defending.

I made the flames before me disappear, feeling the cold chill brush my hair and shoulders. I sighed, leaning my arms on the edge of the balcony as I lifted my head and stared at the bright full moon in the sky.

A Slifer who can’t even defeat a werewolf? For gods’ sake! I once read about a little girl who was able to defeat a small group of river elves without a drop of magic, and those things are nasty. But me, a Slifer, had shaken in fear in front of that giant fur ball. I couldn’t even protect Luxus.

“Hey, Lux...” I spoke softly, afraid that he would be asleep. But he was wide awake, clinging on one shoulder with his head near my ear and his tail dangling from my other one. He cranked his neck up and hummed his reply.

“Do you think that my decision was wrong?” He knew that I was refering about my deal with the King. From the moment I exited his study, I wanted to go back and tell him that the deal is off, yet my legs wouldn’t move.

I had remembered what he told me, that my powers won’t increase if we didn’t bond. He said it with such a straight face that he didn’t seem to notice that he was asking me to become his mistress, or at least something like that.

“I understand why you agreed to it. I have known you for years now and I know what you dream of becoming. Whether if it was wrong or not, that’s up to you. Just know that I’ll be here no matter what.”

Luxus’s words made a weak smile appear on my face as I tilted my head to look at him, scratching his ears as he leaned into my hand and purred.

“Wise words.” I think that my cat is wiser than I’ll ever be.

Which brings me back to the King. I have no idea why that man was crowned King of this kingdom? He acts like a selfish asshole and I have only been around him three times. He has some kind of an aura of darkness surrounding him. I just don’t understand how he has people who love him?

I wonder what the people of Imarina would think of him if they knew that he attacked a defenceless girl with his magic and decided to play with her shadows as if she was a doll. Given, I was the one who attacked him first, and kept on doing so, or at least trying to do so. But that still doesn’t give him the right to lash out.

He really needs to control his temper. And to think that sleeping with him is the only way I could be a full Slifer just disgust me. And what’s more disgusting is that I had actually agreed to it.

Gods, I’m so pathetic...

Yet, I have never sensed such strong magic coming from anyone when we were in the forest, not even Lucius could hold a candle to what he has. And I think that what he did in the forest was nothing more than killing a bug, only using a minimum of effort.

“Luxus, I’m sorry.” I breathed out, cranking my chin up to look at the moon once again.

“For what?” Something stung at the back of my eyes, and I found myself recalling the image of my only friend being hurled into a tree.

“I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to protect you from that werewolf. Instead, you were the one trying to protect me.”

I could feel his paw on my cheek. “Don’t worry about that. It wasn’t your fault. That monster got the best of you.”

For a moment I wasn’t sure if he meant the werewolf or the King, but I guess there wasn’t really any difference. My cat is so understanding, maybe more so than he should. I failed to protect him, and I felt like shit just thinking of that. I curse myself for being weak, those years of training did zero for me.

I mean, the whole point of wanting to be a Slifer is to be what I am, and be able to fight for the people who I love. And having people who I care about keeping me safe is not the way I want to live my eternity.

“Luxus, I’m going to become stronger. I’ll definitely become stronger. I won’t let my fear get in the way of protecting you or any other person who deserves protection. No matter what it takes, or how it takes, I’ll become strong,” I stated in the most determinate voice I could muster, as my eyes were focused on the faraway trees.

I saw as the wind blew the tree leaves, making them look like they were dancing a dance that only occurred in this kind of night. The distant lands before my eyes made my mind drift towards that old geezer and where the hell could he be?

Before I left the King’s study, he had told me that Lucius visited the King while I was still asleep, and that he told him he was leaving Vera and the task of training me. To sum it up, he left me on my own, just as I expected.

Also, he asked the King to return my birthday present to me, which I had stuffed away in a drawer. That old pervert didn’t even have the nerve to give it to me in person. Not that I wanted it anyway, but truth be told I didn’t want to stay with the King for another minute so I just grabbed it and left.

Although I was really tempted to tell the King he could go and shove the bracelet up my useless guardian’s ass. But I figured that won’t end well.

That bastard! To think that he had left without even saying goodbye. I know that he had thought of me as nothing but a task that should be delivered on time, but does he really not give a crap about me that much?

Would it kill him if he had bothered to say farewell? Was he that thrilled to leave me in this huge castle with an asshole King that hates my existence? Where was he anyway? Where was he going?

Gods, Lydia. Stop! That’s enough.

Stop thinking about these things. I should forget about him. I know that he won’t hesitate in forgetting me and Luxus, so why should I spare him one second of my thoughts?

I tried to ignore that annoying nagging feeling at the bit of my stomach that wasn’t really convinced with my words, so I told myself that I had to focus on what’s happening tomorrow. And how on Ignolia am I going to go with the ‘process’ of becoming a full Slifer?

**

I watched through tired lashes as the warm rays of sunlight were rising in the distance behind the high trees, slowly brightening the room with the first flickers of dawn. In the corner of my eye, I could see Luxus still sleeping soundly on the pillow, his small body rising up and down. Unlike me, he seemed to be able to drown himself in the blissful world of slumber.

All I could think about were the events of last night and what today has got in store for me. Not even this luxurious bed managed to close one lid or bring out one yawn, and I was so comfortable in it yesterday.

I let out a breath as I lifted my head from the pillow and sat on the soft sheets. I rubbed my eyes trying to drive away all the tiredness. Even though I was exhausted as hell my body won’t get any rest, for my mind was too loud for it.

I stretched my arms, arching my back and moving my neck from side to side in attempt of shaking the achiness away. I took a glance at Luxus who seemed to be snoozing peacefully, yet I could see his black fur slightly shivering from the cool air of morning so I covered his form with the warm covers.

I took a scan around me, not yet used to this huge room. This room was beautiful and very big yet I thought of it as a room that has been abandoned for years. I don’t know why, but I disliked it, even though I should love every corner of it. But it made me feel left out and lonely in a place that I didn’t know anyone in.

My room in Vera was a lot smaller and less extravagant than this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed with it, but it doesn’t have that homey feeling.

I decided to get up and bathe quickly, trying not to be overwhelmed by the size of the bathroom that was literally the same as my ex-bedroom. Using my fire trick to dry my hair, I walked into the walk-in wardrobe to pick out something to wear.

All of my clothes and suitcases were left at the inn Lucius and I were supposed to stay at during our visit to Imarina. The Princess told me that she ordered servants to retrieve the bags and that they would be here tomorrow, meaning today. Meanwhile, some clothes were brought in so I could temporary wear them.

And I had to say I wasn’t prepared to what I witnessed. Oh great Ignoila! These were all for me? All kind of silk, cotton, and fine fabrics were presented before me, and every outfit had a matching pair of footwear. They ranged from fancy short dresses to fancy casual clothes. Some were inspired by old fashion, and some were very modern.

I even noticed that there was a various selection of underwear piled neatly, with all shapes and sizes. Some I dare say were quite...bold. It was simpler to choose undergarments, so I clasped on a regular black bra and panties. But the difficulty rested in the clothes.

Usually, I just throw on whatever piece of clothing I see. And if I really wanted to change things up and dress more nicely, I would put on that one short, tight black skirt I owned. Now, how am I supposed to know what to wear?

I didn’t know what to choose, but I knew I wouldn’t even touch the elegant dresses because I was afraid I would taint them. Finally, I had settled on an off-shoulder, long cream-colored sweater with a white camisole underneath and dark-brown leggings. For my feet I picked the cream-colored flat shoes.

I looked at myself in the vanity mirror. Hmm, not bad. And surprisingly, they were my size.

Now what? Luxus isn’t awake and won’t be for hours. Should I leave the room and go explore? I mean this is my first time in a castle, and I am starting to get hungry so maybe I would go to the kitchen? But I didn’t want to get lost, and honestly I was afraid I would bump into the King even in this early hour.

I walked out to the balcony, the morning air freshening my face and I inhaled the smell of hazed trees and grass. Glancing down, I noticed that my room looked over a large, utterly breath-taking garden, which lead into the forest.

Perhaps I could go down there and check it out? There seems to be no one there, and I doubt the King would be into gardening. He didn’t struck me as the type to be interested.

Maybe I could also take a stroll in the woods, although I need to make sure to avoid any possible paths leading to a blood-thirsty werewolf.

**

Fresh air greeted me as I stepped downwards a stone staircase into what looked like a miniature forest. There was a long, curved pathway which lead far into a bigger green opening made with sand-coloured bricks and had tiny spread-winged phoenixes carved into it. At each of its sides, were endless patches of colours. Plants and flowers of all shapes and sizes spread about and formed what looked like a rainbow.

At the distance, I could hear a faint trickling of water, and I knew there were many fountains nestled somewhere between the tall bushes. The garden was bigger than what my eyes could reach from the balcony. I believe it could fit over a hundred people and would do so comfortably. And with the early light of the sun casting over it, the leaves and the flowers seemed as if they were glowing.

I breathed in the aromatic air, closing my eyes for a second and enjoying the warm feeling the sun reflected on my face.

It’s then that I heard movement coming from my far left, my eyes fluttering open at the sound of shuffling and another one that sounded like something being cut. I turned my head to the source to see the back of a woman. She was kneeling on the grass in front of a patch of tall, purple flowers, gently tearing them from the roots and placing them in a white basket that sat near her on the grass.

She was wearing a large, yellow hat with white birds sewn on it. It covered her entire head so I couldn’t see anything except her lower body. She didn’t look like a maid. She wasn’t exactly dressed like one. Her simple matching yellow dress seemed expensive yet appropriate for a day in the garden.

When I stepped closer, she dropped everything she was doing and turned her face towards me, momentarily gasping as she placed her hand on her chest. Immediately, I recognized the brown eyes and the short, brown hair that stuck to her long neck.

“Oh, you startled me! I never thought that someone other than the maids would be awake in this kind of hour.” The Princess of Imarina got off the ground, her surprised expression changing into a softer one.

“I-I’m sorry if I scared you, Your Highness.”

She smiled sweetly, waving her hand. “Oh, no need to apologize. I get easily distracted that sometimes a fleeting breeze alarms me. But what are you doing so early in the morning?”

“I couldn’t sleep last night.” I shrugged, not sure if I should have added any royal terms. I’ve once read that one should always address noble members accordingly every time they’re spoken to. But she didn’t seem to mind.

Her thin eyebrows creased, and she moved closer to put a hand on the back of my arm. “Are you alright? Is your body still in pain from the wounds?”

I was surprised that she seemed and sounded genuinely concerned. Her eyes were travelling all over any exposed part of my skin to check if she missed something with her healing. But physically I was fine, even the aching was gone. Emotionally though...well I don’t think that’s something she can fix.

“I’m fine, Your Highness. Really, there’s nothing hurting. I was just up all night so I didn’t sleep properly.” I tried to reassure her, but mostly I wanted her to stop looking at me like I was an injured animal.

Her eyes stopped at mine, and there was something like guilt surfacing in there. But she quickly tore them away, turning back to picking the flowers. “Well, as to why I’m here, I always wake up this early to do some gardening. It gives me a little peace, something to take the stress away. Besides, I quite enjoy their beauty, don’t you think?”

She held one up for me. “Yes, they’re beautiful, Your Highness.” I wasn’t really paying attention to them, I was more interested in what made the Princess of Imarina so stressed out. But this was probably none of my business.

“Thank you,” she grinned. “I like to put them in my room. And, you don’t really have to be so formal with me. You can call me Lis if you want to.” I didn’t know what to say to that so I just nodded. Honestly, I didn’t feel like talking to anyone right now and just wanted to go on my way.

I saw her take off the large, grey gloves she wore and place them inside the basket. She seemed to do that quite slowly, like her mind was floating somewhere else. I on the other hand, took my time in staring at her, trying to figure out the noble woman before me.

I wonder, is the Princess of Imarnia truly is what people say about her? She seems kind to me, and not at all conceited like that shithead of a Brother she has. Then again, this is the second time I have met her so I don’t really know a lot about her. But she was kind enough to heal my wounds, and I am grateful for that.

“You know,” her voice brought me down from my thinking, turning to look at her but she had her eyes trained on the basket in her hand, “I was the one who convinced my brother into letting you stay here and go along with the process of you becoming a full Slifer.”

I had to say I wasn’t really that surprised, I kind of had a feeling that she was a part of it. I mean, the King did say he was doing it for his sister. But I didn’t expect her to bring it up.

I didn’t say anything, I just let her talk, “My brother wished for you to leave and never come back, but I was the one that told him to make you stronger.” She placed the basket down, pulling out a small knife from her dress’s front pocket. She still didn’t meet my eyes as she bent down and started ripping off the thorns of the flowers one by one.

“For eighteen years, I have suffered continuously. Worrying about my brother for every minute of every day. You see, he never believed what the Fate Watchers told him about his own safety, but I did....”

Her grip on the blade’s handle became tighter, and I could see the wetness forming at the corner of her eyes, “I’ve always had this feeling that something terrible will happen to him. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve had nightmares about losing him. I know it’s not fair of me to have you accept all of this for my own reasons. You obviously didn’t want this either, and because of me you’re stuck here.”

She stopped for a moment, her hands and fingers trembling slightly. I didn’t mistake the tear that streamed down her pale cheek, nor the cracking of her voice.

She heaved up a great breath, composing herself and going back to removing the tiny spikes. “Gabriel and I used you in a completely wrong way. Me for thinking that you were something to only protect my brother, without having an opinion in all of this. And for my brother, who thought of you as nothing but a way to prove that I was wrong. I sincerely apologize for this.”

Her apology unsettled me. Not because I didn’t think it was real, but because she shouldn’t be apologizing at all. It wasn’t her fault that things turned out the way they did. After all, I kind of understand why she did it; she was just worried about her brother.

Even if he was a giant dick, he still shared her blood and it’s reasonable for siblings to care about each other.

“You don’t have to say sorry, really. I mean, yeah sure I didn’t want this either. But I kind of had a hunch that I’m going to end up here. Not the way that I’ve expected though.”

I saw her visibly flinch at the last sentence, and the guilt in her eyes intensified. I wasn’t sure if that worked or not, but for a couple of minutes both her and I didn’t say anything.

But the silence didn’t last long as I heard her draw in a huge breath. “Lydia, can I ask you a question?” This time, her attention was completely on me, but she looked a bit reluctant to ask. “You don’t have to answer if you want.”

“No, it’s alright.” I nodded.

She chewed on her bottom lip, toying with the petals of the flower she had in her hands. “I was wondering, why did you accept the deal? I mean, you said that you also didn’t want this. You could have just said no and walked away.”

I looked down, my chest raising as I fumbled with my fingers, circling my thump over the smoothness of my fingernail. “To become stronger.” It was easy answering the question, but as I did the image of Luxus’s small body lying on the grass and the reflection of my terrified face surfaced back in my mind.

“Stronger?” I could tell she wanted me to explain further.

“Don’t get me wrong, greed is not the reason I want to be strong. I just want to become what I am, a Slifer. It’s what I have always wanted. I want to be able to use full Fire Magic. I want to protect the people who are in danger, the people I love...”

My mind kept frozen at my frightened expression as the werewolf held my full face between its merciless claws. And it made me feel shame and anger all at once.

“I don’t wish to be terrified of anything. I don’t want my hands to shake in terror as I watch my only friend getting hurt out of trying to protect me. I’m tired of being afraid; I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I don’t want fear to control me.”

I hadn’t realized that I was clenching my fist, my hands quivering with a deep rage I was dying to pour out. I was so angry at myself for failing in keeping Luxus out of harm’s way. I was embarrassed for not being able to fight properly or generate a stronger fire.

Most of all, I was ashamed that I had willingly sold myself in order to obtain everything I’ve ever dreamt of having.

I felt a hand on my shoulder, squeezing it tightly. My hard expression softened when seeing the Princess’s warm smile. There was some kind of gentleness that erupted from her. “It’s okay to be afraid. Without fear, you won’t be able to know your weakness. And by knowing that, you’ll be able to grow stronger”.

There was no pity in her eyes, no guilt. Just pure kindness. It somehow oozed out of her like energy, and it hit me as to what kind of person the Princess of Imarina was. She was one of those rare people that managed to care about everyone and everything.

“Everybody has something that they fear, Lydia. Even my brother. He might act all high and mighty, but truly he has something he fears too. He fears losing his loved ones, even if he doesn’t exactly show it. I understand that you might find this hard to believe.”

The King fears? She was right, I did find this hard to believe. The look in his eyes when we were in the forest told me that it was a look of a man that knows no fear. He doesn’t seem to be that kind of person. But then again, maybe I don’t know that much about him.

Princess Lis smiled at me before she grabbed her basket and tugged it in the crook of her arm. “If you’ll excuse me, Lydia, we have a long day ahead of us.”

“No, not at all.”

She seemed sorry, like she didn’t want to leave me. “I do wish that we could talk more. I would like to know more about you. But King Morrison is arriving today. He’s staying for The Honouring Day. He’s the first one to arrive since Freyr is not very far.”

She brushed my hair from my shoulder and gave me a firm look. “I do expect you to be present at the feast held tonight in honour of him. It will be in the garden so you’ll be able to see the servants preparing. I would like to introduce you to him. Now, I really better be going. See you soon!”

And with one last brightening smile, she headed up the stone stairway and I watched her disappear inside the castle.

The Honouring Day? That’s right, I remember reading about that in school. Lucius once told me about how he used to attend it back in his prime days. It’s held once every ten years, on the eleventh day of January; the day Imarina was founded. The reason why it’s held in Imarina because it’s the first kingdom to ever be established.

What I know about it is that the kings and queens of the four kingdoms gather in a vast festival, in which they honour and bless the main five Gods that created this world and the mortal world. First, they start by blessing the One God; Azareth, which from him came all the magic that is known in this world.

He created several other gods to possess the other types of magic, which he had divided for them. And of course, he also created the Fate Watchers. Legends say that before he created all those other gods, he had lived alone in this world that had no nature, no fire, no water, and no winds. So, using his magic, he had made the four elemental Gods that Slifers came from.

Cassius; the Stone-Handed God. Atticus; the Obscure God. Aeliana; the Sea-Haired Goddess, and Decimus; the Burning God. They created air, fire, water, and earth, while Azareth brought magic to our world. But it was different in the mortal realm, because Azareth thought that magic existing in both worlds would bring disorder.

I don’t know exactly what the kings and queens do in the festival, but I think it’s where the magic of the sky, light, ice, and darkness are all merged to form a magical sphere or something like that. Anyway, it’s a major event where a lot of people are gathered. It’s where food, music, magic, and culture are all brought together.

Personally, I would love to witness it. But I don’t know where am I going to be till January, and I have promised myself that the moment I’m finally at my full power I’m leaving Imarina with Luxus. I would like to go to Trinivan, it’s really far away and I’ve always wanted to see snow.

I should probably get going before this garden gets crowded with servants preparing the feast for King Morrison’s arrival, I could already see a few maids and servant boys coming down carrying tables.

I still wasn’t sure if the Princess was serious when she said I’m to attend the feast. I mean, what am I going to do among rich and noble people? I would probably look alien to them. And honestly, I don’t think I still want to face the King yet.

**

“Whoa! That is some huge crowd!” Luxus exclaimed, his red eyes travelling very fast over the sparkling people beneath us. I nodded, seating myself on the tall, wide edge of the balcony while I cradled him on my lap. My legs dangled over the marble railings into the open air, and funnily enough, no one seemed to notice.

To think that sitting in this kind of position would get people to look up, but they were so busy that they haven’t bothered to know that a girl and a cat were watching them from above. The feast was here already, and everything and everyone were so bright.

The decoration was just so beautiful that I didn’t recognize the garden I was in this morning, with pixie’s stones of light used to make the garden even more colourful. There was nothing better for me to do, so I just sat here all day, admiring how magnificent the servants made the garden look.

Everyone invited appeared as if they were coated with diamonds and precious gems. The women absolutely shined with their expensive, elegant dresses and jewelleries, their hair styled perfectly and their make-up done flawlessly. The men on the other-hand looked so dashing, from old-fashioned, but sophisticated outfit to more modern ones.

I caught sight of Princess Lis and a smile appeared on my face. “Lux, look at how beautiful the Princess is.” I pointed a finger and his ears perked up, letting out a low whistle.

She wore a long, high-neck dark blue dress that was tight near her waist then widened when reaching her knees. The dress had small, glittering silver butterflies embroidered from the left side to the top. Her short hair was all slicked back instead of having few strands falling over her forehead. And she accessorized with a simple, but eye-blinding silver crown atop her head, and two long silver earrings.

She was animatedly talking to a group of women, and she seemed so at ease and natural. Not to mention, there was a very good-looking brown-skinned man standing next to her with his arm around her waist.

“Hey, who do you think that is?” Luxus mused and I noticed he was looking at the same man.

“I think that’s her fiance. I heard she was engaged.” There was no mistaking the giant, glistening ring on her left hand. Or the intimate looks those two exchanged at each other.

Blushing, I felt like I was intruding into something that I had no business in. So I glued my eyes elsewhere, trying to find which one is King Morrison. But I don’t think he’s here yet. I don’t know what he looks like but until now they only made an announcement when the Princess and her brother entered the garden.

Did the King arrive already? No, I don’t think so. I’m really intrigued to know what he looks like, and more so about his magic. He can use Sky Magic; which technically is the use of lightning and thunder bolts. I heard that he has many forms of his powers which he uses differently.

“Lydia, why don’t you just go down there? This is ridiculous. You deserve to have some fun,” Luxus remarked, and I tried to ignore the narrowness of his eyes.

I sighed, not really wanting to go through this again. “I told you, Lux, I don’t really feel like going. I don’t want to run into the King, not now. I’m content with observing. Besides, look at them! I could never fit in.”

“That’s stupid. Just wear one of the dresses the Princess gave you.”

“It doesn’t feel right wearing them now that my old clothes are back.” I stroked his head, but he moved it away from my reach and turned it to look at me.

His whiskers flinched and the look on his face seemed distasted. “But your clothes suck.”

“Hey!” I was a bit offended at that, glancing down at what I wore. “It’s not that bad!” He did a double-over then turned away unconvinced.

That little ball of fur!

My clothes weren’t that horrible, they were just humble. I know that a thin-strapped white dress and flat shoes weren’t considered ‘classy’, but they were nice. Although, it wouldn’t hurt if now and then I would try something a bit fancier. Just not tonight.

My thoughts were cut off by the sound of two stomachs growling; mine and Luxus’s. How could this be? We just had two plates of dinner brought to the room, and somehow we’re still hungry!

“Do you see what I’m seeing?” Luxus drawled, his eyes attached somewhere left.

“What?” I followed his keen sight only to have my eyes land on a long table filled with various, mouth-watering food. As if on cue, our stomachs whined and that empty, piercing feeling increased.

“My Gods! Look at the size of those shrimps!” Luxus was ready to pounce off and away to the tempting table, but I secured him in my arms. Although I couldn’t look away from the different types of cuisines laid so neatly, nor could I shut my eyes from the six-layered cake in the middle.

I swear I could hear the food calling out to me, and I suddenly felt as if I hadn’t eaten in years. I shook my head from the image of me being in the centre of that table surrounding by piles and piles of food, forcing my eyes to move somewhere else.

In a moment, I had lost my appetite when my eyes landed on King Gabriel, who had his wide back facing my direction. He was wearing some kind of a black cloak that was wrapped around his broad shoulders, and it was draped all the way to his ankle.

I remember seeing that all his clothes were black, expect for his pants which were grey. But still, all his clothes were dark. Even the tucked in tunic he wore underneath his cloak was black, his belt, and even his boots.

When he entered the garden with his sister, it was like his sister was glowing and he was standing tall next to her with darkness surrounding him. It’s amazing how these two contradicted each other. Even in the way they arrived, she was beaming while he kept a deadpan expression.

I could see him having a conversation with a couple of men who were looking at him with total respect, and maybe small fear. There were also some women who shared the look, while others were stealing glances at him, their eyes full of something that could be easily considered as lust.

What did they see in him? Yeah I get he’s probably the most handsome man I’ve ever seen and he has that aura of authority which a lot of people, including me, would find attractive. But he’s a total shithead. He’s rude, violent, and overall he’s just terrible. I guess you could say that he was a good king, but as a person, he wasn’t very decent.

Yet, I can’t keep my mind off that first time I met him. It was like something inside me has shifted then exploded, and that sensation returns each time I look at him. I still couldn’t get over the fact that I actually thought of something as embarrassing as him being on top of me. It honestly irked me and I wished I could have erased that.

I mean, what happened there? I haven’t really thought about things like that over the course of those eighteen years. I don’t know what has come over me. Come to think of it, I wonder what it would feel like when the King would sleep with me for the first time. Should I be even thinking of that? I mean a huge part of me hoped that it would never happen, but a small one was curious.

I mean, I only know so little about sex, and it kind of bummed me that I would have to experience it with him. Obviously he’s an expert, I’ve heard stories about how women fawned over him or some of his past lovers spoke proudly of him in bed.

I didn’t really sought out for these stories. It’s just that the girls and boys in my school talked. Even the boys swooned over him, but it’s known that he has no interest in the same sex, unlike Queen Adria and King Calix.

“Err...Lydia?”

After all, he’s older and definitely knows more than I do. He would know exactly what to do, wouldn’t he? He would know where and how to touch me. But do I want him to? Well, the obvious answer is no. But the little voice at the back of my head told me it wouldn’t hurt to acknowledge the feeling.

They say that the first time hurts. But would the King be attentive to all my needs? I somehow doubt that. He would most likely just stick it in and be done with it. Oh, Gods, that’s right! I forgot about his um...thingy. I know what the average one looks like thanks to Lucius’s porn magazines. I remember being horrified for a week when I first learned how sex works.

“Lydia?”

But is it right to be thinking of something like that? I don’t particularly like the King but I will have to accept that sooner or later, I preferred later, he was going to make love to me. Is that right? Make love? That doesn’t feel like something the King would do. You have to have feelings for one another to make love. And all him and I have towards each other is hatred.

No. This will be just sex, no gentleness or affection involved. It made my stomach churn, and I couldn’t help but think of what will my first time be like? Am I going to be fully naked before him, or will he just stick to the lower side? What about him? Will I get to see every inch of his skin?

The image of him without any clothing made my face heat. I’m probably going to see a naked man for the first time, well unless you count Lucius’s bare drunken, hairy ass walking around in the middle of the night. Ugh! That was a sight I never wish to behold.

“Uh...Lydia?”

This is frustrating. I don’t want to think about him, but my thoughts stayed still and wouldn’t shift anywhere. What frustrated me more were those images in my head, those scenarios! The King’s back, moving fast on top of my heated body. Our skins are coated with sweat, the sounds of heavy breathing and moaning filling the darkness.

I knew it was wrong of me to imagine that, but I just—

Wait...

Why does it feel like I’m leaning in?

“Lydia, watch out!!”

I didn’t have the time to comprehend anything, and before I could even blink my body tumbled down and fell out of the railings. Luxus and I both screamed as we plunged into the empty air, the giddy sensation creeping up to my stomach and all the way to my head. I held tightly onto Luxus while the wind rushed up my face and made my hair a flying mess.

The bushes beneath me were getting closer, and with a blink of an eye my entire body collapsed on them, hissing at the feeling of small twigs scratching and cutting my skin. My face was buried deep down in the green plants, the lower half of my body hanging over my head and some of the leaves entered my mouth. I struggled as I tried to fix my upside-down figure, using whatever strength I had to pull the top half of my body, and to my utter relief I quickly managed to do it.

I groaned as I rolled on my back and placed my hand on my spinning head, while using the other to yank Luxus’s tail out. What the hell just happened? My surroundings felt like they were going in circles, but somehow I was able to hear loud gasps and an odd silence suffocating the air.

Just like that, I knew that I had just fallen down a balcony in front of hundreds of high-ranked, classy individuals. And to make the matter worst, they had probably seen my bright pink panties when I was in my upside-down state.

Damn....

My blurry vision was getting clear and I could see three floating heads above me. They seemed to be saying something but I didn’t make it out at first. But after what felt like minutes, I was finally able to see and hear well.

The first head belonged to Princess Lis. The second to a large, handsome tanned-skinned man with braided brown hair and hazel eyes. And the third to a beautiful woman with long, bright pink hair that seemed to shimmer. They were all looking at me with concern, surprise, and confusion.

“Is she okay?” asked the man

“Oh, dear. Lydia, can you hear me?” said Princess Lis.

“So...she is beautiful!” The pink-haired woman beamed.

The man rolled his eyes at the grinning woman.“Lysa, not now.”

Who? What? Huh?

**

Well, that was the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me in my entire eighteen lives, and I have done a lot of embarrassing things. After I fell from that stupid balcony, Princess Lis took Luxus and me away from all the chattering people and healed the scratches on our bodies.

Every time I think about it my face turns red and I want to shout out loud. The guest were giving me strange looks and some were laughing at me. After the Princess had healed me, I quickly disappeared out of sight and went to the woods for I don’t wish to show my face for all eternity.

The Princess tried to persuade me into staying but I quickly thanked her and was out before she could even say ‘you’re welcome’. I just wanted to go back to my room but the path was blocked by swarming people so I chose the nearest place I could go to.

Luxus wasn’t with me, he decided to stay at the feast and enjoy himself with the food table. That furry little bastard! It was lucky of him that no one seemed to pay attention to the small, black cat and instead had their eyes attached to the stupid girl that fell from a balcony.

However, I liked being here. It was quite and the weather was damp, like it would rain any time soon. But I enjoyed it. I have always loved the woods, more than any place. It’s just that anyone would feel peaceful and free in here. I just hope I don’t run into another werewolf though. I don’t think that the King would actually help me this time, considering the deadly glare he gave me back at the garden.

I honestly don’t know what’s his deal? Then again, I did fall down from the balcony in front of his guests. He must have been embarrassed too.

“Gods, Lydia! Why can’t you do anything right! Why do you have to be so fucking clumsy!?” I shouted in frustration to the trees, throwing my hands up in the air.

If only I wasn’t having those treacherous thoughts, this wouldn’t have happened. It was shameful and wrong for me to think that. If I had stopped right there I wouldn’t make such a big fool of myself.

I breathed out a long, shaky breath, trying to clear my head as I rubbed my temples. Get it together, Lydia. Just don’t think about it, forget it ever happened. All you need to focus on is how will you return to your room without getting another round of stares?

“A mermaid smiles by the shore,

Stretching her hands to the sea.

And as the water flows,

She hums along a melody.

Sad it may be, joyless the sound,

The mermaid grins,

Stringing pearls for a crown”.

A soft, pleasant voice rang in my ears. It was faint, but still audible as it seeped through the trees singing a song I’ve never heard before. The voice was so sincere that it stopped my thoughts, and I found myself wondering where it came from. Or more importantly, who or what it came from? I’ve read that pixies tend to sing whenever they’re in groups, but that voice was singular. I decided to find out the source, using my hearing to try and find which direction to go.

I walked further into a clearing where I could still hear the singing, and another dim sound of running water. It wasn’t very far away, and as I was getting closer, I could feel something strange in the air. At first I didn’t pay much attention, but as I was nearing I couldn’t mistake the enormous amount of magic force.

The hairs on the back of my head stood still, and my body momentarily shivered as I felt the raw power overwhelm me. What the hell is that? I’ve never sensed this type of magic before! Not even with Lucius or the King.

“Tears line her face.

Her throbbing heart aches.

As the silver moonlight bathes in her eyes,

She smiles again and says goodbye”.

I stopped in my tracks when seeing the figure of a woman. It was like a silhouette, I couldn’t see anything except that she was wearing a long dress and had long hair. She sat near a stream, the bright moon above casting a silvery-glow to her and the crystal waters. She couldn’t see me for I hid behind a bunch of thick branches, but even still she seemed absorbed in her own world.

Why would anyone be in the forest in this kind of hour? Well, I certainly came her to hide from my embarrassment. And that woman didn’t look like a pixie, she was far too large to be one.

She seemed to be enjoying the water, running her hand across the surface then making small, twinkling drops trickle down from the tips of her fingers. All the while, she kept singing the rest of the song. I felt like I was probably invading her privacy and that I should just go back and mind my business. That’s right, Lydia. Nothing to see here.

I was about to turn around when something happened that made my legs pin into the grass. My mouth dropped open as the scene before me unfolded. She stopped singing, and instead hummed a deep tone. But as she did, she extended her arm over the stream, facing her palm downwards, then flexed her wrist and the water moved.

It floated up and followed the movement of her hand. She spun her forefinger in circles and the patch of water imitated the action. She made it into small loops, steering, hovering, and then making it practically dance to the melody that emanated from her.

It hit me that the magic power I felt earlier was coming from her, and yet I couldn’t believe what was happening in front of me. There was nothing that I could do but stand here and watch the water bend to her will.

It can’t be...

She’s a Slifer!?

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