The Flames That Bind Us

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6. Taken by Shadows

A Slifer?

The scene before me continued, the silhouette of the girl`s hand moving with the rhythm of her song, as moonlight-soaked water swirled and weaved into the air. I couldn`t blink—I tried, once, twice, and a third time—but my eyelids refused to close. It felt like my sight was being hypnotized into looking only at her and her little water play.

I wasn`t an idiot, I knew other Slifers existed because I was a living, breathing example. But obviously I`ve never met one, and for that matter I didn`t know much about my own kind. All the books I`ve read about them—mainly children` books—only covered the basic stuff. Not even Grandpa knew much about that matter either. He only said that in the course of Ignolia`s history, two Slifers were seen. Some said that`s a bogus, others claimed they`ve met them. Nevertheless, the stories were unclear, and certainly undocumented.

But this—this was real. I could just feel it from the raw power that emanated from her. Although what she was doing was no more than messing around, there was a tinge of a very old—and powerful—magic seeming to wrap around her.

I had this urge to come closer, to witness more of that ancient power, to know who she was and what she was doing in a place like this. But I was nervous. First; she might be dangerous and would consider hurting me. Second; I had no idea how to approach her, given that I was spying on her. And third; she might not even give me a second thought and pay no mind to me.

In my head I was complementing how to do this; should I go for it, or should I just turn and leave?

The thought of leaving didn`t settle with me. I`ve waited a long time to get even a whiff of an answer on our kind, and even if she didn`t know much I wasn`t going to let this kind of opportunity go to waste. Who knows when I`m going to run into a Slifer again?

Carefully, I moved two steps forward, glancing between the girl and my feet sliding along the dirt. A couple of branches were in front of me, and I tried to slither between them without making a sound, the leaves and the sharp twigs brushing over my shoulders. The girl wasn`t very far off, what separated us was a large, thick tree trunk.

Her back was turned to me, and although it was dark in here, the silver light from the moon managed to illuminate a small fraction of her. My eyes widened a bit when I noticed the colour of her hair, which further proved her identity. Her hair cascaded down her back and all the way to her hips, the tips resting over the wet grass. From the top, it was the colour of sand, but when reaching the middle it looked as if every shade of blue was dipped into her hair.

And when a soft breeze came by, making the locks of her hair dance; I felt as if I was watching the waves of the ocean crashing on a shore.

I was too into staring at her back that I lost focus of where my foot landed, a loud snap interrupting the quietness around us. I heard three things—a gasp, a splash, and my own heart skipping a beat. Ah shit! I mentally cursed myself and the stupid twig that snapped in half when I stepped on it, my plans of not frightening her dissolving along with the water she lost control of.

Her shoulders went rigid as she quickly turned her back and looked for the source of that noise, only for her large, round eyes to land on me. I went still for a second too, noting that her eyes were the exact same colour as her hair, only that hers had what seemed to be a permanent sparkle.

She hastened herself into a standing position, backing a few steps away into the small pond. She held both of her hand to her chest, her eyes alarmingly searching me.

“Wh-who are you?” she asked, her voice was meekly and she seemed to be trying to sound brave. Geez, I must have scared her a lot.

I tried to sound casual. “Uh…sorry about that. I didn`t mean to pry on you.” She didn`t seem convinced, nor did she stop backing away. I have to think of some way to reassure her.

“Err…that was a nice song you were singing,” I said, then cracked a smile. Her eyes widened further at that. I tried not to wince at my lame attempt to start a conversation.

She still didn`t say anything, and I realized I probably didn`t answer her question. “I`m Lydia, by the way. What`s your name?” That`s a good way to open a conversation, Lydia.

Except she was still silent. And to make matters worse, it seemed like my question only ticked her off further. I breathed in, digging in my mind for some way to connect with her without her running off. My eyes landed on something glinting on her skin, like a flash of vibrant colours. It was on her pale upper right leg, near her thigh. I could see it through the side-split dress she wore.

For a moment I lingered at her dress, and how it matched her soft, thin figure. The dress was bright silver, ornamented with white, glittering jewels. It was long-sleeved and form-fitting, with a single split that exposed half of her leg. She certainly didn`t seem dressed for the woods, but nonetheless she looked breath-taking.

However, what caught my attention was the visible mark on her upper thigh. It was exactly like mine, but hers was the colours of the ocean. It matched her hair and eyes, just like mine did. The spectacular shades of blue reminded me of the ocean paintings I used to see in my school`s art gallery.

An audible gasp left her lips when she noticed I was staring at her mark, causing her to try to fold her dress over her bare leg. I wish I could show her my mark, at least she might not be so frightened of me. But I wasn`t keen on lifting up my dress. Not to mention that could probably make things worse.

“You don`t need to be so scared of me,” I held up a soothing hand, but she looked at it as if I was about to shoot fire balls at her at any given moment. “Really, I`m not going to harm you.”

“Stay away,” she whispered, one leg behind the other. Why was she so scared? I wasn`t going to hurt her. Clearly she didn`t think so, for her eyes were drifting sideways, like she was looking for a way to escape.

I sighed—heavily—and that made her shoulders twitch. Alright, I need to use another tactic. “Look, you don`t need to be so afraid of me. I just want to talk to you. I—you`re a Slifer, right?”

Apparently, that was the wrong tactic. Her eyes shot in panic, and she was visibly shaking as her mouth parted open. “You`re a Wizard Hunter!” she cried, retreating further away.

I took one step forward, trying to calm her down. “What? No! I`m just—“

“No! Stay away!” Before I was able to finish my sentence—or even blink for that matter—a splash of water hit my face, causing me to stumble backwards. I stayed frozen for a split second, water dripping down my face and soaking my hair and dress.

Did she just—

I didn`t have time to complete the thought, for she spread her fingers over the pond, flexing them before the water rose and circled the air. She shot it towards me, too fast for me to move so I was hit with another splash.

I didn`t know what surprised me more. The fact that she attacked me, or that her magic was in a higher level than mine. Although it was faint, I could feel the difference between mine and hers. But that doesn`t matter now, I needed to get out of her range or else she`ll drown me.

Before I could even move an inch, she was already standing in the middle of the pond, the water reaching to her ankles. A streak of determination crossed over her eyes, like she was making sure that I stay as far away from her as possible.

I braced myself for what she was about to do next, but was left momentarily confused as she folded her arms in front of her in an X. My spine tingled at the trickling amount of power as the water spiralled up from beneath her, forming a shield between her and me.

“Ah, shit…” Multiple water lumps burst forward, and I immediately took off running in the opposite direction.

One lump rushed at my back and I was able to dodge by ducking my head, hearing it meet the ground. Another one streaked by, hitting my right shoulder and I cursed at the coldness drenching my bare skin. I turned to face my attacker, and three different sized water spheres flew at my face, but I quickly dodged to the side.

She didn`t stop, nor did she slow down. Every lump was bigger and heavier than the other, and I tripped, avoided, and rolled past most of them, even though a few did manage to completely bathe me from head to toe.

“This is a huge misunderstanding!” I shouted at her when one came flying pass my ear, but she either didn`t seem to hear through the dense transparent wall she hid behind, or that she simply didn`t care.

She really has it in her head that I`m a Wizard Hunter. Can`t she tell that I don`t actually look like one? Then again, most of them don`t. I needed to think of a way to convince her otherwise.

“Miss, you got it completely wrong! I`m not a Wizard Hunter!” I raised my hands up to indicate my peace, but another sphere launched onward and hit my leg. I gasped at the cold feeling and nearly tripped. Dammit!

“Do you think I`m an idiot?” she shouted back. Oh, so she can hear. “I know how you lot are. You`re deceivers. You take away people`s magic as if it means nothing to them!”

I rolled my eyes. Okay, so honest words don`t work on her. Let`s try actions.

She conjured up another lump, this one larger and looked heftier than the others. I ran as fast as my trembling, wet legs could manage, feeling the angry blow trailing after me. I almost slipped at the thick roots of a large tree, using that to my advantage to shield myself behind the trunk.

The water thrashed when colliding with the wood, the stinging droplets of water staining the side of my face. I breathed out deeply and closed my eyes for a brief moment, feeling the drips that were stuck on my eyelashes slid down my cheeks.

I licked my lips, inhaling through my nose and flexing my hand in front of me. “I can prove to you that I`m not a Wizard Hunter!” I summoned heat into my body, steam coming out of my entire left arm. Clutching my hand, faint red and orange flames flickered off, wrapping around it entirely.

I released the breath I was holding, sticking out my arm for her full view. “See! I`m just like you.” The fire burned dimly, but it was still there, clear as the water she controlled.

For what seemed like long minutes, everything went quite. There was no further assaults being directed at me, and I dared to take a peek at her. She still had her arms crossed, but her expression was a mixture of confusion and genuine surprise. Even the watery wall she brought up seemed to be still.

I couldn`t help but smile a little. Did it work?

The answer was; no, it did not. Her eyebrows creased and she went back to attacking mode, a water ball almost hitting me in the face. I quickly retreated into my safe zone and took my arm—and the proof of my identity—with me.

Is she kidding me with this!? What, does she think I stole a Slifer`s magic? If that didn`t convince her, what will? She must be more stubborn than she looks. Or maybe she`s just an idiot.

“Do you really think I would be fooled by this? Now that I know you`ve taken a fellow Slifer`s powers, I simply cannot let you go.” Yeah, she`s definitely an idiot.

Suddenly, there was a strange crackling in the air. Soon, that noise turned into a loud, booming sound that radiated from above. I almost gasped at the amount of magic that filled the space around us, feeling some kind of an odd prickling sensation that swept under my skin.

The magic wasn`t coming from her; it was coming from the sky. I cranked my head up, witnessing the night sky being painted with flashes of bright, golden light. It cracked through the starless blackness, its roar almost sounded like a beast as it rang in my head.

Even the girl`s attacks seemed to halt, and I wonder if she felt the same as I did.

Another flash of light, and this time a long, powerful bolt shot downward, my eyes following it as it struck between the space separating the girl and I. I had to squint at the brightness that enveloped my vision, and I blinked one too many times when I thought that I had seen a figure inside the lightning rod.

The girl however, dropped all her defences—and I swear I saw her fix her dress and brush her hair away from her shoulders.

That magic power was still there, and it seemed to come directly from the lightning bolt. I watched with wide eyes—and a hung jaw—as the flashing faded out, causing the magic to tone down a notch. But what had my jaw nearly dislocating was the figure of a man standing right where that rod had been seconds before.

And even though it was at night, I could see him clearly, like he himself was glowing as well. He was of average height, maybe a bit above average. His clothes, I noticed, were very casual—and oddly mortal-like. He was wearing simple faded jeans and a brown leather jacket with a white shirt underneath. But his attire didn`t manage to hide the fact that he was very well-built.

I had to admit he was very handsome, despite what I could see in the dark. The golden-brown of his hair complemented the hazel colour of his eyes, the paleness of his skin, and the darker stubble on his squared jaw. Unlike the King, he didn`t have such a dark beauty, but rather a charming boyish one. He also appeared to be younger looking, like he could be at his early twenties.

I had a feeling I knew who this person was, especially in the way he entered.

“My, my, dear Ayana! I leave you for a moment and you`re already in trouble. Just what am I going to do with you?” He pranced towards the girl, his black boots leaving loud thudding sounds. Smiling broadly, he folded his arms over his chest, waiting for her answer.

The girl—whose name was apparently Ayana—bowed her head and blushed. “I`m sorry, My King.”

My King? So my suspicion was true, but is he really…

He shook his head, still smiling down at her, and said, “How many times do I have to tell you to call me Morrison?” He came closer and slid his arm under her waist. The action made her cheeks redden even more, and it didn`t help when he brought her to his side.

“Now, tell me, what unfortunate little thing have you ran into today?” he asked. She snapped her chin up and nodded at my direction, causing me to tuck my body to the side.

“She wanted to take my magic. I don`t know how she found me.” I heard her say. I wasn`t sure what to do. That man was certainly the King of Freyr, I could tell solely on the fact that he was using Lightning Magic. I don`t think he would hurt me. But if he also thought that I`m a Wizard Hunter…

“Why don`t we ask her?” he said. “Come out, little rabbit. No need to hide, I promise my friend here won`t try to drown you anymore.”

I gulped down. Obviously, I had no choice here. Slowly, I emerged from the safety of the tree and turned to meet them, but I still glued myself to it in case they decided to attack me together.

Upon seeing me, King Morrison cracked an even bigger smile, the skin under his eyes wrinkling. And somehow, that made him look younger and older at the same time. “Well hello there, fellow Slifer.”

Ayana`s eyes snapped from him to me, looking appalled. “What?”

“Can`t you see, sweet Ayana?” he kindly spoke to her. “She`s also one of your kind.”

At that, she looked rather pale—well, paler. “Bu-but, I thought she was a Wizard Hunter, and that she stole the power of a Fire Slifer.”

A soft chuckle erupted from him. “No, my darling. Can`t you feel her powers? Her appearance speaks for itself as well. She`s real.”

By now, Ayana was looking at me like she`s made the biggest mistake of her life. She fumbled with the fabric of her dress and her eyes seemed like they were about to burst out of their sockets from both shock and guilt.

“I did try to tell you.” I shrugged a shoulder. For the life of me, I couldn`t really be mad at her. Not when she looked like she was about to burst out crying.

She placed her hand over her heart, her face contorted in apology. “Oh, I`m terribly sorry. I honestly am. I feel like such an idiot, I didn`t know…I-I really am—“

“It`s alright,” I tried to calm her. “Really, I only got a swim out of it.” I pointed at my wet hair and dress, which now I`ve noticed clung to my skin, revealing my undergarments.

Ah, crap. This is not how I imagined meeting the King of Freyr.

“You have to forgive Ayana`s actions. She`s a very sheltered girl, and Wizard Hunters are one of her many fears. Being anywhere near water seems to be the only thing that can cool her down.” He laughed, winking at the joke he made.

Out of curtsey, I tried to force a laugh, though Ayana seemed to find it quite amusing. Wow, I did not know that the King of Freyr was such a bad comedian.

“Now,” he was back to smiling, “will you give me the pleasure of knowing your name?” I admit my cheeks heated up a little at how genuine—and quite charming—he sounded.

“It`s Lydia. Lydia Voltaire,” I said.

“Voltaire?” His golden-brown eyebrows knitted as he tilted his head, looking like he was trying to remember something.

“She’s a relative of Lucius Voltaire.” A familiar voice cut in, my shoulders stilling at the feeling of a shadow creeping pass me. It was less than a second until King Gabriel was approaching us from where he appeared, his dark aura casting shadows wherever he stepped.

“I thought that was you from the lightning. You`re late,” he said in a way of greeting, cold and callous in his tone. King Morrison however, didn`t mind as his grin widened ten times more.

“Ah, Gabriel, long time no see!” He clapped his hand on King Gabriel`s back, making a loud smacking sound that the King wasn`t too comfortable with. I bit the inside of my cheek in order to supress a smile at how unappreciative the King was of Morrison`s gesture.

From the corner of my eyes, I saw Ayana gasp softly before she bowed for the other King. Which reminded me that I should have probably done the same when both Kings arrived. But meh. And honestly, I wasn`t going to bow for that jerk after what he`s done to me.

“May I remind you that we`re on a schedule? The feast is almost done and you haven`t greeted the guests yet,” said King Gabriel, looking positively scornful.

King Morrison reciprocated with a laugh. “Oh don`t be such a glum. I plan on carrying it until morning, there`s still plenty of time. Besides, I was enjoying what Imarnia has to offer at night.”

The King glanced at me, his face as impassive as ever. Though, I did catch his eyes trailing momentarily at my see-through state. “I see you`ve met the Slifer.” The Slifer!? I have a name, you jerk!

“Ah yes, her and Ayana were having quite a tackle before I arrived. It seems there was a slight misunderstanding. Such a pretty little thing you`ve got there, Gabe.” Morrison winked at me, and I couldn`t help the blush. My! He`s awfully straightforward.

Though, I wasn`t really a fan of him indicating that I was one of King Gabriel`s ‘possessions’.

“She`s staying as a guest. An old favour for Lucius,” said the King, and that seemed was all what he was willing to say about me.

“What a coincidence!” exclaimed King Morrison, “Ayana here is also staying with me as a house guest.” He moved his hand from her waist to her shoulder, squeezing it.

King Gabriel gave her a curt nod of acknowledgment, and she smiled dimly at him.

King Morrison turned his attention back at me, beaming “So you`re related to Lucius Voltaire? I haven`t seen that man in centuries. How is he?”

“Uh…” Should I go with ‘fine’, or ‘I have no idea because he ditched me’?

“He’s currently traveling far off Imarnia,” the King answered for me, and luckily Morrison seemed pretty convinced.

“Oh, that’s too bad then. I was hoping that I would see him at the party,” he said, mildly disappointed. But it took less than half a second for him to clap his hands together and regain his enthusiasm back—I dare say more so than before.

“Well, all those people at the party must be anxious to see me, and I don’t think I can make them wait any longer,” he took Ayana by the hand and walked pass us before turning around. “Also, I must make an outstanding entrance this time, so if you’ll excuse me…”

I saw King Gabriel roll his eyes as he moved to stand next to me, a little too close for my liking though. King Morrison smiled at us, wrapping his arm around Ayana firmly, and then waving his fingers at us. “Would you two lovelies kindly step back please?”

We did as told, and I couldn`t take my eyes off what was about to happen. Again, that magic power fogged our surroundings and small golden sparks ignited around the two.

“I’ll be seeing you at the party, Gabriel. And it was nice meeting you, Lydia.” And with one final wink, a huge lightning bolt stroke the night sky and it landed on King Morrison and Ayana—the light blinding me for a second—before the pair disappeared completely, as if they were obliterated from the ground.

I couldn`t close my mouth, being both impressed and entirely envious that I couldn`t—for a million years—teleport using lightning.

I heard King Gabriel release a heavy sigh, totally forgetting that he was here. He stared at the spot where King Morrison and Ayana stood seconds ago, seeming unaffected and unimpressed. “He certainly is flashy,” he whispered, mostly to himself.

But the non-functioning part of my brain actually let me giggle at his words, and I clamped my mouth shut when realizing that.

***

“Are King Morrison and Ayana staying at the palace?” My question broke the insufferable silence that befell us during our way back. I had so many questions I wanted to ask about those two that I weighted on which one to inquire about. I settled for the simplest one.

The King at first didn`t answer me, his eyes set forward as I trailed slowly behind him. I didn`t want to stick too close to him and I was only following him because I had no idea which part of the woods I was in and I wanted to go back to my room, or perhaps stay at the feast and see if I could talk with either Ayana or Morrison.

It took him a few silent steps before he finally said, “Yes. They’re staying for The Honouring Day.” He didn`t really look at me as he spoke, but rather seemed like he had a lot on his mind. But it didn`t matter, I got what I wanted. Although I do remember Princess Lis telling me that just this morning. Gods, I really need to start paying attention more.

So they`re staying until the beginning of the year. That gives me lots of time to ask questions. It puzzled me how the first time I met a Slifer she was with one of the four rulers of Ignoila. Was it just a coincidence that she was with him? He did say she was his house guest, but was it in the same way I was King Gabriel`s ‘house guest’?

I didn`t know if either of them would answer this for me, but at least I had to try. I can`t just let an opportunity like that slip by. Besides, that doesn`t even add up to the fact that her magic was much higher than mine. As Slifers, we were all equal in powers even if the nature of our magic differed. So why did my flames look pathetic compared to her water-shield?

Could it be that—

“Why do you concern yourself with them? Did Lis not tell you that you`re not allowed to speak to anyone in the palace unless I approve it?” I halted in my pace, my head snapping towards the King. I didn`t know if I imagined his words or something malfunctioned in my ears.

“What?” I probed, and he stopped to look at me, one eyebrow raised.

“So she didn`t tell you. I should have known not to expect her to. She was rather livid when I told her,” he muttered, shaking his head. He folded his arms over his chest, the action twisting his biceps under his elegant, tailored tunic. But I didn`t pay much attention to that, choosing to look at his bored expression—which managed to piss me off a bit. But I kept a straight face.

“Well, you heard me. Unless I give my permission, you`re not permitted to speak to anyone of a higher status than you—which to say you`ll be seeing quite a number of them soon. I will not have you blabbering about the nature of your stay here and our deal.”

I honestly wanted to laugh at that, especially in the way he said it—so sure and indifferent. I scoffed, feeling a tiny spark starting to form in my body. He noticed my mocking gesture, and dared to tilt his head and raise that irritating thick eyebrow of his. I suddenly wanted to burn it off his face.

“Did I say something funny?” The little spark only expanded at the calm, unconcerned tone of his voice.

I tried to keep my mouth shut, to nod and stay silent just for the sake of not causing any more harm to myself. But this was too far. Maybe he can have my body—unwillingly so—but he cannot have my freedom.

“I`m not a slave. I may have agreed to your deal, but that does not mean you get to control my actions. I will speak to whoever the hell I want!” He didn`t appreciate the way I spit out the last words, a nerve in his forehead ticking off.

I wasn`t going to falter under his stare, so I looked at him with all the nerve in me. The idea that he thinks he owns me only fuelled the fire building within me. How can he say those things and expect me to comply? Does he really think that I will listen to him? That I will become a puppet on a string?

“Again, you`re defying me, Slifer. And I do not like that, not one bit,” he said, eyes narrowing as something dark contoured his face.

But I didn`t bother, I was pissed off at the term he chose to address me with. “I have a name!”

That eyebrow arched again. “One that I do not care for. I will address you however I see fit.”

My teeth grinded against my jaw, and without thinking I sprout out, “Then you wouldn`t mind if I called you dickhead?”

The darkness around him intensified, and his whole stature went rigid. He lowered his eyelids, his silver-grey eyes glinting as they pierced through me. I stayed rooted to my spot, trying to ignore my tingling spine. “Watch it,” he rasped.

Once again, my mouth opened without so much a second thought. “Or what? You`re going to beat me up again? Go ahead! Although I suppose Princess Lis won`t be so forgiving the second time. It`s rather unfortunate that—“I yelped when he suddenly charged towards me, his body pushing mine backward till my back collided with a tree.

He growled in my face—more animal than human—and I hissed at the hard impact that befell my back. His hands grabbed my shoulders and I tried to writhe out of his hold, but he had my shoulders in a strong, tight grip.

“What the hell are you doing? Let me go!” I demanded, but it was met with another growl. He leaned forward, his face inches away from mine. My face flushed at the closeness, and my quickening heartbeat didn`t help one bit.

“Don`t you dare to presume anything about my sister! Listen, Slifer, as long as you live under my roof you will obey my rules. After the embarrassment you caused me at the feast, you`re lucky I still keep you around,” he snarled, feeling his hot breath against my face.

But every word he said only flared up the fire. “To hell with that! Why on Ignolia should I obey you!? You don`t own me! I`m only here because—“

“—because you`re a whore!” he whispered fiercely, like cold fire stinging every fibre in my being. Deadpan eyes pinned me to the ground. “Do you think you are someone worthy to speak to Morrison, to his friend, or even my sister?”

Laughter—icy and malicious—erupted from him. “Darling, you`re not even worthy to speak to the servants. Do you know why? Because they`re good people. You, on the other hand, are nothing but a demanding child. A spoiled girl who thinks she can get whatever she wants by whoring around.”

“You know nothing about me!” I bellowed, anger burning deep—anger and hate.

He only smirked, leaning his face so close that with one move our mouths would be touching. I sucked in a breath, and his smirk widened at my clear discomfort. “Oh, but I do know you. You see, I`ve known quite a lot of people like you. They would do anything—sell anything—to obtain their goal.”

His lips trailed towards my ear, and I shivered and stirred my head away. “Some sell their morals, others their dignity. But you, Slifer, you`re selling your body for power. You`re willing to fuck someone you obviously detest all because you`re a greedy whore. You don`t think of anything but your own benefit, you care about no one but yourself. Just like her—“

He paused, blinking at me a couple of times as his jaw tightened, like he caught himself saying something that he shouldn`t. But I didn`t care. I didn`t care about his tongue slip or the person he was comparing me to. What left my blood boiling and my chest contracting were the false, cruel claims he made towards me.

He didn`t seem too bothered by my reaction, for he cleared away from me and started walking away. But the fire was still there, growing hotter with every step he took until I could feel nothing but searing rage spreading inside me. The echo of his words rang in my ears repeatedly, each time louder than the other.

‘Whore’

‘Don’t think of no one but myself, or nothing but my own benefit’

How dare he...how dare he make those assumptions so easily as if he had known everything about me? That bastard! Does he think that he knows every damn thing about everyone? He’s the one that doesn’t care about anyone. He`s the one who acts all high and mighty.

This is unforgivable!

For a split second, my mind left my head completely, and I was filled with nothing but pure anger and frustration. I dug my fist into my palm, sizzling red-orange flames curling over my fingers. With an anguished cry, I hauled it towards the King, shooting it with all the strength I willed from my arm. It streaked in a straight line—my common sense along with it—and hit the back of his head.

The force wasn`t enough to cause any real damage, for it disappeared almost immediately after. But it was enough to break the King`s pace, causing him to lift a hand and feel the slightly—or barely—burned hairs at the back of his head.

I felt like a spring exploding, and there was nothing I could do when I heaved a great breath and yelled, “You know nothing—nothing—about me! I hate you, and I hate this place! I just want to leave and never come back! To hell with all of this!”

By the time I was done, my chest was rising up and down and I inhaled as much air as needed. I could feel my entire body shaking, even the colour of my skin turned from olive to red. Silence dripped down on us, feeling it cover our surroundings like a thick wall.

But along with that silence, came an unnatural darkness slithering in. He was still, like he himself turned into a wall. I could see the darkness being pulled towards him, sucked into the blackness that rippled off of him. Slowly, his frigid body turned to me, and I swear I could feel my bones clinking.

Shadows blocked most of his face, but those silvery orbs held my flaming ones. “If you want to leave this place so badly, then let me make it easier for you.”

His words—low and taciturn—left a sudden feeling in my stomach. It was sickening, warm and cold at the same time. His body darkened under the moonlight, the more his magic merged with him the more I retreated back into the tree.

My limps felt icy, and my arms and legs were trembling for an entirely different reason than anger. It was fear, but I composed whatever muscle in me to not let it show on my face. Why the hell was I so scared?

I tried to calm myself, to force my legs and my fingers to cooperate, but to no luck. The glimmer of light the moon reflected on his left eye made him look like a beast, hungry for its prey.

Hungry for its prey...

By the time I blinked, King Gabriel’s large form was right in front of me, leaving me gasping as he bended over and caught my wrist with a firm hand, slamming it to the tree. My heart skipped a beat, then raced so quickly I was afraid it would burst out of my ribcage.

“Wha-what are you doing? Let me go—“ My attempt of saying anything was silenced when the King’s free hand grabbed my jaw. I hissed as he forcibly made me look at him and meet his clouded eyes, the fear in my heart escalating at how empty and hard they appeared.

“I’ll make this easier for you and me. I believe there’s no point of waiting anymore, don’t you think? After all, we were bound to do it sometime,” he said, and his eyes drifted down to my body—and how my wet dress clung to my very visible undergarments—licking his lower lip in the process.

It hit me like a lightning bolt, the feeling of knowing what the King was talking about. I tried to hide the terror in my eyes but it was like I’ve lost all control of myself, panic striking within me.

All the resolution, the anger, the hardness evaporated. And I was left with nothing but absolute white horror. “No! No, please!” I cried, my voice breaking as I tried to squirm out of his hold. “I don`t want this! Please do not do this to me!”

Shame at how pathetic and weak I sounded ran over me as if I had been thrown into a hole I couldn`t claw my way out of. But that was the least of my concern, for I knew I couldn`t hold him back. I wasn`t strong enough, and no matter how much basic training I got I knew I wouldn`t stand a chance against someone of his size.

He grinded his teeth, his throat vibrating. “Don`t be silly! I am a King, not a rapist! I will not force myself on you. I am not that low to even consider that!” He looked offended, pissed off that I would think that of him.

Surprisingly, he let go of my hand, but still maintained the closeness that wouldn`t let me move away. I glued myself to the tree like it was going to shield me from him. I conjured up whatever voice still left and said, “Th-then why are you—why are you doing this?”

“I will not tolerate your offense to me, Slifer, neither your attempt to assault me. However, I am not so much of a despicable man that I would stain myself by taking you against your will. All I need is a yes, you don`t even have to say it. And trust me when I say that it will be over sooner than later,” he said.

He placed one hand near the side of my head, resting it against the wooden surface. Other than that, he didn`t try to do anything else, and I realized what he was asking.

“You…you want me to…here?” I questioned.

He shrugged one shoulder. “I won`t take you in my bed, if that`s what you`re asking. I wouldn`t want to dirty it.”

A flash of irritation crossed over me. “I wouldn`t want to be in it,” I murmured, and he raised a threatening eyebrow in return.

“Mind what you say, Slifer. Remember I`m only doing this because you asked to leave, and I want you to. Therefore, this is the best and fastest way to make sure that happens.”

I couldn`t deny the truth behind that, but the thought was still registering in my mind. He noted my lack of response and added, “Eventually, it will happen—whether now or later. Personally, I prefer to fast things forward. It`s useless to think that we should take time to develop some kind of relationship between us, it won`t happen.”

“I don`t want that. Frankly, I don`t want anything of this,” I said, heat consuming my tone.

His lips formed a thin line, and he was suddenly bringing his face closer to mine while I pulled my head back until it rested flat on the trunk of the tree. With heat that matched mine, he said, “Neither do I. But this is something we agreed on. Now all that`s left is to consummate our deal.”

I swallowed, but my throat was dry and coarse. “And what if I say no?”

“Then I will leave you be.”

“You will?” I couldn`t help the disbelief in my voice.

He obviously took offense at that. “As I`ve said, I am not a rapist. However, if you are refusing because you think I will be attentive of you, then let me stop you right here. No matter when you agree, don`t expect me to be gentle with you. If you say yes here, or tomorrow, or two days from now, it won`t change how I will take you.”

I didn`t really expect him to. After all, neither he nor I held any kind of feelings towards each other, not even respect. It was clear we both detested one another and didn`t really want to be in this kind of situation in the first place.

He was right. It`s not about what we want, it`s about what needed to be done. But I was afraid, uncertain. I knew I didn`t want him to touch me, but what choice do I have? There`s no point in waiting, it`s not like he will suddenly start being nice to me the longer we waited.

“I…I don`t know.”

“You also should know that I don`t plan on taking it easy. I don`t care if it hurts. As long as I have your consent, that`s all I need. I will only stop if you tell me to.”

I wasn`t foolish enough to think he was going to be decent about it. But it did kind of reassure me that he wouldn`t violate me if I ever told him to stop. But who was I kidding? This was a violation in itself. I didn`t want it, I didn`t want to consent, but I had to, because it was the only way.

All I did was bow my head down and drop my shoulders, and that was what he needed to have as my yes—that and the slight nod I gave him. I don`t know why the feeling of him near me seemed to cloak my senses, like it was the only thing I was aware of in this moment.

“Well then…” I heard him say, watching his hands trail to the front of my dress. His fingers grasped the white fabric, and I felt my entire body flinch under it. “Let`s get rid of that.” With one move, he ripped it open, tearing at it until it was nothing but shredded cloths.

I was suddenly very conscious that I stood before him with only my mismatched underwear on me, and I couldn`t help the yelp that escaped out of my lips as I used my arms to cover myself. My face flushed with both embarrassment and the chillness that nibbled on my skin.

I didn`t miss the roll of his eyes as he grabbed my wrist, trying to unlatch it from my body. “I told you I won`t be gentle, didn`t I? It would be quite a pain if you kept doing that. Give me your other hand.” He extended his to me.

I still kept my arms firmly pressed to my front, looking at his awaiting hand as if it was about to dislocate from his arm and attack me. He—being both patient and not—watched me carefully. I dug my nails into my palm, chewing on the inside of my cheek and complementing on whether I should give him my hand or not.

To be honest I didn`t want to touch any part of him, but I found myself—despite the many objections in my mind—placing my fingers over his hand, noticing how mine looked small compared to his. He took both of my wrists and pulled them over my head, nailing them to the tree.

“What are you doing?” I asked, the slight panic returning to me. He didn`t answer, instead I felt his magic—a small amount of it—coming from where my hands were pinned. I cranked my neck up to see thick, shadowy strings wrapped around them, constricting me from any movement in my arms.

I looked at him, wide eyed. “I did not agree to this!”

“Don`t fret. I still stand by my words, I just don`t like you fidgeting around,” he said.

“That`s not an excuse!”

“I don`t care. Now, will you shut your mouth and let me fuck you?”

The rest of his words were dulled out by the sound of thunder breaking above us, but I still heard them and chose to ignore how vulgar they were. Even if, in some way, they were true. I knew there was no way the King would even consider ‘making love’. I don`t think this term even existed in the list of vocabulary he had for me.

With my hands tied up, I was completely wide-open for him. Although I was a bit thankful that the night didn`t allow much of me to be seen, instead he took in on what the darkness offered. For a moment he didn`t do or speak anything, his silvery eyes perceiving every visible inch of my skin.

“I do admit, Slifer,” he said, his voice deep as he trailed a hand across my waist. I couldn`t help but hiss, either at his cold hand on my skin or the sudden jolt of my body when he touched me, “you are quite appealing.”

His fingers reached just under my bra, brushing a thump against the soft spot. It didn`t take him long before he bent his head and placed his lips on the pushed-up tip of my left breast. He kissed the tender flesh, and I shuddered at the prickly feeling and pressed my lips together in order not to make a sound.

He lingered there for a bit before he trailed up to my collar-bone, leaving that feather-like sensation behind. He pressed his body closer to mind, blocking whatever space was between us, while his hand explored my hips and his fingernails swept over my thigh.

I closed my eyes and tried my best not to feel a thing, or make a sound, or even move a limp. But when his tongue darted out and he started licking his way to my neck, all while nibbling and sucking on my skin, my throat couldn`t help but vibrate a little.

And before I could even curse myself for doing that, I gasped when his hand moved to my breast and squeezed it—hard. I heard the smirk in his voice even if he had his face buried in my neck. “You are more sensitive than I thought,” he whispered, squeezing it even harder that I had to grit my teeth to stop from moaning.

He moved his lips to my ear and bit gently at my earlobe, sucking it in before his tongue grazed along the curve. I shut my eyes, fighting the tingling that assaulted every part of me—and desperately trying to ignore the heat forming at my lower part.

He kissed the side of my face, cascading down to my jaw and brushed the tip of his tongue over my chin. He kept kissing that area until he reached the corner of my mouth, in which I quickly turned my face away. His darkened-eyes looked at me, and I managed to say, “Not that…please.”

Kissing my lips was intimate—personal. And I did not want to have my first with him. That was the only thing I wasn`t willing to give to him. Luckily, he seemed to understand—like he also didn`t want it in the first place.

He backed away, but still close enough for me to smell him; his tangy, musky odour seemed to make my head lighter than it already was. Although his lips weren`t on me anymore, his hands were still there. His fingertips traced my shoulders, my arms, and the space between my collarbones until he reached the straps of my bra.

“If you`re that sensitive with those garments still on you, let`s see how you are with none.” With a powerful tug, he tore it off of me and I yelped in surprise again, my instincts telling me to cover up until it registered that I was literally bound into the tree.

My bare breasts perked in full display before him, and I shivered from the coldness that stung. I was somewhere between wanting to bang my face into the dirt from embarrassment, and wanting to yell at him for ripping yet another one of my clothes. Strangely, the latter one.

“Can`t you at least be a little more mindful of my clothes?” I couldn`t mask the irritation, and neither did he.

“Does it look like I give a damn?” he replied.

Bastard!

For a second I thought I had said the word out loud, for he gave me a look that indicated he somehow knew I was calling him names in my mind. But he dismissed it and went back to gazing at my half naked form. He didn`t even bothered to hide the clear lust in his eyes, biting that lower lip of his that did things to me I didn`t understand.

It wasn`t a lie that he was perfect—physically so. But it was a curse. A terrible curse that distracted me and made me think of doing things I`ve never thought of doing to a man.

I hated it. I hated how he was able to awaken a deep desire I didn`t want to have.

He inhaled sharply, his intense stare never leaving my body. It made me feel vulnerable and helpless, not to mention absolutely shameful. But a traitorous part of me—one that I`ve damned repeatedly—was marvelled that he thought of me as desirable. Never in my life have I been looked at in that way; one which made me feel like a woman.

I wanted to scream at myself for having these kind of thoughts, but it wasn`t long enough before he cupped one of my breasts, sending tingles through every living cell. I resulted to biting my lip so I could keep my voice restrained, and try to shun away the fiery warmth that was overwhelming me.

His hand was both cold and warm, and soon the other hand followed. He was being rough—true to his words before. And to my disapproval my body started being responsive to his touch. My hips started rolling when the excruciating hotness burned between my thighs, and my back was arching off the tree when he kneed and circled the lumps of flesh.

Things went worse when he dipped his head and captured one of my tightened nipples in his mouth, rolling it between his tongue while his fingers massaged the other. I could feel his throat vibrating as he groaned, and I thanked whoever was up there for the flash of lightning that concealed my own pleasured voice.

Damn, Lydia! You cannot let this get to you!

But it was easier said than done. I couldn`t stop the whimper that escaped me when he sucked on my swollen peak, nor the fact that I was pressing my breasts further onto his face so he could have more, or the liquid fire that soaked my innermost part. I definitely didn`t even allow myself to recognise the hardness that jabbed into my stomach, which was the evidence of his own desire.

I bit my lip harder until I was able to taste blood, feeling frustrated at how his touch made me feel. I just wanted to concentrate on anything else but him. I can’t let him have the satisfaction of knowing what he’s making me feel inside.

Another flash of lightning silenced my moan, and I almost cried in relief when he finally stopped. But that moment didn`t last long—not even for a second—for my spine erected when his fingers slid inside my panties, stroking my very wet folds in one swift flick. My voice broke at that, struggling to keep my knees from buckling as he tested my wetness.

“Hmm, it seems like you`re ready,” he purred in my ear. He didn`t wait for any reaction from me—to be honest I don`t think I can give him one. His hand pulled out of my undies only to slide them off, leaving me totally bare before him.

A feeling of dread crept up from the pit of my stomach; a cold wave came over me as I felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck. Even if I was expecting it, it still left me paralyzed. And his promise of not being gentle screamed in my head that for a second I was comprehending on whether I should tell him to stop.

But even if he did, I would gain nothing. I already felt humiliated and ashamed, I wasn`t going to add cowardly on that list.

He started unbuttoning his pants, and I dared to glance down at the large bump that was slowly being unveiled. I quickly tore my gaze away, alarmed at his size. How the hell was he going to fit?

He seemed to notice my unyielding effort to not look. “It`s going to be painful, so be prepared,” he warned. I didn`t say anything, for I wasn`t sure what to say. I either wanted to scream ‘stop’ or wanted him to get over with it.

I felt his hands underneath the back of my knees, and witch one swift movement he swept me off the ground and wrapped my legs around his hips. I exhaled at the feeling of his manhood rubbing up against my inner thigh, trying not to pay much mind at how stiff and long it felt.

He adjusted himself at my entrance, my breath becoming shorter and shorter. My limbs trembled, going numb. And the drumming of my heart resonated in my ear so loudly that it was the only sound I could focus on. Not even the powerful rumbles above us managed to tone down my escalating heart rate.

As lightening stroke, the King thrust himself deep inside me, a sharp screaming bursting from my lips as he slit my sex open. My back clawed off the hard surface of the tree, feeling a stabbing sensation coming from my tight core while he expanded himself further in and was tearing away what was left of my virginity.

It was like I have been cut in half by a knife, the pain was too much. My eyes brimmed with tears, hearing the King grunt and curse under his breath as he kissed my neck fiercely. I could feel something trickling down from there, staining my thighs. And it didn`t take me much to know that it was blood.

I buried my face between his neck and shoulder, biting on the fabric of his tunic and sobbing, all while unintentionally moving my hips for his shaft was too large. It felt like something was piercing through my body. It just hurt too much and my tears wouldn`t stop pouring.

The King started slowly plunging himself in my taut sheathe back and forth, one long stroke after the other. I couldn`t control my voice anymore, crying and whinging as he reached new lengths. His member was squirming inside me, his skin slapping mine while my ears were filled with erotic sounds coming from our joining.

The pain was fading away and it was becoming something I did not want, something that I have never felt before and feared feeling it, especially from the King. It coursed through my body like flames; flames of desire, a desire I did not want to overcome me by his touch. But it was just too strong; much too pleasuring.

With every thrust, my voice betrayed me and my body lost restrain. His breathing and mine blended together that I couldn`t tell which from which. He dug his fingers deep into my skin, quickening his pace and driving his cock in and out.

I was getting wetter by the second. The feeling of him stirring inside me, hitting the right spots, my folds taking him in flowed within every fibre in my being. I felt fire; bright, scorching flames that bound our bodies and clung into every inch of us.

Everything inside me was pulsing, twitching, and wanting to be released. He responded by going deeper, faster, until I wasn`t able to take it anymore. I shouted in ecstasy, the spring inside me exploding as I reached my highest point and climaxed with him buried in me.

He growled at my neck, pulling himself out and spilling his cum over my abdomen, as my own dripped out of me and mixed with the lingering blood. We were both trying to catch our breaths, panting and gasping for air.

We stayed like that for few seconds, my eyes watching the sky above me being painted with the lightning strikes. And just like them, the realization of what just happened dawned on me, causing my heated body to suddenly cool off.

What the hell were you doing, Lydia?

It felt like I had lost my mind but then it decided to return to me. Until this moment, everything in my head was blurry, like I wasn`t thinking straight and my brain had shut down, allowing my body to take over instead.

Was I really doing those things? Did these voices really come out of me?

The King lowered me down, his hold on my hands disappearing as my body sagged off the tree and dropped to the grass. He didn`t concern himself with my state, nor did he speak a word. I brought my knees to my chest, slightly cringing at the aching pain left.

I watched him straighten his attire, clearing his throat before he left me dazed and alone in the forest, with a mixture of red and white over my olive-skinned body. I didn`t care if that bastard left me here like something he was done using; something that to him was worth less than garbage.

Perhaps I should be angry. But the person I wanted to punch right now was me.

I felt something drip on my cheeks and my lips, the sky above me covered with dark grey clouds that reminded me of the King’s eyes and how they blended well with the darkness. Lightning stroke once again, like it was announcing that the rain was about to fall to the ground. I closed my eyes as the sound came first, then the cold dribbles plummeting over me.

There was no one I hated more right now than myself. It`s true I possessed a strong hatefulness towards the King, but I was the centre of my own self-rage at the moment. How could I let myself be so responsive to him? To lose myself and indulge in the pleasure that he was giving?

Will I be feeling like this the next time he does this to me? Do the Gods hate me that much as to let me feel pleasure by the hands of a man I loathed?

All of this—I was doing all of this, enduring it all, for the sake of becoming a full Slifer.

Gods, I’m pathetic…

It was the only thing I ever wanted, the only thing I dreamt of being. I remember a promise long made that would now never come true; a promise I was so naïve to make, thinking that things would still be the same in the future.

I made Grandpa promise me that no matter what, the three of us will never be separated. That when I finally have my full powers; him, Luxus, and I would roam Ignoila and explore every part of it. That every day would be an adventure. Back then, my world was colourful and hopeful.

But now, my reality is taking it all away.

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