The Flames That Bind Us

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7. Cleansing Fire

Lucius Voltaire

“Another glass!” I shouted to the bartender as I raised my large, empty glass of honey-glazed rum. A second ago, it was completely filled that some of it spilled over the circular edge, but I had dawned all that down in an instant. The poor elf that catered for me widened his thin eyes for the fourth time. “And this time, less honey,” I added.

His sharp chin nodded and he came and took the glass for another refill. As he was fixing my drink, I munched on the dried figs and tried to ignore the hushed murmurings around me. I had been in this crowded, small, filthy bar for only Gods know how long drinking my day away. I`ve went through three barmen and drank half the menu.

Yet, I couldn`t feel one ounce of tipsiness. I wasn’t even on the verge of being drunk, which left me wondering whether the years of drinking booze till I was flat on the floor had an advantage of making me less effected by alcohol?

I’m not even sure if there was a moment in those years were I was completely—and one hundred percent—sober? Which left me even more confused—and slightly irritated—that the alcohol wasn`t getting to me.

A small part in my mind, tucked deep down, told me that the booze wouldn`t let me numb the feeling of guilt that was eating away at me.

It`s been almost two days since I left her and Luxus in the hands of King Gabriel, and no matter how much I tried not to think about it, something would scratch at my skin and I would immediately remember the look on her face when she threw the bracelet I gave her then disappeared.

I couldn`t even bring myself to visit her in the palace when I heard she was injured. Although, something about that werewolf story didn`t feel right. I thought if I just turned away and left, it would be easier. But as always, I was a fool.

And now, her last memories of me would be how I left her with someone who clearly didn`t want her. I wasn`t even sure if she was with the King, or had he thrown her out?

Did she know? Had the King told her the true reason why she needed him? If he did, I imagine she would be very shocked and angry—but mostly at me for not telling her.

I don’t know why I didn’t tell her that part in particular? She knew that her body was supposed to belong to the King only, but didn’t know the reason behind that. Perhaps I thought that if she did, she wouldn`t want to be a full Slifer anymore and that her dreams of becoming that would shatter. She wasn`t very approvable of the whole idea in the first place.

But Lydia wasn`t one to give up easily, even if it broke every bone. If she knows, then she might be willing to do anything to achieve that goal. I had no idea where she is or where she could be. I should have ensured that she`s settled somewhere—whether it`s with the King or not—before I left.

I would have used the tracking charm on her bracelet, but I doubt she was wearing it. I looked over the place, trying to spot a familiar figure. But to no end. Where the hell is that bastard? I sighed, tucking my hat lower when I caught some few eyes ogling me.

“Look, isn’t that Lucius Voltaire?”

“Yes he is. What is he doing here?”

“Getting his ass drunk, I bet.”

“Honestly, how can he show his face in public? That’s just unbelievable.”

“It’s wizards like him that should be executed by The Congress of Magic.”

“He’s not even considered a wizard anymore.”

I disregarded the obviously loud whispers in the background, taking a handful of the dried fruit and plopping them one by one in my mouth. I felt nothing but pity for those who had nothing better to do than speak about others behind their backs, or didn`t even have the balls to say it in my face.

Although, they did have a point in me no longer considered a wizard—even if I still had my magic within me. But having your magic absorbed by Wizard Hunters is considered more endurable than completely abandoning it.

But these people didn`t know anything. They knew nothing about me, nor my story. They probably didn`t even think for a moment that I could literally obliterate them using my magic. The thought was tempting, but I knew better than to cause a scene and start a chain of rumours.

For these chains of rumours will eventually lead to Lydia, and that was something I couldn`t afford to happen. It was bad enough already that she was getting herself into trouble, she doesn`t need me to add to that. Her being attacked by a werewolf was the least thing that could happen to her.

I still had many dangerous enemies—including some famous Wizard Hunters that will rest at nothing to absorb my magic power—and those enemies will do whatever it takes to find their prey.

And once word gets out that Lydia Voltaire is living in Imarina—well, there`s one rumour that needs to be heard.

“Lucius Voltaire. Long-time no see, old friend.” The owner of the voice patted me on the back before he took a seat by me on the stool. The moment he arrived, the elf returned with my drink.

I took it from him and turned to my guest. “Do you want anything?” I asked.

He shook his head, raising a blonde eyebrow. “Lucius, it`s mid-day.”

“So?” I shrugged.

“I don’t think it’s the right time to be drinking this early,” he smiled, making the blue of his eyes gleam in the gloomy darkness of the bar.

“Suit yourself.” I gulped down the burning liquid in one take, earning a stifled laugh from Gerard and another widened-eyes from the elf. I set the glass down with a loud thud, my chest heaving as a burp came out of me.

“I see you haven`t changed much,” I ignored his mixture of disgust and amusement. He swept his arm and took the glass, sniffing it. “Honey-glazed rum. It must have been one hell of a day to be drinking something this strong.”

“You want to know the strange part?” I asked.

“With you, always,” he said, and grinned. I scoffed at his jesting.

“I`m not even feeling a thing. I`m completely sober.”

He mockingly rose his eyebrows at that. “You are? Now that`s a first.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “It`s not funny. It`s a pain in my ass.”

The whole set of his white teeth flashed. “For you, I`m sure it is.”

I wanted to slap his annoyingly handsome, young face for not taking my problem seriously. But instead I signalled the bartender for another drink. Gerard cleared his throat, changing his sitting posture from casual to something more appropriate for his title. I remember calling it ‘the erecting dick’ the moment I first saw it.

“So, care to tell me why you brought me here? What does Lucius Voltaire possibly want from The Congress of Magic?” he said, his expression shifting from relaxed to authoritative.

“Relax, Gerard. It’s not The Congress of Magic that I want from, it`s you.” I pointed out.

“Is that why you told me to come here without my formal attire?”

I nodded. “Figured it would be questionable to have a ranked officer such as yourself be in this dirty place.”

Gerard Vastia was the Head Officer of Defence in the Congress of Magic; his job requiring him to capture top-rated criminals wanted by the Congress. Though he looked young—for he stopped his aging process at 29—he was assigned this position centuries ago. We`ve developed a very unlikely friendship long ago, back when I used to work as a Ranked Wizard for the Congress.

He was the only person to know why I had really given up on magic—and the person I trusted most for what I`m about to do.

Leaning his buffed arm on the table, he said, “So you`re here to ask for a favour from an old friend, huh?”

“Kind of. But first, have you got anything about her?”

“Yes. General Aero is a good friend of mine, I asked him about the girl—told him you wanted to know how she`s doing.”

“And?”

He leaned backwards to scratch the back of his head. “He told me he only saw her once, didn`t speak to her at all. But she was fine, and that she`s currently staying with the King.”

“Is that it?”

Gerard gave a nod, but he seemed hesitant in a way. “What?” I prodded. Was there something he wasn`t telling me?

“Nothing. It`s just that—I don`t know—I have this feeling that he wasn`t telling me everything. Do you want me to go there personally and talk to her?”

I shook my head. “No need. You`ll need to stop by there anyway.”

He gave me a puzzled look at that. “What do you mean?”

I searched my coat pocket for the thing I wanted to give him, pulling out a folded letter and handing it to him. He smoothed the soft edges of the paper with his fingers, his eyes cascading along the addressed words written on the front.

He snapped back to me, waiting for me to explain. “I want you to give this to Lydia,” I told him. “Make sure she gets it. It`s not exactly fancy, but what matters is that she understands.”

“Understand what, Lucius?” I recognized his alarmed tone, and the penetrating look of concern he gave me. I jabbed my chin towards the letter, indicating that he reads it, and this time sipped on my drink.

From the corner of my eye, I saw him scanning the letter with pursed lips and ceased eyebrows. Confusion, shock, and then anger went through him like wind. And by the time he was done, he exhaled a loud breath.

“What’s the meaning of this!?” he questioned, gripping the paper tightly and shaking it in the air. “Is this some kind of a joke?”

“It`s not funny, is it?” He glared at my flat tone.

“Do you honestly think that she would believe it?” he retorted.

I sighed, grabbing my glass and twirling it. I watched as the gold liquid swirled inside the stained container. “She would believe the word of the law. And I`m sure you would make a terrific story about my shocking death.”

“Have you any idea how much pain this would cause her? The girl has been through enough. It`s bad enough that you abandoned her and left her on her own. What do you think this will do to her?”

“She hates me now. I would rather have her mourning—even if for a second—than be hurt through me. It’s for her own protection.”

“You always say that. Ever thought that she doesn`t need protection? She`s not a little girl anymore.”

“Are you insane?” I looked at him. His lips were in a thin line and he was drumming his fingertips on the wood. “She can`t even defend herself against a werewolf. Her being with the King is an advantage, but after that—“

“After that she might become fire itself,” he barged, his eyes focused. ”Did you forget those stories our families used to tell us about Slifers? The legends and the tales? If she emerges out as her true self, then you`d be the one who needs protection.”

“Until that happens—and I pray it will—I cannot afford to risk it,” I countered.

“So you`re just going to hide then?” He folded his exposed muscled arms over his chest, clearly unimpressed by my decision.

I frowned. “Do you think I want this? All these years I`ve managed to keep our life together as secreted as possible. But now with her living in the royal place, people will talk. This isn`t easy for me, Gerard.”

“It sure seems like it.”

I huffed, the curls tickling my forehead. “Please, Gerard, you have to do this for me. This is for her own safety; there are people out there who will use every opportunity there is to lure me, especially through her. I need this to be done. I need to disappear.”

At this point I was pleading, and Gerard was staring at me in disbelief. I haven`t begged for anything since I was a child. But for her; I was willing to do anything—everything—to ensure her life. I wasn`t going to let someone I loved get hurt because of me again.

So much for my vow to not get attached…

He inhaled, loosening his hold on the letter. Hesitation crossed his features for a second, but eventually he gave in. His shoulders fell and he released the breath he was holding. Seeming to resist all the reasons not to, he finally nodded.

“Alright, I’ll do this. But I hope you`re aware of the damage this will reflect on her,” he stated.

“I know,” I whispered. “But she can’t live in a world where I exist.”

♛♛♛ Gabriel James Imarnia♛♛♛

“Of all the stupid shit you`ve done, Gabriel, this has got to be some sick fucking joke!” Aero stormed into the throne room with flaring nostrils and wide, seething eyes. The heavy thuds of his large boots as he approached me echoed through the vast space of the room.

Azade; the Minister of Treasury, and whom I was counselling with, almost dropped her ledgers at Aero`s booming entrance. “Your Majesty?” She turned to me, and I gave her a look of dismissal. She bowed her head, then walked pass Aero`s impatience frame and left.

I leaned back into my throne, already not having the energy to face whatever had the Captain of my Guards looking at me as if he wished to kick me through a wall. “This better be good, Aero. My head`s already spinning from Azade`s report on the amount of money we spent on Morrison`s damned welcoming party.”

He didn`t seem to appreciate my lack of interest on whatever he had to say. He shook his head, and I noticed how he curled his fists into his sides. “Are you fucking kidding me!? Do you know what I`ve been doing all this morning?”

“Braiding your hair?” I said, looking at his many-sectioned braids that rested on his shoulders. How the hell does he even have time for that many braids?

He just grit his teeth at my words, seeming to restrain himself from not shouting. “Are you really making jokes now? At such a time? After what you did to that poor girl!?”

His slight yell at the end didn`t pass by me, and I raised an eyebrow at him. “Lower your tone, Aero. You`re speaking to your King—“

“Fuck that!”

A moment of silence descended over us. I wasn`t sure if he was aware of what he said, and neither seemed he. If it was anyone else, I would have thrown them across the room with my magic. But it was Aero. And that was the first time, in many years, that I have seen him this upset.

“Is this regarding the Slifer?” I asked.

He snickered, shaking his shoulders. “Oh, so you do know what happened. Yes, it`s about her. I found her cat this morning begging for one of the guards to help, so I went along and guess what I found, Gabriel?”

He didn`t seem to be waiting for an answer, but rather beheld me in disapproval. He held in a breath, and said, “She was bare of any clothes and was asleep under a tree—for a moment I thought she was dead because her skin was so pale. Lis is in her room right now nursing her back to health.”

“So, the Slifer didn`t bother to go back to her room last night. What`s that got to do with me?”

Aero`s mouth gaped open, his eyes registering in disbelief. “You…” His breath faltered, stepping back. For a brief moment, he looked as if he was losing his balance. “You admit to it…you confess of your doing?”

I was beginning to feel very impatient with Aero`s questions and the accusatory tone that latched to them. I rose from my seat and climbed down a few steps. “What are you getting at, Aero? What do you want me to say?”

“I can`t believe this,” he whispered, mostly to himself. What the hell has gotten to him?

I stood before him, and even though he had a taller and bulkier form than mine, his fingers were trembling as he clenched and unclenched them several times. I knew it was something he did whenever he was angry, impatient, traumatized, or all three.

I was honestly perplexed for I have only seen this side of him during the war. “What`s the matter with you? You`re shaking.”

His head snapped to glare at me, and I could hear the crackling of his knuckles as he folded his fists. “What the matter with me?” he seethed, “Are you seriously acting like all of this is okay!?”

His voice resounded over the throne room, and a small part of me flinched, not because I felt fear, but because I felt the resentment and disappointment in his tone and saw them reflecting in his eyes. I`ve never seen Aero with that look before—at least not directed at me.

It made something inside me ache, but I tried to dismiss it and focus on the irritation that was sliding through my head. It was hard enough keeping my own rage in check for I didn`t want to disembowel my own best friend.

“I don`t understand,” I said, “Weren`t you the one who wanted me to take her?”

“That does not mean that you can rape her!” His shout resounded over the room that it made the jewels on the iron chandelier above us rattle.

I blinked at him, trying to process what my life-long friend was accusing me of. “Is that what you think I did?” I asked, realizing my voice was uneven.

He clicked his tongue. “I`m no fool, Gabriel. She was naked and I could still feel your lingering magic, thanks to this.” He lifted his wrist to show me the mark we shared. “I felt it yesterday too, but it was so minor I thought whatever you were doing wasn`t worth the attention. I didn`t know you were…”

He released a shaky breath. “When I found her, I prayed to every god that it wasn`t true. That the man I knew almost my entire life did not do this to a poor girl.”

The look he gave me could possibly send any man cowering in shame. It wasn`t furious, but the disapproval, the disappointment, and the disbelief swirling in his eyes pierced right through me. What left my insides—and my heart—sore wasn`t the fact that he was looking at me that way, but that he actually believed I would do something this despicable.

I may have changed in those past hundred years. I became easily incensed, less patient, shut-off, and non-trusting. But there was still a small part of me left, one that knows right from wrong. There remained some decency. And I thought that my friends and family would at least see that. But I was wrong.

“And you just decided that I did it?” I stated.

Aero grit his teeth, coming towards me. “I`m not an idiot, Gabriel. I know you took her.”

“Yes, I did. But not before getting her full consent.”

“Do you think of me as that simple?” he frowned, eyes squinting.

“Do you think of me as that low?” He didn`t answer, his lips turning into a tight line. “When she wakes up, ask her if you wish. I didn`t force her, nor did I bully her into consenting. I simply stated known facts, made my intentions clear. I even told her that if she said no, I would leave her be.”

His jaw hardened, but the flaming in his eyes seemed to wane. “And yet you still left her there after you were done?” It wasn`t a question, but another statement.

“She wasn`t my responsibility. It`s not my concern if she headed back or not, for she knew well I wasn`t going to be gentle with her.”

Aero`s teeth straightened. “So you threw her away like something you were done using!? I can`t believe you, Gabriel!”

“Obviously you can,” I said, brushing pass him. “Since you went ahead and practically called me a rapist, I think that you would believe anything from me.”

He turned around. “This isn`t about you, Gabriel.”

I regarded him with the same coldness seeping through me. “Perhaps. But you made it about me when you decided I was now a sexual assaulter.”

“Gabriel—“

“I don`t wish to speak of this any longer, Aero. You`ve made it pretty clear what your thoughts of me were. Now, leave. I have more important matters to think about.” I gestured at the wide-open double doors.

He huffed. “You can`t just dismiss—“

“I said!!” My voiced thundered, the small rumbling of the iron chandler following after. Darkness bubbled within me, making its way inside my body and threatening to slip out. I walked up to him and hissed, “Leave.”

His jaw momentarily twitched, and for a minute we both held each other`s firm gaze. But his shoulders dropped, and with a tsk he stormed pass me and stood by the door.

Mockingly, he gave me a bow. “Forgive me, Your Majesty. I will leave you to your important duties.”

And with that, I heard his heavy steps disappearing into the corridor. Suddenly, I couldn`t control it anymore. A wave of darkness surged out of me and slammed the doors shut, creating a loud bang that shook everything that was in the room.

.

≼ ≼≼ Lydia Voltaire ≽≽≽

I heard the sound of sobs like someone was crying inside my head. All I could see was empty blackness, but the sniffs and weeps were coming from somewhere at the back of my mind. I wasn`t even sure if it belonged to me or someone else`s. I was beginning to regain some sense of myself, feeling something soft underneath me and the blackness fading in and out.

Still, my eyelids felt heavy, as if some weight was pressed upon them. My body felt both numb and achy, but most of all cold, which confused me since I knew for a fact that I was immune to coldness. But this one…it was different. This one felt like it was generating from the inside rather than the outside.

The crying voices became clearer, more grounded that it made me realize they weren`t indeed mine. That means someone else was crying, but who? And why?

It wasn`t just the sound, but the warmth underneath me had me aware that I was probably sleeping in a bed. And there was also a small weight pressing on my chest—and it was moving.

I moved my fingers, trying to move my arm but even that had me feel like my arms was made out of metal. Nevertheless, I managed. My hand went to what`s weighting on my chest, and when I stroked it, it felt warm and fluffy. It shifted under my touch…mewling.

Luxus!

“Lydia? Are you awake?” I heard his voice, and I almost smiled. But my lips felt dry.

I could also hear a gasp and a sniffle, which meant someone else was in the room.

I peeled my eyes open, hissing at the light that attacked my vision and left blinding spots. Blinking several times to adjust, I finally could see where I was. I was in my room in the palace—which I don`t remember going back to after last night.

I was suddenly aware of how my body felt sore almost in every place—especially the lower area. My neck and back were throbbing and I groaned when I tried to sit up. I tried not to move my legs too much because it was still stinging down there.

However, I noticed that I was fully clothed now, wearing a white sleeping gown that wasn`t mine.

“Lydia?” I heard a stifled voice, and I turned my head to see the Princess sitting by the bed side. Her lips were parted and her eyes were glossy and red with tears. So, she was the one crying.

“Your Highness? W-what happened?” I looked around the room. It was already morning, but I don`t remember going back to my room last night. Everything kinda went all fuzzy after it started raining.

“Aero,” she sniffed, “he found you this morning in the woods. So we took you back here. I healed some of the scratches on your arm, and got your temperature back up—well almost.” She blinked away the tears.

So, that explains why I was surrounded with at least half a dozen of blankets. But I still had no idea why she was crying.

“Lydia,” Luxus placed his paws on my cheek, “are you feeling well? Does anything hurt?” he asked, red eyes round with concern.

I scratched his head. “I`m fine, Lux.”

Throbbing head, aching body, and taken-virginity aside.

“Lydia, I don`t know what to say…” The Princess whispered, her voice throaty from all the crying. I noticed how shame pooled into her eyes, and she seemed as if she was trying hard to look at me directly.

“What is it?”

My question appeared to be what triggered her. A second ago, she was struggling to compose herself, but now her eyes welled-up again and her mouth quivered. Tears flooded down her face as she threw her arms around me and sobbed into my shoulders.

“I`m sorry. I`m so sorry,” her words were muffled. “I didn`t know. I never imagined. This is my fault. My fault!”

Confused was my first emotion of the day. I had no idea why the Princess of Imarina was crying on my shoulders and apologizing. She sounded like she was gasping for air, but she only cried harder and held me tightly as she continued, “I knew he was a changed man…b-but I never thought he would do that.”

Is she talking about the King? Does she believe he took me by force? Now I understand why she was acting this way. She said she brought me here. And given my state yesterday…well I don`t remember much, but I think I fell asleep under the rain.

So, she thinks her brother raped me. He was an asshole and a prick—and clearly now his family thinks that too. But to be fair to him and his sister, he didn`t touch me without my consent. He was a complete ass about it though.

I grabbed her arms and gently removed them from my shoulders. She lowered her head, mistaken my action as not wanting her to touch me. “It`s not what you think. He didn`t do anything—I mean anything I didn`t agree upon first.”

Her eyes went round, and her bottom lip twitched. She swallowed, searching my eyes. “What?”

“Lydia, are you sure?” asked Luxus.

“Yes, I`m sure. I gave my full consent.” And I hated myself for it.

She licked her lip, her fingers twisting in her hair. “So…my brother…he-he didn`t?”

I shook my head. “No.”

She placed her hand over her mouth, shutting her eyes close and sobbing—this time in relief.

I removed the many blankets around me, kicking them off and yelping slightly when my core stung. I closed my eyes for a second, exhaling through my nose. I tried to ignore the constant ringing in my head as I walked small steps towards the bathroom.

When closing the door behind me, leaving the Princess and Luxus to their thoughts, I went to the sink. The first thing I did was wash my face with cold water, the sliding drops reminding me of my encounter with Ayana.

It felt like a life time ago when it was just yesterday, and I don`t even remember half the things I wanted to ask her. But that could wait. Now, I needed a bath. I needed to wash myself.

I filled the tub with hot water, gathering all my shampoos and soaps that I normally wouldn`t use all at once and placing them on the top rim of the tub. I stripped off my clothes as quickly as possible, almost stumbling over the silky fabric.

I caught my reflection on the mirror, grimacing at the girl staring back at me. My skin was pale, not its usual olive colour. My hair was mangled and knotted. My lips were starting to change back into their previous colour, but looked shrunken and parched.

But my body—my body was the worse. There were red marks over my jaw, neck, breasts, and throat. Fingerprints around my inner and outer thighs, and scratches along my hips. They were all the proof of him being inside me and I wanted desperately to claw out the memories they left from my brain.

Maybe I purposely didn`t go back to my room last night because I wanted to punish myself for the things he made me feel—and the fact that I allowed him to.

I hated it. I hated how I lost myself to his touch. Even if I agreed to it, I thought I could just close my eyes and endure it—but never enjoyed it. Both my mind and body betrayed me last night.

I needed to clean myself from him, to cleanse away the sensation of him moving inside me that I still felt till now. I had no idea how am I going to continue with this. This certainly won`t be the last time, and I dreaded the thought of another one.

But for now, I can put all these things aside. What mattered now is that I needed to get in the tub.

The water was literally sweltering, steam fogging the entire bathroom. But something like this doesn`t hurt me. I slide my feet then my entire body followed along. I made sure to soak the entirety of me, right down to my chin.

I wasn`t sure how long I stayed in there, but it was long enough that my skin turned so red, one couldn`t tell the tears streaming along my face.

★★★ End★★★

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