The Flames That Bind Us

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8. A Day of Light in Centuries of Darkness

♛♛♛ Gabriel James Imarnia♛♛♛

I threw myself on the throne, gasping. I had lost control of my powers, but it was only for a minute. Yet the throne room took quite some damage. After Aero`s exit, I let the consuming darkness sweep over me. I remember feeling so angry…so hurt that my best friend would have such little faith in me. I thought it wouldn`t bother me that much, but I couldn`t help the shadowy void simmering within me. So I let myself loose for just a moment.

Given, it did cause a little bit of a havoc around me. Some of the glass windows were shattered, one of the iron chandeliers hung loosely by the painted ceiling, and three of the tapestries laid dormant on the ground. I didn`t even notice causing all of this to happen. All I really focused on was the radiating blackness surging out of me.

I ran my fingers through my hair, clutching at the strands and breathing deeply. After a few calming breaths, I sighed, leaning my back and caressing the silver baroque carvings where my hand rested. I looked around the room. The sun light was seeping through, shimmering in the pieces of the broken glass. Yet, it felt utterly cold. Or perhaps it was just me?

Warmth…it`s been a very long while since I truly felt that. All I am now is a hardened shell of cold and bitterness. I was fine with it, never tried to deny it. There were times when I occasionally—even for a moment—felt the smallest amount of warmth residing inside me, and it was all because of the people around me.

I never showed it, but it was still there. Seeing my sister smile because her flowers grew and flourished, or being around Lysa and Aero`s constant bickering—even if it annoyed me. All those small moments with the people closer to me managed to bring me some peace.

But now the coldness was spreading. Over the past centuries, Aero and I have had countless fights—sometimes even over the stupidest things. Yet this…I didn`t know what will become of it. Surely Lysa knew of it as well. Does she think the same of me as Aero? What about my sister? What is her opinion on all of this?

That damn Slifer…if only she had returned to her room and saved us all the misunderstandings. What was she thinking? Sleeping in a place like that under the pouring rain. Perhaps I should have brought her back with me? But she wasn`t my concern, and she knew that.

Plus, I wasn`t sure if I wanted to be near her after I was done. I remember being conflicted for a second between wanting more and wanting to get away as far as possible. I didn`t understand it. It wasn`t anything new for me, for I have slept with many women before—older, mature, and experienced women.

After Evine, I made sure to detach any kind of feelings when it comes to sex. I`ve never slept with the same woman twice, nor did I desire more of her afterwards. Sex for me was just a need to fulfil, nothing more. But with that Slifer…there was something odd.

I`m not going to deny that I enjoyed it—against my better judgement. When I was inside her, it felt like a spring of fire had just exploded between us. For a second I had lost complete grip of myself and was indulged in every inch of her skin. Just thinking about it made me shiver. I had thanked all the gods up there that I remembered to pull out of her before I lost myself completely in the moment.

I thought that bedding her would just be another thing I had to get done and over with, but despite all the resistance in me I found myself craving for more. I hated it. Perhaps I should pursue other women at the same time? That should distract me from her and it`s not like I owed the Slifer any kind of commitment.

I thought about it twice. No, the Watchers specifically said that during the time the Slifer would be here, I should only bed her, and vice versa. Besides, I`m not really a man of multiple partners. It`s far too time consuming and only adds another headache to deal with.

By now my head was spinning, and I groaned as I wiped my hands all over my face. I have too many things to think about—too many people. As if being responsible for an entire country wasn`t mind-consuming enough, I have to face my own personal matters. Can`t a King get one day off? Just one day were I do my job peacefully without one angry outburst after another?

My father had it easier than I did—even if a war occurred at his time. I would gladly go fight in a war than be in the middle of this right now. One of the tapestries that flattened on the ground was of Father and his family. I never spent any time admiring it, nor did I particularly liked it for I found myself in it farfetched from the man I am today.

Just like the others, it had the figures of the King, the Queen, and their children sewed on it. My father, with the crown above his head, sat beaming on the throne. Next to him, my mother shared his expression as they clasped their hands together. A six year old Lis sat by Mother`s feet with her golden gown pooling around her, her small hands clutching her favourite doll. As for me, a sixteen year old version of myself stood behind Father, all set of my white teeth showing.

A part of me wanted desperately to yank out that smiling boy and beat him repeatedly to a pulp. I was stupid, naïve, and impossibly ignorant. But it doesn`t matter now. I`ve learned from that, but it was a lesson I would never forget. Nevertheless, it resulted in being the man I am. I will probably never smile like that again, I don`t even remember the last time I made an expression like that.

My own tapestry would probably never be hung here. I refused to take a queen, and I don`t think I would be having any children. I don`t want any. When it comes to it, either my sister or her first born would be my heir.

I had it all planned out. It was a different plan than the one the sixteen year old me had in mind. My fool of a heart thought that I would actually be married to and have children with the woman I loved once. It made a supressing memory resurface, one that I have damned over and over again.

“How many children do you want?” I asked as I swept my finger over the soft flesh of her stomach, trailing them across her abdomen and all the way to the valley between her breasts. She shuddered underneath my touch, shifting in the bed to lay on her side.

Bright brown eyes looked up at me, although half her face was covered by a sheet of ebony hair. Her lips peeled back in a smile, and I immediately ricocheted it. She traced her finger tips along my jaw line, and said, “You think about that?”

I intertwined her fingers with mine and kissed them. “Of course. I think all sorts of things.”

“It sounds like you`re busying yourself,” she mused.

“No, I`m not. Not when it comes to us. Now, you didn`t answer me, how many do you want?”

“I don`t know, Gabriel. I haven`t really thought about it,” she said.

I kissed her mouth. “Well, you better think of a number. Because I already have one in mind.”

I heard her giggle, and my heart lit up. “Really? How many did you exactly have in mind?”

“Hmm,” My lips showered the palm of her hand with pecks, earning another captivating smile out of her. “I was thinking maybe four? An heir, be it a boy or a girl, then twins, and a girl.”

Her eyes widened a bit, and she looked impressed. “Wow. You have really thought this through. Have you also thought of names?”

I shrugged a shoulder. “I`m not really good at names. I`ll leave that to you.”

She gave a slight nod. I leaned forward and kissed her long neck, and she turned her head to the side to give me more access. “Meanwhile,” I purred into her ear, tugging on her earlobe. I was rewarded with her soft moan. “We can still practise until that happens.”

I sucked at the base of her throat, feeling it vibrating as she laughed. “We didn`t leave the room all day, Gabe!”

“So?” I kissed the corner of her mouth.

“What kind of king would leave his subjects and duties like that? You`re setting up quite a bad image of yourself,” she murmured against my lips, trailing her fingertips up and down my back. My body tingled, and I captured her mouth in a savouring kiss.

She moaned, pressing her bare breasts on my chest and wrapping her arms around my shoulders. I could feel myself hardening, and I groaned as I bit her bottom lip. “When you do something like that, it`s difficult not to ignore everything else.” I pulled away from her a little, admiring her naked body underneath me.

Everything about her was mesmerizing. Her smooth olive skin, her delicate features, her slightly swollen lips, the love marks I left on her body, the interlocked curls of her long dark hair, the rising and falling of her small breasts as she breathed heavily. All of this was mine. She was mine.

“Evine, any man would be foolish to consider anything else but you in your presences. Luckily, there is no any other man. Only me. And for you, my Queen, I would be the biggest fool,” I declared, brushing away the locks of black hair from her eyes.

Her breath hitched, caressing the side of my face with the back of her hand. “Queen? But we`re not even married yet.”

“I know,” I said, taking her hand. “But why can`t we be?”

Something in her stilled, and she sat up. I still had her hand in mine, playing with the golden engagement ring on her finger. “We talked about this, Gabriel. It`s too soon.”

I huffed a sigh, lightly kissing her knuckles. “It`s been a year since Father passed. Don`t you think it`s time?”

She seemed focused on the way I paid attention to her hand. “People might think we`re too eager,” she argued. For a second, I thought I heard fear in her voice. “I mean, what would your mother think?”

“Mother would be delighted,” I assured her. “She`s been grieving ever since Father passed away, so I believe this will bring joy to her heart. And as for the people, they`re eager to meet their new queen. They love you.”

“Gabriel—“

“There`s no need to worry yourself about anything, Evine,” I held her face with both of my hands, leaning down to kiss her forehead. “This is what we have been waiting for since our childhood. I would want nothing more for you to be the one sitting by my side, ruling.”

Her eyes drifted elsewhere, and I could see her skin paling. But I guided her chin towards me, and made those warm brown orbs gaze up at my grey ones. “I know you`re scared, I am too. It`s a huge responsibility. But we survived a war together. I love you, and I will shake the earth from its core to ensure your happiness.”

Tears brimmed in her eyes, but I quickly wiped them away before they could spill out. She covered her face with her hands, as her head rested on my shoulder. I heard her whisper against my neck, “You don`t know what you`re saying.”

I laughed and held her closer. “Yes I do. And I will say it a thousand times if I must. I love you, Evine. Nothing will ever change that.”

I wanted to laugh at myself, at how agonizingly stupid I was. Oh what would I give to go back in time and change all of this? To stop myself from saying those words and instead strangle the life out of her. But wise lessons are only learned by the woefully fooled. I wouldn’t know what I knew today if it weren`t for that. However, I do wish it didn`t come with the most painful consequences.

I casted away those memories, for I didn`t wish to think of her any longer. It will only bring me more misery than I was feeling right now. I could wish I had spilled Evine`s blood some other time. Right now, I needed to find my sister.

But before I do that, the servants must have surely heard the racket that happened here. I gathered darkness and summoned a pool of whirling blackness on the ground. Five, large cloaked shadows with arms the length of their forms emerged out, waiting for my command.

“Put the chandelier and the tapestries back to their original form. They`re far too heavy for the servants,” I ordered.

“So we`re doing housework now, Gabriel?” spoke one of the shadows with a low, croaky voice.

I raised an eyebrow at him and he quickly darted up towards the half-hanging chandelier, his companions gliding along without another word. Great, even my shadows are giving me the attitude today…

I rose up from my seat and strode towards the door. My sister had to still be in the girl`s room, since I knew for a fact she wouldn`t leave her side until she made sure she`s completely taken care of. Problem was, I had no idea where her room is. Lis told me she gave her one of the guest rooms, but since we had about a hundred guest room the search wasn`t really narrowed down for me.

After asking one of the servants where the Slifer`s room was, I set out towards my direction. Lis gave her the only available room that overlooked the garden, the rest were either locked or used for storage. I wasn`t yet sure why I needed to see my sister. I guess I wanted to confirm what she knew and what she didn’t know.

I heard indistinct chattering coming from one of the corridor, and I turned around to see my sister holding the Slifer`s hand. “Come on. A walk in the garden will surely give you some fresh air,” she told her.

The Slifer stayed rooted to her spot. “I`m not really—“ She froze when her eyes landed on me. Those fiery eyes that were once bright but now looked as if every flame in them had tarnished. Even her skin had become paler, like the light olive colour was sucked out of it. Her hair, although damp, appeared wearisome.

I could see every inch of her body flinch just as I could see the broad day light. Something inside me stung, like a piercing hole appearing out of nowhere. I don`t understand. I didn`t do anything wrong, did I? Somehow, I couldn`t bear the sight of her right now, so I turned to my sister.

That wasn`t any better. Lis didn`t have flame-coloured eyes, but the fire burning within them wasn`t unseen. The look she gave me resembled the one Aero greeted me with this morning, and I suddenly wanted the ground to open up and devour me whole. Not her too. Not my own flesh and blood.

For what felt like a lifetime, the three of us just stood there facing each other. Lis, with her unnerving stare aimed at me. The Slifer, with her eyes fixed on the floor, clearly trying to avoid me. And myself, wishing I was in a different place, in a different situation, and quite frankly a whole different person.

It wasn`t until a servant approached that the three of us paid attention to the same thing. He bowed to me then to my sister, and spoke, “Your Majesty, I apologize for…interrupting,” he took a second to register that none of us was in fact speaking, “Yes. Well, a man by the name of Gerard Vastia wishes to have a word with you and the Princess.”

Vastia? From the Congress of Magic? I turned to look at Lis, but she devoted her attention to the servant. “Shall I tell him you`re otherwise occupied?” asked the servant.

I opened my mouth to speak, but Lis beat me to it. “Tell him we`ll be there shortly. Thank you.”

The servant nodded then bowed again before deserting. Lis held both the Slifer`s hands, tugging them closer to her. Genuine concern crossed over her features, and she softly said, “Lydia, will you be alright by yourself?”

I wanted to roll my eyes at how my sister was speaking to her, as if she was a small child in need of constant care. But I decided against it. Since I would probably have a shoe thrown at me by Lis, even if I wasn`t in her line of vision. Lis sees everything.

The Slifer shook her head. “I will be fine. A little air might be good for me. Thank you,” she spoke quietly, and I couldn`t help but notice how her voice seemed heavy.

Lis smiled faintly at her, kissing her cheek then walked away towards me. The moment she was before me, her worried face fell and was replaced with a hard look.

“Lis…” I started.

“We will discuss this later, Brother,” she dismissed as she cleared pass me, refusing to meet my eyes. My chest weighted, and I watched her back disappearing behind a hallway, the distancing echoes of her heels filling the silence.

A breath I didn`t know I was holding escaped out of me, but my whole body still felt as if I was carrying the heftiest bulks in Ignolia. Now, even my sister thinks I`m a lowlife scum who raped a young girl. Do the Gods hate me? Or do they just enjoy tormenting me?

“I told her I consented,” came a wimpy voice. I turned to see the Slifer leaning slightly on the wall. For the brief second that our eyes met again, she rubbed her arms and looked away, as if the mere sight of me brought her to shivers. “I told her you didn`t force me.”

I didn`t say anything. I didn`t know what to say. If she was telling the truth, that means whatever my sister was mad at me for wasn`t what I had thought. Or perhaps Lis didn`t believe her and thought I had intimidated the Slifer to lie. At this point, I didn`t know anything anymore.

I gave the Slifer a nod of acknowledgment, or maybe small gratitude. Then, I turned away from her and left.

≼ ≼≼ Lydia Voltaire ≽≽≽

After the King and Princess Lis left, I headed outside the palace in order to get some fresh air. I knew I had to get out. Had to stir myself away from him. Just the sight of him managed to make all those memories of last night flow inside my mind. I just can’t seem to shake them off. I thought the bath helped a bit, that I felt clean after crying my eyes out. But with the King`s appearance, they were all pushed into my head.

No matter how hard I tried, I just can’t make them disappear.

I stood in the garden, which was being cleaned by the servants after yesterday’s feast. I allowed myself to inhale some much needed refreshing air, wrapping the shawl I wore closer to my body.

The wind played with my hair as I observed the servants clean up the empty tables and bring down all the colourful ribbons and decorations. It seemed like people had a blast last night. I wish that I was able to see how the feast turned out when King Morrison arrived—even if it was from the balcony.

I wonder if I should ask the servants if I could help them. I needed a distraction and it seemed like they had a lot to do.

“Lydia Voltaire?” A voice called out, one I did not recognize. The servants in front of me stopped what they were doing and looked behind me, smiling and bowing before going back to their job.

I turned to meet three people standing. The King—to my misfortunate—Princess Lis, and a man I did not know. He stood tall between Lis and King Gabriel. I noticed he had very bright blue eyes, which widened when they landed on my face. His lips gaped slightly, and he blinked twice, as if he was dazzled by something.

“Wow…” he whispered under his breath, then blinked again when he realized what he said. “Sorry. You`re Lydia, right?”

“I think I`ve said it many times. This is her,” pointed out the King.

I nodded. “Yes. I am.”

I didn`t know who that man was. But it could possibly be that Gerard Vastia person the servant talked about. His name does ring a bell though. Wasn`t he in the Congress of Magic? I think we learned about it in school. That`s why his name sounds familiar. Not to mention, he definitely seemed like someone who belonged in the Congress. His uniform of dark red and silver suggested he was—along with the large crest of the silver peony planted on his chest.

There was something strange about the three of them. Like a gloomy atmosphere had taken place around them, and I caught the Princess`s dishearten look and the unmistakable wetness of her eyes. She was either crying or was about to cry. Either way, it made something in my stomach churn.

Even the King looked diverted, his gaze settling on the ground. But he still had that blank expression, which I was fully convinced I could never understand what went beyond it. He took his eyes off the ground, roaming over mine for a split second. And I swear, even if it was for the tiniest of moment, I felt pity bouncing off him.

And I didn`t know whether I absolutely loathed it, or was extremely confused on why he would even need to feel that.

I snapped my attention to the man I presumed to be Gerard Vastia, who slowly approached me. Three was something like caution in his eyes, which added further unease to my nerves.

“My name is Gerard Vastia. I don’t believe that you have heard of me, but I have heard a lot about you, Lydia,” he introduced himself. So, I was right about his identity. But how does a man like him know me? I don’t recall ever meeting him.

He continued, “I had hoped that I would meet you someday, but I didn’t want our meeting to be like this.”

And there it is, the feeling of dread in my heart that screamed at me he was about to say something I wouldn`t like. I tried my best to ignore my escalating heart rate. “Is something wrong?”

At my question, Princess Lis couldn`t hold it anymore and broke into a fit of sobs. The King held his sister to his chest, but still maintained that unreadable expression.

Gerard looked at the Princess`s weeping form for a second before turning back to me. He inhaled a breath, scratching the back of his blonde head. He seemed uncertain for a second, appearing to be having a mental argument with himself.

Whatever side he was arguing against, it snapped him out of it. He stepped forward, his lips pressed together. “Miss Lydia, I am afraid that I would have to inform you of something unpleasant.”

I didn`t dare to say anything, just let him speak.

“We were informed that a werewolf pack has attacked a small village called Iraj outside the outskirts of Imarnia. My squad went to investigate this matter and we found out from the citizens residing in the village—who were fortunately unharmed—that a wizard had led the pack of werewolves outside in order to protect the people of the village.”

My heart was drumming loudly in my ear that it dulled his words, yet I could still hear them as if he was reciting them in my head.

He stopped to look at me for a moment, then resumed, “We went to see where that wizard drew out the werewolves. Apparently, he led them near a rock cliff where we found the wolves’ bodies lifeless on the ground. They were all killed using a sharp blade.”

I gulped, flinching at how sore my throat felt. “And what does that have to do with me?”

A wizard who can kill an entire pack of vicious beasts with only a blade, not having to rely on magic. I knew only one who could do that. I clutched tightly on the woollen fabric of the shawl, preventing my fingers from shaking.

“Unfortunately, we found the wizard’s dead body by the end of the cliff. He was wounded deeply that he bled to death. We barely even managed to find out his identity. However, we did eventually…”

His mouth opened to say the words, but stopped midway. His blue eyes crossed with conflict, something wavering within them. It only worsened my heart, feeling like it was about to rip out of me.

Please just say it…

It was as if he heard my silent plea, his eyes fixing on me. “Miss Lydia, that wizard was Lucius Albert Voltaire. I’m deeply sorry to inform you that he has passed away.”

★★★ End★★★


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