Darkness and Beauty

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Chapter 42 - Darius

My nightmares haven’t come back, though I suppose with the Elysian Festival starting today, I should be more worried than relieved. Clarice and I walk through the gardens in hopes of running into Charles or Eleanor, but they’ve been scarce. Turns out they’re a lot more acquainted than we thought.

Blight and Reynald, who I quickly warmed up to, check into Arthur every night. Turns out Blight and Reynald keep finding themselves listening to Charles and Eleanor “letting sparks fly,” as Blight described it. No further description needed. Aracely finally got rid of her illness and came back yesterday. If I’ve counted correctly, Clarice has read nearly two books during that time. I’ve only gotten halfway through one of them, and that was very descriptive at certain points. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just always so weird to think of Clarice reading those kinds of books.

After that, we went to eat, talk, and listen to her and Arthur play a few songs in my mother’s chambers. The only thing that has really changed now that Clarice and I have powers, is that we train with Ella both morning and night - Clarice is stubborn - while the others train with Arthur. Let me just tell you how I’d much rather feel the pain of the power coursing through me, then face Arthur’s more aggressive tactics. Even Garrison said he misses Clarice’s yelling and slaps with a wooden staff.

For the past few lessons, Ella had us trying to summon the elements. It took both of us five of the eight hours to finally do it without pain shooting through our arms. It hurt so much the first few hours, that both of us passed out.

“That hurts like a butt cheek on a stick,” Clarice said yesterday morning.

“You keep thinking the feeling of the power rising as pain, but it’s not pain that the power causes.”

“No, it just feels like I’m being pulled apart by my ankles and wrists.”

“The only reason why it hurts is because you’re resisting. Stop resisting, and it won’t hurt.”

It wasn’t until I finally got a flame the size of my nail to light, that I found she was right. When we make the elements that encase our arms go away, we’re only blocking the energy of the power, and even then, summoning it hurts. Now, we’re trying to not only summoning it, but blocking and redirecting the energy to a very small fixed point. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, and ten times more difficult when you’ve done it once and go to do it again.

Now we use it as our warm-up, making the flame grow bigger, leafs spin faster or slower, droplets multiply, and then combine to form a perfect ball and change the colors of the flowers. Keeping the elements hidden has become second nature, but whenever I’m alone or even with The Dozen and Clarice, I find myself calling the flame and wind and then sending it back. Clarice does it too, but we never use them near my mother.

Even lying in bed on my back now, the morning sun and noise of preparations for the first day of the Elysian Festival echoing outside, I find myself playing with fire. Summoning still hurts, but it’s not as painful. It’s more like when your leg falls asleep and you go to stand up, and it feels like ants climbing all over it.

The idea of Clarice being a Queen is both suiting and scary at the same time. Hell, I’m scared about myself being King. If things go sideways, I could be sitting on my father’s throne in a matter of days. At least these powers will come in handy someday.

“What evil plans are you conjuring up today?” Clarice asks stretching like a starfish.

“Oh you know, stuff like lighting your hair on fire and watching you struggle to summon nothing more than a few drops of water to put it out.”

In response, I get a bucket full of water dropped on my face. I forgot she’s gotten better at controlling the water element. It’s earth she struggles with. Idiot.

“Good luck with that.” I feel the bed shift and the floor squeak from her footsteps.

I was just joking, but now it’s on. With a wave of my hand, a gust of wind lifts her off her feet and pushes her up against the ceiling, right above me. Garrison and Mal who are on the last shift, run in at the sound of her cursing loudly and beautifully.

“For Saint’s sake.” Mal stares up at Clarice, Garrison smiling slightly.

“Put me down you asshole.”

“You want down?”

“No, I’d like to stay up here like a Gods dammed bat.” She says sarcastically. “Get. Me. Down.”

Smiling, I pull the energy back into me and she comes falling down. Quicker than I’ve done before, I summon the air element again, stopping her inches from my face.

“Still want down?” I ask sweetly.

“Prick.”

“Yes, my lovely?”

“No. Prick.” Her eyes look down toward my feet, and I find a vine around my ankle.

Just as quickly as I dropped her, the vine grows small thorns that dig into my skin. Uh, OW! Losing focus, Clarice comes falling down on top of me and we bonk foreheads.

“Ouch.”

“You started it.” She rolls off me and back on the bed.

“If you’ll excuse me, I must go write to my family telling them that the world is doomed and we’re all going to die.” Both Clarice and I glare at the back of Mal’s head as he walks out. Garrison follows him out, leaving me and Clarice once again lying on the bed.

After throwing her around, and her soaking me a few more times, we shook on a truce and went to eat breakfast. Kat choked on her drink when she saw us. I’m soaked, my clothes dripping everywhere. I ringed out the bottom of my pants and filled two glasses with the water that spilled out of them. Not to mention that I have leaves and thorns all over me as well. Clarice looks like she wrestled with a bear. Her hair pointing every-which-way, the bottom of her pants singed, and shirt hang in shambles. Turns out I’m just as good at styling Clarice’s hair as Kat is.

We ate breakfast and got ready for the day quickly. Clarice wants to walk around to keep an eye on the preparations and staff, but I’m getting ready as fast as possible because I love the Elysian Festival. The parties, smiles, color...it’s the best time of year. It’s the third day of the Festival that I dread the most. My pain of a father dislikes seeing me out and about during balls, so he makes me sit on the throne on the dais at his side and put on a smile. I can’t talk to anyone unless they speak to him first, and even then, it’s all formality and no fun. Mother doesn’t say a thing, she hates socializing with people who drink all night and speak with little sense to their words.

So I stay up all night enjoying the festivities of the first two days and fall asleep in my throne on the third. The only way I can leave the dais is if the daughter of a wealthy family asks me to dance. Trust me, I fake the smile then too. I mean some aren’t bad, they’re actually really sweet, but as I said before, they’re all so focused on impressing me and the formality, that I never see who they really are. Hard to like someone when they’re lying right to your face.

Hyper and in need of some color in my life, I snatch Clarice’s hand just as Kat finishes with her hair, and start running out the door.

“Darius, slow down. It’s hard to run in a dress.” She says, fumbling to pick the skirt up.

Garrison knew what was coming, and sent them to be stationed through the halls and keep everyone out of the way as we come barreling down them. She can memorize faces while I have my fun. Turning down the archway that leads to the outer garden, I already spot ribbons and decorations being laid out on the grass. The sun is rising to its peak, not a cloud in sight to ruin the day. Baskets full of all kinds of candy and pastries are being loaded onto tables covered in bright colors and detailed designs.

Smiling wider, I take a step toward my favorite cream-filled chocolates, only to be stopped by a hand on my chest.

“Roana,” I say recognizing the flour-covered, hands.

“Don’t Roana me.” She says in her soft accent.

Her silver-streaked red hair stands on ends, pieces of it falling from the bun atop her head. Her caramel-colored eyes would look like candy if they weren’t narrowed at me. She and I have quite the history, mainly during the Elysian Ball. She’s old and scrawny but tough as a diamond. It’s like running into a haystack thinking it’d be fun, only to get poked in the eyes with it instead.

“I see another year has been kind to you.”

“Don’t try and change the subject. I saw how fast you ran down here, and I know exactly what you’re after.”

“Roana I’m hurt you think me a child still.”

“Touch that candy, boy, and I’ll have words with your mother.”

“Alright. No candy.” I put my hands up in surrender.

“I mean it.”

“As do I.”

She looks at me like she doesn’t believe a single word coming out of my mouth. Her mouth opens to give me another warning, but her eyes catch on something behind me and she’s officially distracted.

“You there!” She yells at a man carrying a basket of powdered bred. “What do you think you’re doing? I don’t care what my blasted nitwit brother said, those go on the western wall along with the rest of the bread pastries.” She walks off, yelling at more people to do this and do that, and “No, those don’t go there!”

“We’re stealing the candy, right?” I’m going to be honest, I forgot Clarice was here for a second.

“Yep.”

I pull out a brown bag I stuffed into my pocket earlier, and look to the baskets and baskets of delicious looking candy. Laughing evilly, Clarice snatches the bag from my hand and with a glance back to Roana who’s still yelling and running about, takes off toward the tables. Following her lead, she walks to the back of the tables pretending to admire the smell of the candy, and then when no one’s looking, scoops up the sweets into the bag.

“Hurry,” I whisper keeping an eye on Roana.

“Shhh.”

A few servants walking by notice our poorly carried out scheme, but say nothing. A few even smile and shake their heads as Clarice stuffs a few in her mouth.

“Okay, let’s go.”

We walk back around the tables, careful to keep the bag out of Roana’s line of sight just in case she looks over her shoulder. I spot Alister peeking around the corner, eyeing the bag in Clarice’s hands. We’re almost to him when a frustrated screech and some strong words surrounding my name, sound behind us.

“Run!” I yell and move into a sprint down the western wall.

We race down the grass, dodging servants and bakers and a few dogs who bark as we pass. Clarice’s laugh sounds somewhere near me, but I don’t check to see if Roana’s followed. Gods know that woman is scary when you piss her off. I always loved this part as a child. It wasn’t the act of sneaking below the tables and reaching over the edge to grab a handful of candy, but the running away part that makes it fun.

The dozen and I would always come up with crazy plans to get around Roana and steal a basket of her handmade and most delicious candies ever made. We actually did steal an entire basket one time, but mother caught us red-handed and had us run around the castle for every piece we consumed. The basket was empty when she found us, so you could imagine just how much we ate. Even as we got older and responsibility was put atop our shoulders, we always made time to do crazy fun stuff like this.

Turning and grabbing Clarice’s hand again, I pull her into another archway, and we run back to my tower where my friends await anxiously.

*****

Thirty minutes later, the bag is empty. You’d think that with sixteen people eating it, that we’d all get a fair share, but no. At first, we all passed the bag around the room, each taking a handful and enjoying the laughs and sweets. It was all the perfect beginning to a wonderful day until the bag had little left, and Clarice wanted it all to herself. The stash had just landed in her lap when she shot on her feet and ran into the bedroom, locking the door.

“Clarice open the door!”

“I’m naked.” She says, her mouth clearly full.

“In that case, I’ll kick it down!” Ethan yells pounding on the door.

She doesn’t respond, and we start screaming more. Two minutes later, the door opens, and Clarice stands in the doorway, a smudge of chocolate at the corner of her lip. She holds out the bag to us, no sign of any candy left in it.

“There’s one more left.” She says innocently.

I look to Ethan, who looks at me in turn. Reading the look in his eyes, I pounce for the bag, only for him to grab it at the same time. We start wrestling for it, Al, Gabe, Ozzie, Henry, and Alex joining in. Still clutching the bag, I try punching Ethan – playfully - in the stomach, only to be elbowed in my side by Gabe.

“Give it to me!” Henry yells.

We fall to the ground, the bag somewhere under Ozzie. Pushing, shoving, and screeching, Al somehow gets a hold of the bag and opens it. We’re all about to tackle him when he reaches in and pulls out a small rock. Panting, we slowly turn to Clarice and find her and Kat sharing a piece of chocolate.

“I said there was one more left, I never said it was in the bag.”

Standing, I walk over to her only stopping a foot away. She smiles sweetly and offers me her bitten piece of chocolate that’s no larger than the size of my pinkie nail. Not breaking her stare, I go to take the chocolate from her hand, but Kat snatches it first and pops it in her mouth. A high-pitched laugh comes from Clarice as I gawk at Kat, not knowing if it’s okay to tackle a woman to the ground because she ate my piece of chocolate.

Taking a deep breath, I turn back to Clarice and give her a forced smile.

“Hug?” She says opening her arms.

“No thanks. I prefer that.” I nod to her chest and hold out my hand.

“Dinner before dick, Prince.”

“The candy, Clare. I know you stuffed it in there.” Sighing, she reaches down under her dress and pulls out a hard candy.

“And the other one.” Glaring, she pulls out another one and drops it into my hand.

“And the truffle,” I say losing my patience.

“There wasn’t a truffle.” She says lying seamlessly.

If I hadn’t used the air element to feel what she was doing while she locked herself in the room, then I might’ve believed her. But I did, and I don’t. So I lower my hand to her waist where a ribbon encircles her waist, and pull the truffle out from under it.

“Oh, that truffle.”

“Yes, this truffle. Now if you’re done being a pig, I’m-” Kat snatches the truffle from my hand before I can finish and eats it all in one bite. “Will you stop that.”

“Stop what?” She says in between her chewing.

I turn back to Clarice about to continue my sentence when I notice the two hard candies have left my hand.

“Wasn’t me.”

Turning, I find both Al and Ozzie standing against the wall with something round and hard poking out of their cheeks.

“Unbelievable.”

Just as I’m about to yell at Clarice for eating the rest of the candy, Thomas walks in with a pile of clothes in his arms.

“The Queen has requested you change before guests start arriving.”

Screaming to the ceiling, all I want to do is run down to the garden, grab more candy, and eat it all for myself. Sadly, I’m a Prince, and as such I must greet our guests as they arrive one by one. Last year the greetings and smiling went on for an hour and a half. At least Clarice will be there to suffer through it with me. Even better, she’ll now have to deal with the company of a few more Eleanors.

The Dozen walk out to take their posts along the stairs, all giving Clarice and Kat vulgar gestures. Thomas lays Clarice’s navy blue and gold embroidered gown on the bed and then follows me into the bathroom. The navy pants fit nicely, just as all my fitted formal clothes do. The tunic is a champagne color, the navy jacket lined in gold embroidery with silver buttons. Thomas brings in the knee-high black boots that I only wear for “special” occasions.

After combing my hair, I walk to the bedroom finding Clarice dressed. When Thomas had brought out the dress, I had assumed it was like her other ones. Semi-low back, long sleeves, low neckline, and fitting to her form. But it’s not. This gown by far is much worse. It’s absolutely stunning and makes me stare at her in a way that has my stomach twisting.

The neckline isn’t as low as it normally is, but the whole that shows off her stomach makes up for that. It’s in the shape of a triangle, the two sides following the angle of her ribs, and the bottom line flowing just below her navel. The skirt is scandalous is ways it shouldn’t be. There are two slits running down the sides giving you a perfect view of her legs. Her sleeves are loose and only connect at the shoulder, elbow, and around her middle finger. The front is so dangerously stunning that I don’t even want to see the back. Then there’s the matter of her elemental body that makes the dress do wonders for her. Her hair and skin are – for lack of a better description – perfect. Gods save me.

“Doesn’t she look like a sexy goddess,” Kat says beaming beside her.

“She looks...” I drift off trying to find words in my mouth. All of it fades when I look into her eyes and find myself feeling... “Yeah, a goddess.”

“Tramp.” She says in her normal annoyed tone, but it’s her eyes that I listen to.

“This will make all the girls die in seconds, I can’t wait.” We look to Kat who’s rubbing her hand together maniacally. “Now for the hair and makeup.”

“Take your time,” I say politely before walking out of the room. I can’t help it, and I find myself looking back to catch a glance at the back of the dress. I was right. So much worse.

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