I had never seen my parents so worried before.
In the two years that I had lived with them, Genevieve and Nathanial had been the most led back, easy-going parents that anyone could have ever asked for. Granted I was never out of their sight for more than hours at a time, and every time we went out their guards had never failed to keep tabs on me, but as Kira, Rose and I showed back up at the infirmary the scene had seemed chaotic. Everyone had been wondering how I had managed to leave without someone noticing me. My mother had been frantic, saying that I was probably unconscious somewhere and in need of help. As I had made my way into the room, both my parents had jumped, hugging me and reprimanding me for leaving at the same time.
“You seem to be perfectly fine.” Doctor Clare said, flashing her little light on my eyes. My parents had found her after they had calmed down, insisting that I should be checked as soon as possible to make sure I was alright. “No sign of a concussion and your memory is fine.” If only she knew. She took her time examining me, checking if my chest hurt when I breathed and if I were feeling dizzy or nauseated. Her deep blue eyes -a beautiful contrast to her dark skin- scanned my head thoroughly, inspecting and cleaning the wound on my head. Behind her, the eyes of my family and friends - and Mr. Blackthorn who had joined our little group in the room looking cleaner than I had left him- were scrutinizing her every move, anxious to hear the final verdict.
“I would feel better if you take it easy for the next couple of days”, Doctor Clare said as she took her gloves off, “but other than that you’re free to go.” She finished with a smile and a collective sigh of relief left the mouths of the audience behind her.
“Thank you Doctor.” I smiled as she squeezed her way past my parents, waving off their thanks with her soft grin.
“I’m so glad you’re alright. You gave us quite the scare.” My dad sat down on the edge of my bed, hugging me tightly.
“I’m sorry.” I let out softy.
“Don’t be.” He whispered back. “Now that you’re finally cleared, how about we get out of here? I don’t like hospitals.” He pulled back with a shiver.
Everyone nodded in agreement, seemingly eager to leave the infirmary, and started heading out of the door.
“Mom, can I talk to you for a second?” I said as my parents were on their way out.
“Of course.” She nodded. “We’ll catch up with you guys soon.” She closed the door behind my dad and turned back to me. “What’s wrong honey?”
“Nothing.” I started, unsure of how to say what I had in mind without worrying her. “I don’t know.”
“Is it your head? Should I call Doctor Clare back in?”
“No, no.” I waved my hands frantically. “I’m fine. It’s actually about the attack.”
“What about it?” She gave me a quizzical look.
“Those creatures that attacked the school, the Grim ones, I’ve seen them before.”
“You have? Where?”
I took a deep breath.
“They were in my nightmare.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The night before the Grim ones attacked the school, I had my usual nightmare. Only this time it was more detailed. I was running away from someone -or something- and I got backed up in a corner. Those things showed up, they surrounded me from everywhere, only I didn’t feel helpless. I was powerful, mom. My magic was nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. My fire was burning high, forming a protective wall around me and incinerating those shadows where they stood. It felt so real.” I felt a pang of regret and sadness in my heart, whishing for that feeling to become a reality. I sighed and continued. “I keep trying to come up with a logical explanation for this but every time I come up short. I mean, what are the odds of me having a dream about the Grim ones only to have them attack my school the very next day? What does any of this mean, mom?”
Moments of silence passed by, my mother staring at me with an inexplicable look on her face. As I told her about my nightmare, I noticed her body tense up and a brief look of panic flashed through her eyes, a look she soon got under control. My mind briefly thought back of the conversation I overheard taking place between my father and Mr. Blackthorn, and my heart sank as I wondered if my parents were also keeping secrets from me.
“Are you sure that you saw them in your nightmare?” She asked, her face portraying no emotions. “Maybe the shock of the attack and the blow you sustained –things could have just gotten mixed up.”
“I’m sure, mom. I remember the nightmare quite vividly.” I said as I touched my chest, the place where that girl stabbed me stinging with the memory.
“Honey, you have been attacked. You hit your head pretty badly and you have been unconscious for the past couple of days.” She rubbed my back, finally smiling gently. “I believe it was just an unconscious hallucination, a way for your mind to make sense of what you have witnessed.”
I bit my lip, suppressing the objections that were about to flow out of my mouth in a stream of questions and accusations. I knew for a fact that I wasn’t hallucinating, and my mother’s attempts to make me believe otherwise could only mean two things: either she didn’t believe me, or she was keeping things for me. Either option hurt.
“Maybe you’re right.”
I hopped off the bed and headed for the door, avoiding my mother’s curious gaze.
Out on the hallway, my dad, Mr. Blackthorn, Kira and Rose were engrossed in a quiet conversation. As I made my way towards them, soon joined by my mother who was following me quietly, I picked up on the end of what my dad was saying:
“…I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“What’s not a good idea?” I asked.
“You and your friends attending the royal meeting tonight.” He replied.
“Are you going to be there?” I looked between my parents.
“Of course, we have to go.”
“Then there is no reason for us not to. Kira and Rose are both royals and their families are going to be there. And you always talk about how the Ignis family is one of the most powerful families in the mystic world, so you see there is no reason why we shouldn’t attend this meeting.” I was feeling brave, usually I wouldn’t speak to my parents like this, but I was getting tired of the lies and the secrets and I wanted answers.
“The meeting is taking place in our school, Mr. Ignis. Not to mention that we were the ones who were attacked. With all due respect, I think we deserve some answers.” Kira said firmly, giving me an understanding look.
“They’re right Nathanial.” Mr. Blackthorn spoke up. “There is no reason why they shouldn’t join us. And I believe Lilith could use the exposure to the politics of the kingdoms.”
“Alright.” My father conceded after a long pause. “You’ll accompany us tonight.”
Once I was back in my room, I breathed a sigh of relief for finally having a few moments to myself. My parents had offered to take me with them, announcing that they had a condo on the island that they stay in whenever they had business here and that they would love to have me. I politely declined, saying that I needed to be alone for a while and rest. They had reluctantly accepted and I was internally thankful that I didn’t have to pretend to be fine around them. With all that had happened today, my heart sank as I came to the realization that there was a lot my parents weren’t telling me. I felt completely alone, not knowing who to trust anymore, and what made matters worse was not being able to confide in my friends because they didn’t know the truth about me. I was both lying and being lied to, and it left me shattered.
I moved towards the mirror, finally taking a look at myself. A small gasp escaped my lips as I took note of the circles under my eyes, alarmingly dark on my pale skin. My hair was lifeless, white strands sticking to my forehead and neck. My black eyes looked hollow and heavy, staring blankly at my reflection in the golden framed mirror. The bandage on my forehead seemed to be glaring at me, the area around it slightly blue. As drained as I was, I decided a shower was due, especially since I was still in the clothes I wore a couple of days ago. The meeting wasn’t until after sunset so I still had a few hours to get cleaned up and take a nap. Physically, I was fine, healthy and rested, but mentally I was exhausted so a few hours of sleep seemed like a welcome escape.
A few loud knocks on the door woke me up from a dreamless slumber, and I groaned loudly as Kira made her way into the room to let me know that we would be leaving soon. I got out of bed –with a heavy heart- and got dressed, hastily running a brush through my hair. Through the window, I watched as the sun began its slow descent behind the mountains of Coleste and with it my heart stared beating loudly in my ears. The idea of crashing a royal meeting seemed brave and necessary earlier today, but now as I made my way downstairs to join my friends, I was having second thoughts. I had enough trouble blending in with the students here at Lixierra, How was I going to avoid the curious stares of the royal families? And what about Aline’s family? The last thing they needed right now in these hard times was the ghost of their dead daughter. How did I ever think this was a good idea?
“Don’t worry,” Kira said, sensing my inner turmoil, “We’ll keep a low profile.”
“Especially since we weren’t exactly invited.” Rose smirked.
As we walked through the familiar stone path, I noticed that the deserted scene of this morning was long gone. Everywhere I looked, royal guards were scattered along the school property, sweeping their surroundings, checking the buildings and securing every inch of ground. The silence vanished, replaced by the buzz of the guards and the curious whispers of the students who had come out to watch the arrival of their rulers. Luxurious looking cars filled the space between the gates and the main building as their occupants descended gracefully, their guards watching them like hawks. Kira, Rose and I hurried towards the conference hall, careful not to attract too much attention. Once we were inside, I spotted my parents at the front of the hall with Mr. Blackthorn. They seemed tense as they whispered to each other, and their faces got even darker when they saw me. My mom gave me a faint smile, and my dad waved at me, ushering for my friends and I to find a place in the back. I complied, following Kira and Rose to a few chairs that were secluded from the rest of the attendees but close enough for us to see and hear everything. To my surprise, my little group wasn’t the only one crashing this meeting. Not too far away from us I saw Chase, Skyler, Brad and a couple of other boys sitting at the front, making no effort to hide their presence. And soon enough, Kyle marched in, accompanied by two other guys. The sound of high heels against the marble floors alerted me to Catherine’s presence and I stifled a laugh when Kira rolled her eyes and made a gagging sound. Somehow finding out that other Lixierra students were here gave me a flash of courage.
It took a few minutes for the room to fill up. At the front - where the stage Mr. X stood on to give his speech a few days ago used to sit- stood a round mahogany table surrounded by eight high wooden chairs with red velvet cushions. It was still unoccupied at the moment, and behind it the bleachers started to fill up. Beautiful women in elegant dresses and jaw-dropping jewelry took their places next to several men in sophisticated tuxedos. My parents -equally as charming- found their place in the front, Mr. Blackthorn nearby. Not too long after everyone was seated, the doors opened again and the attendees rose to their feet.
Six guards in black gear entered the hall first, their eyes wary and vigilant. Following behind them, I watched as eight poised looking mystics made their way in. They were coming in twos, each man holding the hand of a woman elegantly. They were all wearing black, a sign of mourning for the fallen, and the tiaras and crowns adorning their heads –that and the respectful bows of everyone in the room- alerted me to their royal status. Six more guards followed suit and scattered around the hall, joining the already ridiculous number of guards present. The royal families took their seats at the table and everyone else sat down. Looking at them, I realized that I could recognize some of them partially because of the resemblance they had to their children. I spotted Rose’s mother first, her tanned skin and long black hair a split image of her daughter. Next to her sat a man with grey hair, his pale freckles resembling the ones on Kira’s face. The woman next to him had to be his wife, as she had Kira’s sharp nose and her blue eyes. So those were the ruling family of Glacis.
“I see some students decided to grace us with their presence.” A deep voice rang through the room, snapping me out of my observations, and I noticed Rose coiling back in her seat. The man who spoke up had the same skin as her, his eyes a lighter shade of brown. He wore a crown made of what looked like twigs, adorned with beautiful gemstones. His face was dark, his features serious and his presence commanding. “Stand up, children.” He commanded. Kyle, Chase, Catherine and their friends rose to their feet, bowing at the royals. I was about to follow suit, when Rose grabbed my hand and pulled me back. “They can’t see us.” She said in a whisper. “Let’s keep it that way.”
“This is a royal meeting. You have no business being here.” The man said, his voice sending a shiver down my spine.
“With all due respect you highness,” Kyle was the one to speak up, and my heart beat nervously against my ribs. “We have every right to be here.”
“Do you now?” Rose’s father asked with a frightening smirk on his face.
“We do.” Kyle continued, sounding fearless yet respectful. “The Grim ones could have attacked any of the kingdoms, but they chose to attack our school. So whatever decision is taken here today will affect us directly.” He took a breath, expecting the man to interrupt him, but when he didn’t Kyle continued. “The fallen were our classmates and our teachers, and we deserve to be here for them. Not to mention, we’re not breaking any rules. This is a royal meeting, and my friends and I all belong to the royal families.”
“I see no reason why they can’t be here, Ajay.” The soft voice of a woman interrupted whatever answer the man was about to give. She wore an elegant black dress, its bell sleeves coming down on either side of her chair. Her crown was gorgeous, made of gold intertwining flames rising high above her head. Her eyes, as dark as the night sky, were glaring daggers at Rose’s father.
“Is that…?” I chocked on my own words.
“Aline’s mother.” Kira finished for me. “Queen Annabelle.”
My heart sank as I stared at her. Her raven black hair was long and glossy, braided in an intricate design on her back. Her face was round and pale, little lines around her eyes and lips the only indication of her age.
“Let’s not waste any more time.” Queen Annabelle said, Kyle and the rest sitting back down with a sigh of relief.
“As you all know,” a woman with short brown hair and a crown made to look like a grey and white storm on her head began, “We are gathered here today to address the horrible events that took place two days ago in this school.”
“That’s Kyle’s mother, queen Lisa of Halitus.” Rose whispered in my ear.
“According to our investigations,” she continued, “the attack was swift, unpredicted and lethal.”
“What I would like to know is,” King Ajay interrupted, “How did the Grim ones manage to break through our wards in the first place. The island of Coleste is a fortress. The magic protecting the school is ancient and powerful, combined of elemental magic spells no one can break.”
“It appears that The Grim ones had someone on the inside, helping them through.” Kira’s father spoke up, his freckles suddenly accentuated by the red flush on his face. His crown, like his wife’s, was in the shape of a beautiful blue wave adorned by tear-drop shaped sapphires. As he finished his sentence, a collective gasp was heard through the room and shock was plastered on the attendees’ faces.
“Those are serious accusations Kilian.” Rose’s mother said in a stern voice, her lips tight.
“It is the only logical explanation, Karishma.” King Kilian’s face was just as dejected. “Like Ajay said, our wards are unbreakable and are especially made to ward off dark magic. But if one were to break the spells from the inside, no one would notice.”
“Insinuating that we have traitors in our midst is the last thing we need right now Kilian.” Said King Ajay.
“I am not insinuating Ajay, I’m telling you the wards were breached from this side of the portals.”
“Portals?” I whispered to Rose.
“It’s what the Grim ones used to get into the school. A portal allows us to travel great distances in mere seconds. Think of them as magical doorways to practically everywhere.” Rose explained. My mind traveled back to the day of the attack, and I remembered the shimmer of light that appeared before the shadowy figures materialized.
“Kilian may be right. We can’t dismiss anything at this point.” The man sitting next to Queen Annabelle spoke for the first time. His crown was similar to that of the queen, flames sitting on his golden locks. His hazel eyes shone under his black framed glasses, and his sharp features reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t place them.
“You know, Alexander, none of this would have happened if we had a commander to rule over the four kingdoms.” Ajay spat out, every word dripping of venom.
“And how is that our fault Ajay?” Alexander asked.
“You and your wife won’t pick another queen, and you won’t let the reigns move on to the next kingdom. It’s like you purposefully want the kingdoms to descend into chaos.” Ajay’s voice rose, his eyes dark eyes resembling a stormy night.
“Our daughter was murdered!” Queen Annabelle slammed her hand against the table, the bang echoing through the room. “And we still don’t know who killed her. No one is taking the throne until we find the traitor!”
“You’ve been investigating her murder for two years.” Karishma said in a controlled tone. “We are sorry for your loss, but we have to move on.”
“It’s our loss!” King Alexander said. “She was to be crowned the queen of the four lands.”
“But she wasn’t. And the fact that we don’t have a commander has left us vulnerable to attacks like this one.” King Ajay yelled.
“You would do well to control your voice Ajay.” Kira’s mother intervened.
“Do you dare to tell me I’m wrong Sophie?” Ajay asked. “If what I am saying is untrue I would gladly keep quiet.”
“Don’t think for a second that you are fooling us Ajay.” Queen Annabelle declared.
“I beg your pardon?” Ajay’s eyes seemed as if they were about to pop out of his skull.
“We all know why you’re pushing so hard for Agni to step down and relinquish the throne to Avanindra. We know about your warrior, Lexa. She was quiet impressive at the battle two years ago.” King Alexander revealed.
“We also know that Avanindra does not have the four lands’ best interest in mind. You and your wife have demonstrated over the years that your only care is to have one of your own on the throne. You have been training Lexa for years now, and the only reason you picked her over your own daughter is because Rose is a good girl with a heart of gold. She is neither ruthless nor heartless and so you discarded her, working to make a killing machine out of Lexa instead. You seek only power and that is not the four kingdoms need in their commander.”
“How dare you?” Queen Karishma demanded her tone low and threatening.
“Do you deny it Karishma?” Queen Sophie asked. “Do you dare say Annabelle’s accusations are false?”
“Of course they are false!” King Ajay let out between gritted teeth.
“Then why are you so keen on closing the murder investigation of our commander?” King Kilian challenged.
“Because he is afraid the investigation will lead to them.” Queen Annabelle responded.
“You have overstepped your boundaries Annabelle.” King Ajay’s cold stare sent shivers down my spine. “Avanindra had nothing to do with the murder of your child. I will overlook these horrendous accusations simply because you are still grieving, but I will tolerate this attitude no longer.”
“If I may, your majesties.” Jessica rose to her feet, and I was surprised to notice her for the first time. Her twin, Nicholas, was sitting next to her, a look of sorrow on his lowered head.
“Yes Jessica.” Queen Lisa nodded towards the blonde girl, urging her to speak.
“I simply wish to bring your attention back to the matter at hand. You have come here to discuss the attack on our school.” Jessica put into words what everyone in the room seemed to be thinking. “Mother, Father,” She started again, and King Alexander and Queen Annabelle turned to look at her, “everyone here respects our family’s grief, and it seems that the issue of the commander can’t be solved in one sitting.” She turned her attention back to the rest of the royals. “If you would, please address our concerns.” She bowed and sat back down.
“Jessica is right.” Queen Sophie said. “We have a more imminent threat to address.”
“What are your concerns?” King Ajay asked, disinterest clear on his face.
This time, it was Nicholas who stood up.
“We would like to know if the school year should be cancelled.”
“That won’t be necessary.” King Kilian declared.
“We will double the protection at the school. We will assign guards to stay here for the school year and we will double the strength of the wards.” King Alexander added.
“We will of course give the students a few days off to mourn and heal.” Queen Sophie said.
“Is that wise, your highness?” Nick asked. “It seems that with all the protection we had the Grim ones managed to massacre us. Wouldn’t it be best if we suspend classes until the investigation is concluded?”
“There is no reason to do such a thing.” King Ajay declared. “Classes will go on according to schedule. We need the seniors to be ready for the battle of the second semester.”
“Care to elaborate, Ajay?” Queen Annabelle asked.
“It’s rather simple; the seniors need to harness their powers. We might need extra warriors if the Grim ones decide to attack again.”
“You can’t be serious!” Queen Lisa gasped.
“I most certainly am.” King Ajay affirmed.
“They are children Ajay; you can’t throw them into battle.” King Kilian’s face was red all over.
“They are children no longer. They are warriors, and we are at war.”