Chapter Twenty One
Waiting to tell my parents about my trip to Agni a day before I was scheduled to go was probably not my brightest decisions. But between the stress of the exams, the battles and the fallout with Kyle, it honestly slipped my mind. So when my parents face-timed me on Thursday, on the last day of exams, to ask if they should pick me up from the academy the next day, the guilty look on my face was their first clue to my change of plans.
“About that…” I let out something between an awkward laugh and a cough while rubbing the back of my neck sheepishly. “Chase invited me to go to Agni with him and I kind of said yes.”
Silence was the only response I got as my parents exchanged panicked looks. An undecipherable message seemed to pass between them before my dad started shaking his head vehemently.
“Why not?” I whined. In the back of my mind I knew that there were a lot of answers to that question, but I couldn’t help but wonder about their sudden change of behavior.
“It’s too dangerous honey, we can’t risk anything happening to you.” My mother, always the reasonable one, tried to sooth me.
“But I’ll be safe I promise. Chase will be there with me, not to mention, my powers have been growing so much lately I’m perfectly capable of protecting myself.” I gave a firm nod, as if to assert my words.
“We know honey and we’re very proud of you, but going to the Fire Kingdom is still too dangerous. What if someone recognizes you?” My dad’s voice was pleading with me. His bright eyes, though pixilated through my phone screen, were full of concern.
“What do you mean? Who would recognize me?” Am I missing something?
A brief look of panic flitted through dad’s eyes as he realized what he had said, but it was soon covered up that I doubted I even saw it in the first place.
“Nothing, what I meant was that our cover could be blown. You’re supposed to be our daughter, remember?”
“Who could possibly blow our cover? Last time I checked we didn’t have any family in Agni. And it’s not like I’m going to be sleeping out on the streets dad, I’ll be staying in the castle. It literally couldn’t get any safer.”
“That’s what worries me.” The words that left his mouth were barely above a whisper that I doubted he meant for me to hear them. My mind suddenly flashed back to that morning I woke up in the infirmary and to the hushed conversation my dad and Mr. Blackthorn had in the hall. I was more certain than ever that my parents and my mentor were keeping something from me and a sudden surge of disappointment burst through my veins.
“Are you sure about this honey?” My mom asked.
“I am mom; I want to see the place where I supposedly come from. And it’s only for a couple of days, what could possibly go wrong during such a short period of time?”
A light scoff escaped dad’s lips and mom jabbed him lightly in the ribs.
“Alright, if you really want to go, I guess you can. But promise to be extra careful. Stick to your cover story and don’t use your powers unless you absolutely have to. And try to avoid the royal family if you can.” Dad said sternly.
I understood the part about keeping my cover story; they had drilled in me several times before and during my first semester at the academy. But why did I have to hide my powers? And why did I need to avoid the royals? Was it about the whole Aline situation? Did my parents even know about that? Who am I kidding; of course they must have known.
I pushed all these questions to the back of my mind and focused back on the expectant faces of Nathaniel and Genevieve. I nodded briefly and promised to be safe and to call them every day, then I bid them goodnight and went up to my room to pack a bag.
Kira and Rose were already in their beds, getting some much needed sleep before the journey to their respective kingdoms in the morning. I had already told them about my decision to go with Chase during dinner and they were surprised but supportive like they always were with me. As I pulled my clothes out of the closet and rearranged them in my small suitcase, I started wondering what my life in the academy would have been like if those two weren’t my roommates. I couldn’t have asked for better friends. They took me in and welcomed me with open arms, helped me with whatever I needed and protected me when I couldn’t protect myself. They were there to pick up the pieces of my broken heart and distract me from my failed relationship with Kyle. And the best part is that they did not expect anything in return. Gratitude, appreciation and love were not enough to express how I felt about Kira and Rose, and as I fell asleep with a smile on my face, I knew I was glad to have met such beautiful souls.
The sound of the doorbell ringing interrupted our quiet breakfast.
“It’s open.” Rose yelled from her seat at the table.
“That’s a great way to get killed!” Kira snickered.
“What kind of killer would ring the doorbell first?” Rose rolled her eyes, exasperated.
“A polite one.” I grinned at her and Kira laughed, lifting her arm up for a high five.
Our laughter was then cut off by Skylar’s loud hollering.
“What’s up people? Are you ready for vacation?” His hands that were cupped around his mouth to mimic a megaphone dropped down on Rose’s shoulders and he plopped down on the seat next to her, Chase joining him seconds later.
“Could you be any louder?” Kira asked her twin.
“As a matter of fact, I can.” Skylar’s blue eyes twinkled in amusement. “Want me to show you?”
He opened his mouth to, presumably scream his lungs out again, but was interrupted by a flying blueberry that went straight down his throat.
“Score!” Kira threw her hands in the air, laughing hysterically as her brother chocked and coughed. Chase struck him twice on his back and the blueberry came flying out, plopping down on the table in front of us.
After everybody settled down, the girls and I hurriedly finished our breakfast and washed our dishes. Our luggage was already waiting by the door so all we had to do was put our shoes on and leave.
“Is everybody ready?” Chase asked.
“Yeah.” We nodded our confirmation.
“Let’s do this then.”
Skylar and Kira stepped forward, grabbed their bags and stepped back into the living room. I watched, confused as Sky lifted his hands in the air and started chanting a familiar incantation. A soft blue light emitted for his palms and soon the space before him started to shimmer.
So we were opening portals to the kingdoms? Screw airplanes I guess.
The light shone and expanded through the open space of the living room and soon the wall we were facing disappeared and in its place appeared a whole new world. It was like an invisible, magical curtain was being pulled apart slowly, and I heard the sound of soft running water before my eyes landed on the stream. From what I could see, Glacis was stunning. A land covered in streams of clear running water, greenery stretched across the banks of the river and somewhere far away beyond what the portal allowed us to see, I could hear the sound of a waterfall cascading down gently to join the stream.
A brilliant shimmer caught my eye and I turned slightly to the right to be met with the royal castle. It was a work of art, nothing short of a masterpiece. It was made of some beautiful blue stones, looking more like crystals under the light of the sun than the marbles or rocks you’d expect. Almost like the house we were occupying at the academy, the palace held a stunning amount of floor to ceiling glass windows, exposing every corner to the bright light and making it glow like a beacon.
Kira turned to us, dropping her bag and engulfing Rose and I in a bear hug.
“I’ll miss you! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” She squeezed us again and let go, and we waved at the twins as they stepped through the portal and disappeared through a hue of blue and white light.
The process was repeated again with Rose, green light shimmering beautifully through the quiet living room. The portal opened to an exquisite garden, delicate flowers swaying in the soft breeze and magnificent trees standing proud before a huge castle. Unlike Glacis’s royal palace however, Avanindra’s was made out of light brown sturdy stones, with green ivy rising up against the walls and the pink roses swiveled against the high towers. Rose threw us an excited smile and a wave before she stepped through and the space around us was engulfed in soft greens and browns before it went back to its previous stillness.
The glimpses I got from the Water and Earth kingdoms left me in a state of stupefaction for what seemed like ages, and it wasn’t until a low chuckle reached my senses that I snapped out of it.
“If you liked those two, wait until you see Agni.” Chase smiled proudly and stepped forward. I was about to ask him if he could let me open the portal, until I remembered a crucial piece of information. You see, in order to open a portal to anywhere, you have to have a clear image of your destination in your mind. Unfortunately for me, I had no idea what Agni looked like, so I resigned back to my place and waited for chase to transport us to the place he calls home.
The incantation started slowly, Latin words sounding practiced and well articulated. Chase raised his hands, palms facing outwards, and a soft red light surrounded us. The same shimmer and glow I’ve seen twice already materialized and once again the wall disappeared.
Before my eyes stood an enormous fortress, glowing bright red and orange under the sun. It was so high I couldn’t see the peak of the towers behind the clouds. It had a rugged look to it; the stones it was built out of were jagged and pointy. I squinted my eyes to take a better look only to be left with my mouth hanging open in surprise.
“Are those rubies?” I whispered to Chase.
“Yes.” He nodded in confirmation. “The castle is made out of precious stones. All four castles are. Each one made out of crystals and gems best suited to their element of magic.”
Beyond the castle, an orange river caught my wandering gaze. I was about to ask why the water was orange when I remembered my first geography lesson at Lixierra. Agni was built on top of a volcano, which means that river was not made out of water.
It was molten lava.
“Are you ready?” Chase beamed, leaning down to pick up our bags off the floor.
My voice seemed to have disappeared, so I offered him a hesitant nod instead.
“Welcome home, Lilith.” And with that we stepped through the portal.
For a kingdom that was mainly made out of fire, Agni was surprisingly cool. A gentle gust of wind ruffled my light blond hair and I was even more astounded. It was currently winter back at Coleste, did the kingdoms have their own seasons? Would that even be possible?
Chase seemed to be able to read my mind, and he smiled kindly down at me as he explained.
“Mystics have the power to control the climate of their land. Each kingdom has its own weather and seasons to best suit the land’s needs. A fire kingdom would be scorching hot. A climate no one can survive in, not even fire mystics. So we had to make some small adjustments.”
The closer we got to the castle the more in awe I was of its beauty. It was crafted to perfection, the work of an incredibly talented artist or a god even. The jagged points of the crystals that appeared rough from afar looked chiseled up close, the rubies pointed up towards the sun and reflected the orange and red hues all around us. A cluster of ambers made up an archway above the entrance and the path that led to the massive main door was crafted out of smooth red carnelian.
The guards bowed down to Chase as we got closer to the door, but as soon as they saw me, a look of absolute astonishment clouded their faces. They scrambled to bow down to me too, and I grimaced as I realized they probably had mistaken me for Aline as well. Chase grabbed my hand in a comforting gesture and spoke loud enough for the guards to hear as we passed them by.
“You’ll love it here Lilith.” He said with a soft smile. “I’ll show you around as soon as you settle down. Do you want to meet the King and Queen?”
My father’s warnings echoed in my ears as we made our way through the garden that extended between the main door and the entrance, and though I didn’t understand where he came from I’m sure he had a good reason to ask me to stay away from the royal family.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I answered Chase.
“Why not?” He looked at me with confusion in his eyes.
“Look at me Chase.” I decided to give him the most obvious answer to his question, leaving my dad’s warnings to be our secret. “You really think the King and Queen will like having their deceased daughter’s look-alike strolling around in their home?”
The look in his eyes transformed from confusion to understanding, then to sympathy with a twinge of pain.
“You’re probably right. It’s a good thing I got you a room in my family’s wing then. It’ll be easier to stay away from them when we’re on the other side of the castle.”
I squeezed his hand that was still holding mine in gratitude and focused back on my surroundings. Inside, the castle was just as gorgeous as the outside, smooth marble- or should I say crystal- walls adorned with beautiful paintings of generations of royalty. Crystal chandeliers hung from the high ceilings and endless halls extended throughout the space, tying together medieval structures with modern architecture.
Chase’s family occupied the west wing, which was relatively easy to find once you knew where you were going. The staff that hurried around the halls kept their heads bowed and their eyes on the ground, and I couldn’t help but feel relieved with the lack of eye contact. The less people who saw me the better and being separated from the royals with enough space to build another castle inside this one comforted me more.
We stopped in front of massive white double doors and Chase finally let go of my hand to turn the golden doorknob.
“This will be your room.” He smiled again. “And that one,” he pointed to a door directly in front of mine, “is my room. So if you need anything at all, you know where to find me.”
Chase pushed the doors to my room open and stepped inside, beckoning for me to follow him. He placed my suitcase by a white marble table and I took the opportunity to look around. Calling this space a ‘room’ was an insult to whoever built this palace. It was more of a suite, with a living room space, a door that opened up to a bedroom, a walk in closet and another door that I assumed led to a bathroom. The whole suite was encased in white, with some accent walls and pieces in lilac. A huge flat screen TV was mounted on the wall to my left, a plush looking sofa placed directly in front of it. As I stepped forward into the bedroom space, I saw a French door balcony in front of the king sized bed opening up to the beautiful gardens. The room was on the third floor, so I was high enough to see the mountains beyond the castle and the river banks that ran under them.
“If you don’t like the room I can arrange for another one. A bigger one if you want.”
Chase’s voice brought me out of my stunned state and I turned to find him standing behind me with an unsure look on his face.
“Are you kidding me? This is incredible Chase.” I gestured with my hands to the space around me and smiled brightly, unable to believe I will be spending the next two nights in this beautiful room. “I might actually never leave this place.” I giggled as I plopped down on the plush bed and spread my limbs out like a starfish.
A relieved sigh escaped Chase’s lips and I looked up to see him giving me an appreciative look.
“That’s good and all but I can’t have you staying cooped up in your room all weekend. We have so much to see and so little time.” He backed away from the door. “I’ll leave you to get settled. I have to go greet my parents now but I’ll be back by lunch time.”
And with that he closed the door behind him and left me to bask in the beauty of my new surroundings.
Time seemed to pass by really slowly when I was alone. I busied myself with unpacking my belongings and arranging them neatly in the walk-in closet. Then I took the time to watch the castle and its surroundings from the balcony. I even spent a good 45 minutes flipping aimlessly through the channels on the TV. But when I glanced at the clock and saw that it was only 11 am, I knew I would die of boredom if I waited for Chase till lunch time. With that, I decided to leave my room and explore the castle. I knew my rash decision was stupid and potentially dangerous, but I figured that if I just kept clear of the east wing I shouldn’t encounter any problems.
Yeah, that did not go so well.
I was roaming the halls, too engrossed in the pristine décor and the exquisite artifacts to notice the person walking towards me. It appears that they did not notice me either, because we ended up colliding with each other head first and I almost fell on my butt if they didn’t steady me.
“I’m terribly sorry; I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings.” A smooth voice said and I looked up, my eyes trailing over a 6’3 figure only to be met with the hazel eyes of Nicholas Infernus.
Last time I heard anything about Prince Nicholas was when his twin sister Jessica gave us a play by play of the counter attack on the grim ones in the underworld. He was attacked and badly hurt, and according to Mr. Blackthorn things weren’t looking too good for him. Looking at him now, I could tell that he was on the wrong end of a brutal fight. His face was pale with dark circles under his almond shaped eyes, his lips were dry and chapped and he had a limp when he walked. His left arm was wrapped in gauze from his shoulder to his elbow, marred with specks of blood. A sudden urge to hug him tightly overcame my body at the sight of him and a soft whimper escaped my lips as I had to physically restrain myself. Why the hell was I feeling so sad and concerned all of a sudden?
“No, it’s totally my fault your highness, I should be more careful.” I smiled up at him. At school, Jessica insisted we call her by name and drop the royal titles, but I have only had one brief conversation with her brother and I didn’t want to possibly offend him in his own kingdom.
He chuckled lightly and was about to reply when he finally looked at me. The smile on his face dropped and was then replaced by a look of confusion. I knew that look very well, I had to endure similar stares for almost two weeks back when I first enrolled in the academy, in fact, he himself had given me that exact same look when we first met.
I decided to overlook the hesitance that briefly flashed through his eyes and extended my arm for a handshake.
“I’m glad to see you again, I’m Lilith.” I introduced myself again, just in case he had forgotten my name.
He looked at my hand for a while before shaking his head a few times. He cleared his throat and looked at me again, this time smiling, and took my hand in his.
“Yes, Lilith. I remember you. You’re Nathaniel and Genevieve’s daughter. How are they by the way?”
“They’re very well, thank you.”
“That’s good to hear. Your parents are wonderful people.” His smile stretched on his face, illuminating his features beautifully. “They’re very powerful in the kingdom and very well respected.”
My heart swelled with pride at hearing the royal family’s opinion of my parents.
“There you are.” Chase’s voice sounded from behind me and in seconds he was next to me, a wary look on his face. “I was looking all over for you.”
“Sorry.” I said sheepishly. “I was so bored I decided to go out and explore but then I wasn’t looking where I was going and crashed with his highness.” I turned back to the prince. “I hope I didn’t hurt you.”
“Hurt me?” he chuckled. “You can barely reach my shoulders kiddo; I think I’ll be fine. And please, call me Nick.”
A warm tingle ran down my spine the moment he called me kiddo and a surge of familiarity, a feeling I hadn’t had in a while, rushed through my veins. I looked into his hazel eyes, willing myself to remember why his smile and his warm eyes and the way he talked to me made me feel such longing, but as usual I came up blank.
Nick then turned to Chase, his warm smile never leaving his face, and leaned in to embrace him in one of those weird bro hugs.
“Hey Chase, nice to see you again.”
“You too, Nick. I’m glad to see you’re alright, we were all worried about you.” Chase patted the prince on the back before pulling away.
“I’m all better now.” Nick nodded. “Well I have to get going. It was nice to see you Lilith, you two have fun and if you need anything you know where to find me.”
“Thank you.” Chase said.
“Nice seeing you too.” I watched as Nick walked away, waving at us before he disappeared around one of the many corners in the castle.
“What happened to staying clear of the royals?” Chase smirked.
“It was an accident, it’s not like I meant to literally bump into him.” I stuck my tongue out and he laughed. “Besides, I distinctly remember us agreeing on avoiding the king and queen, we said nothing about the prince.”
“Fair enough.” Chase concurred. “So, are you hungry?” He asked
“Starving.” I rubbed my stomach and as if on cue, it rumbled like the beast that it was.
Chase laughed and shook his head at me.
“Well let’s go get some lunch then.”