Chapter Twenty Two
Lunch wasn’t the prestigious affair that I thought it would be.
Chase decided to take me out into the city so I could discover what lies beyond the castle walls, and it was the best thing we did. The city was bustling with people going about their lives, not paying any attention to the royal teenager and the weird white haired girl who bared a striking resemblance to their dead queen. We were able to blend in easily and I had never felt more alive or at ease. The streets were packed with people getting lunch, shopping or catching up with friends and so, instead of sitting down at one of the restaurants, Chase and I hit every food stand, shop and truck we could find. From fried food to smoothie shops to weird desserts that I couldn’t pronounce, Chase made sure I tried everything I laid my eyes on and by the time we were done I was about to explode.
“I can’t breathe!” I panted as we sat down on a wooden bench. Lunch time traffic started to ease a few minutes ago so we walked away from the markets and ended up in a beautiful park. Families were scattered about, kids playing on the swings and dogs chasing balls and sticks. It was so normal and peaceful that I forgot I was in a magical fire kingdom for a second.
“Me neither.” Chase laughed as he sat down next to me. “But it was totally worth it!”
“It definitely was.” I agreed.
“So, how are you liking Agni so far?”
“It’s beautiful.” I breathed. “Better than anything I have imagined.”
“Really? What did you think it would be like in here?”
“I don’t know. Erupting volcanoes everywhere, rivers of lava, fire breathing dragons.” I chuckled as my eyes settled on a little boy playing catch with his father and giggling loudly. “Definitely not this.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint but dragons have gone extinct a couple of centuries ago.” Chase rolled his eyes playfully. “But if it’s rivers of lava you’re looking for, we can provide that.”
“I’m good, thanks.”
A beat of silence passed between us as I took in my surroundings. The air was fresh and crisp, nothing like the damp humid air you’d expect when you imagine a place made out of fire. The colors were bright and vivid despite it being well into winter and the atmosphere had this serenity about it that you could never find back on the island. I figured it had something to do with the lack of hundred of teenagers crammed together in one space every day.
“What is it?” Chase asked.
“Nothing, I’m just taking it all in. It’s all so…” I let the rest of my sentence hang in the air between us, unsure how exactly I was going to describe the feelings I had when I looked around me. Was it peace I was experiencing? Was it contentment? Was I simply happy because I was spending time with Chase away from the politics of the Mystic world or was I happy that I was spending time with Chase alone? Was it the adventure of going into a realm that I was unfamiliar with that had me so excited yet so at peace? Or was it the constant feeling of being familiar with my surroundings and the people around me even though I have never been here before?
“Just what? Chase asked, a look of confusion in his bright blue eyes.
“I know I’ve never been here before, but I feel like I was always meant to be here. I feel like my whole life has simply led me to this moment where I come to a realm of fire and volcanoes and dead dragons.” I chuckled lightly. “I don’t know what it is but I feel like I have finally found home.”
A look I could not decipher crossed Chase’s features before he quickly smoothed it out and replaced it with the soft smile I have come to recognize.
“Was that too corny?” I laughed awkwardly.
“No it wasn’t.” Chase said. “I think it’s totally normal. You are a fire Mystic after all, you are bound to feel at home in the place where fire mystics are at their strongest. This is where we all belong and this is where we are all at peace. So I’m really glad you like it here, it just proves you’re one of us.”
What he said partially made perfect sense to me as I was after all a fire Mystic in origins. But how could I explain to him that my feelings went beyond what he thought was just homesickness. How could I explain that ever since I woke up that day and set my bed on fire that I felt antsy and anxious but being here made it all worth it? How can I tell him that I have a feeling I belong here when he doesn’t even know that I don’t remember anything about my life? I can’t explain anything without telling him too much and even though I really trust Chase and I want to tell him everything, my parent’s warnings remained in my head at all times. I couldn’t betray them like that. I couldn’t tell anyone about what happened to me 2 years ago. I couldn’t tell anyone that I don’t actually remember what happened to me 2 years ago but most importantly I cannot tell anyone that my parents are not my parents and that I don’t know who I am or how I came to possess these powers. Telling Chase any of that would put me in grave danger, or at least that’s what my parents believed. So instead of trusting my friend and telling him all of these thoughts that flooded my mind constantly, I simply nodded and smiled instead.
My brief moment of hesitation went unnoticed by Chase as his phone started ringing loudly. A slight grimace took over his face as he fished his phone out of his pockets and looked at the caller ID. He signaled for me to wait a second as he took the call and the grimace did not leave his face as he conversed with the person on the other line. The call was brief and did not sound worrying to me but from the apologetic look on Chase’s face I knew that our adventure outside of the castle walls was soon coming to an end.
“I’m sorry Lilith. I don’t mean to cut our trip short but that was my father. It appears I am needed back at the castle.”
“You have nothing to apologize for, we will have plenty of time to hang out and explore the kingdom later.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want you to think that I brought you here to keep you locked up at the castle.”
“Seriously Chase that thought did not even cross my mind. We will hang out later okay, for now you go see what your father needs.
The trip back to the castle grounds was shorter now that the roads were cleared of pedestrians and lunchtime traffic. As soon as we got there Chase dropped me off at my room and went to find his parents. I tried to find out if the matter were serious but Chase said that his parents simply missed him and that they wanted him to spend some time with them before he left back for school. I didn’t find any reason to doubt what he told me so I went back to my room with the promise that we will meet for dinner later.
I should have known though that waiting until dinner time would drive me out of my mind with boredom and I should have seen it coming that I would not stay in that room for too long by myself. Curiosity as usual took over and I decided that a little exploring would do no one any harm. As long as I stayed away from the west wing and avoided the royal family with everything that I’ve got I should be fine. Running into Prince Nicholas earlier was an ill-timed coincidence, one that I was making very sure would not happen again. So instead of going to the left I took a right instead once I left my room in an effort to avoid any running in with the people I was avoiding. The hallways of the castle looked exactly the same and they extended into infinity and beyond. The white doors of the rooms soon made way for portraits, crystal vases and other very expensive artifacts. I tried my best to keep my hands to myself in a conscious effort not to break or damage anything I could not afford to replace. I had a feeling that if I worked at the castle for two or even three lifetimes, I would still not be able to replace anything on these shelves. The portraits were enormous and they were beautifully painted to represent the royalty of days past. From Queens to Kings to princes and princesses everyone who was anyone to the royal family of Agni was hung up proudly on these walls. The Hallway of portraits soon broke off into two different directions and I was faced with a choice. It didn’t take much for me to make up my mind as I peered into the left and saw an enormous golden door engraved with the symbols of the Agni royalty. The door reminded me of the one back at the academy only this one was even bigger and more majestic looking. It was made of Oak, painted into a golden shimmery beautiful color and littered with the symbols of fire. The knob was black and shiny and as I turned it felt cold against my warm palm.
Surprisingly the door didn’t squeak even though it looked to be untouched for a very long time. As I made my way into the dimly lit room I soon came to realize that it was in fact the Royal armory that I stumbled into. If the swords daggers and multiple expensive-looking armory did not give it away, it was certainly the portrait of the queen that’s called my attention. Aline’s onyx eyes looked down on me from the opposite wall, her raven hair spilled against her shoulders and a bright smile on her rosy looking lips. Seeing her huge portraits in front of me was nothing short of unsettling. I have seen pictures of her before and have seen people’s reaction to seeing me and comparing me to their last queen but nothing felt as eerie and as real as this portrait looked right now. If I didn’t know any better I would have said that Aline was my twin, or if I wanted to be more dramatic I would have said that we were the same person. The differences between us didn’t amount to much. Where her raven hair cascaded down to her waist my white locks were shoulder length. Her skin looked Olive and had a healthy glow, something you would expect from a fire kingdom native, but mine was pale and ghostly. She was taller than me or at least her straight posture made her seem like it. You can tell from just a glance at her portrait that she was a confident strong girl, well fit to be the queen of four kingdoms. I however had nothing of that confidence. I was troubled with a past I could not remember and a future that seemed unknown.
But despite all of our differences it was the eyes that pulled us together. Looking into her eyes I could understand why everyone thought I was her. We had the same color, the same shape and the same look. A look I now found unsettling.
A quiet almost undetectable rustle brought me out of my reverie and as I looked down from the portrait I could have sworn I saw a shadow move across the room. The light that came from the window did not reach the corner where I thought I saw something move so naturally I did the only thing I thought I should do in that moment, I went to investigate.
As I moved closer I could see the outline of a glass box that was slightly open but what brought Goosebumps on to my skin was the definite movement I saw out of the corner of my eye. I did not imagine that shadow moving after all and I did not know how to feel about being in a room full of swords and daggers with someone that did not want to be found. I contemplated calling out to them but I did not want to be every victim of every horror movie ever made. It was always the person who called out ‘hello’ who got killed first and however uncertain I was about the future I knew one thing for sure, I did not want to die today. So instead of calling out to them I did an equally stupid move and I moved forward instead of leaving the room.
Moving at a careful pace I looked around me but I couldn’t find anyone else. The armory was huge and there were plenty of places for someone that did not want to be found to hide but I did not want to go exploring any further as I looked upon the contents of the glass case. It was a display case filled with daggers embellished with crystals and gems. Under every dagger there was a golden plaque stating the name of the owner of the beautiful death device. Under the dim light I could see the names of Jessica, Nicholas, Chase and Catherine. Their daggers were all beautiful, embellished with red rubies in the hilts. But what unsettled me was not the abundance of daggers or the fact that the box was open. What truly spooked me was the golden plaque that did not have a dagger in its cushion. The golden plaque with black calligraphy displayed the name ‘Aline Infernus’.
Aline’s dagger, or where her dagger was supposed to be was placed between Catherine’s and Jessica’s. Both blades glistened under the light as if mocking me of the danger that could potentially be lurking in this very room. But aside from the unsettling feeling that drove a shiver down my spine I noticed that’s Catherine’s dagger was tilted slightly to the side. It seemed that whoever grabbed Aline’s dagger did it in such a hurry that they did not notice the slight disruption to the order of the glass case. I leaned over slightly trying to take a closer look at the blades when all of a sudden I saw something on the reflection of the glass. I gasped and turned around in a hurry but there was no one there. But even though I could not see anyone I had this terrible feeling that someone could see me, so I did the thing I was supposed to do the second I started feeling something was wrong and I sprinted out of the room.
All the way back to my room I kept looking behind my shoulder trying to see if I was being followed but there was no one there. I closed the door behind me and face-planted into my bed. A loud giggle that soon turned into hysterical laughter escaped my lips. I didn’t know if I was laughing because I thought I had escaped death or because I was slowly but surely losing my mind.
The soft sound of my phone ringing brought me out of my messed up jumbled thoughts. I reached into my back pocket and fished out the device to be greeted with a new message from the group chat I had with Kira and Rose. The text was from Rose asking Kira and I about our trips back to the kingdoms and how our day is going so far. The phone rang again this time a response from Kira describing how happy she was that she was back home with her family and that so far she was having a great time. I hurriedly typed a response back telling the girls that so far my day had been great. I told them about my trip with Chase and the lunch we shared. I described my room in great detail but opted out of telling them about the incident in the armory. I did not know myself what happened in that room and I did not want to worry my friends so I didn’t see the point in telling them. Rose’s enthusiastic response brought a giggle out of me, her sunny demeanor never failing to put me in a good mood. Kira however decided to tease me about my time spent with Chase saying that our trip had to be the beginning of a great romance. I dutifully had to remind her that Chase had a girlfriend, one that unfortunately hated my guts, and that I also recently came out of a relationship and was not ready to jump into another -one not that anything of the nature would ever happen between Chase and I-.
“Keep telling yourself that”. Kira wrote back. “But one of these days something will happen between you two and I will not fail to remind you that I told you so.”
“Leave her alone.” Rose texted. “I bet she’s blushing right now stop embarrassing her”.
“You two are going to be the death of me”. I typed back. With a roll of my eyes I tossed my phone back on the bed and lay down. My hands automatically went to my flaming cheeks in an attempt to bring the heat down. My friends did not need to know that their teasing got to me. I didn’t know if it was because I found the whole situation embarrassing or because I did somewhere deep down hope for something to happen between Chase and I.
“Are you ready princess?”
“Will you ever stop calling me that?” An exasperated sigh left my lips.
“Maybe. Maybe not. I guess only time could tell.” Catherine smiled, a gesture as condescending and as mean as ever. “Now how about we get this show on the road? I have places to be.”
“You know Catherine, I didn’t force you the train with me.”
“It’s mandatory princess, I don’t exactly have a choice. Now let’s do this.”
Catherine took a step back and pulled out her dagger. The blade glistened under the light of the blistering Sun and the ruby that decorated the hilt shone brightly. I mimicked her action and unsheathed my dagger. At first glance you would think that the two blades were identical, except mine was a little taller and thicker around the hilt. The ruby that sat at the center was bigger, surrounded by four other smaller gems on all of its sides. It was a symbol of my status as a direct descendant of the current king and queen of Agni. And even though Catherine was technically a distant cousin of mine, we did not share the same status, a fact that Catherine abhorred.
She made the first move and as usual I let her. It was a common occurrence in our training sessions. Catherine liked to establish her dominance over me thinking that if she got the drop on me she would win this training session easily. I waited until the last second to sidestep her first attack and raising my dagger lightly into the air I brought it down near her shoulder. The training could get brutal but I always made sure never to harm her. Even though my cousin and I did not get along very well I wished her no harm.
I wished I could say the same for her.
As soon as her first attack failed she got back onto her feet and came for me again. This time however she faked a direct blow to my center, a blow that as soon as I sidestepped was followed by a kick to my ankle. I dropped to my knees losing the hold I had on my weapon momentarily but that tiny slip was all Catherine needed. She pushed her shoe into my chest and kicked me hard enough that I landed on my back, a position she seemed to favor as she soon raised her weapon into the air and brought it down centimeters away from my heart. The look on her face brought a chill down my spine. This was not the first time that Catherine had the drop on me. we had sparred enough times for me to win just as much as she did but I guess this time was different because the look she had in her icy blue eyes made me for a second fear for my life. My cousin seemed all too eager to put an end to our sparring session and for a second I could have sworn that she also wanted to put an end to me.
“I win.” Catherine said as she stood up and tucked her blade back into her belt.