Chapter twenty three
The kingdom of Agni was comprised of two major cities and six smaller districts. The royal castle, in which all royals - from the current king and queen to the descendants of previous royalty- lived, was situated in the beating heart of the biggest city of the kingdom known as “Ambustio”. After spending that first day exploring the markets and food stalls, the night time showed me a whole different side to the city. From historical monuments decked with bright fairy lights and welcoming visitors until the early hours of the morning to arcades and fairs offering exciting rides and sweet treats, night life in Ambustio proved to be alive and well.
The next day, we drove to the second largest city in Agni, the city of “Inferna”. Where Ambustio was bustling with tall buildings and crowded businesses and resembled New York in its fast paced lifestyle, Inferna was more of an exotic retreat. Instead of the busy highways the concrete made place for hills and Meadows. Skyscrapers were replaced with fancy cottages and high end retreats were the people of Agni went to unwind and relax. Rivers of crystal clear water burst out of what I thought were mountains only to find out they were volcanoes. Magic and nature were in harmony as lava mixed with the water of the rivers to end up in natural hot springs. In theory, something like Inferna should not exist, but I was standing in the middle of a magical kingdom made of lava and Crystals and the sheer power of the elements. Who was I to say what should and should not exist?
I would have loved to visit the remaining districts of the kingdom, get a closer look at how the rest of the population lived and what other magical secrets were hidden within Agni’s walls, but the trip around the cities took a toll on me. Chase also insisted that we spend our last day resting before we had to go back to the academy and the throng of battle trials, stating that we could not possibly visit all the districts in one day and promising to bring me back once the battles finish. So we spent our last day of the break exploring the castle, from its secret passages to its well kept gardens. I never went back to the armory and I didn’t tell Chase or the girls about what happened that afternoon. I didn’t want anyone to worry about it, especially since I was not even sure what ‘it’ was. I was an anxious and slightly paranoid person so I dreaded thinking that it was all a figment of my imagination, and therefore I did what I do best in these situations: I locked the memory away in a locked box in the deepest darkest part of my mind.
When night came, Chase invited me to dinner out in the gardens. We have been keeping our distance from the royal family – despite Chase’s parents inviting him and his ‘mysterious friend’ to lunch and dinner practically every day- and when I stumbled upon a beautiful yet hidden part of the garden earlier that day, Chase set up our dinner table there.
The darkness of the night only enhanced the beauty of the space. Lit only by starlight and a couple of evenly placed torches, the trees cast shadows on the stone path that led to the table, giving it an eerie yet inviting atmosphere. Dinner was delicious, just like every meal I have had in Agni since I came here. Chase and I talked about our trip, about what awaits us back at the academy and about my improvement. I was worried that this time I spent exploring the kingdom and not training was going to set me back, but Chase tired his best to assure me that a three day break was not going to hinder months worth of hard work and progress.
I was once again standing in the dark alley facing the girl I knew all too well. The darkness of the night only made the shadowy figures that advanced around me more ominous and threatening. The girl taunted me with her laughter, her silver blade glistening under the moonlight, the red ruby reflecting the light. I knew somewhere deep in my mind that this was only a nightmare but the pain that erupted into my chest as the girl drove her blade into my heart felt all too real. Her sinister laughter only magnified the feeling of betrayal that coursed through my veins and as I lay there in the middle of a deserted alleyway bleeding to death I looked around me once more, willing my fire to protect me, willing for help to come, for anyone to find me but as the shadows emerged from the darkness of the night and stood around me I knew there was no hope for me, not as long as they were here.
The Grim Ones.
I gasped awake, the pain in my chest feeling all too real. As I rubbed my hand over my heart I realized sadly that there was no going back to sleep for me. Whenever I had this nightmare the images refuse to leave my mind but this time the flashbacks combined with the pain that erupted through me and the questions that bounced around in my head, I knew that sleep was long gone. I kicked the sheets away from me and stood up. Everything around me was deadly silent which made sense since it was 2 a.m. . I pushed my feet through my sneakers and put a jacket around my shaking body. I had a feeling the tremors that went through me had nothing to do with the cold weather and everything to do with what I had just gone through again. Opening the door to my room I realized that the best thing I could do right now was take a walk and clear my head.
As I walked away from my room a rustling sound brought my attention to the room adjacent to mine. The huge white door creaked slightly as it was opened and the fast beating of my heart only slowed when I realized that it was Chase making his way out of his room.
“Holy hell chase you scared me!” I exclaimed in a loud whisper
“I’m sorry.” Chase chuckled silently. “What are you doing up so late?”
“I could ask you the same thing” I arched my eyebrow questioningly.
“I heard your door open so I came to investigate. I’m a pretty light sleeper. Now it’s your turn.”
“I had a nightmare and I couldn’t go back to sleep so I thought I’d take a walk.”
“In that case, do you mind if I join you?”
“Not at all.”
We walked through the quiet castle, making sure not to make too much noise as to not wake up anyone. As we stepped out into the fresh night breeze I took a deep breath and let the worries seep out of my body. It wasn’t that this nightmare was particularly gruesome or new in any way, but something about it pulled at the strings of my lost memory. I could feel it in my bones that I knew exactly who that girl was but what scared me is the possibility of that nightmare being a reality. The pain I felt in my chest was way too real for me to count it as a coincidence which meant that sometime before I woke up in my new house as Lilith Ignis I was stabbed and left to die in an alleyway.
That thought alone brought another bout of shivers down my spine.
“Are you all right?” Chase’s voice broke the silence of the night. “Was the nightmare that terrible that you can’t stop shaking?”
“Nothing I’m not used to”. I shrugged nonchalantly. “Where are you taking me anyway?”
We had made our way out of the gardens into a place I had never seen before and even though it was dark and my surroundings were unfamiliar, I was not exactly worried- merely curious.
“Somewhere beautiful”. Chase said as he separated the branches of two hugging trees and stepped aside, leaving some space for me to follow after him.
The place that we ended up at left me breathless. The lake, big and beautiful and still, glistened under the faint light of the waning moon. The trees surrounding it danced with the breeze and the grass tickled our feet. The lake, at first glance, reminded me of the one I could see from my window back at the academy. But after moments of silent gazing I realized that that’s not the only way I knew this place from.
“I’ve been here before”. I whispered lowly to myself. Unfortunately for me my whisper was not a silent as I thought it was.
“What do you mean?” Chase asked. “I thought you said you’ve never been to Agni before.”
“I haven’t.” I rubbed my neck awkwardly. How was I going to get out of this now?
“Then how could you have been here before?” The look of confusion on his face would have been considered adorable if I weren’t freaking out at that moment.
“I… I meant it looked familiar that’s all.” I squealed. Yeah, that ought to convince him.
“Lilith.” His tone was filled with warning, but somehow pleading at the same time. With a sigh, I decided to just come clean.
“I saw it in a dream once.” I began awkwardly. “You were standing right here looking at the lake and I came up from behind you and hugged you tightly. You were apparently expecting me because you were not the least bit surprised when I showed up.” I cleared my throat and looked away, embarrassment flushing my cheeks bright red. Why did I have to tell him? Couldn’t I have come up with some clever lie or at least something less mortifying?
“What else happened in your dream?” his low shaking voice brought me out of my self deprecating thoughts. I chanced a look at him but I found I couldn’t decipher the look on his face. His eyes stared at me intensely, as if he were taking me all in for the first time and for some reason I realized I was scared.
“I.. it was incredibly windy that night and I said something about not having full control of that element. It was just a dream Chase, don’t worry about it.”
“No it was not just a dream.” His low whisper brought goosebumps to my arms.
“Of course it was Chase. My main element is fire and my second element is water remember? I can’t control air.”
“You can’t. But Aline can.”
“I’m sorry?” the sudden change in conversation left my brain reeling. Why were we talking about Aline right now? I thought this was about my weird dreams.
“That’s why she made for such a great queen. She had perfect control over the four elements.” The look he had in his eyes was a mix between panic and hopeful determination and I didn’t know how to react to this sudden change of pace. “I remember that night perfectly. It was way before the trials, before our lives got so complicated and dangerous. We agreed to meet out here, our special little hideaway. She had just found out about a third element and was overwhelmed so I tried to get her away from the castle and the politics and the trials.”
“What are you trying to say chase?” somewhere deep down I knew exactly what he was getting at, but I didn’t like where this was going. Not one bit.
“It all makes sense now!” he exclaimed, throwing his arms up in the air and shaking his head as if chastising himself. “It was so glaringly obvious all this time but I just kept denying it, kept beating myself up for seeing my dead ex in the new girl but all this time, you’ve been right here.”
“Chase, you’re spiraling. I don’t know what you think you know, but I’m not her. We’ve been over this already. I’m not Aline.”
“Think about it Lilith, you look exactly like her. You show up exactly two years after she supposedly died. The whole kingdom knows your parents and suddenly they have a daughter they never mentioned to anyone? How does that even make sense? Not to mention you’re an incredibly strong fire mystic and so far you have three out of the four elements under your control.”
“But that’s the thing Chase, I don’t have a third element. I can’t control air!” my voice had unconsciously risen from a whisper to a strangled scream. I didn’t want to believe what he was saying. It didn’t make any sense to me, I would have remembered by now if I were this powerful mystic. I had been at the academy for months trying to control my magic, and aside from the shocked looks those first few days there had been no indication that I might be the girl everyone thought was dead. Why was Chase so adamant about this?
“But you did.” He started confidently. “That night at Blackthorn’s office, we were having that mock battle remember? And suddenly the wind picked up around the closed office. You thought it was Mr. Blackthorn concluding the training session but I was watching you the whole time Lilith. It was definitely you controlling that wind.”
To say that I was feeling overwhelmed would be a gross understatement. At the back of my mind, a memory was clawing to be set free, to be remembered. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was, nor could I believe what Chase was saying. It would stand to reason that I believe him without a second thought since he did make complete sense, not to mention the constant feeling of familiarity and belonging I had felt ever since I set foot at the academy and even two days ago when I came to Agni. But my mind refused to process the thought of me being Aline. Because that would mean that I had been right where I belonged for months now without knowing. That would mean I was surrounded by my closest friends, by my mentors and my family, it would mean that I was currently standing right in front of the love of my life and I didn’t even know it.
But most importantly, it would mean that there was a very good chance that at some point in time in these last few months I have been around the person who killed me.
The slight breeze that made the trees and grass around us sway suddenly picked up, turning into a whirlwind. My hair, the Platinum blond locks that looked nothing like Aline’s, whipped across my face and swirled all around me. Leaves and branches were torn off of the trees and joined the tiny pebbles that were lifted off the ground to form a small tornado. I was standing right in the middle of all of this, engulfed by the dead foliage and the flying rocks and the overwhelming feeling of panic that overtook my every fiber. My mind, just as loud and as chaotic as the scene around me, kept accepting and denying the points that chase made. Everything was too loud, too overwhelming and I was slowly but surely losing control.
“Aline you have to stop this.” Chase screamed from the other side of the tornado, his voice too faint for me to register at first. “You have to control this. You can do it Aline? just focus okay?”
“My name is Lilith.” My loud scream brought the chaotic wind to its crescendo. It seemed that the elements around me were in tune with my mind, which was a terrible thing to do at the moment seeing how my mind was in utter shambles. Fire ran through my veins and ended up at my fingertips, ready to incinerate whatever was deemed as a threat. Water rose from the once still and calm lake and threatened to spill and drown us both. I had never been more scared of my own powers, and at that moment I realized that I was doing this. The fire, the water, the tornado, it was all me. I was dangerous.
“Alright Lilith I’m sorry. Please focus. You need to take deep breaths and focus on containing you power.” Chase tried again, screaming even louder now that the tornado and the water joined forces and stared swirling together.
“I can’t do it.” I yelled back. “I can’t do this.” I whispered to myself as a tear slid down my cheek. The noise in my mind refused to quiet down, and if I couldn’t stop it soon I could destroy the whole castle.
Somehow Chase, risking his own life, pushed himself inside of the eye of the storm. The scene would have been comical if we weren’t in so much danger. Grabbing me by the shoulders, he shook me a little to bring my attention back to him. His bright eyes shone with so much determination and trust that for a brief second I wondered how I could have ever forgotten about him.
“You can do this. You’re the strongest mystic alive Lilith. A little tornado is nothing compared to what you can do. Just focus on your powers okay? Think of yourself as a vacuum and suck everything back inside.”
“A vacuum? Really chase?” I rolled my eyes and released an exhausted chuckle.
“It’s the best I could come up with under the circumstances, alright?” he smiled tentatively. “Now try it. I’m right here.”
With a shaky nod of my head, I did as he said and took a deep breath. I cast my memory back to the sessions I had with Mr. Blackthorn. I could practically hear him berating me about focusing my mind and controlling my thoughts. My powers, as he would say over and over again, are all in my head and if I can’t control my own mind I have no chance of controlling elemental magic.
Slowly but surely the panic that took over me subsided and I could feel the tension leaving my body and with it, the overflow of emotions that summoned the elements died down. I watched with a hint of pride and fear as the water cascaded back into the lake. The wind died down to a breeze once again and the leaves, branches and pebbles raced down back to the ground. The fire that nearly consumed my veins simmered down and as everything went back to normal, I was left drained.
A deep breath brought my attention back to Chase who was still holding on to me as if knowing I could barely stand on my own. For the first time since I met him -or met him again I suppose- his stoic neutral mask fell off and I could read every emotion clearly. The look on his face conveyed disbelief combined with hope, confusion, fear and happiness.
“You look as tired as I feel.” I managed a small smile.
“I have so many questions.” He disregarded my remark.
“So do I.” I nodded.
“What do you mean?”
“Well I suppose there is no point in keeping this a secret anymore.” I straightened up and tried to fix the mess that was my hair. “I don’t remember anything about my life Chase. I don’t know who I am or who my family is. All I know is that I woke up two years ago in Genevieve and Nathaniel’s house with bruises, white hair, and a bad case of amnesia. Up until a few months ago I had no powers, no idea magic existed and no recollection of a past life. The Ignises adopted me, kept me sheltered from the mystics and took care of me.”
“How did you end up back at the academy then?”
“I set my bed on fire.” I shrugged.
“Of course you did.” His hearty laugh rang like a bell in the silence of the night and I found myself joining in. The entire situation seemed so utterly insane that I could not help but laugh like a maniac. As our laughter died down however, I was brought back to the serious matter at hand when my ears picked up an almost silent rustle in the bushes around us.
“Did you hear that?” I whispered.
“No.” Chase picked up on my sudden change of mood and weirdly enough he didn’t question it. “We should get out of here anyway. Let’s go back to our rooms and pack. It’s time we return to Lixierra.”