Chapter Twenty Five
The week that followed our return to the academy was more or less uneventful. Seniors continued with their battle trials, with professors and council members observing and grading their performances. Catherine continued to throw icy glares and snide comments my way, promising to ‘uncover my secrets’ and ‘ruin my life.’ But worst of all was Kyle’s persistence.
My ex boyfriend, if we could even call him that, did not let his loss affect him much even though he almost got expelled from the academy for threatening the life of another student. Mr. Blackthorn told me that the council didn’t go through with that decision because he was a senior, a semester away from graduating and his powers were needed when the royals finally declare war on the underworld. But we all knew that his royal status was what really altered their final say. Getting off with a slap on the wrist, Kyle was once again trying to win me back. He would wait for me before class and try to talk to me after. He would pass me notes whenever we shared lectures and send flowers to my house every night. Everywhere I went, he was there waiting to woo me back, to the point where I was so uncomfortable I made sure to never go anywhere alone. His stalker-like behavior brought back memories of freshman and sophomore year when he did the same thing, ignoring all social cues and personal boundaries to ‘make me his girl’. I wanted to stand up to him, to tell him off and demand that he leave me alone or else I would press charges for harassment but I knew that wouldn’t do any good. He was the prince of Halitus and the son of the former Grand Queen and I, to the mystic world, was only Lilith Ignis. My adoptive parents may have been strong and influential in the kingdoms but they wouldn’t stand a chance against the Halitus Family. Not to mention, Mr. Blackthorn had advised me to not draw any more unnecessary attention to myself. One wrong move and my identity could be revealed and I would be in danger once again. Chase, begrudgingly, agreed with our mentor but took it upon himself to walk me everywhere. Needless to say, Catherine wasn’t too thrilled about that.
My lessons with Isaiah continued and I found that my powers were only getting stronger and easier to control. Fire, despite being my main element, was surprisingly the hardest to work with because it was so unpredictable. And the stronger I became the harder I had to work to maintain my control over the flames. Water and Air however were a blast and whenever I had a chance to use them I had so much fun.
On the fifth day back, the element of earth finally manifested itself. Mr. Blackthorn was beyond thrilled when he noticed the flying rocks and new branches sprouting out of the patch of grass we were standing on. Once my brain caught up with my actions and I understood I was the one manipulating the elements around me, a surge of magic I had never experienced before went through my veins like a bolt of lightning. It was without a doubt one of the most euphoric feelings I had ever experienced and the look of pride on Isaiah and Chase’s faces only made me happier.
I had thought by then that everything would go back to the way it was, that having all of my powers back would only mean I no longer needed training and that I would finally remember who tried to kill me. Unfortunately that did not happen. Not only did I not recall what truly happened that day, but the resurgence of the earth element only made my fire more volatile.
I was making my way back home with Rose and Kira that night when they noticed that something was off.
“Is everything okay Lilith?” Kira asked, her blue eyes looking me over in concern. “You’ve been a little out of it lately.”
“Everything is fine.” I sighed. “Mr. Blackthorn has been killing me with extra practice sessions and I’m just tired.” I gave her a faint smile.
“Good thing it’s a Saturday tomorrow.” Rose beamed as we made our way inside the house. “You’ll get to sleep in and relax.”
“Highly unlikely.” I shook my head. “Besides, the trials don’t stop for the weekend.”
“Oh, yeah.” Rose nodded. “Well, get to bed then.” She made a shooing motion with her hands. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” I waved to my roommates and climbed up the stairs.
After a hot shower, I put on the comfiest pajamas I could find and climbed into bed. I was so tired I was sure I’d be out of it in seconds, but the drowsiness that was pulling me away vanished suddenly when I pushed my hand under my pillow only to come into contact with something metal. Pushing the pillow out of the way, I fought to swallow the gasp that tried to claw its way out of my throat.
There, right on the bed was Aline’s missing dagger. The blade shone under the moonlight that seeped through the window, its ruby glistening brightly in the dark as if mocking the terror in my eyes. I reached for it, my shaking hand curling around the black hilt, and pulled it towards me. How did this dagger get in here? Shock and terror coursed through my blood as the memory of me standing in front of the glass case in the royal armory flashed through my mind. Someone was in there with me that day, and that someone took my dagger from the display case only for it to end up here.
That could only mean one thing.
Hastily putting on a coat and some shoes, I grabbed the blade and rushed down the stairs, firing a text to Chase to meet me at Isaiah’s. I sent a silent thank you to whoever was listening when I found no one downstairs and the lights were all off. I didn’t want to have to explain to the girls why I was leaving in the middle of the night looking like someone out of a horror movie and wielding a royal blade. I sprinted towards the professors’ living quarters and made the 5 minute journey in two. As I started knocking on Isaiah’s door like a maniac, Chase came to a stop next to me.
“Lilith, what’s wrong?” Chase asked as he panted for breath.
I had no time to answer him as Isaiah’s door opened mid-knock.
“Lilith? Chase? What is going on?”
“She found me.” I breathed.
The silence that followed that one sentence was deafening. Time seemed to stop as we all gave each other questioning glances laced with terror and confusion. Stepping aside, Isaiah ushered for us to come in and Chase and I found ourselves in our mentor’s living room twice in one week.
“Lilith.” Isaiah’s tone was cautious, his voice barely loud enough to reach my ears over the sound of my own beating heart.
Taking a deep breath, I pulled the blade out from my coat pocket and set it on the mahogany table between the three of us.
“That’s my dagger.” I pointed out.
“Where did you get that?” Chase asked.
“I found it under my pillow tonight.” I gulped, staring at the weapon as if hypnotized.
“How did it get there? And what did you mean by ‘she found me’?” Isaiah eyed the blade suspiciously.
“I don’t know.” I shook my head and wrapped my arms around my torso, breathing deeply to try and push back the panic attack that was working its way out. “All I know is, that dagger should be in the royal armory but it’s not, and it wasn’t there when we went to Agni either.”
“Wait, how do you know about that?” Chase’s bewilderment was clear on his features.
“Well, remember when I told you about my impromptu visit to the armory that day you were busy with your family?” I paused, waiting until they both nodded, then continued. “I felt like someone was watching me the whole time I was there so I looked around, and when I got to the display case my dagger was missing and whoever was there with me ran away.”
“Lilith, why didn’t you tell me any of this?” Chase’s voice was reprimanding.
“I didn’t want you to worry.” I whispered. “And when nothing happened, I forgot about it. Until now.”
“How do you know it was her?” He pondered.
“Who else would steal a royal dagger from the castle, a dagger that belongs to a supposedly dead queen, and plant it under my pillow?”
Silence engulfed the room once again as we all stared at the blade.
“What is that?” Isaiah asked as he reached for it.
I stepped forward, trying to see what he was seeing, when he pulled something off of the hilt. As he unfolded it, I almost face palmed myself for not noticing the note duck taped to the edge of the hilt.
After going over the note a few times, Isaiah handed it over to me.
“Well that answers the question of who took the dagger.”
As Chase leaned in to read the words over my shoulder, my eyes scanned over the paper and my blood froze in my veins.
“Condemned to death yet she still breathes.
A threat to our peace that must be defeated.
Those who do not remember the past are bound to repeat it.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Kira asked again. We were heading towards the cafeteria, the cold breeze of the early morning shaking the drowsiness out of our bones. “You know you can tell me anything. I’m sure whatever it is we can work it out.”
“Thank you Kira, I really appreciate it.” I smiled sincerely at my best friend.
Her blue hair was a tangled mess on her head and her scarf and coat covered her entirely but I could still see the concern in her blue eyes and I didn’t know if I should be grateful to have such great friends or even more guilty for lying to them and putting their lives in danger.
“I’m just tired and overwhelmed. With the trials and the extra tutoring lessons I barely get any sleep anymore. You don’t have to worry about me, I’ll bounce back.”
The chatter of the cafeteria was loud enough to drown the paranoid thoughts in my head and I silently thanked Rose for insisting we get our breakfast here instead of the house as usual. Our table was already filled, Sky and Brad making a mess as usual and Chase and Catherine whispering amongst themselves. A pang of jealousy struck my heart at the site of them and my mood darkened even further. I knew I had no right to feel this way, but no matter how many times I tried to convince myself of that, it never seemed to work.
“Good morning everyone.” Rose beamed as she sat down next to Sky. How she could be so chipper so early in the morning remained a mystery to me.
“Oh joy.” Catherine sat back in her chair and crossed her arms.
“Good morning everyone except her.” Kira rolled her eyes. Taking off her thick scarf she sat down and grabbed a pancake off of her twin’s plate. “What is she doing here?” Her tone was less than friendly.
“Would you two cut it out?” Chase said. “It’s too early for your bickering.”
“Agreed.” Brad nodded. “Let’s just have a nice breakfast before we have to go back out there and brave the elements all right?”
“Fine.” Kira shrugged. “I can be the bigger person.”
Catherine was about to say something, no doubt a snooty comeback, but was silenced by Chase’s glare.
Rose and Brad volunteered to go and get us more food from the buffet, claiming that the stack of pancakes on the table was not enough for all of us. From the corner of my eye I could see them grabbing two trays and stacking a bit of everything on our plates and I absentmindedly wondered if we would be able to finish all of that.
“Hey Lilith.” Skylar’s voice brought my attention back to the table. “Are you alright? You look a bit pale.” Huh, he was definitely Kira’s twin if their observation skills were anything to go by.
“I’m fine, just a bit tired.”
“Are you not getting enough sleep too?” He nodded knowingly. “I haven’t been sleeping properly since the attack. Every time I close my eyes I wonder if tonight’s going to be the night they strike again.”
“I wonder what they’re waiting for.” Catherine asked.
“Are the royals any closer to figuring out who the traitor is?” I asked Sky, trying my best to avoid looking at the couple to my right.
“Not yet.” He shook his head.
“Behold!” Brad said in a deep voice as he and Rose came to a stop at our table. “The most delicious breakfast you have ever had.”
Rose giggled at his antics as she started unloading the plates on our table. Pancakes, waffles, crepes, milkshakes, fruit salads and coffees were only a small portion of what they brought back.
“Wow!” Sky’s smile was so wide I feared his face was about to split into two.
“Don’t you guys think this is a bit too much?” Chase eyed the food, a hint of a smile on his lips.
“Really?” Brad looked at Rose. “We were about to go back for more.”
“Sit down you two.” Kira shook her head. “Leave some for the other students.”
As everyone dug into the breakfast feast, I reached for a hot cup of coffee and poured some sugar in it. My stomach was in knots and I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to keep anything down with my nerves. As I looked around the table, the realization that I was putting all of them in danger struck me once again and I had to take a deep breath to keep my tears at bay. If whoever planted that dagger under my pillow had such easy access to my room, who is to say that they wouldn’t harm anyone next time? How was I supposed to keep my friends safe if I didn’t even know where the danger was coming from?
I was so focused in my own paranoia that I didn’t notice the coffee in my mug boiling until it spilled over the table, almost burning Kira’s hand.
“Wow there, firecracker!” She grabbed some napkins and started wiping the hot liquid off. “What was that?” She gave me a quizzical look.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.” I let out in a whisper that sounded more like a scream around our silent table.
I knew that my fire element was a little out of control lately but this was just bizarre. I didn’t even feel the spark of magic that usually traveled through me when I summoned an element, not to mention, I didn’t summon anything, my fire just exploded in the form of boiling coffee. Was I so out of it that I didn’t even realize I was willing my fire out? Or was this a sign that my main element was more volatile than I knew? I sighed, more and more questions bombarding my head every second. I did not need to worry about this too; I had enough on my plate already.
“Great, we’re about to go to war and little miss crazy over there can’t even practice proper magic control. How does anyone expect her to graduate let alone fight with us?” As expected, Catherine had to chime in with her usual uplifting comments.
On reflex, I looked to my right to face my cousin and made the mistake of glancing at Chase. His eyes held concern, his head tilted to the side as if he was about to ask if I were okay. And maybe he was, but before he had the chance to, I grabbed my belongings and stood up.
“I’m going to head out.” I said to Kira and Rose.
“But you haven’t eaten anything.” Rose pointed out.
“I’m not hungry.”
I walked out of the cafeteria and back into the cold morning, my head swimming with too many different concerns I couldn’t even begin to sort them out. I took a deep breath and flexed my fists, opening and closing them repeatedly as if willing all the tension in my body to leave through them. I leaned against a wall, savoring the few seconds of solitude before the battles, when his voice broke through the haze.
So much for some peace and quiet.
“Hey Lilith.” Kyle stood in front of me; clad in his usual all black attire, his messy hair swaying with the wind. His grey eyes took in my face, concern flashing through them before disappearing again. Sometimes when I looked at him, I wondered why we couldn’t work. Why I couldn’t let go of the memory of times past and give him a chance to win me over. Then I would remember that he was a stalking manipulative liar and I would get over all the ‘what ifs’.
“Kyle.” I sighed, already eager to get this conversation over with.
“How are you?” He asked, his voice flat and his tone indicating that he doesn’t really care despite the smile on his face.
“I’ve been better.” I pushed myself off of the wall and started to walk away. “I don’t have time to talk right now so-”
I didn’t get the chance to finish my sentence before he grabbed my arm and stopped me from leaving.
“Can we please stop this game now?” his look of concern slowly morphed into his usual glare and I nodded slightly to myself. There’s the Kyle I know and… don’t care for.
“What game exactly?”
“The one where you pretend you don’t want me but deep down you like the chase.” He smirked. “I get it, alright?”
“First of all,” I said as I snatched my arm out of his strong hold. “I am not pretending. This isn’t a game and I don’t want you to chase me so get over yourself.” I matched his glare with one of my own. “And second of all, don’t ever grab me like that again.”
Apparently, my warning fell on deaf ears because the second I stopped talking he grabbed my arm again.
“He has a girlfriend, Lilith.” He seethed, no doubt referring to Chase. “So why don’t you stop acting like a little whore and come back to the only person who ever gave a damn about you?”
Well, I didn’t appreciate his tone.
It didn’t take much focus or energy for me to summon the fire that was brewing right under the surface of my skin. Kyle’s words hurt, probably more than he intended them to, but most of all, I had enough of him manhandling me and throwing me around like a rag doll. The temperature of my skin started rising, the fire rushing through my veins like lava, and soon enough it started burning whatever was touching me, mainly his clammy hands.
“I said, don’t ever grab me like that again.”
Kyle hissed out loud, jerking his hand away like it burned him –which it did- and jumping away from me. Through the haze of magic that enveloped my brain, I could see the bright red skin of his palm sizzling and starting to scab over.
With one last glare, I turned around and walked away, mixed feeling of pride, anger and disgust running through me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jessica looking at the altercation from the window of her office in the main building. As a council member, she had the authority to punish me for what I just did, but her brief nod and sly smirk informed me that I would not be facing any consequences today. A painful stab went through my heart as I looked at my sister, hurt and disappointed that I couldn’t run into her arms and tell her all about my problems like I used to do when we were younger. I thought losing my memories was the most painful thing that could have ever happened to me, but it turned out that knowing who I am and having to keep the fact that I was alive and well from the people I loved the most was far worse than amnesia. I hastily wiped away the tear that trickled down my cheek and continued on my way, anxious to get this day over with.
Throughout the day, it became clear that the seniors of Lixierra Academy grew braver and more daring after their short break. I didn’t know if it was because the semester was coming to an end, or because we could all feel the threat of another attack brewing and it made us anxious. Where the battles were few and far between before, now it seemed that students went out of their way to prove their abilities to the vigilant eyes of our professors. Residual magic hung in the air around us as friends, foes and kids who didn’t even know each other challenged their elemental powers all around the academy. I had participated in five battles by the time lunch rolled around, mostly with people from my class that I either didn’t recognize or didn’t hang around much. I won some, and lost some –mostly due to Mr. Blackthorn’s pointed looks as he popped out of thin air to observe – but noticed that my energy was slowly but surely diminishing. I hadn’t had much of a breakfast and considering the insane amount of stress I was currently going thorough; I was genuinely surprised I hadn’t collapsed yet. So when it was time for lunch I practically ran all the way to the cafeteria and stuffed my face with a huge plate of lasagna.
Kira and Rose found me like that, and after making fun of my sauce covered face and less than ladylike manners at the lunch table, Kira noted that she and I haven’t challenged each other to a battle yet. I found the reason obvious, since she was my friend and I didn’t want to battle her, but she scoffed and waived my concerns away. And that was how I found myself after lunch, in a three way battle between Kira, Rose and I. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously; harming each other was not an option after all so our battle looked nothing like what took place between Kyle and Chase. Nevertheless, during this challenge I was able to get a glimpse of the strong, fierce warriors behind the faces of the girls I grew up with. Kira and Rose were not to be taken lightly in a battle, and if the last attack on the academy proved anything, it was that my best friends were two of the most powerful mystics this school had ever produced.
Evening came not a moment too soon, and even though I was not as tired as I was this morning thanks to my huge lunch, I was eager to go home and get to bed. Unfortunately for me though, while darkness brought with it respite for the rest of the students, it only meant another lesson with my mentor for me. I dragged my feet towards his office, casting envious looks at the students who were littered around, talking and laughing amongst each other. What I wouldn’t give to be one of them for just a day, just a normal teenager with no royal burden and no secret killer trying to take my life, again. The sound of my name being called diverted my attention from the cluster of giggling girls and I turned around to find Chase running towards me, an awkward smile on his face. Another pang shot through my heart at the sight of him and I wished I could just tear the damn thing from my chest and throw it away. Now was not the time to pine over a guy, there was a killer on the loose, an impending war with the dark realm, and for fuck’s sake he had a girlfriend!
All equally valid and important reasons why I shouldn’t be pining after him, obviously.
“Are you okay?” He asked, the look in his eyes worried yet sympathetic. God, I hated being pitied.
“I’m fine.” I swallowed the curses that wanted to tumble out of my mouth and smiled instead.
“Aline.” He whispered. It was the first time he had ever called me by my real name ever since we found out the truth, and the sound of it coming out of his mouth made my knees weak and my eyes watery. I could clearly handle a lot of things, being away from my family, missing my friends and not being able to tell them who I really was, trying to survive another attempt at my life… But this, this was too much.
“Don’t.” the strangled word was barely a whisper. I took a step back and reigned in the tears that tried so desperately to burst out in a flood of buried emotions.
“What’s wrong?” He asked, bringing his hands around my shoulders. I took another step back and looked at him; the hurt that flashed through his eyes sent another painful pang through my chest.
“Don’t call me that.” I looked around, making sure we were far enough away from the prying eyes and ears of the students.
“All right, I’m sorry.” He nodded. “I’m also sorry about what Catherine did this morning. She didn’t mean what she said.”
“You know, at some point, you’re going to have to stop apologizing for your girlfriend Chase.” I spat the word ‘girlfriend’ out like it burnt my tongue, and to be honest, it did. “And you don’t have to tell me what she did or didn’t mean either. She’s my cousin, I know her all too well.”
A moment of tense silence passed between us. Chase kept looking at me like he always did, with a studious gaze that could probably see right through to my soul. He always had a way of figuring out exactly what was plaguing my mind, and this time was no different.
“I didn’t mean for it to happen you know?” He lowered his head, his tone heavy with barely controlled emotions. He ran a hand through his hair, messing it up even further and still he looked just as good. Calling him handsome or beautiful or good looking was never enough, Chase was ethereal, angelic both inside and out and my heart wrenched as I let my eyes roam his face freely. Kind, courteous and ever so charming, he was simply one of the best people out there and that was why I found it so hard to let him go. His words brought me back to reality, and I shook my head in an attempt to clear it of the haze that settled around it.
“I was lost after what happened… I was struck with anger and grief and despair. Catherine was there-” He didn’t get to finish his thought.
“She was there for you and she stuck by you in your time of need. Yeah, I get it Chase. You told me all of this before.” I sighed, once again fighting the onslaught of tears with all my might.
“I’m so sorry.” He swallowed heavily, his eyes watering.
“Don’t be.” I shook my head and patted his shoulder. “It’s not your fault.”
“This isn’t how it was supposed to be.”
“But it is the way it is.” I shrugged. “You’re with Catherine now and I just have to deal with that.” My smile was bitter and Chase could probably see right through it.
“I don’t know what to do.” He whispered dejectedly.
“You don’t have to do anything. I’m the one who has to move on.”
I closed my eyes for a brief second, flashbacks of all the time we spent together running through my head like a movie trailer. Taking a deep breath, I went to say something else when a loud, pain filled scream echoed through the school.
Seconds of tense silence covered the academy, like the quiet before the storm. Fear was palpable in the air as everyone prepared for the worst case scenario and a second later, another scream broke the silence of the night.
Everyone moved at once, as if a switch was flipped, and we all ran to the direction of the pained sobs that could be heard clearly even through the stomping of hundreds of students. Before Chase and I could make it to the main building, Rose darted out the bushes at full speed and almost collided with me if I hadn’t stopped her just in time.
“Rose! What the hell is happening?” I steadied her, keeping my hands on her shoulder for good measure, and waited impatiently for a few seconds until she caught her breath.
“The portals are open.” She glanced between Chase and I.
“The academy is under attack.”