A Crown of Thorns
Alia turned to look at Eric, masking all her emotions.
"You called him here?" she barely managed to keep her voice from breaking.
Eric faced away from her with his lips pressed together in a tight line, as if he could not bear to see her anymore. Tears started to form in her eyes, but she held them back. If he did not want anything to do with her then she might as well hide all those messed up emotions. She would no longer be the girl who always counted on him to make things right. She was foolish enough to trust him. She should have never put her faith in him in the first place. Now firm about her decision, she walked towards the Master Magician of Arthesia and nodded.
"Take me back, now." she said. The magician's face lit up at this decision and he gestured her to follow him.
"Wait, Alia! I didn't mean it that-"
"Stop! No more. I'm not going to listen to any of your lies."
"You know, you made me believe that I shouldn't be used as a sacrifice, that I had every right to dream. You did all that just to break it all apart. I had a tolerable life before this, knowing that I would have to give up my life when I turn sixteen. But now? You just destroyed all my plans of a peaceful death. Every time I think of the sacrifice, my mind goes out of control. All I can think of is all those times we spent together, the promise of a future. You should have never rescued me."
She did not wait for his response because she knew it did not matter anymore. The Master Magician opened up the door and followed behind her as she left the room without a second glance.
All that hope for a normal future seemed to disintegrate as she leaves the cottage. Being sure that Eric did not follow her out, she turned to look at the cottage that was covered with all kinds of flora. She felt a bit of hope reignite, tempting her to run back to Eric. To make him say that he really had not betrayed her.
All those moments she had spent with him flash before her eyes with each step she took away from the cottage. Ignoring the sharp pain in her heart, she followed the Master Magician back to the palace. Back to the place devoid of all dreams.
Only one thing would change - now there was no escape. The Celestial Day was near and they would not want her to slip away. After all those years of finding and keeping her, they would not want their hard work to be wasted just like this nor would she try to escape. She knew that this sacrifice was necessary. Arthesia and it's peoples lives depended on her. She could no longer afford to be selfish.
"Alia, its time." Nora, the servant she had befriended, said with a sorrowful tone.
Finally. She was tired of wallowing in self pity. She was tired of being so delusional about wanting to escape and create a future. How was that possible if a sacrifice is not made today to keep Arthesia going. At least it would be the end of all her misery.
She ndded at Nora who stood near the door and followed her out as she gave her prison-like-bedroom a last look. All those five years of preparing for this moment would have gone to waste if she had decided to stay with Eric. She frowned as she thought of him. His ability to invade her thoughts even at the edge of death was amazing.
Nora brought her into the courtyard where are the magicians and the royals were seated near the edge of the dome, as if afraid of the proximity between themselves and her during the ritual. She was dressed in a stunning red gown as practiced and now, all she had to do was wait.
Like each year, the god of death would come at a certain time and feed pure-blooded fae in the arena in front of everyone to remind them about his ability to easily order death on anyone or the entire Arthesia if they did not obey him.
Alina scaned the crowd as if wishing to see that one person before the inevitable. Why would he even be here? He was the one who had called the Master Magician after realizing that the girl he had rescued was the Saint. The only pure blood fae in the whole kingdom in the midst of humans who were completely self-centered.
Breaking her chain of thoughts, a foreboding trail of dark clouds start to take over the daylight. Being a pure heart, she senses it right away. The Lord of Death was just seconds away from appearing. A figure forms right behind her as she feels a tight grip on her wrists. As the form solidify, she feels her soul being sucked out from her. Excruciatingly painful but it hurt less than her misery.
Alia felt a sudden release from the sharp pain causing her to gasp in both surprise and shock. There were gasps from the crowd at the edge of the courtyard. Who would dare to interrupt the Lord of Death? But then, the familiarity of the voice makes her tremble. Tremble in fear, not for herself, but for him, the person standing in front of the Lord. Eric.
"You can't have her." he dared continued without a trace a fear. The Lord turned away from Alia to face him. She could see the amusement sparkle in the Lord's eyes.
"I have waited centuries for someone to say that.” The Lord said.
“Alright, I'll make you a deal. She will go unscathed, but for that you'll have to pay a price. You'll have to take my place as the Lord of Death."
Eric's eyes met with Alia’s and when she saw the determination behind them, she knew there was nothing she could do to stop him. Becoming the Lord of Death would make him an immortal and force him to carry out all those cruel tasks of death. He had come back for her and now she was going to lose him, again. As if fate would not allow them to be together.
"You have a deal."
Upon hearing that, the Lord readily set his crown of thorns upon Eric's head. The crowd gasped again and this time there were people shouting. In the midst of this mess, Eric and Alia's gaze met for one last time. In that one moment, they knew how much the other meant for them. They stayed like this, hoping to freeze time forever, until the Lord rested his hand on Eric’s shoulder and they faded into the evening sky stained with red.
The days after those events were harsh for Alia. People would glare at her and accuse her, but the ones she could not handle were when she saw gazes filled with pity. The grief that came with the freedom was unbearable for her. While she was stuck her with freedom, she prayed. She prayed for the one heart that was trapped for eternity.