Part 4 - Lost Jewel
The noise coming from outside echoed through the now deserted the palace. The smell of burning and smoke filled the air. Outside, her beloved town was being swallowed by a sea of flames.
A smile touched her lips as she released the heavy curtains allowing them to cover the high window once again. Everything had gone according to plan and now she was finally at peace, knowing things would naturally follow its due course, even if there were those that would wish it otherwise.
Now her time had come, she thought while walking to a tall mirror framed in silver and precious stones, a birthday gift from her late father. In front of it, facing her own reflection, Lidya straightened her blond hair the same way she’d done countless times. She had put on her best gown, a white piece made of embroidered silk and sea pearls that made her pale skin look fair and her blond hair shine like gold. She placed her crown where it belonged, amongst her blond locks of hair, the golden circlet feeling too heavy for her slender neck to carry, but she was determined to wear it as it was her right. And then she sat on a red velvet armchair, facing the door, and waited.
Time seemed to have stopped and it felt as if she had been waiting forever, which wasn’t all that far from the truth. Fifteen years could seem like an eternity when you’re given a time limit and you have to countdown every day, every minute, knowing that the end is growing closer by the second. Truth be told, in the last fifteen years she had never felt as much at peace as she felt now. Even when she heard sounds of footsteps echoing from the first floor and up the stairs, followed by a foreign language she had learned to recognize a long time ago, her heart still remained undisturbed.
She could hear it clearly, the sound of doors being opened and closed, and knew they were searching every room, looking everywhere, until they stopped for a split second right outside her door.
She raised her head when they kicked it open, abruptly storming in and stopping three steps after, when they finally saw her in all her majesty. There were two men all clad in black, waving long swords that looked old, their blades scratched and shipped in more than one place. She had only to look them in the eye to know they were normal humans, probably mercenaries paid for their services. They both stood by the door, almost as if an invisible wall was sopping them from advancing, and smiled at her showing their yellow, rotten teeth, their expressions cruel and disdainful, like hunters looking down on their prey.
Lidya raised her head and ignored them, as if they weren’t really there, and went back to waiting. A few moments after a new man appeared at the door. Although dressed like the other two this one carried no weapons and his eyes were soulless windows of emptiness. Even though tall, obviously strong and still quite young, he moved like a doll would, as if someone else was in command of his every step. Walking by the other two that seemed to have grown suddenly very pale, he marched up to her and held her by the neck, robbing her of her breath and forcing her to stand.
“Finally,” the man told her in a metallic voice and Lidya faced his empty expression without a single word of complaint. “Where is it?”
“You know I don’t talk with … things!” she replied, her voice cut off by the lack of air, and the man that held her released her just as quickly.
Lidya massaged her pained neck and the man stepped aside, giving way to a beautiful woman.
The men, by the door, lowered their heads unable to stop trembling as if even their hearts themselves shook in fear. The woman, on the other hand, looked calm and composed, a perfect smile stretching her perfect lips. Her fiery hair shadowed her orange eyes like wild flames, her dark boots leaving a trail of blood on the white marble floor. She bowed mockingly, the most regal and elegant bow that Lidya had ever seen, and smiled again.
“Your Majesty … what an honor,” she declared, her voice soft and beautiful like an enchantress’, and Lidya raised her head, unwilling to back down.
“Hum. Just do what you must, Dragon! And be done with it!” she told her, facing that inhuman gaze that seemed to constantly change color, from orange to yellow and then red, and closed her hands into tight fists, forcing herself to stand and face the horror that emanated from her mere presence, making her wish she could simply turn and run away.
“Oh, I see you were blessed with the gift of Sight.”
“Oh yes. I can see treason from miles away. You’re not worthy of belonging to the Ancient Race!” Lidya told her and her feral look came ablaze as her smile instantly vanished.
“You have no idea of what you’re talking about, Human! And I’m not about to explain myself to a mere mortal! My Lord demands that you to return what was lent to you and belongs to him! Where is it?”
“And I’m not about to explain myself to … someone of your kind!
“Don’t abuse my patient, wretched Human!” she threatened, holding her by the neck with a single hand, just like the man had done, and Lidya clutched at her wrist when her feet lost contact with the ground beneath them. “All I have to do is breathe and you’re life is over!”
“Do it … then … Why the … wait?”
A harsh wind filled the room and the Dragon dropped her unmercifully on the ground, stepping back. Out of nothing, a dark spiral appeared in midair, spinning and growing, becoming larger and larger, transforming into a huge vortex that opened to something like a tunnel. The man that crossed it was taller than any Human, his body slender and elegant and yet compact and firm. He looked like a young man, no more than twenty springs, with his beautiful flowing blond hair that reached bellow his waist and a perfect enchanting face. He was all dressed in black, simple clothes that any man could afford, and carried no weapon that the naked eye could see.
The two men by the door dropped to their knees, gluing their perspired foreheads to the cold stone, covering their heads with shaking hands as if fearing some kind of cataclysm. Even the Dragon lowered her gaze, giving another step back as safety measure.
He smiled gently, a beautiful smile that would have taken the breath away of men and women alike, and even his velvet blue eyes seemed to smile, taking on that harmless gentle expression, although Lidya couldn’t stop her legs from shaking.
“Kayla … Really. This is no way to treat a lady … a Queen, not to mention,” he said, his musical voice even more beautiful and entrancing than the Dragon’s, and Kayla averted her gaze, disgruntled.
He walked up to Lidya, that gorgeous smile always on his lips, and Lidya stood her ground, stopping herself from stepping back as her instincts dictated, even when he raised a hand to gently caress her face.
“My dear Lidya … How long has it been? You can’t possible know how I’ve missed you. Keeping silent for all these years. Not even a word to let me know how you were all doing,” he told her and Lidya looked away, feeling that should she stare into his blue eyes any longer he would end up swallowing her whole.
“You can stop that now. I know you too well.”
He sighed, sounding deeply disappointed, and his cold, elegant fingers became hard as nails when he held her face, making her turn back to him.
“You did let me down. We had a deal, after all. And you make me come all the way here …? Without carrying for the inconvenience you’re causing me? But I forgive you. Your naught but a child, after all. And children are known to do stupid, useless things, from time to time. Also, I can’t deny I’ve been having some fun, all thanks to you,” he added, finally releasing her, and Lidya took a hand to her face, massaging the places where he’d touched and where her skin hurt as if it had been frozen. “Now, be a good girl and return what I’ve lent you.”
“I don’t have it anymore,” she managed to answer, fear eating her alive from the inside out, and he laughed lightly, the sound of his laughter reminding her of the moon, and stars, and of white flowers that only blossomed at night.
“Alas it seems age has finally caught up with me. Please forgive me, but I seem to be having some problem with my hearing.”
Lidya stepped back as his gentle expression turned into one of pure, savage threat, the words escaping her dry throat as the fear she had been managing to keep under control finally got the better of her.
“I’ll ask again, then.” he said, his voice dropping to a calm but cold whisper. “Where’s my Jewel?”
“I … don’t have it …” she managed to reply and he suddenly grabbed her by a wrist, making her gasp as searing fire flowed under her skin from the point where he touched her.
“You don’t have it … Care to elaborate?”
“I lost it … It can be anywhere by now.”
She fell to the ground when he released her, laughing once again, although this laughter was different from before, echoing throughout the entire palace, filling the air with a heavy, unbreathable darkness.
“Can you believe this, Kayla?” he asked, turning towards the Dragon that didn’t even dare to answer. “She says it’s not here. After all we’ve done to reach this miserable piece of dirt. Humans!” he spat with despise, watching Lidya in all fours on the ground as she tried to regain her breath and strength, her arms and legs shaking so much that she’d never be able to stand on her own. “You see how she cares nothing for the lives of her brethren? She’d rather thwart me and let thousands die by our hands, than keep her word and simply return what has always belonged to me in the first place! It really makes me sad … and angry. We had a deal, after all!”
“Maybe she just needs some help remembering,” Kayla suggested in a sweet, careful tone.
“You think? Is that the case, dear Lidya?” he asked in an almost pitiful tone and Lidya raised her head to face the Dragon. Despise, hate, jealously, she saw all that at a glance. And under it all loneliness… a deep, dark, bitter loneliness. “Well, if that’s so I believe we can help revive your memory,” he said and the tall man with empty eyes, the only one that seemed unfazed by his presence, left the room for a moment only to return again, followed by other seven men just like him, their faces all painted in black.
“Let’s see … Maybe you’re right. For starters it was not polite of me, barging in like this, without bearing any gifts. But, as you so like to say, better late than never,” he stated, looking down at the woman at his feet that seemed to have given up on trying to stand up, and the Dragon smiled when he wrapped an arm around her waist, effortlessly pulling her to his side. Obviously entranced by him, she waved her elegant hand and the men with black faces unfolded the bundles they carried, indifferently dropping its contents on the ground. Lidya took both hands to her mouth, muffling a scream, unable to breath, her stomach turning and clutching, making her gag. He smiled, looking pleased, and placed a cold kiss on the Dragon’s temple. “You did well, my dear,” he praised her softly leaving a smile of contentment on her face.
Lidya’s eyes jumped from place to place like crazed, as blood stained the white stones red. Seven severed heads stared blankly at her and she couldn’t, for the life of her, attach names to those empty eyes, her heart racing out of control, her mind going completely blank. The older man … the older man she knew!, she concluded swallowing the bitter bile that filled her mouth. And that one too! All faces she knew!, she could finally see … Men she had known since her younger days. All those empty eyes and deadly pale faces belonged to members of the Royal Council. And yet, even though tears burned in her eyes, she couldn’t help feeling relieved … Allana was not there … neither was Elian, or Selina, or Dana … They were still safe, she forced herself to believe, making that thought her only strength. Because as long as they were still safe she would protect them with her life!
“Still can’t recall where you lost my Jewel?” he asked, mockingly, and Lidya turned her gaze away from Antar’s empty eyes. He sighed when she didn’t answer and, walking up to her, bent over and held her by an arm, pulling her to her feet; his perfect face so close to hers that they almost touched. “It’s such a shame, Lidya … You were such a cute girl … And I did kind of liked you, you know? Or I would never have helped you. And now you tell me you lost my most precious Jewel? Can you even imagine how hard it’s going to be finding it again, with all the stupid protections you probably cast around it? You’ve been a very, very naughty girl. And naughty girls need to be punished …” he told her and placed a hand on her forehead. A white bright light filled the room and Lidya screamed, her voice filling the palace’s empty rooms as her brain seemed to burn, and boil, and explode inside her skull.
Kayla sighed, completely bored, and crossed her arms looking out the window. Outside a new day was dawning …