-in which reality is merciless-
the darkness laughed today;
a cruel laugh that clung onto him.
his lips curved into a menacing smile,
whilst his heart shed tears
for what he had done.
Jenna gulped down what seemed like her fifth cup of coffee that morning.
"I don't know how you can drink that stuff," Zeph commented as he sat opposite her in the airship. Unlike her, he had a glass of orange juice (Mana wasn't with them and therefore they could risk devouring fruits and vegetables) which he still barely touched anyway. Instead, he was currently scoffing down rolls of bread that Celeste had kindly bought from the market this morning.
Jenna smirked, waving the cup of coffee in front of his face so that the thief grimaced at it.
"At least it keeps me awake," she said, putting the cup back down on the table much to Zeph's gratitude.
The thief replied with nothing but a small smile as he returned to his food. She watched him out of boredom, fiddling with the handle of her cup. It was as if their argument yesterday had been forgotten; neither of them brought it up nor did anything feel awkward between them.
At this, her lips tugged into a minuscule smile. She supposed that was the reason why she and Zeph were good friends. He annoyed her most of the time, but even she had to admit that her life would be different without the arrogant thief. To think that they met because he tried to kidnap her and give her to a bunch of dodgy men…
Well, she supposed it wasn't the best start to a friendship.
"The townspeople should be all arriving in an hour or so. That's what Caelum told me anyway." Zeph said once he had finished eating.
"Caelum?" she frowned. "Doesn't it strike you as odd that even though he casually walks around in public, people don't tend to worry about the fact that he has red eyes?"
Zeph laughed, apparently finding her musings funny. "Yeah, I did used to wonder about that. But I think people just tend to get too intimidated by him to do anything about it."
Pausing, Jenna pictured Caelum's appearance again. A towering man who looked like he was in his early twenties, with muscled arms, a permanent scowl, wild black hair, and to top it all off, eyes the colour of blood.
"You have a point," she admitted in the end.
"What strikes me as odd is his relationship with Celeste."
She raised an eyebrow at him, waiting for him to elaborate.
"Oh, come on, Jen," he said. "I mean, she literally acts like the nicest girl you'll ever meet, and then there's Caelum who could make babies cry if he just walks into the same room as them."
Jenna snorted, nearly choking on her own breath. She laughed, because it wasn't actually an exaggeration that Caelum made babies cry that easily. She had witnessed it too many times in the last three years. At this, Zeph laughed with her, leaning back on his chair as he set his feet on the table as he often did.
"You should loosen up like this more, you know," he said, nodding towards her.
Her laughter died down and she stared at him curiously. "What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean. I hardly see you being like this anymore."
She remained stubborn. "Being like what?"
For a second, it looked like Zeph was about to retort – but he looked at her. There must have been something in her expression that made him change his mind because in the end, he only shook his head and dropped the subject. And just as quick as that, the moment was lost and they fell into silence.
"I'm gonna go and tell the mayor that we're ready for them to come over," Zeph said, standing from his seat. "Are you coming with me?"
Jenna was just about to decline, but she stopped herself before she did so. Her eyes darted to the nearest window; the weather outside didn't look that bad. And besides, she would have nothing to do if she stayed here seeing as Caelum and Celeste were still out in town doing whatever it was they were doing.
"Yeah, sure," she nodded, rising from her seat as well and facing him.
Zeph smiled. "Good. It'll be easier if there are two of us gathering all the townspeople here."
When Caelum and Celeste returned to the airship, they were surprised to find a large crowd surrounding the entrance. Caelum sighed, glaring at all of the pestering humans were who trying to push each other out of the way. Celeste sighed too, although she didn't think they were as much of a hassle as Caelum did. If anything, Celeste felt sympathy for them.
It must have been so overwhelming for them; to find out that their entire kingdom would not only fall from the sky, but also potentially crush the Earth Kingdom in the process? It was inhumanly and impossible – ridiculous – and yet it was still happening.
They were just going to have to stop it. There had to be a way for Mana to somehow help both kingdoms without harming herself. Even so, Celeste couldn't help but worry at the fact that a whole kingdom was going to plunge from the sky. Ophelia was strong, yes, but was she strong enough to stop a kingdom? What could she do anyway? Carry it?
Caelum laid a hand on her shoulder. "Stop worrying."
He raised an eyebrow. "You're a rubbish liar."
Celeste pursed her lips.
"Or maybe I just know you so well," he smirked, patting her shoulder now and pushing her through the crowd.
Celeste apologised to the people as Caelum pushed her into them.
Once they finally stumbled inside the airship, she instantly noticed that the screen was working again. And Mana was talking to Zeph through it. She strained to see through the groups of people crowded inside the room, but in the end, Caelum only sighed and parted them once again. As usual, Celeste pleaded her apologies to the poor residents that she barged into.
"Things have been fine with me," Mana was telling them. "We had no problems at all this week."
Jenna, who was sitting unceremoniously on a table, nodded, tapping her chin as she watched the holographic image of Mana. The elf was obviously in her room, alone and lazily sprawled over her bed. Celeste almost smiled at Mana's typical ease with her appearance; even with countless townspeople in the airship, Mana still didn't flinch at them witnessing her attire – or lack of it.
Oh, but Celeste supposed that Mana's outfit right now was better than her usual ones. She forced herself to thank the heavens that the elf actually bothered to wear a silk nightgown at this moment.
Hugging her blankets to her chest, Mana sat up and started to talk. From Celeste's distance, it was difficult to make out was she was saying. And so, she grabbed Caelum's wrist and pushed her way through the crowd.
"So, how are things on your end?" Mana asked, raising an arched eyebrow.
Zeph shrugged. "Oh, you know. Same old, same old."
Looking displeased, Mana only nodded. Then, there was a faint muttering in the background, and she looked over her shoulder and turned to the door behind her.
"Yes, yes, wait a minute, Vince!" she called, rolling off the bed.
"I have to go," Mana sighed, sending each of them an apologetic look. "I'll – I'll see all of you later?"
Nodding, Zeph flashed her a grin before he turned the screen off. Afterwards, he wasted no time in striding over to the airship's entrance and demanding the remaining people outside to enter before he lost his patience. Celeste pursed her lips, edging closer to Caelum as the airship became even more crowded. Despite this airship being quite large and the town's population being small, it was still becoming all too claustrophobic for her liking.
As if sensing her distress, Caelum squeezed her shoulder and leaned into her.
"Let's go in our room. All these humans are giving me a headache."
She nodded, turning to Jenna and Zeph. Both of them merely waved their hand at her, motioning for her to just comply with Caelum's wishes. Celeste figured that they would not need any help with the evacuation today anyway. Zeph was perfectly fine with steering the airship and Jenna, when annoyed enough, could easily order a whole room to be quiet when needed.
Following Caelum into their room, Celeste's eyes couldn't help but travel to Eidan's old room. Or better yet, Eidan and Jenna's old room. Ever since Jenna cut her hair, she hadn't set foot in that room ever again. Sometimes, Celeste was tempted to slip into that room and just sit on the bed, perhaps think of how Eidan was faring right now, but she never plucked the courage to do so. The subject of Eidan was a sensitive one, and everyone knew better than to upset Jenna these days.
Caelum groaned once they entered their room, instantly collapsing onto the bed and kicking his shoes off. She smiled softly, sitting down on a chair and watching him with a silent expression.
It was hard to tell when their relationship had gradually changed into this. There were moments where she would dwell in her torturous silent thoughts and wonder if Caelum still secretly hated her, but she voiced none of them. Although the thought scared her, she knew that there must be some degree of him that still loathed her because of her mistakes.
But she was just going to have to live with that.
She jumped. Caelum was now in front of her, frowning, his red eyes illuminated in the near darkness of the room. Both of them never drew the curtains open.
"Oh, nothing." She forced a smile, blinking rapidly.
Thankfully, Caelum didn't ask any further, but he still stood in front of her, staring down with unreadable eyes.
"What?" She tilted her head. "What is it?"
His frown deepened. "Jenna was asking me some weird questions yesterday."
"Jenna tends to do that."
He shook his head. "I know, but it got me thinking."
She waited for him to elaborate. He was no longer staring at her, but at the window. His eyes seemed so far away, seeing something beyond the closed curtains, perhaps imagining a different place behind them.
"What are you going to do after this curse?"
She blinked at his question.
"Because think about it," he continued, his voice quickening. "We've never actually been able to think about our own lives. Even back in the First World, we were constantly being imprisoned by rules. Even being chosen as gods, we still had no control over our lives. But if we break this curse…"
"If we break this curse, we can finally live the life we wanted to?" She finished his sentence for him, her voice trailing off into silence.
Somehow, she felt uncomfortable talking about this. He was right. Just because they were gods didn't mean that they were free to live their life peacefully. No, if anything, they were just people who were chosen by much stronger Gods. People who were burdened with the power of an element, burdened to watch over a kingdom for the rest of their lives.
He didn't nod or reply. His lips curled into a small grimace, red eyes almost glowing.
She pursed her own lips. "I'd like a cottage."
Now, he finally looked at her. "What?"
She smiled. "I said I would like a cottage. Somewhere secluded – no, peaceful. With a forest nearby. And flowers and plants and a stream of clean water."
If she wasn't so engrossed in her daydreaming, she would have laughed at Caelum's expression. He was narrowing his eyes, his eyebrow twitching – as if tempted to frown.
"I'm not sure what kingdom it would be in… but maybe somewhere in the Outskirts. Where it's so closed off from the world that you're not even sure what kingdom it is anymore. And I would stay in touch with Jenna, Zeph, and Mana. And maybe Eidan if I can. Because I feel like… I feel like I owe them something."
Her eyes averted down to her feet. Worn shoes, speckled with dirt and mud, and she swung her legs to and fro, and watched as the dirt blurred in her vision.
"And maybe I'll try and find Ula and Nuriel's descendants too. Even though I was never that close to them and they caused their own curse. But… But maybe if I hadn't been so selfishly reckless, then perhaps they wouldn't have been thrown into Sepulcra," she mumbled her words now, and it didn't exactly matter if Caelum could understand her or not.
There was silence after that. Caelum's fists clenched at the mention of Nuriel. Celeste suddenly wished she didn't mention the former gods. It wouldn't do well to remind Caelum of the Fire God – the very same god that nearly killed him.
And so, Caelum just shook his head.
"Who will you be with?" His voice was quiet – unnaturally so; it didn't fit his character. He sounded… sombre.
She took his hand into hers. It was cold, and her hands looked so dainty and small compared to his, which were callused and hard.
He looked at her now, and despite the sudden rise in the pace of her heart, she found it easy to say the words forming in her mouth. "Who else will I spend my life with apart from you?"
A smile tugged at his lips. He looked down at their hands entwined together and gave hers a light squeeze.
"I'm not sure about a cottage though."
"Seems too girly for me. And the flowers will be a hassle to take care of. And have you seen the Outsk-"
Celeste quietened him by crashing her lips to his. He stumbled back a bit, his words muffled by her mouth, but it wasn't long before he returned the kiss. Strong arms circled around her waist, twisting her around and roughly pushing her onto the bed. She felt the soft blankets envelop her, sinking her into a world of her, Caelum, and the rush of heat in her veins. Caelum was not known for his patience; his lips were already travelling down her neck, tongue swirling around the sensitive spots that he still remembered she had.
Rushing. Heat. Celeste gasped. Her hands trembled as she ran her fingers through his hair, and her eyelids drooped close, sighing in content. Caelum kissed her lips now, hoisting her closer to his chest until she was sure that their pulses were merging with each other and all she heard was thump, thump, thump.
There was a fumbling of hands and she wasn't sure when she started tugging at his shirt – but he soon helped her in stripping that off. And she wasn't aware that he had begun to unlace her dress, slipping it off with ease and smirking when her eyes snapped open. She found it harder to breathe now and she pulled away from their kiss, gasping for air. As she panted, she was all too aware of Caelum slowly unwinding the bindings around her breasts, humming a soft tune as if it was the most casual thing in the world.
Her hands fisted the blankets, digging her nails into the cloth until she could no longer feel them. Sudden flashbacks swam into her mind; when she and Caelum used to do this back in the First World, when she and Caelum flew around the Dark Kingdom, when she and Caelum bathed in the springs together, when she and Caelum didn't care about the gods or the rules that kept them apart.
And she started to smile. No, she would not care now either. She pushed aside the thoughts of those bothersome gods and laid her hand on Caelum's head as his lips descended to her chest, and she felt him smiling against her skin.
They blocked out everything; the noise in the airship, the worries that lingered on their minds, and the burning knowledge that the gods hated this. It no longer mattered, because after ten thousand years of waiting and waiting, she finally had Caelum back with her again.
When all was finished, Caelum collapsed beside her, dark hair damp from sweat. Celeste shivered, instantly feeling lost without his embrace. As if sensing this, he pulled her against him, their bare legs tangling around each other. Caelum hummed something unintelligible, stroking her cheek with a rough hand and leaning down to her ear. His lips brushed her lobe as he spoke; voice hoarse and still laced with lust.
"I love you," he said, and she could feel the smile in his voice.
Her heart leapt. She wrapped her arms around his neck, unable to contain her elated giggles when he leaned down and started to pepper light kisses on her collarbone.
"I love you too," she told him, stroking his dark hair.
His eyes softened at her smile. Then, he laid his head on her chest, listening to her heartbeat, as he often used to back in the First World. It calmed him, he used to tell her. He liked to know that she existed in his life.
"I suppose I can tolerate a girly cottage with flowers and plants so long as you're with me everyday," he said.
Her smile grew. "I'll be with you everyday."
Jenna wanted to scowl at everyone in the airship.
They were nearly in Cardamonia. Just a few more minutes. Hopefully anyway. It had been hell trying to calmly get everyone in this airship and make their way back to the Earth Kingdom – which, by the way, Celeste and Caelum did not bother to help them with. She gritted her teeth at this; the two gods decided to lock themselves up in their room, and Jenna knew better to check on what they were doing. Because she was quite sure that she already had a clue as to what was happening in their room – she just didn't need the real image to match with her traitorous thoughts.
"Zeph, are we nearly there?" she impatiently asked, taping her feet against the floor. Around her, countless families snapped their heads towards her direction, eager to hear the answer as well.
"We should be. We're just a few yards away from Cardamonia. I'll be landing soon-"
The airship lurched.
Jenna cried out, losing her footing and stumbling towards Zeph. He grunted as she crashed into him, and she heard him cursing as he hooked one arm around her and used the other arm to try and steer the airship. The ship was still shuddering, and she wanted to cover her ears and demand for everyone to shut up because their screams were piercing straight through her eardrums.
She clutched onto Zeph's shoulders. Looking out of the window worried her; the sky was rushing, clouds zooming past as the airship dived for the kingdom below them. She should have stopped panicking and composed herself so that she could calm down the townspeople – but no, she was selfish sometimes. Instead, Jenna closed her eyes and buried her head into Zeph's chest, listening to him curse again and again as he punched various buttons and switches.
Jenna was sure that she was on the verge of clawing out Zeph's heart by the way she was clutching onto him, but she soon realised that there was no longer any need to. She cracked open one eye, her shoulders relaxing when she saw that they had slowed down. Somehow, amidst all the screaming, Zeph managed to rectify the situation. Jenna sighed in absolute relief.
Zeph raised an eyebrow at her. "Do you plan on molesting me all day, Jenna?"
She shot away from him, composing her rampaging heart and ignoring the teasing grin that he sent her. They had landed now, she noticed. Trees greeted her eyes when she looked out of the window, and Jenna smiled at the usual busyness of the Earth Kingdom. Even with an airship crashing, the people were still too busy trying to cram themselves into trains so that they could enter Cardamonia.
Zeph opened the airship doors, and as instant as was possible, all of the townspeople rushed out. She smiled at their typical reactions; wide eyed and gasping at the stark difference of the Earth Kingdom. Perhaps they could finally breathe in some fresh air. Perhaps they could finally see bright, green grass. Perhaps they could finally see what a healthy kingdom was like.
Ah, but of course, as soon as they stepped into the underground layers of the Earth Kingdom, they would be able to realise that there was not much difference between Earth and Air. Both Kingdoms were just as polluted at each other.
She bitterly smiled. The Earth Kingdom was just full of deceit. Countless times she had watched families revel at the outside beauty of this kingdom, only to be disappointed as soon as they stepped into the underground layers.
Shrugging to herself, Jenna followed Zeph, along with the many townspeople, and waited to enter the underground city of Cardamonia. She smiled and nodded at families who bothered to thank them, and wished them good luck in finding their way to Cardamonia. By the time she said goodbye to the mayor of Desera, Jenna's cheeks hurt from smiling too much. She patted her cheeks, frowning at thin air in a strange attempt to balance out the stiffness.
Zeph frowned at her and said that she looked stupid.
She slapped him across the shoulder. Although her face tried to look annoyed, she couldn't help but let a stray giggle escape her.
"Come on, Blondie," Zeph grinned, offering his arm. Jenna rolled her eyes at the typical nickname that he still gave her and linked her arm around his.
She was almost tempted to start skipping to the train that would soon lead them into the underground city – but she refrained from doing that. She wasn't seventeen anymore, after all.
As they reached the back of the queue, someone coughed behind them. Jenna turned around, raising her eyebrows at Caelum and Celeste.
Caelum, who had been the one who coughed, pointed back at the airship. "Celeste and I checked the engine room just now, and it doesn't look too good. The gears are all struggling and some of the crystals have fallen out from their places."
Zeph groaned, letting go of Jenna. He ran a hand through his wild hair and tapped his feet on the ground. "How bad is it?"
"Pretty bad. I tried to fix it but I'm not sure where some of the crystals are meant to go in."
"Right," Zeph sighed. "I'll help you fix it then."
Caelum nodded, turning back to the airship and nodding to Jenna as an indication of goodbye. Before he left, however, he patted Celeste on the shoulder and sent her a smile.
"Go with Jenna to meet Mana," he told her. "I'll see you later."
Celeste nodded, kissing him chastely on his cheek and watching as he left with Zeph.
"Let's go!" Celeste said, clapping her hands together and beaming at her. Jenna raised an eyebrow; the Goddess was strangely happy today.
She said nothing, only choosing to wait silently as they queued up for the train. No doubt that Caelum was probably the reason why Celeste was so happy today – and Jenna didn't really want to know what it was that Caelum did to make her so happy. And so, they waited and waited, and often conversed about little things like the weather, or what to do about Mana's broken cooker, or how awfully slow this line was today.
Alas, when they did finally manage to board the train, there was more waiting as the train sped into the underground city. Jenna didn't bother to hide her amused grin as she watched the townspeople's elation slowly morph into disappointment when they were greeted by the sight of dirty air, congested streets and crowded houses. Ah, yes, welcome to Cardamonia indeed.
The train screeched to a halt and Jenna wasted no time in rushing out. As expected, she and Celeste were greeted by a sudden blast of dirty air from all the machines that zoomed in the streets. She coughed, covering her mouth and trying to navigate herself once more in this huge city. They just needed to find the inn that Mana was staying in. That was all.
Luckily, she was used to this – all of them were; her, Zeph, Caelum, Celeste, and Mana. The inn that they stayed in could easily be reached if they went through a thin alleyway located in the far east of the Sixth District, and it usually only took about fifteen minutes at the most to walk there. Thus, when they finally reached the alleyway, Jenna quickened her pace, eager to finally be reunited with everyone.
Celeste, however, paused.
Jenna sighed, looking over her shoulder. "What's wrong?"
The Goddess slowly shook her head, her eyes scanning above her. Brown eyes looked over the roofs that towered over them. Peeking out of the alleyway, there were skyscrapers, so tall that it seemed they could stab straight into the underground layer of this kingdom. Towers with spiralling designs and machines dangling from them; lights and more lights blinking on and off, smoke billowing from chimneys. It was as if Celeste was taking it all in, breathing in the earth.
"Nothing…" Celeste murmured, blinking rapidly now.
Pursing her lips, Jenna said nothing and turned back around. Behind her, she could hear Celeste slowly following her steps.
Despite having her back to her, Jenna could feel Celeste's anxiety. Her steps were uneven and cautious, and Jenna could hear her often pausing, as if to take a look around her. In the end, Jenna groaned and faced the Goddess once again.
"What are you doing?" she demanded impatiently.
Celeste said nothing. She narrowed her eyes around them. Tired, Jenna followed her gaze half-heartedly.
No. There was nothing around them-
An arrow whistled through the air.
It was as if everything froze at that moment. Jenna saw several things at once. She saw the arrow, spinning, hurtling towards them. She saw what Celeste was worrying about. She saw the thick shadows that clung in the alleyway. She saw the man standing on the roof of a nearby building. She saw his bow. She saw his blond hair, billowing in the nonexistent breeze. She saw his eyes, narrowed, empty, and watching the arrow. She saw the malice in his face.
But most of all, she saw the arrow lodge itself into Celeste's chest.
And as quick as that, everything rushed back again. Celeste plummeted to the ground. Jenna screamed. Lucan's eyes narrowed – and the thick darkness clutched at him, swirling madly. And he was gone in a blink of an eye.
Jenna didn't have any time to clutch at reason. She scrambled to Celeste, gathering the fallen girl into her arms. Her hands trembled, deciding whether to pull the arrow or not. Biting her lip, Jenna gripped the arrow-
A scream ripped through Celeste.
Letting go of the arrow, Jenna felt the panic bubbling in her chest. No, she couldn't touch the arrow – doing that could deal worse damage to Celeste. But she didn't know what she could do! There was blood pooling around them, a puddle of red, staining their clothes and the ground. The thick smell of copper hung in the air, and Jenna breathed through her mouth – but she could taste it instead.
"C-Celeste, can't you heal yourself?" she begged, squeezing the Goddess' shoulders.
Celeste whimpered, shaking her head. "I-I can't. I can't feel m-my body."
A breath stuck in Jenna's throat. What if the arrow was laced with poison?
Jenna's head whipped around them. They were right in the middle of the alleyway. No one was there to help them.
"J-Just hang on, Celeste!" she said, trying to help the girl sit up.
Celeste coughed, and blood spurted from her lips and trickled down her chin. The Goddess whimpered some more, tears merging with the crimson on her face. She tried to take deep breaths, but the blood gurgled in her throat and she choked. Jenna wanted to look away and close her eyes and run. Run away from the horror. But instead, she bit her lip and wiped away Celeste's tears and begged and begged her to stay awake.
What could she do?
She couldn't leave Celeste here.
But she needed to get help.
Desperate, Jenna began to scream for help. For anyone – someone – to hear them and help Celeste. She screamed until her throat felt raw. She screamed until the tears spilled from her cheeks and dropped onto Celeste's wound. She screamed until Celeste's trembling hand laid on her own and the Goddess smiled weakly at her.
Jenna shook her head. She wasn't going to listen to Celeste because it was predictable that the Goddess would say something along the lines of that she deserved this.
"You need to stay alive for Caelum," Jenna forced through gritted teeth. "He loves you, remember? You can't leave him again."
Celeste's eyes softened.
"Don't leave him. It hurts when the person you love leaves you." Jenna's hands fisted into Celeste's clothes, her eyes stinging. "You can't do that to him."
"I-I don't want to leave him." Celeste's voice was feeble; barely even a whisper.
It was strange. As soon as those words left Celeste's lips, Jenna heard rushing footsteps behind her. She looked over her shoulder. Her lips trembled when she saw Caelum running to them, his eyes wide and full of shock. It all felt disjointed. She didn't know how Caelum ended up here – perhaps he heard her or perhaps he was just connected to Celeste.
But nevertheless, she relented when Caelum snatched Celeste's body from her grip. Helplessly, she watched as he cradled his lover's body into his chest, trying to steady his quivering arms as he begged her to stay with him.
The blood kept spreading.
"Please, Celeste," Caelum begged, shaking his head. "You have to stay strong. Try to heal yourself."
At first, Celeste's face was a look of defeat, but she must have seen something in Caelum's expression. She nodded, biting her lip hard and closing her eyes. Jenna sucked in a deep breath, praying, praying so much to the heavens.
But the blood grew. Celeste coughed, spilling red onto Caelum's chest. Her hands shook and she clasped his shoulders, sobbing and apologising to him.
"I-I can't, Caelum," she rasped. "It hurts. It hurts too much."
It was as if the heavens were crumbling. Jenna's prayers slipped from her mind, replaced with the reality of the blood and death. Replaced with the reality of unforgiving gods.
"No," Caelum gritted. "You can't do this!"
"You can't leave me again, Cel. Not now that we finally have a chance to end this curse."
Jenna wanted to look away. Desperately. She didn't want to witness this. But her eyes were cruel and she found herself watching the scene with tears flowing down her cheeks. Caelum looked so weak, hunched over Celeste's limp body, with his shoulders shaking and his voice trembling. It felt forbidden to watch him in this state.
"D-Don't get angry." Celeste was stroking his hand. "I don't want you to suffer in your life just because of me."
Caelum's hand clenched into a fist. "Don't you understand, Celeste? You are my life!"
Celeste was about to say something, but was interrupted by a violent cough that tore though her again. She bent over, spitting out clots of blood on the damp floor. When finished, she collapsed into Caelum's arms once more, her skin eerily pale.
"No, don't close your eyes!" Caelum begged, lightly shaking her.
Caelum was breathing hard, and the darkness was creeping on the ground, emanating from his quivering form. Jenna shuffled away, covering her face as the tears refused to stop.
"Jenna!" Caelum hissed at her. "Run back to the airship. Get help!"
She stumbled to her feet-
"S-Stop…" Celeste reached for her.
Jenna froze. Bloody fingers were pointed at her, and Celeste shook her head meekly.
"What the fuck are you talking about, Celeste?" Caelum demanded. "No, Jenna! Just get help - now!"
Jenna couldn't move.
Celeste took Caelum's face into her hands. Her eyes, red and puffy, beamed at him with love and sincerity. With that look, it was as if her voice strengthened, and a little bit of life returned to her brown irises.
"I love you, Caelum. I always have, and I always will. And I don't care if light and darkness are forbidden to be together. I don't care about the gods. I only care about you." A nervous giggle shook through Celeste, and Jenna ignored the blood that spilled from her lips. "Please live your life. Please don't drown yourself in hatred. I just want you to be happy – so please live."
Caelum's eyes were as wide as they could be. His lips parted, but no words formed at his lips.
"I-I love you so much," Celeste beamed.
And then she kissed him. Her eyes tightly shut themselves, and she clutched onto him as if he were the only thing keeping her alive. Her tears ran down her cheeks but she continued to kiss him, relentlessly and desperately. Caelum sat there, his hand shaking as he wiped the tears from her cheeks.
Jenna knew that he would have crushed Celeste into an embrace – had it not been for the arrow still jutting out of her chest.
She didn't know how long their kiss lasted. Forever could have passed, and it still wouldn't have lasted long enough. But as soon as a choked breath came from Caelum, Jenna immediately knew that something was wrong.
Celeste's hands, which had been holding Caelum's face, now slipped from their grip. Her lips slid away from his, and Jenna heard her whimper – or shudder – and then her head descended onto his shoulder.
"Celeste," Caelum muttered, shaking her slightly. "Celeste."
There was no answer.
Jenna felt sick.
Now, she looked away. Now, she closed her eyes. Now, she tried to block out everything.
Because she couldn't look at Caelum's tears. She didn't want to see him hunching over Celeste's dead body as he poured out all of his anguish. She didn't want to hear his broken sobs, echoing through this abandoned alley. She didn't want to be here.
But she was shaking. By the Gods, she was shaking so much, and she covered her mouth to try and muffle her sobs but it only caused her to choke. She bent over, whether to vomit or to cry – she didn't know anymore. Everything was rushing again and all she could hear was sobbing and the sound of the arrow hurtling through the air and Celeste saying she loved Caelum and –
Jenna gripped her hair into her hands and wished to whatever merciful soul up there that all of this would stop; that she would wake up and see Celeste burning down the kitchen again, that she never witnessed Caelum crying, and that she didn't see Lucan killing someone.
Questions ran through her head.
Why did people die?
Why did Lucan shoot her?
What were they going to do with Celeste's body?
What would Caelum do?
Why was this happening?
However, she had no answers. No one answered her. Not the gods, not the heavens, and not anyone in this world.
Jenna continued to cry.
But Caelum said something. He forced the words out, and they shuddered in the air.
"I know where to bury her."
Eidan frowned at Grace.
She was seated opposite him in the dining table, pushing her food to and fro in her plate. Beside her, Ethel watched Grace with an amused smile, her pale lips tugging up more and more.
Eidan's frown deepened.
"Grace, are you okay?" he asked, setting down his knife and fork.
For a short second, Grace's hand froze and the fork screeched against the plate, but she soon returned to her earlier beat.
"I'm fine," she insisted.
"Are you sure?" Ethel chirped. "You look lifeless, dear sister."
Grace's hand gripped the fork tightly.
"Hmm." Ethel pursed her lips, shrugging to herself when Grace remained silent. "Anyway, Eidan, meet me in the Balandrian Springs in an hour-"
It surprised both Eidan and Ethel that it was Grace who said that. Eidan raised an eyebrow at her, taking note of the slight wavering of her hands as she set the cutlery aside. Grace sat up, red hair covering half of her face as she sent Ethel a deep scowl.
"He's spent three years training everyday. Don't you think that's enough?"
Ethel curled her lips. "It'll take much more to have a chance at breaking a ten thousand year old curse."
Grace opened her mouth, but shut it before she said anything. Her head lowered down and she focused her eyes on her untouched food, Watching her now, Eidan saw that her shoulders were shaking, but her hair obscured her expression from his eyes. Was she crying?
Eidan's eyes narrowed.
He saw a small, hidden smile from behind her hair.
"You think you're so clever, Ethel," Grace muttered.
Ethel glared. "Excuse me?"
"I'm sick of letting people control me."
Grace's words confused Eidan. However, before he could react, there was a swift rush as Grace reached for the nearest knife and slashed it at Ethel's face.
Only, she would have if Ethel had not ducked in time.
He sat there, frozen as both of his sisters glowered at each other. Grace's hand was still clutching the knife, directed at Ethel's heart. And Ethel was no longer sitting on her chair; instead she stood up, with tendrils of angry darkness growling from her feet, clawing for Grace.
Grace's eyes darted to him.
Then, she was by his side, grabbing his hand and whispering into his ear. "You can't stay here anymore."
The table split in half. Splinters of wood and pieces of shattered glass hung in the air, surrounding Ethel. She narrowed her eyes at Grace, and it was as if Eidan wasn't in the room. All of Ethel's anger was directed at her sister.
"What in the world do you think you're doing, Grace?" she hissed.
Grace pushed Eidan back. "What do you think you're doing? You're just sprouting lies to him everyday!"
They were screaming at each other, but he found it hard to keep up. Eidan could only watch as their expressions contorted to that of something beyond hatred and anger. Grace, who was still holding up her arm to protect him, was shivering in fear.
But why? What was going on?
As if sensing his questions, Grace looked over her shoulder and locked her eyes with his.
"I can't stand watching you waste your life away here. You don't belong here, Eidan. You belong with Jenna and the humans. You need to get away from here!"
He wanted to shake her until she revealed all the answers. "But Grace, I need to-"
"No! It's all lies!" Grace shrieked now, shaking her head again and again. "Do you know what Ethel told me? Do you know what she said about breaking the curse?"
Ethel laughed; a humourless and bitter laugh. "Do you really want him to know about that, Grace?"
For a moment, Grace faltered. She bit her bottom lip, and Eidan could swear that he heard an involuntary sob escape her.
"You have to kill me in order to break the curse, Eidan. And Jenna has to kill Lucan."
Eidan's eyes widened.
He looked at Grace for answers, but all he saw was her hunched form, now looking so weak and frail. The knife in her hand loosened, no longer a weapon in her grip, but just a feeble item. Behind her, a smug smile formed on Ethel's face, and the darkness blinked again and again in the room.
He couldn't think. Everything was slipping; reality and common sense.
Looking between his sisters, he had two different solutions to the curse.
Break some spell that Ethel told him about.
Or kill Grace, it seemed.
His fists clenched. Before he knew it, his limbs were moving on their own accord. Darkness swirled around him, enveloping him in a storm of black and grey. Through the shadowy tendrils, he could still see Grace, watching him from the corner of her eyes. Ethel was watching too; her dainty arms folded and an eyebrow rising in an expression of boredom.
Before the abyss completely swallowed him, he caught sight of Grace's lips.
A small smile, and a tear trickled down to her chin.
And the darkness took over everything.
When he stumbled out of the Dark Abyss, the first thing he saw was the clear, blue sky. He squinted, recoiling his eyes away from the sudden brightness. Eidan grunted, scanning his surroundings to figure out where he had ended up. Trees. Chirping birds. Sunny weather. Clean air.
He frowned. Was… Was that the Alexandrian Palace in the background?
Was he in the Alexandrian forest?
Eventually, he got over his shock and strolled around the forest. Leaves crumpled under his feet, cracking the eerie silence that enveloped the kingdom. There was something sombre about this place now. He wasn't certain if that was because of the curse placed upon it or because of what he had just witnessed in Balandria, but he couldn't shake off the feeling of… sadness. He shivered, although it was boiling outside.
Anxious, Eidan buttoned up his jacket. He wished he still had his cloak. Royal garments did not bode well with weather.
He didn't know how long he had spent in the forest, simply walking in the silence, but something eventually caught his eye. Frowning, Eidan neared it. It was a stone slab. He knelt beside it, arching an eyebrow at the ground. It was slightly raised – as if someone had just recently buried something. Cautiously, he ran a hand through the dirt.
The dirt still wasn't set into the ground. Whatever was buried underneath had only been buried recently.
Strange. Who would bury something here? Here of all places? And what could be buried?
Still perplexed, he finally looked at the stone slab. As soon as he read the engraved message, he finally understood with a sinking heart.
Eidan stepped away. His heart was rampaging underneath his ribs and although he couldn't understand anything, he felt a deepening ache in his chest.
He looked around him, scanning his surroundings. Flowers. He saw white daises peeping from the overgrown patch of grass. Without hesitation, he made his way towards it, plucking the flowers into his hands. They were as white as they could be; like clouds suspended in heaven, where an angel like her would fly with a beaming smile on her face.
Setting the flowers by the stone slab, Eidan brushed away the dirt that had somehow blown over the engraved message. He smiled slightly, muttering a small prayer under his breath and bidding farewell to the girl buried beneath. She had had a long life. It was time for her to rest in the peaceful afterlife that she deserved.
Then, he left. As he walked out of the forest, he couldn't help but repeat the engraved message in his head. It was a mantra, echoing in his mind, in a voice of sadness and grief.
Wait for me.
We'll be together again soon.
...Please don't kill me for killing one of my characters.
Sooo... how was the chapter? Reactions to the death..? Eidan coming back..? Yes..?
But sheesh, this chapter is pretty busy and hectic. Anyway, as usual, thank you thank you thank you for all of the reviews! I'll try to make my updates quicker because I'm pretty eager to finish this story now. Not because I don't like it, but because I have a lot planned for the ending. Hehe.