Aurora appeared in front of Lucius, sitting on the back of a black beast. With her back towards Lucius, she said a few words before leaving to approach the mantis.
Cassis, Geeve, and the other Knights stood behind the Duke as they looked at the girl on the beast with astonishment. They tried to help earlier, but it all happened so fast that they barely made it.
“Commander, is that Lady Aurora?” Geeve asked, surprised.
When Lucius didn’t answer, Geeve wondered if he was alright and took a peek at his face only to see that the tip of his ears had turned red.
“???” Geeve was at a loss, but Cassis, who heard what Aurora said before leaving, understood why and laughed.
Lucius watched as Aurora faced the mantis and thought back to what she said.
“Don’t worry. From now on…I will be the one to protect you.”
Lucius covered his mouth with his fingers parted. “Protect…me?” When was the last time someone ever said that to him?
Aurora saw someone enter through the barrier from the corner of her eyes. The other guards blocked that person from further advancing until Cassis vouched for him. He was the only person moving closer to them while the others tried their best to keep their distance despite the limited space.
“Lillian,” Aurora called, loud enough for only the two of them to hear. “What will you do about Gaius? You are the only family he has left.”
The mantis twitched when it heard that familiar name. “W-WHO?”
“Gaius Lancaster, your big brother.” Aurora pointed at the man approaching them.
“BIG BRO-THER…A---ah. Ah. Ah. AHHHHHHHHHH!” The mantis cried out in pain. “K-kill…Kill me, please!” Lillian’s eyes flickered from red to brown as she looked at Aurora.
“Lillian!!” A male voice called out.
When Lillian heard his voice, she backed away. “No! Don’t come closer!” She shut her eyes tight.
“Lilly…” He whispered, the tone of his voice filled with grief and devastation. “Sorry Lilly, I’m so sorry.” He took a few steps forward. “You tried to tell this no-good brother of yours, right? That night…”
Lillian stopped thrashing around. ‘That’s right…I tried to tell him. But what difference does that make now?'
Around the time Lillian first accepted being experimented on, she realized she took on more than she could handle. She was changing and becoming something that was not human.
Lillian first met THAT person when she entered the Black Market to search for medicine. It was not her first time there. When she lost all hope for finding anything, he appeared. His words were convincing and tempting. That person assured her that the risk was there, but it was a risk she had to decide to take or not if she wanted to regain the use of her dominant arm.
But she felt something was wrong when she started losing bits and pieces of her memories. Including waking up in strange places, blood that didn't belong to her was on her clothes.
Her brother mostly spent his days in his shop. When he barely returned home, Lillian thought he hated her. It was her fault he quit being a Rune Mage even though he loved it. It was her fault he became a blacksmith even though he wasn't fond of weapons.
So, when she wanted to ask him for help, she could not bring herself to. The words wouldn't come out.
“Big brother…there’s something I need to tell you.”
Gaius was searching for a book about runes in his room at that time.
“Ah, there's something I wanted to talk to you about too. Lilly, I heard from the butler you have been out recently at night? I’m worried. A young woman was brutally murdered last night. Lucius told me that it looked like it was the result of a beast.”
Lillian’s eyes trembled when she heard this. “A-a beast?”
“Yeah.” Gaius sighed. “How did a beast make it out past the barrier? Anyways, make sure to return home quickly from now on.”
"Yeah?" He flipped through the books one by one without looking at his sister. If he had, maybe he would have noticed that something was wrong.
"No. It's nothing."
Bits and pieces from her first murder came a few days later. She remembered what it felt like to kill someone helpless. As she slashed their body into pieces and her blood splashed onto her.
‘Ahhh…it felt sooooo good…more…”
Lillian licked her lips in pleasure.
Aurora and Lucius noticed the change in her. Gaius refused to run despite their warnings. When she tried to attack Gaius, the phoenix let out a squawk and hurled a ball of fire.
The mantis burst into flames and howled in agony as it was burned alive.
“Sorry…big brother…” A faint voice came from the never-ending flames.
Just before the last bit of her life extinguished, Lillian remembered the first day she met Lucius. It was before he lost the two most important people in his life. He had come over to visit her brother just as she was getting ready to sleep.
»»————-————-————- ✼✼✼ ————-————-————-««
»»————-————-————- ✼ ————-————-————-««
“Sorry, my little sister wanted to meet you.” Gaius pointed at the small child hiding behind him.
Lucius lowered himself to the same eye level as her and smiled. “Hello, I am Lucius Rizar. Can you tell me your name, Miss?”
Lillian grasped her brother’s shirt nervously. “Lillian Lancaster. I’m seven years old.”
“Nice to meet you, Lady Lillian! “It seems we’re only three years apart in age.”
Lillian opened her mouth wide. “Liar! You’re old!”
Gaius laughed. “She called you old!”
Lucius punched Gaius in the shoulder and then looked at Lillian. “I only look old because I am taller than most kids my age. I’m really ten years old, so let’s be friends, Lillian!”
“Young Lady, it is time for bed.” A servant called out.
Lillian pouted and looked at Lucius. He grinned and patted her head. “I will come visit next time, and we can play then. Goodnight, Lillian.”
Lillian brightly smiled at him. "Goodnight!"
»»————-————-————- ✼ ————-————-————-««
»»————-————-————- ✼✼✼ ————-————-————-««
Aurora looked at the flames with guilt. To think she would subject someone to death the same way she died. While they could have killed her quickly with a sword, it would have left behind evidence that a human from the Lancaster family turned into a monster.
Gaius knelt at the scorched area where not even ashes were left. Tears fell, but he didn’t let out a single sound.
The people cheered at their victory when the barrier finally opened.
Clap! Clap! Clap!
“Our Empire’s pride, the Duke of Rizar!!!”
The little boy’s mother bowed towards Lucius as she hugged her son and cried in happiness. “Thank you for saving him! Thank you!”
But Lucius didn’t speak. He stared at one person.
Aurora lowered her head.
While his expression was unchangeable, she felt his turmoil at the sight of Lillian burning and Gaius crying, betraying his exterior appearance.
“CAAAAAWWWW!” The phoenix bid farewell to Aurora, telling her to call when she needed to.
Aurora jumped down from Kellas and walked to Lucius.
As Lucius clenched his hands into fists, a layer of frost covered him, and his eyes gradually changed from a light blue to a dark blue.
Aurora used the fire from her mana to warm her hand and covered his left hand with hers. Feeling her warmth on his hand, he loosened them, and she took the chance to clasp her fingers with his.
They both watched over Gaius quietly as the crowd continued to cheer.
Sitting on the academy roof was a young man with mismatched eyes of green and red. “Hummm, hum, hum.” He hummed as he swung his dangling feet.
He ate pieces of dried fruit as he watched the show from afar. “What an anticlimactic ending. I thought she would last longer…right, Volos?”
“Hmm?” Kian blinked his eyes. “Well, I did promise you, but what can I do when they burned her body?” He sighed in exasperation. “I wasn’t even able to get a good look at Lucius’ ability!”
“Hisssssssssss!!!” The snake struck Kian’s hand with anger.
Kian rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright. I owe you dinner tonight.” He jumped to a standing position and put on his hood. “The mission was a failure, but the experiment was a success,” Kian smirked. “I’ll make one last good use of those fools at the Sigel organization."
Swish. Swish. Swish.
The snake swished its body in annoyance.
“Yes, yes. Let’s go hunt.”
And like that, the two vanished without a single person aware of their presence.