Double Cross

“Which spell do you think would give my colleagues and professors the impression of me being an open person but still emphasize my considerate amount of power?” said a solemn voice; wonder and oblivious honesty coating every word. “I do like to have some friends this time, though I’d also like to point out that I’m not the type of person one would even think to mess with.”

The voice came from a young prince, curled at one corner of the room, his feet crossed underneath him, his face half covered with a book. He was staring deliberately on it, carefully choosing the spell he would perform during their commencement ceremony, where he—unfortunately, he thought—would perform in behalf of all Winter mages. There weren’t many of them—Winter mages, that is—here in The Academy of Sidus. Spring and Summer mages took two thirds of the population in the academy solely because it was only common for a newborn child to have summer and spring magic—the magic of life and abundance, of hope and a brighter future. In some circumstances, a child out of five children could be born with autumn magic, signifying the neutral grounds between the Summer’s enthusiasm and the Winter’s apathy. Rarer still was a child born with winter magic for they can control magic as easily as breathing but on the other side, they either end up dead the moment their mother delivered them, or grow up carrying a darkness within that they don’t even notice. Because of this, the professors in the academy held Winter mages with higher importance and priority than the others, bestowing them titles of monarchy even though the child doesn’t have any trace of royal blood within their veins; they thought that having winter magic was proof enough that the child was royalty. Being a Winter mage, he thought, is either a blessing or a curse.

His voice echoed across the room but only silence answered. He wasn’t really expecting anyone to answer him, not because he’s alone and was talking to himself, but because his companion couldn’t hear him. He looked up and peered at the girl across from where he was curled. She had pale white hair, almost silver, that seemed to resemble a flowing river turning into a waterfall bathed in moonlight. Her head was tilted up, dark eyes gazing at the stars above. The prince couldn’t help but admire her beauty, the innocence in her face, the way her slender arms cross as a look of longing passed her features that faded away as fast as it came, and the flow of her hair down to her waist as she leaned her back against the thing that kept her trapped inside this room. The girl, Eira, sat on the floor of her own prison—a block of ice carved and shaped in an intricate manner like that of a cage, big enough for a girl in her adolescence to move around—if only a few paces—and high enough for her to touch the tip of her fingers to the freedom she could feel but could not get. The ice was enchanted so it would not thaw no matter how hot the place could get and dispel any fire elemental spell. The prince would know, for he had already stopped counting the times he tried to free the girl and failed.

As if sensing the prince’s gaze, Eira turned her head and met the prince’s eyes with her own. The prince could only blink and stare, captivated by her dark eyes that echoed the longing for someone’s care and love. The mere knowledge of this truth sent a prickling sensation to the prince’s chest—one he carefully concealed. The only proof of him having it was his clenched fists that crumpled the papers of the ancient book he held. Amazingly, the girl’s eyes brightened and she smiled at him that everything dark contained in his heart vanished in an instant.

A loud gong sounded, followed by six bell rings that marked the sixth hour announcing the prince’s time to leave. Hastily, he got up, tucked the book under his sleeve and shrugged his long coat which rested on the nearby couch. He made his way towards Eira, who followed his every move with her captivating gaze. Over the time, he had made this room his personal sanctuary; a place solely for him and for her. The room had considerable amount of books—the entire prince’s doing—stacked on shelves, scattered throughout the table, and some were laid on the ground. Not all the books were for magic purposes. Secretly, the prince found it interesting to read books in which he would be able to feel as if it were his own different story, a different life than what he already has, and he loves it when he reads for her. He remembered those moments when he’s not practicing magic nor making new ones that he would sit down with his back against her frozen cage with a book balanced on his knees. That way, Eira could peek and see what he has been reading. They’d laugh and cry and hate and love and experience the thing they wanted most—to be in another person’s life.

The prince stopped at the girl’s cage and she elegantly rose to her feet. Meeting her eyes to his, a look of questioning crossed her face.

“It’s time. I have to go,” the prince slowly said, a wry smile playing in his lips. Eira’s vision dropped to his mouth the moment he spoke, reading what the prince just said. Because being alone together and not being able to talk to each other proved to be distressing for both the prince and the girl, he learned to read the words uttered by her full pink lips while she responded to the statements he meant only for her.

The girl’s dark eyes softened and she nodded. She mouthed the words “Good luck” to him which seemed to steal everyone else’s luck and transferred it to the prince. He flashed a sweet smile and started to turn when he noticed she lifted her hand and pressed it to the transparent ice separating them both.

“Hurry back to me,” she said.

Now his heart bloated with immeasurable happiness and his confidence might’ve boosted to maximum. He nodded, walked towards the door and controlled himself to maintain his normal pace when what he truly wanted was to jump and run and celebrate. Closing the massive double doors, the prince made his way up the long flight of stairs, ready for the coming ceremony. All the prince wanted was for this ceremony to finish as quickly as possible so he could grant her wish and go back. The ceremony should be nothing for someone like me, was his final thought before he reached the main hallway and made his way up to the ceremonial grounds.

The ceremonial grounds was shaped like an arena, for sometimes it is used for duel competitions but today, bright spherical stars of different shapes were floating mid-air, casting colorful rays of light that illuminates the entire ground—a summer magic. The place was now packed with mages of different ages and seasons. It was big enough to accommodate the whole student body along with a handful of the academy’s professors. Even some of the town’s folks were comfortably seated along a set of pews though separated from the academy’s residents. The students were made to sit accordingly as to which season magic each of them practices. The young prince was seated on one of the makeshift thrones for the event, overlooking the place where representative mages would perform their own acts to mesmerize and entertain the audiences. He wore his black long-sleeved uniform rimmed with blue highlights that matched the color of his dark hair and bright cerulean eyes. He also had a cape half draped along his left shoulder that hid his sword from sight. The only thing he lacked in his ensemble was a crown, but of course, he doesn’t have one as well as the other winter mages which were also dressed in their best attires.

The prince glanced over at his companions—the twins, Prince Clarence and Princess Claudia seated side by side—who refused anyone to enter their own world. They’re quite peculiar, the young prince thought, for sometimes Claudia would snicker at something unseen or unnoticed by everybody except for her brown and green eyes while Clarence would go stiff in one instant, his eyes darting everywhere as if looking for someone then relax a second after. They were not a sociable bunch—the twins—and there was always a huge gap between winter mages younger and older than the prince so this made his life as uneventful as a caterpillar locked inside its cocoon. There was only one person who befriended him for what he truly was and not for what magic he carries, and he was always grateful for that one winter night two years ago when he met Eira.

Three claps that echoed throughout the arena ended the prince’s reverie and silenced the crowd. A man was standing on a raised dais at the center of the ground, his black and white robe fluttering around him even when there was no wind. His voice rang out, smooth and calm as he said, “Welcome, young mages.”

The prince recognized the man as the academy’s head, Professor Adalwin, a Winter mage like him and the prince thanked the gods that it was the only thing they had in common. Professor Adalwin—already considered as a King but refused to use the title—might seem like a gentle and caring person but all that were part of his façade that only Winter mages came to notice, especially the prince. He thought of the moments when the professor’s eyes become glassy and dimmed every time he asked for a way to reverse Eira’s curse and he remembered the moments when the professor’s fists made contact with his torso as he lets out an agonizing gasp of pain and the way Adalwin made it perfectly clear to never speak of the matter again.

“Today marks the beginning of a new season which brings us not only joy but also the time when we allow ourselves to prepare for the renewal of our spirits. Let this be the time that we open up our senses to reach that which is unreachable during seasons apart from winter.” Professor Adalwin smiled as he said these things and tried to catch everyone else’s eyes with his own. The professor seemed as if he had other things he wanted to say but thought better of it and instead he continued as, “Now, I know you young ones are excited to meet and see your own Prides so let us start off with the Pride of the Spring mages, Miss Dahlia Slate.” The said Dahlia stood up while everyone applauded—including the prince—and made her way to the part of the grounds where the Spring mages were supposed to perform their tricks and skills in their season magic.

He was not a fan of spring magic so he only watched the girl make some flowers bloom around her with uncaring eyes. After her was Skye Augustine’s performance, the Pride of Summer mages. This one catches the prince’s attention. The summer pride chanted the spell that makes the shining ball of stars go dim, leaving only a little bit of light. Then, another spell was chanted and a spark bloomed from the pride’s hands. It shot across the sky and burst into tiny sparks of light, making the audiences gasp with delight and surprise. It was then followed by another spell, and the sparks of light danced mid-air, slowly forming figures of a girl and a boy.

“In the beginning, there was a girl. Lonely and forlorn, she sought a company of someone willing to bear the heavy sentiments carefully tucked in her heart,” said Skye, his voice depicting what the girl in his story felt. The prince found himself amazed in watching the story unfold before him in such a grand manner. Exactly what you’d expect in a summer mage, he thought, though he couldn’t hide the admiration for the pride’s skills. And like how many stories end, the summer mage’s story ended with the girl finding herself in the arms of the boy she loves. The crowd broke into shouts of praise and rounds of applause were produced by every pair of hands. Even the winter twins were showing their appreciation by clapping silently in their seats. The Pride of the Autumn mages didn’t waste another moment and took advantage of the people’s mood. Auburn Garnet, a girl who’s only twelve years old and the youngest of the prides, made music out of thunderstorms and rain, in the whirling gusts of wind and the silent whispers of leaves hitting the ground. Everyone was mesmerized yet again.

“And now, for the act of the Pride of the Winter mages, may I present to you our very own Prince Wynter Avheim,” said Adalwin in a voice too good to be considered proud. Instead of giving a round of applause, the crowd seemed to be holding their breaths as the prince—Wynter—rose from his throne and made his way to the grounds. Every step he took was carefully measured. Once he arrived at the place where he’s supposed to show off his skills, Wynter did not waste any time and began by raising his right hand in front of him while chanting the spell, “Caux lov omn nye evact.” A block of ice emerged from the ground, a foot thick and just as tall as Wynter. He stood in front of it, feeling the cold touch his skin then closed his eyes and stepped into the ice. And just when everybody was about to question what the prince just did, he came out of the other side of the ice, completely unharmed. But that wasn’t his trick, for another person also stepped out on the other side of the ice who looked just like Prince Wynter if not for the fact that his body was made out of clear crystal ice. When the prince raised his right hand and bowed down to the crowd, his ice counterpart also did the same, making the crowd gawk and clap with excitement.

Out of nowhere, the ice Wynter drew out his sword and slashed at the prince’s back. But the prince had better reflexes and met the attacker’s sword with his own. The crowd let out various kinds of gasps and demanded on what was happening but their voices were drowned by the scream of swords hitting each other. The two of them danced around each other and soon the people were watching intently at the fight, of how good the prince’s fighting skills and how magnificent his pure talents were in making and dueling with a clone of himself. Whenever Prince Wynter landed a blow on his opponent, the crowd would cheer and when it was the other way around, they’d give gasps. Prince Wynter struck at his ice self that made him stumble back and lose his balance. The prince saw it as an opportunity and quickly drove his sword on the ground, producing raging frozen spikes that made its way to the opponent’s chest, lifting him in mid-air where his features froze in a silent scream, cracked and burst into tiny sparkling remains. Soon, I will end up just like that, Wynter thought gravely.

Shouts of relief and joy rang like a sweet song of victory filled the whole ground. Wynter made his way back to his throne and silently hoped that the ceremony would end faster. The rest of the acts were a blur in the eyes of the prince because all he could think was going down those flight of stairs and finding her gazing up at the only window that connected the room to the outside, her—smiling—as he make his way to her and place a kiss to those pink lips of hers. He realized now with a start, that he was already in love with Eira. He couldn’t remember the first moment when he thought her face was like an angel, so sweet and delicate, and that maybe because of her beauty, someone decided to preserve her in that frozen state. He couldn’t remember the time when he truly cared for someone and find that his feelings were answered with the same intensity. All he knew was that the world looked a whole lot more different than the time he first opened his eyes and that she was the reason for it.

A tap on his shoulder pulled him out of his dreamy state and he looked up to find Professor Adalwin’s face. “Come with me?” he asked. The prince nodded and they both exited the grounds and headed towards the academy. They both walked with an awkward silence and Wynter thought it’d be better to ask where Adalwin was taking him lest he murder the prince without anyone knowing.

“Excuse me, professor. Where are we heading?”

“To my quarters, young prince.” Adalwin answered.

Wynter’s mind raised so many questions that he clenched his fists to control them from slipping out of his mouth. What could they possibly do in Adalwin’s quarters? And why now of all times? Is he really going to murder me or worse, torture me until I wish for death to come? Or…is this man even straight?! Maybe he’s going to put me in a trance and molest me then erase every memory of what transpired between us after he’s done.

“Tell me,” Adalwin said in a calm voice, “when is your coming of age ritual?”

This certainly was the last thing in Wynter’s list to come out of the professor’s mouth. Perhaps he’s going to give me some present, he thought before answering, “This midnight, professor.”

“Ah, then the timing’s perfect. Here we are,” said the professor who paused outside a huge double door, his hand already gripping the knob when he turned to Wynter and added, “Wait here.”

The prince stood in an awkward way in front of the professor’s room, his weight shifting from his right to left foot. Now that he knew Adalwin would not do anything that might harm him, he felt relieved, liberated even that he could peacefully have his sleep without worries of someone lurking in the shadows. The topic of his coming of age ritual lingered in his mind which will happen in about an hour from now. As a Winter mage, he has been given the privilege of performing the ritual on his own unlike the other mages who should have someone to monitor if the ritual was going on as planned. The ritual was actually simple; Wynter would simply perform a spell that will “soothe one’s soul into a successful transition from puberty to adulthood”, or as what their instructors said.

It must’ve been almost twenty minutes before Professor Adalwin got out of his room, his hands occupied with a book and a bag. The prince’s brow furrowed at the sight of their King carrying the bags for himself without a servant to do the job.

“Do you need some help with that, professor?” the prince offered.

“Ah, no need, no need,” Professor Adalwin smiled at him then extended the hand with the book towards the prince. “This is for you. It is for your coming ritual.”

Wynter could only stare at him in shock. No way, Adalwin is seriously giving me a gift!? The prince looked at the book then at the professor’s face, to check if there was even a small hint of trickery, and then back at the book again.

“Well boy, are you not going to take it?” Adalwin asked in annoyance. The prince stumbled forward and reached for the book. All words had left him as he studied the book in his hands. The cover was old—very old—with faded gold letters etched on it in a language dead to everyone, but not to a Winter mage like him. He looked up at the professor in astonishment, surprised that Adalwin had been in the possession of an ancient book.

“This…” Wynter began.

“Yes. As you might have noticed, it is the last remaining relic for Winter mages and now is the time for it to have a different master.” He looked at the prince with an unspoken warning. Only those who have enough spirit magic could withstand the book’s power. And the prince did not have any second thoughts that he could take it, especially after this midnight, when his magic would be its strongest.

“I am grateful, professor. Thank you,” he said in a voice reflecting his every word.

“Well then, I leave it to your care.”

“Are you leaving, sir?” Wynter asked as Adalwin hurriedly walked the way they came in with purposeful long strides.

“Ah, yes. Uh…Something came up in the north and it seems I am quite needed. Yes, that seems the case. Very dire, I am needed. I must go,” he replied, then whirled around too abruptly that both of their faces were only inches apart. “Not a word of this to anyone, young prince,” the professor breathed in the prince’s face, his eyes glowed red under the darkness of a moment, and then it was gone. And just like that, the professor vanished as if carried by the wind but to the prince’s eyes, it wasn’t in a hurry because of the thing in the north. It was as if Adalwin was running from something—or someone.

But none of these matter. Wynter now has a relic in his hands and maybe—just maybe—this book has the answer to freeing Eira out of her frozen cage. Without a beat longer, he quickly made his way to the long stairs that led to her. To his beloved Eira.

As Wynter pushed the double doors, all he could think of was his love for Eira. He found her curled at one corner of her cage, examining every strand of her perfectly straight fair hair. The moment his eyes fell on her, he felt a strange kind of pull and he let himself be carried away by it, dropping the relic on a small table as he made his way to her. Eira’s face was hidden by her hair that she didn’t notice the prince standing beside her until he knocked softly at her cage. She stood up, her face lighting up like a Christmas tree. All the prince wanted at this moment was to pull her into his arms and whisper the words that were now stuck on his throat. Wynter leaned his forehead to her cage, surprised that there were tears running down his face.

“I never realized it until today, Eira. Ever since that day when I found you, you have always been on my mind. I thought it was just a simple admiration but it isn’t. Because of you, my uneventful life changed. You chased away the darkness in me, Eira. You give me light.” Wynter looked at Eira straight in the eye and said with his whole heart at stake, “I love you, Eira.”

The prince was in awe of the tears that were running down Eira’s face. His hand ached to touch her cheeks and wipe the tears away. She looked right at him, her face glowed with happiness and love, and nodded and smiled.

The world would never look so beautiful in the prince’s eyes than the way it looked right now. And before the prince could forget it, he broke out of their semi-contact, reached for the book and held it out for her to see. Her eyes bulged, becoming frantic and she gestured wildly at the book.

“The fifth page has the spell that frees me,” she said.

A shock went through his body at her words. Quickly, he flipped to the fifth page and it was there. A spell so easy he could do it with closed eyes. Outside, Wynter could hear the bell that signified the arrival of midnight. He knew that he should perform the ritual. And isn’t this the perfect opportunity? This spell could free Eira. This spell could sooth not just his soul but all of his well-being.

Without any second thoughts, he knelt in front of her, his head tilted high.

“This is for you,” he whispered.

White mist formed around Wynter as he chanted, eyes closed, brows furrowed in concentration. The spell might be simple, but it still came from a relic, forcing him to unleash more of his magic than necessary. He opened his eyes for a split second and found the cage to be melting. It’s working! he thought. He closed them again and concentrated harder, his voice getting louder, the mist around him spreading further. He gave it his all.

When he was finished, he slowly opened his eyes and found her standing across from him, whole and happy. But this person was not the Eira he knew, the one he fell in love with. Her eyes lacked the emotions that made her who she was. Conflicted and confused, the prince tried to reach for her but was stopped by an invisible wall. No, not a wall, it was the ice. An ice cage. Wynter scanned his surroundings frantically, trying to apprehend what just happened, why he was inside the cage. Why Eira was now standing across from him outside the cage looking pleased despite his misery.

“Why…?” his voice trailed to a whisper. “I don’t understand.”

He watched her as she picked up the book, turned a few pages, and rested her hand at the very first page. Wynter couldn’t make out of the writings but he saw her reach for a pen, and stroked out a name. It was then that he realized it was her name. He watched her scribble a name that turned out to be his own.

“That spell was meant to free whoever it is inside the frozen cage. But the cage refuses for it to be empty. And so in exchange, it takes the one who frees the prisoner. I’m sorry I deceived you,” she said in perfect clarity. The prince’s chest burned with betrayal as it all came down on him like a meteor from the sky. She lied to me. She used me to get what she wanted.

“You never loved me, did you?” Wynter asked though he already knew what the answer would be.

Her expression turned into a sneer and she let out a small laugh. “Please, Wynter. There was only one man that I loved and look at what it got me. Twenty years in a freaking frozen cage. Unable to die, unable to do magic!” she spit out the last word like a venom. “And then you came, as innocent as I was. I had to do it.”

But I loved you!” his words loud, hoping to shatter this bitter world and return it to the way it was. His fists banging at the ice as he said, “I loved you and you disregard my affections like mere trash!” his words now coated with anger, his eyes sharp as he glared at her.

“I also loved him—Adalwin. You and me, and the ones before us, we’re all the same. We all loved the wrong person and suffered because of our mistake. In twenty years, Wynter, when you get out, the only remaining feeling you’ll know is revenge and the only thing that’ll make you whole again is your beloved’s heart in your hand,” she said, then smiled a bitterly and added, “Come find me then.”

Eira turned and left with the relic in her grasp leaving the winter prince crouched in the frozen cage with his never ending tears that ran on both his cheeks, his nails digging the palms of his hands and his heart breaking a million times each time he heard Eira’s steps getting further…fainter…

The moment she closed the doors without bothering a second glance for the prince, Wynter let out a silent scream.

Wynter did not know how many hours or minutes or seconds have passed since that terrible midnight. The funny thing was that it was all he could think about. The moment when she betrayed him played in his mind in every possible second like a movie clip stuck in a loop and healed wounds would once again tear apart and bleed and hurt.

A movement caught in his eye—a rare thing in this frozen room—made him turn his head. There, just by the door, a doorknob turned. Then, by some unknown wind, the door opened and a small head appeared. Short black hair up to her shoulders with curious green eyes scanned the room, still oblivious of the fact that Wynter was there. And when those green eyes finally found him from across the room, the girl’s bewildered look changed into admiration and she couldn’t help but produce the sweetest smile the prince has seen. Right then and there it dawned on him that this was his chance.

It was his turn to break free.

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