The Unseen Kingdoms - Chapter 15

A week later, Chance found himself standing inside the protea portion of the biggest part of one of Lux's many park gardens, and looking at a small stone marker. An innocuous one that would mean nothing to most anyone else, but had significant meaning to the Cultivators and him alike. The marker that symbolized Vermillion's eternal passing from existence. He would never be reborn; he had sacrificed that when he had given in to hate and evil.

Chance still felt a little surreal. Time had begun to pass again for him. Society itself felt more than a little odd. He had not been reborn, so he had come out of limbo the same way he had entered it. In a strange way, it actually made him the eldest other than the never-counted Clara since he had technically been neither alive nor dead. He had once been two years older than Rocky—two younger than Vermillion—but that gap had widened significantly.

He had wondered if he would understand this new version of Protea, but he had been picking it all up with surprising ease. He had observed enough from within limbo, even before the Apex of Dark's Whisper of Hope had forced open the door a bit, that he did not feel culture shock too terribly. The others, especially Rocky and Diaz, seemed determined to help him with anything else he needed.

Getting a job had been his first concern—damned if he would let someone support him—and Edgar had given him a listing for a security expert with Chivanti Corporation. Chance knew a hint when he saw one. If the High Prince wanted to use him to get inside information he could not get personally, Chance had no objections. His loyalties lay solely with the Delphinium and Protea Kingdoms. He could be nothing except loyal for those he loved, and he had always found it odd how he just . . . couldn't help but love the High Rulers, Shana and Rocky especially. Diaz had assured him it was normal, but still.

His loyalty for those he loved was what had him standing beside that stone marker in the garden. He knelt down and reached out a hand to touch the flowers growing around it as sadness and anger churned equally in his heart. His own big brother. He had adored Vermillion, wanted to be exactly like him, but he had been so vastly different from his brother that he had settled for learning many of the same skills. It cut deeply that his brother had betrayed their prince. How could he have done such a thing?

Chance's contact with the world had happened so recently that he honestly did not know how Vermillion's end had come. He knew at the least that he had been forgiven, had found redemption, but he had no details. He could have asked someone for them, but he had never had much of an inclination to ask for anything. In fact, he knew full well that most considered him nearly emotionless and that did not bother him a bit. It hurt less if others kept out of his way. He already cared for the Cultivators and Commanders around him more than was safe.

"Thought I'd find you here," came Shana's voice behind him.

He looked over his shoulder to see her standing a few steps away. He offered her a vague shrug and then turned back around to look at the grave. "I figured it was time."

"Vermillion . . . hated Protea. Hated me. Hated Diego, too, to be sure." She stepped up next to him. "You Chance brothers have never really understood love, but he went to a level beyond. His lack of understanding for the thing he wanted meant he went too far the other way. So he betrayed Robert and joined my enemy. I think . . . you realized that. When you found him." She looked at Chance. "I won't tell Rocky what happened then."

He nodded a bit. "Thank you."

"Vermillion found redemption. It rattled him when Rocky and Siobhan forced him to open his eyes, and I think he finally realized that he couldn't receive love without giving it in return. So he chose to make atonement by bringing Siobhan, Rocky, and Edgar to aid me in destroying Him." She still could not bear to say her enemy's name. "He willingly sacrificed himself to protect Rocky, as a Commander should. He refused healing; he would have been destroyed when I destroyed my enemy. He also could not be reborn. He had sacrificed that by betraying the Delphinium Kingdom." Her voice broke and then steadied. "He asked as he died that we find Diego and give him the position he rightfully deserved."

Chance drew a quiet breath. "Thank you, for telling me. I know it could not be easy." He studied her profile and watched darkness and pain turn her pink eyes an unnaturally dark color not at all like when her temper or power rose. Survivors' stress, he remembered the others saying. It seemed . . . worse than that. "Are you . . . okay?"

"Why do you care?" She brushed at dirt on the gravestone.

"You're someone special to me," he said slowly, as if the words were hard to say. He felt surprised with himself for even admitting such a thing, but something about Shana and Siobhan alike demanded honesty. "You always have been. You and Robert always just . . . treated me like family. I didn't understand it then. I still don't."

She smiled as she turned her head to look at him. "I think you know I have All Sight. It comes with being descended of Destiny, and my Sight is the strongest around because I am the one closest to her. So let me ask you something, Rubeo Chance: have you learned more about love in the last five thousand years? Do you even believe in it?"

He chewed on the question carefully. Yes, he believed in love. He loved Shana and Rocky very deeply, of course, and he was enough fond of the others to tentatively say he loved them to some degree as well. Romantic love, however, was something he still just did not comprehend. He saw it, accepted it, but he just did not get it. Maybe because he had never been in love, or had someone love him that way. "Yes, and no, I suppose. I love, but I doubt I'll ever be in love. I don't think my heart can feel that way."

She stood and tucked her hands into her pockets with a whimsical smile. "I knew you'd say that. Let me tell you something, friend: you're not a good judge of romance. You actually tried to convince Robert not to court me, which is telling when everyone else did everything in their power to encourage him. You were entirely blinded to the idea of soul mates, and even now, I don't think it fully penetrates your bubble." Her eyes met his directly. "There will come a day when your bubble pops. You possess magic inside your soul not unlike a Caretaker. You might be a Caretaker. That means that someday, somewhere, you will have a soul mate Cultivator. In fact, I think can actually see where her soul will interlock with yours. She will know it before you do. She will fall in love with you, and she will pursue you with all of her will. You will run like a coward." She smiled when his eyes narrowed. "And you know what? I won't do a single thing to help you."

He injected humor into his tone as best he could. "Is that a threat?"

"No, it's a promise." She looked down at the grave again and then at him. "Let go of the past, Chance. We all have. It's time to look toward the future. Embrace it. It holds some wonderful things."

He stood where he was even after she had walked away. Embracing the future, he didn't have a problem with. It was her little dig about his possible destiny that bothered him. He didn't want romance. It was messy and complicated. Besides, what Cultivator in her right mind would want to attach her life to his? She would have be stubborn, but able to compromise. She would have to be cheerful, but intense. An extrovert who loved crowds, but an introvert who could get overstimulated and need quiet. Really, she would have to be some odd result of opposites attracting, mating, and producing a child.

Like that would ever happen.

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