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Lyuben and Imilia stood in the wide training fields as the orange sun slowly got swallowed up by the horizon. It had been a few days since the sixth match, but everything in the tournament was still going smoothly.
Every day after meeting Mimosa, Lyuben arose early. He worked on honing his skills and discovering the secrets of his rose. Lyuben had thought multiple times about the night he spent with Ayden. He could still feel Ayden’s gentle hand in his palm. He could still envision Ayden’s dazzling eyes up close. But nothing could remove the pain of his lost boyfriend. Nothing. Lyuben sometimes thought he was dreaming, but every time he was rudely awoken to the demonic embrace of reality.
“Stop daydreaming, sleepyhead!” Imilia shot a spell towards the prince which caught him in the chest.
Lyuben staggered backwards, but managed to catch himself before he fell down. Imilia came running towards him.
“C’mon!” Imilia scolded the boy, “You can’t lose focus like that! What were you thinking about this time?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Lyuben shook his head.
“No, it does. It certainly does. I can't have you get distracted like this. I want you to succeed Lyuben.”
There was a brief silence as the sun disappeared from view. The sky was now an orange-pinkish color, and the fluffy clouds seemed to embrace those colors too.
“I- I was thinking about him.”
“My boyfriend. My parents. Ayden. Everyone. It’s just so difficult for me to comprehend all at once. Even that stupid voice in my head is bothering-”
Lyuben quickly stopped before talking more.
“Voice in your head?” the witch prompted.
“It’s...um...like...me talking to myself? Yeah that.” Lyuben fibbed.
Imilia rolled her eyes. “I know when someone’s lying straight to my face, Lyuben.”
“The point is, it doesn’t matter.”
“Everything matters, Lyuben. Everything is there for a purpose.” Imilia lightly retraced the sigil she had drawn on Lyuben’s back as she circled closely around him. “I want to know what is happening. I want to help.”
Lyuben shook his head and stepped away from Imilia. “Maybe we should just train?”
“You’re being evasive.”
“I’m protecting myself!”
“From what? Me?” Imilia willed a painful expression onto her face.
“You’re right,” Imilia looked down sadly, “Maybe we should just train…”
Imilia backed away from Lyuben and readied a spell.
“N-no! I’ll tell you. I- I’ll tell you everything.”
Imilia suddenly looked happy and excited, a large contrast to her “mood” seconds ago. “You will?”
Lyuben took a deep breath. “Yes.”
The sky was getting darker as the remaining light lingering in the sky after sunset slowly faded. Lyuben and Imilia sat on a wooden bench on the far east side of the training grounds.
“I- There’s always been this...mysterious voice in my head. It warns me of danger. It bothers me in my best moments. It’s like a guide that’s just plaguing my mind. What’s worse is...on that night, it knew how to unlock my powers. The way it egged me on in my fury at my parents that night. The way it guided me to release that spell destroying the whole castle of Malterra. This voice...it even stopped me when I almost…” Lyuben paused to take a quivering breath. Imilia almost felt bad for him. “When I almost kissed Ayden. It reminded me of my past. My trust issues. The longing I still hold for my boyfriend. Sometimes I think this is all a dream, and all I want to do is wake up.”
Imilia put her gloved hand in Lyuben’s, a seemingly comforting gesture. Using the sensory sigils on the glove, she figured it out it was best to stay silent. Lyuben could still reveal more.
“This thing uses all my insecurities against me. It forces me to make choices. I- I can’t defeat my past. Slowly, with the help of you, I’ve learned to wield my forbidden magic. Ayden tried to help me overcome that death. Despite all that, I still feel the same way I did when I started. Alone. Useless. Pathetic. Paranoid. It takes so much of me just to say this aloud. There are more things which I still can’t say.”
There was a long silence between the two as the vibrant sunset colors dissolved into the darkness of the night sky. Lyuben watched the stars carefully before starting to talk again. He glanced at the constellation of Akuma, remembering her story.
“I thought I liked being alone. But in the end, this feeling...of isolation...it just makes me so much weaker. This feeling is like fuel to the flames of these stupid insecurities burning like a wildfire through my mind.”
“That voice,” Imilia asked gently, “Do you remember what it sounded like?”
Lyuben gulped. He opened his mouth to mimic the corrupted voice. All of a sudden, Lyuben’s eyes started to glow with a familiar, maleficent purple light. A smoky, red aura started to surround his body. Imilia quickly withdrew her hand, backing away a few steps from Lyuben. His whole body started to tremble as he said only two words in a strangled voice: “T̴͍̄̀́̏̍̒̚h̴̦̪͉͉̤̞̃͊͜e̵͇̱̗̰͓͍͔͓͗̉͋̀̓̕ ̶̙͊̓̓͂͜Ȧ̴͖̉̉̌̓͐͗͆b̴͇̳͚̠̥̳͑́̌̄̏͊͘ỹ̶̻͙̬̣̱͋ͅs̴̩̍̓̆̓̔̉̽͌̚ŝ̶̘̤̱̕”
Lyuben gasped, then collapsed onto the ground. The mysterious aura faded and his eyes returned to normal. Imilia shook Lyuben’s shoulder.
“Lyuben, wake up!”
Lyuben jumped up, releasing a burst of energy into the night sky. It hit a crow in the distance, killing it instantly.
“Oh, I- I don’t know what happened. What happened, Imilia?”
Imilia backed away slightly from Lyuben. “You said something like the abyss in this possessed voice and then fainted. There was a red aura surrounding you too.”
“No no no! I can’t be like him! I can’t! I’m not!” Lyuben whispered to himself.
“Why would you be like Emperor Rakhadi?” Everyone, including Imilia, knew of Rakhadi’s tyrannical rule over Malterra and the kingdoms in the far northeast. Even people who had never heard of any of those areas knew the name Rakhadi.
“You’re...you’re right. Why would I be like him?” Lyuben lied, “Maybe we should continue training? I think I’ve had enough time to talk about myself.”
Imilia nodded. Under the silver moonlight, the two walked about twenty feet away from each other in the long, dry field.
“You ready?” Imilia asked.
Aetherspark HV1 Test Journal - Entry #12,486, Day #50,342
I feel a flurry of emotions today. Happiness and sadness. Thankfulness and regret. Excitement and disappointment. Fulfillment and longing. The day has come; tomorrow, I can finally return home, but the circumstances are quite unfortunate. As much as I was only fighting for my life, I still feel a sadness in having lost my first match in that tournament. I let several people down, including an old friend of mine, and my own sister, and now there's the problem with my prosthetic…
As written in entry #12,667, I had received a powerful prosthetic from Phyrexia. It's a bane and a curse, just like my revolver; it grants the power to take a life, but it is wrought with temptation. Every day that wretched thing whispers to be used, and now, with the mechanical stitching permanently sealed by healing magic, I can no longer hide it. I've tried removing it, but it pains and bleeds like a living part of my body now, every attempt feeling like I'm trying to saw my own arm off. I would try to seek help, but news has begun to spread about my arm, and that black oil. I've been shunned, and ever since that match ended, no one has checked to see if I'm okay. People have even come to the place I've called home for the past several days, but even then they take care of their business and leave. I somewhat already miss the fame, but at least I'll finally be returning home. The problem is… will they accept me with my disfigurement?