Chapter 33:

Start Again [Part 2]

Chained Regalia

“How much do you know about the fall of Allion, Layn?” She began by asking an odd question. It was an important topic, of course, but I couldn’t imagine how it was related.

“Layn, you are a very important person to me.”

That was what she had said to me, and I wanted to know why. But what could the fall of her kingdom have to do with that? It’d happened an entire decade before I was even summoned.

“Selina told me a little bit a couple days ago. I still don’t know most of the specifics, but she told me about what happened with you three.” Before then, I knew almost nothing about it, which made it all the more surprising that Lucia broached the topic; I assumed she preferred to avoid talking about the matter in detail altogether.

“I see.” She looked the slightest bit relieved at my response, which just further reinforced my belief.

“L-Lucia,” I interjected before she could continue, “if talking about this will make you too uncomfortable or sad, we don’t have to…” I desperately wanted to know, but it wasn’t worth putting her through pain to find out.

She smiled at me kindly. “No, I’m fine. More than that, I want to be open with you.”

As she said that, I was suddenly reminded that she was gripping my hand and had been for some time. I was beginning to think more clearly than before, and it finally dawned on me the exact situation we were in. I was probably far too old to get so worked up over this sort of thing, but I found myself struck with a wave of both bliss and embarrassment once I’d started thinking about it.

To my relief, Lucia seemed a little too preoccupied to notice. My juvenile romanticism was washed away as Lucia closed her eyes and took in an extended, shaky breath, likely readying herself to speak. As if to show that she’d steeled her resolve, the accompanying exhale sounded far steadier.

“When it came time to flee the palace, the guardsmen split up my father and me. We did not have time for a proper farewell, but… we departed with a promise—although I suppose it was actually more of a wish of his.”

With every word she said, her eyes grew more and more strained. Without even realizing I’d done so at first, I squeezed her hand softly, just as she’d done for me earlier.

It was probably just a coincidence, but the pain in her gaze eased at nearly the same time.

“I can recall the precise words to this day. They will forever remain carved into my heart and soul. ‘Promise me that you will live a happy life. No matter what form that happiness takes, that is all I ask.’ Those were the last words he ever said to me. In the moment, I failed to even reply to them. And, for ten years, I failed to ever understand them.”

She shook her head side to side slowly, as if ashamed.

“I became so fixated on avenging my kingdom that I never questioned if that was really happiness to me. If I ever wavered, I would insist to myself that vengeance was the only path to achieve his final wish—the only way I could attain happiness. Whether that sentiment was true or not was irrelevant; I planted it so deep within my mind that I believed it, regardless.”

I wanted to urge her to stop. The pain in her voice was so strong, I could barely handle hearing it, which meant it must’ve been far worse for her. But, in the end, I couldn’t stop her. It wouldn’t have been right of me to cut her off, not when she’d resolved herself to tell me.

And so, she continued. “Everyone I met would gaze at me with pity and sorrow, as the woeful, lonely princess of a dead kingdom. All they could see when they looked at me was my status and misfortune. After enough time, that was all I started seeing in myself, as well. Living like that, how could I possibly move on and forget? How could I possibly live any other way? Before I realized it, my mission had become the very reason I existed. The only reason. I lived an empty, joyless life, and focused solely on the future.”

Her lips curved into a sad smile. Oddly, even that was more comforting than the look of anguish she’d had before.

“Neither Alwey nor Selina wanted that for me, of course. For a long time, they tried everything they could to turn me away from the ambition that blinded me—but it never worked, and it never would have. Those two are like family to me, and I love them, but… just seeing them reminds me of the kingdom we used to live in happily together, and the tragedy that befell it. As much as I cherish them, if I had only them, I would have forever conflated my happiness with my duty.”

Her eyes had been drifting all over the place as she spoke; sometimes she maintained eye contact, but at other times she stared at the roof or wall while working through her thoughts. All of a sudden, however, she fixed her gaze entirely onto me.

Her expression softened, and the sorrow imbuing her smile suddenly evaporated. “But…” She returned my squeeze with her own hand. “… none of that is the case with you.”

It was then that I realized how loud and fast my heart was beating. I was sure my hand was sweating horribly, but she didn’t seem to care.

She leaned in a tiny bit closer before proceeding, which only worsened my heart palpitations. “When I am with you, I stop feeling like I’m a princess bound to her duty. You don’t make me feel that way; you see and treat me as the person I am, without expectations of me being or doing something more. I summoned you for the sole purpose of fulfilling my duty, yet, the way you are, you managed to be the one thing that could divert my gaze away from it.”

Without even touching them, I could feel that my cheeks had grown hot. This would have been a lot to handle normally, but I was also in a particularly emotional state at the moment.

But Lucia, naturally, wasn’t the type to stop halfway.

“When I smile and laugh with you, I feel like I’m just an ordinary girl who can find happiness in the mundane. I still desire to complete my mission someday, but… I no longer feel as though it is my only reason to live. Spending time with you, exchanging frivolous jokes together, engaging in small talk over meals, opening up and growing closer day by day… I found genuine happiness in that.”

It looked like she was on the verge of tears, yet she didn’t look somber in the least. In the last minute or so, her mood seemed to have inverted completely.

“My father was a kind man. When he told me to find happiness, I am certain this is what he desired for me: simply living in the present and discovering joy in ordinary, everyday pleasures. I always knew that deep down, but I refused to accept it. I believed I would never be able to.”

“H-h-hold on!” My voice clearly panicked, I finally managed to interpose. My heart couldn’t take any more of this. “Y-you’re giving me t-too much cred—”

“You changed my life, Layn.”

Unfortunately, she was just as capable of cutting me off right back.

“You helped me discover happiness I never knew existed. That is why you are so important to me. You likely pieced it together after everything I just said, but, Layn, I—”

“Stop. Please, stop.” Those words had more strength behind them than any others I’d uttered in this conversation; that fact disgusted even me. “I can’t… accept that. You’re wrong. You have to be wrong. I couldn’t have done that…”

I knew she wouldn’t have been lying to me knowingly, but she had to have been mistaken.

I’m not worth that much. I can’t be.

Lucia sighed and pulled her hand away from my grasp. I was reminded for a moment of when Ellie slapped my hand away, and I felt a sharp pain in my chest.

“The one part of you I cannot stand,” she said quietly, “is the part of you that hates yourself.”

Then, without warning, she reached out and joined both sets of our hands.

“But if you refuse to accept what I have to say, perhaps you can acknowledge the truth of my feelings if I act on them instead.”


My words slurred into gibberish as she shot forward and pressed her lips into mine.

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