Chapter 24:

Festival of Lights

Vampire Lanterns

He contemplated, if he should stop her from leaving, or just let her go. The images of her empty eyes looking at him flooded his mind. His gaze narrowed in worry, while the setting sun was caressing his cheeks, as he sought the answer in the distance of the Lush Lands.
Petrona disturbed his thoughts by stepping into his view, her hair waving towards him and touching his face. Demyan pulled her into a tight hug. She couldn't resist that sudden urge of attention from him and melted in his arms. Butterflies still dancing around them.
They made sure to go down for dinner before returning back with their lanterns and their friends. Demyan sat down at the window waiting for her to bring their meals. Mirko together with Luka ate at the pub downstairs and Adrik was resting on the small roof over the corridor.
While leaving, Petrona took a spare lantern out of her room.
Adrik laying on his back with his arms behind his head was rethinking his role in this whole mess. A folded lantern appeared next to his face. He looked at it. "Do you want to go with us after dinner? I would be happy if you would." He slipped down, grabbed the edge and swung his body down next to Petrona.
He took the lantern, but also held her hands at the same time. He kept looking at the lantern and her hands. "Would you like to leave with me instead? After the Festival..." Petrona was shocked, by what she was seeing. Lights, that represented cracks manifested on his face. She was mortified... something horrible will happen to her... Adrik wanted to sacrifice himself for her...
Tears welled up in her eyes and she shook her head. "I am sorry, but I can't!" Those cracks slowly disappeared. She sighed out of relief. Adrik understood, released the grip on her hands and took the lantern with a sad smile. "I gladly go with you!"
Petrona couldn't shake the memory of the cracks. If something horrible is going to happen, she should at least enjoy this last day with all of them. Probably she should even turn down any further moves from Demyan. It will be for the best.
With her head high, she entered her room with the tray and apologized to Demyan for taking so long. He smiled, while leaning on the window sill. After they were done, all of them gathered at the bottom of the bulwark and headed up the hill. The Festival should begin exactly at eleven o'clock.
Demyan was overly excited. His heart was singing out of happiness. Petrona enjoyed the company of all the boys. This year it was a grand Festival for her. She not only spent time with Mirko and Luka, but also gained new friends also with higher ranks, like Lord Adrik and Prince Demyan, whom she learned to love, even when it was forbidden.
The air was chilly, but as she sat down on the ground, it still radiated warmth from the sun. She prepared all the lanterns lining up for the boys to take theirs. Demyan took his and looked at the other one, which was also meant for him. That one will fly far away to the Waste Lands to his room.
He slightly smiled, but then his head tilted to one side. Something peeked his interest. "What is that weird stone inside?" Petrona giggled about his doggy-like reaction. "It's a recording device. I recorded a farewell message for my friend from the Waste Lands..."
He was wondering, what she might said, but maybe later, if he returns to his castle in the future. Adrik plopped down next to her and took his into the hands changing into a demon to light it up. Luka growled. He still disliked him, for what he was. "Calm down dog boy, I am not here to harm anybody and Petrona invited me personally." He puffed out his chest in pride.
Luka was annoyed and Petrona had a laugh.
The specific hour was approaching and all lanterns were already lit up, just waiting to be released. The whole Lush Lands realm was glowing and Demyan's eyes sparkled like of a child. He waited for this moment so long... Now his dream came true! He looked back to Petrona smiling at him.
Suddenly he heard humming and silent singing coming from different parts of the Lands. Mirko, Luka, Adrik and Petrona began to hum as well. This was the first time he heard something like that, he never knew it was part of the Festival. From that distance, it was of course impossible to hear. His heart warmed up.
The bells in the whole country began to ring and everybody released their lanterns, together with Demyan. His eyes were glimmering with all the lights, which were rising up to the sky. A slight glint of tears appeared in the corners of his eyes. He never felt such fulfilling peace in his heart. Demyan wished this would never end.
As he was still watching all the lanterns elegantly floating in the sky, he walked backward and sat down next to Petrona. "How much do you like this?" He placed his arm around her shoulders. "You don't know how happy I am right now... Thank you for sharing this with me!" Petrona observed Demyan's mesmerized face by all the beauty he was looking at.
"Did you know, that those lanterns up in the sky and down in the rivers and lakes represent souls of families, friends and loved ones, who are already gone?" He looked at her puzzled. "But that lantern you sent to the Waste Lands?"
Petrona smiled at him. "That one represents my soul." She looked at the sky. "Do you remember, when I told you about the hard time I went through? That day, I felt, like I died... So I offered it to the person, which unknowingly saved me as a token of my gratitude."
Demyan's eyes widened in disbelief and without thinking he gently took her chin in between his fingers and kissed Petrona. She was his from the beginning. Surprised Petrona couldn't resist, despite being adamant about keeping her distance. 
Both their hearts were racing fast. Adrik noticed them and with a sad gaze looked away. Mirko smiled happily and nudged away furious Luka, who wanted to intervene. Demyan slowly retreated opening his eyes, seeing Petrona flushed red. He couldn't hide his blush, so he gently smiled and embraced her instead.
His heart was run over with different emotions, it was something, he never dreamed about. For so many decades he was that cold, emotionless vampire prince. Now here, he felt all the happiness and love, that he always longed for.
"I love you!" escaped out of Demyan's lips. Petrona was flustered. At first, she didn't know how to react to his declaration, but eventually, she replied back. "I love you too... your Highness!"
Demyan's eyes became clouded by tears streaming down his cheeks, blurring his vision and the lights of the lanterns, which began to pass over their heads heading to the mountains where they would disappear.
After the last lantern left, they slowly walked down the hill for the end of the day. That night Demyan slept in one bed clutching Petrona in his arms like a plush. He never experienced such a peaceful sleep.

The next morning Petrona went to fetch some breakfast. She was gone for far too long, then Mirko barged into the room. Something he never had done. Demyan looked angrily and puzzled at him. "THEY TOOK HER! THEY  ARE GOING TO BURN HER!"