Why? I thought helplessly. Why did this happen?
Through the tears in my eyes, I stared at the golden band in my hands. The dark gem gleamed back at me.
Why did you do that? I thought all the questions I wanted to ask him. Why are you gone?
“Lucia?” Mizuki’s soft voice caught my attention and I glanced up. She was fiddling with the ends of her long blue hair. “Your father wants to see you.”
I nodded slowly, but stopped when I saw the band on her wrist. It was identical to the one in my hands, save for the deep blue gem set in it.
“Lucia?” Mizuki called again. “Should I tell him you still aren’t well?”
“No.” My voice cracked. I cleared my throat and tried again. “No. I’ll go see him.”
Mizuki gave me a sympathetic smile and patted my arm as I passed. “Natsuki is working on a memorial.” She offered. “It should be ready soon.”
Tears threatened behind my eyes again and I blinked in an attempt to hold them back. “Thank you.” I gave her a hug and she rubbed my back soothingly.
I groaned when I heard Reiner’s voice. Looking in the direction I’d just been walking, I saw him standing in the open doorway.
“His Majesty wishes to see you.” He continued.
“Thank you, Reiner.” I said formally. As I passed him, however, I shot him a glare. “Mizuki can tell me just fine on her own.”
He bowed slightly. “I would never doubt your choice of Guardians, Princess.”
The hair on the back of my neck bristled with anger. No matter what Reiner was saying, he always sounded like he had all the answers and he was just humoring me. I hated him and couldn’t see why my sister had picked him for her personal guard.
Peran would mop the floor with him. My anger quickly turned to sorrow at the thought.
Peran had never sparred with Reiner. He’d never sparred with anyone except my father’s Darkness Guardian, Col. He’d only formed his blade a handful of times, the last time being two days ago.
Walking through the halls, I let my tears fall freely. As heir to the thrown, I could never cry in front of anybody, not even my Guardians. When I was younger, it had been easy. I’d understood that I had to project strength. Now, it felt like I was betraying my friends, holding back while they cried.
The guards outside my father’s throne room opened the doors for me and my heart sank at what I saw.
My father was sitting on his throne in his diplomatic robes, which he only wore when welcoming visiting dignitaries or for ceremonies. His crown was slightly crooked, as it had been since his coronation 25 years earlier.
My sister, Luna, stood by his side. She tried to give me a sympathetic smile, but I ignored her. Reiner would only follow her orders, so his presence in the courtyard had been her doing. I didn’t want to look at her and her face that was mine from three years ago.
It was the third figure, however, that caused me the most stress. Col stood on my father’s other side, looking as stoic as always. I’d rarely seen him since his retirement from being a Guardian. These days, he spent most of his time training the royal guard.
“Lucia.” My father’s voice commanded attention, even when he sounded sad like today.
I gave him a curtsy as was required of me in a formal setting. “Father.”
“Lucia, I know Peran’s passing has been hard on you.” If my father noticed my hard intake of breath, he didn’t acknowledge it. “But you are unprotected at the moment.”
“I have five other Guardians.” I reminded him, then gestured to my sister. “If that is not enough, then Luna is severely unguarded.”
“You’re the heir.” She reminded me. “After what happened…” She didn’t finish and I didn’t press her.
My father cleared his throat. “It is time for you to select a new Darkness Guardian. Tradition states he or she must be tested against the current Guardian. Col shall stand in, given the circumstances.”
“No.” I said, dropping all formality. “No. Peran was my Darkness Guardian and he can’t be replaced.”
“Lucia.” Luna started to reach out a hand, but stopped herself. She was still trying to follow the ceremonial guidelines we had. “Father isn’t asking you to completely replace him. Not yet. But there needs to be a new Guardian.”
“Not yet?” Her words stung, even more so because they weren’t her own. As the heir, I knew I’d have to marry and have children some day. But now, that didn’t seem fair.
I turned on my heals and walked briskly out the door. Luna called after me, but I didn’t turn back. They didn’t understand what I was going through. No one did.
Not true. A part of me reminded. Father lost mother. He’d understand.
Too bad duty was more important to him.