34 Choices and Paths

"As the saying goes, beauty is how we feel on the inside." Lucien whispered softly while pointing to his chest. "You should try to follow it." He pointed to her heart. "Drop your perpetual mask and express yourself more, for you..." he suddenly paused, as if he were also finally realising what was about to say next, but he forged on with a light smile. "are truly beautiful then."

Bernadette blinked. "Are you flirting with me?"

"Oh, I am sorry..." Lucien groaned, but his voice was dripping with sarcasm. "Was I that obvious?"

Bernadette blinked again, trying to get her head around what just transpired. She was frozen in her chair, cold winds sweeping her hair.

"Why are you so nonplussed?" Lucien leaned forward in his chair, intrigued. "Like a young maiden receiving her first compliment,"

Bernadette got hold of herself, then retorted sharply. "You are a King of Angels."

"So?" Lucien shrugged, not bothering to correct her. "Just because I am a mythical creature doesn't mean I have lost all of my human desires.."

"I mean time—" Bernadette elaborated, but was cut off.

"Oh.." Lucien drawled with raised brows. "You actually think I am old."

Bernadette tempered her tone carefully so as not to appear offensive as she sensed a shift in the atmosphere encompassing them. "You are not?"

Lucien looked at her in the eyes. "I am younger than you." He nailed the coffin shut.

Bernadette suppressed her gasp as she recoiled in her seat. Of course, he was younger than her. She might have noticed it sooner if she had taken a closer look at his silver eyes, which were filled with vigour and youth. Those were not the eyes of someone who had seen the world for all that it was.

Lucien smiled brilliantly, relishing her shock. "But I meant what I said, Bernadette Gustav; you are truly beautiful without your mask."

Bernadette composed herself and looked him in the eyes. "I am flattered." She allowed a gentle smile to grow on her lips, and it was genuine, but deep down, she didn't want to encourage him since relationships were the last thing on her mind, much less one with a King of Angels.

Thankfully, Lucien seemed to pick up on her reservations, much to her relief. "Anyway, I am here to discuss your ascension."

"I am planning on doing it tomorrow." Bernadette said, leaning back in her seat. "But there is still something…" she hesitated. To be honest, she wanted to ask for Lucien's help with this, but the thought of becoming more indebted to him kept her from approaching him. She didn't really know what he would ask of her in return or whether she would be able to fulfil it.

"It's Hidden Sage, isn't it?" Lucien narrowed his silver eyes at Bernadette, and she nodded begrudgingly. Then he brooded for a moment before saying, "Proceed with your ascension. I will deal with Hidden Sage."

Bernadette nodded once more. After all that happened today, she had no doubts about his ability. "I am indebted." She uttered those bitter words because she didn't really have any other choice.

"Don't be." Lucien chuckled. "Another angel joining my side for the upcoming war? I couldn't have asked for more!"

'There it is…' Bernadette's lips twitched. 'The price…'

But she felt a sliver of relief knowing that the price wasn't something beyond her abilities. And her participation in the war was inevitable anyway.

Lucien stood up from his chair and said, "What do you say, Bernadette Gustav?" He extended his hand to her.

Bernadette took a breath, shaking his hand with resolve. There was no turning back anymore, so she might as well take a gamble on this path. At least there was hope for finding her father in it.

"That's the spirit." Lucien smiled warmly. Then he waved his hands, summoning cups of wine in both of their hands. "For our future," he said to her.

Bernadette raised her glass to him, admiring his ethereal face illuminated by the stars—he was stunning, nothing could deny that—and they clinked it together, enjoying their wine in harmony.

With that, the last of her reservations faded away.

This was her path now.

She just hoped she wouldn't come to regret her choice today.


A short while later, Lucien also stopped by to meet his father. He tensed as soon as he noticed his father reading reports about the assault, even though he was the one who handed them to him at his request.

"Sit down, son." Azik pointed to the chair in front of him with a touch of weariness in his eyes.

Lucien obliged silently, taking a seat in front of his father.

"Are you done with your duties for the day?" Azik asked, gathering the reports on the table and putting them aside.

"Almost." Lucien shook his head, leaning in on his seat to make himself more comfortable. "Enough about me, father; have you gone through the reports?"

"Yes." Azik nodded.

"So…" Lucien drawled. "What do you think?"

"Son." Azik sighed, seeing through him. "You worry too much. I am not going to judge you for this. I am in no position to do that after failing my duties as a father."

"Father…" Lucien began, frowning, but Azik cut him off. "And I am sure you have your reasons."

"I do." Lucien shifted in his seat uncomfortably. "But, as you said, having reasons alone cannot justify what I have done."

"If only I knew you would use my own words against me before." Azik said mirthlessly.

Lucien merely smiled, half-closing his eyes.

"So, do you regret it?" Azik leaned forward in his seat, noting his uncomfortableness.

"Oh, no." Lucien shook his head immediately. "I don't regret my choice. At all." He came to a halt in a moment of severe silence. "It's just that seeing you read those reports and what you might think of them made me feel the gravity of what I did for a moment..."

"Son…" Azik said, his tone slow and gentle. "If you want to talk about it, I am all ears."

Lucien was silent for a moment, then he shook his head once again with heaviness. "I am fine, father." He forged forth with a light smile, regaining his spirits. "I will adapt. I always have. You needn't worry much, father…"

"Lucien…" Azik began, but, seeing his guileless smile, he merely sighed. "I understand, son." He said finally. "But remember, I am always here."

"I know." Lucien murmured morosely, his gaze fixed on the fireplace in the corner of the room. "But I'm afraid I'm not sure you'll be able to live up to those words."

"My condition…" Azik half-closed his eyes, his weary face illuminated by the ember of fire.

Lucien refocused on his father. "I have a way, father, to stop your cycles of undying and heal you completely, but you must first make a difficult and painful choice." He revealed, his voice low and hushed, just a whisper in the night yet clear as day to Azik.

Yet even as the cure was placed in front of him, he found himself hesitant to accept it.

Lucien seemed to notice his uncertainty. "I am sure in your brief time here, you should have already picked up the clues about your identity, father." He said with a tone of sombreness.

"I have." Azik admitted wryly. "For the record, I am uncomfortable with all of their reactions." He took a breather. "The way they treat me, the way they look at me, the way they address me—it's like I am higher than all of them; even your angels were the same. It's almost like I am their…" he began to mull over an array of words to find something suitable for his situation.

"Emperor." Lucien prompted silently.

"Yes, Emperor!" Azik repeatedly nodded, tapping his armrest. Then he suddenly froze, and a look of grim realisation dawned on his face. "I was their emperor.." he leaned forward, his face twisting in place as he clasped it within his palm.

Lucien unleashed his soul-soothing aura, calming his father down, and then he tethered the aura to the room as he knew his father was going to need it now more than ever.

Azik reclined back in his seat, his face pale and drawn. "Who…?" He said breathlessly. "No, what am I, son?"

Lucien pressed his lips into a thin line, meeting his dark eyes. "You are the son of Death, a mythical creature born with no humanity; you are an Angel of Death, the Death Counsel that judges the fallen and forsaken; you are the Emperor of Balam, a forgotten legend in the hearts of all." He declared, his voice gentle but reckoning, hammering down the psyche of Azik, slowly awakening the suppressed and forgotten memories, but before that could happen, Lucien continued with a bright smile.

"But you are also a father, so responsible and caring to your children; you are a husband, a loving companion to your sweethearts; you are a teacher, the guider of the lights of the world."

"Lucien…" Azik smiled, his countenance easing into serenity.

Lucien continued on, matching his smile. "You are a scholar and a historian, bearing secrets and knowledge of the Gods; you are a soldier, with blood and iron in your heart; ultimately, father, you are also a human." He paused. "You are everything I said and much more. I want you to remember all of this before you make the choice."

Azik was silent, and Lucien patiently waited, gazing up at the stars through the window, his wavy hair swaying in the dark breeze of night.

"What are my choices, son?" Azik asked, taking a deep breath in resolution.

Lucien smiled, hearing his father, but it faded as he noticed his dark eyes, which still hide his weariness, exhaustion, and pain, so he shook his head at Azik. "Not now; think about everything carefully and ask me that again when you are truly ready."

Azik didn't bother to put up any fronts; rather, he reclined in his seat, nodding to Lucien with a heavy sigh.

"I will leave you to it then." Lucien stood up from his chair and walked towards the door, but as he touched the doorknob, he spoke silently, looking up at the ceiling. "I am sorry, father, for doing this—forcing you to make a choice."

"Don't be, son." Azik shook his head. "I think it's about time I face my past rather than running away from it."

Lucien stayed in the foyer for a moment before exiting the room, leaving behind only a whisper.

"Good night, father. See you at the council tomorrow."

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