The Dusk of the Dragon Age
When you hear the word dragon, what comes to mind? Some monstrous, lizard-like, scaled beast? Rumor is as rumor does, and the rumor of my people became widespread as our race slowly sank into oblivion. Some Dragons can wield fire, others manipulate water. One of the two most opposite elements was at the core of our beings. In case it’s unclear, I am a Dragon, a Fire Dragon to be exact. This is my tale. ‘Tis a short one out of a long history, but even so I cannot deny that it would become more important than I ever thought. My tale takes place long before the history of man, during a time when my kind were already fading to a mere myth.
It was what we called the Second Age. In the First Age the only creatures with intelligence were the Dragons. Later in the age a race called the Faerie came. Like us, they were immortal to old age and diseases, and they too had use of magic, though a different kind from our own. Dangerous, but simple people, the Faerie were powerful. The Faerie began to fade faster than we did, though both of our races collapsed at the same time. Once they forgot their magic, they became the Elves. They still remembered the time when they could use it, but forgot how. Their history tells of the war with my kind when we destroyed each other, though only we were decimated from the war. After the war Dragons estranged ourselves as our population dwindled to less than a few hundred. This is when I was born.
At the time, The Elves had established a monarchy and controlled the only true cities throughout the known earth. In our appearance, we ourselves looked like Elves and we disguised ourselves to live among them as the upper merchant class. In that time another of us was born. One who would be my greatest enemy, and the doom of our kind.
Looking back, I never realized just how young I was when everything started. We were dying out. We were supposedly immortal. Lately, however, hunters would kill us for our hearts. Depending on whether we controlled fire or water, our heart was either a deep sapphire or a shining ruby. When we were killed it was all that was left of us. My parents were the last leaders of our people. I was only sixty when my father died. He had gone to the wilds, seemingly alone, to transform into his reptilian form (which happened rarely over the course of a Dragon’s life- unless of course, they are angered to the point of rage). Hunters had found him, however, and took his heart. My mother, Jaha, lived on as the sole leader of our people.
A young Dragon, the only other my age, had disappeared at that time and was never seen again. Assumedly the hunters had gotten to her as well. Unfortunately, the Elven crown sanctioned the hunters, as they still distrusted and hated our people from the war that was one reason they forgot their magic. Thus, Jaha decided it was time for us to disappear. We lived as Elves anyway, so we might as well marry into their kind and disappear from history. Jaha herself married an Elven artisan. He was rich, close to aristocratic. We Dragons are known for our business skills, and soon our family was given lordship and became business advisers to many others.
It was through this that we hid, and operated our own business underneath the disguise of Elven business. The other Dragons were hesitant, unwillingly to taint our pure blood with Elves. Slowly some were convinced. Some were not. After all, if discovered, who was to say they would not destroy us again? Jaha argued we fit in easily enough, and our profit and power would increase more by joining with the empire. That convinced more people.
However, just as we were increasing, a new rumor began spreading among the Dragons. The rumor was that one of us planned to make a statement. One of us was planning to make war on the Elven Monarchy and kill the royal family, thus taking the throne for themselves. Jaha did not want this. No one wanted it. We were too few to win this war. We were powerful, but not that powerful. Under the guise of a young lady attending the court, I was sent to the palace to keep an eye on the royal family.
Little did I know how much stepping through that door would change my life.
The first time Imani ever saw Bakari was when she first walked through the doors of the palace. Bakari was standing there in full prince attire from the golden circlet on his head to the polished leather boots adorning his legs. Bakari glanced up when he heard footsteps on the marble floors, but barely even glanced her way. Imani did not blame him, she knew she looked exactly like all the other young ladies that came and went from the palace daily. That was how Jaha wanted her to look, and from the way he had dismissed her she supposed it worked.
Imani sighed as she handed the guard the missive from Jaha. Jaha’s elf husband had signed it with his seal, to mark her as a lady and not just a young girl wanting to be let in the palace. Imani was not particularly fond of the plan Jaha had made, because it meant simply waiting in the palace to see if something happened. She would do it though. She would do whatever her mother asked.
The guard nodded and then spoke to one of the palace servants who led her off to the quarters she would be staying in whilst here. Imani did not bother glancing back at the prince; she doubted he would do so much for her.
That night, because it was her first night as a guest, Imani had to dine with the royal family. She was sitting next to the Elf Queen and across from Prince Bakari. King Omarion was sitting at the head of the table. “Where do you hail from Lady Imani?” Omarion asked.
Imani smiled slightly. “We do not live far from here. My father recently moved us all within the walls. We used to live further out, but it worried my mother.”
“Your mother sounds like a wise woman.” The Queen said. Bakari’s lip curled upward slightly, as if in amusement.
“My mother has been nervous of late, even though we have had peace for a long time.”
“And Bakari forgets that his lifetime hasn’t been long in light of ours.” The Queen shot back. Imani smiled slightly. It sounded like a common argument in the house.
“And who do you agree with?” Bakari asked her.
“Me?” Imani asked.
“Her Majesty of course. I have been told it is impossible to argue with a Queen.” Imani said.
Omarion laughed. “You were told rightly.”
The Queen laughed but while he did not speak directly to her for the rest of the night, Bakari was watching her curiously.
“So your father is a lord and you live within the city.” Bakari said, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. “Yet you have never been within the palace before?”
“I told you, we only just moved.” Imani reminded him. She had been sitting in one of the gardens reading a book when Bakari found her.
“I see.” He said. He cocked his head. “You are not like the other ladies that come here. Why have you come?”
“My mother wished for me to.” Imani said lightly. “She was curious. I was curious.”
“That’s all? You were curious?”
Imani shrugged. “Should it not be enough?”
“Well perhaps you have not said as much, but I know for certain most young ladies come to the palace with the hope of marrying me.” Bakari said, cocking an eyebrow at her.
“Not all of us have such ill intentions.” Imani said inwardly quite amused. It must have shown in either her face or tone, however, for Bakari narrowed his eyes at her.
“There’s no need to sound amused.”
“Why ever not?”
“Should it be amusing that young ladies seek the prince’s hand?”
“Only if the prince seems as flattered by it as you do.” Imani said. Surprise and then anger flashed across Bakari’s face.
“What does that mean?”
“It means you are perplexed that I haven’t come to seek your hand. And I am quite amused by it.” Imani ended bluntly, but with a lilt to her voice. Personally she could care less about who married the prince. As long as she kept him and his family from dying it was all that mattered, at least to her. If only she could sense another dragon nearby with ill intent.
She glanced up as Bakari stepped closer to her and sat across from her. “Those are strong words.”
“That is all you have to say?”
Bakari’s eyes inspected her for a moment and then laughed. “Truly, I did not expect such words from a lady, least of all from you. Are you always so blunt?”
“My mother taught me to be honest.” Imani said, glancing up at him. “You tell me, were they near the truth?”
“That is a personal question.” Bakari said crossing his arms again. “One I do not feel like answering.”
Imani wished to return home already. “When your pride is no longer so wounded, would you mind showing me how to return to my room?”
Bakari stared at her once more. “You are far different than any other young lady.”
“Am I?” She supposed she was. Being a dragon and all that probably did make her different from the young elves Bakari was accustomed too.
“From what I have seen, yes.” He stood and held out his hand. “Come, I will take you to your room, but first I want to show you something else.”
“Do we have too?”
“Only if you wish to find your room again.” He said with a wry grin.
Imani smiled. “It seems I have little choice then.”
“I think you will be glad you saw it.”
Imani had been told that curiosity was not a sin, but she found herself curious about the elf underneath the prince. And if it led to a dangerous path, that curiosity might be what damned her in the end.
She had been in the palace for two years when Zawati came. The first time Imani saw her the young lady had curtsied respectfully to the King and Queen before inclining her head to the prince. Bakari had greeted her graciously, there was little reason for him not too.
“And your name is-?” Zawati asked her.
Imani smiled. “Imani.”
“What a pretty name.” Zawati commented. “You live here also?”
“For a time I am.” Imani answered, inspecting her closely. Zawati seemed innocent, even if her gaze toward the prince was not as pure.
“I am sure we’ll know each other very well then.” Zawati said smiling.
“I told you they all came for me.” Bakari said as they walked through the forest that surrounded the back of the palace.
“I am sure she is innocent.” Imani said.
“Innocent? I may not be adept at reading a lady’s expressions, but I know the look in her eyes well enough.”
“You do?” Imani asked, her lip curling.
“Yes, and I know your amused expression as well!” Bakari’s eyes glared at her.
Imani assumed her most innocent expression. “I am not laughing at you.” Bakari narrowed his eyes further.
“I do not believe you.”
“You should.” Imani said.
“I am not so sure.” Bakari muttered but when he looked at her there was little anger in his eyes. He had been looking at her different lately. Imani tried to ignore it. All it did was remind her that she thought of her task differently now too, and she was not certain that it was a good thing. Even if she let herself dream that it was and that he truly felt the same, she could not forget reality. She was a Dragon.
She glanced at him as he kept talking. His eyes were open around her, open and honest. What if she told him? The war had been before both of their times. He held no grudge. He was far too light-hearted for such things. She could tell him. Occasionally she found herself on the verge of telling him, but something always held her back. One day she would tell him. She would. Maybe he would accept her anyway. If not she would be signing her own execution order.
Imani’s eyes drifted to the clouds. Something about the way the wind was blowing made her nervous.
That month flew by, the feeling of anticipation never truly leaving her. At the end of the month, King Omarion threw a feast for Bakari’s birthday. Imani sat next to Bakari, smiling, laughing, unaware that she was about to come to her biggest failure. The Elf Queen was delicately eating her last meal.
Zawati was there too, and to her shame Imani did not notice that she seemed far quieter than usual. Imani was too busy trying to figure out the look in Bakari’s eyes. Everyone was speaking loudly and boisterously, fueled with wine. Bakari reached down and grabbed her hand underneath the table and she looked at him surprised.
“What are you-?”
He dismissed her question with a wave of his other hand. “Imani,” he started quietly, “I know you did not come for this reason, but of late I hope your answer has changed.”
Bakari cocked his head and his eyes were intense as they stared at her. “I love you.”
Imani felt the world stop around her. Something nagged her at the back of her mind, something she should have been aware of, but her entire focus had been thrown off by Bakari’s admission. “Imani?”
The world moved once more as the doors to the throne room burst open. She froze as a male Fire Dragon stormed into the room and lit the room on fire. She grabbed Bakari and jumped to the ground, covering him as much as she could with her body. She prayed inwardly that no one would notice her lack of scorch marks. To their right the Elf Queen breathed her last as the Dragon flung her into the wall. Imani started to move, she had to do something, but Bakari grabbed her and dragged her back down, now attempting to protect her in turn.
She looked up to see the Dragon cornering King Omarion now. She panicked. Surely there was something she could do? She could use her fire to protect the king but she was directly behind him. She would only incinerate him as well. Before she could decide what to do, water spewed over all of them and covered her, making her dizzy. Then she felt the presence of the Water Dragon. Had her mother sent someone she was unaware of? She looked up to see Zawati smiling, almost smirking, as she looked over the surprised Dragon. Then, Zawati killed the Dragon. A sinking realization dripped from her throat to her stomach. She had been so blind.
Zawati was the one they should be worried about.
Imani barely had time to register this before Bakari jumped up and ran to his mother’s body. He screamed and fell to his knees, weeping. Imani felt numb. She watched as if from a great distance as Omarion stared down at all that was left of the Fire Dragon: his ruby. He too looked shocked, but Zawati walked over to him, and touched his arm.
He jumped and glanced at her, but she gave him a gentle smile and began talking lowly. Imani felt her power beginning to influence his mind and she despaired inside. She had to get out. The room was closing in on her. It was too much. Slowly she backed out of the room and then fled to her own.
The next morning Imani had packed what little she brought with her and sat on her bed, still slightly numb inside, and wondering if it had really happened. The mourning that wailed from the corridor outside told her it had.
She closed her eyes, a tear sliding down her face. She had never failed her mother before. She had let herself care too much. She had to leave. Her mother needed her. Even if she did not, she could not take the knowledge that Bakari would never know the truth of who she was. She stood, about to leave, when her door opened. A servant stood in the doorway.
“All have been summoned to the throne room.” He told her.
She paled, but she managed to make her way to the throne room on shaky legs. When she arrived she stood to the side. From her view she could see Zawati standing seemingly submissive and sad at an appropriate distance to the right of the throne. Imani held herself to keep from puking. Omarion’s face was hard.
She felt a presence step near her. Without looking she knew it was Bakari. “Imani,” he whispered but broke off as his father began to speak.
“Yesterday’s events have shocked the whole kingdom.” Omarion began. “It was believed that the last of the Dragons had been driven far away, never to return. We thought they had been defeated in the last war, but we were wrong.”
Imani closed her eyes, they were right. There was not even a few hundred of her kind left. Bakari must have thought she was distressed for the same reason everyone else was, because he slipped his arm around her shoulders as a comforting gesture. That only made her more distressed inwardly, but she said nothing.
“Thus, to make sure their actions are avenged and their kind finally destroyed, I have declared war against the Dragons. A war that we will win when we find their leaders and eradicate them for good!” Omarion declared and Imani felt her breath leave her. She could not hear anything after that. Her ears rang, and her heart fluttered. She had to warn her mother. Oh gods, my mother is pregnant. She looked up and saw Zawati smirk where no one else saw, and she couldn’t stand it anymore. She turned, ignoring Bakari, and fled.
“Imani!” Bakari said surprised as she took off. Imani, however, knew it was over even as she continued to run. She had gone to the palace to prevent his family from being hurt. This was not the plan. It’s my fault. I have to get out. I have to get out. Her thoughts all focused on that much, else she might collapse of too much pain in her heart.
She kept going, escaping from the palace and into the woods. If she lost him she could make her way back to her mother without him knowing where she lived. Her heart was aching, begging her to turn back. She had not realized just how much she had begun to care for him until she knew she would have to leave. She couldn’t stay so close to Zawati. The Water Dragon would sense her the moment she screwed up and tried to use her fire or contact her mother. She had to leave.
She unknowingly tripped and fell to the ground. She wrapped her arms around her waist, sobbing as all the horrible memories crashed through her. She shook her head hoping they were just another nightmare. She felt a pair of arms wrap around her.
“Imani.” This time her name came out of his mouth whispered.
“I’m sorry.” She choked out.
“Please, don’t apologize.” He said. She wanted to tell him everything. She had been so sure he would accept her for who she was, but now that one had killed his mother, there was no way she could ever tell him. Nor was she sure she could live with lying to him.
“I can’t stay.” She said, not daring to look at him.
His hand lifted her chin. “Please don’t go.” She shook her head.
“You don’t understand,” she whispered.
“Understand what?” He asked, but did not seem surprised as she began sobbing. He wrapped his arms closer around her. Now sobbing into his shirt she found herself shaking. This was not what she wanted. This had never been what she wanted. She could almost feel herself drowning.
“I have to go.” She finally breathed into his chest.
“What? Why?” He asked pulling slightly away from her to eye her in alarm and confusion.
“I can’t stay.” She did not dare look at him. She couldn’t.
Bakari shook his head, “What do you mean? We are going to war! You are far safer here than anywhere else.”
“I do not belong here.” Imani said shakily, trying to calm herself enough to leave him. But her legs would not move.
Bakari sounded shaken when he spoke. “I just lost my mother, Imani. I cannot lose you too.” She shuddered in his arms, still feeling guilty for not preventing it.
“I’m sorry.” She repeated.
“Do you love me?” Bakari asked and her heart jolted. She could feel his eyes searching her for a reaction, but she still did not look at him. She had never had a chance to reply to his admission at the feast. What did it matter now anyway?
“Yes,” burst from her lips without her permission. She bit her lip, sobbing again.
He let out a relieved sigh. “Well now you cannot ever leave.” He said, laughing without much humor.
Imani finally looked up at him. His eyes were watching her closely. He touched her face, wiping her tears away with his thumb. “You will not let me go?”
“Gods, no,” Bakari breathed out. “Perhaps I am too selfish, but I do not know if my soul can handle it.” Slowly she nodded, but could not speak not trusting her tongue. “Take me to your father,” Bakari said quietly. “So that I can ask him for your hand.”
Imani’s heart stopped, and as she looked she saw pure sincerity in his eyes. “My father is dead.” She said quietly.
“Dead? Who is this lord that signed your papers?” Bakari’s voice sounded confused.
“My father died, and then my mother married another,” Imani said quietly.
“Forgive me,” Bakari said abashed by his own grief.
“No. You did not know.”
“What of your mother? Are you close?”
“Very,” Imani answered, wondering what would become of her mother now that Omarion had declared war on her kind. Jaha was not only the leader he had spoken of destroying, but a mother as well. There was a young child involved now, and Imani did not care to think of her fate if Zawati found her mother. Imani’s own fate was in question as well, more then it ever was.
“Will you take me to her?”
“I do not know if I could.”
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“I might have to choose between you, and I don’t know if I could.” Deep inside, she actually meant that if she ever stood between her mother and Bakari, or even any of her kind and Bakari’s family, she might not be able to decide. Her heart loved them both too much.
Bakari’s eyes lowered. “I would not make you choose.” Imani’s eyes darted to his. He shrugged, “If your mother does not wish for you to marry me, then I couldn’t take you from her.”
“You truly wish to marry me?” Imani asked.
Bakari’s cheeks flushed. “If the fire had not come I would have asked you once I knew whether you loved me or not.”
“And now?” Imani asked, her fingers now hesitantly trailing his cheek.
Bakari stared into her eyes. He moved closer, putting his hand on the back of her neck and pulling her closer. “Now I am the more eager, because I want as much time with you as possible since we are going to war.”
That sobered Imani once more, and another tear escaped down her cheek. He brushed that tear away and then kissed her cheek. If Zawati was planning on taking the throne and betraying her kind in the process, Imani needed to stay as close to her as possible to interfere if necessary. Maybe she had not failed just yet. “Then ask me.” She said quietly.
Surprise lit in his eyes. He searched her face. “Will you marry me?” She searched his face.
A slow smile appeared on his face. Slowly, reverently he leaned forward and brushed his lips with hers. She leaned in, kissing him more passionately. “Imani,” he whispered. She silenced him with another kiss.
“Do you still wish to leave me?” he asked sometime later.
“I have been told I cannot.” She said quietly. He smiled slightly, but it fell as he considered her.
“Why did you want to?”
“I didn’t.” She admitted. “But I-I thought I had too.”
“That was obvious.” He kissed her again. “Please tell me you won’t try to leave again.” His eyes were begging her to stay, and Imani had too little heart to resist.
“As long as you wish for me to stay I will.” Relief flooded into his eyes as her words reached him. He smiled and pulled her close.
After they were married, Bakari was intent on taking Imari on the traditional one-year seclusion the Elves believed was necessary for first time newlyweds. Omarion had been a little too easy to convince, but it was one of the strongest traditions the elves had and he had his mind on other things.
Imani panicked at first when she realized that they were leaving, previously not realizing she would have to be estranged from her mother for so long. The day before they were to leave, she went to her mother while Bakari was occupied elsewhere.
“Mother!” She cried as soon as she entered the house. Her mother, Jaha, entered the room wrapping her arms around her daughter.
“If not for our connection I might have feared you died,” Jaha said as they held each other. “But what has happened?”
“Zawati is our true enemy. That is why I have not contacted you by mind. We were too close together and she might realize who I am if I am not careful. I felt her water clearly whilst we were so close, and I have ever since she has used it. She was also the one that convinced King Omarion to declare war on our people.”
“Who then was the Dragon that attacked?”
“He was a toy she played with to prompt a war.”
“Zawati is a Dragon herself is she not?”
“A Water Dragon.”
“Why would she betray the last of us?” Jaha wondered. Then she shook her head. “I am glad you have told me this. I have alerted the rest of our people to lay low and to avoid using their power at all costs. If they cannot sense us they cannot find us.”
“Yes, mama, but does that not mean that none of us can speak by mind anymore?”
“Yes. We will no longer be able to talk my daughter,” Jaha said. “You must trust yourself from here on out. You are returning to the palace yes?”
“Yes,” Imani hesitated, “Bakari and I have married. I return tonight, and tomorrow we must leave.”
Jaha stared at her child. “When I said marry into the Elves I did not think you would marry the prince.”
“Are you angry?”
“No,” Jaha sighed cupping her face. “Just surprised. You did not say anything of this.”
Imani shook her head. “I could not. I did not know of his heart until the Queen was killed, and after that time I did not dare try to reach you.”
“I see. This is dangerous,” Jaha said chewing her lip. “If discovered you will receive worse treatment than most.”
“It is no different than if I had no relation to Bakari and they found out I was your daughter,” Imani said shaking her head. “We all knew the risk we took. We both agreed to be prepared to die.”
“Yes I know. Perhaps it will change things for better.” Jaha considered. “If you have gained so much of their trust then perhaps you might speak sense to them in time.”
“You think so?”
“If he truly loves you then yes.”
“Very well.” Imani sighed. “What of your child?”
“She is still safe in my womb,” Jaha said quietly. “Worry for yourself, not for me. Do not use your power or interfere unless it is completely necessary once you return.”
“Promise me this Imani. Promise you will not use your power or interfere unless necessary.”
“I promise.” Imani sighed, knowing there was little hope in arguing.
“Good. Now go. Your husband is waiting.”
Imani smiled at her mother sadly, “I love you mama.” Jaha’s expression softened and she wrapped her arms around her daughter.
“I love you too, sweet one.”
For a year Bakari and Imani were on their own, in a castle his family owned by the sea. They were not completely alone; a small company of soldiers was spread throughout the region, reminding them that a war was being fought without them. Although they were together, both of them were occasionally caught musing over what might be happening back home. They silently comforted each other, knowing there was not much to be said of the matter.
It was not until they were to return, however, that Imani felt her anxiety grow. She was not sure how she would react if she returned to a world where she was the very last of the Dragons. “You are worried.” Bakari told her as he caught her staring out the window worriedly on the carriage trip home.
“I fear what the war has done,” Imani admitted quietly.
Bakari sighed. He wrapped his arm around her. “So do I, but I do not think there will be much to worry over. Wars are made over long periods of time.”
“As you say.”
They were quiet for a long time after that, taking comfort from each other in silence. Her fears dwelt on her mother mostly. When they arrived in the city, King Omarion greeted them warmly, but Imani inwardly tensed as she felt water in him. They went inside the palace. “What has happened here, Father?” Bakari asked.
“Many things, but the one I am most pleased by is this,” Omarion said smiling. He opened a door and Bakari stared inside surprised. “You have a baby sister.”
Bakari’s eyes then darted to his father. “Who did you marry?”
“Me, of course.” Imani felt sick as she turned toward the voice.
“Lady Zawati,” Bakari said softly, inclining his head. Zawati seemed to smirk at them. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you. I am pleased to bear the next child of the king.” Imani felt her insides shaking. She could feel the water surrounding the king, fogging his senses, deluding his mind. Why had she let Bakari take her away for a year? Surely she had more sense than to let things grow worse while she could do nothing. Yet she had promised her mother not to interfere. I promised. I promised. I promised.
“Are you not pleased to marry my father?” Bakari asked Zawati.
She laughed. “You always had such wit. I am most pleased, of course, to comfort him after your mother’s death. Such is why we married.”
Bakari smiled at her, but Imani saw his hesitation as he glanced at his father. “Of course. If you will excuse us, we have had a long journey.”
“But of course!”
When they got to their rooms, they both sank quite pale (though for different reasons) onto the bed. “He married her?” Bakari whispered to himself. “I never thought- she saved him yes, but why?”
I promised. I promised. I promised. “I do not know.”
“I hardly recognized my father’s eyes,” Bakari said quietly.
“I am sorry.” Imani whispered, apologizing for the guilt she still felt that he did not know of.
“For what?” Bakari asked. “For my father remarrying? There is nothing you could have done. I am just glad that those who remarry do not have the pleasure of leaving for a year.”
Bakari hesitated. “I used to think she was just another lady trying to earn a place in our family. But now she has done something to my father. I know it sounds strange, but there was something in her eyes, and something less in my father’s. Such as it is I am glad she never got him completely alone. I fear what might happen.”
“I trust your instinct well enough.” Imani said quietly. She agreed with him whole-heartedly, and feared what Zawati would do, even without getting the King completely alone.
The next few months were bitter for Imani. Although she learned her mother was still alive and yet unharmed, their population had gone from a few hundred to less than eighty in the year she had left. Hunters and Zawati together made a formidable pair. The hunters knew where the Dragons went in the wild and followed their scents home. Zawati felt it every time one of them slipped and used their fire, their water, or their minds to communicate and would then track them down.
Imani wished she could do something, but there was nothing for her to do in this situation. She was stuck. Stuck watching as family member after family member died. Stuck listening for news. Stuck trying to communicate with her family by any means possible. Stuck.
This time passed slowly and yet not slowly enough, at least in hindsight.
Imani was dressed for a feast they were to have that night. Her heart was not in it, but she had to play the part of Elf Princess for now. For her, it helped that Bakari was just as uninterested in the proceedings as she was. He sighed as soon as they were both ready. He did not bother asking if she was, but instead offered her his arm. She took it somewhat hesitantly and they made their way to the ballroom.
When they got there King Omarion and Zawati stood on the overlook of the whole room. “What is going on, Father?” Bakari asked.
King Omarion glanced at him and then smiled widely. “Look for yourself.”
Bakari and Imani both glanced at the floor of the ballroom. Imani’s heart stopped. Below her stood her mother and her infant daughter. Together they were bound and standing in water: a death sentence. Her scream was choked in her throat by the promise she had given her. But still her hand gripped the rail tightly and her eyes flickered between her mother and the King. I promise. I promise. I promise.
Bakari glanced at his wife whose eyes were gazing intently at the woman and child beneath. Imani looked down at the rail. “The child is innocent,” She said, her eyes pleading with the king. “She’s just a baby.”
“Baby or not, all their kind must die,” Zawati said. Imani’s fingers tightened around the rail as she looked back down. Bakari glanced between them again and then he remembered: “I might have to choose between you, and I don’t know if I could.” He suddenly realized the truth of the matter, and why she had been so quiet lately.
“Father,” Bakari said stepping next to Omarion. “Imani is right. The child is just that.”
“It is also the daughter of their Queen,” Zawati hissed.
“All the more reason to give them both a fair trial. Find out the truth of the matter before we do them further harm,” Bakari said. Imani glanced at him surprised. Their eyes locked for a moment and she blinked, stunned. She looked back down at the two prisoners.
“If we could, perhaps, find the truth of the matter than we can spare the lives of our men fighting theirs,” Imani said.
Omarion looked at his son, something flickering in his eyes that had been missing since they returned to the palace. “You cannot kill a child without good reason father,” Bakari said quietly.
Omarion sighed. “Perhaps. Leave them where they are. The trial will commence at dawn.” He glanced at his son. “I had better not regret this.”
“You would regret killing them more. I promise.”
Imani hugged herself when they got to their room. Bakari’s arms circled around her from behind. “That is your mother.” He said matter-of-factly.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“What is the truth?” Bakari asked her. His tone was firm and guarded, but his arms were holding her gently.
Her face lowered. “The child is my half-sister. She is only half-Dragon, incapable of transforming into reptilian form. She could not harm anyone. Nor does my mother intend any of you harm.”
“Then who does? If your mother has not sanctioned this?”
“Zawati,” Imani answered. “She is of my kind. I did not realize it until- until your mother died. She showed her true self when she used her element.”
“Yes,” Imani paused. “After that I could not interfere for fear she would recognize me. Otherwise I might have been able to do something.”
“Why would she betray all of you? If you are truly of the same kind?”
Imani winced at the implication. “We heard rumor that someone wished to take over the throne.” She turned out of his arms to face him. Tears were in her eyes. “We never wanted this. We had been living peacefully among you. My mother ordered us to fade away, to join ourselves to the Elves, to become no more than legend! We just wanted to survive.”
Bakari’s eyes searched hers. Then he sighed, looking at the floor. “And did you really love me? Or was that just your idea of keeping an eye on things? Or surviving?”
Imani’s eyes widened. “I came to the palace to protect your family. We had heard rumors of her intent. I failed,” she said. “I know it was my fault for not recognizing her sooner, and I understand if you blame me. I have blamed myself everyday since.”
She looked away and sank to the floor. “But I loved you. I came with no intent of deceiving you, only protecting your family. I failed because I fell in love with you.”
“Why run away?” Bakari asked, still sounding skeptical.
“I-I wasn’t thinking. I knew I had failed. I knew I could never tell you who I was after that, and I didn’t want to lie. I just wanted to make sure my mother was okay. I just- I knew it would be better if I left.” Imani broke and sobbed, tears flowing down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry.”
Bakari did not move for a moment. “And your sister? You said she could not hurt us?”
“She will have use of small amounts of fire, but will never be able to transform. She cannot fly. Cannot use the same telepathy the rest of us use to communicate.”
“Because she’s half-elven?”
Imani nodded, feeling miserable inside. Bakari said nothing for a moment. He crossed his arms, walking away from her. She bowed her head as she trembled. He had every right to kill her. Her arms wrapped tighter around her stomach. There were too many lives at stake at the moment.
She could plead, she supposed. She could tell him anything to make him feel sympathetic. She could ask him to spare her alone. Instead she stayed quiet, hoping whatever love he still had for her was enough.
Bakari glanced back at her, tears in his eyes as well. “You did not trust me enough to tell me?”
Imani felt even sicker. “I wanted to tell you ever since I first fell in love with you. You were so open, so light-hearted… But when the traitor killed your mother, I thought you would-.” She broke off and trembled once more.
Bakari stood still for a moment and then took a hesitant step forward. Then he moved quicker to sit next to her and he wrapped his arms around her. She choked out a sob of relief as he did and leaned into his chest. “I will free your mother if I can.” He promised softly.
Imani shook her head. “My mother and I have been prepared to die since the day I stepped foot in your palace. If nothing else free the child.”
Bakari frowned but then slowly nodded. “I will try.”
Suddenly the door burst open. They both stood alarmed, and Bakari pushed her behind him, drawing his sword as he did. “Nice try,” Zawati said. She walked in the room rather confidently. “You are to join the trial tomorrow. For fraternizing with the enemy,” she said as her eyes glanced amused over Imani.
“No!” Bakari hissed. “You are the enemy!”
“Is that what she told you? Between you and me, she might be right, but unfortunately your father quite likes me.” She smiled and then stood aside as guards came into the room and dragged the Prince and Princess away.
All night long Imani, Jaha, and Jaha’s child had been standing in water, slowly losing their strength as the water cooled their fire. Jaha was sagging from trying to keep her daughter from the water. Now they were even wearier and still standing in water while Bakari was chained to the floor, seething as he glared up at his father and the Water Dragon. “Well? What do you have to say for yourselves?” Zawati asked sounding bored.
“I do not answer to you.” Bakari hissed.
“Very well. You accept the charges then?” Zawati asked.
Bakari shot her a glare and then looked up at his father. “Father, I speak to you. Zawati is your enemy, not us. She is the one that organized all of this in order to take your throne. She has been working independently of the rest of them. They are not our enemy, but she is!”
“He is just jealous that you remarried.” Zawati told the king quietly.
“The child has nothing to do with this!” Bakari pleaded with his father.
“But you do,” the king said dispassionately, and Imani could see Zawati’s hand caressing his and knew she was using her power to convince the king. Imani’s eyes narrowed. If she died, she died. But she would do so before she allowed Zawati to continue her designs.
“Execute them,” Omarion said. The guard looked hesitant. The kingdom overall felt respect for their rulers, and it did not sit well with them to kill their prince. Imani was shaking.
“Imani,” Jaha whispered. “You don’t have to do this. We are ready.”
“We are,” Imani said. “But I am taking her down with me.” She was done with all of this. She allowed her rage to surface. She drew her fire from deep within and burst from her bonds. In one jump she leaped to Bakari’s side, knocking the executioner out of the way. She freed Bakari’s hands with a particularly hot burst of fire. Then she looked up with fire in her eyes at Zawati, who for the first time looked scared.
“You will suffer the fate of the rest of our kin you have killed, Zawati.” Imani hissed and then, roaring, she leapt at Zawati and knocked her backwards off her throne. The two girls began wrestling on the ground, hissing at each other.
Bakari leapt off the ground and ran toward Jaha. He eyed the chains and then grabbed the axe from the now unconscious executioner. “Keep still,” He said and started hacking. Eventually the chains came loose and he carried the now weak Jaha from the water. “Can you move?”
“Yes. I am taking the child and the others away. We will go into hiding until it is decided otherwise.” Jaha said, blinking as she gained strength. “You are brave, prince.”
Bakari stared at her in surprise and then dipped his head. “Thank you.” She smiled and then fire surrounded her and she flew from the area with the child.
Meanwhile there was a scream from one of the girls and he turned, panicking. Fire and water were swirling around both of them, and then without warning Zawati transformed and roared in full reptilian form. Imani looked up, and then hissed. “Get your father away!” Imani yelled at him. Bakari ran to his father and dragged him toward the edge of the room while Imani held Zawati off. Then, once she saw Bakari was out of the way, she transformed as well. The right wall of the palace and the ceiling were blown away. The roars were deafening, and now water was pooling beneath them.
Fire filled the air as Imani attacked Zawati and Bakari coughed as smoke billowed around them. The ground shook as Zawati fell to the ground. She lashed out, however, and knocked Imani back with her tail. Imani grunted as she hit the ground, but both of them rolled back up and roared at each other. Then each lunged but Zawati knocked Imani to the ground beneath her. Blood pooled beneath the two of them, but Imani struck out and bit down on Zawati’s neck. Zawati roared and struggled but Imani did not let go.
Zawati scratched and flailed, but slowly grew weaker and weaker and more desperate at the same time. At long last Imani flung her head and the Dragon’s spine broke and Zawati fell to the ground in Elf form, dead.
Bakari stood and ran over to where Imani was. She was still in reptilian form, but he could tell from here that her wounds were great. Blood was pooling beneath her. She rolled onto her stomach, and a puff of warm air from her snout hit his face. He blinked. “Imani?” He asked. Her eyes blinked sadly at him and then they glazed over as she let out a deafening roar. “Imani!” He yelled.
Without warning, she transformed back and when she was in elf form again she was lying in a fetal position with her body wrapped around a red egg. Slowly he moved forward and kneeled in front of her, his fingers reaching out and brushing across its smooth surface.
“Is it--?” He started to ask and her eyes blinked open. They were drained and looked hollow as they moved to look at him.
“Yes.” Her voice came out weak. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” He asked concerned as his hand traced her face where one larger gash bled openly. “You saved my life.”
“I said I wouldn’t leave until you wanted me too.” She said quietly. Her arm moved slightly and cradled the egg closer.
“No! You aren’t dying!” Bakari pleaded. “You’re just hurt. We’ll get a healer. We’ll-.”
She shook her head. “I gave my last to make sure the child was safe.” She said and then closed her eyes.
“Take it to my mother.” She whispered.
“Imani, please, how am I supposed to raise a child without you?”
She did not answer. Instead she whimpered as she pushed the egg toward him. He slowly reached out for it but then moved closer to her instead. He cradled her head in his lap as tears fell from his eyes. He could now see the large wounds that Zawati had torn across her body and he let out a sob. “Please Imani.”
Her eyes opened to meet his for the last time. “I love you,” she whispered and then her grip loosened as her body crumpled in his arms. Then her body turned to ash, and a gleaming ruby was left behind. The King approached him from behind, holding Zawati’s heart, now a sapphire, in his hands.
“I am sorry.”
Bakari glanced up at him. His father looked shaken and numb. “All is not lost. Not yet,” he said as he brushed the newly fallen ashes off the bright egg that held hope for new life inside.
Over time the palace had been rebuilt. It stood grander than it ever had before. Bakari smiled down at a boy and ruffled his hair as they stood ready to enter the throne room.
“Are you ready?” He asked.
The young boy, now twenty, glanced up at him. He smiled. “I think so.”
Bakari chuckled. “You will be fine. It will be better than mine at any rate.” The doors opened before them. “See look, there is your grandmother.” The boy’s eyes darted to the figure of Jaha standing at the foot of the throne where King Omarion sat waiting for them. “Come on.” Bakari said.
They traveled up the aisle, and ended up standing in front of Omarion; Bakari bowed his head, but the boy bowed a little deeper. Omarion stood and took a small crown from the pillow Jaha held. The boy’s cheeks flushed slightly as she smiled at him. Omarion then placed the crown on his head.
“I give you the new prince: Kito, Son of Bakari.” Kito grinned in innocence as he stood before the realm. Everyone was cheering.
Everyone, that is, except for a young girl. She seemed only a few years older than Kito. She was eyeing the boy with tears and anger in her eyes. A delicate wreath of leaves rested on her head, but no crown.
In her hands she cradled a deep sapphire.
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