Part Eleven: Truth Through Lies
Of all the possibilities she had considered, of all the different scenarios she had gone over, she never once thought about the queen. When she first arrived in Zakiah Adara, the queen was so soothing, made her feel so welcome. She was the one who was finally able to calm Devona and make her see the truth of the situation. How could Oriana be the one challenging her? She placed the guardians in charge of Devona. She let her know that it was not her fault that Arthur and Thea died. She made her feel safe.
That safety net was gone. Now she was treading water alone, desperately gasping for air.
Queen Oriana wouldn’t even look at Devona. She simply nodded to the Council and took her seat. She elegantly folded her hands in her lap. How could she be so calm? Devona shook her head and looked back up at the Council.
The man with black hair spoke this time. “Queen Oriana, will you please state you reasons for this challenge.”
“Her actions aren’t those of a Princess. She constantly puts herself first, forgetting that this is a war. There have been instances where this has cost lives.”
Devona could only shake her head. Was she really going to hold the deaths of Arthur and Thea against her? After she had comforted her? After she explained that it was all a part of fate? How could she?
“I didn’t mean for them to die,” whispered Devona.
The woman with white hair heard her. “Even if you didn’t mean for it to happen, it still did, and you are still at fault.”
This was going to be a long trial.
“It is not yet time for you to defend yourself. Please be quiet and wait your turn.” The woman flipped open to a new page in her book. She glanced at it, and then looked at Devona. “Since the queen started the challenge, we have been researching you and your antics. Each of us has a test for you. It may be a physical test or just a question, you will find out as we go. Please, step to the podium.”
Devona bit her lip as she slowly stood up and walked around the table. Once at the podium, she looked up at the Council. Not once did she bother to look at her guardians or queen Oriana. She now had to pretend that they weren’t there. This was about her. She had to prove to them, and to herself, that she was the Princess. Though, there was only so much proving she could do. In truth, if she wasn’t the Princess there was nothing to be done. However, she had to try.
“We will start the challenge,” said the woman with white hair. All of the Council members turned to the man with brown hair. He leaned forward on the bench and looked intently at Devona. Or, she assumed he did, it was hard to tell with white eyes that were so blank. What in the world would he ask her?
“Recently,” he said, “on the Second Constellation, you were captured by a follower of Mushin with the ability to create illusions, is that correct?” Devona nodded. “How did she capture you?”
“Um, she disguised herself as Eve.” Immediately as Eve’s name left her mouth she regretted it.
“Eve? Who is this?”
“An old friend of one of my guardians. She saved my life so we stayed at her camp for the night.”
“Did you trust this woman?”
“No, not entirely.”
“Yet, you left yourself alone with her?”
“I didn’t mean to—”
“You seem to not mean to do a lot of things. Answer me, were you, or were you not, alone with her when she kidnapped you?”
She knew exactly where this was going. “Yes.”
“Yes, I was alone with her. I stepped outside on my own, thinking I was safe with my guardians only five feet away in a tent. I had no idea that an illusionist would show up and kidnap me right out in the open.”
“Had your guardians not told you to never go out alone?”
“But you went out by yourself anyway?”
She felt like such an idiot. It really was her fault that she had been taken. The whole time she hung there she blamed Hansah, but she could really only blame herself. She shouldn’t have gone without them, she knew that! Akki had yelled at her not that long before about it. She almost died because she didn’t listen, and almost cost them the war.
“Yes, I did.”
Each of the Council members shook their heads and wrote something in the book. Hopefully there would be an upside to this. However, she didn’t see how there could be.
“Devona, we have a test for you and your guardians. Please step into that room.” The man nodded toward a door on the opposite side from where the Council had come in. This door was black, not a good sign.
She didn’t argue, she nodded and walked toward the door. She could hear the footsteps of the guardians following behind her. Even now she refused to look back at them. It would be best to get this trial over with quickly so she could just go home.
Her hand fell on the handle. She didn’t want to open the door. Anything could lay on the other side, maybe even her death. However, there was no way out. She took a deep breath, and opened the door. It was nearly pitch black, except for one candle on the far wall. They slowly entered the room, spreading out to cover all angles of potential threat, all eyes focused on the candle. But when the door shut behind them, the light disappeared, leaving them in darkness.
“In this challenge, you must find your guardians in the darkness,” said the brown hair man’s voice from the emptiness. The task didn’t sound too difficult, but knowing that this was supposed to be a challenge, Devona was sure there was something else to this.
“Kestrel?” asked Devona.
“Over here,” her voice echoed from every direction. Her eyes tried to focus on even one of the voices, but it was impossible. There was not even a glimpse of light shining from under the door. Devona could not rely on her sight for this challenge, but her ears and whit. She closed her eyes tightly and thought hard. Over time, she realized that each voice that replied to her sounded slightly different. Some voices even said something different entirely. She smiled. Hopefully she could actually impress the Council.
“Yes.” She sounded annoyed. Perhaps the guardian didn’t hear what Devona did.
“What’s the city that never sleeps?” asked Devona.
Kestrel sighed, “Do I have to answer that.” Already Devona knew where she was, so she started toward the voice.
Devona put out her hand, walking blindly. Within a matter of moments, her finger tips graced Kestrel’s shoulder armor and she was ecstatic. Immediately she put her hands at her side and went for her next target.
“What?” asked a million voices.
“What is the best TV show?”
“Wasn’t that a trick question?”
She started making her way toward him. “Go on.”
“You said it was a tie between Lost and Teen Mom.”
She touched the cool metal of the armor over his chest. She laughed, and turned again to the darkness. Only one last one to find.
“Yes,” he said.
“Who is the hottest guy in the world?” She really couldn’t help herself when she gave him the answer to that question. He didn’t understand it then, and she was sure he still had no idea what it meant.
“Uh, Zac Efron?”
She touched his arm, landing on the leather of his gloves. She jerked at the sensation. She was not expecting it to startle her. Even as she jerked, she couldn’t help but smile. She took their test, and she passed. Maybe, it wouldn’t be as hard as she thought.
“Please, leave the room,” said the man again.
The door opened, and the candle relit on its own. The four of them left the room and returned to their positions.
Devona found her spot at the podium and she stood tall and proud, no longer feeling defeated by their questions. The smile on her face told it all. The Council quickly wrote away in their books. Finally they looked back down at her.
“Well done, Devona. Sometimes it takes mistakes to learn. However, not all mistakes can be taken as a learning experience. They can get people killed,” said the woman with white hair. “Now, the next question.”
The members now all looked at the man with black hair. He leaned forward and laced his fingers together. Devona had a feeling this was going to be a tricky one.
“Tell me Devona, are you close with your guardians?” he asked.
Uh oh. “Yes, I would say so.”
“Just how close are you?”
Her lips squeezed tightly together. How could she possibly answer that? Kestrel didn’t like her, Kai kissed her last night, and she thought she was in love with Akki. Probably not the best set of answers. She figured it was probably her best option to just play dumb.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand the question.”
“Are your relationships with your male guardians closer than they should be?” the man asked he narrowed his eyes are her.
“Was it not just last night that you were kissing your guardian, Kai, in the flower garden?”
“What!” snapped Kestrel.
This was going to hurt. Not only did she have to admit to the Council what happened last night, but also to Akki.
“Maybe,” said Devona, somehow hoping that would be a sufficient answer.
It wasn’t. “Yes or no, Devona.”
She sighed, “Yes.”
“I can’t believe this,” whispered Kestrel.
“But that was just a onetime thing. I was really worried about today, and he came to comfort me. It just kind of happened. Are you sure there isn’t some sort of drug in those flowers that makes people kiss?”
He stared at her, not amused, “I can guarantee you that there is not.”
“Oh,” it was time to stop acting like a fool. The dumb blonde routine was not going to work on the Council. She sighed again and waited for the next blow.
“You were told by the queen that you were not to have a romantic relationship with your guardians, is that correct?”
“You know why, correct?”
“Then why would you continue to pursue them? Do you realize that every step you take, closer to one of your guardians, is a step farther away from another Princess? These rules are in place for a reason, and that reason is to keep all of the Princesses alive until the final battle. Do you understand that?”
“Yes sir.” She sighed and lowered her head. Never before had she been so ashamed of herself.
He sat back in his chair. “Last night was not the first time something like this has happened, was it?”
Oh no, this is not good at all. “No sir.”
“What?” asked Kestrel.
“When was the other time?”
Devona wound her hands together. She didn’t want to tell them about that. But it was obvious they already knew. She had no choice. Devona lowered her head and spoke, “In the dungeon on the Second Constellation a man by the name of Arma offered to help us out, myself and Akki. He would only do so if I kissed him. Akki agreed to it before I was awake, so…I tricked Akki into kissing me before I could kiss Arma.”
She felt horrible admitting it. Not only did everyone know who she had kissed, but why both kisses happened. Akki also knew that it had nothing to do with a second kiss, she was just using him. The wonderful memory was already flaking apart like burnt pieces of paper fluttering in the wind.
“So you not only kissed him, but took advantage of his position as a guardian to get what you wanted.”
Devona closed her eyes tightly. “Yes.”
She heard the pens scratching across parchment. There was no way out of this one, she could feel it, she had failed that test. When she reopened her eyes and looked up at them. She saw that the Council was now looking at the woman with cherry red hair.
She leaned forward. She looked the friendliest of the bunch, but that really wasn’t saying much.
“Princess, if I may call you that,” the woman paused, throwing her hair over her shoulders. “Your compatriots, the Princesses that had come before you, have all had some manifestation of their powers before they retrieved their Star Points. How have your powers shown themselves?”
Devona was blown away by that question. “Uh, I was told by Queen Oriana that I would not have any powers until I found my Star Point.”
“This is only partially true. Already your powers should be near the surface. There must have been something that let you know you were a Princess.”
There must have been something, but every time she was in danger, nothing special happened. She had always been saved by a guardian, there was no need for powers. She hung from a chain and waited to die, and still no powers. Nothing!
“There was one instance, when I first got here. Mushin attacked the palace, and I tried to stop her, but I wasn’t really myself. Someone else was speaking through me.”
The woman nodded. It seemed like a good sign for Devona. That was until the woman’s eyes landed on her silver bracers. Immediately Devona followed her gaze to look at the blue dragon etched in sapphires.
“Were you wearing those bracers?” asked the cherry hair colored woman.
“That was not your power. It would be similar as to how your female guardian’s bracer allows her to create fire. Your bracers belonged to the Blue Dragon. A part of her is still in them, so she was speaking through you. That has nothing to do with you being a Princess.”
If only she could actually remember what happened that night. It was all blurry, only a few words and images made it through. Of course, the deaths of Thea and Arthur stuck out like white on black.
“Were there any other instances?”
After a long pause, Devona sadly admitted, “No.”
They all wrote again. The cherry hair woman looked at Devona and nodded one more time. They all then turned their attention to the blond man.
“Hello Devona,” he said. He actually seemed warm, not what she was expecting at this point. “Being a Princess means that you will undoubtedly have a huge effect on the world. How have you already changed Zakiah Adara for the better?”
No way. What was this? A beauty pageant? He really was going to hate the answer that she would give, but it was the truth. There was no holding back now.
“I haven’t. If anything I’ve made it worse. My arrival here in Zakiah Adara triggered a war. People have died, on both sides already as a direct result from me. The only good I have done is in staying alive, which I’m apparently not that good at either.”
“You can’t think of one thing?”
She thought of the children. Their hungry faces, starving before her, the faces of liars.
“I tried. I tried to help some starving kids, but they ended up being an illusion. I chose the wrong moment to try and change the world. I may not have been able to do anything yet, but I will.”
“Three months in,” said the woman with white hair, “and nothing good done for the world.”
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware I had to clock a certain amount of service hours.”
It felt as though the woman was glaring at her, but she couldn’t tell. Honestly, she really didn’t care at this point. She was ready to get out of there and go to bed, wherever that might be from now on.
“Thank you Devona,” said the blond man. She nodded at him. As she did so, the Council members all looked at the woman with white hair. She was still staring harshly at Devona.
“There is one last thing, one final test. As a Princess you should be able to talk to the Lord. Can you?”
“Uh, do you mean, like, praying? If that’s the case, then I talk to him all the time.”
She shook her head. “No, that is not what I mean. You should be able to not only talk to him, but hear him as well. You should be able to have a conversation with the Lord.”
A conversation with God? There were many times, more than she could count, where she wished she could talk to him. Still, every time she spoke to him it was only a one sided conversation. She was pretty sure that the Council didn’t have that in mind.
“No, I can honestly say he’s never talked back. However, I have prayed for things like passing a test and he fulfilled those prayers. Does that count?” She cringed seeing the unamused looks on their faces. Maybe she should have prayed that she would pass this.
The Council wrote again, slammed their feathers down, and snapped their books shut. Each of them looked grim, it couldn’t be good news.
The woman with white hair spoke again.
“Not only have you been extremely selfish as a Princess, but you place yourself before all others. So much so that you haven’t even done one good thing for the world since you arrived. This is not an attitude of a Princess. The smallest most insignificant ant should come before her. On top of that, you disobey direct orders. Not only the ones given by your guardians, who are there to protect you, but the rules that we set up as well. The rules are in place for a reason and disobeying them cannot be taken lightly.”
With every word, Devona felt the invisible weight on her chest growing heavier and heavier.
“What really concerns us is that your powers have not manifested at all. By now there should have been some sort of sign, anything. On top of everything else that we discussed today, I cannot possibly think that you are a Princess.”
Her heart stopped. This couldn’t be real.
It was her turn to defend herself, if they wanted her to or not.
“I’m sorry, I really am. I’m a teenager that was thrown into this war with no previous experience at all. I’ve had a good life. My parents are still together and happy, I get along with my siblings for the most part, and I haven’t had anyone close to me die. The closest I’ve been to war is seeing images of it on TV. Yes I am selfish, I’ll be the first to admit that, but I’m trying to fix that, I really am. I tried to do something good and it back fired on me, you cannot hold that against me.”
The woman with white hair sighed and shook her head. “Devona, you have no signs of being the Princess. A mistake was made. You may go.”
“Go where?” asked Devona.
Devona shook her head in protest. “That’s it?”
The woman with white hair looked past her toward the guardians. “Please, if one of you would be so kind as to take her back.”
She was heartbroken. This really couldn’t be. It was worse than she had expected. The life she had been trying to so hard to grow accustomed had just been ripped from her soul.
She looked back at the guardians. None of them had moved. They were each still looking up at the Council, not believing their orders either. Akki was the first to get to his feet. He finally looked over at Devona and it broke her heart.
It was the first time she had seen him since she admitted about the kisses. He looked pissed. But he also looked confused. He stepped toward Devona, opening the wooden gate. It would only be right that Akki would be the one to send her back to Earth since he was the one that brought her here. Devona lowered her head and looked away from him. If she looked at him any longer she knew she would start crying.
He stopped at her side and watched her. It was too hard to look at him; she kept eyes averted from him. Akki looked away from her, up to the Council.
“You’ve made a mistake,” said Akki.
“What?” whispered Devona.
“I assure you, Black Wolf, no mistake was made. She is not a Princess, and she must be taken back to the Earth,” said the woman with white hair.
“When I first met her I had a vision. I saw her using her Star Point. It was Devona and she is a Princess.”
Devona was shocked. It felt great to have him stand up for her. Yet, at the same time, she worried about him. If they didn’t like his obtrusion, what would they do? Could they make him not be a guardian anymore?
“Have you had a vision before?” asked the woman.
“Then how do you know it was real?”
“I know because I haven’t had one before. I wasn’t looking for the Princess in her, the Princess in her found me. Devona is a Princess, I assure you, that much is true.”
“He’s right,” said Kai. Devona looked back to see that he was now on his feet as well. “I had the same vision when I met her. She’s the Princess.”
Visions? They really had visions that she was the Princess? Already she was more convinced of her divinity than before.
Kestrel rolled her eyes then got to her feet. “Yeah, I had the vision too.”
“This is absurd,” said the woman with white hair. “The challenge is over. Devona is not a Princess, no matter what any of you think you saw. She is not worth even being considered a Princess!”
“Where is the other side of the argument?” asked Kai. Devona looked at him again. “Sure Devona has screwed up. She’s selfish, makes strange requests, she’s always trying to flirt with myself and,” he pointed at Akki, “him.”
Devona sighed, “Thanks Kai.”
“But she has a great heart. Like she said, she’s not used to war, she’s trying cope. You haven’t seen how people have looked at her when they’ve known she is a Princess. Her presence alone brightens their moods. She’s so caring and would cry if she did step on that ant you mentioned. I cannot imagine anyone else more worthy of being a Princess.”
They were defending her, just like her guardians should. Even after they had been disbanded, being told not to protect her anymore, they still fought for her. Even Kestrel stood up for her. It warmed her heart and helped put her soul back together.
The woman with white hair sighed, motioning for Akki to take his seat again. “Please sit down. If you will not accept that she is not the Princess, then we have no choice but to do one final test.”
Akki went back to his seat and the guardians all sat down together, in one fluid motion. Devona couldn’t help but feel that they were mocking the Council. She couldn’t think about that though. This final test scared her. It seemed like the Council really did not want to put her through it, and if she had a choice, she wouldn’t want to do it either. However, if this was going to prove to them that she is the Princess, then so be it. She was not ready to go home yet, no matter how much she missed it.
Last night showed her that she could not take any more sleepless nights, nor, did she want to.
“Please, move to stand in front of the door.” The woman with white hair motioned to the black door they entered for the challenge. She gathered her courage and slowly walked toward the door. This was it, whatever this test was, if it did not go well then she would be going home. Sure, her bed would be warm, her parents would be thrilled to see her, but she now wanted to fight for this world. When Devona reached the door, she turned her back to it, and looked up at the Council.
Each member looked at the woman with white hair, and she was staring at Devona.
Devona’s heart jumped into her throat. This was going to be a bad challenge, whatever it was. If it was a test of her nerves then she had already failed.
Suddenly, everything in the room flashed white. Devona was blind for a few moments. She rubbed her eyes until her vision came back. Once it had, she wished it hadn’t.
In front of the Council bolts of lightning flashed. A cool cloud of white misted in the air, falling away to the floor. Inside the mist was a large white creature that looked as though it had stepped out of some Asian painting. Its claws dug at the stone floor, and its mouth opened to roar her name. Or at least it sounded like her name.
It was a dragon. Not like the classic ones from European fairy tales. It was long and skinny, sharp blades down its back, fur growing from its chin, and iridescent scales etched on its white skin. Its green eyes burned down on Devona. They were very strange looking: green on the outside and yellow on the in. Its pupils were two rings, one inside of the other with the center of its eye being yellow.
There was no way that a dragon could be standing in front of her, yet there it was. It was glaring down at her, its tail slowly moving side to side. Devona couldn’t bother looking at her guardians, but she was sure they were equally as shocked.
The dragon also had a purple marking on its left cheek. It was one line with two drips down, looking almost like wet paint, but she wondered who honestly would take the time to try and paint a dragon.
Inspection complete, the dragon roared again. This time, it took a step toward Devona. She panicked and backed up again the wooden door. Maybe she had been right before, maybe they were going to kill her off so she couldn’t tell anyone about Zakiah Adara.
She gripped at the wood as tightly as she could, but there was nowhere to go. The dragon took up too much room, and there was no way she could out run it.
It raised its right claws and slammed it toward Devona. She was trapped under scales and sharp claws. She cried out, more in fear than pain, yet she knew that the pain was soon to follow. She was pinned to the door behind her with nowhere to go. The creature opened its mouth, showing her its jagged teeth lining the gums like sharks.
That was the last thing she remembered.
The White Dragon?
They actually called Blanca herself to face Devona?
Akki didn’t know how to react, there was no way they could not protect her from a Spirit. Blanca was one of the only three Spirits left in Zakiah Adara, and she was sided with the Council. They had taken away any chance the guardians had of keeping Devona safe. Now all they could do was sit, watch, and wait.
The dragon’s claw closed tightly around Devona’s body, and she went limp. Blanca turned her head to get a better look at the body. Devona’s head hung awkwardly, her blonde hair falling over her face.
Was she dead?
“What did you do?” He couldn’t stop himself. Seeing her like that hurt more than he thought it would. His only reason for existing could be gone.
Devona’s eyes opened.
She snapped her head up to look at Blanca right in the eye closest to her. He was relieved, but it was not over yet. Deadly claws still encompassed his battered Princess.
“Could you let me go?” asked Devona.
She sounded so calm, how could that be?
It was then that he noticed her eyes had the same fierce look they did the night Arthur and Thea died. He was sure that the bracers must be glowing again as well, were they not hidden behind layers of scales. Was this simply the Blue Dragon speaking through Devona, or was this something else?
The dragon ripped her talons from the wood door, allowing Devona to slip free. She landed on her feet and dusted off her skirt. He had been right. The sapphires were glowing, burning against silver.
The woman with white hair nodded toward Devona. “It is good to see you, Princess.”
Devona sighed, crossing her arms over her chest. “Why did I have to be the first Princess? I hate doing these stupid tests.”
“Wait, what?” asked Kestrel.
Devona walked over to stand in front of her guardians. She was definitely not the girl they had come to know. She stepped with confidence and assurance that had left Devona not too long after they arrived at the mountain. She put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. “You may have guessed it already, but I’m the powers that Devona has not yet unlocked.”
“They said that was the bracers,” said Kai.
She glanced back at the Council, then back at her guardians. “Yeah, they’re a bunch of liars. Every time the first Princess is here, they like to put her through some tests. It’s all really just to make me come out, and show what you guys have been doing wrong up till now.”
“So this was all a set up?” asked Kestrel.
“Unfortunately, yes. They even get Queen Oriana in on the act.”
She looked over at the queen who looked extremely ashamed. As many times as he had seen the queen in his life, Akki had never seen her look so defeated. The Council, they took advantage of her. He couldn’t help but turn his attention and glare at the woman with white hair.
“We have to make sure that you are all prepared for the coming months, as the war will get more intense. Now, you know what has been going wrong and, hopefully, how to fix it,” she said.
Devona shook her head, “Yeah, boys, that means no more making out with me.”
Devona watched the events unfold through a haze. Was this how she had felt back during the attack on the palace? Or, was this something different? Then, she hardly remembered what happened, and maybe that had something to do with the cloud that now hung over her eyes.
Someone else was in control of her body. The woman claimed to be her powers, but how could powers be an entirely different person? All Devona could do was peek through the mist and hope to understand all of this.
She gasped and tried to look around, but she couldn’t move. The voice was coming from behind her. It was a voice of another female. A voice that sounded so familiar, yet, she swore she had never heard it before.
Who are you?
She couldn’t move her mouth so the most she could do was think. As crazy as it might have seemed, she knew that this woman would be able to hear her.
“That is not important. What is important is that you learn from this experience.”
What? Do more good deeds, no more kissing the guardians, learn from my mistakes?
“No, don’t trust the Council. They are a political power like any other. They have their own objectives, and those do not involve your survival once the five years are over. Please remember that.”
What do you mean?
“They see you as a catalyst. Once your use is over, that’s it. Time to let go and move on. Unfortunately, you were right in your fears before. They do not like to let those who know of Zakiah Adara go back to Earth. They either remain here or they die. Your family should get used to the idea of you not being around.”
“I’m sorry Princess, but I have to go. They know something is up. Please, just know that I will be here for you no matter what. Be strong.”
“Your guardians and I will always protect you. I’m sorry for making you think otherwise.”
A loud roar made it through the haze, but this time it did not frighten her. Even through the cloud she knew that the dragon was on her side. Was it she who had just spoken to her?
There was no time left to ponder it. The cloud disappeared and she was left in darkness.
When Devona awoke, she was back in her room again. Tucked so comfortably beneath the covers, she didn’t want to move. But when she saw Akki seated in the chair next to her bed, she couldn’t help but sit up. Her ribs hurt and immediately she regretted the quick movement. Being held down by a dragon’s claw had hurt more than she had anticipated.
She looked over at Akki. He was watching her, and that should have felt nice, except that he looked pissed.
“I’m glad to see you’re awake,” he said.
“Yeah, about that. What happened exactly?”
“You don’t remember?”
“Not really. It’s all kinda hazy.”
“Your powers manifested when the White Dragon attacked you. Turns out the Council knew all along that you were the Princess. They just wanted to show us what we were doing wrong. A lecture more than a test,” he explained.
Devona bit her lip. It royally ticked her off that they had the audacity to fool them like that. Devona thought she was fighting for her place in Zakiah Adara, when it was all just a lecture?
Devona tried to let it go. She took a deep breath and prepared to ask her next question, knowing it would sound odd. “Did the dragon say anything?”
He shook his head, “She’s a dragon, Devona.”
“I know but…never mind.”
“Kai and I were lectured about being too close to you.” Uh oh, she knew this was coming. Though they both knew he had no right to be mad at her, he would be. He was going to tear into her because she let Kai kiss her.
“Listen,” she sighed, “what happened between me and Kai—”
“I really couldn’t care what happened between you and Kai. What I do not appreciate is how you manipulated me.”
That had not been what she had been expecting. “What?” she quietly asked.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “You admitted to the Council that you tricked me into kissing you. Quite a shock when I thought I was doing that as a favor for you as a guardian.”
She couldn’t help but defend herself. “If I remember correctly, you wouldn’t do it as a guardian, so you did so as a friend.”
“Then you still took advantage of my friendship.”
“A friendship according to the Council shouldn’t exist.”
He slammed his fist down on the arms of the chair. She had never seen him so livid. “Damn it Devona! Just shut up and listen.” He leaned closer to her and she leaned farther away. “I do not like being used. More than that, I don’t like how easy and how carefree you were about admitting that you did so.”
She felt horrible, “I’m sorry Akki. I was mad at the time. You made a deal involving me that I had no say in what so ever. I wanted to…”
“Get revenge? Don’t you see how screwed up that statement is? I was trying to save your life. I fought with Arma about it, but you had no idea about that. I was not only trying to protect you but your honor as well.”
Now she was getting angry as well. “Maybe I don’t need you protecting my honor!”
“Then I would have let him kiss you without a fight!”
It hurt. She had no idea that it would hurt this badly. It made the pain in her ribs seem like nothing. He had a point, and she knew that. As soon as she admitted it to the Council she knew. She had used him, and she felt absolutely terrible about it.
“I’m really sorry,” she whispered.
“After all I’ve done for you, risking my life and placing myself farther into Mushin’s hand—I just…” He paused and looked away from her, shaking his head. “I expected more from you. More respect.”
“I do respect you.” Her voice barely made it out of her throat. Already those tears that were so common here were welling in her eyes. “I appreciate all that you’ve done for me, this whole time.”
She shook her head. Devona gripped the blanket tightly, wanting to rip it apart. “I wasn’t totally lying. Ever since Mark, I thought about who I would kiss next. I didn’t want it to be Arma. I had hoped it would be someone I wanted to kiss.”
Maybe she said too much. She was sure that went way over the lines set up by the Council. She was seconds away from admitting to him that she had wanted to kiss him. Still, she took advantage of the situation to get what she wanted. There was no way out of that.
He sighed and got to his feet. Devona looked up at him, wanting to beg him to stay. The look in his eyes told her there was no way to do that. The day after she had realized that she loved him would be the end of any chance she ever had with him.
Her heart shattered.
He bowed to her and left the room.
It was over. She won the challenge but lost her heart.
Queen Oriana met them the next morning at the barn where their horses were being kept. She was petting the chestnut horse’s nose when they came upon her. She barely acknowledged their presence, continuing to caress the horse.
“Animals are simple creatures,” she whispered, “give them food, shelter, and attention and they will give you their heart.” She looked at Devona, “People are a little harder to win over.”
The four came to a stop at her side. Their queen looked at each of them, smiling profusely.
“I’m very proud of all of you. Devona, you did extremely well in the tests, proving that you can learn from your mistakes. You were so sorry that you hadn’t been able to help anyone yet, that really touched me. Keep that in mind and do the best you can.”
Devona nodded. She never thought that she would hear that she had done well. Especially not from the person who supposedly started the challenge.
“I was asked by the Council to come here,” she said, as if she were reading Devona’s thoughts. “They wanted me apart of this challenge. They wanted me to see the struggles you four had to go through and how well you would compensate. It broke my heart that you thought I was questioning you, but it was for the best, I hope you see that.”
“Yes, Queen Oriana,” said Devona.
The queen looked from guardian to guardian now. “You have each done a wonderful job protecting the Princess. It warmed my heart when you all stood up for her. You all have a long road ahead of you, and you must trust each other if you are going to succeed.”
They all nodded and Queen Oriana looked back at the horse. She touched his nose once more, and then turned away from him.
“Things will become much more difficult from here on out. Mushin knows who each of you are, and she has been prodding you to find your weaknesses. It is a guarantee that she will use these against you in the coming months, years even. Unfortunately, the Ninth Constellation has fallen to Mushin. There is currently genocide of the White Dragons taking place there. The Black Dragon army is already moving its way across the Eighth and Seventh Constellations. There is no doubt that they will be looking for you.
“Please, do be careful. Rely on each other, even if you don’t want to.” She looked directly at Kai when she said that. “Each of you was chosen for a reason. You may not yet understand what that reason is, but fate has a hand in this, as does the Lord.”
“Yes my lady,” they all said.
The three guardians turned away from her, leaving Devona watching the queen. Where were they going so soon? As she turned to leave as well the queen caught her wrist.
Devona looked back at her with questioning eyes.
The queen looked very serious, “Devona, these rules were put in place for a reason. However, the Council has no control over fate. I wish I could tell you to let your feelings go and know that it would happen, but it will and cannot. One cannot stop the fate of the heart.”
Devona was desperate to ask her questions, but the others looked back.
“Devona! Don’t pester the queen,” said Kestrel
The queen let go of Devona’s hand, and motioned for her to follow the others. How did she know? Had she spoke with Kyrielle, or was she that easy to figure out?
She felt as though she were being pulled away from the queen. Without another word, Queen Oriana turned away from her and left out the other side of the barn. Once she was gone, Akki and Kai went back to retrieve the horses, leaving Devona still totally confused.
“Why did you guys leave?” asked Devona.
Kestrel glared at Devona, crossing her arms over her chest. “Because she said goodbye. Did you not hear her?”
Kestrel shook her head, “Things are very strange now. The war must be right around the corner.”
“I’m sorry you have to leave so soon,” said another voice.
Devona turned to see Kyrielle, in her same tour guide disguise standing behind them. She smiled and moved to stand next to Devona. She looked up at the angel, wishing she could question her more about the fate she had spoken of. Was it that the fate of the heart was different from normal fate?
Instead, she had one last question that she could ask the angel before they left.
“Kyrielle, can the White Dragon speak?” she asked.
Kyrielle paid no attention to Kestrel, who was about to answer for her, instead she smiled and nodded. “Yes. Blanca can not only speak, but she has a human form as well. Why? Did she speak with you?”
Devona shrugged, “I think she did. When my powers took over I was in a haze. Some woman spoke to me and told me that she and my guardians would always protect me. I assumed it had to be her.”
Kyrielle placed her hand on her chin, “It could have been. Or it could have been someone else.”
Kyrielle smiled, “Questions for another day Princess.”
The boys returns, horses in tow. Kestrel sighed, and looked over to see that their boat was almost finished loading. It would not leave without them. All those visiting must vacate the Constellation at once. It was not always a tourist or pilgrimage destination. There were times when no one was there except the Council, Kyrielle, and her husband.
Kyrielle reached out and touched Devona’s shoulder. Her palm was so warm it almost burned Devona’s skin. Yet, it felt nice. It was so comforting that she no longer worried about what Queen Oriana said or Akki being upset with her. She only nodded and turned away from the angel. The others said their goodbyes and followed Devona to the boat.
War was ahead.
As hard as it had been until now, it soon would be much worse. More people would die and she could do nothing about it. Not yet anyway. The powers taking over reminded her that she did have a purpose in being here, and she did have a way to fight. She would fight. She had to.
Devona stood on the deck of the ship as it left for the Seventh Constellation. Even now she could see Kyrielle waving to them from the dock. An angel, trapped in the world of the living, when she belonged with others of her kind. An angel ordered around by the Council, just like the rest of the world. An angel who was married to a fallen angel.
Devona waved at Kyrielle and she was sure that the angel saw her. She hoped this wasn’t goodbye forever, but at the same time she never wanted to go back. The Council’s tests were for nothing and, no matter how the queen tried to defend them, Devona knew better. They had their own objectives and, just like the woman’s voice told her, those objectives did not involve her once the five years were over.
More than likely, she would never see her family again and that broke her heart.
Devona made her way below deck, Kestrel behind her. There were no more arguments from the Princess, no more plans of escape, she knew she had to suck it up and let go. This was for her own good, whether she liked it or not.
“Maybe we should go to bed,” said Devona.
“We just got here,” replied Kestrel.
“I know, but, I’m ready for this week to be over.”
Kestrel actually smiled, “I couldn’t agree more.” She opened the door to their room and motioned for Devona to enter. “After you, Princess.”
No longer did she hate the sound of that word. It was who she was, and she was glad to know that no one could take that away from her.
It was the perfect moment to confront Kai. Even though he told Devona that he didn’t care that Kai kissed her, he did. Not quite as much as her tricking him, but it still did upset him. Both men failed at their task to see her only as a Princess and that had to change.
They handed the horses over to the stableman on the ship, and left to go to their room. It was always awkward around Kai, but for once Akki actually had something to talk to him about. Even if it were topic neither of them was going to like.
“We have to heed the Council’s warning,” said Akki.
Kai didn’t even look at the taller man. “Oh yeah? Which one?”
“We can see Devona only as someone we have to protect. There can be no more feelings involved than those alone.”
Kai laughed, “Yeah, this coming from the guy who kissed her first.”
“I made a mistake and I’ll admit to that. I allowed my feelings for her to get in the way. I tried to be her friend and not just her guardian.”
Kai shook his head, “You couldn’t be someone’s friend.”
Akki stopped and glared at Kai. The younger guardian continued for a few steps, and then looked back at him. Kai sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. Akki knew that Kai did not want to have this talk, he didn’t want to either, but it had to be done.
“We have to step back. No more interactions than need be. This means no more kissing.”
“I just think you’re jealous.”
Akki curled his lip at him. “Kai, this has nothing to do with me. I’m not just telling you to back off. I’m saying we both have to. There is no way that we can make it through continuing the way we have. It has to change, for both of us.”
“I won’t do it for you.”
“I don’t want you to.”
“I won’t do it for Devona, since she won’t want it.”
“But, I will do it for the Council. I will respect the rules that they established, knowing that there is a reason for each of them. The question is: what’s your reason?” Kai knew that Akki did not agree with many of the Council’s decisions.
“I am doing it for Devona and for the queen. She asked me to step back, so I will.”
“How noble of you.”
Kai turned away from Akki, going back on his own and it gave time for Akki to think. Could he handle this? Immediately, he thought of Ana. She was the most beautiful woman to him: pale white skin, ruby red eyes, long blonde hair…
Yet, he knew it was true. He knew it back on the Second Constellation, though he fought to deny it. Ana was no longer the most beautiful woman to him. In her death she left a void, leaving him without a reason to live. Devona gave him that reason, and it was far beyond a Princess and a guardian.
However, he would not break his vow. He swore to protect her, but that went for all the Princesses. If she would come between him and protecting another Princess, then he would have to break the tie he had with her.
Eventually, he followed after Kai. The ride would not take too long, but it would take him back to where it all started. To a place he never wanted to go to again.