Part Fifteen: Fate
As Devona left the chapel, with the real Kyriakos at her side, Akki was being moved from his holding cell. He looked out at the sunset one last time. Kestrel and Kai watched from the crowd of people who were cheering for Akki’s death.
Kestrel finally realized that all this time she hadn’t forgiven Devona for Thea’s death. That she had never apologized for trying to kill Devona. That she hadn’t been trying too hard to keep her safe because deep down she hadn’t wanted to.
Kai was actually upset about this. Not about the fact that he wasn’t going to kill Akki, but that Akki was going to die. He was the best guardian they had, a strong fighter, deep down he was a good guy. All the years he spent chasing after the man who killed his family, he never got to know him. Now he knew that it was true: it was not Akki who killed them, but Mushin. Kai actually didn’t want him to die.
Devona moved quickly through the crowd, trying to find her way to Akki. High above the crowd was a balcony that extended into the courtyard. The railings had been removed, leaving only the poles of the roofing as safety barriers. Guards stood at both ends of the walkway, dressed in full armor with weapons ready. Some stood at the edges with cross bows, as if they knew that Devona was going to try and stop this.
They would kill a Princess to kill him?
Kyrielle watched from the tower where the fake Kyriakos was held. The distain that she would receive from the Council was heavy on her mind. She more or less handed Devona her greatest power, something she should find on her own. Such an intervention was strictly forbidden. But, she couldn’t just stand by and let Akki die. This tragic love story reminded her too much of her own.
Akki was led down the path, laid out in blue carpet. Two guards walked behind him, pushing him along with the sharp ends of their spears. Behind them walked the executioner, dressed all in black, with a black hood over his head. Akki wanted to look into the eyes of the man that would finally do him in, but it seemed that would not happen.
When Devona got close to the walkway, two guards grabbed her. One on each arm, they pulled her away. She fought desperately against them, feeling the sword hum at her side. She had to stop this! Somehow…she had to!
But the guards wouldn’t let go or loosen their grip. She could only watch in horror as he was led to the large stone at the end of the walkway. Akki was forced to his knees and into a bow so that his head lowered was lowered over the stone.
“No!” Devona screamed as the man in all black stepped around the guards to face Akki. In his hands was a large scythe. This man might as well have been death himself.
Her heart stopped. She remembered the last time her life ended right before her eyes, so long ago and over something that was so trivial now…
She had been talking to Rose at the top of the stairs. They were in-between classes, catching up on the latest gossip. Devona took a different route that day, needing to stop by the office before her next class. This meant going downstairs, something she never would have done any other day.
The stairs were empty, rarely used by the students rushing to class. So no one saw how or why Devona fell, she wasn’t even sure what happened. Only a few stairs down, but her dignity fell even more.
It took a huge plummet lower when she saw a couple just around the corner. The guy had the girl pushed up against the lockers, kissing her. It wasn’t just a kiss though. Their whole bodies radiated passion and sex. It was enough to make any girl jealous. After a closer look, she realized that it was her boyfriend making out with the girl.
Devona jumped to her feet and ran. She forgot about the pain in her arm from the fall. Her heart hurt more anyway.
What was wrong with her? The first boyfriend she had is cheating on her after a month? Not just that, cheating on her with her best friend’s sister? Someone she had known for years.
Devona didn’t make it to the office. Instead, she darted into the nearest restroom. She ran into a stall and locked the door. She turned around and leaned against the wood, staring at the toilet in disbelief. Devona covered her mouth with her hand, fighting back tears.
At that moment, she questioned love.
Was it even real? She may not have told Mark that she loved him, but she had thought about it. All those nights, staring into each other’s eyes, all of them were lies. First love seemed to always bring first heart ache. She wasn’t good enough for love, or at least that’s what she had thought. When she first came to Zakiah Adara she believed just that. Even as she liked the boys and hoped for a future, she never found it serious. The closer she got to Akki the more afraid she was. It shook her badly when Kyrielle told her that she knew Devona loved Akki.
He made her believe. He showed her that you don’t have to be perfect to be in love, and that if you truly love someone, then it doesn’t matter what they’ve done in the past as long as they try to better themselves from the ancient history. That love is pure and innocent. That it finds you even if you don’t want it to. They weren’t supposed to be together, but love wouldn’t listen. The fate of the heart is unbendable. Love is unbendable.
She loved Akki and she could not let him die.
The sword burned against her thigh. Devona looked down to see a blue glow radiating from the silver. Was this Azul’s power from within the sword? The bracers on her arms hummed, shaking the guards’ hands over them. Suddenly, both men let her go, shaking their hands in pain.
Devona was stunned. “What the…?”
It's okay Devona, I’ll take care of things from here.
She could only stare as the glow left the sword and entered her. She felt at home, finally. Nothing was missing, she was one. The man in black was looking at her. She stepped away from the guards, locking her eyes on that man.
“I order you to let him go!”
Akki looked down at her as well. He shook his head, but she paid him no heed. Kestrel pushed her way through the crowd toward her.
“Devona!” shouted Kestrel. “What are you doing!?”
“Princess!” She looked toward the end of the walkway to see the king still dressed in white. The man must have thought himself so pure… “We have already discussed this. By decree of the Council, this man must die.”
The man in black raised his scythe high above Akki’s neck.
Fury blazed through her entire body. It was too great and exploded out of her. The force was so great that is knocked the people standing around her away and a few to the ground. It left her, not as Devona, but as someone else. She was someone who died thousands of years ago and did not belong in this realm anymore. Yet, she stood there, fighting for him once more.
The guards lowered their crossbows. People in the crowd gasped and moved away from her. Kestrel stopped and stared. Akki finally looked down at her and his jaw dropped.
There were few differences. They looked a lot alike. But this woman was older and slightly taller. Her hair was longer than Devona’s and darker. Her eyes were aqua with two empty circles in each eye for pupils. Long blue hair fell about her shoulders and into her eyes. She had aqua striped markings under her left eye, as the White Dragon had. She shook the hair away from her face and looked back up at the king.
“By the Spirits,” he whispered. “Lady Azul,”
“Let him go,” she said.
The king marched down the walkway. The guards quickly moved out of his way, all except one. The man with the scythe still held it high in the air, still ready to end Akki’s life.
“Put that down!” shouted the king. The king grabbed the back of Akki’s shirt and pulled him away from the chopping block. Both he and the king stared at the man who was still armed with the scythe.
But the man in black stood still. The crowd was silent as they watched in fear. Now they all wanted the man to let Akki go. The man lowered the scythe and the crowd cheered. Akki breathed a sigh of relief. That was until the man spoke.
Her heart froze. That tone. She had heard it so many times, too many times. It was a woman’s voice and not a man’s.
The woman in black shoved the king with the blunt end of the scythe, knocking him from the walkway. The guards rushed over, but it was too late. The elderly man hit the ground hard, too hard. A younger person would have been able to take the fall, but his bones were old and crippled. He died on the ground in front of his people.
Azul rushed toward the walkway just as the woman in black threw off her robe. The crowd gasped in terror as large black wings were exposed to the setting sun. Akki could only watch as that crimson smile shone at him one last time.
“Mushin!” Azul cried, but it was too late.
Mushin raised the scythe high and swung.
With blinding speed she swung the blade into his chest. With one clean cut, blood splattered across the walkway and even into the crowd. The cut was deep. Azul could only stare as he fell to his knees and then to the ground. He stared out at her with cold empty eyes.
Akki was dead.
This couldn’t be...
Mushin slammed the end of the scythe into the ground, cheerful over her work. Then she looked down at Azul.
“It’s a shame he had to die, but I’ll do whatever it takes to hurt you.”
“Why?” whispered Azul, her voice was cracking.
“I told you why.”
Azul ripped Kyriakos from her side, to which Mushin laughed.
“Oh please Azul! You’ve just awaken. Do you really want to fight me?”
“Do you really have to ask that?”
“Fine.” Mushin threw the scythe to the ground and leapt off the stage. She landed near the king’s body, and simply stepped over it. A few guards rushed toward her, but she swept them away with a wave of her arm. “Let’s continue this, shall we?”
Azul lowered her sword and ran toward Mushin.
She turned to see Kai moving toward her. They had been separated turning the execution and were just now finding each other. The crowd was running now, and Kai was struggling against the surge. Kestrel moved with the crowd to meet him half way.
“Did you see that?” asked Kestrel.
He nodded. “Yes, Devona is Azul.”
Kestrel struggled to keep her composure. “Kai! He’s dead, he’s really dead!”
He grabbed her shoulders. “Kestrel! We’ll worry about that later. Right now, we have to help her!”
She looked back to see the two fighting through the crowd. Mushin had acquired a spear and the two were exchanging blows, and along with clanks of metal came tossing of bolts of energy. Mushin’s in the form of black fire and Azul’s in a streak of blue.
In all her wildest dreams, Kestrel never thought she would see one of the great dragons in front of her. Not to mention one that had died thousands of years ago. Seeing Blanca’s dragon form in front of the Council was one thing, but this…what did this mean? Was it the bracers again? Or was Devona really Azul?
“Kestrel! Come on!”
Kai was already pushing against the crowd and Kestrel finally followed suit. That was until she was pulled to a stop by a passing guard.
She looked up at the man and gasped.
“You have to leave this city as soon as possible,” he said.
The general from the blockade looked back toward Mushin. “This city is full of Black Dragons. How else do you think she snuck in undetected?”
“Why are you helping us?”
“Because I don’t want you to die, now go! Get your Princess and get out of here! I’ll help you as much as I can.”
Utterly confused, Kestrel could only watch as the man took off with the crowd. Seconds later he was gone in the bustle. Twice now he had let them go. Why did he even care if they were dead or alive?
She shoved away her questions and followed after Kai.
Azul was so angry it was hard to focus. She used to be better than this. She knew she was better than this, but with Akki’s body only a few feet away it was hard to think. All she saw was red and emptiness. All she could feel was the ache in her heart of losing him again. How dare she…she would pay!
Mushin laughed and launched another ball of fire at her. Azul took the air to avoid it, sending her own blue lightning at the demoness. Mushin continued to laugh as she shielded herself with her wings, frustrating Azul to no end.
“I told you!” shouted Mushin. “It’s too early! Your powers are too young! There is no way you can defeat me!”
Azul landed on top of the roofing of the walkway. Why hadn’t this power come to her earlier? Then she would have taken out Mushin before she killed Akki. Why hadn’t she known that it was Mushin standing on the walkway? Had she been so blind by her fear that she forgot that Baskis was involved? How could she let her kill him, again? However, it was all just too little too late.
She looked down at the sword. All the times she had fought Mushin came smashing back to her, so many of those battles ended in draws. Alone their powers were too equally matched. On top of that, her powers being so new she was weak, just as Mushin continued to point out. Without the other Princesses fighting with her, there really was no chance. But, Azul would not give up. Never.
Mushin’s laughter stopped. Her body shuttered. She reached around and tore the arrow from her back just as Kestrel fired another one.
Mushin roared. She didn’t even see Kai running at her with his flail until the spiked ball hit her in the face. Azul leapt down from the roofing. This was bad.
The demoness’ eyes turned black. She shot a fireball from both of her hands, one hitting each of the guardians. Kestrel was thrown against a wall and Kai hit the ground hard.
She would not lose them too!
Azul ran toward Mushin and leapt toward her. Mushin looked back just in time to see Azul shoving the sword into her back. Mushin gasped and pushed back at Azul with her wings. Azul withdrew the sword and fell to the ground.
Mushin stumbled around to face her. Azul kicked Mushin’s feet out from under her. Azul struggled to her feet and limped toward Mushin. Azul stood up tall over the demoness. Mushin glared at her as Azul raised her sword and then shoved the blade into the demoness’ heart. Instead of being in pain though, Mushin just laughed. This only infuriated Azul more. She pushed the sword deeper, but it made no difference.
“You know this won’t kill me!” laughed Mushin.
“I know, but it’ll put you out of commission for a while.”
A wave traveled from her hand and through the sword. Mushin’s eyes went wide and then vacant, cold and empty. Death would not know Mushin long and when she awoke she would be even angrier. However, there was someone else who would not be so lucky.
Azul pulled out the sword and dropped it to the ground. It was decorated in a meaningless garnish of blood that had come far too late. She could feel the darkness behind her and turned to the raised pathway. He still lay there, alone.
Azul took a step toward the walkway, still having no idea how to get up there manually. Instead, she took a swift leap that she should have done as soon as she awoke. Now, all she could do was look down at him and regret every moment.
She fell to her knees, already getting herself covered in his blood. She didn’t care. She reached out a shaky hand and touched his still warm cheek. It had been not that long ago that he still lived for her. He had been willing to die for her…but not like this.
She cried out in pain and pulled his body to hers. She cradled him in her arms like a child, wondering what she could have done differently. She thought of times before. Happy times, bad times, and times like this that she hoped would never come again. Yet, here she was, cradling her Black Wolf once more. She hated this war, but she hated Mushin even more.
She felt their presence before she heard them. She snapped her head to the side to see them walk up slowly behind her. She pulled him even closer to her as they stopped quite a distance away from her. Both pairs of eyes stared at her in wonderment and she couldn’t blame them. She wasn’t supposed to exist. Dead, murdered years ago, that was the story they knew. But they didn’t know the whole truth. Few did.
“Are you really Devona?” asked Kai.
She couldn’t help but scoff at such a question. It was so silly, yet so appropriate. Instead of answering, she looked down at Akki’s blank face. She couldn’t help but be curious about how he would have felt about her as well.
She pushed the hair out of his eyes, that was still just slightly too long for his face, and pulled his lids down over his eyes. Then, she looked back at Kai and Kestrel. The two actually took a step back from where they had been before. She sighed, and gently placed Akki back onto the ground, hating the fact that she had to do so. This city was supposed to be dedicated to her. If they knew how important he really was, they would give him the burial he deserved.
Kestrel sighed, “We don’t have much time. I heard there are many Black Dragons in the city, and though I don’t doubt your ability to handle them—”
“No, you’re right, we must go,” said Azul. They looked even more shocked, and she wondered if it was because she sounded like Devona or because she didn’t sound like her at all. She looked at Kai, “To answer your question, I am and I’m not. I’ll try my best to explain it to you, but I’m afraid it will break all sorts of rules.”
“Okay,” was all Kai said.
“Now we must leave and return to the First Constellation,” said Azul.
Both guardians were taken back by her words.
“But,” said Kestrel, “we still have to find your Star Point.”
“No.” She looked down at where the sword still lay next to Mushin’s shell. “That is my Star Point.”
Mushin was still laughing when she woke up. She sat up quickly and hardly noticed the figure perched on a railing near her. When she finally looked at Baskis, her laughter stopped, for a few moments anyway.
“What did you do?” asked the fallen angel.
“What I wanted,” replied Mushin with a smirk.
“You ruined the perfectly laid out plan!”
Baskis dug her nails into the wood, white eyes bearing down on Mushin. Still, Mushin did not react with fear. She smiled.
“Your plan did not take into account that the Star Point was here. I knew as soon as I saw Kyriakos that your plan would never work. Devona would have found the sword either way, as is fated, and Azul would have wiped out all my followers. Your plan would have left them stronger. My plan took out their second largest threat to us.”
“Why did your people not attack the others when they had the chance? It was what I ordered—”
“Perhaps my followers are obedient, but only to me.”
Baskis shook her head, “This will not be forgotten Mushin! Lucifer will not be happy!”
Mushin sighed and got to her feet, brushing off the dirt from her legs. “Well, tell Mr. Almighty that next time he has a plan, deliver it to me himself.”
“But you won’t speak with him.”
“Exactly. This is my war, mine, he gave it to me. Every time we fight we have come closer to winning. I’ve told you, I know what I’m doing. Have faith Baskis.”
“You’re on the wrong side of heaven for that line.”
The fallen angel disappeared in a black flame.
Mushin looked over at where the king’s body still lay. No one dared to come back, not while she remained there. The king was just another casualty. She didn’t feel for him, she never did over a White Dragon’s death.
The other body, that one did bother her. But, if someone were going to kill him she rather it be her. It took something away from Azul and took away the chance for someone else to do him in. She had been so close this time, so close to having him for herself again. Though, he never was totally hers, she had to always share him with her.
“Maybe next time.”
Mushin left the courtyard, leaving only the remaining the corpses of the fallen.
“Wake up Princess.”
Her head was cloudy again, wandering in a haze of confusion and doubt. What happened? It couldn’t really be that she saw Akki die…could it? Already she could feel her stomach turning, threatening to retch. Instead, she forced her eyes to focus, and through the haze she saw a woman.
The woman looked remarkably like Devona, but with long blue hair and the same weird eyes that Blanca had.
Devona gasped and immediately got to her feet.
Now she could focus and she realized that there wasn’t much to focus on. Everything around her was a dinghy off white, everything. There was nothing else in the universe but her and the woman standing in front of her.
The woman shook her head and sighed, “I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but you left me no choice.” Her voice was softer and lower than Devona’s. It was only then that Devona noticed that this woman looked slightly older than her, perhaps in her mid-twenties.
All that didn’t matter though. Already Devona could feel her anger boiling over. “What are you talking about? Who the hell are you? What happened to Akki?”
The woman’s face became very serious. “You know what happened to him, don’t make me repeat it.”
“Oh God,” whispered Devona. It was true. All of those same feelings hit her again at once. Anger, confusion, hatred, sadness, regret, loss…
She fell to her knees, turning away from the woman. It was impossible to avoid her gaze though, considering they seemed to be the only two people left in existence. Devona clasped her hand over her mouth as she fought the urge to vomit. How could it be? He really died? She didn’t try hard enough. She should have found another way! She shouldn’t have allowed the guards to stop her. She should have pushed through them, and found a way to take out the archers…
“You can stop the ‘should haves.’ I’ve already gone over all those.”
Devona glared up at the woman. “Who are you?”
“Devona, you know who I am.”
“No, obviously, I don’t.”
The woman knelt down to meet her eye to eye. Devona wanted to look away, being this close to her felt like looking into a mirror. Instead, she stared at the woman, begging for answers to the unknown.
“I am the Blue Dragon, Azul.”
“Why are you…” Devona paused and looked around at the dinghy white, “here?”
“I’m here because you are me reborn.”
Devona leapt to her feet with Azul close behind.
“What? There’s no way.”
“Why not? Is seeing not believing?”
“But…I don’t believe in reincarnation.”
Azul laughed, “Well, you better start believing because you’re living it.”
“That’s not possible.”
Azul began to walk a slow circle around Devona, which seemed to get smaller with each pass. “Think about it. Why else would you have been chosen? Because of your astounding fighting skills? I think not. All of the Princesses born in the time of war are dragons reborn. It has been that way since this war began. Why? Because only a dragon has the ability to kill Mushin. A dragon can only kill another dragon.”
Devona took a deep breath, “That’s right…Mushin is half dragon and half fallen angel. Does that mean a fallen angel could kill her?”
Azul shook her head. “No, they can’t because of the dragon blood. I, also, cannot kill her…yet. Not without the powers of the others. We are too weak in our reborn state. However, all of us dragons that were living at the time took an oath that we would never hurt each other, which includes killing. All of us took the oath, except for Mushin. She hadn’t been born yet. I knew keeping her alive was a mistake.”
This was a lot for her to take in all at once. Akki was dead, her head was being haunted by a five thousand year old dragon, who apparently was reborn as Devona, and she was stuck in a world with nothing but this crazy blue woman. Not the best way to wake up.
“Your humor is starting to come back, that’s good. Or are you just not accepting his death?”
Devona glared at Azul, “What do you mean?”
Azul stopped walking. “Devona, it’s been weeks since I took over and Akki died. I’ve had quite a hard time tricking the guardians into believing that I was you. I’ve tried to fall back, but you won’t let me. You don’t want to face that he’s gone.”
Devona shook her head, “He can’t be.”
Azul sighed, “Devona, he is. It’s happened before. Not only are the Princesses reborn, but so are the guardians. I’ve loved him in many lifetimes, my Black Wolf.”
Devona stomped toward her alter ego. “Don’t you dare call him that!”
Azul raised her hands in defense. “You don’t understand the play on words. They named him that, not only because of his coloring, but also after the Spirit that had been a great warrior. The first Spirit killed by Mushin, and my husband.”
“Akki is the Black Wolf, one of the Spirits you heard about. We were both killed by Mushin. Similarly to now, she killed him first, just to get to me. She didn’t even want him dead.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Azul’s eyes got very serious, “When Mushin was born, the Black Dragon decided it was best to give the child to a Spirit to watch over. I felt it best she be taken care of just the same as her parents: in eternal slumber. However, the other dragons did not agree with my plan, so they gave her to the one person they knew I could never take her from: him. He was a wolf, so of course he took her in, raised her as his own. I tried to deal with it, but I never trusted her. I almost loved her but I never trusted her. She proved me right, one night she came to our room and killed us both. She then spread the same pain onto the rest of my family. The dragons who were killed by her are the ones reborn as Princesses.”
Devona was silent. It was beginning to finally make sense. All those looks Mushin gave her, how she seemed so familiar when she saw her, the hatred that existed even upon their first meeting. It was a five thousand year old grudge that seemed as though it would never end.
“She still hates you,” whispered Devona.
“She always will. She’s not good at letting go. But neither am I.”
Devona could see that this was only causing Azul more anger. So she was about to try her normal tactic of changing the subject…but Azul beat her to it.
“Are you ready?” asked Azul.
“Can you accept that he is gone, move on with your life?”
She could feel her chest caving in on her lungs. No, she was no where near ready. She rather stay in the dinghy white, alone or with Azul, than return to reality. To face her guardians, the two who didn’t seem to care that he was going to die. Then again…she would never be ready for it. She would have to go back eventually.
“I guess I have to,” she whispered.
“Come on.” Azul reached out her hand toward the pale Devona. “I’ll help you.”
She stared at her hand, and then looked back up at those aqua eyes. Devona narrowed her eyes. “Was it you who spoke to me during the challenge?”
Azul shook her head, “No, that was Blanca, stepping way out of line. She’s lucky that the Council didn’t notice. Now, stop stalling, you have to face this eventually.”
“It’ll hurt…” Devona said very ‘matter of factly’.
“Of course it will, but there is no way around that. I know you’re worried about Kestrel and Kai but trust me, their reactions are far different than what you’re expecting. Please Devona, I can’t keep living as you. This is your life after all. Go and live it.”
Devona took a deep breath and then put her hand in Azul’s. She smiled at Devona and everything turned black.
Reality slipped back into life.
She opened her eye, staring at the wood panels hanging over her bed. It was new to her. For so long she had been locked away in her own mind, hiding from the truth. Yet, here it lay before her, boring, brown and lonely.
He was dead.
Devona sat up in bed, gasping for air. Her fingers touched her cheek to feel the tears that she didn’t know she had been crying. All she wanted now was for the white void to come back. She didn’t know how she could possibly face life without him. Her stomach lurched and twisted upon its self, wanting so badly to reject the food she didn’t remember eating. What should she do? What could she do?
She needed water.
Her hands pushed fiercely against the mattress, trying to gather the strength to stand. But as her feet felt the floor, her knees wobbled and gave away. She crashed hard against the rough wood. The slabs became her new safe haven and she didn't want to leave. If she just lay there, staring at the floor, nothing bad could happen. She would never have to see someone she cared about die again. She would be free to live in peace, alone, and sad.
Her peace was not granted. Having heard the crash, Kestrel swung open the door to find Devona where she lay. The woman who had been distant to her for so long now stood above her with concern in her eyes. Devona cracked, dropped her head and bawled.
Kestrel fell to her knees and pulled Devona into her lap. Devona's fingers grasped against cool leather armor, seeking comfort, and finding none. Now that she knew the tears were falling she didn't even bother fighting them. They at least brought some solace to the hole in her heart.
"Devona," whispered Kestrel, "it's okay. We’re here for you."
"He's dead. Kestrel, he's dead!"
She cried in her guardian's arms, wishing she were in the arms of another.
Kai looked up from the railing to see Kestrel on the deck.
“Devona?” asked Kai.
“Sleeping, finally. I guess she passed out. It seems the shock finally wore off. His death is hitting her pretty hard now. We really shouldn’t leave her alone.”
Kestrel leaned against the railing so that she and Kai were side by side. He looked out at the ocean shrouded in moonlight and sighed. “That sounds familiar.”
“His tactics worked, when we listened to them.”
“I always thought you came up with that too.”
She shook her head. “No, he and I just talked more than you did.”
Where were they to go from here? Currently, they were on their way back to Seventh Constellation. After another journey around the forest to the north, which Devona now be allowed to pass through due to her new found powers. They would head for the Sixth Constellation. From there, they could catch a ship directly to the First Constellation. They were way ahead of schedule, which gave them a lot of time to think.
“So,” said Kai, “should we still call him Ulric?”
Kestrel smiled, “I guess that’s only right. It’s what he wanted to be called.”
Kai turned to lean his back on the railing. Kestrel looked up at him. The young prince seemed to have matured a lot on the trip. Even though he spoke of Akki’s death with little empathy, she knew he that he cared. Maybe he was finally starting to see the truth.
“Why didn’t he like to be called Akki?” asked Kai.
Kestrel shrugged, “I’m not sure really. I always just assumed that it attached him to his old life that he didn’t want to think about.”
“I guess that makes sense.”
“But, he always let Devona call him it,” whispered Kestrel.
“Yeah. Remember how shocked we all were when he didn’t correct her? He also let Queen Oriana use that name.”
She laughed a bit, “Not sure that really counts. He didn’t have much of a choice there.”
The waves crashed against the boat. Kestrel looked over to see white caps rolling off into the black abyss. The light of the moon danced across the ripples of the ocean, reminding her just how unstable their world was.
“It’s just you and me now,” whispered Kai.
“What the hell are we going to do?”
“Be the best guardians we can be,” replied Kestrel.
“Will there be more guardians?”
Kestrel shrugged, “There are supposed to be ten in all, but I doubt those that are dead will be replaced.”
“Seven at the most then, shit.”
“That’s if we make it. Mushin knows that it’s just you and me now. I doubt she is going to hold back.”
“But, I don’t understand. Why didn’t she kill us? It would have been so easy when we attacked her.”
Kestrel shook her head, “Azul was heavy on her mind. She just wanted us out of the way, I guess.”
Suddenly, Kai changed subjects without warning.
“I saw you talking to that man, the general.”
Kestrel froze. She wasn’t quite sure why, but she felt guilty about their encounter. He hadn’t done anything except help them, but it felt wrong. Why would he help? Why the hell would he care?
“What did he say?” asked Kai.
“Just that there were more Black Dragons in the town and we should leave.”
Because I don’t want you to die, now go!
Kestrel nodded, “That’s it.”
Kai sighed and shook his head. “I don’t trust that guy. He’s a Black Dragon general and he’s letting us get away? Why do I have a feeling there is something more to that?”
“Probably because there is or at least there has to be.”
Kai turned toward the ocean again. He kept moving around as if he were trying to get comfortable. It had been a long time since they had a talk like this. Even when it was just the two of them they rarely spoke. She always felt that she was too mature to handle him, the same problem she had with Devona. She was quickly learning her lesson.
“What are we going to do when we get back? Being so ahead of schedule, we are going to have a lot of free time on our hands,” said Kai.
“Who knows? I’m sure they’ll think of something for us to do.”
Kai pushed himself away from the railing, giving up on comfort. Kestrel watched as he headed toward the door to the inners of the ship, but he stopped just before it. He looked back at Kestrel with a concerned look.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing, I just realized that I might actually miss him. I have no purpose in life now, and that purpose was disappearing when he was still here too. I can’t believe the man who fought so hard to save the Princess can be the same man who killed my family.”
Kestrel leaned against the rail. “That’s because he’s not.”
“I know that, now anyway.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Man, I feel like shit for how we treated Devona. Accusing her of…”
“Yeah, me too.”
“She really would have done the same for us?”
“I think so. Maybe with a more rational thought process, but she would have fought.”
Kai nodded, “I’m glad she’s the Princess.”
“Me too, now go check on her after all this blabbering about her. Someone might be on to us.”
Kai looked around at the empty deck. “Who?”
“You never know.”
Kai smiled, “You coming to bed soon?”
“Alright, you got a key? I’m going to lock the door again.”
“Yeah I have one.”
“Okay, night Kestrel.”
She heard the door shut as she looked back at the ocean. Mist from the waves brushed against her cheek. She hadn’t realized just how much Akki’s death affected her until that moment.
She remembered first meeting him, how he saved her from her own depression and engagement. Their travels together were always fun, even though he rarely laughed. Kai’s constant death threats, and attempts at killing Akki. Those always kept her on her toes. But, it was Akki leaving her with Thea’s family that changed her life.
There she started to study, realizing she wanted to become a scholar. She read every book she could, which drove Thea nuts.
Thea…It still hurt as if she just died moments ago and not months. This pain must have been similar to Devona’s now. The poor girl was forced to lose her spark, just like Kestrel had wanted. No more whining, no more flirting, no more silly jokes that often made Kestrel cringe…and even laugh. Why had Kestrel wanted things to change? Now they did and she hated it.
They were months away from the First Constellation, and only weeks away from their previous life. Would things ever be the same? Would Devona be able to smile again? She hoped so. She prayed so. Kestrel gave up and headed to bed as well. Thinking was hurting too much. It was time for the numbing relief of sleep.
She didn’t talk to them, she didn’t want to. All she could hear were their stories of how they knew how she felt. Perhaps they did, but they really didn’t. They didn’t understand what it was like to watch the man she loved be killed right in front of her, when she had the power and ability to stop it. A power that came too late.
If she had transformed only a few moments earlier, if she had found the sword sooner, if something would have been different Akki would still be alive. They would be celebrating now instead of mourning his death.
Devona opened her eyes to find that she had fallen asleep. She felt guilty, able to rest when he was…probably somewhere she didn’t want to think about. Was that what happened after he gave his soul to Mushin? Queen Oriana pardoned him, but did that pardon his soul as well? Something told her that even the queen of Zakiah Adara did not have that power.
She sat up on the bed, the coarse sheets scratching at her thighs as a reminder of the pain she was in. It was all around. It felt like those glass shards from her first night there were falling on her again. Every step hurt as if she were walking on hot coals. She still wore his shirt that he had given to her that night at the inn. She pulled it tight in the front, trying to feel him someway, somehow. But, there was nothing.
It didn’t even smell like him anymore.
Hours passed like minutes and weeks like days.
Before she knew it, they were traveling across the Seven Constellation again, Akki’s home. They went to the north around the forest, the direction to where his real home was located. She knew they would pass by it, but she wasn’t prepared to actually see his aunt again.
Devona locked eyes with the woman. She was outside beating her sheets dry. Hannah dropped the broom and ran toward them. Quickly, Devona turned away, praying that the brown horse would lead her to freedom and hoping the others wouldn’t notice the woman. Seconds later, Hannah was at the fence that separated her yard from the road.
But they didn’t stop.
“Devona!” cried Hannah.
Devona didn’t look, she couldn’t.
Kestrel pulled her horse to a stop, causing the other horses to follow suit. Kestrel turned to the older woman with a stern look.
“May we help you?” asked Kestrel.
“I just wasn’t expecting to see you again so soon.” Her eyes never left Devona. Devona felt like she was on display in a museum and her feet were nailed to the floor. When Devona finally met the woman face to face, Hannah had a moment of clarity. “Where is Akki?”
Devona tightened her grip on the reins.
“You knew him?” asked Kestrel.
Hannah glared at her. “I am his aunt.”
Kestrel gasped, “I’m so sorry. He was…”
“They executed him on the Eighth Constellation,” said Devona. They were some of the first few words she had said since his death. “I’m sorry Hannah.”
She felt it was best to leave out the whole story. There was no reason that Hannah needed to know that it was actually Mushin who killed her nephew. Just knowing that the people there wanted him dead was bad enough.
Hannah’s chipper exterior melted. Her eyes fell from Devona to the grass. There was nothing more they could say, so Devona kicked the horse to go on.
Devona stopped her horse and turned back to see Hannah reaching out to her. Hannah pulled back her arm when Devona looked at her. Even with tears in her eyes, the woman was smiling now.
“I have something for you.”
She took off toward the small wooden housed to return a few minutes later. In her arms was a package wrapped in brown paper. She handed it to Devona and she took it carefully.
“It’s not breakable,” said Hannah. “I just wanted to give it to you next time I saw you. It’s a tradition in our family. I guess it’s meaningless now but…”
Devona pulled the package tight to her chest and sighed. For the first time in weeks she smiled. “Thank you, Hannah.”
The moment quickly ended, and they were on their way to the Sixth Constellation. It was another boat, and more time alone. Kai was always trying to cheer her up, cracking jokes and telling stories, but none of it worked. So instead, the guardians and she just sat in the room, reading or doing nothing.
Devona hadn’t opened the package, she felt it was better that way. It was intended for her when she was with Akki. She was glad she had it but still didn’t want to know what it was. So, it sat at the end of her bed, taking up space, a reminder of what was lost.
The Sixth Constellation came and went with no sign of Kyrielle or the Council. It was better that way. From there they were able to get a boat directly to the First Constellation. The ride would take about two months, but it was better than traveling on land the entire way. It put them back at the First Constellation nine months after Devona arrived. This left three months before the next year. What were they going to do?
As the ride dragged out, Devona finally began to cheer up. With only a week left, she laughed at one of Kai’s jokes. It shocked both guardians. It felt great, to finally laugh again and mean it. It was a release of emotions that she wasn’t used to anymore. It was much better than crying.
She knew that Akki would want her to live and not fade away. The spunk that he cherished and loathed needed to stay alive. Even through loneliness she would find her way. She had her Star Point and two guardians who cared about her and would protect her to the end. She knew that now. It wasn’t just Akki fighting for her, but all of them.
The others might have made some mistakes, but they would fight for her and protect her to the end. They attacked Mushin with out second thought, later realizing how close they were to death. It didn’t matter, not when they were trying to save her. So reckless, but it was what they were meant to do. More guardians may arrive with the coming years, but they had a bond that would not be broken. They had each other until the end.
And they would never forget those who died through their travels.
Arthur, the great warrior, the one who they all thought would be the best guardian. Kestrel told Devona about how all the girls nearly fainted when he entered the palace, except her, the queen, and Thea of course. He had an aura that attracted people of all sexes, with both his good looks and strength. Devona never knew him well, but she would always remember seeing him with Thea. How he tried with all of his might to save the little girl’s life. The great who warrior melted in front of a child.
Thea, the small one, the one they knew should not have been there. She was no more than a child, she was chosen to be a guardian? Fate was harsh and cruel to have picked her. Yet, she embraced it, ready to learn and eager to fight. Devona was amazed by her. Throughout the entire time Devona knew her, Thea was always smiling. The image of her death would be burned into Devona’s memory forever.
Then there were all the people who died fighting against them. They were fighting for their cause, fighting for the end of Devona’s life. Of course she wasn’t upset that they didn’t get their way, but death was death no matter how it was sliced. She had seen them die as well, heard their screams and watched as their souls left their bodies. To where would they go? Where did they want to go?
The King of the Eight Constellation. She never learned his name, but he was the one who ordered Akki’s death. The man died knowing that he had been deceived, that his people would be left without a leader and in turmoil. Even though he was the one who denied all of Devona’s arguments, she still felt bad for him. He was tricked, by a fallen angel, claiming to be speaking for the Council.
Another death was her faith in the Council. They called her to them, and for what? For a test that wasn’t really a test. Their games were meaningless and cruel. They used the world as their play thing, knowing they could get away with whatever they wanted. They took advantage of Kyrielle, Queen Oriana, and Blanca. They were five people who held so much power that their word was law. Their word was the reason that Akki was dead.
The one she first met.
The one who brought her to Zakiah Adara.
The one who pledged his life to her and followed through on it.
He died, not because he didn’t want to fight any more like he claimed. He died hoping that it would make her safe. All the times he told her that he would die for her…she hoped it would never happen. Yet, here she was without him.
Akki showed her what love meant. He taught her to be selfless. It was he that kept her going, even now. The war took so many lives, was it worth fighting? Did fighting matter when all those you care about die?
Yes, because a few deaths were worth it for the world to go on. War was hell, and she would exorcise it back to where it belonged.
The land of the First Constellation appeared from the fog. The dock reached out, beckoning them back. This would be their home for the next three months, until their travels began again. Who would the new Princess be? Would there be more guardians? What would they be like? Would she ever see her family again?
The ship stopped, Kestrel and Kai gathered their belongings. Devona had little to pack, but she left the package out. She held it close to her again. She smelled it, trying to remember what he smelled like. A scent she would never encounter again.
“Let’s go Devona.”
She didn’t know who said it, but she followed. Queen Oriana awaited them at the dock. They were terrified of disappointing her. But, more than anything, they were terrified of the years to come.