Part Sixteen: Hope
Queen Oriana greeted them with a smile.
She took each of them into her arms one at a time. She held onto Devona for a long time, whispering words of comfort to her. Devona only nodded and barely returned the queen’s affection.
They were taken back to their rooms that they had before the journey. Devona stood in her room, staring at the bed she had loved before. She had thought it was so large and comfortable. It was on that bed that she contemplated her thoughts on both Kai and Akki. Then, she had no idea about the road that lay before her and the heart ache that would come from such eager thoughts.
She placed her things next to the bed, and the package on the night stand beside it. Then, Devona left the room. She ignored inquires of the servants, asking if she needed anything: food, water, comfort?
Instead, she left the palace and headed to a place she had been once before. It was lonely and cold with snow on the ground, but it was beautiful. The thin layer was what she had wanted the entire journey but kept missing, the white fluff that didn’t exist where she was from.
The snow was layered over the tombs, hiding the names from her view. But she made her way through them. Her memory brought her right to Arthur and Thea’s graves. They were placed right next to each other, just as they had died. Devona knelt down in the snow. She brushed off the little girl’s grave. Already the lettering was chipping away. So newly gone, and yet, the world was already moving on without her.
She moved over to Arthur’s and cleaned his off as well. It was in better shape. Maybe Thea’s protected it from the harsh weather. She wasn’t sure, but it was nice to be near them again.
“Hey,” she said, kneeling down between the two stones. The graves did not answer. She picked up a hand full of snow and then let it slip through her fingers. “I just wanted to say that…I’m sorry I didn’t get to know you, either of you.”
Only the wind answered.
“I’ve heard a lot about both of you. The good and the bad. Bad was mostly for Arthur, just kidding.” The cold stone didn’t appreciate her humor. “Anyway, this year was really hard. I know I’ll never see either of you again, but I just hope that you’ll both watch over us and help us through this. It would be great to know you both are still there.”
The wind blew past her, sending her hair out behind her. As she struggled to get it under control, she noticed a new stone next to Arthur’s. It was freshly carved, the lettering standing out perfectly.
Her voice choked in her throat.
The stone read:
Ulric Akki, a great warrior and guardian. May he finally rest in peace.
Devona dug snow up with her fingers, trying to stay upright. She had tried so hard to hold back tears. Finally seeing his name there, knowing it was true…she couldn’t hold back anymore.
The tears flowed and she tried to hiccup them back. Her hand clamped over her mouth and her eyes shut tight. He was gone. He was dead and she would never see him again. She had spent their last moments together arguing with him. At least she had been able to tell him that she loved him.
To which he said, “Please take care.”
He never told her that he loved her. She would never know if he did or not.
She lost the fight for composure. Her body collapsed to the snow, not even noticing the cold. She tried to hug the ground, as if that would bring him back. How dare he leave her! How was this going to help? Why would he think that it would!?
She hit the ground, wanting so badly to hit him. Maybe if she had when she saw him it would have changed something. No, it wouldn’t have. He still would have died. At least this way the last thing she had done with him was a kiss. Still…
Devona gasped and sat up. She looked up to see Queen Oriana standing behind the stones. Devona stared up at her, unable to move.
“I thought,” said the queen, “that you would like to know that he will always be remembered.”
The queen stepped around to stand near Devona. Once there she knelt down next to her. Devona never thought she would see the queen so such a human thing, to dirty her dress and think nothing of it. Devona followed Queen Oriana’s gaze back to the stone. It hurt to read his name, so Devona was forced to look away.
“He served his duty well,” said Queen Oriana.
The wind tugged at Devona’s hair. “Where is he now?” she asked, though she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.
Queen Oriana shook her head, “I can’t say. I doubt even the Lord knows what to do with him. A man that killed so many, but yet, was a terrific guardian for this war.”
Devona remembered all the times he saved her. He has risked his life and soul for her. Was it those last days, giving into the darkness that threw him into the pits of hell? What would the Lord take into consideration? Was there even a choice?
The queen got back to her feet and offered her hand to Devona. The Princess looked at it and then at the queen. She smiled and lowered it even more.
“Please, you will catch a chill if you stay out here too long and your guardians are worried about you. Know that no matter what happens, you will always have them by your side.”
“If they live,” whispered Devona.
“Come, don’t think about such things. There are many events that you must prepare for.”
Devona was confused, but finally took the queen’s hand. Queen Oriana pulled the Princess back to her feet. The truth was that no matter what happened Queen Oriana would always be there. Even when Devona thought she had turned against her, she hadn’t. She was a constant figure, immortal. She would not die on Devona like the others had. Kyrielle, she would always be there as well. So would the Council…
As time passed, the snow melted, revealing spring flowers reaching toward heaven. They were so eager to return to the maker that had only just created them. Just like humans. They are no sooner alive and they questioned: what happens next?
What does happen next?
There were many ceremonies and pilgrims coming to the palace. Once a day Queen Oriana made an appearance and blessed young children, swords, and small tokens. It didn’t take long for the people to figure out just who Devona since she was often there. Then, it was her turn to bless the people.
“Princess, it is an honor to meet you!” exclaimed a new mother. She was holding her baby toward Devona with a warm smile.
“That’s a beautiful baby,” said Devona. She didn’t know how to bless the child, at least not how they did in Zakiah Adara. So, she placed a kiss on the baby’s forehead. The woman seemed please and brought the child to her chest again.
“Princess, what is your name?” the woman asked.
She smiled, “What a beautiful name. I will name my daughter after you.”
That blew Devona’s mind. She was teenager, who barely made it out of bed in the morning for school. She was a girl who had a few close friends, and fell in love too easily. She barely knew what war was months ago and now here she stood, a future savior, with a child being named after her. How many more would follow?
One month passed, then another, and finally the third.
Three months in the palace had brought a new perspective. So many followers, so many people wanting them to win, it gave her a new hope. They lost half of the people they started with at the beginning of the year, but the world still had hope. Maybe, they could do this. Maybe, just maybe, they could actually win.
There was a knock at the door.
Devona jerked back to reality. She was standing in her room, in a long white dress. It almost looked almost like a wedding dress, except the swirls of blue that lined the bottom. She was sure that this had belonged to Azul at some point.
“Yes?” asked Devona.
The door opened and Kai peeked in. She smiled at him. The hurt was slowly fading away. She still missed Akki, but she was learning to live again. Kai walked over to stand behind her. He eyed her up and down in the mirror and whistled.
“Damn, you look great,” he said.
“Shut up.” She messed with her hair. It was held high on top of her head with a few flower barrettes holding it in place. This felt more like a prom than a wedding now that she thought about it.
“Ready for your big night?” he asked, wiggling his eye brows. Devona glared at him in the mirror.
“Hey! Come on, it means that the wait is over! We finally get to do stuff again!”
“I’m so excited.” She laced each word with sarcasm.
She sighed and turned to face him. Funny how months ago she had considered him a love interest, now she wondered how that was even possible. Even with Akki gone, she never once thought about Kai romantically since that night in the forest. If she were to move on, it would not be with him.
“What are you worried about?” asked Kai.
“I…I don’t know who the new Princess is going to be. What’s she going to be like? Will she be nice? Will she like me? Will we get along? Will she be able to handle this as well as I did?”
He scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Hopefully better.”
She rolled her eyes, “I’m just worried about the future. More than anything, I’m worried about leaving here.”
She played with the bracers that she still wore, not looking at him anymore. “I feel safe here. I know that Arthur and Thea died here but nothing has happened in the last three months. We haven’t had to worry about avoiding Black Dragons, making it through blockades, coming up with ways to get around Ana’s illusions. It’s been peaceful.”
Kai actually looked a bit sad. “You can’t hide here forever. We have to go.”
“I know that. I just wish we didn’t.”
He opened his arms and grabbed her. She gasped as he pulled her close to him and wrapped her tightly in his embrace. She struggled to breathe and find stability in his arms.
“We’ll make it through the next few days together. I don’t know how much more I can promise you after that though,” he said in a low voice.
She rolled her eyes again, not that he could see.
“But, I will promise that I will try my damnest not to die, alright? I’ll go ahead and make the same promise for Kestrel too.” He pulled back to look down at her. “Is that okay?”
She nodded. “It’ll have to do.”
He let go of her and moved toward the door. She turned to follow after, but still didn’t move from in front of the mirror. He looked back at her.
“Come on Dev! We’re going to be late!” he said
She pointed at him, “Don’t you need to get changed?”
He looked down, realizing he was still dressed in his normal clothes. He gasped and darted from the room, practically leaving a dust trail behind him. She grabbed her stomach and laughed. Even just by being himself Kai made her laugh.
After she composed herself, she left the room.
She walked along the white hallway, lined in gold and laid out with marble floors. Her heels snapped against the cool stone, and she grimaced at the sound. She never would get used to wearing heels or being in such a fancy place.
She rounded the corner to the main staircase. It was where she had talked with Queen Oriana after Arthur and Thea’s deaths. Where Kestrel had threatened to kill her and where Kai and Akki had done their best to save her.
Now, only one guardian stood at the bottom.
Kestrel was in a clingy purple dress decorated small stones. She looked beautiful with her hair loose about her shoulders. It waved about, crimped from usually being in a ponytail. She smiled at Devona as Devona took each step carefully. But as Devona got near the bottom, Kestrel lost her smile.
She moved so that she was standing directly in front of Devona, blocking her path. Devona stopped and waited for Kestrel to move.
But she didn’t.
Devona shook her head, “About what?”
Kestrel sighed and looked down at the ground. What had she done? The guilt on her face even made Devona feel bad.
“I never apologized for the way I acted after Thea’s death. You didn’t deserve that and I’m sorry for taking my anger out on you. Not just that night, but for most of this last year.”
Devona never even realized that Kestrel hadn’t apologized. Perhaps she noticed at the time, but that was so long ago. It was her first personal encounter with death, and it was with one of her guardians. The wall crumbled between them. Now, they stood there as two women going through the same events. Perhaps different sides, but same events none the less.
Devona said nothing, she just hugged Kestrel tightly. Kestrel immediately reacted with a hug as well and pulled her close. This wasn’t awkward like it had been before they split up on the Seventh Constellation. This was peaceful, and natural between friends.
They were finally friends.
They pulled away and turned to see Kai standing at the top of the stairs where he stood dressed in a tuxedo. Devona was surprised how natural is looked on him. He was missing the bands on his forehead and arms again and looked regal. It was easy for her to forget that he really was royalty.
He slowly made his way down the steps toward them. His eyes darted between the two women, smiling the whole time.
“What did I miss? Can you reenact it?” he asked.
Kestrel crossed her arms over her chest. “Kai, don’t be gross.”
Devona laughed and moved passed her two stationary guardians. They watched her as she walked by. She eagerly motioned for them to follow her and they made no protest.
The grand hall was just that: grand. It was huge, golden pillars lined the walls simply for décor. The wallpaper was beige with gold flakes scattered all about. On the ceiling was a painting of angels and other holy beings. She was sure that each of them was someone she knew or heard about. One of them was probably even Azul…
People were everywhere. Talking amongst each other, they didn’t even notice when Devona entered the room. She was quickly pulled aside by a servant who shoved her behind a makeshift sheet of a wall. There, Queen Oriana stood, in a similar dress to Devona’s, except hers was gold at the bottom.
The queen smiled. “Devona, you look lovely!”
“Thank you, I’m glad it fits. I think Azul was probably skinnier than me.”
Queen Oriana shook her head. “No, you look amazing. Now, wait back here until the ceremony starts. Once you hear your name, go out that way,” she pointed the way that Devona had been dragged in from, “and head down the center.”
“What exactly is this? I thought it was just a party for the end of the year.”
“It is, but it’s also your coronation.”
Devona gulped, “My what?”
“Tonight, you will officially become a Princess.”
Oriana smiled again and walked off. In the crowded room, Devona stood alone. Not even her guardians could protect her from this. All of those people were there to see her? To see her accept the role fully? She thought she had already done that. Was there was something more she had to do? The air in the room became heavy and hard to breathe. This was too much.
You’ll be fine. I’m with you.
She didn’t know who said that: Azul, Blanca, or even Akki, or if anyone had said anything at all. Perhaps it was just her mind playing tricks on her. Maybe she just didn’t want to be going through this alone.
“Thank you all for coming,” said the queen from the other side of the faux wall. “Now, I would like to introduce all of you to the reason you’re here, Devona.”
She took a deep breath, trying to gather her nerves. This was only symbolic. She was Princess ever since she was born. She had been fighting as one for the last year and this night would not change or finalize any of that. But…it still scared her.
Devona took slow steps and inched out from around the wall. As soon as she was visible, the crowd erupted with applause. She actually smiled.
She made her way down the center isle. She saw many familiar faces. There was Zen and Esperanza from the port city on the Second Constellation. They were sitting close together, Devona wondered if they were now a couple. She saw Eve with Gliza. That shocked her. The amazon that was disliked by most of Zakiah Adara for being herself came to see her coronation? She smiled at Eve and the amazon nodded.
More royalty was in the crowd, some she had seen, others she had only heard about, and those she had no idea who were. Near the front sat Kyrielle. She looked amazing as ever, even with her wings hidden. In front of her sat the woman with white hair. It might as well have been the whole Council. Why did she have to be there?
Devona ignored the woman and looked up. Queen Oriana stood there with Devona’s two guardians on either side of her. Devona came to a stop, taking deep slow breaths in front of the queen.
“Devona,” said Queen Oriana. “You have seen many things this year, and learned war first hand. Are you ready to fully accept responsibility as a Princess? To fight this war until the very end, even if it cost you your life?”
Her guardians had done just that. Fought long and hard, given their lives. They knew from the beginning what was at stake, and they still arrived to fight. They still fought and would be remembered for their bravery. Could she commit as they had? Was she ready to finalize her purpose?
“I am,” she said with no doubts left in her mind.
Queen Oriana smiled and lifted a small tiara off the pedestal in front of her. She held it high in the air, hovering above Devona. With one last smile, she lowered it to Devona’s head. A tiara…she really was a Princess.
Gently, the queen turned Devona to face the crowd. They all watched with eager faces.
“Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time, I would like you to meet the First Princess of Zakiah Adara. The holder of the sword Kyriakos, Princess Devona.”
The crowd leapt to their feet, clapping and cheering. Devona laughed and waved at the crowd. A Princess, huh? Maybe she would get used to that title eventually.
The crowd dispersed, and reality sunk in again. It was a new year, without Akki. She sat alone at a table playing with the lining of table cloth. Kestrel and Kai were both near by, but they gave her the distance she needed. The room all respected that, all except one person.
“Congratulations Princess. You made it through the first year in one piece.”
Devona looked up to see the woman with white hair looking down at her. The woman smiled and took a seat at the table. It was close to midnight, Devona was tired, and not in the mood to deal with her.
“What do you want?” asked Devona.
The woman looked shocked. No one probably ever talked to her like that, but Devona lost all faith in the woman. The sight of her caused Devona to be concerned that there was another test on the way.
“I’m only here to wish you luck on the next year,” replied the woman.
“Yeah right. What do you want?”
“What do you want?” Devona’s voice was very stern.
The woman’s face lost all sense of humor. Instead she shook her head and leaned back in the chair. Devona knew there was more to this than the woman let on.
“Fine, I’ll cut to the truth. Death is not quite so final for the guardians.”
Devona felt her heart drop from her body. All the pain she felt over the last six months rushed into her all at once. Lies! More lies! How dare she?
Devona shook her head, “Why give me false hope?”
“Because it’s not false hope. At the end of each year, one of the fallen guardians is chosen to return to fight again.”
She still didn’t believe it. “Why would you do that?”
The woman shrugged. “Because we can and because we need as many people on our side as we can get.”
This, if she was telling the truth, meant that Akki might be able to come back. Devona stared down at her hands. They were shaking, almost tearing the fabric of her dress apart. To see him again. To hold him again. To kiss him again. To finally be able to ask if he loved her the way that she loved him…
“It won’t be Akki.”
Her hands stopped shaking.
Slowly, Devona glared up at that woman.
“We decide who comes back. Akki was seen as too great of a liability, so he will not be returning. Instead, it will be either Arthur or Thea. To retrieve the person, you will have to go to the tomb of Adara in the cemetery tonight at midnight. You alone will head down into the tomb and retrieve them. Try not to be late, or they might think you have abandoned them.”
“Why?” whispered Devona.
“Why would you do that?”
Devona slammed her fist against the table. “You know what you did! You brought it up to give me hope that Akki would come back! You were playing with me again!”
The woman shook her head. “Princess, it is not my fault that you fell in love with a man you were told was off limits. I approached you just as I have any of the Princesses after the first year. Please don’t think you alone were singled out or attacked.”
Devona glared at the woman, eyes turning glassy again. However, she had learned not to cry. She would not give this woman the gratification of seeing her cry. Devona knew that the woman was angry about her loving Akki, but that did not justify this.
“I hate you. I hate you more than I ever thought possible.”
The woman stood up and shook her head again. “I’m sorry to hear that. Now, I suggest you get going, it’s almost midnight.”
As the woman left, Kestrel and Kai rushed over to Devona’s side. She didn’t hear them over the pulsing of blood in her ears. As her nerves finally settled, she rose to her feet, and looked back at them.
“What is it? What happened?” asked Kestrel.
“We have to go, now,” said Devona.
She pushed past them, forcing the guardians to run after her.
“Devona! Hold on a second!” said Kai.
“Where are you going?” asked Kestrel.
“I’ll explain on the way!”
Once outside, Devona took off running toward the cemetery. Kai and Kestrel struggled to keep up. Despite the woman’s words, all Devona could think about was Akki. She knew she would be happy was it any of the guardians, but if it were Akki…
She shook her head. If anything, she should be grateful that the woman let her know that it wouldn’t be Akki. She destroyed Devona’s false hope, which was probably a good idea. But still…
“Devona!” yelled Kestrel.
Devona shook her head. “She told me that when a guardian dies, they have a chance to come back. At the end of each year, they pick one to bring back. She said the person would be at the tomb at midnight!”
“By the Spirits,” whispered Kestrel. Devona knew that Kestrel had the same thoughts. Thea had a chance to come back, to live again. She was the obvious choice, being so young when she died. But…she was so young, how could she fight? They already proved that was not possible.
“She told me it won’t be Akki,” said Devona.
“I’m sorry,” said Kestrel.
“It’ll be Arthur,” said Kai, “I’m sure of it.”
They came to a halt out side the gates of the cemetery. It was locked at night, something that Devona didn’t know until just now.
“Do we all need to go in?” asked Kestrel.
Devona shook her head. “Just me.”
The two guardians nodded and moved to the gate. Kai cupped his hands and Devona placed her foot on them. Kestrel gave her a boost, and Devona was able to pull herself over the gate. On the way down she ripped the hem of her dress on the fencing.
Devona looked back at the guardians. Soon it wouldn’t just be the three of them anymore. They would have another companion. One they had before, one who had already experienced the finality of death.
They smiled at her and Devona nodded. She ran into the cemetery, feeling the cool wind stinging her face. This world was magical. Dragons lived, angels walked, and the dead could rise again. People could turn into animals and some even knew the face of the lord.
But it was not perfect, no place was. Still, she would fight for it and fight for Earth as well. To her last dying breath, she would live for Zakiah Adara, for the future of Heaven and Earth.
Devona stopped in front of the large tomb. A statue of an angel sat atop it, wings glowing under the light of the moon.
She took a deep breath and pushed forward. She would always push forward.
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