We headed for the only place far, far away that had significance to Aeron - the mountain. The handful of Protectors who weren’t working at the restaurant or at the school sprinted through the woods, running ahead of us.
I decided for Valerio, Sun, and me that we were going to walk all the way there. Yes, it’d be easy to teleport us all, but… but I wanted to drag this out for a couple more hours. I didn’t want to face Aeron for multiple reasons. Reason one: he was my dad. Reason two: he wants to get with me. And reason three: he was my dad. Just thinking about it made me shiver.
“When we reach the top of the mountain, we wait until noon. When I am perched directly overhead,” Sun said, gazing toward me. “Luna, have you ever reached your true form?” I nodded at her and she smiled. “Well done. Only the first Moon Goddess has done that. This will be easier then.”
When we made it to the mountain, the Protectors took the Woman on the Mountain to her make-shift home and guarded it. I made sure they had enough food and water to last the entire day. This was going to take a while.
I shook my head at Valerio and leaned against a tree. “I can’t believe that I’m actually following along with this stupid plan.”
“What part bothers you?” he asked. Before I could smack him, he apologized. “That was a stupid question, but I told you before that I won’t let anything happen to you.” He brushed a stray piece of hair out of my face.
“You can’t stop him, Valerio,” I said. “You’re not strong enough.”
I hated using those words because those words had destroyed me when Damon spoke them months ago. But it was true. Aeron would destroy Valerio in a single moment. Sun and I were the only one who could face him.
No more hiding from my demons. No more hiding from the darkness. I was going to face Aeron and this time I had to win.
“Valerio,” I said, fingers grazing against his jaw. “I don’t need you to protect me anymore. That’s not how it always was, but it’s how it has to be now.”
He frowned and grabbed my hand. “I know... If that’s not bothering you, then what are you worried about?”
My lips quivered. “Failing.”
“What if I fail us?”
He grabbed my other hand and held them close to his chest. “You won’t fail us.”
“All of us,” I clarified and gazed around us to see all of the Protectors around. I grazed my fingers against the moon on my chest and closed my eyes.
“We are devoted to the most amazing species.” The voices of my ancestors whispered through my mind. Everything was riding on this moment.
“Mae, it may not seem like it, but since you’ve taken your mother’s place, the drainings have significantly stopped. Every one of these Protectors knows that. They will fight until the death for you. They see that you’ve sacrificed everything for them. A mate, a best friend, your mother, father… they will do the same for you. This is our problem, not just yours.”
I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him close. He smiled against me. What we were to each other - it didn’t matter. I was glad that Valerio was by my side. I wouldn’t ask for anyone else.
A ray of heat hit me from behind. I pulled away from Valerio, seeing Sun reflecting in his eyes. It was time.
Just like the night of my Ascension, I stripped off my clothes and laid them neatly on the ground. Sun did the same, except golden rays of light still clothed her body.
At the top of the mountain, she smiled at me. “You got this.”
I nodded my head and looked around. The forest was littered with wolves who hid behind every tree. Their fur blew lightly in the wind. Valerio stood in front of me, in his wolf form.
Black and White leapt from my palm. Black gazed at me, wagging his tail. “Go to Valerio,” I ordered. He pushed his snout into White’s nose, whimpered, then ran to Valerio.
I brushed my fingers through White’s fur. “Are you ready?” I asked. She jumped up, licking my face. “You must be strong, White. Give him everything you have.” I stood back up with White by my side, who looked more like she was ready to smash someone with kisses, but it didn’t matter. I nodded at Sun, telling her that I was ready.
Sun began blazing overhead, large flares extending outward from her body. Her eyes turned to burning stars and her body became weightless as it floated above us. When she made it to the middle of the sky, where her Sun was burning the brightest, I took a deep breath.
This was it. We were going to catch him. We had to.
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