"You will have a choice to make now that Allie is gone."
1 Week Earlier
As the three of us walked out of the forest, the smell of burnt flesh and rain filled our noses. The field before us was burnt and bodies littered the ground.
So many vacant faces stared back at me. The deaths of my people made my stomach roll. I spent hours walking through the battlefield crying over the bodies of loved ones I had lost, the weight of guilt fogged my already hazy mind.
None of this felt real.
Cage stayed with me, even after the healers came and took Paeris to the infirmary. As I hadn't mastered the ability to heal myself before the battle, they took the time to work on my leg and head injury as I refused to leave the field until I was sure every injured person had been seen to.
"This isn't your fault, Ray." Cage had said as I hovered over Keya, tears staining my dirty face.
My heart hurt for my sister who I hadn't even bothered to show love to. It hurt more for Paeris, who had been so mixed up in loving me that he had been killed and forced back to life by my sister who thought she was so alone that she only had Paeris to live for.
After the bodies had been removed and I had explained to Merith everything that had happened in the woods, Cage helped me to the infirmary to visit Paeris.
Jonas sat by his side, exhaustion and worry covering his face. I knew I would never feel the fear and worry that he felt in that moment: having lost a child and have them brought back but not truly knowing if it was truly Paeris that was with us now. I could tell from the way Paeris had reacted to Cage and I helping him out of the forest that he was confused, but something else was not quite right.
I spent the first few days with Paeris in the infirmary wing and slept each night next to him in his small medical bed, but there was a coldness about him now that never had been there before. When I kissed his cheeks, he turned away from me. When I told him I was proud of his recovery and that I loved him, he just stared in the distance, a hate in his eyes that I couldn't understand. He claimed he knew that I didn't choose him, that I could never choose to live without him and how much I wanted to share my life with him, but he never seemed to fully accept how sorry I was for what had happened.
He was awake and lucid, but he still refused to look me directly in the eye. He had told me multiple times that he didn't blame me for why had happened, but he also had told me that he felt wrong and out of touch with reality and his powers. No one knew if he would ever be the same as they had very little past experience to compare it to. He did tell me he dreamt of Allie often, but not in the way he dreamt with me in the beginning. He had hope for her just as much as he vowed he would have hope for me if the roles were reversed.
Eventually, he asked me to stop visiting him.
"It hurts to look at you, Ray. I'm sorry."
I sighed as I looked at myself in the mirror, catching Laurel's face in the reflection as she helped me button the back of my dress. She was beautiful as ever, her hair curled and pinned and her pink dress looked as if it were made for her. I could tell this was all hard on her though, the dark circles under her eyes looking darker than ever and she had definitely lost weight.
As I looked back into the mirror, I saw similar changes in myself.
I still tried to visit Paeris every day in the infirmary, when Jonas couldn't be by his side. He still struggled to look me in the eye, but he seemed to be getting better. Occasionally, I would hear him stand outside my bedroom door at night for a few moments before walking away. At first I called for him, invited him in, but he never stayed.
Cage had been sure to visit me daily, though I wondered if he had gone to the infirmary himself with the way Paeris had asked about him. Or maybe he was just trying to gauge my reaction to see if things had changed between us.
As my birthday drew nearer, my wolf drew closer to Cage, but he was ever the gentleman through it all. Most of the time he spent in the library, reading.
"I think black really suits your complexion." Laurel's words snapped me back to reality, remembering where I was. "The memorial will be beautiful."
Today would be the day that we hold a memorial for each person we had lost during the battle. It would also be the day I announced whether I would become Queen or take my place as the leader of the Guardians.
"You will have a choice to make now that Allie is gone."
The words rang in my head again through the service, the sad smile on my face hurting my cheeks as each family member of the deceased spoke kind words of their loved ones. We lit colored candles for each respective house, planning to leave them lit until they went out on their own. Final prayers and memories littering the ballroom as a crowd gathered around me for my final speech before the burial.
I had yet to make a decision, but the time had come to make it.
"Clearly you aren't as special as everyone thought." My sister's words rang in my mind as I stood before my people.
"I want to quickly thank everyone who has helped in so many ways over the past week. Your strength, your memories, your kind words, and your hugs have kept us strong during this time." I paused, looking over the crowd. "To all of these strong individuals who had their lives taken too soon, we will always remember their sacrifice. The void created by the sudden death of our loved ones is still hard to grasp. I have been lucky enough to be brought into this community and I quickly learned why each of them are so cherished. Because of our friends and family member's sacrifices, we have forged special bonds for life."
Many in crowd cheered around me and I nodded to them all, a small smile forcing to my lips for the millionth time that night. My heart squeezed as I caught Paeris' face stick out in the back of the crowd.
"Tonight, I make a choice in honor of all of the lives that were lost to protect our kingdom. I hope you all will continue to support my decision now and in the future as we continue to show diligence in bringing Lorelei to justice for her crimes and attempting to find Alanor."
I took a deep breath, steadying myself as Cage waved in the crowd. My father stood close to Jonas which surprised me.
"As my birthday draws closer and the time comes for me to choose my path. Without my sister to fill my place as Champion, it has made my decision difficult." I hesitated.
This choice was almost as if I were standing before Lorelei again, choosing between Paeris and Cage. Both lives were safe at the moment, with Lorelei and my sister gone without a trace and no appearance since. Unfortunately, the weight I felt for this decision was nearly as heavy as the one I almost had to make a week ago.
"I choose both paths. I will unite our cultures now and in the future. I will be Queen and Champion. Until another option is explored, I choose both roles."
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