Part 1: At the Beginning Again
She was alone.
She stood there waiting for something, anything, but nothing came. Had they lied to her again? She wouldn’t doubt it but hoped that wasn’t the case this time. This was so important, too important, to lie about. Right?
Had it really been a year since she first arrived here? Since Akki found her and swept her off her feet like some romantic hero. Since she arrived in a world beyond the realm of knowledge, where time moved faster than Earth, and dragons were alive. Since she learned that she was one of five Princesses born to save this world from a demoness who was set on control of all the worlds: Hell, Earth, Heaven, and Zakiah Adara. Since she had come to accept her task and watch many die.
Including her romantic hero.
But, maybe, just maybe the Council had been lying about that as well. Maybe he would be the one she would find in the tomb. She couldn’t help but have hope. It was less than an hour ago that she learned that one of the dead guardians would return to their group to join her, Kestrel, and Kai in their fight. Either Arthur, the great warrior, Thea, the child, or Akki, the man she loved.
Her fingers mindlessly stroked the silver bracer on her arm. She traced the sapphires that were carved into the shape of a dragon. Only now did she understand why the items had called to her when she first arrived. She was Azul, the Blue Dragon, reborn as a Princess. She was an ancient Spirit who had been killed by Mushin. Reborn to defeat her and get revenge. Maybe Akki’s death was a part of a great plan, fate’s way of making her want Mushin dead. Even now she could see his lifeless body and the demoness standing over him with the scythe that had done him in.
She bit her lip. What would happened next? Who would be in the tomb?
She looked back to see her two remaining guardians standing on the other side of the wrought iron fence. They hands were both wound around the bars, staring at Devona with eager eyes. She could feel the tension coming from both of them, begging for Devona to discover the truth, and find out who was waiting. But, could she do it?
Yes, she had to.
She nodded, and turned up to look at the angel sitting atop the tomb. Her wings were glowing under the light of the moon. Devona secretly wondered if this were a sign that someone would be reborn under her watchful eye. She took another deep breath and pushed against the wooden door. Amazingly, it gave away with little force. She practically fell from the ease, expecting it to take much more to move it.
Inside it was dark and cool. To her left and right were stone walls and in front was a set of stairs leading down. The only light that led the way was the full moon. Devona couldn’t help but wonder if maybe this path led the one of the other worlds…maybe even the world she feared that Akki was currently in.
She took a deep breath and took her first step down. She was so used to the creak of wooden stairs that it surprised her when there was no give from the stone. It was firm and strong beneath her, with no threat of going anywhere, just as her resolve had to be.
What if it’s not Akki?
She kept trying not to think about it. The woman with white hair told her that it wouldn’t be Akki. Devona had to believe her for once or it might kill Devona.
Her hands touched the cool walls seeking support and guidance. The farther she went the less light there was. From what she could see there was no end to the stairs. She just kept going farther, and farther, and farther.
She glanced back she was barely able to see where she had started. Even if the guardians had called out, she wouldn’t have heard it. So, she turned forward and continued onwards attempting to keep her fear at bay. Each step was careful and slow.
Eventually she saw another wooden door through the darkness. At the bottom was a tiny strip of light letting her know that someone was probably already on the other side of it.
She shook her head. It wouldn’t be him! The woman already told her that! Why did she have to torment herself like this? Already she could feel a single tear slip down her cheek. The pain was almost too much to bear. She needed this to be over, now.
Devona rushed her way down the rest of the stairs, grabbed the handle, and threw the door open.
He was there, kneeling on the floor. Black hair fallen about this face hiding it from her. Yet, she knew who he was. Her hand fell to her side as he looked up at her with blue eyes.
“Arthur,” she whispered.
Kai had been right. Arthur was the obvious choice. They had told her stories about him. Of what a great warrior he was and all of the battles that he had taken place in. He was the man for the job from the beginning but left the war far too soon. Now, he was given another chance, hoping to make up for the other two that were lost.
The pain that consumed her was unbearable. Another tear fell as she forced a smile onto her face. Slowly, he got up to his feet. He was wobbling a bit, as if getting used to using his legs once more. He was still dressed in the same armor that he had been the night that he died. But it was complete now, without the hole that had been blasted through his chest by Mushin. His eyes were vacant at first and then sad.
Did he know? Did he know that she had hoped it wasn’t him?
“It’s good to have you back,” whispered Devona.
He shook his head and looked to the ground. “You don’t have to lie. I know you wanted it to be him.”
The smile that she had forced melted away and she was left with pursed eyebrows. Had her feelings been so obvious from the beginning? She looked away from him, feeling like such a child that he could have seen so quickly what she had denied herself for so long.
“I spoke with him.”
Her eyes grew wide and she snapped her attention back to him.
It couldn’t be. He had to be lying. Was he simply attempting to make her feel better? That had to be it, there’s no way the Council would have let them talk, right? Did that mean that his soul wasn’t in hell after all? Even though he sold himself to Mushin?
He took a step towards her and she forced herself to look up at him. He was tall, taller than Akki had been, and much stronger. But his strength wasn’t menacing. She knew she could trust him. So, perhaps, she should trust him in this as well. Arthur took a deep breath before he spoke again.
“He hated that you thought that he just gave up.” His words immediately brought back the pain of that day tenfold. Devona found it hard to breathe and leaned against the stone doorway. Arthur noticed and placed a calm hand on her shoulder. “He told me to protect you as he would. That he left you far too soon and he was sorry for that.”
Devona clasped her hand over her mouth, trying to hide her sobs, but it was no use. Arthur grabbed onto her arms and pulled her to his chest. Her tears fell onto his armor and she accepted his comfort. How could he be so supportive when she was upset that he was alive and Akki was not?
“He also wanted me to tell you that he regretted never saying that he loved you.”
The tears stopped.
She pushed him away from her and glared at him. “Don’t lie.”
He shook his head. “I’m not. He loves you Devona, desperately. He wanted so badly to come back, but the Council absolutely refused it. He begged and pleaded with them but, in the end, they chose me. When they did, I was given very specific instructions from him, one of which was to tell you that he loves you.”
Devona hung her head. “You mean ‘loved’.”
Arthur sighed. “I’m sorry, I was speaking with him just a few moments ago. It’s quite hard for me to believe that he’s dead.”
He had just been speaking with him? How she wished she could have been in Arthur’s spot, if only for a moment. To hear Akki’s voice again, to hug onto him and never let him go. To demand to hear those three words come out of his mouth as they had from hers.
“What was the last thing he said to you?” she asked.
“To keep you safe.”
Of course, what else would it have been? Devona wiped away the last of her tears, and tried her best to smile again.
“Thanks Arthur. I’m sorry for being sad to see you.”
He smirked, “I figured you would be so no surprise for me. I will do my best to take his place—as your protector, nothing else. Trust me that was drilled in as well.”
That actually made her laugh a bit, “What, I’m not allowed to move on?”
“Not with me at least.”
“Come on, the others are waiting.” Devona turned to leave, but the way that he had said that last part had her wondering. Halfway up the stairs, she turned to look down at Arthur. “Not with you, but did he say not with anyone else?”
Arthur looked puzzled and shook his head.
“No one else?”
“Should he have?”
If Arthur had known all that went on the previous year, then he would know that there was a huge “yes” that went with that question. How could Akki have pushed Arthur so hard to protect her, but not be with her, and not mention anything about her being with Kai? Why wouldn’t he have mentioned Kai? Unless…
Devona shook her head; there was no way that Akki would suggest that. Besides, there was no way that was ever going to happen. Been there, done that, not going back again. Sorry Akki, she thought, no way am I going to get with Kai…if that’s what you were hinting at.
She turned and continued her way up the stairs. Once at the top, she walked past the open wooden door to see both of her remaining guardians standing on the other side of the iron fence. As soon as they heard footsteps, they jumped and turned their attention towards her. Kestrel’s face was alight with hope and Devona knew that she would be disappointed as well. The hope quickly faded as Arthur stepped out behind Devona. Kestrel drew her lips tightly together.
“Arthur!” said Kai, “Good to see you.”
Arthur nodded at Kai, but immediately stepped towards Kestrel. He reached through the bars and placed his hands tightly on her shoulders. At first, Kestrel kept her eyes away from him, looking through him rather than at him. Slowly, she gave up and looked up into his eyes.
“She was never even an option,” he said in a low voice, “as soon as she passed, her soul went on. She was too young for this war, too innocent. She’s happy now, trust me.”
Devona could clearly see the pain on Kestrel’s face as she nodded to Arthur. Even the news that Thea was in heaven wasn’t enough to ease Kestrel’s suffering. It was so hard to see her still blaming herself for what happened all those months ago.
Arthur turned towards Devona with a small smile. She was sure that he was very grateful to be back, and it must have seemed that only Kai agreed with such a sentiment. But, Devona was glad to see him. He never had a chance in this war. It was good that he was finally going to be given one.
“Do you need help?” he asked.
Devona shook her head, “What?”
“Do you need help getting over the fence?”
She slowly moved towards him. Arthur cupped his hands like Kai had earlier for her, but he didn’t need anyone else’s help to lift her. Once she stepped in his hands, he lifted her higher than she had been lifted the last time. She gasped and grasped the top of the fence. Cautiously, she threw her legs over, ripping her dress even more. She grimaced a bit. Sorry Azul.
She “oofed” a bit when she hit the ground and was quickly followed by Arthur, who had easily climbed the fence on his own. Devona wasn’t quite sure why, but the small display of power was really quite impressive.
“Now what?” asked Kai.
“Back to the palace. I believe that we are supposed to meet the new guardians tonight as well. Then, probably heading to Earth,” replied Kestrel.
“Right back into the fray of things, I like it,” laughed Arthur.
Kestrel still wore a somber look, “Right.” She turned and headed back towards the palace. Arthur looked hurt and Kai patted his shoulder.
“It’s okay, She was just really hopeful that it might have been Thea coming back. Don’t try to take it personally,” said Kai.
“Yeah, well, I’m glad to be back.”
“I’m glad you’re back too. We could really use some extra muscle.”
Devona was silent as she watched the two boys—men walking back towards the palace. After only a year, she already felt so much older. Now, she was 18. If time in Zakiah Adara counted on Earth, she would be a senior in high school. She would have been graduating in a few months. Instead, she felt like she was in her 30’s, having experienced all of the loss that she had. War was far harder than she had even anticipated. Hopefully, one day, she would find some of her humor again, but she didn’t see that happening any time soon.
Looking up, she noticed that Kai was waving to her to follow. She took a deep sigh and went after him and Arthur.
By time they arrived back at the palace and entered the grandiose room with the staircase, Kestrel was already there. She had her arms crossed firmly over her chest, still concealed by the purple sequined dress she had worn to the party. Standing at the bottom of the stairs was Oriana, smiling brightly.
As the three of them entered the room, the queen stepped forward and pulled Arthur into a tight hug. He looked a little confused at first and then gently hugged her back. She withdrew and looked up at him with even a larger smile.
“Arthur, welcome back. It is so great to see you again.”
He nodded, “You too, my queen.”
She stepped away from him and back towards the bottom of the staircase. Silence filled the room. This was a joyous moment, but there was still a lot of heart ache. Two of the four of them had recently hoped to see the dead brought to life that they had missed dearly. Two out of four of them were greatly disappointed and hurt. One out of the four was alive again and eager to get on with business.
Oriana clasped her hands together. “Tonight is the beginning of a new year. Tonight we were able to celebrate in peace, but we must continue the war as well. Please, allow me to introduce you to two more guardians who will be joining you on your journey.”
She waved her arm to her right. They all looked at the door there and waited patiently. The few moments that passed by seemed to last forever. Devona couldn’t help but wonder who was on the other side of the door. If they would get along with the current group, if they would be great fighters like Arthur and Akki, or if there would be another child joining their ranks that didn’t need to.
Slowly, the golden door opened outward. There stood a man who looked like he was probably in his mid to late twenties, but it was hard to tell since his hair was silver. His hair was long, to his shoulders, and was combed over so that his left eye was completely hidden from their sight. He wore black dress pants and a tightly fitted black shirt. Devona couldn’t help but think he looked like someone who owned an internet startup who made millions of dollars and not like a warrior.
He was slender, more so than Kai, but for some reason there was an aura of anger around him. His one brown eye that was showing stared each and every one of them down. Kai and she seemed to notice at the same time. He took a step closer to her, as if to protect her from a man that was to be her newest guardian.
Wearing that same sneer, he finally stepped out of the door way, allowing them to see the next guardian.
Devona gasped and stepped forward.
She was wearing a tight green floor length dress this time, that accented her copper hair nicely, but there was no mistaking that it was her. Now Devona understood why she had been seated in the audience.
“Eve!” she exclaimed.
There was no stopping her, Devona ran towards her and pulled her newest guardian into a tight hug. Devona shook against her as Eve made no movement. She wasn’t Akki, but for some reason, Devona felt like she had a part of him back with her. Sighing, Eve gently hugged her back. She must have known how Devona felt or felt the same way herself.
“So, you know each other?” asked Arthur.
Devona smiled and finally stepped away from Eve.
“Yeah, she’s Akki’s childhood friend. She helped us back on the Second Constellation,” said Devona.
Suddenly, Devona looked around the room and realized how odd it was. That five of the seven guardians had known each other before becoming a guardian. Was this fate at hand again?
Something like that.
Devona knew it.
Earlier when she thought she heard a voice, she wasn’t sure who it was, but this time she knew for sure it was Azul. She was still with her. Very close yet so far away.
Did you know that a guardian would come back? Devona asked in her mind. Why didn’t you tell me?
Because I knew they wouldn’t bring him back.
Tears filled Devona’s eyes again as Eve stepped away from her and towards the others.
Why are they so cruel? asked Devona.
They just are. Now, go join the others. There is much you need to learn about this new man.
Devona placed her hand over hear heart, grateful to hear Azul once again. She knew that the dragon wouldn’t speak with her often and would only come out when absolutely necessary, but it was so nice to have her nearby. It made her feel slightly more whole.
Then, following Azul’s instructions, Devona joined the rest of the group that was now circling around Oriana.
She smiled and nodded as Devona joined them. First, she raised her hand toward Eve. “It seems that you have already met Eve. She is an amazing warrior with spectacular abilities.” Devona hoped that Kai hid his distaste even a little. “She will be a great asset to your party.”
The queen then turned towards the new man. He was leaning against the railing for the staircase, slowly looking from one of them to the next. It was if he were sizing them up. Devona shuttered when he looked up and down her body with his one visible eye. She took a step closer to Arthur, who immediately puffed out his chest a bit.
“This is Amrit Kyrian—“
“Really?” Arthur lost his puffed of stance and suddenly looked like a fan that had just seen his favorite celebrity. What the heck? “There’s no way, you’re just named after him, right?”
Kyrian slowly shook his head.
All of the guardians seemed stunned and were looking back and forth between each other. Devona was left dumbfounded. Even as much as she had learned about the culture of Zakiah Adara, she had never even heard his name before.
Who is he? Devona asked Azul.
There was no reply. She was back to being silent again. Devona sighed, realizing she was going to have to wait for someone to fill her in on the details.
Oriana took up that task. “Yes, this is the Amrit Kyrian that you have all heard about. Please, welcome him into your ranks. It might take him a little bit of time to warm up to you, but he will. Right, Kyrian?”
The look on his face said that he did not agree.
“Wait,” said Devona. Everyone slowly looked at her, even Kyrian. She cringed a bit at what she was about to say next, hoping not to offend him. “Um…who is he?”
He didn’t look offended, he actually smirked.
Kestrel stepped forward this time and answered for him. “He was one of the guardians last time that the Princesses were born.”
Devona’s jaw dropped. That made no sense at all. The only creatures she had met so far in Zakiah Adara who were immortal were special beings. Kyrielle, Queen Oriana, the woman with white hair…those all made sense. But who was this guy? Was he a special being as well? How else could he still be alive?
“Kyrian was granted the gift of immortal life at the end of his last stint as guardian. He will be a great asset since had has already lived through this war once before,” said Oriana.
Devona couldn’t help but notice pain flash across his face when Oriana said the word “gift.” It seemed as though he did not agree. There was much to learn about his new guardian, but she wondered if she would ever be able to figure any of it out.
Oriana clasped her hands together again, drawing everyone’s attention back to her. “Alright everyone, please get some sleep. You have an early morning ahead of you. Need to be at the top of your game with looking for the next Princess. Please, sleep well.”
Slowly, they all dispersed, heading towards their individual rooms. It wasn’t long until Devona was left alone in the room. She savored the moment, knowing that as soon as they left, that she would not feel this for a long time. Taking a deep breath, she headed up the stairs and towards her room.
Her heart was racing at the thought of a new Princess. She felt almost felt like an only child finding out that they were going to have a sibling. Excited but scared to have to share her family with a new person. What would it be like? To not be the only Princess that they would be protecting?
This was a whole new world. It was her world without Akki and she wasn’t entirely sure that she was ready for it.
Devona laid in the bed in Havinton. One of her arms was propped up over her head and the other was draped across her stomach. She was covered by the shirt that Akki had given to her not that long ago. She tilted her head to the side and breathed in his scent that clung to the fabric. He would be back soon and she couldn’t wait for him to return.
This was their happy place. This was where they could spend as much time together as they wanted and not have to worry about being found out by the other guardians. They didn’t have to worry about the watchful eye of the Council, even though they probably should have. Instead, they only had each other, and Devona was completely fine with that.
The door to the room opened. She quickly sat up on the bed to greet him and she was not disappointed.
He stood in the doorway wearing only his dark pants and watching her with intent gold eyes. Her heart fluttered quickly at the look that he gave her. He shut the door behind him and locked it before turning back to her.
The look in his eyes was different now. It looked like he was sad, in pain, and happy all at the same time. It was so strange and she didn’t understand it at all. Had he seen something in the hallway that he shouldn’t have?
Before she could wonder anymore, he rushed to the side of the bed and pulled her into a tight embrace. It was if he had not seen her in months and not only a few minutes ago. She sat there motionless for a few moments wondering what was going on.
He pulled back a bit and then kissed her passionately. She closed her eyes and smiled. This was more of what she was used to from him. Her fingers wound their way through his hair as she slowly lay back on the bed, taking him with her.
As they kissed, he reached to remove her right hand from his head and lowered it to lace his fingers together with hers. Another strange movement, but Devona didn’t mind. Perhaps it was his way of trying to keep control of himself and not touch her where they both desperately wanted him to.
He gave her one last gentle kiss and pulled back. He was on his hands and knees, propped above, staring down at her with sad eyes. Oh no…
“You’re going to say we have to stop this, aren’t you?” she asked.
He laughed, a rare occurrence. Something was definitely off about him.
Just shut up and be with him.
What the heck was that voice?
He leaned down and pressed his forehead against her and sighed heavily. “Devona, I wish we could never stop this.”
She placed her free hand on his cheek. He sat back a bit, still desperately close to her, and watched her gently.
“Then don’t let it stop,” she said matter-of-factly.
He kissed her again. This was a desperate kiss. As if it would be the last time that he would be able to kiss her. As if he were about to leave her forever and that scared her to the very core.
Suddenly, flashes of memories ran through her. They had left Havinton, fought Hansah, learned who she really was, he was captured on the Eighth Constellation, and…
She pulled back from him with a gasp. She stared up at him with her own looked of sadness now.
He had died.
A tear slipped down her cheek and he quickly wiped it away.
“It’s okay Devona, I’m here now. For a bit at least,” he whispered.
She shook her head. “I don’t understand. Is this a dream?”
He looked somber and nodded. She clamped her hand over her mouth and sobbed. Even if he was here now, it wasn’t real. She would wake up and be alone again. He wouldn’t be in bed with her as he had been in Havinton. He would be buried and she would be stuck with the pain of living without him.
He pushed his forehead against hers and shushed her, trying to lull her back into a happy state. It was not working. He kissed her temple and moved so that he laid next to her. He rolled her towards him and took her into his arms. He embraced her against his chest. How many people held her over losing him? This was the oddest sensation of all to cry over his death with him next to her.
“You’re dead,” she whispered.
He stroked her head and nodded slowly.
“So, this isn’t real,” she choked between tears.
He laid his head on top of hers. She could feel the anguish radiating off of him. He stroked his hand up and down her back, trying to sooth her and comfort himself at the same time.
“Not entirely,” he whispered.
She pulled back to look at him, stopping her tears. “What do you mean?”
He moved his hand from her back and cupped her cheek that was puffy from all the crying. “After I begged the Council to send me back and they denied, they agreed to let me see you one last time. But it had to be like this, in a dream. I’m so sorry Devona and I pray with everything that I have left that you will remember this. To know that I was here and—”
Akki paused for a moment and leaned forward and kissed her softly. She wondered if more would come of it, but it didn’t matter. She could feel all of him in that single kiss. Another tear rolled down her cheek from the beauty of it.
When he pulled away, he looked at her with a look so intense that she had never seen before. Not from anyone.
“I love you with all my heart. I was a fool not to say it earlier.”
Her heart leapt in her chest. It had been one thing to hear it from Arthur, but a completely different to hear it from Akki himself. She shook against him for a minute and then wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him feverishly. When she stopped they were both breathless.
“Why hadn’t you said it before?” she asked.
He shook his head and looked away from her, up towards the ceiling.
“I was so scared to love you. At first, when you told me how you felt, I didn’t think I deserved it. Then, after what happened with Hansah, I didn’t want the same thing to happen again. Finally, I didn’t want you to think I was saying it just because I was going to die. Once I did, I regretted it more than you can imagine.”
She smirked, laying her head on his chest. “You must have, you sent Arthur with some very specific instructions.”
He nodded and kissed her forehead.
“He will protect you well. He’s a great warrior.”
Devona traced her fingers up and down his side, watching him breath. It wasn’t real. He might be here, but he wasn’t alive anymore. Silently, she wondered what price this “gift” from the Council came with? Would she have to pay for it later? Or, was this the woman with white hair’s way of trying to make amends with her?
“I wish it were you protecting me,” she whispered.
He took a quick intake of breath and pulled her even closer to him. “I know…”
They both lied there for a while, kissing and cuddling, mostly just enjoying each other. It all could end at any moment, and frankly Devona was surprised that it had latest as long as it had. At least they were gifted with this much.
While in the middle of another kiss, Devona remembered something. She propped herself a bit and gave him a small glare.
He looked confused. “What?”
“You gave Arthur very specific instructions, one of which included me not moving on from you with him. Why?”
He looked hurt. “Uh, because I was telling him to protect you like I would but I didn’t want him to think that was an invitation to be with you.”
“Oh…” Her voice trailed off a bit, feeling guilty. Then, she remembered why she had brought it up in the first place. “You didn’t say anything about me not moving on with Kai.”
Now, he looked angry and propped himself up so that he was over her. Had she not been so in love with him the look he gave her might have been intimidating.
“I figured that went without mention. Why, you looking to replace me already?”
Devona had a sheepish look at even the indication of that thought. “No…”
He smirked and moved to pin her down to the bed. The quick movement made her gasp. She looked up at him to see him smiling deviously, but happy at the same time. What? He reached down and proceeded to tickle her through the shirt.
She laughed and squirmed trying to push him away. This was so unlike him, to be so happy and carefree. Is this what their existence would have been like had he still be alive?
“Stop it!” she said through laughs.
“Will you stop looking so sad while I’m here with you?”
“Yes! Just please, stop!”
Suddenly he did and he lowered his body on top of hers. The intimacy of the moment made her blush. They fit together so perfectly. It was one of the most wonderful feelings she had ever experienced. The look in his eyes said that he felt it too.
“Akki,” she whispered as he captured her lips. Hers quickly parted and met him with equal intensity. Slowly, he rocked against her, imitating the final act that they had never been able to experience together. She arched against him and tightly grasped her fingers against his back. So many times, she had begged the universe for just one more night with him. She never thought that it would actually happen. She was so happy. When he reached up and cupped her breast through the shirt and she didn’t pull away from him this time. She simply laid her head back and moaned.
“Devona,” he whispered her name against her cheek. This all felt so real.
He nibbled on her lip. Her hands moved up and down his back, feeling his muscles as they moved underneath his skin. He lowered his hand and pushed it up under the shirt this time. She gasped at the feeling of his hand cupping her naked flesh. She couldn’t help but gasp into his mouth and press herself against him.
He sat up a bit and looked at her with sad eyes again. “Lord, why can’t this be real?”
She placed her hand on the nape of his neck.
“It’s real enough.” She pulled him down back on top of her body.
Just then the door to the room flew open. They both turned to see it slammed against the wall and strong wind blowing through it.
Time was up.
“No!” She clutched herself to his chest, clinging in desperation.
He sat up, bringing her with him and pulled her into his lap. It was such a similar situation to the first intimate moment they had ever shared and it would be how they would share their last. Devona shook her head furiously. She refused to let him leave without a fight.
“Devona,” he placed a hand on her cheek. “I have to go.”
“No, please stay. What’s the worse they could do?”
He smiled at her. “You’re going to wake up eventually one way or another—”
“I’ll be in a reverse sleeping curse. Instead of being woken up by a kiss, I’m put to sleep by one. We can just stay here forever!”
He pressed his lips to her temple. “Please find that humor again in life. It will help you through so much.”
She tried her best not to cry, but she could feel him wiping her cheek so she assumed that she was. Why did she have to be so weak? She couldn’t even give up a proper goodbye.
“Where will you go?” she asked, dreading the answer.
He tensed a bit. “I don’t know.”
She shook her head. “You know. You just don’t want to tell me.”
He lost his smile and looked much more serious. “Do you really want me to tell you?”
She looked down, ashamed, and shook her head slowly.
He grabbed her face with both hands now and forced her to look up at him. He kissed her again. After a few moments, they both retracted from each other, looking at each other with silent understanding.
He was going.
Slowly, she moved from his lap allowing him to stand up next to the bed. Before he moved, she reached out and snatched his hand tightly. How she wanted to beg him to stay, to plead with the Council herself, but she knew better. She was lucky enough they gave her this time with him at all, especially considering their disapproval of their relationship.
“I hope with everything I have that I remember this,” she said.
He nodded and brought her hand up and placed a gentle kiss on it.
Then, he looked at her and said. “I love you, Devona.”
Her breath caught in her throat, still so happy to hear him say that. “I love you too. I always will.”
As soon as she let go of his hand, he was gone. The wind stopped and she was left alone again. Her hand still hung in the air where she had been holding onto him only a few moments prior. He was really gone. For good this time.
Devona wailed and curled up into a ball. Her fingers wound themselves into the sheets of the bed. The sheets they had been together not so long ago. Now, they were once against soaked with her tears.
“Akki…” She cried his name over and over again until the world around her fell apart.
Devona opened her eyes. She was back in her bed at the palace. Glancing out the window, she noticed that they sun had just come up. It was a new day and time to go find the next Princess.
Her fingers touched her lips as she remembered the dream vividly.
I love you, Devona.
She had remembered it. She closed her eyes and seared those moments with him forever in her memories. Even if it hadn’t really been him, at least she could pretend that maybe it had been. That maybe they had been able to spend that one more night together.
It was real.
“That was you who told me to shut up, wasn’t it?” asked Devona.
Azul actually laughed. Of course it was. I wanted to be with him too.
Devona froze. “You—you love him?”
Of course I do. I always will. In the next lifetime, I will be with him again.
“Lucky for you. I won’t get that option.”
A part of you will live on with me. You just won’t realize it.
Devona stared up at the canopy above her bed. She still couldn’t believe she was technically having a conversation with herself. The situation with Azul was odd, but it was beginning to feel natural.
“Were we ever happy together? I know you said Mushin killed both of you, how long had you been with each other?”
Azul sighed. Quite a while that first time around, but in many lifetimes our time together was cut short. There was one time where we survived the war and lived together for many years until sickness took us both. Last time, another Princess arrived before I did and he fell in love with her first. Caused quite a rift when I arrived and we had just strong feelings for each other, but he remained loyal to her. I’m so glad that at least this time you two had some time together.
“It was so short though. I wish we could have had more.”
Be grateful you had him at all. I just get to sit back and watch.
“Is it hard for you to do?”
Azul fell silent.
Devona had asked the wrong question and the dragon left her once more. Of course, she was still there, just quiet. Devona took from her silence that being a bystander was not exactly what Azul wanted.
There was a soft knock at the door.
A young brunette maid stuck her head inside. “Sorry to wake you Princess, but everyone is up and getting ready. They want you to meet them in the changing room.”
The changing room, it must be where all the clothes from Earth was held so they could head back and not look too out of place. How funny, considering they all showed up looking like they had just stepped out of the 70’s. Devona had to be there to try and make them look presentable.
“Thank you, I’ll head down in just a moment.”
The maid nodded and left.
After her night with Akki she felt calm and more like herself again.
Please find that humor again in life. It will help you through so much.
“I’ll try,” she whispered, knowing he wouldn’t hear it.
Going through all the old clothing might be fun and humorous. Maybe it was the first step that she needed.
Oh, it had been quite humorous alright. Devona searched through all the tie-dyed clothing and wondered if there was anything presentable. She literally found a shirt that said, “Drugs and Love, not War.” She giggled and tossed it into the maybe pile.
Kestrel stood behind her, watching cautiously. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Looking for things that you guys can wear without standing out too much. You were total beacons drawing attention to yourselves last time.”
Kai grimaced. “Was it really that bad.”
She remembered the shaggy vest he had been wearing with a smile. “Yes, it was really that bad.”
Arthur picked up a few shirts from the “no way” pile and looked them over. “Where did all these clothes come from anyway?”
“The previous guardians brought them.”
They all stopped and looked at Kyrian, it was the first time he had said anything to them. He was looking through the armor section, probably trying to find something to wear after they returned. Devona had informed him that his “business casual” look seemed passible, so he ignored the current situation. Or, at least, it seemed like he was.
“What?” asked Kai.
He stopped and turned to face all of them. There was still a menacing look on his face, but it seemed to have lighted up a bit.
“At the beginning of the fifth and final year, the guardians and Princesses bring back some clothes for the next guardians just in case it’s necessary. It seems like a running joke that they always bring back items that work in one decade and not the other at all.”
“Like a prank?” asked Devona.
“Great, so we’re stuck with this crap.”
“Perhaps we can find some possible stuff in the regular clothing. You said that what Kyrian is wearing it fine,” said Kestrel, moving towards the rack where Devona had found her corset and skirt. She cringed now realizing what a bad idea that had been for a traveling outfit. Again, she had not been thinking practically and was more concerned about getting the attentions of the boys. Now, she knew better and she could hopefully teach the next Princess as well.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. And I was able to find a few things that might work. Maybe we can combine the two.”
After about a half an hour, they were all dressed in passing clothing. Kai was even wearing the “Drugs and Love, not War” shirt, which made Devona smile. She wore her pants that she had at the beginning of the journey and was shocked to see how big they were on her. She glanced up at herself in the mirror, realizing just how much weight she had lost over the last year.
And how much older she looked.
No one at home would recognize her. Still, she found a purple shirt from the clothing rack that was decorated with ivy and small flowers. It was made out of leather, but from a distance it would hopefully look like a normal t-shirt. There was no way that she could wear all the clothes she came in. If she was “missing persons” there was no doubt people looking for her in her old clothing.
She grabbed a belt and tightened it to make her pants look presentable. As she did, her long hair fell over her shoulders. She stopped, realizing that was another red flag as well. She stood up straight and looked over at Kestrel. She was dressed in jeans herself and a pink shirt that was subtly tie-dyed with white, so it wasn’t completely noticeable either.
Kestrel was putting on a pair of hoop earrings when she noticed Devona looking at her. “What is it?” she asked.
Devona stepped towards her and gently grabbed her elbow, pulling her aside from the group. “Can you cut my hair?”
Kestrel’s eyes went wide. “What, are you sure?”
Devona nodded. It had always been Kestrel who would cut the guys’ hair and make them look presentable. Kestrel had offered many times to cut Devona’s hair for her, but the teen always refused. She insisted that she liked her hair long and was going to keep it that way. Kestrel was pretty decent, but she wasn’t a professional. There was a barber shop on the ships, but Akki refused to spend the money…
She tried not to think about him. She was trying to be in a good place right now.
With a small sigh, Devona nodded.
Kestrel shook her head. “Why?”
“I can’t show up looking exactly like I did when I left. I’ll be the beacon then. If my hair’s short, maybe it will draw less attention.”
“Just above my shoulders.”
“And you’re sure?”
Devona rolled her eyes, “Yes, it’s just hair.”
Kestrel smirked, “You never really came to that notion before.”
They made their way to the nearby restroom and Kestrel proceeded to cut her hair. Devona sat calmly on the stool watching the hair fall around her. It was actually kind of liberating. She was letting go of the past and finding her new self. The one who had to face this world herself now, without—
Come on girl, she thought, can’t you get through five minutes without thinking about him?
Devona looked at herself and she hardly recognized the image looking back. Surrounding that much older face was a much shorter golden halo that she was used too. She swung her head about, feelings the stands as they moved side to side. It was one of her favorite parts about just getting a shorter haircut. Kestrel even gave her the sideways bangs that she had described to her. Damn, Kestrel wasn’t a professional, but she was pretty good.
“Thanks, it looks great,” said Devona.
Kestrel smiled at her in the mirror. “No problem. Now, come on, we need to finish getting ready. Can’t waste too much more time.”
Devona nodded and paused to look at the hair all over the floor. If only they had been on Earth, she could have donated it to Locks of Love.
“What about this mess?” asked Devona.
“I’ll inform a maid about it. Now, come on.”
Kestrel practically dragged her off the stool and down the hall. It was good to see that Kestrel was settling back into herself as well. Being so close to being reunited with Thea had been equally hard on Kestrel as it had for Devona with Akki.
She sighed again, closing her eyes tightly. Nope, not even five minutes.
They stepped back into the room and made their final preparations. The time was finally approaching and they would soon be granted another Princess. Only time would tell exactly how it would play out, but they were all eager to see.
Note: Sorry for the lack of updates. I totally forgot I posted the story here for a contest haha. I am still working on Year Two after taking a long time off from writing. I don't think I will post all of it here but I at least wanted to resolve the cliffhanger at the end of Year One. Please enjoy!