Author Topic: Secrets Upon Secrets  (Read 689 times)

Ariana

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Secrets Upon Secrets
« on: December 03, 2012, 04:03:03 PM »
The highest tower of the citadel of Phalion had not been touched since that fateful night, almost sixteen years before, a night that had seen the death of the old order and the full assumption of the new. A night when flames had leapt high into the darkness of the night, burning to ash the bodies of the Princess Arian and her consort, the Lord Farus, and ending Arlan's line forever.

Or perhaps not. There was hope, still, in many minds. It was widely known that Arian had birthed a pair of twins in her last moments - that the girl child had been stillborn, and the male survived. It was known, too, that Velasca, Usurper Queen of Arctra, had balked at ending utterly the royal line of Arlan, choosing instead to allow the boy to live with the intention that he should marry Valeyna, her own daughter, and renew Arlan's line in that manner. Few believed it would work to her advantage, but fewer still dared to speak out against the cruelty of Velasca's reign. The only hope lay in the rising manhood of Arian's son.

He had been named Adare, and raised in the citadel fortress town of Phalion, his father's seat of power and the traditional stronghold of the Chosen Man, defender of the Queen's right of birth. He was, by all accounts, a strange boy; smaller than most of his age, gentler in spirit, yet according to his tutors and the fine Captain Dalan, the young prince was growing to be a fine swordsman, favoring skill and agility over brute strength. He was a friend to the craftsmen of the citadel, showing skill of his own in the crafting of paints of fine hue and their use, often offering up his own work to the Temple of Thalan. His kindness and sense of right were deeply appreciated by a people who lived in constant terror of Velasca's so-called justice, and if, sometimes, he seemed odd or unusual, the gratitude of his people put it down to the uncertainty of his own lifetime.

No one mentioned the demon. Or rather, no one spoke openly of the common rumor that declared the young prince to be haunted by the ghost of his stillborn sister. No one dared to speak out the widely held opinion that she haunted her brother in the hope of somehow regaining the throne for Arlan's line. But those who lived in the castle above the town, they knew the demon's tricks well. If Adare was ill or felt threatened, strange things happened; violent things, things that could make a person's blood run cold. There were stories that spoke of blades buried deep in stone walls, of the sense of some invisible being having walked straight through a person, of whispers and cruel laughter and hatred. And in the midst of it all would be Adare, innocent of the actions of his demonic companion, as frightened as any other of the harm that might well be done next.

Many wondered what would happened when Velasca brought her daughter to meet with the young prince for the first time since his birth, secretly hoping that the demon would put an end to the cruel Valeyna's aspirations to the throne. Many wished, in the secrecy of their hearts, that it had been Adare who had died that night sixteen years before, and that his sister still lived somewhere out in the world, readying herself to take the throne back from the usurper who had destroyed her family.

All this, of course, was beyond the young man who now stood in the central room of the ruined tower, surrounded by the debris of years, staring up at the sunlit sky far above him through the open roof of the tower itself. He didn't know why he came here so often; perhaps it was to feel some kind of closeness to the parents he had never known. Mila, his nurse, had told him wonderful stories of his mother and father, of the bravery that had brought them here, and the tragedy that had ended their lives. But she had always been careful to make certain that though he knew the truth, he never spoke it.

A shimmer in the air caught his eye, and Adare lowered his gaze from the cold cloudless sky above to watch as the ghost faded into view. This was something else Mila and Dalan had made him promise never to tell - that the demon ghost the people were so happy to gossip over was no golden-haired girlchild of Arlan's line, but a dark-haired male, identical to himself. Identical but for the eyes. The ghost's eyes burned, as protective of Adare as he was aggressive to anyone or anything that might threaten the living prince.

"She is coming."

The voice was a whisper on the wind, one Adare had long since learned only he could hear with any clarity. Oh, others might realise that there were words being spoken, but only Adare could find coherence in the sounds that swirled around him. The boy - almost a man by the standards of the country - nodded, his jaw setting uncomfortably.

"I know," he admitted awkwardly, one hand twitching toward where his sword hilt should have been. With the Queen's arrival so imminent, all weapons had been whisked out of sight. Everyone in Phalion was to be at a disadvantage to the heavily armored troops that would accompany Velasca and her hateful daughter. "They say the First Blade will be with them."

"Blades cannot kill me."

Adare felt a chill run through him, a frown settling upon his young face as he looked the ghost of his brother in the eye. He didn't like the way that had sounded, not entirely trusting his often unseen companion not to cause some havoc that would see them all punished.

"You are not to harm anyone," he told the ghost firmly. "I forbid it!"

"Valeyna will break you. She will find the truth and her cruelty will know no bounds."

"What truth?" Adare demanded as forcefully as he could, which admittedly was nowhere near forcefully enough to extract a straight answer from his dead brother. "What are you talking about?"

The ghost laughed, the sound shivering its way down the young prince's spine like icy water from the fresh mountain streams that fed the citadel from high above.

"The blood moon, sweet brother. Remember the blood moon."

"The blood moon?"

But there was no time to question the ghost further. The robust sound of Captain Dalan roaring the prince's name from the base of the tower broke through the unnatural stillness of the burnt-out tower, startling roosting birds and making Adare jump. He glanced toward the darkness of the open doorway behind him, and when he looked back, his brother was gone.

He hesitated, his hands fisting in the hem of his tunic. Whatever else he might be, his ghostly brother was right in one regard. Valeyna would break him, and she would enjoy doing it. The reports of her from Loscar, the capital, spoke of a woman a few years his senior, approaching her twentieth year, who delighted in the torture and murder of innocents for reasons no better than a word spoken out of place. Adare was afraid of the woman who was travelling here to be betrothed to him, who in a few short months was to be his wife.

Yet this blood moon the ghost spoke of ... Mila and Dalan had spoken of it, too. They had always said that when the blood moon came, he was to find one of them, that they would take him to someone who could put things right once more. They had never explained further, and any questions he asked were laughed off or set aside to be answered "when the time came". It was mildly infuriating. He was almost sixteen, almost a man! And he was a Prince of Arctra, to boot. Surely such secrets could be entrusted to him. Even his constant ghostly companion knew more than he did.

His name reverberated up among the blackened stones once more, and this time he moved to answer it, calling back down to the ever more impatient Dalan that he was on his way. At the doorway he turned, looking back at the blackened, neglected rooms that had once been the chosen chambers of Arian and Farus, and had become their final resting place so many years before.

"Goodbye, Father," he whispered into the eerie silence. "Goodbye, Mother. I'll come again soon. I promise."

We promise.

With the ghost of his brother at his back, and Captain Dalan's voice growing ever more restive, Prince Adare, the last survivor of the line of Arlan, turned and ran down the uneven stairs of the highest tower of Phalion, to join tutors and guards in the preparations for the Queen's arrival. She had sent word ahead that she had a surprise for him, a gift on the occasion of his sixteenth name day that would make him more of a man than had thus far been achieved. He dreaded to think what devious tricks had been bred in the mind of Velasca the Usurper, and how they pertained to him. But in a matter of hours, he would know.

He could only hope that it would not be something of Valeyna's choosing. The Usurper's daughter was not a companion for the faint hearted. Not that Adare truly knew what having a companion was like. He had not even been allowed a squire, by order of the Queen, her paranoia stretching so far as to keep the young prince as isolated as possible from anyone of his own age. He had no friends, no one of comparable ability or experience with which to spend his time. No one but his ghostly brother, who delighted as much in the display of cruelty as in watching Adare hone his skills with sword and paint. Yet he dared not speak of his brother aloud where anyone might hear. The Usurper's spies were everywhere, alert to any hint of sympathy with the rebellion growing beyond the cities or anomaly in his own being. So the prince grew alone, and learned how best to keep his own counsel.

And in a matter of months, he would no longer be a prince. He would be Valeyna's Chosen Man, defender of her right by birth - such as it was - and the consort of the Crown. His daughter would be the rightful queen of Arctra, a child of Arlan's blood. They needed him. So why, then, did he feel as though each step that brought the Queen closer to Phalion was another step closer to the executioner's block?
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]

Ariana

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Re: Secrets Upon Secrets
« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2013, 03:37:03 PM »
[size=9]- An excerpt from the writings of Queen Ariana[/size]

When I remember that day, so many years ago now, it seems hazy, a cast of characters faded into the background, outshone by the dangerous and the fascinating to my young eyes.

The dangerous ... Velasca and her daughter, Valeyna; the dark wizard Gyre; the pompous oiled Lord Marrun, who was my appointed guardian until I came of age, though I had never seen the man before that day. They came at the forefront of the procession, not acclaimed by the cheers of my people at Phalion, but watched in sullen, hateful silence. No one had forgotten the destruction meted out by their hands on the night of my birth.

Velasca wore the mask of the Queens of Arlan's line, she carried the Sword of Arlan with covetous greed. Even after so many years of ruling our land, she still walked like a hunted predator, her cold eyes always alert for any sign of treachery. I hated her on sight, knowing what I did of the way she had hounded my parents to their deaths. But Brother ... he did more than hate. He wanted her [/i]dead. To my shame, I almost agreed with him.

Valeyna, my so-called betrothed, the heir to the Usurped Throne, was uncommonly beautiful, even I had to concede. Despite the coldness she shared with her mother, she was extraordinary to look upon, a fine warrior in her own right and proud. Yet I was unmoved by the beauty, by the heat in her eyes as she looked at me. I had never taken an interest in those girls who took interest in me. Mila had often reassured me that I was not unnatural because of this; she promised me always that I would understand in time.

Gyre, the wizard. If I hated Velasca and her vile daughter, I despised Gyre. He and his dark wizards had delivered my bloodline to the swords of the usurping army, securing the end of Arlan's line for their low-born Queen. He had tried for years to set a wizard as my tutor, yet I do not believe Velasca trusted him so much as I grew. Certainly, she never agreed to his suggestions. Perhaps she saw the power-madness in him even then.

Marrun, Lord Chancellor and Guardian of Arlan's Line. He had been my guardian in name since the turning of my third birthday, yet he had never before set foot on my holdings, within my citadel. He was a painted fool, more concerned with buggering boys of my age and gaining power of his own than in earning the respect of his ward. The smile he turned on me made my flesh crawl. I wanted him nowhere near.

The fascinating ...

Oh, how well I remember how fascinated I was. The First Blade of Arctra was there, the finest warrior our land had produced in years gone by, and certainly the longest served. Her name was Shaye Dervla, already a living legend by that first meeting of ours. She stood apart from the Queen and her party, quiet and watchful, yet I felt no fear or dislike when I met
her eyes. I liked what I saw there, the suppressed amusement, the warmth, the quick wit. She seemed to smile without smiling, but in the flicker of her eyes to Velasca, I saw how warmth can become murderous heat, how amusement can become disgust, how quick wit can become scorn. The First Blade serves the one who holds the Sword of Arlan, and in that moment, I saw that Shaye Dervla held no love for Velasca or her daughter.

And one other face, whose name I did not know at the time. Young, as mine was, handsome and bright, but overlaid with a fear I did not understand. He stood with the First Blade, dull in the midst of the martial brightness, but he drew my eye nonetheless. I liked the look of him, the nervous hint of his smile as the First Blade spoke to him from the corner of her mouth. Little did I know that face would become as dear to me as those of Mila and Dalan over the months to come.

He was the surprise Velasca had sent word ahead of. This boy of only a year older than myself, taken from the streets as an undisguised insult, was to be my squire, my companion, my constant shadow. I remember the smirking triumph in Velasca's eyes as I accepted the bond, seeing no way to deny her before all my people. She thought she had won.

She had no idea she had just delivered to me the bravest, truest heart I have ever known.
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]

Ariana

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Re: Secrets Upon Secrets
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2014, 11:14:25 AM »
All went well at the feast that night, an evening that had been dreaded by almost all who attended for weeks in advance. The food was of the highest quality, the tables of Phalion Keep always well served, even with a hated guest of honor. Velasca, the Usurper Queen, sat in pride of place at the center of the head table, eating nothing that had not first been tasted by the First Blade herself, sat at her left hand. On her right hand, her hateful daughter, Valeyna, followed her mother's example - the lives of the Queen and her heir protected only through the people's respect for the First Blade, Shaye Dervla.

Beside Valeyna, Adare sat quietly, careful only to speak as much as he had to, aware of the woman who would be his betrothed drinking far more than she should. He had to fight not to grimace each time she said something she thought was witty, each time she berated his people for imagined slights, each time she laughed at the sight of a prince of Arlan's blood being waited on personally by a boy her mother had chosen at random from peasant stock on the road.

But the laughter was also a good thing. Despite himself, Adare liked the look of Rory, the boy whose bond of service he had accepted before his people on the steps of the keep, and was grateful that he seemed to know to play the fool for the amusement of the Queen and her party. He didn't like the way Lord Marrun kept glancing toward him and his new squire, that calculating look in his eyes. Marrun's taste for boys was well-known; Adare did not intend for himself or his new squire to end up at the sharp end of that taste.

Then also there was the wizard. Gyre ate nothing at the feast, drank only a little water, but his eyes were everywhere, absorbing the loving loyalty of the men at arms and the servants to the young prince, the barely concealed hatred of the Queen and her daughter. He spoke in an urbane tone, an engaging conversationalist at the very least, but Adare noticed that each time the topic at that end of the table turned to the throne or to Arlan's line, the First Blade cut the wizard off, polite but firm. There was no love lost there either, it seemed.

In spite of the unpleasantness of their guests, the feast came to a close without mishap, and Adare made the awful mistake of relaxing as the hall emptied and the visiting party began to make their own way to their beds. He found himself alone with Valeyna and Rory, his new squire keeping close as though he had been ordered to do so, despite Valeyna's repeated orders for him to leave them. But in the end, she seemed not to care, waiting until the boy had turned away before cornering Adare beside the fireplace.

"So, little prince," she slurred, breathing wine fumes over him, "you and I are to be married. Sure you know what to do with this?"

Her hand dropped to grasp between his legs, and Adare flinched back, disgusted and, yes, frightened by her boldness. He should have known better than to let the fear show.

In an instant, Brother was there. A howling, wailing presence that pushed between the young prince and his drunken betrothed, spitting obscenities into her suddenly pale face as Valeyna stumbled back, aware of the being without needing to see him. Only Adare saw the dagger rise from the woman's belt and knew what Brother intended.

"No!" he shouted, more fearful now of the consequences should Brother kill the Usurper's heir than afraid of what she could do to him. "Go away! Leave her!"

Daughter of the murderess, killer of our parents, defiler of Phalion! The ghost roared in fury, the words clear only to Adare as he pushed from his place by the hearth. Valeyna was crying, frightened beyond anything she had feared before, unable to fight against an unseen attacker, furious that her fear was witnessed.

"I said no!" Adare held his ground, feeling Brother's fury push against his mind, forcing the ghost of his stillborn sibling to leave Valeyna's dagger be and let her alone.

With a rush of wind that chilled them to their bones, Brother snarled and swept through the hall. Swords and shields leaped from the walls to crash against the rushes on the stone floor, tables were overturned, windows slammed open ... and he was gone. Adare forced himself to stand his ground, straightening his shoulders. He did not dare to look at Rory, afraid of the fear and wariness he might see in the eyes of someone he had hoped might be his friend. Brother could frighten anyone, much less a peasant who had probably already heard the rumors of the demon-touched prince.

Valeyna snarled, pushing herself up onto her feet to tower over the young prince. "How dare you!" she accused him, sober with her fright and angry that fright had been witnessed by anyone. "You set your demon on me, you son of a whore -"

Before Adare could respond, another voice interjected, calm and cool. "Princess Arian was no whore, Lady Valeyna. You would do well to take back those words."

Eyes turned to find Shaye Dervla, the First Blade of Arctra, standing not far away. Adare was astonished; how had she entered without them hearing? Had she been there the whole time? Beside him, Valeyna hissed contemptuously.

"You are nothing but a servant, I don't take orders from you," she began to snarl, but Shaye Dervla had other ideas.

The First Blade's sword whistled from its sheath with a silken sound, the tip coming to rest just barely against the throat of the furious heir. Valeyna's eyes widened and she stilled abruptly, looking into dark eyes that made no attempt to hide their disgust for her.

"I serve the Sword of Arlan," she reminded the usurper princess calmly. "You do not bear that sword. You will apologize to the prince for your slur on his mother, and you will retire to your chamber."

"I'll tell my mother -"

The First Blade smirked. "Your mother knows the boundary of her power over me," she said sharply. "Your life could be forfeit for any one of many transgressions I have witnessed this evening. Give your apology, and leave."

Brave, yes, and cruel, Valeyna was not stupid. She could tell when she was staring death in the face. With a tight jaw, she stepped back from the First Blade's sword, turning to incline her head to Adare, who was staring at the exchange in shocked awe.

"My apologies, Prince Adare," she said stiffly, her eyes promising retribution for this humiliating defeat. "I retract my statement concerning your good mother. And bid you goodnight."

As she turned away, her hand bunched into a fist, the flicker of her eyes threatening Rory, who stood silent and at hand, but a soft sound from the First Blade brought her up sharply. Denied her opportunity to punish anyone for what had happened, Valeyna stalked from the hall. Shaye Dervla did not even wait for her to be gone before she laughed, looking at the two boys with a warm smile.

"I would keep your ghost under control while they are here, if I were you, highness," she warned Adare through that smile. "Velasca is not as stable as she would like people to think."

The young prince nodded, swallowing hard. He wasn't entirely sure what had just happened, but he had a feeling Valeyna would find some way to wreak revenge on those who had witnessed it. He found himself privately vowing to make sure Rory did not bear the brunt of that vengeance. As this thought crossed his mind, the First Blade looked at the new squire.

"Take your lord to his chamber," she told the boy, a warm familiarity in her voice that had to have come from their journey to reach Phalion in the first place. "Best you start as you mean to go on. Good health and good night, highness. Rory."

As she left, Adare felt Brother's presence return, whispering words into his ear. Good heart.

"Yes," he murmured, forgetting for a moment that he was not alone. "Yes, she has a very good heart."

Beware the blood moon. The boy is a danger.

In a whisper of wind and motion, Brother was gone, leaving Adare to turn and look into the face of his squire, the poor boy who had witnessed all the strangeness of Phalion Keep and the demon-touched prince at first hand. How in the name of the gods was he going to explain all this?
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]

Ariana

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Re: Secrets Upon Secrets
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2015, 08:01:40 AM »
[size=9]- An excerpt from the writings of Queen Ariana[/size][/b]

How small a change it was. Such a little thing, to turn my world upside down and bring war to Arctra, the land I have loved so well since childhood.

A single piece of bone, dug from my own flesh; the last remaining vestige of my brother's earthly presence, yet it was all that had stood between myself and death each time the eyes of the Usurper or her servants fell upon me. It seems now such a fragile defense, yet I know firsthand its power. I have seen it, felt it, been held in the hand of the Goddess and protected against all who might come against me. Though I knew little of the Wild Ones then, I have always felt a connection to them. It was not until Kari taught me the truth of myself that I understood why.

I knew in the weeks that followed my transformation that my nightmares had been premonitions, warnings sent from Kari's Goddess to guide me toward the truth. Without them, would I have accepted so readily that the boy I had been all my life was not the woman I would have to become? I do not know, nor will I ever know. At a certain point, proof must give way to faith. Many people were drawn to that faith the day my boyhood was stripped from me, and I was among them.

Faith, and love, were my shield against the doubts that warred in my heart, the uncertainty that rose when I felt the emptiness between my legs, when I saw the flash of golden hair falling over my shoulder. It was weeks before I could look into a mirror and see myself in the girl who looked back; months before I could accept that this was my face and would be for eternity. Rory ... my own beloved Rory ... knew how I struggled. He alone could understand a little of my fears. His love gave me strength in the dark days that followed.

Yet faith and love did not protect me from the certainties of war. As news of my transformation passed from town to town, city to city, many flocked to my banner, abandoning their hated Usurper to support the last remaining scion of Arlan's line. Every day on the march south, our ranks swelled, and every day, I rode out to meet them, Arlan's Sword in my hand, sharing words of comfort and encouragement that I confess I did not feel certain of in my heart.

News had reached us of Valesca's army gathering outside Loscar, of her ranks swelled with Skarran mercenaries and mages. It was a sure sign of her desperation, that she had opened our shores to the heathens who had coveted our land for centuries. If she should win this war, she would be little more than a Skarran puppet; if we, by some miracle, should take the victory, we would have to be ready to repel an invasion shortly after.

Knowing this, I looked out on my armies with dread. I knew the day was coming when many of them would lie dead on a bloody field, their lives given in defense of an untried girl whose only claim to the throne was her bloodline and the magic of the Nine and the Goddess. I, Ariana, could not ask it of them; I, their chosen Queen, expected it. A terrible price, for the peace we all longed for.

The battle for Loscar would decide all our fates.
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]

Ariana

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Re: Secrets Upon Secrets
« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2016, 04:33:17 PM »
[size=9]- An excerpt from the writings of Queen Ariana[/size]

And so the battle for Arctra was over.

Blood stained the snow, the blood of traitors and friends alike. I do not remember much of that fight. I remember the chaos - the shouts of the attackers, both mine and theirs; the screams of the wounded and the fallen; the clash of metal against metal, or worse, the dull, heavy slice of metal into flesh.

We should have lost. Despite the victory that was my challenge by combat, they still had numbers on their side. They had the bolstering cruelty of the Skarrans to sway the tide of the battle. And in truth, many of those who had rallied to my banner lay dead when the fighting was done. Yet many more of those that had opposed me had fallen, and among them were the leaders of the noble houses that had supported Velasca and her reign.

The Skarrans' mages were powerful, yes, but theirs was a power of the earth, stolen from the land they called their home. It was no match for the gift of the Goddess that swelled our Wild Ones' ranks and called them to do great things in Her name. I have no knowledge of what truly happened when the Skarrans met with the Wild Ones' wisdom, but our enemy was slaughtered to a man. Not a single Skarran lived to pass the tale of their defeat on that day.

Velasca was one of the first to die in that mad rush to match sword against sword. Already driven mad by her unlawful reign, and grieving for the loss of her daughter by my hand, she plunged into battle without a thought for her own danger. She sought me, I am sure of it, and might have reached me, were it not for Adare's shade. The ghost of my brother, who had stood by my side to protect in that first charge, disappeared from my side as Velasca's madness drove her onward.

I remember her scream as he reached her, the dying howl that pierced the chaos around me. I remember the triumphant shout that rose from my own soldiers as the word spread that the Usurper was dead. But I also remember that she had been a friend to my mother once, in love with my father, and despite her cruelty to me, I mourned her in the wake of the slaughter.

I will never know how kindness became cruelty, how love became hate, how wisdom became madness. But I will never forget that before she was the Usurper Queen, Velasca was my mother's dearest friend. She paid for her cruelty in ways even I would never have condoned, her body torn to pieces by the angry hands of those who marched with me. There will be no grave for Velasca, nor for her daughter. Their resting place will never be found, for we gave them none. We condemned them to an eternity without peace for their crimes.

Gyre, the wizard whose presence had made my brother's death necessary all those years ago, came through the battle alive. He groveled before me, begging my forgiveness, pleading for his miserable life, but the decision was taken out of my hands. Kari touched him, and in her touch was the power of the Wild Ones' Goddess. I will never forget the way that power shocked him to his core, stopping his heart in an instant. Whether he was forgiven or not is only for the Wild Ones to know, and they will not tell us.

I do not recall how it came to pass, but after the battle, I found myself healed of all the injuries I had taken. Rory, too; my brave, beloved Rory, who had taken a sword thrust meant for me despite my insistence that he should not ... he rose from where he had fallen to take me in his arms and kiss me, to prove to me that we lived. Liayna came to us, bloodied but smiling, Conall's hand in hers. They had come through the fight intact, glad to have been witness to the end of Velasca and her ways.

But Shaye ... oh, how my heart aches to write of Shaye. She was not defeated, remaining the First Blade throughout the heady melee that stripped the life from so many. But as I turned to find her on the body-strewn battleground, I saw her fall, bleeding from many wounds, unable to keep her feet. I will never forget the scream that erupted from the Lord Commander ... from Liam, her husband ... as he sprang to catch her, his grief and pain the expression of all that we had lost in our fight to restore what was right.

The healers are with them now, for he will not leave her side. I can only pray that the gods do not take her from us, not after she has endured so much. Yet I cannot stay to write any longer.

The gates to Loscar stand open. It is time to take my place on the throne that should have been my mother's.

It is time to be queen.
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]