It’s the final confrontation between good and evil as Wynter and Arianna journey to the mystical Heaven’s Gate in a last resort to save the world from destruction. All the cards are on the table as the gods themselves reveal their plan for the world of Aria. Wynter’s and Arianna’s love are tested to the limits. An old foe that was once thought dead returns to keep the lovers from finishing their quest. The fate of the world of Aria hangs in the balance as Wynter risks all and becomes what prophecy has foretold him to be. The Great Dragon must rise, or the world shall fall, and Wynter will remain separated from Arianna forever.
“Arianna, is this where we pay for our sins?”
She placed a hand on my shoulder. “No, Wynter. This is where we pay for our virtues.”
I stood at the bottom step that led up to the throne where the Speaker of the elves once sat. Now, the Speaker lay in a glass coffin, a victim of the wasting disease that ravaged the world. People, both noble and common, stood around the room dress in multiple shades of purple, the color of mourning. Losing a king was a rare thing in Dusk, as the elves lived for centuries. Losing a ruler as beloved as Speaker Elothon’a’galar, proved devastating to his people.
Only a month ago, Arianna and I released the elves from their prison. While the elves worked without complaint to save their treasured forest and home, the poison that seeped into the core of the world of Aria was too much for them to fight. That same poison affected the Speaker. I shifted my stance, and my weariness increased with the heat of the room and my frustration. “Then why has this happened? Releasing the elves should’ve saved the world, or at least been the first step in doing so. I don’t understand why the gods have allowed this. Am I not moving fast enough for them, or are they too busy bickering over who gets what’s left of this world?”
Arianna squeezed my hand hard. “Be quiet, Wynter. This is not the time to question the gods. We’ll find these answers soon enough, but we need to show silence and reverence for a great leader. Soon King Rowan will be here along with Lord Zalos of Valter. The dwarven delegation will arrive tonight.”
I glanced at the floor. Arianna’s scolding left me chastised. “I’ll wait, but I grow uneasy. The world isn’t right, and I feel the gods will call us to leave soon.”
Arianna laid her head against my arm, the lavender-colored veil that covered her head just emphasized her beauty. “I sense that same tug from the Keeper. The world grows anxious, and fear spreads upon the four winds.”
“Death will do that. It’s only all the races of the world that are suffering together. There are rumors of vast armies across the sea that will set sail toward our shores soon.”
“I’ve heard the same, but until someone confirms them, we need to focus on the present. The Speaker of Twilight needs our prayers and memories to see him to the hands of the gods.”
Standing in silence, I watched as nobles ascended the steps and laid wreaths of flowers at the base of the Speaker’s coffin. They all kneeled in reverence before returning to their spot in the audience chamber that housed the elven king’s funeral.
Priests and priestesses murmured prayers and salutations to the gods. Elven Knights archers lined the walls at attention while the family of the elven ruler waited in the back in silence. None of them moved to pay their last respects to Elothon’a’galar. They would wait until the end of the wake. Protocol demanded it as it was then that deities and the ancestors of the people would reveal the new elven speaker.
I watched the family of the speaker in curious silence. If it weren’t for the occasional shift of their feet, I’d suggest they were statues. One turned its head toward me. Elothon’a’galar’s son, Alain’galar regarded me with a cool glance. His face was stoic, a mask of stone showing no emotion, even in his eyes. He nodded and for a split second, his strength melted away revealing a scared boy full of fear.
It was then I realized that he would become the new Speaker of Twilight. I saw it in his eyes and knew it was a title and responsibility he didn’t desire. The gods played with all our lives, and Alain would be a pawn.
Arianna tugged my arm, and I looked back at her. “Wynter, it is time for us to pay our respects.”
I nodded in understanding. “A half-elf this close to the speaker at his funeral should turn a few heads.”
“Wynter, the people here respect you too much to allow your mixed-heritage to bother them.”
“Perhaps, but some prejudices are hard to overcome so fast. I’m sorry, but even the Great Dragon finds it difficult to give up the past.”
“I love you, Wynter. Please know I’m here for you in everything that happens.”
“My heart is forever yours, Arianna. Let’s pay our respects and leave this place.”
Ascending the steps, I approached the dead lord of the elves. He looked peaceful considering his death was painful. Perhaps the gods granted him that peace. I could only hope for the same when my time came, but being a man of war and with the prophecy, I doubted I’d get that grace.
Arianna placed a wreath of white roses at the base of the coffin. I watched as she whispered a small prayer to her god. Taking a step next to her, I knelt and pulled a dagger from my belt. It wasn’t fancy, but it served me well in the past. I didn’t think the speaker would fight any demons on the other side, but at least if he did, the dagger I laid on the floor would help him.
“Wynter, don’t you feel that’s inappropriate?”
“No. The speaker was a great warrior, and a warrior needs a blade for when he crosses over.”
“Then you honor him with your gift.”
I stood and gripped Arianna’s hand. “Let’s go as others wait for us to finish. Tonight will get longer before it ends.”
I descended the steps and saw Alain’galar watching me. He saw me leave the blade along with everyone else in the room. Crossing the room, I felt the eyes of all the mourners bore into me. If anyone judged me for what I did, I couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter, anyway. The only person whose opinion mattered was Arianna.
Reaching the door, an elven knight opened it for us. She saluted me which caught me off guard. It wasn’t unheard of for an elven woman to achieve knighthood. Elves didn’t discriminate like the rest of the races. I nodded back unsure of what Arianna expected of me. Protocol, for matters of state, were beyond me. I’d rather fight a dragon than play politics.
Outside the room, I stretched like someone lifted a weight from my shoulders. “It seems I offended no one with my gift.”
Arianna faced me and grabbed both my hands in hers. “Wynter, you honored the speaker in ways most of the nobility wouldn’t dare do. I believe you earned not only the respect of the knights, but I feel if needed, they’d follow you into battle.”
I leaned forward, resting my forehead on hers. “That is a weight I wouldn’t want to carry. I carry the weight of the world and her lives as it is. Any more and the gods will need to find another Great Dragon as they’ve already crushed me with the pile I already bear.”
Arianna let go of my hand and caressed my scruffy cheek. “No one has asked you to lead the elves into battle, yet. After seeing Alain’galar’s look, he’d surprise me if you weren’t asked at some point. He favors you.”
“He favors my magic, but then as the future leader of the elves, he knows he must protect his people at all costs.”
“Let him do that. I claim you as my personal protector, Wynter.”
I pulled Arianna into an embrace. “So be it. I’d die for you, Arianna.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”