Ian squeezed my hand tightly as I stepped into the tower. Alathea had scrubbed it from top to bottom. The entire place gave off a clean, white light feeling everywhere you looked, but even now I could remember the biting pain, the feeling of hopelessness, and the broken conversations with Hue. A chill shot through me and I couldn’t help myself. While I would never admit to the fear, I knew deep down I still woke up some nights in a panic from nightmares starring this place.
Ian whirled around to face me as I pushed down my discomfort. He pressed me against the wall with his hands on either side of me. “Princess, look at me.” I lifted my eyes to meet his. “I’m here and I swear, nothing in this tower will harm you while I am here.”
I felt the corner of my mouth turn up. “You called me Princess.”
“You are the Princess, aren’t you?” There was a teasing tone to his voice that made me relax. I felt part of my worry fade away as he ran his hands down my sides before pulling me closely against his chest. “I swear, I will keep you safe. You just have to believe in me.”
I felt my breath catch. “I trust you with my life, Ian. That has never changed and I can’t see it ever changing in the future.”
“Thank you,” he whispered, stroking my hair a few times before letting me go. Taking my hand again he led me up through the floors and around the many stairs until we reached the top where the row of doors lay. “Which door are we looking for?” he asked.
I pulled my hand free and walked over to a rather boring wooden door. The only thing that made it different from all the others was the type of lock that was on it. This lock gleamed with magical wards. The amount of protection on this one door told me it was a gateway to the most secret of places. Possibly the Dreaming, but more likely the Forgotten Realm. “This one,” I told him.
Ian sank down to one knee, leaning in to get a closer look at the lock. “And how do you suppose we unlock it and get through?” he finally asked.
“I brought a book from Hue’s vault. It talks about how only certain Dragon bloodlines have the ability to open the locks and gates. The Keepers of Omniglot have a strange Fae blessing or tie somewhere in their heritage that gives them the ability. It’s not super clear, but it has something to do with their blades and Dragon Fire.” I pulled the book from my pack and a dagger as well. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but I knew Vallen had gifted both Hue and Geren a dagger with his family crest on it. Now that I held it in my hands, I noticed for the first time how the hilt never seemed to warm to the touch. I handed it to Ian and opened the book.
Ian held it carefully, paying close attention to every little marking on the hilt and blade. “It’s a beautiful piece. Not just ornamental but highly lethal as well. This looks like the same steel that was used in Excalibur.” He looked like he was in awe.
“Well be careful with it then. I don’t need you to nick yourself and bleed out because of it.” Looking down at the book in my arms, I found the spell. I took a deep breath and began chanting the old Draconic language. I watched as one by one the threads of the ward peeled away from the lock. When I finished I carefully took the dagger from Ian and with all my strength drove it down into the stone floor with a burst of Dragon Fire. The door clicked open and swung inward.
Ian looked at me wide eyed. “Well, that was easier than I expected.”
“Speak for yourself. I feel exhausted already,” I told him.
“Old magic requires a lot of energy to perform. It doesn’t surprise me that you feel drained, but it’s only going to get worse. The walk to the lake is said to age you one hundred years while you are here. It causes your bones to grow more brittle, and many choose to lay down, sleep, and never wake up because the realm swallows them up.” I could tell that there was a mixture of curiosity and and fear in his voice. “Luckily, I’m pretty young still and you’re practically a baby.”
I rolled my eyes and waited for him to step through the doorway before I bent and removed the dagger from the ground. I had planned to close the door behind us, which I knew was a dangerous choice, but I couldn’t chance someone else following us in. It took a hefty tug but the dagger pulled free and I dove through the door just before it slammed shut behind us. There was a crackling that sounded like thunder as it sealed. The finality of it was almost heartrending. I tucked the dagger into my belt and looked up at Ian, whose eyes told me of the seriousness of our situation.
“Now where?” I asked.
Ian shook his head and pointed down a path. To our left was a dirt road that led to a large blue lake. All around it were green trees that appeared to be made of silver and gold. Above the lake on a hill sat a large, white castle. Blue and silver banners hung from its walls, all bearing the mark of Vallen’s family crest. The same crest that was on the dagger. Wordlessly Ian and I set out on the road. Though the lake was close, I felt like we were moving in slow motion as we walked.
“Why does it seem like we are walking so slowly?” I asked.
“Kat, save your energy. Try not to speak and just keep moving,” he said with his eyes focused forward.
I didn’t understand at first, but the more we walked the more memories of my entire life flashed before my eyes. The sorrows and pain were all there for me to face. The laughter seemed to flicker by, giving me small bursts of strength to keep moving. Finally, after what seemed like hours or even days, we arrived at the shore of the lake. I touched the water with my toe and all the memories, noise, pain, and so on stopped, and absolute silence engulfed me. I felt like I could breathe again.
When I looked up at Ian he was breathing heavily. Taking his hand I urged him forward until his foot hit the water. He shuddered and seemed to snap back to reality. “Thank you,” he said weakly to me.
“OK, we’re here. I need the rope,” I told him.
Ian nodded – he still seemed unable to fully speak. Shifting his bag he pulled out a massive spool of Elven rope. Its said to be unbreakable. I ran my fingers over it before grabbing the end and looping it around my waist three times. He finally met my gaze. “Kat, before you do this…” His words trailed off and he looked away.
I felt my heart miss a beat. I stepped closer to him. Reaching my hands up, I slid them to his shoulders and urged him down. “Ian, no matter what happens, know that I have and always will love you.”
It was all he needed to grab me hold of me tightly and press his lips to mine. I felt my knees buckle, but it didn’t matter because I was pressed too tightly against him. We kissed with a hunger that told the story of our tragic love. We would always love each other, no matter what had happened in the past, but despite it all I needed Hue and loved him just as much. When all the air had left our bodies and we finally parted, gasping for air, I looked at him. “Kat, you have to come back to me. I swear if you do not make it back I will lay down on this very shore and die. I can exist happily in the world as long as you are there and happy, but I refuse to exist in a world where you are not. Let all three of us live or let all three of us die.” He set me back on the ground and took hold of the rope.
With a nod I turned and waded out into the icy waters of Loch Omniglot. By the time I reached the center my body was numb and I was treading water. “Water guard me, Air fill my lungs, Earth lend me your strength, and Fire, be with me.” I whispered and felt the elements swirl around me. I was about to dive when I heard a chilling voice.
“Who DARES to swim in these waters without my permission?” I watched as a swirling blue form took life over the surface of the lake. A woman who was impossibly slender and almost nine feet tall stood over me. Her hair moved like running water and her face was ageless.
Pushing down my fear I looked up at her. “I do!” I called.
She glared down at me. “Princess Alizeyah? How did you get here?”
“Through a gateway in the Archmage’s tower,” I explained.
“And my grandsons permitted that?”
“No. They do not know.” I should have been afraid and I knew that, but I had survived too much to let fear stop me now.
“Why are you here, Alizeyah?” The Lady of the Lake crossed her arms over her chest.
“I’ve come for Lord Hudraer. He is my Soul Mate and I will not leave without him,” I told her firmly.
“My dear Princess, you think I will let you leave at all?” There was disappointment to her voice. “Besides, doesn’t your mate stand on the shore?”
I looked back at Ian and up at her. “I love him and will not lose him, but Hudraer is my Soul Mate. I will not relinquish either of them,” I said firmly.
“You must choose,” she insisted.
“No, then I choose them both.” I would have stomped my foot if I had been able to.
She sneered. “You are a selfish, selfish child. You are unworthy to lead,” she bit out.
“I am, but you see, the world needs both of them. I need both of them. Return Hue, let the two of them leave, and I will stay. Let death take me,” I said, tears pricking my eyes.
She blinked and almost looked surprised. “You admit you are selfish? You want them both to live but are willing to take Hudraer’s place? What game do you play, little Princess?”
I shook my head. “No game at all. Ian will one day have to rule and take care of his people. Hudraer is needed to unite the Dragons and keep them together. I’m just a Tempest that really isn’t all that important in comparison. Please, let them live, and take me instead.” I felt the tears roll down my face.
The Lady of the Lake was quiet for a long moment. “The decision is not mine, Alizeyah. I will allow you to dive, but understand that you only get one chance. The lake takes all to the next life and you will be no different. If you choose to dive, then you are choosing to die.”
I chanced a glance to Ian on the shore. He nodded to me. I looked back to the Lady of the Lake. “I’m not other people and my story is just beginning. I do not fear the unknown. I do not fear you. I do not fear this damned lake. I sure as hell don’t fear death. I write my own destiny!” I shouted up at her. “Water protect me, Air fill my lungs, Earth give me strength, and Fire be with me.” My words were short but I felt the elements surge through me and I dove.
I kicked and I pulled my way deeper and deeper into the water. All feeling in my body was gone but still I kicked and pulled myself deeper. Soon all light had disappeared and my lungs burned from holding my breath, but I kept going. I seemed to dig through the water for what felt like an hour and then there was a sliver of light ahead and the deeper I went the lighter the world around me became. I released my breath and with one last burst of energy I pushed myself towards the silvery reflective surface of the light.
I burst through the water, gasping for breath. Looking up at the sky I realized there was no sun. The light just seemed to exist. I swam towards the shore, still fighting for air, where I pulled my body from the icy cold water. The rope around my waist was still knotted and hung at my hips. I began wandering through the thick woods that surrounded the lake. Every direction I turned looked the same. I felt lost and helpless.
Closing my eyes I focused on Hue. Where are you? I’ve come to take you home. I was met with only silence. My heart tightened in my chest. Please talk to me! I need to find you. Panic stirred in my heart. What if I couldn’t find him?
“Alizeyah?” I heard a warm voice from behind me. Whirling around quickly I felt the air I had fought for rush from my lungs.
There he stood. My Hue. Different, but still him. His skin was so pale it looked almost white, and his hair and eyes seemed more golden than before. When he moved towards me it was with a slight limp, but his eyes lit up. I threw myself into his arms and knocked us both to the ground.
Straddling his hips I leaned down and kissed him. He tasted like fire and smoke. I moaned against his mouth where his tongue touched mine in an erotic dance. He struggled with the movement but twisted, rolling me under him. He ran his hands along the length of my body urging and twisting us closer and closer to one another. Moaning, he released me from his kiss but stroked the hair from my face. “How are you here? Are you dead?” Grief crossed his face.
“No. I’m here to take you home,” I explained.
“How is that possible?” he asked.
I shrugged. “It doesn’t matter, but we need to go.”
Nodding in understanding he climbed to his feet and offered me a hand in getting to my own. “Then we should go soon before this world decides to keep you.”
Taking his hand I guided him back to the lake. Once there I carefully untied the rope around my waist, then looped it around him and knotted it. Then I looped it around myself again and tied it off. “I just have to tug this a couple times and Ian starts pulling and we start diving and swimming,” I explained.
“Ian came with you?” he asked curiously.
“Yes. Now, are you ready to go?” He nodded and I led him out into the water. Giving the rope several good hard tugs, I felt the slack disappear and gulped in big gasps of air as we were pulled under. With one hand firmly locked on Hue, I kicked and pulled as hard as I could through the water. The light slowly disappeared and the darkness consumed us. I felt Hue tiring, his kicks not as strong. I looked back at him and saw the pain in his eyes as he finally let out his breath, unable to hold it any longer. Panic washed over him. I stopped swimming and pressed my mouth to his and breathed into him. Giving him my last breath. I returned to kicking, resisting the urge to take a breath, ignoring the pain of a body starved for air. Finally I saw the glowing surface of the blue water welcoming us back to the other side.
I pushed myself harder than I ever had before. The closer we got to the surface, the darker my vision became. It started at the edges and slowly grew towards the center of my sight. I could almost touch the surface. I reached for it as my vision went black and my body went numb. No! It can’t end like this!