[OOC] So... I didn't intend to put this here. But the place I did intend seems to be in perpetual Maintenance Mode at the moment, at least for me anyway. In a way, it feels right that the refuge should be out of my reach.
No matter, the curtain drops tonight whether it be here or there. On this, the tenth anniversary of what I consider the official start of Fanciful Tales and Wild Stories of the Refuge (08/08/08), I present the final chapter (please let there be no character limit here... /me crosses fingers)
Fair warning, if you have not read any of the previous story, this may make no sense. Also fair warning, if you go looking for any of the previous story... you may be sorry to find it. Seek at your own peril.
I am also sorry for all the bold. It wasn't bold when I copied and I tried the paste as plain text feature and I tried unbolding it and I tried pasting it into a text file then copying and pasting here and I've only 20 minutes left for 08/08/18... of all the results leaving it as all bold was the least offensive. Sorry.[/OOC]
She woke with a start, heart thundering and an ache in her chest. The dream - quickly fading - left only a sense of urgency in her memory and an eerily familiar voice echoing her name. It had been the same for three nights prior. Each subsequent night gave her further pause. Yesterday she had mentioned the dreams to her brother who had urged her to take them seriously. She supposed now he would insist she take action.
Jewels sighed… she was getting too old for this. She breathed in deeply, counting slowly to coax her heart back to calmness. As she watched, the flames of the walls around her flickered in a cozy orange glow inviting her to close her eyes and drift back to sleep. She would take action… eventually, but not quite yet. Eighty years of lead ambassadorship for the Fire Plane surely earned her the right to sleep in now and again.
Just as she felt her mind start to fall back to rest, a cheery voice jarred her back to wakefulness. “Rise and shine, Your Excellency. It’s another beautiful start to another beautiful day!”
Bright white light flooded into the room as curtains were pulled back and Jewels scrunched her eyes shut tighter against the sudden intrusion. “Lots of things to do today,” the voice continued. “The Ambassador Conference begins at ten for pre-briefing with the other dimensional representatives going right into a light lunch. Then the United Inter-Dimensional Elemental Summit will start at two followed by the Dinner Gala. Finally you have a military follow-up briefing in the evening with all of the high level Fire Plane generals. But first things first, you’re having breakfast with your brother in an hour.”
Jewels stifled a groan as she rolled over. All of that was today?? She had gone to bed last night, sure that she had another week to prepare. This was why she hadn’t done anything about her dream already. She didn’t have time to go chasing after the meaning behind a dream that she couldn’t even remember when more than likely, it was nothing more than some bad boiled cabbage. She was far too busy with her responsibilities here. Had she even taken more than a few days off in the past fifty years? Only when her brother or son had insisted upon it. They did - after all - out rank her. And then, even when on “vacation”, an ambassador must still keep public and foreign relations top of mind so as not to cause any ripple of inter-dimensional incident.
The thought of whining “I don’t wanna” like a grumpy child flitted through her mind as a possible response. Instead, though, Jewels sat up and rubbed her eyes. “Thank you, Cerrie. Your attentiveness is as exceptional as ever. I appreciate the way you pay attention to the details of my schedule, so I don’t have to.” Cerrie smiled sweetly, though Jewels noted that the look in her eyes held resignation.
She had to admit, if Cerrie didn’t continually remind Jewels of her schedule, she wouldn’t make it to half of the things on it. And wasn’t it Cerrie who had kept her on a strict regimented sleep schedule all these years, protecting her from being tempted to overwork herself? Awake at seven and to bed by eleven. The mantra was so wholey ingrained in her life that no one even suggested she do otherwise. Truly, this one constant had kept her sane on more than one chaotic occasion. “I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she added with sincerity. Cerrie gave a nod of thanks as she continued to help Jewels ready herself for the day. The urgency of the dream was all but forgotten while more immediate matters filled her mind. By the time breakfast with her brother rolled around, she didn’t even bat an eye at Vergil’s question.
“So, how did you sleep last night?”
“Oh... Fine, fine,” she answered automatically as etiquette dictated. “Yourself?”
“Just fine?” he asked again, ignoring her reciprocal pleasantry. She paused just a moment, trying to remember her morning at all. “Yes, well, I suppose I would have liked to sleep in a bit longer, but the day needed me, didn’t it?” Vergil sat across from her with a look that clearly indicated he was expecting something more but she was drawing a blank as to what it might be. She wished he’d just come out and ask her what he really wanted to know. She was getting too old for these guessing games.
He wasn’t quite sure if she was purposefully avoiding the subject or not, but her flame-in-the-darklight stare said more “I have no idea what you want from me” than it did “I don’t want to talk about it”.
It worried him. It had been happening more and more often; her forgetting simple things. Like the name of someone she’s met a dozen times before, what she was scheduled to do the next day, or even a conversation she’d had just hours previously. He sometimes wondered if she had even heard him or if her mind had just wandered.
Jewels was declining, and by fire elemental standards, she was declining fast. She was moving slowly, grimacing more, fading in and out of awareness of the things around her. She still looked as young as ever but by all practical standards, she was behaving as if she were in her thousands rather than at a mere hundred. That her previous concern for this recurring dream seemed to be non-existent today only gave his worry more credit.
Vergil decided to let the matter lay, though. Even if she had woken from the same type of dream as the previous nights, it would do no good to ask her about it now. Not when the day required her focus to be on other things. Instead he maneuvered into prepping her for what was to come. Reminding her of her duties and the relevant goals they were trying to accomplish.
Jewels tried not to roll her eyes at her brother. There he sat, prattling off what she was supposed to do at the Summit today, as if she didn’t already know. She wasn’t a child, and she knew what he was really doing… You forget one dignitary’s name and assume his daughter is his wife and they never let you live it down.
Sure, it had been getting harder for her to stay on top of things lately. She had noticed it too. It was hard not to. The stiffness in the mornings and the shortness of breath after minimal exertion… Or how walking into a room and not being sure why she had come was just a part of her routine now. But surely it didn’t warrant the childish rehearsals Vergil had been putting her through. Each one was more insulting than the last.
The part of Jewels’ mind that was not contemplating her indignation noticed that the inflection of his last sentence indicated a question while his facial features looked both expectant and increasingly worried the longer she didn’t reply. Fire and Ice… this was only going to validate his perception of her absent-mindedness. She feigned mishearing him instead. “Hmm, what was that?”
With a tight lipped smile that belied his annoyance he repeated his question. “Jewels,” he paused for her acknowledgement.
“Yes?” she replied as regally as possible.
“Do you have your speech written, yet?”
“Yes, of course I do!” she snapped without hesitating, lest she receive yet another lecture. And truly, Jewels was reassured by a sense of confidence that she had already completed a speech. Though... for the life of her, she couldn’t quite remember how it was supposed to go. But that’s why she had written it down. So she didn’t have to remember. Jewels huffed out her frustration just as much at herself as at her brother. “I do wish you wouldn’t fuss over me so much…” It would be easier to pretend she hadn’t actually forgotten anything that way.
Vergil sighed along with her. He wished he didn’t have to fuss as much either. But it had become obvious she had stopped listening to him, and today was more important than most. He really hoped that she had written her speech for officially instating her son, Aden, as the new lead Fire Plane Ambassador. If she had forgotten about that… the need for the transfer was more dire than he thought.
Jewels had hurried back to her room after breakfast and rummaged around finding her speech lying just where she had left it. She smiled as she started re-reading it. It was essentially her official retirement as she passed leadership of the Fire Plane Ambassadors on to her son, the newest - former - Fire Lord of the Fire Plane.
As it had been intended since his birth, Aden had successfully courted and wed a princess of the Earthen, bringing the rule of all four elemental planes together under one house. There were still factions on some planes who fought against the intermingling of their races just as the Pure Bloods of the Fire Plane had fought against the mixed race Blue Bloods while she had reigned as Fire Lord. The skirmishes, though, had become few and far between as Aden’s many offspring had grown to adulthood, proving themselves - time and again - to be competent, influential, and all together invaluable in leadership roles.
Aden - in his own wisdom - had started their training early, including them in as much of the day to day of reigning as their abilities would allow and involving Jewels in their upbringing. As it stood now, he had four sons set up as Stewards for each of the represented planes; Fire, Water, Air, and Earthen. They resided on each plane permanently, starting friendships and families with members of their plane and most often wearing the form that their people did. They even took native names to distinguish themselves as belonging to their people. Fuermar of Fire, Alse’oss of Water, Ihilliah of Air, and Krayton of Earthen. Each of her grandsons represented the struggles of their race singularly so that their peoples could feel they had a voice that truly served them and their interests.
Aden himself kept a residence on every plane to effectively rule each while he was there. How he kept track of when he needed to be where with all the time flow deviations, Jewels could only guess. Especially when you included all of the planes where he didn’t rule, but still had influence... He was working in at least ten different dimensions by now. She tried to have him explain it to her once but gave up after the third dimension in relation to the fifth.
All she really understood was that one day in the Fire Plane was less than a day everywhere else, so when Aden wanted to “slow down time” and get some work done, he’d come home to Fire. It was rather advantageous for quelling uprisings on the other planes, being able to spend more time strategizing than the enemy could. It bolstered trust for many of the peoples in his ability to rule effectively which had transferred to his sons also.
His firstborn, Fwae, Aden had kept by his side all these years. Continually training and grooming him for the duties of ruling all of the planes together. With subilty and grace, he had continually been giving Fwae more and more of the responsibilities. Aden allowed himself to diminish in power and prestige so that his son could grow in his rule without worry of uprising or dissent.
Today’s summit was to celebrate the official transfer as Aden stepped down from leadership as Fire Lord to instead lead the Ambassadors who helped monitor and maintain the peace. The job was just as important, if not more so, in the delivery of critical information to those with the responsibility to make decisions on what to do with it.
Jewels sighed as she stretched out achy muscles. She still had to prepare for the Ambassador’s Conference. In less than an hour, she had to put the finishing touches on a meeting for all the current Ambassador’s from each plane. The list of details to attend to always seemed overwhelming though she seemed to manage them anyway for each meeting.
Funnily enough, making sure the seating arrangements were amicable was the hardest part. You’d think that those who were Ambassadors would be able to all get along with one another, but apparently when you’re all on the same power tier rank-wise, the jostling for who’s really on top comes out in other, less friendly ways. Keeping the stronger personalities interspersed with the mild ones was essential.
She had enjoyed the job of lead Ambassadorship these long years, but Jewels would be glad to have the responsibilities shift. Less telling people what to do and where to go, and more doing and going what and where she was told. This would be her last seating arrangement, thank goodness. Maybe when she didn’t have to worry so much about keeping everything together, she’d be able to manage her own affairs better.
Nana sighed and shook out achy branches. The flames of her limbs and leaves were as bright as ever, but on the inside, she was just sore. Perhaps - she mused - it was because trees were not supposed to live their lives as if they were continually on fire. Having a dryad that was half fire elemental sometimes had its perks, like when she wanted to scare away a nasty beetle munching on her bark, but there was so much unknown about such a union. Nana didn’t have any frame of reference for how she should feel at the age she was whether she stayed in this form or her corporeal one. Most dryads and their trees lived to be four or five hundred years old, though some of the elders had lived to their thousands. Nana had thought that since fire elementals also lived to their thousands, she might gain some years. But being just over a hundred and feeling the way she did… she wondered if it hadn’t had the opposite effect, burning out the life force that might have lasted longer as each race separately. Jewels had come to her for a siesta after the meeting of the Ambassadors, also feeling the increased effects of aging and wishing to rest before the Summit this afternoon. Nothing stood out as overly worrying about the meeting. Just the normal smattering of skirmishes and riots and protests, but for the most part, life as an elemental was quite peaceful these days. What was more worrying to Nana, were the gaps that were ever increasing in Jewels’ memory. She would have vague recollections and impressions of things she had said and done and experienced, but when it came to the details… even Nana struggled to pull things together.
And then there was this dream that Jewels kept having. It had come only while sleeping in her bed, which she was in the habit of doing, insisting it be for the benefit of the other fire elementals. But Jewels never remembered anything about the dream and Nana had been unsuccessful in drawing anything out. She agreed with Vergil, that Jewels should take it seriously. But she also knew that getting through today should take priority. Once the responsibilities of organization had been passed to Aden, Jewels would be free to pursue this unknown call.
Aden smiled genuinely and laughed heartily while listening to his mother’s speech. She’d always had a way with words. His mind wandered back to the day that her first grandchild had come home from school crying for the bullies that teased him mercilessly over his name.
“Amma,” the boy had sniffled, “All the other boys say Fwae is a stupid girly name.”
“Ah, pay them no mind, dear,” Amma Jewels had comforted, gathering him up onto her lap, “That only shows that they are insecure with their own names. They make fun of yours to try to convince themselves that their own name is a good one, a better one. Tell them that you like their names, and perhaps they will be reassured without having to make fun of yours anymore.” Fwae had considered her instruction and nodded at it though it was obvious the boy was still aggrieved by the teasing. “Besides,” Jewels had continued, “No one else’s name means the same thing that yours does.”
Fwae’s curiosity had been piqued by this and Jewels had waited to allow him to find the courage to do the asking. “What does my name mean, Amma?” Aden was also curious for the answer as he had not questioned his wife’s choice of name for their first child. He had found the name odd, himself, but thought it may be common enough on the Earthen plane.
“Well,” Jewels had started, holding both their attentions now, “Your name is a symbol that represents both who you are, and who you will be when you grow up. You are meant to be the ruler of all the elemental peoples and your name, even as short as it is, says that with every single letter. F is for Fire. That’s for me and my father Cinead who was a full blood fire elemental and the Fire Lord of the Fire Plane many years ago.” An inkling of understanding had come to Aden then, though she continued to spell it out for Fwae. He wondered if it had been his wife’s intent or if Jewels had gone to her with the suggestion.
“W is for Water,” Jewels went on teaching both spelling and history with her story. “That’s for your grandpa Darius and his father Sheldon who was a full blood water elemental and the King of the Water Plane. A is for Air. That’s also for your grandpa Darius and his mother Ahhalia who was the first born of the Air plane’s royal line when great-grandpa Sheldon married her.”
Fwae had snickered at this. “Amma, don’t you find it funny that there aren’t any airplane’s on the Air plane? They can all fly so they don’t need any.”
“That is funny,” Jewels had answered with a chuckle then brought him back to the lesson with a question. “And what do you think the last letter of your name means?”
Fwae’s face scrunched up as he thought about what the last letter of his name was. “E? For Earthen?” he had ventured.
Jewels had nodded in agreement. “And who is that for?” she pressed. Fwae’s face lit up with the realization. “That’s for Mama, isn’t it? She’s a princess! From the Earthen plane.”
“That’s right,” Jewels had praised with enthusiasm. “So you see, there has never been anyone else like you. You are the first to be descended from the royalty of four different elemental dimensions and if you study hard and learn to make friends even with those who tease you, you will grow up to be the ruler of them all.” Aden appreciated how Jewels slipped in an advocacy for a good work ethic and interpersonal skills rather than just an entitlement to his destined role. “Your name, Fwae, says so much is so few letters. It is the best name there is.”
Aden had watched his son climb off his Amma’s lap with a new found confidence that would carry him through all his schooling years. All of this and more was why there had never been any other choice in his mind about who he wanted to lead his Ambassadors when his family and leadership legacy was just starting out.
Her rapport with Fire came from her heritage and leadership through some very unstable years, while her history with Water and Air was well known and highly praised in her willingness to conceive a joint heir with his father Darius. The aspirations of Water and Air, to continue the unions of all the elemental dimensions and races, had only grown with Aden’s own birth.
Then the fact that his mother was also half dryad had proven invaluable in negotiations with the Earthen plane. Already having an organic element in his lineage, on top of the multi-dimensional dynasty he brought to the table had finally been enough leverage for permission to court the eldest daughter of the Magma Maharaja. The combined passion that his entire lineage lent to him had then been sufficient to woo and win princess Kristal’s heart. If there was one thing that he had learned from his mother it was how to love, and love well.
Despite all her efforts, though, Jewels was wanning. More than once she had forgotten an entire conversation they’d had on a previous day. More than once he’d found her lost in a moment of distraction when he’d sent her on an urgent errand. And more than once he’d caught her lying to him about what she had or had not forgotten. Each time he had held his tongue, not wishing to embarrass her for her shortcomings, but it had expedited his plans for Fwae’s succession.
His eldest child, now a strong and capable man, was more than ready to take on the mantle of Elemental Emperor, as Aden had made sure he would be. The harder part, though, was convincing himself that he was ready to step down so that he might relieve his mother her duties with as little disquiet and chagrin as possible. And before her weaknesses became a folly that might lose the people’s trust.
He was glad that she was meeting this transition with grace and acceptance. Where once she might have accused him of undermining her, now she seemed to welcome the relief. That alone belied the need for it. He hoped that she would now find the rest she needed.
It wasn’t even seven yet, but already Jewels was exhausted. She still had the military briefing to endure after this. But how could she refuse her son who smiled at her and held out a hand for yet another dance?
When the Gala had started, Jewels had been able to keep herself off the dance floor by eating diner slowly and pretending to enjoy a second or third desert that she only really nibbled at while the others enjoyed their merriment.
Now, though, after being caught up in a lively jig, her lungs screamed for more oxygen while the heat of the plane seemed oppressive.
“No, no,” she waved Aden off trying not to limp from the pains in her feet. “Twice around the floor is quite enough for me. Go dance with that beautiful wife of yours, or your plentiful daughters and daughters-in-law.” And though she had tried her hardest not to let him see how the stuffy room still spun in her mind’s eye, she stumbled backwards into another flame who caught her and righted her without a fuss.
“Careful, there, your Excellency,” he had said with a nod before he went back to twirling the woman on his arm away from them.
But Aden’s face of merriment abruptly fell to one of worry as he closed the gap between them and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Are you alright, mother?” She hated the niggle of fear in the question.
“Now, now, no need to fret. Just a bit dizzy is all.” It wasn’t quite a lie. When his face didn’t look like he believed her she did her best to breathe steadily, stand straight, and smile innocently. “I think I’ve eaten too much, too. My full stomach is requesting I let it settle before I shake it up again with more dancing.”
While he still may not have believed her, at least he smiled and nodded, accepting that she did not want to participate any more, whatever the real reason may be. “Of course, mother. Find me if you feel up for another twirl, though, won’t you?”
Jewels nodded, knowing that she wouldn’t. The day had been too long already.
She returned to her room, more to escape the watchful eyes, than for want of rest. She did not intend to miss the military briefing, but she could not let the generals see her in her weakness. Even if she were no longer to be in charge of the ambassadors, still she would not want them to view her as incompetent. She moved to her writing desk and sat, breathing in the inspiration that she kept there. With affection and sorrow, she picked up the photo she had placed there eighty years ago. Two naively joyous faces smiled back at her, one her own, the other of Nioca. The moment in the picture had been captured shortly before Aden had requested her further assistance in rearing her grandchildren and being a voice for the peace of the joined peoples.
Because of the differences in time between the Fire and Internet planes, where she had resided, what had passed for Aden as years, had only been a few months for her and Nioca. Their expected seedlings had not even fallen from Nana’s branches yet. Nioca, of course, insisted that she go. That they all go.
If only he had been more a bit more hesitant… or a bit more selfish… or she a bit less eager to agree. If only he had requested she delay for one more night, or her even one hour… then he might still be alive. They all might be.
She couldn’t remember the details of what happened that day, but she woke in a hospital amid whispers of “teleportation accident” and “terrible storm”. From what she was told, the fire devil they had teleported into interfered with the molecular transfer. Nioca had arrived as naught but ash. As for Nana, she had nary a leaf - let alone seedling - left on her branches by the time the fire devil was through.
The sad memory, though, seemed to pale to a place in her heart that ever carried him… that carried them all. Rather than continually mourn a life lost, she celebrated a life well lived even if cut short. She knew he would want her to. And his memory carried her, through these times when she felt her strength leaving her. In the end, she would endeavor to live a life as well as his, for as long as she was given days to walk the planes.
One hundred twelve and a half days here to one day of fire. The highest time deviation he had ever experienced. He loved it… He hated it.
It was like clockwork. It had to be. For anything less than clockwork would find them out. Must keep them secret. Must keep them safe. Eight fire hours was all she had. Eight fire hours before her life as the fire ambassador must resume as if nothing but sleep had wrapped her body in the time that had passed. But more must pass, as it had for her 80 fire years. So much more other than sleep had surrounded her, and like clockwork, she would return again soon.
5 weeks, 2 days, 12 hours. Soon they would have her for 5 weeks, 2 days, and 12 hours. But then they must wait… 10 weeks and 5 days. Like clockwork, it was always 10 weeks and 5 days that they wait. He hated the waiting, but it could not be helped. She had required it in the covenant and the covenant could not be broken. It stood as a wall, impossibly high, and just as wide. A barrier between him and her, but also a door. One that only she could pass through. Indeed, the covenant itself was what governed her coming and going. He had agreed. She had agreed. The covenant kept them both bound to the laws they had written on its surface. But he needed her… They needed her. So much more than the fire which stole her away for 10 weeks and 5 days at a time. The covenant had been in place for a long time… close to 9000 years now. Two thirds of it spent without her. Two thirds of it given for the waking hours of 80 measly fire years. It seemed like such a waste… and yet, it had sustained her. For 9000 years was too many to live for one born of fire or for one born of tree. The 3000 years she had actually given them had surely stretched her life span already.
For her to be taken from him meant that her life would be drawn out over more of his. But it was hardly living when she was not here. Only for the 5 weeks, 2 days, and 12 hours would he really live, while she was among them, but then he would only bear the burden of breath for 10 weeks and 5 days until she returned, like clockwork.
But the covenant was failing. Just over a year ago, it had cracked. Tiny spiderweb silks that branched out in all directions… each day he found more. He didn’t know what it meant. He could sense that his mourning at her departures had reached her mind in the fire. Might it mean she would be able to stay? Here? With them?
Yet, he feared it. Might it crumble and collapse while she was away? What then if the covenant fell? He may never see her again... When the covenant ran out there may be nothing to draw her back, she may never return.
But he wanted her… he needed her! His fist pounded his frustration on what he had always considered an immovable object in his way. Then, as he watched, the covenant began to tremble. It groaned and creaked under growing convulsions. Flames erupted at the center hungrily devouring the words. Bits of crumbled stone and ash and rained down on him. No! The covenant couldn’t fall! Not without her here! His fear of eternal separation welled up in him and overflowed to cacophonic desperation. Though she was not due to return yet, still he called for her.
Had he imagined that glimmer of recognition or that intake of breath? His efforts redoubled, heedless of the cracks that continued to grow as the covenant started to shake and shudder violently, whole sections disintegrating to ash. She had heard him! It was not time, but she was coming to him anyway. The covenant could not deny him. Perhaps he would not have to release her this time. He could pray that it be so. For enduring without her would be worse than a million deaths.
Vergil frowned as the generals around the table argued with each other as though they might consider each other enemies. What was more concerning was that the usual voice of reason in both Aden and Jewels was for the most part absent.
As he had feared, the long day had taken its toll on Jewels who stood at a distance admiring the artwork on the walls with a glass of mouth-watering ice water in her hand rather than paying attention to and chiming in on the discussions of the moment.
Aden was no better as his gaze either followed just as worriedly after his mother, or focused on his son. Since Fwae was now the acting Fire Lord, Aden overcompensated for his urges to lead the meeting by remaining silent even when he should speak up.
The result was a hot-headed debate rather than a calm strategic plan. Not that Lord Fwae was in any way incompetent as a leader, he just lacked his grandmother’s abundant compassion and his father’s overflowing grace. In fact, deity help them, his personality was much more akin to Vergil’s own. Strike first, ask questions later, and restless in the meantime.
Of course, Vergil realized, he was doing it too in worrying after all three of them. He brought his mind back to the table hoping that perhaps he could speak his own reason into the bunch. The general at water was currently speaking. “...all I’m saying is that providing some touristy areas and allowing the humans entry for entertainment and trade could really bolster the economy.”
“Absolutely, not!” Fwae objected. “It’s out of the question. It’s hard enough managing travel and trade between the elemental races. I don’t want to add humans into the mix. Besides, you know how easily frightened humans can be. Not to mention fragile! All we’d need is one dead human in our midst from a riot gone wrong. No, I’m not ready to take that risk just for the benefit of being able to take their gold. Until we can be confident in the peace between our own peoples, public relations with the humans are on hold, and that’s the end of it. ”
Vergil opened his mouth to protest, but then closed it again. He eyed Jewels’ slow swaying, her back was to the din and she was lost in her own thought. Perhaps it would be better to let this matter lie for tonight. He could always bring his objections up to Fwae in private.
Jewels hummed to herself in comfort. They may think she wasn’t listening, but in truth, she had heard every word. Far be it from her to contradict her grandson on this, the first military meeting he would lead. Thankfully, she noted the absence of Aden and Vergil’s dissent also. There would be more than enough time to further guide Fwae behind closed doors where the risk of subversion or diffidence would be almost non-existent.
It was hard, though, listening to the way that Fwae spoke about humans. He had never really gotten to know any humans. In fact, his first introduction to them was through her as his inconsolable grandmother who had just lost her “fragile” human husband. She was sure if they had gotten to know each other, Fwae’s attitude now would be very different. Perhaps she could take him with her to internet plane to visit some of her friends there… she hadn’t been to the internet plane in ages. Might be high time to stop in and feed the fluffy turtles a bit of her sanity… though she surely was running on short supply by now.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she thought the matter settled, but the next thing she heard grated against all her strength of will. “You remember that berserker priest that ran through hundred years back, don’t you? Hopped himself up on all sorts of drugs and spells, then went around murdering hundreds of men, women, and children just for standing in his way. Humans are crazy! We’d all be better off without ANY of his kind on our soils...”
Jewels’ breath had caught with the misguided and ignorant vehemence… Was that how her Nioca would be remembered in the history books? Was this his legacy and that of his kind? Cold-blooded killers?
Fwae’s sharp reprimand, though, echoed relief to her soul. “You, sir, will hold your tongue! I will not have hatred for ANY race encouraged in my courts! Do you forget that our peoples were already at war with the humans then? The human you speak of was a war hero to his own to strike us such a blow as to be considered our villain.”
Jewels smiled hearing the recounting she had given to him as a boy being repeated to the military of the four lands. She had not failed Fwae in his upbringing… but why then did her heart still hurt so much? Amid a buzz and a pop that started in her ears, she heard someone call her name.
Her chest tightened as she turned around, all eyes on her. Vergil, Aden and Fwae were all on their feet coming towards her. She blinked in confusion. Had she said something aloud that they all stared? She couldn’t recall.
Fwae was first to her side, a hand on her elbow slipping into his familiar name for her. “Amma, your hand!” She followed the gaze of his eyes to the tight corporeal fist of her opposite hand. At some point, she must have flamed down. Her dark green dryad blood dripped from around her fingers and down her arm. The shattered glass of ice water cut deep. Try as she might, though, she could not unclench her fingers.
Vergil and Aden, then, were also at her side. “Jewels, what’s wrong?” Vergil asked.
She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She still had not taken another breath and found it almost impossible to do so. Somewhere from within herself a blanket of finality and peace welled up. This was it… this was the end… and it was good.
“Jewels, please,” Aden urged, “Say something.”
She turned her face towards him, determination in her eyes. She would if she could. With a haunting effort that echoed around her in the room she gulped in three mouthfuls of air. “Love… forever… always…”
Her chest constricted further, a sharp pain radiating outward from where her lungs burned. The world turned black around the faces of her family at her final thought. ...on past the end...
Aden had caught her when her eyes rolled to the back of her head and her body started to seize. The seconds stretched by to minutes while Vergil ran to get the doctors and his tears started to flow. No longer concerned for what strength any plane’s general perceived in him, he openly grieved that his mother may be dying in his arms.
Fwae had seen the horrified look on his great-uncle Vergil’s face and simultaneously heard the glass shatter in Amma Jewels’ hand. A man now, he was still very fond of the woman who had helped with his upbringing. He was at her side in an instant, but rather taken aback that she had flamed down to her corporeal form. He knew she had one… all elementals did… But he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her when she wasn’t wearing flames.
Though her blood ran green, he couldn’t help but notice how human she looked at the moment. Long auburn hair with streaks of grey, fair pink skin that seemed to shimmer gold, and eyes the color of an Earthen tree in deep summer. It brought to mind a word he hadn’t really thought of his grandmother before… Beautiful. Her eyes looked at him now, aggrieved in her distress. Beautiful, yes… but also so fragile...
The sound of her struggle for breath was hard to listen to, though he was glad to have heard her final instruction. It was something she had told him many a night when she tucked him into bed as a child. “I will love you forever, always, on past the end.” He had not really understood what she meant then, but for her to say it now… Fwae fought to keep his composure.
When his father had caught her shaking form, Fwae had started to usher the generals out of the room and left with them. If this were to be her last moments, he didn’t want to remember her like this. Instead he would remember her constant light that shown day and night. That is how he would carry her memory with him.
Vergil returned as fast as he could, every royal doctor who had been in the medical wing in tow, but it was too late. Aden knelt on the floor, head bowed, arms empty.. Only a pile of white ash dusted the floor where Jewels had laid. He could hardly believe it. It didn’t seem real.
But Aden’s low gruff voice confirmed it. “She’s gone, uncle Vergil. One moment I held her, and the next... she was gone.”
Vergil stood behind him not knowing what to do. The instincts in his head screamed at him to do something… anything… but there was nothing he could do for this. Not anymore. Instead he found himself stepping up to Aden and placing a hand on his shoulder. A gesture of comfort when there were no words… it was something Jewels would have done.
She opened her eyes and smiled at him, his face hovering just inches from hers. “Good morning beloved,” she whispered in affection for her husband. Nioca stared at her, once again, as if he could not believe she was there. Tears threatening to spill from the corners of his eyes as if he had not seen her in a milenia, though they both knew it had been far less.
While she knew her absence from him was always significant, to her, she had been away for only a day. The memory of which was fading as a dream might, as she had intended so many years ago. To keep them secret. When she was here, she was his. Wholey his, as all other planes of life became just a passing fancy. Just as when she was there, he was only a memory hidden in the past to keep her undistracted from her duties. That was their agreement. To keep them safe. And though it had required sacrifices from them both, it had worked.
She reached up a hand to brush his face, startled to see the blood that covered her fingers. She saw his tears in a new light as her voice trembled. “What has happened?”
“Come,” he whispered, his raw voice cracking. “You are home now. That’s all that matters.” Nioca lifted her gently, carrying her away from the burning rubble and ash she hadn’t noticed yet. But she did notice the smile when he finished. “And you never have to leave again.”