"There are only flashes left. Only dust I try to grab in the wind. I remember… I remember a palace of white and gold. I remember spires that glow like the sun."
Am I awake? Dreaming? Reality is suspended between time and space. I am there. In the nothingness that exists between darkness and light.
The pain is gone. I feel it as but a memory of what once was.
The air no longer smells of blood and metal, of battle and death. Of fire and brimstone.
The sky is blue and clear. The horizon glows with bright light. My body feels ethereal. There is a lightness to my being I have never known.
I walk forward in mist, but my feet do not find purchase on land. Am I floating? Am I dead?
I lost the battle. I left Arianna alone in a world torn by war. I failed her. I failed us. I failed my people. My kingdom.
There is a low growl to my right, and I look down, surprised to see Baron there. The white wolf seems one with the surroundings. I drop my hand to his head and wonder if he is real. Will my hand land on fur and flesh and bone, or will it fall through the illusion like smoke?
But he is there. I feel the heat of him, the silkiness of his fur, the presence of him. I choke up with emotion, and I cannot tell if I am grieving that my dearest friend has died with me, or if I am overcome with relief that I am not alone. Am I selfless or unforgivably selfish?
I am both.
I am neither.
I am nothing.
I keep walking. Floating. Moving forward into more mist and whiteness and otherness.
And then I hear her voice. She is humming a tune I did not know I knew. My soul responds to this music, this lullaby, with a visceral lurch that leaves me breathless.
She appears through the mist. Her wild white hair flies around her like a living thing, entwined with leaves and flowers, her dress falling at her bare feet, clinging to her body like roots and branches, seemingly made of the earth itself. Her eyes are large sapphires splashed against pale skin. She is a goddess. A woodland nymph.
And in my soul, I know who she is. "Mother," I whisper.
She is before me now, her hands reaching out for mine. When I grasp them they are warm, grounded in the earth.
"I have waited so very long to see you again," she says, her voice melodic, soft, full of the echoes of all that has ever been. "To hold you. To know you. But this isn't where you are meant to be."
"I am dead." It's such a strange thought, to be dead after being immortal for more generations than I can remember.
"You are neither dead, nor alive," she says. "You are being reborn."
"So I can go back?" My heart quickens at the thought. I need to go back, but the reasons are fading. The nothingness is stealing me away.
"If you wish," my mother says. "Do you wish it?"
"Arianna. I must go back for Arianna."
My mother smiles. "She needs you, and you need her. But you are more than you imagine yourself to be, my son. You are my heir. My legacy. I have given you everything."
Her words make no sense, and yet I know they are true. My mother died years ago, yes, but this was not her. This was not the woman in the images my brothers showed me. This was not the Queen who ruled hell with my father.
"I am the mother he hid from you," she says. "I am the mother of all. Once, I was a Keeper of nature, of life. And you are my heir."
The heir. The heir. The heir. The words just keep repeating themselves in my head. Baron nudges me, as if trying to communicate something of great import.
I wish he had words. I do not understand.
She reaches for me, hugs me close. I feel her power, it emanates from her, pouring into me, around me, alighting something new within. It burns. It chokes. It suffocates.
She pulls away. "Awake, my son. Live. Save your love. Save your people."
As she turns to walk away, her hair blows around in the wind. And I see.
She is Fae.
I am Fae.
It burns. It hurts. The air smells of death and blood and metal and war. My body is on fire. A rough tongue licks my face and I open my eyes to see Baron staring at me, his wolf face overcome with worry.
Something tears at my skin. Pain. I lean up on the bed and examine my body. A dark red cut covers my stomach. But it is fading. The dry blood falls away, and underneath, is new skin. Smooth and healthy. Something spreads there. A symbol, a tree, roots, branches. A tattoo.
Baron howls into the night. He grows luminous in the dark. Silver glyphs flash across his body, vanishing and appearing again. I do not understand what is happening, cannot recall where I am or why.
I gather my thoughts, and I remember. "Arianna!"
"She is gone from this place, brother." Asher sits on a chair in the dark, where I did not see him before. He leans forward, his cold face entering the light. "So, it is finally time. Time you learned who you are."
My breath is rapid and heavy, my body is slick with sweat. I do not know what he speaks of, but memories return to me. Memories of a dream. Of a woman.
I raise a hand to my ears…
And feel the pointed tips. "It can't be. I have memories. Memories of the land before."
Asher frowns. "Real memories? Or the ones you were told over and over?"
Real. They must have been. But I don't remember the story of my brothers in the Silver Gardens. I don't remember anything but flashes, images, places I had heard described over and over. Sometimes, I would struggle to recall the other world, but I would tell myself it had been thousands of years, my memory was fading. I had seen the same happen to my brothers. Was I never one of them? Was it all a lie?