Monday, April 13, 2015
Unexpected - Part 5 and Epilogue
Failina pulled free of Gavin and Cedric's hands, and then turned circles as she looked around. The palace – once an enormous and proud structure – lay in rubble. It looked mostly the same as Failina remembered it, only it was now covered in moss.
She ran to a vantage point and climbed a tall steel I beam. From the top of the tall pole, she could see what used to be the palace gardens and a small but lush forest. The trees were all withered and misshapen and there were no flowers in sight, but there was plenty of moss and other grasses growing.
“You call this habitable?!” Failina shouted down to Lord Oren.
He had no choice but to shout in return if he wanted her to hear him. “It's no longer snowing! The radiation levels have returned to normal, and plants and animals have begun to flourish again!”
Failina dove to the ground, completely uncaring that she was close to fifty feet in the air. She held her arms out wide, then flipped and used her magic to land safely on her feet. She pointed to a skyscraper that had been cracked about halfway up so that the top 10 or 15 stories had fallen. It now formed an angled roof that rested on a smaller building.
“It's only been 14 years since missiles rained down on the city like meteors! They released a cloud of toxicity that killed everything! The whole world was covered in ash, blocking out the sun and plunging the planet into an ice age!”
Failina pointed up to the sky. “There cannot possibly have been enough time for the world to repair itself! Even the sky is different; it used to be blue, and now it's greenish!”
She twirled in circles a few times, her arms outstretched to indicate everything. “Even if I agreed to wake everyone up, they'd probably just die anyway! The world isn't safe!”
“My Queen, please listen,” Lord Oren begged, his hands together as if he was praying. “I assure you that the world is safe. Yes, the chemical composition of the atmosphere has changed, but it still contains plenty of oxygen and very little of the toxic elements. The moss you see all around us has somehow scrubbed most of the radiation up. It's well within normal levels. There's no reason for our people to die.”
Failina stared at him silently for a moment before sighing. “Fine, but what about food. Our people cannot eat moss!”
Lord Oren smiled for the first time since he'd found Failina. “Actually, along with about 2,000 people, your father had plenty of other things preserved too. There are seeds for most of the food we're used to, and even animals. Beyond that, we have the genetic material for many thousands of species found on the planet. Given enough time, we could restore everything!”
Failina bit her lip in indecision. “That may sound wonderful to you, but if we restored everything, what's to stop a war from wiping it all out again?”
“Us,” Oren stated confidently. “Those of us who volunteered to be cryogenically frozen have learned from the mistakes of our ancestors. We vowed before being accepted into the program to never let war destroy us again.”
Failina smiled her first genuine smile since meeting Oren and his guards. “That's a good answer.”
Lord Oren returned her smile, nodding in agreement. “Please Majesty... Follow me.”
Failina shrugged, and then gestured for him to lead the way. She then beckoned for her family to stop looking around in amazement and follow her. Gavin was still gaping at the skyscraper she had pointed to.
“Why would anyone need a building so tall?!” He blurted out. “You could house at least 10 generations of my family in that!”
“Probably more,” Cedric muttered. He took hold of a hand from each of their children so that they couldn't get lost.
Lord Oren decided to answer the likely rhetorical question. “Falhalla City – Capitol of the Kingdom of Falhalla – had a population of almost 10 million people. The tallest of the skyscrapers normally provided offices for thousands of businesses. The smaller of them were usually apartment buildings. Then there were factories, shopping centers, restaurants, and coffee shops. The farther out of the city one traveled, the more likely they were to run into single family homes. Outside the city were large farms...”
Gavin and Cedric looked at each other with a mix of disbelief and awe. They had no idea how many people were in their respective kingdoms, but they were willing to bet that it was nowhere near the 10 million that once lived in this city alone. It was mind boggling to think about!
Failina shook her head sadly. “In a Kingdom of over 200 million people, you're telling me that only 2,000 of them volunteered to be saved?”
“Well...” Oren hesitated. “The program had limits. Only the best and the brightest people – and their families – were given the opportunity.” He saw Failina frown and hastily continued. “You must understand, no one actually believed that this program would be necessary. We all went into it believing that we'd be asleep for a year at most as negotiations to end the war took effect. It broke my heart to realize that the worst had happened...”
By this time, they had walked into the ruins of the palace to a place that was more or less structurally sound. They entered a hall lined with portraits of generations of the royal family. Failina stopped in front of a large picture depicting a King, his Queen, and their five children. They all wore elaborate military uniforms.
“Father...” she whispered.
Lord Oren tried to give her the time she needed, but soon grew impatient. “This way please, Majesty.”
Failina brushed a tear from her eye and nodded. Oren led them further and further into the palace. Finally, they approached a massively tall picture of a young Failina and her father. King James stood proud and fit – despite being in his early 70s – and wore a regal uniform. This left no doubt that he was still in complete command of the enormous royal army.
At his side was his only surviving daughter, born long after his other children had grown up and died in battle. Failina also wore a regal military uniform, and gazed straight ahead with grim determination and a steely will. One look was more than enough to assure anyone that she knew exactly how to lead her men to victory.
“I hate this picture!” Failina burst out angrily. “I look... alien!”
“I'm sorry, my Queen,” Lord Oren apologized. “I didn't intend any offense.” He stepped closer to the wall and pushed a large black button. A scanner emerged from the wall at about eye level, it's flexible head slithering like a snake. A computerized voice came from a nearby speaker.
“State your name for verification,” it prompted in Failina's native language.
She took a deep breath. “Failina No Alahar Y Ukale Dun Falhalla.”
The scanner repositioned itself in front of her, a light quickly sweeping across her right eye. “Access granted,” it stated just before the portrait split in half and slid wide open.
The two guards – who had been entirely silent until now – exhaled in relief. “Thank you, your Majesty!” They cried out in the language of this planet. Failina suddenly realized that they couldn't understand her foreign language like Lord Oren could. She smiled at them faintly.
They rushed down the long hallway revealed by the open portrait/doors. Lord Oren followed them in excitement, but he tempered his pace. Failina looked to her family hesitantly.
“I'm still not sure that this is the right thing to do,” she admitted.
Cedric decided to try to cheer her up. “Why not? The magical voice from nowhere is certainly impressive.”
Failina chuckled, grateful for his support. With a smile, she stepped into the hallway. The moment Cedric and Gavin and their children tried to follow her, alarms blared, forcing them all to cover their ears.
“Intruder alert!” The computer warned repeatedly. Panels along the wall opened up, and huge guns emerged to point at the intruders.
“Computer!” Failina shouted desperately. “Stand down!” It amazed her that she could still speak her native language after all these years.
The computer faced a conundrum; it was supposed to protect her from intruders, and yet she was telling it not to. “Do you wish to enter a security override code?”
Failina pulled on her hair as she wracked her brains. “I don't remember the code! Um... uh...” She looked to Oren for help. “I thought that the computer was supposed to recognize my voice and take anything I said as an order!”
“It is, but it still needs certain security passwords to prevent enemies from forcing you to grant them access,” Oren informed her.
“Please state the override code,” the computer stated. “Defensive measures in 15... 14... 13...”
Failina squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to think back to when she was an angry young girl forced to bear far too much responsibility. Feelings she thought she had buried long ago floated to the surface, nearly making her cry.
“5... 4... 3...”
“I am in charge, damnit, so you had better do what I tell you to! Now stand down!” Failina roared angrily in her native language.
“Override code accepted,” the computer replied. The sirens stopped blaring, though their ears still rang. A moment later, the guns retracted back into the wall and the panels moved back into place.
“Phew!” Failina exhaled in relief, a hand clutching her heart.
“What was that about?” Gavin asked, trying to sound like he wasn't worried in the slightest.
Failina grinned at him, her usual bubbly personality taking over once more. “Oh nothing much, just about two dozen guns armed and ready to shoot you as intruders. I'm pretty sure no one could survive that, except maybe me.”
“Guns?” Gavin wondered with a puzzled frown.
Failina laughed. “Devices that shoot metal balls, like this.” She formed a gun with her hand and pointed at the floor away from everyone. With a fake sound – bang – she shot a small ball of fire out of her finger. “Only you don't need magic to use them.”
“I see...” Gavin murmured in concern. He glanced to James and Justina, who were white as ghosts as they stared at the floor where a tiny scorch mark proved that their mother had shot a real fireball.
Everyone fell silent once more as they continued walking. The hallway was relatively short, and at the end of it, there was a trio of pods and a large cabinet. The guards stood patiently next to a door.
“This was where the three of us were stationed,” Lord Oren explained. He spoke in the language that Failina's family could understand. “Everything we needed to find you was in that cabinet, but no one other than a member of the royal family could open this door...”
“That makes no sense!” Failina exclaimed. “What if I had died?”
Lord Oren pointed to the pendant that she now wore around her neck. “In that case, the pendant would have granted us access. However – as I explained before – so long as you were still alive anywhere in the universe, the pendant would be able to find you.”
One of the guards tapped a circular shape on the door that had an impression of the pendant in it. “Your Majesty, please insert the key and open the lock.”
Failina fingered the pendant pensively for a moment, before nodding and unclasping the chain. She slid the pendant off the beautiful gold chain, and then pressed it into the impression on the door. Nothing happened.
“What's wrong?” She asked the guard in his language. Lord Oren and both the guards shrugged, clueless.
After a couple of seconds staring at the lock – biting her lip – Failina noticed that a faint red pulsing highlighted five points on the circle. “Oh...” She murmured, watching as the red pulsing started at the leftmost point and traveled to the right. “I understand...”
She placed her hand on the circle, a finger on each of the points, and then carefully turned the circle to the right about two inches. A panel on the right side of the door opened to reveal another snake like scanner. It too had a computer voice.
“Fingerprints are a match for Failina No Alahar Y Ukale Dun Falhalla. Please confirm cognizance by reciting the Royal Pledge,” the computer requested.
Failina's mouth hung open in surprise when the pledge raced through her mind as clearly as if she said it every day. “I – Failina No Alahar Y Ukale Dun Falhalla – hereby pledge that as a member of the royal family of Falhalla, I will do my utmost to protect my people and win the war by whatever means necessary.”
“Voice matching confirmed,” the computer informed her. “Please reclaim the key.”
Failina took hold of her pendant, and then put it back on the chain still around her neck. As she did so, the door slid open. Lights turned themselves on one by one to reveal a long staircase that descended into the depths.
“How far down does this go?” Failina wondered curiously.
“As far down as King James thought was necessary to protect the people,” Lord Oren replied with a shrug.
“Why didn't he ever tell me this was here?” Failina asked softly, not expecting an answer. As she thought, Lord Oren could only shake his head helplessly.
Taking a deep and steadying breath, Failina prepared to continue their journey. It took almost 20 minutes to walk down the staircase that formed right angles every 50 or so steps. This gave it a very loose spiral effect that wound around a central shaft. It wasn't until they could actually see the end of the staircase below them that Failina realized that the central shaft was an elevator that she could have taken instead had she simply noticed the doors for it off to the side.
“Whatever,” she muttered self-derisively. “At least we won't have to walk back up them...”
The bottom of the staircase led to a huge room lined with large, flat, computer screens. They turned themselves on as Failina approached. The only thing any of them pictured at first were dots traveling around as the word “scanning” pulsed. Then it stated that its scan was complete.
“Status confirmed; King James No Alahar Y Ukale Dun Falhalla deceased. Only one remaining heir. Welcome Queen Failina. According to records, the war ended with numerous nuclear strikes which killed the majority of the people on the planet either instantly or in the aftermath of the fallout.”
The computer played various recordings of the events that were captured by news crews and people around the world and uploaded to the world wide internet before the only images that were left were the ones taken by automated cameras and sensors. These showed huge clouds of ash followed by snow. The very last video image showed a dirty and grief-stricken Failina wandering around all alone in the snow until a woman appeared. The woman pulled her into a tight hug, formed a large magic circle, and then took her away.
“Mama...” Failina whispered. She had tears pouring from her eyes in response to everything that the computer had shown. Without her having to ask, Gavin knew that she needed to be held. He wrapped his arms around her and let her cry on his shoulder. Cedric hummed soothingly as he rubbed her back.
Meanwhile, the computer loaded a new set of images – all taken by the automated cameras all around the world, ones that had been built to withstand almost anything and hadn't been directly destroyed by missiles. These images showed the snow eventually melt and moss spread everywhere. One screen showed a dedicated display of the radiation levels over time, and the levels started falling as the moss seemingly cleaned the atmosphere.
Next, the images showed some grass starting to grow, and an explosion of those insects that had the ability to be dormant for long periods of time. Small animals with the same ability appeared next. Failina noticed over Gavin's shoulder that the cameras surveying the oceans showed that it appeared to be as alive and as abundant as ever. It made sense to her that anything that usually lived under a certain depth would have been protected to begin with.
The computer continued it's progress report. “Internet usage indicates that small pockets of survivors are scattered all over the world. Estimates based on the number of unique user IDs that ping and are stored in the satellite servers each day indicate that the world wide population is close to 5,000 people. Not including the 2,154 citizens of Falhalla contained in Cryogenic Storage. Does your Majesty wish to begin the revival process?”
“How does that work?” Failina asked the computer.
“The process will work on one person at a time to ensure that no one is lost if something goes wrong. It'll take about 2 hours to thaw, warm up, and then revive each person. The program is set to revive medical staff first to monitor the health of each citizen.”
Failina looked to Lord Oren. She still wasn't certain that she should do this, but since there were apparently other people on the planet already, she didn't really have a good excuse to keep these poor people frozen any longer. Lord Oren looked nauseous as he waited for her to make her decision.
“Why can only one person be thawed at a time?” Failina asked, mentally calculating that it would take approximately 180 days to complete the process.
“To ensure that the power supply does not overload and short out at any time,” the computer explained.
“Once enough engineers are revived, the geothermal power generators can be reviewed and the program can be tweaked to wake more people up at a time,” Lord Oren suggested.
Failina recognized the words and concept from her many lessons as a child. Satisfied that her most pressing questions were answered – for the moment – she squared her shoulders, pulled free of Gavin's embrace, and faced the computer. “Yes, begin the revival process now.”
“Yes, your Majesty,” the computer responded. The largest of the monitors, the one directly in front of them, played footage from the camera closest to the first person designated to be revived. Lights in the lab lit up, and the cryopod turned vibrant blue.
Failina looked around at her family, not sure how to protect them for being considered intruders in the future. An idea occurred to her. “Computer? Can you add people to the list of those with security clearance?”
“Yes Majesty,” the computer confirmed. “The only thing needed is a bioscan.” A scanning pad flashed for a moment.
“Aha...” Failina murmured. She turned to smile at Gavin and Cedric. “Who wants to go first?”
“First?” They asked in unison.
“I need to grant you all security clearance so that the palace's automated defense system doesn't consider you intruders in the future,” she explained.
“Ah,” both men murmured and then Gavin cleared his throat. “I'll go first.”
Failina took Gavin's hand and firmly pressed it to the scanning pad. The pad light up as it scanned his hand and another snake-like scanner descended from the ceiling to scan his entire body. It took about 10 seconds and ended with a scan of his eye.
“Please enter name and rank,” the computer stated.
Failina hummed in thought as she wondered what to say. With a shrug and a soft smile, she decided on: “Lord Gavin, Royal Consort.”
“Please specify security clearance level,” the computer added.
“Full security clearance,” Failina granted without a second thought.
“Understood,” the computer confirmed.
Failina then pressed Cedric's hand to the scanner, answering: “Lord Cedric, Royal Consort;” and: “Full security clearance,” for him as well. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Lord Orin and the two guards exchange looks of surprise. They hadn't quite expected her to claim both of them as Consorts, despite her clearly intimate familiarity with them.
With an encouraging smile, Failina held her hand out to her son James. He looked at the scanner warily. Failina laughed softly.
“It doesn't hurt,” she promised him.
With a tiny sigh of relief, James placed his hand on the scanner. The computer almost sounded astonished when it stated: “This person carries the DNA of the Royal line. Sequencing suggests that this is the child of Queen Failina.”
“Yes,” Failina confirmed proudly. “This is my son and Heir.”
“Please enter the Prince's full name for the record,” the computer stated.
Failina had never really given it much thought because the three of them had decided to basically have no last name – like commoners – other than of Foreston where they lived, and so their children had no last name either. However, in this situation, a name was required.
With a shrug, she replied: “James No Alahar Y Ukale Dun Falhalla.”
The computer flashed once in acceptance, and then stated. “DNA sequencing indicates that Prince James is also the son of Lord Cedric. Is this correct?”
“Yes,” Failina confirmed. The computer then used various clues found in the scan to calculate James' age and approximate birthdate. Failina couldn't even begin to figure out how to guess at the exact date and time it would have been on this world when he was born, so she simply agreed with the computer.
At last, it was Justina's turn, but she refused to cooperate until all her questions were answered. Crossing her arms, she glared at the computer. “What is that thing?”
“It's a machine called a computer, but don't ask me to explain it beyond that at the moment because it would take hours,” Failina explained.
“What is the purpose of the light sweeping over the entire body?” Justina wondered warily.
“It's scanning for all the information it needs to identify a person. Once it has that information, the automated palace defenses will no longer consider you a threat,” Failina explained awkwardly, not really sure how to translate it in a way she would understand.
“Why can't I understand anything it's saying?” Justina demanded.
“Apparently, language is not one of your magical gifts,” Failina answered with an apologetic shrug.
Lord Oren blushed lightly. “I might be able to help with that. Since Language is one of magical gifts, I think I might be able to pass that on.” With a nod of permission from Failina, he placed his hands on Justina's head and then closed his eyes while he concentrated.
A few minutes passed in silence, and then Justina gasped. “I can read that! It was just squiggles a moment ago, but now I can understand what it says!”
“And can you understand me?” Lord Oren asked in his native language.
“Yes,” Justina confirmed with a happy grin.
“My turn!” James volunteered as his sister finally consented to put her hand on the scanner. Lord Oren placed his hands on James' head as the computer asked for information.
“Is this also a child of Queen Failina?”
“Yes,” Failina confirmed, grinning proudly again. “My daughter.”
“State the Princess' name,” the computer insisted.
“Justina No Alahar Y Ukale Dun Falhalla,” Failina replied.
“Sequencing suggests that the Princess shares DNA with Lord Gavin,” the computer informed them, and then calculated the approximate date and time of birth for Justina. Failina simply confirmed both statements.
“What does that mean?” James asked curiously. “That share DNA thing?”
“Hmm...” Failina hummed as she thought about how to explain this. “DNA is sort of like the blueprints used to create a person. Each one is unique, and half of each blueprint is passed on to a child, so a child has DNA from each parent.”
Both James and Justina went wide-eyed in amazement. “Wow...” they murmured, never expecting a machine of any sort to be able to simply look at them and know whats inside.
Lord Oren offered to share his knowledge with Gavin next, but found that Gavin couldn't learn. He frowned in determination to make the magic gift work, but then Cedric laughed. He put a hand on Lord Oren's shoulder as he shook his head.
“Gavin doesn't have magic, so you trying to give him this gift probably won't work,” Cedric explained.
“I see...” Lord Oren murmured. He turned his attention to Cedric, and was delighted to find that the gift worked on him.
“Don't worry, Gav,” Cedric consoled, taking him by the hand. “I'll make sure to translate everything for you.”
Failina shrugged and shook her head. “That won't really be necessary. I only plan to stay until tomorrow to make sure that the revival process is running smoothly, and then we're all going home.”
“But your Majesty!” Lord Oren protested. “We need our Queen to lead us!”
“Why?” Failina asked coldly. “I was raised to rule during a time of war. The war is over, so let someone else be in charge. Someone who knows about peace.”
“Majesty...” Lord Oren faltered, not sure how to convince her.
“You were a diplomat, were you not?” Failina asked, raising a brow as if challenging him.
“Yes...” Lord Oren answered hesitantly.
“Then you should know how to maintain peace,” Failina stated. “Congratulations, my Lord. You're now in charge of Falhalla.”
Lord Oren felt all the color drain from his face and sputtered incoherently. Failina decided to leave before he could regain his ability to argue. Gesturing for her family to follow her, she led them to the Elevator. Luckily, it was already at the bottom and opened to admit them right away.
The elevator was made out of thick steel, but had a flat screen that allowed them to monitor their progress as it rapidly ascended the central shaft. Gavin had to look away from the monitor because the motion combined with the view to make him queasy. Both James and Justina stared at the screen in fascination.
“It looks like we're flying!” They exclaimed.
A lengthy exploration of the palace proved that Failina's original bedroom had been destroyed, but that her father's makeshift hospital still had cots and supplies that they could use. Even better, Lord Oren and the guards had obviously cleared it of all bodies before they'd left to search for her. Failina was far more tired than she cared to admit, so she flung herself on a cot and fell asleep as her family softly discussed what was going on.
In the morning, after ensuring that nothing had gone wrong during the night, Failina said goodbye to Lord Oren, the guards, and the small handful of people who had been revived so far. Creating a large magic circle, she took her family home.
The next few months passed quietly enough. Life seemed more or less normal as James and Justina continued to practice their skills. Except that Failina seemed almost vacant.
If a stranger was observing her, they wouldn't notice anything different. She had always been an airhead, smiling and cheerful no matter what. The only real difference was that her inner light no longer reached her eyes.
She chattered on happily, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, but her lovers were deeply worried. They tried to get her to talk about what had happened, but she refused. The more they tried, the frostier she would get.
In desperation, Cedric used his magic to go to his parents for advice. They listened to him intently, but couldn't imagine that he was telling the truth. The tale was so fantastic that it was literally unbelievable. Thus, they had no advice to give him except to suggest that Gavin's parents might be able to help. They were nobility, after all.
Deciding that this was an event requiring their entire family, Cedric dropped his parents off at Gavin's parents before going home to round up his loved ones.
“Wait, why are we traveling by magic?” Gavin wondered. Normally, when they went to visit their families, they traveled by foot.
“Because this is important,” Cedric said, giving Gavin a significant look. Gavin looked towards Failina, who was cheerfully packing a bag for each of the children.
“Oh...” Gavin murmured in understanding.
As soon as they were ready, Cedric used his magic to cast a circle to transport them to Gavin's family home. Gavin's entire family plus Cedric's parents were waiting to welcome them. When Failina saw this, she realized that something was up.
“Why is this so important?” She asked Cedric, glaring at him slightly.
“Because I think that Gavin's parents will be able to talk to you about what happened. They might be able to understand and offer guidance,” Cedric explained.
“I don't want to talk about it!” Failina shouted angrily, the whole sky darkening.
Cedric had explained the situation to Gavin's parents when he arrived with his parents earlier, so everyone knew that they were worried about Failina. Even so, she was always so sunny that they had thought that Cedric must be over exaggerating. To see her so upset that even the sky grew dark was unnerving, to say the least!
“Why not?” Gavin asked, proving that he was brave enough to face her no matter what.
“Because!” Failina shouted in rage. Tiny bolts of lightning struck the ground behind her – which meant that her family was safe since they were all in front of her. Even so, they felt their hair stand on end.
“Because is not an answer,” Cedric pointed out.
“Because there is nothing to talk about!” Failina screamed. “I made my decision and that's final!”
“Then why are you so upset?” Gavin's mother asked gently. She got close enough to take Failina by the hand. “None of us can stand to see you in so much pain. Will you please tell us what's wrong?”
Failina buried her head in her mother-in-law's chest and sobbed. “I abandoned my people!” The two of them slowly sank to the ground as rain started to fall on them.
Between profuse tears, Failina finally told the whole story. How she had grown up as the second in command of an army fighting a hopeless war. How her people had destroyed themselves. How she'd felt such relief when her mother had rescued her... The entire family got comfortable as they listened to her pour her heart out.
“I felt helpless! Everyone was counting on me to lead them to victory, but I was just a child! What was I supposed to do?!” Failina demanded in a wail. “I was glad when they destroyed themselves!”
Gavin's mother stroked her hair and hummed soothingly until Failina calmed down and the rain stopped. Then she gave a sympathetic smile. “I may not ever know exactly what you went through, but I do understand this... You feel guilty, and you shouldn't.”
Failina looked up at her in surprise.
“You feel guilty because you were under such enormous pressure as a child that you were happy when it was finally over. Now that you know your people survived, you feel guilty that you abandoned them. Being around them must bring back all the old memories that you thought you'd forgotten. Now you also feel guilty because you don't want to be reminded of the bad times, so you avoid your people...”
“Yes,” Failina murmured in agreement.
“But you can't forget about them either, and so you are miserable,” Gavin's mother added.
“Yes!” Failina gasped out, crying again.
“The only way you are ever going to be happy again is if you can make peace with your past...”
Failina inhaled a shaky breath as she realized that this was true. “Make peace...”
The entire family stayed in Gavin's family home for at least a month. Failina took the opportunity to talk to her informally recognized parents-in-law, and slowly, she felt better. Eventually, she felt like she knew what she needed to do.
One day, Lord Oren appeared before her. He had insisted on keeping the device necessary to locate her in case he ever needed to. This time had been vastly easier, because he had been able to visualize her so his magic could bring him directly to her.
Failina gasped in surprise at the sight of him, but then felt a calm sense of peace settled around her like a cloak. “Lord Oren,” she greeted solemnly.
“I know that you feel that I would be better able to lead our people, my Queen, but we have taken a vote... We unanimously agreed that our rightful Queen should be the one to rule us.”
Failina sighed heavily, accepting their decision. “I understand.”
“Our first priority was – of course – to finish reviving our people, but after that, we made it our priority to rebuild parts of the palace and nearby housing for our people. I hope you'll be pleased with our efforts...” Lord Oren informed her with pride.
Failina nodded, wondering how they had managed to eat, but not saying anything out loud. Squaring her shoulders, she stepped closer to the Lord. “I'm ready to return...”
“Wait just a minute!” Gavin burst out. “Don't even think that you are going by yourself!”
“But!” Failina exclaimed fervently. “This is my burden! None of you need to –”
“Nonsense!” Cedric stated firmly, slipping his hand in hers as Gavin squeezed her other hand tight. “We are a family! That means that we all go together or not at all.”
James and Justina cried out in agreement as they each grabbed a free hand from their fathers. “Yeah! We all go!”
Failina was so touched that tears sprang from her eyes. She tried to thank them, but she couldn't speak. Nodding, she took a deep breath and formed the gigantic magic circle needed to transport them to her other world. Lord Oren placed a hand on her shoulder so that he would be included.
Cedric's parents along with Gavin's entire family waved enthusiastically at them and called out their goodbyes. Failina just barely had time to promise that they would visit again someday before they disappeared. A bittersweet tear struck them all as they realized that without Failina's magic, they would never see any of them again. An honest prayer was sent up in an attempt to ensure her continued health and safety.
True to Oren's word, much of the palace had been restored. To Failina's surprise, the vast storage rooms had been low enough in the palace to survive, and so the majority of the national treasures still existed... Including the Crown Jewels...
“This is...” Failina stared at her reflection in the mirror. She wasn't sure how to finish her sentence.
“Gorgeous?” Gavin supplied with a smirk.
“Fabulous?” Cedric suggested.
“Too much?” Justina asked, reading her mother's expression mostly correctly.
“Yes!” Failina exclaimed in agreement. She was currently wearing a dress that had been made for the last Royal-blooded Queen over two centuries ago. “I don't recall wearing anything this... opulent even when I lived here!”
A female guard frowned at her Queen's tone of displeasure. They were speaking the language that the guard couldn't understand, but she understood that Failina was uneasy nonetheless. She was on hand to guard the Crown Jewels, and had volunteered to help the Queen prepare for her special day.
“Please, my Queen,” the guard murmured as she secured a breathtaking diamond necklace around Failina's neck. “Do not deprive your subjects of our traditions. We have looked forward to this day for a long time...”
Failina sighed in capitulation. “I won't.”
With a sigh of relief, the guard finished adorning Failina in priceless jewelry and then fussed over her hair for a few moments until she felt that Failina was as beautiful as possible. A sad smile settled on her face. Pressing a fist to her mouth, she obviously fought tears.
“What's wrong?” Failina wondered, afraid she had offended this battle hardened soldier of a guard.
“You're so very beautiful, my Queen!” The guard blurted out honestly. “It's such a shame that your father isn't here to see you.”
Failina looked down, now fighting tears herself. Only her son managed to distract her – a moment later – when he growled in frustration. She looked over to see what his problem was.
“Do I have to wear this?” James demanded impatiently.
“Yes,” Failina confirmed with a watery smile. “As Heir to the Throne, you'll be expected to wear the Falhalla Royal Military uniform to all official functions.” She gestured to her lovers. “My advisers have even insisted that your fathers wear our uniform, despite not belonging to our Kingdom.”
James growled softly for a moment, and then sighed. “Right now, I almost wish I was a girl!” He glared jealously at his sister, who was proudly wearing a beautiful dress fit for a princess. “At least you look good in that. I look like an idiot!”
Failina smiled at him mysteriously. Very carefully, she walked to her large bed where a long box waited. Her dress was tight enough to make it hard to breath, making her wonder if her ancestor had eaten anything at all in the weeks prior to wearing it. Taking a deep breath and then exhaling all the air she possibly could to make room in her dress, Failina bent over and opened the box so she could retrieve the sword inside.
Standing up and breathing normally, Failina held the sword out for her son. “Maybe this will make you feel better.”
The guard gasped in dismay. “My Queen! That sword is intended to be carried only by the King or Queen in charge of the Royal Army!”
“I know,” Failina acknowledged with a smirk. “But we're no longer at war, so I think that the rules can be bent, just this once.”
“That's beautiful!” Justina blurted out, grabbing the sword before her brother could. “Why can't I wear it?!”
“I'm the Heir!” James insisted, reaching to grab the sword from her.
“Wait!” Failina called out, thankful that he listened to her. Very carefully, she took the sword back. “This isn't just a pretty decoration. This blade was carved from a single piece of diamond, etched with gold, and honed with a special laser so that it can cut through anything and never get dull. It may look pretty, but it's also deadly. One wrong move and you could lose a finger before you even notice it.”
“And you want to give this to our son?” Cedric asked with a raised brow.
Gavin pulled his lover close and kissed him. “Don't worry so much. I've taught James that all swords are deadly and should be handled with care. He'll be fine...”
After securing the sword around James' waist with a special strap that didn't hide any of the decorative etching, Failina stood back and stared at him with a watery expression of pride. The guard dared to touch her shoulder, still looking a bit teary herself.
“He looks just like the portrait of your father at that age, but with blonde hair... Don't worry, my Queen, I'll make sure he doesn't cut himself on that sword!” The guard joked, winking at James. She gestured an order. “Come. I'll guide you all to your seats.”
Failina watched her family leave – after a hug from each of her lovers – and then looked at her reflection one last time. Amazingly, she seemed to glow from an inner light. Feeling as ready as she was ever going to get, she made her way to the large entrance doors to the throne room. Normally, she would enter the room via a private entrance that her family was using at this very moment, but today was special.
Guards waited patiently, trying not to watch her as she paced. Her shoes were high heeled, and she didn't have the best balance even when barefoot! Failina was used to tripping, and so didn't care if she did so in front of everyone, but she did feel that it would not be reassuring to her people if she fell. The moment the music changed and the guards opened the doors, she took a deep breath and centered herself.
“Grace is one of my magic powers,” she reminded herself just before taking her first step. Normally, whenever she invoked her power of grace, she was in the middle of a fight and needed to be super speedy. Today, however, she needed to be slow and steady.
As she walked, her people praised her. Every single person that had been preserved far below the palace now crammed into the large throne room until it was positively bursting. Failina barely had room to walk down the center aisle!
Eventually, she reached the dais where her throne was. Standing before the throne was a middle-aged Priest and an elderly Priestess. Together, they blessed and anointed Failina, chanting prayers over her for several long minutes. When they were done, they placed an elaborate and heavy crown on her head.
“Presenting her Royal Majesty, Queen Failina! May your reign be long and prosperous!”
Failina turned to look at her people, strangely comforted to see her lovers teary-eyed as they watched her. Both her children looked like they still couldn't believe that this was really happening. As for the rest of the citizens, they were clearly overjoyed as they cheered.
Stepping forward, Failina held her hands high. “I hereby give my solemn vow that I will be the best Queen I possibly can. May our Kingdom know nothing but peace from now until forever!”
“Long live the Queen!” The crowd roared.
Looking around, Failina finally understood that this was what she had been born for. Settling her gaze on a portrait of her father, she smiled and silently talked to him. If the Priests and Priestesses were right, he should be able to hear her.
I'm sorry that I couldn't win your war, father, but I promise that for as long as I live, no harm will ever come to our people again. Feeling a warm sense of peace surround her, Failina took the first step towards the rest of her life.