Eyes opened to a strange sight. She could recall nothing. No memories of how she got to the place she stood; no memories of the seconds between then and now, nothing. Not even a solid awareness of her body. She felt alive, in spite of her body’s inertness. The lifeless limbs attached to her body seemed weighted down, unable to respond to even basic movement. But her eyes remained seeing, her ears remained hearing, and her skin felt every sensation that washed across her flesh.
Eyes wondering, she took in the scene around her. It was unfamiliar, unlike anything she had ever seen before. The room was majestic and bright with white marble stretching from the floors to the ceiling, the latter of which opened to reveal clear skies and a fresh breeze. Gold accented everything: from the supporting columns to the ornate cornices. Even the wall sconces and candelabras were cast from gold.
She had to be in the White. But why? Only the White could be home to such a luxurious—Godly place. Why was she here and not the Gray?
“Welcome young Demigod,” a voice spoke to her. He was male and donned the same robes as those of the White. He held what appeared to be a large tome in his arms.
“Wha—where am I?”
“You stand in front of the Council of Thrice,” he began. Her brows furrowed in confusion. No one else had been there. It had been vacant. But as her gaze looked to the room, she found it was now occupied by several individuals—three of whom she knew: Kael, Anders, Santor, and five others she didn’t. Her mind didn’t have much time to process before the man continued to speak, “And for all those to bear witness to this unprecedented and unwonted account, may you also recognize you stand before the Nineteen Gods of Thrice. A feat no normal mortal often bears witness to.” And as the breath caught in her throat, she looked to the heavens and saw the nineteen divine perched on their golden thrones on the grand balcony that wrapped around the room underneath the large open ceiling. Of course she had heard of the divines taking to their physical forms, she was a demigod after all—a product of their physical manifestation. But to witness it first hand, and with her own eyes, was extraordinary—a spiritual experience. Nevertheless, it also caused dread to roil within her belly.
“Am I dead?” she asked in a whisper, fearing the answer.
The man, who appeared older, smiled knowingly at her and answered as vaguely as possible, “You stand among the living and the divine.”
“Why am I here? Where’s Nora? Is she alive?” Her questions remained unanswered. He continued.
“You were summoned here this day to vow in favor of a woman—another demigod—responsible for hateful acts against her own kind—”
“Another?” she asked. Confusion twisted between each syllable. Another demigod?
The man didn’t seem the least bit perturbed about being interrupted, instead he continued. His eyes never leaving hers. “—however, recent events have given us pause, and because of such, we are reviewing her prior sentencing in hopes of something more … forgiving.”
“I—I don’t understand. W—who?” If she didn’t know any better, she would have swore they were describing Nora. She was after all, according to them, alive. And she was expected to take council with the members to decide her fate. Still, Nora was no demigod. Emri’s mind toyed with explanations.
“You are here to speak on the account of The Fallen Queen of Black—Nora Blackheart, no?”
“But … she’s not—?” Emri choked out, unbelieving in his words. Surely he’d misspoken.
“Do you swear by your life in front of not only the Council, but the Almighty Gods of Thrice, that the woman named has changed and is no longer a threat to the Realms of Thrice?”
Her mind still reeling, offered, “Is this a trial? Where is she? I must see her.”
“This is an evaluation. But call it as you like, Miss Dyer. A life hangs in the balance—on your words. So, what say you? The quicker you do your part, the quicker you may see her. Unless … you have nothing further to add. Your voice was simply the deciding factor, but—”
His words caused a violent shiver to sweep over her body. Something in his tone didn’t set well with her. It wasn’t threatening, but urgent. The look in his eyes told her to speak, but speak with caution. It was obvious her words weighed heavily. “No! No, I …” she began, words failing her for a brief moment. She inhaled deeply and allowed all her thoughts to center around one individual—one woman. A woman who had been so integral in her life; a woman who changed her for the better—made her better; a woman who she loved with her whole soul. “What do you wish me to say that her actions haven’t already proven?” she said, voice soft yet thick with meaning—emotion. “She is … she is an extraordinary human being with a heart so large … I know people say her heart is as dark as the Realm she kept, but I have witnessed nothing of the sort. All I have ever known her for is love, tenderness, and kindness,” she paused as she recalled all the gentle touches and tender glances. In every look, in every touch Nora spoke feelings that she would possibly never utter. And it was that touch that gave her true self away. “She is a gentle soul who bore an insurmountable weight upon her strong shoulders, even as a child. Her reign was evident of her mother’s raising; a cruel and heartless woman who abused and manipulated her own daughter into horrific acts. Nora is a threat to no one. Just look at what all she sacrificed for each and every one of you in this room. Shame on you for even questioning her. Nevertheless, I swear on my life she is no threat.” What else could she say to convince them? Her words apparently held much merit. Then she realized, why. She was a demigod—a keeper to the realms, an honored Scout of Gray, and Advisor to the Black. But her demi status kept coming to the forefront of her mind. That held the most weight to these people. “I would give my life—sacrifice my status and honors as a demigod if it meant clearing her name and allowing her happiness—freedom.”
The man who stood before her flinched and she heard a series of gasps echo throughout the room. Rejecting or renouncing one’s status as a member of the divine was like a slap to their face; a rare gift that went unappreciated. But it seemed to get her intentions across.
“You would be willing to give up your demigod status for this half mortal? A half mortal who has committed atrocious acts against her own people, innocent and not? Why would you do this?”
She couldn’t help but smile at his shocked expression. If only he knew the connection they shared … the love they shared. “Because I was taught certain Gods spoke of redemption and forgiveness, but most importantly love. That how we as humans, were flawed by nature but our true nature lies in the willingness to love and forgive. I know all too well the acts Nora committed. And if asked, she would claim responsibility and put the blame on no one but herself. She knows fully that she did wrong. And not a day has passed that she hasn’t spoken of her remorse. Her past is full of misdeeds, but so is mine. I knew Nora as a young girl, and I know how truly good her heart is. But she has suffered greatly, and I wish nothing more than to give her happiness, because I believe she, above anyone, deserves to have some happiness in her life. But because I believe in her character and see her heart true, not only would I give up my demi status, but I would give my life for hers in a candle flicker.”
“You would give your life for this murderer?”
Tears unwillingly gathered in her eyes. “If it would guarantee her happiness, yes. Without hesitation.”
“You love her,” he spoke. It was not meant as a question, but rather a simply stated fact.
And it was without hesitation, Emri answered, “That I do.”
He sighed as he looked at her. A certain reverence in his gaze. His eyes were soft, yielding and it seemed he had a sad smile. “Love can be a powerful thing,” he began. “But it can also cloud our mind. Make us think irrationally, often in a way which we may never consider otherwise. So often love blinds us. We only see what’s in front of us, and not around us. Our decisions made can often be ignorant to the greater needs of others, ourselves, or even the one we love. Do you agree?”
No, Emri thought vehemently. Not for her at least, and not in their situation. Sure she believed such a scenario could occur, but not now, certainly not in this instance. “No, because with her love I feel I’m at my strongest. Everything is clearer, more focused, and I love in return. And nothing bad will ever come from that kind of love.”
“And she loves you?”
“Yes. I believe with all my soul she does.”
“One last question, Demigod. Do you find it true that love … honest and pure love, can also save?”
Without a doubt in my heart, Sir.”
He nodded and took a quick breath, his shoulders lifting with the movement. His gaze flickered to various areas of the room and he conceded. “Very well.” He took at step back and went to turn. Emri’s mind raced; jumbled thoughts slamming together, unable to form a clear and coherent thought.
“Wait! I must see her, please! I must know that she’s all right!” she pleaded.
“She’s been with you the entire time,” the man spoke. “Look behind you, Miss Dyer.”
Emri’s brows pinched together in confusion. With haste, and at breakneck speed, she turned her head and saw her beloved alive and seemly well. “Nora,” she whispered.
Nora smiled her lovely smile as tears fell to her cheeks. She seemed so happy and content in the moment. “I’ll see you soon, my love.”
“No … no! I won’t leave her! Not again!” Emri cried out. The mysterious man approached and reached a hand out to her. She tried to resist, but felt herself unable to move, to flee. Her whole body grew still as his fore fingers touched to her temples. Then, despite Emri’s frantic protests, he completed his arch, finally connecting his thumbs to her forehead.
She awoke, taking a lungful of breath as light blinded her.
She looked around in a daze, looking for someone … anything.
That’s when her eyes settled on a striking brunette with an alluring smile. There was not a scratch upon her body. No blood. No knife wound, just her in all her beauty. She looked so young, as if the weight of all her troubles, tribulations, and judgment had been simultaneously lifted from her shoulders. Youthful.
Emri rose and stared at her; words unable to form.
That was until Nora walked toward her.
“Where are we?” Emri asked though she knew the answer within her heart.
Nora continued to grin as she lifted a soft hand and cupped her cheek. “We are home,” she whispered as her eyes filled with tears, but these tears were not tears of sorrow. They were rare tears of happiness—unadulterated joy.
Emri gazed at the spot where the blade had entered her. But there remained no evidence of her fight. “I’d thought I’d lost you again.”
“Never, love. Never again. I will remain with you always.”
“I’ll hold you to that.”
Nora smiled the most gorgeous smile Emri had ever seen. The Queen grasped her hands and brought them to her lips and kissed her palms.
That’s when Emri noticed the scars. They were no more. And the bands that secured and bound them were gone.
Emri’s soft fingers whispered against Nora’s neck and lower face, tracing the paths where raised skin once marked her.
They were finally free.
In the quietness of their embrace, three kingdoms tolled their bells. Tolled them thrice for the fallen; for the brave; and for hope; for all three kingdoms were now to be united into one. On the streets, cheers rang out as citizens praised and called to their saviors—their heroines.
The soft ringing of bells reached their ears and both Emri and Nora smiled.
“Look to the horizon, my love,” she whispered into her ear, taking care to brush a few strands of soft hair from her eyes and tucking them lovingly behind her ear.
Emri turned and looked toward the setting sun. There in the distance, she saw no beast, no city, no trees or mountains, just two silhouettes walking toward them. One wore a flowing ankle length dress with long hair, and the other, who was much shorter, wore breeches and a loose fitting shirt. They were a woman and a young child. Then in a flash of color against the pure rays of the sun, she saw beautiful golden hair and short, unruly brown hair.
She cried as she lifted the bend of her arm to Nora, who slipped her hand though, just like old times.
A Demigod of Light and a Queen of Dark, it mattered not.
They were united as one.
Emri and Nora.
Two beings who suffered through the ills of all the worlds, now, at last, found the happiness they had searched endlessly for.
A queen and her savoir.
Two inseparable, yet unlikely friends.
Two hearts that beat as one.
One eternal love.
She held Nora close with all the love she held in her heart as they walked to their family.
Nora was right.
This was home.
They were home.
And it was beautiful.