The day is dark and gloomy. Ravens fly overhead as a crack of thunder roars through the air. I sit in the rose garden, holding a bouquet. My head is bent forward as the rain soaks my hair and clothes. This is it. I know it is. I have been dreading this day for months now. The day I have to say goodbye. No one knows what happened to my mother. Her dragon tattoo faded, and with it, her immortality. The healers only gave her a couple of months to live unless we found a cure.
Quest after quest, I looked for something to save her. I searched for a way to bring her dragon back, but nothing showed up. She stopped me before I left in a last desperate attempt to find a cure. She begged me to spend her last few days with her. It was heart-wrenching watching her in that state. Before, she would never let anyone do anything for her. She was independent, one of the most powerful dragons in our land. I still don’t know why her dragon decided to pull back.
Now, she could hardly get out of bed, her breathing getting harsher and harsher. I let out a shaky breath before looking up at the sky. My body shivers from the cold, but I don’t care to heat myself with my fire. I need to feel something.
Standing from my spot, I make my way slowly back into the castle. My feet drag up the stairs on my way to her room. Since my mother lost her ability, my father has had little contact with her. He considers her weak for losing her dragon. It makes me sick to my stomach that anyone could be that cruel. She is supposed to be his wife, the woman he will love until death. I grip the roses tightly. The thorns cut the palm of my hand.
The smell of decay wafts from her room, and I blink back my tears before entering. My mother is sitting up in her bed, a blood-stained cloth in one hand. I slowly walk to her, placing the flowers on her bedside table.
“How are you feeling?” I ask her.
“Terrible,” she croaks, chuckling to herself. Tears fill my eyes, and I suddenly feel like the little boy from all those years ago. She holds her arms open for me, whispering, “Come here, my son.”
I collapse into her arms, sobbing as her warm embrace brings life to my cold muscles. Her heartbeat is faint, and her body trembles underneath my hug. I pull away, fixing my mother’s hair as I try to compose myself.
“I love you, Mama,” I whisper.
“I love you, too,” she says, smiling warmly at me. “Now, I need you to promise me something.”
I squeeze her hand, nodding. “A-Alright.”
“No matter what your father says or does, you do what you think is right. You have a fire in your heart, my boy, and you will change the world,” she says before letting out a wicked cough. “You are my son, and I am so proud of you. Stay true to who you are, and you will find your way.”
I search my mother’s eyes as they slowly start to dim. I squeeze her hand, placing a hand on her cheek. “Please don’t go, Mama. I…I am not ready to let you go.”
“I love you, Caspian. So…so much,” she breathes before her head lulls to the side.
Tears start pouring down my face. I shake her hand, calling out for her, over and over again, but I know this is it. My mother is gone, and there is no way I can get her back.
I sit up quickly, my heart pounding in my chest and sweat dripping down my back. I haven’t had that dream in years. I try to keep it buried away deep in my memories. It takes me away from the now. If I’m not careful, I will go down a spiral of terrible memories that will keep me up at night. We can’t afford to lose focus now. Not until we are safe.
Ariel looks up at me from the table as she scoops a spoonful of yogurt. She raises a brow at me before pointing at a plate of hotel waffles. I smile at her before getting up from the bed and trudging over to my seat.
“This is all they had. Delicious, isn’t it?” she jokes, taking another spoonful of yogurt.
“Thanks,” I murmur, twisting the ring on my finger. Ariel’s eyes narrow at the movement, and she sighs.
“You know, you never told me where you got that ring,” she says.
I snort, looking down at it. It is a large ring, the band as black as night, and the gemstone in the middle is an onyx. A blue swirl of magic is at the center of the stone. Something I haven’t seen for years. It went dormant when the Source pulled back from the world.
I close my eyes, fiddling with the ring. An anxious habit of mine is to twist the ring continuously until I settle. Ariel has mentioned it a couple of times, but I never told her the story about it. Delving into the details would only lead to more questions, and I don’t think I have the heart to answer them all. Then again, I hate hiding things from her.
I let out a long sigh. “Mother gave this to me on my sixteenth birthday. It was from her father. He told her to give it to her son on his sixteenth birthday. So…yeah.”
She tilts her head. “Why couldn’t you tell me this before?”
Because I know the numerous questions that could follow. My fists tighten as I smile at her. “Thinking about Mother can be…hard.”
Ariel smiles sadly. “I wish I’d gotten to know her.”
I place a hand on her head. “Well, you’re a lot like her. Adventurous, outgoing, positive, stubborn—”
“I am not stubborn!” she exclaims, hitting me.
I snort. “Have you met you?”
She hits me again. “You are fucking rude when you wake up. You know that?”
“Am I? You have never told me.” I laugh, digging into the waffle. Ariel sticks her tongue out at me before opening the laptop. We stay silent for a few minutes as I eat and slowly wake up. The coffee here tastes alright, but it is nothing like the coffee from New York. Then again, I am sure there is a good coffee place here in New Orleans. I just need to find it. “I managed to get us a place last night.”
“You did? That quick?” she asks, her eyes lighting up with excitement.
“Yeah. Now I just need to find a,” I shudder, “job.”
Ariel snorts. “Good luck with that.”
My eyes narrow on her. “Yeah? Maybe you should get a job too. Instead of taking all my money.”
“Your money! It is a shared community bowl.” She laughs.
I snort. “Uh-huh.”
Ariel laughs again before becoming serious. “Caspian?”
“There is this city-wide celebration coming up called Mardi Gras. Can…can we go?” she asks me. Her big blue eyes look at me in a silent plea. I prefer not to go to large events or parties, mostly because I won’t be able to keep an eye on her with a big crowd. There are too many ways for something to go wrong, and we can’t afford any mistakes. Looking at her, though, breaks the shell, and I sigh.
“Alright, but not too long. We still have things to prepare for,” I say, crossing my arms.
Ariel squeals with excitement, running around and hugging me. “Thank you, Cassie!”
She runs off to her small bag and starts throwing things around the room. I sigh. What am I getting myself into?