Perched on the edge of Cloudrunner Fortress, Krystal could behold the entire world. It felt strangely small up here. In the distance, stretching out towards the horizon, the waters of Cape Claw sparkled in the setting sun. They continued beyond the sun; what laid on the other side of that shimmering, shifting ocean, Krystal could not say.
Wings rustled behind her; a moment later, Kyte’s green head popped into view next to her, a smile directed her way.
“Krystal!” Kyte exclaimed, beaming at her. “You came back!”
Krystal could do nothing else but smile in return. “Of course I did,” she said. “Someone had to check on how your planet was doing after… everything that happened.”
The wind grew slightly colder.
“Yes,” Kyte said, softly. She seemed strangely older in that moment, a fragile look passing through her eyes. But the moment soon passed, and Kyte was youthful again, beaming with all the energy her age would permit her. “I’m very glad you returned! I had hoped to see you again before you left with your brother, but I never got a chance.”
“Duties of a new queen?” Krystal asked knowingly.
Kyte nodded in excitement. “Oh, you wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through the past few weeks, Krystal! First, I had to be coronated, so they clothed me in these ancient robes…”
Krystal let Kyte’s voice wash over her, smiling at the appropriate moments and nodding along. In the light of the dying sun, her green feathers shone bright and beautiful. She had already lost some of the youth that had clung to her through their adventures; her face was more slender, her body more defined. She no longer spoke with the eager, earnest tone of a young princess; although she was still energetic, her words were more carefully chosen, her manners refined. She is no longer a princess, Krystal thought, a strangely sad feeling gripping her heart. She is a Queen.
Queen of the Cloudrunners. Leader of a hundred clans. During those long, dark nights on their journey, when they were comforted only by the shining stars above and the warmth of the crackling campfire, Kyte had whispered stories to her. Scattered cities and enclaves, each one fabulous and beautiful, with painted palaces built of shining, shimmering white stone. Hidden in the valleys, on the mountains, at the edges of the endless seas that circled the world. “My mother commands the Cloudrunners from one ocean to another,” Kyte had said in hushed, excited tones. “If Scales were to attack our fortress, he would surely fall to our gathered armies!”
She had been wrong. Half of their enclaves laid in ruins, their occupants dead or dying. They had chanced upon one of them, once, hidden in a dense, deep forest. A gentle, burbling stream ran through it, across a weathered stone channel. The waters ran red, and at the edge of the stream, next to a torn, burnt banner bearing the crest of the Cloudrunners, laid a dulled and bloody spear. The emblem of the Sharpclaws had gleamed in the dim light of the forest.
Kyte had been silent the rest of the day; the next morning, she had returned to her chipper self. But Krystal could see the pain reflected in Kyte’s large, warm eyes, buried deep inside. She was so, so strong. So unimaginably strong. Still strong, Krystal said to herself.
And she was. Standing before her now, Kyte was every inch the queen she was meant to be.
Her rant about the coronation over (and the apparently terrible behaviour of her youngest brother, which Krystal only caught a snippet of as she surfaced from her memories), Kyte rested her head on the ground next to her. “Oh, Krystal,” Kyte sighed. “You should have brought Sabre along with you. I would have loved to meet him!”
“I’m sure he would’ve liked to meet you, as well,” Krystal said softly. Something in her chest tightened at his name.
Kyte raised her head slightly. “Is he okay as well? After what happened…”
The image was still burnt into her memory. Randorn’s body, sprawled across the ground, limp like a puppet with its strings cut. Sabre, standing at the opposite side of Warlock Mountain, reflected light from the stained glass between them shimmering across his shocked, anguished expression. The Krazoa, deranged and unhinged, whooping and screaming in ecstasy as their god began to reform...
I never trusted you, Krystal, the phantom’s words whispered in her mind, nestling into her memories like poison. The awful apparition the Krazoa had forced upon her. Sabre’s blank, dead face, his eyes piercing hers before vanishing into the inky black darkness of the shrine.
“He’s doing as well as he can be,” Krystal lied, regretting how easily it passed her lips. Kyte didn’t seem to notice, however, and beamed at her.
“Oh, that’s wonderful, Krystal. I’m glad he’s doing alright. And… what about you?”
Krystal gave Kyte a soft smile. “Me? You know how I am, Kyte,” she said. “I’m moving forwards.”
She couldn’t look backwards. If she did, she feared she would never be able to move forward again. Her parents, Randorn, even Sabre--all of them stood behind her, shadows threatening to suffocate her. I was the one who killed your parents, a lone whisper passed through her memories, nearly surfacing. She could not allow it; she forbade it, she would ignore it, she would--
Kyte gave her a strangely knowing look. “I’m glad you’re doing fine, then, Krystal,” she said, and brushed her head against Krystal’s arm.
Krystal’s hand came up instinctively, rubbing Kyte’s soft head. For a moment they sat there in silence, listening to the songbirds in the distance, their last cry of the evening fading into night. The wind had died down into a gentle breeze, rustling their fur and feathers, carrying the scent of blossoms and fragrant flowers. If she focused, she could nearly smell the sea of Cape Claw; hear the seagulls, and the Hightops--the strong, rumbling waves.
A light flaring at the corner of her vision caught her attention; the torches and lights of the fortress were beginning to be lit. Small tendrils of smoke curled into the boundless purple skies.
“It’s beautiful here, Kyte,” Krystal said. “I could stay here forever.”
Kyte lifted her head and smiled softly, sadly. “But you can’t stay here forever,” she reminded her. “You have to return to Animus. To your brother.” The flickering torchlight reflected in Kyte’s eyes for a moment. “You have to go home eventually.”
But what was home? It certainly wasn’t Animus, Krystal thought privately. She would not dare speak it aloud; she would not dare dishonour Randorn’s memory. Her parent’s memory. Sabre’s memory.
Sabre was warm, she knew. Warm and welcoming. He liked to act like he didn’t care, but he cared too much. His heart was too large. She knew her absence tore him apart; but she also knew her presence would tear him apart equally. An eternal reminder of what he had lost. Of what she had failed to protect. She had little memory of her parents, but memories of Randorn fled before her wandering mind, tainted by her knowledge. Sabre, in the most uncanny of ways, almost resembled his father. As he grew older, he would look more and more like Randorn. Everytime she would look at him, it would pierce her heart.
She sat silently for a moment, Kyte’s waiting eyes widened inquisitively.
“There are other worlds,” Krystal said, finally. “The Krazoa talked about them… the other planets of the Majestic Eight. Nibiru, Earth… who knows what wonders await on those worlds.”
“But what about Sabre?” Kyte asked. “What will he do while you’re gone?”
While you’re gone. As if she knew that Krystal had already made up her mind. Kyte, always accepting of Krystal’s faults; always accepting of her strange whims and lonely, mournful silences. Her firm resolutions. “Sabre will cope,” she said. “He always has.”
He had always been strong in that way. When Krystal was a child, fearful and anxious of the dark, hateful looks the rest of the tribe sent her whenever she dared to venture outside, Sabre was always there. Standing up for her. Protecting her. Once, Krystal had injured another wolf, in the midst of petty anger at the tribe’s treatment of her. Fury had overtaken her; she could still remember the blood, dripping slowly off of her fingers, staining the dark earth. Sabre had taken the blame for the incident. As the prince, his word against the word of another was enough to protect her. Sabre took the punishment.
Now they were both warriors, strong and righteous. Sabre had chosen his path; she had chosen hers. Even if she left--withdrew from Animus entirely--Sabre would survive. He would stride forward, stupidly brave as always, seeking others to help and heal. His destiny laid elsewhere, distant and uncertain, but Krystal knew her path would leave them separate once more.
“I’ll come back here,” Krystal said abruptly. Kyte jumped, wings rustling as they extended. Krystal gave her a sheepish smile.
“What do you mean?” Kyte asked, once she had settled down again.
Krystal turned to look out at the horizon again; she could already glimpse stars, faint and small in the twilight. “Once I’m done traveling,” she explained. “I’ll come back here, to Dinosaur Planet. I’ll visit you.” She smiled. “I’ll visit the Prince Tricky, too. I never got a chance to meet him, you know.”
Kyte snorted. “I did, at the coronation. My brothers were most displeased with him; he ate all of the blue mushrooms!” She shook her head in irritation. “You should’ve seen the line of Earthwalkers marching through the gates, Krystal! We had to build a ramp for them, there was no way they would’ve gotten through the normal way…”
“That must’ve been quite a sight,” Krystal said, laughing.
“Oh, it definitely was!” Kyte said, beaming. She rose her head and closed her eyes, letting the breeze ruffle the feathers on her head. “I’m glad you came here, Krystal.” She opened one eye, peering at Krystal. “And I’m definitely glad you decided to tell me about your decision to leave.”
Feeling warm inside, Krystal smiled. “I’m glad I did, too, Kyte. Thank you for listening to me.” She leaned back, basking in the cool air of the evening, the bustle of the fortress behind them. “Sabre may try and follow me; if he does, please explain to him what I told you. Okay?”
Kyte nodded solemnly. “I promise.”
Looking to the horizon for the final time that evening, Krystal said, “Thank you, Kyte.”
There was nothing left to do but depart; she would, the next day. And although what lay in the future may be uncertain, Krystal would move forward.
She would always move forward.