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The creature I am staring at seems to be made of darkness itself, cloaked in thousand year old shadows with eyes as red as freshly spilled blood. Its mass churns and swirls, and the forest appears to darken as I watch the figure in the fountain. "What is that?" I choke.
Lee turns to look at me. He looks sad, but serious.
"It's your spirits."
There is silence.
"My spirits?!' I exclaim. "No. There is no way that's me."
Lee looks down, then back up. "It's not you," he says. "It's the feelings you felt inside when ruling Myriod. It's also the spirits of the people you affected. Everyone you know has a little part of that creature." He looks towards the darkening mountains. "Even me."
Silence fills the air.
"So...I have to sacrafice myself to save Myriod?" I ask. Silence dissapates and tension replaces it.
"Not exactly. We just have to find some way to clense your consciousness free of the spirits."
I don't like where this is going. "Like those tests you gave me?"
Lee nods slowly, "Yes....but they are much, much harder and bigger and tougher."
"That makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside," I mutter.
"The first thing you must do is," Lee sighs, "To get a unicorn horn. You need it to forge a weapon."
"What?" I gasp. "Everyone knows if you steal a horn you will be cursed! And if you kill the beast too you are damned."
Lee nods, "that is true because a unicorn horn is pure and it will be soiled if it is taken with evil measures." He looks at me pointedly.
"so you're saying if I take it in a "good" way it will still be pure?"
Lee grins. "Exaclty!"
"Well, I'll bet that'll be a breeze," I mutter sarcastically. I hold out my wrists. "Kill me, and it'll be a thousand times quicker."
Lee shakes his head. "I'm not killing you. There is another way."
I sigh loudly and pointedly. "What, then? What other way is there?"
"It will be dangerous, but there is a legend." Lee trails off on one of his many tall tales. "Beyond the mountains and the great forests, there is a legend of the Fountain of Youth."
I snort. "Child's tale. Yeah, right."
Lee looks at me. "I'm serious, Alena." he says. "It'll take days to get there, but you need it for your kingdom."
I look back up at him. He takes my hand.
"Let's go," he says. I smile, and we run off into the night.
"Are you sure that it's real?" I inquire between breaths.
"You shouldn't question folk tales," Lee responds slyly, and I have to grin.
"You know, I can't even remember the last time you gave me a straight answer."
Lee laughs, but it turns into a panting breath. "I don't give straight answers, because I find them to be much less informative."
"Where are we going anyway?" I ask as we run.
"Well, you didn't expect me to make the queen to run all of the way there did you?" He laughed and slowed as we came to the top of a hill. He pointed down into the valley and I peered down there.
There were some beats sleeping down there in groups. I squinted as I tried to figure out what they were. When I recognized them I grabbed his arm, "Are-are those....?"
He nodded and laughed, "Sure are."
I watch as the creatures stir and open their eyes. "Griffins?" I can not believe my eyes as the beasts twitch their feathers and stretch their wings.
"Guess you didn't know this world as well as you thought you did, huh? Considering you're the ruler?"
I nod slowly as if in a trance. "You're probably right."
"And speaking of which..." Lee trails off, and whistles loudly. I clap my hands over my ears and scrunch up my face to elude the sound. I have always been sensitive to high-pitched noises. But that is when I spy the glowing, brightly colored bird, soaring over our heads and diving toward Lee, who is grinning and watching it circle above us.
"These big guys helped me find Enora," Lee says. His eyes glow green. "Without them, I wouldn't be here now."
A griffin lands in front of us. It's a beautiful creature, with a broad wingspan delicately varnished with multi-colored feathers that shimmer with the passing sunlight. It's sharp talons softly settle on the ground, and it's beak is sharp yet round. Lee must notice my fascination with the creatures.
"Want to go on a ride?" he asks. I smile.
"You're crazy," I answer with a smile. "Of course." Lee climbs onto the creatures back and offers his hand. I take it, hardly able to contain my excitement. The griffin's wings begin to beat, and the wind buffeted my hair.
The creature's vivid blue and golden feathers waved around as its feet left the ground, and before I knew it, I was soaring through the mountaintops.
The beauty of the land takes my breath away. There are flowing waterfalls with large willow trees at the end, and the big mountains are like goosebumps on the land. The wind blows my hair away from my face, and I let out a small laugh. Soon, it begins to get dark.
"We need to find shelter," says Lee. I nod in agreement. He directs the griffin towards a small cave cut into a mountain.
While Lee starts the fire, I take an inventory of our supplies. We will have enough food and water for a week.
I place a raw chicken on a spit on top of the fire and watch it roast.
"Are you okay?" asks Lee. I look up.
"Yes," I respond. "I'm fine. Why?" Lee sits down next to me and crosses his legs.
"It's just..." he says. "If I knew that my spirits were destorying my kingdom, I would be a little more emotionally confused."
I furrow my eyebrows in anger. "Are you saying I'm too callous to care for my kingdom?" I ask, my voice rising.
Lee widens his eyes. "No, that's not at all what I meant!" He looks down, then back up. "I just meant that your bravery is admirable."
Silence fills the air.
"We're going to be okay," he says, taking my hand. "Everything's going to be fine."
He sits by me and I lean into him and take a deep breath, he smells of cedar and fire. It is so comforting that I can't help but sigh.
He wraps an arm around me and rubs my back, "We'll get through this together. We lost each other once before and I'm not willing to let that happen again."
I nod, "Me neither."
Lee stands up, and I listen to a hissing from the fire. I whip my head around, expecting to see burnt chicken, but what I spy instead forms a fearful lump in my throat.
The fire is rising into a person, made of flame and smoke, growling at me from where it towers. Lee draws his sword. "Fate," he snarls. "What are you doing here?"
I am speechless as the monster replies. "That girl is going to pay for what she did. My monsters, her spirits, will destroy the kingdom that she fights to protect. And it is her own fault."
I clamp my hands over my ears and scrunch my eyelids together. "Never!" I shout blindly.
Fate points a burning finger in my direction. "You will fail to succeed what matters most in the end," she commands. My eyes widen. Suddenly, I have a searing headache. "My monsters will tear your kingdom apart." I fall to my knees. My head is killing me, and when I open my eyes, I see red. It feels like the weight of the world is now pressing on me, lowering me to the ground. I let out a scream of pain. Through the ringing sound in my ears, I hear my name being called. I open my eyes. I am lying on the hard stone floor of the cave.
"Are you alright?" asks Lee. He helps me up. A feeling of nausea washes over me and I rush to the edge of the crevice and vomit over the side.
When I am finished, I trudge back to the fireside. Lee helps me drink some water, then I fall into a deep, nightmarish sleep.
When I wake it is morning and I don't feel any better. I sit up and look around, but Lee is gone and so is the gryphon. I throw the blanket that is on me off and stand.
"Lee!" I shout into the foggy morning. "Lee!"
My voice bounces off of the hills back to me and I wonder if he has left me. I look around camp, all of his things are stll here...
I jump as Lee and the gryphon land behind me. I glare at him. "Don't do that again! I thought somethign had happened to you!"
Lee looks taken aback, "I'm sorry. I was scouting. And I think there's somethign you should see."
I nod shakily. "Okay," I say. "But I'm pretty sure I know what it is." He jump onto the griffin's back and cling to its feathers. Lee hops on in front of me.
"You ready to go?" he asks, looking over his shoulder at me. I nod again, my stomach still cramping up from the night before.
He takes off, and I can't help but think that the acceleration is going to kill me.
As we ride through the fresh morning air, I cling tightly onto Lee. It's a long drop down.
As we get closer, a fear of dread washes through me. There is a castle in front of us. It is the Rinade Castle, about 50 miles away from Myriod. Lee lands in the courtyard. He fastens the griffin to a nearby treestump and together, we run inside.
It is trashed. The elegant draperies that once framed the high windows are in shreds on the floor. The red, plush carpet has singe marks on it, and the thrones at the back of the room are toppled over, their fabric ripped. On the floor, lying on it's side, is a king's crown. I turn around and look at Lee.
"They've been here," I say. "Fate's monsters." he nods solemly.
"This must've happened yesterday," explains Lee.
We land and I walk away in a stunned silence. I feel like I might throw up. To think I am the cause of all of this. That this is all of my fault is nearly too much to bear.
Lee pats my back. "Just because you indirectly began this does not mean that you cannot make it right. You can end this, and I will stand by your side all the way." I am too upset to nod, although I know he is right. I am overrun with guilt, and he knows it.
That night, Lee makes plans for the morning. We will go North, stock up in a nearby village, and then go East towards the fountain. We will then venture South, stock up in Enora, and travel to Myriod to fight Fate's monsters.