-The Last Year-

The holy city was covered in a fresh, crisp layer of late winter white, and gentle flakes of ice water drifted down from a peaceful silver sky. Snow had come to Wendel, and the arriving Altenian royal party was feeling a little nostalgic for their home, abandoned in the wastes of the frozen north.

After leaving old Altena, the remaining loyal citizens had founded a new Altena south of Elrand, on the border of the mystic forest. The conditions there were still a little frigid by Altenian standards, but it was at least more comfortable than living in the depths of the sub zero snowfield. It had been a hard first year establishing the new settlement, but finally the new kingdom of Altena had stood up and put its first foot forward in its bid for rebirth.

Outside Wendel's main temple, a great crowd had gathered to see the queen of the new Altenian nation. But the queen herself wasn't interested in meeting and greeting the people of Wendel, or at least not all of them. As a score of Altenian soldiers held the crowd back from the temple grounds, Angela had tracked down the one person she knew wouldn't be able to lie to her.

"B-Baww..." The little cleric girl, Charlotte, shifted her weight from foot to foot, her unusual, bobbled head gear swaying from side to side as she fidgeted uncomfortably.

Wearing her mother's silken, white robes, and flanked by two Altenian soldiers and an attendant, Angela cut an imposing figure glaring down at the little girl, who stared awkwardly back at her.

"Charlotte, if you know something and you're not telling me. I will hang you upside down and shake you for a week until you tell the truth!" Angela snapped and pointed the bulky end of her wizard's staff at the uncomfortable little girl.

"Majesty!" Angela's attendant protested. "Please, the proper decorum."

"Y-you're so mean, Angie! C-Carlie doesn't know anything!" Charlotte's eyes welled with tears and her lips trembled as they pursed tightly together.

Angela placed her hands on her hips and leant over, bringing her face level with Charlotte's. "Tell me, Charlotte!"

Charlotte shrank back and her eyes swam with forming tears. "But but Heath said Carlie shouldn't tell Angie, no matter what."

Angela smiled sweetly and patted the girl on the head, pushing her hat down playfully over her eyes. "That's okay, Charlotte. If that's what he said, you don't have to tell me."

Angela straightened herself again and set her eyes on the temple. She had only briefly met Heath after returning from vanquishing the Dragon Emperor. Heath had lost his life at the hands of Guren in the holy land, but had been given a rebirth of sorts from the mana goddess herself, before the holy land had descended into its thousand years of slumber.

Even though their meeting had been so brief, Angela remembered it in vivid detail. She remembered the escalating feeling of jealousy toward Charlotte as Heath described the favour the mana goddess had shown him by restoring him to life. After everything that had happened, Angela thought she was the only one who had lost everything defending the world from the triad of forces that threatened to tear it asunder.

It wasn't strictly true she knew that much at least. Duran had been forced to kill all that remained of his father, something he would likely never forget, but even Duran still had his family, his kingdom, and his precious knighthood. The valkrie, Riesz, had regained her younger brother, which had conveniently been the result of Guren, and Duran's father, Loki, having slaughtered the followers of the Dark Prince, only so the Dragon Emperor could take his place. The Thief of Navarre had been able to save the one that he loved, and even that ridiculous beast man had been reunited with the wolf pup he adored so much.

But Heath having been raised from the dead, had been a slight Angela had not been able to forgive. Even after Heath and Carlie had returned to their lives, she had waited on that balcony hoping to see 'him'. Even after returning to Altena, every knock on her door had sent her heart racing with the thought that this time it might be him waiting on the other side. But it never had been him, and her hope had gradually faded away, seemingly with her mother's life.

Now there was another chance, a good chance that the world could finally pay its due to her. And right now, there was nothing she wanted more than to see his face.

It took a while for Charlotte to fully realize she had inadvertently given Angela exactly what she wanted, but by that time Angela had already started taking confident strides toward the main temple.

The young priest Heath was waiting for Angela at temple gate, and he bowed low to her as she drew nearer.

"Your majesty." Heath said with reverence, "I welcome you on behalf of the Priest of Light to the holy city of Wendel."

"Where is he?" Angela's rather direct and rude question had her attendant's eyes bulging out of their sockets in disbelief. All the training Angela had gone through for the sake of etiquette and protocol had seemingly been thrown straight out into the nearest refuse pile.

Heath froze in mid bow, not entirely unsurprised that Charlotte had been completely unable to deceive her friend. "Please, come with me. There is a lot we need to talk about..." Heath raised his head and sighed apologetically.

- Five Hours Earlier -

In the holy city of Wendel there is a grand temple, where priests, healers, and scholars gather together to offer guidance, aid, and knowledge to all those whom would need it. In the lowest level of this temple, there is a room to which nobody goes. The room itself is very nondescript, with plain walls, slit windows to the ground above its ceiling, and scant natural light, a cell of the most torturous kind. In this room there is a man that spends his days and nights wracked with agonizing pain.

An acolyte of the temple emerged from the room, holding a tray loaded with food, untouched and unspoiled, perfectly fit for eating. The acolyte, was noticeably disturbed, and gave a solemn look to a second figure waiting just outside the door.

"Master Heath..." The acolyte bowed his head slightly, "He still refuses to eat, but he asks if he can be brought more parchment and ink."

Heath was a young priest with soft, silver-white hair, and a pale, slim frame adorned in a simple white tunic. Over the past two years he had become a caretaker of sorts to the man whom had taken up residence in the temple's basement.

"I understand." Heath nodded to the Acolyte and held out his hands for the tray. "Please return to your duties."

The Acolyte handed the tray over to Heath, bowed once and disappeared up a set of stairs to the temple foyer.

Heath approached the open door and held in his breath to prepare himself for the sight inside, and made a quick step across the threshold into his charge's lair.

"Close the door and leave me be." The man stated simply, busying himself carving an odd set of runes into the brickwork of the depressing room.

Heath ignored the request, and set down the tray of food on a low table, nearly upsetting a tower of books, parchment and dry ink wells.

"You must eat, Guren." Heath insisted, staring into the back of the man's head.

The man stopped what he was doing and turned to regard Heath. The red wizard of Altena's face was half hidden behind a sheet of matted blonde hair, narrowed his one visible vibrant blue eye at the young priest before returning to his work without saying a word.

"If you do not eat, you will die." Heath insisted.

Guren's fingers worked faster, scraping and digging into the wall, flakes and particles of stone coming away consistently with each movement. Trying to drown out the sound of the priest's soft yet insistent voice.

"And you must sleep as well, Guren." Heath continued, regarding a bed crammed into a corner of the small room, it too sporting a dangerously high stack of books and papers.

"Leave me." Guren droned, "I need to concentrate."

"Guren, you must eat, and you must rest. It has already been two years now Guren, another night of rest will not impede your efforts."

Guren stopped what he was doing, and his shoulders slumped and he tensed his hand against the wall, subjecting himself to the barely painful sensation of the jagged carvings cutting into his finger tips.

"Eating only makes it worse, you know that." Guren continued to drone, the effort of speaking seemed more of a bother to him than anything else he was doing. "I just want it to go away. If I keep working... I know I'll figure it out."

"Guren... Some would call what you have a blessing. Now that the mana of the world is gone, you are the only wizard left in the world that can still-"

"THIS IS NOT A BLESSING!" Guren turned violently and snapped at the priest, pulling down one of the black sleeves of his battered and worn robes. Guren's left arm was covered in hard, red scales that disappeared inside his robe, already extending to untold parts of his body and threatening to overtake his hand as well.

Heath remained unphased by Guren's outburst, and merely nodded in acceptance. "Two years ago you came to this temple, you were on the verge of death and you asked for our help. I made a promise to you that I would help you, but I cannot help you if you kill yourself through deprivation."

"I can still feel him inside my mind." Guren's apathetic calm returned, and he resumed scraping at the wall. "If I lose my body as well..."

"Guren..." Heath sighed, "The Dragon Emperor is-"

"I know." Guren interrupted. "I know he's gone forever. But his blood is in me, and the hole he left in my soul is still filled with his voice."

"Your soul will heal over time, Guren. The fact that you are here now, is a testament to that." Heath retrieve the tray and then knelt on the floor to watch Guren continue his work. "But I must insist that you eat, at least while we talk, there is something important that you need to know."

Guren stopped his scraping again and turned to the kneeling priest. Heath placed the tray on the ground and pushed it toward the red wizard, who eyed the offering with disgust and resigned defeat. "...If only to make you leave me in peace."

Guren reached for the tastiest looking piece of meat on the tray and began to devour it, then hesitated a little as he regarded the taste of the portion.

"This... This is rabite isn't it?" Guren frowned.

"Yes." Heath smiled in approval, nodding his head eagerly.

"That's disgusting." Guren complained, but his empty stomach cancelled out any misgivings he may have had.

"Guren..." Heath suddenly averted his eyes, looking unsettled about something.

"What is it?" Guren asked, continuing to work his way through the food in front of him.

"We received an advance party from the new kingdom of Altena..." Heath saw Guren's eye visibly widen as he mentioned the kingdom, and braced himself for the inevitable irrational reaction. "The Queen of Reason will be coming to Wendel... today."

Guren jumped to his feet and began throwing books and papers from the bed to the floor, looking for something frantically.

"Guren! Guren stop!" Heath called, getting to his feet to try and calm Guren down.

"You can't let her see me! Not like this!" Guren flustered, flinging more and more books off the bed.

"Guren!"

Heath moved to put a hand on the red wizard's shoulder to try and calm him, but Guren was too fast, and span in place to catch the pale priest by the throat, backing him up into the wall. Heath froze in place, not daring to further enrage the abnormally strong wizard. Heath had already lost his life to Guren once before, and if he were to lose it a second time there would be no coming back.

The section of hair that had covered half of Guren's head had now shifted, to reveal more red scales that had taken over half of his face, and a blue eye that was now no longer human, but slit like a reptile. Guren's remaining human eye widened suddenly at the realization of his actions, and he released his friend, backing away to the bed and picking up an old book that had been set at the bottom of the pile.

Heath rubbed the section of his neck Guren had threatened, but did not call for help, he understood that the man was not quite in control of his faculties. When Guren had arrived in Wendel two years ago, he had merely been injured and had every intention of returning to Altena once his body had healed.

The story he had told Heath and the Priest of Light was a mirror to the story told by Duran and the heroes of the mana, Charlotte and Angela, but contained its own share of hardship and sorrow. Most interestingly to Heath was the manner in which Guren had evaded death by using shade magic as a smokescreen, before using a form of non corporeality to hide himself inside a wall.

While it had been an ingenious use of magic, it had severely aggravated his wounds. And when those wounds had begun to regenerate they were inexplicably covered in hardened, red dragon scale, and now those scales had slowly begun to consume the rest of his body.

Guren and Heath had travelled to Altena together at Guren's request, and had broken into the sealed magic academy. Guren had known exactly where to go, although unsuccessful, his initial studies had been quite extensive. They had retrieved only one book, the book Guren now held in his hands, 'Theory and examples of human transmutation and general transfiguration'.

The theory behind magic had been easy for him to grasp even while at the academy, but the gift of magic had not been in his blood. Now the blood of the Dragon Emperor was flowing in his veins, the result of the unholy pact he had made with the beast in the snowfields of Altena, and it had been their theory that this dragon's blood was responsible for slowly turning him into a pseudo dragon creature.

"It seems that we were seen by an Altenian citizen." Heath continued, "I wasn't recognized, but you were, and the advance scouting party is already searching for you in the city."

"Will they come here?" Asked Guren, now flipping absently through the book.

"Ordinarily... No. All of my acolytes can be trusted... however..." Heath cringed.

"However, what?" Guren snapped the book shut and glared at his friend.

"Well... it's only a 'little' problem!" Heath grinned uncomfortably and tried to wave off Guren's intensifying glower.

- Six Hours Later -

Angela knelt over a pile of books in the tiny, dreary room that Guren had been calling home for the past two years. There was no sign of the red wizard himself, but the evidence of his existence was all around her. Runes and notes had been carved into almost every surface, as if he were gradually drawing an elaborate magic circle but was not entirely sure of the theory behind his efforts.

The methodology behind this magic was alien even to Angela. The spells she had learned in her travels had been purely offensive, and required nothing more than words and hand gestures to invoke. She knew Guren had attended the magic academy for only a year, but for him to be familiar with magic as complex as this, she realized for the first time that Guren was a true genius the likes of which Altena had not seen since her mother.

The books and notes Guren had left her were all related to transmutation and transfiguration, in particular his hand written notes had been centred completely on undoing the magical bindings of a chimera, or at least that's what Angela had thought until Heath had directed her attention to one particular parchment which had been half destroyed.

It seemed to have served more as a diary than anything else, but it was enough to send fear as sharp as lightning pulsing through Angela's nerves.

'...and wounds have completely healed, but I cannot stop the advance of the Dragon's Blood. The book that I took from the academy was useless. The only spell I was able to learn speeds up the affect of this curse, and all my attempts at creating a magic circle to separate myself from the dragon growing inside of me have ended in failure. Heath says that given enough time I will find a way to save myself, but I have no ideas left. It might be my punishment for choosing to serve that man rather than accept the death I was condemned to by Altena's nobility. It must be justice, because in truth, even though I had no choice but to do the things I did, I eventually came to enjoy them. But in spite of all else, my biggest regret is that I know I will never be able to show her my face again.'

Angela held the broken and crumpled fragment of parchment to her chest and remained on her knees in a moment of quiet contemplation, prompting Heath to attempt to console her.

"My lady," Heath began softly, "I truly do believe that in time he will discover the a way to treat himself."

"Tell me where he is." Angela insisted, still holding the paper lovingly as if it were her own child.

"I made a promise to him that I would not-"

"Tell me where he is!" Angela insisted, her voice cracking and the ground beneath her gaining moisture from the tears rolling off her cheeks. "I won't let anyone else I lo- I won't let someone else disappear! So tell me! Or I swear to you, I will raze this city to the ground until I find him!"

Heath's expression darkened and he bowed his head solemnly, unable to deny the purity in Angela's words. It seemed that in this case, he wouldn't have a choice after all, the two of them would have to work this out for themselves.

"You must know that his mind is suffering from this curse just as much as his body. It has become harder and harder for him to remain rational as the dragon blood's influence on his mind grows stronger, and if you chase him now you may do more damage to him than you intend."

"Please!" Angela turned and prostrated herself before the young priest, the first time in her life she had ever begged anyone for anything. "For all that I have done I haven't asked for a reward from anyone! this is the only thing I will ever ask of you, please don't let me lose him again!"

Heath was visually stunned by the sight of Angela face down atop the paper strewn floor, her tears continuing to form a small pool in the parchment beneath her. "Please, my lady, please stand. He is at the great lake, it is the one place that nobody goes at this time of year."

Angela resumed a kneeling position and wiped the tears from her eyes. "Thank you." She said, pushing herself to her feet. "I will go to him..."

"The only thing I ask is that you go alone." Said Heath, "If he were to feel threatened by your escorts, I fear he may be unable to control himself."

Angela nodded in agreement. "Then I will need you to take care of them for me." Angela managed to stave off the cloud in her mind long enough to bestow her face with a mischievous grin.

Heath sighed at the look and resigned himself to his fate with no argument. "It seems I'm always cleaning up after the girls in this temple."

-

The great lake that separated Wendel from Jad and the ruins of Astoria was completely frozen over, but Wendel's usually temperate climate made it unsafe to venture out onto the ice, the risk of the brittle cover fracturing was too high, and no one would wish to be swallowed by the frigid waters beneath. But for the world's last magic user the fragility of the frozen lake was not a problem.

Guren walked several inches above the frozen lake, seemingly treading on thin air. The space between him and the ice below shimmered with each step, and he ventured further out into the centre of the vast lake that dominated the centre of the continent, a place he thought where nobody would find him. When he was far enough into the lake to be nothing but a black and gold speck from the bank, Guren sat on the shimmering mattress of light supporting him in the air, and began reading the spell book from Altena's magic academy. The time he had remaining was precious, and even if he was hiding he would not allow himself to take a break in his research.

Guren flipped through the pages one by one, it was material he had covered before, nothing new to be gleaned from the ink inside. But the book was all that he had, the only thing holding him back from spending an eternity as a violent imperial dragon, or at least just until Duran and the knights of gold slaughtered him in his sleep.

A splash of water from snow melted in his hair dropped onto the book as he was reading. Guren's eye widened and he cursed out loud as the fine inked lines began to bleed together. Without thinking about it Guren closed his eyes and focused intently on the image of flowing water and began the second portion of the incantation to create the globe of liquid necessary for the lance of water he had used against Duran. Almost instantly the water dropped into the page, some below his feet, and in the air around him rushed together to form the globe around his hand and the book was dry once again, a little blurred but as if the water had never been there.

Guren dispersed the globe of water to his side, and glowered at the snow all around him. If only it could be that easy to remove the dragon's blood from his body.

'...Why wouldn't it be?' Guren gawked at the possibility. He had been consumed with the physical consequences of his transformation that he had neglected to address the cause.

To be able to separate the individual components of matter was a basic part of both wizardy and alchemy, it was so simple in fact he had tried it numerous times to remove the scales from his body only to have them regenerate.

Not once had he actually attempted to remove the dragon's blood because it would rob him of the ability to use magic. And if he were to try it now, with no other magic users in the world to repair his body, would remain in this half transformed state for the rest of his life.

"Just enough!" Guren crowed excitedly. "I don't have to be powerful! I just need enough to halt the transformation and just enough to fix myself!"

Guren tossed the book to the ice and folded his legs, holding one fist out to his side and drew the necessary runes in the air with his free hand. Guren concentrated hard on the image of the Dragon Emperor, his tremendous golden and bulk and skeletal dagger toothed head leering at him as if it were peering in through the void in Guren's soul.

Beginning the incantation, Guren lurched violently as the blood inside him tried to rush in an awkward direction, but he held on strong to the image in his head and fought through the pain to complete the chant. He could feel the blood bursting through pores in his skin and flooding the cavity in his mouth and nose, flowing freely out of him to try and reach his hand.

The violent pressure in Guren's mind began to lift and he could physically feel the scales on his face begin to fracture and join the growing orbs of blood around his balled fist.

"Enough!" Guren grinned satisfactorily and shot the ball of blood and fragmented scale into a lance that struck out at the ice sheet beneath him, penetrating it and staining part of the lake a deep crimson.

After wiping a thin trail of blood from his mouth and nose, Guren touched the skin on the part of his face that had been overtaken by scale. It was skin! Tender and scarred but it was skin! And his eye! His eye was normal! The scale on his arm and torso was still there but his face, he could see Angela, he could see her right now!

Guren fell back onto his cloud of light and laughed heartily. "Two years!" He shouted out loud and clenched both his fists together above his face. "Two wasted years and it was so simple! A ridiculously simple water gathering spell! I can't believe it!"

"Guren!" A voice called out across the distance causing Guren to bolt upright. "Guren!" It repeated while drawing closer.

"Princess!" Guren's face lit up as he recognized the rapidly approaching figure, and he jumped to his feet. "Angela!"

The two of them ran to each other, sparks of light beneath issuing from Guren's magical cloud of light, and snow and water thrown up from Angela's toes as they dug into the ice.

Angela's face lit up to see Guren approaching her and she quickened her pace, dropping her staff along the way.

"Gur-AH!" Angela yelped suddenly as the ice gave way beneath her feet, and in that instant that lasted less than a second, she was gone.

Guren's face dropped from elation to sheer horror in less time than it had taken for Angela to fall. And he ran with every last ounce of strength he could muster to spot where she had vanished. There was no sign of her, just a few chunks of ice floating in a hole slightly larger than the width of her lithe body.

"Levitation!" Guren yelled and he simultaneously drew the spell with both hands, and aimed it at the water, but there was nothing, she had disappeared.

"No! NO!" Guren raged, "Not like this! What do I do?!"

Guren cast the spell again, and again, but there was no reaction, Angela had sunk out of reach. Guren thrust his arms into the pond and fished around inside trying to find her, he felt the biting numbness of the freezing water creep over him almost instantly. If he didn't hurry, Angela was going to die in there.

Guren wracked his mind for a spell, for anything that he could remember that could save her. A fire spell could heat water, but there was no way he could generate enough fire to heat even small part of this enormous lake.

'Fire!' Guren thought, there was one spell he could, one spell that would give him enough fire to melt all of Altena. Guren closed his eyes and drew a dozen runes in the air as fast as he could manage, all of them turning a bright, deathly red. Guren doubled over in pain as the Dragon's Blood remaining inside him ignited and multiplied exponentially, the scales on his face quickly manifesting themselves once again and this time rapidly spreading across the rest of his body, and what was fast becoming less and less of Guren fell head first into the open lake.

All was quiet above the great lake, the winter wind whistled through the air and snow continued to fall as if nothing had happened.

Without warning the iced surface of the lake suddenly cracked and burst, a colossal red dragon with striking blue eyes, and jaws large enough to swallow a man whole, cried vociferously, spewing a flare of intense white flame into the air. A cloud of ice, snow, and steam flew in all direction, blooming outward across the lake like a blossoming flower. The dragon's mighty, leathery wings beat hard shaking off the icy water that was clinging to them and it lurched unsteadily into the air. A stripe of golden blonde hair travelled down its back, but it lay matted to one side, still soaked from its icy cradle.

The dragon roared again and thundered forward, seemingly unsure of how to control itself and it tumbled head first into the bank of the lake, knocking down a slew of trees as it made contact with a small forest, before finally coming to a halt in a small trench of its own making.

The dragon released the careful grip it had been maintaining with its front arms and hands, revealing the unconscious form of a young woman, her snow white robes soaked through to her pale skin with hot water.

Angela coughed and spluttered as her body jolted her back to consciousness, safe at least for now from the deathly cold that was all around her. "Guren!" She called out, and looked at the massive beast lying helplessly on its side.

Angela scrambled backwards, terrified of this thing that looked so much like the Dragon Emperor. But as she looked at it longer, she could see the softer features and clear blue eyes that defined it, and the sad look that was etched up on its face didn't make it seem evil at all.

"G-Guren?" Angela asked the slowly breathing behemoth, but the dragon did not reply it simply continued to stare at her with sad blue eyes, as if it were completely exhausted. "Oh no... Guren..." Angela got shakily to her feet and walked back toward the giant's head.

Angela placed her hands at the centre of the Dragon's snout, taking in the feeling of the hard scaled texture. The dragon groaned, or perhaps purred, it was hard for Angela to distinguish the low thunderous sounds that the creature produced.

"Guren... I'm sorry, this is all my-" Angela buried her head into the dragon and sobbed as she had done the day her mother had passed away. "Why?! I should have waited! Why am I so foolish!?"

Angela looked into one of the creatures blue eyes that swam with Guren's gentle light. "The Dragon Emperor could take human form... Could you...? … Can you understand me, Guren?"

"ARCHERS!" Came a shout from the edge of the destroyed forest, and almost immediately three arrows lanced out striking the dragon directly in the head. "Protect the Queen!"

The dragon howled in rage, knocking Angela off her feet as it reared its head and stood up to face its attackers. A group of Angela's escorts, alerted by the commotion caused by the dragon had come to investigate and taken what they had believed to be appropriate action.

"No! Stop!" Angela pleaded, but it was too late.

A second wave of arrows and approaching swordsmen prompted the red dragon to exact swift retribution. It took a deep breath and lunged its head forward, passing safely by Angela as if protecting her from harm, and sending a jet of white hot flame at its attackers, narrowly missing two swordsmen but engulfing a third, reducing him to ash instantly, leaving it amid a pile of molten armour.

The dragon beat its wings, using the air pressure to knock the remaining attackers off their feet and eventually lifted itself into the air, circling higher and higher until it was out of their reach. One of the swordsmen ran to Angela and pulled her away from the trench without pausing to query her struggling and protests.

As she was forcefully pulled away by her soldiers, Angela screamed out Guren's name one last time and clawed at the air in front of her, as if desperately trying to pull him back. But all she could do was watch, as the magnificent crimson dragon disappeared into the brightly burning sun.

-Epilogue-

It had been decided that at the end of every year. Each person living in new Altena would light a candle to remember those whom had died when the barrier of perpetual spring had failed and the Queen of Reason had passed away. These candles would burn throughout the night and into the new year, it would remain an Altenian tradition for many decades to come.

The small square of the new town was quiet on this, the first night of remembrance. It was a time of solemn recollection, and the townspeople were resolved to remain indoors and pray for the souls of the departed. But there was one exception.

The former Queen of new Altena, Angela, had given up her right to rule the nation after returning from Wendel, and had resolved to live as an ordinary citizen. Of course the people of Altena would never treat her as such, and even now that she had given up the title and the duties of Queen, the people still treated her and expected her to live as royalty even if she refused to. She was after all, the heroine that had defeated the Dragon Emperor and had plucked their nation from the brink of certain death, it was something that the people of Altena would never be able to forget for the next thousand years.

Angela sat out under the stars, crunching the snow beneath her feet, and clasping a candle meant for her mother between her hands. She had been out alone on the road for quite some time now, making her way south to Diorre through the Mystic Forest, where another branch of the elven race that inhabited the northern continent dwelled in seclusion, blanketed by their strict rules about contact with humans.

And from Diorre, Angela hadn't yet planned her destination, but she was already leaning toward the east, Forcena, the Glass Desert and the Dragon's Hole, the temperate places where dragons liked to hunt and make their dens. Though every night like tonight, Angela had stared solemnly up into the twinkling night sky, watching, waiting, hoping for a glimpse of a scarlet angel soaring across the face of the moon.

Angela set the candle down on ground beside her and collected a ball of snow in her hands, holding it tight and feeling the numbness seep into her fingers was strangely refreshing. She watched the candle flicker in the still night air, and smiled slightly at it.

"I hope you're doing well, Mother." She said. "I hope you're not too lonely."

Angela looked down again at the ball of snow, her face more sour now. She felt as if she had finally come to the end of a long road, and found that it had led her nowhere, though perhaps she had matured from the experience.

"I'll be lonely enough for the both of us." She continued, sounding slightly despondent.

Angela was about to drop the ball of snow to her feet when a white streak caught her attention from the corner of her left eye, and she turned to investigate it only to be struck in the face another large snowball.

"Your face is making the whole kingdom gloomy." A soft, deep voice spat her own words back at her, though she could not see the person through the snow clinging to her face. "As princess of Altena it is your duty to cease this behaviour."

While initially startled, Angela was familiar enough with the action and words to know what was happening, she had after all, thought about that night every day for the past nine years. She bolted to her feet and ran to the direction of the voice, and was caught in a pair of strong arms that wrapped themselves around her and pulled her tightly into a lasting embrace. Angela brushed her face against the chest of the person holding her, clearing the snow from her eyes and she peered up into the shining blue eyes of the boy she had met ten years ago outside the grand kingdom she once called home.

"Angela," Guren smiled at her, "I'm sorry-"

Before Guren could continue his apology, Angela leapt up to wrap her arms around his neck and pulled him down off his feet. The two of them lied together in the snow, neither one wanting to relinquish their grip.

"Don't you dare to make me wait that long again." Angela whispered, "I'm a princess you know."

"Angela..." Guren whispered back, "The blood is still boiling inside me... I'm still-"

"I don't care." Angela cried, burying her head again into his chest. "I don't care what you are, as long as you're here. Even if the whole world is your enemy, I'll stand by your side."

"Angela..." Guren moved a hand to her head and cupped it gently around the nape of her neck to keep her warm.

"So don't go anywhere without me, ever again." She sniffed, nuzzling her forehead against him.

"Angela..." Guren whispered again, a little more urgently.

"...What is it?" Angela asked solemnly, worried his persistent melancholy was threatening to steal him away from her for a third time.

"It's cold down here." Guren finished with an awkward smile.

Angela was stunned for a few seconds of stupified silence, before summoning the ability to respond. "You..." She began, nestling her head into him fully and stifling a chuckle, "You're not cool at all."