Oddly enough, as the moon falls her last thought is not of the burning city, nor the growing smell of heat that threatens to choke her, nor the boy she flung into the vast emptiness in one final act of desperation.

Her last thought is a hand.

The first time she woke up in her tower she was six. She tumbled loosely out of bed, rubbing the sand from her eyes and groggily calling for Bec as if she had just woken from a fitful night's sleep…and then she got to the window. In quick succession she had forgotten her tiredness, her dog, and how to properly close her jaw.

The city below her room had been spun of gold and glitter, as if torn from some long forgotten fairy tale. Fantastic shapes and spires sprouted from the skyline, bizarre, almost painful to the eye, and yet enchanting. But among all the light and color, what had caught her eye was a spot of white. A tall slender figure clothed in blues and corals had lifted a hand to her, not a warning, but a welcome.

Soon after had been able to observe that same hand up close as the Queen greeted her with no pretense of formality, simply shaking the hand of a slack-jawed, tangle-headed little girl. Jade remembered clearly how strange it was, the joints and knuckles made up of tight little interlocking bits of shell, almost like a living armor. She hadn't interacted with a single human since her grandfather, and already he was a ghost of gunsmoke on the edges of her memory—but she knew that humans typically weren't half metal.

And yet the Queen, for all her unearthliness, was beautiful. Goodwill shone from her like sunlight, outshining the sparkling city. She was elegant in her alienness, her gestures smooth and practiced, yet welcoming. Even without a mouth her eyes smiled, pitch black and glittering like distant galaxies.

Jade soon became familiar with the Queen's hand as it gently held hers. It had seemed cold and far too smooth at first, and yet she soon became eager for its feel. The hand had guided her all through her first days on Prospit, as they met the charming inhabitants, from their gentle giant of a King to the slim yet strong shouldered post lady that frequented the castle. The hand had rested on her downturned palm as the Queen had explained as gently as she could about the war of the moons and the irreversible fate of Skaia. And the hand had squeezed her shoulder warmly the day the Queen had shown her the second tower, the day she clapped her hands to her mouth at the sight of a bedheaded boy laying in exact mirror to her first awakening.

(that was the best day. when she woke up she had immediately found Bec to muffle a shout into his thick white fur. i have a brother, she screamed)

Sometimes Jade would wake to the Queens delicate fingers combing through her dark whorls of hair. Her awakenings were fitful and unpredictable, but the Queen always had a knack for the right time. Still sometimes she would feign sleep just a little longer, if only to feel that comforting drag on her scalp.

(although, had she known that she was faking? looking back on it, she probably did)

In some small, somewhat embarrassing way, Jade grew to regard the her as her mother. She tried to duplicate the Queen's movements in miniature, the upturned chin, the elegant stride with the tiniest way of the hips, but it was always a sparrow before a swan. Useless. But when she looked back and smiled that eyes-only smile, Jade's heart would warm just the slightest.

As she grew older Jade would explore Prospit on her own more and more, and every time she woke up (somewhere in the back of her head she had come to regard it as "waking" rather to "falling asleep") the Queen seemed a little more solemn, a little less there. The time for battle inched closer and closer, and Jade knew it. She disturbed the Queen less, opting to fly on her own, lost in dreams.

But every once in a while she'd return to the castle, and the Queen would summon enough bravery to try and tame Jade's wild mane of curls and snarls. Since she had no need for combs, she'd try to smooth the knots with her own slender fingers. Jade would sit and imagine herself a princess, not just in title but one with a thousand adoring servants, with three awakened companions, with a benevolent, black-eyed mother—

Sometimes, she had blurted once, I guess I sort of envy you.

The Queen rarely spoke, and mostly did so with gestures and elegant tips of the head. So it had been a surprise to Jade to hear a soft yet strong

why?

She had fidgeted. I guess, because you have the King and everyone here, and you're so pretty and cool and stuff and I'm just…she nibbled her lip. Just a girl with a dog.

The silence was thoughtful, the Queen's fingers slowing in speed yet lengthening their strokes. Just as Jade herself was beginning to forget her words, the Queen had spoken.

you have your friends as well.

(words on a computer screen, lines of purple blue and red)

the way leaders are remembered are not by how pretty nor 'cool' they are, but by the way the treated their people. and by the way you assist your friends,

(bands on her fingers, rings of purple blue and red)

you are almost a queen in your own right.

She withdrew her hands from Jade's hair to turn her to her black eyes. She had cupped Jade's chin gently.

queens can be killers. killers can be heroes. and girls, even girls with 'just a dog', can win wars.

It had made almost no sense. But she thanked her anyways.

The fairy tale city burns. The charming little people made of white and bright are dying and she can't help. The boy, the brother she knew and hadn't known is far from her, possibly safe, probably not.

It was funny. She had long ago forgotten the worry of nightmares. And now it was as she was making up for lost time.

John shrinks to a distance away from the rubble. The smell of metal and heat grows, grows. And all she sees is that alien smile, the shining eyes, the comforting hand on her head…

(thank you)

(had she ever said it?)

And is not that a Mother's gentle hand that undraws your curtains,

and a Mother's sweet voice that summons you to rise?

To rise and forget, in the bright sunlight, the ugly dreams that frightened you so when all was dark

- to rise and enjoy another happy day, first kneeling to thank that unseen Friend,

who sends you the beautiful sun?