A/N: This is an in-depth tie-in to a particular occurrence in "Spirit Wolf," book #5 of the "Wolves of the Beyond" series. It details the death of a certain owl, and is purely speculative!
Enjoy, everyone! (Everypony as well!)
A Queen, Made Lonely
I sit in my hollow, lonelier and more forsaken than ever.
I glance every so often at the shadowy expanse of the night sky, just to ease the monotony of staring at the lightly-patterned walls.
A single tawny feather, medium-sized and healthy, lies in my nest. Reclined on the floor in front of my sooty talons is an exquisite grass harp, yearning to be played.
But right now, I have not the heart to operate the instrument.
I know we all must depart this world someday, but the passing of a cherished owl is impossible to prepare for, to come to terms with. I myself can testify to the anguish of experiencing such a loss, because my mate is gone.
My brave Soren… isn't here with me anymore.
His spirit embarked upon a one-way trip to Glaumora only yesterday, and the wound upon my own is still unbearably painful. His death was as peaceful as he could have hoped, as all of his family and friends were surrounding him.
I was cradling him in my wings as he slipped away, his life force vanishing like a tiny flame snuffed out by a salty breeze from the Hoolemere Sea.
He lost his voice first, and then he closed his eyes. He breathed deeply a few times as he heeded Glaux's silent call, and then… his chest never rose again.
The others bowed their heads and brought forth their tears, but my display outperformed them all. I broke down and cried endlessly, repeating his name over and over, ceaselessly announcing my need for his presence, his love. I screamed and screamed into his warm feathers, begging for him to come back.
He never did.
He left his students behind, his owlets and grand-owlets, his friends, and me.
Before long, I simply fainted.
I was still mortified when I awoke just prior to his Final Ceremony down below, on the island's spongy soil. He was facing the west when I lit his pyre, the flames made brighter by the setting sun. A part of my mind ordered me to jump into the fire and follow Soren into the sky, but somehow, I refused. I remember a calming feeling overtaking me as his body was consumed and cleansed, and I forced myself to be quiet.
He was nothing but a pile of ashes and bones by the time the sun was pulled under the horizon, the two events occurring simultaneously as if controlled by Glaux himself. I was the one to bury his bones under the pyre, and I was the one to scatter his ashes into the Sea of Hoolemere.
The others remained to weep for him one final time, but slowly retreated to their hollows as the sky grew darker. I stayed on the beach longer than all of them, even my own offspring, and theirs as well.
A constellation in the image of Soren never appeared, and I hoped Glaux didn't think less of me for questioning his decision not to craft my mate from the stars. But, I knew in the deepest pits of my heart and soul that Soren was content in Glaumora, alongside the dozens of worthy owls from ages past.
But I could not share his joy, as we were separated by the chasm between life and death.
When I was a few years younger, I used to believe we would die together, as happy as we were when we pledged our love to one another. The unfairness of that belief being smashed was only another spike of hopelessness through my being.
When the dome of the world could grow no darker, I whispered a prayer to the heavens and dragged my defeated self to a special hollow near the crown of the tree.
It was the hollow Soren and I had occupied after we became the rulers of the Tree, off-limits to every owl except those that were a part of our bloodline. We stored countless memories there, snippets of the past that were pleasurable, depressing, and everything in between.
It was where we had talked idly to each other on the sweet nights when we had nothing to do.
It was where we had drowned ourselves in each other's company, needing no one else to make us feel blissful.
It was where we had succumbed to romantic passion many times and mated, strengthening our love for each other.
It was where we had raised our children, nurturing them and changing them from fluffy bundles into mature Tytos we could take utmost pride in.
The cozy space held so much significance to us, it was hard to describe with mere words. And now, it is less than complete, lacking the one thing that elevated it from ordinary to extraordinary: my dear, handsome Soren.
Desperate to combat my despair and boredom, I grasp the harp gingerly with my left foot and stand it up, orienting it in a manner that suits my style of play. I pluck a languid, heartbreaking tune on the thin strings with my other foot, as that is the sole emotion I am capable of registering.
The short, shimmering notes enfold me and resonate within me before bubbling out of the hollow. I weave the mournful symphony of a traumatized owl, of a queen stripped of her king.
After a minute of plucking, I crack my own heart, and I begin to sob once more. I slide the harp away and bury my face in my wings, my eyes closing reflexively.
This was the sixth emotional collapse I had suffered since Soren perished, and the devastating grip it placed upon me was no weaker than the last. I stained the inner sides of my wings with my hot tears, clumping the feathers together in the process.
But who was I to care?
When compared to the disappearance of my closest companion, nearly everything seemed trivial.
I cried nonstop, flinging the question of "Why?" frequently from my beak. I eventually exhausted my lungs and my supply of tears, and whimpering like an owlet was the only way I could express myself.
I folded my dampened wings at my sides, my chest heaving as I recovered from my energy-sapping spell of sadness. I limped over to my nest and clutched the feather by its sturdy tip, raising it to eye level.
My beak trembled as I studied the primary, the last relic I had salvaged from my mate before I set him alight. I rubbed it carefully against my face, tickled by the finely-divided plumes that ensured he flew as silent as a scroom.
The familiarity of the sensation incited memories of us cuddling together, and an illusion of him surfaced in my gloomy mind. I shut my eyes to prolong the vision.
He smiled at me and whispered, "I love you, Pellimore, more than life itself."
He then hugged me, caging me with his vibrant wings, and kissed my cheek tenderly. My mortal body quivered with a confusing swirl of nostalgia and misery, and I pressed the feather against my heart.
I tilted my head down and mumbled, "I love you too, Soren. I swear to Glaux... that I will never… ever… forget you."
My heart pulsed more strongly beneath my chest for a few beats, affirming the truth of my words. Soren faded away, and my mind's eye saw nothing but the pure black of the insides of my eyelids.
I blinked them open, wiping my eyes with my wings to clear my blurry vision. I peered out through the porthole, spying what I thought was a cluster of owls drifting away to the west, botkins strapped to their backs.
I figured they were the students of the Printing Chaw, heading for the mainland to distribute the news of Soren's death. I tracked them until the starry veil swallowed them up, and then I walked over to my nest.
I worked the shaft of Soren's feather into the twigs, securing it firmly. Tiredness began to creep up on me, but I was not designed to sleep during the night. I grew mildly agitated, and I decided to spend my time touring the Tree's myriad of pathways.
I made for the exit of the hollow at a slow pace, my talons scraping the floor. When I made it to the rim, an out of place sliver of wind brushed against my back and curled around me.
I breathed in and detected a rich odor, one that could only have emanated from one specific male owl: Soren.
I realized that he had visited me and tried to comfort me, and he succeeded by a small amount. My heart stirred within me, and I spun my head around nearly backwards. I gazed at the porthole, seeing the leaf curtain to the right of the opening rocking from his disturbance.
"I'll miss you… my dear Soren. Do visit me… as often as you wish. I'll be waiting… my love."
With that, I turned my head back around and paced into the tunnel ahead of me.
The shafts of dim moonlight entering through the artfully placed ports were enough to illuminate my path, but no more. And so it was that I ruefully plodded on, my head hung low, my soul bereaved.
Soren's death had stolen a large part of me, sliced me down the middle like an ice scimitar, and I knew I would never be the same. I was half empty and doubly burdened, now responsible for ruling the Great Tree without my king to rely on.
I didn't know how I was going to cope without him by my side, but for his sake, I would do my very best. In spite of the struggles that lay ahead, I would continue to honor him and please him until my final breath.
He deserved nothing less from me, his faithful mate and the one who had captured his heart.
I would do my duty as the Queen of Ga'Hoole until the very end, always keeping Soren in my thoughts. When it was my turn to die, I would gladly set my spirit free so that I could fly with my mate evermore in Glaumora, the owl god's realm of eternal elation.
Flashback: The Previous Day...
As I ambled alongside Soren on our journey to the Parliament Hollow a few hours prior to sunset, I could tell my mate was the weakest he had been all week.
Ever since the time of the Silver Rain this year, his health had been slowly declining. Compared to how he looked then, he now resembled an owl that had survived a dozen wars.
The transformation he had undergone was startling, and it made his formerly marvelous appearance seem almost exactly the opposite. Of course, my love for him taught me that it was his internal self that mattered, not his external. But my love for him also led me to worry greatly about his well-being.
I urged him to visit the infirmary a few times every week and have the Burrowing Owl nurse treat him with her herbs and potions, and I was glad that he did. I also urged him to eat more frequently so that he could keep his stamina up.
After a while, when he did not improve, I asked her why.
Her reply to the both of us was: "He's getting old, Your Highness. I'm sorry to say this, but aging is a disease no owl can cure, by any means. If I were you, would start preparing, and I am sure you understand what I am referring to."
The visit in which Camille had spoken that fateful statement was four months ago.
Soren saw her less and less; politely yet sternly refusing every instance I tried to persuade him. He had stopped going altogether – and lowered his eating frequency – when the first moon of the Copper-Rose Rain began, and the reason he gave for doing so rattled me to the core.
He told me, "Pellimore, there's no point in her trying to heal me anymore. I'm too far gone. I don't know if I… if I'll be around to experience my next Silver Rain. Please forgive me, dear, but there's nothing more to say."
How brave my mate was for admitting that every day was a step closer to the end of his existence. I wanted to scold him and tell him he wasn't being honest, but he himself was the evidence that he "spoke no words but true ones," as the Guardians would often say.
He was my mate, and I could not deny him. Dread had been clawing at the back of my mind ever since, growing heartily like a fir sapling. It was now at its peak. So long as I was not blind, it would poison my thoughts every time I laid eyes on Soren.
That being said, I never received much respite, due to the unbreakable attachment to my mate that compelled me to be near him.
He bore small spots of thinned out feathers here and there, and in others, tiny areas of skin were visible. His plumage had darkened all over, as if he had been dusted with soot.
His eyes were no longer the lustrous ebony of his youth, having turned to an inky blackness with traces of gray behind them. His breathing was relatively slow and a bit hoarse, as if every inhalation took more effort than needed.
His formerly smooth voice carried a rough tone to it, made even more noticeable when he pronounced select words. Being as flying was a large drain on his stamina, he preferred to walk whenever possible – though he was forced to deal with a constant ache in his left leg when he did, causing him to limp.
Soren was a wreck, a valiant spirit trapped in a broken body.
Had I met him in this condition before getting to know him as intimate as I did, I would have been very put off.
Yet again, I could not stop myself from voicing my concern for the male I cherished like no other: "Soren, dear, would you like me to support you?"
He gulped quickly and replied shakily, "If you don't mind, love."
My beak curved into a brief smile; I was always humbled by his modesty.
"I have never minded, Soren."
I inched closer to him so that he could rest his left wing on my back, transferring some of the weight from his troubled leg to me.
"Thank you, love. My leg… feels better now."
"You're welcome, Soren."
We hobbled along the down-sloping paths for another minute before arriving at the entrance to the Parliament Hollow. Ruby's son – who happened to be the steward – was planted outside the chamber. His expression was bright, most likely because he had recently awoken.
"Hello, Soren. Hello, Pelli," he greeted cheerfully.
His expression turned sour after he saw the position we were in.
"Hello, Timothy," we both replied.
"How are you tonight, my king?"
"Not too well, Timothy. My situation hasn't changed much since you last saw me two days ago."
"I can see that. I pray to Glaux that you don't get any worse. It distresses us all to see you in such poor health. None of us know when you…"
He cleared his throat and stood up a little taller.
"I have already gathered the Parliament, just as you requested. They are expecting you both, though they believed you would be delayed in arriving."
"Thank you, Timothy," Soren replied.
"You're welcome, Soren."
The Short-Eared Owl pulled down on the short length of thick vine to the left of the door, and the two halves slid apart. I climbed over the lip with Soren, guiding him over to our perches on the far side of the room. I could sense the Parliament staring at us, their tense gazes hitting us from all sides.
We stopped advancing once we made it to the massive birch branch, and I eased Soren's wing off of me. I launched myself onto the dense wood and turned around, clamping my talons down and locking my eyes on my mate.
"Come, Soren. You can do it."
He spread his tattered wings and struggled into the air, landing heavily on the branch and causing it to vibrate. He nearly lost his balance as he turned himself around, scoring the surface of the wood with his talons as he tightened his grip. When at least he was settled, he sighed and looked around.
"I thank you all for coming. I trust you all are well today."
The Parliament nodded their heads in agreement.
A male Saw-Whet Owl queried, "And you, Your Highness?"
Soren sighed and replied, "I have not improved, Matthias. I happen to be feeling very tired today, but I have a title to uphold regardless. As for my mate," Soren turned to me and managed a weak smile, "she is faring much better. But she is ever so concerned for me, as always. I hope she never ceases to be."
The other owls shook their heads in agreement, and I felt my beak curve into that cheerful shape.
"Due to my situation, I do not have the energy to drag this meeting out for too long. How shameful it would be for me to faint and fall from this perch."
Soren coughed his sharp cough, and then resumed his speech: "Let's begin, shall we?"
Over the next half hour, we hurriedly discussed the planning out of the upcoming Milkberry Harvest Festival, set to begin two days from now. The Parliament owls who would preside over the vine trimming and berry picking were chosen, as were the chaws that would be carrying out those two roles.
This year, the Colliering Chaw would be doing the picking, while the Weather Interpretation Chaw would be doing the trimming. It was usually the Ga'Hoolology Chaw's job to take care of both in honor of tradition, but all of us decided to give them their second yearly break in a row.
They were also told to notify the rybs later on regarding when the chaw classes would be canceled. Once the major decision making and informing was done, we focused our attention on the specifics for another thirty minutes.
Once that had been wrapped up, the meeting had reached its conclusion. I dismissed the members politely, as I had done countless times in the past: "I bid you all a safe evening, and thank you all for your assistance. Could someone please notify Timothy that he is free to do as he wishes for tonight?"
The Parliament said in unison, "Likewise, Your Highness."
A Barred Owl then spoke up and said, "I will let him know."
"Thank you, Artemis," I replied.
The owls fluttered from the branch and made their way towards the exit on foot. Soren faced me and caught my attention.
"I would like to go back to our hollow and rest, dear. If you would like to be on your own, you can simply drop me off. I'll be fine until you… until…"
Soren's voice cracked and dropped off, causing the Parliament owls to freeze and turn around. Soren began to wheeze, and I inched my way over to him in alarm.
"Soren, what's the matter?"
His beak trembled as if he wanted to say something, but no sound came out. He swayed dizzily, and I shot my wings out to try and grab him. But my hold was not strong enough, and he toppled from the branch.
He struck the ground headfirst with a dull thud, and did not get up.
The Parliament members gasped as I streaked down to him, surrounding us both in mere seconds. I turned Soren over, only to see that his eyes were closed and his breathing was rapid. A trickle of blood was running down his face, most likely caused by his impact with the thick floor.
"Soren, wake up! Answer me!"
My loud pleas did not rouse him, and I felt my very soul convulsing with dread.
"Your Highness, he needs to be taken to the infirmary right away!"
"Then take him! Please hurry!" I ordered.
A female Burrowing Owl and a female Barn Owl hoisted him onto their shoulders, suspending his limp form between them. Artemis rushed to the door and opened it, and the owls trotted off an urgent pace despite Soren's weight.
Oh Glaux, please let him be alright! This can't be happening! Not now!
I hopped off after the mass of exiting owls, never letting Soren escape from my sight after I caught up to them and stayed by his side. Every time I heard a drop of Soren's blood drip to the floor, my hope leaked away at the same rate.
He never stopped bleeding while being escorted to the infirmary, nor did he regain consciousness. I could not bear to think of why he had fainted so suddenly, but all the signs pointed to the one outcome I had feared all along.
Soren… you can't be… I don't want to lose you. Don't leave me today… please…
We made it to Camille's workspace rapidly, and she was notified immediately. She jumped into action without a moment to waste, and had Soren reclined on the largest bed there was. She ordered all the other owls back to give her room to maneuver, only allowing me to stay rooted by his bedside.
"Someone please go notify our children and their families! Quickly!" I screeched.
"Right away, my queen!" an owl shouted.
My heart was pounding in my sensitive ear slits like a blacksmith's hammer upon hot metal. Camille parted the feathers on the rim of Soren's face, where the heart shape was curved downwards into a point.
"He's suffered a cut, Your Highness, but nothing I can't mend."
She hopped to a separate room and returned with a wad of moss. She pressed it against the hidden wound, the blood rendering it sticky and gluing it in place.
"There!" she exclaimed. "It should stay and help slow the flow."
"That's wonderful, Camille, but why is he breathing so fast?" I questioned sternly.
"I… I don't know."
She shot me a confused glance, and then pressed her wings onto my mate's pulsing chest.
After a few seconds, she turned to me and said, "His heart is beating much too fast. Something is very wrong with him, and I know not how to help! I don't think he's… going to make it."
As soon as I heard those words, I denied them. I could not imagine them being true, that my mate was dying.
"Can't you give him a potion or an herb drink to calm him down and wake him up? He's going to make it! I know he is! This is just a temporary side effect of his aging!"
"That's precisely why I can't, Your Highness. He will choke on whatever I put into him, be it solid or liquid! I fear his unconsciousness will be his undoing. I'm sorry. There's no way I can help him now."
My gizzard clenched painfully, and tears pooled in my eyes. I shifted my focus from her to my mate, leaning in closer to him. I patted the sides of the heart with my wings, hoping that my unforgettable touch would rouse him.
"Soren, dear, don't do this to me! Please, you have to wake up… to tell me you're alright. You need to…"
I patted him a few more times, and then pressed my beak against the frame of his face in a last-ditch effort. I pulled away, and nothing happened.
A tear rolled from each of my eyes, and then… he twitched. His talons opened wide and then slowly curled shut. My heart beat in relief as he opened his eyes slightly, but my mood was still terribly negative.
"P-Pelli… what's happening… to me…" he asked in the midst of a coughing fit.
I laid my wing on his chest, noticing that it was no longer bouncing up and down as fast as it was previously. His racing heart had slowed down as well.
"Camille thinks you're… oh Glaux, I can't even say it."
I blinked away my tears, but they returned in moments.
"You have to stay strong, dear. Our children will be here shortly. Please hold on, Soren!"
"I'll do… unh… my best… but…"
He wheezed as he breathed in, and another round of coughing ensued. I stroked him all over his upper body to try and calm him, wondering what in Glaux's name was holding our children back.
So consumed was I in my actions that the minutes passed like seconds; it was not long before a flurry of noise filled my ear slits and something brushed against my back. Nine Tytos scuttled past me like a river of feathers, arranging themselves on both sides of my mate.
Eglantine, Bell, her mate, and her son and daughter were across from me. Blythe was standing on my right, as were Sebastiana, her mate, and their son.
"We heard the news, and we came as fast as we could, Da!" stated Blythe loudly.
"Tell us what we can do to help you feel better, and we'll do it!" Bash put in.
Soren trembled as he raised his head, eyeing his offspring and their family with a terrified, exhausted expression.
"I wish you could heal me… but I fear… that it won't work. This may be the time… for you all to… wish me farewell…"
His head plopped back onto the pillow of moss, and his formerly folded wings fell open and drooped over the edges of the bed. His breathing decreased in speed once more.
"Da!" Bell yelled. "Don't say that! You'll be doing fine before tomorrow!"
I slid my right wing under his head and cradled it, lifting it so that he could see all of us easily.
He faced Bell and replied hoarsely, "You may be right... but in a different way…"
He gasped for breath again, his body jerking around.
When at last he stopped, he looked at all the owls gathered around him and sighed. His head tilted backwards, and he stared blankly at the ceiling.
"Glaux... is that you? Have you come… to set me free… to make me whole… in Glaumora?"
"Dear? What are you talking about?"
He did not respond to my question, as if he was in a trance.
He gulped more air and replied to the ceiling, "Yes… I understand. But I have to… say goodbye to… everyone first…"
There was a pause, and he spoke again: "Thank you, Glaux."
He tilted his head back down and choked down more air, and then opened his beak.
"My family… my friends… my time on Earth is nearly over. Glaux has summoned me to Glaumora… and I am ready to accept his call. But he gave me permission… to say a parting speech. My life as an owlet… was fraught with many hardships… and I was lucky to have survived. But survive I did… eventually becoming a Guardian… and then the king… of this wondrous Tree. All throughout my life… I was faithful to this society… helping my brothers and sisters… bring down the Pure Ones… and ensure what I believe… will be everlasting peace." He inhaled desperately, and then continued. "My life was a fairytale made real… as were all of ours… in one way or another. I accomplished so much… experienced so much… that a series of books… will be needed to tell my entire story. I received all I could ever… want and need… and I am truly happy. My era will end here… but there is another… whose era shall continue on."
Soren drew in more air, and his chest began to shift up and down very slowly. He peered into my tear-slick eyes, flinching as he noted the immense heartbreak and sorrow that had pooled behind them.
"Pellimore… my dear mate… you brightened my life since the first day… we met… in that fire. Even now… my love for you is too much… to contain. Knowing that I'll be leaving you… is like having my gizzard ripped out. But I know that you… will join me… someday. Now and forever… I love you. I ask that you… keep me in your thoughts. I ask that you continue to rule this Tree… as we have done… for many years."
"Oh, Soren…" I muttered, incapable of saying anything else.
He extended his neck and kissed me on the beak, lingering there for a short time.
And then, it happened. He pulled away as his head sank down into my wing.
"Take me away… Glaux…" he whispered.
His eyes slid shut; his chest swelled, emptied, and then ceased to move.
"No… please no. Soren… you can't die. I can't go on… without you…"
My wing found his chest, and I searched for his steady heartbeat.
There was none; my mate was forever silenced.
"Soren… come back… please…" I moaned.
My tears gushed from my eyes, and I pressed my face into his neck feathers.
"Oh Soren… we were supposed… to die together! Why did you leave me… so soon? Why? Why?"
I was unsure if the others heard my muffled shrieks, but they were as loud as thunder to me. I made it hard for myself to breathe, but all I wanted to do was screech into my mate's still-warm body and immerse myself in him.
Even in death, the way he smelled and the way his feathers felt made me dizzy with ecstasy. But he would never again sense my uplifting effects on him, and that one simple notion is what destroyed me.
As the emptiness exploded inside my oxygen-starved body, my head swan sickeningly. I was taken over by the emptiness and drawn into the dim world of unconsciousness.
I wandered in that featureless place for years, or so I thought. I was trapped between two Hagsmire-like realities without any hope of escape. I mourned and mourned while crisscrossing the void, the passage of time irrelevant.
It was then that I felt pressure on me from the outside, coming in a series of short bursts. The stimulation did not let up, and my consciousness was dumped back into my grief-wracked body.
I was in my own body and in control of it, but my awareness was cut off at that point. My mate's death had disconnected me from the world beyond my skin; everything in the wake of Soren's passing was like a vision to me.
It is fair to say every owl and snake who called the Great Tree home was present. The mound of milkberry branches was assembled, and Soren's body was set perfectly upon it.
Thus, the Final Ceremony for my mate began, and I was the one to light the pyre at sunset. I plucked a primary from his port wing, and then ignited the twigs.
I watched his feathers burn and turn black, only to dissolve into ash. I watched his skin melt and send up a thick cloud of smoke. The odor alone was enough to make me yarp, but my gizzard held only loss and suffering.
When the sun vanished, the fire put itself out.
My mate's dust was collected in a small ember holder, and I ferried it out to the shore and poured the contents into the gently rolling waves. The black stains on the water drifted a short ways out, and then were sucked under.
I returned back to pyre and saw that it had been dismantled, my mate's bleached, heat-cracked bones in a small pile. A few Burrowing Owls dug a fairly deep pit for them – the elderly Digger was too distraught to volunteer, and so his mate, Sylvanna, took his place.
I picked up the objects a few at a time and set them – not dropped them – at the bottom. I then covered the pit up by myself, and several minutes of absolute silence were held.
After that, Madame Phyllis Plonk sang a melancholy tune of remembrance, Blythe accompanying her. I provided the music, courtesy of the grass harp Madame Plonk had donated to me as a consolation gift.
She deemed me the most skilled harpist in the Tree, analogous to Blythe's singing talents. It was the perfect outlet for me to express my love of music, and Soren would often request that I play for him.
And so it was that I used the notes to communicate to Soren's spirit, even though I knew he couldn't send a reply.
When the song came to an end, I was crying profusely.
Scores upon scores of owls came and expressed their regret to me and my offspring, but the anguish I was feeling was unique to me alone. It was something that no one else could truly imagine, not even my children. Try as the Guardians might, my mood was unfixable.
The Guardians stayed behind to send up their last prayers, and then left for their hollows. The harp was taken away to be reduced in size by the Harp Guild, as it was too large to fit in my home. Eventually, it was only me and my family who sat with me on the beach.
Finally, they flew home, and I sat in solitude on the beach. Loneliness had become a very good friend of mine, as evil as it was.
Within an hour or so, I led myself to my hollow, Soren's feather in my beak and his image in my mind.
When I crossed the threshold and stepped into the desolate hollow, I collapsed to the floor. I could not stay awake, in light of all that had happened. Even though I was a creature of the night, I had reached my physical limits of endurance, and so I dropped into a deep sleep.
If only I had never woken up.
But Glaux had not snipped my string of life, and so I was destined to live on.
When I awoke and rose to my talons, it seemed as though I slept an entire day. The sky outside of the porthole was the rich violet of the young night, clear evidence for my assumption.
Now that my mate is gone, my hollow is nothing but a bore. My only source of interaction is Soren's feather, and the reduced-in-size grass harp.
After staring blankly at the walls – like Soren had done in his final moments – I reminisced over the feather, depressed myself to tears with my own music, and then traveled aimlessly throughout the Tree.
When I visited my hollow for the second time in the wake of my journeys, the night had matured. I could think of nothing else to occupy myself; my legs ached from all the walking I had done, and flying would only prove to be a trial on my bruised self.
I ended up succumbing to exhaustion and napping again, but this time, I did not dream.
I suffered a nightmare.
I was in the infirmary, not a single owl in sight. And then, a creature straight from Hagsmire burst in: A hagsfiend. It sent forth the eerie yellow light of a fyngrot from its cruel eyes and made me go yeep where I stood.
The foul-looking thing cackled and taunted me, circling me like a snake does a summer vole on which it is ready to feast.
Soren, help me! For Glaux's sake , HELP ME! I pleaded inside my head, as my throat would not function.
My mate failed to be my savior this time around.
The hagsfiend traced five circles around me, and then it finished me off with a single careful move. The ice scimitar it had concealed under its wing impaled me through the chest, the deadly tip splitting through the skin of my back in a shower of blood.
I trembled and shook as I died, splashing down in the lake of my own blood and tears. The void greeted me, meaning that I was truly dead.
But then… a white haze formed in the distance and floated up to me.
Pellimore, I'm here for you. Everything is fine, it said.
My eyes were blinded by a disorienting flash of color, and suddenly, I was back in my hollow. I was in the exact same spot and position where I had drifted off.
There was no blood around me, there was no hagsfiend, and no ice scimitar had been stabbed into my chest.
The nightmare had terrified me beyond belief, but the mist… it beat back my fear and calmed me down somewhat. In my gizzard, I could sense it was Soren.
Still whimpering, I stood up; the scroom of my mate approached me without a sound. When he was well within wing-reach of me, he stopped and planted his ghostly talons on the floor.
So perfect were his features that I was stunned. He was as handsome as I always remembered him, and that led me to one conclusion: Soren had indeed been made whole in Glaumora.
A round tear spilled from each of my eyes, and it was then that Soren spoke to me.
His mellow voice resounded in my head, perfectly healthy and clear: Pellimore, I know that you are sad for me, but you torture me with your tears.
"I'm sorry, dear, but I just can't help it. What I wouldn't give for you to be here with me, as you once were."
I wish I could come back as well, but that is not how this world works, love. I am very content in Glaumora, I assure you. Many legendary owls are here, such as Hoole, Theo, Ezylryb, and Coryn, and I have talked with them often. I have been reunited with my parents as well. They are ever so proud of me.
"Forgive me, dear, but I will never be happy without you. I simply can't."
You aren't at the moment, but that will change in time. That is why I am here. I have come to give you hope, and to help you deal with my passing. Your grief is only temporary, love. You are my equal in terms of bravery, and you will overcome this heartbreak, this despair. I promise you that, Pellimore.
I sniffled and replied, "Are you sure? How can you be… so certain of the future?"
My starsight has revealed that much to me, love. You will rule as a cheerful queen, troubled by my passing, perhaps, but not as distressed as you are now. My starsight is not certain, however, and that is why I must ask you this final question: Do you have faith in my words?
The answer formed in my gizzard, and I knew it was the undeniable truth.
Gizzardly instinct needed no logic as its foundation, and all my doubts were wiped away as I spoke that one word: "Yes."
Soren's scroom nodded in recognition and smiled widely. He hopped forwards and kissed me gingerly, warming not my physical self, but my spiritual self.
When he pulled back, he tickled my chest with a swipe of his foggy wing. He then walked to the port in reverse and stopped at the very edge.
"Soren… where are you going? Can't you stay longer?"
My business on Earth is finished. You have affirmed your trust in me, and the future will turn out just as I had predicted. This is the last time we will see each other, until it is your turn to move on. You'll do fine without me, love, and you'll be in my wings someday soon. This is goodbye, Pellimore. As I have said countless times before, I love you like no other. And I always will.
He smiled at me, shed an untouchable tear, and lofted out of the port.
That meeting lifted my spirits enough that my tears ran dry after a final sniffle. It wasn't total emotional repair, but it was more than I had ever received thus far.
In the special organ called my gizzard, I felt a sense of release, of relief. Soren truly had convinced me that I would emerge from the darkness of sorrow, and into the light of my queenly duties.
I was a queen made lonely, yes, but I was merely knocked down, my life given a profound blow. But it was only a matter of time until the bruises were healed. It was only a matter of time until I, Queen Pellimore of the Great Ga'Hoole Tree, stood back up.
Two Years Later…
The time of the White Rain was upon the land, and it saturated the air with a chill most stubborn. The Great Tree's bare branches were free of snow, however, as the unforgiving breeze rocked them constantly.
The cold had hardly affected me, since I had been chatting with my family in Bash's warm hollow. But my energy levels were lower than ever, and the majority of my days were spent sleeping.
I fit in as much social and personal time as I could, but it was, at most, one third of an entire day. I talked with them until I could talk no more, and then I made the decision to leave them and rest in my home.
The trek from their hollow to mine felt longer, but that was because I was particularly tired after running my beak for so long. The foul weather certainly didn't help.
When I crossed the threshold – after passing through a newly-installed sheet of milkberry leaves, surprisingly – I reveled in the coziness provided by the bowl of exposed embers in the corner. It – and the curtain over the entrance – had not been there when I had roused, so some caring owl must have added both features while I was out. The other thick leaf curtain over the port was also drawn shut, blocking out every last sliver of the wind.
I let out a sigh and walked over to my harp, but not before grabbing Soren's feather and laying it along the top of the instrument.
When I touched a string with a talon on my right foot, my chest suddenly grew tight. It was hard to breathe for a few seconds, and I swore I felt my aged heart skip a beat.
I gasped for air while holding my wings to my chest, confusion bubbling within me. The pain subsided as swiftly as it had come, and I was left numb, and incredibly calm.
An ancient tone then resonated in my head, low-pitched and mystical: My dear daughter, you have been feeling tired lately, no?
I recognized the voice's mighty owner, and I was compelled to respond: "Yes, Glaux, I have. Are you the reason behind it, if I may ask?"
Glaux chuckled, which sounded more like the rumble heard during an earthquake.
You were always an intelligent one. But of course, it was I that designed you that way. While you were only an egg, in fact.
Acknowledging the implied answer to my question, I proposed another: "Why have you contacted me, Glaux? Does my mate have something he would like you to tell me?"
Why yes, he does, daughter. I must admit that it is the very same thing I planned to ask you.
"Is that so?" I stated, beaming a smile.
"What is it, Glaux?" I added.
Soren and I would like to know if you are ready to join us. We would be glad to have you here. Your mate is fervently hoping you will agree.
The most difficult question imaginable to any living creature had just been asked.
Saying "no" and choosing to stay on Earth seemed… ludicrous. I had never heard of an owl who had defied Glaux's wishes, simply because every single one was always ready to transition into the next life.
Saying "yes" would free me from my broken body, allow me to ascend to Glaumora, and, most importantly, bind me to my mate forevermore.
The reasons to accept the offer – which was truthfully a command – were irresistible.
My gizzard gave that familiar kick, and one fateful word slipped from my beak: "Yes."
Very well, my daughter. I welcome you to Glaumora, for you are a worthy child of mine. You are highly deserving of a legend yourself, as is another special owl I happen to know.
"I cannot thank you enough, Glaux. I have ruled this Tree for many years, a few of those without my mate, even. I am sure you understand when I say that the Tree needs a new set of monarchs who are, in all honesty, more fit than I."
Wise words, Pellimore. Glaumora will be a better place with you around, I am sure. And there are many owls from the past that are very eager to meet you face to face.
"I can only imagine, Glaux," I replied with melancholy.
"Would it be fair for you, Soren, and I to choose the next rulers of the Great Tree? You will be able to impose our decision upon the owls here, correct?"
Hmmm… I don't see why not. And yes, I shall honor your choice and make it known in the minds of the Parliament.
Glaux paused, and then said thoughtfully, Actually, I might have you visit them as a scroom and inform them personally who the next rulers of the Tree should be.
"I would be honored, Glaux. Whenever you are ready, you are free to take me away."
Very well, Pellimore. Your mate and I shall be waiting. You needn't worry about the Guardians anymore. They'll be alright, as will the thousands of Guardians to come...
Glaux melted out of my mind, and the sensation was returned to my body. I released a drawn-out, content sigh.
My life was at an end, I was set to join my mate in owl Heaven, and I could not be happier.
I raised my right talon and began to pluck a slow, wafting tune. It was Soren's favorite, a lullaby that spoke of our love for each other, all in the timbre of music.
I fixed my eyes on Soren's delicate feather as I played, and I never took them away. I smiled as I enjoyed the bliss of my last few precious seconds on Earth. Somewhere near the end of the sweet tune, it happened.
My ailing heart stopped beating, and my life came to an end.
Don't forget, dear readers!