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Chapter 1

Wedding bells were ringing in the kingdom of Zosal. Princess Ruby Montgomery, heir to the throne of Zosal, was being married to Prince Thorn Farley, heir to the throne of the Slunao kingdom. Everyone was happy for them. The princess was the kindest, sweetest, and most humble woman anyone who ever met her would have the pleasure to meet. And the prince was just as kind, and just and fair, always hearing a case out.

The people of both kingdoms looked forward to their realm behind untied under the two leaders, sure that their kingdom would become prosperous and wealthy within a year of their reign.

The two also looked forward to being united. They had been in love for years, being betrothed from birth. They had grown up together and fallen in love. They would do anything for the other, and they adored each other. Their love was so pure and beautiful that everyone who saw them felt their heart glow.

But to the royal family, a dark cloud loomed over their heads. A dark cloud of the Queen's own making.

Two years previous

Ruby smiled at Thorn as he grinned next to her. King Henry, her father, stood and called the group of nobles and royals of the two kingdoms to attention.

"I thank you all for being here on this momentous day. For this is not only my daughters 16th birthday, the day she becomes a woman, but the day that marks a beautiful future for our two kingdoms."

The group cheered as she blushed, smiling shyly, her garland of mountain laurels slipping a bit down her long, silky curls, red as a ruby shining beneath a light; her namesake.

"I could not be prouder of my daughter, for she has grown up to be kind, generous, and a loving person."

They all clapped as she smiled wider, her cheeks almost as red as her hair.

"And I am also just as proud of Prince Thorn, who is wise and just, and will be a good and fair leader. I will consider it an honor to call you my son. We welcome you to our family."

He raised his goblet of wine to the prince, who bowed in his seat to the king. The nobles all clapped and raised their goblets to the prince and princess. His father, King Rupert, beamed in pride for his son.

The Queen, Katherine, raised her hand for silence. The King looked to her, then sat, letting his wife rise to address them.

She looked around the table, eyes settling fondly on her daughter.

"My daughter is kind, generous and loving, that is true. She is the kindest person in all of our kingdoms. But she is not just kind. She is humble, gentle, and very skilled. And she is beautiful. The most beautiful in the kingdom, in the entire universe!"

Ruby's eyes, green as an emerald, in striking contrast to her hair, grew wide, her skin rapidly losing its flush, growing pale. She half stood, reaching a hand out gently to her mother.

"Please, do not say these things. I am not the most beautiful."

"And my daughter is powerful! Her control of nature has never been seen before, and is rivaled by none! She is certainly the most beautiful, kind, humble, and powerful woman in this universe."

Ruby stood straight, speaking loudly, "Mother. Enough. You do not know what you are saying."

The Queen smiled at her daughter, "You see? She is truly the humblest."

The princess ran from the room, her petal pink dress flowing behind her. She ran down a flight of stairs, Thorn chasing after her. He caught her at the bottom.

"Ruby! My love, what is wrong? She was only complimenting you."

"And in doing so, she has doomed herself, me, and our kingdom. News of her arrogance will reach all corners of the universe, and many will come to punish her. And they will also take it out on the people. They don't deserve the ire of angry beings."

He smiled softly at her, "you truly care about them."

"Of course. But she has doomed us. We… may never get married because of this!"

He tipped her head up to meet her eyes, "I will never allow that. I love you Ruby, and I would do anything for you. We are going to be in that chapel, I promise you that. I won't let anything come between us, my love."

She sighed gently as he leaned down, kissing her gently, brushing the hair out of her eyes.

Everything was going to be fine. As long as they were together, they would be alright. Love could conquer all. Surely the evil her mother had just wrought could be stopped, postponed, or even bargained with.

All would be fine.

Present day

Ruby took a deep breath, smiled at her father, and linked her arm through his. The grand wood doors to the chapel opened, and a choir swelled as they walked in. everyone in the two kingdoms had gathered to see the marriage.

She tried to clear her head as thousands of eyes watched her, but euphoria and terror filled her. What was she thinking? She couldn't do this! So many people were watching.

She took a deep, shaky breath and looked up to the altar through her filmy veil. She could see Thorn staring at her, his face slack with shock and adoration, not trying to hide any of his feeling. Her eyes locked on his and suddenly he was the only person there.

Her heart swelled with love and excitement and she forgot her fear. She clutched the petal pink roses to the chest of her gown as she stepped delicately up the stairs to the alter where the priest stood to marry her to the man she loved.

She stopped next to Thorn, who continued to look at her as if she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. She smiled at him, throwing the lace veil back to reveal her face.

Thorn whispered, so she alone could hear, "I never thought this day would come. You are radiant, as always."

She blushed, smiling shyly up at him, "Thank you. I was worried I wouldn't be able to get up here."

The priest cleared his throat, "Are you two ready?"

The couple looked at each other, then nodded.

The priest cleared his throat again, the pronounced in a booming voice, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to witness the union of these two souls. Princess Ruby Aurora Montgomery, daughter of King Henry and Queen Katherine of Zosal, and Prince Thorn Alden Farley, son of King Rupert and Queen Alyssa of Slunao. If there are any present today who are opposed to this union, speak now, or forever hold your peace."

He peered at the crowd over his spectacles. A few people couched. Some twitched. But none stood or said anything.

He nodded, "Then as is dictated by the laws of these lands, present your vows and betrothal gift."

Thorn pulled a silk handkerchief, wrapped around something, from his pocket, smiling at Ruby, "Ruby… my love… I've known you for so long. You are kind, generous, and beloved by all who meet you. Every moment I spend with you is… beyond words. I fall in love with you all over again each time I see you, and your beauty is as bountiful as your brilliant soul. I never thought I would have a chance to be acknowledged by someone as brilliant and shimmering as you, much less stand before an altar with you. I would happily give all I have, including my life, for you. It would be an honor to spend the rest of my life with you, waking up to you smile every morning."

He placed the package in her hands. Unwinding it, she let out a soft, yet sharp, exhale. The seed of a Dragon Blood Tree, said to have magical properties. There were very few left in the universe. This seed could sprout a tree that could renew a great forest, perhaps millions of lost forests that had been cut down by hunters in the past.

She smiled, then took her own package out of her dress, "You… said many kind words. Many of which I was planning on using. In the time I have known you, you have righted many wrongs, and seen to it that true justice is delivered to the land. You are kind, and…" she paused, looking down, "You have comforted me in many times of anguish. You have been there through my rage. You never turned your back on me, even when you saw the darkest parts of me I would never show anyone else. When others turn away, or feign interest in my passion, you listen. You question and actively challenge me to do my best. And I love you for that."

She looked up, tears streaming, but smiling, "You say it would be your honor to spend your life with someone with such a beautiful soul. I say that it is also my honor to spend my own life with someone who is as wise and just as you."

She handed him the package. Opening it, he found a circular locket of gold on a chain, with his name engraved on it. Opening the device, he found a compass, clock, and an empty spot for a picture or their future family.

Thorn started tearing up as he held the tiny item in his hands. The priest coughed.

"So, do you, Prince Thorn Alden Farley, take Princess Ruby Aurora Montgomery to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

He smiled at her, full of love, "I do."

"And do you, Princess Ruby Aurora Montgomery, take Prince Thorn Alden Farley to be your lawfully wedded husband?"

"I do."

"Do you both take each other in sickness and in health?"

They simultaneously said, "I do."

"Will you take each other for as long as you both shall live, never to forsake the other, for better or for worse?"

They nodded, "I do."

He adjusted his spectacles, "Then, by the power vested in me by the old gods and the King, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride."

The crowd cheered and clapped as she lept up, throwing her arms around Thorn's neck, kissing him passionately. They broke apart after a minute, breathless and almost panting.

Thorn caressed Ruby's cheek and smiled at her, "I love you my dear."

"I love you too. Here's to our new life together."

They held hands, and were about to descend the stair when the great doors flew open with a crash, a cold wind sweeping through the cathedral. The previously bright sun was covered in storm clouds, lightning flashing an ugly purple. The flames on the torches blew out, only to spark back to life a pale, ugly lime green.

The commoners screamed and ran for their lives, as did the nobles. All that were left was the royal family and the priest. Thorn stepped in front of his wife to protect her as the rest of the family surrounded them. The doors shut with a crash like the lightning outside.

The wind was whirling like a cyclone inside as a huge group of figures in block hooded robes appeared in the aisle.

The priest stepped forward as the lead figure waltzed forward, "You are not welcome here! The power of the gods compel you to-!"

A bolt of lightning blasted through the roof, hitting him and turning him to ash.

Then, the figure spoke, "Of course we're not welcome. We never are."

It was a feminine voice, possibly a woman

She lifted her hood in the direction of Queen Katherine, "Hello dearie. You didn't really think you could get away with what you said, did you?"

She raised her arm, the Queen flying up with her. She hovered in mid-air, screaming silently in pain and she warped before the horrified family. At thirty-eight, the Queen still looked quite young, and decently pretty. But that changed in seconds as her body twisted and stretched in that of an old woman's.

Katherine fell to the floor in a heap with a groan as the figure turned to the newlyweds. Thorn immediately went to his pocket to grab a knife, but Ruby rushed forward and laid herself prostate before the group.

"Please, take mercy on my kingdom. My mother was wrong to say those things. I tried to stop her, but she would not listen to me. I apologize deeply for her grave mistake. I know you are angry, but please, punish me and my mother for her mistakes. Do not hurt my people. They had nothing to do with it, and the do not deserve your ire."

The figure laughed, high and cold, "Punish you? Oh I will do more than that. Your mother has her punishment. But you… yes. I see a fitting punishment for you. The princess who is so kind, loving, powerful and beautiful. The one who is not strong enough to stop someone else. You are going to see for yourself just what pain and helplessness is. You will indeed bear your husband children. Your first born child will be the most fair and powerful in all the realms, just like your mother wishes. All who meet them will marvel at their strength and beauty. But, on the eve of their 18th birthday, their powers will transform them into a horrid monster that will bring about the End of Days!"

With a final cackle, she and the group disappeared, leaving a smaller figure in a light gray cloak behind. It walked up to the princess weeping on the ground and removed its hood.

A little girl, no more than eight, with dark brown hair braided with feathers and beads, deeply tanned skin covered in face paints, and eyes a deep, deep brown, but with spikes of green, like plants growing in fertile earth.

"My name is Aiyana, Daughter of the Dryads and Druids. Your child's fate need not be so unpleasant. If you raise them correctly, they can use the dark powers granted to them at birth to bring about an era of peace in the universe. They will live into adulthood, and bring you much pride. I will stay with you to see to it that this happens."

Ruby looked up, eyes red, "Why would you do that?"

"The circle of witches took me in, saying my family didn't want me. I learned the truth. They stole me from my family before they could know me, later killing them so they could own me for my power. I stayed because I had nowhere else to go, nothing to fight for. But I can see the future. Your child has a chance of being a great hero despite this curse. I live in this universe. I don't want it to go away. I will help you."

Thorn helped ruby stand, and they looked at each other sadly. Their child was in danger long before they were ever conceived. And there was nothing they could do to protect them, besides letting them see that the path was theirs to take.

Three months later

Despite the unceremonious end to the wedding, and the threat hanging over the family's heads, life went on as usual in the kingdom. The couple's coronation was in two months, and the kingdom was abuzz. No one knew of the couple's heir's fate.

Ruby was walking among the people, surveying the situation to make sure that all in her kingdom were happy, cared for, and at peace. It was one reason they loved her: she made sure they were provided for. All loved her.

But not all in the kingdom had pure hearts; or motivations.

She turned down a street that not many went down, and on this day, it was empty. The princess never had guards with her, trusting her people to be kind to her as she was to them.

A mistake on this day.

She got lost in her thoughts as she walked, not hearing the running footsteps behind her until it was too late. A cloth was placed over her mouth, gagging her scream before it could bubble up. She struggled for breath, but the air she drew in was strange. Her head started to spin, eyes fluttering. Too late she realized she was being drugged.

She struggled more, but she couldn't escape. And the harder she fought, the faster the drug coursed through her veins. Eventually, she grew too tired to keep fighting. No one could hear her, and no one was coming to help.

Her eyes drifted shut as she slumped into her assailants arms, his deep, throaty chuckle echoing in her ears as her consciousness slipped from beneath her fingers.