The strange party of three half ran, half walked through the woods for what seemed like hours before finally reaching what seemed to be a solid stone wall.
Melody looked at the wolves. “A wall?”
Colleen snorted and Rhuest rolled his eyes.
“It’s more than just a wall, Queen Melody. It’s your stronghold until Harmony gives up your throne,” Rhuest said.
“And the only way that usurping brat will ever give your throne back is if we take it from her cold, dead fingers,” Colleen added.
Melody shuddered. “My ‘sister’ is that bad?”
Colleen turned and fixed icy eyes on Melody. “Melody, you can think this is a dream all you want. You can think that you’re back in your swing on the balcony of the house your uncle left you when he died. Well you’re not, so stop acting like this is a dream! This is where you come from, so welcome home, your majesty!” Ending her words with bitter sarcasm, Colleen turned and trotted through the stone wall. Melody looked at Rhuest, who gestured toward the wall with his head. Melody looked back at the wall and slowly walked toward it, hands outstretched. Instead of feeling cold, jagged stone, she felt air and warmth. She opened her eyes and saw a large cavern, glittering in every color. The cavern was warm even though there was no visible source for the warmth. Melody walked farther back into the cavern, and saw a vast blue-grey lake with steam rising off the water. The soft pad of paw steps made Melody whirl around to see Rhuest standing behind her. Only when he walked beside her did she see how truly big he was. Rhuest’s back came up just below her waist, and his proud brindled head brushed against her elbow.
He sat down. “Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s called ‘Iccrae Havassian.’ It means…”
Rhuest looked at her curiously. “Yes, it does. How did you know?”
Melody shrugged. “My uncle taught me this language. He said it was the language of dreams.”
Rhuest laughed. “Of course your uncle would say that. He was the dreamer that created most of this land. He designed and built almost everything from the Rheadar volcanoes to the Beryl Ocean.”
Melody nodded. “What is this place called?”
“It’s called Paradisica,” said a strong, deep voice.
Melody turned her head to the shadows by the water and saw a man standing by a stalagmite.
“Queen Melody, it is an honor to finally meet you.” The man walked out of the shadows and towards her. He gently took her hand and pressed his lips to her knuckles, and without breaking her gaze, continued speaking. “She is indeed Melody. She has the same amaranthine eyes as her mother, and the same proud forehead as her father. Just like Harmony.”
Rhuest laughed. “Melody, this is Joel. He is a shape-shifter, and calls Iccrae Havassian his home.”
Melody nodded. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Joel smiled, and his dark eyes lit up. “Likewise, milady. I never thought I would see the day that our rightful ruler has come back home to us.”
Joel nodded. “You were born here, but after…”
“Joel, Melody is tired and must rest,” Rhuest said sharply, giving the shape-shifter a withering glance.
Joel clamped his mouth shut and nodded. “I completely understand. Queen Melody, it was very nice seeing you again, and I hope we can keep hours instead of years between our next meeting.” Joel bowed as Colleen walked up behind Melody.
“Your bed is this way.”
“You’re not a child anymore, Melody, really!” Colleen snapped.
The words echoed in Melody’s head, reminding her of another voice saying the same thing tauntingly.
“Are you alright, milady?”
Melody blinked rapidly a few times and saw Joel standing above her, concern flooding his warm eyes. “I…I think so.” She accepted his outstretched hand and slowly stood up. Colleen nudged her back and Melody turned and followed the wolf deeper into the cave. As they walked, Melody heard Joel and Rhuest arguing back and forth in hushed tones.
“Joel, she just came back today! It’s too soon to be talking to her about her past! We have to see if she’ll remember it first!”
“That’s what I was doing, Rhuest. I was helping her remember.”
“By telling her about the night her parents were killed? She’s already been through a lot today, Joel, and that certainly wasn’t going to help!”
“Rhuest, I’m sorry. I was excited when I saw her again. It’s been a hundred years.”
Rhuest’s voice was softer. “I know you were, Joel. And you had every right to be. After all, she is…”
Their voices were cut off as Colleen led Melody around a corner.
“This is where you’ll be staying.”
Melody looked at the smaller part of the cave she would be staying in. It had naturally rounded walls, forming a small room that held a silver vanity and bed. The bed was pale pink, with roses growing all around it.”
“Where are your manners, child?”
Melody looked down at Colleen. “Thank you, Colleen.”
“Colleen, what do you have against me?”
Colleen raised an eyebrow. “Did you think that when you came back here everyone would be overjoyed at your return? We’ve been waiting for centuries for you to come back. Many lives have been lost because of you. Including my children. I had three fine, healthy pups, and when they grew old enough, they went out and fought for your army. Not a single one came back. They were all killed. So don’t expect me to be too overjoyed about your return, your majesty,” Colleen said bitterly as she turned and walked out.
Melody stood there for a moment. This was all too much to take in. This was a dream. It had to be a dream. There was no other explanation for it. Right?