EPILOGUE: THE BEST STORIES START WITH WRECKAGE
~SOUNDTRACK: Fall Out Body – The last of the real ones~
There's a valley somewhere far behind the line where the sky meets the sea, a valley of waterfalls and trees of the deepest green, a valley with the clearest waters and the calmest breezes. The beach fades into the forest and when the woods grow the thickest, that's when you keep going. For just a few more steps ahead lies a crystal clear lake where a waterfall dives in gracefully. Far beyond the lake stretch mountains and cliffs standing tall and proud like they're the guardians of the valley. And the rocks of the mountains shine onyx black in the morning sky like they're made of charcoal.
High above those mountains, a pair of wings stretches wide and conquers the sky, making the sun itself kneel before her. Then when she finally grows bored of the width and richness of the sky, she lands softly on the ground by the lake. Her wings retract into her back and her onyx scales are replaced with smooth milky skin.
Cathy stood up and went to retrieve her clothes from behind the rock where she'd left them. Then she made her way through the woods until she reached the beach. And surely enough, right there with his toes in the sand, her captain kept his gaze glued to the horizon, his hands in his pockets and his honey-colored hair in the wind. Cathy's heart fluttered a wild beat. Would she ever grow used to him? Would he not show her any mercy and keep flooding her with these breath-taking sights of him so casual and carefree?
"Enjoyed your morning flight?" he mused without turning around and Cathy chuckled.
"As much as you enjoyed your morning stroll by the beach."
She made her way towards him, sneaking under his arm and stealing a kiss. He laughed and looked at her with that dreamy look in his eyes, like he couldn't quite believe his eyes that she was standing before him.
"Morning stroll," he repeated. "Oh, dear. We sound old."
Cathy laughed. "We sound happy."
The Onyx Valley had turned to be a most suitable home for them. Cathy hadn't seen Vladimir so at peace of himself before, but when they'd finally docked here and his eyes had laid upon the island, the look of utter glee on his face had shaken her to the core. She'd known he loved the ocean and had always wanted to live near it, but she'd underestimated how much. As for her, she was just happy being home. Her family was finally whole, no longer in shreds or torn apart over some tragedy. They could begin to rebuild. Ember's dream to restore the Onyx dragons to their former glory was finally closer to touch. As far as she was concerned, Cathy knew she'd found the man with whom she wanted to settle down. Vladimir Danilovich was here to stay.
The captain nodded at her words and smiled widely, his eyes drinking in the skyline like he couldn't get enough of it. "We are happy."
Sebastian heard the click of her heels before he saw her. The room to the interrogation room opened and Fury walked in, dressed in a pink flowery dress, her lipstick on point as usual. She was like a colorful day of spring in this wasteland.
The suspect, a vampire who'd been leaving trails of dead bodies behind, looked at her almost amused.
"You?" he mocked. "You're the big bad leader of this district?"
Sebastian almost laughed. He'd made the mistake of underestimating her once, too. He'd long since learned to never make that mistake again.
As if on cue, Fury grabbed the vampire by the neck, her nails digging into the skin over his jugulars, almost threatening to pierce the skin and paint the dull grey interrogation room with his blood.
"You seem confused," she spat in his face. "I'm the one asking questions."
Sebastian held back a laugh that wouldn't have worked well with the intensity of the situation. Their relationship had improved visibly. They now shared a room. A bed. A love so bright it blinded him sometimes. After a lot of searching, he'd found his home in Fury. And despite how domestic their lives were sometimes when they were losing themselves in their sheets and in each other, it was never boring. Fury ruled her district with an iron fist. And by some miracle, she'd allowed Sebastian to remain by her side. She'd allowed him inside the walls of her heart.
Sebastian shot her a glance where she was standing, pink dress and pink nails digging into the neck of a dirty vampire. He'd never loved her more.
Charles watched from afar. Where the Circus had stood, only ash remained. The breeze swept them away easily, nature finding a way of growing over what had once been painted with so much pain and misery. Just like that, the world went on.
Somewhere in all that ash, she was as well. No more than dust. Or maybe she was already gone. Maybe she'd caught the first breeze out of here. Maybe she was slowly, surely becoming a speck of dust here, another one there, leaving her mark throughout the world so that it would never be allowed to forget she'd existed.
Charles clearly would never forget she'd existed. In hindsight, he couldn't help but wonder if they'd ever stood a chance at all. He wondered what would've become of them if she had survived. Clarissa was a wild soul. He doubted she would've allowed herself to be tied down. And Charles also doubted he would've asked so much of her. As much as he'd pleaded for her soul's salvation, he was no fool. He knew some wounds run too deep. He'd long since forgiven her, but he also knew she would've never been able to forgive herself.
He let out a loud sigh. He turned his back. She'd indeed been a wild soul. A tormented one. He prayed she was at peace. He dared to believe she was.
~SOUNDTRACK: Karmina – All the king's horses~
Max found Kira Atkinson in the queen's office, sitting on the desk like she owned the place. Pretty defying attitude for the daughter of a queen, he thought. But then again, he doubted Kira Atkinson followed anyone's ruled but her own.
"You sent for me?" Max closed the door behind him.
Kira jumped off the desk and smiled at him. "Yes. Christopher and I are leaving town. Our job here is done." She paused, seeming to reconsider. "For now."
Max shrugged with nonchalance. "Alright. Farewell or whatever. How does that concern me?"
Wordlessly, Kira walked past him towards the door, only pausing briefly to look over her shoulder. "Well? You coming?"
Max rolled his eyes, but followed her anyway. He knew just enough about her to know she had quite a taste for the dramatics. They made small talk, but Kira never gave away anything about where they were going and what she'd wanted with him.
Eventually, they reached the docks. Kira had finally grown quiet and, after a few failed attempts, Max gave up trying to get anything out of her. At last, she stopped dead in her tracks, causing Max to almost run into her.
"This is it," she announced proudly.
Max looked around, seeing nothing but ships and dirty fishermen carrying boxes full of fish. "What's it?"
Kira took him by the shoulders and turned him in the direction of the ship by which they'd stopped. Max had to admit, she was a beauty. The wood seemed well polished and the veils were clean and the fabric they were made of was the kind that held well in storms. And it was rather spacious, too. Max let out a whistle, though he still didn't understand what that had to do with him.
"Say hello to your new ship, captain Lockhart."
Max could only blink. He turned to Kira, confusion flooding his features. "My what now?"
Kira simply sighed. "It's a token of gratitude. You stayed and helped us with the Circus situation, even when you didn't have to. I pay my debts. I hope this begins to convey my appreciation for what you did for us."
Max stared. It was true that he'd decided to stay and help when he didn't have to. But he figured it was a bad time to mention to Kira that he'd done it out of selfishness. That pull he'd felt was still there. He'd stayed mostly to figure out if there was something waiting for him here, in Allymea. And while the pull hadn't faded, he'd found nothing here. Whatever he needed to find felt annoyingly close, like all he had to do was reach out and he'd be able to touch it. And yet he didn't. He was starting to wonder if he'd grown mad.
He turned to Kira. "That's one hell of a gift, Your Majesty."
Kira winked at him, already turning away. "You're one hell of a captain."
Ember didn't know where to start. Max was alive. Max was out there. But she felt again that pang of realization she'd felt 700 years ago, when she left the Onyx Valley and set out to find him. The world was a big place. As excited she'd been at first, she realized it could still take her 50 years, 100 years, 200 years to find him.
It didn't matter, she reminded herself. The only important thing was that she'd end up finding him this time. If it took her forever, she would find him.
For now, what she needed was a ship to provide her safe passage out of Allymea. She'd start off in Europe. Max was striking her as the kind of man who'd enjoy Europe. She could already imagine him somewhere in France, wooing the ladies with silly lines about French kissing, or maybe having his own winery and drinking himself numb. She smiled at the thought. She spent all the way to the docks wrapped in thought, imagining Max in different European countries and blending in into their culture.
All of a sudden, she stopped dead in her tracks. For a second, she couldn't breathe. She couldn't move. Her eyes were glued to one ship and the fresh paint on the side of it. It hadn't even dried yet. The letters were uneven, the paint bright red. And it said 'The Crimson Dagger'.
Ember's legs grew weak. The Crimson Dagger. That was the old nickname that she'd been given during her days as a thief. And the name that Max had given his old ship the night before it all went to hell.
She couldn't wait another second longer. Before her mind could even realize she was moving, her body was running toward the ship, climbing the ladder, her fingers shaking. The whole ship had him imprinted on it somehow. It wasn't something she could put her finger on, but everything screamed Maxwell Lockhart. If this wasn't his ship, the universe had a cruel sense of humor.
She stopped in the very middle of the ship.
Surely enough, there he was. His back was turned on her, working on some knots, so Ember took her time studying him, her heart raging in her chest in anticipation. Gods above. His firm shoulders, the shape of his shoulder blades, his raven black hair twisting just enough at the nape of his neck. His hands and his long fingers working those knots and sending Ember's mind flying back to ages ago where the same fingers had traced her skin like it had been a treasure map.
And then he turned around.
And nothing could've prepared Ember for it.
The air was knocked out of her lungs. It was like, for 700 years, her whole world had been black and white and now, at last, she could see colors again, starting with the heavy blue of his eyes. Everything was fascinating to her. His lashes dancing lazily as he blinked. His square jaw. The shape of his lips as he opened and closed his mouth. His scruffy cheeks. Ember burst into giggles like a school girl. The heaviness with which she'd missed him knocked into her like a hurricane at sea, drowning her and keeping her under.
He looked confused. Of course he did. Clarissa had taken his memories. She didn't even know if they would ever come back. But Ember was too happy to worry about that. She would make him fall back in love with her a thousand times if she had to.
The crease between his brows deepened as he finally spoke. "Do… Do I know you?"
He sounded as if he knew he did, but couldn't quite place her. It was a start. It meant not all was lost. Ember took a step toward him, clenching her fists to keep her arms from reaching for him. Then another step, slowly, steadily, praying she could control herself for long enough to not fall into his arms and scare him away.
"No," she replied, just now noticing the tears streaming freely down her cheeks, choking her. "But I know you."
He seemed even more confused, his eyes tracing her silhouette, struggling to place her. Eventually, his eyes stopped over her wrist and his frown deepened. He took a step closer. Ember was sure she was going to combust.
She lifted her wrist as his fingers hovered shyly over it. She prayed he'd touch her. She prayed he didn't. Her self-control was already in shreds as it was.
He didn't touch her. Instead, he lifted his own wrist until both their hands were side by side. His, tattooed with a locked heart. Hers, tattooed with a key. A promise made lifetimes ago. A seal.
He knew her, but he didn't. He took her apart and realized that those onyx black locks, those emerald green eyes, that red cloak, that wild smile, he'd seen them all before. And yet he couldn't quite place her. It was like a word resting on the tip of your tongue, but you can't quite remember it. Like a memento of something he'd already forgot.
His whole body trembled, yearning for him, but it was his mind that was slow.
And that he saw it. The key on her wrist. He had no idea how or why, but he knew for a fact it was the key that could unlock the locked heart on his own wrist.
And just like a lightning strike, it all came back.
A dirty pirate.
A jeweler's boy.
A kiss, then two, a shared bed, stolen nights drinking rum.
One love like no other. The part of him that had been missing all along.
A single tear rolled down his cheek as he let his fingers finally trace the key on her wrist. She shuddered at his touch and when Max looked up, the power of the love he could read in her eyes was enough to knock him dead.
"Ember," he whispered, the name having hidden underneath his tongue for centuries. "Ember. Ember."
He couldn't stop saying it. His heart shouted it.
"Max," she cried.
And they fell into each other's arms. The shape of her fit perfectly into him. Her smell intoxicated him. They kept repeating each other's names like echoes. They fell to their knees and just sat there, holding each other, for seconds, minutes, hours, or perhaps a thousand more tiny infinities.
At last. Against all odds, they'd found each other.
~SOUNDTRACK: Panic! At The Disco – The greatest show~
They call it the Wicked Circus. Witches, wizards, werewolves, vampires, supernatural creatures of all kinds perform in one breath-taking spectacle.
The lights go down. The curtain rises. You hold your breath because you don't know what to expect. The roof of the tent splits open to reveal pearl white moonlight. Silence falls over the expectant crowd. Magic buzzes in the air, making blood hum in anticipation.
People say it wasn't always like this. A long, long time ago, the Wicked were forced to perform, invisible shackles were put around them and they fought a heavy war to earn their freedom. Many died. Nowadays it's hard to imagine there was ever a time when the Wicked were regarded as animals to be hunted down, creatures to be caged.
Those times are long since gone. The Wicked Circus is no longer dark and twisted.
The lights flickered. The ring fills with color and magic. The crowd roars and thunderous applause welcome the Wicked on stage. The witches send their magic throughout the crowd, letting it flicker every now and then and earning them a surprised gasp from the audience. Two dragons land in the ring, spreading their wings as wide as they can.
And when the dragons finally fold their wings into their backs, they reveal a tall vampire girl with dark blonde hair and an entrancing look on her face. Right next to her stands another blond vampire in a plaid shirt, looking bored, and a sorcerer with curly hair. With one last roar, the dragons shift back to human forms to reveal two human girls looking exactly the same. Twins.
The five of them smiled at each other.
The rest of the Wicked parted to make room for them to stand before the crowd and take a bow.
The applause was deafening and went on for minutes.
Caitlin smiled wildly. The idea had been hers. Alastor's Circus had had the wrong foundation, but she couldn't deny it had been the place that had allowed her to be who she truly was. The twins had been quickly on board with it. They would take the Wicked Circus to the road. They would take in any rogue Wicked creature who wanted to join, who wanted a place to express themselves, to be who they wanted to be unapologetically. Like that, Caitlin found a way to both belong somewhere she could call home, as well as still enjoying being a free spirit.
Emmett and Alex had been quick to follow. Allymea was quiet under Adeline's reign and, with Kira gone, Sebastian gone, Vladimir gone, there was nothing left for them there. Caitlin got the best of both worlds. She had her best friends with her, the complications of her past relationship with Emmett fading away more and more every day. And she had the freedom of her relationship with the twins. She was free. And she was happy. And she hoped that was to case for everyone who'd joined their Circus.
She looked sideways at her friends. They all joined hands, waiting for the applause to die away.
They announced the next show and location of the Wicked Circus.
Then the lights went off.