Heron Valley...the final stretch to Mt. Aurora.
It was a series of hills with lush green grass and patches of small flowers growing on them. A river flowed at the foot of the hills, branching out as it made twists and turns across the land. The water sparkled as the sun's rays shined on it.
On a particularly small hill, Reinhardt and Vivian were sitting down and watching the water flow south, where they had came from.
"It's pretty." She said with a small smile. "I'm glad we managed to get here."
Her face fell, and she sighed sadly.
"I wish Lewen was here to see this."
Reinhardt nodded silently, scooting closer to his soulmate and wrapping an arm around her.
It had been two days since they entered Heron Valley. Two days since...Lewen died. Neither of them had gotten over it yet. But rather than mope, Reinhardt chose to keep his head up and hide all his disappointment and sadness. Vivian needed someone to lean on right now, so the Dragoon had to stay strong for her.
Still, he couldn't help but feel like if he had been stronger...Lewen would be here right now, gazing at the sparkiing waters below. He would have been on his way to find his siblings, who were probably really worried about him...
Now Reinhardt and Vivian had to search for them, along with whoever else survived. But so far, they hadn't found anyone. But they couldn't give up on the hope that they weren't alone Skyland. They couldn't just ignore Lewen's last wish...They had to find his siblings and tell them what happened to him.
"Come on." Reinhardt said, standing up. "We need to look around some more before nightfall."
Vivian nodded without a word, getting on her feet. She followed him over the hills for the rest of the evening.
By noon the next day, they still hadn't found anyone. Besides the animals, packs of monsters were the only life forms they were seeing. Due to weariness and lack of restoratives, the soulmates decided to sneak around them, which the hills made possible.
Now they were sitting at the edge of the river, resting their sore feet in its soothing waters.
"This feels great..." Vivian said with a sigh of relief. "So refreshing...we really needed this."
"We did." Reinhardt said with a nod.
A calm silence hung between them for a while...until the Angel timidly spoke up.
"Hey...do you think we're ever going to find them?"
"...I don't know." Reinhardt admitted. "So far, there's nothing but wildlife and monsters in the valley. But we can't give up hope yet."
They couldn't...not like this. Somewhere, their family might be waiting, along with Lewen's family and other survivors. But what would happen if they did turn out to be all alone out here?
Reinhardt didn't want to dwell on that, so he got up and offered a hand to Vivian.
"Let's get going." He urged. "They have to be out here, somewhere."
Vivian gave him a hopeful smile and took his hand, allowing him to help her up.
"Right." She said with a nod. "We will find them, I'm sure of it."
Not even the fourth day brought any fortune...
By this point, Reinhardt was really doubtful that anyone was in Heron Valley. Vivian's dulling eyes let on that she was starting to feel the same way.
They were wasting time...precious time they could be using to reach Mt. Aurora and complete their Pilgrimage. Still...maybe just one more day here, then they could go on their not so merry way. They couldn't really give up the chance to find survivors. Especially if their parents were among them...and Lewen's siblings.
So the Dragoon urged his soulmate onward, clinging to that small bit of hope.
"We'll find them..." He kept saying. "No matter what..."
During the evening of the fifth day, they reached the end of the valley. A great cliff towered over the hills, with a waterfall that was crashing down into a lake below. The waters of the lake then flowed down into the very river that Reinhardt and Vivian were traveling along.
"We'll stop here for today." The Dragoon said tiredly, sitting at the edge of the lake.
Vivian nodded silently and sat beside him, leaning her head on his shoulder. They rested there for a while, taking in the sight of the sparkling water while they still could.
They would spend the night here, then continue on to Mt. Aurora. Being unable to find anyone had hit hard...but they could deal with it. At least, that's what Reinhardt thought. But it was clear that Vivian wasn't going to be happy about that.
Then later, as they prepared to camp out for the night...Reinhardt felt a presence approaching from the waterfall nearby. He summoned his spear and turned around, stepping up to meet the foe. Vivian turned to see what was going on, then her eyes widened in surprise.
"That's..." She whispered.
Reinhardt stared with his mouth slightly hung open.
Walking up to them was a rugged middle-aged Dragoon man, with blood-red wings and matching hair that was long and flowing, and crimson eyes. His set of scaled armor was black with crimson edges, and had a Dragoon wing emblem hanging at the front.
He had an amused smile as he looked at the soulmates.
"Well if it isn't the lost Prince and Princess." He said with a chuckle. "I'm impressed that you actually showed up."
"You're...the Captain of the Royal Sky Brigade." Reinhardt muttered, dismissing his spear. "Valen Bravewing."
"It's an honor to be recognized." Valen put a fist over his heart. "Prince Reinhardt and Princess Vivian, it is great to see you both alive and well."
He frowned at Reinhardt's wings.
"Well enough in your case. Sorry, milord."
"It's fine..." The Dragoon Prince said with a sigh.
"Valen," Vivian said with a hopeful tone. "if you're out here, does that mean...there are others?"
Valen nodded. "That's right. Come on, let me show you to our hideout. Heh, King Stratos and Queen Ava are going to be ecstatic."
Reinhardt looked up as feelings of relief and happiness washing over him.
"They're...alive?" He said quietly.
"That's right." Valen confirmed, patting him on the back. "They've really missed you."
He looked at Vivian, who had an expectant look on her face. The Sky Brigade Captain let out a heavy sigh.
"I'm sorry...but your father...he was killed."
The heartbreak was clear on the Angel's face.
"And..." She held back a sob. "Mother?"
"...Taken by the monsters. We tried to get her back, but there were too many in our way..."
As Vivian started tearing up, Reinhardt put his arms around her to give some comfort.
"Let's go to the hideout." He muttered, looking at Valen. "Where is it?"
The older Dragoon pointed to the waterfall. "This way."
He began walking towards it, and Reinhardt urged Vivian to follow him. Valen led them behind the waterfall, where a tunnel was hidden from view. They went inside and made their way through a series of twists and turns, the only light being from the dim flames of torches.
They reached a heavy black curtain that they probably would have missed if it weren't for the light.
"After you." Valen said politely, stepping aside.
Reinhardt and Vivian walked past him and pushed the curtain aside.
They emerged into a vast cavern, and were met with the sight of many tents that were scattered about. A bit damp and had a bit of mildew, but otherwise well kept. Situated at the center of the encampment was a giant bronze bowl filled with coal, fueling a great fire that provided a glowing orange light over the tents.
Some Angels and Dragoons were sitting in front of the tents, looking towards the newcomers with weary expressions.
"It hasn't been easy for you, huh?" Vivian said worriedly.
Valen shook his head. "No. It was tough, getting everyone over here. We've been doing hunts, so we're not hungry. But we have sick and ailing patients that need medicine, and we're running out of it."
"Then you can't stay here for long..."
"We can't." Valen smiled. "But with you two here, we can start making plans to take back the Kingdom."
He led them through the encampment, and the people watched with realization on their faces.
"Wait, are they...The Prince and Princess?" A Dragoon wondered.
"They're really here." An Angel said with relief. "We may be saved!"
Reinhardt glanced at the onlookers, surprised by the reception.
"You waited for us all this time?"
Valen nodded. "We did, and even kept a lookout for you. We figured you would want to be with us when we go on our retaking. We'll go over that with your parents."
They reached a particularly big tent that was decorated with golden loops on the sides. Valen stepped up and called into it.
"Milord, milady! I have great news!"
Reinhardt froze as he heard the voice of his father, clear as day.
"What is it? Come on in!"
Valen pushed Reinhardt forward. "Go on in."
The Dragoon Prince nodded, then slowly entered the tent, with Vivian right behind him.
The first person they saw was a middle-aged Angel, in a yellow night robe. Fair in complexion, with a worn, yet still pretty face and a slender body. Her honey-colored hair was all curly, and fell just above her brown wings.
Reinhardt's mother, Queen Ava...just as he remembered her.
Her almond eyes focused on Reinhardt, and tears started to well up in them.
"Y-you're back..." She said softly. "Rein...you're really here."
"Mother..." Reinhardt murmured.
Then his father walked over to Ava's side, and the Prince focused on him.
King Stratos was a black-winged Dragoon about his wife's age, with a lean and sturdy body under the black night robe he was wearing. His somewhat spiky hair was dark blue, with black streaks that went from front to back. His chiseled face had a little stubble around it, emphasizing the weariness in his purple eyes.
Yet he still had a prideful look in his eyes as he looked at his son.
"Father." Reinhardt said, straightening up. "I...I made it."
"We've waited for weeks." Stratos said solemnly. "We were worried about you, wondering if you had survived." He smiled slightly. "You did well to make it here."
He glanced at his son's wings, sighing at how damaged they were.
"It must have been so hard for you..."
"It was..." Reinhardt croaked, tears starting to slide down his cheeks.
"Then come here." Ava beckoned, opening her arms. "You're safe now, with us."
The Prince stumbled into his mother's arms, as the exhaustion from the journey finally caught up with him. His limbs were so sore...his energy so drained...he felt like he could pass out at any moment.
The warmth of his mother's hug...it was so real. She was actually here, comforting him after everything he had been through. He forgot all about his worries, and instead just focused on all the relief she was giving him.
Then his thoughts went to Vivian, and he looked back at her.
She was staring at them with a mix of sorrow and envy. Her parents weren't here to greet her, and let her forget her burdens. Doubtless, she was feeling lonely.
Seeing the young Angel's sad state, Ava opened an arm up and beckoned her over.
"You can come here." She said soothingly. "We're all family here, so you have our shoulders to cry on."
Vivian started to sob. "Th-thank you..."
She came over and joined the embrace, crying into her mother in-law's shoulder.
Stratos walked over and put a hand on the youths' shoulders. His own way of showing how much he cared.
"We're glad you made it here." He said with pride. "We can now talk about reclamation of the Kingdom. But first, rest your fatigue away, and recover your strength. Tomorrow, we'll talk."
Ava began to stroke Reinhardt and Vivian's wings, slow and gentle, while humming a little melody. They gradually drifted off, succumbing to the relief of slumber.
"Sleep well, my dears." The Queen whispered. "Sweet dreams."
When Reinhardt woke up, he felt more refreshed than he had since the Pilgrimage started. He was full of energy, and his limbs were no longer sore. He sat up and stretched, not feeling any discomfort.
He heard light breathing beside him, and he looked to see Vivian sleeping peacefully. That happy smile of hers made Reinhardt feel warm, and protective. It was the smile that he wanted so dearly to keep seeing.
"Good morning, dear." Ava said happily. "How are you feeling?"
Reinhardt turned his head to see her standing at the entrance of the tent, wearing a set of pale yellow robes with a brown sash drapped over her shoulders.
"Good morning, Mother." He replied with a smile. "I feel much better than I did earlier."
"Heh, you were out for quite a while. It's about noon right now."
The Queen's face became serious.
"If you are well rested...then get ready and meet us outside. It's time for us to talk about the reclamation."
Reinhardt nodded solemnly, then gently shook Vivian awake. He noticed that his helmet was placed on a nightstand by the bed, so he grabbed it and put it on while Vivian shook off her drowsiness. Once they were all set, they went out to meet up with Reinhardt's parents and Valen at the center of the camp.
As the soulmates walked by, the other Angels and Dragoons gave them looks of incredulousness and hope.
"They really are here!" One Angel said happily. "We're saved!"
"Does this mean we got a chance to set things right?" Another wondered.
Vivian smiled sheepishly. "We really are carrying the hopes of all these people."
"We better not let them down." Reinhardt said with a nod.
Valen waved at them as they arrived, sporting a confident expression.
"Hey there, lads! I hope you're ready for this."
"We are." Reinhardt assured. "We're going over the reclamation, right?"
"Aye. It's time to raise morale and make preparations for a march across Skyland."
Stratos nodded, looking rather bold in his polished black plated armor. He turned to face the the gathering group of Angels and Dragoons, who were all looking at him expectantly. The King took a deep breath, then began to speak authoritatively.
"Denizens of Skyland! It has been...a hard five weeks. Our Kingdom was attacked by an army of monsters. We were forced to flee because we weren't prepared for such a thing. Many of us died, and even more were captured. One-hundred of us remained here, awaiting the day when we could go back out an reclaim our lost homes."
Stratos looked at Reinhardt and Vivian, and they stepped forward. The King then continued his speech.
"My son and his bride-to-be have returned! The time to reclaim the Kingdom in the Sky draws near! We will prepare to march out to Serendipity, our fallen capital! From there, we can start spreading out to other towns and villages in order to reclaim them from the monsters, then restore them to their former glory!"
There was a brightness in the people's eyes as they cheered at King Stratos's words.
"We're with you all the way, milord!" One Dragoon soldier shouted.
"I got a family out there that needs me!" Another said bravely. "I'll give those bastard monsters everything I got!"
"Then prepare yourselves!" King Stratos ordered, thrusting a hand out. "We'll set out in one week! During that time, Prince Reinhardt and Princess Vivian will complete their Pilgrimage!"
With excited chatter, the crowd dispersed and went to prepare for the impending march.
Valen crossed his arms and chuckled at the sight.
"It's been a long time since everyone was this happy." He mused.
"We all lost our homes, and a lot of them lost families." Ava said sadly, clasping her hands. "I pray that those who died find peace up there with the Deities."
"We won't let their deaths be in vain. We will reclaim Skyland and honor their sacrifices."
"We have a lot of work to do before we can begin." Stratos said. "Weapons, rations, and what little medicine we have left. We also need mounts for the sick and ailing."
"And we need to complete our Pilgrimage." Reinhardt added. "We need more power if we want to stand a better chance against the monsters."
"But..." Vivian gripped his arm. "we need to find Lewen's siblings...and tell them what happened to him."
"Right...they're probably wondering if he's still alive."
The Prince looked at his father and gave a gist of the situation.
"We met a Dragoon about a week ago, named Lewen. He died while fighting monsters with us...and now we're looking for his siblings to tell them about it. So we're going to look around before we leave, is that alright?"
"Yes, of course." Stratos said in understanding. "We'll meet you outside when you're done."
As he and his wife left, along with Valen, Reinhardt and Vivian began to go around the encampment. They visited many people, asking if they knew Lewen and where his siblings were. However, nobody seemed to know anything about them, which discouraged the soulmates and almost made them give up.
Then they brightened when an elderly Angel pointed to a tent at the far end of the camp.
"There are two kids over there, a boy and a girl. They might be who you're looking for."
"Thank you very much!" Vivian said happily, giving a bow before skipping away.
Reinhardt followed her to the tent, steeling himself for the conversation ahead. Even if the kids couldn't feel anything...telling them that their brother was dead was still not going to be pleasant.
When they arrived at the place, Vivian called out to see if anyone was inside.
"Hello! Anyone here?"
A boy's dull voice answered after a moment.
"Yes. Come in."
The soulmates stepped inside to see a boy and girl, both with the same shade of blonde hair that Lewen had. They seemed to be twins, though the boy was a Dragoon while the girl was an Angel. The girl had the same shade of red eyes as Lewen, so there was little doubt that she and the boy were Lewen's siblings. But just to be sure...
"Hello there." Vivian greeted, bowing. "Um...are you two related to a Dragoon named Lewen?"
That got the kids to tilt their heads, though Reinhardt was slightly irked by how...dull their expressions were.
"Lewen?" The girl murmured. "That's our brother."
"We haven't seen him since the attack on our town." The boy said. "Have you seen him?"
After a bit of hesitation, Vivian began to explain how they knew Lewen. How they met...how they fought together...and then how he died. By the end of it, the Angel was in tears.
"I...I did everything I could. But I wasn't able to completely heal him. He...died because I wasn't strong enough..."
Reinhardt wrapped an arm around her in comfort, and she leaned on his shoulder. Meanwhile, the siblings looked at each other, their eyes still dull and emotionless. Reinhardt could only wonder how they were processing this...
Then the kids turned back to the royals and bowed.
"Thank you, for telling us this." The boy said.
"May Lewen rest in peace." The girl murmured. "He was lucky to have found great friends like you, even if only for a short time."
Reinhardt nodded slowly, saddened by how...monotonous they were. Did they understand what they should be feeling right now?
But then he recalled what Lewen said almost a week ago...
"You know, I'm glad they're unable to feel emotions right now. I couldn't bear to see their terrified or heartbroken faces. The unbonded ones are lucky, in that way."
That's right...Reinhardt and Vivian had to be glad that the twins weren't able to feel the great burden of sadness of their brother's death. Not in these trying times.
"Take care." The Prince said after a moment of silence. "If you ever need anything, you can go to our parents. Goodbye, for now."
He helped Vivian to her feet, and they gave the kids one last bow before heading out. The twins gave them slow waves as they went, still as unsettlingly expressionless as ever.
As they walked through the tunnel, Vivian softly spoke to her soulmate.
"Reinhardt...I'm happy to be bonded to you."
"I feel the same way." Reinhardt said with warmth, brushing his thumb on her palm. "I wouldn't trade these feelings for anything."
"Me neither. No matter how hard the coming days will be, or how sad I'll get when something bad happens, even if the world falls around us...the happy moments I have with you will always be what I treasure the most."
Reinhardt held her close, and they basked in each other's warmth until they exited the tunnel.
His parents and Valen were at the edge of the lake, waving them over. Once they got there, Ava handed them a new pack, which seemed to be filled with goods.
"We spared some curatives for you." She said sweetly. "I also packed some ingredients for you to use."
"Thank you!" Vivian said gratefully.
"Take care of each other." Stratos said seriously. "Once you leave here...you will only have each other. Don't waver in your love and faith for each other."
Valen patted their backs. "Good luck out there, kids. Give those monsters hell!"
"Good luck, my dears!" Ava cheered. "We believe in you!"
"Bye Mother, Father, Valen." Reinhardt said before walking off. "We'll do our best."
"I'll take good care of him!" Vivian assured, following her soulmate. "You can count on that!"
And so the Prince and Princess resumed their journey to Mt. Aurora, in higher spirits than before.
They had his parents and many others supporting them, eagerly awaiting for when they returned with greater power. Knowing that they weren't alone, and had a chance to make things in Skyland right...gave them a renewed resolve.
No matter what challenges were ahead, they would push through them together, backed up in spirit by the other Angels and Dragoons that survived.