“No,” Ghaleon whispered, his eyes widening with shock. “No. This cannot be.”

“I have Chosen.” Althena replied. She sat upright in her throne, her face framed by a tumble of azure hair that spilled over her shoulders and very nearly reached the floor. Her delicate features were the image of perfection, and she wore an expression of complete serenity. She was always serene, Ghaleon thought, his lips curling into a sneer. How could a Goddess be anything less?

“Have faith, Ghaleon.” Dragonmaster Dyne said, resting his hand on Ghaleon’s cloaked shoulder. He was an interesting contrast to Althena: Dyne was not very handsome, and looked much older than he was. His unruly brown hair reminded Ghaleon of broom bristles. But his eyes were young and inviting, and his voice carried an authority that no other human could hope to match. “We’ve won. It’s over.”

“No!” Ghaleon shouted, thrusting Dyne’s hand away. “This is folly, Dyne. Can’t you see that?” He spread his arms wide, gesturing to the world below them, resplendent beneath the transparent floor of Althena’s dais. “Of the Heroes, only we still stand. And we are two, of thousands—maybe millions—of humans that inhabit the Silver Star. Humans that cowered before the Vile Tribe!” Ghaleon turned to his friend. “You expect them to survive without guardians? Without a Goddess?”

“They will never know true strength,” stated Althena, “until they cannot look to me for salvation.” She smiled at Ghaleon, and the sheer beauty of it made his eyes water. “I am a crutch, Ghaleon. And they must learn to walk.”

“You are their guiding star!” Ghaleon countered. “They look to you for direction, for hope. How can you expect them to find it elsewhere? They are mortal, Althena!”

“And so shall I become.” She interrupted.

“To what end?” Ghaleon cried. “Do you think this some sort of game? Don’t you understand that they live and die for you?” He threw his hands up in disgust. “And now you want to abandon them! Why? So you can say that you were mortal, once?” His eyes narrowed. “Or is the mantle of divinity beginning to chafe? Is that it, Goddess? Do their prayers grate on your ears?”

“Easy, Ghaleon.” Dyne interjected, moving himself between the wizard and the Goddess. “This was not an easy decision for her. But it is hers to make, my friend. It is not our place to tell her otherwise.”

“And it is not her place to desert that which she created!” Ghaleon shot back, grasping Dyne’s shoulders. “Don’t you see, Dyne? They need her! We can’t let her do this. She doesn’t understand! She’s a Goddess—what can she truly know of mortality? Of fear?”

“Does it matter?” Dyne responded gently. “Look at us, Ghaleon. We are heroes, yes—but what good is a hero?” He closed his eyes, sighing. “What sort of world needs to find champions to wage its wars? Why were there four fighting here, instead of four hundred? Instead of four thousand?” Asked the Dragonmaster, shaking his head. “They are afraid, Ghaleon—afraid to do anything but place their faith in us, and trust we will deliver them from evil. And as long as Althena remains a Goddess, then there will always be heroes. And mankind will look somewhere, anywhere—anywhere but itself—for salvation.” He clasped his friend’s arms, squeezing them in assurance. “Humans must stop absolving themselves of responsibility, Ghaleon. They must overcome their fear. And they must do it alone.”

“No.” Ghaleon repeated stubbornly. “You’re wrong. You are both wrong! This isn’t about responsibility, Dyne. They need something to believe in. The quality of belief is dependent on the object of that belief! Belief in humanity isn’t enough. Humanity is weak, imperfect. Afraid.” He jutted a finger towards Althena. “More afraid than you could ever know, Goddess.”

“And you know their fear, Ghaleon?” Althena asked, her eyes swirling.

“YES!” He shouted, his voice raw with emotion. “I share it! Can’t you see that this world would be empty without you? It would be meaningless!” He squeezed his eyes shut. “Do not do this to me, Althena. Do not do this to humanity.”

“We can find meaning, Ghaleon.” Dyne said. “The future is limitless. Humanity can soar; it does not need Althena to do it! Trust in mankind, Ghaleon. Our faith will carry us.”

“What faith?!” Ghaleon’s body shook with anger. “Faith in a Goddess I know has forsaken me? In a Goddess that would destroy me?”

“Destroy you?” Dyne asked, bewildered. “Ghaleon, what are you talking about?”

“Dyne, what do you think happens when we die?” When his friend did not reply, Ghaleon turned to the Goddess. “Well, Althena?” he demanded. “What happens?”

She remained quiet, her face an impassive mask.

“Damn it, answer me!” Ghaleon shouted. “And what happens when you’re gone, Althena? What then?” Her silence infuriated him. His gaze moved back to the Dragonmaster. “Don’t you see what this will do, Dyne? We have to stop this!”

“How can you expect her to answer a question like that, Ghaleon?” Dyne fired back. “Do you honestly think foreknowledge would do anything but paralyze us?”

“I don’t know.” Ghaleon stated. “But I have to believe my life wasn’t lived in vain, Dyne. Without the Goddess, this existence is pointless. There is no order, no meaning. No guidance.”

“You do not need guidance, Ghaleon,” said Althena suddenly. Both of the men turned to face her, surprised. “Only hope. Believe, Ghaleon. Believe in life, in humanity.”

“Why?” he challenged. “Why should I believe in mankind?”

“Because I do, Ghaleon.” She smiled then, her eyes shining with pride and happiness. “Because I do.”

“You will never understand.” The wizard said brokenly. “How could you?” He turned away, his shoulders sagging with defeat.

“Ghaleon, please.” Dyne stretched forth his hands. “Trust her.” Ghaleon bowed his head, unable to respond. Dyne continued: “If not her, then me. Trust me, Ghaleon.”

“I can’t.” Ghaleon’s words were barely a whisper. “I can’t. I won’t.” Before Dyne could respond, Ghaleon left the chamber, his cloak swirling about his legs.

* * * * *

The sun’s first rays roused him. Ghaleon looked around sleepily, unsure of where he was. His eyes were swollen and slow to focus. He sat up, trying to remember.

“You’re awake.” Dyne’s voice startled the wizard. He craned his neck upwards—had he fallen asleep on the floor?—to see his friend standing over him.

“Yes.” Ghaleon mumbled, knuckling his eyes. “What happened?”

“After you left, Althena and I discussed what would need to happen for the transformation to succeed,” Dyne told him. “Then I came to find you. You were asleep—right here on the floor.” Dyne’s eyes flickered to the sole window in the chamber. Ghaleon followed his gaze.

The view from Goddess Tower was magnificent. The Silver Star sprawled out before them, still dark with the last shreds of night. Soon, swaths of red and gold would snake along the horizon, pushing through the pale blue and violet that still colored the sky. Ghaleon pushed himself off of the floor, coming to stand in front of the window. He laid his left shoulder against its frame, and took a breath to steady himself.

“You are the only friend I have ever had.” Ghaleon began, keeping his eyes on the world below. “When I was young, and first discovering my talents, I used to lie awake at night, trying to imagine all of the wonderful things I would do. Would I fly, one day? Or maybe I’d learn to shape shift, into a bear. I've always been partial to bears.” Ghaleon smiled to himself. “More than anything, though, I wanted to make mountains. Great, green mountains—just spring them right from the earth, until they stretched so far that they split the sky. That way, the clouds wouldn’t be alone anymore.” He rubbed his right shoulder absently. “I thought about clouds often, back then. They looked very lonely. Not even the birds flew near them. I knew what it meant to be alone, Dyne; I did not wish it on anyone or anything else. I used to tell myself: 'If I could just make a mountain tall enough, then the clouds would have someone to share the sky.' ” Ghaleon looked back at his friend. “You are my mountain, Dyne.”

Dyne opened his mouth to reply, but Ghaleon shook his head.

“I don’t know how I feel about my life. I have done good things, but when I look back over the years, I don’t feel anything. Should I be happy? Proud?”

“Of course!” Dyne insisted. “Ghaleon, you are a good man. Why do you dou—”

“Please,” asked Ghaleon. “Let me finish.”

Dyne pressed his lips together, and nodded. Ghaleon turned his head to the window again, and proceeded.

“I didn’t sleep much, the nights before the final battle.” A small grin curved Ghaleon’s lips, softening his sharp features. “Can you believe that was less than a month ago? It feels like years.” He chuckled to himself. “I wasn’t nervous; I don’t think I’ve been nervous a day in my life. But it occurred to me that I might die.” He stepped away from the window, and stared into Dyne’s eyes. “It occurred to me that you might die.

“That was the first time I knew real fear.” Ghaleon said quietly. “I didn’t want to lose you.” He looked back at his companion. “I am terrified of death, Dyne. More than anything I’ve ever known. I can’t even think about it for more than a few moments, or I start to go a little mad.” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “I don’t want to die, Dyne. Goddess help me, I don’t want to die.” He flexed his fingers anxiously. “I spent so many years alone; how could I face that emptiness again?” His voice faded to a whisper. “I can’t do it, Dyne. I can’t—I can’t risk losing my only friend.”

“Ghaleon, I—” Dyne tried to speak, but found himself rendered ineloquent.

“Do you understand, Dyne?” Ghaleon appealed. “I am scared—more scared than I’ve ever been in my life—but the thought of dying, without a Goddess, is more than I can bear.”

“Why, Ghaleon?” Dyne beseeched him. “What is it that frightens you so much?”

“If she’s gone, then there’s nothing left, Dyne!” asserted Ghaleon. “She is all that validates our existence! Can’t you see that?”

“But why, Ghaleon?” Dyne gestured to the window, to the world before them. “Nothing will change when she leaves. The sun will still shine. The birds will still sing.”

“No!” Ghaleon shook his head violently. “You’re missing the point, Dyne.” He closed his eyes momentarily, deep in concentration. “Ah!” he exclaimed, and snapped his fingers in satisfaction. “Look,” Ghaleon commanded, and conjured a clear cup, filled with water.

“If I drop a pebble into this cup,” Ghaleon explained, “there will be ripples, right?” To demonstrate this, a small pebble appeared above the cup, and fell into it with a splash.

“Yes…” Dyne replied hesitantly, unsure where his friend was going.

“But look now, Dyne.” Ghaleon pointed at the cup again. Slowly, the surface of the water settled, until it was smooth again. “No matter how big the pebble is, eventually, the ripples fade. The only proof that they ever existed is us, Dyne. Our memories. But when we die, those ripples die with us. It’s as if they never happened.” Dyne’s eyes widened in comprehension, and then narrowed as he shook his head in disagreement. Ghaleon continued anyway. “Dyne, if the Goddess leaves, then we never happened.”

“No, Ghaleon. You’re wrong.” insisted Dyne. “The world will remember us. We just finished saving it, for Goddess’ sake!”

“Even legends are forgotten, Dyne.” Ghaleon responded quietly. “But not if there is a Goddess. Althena is eternal. And she would remember, even after the world has long stopped singing our praises.” He stared into the Dragonmaster’s eyes. “But if she becomes mortal, then it’s not just the promise of the afterlife she takes with her. She negates everything I’ve ever done, everything I will do. She does worse than kill me, Dyne. She annihilates me.” Ghaleon’s voice cracked. He turned away suddenly, trying to hide the tear that traced its way down his cheek. “She has to remember, Dyne. Please. Stop her from doing this. I need her… I need her to remember me.”

Dyne placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder, compassion shining in his eyes. He didn’t speak immediately, for which Ghaleon was truly grateful. The wizard’s emotions gradually settled, and when he had composed himself, he nodded briefly. Dyne took the cue.

“Ghaleon, I don’t know what to say.” Dyne stopped, shaking his head. “Believe. You just have to believe.”

“Believe?” Ghaleon’s voice rose incredulously. “Believe in what?”

“In yourself,” Dyne stated simply. “In us.” Dyne grinned, his face shining with faith that Ghaleon could not comprehend. “We will not be forgotten, Ghaleon.”

“How?” Ghaleon argued. “How could you possibly know that?”

“I don’t, to be honest.” Dyne remarked. “But I believe we won’t. And that’s enough.”

“No, Dyne. It’s not.” Ghaleon denied. “Without the Goddess, we are nothing. Without her memories, what could we possibly have?”

“Each other,” Dyne responded. “We always have each other.” He looked to the window again, a frown creasing his features. “I have to leave.”

“What?” Ghaleon looked up. “Where are you going?”

“The transformation will be complete soon.” Dyne told him. “But she’ll need my help to finish it. I have to go to her.”

“What?!” Ghaleon shouted, grabbing Dyne’s arm. “You mean it’s already begun? How could you let this happen? This will destroy the world!”

Dyne gently removed Ghaleon’s hand, the pity in his eyes apparent. “It is her decision, Ghaleon. I have to help her.” He turned to leave.

“How can I believe in something I cannot know, cannot see?” Ghaleon cried. “What is there to believe in, besides her?”

Dyne did not answer him.

“Dyne!” Ghaleon called. “Dyne, do not do this!” Ghaleon clutched his head in his hands. “I have to stop him. I have to.”

Ghaleon tore off down the hallway, racing through the corridors until he stood at the base of the stairs that led to Althena’s dais. The sight of it stopped him cold.

A brilliant pillar of light surrounded the throne, radiating magical power so profound that it nearly bowled him over. Dazzling colors threaded in and out of the beam, circling it faster and faster until the entire room shone with a radiance that astonished Ghaleon with its intensity. Althena stood suspended at its core, her eyes clenched shut in concentration. Dyne waited a few steps below her, his face enveloped in awe.

“Dyne!” Ghaleon yelled, sprinted up the stairs. “Dyne, stop!”

Dyne remained motionless, staring at Althena.

“Dyne! The spell is too powerful!” Ghaleon screamed. “The armor won’t protect you! You have to stop!” He stumbled over a step, gasping for air. “Dyne, it could kill you!”

The Dragonmaster turned his head back to Ghaleon. Their eyes locked. Dyne’s lips parted, and he mouthed the word: Believe.

“DYNE! NO!” But Ghaleon’s words did nothing.

Dyne ascended the last stair. Althena’s eyes fluttered open, shadowed with exhaustion from the spell. The sorcery pulsed with hunger, eager to escape her control. Ghaleon felt her panic all around him, like a living thing. But then she saw her champion. Relief and gratitude flooded her features. She wrestled the magic back under her control. Dyne smiled, with that same unshakable faith in his grin, a faith the wizard could not understand.

Dyne stepped into the light. The spell exploded, sending shockwaves of power throughout the chamber. Ghaleon fell back, throwing up an arm to shield his eyes. The throne shook terribly from the force of the arcane. Its sheer energy blinded him. What seemed like an eternity later, the light began to recede. He risked a glance upwards.

Dyne stood before the throne, his head bowed. Ghaleon watched in horror as his friend’s armor shattered, disappearing into a thousand glittering shards. Soon only Dyne’s clothes remained, the simple garb of the traveler that the Dragonmaster had once been—and was again, now. The light faded completely.

“What is it you see, Dyne?” Ghaleon shouted. “What is you see, that I cannot?!”

An infant’s shrill cry split the air. Dyne reached out his arms, cradling the newborn to his chest. She quieted immediately.

Ghaleon stared at the child. It is over, he realized. I have failed. The finality of it jarred him. An overwhelming sense of betrayal welled up in his chest, threatening to tear him asunder. He gasped in pain, squeezing his eyes shut in agony. He was alone, terrifyingly alone. There was nothing left.

“Hope, Ghaleon.” Dyne answered. “I see hope.”

Ghaleon’s eyes flared open. The pain and anguish disappeared, leaving only a hollow emptiness. Fury, unlike Ghaleon had ever known, rushed to fill the void. He glared up at Dyne, his gaze hardening to ice. Ghaleon felt something inside of himself die. He did not have the strength to mourn it. Ghaleon turned his back to the former Dragonmaster, speaking over his shoulder:

“I see only despair.”

He did not look back.

All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition

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