The wooden towers of Crann still soared above the forest floor as Sean passed the mighty gate posts. The gates themselves were long gone, eaten away by time and exposure. Loam crunched beneath his feet and he winced at the now familiar twinge between his shoulder blades.
How long had it been? He couldn’t remember now. How beautiful Crann had once been, full of color and graced by its delicate queen. Even after all this time the gossamer of her wings filled his memory, and his throat closed in anguish.
The castle loomed over him as he stood in the center of the great courtyard. Once brilliant in the sunlight, now it cast deep shadows that threatened to engulf him. The spectre of death hovered between the once fine towers, death that he had brought.
Well, he had paid dearly for his crime. The queen, whose life fueled the city, had died, poisoned by the creature he had innocently tried to save. The council had cursed him, cut his own wings from his body as the price of treason. His loss could not save them, however, and without the queen they one by one faded into mist. Crann stood empty and silent, its spires growing green and soft as its floor decayed.
He gazed up at the remnants for a moment, hunching his aching shoulders. He didn’t know why he had come back; nothing but pain remained for him here. He turned slowly back to the shadow of the gate and froze. Barely visible under the drifting leaves, something gleamed, something so small he might have stepped on it. He bent and retrieved it, cupping it reverently in his palms where it glowed ever brighter until it took gauzy shape. His back itched, and she smiled up at him as tiny green points broke the earth around him.